When we think about Freedom of Religion or Belief, we often think about ‘the persecuted church’, brothers and sisters in North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, or Pakistan who are paying a heavy price for following Jesus. And they do, no doubt about it. But the term ‘the persecuted church’, justified as the use may be, can easily create a certain distance. We unconsciously put these brothers and sisters in a separate category. They are not only living far away, but, unlike us, they are also suffering tremendous hardships. Some stories can even inflate these brothers and sisters to gigantic proportions, putting them on a pedestal as heroes of the faith. But let us not forget that they are human beings, just like you and me. Their stories are testimonies of faith in action but even more of God in action.
Of course, they are concerned about their future and the future of their children, sometimes in doubt, hungry, scared, hurting, isolated, depressed. In all this, they are not that different from us. We are all part of one body and we are called to carry each other’s burdens.
Every year, the World Evangelical Alliance organises IDOP, the International Day of Prayer for the persecuted church. Prayer knows no boundaries as God does not know borders. So, don’t cease praying for our brothers and sisters who are under severe pressure as disciples of Jesus Christ. The IDOP website has valuable resources and so have several ministries in your country. Their materials will encourage and help you in carrying the burden of our brothers and sisters and their families and churches. Their stories will help you to relate to Christians far away and under different circumstances yet serving the same God. Pray for spiritual refreshment, strength and perseverance. And pray for their adversaries, that they may stop resisting grace and get to know God.
These prayers may start in our inner room but can also flow over into a prayer vigil in front of an embassy or any other symbolic place. Our Italian brothers and sisters can tell you more about such initiatives. Further, they have written letters to express their concern about serious violations of the right to Freedom of Religion or Belief. This way, they have spoken up for those who cannot speak. For our persecuted brothers and sisters, it is a great encouragement to know they are not forgotten and that we stand united as one body, one Church.