The November 16 International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for persecuted Christians exceeded expectations, with 60,000 U.S. churches participating. But coordinator Steve Haas is convinced three times as many congregations will be involved this year.
"This was not a one-shot deal," Haas told CT. "Our task is not done."
Churches involved in the November 16 event conducted various activities, including marches, prayer vigils, and sermons. The movement continues to grow. On May 30, the global March for Jesus will focus on remembering the persecuted body of Christ.
Meanwhile, Haas has brought together 19 advocacy groups that previously had little contact with one another, including Open Doors with Brother Andrew, Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), Freedom House, and Christian Solidarity International.
"Our hope isn't to create a new organization but to enable these organizations to be more effective," Haas says. Although the groups have different programs, they have been reluctant to cooperate because they work with the same potential donor base.
Yet many of the organizations have benefited from the persecution issue being raised. For example, VOM experienced an 87 percent growth rate in 1997.
"Christians are a lot more sensitive about persecution now," says VOM U.S. director Tom White. "The idea of martyrs being strange has been demystified."
Haas also is trying to build bridges with secular groups, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and make them more cognizant of religious persecution. Currently, some secular human-rights groups are more concerned about abortion rights and homosexual rights than freedom of religious expression.
Some liberal religious groups have accused IDOP of having political motivations as a ploy of the Religious Right, a charge Haas finds nonsensical because of the number of mainline Protestant and Catholic churches involved. Some fundamentalist churches have criticized the movement as being too liberal because Catholics participate.
"We need to stay focused on the issue of persecution, not who we're sitting next to at a planning session," Haas says. "If Catholics or Protestants want to pray for the persecuted, why should they be discouraged from doing so?"
IDOP has also been criticized by some liberals for not being concerned about persecution of Muslims and Buddhists. But Haas says the majority of Christian churches still are unaware of persecution of Christians, and that is a necessary first step in the movement.
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