Update (Nov. 6): As Christians around the world recognize the second Sunday of the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP), the Religious Liberty Commission (RLC)—a project sponsored by several British evangelical groups—has offered additional resources. A collaboration of the UK Evangelical Alliance, Release International, Open Doors, and Christian Solidarity Worldwide, the RLC has organized events around the country and released a video with testimonies of persecuted Christians. A video by the World Evangelical Alliance raising awareness of IDOP is below.
Open Doors has also made last week's webcast about Christian persecution available.
Elsewhere, one of Pakistan's largest Muslim youth organizations has pledged to change how members refer to Christians. The current word used for Christians now carries pejorative overtones of street sweeping and other occupations done by the lowest castes. Christians are now asking to be called Masihi (People of the Messiah), which they say has a more positive connotation.
In Nepal, church attendance has plunged following Nepal's adoption of a constitution officially declaring the country a secular state. India—Nepal’s top trading partner—has cut off fuel from its neighbor, claiming that the new document hurts the political representation of minority groups. The embargo has curtailed travel for many Nepalis, including its Christian minority. AsiaNews reports that some churches have seen attendance drop by 50 percent.
Christians worldwide got an early answer to prayer during last year's International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP). They learned that after two years, North Korea had finally released American missionary Kenneth Bae, the longest-imprisoned American in North Korea since the Korean War.
Now Pakistan’s Aasiya Noreen (popularly known as Asia Bibi) could be next.
“[Asia] looked healthy and normal, but I still asked her if she suffered any serious illness,” Saif-ul-Malook, the lawyer who represents the mother of five, told World Watch Monitor (WWM) after a recent visit to see Noreen. “Asia has totally denied she ever suffered any serious illness since 2009 in prison. She became happy when I told her that she would soon be released.”
Noreen, 50, was the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws when she received the punishment in November 2010, after allegedly making derogatory comments about the Prophet Muhammad during an argument with a Muslim woman. Earlier this year, reports emerged that Noreen’s health had been failing.
IDOP is charged with raising awareness of such circumstances and lifting the most pressing instances of global persecution up in prayer. Held annually in mid-November, traditionally a month devoted to remembering the saints and martyrs of the church, the event is supported by prominent organizations including the World Evangelical Alliance and Open Doors, which will host a webcast that includes interviews with Christians from Iraq, Kenya, and North Korea.
Multiple reports confirm that Christians around the world have been the subject of intense persecution—no more so than in 2014. The church’s position is precarious in parts of north and west Africa and the Middle East, concludes a recent report by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Christianity will likely to be wiped out in Iraq within the next five years, it predicts.
But despite this violence, ACN highlighted the good news that Christianity will gain three times more converts than any other world religion in the coming decades, according to forecasts by the Pew Research Center. If fertility rates, the size of youth populations, and rates of religion switching remain the same, Christianity will still be the largest religion in the world in 2050.
Increased persecution has also led to closer cooperation between historically rival Middle Eastern Christian groups, Open Doors identified earlier this year as a "good news trend." It also highlighted the potential for Chinese Christians to play a larger role in influencing their country, and noted that Western governments have increasingly engaged with religious communities to fight extremists. (WWM contrasts Open Doors’s 2015 World Watch List with ACN's 2015 report.)
The status of Coptic Christians also improved this year, notes the US State Department in this year's International Religious Freedom (IRF) report.
“There have been some convictions of perpetrators of violence against Copts, although impunity from prosecution for such crimes remains a serious problem. The new Egyptian constitution provides increased human rights protections as compared to the previous constitution, including a stipulation of equality before the law irrespective of religion,” reports the State Department. “It also requires that parliament pass a new law facilitating the construction and renovation of Christian churches, which is without precedent, and provides for the establishment of an anti-discrimination commission to eliminate all forms of discrimination.”
One persistent theme: Christians’ biggest threats don’t come from governments anymore.
“[N]on-state actors, including rebel and terrorist organizations … committed by far some of the most egregious human rights abuses and caused significant damage to the global status of respect for religious freedom,” states the IRF report.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) highlighted the same trend earlier this year in its latest report. USCIRF broadened its definition of “countries of particular concern” to “where particularly severe violations of religious freedom are occurring but a government does not exist or does not control its territory.” It recommended designating an additional eight more countries as “countries of particular concern.”
RNS blogger Tobin Grant used a separate data set to analyze how many countries treat all religions equally. According to his findings, only one-in-five people around the globe live in a country where this is the case.
One positive noted by USCIRF: Nigeria’s peaceful transfer of power between outgoing Christian president Goodluck Jonathan to Muslim candidate Muhammadu Buhari. (Buhari was even endorsed by many Christians.)
Advocates for persecuted Christians found encouragement in the IRF report.
“Governments and other groups may try and dismiss claims by victims, activists, and rights groups like ICC, but it’s not nearly as easy to dismiss an official report by the US government,” Isaac Six of International Christian Concern toldWorld magazine. “[It] ensures no one, including persecuting governments and groups, will be able to easily erase or rewrite the past.”
In September, more than 100 parliamentarians from almost 50 countries convened in New York City to pledge support for religious freedom. The new network, launched last year in response to a spike in religious persecution, agreed to raise political support for religious freedom, as outlined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
At the event, Naghmeh Abedini, wife of imprisoned Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini, called for his release. More than 60 parliamentarians from more than 35 countries, including Iran, signed a letter in support. Nagmeh also recently wrote for The Washington Post, “Mr. President, it’s past time to bring the Iranian hostages—including my husband—home.”
CT's previous coverage of the International Day of Prayer includes the answered prayers of 2014, a fresh focus on the statistics, a cure for its holiday blues, and how a Jewish leader shamed Christians into caring.
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