Pray for One Body in partnership with International Christian Concern (ICC) and the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), along a number of other Christian religious freedom groups, held the 4th annual Night of Prayer for the Persecuted Church on November 18 in the Chinese Community Church in Washington, DC.
Pray for One Body exists for the purpose of “uniting Christians to pray for members of the body facing persecution.”
The ICC’s purpose is to “act as a bridge between the Western church and their suffering brothers and sisters” and the IRD’s mission is to “protect religious freedom, and renew democracy at home and abroad.”
Both sponsored this event in order to raise awareness of the fact that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world. Christians from various persecuted churches around the world (Iran, Cuba, Pakistan and North Korea) shared their stories while addressing issues involving serious violations of human rights by totalitarian governments and the rise of religious extremism.
The Night of Prayer for the Persecuted Church opened with a keynote speech by Virginia’s longest-serving Congressman, former U.S. Representative Mr. Frank Wolf, a sponsor of the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act which included the promotion of religious freedom as a U.S. foreign policy priority and created the Commission on International Religious Freedom. Congressman Wolf, who has publically and vocally criticized the human rights record of Communist countries such as North Korea and China, also emphasized that increasingly the greatest threat to Christian communities is the recent rise of religious extremism throughout Islamic countries all over the Middle East. Concerning the role of the Christian church in the United States, the former Congressman remarked that:
“Despite the Constitutional protections, religious freedom has historically enjoyed a sacred standing in the American experiment but it is daily being encroached upon, why won’t the church speak on persecution and religious liberty for all in this country and around the world? Meanwhile our brothers and sisters around the world are facing an existential threat to their very survival…
However, when you ask the persecuted ‘how can we help?’ They say ‘pray for us’.”
After that, the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Director of Religious Liberty, Faith McDonnell launched the discussion by talking about the role that IRD had in advocacy for Christians in the Islamic Republic of Iran in the early 1990’s, namely, for the martyred Bishop Haik Hovsepian Mehr. IRD’s then president, the late Diane Knippers, met Bishop Haik at an international gathering at which the Iranian church leader spoke out for a persecuted fellow pastor. This was probably the moment that sealed his fate with the Iranian regime.
Faith then introduced Voice of the Martyr’s Middle East Regional Director and U.S. Air Force Captain Andy Coleman who in turn introduced Joseph Hovsepian, son of the martyred bishop. Hovsepian, who made an award-winning documentary about the Islamic regime’s persecution of Christians called A Cry from Iran spoke about his multimedia ministry’s outreach to underground churches in Iran. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, his experience lead him to emphasize forgiving his enemies and relinquishing his hatred toward those who killed his father, in order to express God’s love, which as a result has attracted many Muslims to Christ. Hovsepian said that:
“We were able to go through the process of forgiving our enemies and this actually became the slogan of our ministry and what we do today…a Muslim looks at us and they know us because we are famous in Iran due to my dad’s martyrdom, they say: ‘I want to follow this God that is able to forgive this person but also as a result, this person forgives me’.”
Also addressing the topic of Islamic persecution of the Christian Church throughout the Greater Middle East was Asif Mall from Pakistan. Mall works for Release International and lives in the United Kingdom, where he lobbies for religious freedom focusing especially on exposing human rights violations resulting from “blasphemy laws” which criminalize the rejection of Islam by means of capital punishment. Presenting the urgency of the situation, Mall talked about how Western-allied Muslim nations such as Pakistan have routinely tolerated and even enforced open discrimination against members of Christian communities who have been killed as a result of these Islamic laws. Furthermore, Mall called on Christians in the West to contact their governments to put pressure on so-called partner countries where religious extremism has been growing.
Aside from Pakistan and Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have also become among the most dangerous places for Christians due in part to the recent rise of militant radical Islamism manifested through terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. This alarming occurrence was most dramatically evident starting in 2014 with the rise of ISIS which violently embarked on a brutal genocide against the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East.
It is also interesting to note the according to Open Doors World Watch list 2017, the top 9 out of 10 or the top 33 of the 50 worst countries for religious freedom are Muslim-majority nations and/or ruled by an Islamic government either hostile or friendly with the United States.
Although the end of the Cold War decreased the global ideological threat of Communism, totalitarian governments aggressively advocating for atheism in Cuba, China, and North Korea still very much exist and pose a threat to Christians. Although China has gradually relaxed the most repressive measures against Christians, seeking instead to control the church rather than eliminate it entirely, its neighbor North Korea has done the complete opposite.
The brutal Kim regime in North Korea is ranked as the absolute most extreme in almost every aspect including the worst cases of human rights abuses and religious persecution. Grace Jo is one of the few surviving Christians who escaped to China before being accepted as a refugee into the United States. Grace is a currently a college student and also assists in efforts to aid Christians in North Korea. Grace shared the tragic story of how her family of Christians were killed and how after escaping to China, although still under the threat of persecution, she was able to connect with Christian missionaries who helped her move to the U.S. Grace talked about how “Christians in North Korea are treated like animals”, describing how political prison camps are designed in such a cruel and unusual way that prisoners are tortured in the dark and can never see daylight in their lives. This punishment applies to the entire family of a believer and demonstrates the regime’s intent to destroy the remaining Christian population.
ICC President Jeff King commented on this issue stating that in the West:
“We only hear of North Korea as a geopolitical problem, it’s a spiritual problem. So, we need to take this regime down with prayer!”
On the other hand, Communist Cuba located right off coast from the United States has had among the greatest evangelical revivals in Latin America despite state repression of its underground church. Baptist Pastor Mario Barroso who was temporarily detained during former President Obama’s visit to Cuba in 2016, spoke about how during the U.S.-Cuban thaw, increased government suppression of independent Christian churches not authorized by the state resulted in his arrest. This threat though persistent over time has not been able to crush efforts by ministers like Barroso, who started an organization with a goal to publicize human rights violations and push for religious freedom called Patmos (named after the prison island in the Mediterranean, where the Apostle John was held captive.) Likewise, the Caribbean island of Cuba, an imprisoned and corrupt nation run by the Castros since the Communist Revolution of the 1950-60s had infiltrated the country’s Catholic Church, carefully surveilling all its members. Although Cuba’s repressive state apparatus remains in total control over the population, an evangelical community of underground churches which Barroso represents has continued to grow and expand, with the state authorities unable to stop the ongoing revival on the island.
Throughout the Night of Prayer, an individual prayer was said for each specific country represented and the persecuted church based there as well as final prayer for all persecuted Christians throughout the world. On conclusion, ICC President Jeff King together with Emilie Kao, the Heritage Foundation’s Director of the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion & Civil Society encouraged all participants to learn about or get involved in One Body’s cause of raising public awareness about the worldwide persecuted Christian church.
Watch our live stream of the Night of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.
Posted by One Body on Saturday, November 18, 2017