Last week life in Washington, DC was more of a flurry than even it usually is. It was the week of the U.S. State Department’s 2nd annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom around the world.
It’s kind of a nice change, when the business of our federal government is focused on providing a space for victims/survivors of persecution and advocates for those who are persecuted to tell their stories. And to give an opportunity for government officials from dozens of countries to come together to work for more religious freedom around the world. I was privileged to be invited to the Ministerial, for a second year in a row.
There is much I can say about the official Ministerial, but another extremely valuable feature of the week were the Ministerial Side Events. These events were sponsored by religious freedom and human rights organizations that participate in the International Religious Freedom Roundtable. They provided opportunities for education about various issues and country-related religious freedom topics, with most events available even to those who were not participating in the official Ministerial. This year there were over 80 side events and IRD was responsible for two of them, as well as for co-sponsoring another two.
Monday, July 15, was an extremely popular day for side events. Many of the Ministerial attendees arrived on Sunday, but the official program did not open until Tuesday morning. Monday was a marathon for IRD and our friends and associates from Save The Persecuted Christians, Jubilee Campaign, the International Committee on Nigeria, and Mission Africa International, as together we hosted three events at the beautiful Watterston House on Capitol Hill:
- This Genocide is Loading – A panel discussion on jihad and genocide in Nigeria. IRD was a co-sponsor of this event, which featured two panels. Panel One: U.S. Representative Frank R. Wolf (retired), the Honorable Terwase Orbunde (Nigerian parliamentarian from Benue State) and Frank J. Gaffney (President, Save The Persecuted Christians). Panel Two: Pastor Yakubu Bakfwash (survivor of two Jihad attacks/abductions) Toynin Shonowo (Nigerian persecution survivor), Ann Buwalda (Director, Jubilee Campaign) and Faith McDonnell (Director, IRD’s International Religious Liberty Program).
- Warfare on Women – This event, which IRD also co-sponsored, was the premiere exhibit of Save The Persecuted Christians new photo display “Warfare on Women,” with a number of speakers. This event also included the first Washington, DC screening of a very powerful new documentary about Nigeria by Mission Africa International, “In the Cauldron of Conflict: Women and Children in the Pathway of the Islamists.” (I hope to review this film and share how you can access it in the near future.)
- Christians in the Mirror – IRD sponsored this screening of the new documentary “Christians in the Mirror,” exploring the global persecution of Christians with stories from Egypt, India, Iraq, Syria, and Sudan. The film was produced by Jordan Allott, In Altum Productions, and Patrick Carberry, Joshuacord, a ministry based in Tampa. After the screening, there was a panel discussion with Pastor Nehemiah Christie (who appears in the film!) from India, the Rt. Rev. Andudu Adam Elnail (Bishop of Kadugli and the Nuba Mountains), filmmaker Jordan Allott, and Faith McDonnell.
On Thursday, the official events at the Ministerial were mostly restricted to government ministers, ambassadors, etc. so it was another popular day for side events. That morning IRD sponsored our final event at our own offices on 15th Street, NW:
An Exploration of Religiously-Motivated Violence: This was a discussion of religiously-motivated violence, why it happens, and what might be done to curb it with Professor Dr. Thomas Johnson (International Institute for Religious Freedom), Dr. Paul Marshall (Wilson Professor of Religious Freedom at Baylor University), Jacob Rudenstrand (Swedish Evangelical Alliance), and Faith McDonnell. The discussion opened with some good news from Dr. Johnson about the progress of “Humanitarian Islam” in Indonesia, but closed with very disturbing information from Rudenstrand concerning Sweden’s failure to defend its own citizens and culture from Muslim migrants’ violence and intimidation. The Hon. Kyai Haji Yahya Cholil Staquf, General Secretary of the Nahdlatul Ulama Supreme Council; Bayt ar-Rahmah Director of Religious Affairs; and Member of Indonesia’s Presidential Advisory Council brought a special word of encouragement.
Look for more information on the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in the coming days. Kudos to the Trump Administration for believing in the importance of religious freedom for every man, woman, and child around the globe. May God give our nation’s leaders, particularly the Secretary Pompeo, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, and all those that work for religious freedom, the wisdom and courage to do this with complete truth and justice, to avoid political correctness, and to escape the traps created when those to whom religious freedom is offered, do not offer it back.
(Photo at the top: Panel discussion after “Christians in the Mirror” with Pastor Nehemiah Christie, the Rt. Rev. Andudu Adam Elnail, Jordan Allott, and Faith McDonnell. Photo by Lindsay Griffin.)