Thankful in 2020: International Religious Freedom Edition

Faith McDonnell on November 26, 2020

Thanksgiving 2020 may not be a time at which most of us are gushing with thankfulness. It has been a hard year in many ways. But there is much in 2020 for which to thank God (even if the Bible didn’t instruct us to give thanks in all circumstances)! As a starter, we should all say what I have often heard said in testimonies to God’s goodness at the Salvation Army rehab center: “I thank God that He woke me up this morning and gave me another day.”

Here’s just two things for which I praise God this Thanksgiving. Before the end of the year I will post more of the top international religious freedom advances of 2020.

Hungary’s stand for persecuted Christians

I already intended to express my thanks to God for the valiant nation of Hungary’s defense and support for persecuted Christians. A year ago this very week I was in Budapest for Hungary’s 2nd International Conference on Christian Persecution. Then early this morning I received a message from Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s office. My friend Andras Stefanovzsky in the Cabinet Office of the State Secretary for the Aid of Persecuted Christians and the Hungary Helps program sent photos of Hungary’s honoring of the Persecuted Church for Red Wednesday.

Red Wednesday was started by the Catholic relief group Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving — for Americans — and before the first Sunday of Advent for everyone, ACN asks individuals, organizations, and governments to bathe the town in red light to call attention to the 260 million Christians suffering severe persecution worldwide.

As State Secretary Tristan Azbej explained, “There’s often a lack of public attention when Christians are killed because of their faith.” He said that was why Hungary joins the international commemoration of Red Wednesday. They had the Body of Christ from across denominations including Catholic, Lutheran, Orthodox and Reformed churches coming together in unity. That is also why Hungary is such a staunch defender of those who are slaughtered for following Jesus. Thank You, God, for Hungary’s insistence on speaking truth and refusing to kowtow to political correctness and moral equivalence. And thank You for their courage, compassion, generosity, and faith.

Bridge lit red for Red Wednesday spanning the Danube River in Budapest
(Photo credit, for both Red Wednesday photos: Andras Stefanovzsky)

Sudan’s Surprises

Sudan has been full of surprises this year. I tend to be the skunk at the garden party when it comes to celebrating total transformation of this formerly (?) jihadi-producing, caliphate-building country. But even I see a lot of good, and my Sudanese friends do — which is far more important.

Last year, 20+ year dictator President Omar al Bashir and assorted other baddies were overthrown. Since then the country has struggled with governance split between civilians and the military (including some perpetrators of oppression and genocide against Sudan’s black, African people groups such as Darfuri, Nuba, Beja, and from Blue Nile State, etc.).

But 2020 brought more surprises. Peace deals and power sharing agreements between transitional government and rebels. Islamic laws on apostasy and female genital mutilation abolished. A “joint declaration of principles” that seems too good to be true signed by Sudan’s Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, and head of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement-North, General Abdelaziz Adam Alhilu. That declaration if honored will lead to separation of religion and state with full freedom, equality, and democracy for all people groups, or alternately, the right to self-determination by Sudan’s marginalized peoples.

Attendee Arkamani Babakir at the Khartoum Roundtable
with the Catholic and Episcopal Archbishops.
(Photo credit: Arkamani Babakir)

The most recent surprises from Sudan are the establishment of a Religious Freedom Roundtable modeled after the International Religious Freedom Roundtable in Washington, DC and a new relationship between Sudan and Israel!

In fact the news of the intentions of Sudan and Israel to normalize relations came just a few days before Khartoum launched the Religious Freedom Roundtable with a two-day conference at Friendship Hall. Some 400 participants in all. The co-leader of the event, Dr. William Devlin reported that the 400 participants included multiple religious Muslim and Christian leaders such as the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sudan, the Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, Greek Melkite Church Bishop, Sudan Human Rights Council representative, and many Sunni Muslim Imams and Christian pastors.

Thank You, God, for all of these signs of change for the better in Sudan and greater things to come, as the Sudanese government begins to see the value of freedom!

Give Thanks

Give thanks with a grateful heart
Give thanks to the Holy One
Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son
. . .

And now let the weak say, “I am strong”
Let the poor say, “I am rich
Because of what the Lord has done for us”
(Don Moen, 1990)

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