Last Sunday, as Christians in churches across the United States observed the annual International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP), dozens were gunned down in a sanctuary in small-town Texas.
For this year’s prayer observances on November 5 and November 12, the massacre in Sutherland Springs further draws Christians to unite as one body and grieve the violence that plagues churches across the globe.
“On days like this, when the suffering comes close to home, it’s so important to remember that these victims—and those who suffer all around the world every day because of their faith—are our brothers and sisters,” wrote Brian Orme, of Open Doors USA. “Not some nameless victims, but our family. And we need to stand together in unity.”
Open Doors reported record levels of Christian persecution in its 2017 World Watch List, with North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, and Iraq ranking the worst.
In Africa, persecution surged in Mali, and Christian killings grew by 62 percent in Nigeria, where Boko Haram has earned the designation of the world’s deadliest terror group. The number of Christians killed for their faith has doubled in recent years, with more martyrs recorded in Nigeria than any other country. World Watch Monitor reportedabout 2,500 killed there in 2014, and the country topped the violence list again in 2016.
Just this week, nine believers were fatally shot by Fulani herdsmen in central Nigeria, the latest in a string of deadly attacks targeting Christians in farming communities.
Days before, gang members in the Niger Delta freed three kidnapped British missionariesafter one hostage had died. David and Shirley Donovan, of the medical missions charity New Foundations, had been working in small villages in the region for 14 years.
“This targeted violence, discrimination, and marginalization of Christians in northern Nigeria, if unchecked and halted, could lead to the extinction of the Christian faith and Christian communities in northern Nigeria,” Christian leaders stated in a 2016 declaration. “Christians in the northern region have for long been abandoned to their own fate by the Nigerian authorities.”
During IDOP, Christians will also pray for believers in Iraq, where many of the remaining Christians fled ISIS to settle in areas where Kurds are now fighting for independence. Leaders are hopeful that a new strategy for the US to fund Christians on the ground directly (instead of through the United Nations) will improve the humanitarian situation and allow for more Iraqis to return.
“This is an unprecedented time in Washington DC, where the persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria is really a hot topic,” said Kristin Wright, director of advocacy for Open Doors, during a Facebook Live from outside the White House on Thursday. “This is an area that has really captured the attention of the administration, so we’re really grateful.”
IDOP estimates that 100 million Christians suffer daily persecution. Religious freedom advocates have debated whether American believers facing resistance to their faith should be included.
Last year, International Christian Concern put the United States in its religious freedom “Hall of Shame” for Christian attacks in the media and legal marginalization. Many Christians have acknowledged that the intensity of persecution is much worse abroad.
“We believe that God uses the prayers of his people to strengthen and deliver suffering saints,” said Godfrey Yogarajah, executive director of the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission, which has put on the annual observance since 1996. “… We are convinced that though sorrow is the present reality of those suffering for Christ, triumph is their ultimate reward.”
Watchdog organizations monitoring Christian persecution, including Open Doors, Voice of the Martyrs, and World Help partner to promote the prayer initiative by providing free resources for the thousands of churches that participate across more than 100 countries.
“When we remember our persecuted family—and suffer a loss of our own—we need to remind ourselves about the all-encompassing power of Jesus and his promise for the future,” Orme wrote for Open Doors. “One day, we know this … every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. That includes every active shooter, every persecutor, every cruel dictator and warlord.”