Each year, there is a multi-week period of prayer for the persecuted church around the world.  This year, that period culminates on November 3, 2013, with the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  On that Sunday, it is estimated that more than 100,000 churches in 115 countries will join together to pray on behalf of our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters around the world.  In Hebrews 13:3, we read: “Keep on loving each other as brothers, and to remember those in prison as if we were their fellow prisoners, and to remember those who are mistreated as if we ourselves were suffering.”  Although the issue of Christian persecution in other countries is not addressed by most of the institutions of influence in our society, it is a grim reality that has become more evident in recent decades as the Church has grown around the world.  From its very beginning, Christianity has been the focus of the largest and most brutal oppression in human history.  And today, many tens of millions of Christian believers worldwide are subject to intense persecution for their faith.

For many Christians in other countries, they already are living through a time of tribulation.  Irrefutable, documented evidence continues to surface revealing horrifying atrocities committed against those who dare to follow our Lord Jesus Christ.  For each of us, the list of afflictions and cruelty is unimaginable and often indescribable: amputation, bombing, crucifixion, displacement, flogging, kidnapping, murder, imprisonment, rape, slavery and torture.  Christians meet secretly in their homes, while being oppressed by government forces and violent mobs.  Their towns and homes are attacked and burned.  Christian women and children are sold into slavery and raped.  Christians are brutally tortured and brainwashed in an effort to force them to deny their faith in Christ.  Many spend year after year in solitary prison cells and hard labor camps.  They fear for their lives, and they die for their faith.  Tens of thousands of Christians are martyred each year.  It is a stunning tragedy that more Christians have been martyred for their faith in the 20th and 21st centuries than in the previous nineteen centuries combined.

The following countries severely persecute Christians: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Egypt, Vietnam, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan.  Moreover, Christian activities are severely restricted or prohibited in more than forty additional nations.  The Voice of the Martyrs (“VOM”) is one of the organizations that educates the Christian church about religious persecution around the world, and provides tangible support to persecuted Christians and the families of martyrs.   VOM recently released a short video titled Victoria that I would commend for your viewing.  Filmed entirely in Nigeria, Victoria tells the story of a young girl who lost her father when their church was attacked by radical Moslems.  You can find it here: http://www.icommittopray.com/.  Further, the link invites us to commit to praying for our persecuted brothers and sisters.  Regular readers of Mere Comments know that, even in the United States, we are no longer immune from increased religious persecution, and yet, the suffering of Christians outside of our nation is much greater.  I am reminded of Martin Niemoller’s provocative poem regarding the Jews during World War II, and with some poetic license, have sought to bring it forward to today:

First, they came for the Uzbeki Christians, and I didn’t speak out because I was not an Uzbek.  Then, they came for the Nigerian Christians, and I didn’t speak out because I was not Nigerian. Then, they came for the Syrian Christians, and I didn’t speak out because I was not Syrian.    Then, they came for the Chinese Christians, and I didn’t speak out because I was not Chinese.  Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously wrote: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless.  Not to speak is to speak.  Not to act is to act.”  May God have mercy on us if we remain silent, and fail to act, pray, and give in the face of horrific evil in our world.  For more information and to find useful materials for the International Day of Prayer 2013, please go to this link: www.persecution.com.  I hope that the churches and parishes of each of my readers will pray for persecuted Christians in the coming weeks.  Please ask your church leaders to remember our persecuted brethren during this time.