International (ODM/MNN) — “If I would go to Iraq today bringing 350,000 visas to go abroad – one for every Christian in Iraq – 300,000 of them would take them. I have seen many Christians fleeing to northern Iraq and from there they try to go abroad. But to go abroad you need money, a visa and the right connections. Not everyone has that.”
Those words from a veteran Open Doors field worker in the Middle East reflect the deteriorating conditions for believers in countries such as Iraq, Syria and Egypt.
The number of stories covering evangelistic or ministry work seem to be shrinking and the stories focusing on persecution seem to be taking over. If you were wondering if it’s just your imagination, it isn’t.
Gospel outreach is still happening, acceleration of Scripture translation, innovative methods of church planting, utilizing module training, taking the seminary to the student, but at the same time, the resistance has climbed.
Due to intentional and systematic persecution of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa, the number of believers living in those countries makes up only 4 percent of the inhabitants, compared with 20 percent a century ago. The area is now 93 percent Muslim. Christianity in the Middle East is near extinction. Does it matter?
Dr. David Curry is president and CEO of Open Doors USA. His response to that question is emphatic. “People go to jail for reading the Bible; people are killed for calling themselves ‘followers of Jesus’. It’s a wake-up call to people who take it very passively, who take it as a matter of fact that everybody is free to do what they want to do when it’s not the case.”
Why the urgency? It points back to I Corinthians 12:26-27, which says,
“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
Curry says this is our responsibility as a body. “These are our brothers and sisters, 100 million of them, that are living in danger for calling themselves ‘followers of Jesus’.”
What’s hard for people to wrap their minds around, Curry adds, is the fact that persecution is different in different areas. “It’s not in these areas where there’s this consistently high levels of control, it’s in the areas where people may be free to call themselves a Christian, but they have these really radical groups who are going to attack anybody who is a Christian. That’s why we’re seeing a spike in these kinds of events.”
That, plus people are talking about it now. The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP) is officially marked on Sunday, November 3. IDOP began in 1996 and today is one of the largest prayer events in the world. Curry explains, “It’s our effort to try to educate people in what we call the ‘Free Church’, the people in the West who have the ability to go to church where they want, study what they want, worship who they want, about the fact that 100- million Christians live in faith where they’re persecuted for their faith.”
On that day, Christians around the world are asked to come together in a prayer vigil; put a name to a face, make it personal. “What we’re encouraging people to do is to, in some way, whether it’s in a small group, a prayer group in your church, in your Sunday School class, to take part in the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church by praying for them (persecuted believers), by educating people about what’s happening around the world.”
Here’s another thought: over history, government after government has tried to stamp out the growth of the Church. In each case, the effort meets with a diaspora effect. That’s still true today, says Curry.
“Going back in recent history where you have in China, in the Iron Curtain areas, where you had persecution of folks for their faith, where Christianity was outlawed, where Bibles were outlawed. People were trying to snuff out faith, but in fact, faith flourished under that pressure. I don’t think you’re going to stop the spread of the Gospel.”
For almost 60 years, Open Doors has worked in the world’s most oppressive and restrictive countries, strengthening Christians to stand strong in the face of persecution and equipping them to shine Christ’s light in these places.
He points out that’s the reason Open Doors issues the World Watch List annually. It’s meant to help people be aware, advocate and take action. The top 10 persecutors of Christians on the list include North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Maldives, Mali, Iran, Yemen and Eritrea.
Open Doors empowers persecuted Christians by supplying Bibles and Christian literature, training Christian leaders, facilitating social/economic projects and uniting believers in the West in prayer for Christians, who are the most persecuted religious group in the world and are oppressed in at least 60 countries.
What happens if you miss November 3? Don’t give up, says Curry. “The reality is you can make any Sunday or any part of your week a focus on the persecuted Church. It’s not too late at all.”