Praying for the persecuted church
Christians worldwide commit to a month of prayer and remembrance
When Boko Haram insurgents attacked Rebecca’s village in northern Nigeria, they made her watch as they murdered her husband and son. After months of grieving, she returned to the charred remains of her home and found her Bible in the rubble.
“I still use this Bible,” she said. “It reminds me of God’s faithfulness.”
More than 360 million Christians worldwide face persecution for their faith. On Sunday, Christians around the world will gather online and in churches to pray and call for better protection on the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.
The World Evangelical Association for Religious Liberty launched the annual event in 1996. It was inspired by the 1994 Day of Prayer for Iran after the disappearance of an Assemblies of God bishop and other cases of persecution. Advocacy and nonprofit groups such as Open Doors and Christian Solidarity Worldwide now work together to create resources for a month of activities.
Alicia Edmund, head of public policy at the U.K.-based Evangelical Alliance, said about 3,000 Christians joined to pray online last year. Prayers this year will focus on Christians in China, Iraq, Cuba, and Nigeria. The plight of believers in other countries, like Iran, where deadly protests have continued, also points to the need for awareness.
“It’s a great educational moment for us to learn the experience of those that are suffering,” Edmund said.
Partner groups like Voice of the Martyrs released the video of Rebecca and provided other resources to guide people to pray.
Vernon Brewer, the founder of World Help, will speak about persecuted Christians on Sunday to congregants at West Ridge Baptist Church in Dallas, Ga. He noted that other partner churches have committed to praying for the persecuted this coming Lord’s Day.
Brewer’s ministry also supplies Bibles to Christians in North Korea and elsewhere. “With the starvation happening in North Korea right now, you would think that would be their No. 1 request, but it’s not,” he said. “They want more Bibles.”
Edmund sees partnerships and global prayers as a sign of the unity of the church: “It’s such an opportunity for us in the Western church to be inspired by the resilience and character of men, women, and children who boldly proclaim the name of Christ and know it could come at a personal cost to them.”
LEBANON: President Michel Aoun, 89, left office on Sunday without a successor. Lebanese lawmakers tried but failed four times to elect a new president in the past month. The Maronite Christian stepped down one day before his six-year term officially ended. (Lebanon’s presidency is reserved for Maronite Christians.) Before his departure, Aoun approved the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s caretaker government, though it has remained to govern the country amid political uncertainty and a financial crisis that began three years ago.
AUSTRALIA: The Australian government repatriated four women and 13 children who are family members of Islamic State fighters. They arrived in Sydney on Saturday having been detained at a camp in Syria. Since the territorial defeat of ISIS in 2019, thousands of the group’s members and their families have been held in Syria. The Australian government plans to repatriate about 40 more women and children still in detention. Repatriated women could face charges for foreign incursion—the offense of entering a foreign country to engage in a hostile activity—despite many claiming they were forced by their husbands to travel.
SYRIA: A U.S. District judge on Tuesday sentenced Allison Fluke-Ekren, who led an ISIS battalion in Syria, to 20 years in prison. The 42-year-old teacher from Kansas moved to Egypt in or around 2008 with her second husband, a now-deceased terrorist. She was smuggled into Syria, where she became an active ISIS member and married several other militants after her husband was killed in battle. Fluke-Ekren organized the Khatiba Nusaybah, providing weapons training to a group of more than 100 women and girls. U.S. authorities brought her back to her home country in January.
CHINA: Amid a COVID-19 outbreak at its factory in Henan province, Foxconn announced Tuesday it would quadruple the bonuses for employees who remain at work. The offer from the world’s largest supplier to Apple came after hundreds of workers fled a lockdown at the plant. Videos circulated online last week showing employees jumping over a fence and beginning their treks back home. Trying to maintain production of the latest iPhone 14 models, Foxconn has not disclosed how many among its 200,000 workers in the city of Zhengzhou tested positive for COVID. Zhengzhou’s population of about 10 million has been under partial lockdown. Other cities in China—including Shanghai and Beijing and the Tibetan capital of Lhasa—have also come under some sort of lockdown. During the seven days before Tuesday, China recorded a daily average of 1,890 COVID-19 cases.
EL SALVADOR: President Nayib Bukele’s administration has detained more than 55,000 people since a crackdown on gang violence began in March. Gangs killed 62 people nationwide on March 26, marking the country’s most violent day in nearly three decades. Bukele suspended constitutional rights and gave authorities sweeping powers to detain people. The Salvadoran police launched a dedicated phone line to receive tips on suspects. Advocacy groups say the police detained hundreds of people over unconfirmed social media tips. The family of 26-year-old Walber Rodríguez told Rest of World that police showed his Facebook profile as proof of his arrest. At least 80 people have died in detention.
ETHIOPIA: After more than a week of closed-door talks in South Africa, Ethiopian government forces and Tigrayan rebels have reached a truce. Both parties agreed to disarm and restore services and humanitarian aid to the restive Tigray region. Fighting that began two years ago between the warring parties has killed more than half a million people and displaced more than 2 million others. Previous cease-fires failed, but this one marks the first time both sides met for formal talks led by the African Union. Eritrea, which has aided Ethiopian federal troops in the fighting, was absent from the negotiations.
WORLD Asia correspondent Erica Kwong contributed to this report.