Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church kicks off amidst growing violence and oppression against Christians

by Chris Lange

Chris Lange, FISM News

 

A Christian is killed for their faith every two minutes, according to the International Missions Board (IMB). 

This sobering statistic served as the backdrop for Sunday’s launch of the IMB’s Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, described as “an opportunity for individuals and churches across the Southern Baptist Convention to unite in prayer for our brothers and sisters around the world who are persecuted for their faith,” according to its website

“When we pray for persecuted believers, God uses their witness to inspire gospel transformation among the lost,” the site states.

The annual day of prayer comes as religious persecution has reached an all-time high.

Persecution watchdog group Open Doors has reported that among the top 50 nations on its World Watch List of religious persecution, over “312 million Christians face very high or extreme levels.” A staggering 5,898 believers were killed for their faith in 2021, with the organization noting that Christian persecution “has reached the highest levels” since the organization first created its Watch List nearly three decades ago.

Islamic extremism is largest contributor to Christian persecution

Islamic extremism is cited as the leading contributor to this trend, particularly as the Taliban has strengthened its position in Afghanistan following the U.S. withdrawal in 2021. The abrupt and chaotic pullout created a power vacuum the Jihadist group quickly filled.

“The Taliban’s takeover of government in Afghanistan gave jihadists globally a profound psychological boost,” the report states, adding that the Taliban’s growing power “signals a new impunity for Jihadist movements from Africa to Asia.”

“This development is likely to encourage extremism in the Middle East, giving a boost to groups like Islamic State [and] Al Qaeda throughout the region,” it continued.

FISM previously reported that Open Doors in January 2022 named Afghanistan the most dangerous country in the world for Christians in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal.

“This proved a game-changer not only for women and ethnic minorities but also for religious minorities, including Christian converts, who are seen as apostates,” the organization said at the time. “With the Taliban’s grip on power growing stronger and reaching into more and more districts, the situation for Christian converts is becoming increasingly challenging.” 

Violence against Christians is also rising in Sub-Saharan Africa. Persecution has soared in Nigeria, now included among the top 10 countries for religious persecution.

“Colleges, schools, churches, villages, and community leaders continue to be targeted for kidnappings, killings, injuries and destruction of livestock and livelihoods, especially by Fulani militants, as well as known jihadist groups such as Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province,” the report states.

Persecution rose with pioneering technology

A somewhat surprising factor linked to increased persecution is expanding technology, which is being used to “surveil and control” populations in countries like China, India, Malaysia, Myanmar (formerly Burma), and Sri Lanka.

“In India, Hindu extremists use social technology platforms to incite violence and discrimination,” the report states. 

Pandemic, ‘Communist ideology’ used to oppress believers in the Americas 

Under their newfound powers amid the COVID-19 pandemic, governments targeted the Church with oppression in North, South, and Central America.

“Under Communist ideology in the Americas, the pandemic continued to be used as a pretext to monitor churches and impose greater restrictions,” the report said.

A Canadian pastor who was arrested and jailed for 21 days holding church services in violation of the country’s strict COVID-19 public health mandates was acquitted on charges on Nov. 1.

Alberta provincial court Judge Allan Fradsham ruled on Tuesday that the Crown failed to prove that Tim Stephens, pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Calgary, violated social distancing protocols during two separate worship services he held in 2021.

Meanwhile, house churches in places like Myanmar and Qatar remain closed, despite the lifting of pandemic restrictions.

A Kachin Baptist seminary was bombed by the Tatmadaw (Burmese military) in northern Myanmar on Nov. 3. The seminary in Kutkai, Shan State, which was founded by the Kachin Baptist Convention, was attacked three times according to a report by International Christian Concern.

A call to prayer and a reason to hope

IMB is urging Christians to pray for the empowerment of persecuted Christians across the globe and for God to “equip church leaders as they boldly and courageously proclaim the gospel in the face of opposition.”

As religious persecution grows, so too does the Kingdom of Christ, even in the most hostile environments, which should encourage believers around the world to remain steadfast in their faith.

“God is building his church and people are coming to faith even in hostile environments — Afghanis, Kurds, Yemeni, Iranians,” Open Doors said.

The World Watch List shows once again that against all odds, the church is active and alive. While persecution is intensifying, stories abound of resolute faith and steadfastness in the face of opposition. The light keeps shining in the darkness, and the darkness has not overpowered it. God’s faithfulness remains a beacon even in the most dangerous places on earth to be a Christian.

The International Missions Board prayer guide for the persecuted church can be found here. To view Open Doors’ full Watch List, follow this link.

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