National Day of Prayer: Remembering Those Suffering Worldwide for Their Faith
As we mark yet another National Day of Prayer, our freedoms here at home remind us of the need to pray for those who lack them around the world. In the United States, we can offer a prayer of thanks that religious freedom is not yet obliterated and faith is not yet coerced. As we acknowledge our blessings and lift our supplications to our Creator, this is an opportune moment to look outside ourselves and beyond our borders to pray for the needs of others — including those being persecuted for their faith around the world.
In the world's most populous country, the Chinese government seeks to suffocate Christianity and other faiths under the burden of a bureaucracy intensely hostile to the threat posed by a higher power. House churches not sanctioned by the state may be harassed by authorities and shut down, their members and pastors arrested. In state-approved churches, the government tears down crosses and removes copies of the Ten Commandments — sometimes replacing them with quotes from President Xi Jinping. Facial recognition cameras are starting to be installed in churches to ensure compliance with government regulations. Beijing's now infamous oppression of Uyghur Muslims has revealed the brutality with which the Chinese government will treat its religious minorities.
The secretive regime of North Korea continues to be widely considered the world's worst violator of religious freedom. The only faith allowed in the hermit kingdom is the worship of the Kim family dictators. Any expression of Christianity may land a person in a labor camp, where one is forced to suffer torture and perform hard labor, enduring horrific living conditions. The dire situation in the world's most isolated country requires our urgent prayers.
Christians in India have experienced an uptick in religiously motivated attacks this year. Indian Christians and others regularly face violent attacks by Hindu mobs. Such attacks are implicitly encouraged by the ruling Hindu nationalist leaders, who advance the idea that to be "Indian is to be Hindu" — a narrative that fuels cultural discrimination against the marginalized Christian community.
In Pakistan, the country's notorious blasphemy laws are weaponized against the vulnerable Christian community, which faces an unsympathetic court system. False accusations of blasphemy often keep Christians imprisoned for years, with as many as 200 Christians in prison on blasphemy charges as of May 2019.
Across the Middle East, Christians face an array of dangers and deprivations. Christians along Syria's war-torn northern border have become refugees, herded into crowded and unhygienic camps and other temporary shelters. Fears of Turkish military attacks and COVID-19 infections are rampant, thanks to broken treaties; home invasions; and a lack of clean water for drinking, cleaning, and bathing due to sabotaged water lines.
ISIS drove thousands of Iraqi Christians from their homes in 2014, and many more remain displaced. Iraq once had an ancient Christian community of some 1.4 million before the ISIS invasion. Today, church leaders estimate that only about 150,000 Christians remain in the country — where many suffer abuse at the hand of Iranian Islamists.
Iran itself is controlled by a notoriously vicious regime, which continues its abuse of Christians and other religious minorities. It particularly targets converts from Islam, estimated to number in the tens of thousands. These Muslim-background believers, who continue to meet secretly in underground house churches while quietly evangelizing, are angrily targeted by the regime and face arrest and imprisonment in Iran's filthy, overcrowded prisons.
In Egypt, Coptic Christians continue to be threatened, primarily by Islamic State radicals. Meanwhile, all across the vast continent of Africa, Christians face grave dangers at the hand of terrorist groups like Boko Haram, al-Qaeda, Fulani militants, al Shabaab, and the Islamic State. In West Africa, the Sahel region is experiencing increasingly deadly attacks. Nigeria is particularly victimized. Young women are kidnapped, churchgoers are murdered en masse, and Christian villages and towns are burned to the ground or seized by Islamist invaders.
This quick survey of the globe can be distressing enough. Yet on this National Day of Prayer, anxiety and uncertainty about ensuing economic difficulties continue to spread here in America following the coronavirus pandemic. At this time, it is right that we intercede for our own families, friends, and loved ones while giving thanks for the blessings we still enjoy.
At the same time, let us take a moment to look beyond ourselves and our borders, to consider the trials faced at this very moment by millions of our fellow Christians. Our own challenges are undeniable, but let us also reflect on those who endure indescribable dangers every day. We may not know their names, but they are part of our spiritual family and in grave need of our prayers. Let us remember to pray for our sisters and brothers who are struggling to survive overseas and around the world.
Lela Gilbert is senior fellow for international religious freedom at the Family Research Council, and Arielle Del Turco is assistant director of the Center for Religious Liberty at the Family Research Council.