Christian organisations joined forces, as 2017 closed, to encourage UK churches to pray for fellow-believers who suffer because of their faith.
Around the world, many Christians risk harassment, discrimination, imprisonment or even the risk of death, simply for trying to live out their faith or worship together.
The Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) of the Evangelical Alliance, together with Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Open Doors UK and Release International, formed the ‘One Month, One Church, One Prayer’ initiative, to encourage Christians to pray individually, and in their church services to remember persecuted believers.
According to the RLC, the global picture is sobering. In Iran, believers may be forced to worship together in private homes, running the risk of arrest and imprisonment by the security services.
In northern Nigeria, armed raids by Fulani herders have claimed the lives of innocent men, women and children and forced others from their homes into camps for the internally displaced. In Indonesia, some churches are facing closure by the authorities, and congregations attempting to meet together on Sundays face hostility from their neighbours.
Lisa Pearce, chief executive at Open Doors UK, commented, ‘The shocking rise in the persecution of Christians worldwide must be a priority for the whole church, not just a concerned few’.
Paul Robinson, chief executive at Release International, said, ‘In places such as Eritrea, China and North Korea, Christians have been imprisoned for years. They are comforted and strengthened when they know we have not given up raising their voice here in the UK’.
Meanwhile, a long-awaited answer to prayer seems to be emerging. Pakistan’s Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights has said it is considering preventing the misuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy law.
Its chairwoman, Senator Nasreen Jalil, has said innocent people have been wrongly accused of blasphemy and have suffered. In response, Pakistan’s Ministry of Interior has written that a thorough consultation process should take place.
Nasir Saeed, director of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement UK, said it is good news that, once again, the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights is considering preventing the continuous misuse of the blasphemy law.
He said: ‘Changes to this law are long overdue, and minorities and civil society have a long-standing demand to reform the blasphemy law, or at least prevent its misuse. Though Muslims and non-Muslim suffer alike, Christians are the main target. Their churches are attacked; their properties set on fire; they are imprisoned arbitrarily, and even burned alive’.