CALL TO PRAYER: The persecuted church
Umar visited a church for the first time one Sunday and was so impressed with the Gospel that he surrendered his life to Christ. Three Muslim friends saw him leave the church and attacked him.
He assumed the beatings would stop. He was wrong.
In time, Umar preached in a church that grew in size to 1,000. On Christmas night 2011 as he left church, Muslim assailants threw acid on his face as they shouted, "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest).
As a result, he is badly scarred and blind in one eye, but he continues to preach. "When I became a Christian, I was set free from legalism, fear and hatred. My message today is one of Christ's love and forgiveness, and I will continue to preach it."
Global assault on Christians
Umar's story is one of thousands around the world illustrating the fact that religious freedom is the exception, not the rule, in many countries.
Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert and Nina Shea bring this reality to light in their book, "Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians."
Along with dozens of heart-wrenching stories, the authors report the following:
-- Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world today. Seventy-five percent of acts of religious intolerance are directed against Christians (see Baptist Press news articles on the persecuted church here.
-- Christians suffer harassment by the state and/or society in 133 countries -- two-thirds of the world's nations -- and suffer in more places than any other religious group, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
-- 70 million Christians have been killed for their faith throughout the first two millennia of church history, 45 million in the 20th century alone.
-- Most persecution of Christians springs from one of three causes. First is the hunger for total political control, exhibited by communist and post-communist regimes. Second is the desire to preserve favored religious privilege, evident in South Asia. And third is radical Islam's goal of religious dominance, which is generating an expanding global crisis.
Certainly, other religious observers experience persecution, but nothing compares to what is taking place around the world in lands hostile to Christianity.
Complacent complicity of the church
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor executed in a Nazi concentration camp, once remarked, "Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much."
Bonhoeffer continued, "Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christians should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong."
Martin Niemöller, a German pastor who survived seven years in a Nazi concentration camp, famously said, "First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out -- because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out -- because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out -- because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me."
There are enough Baptist Christians in the United States to press our elected officials to fight for religious liberty and basic human rights in our nation and in countries around the world. We must not stand idly by while our brothers and sisters in Christ in other lands are systematically targeted for their faith.
If we do not stand for the weak and powerless now, who will stand for us when persecution comes to our churches?
International Day of Prayer
Nov. 3 is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Faith McDonnell of the Institute on Religion and Democracy has developed some "Aids to Intercession" for churches. They include:
-- Start a persecuted prayer group in your church and hold a prayer vigil.
-- Include the persecuted church in prayers at church each Sunday.
-- Provide bulletin inserts with prayer points or show a video. Get free resources from www.onewiththem.com (Open Doors) or www.persecution.com (Voice of the Martyrs).
-- During baptisms, pray for persecuted Christian converts from Islam and the pastors who baptize them at great personal risk.
-- Read testimonies from persecuted Christians such as those in "Insanity of God" by Nik Ripken, "Hearts of Fire" by Voice of the Martyrs, "Jesus Freaks" by dc Talk or "By Their Blood" by James and Marti Hefley.
-- Collect and update materials on the persecuted church from Baptist Press and other news sites for a church prayer chapel.
-- Use a globe, world map or newspaper as part of your family prayer time.
Rob Phillips is director of communications for the Missouri Baptist Convention with responsibility for leading MBC apologetics ministry in the state. This article first appeared in The Pathway (www.mbcpathway.org), newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention. Phillips also is on the Web at www.oncedelivered.net. Roger S. Oldham, vice president for convention communications with the SBC Executive Committee, contributed to this article.