NEWS STORY: Churches gear up for day of prayer for persecuted Christians

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c. 1998 Religion News Service

UNDATED _ Steven Haas says some 300 million Christians around the globe face the possibility of serious discrimination”simply for trying to be what they are”in nations where governments or religious majorities are hostile toward them.

Haas admits his numbers are mere estimates drawn from State Department and other reports on Christians in foreign lands. He counts every Christian living in China, Pakistan, Egypt, Nigeria and Sudan, for example, simply because those nations have been known to persecute Christians.

But even if his figures are high, even if the number of Christians worldwide facing discrimination or worse is just 10 million or even 10,000, Haas said that’s still far too many _ and enough reason for American Christians who enjoy freedom of religion to take action in support of their brothers and sisters overseas who do not.”There’s no number too small,”said Haas.”It’s our duty as Christians to support them in any way we can.” Haas is president of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (PPC) in Arlington Heights, Ill., which for the third year is coordinating the U.S. portion of the annual International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.

This year’s event is set for Nov. 15, and some 100,000 U.S. churches _ evangelical and mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Coptic _ are expected to participate.”Virtually every denomination has become a partner in this endeavor,”said Haas.”What began as an evangelical campaign has become Christianity-wide.” As the event’s name implies, the U.S. effort is part of a larger global initiative. Outside the United States, the event is being coordinated by the World Evangelical Fellowship (WEF), an international body that aids church mission work in a variety of ways in more than 110 nations.

Kathy Graham, a development associate at the fellowship’s U.S. office in Wheaton, Ill., said about 300,000 congregations in some 130 nations are expected to participate in this year’s global effort _ up from about 15,000, largely American churches, the first year.

After the United States, Brazil will have the next largest number of participating churches, about 70,000.

As in previous years, the WEF and PPC are distributing resource kits to help pastors engage their congregations on the issue.

For a $15 donation, pastors receive a video, a copy of”Shatter the Silence”magazine and a map highlighting nations in which Christians face possible discrimination. They also receive”leadership sheets”listing appropriate scriptural verses and hymns, a”more dramatic”exercise for congregants to imagine themselves as persecuted Christians, and other suggestions for structuring a special International Day of Prayer worship service.

Resource kits can be obtained by calling PPC at 888-538-7772, or WEF at 630-668-0440. Money raised will be used to support the ongoing campaign.”We’ve tried to be very wide-ranging so that pastors have much to choose from that is best for their congregation,”said Haas.

Special services focusing on the persecution of Christians will also be held Nov. 15 in Washington, as well as Rome and Barcelona. In Washington, two special morning services will be held that day at the National Presbyterian Church.

Despite the focus on Christians, Haas said”in no way are we saying that justice equates with just us. But when you look at the numbers of persecuted believers around the world, it’s clear the overwhelming number are followers of Jesus.”So we started with our own family because it’s really important to begin with Christians when talking about religious freedom in general.” Haas is a great believer in the power of prayer”to help lift up those who share our beliefs, but not our freedoms.”He also believes recent congressional passage of the International Religious Freedom Act _ which makes religious freedom abroad a U.S. foreign policy concern _ will help as well.

But he does not believe the day will come when Christians enjoy full religious freedom worldwide.”Jesus kind of preempted the issue when he said they persecuted me and they will persecute you,”said Haas.”As long as he is away from the earth this will be part and parcel of being a Christian.”


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