By Anita Levesque
This Sunday, Nov. 9 is International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP). This global annual effort draws people together to remember and pray for people who are persecuted for their religious beliefs – those who live daily in torment, those who have lost their lives and the families left behind.
In a day and age where congregations nation-wide have many issues to address, I am grateful for the many churches across Canada that are taking time in an already full service schedule to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters who aren’t sitting on comfortable padded pews.
They may well be worshipping on the cold stone floor of a damp, dark prison cell, or in a refugee tent in Syria or Northern Iraq. In too many nations, their choice to love and follow Jesus Christ – the Prince of Peace – is considered a threat to their government, their neighbours and even to their families.
Because of this, freedom has been taken from them; a freedom we may too often take for granted at home in Canada.
As we prepare to pray this Sunday, I think about the fact that we will be joining in unity together with a greater body of believers around the world, the Body of Christ.
This year, with the tragic events in Ottawa and St-Jean-sur-Richelieu that saw the innocent lives of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent cut short, there seems to be a deeper and more resonating heartbeat as we prepare to observe Remembrance Day – honouring those who fought protecting the freedom and liberty we enjoy.
The freedom they were willing to die for included the freedom to believe and worship how and where we choose without restriction or punishment. It was for just such freedom that many Canadians died on foreign soil. And now, sadly, two have died on domestic soil.
I wonder how those who gave their lives for this freedom globally would feel knowing that today a man sits imprisoned for his Christian faith in Iran? That a child is left orphaned in a Nigerian village because her parents were brutally killed as a result of being “marked” as Christians? And that a woman kneels behind bars in Pakistan simply because she is the victim of accusations made under discriminatory anti-conversion and blasphemy laws.
I wonder what they would say about the religious genocide of Christians we are seeing in Iraq and the Middle East, the barbaric acts and far reaching threats. The names of the countries guilty of such human rights atrocities have changed over 60 years, the armbands that once easily marked the “targeted” differences are no longer used. But the need to protect and come to the aid of those who suffer innocently has not changed. In fact, today the need is growing.
Somehow, I think those who died for the right and protection of freedom would agree.
Are we in the Church also becoming so numbed by the volume that our eyes and ears are in danger of closing to the suffering? Are we, perhaps like the Western media, becoming bored with the issue simply because it persists with a regularity and frequency that makes it no longer “news”?
The sheer volume of the more than 200 million Christians who are currently suffering for their faith in Christ is in itself overwhelming.
This Sunday is yet another chance to tell the real life inspirational stories of faith in the face of evil, and to pray for their protection and courage.
Perhaps we need to pray one more prayer? For the protection of our hearts from growing cold. And the courage to speak out for those who are not able.
It requires commitment to resist any sense of becoming bored with the continual messages of the persecuted.
It takes effort to continue to remember to act and pray with every instance we become aware of. Theirs is a daily struggle, not a yearly one. May our remembrance, interest and prayers be the same.
Anita N. Levesque is Coordinator of Public Policy Initiatives and Coordinator Religious Liberty Commission of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.