International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church set for Sunday

It is very easy for North American Christians to become complacent about the routine of going to church on Sunday. Go to a safe environment with trusted friends, share some coffee and small talk, worship in comfort and go about the rest of your day. For the majority of Christians worldwide, these surroundings we can easily take for granted are a completely foreign concept. Raising awareness about this reality is the main point of the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church scheduled from this Sunday, Nov.8. The day is promoted by the ministry Open Doors, which provides Bibles, worship supplies from basic necessities to Christian communities globally, many of which are cloistered for fear of social or governmental reprisals. It is impossible to track the usage level of materials of requested or downloaded from the Open Doors site regarding the Day of Prayer, said the ministry’s CEO Carl Moeller. He did say, however, requests and downloads combined topped the 100,000 mark. While this may be good news for the ministry’s impact, it only scratches the surface of larger issues Christians need to be aware of, Moeller said in an interview with Everyday Christian. Moeller is a former singles pastor at the multi-campus Saddleback Church in Southern California founded by prominent evangelical leader Rick Warren. Moeller is currently involved with Saddleback’s civil forum on Christian persecution. The International Day of Prayer has grown in recognition and popularity since its launch in the mid-’90s. Raising awareness of the needs of Christians worshipping in difficult circumstances around the world nonetheless remains a challenge. “I think the recognition is growing, but there are still some serious challenges,” Moeller said. “To me, seeing our society still so wrapped up in self-centeredness doesn’t give Christians a pass just because of their beliefs. I think as we see news regularly from places like North Korea, Iran, Darfur and Somalia, more and more Christians need to ask themselves where the church is in all of this. “That’s what the day of prayer is about is awareness. There are large issues here to consider.” Annually, Open Doors ranks the worst countries in terms of persecution. North Korea has topped the list for the past seven years. On the 2009 list, Saudi Arabia and Iran were second and third. Moeller said the specter of social discrimination and governmental repression including the threat of imprisonment or execution for beliefs are what rank the countries. Without a doubt China, too, is a large factor when pondering persecution. Moeller traveled to China about a year ago and said the evident economic changes in the country are reflected by the widely varied statuses of churches. “It’s undeniable that China is changing almost daily,” Moeller said. “There a lot of dimensions to Chinese society that has seen changes in the last five to 10 years that are nothing short of remarkable. In short, there is a Chinese expression that anything you say about China is true, and I certainly think that is the case today. “Is it true that China still has one of the most repressive human rights records? Yes. When you see how Tibetan minorities are dealt with and ethnic minorities in other parts of the country, there’s no doubt it’s a factor. On the other hand, we are seeing much more opening to the message of the Gospel. Just as an example, you can go to a Starbucks in Beijing there are dozens of bulletins about churches and Christian meetings. We know Bibles are scarce in the country even though millions are printed domestically. It’s very difficult to calculate exactly where everything is headed, but there’s no doubt there’s a tremendous opportunity for the church.” Gradual openness to Christian messages in China is balanced by the reality that in many places such as neighboring North Korea, Open Doors must work quietly behind the scenes to keep believers spiritually fed and help with basic necessities of life. “Almost without exception, the prayer of people in these difficult circumstances is that we not forget them,” Moeller said. “When people ask for our prayers they interestingly don’t generally ask for the persecution to stop, but just asking for them to stand strong in the midst of it. Many people do not want to see themselves painted as a church full of supermen or superwomen. They want prayers for God to provide them with the courage to persevere while facing persecution.” Moeller said a Bible verse which sticks with him is part of Jesus’ prayer for all believers, John 17:21. “It fills me with hope that in the U.S. and around the world people will unite in prayer and recognize Jesus is the answer sent from God.” That belief would get little dispute from Bishop Wilson Garang. Garang oversees more than 180 churches in South Sudan dealing directly with the spiritual and survival needs of impoverished people across a wide swath of the East African nation. Garang’s experiences have brought him face-to-face with persecution, cultural doubts about Christianity and repression on a regular basis. Garang was a refugee and part of the “Lost Boys,” a group of thousands of Sudanese children orphaned by the country’s civil war in the 1980s. It was during a long walk back to his home village in 1992 when felt the pull of ministry. “Only through fasting and prayer was I able to survive,” Garang said. “The Holy Spirit has been instrumental for a lot of miracles and has convinced a lot of people to come to Christ. All of this has been done with how the Lord has worked, not me.” Garang spoke of his belief that the Holy Spirit has performed miracles on people mentally and physically ill in ways many Americans would have difficulty understanding. “There are things I could tell you I’ve seen which you may not believe, but I am sincere in saying what I have seen God do to people who had no hope of recovering,” Garang said. Californian Susan Lintz has helped Garang spread the word of challenges the country faces with the creation of South Sudan Missions. “Bishop Garang is a personal hero of mine,” Lintz said. “It is amazing what he has been able to do.” South Sudan has an agreement to move toward independence with the Sudanese government, but Garang said the realities of daily life far outstrip the hope of any political solutions. Alternating periods of drought and flooding rains this year have added difficulty to the regular battles against malnutrition and basic health concerns. “The needs are so very many that you don’t know where to start,” he said. “There are no schools, no hospitals, very few clinics and not many clean water resources. We need to pray for peace so the children can be properly equipped to work for the future of the country.” Links: International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church: http://members.opendoorsusa.org/site/PageNavigator/IDOP_2009_LP South Sudan Missions: http://www.southsudanmissions.com/index.html

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