Who will pray for the persecuted church?

by Karen L. Willoughby, |

PROVO, Utah (Christian Examiner) – A fierce-looking soldier with a glare nearly barred the door, the Sunday I visited Trinity Baptist Church in Lebanon, Ore.

I was so relieved to edge around him and enter the sanctuary that at first I didn't notice the nip in the air. Why had no one turned on the heat this mid-winter morning? Why were the lights not on?

Maybe I was early, I guessed, as others began to filter into the room. However, unlike most churches I had visited, I saw no evidence of "fellowshipping," of people exchanging greetings with each other.

Everyone seemed to sit alone, even if they had come in with an apparent spouse or family. It wasn't a reverent hush; it was something – colder. I knew I wouldn't return for a second visit.

Details have dimmed with time, but I remember the pastor coming up the center aisle, and the congregation perking up, as if he gave them hope. He began to speak – from the Old Testament book of Joshua, as I recall, though he called it simply "a book I read" – a message about being strong and courageous.

The preacher hadn't gotten very far into the message when he obviously slipped up.

"The Bible tells us," he began, when the doors crashed open and not one but two soldiers came racing in. They pulled him down from the stage, confiscated the Bible he was reading from, and dragged him down the center aisle he had so confidently walked up a few minutes before.

As the soldiers took the pastor away, women near the front began to moan; "No, no," wailed one, while another cried, "Not again; please, no." The men sat stoically, as if they hadn't seen anything.

A song leader tried to interest the congregation in singing "Amazing Grace," but the song seemed almost tuneless as the people listlessly followed his lead. It was obvious they had lost all hope and were just going through the motions of church. How many, I wondered, would join me in NOT returning next Sunday.

The congregation changed its tune, however, when during the second song Pastor Ted Haws returned. His presence alone brought them joy their religion couldn't.

Everything was a sham, of course, though none of us were in on it. Haws had given us a picture of what Christianity endures in places where religious persecution exists: Unheated, unlit places of worship, where people in the face of a glaring soldier have to muster their courage to even enter; a place where any person could be a spy, so best to not talk with anyone; a place where the pastor needs to be careful to not use forbidden words such as "Bible."

This service is still vivid in my mind, some 10 years after it took place. I learned from it some of the fear persecuted Christians endure on a daily basis.

To build awareness of the persecution more than 100 million Christians in more than 60 nations endure, the Open Doors ministry for persecuted Christians plans to host an International Day of Prayer simulcast. It is set for 5 p.m. Pacific time Nov. 1, with an exclusive interactive simulcast for churches and small groups at 4 p.m. Pacific time Nov. 2.

Open Doors CEO David Curry said on the organization's website:

"Our goal at Open Doors USA is to connect and strengthen believers worldwide, empowering them to reach out in love to their neighbors. By informing, inspiring and involving believers in the U.S. we hope to build deep and lasting connections within the body of Christ and meet the ongoing needs of persecuted Christians."

Persecution occurs whenever a believer is denied the protection of religious freedom, prevented from converting to Christianity because of legal or social threats, physically attacked or killed because of their faith, forced to leave their job or home because of the threat of violence, or imprisoned and interrogated for refusing to deny their faith, according to the website.

"Open Doors is at work strengthening these believers in more than 45 of the most persecuted countries worldwide," Curry said.

According to the www.worldwatchlist.us, the five nations in which Christians are persecuted most are North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, with nine others on the "extreme persecution list," and a total of 13 on the "severe" list.

David Platt, Nik Ripken and musical guest Selah! are listed as special guests for the International Day of Prayer simulcast on Nov. 1-2.

Platt is president of the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board and the author of Radical and Follow Me.

Ripken is said to be the world's leading expert on persecution in Muslim nations and author of The Insanity of God and The Insanity of Obedience.

"Learn how we the American church can be motivated to care for the persecuted church," Curry said. "We need to care. The world, the mainstream media, will not care more than you."

The simulcast will not be broadcast on TV; rather, it will be broadcast both days and both webcasts via the internet. There is no cost for the web-based simulcast.

-- Karen Willoughby was a journalist in western Oregon when she visited Trinity Baptist Church of Lebanon.