In my journeys to meet with faithful believers around the world, the number one request I hear is this: "Please pray for me."
It's not a plea to take away the persecution but to remember them with ongoing, fervent prayer that they would remain strong in the faith and reach out to their persecutors with the love of Jesus in order to build His kingdom. They want to be remembered by their brothers and sisters worldwide.
Once a year there is a worldwide prayer event called the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP). The purpose of IDOP is for believers to unite in prayer for over 100 million persecuted Christians around the world, raise awareness about persecution and promote ways Christians can advocate on behalf of suffering believers.
IDOP is one of the largest prayer events in the world - including over half a million churches in 150 countries - and has heightened awareness of persecuted Christians since its inception in 1996. This year IDOP will be held Sunday, Nov. 8 in the United States.
Of course, our prayers should not be limited to one day a year. But IDOP is a starting point for many to understand and identify with persecuted Christians. Then, moved by the Spirit, they can begin praying and advocating for the persecuted on a daily basis.
The evidence of prayer's effectiveness can be found throughout the world. Last month some awesome news came out of Mexico which was generally ignored by the secular media. For years, Christians around the world have been praying for a group of Christians who had been unjustly imprisoned in the state of Chiapas, Mexico, for the massacre of 45 civilians in the village of Acteal in December, 1997.
My wife, Kim, visited the families of these prisoners in the small, mountain village. Many of their husbands and brothers had been sentenced to lengthy prison terms. She brought them donations of food and clothing. Many groups from Open Doors and other organizations also have visited the women and their children over the years, praying and worshiping with them in the brightly-decorated church.
Although they spoke a Mayan dialect, there was real communion in knowing we serve a God who answers prayers. While Kim was visiting the families, I went to the prison where most of the Christians were incarcerated. I was able to pray with the believers and also encourage them to stay strong in the faith. They desperately missed their families.
On Aug. 12, the Mexican Supreme Court announced the release of 20 of the prisoners. Of that group 18 are Christians. Some turned to Christ inside the prison. The court also announced it will re-evaluate the status of 33 additional prisoners in the next year.
It was God's answer to millions of prayers - in His timing. Many of the prisoners released had served more than 11 years in prison. We need to continue to pray for those still behind bars.
Alonso Lopez Entzin, one of those released, thanked the worldwide prayer warriors and said he will dedicate his life to preaching the Gospel. And their enemies realize that these men are serious. Already, many of the Christians released have received death threats and cannot go back to their homes in Acteal.
The Bible says: "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it…." (I Corinthians 12:26). We are all connected because we serve a Risen Savior. As I continue to meet persecuted believers in some of the most restricted countries in the world, my prayer list grows. Christians are paying a heavy price for their faith in the Lord in such places as Iran, North Korea, Pakistan and Iraq.
Earlier this month Open Doors received an email from one of our co-workers in Iraq, pouring out his heart over the chaos and blood-bath taking place in Baghdad, especially for Christians caught in the crossfire. I want to share this with you. It touched my heart.
"This morning we were in the hospital and hundreds of injured people entered because many explosions happened in many different places in Baghdad and Mosul. What life do we live in? I don't know why all this is happening to the Iraqi people and especially Baghdad's people. I love my country and my city of Baghdad, but I am thinking of leaving Baghdad. Every day we live like in a horror city. Our wives cry all the time and are scared that we won't come back alive when we leave the house. For how long can I stand it? I don't know if I am right or wrong if we stay in the blood city of Baghdad? How can we enter our family in a very bad hospital? How can we drive in the worst street in the world? I know we have a great Protector, but I want to tell you that we will be alone because many Christians are still leaving Baghdad. I am sorry. I am very depressed from the situation and living over here. So please excuse me and pray for us to always do the right thing."
I am asking you to urge your church, small group or Sunday School to get involved in IDOP. Open Doors and other organizations which support suffering believers have resources to make IDOP Sunday an informative and meaningful - perhaps life-changing - experience. For more information you can go to Open Doors USA's Website at http://www.opendoorsusa.org/.
Dr. Carl A. Moeller is President/CEO of Open Doors USA. Open Doors works in the world's most oppressive countries, strengthening Christians to stand strong in the face of persecution and equipping them to shine Christ's light in dark places.