By Anita Levesque

November 4 was IDOP Sunday (International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church). 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 that my church took the time in an already full service schedule to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters who aren’t sitting on comfortable padded pews, but  instead may well be worshipping on the cold stone floor of a damp, dark prison cell. 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 I may too often take for granted at home in Canada.

As we prayed that day, I thought about the fact that we were joining in unity together with a greater body of believers around the world, the Body of Christ. I was grateful that many individuals were inspired to lead groups and congregations from coast to coast using the resources of organizations like IDOP Canada to inform, teach and remind believers to pray, knowing that even though we can’t individually physically intervene, prayer moves the heart and hand of God.

There seemed to be a resonating echo that followed IDOP Sunday this year as the next week we observed 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.

I wondered how those who gave their lives would feel knowing that today a man sits imprisoned for his Christian faith in Iran, a child is left orphaned in a Nigerian village because her parents were brutally killed as a result of being “marked” as Christians, and a woman kneels behind bars in Pakistan simply because she converted from one belief to another.  The names of the countries guilty of such human rights atrocities have changed over 60 years, the armbands that once easily marking 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. Somehow, I think those who died for the right and protection of freedom would agree.

During the Remembrance Day service I, like others, focused on the faces of the dwindling number of aging veterans present in our nation’s capital – many still standing with all their limited strength at attention and in salute, lives and memories changed forever by friends lost and horrors witnessed. They have seen and experienced things that were we to relive, even for a moment, would compel us to honour these men and women  more like royalty and dignitaries than aging seniors in ill-fitting uniforms from their past.

I wonder if there will be this same kind of honour celebration in ten or twenty years’ time when this group of veterans has disappeared, replaced by the smaller numbers of those who have fought different wars? Will their sacrifice for freedom and liberty be forgotten by a generation that has largely never known the horrors of their sacrifice? Will we tire of hearing about the high price paid to protect the freedoms placed in our trust? Could Remembrance Day become just another holiday, another day off, another tradition of forgotten origin?

Perhaps sadly, I also at times wonder the same thing about the concern for our suffering and persecuted Christian brothers and sisters. Out of sight out of mind? Although there are many sources reporting, the Western media mostly ignores the ongoing attacks on religious believers as news cycles search for the new attention grabbers and headline makers. The anesthetising frequency of reported persecution is cast aside to the point that media voices even question the need for a Canadian Office of Religious Freedom to inform and advise government.

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 issue might not be regarded as the topic of a cutting edge sermon. Bluntly, if we are honest with ourselves, we too might be more interested in the issues before our eyes and an uplifting sermon that sends us pleasantly on our way to Sunday lunch. Do we hear whispers of the name “Laodicea” (luke warm church) growing louder when we turn a deaf ear to those in need?

How can we expect the media, government or even the leaders of our churches to act on behalf of the persecuted around the world if we ourselves place concern for them low on our personal agendas? It’s easy to point the finger at the media, but in the end … the lack of concern begins and ends with us. The media feeds what we want to consume.

The saturation of the occurrence of evil should never be a cause for apathy and inaction, but rather compel us to prayer, with resulting louder outcries to God and man!

Persecution is on the increase around the globe. The precursor steps to persecution are increasingly evident even within Western democracies. If we are inattentive and inactive concerning the more than 200 million we know of today, what motivation and sacrifice to act will be required on our part as the number grows greater? Will we be alert to the signs if they appear at “home”? Will it require that persecution affect us more personally and directly before we act? And if we become the persecuted, will there be anyone left to act on our behalf?

IDOP Sunday may be behind us for another year, but the real life inspirational stories of faith in the face of evil are not simply left behind on the pews. 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. 

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