I recently did a search on the Internet to see the last time a group of U.S. Christians came together to do something significant to bring attention to the persecuted church around the world. I found several articles on the subject of persecution, mostly encouraging people to send emails to governments demanding the freedom of this or that Christian. There were articles about the Pope speaking against the persecution of Christians, but not much about groups of people coming together to bring attention to this crucial subject.
With 100 million Christians currently enduring persecution worldwide and believers persecuted in at least 60 countries (as reported by Open Doors USA), I found this surprising. It’s as though praying, writing emails to someone, or expecting others to protest on our behalf is enough.
It’s not difficult to find groups of people who rally together for other significant causes. From groups protesting gun control (or gun rights) to wage discrimination to civil rights marches, there is little lack of something worth fighting for or against. I was struck recently by the news of LGBT activists protesting Coca-Cola’s Olympic sponsorship by pouring Coke cans down gutters in front of Coke’s global headquarters. This was in response to Russia’s stance regarding who they will—and will not—allow to compete in this year’s Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. More than 140,000 messages were sent to the company CEO, urging Coca-Cola to engage.
As I watched the news report, I marveled at such large support for the persecuted LGBT community in Russia. I began to compare this response to evangelical churches in the U.S. and how we react to the worldwide persecution of Christians. My point here has nothing to do with the acceptance or rejection of the LGBT lifestyle. It has everything to do with opposing oppressive governments or regimes that persecute, mistreat or harm Christians.
It took the U.S. government months before it protested the arrest in Iran of Saeed Abedini, an American pastor detained in Sept. 2012 and sentenced to prision on “charges related to his religious beliefs” (U.S. Depatment of State). He is still in prison today.
Late last year, my friend Eddie Romero, a U.S. pastor from Southern California, went to Iran to protest on behalf of five Iranian Christians, each imprisoned for their faith. Eddie knew his trip might be a one-way venture, and that his own arrest was likely, as he took a taxi to the front steps of the prison and began to demand the release of his Christian brothers. He was arrested.
Many Christians applauded Eddie. Others thought he was crazy. “His actions could bring more harm to Christians in Iran,” many said. To which Eddie replied: “For too long we have stood on the other side of the walls these governments have erected, assuming that emails and letters alone could make a difference. I want to speak face-to-face with the people who persecute my brothers and sisters.”
I was honored to be a part of the team that helped Pastor Romero fulfill his goal. A week after Eddie was released and deported back to the U.S., one of the five imprisoned Christians was released from prison.
What will you do on behalf of persecuted Christians around the world? Raising awareness with your local church, praying and telling stories is helpful. But what else might God be prompting you and me to do? Maybe it’s a march. Maybe it’s something to generate public attention and demand action from governments and regimes. May all of us stand together with the persecuted church, and let them know they are not forgotten.
Shah Afshar is a former area missionary for Foursquare Missions International. He is a multicultural bridge builder who helps people overcome their fear of relating to others who are different. He speaks around the world, and is author of the book, Shame On You: Rising From the Ashes of Shame to Face Guilt.