Millions of Christians around the world will pray for their persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ Sunday in observance of the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.
In its 14th year, IDOP is one of the largest prayer events in the world. Last year, an estimated half a million churches in 150 countries participated in the event, according to Open Doors, an international Christian ministry that supports persecuted believers.
"The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church presents a tremendous opportunity for millions of people to make a difference in the lives of those being persecuted for their faith in countries like North Korea, Iran, Iraq, China, India and many more," said Open Doors USA President and CEO Dr. Carl Moeller.
He noted that the number one request by persecuted believers is always for those living in freedom to pray for them.
"And on Nov. 8 we have the opportunity to collectively lift our petitions to the Lord on their behalf," Moeller said.
According to Open Doors an estimated 100 million Christians worldwide suffer from some form of persecution for their faith in Christ – ranging from interrogation to death. Millions more face discrimination and alienation.
The World Evangelical Alliance, the largest network of evangelicals in the world, cited Hebrews 13:3 as a reminder why Christians should pray on IDOP. The verse states: "Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering."
Godfrey Yogarajah, executive director of The Religious Liberty Commission of WEA, recalled recently visiting several widows of Christian leaders who were killed in the violence last year in India's Orissa state. He said they had lost everything: their homes, their possessions and their husbands.
"'We have lost everything except our faith,'" Yogarajah recalled one widow telling him as she held her baby tightly. "'Pray that we stay strong and bring up our children in the faith for which their fathers gave their lives.'"
Last year, Hindu extremists carried out the worst religious persecution in India's 60 years of democracy. At least 120 people were murdered, 250 churches destroyed and over 50,000 individuals displaced in Orissa, India.
Jubilee Campaign USA, an advocacy group for persecuted Christians, says while IDOP is a time to pray for persecuted, it also serves another purpose.
"It is also a time to pray for the souls of the oppressors, the nations that promote persecution, and those who ignore it," wrote Ann Buwalda, director of Jubilee Campaign USA, in an e-mail newsletter.
Jubilee Campaign along with WEA and Open Doors all call for prayers especially for North Korea, where Christians are persecuted the most.
Open Doors, which has ranked North Korea as the worst religious freedom violator for seven years in a row, estimates that the totalitarian regime detains at least 200,000 political and religious prisoners – more than any other country in the world. An estimated 40,000 to 60,000 of the prisoners are thought to be Christians.
Christians living in free countries are also asked to pray specifically for Iranian converts Maryam Rostampour, 27, and MarziehAmirizadeh Esmaeilabad, 30, who have been held in an Iranian prison for eight months for their faith.
Despite deteriorating physical health and psychological pressure, both women have refused to recant their faith in Jesus Christ.
Open Doors USA launched a campaign this past week to urge Iran to immediately release the two women.
"Each year, The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church gives us the privilege of joining together with over half a million churches in 150 countries to pray for the suffering church," WEA's Yogarajah said.
"It plays a vital role in encouraging and strengthening the persecuted church and also awakening churches in places where there is no persecution," he added.
To get more churches involved, Open Doors is providing free resources including church bulletin inserts, a Power Point slide, facts for pastors, and list of suggested activities.
Other groups currently active in serving the persecuted Church include Christian Freedom International, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Gospel for Asia, International Christian Concern, and The Voice of the Martyrs, among others.