We recently concluded the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians in Washington, D.C. It was a powerful and moving event, with over 600 participants from 136 countries. Delegates included church leaders from all over the world and advocates for the persecuted, as well as victims of persecution who shared personal accounts of the horrors they have suffered because they bear the Name of Christ.
Vice President Mike Pence addressed the summit on the second day, speaking from his heart to those in the audience and around the world who brave hostility, harm, and loss for their obedience to our Lord and Savior:
“Your faith inspires me. It humbles me.”
Then he spoke words unlike anything heard in Washington in recent memory: “I am here on behalf of the president of the United States as a tangible sign of his commitment to defending Christians and, frankly, all who suffer for their beliefs across the wider world.”
I have known Vice President Pence for some time, and I am grateful for his own firm faith. “We stand with you,” he said. “The Bible tells us that all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. And those gathered here are emblematic of millions across the world.”
It is not easy for people living in America to wrap our minds around what many of our brothers and sisters in Christ must endure in some other countries. A woman in America who followed reports on the summit wrote us afterward: “Thank you for bringing this issue to everyone’s attention. Living in my little bubble in the U.S., I had no idea things were this bad all over the world!”
During the summit, I met and talked with a woman from Iran whose father was hanged to death because of his faith. I spent time with two men whose brothers were among the Coptic Christians marched out on the beach in Libya and viciously beheaded by ISIS for refusing to deny Christ—then the video distributed for all the world to see. I met a dear pastor from Uzbekistan who was arrested and imprisoned for four years for proclaiming . A delegate from Mexico—a nation right next-door to our own—was repeatedly beaten, his church burned, and people from the congregation made to walk barefoot over broken glass as they were forced to leave town at gunpoint.
The stories go on and on. Today, believers in many countries face persecution and martyrdom on an unprecedented scale. In fact, throughout the world the number of Christians facing hostility, maltreatment, and even death is greater than at any time in history.
An organization that monitors and tracks persecution estimates that 215 million Christians experienced high or extreme levels of persecution last year in the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be . That’s as many people as two-thirds of the entire population of the United States. Of those persecuted, tens of thousands die. It is not possible to know exactly how many, but some researchers report 90,000 or more in the past year.
Persecution has many sources, and no part of the world is exempt. In some places the persecution is caused by intense anti-Christian movements that have grown within Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism. In other parts of the world, believers face political ideologies that are openly hostile to their faith, or they die as the result of civil wars or tribal conflicts in which Christians are treated as the enemy. Still others face intimidation and violence in societies riddled with corruption, drug cartels, and lawlessness, where anyone committed to Biblical values is seen as a threat to power or profit.
In our country, as well as in many Western nations, the rapidly rising tide of secularism is strongly anti-Christian. Secularists are especially opposed to those who stand firm on the unchanging moral and spiritual standards of God and His Word.
This hostility toward Christians—and toward the One we serve as Lord and Savior—is hardly a surprise. Jesus, who endured the greatest persecution of all, said to His followers, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20, ESV). It is an inevitable part of our world. But that does not mean we can overlook it or stay silent when others are persecuted. We are the body of Christ. As believers, what harms one of us hurts us all.
Here are some basic action steps suggested at the summit that any believer can take:
- Take time to learn more about what is happening to believers and churches who face severe persecution. One good place to start is with this 28-minute video highlighting stories of persecution around the world.
- Pray for those facing persecution, for their families, for our churches in America to rise up in support of them, and that world leaders would do all they can to combat the persecution. Pray also for the persecutors, as Jesus Himself instructed us to do (Matthew 5:44).
- Encourage your church to become more aware of and more active in earnest prayer for those who are being persecuted. The Bible says, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them” (Hebrews 13:3).
- Finally, make the to a lost and dying world a priority in your life, your giving, and your prayers. Only the power of the Gospel can sustain those who are persecuted and change those who carry out persecution.
As I write, I have just completed the four-city Decision America Tennessee Tour. We went across the state, holding an outdoor meeting in each place. We had music, the crowds that gathered joined me in praying for our nation and its leaders, and I preached the Gospel. I’ll share more in my next letter of what God did during the tour.
We want to help our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ wherever and in whatever way we are able, as God leads. You can be a part of this through your prayers and your gifts for persecuted Christians. We rely on the support of friends like you to carry out all of the ministries God has given us. Thank you for all you do for the Kingdom.
May God richly bless you,