Last week, in a parliamentary debate on religious freedom worldwide, a number of MPs mentioned the recent passage of legislation in Nepal, which contains clauses which criminalise religious conversion and penalises the 'hurting of religious sentiment.'
Nepal is better known for Mount Everest than religious repression, but now joins a dubious roll call of nations which includes Pakistan and India, all of which have laws restricting the individual's right to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression.
In practice, it means that a Christian in Nepal talking about their faith with a neighbour could be charged with attempting to 'forcibly convert' them, because these laws do not allow for the agency of an individual to choose the faith of their choice, instead viewing such a decision as something done to a person against their will.
One of Christian Solidarity Worldwide's (CSW) partners in Nepal, Pastor Tanka Subedi, has put the situation starkly: 'We don't want Christians to be arrested and put in jail...let's pray altogether that we will get freedom.' The request for prayer is one that we at CSW receive often.
Prayer is at the heart of everything we do, guided by the reminder in James 5:16 that 'The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.' You may know that 19 November is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, but this year, we're dedicating the entire month to prayer and action for persecuted Christians around the world.
Under the banner of the 'One Month, One Church, One Prayer' campaign, CSW, Open Doors and Release International are calling on Christians of every denomination to join together and pray for Christians who suffer because of their faith.
It's all too easy, in a world full of difficult and seemingly intractable problems, to feel disempowered. But prayer is a way to bridge the gap and stand in solidarity with our family of believers. 1 Corinthians 12:27 states that we are all one body, and, in verse 26, that 'If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.'
This summer, we had an amazing week of rejoicing in answered prayers, with the miraculous release from prison of three men whose cases we'd been working on for years.
Li Heping, a Chinese human rights lawyer, was released from prison just two days after CSW supporters joined in prayer for him after he was given a suspended sentence. Li had been arrested two years ago as part of the Chinese government's crackdown on human rights defenders in the country. Though we prayed in hope, his release was a far more powerful answer than we ever expected.
Later that same week, we received the news that Rev Hassan and Mr Abdumawla, two men unjustly imprisoned in Sudan, had also been released. These men were charged along with two others, Rev Kuwa and Mr Jašek, with national security crimes in August 2016, after being arrested almost a year earlier. In reality, their only crime had been raising money for the medical treatment of a young man who'd been badly burned in a student protest.
Though the other two men had been released earlier, it seemed unlikely that Rev Hassan and Mr Abdumawla would see freedom so soon. But they were, in a week of miraculous breakthroughs.
This November, we have one prayer for our family around the world, echoing Pastor Tanka's call for freedom. Join us on 19 November, and throughout the month, in praying together:
As one Church, united under your holy headship, and knowing that we are all one family in Christ; We pray for those who suffer in your name all over the world, our brothers and sisters, who share in that same great gift of salvation through your Son, but who face injustice, oppression and even death because of their faith in you. We want to walk with them as they journey through the valley of darkness, and we pray knowing that you are a God of compassion, comfort, and justice; who always hears their prayers, never leaves them and will forever be their fortress and shield, whatever they face. We pray that you will grant them strength, courage, and protection from those who seek to harm them because they follow you; Guidance and wisdom for when their path seems impossible to tread, and hope for a future where they have the freedom to worship you without fear.
In the name of Jesus,
Kiri Kankhwende is senior press officer to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which works for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.