Pilgrimage and persecution: A new wave of prayer sweeping Britain
The ancient practice of pilgrimage is undergoing a revival with thousands taking to ancient routes such as Santiago de Compostela and the lanes of north Norfolk to Walsingham.
But another, alternative, form of pilgrimage is taking place in the UK this summer.
Robert de Berry is hoping to spark a wave of prayer for persecuted Christians along the length of the UK as he cycles 800 miles from the north coast of Scotland to the south coast of England.
Soon to be 75 years old, de Berry has put aside retirement hobbies to take up the challenge. Along with several others, they will be raising money for Release and Christian Solidarity Worldwide, two charities working with religious persecution.
But despite raising sponsorship, de Berry told Christian Today he views the ride 'very much as a pilgrimage'.
The ride will begin at Cape Wrath, on the northern tip of Scotland on May 17th, and travel the length of Britain through Derbyshire's Hope Valley to Peacehaven on the Sussex coast.
Under the strapline 'Wrath, Hope, Peace', de Berry and his colleagues will be staying at 32 different churches along route, all of which will be hosting prayer times for the persecuted Church.
'It is a pilgrimage in the sense every stop we make we are inviting people to pray for the persecuted church,' he said in an interview with Christian Today.
'I am hoping more people will become supporters of either charity but I am also hoping there will be an ongoing increase in people being specific in their prayers not just praying vaguely for persecuted Christians.'
He said because of a lack of information, Christians often don't know who or what to pray for in detail. Charities such as Release and CSW can help make prayers and support more particular to individual situations, he said.
'I am hoping particularly on Saturdays that people will be free to ride with us and I want to get anybody who rides with us to pray for one specifically named person.'
De Berry has done a sponsored bike for the persecuted church every five years but nothing on this scale. When asked if he thinks age will be a factor he simply said: 'I'll cope.'
A lifelong advocate he says Christian suffering has often been 'submerged' and pushed under the table.
'But now the prevalence of so much suffering for Christians is beginning to percolate through the churches,' he said.
'The profile is rising.'
Open Doors annual world watch list tracks the level of persecution and found in 2016 there had never been a worse time to be a Christian. Their latest report pointed to rapidly rising persecution in Asia especially with a sharp increase in India. North Korea topped the list as it has done for the past 15 years but India, Yemen, Bangladesh and Laos all witnessed the biggest rises in persection, the persecution charity revealed.
De Berry himself painted a dark picture in a letter to supporters about the ride. 'In India, Christians are suffering from Hindhu nationalism, in Sri Lanka from Buddhist extremists, in North Korea from the government of Kim Jong Un. Overwhelmingly, though, it is in Muslim dominated countries, where Christian suffering is greatest,' he said announcing the cycle.
'As we ride our pilgrimage, we will be in prayer for Christian communities in northern Nigeria decimated by Boko Haram, for Christians such as Asia Bibi, still cruelly incarcerated on death row for alleged 'blasphemy' in Pakistan, for refugee Christians in Iraq... There are many other countries where being Christian is a "stigma" and the consequences for witnessing for Christ are dire.'
But he told Christian Today he was not overwhelmed by the darkening atmosphere.
'I think that we can do something. We ought to do something,' he said.
The ride will begin on May 17th and end on June 16th. To find out more and donate, click here.