With 340 million Christians facing the daily possibility of persecution and discrimination, we know how important it is to pray for those who follow Jesus no matter the cost. That's why the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church on Sunday 7 November is so crucial. It makes an enormous difference, as Christians around the world can testify and as the Bible promises: "You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it" (John 14:14).
But what should we ask when we pray? It can be hard to know where to start. The best people to ask are, of course, the persecuted believers themselves. Many have shared their prayer requests with Open Doors partners, and they aren't what I expected.
Here are five ways you can pray for the persecuted church, and some of them may surprise you too.
1. Pray for perseverance
You might have made the same assumption that I did: that we should pray for persecution to stop. While the suffering, discrimination and rejection experienced by many Christians is appalling, that isn't their first prayer.
Here's how a pastor in Syria put it, when he spoke to an Open Doors contact: "Please don't pray for safety. Please don't pray that persecution will cease. We pray that we might be bold and courageous. We pray when the persecution comes – and it will come – that we would not run away or hide but that we would be faithful, even if it costs our lives."
Father God, please give Your children abundant boldness and courage, that they may stand firm throughout trials and attacks, and remain faithful to You.
2. Pray for opportunities to share the gospel
A pastor from Egypt agrees. He says, "Please, don't pray for us – pray with us. If you pray with us, you will ask God to bring millions of Egyptians to faith in Christ. We ask God for the salvation of Egypt."
Though persecuted Christians face terrible opposition, they long for opportunities to tell others the good news of Jesus Christ. Even when it seems impossible. Wang Ming-Dao* spent decades in prison in China for his faith – including long periods in solitary confinement. "When I was put in jail, I was devastated. I was an evangelist," he says. Then he realised he could preach down the cell's toilet, and sound would carry through the sewage pipes. Amazingly, 96 people became Christians through this extraordinary ministry!
Lord, thank You that You so loved the world that You gave Your only Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life. Please keep giving Your persecuted children opportunities to share this glorious truth.
3. Pray for food and medicine
Around the world, many vulnerable Christians aren't just at risk of violence or rejection: often they don't have sufficient access to food or medicine. They might even be deliberately overlooked when official aid is distributed. These necessities are vital for the long-term continuation of the church.
"If you're desperately hungry, you can't do ministry," shares Brother Simon*, who has supported North Korean believers for many years. "The first concern of the persecuted church is survival. Even though their circumstances are difficult, they want to be God's witnesses and reach their own people with the gospel."
Loving God, please sustain Your church with the food and medicine they need. Equip those who serve persecuted Christians with protection and wisdom as they make difficult journeys to deliver this aid.
4. Pray for healing
As well as medicine, God's intervention is much-needed for healing. Sometimes that is physical healing – at other times, Christians who've suffered persecution or loss need healing from their trauma. Persecution can cast a long shadow, and your prayers can help quicken recovery.
Aisha in Nigeria was traumatised after militant Fulani herdsman brutally assaulted her and her husband, after they burst into her home and found a Bible. Thankfully, God provided Aisha with trauma care through local Open Doors partners.
"Now I have received this trauma healing I am so happy," says Aisha. "I am overwhelmed with the love and compassion shown to us. In the course of the workshop, I saw how God thinks about me. God has promised that one day He will wipe away all our tears."
Merciful God, thank You for Your promise in Psalm 30: "Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning". Please heal Your children, whether they suffer physically or mentally, and replace their tears with joy.
5. Pray for fellowship
We know how important community is. If you're like me, it's been a joy to return to a church building after a long period of meeting online. For many Christians, even meeting online is extremely hard. Some have never met a fellow Christian.
"When I came to faith, I thought I was the only believer in Yemen," says Mohammad, a secret believer who became a Christian after find a Bible in a secondhand shop. "For a long time, I didn't know any other Yemeni Christians."
Islèm* in North Africa has a similar story: "I thought there were no Christians in North Africa. I thought I'd be the first one. For me, Christians were people living abroad."
It is such a blessing when Christians can meet for fellowship, discipleship and encouragement. And God so often finds a way to bring His children together, despite all the obstacles.
Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of community. Please ensure that none of Your children are isolated from other believers, and that everyone is able to find a community where they can worship You.
Join a special online prayer event on Sunday 7 November (7.30-8.30pm) to mark this year's International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the persecuted church. This year, Open Doors joins CSW, Release International and Evangelical Alliance for an evening of prayer and worship, featuring updates and prayer requests from Nigeria, Eritrea and India, as well as a time of prayer for Afghanistan.
Simon Thomas works for Open Doors UK & Ireland, part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians for over 60 years and works in over 60 countries. In 2020, it raised £42 million to provide practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources. Open Doors UK & Ireland raised about £16 million.
*Names changed for security reasons