UK Christians unite in prayer for persecuted Church

Preetha, an Indian Christian who was badly beaten in one attack.(Photo: Open Doors International)

Christians from across the UK came together on Sunday evening to pray for persecuted believers around the world and especially those in Nigeria, India, Eritrea and Afghanistan.

The online event was held to mark the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church and was hosted jointly by the Evangelical Alliance, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Open Doors and Release International.

Prayers were said for Christians in Afghanistan who are living in fear for their lives following the Taliban takeover in August.

A secret believer in the country told of lists of Christians being circulated and how some believers had "disappeared", while others have fallen victim to kidnappings.

These risks have been compounded by the emergence of ISIS-K, a growing humanitarian and economic crisis, food shortages, and the arrival of winter.

But concerns were also shared about the threat of regional instability and the spread of extremism, particularly to neighbouring Pakistan.

"Pray too for the world because the rise of the Taliban, the way they've taken over so quickly in Afghanistan, has given courage to other religious extremist groups around the world, particularly Islamic extremist groups," said Open Doors CEO, Henrietta Blyth.

Despite the challenges, the evening also heard encouraging reports about the faith of Afghanistan's tiny Christian population, the way in which they are being resourced and equipped thanks to modern media technology, and how demand for such resources is increasing.

CSW CEO Scott Bower said: "We know that the situation in Afghanistan is desperate, it's urgent and it's extremely complicated...but that doesn't mean we're powerless."

Release CEO Paul Robinson added, "Our brothers and sisters are suffering in Afghanistan but the good news is that Jesus is building his Church there and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

"The Church is small but there are many who are still living well for Jesus, and as our brothers and sisters, they really do need our prayers and our help."

Prayers were also said for India, where Christians are being targeted in violent attacks by Hindu extremists.

"Hindu extremists are equating being Indian with being Hindu and in some states, particularly in rural areas, religious minorities including Christians and Muslims are being severely persecuted," said Blyth.

"In spite of this, the Church is growing and we hear many stories of miraculous healings. The Lord is moving powerfully across India by His Spirit."

Bower gave an update on Nigeria, where Christians in central and northern states are experiencing deadly attacks on church services and their communities, abductions for ransom, and church demolitions on "spurious" grounds.

He spoke about the "heartbreaking" plight of young girls and women in Nigeria being kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam and then forced to marry their abductors.

"Appeals to authorities to assist with their release go unanswered," he said.

Release led prayers for Eritrea, which has been described as the 'North Korea of Africa' because of its harsh restrictions.

The charity said many Christians were being imprisoned in "barbaric" conditions, with some believers being "brutally" tortured.

"Gathering for worship, let alone sharing your faith with others, is extremely dangerous," said Robinson.

Some Christians who fled to neighbouring Tigray in northern Ethiopia have now found themselves caught up in conflict there.

Robinson added, "Hebrews 13:3 tells us to continue to remember those in prison as if we were with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if we ourselves are suffering.

"Eritrean Christians, both those still in the country, and those who have fled, need our ongoing prayers and support."

The evening was hosted by the Evangelical Alliance's Danny Webster, who said: "We believe that praying is one vital thing that we can do to support Christians who are persecuted for their faith across the world.

"We are part of one body together. We are one family. We are one Church. And as we hear stories of the faithfulness of Christians in the most difficult of situations, our prayer is that we are inspired in our worship of God and that we are strengthened in our beliefs."