Christians urged to pray for the persecuted church throughout November

A policeman stands guard outside St John's Cathedral Church in Peshawar, Pakistan.Reuters

Release International is calling on Christians in the UK and Ireland to pray for the persecuted church throughout the month of November.

Christians are being mobilised to pray on the 23rd International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church, set for November 17. 

IDOP has been held each year since 1996, when a coalition of Christian organisations were united in their concern that more Christians had died for their faith in the 20th century than in all other centuries combined since the birth of the church.

Release has produced resources for this year's IDOP, including a video and PowerPoint available for download here.

The IDOP takes place this year not long after the release of the Bishop of Truro's report into persecution, which found that 80 per cent of people suffering for their faith worldwide are Christians. 

The report was commissioned by former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, and called on the Government to impose sanctions on countries with the worst persecution and make protecting freedom of religion and belief an integral part of the UK's foreign policy. 

For this year's IDOP, Release International has made Pakistan its country of focus for prayer.  Pakistani Christians are some of the most persecuted in the world, with the women and girls at risk of rape, forced conversion and forced marriages to Muslims.

Many Christians in Pakistan have suffered because of false accusations of blasphemy, a crime that carries the death sentence. 

This year, Christian mother Asia Bibi was granted asylum in Canada after being freed last October from death row for blasphemy.  She had spent a decade in prison before being acquitted of all charges by the Supreme Court.  Tragically, she is not the only Christian to have been imprisoned for blasphemy in Pakistan. 

In a recent YouTube video, she said she continued to hold to her faith and encouraged other believers to do the same, no matter what dangers they faced.

"I, Asia Bibi, believe in Jesus. My belief is strong. I never let my belief weaken," she said. 

"Stay true to your beliefs. Even if you have to face the sword, please hold firm to your faith. Even if you have to sacrifice everything." 

Despite the scale of the persecution being faced by Christians in Pakistan, Release CEO Paul Robinson said that the church there "remains strong in faith and hope".

"Will your church support them in that? Release is calling on the church in the UK and Ireland to pray on November 17 or, even better, to commit the whole month to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world," he said.