International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church is one Sunday each year when thousands of churches are informed about their brothers and sisters under persecution. It’s a day to pray for those who suffer for their faith, but also a reminder that they need our prayers throughout the year.
In November 2009, Open Doors International founder Brother Andrew and I celebrated IDOP Sunday with the persecuted Church. My life will never be the same. At a secret location in Pakistan I sat with more than thirty church leaders as the meeting facilitator read familiar words from 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face….” She also read verse 15, the words of God saying, “Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.”
Then she challenged us with these words: “Today, let us make eye contact with God.”
Reports from the Persecuted
After singing several hymns and psalms, we heard reports from Gojra, where three months earlier fifty homes were destroyed, another one hundred homes looted, and seven Christians were burned to death by a fundamentalist mob. One eyewitness wrote of the horrible destruction of Hameed Masih and his family. He reported how their village had “turned into ashes. Children and women were wandering here and there beating their chests. Seeing the whole horrifying scene, I thought that the things acquired after years might be regained, but the seven members of the single family would never be regained.”
Another family whose daughter was raped wrote, “We request you accept our appeal drenched with tears to give us back our lives. For we have been buried alive with our child.” There was a time of intense prayer for Christians in Gojra. Then we sang again. One of the hymns was so melancholy, so deep in emotion, that although I couldn’t understand the Urdu words, I felt the heart cry of these people and joined in their groans and longing for freedom to openly live their Christian faith. Paul’s words in Romans 8:22-25, the need for the Spirit to help us in our weakness as we pray, took on deeper meaning.
Going Deeper in Community and Prayer
We then broke into smaller groups for two hours of more intimate sharing and intercession. There were nine church leaders in my group and all bared their hearts. One village pastor told how three families in his small congregation of twenty families had, under financial inducement, converted to Islam.
When they tried to arrange marriages for their children, they discovered that while their daughters were eagerly spoken for, no Muslim family would allow their daughters to marry these “Christian” sons. “These families now want to return to the church,” the pastor reported. “But the Muslim leaders say they can’t convert from Islam or they will be killed. We want to welcome these families back and are trying to support them.” We joined hands to pray for this pastor and his flock and for the three families that had wandered like lost sheep.
Another leader served a far-flung congregation that could never meet together and so required him to travel constantly. He was often away from his family for three weeks every month. Because he had to pass through many checkpoints, he no longer carried Bibles and other literature for his flock. “I can only give them whatever scripture is hidden in my heart,” he said. We gathered around this faithful shepherd and laid hands on him as we prayed for him and his ministry.
There were three women in our group. Two were wives of pastors and shared about the pressures they felt on their families. A third directed a center for women who have suffered from severe abuse because of their faith. These women are taught to read and write, trained in a skill that allows them to earn a living, and instructed in the basics of Christian discipleship. We prayed for this leader and her ministry, as well as for the many other Christian women who suffer horribly and are unable to find the help of a center like this.
One man in his thirties sat quietly for most of our time. I finally asked him how we might pray for him. Hesitantly, he told us that he had attended seminary but had not found a church to pastor in his denomination. So he was starting a work among indentured servants who slave in one of the many brick factories throughout Pakistan. He didn’t know if this was God’s place for him.
The other leaders immediately affirmed his work—millions of Pakistanis suffer this way and need to hear the good news of the gospel. Again, we rose and laid hands on this brother as a veteran pastor prayed fervently.
My Brothers and Sisters
After six hours of prayer, we gathered in a dining room where the table had been covered with a cloth and candles lit. We concluded our day by celebrating Holy Communion. Brother Andrew gave a brief homily before we partook of the elements. His words still resonate with me: “Remember, we take the broken bread into a broken world.” The celebrant then served each leader a wafer of bread, snapping it in two as he said, “The body of Christ broken for you.” I followed with the chalice, serving each person with the words: “The blood of Christ shed for you.”
For the first time I felt in my soul a deeper understanding of the meaning of communion. These were my brothers and sisters. Christ died for them, for me, for all broken people. In Christ, we were truly one body and I had the privilege of sharing a little in their suffering.
This year I will spend IDOP Sunday in my home church. But my heart will be twelve thousand miles away with those dear church leaders who give their lives to follow Christ. I will remember the day I spent with them and made eye contact with God.