In 2020 more than 340 million Christians worldwide experienced high levels of persecution. Global persecution watchdog organization Open Doors’ annual World Watch List, released in January, ranks the top 50 countries notorious for persecution of Christians. High-level persecution includes kidnappings, beatings, forced conversions/marriages, false imprisonment, loss of property, murder, and genocide.
World Watch List 2021 revealed a disturbing rise in persecution. The 2020 worldwide virus pandemic has increased the suffering of persecuted Christians in nations in which Islamist regimes and other anti-Christian governments have used the virus as an excuse for further oppression. Not only have Christians suffered from deprivation of employment, protective equipment, and relief aid. In some cases, such as China, Pakistan, and India, Christians have often been scapegoated for the pandemic.
Last year’s World Watch List reported 260 million Christians experiencing high levels of persecution. This year’s increase to 340 million means that 1 in 8 of all Christians worldwide is now being severely persecuted.
I invite you to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters during the six weeks of Lent.
Faith J. H. McDonnell, Director of Advocacy
First Sunday of Lent
The Psalm appointed for today in the lectionary is Psalm 25. David wrote this psalm as an acrostic. Each verse begins with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
For our contemplation of the persecution of our Christian brothers and sisters around the globe, I have created a psalm modelled after David’s pattern. In this psalm I have started each verse with successive letters (in the English alphabet! And since David left out a few Hebrew letters, I felt the freedom to leave out X!). It also follows David’s well-known pattern in that some verses address God directly in the first person and other verses describe the situation or extol the greatness of God.
I invite you to read this psalm prayerfully. Ask God to awaken you more to your persecuted brothers and sisters and strengthen your desire to be an intercessor for those who suffer for the sake of the Gospel in this time when persecution of Christians has increased.
Awaken me, Lord, to the suffering of Your Body.
Brothers and sisters around the world wait for You all day long:
Carrying in their broken bodies the death of Jesus,
Demonstrating by their lives Your Son’s crucifixion and resurrection.
Envelop me with the awareness of our connectedness.
Fill me with a willingness to share their burden.
Glorious and mighty is the Lord!
His heavenly hosts will do battle for His people.
In His time He will deliver us from our enemies.
Joy will come in the morning; but first we weep.
Kings and rulers persecute God’s people.
Like their master Satan they hate Jesus and His followers.
Martyrs testify to the victory of the Gospel in life and in death, and
Nations will know that the Lord is God because of their faithfulness.
Only You, Lord, can bring good out of what is meant for evil, for You are
Present in the scars and even the freshly bleeding wounds of tortured saints,
Quiet – but transforming – in the miracle of mercy, of the tortured forgiving the torturers,
Redeeming all, yet hating injustice and evil.
Steel Your Body, therefore, to fight that injustice and evil in the power of Your Spirit so that when the Son of Man comes in Glory He will
Testify that when He was hungry, we gave Him food and when He was in prison we visited Him.
Until that Day, keep us from apathy, indifference, and willful blindness,
Vanquish our natural gravitation to self, and self-centered prayer, and give us grace to love Your Body as ourselves, and to cry out on their behalf like the prophet:
“Wake! O arm of the Lord! Awake! Clothe Yourself with strength.” We bless You and thank You for the promise:
Your people will be delivered. Your ransomed people will have no more sorrow. They will sing with joy and return to Zion.
To Do during the First Week of Lent: Choose a nation where Christians are being persecuted – either a nation that God puts particularly on your heart or one from the Open Doors World Watch List for 2021 – and read the entry for that nation. Use “Awaken Me” to pray specifically for our brothers and sisters in that nation. Continue to pray for the Christians there throughout the week using Psalms, other Bible passages, as well as hymns and praise and worship songs – with the persecuted believers of that nation in mind. I have also provided "Awaken Me" as a PDF you can print out.
Faith J. H. McDonnell,