Around the world one of the most neglected stories will be given attention tomorrow by millions of people attending 300,000 churches in 130 countries.

The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, now in its eighth year, has mobilized Christians to pray for an estimated 200 million Christians who suffer for their faith and another 400 million who live in countries where their religious practice is restricted.

Johan Candelin, global coordinator, International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church

The IDOP grew out of a movement of evangelicals who also provided a groundswell of support to help make concern about religious persecution a factor in U.S. foreign policy. In 1998, Congress passed a bill to set up a section in the State Department on religious freedom and an independent panel to monitor religious freedom around the world. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom makes policy recommendations to the president, secretary of state and Congress.

Johan Candelin, the IDOP’s global coordinator, based in Finland, says the venues for prayer this Sunday will be diverse, including many where the participants themselves are victims of persecution.

“Christians from Norway and Iceland in the north to Chile in the south and Vladivostok in Russia in the east to Los Angeles in the west will pray for all those who suffer for the name of Jesus Christ,” he said. “Brothers and sisters will pray in the jungles of Burma, house churches in China, cathedrals in England, gypsy churches in Bulgaria, house groups in Saudi Arabia, outdoor meetings in Sudan, prayer groups in Belarus and in many other parts of the world.”

Persecution is on the rise, according to Candelin, because the Church is growing faster than ever before and mostly in countries where there is a strong anti-Christian sentiment driven either by politics, nationalism or religious ideology.

He says 1 million new churches have been started in the last 10 years and twice that many are expected in the next decade. About 70,000 new members are added each day.

The prayer movement began in 1996 through coordination of the World Evangelical Alliance, a global umbrella of national church bodies. In 1998, Prayer for the Persecuted Church, Inc. took oversight of the IDOP organizing efforts in the United States while WEF continues to coordinate the IDOP internationally.

Though a Christian effort, it got much of its spark from a Jewish lawyer, who remarked in a 1995 Wall Street Journal article that unless a serious effort is made to confront persecution, Christians are likely to become the “Jews of the 21st century, the scapegoats of choice of the world’s thug regimes.”

Michael J. Horowitz, a former staffer for President Reagan, recalled that an Ethiopian pastor who lived with his family was denied asylum in the U.S. despite being jailed 25 times and enduring torture for his faith. The State Department sent a letter to the immigration service, he said, stating, “There is no persecution of Christians in Ethiopia.”

Horowitz, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., said on one occasion the pastor was hanged upside down with hot oil poured on his feet.

Former New York Times columnist A.M. Rosenthal, also a Jew, was one of the first in the mainstream media to write about persecution of Christians.

In one column, he said: “If I were a Christian, I would complain that Christian leaders, political, religious and business, around the world have failed in their obligations to fight oppression of their co-religionists. I am complaining anyway.”

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