In 2016 I wrote the following text for the 20th anniversary of the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.
What did 20 years of the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church achieve?
Some Chinese government official told me, a German, that China fears to be prayed out of office, like it happened in Eastern Germany at the end of the Soviet Empire! And Yes, prayer and peaceful actions in many churches played a major role in the fall of the Berlin wall and other parts of the Soviet empire. But too many Christians relaxed 1990 and had the impression, that the age of persecution of Christians is over. They had overlooked the worsening situations in large countries like Iran and Pakistan, forgot that China did not fell, and forgot, that not only atheists, but also fundamentalist wings in Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism etc. discriminate and persecute Christians and others. Finally and probably to late anyway, the religious freedom specialists of World Evangelical Alliance decided to get back to prayer on the largest possible scale. One Sunday a year for the persecuted Church, that should be possible for every local congregation!
Even though there are still to many churches and Christians who never think of their suffering sisters and brothers in Christ, thousands and thousands of churches started to pray once a year. What was the result? I see three fruits of 20 years of IDOP.
1. To suffer with the suffering no longer is something for specialised agencies or special interest groups in congregations, but more and more it became an ongoing interest for every Christian, just what it should be according to the New Testament,. IDOP probably more than anything else has established the knowledge, that persecution is not a rare or local thing that happens from time to time here and there, but is a permanent companion of preaching the gospel, planting churches and helping the needy.
2. IDOP had a uniting effect. When people suffer or even die for Christ, it is not the time to discuss our differences. United in prayer Evangelicals and Pentecostals and then Christians even beyond realised, that we all live and die for the same Saviour. Meanwhile the “ecumenism of martyrs” has become a saw and corrects ecumenism where it tends to be build on the lowest common denominator.
3. There also is a heavy political fruit and influence of IDOP. The German Evangelical Alliance started a German version of IDOP from the beginning and installed the Sunday into the church calendar of Germany. Some days before the start, the largest German newspaper quoted my on its cover. The reaction in the political world was immense. Not much later our federal parliament discussed the persecution of Christians. We had planed to pray, God had planed much larger.
I remember Christian members of the South African parliament visiting me in the German federal parliament to find out what we did to install a large group of parliamentarians meeting every week around the topic of persecution, debates on persecution in parliament and the government putting the fight for the religious freedom of Christian minorities into its coalition treaties. My immediate reaction was: we started IDOP. Yes, of course, many Christians became active in politics, media and churches. But the effect was far beyond what we did. 2 Chronicles 7:14 says
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
This is the only real hope we have.
But there is an even broader political aspect. IDOP has become the largest regular religious freedom event worldwide. Beyond praying for Christians, IDOP made the situation of other religions and of adherents to non-religious worldviews in countries of concern more known to an audience of millions, than any other tool. So even though it is a Christian worship service, the effect has been to the good of many other people of good will as well. Several governments have taken up the topic of religious freedom for all after years of IDOP in their country, as they know, that topic will come up regularly again and again.
We are like Esther: She was willing to offer her life to become active towards the endangered people of God. And she organised the people of God to pray. But then God choose to change the situation by himself: “in that night the king could not sleep” (Esther 6:1). God changed everything without Esther or anyone else in one night. But after that, Esther was needed again: She went back to the king, told the missing part of the story and helped to save God’s people. God can change everything without us. We cannot change anything without God. But God wants us to ask him, and then, when he changes things, makes us a part of his initiatives.