On 13 May, three churches in Surabaya, Indonesia were attacked within moments of each other in a suicide bombing campaign. Every bomber came from the same family. The parents strapped explosives to their children (the youngest was just six) and the family carried out coordinated attacks that killed at least 13 people and injured many more. Rooms in Santa Maria Tak Bercela Catholic church, GKI Protestant church, and Surabaya Centre Pentecostal church, which had been used for prayer, were now filled with blood and body parts.

And yet, when Christian Solidarity Worldwide visited them earlier this year, the church leaders stressed that all their congregations wanted was peace and prayer. We must love others, we forgive the attackers, we do not want revenge,” Father Aloysius Widyawan told us when we went to offer solidarity and support. He shared that the message from his parishioners, again and again, was one of forgiveness. Meanwhile, the mother of two Catholic boys who died, aged eight and 12, said just two days after the bombing, I have already forgiven the bombers. I don’t want to cry anymore… I forgive.”

This International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP), on Sunday, 18 November, we’re standing with them, giving thanks for their faith, and praying that God will equip them as they work for unity, solidarity and equality in Surabaya. We believe that the world needs to hear their story of faith and forgiveness in the face of religiously motivated violence. Not only does it need to hear, it needs to act. 

We believe we can all play a part in campaigning for freedom of religion or belief. And you have the chance to do so by taking part in IDOP on Sunday, 18 November – a global day of prayer for Christians facing injustice because of their faith. And as we pray, we put our prayers into action by speaking up on their behalf, taking their stories to the corridors of power around the world to build lasting change. 


It does make a difference

At CSW we’ve seen the difference prayer, advocacy and campaigning can make in tackling injustice and shaping policy. Last year, Pastor Tanka Subedi, one of CSW’s partners, the leader of a church in Nepal and a human rights activist, came to the UK to join us in a series of meetings with MPs from across the political spectrum. We raised concerns about religious freedom in Nepal, particularly following the passing of increasingly restrictive laws on religion. Many of the MPs we met took action, raising their concerns with the UK government through writing letters and tabling questions. 

"We serve a God of justice, and we can be confident of that as we bring others before Him in prayer."

As a result, the Rt Hon. Mark Field MP, Minister for Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the British Embassy in Kathmandu, have urged the government of Nepal to ensure the final implementation of these new laws does not restrict freedom of religious belief and meets Nepal’s international human rights obligations and international standards.

Advocacy to earthly governments isn’t the only way we help congregations like Santa Maria Tak Bercela Catholic church, GKI Protestant church, and Surabaya Centre Pentecostal church: we advocate to our heavenly King on their behalf. And that’s where you come in. We believe in the power of prayer to bring change in the situations we work on, and for the people we work with, and we know that the prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective.

Mirroring our Saviour

Engaging in advocacy of any kind is a reflection of Jesus as our heavenly advocate. In 1 John 2:1, we read: My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” In Hebrews 7:23 – 25, Jesus is described as living to intercede” for us. Both verses make Jesus’ role as our intercessor and advocate clear: precisely the role we play when we pray for Christians who are suffering like the churches in Surabaya.

The book of Acts is full of stories of early Christians who advocated to God for the apostles when they were in prison. We read of Peter’s miraculous release from prison in Acts 12:5 – 17 when the church prayed for him all night, only to have Peter himself knock on their door. Though we might not always see the results of our prayers as quickly and dramatically as they did, we can still be encouraged by their example and God’s answers to their prayers.

We serve a God of justice, and we can be confident of that as we bring others before Him in prayer. If change is to happen, it can only be brought about in God’s power, so it’s right and proper that we should petition Him as part of our advocacy work.

Join us on Sunday, 18 November to pray for hope and healing in Indonesia and thank God for the extraordinary faith of the Christians in Surabaya. And then, once you’ve brought them before God, help us bring their story to the rest of the world. 

Emma Howlett is head of communications at Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a Christian human rights organisation advocating for freedom of religion or belief around the world.