“Please don’t pray for us. Please pray with us. If you pray for us, you will pray for the wrong things. You will pray for our safety. You will pray that persecution will cease. But if you pray with us, you will ask God to bring millions of Egyptians to faith in Christ. You will pray that when the inevitable Muslim backlash comes because of our witness, we will be faithful, even if it costs us our lives.”

This is the voice of converts in Egypt 10 years ago, but it is as relevant now as it ever has been. Egyptian Christians report being spat at as they walk down the street unveiled as women. Their children are being ostracised in school with false reporting of exam failure where they have excelled. And few can find jobs even though they migrate to Cairo to escape attacks and restrictions in upper Egypt. It remains like this today and we need to learn to pray with them as they ask us to do. 

The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP), which takes place this year on Sunday, 17 November, enables the global church to remember that we are the persecuted church. There are no two churches. The is no us and them but only us as one part suffers, so we all suffer” (1 Corinthians 12:26). So, as the church based in the UK, how can we pray with them?

Well, we find it deeply challenging

The modern western church is largely unequipped to cope with the problem of suffering. Our prevailing cultural circumstances have created a world in which any form of difficulty is seen as unnatural. Our culture prioritises comfort, safety, and the elimination of risk, and these cultural values have seeped into the church.” (M. Vaughan) So, as we pray let us walk in their shoes or as if you were together with them in prison” as the writer in Hebrews reminds us (Hebrews 13:3).

Let’s pray and remember IDOP

Intercede as God’s Spirit leads. In praying with our persecuted family let’s learn how to truly stand in the gap of intercession. Yes, their stories can seem so far removed from our experience as Vaughan highlights above. Yet, in Romans 8:26 – 27 Paul speaks of the similar challenge in prayer: The Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Let us give time to intercede and in doing so give our hearts into prayer. This means engaging our emotions with what our family are facing in order to connect and cry out in our intercession. 

Leah Sharibu has been held by the Boko Haram in Nigeria for over a year and a half. When given the opportunity to be freed she refused to deny her faith and remains enslaved and serving the needs of the soldiers. What breaks my heart is the fact she is the same age of my youngest daughter. She is 16 years old, taken captive when she was 14 years. I cry out for her and her mother, Rebekah, because I cannot stand the thought of my daughter enduring what she is enduring and being a mother at home waiting as Rebekah does day by day. When words fail me in prayer I just cry out. That is all I can do and that is intercession. Ask God to give you the gift of intercession for your persecuted family, for we are the persecuted church. 

Answer our own prayers

Do something in response to our prayers. Sign a petition or write to your MP, as these actions really do make a difference and are crafted and planned in consultation with the church they give voice to. Commit to receiving regular news from Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Release International, Open Doors or scan the BBC News sites. There is plenty of information there. Give financially with care. Discern where God might be asking you to share your resources and give regularly. Then projects you support are sustainable. They can keep on going.

Overcome evil with good

In Romans 12:21, Paul writes Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” When we pray for our family living under pressure let us pray that their witness for Christ remains so strong that the work of evil is overcome, and Christ is revealed. 

Pray for those who are overwhelmed by the evil that attacks them. Consider Christian women from Pakistan who have been sold into marriage to Chinese men. Pray that they can hold on their knowledge of Christ who suffers with them and live out the gospel even with those who they have been forced or tricked into marrying. 

Pray for Christian communities in India being targeted and trafficked into sexual and economic slavery by those who they thought they could trust and yet have deceived them into leaving their homes for work and escaping poverty and have ended up serving the needs of evil. Pray for light to shine in their darkness, for evil to be overcome by good. 

Pray year-round

Persevere in prayer throughout the whole year, not just for IDOP in November, neither out of having a pity-party’ for the persecuted but a commitment to them, our family. May praying for our persecuted family be central to our prayer life and not just another prayer topic we are to cover. 

That is what our Pakistani sister Asia Bibi taught us. She was held on death row in prison for 10 years, falsely accused of blasphemy, and after years of solitary confinement her case was repealed last year. Hundreds of thousands prayed for her during the 10 years and those prayers have at last been answered. 

Yet, whilst many remain physically imprisoned in Iran, Eritrea and North Korea, millions of Christians feel’ imprisoned due to the methods of persecution. Women suffer the shame and isolation following violations against their bodies and men are suffering because of forced conscription into brutal armies such as the Boko Haram in Nigeria or targeted as church leaders as recent reports share in China.

When it seems as if this is all too much, please know that our persecuted family pray for us and they pray for one another. All around the world their phones connect us with them and them with us. Praise God for this digital age where we as the persecuted church pray with each other in ways that the early church facing persecution could never ask for or imagine. 

Let us use what we have been given, connection and information with our persecuted family at a touch or a swipe – prayer tools for IDOP every day. 

Photo by Luis Quintero