Churches around the UK and Ireland have taken to the great outdoors to stand in the gap for persecuted Christians. But if your church missed the date, it’s not too late!
Each year, Release International encourages Christians to head into the open air to pray for the persecuted in the Great Outdoors Church Service. Bank holiday Sunday May 26 was the suggested date for 2019 – but Release is encouraging churches to set aside any date in their diaries that would be suitable.
Around the world, Christians are forced to meet outdoors because their church buildings have been destroyed or their meeting places closed down by governments hostile to the Christian faith.
Release challenges churches in the UK and Ireland to follow in the footsteps of Christians being persecuted for their faith – whatever the weather.
‘Choosing to meet outdoors come rain or shine really brings home how precious our freedoms are,’ says Paul Robinson, the CEO of Release, which supports persecuted Christians worldwide.
‘It’s so easy to take those freedoms for granted. So taking time out to pray for the persecuted is a great encouragement to appreciate our freedom of faith and use that freedom to the full.’
A recent report commissioned by the UK government found ‘widespread evidence showing that Christians are by far the most widely persecuted religion’ and that religious persecution is a ‘global phenomenon that is growing in scale and intensity’.
The report by the Bishop of Truro continued: ‘Research consistently indicates that Christians are the “most widely targeted religious community”. Acts of violence… are becoming more widespread [with] an increase in the severity of anti-Christian persecution.’
Around the world, Christians are persecuted under Islam, militant Hinduism, authoritarian regimes, and communism.
In Pakistan, Christians are being accused of blasphemy as a way of settling scores and driving out Christian minorities. The abuse of the blasphemy laws has been highlighted by the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who has only recently been released from death row and allowed to seek freedom in Canada.
North Korea is widely regarded as the most hostile place in the world to be a Christian. And in neighbouring China, the authorities are demolishing churches, tearing down crosses and imprisoning lawyers who try to defend Christians in the courts.
While in India, which has just re-elected a nationalist government by a landslide, there has been a sharp rise in the number of attacks against the Christian minority.
‘Standing with the persecuted is more important than ever,’ says Paul Robinson of Release. ‘So we encourage Christians who can worship in freedom to set aside a single service a year to identify with their persecuted brothers and sisters.
In their shoes
‘Getting out into the open to remember them is a powerful way of standing in their shoes. It’s also a great witness to our local communities.’
If your church has taken part in the Great Outdoors Church Service, Release would love to know how you got on. Please send your photographs and feedback to email@example.com. Please also let Release know if you are happy for them to share your pictures and information.
Finally, if the bank holiday has passed you by, don’t feel you’ve missed out. Simply set a more suitable date in your church calendar to meet in the open air and stand in solidarity with the persecuted.
The Bishop of Truro’s Independent Review for the UK Foreign Secretary of Foreign and Commonwealth Office Support for Persecuted Christians is available here