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'Thy will be done': Finding strength amid Christian persecution

March for the Martyrs
Hundreds of Christians participate on Sept. 5, 2020, in Long Beach, California in the March for the Martyrs. |

As Christians, we pray "Thy Will be done" repeatedly. The verse is a most uncomfortable reminder that our will and God’s may not be the same. There is a good possibility that we won’t get what we pray for. We may suffer and the people we love may suffer, even though we ask God to be spared. Many Christians in the world today face unthinkable religious persecution and even martyrdom. Many of them courageously, and even joyfully, accept God's will.    

Praying for them gives our fellow Christians strength. It can also strengthen the faith of those of us who have not yet been tested. At the same time, all of us need a much clearer picture of the global resurgence in religious persecution, which has been ignored by governments and media. 

On Sept. 25, at 3 p.m. in Washington, D.C., large numbers of people will gather to raise awareness of the plight of persecuted Christians at the second Annual March for Martyrs. Participants will wear red which commemorates the blood that has been shed by those Christians who have been murdered on account of their faith. Understandably, organizers of the March are making a particularly urgent plea for Afghanistan’s Christians. 

There is little news coming out of Afghanistan on the situation facing Christians and other religious minorities after the withdrawal of U.S. forces last month. Estimated to number between 10,000 and 12,000, the vast majority of Christians in Afghanistan are converts from Islam to Christianity – a capital crime under the country's Sharia law. Beforethe fall of the Taliban in 2003, Christians in Afghanistan practiced their faith underground. The Christian human rights group Open Doors, reports it is once again “impossible to live openly as a Christian in Afghanistan.”  

Concrete steps to protect Christian Afghanis can be taken. For example, Dr. Ben Carson, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under the Trump administration, recently urged the Biden administration to “speak out on behalf of Afghan Christians.” Carson proposed that economic investment should be conditionalon the Taliban’s commitment to safeguarding the Christian population.  

There is an interesting connection between the plight of Christians in Afghanistan and persecuted Christians in China. Dr. Ewelina U. Ochab, a Christian human rights advocate, author, and co-founder of the Coalition for Genocide Response, observes that roughly 70 years ago “there was a generation of men and women who laid down their lives as the seeds of the Chinese church today.” Today notes Ochab, “Christians in China are estimated to be around 5–7 percent of the population.” Afghanistan’s Christians can similarly build the Church – even when they are forced to do so secretly.  

Christians currently enduring the wrath of Communist China also offer inspiration for believers in Afghanistan. A perfect example is Catholic media magnate Jimmy Lai. Lai has been a long-standing supporter of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, citing his Catholic faith in support of his efforts. Last week, Lai was given the Christi Fidelis Laici award at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. The award is presented to lay Catholics who embark on individual missions “on behalf of the Church and the world” and work “to stir and promote a deeper awareness among all the faithful of the gift and responsibility they share, both as a group and as individuals, in the communion and mission of the Church.” Lai has been imprisoned since last October on charges of organizing illegal protests, so he received the award in absentia. William McGurn, a member of The Wall Street Journal editorial board and Lai's godfather, accepted the award on his behalf, commenting that “while Jimmy may be stuck in prison, his soul remains free.”  

The victims of oppressive and totalitarian rulers like Afghanistan’s Taliban and the Chinese Communist regime have tireless advocates at this year’s March for the Martyrs. The March’s founder, Gia Chacon, first began her efforts in 2017. She will be joined by, among others, Ordinariate priest Fr. Benedict Kiely, whose charity Nasarean.org publicizes the horrors endured by religious minorities and offers them practical help to rebuild their lives. All these campaigners face a common enemy in addition to murderous fundamentalists and totalitarians. It is the indifferentism of public opinion, which these days extend even into the leadership of some churches.   

Jesus’ most fervent prayer was “Father, all things are possible to you; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will but what you will."  Pope Benedict XVI commented on this, calling it an expression “in which the human will adheres to the divine will without reserve.”  An angel came to Jesus after he prayed. The angel did not remove the cup from Jesus, but gave him strength. Today’s persecuted Christians need their own spiritual advocates, who need not be angels. They can, and should, be us.  

Andrea Picciotti-Bayer is director of the Conscience Project, a project advancing conscience rights through public education and amicus support in religious freedom cases. 

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