Freedom to worship is the ‘litmus test of a free society’ according to Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who spoke at the launch of the 2019 Open Doors World Watch List in Parliament, where over 100 parliamentarians were represented.
In a message to Open Doors supporters, he said, “Thank you for the fantastic work you are doing to highlight the fact that nearly a quarter of a billion Christians around the world are facing persecution for their faith.”
Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry also attended the launch, saying, “It’s a pleasure to be here at the launch of the World Watch List report 2019. I read it with some concern to find out that, for the fifth year running, persecution of Christians has increased once more.”
Thank you for all of your prayers covering the launch – we had a brilliant turnout with 98 parliamentarians coming to hear our field speakers, Rebecca from Nigeria and Brother Sam* from Malaysia, and Henrietta Blyth, CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland.
You can download the report that was given to MPs, Paying the price twice: how religious persecution exacerbates the vulnerabilities of marginalised groups.
‘shining a light’ on the decline of religious freedom
The Foreign Secretary has commissioned a review into the plight of persecuted Christians around the world and how much help they are receiving from the UK. The review will be independent and led by the Bishop of Truro. The timing could not be better with the launch of fresh research in the 2019 World Watch List.
The event was opened by host, the Rt. Hon Theresa Villiers MP, who then introduced Henrietta. She spoke about the growing persecution of Christians everywhere, and how denying the right to freedom of religion or belief plays a ‘central and devastating role’ in global crises across the world.
On the review, Henrietta said, “We are delighted that Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has initiated an independent review to look at UK support for persecuted Christians around the world.”
In his speech, the Foreign Secretary thanked Open Doors for ‘shining a light’ on the decline of religious freedom. “I want [Christians] suffering this terrible persecution to think there are people who understand what they’re going through and are sincerely trying to do everything they can about it.”
He also mentioned the impact that a certain book had on him…
“…One of the oldest books I’ve got - which I’ve had since about the age of ten - is called God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew. I only realised literally as I was walking over today the connection between Brother Andrew and Open Doors – it’s a great privilege to be here and an extra thrill for me in that context. But that book is the extraordinary story of daring-do of Brother Andrew, a Dutchman who smuggled Bibles behind the Iron Curtain and the incredible courage and extraordinary adventures he had in doing that.
“…We do have the most fantastic links around the world, through our links with the Commonwealth, our alliance with the United States, our links with our European friends and neighbours… So I want us to think about what we can do to use those connections that we have as a country, and I’ve asked Bishop Philip Mounstephen, the Bishop of Truro, to do an independent report looking at what the FCO does.”
A ‘voice’ to the voiceless
Brother Sam from Malaysia, the first of our field speakers, then spoke about the rise of persecution in Asia, which has been steadily increasing in the background while news stories about Islamic extremists, such as Boko Haram, dominate the news.
“It saddens me that persecution is increasing in Asia,” he said. “In some of these countries, even owning a Bible in the native language is a crime.
“Persecuted Christians need support from others who are able to be their ‘voice’ to the voiceless.”
Rebecca from Nigeria works with around 2,000 widows, orphans and victims of rape – many of whom have suffered at the hands of Islamic extremist groups like Boko Haram.
“The groups that bear the brunt of the persecution are women and children… An unaccounted number of women and girls are taken captive by Islamic extremists as sex slaves.
“There is also a lot of stigma against these ladies, especially those who return from captivity pregnant or with babies. But the grace of God has given me wisdom on how to handle these issues.
“With the assistance of friends like Open Doors, we can help women through prayers, relief and trauma counselling. We work to reassure these women of God’s love… The generous contributions of organisations like Open Doors are invaluable. You have given us hope to continue to hold onto the faith.”
We want to say a HUGE thank you to all of the parliamentarians who attended – with special thanks to Theresa Villiers MP for hosting the event once again. And for your prayers, and for getting involved and inviting your MP to the launch, we want to say enormous thanks to you!
The room was very busy during the launch, and we may have missed a few parliamentarians who attended, but below is a list of all those we registered as being present - nearly 100! If your MP is on the list, you may wish to thank them for coming. However, if your MP is not on this list, please don't assume this shows a lack of interest - it was a busy week in Parliament, and they may have a good reason why they couldn't come. By simply raising the issue and voicing your concern, you have given them something to think about.
Emma Little Pengelly
Preet Kaur Gill
Susan Elan Jones
MPs who sent a representative:
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne
Lord Browne of Belmont
Lord Gordon Strathblane
Lord Paul Boateng
Lord Anderson of Swansea
Your voice matters
Please be praying for the above parliamentarians, that what they heard at the World Watch List launch would spur them into action to effect change for our persecuted brothers and sisters.
Please also be encouraged – many MPs cited the concern of their constituents as one of the main reasons they attended the launch!
Henry Smith, MP for Crawley, said: “I am grateful to the Crawley residents who have contacted me in support of Open Doors’ work, not just at this time but all year round.”
Your voice really does make a difference – you can sway the people who can make the changes. Thank you! If you aren't already on our advocacy email list, sign up for advocacy alerts for more opportunities to speak out and pray for your persecuted family.
- For all of the politicians who attended the launch – particularly the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, the FCO Minister for Asia and the Shadow Foreign Secretary – that the impact of the launch would spur them to action on behalf of persecuted Christians
- That the review will lead to greater awareness of Christian persecution, and, most importantly, concrete change for our brothers and sisters.
*name changed for security reasons