By Bob Lunt
A collective moan rose among Open Doors supporters. The launch in Parliament of the World Watch List 2019 would clash with a key Brexit vote. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt wanted to speak – would he cancel? Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry was due to attend – would she come? Would anybody come?
But as ever, the event was in the Lord’s hands. A total of 98 parliamentarians came and five more sent representatives, including senior faces, and the voice of the persecuted church echoed around the corridors of Westminster. In his speech Jeremy Hunt said that freedom of religion is the ‘litmus test of a free society’. He thanked Open Doors supporters 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 beliefs’. He added that he had had a copy of God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew since he was ten. Emily Thornberry recorded a message sharing her serious concern that ‘for the fifth year running, persecution of Christians has increased’. It was encouraging to see senior support for the persecuted church from both sides of the political spectrum.
Henrietta Blyth, Open Doors’ CEO, shared how denying the right to freedom of religion or belief plays a ‘central and devastating role’ in global crises, and highlighted the rise of both India and China on this year’s list. And heartfelt pleas on behalf of persecuted Christians were brought by Open doors partners from Malaysia and Nigeria.
Parliament has upped the heat – not a week goes by when the Foreign Office isn’t asked a question about religious persecution. And not only has the Prime Minister appointed a Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief, but Jeremy Hunt announced an independent review into whether the UK is doing enough to support persecuted Christians worldwide. “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.” This review is led by Philip Mounstephen, Bishop of Truro and until recently head of Church Mission Society. Pray it will lead to real change that positively impacts the lives of persecuted Christians.
The World Watch List highlights the 50 countries where it’s hardest to be a Christian.
Source: Open Doors. Watch messages from Jeremy Hunt and Emily Thornberry at www.opendoorsuk.org