This coming weekend, Christians across the nation will be attending church services celebrating the momentous events of Easter – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, spending time with family and friends, and, no doubt, eating a lot of chocolate.

But in countries around the world where Christian face persecution, for many the time around the Easter celebration has become a time of crisis. In 2015, 148 people were killed in an Islamist attack targeting Christian students on a university campus in Garissa, Kenya. In 2016, more than 75 people were killed and hundreds were injured in a suicide bombing targeting Christians celebrating Easter in a park. And in 2017 bombings at two churches in Egypt claimed at least 45 lives.

 One With Them poster

Poster for Open Doors' 'One With Them' campaign.

Mike Gore, CEO of Open Doors Australia and New Zealand says attacks on Christians over the period have been increasing in the past few years with what is “probably the most significant time of year for Christians” being met with “some of the strongest resistance in the persecuted world”.

In acknowledgement of that, Open Doors has for the second year launched its One With Them campaign under which, this Wednesday, 17th April, it’s asking Christians  in Australia and New Zealand to consider donating a day’s wage to support persecuted Christians. Those who take part are also invited to mark their wrist with the sign of the cross in a symbol of solidarity with the persecuted.

“I believe that everybody who calls themselves a follower of Jesus should be doing something once a year for the persecuted church.”

- Mike Gore, CEO of Open Doors Australia and New Zealand.

More than 1,100 people took part in a similar day last year in Australia alone with an average donation of about $230. Open Doors are hoping to double that number this year. 

Gore, who has just returned from a trip to Central Asia where he meet with members of the persecuted church, says that the idea of giving a day’s wage means that whether you’re a 15-year-old working at KFC, a business owner, a pensioner or even unemployed, there’s an opportunity to be involved in “tangible, sacrificial commitment to the persecuted church”.

“One day out of 365 is quite viable whether you’re a stay-at-home mum, a pensioner, business owner or casual employee…” he says. 

Gore describes persecution as the “motor of the Gospel” and a “hallmark of Christianity” and says that the day was aimed at coaxing Australians into a more “courageous and front-facing relationship with Jesus”.

“I believe that everybody who calls themselves a follower of Jesus should be doing something once a year for the persecuted church.”

He says that Open Doors is not looking to stop persecution – “that would be relatively easy, you just get people to stop talking about Jesus,” he says – but about going to where people are “boldly and courageously sharing the Gospel and invest into it”.

Gore says that with time and money both valuable commodities in Australia, the day is aimed at encouraging Christians to give up both for the persecuted. He adds that the day is also about helping to a encourage a “heart connection” from people for those who suffer for their faith.

“I really believe the stories of the persecuted church have the ability to change the spiritual temperature of [our] church[es] in a heartbeat – an individual, a home, a family, a community,” he says. “So what I want [people] to do is to come in and see the stories and think ‘Well, what would it look like to do an authentic, courageous, Jesus-focused day?’”

The day has the support of a range of “ambassadors” who include Glenn Davies Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Mark and Darlene Zschech of Hope UC, Steve Chong, founder of the RICE movement, Karl and Jane Faase of Olive Tree Media and, JD and Taya Gaukrodger, of Hillsong United.

The money raised from the day will be used to address the most urgent needs of the persecuted church in the more than 70 countries where Open Doors, which was founded by Brother Andrew almost 70 years ago, works.

“If something goes off in Egypt or in the Middle East or Pakistan, it will be given directly to those things straight away,” says Gore. “If there are no attacks at Easter, similarly, it will be used to meet the most urgent needs of the ministry. It could be in countries like Nigeria, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East…”

Open Doors’ annual World Watch List – published in January, found that at least 245 million Christians around the world were experiencing “high”, “very high” or “extreme” levels of persecution, up from 215 million in 2017.

Coptic crosses

Egyptian Coptic Christians bearing the sign of the cross on their wrist. PICTURE: Supplied.

 

“[T]hey’re the kind of prayers that you pray – that people who are persecuting Christians would find Jesus, that the people who are following Jesus would have strength and courage to continue and the families that are living under the weight of persecution would have the ability to find a sense of peace amidst all the chaos.”

- Mike Gore.

Those looking to take part in the day can either donate beforehand, during or after the day.

“I’d love people wake up on the 17th and think today’s the day I’m doing something free for the persecuted church,” says Gore.

But giving money is just part of how Christians can take part. Gore says that while giving money is “one of the easiest things you can do for the persecuted church, praying is a lot more difficult to do”.

He notes that one of the greatest requests they receive from members of the persecuted church is for prayer, but not just a prayer to ”make their world better”.

“Because I think often when we pray that prayer we’re often unknowingly saying ‘Hey, make their world like mine’…and that’s not their point of normality – in fact most of them would say, ‘No, I don’t want to come to your country, I don’t want a life like yours, in fact I don’t want you to pray that the persecution would end, I want you to pray that I would have the strength and courage to stand in the face it and give me new opportunity to share the Gospel to those around me; that people would come into our church to find Jesus’.” 

“So they’re the kind of prayers that you pray – that people who are persecuting Christians would find Jesus, that the people who are following Jesus would have strength and courage to continue and the families that are living under the weight of persecution would have the ability to find a sense of peace amidst all the chaos.”

Pledges can be made at www.onewiththem.org.