Clive Price reports
PRINCE CHARLES has joined a chorus of cries “that is sounding louder and louder in the UK” on behalf of the suffering Church, says Barnabas Fund International Director Dr Patrick Sookhdeo.
The Prince of Wales focused a recent speech on the plight of Christians in the Middle East. Just before Christmas he spent the day visiting UK-based eastern churches, and Dr Sookhdeo was able to talk to the Prince.
“I have for some time now been deeply troubled by the growing difficulties faced by Christian communities in various parts of the Middle East,” Prince Charles said at a reception in Clarence House.
“It seems to me that we cannot ignore the fact that Christians in the Middle East are, increasingly, being deliberately targeted by fundamentalist Islamist militants. Christianity was, literally, born in the Middle East and we must not forget our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters in Christ.”
The Prince’s talk was “personal and well-informed”, said Dr Sookhdeo on his organisation’s website Christians will be greatly encouraged to hear such sentiments from the Prince, who has been giving his support to other religious initiatives such as Hope, a nationwide network of church-run community projects.
In such company, the Prince is eager to talk about faith, and even make his own personal references to Christianity. It is obvious he is concerned to see a style of Christianity that makes a difference on the streets of Britain and, indeed, across the globe.
At the Advent reception, he also expressed concern for the decline of Christians in the Middle East, which he said represents “a major blow” to peace. “Christians are part of the fabric of society, often acting as bridge-builders between other communities,” he added. “This crucial role throughout Middle Eastern society is one recognised by many Muslims.”
Politicians have added their voices to the mix. Barnabas Fund said that a few days after Prince Charles’ address, Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander wrote in “The Daily Telegraph” about suffering Christians in various parts of the world, asking why this remains a “largely untold” story.
Dr Sookhdeo also comment-ed on former Defence Secretary Liam Fox’s forthright interview with “The Times” in January, when Dr Fox said Britain should stop giving millions of pounds in aid to countries that do not “represent our values” – but persecute Christians.
“For years and years the global persecution of Christians has been almost completely ignored by our political leaders,” said Dr Sookhdeo, “but we are now witnessing a sea change.
“As we embark on 2014, we need to capitalise on this shift and keep building momentum so that words will turn into actions.”
Other positive signs have been noted for persecuted Christians across the globe. According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) – a charity based here in the south-east – prayer recently helped prevent an escalation of violence against Christians in trouble spots around the world.
It was in December that CSW chief Mervyn Thomas emailed his group’s supporters, asking them to pray for Christians around the world who often experience increased harassment and attacks because of their faith over the Christmas period.
“Sadly, this increase in violence happens so regularly at this time of year, it is almost to be expected,” he said. “But I’ve got some encouraging news – after you prayed, Christians worldwide experienced a more peaceful Christmas than in previous years.”
Thanking supporters for “standing in prayerful support” with those people, Mervyn went on to add that CSW still heard reports of attacks or other persecution in some parts of the world.
He asked Christians to continue praying for such situations as Iran, where converts have been arrested; Nigeria, where people have been killed and others injured during attacks; and Central African Republic, which has seen continued targeting of Christians by the Seleka rebel coalition.
In Vietnam, Christians in rural villages have been threatened with arrest; in Sri Lanka, pastors have experienced gunshots and petrol bombings; in Egypt a Coptic man was shot in the head on New Year’s Eve; and in Mexico believers remain under pressure from criminal groups.