Mojtaba, a former house church leader in Iran, remembers being at one of his darkest points in an Iranian prison cell serving a sentence for his “crime,” and feeling the prayers of the Body of Christ. He sensed that thousands were praying for him. And it gave him the strength to go on.
“I am the fruit of prayers,” he says. “I felt the prayers of others during my time in prison. The most important thing you can do is pray.”
Each year, Open Doors releases the World Watch List, identifying the top 50 countries where Christian persecution is most severe. The men, women and children living in these countries face persecution on various levels, including one of the most emotionally damaging sources—harm from those they love the most when their own families and friends threaten to hurt, reject or even kill them for their decision to follow Jesus.
Hearing the numerous, often hard, stories behind the list each year can be overwhelming, especially for those of us living in other parts of the world where we can live out our faith in freedom. But in many ways, God can use the list to strengthen our own faith and spiritual walk.
As we come alongside our brothers and sisters and intercede for them, we can pray not only for these believers but also with them, entering into both their suffering and joy. Our prayers strengthen not only our persecuted family; they also give God room to change and transform us as we seek after His heart and practice unconditionally love for those whom He loves and died for.
The discipline and privilege of prayer changes us and conforms us to the character of Christ as we take this important promise to head and heart.
The No. 1 Request From Believers and the Best Response
While we may never have the chance to meet our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters, we do have the opportunity to pray with them–and the World Watch List can serve as our tutor. In every country where Open Doors serves, the No. 1 request is prayer.
Believers facing unimaginable challenges and hardships know the power of prayer and ask us to join them in their praises and petitions: “Pray that I will not deny Christ in my suffering” (often their first request). “Pray that the gospel will go forward no matter the cost.” “Pray for those who persecute us, that our ‘enemies’ would meet Jesus and become our brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Sometimes it may seem that our prayers, our words to God, are too little of a response. But when we’re dealing with situations beyond our control, prayer is the best response. Through prayer, we humble ourselves and acknowledge the only One who can make a real difference.
In Exodus 17, we see Moses acknowledge God’s authority when he raises the staff of God. As long as his arms are raised, the Israelites command the battle against the Amalekites. But when Moses grows weary and lowers his arms, dropping the staff, the Amalekites “gained the advantage” (Exodus 17:8-13).
Our brothers and sisters are in a battle for their lives, the future of their families and their faith—and God is calling us to lift up His staff on their behalf.
5 Practical Ways to Pray Through the World Watch List
As you read through the 2021 World Watch List, consider some of the following ways to regularly pray with and connect to believers the list represents (if one or more of these ideas take root, we’d love to hear your experience):
- 50 countries, 50 weeks. Work your way through the World Watch List one country at a time. Each week, take time to read and learn about a country and in your times of prayer lift up your brothers and sisters living there. Sign up to receive our weekly e-newsletter and pray with thousands of Christians for believers in a specific country. You can also download the 2021 World Watch List eBook including the list, the map, trends and inspiring stories of faith from persecuted believers.
- Prayers on your mobile device. Sign up to receive regular prayer requests from persecuted believers around the world via our new mobile prayer app. You can also download the 2021 World Watch List eBook that includes the list, the World Watch List map, trends and inspiring stories of persecuted believers.
- Monthly Prayer Force Alert calendar. Each month, our monthly prayer includes daily prayers for persecuted believers and churches. Sign up to receive it via email or download it here.
- Clothing labels. These days, our clothes come from places all over the world. Take a minute to look at the labels in your clothing to see where it was made. Is it a country on the World Watch List? If so, visit the Open Doors website to learn about the country and how you can pray specifically for believers there.
- News headlines. Whether you’re watching the news on TV, listening to Flash Briefings from Alexa, or checking out your favorite news site on your phone, each time you hear about a crisis, pray with Christians in that country. They are there, and they need our prayers. We know from our work that when disaster (natural or manmade) strikes, Christians are usually some of the first ones marginalized and affected.
Regardless of your approach, whether you use one of these suggestions or come up with your own, the most important thing is that you pray. The information and the amount of Christians facing persecution can feel massive, but if the “faith of a mustard seed can move a mountain” (Matthew 17:20), then think of the impact of Christians around the world stepping out in faith and praying with their persecuted brothers and sisters.
Situations that seem like mountains will begin to move, as the world sees God’s hand in motion and His heart at work!