IT IS 60 years since Brother Andrew began his now famous work smuggling Bibles into Eastern Europe. The charity that emerged from that work, Open Doors, held a celebratory rally at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham, last weekend, to mark six decades of support for the persecuted Church.
A range of speakers — their names changed to protect family members in their countries of origin — spoke about the challenges of being a Christian in Iraq, China, North Korea, and Nigeria.
The persecution of Christians in China took hold under Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Missionaries were expelled, and Christian leaders were killed or imprisoned. Chairman Mao, a Chinese pastor said, had predicted that, one day, Christianity in China would be something seen only in a museum.
“Today, Christians flourish, and there is a church in every town and every village in China,” the pastor said, “and Chairman Mao is lying still, next to the History of Unification Museum.”
It was a point echoed by Johan Companjen, who co-founded Open Doors with Brother Andrew. “Where is Chairman Mao now?” he said. “He is in a mausoleum. He is dead. And you know what? There is no mausoleum in Jerusalem. Jesus is alive today. And he is in China.” The crowds listening to him cheered as he told them that there were now more than 100 million Christians in the country.
The audience was in a celebratory mood. At times, it appeared more like a United States-style political rally than a prayer meeting.
The work of Open Doors has developed considerably since the early days of smuggling Bibles. In Nigeria, its field staff were on the scene within hours when Boko Haram kidnapped a large group of schoolgirls in Chibok (News, 2 May 2014).
Its area field officer explained that this was because Open Doors had staff on the ground in countries where persecution is happening. He told the audience of his vision for Nigeria: “That God would use that country to reach Africa.”
One woman spoke of her ordeal at the hands of Boko Haram. She and a group of other women had refused to renounce their faith and convert to Islam, and had been kept apart from the other women in case they influenced them. A captor had been heard to say: “These women are very stubborn.”
The CEO of Open Doors, Lisa Pearce, told the audience that “persecution is no longer the best-kept secret of the Church.” She explained that MPs now approached the charity directly for information about persecuted Christians around the world; and that, this week, Open Door staff were meeting Foreign Office officials to discuss getting aid to Christian refugees who are outside the official camps.
“In 1955, Brother Andrew packed a suitcase full of Bibles and set off for Communist Poland,” she said. “We are a very different organisation today.”
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, visited the Oxfordshire headquarters of Open Doors on Friday. The organisation did "fantastic work", he said.
“Standing up for religious freedom is a priority for my Government. We are committed to promoting and protecting the right to freedom of religion or belief as one of the foundations of human rights. No matter what faith we follow, charity, compassion, responsibility and forgiveness are values which speak to us all.”
Watch the Archbishop of Canterbury's 60th anniversary message below