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Many years ago the Baptist World Alliance Commission on Freedom and Justice proposed that Baptists celebrate the second Sunday in Advent as Human Rights Sunday.

It is proper that during the Christmas season we pray for our brothers and sisters all over the world who are denied human rights and especially those who suffer from religious persecution. It is proper to pray for Christians being persecuted during this season, because in remembering the birth of our Lord we also remember that his birth was one accompanied by many abuses and lack of human rights. There was “no room” for Mary and Joseph in the inn. The poor always suffer prejudice and rejection.

When Jesus was a child his family had to flee to Egypt because human rights were non-existent. An angry king, jealous of his position, ordered all children 2 years old and younger to be massacred. Egypt, being a friendly country to refugees at that period in world history, accepted Mary and Joseph and their little boy.

It is a sad fact that world history is a record of inhumanity, violence, war, prejudice and religious persecution. The early church was a martyr church. The catacombs of Rome today bear witness to the tragic fate that awaited Christian believers.

But has humanity changed much over these many centuries? Unfortunately, even in our so-called enlightened period of history, 60,000 Christians are killed every year. Religious freedom is denied. The poor refugees suffer rejection and death.

As you remember BWA Human Rights Sunday on Dec. 14:

–Pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who suffer death and destruction of villages in Southern Sudan.

–Pray for Baptists in Georgia that the new government will protect the religious freedom of our people who have suffered indignities from a dissident priest and with horror had to endure seeing their warehouse of Bibles being burned.

–Pray for our brothers and sisters in Turkmenistan, where Baptists have no freedom of assembly and the churched have been physically closed. Pray as they worship in secret that God will bring freedom and justice to that part of the world.

–Pray for our brothers and sisters in Orissa, India, where an effigy of Jesus was burned and a law makes it illegal to convert.

–Pray for the church in Indonesia, where in the past few years more than 1,000 churches have been burned to the ground and countless Christians have died at the hands of fanatics.

–Pray for the church in China, which in spite of tremendous recent growth still suffers in villages where churches are closed and leaders arrested.

–Pray that our brothers and sisters in Cuba will be given permission to build new church buildings and print books and Bible study material.

–Pray that more countries in the Middle East will allow the Bible to be printed and read without fear of the secret police, imprisonment or death.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminded us that the call of Christ is a call to “come and die with me!”  That’s what thousands of our brothers and sisters are doing.

We who live in freedom should not only pray for them, but we should also protest to governments and world leaders that religious discrimination and persecution is not only against the Human Rights Charter of the U.N., it is against the gift of liberty which God has placed in the heart of every human being.

During this Christmas season let us remind ourselves and the various worlds in which we live that the prophesy concerning Jesus is indeed the hope and foundation of our faith and the basis of all human rights: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High … to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:78).

As you celebrate Christmas this year, please pray for the refugees, for those suffering persecution, for the poor, the downtrodden. Pray that Christ will enlighten the lives of our believers everywhere and that we shall learn the things that make for peace!

Denton Lotz is general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance. This column also appears on the BWA Web site, www.bwanet.org.

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