It was a night of solemn remembrance and passionate advocacy for the millions of Christians who suffer for their faith all around the world.
They came from all branches of Christianity and all points on the globe to assemble in Washington, DC, responding to Rev. Franklin Graham’s call. Six hundred Christians from 130 nations came to the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians.
Some came to share their stories, others to hear and learn, but all came to do what they can to help fight persecution and to strengthen their brothers and sisters until it ends.
Senate Chaplain Barry Black opened the event in prayer, calling on God to give His people wisdom and fortitude in the face of suffering.
“Shepherd of Love, you have sent us as lambs in the midst of wolves, reminding us that in this world we will have trouble in spite of persecution; you enable us to have tough minds and tender hearts, making us wise as serpents and innocent as doves,” he prayed.
Quiet tones echoed through the hall when Ms. Rashin Soodman, whose father was hanged in Iran for converting to Christianity, rang a memorial bell seven times in remembrance of the martyred.
Representatives of Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant churches addressed the gathering, including the Papal Nuncio, the pope’s official representative in America, and His Beatitude Tikhon, the Orthodox leader of All America and Canada.
Graham pointed out that the summit is not an ecumenical gathering, but representatives of all branches of the Christian faith were invited because all suffer alike.
“Today our Christian brothers and sisters across the world are facing persecution and martyrdom on an unprecedented scale,” Graham said. “No part of the Christian family is exempt – Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox – nor is any part of the world exempt.”
He noted that today more Christians are facing persecution and oppression than any other time in history and that in many places it's motivated by “intense, anti-Christian movements within Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.”
In other parts of the world, he said, Christians are persecuted in countries where lawlessness and government corruption are rampant or in nations where they fall victim to tribal conflicts and civil war.
In the West, he said, the danger is a rising secularism: “Secularists are especially hostile to those who hold to the unchanging moral and spiritual standards of God and His holy Word.”
He acknowledged that the Christian church has suffered persecution since its beginning, describing the trials of the Apostles Paul and Peter, and noted that the church was founded on the greatest act of suffering and sacrifice in history.
“No one suffered more than Our Lord Jesus Christ,” he said.
Nevertheless, Graham warned that Christians are being killed at such a great rate today that it can be safely called a genocide.
In a moving moment, the relatives of 21 Christians martyrs stood to the applause of the crowd. Their loved ones were beheaded on a Libyan beach by ISIS in 2015. Graham recalled how the terrorists recorded the atrocity on video and pledged to fight the Christian world and conquer Rome.
“This threat to Rome is not just a threat to the Roman Catholic Church, but to all Christians everywhere,” he said.
In the face of these atrocities, he reminded Christians of the command to love one another and to care for the family of Christ.
“Let us never forget; therefore, that we have a responsibility to seek out our brothers and sisters that are undergoing persecution, we must do all that we can to defend and aid those who are victims,” he said.
In their time together over the next three days, he exhorted the crowd to show solidarity with the persecuted, to draw attention to their plight, to pray for the authorities and to learn from each other so they can develop strategies to overcome persecution and make their needs known to the authorities.
He emphasized that prayer is the key, retelling the Biblical story of how Peter was freed from prison after the church prayed.
“You see, when people pray, chains fall off. When people pray --gates that were closed, gates that were locked -- are opened. When people pray, people get set free. What miracles what might we see today if our churches were united and praying earnestly for God to intervene on behalf of our persecuted brethren.”
He also said it’s important to pray for those who persecute the church and to remember that one of the greatest persecutors, Saul, became the Apostle Paul.
“Let us pray especially for the persecutors and to remember that as Jesus hung on the cross he looked down and said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
In the end, the evangelist exhorted the crowd to recommit themselves without reserve to preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Regardless of the difficulties, regardless of the barriers, you and I are called to proclaim the greatest news the world has ever heard. The good news that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that whosever believeth on Him shall have eternal life.”