Earlier this week, the US State Department hosted the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. Approximately 350 political, civil, and religious leaders from 80 countries gathered in Washington, D.C., and over three days they listened to personal stories from Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and others targeted for their religious beliefs.
Sam Brownback, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, helped sponsor the ministerial. In his opening statement, Brownback shared, “The right to live according to the dictates of your own soul is under attack in the world…. The lack of religious freedom anywhere is a threat to peace, prosperity, and stability everywhere.”
We spoke with David* from Heart4Iran who also attended the ministerial. He says, “The meeting seems to have twofold implications. On one side, they are talking about the vision for international religious freedom. They’re saying, ‘We want to help promote religious freedom all around the world.’ On the other side, they’re letting everyone hear from victims of persecution.
“Yesterday, we heard an amazing story of a woman who escaped from North Korea four times and was actually kicked back into North Korea, tortured, [and] persecuted for becoming a Christian. That…was highlighted right there from the stage among all these guests from the US State Department.”
The persecution stories shared were not just for curiosity’s’ sake. In giving persecuted Christians and other religious minorities a platform, hopefully, this event will serve as a catalyst for real change and encourage global leaders to prioritize religious freedom in conversations and policies.
David explains, “We’re being asked to participate [and] we’re given opportunities to hear about…grants that are available from the US State Department to help improve international religious freedom issues around the world.”
This year is also the 20th anniversary for the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. The act promoted religious freedom as a key factor in US foreign policy.
According to David, the International Religious Freedom Act “had bipartisan support whenever it was passed originally. But we’ve seen, depending on the president, certain presidents have taken a greater interest in it and have [had] an Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom that really cares about the issues and stands for it. It makes the difference.
“Since it’s been formed, we’ve seen that when there is a strong international freedom presence in the State Department, people feel like they have a place to go, that they have a place to share.”
This was further illustrated at the first Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom this week. “I was sitting with so many victims of persecution right there with me in the audience and I could just tell right on their faces they were so happy that the State Department had invited them to tell their story. They felt like the US cared about their issues,” David says.
Heart4Iran works with Christians in the West to fuel ministry among Muslims in Iran and serve the Church there. A big part of their ministry is Iranian Christian satellite television broadcasting through Mohabat TV.
Through their ministry, Heart4Iran has witnessed firsthand the religious persecution believers suffer in Iran. According to Open Doors’ World Watch List, Iran is the 10th harshest country in the world for Christian persecution.
“Religious freedom is very important because it basically means you have the freedom to practice whatever religion you want. In a country like Iran, that is not the case. If you are born as a Muslim, you are not allowed to change your religion. You’re not allowed to have a conscience of your own that leans towards Christianity or any other religion for that matter. That ends up in people being put in prison, people being tortured, all kind of terrible things happen — not just in Iran but all over the world — when there is not religious freedom.”
You can be an encouragement to the persecuted Church today by partnering with Heart4Iran’s ministry in Iran. Click here to learn more!
Finally, please commit to praying for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering today for their faith. Ask God to strengthen their witness so that through their testimony, others may know Jesus Christ as their Savior too.
David adds, “There [are] a lot of things happening between the US government and the Iranian government and we just pray that as these things are playing out with sanctions and different things like that, that the Ambassador would be there to stand up for religious freedom issues and that Christians would have freedom at some point…in Iran.”
*Name changed for security purposes