LAKE FOREST, Calif. Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren, who has championed such high-profile projects as orphan assistance, Celebrate Recovery for the addicted, and various services to those with HIV and AIDS, has added another signature outreach to the congregation's ministry focus: the persecuted church.
"We want this to become an ongoing thing here at the church, because the Bible tells us that we should pray for those in chains, we should pray for the persecuted and pray for those in prison," Warren said during one of his ongoing Civil Forums, held Nov. 8, this year's official International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. "We are to remember those who are suffering."
During the forum, which focused on the persecuted church, Warren interviewed several experts in the arena, including Michael Cromartie, vice-president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Dr. Carl Moeller, president and chief executive officer of Open Doors USA and Pastor Dishan Wickramaratne, from Sri Lanka. After interviewing each leader, Warren hosted a round table with the group.
"More than one half of the world's population lives in places that severely restrict or prohibit the freedom to practice one's religious beliefs," the pastor and best-selling author told the audience. "Today, as we observe the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, we are reminded that the Church of Jesus Christ is still suffering across the globe, and that our prayers and our love are essential to our brothers and sisters who suffer that persecution."
To conclude the event, Warren had the crowd split into small groups to pray for persecuted Christians.
"Tonight we will begin a new 'signature' ministry for the persecuted church, so we can keep this on the front burner," he said.
"There are four things you can do. You can pray, speak up, give and you can serve."
Panelist Moeller, who worked as a singles pastor at Saddleback from 2000 to 2003, said he was "amazed" and "humbled" by Warren's desire to "champion the cause of the persecuted church around the world."
"This is a man who could call any head of state anywhere in the world and meet with them tomorrow if he wanted to," Moeller said. "Yet he chooses to honor the lowest and the least - the humble pastors of the persecuted church. That stands out for me as the signature moment of the night.
"Rick has always had a heart for the persecuted church. He's expressed it to me on a number of occasions. In many ways, I think tonight is the natural extension of that heart. By engaging Saddleback Church, Rick is just fulfilling what God has laid on his heart."
The Saddleback Civil Forums were established to promote civil discourse and the common good of all. For more information about the Saddleback Civil Forums, visit www.SaddlebackCivilForum.com.