WASHINGTON, Nov. 10 (RNS)--Oswaldo Magdangal had gradually grown accustomed to his 3-by-4-foot prison cell and the constant presence of armed Saudi Arabianprison guards outside.

More than two months had passed since the country's religious policeraided his home hunting for Bibles, Christian videotapes, and anythingelse that would link the Filipino federal employee to the Christianministry, banned in a nation where Islam is the official state religion and no others are allowed public expression.

The police found what they wanted. Magdangal had not attempted tohide any traces of his 11-year double life as a missionary in the Muslimnation and minister of a secret Christian church.

Alone in his cell, he steeled himself for the fate decreed by SaudiArabian officials: death by public hanging.

But then the letters began to arrive.

Thousands of them. From the Philippines. England. Malaysia. TheNetherlands. Italy. The U.S. Congress.

Letters that convinced Magdangal he was not forgotten. Letters that persuaded King Fahd to set him free.

The day before his execution.

"Had it not been for appeals from the international community, Iwould be in heaven right now," said Magdangal, who establishedChristians in Crisis after he was released in 1992 in an effort to boostawareness about the plight of persecuted Christians. "I completelybelieve that appeals made all the difference in my case. I would be deadwithout it."

Christians worldwide are counting on the strength of such appealsand similar efforts to push the issue of Christian oppression centerstage Sunday, the International Day of Prayer for the PersecutedChurch.

The event is marked primarily by evangelical Christians, who are often those most persecuted abroad, where their sometimes aggressive proselyzing runs afoul of non-Christian authorities and even established ethnic churches.

An estimated 200 million Christians around the world facepersecution. A report released by the U.S. State Department in Septemberpaints a dreary portrait of their plight: Imprisonment for evangelical Christians in Greece. Forcible conversions to Buddhism in Burma. Abductions in Sudan. Their churches bombed in India.

"A lot of churches in America don't know about all the persecutionChristians face, so when I talk to them it's a real eye-opener," saidMagdangal, who said he endured brutal beatings and torture while inprison. "Seeing me in person brings home the message that there is aneed out there that is more real than they thought."

Now in its fifth year, the International Day of Prayer is observedeach November by some 300,000 Christians in 130 countries, including theUnited States.

"We need to be aware that America is not the only place where peopleare trying to honor the name of Christ," said Doug Christgau, pastor ofcross-cultural ministries at the evangelical Wheaton Bible Church in Wheaton, Ill. "It'svery easy for us to forget what's going on in the rest of the world."

Which is why Christgau marks the day at his church by invitingpersecuted Christians to tell their stories to his 2,000-membercongregation, as do dozens of other congregations.

Bibles are prized commodities in many of the countries from whichspeakers arrive, said Connie Reitsma, associate director of projectdevelopment at the Bible League. The organization is one of manyobserving the day by distributing Bibles to oppressed Christians.

"People have no idea how precious the Word [the Bible] is to anindividual who has never had their own copy before," said Reitsma."Putting Bibles in their hands is a big part of helping people sustaintheir faith."

On behalf of oppressed Christians in predominantly Muslim Indonesia, members of the NewLife Community Church in Arizona have launched a letter-writing campaignto Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid. The congregation hopes the200 signatures collected will help persuade Wahid to put an end to morethan a year of fighting between Christians and Muslims in the country'seastern Maluku islands. Some 4,000 people -- both Christians and Muslims-- have been killed in the violence.

"We're doing this to say to the president that people halfway aroundthe world have heard about this and want him to go help the people whoshare our faith," said John Tuitele, chairperson of the church'sministry for the persecuted church and a board member of the Prayer forthe Persecuted Church. His organization is among several agencies,including Voice of the Martyrs and International Christian Concern, thatare helping to promote the day.

New Life Community Church is also giving congregants prayer cards.Each card features the name and picture of a persecuted Christian anddescribes his or her situation. A similar effort, in calendar format, isbeing conducted by the aid agency Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

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