Behind every Asia Bibi—the Pakistani Christian mother of five still on death row after seven years over a false blasphemy charge—are the near-invisible lawyers who defend persecuted believers, pastors, and churches around the globe.
Only 1 in 5 American Christians think lawyers are highly ethical or contribute a lot to the well-being of society, according to surveys by Gallup and the Pew Research Center. But human rights lawyers overseas face death threats, arrest, detention without trial, beatings, and torture.
Over the past 25 years, 30,000 Christian legal advocates and judges in 156 nations have organized into national networks through the efforts of Advocates International (AI), based near Washington, DC. These lawyers—who work together across countries to release imprisoned pastors or harassed missionaries—are a vital part of the body of Christ that easily escapes notice, says president Brent McBurney.
“Our work helps the gospel,” he said. “If you don’t have lawyers who are following Christ to fight to keep the doors open for the gospel, then the doors close and no missionaries can go in.”
Such advocacy has gained high recognition in political circles. “In the more repressive countries, these lawyers are really heroic figures,” said David Saperstein, who served under the Obama administration as US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. “They often face harassment from authorities and persecution.
“They make a huge difference, and they work within a system often slanted against human rights and religious freedom,” he said. “Yet with perseverance and creativity, they may prevail in a way that makes a real difference.” ...1