The testimonies of persecuted Christians and policy proposals to address the brutality highlighted the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians this week in Washington, and both left religious freedom activists ready to work even harder to protect the right of free religious expression around the world.

Persecution of Christians is on the rise throughout the world, with some experts concluding we’re seeing the worst oppression of believers in recent memory.

“We are definitely seeing an expansion of persecution issues around the world.  Pew Center estimates that 79 percent of the world lives in a place that faces high or very high social hostilities and government restrictions on religion and religious expression.  That’s true for the persecuted church but it’s also true for all sorts of other places as well,” said 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative Director of Policy Relations Nathan Wineinger.

He says this week’s summit had a two-fold purpose.

“The main focus was on figuring out how people around the world can call leaders to account and make sure that the persecution of Christians is addressed in policy and in practice on the ground,” said Wineinger.

“We (also) heard from people who experienced really horrific moments of persecution.  Also people from Iraq and Syria talked about the importance of Christian forgiveness in confronting persecution issues,” said Wineinger.

He says the testimonies of persecuted believers were the most gripping moments of the summit.

“I heard the story about a pastor who had been abducted in Iraq and for nine days was held and tortured, and then after that is finally released.  When he gets out, he goes and tells his congregation to forgive the people who had persecuted him and to not take vengeance,” said Wineinger.

He says similar acts of love were also heard.

“It was extremely powerful to hear those people talking about how they’re moving forward, how they’re bringing healing to their communities, about how they’re bringing aid, food and shelter to displaced people.  That was really powerful testimony about how to respond to persecution,” said Wineinger.

While the scourge of ISIS in Iraq and Syria dominates headlines related to persecution, Wineinger says there are plenty of other places where persecution is rampant, including countries most Americans rarely think about.

“Sri Lanka faces dozens of situations where churches are attacked or individuals are attacked.  That’s a country we don’t hear about very much because it’s a small country but persecution is happening there,” said Wineinger.

The 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative is calling for some specific steps around the globe, namely for the United Nations to appoint a special envoy to the Lake Chad area of Africa, where Boko Haram is still wreaking havoc on believers.

Here at home, the group is urging President Trump to put forward a nominee to be U.S. ambassador for religious freedom.

“Now that we have a new administration, we need to see that administration maintain that commitment with a highly-qualified individual and they need to put that individual in quickly so that the work of the International Religious Freedom office at the State Department can continue,” said Wineinger.

Wineinger says there is already a dedicated staff in place but it cannot do much until a leader is in place who will not only chart a clear course but also have the ear of the president and secretary of state.

He also says another priority is to implement a new religious freedom training program for foreign service officers that became law last year.

“The Frank R. Wolf International Freedom Act that President Obama signed into law last year requires that foreign service officers take training on the importance of religious freedom and how that composes part of our human rights initiatives.  It;s very important that that training be put into place so that foreign service officers have the tool and training they need to be advocates for religious freedom in embassies around the world,” said Wineinger.