WASHINGTON - More than 3,000 Americans from across the country joined President Barack Obama Thursday for the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.
The president focused his remarks on religious freedom in other countries, calling it key to national security and a central tenet of American diplomacy.
Driving home his point, he publicly called for the release of Christian missionary Kenneth Bae, who is imprisoned in North Korea, as well as American Pastor Saeed Abedini, who's been held captive in Iran for more than a year and a half.
What impact will Obama's latest call have for religious freedom around the world? David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA, answers this and more on Christian World News, Feb. 7.
"We pray for Pastor Saeed Abedini," the president said. "He's been held in Iran for more than 18 months, sentenced to eight years in prison on charges related to his Christian beliefs."
"And as we continue to work for his freedom, again we call on the Iranian government to release Pastor Abedini so he can return to the loving arms of his wife and children in Idaho," he said.
Persecution of Christians has increased in some countries. North Korea leads the list that includes Iraq, Afghanistan, and U.S. ally, Saudi Arabia.
Obama noted that diplomacy can be uncomfortable, especially when dealing with countries like China that are strategically and economically important to the United States.
Nevertheless, the president said he stresses to Chinese leaders that China's potential rests on upholding universal rights, including rights for Christians.
The president told the group of bipartisan lawmakers and policy influencers that he's thankful for God's guidance in his life - a faith journey that began with his work with churches as a community organizer.
"I'm grateful not only because I was broke and the Church fed me, but because it led to everything else," he said. "It led me to embrace Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. It led me to Michelle, the love of my life, and it blessed me with two extraordinary daughters."
Dr. Rajiv Shah, administrator for USAID, also spoke at the prayer breakfast. He noted that like religious persecution, extreme poverty drains human dignity.
Shah said that by remaining devoted to faith, Christians can transform the world by helping to end extreme poverty.
"Because, this is now achievable, but only if all of us from science, business, government and faith come together for the poor," he said.
Bethany Hamilton, a woman who knows about overcoming, shared her testimony at Thursday's prayer breakfast. The Hawaiian surfer became a household name when she lost her left arm to a shark 10 years ago.
"For many of us it's easy for us to look to the things of this world to solve our challenges and the obstacles in life," she told the audience. "But when we submit our lives to Christ, His grace, mercy, truth, peace, and love will bring true fulfillment to our lives."