How fortunate we are to be able to worship in freedom whenever and wherever we want.
In 2016, we, as a church, would like to focus on those who do not share that privilege. A little light will be shed every week on the plight of persecuted Christians and the church. We will zero in on a specific country, each time giving a little detail for information.
You will be asked to pray for all those who are living in fear because of their faith. However, we ask you to be especially concerned with those highlighted this week.
Sudan is one of the countries in Africa with the largest landmass and it probably also is one of the African countries with a good number of Christians. However, how much longer will the latter be true? Of a population of 41.2 million, two million are said to be Christians but with persecution by Islamic extremism and dictatorial paranoia the numbers are decreasing.
Imagine if you had to register your church with the Islam government, giving all the contact information of your pastor and all church leaders, their telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, etc. Also required is a list of all members and the exact place and time of meeting. Just how safe would you feel? This is exactly what is happening in parts of Sudan, where churches are destroyed or sealed shut. The law of the country decides.
Islamic law is the foundation of Sudan’s legal system and leaving the religion is punishable by death. Islam is deeply embedded in Sudan’s culture and Sharia law is the only law.
A Muslim-Background Believer can only be Christian in secret or be killed. Other Christians are under increasing pressure and persecution. In Sudan, they face poverty, war and genocide. In the Nuba mountain area, Christian villages face frequent bombings by the military. Even though Christianity in Sudan goes back to the end of the first century after Christ; the government is trying to eliminate all Christian villages, schools, churches and hospitals in an effort to Islamize the country. One article claims that Muslims are extinguishing Christians, country by country. It states that “They are trying to suppress the Truth by suppressing the Truth Bearer.”
In 2014, Meriam Yahya Ibrahim was charged with adultery for marrying a Christian man and sentenced to 100 lashes. Then she was charged with apostasy for becoming a Christian and sentenced to death. Thanks to God she was released after Amnesty International and other Human Rights groups protested the verdict. We need to stand behind these organizations.
We also need to pray that God will grant courage to Christians and their leaders as they continue their work in secret.
Pray that God will intervene in miraculous ways so justice will prevail.
Pray that God will strengthen these Christians to glorify His Name and grow in faith and numbers despite opposition and persecution.
Again we visit the Horn of Africa. This country lies nestled between her two neighbours to the west, Ethiopia and Kenya, the Golf of Aden to the north, and the Indian Ocean to the east.
How beautifully it is situated. Yet it masks a very pervasive evil, namely that Christians, when discovered, will likely not see another day.
The Federal Republic of Somalia has been battling a civil war for 26 years with no end in sight. The country is made up of many different clans and the battle is not only between them but also between ISIL and el Qaeda who are in competition to win over another terrorist group, el Shabaab. Many innocent Somalia’s are caught in the crosshairs. However, none of these parties will tolerate a Christian.
As a result, out of a population of eleven million, only a few hundred are known to be Christian. Somalis see their identity as being intertwined with Islam and since they see their country as a strictly Muslim nation, they have a hatred for non-Muslims.
Somalia’s Christians are mostly men. They are living in such real danger that they avoid telling their wives and children the Good News for fear of their death. Even just the suspicion of being a Christian can result in an on-the-spot beheading. Muslim-Background-Believers are especially targeted.
In Somalia Christians have three choices: deny their faith, go into hiding, or flee the country.
Bibles are rare or non-existent and the only way to hear the Gospel is by listening secretly to radio, TV, or Internet programs. Then they can memorize verses and pass them on by singing them or weaving them into stories. It is not safe to carry evidence.
We need to pray for God to create opportunities for believers to have fellowship with each other so they can share their beliefs and build each other up.
Pray for God to be at work through His Holy Spirit in the lives of Somali people and convict them of their need for salvation that can be found only in Jesus Christ.
Pray for protection for secret believers and wisdom to know who to trust.
Pray for war and terrorism to cease so that all Somalis can live in peace.
Pray that we, living in freedom to worship, may put off our passivity and do whatever we can to alleviate the suffering of our fellow believers living in Somalia.
Nestled between China, Iran, Afghanistan and India, and along the coast of the Arabian Sea, lies the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, another of the Middle East countries that is very dangerous for Christians.
With a current population of 182.1 million, 2.5 million were said to be Christians in 2005. However, that number has dwindled drastically since then, due to persecution leading to death or imprisonment and also to the fact that the sharp increase in violence has caused thousands to flee the country. More than 100.000 fled to U.N. refugee camps in Thailand, Sri-Lanka, Malaysia and the Philippines. In spite of this, Muslims are having dreams and visions about Jesus and a 2015 study estimated that there are about 5.500 Muslim-Background Believers in Pakistan. For them it is even more difficult to live out their Christian convictions.
According to the Pakistani constitution Christians are classified as second class citizens and therefore have 0% representation in the government administration. Many feel isolated because they are alone in their faith.
Then there is the law against Blasphemy. Accusations of blasphemy have become very common and are mostly unfounded. Any remark that Muslims consider even the least bit derogatory, whether spoken or written, against their faith, the Quran, and persons that they hold high, etc. qualifies for punishment which can be death or life in prison.
It is not uncommon for Christian girls to be abducted, forced to convert and then to be forcibly married. It is not uncommon for churches to be set on fire with the congregation inside. The situation is dire.
Below is an excerpt from the book The Trial of Pakistani Nation by Nazir S. Bhatti
Our Christian Martyrs
According to me, every Christian living in Muslim dominated society of Pakistan, who prays, who practices Christianity, who confess his faith, who even speaks about his rights, who demands his rights, who writes about his rights, who supports true cause of Christian nation, who leads prayer services, who walks in protest against discriminate on and who do not bargain on principals, is a Hero.
All Christians arrested under Blasphemy law, All who served time in jails under such discriminatory laws, all women who were abducted and raped by Muslims, all youth who were denied employment and equal education opportunity being a Christian, all elders who faced hate and racism on the basis of religion, they are Heroes.
Let us be in prayer for our Pakistani brothers and sisters. Pray that they will put their trust in God and will share the Gospel with boldness. Pray that the violence and atrocities will end and pray for strength and courage for the Muslim believers.
Who would have been able to predict the future of the Syrian church? We can trace her history to the days when Jesus walked this earth. Matt.4:24 states: “So His (Jesus’) fame spread throughout all Syria”. Some years later Paul was on his way to Damascus to persecute the Christians there, when he was confronted by Christ Himself (Acts 9:3-5). Paul subsequently led many more people in “The Way”. At one time Christianity was wide-spread in Syria and continued to be the majority until Islam began to replace it. Christians are now treated as foreigners when in fact they are the indigenous people. They are being hunted, tortured or killed by ISIS. Many are forced to convert to Islam or be killed. The goal is to empty Syria of Christians. Some church leaders warn that “the mass exodus of Christians is a form of deportation, condemning our faithful to a humiliating exile and our 2000 year-old church to a deadly drying up”.
Right now all Syrians are suffering but Christians are in an especially vulnerable position. They are facing devastating conditions. Entire city blocks have been destroyed, leaving thousands with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The country is being torn apart, churches have been destroyed and Christians are forced to flee. Many are risking their lives crossing the sea in dinghies but where will they end up? Who will have compassion? They hope and pray for their lives to be spared and for a welcoming country where they can live in freedom.
And so now we find Syrians at our doorstep. Let us be in prayer for them and for the ones that remain in their war-torn country.
Jesus Culture has a song that we could use in our prayers: “There is power in the name of Jesus… Break every chain”. Pray for the chains of darkness that surrounds the Syrian Church to be broken. Closer to home, pray also for the chains that hold us in bondage, to be removed: chains of apathy, complacency, greed, selfishness, indifference.
“There is wonder working power in His Name”.
This country, known as The Islamic Republic of Iran, is somewhat unique because of the fact that there is so much strife within its borders and beyond. Muslims are fighting Muslims, Muslims are fighting Christians and Muslims are fighting Muslim Background Christians.
Even though Christianity is reported to be the fastest growing religion in Iran, due mainly to converts from Islam, an exact number is impossible to obtain. This is due to the fact that Muslim Christians are not included in a count. The theory behind that is: “Once a Muslim, Always a Muslim.”
Conversion is banned by the strict Muslim Sharia law and consequently thousands are living in fear of detection since it is punishable by death (for men) and prison (for women). Even so, many are drawn to Christ since they are disillusioned following the Islamic way and see that Islamic State violence is radicalizing Muslims. Martyrdom and persecution are a threat for converts every single day but where there is great fear there is also great faith.
According to Wikipedia, Christianity in Iran goes back to the early years of the Church of Jesus Christ, and it was not until about 500 years later that Shiite Islam came on the scene. It is now the national religion.
Hassan Rouhani is a fanatic president who rules alongside Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Mullah. They allow no missionaries to enter Iran and their crackdown on home churches is severe. Islamic extremism is rampant which is putting increased pressure on Christians.
They are subjected to physical, emotional, and spiritual torture and yet, one of them states:”I find peace in Jesus, I find comfort in Jesus, I find freedom in Jesus.” He asks the West to “Pray for us! Pray for us! Pray for us!”
So pray for wisdom so that Christians can discern who to trust. Pray for protection for secret believers in underground churches. Pray for comfort and strength for imprisoned Christians and their families.
In contrast to the tiny, little-known country of Eritrea that we examined last week, this time the focus is on the well-known country of Afghanistan. Through extensive media coverage over the last number of years, images of this war-torn region of the world have even become somewhat familiar to us.
However, most, if not all of us, know nothing about the daily struggle of Afghani Christians. There exists no visible church in the country. Church buildings have been destroyed. Out of a population of 33 million, it is estimated that the number of Christians could be as low as 500 -8000 or 0.05%. Accurate information is not available since the entire church is underground. Only God knows the number of secret believers.
It is interesting that probably all Christians in this country are Muslim converts. This makes their persecution even more complex since not only the government and the community, but also their friends and families seek to destroy them. The threat of beheadings looms over believers and some even continue attending the Mosque in order to avoid detection. To quote one convert,” My body is in prison, but my soul is free.”
The constitution offers no protection. It states:”The religion of the state of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam.”
Even though the government claims that there is freedom of religion, the constitution refutes that: “No law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.”
All Bibles, crosses, or other items symbolizing a religion other than Islam are strictly prohibited.
Freedom of religion would include freedom of speech, of assembly, and freedom for women. This unique human right is denied the Christian people of Afghanistan.
Please pray for the secret believers in this country, that they may find each other in order to experience the communion of saints. Pray for ever increasing numbers of Muslims to see Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Pray that in spite of ever-present danger, the hope and faith of the Christians may be in our mighty God.
Thank God that His Spirit is at work in Afghanistan.
Who would have believed that this tiny country in the Horn of Africa would, in a very short span of time, rise to be in third place on the 2016 World Watch list of most dangerous countries for Christians after North Korea and Iraq?
The state of Eritrea is bordered by the Red Sea and its large neighbours Sudan and Ethiopia. The population of approximately six million is under the control of their dictator president who views Christians as “agents of the West”. He tolerates no dissention of any kind and with the rising Islamic extremism this country has become a place where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
Believers are considered a threat to the state and are imprisoned, tortured and/or killed. Prisoners are not charged, do not have a trial, are not entitled to legal counsel and cannot be visited by family. Many Christians are imprisoned in metal shipping containers without ventilation or toilet facilities. Others are kept inside fenced yards without any form of shelter against the heat of the day or the cold of the night. Medical attention is not provided for Christians and deaths under these conditions are frequent.
One woman used memorized Bible verses to encourage and comfort other prisoners in the shipping container. When her “crime” was discovered they demanded that she hand over her Bible. She told them that it was in her head and they proceeded to beat it out of her head.
Thousands are living in prisons at the present time and thousands more avoid detection by fleeing the country. They risk their lives crossing the sea to escape to Europe.
No International media is allowed in Eritrea, churches are being closed, and ruthless Islamic radicals seem to have free reign, creating a crisis situation for Christians. Where can they turn?
Please ask our Lord for His protection and provision for our brothers and sisters in Eritrea. May He strengthen them in their faith and give them hope. Pray also that the rising extremism in this country is halted, that the prisoners may be freed and that justice will prevail. Most importantly, pray that His light may shine in this dark little corner of the earth.
The organization OPEN DOORS produced a World Watch List showing the 50 top countries in terms of persecution of Christians. The list is divided into three categories of persecution: Extreme, Very high, and high levels. North Korea is number one in the extreme level group.
Of the 24 million inhabitants of North Korea, it is estimated that about 2% are Christian. However, this number is impossible to verify since practicing their faith is strictly forbidden. Bibles are few and far between and many of the believers have never seen one nor know someone who owns one. Handwritten verses and prayers are smuggled in hems of clothing to underground churches that at times only have two or three members.
Any suspicious behavior or conversation has to be reported to the police making the Christians very cautious and fearful. At times one member of a family does not know that another is a Christian. Members gather in back rooms of apartments, whispering prayers and singing softly, often with covered heads so as to muffle the sound.
When believers are discovered they are raided and the men are bound to end up in labour camps that dot the country, where they are tortured and/or executed. Women and children flee to the mountains.
There are approximately 30.000 Christians being held in camps at the present time. They are seen as spies, terrorists and criminals and prosecuted based on national security crimes. When sentenced to death, execution is immediate. Inmates are forced to watch. Sometimes schoolchildren from grade 4 and higher are assembled to view the gruesome acts.
Children are taught from a young age that there is no god in this world. Instead, they are required to worship the leaders of their country. They call this religion Juche.
Freedom to worship and practice the Christian faith is non-existent in North Korea. According to the government the people who worship Jesus Christ are the worst people on earth. North Korean leaders fear any kind of faith movement and this causes them to oppress people.
The population has no access to the Internet and they only learn about the rest of the world through government-approved information.
Please ask our Lord to protect our North Korean brothers and sisters. May He strengthen them in their faith and provide whatever they need in these horrific times. Pray that He will sustain them in their faith and give them hope.
This time our focus will be on the country of Iraq. Christians there have been imprisoned, tortured, or even killed for their faith. Communities and families have been destroyed and consequently many have had to flee their homes. Thousands have become refugees and are now trying to find a place where they can be safe. To remain in their own country means living in fear of detection and persecution by ISIS terrorists. They have even taken some little children from their parents, never to be seen again. The heartache and stress are indescribable.
Another area of concern is the many Muslim-Background Believers (MBBs) who face isolation and persecution from their own families and society. Most are allowed six months to revert back to Islam and thereby denouncing Christianity. Pray that they make the choice to be Christ-followers and have eternal life.
Please ask our God to protect our Iraqi brothers and sisters. May He strengthen them in their faith and provide whatever they need during these horrific times. May His Kingdom come, even in the midst of their suffering.
Our first country with the Christians who are under extreme persecution is SYRIA. For centuries Syrians lived together in peace. After the onset of fighting in 2011, the situation worsened very quickly and Christians have been hunted like game ever since. Many are displaced and others are being tortured or killed by ISIS. The civil war in Syria has claimed over 250.000 lives. Many of them will have been Christians, leaving grieving family members behind.
Please ask our Lord to protect our Syrian brothers and sisters. May He strengthen them in their faith and provide whatever they need in these horrific times. May His Kingdom come, even in the midst of their distress.