Published: 12:00 GMT Daylight Time - Tuesday 03 May 2011
Prayer Focus 05/11
- CHINA – POLICE ALERTED TO GATHERING; DOZENS ARRESTED
- PAKISTAN – CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY UNDER SIEGE
- AFGHANISTAN – CHRISTIAN MAN BEHEADED by taliban
- KAZAKHSTAN – CONGREGATIONS FACE RESTRICTIONS
- IVORY COAST – CHRISTIANS CAUGHT UP IN CIVIL WAR
- PAKISTAN – MIXED NEWS FOR CHRISTIANS
- NIGERIA – CHRISTIANS TARGETED FOLLOWING ELECTIONS
CHINA – POLICE ALERTED TO GATHERING; DOZENS ARRESTED
Dozens of Christians from a congregation in Beijing have been arrested three weeks in a row as they tried to hold outdoor worship services, according to ChinaAid.
On Easter Sunday, 24 April, Shouwang Church attempted to hold an outdoor Easter service, but the congregation were met by police who were waiting for them. At least 36 Christians were taken to the police station.
For some of the group, this was the second or even third time they had been arrested in less than a month. On Sunday 17 April, 47 Christians were detained when they tried to hold an outdoor worship service. One week earlier, on Sunday 10 April, some 200 Christians met at the agreed meeting place but the police, alerted to the plans, taped off the area and took people away. At least 169 Christians were herded onto buses and taken to a local school by up to 1,000 police officers, while others were detained at police stations. The authorities confiscated mobile phones and interrogated the Christians, ordering them to write statements of repentance. Many refused and were held in custody, where they sang hymns until their release later that night. A number of church elders and pastors had also been kept in their homes by police to prevent them from attending the Sunday morning service. Twenty-four hours after the mass arrest, most of the Christians had been released, with just the pastor and two others remaining in custody.
In the week between the first and second wave of arrests, some members of Shouwang Church lost their jobs following their participation in the outdoor worship service or were evicted from their homes by landlords who had been put under pressure by the authorities.
When one of the pastors was released, he was given a message by the authorities to relay to the Shouwang Church Governing Committee, which stated, “...regardless of the circumstances, Shouwang Church must return to indoor worship”. Shouwang’s 1,000-member church had previously been evicted from the restaurant they had been renting as a meeting place. But government pressure has been applied to landlords not to rent space to the church, and they have been unable to close a deal to buy their own property after the seller was also pressured not to sign the contract or hand over the keys. Without an indoor place to meet for worship, the congregation has been forced to try and hold outdoor services.
ChinaAid reports that persecution of unregistered churches (“house churches”) by various local government departments has increased and intensified.
- Pray for the members of Shouwang Church who were detained on 10, 17 and 24 April. Those Christians arrested on more than one occasion were classed as “repeat offenders” and could face harsher penalties. Pray that the authorities will not seek to carry out any punishment.
- Pray for Christians in China as they suffer such intense government persecution; pray that the Lord will intervene and that there will be an easing of the restrictions on His people.
PAKISTAN – CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY UNDER SIEGE
Up to 3,000 Christians were forced to flee their homes in Pakistan when hundreds of Muslims targeted Christian property following blasphemy accusations against local Christians. The violence took place on Saturday 30 April in Azizabad Colony, Gujranwala, when Muslim residents, armed with sticks and iron bars, began rioting and hurling stones at the Christians’ homes, churches and the Christian Technical Training Centre (CTTC). At least ten people were wounded.
Mushtaq Gill and his son Farrukh Mushtaq Gill were arrested in Gujranwala on 15 April accused of desecrating the Quran, while Pastor Eric Isaac, from Azizabad Colony, was accused of burning the Quran and detained on 28 April. Mushtaq and his son may be being targeted out of jealousy for their success in a society where Christians are despised and suffer severe discrimination. Mushtaq is a church leader and a teacher at the CTTC, and Farrukh works in a bank, where he has recently been promoted. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are often used to settle personal scores with Christians and other non-Muslims, who are especially vulnerable to false accusations.
- Pray for healing for those who were injured in the attacks, and pray for those who have fled their homes. Pray that the police will maintain order and peace in the area so the Christians can return to their homes.
- Ask the Lord to grant protection to Mushtaq and his family and pray that the family will not be targeted.
AFGHANISTAN – CHRISTIAN MAN BEHEADED by taliban
Afghan Christian Abdul Latif has been beheaded by the Muslim Taliban in Herat Province, Afghanistan. In a video of the murder received by Barnabas Fund, the killers shout “Allahu Akbar” (“god is great”) over and over again and they bring an execution notice to hang on the wall. One of the killers said, “All praise be to our creator almighty god that he helped and blessed the holy warriors ... so that we can implement the commandment of god on this infidel.”
The life of Christians is cheap in areas of the country controlled by the Taliban. But Christian converts are also in danger from the Afghan government as it tries to prove its commitment to Islam. Last year many were arrested, and some remain in prison facing possible execution for apostasy.
- Pray for the friends and family of Latif, that they may know the Lord’s comfort in their distress.
- Pray that the Afghan government will take seriously their responsibility to protect the vulnerable Christian minority and afford them proper protection and equal rights.
KAZAKHSTAN – CONGREGATIONS FACE RESTRICTIONS
Christian congregations in Kazakhstan are once again being punished by the authorities for holding worship services in private homes.
On 4 March, Pastor Andrei Panafidin was fined one hundred times the minimum monthly wage for leading unregistered religious worship in Taraz. This is the seventh time he has been fined for this offence.
And in the southern city of Shymkent, a congregation has been banned from meeting in a private home. Kazakh officials insist that religious activity is illegal without state registration, but in this case the church is legally registered at the house. Pastor Zhetis Rauilov has been embroiled in a legal battle with the authorities since being fined for holding worship services there.
- Pray for Christians in Kazakhstan that they will remain strong in their faith as they face so many restrictions.
- Pray that any changes to the Code of Administrative Offences will reduce the limitations placed on Christians and allow them to worship and share their faith more freely.
At least 1,500 people have been killed and a million forced from their homes in Ivory Coast as authorities struggle to restore order following presidential elections that led to violence, lootings, rape and murder.
Ivory Coast’s Constitutional Council, the body that certifies election results in the country, declared Laurent Gbagbo the winner based on valid votes cast, but the country’s electoral commission announced Alassane Outtara as the winner of the November poll - with 54% of the vote. This verdict was backed by the United Nations. Gbagbo, who had been president since 2000, refused to relinquish power, saying that voting in the north was rigged.
The predominantly Muslim north largely backs Ouattara, a Muslim, while support for Gbagbo, an evangelical Christian, comes from the mainly Christian south. Fighting erupted as forces loyal to Ouattara fought to install their man, and Christians, who are associated with Gbabgo, have been particularly targeted; imams have reportedly called on Muslims to attack Christians. The fighting continued even after the arrest of Gbagbo on 11 April.
Since late March churches in Ivory Coast have been vandalised and torched, and pastors and Christians have been kidnapped, beaten and killed. As a result of the violence, tens of thousands of people had to take refuge in churches, where they lacked adequate food, water, sanitation and medical care. In one incident, between 800 and 1,000 people who were seeking shelter at a Christian mission compound in Duékoué were killed, reportedly by descendants of immigrant Muslims from Burkina Faso loyal to Ouattara.
On 22 April, President Ouattara ordered all soldiers to return to their barracks as he tried to restore normality after months of unrest, but the security situation in the area remains precarious.
- Pray that the Lord will bring peace and stability to this troubled nation.
- Pray for those who lost loved ones and for those who were forced to flee their homes. Pray that God will provide for their emotional, practical and spiritual needs. Pray that Christians may be salt and light in this situation.
PAKISTAN – MIXED NEWS FOR CHRISTIANS
The killer of two Christian brothers has been convicted in a rare case of justice for Pakistan’s beleaguered Christian community. Maqsood Ahmed was found guilty on 18 April of the murders of Pastor Rashid (30) and Sajid (27) Emmanuel and sentenced accordingly. The brothers were gunned down on 19 July 2010 as they were escorted from court in Faisalabad following their first appearance on false accusations of blasphemy (see August 2010 Prayer Focus Update).
More encouraging news for Pakistani Christians came when Paul Bhatti, brother of Shahbaz Bhatti, who was assassinated in March (see April Prayer Focus Update), was appointed “special advisor” for religious minorities to the Prime Minister. Paul Bhatti, the current president of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), was appointed by the Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari, who has encouraged him to continue the work of his late brother.
But Christians continue to be targeted. On 20 March, Pastor Ashraf Paul received a threatening five-page letter from an Islamic organisation, telling him to cease his Christian activities. He has also received demands to pay jizya, the traditional Islamic tax on non-Muslim minorities, of one million rupees (£7,166; US$11,800; €8,000) and was told that otherwise he, his wife and their four sons would be murdered. Mr Ashraf, 55, runs a Christian ministry in Lahore and is a writer of Christian books and poetry for the encouragement of young Christians in Pakistan.
- Pray for Paul Bhatti as he steps into his brother’s shoes to work for minority rights and calls for “political stability, economic security and peace” in Pakistan.
- Pray for Pastor Ashraf and his family, that they will put their trust in the Lord Jesus to deliver them from the threats against their lives.
NIGERIA – CHRISTIANS TARGETED FOLLOWING ELECTIONS
Scores of people have been killed or injured and at least 20 churches as well as homes and shops set alight as enraged Muslims protest against the success of Christian president Goodluck Jonathan in the recent elections in Nigeria.
Mobs armed with machetes and poison-tipped arrows have been wreaking havoc across the Muslim-majority Northern states following the defeat of Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim candidate from the North, in the poll on 16 April. The Red Cross estimates that 74,000 people have been displaced by the violence. Many Christians had to celebrate Easter in military barracks where they had taken shelter from the riots.
Mr Jonathan was re-elected with 57% of the vote compared with the 31% achieved by ex-military ruler Mr Buhari. Buhari’s supporters allege that the voting was rigged, though international observers called this election the fairest in decades.
The violence continued over the Easter weekend, with explosions in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri, Borno State. Islamist sect Boko Haram was blamed for the bombings, which killed three people. Further elections for state governors during the week of 25 April were also marred by gunfire and the snatching of ballot boxes.
- Pray that tempers will cool and that peace will reign. Pray that protestors will accept the outcome of the voting and cease their rioting.
- Pray for the vulnerable Christian communities in Nigeria, that the Lord will give them courage and empower them to stand firm in their faith and to respond to the attacks in a Christ-like way.