Published: 12:00 GMT Daylight Time - Monday 31 March 2014
Prayer Focus 04/14
- Somalia – Two Christians beheaded; daughters forced to watch
- Libya – Eight Egyptian Christians executed
- Iran – Eight Christians arrested at picnic
- India – Church under construction attacked
- Nigeria – Over 100 killed in attacks on Christian villages
- North Korea – 33 Christians sentenced to death
- Indonesia – Sharia law to be applied to non-Muslims in Aceh
- Syria - 80 killed in siege of Christian town
“May the groans of the prisoners come before you; with your strong arm preserve those condemned to die”
Somalia – Two Christians beheaded; daughters forced to watch
Pray for the two young daughters of a Christian mother in Somalia who was publicly executed, along with her cousin, by al-Shabaab militants. Sadia Ali Omar and Osman Mohamoud Moge were beheaded in Barawa after members of the Islamist group found out that they were Christians.
Residents were called to witness the executions, and Sadia’s two daughters, aged 8 and 15, were forced to watch. The girls have been left orphans, as their father died after falling ill in 2011. Fearing for their safety, a family friend has helped them to escape the area.
Sadia and her family were suspected by al-Shabaab because of their sporadic attendance at the mosque for Friday prayers; they would have been especially distrusted because they had lived in Christian-majority Kenya for seven years. The family returned to Somalia in January 2013.
Ask the Lord to be the girls’ strength and shield (Psalm 28:7) as they mourn the loss of their mother and recover from the terrible trauma of witnessing her brutal execution. Ask for His peace for them and for other family and friends of the two Christians. Pray that He will turn al-Shabaab militants from their murderous actions and instead draw them to Himself.
Libya – Eight Egyptian Christians executed
Egyptian Christians in Libya face a mounting threat from Islamists. In two separate incidents, eight believers have been shot dead by suspected Islamist militants in Benghazi.
On 23 February, seven Egyptian Christian migrant workers were rounded up at their apartment block by masked men, who went door to door asking if the residents were Christian or Muslim before abducting the believers at gunpoint. The bodies of the kidnapped Christians were found the next day on a beach on the outskirts of Benghazi.
A week after this attack, Salama Fawzy Tobia, another Egyptian Christian, was shot in the head while loading fruit and vegetables onto his produce stand. He suffered extensive brain damage, and his family brought him back to Egypt, where he died on 15 March.
Although no group has claimed responsibility for either of these attacks, Islamist militias are suspected in both cases. Militants are active in the area in which the abductions took place, and Ansar al-Sharia, an extremist group, is suspected to be behind Salama’s murder.
The killers of the seven Christians had spray-painted a message on the walls of their apartment building and on other local buildings, offering a reward of 10,000 Libyan Dinars (£5,000; US$8,000) to anyone who hands a Christian over to them. Many Egyptian Christians are now fleeing Libya in fear of their lives.
Pray that the truth about these killings will come to light, so that justice can be done for the families of the murdered believers. Give thanks that Salama’s family have publicly forgiven his killers and have said that their suffering has brought them closer to God.
Iran – Eight Christians arrested at picnic
Lift up to the Lord eight Christians in Iran who were arrested at a social picnic on 5 March. The believers were taken away, blindfolded and interrogated for several hours by armed intelligence and security agents.
Although most of the group were released, three of the Christians, Amin Khaki, Hossein Barunzadeh and Rahman Bahman, were held. Pray that these three will quickly be released without punishment and that all those who were arrested will soon recover from the trauma they have experienced.
These arrests came as Iran’s recent record on human rights was criticised in a new report. Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran, has said that despite President Rouhani’s promises of increased freedom and some “modest attempts to take steps towards reform”, the status of human rights in Iran remains “of serious concern”.
His report stated that at least 49 Christians are languishing in Iranian prisons. Pray that this report will prompt the Iranian government to make genuine efforts towards reform, including allowing our brothers and sisters to meet and worship in peace and releasing Christian prisoners who have been jailed for their faith.
India – Church under construction attacked
A church building in India has been attacked before it could even be fully constructed. Hindu extremists in the village of Pradhanpada, in the Kandhamal district of Orissa state, attacked the partially completed building and also threatened the 15 Christians who were working at the site.
Two suspects were arrested following the incident on 27 February, and police were searching for others. Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, said that our brothers and sisters in the area “live in fear of the radical Hindu groups”, who subject them to daily acts of discrimination and intimidation.
Christians in Kandhamal have been the targets of violence by Hindu extremists for a number of years. The district was the epicentre of the horrific anti-Christian violence that rocked Orissa in 2007-8, and incidents of lower-level aggression have taken place sporadically ever since.
Ask that Christians in Pradhanpada will be left to finish the construction of their church in peace and to meet and worship in it freely. Pray that the peace of the Lord, which transcends all understanding, will guard their hearts and minds in Jesus Christ (Philippians 4:7), and those of other Christians in India, even as they face opposition and violence.
Nigeria – Over 100 killed in attacks on Christian villages
“If you stayed inside, you were burnt. If you run out, they shoot at you.” These stark words were spoken by a survivor of an attack by ethnic Fulani Muslim herdsmen on three Christian villages in Kaduna state, Northern Nigeria.
The official death toll following the attack stood at 119, but local sources suggested it could actually be as high as 200. The scores of assailants were armed with guns and machetes, and residents said they suspected chemical substances were also used in the attacks.
Only a handful of properties were left standing in the three villages following the violence, which began on the evening of 14 March and continued into the early hours of the next day. Hundreds of people were displaced, and food supplies were looted.
Christians in Kaduna state have come under repeated attack in recent months, and Fulani Muslim herdsmen are also attacking our brothers and sisters in other areas. Hundreds of people have been killed in Northern Nigeria already this year, including 163 in Plateau state alone.
In the words of the governor of Kaduna state, Mukhtar Yero: “We pray that God would expose the people that are causing this problem. We pray that God would touch their hearts to stop such dastardly acts or destroy their evil machinations.”
Pray also that the Lord will provide for all the material needs of those who have been displaced, and that He will comfort in their grief the many Christian families who have lost loved ones in these horrific attacks.
North Korea – 33 Christians sentenced to death
Cry out to the Lord for 33 North Koreans who face execution for allegedly helping a detained South Korean missionary to set up 500 house churches in the repressive country.
The evangelist, Kim Jung-wook, was arrested by the North Korean authorities in October. At a press conference on 27 February, he “confessed” to spying and attempting to establish a series of house churches in an attempt to spread Christianity in the country. He was also said to have distributed Bibles and other Christian materials. Scripted public confessions such as Jung-wook’s are a standard prerequisite for detained foreigners seeking release in North Korea.
Dozens of people were arrested after the press conference, and 33 who had become Christians or allegedly received money from Jung-wook now face execution in a secret cell at the State Security Department. Others facing punishment include guards who allegedly allowed the missionary to pass through security checkpoints on his way to Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, from China.
In some better news, an Australian missionary who was arrested in North Korea has been released after 15 days. John Short (75), who was detained for distributing Christian leaflets, was deported back to Hong Kong, where he is based, after signing a scripted confession.
Give thanks that John Short has been released without further punishment. Pray that the 33 executions will not be carried out and that Kim Jung-wook and all those arrested in connection with him will also be released. Pray that these egregious violations of human rights will prompt the international community to put increased pressure on the North Korean authorities to stop persecuting the country’s Christians.
Indonesia – Sharia law to be applied to non-Muslims in Aceh
Under a controversial new bylaw, Christians in the Indonesian province of Aceh will be expected to obey sharia law. Elements of sharia are already in force in Aceh, but have applied only to Muslims in the past.
But now the bylaw, which a local councillor has said “does indeed oblige everyone in Aceh to follow sharia without exception”, because “it would be unfair if Muslims were punished while non-Muslims were not”, has been approved by Aceh’s legislative council and submitted to the central Home Ministry for approval.
Sharia police have already begun to reprimand non-Muslim “offenders”, including women not wearing headscarves and men wearing shorts instead of trousers. Those who violate the dress rules three times face being publicly caned.
Other rules prohibit alcohol and affectionate contact between unmarried couples. All the sharia laws in force will be applied to visitors as well as residents, and the Islamic police will have the power to detain suspects and raid and confiscate their property.
Pray that this repressive, unjust legislation will not be approved by Indonesia’s central government. Pray also that even as they face further restrictions on their earthly liberty, Christians in Aceh will be comforted in the knowledge that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17).
Syria - 80 killed in siege of Christian town
A town in north-west Syria has become the latest Christian area of the country to be engulfed by Islamist violence. The Armenian Christian population of Kessab was forced to flee when the town was besieged by Islamist rebels; 80 people were killed, at least 13 of whom were beheaded. Homes were looted and churches desecrated.
A dozen or so families with members too elderly to flee remained and were subsequently taken hostage. Around 3,000 Armenian Christian residents fled for their lives, taking refuge in nearby towns, where Barnabas Fund has been able to provide them with food aid.
Kessab is a strategically important town that had previously been relatively peaceful. Following the Islamist takeover, the Syrian army launched a counter-offensive. Pray that peace will soon be restored in Kessab, and that its population will be able to return home in safety. Pray that, despite the ordeal they are enduring, these displaced believers will know that they do not have to be afraid or terrified, because the Lord our God goes with them and will not leave them or forsake them (Deuteronomy 31:6).
Elsewhere in Syria, the jihadist group that controls the northern city of Raqqa has told Christians there that they have three choices: they must convert to Islam, pay the humiliating jizya tax and abide by a list of restrictions, or risk being killed (in line with sharia law).
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) claims that a group of 20 Christian leaders has agreed to pay the tax, and that it will provide protection to those who do. The wealthy will have to pay the tax in gold equivalent to £435 (US$719; €521), with those on middle incomes paying half this amount and the poor paying a quarter.
Christians who agree to the “protection pact” will not be allowed to renovate church buildings, display crosses outside of churches, ring church bells or pray in public. They must also follow other rules imposed on their daily lives, such as not carrying arms. These humiliating, discriminatory rules derive from the classical Islamic concept of dhimmi, in which Christians and Jews living in territory conquered by Muslims are afforded protection by the state but are treated as having a lower status than Muslims.
Pray for the Lord’s wisdom and guidance for all who face this devastating ultimatum. Pray that He will protect and uphold Christians in Raqqa and that the power that Islamist groups have there and in other parts of Syria will be weakened.
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