Published: 00:00 GMT Daylight Time - Tuesday 30 April 2013
Prayer Focus 05/13
- Syria - Christians in jeopardy as Islamists grow in strength
- Egypt - Seven Christians killed in attacks by Muslims
- Central African Republic - Christian property targeted by rebels
- Iran - Jailed pastor told to deny Christ or remain in prison
- Tanzania - Two Christians killed in violence over meat slaughter
- Kazakhstan - Court overturns Bible destruction order
- Sri Lanka - Ten anti-Christian incidents in one month
- Bangladesh - Christians under threat from Islamists
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”John 15:7, NIV
Syria - Christians in jeopardy as Islamists grow in strength
Cry out to the Lord on behalf of Christians in Syria, who are facing an increasingly bleak future. As the conflict between government and opposition forces rages on, Islamists are emerging as the strongest force.
Islamist militias have established themselves as the most effective fighting forces battling the regime. The al-Nusra Front, whose leader pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda on 10 April, has emerged as the most prominent group and has won the respect of many Syrians. Islamists control the supply of essentials such as flour and fuel in areas they have captured. Alarmingly, they are also implementing sharia law in at least one place.
Recent events have given a chilling foretaste of what Islamist control of Syria could mean for the country’s Christians, who are particularly targeted by rebel fighters. Two senior church leaders were kidnapped on the road to Aleppo on 22 April; their captors intercepted the vehicle they were travelling in and shot its driver in cold blood. An Islamic cleric has issued a fatwa saying it is “legitimate” for Islamist fighters to rape non-Sunni, non-Muslim women. And attacks on Christian areas have continued; 350 Christian families were forced to flee their homes in Aleppo after opposition fighters invaded their area on 29 March.
Pray that peace in Syria will be brought about without Islamists gaining the ascendency. Ask the Lord to protect and strengthen Christians in Syria as their once-peaceful homeland remains locked in bloody conflict. Pray also for wisdom for Western political leaders as they assess how to respond to the growing strength of Islamist factions amongst the rebels.
Egypt - Seven Christians killed in attacks by Muslims
As the Islamisation of Egypt provokes increasing opposition, two outbreaks of violence have left seven Christians dead. The Christian community in al-Khosous came under attack by Muslims on 4-5 April after Christians were unjustly accused of defacing the wall of an Islamic building with graffiti of a swastika. Four Christians were shot dead in the ensuing violence, and another later succumbed to his injuries. A church, a Christian kindergarten and other Christian-owned property were torched.
Then, at a funeral service in Cairo for four of those killed, the procession was attacked by a mob throwing stones and petrol bombs; one Christian man was killed and at least 84 people were wounded. The mourners had denounced Islamist President Mohammed Morsi during the service on 7 April, and this act provoked the subsequent violent backlash. At the same time, renewed clashes in al-Khosous claimed the life of another Christian man.
Protestors against the regime, including Christians, were brutally punished when Islamists took over a Cairo mosque on 22 March and turned it into a torture chamber for those demonstrating in the capital against President Morsi’s rule.
Pray for Christian families in Egypt who have lost loved ones, and ask the Lord to comfort them in their grief. Ask that the swelling tide of Islamism in the country will be turned back and that opponents of the regime will be allowed to make their views known in safety. Pray that the Lord will change the hearts of those who seem so willing to exact bloody revenge on the Christian community, and ask that God will protect His children from those who wish them harm.
“It’s our turn now. We will make you pay.” This threat was issued to Christians by militant Islamist rebels in the Central African Republic (CAR) after their group seized power in a bloody coup. The country was plunged into chaos when the rebels’ leader, Michel Djotodia, assumed control from ejected former president François Bozizé.
Although Djotodia has insisted he will serve all citizens of CAR, his followers targeted Christian property in the looting that followed the takeover, with Muslim property being spared. A number of church buildings were destroyed by the militants in the south-eastern town of Bangassou, where the home of a seminary rector was also pillaged and destroyed and a mechanic who refused to reveal the location of church vehicles was severely beaten. A church building in the town of Bambari was also destroyed.
Djotodia is the first Muslim president of CAR, which is around 75% Christian and 15% Muslim. He has admitted that “some people with bad intentions want to lead the country into inter-religious conflict”. The rebels are said to follow Wahhabism, an extreme and strict form of Islam.
Pray for stability and peace in the Central African Republic, and that Djotodia will follow through on his insistence that it is a secular state. Pray that the influence of Islamism will not prevail and that our brothers and sisters will be able to feel at home again in this Christian-majority country. Ask also that they will know the peace of the Lord at this troubling time and that He will be working all things together in CAR for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
Iran - Jailed pastor told to deny Christ or remain in prison
Lift up to the Lord Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American pastor who is serving an eight-year prison sentence in Iran. Saeed has been warned that unless he denies Christ and returns to Islam, he will not be set free even after he has served his sentence.
Saeed was arrested in September 2012 on charges of planting house churches “intended to undermine national security” and was convicted and sentenced in January. At the time of his arrest he had been living in the US with his family; he had returned on a visit to Iran to try to establish an orphanage. His conviction relates to his work in starting a house-church movement after he became a Christian in 2000.
While incarcerated in the notorious Evin prison, he has been subjected to physical and psychological torture and repeated beatings that have left him with internal bleeding and other injuries. He has been continually denied medical care; one nurse refused to treat him because he is an “unclean” Christian.
Saeed has said that the cruelty he is enduring is making him “a godly man”. Give thanks for his unswerving faith, and pray that it will be an effective witness to his persecutors. Pray that the pressure being exerted on the Iranian authorities by the US will lead to Saeed’s release. Ask that the Lord will continue to strengthen and sustain Saeed throughout this ordeal, and pray that He will comfort his wife and two children at this traumatic time.
Tanzania - Two Christians killed in violence over meat slaughter
Christians in Tanzania are increasingly under threat from Islamists as a row over the slaughter of animals for meat has descended into violence. Two Christians were killed when their community in Tunduma came under attack on 3 April. A pastor was amongst those arrested at the time, and when other Christian leaders went to see him they were beaten, in many cases so severely that they needed hospital treatment.
Muslims are denying Christians the right to sell their meat because it is not halal, although Tanzania has no law against Christians doing so. The authorities are siding with the Muslim aggressors; more than 60 Christians were arrested in Tunduma and dozens elsewhere.
In the absence of an offence with which to charge them, some of the Christians are being held illegally or charged with other offences, such as breaking the peace or causing unrest, which can carry a five-year jail term. Three Christians were also arrested in February after violence broke out at a butcher’s shop in Buseresere. Pastor Mathayo Kachila was beheaded during the attack; no arrests have been made for his murder.
Threats and attacks against Christians are on the rise in Tanzania. Church leaders and evangelists are particularly at risk, and the threat to some of them from Islamists is so great that they have had to leave their homes.
A senior Christian leader in Tanzania has said that the Christian-majority country could be totally Islamised in five to ten years if the Church does not make a decisive response. Give thanks that church leaders have presented a united front in condemning the violence, and pray that this bleak prediction will never come to pass. Ask the Lord to protect His people in Tanzania from attack by Islamists, and pray that He will be a stronghold and a refuge (2 Samuel 22:3) for vulnerable Christians there.
Kazakhstan - Court overturns Bible destruction order
Praise God for an answer to prayer in Kazakhstan! An appeal court has overturned a previous ruling that 121 pieces of Christian literature, including Bibles, be destroyed.
The literature was seized by the authorities from Vyacheslav Cherkasov, a street evangelist from Shchuchinsk (see Prayer Focus Update April 2013). Reacting to the appeal court’s decision, Vyacheslav said, “Thank God they didn’t destroy my books.” Give thanks that the controversial decision to destroy the literature, which would have set an alarming precedent, was not allowed to stand. The original ruling attracted negative publicity around the world.
The confiscated literature was returned to Vyacheslav, but he has said that literature taken from him on an earlier occasion has not been returned. He was also fined 86,550 Tenge (£380; US$574), which is the equivalent of one month’s average wage in Kazakhstan, and this penalty was upheld by the appeal court.
Give thanks that our prayers for Vyacheslav have been answered. A further legal case is now being prepared against him; pray that a favourable outcome will be achieved in any further hearings. Pray for our brothers and sisters in Kazakhstan, who live under constant threat of legal action being taken against them by the authorities, and ask that the Lord will uphold them with His righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10).
Sri Lanka - Ten anti-Christian incidents in one month
Pray for the Christian community in Sri Lanka, where ten anti-Christian incidents took place during March. Such relentless persecution is unusual in the country, where anti-Christian action, although severe, is usually more sporadic.
In one incident a pastor’s house in Katuwana, Weeraketiya, which is also used for worship services, was attacked on 18 March. Pastor Pradeep Kumara and his family were out when a violent group of Buddhist extremists descended on the property and began to vandalise it. Pradeep’s wife and children returned during the attack, and although four police officers then arrived at the scene, they could not control the mob. The attack lasted for three and a half hours.
Elsewhere, a church building was burned down in Batticalao on 9 March, and a few days later a pastor in Angunakolapelessa was threatened by police, who told him to stop holding services. Seven other churches in the country endured harassment from Buddhist monks during the month, sometimes with police or mob support.
Pray that this acceleration of anti-Christian incidents in Sri Lanka will be halted and that the excesses of Buddhist extremism will be restrained. Ask that the police, instead of supporting anti-Christian action, will provide proper protection for our Christian brothers and sisters. Pray that Christians in Sri Lanka will know that the Lord will never leave them nor forsake them (Joshua 1:5) throughout the trials they face.
Bangladesh - Christians under threat from Islamists
The tiny Christian minority in Bangladesh has become even more vulnerable, as Islamists in the country have called for the introduction of blasphemy laws and threatened to “kill all the infidels”. Clashes between Islamists and secularists were sparked by war crimes trials relating to the 1971 War of Independence. When an Islamist leader was sentenced to death, Islamists began rioting.
Rioters have attacked minority communities and burnt down or vandalised their places of worship. The threat against “infidels” was published by a website run by Bangladesh’s largest Islamist political party; Muslims consider Christians and other non-Muslims to be “infidels”.
Islamists have also staged massive rallies calling for the introduction of blasphemy laws. The Bangladeshi government has been accused of appeasing Islamists in its response to the demands: although the Prime Minister has ruled out a blasphemy law, it was announced on 2 April that penalties for “hurting the people’s religious sentiments” would be toughened. Christians in Pakistan suffer greatly because of the existence of “blasphemy laws” there.
Pray that the Lord’s loving hand will be over the fraught political situation in Bangladesh, and that He will bring peace where anger and aggression is threatening Christians. Ask for the Lord’s protection for Christians in Bangladesh, who are such a small and vulnerable minority.
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