Published: 11:45 GMT Daylight Time - Monday 01 September 2014
Prayer Focus 09/14
- Iraq – Displaced Christians die in miserable conditions
- Laos – Christians falsely accused of murder found not guilty
- Iran - Pastor charged with “waging war against God”
- India – Christians at prayer meeting beaten with iron bars
- Nigeria – Predominantly Christian town seized by Boko Haram
- Uganda – Christian teenager killed in machete attack by Muslims
- Sri Lanka – Asylum seekers from persecuted Pakistani minorities deported
“For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favour and honour; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless”
Iraq – Displaced Christians die in miserable conditions
Please continue to lift up our brothers and sisters in Iraq in prayer. Hundreds of thousands of Christians were forced to flee their homes, many with nothing, as militants from ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) violently seized towns and villages in the Nineveh region. The militants overran Qaraqosh, Iraq’s largest Christian town, on the night of 6-7 August.
Many Christians have taken refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan. Some are sheltering in churches and schools, though others have no choice but to sleep in unfinished buildings, in parks and in the streets. The most vulnerable amongst the displaced are reportedly dying because of shortages of food, water, medicines and shelter from the elements.
Harrowing reports have been emerging of the plight of those who were unable to escape the militants’ violent advance. The United Nations has highlighted abductions and sexual violence, saying that some 1,500 Yazidis and Christians may have been forced into sexual slavery.
Some of those displaced from the Nineveh region had already fled just weeks earlier from the city of Mosul, which was captured by ISIS (which now wishes to be known as the Islamic State) on 10 June. Christians in Mosul were given three options: convert to Islam, pay the jizya tax of subjugation and accept a humiliating second-class status, or face death.
Although many Iraqi Christians have been turned on by their neighbours since the ISIS onslaught began, Barnabas has heard of at least two cases in which local Iraqi Muslims have spoken out on behalf of their Christian compatriots. Both were killed instantly by ISIS or its supporters. Give thanks for their bravery and for that of all who speak out against ISIS.
Pray that the Lord will protect and sustain His people in Iraq, who face such a desperate plight. Pray that they will hope in Him at this seemingly hopeless time, for with Him there is unfailing love and with Him there is full redemption (Psalm 130:7). Ask the Lord also to work radically in the hearts of the militants who are so ruthlessly persecuting Christians and other religious minorities, and turn the fighters from their destructive purposes.
Give thanks that a group of Christians in Laos who were falsely accused of murder have been found not guilty. Church leaders Mrs Kaithong, Mr Puphet, Mr Muk and Mr Hasadee and local believer Mr Tiang were arrested after a sick woman, Mrs Chan, sought prayer at her local church, converted to Christianity and later died.
The five Christians were arrested after Mrs Kaithong appealed to the district chief over Mrs Chan’s burial. Mrs Chan’s eight children, who had also converted to Christianity, wanted a Christian burial for their mother. Although the local authorities in Saisomboon village, Savannakhet province initially gave permission for this, they later reversed their decision.
The five believers were initially detained over the burial dispute and later charged with murder. Although the local prosecutors’ office said on 6 August that the five had not committed any crime, they were not immediately released and were told they must wait for the district chief to decide to release them.
Praise God that the Christians have been cleared, and pray that they will soon be released and returned to their families. Give thanks for the faith of Mrs Chan’s family and for other converts in Laos who stand firm despite harassment by village officials. Pray that the local authorities in rural Laos will allow true freedom of religion to believers there.
Iran – Pastor charged with “waging war against God”
An Iranian pastor and convert from Islam has been charged with enmity against God, a crime that can be punishable by death in Iran.
Pastor Matthius Haghnejad was arrested at his home in Bander-e-Anzali on 5 July. Two other converts from Islam, Mohammed Roghangir and Suroush Saraie, were also detained, and security agents seized Bibles, Christian booklets and the pastor’s personal computer.
On 3 August, the pastor was charged with “Moharebeh”, or “waging war against God” after being interrogated for two hours. Moharebeh is a capital offence in Iran, although the 2013 Islamic Penal Code prohibits the death penalty for charges not involving the use of a weapon.
No news has emerged of Mohammed or Suroush since their arrest. All three converts have been held by the authorities before; Pastor Matthius has been detained three times in the past. Mohammed and Suroush were among six Christians arrested at a prayer meeting in 2012; they were given jail sentences before being released on bail, and their recent arrest is thought to be related to these original convictions.
Pray that the Lord will draw near to Pastor Matthius as he endures prison life and an uncertain future. Pray that despite his ordeal, the pastor will know the peace of God, which transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:7). Ask that the charges against Pastor Matthius, Suroush and Mohammed will be dropped and that all three will soon be set free.
India – Christians at prayer meeting beaten with iron bars
Pray for a group of Christians who were badly beaten when Hindu extremists disrupted a prayer meeting in Coimbatore, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
The believers were gathered on 3 August at the home of Mr Bagavathi, a local Christian. Mr Bagavathi had asked the pastor, the Rev. Simon Stanley, to come and pray for his twelve-year-old daughter’s broken hand.
The meeting was invaded by a group of ten assailants who broke into the house, barred the door from inside and beat the believers with iron bars. Women and children were among those attacked, as was the pastor; some of the victims were hospitalised. Police arrested two people in connection with the incident.
Give thanks that no-one was killed during the attack, and pray for the physical and emotional recovery of those who were harmed. Pray that the assailants will be brought to justice. Many Christians in India have felt more vulnerable since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu nationalist party, came to power in the country earlier this year; ask the Lord to comfort His people at this time.
Nigeria – Predominantly Christian town seized by Boko Haram
Pray for believers in Gwoza, Nigeria, a predominantly Christian town that was invaded and reportedly seized by militants of the Islamist group Boko Haram on 6 August. Residents were shot and slashed to death; eyewitnesses estimated that more than 100 people lost their lives. The assailants continued to loot and pillage the town.
Some of those who managed to escape sought refuge in the nearby Gwoza hills, where they were surviving on wild fruits and at risk of starvation. Some elderly and particularly vulnerable residents remained stranded in Gwoza town without food or water. Reports have emerged that Boko Haram has been enforcing sharia law in Gwoza since it seized the town.
The massacre was preceded by raids on villages near Gwoza, which is in Borno state, and the destruction of church buildings in the region. At least five churches were also set ablaze on 30 July in the Hawul Local Government Area of Borno.
The Gwoza hills have since 2009 been a safe haven for Boko Haram, which aims to establish an Islamist state in Northern Nigeria. Gwoza Local Government Area has been heavily targeted, with the Christian community bearing the brunt of the violence.
Pray for the grieving relatives and friends of those who were so brutally killed when the town was taken. Ask the Lord to protect and provide for Christians who fled from the violence, and petition Him to halt further attacks by Boko Haram on believers in Nigeria.
An 18-year-old Christian woman was hacked to death and three others, including a one-year-old baby, were injured in a machete attack at a church in Uganda.
Around 20 Christians were gathered at Chali Born Victory Church in Kyegegwa district on 27 June for their regular Friday-night prayer meeting when armed Muslims burst in at around 2am. The pastor was preaching when he noticed somebody peeping in through a window; shortly afterwards men shouting “Allahu Akhbar” (Allah is great) stormed the church, brandishing machetes and beating worshippers.
The assailants later escaped to a nearby mosque, and police surrounded the building and arrested two suspects. A police officer was killed when one of the assailants opened fire.
The church has had problems with a group of Muslims in the area who had unsuccessfully tried to convert members of the congregation to Islam. A church member said that the attackers threatened to kill anyone who refused to convert and said they wanted to transform Uganda into an Islamic nation.
Pray for the bereaved family of Beatrice Mukashaka, who was killed in the attack, and ask the Lord to comfort them in their distress. Ask for the Lord’s healing for the three others who were injured. Anti-Christian attacks by Muslims in Uganda remain relatively rare, but they are becoming more frequent. Pray that vulnerable Ugandan believers will seek the Lord at this time and take refuge in the shadow of His wings (Psalm 57:1).
Sri Lanka – Asylum seekers from persecuted Pakistani minorities deported
Members of vulnerable, persecuted Pakistani minorities, including Christians, are thought to have been deported from Sri Lanka before their claims for asylum could be assessed.
At least 142 people have been detained in raids on Pakistani minority neighbourhoods in Negombo, Sri Lanka, since June. Christian sources told reporters that from 1 August, about ten Christians were deported each day. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that 108 Pakistani citizens have been sent home since this date.
UNHCR protested the deportations, saying that some of those deported had sought refugee status from the organisation and that it had not yet been able to determine their status. Give thanks that on 15 August, a Sri Lankan lawyer representing a Pakistani Christian woman secured a temporary suspension of deportations until 29 August.
Pakistani Christian asylum seekers in Sri Lanka are living in fear of being returned to Pakistan. One Christian said, “I am unable to sleep, we have two young children aged five and nine. Police are going around checking on Pakistani Christians and arresting them. We are unable to go out to get water or purchase food, we could be seen and arrested any time.”
Christians may be forced to flee Pakistan following false accusations of blasphemy, which put them at risk of official punishment (potentially even the death sentence) and violence from radical Muslims. Others are displaced following anti-Christian violence against them or their communities.
Pray that the Sri Lankan government will not continue to deport Pakistani Christians, and members of other persecuted religious minorities, who may have a legitimate claim to refugee status. Pray that needy believers who cannot return to Pakistan will find support from the UNHCR and will be able to start new lives in safety elsewhere. Ask the Lord to draw near to Christian refugees in Sri Lanka who are living in fear of being deported and give them peace.