Published: 09:30 GMT Daylight Time - Tuesday 01 July 2014
Prayer Focus 07/14
- Iraq – Vulnerable Christians flee ISIS invasion
- Nigeria – Christian area in bloody Boko Haram siege
- Pakistan – Christian teenager raped and killed
- Sudan – Meriam Ibrahim’s sentence overturned
- Kenya – Al-Shabaab attack targets Christians
- Egypt – Believers still suffering violence and blasphemy accusations
- Burma (Myanmar) – Draft religious conversion bill alarms Christians
- Nepal – Police arrest 40 Christians following pressure from Hindus
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven
give good gifts to those who ask him!”
Iraq – Vulnerable Christians flee ISIS invasion
Our brothers and sisters in Iraq desperately need our prayers following the capture of vast swathes of their homeland by fighters from Islamist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). Thousands of Christians have been forced to flee their homes since jihadist militants seized the cities of Mosul and Tikrit in an invasion that began on 6 June. Believers in Mosul were advised to leave by police, who spoke to senior Christian leaders on 9 June, the day before the city fell to the militants.
ISIS has published rules for people living in Mosul that include sharia penalties such as the amputation of limbs for thieves, crucifixion for criminals and the death penalty for apostasy. All women are required to cover themselves and not leave their homes unless necessary. Similar rules have been imposed in territories the group controls in Syria, where its militants are notorious for carrying out beheadings, crucifixions and other brutal atrocities.
Before the invasion, around ten Christians were leaving Mosul every day; those who remained were largely the elderly and sick. Some are still in the city and are hiding in their homes. It is feared that those who have fled will never be able to return. Christian villages around Mosul have been destroyed, and churches have been looted and burned.
The militants, who are now advancing towards Baghdad, control areas of the plains west of Mosul that extend to Syria. They have literally bulldozed a road through a frontier on the border to unite their territories in the two countries.
Pray that oppressed, endangered Christians in Iraq and Syria will find refuge in the Lord, their stronghold in times of trouble (Psalm 9:9). Ask that the tide of Islamist aggression will be turned back and that the Lord will protect and provide for His people, both those who have fled their homes and those who are suffering under the terrifying yoke of ISIS. Pray that the Christian presence in Iraq will not be extinguished after two millennia.
Nigeria – Christian area in bloody Boko Haram siege
Cry out to the Lord for believers in Gwoza, a predominantly Christian area of Northern Nigeria. The area was besieged for weeks in late May and early June by fighters from Boko Haram, an Islamist group. The exact death toll is not known, but it is thought that hundreds of people were killed.
On 1 June, nine believers were killed when a church in Attagara village was attacked during a service. The murdered Christians were volunteering as a security team for the church. Then, two days later, the assailants returned to the village disguised as soldiers. Pretending they were there to protect the residents, they herded villagers into the church, surrounded them and opened fire. They went on to target other villages; it is thought that more than 300 people were killed.
This brutal violence followed two days of attacks in the previous week. On 25 May, 21 Christians were massacred during a worship service at a church in Gwoza town. The following day, militants armed with AK47 rifles and petrol bombs attacked Chinene and surrounding villages, killing eight believers.
Gwoza has been repeatedly targeted by Boko Haram, which aims to establish an Islamic state in Northern Nigeria. Pray that the Lord will comfort, guide and sustain Christians in the area, who are suffering so intensely, so that they will not despair but will continue to hope in Him. Ask Him to transform the hearts of those who are persecuting our brothers and sisters and turn them from their violence.
Pakistan – Christian teenager raped and killed
A teenage Christian boy in Pakistan has been raped and killed in the latest horrifying use of sexual violence against the country’s vulnerable Christian minority.
Sanwal Masih died on 29 May after he was violated and poisoned by a young Muslim man at the estate where he worked in Dhalia Chatta Tehsil, Wazirabad. He collapsed and was found by some children, who immediately informed his family. He was rushed to hospital but twice had to be transferred to other medical units.
On the way to the second unit, Sanwal was able to tell his uncle what had happened to him. He died while being transferred to the third hospital. Following Sanwal’s death, his family were threatened by the owner of the estate, who came to their home in an attempt to force them to bury the body immediately.
But Sanwal’s family did not give in to the pressure. They reported his death to the police, who arrested the Muslim man. Barnabas partners in Pakistan are pursuing justice for Sanwal’s loved ones.
Give thanks that the police have been pursuing this matter, and pray that justice, which is difficult for Pakistan’s despised Christians to obtain, will be done. Pray that the Lord, who shields all who trust in Him (Psalm 18:30) will protect other vulnerable believers in Pakistan.
Sudan – Meriam Ibrahim’s sentence overturned
Continue to pray for Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese Christian mother who was sentenced to death for apostasy. Praise God that Meriam’s sentence was overturned by the Khartoum Court of Appeals after her case sparked an international outcry.
Meriam, her 22-month-old son and her newborn daughter were first released on 23 June and reunited with Daniel Wani, Meriam’s husband and the children’s father. The family were detained at Khartoum airport as they tried to leave the country, reportedly for the US, and news later emerged that Meriam had been accused of forging travel documents and was being held at a police station. Meriam was released again on 26 June, on the condition that she remains in Sudan.
Meriam was brought up as a Christian, but the authorities consider her to have been born into the Islamic religion because her father is a Muslim. Even when they are not subject to criminal punishment, converts from Islam are vulnerable to violence by radical Muslims. Pray that Meriam and her family will be able to begin a new life together in safety and peace.
Kenya – Al-Shabaab attack targets Christians
“The attackers entered house to house shooting the men. We were locked up in our houses for close to eight hours in fear as gunshots and explosions were heard outside.”
These words were spoken by a resident of Mpektoni, a mainly Christian town in Kenya. Mpektoni was targeted by Islamist group al-Shabaab in two days of brutal bloodshed that left 50 people dead.
The gunmen went door-to-door on 15 June asking occupants if they were Muslim or spoke Somali, killing those who responded in the negative. At least some were killed because they could not answer questions about Islam or recite verses from the Quran. Six children of pastors were said to be among the dead.
The militants also targeted people who were watching a World Cup football match at bars and hotels, forcing women to watch their male loved ones die. Several buildings were torched. The violence continued the following night with raids on villages around Mpektoni, in which at least 15 people were killed.
Pray that the Father of compassion and God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3) will draw near to those who have lost loved ones in these merciless attacks. Pray also for wisdom and guidance for the Kenyan authorities as they respond to the growing threat presented by al-Shabaab.
Egypt – Believers still suffering violence and blasphemy accusations
Pray for believers in Egypt, who continue to be vulnerable to kidnappings, violence and blasphemy accusations despite positive political change in their country.
Two Christians have been kidnapped in El-Arish in the Sinai Peninsula by suspected Islamic militants. Wadie Ramses, a well-known surgeon, was seized on 14 June. The assailants opened fire on his vehicle and took him away wounded. They later demanded a ransom of ten million Egyptian Pounds (£800,000; €998,000).
Two days later, Christian merchant Gemal Shenouda was captured near his home. No immediate ransom demand was made. It is thought that Islamic militants with links to al-Qaeda are responsible for the kidnappings.
Islamists also attacked Christian property in El-Mahameed village, near Luxor, following the arrest of a young Christian man for blasphemy. Kerolos Shouky Attallah has been convicted of showing contempt for a heavenly religion and inciting sectarian violence, and he has been sentenced to six years in prison.
Kerolos’ “crime” was having clicked the “Like” button on a Facebook page run by a group of converts from Islam to Christianity, the Knights of the Cross. Muslim villagers attacked Kerolos’ home on 28 May after taking offence at a cartoon that was posted on the page, which features posts about Islamic and Christian teachings and is intended to encourage converts in their faith. Give thanks that moderate Muslims in the village prevented them from attacking other Christian property.
The police were called to the scene and arrested Kerolos. No charges were brought against the assailants. A second attack on Christian property in the village was launched ahead of a scheduled hearing of Kerolos’ case, which was cancelled after Islamists tried to pressurise the court.
Christians in Egypt are hopeful that their condition will improve following the election of new president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, who they hope will crack down on Islamic extremism, and the passing of a new constitution that grants them increased religious freedom. Pray that their hope will soon become reality and that incidents such as these will become a thing of the past. Pray also for the release of the two kidnapped believers and that Kerolos’ appeal against his unjust conviction will be upheld.
A controversial religious conversion bill in Burma (Myanmar) that would require people to seek official permission before changing religion has been criticised by Christians and human rights groups.
The draft text requires people wishing to convert to register with the local authorities, who would question them about their reasons for changing faiths and process their request within 90 days. It is part of a package of four bills designed to protect “race and religion” in the Buddhist-majority country.
The proposed legislation is in response to a petition presented to President Thein Sein by a group of Buddhist nationalist monks, the Organisation for the Protection of Race, Religion and Belief. The Burmese government actively promotes Buddhism, and predominantly Christian ethnic groups in the country suffer discrimination and violence, often at the hands of the Burmese military. Ethnic Rohingya Muslims are also oppressed and have spoken out against the bill.
The government says that the bill is intended to prevent forced conversions. The draft states that forcing someone to convert would be punishable by a year’s imprisonment, and those found guilty of insulting another religion would be sentenced to one to two years in jail.
Similar laws in several Indian states, which prevent conversion by “force”, “fraud” or “allurement”, are used to restrict legitimate Christian evangelism. In India it is Hindu nationalists who push for such laws; their desire to make their country religiously “pure” is shared by Buddhist nationalists in Burma.
Pray that opposition from Christians, Rohingya Muslims and human rights groups will not go unheeded, and that other voices will be added to theirs as citizens have the opportunity to comment on the bill. Pray that true freedom of religion will be established in Burma.
Nepal – Police arrest 40 Christians following pressure from Hindus
Around 40 church leaders and members were arrested in Nepal, accused of forcibly converting Hindus, after police were pressured to take action.
A Hindu crowd gathered outside the jail and threatened a riot if the believers, who were detained on 13 June in Boudha, Kathmandu, were released. Although most were nevertheless freed, eight leaders were held in custody for two days. On 14 June, a pastor in nearby Mulpani was threatened.
These incidents came after the vice-president of India’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which won the country’s general election in May, urged senior Nepali leaders to outlaw religious conversion immediately.
Pray that Hindu nationalists, within the country and in India, will not succeed in seriously threatening religious freedom in Nepal. Ask that the rights and freedoms of the Christian minority will be upheld as the country’s long-awaited new constitution is drafted.
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