Published: 10:30 GMT Standard Time - Friday 29 November 2013
Prayer Focus 12/13
- North Korea – People caught with Bibles publicly executed
- Sudan – Christians beaten by police and arrested
- Egypt – Positive political developments, but persecution continues
- UK – Profile of persecuted Church raised by politicians
- Iran – Christians given lashes for drinking communion wine
- Brunei – Converts from Islam at risk as sharia penalties introduced
- Cameroon – Minister kidnapped by Boko Haram
- Pakistan – Blasphemy accusation forces Christians to flee
“I urge then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people”
North Korea – People caught with Bibles publicly executed
On 3 November, 80 people were killed in public executions in seven cities in North Korea. Some of the condemned prisoners were accused of offences as minor as watching South Korean films. Amongst them were people who had been caught in possession of a Bible.
Witnesses at one of the executions, at a stadium in Wonsan, said that eight people were tied to stakes and their heads covered with sacks before they were killed by machine-gun fire. Around 10,000 people, including children, were forced to watch. “Accomplices” or relatives who were implicated in the crimes were sent to prison camps.
North Korea is regularly named as the worst country in the world in which to be a Christian. Those considered to have acted against the national ideology, Juche (self-reliance), which is effectively a personality cult that deifies the country’s founder, are punished harshly. It is illegal to be a Christian, and around 70,000 Christians are estimated to be languishing in prison camps, where they are brutally treated, tortured and worked to death.
Cry out to the Lord for the grieving relatives of those killed, and ask Him to comfort them as they come to terms with losing their loved ones in such a cruel manner. Pray for all our brothers and sisters in North Korea, and ask the Lord to protect them and sustain them as they live with acute and constant danger from the authorities. Pray also that He will meet the material needs of believers in this isolated and starving country.
Sudan – Christians beaten by police and arrested
Police and security forces in Sudan battered down a fence around Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church on 5 October, as Muslim onlookers shouted “Allahu Akhbar” (“Allah is great”). They then proceeded to beat several believers who were in the compound, before arresting a church leader and other Christians, who were all released later the same day.
The authorities have been accused of breaking into the site to help a Muslim investor, who accompanied them on the raid, to take over church land. They claim that the investor had signed a contract giving him the right to invest in land that is part of the property, but they did not reveal how he had obtained the document. The government is believed to be behind the move; it has been ruthlessly destroying or taking over church buildings since the mainly Christian South Sudan seceded in July 2011. The Muslim businessman has already seized part of the site and is expected to take over more of it.
Pray that the congregation of Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church will be left in peace to worship in their building and that the authorities will be held to account for their brutal treatment of church members. Ask that the government’s campaign of Islamisation, which so threatens our brothers and sisters, will be halted.
Egypt – Positive political developments, but persecution continues
Political developments in Egypt have raised hopes for the future of the Christian community. The committee tasked with re-writing the Egyptian constitution has voted in favour of articles that would grant religious freedom to all citizens. It also adopted a transitional article cancelling the existing requirement that Christians must obtain a special presidential permit before building or renovating a church.
These positive moves come as Egypt’s Christians continue to suffer at the hands of Islamists. For example, on 1 November a group of Islamists marched on a church in Cairo, shouting anti-Christian slogans, immediately after leaving Friday prayers at a nearby mosque. The attackers tore down a banner in front of the building and daubed the façade with graffiti insulting Christians.
The Christian community has also been beset by a spike in kidnappings since demonstrations by Islamic hardliners were broken up on 14 August. One Christian man, Hany Sedhom, endured a horrific ordeal in late September. His captors dragged him out of his car, slashed his face with a knife, hit him on the head with a rifle butt and drove him into the desert. For 48 hours he was beaten, threatened and denied food and clean water. But Hany remained steadfast; he said, “… every step of the way, every moment of pain, I could feel God there with me, telling me, ‘I’m going to save you.’”
Give thanks for Hany’s faith under pressure, which is typical of the trusting and non-retaliatory response of Egypt’s Christians to their recent persecutions. Thank the Lord also for the planned moves towards full religious freedom. The draft of the new Egyptian constitution is due to be completed at the end of November and will then be put to a referendum. Pray that the final version will guarantee true freedom to Egyptian believers and relieve them of crippling restrictions on their ministry and mission.
Praise God that the persecution of our brothers and sisters is at last being taken seriously by the UK government. After long years of Western politicians downplaying, disregarding or even denying the issue, recent events have indicated that they may now be engaging with it.
In a speech on 16 November, Baroness Warsi, the UK’s first minister for faith and herself a Muslim, called the persecution of Christians “a global crisis” and “the biggest challenge we face in this young century”. Lady Warsi’s speech, which was given in Washington DC, focussed on the plight of Christians in the Middle East and has attracted considerable media attention.
This speech came after a House of Commons debate on 5 November about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. This debate followed another in the House of Lords on 29 October about the situation of religious minorities in the Middle East and North Africa. During both debates, participants spoke with great knowledge and concern about the plight of our brothers and sisters, sometimes with reference to material from Barnabas Fund. MPs called on the government to take practical steps to help persecuted Christians.
Pray that the plight of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East and elsewhere will remain high on the government’s agenda. The UK government claims to be committed to promoting religious freedom, but its actions, for example in backing Islamist rebels in Syria, are sometimes detrimental to the safety of Christian minorities. Pray for a greater understanding of the causes of persecution, including the influence of aggressive Islamism, and that Western governments will amend their foreign policies accordingly. Ask that an international summit to draw up a plan to end violence against Christians, which Baroness Warsi will hold in the New Year, will help bring about real change for persecuted Christians.
Iran – Christians given lashes for drinking communion wine
Iran’s persecution of Christians is continuing despite positive signals from new President Hassan Rouhani. On 20 October, a court in Rasht sentenced four Christians to 80 lashes each for drinking communion wine and possessing a receiver and satellite antenna. Two of the accused, Behzad Taalipasand and Mehdi Dadkhah, had previously been detained by the authorities during a crackdown on house churches in December 2012.
Six other Christians who were given prison sentences in June 2013 have failed to get their convictions overturned on appeal. The six, who were found guilty of attending a house church and spreading Christianity, amongst other charges, will now each serve three years and eight months in jail. One of them, Vahid Hakkani, has been denied medical treatment for severe internal bleeding.
The life of imprisoned pastor Saeed Abedini is said to be in grave danger following his transfer to Rajai Shahr prison, one of the deadliest in the world. Murders by other detainees or unexplained deaths are a regular occurrence; prisoners of conscience are said to be sent there to disappear. Pray that the Lord will keep Pastor Saeed safe as he endures his new surroundings following this sudden and unexplained move. Please also continue to pray that the authorities will relent and release him.
Pray also for all Iranian Christians who face being penalised for their faith, and ask that the Holy Spirit will enable them to bless when they are cursed and endure when they are persecuted (1 Corinthians 4:12). Pray that international pressure will prompt the authorities to make further improvements on human rights, and that true religious freedom will be achieved in Iran.
From April 2014, a new sharia penal code in Brunei will be introduced that punishes hudud crimes in line with Islamic holy texts. Hudud crimes are those that Muslims believe have penalties laid down by Allah himself. So under the new penal code, theft will be punishable by amputation of limbs, and adultery will carry a penalty of stoning. Those who leave Islam will be liable to the death penalty for apostasy.
Although the new laws are said to apply only to Muslims, the legislation greatly endangers converts from Islam and any non-Muslims who help them to convert. Any non-Muslim found to have aided a Muslim in committing a crime is also liable to punishment under sharia.
Christians make up around 10% of the population of Muslim-majority Brunei, which is currently governed by a dual judicial system; its civil courts are based on British law, and sharia law governs family matters. They are forbidden by law to evangelise, and conversion to Islam is officially encouraged.
Pray for protection for Christian converts from Islam, who will be endangered by the new penal code; not only could they be arrested and possibly executed, but official adoption of the apostasy law could also put them at risk of attack by radical Muslims. Pray that Christians in Brunei will have the courage to let their light shine before others (Matthew 5:16) despite the official restrictions.
Pray for Georges Vandenbeusch, a French church leader who was kidnapped by Islamist group Boko Haram in northern Cameroon on 13 November. The church leader, who had continued to minister in a volatile area despite being warned of the danger he was in, was seized from his home by a group of armed men on motorbikes. His kidnap follows the kidnapping at gunpoint of an expatriate French family, who were held for two months.
The devastation caused by Boko Haram, an Islamist group that aims to create an Islamic state in Northern Nigeria, is beginning to spread to northern Cameroon. An official in Koza, the area in which the kidnappings took place, said that the group has been attacking local Christians for some time.
Despite this new danger, Christians escaping Boko Haram’s violent activities in Nigeria are continuing to flee to Cameroon. The group’s bloody campaign in Northern and Middle Belt states of Nigeria is constantly claiming new victims. In two recent attacks in the Gwoza hills, Borno state, four Christians were killed, several churches were burned down, and numerous Christian homes were torched.
The international community has been slow to respond to the threat posed by Boko Haram. The US State Department finally designated the group a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) on 13 November, allowing the US now to take strong measures against people associated with the group. Pray that this development will lead to the effective countering of Boko Haram’s violent activities.
Pray also for the safe release of Georges Vandenbeusch, and ask that he will be comforted by God’s presence throughout his traumatic ordeal. Lift up also all those who have been victims of attacks by Boko Haram; ask the Lord to heal their mental and physical wounds, to comfort the bereaved, and to give them hope for the future.
Pakistan – Blasphemy accusation forces Christians to flee
Pray for Arif Masih and Tariq Masih, two Pakistani Christians who were forced to flee their homes with their families after being accused of blasphemy and threatened. The two own a shop in Faqirullah, Wazirabad, that sells fireworks. On 27 October, a Muslim man bought a set for his wedding party. When the fireworks failed to go off, guests opened up the packets and found that the powders inside were wrapped in pages containing verses from the Quran.
The two Christians have protested their innocence, saying that they do not manufacture the fireworks, they only sell them, and that the factory they bought them from is run by Muslims. Despite this, the enraged wedding party destroyed their shop and reported them to the police. Some threatened to kill the Christians if the police did not take action, forcing Arif, Tariq and their families to flee for their lives.
Pray that the Lord will protect Arif and Tariq from attack in the aftermath of this unjust accusation, and that the authorities will not take up the case against them. Ask the Lord to speak truth and peace to the hearts of the Muslims who have threatened our brothers, so that they may turn to Him and cease making false accusations against their Christian neighbours.
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