Published: 00:00 GMT Standard Time - Sunday 01 November 2009
Prayer Focus 11/09
IRAN - UPDATE ON IMPRISONED CHRISTIAN WOMEN
Praise the Lord for a significant development in the case of the two young Christian women, converts from Islam, who were arrested in Tehran in March and charged with anti-state activity, propagation of Christianity and apostasy. On 7 October Maryam and Marzieh were brought back to the Revolutionary Court, where the judge acquitted them of the charge of anti-state activity. Such acquittals are rare in Iran. Now that this charge has been dropped, the remaining charges will be considered in the general court. The two women are thankful to their fellow Christians for ongoing prayer and to the Lord Jesus for sustaining them in prison and giving them the courage to stand firm in their faith during the court hearings.
• Praise the Lord for this rare piece of good news for Maryam and Marzieh. Pray that the two remaining charges will be dropped and that the women will be released from prison soon.
• Pray that they will continue to know the Lord's presence and comfort each day, and that they will be the presence of Jesus to those around them. Pray for their health.
The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reports that there have been hundreds of cases of anti-Christian violence recorded so far in 2009 in various Indian states. On 6 October five people kidnapped a Christian pastor in Ludhiana, in the state of Punjab, and took him to a secluded location where he was beaten and left severely injured. On 12 October in Lakshmeshwar, Karnataka State, two Christian evangelists were attacked when a group of anti-Christian radicals set upon them, assaulting them and destroying all the Christian literature they were carrying. Later the attackers handed the two Christians over to the village leader, who had them arrested for allegedly trying to convert Hindus in the area. The evangelists are still in police custody. In Hyderabad on 20 September, Christian leader Parishudam was returning home on his motorcycle when he was forced to stop and was then attacked by two people wearing masks. They beat him using sticks and other weapons and then fled, leaving him bleeding in the street. Local people took Parishudam to a nearby hospital for treatment. In the same city, attackers barged into a Christian worship service on 18 October and started assaulting the church leaders, as well as women and children who were taking part in the service. On 25 October Hindu extremists assaulted a Christian leader with hockey sticks following a Sunday worship service in Madhya Pradesh, while in Karnataka 50 Hindu radicals stormed a service and assaulted the church leader, threatened worshippers and burnt Bibles.
• Pray for India's Christians, that they will stand firm in the face of such relentless pressure and violence against them.
• Pray that the resilience displayed by the Christians will be a testament to their faith and that this will change the hearts of the extremists who are carrying out the violence.
EGYPT - MOB SURROUNDS CHURCH WITH CONGREGATION TRAPPED INSIDE
On 27 October, a Muslim mob attacked a church in the village of Nazlet Albadraman, Minya Province, while the minister and members of his congregation took refuge inside. The attack was prompted by the restoration of the church tower. The church, which serves nearly 5000 Christians in the area, was renovated eight years ago apart from the dilapidated tower. After struggling for four years with the authorities, the church obtained the necessary permit and the tower was demolished in preparation for a new one.
But as work commenced, a local Muslim started accusing the Christians of causing "sectarian sedition" and the situation deteriorated. The minister reports that "a Muslim preacher at the 'Islamic Charity Society' in the village was calling on Muslims through his loudspeaker to take action against the 'Christian infidels', so more and more people joined the mob." Muslims congregated, chanting and throwing stones at the church, breaking all the windows. Eventually the village mayor intervened and dispersed the mob from outside the church, but the Muslims went on to destroy cars, shops and homes of local Christians. One Christian woman suffered head injuries in the attack.
• Pray for Christians in the village, who are bound to be concerned for their safety. Pray that the Lord Jesus will put His hand of protection over His people.
• Pray for the church leader, that he will continue to encourage his congregation to love their Muslim neighbours, despite the intolerance that is being directed towards them. Pray that Egyptian Muslims will cease to react so strongly against Christian places of worship.
CHINA - TEENAGER EXPELLED FROM SCHOOL FOR HIS FAITH
Second year high school student Chen Le has been expelled from school for his Christian faith. He had been found by the Bazhou Public Security Agency to have engaged in Christian gatherings, and the school was notified to educate him and persuade him to "mend his ways", according to the Notice of Expulsion. Chen Le stated emphatically "I would rather be forced out of school than deny my faith," prompting the school to advise him to transfer to an alternative school. Although Chen Le does not regret signing the Notice of Expulsion document and refusing to renounce his faith, his expulsion has come at a great price for his future. This situation has effectively deprived him of his future education, as he has now been barred from taking the mandatory college entrance exam.
• Praise God for Chen Le's resolute belief in the Lord Jesus Christ and his refusal to renounce his faith, despite the effect this may have on his future education.
• Pray that the school will repeal the Notice of Expulsion and stop the religious discrimination against Chen Le so that he can continue his studies.
SENEGAL AND UK - CHURCHES ACCUSED OF NOISE POLLUTION
The government of Senegal has recently launched a campaign to close down a number of churches, on the grounds that their services are too noisy. Congregations that do not own their own premises are being targeted. Several have had their public worship suspended, and others are under threat.
For example, in the Nord Foire area of the capital Dakar three churches were closed on 21 August and some musical instruments were confiscated. In one church the police threatened leaders with arrest if they did not stop holding services of worship and prayer in their sanctuary. A Muslim neighbour, unhappy at having Christians worshipping next door to her home, complained to the mayor's office that the church was making too much noise.
In some neighbourhoods there may be a genuine issue of noise pollution, but many Christians believe that the real motive behind the campaign is the intolerance of the Muslim majority towards Christian worship. The mosques and Muslim gatherings generate much more noise than the church services and in Senegal can last all night and for weeks on end.
Complaints about noise from churches are also creating problems for some Christians in the UK. On 25 September Lambeth Council served a Noise Abatement Notice on All Nations Church in Kennington, South London following protests from two local residents. The church was ordered not to amplify its music or sermons. The pastor suggests that the complaints may have been triggered partly by the church's plans to develop a disused school into a community centre.
Then on 6 October a magistrates' court upheld another Noise Abatement Notice, served on Immanuel House of Worship Church in Walthamstow. In this case just one Muslim neighbour, living next door to the church, complained of being disturbed. The congregation had taken every reasonable step to minimise noise, and since receiving the notice they have also reduced the number of services and the length of their worship times. Yet still their neighbour would stand at the door of the church during services shouting his complaints.
An environmental health enforcement officer told the pastor that the church had to keep the noise down so as not to offend Muslims living in the area. He said, "This is a Muslim borough; you have to tread carefully."
Whilst the issue of noise may well be a reality for some churches, the position of mosques equally needs to be addressed. For example the Call to Prayer from the minaret can wake people before dawn every day. In some British cities the streets become impassable with traffic and people every Friday at the time of midday prayers, and whole areas shut down during Ramadan. Christians do not complain about this, but accept it. How much are the Muslim complaints about noise a pretext for getting churches closed down in Muslim-majority areas of Britain?
• Please pray for the churches in Muslim majority Senegal that have been closed. Pray that attempts to undermine Christian worship will cease.
• Pray for the two churches in the UK that have been served Noise Abatement Notices, that their neighbours will be willing to reach amicable agreements that will allow them to worship freely.
USA - HILLARY CLINTON TAKES A STAND ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
On 26 October US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the publication of the State Department's 2009 Report on International Religious Freedom. She described the Obama government's stance on freedom of speech and incitement to religious hatred legislation, and clearly stated that there should be no penalty for criticising other people's faith.
Mrs Clinton said "American religious bodies and faith-based organisations have helped to create a more just and compassionate society. Some claim that the best way to protect the freedom of religion is to implement so-called antidefamation policies that would restrict freedom of expression and the freedom of religion. I strongly disagree. The United States will always seek to counter negative stereotypes of individuals based on their religion and will stand against discrimination and persecution. But an individual's ability to practice his or her religion has no bearing on others' freedom of speech. The protection of speech about religion is particularly important since persons of different faiths will inevitably hold divergent views on religious questions. These differences should be met with tolerance, not with the suppression of discourse.
"Based on our own experience, we are convinced that the best antidote to intolerance is not the defamation of religions approach of banning and punishing offensive speech, but rather, a combination of robust legal protections against discrimination and hate crimes, proactive government outreach to minority religious groups, and the vigorous defense of both freedom of religion and expression."
Some Muslims are pressing for legislation that will limit and control public discussion of Islam, whereas traditionally in the West, religious beliefs have been a legitimate subject for public debate. Mrs Clinton's comments suggest that the US Government will oppose such requests.
• Praise God for Hillary Clinton's bold stand on this extremely current issue. Pray that this stance fosters tolerance and respect among different communities and encourages religious freedom among all nations.
EGYPT - RELATIVES ARRESTED TO FORCE CHRISTIAN TO TURN HIMSELF IN TO POLICE
On 3 October a group of Christian men were severely assaulted in front of their neighbours before being arrested. Wives were also arrested, but because of the screams of their terrified children and the objections of the neighbours to the way they were being treated, they were released. The group were relatives of Rafaat Girges Habib, who helped free Myrna, the 19-year-old daughter of Christian accountant Gamal Labib Hanna, in September. The relatives were detained until Habib turned himself into the police.
Earlier this year Myrna had been abducted and forced to convert to Islam and marry Mohammad Hefnawy. On 30 September Myrna called her father and begged him to come and save her from her Muslim husband. Hanna, two relatives and family friend Habib went to the apartment where she was being held. Myrna, who was six months pregnant, left with her father. Later, the family apartment was broken into and Habib's shop was completely demolished by the police. Myrna's uncles were forced to bring her back to the police station, where she was handed over to Mohammad's father, Osama Hefnawy.
• Pray for all those Christians who have been involved in this incident. Pray that the Lord Jesus will protect and guide His people. Pray for an end to the kidnapping of Christian girls and that police will act to save and protect them, not to punish those who seek to help them.