Published: 16:23 GMT Standard Time - Monday 01 March 2010
Prayer Focus 03/10
- IRAN - SENIOR CHURCH LEADER ARRESTED
- TURKMENISTAN - CHRISTIANS ENDURE RAIDS AT BIRTHDAY PARTY AND SERVICES
- PAKISTAN - CHURCH DAMAGED IN ROCKET BLAST
- INDIA - CHRISTIANS ARRESTED FOLLOWING DISPUTE WITH HINDU EXTREMISTS
- INDONESIA - CHURCH ARSON THREATENS COMMUNITY RELATIONS IN PADANG LAWAS
- UZBEKISTAN - CHRISTIANS ARRESTED DURING PRIVATE PRAYER MEETING
- NIGERIA - MOB DIVERTS ANGER TOWARDS CHRISTIAN CHURCHES
- IRAQ - ACCELERATING VIOLENCE AGAINST CHRISTIANS
IRAN - SENIOR CHURCH LEADER ARRESTED
The well-respected leader of a church in Iran has been arrested and held at an undisclosed location. The Rev. Wilson Issavi, the leader of a church in Karmanshah, was arrested on 2 February while visiting friends. Security forces entered the home of Issavi's friend and took him away, along with the host couple and another visitor. Friends and family have found it virtually impossible to discover the whereabouts of the church leader or his state of health.
One month before Issavi's arrest, the church in Karmanshah had been sealed by a number of plain-clothes security agents, and they ordered the Christians not to re-open it. The church, a historic building and the only one in the west of the country, was used only for weekly Christian worship and was in dire need of repair.
The Director of the Committee of Iranian Christians has condemned Issavi's arrest, calling it a "deplorable act", and has demanded his immediate release, especially "considering his age and state of health".
• Praise the Lord for Issavi's humble and tireless service to the church in Iran. Pray that he will receive all the legal help that he needs in detention and that he will soon be released safely.
TURKMENISTAN - CHRISTIANS ENDURE RAIDS AT BIRTHDAY PARTY AND SERVICES
On 28 January, police officers and the District official arrived at a private birthday party at a house near Dashoguz. They entered the house without the owners' permission and began questioning all those present. The police accused the church leader who was attending the party of violating the Religion Law by praying at the party, despite the fact that he had done so at the family's request. The church leader and his mother were taken to the local police station and interrogated for four hours.
This raid highlights the persecution faced by Christians in Turkmenistan, which places many restrictions on religious freedom. Recently, it has come to light that a raid on a Sunday worship service on 20 December 2009 was led by Turkmenistan's former Chief Mufti, Rovshen Allaberdiev, who is now imam of Dashoguz Region and a senior official for the Council for Religious Affairs.
During the raid Christian literature and personal Bibles were confiscated; 22 Christians were taken to a local government building, where they were questioned and pressured to sign statements saying they would not attend church in future. One church member said that some people, especially those who are new to the church, are now afraid to come to services.
Officers claimed that such raids are their "duty" and told the church members that they were meeting illegally, as they were not registered to worship. But the church says they are awaiting a response to their application for registration.
• Pray that Christians in Turkmenistan will continue to remain faithful to their Lord and Saviour, despite persecution and harassment from the government and police. Pray for a softening of the attitude of the authorities.
• Pray especially for the small number of ethnic Turkmen Christians, mostly converts from Islam, who face additional pressure from their families and communities.
PAKISTAN - CHURCH DAMAGED IN ROCKET BLAST
In Kohat, northern Pakistan, a church was severely damaged by a rocket fired by Taliban militants on 12 February. The rocket damaged the outer wall, windows, ceiling, doors and air-conditioning system, causing huge financial loss to the church and local Christian community.
• Pray for the Christian community in Kohat, that they will still be able to meet together to worship the Lord despite the damage to their church building.
INDIA - CHRISTIANS ARRESTED FOLLOWING DISPUTE WITH HINDU EXTREMISTS
Eleven Christians have been arrested in Badimunda village, Kandhamal, Orissa following a complaint of "assault" lodged by a group of Hindu extremists.
In early February two Christians, Sumit Pradhan and Samuel Nayak, were threatened by five Hindu extremists and told they would face dire consequences if they continued to worship Jesus. They were informed that "there is no place for church and Christians in the area".
The two Christians managed to escape from the scene, but the next day the Hindu group came to the same place looking for Pradhan and Nayak. They broke into the home of another local Christian, Dibyakand Nayak, and in doing so, one of the group injured his head. On seeing this, the extremists rounded on Dibyakand, mercilessly beating him up and verbally abusing him because of his faith, and then dragged him to the police station. A report was filed against him and ten other Christians, who were then arrested. At the time of writing, Dibyakand remains in police custody.
This is just the latest example of the harassment that Christians experience in Orissa. In 2008, Christians were the target of large-scale violence, which left many dead or injured, thousands homeless and much property destroyed.
• Pray that evangelists and all Christian believers in Orissa will be free to worship Jesus without such persecution.
• Pray that religious freedom will be upheld and that the Indian authorities will protect Christians throughout the country and bring their persecutors to justice.
INDONESIA - CHURCH ARSON THREATENS COMMUNITY RELATIONS IN PADANG LAWAS
Two churches and a pastor's house were set on fire by a mob of up to 1,000 Muslims in Sibuhuan, Padang Lawas regency, North Sumatra on 22 January. There were no fatalities, but hundreds of Christians fled their homes to avoid possible attacks. At the time of writing no one had been arrested.
The arson attack was the culmination of a dispute between the two communities over the use by local Christians of buildings not registered as churches. According to local police, the two buildings, which have been reduced to ashes, were considered "places of prayer" rather than "churches", as they did not have the necessary permits, a claim denied by the church leaders.
This is apparently the first time such attacks have happened in this area, where substantial Muslim and Christian populations live alongside each other. The Muslim community is reported to be "tired of seeing too many faithful and too many prayers".
A North Sumatra Police spokesman reported that, at meetings following the arson attacks, the Padang Lawas administration, local agencies and religious leaders have "all agreed the financial losses caused by the attacks will be covered and that neutral locations would be provided for Christians to rebuild the churches".
• Pray that the local authorities will restore peace and guarantee that the Christians will be able to worship securely and freely without fear of further attacks. Pray that all those who fled their homes will be able to return.
• Pray for peace and mutual respect between members of the different communities in North Sumatra.
UZBEKISTAN - CHRISTIANS ARRESTED DURING PRIVATE PRAYER MEETING
On 24 January, Midet, a local church leader, and two women were meeting together to pray for their Christian brothers and sisters at Midet's home when police officers arrived, under the pretext of other matters. The police began to search the house, despite not having a search warrant, and found several Christian books. Midet and the women were arrested and taken to the police station, where officers demanded they write a statement about their church and other Christian activities. Midet was beaten and is covered in bruises; the women were also beaten and threatened with being stripped and tortured by electric shocks. Following these threats one of the women wrote a statement admitting that they had been attending a prayer meeting at Midet's home. All three were interrogated by the Office of the Public Prosecutor.
One of the women subsequently issued a complaint that they had been threatened by the police and that their statements had been given under duress. Reports suggest that her sister, who is not a Christian, has also been interrogated by the police, as a way of putting additional pressure on the Christians.
• Pray for Midet and the two women, that the Lord Jesus will heal any physical or emotional distress suffered during their ordeal.
• Pray for all believers in Uzbekistan, that they will be allowed to worship in the privacy of their own homes without fear of harassment, arrest and persecution.
NIGERIA - MOB DIVERTS ANGER TOWARDS CHRISTIAN CHURCHES
Eight Christian buildings, including seven churches, were torched in the Nigerian town of Kazaure, Jigawa State on Sunday 21 February. The violence followed a traffic dispute that led to the death of a man at the hands of a police traffic warden. Both men were Muslims. A crowd that had witnessed the incident stormed the local police station with the intention of setting fire to it, but they were prevented from doing so. Even though the dispute was not of a religious nature, the mob then vented their anger by torching a cluster of churches that were near the police station.
The Emir of Kazaure appealed for peace and requested that people remain calm. He says that all losses will be compensated and that the perpetrators of this recent attack will be brought to justice.
This violence comes just weeks after the rioting in Jos (Prayer Focus Update, February 2010), which left at least 300 people dead.
• Pray that Christian places of worship in Nigeria will be safeguarded, and that the congregations of the damaged churches will still be able to meet to worship the Lord Jesus. Pray too that the authorities will bring to justice those responsible for the riots.
• Pray for our brothers and sisters living in the midst of such aggression and violence, that they may find strength in the Lord and grace to forgive their persecutors.
IRAQ - ACCELERATING VIOLENCE AGAINST CHRISTIANS
Christians in the city of Mosul are experiencing a terrifying rise in violence. A number have been singled out and murdered in the last two weeks.
Aiechoa Metoka, an Iraqi Christian, and his two sons, Mukhlos and Basem, were killed in their home on 24 February by three gunmen. Wissam George, a 20-year-old student, went missing on his way to the institute where he was studying to be a teacher. His body was found on 17 February; it was riddled with bullets.
The previous day, 21-year-old engineering student Zia Toma was killed and Ramsin Shmael, 22, was left wounded when a gunman opened fire on them. On Monday 15 February, Christian greengrocer Fatukhi Munir was gunned down in his shop after a drive-by shooting, while Rayan Salem Elias, also a Christian, was murdered outside his home by armed assailants on Sunday 14 February.
Senior church leaders have issued urgent calls for a halt to the massacre of Christians in the country, expressing concern that Christians could be targeted in the run-up to elections in Iraq on 7 March. One Christian leader voiced these fears when he said, "We don't want elections ... we just want to be alive."
• Pray for peace and stability in Iraq as the country approaches the elections. Pray that the security forces will act to protect the Christian minority.
• Pray that our Christian brothers and sisters will be able to live without fear of being targeted and that they will put their hope and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.