Published: 00:00 GMT Standard Time - Friday 01 January 2010
Prayer Focus 01/10
- SWISS MINARET BAN - LEADS TO THREATS AGAINST CHRISTIANS
- TAJIKISTAN - CHURCHES FORCED TO RE-REGISTER
- SRI LANKA - MOBS STORM CHRISTIAN CENTRES ACROSS THE COUNTRY
- CHINA - HOUSE CHURCH LEADER SENTENCED TO 15 YEARS IN PRISON
- IRAQ - MORE BOMBINGS IN BAGHDAD AND MOSUL
- INDIA - ANTI-CONVERSION BILL CONSIDERED IN KARNATAKA
- INDIA - FEARS OF RENEWED ANTI-CHRISTIAN VIOLENCE IN ORISSA
SWISS MINARET BAN - LEADS TO THREATS AGAINST CHRISTIANS
While Muslim leaders are criticising the Swiss vote to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland, Christians in some Muslim-majority countries face severe restrictions on the building and repair of churches. In countries such as Saudi Arabia and the Maldives there are no church buildings at all. In a number of other countries, there are church buildings for foreigners but none for the indigenous Christians themselves.
The referendum decision on 29 November 2009 in Switzerland is beginning to have ramifications in other countries around the world. In Egypt there has been a huge outcry against the Swiss decision, which concerned only minarets, not mosques themselves. But Egypt is a country where it is normally extremely difficult for Christians to get permission to build new churches or even repair the existing ones. Christians are forced to travel long distances to worship or must meet in secret in their homes due to an insufficient number of church buildings. Furthermore, recent months have seen a spate of attacks on church buildings.
In Turkey, on 4 December 2009, the leader of a church with a bell tower was approached by three people who threatened him, saying "Switzerland is banning minarets and we will ban bell towers to you. You will demolish the bell tower by next Friday." The police were informed of the incident and are now providing security for the church. A recent survey in Turkey has found that nearly 40% of the population has negative views of Christians, while over 50% of those surveyed said non-Muslims should not be allowed to hold open meetings where they can discuss their ideas and should not be allowed to publish literature that describes their faith.
A recent review of prominent events posted on various Islamist terrorist internet forums in December 2009 highlighted the following comment, "Switzerland is a fragile country which has always kept away from the conflict arena, but now is like other heretic countries in Europe and is placing itself at the top of the list of the sheep to be slaughtered by the Mujahideen".
• Pray for all Christians who are living in countries where they are the minority faith and facing such prejudice against them. Pray that they may know the peace and guidance of the Lord Jesus.
• Pray that officials in Egypt and Turkey will act justly to uphold religious freedom for all and provide protection for local Christians and the buildings they need for worship and ministry.
TAJIKISTAN - CHURCHES FORCED TO RE-REGISTER
Tajikistan's new Religion Law states that all religious communities in the country must re-register by 1 January 2010. Groups that choose not to register or fail to gain re-registration will become illegal. Under the law, all religious organisations need to provide the national government with written confirmation of their existence from their local administration. Sources report that administration officials have been slow at issuing confirmation or have deliberately refused to do so for groups that they did not like. With the deadline fast approaching, in mid-December 2009 officials noted that fewer than half of the current religious organisations had been re-registered.
In a country where restrictions on religious activity have become increasingly tight over the years, the highly restrictive Religion Law, passed in April 2009, not only lays down a complicated registration procedure but also imposes state censorship on all religious literature and restricts children's religious activity and education.
The Head Department for Religious Affairs (HDRA) has imposed territorial restrictions on the activity of some non- Muslim groups during the re-registration process. Christian churches reported that they could register with only a limited status, rather than a national status, allowing them to function only in the area in which they are registered.
• Pray for an easing of this restrictive new law. Pray that the authorities will recognise the right to freedom of religion and will register all religious organisations without bias.
• Pray for Christians in Tajikistan. Christian churches have been closed, bulldozed or threatened with confiscation of property in recent years. Pray for strength and courage for local Christians, that they will continue to worship the Lord Jesus, even in the face of such oppression.
SRI LANKA - MOBS STORM CHRISTIAN CENTRES ACROSS THE COUNTRY
Two Christian community centres and a prayer centre have been damaged by mobs in Sri Lanka in recent weeks. On the night of 4 October 2009 a church hall that had been used for prayer and worship was attacked in Bandarawela, in the south of the country.
Later that month, a mob of 200 people stormed a community centre built by a local Christian church, in Mawathawewa, in northern Sri Lanka. Armed with rods, the mob, who came from two villages away, destroyed the brand new building and threatened villagers not to intervene or call the police. Since the incident, police security has been provided for the damaged community centre, which was built to house a day care centre, library and other facilities for the community.
• Pray that Christians will continue to meet together in Sri Lanka despite the anti-Christian violence and destruction of their buildings.
• Pray for protection of all our brothers and sisters and pray that those who carry out such violence will come to repentance and salvation in the Lord.
CHINA - HOUSE CHURCH LEADER SENTENCED TO 15 YEARS IN PRISON
In April 2009, we reported on the case of house church leader Alimujiang Yimiti, a former Muslim who has been a Christian for 14 years. Accused of using his employment“as a cover to preach Christianity among the people of Uyghur", he had been arrested by authorities in the Xinjiang province of China (whose population is mainly Muslim Uyghurs) in January 2008 for “endangering the security of the state".
On 27 October 2009, having been in detention for nearly two years, Alimujiang was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment. Sources report that this is the longest prison sentence against house church believers in nearly a decade. Alimujiang was given only limited access to his lawyer and his family. He and his wife have two sons, whom he has not seen in almost two years.
• Pray for Alimujiang as he comes to term with the harsh and unexpected sentence. Pray that he will remain strong in his faith at this time.
• Continue to pray for Alimujiang's family, who face further separation and persecution without him. Pray that they will be granted access to see him and that they will look to the Lord for courage and guidance.
• Pray that the appeal launched by Alimujiang's lawyers will be successful so that he can soon return to his family and church to continue the Lord's work.
IRAQ - MORE BOMBINGS IN BAGHDAD AND MOSUL
Baghdad and Mosul have been gripped with fear in recent weeks as a number of bombs have been detonated across the cities. Last month, we reported that six bombs had exploded, including two outside Christian buildings. But since then there have been further attacks.
On 12 December 2009 at least 127 people were killed and hundreds wounded in five powerful car bombings in Baghdad, including one in Dora, a Christian neighbourhood.
One week later, further explosions rocked the country. Two early morning blasts in Baghdad killed at least eight people, while in Mosul two car bombs were detonated near churches, causing extensive damage, wounding nearby schoolchildren and killing at least three Christians. On 23 December another bomb was detonated outside a Mosul church killing at least three people. Iraqi Christians see this latest attack as timed to coincide with the Christmas season.
In addition, Christians in Basra have been warned by Shia Muslims that they must not celebrate Christmas in any way apart from attending church. This is owing to the main Shia celebration during the Islamic month of Muharram, which in 2009 began on 18 December, with the climax celebration around 26-27 December.
The minister of one of the churches attacked on 16 December said “Words cannot describe what has happened ... but we will pray in the streets, in homes, in shops. God is everywhere, not just in churches."
Barnabas Aid has sent help for the victims of the Mosul bombings.
• Pray for all those who lost loved ones in the recent bombings, that they may know the comforting hand of the Lord Jesus in their sorrow and that He will lift their spirits.
• Pray for Christians in Iraq. Such violence is often directed towards Christians at special times of celebration such as Christmas. Pray that peace will come to this country that has seen so much violence in recent years.
• Pray that the angel of the Lord will encamp around His people to deliver them (Psalm 34:7).
INDIA - ANTI-CONVERSION BILL CONSIDERED IN KARNATAKA
The government of Karnataka State is said to be "determined" to introduce an anti-conversion bill, raising concerns amongst Christians. Government official Suresh Kumar alleged that "poor Hindus were becoming victims of conversions by missionaries" and that anti-conversion laws, such as those already in place in some other Indian states, were necessary to protect them against conversion by means of force, deceit or allurement.
In September 2008 a number of churches were attacked across Karnataka by the right-wing Bajrang Dal group; the group defended their actions as a response to forced conversions. Christians are greatly concerned by such "Freedom of Religion Acts", which many feel are intended to stop all conversions, even by legitimate methods, particularly to Christianity. Often the laws are viewed as a licence to set upon the Christian minority; each time a new anti-conversion law is put in place, there is a rise in anti-Christian violence in the state.
• Pray that the bill will not be passed and that the authorities will work to safeguard religious freedom in Karnataka.
• Pray for increased tolerance towards Christians in India. Pray that the Lord will strengthen His people and protect them from attacks.
INDIA - FEARS OF RENEWED ANTI-CHRISTIAN VIOLENCE IN ORISSA
Christians in Orissa are concerned that a recent series of events may provoke a renewal of anti-Christian violence over the Christmas period.
On 12 December 2009, bombs were hurled against a store owned by a wellknown Hindu shopkeeper in the town of Ghumusar Udayagiri in Kandhamal district. Posters making threats against activists belonging to a Hindu nationalist group appeared on the walls of the local hospital. Although these were apparently signed by the Indian Maoist party, Christians fear they will get the blame and that it may therefore trigger violence against Christians. The police have not ruled out the possibility that the bombs and the posters may even be the work of local Hindus who want to raise tensions in the area.
The Christians' concerns are based on the fact that a very similar turn of events triggered the massive anti-Christian violence in Orissa in August 2008. A prominent Hindu leader was murdered, and although Maoist extremists claimed responsibility for the murder, Christians got the blame, and subsequent protests rapidly escalated into horrific anti- Christian aggression. The timing of the latest incident, in the run-up to Christmas, also recalls the first large-scale outbreak of bloodshed against Christians in Orissa, which began at Christmas in 2007. Christians now fear that Hindu nationalists will stir up violence against them once again on the basis of a false accusation.
• Pray for Christians in Orissa, that they will know the peace and comfort of the Lord Jesus at this uncertain time. Pray that there will be no renewal of anti- Christian violence.
• Pray for harmony and stability in India, and especially that the Hindu majority will respect Christians as fellow citizens.