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Prayer Focus Update - January 2020

21 January 2020


“My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth”

Psalm 121:2

Cameroon – Seven killed and 21 young people kidnapped as Boko Haram rampage continues

“Helpless before the terrorists, the people had only their eyes to cry.” These were the moving words used by a Barnabas contact to describe the despair of defenceless Christians who lost what little they possessed when Boko Haram extremists looted their homes in yet another wave of murderous attacks in Far North Cameroon in December.

Seven people were killed and 21 children and young adults were kidnapped in a series of attacks, which came just a month after a spate of similar atrocities targeted mainly-Christian villages.

The attacks in Mayo Sava district began on 1 December when gunmen opened fire on mourners at a funeral in Kotserehé, forcing them to flee. An eyewitness said, “It was a total rout … women have fled without being able to take their children with them.” The attack left four Christians dead and three wounded. The witness added, “A place of mourning has turned into a theatre of war that has ended in carnage.”

The following night, three people were murdered when armed militants swarmed Zangola village, looting homes as the villagers fled for their lives. The army arrived but their attempt to pursue the marauders was unsuccessful.

In a third attack, the village of Mbreche was targeted at around 2 a.m. on 5 December. Militants searched from house to house and kidnapped 21 young people – nine girls and twelve boys, aged between 12 and 21. Four of the young people, including a girl aged 13, managed to escape.

It is thought that those abducted will be forced to become Boko Haram “soldiers” and fight on behalf of the extremists. Only weeks earlier, on 19 November, a 12-year-old Christian boy was hacked to death for resisting militants’ attempt to abduct him as a “child soldier” in Tourou district.

In an earlier wave of brutal violence, retired pioneering pastor David Mokoni and a hearing-impaired Christian boy were killed on 6 November in their church in Moskota. It was the second attack on the town in a week. In the previous raid, the jihadists killed one man and stole 140 cattle.

Five people, including a boy aged 15, were hacked to death when militants stormed the village of Kotserehé on 31 October.

A Barnabas contact said the attacks have caused many to flee rural areas for larger towns and cities, where they are now living in “extreme misery”. He asked for prayer, adding, “This is beyond persecution. It is a dramatic situation, plunging thousands of families into a deplorable humanitarian crisis.”

Lift up our brothers and sisters in Cameroon as they stand defenceless against relentless attacks from extremists. Ask that the Name of the LORD will be their strong tower, keeping them safe from harm (Proverbs 18:10). Pray for healing from the LORD (Jeremiah 30:17) for villagers who bear the physical and mental scars, and ask that the bereaved will have the tears wiped from their eyes (Revelation 21:4).



Sudan – Christians promised right to worship freely and sharia law on women’s dress repealed

Sudan’s new minister for religious affairs says Christians who endured “very bad practices” under previous president, Omar al-Bashir, have the right to freely practise their faith and should no longer be considered a “minority” group, forced to live with a second-class status and reduced rights under Islamic sharia law.

“They are Sudanese and their religion is heavenly with its values and beliefs,” said Nasreddine Mufreh, who is part of the transitional joint military and civilian council now running Sudan. He pledged that property stolen from churches and Christians during the 30-year rule of dictator al-Bashir will be returned.

Al-Bashir, ousted and arrested by the military in April 2019, deported Christians to South Sudan, closed Christian schools and demolished churches. He treated Christians even more strictly than sharia law says they should be treated, for example, forcing them to follow the sharia dress code, although it should apply only to Muslims.

Another extreme measure, far beyond what sharia requires, was the forcible transportation of some 400,000 Christians to the desert between November 1991 and March 1992, where they were left with no food or water. Mufreh said his ministry plans to combat extremist ideals. “The Sudanese Islamic Movement project has been defeated in political and community life,” he said.

In a separate development, Sudan has repealed the strict sharia law that controlled how women acted and dressed in public. Under al-Bashir’s regime, women could be thrown in prison for letting a little hair show or for travelling on a bus without a man to accompany them.

In a post on Twitter on 29 November, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok paid tribute to women who had “endured the atrocities that resulted from the implementation of this law”.

Barnabas Fund is helping fund a prison ministry in Sudan to aid Christian women who were jailed, often with their children, for infringing the laws on public conduct. In 2018, more than 1,200 detainees were helped, including about 150 children.

Praise the LORD that decades of harsh Islamic fundamentalism are being swept away in Sudan. Give thanks for the awesome wonders that God is doing (Deuteronomy 10:21) in the country. Pray the ruling council continues to ease restrictions on Christian worship and that women who were jailed for infringing sharia law will be freed swiftly.



Syria – Church minister and his father gunned down on same day as bombings target Christians

Church minister Hoseb Abraham Bedoian and his father were shot dead by two motorcycle gunmen who ambushed their car on the road from Qamishli to Deir al-Zor, in north-east Syria, on 11 November.

Another church leader managed to escape the assailants, who were suspected IS militants.

Hours later, three bombs were detonated in the city of Qamishli, in a coordinated attack targeting Kurdish and Christian communities, killing at least eight people.

Ask God to strengthen and uphold (Isaiah 41:10) the Bedoian family, Christians and other affected communities in Qamishli following the brutal murders and bombings. Pray for an end to attacks by Muslim extremists and for peace to be restored in north-east Syria.



Burkina Faso – Five boys and pastor among 14 Christians shot dead in church massacre

Fourteen members of the same Christian family, including five boys, were shot dead in an Islamist extremist attack on a church in southeast Burkina Faso during Sunday morning worship on 1 December.

The pastor, Tchitchiéba Ouoba, was killed in the atrocity, which has left only one male survivor in the church’s entire congregation.

A Barnabas contact described the attack, “Eighty members were gathered there [at the service] including 15 men, the rest were women and young children. Of the 15 men, 14 were killed in cold blood on the spot, when the attackers burst in shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’. Only one man among the 15 escaped this act of barbarism.”

The attack took place in Hantoukoura village, Foutouri district – a region near the border with Niger recently targeted by extremists when 39 mining employees, including 15 Christians, were killed in an ambush on 6 November.

The timing of the latest atrocity, during the hours of worship, mirrors several other attacks this year, in which at least 152 Christians have been killed and thousands forced to flee their homes.

Islamist militants began their murderous rampage of 2019 in the small northern town of Silgadji on Sunday 28 April. Twelve gunmen rounded up the pastor, his son and four other members of the congregation and shot them oneby-one when they refused to deny Christ and convert to Islam.

Cry out to the LORD and ask him to be a shield of protection around Christians in Burkina Faso (Psalm 3:3). Pray that they will be strong and courageous despite the terrible attacks, knowing that there is a greater power with them (2 Chronicles 32:7). Intercede for the Ouoba family who have lost so many loved ones, and ask that the LORD will heal their broken hearts and bind up their wounds (Psalm 147:3).



China – Church ordered to replace name sign with political slogan as authorities step up “sinicisation” campaign

Chinese authorities have forced a church in Jiangxi province to paint over its name and replace it with a communist slogan, “Follow the Party, Obey the Party, and Be Grateful to the Party,” amid increasing attempts by officials to “sinicise” (make Chinese) Christianity.

The True and Original Source of the Universe Church in Ji’an city was also ordered in September to remove a painting of a Biblical figure from a prominent position and replace it with a portrait of China’s President Xi Jinping, surrounded with communist party slogans. Days later, officials shut the church, which is registered under the state-sanctioned Patriotic Association.

Elsewhere in Jiangxi province, elderly members of an unofficial “house church”, operating outside of the Patriotic Association, were told by the authorities in Poyang county that their retirement pensions would be stopped if they continued to gather for worship. Officials also removed crosses and religious banners and replaced them with portraits of President Xi and Chairman Mao Zedong.

The sharp increase in repressive measures by the authorities has raised questions over the future of a secretive pact between Beijing and leaders of the Roman Catholic Church. The agreement is thought to give both the Church and the Chinese government a say in the appointment of new ministers.

Critics say that, since the deal was signed in September 2018, the government has appeared to accelerate its sinicisation campaign, by attempting to focus church teachings on Chinese patriotism and President Xi’s communist party.

History made as 200 millionth Bible printed in China

Meanwhile, history was made on 11 November when the 200 millionth Chinese Union Version (CUV) of the Bible rolled off the printing press in China. Its production by the Amity Printing Company in Nanjing was celebrated at a ceremony attended by leaders of the state-registered “three-self” church movement and members of the Chinese authorities.

The CUV Bible, first published in 1919, is sold only through the officially recognised “three-self” churches in China. Non-church bookstores are prohibited from selling the Bible, a ban that was extended to online sales in February 2018.

Pray that Christians in China will be enabled to stand steadfast in their faith under increasing pressure from the authorities, knowing they are being renewed day by day. Pray that they fix their eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen because that is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).