Prayer Focus Update - December 2019
- Pakistan – Police intervene to help Christian attacked by Muslim mob after “blasphemy” charge
- Kenya – Muslim minibus driver foils Islamist hijackers and saves lives of Christian passengers
- Turkey – Public outcry over anti-Christian and anti-Semitic billboards
- Uzbekistan – Church registration increases could signal greater freedoms for Christians
- Russia – Christian wins a landmark case over right to worship in private homes
“The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear”
Pakistan – Police intervene to help Christian attacked by Muslim mob after “blasphemy” charge
In a rare move, police stepped in to stop Muslims attacking Amir Masih, a Christian sanitation worker, in Yousafabad, Pakistan after he was falsely accused of “blasphemy”.
“Blasphemy” charges against Amir were dropped straight away when police discovered in their investigation that the pages of the Quran which Amir had in his possession had been found in a rubbish bag collected by him from local homes as part of his sanitation duties.
Amir had taken the pages to a Muslim-owned shop to confirm whether they were from the Quran, but was accused by the shop owner of being an “unclean rubbish collector” and dragged to a local mosque.
The imam at the mosque made a loudspeaker announcement that “a blasphemous Christian had been stopped”, calling on other imams to punish Amir and burn local Christian homes, when police stepped in.
“Blasphemy” against Muhammad carries a mandatory death penalty under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code and often the mere accusation of “blasphemy” is enough to incite a vigilante killing by a mob. Under section 295-B, “wilful defilement, damage or desecration of the Quran” carries a life sentence. Police can sometimes fail to act against this mob violence in “blasphemy” cases, but in this incident, police action saved Amir from harm.
Praise the Lord for the timely action of the police, whose intervention likely saved Amir from serious injury, or even death. Pray that their actions are an indication of a change of heart among Pakistan’s police to ensure that protection and justice are made available to all, including the minority Christian community. Ask for the Lord to comfort Amir after the trauma of his ordeal so that he may know peace (John 16:33).
Kenya – Muslim minibus driver foils Islamist hijackers and saves lives of Christian passengers
A Muslim minibus driver saved the lives of his eight Christian passengers in Kenya on 30 October when he refused to obey the orders of Islamist militant hijackers.
Around ten armed Al Shabaab militants attempted to flag down the minibus as it left a construction site in Mandera city but the driver accelerated away. When he did not stop, the militants sprayed bullets at the minibus deflating a tyre.
Mandera County Commissioner, Onesmus Kyatha, said the driver’s “brave” actions “saved the lives of his passengers”. He added, “The driver is a local [therefore a Muslim] but most of the passengers were non-locals [therefore probably all Christians] whom we believe were the target.” The passengers reportedly lay on the floor as they heard the bullets hit the minibus.
Al Shabaab is fighting to establish a fully Islamic state in Somalia and neighbouring regions with significant ethnic Somali populations, such as north-east Kenya. The group has carried out numerous attacks in Kenya, and on its Christian residents, since 2011 when the Kenyan government sent troops into Somalia to counter terrorist activity.
Thank God for the Muslim minibus driver whose bravery saved his Christian passengers. He would most likely have been spared had he stopped and given up the Christians to the extremists; instead he selflessly risked his life for theirs. Pray that he will have a personal encounter with the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep (John 10:11). Ask that the driver’s courageous actions serve as an example to the extremist militants and lead them to turn away from violence.
Turkey – Public outcry over anti-Christian and anti-Semitic billboards
A public outcry in Turkey over anti-Christian and anti-Semitic billboards displaying a quote from the Quran declaring that Muslims should not befriend Christians or Jews, has led to their removal by authorities.
The billboards, which were displayed at bus stops throughout the city of Konya, had a drawing of a Christian cross and Jewish star of David splattered with blood next to chapter 5 verse 51 of the Quran that states, “Do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies.” The quote goes on to state, “They are [in fact] allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you – then indeed, he is [one] of them. Indeed, Allah guides not the wrongdoing people.”
Concerned members of the public complained that the posters could incite religious hatred and that the content was “hateful” to religious minorities. Both Jews and Christians are tiny minorities in this 98% Muslim country.
Pray for peaceful relations between all religious groups in Turkey. Give thanks that the protests against the posters were heeded by the authorities and they were taken down. Ask that the Lord will protect His people there and grant them His wisdom to be full of mercy and good fruit (James 3:17).
Uzbekistan – Church registration increases could signal greater freedoms for Christians
Church registrations are increasing in Uzbekistan, with three churches validated in September and up to five more registrations expected to be finalised in October. An unregistered church is acting illegally whenever it holds worship services or prayer meetings, but registration has been very hard to obtain until recently. The first church registration in the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan, where penalties for Christian worship were previously harsher than in the rest of Uzbekistan, is expected within weeks.
The rise in registrations could signal greater religious freedoms for Christians under President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who was elected into office in the Muslim-majority country in December 2016. President Mirziyoyev is expected to introduce a new religious law soon, under which the membership requirement for church registration will be lowered from 100 members to 50.
A Barnabas contact said the long hoped for registration increase was “hard to believe”. He added that, in some cities, the authorities had even approached pastors to offer to help them navigate the process of proving church buildings meet strict registration requirements. Remarkably, the church registrations were broadcast on national television in a report featuring an interview with a pastor and footage of a church service.
Before Mirziyoyev’s election, Uzbekistan was known for its harsh treatment of Christians. But within the first year of his leadership, the first 3,000 Uzbek Bibles, partly funded by Barnabas, were sold legally in the country and official celebrations were held to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Fines imposed on Christians by the courts were also lower and many cases against unregistered churches were dropped.
However, the increasing numbers of foreign missionaries working in Uzbekistan prompted the Religious Affairs Committee to issue a statement on 16 October describing Christian missionary work as “one of the problematic issues of our time”. It pledged to look at measures to combat proselytism, which remains illegal in the country, at its next meeting. Under Article 240/3 of the Uzbek law, non-Islamic proselytism is punishable by a fine, compulsory community service of up to 360 hours or a maximum jail term of three years.
Lift up the Church in Uzbekistan where an increase in registrations is truly an answer to prayer (Psalm 66:19). Pray that President Mirziyoyev will continue to be receptive to the Church and permit further reforms allowing Christians greater freedoms to practise their faith openly without threat of punishment. Pray that they may also be allowed to share their faith without threat of punishment – at the moment evangelism is still illegal. Ask that the churches across Uzbekistan are strengthened in the faith and continue to grow in numbers (Acts 16:5).
Russia – Christian wins a landmark case over right to worship in private homes
Christian Olga Glamozdinova won a landmark legal case on 14 November when the Russian Constitutional Court in St Petersburg ruled that worship services can take place in private houses. The judgment, which will have significant implications for religious freedom in Russia, stated that homes should satisfy not only the material needs of citizens but also their spiritual needs.
Olga went to court on 8 October to challenge a fine of 10,000 rubles (£122; $155; €140) imposed by the authorities for allowing her house to be used by her Protestant church for worship services. She argued the decision violated her “right to freedom of conscience and religious confession”, as well as her right to freely own and dispose of her property.
Olga’s lawyer, Vladimir Riakhovsky, said he could show to the court at least a dozen similar cases, where land designation had been used to restrict the rights of Protestant Christians. Riakhovsky said Olga’s case exposed a “legal ambiguity” that was being used to stifle freedom of conscience and religious associations.
In January 2017, Olga began allowing her fellow church members to meet in the house she owns in the village of Veselyi, Rostov Oblast, once a week for a four-hour worship service. She also registered the church at the house, which is built on land designated for “private farming”. Nine months later, in September 2017, district officials fined her for “use of the land for unintended purposes”, a decision later upheld in two court hearings.
Christian leaders in the Russian port city of Novorossiysk will welcome the court ruling. They were planning to legally challenge the closure, in July 2019, of a local Baptist Church and said they were prepared to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. They described the shutdown as a “flagrant violation” of the 1997 Religion Law and the Russian Constitution as it “prevents believers from coming together to profess their faith”.
Legislative confusion, combined with Protestant congregations finding it “practically impossible” to get permission to construct church buildings, has often meant that there is no alternative but to meet in residential buildings. However, it was not permitted to register existing residential buildings as churches. This contradiction was placing individual churches under an increasing threat of closure from the authorities.
Give thanks for the courage and determination of Olga Glamozdinova who, in the strength of the Lord, took on the authorities and won a victory for religious freedom (Philippians 4:13). Pray that the ruling will encourage Christians in Russia and fortify congregations, allowing them to put down firm foundations with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). Ask that local authorities will heed the ruling and allow churches to worship in private homes in peace. Pray also that the ruling will empower Christian leaders in Novorossiysk in their efforts to reopen the local Baptist Church.