Prayer Focus Update January 2021

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” - Philippians 4:7

 

North Korea – Brave Christian believers give accounts of torture in harsh labour camps

Exiled North Koreans, some of whom survived incarceration in the country’s “re-education” camps, were interviewed by the London-based campaign group, Korea Future Initiative. The 215 Christian victims of persecution, identified in the report, ranged in age from three to 80. Their harrowing testimonies of arbitrary arrest, interrogation and sustained torture show that, while the regime of Kim Jong-Un punishes all religious believers, the harshest punishments are often reserved for Christians.

Christians, at times entire families, sent to the camps endured regular beatings, torture and starvation. One survivor said they were fed only a soup made of water, salt and sand. “Prisoners caught picking and eating grass from the field were beaten with a shovel,” the survivor said.

Particularly inhumane forms of torture were inflicted by prison guards. In one case a Christian convert was forced inside a tiny steel cage, about 1 metre high and 1 metre wide, with metal bars heated by an electric current. “Usually prisoners lasted only three to four hours in the cage, but I sat there for 12 hours and prayed,” said the survivor. “I kept praying for God to save me.” Eventually he passed out, but when he came round he realised he had been beaten while unconscious and had severe injuries to his face and leg.

Other tortures described by the exiles included hanging on steel bars while being beaten, being tightly bound with sticks, having liquid made with red pepper poured into their nostrils, kneeling with a wooden bar inserted between their knee hollows, strangulation and sleep deprivation.

“Men were beaten like dogs,” said a Christian woman

Harrowing accounts are given of pregnant women forced to undergo abortions. A witness described how babies who survived at birth were suffocated by guards and their tiny bodies thrown in cupboards until burial.

Death rates are high among prisoners and corpses were burned every three days. “The cremated body ash was scattered on the field and the whole field was black when it rained in the summer because the body oils resurfaced,” a survivor said. “When they planted spinach, it would grow thick and tall.”

Survivors remain mentally scarred by the cruelty they suffered and saw. “These experiences remain with me as trauma. I have nightmares in the middle of the night … The memory of living among a pile of corpses is still there.”

Despite their suffering, courageous believers helped support non-Christian prisoners, even though they knew that discovery would result in a severe beating. One interviewee recalled how a Christian prisoner told her, “God had sent me here for you.” The survivor said, “Eventually I listened to her … she was a light that came and warmed me when I was drowning in my sorrow … I would have killed myself if it were not for her.”

Another witness described the courage of two families arrested and detained for worshipping at an underground church. After the younger children were forcibly placed into care, the group continued to pray together silently in their cells. “I asked them whether they were afraid,” said the witness. “They just smiled. [One victim] said she was not frightened and told me, ‘Jesus looks over us.’ I began to cry because I knew what would happen to people like her, but she told me not to worry. The children did not cry either. They were smiling. The next day they were all sent to Chongjin Susong political prison camp.”

Pray that the many North Korean Christians imprisoned for their faith will remain strong in the mighty power of the Lord (Ephesians 6:10), knowing that their labour in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). Ask that Christians in the camps will be a shining light to other prisoners. Pray that the prison guards and authorities committing such atrocities will fall before the Prince of Peace, asking, “What must I do to be saved?” (Act 16:29).

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Pakistan – Christian girls and women

In November, Sonia Bibi, a Christian domestic servant, was shot dead by her Muslim suitor after refusing to convert to Islam in order to marry him. The 24-year-old was shot in the head in a street in Rawalpindi, Punjab province, and died on her way to hospital.

Allah Rakha Masih, her father, said his daughter was murdered for refusing the marriage proposal of her Muslim suitor, Shehzad, who had been following her for the past five months. “They were Muslims and we are Christians. That’s the reason I refused,” he said. After being refused, Shehzad threatened to kill Sonia.

Sonia’s father added, “We are Christians from generations, and Sonia was a true Christian and strong in her faith and she has been killed for following her Christian faith.” Shehzad has not yet been arrested.

A Pakistani Christian girl who was kidnapped and forced to marry her Muslim abductor has, in a welcome move by authorities, been reunited with her family after nearly six months.

Twelve-year-old Farah Shaheen was recovered by police on 5 December, after being found in a locked room with injuries to her hands and feet. A Barnabas Fund contact reported that Farah had been tortured by her abductor and was often kept locked in a room. “She is very happy to be back with her family,” the contact added.

Farah was forced to convert to Islam and marry her 45-year-old Muslim kidnapper, Khizar Hayat, three days after she was snatched in Faisalabad, on 25 June 2020.

She was rescued after orders were issued by the Punjab court, though it is unclear what led to the court’s unexpected decision after months of delay and inaction from the authorities and the police.

The girl’s father, Asif Masih, was refused permission by the police to file an official complaint until September.

Rather than registering a case against the kidnapper, a policeman told Asif Masih to forget about his daughter and be happy that she had been converted to Islam. Another officer called Asif Masih a chuhra, a term of derision commonly taken to mean latrine cleaner that is often used to insult Christians, saying, “Christians are meant to clean gutters not to sit in offices.”

Alleged abductor of Christian girl Arzoo to be tried for rape

The Muslim man who allegedly kidnapped Pakistani Christian girl Arzoo Raja, before forcing her into marriage, is to face a charge of rape, a magistrate ruled on 9 December.

The court also ordered the police to reinvestigate the legality of the forced conversion to Islam of Arzoo, who was 13 when she was allegedly snatched from her family home in Karachi’s Railway Colony on 13 October.

In November, Sindh High Court ruled that Arzoo is a minor and declared that her “marriage” to Azhar Ali is illegal.

Ask that the Lord will protect the Christian young women and girls in Pakistan, those who are most vulnerable. Pray that He will hide them in the shadow of His wings (Psalm 17:8). Ask that authorities in the country, the police and the courts will be just. Lift up the survivors of abduction and rape, and the many that are still held captive, ask that they will cast all their anxiety on the Lord because He cares for them (1 Peter 5:7).

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Egypt – Muslim neighbours protect Christian family from extremist mob when violence erupted in village after “insulting” Facebook post

A Muslim mob took to the streets in al-Barsha village, Minya governorate, Upper Egypt, attacking Christian homes and the church of Abu-Seifein, in violent retaliation to a Facebook comment deemed insulting to Muhammad, which they said had been posted by a Christian man, Girgis Sameeh. Girgis explained that his page had been hacked.

Stones and Molotov cocktails were thrown as part of the violence, which took place on the evening of 25 November. As many as 130 Muslims and Christians were arrested by the police during the incident.

The mob made attempts to attack Girgis’s family home but were unable to reach it as the family’s Muslim neighbours stepped in to protect them. The family was not hurt in the violence.

Property damages incurred by the Christians in the village include the burning down of a stable, theft of cattle, damage to a bus belonging to the church and the shattering of a number of windows.

In subsequent hostilities on the night of 29 November, six farm huts and yards owned by Christians were burnt by Muslim villagers. Some Muslim extremists are calling for a boycott of trade and commercial activity with the Christian community.

Praise the Lord for the protection provided to Girgis Sameeh’s family by their Muslim neighbours, and ask that the Muslim neighbours will be protected from retaliation from other Muslims.

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Indonesia – Islamist militants brutally murder four Christians in remote village

Four Christians were killed in a brutal attack by Islamist militants on a church and homes in a remote Christian community and Salvation Army post on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi on 27 November.

In the raid on Lemban Tongoa, in Central Sulawesi, a gang of around ten militants armed with guns and knives beheaded one victim, slit the throat of a second and broke the neck of a third. A fourth victim was burnt to death. All four of the victims were church members and belonged to the same extended family.

The terrorists also razed the church building and set six village homes on fire. A number of local residents, some injured, fled into the forest to escape the attackers.

Regional contacts report that the attack was perpetrated by the East Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT), an extremist Islamist terror group. Police have launched a major investigation.

Pray for the survivors and families of those killed, that, though they may be broken-hearted and crushed in spirit, the Lord will be close (Psalm 34:18). Lift up the police and security personnel who are pursuing the militants; a Barnabas contact asked that we pray that the Lord will protect them and enable them to find the perpetrators quickly. Pray that the East Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT), and its leader Ali Kalora, and similar extremist Islamist terror groups, will turn from their violence and believe in the Gospel (Mark 1:15).