Rejoice with Sudanese Christians at the dramatic change that happened in their country earlier this year when the death sentence for apostasy from Islam was abolished by the passing of the Miscellaneous Amendments Act. Sudan was one of the few modern countries that implemented this part of classical Islamic sharia, but now this threat no longer hangs over converts from Islam to Christianity. Praise God, who is able to overturn and reverse any situation (Luke 1: 51-53), and pray that many more Sudanese Muslims will now feel able to take the step of deciding to follow Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour.
There has been an angry backlash by Islamists in Sudan against the Miscellaneous Amendments Act (see above) which includes many changes to move Sudan away from a very strict form of Islam. One Islamist cleric, in a series of tweets, described the government as waging “a war against virtues, and an aggression against the nation’s religion and identity.” He said that “uprooting this obscene government is a mandatory duty and obligation of every capable person”. Another condemned the government in the strongest possible Islamic terms when he said that the government “came to fight Allah and his messenger [i.e. Muhammad]”. Pray that calls for a violent return to the stricter Islam that dominated Sudan for three decades will not be heeded. Pray for the protection of the Sudanese Minister of Justice, Mr Nasr al-Din Abdel Bari, who was the prime mover behind the increased liberties provided by the new law. As a moderate Muslim, keen to ensure religious liberty and equality of all citizens, he will be a target of the Islamists, just as Christians are.
The period 15 July to 15 September was predicted to be critical for locusts in Pakistan, based on the monsoon and the fact that the government’s resources were mainly committed to anti-coronavirus measures. An earlier surge from 22 June to 10 July had seen lower numbers of the voracious insects than expected in Pakistan; a variety of weather-related reasons were suggested for this pleasant surprise, but could it have been an answer to the prayers of God’s people? Keep praying that He will disperse the locusts safely from Pakistan and all other countries at risk.
Praise God with us for the generosity of Barnabas Fund supporters, which has enabled us to send practical help to over 600,000 Christians affected by the covid crisis, locusts or both. For many Christians, these natural disasters came on top of anti-Christian harassment and persecution that were a normal part of daily life. When Nigerian mother “Rebecca” was given her Barnabas Covid food aid, she began to cry. Pointing to one of her children, she said, “Feeding these ones has been a challenge since their father was killed by the Fulani. The Lord who sent you, may He bless you too for this work of love.” Pray for this Christian family and many others afflicted by multiple hardships.
Praise God for a Fulani Muslim who came to the rescue of two Nigerian Christian missionaries dumped in the bush in Zamfara state by their kidnappers on 15 July, after two months in captivity. Pastor Zakka Ibrahim and Samuel Mabas had spent two days trekking around in heavy rain without food before their rescuer found them. The Fulani man cared for them for two days and then took them to church leaders. Praise God for this brave and compassionate action by the unnamed Muslim. Pray for the safe release of a third Christian who had been kidnapped with the two missionaries in May but was not released with them; he is a convert from Islam.
O God, our refuge and our strength, our very present help in time of trouble, have mercy on our brothers and sisters around the world who live with the reality of anti-Christian violence. We pray for the countless thousands who have been injured or bereaved, who have had to flee their homes and livelihoods. Comfort them with the reality of Your presence, protect them like a mighty fortress, and make the escalating violence cease. May the Name of Your Son Jesus Christ be glorified as Christian victims of violence forgive and love their persecutors, just as He did. (Psalm 46)
Heavily armed jihadists on motorcycles killed 27 people in three attacks on mainly Christian villages in central Mali around 26 May. Some of the victims were burnt alive. Last year, 2019, was the worst for extremist violence in Mali for the last seven years. Pray that 2020 will not outstrip 2019 in Islamist violence. Ask the Lord Jesus that our brothers and sisters in Mali will not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul (Matthew 10:28).
Christians were amongst those targeted and killed when jihadists launched three attacks within 48 hours in Burkina Faso at the end of May. At least 58 people died. A survivor described how he was travelling in an ambulance in a convoy when it was attacked. The ambulance driver shouted out, “Forgive, forgive, we are followers of the prophet Muhammad.” This apparently caused the Muslim gunmen to halt their attack on that particular vehicle. Pray for all bereaved through this violence and especially for the bereaved Christians that, with God’s help, they may set an example of true forgiveness, as they forgive their persecutors. (Matthew 6:14)
Armed with machetes, Islamist militants of the Allied Democratic Forces attacked Samboko village in the mainly Christian north-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo on 26 May, killing more than 40. The previous day, 17 people had died when a nearby village was attacked. Pray for the bereaved families that the Lord will wipe every tear from their eyes and that they will be comforted by the knowledge that one day they will join their loved ones in the Lord’s presence, where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4).
Shafqat and his wife Shagufta were sentenced to death six years ago after being found guilty of “blasphemy” in regard to a text message that a Muslim received on his phone while praying at the mosque. The Pakistani Christian couple are illiterate and cannot even write Urdu, let alone English, the language used in the text message. They believe this accusation was concocted by a Muslim neighbour who had become hostile to them after his children had a minor quarrel with their own children. Pray that their legal appeal against the conviction and death sentences will be successful; the next hearing is due to take place tomorrow. Pray also for their protection and that of their brave Muslim lawyer, Saif-ul-Mulook, who also defended Aasia Bibi when she was in the same position.
Vulnerable Christians across China are being denied government welfare payments because their homes display their faith. An 80-year-old woman was forced to cover up her cross, otherwise her pension would have been stopped. A widow in her 60s, who refused when she was ordered to take down her Christian pictures and believe in the communist party instead of God, found that her pension subsidy stopped two months later. A paralysed patient in a nursing home was threatened with losing the government support that paid his housing, food and medical care, as officials tore down the pictures of Jesus in his room. Pray for our elderly and infirm brothers and sisters facing such situations that Christ’s grace will be sufficient for them, and His power be made perfect in their weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Chinese Christians at a church in Linfen, Shanxi province, voted to elect members for the church management committee. But officials of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) overturned the vote and forced them to accept two CCP-approved candidates on to the committee. At a church in Yuzhou city, Henan province, a CCP-supporting preacher was put in charge by government officials. In ways like this, the communist party controls the state-registered churches in China. Praise God that His Spirit moves where He pleases and cannot be excluded by any human decision (John 3:8).
Lord Jesus Christ, we praise You for the faithfulness of Christians in China in the midst of growing persecution, when worship services are attacked, church buildings are demolished, digital surveillance tracks their every move, and elderly believers are deprived of their pensions. Please give them strength and grace to bear their suffering. May Your people show Your character in their lives. May they bring peace, love, joy and harmony to their society, and show to the communist authorities of China the reality of Your presence and power.
Two church buildings were demolished by the Chinese authorities in Henan province in late May. Both were state-registered (“three-self”) churches. One was demolished late at night to make room for a new road, the other early in the morning to make room for a new canal. The congregations had been looking forward to their buildings being re-opened soon for worship, after coronavirus lockdown had been lifted. “It feels worse than seeing my house being demolished,” said one church member, in tears. Many people believe the road and canal were only pretexts and the aim was to persecute the Christians. Pray that Chinese Christians will not be afraid when they see their earthly buildings destroyed, remembering that their heavenly Father has given them the Kingdom. (Luke 12:32)
At least three Turkish church buildings were attacked in a period of one month. In one incident someone set fire to the door of a church in Istanbul because he blamed Armenians for coronavirus. In another a man wrenched off the cross from the gates of a different Armenian church in Istanbul. After the third attack, Turkish president Erdogan pledged to do everything possible to protect “peace and harmony” between Turkish Muslims who form at least 99% of the population, and the religious minorities. Pray that this peace and harmony will be that of respectful equals, not the peace and harmony of a classical Islamic state, in which non-Muslims are fought unless they submit to demeaning regulations.
On 10 July President Erdogan of Turkey signed a decree that Hagia Sophia in Istanbul should re-open as a mosque two weeks later. The world-famous building is almost 1,500 years old. Originally a Christian cathedral, it was changed to a mosque (and the four minarets added) after the capture of Istanbul (then called Constantinople) by the Muslim Ottoman armies in 1453. In 1935 it was converted into a museum on the orders of Kemal Ataturk, who founded Turkey’s secular republic almost 100 years ago. This provocative action by Erdogan seems to indicate that he now feels strong enough to bring an end to the secularism of Turkey and push onwards even more publicly with his long process of Islamisation and Ottomanisation. It is more than likely that part of this process is intended to be the subjugation of Christians as dhimmi. Pray that Christians in Turkey will not forsake the Lord, even if their liberty and security are increasingly eroded.
The Istanbul Protestant Church Foundation issued a public appeal to the Turkish government on 19 June asking for tight new residency restrictions imposed on foreign pastors to be lifted. Many churches in Turkey have long looked overseas to fulfil church leadership roles because opportunities for appropriate training in Turkey have been severely limited. Ask the Good Shepherd to provide shepherds from wherever He chooses for God’s flock in Turkey, who greatly need good leadership and good examples to follow in this time of increasing pressure. (1 Peter 5:3)
Around the beginning of 2020 the government of Myanmar (Burma) closed access by road and water to parts of Chin state, thus cutting off food supplies. They also blocked internet and mobile phone services. The government was apparently targeting the fighters of the Arakan Army, a rebel group of Buddhists from the Rakhine ethnic group, but did not seem to care that innocent Chin civilians were affected. The Chin ethnic group are about 90% Christian. Chin charities tried to deliver rice (the staple food) to the blockaded villages but as of late June had not yet been able to get permission from the army to do so. Pray for our hungry brothers and sisters that Jehovah Jireh (The Lord will provide) will meet their needs. (Genesis 22:14)
Fitri, a young mother, used to live in Aceh, the most Islamic part of Indonesia. She had a dream about Jesus, began attending church and decided to leave Islam, become a Christian and be baptised. Because of her conversion, her Muslim husband divorced her. She took her daughters, now aged 6 and 3, to live in another part of Indonesia and repeatedly refused her family’s demands to return to Islam and to Aceh. “Jesus is my path,” she kept saying and assured the family that she had converted of her own free will and had not been brainwashed. But relatives managed to snatch the children away from Fitri, and they are probably now in an Islamic boarding school in Aceh. Please pray that the little girls will be restored to their mother, who has re-married to a Christian man.
We praise You, our Lord and our God, for Your Church in India, which continues to grow even as violence and persecution grow. We ask Your special blessing on the many Christians from the lowest strata of the caste system, who are despised and discriminated against partly because they love and follow the Lord Jesus and partly because of their hereditary position in society; they have suffered terribly during Covid lockdown. May they know themselves to be chosen and loved by You, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to the living God. We pray this in the Name of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:9-10)
A Christian father and son were beaten to death by Indian police and Hindu extremists in Tamil Nadu state in June. Jeyaraj (59) and his son Emmanuel (31) were arrested on a charge of breaking Covid-19 regulations by keeping their mobile phone shop open outside permitted hours. But CCTV footage showed that all the shops in the area were open at the time of their arrest. The CCTV also showed no sign of the pair having any injuries prior to their arrest, as claimed by the police. Pray that the doubly bereaved family, who have lost their beloved Emmanuel, will know the presence of Immanuel (God with us) whom no one can take away from them. (Matthew 1:23)
Indian martyrs Jeyaraj and Emmanuel (see above) belonged to the Nadar people, who were originally one of the lower strata of the Hindu caste system in Tamil Nadu but are now well educated and some have important positions in government and business. There was a mass movement of conversions to Christianity amongst the Nadars in the 19th century and now there are thought to be nearly two million Nadar Christians. They are peaceable and active in sharing their Christian faith, sending out thousands of missionaries across India. They are also active in protesting against injustice. Many Christians believe that the killing of the Nadar Christian father and son was intended as a warning to other Nadar Christians to teach them who is in control (i.e. the Hindu extremists). Pray that Nadar Christians will take courage from remembering that not one sparrow can fall to the ground apart from the will of their Father, and that they are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31)
A prominent Hindu spiritual leader has recommended that all non-Muslims in India should identify as Hindus. The Shankaracharya of Puri in Odisha state called for amendments to Article 25 of the Indian constitution, which currently grants citizens freedom to profess, practise and propagate their religion. Reportedly, he did not mention Christians in his speech, but logically they would have been included in those he thought should now consider themselves Hindus. Pray that Hindu and other voices will speak up for religious liberty and freedom of conscience in India.
A partially-sighted Indian pastor spoke publicly of how he and his congregation forgave whoever had set fire to their thatched church building in June and reduced it to a roofless burnt-out shell. It was impossible that the fire had started due to an electrical fault as the building, in a rural area of Tamil Nadu state, has no mains power. Although rechargeable batteries would be brought to the church for use during worship services, they were always taken away again afterwards and no services had been held for three months due to Covid lockdown. Thank the Lord for this testimony by Pastor Ramesh Jebaraj and pray that it may speak powerfully to non-Christians.
Rural pastors of small independent churches in India are often very poor, and when lockdown prevented Christians gathering they no longer received the donations on which they used to live. While pastors in many other parts of the world were rejoicing in large congregations following their services or sermons online during lockdown, many Indian pastors could not do this. Either they did not have enough money both to feed their family and to pay for data on the internet, or they did not even have a smart phone in the first place. In some states, rural pastors were not issued with the government ration card that enables poor households to purchase subsidised food. The trauma of all this is taking its toll on them. Please pray that the Lord will sustain His servants, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Samaru Madkami (14) and his family converted to Christianity a few years ago. In due course, his father became a church elder and Samaru was very active in sharing his faith with other children and young people. On 4 June, a group of people persuaded Samaru to meet them in the jungle, near his village in Odisha state, India. They tortured him, killed him and buried his body. Anti-Christian violence was already an ever-present possibility in the village. Samaru’s father had received death threats and Samaru himself had anticipated that their pastor might be targeted, boldly promising to take his place: “If anything happens to my pastor, I will not fear. I will take charge of Pastor’s work and serve the Lord.” As all who loved Samaru walk through the valley of the shadow of his death, pray that they will fear no evil, remembering that the Lord, their Shepherd, is with them to comfort them. (Psalm 23:4)
O Lord God, we praise and thank You for our fellow Christians, who have laid down their lives for the sake of Christ, and have joined the great multitude in white robes who worship the Lamb on the throne. Please grant that, if we are brought to the time of trial, we too may be faithful unto death. We pray that their grieving families may find great comfort in knowing that their loved ones did not die a meaningless death, but had the honour of being martyred for Christ. (Revelation 7:9-17)
On the night of 18 July, when Pastor John Mutthu was away from home for a funeral service, a mob gathered outside his church and threw a petrol bomb on to the roof. His wife and child were sleeping inside but, thankfully, were not hurt. The church, which is in Uva province, Sri Lanka, has suffered frequent persecution. Pray that the police will act to protect this small group of believers.
Islamist terrorist violence, mainly perpetrated by ASWJ (Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama ), continues in northern Mozambique. A Kenyan missionary, who had been sharing the Gospel with Muslims in the area, reported on 29 June, listing all the church properties and homes of Christian workers which had been burnt in the previous couple of days. Many people had already fled, so the death/kidnapping toll was relatively low. When ASWJ do kill, it is typically in a grotesquely savage way with bodies hacked to pieces, leaving heads and limbs strewn everywhere. The Mozambican government seems unable to stop the terrorism, partly because the army and the police are fierce rivals and do not cooperate. ASWJ has warned South Africa that if she sends her armed forces to support the Mozambican authorities, ASWJ will “open a fighting front” in South Africa. Ask the Lord God almighty to bring deliverance, peace and stability.
The US Supreme Court voted on 30 June to quash an 1889 legal clause that had prevented public funding from going to religious schools. The case was brought by three mothers after they were prevented from using a $150 (£120; €130) tax credit towards tuition at a Christian school in Montana state. Earlier the same month campaigners claimed a victory for religious liberty when Ohio state passed a law that restored the right of students at public schools (i.e. government-funded schools) to express their faith in their homework. The Ohio law also ensured that pupils could pray together on school premises, and express their faith in school, as long as they were not disruptive. Although about 70% of Americans describe themselves as Christians and freedom of religion is guaranteed in the First Amendment to the US constitution, there are many restrictions against the expression of religion in public schools. Thank the Lord for these changes, which will make life easier for Christian schoolchildren.