Praying for the Persecuted Church

Each week we will tell the story of believers being persecuted for their faith.  Please include the people in this story, along with persecuted people around the world, in your prayers.

22 February 2018

CHINA: Officials Auction Church to Pay Fine

Authorities forcibly sold three sites of the largest house church in the capital China’s southern Guizhou province Sunday, only informing the owners on the day of the auction.

On 11 February, Su Tianfu, pastor of Huoshi Church, the largest house church in Guiyang, Guizhou, received a notice from the Baiyun District Court, saying that the Nanming District Religious Affairs Bureau had demanded that he fulfil his obligation to pay a fine of more than 7 million yuan.

Su, along with imprisoned Huoshi Church Pastor Yang Hua, were first notified of the fine last May, which authorities claimed they incurred because they took that amount in “illegal income”. The pastors, however, maintained that the money had been freely donated by the church’s congregation and only used on church expenses. They appealed several times until the court handed them a definitive verdict, making the fine mandatory.

Authorities hired an assessment company on 23 January and the organization ruled that the church’s total property, including the items inside it, were worth 5.36 million yuan. The court subsequently granted the company permission to auction the church and its property, with the final sale going to the “state-owned enterprise” Nanming Investment Group for 5.12 million yuan on 11 February.

When Wang Hongwu, the wife of Yang, heard that the property had been sold, she speculated that officials may soon accuse Pastor Su of “divulging state secrets,” as they did her husband when he attempted to prevent them from confiscating a church hard drive. Yang is currently serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence and has faced torture and severe illness while in prison.

Source: China Aid

  • Ask the Lord to uphold Pastor Su at this time of shock and disappointment. Pray the Lord’s protection will be upon him and that words of wisdom may be granted as he deals with those in authority.
  • Pray the church members will be all the more determined to meet together and encourage one another.
  • Pray for Pastor Yang in prison; ask the Lord to grant him the physical, emotional and spiritual strength he needs.

 

15 February 2018

MYANMAR: Pray for the Family of Murdered Christian

‘Than’ a 37-year-old Christian father of five, was brutally murdered by unknown attackers recently. His wife, Aung, discovered his body on the side of the road, covered in blood, as she returned from collecting firewood for cooking.

Than’s killers had slit his wrists, stabbed him in the chest and beat him severely.

In early 2017, a villager known to hate Christians told Than’s family that it wasn’t wise for them to live in the animist village. And about a month before his murder, several members of the Palaung Army had visited the village several times and questioned villagers. The soldiers tried to get Than to buy drugs for them, but he refused.

The family has been shunned ever since Than and Aung accepted Christ and were baptized in 2008.

Source: The Voice of the Martyrs USA

  • Pray that God will meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of Than’s family and that they will remain firm in their faith.
  • Ask God to use this tragedy to draw many to Himself; may he also encourage the faith of other believers in the area who face opposition.
  • Pray for the perpetrators, ask the Lord to remove the violence and hatred from their hearts and pour a new Spirit into them.

 

24 January 2018

CHINA: Christians arrested in “cult” crackdown

A crackdown on “cults” in Yunnan province has led to mass arrests of Christians – with many now facing long jail sentences.

Six members of a church in the Lincang area have just been handed sentences of up to 13 years – after a court convicted them of being part of a “dangerous sect”.

The sentencing of Lincang Christians last week is the latest fallout of a coordinated campaign against the so-called Three Grades of Servants organization which began in 2016. Officials used the campaign as a pretext to round up about 200 Christians across Yunnan: some Christians have already been convicted, while others are awaiting trial.

The authorities have recently told some of the lawyers defending church members that they are suspected of defending their clients “illegally” and that their qualifications will be “reviewed”.

Meanwhile, the Chinese judiciary in neighboring Guizhou province is putting severe pressure on house church Christians. A court has just upheld a decision to fine Pastor Yang Hua and Pastor Su Tianfu of Huoshi Church almost $1,400,300 after decreeing that church offerings were “illegal income”.

Source: Release International

  • Please pray for justice for the six Christians from Yunnan who have just been given hefty sentences: Ju Dianhong (13 years), Liang Qin (ten years) and Zhang Hongyan, Zi Huimei, Yang Shunxiang and Zhang Shaocai, whose sentences range from four to eight years.
  • Please pray that Yunnan officials will realize the fundamental importance of religious freedom and see that Christians pose no danger to the state.
  • Ask God to flood Pastor Yang Hua’s prison cell and Su Tianfu’s home with His presence and peace. Pray that the church offerings will not have to be paid to the state.

 

18 January 2018

IRAN: Christians Receive Eight Year Sentences

Two Iranian Christians were sentenced to a total of eight years in prison by a revolutionary court in December 2017, after being convicted of national security-related crimes.

Suroush Saraie and Eskandar Rezaie, who are both members of the Church of Iran denomination, each received seven-year sentences for “creating a group that works against national security” and an additional year for “propaganda against the state.” Both men are appealing the verdict, which was handed down on 28 December 2017 by the 4th Chamber of the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz.

During the same court hearing, a Christian woman named Zahra Norouzi Kashkouli was sentenced to a year in prison for “being a member of a group working against the system.” She too is appealing the sentence.

Article 23 of the Iranian constitution states that “the investigation of individuals’ beliefs is forbidden, and no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief.” Nevertheless, there has been a rise in arrests of members of minority faith communities since the advent of the Rouhani presidency, and Christians have routinely been charged with national security-related crimes in order to justify excessive sentences.

Saraie and Rezaie were initially arrested on 12 October 2012, along with five other Christians, during a raid on a prayer meeting. They were later found guilty “action against national security” and “propaganda against the order of the system,” for which Saraie received a two-and-a-half-year sentence on 16 July 2013. His sentence was upheld on appeal and he was jailed in July 2014. Rezaie was given a one-year sentence, which he began serving in July 2015.

Saraie was released early from Adelabad Prison in November 2015, and Rezaie was released during the same month.  However, Saraie and Rezaie were both rearrested in July 2017, and were returned to Adelabad Prison. They were released a few months later, after meeting bail payments of $95,000 (USD) and $140,000 (USD) respectively.

Source: Christian Solidarity Worldwide

  • Commit to the Lord Saraie, Rezaie and Kashkouli. Ask God to draw their focus to Him and not allow them to despair. May the Lord use them as an effective witness to all who hear of their situation.
  • Pray they will be filled afresh with His Holy Spirit, to be comforted and strengthened for this upcoming trial. Pray too for their legal representatives.
  • Praise God for church growth in Iran. May the believers be courageous in their faith. 

 

21 December 2017

LAOS: Standing for God at Christmas

Late last week, a local church from a small village in Laos was about to conduct a Christmas service when the police arrived.

The police were claiming the church did not have the necessary permission or paperwork, and they were there to shut down the service immediately. This came as a surprise to the church leaders as they had sought permission from the local government to have this service two weeks prior to the event.

The church leaders faced a dilemma; stop the Christmas service until the situation is clarified or continue with the service and risk persecution? They chose to stand for God!

Once the police become aware of the church leaders’ decision, they immediately arrested five of the church leaders and took them away to prison, where they still remain today. Other local church leaders are currently trying to negotiate with the local government for the release of the five leaders.

It is widely believed that the Laos Central Government are providing the local authorities and Ministry of Interior in those districts with strategies to stop the Christian movement.

Source: Voice of the Martyrs contacts

  • Pray for the five church leaders who are currently in prison; may the Lord give them courage and strength during this period.
  • Pray for the church, that their faith in the Lord will be increased and magnified during this difficult time of upheaval and turmoil.
  • Pray for Laos and its believers, that God will grant them peace and wisdom during trials or hardship and persecution.

 

30 November 2017

IRAN: Christian Convert Loses Appeal 

An Iranian convert to Christianity has had his 10-year prison sentence upheld after losing his appeal.

Naser Navard Gol-Tapeh was sentenced in May alongside three Azerbaijanis, Eldar Gurbanov, Yusif Farhadov and Bahram Nasibov, each were given 10-year sentences for “missionary activities” and “actions against national security” in Iran.

The four men were arrested in June 2016 after security agents raided a wedding party in Tehran. They spent four months in prison, but were then released on bail, after which the Azerbaijanis travelled home.

The three Azerbaijanis were allowed to leave Iran in November 2016 and are unlikely to be forced to return, despite their representatives failing to overturn their verdicts during the 12 November hearing.

Since May, 21 Christians have been sentenced to long prison terms in Iran, according to advocacy group Article 18.

Source: World Watch Monitor

  • Ask the Lord to minister to Naser and his family during this time of great trial; may they not despair but trust in the Lord above all things.
  • Ask the Lord to provide Naser and the other believers in prison with the physical and spiritual strength they need. May they be used by the Lord to be His witnesses to their fellow prisoners and guards.
  • Thank the Lord for the faithfulness of the Iranian church and the considerable church growth in this nation.

 

9 November 2017

INDONESIA: House Church Being Pressured to Close

A house church in East Java, Indonesia, is being pressured by local authorities and the Islamic group Wahidiyah to stop meeting in a pastor’s home.

Although neighbours did not initially object to the house church, some have begun to complain since authorities and the Islamic group publicly criticized the pastor for meeting without a religious permit.

The group of about 30 Christians is now meeting in another believer’s home to avoid conflict, and the pastor is scheduled to meet with village administrators and sign a letter agreeing to stop meeting in his home.

Source: The Voice of the Martyrs USA

  • Pray for the pastor as he interacts with area Islamic and government leaders. May he be led by the Spirit and be given words of wisdom.
  • Pray that the house church members will stand firm in their faith and share God’s love with others in
    their community.
  • Pray they will not give up meeting together but take every opportunity to encourage one another in the faith, worship the Lord and learn from His word.

 

2 November 2017

INDIA: Six Christian Leaders Recently Released

Six house church leaders were released on 16-17 October after being detained for a month on false charges that they forced Hindus to convert to Christianity.

The five men and one woman rejoiced that during their time in prison they were able to share the Gospel with fellow prisoners.

The arrests occurred soon after state officials in Jharkhand state passed the strictest anti-conversion law in India. This has caused many Christians in Jharkhand state to become increasingly fearful. With the implementation of this new law, in the future, an increase in the persecution of Christians is predicted.

Source: The Voice of the Martyrs USA

  • Pray that the faith of these six church leaders will remain strong and that they will use their testimony to share the Gospel unafraid.
  • Pray that God will use their testimony to encourage other believers to hold fast to their faith in Christ despite the challenges ahead.
  • Pray the Lord will fill His people with His Spirit so they will endure, remain faithful and that His church will grow throughout Jharkhand state and across India.

 

12 October 2017

Last month suspected Hindu radicals attacked an Assembly of God church in India's Karnataka state. After the attack, church attendance has plummeted as Christians in the area fear another attack.

It is not surprising that attacks are increasing in Karnataka as state elections are scheduled to occur early next year. Hindu hardline groups want to silence Christians and ensure that they are unable to practice their faith.

On the evening of 17 September, the attackers broke into the church through the roof and proceeded to burn church furniture and Christian literature. Pastor Naga Raja told International Christian Concern, "I have lost everything that was in the church. They burnt Bibles, Gospel literature, song books, and DVDs that were stocked in the church. They have even destroyed the church furniture and took away the PA system including speakers... ¦and carpets."

A First Incident Report (FIR) was registered at a local police station in Karnataka, but as of 9 October the culprits have still not been identified.

After the attack, church attendance dropped significantly. "On [a] normal Sunday, more than 100 Christians worshipped in my church," said Pastor Naga Raja, "but on the 24 [of] September 2017, not even 20 were at the church for worship. This is because they are terrified of the attack on the church."

Such attacks are not new in Karnataka. A similar attack occurred on 26 January. Pastor Basanna was brutally attacked by Hindu radicals who also burned his church's Bibles, furniture, and building.

In spite of India's constitutional guarantee of religious freedom, Christians continue to face threats and attacks. Christians often cannot exercise their freedom of religion, due to fear of being attacked.

Source: International Christian Concern

  • Pray that India's government will seek justice for persecuted religious minorities and begin protecting the rights of all, regardless of their religious affiliation.
  • Pray Pastor Naga Raja may bring encouragement to the congregation to help them to overcome the ordeal and return to church to worship the Lord and learn from His word.
  • Pray this incident may be used by the Lord to strengthen the faith of believers and make them ever reliant on Him.

 

INDIA: Violence Against Christians Increases

5 October 2017

VIETNAM: Pray for Christians Expelled from their Town

A group of Christians in central Vietnam have lost their homes and farmland because of their faith in Christ, but they remain faithful to the Lord.

Several families in the Central Highlands, including some former Communist Party members, have become Christians over the past few years through the witness of a VOM-supported evangelist. The new believers experienced ongoing harassment as a result; their coffee crops were destroyed; their livestock were killed and their food was stolen.

In 2015, local officials used a backhoe to push the believers' homes into a river, and the Christians were forced to relocate to another area and live in tents. The evangelist continues to visit them to provide encouragement. Though their new land was ill suited to farming, today it is thriving because of their hard work. "Even though they live in a difficult area, they go out to do evangelism," the evangelist said.

Source: The Voice of the Martyrs USA

  • Thank the Lord for the evangelist who brought the Gospel to these families.
  • Praise God for their faithfulness and perseverance. Pray He will use them as a strong witness for the Gospel.
  • Thank the Lord for His provision and pray He will continue to meet their needs.

 

14 September 2017

KENYA: Residents Call for Enhanced Security

Residents of Lamu County held protests on 6 and 7 September demanding enhanced security measures after four men were beheaded and several houses raided by suspected members of the Somali Islamist terror group, al Shabaab.

Residents were reportedly angered by police inaction after reporting the presence of suspicious men near Silini-Mashambani village on 5 September. The police reportedly failed to investigate the initial sighting, and later that day a woodcutter working in the nearby forest was killed by a heavily armed group who are suspected to have been members of al Shabaab.

Bobo village was subsequently attacked by an armed group at 1.30am on 6 September. Residents claim they called the police, but the majority of calls went unanswered. The few who were able to reach the police were informed that there were not enough officers available to respond to the attack.

The armed men reportedly called out residents by name, surrounding the village and preventing inhabitants from fleeing.

One resident informed Kenyan media that the attackers were not afraid of being caught: "They were taking their time. When they spoke, they didn't do it in hushed tones as someone afraid of being heard would. They spoke in normal tones. They ransacked houses and took what they wanted before killing."

Similar raids were perpetrated by al Shabaab on 18 August on Maleli Village. where at least three men were beheaded, and on 7 July on Jima and Pandanguo, where nine men were killed. These attacks occurred a matter of days after three police officers were killed in another nearby village.

As a result of the deteriorating security situation in the coastal region, a dusk to dawn curfew imposed in Lamu, Garissa, and Tana River counties following the attacks on 7 July will be in place at least until October.

Al Shabaab is reported to have set up permanent training bases in the Boni forest in mid-2012. The dense forest extends to the Somali border, and from it al Shabaab has launched attacks into the three counties. Although the area is now surrounded by three army bases, it appears the terrorists are still able to operate in defiance of the curfew.

Source: Christian Solidarity Worldwide

  • Commit to the Lord the families of those who were slain, pray they may experience His presence during this time of suffering and grief. Pray they will receive support and love from their friends and community.
  • Ask the Lord to give the believers courage to stand firm in their faith and trust in Him above all things.
  • Pray for strength and wisdom for Kenyan authorities. May they do more to protect vulnerable communities and bring perpetrators to justice. Pray for the members of al Shabaab.

 

7 September 2017

PAKISTAN: Christian Teenager Killed at School

A highly academic Christian teenager has been killed in his classroom in Pakistan.

Sharoon Masih from the Vehari District in the Punjab is said to have suffered years of institutional peer bullying and discrimination because of his faith.

Coming from a poor background, his parents saved up to pay for his education at MC Model Boys Government High School Burewala and District Vehari.

The only Christian in his class, Sharoon was regularly called derogatory names and threatened. He died in the classroom after reportedly being attacked by a mob.

The school's head teacher has since been dismissed, and the prime suspect has been arrested.

Speaking to the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), his mother Razia Bibi, said: "My son was a kind-hearted, hard-working and affable boy. He has always been loved by teachers and pupils alike and shared great sorrow that he was being targeted by students at his new school because of his faith.

"Sharoon and I cried every night as he described the daily torture he was subjected to. He only told me about the abuse and violence he was facing. He did not want to upset his father because he had such a caring heart for others." The BPCA is now offering financial assistance to Sharoon's family.

Sources: Premier, International Christian Concern

  • Thank the Lord for the extraordinary faithfulness of this young man who stood firm in his faith, though faced with lengthy opposition. Pray the Lord will use his testimony to strengthen the faith of other Christians in Pakistan.
  • Pray the family will be comforted by our Lord, may they take heart in the knowledge Sharoon is now with Him.
  • Pray for justice for this family. Pray the church throughout Pakistan may be strengthened by God.

 

24 August 2017

KENYA: Three Killed in al-Shabaab Attack

At least three men were beheaded and several houses torched on 18 August during an early morning raid on a village on the northern coast of Kenya by members of the Somali Islamist terror group, al-Shabaab.

The gunmen reportedly struck Maleli Village in Lamu County at around 12.30am on 18 August, targeting men but sparing women and children.  While villagers put the number killed in the raid at four, a local official has informed Kenyan media that three people died.

Similar overnight raids were perpetrated by al-Shabaab on 7 July on Jima and Pandanguo villages, located near Maleli, in which nine men were beheaded. According to survivors, the militants only targeted non-Muslim men. Some villagers also claimed they had informed police that al-Shabaab were in the area, but no action had been taken. These attacks occurred a matter of days after three police officers were killed in another nearby village.

A dusk to dawn curfew that was imposed in Lamu, Garissa and Tana River counties following the attacks on 7 July will now be in place for the next three months. Security forces are reported to be pursuing the assailants, who are believed to have hideouts and training grounds in the dense Boni Forest, which extends to the Somali border, and from where al-Shabaab has launched attacks into the three counties.

Al-Shabaab is reported to have set up permanent training bases in the Boni forest in mid-2012. Although their area is now surrounded by three army bases, according to a member of the local community, the group continues to cause "untold suffering" and is "having a field day" inside the forest without any fear of the soldiers and the police.

Since May, the terrorist group has ramped up attacks on Kenya. Over 50 people have been killed in ambushes or by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Garissa, Mandera, and Lamu, with many more injured. Several have also been abducted.

Source: Christian Solidarity Worldwide

  • Commit to the Lord the grieving families of those who were slain. Ask God to help them during their time of suffering. May they feel the Lord's ministering presence and be comforted.
  • Pray for the police, military and all those in authority who are trying to protect civilians, liberate captives and stop the violence.
  • Pray for the members of al-Shabbab, may the Lord have mercy on them. Ask the Holy Spirit to be at work, replacing hearts of stone with hearts of flesh; bringing true conviction, repentance and salvation.

 

17 August 2017

ERITREA: Christian Mother Dies in Prison

Fikadu Debesay, who was detained with her husband in May during raids targeting Evangelical Christians in Adi Quala town, Eritrea, has died in incarceration.

The mother of three reportedly died last week in Metkel Abiet, a desert camp situated between the towns of Gahtelai and Shieb in the Northern Red Sea Region, and was buried on 10 August in Mendefera. While the cause of her death is as yet unknown, the camp where she was detained is situated in an area known for its oppressive heat and aridity.

A campaign of house to house raids targeting members of non-sanctioned churches was initiated in several towns in May this year. This marks a significant intensification of a crackdown that has been ongoing since May 2002, when the Eritrean government effectively outlawed religious practices not affiliated with the Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran and Orthodox Christian denominations or Sunni Islam.

Arrests are occurring monthly. During the first week of August, 23 Christians were rounded up in the capital city, Asmara. In July, 16 female national service conscripts in their late teens were taken from their place of assignment in Adi Halo, a village 30km from Asmara, and detained in Metkel Abiet camp. Other Christians and family members who attempted to visit them were also imprisoned. The detainees' hair was forcibly shaved off in what local sources describe as an additional "sign of humiliation" in a society where a woman's hair is regarded as a sign of decency and sanity.

In an indication of the harshness of prison conditions, a woman who had been detained after being arrested at her home in Nefasit in early June is reported to have become mentally ill.

The number of Christians known to have been detained in desert camps and military facilities since May has now risen to 210. Most were detained following raids on their homes, while a few were arrested at prayer meetings. Like Fikadu Debesay, several are parents, and according to local sources, over 50 children are currently without one or both parents as a result of these raids.

Source: Christian Solidarity Worldwide

  • Commit to the Lord Fikadu Debesay's husband and children. May they experience the Lord's ministering presence and may they be comforted in the knowledge that their loved one is now with Him.
  • Pray the Lord will strengthen and sustain Eritrean prisoners. Pray they will trust in God during this difficult time. Pray for their release.
  • Ask God to bring change to the hearts of those in authority. Pray for conviction, true repentance and an understanding of the Gospel.

 

10 August 2017

TAJIKISTAN: Pastor Imprisoned for Three-Year Term

In early July, Pastor Bakhrom Kholmatov was sentenced to three years' imprisonment by the Khujand City Court in Tajikistan's Sogd Region for allegedly "singing extremist songs in church and inciting religious hatred". Officials have threatened the pastor's family, friends and church members with reprisals if they reveal any details of his case, trial or imprisonment.

The 42-year-old pastor of Sunmin Sunbogym (Full Gospel) Protestant Church was first held in custody by the National Security Committee (NSC) secret police after he was arrested in April. While on trial, Pastor Bakhrom had been detained at a police detention center. However, he was more recently moved to an unknown prison.

The NSC secret police, together with the State Committee for Religious Affairs and other law-enforcement agencies, initially raided the church's affiliated congregations in Sogd Region in early February. Officials then closed down a church in the town of Konibodom in March after interrogating its members. In addition, the NSC officers pressured employers into firing these Christians from their jobs.

After Pastor Bakhrom's arrest in April, the Khujand church was also raided, and congregation members were harassed and beaten. Yet, there have been no arrests or trials of the officials who carried out the beatings, contrary to Tajikistan's binding international human rights law obligations under the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment/Punishment.

In defiance of its international human rights obligations, Tajikistan severely restricts its citizens' rights to freedom of religion or belief. Additionally, authorities impose this ban without state permission. Due to the raids, interrogation and harassment, a large group of believers have also stopped attending church, as they are concerned about the possibility of arrest.

Source: Forum 18 News Service

  • Pray that Pastor Bakhrom and his family will continue to draw strength from our Almighty God, who alone is able to truly save and deliver (Psalm 34:17).
  • Uphold all the members of our Christian family in Tajikistan, asking the Lord to intervene on behalf of His persecuted people. Pray there will be opportunities to meet.
  • Pray for the officials involved; ask that their hearts will be turned toward Christ through the living witness of these believers.

 

3 August 2017

CHINA: Imprisoned Chinese Pastor is "Barely Alive"

Pastor Zhang Shaojie of the Nanle Country Christian Church, in the Henan Province, is "barely alive" after suffering various forms of torture in prison, according to reports from his daughter. He is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence which officially began in 2014.

His daughter Esther expresses concern that Pastor Zhang is suffering both mentally and physically as a result of meagre food rations and sleep deprivation. When his sister, Zhang Cuixia, visited on 7 July, she testified that her brother appeared fragile and was not allowed to discuss events outside of the prison.

According to his sister, he looks "like a bag of bones", with dark discoloration encircling his eyes.

During the sister's visit, government agents monitored her conversation with Pastor Zhang, limiting it to only talk about family members and praise of new policies under Communist Party leader, Xi Jinping. The siblings decided to subvert these restrictions, speaking of life inside and outside the prison, using their facial expressions to communicate the opposite.

In December 2013, church members, lawyers and Christians visiting the family of detained Pastor Zhang were beaten, harassed and detained themselves by "hired thugs" who work for police and government agencies.

Sources: China Aid, Christian Solidarity Worldwide

  • Pray that Pastor Zhang be greatly strengthened and renewed ─ spiritually, emotionally and physically, as he awaits release (2 Corinthians 4:7-9).
  • Pray for his family, that they would receive ongoing strength and encouragement from the Lord.
  • Ask the Lord to help the many other Christians in China who are suffering for their faith; may they stand firm and testify of His greatness so many more will come to know Him.