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.
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.
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 â”€ 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.
KENYA: Al-Shabaab Militants Kill Seven Christian Men
Al-Shabaab militants have led a series of attacks in Kenya's Lamu County. Between 5 and 8 July, militants raided three villages, Pandanguo, Jima, and Poromoko, killing three police officers as well as seven Christian men: Said Mbigo, Matei Mlatia, Peter Mburu, Teresio Munyi, Mwangangi Muneni, Katana Karisa Chai, and Musyoka Maithya.
On 5 July, over 200 militants raided Pandanguo village in Lamu County, killing three police officers posted at the Pandanguo police station, looting homes and the local dispensary. On 8 July, 15 of the militants returned and attacked the nearby villages of Jima and Poromoko.
According to locals, the militants went door to door in Jima and Poromoko, killing seven Christian men.
Schools in the three villages were closed and Christian families have evacuated to a church in Witu town.
The attackers have been targeting Christians living in Lamu County especially farmers in the interior areas where small-scale agriculture thrives, Pastor Henry Divayo, head pastor of the church in Witu town, told International Christian Concern.
[The militants in Jima] were asking the villagers to produce their identification cards and if you were found to be a Christian you would be shot or slaughtered.
Victims have been evacuated to camps where food and security is provided by [the] government and the Kenya Red Cross, Divayo said. We are hosting more than 200 people in our church and we expect the number to increase as more families are evacuated from Boni Forest.
The government has been in the forefront in giving security to churches but a lot more needs to be done, Divayo continued. We need more well-equipped police officers in churches, schools and hospitals.
Since 2011, Kenya has been aiding the fight against al-Shabaab in Somalia. In retaliation, al-Shabaab and its supporters have targeted Christians across the border in Kenya. On 5 July 2014, al-Shabaab attacked a Hindi village in Lamu which left nine dead. Militants also attacked Garrisa University on 2 April 2015, where 148 Christian students were killed. On 12 June 2016, the Islamic terrorists attacked Mpeketoni, Lamu County, killing 48 who couldn't recite Koranic verses.
Source: International Christian Concern
- Commit to the Lord the families of the police officers and the Christian men who lost their lives. Pray the Lord's ministering Spirit will bring strength, comfort and provision.
- Pray those who have had to flee their homes will be able to return soon in safety.
- Pray this recent tragedy will be used by the Lord to spread His message of salvation throughout Kenya and beyond.
UGANDA: Pray for Rebecca, Kicked Out of Her Home
A 23-year-old Ugandan woman was thrown out of her home by her family recently because of her new Christian faith.
Rebecca came to faith in Christ after being healed of an illness. Her family had invited imams to pray, taken her to local shamans and even taken her to a hospital, but nothing had worked. Finally, a visiting Christian evangelist prayed for Rebecca and she recovered from her illness.
Her family and clan rejected and threatened her because of her conversion to Christianity, and her brother eventually threw her out of the house. Rebecca is now living with a local pastor and his wife, who are teaching her about the Christian faith. She is concerned about what may happen when her father, a soldier, returns from military deployment.
Source: The Voice of the Martyrs USA
- Praise the Lord for Rebecca's faithfulness. Thank Him too for the provision of a place to stay and the opportunity to grow in knowledge and understanding of the Gospel.
- Pray the Lord's protection will be upon Rebecca and those who are caring for her. Ask the Lord to have mercy on Rebecca's family members so they too may come to know Jesus as saviour.
- Praise God for the way He is making himself known amongst the Muslim people of Uganda.
EGYPT: Christians Standing Strong
After last Friday's bus attack on Coptic Christians in Minya, Egypt, which claimed 29 lives, Dr. Michael Youssef says the church there is standing stronger than ever before.
Following the fourth major ISIS attack against the Coptic Christian community in just six months, Leading The Way's Founder and President says Christians there continue to grow in their passion for the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the face of rising persecution.
"There were two million more Christians in churches on Easter and Good Friday than the previous year," Dr. Youssef said during an interview at the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians, "and this is the message they wanted to communicate to the terrorists:'Kill us all, and that's fine by us. We are not afraid of you.'"
Dr. Youssef added: "This is the one thing I think so many Christians in the West don't understand "that persecution strengthens and makes believers more passionate about their faith than easy Christianity."
Source: Assist News Service
- Praise God for strengthening His children in Egypt and thank Him for growing the church.
- Pray the witness of His children will continue to be used by the Lord to bring even more people to the Lord Jesus.
- Ask the Lord to comfort those who have experienced loss and are in mourning; may they learn to rely all the more on Him for His strength and ministering presence.
3 May 2017
INDIA: ‘Alarming Rise’ in Attacks on Christians
The All India Christian Council (AICC) recorded an increase of almost 20 per cent in attacks against Christians in 2016 alone. It says physical violence against Christians is up 40 per cent and murders have doubled.
In the report titled ‘Atrocities on Christians in India’ it stated there is an attack every 40 hours and is no longer confined to a few states as the violence has now spread to 23 states.
Incidents of church workers being beaten, threatened and killed as well as churches and Christian schools being bombed, torched, vandalised and demolished are all included in the report. It also says there have been attempts to force Christians to renounce their faith and convert to Hinduism.
Right-wing Hindu nationalism has been gaining ground, particularly since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took power in 2014.
India’s caste system today goes beyond Hinduism as it exists in many of the country’s religions. Dalit Hindus who convert to Christianity are called Dalit Christians in Indian society are classed as untouchables, are often oppressed and fall outside the Indian caste system.
Sources: International Christian Concern, Premier
- Pray the Lord will equip His children in India with courage, to continue to serve Him even though they experience great opposition.
- Pray the church will exemplify the love of God through consistent love and prayer for those who persecute them (Matthew 5:43-48).
- Pray for those who currently oppose the Gospel in India, may the witness of the church be used by the Lord to open hearts and minds to the truth and the power of the Gospel.
NIGER: Pray for Christina as She Witnesses to Muslims
After attending a VOM-led training session with her husband, ‘Christina Saleh’ has begun to meet with women in four villages, teaching Christians and witnessing to Muslims.
Before attending the training session, Christina had been afraid to openly share the Gospel. Muslim women had frightened her by showing her the graves of missionaries, and some vendors in the local market had stopped accepting her money when they learned she was a believer. But Christina gained encouragement from sessions on evangelism and church planting, and she praises God for the new method of sharing the Gospel that she learned during the training.
The training session, which included more than 100 pastors and evangelists along with their wives, offered courses in Bible storytelling, church planting and worship with traditional instruments, among other topics.
Source: The Voice of the Martyrs USA
- Thank the Lord for the opportunity Christina had to attend the training session. Pray for all others who attended, may they experience a similar boldness.
- Pray the Lord’s favor will be upon Christina and other evangelists and teachers in Niger, may they receive many opportunities to boldly share the Gospel and may they rejoice as they see the Holy Spirit at work.
- Pray the local church will grow in love for one another and faithfulness to the Lord.
KAZAKHSTAN: Fined for Easter Worship
Officers issued four summary fines totaling about nine months’ average wages with no court hearings. Such fines for meeting for worship are increasing, Baptists complained to Forum 18.
In a separate case, a court in the southern city of Almaty has banned a Protestant church from meeting for three months.
The court also fined the church for holding a meeting for worship in a place other than its registered address. An Indian citizen associated with the church is appealing against a fine and deportation order.
An official of Almaty’s Religious Affairs Department, Karshyga Malik, said on 24 April that the administrative cases against the church and the Indian citizen were among 33 it had launched since the beginning of 2017. The cases were to punish those who meet without state permission, meet in places without state permission, distribute religious literature without state permission or talk to others of their faith without state permission.
Police raids on congregations of the Council of Churches Baptists are frequent. They choose to meet for worship without seeking state registration.
Source: Forum 18 News Service
- Pray these Christians will be emboldened to continue to follow the Lord and encourage one another in the faith. Pray for opportunities to meet.
- Commit to the Lord those who have been fined and the Indian citizen facing deportation.
- Ask the Lord to give wisdom to church leaders when dealing with authorities.
NIGERIA: Three Years of Agony for Chibok Parents
Since Boko Haram jihadists abducted 276 girls from their secondary school in the town of Chibok, in the north-eastern state of Borno, 23 parents have now died of heart disease while many continue to battle stress-related conditions.
While 81 of the girls have escaped or been rescued, it is believed that their captors, who initially boasted that they would sell them as slaves, have decided to hold on to their victims after realising how valuable their high profile has made them. As a result, more than two thirds of the girls are still missing.
UNICEF has just reported a sharp rise in the number of children forced to carry out suicide attacks, up from 30 last year to 27 in the first three months of 2017.
The agency added that Boko Haram’s abduction of children, of which the Chibok girls are the best-known example, is “systematic” and is “fuelling” its insurgency in the Lake Chad region. The kidnapped girls are typically forced into early marriage and sexual slavery. One Chibok girl who escaped last May said six of the remaining captives had died. UNICEF also voiced concern at the prolonged detention of 1,499 children after their rescue last year, when they were held while the authorities investigated them for jihadist sympathies.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, pledged to bring the girls home but have met with little success, partly due to a weak and mistrusted army.
A spokeswoman for the charity Open Doors, who visited Chibok last week, said some parents now hoped their children were dead, rather than having to endure captivity at the hands of Boko Haram.
“For three long years, the parents have waited, hoped and prayed for answers about their daughters,” she said. “There has been maddening speculation about their daughters’ fate. Death is not the worst thing they fear. Some days they hope their daughters have entered the presence of Jesus, rather than face one more day at the hands of brutal men who consider abuse of women their just reward and privilege for fighting what they believe to be Allah’s battle.”
Yakubu Nkeki Maina, a representative of the Chibok parents and whose 18-year-old daughter, Maimuna was kidnapped said, “We feel deceived by the government. Promises are made publicly but nothing is done to make this promise a reality. We are subjected to sleepless nights and pain (in our) hearts, which increases by the day. We feel cheated. It seems that we cannot count on the government. We look up to God, who is able to come to our rescue.”
The release of 21 girls last October briefly gave hope to the Chibok families and to Christians across north-east Nigeria, who have been terrorised by Boko Haram for almost eight years. However, the girls have been detained since their release and allowed to see their parents only a handful of times.
Residents of Chibok are still fearful because Boko Haram has recently attacked nearby towns, and scores of families have been displaced to Mbalala, three miles from Chibok. There is a heavy military presence in Chibok, and three of the town’s 13 schools have partially reopened. Parents are terrified of sending their children back to school in case Boko Haram strikes again, and church activities are carried out under heavy security
Source: World Watch Monitor, Assist News Service
- Ask the Lord to have mercy on these families and the many others whose loved ones are missing at the hands of militants. Pray for news, ask for families to be reunited.
- Pray for action from the government. May they be unified, strong and with God’s leading, liberate the captives, secure communities and bring perpetrators to justice. Pray they may be wise in dealing with victims who have been released.
- May so much suffering not be in vain, ask the Lord to bring good from evil.
EGYPT: Palm Sunday Turns into a Bloody Massacre
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings in Egypt targeting Coptic churches. The first bombing in the town of Tanta and the second in Alexandra has claimed the lives of 44 people and has injured 126 to date.
Our contact in Cairo spoke with Christians who were present at one of the bombings. They told him that “Celebration of Palm Sunday had turned into bloody Palm Sunday.” Local believers were stunned by the event of these bombings and have asked for their fellow Christians throughout the world to pray fervently.
Source: VOM Contacts
- Pray the Lord will bring comfort and hope to the grieving; healing to the injured and strength to those who are traumatised.
- Pray the Lord will grant wisdom to the Egyptian government as they attempt to bring all who are responsible to justice and ensure protection of the Christian community. Pray for upcoming Easter services.
- Pray this incident may be used by the Lord to strengthen the church in Egypt. Pray they will seek to respond during this difficult time in a Christ-like manner.
The Social Solidarity Ministry and the relevant ministries in Ismailia provided this fully-furnished accommodation. Any families residing in camps were a priority, Shoukry added.
In a statement on Saturday, Shoukry said 120 more apartments will be given to displaced families over the next few days. Social Solidarity Minister Ghada Wali said 72 other apartments will be delivered within a week, after they have been completely furnished. The Social Solidarity Ministry received four housing blocks from the Housing Ministry to accommodate the displaced Copts, until the situation in Arish calms down.
The Long Live Egypt Fund (Tahya Misr) has allocated five million Egyptian Pounds ($365,803) to support the displaced families from North Sinai, due to terrorist operations that target civilians.
The Social Solidarity Directorate in North Sinai says hundreds of Coptic Christian families have fled from Arish city for 13 different governorates. Coptic Christians started leaving the city late last month after Islamic State-affiliated militants threatened to kill them if they stayed in the city.
Seven Copts were killed by extremists in Arish in less than three weeks, including two people who were burned to death. The incidents sparked panic among Coptic families residing in the city and prompted them to move to other provinces, mainly Ismailia.
The killings came days after Egypt’s Islamic State affiliate, which is based in the Sinai Peninsula, vowed to step up attacks against the embattled Christian minority.
The IS group published a video threatening Egyptian Christians and showing the last statement of a man it said was responsible for the deadly bombing of a Coptic cathedral in Cairo in December.
Sources: International Christian Concern, Egypt Independent
- Pray for God’s wisdom to be with the church members as they serve and care for the Christian families fleeing Arish.
- Pray for the many more families who remain without a home. Ask for the Lord’s protection and provision.
- Pray that fleeing families will continue to look to God as they settle into these new homes.
According to the Eritrean website Erimedrek News, the two women, who were detained in Wi’a military camp, were transported to Massawa Hospital in critical condition on 12 March. They had embarked on a hunger strike in protest at the abuse they were receiving in detention, and their bodies were allegedly marked with bruising consistent with sexual abuse.
Once at the hospital, the women were reportedly kept in isolation and guarded in shifts by security personnel. Following their deaths, military commanders confiscated their medical cards.
Reports have also emerged of the arrests of a significant number of Christians on Christmas Eve 2016 in the capital city Asmara, after they had been caught praying. They were allegedly transported barefoot to an unknown location.
The Eritrean government is one of the most repressive in the world. Thousands of prisoners of conscience are detained arbitrarily for indefinite periods of time in unsatisfactory facilities where conditions are life threatening and torture is rife. A campaign of arrests targeting selected religious communities has been ongoing since 2002, when the government effectively outlawed all practices not affiliated with the Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran or Orthodox Christian denominations and Sunni Islam.
In its June 2016 report, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on human rights in Eritrea (COIE) found “reasonable grounds to believe” that crimes against humanity have been committed by state officials in a “widespread and systematic manner” since 1991, including the crimes of persecution against religious groups, and rape, repeated rape, and gang rape by detention officials.
Source: Christian Solidarity Worldwide
- Pray for those grieving the loss of these two women. May they take comfort in the knowledge they are now safe with the Lord, without pain, sorrow or fear.
- May the deaths of these two Christian women not be in vain but may be used by the Lord to highlight evil practices within the prison system and bring change. Pray He will release the captives in Eritrea.
- Pray for wisdom for church leaders as they strive to carry out the Great Commission in this repressive nation.
A local newspaper in Benje, the Patrika, reported the news about the resolution, while also noting that local Hindu nationalist groups arranged for neighboring villages to pass similar resolutions. According to ICC sources, there is only one Christian family in the village Benje. A Christian leader, who wished to remain anonymous, contends, “The magnitude of [the] immediate effect might be small, but the resolution will have huge consequences for the future as no one will be able [to] preach or practice Christianity in the area.”
These resolutions banning the practice of non-Hindu faiths started in the Bastar district of Chhattisgarh in June 2014. Then, more than 50 villages in Bastar passed resolutions which banned all non-Hindu religious propaganda, prayers, and speeches in the villages. The institution of these bans led to a spree of physical violence and social boycotts against Christians in the district.
Christians, represented by Chhattisgarh Christian Forum (CCF), filed a petition in the High Court of Chhattisgarh challenging the bans’ constitutional validity under Article 25 of India’s constitution which states, “All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.” In January 2016, the High Court overturned the bans.
Dr Arun Pannalal, a Christian activist and the president of Chhattisgarh Christian Forum, told ICC, “Even though Chhattisgarh’s High Court invalidated the resolutions last year, the resolutions continue to spread to other districts like Balod, Kondagaon and Kankher.”
He added, “There has been [a] shift from the traditional way of [persecution] from individual cases of harassment to institutional terrorism that denies poor Christians their basic right to live on par with others. There is not much we can do except fight in the courts.”
Source: International Christian Concern
- Pray to the Lord who is above any laws of men to overrule and to strengthen and grow His church in India.
- Ask for His protection to be upon the Christians who live in the villages affected.
- Pray for church leaders, grant them wisdom to know how best to encourage their congregations. Pray the Lord will grant courage and spiritual maturity to His children throughout India.
Copyright 2017 © Voice of the Martyrs Australia. All rights reserved. Quikclicks
Next time you take communion at church spare a thought – and a prayer – for three Christians in Iran who may be whipped as a punishment for taking communion wine.
The men have appealed against the sentence but if their appeal fails they will receive 80 lashes each.
The lawyer for Yaser Mosibzadeh, Saheb Fadayee and Mohammad Reza Omidi attended a hearing on Thursday during which they made their appeal against the brutal sentence handed down in September. The verdict is expected within 20 days.
The three men were arrested in Rasht in May as they celebrated communion. Their lawyer insists it is not illegal in Iran for Christians to drink wine, only Muslims. The three men have a Muslim background.
The three have also been charged with “acting against national security”. Iranian officials have threatened further charges if the men meet together or share the Gospel with others.
Meanwhile, Christian converts Amin Nader Afshar and Hadi Askary have gone on hunger strike inside Tehran’s Evin Prison unless they receive adequate medical care and a fair trial soon. Hadi is reported to have a kidney infection which has not been treated.
They have been behind bars since their arrest last August, at a picnic in Firuzkuh, but have not yet been charged, despite weeks of interrogation. The other three men arrested with them posted substantial bail and were released.
Sources: Release International, Middle East Concern
- Pray the appeal judge will scrap the earlier sentence against Yaser, Saheb and Mohammad. Pray no other charges will be brought against them.
- Pray that God will protect and heal Amin and Hadi. Amin’s hunger strike has caused his blood pressure to drop dramatically. Pray that they and their three friends will be tried and acquitted soon.
- Pray that every Christian behind bars in Iran will know that God will prove wrong every false word spoken against them (Isaiah 54:17).
Copyright 2017 © Voice of the Martyrs Australia. All rights reserved. Quikclicks Website Design
SYRIA: Pray for Saif and Naama
An Assyrian family was forced to leave their home, business and community in northern Syria because of the war. As refugees, they began attending prayer meetings, a Bible study, and the whole family soon put their faith in Jesus.
‘Saif’ invited twenty more Assyrian families to join the meetings and many of these families also became new converts.
In one meeting, one family asked, “Why would God allow for misery, persecution, and destruction to take over the Assyrian, the people who have first accepted Jesus thousands of years ago and speak His language to date?” ‘Naama’ responded, “We, as Assyrian, have known the truth thousands of years ago, yet we have never glorified God or walked on His steps! Today we need to repent and ask for God’s forgiveness!”
Saif and Naama recently moved to another country and hope to plant a church to serve the Assyrians there.
Source: The Voice of the Martyrs USA
- Thank the Lord for the way He is working in this community to bring hope during this time of unrest.
- Pray the Gospel will continue to spread to further extend His kingdom in the Middle East.
- Thank the Lord for the faithfulness of Saif and Naama, pray the Lord will go before them and also protect them as they live and work as His disciples.
IRAQ: PRAY FOR REFUGEES FROM DESTROYED QARAQOSH
Qaraqosh, Iraq’s largest Christian city, was liberated from the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) in October 2016, but believers who lived under the terrorists’ control for two years
continue to struggle for survival. More than 20,000 people fled the city as Iraqi and Kurdish forces fought for its liberation, with thousands of Iraqi Christians fleeing to Iraqi Kurdistan and neighboring Jordan. These
people have lost everything. Their city has been destroyed, and ISIS stole everything they
VOM workers recently distributed MP3 New Testaments to many families from Qaraqosh, praying with them and offering encouragement. VOM also ministers to 1,000 Christian
families from Qaraqosh living in Jordan. “It is difficult for me to describe the needs of the people we minister to,” a VOM worker said.
“They are overwhelming and the suffering is indescribable. They are comforted in knowing their Western brothers and sisters know of their suffering and are praying for them.”
Source: The Voice of the Martyrs USA
- Pray earnestly for these suffering Iraqi people; may the Lord be their
protector and provider. May He strengthen their faith.
- Ask the Lord to grant wisdom to the VOM contacts and other
organizations who are ministering to those in need.
- Ask the Lord to bring an end to the violence and provide people with the
opportunity to return home and start to rebuild their lives.
EGYPT: Four Arrests for Copt Cathedral Bombing
Egyptian police have arrested four people in the wake of the bombing that killed dozens of Christians at Cairo’s Coptic Christian cathedral last month, the Interior Ministry said.
The death toll from the bombing at a chapel next to St Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo has risen to 28, the Health Ministry added. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said following the attack that the perpetrator was a man named Mahmoud Shafik, who had worn a suicide vest, and that security forces were seeking two more people in conjunction with the attack.
The Interior Ministry said it had arrested one of the two, as well as three others who were part of the same cell. It added that one man was still on the run.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombing but the Egyptian Government has sought to link the attack to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood has condemned the attack and accused Sisi’s administration of failing to protect the church, Reuters reported.
President Sisi, who attended funerals at the cathedral for the victims, attended Christmas Eve Mass in the Coptic Cathedral for the third year. In 2016, he promised to rebuild all churches destroyed or damaged in the violence of August 2013. He also pledged 100,000 Egyptian pounds ($7200) towards construction of what will become the largest church (built at the same time as the largest new mosque) in a new political and administrative area planned for the edge of Cairo. He said the church is due to be inaugurated in 2018.
Source: World Watch Monitor
• Commit to the Lord those who continue to grieve over the loss of loved ones. Pray too for those who sustained serious injury.
• Thank the Lord for the government support of the Christian community. Pray the Lord will grant them His strength and protection.
• Pray for those who oppose the Lord and His church in Egypt and ask Him to frustrate their plans and remove the hatred from their hearts.
UGANDA: Mother and Son Beaten for Leaving Islam
Former Islamic teacher, 30-year-old Malik Higenyi, was beaten unconscious by relatives when he spoke publicly about his conversion last month.
His mother, Aimuna, aged 60, became a Christian after seeing how Malik was persecuted and learning about his faith. Family members also beat her badly.
Relatives raided their farm in Butaleja district on 8 December as Malik and Aimuna were trying to gather cassava without being seen. They had been forced to abandon the farm last month, after Malik was warned he’d be killed if he returned.
Malik managed to escape and presumed his attackers were unaware of his mother’s new faith. But news of Aimuna’s conversion had spread too: she was attacked and left with a broken hand and head injuries.
Source: Morning Star News
- Pray that God will provide for Malik, his wife and children, and for Aimuna, and bring them to a place of rest (Psalm 18:19).
- Thank God that police responded to the family’s cry for help and made several arrests. Pray that officials will take tough action against religiously motivated attacks, to deter further violence.
- Pray that God’s people in Muslim areas of east Uganda will draw close to Him and place their total trust in Him.
EGYPT: Church Bombing Kills At Least 25
On 11 December, an explosion in the main hall of St Mark’s Cathedral, the largest Coptic church in Cairo, killed at least 25 and wounded more than 50. The blast took place during Sunday morning mass in the chapel adjoining the main hall of the cathedral. Many among the injured and dead are Christian women and children.
“The church bombing was planned and carried out meticulously. The explosion took place in the pews of the women,” said Mena Adel, a church member. “I think that someone seized the opportunity of overcrowding Copts who were entering the church and was able to enter the church among them and put the bomb under the church pews and then went out.” According to reports, the blast was caused by a device containing at least 12kg of TNT. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Islamic State militants celebrated the bombing on social media outlets after the fact.
The attack, which was the worst attack on Egypt’s Christian community in years, has sparked outrage and anger within the Christian community. Many gathered immediately following the attack to express their demands for justice.
State officials are launching immediate investigations into the attack while President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has declared a three-day period of national mourning.
Source: International Christian Concern
• Ask the Lord to minister to the grieving. May those who have lost loved ones find comfort in the fact that Christ is victorious over death (1 Corinthians 15:50-58).
• Ask the Lord to heal the injured by His miraculous hand and the skills and experience of those who are caring for them.
• Pray for the investigations; may the perpetrators be brought to justice and to repentance. Ask the Lord to protect and strengthen His church in Egypt.
CHINA: Suspect Circumstances Lead to Activist’s Death
Family members are demanding an independently-conducted autopsy following the mysterious death of an imprisoned Christian and veteran human rights activist.
Peng Ming, a pro-democracy dissident known for establishing the China Development Union and publishing a work offering suggestions to China’s development model, known as The Fourth Monument, allegedly fainted on 29 November while watching television. He was rushed to hospital.
Officials phoned his brother, who had visited Peng just three days before, and relayed the news to him. By the time he reached the hospital, Peng had already been declared dead and transferred to a funeral home.
However, authorities did not issue a death certificate, leaving his cause of death unclear. As a result, his family members have demanded an autopsy by an “international, independent medical authority acceptable to the family” and stated that a similar procedure conducted by the Chinese government will not be considered conclusive.
Officials have warned his overseas family members not to attend the funeral.
Following the government’s ban on the China Development Union, Peng was sentenced to 18 months of re-education through labour on a charge unrelated to his political activities. In August 2000, he was released and fled to Thailand, which granted him refugee status until he was resettled in the United States a year later. There, he was baptized in a San Francisco church in July 2002.
When Peng returned to Thailand in 2004 to visit his aging parents, Chinese special agents devised a plan to lure him into Burma and abduct him back to China. Once he arrived in his homeland, he was charged with organizing and leading a terrorist organization, kidnapping and possessing counterfeit money. He was given a life sentence.
Source: China Aid
• Ask the Lord to comfort Peng’s grieving family; pray their demands for an independent autopsy will be met.
• Give thanks that Peng’s family do not need to grieve as if they have no hope but rather, may they rejoice that Peng is no longer suffering and is now in the presence of the Lord.
• Pray Peng’s testimony may be used by the Lord to extend His Kingdom and glorify His name, even within the prison.
PAKISTAN: Five Men Sentenced for Killing Christian Couple
Five men have been sentenced to death for their part in the mob killing of a Christian couple.
Shahzad Masih and Shama Bibi had been falsely accused of desecrating a copy of the Koran and breaking Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws.
More than 400 people took part in the lynching, which took place in the town of Kot Radha Kishan in Punjab.
The brutal attack, which happened in 2014, saw the couple tortured and finally burned alive. Shama Bibi was thought to be pregnant when they were murdered.
The five people handed the death sentence by the court were involved in dragging, beating and burning the couple, and were also said to have gathered the larger mob of many hundreds and inciting them to violence using a mosque’s PA system.
The killing drew international condemnation.
Handing down the death sentence for such a killing is unprecedented in Pakistan as police are afraid to confront mob violence, not wanting to anger militant Islamists.
• Thank the Lord for this outcome and pray the remaining perpetrators will be dealt with justly. Pray they will be given an opportunity to repent and ask the Lord’s forgiveness.
• Pray this case will be used by the Lord to further draw attention to the misuse of Pakistan’s flawed blasphemy laws. Commit to God the many victims of the blasphemy laws who are currently languishing in jail.
• Pray for the couple’s three children, currently being cared for by relatives. May they grow in faith and strength and be encouraged to embrace the faith of their parents.
NIGER: Missionary Abducted by Unknown Assailants
Jeff Woodke, who works for Jeunesse en Mission Entraide et Developpement, a branch of the US based organization Youth With A Mission (YWAM), was abducted from the town of Abalak in northern Niger by unknown assailants late in the evening of 14 October.
Bilou Mohamed, the mayor of Abalak, announced that the community has “suffered a terrible tragedy” and that locals “wept with sorrow, lamenting the loss of a friend” the day after his abduction. He then spoke of the 55-year-old missionary’s dedicated service: “This man has lived among us for years, even when it has been difficult to accompany vulnerable populations… Everyone knows his goodness.”
According to Niger’s interior minister, Mohamed Bazoum, a group of armed men — believed to be from a radical Islamic group called Mujao — burst into Jeff’s home at around 9pm after killing two security guards, including a member of the National Guard who was stationed there. The kidnappers took Jeff by force and drove towards eastern Mali, where Mujao has a stronghold.
Known in Abalak for his devotion to Niger and its nomadic populations, Jeff runs several development projects among the Tuareg people, focusing on farming, health, literacy, primary school education and access to drinking water.
Source: World Watch Monitor
• Please uphold Jeff in prayer as he faces this time of uncertainty in captivity. May he experience the assuring presence of our Lord. Pray he will soon be recovered.
• Pray for Jeff’s concerned family, friends, colleagues and community members, may they be comforted and granted the peace that surpasses all understanding.
• Pray for those grieving the loss of the two security guards. May the Lord walk closely with them during this time off suffering and loss.
NIGERIA: Happy to ‘Be Back’ But Talk of Captivity
The released 21 Chibok girls met President Buhari at his villa in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja on 19 October.
The girls released by Boko Haram the week before, met President Buhari to thank him personally for his part in their release. Addressing a crowd at the presidential villa, one of the girls, Rebecca Mallum, burst into song. She later said: “We are happy to see this wonderful day because we didn’t know we would come back to be members of Nigeria. Let us thank God for his love”.
Some of the girls said they plan to return to school – Boko Haram translates in the local Hausa language as ‘Western education is a sin’.
On their release one girl revealed more about life in captivity, said a parent who wished to remain anonymous. The parent said that one of the girls had refused to marry a Boko Haram fighter and was told she would be killed. In the end she was given 100 lashes.
The girls have been undergoing intense psychological evaluations at a medical facility in the capital, Abuja.
Negations are underway to secure the release of a further 83 girls. It is reported around 100 girls don’t want to leave their kidnappers because they are now married or have been radicalized.
Source: World Watch Monitor, CNN
• Thank the Lord for the release of the 21 girls and the prospect of freedom for many more. Pray for President Buhari and all those involved in the negations.
• Ask the Lord to bring His healing and restoration to these girls to help them overcome the trauma they have suffered. Pray He may strengthen the faith of these girls and their families.
• Pray for those who either fear or are unwilling to leave their captors. Ask the Lord to minister to them and their families.
PAKISTAN: Lawyers seek New Hearing within a Few Weeks
Asia Bibi’s lawyers have made a request to the Pakistani Supreme Court seeking to appoint another judge immediately or a new colleague to hear the case.
The request sent to the Chief Justice comes after yet another postponement of Bibi’s hearing, in which her defense team are appealing her death sentence for apostasy. According to Fides, Bibi’s lawyers are confident that a new date for the hearing will be set sometime within a few weeks.
Meanwhile, the director of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement Nasir Saeed, stated that despite the postponement, they are still very hopeful that at the next hearing the charges against the Christian mother of five will be dropped.
Immediately following the Court’s decision to postpone the decision on the issue, demonstrations were held in several parts of the country, including Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad, with Sunni Muslims chanting slogans and carrying signs reading ‘#HangAsia.’
Sources: Christian Today, Asia News
• Ask the Lord to strengthen Asia and give her the patience she needs. Pray she will not give in to disappointment or despair but continue to trust in the Lord and His timing.
• Pray the public anger will be restrained and no harm will come to her, her family or her legal representatives.
• Commit to the Lord the appeal, pray those who hear it will be just, upright and will hear the appeal without any kind of agenda.
PAKISTAN: Prayer needed for Final Appeal
Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for allegedly committing blasphemy, will have her final appeal heard today.
The hearing before the Supreme Court of Islamabad is the third and final stage of a trial that began in 2009, with the woman’s death sentence upheld in 2014 following an initial appeal.
Islamic radical groups have organized protest demonstrations in Islamabad’s streets and outside the Supreme Court building.
According to Joseph Nadeem, who is assisting Asia Bibi’s family and is in charge of Lahore’s Renaissance Education Foundation, where Asia Bibi’s daughters are studying, “Asia is well, her morale is high. She is full of hope. She prays constantly and is very strong-spirited despite the long ordeal she has been through.”
The blasphemy accusation against Bibi is based on flimsy evidence from a dispute that took place in June 2009 between Bibi and a group of Muslim women with whom she had been harvesting berries in Sheikhupura. The Muslim women became angry with Bibi when she, a Christian whom they considered unclean, drank water from the same water bowl as the Muslim women. An argument between Bibi and the Muslim women ensued and later the Muslim women reported to a local cleric that Bibi had blasphemed against Islam.
Sources: International Christian Concern, La Stampa
• Thank the Lord for Asia’s strong faith in Him and His purposes; pray she will continue to trust completely in him. Pray for a fair hearing and favourable outcome.
• Pray this case may continue to be used by the Lord to highlight the injustice of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Pray Asia’s testimony may be a witness to the Lord.
• The lives of Asia, her family members and her legal representatives are threatened; pray no harm will come to them.