Published: 13:00 GMT Daylight Time - Thursday 28 July 2011
Prayer Focus 08/11
- China - Church continues to meet despite harassment
- Iran - Death penalty upheld for church leader
- Iraq - New church for Christian community
- Senegal - Churches looted and torched
- Kazakhstan - Pastor faces criminal charge for praying for the sick
- Pakistan - Christian murdered as he cleaned the streets
- Egypt - Mixed news for Christians
China - Church continues to meet despite harassment
Church members from Shouwang Church, one of the largest unregistered churches (“house churches”) in Beijing, continue to meet in an open-air plaza each Sunday, having been evicted from their leased meeting space by the government in April.
At the time of writing, the church had endured 15 consecutive weeks of raids and arrests at these outdoor meetings; according to ChinaAid, members of the congregation have lost jobs, done time in jail and been verbally abused.
In June, Pastor Shi Enhao, who is a house church leader and the deputy chairman of the Chinese House Church Alliance, was detained. He had called on the Chinese government to stop its persecution of Shouwang Church. ChinaAid confirmed on 25 July that Pastor Shi had been sentenced to two years in a labour camp for "re-education through labour" for holding “illegal meetings and illegal organising of venues for religious meetings”.
- Please lift our brothers and sisters at Shouwang Church to the Lord and give thanks that, despite these challenges, they continue to make a stand each week for Christ.
- Pray for Pastor Shi Enhao’s protection during his time at the labour camp.
Iran - Death penalty upheld for church leader
Iran’s Supreme Court has upheld the death penalty for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was convicted of apostasy from Islam in September 2010. The pastor had appealed against his conviction, but a written verdict from the court has now confirmed that the appeal was unsuccessful. The death penalty will be annulled if the father of two renounces his faith.
Youcef (33), who was born to Muslim parents, was arrested in October 2009 for objecting to the teaching of Islam to Christian children in schools. The charges against him were later changed to apostasy and evangelising Muslims. His wife, Fatemeh Passandideh, was arrested in June 2010 and sentenced to life in prison. Supporters say that this was an attempt to pressurise the pastor to renounce his faith, but he remained steadfast. Fatemeh was released on appeal in October after four months in prison.
If the sentence is carried out, it would be the first execution for apostasy in Iran since Hossein Soodmand in 1990.
In another incident, Christian student Mostafa Zangooyee (24) was detained for sharing his faith at the university he attends on 30 June. He remains in custody.
- Pray for protection for Youcef and others who are in prison for their faith; pray that the death sentence will not be carried out and that he will soon be released unharmed.
- Give thanks for Mostafa’s boldness in witnessing for Christ despite the dangers that Christians face in Iran.
Iraq - New church for Christian community
Iraq’s beleaguered and marginalised Christian community have made a defiant move against violent attempts to drive them out of their homeland by opening the first new church in the country since the 2003 US-led invasion.
The church in Kirkuk, where Christians have come under repeated attack, was officially opened earlier this month with around 300 people in attendance. It serves a housing complex in a secure location for around 200 Christian families who have fled violence elsewhere in Iraq, notably Baghdad and Mosul.
Emad Yelda, an MP representing Iraq’s Christians, said that the opening of the church was a message for Christians not to abandon Iraq, and a message to everyone not to target Christians. The church and complex were built on land donated by the Iraqi government and with donations, including $10,000 from President Jalal Talabani. Hassan Toran, the chief of Kirkuk’s provincial council, said that the local government “will support the Christians, financially and morally”.
- Give thanks for this rare positive development and for the determination of Iraqi Christians to maintain a Christian presence in their homeland, despite the daily pressure they face.
- Pray for all those who have lost loved ones in violence in Iraq. Pray especially for those from our Christian family, that they will find peace and comfort in the Lord Jesus.
Christians have been attacked and eight churches looted and torched in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, as aggressors took advantage of political unrest in the country to vent their hostility. The churches were targeted over a two-week period following a declaration of war by Muslims against “new churches”. A church leader said this was because of the visible growth of these churches in Dakar.
The anti-Christian violence broke out as rioters took to the streets to protest against President Abdoulaye Wade’s controversial plans to change the country’s constitution. With tensions already high in the city, one neighbourhood erupted, and the crowd took out their anger on the Christians. One church was set upon by a group of men and young people during the morning service on Sunday 26 June. The worshippers were driven out and pelted with stones as they escaped before the steel-structured building was fire-bombed. The following day, the mayor ordered that the building be “cleaned up”; the steel and scrap iron, valuable commodities in Senegal, were taken away by truck, leaving nothing but a raised concrete platform where the pulpit had been. The building had seated around 400 people.
- Pray for those congregations that have lost their church buildings. Pray that they will find alternative meeting space so that they can continue to worship our Lord and Saviour.
- Pray that the Lord will provide the resources for the rebuilding of damaged churches and that Senegalese Christians will be protected from any further attacks.
- Such anti-Christian violence is almost unheard of in Senegal. Pray that this incident will not set a precedent for further attacks on the Christian community.
Kazakhstan - Pastor faces criminal charge for praying for the sick
Pastor Yerzhan Ushanov, from Taraz, Jambyl Region, Kazakhstan, is facing prosecution for “causing severe damage to health due to negligence” after he prayed for the healing of a sick man who visited his church. The charge carries a penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment, a fine of between 100 and 200 times the minimum monthly wage, or community service of between 180 and 200 hours.
Pastor Ushanov was accused of using hypnosis by the man’s wife, who said her husband felt sick afterwards. The allegation was dismissed by members of his church, who said, “This is not the first time the authorities in southern regions of Kazakhstan bring such absurd accusations against pastors for allegedly using hypnosis... In some cases the authorities have even demanded some of our pastors obtain a special licence from the Health Ministry for praying to heal the sick.” In April 2010, another pastor from the Jambyl Region was fined 100 times the minimum monthly wage for allegedly harming a woman’s health by praying for her. The Supreme Court later overturned the conviction and cancelled the fine, but the pastor has not yet received his money back.
The secret police opened a criminal case against Pastor Ushanov on 8 June, and on 25 June five regional secret police officers broke into his home and searched it. Church members said the police had planted evidence against the pastor during the raid, a book entitled Modern Hypnosis, which they then seized along with computer equipment, Christian literature and personal data about church members. The officers warned Pastor Ushanov to “change his profession, and leave Taraz for good, if he does not want to get into trouble”.
Six days earlier, police officers from the Department for the Fight against Extremism, Separatism and Terrorism raided the church during a Sunday worship service following a complaint by a woman that she had been poisoned when she ate at the church cafeteria. This allegation was also dismissed by a church member, who said they only rented the premises and did not serve food.
It appears that the church is being targeted by the authorities; it is regularly visited by a particular secret police officer who is said to keep tabs on believers.
- Lift up to the Lord Pastor Ushanov and pray that allegations against him will be dropped so that he can continue his ministry without fear of reprisals.
- Pray that the Lord will heal the sick man who was prayed for by the pastor and pray that he and his wife come to know the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Pray that Christians in Kazakhstan will continue to stand firm in their faith despite the harassment they face.
Pakistan - Christian murdered as he cleaned the streets
Father of four Abbas Masih (36) was stabbed to death as he was cleaning the streets in Lahore on 20 May. Eyewitnesses said that a Muslim flower-shop worker ordered him to pick up dried leaves and flowers outside the shop; Abbas said he would do so when he returned from the end of the street. The angered shop worker stabbed Abbas in the chest with a knife. Abbas was taken to hospital, where he died.
Abbas’ family was not eligible for financial compensation from the government upon his death, so Barnabas Fund is supporting his widow Rukhsana and their four children with monthly food parcels.
- Pray for Abbas’ family, that they will know the Lord as “a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows” (Psalm 68:5).
- Pray for an end to the employment discrimination that our brothers and sisters face in Pakistan.
Egypt - Mixed news for Christians
On 3 July the Supreme Administrative Court in Egypt ruled that Christian reconverts could have their registration changed back to “Christian” on their national ID cards and birth certificates. Religious registration affects many important areas of life including marriage, inheritance, education and church attendance.
The ruling applies to those who were registered on their birth certificates and/or national ID cards as “Christian” but whose religious identity was changed to “Muslim”, either because they converted to Islam as adults, or as a consequence of a parent changing his/her registration, or because of a clerical error. It means that those who return to Christianity having converted to Islam will be officially identified as Christians rather than Muslims. The ruling does not apply to converts to Christianity who were registered as Muslim at birth.
This is particularly important for Christian women and girls, as many are kidnapped by Muslims and forcibly converted to Islam, and the number of these incidents has greatly increased since the revolution broke out in January.
Despite this rare piece of good news, there is still an air of disquiet among the Christians in Egypt as Islamist parties gear up for the elections later this year, and Christians are continuing to suffer violence. On 30 June the husband of a Christian woman tried to defend her from sexual harassment by Muslims at the bus terminal in Kolosna in Minya province. Shortly afterwards, thousands of Muslims descended on the mainly Christian part of Kolosna, where they looted and torched Christian homes and businesses and beat up Christians. And in the Upper Egyptian village of Awlad Khalaf, a mob of nearly 200 Muslims burned eight homes belonging to Christians on 25 June. The attack was prompted by a rumour that the house being built by one resident was going to be turned into a church.
- Give thanks to the Lord for the good news about the ruling in favour of Christian reconverts. Pray that converts from Islam to Christianity will also be granted the right to change their ID cards.
- Pray that the Lord will comfort those who were targeted in the violence in Kolosna and Awlad Khalaf. Pray for an end to the violence against Egyptian Christians, that they will be left in peace, and that the authorities will ensure their security.
- Pray for the forthcoming Egyptian elections, that Islamist parties will not emerge victorious, and that a secular rather than an Islamic state will be established.