Published: 12:00 GMT Daylight Time - Thursday 31 March 2011
Prayer Focus 04/11
- PAKISTAN - CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY GRIEVES FOR MARTYR
- EGYPT - NEW CONSTITUTION BACKED BY MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD
- PAKISTAN - TWO CHRISTIANS KILLED IN CHURCH ATTACK
- ETHIOPIA - CHRISTIANS FLEE MUSLIM RAMPAGE
- LAOS - CHRISTIANS FORCED FROM THEIR VILLAGE FACE STARVATION
- NIGERIA - CONCERNS FOR CHRISTIANS IN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
- JAPAN - THOUSANDS AFFECTED BY THREEFOLD DISASTER
- IRAQ - GIVE THANKS FOR SYMBOLS OF HOPE
PAKISTAN - CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY GRIEVES FOR MARTYR
Just weeks after retaining his position in a major government reshuffle (see March Prayer Focus Update) Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs, was assassinated as he left his mother’s house. Mr Bhatti was a prominent campaigner for reform of Pakistan’s notorious “blasphemy law”, which he maintained was used to victimise the innocent. He had received death threats because of his campaigning and his support for Christian mother-of-five Aasia Bibi, who was sentenced to death under the law in November 2010. On the morning of Wednesday 2 March, gunmen opened fire on his car as he left for work.
Speaking a month before he was martyred, Shahbaz Bhatti said, “As a Christian, I believe Jesus is my strength. He has given me a power and wisdom and motivation to serve suffering humanity. I follow the principles of my conscience, and I am ready to die and sacrifice my life for the principles I believe.”
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for Mr Bhatti’s assassination, and in leaflets left at the scene of the murder they promised a death sentence for other government ministers who support legislation that they claim is contrary to Islamic sharia law.
The Pakistan government are now explicitly ruling out any attempts to reform the blasphemy law, and now another Pakistani Christian leader has been receiving death threats for speaking out against the law. Joseph Francis, national director of CLAAS, a Pakistani Christian legal centre, has been targeted by Islamists since appearing on several television programmes about various blasphemy issues.
- Pray for those who grieve Shahbaz Bhatti and pray that his fight to end the victimisation of minorities will not be in vain. As the Pakistani Christian community feels increasingly vulnerable following the loss of their most prominent member, pray that they will not give way to fear.
- Pray for the Lord’s protection over Mr Francis, that he will be able to speak out against the blasphemy law without fearing for his life.
- Pray that the government will do all they can to stamp out such horrific acts of violence. Pray that political leaders will have courage to reform the blasphemy law despite their recent statements.
EGYPT - NEW CONSTITUTION BACKED BY MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD
Amendments to Egypt’s constitution that were opposed by Christians were passed by 77 per cent of voters in a referendum on 19 March.
Christians had hoped that the proposed amendments would include the removal of Article 2, which states, “Islam is the Religion of the State. Arabic is its official language, and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia).” But this was not one of the nine amendments put forward by the committee – headed by an Islamist judge – tasked with drawing up Egypt’s new constitution. In fact, some vocal Muslim spokesmen have publicly declared that the “yes” vote is a clear indication that the majority of Egyptians want an Islamic state.
The outcome paves the way for parliamentary elections, and these could be held as early as September. The main Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, already has organised networks across the country and can rapidly mobilise candidates, while the pro-democracy groups will not have time to organise themselves for an early election. As a result, the Brotherhood is more likely to succeed at the polls.
This prospect spells danger for Egypt’s Christians. They are already treated as second-class citizens, and it is feared that violent attacks against them would only increase under a more overtly Islamist regime. On 8 March at least 13 people died and more than 140 were injured when Muslims attacked a demonstration by thousands of Christians near Mokattam garbage village. The Christians were protesting against the burning of a church by several thousand Muslims three days earlier and also asking that steps be taken to improve the status and quality of life of Egypt’s Christians.
- Pray that Christians will not be disheartened by the referendum results but will continue to trust in the Lord Jesus.
- Pray for the future of the Christian community in Egypt; pray that Islamists will not gain a political foothold in the country and so make the conditions for Christians even harder.
- Pray for Christians who have come under attack in recent weeks in Egypt, that they will know the Lord’s comfort and peace.
PAKISTAN - TWO CHRISTIANS KILLED IN CHURCH ATTACK
Two Christian men were shot dead in an attack by Muslim youths on a church in Hoor Camp, Hyderabad, on Monday 21 March.
Father of four Yunis Ilyas (47) and newly-wed Jameel Masih (21) were killed on the spot during the incident, which started when Muslim youths began shouting vulgar abuse at Christians who were arriving for a prayer service at the church. The church leader and a number of other Christians remonstrated with the Muslim boys, but they continued insulting the Christian girls. The aggressors left the scene but returned shortly afterwards with pistols and fired at the Christians as they were coming out of the church.
- Pray for the families of both these men and for all those who are grieving their loss. Pray that they will experience the Lord’s presence and comfort.
- Pray for the church leader as he seeks to lead his congregation in a godly response to this tragedy; pray that he will have wisdom and strength.
- Give thanks that the police have registered a case against the suspected culprits and are pursuing them. Pakistani Christians are often denied justice; pray that this case will prove to be different.
ETHIOPIA - CHRISTIANS FLEE MUSLIM RAMPAGE
An estimated 10,000 Christians fled their homes in western Ethiopia following a spate of attacks by Muslim extremists, which appeared to be systematically organised. The violence started in Asendabo, Jimma Zone, on 2 March when Muslims accused a Christian of desecrating a copy of the Quran. Security forces sent by the authorities were initially overwhelmed by the mob, who rampaged through five districts in the predominantly Muslim area, looting property and torching 67 churches and dozens of Christian homes. Three Christians died, and dozens more were injured. Barnabas sent an immediate grant to provide emergency aid for the displaced families.
The recent violence has been described as part of a wider campaign to “clear Christianity from the land by [the] sword”. A Christian minister in Ethiopia said the country was being targeted by Muslim fanatics with a strategy to Islamise the Christian-majority nation and so gain control of the entire Horn of Africa.
- Pray for those who were bereaved, injured or lost property in the attacks, that the Lord will comfort, heal and provide for them. Give thanks that Christians in Jimma city were able to help their brothers and sisters in Asendabo at their time of need.
- Pray for those who committed the violence, that the Lord will touch and change their hearts.
- Pray that the Lord will intervene to protect His people from further attacks.
Local authorities have destroyed crops and are preventing food from reaching a group of 18 Christian families in Laos, leaving them on the brink of starvation. The families had been driven from their village at gunpoint over a year earlier for refusing to give up their faith. They have been living in a temporary camp outside Katin village, Saravan province, and were threatened with death by village officials if they returned to their homes – even if they were moved back by the government.
Since their expulsion, the Christians have lacked adequate shelter, food and water, and now village officials are refusing to allow them to enter the village to farm their land, while an area that had been farmed around the camp has been destroyed. Families in the surrounding villages have been instructed not to help or provide food to the Christians, who also lack access to sanitation facilities and medical treatment. The Christians believe that these tactics are an attempt to starve them into giving up their faith.
- Pray for the Christians of Katin village, that they will depend on the Lord Jesus to provide for all their needs and that they may be allowed to return to their homes without fear and practise their faith in peace.
- Pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Laos, that God will give them strength and perseverance in their trials.
NIGERIA - CONCERNS FOR CHRISTIANS IN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
On 9 April, Nigeria will hold presidential elections. Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south, has been leading the country since the death of President Umaru Yar’Adua (a Muslim) in May 2010. But Nigeria is a country where the religion of the candidates often takes precedence over their political agenda. Among them is Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim who does not hide his intention to use his power to promote Islam, should he be elected.
Christians already suffer frequent mob violence at the hands of Muslim extremists in some parts of Nigeria, especially in Plateau State, and there are concerns that anti-Christian attacks could increase if Buhari were to be elected. This area has seen a number of violent incidents since December 2010, including the murder of a mother and her children after a pre-dawn attack by young Muslims in a predominantly Christian village near Jos, Plateau State, on 28 February.
- Ask that the Lord will overrule in the upcoming presidential elections and that a just and righteous leader will be elected who will guarantee religious freedom and security for all in Nigeria.
- Pray for the Christians of Jos, who are being targeted because of their faith, that the Lord will rescue them and protect them. Pray for those who have been injured or bereaved in anti-Christian violence.
On Friday 11 March a massive 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck just off the north-eastern coast of Japan, triggering a devastating tsunami which is now known to have killed over 10,000 people. At least 16,000 people are still missing, and more than 190,000 are living in temporary shelters in areas that were destroyed in the catastrophe. But the deadly combination of events also knocked out the power at the Fukushima nuclear plant and damaged back-up generators, prompting a potential nuclear crisis. More than two weeks after the overwhelming trio of disasters, the authorities are still desperately trying to cool overheating reactors and curtail any nuclear meltdown and dangerous radioactive fallout.
There are around 300 Christian congregations in the affected area, many of which have suffered the loss of pastors and church members, and church buildings have been destroyed.
- Pray that all those who lost loved ones will be comforted in their grief. Japanese Christians are active in assisting disaster victims; pray that they will be distinctively Christ-like in the way they help and care for the suffering.
- Pray that the Japanese authorities will have wisdom as they attempt to reach those in the greatest need and allocate supplies.
- Pray that efforts to avert a nuclear disaster at the Fukushima power plant will be successful.
IRAQ - GIVE THANKS FOR SYMBOLS OF HOPE
The authorities in Erbil, in the north of the country, have said that they will donate two pieces of land for a Christian-run university and hospital. These institutions will provide job opportunities for the thousands of highly skilled Christians who have fled from anti-Christian violence in other parts of the country. A local church leader said that they were intended as “symbols of hope”.
- Give thanks for this good news from Iraq. Pray that these exciting new ventures will help many displaced Iraqi Christians to rebuild their lives after fleeing the anti-Christian violence in their home towns.
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