Published: 15:00 GMT Daylight Time - Wednesday 01 June 2011
Prayer Focus 06/11
- ALGERIA - URGENT APPEAL FOR PRAYER
- NIGERIA - MORE VIOLENCE AGAINST CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES
- ETHIOPIA - CHURCH WORKER KILLED IN AMBUSH
- IRAQ - CHRISTIAN MAN KIDNAPPED AND MURDERED
- CHINA - PETITION BY PASTORS CALLS FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
- PAKISTAN - PASTOR'S SON INJURED IN SHOOTING
- EGYPT - CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES UNDER ATTACK
- IRAN - THREE CHRISTIANS RELEASED FROM PRISON
- SYRIA - INSTABILITY AFFECTS CHRISTIANS
ALGERIA - URGENT APPEAL FOR PRAYER
The head of the Algerian Protestant Church Association (EPA) – to which the majority of Algerian churches belong – received a notice dated 22 May from a High Police Commissioner telling him that a decision had been made to close down all Christian places of worship throughout the country that are not designated for religious purposes.
The right to assemble for worship or outreach is severely limited, and several well-established churches were briefly closed in 2008. Most church buildings in Algeria have not been officially designated for worship because the applications to register the buildings have not been accepted. Registration became a requirement following the introduction of stringent new regulations by the government in 2006 after pressure from radical Islamists.
The closure order applies to existing church buildings and those under construction, and churches have been threatened with "severe consequences and punishments" for violations of the order.
- Pray that the threats to close church buildings will not be carried out and that Christians will be allowed the freedom to meet and worship freely.
- Pray for wisdom for the church leaders to enable them to deal with this new wave of persecution in a spirit of grace and forgiveness.
NIGERIA - MORE VIOLENCE AGAINST CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES
At least 16 people were killed and more than a dozen homes set ablaze during an attack on the predominantly Christian town of Tafawa Balewa, Bauchi State, Nigeria, on Friday 6 May. A similar assault on Kurum village, near Bogoro, Bauchi State, on 4 May left 12 Christians dead, including a pastor’s wife and three of his children.
These are just the latest in a series of recent attacks on Christian communities across Nigeria in which at least 500 people have died. The violence started in April following the re-election of Christian president Goodluck Jonathan, who defeated Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim candidate from the North. Enraged supporters of Buhari went on the rampage, claiming the poll was rigged, though international observers called this election the fairest in decades (see May Prayer Focus Update).
Mr Jonathan faces many challenges. Just hours after his inauguration on Sunday 29 May, multiple blasts rocked the city of Bauchi, killing at least 15 people and injuring dozens more.
Barnabas Fund’s partners in Nigeria confirmed that 194 churches and over 1,200 houses were burnt or destroyed in the violence and 15,000 people were displaced. Barnabas Fund sent relief for Christian victims of the violence.
- Lift to the Lord all those who lost loved ones, homes and businesses in the attacks, asking that they will be comforted in their grief and that He will sustain them as they attempt to rebuild their lives.
- Pray for peace between Muslim and Christian communities in Nigeria.
- Pray that President Jonathan will govern with justice and righteousness and that he will be regarded by all Nigerians as a unifying figure.
ETHIOPIA - CHURCH WORKER KILLED IN AMBUSH
Abraham Abera (35), a church worker in Ethiopia, was murdered in a machete attack on 20 April. Abraham, his wife Bertukan (25) and a third person were on their way to visit a sick friend when they were ambushed by six Muslims. Their companion managed to escape and alert the police, and the couple were taken to hospital, where Abraham was pronounced dead that evening. Abraham and Bertukan had been married for less than a year, and Bertukan was six months pregnant at the time of the attack.
- Pray that Bertukan will find comfort in the Lord Jesus as she grieves for her murdered husband. Give thanks that the unborn baby survived the ordeal and pray for a safe delivery.
- Pray that the Lord Jesus will turn the hearts of the attackers and that they will come to know Him as Lord and Saviour of their lives.
IRAQ - CHRISTIAN MAN KIDNAPPED AND MURDERED
Christian construction worker Ashur Yacob Issa (29) was abducted late on the night of 13 May in Kirkuk, Iraq, and extensively tortured. A $100,000 ransom was demanded from Ashur’s family, but they could not pay the hefty sum. The Christian husband and father’s decapitated body was found dumped three days later.
- Pray that the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort will console Ashur’s family in their grief.
- Pray for all those Iraqi Christians who have lost loved ones in such distressing ways. Pray that horrific attacks against Christians will stop and that they will be able to live their lives without fear.
CHINA - PETITION BY PASTORS CALLS FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
Pastors from unregistered churches (“house churches”) in China have lodged a petition with the Chinese government, calling for religious freedom and a peaceful resolution to an ongoing conflict involving one of Beijing’s largest house churches.
Despite many of its 1,000 members being detained by the police, placed under house arrest and/or losing their homes and jobs, Shouwang Church has persisted in its efforts to worship in public. Their attempts to hold an open-air service began on 10 April and have continued every Sunday since (see May Prayer Focus Update).
The bold and unprecedented petition to the National People’s Congress – the first of its kind in 60 years of repressive Communist rule in China – asks for a special commission to be set up to investigate events surrounding Shouwang Church’s clash with the authorities. It says, “We believe that the Shouwang Church incident is not an individual, isolated episode that happens to a single church, but rather a typical phenomenon in respect of the conflict between state and church.”
Backed by Chinese church pastors in the United States and Canada, the petition also requests a review of the constitutionality of China’s current rules governing religious affairs.
- Give thanks that God stirs the hearts of our brothers and sisters so that they continue to meet for worship, despite the risks and threats.
- Pray that the Chinese authorities will grant the Christians the freedom to worship in peace and not punish them any further.
- Pray that the Lord will protect His people in China and that there will be an easing of the restrictions placed upon them.
PAKISTAN - PASTOR'S SON INJURED IN SHOOTING
The son of a Pakistani pastor was severely injured in a drive-by shooting on 27 April.
Pastor Ashraf Paul (55) was travelling by van in Lahore with his wife Rubina Ashraf (45) and their eldest son Sarfraz Ashraf (23) when two youths on a motorbike started chasing their vehicle. The attackers, whose faces were covered with black cloth, opened fire, and Sarfraz, who was driving the van, was shot through the windscreen in the face and hip. He was rushed to hospital, where he underwent surgery to remove the bullets. Sarfraz is now recovering; Pastor Ashraf and Rubina escaped unharmed.
The attack follows threats against Pastor Ashraf by a Pakistani Islamic organisation warning him to stop his Christian activities (see May Prayer Focus Update).
- Pray that Sarfaz will make a full recovery from his injuries. Pray that the family will be kept safe and that Pastor Ashraf will be able to continue his ministry, which is such an encouragement to young Christians in Pakistan.
EGYPT - CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES UNDER ATTACK
Twelve people were killed and more than 200 injured on 7 April in unrest that has been described as one of the most serious outbreaks of sectarian violence since the revolution in Egypt.
The violence started when several hundred Salafist Muslims descended on a church in Imbaba district, north-west Cairo. Christians barricaded themselves inside and around one of the buildings in a bid to protect it, and as demonstrations turned violent, Islamists stormed a six-storey residential building, claiming that Christian snipers were positioned inside. Fire bombs were thrown at the church and at Christian homes and shops; the Muslim mob later set ablaze a second church, chanting, “With our blood and soul, we defend you Islam”.
The violence was triggered by false but long-running allegations that the Egyptian church is holding captive women whom Muslims claim have converted to Islam. The Muslim mob gathered on Saturday evening after one of the women, a church leader’s wife, gave a televised interview denying the rumours and saying that she remained a Christian and had never become a Muslim. The Egyptian church has refused to cede to Muslim demands that the woman be handed over, fearing for her welfare and safety.
In another incident, a Muslim gang leader in the villages of Badraman and Nazlet Badraman is alleged to have “set himself up as governor of the two villages ... practising injustice and tyranny” against the Christians, attacking homes, extorting money, raping women and kidnapping children for ransom. The Christians are living in fear and have complained repeatedly to the Attorney General in Cairo. The accused, along with most of his gang, managed to evade arrest on 3 April.
- Pray for those who lost loved ones in the violence in Imbaba District. Pray that they will be comforted in their grief.
- Pray for safety for the two Christian women who have been accused of converting to Islam. Pray that they will not be targeted and that the violent Muslim response to these allegations will cease.
- Pray for justice and peace for the Christian residents of the villages that are being terrorised by the Muslim gang leader. Pray for the Lord’s protection over His people.
IRAN - THREE CHRISTIANS RELEASED FROM PRISON
Three Christians were released after 239 days behind bars. Arash Kermanjani, his wife Arezo Teymouri and Sonia Keshish-Avanesian were set free from Hamadan state prison, north-west Iran on 30 April. However Sonia’s husband, Pastor Vahik Abrahamian, remains in prison, even though the judge had ordered the release of all four prisoners following a court hearing on 28 April.
The two couples were arrested on 4 September 2010 at Pastor Abrahamian’s home in Hamadan. They were accused of a variety of offences including spreading Christianity in Iran and were held in isolation, suffering intense physical abuse and psychological pressure. Sonia was pregnant at the time of her arrest but suffered a miscarriage while in prison.
- Give grateful thanks to the Lord for the release of these three Christians, but also lift Pastor Vahik to the Lord in prayer and ask that the Lord will enable his swift release.
- Pray that all four will be able to recover from their terrible ordeal and resume their lives in peace.
- Pray that the Iranian authorities will have a change of heart towards Christians and allow them greater freedom to practise their faith.
SYRIA - INSTABILITY AFFECTS CHRISTIANS
Muslim protestors in Syria have been exerting intense pressure on Christians either to join the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime or to leave. In the village of Hala, Christians were given an ultimatum by their Muslim neighbours to this effect.
Churches in some parts of Syria have received threatening letters, while in a Christian village outside the southern city of Deraa, a home came under fire by a group of masked men on motorbikes. All this is making life extremely difficult for the Christians, forcing them to close their shops and consider what course of action to take.
Christians have largely stayed away from the protests, having generally been safe and well-treated by the secular Baathist government, which has allowed them a considerable amount of religious freedom. In a letter to Western leaders, a senior Syrian church leader said, “Christians especially are very fragile in the face of crises and bloody revolutions! Christians will be the first victims of these revolutions, especially in Syria. A new wave of emigration will follow immediately.”
- Pray for Christians in Syria, and ask that the Lord will grant them wisdom and discernment as they consider their future.
- Give thanks for the level of freedom enjoyed by Syrian Christians, but pray that peace and stability in Syria will be restored, and that Christians will not be threatened by any future regime. Pray too that any political changes will give them more freedom to share the Gospel.
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