“Some families have lost loved ones during attacks, some members of these families miraculously escaped traps.” In words reminiscent of Hebrews 11, a church leader from Burkina Faso gave this background information about 552 Fulani Christian families, persecuted converts from Islam, displaced and destitute, whom Barnabas Fund has assisted with maize, rice and cooking oil. Pray that they will remain strong in their faith, whether they are wonderfully delivered from persecution or whether they have had to endure terrible suffering for Christ. (Hebrews 11:32-38)
“Thank you and all at Barnabas Fund for your earnest prayers during the captivity by jihadis/terrorists of Fulani church planter HT and his miraculous release. Thank you indeed for your prayer support during this ordeal that HT personally endured, which turned to be a test of faith for the Fulani Christian community as many committed to pray and fast regularly until HT’s release.” This message was written by a Fulani Christian leader in Burkina Faso. The Christians had been able to “smuggle” HT and his family out of the country, and rejoiced to compare this with the apostle Paul’s escape from Damascus (Acts 9:25). Praise God for the way in which the faith of the praying Fulani believers was built up by this experience. “Please pray for God to heal HT and his family from trauma, for God to renew their strength, for God to protect them and provide for their needs,” the leader also wrote, noting that HT’s life was still under threat.
A new “civilian” president, Bah Ndaw (actually a retired colonel), was sworn in on 24 September in Mali, after a military coup five weeks earlier. The impoverished West African country is struggling against Islamist violence; thousands of French and UN troops are trying to control the jihadists roaming around the north of the country. The ousted government was unpopular with Malian people, who considered it corrupt, but the jihadists are fairly popular. People like their sharia courts, which deal out justice that is quick, cheap and understandable. They also like the low crime levels that resulted from sharia punishments like amputation when jihadists controlled Timbuktu (2012-13). But sharia is discriminatory to women and to Christians (2% of the Mali population). Colonel Ndaw is to rule for a transitional period of 18 months. Pray that he will be able to provide reliable basic services that treat all of the population equally.
“I prayed to Jesus to have my own Bible. I always wanted my own, to keep with me. This is the best gift I ever received.” Such was the delighted comment of “Emil”, an eleven-year-old Egyptian Christian boy, when he received a children’s Bible from Barnabas Fund. Pray that the Word of God will strengthen Emil as he grows up in a poor family in a country where Christians are despised by the majority of society and suffer discrimination at school and in the workplace. (Psalm 119: 9,31,42) Ask God’s blessings on all ministry amongst Christian children in Egypt that they will be strong in the Lord and know themselves loved by Him and precious to Him.
Barnabas sent funds to Egypt to provide food and hygiene items for poor Christian families living in the desert area who lost their livelihoods because of Covid lockdown. Some received small sums of money. Many of the beneficiaries were widows. One of the widows had been diagnosed the day before with anaemia, and told at the clinic that she had to eat well. This seemed an impossibility, as she could not even feed her three children. Then the food aid from Barnabas arrived. Another sick widow had been prescribed antibiotics but had no money to buy them. Three hours after she got home from the doctor, a visitor from the church brought her a little money from Barnabas Fund and she was able to buy the medicine. Thank the Lord for His wonderful timing and also for the generosity of Barnabas supporters, which made it possible to help Christians suffering from the Covid crisis in Egypt and 34 other countries.
Our Father in heaven, we lift to you the Christians of Saudi Arabia, asking that You will strengthen their faith in a country where it is illegal to show any public expression of Christianity. Please help them find ways to gather together safely to pray and worship You, and to build each other up in the faith. Many of them are migrant workers, far from home and family, living out their lives in terrible conditions. Others are secret Saudi converts, in danger of death if they admit to having left Islam. We praise You, Lord, that You know each one and we ask, in Jesus’ Name, that You will minister to each according to their needs.
A mobile phone app called the Minangkabau Gospel Bible has caused a furore in Indonesia, especially in West Sumatra. The Minangkabau people are indigenous to Sumatra and strongly Islamic, as well as being very attached to their tribal traditions (adat), which they say are founded on sharia and the Quran. The governor of West Sumatra wrote to the Minister of Communication and Information Technology and soon the app disappeared from the Play Store. Praise God that His Word is alive and active (Hebrews 4:12) and pray that the Minangkabau people will find ways to read it, despite human attempts to keep it from them.
Churches in China are facing growing persecution in the wake of the Covid lockdown. In Henan province authorities stated they would only allow churches to reopen after lockdown was lifted if they could prove their loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party. In Yucheng, officials ordered preachers to give sermons that extolled President Xi Jinping for leading people “in defeating the epidemic”. A pastor lamented, “I had to preach as the state required, otherwise the church would not have reopened.” Pray that Chinese church leaders will be given wisdom from above to know how to respond to these predicaments.
North Korea has been struggling with torrential rains, floods and repeated typhoons in one of the wettest rainy seasons on record. The governing party ordered that local officials be punished for the number of casualties that occurred. Pray for the suffering people of North Korea, and especially for our Christian brothers and sisters, who are greatly persecuted yet remain faithful. Pray that these hardships will serve to advance the Gospel in this spiritually dry country, that water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert as more and more North Koreans turn to the Lord. (Isaiah 35:6)
Sudan is to become a secular state and Islam will cease to be the state religion. Furthermore, “Freedom of belief and worship and religious practice shall be guaranteed in full to all Sudanese citizens. The state shall not establish an official religion. No citizen shall be discriminated against based on their religion,” read a declaration that accompanied the signing of an agreement between the Sudanese Prime Minister and the leader of the rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North on 3 September. This is wonderful news for the small Christian minority who have suffered terrible persecution for decades. A few days earlier, the Sudanese government had signed a peace accord with an alliance of other rebel groups, ending decades of conflict in Darfur and the border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, which had left hundreds of thousands dead and millions more displaced. Thank the Lord for these dramatic developments and pray that justice and equality, so long absent from Sudan, will be maintained.
Praise God that the Eritrean government has been releasing Christian prisoners, apparently as part of their Covid-19 control measures. By 22 September, 69 had been released, most of whom had been held for over ten years without trial. The releases are made on condition that bail securities are lodged, usually in the form of property deeds, with guarantors held liable for the detainees’ future actions. “This is an answer to prayer. Thousands of Christians have been praying for this,” said an Eritrean Christian leader to Barnabas Fund.
Please pray for the 69 recently freed Eritrean Christians (see above) as they adapt back to life with family or friends. Pray that they may be healed of the trauma of what they have endured in the harsh prison regimes. Pray especially for those who have been jailed so long that they no longer have any home to return to. Pray also for the release of the remaining Eritrean Christians in detention. They are thought to number about 300 and include children as well as adults. None of the known imprisoned pastors or senior Christian leaders had been released at the time of writing.
Heavenly Father, we lift to you the Christians of Somalia, rejoicing that You know each one by Name. You know the dangers they face, the abuse, rejection and contempt. Thank you for their courage in making a decision to follow Christ, in the full knowledge that this might lead to martyrdom. Although we may never meet our Somali brothers and sisters in this life, help us to learn from their example of faithful endurance. We pray especially for Somali Christian women, who are the most vulnerable of all, struggling to teach their children to trust and love your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in whose Name we pray.
“Please pray for me that I may meet persecution strongly,” wrote Amankan (aged 63), who became a Christian in Kyrgyzstan after her husband died. One of her brothers and the local imam raised a mob of around 200 people to confront Amankan and threaten her when she was trying to bury a beloved Christian friend in the village cemetery. The burial eventually took place elsewhere, but Amankan’s relatives have continued to hound her. Her oldest brother is a famous national poet and does not want his name tarnished by his sister’s Christian faith. Pray that Amankan will be given grace to stand firm.
The Church is growing in Issyk-kul, a strongly Islamic region of Kyrgyzstan – praise God. There are dozens of village fellowships with 5 to 15 adult converts from Islam in each one. The greatest persecution occurs when the first few Muslims come to Christ in a particular village. “Usually the whole village rises up against them,” wrote a church leader to Barnabas Fund. “They watch who goes to them and with whom they communicate.” Pastoral visits therefore have to take place secretly at night, or else in the nearest city. This means it is difficult for the new believers to get the care and teaching they need. Thank the Lord for a recent training for leaders of these small rural church groups, which Barnabas funded, and pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to teach and guide all who participated.
“All people in our village know that I am Christian and persecute me together,” said Zaraykan (aged 62) who leads a small home church in Kyrgyzstan. A Muslim neighbour who attended the group also decided to follow Christ, but her father-in-law then came round to Zaraykan’s home and threatened her, saying she must stop her Christian activity. Zaraykan did not reply and the angry man stabbed her in the abdomen, piercing her liver. Zaraykan was taken to hospital, expecting to die because she had lost so much blood. “But God said to me that I will not die.” She recovered, and shared the Gospel while in hospital — everyone on her ward came to Christ. Pray that the Lord will continue to use Zaraykan for His purposes and glory.
When the text of Uzbekistan’s draft new Religion Law was published on 19 August, Christians were disappointed that religious activities without state permission would still be illegal as would uncensored religious literature and sharing one’s faith. A positive change in the draft was that the number of members required for a church to seek registration would be reduced from 100 to 50. Another proposed change was that church leaders would be required to have theological qualifications, but the details of what qualifications would be acceptable was unclear. Christian leaders in Uzbekistan have called for amendments to the draft law, but at the time of writing have not received a response from the government. Pray to the God of justice (Psalm 50:6 NIV) that He will establish righteous rule in Uzbekistan, which has begun to move in the direction of greater religious liberty in the last few years.
Fifteen years ago the Uzbek authorities cancelled the registration of a church in the city of Nukus, evidently hoping that if there was no registration (meaning that the church was illegal) it would cease to exist. But the unregistered church, which is mostly converts from Islam, continued to function “underground”, despite hundreds of arrests and torture, bullying and fines; it even grew in numbers. Finally, on 13 August 2020, the authorities granted the church registration again. Praise God for the faithful endurance of His people and for the registration, which so many had been praying for.
It was predicted in September that two-thirds of the population of Zimbabwe would need food aid by Christmas. After years of man-made food insecurity, a severe drought in 2019 and Covid-19 in 2020, with a long and brutally enforced lockdown, were already bringing the population to the brink of starvation. Pray that the nourishing ePap porridge, rich in micronutrients, which Barnabas Fund is providing for very vulnerable children and others will bring health and hope. Before lockdown, about 60% of Zimbabweans attended church regularly. Pray that their faith and joy in the Lord will not waver (Habakkuk 3:17-18).
We pray today, dear Lord, for your persecuted people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, remembering especially the bereaved loved ones of 58 people killed by attacks on two mainly-Christian villages in September. We also lift to you the 17 Christians who disappeared in those attacks, probably kidnapped by the militants, and we ask that they will be released safe and well. O Lord, you know that this anti-Christian violence has continued for two long and weary decades and the more the army tries to stop the militants, the more violent they become. We remember that Your Word tells us that You make wars cease to the ends of the earth. We ask in the Name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace that You will bring an end to this violence. (Psalm 46:9)
A new amendment to the law on freedom of conscience and religious association has been drafted in Russia. If passed it would become illegal for pastors trained outside of the Russian Federation to preach in a church or even conduct home Bible study groups. Although apparently intended to combat violent extremism, the proposed new law would be a serious blow to all religious organisations. The bill would require those trained abroad to re-train in Russia, but at the same time the Russian government is making it increasingly difficult for Christian theological institutions to operate, as seen in a campaign over the past two years to revoke the licences of Christian educational institutions. Pray that the Russian government will find a way to prevent religious violence without restricting peaceful religious activities including Christian ministry.
When 27 church leaders from Turkmenistan, all of them converts from Islam, met together for four days of leadership training in a nearby country it was the first time they had ever gathered in such numbers. Five others should have been there too, but could not get visas or had problems at the border. The participants were very appreciative of the training, which was funded by Barnabas, for such courses would be almost impossible to run in their highly restrictive homeland. “Thank you for this seminar,” said Pastor Pulat, “We didn’t expect that there are people who are interested in our lives. I was encouraged very much by this care.” Pray that these isolated and hard-pressed servants of the Lord will continue to be encouraged and equipped by what they learned in those four short days.
Two pastors in Kazakhstan have appealed directly to the country’s president, asking him to stop local authorities seizing the land on which their church buildings stand. Pastor Igor wrote that his congregation had saved for 18 years to raise the money for their own building and were given permission to start construction in January 2020. Then suddenly the city authorities said the land was needed for a new kindergarten. The other congregation, led by Pastor Dmitry, have owned their property since 2001. Ask that God will touch the heart of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and move him to intervene to help the churches. The plot of land is in the Kazakh capital, now called Nur-Sultan after the previous president.
Pray today for secret believers in Jesus, who will not be able to celebrate the wonder of His incarnation except in their own hearts. Ask that they will not feel alone but will be conscious of the great company of the heavenly host giving glory to God for the birth of His Son (Luke 2:13-14). As they rejoice in their Saviour and the spiritual salvation that He brings, pray that they may also know salvation from their enemies and from the hand of all who hate them (Luke 1:71).
As we rejoice in the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, pray for millions of His followers who live today and every day with discrimination, injustice, oppression and the possibility of violence. Pray that as they celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace they may experience His peace in their lives. Ask for His special comfort for those who are celebrating Christmas for the first time since loved ones have been martyred. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Pray for pastors and church leaders in Iran that the Lord will guide each one with wisdom as they face pressure and persecution from the authorities. Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz and his wife Shamiram, both in their sixties, fled the country after losing their final appeal against prison sentences of ten and five years respectively. Joseph Shahbazian (56) was released after less than two months in prison, when his family managed to raise about £75,000 ($100,000; €85,000) for his bail. Pray for Iranian Christians behind bars at this time, that the God of hope fill them with all joy and peace as they trust in Him, so that they may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)
Lord Jesus we ask for Your hand of protection to be over Christian women and girls in places where they are doubly discriminated, first for being female and second for following You. We pray especially for 18-year-old Anika in Pakistan, who took a job as a live-in domestic servant. Within days her employers began asking her to forsake Christianity. She kept refusing and so her employers beat her severely and accused her of stealing money. We also lift to you the family of Indian Christian convert Suman, who was killed defending her young daughter from abuse by extremists. Please comfort and restore all Christian women and girls in similar situations, whom we do not know but You do.
Maria Shahbaz was only 13 when she was abducted at gunpoint on 28 April near Faisalabad, Pakistan. She was then forced to convert to Islam and marry a Muslim. Her parents showed her birth certificate in court to prove she had been too young to marry, but her abductor submitted a fake marriage certificate giving her age as 19. Eventually the court ruled in favour of her abductor and told Maria to be a “good wife” to him. Incidents like this happen to hundreds of Christian and Hindu girls and young women in Pakistan every year. But Maria’s story has an unusual ending – two weeks after the court ruling she managed to escape and re-join her own family. She and her whole extended family are now threatened by her “husband”. Pray that the angel of the Lord will encamp around them to protect and deliver them. (Psalm 34:7)
On 10 September, the High Court in Lahore, Pakistan, called for medical reports on seriously ill Pakistani Christian Zafar Bhatti after his lawyers asked for bail on health grounds and an early hearing for his appeal against his conviction for “blasphemy”. Zafar, a diabetic in his 50s, had suffered a heart attack in prison on 3 September. He has been in jail since 2012 and was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2017 for sending text messages insulting Muhammad – on a phone that was not even registered in Zafar’s name. Pray that Zafar may be set free and that he may be kept safe from zealous Muslims who would believe that killing him would be a righteous act, pleasing to Allah.
Shafique, a Christian brick-kiln worker in Pakistan had hepatitis and TB, so his wife borrowed money from the brick-kiln owner to pay for his medical treatment. But the couple could not pay back the loan and became “bonded” to the kiln. Abbas inherited a similar debt from his parents and became bonded when they died. He could barely afford to feed his family, so there was no hope of paying off the debt. Both these families and many hundreds of other families have been set free by the generous gifts of Barnabas supporters who paid their debts, thus releasing them from bondage (almost like slavery) and from the terrible worry that never left them. Pray that they will all grow in faith as they rejoice in God’s provision.
Many people in the non-Western world believe that the Western New Year is a Christian festival. Therefore it is often a time of increased violence against Christian minorities. Join our vulnerable brothers and sisters in their struggle by praying for them, that they may be rescued from the unbelievers, just as the apostle Paul urged the early Christians in Rome to pray for him. (Romans 15:30-31)