At the start of a new year, let us pray to the Lord who knows the end from the beginning, whose purposes will stand, who brings about what He has planned, that He will have mercy on our troubled world, wracked by violence, hunger and disease. The UN’s World Food Programme warned in November that 2021 would be worse than 2020. Pray especially for Christian minorities living with pressure and persecution that Jesus will fill them with His joy, peace and hope as they face the unknown year ahead. (Isaiah 46:10-11)
“It’s disasters on all levels!” wrote a Syrian Christian to Barnabas Fund. “The sanctions hit the economy in such a way that made it collapse! No fuel means no electricity, no bread, no cars to move and no transport of goods. These days even bread is being sold only with what is called the smart card! So it is limited, same as rice, sugar, vegetable oil and so on.” Medicines were hard to find and very expensive. Fires had ravaged the beautiful coastal forests, where many Christians displaced by the civil war are now living. Pray that the Lord will sustain and help the innocent people of Syria, especially our Christian brothers and sisters, and that US sanctions will soon be lifted, enabling Barnabas Fund and others to send aid.
Lord Jesus Christ, we pray today for Christians in Iraq, whose quiet, faithful Christian lives have been wrecked, apparently forever, by the militants who surged across their country nearly seven years ago, killing, kidnapping and seizing their homes to occupy or sell. Dear Lord and Saviour, You know each of Your children and what terrible memories, bereavements and other losses they live with to this day. You know the uncertainty of the future for them. We pray that each will find comfort in their eternal relationship with You, knowing that this one thing can never be taken away from them.
The huge explosion five months ago in the port of Beirut was the last straw for many Lebanese Christians. “They see no hope for their children in Lebanon,” wrote a senior church leader in Lebanon to Barnabas Fund, and any who can emigrate are doing so. Soon “there will be no congregation … and only stones will remain to testify [that] there were Christians here once upon a time”. Pray that, despite the multiple disasters which have befallen Lebanon, a Christian presence will continue in this country where Christians were the majority less than a century ago.
During the Syrian civil war, which unleashed anti-Christian violence in a country where Christians had previously lived as respected equals with the Muslim majority, many Syrian Christians fled for safety to Lebanon. Most of them do not have residency permits and cannot find proper work to support their families. They feel themselves – like Syrian Muslims – to be unwanted and unloved in Lebanon, which is afflicted by enormous economic problems; this feeling has got even worse in the last 18 months as Lebanon’s problems have multiplied. Bring the needs of our brothers and sisters to the Lord of lords, the great God, who “loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing”. (Deuteronomy 10:17-18)
Pray for Christians in Saudi Arabia whose situation has not improved for many years, despite the country becoming gradually freer in certain ways. It is still illegal for Christians and other non-Muslims to show their faith publicly in any way. Simply meeting together for worship in a private home could potentially lead to arrest. Pray that all will be encouraged and strengthened in their walk with the Lord, whether they are poor migrant workers from other countries or Saudi citizens who have put their lives on the line by a decision to leave Islam and follow Christ.
Even Saudi Arabia condemned the Islamist attack in which three people were killed in a church in Nice, France by a knife-wielding Tunisian man shouting “Allahu Akbar” on 29 October. On the same day a man with a gun, shouting “Allahu Akbar”, threatened passers-by in the French city of Avignon and there was a knife attack on the French consulate in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi foreign ministry said that “extremist acts” like that in Nice “contravene all religions” and stressed “the importance of avoiding all practices which generate hatred, violence and extremism”. Pray that Saudi Arabia, whose oil wealth has been used for decades to promote an extremely intolerant form of conservative Islam all over the world, may genuinely begin to work for moderation and tolerance.
At least 54 ethnic Amhara people, mostly women, children and elderly, were shot dead by terrorists of the Oromo Liberation Army in Gawa Quanga village, Ethiopia, on 1 November. The victims had not been able to run fast enough to get to safety in a nearby forest. This was one of a spate of terrorist attacks that targeted Amharas (who are mostly Christians), or Christians of a variety of ethnic groups, over a period of months. Pray that the Lord will comfort those who mourn for their loved ones.
A Christian couple in Somaliland were arrested on 21 September when police visited their home after a tip-off and found Christian materials there. The couple were accused of being “apostates [from Islam] and evangelists spreading Christianity”. Many threats were made against them, but then they were unexpectedly released on 1 November, enabling them to travel with their youngest child to a safe country and be reunited with their two elder children. Pray that the very small Christian community in strictly Islamic Somaliland will not become fearful, but will continue to trust in the Lord who watches over their coming and going, now and forever. (Psalm 121:7-8)
Our Father in heaven, we bring to You today our Christian brothers and sisters in Somalia, who are in daily danger of death because they have chosen to follow Jesus. Help them to bear the insults and abuse, the rejection and the loneliness, strengthened by knowing that You see and understand. Give them opportunities to feast upon Your Word and grow in faith and love. Keep them in Your perfect peace, their minds steadfast and unruffled, as they trust in You, and in the mighty resurrection power of Your Son Jesus Christ, in whose Name we ask. (Isaiah 26:3)
A number of Christian and Sufi Muslim leaders from Sudan met for a two-day conference and then signed a declaration on 27 October aimed at promoting peace and freedom of religion. This followed a series of extraordinary developments in Sudan since moderate Muslims gained political control in April 2019 after almost 30 years of extreme Islamic rule under strict sharia (Islamic law) during which the Christian minority suffered severe persecution. Thank the Lord for all the advances towards freedom, equality and human rights. Pray that the October declaration will be followed by real and practical developments to implement it.
While the government of Chad was struggling to tackle Covid-19 last year, Islamist terrorist groups took the opportunity to mount many attacks against both military and civilian targets. Chadian Christians also face hostility from followers of African Traditional Religions, who live mainly in the south, which is where most of the Christians are. A particular problem is the long and brutal initiation ceremonies for boys approaching adulthood, which the followers of African Traditional Religions try to force Christians to undergo. Pray for Christians in Chad that their faith may not fail.
An evangelical missionary from Switzerland was murdered in Mali by Islamic militants in September 2020. Beatrice Stöckli (59) had been kidnapped and held captive for over four years by a group called Jammat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM). Three other European hostages and a Malian politician were released by JNIM about a month later, reportedly in exchange for over 100 jihadists who had been captured by the Malian authorities. Beatrice had had an earlier experience of kidnapping in 2012 when she was held for nine days and tortured. On her release, the terrorists warned her not to come back to Mali. Despite this, she decided that she would return to her ministry in Timbuktu. Pray that her many years of work in Mali will bear much fruit in this country where Christians are about 2% of the population.
Iranian believer Ebrahim Firouzi has spent much of the last nine years in prison or internal exile. During this time, his health suffered greatly and his mother died of cancer. Ebrahim (now 33) has been repeatedly arrested and charged with various “crimes” related to making known the Christian faith or having contact with Christians outside Iran, thus extending his time in detention. On 27 September 2020 he was summoned yet again to face new charges, which could have led to six more years in prison, but this time the charges against him were speedily dismissed. Praise God for this. However, Ebrahim still has two more years of internal exile to serve from a previous conviction. He had hoped to use the time in exile for personal growth by online theological studies, but his laptop and mobile phone have been confiscated. Pray that they will be returned so he can immerse himself in learning about the Lord.
Iranian converts from Islam to Christianity, Sam and Maryam, were convicted of various “crimes” related to possessing evangelistic literature and sentenced to various punishments. But worse was to come when another court hearing stated that their adopted daughter Lydia must be taken away from them. Lydia, a toddler with serious health problems, had been with Sam and Maryam since she was three months old. Even though two Grand Ayatollahs issued fatwas in support of Sam and Maryam, the court decision could not be overturned and, by the time you are reading this, little Lydia has probably been in state care for nearly four months. Pray that the Lord will act in power and enable this family to be reunited.
The Word of God promises: “You shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace.” (Isaiah 55:12 NRSV) Thank you for praying for “Shahrokh”, a theological student in Iran who began a one-year prison sentence in June 2020. “I am in need of your prayers but I go there with a deep joy,” Shahrokh had written to his tutor when explaining why he would not be able to do any assignments or exams for a while. Shahrokh fell sick in prison and as a result he was set free after about six weeks. Praise God that we have a heavenly Father whose thoughts and ways are higher than ours. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Heavenly Father, we lift to You the Christians of Kazakhstan, whose lives have become increasingly difficult and dangerous over recent years, as new laws are passed by the secular government and the majority society becomes steadily Islamised. Although Christian books are censored and destroyed, and even discussing faith in a private home is technically illegal, we rejoice and praise You because nothing can restrict the work of Your Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, as He teaches Your people, builds up their faith, and reminds them of the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, in Whose Name we pray.
A pastor in Tajikistan contacted Barnabas Fund to ask for prayer. He had received a visit from the authorities to warn him that they had intelligence that radical Islamists had been inspired to take a more aggressive stance against churches and church leaders because of the strong statements made by President Macron of France about Islamist ideology. Thank the Lord that the Tajik authorities are acting to try to keep the Christian minority safe and pray that the Lord God of hosts will be a refuge and a strong tower for His people.
At the time of writing the Turkmen government claims there is no Covid-19 in their country – but the population see that many have developed the symptoms and then died. “Those who have strong immunity survive. The rest are buried,” wrote a Turkmen pastor to Barnabas Fund. He asked prayer for “God’s wisdom and the fear of the Lord in the hearts of the people in power, so that they sincerely care about the people in this difficult time!” He also asked prayer for protection from the coronavirus, especially because “there are so few of us Turkmens!” (The total population of the country is only six million.) The tiny Turkmen Christian community has had many members sick with Covid-19, he said, but none had died. Pray especially for the Christian community that the Lord will guard, protect and keep them through this danger.
The Turkmen government also claims there is no poverty in their country, although people have to queue all night to buy a few items in the state-run shops, where prices are subsidised, while prices in private shops are sky-rocketing. All citizens are closely controlled and their spending monitored in this closed country. For Christians the pressures are even greater. It is illegal for them to meet except in one of the few registered church buildings, so many have to meet in homes, running the risk of being raided by the police and arrested. Pray that, though hard pressed on every side, they will not be crushed, though perplexed they will not despair, though persecuted they will never feel abandoned. (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)
Please ask the Lord to guide the work of five Russian Christian lawyers, supported by Barnabas Fund, who help Russian churches protect their rights and freedoms, defend churches or their members against false accusations, and ensure churches have all the complex paperwork necessary for them to function legally. They also run training courses and seminars to teach pastors and other Christians how to avoid accidentally violating current Russian legislation, which could result in hefty fines. Thank the Lord that, even during coronavirus times last year, the lawyers found ways to continue their vital work.
Praise God for the way in which the work of the five Russian Christian lawyers (see above) is building faith, through God’s favour and blessing (Ephesians 3:20). “I did not believe it,” wrote a senior Christian leader when the Arbitration Court of Appeals in Omsk ruled in the favour of the Christians, “No, of course I prayed for the outcome of the case, but until the last I did not believe there would be a just decision.” The lawyers commented, “The Lord protected His Church and showed us again that nothing is impossible for Him!”
Eight churches were registered in Uzbekistan in the first nine months of 2020 and nine were registered in the whole of 2019. These figures may seem rather low, but for Uzbek Christians they are a wonderful answer to prayer, as for decades it had been virtually impossible for a church to gain registration, and thus operate legally without fear of arrest. Pray that more churches will be granted registration in 2021.
We pray, O Lord, for Christians in Kyrgyzstan, and we thank You for all those who have decided to follow Christ despite the rejection they can expect to face from their families and communities. May they be comforted as they remember that You, too, were despised and rejected. We ask that you will protect and encourage them, especially those in rural areas, where Christians are more vulnerable. Equip, guide and strengthen those who pastor and teach other believers, that all may grow daily more and more into the likeness of Your Son Jesus, in Whose Name we pray. (Isaiah 53:3)
After two years in force, Nepal’s so-called “anti-conversion law” had only been used against Christians, said a Nepali church leader to Barnabas Fund. He reported that Christians retained their trust in the court system of their country, as none of the accused Christians had been convicted. Despite this law and a general hostility towards Christians, there are many individual Hindus in local or national government who have given funds for church buildings and Christmas celebrations. Praise God for them and the lawyers who recognise the innocence of the falsely accused Christians; pray that their attitude will spread widely throughout this Hindu-majority country.
On 22 and 23 September extremists in India’s Chhattisgarh state threatened Christians in three villages that they must “leave their faith or face fatal consequences”. There was no doubt of their seriousness, as the extremists went on to raze about 16 homes to the ground. The Christians were left in “fear and shock” said the Evangelical Fellowship of India. Pray for our vulnerable and marginalised brothers and sisters that they will stand firm in the Lord.
A Sri Lankan pastor has been forced to stop his ministry after being threatened by police and Buddhist monks. On 18 October, police visited the pastor and ordered him to report immediately to the local police station. When he got there, the pastor was taken to an office crowded with monks, who had a church attendance list in their possession and issued a series of threats to the pastor. The church had already suffered five years of intimidation. Pray for an end to the harassment of Christians in Sri Lanka.
Christians and other non-Muslim minorities in Bangladesh found that Islamist extremist attacks against them increased while the pandemic was raging in the middle of last year. Pray for their protection. Remember especially the Rohingya Christians living as a tiny minority in the midst of three-quarters of a million Rohingya Muslim refugees in Bangladesh; they are at all times very vulnerable to attack by extremists among the Rohingya Muslims. Ask the Lord to be their safe refuge.
Daud (10) is one of 538 children of Christian brick-kiln families who attend a group of eight schools started especially for the brick-kiln communities in Pakistan and supported by Barnabas Fund. He says that, whenever he has the opportunity to go to church, he listens very carefully to the sermon, which he always finds inspirational. He wants to be a pastor when he grows up and that is what his mother is praying for too. Without the free schooling from Barnabas Fund he would not be able to study at all. Pray for the wellbeing of all the school-children, and their parents and teachers, that the schools will be springs of faith, truth, strength and hope for these beleaguered communities.
Praise God that Sawan Masih’s conviction for blasphemy was overturned by the Lahore High Court on 5 October. The Pakistani Christian man had spent eight years in prison and had been on death row since March 2014. That leaves seven Pakistani Christians currently sentenced to death for allegedly defiling the name of Muhammad. Pray that they too will be acquitted. Ask the Lord to protect Sawan, seeking to start a new life far away, as there are many zealous Muslims in Pakistan who believe that Allah will be pleased if they kill anyone who has ever been accused of this kind of “blasphemy”.
Heavenly Father, we lift to You the Christian women and girls of Pakistan, so vulnerable and in need of Your protection. Watch over each one as she goes about her daily life and keep her safe from any who would seek to kidnap her by force or trickery. Be especially close to the many Christian widows, struggling to provide for their children, and protect them in a context where they are triply despised - for being Christian, for being female and for being widowed. May they always feel Your loving presence with them. We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ.