Pray.Network

A Community of Prayer Champions, Praying Churches, Prayed-for Communities

I'm trying to consolidate all the Open Doors postings I've been doing into this group.  I will be moving the discussion featuring Prayer Alerts and Stories of Persecution to this thread.  With each entry, I'll provide the link to the actual page on the Open Doors site, as well as the text of the alert.  Please join me in praying for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world!  

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. -- Hebrews 12:3

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Nov. 20: Iranian House Church Leaders Find Healing

DEEPLY WOUNDED IN IRANIAN PRISON–HOUSE CHURCH LEADERS FIND HEALING

[Pictured above: Iranian ex-prisoner Wahid now pastors a church of 200 in Turkey.]

In Iran’s infamous prison systems, convicted Iranian Christians are jailed and treated as “prisoners of conscience.” Iranian ex-prisoners report being forced to endure intense physical and emotional torture, as they’re pressured to renounce their faith. While many ex-prisoners testify about God’s presence in jail, they also must cope with horrendous memories of prison that keep chasing them long after they’ve been released. Recognizing that, Open Doors partners with local ministry partners and churches to offer trauma care training for Christian ex-prisoners.

Earlier this year, more than 30 Iranian ex-prisoners jailed for their faith recently participated in a training in Turkey–many of whom were house church leaders in Iran and are not leading ministries in Turkey. Below, Wahid, Saman* and Mojtaba—all former house church leaders now living as refugees in Turkey—share their stories and how God has used this ex-prisoner training to impact them both personally and in their current ministries.

“I CRIED A LOT, BUT I WAS ALSO COMFORTED A LOT.”

A former Iranian house church leader and ex-prisoner for his faith, Wahid now pastors a church of 200 in Turkey. For him, the training allowed him to be transparent with believers who understood firsthand what he has gone through.

“In the training, I met people who went through the same experience as me,” he says. “We understood each other, and we learned from each other. I cried a lot, but I was also comforted a lot.

“As a former Iranian prisoner, I have often felt alone and thought nobody cared about me. This training proved me wrong. You showed me I’m not alone. In daily life, I find it difficult to talk about my time in prison, it’s a horrible story. And, as a leader, it’s a big temptation to pretend you are stronger than you actually are. To heal from my experience is a painful process. Some wounds are healed; others not yet. But, with the experiences and teaching at the training event, I have become stronger as a leader. It was a joy for me to be part of the training.”


Mojtaba: “The training has been a good start to my healing process.”

“SHARING REMINDED ME WHAT GOD TAUGHT ME IN PRISON, ‘BE SILENT, I WILL BE CLOSE TO YOU.’”

Former house church leader Mojtaba is now counseling fellow Persian-speaking believers in Turkey, which initially triggered difficult memories. The trauma care training helped him understand what he needed to do to stay physically and spiritually healthy and able to counsel others.

“In the training, I learned how to create a safe space for myself. The training has been a good start to my healing process. Day by day, my wounds are healed more. After my imprisonment, the stress of the memories caused me to suffer from dizziness. After a while, this disappeared, but it came back when I started counseling fellow believers here in Turkey, a task that included lots of emotions.

“In the training, I learned how to create a safe space for myself. While I am counseling people, [I sometimes get caught up in] their problems. Now, I have learned to keep a certain distance. In the long run, this will mean I can do more for them. Creating this safe space has helped me stay healthy in the last few months while I have continued counseling, and during which time there was also conflict in my church. Despite the many emotions, I stayed physically and mentally healthy. I don’t get dizzy anymore.

“Sharing about my prison time also reminded me about the lesson God taught me there: ‘Be silent, I will be close to you.’ I try to apply that lesson to my life again. I don’t want to speak up anymore just to receive recognition from other people. I don’t want others to see me as an important person because I spend time in prison for my faith. I am no more than any other Christian: I need God just as all of us do. And I need Him now too. So I try to focus on Him first.”


Saman: “You can’t imagine how much it means to me to know that I am not alone in this.”

 “MAYBE GOD IS TEACHING ME SOMETHING HERE” …

In Iran, Saman* was also a house church leader—before he was arrested and imprisoned. Now he is living in Turkey but dreams of one day going back to his home country to serve the Lord there.

“It’s a difficult choice,” he says. “I’m still talking with God about my future. It is in His hands. It is difficult to be a refugee here in Turkey, but I hear from friends in the West that life is so rushed there that believers hardly have time to pray and worship on a daily basis. I don’t want that for myself either. Maybe God is teaching me something here that I can use when I go back to Iran.”

The trauma care he has received has offered “long-lasting refreshment,” he says.

“I am still in contact with some of the pastors I met in the training; they help me to continue learning. My friends say I have become stronger since I attended the training. I try to apply what I learned. Every day, I learn something new.”

For Saman, knowing that the global Body of Christ is praying for him and knows his story has strengthened him.

“I was encouraged by the invitation to attend this training. And I am encouraged that you visit us, that my story is shared, and that people pray for me. You can’t imagine how much it means to me to know that I am not alone in this.”

*For security reasons, Saman’s name has been changed. 

Nov. 20: Persecuted Believers Can Teach Us Gratitude

4 THINGS PERSECUTED BELIEVERS CAN TEACH US ABOUT GRATITUDE

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever.

Give thanks to the God of gods, for His steadfast love endures forever.

Give thanks to the LORD of lords, for His steadfast love endures forever…

(Psalm 136: 1-26)

This week as you prepare to give thanks with family and friends, we want to say thank you for partnering with Open Doors and for letting God use you to bless and strengthen the persecuted Church around the world for His glory.

At Open Doors, we continue to hear from believers who are taking the gospel to others, strengthened by knowing that they are not alone … that Christ followers like you are praying with them and equipping them to share the Jesus they have found. These believers have learned the importance of living grateful lives.

LESSONS IN GRATITUDE

Saman from Iran, Noor from Iraq, Seojun from North Korea and Racheal from Nigeria, among many other believers, can teach us what gratitude truly looks like–and why it’s so important in our lives as we mature in Christ.

THANKFULNESS PUTS OUR HEARTS IN THE NECESSARY PLACE TO CONTINUE TO RECOGNIZE GOD IN THE MIDDLE OF OUR DIFFICULTIES AND ADVERSITY.

In the midst of threats on their lives and despite the memories of dark prison cells, our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ understand that God has commanded His people to be grateful for a reason. As the martyred German pastor and evangelist Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.”

Former Iranian house church leader Saman (now ministering in Turkey) recently participated in trauma counseling for ex-prisoners where he confronted dark memories and deep wounds: “I am encouraged and thank God that you visit us, that my story is shared, and that people pray for me. You can’t imagine how much it means to me to know that I am not alone in this.”

THANKFULNESS DEFEATS DISCONTENT.

Gratitude and contentment go hand in hand. Throughout Scripture (at least 100 verses of thanksgiving), we repeatedly see that God calls us to praise and thankfulness, knowing that we are sinners. We are prone to discontent and envy. As the Canadian-American theologian Harry Ironside said, “We would worry less if we praised more. Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction.”

Iraqi Christian Noor was among the thousands of Christians who fled Qaraqosh when ISIS invaded. Last year, Noor returned with her family and is reworking to rebuild her life and her community. She understands the power of being thankful even when life is unjust: “We are thankful for every Christian in the world for thinking about us. And we are grateful that you are helping us, also with your prayers. So, thank you.”

THANKSGIVING IS NOT A ONCE-A-YEAR CELEBRATION.

Rather, giving thanks is a daily practice—one of the most distinctive marks of our faith. North Korean Christian Seojun (now a pastor in South Korea) knows that well. He met Jesus in an Open Doors safe house in China. “I am so thankful … It is not easy to carry on,” he says. “But I am trying my best to work for His kingdom. I am trying to remember all your prayers and effort and I am trying to live as God’s faithful servant.”

THANKFULNESS PLACES GOD OVER OUR LIVES AND IN THE CENTER OF OUR HEARTS.

In the 17th century, preacher and author John Bunyan (best known for The Pilgrim’s Progress) wrote, “A sensible thanksgiving for mercies received is a mighty prayer in the Spirit of God. It prevails with Him unspeakably.” As  image bearers of God, we give Him glory, following Jesus’ call to abide in Him. Gratitude gives God His due and control over our lives. It acknowledges that He is the giver of all good gifts.

Nigerian believer Racheal John was one of 34 Christian women rescued from Boko Haram militants. She endured seven months captive in Nigeria’s Sambisa Forest: “I wish my eyes could see the people who sent this support to me. I don’t know what to say. One thing I will never forget about this gift is that I have brothers and sisters who care for me and who prayed for my rescue.”

This Thanksgiving as you celebrate and reflect, please also remember our persecuted family—our brothers and sisters who are living lives of gratitude in dark situations. We pray that you and your family will experience anew the Author of our thankfulness and His love that endures forever. 

*representatives names and photos used for security

Nov. 30: One Prayer Saved this Pastor in India

ONE PRAYER SAVED THIS PASTOR IN INDIA FROM THE LION’S DEN

Open Doors partners helped him pay the fine and visited him to encourage and pray for him. In this write-up, Biswas shares with an Open Doors partner about the persecution he suffered, and how thankful he is to Open Doors’ partners for the prayers and support.

COMMITMENT TO CHRIST—NO MATTER THE COST


India ranks #11 on the 2018 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it’s most dangerous to follow Jesus.

As the two Open Doors partners, Manit and Saurabh, approach his house, Biswas folds his hands to greet them and leads them inside. As everybody enters the small living room, there seems to be an uneasy silence in the house. The recent incident that happened to Biswas has instilled fear in the hearts of family members.

Biswas’ wife, her head covered with a red scarf, brings in some tea; she smiles as she enters the room. Biswas sits on one of the chairs with the guests.

“I am so grateful that Open Doors, through its partners, is helping pastors like me. I can never thank you all enough,” Biswas shares.

“I had been so desperate as no one was helping me, and then God sent you.” His eyes show the depth of his gratefulness.

Biswas says the homes of non-Christian families surround his house, and that many families live in peace with him. There are however some families who oppose his work as a pastor.

Manit asks Biswas if he has been able to continue with his ministry. “Church services are going on, but I am more careful while doing house visits. I will always serve Christ no matter what it costs. Even if everyone opposes me I will stand for him,” Biswas says.

PERSECUTION FROM EXTREMISTS


Inside Biswas’ home in northern India.

As Biswas hands over a cup of tea to Saurabh he opens up, “That day when the incident took place, someone came to my door and said some men from the temple are calling you. I went without really thinking much about it. What happened next was a shock to me.

“When I got there I saw ten men waiting for me. I knew that all of them were Hindu extremists from my city. They pointed a revolver at my head, and then, without any warning, they started kicking and punching me. They kept shouting abuse, blaming me for tricking people and luring them to change their religion to Christianity.”

He stops here and looks down as if he is trying to recollect something painful, “I suddenly heard one of them say loudly ‘We killed your mentor one year ago, now it’s your turn.’”

He has tears in his eyes as he goes on, “This reminded me quickly at that time about one of the senior pastors in my area who had been murdered one year ago by unknown assailants; he had been the one who had also led me to Christ. They were referring to him as my mentor. I knew now that these men were the ones who had killed him, and they were acknowledging it with boldness. I was shivering with fear.”

He continues, “And then I asked God, ‘Is it my turn after all because I am sharing your Gospel, will they kill me too?’

“In my mental and physical agony, I realized I could also pray for deliverance. I then prayed in my heart, ‘God who saved Daniel in the den of the lions, save me.’”

Biswas wipes away his tears, “It was a miracle. Just after I had said the prayer in my heart, one of the attackers told the others to stop and said let’s just make him pay a huge fine. The God who saved Daniel from the lion’s den saved me from being killed that day.”

Finally, they let Biswas go in exchange for a hefty fine worth eight months’ of his salary, which he was supposed to provide them the very next day. He arranged the money from a local money lender immediately on a very high interest rate as he had no savings. This incident put him and his family into a financial crisis.

RELIEF FROM FINANCIAL HARDSHIP


One Day Persecution Preparedness Seminar where people from the remote villages from persecuted background participated.

Open Doors, through its partners, were told about the difficult financial situation Biswas was going through and helped him both financially—and to manage his family expenses.

“I am so grateful. I will never forget what Open Doors has done for me through its partners. Please convey my thankfulness to all those who have supported me.”

After spending some more time with the couple, Saurabh shares from Psalm 55:22. As both of them pray for Pastor Biswas and his wife, they kneel on the floor. There are some tears of gratefulness and some tears of pain.

When both partners leave, Biswas and his wife are smiling, their eyes, however, are still moist, but they do look brighter.

“Keep praying for us,” his wife shares. “We need more strength. We know we are being monitored and our lives are constantly under threat. But we want to continue with our ministry; however, we are worried about our children.”

Since the number of new believers in the church Biswas pastors continues to rise, many extremists have come to know who he is. Church leaders like Biswas are often targeted with physical violence by Hindu extremists. These leaders need special prayers for protection and also encouragement. Open Doors’ partners in India continue to provide presence ministry along with practical aid to such Christian leaders who are serving God in challenging circumstances.

5 Countries Where Christmas is a Crime

Slowly, the five friends make their way to the women’s outhouse they use each day. They look back. No one has followed them. In the stench of the room, they gather in a corner. Saying little, always in muttered whispers, they stand quietly. One woman softly sings. Another leads a short prayer.

Year after year, this is what Christmas looks like for these believers in a North Korean labor camp. Counting the cost, they risk their lives to come together to pray and sing, reflecting on the coming of their Savior—both 2,000 years ago and one future day they all hope comes very soon.

Share your Christmas prayer for persecuted believers and read the prayers of other Christians praying with you on our new Prayer Wall.

For millions of believers like these, the celebration of our Savior entering the world must be a risk-laden secret Christmas. They know that there is a war on Christmas—and what that war really looks like.

While we see Christmas trees on every corner, persecuted believers might not ever see a single Christmas decoration. If they do, it’s only in a secret celebration because in several countries, Christmas is illegal and banned outright. Any Christmas celebration carries with it the potential for fines, arrest and imprisonment.

RISKING DEATH IN NORTH KOREA

In North Korea, Christianity is illegal—believers must celebrate Christmas in complete secrecy in the woods with a handful of Christians; in homes with candles and in whispers; or in the outhouses of prisons and labor camps.

“Incredibly, many North Korean Christians risk everything to gather on Christmas Day and remember the hope the first Nativity brought to the world,” an Open Doors spokesman says. “A meeting is usually just two people on a park bench muttering prayers and praise quietly. 

“For some, it is too dangerous to even speak, so they simply gather together for a few minutes of encouragement. If a whole family comes to faith, they can organize a type of Christmas celebration. But even then, they must keep it secret from the neighbors.”

Last year, North Korean leader Kim Jung Un banned Christmas and instead told people to celebrate his grandmother, Kim Jong-suk, who was born on Christmas Eve in 1919. The first wife of the country’s founding leader Kim Il Sung is known to North Koreans as “the Sacred Mother of the Revolution.”

North Korean refugee John Choi gives us some insight into what North Korea looks like in December: “’Christmas? What is that?’” he says. “That’s what the average North Korean would say if you were able to ask them about Christmas. Everyone in North Korea knows the birthdays of the three Kims (the leaders of North Korea since its beginnings)—but they do not know who Jesus Christ is or that Christmas is Jesus Christ’s birthday.

“Christmas has long been a non-event for North Korean people—except for underground Christians. The regime works hard to ensure information about religious holidays does not enter the country, and its citizens remain unaware people are celebrating and belting out Christmas hymns across the world.”

CELEBRATING SECRETLY IN SAUDIA ARABIA

In Saudi Arabia, churches, crosses and Christian meetings of any kind are illegal throughout the country. There are no churches and even the wearing of any kind of religious symbol is forbidden. A Christmas tree or lights outside are unthinkable. For Christian households, Christmas must be celebrated in secret.

And for any Christian converts in a Muslim family (converting is illegal and punishable by death, imprisonment or lashes), they are often forced to hide their faith, acting like a Muslim who doesn’t celebrate Christmas—celebrating Jesus only silently in their hearts.

While the country’s laws “permit” Christians to celebrate privately, gatherings are still targeted by officials. In December 2012, Arab media reported that Saudi Arabia’s police force—the Mutaween—raided a private home, arresting more than 40 guests for “plotting to celebrate” Christmas.

Three years later in December 2015, rumors of increasing secret Christmas parties prompted state media to reinforce that celebrating Christmas was forbidden, suggesting that for Muslims even to greet non-Muslims with a Christmas message was basically “endorsing their faith.”

However, insiders and experts claim there is an increasing number of secret Christians in Saudi Arabia–and that a growing number of Saudi residents celebrate Dec. 25.

“The number of Christian converts from Islam and other religions is increasing, along with their boldness in sharing their new faith,” says Open Doors CEO David Curry. “But they have to be careful. A lot of persecution can come from family or society, rather than the government.”

DEFYING CHRISTMAS BANS IN SOMALIA

In Somalia, Christmas was banned in 2015—six years after the country adopted Sharia (Islamic law). Every year, there is an announcement reminding citizens that the celebration of Christmas is illegal.

In 2015, the government “warned” Somalians against the celebration of Christmas, saying it is only for Christians.

“This is a matter of faith. The Christmas holiday and its drum beatings have nothing to do with Islam,”  Sheikh Mohamed Kheyrow, director of Somalia’s ministry of religion, said on state radio. He added that the ministry had sent letters to the police, national security intelligence and officials in the capital city of Mogadishu, instructing them to “prevent Christmas celebrations.”

The same year, Mogadishu mayor’s told Reuters: “Christmas will not be celebrated in Somalia for two reasons; all Somalis are Muslims, and there is no Christian community here. The other reason is for security. Christmas is for Christians. Not for Muslims.”

For Somalians, the 2015 ban smacks of the turbulent time in 2011 when Islamic militants al-Shabab controlled Mogadishu. One of the extremist group’s edicts was to ban Christmas celebrations.

NO TREE TRIMMING IN TAJIKISTAN

In Muslim-majority Tajikistan, no one publicly celebrates Christmas because it has been outlawed. A decree in 2015 by the education ministry in the former Soviet republic banned public displays of Christmas, particularly in schools and universities. That includes fireworks, festive meals and gift giving, as well as “the installation of a Christmas tree either living or artificial.”

Since 2013, Tajikistan has progressively pared down Christmas celebrations leading up to this latest law. In 2014, the country banned Russia’s version of Father Christmas. The law comes more from the restrictive government that has also limited the free exercise of Islam than Muslim society.

STAYING FOCUSED ON JESUS IN MUSLIM-MAJORITY BRUNEI

In Brunei, an oil-rich country on the island of Borneo in southeast Asia, anyone caught illegally celebrating Christmas could face up to five years in prison and a $20,000 fine; owning a Bible in the small Muslim-majority country will get you nine years. Even something as simple as wearing a Santa hat will put you in jail. Unlike Tajikistan, the ban on Christmas comes directly from the strict Islamic regime.

In 2015, Brunei’s Ministry of Religious Affairs released a statement saying, “These enforcement measures are … intended to control the act of celebrating Christmas excessively and openly, which could damage the aqidah (beliefs) of the Muslim community.”

The statement also said that any public celebrations could “affect” the “Islamic faith” of Muslims in Brunei.

The country’s population of 420,000 is 67 percent Muslim, 13 percent Buddhist and 10 percent Christian. Non-Muslims can privately celebrate Christmas in their homes but must first alert the authorities. Still, that caveat sends Christians a subtle message the government is watching.

“I’ve recently stripped all Christian decorations from my office walls to avoid suspicion from the authorities,” James, a church leader in Brunei, said after the decree was issued. “I’m not fearful, I’m being cautious.”

In this pro-Muslim and anti-Christian country, Bruneian Christians were not shocked by the move. They have been used to holding celebrations in the shadows.

“It (the directive) has not made much difference in our worship at the church and private celebrations at home, it is already something that has been practiced over the years,” a Bruneian Christian told The Straits Times. The major difference, he said, is the noticeable lack of commercial Christmas decorations compared to previous years.

“It does take away some of the atmosphere … but we Christians stay focused on the joy that comes from God rather than external factors.”

PRAYING WITH SECRET CHRISTMAS WORSHIPERS

Despite the risks, persecuted believers continue to make the bold and defiant decision to worship their Savior and celebrate His coming into the world. As the Body of Christ, we can stand with our brothers and sisters that will have a much different celebration this month and on December 25 than our own.

  • Pray with believers in North Korea as they secretly gather in candlelit homes, in the woods, on park benches and in prison outhouses. God, we ask You to protect our isolated brothers and sisters and bless them for their resolve to worship you.
  • Pray with believers in Saudi Arabia in Muslim families who must hide their faith and celebrate Jesus’ birth secretly and silently in their hearts.
  • Pray with Christians in Tajikistan and Brunei and their clandestine celebrations. Protect them from police raids and extremist groups that target Christans during Christmastime.
  • Pray with Christians in Somalia who each day live knowing that they are not accepted and their very existence is ignored and denied by their government. Ask God to protect them and give them meaningful times together this December.
  • Pray with imprisoned Christians and their families–that they would be strengthened and comforted—sensing that the global of Body of Christ is lifting them up.

Dec. 06: 114 Christians Arrested in One Week in Iran

Not even a week into December, the Islamic regime in Iran has already made a blatant statement to Christians preparing to celebrate Christmas.

In the last seven days, police have reportedly arrested 114 Christians— nearly 150 in the past month. The onslaught of arrests is part of the government’s attempt to “warn” Christians against sharing their faith over Christmas,  Mansour Borji, advocacy director of religious freedom organization ...

Iran’s Mehr News Agency announced that a total of 142 men and women belonging to different Christian groups were arrested in 10 or 11 different cities across the country.

A ‘STAGGERING’ NUMBER OF ARRESTS

While Iran is known to increase arrests in advance of Christmas, this latest wave is truly “staggering,” Borji said, adding that authorities arrested so many they didn’t know what to do with them all.

As a result, most of the those arrested were allowed to go home after a few hours, or in some cases, days. Those suspected to be leaders of the groups remain detained. Everyone was forced to surrender their cell phone and each believer was told to expect a call from Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence.

Borji added that Christians were asked to write down details of the history of their Christian activities and told to have no more contact with any other Christians or Christian groups.

EACH ARREST OF THE ‘UTMOST IMPORTANCE’

Anonymous sources said several of those arrested were told they would be charged with propaganda against the Islamic regime.

Dr. Mike Ansari from Heart4Iran told International Christian Concern most of those arrested were coerced to divulge information about their house-church activities and those of their friends, under threat of criminal prosecution or arrest of family members.

“Therefore, the case of every arrested Iranian believer is of utmost importance,” Ansari said.

GOVERNMENT ‘ALARMED’ BY CHRISTIANITY’S GROWTH IN IRAN

Dr. Hormoz Shariat, president and founder of Iran Alive Ministries, notes that in addition to being a deterrent, the arrests are also a response to the exponential growth of Christianity in the Muslim country.

“As Christianity grows rapidly in Iran, the Islamic government and the clergy in power are alarmed,” he said. “Their only strategy to slow down this growth is through a campaign of fear, violence and intimidation … We expect the persecution in Iran will increase as the Islamic government feels threatened by the spread of Christianity among Muslims in Iran.”

Compared to roughly 500 known Christians in 1979, there are now approximately 500,000 (some sources say up to 1 million secret believers). According to Elam Ministries, an organization founded in 1990 by Iranian church leaders, more Iranians have become Christians in the last 20 years than in t...

In 2016, the mission research organization Operation World named Iran as having the fastest-growing evangelical church in the world. The second-fastest growing church is in Afghanistan, the organization reported, and Afghans are being reached, in part, by Iranians because their languages are similar.

Dec. 13: 100+ Christians Arrested in China

100+ CHRISTIANS ARRESTED IN CHINA, TAKEN FROM HOMES AND STREETS

Fifteen days before Christmas, one of China’s largest house churches was raided by Chinese police on Dec. 10. The raid has continued over the last few days, resulting in arrests of more than 100 Christians, including church leader Wang Yi. He is one of China’s most well-known pastors.

The Early Rain Covenant Church is an unregistered house church in Chengdu, the capital city of China’s western Sichuan province. Reportedly, church members were taken from their homes and the streets. The South China Morning Post also reported that church members said they were abused while in police custody.

The church’s Facebook page is filled with detailed accounts of what happened and is happening, as well as pow...A couple entries report:

“The big arrest of the church on December 9th (main day) is still going on …they use various means to bring their brothers and sisters away, even smash doors, use searchlights, threats, etc. There are members who have been taken or lost. Some … are under control in the church, and there are many more controlled at home … There are now more than 100 brothers and sisters who have been taken away, and many children are forced to separate from their parents and take care of other members.

“After darkness is light. Lord, please open our eyes and let us see the sky open and the people sit on the right side of the father. Ask the Lord to give the angel of the angels to guard the people of the people, and let us take the heart of suffering as a weapon to greet a great revival of the Spirit.”

The prominent house church has about 500 followers, but its weekly gatherings spread across more than a dozen meeting points around Chengdu, drawing more than 800 congregants each week, according to church leaders. It also has about 100 seminary students and a primary school catering to about 40 children.

While most of China’s Protestant house churches operate underground, the Early Rain congregation openly practices their faith, posting sermons online and evangelizing on the streets.


Police harass Early Rain Covenant Church members as they evangelize on the street (Photo: ChinaAid).

‘JOYFULLY BEARING ALL COSTS’

Pastor Wang’s family received notice yesterday that he had been arrested and charged with “inciting subversion of state power.” Wang’s wife, Jiang Rong, was removed from her mother-in-law’s home on Sunday evening. As of December 12, her whereabouts were unknown.

Since the couple was taken, Wang’s 73-year-old mother, Chen Yaxue, said she had been under 24-hour surveillance, along with the Wang’s 11-year-old son.

“They follow us whenever and wherever we go,” she told the South China Morning Post. “I’m very sad and confused, not sure what to think now. I just want to take my grandson … to run away from all this madness.”

Pastor Wang, a former human rights activist and constitutional scholar, has been extremely vocal about his opinion on China’s new religious regulations implemented in February of this year. The rules restrict proselytizing and charitable work, crack down on religious education for minors, limit the collection of donations, and forbid posting some faith-based content online. They also require churches to register with the government, which empowers officials to censor sermons, choose or reject pastors, and otherwise interfere with worship. The government has also begun installing facial-recognition technology in many registered churches.

Last year Pastor Wang, wrote that “passing the Regulations is a step backward for the rule of law in the religious field” and criticized the regulations as “evil from the standpoint of religious belief, illegal from the standpoint of the constitution, and foolish from the political standpoint.”

The high-profile pastor, who met with President George Bush in the White House in 2006, has urged Christians to resist the religious regulations in a legal and nonviolent manner.

Two days after he was arrested and taken away, church members released an open letter he wrote in September–giving instructions that it be publicized if he went missing for more than 48 hours.

In the letter, Pastor Wang said he would use non-violent methods to stand by his faith and oppose the laws that he said were against the Bible and God, including those that allow crackdowns on churches.

“My Savior Christ also requires me to joyfully bear all costs for disobeying wicked laws,” Wang wrote.

According to China’s criminal code, the charges he faces could result in a sentence of up to five years, but up to 15 years in extreme cases.


Pastor Wang Yi and his wife Jiang Rong. Both have been arrested and taken away.

A QUOTA ON ARRESTS OF CHRISTIANS

The Early Rain Covenant Church is the most recent church to be raided since China began what has become a widespread government crackdown on Chinese churches.

The religious liberty magazine Bitter Winter recently reported that police stations in a city in northeast China are being evaluated based on the number of Christians they arrest.

A police officer from Dalian, a port city in Liaoning Province, near the North Korean border, told the magazine that his station had received a notice from the National Security Bureau which, as part of a performance-assessment plan, set out how many Christians they would have to arrest. The officer said that all stations in the city had received a similar plan, assessing the station’s performance with a 100-point evaluation system.

Senior police officers risk losing their job if quotas are not met, the officer told the magazine, adding that he did not want to arrest Christians but feared the consequences if he didn’t

The officer said that stations are trading with each other, “buying” names of arrested Christians for approximately $70 from other stations that have already achieved their targets.”

PRAYING WITH CHINA’S CHRISTIAN LEADERS

Recently, one of our indigenous ministry partners who works to equip church leaders in China offered this insight: “The situation on the ground [in China] is always changing. Don’t be too quick to jump to conclusions about what China needs. Pray for wisdom for the leaders. Pray with us.” She shared specific prayer needs for church leaders and churches in China:

  • Fortitude. Pray with Chinese Christians and church leaders for the fortitude to withstand increasing pressure and violent acts of persecution.
  • Empowerment. Pray that God would empower His church in China to reach the next generation.
  • Wisdom. Pray that leaders in China’s churches would have the wisdom to know how to handle the pressure they are coming under.
  • Workers for the harvest. Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send workers to plant and nurture seeds that will ultimately bring forth an abundance of Kingdom fruit.

Dec. 17: Chinese Pastor's Powerful Letter

READ CHINESE PASTOR’S POWERFUL LETTER RELEASED AFTER HIS ARREST

Pastor Wang Yi wrote a pre-emptive letter in case he went missing

Last week, Open Doors reported that one of China’s largest house churches had been raided by police resulting in arrests of more than 100 Christians, including church leader Wang Yi, one of China’s most well-known pastors.

Pastor Wang Yi has been charged with  “inciting subversion of state power”–a “crime” that could result in a sentence of up to five years, but up to 15 years in extreme cases. The high-profile pastor, who met with President George Bush in the White House in 2006, had previously urged Christians to resist the religious regulations in a legal and nonviolent manner.

Two days after he was arrested and taken away, church members released an open letter he wrote in September–giving instructions that it be publicized if he went missing for more than 48 hours. Below is the powerful letter in its entirety.

“My statement: the disobedience of faith

Pastor Wang Yi

According to the teachings of the Bible and the mission of the gospel, I respect the founding powers of God in China. Because the king of waste and the king of kings are all in God. To this end, I obey God’s arrangement of Chinese history and institutions.

As a pastor of the Christian Church, I started from the Bible and have my own understanding and views on the social, political, and legal fields, what is justice, and the governance of goodness. At the same time, I am full of disgust and hatred for the CCP’s persecution of the church, the deprivation of human faith and the freedom of conscience. However, the change of all social and political systems is not the mission of my calling, nor the purpose of the gospel being given to the people of God.

Because all the ugliness of reality, the political injustice, and the arbitrariness of the law show that the cross of Jesus Christ is the only salvation that every Chinese must have. It also shows that true hope and perfect human society do not exist in any institutional and cultural changes on the earth, but simply how human sins are forgiven by Christ and have the hope of eternal life.

As a pastor, my faith in the gospel and the teachings of the people, and the blame for all sin are out of Christ’s command in the gospel, out of the unmeasurable love of the glory king. Everyone’s life is so short, and God is so eager to command the church to lead and call anyone who is willing to repent to repent.

Christ is so urgent and willing to forgive all who turn from sin. This is the purpose of all the work of the church in China. It is to witness Christ to the world, to witness the kingdom of heaven to China, and to witness the eternal life of heaven to the short life of the earth. This is also my pastoral call.

PASTOR WANG YI: ‘MY DISOBEDIENCE IS PART OF THE GOSPEL MISSION’

To this end, I accept and respect the CCP’s regime as a temporary ruler allowed by God. As the Lord’s servant, John Calvin, said, the ruler of evil is God’s punishment for the wicked people, and the purpose is to urge the people of God to He repented. To this end, I am willing to obey their law enforcement behavior physically, as if obeying the Lord’s discipline and training.

I also believe that the persecution of the church by the Chinese Communist regime is an extremely evil crime. As a pastor of the Christian Church, I must sternly and openly blame such sins. The calling also requires me to violate all human laws that violate the Bible and God in a non-violent form, in peace and patience. Christ, my Savior, also asks me to joyfully bear all the costs of transgressing evil laws.

But this does not mean that my personal and church disobedience is a political act in any sense of activism or civil disobedience. Because I have no intention of changing any of China’s systems and laws. As a pastor, the only thing I care about is the disobedience of faith, the shock of sinful humanity, and the testimony of the cross of Christ.

As a pastor, my disobedience is part of the Gospel mission. The great mission of Christ requires our great resistance to the world. The purpose of resisting is not to change the world, but to witness another world.

THE WAYS WE WITNESS ANOTHER ETERNAL WORLD


Pastor Wang Yi and his wife Jiang Rong were both taken away at different times during the recent raid on Early Rain Covenant Church.

Because the mission of the church is simply to become a church and not to be part of any secular system. From a negative perspective, the church must separate itself from the world and avoid letting itself be institutionalized by the world. From a positive perspective, all actions of the church are efforts to prove to the world the true existence of another world. The Bible teaches us that we can only obey God and not obey people in matters concerning the gospel and human conscience. Therefore, the disobedience of faith and the patience of the body are the ways we witness another eternal world and another glory king.

This is why I am not interested in changing any political and legal system in China, and I am not even interested in when the policy of the Chinese Communist regime persecution of the church will change. No matter whether I live under any regime now or in the future, as long as the secular government continues to persecute the church and harm the human conscience that belongs to God alone, I will continue to resist the faith. Because all the missions that God has given me are through all my actions so that more Chinese understand that the hope of mankind and society lies only in the redemption of Christ, in the supernatural grace of God.

If God decides to persecute the church by the Chinese Communist regime, to help more Chinese despair, lead them to experience the disillusionment and desert of faith, and thus to know Jesus and to constantly cultivate and build his own church. I am very happy to obey God’s arrangement, because his arrangement is always loving and beautiful.

‘A HIGHER AUTHORITY THAN THEIR AUTHORITY’

It is precisely because of all my words and deeds that I do not seek and expect any change at the social and political level; I am no longer afraid of all social and political powers. Because the Bible teaches that God’s authority to set up the government is to fear the people who are evil, not to fear the good. Those who believe in Jesus do not do evil, and they should not fear the power of darkness. Although I am often weak, I believe that this is the promise of the gospel. It is the good news that I have tried my best to spread in the Chinese society.

I also understand that this is precisely the reason why the Chinese Communist regime is full of fear for a church that no longer fears it.

If I am detained for a long or short period of time to help those in power reduce their fear of my faith and my Savior, I am happy to help them in this way. But I know that I can truly help the souls of those in power and law enforcement only when I say no to all the persecution of the church’s sins and fight in a peaceful way. I long for God to use me to tell those who let me lose my personal freedom in a way that loses my personal freedom. There is a higher authority than their authority, and there is a freedom that cannot be held by them, full of Jesus Christ. The church that died and was resurrected.

No matter what kind of crime this regime has imposed on me, what kind of dirty water is poured, as long as this crime points to my beliefs, writing, speech, and missionary behavior, it is only the devil’s lies and temptations. I will deny it all, serve the sentence without serving the law, and confess without confessing.

And I must point out that the persecution of the Lord’s Church and all Chinese who believe in Jesus Christ is the most evil and terrible sin of Chinese society. This is not only a crime against Christians, but also a crime against all non-Christians. Because the government violently and cruelly threatened them and prevented them from coming to Jesus, there is nothing more sinful than this.

If one day, this regime was personally subverted by God. There will be no other reason, necessarily due to God’s punishment and revenge for the justice of this sin. Because on the ground, there is only a thousand-year-old church, no thousand-year-old regime. Only eternal faith, no eternal power.

‘ASK THE LORD TO USE ME’

Those who hold me will be detained by angels. The person who interrogates me will eventually be interrogated by Christ. With this in mind, the Lord has made me sympathetic and sad to those who are trying and who are holding me. Ask the Lord to use me and give me patience and wisdom to bring the gospel to them.

I made my wife scatter, which made me lose my name and made my family ruin. These powers can do it. However, let me give up my faith and make me change my life and raise me from the dead. No one in the world can do it.

In this case, the distinguished officials, stop doing evil, this is not for my good, but for the benefit of you and your children. I have tried hard to persuade you to stop, because why are you such a humble sinner for me, and willing to pay the price of forever indulging in hell?

Jesus is Christ, the Son of the Living God. He died for sinners and rose for us. Yesterday, today, and forever, He is the master of my king and the whole world. I am his servant and I am detained for this. I will gently resist all who resist God, and I will gladly disobey any law that does not obey God.

The first draft of the letter dated September 21, 2018 was revised on October 4:

WHAT IS THE DISOBEDIENCE OF FAITH?


Leaders and members of Early Rain Covenant Church.

I firmly believe that the Bible does not give any government department authority to manage the church and intervene in Christian faith. Therefore, the Bible requires me to, in a peaceful manner, in a gentle rebellion and positive patience, full of joy, resist all administrative and judicial measures that persecute the church and interfere with the Christian faith.

I firmly believe that this is a kind of religious action. In the modern totalitarian state that persecutes the church and resists the gospel, the disobedience of faith is an inevitable part of the gospel movement.

I firmly believe that the disobedience of faith is a kind of end-time action, a testimony to the eternal city of sin in the short-lived city of sin. The disobedient Christian, following the path and manner of the cross, followed the crucified Christ. The resilience of peace is the way we love this world and the way we avoid becoming part of this world.

I firmly believe that the Bible requires me to rely on the grace of Christ and the power of resurrection to follow the two insurmountable bottom lines in practicing this religious disobedience.

The first is the bottom line of the heart. The love for the soul–not the hatred of the flesh–is the motive for resistance in faith. The change of the soul, not the change of the environment, is the goal of religious resistance. At any time, if external persecution and violence take away my peace and patience, and my heart gives rise to resentment and bitterness to those who persecute the church and insult Christians, this religious disobedience fails. It is.

The second is the bottom line of behavior. The gospel requires that the religious resistance must be non-violent. The mystery of the gospel is to replace the physical resistance with positive suffering, and is willing to bear the punishment of unrighteousness. The resilience of peace is the result of love and forgiveness. The cross means being willing to suffer where you don’t have to suffer. Because Christ has unlimited resistance, he has endured all humiliation and hurt. Christ’s way of resisting this world against him is to extend a peaceful olive branch on the cross to a world that crucified him.

I firmly believe that Christ calls me to practice this religious disobedience in this life-long service under this regime that resists the gospel and persecutes the church. This is the way I preach the gospel and the mystery of my evangelism.

The main servant Wang Yi

Dec. 18: Police in China Given Quotas for Arrests of Christians

In China, there is now reportedly a bounty for the arrest of Christians–part of the widespread and intensifying crackdown on the church in China.

The religious liberty magazine Bitter Winter is reporting that police stations in the major port city of Dalian (a population of 6.6 million) in northeast China are being evaluated based on the number of Christians they arrest.

A police officer from Dalian, the second-largest city in Liaoning Province, near the North Korean border, told the magazine that his station had received a notice from the National Security Bureau which, as part of a performance-assessment plan, set out how many Christians they would have to arrest. The officer said that all stations in the city had received a similar plan, assessing the station’s performance with a 100-point evaluation system.

Senior police officers risk losing their job if quotas are not met, the officer told the magazine, adding that he did not want to arrest Christians but feared the consequences if he didn’t

To meet their quotas, the officer said that stations are trading with each other, “buying” names of arrested Christians for approximately $70 from other stations that have already achieved their targets.

WIDESPREAD CRACKDOWN


Leaders and members of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu

This new paradigm and the recent raid of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu–one of the country’s largest underground house churches–represent concrete examples of what has become a widespread government crackdown on Chinese churches and Christians.

Since the Communist government implemented new religious regulations in February of this year, officials have forced churches to install surveillance cameras, take down crosses, arrested church leaders on charges of subverting state power, sent Christians and followers of other religions to “re-education” camps and has recently begun arresting members of unregistered house churches.

The new rules restrict proselytizing and charitable work, crack down on religious education for minors, limit the collection of donations, and forbid posting some faith-based content online. They also require churches to register with the government, which empowers officials to censor sermons, choose or reject pastors, and otherwise interfere with worship. The government has also begun installing facial-recognition technology in many registered churches.

PRAYING WITH CHINA’S CHRISTIAN LEADERS

Recently, one of our indigenous ministry partners who works to equip church leaders in China offered this insight: “The situation on the ground [in China] is always changing. Don’t be too quick to jump to conclusions about what China needs. Pray for wisdom for the leaders. Pray with us.” She shared specific prayer needs for church leaders and churches in China:

  • Fortitude. Pray with Chinese Christians and church leaders for the fortitude to withstand increasing pressure and violent acts of persecution.
  • Empowerment. Pray that God would empower His church in China to reach the next generation.
  • Wisdom. Pray that leaders in China’s churches would have the wisdom to know how to handle the pressure they are coming under.
  • Workers for the harvest. Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send workers to plant and nurture seeds that will ultimately bring forth an abundance of Kingdom fruit.

Dec. 20: 3 Major Factors Driving the Crackdown on the Church in China

With the recent raid on one of China’s largest underground house churches resulting in arrests of more than 100 Christians and reports that police now have quotas for arrests of Christians, along with foreign trade negotiations, China and leader Xi Jinping have been all over the headlines. Major news outlets have increasingly reported on what is now being called a widespread government crackdown on religion in China (including Christians and Muslims). Below, we examine three major factors driving this persecution.

ONGOING TENSION AND EXPONENTIAL GROWTH


Members of Early Rain Covenant Church gather to worship

Christianity in China (#39 on the World Watch List) has always lived in tension. Though the Communist Party of China has habitually restricted the freedom of Christians to worship over the last 70 years, the skyrocketing growth of the Chinese church is impossible to miss.

Even non-Christian observers have taken notice, with many outlets putting the true number of Christians in China at tens of millions more than the Chinese government officially recognizes. In China, churches include registered state churches that are regulated by the government; covert unregistered “underground” house churches; and unregistered or underground house churches that operate in the open, like Early Rain Covenant Church, which have been tolerated by the government–until recently.

The official government line is that freedom of religion is guaranteed in the Chinese constitution. And technically, that’s true—but it comes with a huge asterisk. The constitution enshrines that the state “protects normal religious activities,” which means the Communist Party is responsible for determining what “normal religious activities” are.

But even last year, the Christian church in China didn’t perceive the government as a great threat. Indeed, theologian Dr. Richard Mouw wrote earlier in 2017 that “[local religious leaders] do not see President Xi Jinping as hostil....”

However, in the last few months, we’ve seen numerous developments that represent what is now being referred to as an all-out “widespread crackdown” on church leaders and churches throughout China. Most recent is the Early Rain Covenant raid in which the church’s well-known pastor, Wang Yi, and his wife were arrested on subversion charges and taken away.

Not since China’s Cultural Revolution led by Mao in Zedong has the church in China seen this level of persecution.

What is driving this intensifying crackdown and how can Christians around the world pray for their sisters and brothers during what appears to be the emergence of a new paradigm for Christians in China? Here are three major factors:

1. CHINA’S PASSAGE OF NEW RELIGIOUS REGULATIONS


One of the most disturbing regulations is the new announcement in some areas that children are not allowed to attend church services.

In fall 2017, China announced it had officially adopted new religious guidelines, aimed at curbing “religious extremism.” In February 2018, the laws went into effect. Since then, religious persecution, including both Christians and Muslims, has escalated to a level of persecution few saw coming. The new regulations include “guidelines on religious education, the types of religious organizat....”

How those regulations have played out so far, among other things:

  • arrests of church leaders and church members
  • Muslims and Christians sent to re-education camps
  • the destruction and closure of unregistered churches
  • anyone under 18 not allowed in churches
  • the removal of crosses from church buildings
  • requiring registered churches to install facial-recognition technology in many registered churches.

Last year Pastor Wang, a former human rights activist, wrote that “passing the regulations is a step backward for the rule of law in the religious field.” He criticized the regulations as “evil from the standpoint of religious belief, illegal from the standpoint of the constitution, and foolish from the political standpoint.”

2. THE INCREASED CULT OF PERSONALITY AROUND XI JINPING 

Xi Jinping serves as the current general secretary of the Communist Party of China and president of the People’s Republic of China. He assumed office in late 2012 and continues to increase his power. In October 2017’s meeting of the Communist Party Congress, Jinping was granted another term and the party put his policies into the Chinese constitution, granting it the same level of authority in the country as former Chinese leader Mao Zedong. “Xi Jinping Thought” has now been introduced as a guiding force for China. The New York Times reported the action “sent a clear signal to officials throughout China that questioning Mr. Xi and his policies would be ideological heresy.”

In the lead up to the Congress, World Watch List (the Open Doors research unit) analyst Thomas Muller said the elevation of Xi’s thought fits into a pattern of increasing restrictions on religion.

“The preferred line of thinking is emphasized by introducing President Xi Jinping’s own brand of ‘political thought’ into the Party constitution, tying ideology closer to the budding personality cult around him,” Muller explains. “Fitting into this pattern is a book recently published by the Central Party School, demanding that all students learn from President Xi’s experiences as a teenager during the Cultural Revolution.

As the emphasis on Communist ideology and the personality cult emerging around President Xi gets stronger, the authorities will correspondingly act more strongly against all other ‘ideologies’ not fitting into this system, including the Christian religion.”

3. THE POSITIONING OF XI JINPING AND THE COMMUNIST PARTY AGAINST JESUS AND HIS CHURCH


Police line up before raid of Early Rain Covenant Church.

Last November, The Washington Post  ran a chilling report (Nov. 14, 2017) from southeastern China: Thousands of villagers were told that Jesus can’t help them with illness or poverty, and only Xi Jinping can, so they should remove religious images and replace them with pictures of Xi.

Another report in the South China Morning Post quotes Qi Yan, chairman of the Huangjinbu people’s congress: “Many rural people are ignorant. They think God is their savior … After our cadres’ work, they’ll realize their mistakes and think: We should no longer rely on Jesus, but on the party for help.

The increasing cult of personality around Xi (he’s even been referred to in the press as “Great Leader”–terminology not used since Mao Zedong’s rule) and the emphasis on poverty eradication by the Communist Party has led to China positioning itself and its leaders against Christianity.

A year ago, these trends were still in their infancy. In October 2017 before the religious regulations went into effect, Open Doors published a report, “3 Troubling Developments Facing Christians in China.” Today, these factors are in full force in negative ways few predicted. The church in China needs our prayers and encouragement to stand strong. Conversely, we can also learn from these stalwart Christians like Pastor Wang Yi who are now risking their lives to stand up against what Yi called “the Chinese Communist Party’s persecution of the church, the deprivation of human faith and the freedom of conscience.” Two days after his arrest, church members released an open letter from Pastor Yi that he wrote in September. He gave specific instructions to release it if he went missing more than two days.

In it, he stressed that he is willing to be part of God’s plan to use persecution to bring others to Christ: “If God decides to persecute the church by the Chinese Communist regime, to help more Chinese despair, lead them to experience the disillusionment and desert of faith, and thus to know Jesus and to constantly cultivate and build His own church. I am very happy to obey God’s arrangement, because his arrangement is always loving and beautiful.”

God has given the global Body of Christ the privilege and responsibility to get on our knees and join in fervent prayer around the church in China. While Christmas tends to be a time when we see greater persecution from the state and extremist groups, the situation in China is likely to continue to escalate as the Chinese Communist Party increases its power and focus on Chinese nationalism, says Open Doors CEO David Curry.

“There will be even more pressure on the Body of Christ in China,” Curry said. ”The government is trying to force out unregistered churches. Those churches that are registered, they approve sermons, these kinds of things, slowly turning up the heat and making it a ‘Chinese’ church, not a church of Jesus.” 

PRAYING WITH BELIEVERS IN CHINA

Recently, one of our indigenous ministry partners who works to equip church leaders in China offered this insight: “The situation on the ground [in China] is always changing. Don’t be too quick to jump to conclusions about what China needs. Pray for wisdom for the leaders. Pray with us.” She shared specific prayer needs for church leaders and churches in China:

  • Fortitude. Pray with Chinese Christians and church leaders for the fortitude to withstand increasing pressure and violent acts of persecution.
  • Empowerment. Pray that God would empower His church in China to reach the next generation.
  • Wisdom. Pray that leaders in China’s churches would have the wisdom to know how to handle the pressure they are coming under.
  • Workers for the harvest. Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send workers to plant and nurture seeds that will ultimately bring forth an abundance of Kingdom fruit.
  • Protection. Pray that God will protect the rights and abilities of His people in China to worship Him.
  • Supernatural intervention in the hearts of leaders. Pray that Xi Jinping and other Party officials will hear the voice of the Holy Spirit and put their trust in Jesus.
  • Courage for believers. Pray that given the choice between religious displays and poverty rations, believers will have wisdom and courage.

Dec. 22: "We Worship in Police Cars" (China)

‘TODAY, WE WORSHIP IN POLICE CARS’–60 MORE ARRESTS IN CHINESE CHURCH RAID

We have reports that another 60 members (in addition to the 100+) of the underground Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, China, were arrested in the recent raid of the Protestant congregation and the intensifying and widespread crackdown on the church in China.

This time,  the arrests took place at a riverside park where congregation members met for worship when they were banned from their church building. Reportedly, they were arrested and taken away during the gathering. Several other Christians who met at a separate location in the field of a nearby university were also taken by police.

A church member not wanting to be identified told BBC News that the lock on the church was broken, some of the churchgoers’ homes were ransacked, and a number of believers were “under house arrest or are followed all the time.” The church building is being guarded by police and plain-clothes officers, not allowing anyone to enter,  the church member added.

Police have reportedly been attempting to force churchgoers to pledge to leave the church.

‘TODAY, WE WORSHIP YOU IN POLICE CARS’

Throughout the widely publicized raid, deep statements of faith and conviction have emerged from both arrested Pastor Wang Yi (he wrote an open letter urging Christians to stand against persecution from the Chinese regime) and members who continue to post on social media. A recent prayer on Early Rain’s Facebook page reads:

“Lord, today we worship you in police cars. We worship you in police stations. We worship you in detention centers. We worship you in prisons. And we worship you in homes. We have no other goal except to worship you alone. We ride in buses heading to police stations as though riding down the road to Zion. For you tell us, Lord, that you are seeking worshipers who worship you in spirit and in truth.

“May you be pleased with our worship. We have nothing to offer you but our hearts. We offer them up sincerely to you now.

“Wherever I am, whatever I meet, I will follow your will forever.”

A CHINESE CHURCH, NOT A CHURCH OF JESUS

Since new religious regulations were implemented in February, the Chinese regime has increasingly tightened its grip on both state and underground churches with a push toward nationalism to, as Open Doors CEO David Curry says, make them “a Chinese church, not a church of Jesus.”

“There will be even more pressure on the Body of Christ in China,” Curry said. ”The government is trying to force out unregistered churches.”

Over the last few months, Open Doors has seen numerous developments, in addition to this recent raid, that represent what is now being referred to as an all-out “widespread crackdown” on church leaders and churches throughout China.

On Saturday (December 15), police raided a children’s Bible class at Rongguili Church in the southern city of Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province, and closed the church. And in September police closed the prominent Zion Church in Beijing led by Pastor Jin Mungri after the church refused to install surveillance cameras.

Additionally, the regulations also have played out in other ways:

  • arrests of church leaders and church members
  • Muslims and Christians sent to re-education camps
  • the destruction and closure of unregistered churches
  • anyone under 18 not allowed in churches
  • the removal of crosses from church buildings
  • requiring registered churches to install facial-recognition technology in many registered churches.

PRAYING WITH BELIEVERS IN CHINA

Recently, one of our indigenous ministry partners who works to equip church leaders in China offered this insight: “The situation on the ground [in China] is always changing. Don’t be too quick to jump to conclusions about what China needs. Pray for wisdom for the leaders. Pray with us.” She shared specific prayer needs for church leaders and churches in China:

  • Fortitude. Pray with Chinese Christians and church leaders for the fortitude to withstand increasing pressure and violent acts of persecution.
  • Empowerment. Pray that God would empower His church in China to reach the next generation.
  • Wisdom. Pray that leaders in China’s churches would have the wisdom to know how to handle the pressure they are coming under.
  • Workers for the harvest. Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send workers to plant and nurture seeds that will ultimately bring forth an abundance of Kingdom fruit.
  • Protection. Pray that God will protect the rights and abilities of His people in China to worship Him.
  • Supernatural intervention in the hearts of leaders. Pray that Xi Jinping and other Party officials will hear the voice of the Holy Spirit and put their trust in Jesus.
  • Courage for believers. Pray that given the choice between religious displays and poverty rations, believers will have wisdom and courage.

Dec. 14: Rescued Colombian Teens Get New Start

TARGETED BY GUERRILLA SOLDIERS–RESCUED COLOMBIAN TEENS GET NEW START

It’s 11 am in the Children’s Center. Today is a special day for 11 young people from the persecuted church in Colombia. Today, they will receive their high school degree in an open auditorium, with an exuberant green all around it.

Mario*, a young 16-year-old boy wearing cap and gown, steps up to make his speech. He recalls with nostalgia the events of the last few years with his friends. Then he suddenly goes silent and in a broken voice shares:  “Although we arrived with very little, today we leave with a lot. Because here, we were able to start again.”

It is a phrase that summarizes in a simple way the work of the Children’s Center over the past 18 years.

Mario’s*  story begins in one of the most isolated towns in Colombia, San Judas Tadeo*, a small village named after a disciple. An ironic name considering the history of persecution and violence against the Christian church.

A MOSES DECISION

Mario’s father, Pastor Ramiro*, and his wife, Emiliana*, have together pastored a small evangelical church for more than a decade. It has approximately 30 members, mostly peasants and farmers who see the church as a kind of shelter from the bullets. In Pastor Ramiro’s words, they also look for wise counsel and a guide to sustain hope and integrity in the midst of the uncertainty brought by living under constant threat of attack and forced recruitment by socialist guerrillas.

With boldness and bravery, Pastor Ramiro has preached the gospel of salvation in his region, a message of hope that directly contradicts the orders and plans of the armed groups. Pastor Ramiro says that “one more man in the church is one less man in the war” and this is the reason why armed groups in San Judas Tadeo have led a bloody campaign against Christian churches, its pastors and leaders over the last 15 years, including Pastor Ramiro and his family.

In addition to the intense religious persecution, Mario’s family feared that he would be recruited against his will, like so many children in Colombia are, especially Christians. There are numerous testimonies of kidnapped youths and children who were forced to carry guns under threat of death. The moment was critical, the alternatives few and the time urgent. Like the painful decision Moses’ mother made to let her baby go to save his life, only a similar miracle could bring peace to the Ramiro family.

And that is precisely what happened.

A NEW BEGINNING

It was 2013 and through one of the persecuted pastors of Open Doors’ support network, Ramiro’s family learned about the Children Center and decided to send Mario far from his home. They knew the Center could give him stability and a new beginning, sheltered by men and women who could disciple him.

Mario wasn’t quick to acclimate, however. But after a few months, the young man began to stand out as one of the most disciplined students, with an undeniable musical talent and ability to solve problems.

Mario has thick glasses, without which he couldn’t read well, or cut hair with so much talent. It’s a skill that has his teachers and colleagues have recognized in him. Mario learned to cut hair just two years ago at the Children’s Center as part of the technical training the Children’s Center provides to 56 children and young people who are part of the Open Doors project.

The children learn dressmaking, mechanics, agriculture and other skills that guarantee labor competitiveness once they finish their training. In the words of the school’s principal: “We prepare children so that they think beyond money and comforts. We prepare them so that they can help their communities, always reflecting the love of God in everything they do.”

EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE

It is now ten minutes past 11, and already quite warm in the Children’s Center. Mario is finishing his graduation speech and, even with more than 200 people in the place, the silence in the room is almost palpable. Everyone takes in this young man’s words and the magnitude of this accomplishment. They know where he started. They know how his family gave him up to bring him rescue and hope. Like his 10 other fellow graduates, they came with similar stories and are now moving on to the next chapter. This time with more tools, skills and the peace and support of a family-the family of faith.

Currently, Mario is preparing to begin his university studies in 2019. As a result of his effort and dedication, he received one of the scholarships awarded by Open Doors to young people who demonstrated with their life history that limits don’t exist.

Just as Mark reminds us in his Gospel: “Everything is possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23).

representatives names and locations used for security reasons

Dec. 04: PRAY WITH ALGERIAN FAMILY AWAITING CHRISTMAS DAY VERDICT

Imagine being accused and put on trial for talking about your faith with a friend in their home. And knowing that you could be put in prison for years for that conversation.

For four persecuted Algerian Christians, this is reality. Christians are asking us to pray with four persecuted believers–three from the same family–who are on trial for talking about their faith in an “unauthorized place.” If convicted, each faces a prison term of two to five years and a fine of up to $8,700.

The verdict is expected on Christmas Day, December 25.

ACCUSATIONS UNDER PRESSURE

In July, a Muslim Algerian woman and her family filed a complaint accusing her Christian husband, Rachid Ouali, and a Christian family attempting to stem the conflict between the couple of bringing her to a church service and wanting to convert her to Christianity. Rachid and the family deny the accusations, which Ouali’s wife later told him she made under pressure from relatives, Ouali told Morning Star News.

In late June, Ouali and his wife went to have lunch at the home of a friend, Ali Larchi and his family. The Larchi family is well-known in the Bouira Province as Christians who receive guests of all kinds, Ouali said. Bouira Province lies in Kabylie region, which has a sizeable population of Christian converts from Islam.

As the two wives conversed, Ouali and Larchi began telling each other stories of Christ’s faithfulness in their lives, Ouali said. Suddenly, Ouali’s wife jumped to her feet and cried out in anger, “You have brought me here to convert me and to deny my religion. You laid a trap for me.”

“She kept raising her voice to make herself heard outside,” he said.

Ouali’s wife left the house and went to her parents’ nearby home, where she told relatives, including two brothers who are both policemen, about the meal. The brothers demanded that she file a complaint against her husband and his friends, Ouali said.

Ouali said that his wife later confessed to him, “I did not want to do it; it was my brothers who forced me to do it.”

The day before Tuesday’s hearing, he added, she called him and told him, “I’m stuck between my family and my husband, I do not know what to do.”

n a November 27 court hearing, the court listened to both parties. Under Algerian law, the charges are punishable crimes and are specifically designed to “protect” Islam. The law, commonly known as Law 03/06, calls for prison/fines for anyone who “incites, constrains or utilizes means of seduction tending to convert a Muslim to another religion.”

The Christians’ attorney, Sadek Najib, says he is hopeful for a positive outcome.

“If this woman denies having been forced to be a Christian and to renounce Islam, the case will be closed,” Najib said. “The prosecution will be canceled since their accusation is unfounded.”

‘PROTECTION’ FOR MUSLIMS

Islam is the state religion in Algeria, where 99 percent of the population of 40 million people is Muslim.

Last year, Middle East Concern said the increasing pressure on individual Christians and churches showed a “coordinated campaign of intensified action against churches by the governing authorities.” Algeria is ranked No. 42 on the 2018 World Watch List. Christian leaders say the 03/06 law is unconstitutional, citing the Algerian constitution’s Article 42, which guarantees freedom of belief, opinion and worship.

Since 2000, thousands of Algerian Muslims have reportedly put their faith in Christ. Algerian officials estimate the number of Christians at 50,000, but others say it could be twice that number.

PRAYING WITH ALGERIAN BELIEVERS

Algerian Christians request prayer that:

  • These four Christians will be acquitted of all charges.
  • They and all Christians in Algeria will know the Lord’s peace, wisdom, and guidance in the face of ongoing pressure.
  • Those responsible for the intimidation of Christians would know the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness and new life Jesus offers.
  • There would be just laws and greater societal tolerance towards Christians in Algeria.

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