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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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Apr. 03: Brunei Adopts Sharia Law

BRUNEI ADOPTS SHARIA LAW—CONVERSION FROM ISLAM CARRIES DEATH PENALTY

Today [April 3, 2019], the full extent of Shari law goes into effect in Brunei. The newest and third phase of the law is difficult news for Christian converts who are expected to have to go into deeper hiding in the small Sultan-ruled country on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo where conversion from Islam is illegal and punishable by death.

Since first introducing Sharia law in 2014, the Sultan, 72-year-old Hassanal Bolkiah, has been encouraging Islamization of the country where Muslims make up about two-thirds of the country’s population of 434,000. He has called for “stronger” Islamic teachings in Brunei (No. 36 on the World Watch List).

WHAT THE NEW BRUNEI LAWS SAY AND DO


The new laws—what some have called “cruel and inhuman”—carry the death penalty for a variety of offenses, including adultery, robbery, rape, sodomy and insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

The first phase, which covered crimes punishable by prison sentence and fines, was implemented in 2014. The new phase covers crimes, such as theft, punishable by amputation and stoning.

The law mostly applies to Muslims, including children who have reached puberty, though some aspects will apply to non-Muslims. For example, those who “persuade, tell or encourage” Muslim children under the age of 18 “to accept the teachings of religions other than Islam” are liable for a fine or jail

Individuals who have not reached puberty but are convicted of certain offenses may be instead subjected to whipping.

INTERNATIONAL IRE

Since announcing the full implementation of the law, the Brunei government, an absolute monarchy, has faced much international criticism and opposition by rights groups. The public outcry probably explains the last-minute announcement of the third stage of implementation only 10 days ago, said Tomas Muller, a persecution analyst for Open Doors’ World Watch Research unit.

On Monday, 1 April, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bauchelet, urged Brunei to reconsider implementing the laws.

“Any religion-based legislation must not violate human rights, including the rights of those belonging to the majority religion as well as of religious minorities and non-believers,” Bauchelet said in a statement, warning the new laws could lead to violence and discrimination. 

In addition to rights groups and the United Nations, Brunei and its new laws have drawn fire from high-profile celebrities in the West condemning the country for the laws’ inhumane “medieval” punishments and treatment of homosexuals.

CHRISTIANS FORCED INTO DEEPER HIDING

Christians who have left Islam already face discrimination in Brunei where conversion is considered illegal, as is importing Bibles. Public celebrations of Christmas have been banned since 2015.

Because conversion from Islam is strictly opposed by Bruneian laws, converts to Christianity will be separated from their spouse and children, and their spouse will be forced to divorce their partner. If converts are identified by the security department, they are threatened in an attempt to make them recant their faith.

Although it is still unclear what further impact the new penal code will have, the new penal code will affect every Muslim who converts from Islam to another faith like Christianity, Muller said.

“It is to be expected that not only society will change—depending on what exactly will be considered as ‘anti-Islam’ –but also that the country’s Christian converts will be forced to hide their faith even more carefully.

In a BBC report, a 23-year-old male Bruneian, who is not gay but has renounced Islam (his current religion was not specified), said he felt “fearful and numb” in the face of the laws being implemented.

“We ordinary citizens are powerless to stop Sharia law from being implemented. Under Sharia, I would face the death penalty for apostasy.”

PRAYING FOR THE CHURCH IN BRUNEI

  • Pray for Muslims who turn to Christ and now face strict punishment under Sharia law.
  • Pray that God will give Christians wisdom and courage to stand out as lights for Christ in this strict Islamic culture.
  • Pray that the government of Brunei would lift the decree that bans the importation of Bibles and the public celebration of Christmas.
  • Pray for underground believers who feel persecution strongly because the country is so small and there is nowhere to run if their faith in Christ is exposed.
  • Pray that the international community would urgently call for the government of Brunei to repeal the Sharia penal law. The rights of non-Muslims are severely restricted through these laws.

Mar. 25: PRAY WITH 13 CHURCHES ATTACKED BY MOB IN ETHIOPIA

The attacks started at 10 a.m. on Feb. 10, 2019, when a mob carrying sticks, stones and fuel targeted the first church building. The crowd then moved from church to church in the Southern Ethiopia town of Alaba, destroying buildings and belongings.

In the end, the attacks in the town (located two hours southwest of the capital city, Addis Ababa), injured 26 Christians, including four church workers, who required hospital care. The mob managed to severely damage 13 buildings, 14 motorcycles and an unknown number of bicycles belonging to different congregations, along with Bibles and furniture.

Witnesses said they could hear the crowd shouting things like, “Alahu Akubar (“Alah is greater”) and “Alaba belongs to Islam.”

WHY THE ATTACKS?

Sources said the attack was in response to the alleged call to Muslims to attack local Christians after fake reports circulated that Christians in a nearby town burned down a mosque and murdered an imam. Local Christians said they believe that although the false rumor provided an excuse for the attack, the real reason behind it is growing anger over the church’s evangelism activities in Alaba, where Muslims form the overwhelming majority. Ethiopia is No. 28 on the World Watch List.

The absence of protection from local police forces contributed to the chaos. Witnesses observed that officers stood around, watching the attacks. It was three hours before federal police intervened and restored order.

Following the incident, federal police arrested more than 100 suspects; all have been released. After the attacks, evangelical church leaders traveled to the regional capital, Awassa, to appeal for protection from authorities there.

PRAYING FOR THE CHURCH IN ALABA AND ETHIOPIA

When Open Doors teams arrived in Alaba, they found believers still in a state of shock and traumatized over the widespread violence against them. Our team gathered area church leaders who openly shared about the attacks. Many believers and leaders stood there crying.

“But it is not all without hope,” one church leader told us. ‘This incident strengthened our fellowship. I praise God. Before the attack, we didn’t have strong fellowship, but this incident has brought us together.’”

Another injured evangelist said, “I thank God for this incident. We shared the real life of Jesus and His apostles.”

Church leaders thanked the Open Doors team for their presence: “We all have been experiencing fear and discouragement. Your presence here, more than any other support, is helping us to overcome fear.’”

Open Doors is facilitating medical assistance and food support.

  • Pray for the Lord’s comfort and provision to everyone involved in the attacks.
  • Thank God for the testimonies of the Christians in Alaba, sharing how the Lord is working amid the persecution. Pray that His name will continue to be glorified and that many will come to Him in faith through these incidents.
  • Praise God for this visit by the Open Doors team and for the encouragement it brought. Pray for sufficient resources to be made available to assist individuals and churches affected.
  • The Sunday following the attack, some church services were called off because of the damage to their buildings but also out of fear for further attacks. Pray specifically for vandalized churches: Mesrete Kristos, Kale Hiwot No.2, Genet Church, Assembly of God, Emmanuel church, Meserete Kristos No.2, Full Gospel believers church, Wangle Lealem, Galato Kale Hiwot, Alem Tena Kale Hiwot, Bewangel Alafrim, Zobecham Kale Hiwot and Mekane Yesus.

Apr. 07: I Can't Live Without Jesus

‘I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT JESUS’—PASTOR TELLS OF GOD’S POWER IN IRANIAN PRISON


“On Sundays we have about 200 attendees here,” says Wahid, inviting us into the church he pastors abroad: a spacious hall with a stage full of instruments. It’s vastly different from the church he pastored in Iran where the church was no bigger than a living room, the “worship band” a simple cassette player. 

Still, it wasn’t Wahid’s own choice to leave his country. He led a good life, ran a drycleaning business. But because of his decision to follow Jesus, increasing pressure forced him to flee. Now he lives in another country in the region with thousands of other refugees. 

Wahid is married and the proud father of a two-and-a-half-year-old son. He shows a picture of a curly-haired boy. His own growing up years were challenging. He is a child of divorced parents.

“It wasn’t so great,” he admits. “It made me feel sad.”

The real depression kicked in after Wahid’s mother died. He had lived with her all his life, and as a young teenager had to live with his father who gave him little love. Wahid was raised as a Muslim, but the circumstances in his life made him despise Islam. As a teenager, he hated his life.

‘I NEEDED JESUS’

He shares how meeting Jesus changed his life. One of his friends had become a Christian and told him about his new faith.

“It’s hard to explain what happened with me,” he says. “I could say that something changed in my heart. I felt a warmth deep inside of me.”

That night, Wahid found Christ.

“I had always thought my circumstances had to change for me to lose my depression,” he says. “But when I found Jesus, I realized that I needed someone to change me from the inside to feel at peace; I needed Jesus.”

PERSECUTED FOR FOLLOWING JESUS


When Wahid entered the house church, he had to reach back a long way to that first experience of finding peace in Jesus. Because, while the other believers accepted him and loved him unconditionally, the outside world was harsh towards his new faith.

“My father rejected me, and I was also denied a job because I didn’t want to sign a form stating I was a Muslim.” 

Persecution grew worse when Wahid started attending an underground church and later even became a leader in it.

“One day when I went to church, I got a threatening call from the government. After that, I always had a sense of being followed, and my phone tapped. Not an unusual thing in Iran.” 

Tensions rose, and for a whole year the house church even decided to split up into small groups of two or three people to avoid government attention. But it didn’t help. On a day when 25 believers had gathered, the security forces entered the house, shouting, cursing and filming everything.

“I will never forget that night. I still remember the children crying with fear. It was so difficult to watch.” 

ONE CONSTANT IN PRISON

Wahid and many other church members ended up in prison. First in isolated cells, then in the overcrowded general wards. At night, they slept pressed together, like books in a library. But by day, they struggled with the overcrowded sanitary facilities. Wahid developed serious lung issues because of the bad conditions in prison.

“I often dreamed of getting out of prison,” he says. “But when I woke up, I realized again that I was still inside.” 

But wherever they were and how bad the conditions and circumstances were, one thing remained constant: these believers still had the Lord inside inside them.

“We all prayed for one another,” Wahid shares. “And we would evangelize a lot, even though we were not allowed to.” 

THE CHURCH IN IRAN WON’T BE STOPPED


The church did not die in prison. Many came to faith through Wahid and his fellow church members. Even though his imprisonment, and the subsequent pressure, forced him out of Iran, the church in Iran continues to grow.

In 2016, the mission research organization Operation World named Iran as having the fastest-growing evangelical church in the world. 

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...

That growth continues to create tension between the government and the church.

“As Christianity grows rapidly in Iran, the Islamic government and the clergy in power are alarmed,” said Dr. Hormoz Shariat, president and founder of Iran Alive Ministries.

“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.”

The church continues to grow despite increasing and intensifying persecution. Because people like Wahid didn’t give up on their faith when they faced persecution. For Wahid, that isn’t even a logical argument.

“I need Jesus,” he says. “Without Jesus, I had no life, no hope. I can’t live without Jesus for one moment. None of us can.”

Apr. 06: PRAY FOR NEW CHRISTIAN IN VIETNAM BEATEN AND KICKED OUT BY...

In Vietnam (No. 20 on the World Watch List), Christian converts are often seen as traitors to their cultural identity. Non-Christian relatives often work with local authorities to beat up Christians and expel them from the village. Vinh, a new believer in northern Vietnam, and his mother know this persecution firsthand. Read their story and pray with these believers and thousands like them.

Last year, Vinh*, 57, a believer from northern Vietnam, accepted Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior. Several weeks later, his 90-year-old mother Ngoc* also accepted Christ, impacted by the changes and the new life she saw in her son. But Vinh’s wife and children vehemently opposed the conversions of their family members and kicked them both out of their house and even the village.

The family warned their neighbors: “Whoever welcomes them—whoever provides shelter or a place to stay—is the one who enticed them to follow that religion. If you welcome them, we will come to beat them and report you to local authorities.”

That same day, Vinh’s family beat them, severely injuring Ngoc’s leg; she walks with a limp now. A church from another village took in Ngoc but not Vinh, fearing his family would cause trouble for the church.

He is, in a very real sense, a refugee, displaced from his home and family.

Recently, Vinh traveled to a neighboring city to obtain a certificate of denomination and be officially recognized as a Christian by the government—in hopes of compelling his family or church to take him in.

Unfortunately, the document made no difference to the village leaders.

“We don’t believe this document because this has no value for us!” they told him when he presented it to them.

While the church that took in his mother is helping Vinh with food, he is still secretly staying in the forest, living in a makeshift tent. His face is blurred to protect his identity.

PRAYING FOR VINH AND NGOC

  • Ask God to change the hearts of Vinh’s family, as well as the hearts of local authorities. Pray they will see God working not just in the life of Vinh but also in the lives of other Christians in the village.
  • Pray that God will restore Ngoc’s health and that her life will be a living testimony to the Vietnamese people.
  • Pray for sustenance, courage and wisdom for the church caring for Ngoc.
  • Pray that God would send provision to Vinh and people to take him in and care for him.

Apr. 12: FIVE YEARS AFTER CHIBOK

FIVE YEARS AFTER CHIBOK— ‘GOD WILL BRING MY DAUGHTER OUT’

Since April 14, 2014, when the world learned about the kidnapping of 230 girls from a state finishing school in the northern Nigeria village of Chibok (#bringbackourgirls), Open Doors has been journeying with the Chibok parents both practically through emergency relief  (food and medicine) and spiritually through presence ministry, prayer and trauma care. On this difficult five-year anniversary, our team spent time with some of the families who thanked Christians for praying for their still-missing daughters—and begged the global church to continue to pray with them. Women like Yana Gana and Hannatu Dada have not given up hope of one day reuniting with their daughters.

“It has been a rough journey for me. There is a Hausa proverb that says fresh wounds are always very painful. Any time I speak about Rifkatu, I feel so much pain in my heart.” 

For Yana Gana, April 14, 2014—now five years ago—was the start of a 1,825-day-old nightmare she has yet to wake up from. That night, life changed forever for Yana, her daughter Rifkatu and an estimated 230 girls and their families in the small dusty town of Chibok.



While most state secondary schools in northern Nigeria’s Borno State had been shut down for fear of attacks by the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram, Chibok’s school had opened its doors to almost 3,000 girls, most of them Christians. A day later, in the middle of the night, Boko Haram stormed the school, driving off with around 230 girls on the backs of trucks as behind them, the school went up in flames.

As news spread of the attacks and kidnapping, the world cried out. Quickly, the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls spread like wildfire across the globe.

112 CHIBOK GIRLS YET TO BE FREED


Rifkata is one of the 112 kidnapped girls who are still missing.

Forty-seven girls escaped during and shortly after they were kidnapped. Afterward, each of the 47 had their own tale of dread and trauma—and perhaps feelings of “survivor guilt,” as the few who were spared the horrors of days, weeks, months and years spent in the hands of unredeemed men who believe they serve Allah through rape, maiming and murder.

After a few more escaped, Boko Haram released 21 girls in October 2016 and another 82 in May 2017. The timeline below offers a detailed list of escapes and releases in the last five years:

  • During and after the attack on April 14, 2014, 47 girls escape.
  • On May 18, 2016, Nigerian soldiers discover 19-year-old Amina Ali Darsha Nkeki with a four-month-old baby and her “husband” in the Sambisa Forest.
  • On November 5, 2016, soldiers find Mary Ali Maiyanga who escaped wi...
  • On October 13, 2016, Boko Haram releases 21 girls.
  • On May 6, 2017, another 82 girls are released.
  • On January 5, 2018, one more girl is rescued, marking the last time Chibok girls have been found or released to date.

Some 112 Christians girls have yet to be freed, says the chairman of the Chibok Parents’ Association, Yakubu Nkeki Maina. No one knows how many are still alive. 

Yana Gana’s daughter, Rifkatu, is among the 112.

Since the releases in 2017, there have been very little developments in the Chibok kidnappings. A few rumors about where they may be now and speculations about how many would still be alive this long after—but there has been no substantial news. 

‘LAUGHTER CEASED IN MY HOUSE’


Yana Gana says she will never give up hope or stop praying for her daughter’s return.

For Yana, it is a heavy burden to carry. The second of three children, Rifkatu is missed for her extraordinary character. Sharing lovingly about her daughter, Yana talks about Rifkatu and her faith.

“She was never bothered if her sisters didn’t help with the house work. She always woke up, cleaned the house and prepared breakfast before we all got up. While most young girls usually get into makeup and fashion, Rifkatu never payed attention to those things.

“None of the young girls in my community go to church as often as Rifkatu did.” Yana’s family attends EYN (Brethren), but Rifkatu chose to attend a different church.

“She loved the prayer life there. Because of the way she conducted herself, an older woman called her ‘sister,’ which is unusual.

“When Rifkatu was kidnapped, laughter ceased in my house. Everybody was filled with pain, most especially me, because I gave birth to her,” she says, adding that her younger daughter is even more traumatized than she is.

“They were so close. They wore the same clothes, the same shoes … even tied their headscarves the same way. I have never seen people who loved each other as much as they do. When Rifkatu was kidnapped, I felt pity for her younger sister.”

On the advice of family members who warned the trauma would be too much for Rifkatu’s sister to handle , Yana sent her daughter to school in Yola four hours away.

“Her aunties told me the trauma will be too much, and we might end up losing her,” she says.

Yana works to exercise self-comfort: “In everything that happens in life, you must be patient. You can’t change what has happened. We have tried to exercise patience … waiting to see what God would do for us.” 

‘THEY’VE SEEN HELL TOGETHER’

The young women from Chibok who were released are now living at and attending a private American university in Yola in Adamawa State.

Compared to other Boko Haram returnees who usually spend months in horrible conditions following their “freedom,” these girls are lavished with care. 

The horror they have endured has placed them in a very unique position that requires a unique response. They have a dedicated principal, a dedicated psychologist and a dedicated pastor. 

“They’ve seen hell together,” their psychologist says. Their testimonies speak of periods of hunger, slavery, rape, lashing and battle injuries—shrapnel lodged under the skin, even a part of one girl’s leg amputated. They saw people, including many children, die.”

Physically, the young women whose youth was robbed are doing well. At this point, they are trying to catch up on the education they missed and recover from their trauma as a group.

Since they arrived at the university in September 2017, their environment has remained tightly controlled. To protect their safety and prevent exploitation, they cannot leave campus without an escort and cannot receive visitors without special permission. They have rarely seen their families and visit Chibok, a four-hour drive away, only twice a year. 

HOPE BUOYED BY MILLIONS OF PRAYERS


Hannatu Dada: “Just as God brought the other girls out, He will bring my daughter out.”

While the freed young women of Chibok still struggle to be truly free of their horror, their families know their daughters are alive and safe.

For women like Yana and Hannatu Dada whose daughters are still among the missing, hope buoyed by millions of prayers from the global body of Christ continues to be their lifeline. Hannatu thanks believers for their prayers for the protection and return of her daughter, Saratu.

“Christians, and everybody around the world: I am honestly grateful for your prayer and support. The whole world knows about our story,” she says.

“Because of the condition we found ourselves in, we didn’t have anywhere to turn, except to God … We have cried and prayed. We pray for our daughters when we walk outside; when we sit inside; when we sleep. We never cease praying.”

Yana Gana echoes Hannatu: “If we were left alone in Borno, all of us parents would have died. But believers all over the world stood by us. You have invited us to trauma counseling, prayed with us, studied the Bible with us and, through all of that, we have been able to stand strong.

“We have placed our total trust and dependence on God, knowing He is the only one that can save them. We thank everyone who stood by us in different ways in our time of pain … There has been crying and praying all over the world for these girls, and we can’t forget that.”

Yana, Hannatu and many families cling to hope. For them, there is no giving up hope for their daughters’ return.

“Even after 10 years, I will never lose hope because she was kidnapped alive,” Yana says. “If they have killed her and show me her body, then I will stop hoping for her return. Until then, we will wait for Rifkatu to come back. No matter how long it takes.

“I believe that God will perform a miracle, and the girls will be released. Because this battle is not against flesh, only God can fight it. He alone can make a way where there is no way for her to return.” 

Hannatu has hope that this will be the year God will bring her daughter home.

“And just as God brought other girls out, He will bring my daughter out,” she says.” Just as we rejoiced with those who were freed, we will also rejoice when our daughters come back. 

“I usually tell my other children, ‘Even if I die today, don’t lose hope that Saratu will come back. And if she happens to be released, hold her, embrace her well. Even if the world will hate or disregard her, hold my daughter dear to your hearts.” 

Holding a photo of Saratu, Hannatu declares, “Anytime I hold this picture, I feel as if she is here with me. I have so much hope that if she is alive. God will bring her back to me. God willing, one day my tears will be wiped away.” 

PRAYING FOR CHIBOK GIRLS AND FAMILIES

  • Thank God for preserving the faith of the Chibok girls and their parents. Pray that He will continue to do that for all of them. 
  • Continue to pray for the release of Chibok girls like Rifkatu and Saratu and 15-year-old Leah Sharibu (kidnapped February 2018), as well as Christian aid worker Alice Loksha Ngaddah who remain in captivity. Pray that the Lord will fulfill His purposes in their lives and glorify Himself in their circumstances.
  • Pray for due diligence on the side of the government in keeping up negotiations for the release of the remaining captives. 
  • Pray for the released Chibok girls as they seek to start their lives again. Pray they will experience the Lord’s healing, comfort and encouragement. 
  • Pray for the many thousands of nameless others who remain in Boko Haram captivity. Ask God to bring freedom. Until He does, pray that He may sustain them and be at work in their lives. 

Apr. 15: Syrian Believers Proclaim: ‘Christ the Lord Is Risen Today’

Three years ago, the church in Syria was all but dead. The vicious civil war and invasion by Islamic State militants threatened the very existence of Christianity. But our partners on the ground say the story is changing and continues to transform. God is resurrecting the church in Syria.

Still, becoming a Christian and expressing your faith in the Muslim nation (814,000 Christians out of 18 million people) is a risky choice. If or when their conversion is discovered, new believers could lose their family, friends, their job, even their life.

Recently, we were privileged to be there when a group of young adults from the Alliance Church in the city of Aleppo gathered to worship. Listen and sing along with them as they proclaim, “Christ the Lord is risen today.”

Apr. 20: Three Churches Targeted in Multiple Sri Lanka Bombings, De...

Top photo: Destruction inside St Sebastian’s in Negombo posted on the church’s Facebook page

[Update, 8:51 EDT] As Christians in Sri Lanka gathered to celebrate Easter Sunday, eight explosions hit three churches, as well as four hotels and one house. A police spokesman has confirmed the total death toll has risen to 207 people with 450 people injured.

The attacks hit St. Anthony’s in Colombo, St. Sebastian’s in Negombo, north of the capital, and Zion Church in the town of Batticaloa—one of the largest churches in the town. The attacks happened during worship services. Three separate explosions were also reported at the Shangri La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury hotels in the center of Colombo, along with additional explosions at a hotel in front of a zoo in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia.

“This is a very heartbreaking time for Christians in this country,” says an Open Doors field worker from the region. “We don’t know who did it or why yet. Please pray.

On its Facebook page, St Sebastian’s Church posted photos showing the destruction inside the church. A single post in English reads: “bomb attack to our church please come and help if your family members are there.” Photos circulating on social media show the roof of one church almost blown off in the blast.

An official at the Batticaloa hospital reportedly told AFP news agency more than 300 people had been admitted with injuries.

Sri Lanka is No. 46 on Open Doors’ World Watch List, a ranking of the 50 most dangerous countries for Christians. The majority religion in the Southeast Asian country is Buddhism, with Christians making up only 1.9 million of the country’s population of almost 21 million. Most of the persecution against Sri Lankan Christians comes from the community. Christian churches are frequently targeted by neighbors, repeatedly leading to mob protests against and church attacks, especially in rural areas. According to the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka, there has been a sharp increase of attacks on Christians, including violent attacks often carried out through mobs.

At this point, no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Please pray with our brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka–and Christians around the world who risk their lives to be part of a church and come together to worship.

The Open Doors field expert gave the following ways to pray with the family of God in Sri Lanka as they suffer during what should be the most joyful day of the year for Christians:

  • Pray for the victims and families of victims of the Sri Lanka bombings’ pray for healing for those who were injured and comfort for the families experiencing heartbreaking loss.
  • Pray for the church in Sri Lanka to be a source of light and comfort to those who who are hurting, especially as they are hurt themselves.
  • Pray for the Sri Lankan government as they investigate. Pray for the Lord’s justice to prevail
  • Pray for Open Doors partners in Sri Lanka, that the Lord would give them wisdom as they discern how best to help and minister to the victims

Apr. 22: Worst Attack on Christians in Asia in Recent History

Our Christian family in Sri Lanka has suffered one of its greatest attacks in recent history.

Our hearts sank on Easter Sunday to hear from our Open Doors field workers that terrorists attacked three churches during Easter services and three hotels in Sri Lanka. The latest death toll is nearly 300, with 500 more wounded.

These deadly bombings will affect the lives of thousands of Christians in the country. 

Open Doors has served the church in Sri Lanka for decades and religious attacks of this scale and severity are unprecedented. In the past, attacks on Christian churches and believers have been confined to certain areas of the country, usually at the village level, and with no bombs or sophisticated plots involved.

But on Sunday, that all changed.


Christians in South Asia pray for their brothers and sisters in nearby Sri Lanka. “This is the persecuted church interceding for the persecuted church,” an Open Doors field worker shared.

The six initial blasts occurred in St. Anthony’s Church in Kochcikade, Colombo; St. Sebestian’s Church in Negombo; Zion Church in Batticaloa; and at the Kingsbury Hotel and the Cinnamon Grand Hotel in Colombo. The five-star hotels all offered special Easter-themed breakfasts, while all churches celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ with an Easter service. One explosion occurred in the residential district Dematagoda and one in a hotel near Dehiwala Zoo.

Our team is on the ground meeting with church leaders and believers—to encourage them and to evaluate the situation to determine the greatest needs moving forward.

WHO’S RESPONSIBLE?

No group has claimed responsibility yet, but police officials report the arrests of 24 people suspected to have played a part in the attacks. Reportedly, the attacks were carried out by seven suicide bombers, all Sri Lankans. The Sri Lankan government has asked the media not to publish the names of the suspects, as releasing the names could give other extremist groups the opportunity to exploit the situation further.

Recent reports indicate the government blames little known Jihadist group, National Thoweed Jamathfor the bombings.

A NOTE FROM THE FIELD

Open Doors worker, Sunil Kumar, shares specific prayer requests and gives insight into the situation and general feeling in Sri Lanka:

“Please pray for all the people who were affected by this. Many are injured or grieving the loss of loved ones. Pray for strength and comfort and for His healing hand upon them.”

“At the church in Batticaloa, even though only 28 people have been confirmed dead, many more people (mostly children) are still missing,” Kumar says. “The police have enforced a curfew until further notice, and all social media has been blocked. I can’t send or receive messages on Viber or Whatsapp. So much traffic on the main roads as people rush to go home but other roads are deserted.”

BACKGROUND ON SRI LANKA

Sri Lanka, ranked #46 on the 2019 World Watch List, is predominantly Buddhist and ethnic Sinhala (80 percent of the population). The country has a long and violent history for religious and ethnic reasons.

After decades of ethnic tension, a full-fledged civil war broke out in 1983. The Sinhalese Buddhist majority fought against the Tamil minority (mostly Hindu, but including a considerable number of Christians). There was a high death toll on both sides. The war ended in 2009 with the defeat of the Tamils, especially the Tamil Tigers group (LTTE), but true peace and reconciliation are still far off.

Due to this history, religious nationalism has thrived in Sri Lanka. Radical Buddhist groups have sprouted up across the country and were used by the previous government as a means of keeping religious minorities in check.  

EASTER ATTACKS

Terrorists have used Easter to launch deadly attacks in the past as well. Two of the most brutal killings took place on Palm Sunday 2017 in Egypt (45 dead) and Easter 2017 in Lahore, Pakistan (75 dead).

In many countries where faith costs the most, Christians run a higher risk of being assaulted during Christian holy days such as Christmas and Easter. In countries like Nigeria, Iraq, Egypt and Pakistan, worshipping on these special days often comes with potential danger.


“In the midst of all these terrible events, we take comfort in the truth that He is risen. Thank you all for mobilizing prayer for Sri Lanka. Let‘s continue to be on our knees.” 
—The Open Doors field team.

STAND WITH YOUR PERSECUTED FAMILY IN SRI LANKA

SHARE YOUR PRAYERS

Our Christian brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka need to know they’re not alone and the worldwide Body of Christ stands with them through prayer and encouragement. We need to do everything we can to lift them up in prayer—and to strengthen them in the face of great persecution. Here are two ways you can encourage your Christian family in Sri Lanka through prayer.

  1. Post your prayer on our Sri Lanka Prayer Wall today.
  2. Post a prayer or an encouraging message on your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts using the hashtag: #PrayforSriLanka

Apr. 25: A prayer from Sri Lanka

Father,

It broke my heart to hear about the bomb blasts that killed my brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka on Easter.

I am shocked and angry. I wonder why You allow these things to happen. But Lord, Your ways are higher than my ways and Your thoughts, deeper than my thoughts. Lord, help me, help Your children see the light of Your grace in this darkness.

Lord, this incident brings chaos, grief and irreplaceable loss of loved ones amongst the Christian community in the country. What should I do in times like these?

My brothers and sisters need comforting words, hands to carry them through their darkest days, and hope to see them through these tumultuous times.

Lord what can I do now?

Lord how can I sit still and be quiet when parts of your Body is suffering?

“Child,” You say, “Pray.”

Lord I pray for the comfort of the Holy Spirit to cover the grieving families.

I pray for strength and perseverance for the Christians in Sri Lanka. Victims and their families are suffering loss, shock and trauma. Heal them Lord. Heal their hearts, their bodies, their souls.

I pray for wisdom for the Christian leaders to lead believers to make wise decisions during this fateful time.

I pray for peace amongst the ethnic and religious groups in Sri Lanka. 

I pray for the safety and strength of the Open Doors field team.

I pray against the hatred and the heart of vengeance present in the heart of those who detonated the bombs. I pray for the government to take appropriate action and to bring justice—Your justice—to Sri Lanka and its people.

I am comforted knowing that You will take your children in Your loving arms. I am assured knowing that they are with You, though they leave a huge emptiness in the hearts of their families. I pray for comfort and assurance and healing from shock and trauma for the families of Your children.

Lord, I pray for Your intervention, for Your presence and comfort. Help me to keep praying for my brothers and sisters.

Lord Jesus, I keep my hope in You, and I pray for Your mercy and grace to be over us all.

Amen.

Join your sister in prayer by posting on this special prayer wall for Sri Lanka. Lift up your brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka and ask God to bring His hope to the devastation.

Apr. 26: 40 Christians Killed Shortly Before Easter in Nigeria

Most of the attacks in Nigeria were not covered in the major media, likely due to the Sri Lanka bombings, which overshadowed other news stories. But today, we ask you to stand with your Christian family in Nigeria through prayer—to let them know they’re not alone and the worldwide Church is with them.

BACKGROUND ON NIGERIA

Most Christians in the southern part of Nigeria live in an environment where their religious freedom is respected. However, Christians in the middle belt and in the north often suffer from violence perpetrated by militant Islamic groups like Boko Haram and Fulani militants.  Such violence often results in the loss of life and physical injury, as well as loss of property. Many Christians living in the north of the country go to sleep not knowing if they will wake up again. Each day is an act of faith.

Below, we share reports from our field around the Easter attacks in Nigeria:

PALM SUNDAY, NASSARAWA 


At around 9 pm on Palm Sunday, April 14, Fulbe-speaking Fulani herdsmen invaded the village of Kochum-Numa, Andaha in Akwanga local Government area Nassarawa State, a part of north-central Nigeria. 

The assailants who arrived at the community massacred 17 people at a late-night naming ceremony (christening) for a child. The parents of the child were among the victims. Several others sustained various degrees of injuries, our source in the village said.

Sixteen out of the 17 victims were buried while the remaining one, believed to be a Muslim family member who was hired as a DJ for the event, was buried earlier. 

“Anger and sorrow were evident, and tears rolled uncontrollably down faces as the victims of this carnage were laid to rest in Kochum-Numa yesterday,” the source said.

The state deputy governor, Silas Ali Agara, attended the mass burial sponsored by the state government. He pledged continued commitment to swiftly finding the perpetrators.

Akwanga and Andaha are communities neighboring the troubled Sanga in southern Kaduna, and may have experienced this attack as a spill-over of the Fulani violence there. In recent months, the conflict seems to have expanded and communities that were normally considered safe are now experiencing sporadic attacks, wrote regional field workers.

GOOD FRIDAY, BENUE 


Eleven people were killed and many are unaccounted for in a Good Friday attack by gunmen on worshippers returning from church at Tse-Aye and Tse-Ngibo, Ikurav Tiev in Katsina-Ala Local Government Area of Benue State, according to the newspaper Vanguard. Neither the identities of the attackers nor their motive is clear at this stage. 

“… People went for Good Friday Service and were on their way back home when many of them were ambushed … the hoodlums mounted a roadblock and killed 11 of them; several others are still missing,” an official who requested anonymity told the newspaper.

“The death toll may be higher because nobody knows the whereabouts of close to 40 missing persons. … After killing the innocent victims, the attackers seized a vehicle from one of those killed and rustled several cows from the same village and went away with their loot. For some time now, Ikurav has come under repeated attacks. Sometimes young men in that community would be abducted at the border area for no reason whatsoever, and nobody will see or hear from them again.”

MOWED DOWN IN GOMBE, EASTER SUNDAY


On Easter Sunday, a Muslim defense officer killed 13 boys taking part in a late-night Easter procession in Sabob Layi, Gombe State. The procession in Sabon Layi is an annual event to commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Some media outlets described the incident as an “accident,” but eyewitnesses say the officer, known as Ukasha, and his friend, a Nigerian police officer and two unidentified women, met the group of Christian boys around midnight and had a disagreement with the boys regulating traffic.

“Ukasha refused to use the lane reserved for vehicles and took the lane used by the procession. He apparently threatened to shoot he boys controlling traffic with his service firearm,” a field worker reports.

After the argument, Ukasha apparently dropped off the women before returning to the procession, turning off the vehicle’s headlights, and then ramming his vehicle into the group. He instantly killed nine and injured 32, 12 of them critically. Four more boys died later at the hospital, bringing the number of deaths to 13.

Ukasha and his friend both jumped from the car, attempting to escape, but the angry mob that had gathered caught them and beat them to death.

“This incident may seem like a misunderstanding between Ukasha and the Boys Brigade, but locals see this as an example of the growing intolerance against Christians in Gombe state,” reported a field worker. “Prior to this incident, there were isolated confrontations between Muslims and Christians in the area, but things seem to be escalating into violent conflict.” Leadership reports: “When the news broke out yesterday morning, tension engulfed Gombe, the state capital, it took the immediate intervention of the state government and the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria before calm returned.”

ATTACK ON RURAL SETTLEMENT

At 8 a.m. on April 17, a large number of suspected Fulani militants invaded the Sendegh rural settlement in Kwande local government area of Benue state. They killed two, but many others are still unaccounted for. One of the victims was murdered on the way to his farm. An unknown number of people were injured. The attackers also burnt down homes and shops.

A PRAYER FOR PEACE FROM NIGERIA


Recently, two women who have survived attacks from Boko Haram (Esther) and Fulani militants (Aisha) shared their hope for peace in their country. Join them in their prayer:

“Dear God, I ask that you help us, save us. Give us peace at this time of Easter (Aisha).

I bring before you my country of Nigeria. Whatever the evils ones have planned, look down on your children with mercy (Esther).

At this time of Easter, Jesus died for our sins. After He died, He rose again, and this gives us hope of salvation. His death and resurrection from the dead have given us victory (Aisha).

I pray for all doing evil. Do not destroy them, but bring them back to Your path. As we celebrate Easter, let there be peace in our land (Esther).

Continue to preserve our lives so that we work and live for You. Grant us peace of mind and keep us safe in Your hands in Jesus’ name (Aisha).”

  • Pray for the Lord’s comfort to all those who have lost loved ones.
  • Pray that the government will be true to their promises to find perpetrators and bring justice to those harmed.
  • Pray that the church will have wisdom as they interact with the authorities regarding these incidents.

Apr. 27: Sri Lanka: "Jesus Defeated All Evil"

SRI LANKA GOVERNMENT LEADER: ‘JESUS DEFEATED ALL EVIL’

A week after the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka, reports and updates have poured in as news outlets and our field on the ground have gathered news and information. Below, we compile some of the latest information, including a powerful testimony of faith from a member of Sri Lanka’s Parliament.

The official death toll has been reduced by about 100 people, to 253, according to the BBC. The reduction may be because the devastation of the explosions was so extensive that it is difficult to find out how many people were actually killed in a single blast. The UN confirmed on Tuesday that 45 of those who died were children.

More information has been slowly trickling out about the bombers themselves. The person who is thought to be the ringleader of the National Thowheeth Jama’ath group responsible for the bombings was a hardline Muslim radical who preached jihad so publicly that he’d been reported to the Sri Lankan authorities many times. The New York Times reports that the group likely has links to ISIS, a disturbing reminder of so many atrocities against Christians in Iraq and Syria.

The BBC reports that the Roman Catholic Church has canceled church services this weekend because of continued threats—the government suspects there may be more terrorists who have additional attacks planned.

Funerals have continued for Christians killed in the Easter Sunday bombings. Open Doors workers have attended some of the funerals, standing with our Sri Lankan brothers and sisters as they grieve their lost friends and family. Please continue to lift them up in prayer.


One of our team members in Sri Lanka attended the funeral of a Sunday school worker and her 13-year-old nephew who were killed in the Zion Church bombing in Batticaloa.

The government in Sri Lanka is facing many questions about how it dealt with reported threats and how it will address ongoing security issues. But one government official issued a powerful statement this week in Sri Lanka’s parliament. “I am a Christian and I share in the sorrow of the Christian church in Sri Lanka at this time,” said Honorable M. Abraham Sumanthiran, a member of parliament. “We believe in Jesus Christ, who came into this world, suffered as we do and took the worst of evil onto himself and was crucified unjustly. But he defeated all evil through self-sacrificial love, which is what we celebrate on Easter—Resurrection day. We are grieving—but yet we will not allow hate and revenge to overtake us. I can only quote Rev Fr Jude Fernando, who was celebrating the Easter Mass at Kochchikade St. Anthony’s Church when the explosion took place. I quote:

“’We love peace. We forgive. Our God is a God of peace, he is not a God of revenge. We love each other, we forgive.’”

Pray for Sri Lanka and for your brothers and sisters there. Pray they would be able to feel the hope and comfort of God. Pray they could practice the radical forgiveness of Jesus. And pray for justice to be done, that the perpetrators would be found and prevented from attacking any additional people.

Will you continue to bring these and other prayers to God? Post your prayer on our Sri Lanka Prayer Wall today.

Apr. 27: Sri Lanka: "I Love My Jesus"

‘I LOVE MY JESUS, I LOVE MY JESUS’—A STORY FROM SRI LANKA

“I love my Jesus, I love my Jesus,” she said crying, as tears streamed down her face.

Ramesh was one of the nearly 300 people in Sri Lanka who lost their lives on Easter Sunday. A building contractor and father of two, 14-year-old Rukshika and 12-year-old Niruban, Ramesh was only 40 years old.

That morning as Christians gathered in churches to celebrate the resurrection, a string of more than eight coordinated explosions rocked the country, including three churches, four hotels and a home. Six of the initial explosions struck in the capital city of Colombo followed by two more in the picturesque town of Batticaloa on Sri Lanka’s east coast.  

IF HE HAD NOT BEEN THERE…

Chrishanthini shared with BBC reporter Rajini Vaidyanathan that the day her husband died, he also helped save many lives of Sri Lankans who had come for Easter Sunday services in Zion Church, a Protestant congregation. That morning, around 450 people had packed into the building. She recalled the events leading up to his death. 

Chrishanthini, a Sunday school teacher, finished with her class and took some children outside for breakfast before the worship service. Ramesh was also in the courtyard when he spotted a man he didn’t recognize carrying a large backpack. The man said he had a video camera inside his backpack and had come to film worshippers inside.

“My husband sensed something was wrong and informed him he’d need to get permission first,” Chrishanthini told the BBC.

“He then forced him to leave.”

As she headed into the church, she said she heard a loud bang. Reports from those who were on site say people scattered in every possible direction, fleeing the blast and spilling out of the building trying to escape the fires caused by the bomb.

Chrishanthini and her family managed to get out and rushed to local hospitals searching for Ramesh. Hours later, she found the body of her husband in the church at the spot she’d last seen him. The family buried Ramesh on Monday. Local police attended the service.

If Ramesh had not stopped the attacker and he had been able to enter the worship service like other suicide bombers have done in the past, Zion Church would have seen many more casualties. According to the church’s website (which has since been suspended), more than 28 worshippers were killed, including a dozen children; another 27 were injured. The bombing is the worst violence to strike the town in a decade.

FOREVER-CHANGED LIVES

Chrishanthini, also 40 (the same age as her husband) shared details of her own life, including the losses she has endured living in a country that has seen ongoing violence and bloodshed caused by Sri Lanka’s 30-year-long civil war. She was just a child when she lost both of her parents to the war.

“My mother was killed when I was very young, she had her throat cut,” she told the BBC. A few years later, her father was also killed in “suspicious circumstances,” she said. And her aunt was one of the 2,000-plus victims in Batticaloa killed in 2004’s Boxing Day Tsunami.

Chrishanthini and her children are among the 1.9 million Christians in Sri Lanka. Until now, persecution in the country (No. 46 on the World Watch List) had been confined to mob protests, mainly on the village level in rural areas, and did not involve sophisticated weapons or plots of mass destruction.

But on Easter Sunday 2019, that all changed. And life forever changed for Ramesh’s family.

The new widow and now single parent is comforted by her strong faith, Christian community and knowing that the stern and protective actions of her husband saved many lives–and the grief of many families.

PRAYING WITH THE CHURCH IN SRI LANKA

A believer and Open Doors co-worker serving in Sri Lanka shares her prayer in response to the Easter attacks in her country

Father,

It broke my heart to hear about the bomb blasts that killed my brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka on Easter.

I am shocked and angry. I wonder why You allow these things to happen. But Lord, Your ways are higher than my ways and Your thoughts, deeper than my thoughts. Lord, help me, help Your children see the light of Your grace in this darkness.

Lord, this incident brings chaos, grief and irreplaceable loss of loved ones amongst the Christian community in the country. What should I do in times like these?

My brothers and sisters need comforting words, hands to carry them through their darkest days, and hope to see them through these tumultuous times.

Lord what can I do now?

Lord how can I sit still and be quiet when parts of your Body is suffering?

“Child,” You say, “Pray.”

Lord I pray for the comfort of the Holy Spirit to cover the grieving families.

I pray for strength and perseverance for the Christians in Sri Lanka. Victims and their families are suffering loss, shock and trauma. Heal them Lord. Heal their hearts, their bodies, their souls.

I pray for wisdom for the Christian leaders to lead believers to make wise decisions during this fateful time.

I pray for peace amongst the ethnic and religious groups in Sri Lanka. 

I pray for the safety and strength of the Open Doors field team.

I pray against the hatred and the heart of vengeance present in the heart of those who detonated the bombs. I pray for the government to take appropriate action and to bring justice—Your justice—to Sri Lanka and its people.

I am comforted knowing that You will take your children in Your loving arms. I am assured knowing that they are with You, though they leave a huge emptiness in the hearts of their families. I pray for comfort and assurance and healing from shock and trauma for the families of Your children.

Lord, I pray for Your intervention, for Your presence and comfort. Help me to keep praying for my brothers and sisters.

Lord Jesus, I keep my hope in You, and I pray for Your mercy and grace to be over us all.

Amen.

Join us in prayer by posting on this special prayer wall for Sri Lanka. Lift up your brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka, like Chrishanthini and her children, and ask God to bring His hope to the devastation.

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