Impacting Cities & Communities thru Prayer
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
Reportedly, about 13 plain-clothed members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (a branch of Iran’s armed forces) raided four homes on the morning of December 2, arresting Farzad Behzadi, 30, Abdollah Yousefi 34, and the two sisters Shima Zanganeh, 27, and Shokoofeh Zanganeh, 30, confiscating their books, phones and computers.
The sisters, Shima and Shokoofeh, were taken to security offices in Ahvaz for interrogation and reportedly were physically assaulted during the questioning. On Wednesday, December 12, the young women were transferred to Sepidar Prison, part of Iran’s notorious prison network known for its cruel and brutal treatment of prisoners of conscience. A judge has set an extremely high bail of 500 million Toman (about $44,000) for each woman.
The whereabouts of Farzad and Abdollah remain unknown.
The arrests are part of the recent intense crackdown on Christians ahead of Christmas. Open Doors recently reported that more than 100 Iranian Christians had been arrested in one week (a total of 150 in the last 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 ...
Pray specifically that:
representative photos used for security reasons
On December 6, several intelligence agents raided the home of Amir Taleipour, 39, and his wife Mahnaz Harati, 36. They proceeded to arrest the couple in front of their daughter (aged 7).
Amir and Mahnaz have been held in detention since their arrest. They have not been allowed to communicate with family members, nor permitted access to legal assistance. Their daughter is now being cared for by family members.
Iranian Christian ministry leaders have noted that they have come to expect increased numbers of arrests of Christians in Iran around Christmas, but that the situation in 2018 is more severe than in recent years.
Commenting on reasons for this surge, one leader remarked that the Christmas season is a period when many Iranians are attracted to Christianity and that the state seeks to deter this interest through campaigns of intimidation.
He also noted that different branches of the security forces may be competing for approval and funding by demonstrating their effectiveness in arresting Christians.
Deep in the south of Morocco, two young women students meet each other in secrecy.
In their hearts, both women are followers of Jesus. However, they must live as secret believers–after their families threatened their lives if they did not return to Islam.
Some years ago, Nadeem*, 21, and Fatima*, 20, made the life-or-death decision to follow Jesus after another Christian woman shared the gospel with them.
Excited about their newfound faith, the girls told their families that they had become believers right after they converted. They weren’t prepared for their reaction.
“My family was very angry with me, and my father beat me when he heard it,” says Nadeen. Fatima had the same experience.
When the pressure became too much, Fatima decided to follow Jesus secretly and pretend to return to Islam.
Nadeem still uses the hijab, following the traditional interpretation of Islam her parents adhere to. Fatima doesn’t use the veil.
“My parents don’t think it necessary to use the hijab.”
Both women are still studying. Because their families monitor the girls closely, they cannot go to the Sunday meetings of a house church.
“But, thank God, we found a way to meet with some other Christians on another day in the week,” says Nadeem. “We organized that in a way that my family doesn’t get suspicious.” Fatima adds, “It is so good to have these moments together.”
Maintaining their secret means being constantly alert.
“I am so afraid that my parents will find out. My father would kill me,” Nadeem says. She means that quite literally. For her, death is a real threat.
“Recently I was talking with a Christian lady who is known as a Christian, and at that moment I saw a relative of mine passing by,” she says. “I tried to hide behind the lady to not be seen by my relative. As far as I know, she didn’t see me, or at least didn’t say anything to my parents.”
Nadeem’s experience is common to many secret believers living in Morocco.
“Moroccans are considered, by default, to be Muslims,” she explains. “There is recognition that there are Moroccan Christians, but Morocco is considered by almost all Moroccans to be a Muslim country. Christians have been harassed, threatened or obstructed in their daily lives for faith-related reasons.”
Like other predominantly Muslim countries, converts are seen as “infidels,”–betrayers of their parents’ religion. Of course, some conversions are accepted by the family.
“In general a family wouldn’t speak with the outside world about the conversion because they consider it a shame for the family,” says Collin, who coordinates Open Doors’ work in a large part of North Africa. “But other families don’t accept the conversion, like the families of Nadeem and Fatima. Their families threatened them, turned physically violent, and did everything they could to make their children return to Islam.”
When converts refuse to return to Islam, they are sometimes expelled from their family and lose everything. In general, their friends would also reject them and end their friendship.
“But these women said that their family might even kill them, and they are being serious about that,” Collin says.
The two young women have thought and dreamed about leaving home and moving to a larger city in Morocco to live there together.
“We really thought this would work out, but thinking about it, we realized it was a crazy plan,” Fatima says.
In Moroccan culture, single young women don’t go out and live on their own; normally, a woman only leaves her family’s home when she marries.
Fatima and Nadeem have a hard life living as secret Christians. For now, this scenario seems to be the only way to follow Jesus. Thank God these two young women are connected to a small house church and that the couple who leads the church is discipling them.
“You shall have no other gods before me.” It is No. 1 on the list of Ten Commandments God gave to His people.
Anyone who follows and worships Christ knows that its placement at the top is significant–a fact Chinese leader Xi Jinping and his regime are well aware of, based on a recent report from Bitter Winter, a website focusing on religious liberty and human rights issues in China.
The website reported that authorities in Luoning county in Henan Province (where China’s underground house church movement started) ordered a registered church to alter the list of the Ten Commandments hanging on the wall during a worship service. The website talked to church members in attendance who shared their accounts.
Reportedly on November 1, about 30 officials from the central “patrol inspection team” for religious supervision and from Luoyang city and Luoning county United Front Work Department arrived at the church in Dongcun village during a worship service to conduct an inspection.
An official inspecting the church stopped in front of the pulpit and pointed to the first of the Ten Commandments displayed on the wall: “You shall have no other gods before me.”
“This must be removed,” he said.
After saying that, the government officials immediately wiped off the commandment.
The church’s leader and believers strongly opposed the removal of the commandment. One believer reportedly said, “This isn’t appropriate. They’re falsifying the words of God! It’s resisting the Lord!”
“Xi Jinping opposes this statement,” an official said. “Who dares not to cooperate? If anyone doesn’t agree, they are fighting against the country.”
The official also warned the church: “This is a national policy. You should have a clear understanding of the situation. Don’t go against the government.”
Believers took down the Ten Commandments sign that day. Later, personnel from the county’s United Front Work Department took a photo of it and reported the incident to their superiors.
One church member recalled, “Back in August, the church’s cross was forcibly dismantled by the government. Now, the Ten Commandments have been converted into the ‘Nine Commandments.’ In China, practicing your faith is difficult.” Another said, “They are trying to corrupt our faith and make us betray God.”
The removal of crosses and this incident, in addition to arrests of more than 100 believers and last month’s closures of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu and the Rongguili Church in the port city of Guangzhou–both prominent underground house churches in China–continues to signal significant change for China’s Christians and churches in 2019.
Not since China’s Cultural Revolution led by Mao Zedong has the church in China seen this level of persecution. Last year, the state banned sales of the Bible, introduced a new version of the Bible revised by the Chinese Communist Party and required that “core socialist values” be taught as doctrine in all churches.
“The situation in China is likely to continue to escalate as the Chinese Communist Party increases its power and focuses on Chinese nationalism,” says Open Doors CEO David Curry.
“There will be even more pressure on the Body of Christ in China,” Curry continued. ”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.”
Since assuming office in late 2012, Xi Jinping continues to increase his power. In October 2017’s meeting of the Communist Party Congress, he 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.”
In November 2017, 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 may positioning itself and its leaders against Christianity.
The church in China needs our prayers and encouragement to stand strong. Conversely, we can also learn from these stalwart Christians like Early Rain Covenant Church 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.”
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.
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:
Above photo: Early Rain Covenant Church