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
Pakistan’s Supreme Court has upheld its decision to acquit Pakistani Christian mother Asia Bibi—clearing the way for the 47-year-old woman to now leave her home country where she spent eight years in a prison on death row.
On October 31, 2018, the Court overturned Asia’s 2010 blasphemy conviction and death sentence. Outraged by the acquittal, Islamic extremists filed a petition to challenge the court’s decision and staged violent protests, calling for her death.
“Based on merit, this hardliner’s petition is dismissed,” Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa said in court on Tuesday.
Asia—also known as Asia Noreen—was unable to leave Pakistan while an appeal request was pending. In November under protective custody, she left the women’s prison and was flown to Islamabad to an undisclosed location for her safety, authorities said.
She is now free to leave her home country. Reportedly, she is expected to join her daughters in Canada where they were granted political asylum.
‘A Much Loved and Prayed for Woman’
Pakistan’s Christians (3.9 million out of 200 million) have fervently prayed for a positive outcome. This decision sends a powerful message.
“Aasiya Bibi is a much loved and prayed for woman” says an Open Doors’ partner in Pakistan. “What happens to her impacts the whole Christian community.”
Asia was arrested in 2009 after being accused of insulting the Muslim prophet Mohammed and was sentenced to death the following year. Despite lack of evidence and contradictions in witness testimonies, the court cases and appeals dragged on. Finally in 2018, the Supreme Court acquitted her in the landmark decision.
Massive and violent protests organized by the TLP—an Islamic political party founded to “protect” the blasphemy laws—shut down the country until the Supreme Court promised to review its earlier ruling. Infuriated militants even called for the deaths of the Supreme Court judges. Pakistan is No. 5 on the 2019 World Watch List.
Praying With Asia Bibi and the Church in Pakistan
Bai Yahui*, a sister from Central China, shared how the police had shut down all the house churches in the region, warning pastors not to hold any more meetings.
Area pastors were placed on “probation,” she said, and were told to come to the police station every time they received a police call telling them to report on their movements and activities. Police call frequently at random times, day or night. Bai shares how she and other leaders are responding to the escalating persecution from the state:
“We are constantly on edge,” she said, “but our faith has grown and we are more determined than ever to see Christians in the area stand strong and not compromise their faith in Jesus. We have started many smaller meetings now, and more and more brothers and sisters are putting their hands up to act as mini house church leaders.
Another pastor, Titus*, has been reaching youth and discipling them for many years. In 2017, the Chinese government again outlawed all Christian youth activities, this time with a new determination to stop teenagers from coming to faith. This new move has basically rendered existing youth work impossible.
“Initially, I was really frustrated by the government’s attempts to shut us down,” Titus says. “But recently, I have embraced this as a new season in which God will bring to us those who are truly hungry for Him and willing to follow Jesus at any cost.
“Many young people are too scared to attend our meetings, so we are trying new and creative ways to fellowship together. We play sports and practice musical instruments together, eat together and study in groups. We take every opportunity to pray for one another and share scriptures that make us strong and give us hope. The sense of love and solidarity is amazing.”
Driving home the current situation for Christians in China, two pastors who traveled to meet with the Open doors team received phone calls from family members within 24 hours of leaving, alerting them that the police were looking for them. Authorities wanted to know their whereabouts and why they had not returned their calls.
In spite of continuous surveillance and the ever-present cloud of suspicion, these leaders reflected an overwhelming sense of joy as they worshiped God. Their smiles, laughter and determination to lead the church to know Jesus are representative of believers throughout the country who are meeting to determine next steps and their response to persecution. Bai Yahui shares:
“The situation is tense, but we know God is on the move in spite of the restrictions. We held a regional leaders’ meeting and agreed that when one of us is arrested, another will pick up the work. We also decided to respond to the police respectfully and in love even if they yell at us or use physical force [in attempts to] make us surrender the names of other believers.”
Recently, one of our indigenous ministry partners who works to equip church leaders in China shared specific prayer needs for church leaders and churches in China:
*Representative names and photos used for security reasons
My name is “Prisoner 42.”
The name I was born with in North Korea was the first thing they took away from me when I arrived here in this North Korean prison. Every morning at 8 a.m., they call for “42.” To get to them, I have crawl on my elbows through the cat-flap. When I stand up, I must keep my head down. I’m not allowed to look at the guards.
Each day begins the same. I put my hands behind my back and follow the guards to the interrogation room. Each day for an hour, they ask the same questions.
“Why were you in China?”
“Who did you meet?”
“Did you go to church?”
“Did you have a Bible?”
“Did you meet any South Koreans?”
“Are you a Christian?” ‘
Am I a Christian? Yes. I love Jesus. But I deny it. If I admit that I was helped by Chinese Christians, I will be killed, either quickly or slowly.
They will murder me in this North Korean prison.
Every day, I’m beaten and kicked—it hurts the most when they hit my ears. My ears ring for hours, sometimes days.
At the end of the day, they bring me back to my cell. It’s warm during the day, cold at night. The space is so small I can barely lie down. It isn’t often that I get to lie down. They force me to sit on my knees with closed fists and never allow me to open them.
I’m in solitary confinement here in this North Korean prison camp because they believe that I believe in God. My grandfather, he’s the one who really believed in God. On Sundays, he often told me to leave the house and play outside. I didn’t understand why and didn’t want to, but he forced me.
I’m here because I needed to feed myself and my family. During the famine, I crossed the border and fled to China to look for food. It was there that I met other Christians like my grandfather. I was touched by them. They reminded me of him. They never really spoke about the gospel, but I participated in their worship services. Then, one night, I had a dream and saw my grandfather sitting in a circle with other men. There was a Bible in the middle, and all of them were praying.
In my dream, I shouted to him: “I am a believer too!”
I always thought I was the first in my family to really follow God, but now I realize I came from a Christian family.
One day when I was living in China, a black car pulled up next to me. I thought the man wanted to ask for directions, but the driver and other men stepped out of the car and grabbed me.
I tried to get away, but they pushed me into the car. When that door closed, I realized my life was over.
After a few weeks in a Chinese prison cell, I was brought to this North Korean prison. The first day, I had to strip off all my clothes, and they searched every part of my body to see if I had hidden anything, money especially.
I had to squat dozens of times. Then I was ordered to put on different clothes that didn’t fit and didn’t match. Probably from a previous prisoner.
They shaved off all my hair and brought me to this prison cell.
I’m so alone here. I know there are other prisoners. I can hear their voices, but I never see them.
All I can do is pray. And sing—in my heart. Never out loud. In my head, I sing a song I wrote:
My heart longs for my Father in this prison
Although the road to truth is steep and narrow
A bright future will be revealed when I continue
Without faith, calamity will strike in this road
Allow me to go forth towards the fortress
Although there may be much grief and complications
How could I follow in the footsteps of my God?
With tears, my heart longs for my Father in this prison
Father, please accept this sinful daughter
Please protect me in your mountain fortress and under your shield
Take me under your wings of peace
Father’s voice that comes from the sky
Guide me to your blessings daily
It has been a year now. I don’t know how long I will survive in this place. One day they will call me, and I won’t move. I will have died here in a North Korean prison. They will dispose of my body, and the first new prisoner that comes in will be “Prisoner 42.” They will wear my clothes.
Two years ago, they called me out of my prison cell and brought me to court.
That was a victory. People who are sent to the Kwan-li-so—a political labor camp—are never sentenced by a judge. They just disappear. No one survives the Kwan-li-so. Most Christians go to these maximum security North Korean prison camps. My persistence has paid off. They have not found me guilty of being a Christian.
No lawyer represented me. I just stood in front of the judge with guards behind me. My husband was there, too. He looked at me with the saddest eyes, and I could see he had been crying. I wanted to say so much to him, and I knew he wanted to talk to me, too. But we couldn’t say a single word.
The judge asked my husband if he wanted to divorce me.
“Yes,” he said, his voice broken.
He had to do it for his sake and for the sake of our children. If he didn’t divorce me, they would all be punished. Still, his words broke my heart.
Then I was sentenced to four years in a re-education camp. If you think a North Korean re-education camp is the worst that can happen, you have never been to a North Korean prison. I spent one year in prison, and for one year my skin didn’t touch a single ray of sunlight.
Just to be transported from the prison—to be outside and to feel the wind—was amazing.
But any sense of happiness or relief quickly disappeared when I arrived at the camp. I remember seeing moving, shapeless forms. It took me a moment to realize they were people. Some were bent over; others were missing an arm or a leg. I looked down at my own arms and legs, thin like matches. I didn’t look much better than the other inmates.
In the camp, I work 12 hours a day. Sometimes more. Every day is just one long living nightmare. But at least I am not alone in a cell anymore.
The other day, I was sick and was allowed to stay in my barracks. I thought I was all by myself when I noticed a blanket in the corner. It was moving. I studied it and realized that underneath it was a person.
I tiptoed toward the blanket and listened intently. The sounds were hardly audible, yet they sounded familiar.
Suddenly, I realized what was happening. There was a woman, and she was praying, praying in tongues. I went back to my mattress and watched her for days.
One day, we were working outside. Nobody was near, and I walked up to her and said, “Hello, greetings in Jesus’ name.”
She was completely shocked. Fortunately, I could calm her down quickly before her gasps alerted the guards.
Inside this North Korean prison, we wound up forming a secret church. When we met and felt safe enough, we prayed the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed.
She was actually much braver than I was. She spoke to others about Christ as well.
That’s why one day a car came to pick her up. When I saw her leave, I knew they were taking her to a maximum-security Kwan-li-so. I knew I would never see her again.
I’m here in my barracks. But not for long anymore. God has been with me every day, every hour, every minute and every second. Yesterday, I learned I would be released. I have only served two years here.
The first thing I’ll do when I get out is find my husband and children. They are much bigger now. We haven’t seen each other in years.
But God has watched over me here in this North Korean prison, and I pray and believe that he also watches over my family every second of every minute of every hour of every day.
I need to tell them about this loving God.
President Trump has announced that he and North Korea ruler Kim Jong-un will meet for a second time on Feb. 27 at summit talks in Vietnam. Open Doors has created several resources, including an Info and Action Guide, to help you pray with North Korean believers leading up to the talks and during them.
Mostafa hoped the rumor wasn’t true.
If it was, he knew he was obligated to protect his family’s honor. He knew he would have to kill the cousin he had grown up playing with on the desert lands of Upper Egypt. It was his family’s orders. It was why he had traveled so far from home to the capital city of Cairo.
The rumor was true. Mostafa found his cousin in a church listening intently. Quietly, he slipped into the seat behind Mohammed and waited for the service to end. But then he noticed something strange. The words he was hearing—the prayers, especially the worship—didn’t disgust him.
Instead, the lyrics of the songs touched him deeply, he says.
Mostafa approached his cousin with tears in his eyes.
He recalls his words to Mohammed that day: “I came all the way from our family’s village to spy on you and see if you had indeed become a Christian,” he said, wiping a tear from his cheek. “I should inform your family about what I saw, but I just can’t. I think the choice you made might have been the right one. Can you tell me more? Why did you leave Islam for Christianity?”
Surprised by his cousin’s question, Mohammed took Mostafa to his house where the two cousins spent the evening talking about the gospel. That night, Mostafa had a dream. He saw Jesus on the cross, looking at him and saying: “I did all of this because I love you, and I want you to be free from your sins.”
Mostafa’s vision is similar to what many Muslim converts describe. Many sources have reported the same phenomena. Dreams and visions like Mostafa’s are repeatedly cited as specific ways God reaches Muslims throughout the Arab world and beyond.
The next morning, Mostafa told Mohammed what he saw in his dream. He asked his cousin to pray together with him for his salvation.
Through tears, Mostafa screamed to God: “I planned to kill my cousin, Your follower. But now I am prepared to give my life for You myself.”
The following month, Mostafa was baptized with his cousin standing next to him. He hasn’t told his family that he and Mohammed are now followers of Jesus. Currently, the two young men are living as secret believers, following Jesus in the place He has provided for them.
Like many converts from Islam to Christianity, the cousins are choosing to keep their faith a secret. New believers in hostile places like Egypt hide their Bibles and connect to other Christians online or visit secret meetings. They follow Jesus’ teachings in their actions, hoping that how they live their lives will influence those around them for the gospel. Only when they think it’s safe do they share their new faith with others—in hopes that the underground movement of secret believers will grow.
Since 2014, they have been jailed north of Lahore in Jhelum Prison for allegedly posting “disrespectful material” toward Muslims on their website, according to AsiaNews.
Qasir’s and Amoon’s story goes back to 2010 when a quarrel at Qasir’s office broke out. One of Qasir’s friends allegedly made a comment about the sister of another friend, who then blamed Qasir for the insult.
He told Qasir that this was a very serious issue in Pakistan and shortly afterward, Qasir began to receive death threats, forcing him and his brother to flee Pakistan. Eventually, they returned home quietly. Amoon was then arrested at the airport trying to leave the country a second time and Qasir was also held.
Both men were convicted of the “use of derogatory remarks in respect of the Holy Prophet”, under strict blasphemy punishments covered by Pakistan’s penal code.
“The prosecution has proved its case against both the accused beyond shadow of reasonable doubt,” the judge concluded in a 28-page ruling.
He went on: “Hence, both the convicts are to be sentenced to death.”
Qasir has said he closed his website account in 2009 but that one of the Muslims had somehow had been able to take the website back online while keeping it in Qasir’s name and had posted the content now used as evidence against the brothers, according to AsiaNews.
The brothers’ legal representation, the Center for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement, plans to appeal the sentence to the Lahore High Court.
“In this case, the trial judge did not apply his judicious mind and convicted the accused in a very casual manner,” the brothers’ legal aid said on its website, adding that because of threats from hardliners, lower courts pass their responsibility to the higher court, which then takes years to prove innocence.
“We have seen this in the recent case of [Christian mother] Asia Bibi, who was similarly convicted by the lower court, and it took her years to reach the Supreme Court to get justice,” the website says. “I am afraid now Qasir and Amoon will have to wait years to get justice.”
After eight years on death row convicted of blasphemy that allegedly took place when Asia was working in the fields with Muslim laborers, she was acquitted on October 31, 2018, by Pakistan’s Supreme Court and was recently cleared to leave the country.
The U.S. State Department recently announced that it had added Pakistan to its list of Countries of Particular Concern for r... because of the country’s blasphemy laws. Often, the laws are used unfairly by Muslims against non-Muslims for personal vendettas or to seize property.
“[Of] the world’s population of people that are in prison for blasphemy, half of them are in Pakistani prisons,” the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam B..., said during a press briefing.
“It is a miracle that one family’s life has united all of us,” a participant said during the gathering.
On February 13, 2017, in broad daylight, Raymond was abducted in an organized operation involving 15 masked men. A video of the kidnapping that shocked the world shows that it was done with military precision, in under 46 seconds. Since that day, Susanna has not seen or spoken to Pastor Koh.
During the night, Susanna spoke about her husband and the journey she and her family have walked over the last two years.
She continues to learn from Raymond’s life, she said, describing Raymond as a “simple man with a very big heart. He gave himself to the poor and needy.”
She told a story of Raymond Koh literally giving the shirt off his back to a homeless man. “He came home shirtless,” she said. A close personal friend of the Kohs also reflected on the heart of the pastor as the crowd sang the Malay worship song “Setia” (faithfulness) personally written by Raymond Kho. The chorus, “Mengagungkan Namamu” (‘Glorify Your Name’) specifically spoke to him.
“It reflected Pastor Raymond’s heart to glorify God in all circumstances,” he said. “When he prayed, his prayer touched the heart of God. He would cry and weep for the lost in this nation.”
Quoting from Lamentations, Susanna openly shared about times she has become impatient with God and repented for her attitude.
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him (Lam. 3:25).
Through the words of this scripture, Susanna said, she has learned that “there is good in waiting upon God.”
“God is good,” she told the crowd. “Even though the enemy plans evil, God will turn it for good.”
Susanna said she had tried to see a member of the special branch of Malaysia’s police force who has been accused of being behind Raymond Koh’s kidnapping. He is suffering from cancer.
“I pray for God to give me an opportunity to see him so I can talk to him and also pray for him too,” she said.
The Koh family expressed their gratitude for the thousands of prayers for Pastor Raymond Koh’s return.
“Thank you for your prayers,” Susanna said. “Some of us have been threatened. But the prayers really make a difference. Please continue to pray for us.”
For Malak, the reintroduction of modern-day martyrdom on a worldwide scale is especially sobering. He is the father of one of the 21 martyrs killed by Islamic State militants on the Libyan coast. Few will forget the graphic images of the mass beheadings in a video released and paraded online around the world.
Today, February 15, marks the fourth anniversary of the deaths of 20 Christian men from Egypt (Copts are the native Christians of Egypt) and one Christian man from Ghana—all 21 martyrs for their faith.
In the days and weeks leading up to their deaths, ISIS captors reportedly tortured the men who had traveled the 1,200 miles to Libya to find work and support their families. Militants attempted to persuade them to deny Jesus in return for their lives. They all refused. In fact, during the barbaric execution, the men repeated the words, “Lord Jesus Christ.”
A new book, The 21: A Journey Into the Land of Coptic Martyrs, by German novelist and poet Martin Mosebach includes interviews with families of the men who were killed.
Reportedly, what he found was “a completely different point of view of martyrdom.”
“No lamentation, no mourning, no pity, but, instead, pride and happiness. This was not seen as an injustice or an incident that should not have happened. On the contrary, mothers, widows, brothers, and fathers all spoke the same language.”
Mosebach commented on the hope of Heaven and faith of the families he spent time with in Upper Egypt: “There was really the presence of the supernatural in the lives of these very simple people who were not mystics at all. These were people with very simple theologies, but it was a real theology,” he said.
Mosebach’s observations align with the words of families who spoke about their loved ones–and their own faith–last year when the church dedicated to the martyrs opened. Strengthened by visibly seeing and hearing the faith of their martyred loved ones, family members responded quickly. Only three months after the video released, they initiated the building of a church in honor of all 21 men.
This house of worship, they proposed, would be built in Upper Egypt’s Minya province in the tiny agricultural village of al Aour (155 miles south of Cairo)—the area where 13 of the martyred Egyptians lived. Last year, the Church of the Martyrs of Faith and Homeland opened its doors.
“I am proud that my father is on the pictures in the church,” Fifi Shehata, the daughter of Maged, said in an interview last year. “It’s a big honor… At first, it was hard to deal with the fact that our father was martyred, but later we felt comforted by God.”
Malak looks beyond the senseless killings and shares an eternal perspective. His words reflect hope, reminding us of second-century Christian author Tertullian’s famous observation: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
“To be honest, I was happy when I saw my son in the video,” he told World Watch Monitor, “because then I knew the place he had gone to. And when I saw he died with the name of Jesus on his lips, I was very proud. I rejoiced!”
Malak said his own faith, as well as the faith of the whole Christian community in Egypt, had grown as a response to the evil carried out on Sunday, February 15, 2015. Indeed, his insights are proven. Our partners in Egypt continue to share that the Church is growing as a result of persecution, as increasing numbers of Muslims leave Islam and turn to Christ.
He is thankful for this church being built in the name of all 21 martyrs: “That is even better,” he says. “The faith of all of us grew.”
The wife of 29-year-old martyr Samuel Abraham echoed Malak. Only a week after learning her husband was one of the 21 men, she told Vice News: “ISIS thought the killing of our relatives would destroy us. It did...
In October 2017, Libya officially confirmed it had found the bodies of the beheaded Christians, and in May 2018, the families of the 20 Egyptian men received their loved ones’ remains, which were buried in the new church.
Today, February 19, marks one full year since Leah was abducted along with more than 100 of her classmates by the extremist group, Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP), a sect of known Islamic extremist group Boko Haram. Since her abduction, the young girl has become globally known and held up as a stalwart of the Christian faith.
Two months after ISWAP militants stormed the Government Girls Science and Technical College in the northeastern Nigerian town of Dapchi, all of the girls in captivity were released through back-channel efforts–except Leah Sharibu. She refused to deny Christ and convert to Islam.
Rebecca Sharibu shared with an Open Doors team member what one of the released girls had told her:
“Leah was told to say some Islamic incantations before she would be allowed onto the truck. But she refused. She said, ‘I will never say it because I am not a Muslim.’ They became angry and told her if she wouldn’t denounce Christ, she would remain with them. Still, Leah refused. We watched Leah being left alone with the other members. We kept crying and waving at her ’til the truck vanished.”
On the one-year anniversary, Christians organized by Christian Solidarity World (CSW) gathered in London outside the Nigerian High Commission to protest Leah’s ongoing captivity.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: ”We continue to call on the government of Nigeria to do everything in its power to expedite the release of this courageous schoolgirl, alongside that of her fellow hostages.
“We also call on the government of Nigeria to ensure that the army is sufficiently equipped to combat Boko Haram effectively, particularly in light of the surge in activity by both factions, and their threat to undermine the electoral process.” (Nigeria’s presidential elections were scheduled for February 17 but were unexpectedly delayed and postponed until February 23).
In a statement, Zoe Smith, head of advocacy at Open Doors UK, emphasized the double vulnerability of Christian girls and women in areas where Christians are persecuted for their faith.
“Leah Sharibu was kidnapped because she was a girl and held captive because she was a Christian,” Smith said. “She personifies the incredibly vulnerable position of Christian women in northern Nigeria. It is saddening and outrageous that Leah remains in captivity, abused as a PR tool and negotiating pawn. We urge the Nigerian government and the international community to increase their efforts to secure her release and reunite her safely with her family.”
It has been five months since any information about Leah has been released. In mid-October, a month after threatening to kill Leah Sharibu and Christian mother of two Alice Ngaddah (one of three aid workers kidnapped in a separate attack), militants released a violent video of the killing of 24-year-old aid worker, Hauwa Leman, and vowed to keep Leah and Alice “slaves for life.”
“From today, Sharibu and Ngaddah are now our slaves. Based on our doctrines, it is now lawful for us to do whatever we want to do with them,” the group said in the video.
In August, a 35-second audio recording was published by Nigeria’s online newspaper The Cable. In what is believed to be a scripted message, Leah made a passionate plea to the Nigerian government for her freedom in her native Hausa language. Photos of her in a light brown hijab sitting on a mat in an undisclosed location were also released—the most recent photo of her since her abduction.
Almost a year ago, when Leah realized she would not be freed with the other kidnapped girls, she quickly scribbled a message to her mother and sent it with a classmate:
“My mother you should not be disturbed,” she wrote. “ I know it is not easy missing me, but I want to assure you that I am fine where I am … I am confident that one day I shall see your face again. If not here, then there at the bosom of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
It is the only time Rebecca has heard from her daughter in unscripted text in 10 months.
In its nine-year insurgency, Boko Haram has reportedly claimed more than 20,000 lives and displaced more than 2 million people.
Pray for God’s protection over Leah physically, mentally and spiritually. We pray that not a hair on this young girl’s head would be touched or harmed. Ask God to reveal to her a vision of His army of warrior angels as they surround her.
Pray for the other hostages with Leah, especially Alice Loksha Ngaddah. God, we ask for her protection and that these two believers would find comfort and courage in each other, praying together.
Pray for strength–that Leah and Alice would be reminded of Your promise to never leave or forsake them. We pray for Your words to flow through their minds.
Pray for peace. We pray for calmness of spirit that only God can provide. Ask God to give Leah, Alice and their families enduring patience, to place peace that passes all our understanding in their hearts and as others see that peace, many will come to know Christ.
Pray for a bold witness. Ask God to be Leah’s and Alice’s light in this darkness and make their lives living testimonies. May their witness be so profound to their captors’ eyes, ears and hearts that they would be opened to the truth.
Pray for comfort. Ask God to be tangibly close to Leah, Alice and their families–that His presence would give them peace, comfort, strength, faith, and even joy as they set their eyes on Him.
Pray for rescue. Pray that God would open closed doors to bring Leah, Alice and the rest of the captives home to their families. Ask God to work a miracle so divine that it would astound her captors and lead many of them to Him. We ask that their captors’ eyes might be open to the heavenly realm and the myriad of angels surrounding them.
Pray for the families of the executed midwives. Ask God to comfort them and provide for them in ways they could never imagine.
Pray for the Nigerian government and President Buhari–that they will be convicted to work diligently and do all they can to release all hostages. Pray that the international community will not remain silent on this, but will assist the government to fulfill their responsibilities towards these citizens.
In Your Son’s name, we pray and ask for these things… #RememberLeah
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! (Ephesians 3: 20-21)