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
Three years ago, the church in Syria was all but dead, never to come back. The vicious civil war and invasion by ISIS militants threatened the very existence of Christianity. But our partners on the ground in this country of 20 million people say the story has changed and continues to transform. God is resurrecting the church in Syria, responding to the prayers and cries of His people around the world—and demonstrating His compassion and power to revive and restore.
During the war, churches have grown, and many Muslims have met Christ here in this Middle Eastern country, once a major stronghold for Islamic State. To help Christians, especially new believers, deepen their faith, Open Doors regularly organizes retreats for Syrian churches. A recent retreat in the Lebanese mountains included a baptism opportunity in a swimming pool where some 16 men and women offered a powerful picture of the transformation and resolve it takes to follow Jesus in the 11th most dangerous country to be a Christian.
“Glory to Jesus!” She shouts, raising her arms high. Water drips from the sleeves of her white dress as she walks through the green water of the swimming pool.
Tens of people gather around the pool, clapping their hands and shouting for joy along with her. She is the first new believer baptized on a sunny Sunday morning in Lebanon; 15 others are in line behind her, waiting to be immersed.
Sixteen baptisms in one morning in the Middle East is a very special moment for this young Syrian church of members who come from the Middle Eastern Druze religion (a religious minority in the Middle East combining beliefs from Judaism, Christianity andIslam).
“Of course, God works everywhere and among all people, but I see the start of a revival amongst the Druze and the Kurds in Syria,” says David*, pastor of the church.
Revival in Syria is not unlike revival anywhere else in the world. It means new converts, new churches, new leadership and the baptizing of new believers.
“In my city, we now have four churches of mainly new believers,” Pastor David says. His congregation of 60 is the smallest church of the four. Also, elsewhere in Syria, former Druze and former Muslims are turning to Christ in significant numbers.
One after another, the men and women walk down the pool stairs to be baptized. The pastor shortly prays and then baptizes them, gently pushing them backward under the water. Each believer emerges to the sound of loud applause and a warm embrace as they step out of the pool.
With all 16 baptisms finished, the group erupts in worship:
“I have decided to follow Jesus/I have decided to follow Jesus/ I have decided to follow Jesus/ No turning back, no turning back.”
The song is familiar to Christians around the world. But in Syria, the words take on new meaning. In this Middle Eastern country, their decision to follow Jesus comes with great costs. If or when their conversion is discovered, these new believers could lose their family, friends, their job, even their life.
Following Jesus will turn their lives upside down.
“The world behind me, the cross before me/The world behind me, the cross before me/The world behind me, the cross before me/No turning back, no turning back.”
Believers in Syria know that becoming a Christian means leaving their old life, their old world, and their old religion behind them. And before them is a cross–a symbol of persecution.
Not unlike any newly baptized believer, baptism for these converts in Syria is just the start. They will need the support of the Body of Christ, both local and global. Pastor David believes the war has been a catalyst for transformation.
“Hundreds have been saved during the war; before, there were only some hidden and secret believers. God worked in His special way during this war.”
Through your prayers and support, Open Doors offers new believers like these discipleship and leadership training. We are also working with local churches in Syria to establish Centers of Hope, equipping and empowering local churches to offer aid and services like trauma counseling to their communities.
Recently, Pastor David’s church opened a Center of Hope in their community.
*representative name used for security
Chinese authorities are now taking steps in rural areas of China to intensify the ongoing crackdown on Christian gatherings often known as house churches. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is reportedly resorting to offering monetary rewards to anyone who spies on a neighbor or even family member and reports a group of believers to authorities.
In documents obtained by Bitter Winter magazine, monetary incentives are spelled out based on the specific report and its impact. For example, a document issued by a subdistrict in Nanyang city in China’s Henan province states that anyone who discovers and reports a group will receive a reward of 200 to 1,000 RMB (about $30 to $150).
Reporting someone for making or spreading images earns a reward of $75 to to $300. And if the report has significant impact, the reward is $750 to $1,500. Turning in a believer from The Church of Almighty God (the largest Chinese new religious movement) brings $15 to $300.
To make it easy to tip off authorities and report believers, China has set up reporting boxes in villages, phone lines and websites. A village officer revealed that when a caller reports a gathering, the caller’s location will be recorded right away and the meeting venue’s address can be quickly determined,
The number to the free tip hotline is printed on iron reporting boxes that read “Box for reporting private (meeting) venues and missionary activities.”
A reporting box was recently installed at the entrance to the village committee of Chenzhuang village in the Mangzhongqiao township (several villages constitute a township) in China’s Henan province (where the country’s underground church movement started).
One local villager noted that the the township government has issued a reporting box to each village. “Authorities are waging a crackdown against religious belief,” the villager said, and “people in the village are prohibited from believing in God.”
Some regions have also developed platforms for reporting on neighbors online or by writing letters.
The impact of these new practices has already been felt. Bitter magazine reported that one local believer said that by setting up reporting boxes, authorities have restricted religious events, gatherings, and evangelism, and “have placed believers in danger of being arrested at any time.”
Recently, a secret Three-Self church meeting in Dapan village in Henan was discovered and shut down, surprising believers who were meeting in a basement in a residential building. The venue’s furnishings were cleared out.
Informing on each other became a prevalent practice during China’s Cultural Revolution under Mao. The CCP set up reporting boxes and rewarded people who reported or exposed others. With the implementation of these tools today, China has returned to mobilizing the masses to fight each other—a practice used during an era when outright persecution forced believers to go underground to meet and worship together.
One local retired CCP member disagrees with incentives, saying that he fears they make it easy for people to develop hatred for each other.
The former official’s fears align with what local villagers are sharing about the current situation: “Everyone is participating in monitoring and reporting others,” the villager said, increasing the risk of arrest and imprisonment for more believers.
“It’s impossible for us to defend against effectively. I’m afraid that it will be difficult to continue holding gatherings.”
Recently, one of Open Doors’ indigenous ministry partners who works to equip church leaders in China offered this insight: “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:
The alleged “crime” took place on October 24, 2018, when Agung, a student at the University of North Sumatra in Medan, made an Instagram post. In it, he allegedly mocked a picture of three Muslim youths burning a flag belonging to a banned militant group.
The next day, hundreds of Muslims surrounded his house in protest, and he was arrested for blasphemy.
During the trial, prosecutors told judges that Agung’s actions could have undermined the country’s interreligious relations.
However, the deputy director of the Indonesia-based Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace told ucan that the prison sentence resulted from “pressure from radical Muslim groups.”
“It was because of pressure from radical Muslim groups,” he said, referring to the August 2018 case of a Buddhist woman, also from Medan, who was jailed for 18 months for complaining about the noise from a local mosque’s loudspeaker during the call to prayer.He stressed that the blasphemy law discriminates against non-Muslims.
Throughout the world, blasphemy laws are “used” by Muslims to avenge petty arguments and seize property.
Since 1968, more than 150 people have been imprisoned under the blasphemy law in Indonesia, including former Jakarta Christian governor, widely known as Ahok. He was released from jail last month after serving nearly two years for blasphemy. His trial was marked by mass protests by hardline Islamic groups, illustrating the growing religious intolerance in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation and No. 30 on the 2019 World Watch List.
The most recent attack came on February 15 when Pastor Tomas Francisco Estrada* was murdered ( circumstances are unknown) in the rural area of Buenaventura, a coastal seaport city in western Colombia. For 11 years, the pastor served in ministry. The impact of his death has critically affected his family. When she learned her husband had been killed, Pastor Estrada’s wife, Luisa Montes*, suffered a nervous breakdown. The now single parent of their two children, Luisa is in critical health.
Six days before Pastor Estrada was killed, another leader, Pastor Leider Molina*, was hit by five gunshots during the evening of February 9. He was leaving the church just after preaching a service. His murder took place in the municipality of Caucasia in the country’s northwestern region.
In that same area six months before, Pastor Hector Galarza was killed in September 2018 in the small town of El Cedro* on the way to preach when he was approached by two men and shot in front of his family. His wife, Mercedes*, was also critically traumatized. Scared for their lives, the family fled to a nearby town to take refuge. The tiny house they now live in is in a depressed neighborhood. There, hidden from those who murdered her husband, Mercedes struggles to rebuild her home. She cries often. She also has nervous attacks. So do her grandchildren who run to hide whenever they hear a loud noise.
In Colombia, church leaders often play a dual role as de facto community leaders, especially in small rural communities. This recognition often makes these leaders and their families a target of paramilitary forces, guerrillas and criminal groups wanting to control the region.
Pastors Galarza, Estrada and Molina were all known for their commitment to preach the Word of God and actively work for the betterment of their communities. They refused to succumb to the threats of criminal groups, not only ignoring them but also actively opposing them. They advocated for justice processes and the restoration of community rights from the paramilitary and organized crime groups.
The preaching and courageous action of pastors like Pastor Estrada, Molina and Galarza have dissuaded many young people in the country from joining criminal groups. Many youth have even renounced armed conflict and illegal operations. Today, it’s estimated that some 14,000 children are enlisted in criminal arms groups in Colombia. These leaders and those like them were targeted to counter the growing number of people going to church and their opposition to armed groups.
And in places where the Christian church maintains a strong influence, residents are less inclined to be part of criminal operations. By preaching the Word of God, the Christian church establishes a direct opposition to the purposes of the armed groups. For this reason, these men were seen as a threat. They died advocating for and defending the people of God–taking seriously Jesus’ call to make disciples.
The violent deaths of Pastors Galarza, Molina and now Estrada reflect the arduous situation the Christian church in Colombia is facing. The church in Colombia is under attack with reports of murders, threats and attacks on social and church leaders continuing to escalate.
Between 2016 and 2019, the country has seen 566 murders of church and social leaders, according to reports by non-governmental organization Indepaz. In 2019 alone, the murders of reportedly 19 social leaders in different parts of the country have struck fear in the regions. The church must preach the message of Christ in the midst of crossfire where the war in Colombia seems to have taken a new breath and is now escalating.
Our Open Doors team reports that the repeated crimes of pastors murdered in Colombia and the continued threat of conflict in the area have left the Christian church terrified. Some believers have fled with their families; others are staying, waiting for the government to intervene.
• Representative names and photos used for security reasons
According to field sources, the attackers–part of the Allied Democratic Forces–pretended to be security agents when they arrived in the village. By the time they reached the village center, some youths became suspicious and raised the alarm. Militia then fired indiscriminately at villagers. The ADF was created in 1995 by Ugandan Muslim rebels to oppose the government after they were forced out of Uganda by the army.
A nurse in the Nyankunde hospital in Beni told Open Doors by phone that the attackers then proceeded toward the house of the village head. When they shot dead the guard dogs, the gunfire sent people running. Two villagers attempting to flee were killed.
According to Pastor Gilbert Kambale, who runs a civil society organization in Beni, 470 Congo families fled seven miles to Beni following the incident. Most sought refuge with various host families and in schools in the Beu Commune of Beni city. The Congo village of Kalau has a largely Christian population, dotted with adherents to African Traditional Religion (ATR).
In the last five years, hundreds of civilians have died in the Beni area of the Congo alone. ADF militants are thought to have killed at least 700 civilians and more than 20 UN peacekeepers.
The attack will likely be followed by more violence. A local community leader in Kalau who asked for anonymity because he fears for his safety told Open Doors: “We have heard the rebels saying they worked for long in the domains of kidnapping and killings, but now they want to move to the stage of occupying the territory. They want to occupy the area they claim as theirs.”
The area in the Congo is also under attack of disease with the North Kivu province in the eighth month of an Ebola outbreak. In recent weeks, armed attacks against Ebola treatment centers have increased with one clinic burned down.
Please pray boldly with us for our Christian brothers and sisters in Central Africa. They live under attack on multiple fronts. Pray for the Lord’s comfort to all those who have lost loved ones in the attack and for strength for those displaced from their homes. Ask God to intervene in their trials.
Pastor Elahi has been falsely accused of rape–a charge prompted by the local imam, Jamirul Islam, who is also believed to have bribed police–yet another persecution act in a string of violence the imam has committed against Elahi and his family.
For years, Islam has schemed against the pastor. Islam once destroyed the building where Pastor Elahi’s house church met. He has also attempted to stop members from gathering.
This latest ploy is Islam’s attempt to teach Elahi a lesson and to pass on a warning to other local believers: If you don’t return to your previous Muslim faith, you will also face similar consequences.
At the time of the adultery, Elahi was attending a pastoral training in the capital city of Dhaka. But that isn’t stopping local police and village leaders from asking for an exorbitant sum of money to settle the case–a sum too much for Elahi’s and family and church to pay. This is the kind of persecution Christian converts in places like Bangladesh and India often face. To compel them to return to Islam or Hinduism, Christian converts are often falsely accused of crimes and hurled into a legal abyss that brings shame and financial adversity.
Currently, Pastor Elahi is applying for bail and preparing for his upcoming trial. He and his family are depressed and frustrated. Please pray with us for him and our other brothers and sisters in Bangladesh, specifically in Gobindopur Village:
Father, we thank you for making us aware of Pastor Elahi and this injustice against him and his family. We pray for hope, comfort and provision for him and his family. We ask You to erase their anxiety and fear and strengthen them in their faith. And God, we pray boldly with believers in Elahi’s church and village, that they could stand strong in their faith in the pastor’s absence and in the face of persecution from village leaders and pressure from family and friends to renounce their faith and go back to lives of comfort. God, we pray that you would give them supernatural peace and strength as they live for You.