Impacting Cities & Communities thru Prayer
A Community of Prayer Champions, Praying Churches, Prayed-for Communities
This discussion will post prayer alerts and resources for the Persecuted Church in 2017. In the past, I've posted my own prayers using Open Doors resources, but this year I'm going to focus on posting the resources themselves and hopefully equipping many to pray. Primary source material for this discussion will come from Open Doors, including the World Watch List, monthly Prayer Force Alert calendars, and prayer news items. Additional resources will be drawn from Voice of the Martyrs and International Christian Concern.
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 13:3
Here are a few key links to help you pray for the Persecuted Church:
It was nine months ago that Holmatov Bahrom – a pastor at a Christian church in Hujand City, Tajikistan – was brought in by the KGB for questioning. The officials said they just wanted to ask some questions about Bahrom’s religious activities. He has been imprisoned ever since.
Bahrom was charged with violating Tajikistan’s oppressive limitations on religious expression. Five months later his trial began where multiple witnesses either lied or exaggerated facts against Bahrom. One man who lived near the church claimed the congregation sang too loud and kept him from being comfortable in his own home. Another man – possibly a KGB agent – accused Bahrom of distributing Christian literature that had been banned in Tajikistan.
One man claimed Bahrom would only give humanitarian aid to people who converted to Christianity while another said he highly pressured Muslims to convert and cursed them when they didn’t. These last claims specifically were outright lies, but on July 6 the court found Bahrom guilty and sentenced him to three years in prison.
TAJIKISTAN’S HISTORY OF RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION
Bahrom’s story is one of many coming from Tajikistan, a country ranked #35 on Open Doors’ World Watch List. Like so many former Soviet countries, a dark shroud of religious persecution permeates the country’s government, escalating under the increasingly-dictatorial rule of President Emomali Rahmonov. This past April the Tajik government issued a new law allowing the government to listen, record and save all phone conversations. This law also allows the government to control all of online social networks in Tajikistan. Since most Tajik churches are unregistered and thus deeply vulnerable, this new law makes even normal phone conversations between Christians dangerous.
This isn’t the only concern for Tajik Christians, who are the minority religion in a predominantly Muslim country. In the years after the USSR’s collapse, Tajikistan was thrown into civil war between Russian-backed forces and Islamist insurgents. Islam, which even during Soviet rule was strongly present in the country, quickly reclaimed its influence over Tajikistan with experts believing around 97% of the country identifying with the religion. The strange tension this creates can be seen in President Rahmonov who identifies as Muslim while simultaneously repressing certain public forms of Islamic expression. Christians suffer on both sides of this equation, facing cultural persecution from their Muslim neighbors and family and institutionalized persecution from a secular government.
HOW YOU CAN PRAY
HOW TO LEARN MORE
Part of Open Doors’ mission is to share with the Church the stories of our persecuted brothers and sisters around the globe. Each week we send out an email updating Christians on how they can help their spiritual family around the globe. If you’d like to receive that email you can sign up for it here.
Christians in Tajikistan run various summer camps for the children. A week ago, police discovered an illegal Christian camp. In their search, they found out that one of the Tajik girls had a Children’s Bible with pictures. Administrative proceedings were instituted and the workers of the camp could be
fined $500 – $700. Pray for the believers who ran the camp and for the disappointed children who lost the opportunity to spend time at this Christian camp. Pray for God’s protection over these camps in Tajikistan and other Central Asian nations.
“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Mark 10:14
Father, thank You for the perseverance of these believers to spread the Good News of Christ to those around them even in the face of danger. Thank You for the children who have heard Your Word, even if for a brief time. We pray that You will take the seed of the Word planted and cause it to grow and flourish in their lives. For the leaders and the workers of this camp, we pray for mercy in the court system and the resources to pay any fines that may be levied against them. And for the other Christian camps in the nation, we pray Your protection that the seed of the gospel might be planted and take deep root in the nation of Tajikistan and beyond in Central Asia. In the name of Jesus who called the children to come to Him. Amen.
Sister Sitora * became a follower of Jesus in April, at the age of 17; she prayed to receive Christ through the witness of believers from a local Protestant Church. Two months later, on June 25th, she was baptized. On the evening of August 25th, her brother, a Muslim, came home high on marijuana and demanded to know if Sitora believed in Jesus. Sitora did not want to talk to him and tried to evade the conversation with her brother, who was stoned, but he persisted and forced her to answer
Finally, Sitora told him that she believes in Jesus, belongs to Him, and wants to live with Jesus for the rest of her life. Enraged by her response, Sitora’s brother took the wooden handle of a shovel and brutally beat Sitora. The merciless attach left Sitora’s whole body covered with bruises. Since her brother used the handle of a shovel along with his fists, her nose was broken and her whole face swollen and bruised. Her brother refused to let anyone from the family take her to the hospital, threatening that if anyone were to take her to the hospital, they too would end up in the hospital.
Please pray for Sitora’s. She is a young, pretty girl who is at risk of becoming crippled because of her refusal to deny her faith in Jesus. Pray that God would heal her body, and give her the strength and endurance to resist her brother’s continued insistence that she renounce the Lord Jesus Christ and return to Islam.
*name changed for security reasons
Our Father, God of all comfort, have mercy on Sitora as she heals from her horrific wounds, both physical and emotional, and lives in the captivity of her own home. You have freed her from spiritual bondage to follow You, now protect and comfort her in her earthly bondage. She is so new in her faith; help her to see Your presence with her and strengthen her faith that she might stand firm. And free her from her captivity in ways that display Your sovereign power, that show that You have done it, drawing her family into saving faith. In the name of Jesus, who sets the prisoners free, Amen.
Tajik pastor Bahrom Holmatov was arrested and imprisoned for three years on false accusations of extremism. He was sentenced to three years in prison, but the lawyer filed an appeal. The appeal hearing was postponed, but now we have received word that it was denied, that the court sustained the original verdict and sentencing without changes. According to it, Bahrom will be in prison three years for “extremism and religious hatred.”
Many of you have encouraged Pastor Bahrom with letters. Following the verdict in the appeal, he said, “Don’t worry about me, please. Just keep praying for me and my family. I knew that I could pay a price for my following Christ and my ministry—and I am doing it now. I am ready to go through this to be in prison for His name the whole term. Thank you all, brothers and sisters, who prayed and supported me.”
Please, keep praying for this courageous Christian, for his faith, for his emotional, spiritual and physical health in prison. And for his family who deeply misses him.
Thank You, Father, for the testimony of Pastor Bahrom who has been faithful in serving You, no matter the consequences. We thank You for his quiet, submissive willingness to serve this sentence for Christ’s name. Sustain his family during his absence and encourage them in the midst of loneliness and worry. Strengthen his faith, encourage him daily with Your presence, protect him physically, and in times of discouragement, protect him from despair. Rather, fill him with Your “peace, which transcends all understanding” (Phil 4:7). In the name of Jesus, who hides us in the shelter of His presence (Ps 31). Amen.
Click the link above or the maps below for Operation World's "Pray Today" page for Tajikistan.
Click the link above for the Open Doors prayer calendar for the persecuted church for November, or download the attachment.
In cooperation with local partners and churches, Open Doors is supporting the church in Algeria through the following activities: Training, Literature distribution, Socio-economic development and Advocacy. Open Doors also raises prayer support for believers in Algeria.
On Sunday, August 7, a court sentenced Slimani Bouhafs, a 49-year-old Algerian Christian man, to the maximum penalty of five years imprisonment on blasphemy charges. Algerian cybercrime police arrested Slimani Bouhafs on July 31, accusing him of blasphemy against Islam because of a statement he posted on Facebook. According to Middle East Concern, he published a message on social media “about the light of Jesus overcoming the lie of Islam and its Prophet in the Kabylie area.” President Haddad of the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA) confirmed the sentence.
Middle East Concern reports that although his family and an Algerian secular human rights organization appointed lawyers for him, the court claimed that he had elected to defend himself. According to Saïd Salhi, Vice President of the Algerian League for Human Rights (LADDH), this case is an attack on the freedom of conscience and worship. “It is a new attack against the rights guaranteed by national laws.”
The LADDH calls for a broad mobilization to obtain Bouhafs’ unconditional release from prison. Salhi decried the trial as unfair. “He appeared before the prosecutor the same day of his arrest, without the presence of a lawyer.” The news of Bouhafs’ sentence was a shock for the family of the condemned Christian, and they are concerned about his health. According to his daughter, he suffers from inflammatory rheumatism, a disease that worsens under stress and requires him to follow a special diet. The president of the EPA announced that the council of the church will appeal the sentence.
Father, truly You are the Light of the World, casting out the darkness of sin and evil. We lift up Slimani Bouhafs as he faces this harsh sentence, praying that the appeal will be successful and he will be released soon. You know his special health needs; sustain him during this time and encourage him with a knowledge of our prayers on his behalf. We pray Your hand of protection over Your church in Algeria that this will not usher in a season of increased persecution, but rather will be used to grow Your church and lift high the name of Jesus that all might know that He is truly the Lord of lords. It is in His precious and holy Name that we pray. Amen.
Click the link above or the maps below for Operation World's "Pray Today" page for Algeria.
Turkey’s rank on the World Watch List rose sharply this year, from #45 to #37. There are three notable trends in Turkey at the moment: the presence of radical Islam, the ethnic conflict and the changing political scene. Each of these trends are linked to each other, and all of them will affect Christians in Turkey. Persecution in Turkey is shaped by Islamic extremism, and is increasingly marked by violence. Pressure on believers from Muslim backgrounds is especially acute due to the Islamic social environment. Increasing pressure on Christians is fueled by Turkish nationalism and a regime that aims to Islamize the country. Suicide bombers attacked Istanbul Airport in July 2016, which has been an area of historically strong Christian strongholds, which is just one example of how persecution is significantly increasing in Turkey.
Open Doors is raising prayer for believers in difficult situations and prayer in general for Turkey.
The Directorate General of Foundations for the local government of the northwestern Turkish city of Bursa gave a verbal order on February 18 for the city’s only church building, which is home to four congregations, to be vacated in five days. The deadline was later extended to February 26, and on February 23, he rescinded the order altogether.
Approximately 200 Christians share the church for their Sunday worship services. Four different Christian congregations meet in the building, officially known as the French Church Cultural Center, including Latin Catholic, German Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant fellowships. Under Turkish law non-Muslim, significant legal hurdles face faith communities that attempt to register an officially sanctioned house of worship. Multiple congregations often share the same space due to these challenges.
Ismail Kulakcioglu, pastor of the Protestant congregation, noted that the city government’s original decision to close the church was inconsistent with Bursa’s self-proclaimed image as a city of religious tolerance. In a press release, Kulakcioglu said that he and the local government considered Turkey to be a cultural mosaic, and they did not want to see this mosaic smashed to pieces. The pastor is scheduled to meet with Bursa’ mayor Recep Altepe to sign a new protocol for future use of the church building.
Bursa is a conservative city of 2 million in the industrial Marmara region of Turkey. Located 100 miles southeast of Istanbul, Turks have nicknamed it “Green Bursa,” both for its nearby forests and its Islamic identity. The renovated French Church Culture Center stands as a reminder of a time when Bursa had a large non-Muslim population. The church was built in the 1880s to serve local French-speaking Catholics from the Levant who were living in the Ottoman Empire, many of whom are buried in the nearby cemetery.
For decades the church sat in ruins. The four congregations moved into the church after restoring it between 2002 and 2004. They reopened the building for worship after signing a protocol with the Bursa municipality. The Directorate General of Foundations is the official owner of the property, and Bursa’s city council has the right to grant use of the building for religious purposes.
The eviction order came as a result of a supposed lapse in the previously signed protocol. It expired in 2015, and the Bursa municipality told the congregations to reapply. According to Kulakcioglu, their renewal application was received positively, but encountered opposition from an element within the city council.
Aykan Erdemir, a Turkish academic who grew up in Bursa and is now a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told World Watch Monitor that as a child he played among the piles of rubble from the historic church with friends. He saw the church’s reopening as a symbol of Bursa rediscovery of its multicultural past. Erdemir views the eviction order as a demonstration of Turkey’s failure to institutionalize religious freedom for its non-Sunni Muslims. “Christians do not have any legal entitlement to the building,” he said. “They only have usage rights for the time being, which I think is a very precarious situation. Members of non-majority religions have to depend on the goodwill of bureaucrats and the majority population.”
Erdemir added that such problems will persist until religious minorities gain property rights for their houses of worship and restitution rights to reopen historical churches.
Some Turkish officials assert that the decision to close the church was based on a misunderstanding over the church’s legal status, not the specific targeting of Christians. Toros Alcan, a Turkish-Armenian representing minority interests on the Foundations Directorate, maintained that no one from the Bursa municipality or his organization ever produced an actual written order to vacate the church.
The church remains a symbol of the struggle Bursa’s non-Muslims citizens face in becoming an accepted part of society. Kulakcioglu said he has sought to convince the council that Bursa would lose a priceless piece of its cultural heritage if the congregations were forced out of their building.
“We’re trying to explain that this church – which is used as a house of worship by different congregations – is perhaps the only example of its kind in the world,” he said.
Source: World Watch Monitor
We give you our thanks and praise today for restoring worship in this church building and for the generations before who have proclaimed the gospel from this place. We pray for continuing favor with the local authorities to permit Your worship to continue unhindered. Truly we are pilgrims on this earth and the world that hated Jesus often hates us, as well. But Christ reigns over rulers and authorities, so we pray with confidence that Your gospel will continue to go forth in the nation of Turkey in great power and authority—in this church building as well as in the homes and workplaces of Your people there. In the Name of Jesus, who reigns in glory and is gathering His church from among the nations, Amen.
Click the link above or the maps below for Operation World's "Pray Today" page for Turkey.