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This discussion will feature prayer requests for the Persecuted Church, focused around Open Doors' World Watch List of the top 50 countries where Christians are persecuted.  Other resources will also be added from time to time.

The WWL report is too large to attach as a file, but you can access it on Open Doors' website here:

2018 World Watch List

"If one part [of the body] suffers, every part suffers with it" (1 Cor. 12:26)

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June 22: Just When She was Losing Hope

JUST WHEN SHE WAS LOSING HOPE, CHURCH BOMB SURVIVOR GETS LIFE-CHANGING ANSWER TO PRAYER

When a bomb exploded right next to Samiha Tawfiq at St. Peter’s Church in Cairo on December 11, 2016, everyone thought she was dead. But church bombing survivor Samiha miraculously survived the explosion that claimed 27 lives and injured 49.

The explosion also took away one side of Samiha’s face.

Since the attack, it has been an uphill climb for 55-year-old Samiha and her husband Koleny Farag, 79. She can neither hear, smell, nor see on the right side of her face and can barely lift her badly damaged hand.

‘A MIRACLE FROM GOD’

After 18 months of back-and-forth struggle and frustration, last week the Egyptian government approved a grant of $106,000 to fund Samiha’s treatment in a German hospital. (Following the attack, Samiha had a series of operations in Hungary at the invitation of the Hungarian government, but they did not achieve the expected results.)


Samiha’s husband, Koleny Farag, found his wife the morning of the bombing and for 18 months has advocated for her treatment.

“I struggled with the Health Ministry of Egypt for one year and a half to get approval for our request for Samiha’s treatment in Germany, at the State’s expense,” Koleny told World Watch Monitor.

At the ministry’s request, Koleny provided a medical report from a local hospital, stating that there was no appropriate treatment available for Samiha in Egypt.

This was followed by many visits to the ministry to chase them on any progress but without success. According to Koleny, the government only approved the funding after the leader of Egypt’s CopticMembers of an ethnic religious group from North Africa but primarily Egypt, where they are the largest Christian denomination in the country. Church, Pope Tawadros II, intervened and asked the ministry to finish the process quickly because Samiha’s health was deteriorating.

“It’s a miracle from God,” Koleny said. “God has answered our prayers and the prayers of many people and intervened at the right time.  Samiha has been suffering from bad pains in the last period. I was desperate and nearly lost hope for her treatment in Germany at the State’s expense because one year and six months passed without any response from them.”

‘GOD’S GREAT LOVE FOR ME’

Transparently, Samiha shares she is worried about these next steps. She is due to spend 90 days in the university hospital in Aachen in western Germany, where she will undergo a total of six operations to restore the right side of her face, as well as her right hand.

“I ask all people inside and outside Egypt to pray for the success of the surgerybecause I know that it’s a hard one requiring high accuracy. I’m afraid and worried about going through it.”

However, Samiha is also relieved that the treatment is finally going ahead.

“When I heard the news of the government’s approval of my travel to Germany for treatment, my spirit was lifted very high,” Samiha said, “and I thanked God so much for His great love for me.”

PRAYERS FOR SAMIHA AND KOLENY

The dates of Samiha’s surgeries are yet to be confirmed by the hospital. Please be praying with her and Koleny…

  • Pray that Samiha’s surgeries will be scheduled soon. Ask God to ease her physical pain as she waits for treatment and relief.
  • Pray for safe travels for the couple as they travel to Germany.
  • Pray for wisdom and compassion from doctors and nurses during Samiha’s 90-day hospital stay.
  • Pray for the six surgeries Samiha will undergo, that they will go smoothly. Pray that doctors will be amazed by how well she gets through each surgery.
  • Pray for Koleny as he walks with Samiha through this comprehensive treatment. Pray that he would sense the peace that passes all understanding and ask God to place the words in his mouth to encourage and comfort his wife.
  • Pray for Samiha’s recovery from each surgery. Ask God to heal her physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally as He uses the time to knit muscles and tissues back together.
  • Pray that Samiha and Koleny would pray and look for opportunities to share their miraculous story with those who may not know their Savior. Ask God to give them courage and passion to testify of His healing and mercy.

June 22: TORTURED PASTOR REFUSED TO DENY CHRIST

FINALLY FREE AFTER 11 YEARS IN ERITREAN PRISON, TORTURED PASTOR REFUSED TO DENY CHRIST

For 11 years, Pastor Ogbamichael Teklheimanot spent his days imprisoned in Eritrea’s Mitire Camp infamously known as a military concentration camp. And because he refused to renounce his faith in Christ, Ogbamichael was subjected to particular abuses reserved for outlawed religious groups. His life is an example of the deep and continual persecution that Christians in Eritrea, especially those who lead the church, face every day. The good news of the pastor’s release and freedom has spread, causing great and widespread joy in Eritrea. 


Pastor Ogbamichael Haiminot is one of the thousands in jail cells and prison camps–arrested for expressing their faith.

In October 2007, Pastor Ogbamichael Teklheimanot took a phone call from one of his church members who was fleeing the country. The pastor had no idea it would be his last day as a free man for the next 11 years.

Unbeknownst to him, Eritrean security forces were monitoring this church member. The phone call led to his arrest and imprisonment, though no charges were ever brought against Ogbamichael who served as the senior pastor of Kale Hiwot, or “Word of Life” church in the country’s capital city of Asmara.

BECAUSE HE REFUSED TO RENOUNCE HIS FAITH

Over the last 15 years, Pastor Teklheimanot has been in and out of jail cells, each time arrested for living out his faith in Christ.

In 2003, Ogbamichael was arrested and held for several weeks for continuing to lead church meetings. (In 2002, the Eritrean government introduced a law prohibiting Christian practice outside the Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran denominations, as well as Sunni Islam.)

Two years later, he was arrested again in January 2005 following his participation at a Protestant wedding ceremony. That arrest led to imprisonment in Asmara Police Station No. 5 followed by 10 months of solitary confinement and hard labor at Sawa military camp.

Before his arrest and detention in 2007, Pastor Teklheimanot had only been out of jail for six months. At some point during the next 11 years, he would find himself in Eritrea’s infamous Mitire Camp in the northwestern area of the country. Used specifically for members of outlawed religious groups, Mitire has been called a “military concentration camp” notorious for its abuses against prisoners. Christian leaders in these camps have reported being tortured and coerced to recant their faith or sign statements vowing they will not practice their faith, gather to worship, or express their beliefs in any way.

Below is a map of Eritrea’s extensive prison network known for its abuses against Christians and other religious groups.


After 11 years, Pastor Teklheimanot is now free again (no reasons were reported for his release). Through all the years of his arrests and imprisonment, he has stood firm in the face of repeated persecution, refusing to renounce his faith.

The good news of the pastor’s unexpected release and freedom has spread, with numerous human rights groups sharing his story.

“We are rejoicing for the release of a faithful man, and we are praying for his health and safety as he returns to a somewhat free life,” said Nathan Johnson, Africa regional manager for International Christian Concern.

NO. 6 ON THE WORLD WATCH LIST

Johnson reminds us that there are thousands like Pastor Teklheimanot who are still suffering under the country’s cruel and inhumane regime.

“The world must come together to end the abuse of human rights in Eritrea,” he asserts.


Eritrea shipping containers used to hold prisoners.

Throughout Eritrea, an estimated “thousands” of Christians are facing detention without being charged with a crime as “religious freedom continue[s] to be denied in Eritrea,” according to United Nations Watch, a UN monitoring group. In March 2018, 32 Christians were arrested in a fresh crackdown, and in January 2018, the government began closing all church-run initiatives, including medical clinics and education outlets. Other Christians, not yet detained, continue to flee the country.

In April, Father Thomas Reese of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom told a U.S. human rights commission that Eritrea remained, “one of the worst examples of state-sponsored repression of freedom of religion or belief in the world.”

Eritrea is ranked No. 6 on Open Doors 2018 World Watch List of the 50 countries in which it is most difficult to live as a Christian.

June 23: Susanna Koh Calls for Prayer

SUSANNA KOH CALLS FOR PRAYER, PLEADS FOR ACTION ON BREAKTHROUGH IN PASTOR RAYMOND’S ABDUCTION

On Sunday June 24 (June 23 in the United States), Susanna and the families of three other abductees kidnapped under similar circumstances are gathering in a public prayer gathering–an opportunity to encourage supporters to join their brothers and sisters in Malaysia, as well as believers around the world as we pray with the Kohs. 

THE BREAKTHROUGH

The gathering comes a month after Susanna Koh and the wife of Amri Che Mat (abducted in November 2016 under similar circumstances) got the breakthrough they had been hoping for–and two weeks after she and Norhayati Mohd Ariffin, wife of Amri, recently wrote an open letter to the newly elected Prime Minister of Malaysia. In the letter, the wives describe the long-awaited breakthrough and the events following.

On the night of May 12, a police sergeant knocked on the door of Norhayati’s house. The officer was remorseful and confessed that both men had been taken extralegally in a police operation.

The sergeant told Norhayati and her daughter that Amri was taken by a police team directed by a special police branch known as Bukit Aman. He alleged that the inspector-general of police at that time had knowledge about the operation.

The police officer identified himself as a member of the Perlis police team investigating Amri before his disappearance. He claimed that while the Perlis police department (PDRM: The Royal Malaysia Police) was not directly involved in the operation that snatched Amri, his superiors knew who was involved.

The sergeant also told Norhayati that the team that took Amri was the same team that took Pastor Raymond Koh. When Norhayati asked why, he replied: “Because he ‘apostatized’ Muslims.” (In Malaysia, the Muslim culture guards against Muslims converting to Christianity.)

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TAINTED INVESTIGATIONS

The letter goes on to say that since learning about this information, the families of Pastor Koh and Amri have taken proactive steps to expedite efforts to investigate this new lead, including filing a police report, providing both information and evidence. Norhayati and other witnesses have also testified under oath about this new lead at the ongoing public inquiry into their husbands’ disappearances.

Norhayati also wrote to Malaysia’s minister of home affairs, expressing her fear that the investigations may be tainted because of a possible conspiracy of senior officerswho may have authorized, supported, known or concealed information about the husbands’ disappearances. She pointed out that the sergeant who had offered this lead would not be willing to testify truthfully without adequate protection or legal immunity.

Norhayati’s concerns were justified.

At an inquiry on May 30, police produced a copy of a police report by the sergeant admitting that he met Norhayati on the night of May 12 but denied he said that the police were involved in the disappearances. Such a disclosure, he states in the report, would be detrimental to him personally.


Malaysians gathered to pray for Pastor Koh’s return on the one-year anniversary of his abduction.

‘PLEASE HELP US’

In the open letter, Susanna and Norhayati write that they believe there is “compelling evidence that our husbands were deprived of their liberty by parties acting with the knowledge, support and/or concealment of the act.” This, they said, placed their husbands outside the protection of the law.

They noted that the government is in a transition period since the general election yet called for immediate action, especially after this recent lead.

“Your government is the one in power today. Any delay in this matter could be seen by those inside and outside Malaysia as a breach in the rule of law and the denial of our husbands’ right to be protected under that same law.

“Respectfully, we plead to your government to immediately and independently investigate these serious allegations with urgency, transparency and impartiality,” the women wrote, “especially because those allegedly implicated include high-ranking and powerful police officers.”

Susanna and Norhayati also asked for immunity and a safe place provided for whistleblowers, including the police sergeant, to come forward with knowledge about our husbands’ abductions: who took them, where they are now and who was involved in the “high-level conspiracy of silence.”

They also said they believe their husbands’ disappearances are linked to religious issues, referencing a November 6, 2016, speech made by Division Chief Assistant Director Awaludin, claiming that the “Shia enemy” and Christian preachers are more dangerous than ISIS. He complained that after the repeal of Malaysia’s Internal Security Act (ISA), current laws did not allow the police to detain such “enemies.”

The women reiterated that since the sergeant’s May 12 disclosure, they have seen no effort by the government to ensure an independent investigation. Instead, the very people the sergeant claimed were responsible for the abductions are in charge of the investigations.

The two wives reminded the prime minister of their personal loss: “We plead for the truth. It has been 565 days since Amri was taken in Kangar, Perlis, and 484 days since Raymond was snatched off the street in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Please help us find out what happened to our husbands, who took them, and where they are now. We want them back with us. We beg for justice.”

PRAYING WITH THE KOHS

Please continue to pray with the Koh family. Susanna has asked for the following prayers:

• Pray for fine weather on the day of prayer and that the turnout will be good.
• Pray that our message will be heard in the heavenlies and by those in earthly authority.
• Pray that the new government will act on the cases of disappearance with urgency.
• Pray for truth and justice to prevail.

July 25: PASTOR ANDREW BRUNSON MOVED TO HOUSE ARREST IN TURKEY

Pastor Andrew Brunson, who has spent nearly two years in Turkish prisons after he was accused of aiding a terrorist group, has left prison and been placed under house arrest.  Brunson’s lawyer and family confirmed the news, with his lawyer telling the BBC that Brunson will wear an ankle monitor. Turkish Hürriyet Daily News also reports that Brunson is also forbidden from leaving Turkey while under house arrest.

Brunson left prison at around 5:30 pm local time, according to EPConnection, and the move to house arrest has been greeted with cautious optimism by numerous U.S. government officials. In a Tweet, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “We welcome long overdue news that Pastor Brunson has been moved from prison to house arrest in Turkey, but it is not enough. We have seen no credible evidence against Mr. Brunson, and call on Turkish authorities to resolve his case immediately in a transparent and fair manner.”

Aykan Erdemir, a former member of Turkey’s parliament and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, confirmed to World Watch Monitor that Brunson will remain in pre-trial house arrest until his next hearing, which is scheduled on October 12.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga, who attended the hearing where Brunson was put under house arrest, welcomed his release from prison but said more needed to be done.

“This is welcome news,” she said. “It is good that Pastor Brunson will have some relief after being held in a Turkish prison for more than 600 days. But it is not enough. The Turkish government has deprived this innocent man of his due process rights and liberty for too long, and it must completely release him. If it fails to do so, the Trump Administration and the Congress should respond strongly and swiftly with targeted sanctions against the authorities responsible.”

Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for 23 years, has been on trial for terrorism and spying charges—of having links with the Fethullah Gülen movement, which the Ankara government blames for the failed July 2016 coup attempt, and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Brunson has denied the accusations repeatedly, and most Western observers reject the charges.

According to Reuters, Brunson, the pastor of a small church in Izmir, told the court at last week’s hearing: “It is really hard to stay in jail and be separated from my wife and children.” “There is no concrete evidence against me,” Reuters quoted Brunson as saying. “The disciples of Jesus suffered in his name, now it is my turn. I am an innocent man on all these charges. I reject them. I know why I am here. I am here to suffer in Jesus’s name.”

The court heard testimony from four witnesses: three for the prosecution, and one for the defense. For nearly two hours, former church members testified against Pastor Brunson, making vague, unsubstantiated accusations. When the judge asked Brunson to reply to the witnesses, he said: “My faith teaches me to forgive, so I forgive those who testified against me.” Despite hopes he would be released, the court ruled against him at that time.

Open Doors CEO David Curry says, “As I attend the State Department’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom this week, it is inspiring to feel renewed excitement for Pastor Brunson as we heard first-hand from his daughter Jacqueline last night. My hope is the U.S. government will leverage this movement to put an end to the public persecution of an innocent man.”

June 24: Ten of the Top Persecutors

10 OF THE TOP PERSECUTORS OF CHRISTIANS AROUND THE WORLD TODAY

The persecution of Christians is increasing year over year. Across the globe, more than 215 million believers face intimidation, prison—even death—for their faith in Jesus Christ. That’s one in twelve Christians worldwide.

While religious persecution is spread over many countries, there are some areas where the hostility is particularly intense. These pockets of concentrated persecution are due to the focused efforts of either one person or a larger system bent on smashing or squeezing out Christians in the region.

The list below highlights some of the greatest human rights offenders toward Christians. The list is not comprehensive or in particular order, and there are many more who could be added.

We share this list not to stir up anger—although righteous anger is expected—but to move us all toward prayer and action. Jesus commanded us, directly, to pray for our enemies. So please use this list as a powerful prayer tool.

As Brother Andrew, the founder of Open Doors says, no door is closed to the power of prayer. Through prayer, we have the ability to move beyond borders and into the very presence of our enemies…

Pray that God would stop their actions, change their hearts and shine the brilliant light of the gospel onto their path—much like He did with the apostle Paul, one of the most aggressive persecutors in the time of the early church.

Here are some of the top persecutors of Christians worldwide. 

1. ISIS


Anis surveys the destruction in the old part of Qaraqosh that ISIS left.

For nearly 2,000 years, Christianity has had a presence in countries like Iraq; however, the brutal and targeted attacks from ISIS have driven many Christians to flee these areas. Ten years ago, there were nearly 1 million Christians living in Iraq, with a large majority of the population living in Mosul. Today, ISIS has been driven out of Iraq and Syria for the most part, but now they are spreading to Southeast Asia. Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi is the current leader of ISIS in western Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan.

Learn more about ISIS…

2. AL-QAEDA


The scene of an Al Qaeda attack on the Ivory Coast

While ISIS has been in the news lately, Al-Qaeda has continued to fight in countries throughout the Middle East, often marking Christian communities as specific targets. In countries like Yemen, Christian converts from Islam are particularly vulnerable as they are already treated as outcasts by their own communities. As Al-Qaeda takes advantage of distracted governments, Christians in their path experience intense persecution. Ayman al-Zawahiri, is the current leader of Al-Qaeda.

Read more about Al-Qaeda…

3. KIM JONG-UN


Believers in North Korea face intense persecution from the government

North Korea has for years been one of the worst persecutors of the Christian church. Kim Jong-un has only increased this terrible legacy, continuing the nation’s policy of outlawing any practice of the Christian faith. Prayer, church meetings and owning a Bible are all against the law, with violators being sent to prison camps, or even facing the death penalty.It’s because of this that North Korea is the #1 worst persecutor of Christians in the world according to the 2018 World Watch List.

Read more about North Korea…

4. HINDU NATIONALISTS

Above: Hindu radicals confiscate and burn Bibles on the roadside in India

The far-right Hindu nationalist movement in India seeks to wipe out any religious expression, including Christianity, that falls outside of the Hindu faith. The movement’s mission is to make India a complete Hindu nation by 2021. The predominant Hindu nationalist association is referred to as the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). This movement has created a culture war and made it very dangerous and difficult for many Christians living in the region who are often forced out of villages, beaten and arrested for believing in Jesus.

Read more about Hindu nationalists…

5. AL-SHABAAB


Twin attacks by suspected al-Shabaab militants in Kenya left 52 people dead

The radical Islamic terrorist group al-Shabaab is in many ways the Eastern African version of al-Qaeda (a group they once had an uneasy union with). Al-Shabaab has terrorized the country of Somalia for the past decade and is recently focusing its attacks on the neighboring country of Kenya. In 2015,  a Kenya college campus faced an attack where Christian students were specifically targeted, killing 148 in total. Any place al-Shabaab controls operates under Sharia law, which includes the slaughtering of anyone who identifies as Christian.

Read more about Al-Shabaab…

6. BOKO HARAM


Boko Haram has devasted the Christian community in Nigera

Boko Haram made global news when it kidnapped over 200 girls from a local school (when the world took notice and responded with #BringBackOurGirls); however, this was nothing new for the Nigerian Islamic terrorist group who have kidnapped thousands of people, many who are children.

The word “haram” means forbidden, and Boko Haram’s belief is that any sort of Western influence is heresy, especially Christianity. To this end, Boko Haram has conducted raids, bombings and assassinations against any target it deems Western, especially churches and schools. They have taken out contracts on influential Christian leaders and are also at war with the Nigerian government.

Read more about Boko Haram…

7. MILITANT FULANI HERDSMEN

In northern Nigeria’s Middle Belt area, the latest threat to Christian communities may arguably be even worse than Boko Haram: the Hausa-Fulani Muslim Herdsman. Clashes with militants among the predominantly Muslim group have claimed thousands of Christian lives as they raze entire villages and brutally kill and rape. However, unlike the atrocities and attacks of Boko Haram, Fulani violence has gone relatively unreported in national news headlines.

Read more about Militant Fulani Herdsmen…

8. RADICAL ISLAM


In Pakistan, bombings, attacks and threats toward Christians by radical Islam are prevalent

Islamic Oppression is one of the most widely recognized sources of persecution for Christians in the world today—and it continues to spread—aiming to bring many parts of the world under Sharia Law. The movement, which often results in Islamic militancy and persecution of Christians, is expanding in Asia (Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia) and Africa (Egypt, Nigeria, Somalia).

Read more about radical Islam…

9. DRUG CARTELS


Threats toward Christians in Latin America often come at the hands of violent drug cartels

In Colombia and Mexico, drug cartels are prevalent in certain parts of the country. On top of the danger that these groups bring to ordinary citizens, Christians are specifically targeted. “A soul won for Jesus is a soul lost for them,” shared one pastor from Colombia. “They know that too.”

For this reason, Christian evangelists are particularly targeted. Drug cartel leaders know that they are the greatest threat to their way of life.

Read more about drug cartels…

10. THE ULTIMATE ENEMY

It’s easy to read this list and feel hopeless in the face of so much evil. However, in Ephesians 6 we’re told our war isn’t a physical war, it’s a spiritual one. Behind all of the atrocities listed above is Satan, who prowls this world as a roaring lion.

But we are also told that God’s kingdom is forcefully advancing, and that in the end, Satan is overthrown and all things are made new.

So as we pray against the evil mentioned in this article, we can also pray hopefully that God’s kingdom would come, and His will would be done. Here on earth now, and then in completion for eternity.

June 27: Sub-Saharan Africa a Powder Keg

SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA A PERSECUTION POWDER KEG—RECENT NIGERIAN ATTACK KILLS MORE THAN 200 CHRISTIANS

The killing began on Thursday. It didn’t stop until Sunday.

By the time Muslim Fulani militant herdsmen ended their four-day killing spree (June 21-24) on northern Nigerian villages in Plateau state surrounding the city of Jos, Christians there tell us the death toll was at least 200.

Women and children were especially vulnerable. Currently, a dusk-to-dawn curfew is in place, however, our partners tell us that the violence continued despite the curfew.

In 2018 alone, militant herdsmen have targeted and killed more than 600 Christians in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region, raiding Christian villages and setting fire to homes and churches.

CHRISTIANS UNDER FIRE

Throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, we are hearing horror stories of Christians being targeted and persecuted. Across the world’s second-largest continent, Christians are under fire right now in West Africa, East Africa, Central Africa and now Southeast Africa, as each day new reports surface, bringing news of attacks and how governments are becoming increasingly hostile toward believers.

In many areas governed by Islamic law, Christians are denied or are the last to receive community services and relief, including food and medical care. Difficult living conditions like these are forcing some new believers to revert back to Islam simply to make a better life for their families. For Christians in areas like the Horn of Africa peninsula, freedom to worship is simply not a reality.

The world’s second-largest continent—including 1.2 billion people, thousands of ethnic groups and 54 internationally recognized countries—is currently a persecution powder keg.

Below, we offer snapshots of each region to share what’s happening in these specific areas—and the pain our brothers and sisters in Christ are walking through right now.

RECORD-HIGH VIOLENCE IN WEST AFRICA

(Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Benin, Niger, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Ghana, Gambia, Senegal, Togo, Mauritania):

In Nigeria’s Middle Belt, Fulani militant herdsmen pose what some have called an even greater threat than the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram. In 2018, Fulani herdsmen violence has reached a record high. In Benue state alone, 492 people have been killed. Muslim militants are targeting Christian villages like those in this recent attack—raiding communities, kidnapping and raping women and children and killing the men. In April, Fulani militants attacked a church in Benue state, killing 19 worshipers, including two priests.

The video below explains what’s happening to Christian villages throughout northern Nigeria:

[arve url=”https://vimeo.com/263360501″ /]

In addition to militant Fulani herdsmen, Boko Haram continues to brutally attack Christians and communities, raiding villages and kidnapping women and children.

Despite Nigerian President Buhari’s claims that Boko Haram has been defeated, the group that aims to establish an Islamic caliphate in West Africa is showing those claims to be little more than propaganda. Boko Haram fighters continue to attack, using both armed assaults and suicide bombers, targeting both Christians and Muslims. Recently (June 17, 2018), suicide bombers, suspected to be Boko Haram militants, attacked the town of Damboa in northern Nigeria’s Borno state, killing 31 people.

In fact, the overall number of attacks by Boko Haram increased from 2016 to 2017. Research by BBC Monitoring shows the group killed more than 900 people in 2017(slightly more than in 2016), consistently mounting attacks during the year. The report said the insurgency has left an estimated 20,000 people dead and displaced at least 2 million.

The group is now spreading beyond Nigeria into neighboring countries like Cameroon and Niger, and to a lesser extent in Chad and Benin. In 2017, Boko Haram led 32 attacks on Cameroon and this year has claimed three. In Cameroon, the group’s method is increasingly suicide attacks versus armed assaults. In February, the Islamists attacked two villages in northern Cameroon, setting fire to more than 100 huts, a church and school. Earlier in February, a Boko Haram attack in Gitawa left six dead, including a pregnant woman. Five of the victims were Christians.


A Christian family in northern Cameroon look through what is left of their home after it was recently burned down by Boko Haram militants (World Watch Monitor)

NO RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN EAST AFRICA

(Eritrea, Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda):

In East Africa and the Horn of Africa peninsula, terrorist groups like al-Shabaab are attacking Christians, and dictatorships continue to make moves to intentionally destroy religious freedom.

For example, in Eritrea the dictatorship targets Christians for “detention” and imprisonment. Those who believe in Jesus are considered a threat to the state. According to one religious liberty report, for example, Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki was said to “fear Christian evangelism because it could destabilize and disunify the country.”

The Eritrean government enlists community members to spy on certain Christian groups whom they see as “agents of the West.” Today, thousands of Christians are held in detention without being charged with a crime or given the opportunity for trial. Other Christians, not yet detained, continue to flee the country. And leaders of the church like Ogbamichael Teklhaimnot, who was just released after 11 years in an Eritrean concentration camp, share about being tortured and asked to recant their beliefs or sign statements that vow they will not practice their faith, gather to worship or express their beliefs in any way. The government is infamously known for locking Christians in metal shipping containers where some have died of heat exhaustion and suffocation.

Currently, in the country, radical Muslims are gaining support from the government, including possibly even supplying one group with weapons. These Muslim adherents claim to be ‘Muslim first’ and see leaving Islam to convert to Christianity as a betrayal of their community. They are increasingly targeting Christians with violence and the state, who outlaws most Protestant groups, offers no protection. In fact, the state denies persecution is even happening.


Some Christians in Eritrea meet in secret since the government passed a law shutting down many churches.

In East African countries with tribal societies like Somalia, persecution against Christians comes from the tribe. Inside Somalia is a patchwork of competing clans, containing clan-based militias and religious groups that pursue a strong Islamic identity—against a background of a strong tribal identity.

That’s why converting to Christianity means not only a betrayal of Islam and the Muslim community but also a break with the clan’s norms and values as well. In tribal societies, this is a very serious offense. For example, Somaliland which declared independence in 1991 (still unrecognized) would seem to be a region free of Islamic militant activity. But Christians are also persecuted there by the tribal society.

In these East African countries, Christians must worship in secret and live in constant fear of being imprisoned and tortured for their beliefs.

INTRA-COUNTRY CONFLICTS DOMINATE CENTRAL AFRICA

(Burundi, the Central African Republic, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo)

In Central Africa, intra-country conflicts are destabilizing governments in these countries and as a result, extremist groups are increasing their power and using it to violently oppress Christians.

In Rwanda, the country has closed thousands of churches and arrested at least six pastors since February 2018 for “noise pollution” and failing to comply with building regulations. And in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s eastern province of North Kivu, leaders of the church have been targeted and killed. Reportedly, at least 15 armed extremist groups are operating in the area.

One Catholic church leader has characterized North Kivu as being “in total chaos.”

“We are completely abandoned by everyone,” he said

The constant conflict has also led to millions of displaced and impoverished people, as warring factions continue to disrupt economies—causing widespread famine exacerbated by an environmental drought.


Unexploded bombs discovered in North Kivu by UN Mine Action Service, 2017 (UNMAS)

SOUTHEAST AFRICA’S NEW JIHADIST MOVEMENT

(Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe)

In southeast Africa, a number of attacks, including several beheadings, have raised alarms over the emergence of a new jihadist movement in the southern half of Africa—a section previously untroubled by violent Islamic extremism. Human Rights Watch reports that the group, al-Sunna wa Jama’a, has killed 39 and displaced 1,000 people in a spate of attacks, beginning October 2017. June 2018 has been a particularly violent month of bloodshed and loss.

Residents report attacks on June 5- 6 and June 12 in the Mozambique province of Cabo Delgado. On June 6, a group of men armed with machetes and AK-47 assault rifles reportedly raided the village of Namaluco. They killed six people and set on fire more than 100 houses. And on June 12, just before 2 am, an elderly man was beheaded and at least 100 homes burned down when a group of six men stormed another village. The assailants were carrying machetes and had their faces covered.


On June 12, an elderly man was beheaded and at least 100 homes burned down in Nathuko village. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

THE URGENCY IS NOW BECAUSE THE NEED IS GREAT

Open Doors is going to where the needs are. Right now, we are rushing critical aid and support to African believers whose lives are immersed in persecution. These Christ followers are risking all they have to follow Jesus.

Please join us as we strengthen the church in sub-Saharan Africa. We are reminded of the Scripture that first led Open Doors Founder Brother Andrew to this work:

“Wake up! Strengthen what remains, and is about to die …” (Rev. 3:2)

June 29: Christian Villages in Nigeria Wiped Out

A DOZEN CHRISTIAN VILLAGES IN NIGERIA WIPED OUT IN FOUR-DAY KILLING SPREE

Most of the victims were in their homes sleeping when the attacks began … when Muslim FulaniThe Fulani are a large ethnic group in West Africa. A third of all Fulani people are pastoralists, making them the largest nomadic community in the world. militant herdsmen began their killing spree in Nigeria that lasted four days, Thursday through Sunday evening and into Monday.

In only days, a dozen villages in Nigeria’s Plateau state were wiped out. The affected communities surround the city of Jos—known as the epicenter of Christianity in northern Nigeria’s Middle Belt.

As many as 200 Christians had been killed, however, some residents fear the death toll may be even higher, as more bodies are yet to be recovered, while others were burned beyond recognition. On Sunday, 75 of the victims were buried in a mass grave.

We are still gathering information about the violence, but the details we have so far reveal the scale and brutality of the attacks:

  • 120 people who were attending the funerals of an elderly member were hacked to death as they returned home.
  • In another attack, in Gana Ropp village, a pastor, Rev. Musa Choji, was killed, as were his wife and son.
  • In Gidin Akwati, the whole community was burned down. Local sources say that some of those displaced are still hiding in the bush, as they haven’t yet been able to find their way to a safe haven.
  • A pastor with the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) denomination, who wanted to remain anonymous for security reasons, said that following an attack on Saturday, his entire village was reduced to ashes, and more than 100 people lost their lives.

The ECWA pastor said more than 50 heavily armed Fulani herdsmen surrounded the village of Nghar, in Gashes district, at around 3:30 a.m. They burned down all the houses, as well as two churches. Only a few people were able to escape.

His wife’s family was decimated. The assailants killed 14 members of her family, including her mother and sister. Others who had come to visit them were also killed. In total, 27 people lost their lives in the same house. They were all burned to death.Only one person—his wife’s younger brother—survived, as he managed to escape through the roof.

World Watch Monitor reports that on the day of the attack in Nghar, only two soldiers and one policeman were in the village, but they reportedly ran for their lives when the herdsmen launched their attack.

ATTACKS WERE PEAK OF ONGOING VIOLENCE

Reportedly, the violence in the attacked areas has been happening for the last two weeks. Over the weekend, the violence reached a peak. Pastor Steve Kwol, chairman of the Pentecostal Federation of Nigeria for Plateau North, which includes the attacked areas, said that herdsmen were ambushing people going to their farms or traveling on their motorbikes.

Since Thursday, the herdsmen had launched “very serious attacks” on the whole communities, he said. Despite the current dusk-to-dawn curfew and the presence of military, the attacks are still ongoing, he says. Two villages—Kwi and Dorowa—were badly damaged on Monday.

In Dorowa, most of the properties were burned down, including four church buildings. The adjoining buildings, such as pastors’ houses, were also destroyed by fire.

In Kwi, a number of buildings, including churches, were also set on fire. The exact number of people killed there is not yet known, but many were displaced and are now living in camps in neighboring villages.

Stand with believers in Nigeria through relief and support

“We’ve been living peacefully with [Fulani herdsmen]” Pastor Kwol said. “Since this crisis started in Plateau in recent months, our people have not killed one Fulani man. Instead, they have been killing our people one by one. We just buried them and carried on.” he said. As a result of the ongoing insecurity, there are places where people can no longer go to farm,” he said, “because when they go, the Fulani will come and take their cows, or attack them.”

“Just two weeks ago, they shot my wife’s young brother. But he survived. He was discharged on Wednesday and had returned home on Thursday, only to get killed in the last attack, on Saturday.”

 ‘IT’S PART OF A GRAND PLAN TO ISLAMIZE NIGERIA’

The attacks have some local sources saying that the ongoing violence is part of a “grand plan to Islamize Nigeria.”

“The killings are becoming no longer herder and farmer clashes” but a “deliberate attempt to conquer and occupy the land of the people’s ancestral heritage,” said Dr. Soja Bewarang, who also denounced the attack on a Bible school that trained African missionaries in Gana-Ropp village.

Reverend Gideon Para-Mallam, of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students in Jos and founder of the Citizens Monitoriing Group working with Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, notes that the violence is part of a pattern, an emerging genda, saying that it is “another Boko Haraman extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria in disguise.”

The same Fulani people who have been living in peace with farmers suddenly have changed from using sticks to tend their cows, all of a sudden going to the farmlands, killing Christian farmers. their wives and children, surrounding whole villages. It’s a pointer … because Plateau state is the epicenter of Christianity.”

Watch as he shares:

PAINFUL MEMORIES OF BLOODSHED

The violence forced the state governor, Simon Lalong, to cut short his time at a national convention and return to Jos, the state capital. President Muhammadu Buhari, who is seeking a second term in the coming 2019 elections (due in February), was also attending the convention.

Criticized for his perceived ‘lukewarm’ attitude towards the ongoin... President Buhari condemned what he called “painful” and “regrettable” killings and expressed his “deepest condolences to the affected communities.”

In his address to leaders of farmers and Fulani communities on Monday, Nigeria Vice President Yemi Osinbajo denounced the manner in which people are being “mercilessly” killed in Plateau state, and pledged that the federal government will bring the perpetrators to justice.

“There is no reason for killing any Nigerian,” he declared. “We were told that herdsmen sacked an entire community; this is condemnable and I don’t understand what those people think, but the federal government will take immediate action to ensure that this madness is put to a stop. It is unfortunate that some people want to make some gains out of this, and are taking advantage of innocent women and children.”

But for many, particularly among the Christian communities in the Plateau and the other Middle Belt States like Benue and Nasarawa where Fulani militias have attacked, the weekend of violence brings back memories of the March 2010 attacks when more than 500 people were massacred by herdsmen in Dogon Na Hauwavillage.

Between 2010 and 2012, Plateau was the epicenter of the violence in Africa’s most populous country, but in the next five years, the state even became known as a model state as violence decreased.

However, since September last year, the violence has resumed with repeated attacks against Christian communities. It has escalated further this year, particularly in Riyom, Barkin Ladi, Bassa and Bokko local government area. Bassa is still under curfew following previous violence in March of this year.

PRAYING WITH CHRISTIANS IN PLATEAU STATE AND NIGERIA’S MIDDLE BELT

  • Pray that God would be near to our brokenhearted brothers and sisters in Jos and throughout Africa. Ask God to be tangibly close.
  • Ask God to pour out His Spirit of love, order and calm over these communities. Pray for safety and protection in the days ahead.
  • Ask God to intervene in this violence and bring the persecutors to justice. These attacks have gone on for too long.
  • Pray with Pastor Kwol and his wife who have lost so much family and their home.
  • Pray with Rev. Musa Choji’s church who have lost their pastor and his family. God we ask you to bring beauty from the ashes.
  • As we realize the magnitude of these attacks and previous ones, pray that God would end this movement and any aspirations of Islamizing Nigeria.

Although the realities of violence like these attacks can be overwhelming, we have repeatedly seen how the Lord sovereignly uses the Body of Christ to bring hope and remind Christians on the front lines that they are not forgotten.

July 09: HOW MALAYSIA AND NORTH KOREA INSPIRE US TO PRAY IMPOSSIBLE...

I recently returned from Malaysia (No. 23 on the World Watch List) where secret believers at a secret church told us how their government had been persecuting Christians for decades. They said Malaysia had recently gone through an election in May to vote for a new prime minister. Malaysian Christians had been praying for a change that would give them the freedom to follow Jesus in their country.

ANSWERED PRAYERS FOR MALAYSIAN BELIEVERS

At the same time as the election in Malaysia, hundreds of churches around the United States had joined a 30-day prayer campaign for the country.

But this convergence wasn’t planned.

The U.S. churches didn’t choose the dates to coincide with the election. I doubt few even knew about it. Still, the Spirit called them to pray for Malaysia–and to join with the Malaysian church–during the exact same time as this pivotal turning point for the country and Malaysian Christ followers. 

The election outcome was a surprise to the whole country. For the first time in 60 years, the government changed leadership. Now, for the first time in 20 years, the country has a different prime minister who has pledged more freedom for Christians.

The Lord answered prayers in Malaysia.

ANSWERED PRAYER BEGINNINGS IN NORTH KOREA

We’ve also recently witnessed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet with President Trump in a historic meeting. North Korea is currently ranked No. 1 on the World Watch List as the most difficult place to live as a Christian. For decades, believers in North Korea and around the world have been praying for the isolated country and religious freedom.

While we have yet to see what the June 11 summit will produce, we do know that the meeting is unprecedented. Never before has a sitting U.S. president met with the leader of the North Korean regime. We continue to pray that God will use the summit and that it will be the beginning of religious freedom for the underground church of 300,000 believers in North Korea.

3 POWERFUL TRUTHS ABOUT PRAYER

Neither of these major political events in Malaysia or North Korea was predicted or expected to happen. However, both provide hope for Christians, persecuted and free. They inspire us to continue to fervently pray, especially when it seems as if we’re praying impossible prayers. And they show us that prayer does indeed bring change:

1.Prayer changes hearts. Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord.” Scripture shows us that through prayer, the Lord can change the hearts of leaders and advance His Kingdom.

2.Prayer changes the world. Through our prayers and petitions, the Lord hears us. He hears our groans for our persecuted brothers and sisters and does indeed change the circumstances of this world. The election of Malaysia’s new prime minister and the U.S. meeting with Kim Jong Un are recent examples of how the Lord can and does begin to put the wheels of change in motion through our desperate prayers.

I love what Open Doors Founder Brother Andrew says: “Our prayers can go where we cannot … there are no borders, no prison walls, no doors that are closed to us when we pray.”

3.Prayer is ongoing; we need it now as much as ever. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul reminds us,  “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

The secret believers in Malaysia asked that we continue to pray for them. They have renewed hope with a new prime minister and a new government, but they’ve asked that we pray now more than ever that their new leader would do as he said and provide freedom to persecuted Christians. We must also continue praying for our persecuted family in North Korea as world leaders meet and provide hope for their future.

The Lord answers prayers and has called us to pray without ceasing. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:12 that we are in a spiritual fight “against the rulers of the darkness of this world.” Please join us as we lift hearts and voices in prayer for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. We need you in the battle.

July 13: Is Another Boko Haram Emerging?

IS ANOTHER BOKO HARAM EMERGING IN PREVIOUSLY UNTROUBLED SOUTHEAST AFRICA?

Throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, the regions of West Africa, East Africa and Central Africa have become a stage for religious, ethnic, and political conflict, including ongoing violence and attacks from Islamic extremist groups, such as Boko Haraman extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria, al-Shabaab in East Africa and Muslim FulaniThe Fulani are a large ethnic group in West Africa. A third of all Fulani people are pastoralists, making them the largest nomadic community in the world. militant herdsmen in Nigeria’s Middle Belt. But the lower half of Africa–predominantly Christian–has been previously untroubled by violent Islamic extremism. Now questions are being raised about the possible emergence of another Boko Haram in Southeast Africa.

ATTACKS RAISING ALARMS

As persecution of Christians increases throughout the world, Southeast Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe) is now seeing violence, as well. A number of attacks in Mozambique, including several beheadings, have raised alarms over the emergence of a new extremist group and a jihadist movement in the southern half of Africa.

Human Rights Watch reports that the group al-Sunna wa Jama’a (a term for the Sunni Muslim sect) has killed 39 and displaced 1,000 people in a spate of attacks in the energy-rich country of Mozambique, where the population of 30 million is predominantly Christian.

Until recently, little was known about the group known locally as ‘al-Shabaab’ (which means “the youth”). While some, including Mozambique’s government, say there are no ties to the Somali group of the same name, others say the Somali militants are actually financing the group.

‘THEY READ LOUDLY ARABIC WORDS FROM THE BOOK’

The group carried out its first attacks in October 2017, targeting police stations in the coastal town of Moćimboa da Praia in Mozambique. In March, one person in the province was killed; homes were torched. Officials believe the al-Sunna wa Jama’a group carried out the assault and believe the same group has been carrying out armed operations against the government since October.

June 2018 was a particularly violent month of bloodshed and loss. Residents report attacks on June 5- 6 and June 12 in the northern Mozambique province of Cabo Delgado. On June 5, a group of men armed with machetes and AK-47 assault rifles reportedly raided the village of Namaluco. They killed six people and set on fire more than 100 houses. The assailants, who had their faces covered, also spoke Swahili, the main language spoken in the region.

And on June 12, just before 2 am, an elderly man was beheaded and at least 100 homes burned down when a group of six men stormed another village.Reportedly, the assailants were carrying machetes and had their faces covered.

One villager in Naunde explained how the attackers caught a community leader: “When he realized they were looking for him, he tried to run away but one of the men chased him, grabbed him by the arm, held the machete, and cut his head off … there in front of everybody.”

Aisha, a woman whose house was reduced to ashes, told Human Rights Watch that she woke up at about 2 a.m., after hearing gunshots and people screaming.

“I went outside and saw a group of people with their faces covered,” she said. “Two of them had big guns. The other three had machetes. The ones with machetes also had a small book in their hands. They read loudly Arabic words from the book, before setting the houses on fire.”

Another woman, Anshia, explained how she managed to escape:

“I was running behind my husband and my three older children, when I remembered that I had left the baby in my room. I went back. They had already set my house on fire. One of the men grabbed my hand and slapped me in the face. I managed to escape when I fell on the floor. Then I ran inside the house, took my baby and used the other side of the house to reach the road and run.”


On June 12, an elderly man was beheaded and at least 100 homes were burned down in Nathuko village. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

WHO IS AL-SUNNA WA JAMA’A?

According to a study released last month out of Maputo (May 2018), many of the militants are disaffected by poverty and unemployment, and some have reportedly traveled to regional countries, including Kenya, Tanzania and Somalia, for religious or military training.

The study said they are influenced by followers of Sheik Aboud Rogo, a Muslim cleric in Kenya with alleged links to al-Shabaab in Somalia. He was shot and killed in 2012 by suspected government agents in Kenya, which triggered violent protests by supporters.

The new extremist group reportedly numbers in the hundreds, operates in largely autonomous cells, and has tapped into the thriving illegal trade in ivory, timber and rubies in Mozambique’s border area.

Members of the Islamist group mark their difference from the country’s mainstream Muslims–who comprise 17 percent of the Mozambican population–with shaved heads, beards and white turbans.

“The birth of Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah is very similar to what was seen with Boko Haram in Nigeria,” commented Éric Morier-Genoud, senior lecturer in African history at Queen’s University Belfast, in an article for news website The Conversation. “It started as a religious sect which transformed into a guerrilla group.”

The group’s objective seems to be “to impose sharia law, a goal that’s perfectly consistent with their attacks on symbols of the government’s presence,” said Nick Piper, director of the Signal Risk consultancy firm, in an interview with france24.com. However, Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah has not made any political demands.

PRAYING WITH AFRICAN BELIEVERS

  • Pray that God would strengthen the church in this area and that they could be light to the many in northern Mozambique who have lost loved ones in these attacks.
  • Ask God to pour out His Spirit of love, order and calm over this area.
  • Pray that this emerging movement would be halted and for the salvation of these young men who are potential recruits to al-Sunna wa Jama’a.

July 14: No Homecoming for Boko Haram Victims

NO HOMECOMING FOR BOKO HARAM VICTIMS—ONE WOMAN’S STORY OF SCORN, SORROW AND SAVING FAITH

When Esther was rescued from Boko Haraman extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria captivity, she thought her living nightmare of almost a year was over.

But it had only just begun.

Though the young Nigerian woman carried a child she thought she could never love, she was at least free from the violence, the constant rape, the incessant torment from her captors that she had endured ever since the day Boko Haram guerilla fighters attacked her village, killing her father and forcing her and other young Christian girls into waiting vehicles. They were taken into the dense Sambisa Forest where the terrorist group had established their rape camps.

The Boko Haram hallmark is brutal violence: suicide bombings, mass murder, forced conscription of young men and boys, and the destruction of villages, towns, churches, markets, and schools. But Boko Haram is perhaps best known for its widespread abduction of women and girls—an estimated 3,000 since 2009. 

Since last year, the group has expanded to Cameroon, Chad, and Niger and has pledged allegiance to the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as ISIS).

‘BAD BLOOD’

As Esther walked back into her village, she anticipated a homecoming of support and healing from those who had known her.

Instead, she was met with rejection and abuse.

In captivity, Esther resisted constant pressure to abandon her Christian faith in favor of Boko Haram’s extreme radicalized brand of Islam, and she was brutally punished for it. She was  repeatedly raped multiple times by different men.

But to villagers long terrorized by the extremist group, Esther was just another one of the “Boko Haram women,” girls kidnapped by violent militants, married off to fighters, raped, beaten and enslaved.


Esther and baby Rebekah–the villagers called Rebekah ‘Boho.’

Esther was pregnant with a child conceived by the rapes (and as a result had no idea who the father is, an infant whose only future in the villagers’ eyes was one of violence and terror. Family and friends said the child would inherit its father’s “bad blood”—the violent tendencies of an extremist.

When the child was born, Esther named her Rebekah. The villagers only called her “Boko.”

ESTHER IS NOT ALONE.

Esther’s story is hauntingly familiar in the places where Boko Haram is active. For many women, her story is more than familiar—it is their own.

Salamatu was kidnapped at age 15 and raped in captivity. She was able to escape her kidnappers, but when she arrived at a refugee camp in northern Nigeria, all she found was more oppression.

“They say my daughter is a Boko Haram baby,” she told NPR.

Amina and her daughter, liberated wives of Boko Haram fighters, experienced more trauma in their refugee camp than they did at the hands of the extremists, one activist said.

Adrienne survived a brutal sexual attack at the hands of Boko Haram. When she returned to her hometown, vulnerable and alone, Adrienne and her newborn child were ostracized.

While many of these women have sought help—and even found some semblance of recovery—many continue to be ostracized and abused.

NO SAFE HAVEN, ONLY STIGMA

In the town squares of impoverished villages and among the ramshackle homes of refugee camps, women freed from Boko Haram are not seen as victims of conflict, but as direct threats to the safety of others.

According to a February 2016 Unicef report, villagers and other refugees fear the freed women have been indoctrinated and radicalized by their captors. The recent increase in female suicide bombers, both women and children, throughout Nigeria has also reinforced the belief that women and girls held captive by militants are contributing to the region’s overall insecurity. Reports of kidnapped women coming home and killing family members as part of the initiation protocol for Boko Haram have made community members even more wary of women returning home from captivity.

A new report (June 2018) by the Heritage Foundation finds that Boko Haram has used significantly more female suicide-bombers than any other terrorist group in history. From June 2014 to the end of February 2018, Boko Haram “deployed 469 female suicide bombers who killed more than 1,200 people and injured nearly 3,000 others.” Children are a prime target, the report said, as they can easily be manipulated, particularly those “ripped from their families in kidnappings.”

By using women to carry out such attacks, more male militants are available for more conventional fighting. Women and children are also less likely to be stopped and searched, says Yonas Dembele, persecution analyst at World Watch Research. He adds that Christians and Western interests are Boko Haram’s prime targets.

“The militants abduct school children and Christians, rape and torture the women, and then recruit them to carry out attacks,” Dembele says, adding that since 2011, Boko Haram fighters have killed more than 20,000 people in northeastern Nigeria and neighboring countries.

The belief that babies and children born of the “Boko Haram women” have inherited “bad blood” from their parents is rampant; the “bad blood” idea is popular in Nigerian witchcraft. As a result, children conceived in Boko Haram captivity are seen as genetically tainted through the sins of their fathers, consigned to a life of violence and terror.

Husbands and fathers of victims also have mixed feelings about the women, with some completely unwilling to take them back, fearing discrimination and consequences from Boko Haram.

AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS

In trauma counseling from Open Doors, Esther and other Boko Haram victims learned to place their burdens at the foot of the cross.

As the abuse from the villagers continued and Esther’s child grew, faith became the young mother’s only refuge—and it brought more healing to her than any community could.

Leaders at Esther’s church invited her to attend an Open Doors trauma care seminar, where coordinators encouraged her and other participants to seek freedom at the foot of the cross—literally. A caregiver asked Esther and others to write out their burdens on pieces of paper, then pin them to a hand-carved wooden cross.

“When I pinned that piece of paper to the cross, it felt like I was handing over all of my sorrow to God,” Esther said.

When the caregiver removed the notes from the cross and burned them, Esther says she “felt like my sorrow and shame disappeared, never to come back again.”

With the help of the seminar and continued trauma counseling, the young woman’s life has improved exponentially. One year after her return, villagers still struggled to accept Esther and her daughter, but they knew something had changed in the young woman. This teenage mother who had endured unspeakable agony at the hands of a brutal regime was surprisingly—impossibly—at peace.

“Some of those people who used to mock me now ask me my secret,” Esther says.“I tell them, ‘I forgave my enemies and now trust God to take vengeance in His time.’”

God has used Open Doors to provide for Esther and Rebecca’s physical needs, including food aid. She now lives with her grandparents, and finally feels the support and care of a family—and the child Esther thought she could never love now means the world to her.

“Rebekah has become my joy and laughter amid sadness.”

Open Doors continues to reach out to and serve Boko Haram survivors like Esther, but the need is still great as violence and kidnappings continue. Please pray with us for Esther and our brothers and sisters in West Africa where the insurgency continues.

July 25: Former Muslim clings to Jesus

ON THE RUN IN MALI–FORMER MUSLIM CLINGS TO JESUS AMID JIHADIST PERSECUTION

Traditionally, the Muslims of Mali have practiced a form of Islam known for tolerance of other religions. Over the past few years, though, a more radical and militant form of Islam has made life increasingly difficult for Christians and other minorities in the west African country. While Mali is still technically a secular state, Islamic radicals took over a portion of the country in 2012, resulting in a dramatic cultural shift towards intolerance of the Christian faith in Mali (No. 37 on the World Watch List). For one Christian woman named Naomi, the agendas of both non-violent and violent Islamic groups have shaped much of her life. 

A SURPRISE VISIT

Naomi remembers the day she heard the knock on her small apartment door.

As she slowly opened it, her body froze. Her two sisters stood before her, clutching their belongings, clearly presuming they could stay. But seeing her siblings was far from cause to rejoice. The familial ties had long since been severed.

Since she chose to follow Jesus many years ago, these women had caused nothing but pain and heartache in Naomi’s life.

Hardly comprehending what she was doing, she ushered them inside.

Naomi couldn’t hold back the painful memories of the past the three women shared. They were born into a devout Egyptian Muslim family in Mali. Their father had moved from Egypt to the Mali city of Timbuktu to spread Islam. When Naomi was 8, her father died, and the girls were adopted by their uncle. He enrolled them in an international Christian school, a common practice for Muslims who desired good educations for their children.

“I hated everything Christian, so no one worried that I would be influenced ‘negatively,’” Naomi remembers.

DRAWN TO THE HEART OF CHRIST

But as Naomi interacted with Christians at school, something changed. She found herself drawn to Christ, and at the age of 12, she professed Him as Lord.

Her life would never be the same.

Almost immediately, her family disowned her. When a local missionary family heard about Naomi’s situation, they took her into their home.

“They loved me like their own daughter,” says Naomi. “From them, I learned more about Christ and grew in my faith.”

Eventually, the missionaries had to return to their home country, leaving Naomi with no option but to ask her family to take her back. She remembers how each day, they cruelly harassed her for her faith.

‘YES, JESUS LOVES ME’

When she was 16, Naomi met a Christian man from Belgium and agreed to marry him.

“I hoped very much that this would be the beginning of new things,” she says. But the persecution continued.

“Whenever I went around town, people would call me a kafir (which means infidel). But for me, the hardest thing to handle was the rejection from my family. When they saw me, they would spit in my direction and curse the blood we shared.”

To cope with the pressure from her family, Naomi looked to the heart of Christ.

“In those days, the children’s hymn ‘Yes, Jesus Loves Me…the Bible tells me so’ meant so much to me,” she says with conviction. “I sang it constantly. My family would not give up on the pressure. But the more they pressured me, the more I found myself clinging to Jesus.”

A TURN FOR THE WORST

As jihadist influence increased in Mali, so did the persecution of Christians—at great cost to Naomi and her two sons, Ibrahim and Youssouf.

“More than once, my family sent jihadists to my house to kill us (or at least intimidate us),” she says. “Their plans never worked. But one day, while my husband was on a business trip, he was gunned down. He was killed for his faith, and for marrying an ex-Muslim. His colleagues delivered the terrible news to me. I have no idea what happened to his body.”

After his death, Naomi, now a young widow, somehow managed to care for her two sons—alone. But in 2012, as Muslim jihadists used the political Tuareg Rebellion as an opportunity to wreak havoc, things took a turn for the worst. In the northern regions of Mali, jihadists began to kill people, destroy ancient shrines and hunt down Christians.

‘JESUS HELP US’

Knowing they would have nowhere to go, Naomi and her sons tried to weather the storm in Timbuktu. It would later prove to be a poor choice. One day, rebels belonging to the radical Islamic group Ansar al-Dine invaded their home and abducted Youssouf as Naomi and Ibrahim watched. Youssouf was only a teen at the time.

“Ibrahim, my second son, was terrified,” Naomi remembers. “He held on to me and kept whispering, ‘Jesus help us, Jesus help us.’

After the men left with Youssouf, the young mother prayed incessantly for his return.

“I was on my knees all the time, pleading for the Lord to protect my son,” she says. “Youssouf acted deaf and dumb in front of his abductors. They whipped him severely but released him after two days.”

Youssouf came home severely traumatized. Her other son, Ibrahim, was also terrified.

“I realized we could not stay in our home anymore,” she says. “We fled to Bamako [the capital of Mali].”

In Bamako, Naomi and the boys stayed for more than a year at an internally displaced persons camp belonging to a church. When the camp closed, she had nowhere to stay and no money to provide for her children.

“I felt like I was chaff in the wind,” she says.

A ROOF OVER THEIR HEADS

Naomi and her boys faced an uncertain future. Provision came at “just the right time,” she says. Through Naomi’s local church, an Open Doors worker heard about this young mom with two sons and no place to live (Open Doors partners with indigenous churches to minister to persecuted believers). Open Doors stepped into Naomi’s life to provide rent money for a simple apartment.

“The help brought a huge sigh of relief,” she says.

Today, while Naomi is thankful for the roof over their heads, she continues to face constant pressure from her Muslim neighbors because of her faith.

“They laugh at me when I sing and pray,” she says.

And the pressure within her own home is even greater since her sisters came to stay with her. When things became too unstable in the north, they fled to Bamako and tracked down Naomi.

‘I HAVE TO SHOW TO LOVE TO MY ENEMIES’

On a recent visit to see Naomi, Open Doors partners were able to fellowship and pray with her. Naomi’s sisters did little to hide their enmity. She requests prayer to remain encouraged and stay the course under persecution. Open Doors is currently in the process of finding a viable business venture for Naomi that will help her provide for her family. She also requests prayer for her vocation and that her sisters would come to know the Jesus she found.

“I am a Christian,” Naomi says. “I have to show love even to the worst of my enemies. Who knows? I may draw them to Christ despite their attitude towards me. Christians are people who love their enemies—their haters—as brothers.

“That is how we can win them for the Kingdom.”

PRAYING WITH NAOMI AND HER FAMILY

  • Thank God for Naomi’s faith. Pray that He will continue to use her humble faithfulness to draw many others to Himself. Pray that she will experience His provision on all levels, including guidance for a new business venture.
  • Pray for the Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of Naomi’s siblings, who have been her greatest source of persecution. Pray that their hearts would be softened to receive the truth of Christ.
  • Pray for God’s grace to Youssouf as remains traumatized from his abduction. Pray that he will find help within the Christian community (To address these challenges, Open Doors is helping deepen the ministry skills of the pastors who are working with Youssouf).
  • Pray for the Lord to preserve Ibrahim’s faith as he interacts with Muslims in the workforce. Ask God to give him a sense of His presence and purpose.

1.6 Million Kachin Christians in Myanmar trapped

1.6 MILLION KACHIN CHRISTIANS IN MYANMAR TRAPPED AS TARGETS IN GENOCIDAL WAR

U.S. Pastor: Military forces responsible for Rohingya crisis moving in on Kachin

Amid an international outcry over atrocities committed by government forces against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Western Myanmar, roughly 1.6 million Christians in the country’s northern region say they are being targeted as well.

It has been called “a forgotten war” and is increasingly referred to as flat-out genocide of Christians in Kachin state–because they choose to follow Jesus instead of Buddhism. 

MORE THAN 400 VILLAGES AND 300 CHURCHES DESTROYED

Far from the blackened hills and scorched jungles of Rakhine, where the Rohingya were sent screaming from their settlements last year as military forces torched their homes, lies Kachin state, a mountainous region bordering China and India, rich with amber and jade.

The Kachin once traded their natural resources with neighboring countries for cash, food, textiles. Now, they trade for guns.

Representatives of the Kachin Independence Army told Sky News earlier this year that the Tamadaw, the Myanmar military, has been targeting the Kachin for years. And while the conflict is as complicated as it is violent, some believe that the government is trying to wipe them out because roughly 95 percent are Christian.

According to The Cruxthe Myanmar military has burned more than 400 villages and 300 churches in Kachin, displacing an estimated 130,000 people over the past seven years. The Christian Post reports more than 7,000 people have fled their homes since April, when the conflict escalated.

For Tang Seng, whose story is described in an article featured in The Guardian, each of those numbers is a person around him. When he heard gunshots ring out dangerously close to his village, his grandmother begged him to kill her. Instead, he carried her on his back all the way to a refugee camp–marking the fifth time she has had to flee from her home due to conflict.

San Htoi, a representative of the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand, told The Guardian that she feels the conflict has gone unnoticed by the rest of the world. She said officials from the United Nations Security Council who recently visited Myanmar came and went without any knowledge of the plight of the Kachin.

“It is an invisible war,” she said.

TARGETING CHURCHES TO SHATTER HOPE 

Myanmar, which is a predominantly Buddhist nation, is #24 on the Open Doors 2018 World Watch List. In predominantly Christian states like Kachin State–as well as Karen State and Northern Shan–even well-established historical churches experience attacks. In some instances around the country, Buddhist monks have invaded church properties and built Buddhist shrines on church premises, according to information gathered by Open Doors.


In some instances around the country, Buddhist monks have invaded church properties and built Buddhist shrines on church premises. Pictured here: Uppatasanti Pagoda.

An anonymous local source told World Watch Monitor that churches in Kachin “are doing their best to accommodate [those] fleeing from the warzones,” and are donating food and resources despite skyrocketing prices.

For Kachin residents displaced by fighting, churches are a place of refuge and safety amid the turmoil of a violent conflict–but for military forces, churches are prime locations for attack. Sut Nau Ndayu, the president of the Kachin National Organization USA, told The Crux that the Tamadaw targets churches because they are “the core of the community,” and that by destroying them, the soldiers are shattering the people’s hope.

Beyond religion, David Baulk, a Myanmar human rights specialist, told The Guardian that he believes the violence is all part of the government’s “peace process”–which he said is “dictated by the Myanmar military at the barrel of a gun.”

“It’s the violent pacification of ethnic nationalities,” he said.

WHO ARE THE KACHIN?

Out of the eight major ethnic-nationalities in Myanmar, the Kachin tribe is the only one that has embraced Christianity. Some 90 percent of the Kachin are believers.

The gospel spread among the Kachin in the 19th century, due to the work of Western missionaries. For decades, their religious identity within a state-sanctioned Buddhist context has caused them to endure forced labor, rape, and violence at the hands of the Tatmadaw. Countless times, the Kachin people have been abused and pressured to recant their Christian faith.

When Prime Minister U Nu of Myanmar declared Theravada Buddhism the state religion in the 1960s, the Tatmadaw began trampling on the Kachin Christians’ right to worship. Thousands of Kachin took up arms in protest. The Burmese government still views them as agents of the West, deviants to the country’s goal of Buddhist unification.

Despite the end of military rule and the Burmese government’s transition to a democracy in 2011, the Kachin remain overlooked–deprived of many modern conveniences, and still victimized for being a religious minority.

In October 2017, Muan,* a local pastor shared with Open Doors, “Recently, the officials built a Buddhist temple beside our church. We were forced to contribute stones to build it. Officially, we are never allowed to build a church. We must resort to bribing local officials.”

All citizens are required to attend mandatory village meetings that conflict with their Sunday worship services. They believe that it is an attempt by the government to distract church members and continually decrease church attendance.

“From my village, it takes two days to walk to the public meeting,” a pastor shared. “It’s difficult, but we’re afraid of what might happen if we don’t go. Everyone is afraid of not going because we might receive a red mark on our government papers. Those papers are our lifeline.”

The Kachin State is also the poorest region in Myanmar. According to UNICEF, 73 percent of Kachin State residents live below the poverty line.

“Extreme poverty is a major problem in our area,” says another pastor. “Poverty drives mothers to marry off their daughters to insurgents who are, of course, not believers.”

U.S. PASTOR ‘VERY CONCERNED’ ABOUT CONFLICT

Pastor Bob Roberts of Northwood Church in Texas recently called Christians to pray over the conflict and get involved in any way they can.

Roberts, a member of the Faith Coalition to Stop Genocidethe deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation. in Burma, told CBN in a video interview that he, too, came to Myanmar and left without knowing about the Kachin conflict.

“I’m sorry to say I didn’t know that much about the Kachin,” he said. “So I went… I was frankly pretty alarmed by what I saw.”

Roberts said what he saw in Kachin was similar to the harrowing scenes he saw in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, where thousands of Rohingya have fled genocide at the hands of the Tamadaw.

“The same units that were doing all the military destruction down in the Rakhine state, they’ve moved those up to the Kachin state,” Roberts said. “The problem is when you radicalize and you create such violence among soldiers who have been raping and murdering, you don’t just turn that switch off.”

While the Myanmar government views the Kachin Independence Army as a terrorist organization, Roberts described the group as a mostly “defensive organization,” since the government has done most of the attacking.

According to The Christian Post, Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Myanmar military honored a ceasefire until 2011, when it collapsed, and the fighting has raged ever since. During negotiations of a ceasefire brokered by the government and other rebel groups, the KIA refused to yield until the government stops bombing Kachin villages, according to The GuardianFor now, the Kachin are trapped by a government blockade, and with a displaced population of civilians and limited firepower, there is no telling how long they will hold out.

“I’m very concerned about what I see taking place,” Roberts said. “I think now is the time to respond to it… Talk to your congressman and your senator… pray.”

In the meantime, the Kachin continue staving off government forces and begging the world to hear their voice.

When Tang Seng and his grandmother reached the refugee camp and settled in for the long, slow process of piecing their lives back together, the elderly woman mirrored the reaction of the world to the plight of the Kachin:

For two days, she was completely silent.

PRAYING WITH KACHIN CHRISTIANS

  • Please pray with families who have lost loved ones in this genocidal war, that they may be comforted. Ask God to comfort the brokenhearted.
  • Pray with thousands of displaced believers for the provision of food, shelter, healthand hope.
  • Please pray with churches, that they may be strengthened and rooted in the Lord.
  • Pray that aid organizations would gain access that has recently been blocked by the Kachin Independence Army. The Kachin Baptist Convention recently stopped its humanitarian work in KIA-controlled areas after government forces warned that it would take action against the group for associating with an “illegal entity.”
  • Please pray with our Christian brothers and sisters; that they may be able to stand strong in the face of persecution and that this continued adversity will deepen their trust in their God.
  • Pray with Kachin believers that peace and religious freedom would come to their state and country.
  • God, we call on You to rest Your hand of protection on the people of Kachin state.
  • Pray for wisdom for Christians who struggle with the choice to rise up in defense against the Tamadaw or flee to the jungles. Ask Him to guide them with His Spirit.
  • Pray that the light and truth of the gospel will penetrate the spiritual darkness of this land.

*Names changed for security reasons.

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