Impacting Cities & Communities thru Prayer
A Community of Prayer Champions, Praying Churches, Prayed-for Communities
I'm trying to consolidate all the Open Doors postings I've been doing into this group. I will be moving the discussion featuring Prayer Alerts and Stories of Persecution to this thread. With each entry, I'll provide the link to the actual page on the Open Doors site, as well as the text of the alert. Please join me in praying for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world!
Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. -- Hebrews 12:3
Today [April 3, 2019], the full extent of Shari law goes into effect in Brunei. The newest and third phase of the law is difficult news for Christian converts who are expected to have to go into deeper hiding in the small Sultan-ruled country on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo where conversion from Islam is illegal and punishable by death.
Since first introducing Sharia law in 2014, the Sultan, 72-year-old Hassanal Bolkiah, has been encouraging Islamization of the country where Muslims make up about two-thirds of the country’s population of 434,000. He has called for “stronger” Islamic teachings in Brunei (No. 36 on the World Watch List).
The new laws—what some have called “cruel and inhuman”—carry the death penalty for a variety of offenses, including adultery, robbery, rape, sodomy and insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
The first phase, which covered crimes punishable by prison sentence and fines, was implemented in 2014. The new phase covers crimes, such as theft, punishable by amputation and stoning.
The law mostly applies to Muslims, including children who have reached puberty, though some aspects will apply to non-Muslims. For example, those who “persuade, tell or encourage” Muslim children under the age of 18 “to accept the teachings of religions other than Islam” are liable for a fine or jail
Individuals who have not reached puberty but are convicted of certain offenses may be instead subjected to whipping.
Since announcing the full implementation of the law, the Brunei government, an absolute monarchy, has faced much international criticism and opposition by rights groups. The public outcry probably explains the last-minute announcement of the third stage of implementation only 10 days ago, said Tomas Muller, a persecution analyst for Open Doors’ World Watch Research unit.
On Monday, 1 April, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bauchelet, urged Brunei to reconsider implementing the laws.
“Any religion-based legislation must not violate human rights, including the rights of those belonging to the majority religion as well as of religious minorities and non-believers,” Bauchelet said in a statement, warning the new laws could lead to violence and discrimination.
In addition to rights groups and the United Nations, Brunei and its new laws have drawn fire from high-profile celebrities in the West condemning the country for the laws’ inhumane “medieval” punishments and treatment of homosexuals.
Christians who have left Islam already face discrimination in Brunei where conversion is considered illegal, as is importing Bibles. Public celebrations of Christmas have been banned since 2015.
Because conversion from Islam is strictly opposed by Bruneian laws, converts to Christianity will be separated from their spouse and children, and their spouse will be forced to divorce their partner. If converts are identified by the security department, they are threatened in an attempt to make them recant their faith.
Although it is still unclear what further impact the new penal code will have, the new penal code will affect every Muslim who converts from Islam to another faith like Christianity, Muller said.
“It is to be expected that not only society will change—depending on what exactly will be considered as ‘anti-Islam’ –but also that the country’s Christian converts will be forced to hide their faith even more carefully.”
In a BBC report, a 23-year-old male Bruneian, who is not gay but has renounced Islam (his current religion was not specified), said he felt “fearful and numb” in the face of the laws being implemented.
“We ordinary citizens are powerless to stop Sharia law from being implemented. Under Sharia, I would face the death penalty for apostasy.”
The attacks started at 10 a.m. on Feb. 10, 2019, when a mob carrying sticks, stones and fuel targeted the first church building. The crowd then moved from church to church in the Southern Ethiopia town of Alaba, destroying buildings and belongings.
In the end, the attacks in the town (located two hours southwest of the capital city, Addis Ababa), injured 26 Christians, including four church workers, who required hospital care. The mob managed to severely damage 13 buildings, 14 motorcycles and an unknown number of bicycles belonging to different congregations, along with Bibles and furniture.
Witnesses said they could hear the crowd shouting things like, “Alahu Akubar (“Alah is greater”) and “Alaba belongs to Islam.”
Sources said the attack was in response to the alleged call to Muslims to attack local Christians after fake reports circulated that Christians in a nearby town burned down a mosque and murdered an imam. Local Christians said they believe that although the false rumor provided an excuse for the attack, the real reason behind it is growing anger over the church’s evangelism activities in Alaba, where Muslims form the overwhelming majority. Ethiopia is No. 28 on the World Watch List.
The absence of protection from local police forces contributed to the chaos. Witnesses observed that officers stood around, watching the attacks. It was three hours before federal police intervened and restored order.
Following the incident, federal police arrested more than 100 suspects; all have been released. After the attacks, evangelical church leaders traveled to the regional capital, Awassa, to appeal for protection from authorities there.
When Open Doors teams arrived in Alaba, they found believers still in a state of shock and traumatized over the widespread violence against them. Our team gathered area church leaders who openly shared about the attacks. Many believers and leaders stood there crying.
“But it is not all without hope,” one church leader told us. ‘This incident strengthened our fellowship. I praise God. Before the attack, we didn’t have strong fellowship, but this incident has brought us together.’”
Another injured evangelist said, “I thank God for this incident. We shared the real life of Jesus and His apostles.”
Church leaders thanked the Open Doors team for their presence: “We all have been experiencing fear and discouragement. Your presence here, more than any other support, is helping us to overcome fear.’”
Open Doors is facilitating medical assistance and food support.
“On Sundays we have about 200 attendees here,” says Wahid, inviting us into the church he pastors abroad: a spacious hall with a stage full of instruments. It’s vastly different from the church he pastored in Iran where the church was no bigger than a living room, the “worship band” a simple cassette player.
Still, it wasn’t Wahid’s own choice to leave his country. He led a good life, ran a drycleaning business. But because of his decision to follow Jesus, increasing pressure forced him to flee. Now he lives in another country in the region with thousands of other refugees.
Wahid is married and the proud father of a two-and-a-half-year-old son. He shows a picture of a curly-haired boy. His own growing up years were challenging. He is a child of divorced parents.
“It wasn’t so great,” he admits. “It made me feel sad.”
The real depression kicked in after Wahid’s mother died. He had lived with her all his life, and as a young teenager had to live with his father who gave him little love. Wahid was raised as a Muslim, but the circumstances in his life made him despise Islam. As a teenager, he hated his life.
He shares how meeting Jesus changed his life. One of his friends had become a Christian and told him about his new faith.
“It’s hard to explain what happened with me,” he says. “I could say that something changed in my heart. I felt a warmth deep inside of me.”
That night, Wahid found Christ.
“I had always thought my circumstances had to change for me to lose my depression,” he says. “But when I found Jesus, I realized that I needed someone to change me from the inside to feel at peace; I needed Jesus.”
When Wahid entered the house church, he had to reach back a long way to that first experience of finding peace in Jesus. Because, while the other believers accepted him and loved him unconditionally, the outside world was harsh towards his new faith.
“My father rejected me, and I was also denied a job because I didn’t want to sign a form stating I was a Muslim.”
Persecution grew worse when Wahid started attending an underground church and later even became a leader in it.
“One day when I went to church, I got a threatening call from the government. After that, I always had a sense of being followed, and my phone tapped. Not an unusual thing in Iran.”
Tensions rose, and for a whole year the house church even decided to split up into small groups of two or three people to avoid government attention. But it didn’t help. On a day when 25 believers had gathered, the security forces entered the house, shouting, cursing and filming everything.
“I will never forget that night. I still remember the children crying with fear. It was so difficult to watch.”
Wahid and many other church members ended up in prison. First in isolated cells, then in the overcrowded general wards. At night, they slept pressed together, like books in a library. But by day, they struggled with the overcrowded sanitary facilities. Wahid developed serious lung issues because of the bad conditions in prison.
“I often dreamed of getting out of prison,” he says. “But when I woke up, I realized again that I was still inside.”
But wherever they were and how bad the conditions and circumstances were, one thing remained constant: these believers still had the Lord inside inside them.
“We all prayed for one another,” Wahid shares. “And we would evangelize a lot, even though we were not allowed to.”
The church did not die in prison. Many came to faith through Wahid and his fellow church members. Even though his imprisonment, and the subsequent pressure, forced him out of Iran, the church in Iran continues to grow.
In 2016, the mission research organization Operation World named Iran as having the fastest-growing evangelical church in the world.
Compared to roughly 500 known Christians in 1979, there are now approximately 500,000 (some sources say up to 1 million secret believers). According to Elam Ministries, an organization founded in 1990 by Iranian church leaders, more Iranians have become Christians in the last 20 years than in t...
That growth continues to create tension between the government and the church.
“As Christianity grows rapidly in Iran, the Islamic government and the clergy in power are alarmed,” said Dr. Hormoz Shariat, president and founder of Iran Alive Ministries.
“Their only strategy to slow down this growth is through a campaign of fear, violence and intimidation … We expect the persecution in Iran will increase as the Islamic government feels threatened by the spread of Christianity among Muslims in Iran.”
The church continues to grow despite increasing and intensifying persecution. Because people like Wahid didn’t give up on their faith when they faced persecution. For Wahid, that isn’t even a logical argument.
“I need Jesus,” he says. “Without Jesus, I had no life, no hope. I can’t live without Jesus for one moment. None of us can.”
In Vietnam (No. 20 on the World Watch List), Christian converts are often seen as traitors to their cultural identity. Non-Christian relatives often work with local authorities to beat up Christians and expel them from the village. Vinh, a new believer in northern Vietnam, and his mother know this persecution firsthand. Read their story and pray with these believers and thousands like them.
Last year, Vinh*, 57, a believer from northern Vietnam, accepted Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior. Several weeks later, his 90-year-old mother Ngoc* also accepted Christ, impacted by the changes and the new life she saw in her son. But Vinh’s wife and children vehemently opposed the conversions of their family members and kicked them both out of their house and even the village.
The family warned their neighbors: “Whoever welcomes them—whoever provides shelter or a place to stay—is the one who enticed them to follow that religion. If you welcome them, we will come to beat them and report you to local authorities.”
That same day, Vinh’s family beat them, severely injuring Ngoc’s leg; she walks with a limp now. A church from another village took in Ngoc but not Vinh, fearing his family would cause trouble for the church.
He is, in a very real sense, a refugee, displaced from his home and family.
Recently, Vinh traveled to a neighboring city to obtain a certificate of denomination and be officially recognized as a Christian by the government—in hopes of compelling his family or church to take him in.
Unfortunately, the document made no difference to the village leaders.
“We don’t believe this document because this has no value for us!” they told him when he presented it to them.
While the church that took in his mother is helping Vinh with food, he is still secretly staying in the forest, living in a makeshift tent. His face is blurred to protect his identity.