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Prayer Focus 01/09

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Prayer Focus 01/09

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Prayer Focus 01/09

EGYPT - CHURCH BUILDING ATTACKED IN MASS RIOT

INDIA - ANTI-CHRISTIAN VIOLENCE SPREADS TO MUMBAI

IRAN - INTIMIDATION AND THREATS AGAINST CHRISTIANS AS CHRISTMAS APPROACHES

SOMALIA - FEARS GROW FOR THE SAFETY OF CHRISTIANS AS VIOLENCE INCREASES

BANGLADESH - ISLAMIC PARTIES PLEDGE TO ENACT BLASPHEMY LAW

CHRISTMAS - SEASON OF CELEBRATION AND OF DANGER

 

 

 

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EGYPT - Church building attacked in mass riot

On 23 November an extension to a church building in a Cairo suburb was officially opened. Adjacent land had been purchased, and a large hall added. The church had taken five years to obtain all the required permissions (the country’s president has to approve applications for new church buildings). The building, which was initially purchased in 2003 and converted from a textile factory, is used not only for worship but also for various kinds of Christian ministry.

The sheikh of a nearby mosque that is still under construction had unexpectedly announced its opening on the same day and called for a large-scale protest. In the evening many Christians were inside their building, holding a prayer service, when a crowd of (at least) hundreds surrounded the premises and began to chant threats and throw stones, bottles and gas canisters. They broke down the doors, vandalised the whole of the ground floor and set part of the building on fire. Video footage shows protestors setting banners alight while chanting Islamic slogans. Those trapped inside were badly frightened, several people were wounded, and the glass front of the building was completely destroyed.

Riot police and fire officers attended the scene, and eventually they used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the demonstrators. In the ensuing melee a car owned by a Christian was badly damaged. Three Christians and at least five Muslims were arrested, but they were later released. Many of the Muslims questioned by police claimed to be under 18 and so were released quickly. The next day all public worship was suspended at the church.
  • Pray that the Egyptian authorities will bring the offenders to justice, and that they will provide greater protection for vulnerable Christian communities.
  • Pray for the church, that it may be able to continue its worship and ministry, and that the Lord will grant it favour with the state as it seeks to restore its building.
  • Pray for a change of attitude in Egypt to the construction of Christian places of worship, that the authorities will put fewer obstacles in the Church’s way, and that the Muslim majority will cease to resent the building and repair of churches.


INDIA - Anti-Christian violence spreads to Mumbai

The acts of terror in Mumbai at the beginning of December focused the attention of the world’s media on the city and on India. The same notice has not been taken of the sharp increase in anti-Christian violence that began in Orissa State in August and has since spread to many other parts of the country.

In November this violence also erupted in Mumbai. A prayer meeting was attacked by members of the Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal groups, who alleged that the Christians were involved in forcible conversions. The pastor who was conducting the meeting was manhandled and dragged into the street, where he fainted. Another pastor said, "What's happening around the country has finally affected us here." Police sources say that the attackers had warned the church against distributing literature, but the Christians maintain that they were giving out nothing except "peace pamphlets". They are fearful of a repeat, despite assurances from the police, and have changed the time of their meeting.

Also in November, the Chief Minister of Orissa admitted that at least certain parts of the Kandhamal district, scene of some of the worst violence, were "not yet calm". For weeks he had been repeating that "everything was under control". His change of tone coincided with the arrival of three government ministers in the state.

Officials are concerned that economic activity in Kandhamal could come to a complete standstill. Farming was suspended in August as many farmers fled to the forest and were afraid to return. Land has lain uncultivated amid the general insecurity, and unless the harvest can proceed most of the produce will certainly be lost.

According to the official report, there have been 118 deaths in Orissa, although some sources suggest that the figure may be much higher. Most of the dead are Christians. More than 50,000 have been displaced.
  • Give thanks that eight people have been arrested and charged regarding the attack on the prayer meeting in Mumbai. Pray that the authorities in Orissa will be similarly firm in pursuing those responsible for anti-Christian violence. Pray too for Christian farmers in Kandhamal, that they may have enough to eat.
  • Pray for all those injured, bereaved or traumatised in Orissa and elsewhere, that God will comfort them in their distress.


IRAN - Intimidation and threats against Christians as Christmas approaches

In August Ramtin Soodmand, minister of the Evangelical Church of Iran in Masshad, was arrested and detained by officers from the Iranian Ministry of Information. After a long delay, illegal in Iranian law, he was formally charged with the crime of "anti-government activities". The judge's office released him on bail but has yet to fix a date for his trial. His supporters believe that the real reason for his arrest is that the authorities regard him as an apostate who is involved in Christian ministry. In fact it was his father, Hossein Soodmand, who converted from Islam, and he raised his children as Christians. Hossein Soodmand was hanged for apostasy in 1990.

As Christmas approaches there are also reports of intimidation and threats against other Iranian Christians, especially new believers from a Muslim background, at the hands of the secret police. Agents have summoned Christians in various places and have forced them to give a written guarantee not to celebrate Christmas by holding services. Some house church leaders have been accused of spying, and have been forbidden from having any contact with other leaders inside or outside Iran.
  • Please pray for Ramtin and his family at this uncertain time. Give thanks for his faithfulness, and pray that the Lord will prosper his ministry. Pray too that the charges against him will be dropped.
  • Pray for the safety of Iranian Christians, and in particular for converts from Islam in the particular dangers that they face. Pray that they may be able to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour without suffering reprisals. Pray that church leaders will receive the support they need to maintain their ministry to God's glory.


SOMALIA - Fears grow for the safety of Christians as violence increases

At the end of December Ethiopian troops are due to withdraw from Somalia after two years spent supporting the Western-backed government. It is feared that this change will herald the collapse of the administration. Violence against Christians is expected to increase further as a result, and to prompt more refugees to flee across the border to Kenya.

In one area in the south of the country the militant Muslim group al-Shobab has declared an Islamic state, setting up a governor, security official and chief judge. This move is seen as the latest sign of the organisation's steady advance: it has become dominant in much of the war-torn country, and its fighters are even roaming the streets of the capital, Mogadishu.

Al-Shobab has already encouraged attacks on Christians in refugee camps. It is reported that in October Salat Sekondo Mberwa of Mogadishu, who was living in the Dadaab camp, was threatened with death by extremists for being an enemy of Islam. He fought them off and was jailed by the camp authorities, but Christians raised the money for a large fine required for his release. On 26 November militants returned to the camp and shot and wounded him. Some Christians have also been abducted in Kenya.

Aid groups have suggested that these incidents are part of a wider trend in Somalia of extremists' opposing Christianity and trying to impose sharia law. We have reported this year on the martyrdom of several Somali Christians
  • Pray for the restoration of order in Somalia without recourse to the imposition of sharia law, and that the government will be able to check the advance of al-Shobab.
  • Pray for the safety of Christians in Somalia, and in the Kenyan refugee camps, and that the Lord will give them courage and peace. Pray for the Christian families and churches bereaved in the past year. Pray that this Christmas the Somali Church will be sustained by the message of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.


BANGLADESH- Islamic parties pledge to enact blasphemy law

The Jamat-e-Islami (JI) party of Bangladesh has announced its manifesto for the election on 29 December. It has pledged to enact a blasphemy law, and to introduce "mosque-based mass education", if it is voted into power. The party's leader, Motiur Rahman Nizami, said, "All will enjoy religious rights, but criticism or making bad remarks about others' religions is not acceptable," and he appealed to the existence of a blasphemy law in Britain to justify the proposal.

The proposed law is, however, modelled not on the British blasphemy law but on the much stricter legislation in force in Pakistan, which includes a mandatory death sentence for defiling the name of Muhammad, life imprisonment for desecration of the Qu'ran, and no penalty for false accusations.

JI is the largest Islamic party in Bangladesh. It is contesting the election as part of a four-party coalition led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party of former premier Khalida Zia. The smaller Jatiya party, not part of the coalition, has also undertaken to enact blasphemy laws.

In an atmosphere of political corruption, social instability and economic weakness, extremist Islam has thrived in Bangladesh in recent years. It is particularly strong in rural areas, where 80% of the population live and work. Extremists lobby against religious minorities and the work of Christian relief agencies. Calls for the adoption of blasphemy laws are part of their campaign. In Pakistan, although many Muslims are accused of blasphemy, it is clear that non-Muslims are particularly vulnerable to it. Some 60 Christians are accused each year, and even those who are acquitted are vulnerable to attack by extremists.

Christians make up less than 1% of the Bangladeshi population, which is more than 85% Muslim with a sizeable Hindu minority. Bangladesh was a secular state from its inception in 1971 until 1988, but in that year Islam was declared the state religion. Officially there is religious freedom, but this has been eroded by Islamist pressure and a legal system that gives no safeguards to religious minorities.
  • Please pray for the elections in Bangladesh, that the Islamic parties that have pledged to enact a blasphemy law will not gain the power to do so. Pray too that the progress of extremist Islam will be checked.
  • Pray that the Bangladeshi government will take seriously the country's constitutional commitment to religious liberty. Pray that the Lord will watch over the small Christian community, protecting it from violence and unjust accusations.


CHRISTMAS - Season of celebration and of danger

Christmas should be a time of joy for Christians everywhere, as we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. But it is a time of fear for believers in many parts of the world, as it can be the occasion for an increase in anti-Christian violence. It was on Christmas Eve (24 December) 2007 that the first outbreak occurred in Orissa (see above), and this year a Hindu nationalist group are pressing for a nationwide shutdown on 25 December, raising fears of a further escalation. Here and in other parts of the world, Christmas celebrations have to be muted or even cancelled in case they provoke a hostile response.
  • Please pray for all persecuted Christians as they mark the coming of Christ, that despite their sufferings and insecurity they may know it to be good news of great joy. Pray too for their persecutors, that God will reveal Himself to them in His Son.

 

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