Published: 00:00 GMT Daylight Time - Wednesday 01 July 2009
Prayer Focus 07/09
IRAN - WORST POLITICAL UNREST FOR 30 YEARS CAUSES CONCERN AMONG THE CHURCHES
Church leaders in Iran are increasingly concerned by the political instability that is wracking Iranian politics and disrupting life in Tehran. History shows that such unrest leads all too readily to disorder and lawlessness, especially where religious minorities are concerned. Combined with the hardening of the rhetorical tone from the Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei, and the religious tension that already exists in Iran, such concerns almost seem understated.
• Praise God that at the time of writing there had been no escalation of attacks on Christians or the Church in Iran. Pray that with the foreign media blackout currently imposed, no advantage may be taken of the increased secrecy to attack Iranian believers.
NEPAL - CHURCH BOMBING AMIDST POLITICAL UNREST
A group who claimed responsibility for killing a pastor in Nepal earlier this year are reported to be behind the first bombing of a church in Nepalese history. The bomb exploded in a building in Lalitpur, south of Kathmandu, on 23 May. A female student, 15-year old Celestina Joseph, and Pabitra Paitri, who was 30, died in the blast, and more than a dozen people were injured.
Last year the Hindu group the National Defence Army (NDA) said that it had bombed a mosque, killing two people there as well. According to reports, they claim to want to restore the traditional Hindu monarchy. This incident has only added to the instability that is brewing in Nepalese politics, with Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal resigning after President Ram Baran Yadav refused to agree to his demand to sack the current army chief of staff.
While the new Prime Minister tries to form his cabinet, there have been protests and strikes that have shut down Kathmandu, led by groups that are trying to take advantage of the power struggles within the fledgling political system. Rumours suggest that the NDA have been threatening to bomb the homes and churches of local Christians, seeking to extort money from them by threatening their safety.
EGYPT - CHURCH AND HOMES ATTACKED
On Sunday 21 June a mob of Egyptian Muslims attacked a church in the village of Ezbet Boshra-East, El-Fashn. They destroyed the minster's car, smashed windows in the church and assaulted the Christians with clubs and other weapons, wounding 25 of them. Homes belonging to local Christians were also attacked: people were assaulted, furniture destroyed and electrical equipment looted. Security forces joined in the assaults and vandalism, and they forcibly detained 19 Christians.
The next day the minister was ordered to appear before local prosecutors on charges of sectarian sedition. He and several members of his congregation, including three small children, had taken refuge inside the church, where they were besieged by the security forces. Telephone and internet connections from the village were cut to prevent the Christians from contacting the outside world.
The incident began when six Christians who live outside the village came to visit the minister. The security police tried to prevent them from entering the village, but eventually they were admitted for a time. Later a police officer asked them to leave, only for them to be confronted by the mob, who harassed them and struck a woman in the face. The Muslims then began to attack the church building.The minister claimed that the security forces wanted to use the unrest as grounds for reporting that the village is unfit to have a church, despite half its population being Christians. "Such savagery!" he said. "It broke my heart to see my congregation treated in such a beastly and barbaric way."
In a positive development, residents of the village of Deir Abu Hanas were able to celebrate a decision by the local governor to allow them to retain its name. The Ministry of Justice had ruled that this be changed, but residents believe that the name expresses the village's Christian identity, which dates from the fifth century, when it was built next to a prominent monastery named after Bishop Yuhannas Al Kaseer.
• Pray for the minister and church who were attacked in El-Fashn, that the Lord will give them patience and courage in their distress.
• Pray for the security forces, that they will bring to justice those responsible for the assaults, and stop harassing the Christian community without reason.
PAKISTAN - CHRISTIAN STONED TO DEATH FOR ORDERING TEA FROM 'MUSLIM-ONLY' STALL
Recent reports from the Punjab have highlighted a grievous case of religious violence. On May 9, Ishtiaq Masih had disembarked from a bus that had stopped in Machharkay village to give the passengers an opportunity for rest and refreshment. A sign hung on the roadside tea stall, which read, "All non-Muslims should introduce their faith prior to ordering tea. This stall serves Muslims only." Ishtiaq failed to see this and paid for the mistake with his life.
When Ishtiaq went to pay for his tea the owner noticed his necklace with a cross on it. The owner called on his employees to punish the Christian for not abiding by the sign. A group of men then beat Ishtiaq to death with whatever they could lay their hands on, including stones from the ground on which he lay. Villagers and bus passengers managed to intervene to break up the beating, but Ishtiaq died from his extensive injuries at a rural health centre.
His family have reported the incident, and although no action has been taken to apprehend the stall holder, the local police chief has gone on record promising that investigations are under way and that this is being treated as a faith-based murder.
• Please pray for the family of Ishtiaq and his friends, that they may comfort each other at this time and that this may be an end and not a beginning of such attacks.
• Pray for the local police chief, that he may act justly and investigate this incident with equity, in accordance with the Pakistani constitution. Pray that he may start by taking down the sign on the stall as a signal to the community that such attitudes are not lawful.
• Pray that Christians in Pakistan may not be discriminated against because of their faith or caste. Pray that all persecution of our Christian brothers and sisters may end soon.
CHINA - INTIMIDATION TACTICS CHANGED
Baixiang Town church near Zhejiang in eastern China has been subject to a worrying new trend of violence through infiltration. Reports suggest that a group has been disrupting services by tampering with electrical and audio equipment, preventing churches from meeting and even attacking worshippers. The group is believed to be acting with state support.
In the worst reported incident to date, church member Huang Lemin volunteered to fix the damaged wiring only to be set upon by several of the infiltrators. He was hit in the face and his glasses were knocked to the floor. Unable to see without them, he could not defend himself and was badly beaten about the head, suffering a broken nose and concussion. However, six weeks later Huang was himself accused by one of his attackers of intentionally causing injury and was consequently arrested and detained.
This has happened against a backdrop of other concerning developments. A prominent Church leader has encouraged the faithful in China to stand firm in faith even to the point of martyrdom. This was in response to a perceived increase in pressure from the state and the state-sponsored church. An example of this is the obstruction by three different state agencies of the completion of a new church building that is being constructed in Menzhou, central China.
• Give thanks that the Shouwang church in south-eastern China was allowed to start up a new website two months after the police closed it down. Pray that it can remain online serving the congregation and their community.
EGYPT - UPDATE ON ID CARD AMENDMENT FOR CHRISTIAN CONVERT
On 13 June, an Egyptian court ruled against Maher al-Gohari, an Egyptian Christian convert who had been campaigning to have his religious status changed on his ID card.
As reported last month, Maher travelled abroad to obtain a baptismal certificate, in order to have his conversion to Christianity recognised by the Egyptian church, who then issued a letter of acceptance into church membership.
His application failed on the grounds that the certificate had not been formally confirmed by the Egyptian church, and therefore it was invalid. The judge also stated that no legal documents verifying the need for Maher's card to be amended had been submitted to the court, although in fact no competent body exists to provide these, as conversion from Islam is not a legal concept.
Maher's legal team are preparing to appeal against the ruling, as they believe the judge interpreted Egypt's Civil Code in an extremely restrictive way. This included accepting a State Council report which states: "the religious conversion of a Muslim is against Islamic law and poses a threat to public order."
• Pray that all parties involved in this case will act with integrity and that Maher al-Gohari's legal team will know God's wisdom as the case continues.
• Pray that Maher's case will ultimately be successful, allowing his ID card to be changed and thus setting a precedent for other Christian converts.