Published: 16:00 GMT Daylight Time - Wednesday 31 August 2011
Prayer Focus 09/11
- Algeria and Turkey - Legal recognition for churches
- Laos - Christians ordered to stop worshipping in private homes
- Iraq - Christians targeted in church bombings
- Indonesia - Two House-Churches torched
- Iran - Pastor released, but authorities seize Bibles
- Sri Lanka - Christians attacked, church desecrated with human waste
- Sudan - Christians targeted in war of horror
- China - Children’s summer camp raided
In Algeria, Christians are rejoicing after the country’s largest Protestant group was given official recognition by the government. On 18 July the head of the Algerian Protestant Church Association (EPA) received the licence, which grants all of its affiliated churches the right to meet and worship freely, from the Minister of Interior. It was described as “an historic day in Algeria for the Algerian believers in Christ” by a senior Christian leader. The EPA, to which the majority of Algerian Protestant churches belong, now has the right to rent, buy and/or build property for Christian activities. The new licence cancels out a police notice issued in May that threatened the permanent closure of all Christian places of worship throughout the country that had not been designated for religious purposes (see July Prayer Focus Update).
A house church in Turkey has finally been granted legal status after a long battle with the authorities in a case that highlights the ongoing difficulties for Turkish Christians regarding places of worship. The Protestant group in the eastern province of Van has been meeting in a two-storey house for seven years, during which time it has made frequent attempts to obtain a licence for the building to be recognised as a place of worship. But despite granting the church’s request, the authorities appear to remain hostile to it. Vahit Yildiz, one of the church elders, said that the congregation’s only desire was to worship freely, but that the authorities viewed them as a threat.
- Give thanks for this good news from Algeria and Turkey, and pray that these steps will lead to increased tolerance for Christians in both countries.
- Pray that the process of registration for individual churches in Algeria goes smoothly and that applications are met with a positive response from the authorities.
Christians in a Laotian village have been ordered to stop worshipping in private homes as several Christians were arrested in different parts of the country.
Pastor Seng Aroun and three other Christians were holding a meeting in a home in Sounya village in Namtha district of Luang Namtha province on 10 July. They were arrested and charged with assembling for worship without approval. All but Pastor Aroun were released after three days. Christians in Sounya village have faced persecution since the conversion of around 400 residents in 2002; they have been meeting in homes since the authorities destroyed their church building two years ago, but now they have been forbidden to worship in private homes.
On the same day, Vong Veu was arrested in Pookong village in the Viengkham district of Luang Prabang province. He was charged with embracing Christianity and asked to abandon his faith in order to prove his innocence and to return to the traditional Lao religion of animism, but he refused. Earlier this year, church elder Abee Weng and three other Christians were arrested while travelling back home to Luang Prabang city from Pookong village, where they had been invited by new believers there to help them grow in their faith. They were charged with “spreading foreign religion and eradicating Lao traditional religion”, but were released after four days in prison.
- Lift to the Lord those Christians who have been arrested in Laos this year. Pray that they will continue to praise the Lord Jesus even in their times of trial.
- Pray that the Church in Laos will continue to grow despite the restrictions, and pray for increased freedom for Christians to meet together and worship.
Iraq - Christians targeted in church bombings
A car bomb exploded near a church in Kirkuk, northern Iraq, in the early hours of 2 August, severely damaging the building and around 30 surrounding homes in the predominantly Christian and Turkmen neighbourhood of Shaterlo; nearby cars were also set on fire. The blast left 23 people injured, including a newborn baby and the church leader, Rev. Imad Yalda, who was the only person inside the church at the time of the explosion. One Christian man, Mati Shaba, was seriously hurt.
Following the blast, police discovered vehicles packed with explosives outside two other churches in Kirkuk and defused the bombs. Kirkuk Deputy Police Chief Major-General Torhan Abdulrahman said, “It was a coordinated attack to target churches at the same time.”
The coordinated attacks came just a month after the first church to be built in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion opened in Kirkuk.
Barnabas Aid has been supporting churches in Kirkuk.
- Pray for the Lord’s healing for those who were injured in the blasts in Iraq and pray that they may find comfort in the Lord.
- Pray for protection for Iraq’s Christian community. Pray that they may stand firm and continue to affirm their faith in Christ in these troubling times.
Indonesia - Two House-Churches torched
On 1 August, a mob of around 100 people arrived at a house in Logas Tanah Darat, Riau, Sumatra, Indonesia, that was being used for worship by an unregistered church. They threatened church members with knives before dousing the building with petrol and setting it alight. The night before, a nearby house, also used as a church, in Pasarbaru in the district of Pangean had also been burned to the ground. Several people were inside the building at the time, but thankfully there were no casualties.
In an attempt to downplay the incident, a police representative said that the buildings were “only made of board” and therefore not real churches. But he said that police were investigating the attacks.
- Pray for the believers who have lost their meeting spaces; pray that they will continue to meet together despite these recent attacks.
Iran - Pastor released, but authorities seize Bibles
On Monday 29 August Pastor Vahik Abrahamian was released after enduring nearly a year in prison. He was arrested on 4 September 2010, along with his wife Sonia Keshish-Avanesian, and another couple. Sonia, Arash Kermanjani and Arezou Teymouri were set free on 30 April (see June Prayer Focus Update), and officials promised that Vahik would be released within the week, but he was kept in custody for an additional three months despite having been cleared of all charges.
But the authorities in Iran continue to crack down on Christians. According to Iranian Christian news agency Mohabat News, the government is greatly concerned over the large volume of Bibles entering the strongly Islamic country, and in mid-August authorities seized 6,500 Bibles between Zanjan and Abhar in the north-west of Iran.
Announcing the seizure, a parliamentary advisor said that Christian missionaries were trying to deceive people, especially Iranian youth. He added, “They have begun a huge campaign by spending huge sums and false propaganda for deviating the public.” In November 2010, police officers and revolutionary guards seized 300 Bibles from a bus before setting the books on fire.
- Pray that the Lord will touch the hearts of the authorities and release the shipment of Bibles and that the Gospel message will continue to spread across Iran.
- Praise God for Vahik’s release, and give thanks that he is able to return to his family. Pray for Vahik and Sonia’s physical and emotional healing following their time in prison.
Sri Lanka - Christians attacked, church desecrated with human waste
Christian homes were attacked by a mob, a pastor was assaulted by a Buddhist monk, and a church was desecrated with human waste in three separate incidents of anti-Christian persecution in Sri Lanka.
The homes of five Christian families in Dehiwinna village, Badulla District, were attacked on 19 July by a mob of around 50 people. The attackers threw rocks and stones at the houses, damaging roofs, and smashed windows with clubs and rocks. Some of the families fled to the jungle until the violence abated. A grocery store made of wood belonging to one of the families was broken into and demolished; the owner was beaten up by the attackers, requiring hospital treatment for his injuries.
In another anti-Christian attack a pastor was assaulted by a Buddhist monk and other assailants as he attended a meeting about land distribution in the village of Keviliyamaduwa, Ampara District, on 10 July. The pastor was taken to hospital, suffering from injuries to his arm and severe pain from blows to his stomach.
And on 5 June, a church in Mahawewa, Puttlam District, was desecrated with human waste before the morning service. The mess was cleared up by the pastor and others, and the service started as normal. At 10am the congregation of around 300 worshippers was warned that a mob was heading for the church to disrupt the service. Within half an hour a 200-strong mob carrying placards forced their way into the church and began shouting threats. A church leader who tried to speak with them was beaten and left bleeding from the nose. Police arrived, but rather than dealing with the aggressors, they asked the pastor to stop the service. Fearing for the safety of the congregation, he complied, and as they all left, the mob clapped and cheered, claiming victory.
- Pray for all the victims of the violence. Pray that the Lord will grant them peace and courage in their ordeals, and enable them to witness effectively to Him.
- Pray for protection for all our brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka, and pray that those who engage in violence against them will come to repentance and salvation in the Lord.
Sudan - Christians targeted in war of horror
After the South had voted for independence, President Omar al-Bashir declared that the North would be 100% Arab and Muslim, posing an ominous threat to the minority Christian community there. South Kordofan state, which has one of the largest Christian populations in the North, remained part of the North when South Sudan became an independent nation on 9 July.
On 23 August, al-Bashir announced a two-week ceasefire in South Kordofan state, where his forces had been conducting daily air strikes and house-to-house raids, displacing tens of thousands of people from their homes. A leaked UN human rights report described “significant loss of civilian lives ... abductions ... arbitrary arrests and detentions; targeted killings; summary executions; ... mass graves; systematic destruction of dwellings; and attacks on churches”. But on 30 August, human rights groups said that bombing of civilian areas in South Kordofan was continuing, despite the alleged ceasefire.
Churches have been burnt down and Christians targeted because they are presumed to oppose al-Bashir’s government. Pastors in particular have been singled out and tortured in an effort to get them to give up the names of those in their congregations, which they refuse to do. Reports are now coming from the North of pastors being warned not to conduct church services, or else be killed.
Bishop Andudu of South Kordofan said, “My house was shot with guns and my chaplain was able to escape through the window and also my offices and cafe [were] burned down... It is a war of horror.”
- Pray for all those who have lost loved ones in the recent violence. Pray that they will know the peace and comfort of the Lord in their grief.
- Pray that the Lord will watch over His people in North Sudan and protect them from such atrocities.
China - Children’s summer camp raided
At least 100 members of various local authority departments, including the Religious Affairs Bureau, the Public Security Bureau and the police, descended on a “house-church” (unregistered church) summer camp for children in Anhui province at 6am on 11 August. The names of all the children were recorded and officials arrested Pastor Lu Jingxiang and three other church leaders for holding “an unregistered, illegal meeting”; they were later released. According to ChinaAid, on the evening before the raid local officials spread rumours that Pastor Lu had hidden drugs and cult members in his home.
- Pray for the children who were present at the time of the raid, and for Pastor Lu and the other church leaders who were arrested. Pray that all those involved will know the peace of the Lord and that they will continue to rely on Him as the one who watches over them and will neither slumber nor sleep (Psalm 121:4).