Published: 00:00 GMT Daylight Time - Wednesday 01 October 2008
Prayer Focus - 10/08
STOP PRESS: UZBEKISTAN - PASTOR'S ASSISTANT RELEASED FROM PRISON
Thank you for your prayers for Aimurat Khayburahmanov, who was imprisoned in Uzbekistan on charges of teaching religion without official approval, and establishing or participating in a religious extremist organisation. Praise God that he was released on Friday 26 September.
INDIA - RENEWED VIOLENCE HITS CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY IN ORISSA STATE
Only eight months after the largescale Christmas attacks on the Christian community in Orissa State, India, renewed mob violence by Hindu extremists led to the death of at least 37 Christians, many of whom were burned to death. In attacks that have now continued over several weeks in many places, more than 4,000 Christian homes were torched, churches were destroyed, and tens of thousands of Christians were forced to flee and hide in the jungle. Numerous believers were severely injured in the brutal attacks, and there are many reports of forced conversion to Hinduism. Other states, especially Chhattisghar, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala, have also seen an increase in anti-Christian violence.
The assaults started after the assassination of Hindu leader Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his associates on 23 August. Saraswati, who was a senior figure in the nationalist VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad), had called for India to become a Hindu nation and strongly opposed the conversion of Hindus to Christianity. Although Maoist rebels allegedly admitted responsibility for the murders a week after the start of the anti-Christian attacks, the VHP and its allies claimed that Christians were responsible and called a protest that rapidly escalated into violence. Reports from the area commented on the lack of effective intervention from the state government.
There have been calls to ban all Hindu radical organisations and impose direct federal rule over the states governed by the Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) where anti-Christian violence is continuing. There are suspicions that the BJP might have been involved in the attacks as many of the Hindu extremist groups take their political guidance from the BJP.
- Pray for the Christians in Orissa and in the other areas as they have to cope with another wave of atrocities. Pray for protection and strength and for a real knowledge of God's presence in the midst of persecution. Barnabas Aid is helping with the practical needs of the victims.
- Pray that the Indian government will put an end to the violence and give a clear sign that persecution of Christians will not be tolerated. Pray that people and governments around the world will speak out against the attacks and the authorities' reluctance to intervene and protect the Christian minority.
SAUDI ARABIA - FATHER KILLS DAUGHTER FOR CONVERTING TO CHRISTIANITY
In August a Saudi man cut out the tongue of his own daughter and burned her to death after he learned that she had converted from Islam to Christianity. Fatima al-Mutairi's father worked for the mutawaa, the Saudi religious police, which enforces Islamic religious purity. He is now in custody being investigated for his daughter's murder.
Fatima learned about Jesus Christ through the internet and used to write on various blogs under assumed names. Her life became an ordeal when her family grew suspicious and her brother discovered some Christian articles written by her as well as a cross sign on her computer screen.
Saudi religious scholars have frequently warned against the dangers of the internet and satellite TV channels, which are the only ways for most Saudi Muslims to learn about Christianity.
- Pray for Fatima's family that their eyes will be opened to the truth. Pray that her death will not have been in vain, but that it will "produce many seeds". (John 12:24)
- Praise the Lord for the internet and TV, which make it possible for people in Saudi Arabia to learn about Jesus Christ and also offer a means of fellowship for Saudi Christian converts from Islam who have to keep their faith secret from their families and friends. Pray that God will guide and protect believers in this very restrictive country.
TURKEY - MURDERS OF CHRISTIANS IN MALATYA WERE PREMEDITATED
In the eleventh hearing on the murders of three Christian men, Necati Aydin, Ugur Yuksel and Tilmann Geske, at a Christian publishing house in the Turkish town of Malatya last year, the testimony of three witnesses established that at least two of the accused had actively planned the killings. Previously all five defendants had claimed that their intention had been only to frighten the Christians and to gather evidence of their Christian activities.
An earlier hearing also revealed possible links between the murders of the three Christian men and the ultranationalist group Ergenekon, which is being investigated as part of an alleged political conspiracy. The plaintiff lawyers have now requested the Malatya trial to be included in the Ergenekon investigation. The possible connection of the two cases has apparently had a positive effect on the criminal proceedings. According to one of the plaintiff lawyers the judges are much more cooperative than at the beginning of the case.
- Continue to pray for the families and loved ones of the three murdered Christians. Pray that God will be close to them and uphold them in their grief.
- Praise the Lord that the judgesâ€™ attitude towards the plaintiffs has improved. Pray that He will bring the case to a quick and just end, and that it will issue in a clear statement condemning anti-Christian sentiments and actions. The next hearing is scheduled for 16 October.
RUSSIA - PRESSURE ON PROTESTANT CHURCHES INCREASES
Over recent months several Russian churches have been facing harassment and pressure from local authorities and government officials. In the town of Yurgamysh in the Kurgan Region two members of a small congregation were questioned for four hours by Federal Security Bureau (FSB) officers about internal church matters on 9 July. That same evening the FSB officers attended worship at the church and secretly filmed the whole service. In late August the regional state television broadcast a programme called "Criminal News"Â, which portrayed the church in a completely distorted light, using excerpts from the secretly filmed service. The programme voiced unsubstantiated allegations, for example that the children from the church were "retarded, downtrodden . . . and often had to repeat the year"Â, and that church members lived off illegal business.
In Bolkhov in the Orel Region, four Christians were detained for four hours on 13 July. The believers had been singing hymns and reading from the Bible close to the town's market square together with several other Christians when they were approached by the mayor and two police officers, asking for the group's identification documents. The local head of police reportedly warned the group during questioning: If you don't want problems, forget about Bolkhov and don't ever come back. God could abandon you for 20 minutes, and that would be quite enough for something to happen to you."Â One of the four people detained was given a fine for violating regulations on holding demonstrations.
In another incident local authorities warned a small church in the city of Norilsk in the Krasnoyarsk Region that is could no longer use a church member's groundfloor flat for holding Sunday services. The authorities claimed that the flat could be used only in line with its original designation, i.e. for residential purposes. The congregation had been meeting at the flat for ten years without any complaints from neighbours.
- Pray for the Russian churches and Christians targeted by local authorities. Pray for wisdom and Godâ€™s guidance in dealing with the authorities.
- Pray that this behaviour will not become the norm for local authorities in Russia. Pray that Christians will continue to be able to meet together and worship the Lord freely, without harassment and threats.
IRAN - APOSTASY DEATH PENALTY BILL PROVISIONALLY APPROVED BY PARLIAMENT
On 9 September the Iranian Parliament gave provisional approval, by a majority of 196 to seven, to a bill that mandates the death penalty for any male Muslim who converts to another faith. Until now Iranian judges could impose the death penalty in such cases only on the basis of Islamic law and fatwas, not on the basis of Iranian law. The bill prescribes lifelong imprisonment for female converts from Islam.
The bill also gives the Iranian secular courts authority to convict Iranians living outside the country of crimes relating to Iranian national security. It seems likely that this could be used against the many Iranian Christians who live outside Iran but are involved in evangelism within it.
There is still opportunity for MPs to amend the bill before it becomes law. It must also be vetted by the Council of Guardians for conformity to Islamic law and the constitution.
The progress of the bill coincides with the formal charging of two Christian converts from Islam, Arash Basirat and Mahmood Matin-Azad, with apostasy. Some Iranian Christians fear that the authorities are seeking to make an example of the two Christians, so giving the prospective law a "test run".
Arash and Mahmood, who had only recently converted from Islam, were arrested in a park in Shiraz on 15 May (see PFU June & July) and have been in detention since then. They were subjected to two months' solitary confinement and to lengthy and inhumane interrogations. Attempts by their families to have the two men released on bail were refused by the authorities. Family members are especially concerned about Arash's health as he is suffering from diabetes.
- Pray for Arash and Mahmood and their families and loved ones, that God will give them strength and also grace to pray for and love those who persecute them.
- Pray that the Lord will sustain and uphold Arash and Mahmood as they face deprivation and hardship in prison. Pray for wisdom and divine guidance for their lawyer when their case is finally brought to court.
- Pray that the bill will not be ratified and that the death penalty for apostasy will not become part of Iranian law. Pray that pressure from the international community will bring an end to the persecution of Iranian Christians, especially converts from Islam. Pray for the Iranian Church, that Godâ€™s hand will be on it and that it will continue to grow.
PAKISTAN - CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY IN FEAR AFTER CHURCH LEADERS RECEIVE THREATENING LETTERS
On 3 September nine church leaders in the Christian village of Shantinagar in south Punjab, Pakistan, received threatening anonymous letters, advising them to convert to Islam or leave the area. One of the letters said "Don't think we have forgotten you. We are after you and we will teach you a lesson if you will not obey our advice."Â The Christian community of the village, although fearful, are reluctant to report the incident to the police because last year the police refused to act when similar letters were received.
Only fifteen days earlier several Christian families, who live just outside the village, were attacked in the middle of the night. They were insulted, beaten, tortured and robbed. The unknown assailants warned them that if they did not leave the area, attacks against them would continue.
The Christian community of Shantinagar has been facing much persecution by Muslim extremists in recent years. One of the worst incidents happened in 1997 when the village was attacked by a mob of angry Muslims, while police stood by and watched.
- Pray for Christians in Shantinagar and especially for the nine church leaders who received the threatening letters. Pray that the Lord will protect them from all harm and that He will drive out their fear.
- Pray that attacks against Christians by Muslim extremists will stop and that police and local authorities will respond quickly and justly to anti-Christian violence and harassment.