Prayer Focus Update October 2023

Share on

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV)

Pakistan – Pastor injured in shooting after declaring faith in Christ to extremist

Prayers are needed for a pastor in Punjab who was hospitalised after being shot in the shoulder by an Islamist extremist on the evening of Sunday 3 September.

Eleazar Sidhu – also known as Pastor Vicky – is the minister of a church in Faisalabad. He was returning home from conducting an evening service in nearby Jaranwala when he was accosted by an armed extremist. The gunman asked Pastor Vicky to recite the Islamic declaration of faith, which would have been considered a conversion to Islam. The pastor was shot when he instead began reciting a declaration of faith in Christ.

Islamist slogans were discovered painted on the walls of Pastor Vicky’s church building on 28 August. The graffiti also included a curse against him.

Jaranwala was the scene of anti-Christian riots on 16 August when at least 22 church buildings and dozens of Christian homes were attacked (Prayer Focus Update, September 2023).

Give thanks for the faith and bravery of Pastor Vicky. Pray that he will make a full recovery and that his family will be kept safe. Ask that his stance in affirming his faith in the Lord despite the threat of death will inspire the Christian community in Faisalabad to stand firm and draw on God’s strength (1 Corinthians 16:13). Pray for protection of the Church in Pakistan from extremists as anti-Christian feeling remains high and that false accusations of “blasphemy” will not prevail.

Nagorno-Karabakh – Azerbaijan launches military operation in Christian enclave; warnings of new Armenian genocide as Christian leaders appeal to Biden and Sunak

Please redouble your prayers for Christians in Nagorno-Karabakh, who have been forced to flee their homes after Muslim-majority Azerbaijan launched what has been described by Karabakh officials as “a large-scale military offensive”.

At time of writing the situation is very changeable as Azerbaijani forces seek to control the region amid grave concern for the safety of 120,000 Christians living there.

The offensive began on 19 September. Azerbaijan has claimed that the attack is an “anti-terrorist” operation.

Defence officials in Nagorno-Karabakh said the Azerbaijani military had “violated” a ceasefire agreement made in 2020 with “missile-artillery strikes”.

Since December 2022, Muslim-majority Azerbaijan has besieged Nagorno-Karabakh by blockading the Lachin Corridor, the only route into the enclave from Armenia.

Senior church leaders warned in August that “mass starvation” was likely among the population, including 30,000 children, with open letters submitted to UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and US President Joe Biden. An emergency report published by the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention on 5 September stated a new Armenian Genocide “may already be taking place” in the enclave.

Baroness Caroline Cox, an independent member of the UK House of Lords and patron of Barnabas Aid, visited the blockaded entrance to the Lachin Corridor in mid-September. In a letter published in the Guardian newspaper on 18 September, she warned that “grave suffering” was being inflicted on the civilians of Karabakh because of the “brutal blockade” by Azerbaijan.

Nagorno-Karabakh has been populated by Armenians (who accepted Christianity in 301 AD) for at least 2,500 years. Under Soviet rule it was governed as an independent oblast within the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, and was incorporated into the Republic of Azerbaijan at the dissolution of the USSR. Azerbaijan and Armenia have gone to war twice over Nagorno-Karabakh, most recently in 2020 when Azerbaijan recaptured territory surrounding Karabakh that had been held by Armenia since 1994.

Cry out to the Lord for protection for our brothers and sisters in Nagorno-Karabakh. Ask that eyes will be opened to the reality and extent of the suffering being inflicted by the closure of the Lachin Corridor, that God will uphold the cause of the oppressed and give food to the hungry (Psalm 146:7). Pray that He will use ongoing international pressure to bring an end to the blockade and that military action against Christians in Nagorno-Karabakh will be halted.

Nigeria – Church minister burned to death; 23 pastors killed in Kaduna in four years

Christians in southern Kaduna State are mourning the loss of a church minister who was burned to death on 7 September by Fulani Islamist extremists.

The assailants were attempting to abduct Na’aman Danlami, 25, and others from the rectory of a church in Kafanchan when they set fire to his car. When the fire spread to the house, three other men were able to escape, but Na’aman died in the blaze.

“The assault lasted more than an hour, but there was no reaction or support from the military forces,” said Julius Kundi, a senior church leader, who added that a military checkpoint was no more than half a mile away.

Also in Kaduna State, a pastor was shot and killed by gunmen in the Chikun Local Government Area on 23 August. Pastor Jeremiah Mayau was working on his farm when he was shot.

“It is very painful that gunmen move freely in broad daylight to execute their evil act and get away with it,” said Reverend John Joseph Hayab, chair of the Kaduna branch of the Christian Association of Nigeria. Reverend Hayab called for security forces to act to protect vulnerable communities.

On 12 September, Reverend Hayab was able to disclose the extent of the violence towards Christians in an emergency meeting with pastors across Kaduna and the State Commissioner of Police. He announced that 23 pastors had been killed and more than 200 churches in Kaduna had been forced to close over the past four years.

Pray for the bereaved families and friends of church ministers Na’aman and Jeremiah. Ask the Lord to comfort them in their loss and to renew their trust in Him who sees the end from the beginning, whose purposes will stand (Isaiah 46:9-10), even amid the most horrific events His people endure. Ask for sound judgment and wisdom for the security forces to act swiftly and efficiently to protect Christians and other victims of extremist violence.

Nepal – Two Christians handed in to police for preaching; several churches attacked

A man and a woman in the city of Janakpurdham were attacked on the morning of 5 September for preaching Christianity.

A group of extremists smeared black soot on the man’s face and handed both Christians over to the police. The pair were accused of hurting religious sentiment.

As well as this, church leaders in Nepal report attacks on at least seven church buildings in the previous three weeks. Most recently, two churches were vandalised in the southern Nawalparasi district of Lumbini province on 5 September.

Ask that attacks on Christians in Nepal will come to an end. Pray that the two arrested Christians will not face charges despite the vague wording of a law banning “hurting religious sentiment”, which makes any sharing of belief potentially illegal. Pray that God’s peace will remain with His people in Nepal in every circumstance (2 Thessalonians 3:16) and lead to a de-escalation in religious tensions.

Myanmar – Five dead, multiple injuries in attacks on christian communities

Anti-Christian violence is continuing in Myanmar, with further attacks on civilians in Christian areas by the Buddhist extremist Tatmadaw (Myanmar military) and numerous instances of damage inflicted on churches and Christians’ homes.

Two civilians were arrested and killed by soldiers in the Momauk township of Christian-majority Kachin State on 30 August. Around 100 people from the area have since been displaced, with some taking shelter in a church building.

Three men were also killed in aerial attacks on villages and IDP (internally displaced persons) camps in Kayah State, which has a large Christian population.

A series of similar attacks has been carried out on churches in Christian-majority Chin State. In Ramthlo village seven people were injured when a church and a pastor’s home were hit on 12 August. A church and three other buildings were destroyed in the shelling of Khuafo village on 14 August. The same day a pastor’s home in Hakha city was damaged in a missile strike. In Kayah State, a church was hit in an airstrike on 12 August.

Pray for comfort and provision for those bereaved in Kachin and Kayah states (Philippians 4:19). Pray for healing for those wounded in the airstrikes. Ask the Lord to provide for His people who have lost their churches so that they find a way to meet together and maintain fellowship and mutual support even in the most trying of circumstances. Pray especially for the Lord’s protection over His people and for an end to violence in Myanmar, so that all people can live in peace.

Iran – Pastor “pardoned” and released from prison

We celebrate answered prayers as Iranian-Armenian pastor Joseph Shahbazian, 59, was “pardoned” and released from Tehran’s Evin Prison on 13 September after serving 13 months of his sentence.

Joseph was arrested alongside more than 35 other Christians by intelligence agents from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard following a co-ordinated operation across three Iranian cities in June 2020.

He was originally sentenced to ten years imprisonment for holding church meetings in his home, thus “forming and operating illegal organisations (house churches) with the aim of disrupting the security of the country” (Prayer Focus Update, October 2022). He was also found guilty of propagating evangelical Christianity and of having “established a group to attract Muslims”. This sentence was reduced to two years in May 2023.

Joseph suffered ill health during his imprisonment. It is not known if his release is related to his state of health.

Give thanks for Joseph’s release and pray that he will receive the medical aid he needs to recover fully. Intercede for Christians still in prison in Iran, or forced into internal exile hundreds of miles from home, that they will know the assurance of God’s plan and direction for them and the inner strength to follow Him faithfully whatever trials they face (James 1:2-4).