Published: 00:01 GMT Standard Time - Friday 30 December 2011
Prayer Focus 01/12
- Worldwide Concern – for Christians at Christmas time
- Pakistan – Christian leader shot dead
- Iraq – Death threats against Christians
- Egypt and Tunisia – Islamist parties threaten civil liberties
- India – “Brave” Christian activist killed
- Ethiopia – Church burnt down by mob
- Nepal – bomb explodes outside Christian mission office
- Indonesia – Islamist group demands demolition of churches
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.Ephesians 6:18, NIV
The Christmas and New Year period is often a time of increased persecution of Christians, and this year is no exception.
In Iran during the weeks before Christmas a number of Christians in Tehran and six other cities were ordered to present themselves to their local state security centres, where they were interrogated at length before being sent home with the warning that they would be recalled.
The campaign recalls Christmas 2010, when more than 70 Christians were arrested in a crackdown on Iran’s house church movement. Two of those detained remain behind bars despite not having been charged.
On 16 December security forces arrested eight church leaders during a Christmas gathering in Boukham Village, Savannakhet Province, Laos. One church leader was released the next day, but the remaining seven were held for violating the village law by holding a Christmas worship service, even though the Lao constitution guarantees freedom of religious belief to all Lao nationals.
In Pakistan police met with Christian leaders in Lahore on 19 December to discuss security measures at churches in the wake of intelligence reports warning of a heightened threat of terrorist attacks on churches over the Christmas period.
And on 20 December, it was reported that Hindu extremists in Kandhamal, Orissa State, India, were calling for a bundh, or strikes, between 24 and 27 December 2011, leaving Christians fearful of another upsurge of violence against them as they attempt to celebrate Christmas.
- Pray for strength and courage for Iran’s Christians as they serve Christ faithfully in the midst of discrimination and harassment.
- Pray that the Lord will watch over Christians in Laos and Pakistan throughout Christmas and New Year and keep them safe from attack.
- Pray for Christians in India during the Christmas period, especially those in Orissa, where there is often anti-Christian violence at Christmas. Pray that the Lord will protect them from any harm and that the strikes and protests will not take place.
Pakistan – Christian leader shot dead
A leading figure in Pakistan’s Christian community, Jameel Sawan, was shot dead in Karachi on 16 November in a suspected Islamist attack.
Jameel, a preacher, evangelist and champion of minority rights, had also been a close aide to Saleem Khursheed Khokhar, who is chairman of the Standing Committee on Minorities Affairs in the Sindh Assembly and president of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance in Sindh. Both men had received death threats from Muslim extremists because of their involvement in campaigning for minority rights and support for policies initiated by the assassinated Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti.
Mr Khokhar instigated a two-minute silence at the Sindh Assembly for Jameel. He also appealed for protection and financial assistance for Jameel’s wife, two sons and three daughters. Jameel had a shop in the city but spent a lot of his time pastoring Christians and sharing the Gospel with Muslims; his family believes that he was targeted by a radical Muslim group.
- Please pray for Jameel’s wife and children as they come to terms with the loss of a husband and father. Pray for the Christians who have lost a leading man in their community. Ask that the Lord will grant them peace and comfort in their grief, and that He will keep them strong and give them grace to forgive the attackers.
Iraq – Death threats against Christians
Death threats have been issued against Christians following attacks by Islamists in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan.
The violence erupted in the city of Zakho after Friday prayers on 2 December. Hundreds of Muslims, apparently incited by the imam’s sermon, headed straight from a local mosque to businesses owned by Christians and Yezidis, another minority group; they set alight 25 properties, including shops and hotels. At least 30 people were injured, and several million dollars’ worth of damage was caused.
The Muslim attackers were chanting “Allahu Akhbar” (“god is great”) and abusing Christians, while some were randomly firing shots. The mob swelled to more than 3,000 and moved on to attack Christian property in three other areas, including an apartment owned by a Christian, which was set ablaze with his children inside.
The following morning, more than 100 people, mainly youths, threw stones at a church and homes belonging to Christians in Almansoria. On 5 December, leaflets were put on the walls of the burned shops threatening the owners with death if they reopened them.
A Barnabas Aid partner in Iraq said, “[Iraqi Kurdistan] is, in most part, safe and secure and all inhabitants enjoy prosperity and security, until now at least! The future is … bleak to the Christians and other minorities living there.”
Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani said on 3 December that instability in the region was unacceptable and that a special committee will investigate the incidents and bring the perpetrators to justice.
- Pray for the thousands of Iraqi Christians who moved to Kurdistan to escape anti-Christian violence in other parts of the country. Pray that this latest incident will not leave them fearful and that they will remain faithful to their Lord and Saviour.
- Pray that the Lord will keep His people safe in this region and provide for all their needs.
Since the Islamist Ennahda party emerged with the largest share of the vote in the Tunisian elections in October 2011, there have been growing concerns that the country will move in an increasingly Islamic direction. And the recent launch of an unofficial “committee for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice” seems to confirm such a trend.
The newly-formed organisation, whose name relates to a Quranic verse commanding good and forbidding evil, have taken it upon themselves to see that Islamic virtues are upheld in public life: they are aggressive towards women who do not abide by their code of dress, and they make their presence felt at mosques and Quranic schools, where they are trying to impose imams with Salafist views. The group, which is supported by Salafists, does not have government recognition, but no action has been taken to stop its activities.
Tunisia has long been considered one of the most Westernised, secular and liberal Arab nations, but the formation of the committee has sparked fears among many liberal and secular Tunisians about the risk it poses to civil liberties.
And there are concerns that Egypt will follow suit, as results of the first two stages of the parliamentary elections indicated a decisive victory for Islamist parties, leaving the country’s Christians fearful of what the future holds for them.
In the most recent phase of voting (14-15 December 2011), the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) have said they received 39% of the vote while another bloc headed by the more hard-line Salafist party, al-Nur, said they received 30%. The newly-formed, secular liberal parties were unable to compete with the Islamists, who were already well established and organised.
Egypt’s voting system is highly complex, and these results are only preliminary indications. The election process will extend until March 2012, and Islamists are faring even better now the voting has moved to the more conservative, rural areas. Christians and secularists are fearful that the Islamists will join forces and turn Egypt into an Islamic state, severely restricting the rights and freedoms of religious minorities and women.
- Pray for Christians in Tunisia, and ask the Lord Jesus to intervene in the shaping of the new government. Pray that the new unofficial committee will be prevented from imposing strict Islamic rules by force.
- Pray for our Christian brothers and sisters in Egypt in the midst of such strife and political change. Pray that they will remain firm in their faith. Ask that the Lord will rule over the elections in Egypt and keep His people safe from harm.
India – “Brave” Christian activist killed
A “brave and fearless” Christian activist was found dead on the morning of 16 December in Kandhamal, India, becoming the third Christian leader to be murdered in the region this year.
Rabindra Parichha worked for a legal organisation that was formed in September 2008 to help victims of anti-Christian violence in Orissa State, the scene of widespread attacks by Hindu extremists that broke out in Kandhamal district at Christmas 2007. He had formerly worked as a lay pastor, discipling Christians in their faith. The circumstances of Rabindra’s murder are as yet unknown.
- Pray for those who mourn Rabindra, and the other Christian leaders who were murdered in 2011. Pray for Christians in India, that they may stand firm in their faith despite religious tension and adversity.
Ethiopia – Church burnt down by mob
A church in the village of Qoto Baloso, Silte province, Ethiopia, was torched on 29 November by more than 500 Muslim students, accompanied by Muslim police officials. The students were shouting “Allahu Akhbar” (“god is great”) and “jihad”.
Four days earlier, police had destroyed the roof of the building after a court ruled that the church had been built without proper authorisation and therefore had to be demolished. More than 30 police officers were deployed to destroy the church, but in the face of protests from local Christians, they held back from demolishing the rest of the building. Local sources told Barnabas Aid that the Christians did have a permit to build the church.
The head of Silte Province police said they were investigating the burning of the church and seeking to determine who was responsible.
- Pray for the congregation of this church, that they will be able to continue meeting for worship and fellowship despite the loss of their building.
- Pray for Christians in Ethiopia, that they will feel the Lord’s presence and know that He is their strong tower (Psalm 61:3).
An explosive device was detonated beside the offices of the United Mission to Nepal, an association of Christian and government organisations devoted to social justice and poverty alleviation, in Kathmandu on Tuesday 22 November. The building is situated in a residential area, but there were no casualties and minimal property damage.
Another bomb found nearby was defused by a bomb disposal squad. Five days later, a bomb was discovered outside a Protestant church in central Kathmandu by the janitor; it was defused by security forces.
The Nepal Defence Army (NDA), an extremist Hindu group that wants to reinstate the country’s Hindu monarchy, claimed responsibility for the blast outside the United Mission. Pamphlets signed by the group, reportedly demanding that Nepal should be a Hindu state, that all churches in Kathmandu should be closed within 50 days and that all missionary organisations should leave Nepal, were found by the police.
- Give thanks that no one was injured in the recent bomb attack and that the other two bombs were defused before they could cause destruction.
- Pray for Christians in Nepal, that they will be protected from harassment and violence and that the government may be able to restrain the forces of Hindu extremism.
Indonesia – Islamist group demands demolition of churches
Indonesia’s president has called for tolerance and condemned religious intimidation as an Islamist group demanded the demolition of five churches.
Speaking on Sunday 4 December at an event held by the Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP), the largest Protestant denomination in Indonesia, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said, “…we must not force our will onto or intimidate our brothers in performing their religious duties.”
The speech came in the wake of an appeal by a group of Islamist extremists for the demolition of five Protestant churches in the town of Pracimantoro, Central Java. The churches have received authorisation from the Office for Religious Affairs in the provincial capital, but the local government is refusing to hand over the official documents. The Islamist group therefore claims that the churches do not have building permits.
- Pray for our brothers and sisters in Central Java as tensions rise amid rumours of demolition. Pray that the threats will not be carried out and that Christians will be free to use their church buildings without harassment.
- Give thanks for the president’s statement in favour of tolerance. Pray that those who seek to intimidate Christians will heed his words and leave our brothers and sisters to worship in freedom.