Published: 00:00 GMT Standard Time - Thursday 01 March 2012
Prayer Focus 03/12
- Nigeria - Suicide bomber strikes church in Plateau State
- Iran - Churches to stop holding services in national language
- Turkmenistan - Praise God, pastor released
- Pakistan - Christian student denied extra marks awarded to Muslims
- Kazakhstan - Pressure on Christian groups under new religious laws
- Syria - Christian homes invaded; families desperate to flee
- Egypt - Order to evict Christian families from village overturned
- Sri Lanka - Buddhist monks assault pastor
“I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.”Psalm 17:6, NIV
Nigeria - Suicide bomber strikes church in Plateau State
Three people died at a church on Sunday 26 February when a suicide bomber sped past a security checkpoint into the grounds of the Church of Christ (COCIN) headquarters in Jos in a car packed with explosives.
The vehicle exploded three metres from the church building. Two women and an 18-month-old child were killed, and around 50 people were injured. One of the women had recently fled the anti-Christian violence in Yobe state.
Elsewhere in Nigeria, an elderly Christian woman was murdered, with a threatening note believed to be directed at her son, a pastor, left on her chest. Shetu Haruna Malgwi (79) was attacked in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri on Wednesday 22 February. The assailants slit her throat, and left a note written in Arabic with a red pen that said, “We will get you soon.” A Bible had been left under the church choir member’s feet.
Militant Islamist group Boko Haram, which has been behind numerous attacks on Christians in Nigeria, claimed responsibility for the blast in Jos and is also suspected of being behind Mrs Malgwi’s murder and another church bombing on 19 February, in which five people were injured.
- Pray for Christians in Nigeria, as they endure the constant threat of violence, remembering especially those recently bereaved or injured. Pray that the Lord will rescue His people and protect them. Pray for the members of Boko Haram, that they will turn from their violent ways.
Iran - Churches to stop holding services in national language
The last two registered Tehran churches to hold services in Farsi have been ordered to stop doing so on Fridays in an apparent bid to prevent Muslims from hearing the Gospel in their own language.
The pastors of Emmanuel Protestant Church and St Peter Evangelical Church were issued with the order by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security and announced it to their congregations on 10 February.
There are now no Christian services in Farsi, the language of the Muslim majority in Iran, in any officially registered church in the capital on Fridays. The order was not applied to Sundays, but Friday is the main weekly holiday in Iran, and it is difficult for people to attend church on any other day because of work commitments.
Individual members of the two churches have also been targeted; some have lost their jobs after the authorities put pressure on their employers.
In a separate case, the Iranian authorities have given an unprecedented penalty to a Christian convert from Islam. Fatemeh Nouri, an art student at a university in Tehran, was given a sentence of “deprivation of education” for one year following charges of “attending a house church, insulting sacred figures and activities against national security”. She had been arrested at her home last September and spent nearly three months behind bars.
- Pray for the members of the two churches who have been forced to stop their services in Farsi. Pray that the congregations will not be discouraged and that they will continue their faithful witness.
- Give thanks for Fatemeh Nouri, and pray that her faith may not waver but be strengthened despite the harassment she has faced.
Turkmenistan - Praise God, pastor released
Pastor Ilmurad Nurliev (46) has been unexpectedly set free from a labour camp in Turkmenistan. He was released along with around 230 other detainees in a presidentially decreed amnesty to mark Flag Day on 19 February.
Pastor Nurliev was arrested in August 2010 and was given a four-year sentence in October 2010 on charges of swindling. His congregation insisted that these charges were fabricated to punish him for leading the unregistered church. Barnabas Fund sent financial support to buy food, clothes and medicine for the pastor, who is diabetic, and help with legal costs when he was imprisoned. His wife Maya said, “His release was so unexpected… It is such a joy I can’t tell you.” However, Pastor Nurliev must still report to the police every Saturday evening.
Despite this good news, an elderly Christian was detained on 3 February by a religious affairs official and questioned for six hours by police after he tried to print copies of a small book of his Christian poetry. Begjan Shirmedov (77) was forced to write a statement and banned from travelling outside his home region of Dashoguz in northern Turkmenistan while the case is investigated.
Begjan has been writing Christian poetry in Turkmen for some years. He wanted to have some of his work printed so that he could give copies away. Turkmenistan imposes strict censorship on religious literature and, knowing this, Begjan told the staff in the printing shop that the poetry was religious. They insisted that it would not be a problem to print it.
- Give grateful thanks that Pastor Nurliev has been released and can return to his family and congregation. Pray that he will be left alone to worship and witness without fear of harassment.
- Pray for Begjan and other Christians in Turkmenistan as they face the hostility of the authorities because of their faith. Ask that the Lord will sustain His people and that they will continue to grow in faith.
Pakistan - Christian student denied extra marks awarded to Muslims
A Christian student missed out on a place at state medical school under the discriminatory system in Pakistan that awards an extra 20 marks to Muslims who have memorised the Quran.
Haroon Arif, from Dera Ghazi Khan in Punjab, got A grades in both his matriculation and intermediate exams but was just 0.0255% off the mark required in his final aggregate to attend a government-run medical university.
He argued that his knowledge of the Bible was equivalent to that of a Muslim who had memorised the Quran, and that he should therefore qualify for the extra 20 marks they receive; this would boost his final result by about 2%.
Haroon tried to show the university his three certificates in Bible education, but the authorities said they had no policy to accept them. Mohammad Atif, head of public affairs at the University of Health Sciences, which conducts the medical tests, said, “We realise this is against human rights and have debated a lot on this policy, since minorities are being marginalised – but we follow government orders.”
- Pray for Haroon, that the Lord will guide his path following this setback in his education and career. Pray for an end to discrimination against Christians and other members of religious minorities in Pakistan.
Kazakhstan - Pressure on Christian groups under new religious laws
Churches and Christians are coming under increasing pressure as the authorities in Kazakhstan enforce new laws intended further to restrict religious freedom in the country.
Hundreds of small religious groups have recently been stripped of their registration as a senior religious affairs official says that their activity is “now banned” under new rules. A number of churches from a range of Christian denominations, including Baptist, Presbyterian and Seventh-day Adventist, are among the 579 religious groups that have been deregistered. A religious group must now have at least 50 adult members to be registered, and leaders of small churches have received official warnings to stop their activity and hand back their registration certificates. For many it will not be possible to collect the 50 signatures required, because they do not have sufficient members or at least not enough willing to give their personal details to the authorities.
In addition, churches have been raided, leaders fined and Christian literature confiscated in recent months. In just one example from February 2012, Aleksei Asetov, a father of ten, was fined 485,400 Tenge (£2,060; US$3,300; €2,440) – an estimated average local wage for 18 months – for leading a small unregistered church that meets in his home in Ekibastuz in Pavlodar Region. Aleksei is the fourth Christian known to have been fined since the harsh new Religion Law and changes to another associated law came into force in October 2011.
- Ask that the Lord will overrule where congregations have had their groups de-registered or their churches raided, and pray for church leaders who find themselves under scrutiny or facing heavy fines. Pray that the Lord will meet their needs.
- Pray that the Kazakhstan authorities will cease to implement the new Religion Law so strictly and that greater freedom of religion will be granted in this country.
Syria - Christian homes invaded; families desperate to flee
The situation in the besieged city of Homs, Syria, is horrifying and becoming unbearable for Christians who are caught in the battleground. Many thousands are trapped in the city though others have managed to flee to the surrounding villages. Families are in desperate need of food and basics; prices have rocketed, supplies are running low, and it is often too dangerous to go out in search of food.
More than 200 Christians have been killed, and the community has been beset by kidnappings. Two bombs were discovered in a church yard in Homs, although thankfully they did not explode. Christians were even blocked from leaving Homs by anti-government forces who were keeping them there as “human shields” in a bid to protect the areas they were controlling.
Barnabas Fund is one of the very few Christian aid agencies helping Christians in Syria at this tumultuous time, working directly with Christian partners in the country to get urgent supplies to needy families.
- Pray for peace and stability to be restored in Syria and ask that the Lord will be for the Christian community their rock, fortress and deliverer (Psalm 18:2). Pray that He will meet all their needs.
- Pray for all those who have lost loved ones in the violence, that they will be comforted in their grief. Pray too for a swift end to the hostilities.
Egypt - Order to evict Christian families from village overturned
A parliamentary commission has overturned the ruling of a Muslim-led tribunal that ordered the eviction of eight Christian families from an Egyptian village.
The families were forcibly removed from Kobry-el-Sharbat in Alexandria in a “humiliating” agreement made on 1 February to placate Muslims who had twice attacked Christian property there. The violence at the end of January had been sparked by an unsubstantiated rumour that a Christian man, Mourad Girguis, had taken illicit images of a Muslim woman.
At a public meeting in Alexandria on 16 February, the commission nullified the rulings of the tribunal. It called for the safe return of five of the families, who had not been involved in the dispute over the images, to their homes.
The commission referred a decision to the judiciary on the return of the three families related to Mourad Girguis and also the Muslims who burned down the homes of Christians. Mourad was charged and released on bail on 15 February, but there appears to be no evidence against him.
Elsewhere in Egypt, anti-Christian violence rages on. In the village of Meet Bashar in Zagazig, Sharqia province, a church was torched, the church leader threatened with death, and the homes and vehicles of Christians set alight. In Nag Hammadi, a Christian man, Moawad Assad, and his 26-year-old son Assad Moawad were shot dead on 26 January when he refused to pay extortion money demanded by a Muslim racketeer, who has been kidnapping Christians for ransom.
- Give thanks for the overturning of the decision in Kobry-el-Sharbat, and pray that the families will be able to return to their homes in safety. Pray for Mr Girguis, that all charges against him will be dropped. Pray that any harassment directed towards him or his family will cease.
- Pray for the family of Moawad and Assad, that they will find comfort in the Lord Jesus. Pray too for an end to violence against Christians in Egypt.
Sri Lanka - Buddhist monks assault pastor
A Christian church leader who has been serving in Ambalangoda village, Galle District, Sri Lanka, for over ten years was threatened and assaulted by a group of Buddhist monks.
On the afternoon of 20 February, the pastor invited into his home three monks who came to his doorstep; within minutes, a group of around 30 monks had arrived. One of them began to threaten the pastor, warning him not to convert Buddhists. As the pastor attempted to respond, he was slapped in the face and repeatedly hit until his wife and mother intervened. The monks warned that he and his family must leave the village or face death, and that their house will be bombed or set on fire.
- Pray for this pastor in Sri Lanka, that he will know the Lord’s peace and guidance as he considers his future in the village. Pray that he may be protected from further harm.
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