Northern Nigeria is is number 13 on the Open Doors World Watch List 2013 of the world’s worst persecutors of Christians. Tensions are high and there are many incidents of violence against Christians. This email alert was issued on 22 April by Release International:
NIGERIA – Extremist violence targets Christians in Borno
Release partners are reporting targeted violence against Christians in the northern state of Borno this weekend.
Stefanos Foundation says that gunmen pulled over a bus near Maiduguri on Saturday, demanded passengers declare their faith and then killed the six people who said they were Christian.
Meanwhile, in Gwoza, also in Borno state, Islamists are reported to have embarked upon an ‘Islamisation campaign’. Stefanos reports that gunmen are going from door to door demanding people profess allegiance to Islam at gunpoint.
This weekend’s violence followed intense fighting on Friday in the far north of Borno between the military and Islamist extremist group, Boko Haram. The BBC says that at least 185 people have reportedly died in violence centred on the remote town of Baga, near the border with Chad. Up to 2,000 homes were destroyed. Boko Haram wants to create an Islamic state in northern Nigeria.
(Sources: BBC, Stefanos Foundation)
For more news and a country profile about Nigeria from Release International, click here.
• Pray for God’s peace for Christians in Borno and other states in northern Nigeria where believers are targeted. Pray that they will draw near to God, their ‘mighty rock and refuge’ (Psalm 62:7).
• Pray for a breakthrough in military and political efforts to curb extremist violence in Nigeria, which has claimed thousands of lives since 2009.
Source: Release International, www.releaseinternational.org.
You can also find out more about Nigeria from Open Doors – see the country profile for North Nigeria on the World Watch List, and monitor updates about the persecution of Christians worldwide.
A year of prayer for Nigeria, 1 Oct. 2013 – 30 Sept. 2013
During a regional session at the World Prayer Assembly in Jakarta, Indonesia in 2012, delegates from Nigeria resolved to call the church in Nigeria (and abroad) to a year of transformational prayer, from 1st October 2012 until 30th September 2013. They are praying firstly in repentance and then seeking a move of God’s spirit across the land, bringing transformation and renewal. Join them in prayer at http://www.pray4nigeria.org/.
Open Doors supports persecuted Christians around the world. They have recently issued this email report on a 30-minute Adjournment Debate in Westminster Hall on the ‘Persecution of Christians in Africa and the Middle East’, held on Tuesday 16 April 2013.
- – -
Tuesday’s Westminster Hall adjournment debate addressed key issues on the persecution of Christians. Foreign Office Minister David Lidington noted that there was a large number of MPs present – that’s undoubtedly down to the nearly 2000 of you who alerted your own MP to the debate! Thank you so much to those who made that important contribution to this campaign!
The debate was initiated by Naomi Long MP, who gave an excellent opening speech. She highlighted the increased persecution of Christians in various African countries which aren’t usually associated with persecution, and underlined that “the Arab spring has had disastrous consequences for religious freedom and has promoted a major exodus of Christians from the Middle East.”
She called on the government to explain how they were responding to these challenges, and stated that “the right to have a faith and to practise that faith, both in private and in community with others, and to change one’s faith and not be disadvantaged or endangered for reason of one’s beliefs, is a basic and fundamental human right that should apply universally.”
Naomi emphasised that “The nature of persecution is incredibly variable. In some situations, it will take the form of a “squeeze”, with pressure being applied, while in others it is in the form of “smash”, with recourse to violence. However, either kind represents a denial of article 18 and should be resisted.”
She concluded: “I trust that continued focus on such matters in Parliament, whether through debates like this or through the work of the all-party group, will send out a clear message that religious persecution will not go unseen or unchallenged by the international community and that the cause of religious freedom and freedom of conscience will have a strong international advocate in the UK Government.”
One MP interrupted Naomi’s speech to highlight the value of Open Doors Handbook of Prayer, saying that “all churches in the UK could usefully have copies of its World Watch List of the 50 countries where Christians are most persecuted… it is informative, helpful and useful for all churches.” (You can order a copy for your church today!)
The Foreign Office official response:
Foreign Office Minister David Lidington replied: “As the excellent report from Open Doors made clear, violence, discrimination and systematic persecution threaten Christian communities in Africa, the Middle East and certain other countries around the world. The Government shares many of the concerns expressed in the Open Doors report. We condemn all instances of violence and discrimination against individuals or groups on the grounds of their religion, regardless of the country or faith concerned. As the report rightly emphasised, our condemnation should extend not solely to the more extreme forms of suffering inflicted upon people because of their religion or belief, but to any and all forms of such discrimination.”
He revealed that “We require our embassies and high commissions around the world to monitor violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief. We are clear that that freedom involves not only the right to hold personal thoughts, but to manifest them individually and collectively. We provide our missions overseas with what in the jargon we call a toolkit—a set of detailed monitoring criteria—to help staff at our embassies and high commissions to analyse in detail the many potential manifestations of discrimination on the grounds of freedom of religion or belief, including discrimination in access to education and employment, or other administrative or legal restrictions on groups, buildings or individuals.”
Importantly, the Minister emphasised that “The Government’s position is to condemn laws against so-called apostasy and any government policies anywhere in the world that punish people for changing their religion or belief voluntarily and freely.”
And, as time ran out, he promised written answers on other questions that had been asked.
Follow these links to watch the debate, or read the full Parliamentary record.
Thank you again for your prayerful action which was central to making this debate possible. Open Doors will continue engaging with the Foreign Office and MPs on the points that were raised, on behalf of our brothers and sisters who face persecution on a daily basis.
Source: Open Doors, www.opendoorsuk.org
On Tuesday 16 April there will be a 30-minute Adjournment Debate in Westminster Hall on the ‘Persecution of Christians in Africa and the Middle East’.
What an exciting opportunity: not only will MPs publicly discuss the reality of persecution – highlighting the importance of the right to freedom of religion and belief – but Foreign Office Minister, David Lidington MP, will outline the government’s response. This means that we’ll hear what the UK is doing to tackle this issue.
It is a timely opportunity. Next Monday – the day before the debate – the Foreign Office will launch their 2012 human rights report. The right to freedom of religion and belief is listed as one of the Foreign Office’s main human rights concerns and should be covered in this report.
All of this will draw attention to the reality facing Christians in Africa and the Middle East and the need for UK foreign policy to help protect their freedom of religion and belief – this will increase the impact of our campaign on behalf of our persecuted brothers and sisters in those regions.
The issue of persecution is certainly on the agenda next week. Please let your MP know it’s on your agenda too – and pray that this debate will impact the lives of Christians in Africa and the Middle East for good.
Invite your MP to the debate
Thank you for standing alongside your persecuted brothers and sisters in prayer and action!
Source: Open Doors, www.opendoorsuk.org
“Jars of Clay opened my eyes to how God works in the persecuted church.” – Vicky
Jars of Clay is Open Doors’ celebration and training day for volunteers, supporting persecuted Christians around the world. Join Tijs, an Open Doors worker who will share the latest news on Open Doors’ relief work in Syria; Susanne Geske, whose husband was martyred for his faith; and Paul Estabrooks, author of Escape from North Korea and coordinator of Project Pearl, as they share their experience of living and travelling amongst persecuted Christians. Plus the inspirational Noel Robinson from Kingdom Worship Movement will lead worship.
An Open Doors field worker in the Middle East and North Africa, Tijs will be sharing first-hand news and stories of what Open Doors is doing to bring support to Christians in Syria. Tijs recently visited Syrian refugees in the area and is in regular contact with Syrians who have chosen to remain in their country to continue God’s work there.
After spending four years working among Muslims in Adana, Turkey, Susanne’s husband, Tilmann, was murdered along with two Christian workers. Susanne was left to bring up her young family single-handedly. With incredible grace and strength Susanne continues her ministry in Turkey.
Rev Paul Estabrooks
Paul has worked with Open Doors for 34 years. As well as co-ordinating the successful Project Pearl, when one million Bibles were delivered to China in a single night, he has travelled to restricted countries as diverse as North Korea, Iran, Iraq, India, Bhutan and the Middle East.
An acclaimed guitarist, Noel has worked with numerous artists including Matt Redman and Graham Kendrick.
Date: Saturday 9 March 2013
Time: 9.30am – 5:00pm
Venue: Abundant Life Conference Centre (ALCC), Wapping Road, Bradford, W.Yorkshire, BD3 0EQ
Booking: Tickets are £20 for adults, including lunch. Earlybird tickets at £15 are available until 31 January. Go to www.opendoorsuk.org/jarsofclay for more information and to book your place.
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9
Twenty-nine-year-old Maryam Rostampour and thirty-two-year old Marzieh Amirizadeh spent 259 days in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison in 2009 in Iran. They had to overcome the fear of life imprisonment and the possibility of execution because they loved and followed Jesus Christ. They had to remain strong through weeks in solitary confinement, and endless hours of interrogation by Iranian officials and religious leaders. They had to endure months of harsh living conditions and debilitating sickness. In their first interview (with Sam Yeghnazar of Elam Ministries), they shared what life was like in prison and how they survived.
Maryam commented, “When we were arrested most of the guards treated us badly, especially when they knew we had been involved in evangelism. They would curse us and would not let us drink water from the public tap or use the wash basin. But this changed and eventually they asked us to pray for them.”
Marzieh said, “Some [prisoners] called us ‘Dirty, unclean, apostates,’ but their opinion changed and they asked for forgiveness. We had become an example to them and they would take our side.” Maryam added, “At Evin Prison the well-educated political and business prisoners called us ‘Mortad Kasif’ (Unclean apostates). In less than a month everything changed. As they got to know us, they were curious about our faith, they respected us and called upon us to sort out arguments they had between themselves.”
When asked if any prisoners came to faith, she said, “Yes. There were those who accepted Christ. When we were in Vozara [the first prison the women were taken to] we prayed the sinner’s prayer with many of the prostitutes. They prayed themselves and we prayed for them. But there were others who were too frightened to confess their faith. There were many who were impacted.”
Even in prison, under tremendous pressure, it is possible to share one’s faith.
RESPONSE: Today I will resolve to use my freedom to share my faith with others in spiritual darkness.
PRAYER: Lord may other Christian prisoners around the world have the courage and opportunity to share their love for You today.
Source: Open Doors International: Standing Strong Through The Storm, 2011.
Open Doors are delighted to report that the case against Rimsha Masih, the teenage Christian girl accused of blasphemy, was dropped by a court in Islamabad on 20 November.
In response to the verdict, Rimsha’s lawyer, Akmal Bhatti, said her case had been a misuse of law. “The court has quashed the case, declaring Rimsha innocent,” he said.
Khalid Jadoon, the imam of Mehrabadi mosque who had been accused of planting evidence on Rimsha, will now be tried for making a false accusation.
So far, there has been no response from Rimsha or her family, who remain in hiding. Other Christians who fled the Meherabadi neighbourhood to avoid Muslim anger over Rimsha’s alleged offence have tried to return to their homes. But Rimsha’s lawyers say she and her family can never go home.
“First case of its kind”
Rimsha was arrested on 16 August on suspicion of desecrating Islamic texts. She was originally charged in an adult court, where the penalty for blasphemy was life imprisonment, but her case was subsequently transferred to a juvenile court after her age was certified, and medical evidence emerged that her mental capacity was impaired. Since then her case has received international media attention and has triggered a debate on how Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws are being used to settle personal scores and vendettas.
“This is the first case of its kind when a person charged under the strict blasphemy laws is exonerated from the accusation,” said Naveed Chaudry, another of Rimsha’s lawyers. “This case has also brought for the first time a debate on how these laws are misused to target innocent people.”
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have been especially in the spotlight since a Christian mother-of-five, Asia Bibi, was sentenced to death in November 2010 for insulting the Prophet Muhammad. She remains in prison.
Thank you again for speaking up for Rimsha! Please join us in praising God for this verdict.
Please pray also:
- For continued protection for Rimsha and her family and for a safe place to relocate.
- Remember Asia Bibi, who remains in prison on blasphemy charges. Pray for her release.
- That Rimsha’s case will prompt the re-evaluation and abolition of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
Source: Open Doors, www.opendoorsuk.org
Syria has been closed to the outside world for many weeks. This letter has been received from a leading pastor in Syria and the Evangelical Alliance in the UK is taking the unprecedented step of circulating it to Christians around the world. In it, the pastor writes of the situation in Syria, his hopes, fears and trust in the Lord. He also asks for prayer.
Download the Letter from Syria (pdf)
The letter expresses incredible courage, faith and resilience in the face of increasingly dire conditions. It is clear that Syria is experiencing a war within a war. Christians are caught in the crossfire and are being driven from their homelands on account of their faith. This is a complex situation, but we need the media to tell the story of what’s really happening to the Church. The astonishing spiritual maturity of suffering Christians in Syria should prompt us all to prayer and action.
Please be encouraged to read this letter aloud in your churches, in your house groups and in your homes, so that we are better informed in our prayers and so that our Christian brothers and sisters in Syria will know that they are not alone. We are their family, and we are praying for them and standing with them against this storm of persecution and oppression.
Steve Clifford, general director of Evangelical Alliance UK.
This statement is issued by the Evangelical Alliance and is endorsed by Release International, Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Open Doors:
With love from Syria…
CryOut to the Father
- For peace in Syria and an end to bloodshed. For God’s rich mercies on the suffering people.
- For safety and protection for the churches and wisdom and vision for church leaders.
- To empower the Church to reach out to the suffering, to share the divine cure of the gospel, and to speak the word of the Lord in all boldness.
- That the Lord would send wise, God-fearing counselors to the decision-makers in all parties in the country.
Visit Cry Out (www.cryoutnow.org) for more information and prayers for Syria, as well as Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.
We know that people are watching us. That is the reason I used the back door of the church.”
Close your church – and pray!
Imagine this: You have been thrown out of your home for becoming a Christian. You are no longer in contact with your family and they have withdrawn any financial support. So you desperately need your new church family. But many of them are in a similar position. It’s dangerous being a Christian in your country – so you have to meet in secret.
For many Christians in the Arab World this is a reality – which is why our focus for this year’s International Day of Prayer (IDOP) is the Secret Church. It’s a chance for your church not only to learn about and pray for Christians meeting secretly, but to experience it for themselves. That could mean closing your church and using a different venue, or just singing more quietly than normal. Whatever you do, try to give an air of secrecy to your usual church service.
This year’s IDOP is on Sunday 4 November.
The Secret Church pack from Open Doors is available now, giving you all you need to prepare for your own Secret Church experience. You can download resources at http://www.opendoorsuk.org/pray/idop/, including a plan for a secret church service, powerpoint, prayer cards and videos, or tel. 01993 777300 to order a pack.
Whether you use the front door, back door, or a different venue altogether, don’t miss this opportunity to pray with the Secret Church, show your support and become part of their story!
Source: Open Doors, www.opendoorsuk.org/pray/idop/
The following notes are taken from a Bible study by a North Korean pastor, on prayer (Colossians 4:12–13).
Praying is the most important thing you do. Whatever you do each day, begin everything with prayer. It is the shortest way, not the longest! By sacrificing yourself and applying yourself to praying as a warrior, God will open the hearts of people and break through their thinking. We do not pray violently. No, this type of prayer helps us to conquer evil with good. This is why we pray that Kim Jong-Il will become a Christian. And even more, that he will combat the evil in our society.
We must pray in a concentrated way, and for a long time: at least two hours in a row. When I came to faith, I did not want to change my life. I did want to be a Christian, but I wanted to remain who I was, too, and in particular, I did not want to undertake any risky missions. But while I was praying in a concentrated way, a sentence came to my mind: “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” I did not know this text. When I spoke to a friend about it, he told me that it is in the Bible, in Philippians 4:13. There was much sin in my life. I had to pray long and often in order to break down the barriers between God and me.
We must pray as warriors. I must do so. In the past, I often went to the mountains and prayed all night. As I got older, this happened less often. But I’m going to do it again, because the church needs people who pray like that. God uses this prayer to open doors.
Pray that, just like Epaphras, you will find and train leaders, so that together you can conduct missions in a strategic way and God can work through you. If you share the true gospel, you will definitely see fruit. If we scatter the seed of God’s Word and teach this Word with passion, others will recount this to people whom they can trust. Everywhere new churches will come into being. I am convinced that one day the North Korean church will be able to take part in world missions.
We need God’s protection. This is why we pray before we receive relief goods from Open Doors. Only when God makes it clear to us that it is safe do we accept these goods. We can trust in this. It is not so much that we are fighting for God. He is fighting for us. It is His work.
Whenever we do a project with Open Doors, first we fast for seven, sometimes ten days. Only when God tells us we can continue with the project do we give the green light and carry out the project. Sometimes we have a very vivid dream in which God tell us what to do and sometimes we all just feel exactly the same about the project. Our believers are bolder and stronger than before, even though the persecution is also stronger.
Source: Open Doors magazine November 2011
Open Doors’ support for the persecuted church is carried out largely through their field workers. These committed Christians brave hardship and danger to support the church in some of the toughest countries in the world. Below is an interview with Amanuel*, an Open Doors field worker in East Africa.
How did you become a Christian, Amanuel?
I was a teenager when I decided to follow Christ. The day my father realised I had joined the evangelicals he told me that he would no longer give me food. As a young boy it was difficult for me. One day I spent the whole day without food. When night
fell, I was weak, not knowing what to do next. That night I was fortunate to get something to eat from my friend’s house. But, in the month that followed, it was hard to endure. Finally God prepared a way for me to live with Christian friends.
What is life like for Christians in your country?
The church in my country is dealing with two prominent scenarios. For one group of Christians, persecution is not a reality, while another group frequently faces violent resistance as a result of the doctrines they live by. Some church groups stand
indifferent towards Christians who are persecuted for their faith. Their general take is that these so-called Christians are punished for sin they have committed and that it is an act from God. For persecuted believers, callous reasoning like this
is sometimes more painful than the persecution itself.
Have you experienced persecution?
Yes, I myself was a persecuted believer and a member of the persecuted church. Open Doors supported us, so when I got the chance to be a researcher for them, I grabbed it with both hands! I want suffering believers to know there is a God in heaven who knows what they’re going through – and to be encouraged.
What does your work for Open Doors involve?
As a researcher, I am on the road for a considerable portion of my life, travelling to visit different churches, crime scenes and victims of persecution. My desire is to treat each incident with the same urgency. But the diversity of these incidents is
quite overwhelming and the sheer magnitude makes it impossible for me to reach out to all of them.
How has working with persecuted Christians impacted your faith?
Their faith and perseverance is a great motivation to me. My life has been enriched immeasurably by witnessing the constructive impact Open Doors’ involvement has had on these Christians’ lives.
Can you give us an example?
Pastor David* – an evangelical Christian – was killed in front of his wife and two sons. Our office has prayed and encouraged the family a lot. When he was dying, Pastor David quoted from John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, He gave his only son…” Some of the men who attacked him heard the verse and went back home to check out the words. One of them, especially, was touched. When he realised that David was quoting a Bible verse, he started to think, “Why did we kill this man?”
He then decided for himself to follow Christ and recruited others to the faith. The new and secret fellowship led them to start a church around 130 miles away from where David was killed. Within a short time more than 300 people had joined them. David’s perseverance to the last had a big impact on his community. In fact he made a greater impact through his death than through his life!
How is your work for Open Doors helping persecuted Christians?
When we draw attention to the situations of persecuted believers for prayer and support, they are extremely happy. When they discover that they are not alone, they are very excited. Emotionally devastated believers quickly change and start to see hope and love once more.
Also, a vast percentage of new Muslim-background believers have little knowledge or resources to spiritually prepare themselves when persecution happens to them. We support them through awareness programmes and livelihood projects.
How can we in the West support Christians in your country?
Prayer makes a big difference. I cannot put enough emphasis on the primary place prayer has in strengthening the church. And
financial gifts given out of love make a substantial difference, too. Letters and cards from caring believers bring a sense of connectedness – and visits from foreign Christians. All of the above communicate love.
How can we pray for you?
Serving the persecuted church is a great privilege! We are not special people just because we meet these believers. But we are lucky to witness their perseverance and love-felt tears. Please pray for me to go with strength and grace from the Lord. And thank God for His intervention in the lives of my family, especially my brother who has also become a Christian.
*Name changed for security reasons
- Pray for physical protection, emotional and spiritual strength for Open Doors workers like Amanuel
- Ask God to give them discernment to know how they can make the greatest impact for the persecuted church.
Source: Open Doors magazine November 2011
For more information about travelling with Open Doors to visit and encourage persecuted Christians go to http://www.opendoorsuk.org/travel/