Impacting Cities & Communities thru Prayer
A Community of Prayer Champions, Praying Churches, Prayed-for Communities
This discussion will post prayer alerts and resources for the Persecuted Church in 2017. In the past, I've posted my own prayers using Open Doors resources, but this year I'm going to focus on posting the resources themselves and hopefully equipping many to pray. Primary source material for this discussion will come from Open Doors, including the World Watch List, monthly Prayer Force Alert calendars, and prayer news items. Additional resources will be drawn from Voice of the Martyrs and International Christian Concern.
Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. -- Hebrews 13:3
Here are a few key links to help you pray for the Persecuted Church:
Click the link above or the maps below for Operation World's "pray today" page on Saudi Arabia.
I remember as a kid trying to wrap my head around the concept of eternity: of living forever without end. Inevitably, the enormity of the concept would terrify me and I would frantically distract myself with something less overwhelming.
As I’ve gotten older though, I’ve found myself being overwhelmed by different things. The idea of an eternal life after death has become a comfort, but it’s the world and its problems that are terrifying. The scope of the world’s problems—starvation, racism, economic disparity—are so unfathomably huge I distract myself with day-to-day life. While I feel embarrassed to admit it, this is often what happens when I hear about the persecuted church.
I see statistics like the ones in this infographic and don’t even know where to begin. How can I help? Where do I start?
As Christians, we know and believe the most powerful force for change we have at our disposal is prayer. Not only does the Bible tells us prayer is powerful and effective, but as we pray, God often stirs our hearts and provides direction on how He is calling us to action. So if you, like me, need a place to start in knowing how to pray, here are 7 areas in the world where persecution against Christians is increasingly difficult, along with a brief prompt on how you can be praying:
In the past decade, North Korea has gone from a mysterious country no one knew about to a focal point of global politics. North Korea, under the brutal rule of the Kim family, is ranked as the most oppressive country in the world for Christians. Christianity is outlawed there and anyone caught worshipping God, praying or reading a smuggled Bible is sent to prison camps.
How to pray: That God would continue to stir up an underground church, for protection for Christians living there, and that God’s Kingdom and justice would come to North Korea.
Syria is another country playing a visible role in American foreign politics. It’s also the sixth most oppressive country in the world for a Christian to live. As the Syrian civil war has progressed, the opposition to the government has become increasingly controlled by Islamic militants such as ISIS. Because Christians tend to live together in geographic pockets and are (perceived) to be pro-government, they are an extremely vulnerable target.
How to pray: For our government to have wisdom in how to wisely and compassionately interact with Syria. For the Christians (some of whom are deliberately remaining behind) who are living out their faith at a heavy cost. And for Open Doors efforts there, such as relief aid, Bibles, discipleship materials, leadership training and grief counseling.
Not only is South Sudan experiencing one of the worst famines in history, the country as a whole continues to be one of the most hostile nations to Christianity on the planet. There’s no true rule of law under the authoritarian leadership of al-Bashir and arrests, attacks and murders plague all the Christian villages in the country, particularly those in the Nuba mountain region.
How to pray: Sudan’s cultural landscape is a complicated blend of both ethnic and religious conflicts. Pray for peace and reconciliation among all people groups in the country, for aid groups to be freed to provide food to those who need it, and for God to establish just leaders in the country.
Iraq has become an afterthought in the American political scene, but the plight of Christians there is dire. There has been a Christian presence in Iraq for nearly two millennia, but it currently sits on the verge of extinction due to the invasion of ISIS in 2014 and the continued oppression by Muslim extremists in the region.
How to pray: Pray first and foremost that in the face of persecution, the Christian church would not just survive, but explode in power, transforming the communities they live in. The Iraqi government is still new and (in theory) democratic. The more Christianity transforms communities, the more the possibility of governmental influence increases. Secondly, pray for the Islamic extremist groups. Pray that God would miraculously change the hearts of these groups. That they would be transformed from the inside out.
Christianity in Iran is more than just another religion, it’s a sign of Western influence. As the government struggles to retain control of its people (especially a younger and more secular generation), it has stepped up its hostility to anything deemed an assault to its values. The two most persecuted groups in Iran are Muslim Background Believers and any Christians found actively evangelizing.
How to pray: Iran, more than other countries, is teetering on the edge of a change in leadership. Pray that God would bring justice and peace to this nation and would raise up people in Iran committed to tolerance and religious freedom. Pray for boldness among Christians in Iran who are often treated as second-class citizens and persecuted for sharing their faith.
Of the countries on this list, Eritrea is probably the least-known. Located on the eastern end of Africa, Eritreans fleeing their country has contributed greatly to the refugee crisis around the world. The Eritrean government is intolerant of dissent and free expression, and in 2007, deposed and replaced the Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church (EOC). The EOC has itself persecuted those who convert to evangelical or Pentecostal denominations and the government treatment of Christian prisoners has received international attention, with some being locked in shipping containers and dying.
How to pray: Pray for Eritrean refugees; that God would open up places for them to find shelter and rest. Pray for the corrupted EOC; that God would break the hearts of the leaders of this church and make it a bold force for peace. And pray that the communities of Christians suffering persecution from both the government and the EOC would have comfort, boldness and relief.
Saudi Arabia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world and has established strong relationships with several key countries, especially the United States. It is also one of the worst countries in the world in its treatment of Christians. To be a Saudi citizen is to be a Muslim due to a tightly intertwined connection between their religious and social worlds. Because of this, there are no church buildings in Saudi Arabia and Christians have to practice their faith in strict secrecy.
How to pray: One of the biggest enablers of the Saudi monarchy is its comfortable relationship with powerful governments. While the political and economic realities of this situation are complicated, pray that God would convict leaders around the world to demand Saudi Arabia exercise better human rights and religious freedom. Pray for comfort for Christians in the midst of persecution and boldness as they take the potentially life-threatening risk of sharing their faith with family and friends.
Ultimately, we know that our fight in this world isn’t against corrupt governments or horrifying terrorist groups. There is an Enemy intent on razing this world to the ground, destroying the shalom (fully-realized peace) God intended. All of our prayers then ultimately trace back to the prayer Jesus taught his disciples: God, Your Kingdom come, Your will be done.
Since May 2014, India has been governed by a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. As a result, radical Hinduism, which was already present under the previous government, has increased steadily. While the level of intolerance continues to increase, Christians are regularly attacked by radical Hindus. The level of impunity has gone up markedly, with communities of converts to Christianity from Hinduism bearing the brunt of the persecution. They are constantly under pressure to return to their old beliefs, and are often physically assaulted, sometimes killed. Protestant Christian communities are the second main target because of their involvement in outreach activities and conversions, and they also face regular attacks by radical Hindus.
To support persecuted Christians in India, Open Doors is on the ground providing training, discipleship, education, vital relief aid and more.
On March 19, 2017, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came into power as the ruling party in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh under the leadership of Yogi Adityanath as the Chief Minister. Yogi Adityanath, a controversial BJP leader, is a firebrand Hindu monk and head of the Gorakhnath order of Hinduism. He has frequently been accused of instigating communal hatred toward religious minorities and has led multiple riots in the state. Since 2005, he has led Ghar-Wapas (Homecoming), an aggressive purification movement against Christians that openly advocates violent attacks on religious minorities to keep them in their place.
“Yogi Adityanath has several criminal cases against him,” The Times of India, a leading Indian Newspaper, reports. “Some of the charges include rioting, attempt to murder, carrying deadly weapons, endangering the life or personal safety of others, unlawful assembly, trespassing on burial places and criminal intimidation.”
While the whole country is stunned by Yogi Adityanath’s appointment as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, the BJP has given a clear message to the nation that they intend to rope in aggressive hardliners and push the agenda of transforming India into a Hindu nation. The overwhelming victory in the recently concluded assembly elections has emboldened them to aggressively pursue their agenda.
Many dangerous men with criminal backgrounds have also been placed in key positions to carry out this agenda. These developments have made Protestant Christians in the country very vulnerable and prayers are greatly needed. In the entire year of 2016, 443 violent attacks were reported in India; this year, the number of incidents in January and February alone was reported to be 163.
Father, we give You praise for the many ways the gospel is going forth in great power in India. Yet, where the gospel is going forward, often there is great opposition, and we pray today for the nation of India where the leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party are moving forward aggressively to transform India into a Hindu nation. We pray against these efforts and we pray for the safety of Christians who have been victims of many attacks this year. We pray for the pastors and leaders of Your churches in states where this opposition is great. And even in the midst of hostility, we pray that the transforming power of Christ’s gospel will move across the vast nation of India in great might, proclaiming the name of Christ as Lord and King. In the name of Jesus, who reigns above all earthly rulers, Amen.
Chandan Devi lay on the floor, her shoulder bruised from the blow she had just received. The door shut with a loud bang. Did her husband scream when they dragged him out of his house? We didn’t dare ask. 35-year-old Chandan wipes her tears away with the end of her sari. She is a child of God, mother of four and now, a widow for Jesus’ sake. Welcome to India.
Pastor Aadarsh (40), his wife Chandan and their four children lived in a village in Central India where Naxalite militants are very active. This Maoist group fights for the rights of tribal groups and often views Christians as traitors to their cause and informants of the police. In the last ten years, thousands of Christians have been attacked, beaten-up, kidnapped, raped and killed by these Naxalites.
But it’s the individual, smaller stories that are the most heartbreaking. Aadarsh was a faithful pastor and led 25-30 people from a certain tribe to Christ. All of them were previously animist believers. Chandan describes him as a prayerful person who specifically had a heart for youth. “He encouraged them to not join the Maoists but instead finish their studies to achieve something in life.”
The Naxalites were very upset with his activities, and a group of 30 men forced their way into Aadarsh and Chandan’s home. None of the children were present. “They shouted that they were going to kill him. I begged them to end my life too. When they dragged him outside the house, I clung to him. They hit me hard on my shoulder and I dropped to the floor. The door shut and they disappeared into the jungle where Aadarsh was then murdered.”
It took the villagers a few hours to discover his lifeless body in the bush. Because of the remote location of the village and the dense forest, the police were unable to help and villagers were too afraid to interfere during the assault. The funeral was led by the wife of a pastor who had led Aadarsh to Christ and was a spiritual father to him. None of the Christian men were able to come due to the high risks.
Shortly after his death, volunteers sponsored and trained by Open Doors visited Chandan, who had fled her village. “We first bought her groceries and clothes,” a group member says. “She had left her village with only the clothes on her back and was in desperate need of practical help. This comforted her.”
The meeting was intense. Chandan was obviously still in shock. She recounted the story with bursts of short sentences. When she was asked, “Do you consider leaving Jesus?”, she replied, “I’d rather die.”
The Open Doors volunteers tried to encourage her with God’s Word. They read Jesus’ words in John 15:18-20:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.”
“She listened silently,” one of our group members says. “When we prayed over her, she cried. She was comforted by our visit and prayers. We stay in touch with Chandan over the phone and she told us she still feels very troubled. One of her children is married, the other three are in boarding school. She is under a lot of pressure.”
The number of persecution incidents in India keeps soaring higher each month. In the month of April alone there were 68 incidents. Through April, a total of 316 incidents had been reported this year by Open Doors partners in local churches who have been, in most cases, in direct contact with the victims. Reports come in almost daily.
Out of the 68 incidents that took place in April, more than a third involved physical beatings of believers. In several cases, the victims, including two small children, were beaten brutally and almost killed. A pastor was critically wounded when he was struck on his head with a sword. People have also been socially ostracized or expelled from their homes or villages.
In several of the incidents, groups of extremists have attacked church members and Christians openly with large sticks or swords. They have no fear of the law or the police. They openly declare during their attacks that India is a Hindu country and Christians have no right to preach or attempt to convert people.
Please pray for the Christians in India, especially those who are suffering daily persecution.
Father of Mercy, hear the cry of Your people in India. Protect them from attack; give them both wisdom and courage as they face each day’s potential for unrest. You have called us to be the “light of the world” and the “salt of the earth.” As they abide in Christ, may His presence shine forth to those living in spiritual darkness. As Your church grows, may the culture and government be seasoned with the purifying salt of the Word that Your gospel might go forth in freedom and much power. Raise up a mighty throng in India to worship and praise Your Holy Name. In the name of Jesus, the light of men who overcomes the darkness. Amen.
“Forget the image of a nice backpacking trip to the Taj Mahal!” said Dutch MEP and co-chair of the Intergroup, Peter Van Dalen. “Since Narendra Modi rose to power with his nationalist party in 2014, the situation has become worse and worse, and now the position of religious minorities has become even more alarming.”
In state elections earlier this year, Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won several states and consolidated its political position across India.
The party recently selected Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as its candidate for the Presidential elections, which will take place this year—either through the direct appointment of the BJP candidate (if enough support is given in advance) or an election.
Kovind’s potential appointment as the next Indian President will worry religious minorities due to his bold stance against Christianity and other religions.
“With a radical Hindu President, on top of a radical Hindu Prime Minister, religious minorities will have no-one left to appeal to if they feel under pressure,” according to Rolf Zeegers, analyst at Open Doors’ World Watch Research unit.
The European Members of Parliament said they found it concerning that during a recent visit to India by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, talks focused on trade and security issues—with no mention of the human-rights situation in the country.
It is also not clear whether human rights was discussed during yesterday’s meeting (June 26) between the Indian Prime Minister and US President Trump.
According to the Times of India, the meeting is more likely to focus on the “regional security situation” and “ways to enhance cooperation in bilateral areas of strategic importance. Leading up to the meeting, details were announced of an arms deal estimated to be worth $2.3 billion.
During three years in power, the Modi government has created the image that all is well and that India is moving towards great prosperity.
However, Jesuit priest Joseph Mattam, writing for Matters India, says “there is not much to celebrate” in a nation where minority groups are discriminated against, where the “demonetisation manoeuvre” in November last year has created “huge hardships” for those who rely on cash for their daily needs, and where government policies are influenced by multi-national corporations.
So-called “Anti-conversion laws” in seven Indian states and discrimination based on caste and religion are among the issues also recently highlighted by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.
In the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, the Freedom of Religion Act makes conversion from Hinduism a punishable offense if done through “force, allurement or appeasement.” UCAN notes that this could include “providing education, healthcare or a simple sermon.”
A recent incident in Madhya Pradesh involved the arrest of a Catholic nun, who was traveling on a train with four girls to the state capital, Bhopal, to attend a church-run education institution.
Her arrest followed a complaint by Hindu activists, who accused Sister Bina Joseph of abducting the four girls and engaging in “illegal religious conversion.” There was confusion about whether one of the girls was a minor—something her parents confirmed but Sister Joseph keeps on denying, saying that all are over the ag.... The nun was charged with human trafficking and then released, but the case has been referred to police in the eastern state of Jharkhand, where the group is from.
It is the third such incident within a month of Christians traveling in groups being arrested by police in Madhya Pradesh, a state governed by Modi’s party, the BJP.
Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal told Crux: “I strongly condemn this harassment by rogue elements who profess their political allegiance-alliance with the ruling party … The minority community is being targeted by fringe elements of the ruling party and … the ‘conversion’ allegations are levied against the minority Christian community, even in the case of travelling.”
He added: “Scores of poor students from remote rural areas study in our schools and reside in our hostels and they need to travel.”
Meanwhile, a delegation led by Father Maria Stephen from the Bhopal archdiocese met a top railway official in Madhya Pradesh, to discuss the recent events.
Dutch MEP Peter Van Dalen said of Saudi Arabia that it “continues to finance Wahhabism all around the world, which is a threat to us all, while in Pakistan there are hundreds of Asia Bibis because of the continuing death sentences for blasphemy. And it’s not just Christians who suffer, but also Muslims.”
Wahhabi Islam, a philosophy and movement, was identified by the European Parliament as the main source of global terrorism in 2013.
Christians in India Facing More Danger Than Ever Before
If you’ve been following the faith-based media headlines, you’ve likely heard about new challenges facing Christians in India. But understanding today’s events can be difficult without first understanding some history.
Below is a quick primer to understanding the current situation and how it impacts Christians.
What is behind the recent hostility toward Christians in India?
There is a fundamentalist Hindu political party in India called the Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP. Earlier this year, they won the majority of seats in the state legislature in Uttar Pradesh, the most populated region of India.
As they gained influence, the BJP began passing anti-Christian legislation.
How did this party come into power?
In India, some parties have long been concerned about dwindling allegiance to Hinduism. A few years ago, for example, the senior leader of the World Hindu Council announced a new goal: to make the country 100% Hindu. “Currently there are 82% Hindus in India, and we don’t want this number to be halved,” he said, “We won’t tolerate Hindus becoming a minority in the country.”
The BJP, then, is well positioned to place restrictions on Christians.
What kinds of things are the BJP doing to stop Christianity from spreading?
In the past, the BJP supported extremist groups that attacked Christians in incidents such as the 2007-2008 riots where Hindu militants torched houses and churches, killing 91 Christians and wounding 18,000 others. 60,000 Christians were left homeless.
In 2013, 100 churches or worship gatherings were attacked and acts of violence were committed against 4,000 Christians.
Perhaps just as alarming as the attacks is that when India’s now Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, was asked about Christian persecution, he responded, “I have never heard of such incidents taking place.”
Since gaining majority influence, the BJP has pledged to introduce national legislation to restrict “missionary” activity and halt evangelism efforts.
In 2016, the All India Christian Council recorded an almost 20% increase in attacks against Christians, reporting a 40% rise in violence against Christians. They also found killings of Christians had doubled.
Churches have been vandalized, bombed, and set on fire, and church leaders have been beaten and threatened—all with the hope of forcing Christians to renounce their faith in Jesus.
How does this affect Christian organizations working in India?
Since 2014, when Prime Minister Modi took office, the government revoked the license of more than 11,000 non-governmental organizations that were accepting international funds. Western foundations, such as George Soros’ Open Society Foundations and the National Endowment for Democracy are no longer permitted to transfer funds without prior authorization from Indian officials. And India’s largest single donor, the Christian organization Compassion International, for instance, has been banned for engaging in religious conversion. This will result in a loss of $45 million dollars a year that supported church-affiliated service centers and distributed aid to communities.
How does the ruling party impact Open Doors’ ministry specifically?
Open Doors is on the ground in India providing—among other things—training, discipleship, education, vital relief aid, and follow-up services to victims.
In the first 4 months of 2017, Open Doors partners in lndia’s local churches have reported 316 persecution incidents. Christians have been socially ostracized, expelled from their villages, and brutally beaten. Extremists have even attacked church members with large sticks and swords, seemingly demonstrating no fear of legal ramifications.
In many cases, the extremists openly declare that Christians have no right to preach or attempt to convert people in a Hindu country.
These events have caused Open Doors to name India as 15th on this year’s World Watch List 2017 which identifies the top countries where Christians are persecuted for their faith.
How can I pray for Christians in India?
Pray for Indian believers who experience both violent persecution and intense cultural pressure to return to Hinduism. Christians are in need of support and relief as they are constantly pressured, and sometimes attacked, in efforts to force them to return to their previous Hindu beliefs. Ask God to protect those who are actively involved in preaching, evangelism, and outreach as they are at risk of being attacked by radical Hindu extremists.
Click on the link above or on the maps below for Operation World's "Pray Today" page for India.
In Uzbekistan, converts to Christianity from Islam bear the brunt of persecution. Protestant Christian communities also suffer from raids, threats, arrests and fines. Uzbek President Islam Karimov died on September 2, 2016, and was quickly succeeded by Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev. This means that for Christians, little, if anything, will change. Post-communist oppression continues, with the government bugging homes, tapping phones, infiltrating groups with spies and visiting church services. Raids on house church groups, confiscation of religious materials, interrogation and detention of believers also continue. Pressure and violence against Christian converts from family, friends and local communities are likely to continue, as well, if not increase. To support persecuted believers in Uzbekistan, Open Doors works through local partners to provide biblical and ministry training, medical assistance, socio-economic development, children and youth seminars and more.