Archive for August, 2013

Eritrean authorities arrested 30 members of the Church of the Living God gathered for prayer on the evening of Saturday, August 24 in the Kushet suburb of the capital Asmara. The group includes 12 women.

Sources say they are held at Police Station 5 in Asmara and are under pressure to recant their faith.

Since the beginning of the year the religious atmosphere in Eritrea has deteriorated with authorities arresting at least 261 Christians. Human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have reported that the government of Eritrea continues to incarcerate prisoners under inhumane conditions. Officials continue to deny access to organisations like The Red Cross to investigate the state of prisons.

“The Church in Eritrea is deeply saddened by the continued scrutiny and distrust from the government and highly appreciates the prayers of our brothers and sisters around the globe,” commented an Open Doors source who remains anonymous for security reasons.

The circumstances surrounding the arrest are not known.

Prayer Points

1.   Pray for those arrested to be filled with God’s peace despite the difficult circumstances they are facing. Pray for protection for all, especially for the women.

2.   Pray for God’s grace and care for the families of the arrested Christians. Often times some families are not aware of arrests that took place and for days do not know where their relatives are.

3.   Please continue to pray for the Lord’s intervention in Eritrea.

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Fr. Dall’Oglio reported abducted last month, now presumed dead

Image
Fr. Paolo Dall’Oglio, pictured in his native Italy in 2012.

veDro / Flickr / Creative Commons

Conflicting reports are emerging about the whereabouts and welfare of an Italian Jesuit priest who went missing almost one month ago.

Reuters reported on July 29 that Fr. Paolo Dall’Oglio had been abducted by extremists with links to al-Qaeda in the northern Syrian city of ar-Raqqah, but the Vatican would not confirm the news.

Now, as various reports claim the priest has been killed, the Vatican remains tight-lipped.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported last week that the priest had been killed, but retracted its statement on Monday, Aug. 19. 

The rights organisation said sources close to the State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, which claimed it has kidnaped Dall’Oglio, said he was still alive. ISIS has yet to make a statement.

“No side refuting the report that Father Paolo was killed has shown any evidence to prove that he is alive, despite their empty assurances,” said a statement released by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The group called for “solid evidence” to be given, such as a recent video proving that he is alive, and a statement from a “clear and honest” member of the Syrian opposition.

“Any harm inflicted on Father Paolo is harm inflicted on the Syrian revolution and on the Syrian peoples’ freedoms and dignity,” SOHR said.

A Jesuit spokesperson earlier this month expressed “deep worry” about the fate of Dall’Oglio.

Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said: “We are still groping in the dark”.

Dall’Oglio worked in Syria for more than 30 years, and described his work as “promoting religious harmony”. He was expelled last year after speaking out against President Bashar al-Assad and helping victims of the civil war. Since then, he has been working predominantly in Europe.

On July 22, he posted an online petition asking Pope Francis to advocate on behalf of suffering Syrians.

However, his stance has been controversial for many Syrian Christian leaders. Nadim Nassar, the only Syrian Anglican priest, told World Watch Monitor: “Any attempt to politicise the voice of Christians in Syria is wrong, and devastating for them, because it weakens them”.

Meanwhile, there is nothing new to report about the two Syrian bishops – Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yaziji – kidnapped four months ago.

Metropolitan Timotheus Matta Fadil Alkhouri, patriarchal Assistant for the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, urged members of the press and politicians to refrain from speculation.

“Every week some politician or some journalist pulls out some story on the two Metropolitan Bishops of Aleppo kidnapped,” he told Fides. “But so far they have always been unverifiable deductions. The reality is that… we do not know who kidnapped them.”

 

Thirty million Egyptians peacefully demonstrated against the president and his dictator regime on June 30, the first anniversary of his election. Among them were many Christians and moderate believers of another religion, who together overcame their fears and went out to protest.

As a result of the protest that ousted the president, fanatics have started violent attacks all over Egypt. The Brotherhood and other extremist groups have been burning and destroying government buildings and police stations. They are also extensively targeting churches, Christian organizations and Christian homes, and they have killed anyone in their way. They have burned more than 68 churches so far, along with dozens of Christian schools and institutions. The Bible Society has lost 3 of their key bookshops in Egypt.

Open Doors’ ministry partners are confirming, particularly in Upper Egypt, that Christians are living in fear — especially those who live in the countryside where another religion makes up the majority. They stay in their homes, fearing the moment that some of these violent groups could break in and kill without mercy – the young and the old. Lots of Christian families have lost everything, and just escaped with what they were wearing. Try to imagine yourself and your family in this situation!  May Christians everywhere be spurred to pray more and plead more with the Lord for His people in Upper Egypt.

The number of affected Christians are frightening. Many Christians were either killed, injured or hijacked as a result of the last wave of attacks. Scattered incidents are still being reported.

In the wake of last week’s unprecedented violence targeting Egypt’s Christian community, Open Doors is working closely with local church partners to support and comfort those left traumatized by painful losses.

Teams of trained believers are now going to visit and pray with Christians who have had their churches, homes, shops and earthly possessions looted and burned in Minya, Assuit, Sohag, Luxor, Suez and Alexandria. Christian families in Cairo and Upper Egypt whose loved ones were targeted and killed are being identified, and at least 17 kidnapping incidents have been confirmed.

Temporary residences are being provided for pastors whose homes were burned to the ground, along with provision to replace their destroyed furniture. Partnering church teams are also identifying village families who lost their cows or other animals, their main source of income, in the attacks.

With the widespread lack of security across the country, particularly in Upper Egypt, large events and projects planned this month to continue strengthening and training the local churches have been put on hold for the next two or three weeks. “As possible, we will try to do these meetings in houses,” a church worker partnering with Open Doors explained.

They cannot burn our faith

One of many Christians who went last Sunday to pray and worship at their burnt church testified: “They can burn our churches, but they cannot burn our faith.”

What is really shocking and so disturbing to the majority of Egyptian citizens is that the Western media have been portraying the Brotherhood as victims who are peacefully protesting their rights. And the West has persisted in portraying the ouster of the president as a military coup.

What can Egyptian Christians do? Although the fight seems to be between groups of people, it is clearly a spiritual war, as written in Ephesians 6, that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood. Therefore to win this war, believers need to use the right weapons. Egyptian Christians are appealing to people around the world to pray and fast with them for:

1-    An end to the current violence.

2-    The police and army to control the situation and bring long-lost law and order back to the streets of Egypt.

3-    God to expose the lies and deceptions being told, so that the truth will be revealed before the whole world.

4-    The Christians to continue to love, forgive and rebuild their country, churches, homes and businesses.

5-    The country’s future leader to bring peace and harmony to all the parties, and steer the country out of poverty and chaos.

“I was astounded by the number of people showing up with no fear for their life. They took the risk and showed up by faith,” a bishop of the Armenian church said after a meeting for young adults in Aleppo.

The meeting was scheduled for the Summer season in Syria, with a focus on ‘What is the church’ and how to live your faith in the church and how to testify of Jesus in the midst of war and difficult circumstances.

In Aleppo, the situation is hazardous. Only a few days before the training, Open Doors received information from a believer who shared that, “Aleppo is surrounded by the free Syrian army and cut off of all support for a few days now. They cannot get food or supplies in and people are becoming more fearful as they are surrounded, expecting a big attack any minute.”

The more encouraging it is to realize that despite these circumstances, about a thousand people showed up for this meeting, organized in cooperation with a local partner of Open Doors. The organizing committee hoped for a lot of people and because of the limited capacity of the church they had been giving out registration cards in advance.

In the end, about 850 young men and women turned out and were present. Another roughly two hundred had come as well. Since there was no place for them in the church and as it is not safe to use the outside courts, they had to be turned down.

Among the young adults, several priests, nuns and bishops were also present from the Roman, Chaldean, Syriac and Armenian churches in Aleppo. Some of them also participated in sharing encouraging words.

An Open Doors field worker shared that the feedback afterwards was great, one said he discovered that, “we are the hope of the church through our prayer and presence”. Another visitor explains that she “realized that they are the hope and God can use them, we have a purpose to bring the church and country back to life.”

One of the priests expressed that you could see the joy in peoples’ eyes, and that he enjoyed praying together and singing with joy. About the war situation he says: “we saw the work of grace and activity revealed more during war, there is a lot of discouragement and depression but our Lord worked miracles that we did not expect!”

In a relieving comment the field worker reports, “Regardless of fear, threats and bombs all around… yes, the meeting took place”. The meeting has been fruitful and inspiring and as far as we know, all have returned home safely.

The eyes of the world are focused on Syria again. Open Doors received the prayer of a pastor, one of our partners in Syria in the relief work. It is a moving and heart breaking prayer. It gives us insight in the suffering of the people that decided to stay in Syria.

I weep for my country! I am so sad and speechless…

They advise me to leave my country… to emigrate. I respond saying:

  • I’m staying… for the church of Jesus … that the message of Jesus may remain a light guiding those who are lost and afraid.
  • I’m staying… because the harvest is plentiful… and the suffering is huge…  a deep wound, a sense of despair …
  • I’m staying … to follow in the footsteps of my Master who went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil.
  • I’m staying… because I’m busy… in the ministry of saving souls  (or can someone like me run… Lord give me strength).

Do pray

  • That the cup of war be taken away from our country Syria.
  • That the Lord may crush the conspiracy of the evil ones… and their war plans… and consider their threats.
  • That He may send the power of His Holy Spirit on His church that it may reach out to the suffering souls… who –  harassed and helpless –  are like sheep without a shepherd.
  • That the Lord may give us to speak with great boldness and that many wonders and signs be performed … and souls return to Christ, and there be singing and praises.
  • That the Lord may send more help that the house of the Lord may have food to satisfy the needs of the internally displaced … hundreds of whom are without any shelter.
  • That the Lord may send more support for the wounded and the sick who need surgery, medication, and healing.
  • That the Lord may send those who can help us build a center for children affected by the war, that we may be able to take care of those who have lost their supporters, and enable them to get back on their feet.
  • That the Lord may send those who can help our children who are now disabled, and have special needs.

O Lord, hear and answer my prayers.

August 28th, 2013

 

You often hear stories of women becoming followers of Jesus Christ through their husbands’ conversion. With Alan*, it’s the other way around.

Alan was born to a family of a strict religion in Central Java. His faith, though, did not hinder Alan from setting his sights on Nini*, a Christian who was studying theology back then and who was to become the love of his life.  Firm on his decision to marry NIni, Alan took her back to Central Java and introduced her to his family.

“When I told my family that Nini was a Christian, they strongly objected to the marriage,” said Alan. “I didn’t care…. I loved her and I was going to marry her no matter what,” said Alan.

After getting married in a church in Bali, Alan was never consistent in attending church. “I only attended church to please my wife” Alan admitted. “I had yet to give my life to Jesus.”

In 2008, the couple moved to another place in Central Java. Nini busied herself at the local church while Alan remained distant, attending church just to please his wife.

“One day, while waiting to pick up my wife from the church, I overheard the pastor’s preaching,” Alan narrated. “There was a sudden urge for me to find out more and I began to attend the church prayer meetings with my wife. The pastor noticed of me and began to talk to me. Soon, I accepted the Lord Jesus as my savior and was baptized.”

“Jesus really changed my life,” Alan continued. “Before becoming a Christian, I gambled, smoked, and drank. But when Jesus came into my heart, I stopped them all. He changed me into a new person.”

Alan is now a musician in the church while his wife Nini serves as a Sunday School teacher. When not serving in the church, he sells meatballs on the street to provide for his family. Though his income is small, he continues to thank God for His providence.

This year, Open Doors ministry grants Alan a loan so he can put up a meatball stall. “I thank God for His help through Open Doors,” he says. “I will definitely work hard for my family but the most important thing is to work for His kingdom.”

 

Please pray for:

1.              Alan’s faith in Jesus to deepen, so that he remains firm when persecution comes.

2.              God’s protection and provision for Alan and his family.

3.              God to prosper Alan’s meatball business, so that he becomes a blessing to his community.

*Real names and other details withheld for security reasons

Whenever a church is demolished, there are always several sides to the story.

Both Christians and extremists have the opportunity to show their displeasure of the events taking place. However, this is not the case for Christians who are part of the police force, whose duty is to remain impartial and ensure that law and order is observed.

Jonathan*, a Christian, works as a policeman in Bekasi, West Java. Radical groups in West Java have been pressurising the local council to close churches in the area, and have succeeded in many instances.

I was there when HKBP (Batak Church) Filadelfia was closed in 2007 due to permit issues,” recalls 43-year-old Jonathan. “My heart broke when I saw the congregation worshiping on the street afterwards, and I could not do anything, not even show my support. I saw the people mocking and threatening churches, but I had to remain silent due to my responsibilities as a policeman. But deep down in my heart, I felt so sad.”

The Christian policeman has his own share of mocking from fellow police officers.

“As the number of church closures [in West Java] increases,” he adds, “I’m beginning to feel the strain in my relationship with my colleagues. Some express their dislike of Christians, while others remain in favour of religious tolerance.”

In March 2011, Jonathan attends Open Doors’ Standing Strong Through the Storm (SSTS) in Bekasi, West Java. SSTS is a persecution-preparedness seminar that helps believers to gain a biblical understanding of persecution. It also provides them with some biblical references on how to respond when it comes.

Jonathan thinks that when believers have a positive effect in their communities, the process of getting a permit to build a church may be less difficult.

“Christians should be salt and light in their communities,” he explains. “They need to mingle with the people. I think many believers and churches are too exclusive Untitledand do not want to be part of social activities with the local community.”  

Even though Jonathan is unable to attend the whole seminar due to his responsibilities as a policeman, he sees the value of participating in SSTS and teaching it in local churches across West Java.

“I recommend all Christians to attend the SSTS seminar,” says Jonathan, “so that we will learn how to respond to persecution when it comes and avoid unnecessary conflicts. Thank you, Open Doors, for the SSTS materials. I learned a lot from it.” 

Prayer Points:

  1. Pray for all Christian policemen in Bekasi. Pray that the Lord will give them the wisdom to act fairly in every situation, especially when it comes to cases of church closures.
  2. Pray for all believers in West Java to become a blessing to others even when under pressure from local authorities. Pray for local churches to be relevant in their respective communities.
  3. Pray for God to use SSTS to prepare more Indonesian believers for persecution.

*Name changed for security purposes