Archive for October, 2013

Since the death of prominent church leader Abdi Welli, Open Doors (OD) has maintained close contact with his widow, Hellen, and their children. During a previous visit, we realized that Hellen was still quite traumatized and still facing many ups and downs in dealing with the loss of Abdi.  We sensed loneliness, agitation and fear for her safety as we talked with her.

We asked Christians around the world to pray for her and the boys, and to write them letters of encouragement. The writing campaign is going well and has so far generated over 2,000 cards and letters.

When we caught up with Hellen last week, we could see what a difference these cards and letters were making. They have offered her tangible proof that she is not carrying the burden alone and that was a source of deep encouragement to her!  During our meeting, we could see that Hellen still has some way to go, but it was also evident that God is attending to the prayers of the saints on her behalf. Christ is healing her. Her emotions are now much more stable and we could see that she is much more relaxed.

“I am getting better slowly-slowly. Previously I was not eating and sleeping well. I was very fearful for my life. I was very tired and physically weak. I was really fatigued! But I thank God I am not too bad now. The cards and letters really helped – whenever I feel overwhelmed, I would read them and hear God speaking to me.”

Spiritually, Hellen is also doing better.

“I am praying better and actually feel even closer to Jesus,” she said with a smile. “Of course the pain and bitterness still come, but now, God keeps reassuring me that Abdi did not die in vain and that He knows what He is doing…”

After receiving the new package containing hundreds of cards and letters, Hellen wrote the following message to express her gratitude to all who have written and prayed for her and the boys:

 

23 October 2013

11:50am

 

Dear everyone,

The children and I are most grateful to you for taking the time to write us words of encouragement. We cherish every card you have taken the time to write to us. We read them with great appreciation and God uses those words you wrote to comfort us.

We are getting courage to move on with our lives and our walk with God. Thanks for your prayers to God on our behalf. We see God’s protection every day.

We pray that God will bless and meet your every need as you serve Him by ministering to those who grieve and hurt.

God bless you!

 In Christ love,

Hellen and the children

 

Prayer points:

  1. Emotional strength: Praise God for Hellen’s progress and pray that He will complete the healing. Continue praying for her relationship with Abdi’s extended family.
  2. Future decisions: Hellen still remains uncertain about her future in the long term. With the guidance of the Lord, a few decisions will need to be taken soon. Please continue praying for God’s guidance for her about where to settle and what to do for a living. 
  3. The children: Continue praying for God’s comfort for the children. Pray that He guards their faith in Him and use Christians around them as they work through their grief. Also pray for God’s grace and wisdom for Hellen as she fulfills her role as head of the family.

Do continue writing to her and her children! Christmas wishes are more than welcome at this point of time! 

This article is written by a vicar working for the Dutch Open Doors office. He conducted a training for North African colleagues and wrote the article below. This was earlier published in the OD magazine in The Netherlands.

“God will bless you for this, if you endure the pain of undeserved suffering because you are conscious of His will. For what credit is there if you endure the beatings you deserve for having done wrong? But if you endure suffering even when you have done right, God will bless you for it. “
1 Peter 2:19-20

Imprisoned for Jesus sake? Then you have a beautiful problem!

From one moment to the next, they dropped everything. We were in the middle of a training session, but this news demanded an immediate response. A text message had been received on a mobile phone saying that a brother had been arrested for evangelistic activities. A man who speaks the language of the people I was teaching at that moment. Someone from their region. Suddenly persecution had come very close to home.

Actually, I had been amazed by these Church leaders during the course. I was supposed to provide them with training earlier, but I had not been granted a visa to go to their country in North Africa. But the need was great and the calls to go there in particular, were urgent. In the end, it had been decided to hold a course in another country. Seven clergymen and a translator from different North African countries had been chosen to go there, so that in their turn they could give the course themselves in their own country.

It had also struck me how important it is to meet one another as Christians. For these Church leaders, it was the first time they had seen one another. They told me that there was a revival going on in their region, people are becoming followers of Jesus. But the small house churches need pastors who can build up the churches and disciple the new believers. From the moment that they had met one another at the airport, they had not been able to stop talking about what they were experiencing at this time.

And then this news was received and with it a reminder of the other reality with which Christians in this region are living in: persecution. A field worker who accompanied me during this trip immediately started to arrange practical things. For example, should a lawyer be approached to act for him? I, too, immediately thought of practicalities: what can we do to solve this problem? But the men present put down their pens, notebooks and Bibles. One of the preachers present got up and said, ‘All right, gentlemen, let us pray for this great problem. It is a beautiful problem.’

A beautiful problem? It did not seem to me that the threat of imprisonment was anything ‘beautiful’.

‘How’s that then?’ I asked him.

He replied, ‘If you’re put in prison because you’ve been talking about the Lord Jesus, then you do have a problem, but it’s a beautiful problem.’

I realised that initially this remark made me angry. My thoughts were: ‘Find a solution to the problem. Don’t accept it. Fight it.’ I had the idea that we were just standing there feeling defeated by such terrible news. There I was thinking how pitiful and how awful I found it for this man. But what I learned from them at this moment was this. Yes, it is terrible, because this man has family and friends too, and what they are facing is not pleasant. And we are going to do everything possible to have him released. But he is not pitiful. He is imprisoned for Jesus, which means we have a good problem. This was their conclusion.

Only later did it begin to dawn upon me how Biblical this principle is. They are living, literally, according to the words from 1 Peter. If you are put in prison for doing evil, it is your own fault. But if you are put in prison for good deeds, it is a token of God’s grace. And these words were not said casually by these men. Some of the pastors present regularly receive threats and on occasions, have been arrested or imprisoned themselves. A number of them live in the realisation that they may be the next ones for whom prayers are said because they are in prison.

After the moment of prayer, we simply picked up the thread of the training course again. In all the prayers said subsequently, the arrested brother was again mentioned. And when they bid one another farewell, they promised to continue to pray for him. But not with a ring of despair in their voices or with the feeling that what was happening to this man was a tragedy. It did not surprise them, and it was even seen as something beautiful. But I think, even though I am able to read about this in the Bible, I cannot actually comprehend this. What these people demonstrated here is beyond my understanding. I can learn from this, but they are the only ones who can say, ‘If you’re in prison for Jesus’ sake, you have a beautiful problem.’ 

While Open Doors received word of the 25th known death of a Christian prisoner in Eritrea, we also learned that the government has arrested a large number of Christians gathered for prayer last Wednesday.

Wehazit Berhane Debesai, a Christian woman in her thirties, died last week. The exact day of her death is unknown. She died of pneumonia after facing harsh imprisonment conditions and denial of medical treatment because she refused to denounce her faith.

Wehazit was doing national services when authorities arrested her a year ago and kept her incommunicado in Adi Quala, south of Mendefera near the Ethiopian border. They arrested her because she was involved in Christian activities outside of the Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran church groups.

We don’t know much about Wehazit apart from the fact that she was engaged to be married to a man our sources knew only by his first name, Yohannes. He was arrested the same day as Wehazit and was also held at Adi Quala.

Meanwhile security officials arrested 70 Christians belonging to various denominations on Wednesday in the capital Asmara. The group consists of 27 women. The arrest came as the Christians gathered for a special prayer gathering. It is the third time the pastor leading the prayer event is imprisoned for his Christian activities. We are withholding his name to prevent authorities from using that against him.

Authorities took most of them to Police Station 4, but a group of about 27, mostly women, are held at Police Station 2 in the capital.

The latest arrest brings the number of Christians that have been taken this year to nearly 300 – in what local Christians have called the most serious campaign against the Church yet. The event took place just as the dust had settled after around 380 mostly Eritrean and Somali migrants died in two boat tragedies as they tried to make it to the Italian island of Lampedusa mid-October.

An Open Doors observer commented, “We would like to ask Christians to pray for the Christian women and men of all ages who remain in prison for their faith in underground dungeons, metal shipping containers and military detention centres. They face exposure, hard labour and insufficient food, water and hygiene. They are regularly denied medical treatment for malaria and pneumonia they had contracted while in prison or diseases like diabetes, hypertension or cancer that they may have arrived with.”

Prayer points

  1. Please pray for God’s grace for Wehazit’s family.
  2. Pray for God’s comfort for Yohannes.
  3. Please pray for God’s encouragement to His children in Eritrean who have been facing hard times for more than ten years since the church was closed in 2002. This past year has been particularly hard. One pastor have told us this has been the Church’s darkest night. 

2 Pastors killed in Mombasa, Kenya

Posted: October 24, 2013 in Articles

Two pastors have been killed in the Kenyan port of Mombasa over the weekend.

Pastor Charles Mathole of the Mombasa Kisauni Redeemed Gospel Church (age unknown), was shot dead by unknown attackers at his church on Saturday evening as he prepared his Sunday sermon.

On Sunday, unknown attackers also killed Pastor Ibrahim Kithaka of Kilifi East Africa Pentecostal Church. His body was found in a thicket. Two boys accompanying him are missing. His motorcycle was found a few meters from his body.

The crimes took place as Kenyans marked one month since the Westgate Terror attack. A few days later, radical Sheikh Ibrahim Ismail was killed by unknown persons. Rioters protesting Sheikh Ibrahim’s killing torched the Majengo Salvation Army Church. Tension has remained high after this even as church leaders called on the government to assure their security.

OD Partners in the area said the atmosphere remained tense in the area following the murder of Sheikh Ibrahim and his three companions.

“Church leaders have all received threatening text messages in the past, but they have increased since the sheikh was killed,” said a local pastor we spoke to.

“The text messages from an unknown number say, ‘Be prepared, we are coming for you.’ We reported them to the police, but no arrests have been made.”

“Two weeks ago, there was a very bad and open air debate near where the radical leaders openly incited local youth against Christians. They also abused us very badly. We reported to the OCPD (Officer Commanding Police Division) who promised to disband the meeting, but did not,” reported another leader.

“We also hear [rumours] that [extremists] have targeted five specific churches for destruction. We do not know which churches those are but we have informed the police of this too.”

Mombasa Church Forum Pastors issued a statement on Monday protesting the killing of the two pastors and called on the government to intensify security.

“The Mombasa Church Forum categorically states that no attack on Christians or their church leaders will deter us from our way of worship and our freedom of religion. To the perpetrators of these heinous attacks, we hereby state that we will not be intimidated and will continue to worship our Lord in our churches,” said Bishop Wilfred Lai, Chairman of the Mombasa Church Forum.

Asked how the local churches and their leaders are coping with the situation, one partner said, “We are sad (about the deaths) but we remain strong. God is our refuge. No one can run away from death. I can only rest in the knowledge that God will protect me and my family.”

“The sad bit is that things like these affect church attendance and congregation numbers reduce. But they are also very suspicious of any new person that comes to church, and are not as welcoming as before. It is natural because they are afraid for their lives.”

“Pray with us for God’s protection. Pray also for the pastors’ encouragement as the stress and worry are enough reason to cause missionaries to run away from the area.”

“It is interesting that despite all that is happening, I have no fear! But if there is a time we church leaders and missionaries have to be tested, it is now. It is in this time of constantly wondering if you will be killed next that our calling is really tested. May God give all Christians here more strength and grace! We need it.”

New Upcoming Module!

Posted: October 23, 2013 in Articles

Our Champions’ Programme module 101 – Self discovery is coming to an end. Participants are about to receive their certificates for this module! For those who have missed this module, no fret! An upcoming module will be held – Standing Strong Through the Storm.

This new module touches on the following 5 major sections:

1) Satan’s strategies against believers
2) Resources for victory: The Bible, Prayer and the Holy Spirit
3) Training in Righteousness: Developing a Servant Spirit
4) Understanding Persecution
5) The essence, function and form of a victorious church and family

Although participants can choose which modules to attend/not to attend, it is a requirement for those who want to become champions to complete all modules except the leadership modules which are ad hoc.

Sessions will be held starting 11th of Nov – Mondays and Thursdays(make-up for Monday), once a week, 7:30 – 10pm. For more details, please call 64560042, email us @ singapore@od.org or, click the “Be A Champion/Volunteer” tab at the top of the page.

I arrived in Nairobi a day after terrorists seized the Westgate mall. News of the attack was on every television screen. While we waited for our luggage, a fellow passenger told me that one of the clients he had come to see was taken hostage. We left the airport building not knowing what to expect during this visit to the East African nation.

“Your ministry always comes when we are in trouble,” commented the driver meeting me outside. “You were here before the elections. Someone else from your team was here right after the airport fire. And now again, with this attack, you are here!”

He was right, but we could take no credit for that. Our visits on all these occasions were planned long before the time and just “happened to” coincide with the events my driver was referring to. It was all part of God’s timing.

As we drove into an eerily quiet Nairobi, the overcast skies seemed to reflect the atmosphere of shock and grief.

I was here to present a follow-up training on trauma ministry to lay leaders.

During the first training session in February, a few weeks prior to the 2013 general elections, the participants appeared unsettled. Tension was building all around the country as fears over a repeat of the 2007 post-election violence that left well over 1,000 people dead and many lives devastated mounted. Participants wondered how to prepare for the worst.

The earlier election violence had deep tribal roots and I noticed that this had affected the participants. It was also painful to relive and remember what had happened that time around. They were at first uncomfortable to practice their counselling skills on each other.

But despite this, I felt that the training could not have come at a better time. It offered a safe environment for the participants to share their pain openly and express some of their fears. There was also a group coming from Garissa, where prominent church leader, Abdi Welli was recently gunned down.

As the group started exercising giving care instead of receiving it, I noticed that the atmosphere was changing. There was greater eagerness to share the pain they had all experienced.

Now, as the drama at the Westgate Mall unfolded and I concluded training at our office, I wondered what the atmosphere would be like during the upcoming follow-up trauma ministry training. Whenever we switched on the televisions we saw unsettling footage of the horror people were experiencing in and around the mall. A psychologist on a local TV station explained the effects of the trauma the Westgate victims experienced. I could only guess how many people would be left suffering the effects the expert described.

I left for the training venue that afternoon half-expecting the atmosphere among the caregivers to be somewhat tense once more. But I was pleasantly surprised. The participants were very relaxed right from the start. It looked like they had found healing for their own pain while they practiced the art of caring for and counselling others and in the process learning to understand their own behaviour.

One participant explained it like this. “[I have learnt that] healing takes time and much patience – even with myself. We are now better equipped to help others,” one pastor said.

Seeing what a difference our previous caregiving training had made for the participants gave me hope. I knew that as our training concluded, the participants are embarking on a journey walking in the footsteps of Christ, The Wounded Healer. I prayed that God would use them to minister to victims of all kinds of violence and trauma Kenyans have seen over the past few years, also those who have been affected by Westgate. And I prayed that God would help us as we implement this training across the continent that has seen so much!

Prayer Items:

  • Praise God for the successful completion of the training and pray that they will put the skills acquired to good use as they serve wounded believers in their regions.
  • Pray for God’s blessing upon this new and growing facet of the work in Africa and elsewhere
  • Pray for comfort for families that lost loved ones in the Westgate and other violence in Kenya. 
  • Pray for the security of the Kenyan Church and the nation as a whole in light of increased terror threats.

They are shooting at us!

Posted: October 23, 2013 in Articles

The Enemy is shooting at us!

The Enemy is shooting at us, Egyptian Christians in what seems to be an ongoing painful and exhausting spiritual warfare! The tactics of the devil varies in nature and shape, but the outcome is the same; to break the church down, steal her testimony and peace granted by the loving Father. Two incidents took place yesterday that manifests this fact.

Last night, there was a happy wedding of a young couple, who had waited for the day to come, when they can finally stand together, facing the alter of their Orthodox church of Virgin Mary to exchange vows and rings for a lifelong happy marriage. Friends, neighbors and family had showed up in their best dresses and biggest smiles. Hugs and kisses were exchanged between family members who had not seen each other for a while. The church of Virgin Mary where the wedding service took place is located north west of the capital, in one of Cairo’s problematic and overpopulated districts.

The Wedding was over and the couple was announced as husband and wife, and they walked down the aisle to the outside entrance of the church where some bouquets of flowers were set outside the church entrance for guests to greet the happy married couple before they go home.

As soon as the happy bride and groom were set between the flowers bouquets, two masked attackers drove fast by the church and opened fire on the crowd who had just come out of the church to greet the newly wedded couple. Three women together with an 8-years old girl were instantly killed and 17 other guests where severely injured and rushed to nearby hospitals; some of them are lying in critical conditions. Fortunately, the newly married couple survived the attack, and was left alone, standing among shattered flowers bouquets, pieces of broken window glass and a hysterically groaning crowd.

Egypt’s large Christian population with an average of 10 – 11 million was shocked with the news; a happy wedding was converted into a sad and devastated funeral in just a few seconds!

There was also another incident, though different in nature, yet still qualifies as a fierce attack by the enemy on the church. This time, the enemy did not use masked attackers and bullets, but words!

Yesterday, a 15-minute video of an Orthodox priest was widely circulated on various social internet networks. In this video, an Orthodox priest gave a belittling comment on an upcoming large evangelistic rally arranged by an Evangelical church, in a big church facility, 110 km north of Cairo and out in the desert.

In his comment, the Orthodox priest instructed a group of youth attending his Bible study meeting, not to attend the Evangelical event. He stated some reasons to back his argument and some of his reasons are:

  1.  The Orthodox Church is the original mother church and keeper of faith in Egypt for centuries therefore her theology is much more powerful than that of the protestant Evangelical church.
  2.  Orthodox Christians fast and pray more than Evangelical Christians do.
  3.  The Orthodox liturgy teaching offers a more profound “faith package“– as per the priests’ literal term – than that of the evangelist message offered by the Evangelical church in that upcoming rally.

There is no doubt that the recent circulated comments of the Orthodox priest against the evangelical event is promoting division among the Christians of Egypt in such a time when the church is passing through difficult times of pressure and persecution and when unity and  openness among different denominations has never been an urgent need as it is today. Though these discouraging comments are not supported by the Orthodox Pope (though a bishop was present in that meeting and has clearly affirmed the negative comments of the priest), yet the hidden spirit behind these comments reflects the undeniable fact that the enemy is shooting at the spiritual unity of the Egyptian church, so we may get distracted away from the mighty purpose and divine plan God has for Egypt and how He wants to use his church to implement that plan.

From the pains and agonies caused by merciless bullets fired at innocent Christians of last night’s wedding to the pains caused by the discouraging comments of the Coptic Orthodox priest, there is only one place where we can seek refuge and comfort! It’s at the Lord’s feet!!