Archive for December, 2013

Local believer Tien* and his family were forced to leave their house in South Vietnam on Dec. 6. The property belonged to a local company that provided housing benefits to its employees, among whom, was Tien.  

Prior to Dec. 6, a district official confronted Tien about the birthday party he organized at his house last Nov. 30. Part of the program was to baptize seven new believers.

The same official later charged Tien of conducting an “evangelistic event” for 50 people and pressured his employer to forfeit him of his housing benefit. Despite two decades of service, Tien’s employer ordered him out of the company property.

“Tien actively shares his faith to others,” said a local source. “A hundred people got to know Jesus Christ through his ministry… Please pray for him and his family. They do not know how to manage this Christmas season and Lunar New Year.”

Please pray for:

  1. God to provide a new house for Tien and his family.
  2. Tien to remain in his faith and continue sharing it with others in spite of what happened.
  3. God’s grace to strengthen Vietnamese believers during this Christmas season, as they are likely to face similar pressures from local officials who are suspicious of Christian gatherings and meetings.

*Pseudonym used and other details withheld to protect Tien and his family. 

When Mario was 8-years-old, he was trained by guerrillas for a couple of weeks. At this age, due to the guerrilla’s domination in the Meta region where he lived, he began to work in the fields harvesting and processing cocaine. The guerrillas used money to win his heart and when he was 11-years-old, he ran away from his home to join their ranks and become one of the 18,000 Colombian children in the illegal armed groups.

In the Meta region, the guerrillas have oppressed the population. Mario was born and lived there during his childhood. When he was 10-years-old, former President Andres Pastrana (1998 – 2002) separated 42,000 kilometers within territories located between Meta, Caqueta and Guaviare, for dialoguing with the FARC. This was an attempt to put an end to the armed conflict. These dialogues were broken when the ‘Teofilo Forero’ (a mobile column of FARC’) kidnapped a congress man.

During that time, the guerrillas took advantage by displacing the population who lived in this area. Because of the armed conflict, Colombia ranks number one for the most number of displaced people in the world. There are 4.9 million people displaced, according to Semana magazine.

Mario’s family was in Vistahermosa (Meta) and he knew about the FARC because his two older sisters were part of this armed group. He was thinking of doing the same thing, but God used his family’s displacement to change Mario’s life. They moved to Granada (Meta) where the pastor of the church Monte de Sion gave them refuge and taught them the Gospel.

In Granada, Mario and his younger siblings continued to be at risk of being recruited. Their mother began to pray for them, she wanted to prevent her three little children from following the example of her oldest girls. The pastor told them of a new home for persecuted children that was located nearby.

Mario and his two brothers were the first kids who came to the Open Doors’ Children’s Center, on June 6th, 2001. This was five days after the Children’s Center opened to provide refuge and education to children and adolescents from regions where there is persecution against Christians in Colombia.

Coming to the Children’s Center changed the lives of Mario and his brothers. There they met Christ and felt the love of the Father. At the Children’s Center, they were educated and learned to work and to be good men. Today, 25 years of age, Mario is married with two little children. He has held jobs using the skills he learnt at the Children’s Center. These include working as a driver, farm manager and geotechnical official at an oil company.

“During the six years that I was there, I learned to live the Christian life and the values for living the life according to what God wants. The best of my time spent there was getting to know God as a Father. There I was transformed into a better person. I was a rebel child when I came, but when I left the Children’s Center, I was noble thanks to the support of tutors, teachers and companions” he said.

During the first months there, he threatened to flee constantly. He wanted join the guerrilla and expressed hatred for his younger brother through violence, but within three months the Lord began to change his heart, through the love that he received from his  teachers. Step by step he was more receptive to corrections made by his tutors.

The transformation made by God in Mario’s life was so radical. Today he is a worker and a man who cares for his wife Lucy* and his little children who are 6-months-old and 6-years-old.

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‘Our Shepherd is good’

In August 2013, Mario and 48 other kids participated in the first former students meeting. Its slogan was ‘Our Shepherd is good’ and its goals were to strength the relationship between the students and the Lord, to learn about their current lives, especially for those who have strayed away from God’s ways, and also to measure the Children’s Center’s impact in their lives.

During these three days, 49 former students participated in inspiring conferences based on Psalms 23 and developed trainings with OD volunteers who motivated them to renew their relationship with the Father.

Forty-nine percent are still living as Christians; among them, twelve percent are congregating at the local church and the other thirty-nine percent aren’t. Among the forty-nine percent who came to this meeting, there were 16 who left the Children’s Center after 2010. This means seventy percent of the kids who came to the meeting are still Christians.

At the end of this meeting, the Children’s Center’s leadership’ found that the former students had difficulties adapting to life outside the Children’s Center, and many of them didn’t continue their spiritual life. This is largely because they chose to establish friendships with young people who are not believers, and so they stop following the way of the Lord. It was also established that their families don’t assume the roles they should and many choose to live separate from them.

However, some of them continue with their ministries, which began developing when they were at the Children’s Center. For example, one former student is a preacher in his church. Another teaches Sunday school and supports his pastor by leading a family group. Others help in their local church by leading worship ministries.

Other students like Manuel Hernandez were also there. He came to the Children’s Center after being a guerrilla child, and there he surrendered to Jesus and became a leader who learned to play the guitar and taught other kids to play. Together, they began the ‘OD Children’s Center worship ministry’. Before he came to this meeting, he was not walking with God, but he was confronted by the Word of God during a devotion time and announced that he was ready to resume his relationship with God. 

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A project in God’s hands

Since its foundation in June 1st, 2000, 170 children –from 31 districts of Colombia- have lived there.

This project began with 4 children, and by the end of that first year, there were 17. Twelve years ago (2001), the home was moved to its current location, and in 2010, seven children graduated as the first graduates. A year later, there were four and last year, there were five. This year, 2013, fifteen children will be graduating as the first batch of graduates with specializations in systems technical training.

Now the Children’s Center provides refuge, protection, education and food to 49 internal kids, as well as education to 21 external kids, who are there to accomplish Ministry of Education requirements. This is because the government requires a certain number of children who have achieved a certain level of grading, in order to issue a license of operations. Four of the children who have graduated in the recent years are part of the continued education program, and they will receive a scholarship for college. At the same time, they are working as assistants of tutors. One of them is a member of the center’s staff team now.

*Names changed for security reasons.

Prayer Points

Pray for:

  • Kids who were once housed in the Children’s Center – for their lives, families and ministries that the Lord will continue to strengthen and guide their lives everyday.
  • Teachers, tutors and staff; that the Lord will grant them wisdom and renew their strength, so that they can continue helping these kids.
  • Those kids who are separated from the Lord; that the Lord will stir their hearts and spur them to return to live under the shadow of God’s wings.

Daily Life in Damascus

Posted: December 19, 2013 in Articles

Daily life in Damascus

Hanna is a Christian women living in Damascus with her husband. She and her husband have two young daughters. Hanna works in a school. Hanna tells us what daily life is like in Damascus.

It’s snowing in Damascus now. It’s rare that it snows. We don’t have much to warm ourselves: there is a lack of oil and gas and there are electricity fall outs that last for hours and hours. Yesterday I was at home with my daughter and we just wore all the clothes we could find. But we don’t complain, because we think of all our fellow Syrians that are living in the streets now. It breaks my heart if I think of the children that fled with only their summer clothes on them. We would love to go there and help them, but traveling to the area they live in is far too dangerous.

No, Christmas will not be a time of celebration for us this year. How can we celebrate when people around us are suffering? We will have some special prayers in church, but we don’t have any decorations. Having Christmas decorations outside the church would provoke the terrorists to attack us. They have already sent the Christians a message: they have special ‘Christmas gifts’ prepared for us: three bomb cars. We don’t know what to expect. It has been quiet the last week: we rarely hear the sounds of bombs anymore. It is what we have been praying and fasting for, but I feel strange, I don’t know why. It’s like this is the silence before the storm and they are waiting to attack us, suddenly.

Last week, I went to the market to get some hats, socks and candy for the kids in our church. Normally we would buy them some games, but toys are way too expensive now. At least they will have something to keep them warm, that’s more important than toys in this situation. I want to give those gifts to the children and hope that they will know that Jesus still loves them, no matter what’s going on around us. Please keep praying for us.

The Revolutionary Court of Tehran with the full awareness that Rev. Vruir Avanessian, one of the official ordained pastors of Assemblies of God Churches in Iran, is suffering from serious illnesses, sentenced him to 3 ½ years in prison.

According to reports obtained by Mohabat News, the Revolutionary Court of the Republic of Iran, in its ongoing oppressive and intimidating anti-Christian campaign, targeting Christian leaders and pastors of Iranian Churches, sentenced Rev. Vruir Avanessian, an ordained Iranian minister of Armenian heritage, to 3 ½ years in prison.

Based on official court documents obtained by Mohabat News on December 5, 2013, including a signed order by the court judge, the court imposed a 3 ½ year sentence which was delivered to Rev. Avanessian. In these documents, Rev. Avanessian was charged and found guilty of anti-government activities and promotion of ideas contrary to the sanctity of the Republic of Iran. He was also given 20 days to file a complaint in the court against the verdict and the imposed sentence.

The initial court hearing regarding the allegations against Rev. Vruir Avanessian was held on September 7, 2013 at the 26th judicial division of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran. This hearing was held behind closed doors and was closed to the public. It was decided at this hearing that until the announcement of the verdict of the court, Rev. Avanessian was to remain at home and avoid all contacts with other Christians.

The critical medical condition of Rev. Avanessian

It must be mentioned that Vruir Avanessian, a talented Christian singer and former secular artist who had been an ordained pastor of the Armenain and Farsi-speaking congregations of the Assemblies of God churches in Iran for more than 17 years, is currently suffering from serious heart disease and diabetes. He undergoes kidney dialysis three times week at Heshemi-Nejad hospital, a private clinic in Tehran, and has been retired from active ministry due his medical condition.

The court was fully aware of Rev. Avanessian’s medical condition and issued a harsh sentence despite such prior knowledge of his health. It’s noteworthy that on the very day that Rev. Avanessian was to be present at the court hearing, he was at the dialysis clinic and was unable to attend the proceedings.

The reaction of the court judge to the medical condition of Rev. Avanessian

The medical condition of Rev. Avanessian had deteriorated to the extent that at the end of the first court hearing when the court judge ordered Rev. Avanessian to return to the 26th judicial court on the following Sunday, he told the judge that due to a prior appointment at the hospital for dialysis he would be unable to attend the hearings. The court ordered him to produce documents and medical proof that would verify his claims of medical difficulties otherwise the court would render its verdict based on allegations presented to the court.

At a time when all Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Christ and the festivities of Christmas and the new year, such a sentence is imposed on a 61 year old man with serious medical condition. The court is fully aware of the fact that Rev. Avanessian will not be able to withstand the harsh conditions of imprisonment.

Rev. Avanessian and a group of Iranian Christians had gathered at a private residence to celebrate Christmas and the birth of Jesus Christ and were arrested on December 27, 2012 through an orchestrated and coordinated effort of various government security forces.

According to several government sources, this campaign of terrorizing and arresting Armenian-Iranian Christian leaders and pastors who are actively involved in the evangelization of Farsi-speaking Iranians had been planned for quite some time. In recent months, several of these Armenian leaders and pastors who have been ministering to Farsi-speaking Christians have been summoned or arrested by the security forces of the Ministry of Information and have been warned and ordered to completely stop all their ministry activities or leave the country within 90 days. The closure of the Central branch of the Assemblies of God Church in Tehran, the largest Farsi-speaking church in Iran, was perhaps the beginning of this renewed campaign.

The Promise of President Rohani remains unfulfilled

One of the most important presidential campaign promises of Hasan Rohani, the current President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, was the improvement of the conditions of the ethnic and religious minorities of Iran. This promise has so far remained unfulfilled and in the first 100 days of his presidency, no significant improvements have been observed in this matter.

President Rohani, who advocates respect and observance of the rights of all citizens in Iran, has never acknowledged nor accepted the existence of the Farsi-speaking Christian minority who now make up the largest Christian population inside Iran. These new Christian converts are facing extreme personal repression and social restrictions.

According to published reports, the arrest and detainment of new Christian converts in various cities in Iran continues. Some have been tried and sentenced to very harsh and long term prison sentences or exiled to remote places inside the country. The largest Farsi-speaking church in Iran, due to unbearable pressures from the security forces of the Ministry of Information, was shut down and no opportunity for the re-opening of the church has been given to the church officials. Some of the leaders and pastors have also been ordered to leave the country and immigrate to other countries. The printing and the possession of any Bible continues to remain a crime punishable by prison and other harsh treatments by the government.

 

“My family are all of another faith,” shares Nia*, an Indonesian convert. “I could not tell them about my conversion.”

But even before she decides to follow Jesus, Nia is already alienated from the rest of her community because of her disability.

“I come to Sumatra hoping to get a job, but it is a hard because I am lame,” says Nia, who is originally from the Java province. “Not many are willing to employ me. It is doubly difficult, because people mock me for my condition.”

In 2012, she finds a job with a Christian for an employer, who then offers her marriage later on. Nia latches on, surprised at her ‘luck.’ She marries him at a church, mothers a son with him, and gets baptized into her husband’s ‘faith.’

Then, he leaves her for another woman.

“I was betrayed,” Nia discloses. “I realized that it had been his way of ‘Christianizing’ women… What saddens me most though is not being able to see and hold my three-month-old son.”

And so Nia returns to her home town. She tells not a single word about what has happened to her in Sumatra. She desires to return to her old religion, but the words from the Bible keeps popping up in her mind when she prays every night.

Afraid that her family will discover about her knowledge of Christianity, Nia moves permanently to Sumatra. She meets a local Christian worker who finds her a job and lets her stay with the family. Though still bitter over her husband’s deception, Nia decides to turn over a new chapter in her life with the Christian family.

“I understand Jesus and His teaching more because of them,” says Nia. “It has taken almost one year before I can really forgive my husband, and realize that his attitude and behavior do not represent Jesus’ teachings.”

Inspired by the local Christian worker, Nia begins to reach out to other non-Christians in her neighborhood. She works on her own for the most part. She barely knows anybody else who shares her faith, except her friend and spiritual mentor, but the family will soon move to another place.Image

The prospect of being alone worries Nia, and so her spiritual mentor urges her to attend the prayer gathering that Open Doors is sponsoring on October 2013 in South Sumatra. Nia has second thoughts about attending, but she changes her mind later on.

“I’ve never seen so many Christian workers in one place,” shares Nia, who is among the 36 participants of the prayer gathering. “I believe that Jesus has called me to bring more people to him. But I can’t do it alone. Besides, I still have much to learn.”

There are many others in Indonesia, like Nia, who are cut off from the fellowship of other believers. While they are passionate for the ministry, their prolonged isolation from the rest of the Body of Christ can bring them discouragement and despair. Some end up leaving the ministry.

Since 2010, Open Doors has been strengthening Christian ministers, like Nia, through prayer gatherings. In partnership with a local missions group, a safe place is provided for Christian ministers to share their experiences in outreach, to pray and be prayed for, and to receive biblical training.

And to make new friends and ministry partners.

“I have found a friend here,” says Nia, who meets a fellow worker at the prayer gathering, with whom she will regularly pray and meet. “Now, I have others to help and pray for me in reaching out to more people for Jesus. Thank you for holding this prayer gathering for us.”Image

*Pseudonym used to protect the believer.

 

Please pray for:

  1. God to give Nia a chance to see and be restored to her son.
  2. Christian workers in Sumatra to have more opportunities to be connected to one another, so that they are encouraged to carry on in the ministry.
  3. Nia’s family to meet and know Jesus Christ.

Open Doors recently trained a few small groups of secret believers in China. These very basic Biblical training sessions explained Jesus’ salvation work at the cross, how to walk in the spirit and how to be prepared for persecution. “All participants went home with renewed strength to be a Christian in their context”, says John, one of the Open Doors’ teachers*.

John was struck by the fact that he could only meet small groups of believers at a time. “The way these Christians, who belong to communities of another religion, live their faith very much reminded me of the situation in the rest of China twenty or thirty years ago. Just as in those times, the Christians in northwest China need to meet in small numbers. They go to apartments under the cover of darkness and arrive at different times in ones or twos. They worship almost in complete silence. And just as the Han Chinese did 25 years ago, these Christians are starving for Biblical teaching.”

That is because none of the local Christians leaders have received any formal Biblical education. So the opportunity for a handful of believers to meet up with John and other teachers was a God-given blessing to them. “The Christians had planned our three day seminar months in advance and they made sure that as many Christians as possible could attend. We still weren’t able to meet with groups larger than ten persons though.”

One group received Open Doors’ ‘Standing Strong Through the Storm’ training, which focusses on very basic principles of the Bible and especially Jesus’ salvation work. “This was a very successful training”, concludes John. “Some participants even brought unbelieving, but somewhat open family members to our training venue, so they would hear the gospel from someone else than the family member. One unbelieving lady converted and was baptized by us in a very small basin in the apartment where we were having our meetings. The classes were like providing drinks to people who have been in the desert without water for days. Response to the teaching content was very positive and all the Christians said they had a new burden to be a powerful witness amongst their friends and family.”

Many of the attendees were women. Because of their lowly status, they do not feel confident to tell their husbands and other family members that they have become Christians. John: “In their culture, the husband regularly beats the wife to exercise control over her but also to show the rest of the community that he is a good, religious man(of another faith). It is sad and understandable at the same time that many Christian women choose not to tell their husbands about their new faith. One of the ladies invited us to her home so that we could challenge her husband that Jesus is more than a prophet. We went with her and the opportunity arose to have a good conversation about this subject. We told him how Jesus had sacrificed himself. Who knows what God will do in the future? This meeting may be very important for this man. Let’s pray that it will be.”

When one of the participants left the building to return home, he said to John and the other staff members: “I have never felt God so close before.”

Please pray:

  • that God will finish His work among these secret believers in China;
  • that He will touch the hearts of the unbelieving family members;
  • that the underground Church in Northwest China will grow strong and courageous;
  • for the secret believers who attended these seminars;
  • for Open Doors’ workers who do ministry among these Christians.

* To protect John’s identity we have changed his name

 

Most Chinese Christians enjoy growing religious freedom in their country. However, there is still a small band of believers who are forced to exercise their faith in secret. Meet Ruby*. She belongs to one of the many ethnic minorities in China. Though her family, who are believers of another faith, know that she is a Christian, she needs to hide her faith from others.

Ruby has been a secret believer for over ten years. She came to faith after foreign missionaries shared the Gospel with her on several occasions and read some books. Her ethnic group are moderate believers of another faith, but Ruby still needs to be very careful. “The other faith has a large influence on our culture and traditions. Women have a low status. We are taught to be obedient and we never dare do anything beyond the boundaries of our culture and traditions. Usually, the people in my community respond mildly when someone converts to Christianity, but my father strongly objected to my conversion. My mother did not put much pressure on me. My immediate family knows I am a Christian. However, I could never let any of our other relatives know or my parents and myself would be in trouble. Back then, I still lived in the village. If my faith became known, everyone would know within hours. There would be so much gossip. I can’t think of what my life would look like if everyone knew.”

Ruby’s fears are justified. Many secret believers in China feel as if they do not belong anywhere. They are shunned by the community and their family. Family members are afraid that local religious leaders will not help them with weddings and funerals anymore. Some Christians are literally thrown out of their community.

Fortunately for Ruby, she has one close aide – her husband. “I shared the Gospel with him. He is such a good guy and loves me very much. At first, it was hard for us. He didn’t want to follow Christ, but after a long time, he converted too! He received stronger opposition from his family than I did. One day, my brother-in-law came to our place and found a bible on the bookshelves.  He scolded us and seriously warned us not to connect with these ‘dirty things’. We persevered despite this resistance from his family.”

Ruby and her husband live in a city and both have jobs related to the government. “I cannot let any of my colleagues know that I am a Christian and neither can my husband. We would lose our jobs.”

Even though Ruby and her husband have each other for encouragement and support, they still feel lonely at times. “The good thing is that we are able to connect with some brothers and sisters.  We have two couples and several sisters meeting secretly in our small group.  Apart from that, we have almost no connection with other Christians in this city.  I know other Christians in north-western China, but we seldom meet. The local authorities monitor religious activities in this city very tightly.  We have to be very cautious when we meet.  At the very least, we should not make any noise. We would be in trouble if a neighbour reports our meeting to the police.”

Most Christians in Ruby’s ethnic group are women. “It is good that we have my husband and another brother in our small group.  They can share with each other. Otherwise my husband would feel even lonelier. After being a secret believer for over ten years, I feel I am still spiritually weak. I face a lot of personal struggles every day.  I have to grow spiritually and emotionally.  Then I can live a life worthy of Christ.”

Despite the challenges, Ruby is full of hope in Christ. She is also encouraged by prayers from around the world. “Please pray for me that I can maintain a good relationship with my family.  Please also pray for secret believers like us that we can endure loneliness and grow strong in Christ.”

* To protect her identity we have changed Ruby’s name.