Archive for February, 2014

Do not avenge yourselves…

Posted: February 25, 2014 in Articles

Open Doors Research and Communications Manager for West and Central Africa is in Central African Republic (CAR) at the moment to encourage Christians and to assess their circumstances and immediate needs. He will be sharing his impressions from inside the country. This is his second report:

On Sunday I was invited to preach at the Evangelical Church of the Cooperation in Mbanza-Hoto neighbourhood. We went there by taxi. Four adults on the backseat made an interesting sight. When we got to a bridge that had been destroyed in the crisis, we continued the journey on foot.

When we arrived at the church we were welcomed by the lay-pastor who is also a medical doctor. He treats women who have been raped and told us of the daunting number of women who have suffered in this way.

The atmosphere at the church was lively. Initially there were mostly young people, but the adults joined later to listen to my sermon from Rom. 12: 19. “Do not avenge yourselves my beloved … for vengeance is upon the Lord”.

I combined this scripture with the story in Genesis 34 about the rape of Dina, Jacob’s only daughter by the son of the Shechemite king. Simeon and Levi avenged their sister with the help of the other brothers by killing all Schememite males and looting everything, including women and children.

There is so much resemblance between this story and the relentless rape, murder and looting in CAR and the spirit of hatred and revenge with which Seleka and anti-Balaka act. Although Christians are allowed to defend themselves, our self-protection may not transcend into acts of revenge. The destructive consequences of revenge can be clearly seen in present day realities in CAR.

Moreover, there is no blessing from God upon revenge. We can see this in the curse Jacob pronounces on his deathbed over Simeon and Levi (Gen. 49, 5-7). The two brothers had no future and God’s blessing passed on to Judah, the next brother in line.

Romans 12: 20 tells us to do the opposite of revenge. It tells us to love our enemies.

There are examples of this also in CAR. In the town of Bouali, a priest sheltered Muslims in his church to protect them with his own life against anti-Balaka reprisals.  In Sibut, Christians assisted Muslims who had an accident near the village as they travelled to bury their dead. The compassion of the Christians and the gratitude of the Muslims had such an impact that the villagers embraced each other with tears running down their cheeks as they later said farewell to each other.

Many of the Christians in C.A.R struggle with hatred and a desire to take revenge for their losses during the crisis. It was no different in Europe just after WWII when Nazi Germans and their collaborators were expelled or killed and their women raped. Our prayer is that as they struggle with these desires for revenge, Christians will continue to turn to God and forsake vengeance.

Open Doors is standing beside the Church in CAR to assist them in the immense task of reconciling the people of CAR. We are convinced it all starts here, with the very hard but extremely spiritual response of loving the enemy and entrusting vengeance to God. We pray for God’s grace for His children in this and pray particularly for church leaders as they help their members understand and live out these truths.

 

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Into the CAR abyss

Posted: February 25, 2014 in Articles

Open Doors Research and Communications Manager for West and Central Africa is in Central African Republic at the moment to encourage Christians and to assess their circumstances and immediate needs. He will be sharing his impressions from inside the country. This is his first report:

During my afternoon flight to Bangui, capital of Central African Republic (CAR), I could not help but wonder what was in store for my colleagues and me in the days ahead. Since the beginning of the year, the situation in the country has changed drastically.

There was yet another power change as the Seleka rebel leader turned Transitional President, Michel Djotodia, stepped down and handed over to the National Transitional Council elected Catharine Samba-Panza. While Seleka lost power the anti-Balaka self-defense groups have grown very strong. International French (Sangaris) and African Union (Misca) forces are still too few to secure peace for the people of this war-ravished country.

In the rampant insecurity since the coup in March last year, half of the population has been uprooted. They have either left the country or are hiding in the bush. In Bangui alone, the local population has been forced into 57 different refugee sites. As the plane descends into Bangui and I feel like I am descending into the abyss, I can see the camp near the airport that hosts 100,000 displaced. It looks small and surreal from up here, but I know that for the people enduring the harsh circumstances there, their sufferings are all very real.

Our mission is to travel outside of the capital into the interior to meet Christians and their pastors to encourage them, hear their stories about past and current persecution and assess their immediate needs. Travelling outside the capital will be risky business. Although Sangaris and Misca forces are present in all major towns in the West, some Seleka militias are roaming remote areas and anti-Balaka militias are everywhere. We have heard that humanitarian workers successfully travelled into the interior without military escort, but we know that we will need a lot of wisdom in the next few days.

I have prayed about this and twice felt the Lord assuring me that things will work out alright. There may be difficulties ahead, but I felt assured that we would get through. My colleagues felt the same. We decided in faith to travel to the interior with only God and our common sense.

The next morning we woke to a hustling and bustling Bangui. Refugees at the large refugee camp near the airport site daily spill out of the camp and into the city, contributing to the early morning busyness. There are also heavily armed Sangaris soldiers protecting the road to the airport and Misca soldiers patrolling the streets.

Our first appointment is to meet Rev Nicolas Grekoyame, President of the Evangelical Alliance. The last time I had seen Rev Grekoyame was during his visit to Europe to advocate for the launch of a full-scale UN Peacekeeping Operation to CAR. Upon his arrival in the Netherlands he heard the sad news that his 35 year old single daughter had just died of the psychological effects of the crisis in his country. He made plans to return as soon as possible, but not before honoring a few commitments – one of them preaching in a Dutch congregation.

During the service, the local pastor who is a good vocalist sang a song to encourage congregants who had lost family members in the preceding year. The song spoke of roses that do not wither in heaven and about our deceased loved-ones in the Lord that we will meet again. It deeply touched Rev. Nicolas.

When we arrived at his house the whole family was present. With me I had a gift of 24 tulip bulbs to remind him that “roses do not whither in heaven.” It is our prayer that when the tulips bloom in full color it will serve as a reminder of his daughter in heaven whom he and his family will see again.

After spending precious moments with the family it is time to leave and continue work on our travel plan.

During the very first meeting of the day our resolved plan to travel alone to the interior is quickly overthrown when a respected church leader advises us not to do it. We end up giving in to his advice. But that night I have no peace. I am puzzled by this, because the advice seemed good and the advisor genuine. My colleagues share my “turmoiled” mix of faith-fuelled resolve and the desire to remain teachable.  We decide to postpone our final decision until the end of the day’s program.

By the end of the day our turmoil is settled with a final decision. We will travel to Mbaiki and Boda, South-West of Bangui and try and visit the Christians in Boda town where Muslim diamond entrepreneurs fiercely hold on to their homes in the center of town to not lose their profitable businesses. Heeding the advice of our counselors, we agree that Misca soldiers take us and we pray for fruitful time of encouragement with the believers there.

Laos: Persecution Bytes

Posted: February 25, 2014 in Articles

Incident #1:

TITLE: Go Back or Go Away

In an undisclosed village in Vientiane Province, Northeast Laos, local officials pressured 27 Christian families last month to stop worshiping Jesus Christ. The believers were coerced to sign a paper that says they are agreeing with the officials’ demands. “One or two families have signed,” according to a ground source, “because their relatives threaten to cut ties if they do not do so.” At the moment, believers are meeting together in smaller groups.

Incident #2:

TITLE: Under House Arrest

Twenty-three (23) Christian families stand to lose their houses and farmlands in Vientiane Province, Northeast Laos. Police and village officials threaten to evict the believers if they choose to continue in the faith. Meanwhile, the families are placed under house arrest. Right now, they worship in families, in their respective homes.

Incident #3:

TITLE: Remember Laos Church

The Lao Front for National Construction (LFNC) oversees the religious affairs of Laos. All churches and religious organizations are required to register with LFNC. This government body is said to be undergoing transition, which can spell either disaster or benefit for Christians in Laos. Please pray.

Pressures, imprisonment, and threats of expulsion were suffered by Christians in three provinces in Northern Laos in the past three months.

On December 2013, police officers in an undisclosed village in Luang Prabang Province summoned pastor Toang*, after they received reports that he was holding a ‘political’ meeting. But the pastor was, in fact, conducting a discipleship class for his congregants.

His residential documents were revoked as a result, so Toang must return to his former village. “He is under investigation,” said a local source, unnamed for security reasons. “We are waiting for what’s going to happen next.”

Placed under investigation were two other churches in another village in Luang Prabang. “When the villagers started believing in Jesus Christ,” the same source said, “the officials began to pressure them to return to their old (animistic) practices.”

The local authorities gave the believers on January 2014 an ultimatum of recanting their faith, or they would be kicked out of the village. At least six Christian families, or about 30 believers, could lose their homes if the village officials had made good on their word.

In Bokeo, another province in Northern Laos, local believer, Bane*, was placed recently under house arrest after relatives reported his religious conversion to officials. The believer had been invited to people’s houses to pray for the sick. Many of them were healed and about six families believed in Jesus Christ as a result.

In prison, the guards forced Bane to pay for his food as a way of pressuring him to recant his faith. He refused.

“It’s a rule in Laotian prisons for inmates to pay for their food during their term,” Open Doors’ source said. “But Bane insisted that he had done nothing wrong, so he would not pay for his food. The police also warned him about going to houses and praying for the sick people. They told him to do it in the streets if he insisted on continuing.”

Bane was steadfast. He defended his ‘Christian’ act by saying that it was no different from what the village shamans were doing. Unable to break his will, the police released Bane after 10 days of incarceration.

In Houaphan, east of Bane’s province, some four or five Christian families (or 20-25 believers) were under pressure to leave the village. A district official told the believers to return to their old religious practice if they wanted to stay.

“Their pastor is now looking for a place where they can stay,” said the local contact.

Two years ago, police officers in the area confiscated the believers’ identity cards and have not returned them since.

A ministry that serves the persecuted Church worldwide, Open Doors strengthens the believers in Laos through prayer, discipleship programs, and practical aid. Laos is 21st in Open Doors’ World Watch List, an annual ranking of countries where the practice of Christianity is most difficult.

*Names have been changed and some details withheld for the security of the believers mentioned in this article.  

 

Pray For:

  1. Strength for the believers in the provinces mentioned.
  2. Provision for the believers who are expelled from their houses and farms because of the faith.
  3. Wisdom for the pastors as they continue to minister to these suffering believers.

 

Make a BIG noise by keeping QUIET!

Posted: February 25, 2014 in Articles

BlackOut 2014 is drawing near and we would like to implore individuals as well as communities/churches to join us to fast and pray for 48 hours! Fast from anything that you enjoy doing and spend that time praying for the persecuted Christians instead! A guidebook is available with a sample schedule and video links to watch videos pertaining to persecution for a deeper understanding and like Paul admonishes us – “To pray for the imprisoned as though we are imprisoned with them.” 

Visit us @ ODS YOUTH!

At around 4:30 a.m. on Feb. 19, a group of seven to eight extremists raided a worship house in Bumkarchor, Lalmonirhat District, North Bangladesh. They tore the Bibles and hymnals inside, and also broke down the church’s signboard and the bicycle that belonged to the pastor.

The incident left 23 families, all secret believers, without a place of worship. Their pastor, Badsha (36), had been kidnapped, beaten, and tortured with electric shocks in October 2, 2012. Open Doors helped pay for his hospitalization.

The pastor believed that the same men were responsible for this recent attack on his church.

“The attackers wanted pastor Badsha to stop his Christian work,” said a local contact, who spoke with pastor Badsha after the attack. “The believers are anxious. We ask for your urgent prayers.”