Archive for March, 2014

Yesterday, March 23, at approximately 10:00 am, a hooded gunman stormed into the Joy in Jesus Church Sunday service and indiscriminately fired at worshippers. Screams of pain and terror filled the air. In terror, some fell to the ground. Some tried to flee only to meet with gunfire from two other attackers stationed outside the church. Chaos reigned as children, men and women fell and were trampled upon, while others were shot and immobilized. Two died on the spot. The attackers then calmly walked away, disappearing into the surrounding slums. Police later found a box containing 36 rounds of ammunition that was left behind.

“They forced their way through the rear door, shot the watchman who staggered into the church before falling down. One attacker shouted ‘Allah akbar!’ and started shooting in every direction,” one survivor told media.

At the same time, two other attacks were attempted at nearby churches but were repulsed by armed police men who were on guard duty.

This morning, March24, the death toll has risen to six while 18, including 12 women and 4 children are receiving treatment in hospital. Of those admitted, 2 are in ICU. Many have gunshot wounds while others are nursing soft tissue injuries caused in the panicked attempts to escape. Those injured include 12 month old Santrine who has a bullet lodged in his head that doctors were yet to remove by last night.

“We are saddened but not surprised as we have been hearing the preachers of another religion promise over their loudspeakers that they will revenge the Masjid Musa incident where security agents stormed their religious compound and arrested over 200 people,”  reported an OD contact who remains anonymous for security reasons.

“Actually, they had targeted three churches but fortunately were unsuccessful after being repulsed at the other two. We are resolute and will not be cowered. This is the message we are sending to those that are against the Gospel being preached in this area. We will not leave the area because we know that satan only arises against the Church like this when it is making an impact. This is confirmation that we are doing something right for the Kingdom of Christ! This is the reassurance we are trying to pass on to our congregants also.”

“Please pray with us as we now move to make funeral plans and other plans. Our brethren need God’s comfort, healing and strength.”

OD is on the ground supporting spiritual and emotional and relief efforts to the affected.

New website established!

Posted: March 21, 2014 in Articles

http://www.odsyouth.com has been established! It will no longer be known as odsyouth.squarespace.com although it will still work if you type that in=) 

New projects and events will be updated on this website regularly! Do visit us and contact us if you ever require more information! Let us join our hands and hearts together to aid the persecuted Church! 

Sisters-in-faith

Posted: March 21, 2014 in Articles

Stories of three Central Asian women who gave their lives to Christ and are now paying the price for their faith.

Travelling through one  Central Asian country a few months ago, an Open Doors (OD)  team visited the capital of this state, and while  there, met three different women, all sisters in Christ. Each woman is walking along a path full of danger and instability. There is no evangelical church in their city. The OD ministry is looking for opportunities to improve their situation and help plant a local Christian fellowship. In separate interviews, all three shared about the challenges and obstacles they are facing today.

 

Alina*, 39

Alina works as a head teacher in one of the local middle schools. She became a believer about seven years ago and is the mother of four children, three of them are in school.

Currently, teachers in their school are harassing them for their faith by not allowing them to mention that they are Christians and by forcing them to pray the religious prayers of another faith. Recently, the government of the country signed a law which allows the teaching and studying of major religions of the world. The students and their parents have the right to choose which religion they prefer to study, or they may choose not to participate. However, there is no teacher of Christianity in the school.

The religious studies teacher has been pressuring Alina’s children to accept their faith, knowing that they are Christians. He also forces them to pray their religious prayers.

I am afraid for my children. I don’t know what to expect,” Alina shared,  her eyes full of tears. “Every day I’m sending them to school and I’m not concerned with the grades they will get. My only prayer is that they won’t be mocked and abused for their faith.” Alina’s husband left her and their four children six years ago, after finding out that his wife had become  a Christian.

Rita*, 37

Rita became a believer five years ago, and since that moment, she said,  she cannot imagine her life without Christ. As a result of her walk with the Lord, she cannot be silent about God and is always telling people about Christ and His salvation. Someone even told her, “Rita, be careful in the way you share with people in our country about Jesus. Do not forget that you live in a country where many people do not like to hear what you share!” Rita would often reply, “My life is in His hands. Every aspect of my life is in His hands, including my safety!”

Recently, a policeman came to visit Rita’s house. He works at the district police station. He told Rita, “If you won’t stop telling people about Christ, I’ll do everything I can so you won’t be able to live here peacefully!”

I understand it is a spiritual war,” Rita shared with the OD visitors.  “I have a feeling that the evil one will try to attack me from every possible side!

After a conflict about Rita’s faith, her husband took all of her Christian literature and Bibles and tried to force her to burn the books. When she refused, he burned all of the books in the yard of their house.  Almost every relative of her big family rejected Rita, considering her as a shame to their family. Rita is the mother of two young children.

 

Galiya*, 34

From her childhood, Galiya suffered from epilepsy. She fell regularly during epileptic seizures.  She often thought, “My disease is my destiny.”

Approximately two years ago, she heard about Jesus from one of her friends. This friend gave Galiya a Bible in the Russian language as a gift. Shortly after that, Galiya prayed to receive Christ as her own Saviour and Lord.  Soon, she began to notice that she no longer fell and was not having seizures.

When her husband and relatives found out that she read the Bible and prayed in the name of Jesus, they took her to a religious University, where a teacher of their sacred text called her an infidel, insulted her, and told her to refuse Christ and Christianity. She was beaten by her husband a couple of times as he shouted, “I’m doing this to make a faithful, religious woman out of you!”

After such resistance and anger toward her faith, Galiya started questioning her choice. With a heart full of fear and doubts she said to herself, “Maybe I’m not on the right path!” So she stopped reading the Bible and praying in the name of Jesus.  Just recently she began having epileptic seizures again and fell on the ground. As a result, she broke her collarbone.

God wants me to repent and He wants me to come back on His way with Jesus,” Galiya said at the end of her story.  Even though she doesn’t understand many of the Christian doctrines, knows nothing about the history of ancient Israel, and can hardly answer a question about the Bible, she knows that the Son of God, Jesus Christ, came to the earth 2,000 years ago to die for her sins so she could receive an incomparably wonderful life with Jesus.

It is amazing to see the similarities in family situations in their stories. Though it is hard to understand why God expands His family in this way, we know one thing’s for sure: every situation is in His hands. The Bible says in the Book of Acts, that when Paul and Silas were in the prison, they told the jailer Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” May God bless the country of Alina, Rita, and Galiya, and may spiritual revival begin through them and their families.

——————————————————————————————————-

Please join in praying for:

  1.  Alina and her children:  may God protect them from harassment in school because of their faith.
  2. Rita and her desire to share Christ with everyone in her life, and God’s protection for Rita from the local policemen.
  3. Galiya to have confidence and courage from the Lord
  4. The husbands of these women:  may God touch their hearts with His love and mercy so they might respond by also accepting Jesus into their lives.

*    Names have been changed for security reasons.

 

 Open Doors records five counts of persecution against Christians between the months of November and December 2013. They all take place in the northern provinces of Vietnam, No. 21 last year in the World Watch List (WWL), an annual ranking of countries where Christianity is most difficult to practice.

This year, Vietnam climbs up to the 18th spot.

Tribal Believer Beaten

Tau* came all the way from her remote, mountainous village to Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, seeking help.

“Local authorities wanted her to renounce her faith in Jesus Christ,” said a local source, unnamed due to security risks.

Tau used to practice ancestral worship. When she and her husband became a follower of Christ, they got rid of their ancestral shrines and joined a church to grow in their newfound faith.

But the village officials learned about their change of belief in December 2013. Tau’s husband then received a letter, summoning him to a meeting at the office of the People’s Committee, an executive body at the provincial level. Tau’s husband fled.

“He fled because he was threatened with torture,” the same source said. “When the officials found out (about his escape), they called for Tau instead. They demanded for the (ancestral) altars to be restored and for Tau to return to her old religion.”

“Tau defended her faith and her right to believe,” the source continued, “and for it, she was hit many times on her face and stomach.” 

Tau sought refuge at the home of a Christian friend in Hanoi. “She has not returned to her hometown since the beating,” said the local source. “She is staying at her parents’ home now.”

Church Gatherings Stopped, Believers Hit

Open Doors also heard of house churches going through difficult times at the hands of the local police in North Vietnam between November and December 2013. 

“A local church organized (last year) a Christmas celebration,” said a local Christian worker. “But the policemen surrounded the house to prevent people from coming in. They also arrested the pastor, beat him and held him in jail for a day.”

Girdling believers’ houses seems to be a common means that the local police use to prevent Christians from gathering together. “The police would stand outside the houses of Christians on Sunday mornings, according to a church leader in Vietnam, “to make sure that they do not go to church.” 

The same church leader also describes other forms of localized persecution against Christians. In one incident, three Christian women met a road accident, purportedly orchestrated by the local police to scare a community of believers. 

“They also speak ill about Christians to other Christians,” the church leader added. “Those working in offices are given a hard time by their bosses, who, in turn, are pressured by the authorities…  So, most of the believers start their own businesses (instead of working for others).”

Two other house churches in North Vietnam are raided during the same period. Their members are dispersed, the Bibles confiscated, and a pastor beaten using bricks. At least 20 believers are struggling to gather every Sunday for worship. 

*Names are changed and other details withheld for security.

“When I was preparing my sermon for our service, the guerrillas came into the church and started to yell at me. One of them told me that I must leave the region or I would be killed. I knelt and took my Bible in my arms, and I started to pray while he continued insulting me. Suddenly he began to destroy the chairs with a machete. When he got close to me, I kept in silence on my knees, praying. He tried to hit me, but thanks to the mercy of God, his attempt failed.”

With these words Pastor Roberto Perez told Open Doors how guerrillas from the First Front of the FARC came and threatened him for preaching the gospel in the department of Vaupes last December.

“In these moments my soul was connected with heaven. I knew that nobody could take my life without the permission of God; I was aware that if someone hurts me, it was the will of the Lord,” he said.

1a

He had arrived in Vaupes 16 months before, together with his wife and his 7-year-old and 10-year-old children. They came from the department of Vichada, where the guerrillas had displaced them. During the following 14 months, he was preaching the gospel in Vaupes, where the FARC have also had a strong influence for decades. Four months after arriving in Vaupes, Pastor Roberto received the first FARC warning against preaching the gospel. The guerillas felt threatened by Pastor Roberto because some of their militants had abandoned their ranks to come to Christ.

On several occasions, Pastor Roberto received threats from FARC militants who came to the church. They said to him, “You are not allowed to continue teaching ideologies opposite to ours.” They also accused him of being a paramilitary and an army informant.

They even threatened him right when he was preaching the gospel inside the church. A month before the last attack, one militant came into the church and shouted at him, saying “You are not here for preaching. You are working with the army, and because of that you must leave or we will kill you.”

In addition to this, the guerrillas went to find him in his house two separate times, when his wife told them that Pastor Roberto was not there. “She and my kids suffered a lot during the time we spent there,” the pastor shared.

People from the church showed their concern about the constant risks he faced. A few days before he was attacked for the last time, he was invited to a meeting in his denomination. This required him to take a boat to get there, but brothers warned him that the guerrillas had put a checkpoint along the way, and were waiting to kill him.

The guerrillas consider the church to be their main and worst enemy. This is because pastors talk about peace, and the guerrillas have experienced that when believers pray, their violent plans crumble. In the case of Pastor Roberto, they were upset because the gospel began to spread in a region which had been largely under their control.

The lives of Pastor Roberto and his family have been marked by persecution. His brother, who is also a pastor, was persecuted for more than 10 years and displaced four years ago. Two of his children are living in the Open Doors Children’s Center right now. His eldest son was a graduate from the Children’s Center a couple years ago.

2a

In December, after his displacement, Open Doors provided him with financial support so that he could move to another region. Some weeks after, Pastor Roberto has now located in this other region, where he is starting a new church.

This is a region with abundant natural and mineral wealth. The lack of a state presence has been an advantage for the guerrillas and their illegal activities related to drug trafficking, enabling them to use the population, largely indigenous people, for the production of coca.  But they know that when the people listen to the Word of God, their lives are changed, so they see Christianity as their most powerful enemy.

*Name changed for security reasons.

Prayer points

  1. Pray for the protection of Pastor Roberto and his family; may the Lord continue to strengthen their faith in their new place of work.
  2. Pray for the believers in Vaupes, who are facing this situation against the guerrillas alone.
  3. Pray for guerrilla commanders who oppose the preaching of the gospel in several zones in Colombia; may the Lord touch their hearts and may their lives be transformed by His love.

Standing behind my window

Posted: March 21, 2014 in Articles

“Who am I in such a massive city?” I asked myself one day in a rare moment of meditation. I’m just a Christian standing beside my small apartment window, living in a typical, relatively run-down, five-story city building, in one of the many over-crowded neighborhoods of Cairo.

I can see nothing out of my window but other concrete buildings full of windows. Because of the millions of inhabitants who live in my neighborhood, I sometimes feel that there is hardly any place to move or even enough air to breath. Each family or individual living behind one of those windows has more than enough needs, troubles and challenges, with hardly any hope. This fact makes my city like a big hospital, full of patients not attended to.

1

The thoughts of these troubling times were bombarding my mind. Every day, there are worrying political, economic or security developments. Not a single day passes without new happenings or incidents. Newspapers are mostly stuffed with bad news. Holding a daily newspaper in my hand, I reviewed the news of the day while I was having my morning tea. I read almost nothing but troubles. The first large-font piece of news that attracted my eyes was about the strike that the public buses drivers association announced for tomorrow due to their low salaries. This will add another miserable day to the lives of millions of people in the large city of Cairo including mine. How am I going to go to work? No answer.

I moved on to another title to read: “The second school term is yet to be postponed for another week!” It has already been four weeks since schools and universities were shut down in reaction to the violent demonstrations of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) supporters. Reports of security challenges were announced about the intentions of  MB- organized groups to create chaos in front of schools and inside universities premises. Five weeks off the school term? How are the children going to cope with the heavy study load that awaits them to compensate for the lost school weeks?? Again, no answer.

And further down the page, I find a piece of news about two masked and armed men driving rapidly by a police station located nearby our street, opening fire from a machine gun at the police station guards, killing three of them instantly and leaving 10 pedestrians severely wounded. What other violence is going on, that doesn’t even get reported? Still no answer.

2

My eyes were racing down the pages as I flipped over to another page, hoping to read some mild news that may bring a bright thought to my worried mind. It’s still the beginning of my day, and the news doesn’t seem to promise much difference from the day before.

I finally managed to spot  something that sounded positive to me, yet still quite scary. The title said: “In a joint operation, the army and the police forces managed to arrest 10 radical Muslim terrorists who were on their way from north Sinai to east urban cities and on to Cairo. A heavy load of weapons were confiscated; 30 machine guns, 20 grenades and 15 9mm guns.” My Lord! If in one operation that many terrorists were detained and this many weapons were caught, how many other terrorists and how many guns and grenades did they manage to sneak into our heavily inhabited cities? No answer again!

My deep thread of thoughts was suddenly interrupted by a different set of painful news. I had heard the night before from a Christian leader who lives and serves the Lord in a southern Egyptian city, about several painful attacks that Christians in his city had faced recently. These stories stayed in my mind all night long. One of the stories was about a Christian man who had been stripped of his clothes and severally beaten by a group of radical Muslims who wanted him to sell his small land property to them for half of its market price, but he refused. Another was about a young Christian teacher who had been falsely accused of blasphemy and was taken to court in an atmosphere of a terrorizing presence of Salafist radicals who surrounded the court in hundreds. The third story was about the daily suffering of Christians in remote villages who are still living under the excessive control of armed radicals who force them to pay Geziah (Islamic tax) so they and their children can stay alive and safe. Oh Lord, will the day come when Christians may live safe in Egypt one day? Just no answer!

By this time,  I felt really tired and heavy burdened. Then, I folded the newspaper aside and reached for my Bible. I flipped the pages to a specific passage that has brought joy and assurance to my heart so many times, especially over the last three years since Egypt entered into turbulent times. The verses of Lamentations 3:21-26 always gave me assurance and comfort. To live in the middle of this dilemma  empty-handed is hard to take, but to hold fast to these wonderful promises and live on them has always been the source of joy for my family and me over these past years.

3

 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;
 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

I closed my Bible and prayed: “Lord, I don’t know what today and the days to come hold for me and my family, but I put all my trust in Your loving care and know we’re not forgotten.”

Then I closed my window, grabbed my keys and headed to work with a song in my heart!

Choose: Your Jesus or your job

Posted: March 21, 2014 in Articles

Dilemma in Turkmenistan: Choose Between Jesus and Your Job

Karina*, a Turkmen teacher, must have known Jesus’ call for total abandonment for Him; however, she never expected the police to show up during a work meeting and tell her to renounce her faith in the God of the Christians. A few days later, her boss confronted her also. She persisted to keep following Jesus, and this cost her job.

Turkmenistan is one of those former Soviet republics we never hear about in the media. Most people don’t know of its existence. Most don’t know it is ruled by a dictatorship which is still anchored in strong communist roots. Most don’t know a majority of the people are of a different faith. Most don’t realize that there is a Church under pressure in this Central Asian country. Christian converts have to suffer the consequences.

Usually, persecution takes much more subtle forms. In the case of Karina, she came to faith a number of years ago after her sister shared the Gospel with her. During that time, God also healed her from a chronic illness. She started to read the Bible and even translated some materials into Turkmen. Recently, the Turkmen police must have started to monitor Karina, shares an Open Doors field worker. “She was ordered to come to a work meeting, but it was the police who showed up. They questioned and intimidated her. She was asked to renounce her faith, but Karina refused. She was pretty shaken up after the ‘meeting’.”

Only a couple of days later, Karina found herself in another similar situation. “This time her boss ‘interrogated’ her about her faith and church activities,” the field worker shares. “Most likely, he was pressured by the police. When she persisted to keep following Jesus, she was forced to write a letter of resignation. Losing your job might not seem like the worst example of persecution, but it is serious when you are a single mom with two grown-up children in a country with no unemployment benefits. Add to that the fact that Karina is now seen as a betrayer of her country because she changed her religion and you’ll understand why Karina is so depressed.”

Karina phoned another Christian and told her she wanted to distance herself from the underground church in Turkmenistan. “I am still a believer, but I don’t want any contact with other Christians now. I also won’t do any more translation work.”

Open Doors’ contacts will try to safely connect with Karina to see if she can be encouraged and if she needs other support. “Sadly, there are so many ‘Karina’s’ in our region,” says the Open Doors field worker. “We do want to encourage them with the help of our worldwide supporters. If they write cards with a Bible verse or other encouragement, we will try to bring them to Karina and other people in Central Asia who so desperately need to know that they are not forgotten.”

Details of this writing campaign will be published shortly.

Understanding Turkmenistan:

Turkmenistan is a post-communist dictatorship, which is led by President Gurbanguly Berdymhumedov. Like his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov (who died in 2006), Berdymhumedov has created a personality cult around himself. The people are to follow the leader, even though they do not ‘believe’ in him. Turkmen are also supposed to be followers of their local religion. People who convert to other religions are betraying their identity, their family, their community and their country. This is why most Christian converts experience the most persecution and pressure from their immediate family.

The government can play a big part, as Karina’s case makes clear. Christian converts don’t always go to the official, registered churches, but meet in small groups in houses and apartments. This makes it more difficult for the government to exercise control over them. Turkmenistan ranks 20th on Open Doors’ World Watch List of countries where Christians are persecuted the most.

*Name changed for security reasons