If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Isaiah 58:10-11
I have been thinking a lot about persecution (of course) and wondering what it must be like to walk in the shoes of our brothers and sisters who suffer so much. In spite of their pain, sorrow and moments of feeling hopeless, they are encouraged by our response to their suffering and the knowledge that the Lord is close.
As I ponder these thoughts, I am reminded of this past Fourth of July. It was a dark night free of any shining stars, and I sat on the dock watching the fireworks reflect over the lake. These were not puny little fireworks. These were the massive, ballpark kind (that I’m pretty sure were illegal), but they were beautiful. The sky was dark; the water was dull and then out of nowhere the sky lit up with every color and shape imaginable. The light reflected off the lake causing it to capture colors unnatural to water.
It was truly stunning, and reminded me of hope. Our situation can be dark and it looks like there is no end, no way out, no light; and then…hope. Hope lights up the darkness, brings a smile to our face and allows us to see things that we would never have noticed before. It’s amazing.
It reminded me that it is never dark forever.
When there seems to be no hope, God sends up a firework to encourage us, light up a moment and let us know He’s there. Even though most of the sky and lake remains dark, our attention is focused not on the darkness, but instead, our attention is directed at the huge explosions and beauty shooting through the sky. That’s how it must be for hope to work. We must focus on the glimmers of hope, on the trustworthiness of Jesus; not on looming darkness. If we focus on the looming darkness we miss the beautiful fireworks. We miss the hope.
I think this is the “secret” that our persecuted brothers and sister know. They are not saints. They are humans like you and I. They do their best not to worry about tomorrow. They focus on Jesus; on His goodness and truth. It’s a lesson we can all incorporate into our own struggles. Focus on Jesus, not the darkness. Remember that there is always hope in Him. He never leaves us alone.
“Let Allah be avenged on the polytheist apostate!”
“Allah: empower your religion, make it victorious against the polytheists!”
“Allah, defeat the infidels at the hands of the Muslims!”
Those were the prayers just before the beheading of a Christian convert from Islam in a video released on June 4. The calls to “avenge Allah” that preceded the execution—which reportedly took place in Tunisia—have become commonplace for many Middle Eastern Christians. Radical Islam has quickly spread throughout the region following the ousting of long-standing dictators in the Muslim world’s so-called ‘Arab Spring.’
In Egypt, for example, a leaflet titled, “An Urgent and Important Notice,” was distributed by jihadist organizations on August 14 calling for Muslims to “kill or physically attack the enemies of the religion of Allah—the Christians in all of Egypt’s provinces, the slaves of the Cross, Allah’s curse upon them…” The letter went on to promise a reward to anyone who helps “achieve Allah’s rights against his enemies.”
Not surprising, attacks on the Christian community followed soon after. In the Upper Egypt town of Sohag, four Christian shops were set ablaze and dozens of Christians were severely beaten just days after the leaflets were distributed.
Similar threats are now surfacing in Syria where entire cities have been emptied of Christians while Sunni jihadists, who were fighting alongside al-Qaeda against U.S. forces in Iraq, are returning to fight the regime at home.
“We have experience now fighting the Americans, and more experience now with the Syrian revolution,” said Abu Thuha, an al-Qaeda operative. “Our big hope is to form a Syrian-Iraqi Islamic state for all Muslims, and then announce our war against Iran and Israel, and free Palestine.”
In a recently released video on YouTube, masked men that claim to belong to the Free Syrian Army hold AK-47s in front of two al-Qaeda flags. “We are now forming suicide cells to make jihad in the name of Allah,” said a speaker in the video. The video is the latest bit of evidence suggesting that al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremists are hijacking the Syrian revolution and quickly gaining control of the country.
According to Agenzia Fides, the official Vatican news agency, Syria’s Salafis—who follow the radical Wahhabi interpretation of Islam found in Saudi Arabia—is another group carrying out “brief executions” against Christian “infidels” while initiating a “sectarian war.” These Christians are given a choice to either join the opposition or face “harassment, discrimination, [and] violence.
The surmounting threats and routine killings of Christians have persuaded hundreds of thousands of Christians to flee the region. Christians in Syria and Egypt often express their fears by referencing the decline of Christianity in Iraq, where about 50 percent of Iraq’s 1.4 million Christians have fled the country amidst nearly a decade of church bombings, kidnappings, and sectarian murder. Will the faithful in other Middle Eastern countries join Iraq’s mass exodus of Christians? Now, more than ever before, Christians in the Middle East are seeking the prayers and support of the international church during this period of great suffering and uncertainty.
Described by Lonely Planet as Southeast Asia’s most “pristine” environment, the small, impoverished nation of Laos hides many things in its mountainous jungles, including the persecution of Christian believers.
Covered almost completely in mountainous jungle and with little technological infrastructure, the villages of Laos remain relatively isolated and cut off from the outside world. On a trip to the country a few years ago, I was stranded in Vientiane (the capital city) over night after discovering that the airport did not have an internet connection and could not access the tickets for my return flight, which were booked online. ATM’s have only just begun to make an appearance in the country, but you cannot find them outside the capital.
All of this gives the impression to the casual observer that Laos is a sleepy, peaceful world of beautiful landscapes dotted with Buddhist temples. But move past the few paved streets of the capital and into the remote (and sometimes inaccessible) villages of the countryside and another story emerges.
In the last eight months, ICC has received 16 reports from sources connected with the country’s small Christian population of persecution throughout the country. The last one came in this week, and it described the arrest of Mr. Bountheung, a resident of the countries central Bolikhamsai Province, and a Christian leader in his village.
Mr. Bountheung apparently committed several crimes in the eyes of his local village authorities, not the least among them being the conversion of 300 of his fellow Laotians to faith in Jesus Christ. Mr. Bountheung was subsequently summoned to report to the local authorities and told to renounce his Christian beliefs. He refused and was given a week to sell his home or have it confiscated. The details are unclear at this point, but it appears Mr. Bountheung was unable or unwilling to abandon his village, and yesterday he was arrested and taken to prison.
While Mr. Bountheung’s case is shocking and ICC will be following up to see how we can assist, it is also indicative of an atmosphere throughout much of the country that is openly hostile to the spread of Christianity. In June, ICC sent rice to several starving Christian families in another village who had lost their crops to flooding and were refused assistance by government authorities determined to see them driven out of the area.
Churches have also been barred off, and Christians are commonly asked to give up their faith in Jesus Christ or be ostracized by their community.
Yet incredible eports also emerge of undaunted courage among these isolated believers. Just a little over a week ago we heard of a Christian family summoned to the village headquarters for witnessing about Christ. They were told to stop witnessing and to recant, but the head of the family responded “God is real. When we believe, we are healed from sickness and immediately delivered from the possession of evil spirits…we cannot deny the reality of God’s power.”
Please pray for Mr. Bountheung and all of the believers in Laos to stand firm in their relationship with Jesus. Pray also that the darkness that hides the persecution of His church continues to be rolled away, for we know that “everyone who does evil hates the light.”(John 3:20)
Son of Martyr
When believers are martyred for their faith, members of their families suffer the emotional pain and also the economic loss of losing part of the family’s income. This was the case with David (name changed for security reasons) and his family. David’s father was killed by radical Muslims in the city of Kaduna in 2000.
“My dad was killed because he was a believer and a devoted member in the church. We lost our hopes when he was killed. He was the breadwinner of our family,” said David, recalling the emotional rollercoaster of losing a parent. “We started to wonder: how are we going to survive? Who will provide to our basic needs? Our mother was also asking the same questions. She was left by herself to care for our needs.”
In the midst of her loss, David’s mother chose to wipe her tears, and carry on for her children. She did odd jobs to bring in extra cash, and even sold property to pay for college. Knowing that their mother was sacrificing for their education, David and his siblings study diligently, honoring both of their parents, as well as their future. David was accepted into a university, and his aspires to be a leader that brings about change in his home country.
Please keep David and his family in your prayers, as they press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Philippians 3:13-14
It’s amazing what a few scribbled letters can do.
This week we received a letter from a little girl named Chloe. Chloe is new to the ICC team, yet she is famous among our hallways. She wrote to let us know that she held a garage sale “to help kids whose parents are persecuted for their faith.”
At five years old, we can only assume her parents explained the concept of “persecution” in the broadest sense of the word: “It means that people are not kind to you because you love Jesus.”
Chloe did not need to see gruesome photos of severed body parts; she did not need to hear stories of women abducted and forced into a life of slavery; she did not need to know about the bombings, attacks, murders and kidnappings to understand that people need to be helped.
This little girl helped her mom bake cookies and brownies, old enough to simply stir the dough. Then she helped her parents with a garage sale, probably parting with some of her own toys. At five years old, she gave all that she had to help relieve the suffering of a child whose parents are persecuted for their faith. Her letter reads: “Here is the money we made. Please send our love to the kids. Thank you.”
Her earnest attitude humbles our office, as we silently reflect, “Am I giving what I can?”
We challenge you this week to ask yourself this same question. If you have the means, please give to one of our funds. If you have the words, please write to our brothers and sisters, encouraging them in their time of need. I guarantee you that just like Chloe, who chose to give to children just like her, there is someone just like you who needs to know that they are loved.
We are grateful to be the bridge. Can we send your love today?
By Corey Bailey
Over and over again I realize what a blessing it is to be “bored” or to sit in rush hour traffic, day in and day out. What a gift to not have to worry if a mob of people, angry that you have decided to follow Jesus, will descend upon your house and beat you, or rape your daughters. When I hear of stories like that, I realize that my faith has not been tested in the same as the believers we come in contact with daily at ICC.
I have often suspected that we in the West who are “blessed to be bored” have a one sided view of the word “blessing.” Often it comes with the connotation of something that feels good. “I got a raise, what a blessing.” Or “I have the day off, what a blessing.” Or “It’s double coupon day, what a blessing.” While that’s true, and God lavishes on His children, I don’t think that the Bible promises that all blessings will “feel good.” In fact, I would like to propose that hardship, pain, suffering and persecution can be blessings of a deeper nature, and are also a gift.
I am not saying that God causes pain. No, I am saying that He can take great pain and turn it for good.
Can we really say that all of the pain the persecuted experience is a blessing? I think that we can. They have sacrificed everything, and have only Jesus to cling to. Their faith is tested in the fire as they “consider it pure joy to face trials of many kinds.” I would like to offer this for consideration: We are blessed because we are safe, and they are blessed because they are persecuted. We may pity the persecuted, but perhaps they are reaping a much greater benefit in the depth of their faith.
Syria remains at the top of ICC’s prayer list, as entire cities, including Homs and Qusayr, have been emptied of Christians (read: Syria’s Threatened Christians). The plight of Christians is less a result of the bombardment of Syrian cities by the army than the rising threat of Islamic radicalism. Recent reports indicate that Syrian Sunni jihadists who were fighting with al Qaeda against U.S. forces in Iraq are returning to fight the regime at home. In a recently released video, masked men that claim to belong to the Free Syrian Army—a revolutionary opposition movement that the U.S. is backing to take down the regime—hold AK-47s in front of two Al Qaeda flags. “We are now forming suicide cells to make jihad in the name of Allah,” said a speaker in the video.
“The video… is one more bit of evidence that Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists are doing their best to hijack the Syrian revolution,” The New York Times reports. “Al Qaeda has helped to change the nature of the conflict, injecting the weapon it perfected in Iraq — suicide bombings — into the battle against President Bashar al-Assad.”
Among those most concerned are Syria’s Christians who historically have been granted a higher degree of freedom in Syria than in many other Middle Eastern countries. If the regime were to collapse, it is unclear who, in the words of Professor Vali Nasr, “will prevent a massacre of the Alawites and the Christians and those Sunnis who supported Assad.
“This is no longer really about democracy,” the professor continued. “And liberal democracy does not emerge in these kinds of circumstances of violence and fratricide.”
“We saw what happened to the Christians in Iraq,” Abu George, a Christian resident of Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city, told Global Post. “What is going on in Aleppo is not a popular revolution for democracy and freedom. The fighters of the so-called Free Syrian Army are radical Sunnis who want to establish an Islamic state.”
ICC is receiving weekly reports of severe hardship and persecution from Christians in Syria. These Christians daily face the threat of being killed, but they refuse to leave their homeland or to desert their countrymen at such a critical and trying time. Instead, they see themselves as the bearers of Syria’s future hope. “Without us, who will hear about Jesus, the source of all hope, in these difficult days?” they tell ICC. These Christians remain on the front-lines to be a light in the darkness and to proclaim the Good News to the helpless and hurting.
In an effort to mobilize prayer for the Syrian church, we want to share an update, received on August 7, from a Christian in Damascus. Like the prayer update we posted on June 24, we hope that this Christian’s words will help direct your prayers for the persecuted church in Syria.
Prayer update from a Christian in Damascus (some information had to be removed for the church’s security):
Sometimes I desire for life to return back to normal around us. This is something we all wish for when going through hardship and especially war. It has not been easy at all! Being caught up under vicious fire, especially under the extremist groups, is truly unpleasant. Hearing shouts early morning with our own ears calling the name of God before firing on people who have decided not to protest is a reality what we’re facing when it comes to our existence and life. As I was speaking with one of the people who believe they are doing “good for God”, the idea of killing in the name of God seems imbedded into the mindset of a culture that was pure from such beliefs before. May God give us wisdom to tear down such a mindset of killing! Though it’s so impossible to bring them out of their mindset, what’s impossible for man IS possible for God.
I was with my father listening to a person with this mindset, “we kill for God”. It brought out my father’s love to share the truth of God, which made this man speechless and shaking, knowing that the words of the gospel defeated his mindset and his thoughts of destruction. He was speechless for 2 hours after giving his 10 minute speech on death and killing. Truly, if you bring all weapons vs. our words that come from a believing heart, it is powerful enough to shake the essence of any mindset. May God give us wisdom, to bring ourselves from any ungodly mindset so we can help others to come out of their own!
Sadly there is no solution for now but we will continue to pray and seek His glory only… The message of Christ [is] the only solution in our world.
- Please pray for strength for the Christians in Syria. It’s truly challenging, as you all know.
- Pray for those who have been persecuted for being Christians
- Pray for peace, that God will use the church to be a voice of peace for both sides of the conflict
- Pray for the church leaders, especially those who stayed here, though they had and still have the opportunity to leave.
The Closing of GPDI Kampung Bangun Sari – Tanjung Pinang, Indonesia
Living amongst 200 million Muslims, Christians in Indonesia have long been used to being the minority. But in the last year, the country has seen a growing list of churches forcibly shut down by the government after protests from Muslims in the community. Many of these churches existed for years without a problem, but it appears that radical Islamic groups have gained significant ground in a focused campaign to protest the very existence of Christian places of worship wherever possible. Behind each church closure is a unique story, and for the last several months a local ICC representative has been visiting those churches, collecting what would otherwise be the untold stories of Indonesia’s closing churches. Below is the second in a small series of these stories, shedding light on the plight of Christian’s in Indonesia that most in the English speaking world have never heard of.
The Kampung Bangun Sari Pentecostal Church in Indonesia (GPDI is its Indonesian acronym) was founded by Pastor Faragi Harita, and had been a vital part of the village since 1992. For more than a decade, the church lived harmoniously within the Muslim-majority community. Over the years, the congregation grew to nearly 300 members comprised of adults, youth and children who would meet regularly in their permanent church building, which they built in 1995.
Ten years later in 2005, a staunch and radical Muslim man moved into the area and started to build an Islamic boarding school and mosque right in front of GPDI church. Later on, this man became one of the leaders of a fast growing radical organization that has been responsible for the closing and burning of church buildings, and even the killing of many Christians. This organization is called Front Pembela Islam or the Islamic Defenders front, known by its acronym, FPI.
Using the influence as the leader of one of the most daring Islamic organizations, he began to stir and sow seeds of hatred toward the church and its members, while at the same time pushing the Islamic community and its leaders to reject the presence of the Christian church in their area. Sixteen years after the hard work of Pastor Faragi Harita had been planted, the church doors were sealed by the local government, thanks to pressure from the Islamic Defenders Front and local Muslim community.
Knowing that what they had done was not ethical, the local government has been facilitating the congregation by letting them use a room in a nearby hotel. The government has tried to move the church to a different area, with the hopes that they could resume their worship in peace, but the existing community there also rejected the presence of the Christian church. Hence the church members are still not sure when this situation will come to an end.
In spite of this situation, the pastor told ICC that church members are still faithful and are praying that one day they will be able to go back to their church building and worship there or possibly even build a new building in a new place. In order to this, the church will have to obtain proper licensing from the government and somehow get permission from the local community where they wish to build.
– ICC note: This process can be almost impossible in some parts of Indonesia, forcing churches to either meet in homes or operate illegally. Please keep the GPDI church and Pastor Faragi Harita in your prayers today.