The Internship That Changed my LifeRichard has been an intern with ICC since the beginning of September. In this blog he shares his experience learning about the persecuted church, saying, “People, literally all over the world, in countries whose names some people do not even know, are suffering for the Gospel.”
By Richard Proctor
When I found out that I was going to be an intern at International Christian Concern (ICC), I thought that this was going to be an awesome opportunity to gain some job experience and be able to expand what little knowledge I possessed about the persecuted Church. When I showed up for my first day of work, I was told what my main responsibilities would be and I thought to myself, OK, I can handle this. Most of what I would be doing involved bringing awareness of the persecuted Church to the masses. To accomplish this task, I would be publishing articles on ICC’s web site and then linking those articles through the social media site, Twitter. I was ecstatic at the opportunity to use social media during my internship.
From Marshmallows to Bricks
This was my first real exposure to the persecuted Church. I was taught how to research, publish, and tweet about articles. At first, most of the stories didn’t seem to bother me. Headlines that read, “Man Imprisoned for Distributing Christian Materials” or “Man Loses Everything after Converting from Islam to Christianity,” those were the types of headlines that the pastor at my church would read. These are the same marshmallow-like headlines that are heard in every church in America. Coming into this internship I thought there would be stories of brutal attacks and all-out wars on Christianity.
After the first day, it seemed that my tasks were easier to handle and I felt more confident, that I could possibly do more. However, as each day passed, it seemed as if the headlines of the stories I posted grew darker and darker. Now instead of arrests for carrying religious materials, headlines read: “Women Beaten as Mob Attacks Christian Community”, “Man Killed after Insulting Islam”; “Girl with Mental Illness Imprisoned on Blasphemy Charges”. As I read each of these headlines, it felt as if someone was throwing bricks at my chest. I could sense a change within me that I never felt before.
Now it is easy to ask the question, “OK God. If you’re truly a loving God how can you allow your children to suffer like this?” When I started this internship, my mentor informed me that this question may very well come across my mind. However, I do not find myself asking that question. Instead, the question that I asked God was, “OK God. You’ve shown me what true followers of you are willing to do to further your kingdom. What do you want me to do?”
His Sacrifice and My Sacrifice
I’ve been a Christian since I was six years old. Throughout my life I have come to realize that, we, as Christians, suffer because Christ himself suffered. In John 15:20 Jesus said to his disciples, “Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his Lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.”(King James Version) Jesus Christ, the only man ever to live a perfect life on this earth was beaten, tortured, nailed to a cross, spit upon, and mocked. If I am a true follower of Christ—taught to be Christ-like—then what am I doing to further His kingdom?
Needless to say, in the United States, I realize that the ability that I have to freely worship God without being thrown into jail is a blessing. However, in the few weeks that I have been working at ICC I’ve come to realize that I have taken advantage of that blessing. As I’ve read the stories about people being beaten, jailed, and out-casted because of their faith, I know that God wants me to do something more than sit in a pew three times a week. There has got to be more to the Christian faith than the façade that is put on whenever the church doors are open. People, literally all over the world, in countries whose names some people do not even know, are suffering for the Gospel and as of right now, I have the opportunity to be a voice for them. In August, I may have been a whisper for the persecuted, now I want to be a scream from the mountain tops.
Interested in interning with ICC? We are currently accepting applications! Click here for more information.
The Journey of a Little Girl Rescued from an Islamic Training CenterBy Corey Bailey
Shantona looked at me with a deep sadness in her eyes. Only 10 years old, she should be full of life and joy, but instead she looked down to the ground as tears threatened to fall.
In February 2012, Shantona’s father sent her off to, what he thought was, a Christian Hostel to go to school. A poor family in the hills, education is the only hope of a future, so this opportunity seemed like an answer to prayer.
But Shantona’s father was lied to. Dreams of a bright future became a horrible nightmare.
Once Shantona was taken from her father’s house, she was sold to an Islamic training center, known as a madrassas, where she was imprisoned and forced to learn Arabic, study the Quran and pray to Allah five times a day. Shantona quickly realized that something was wrong. They were not learning the usual subjects you study in school, and as a Christian she did not want to be forced to practice Islam. So Shantona refused to pray or learn Arabic. As a result, however she was disciplined. Not only was food withheld from her, but her hands, now scarred from numerous beatings by a cane, also bear witness to punishment for refusing to comply.
Shantona’s father only learned of her whereabouts months later when another girl, imprisoned at the same madrassa, escaped and told of her own harrowing experience. When Shantona’s father realized had been tricked and his daughter was being harmed, he frantically began searching for her. He called on an ICC ministry partner to help find his daughter. Months later, when Shantona was finally located, he personally went to pick her up. When the leader of the madrassa realized he intended to take his daughter away, he began verbally berating them. Shantona’s father stood strong as he the leader yelled, “The Bible of the Christians is full of lies and evil things and only Islam and [the] Quran can guide people to right path to heaven!” The teacher continued to criticize Christianity, but finally let Shantona and her father leave.
Since her rescue, Shantona’s father was scared the Imam or other leaders would search for her at home, since they knew where she lived. ICC’s partner intervened and placed Shantona in a Christian hostel where she could live and receive a quality education. They are attempting to help her work through the persecution and trauma she experienced; however, Bangladesh lacks counselors to help with these types of things.
While listening to her story, it was clear to me that Shantona, from a different tribe than the other girls at the hostel, feels alone and sad. I In fact, the only time she smiled was during the children’s sermon I gave where I said, “Jesus is our friend and never leaves us alone. We can tell Him when we feel happy or when we feel sad. Even if we feel alone, we can tell Him and He will remind us that we are never alone because He is always with us. He is a good friend who loves us and wants to know how we feel.” This was the only time I saw Shantona smile; her lips could not help themselves as she heard about a Savior who comforts the lonely. She smiled the entire time, with a tiny flicker of hope in her eyes.
The Life of Christian DhimmiBy Jonathan Racho The word “dhimmi” is an Islamic term for non-Muslims, in particular, members of the Christian and Jewish faith who are living on “Islamic land.” This prejudicial phrase demotes Christians to second-class citizenship, and they are subject to humiliation and mistreatment. Millions of Christians in Northern Nigeria are forced to live as dhimmis.
When I met retired Pastor David,* I came face to face with a dhimmi. Pastor David lives among Muslims, and his church was among the many that have been attacked. He said that he knew the attackers by name; they were his neighbors.
However, as a Christian dhimmi, he has no right to bring charges against his oppressors. Because of the violence his church as endured, half of the congregation has flocked to safer regions, leaving 150 believers left in the area.
Sadly, the Muslim attacks succeeded in not only dwindling the congregation down, but also in silencing those who remain. The Christians who were brave enough to stay put no longer evangelize to their unsaved neighbors. Pastor David explained that in the past, Christians were able to preach the Gospel, but they are forbidden to do so now. The consequences are too much to risk.
Pastor David explained that Christians live in constant fear: will there be an attack today? The next day? The next day? “If the opportunity arises, the Muslims could attack us,” Pastor David said. “No matter what happens, we will continue worshipping the Lord.”
Pastor David requested that we pray specifically for the Lord to strengthen the faith of the Christians left behind in Nigeria.
*name changed for security
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.
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
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.
By: Jonathan Racho, Regional Manager for Africa
I recently visited a Nigerian village which suffered attacks by Muslim mobs in 2010. On March 7, 2010, hundreds of Muslim attackers invaded the Christian village of Dogo Nawa and other surrounding villages, killing over 500 Christians, mostly women and children.
So when I visited the village in May 2012, the scars of the massacre are still visible. I met several people who recounted the horrific night they suffered the Muslim radicals attacks on the villages.
One of the victims that I met was Kanda, an elderly Christian woman who was attacked with machetes. When the Muslim attackers invaded her village, Kanda ran for her life. Unfortunately, the Muslim attackers caught her and attacked her with machetes all over her body. Two years after the attacks, her wounded leg has yet to heal.
The Christians in the village of Dogo Nawa are in need of your helps and prayers. Please keep them in your prayers.
Returning from a recent visit to Iraq, Regional Manager to the Middle East Aiden Clay explores the work Christ is doing in the Church.
The truth of I Peter 5:10 is evident in the Middle East today: “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace…will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” Despite war in Syria, Islamists rising to power in Egypt, and ongoing tension with the Islamic state of Iran (just to name a few), God is strengthening and establishing His church. And He is doing it the same way He has promised in Scripture—through suffering. God has not forgotten His Church. In the midst of grave persecution and uncertain times, the hands of God will keep and bless His Church, and a remnant will always, always remain.
The Middle East is undergoing a period of great turmoil and transition. We read reports weekly of Christians fleeing their ancient homelands throughout the Middle East for a safe-haven in the West. However, we must remind ourselves that the Church will persevere. The Church’s fate is sealed—not by war and revolution ignited by man—but by the will of Christ.
Having met with the faithful routinely in Iraq, Afghanistan, and throughout the region, ICC has seen men, women, youth, and children put their trust in Christ and minister to their countrymen in war-torn regions, no matter the cost. Through their suffering, they are coming to understand the true meaning, to “take up their cross” (Luke 9:23), a decision to follow Christ and to suffer, as He has suffered, even until death for the sake of the Gospel.
“As a Christian, a part of my faith—a very sensitive part—is hope,” an Iraqi pastor who survived two bomb attacks on his congregation in 2011 and lost many of his flock to brutal persecution, recently told ICC when asked why he has chosen to stay in his homeland. “If we don’t have hope in our Christianity then whatever we preach, whatever we teach, is nothing. The church here in this land has faced many troubles, many hard times, but survived. And, it still exists. And, I believe it will exist until Jesus returns back.”
The church does not merely exist, but is being welded into a precious jewel, refined by fire. Moreover, the Gospel is spreading. Muslims throughout the region are turning to Christ in significant numbers. For example, ICC ministry partners in the region reported that 461 people have turned to Christ this year as a result of Christian radio and satellite television broadcasts. Many of these salvations occurred in Middle East countries considered “closed” to the Gospel. These new believers are connected to underground fellowships and are learning to boldly share the Good News with their families and friends.
Though we often only hear of the church’s suffering in persecuted lands, God is faithful in establishing His church beyond our expectations or understanding. Persecution has followed Christianity throughout the ages; it is nothing new. In fact, it is a promise which comes with great blessing and results. Suffering builds character and establishes the truth of the Word in our lives. So, have hope and take courage. While the Lord’s servant may only see hardship around him and say, “I have toiled in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing…” remember that justice is “with the Lord, and My reward with My God” (Isaiah 49:3-4). Our persecuted brothers and sisters need our prayers as they carry on, not in vain, but that God may be glorified through the suffering church.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:3-4)
What comes to your mind when you think about what brings you “pure joy”? Surely abuse, torture or discrimination is not at the top of your list! Scripture says when we experience trials or face persecution, we should consider it pure joy because on the other side of the difficulty we will find a faith that perseveres and is “of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire.” (1Peter 1:7)
Personally, I know the trials in my own life have resulted in a deeper faith. Though they were difficult to walk through, and in the midst of the darkness it was hard for me to sense God’s plan or presence, I can see now how the Lord turned what the enemy meant for destruction into something good and beautiful. I wanted to share a story with you about some of the recent trials our brothers and sisters in India have endured:
[knowing that it was a heavy cost] Anne* decided to follow Jesus and leave Hinduism. When her mother died, Anne wanted to perform a Christian ceremony at the funeral. The Hindus in the village caught wind of her plan and sent her a message: “If the pastor comes to your house or you [go] to the church then [you and your father] both will be persecuted.”
Her father reported the threat to the police, which only enraged the other villagers. They locked Anne and her father in their house and were only freed when an uncle notified the police. The police freed Anne and her father and told the Hindu attackers not to force her to perform Hindu rituals if she was a Christian.
Believing the matter was solved, Anne invited a pastor to her house to host a prayer meeting. The Hindu villagers, seeing the pastor go to her house, were infuriated that she had ignored their warning. They stormed into the house and dragged the pastor outside, beat him and stripped him naked. The pastor fled to the neighbor’s house for help, where they welcomed him in and cared for his wounds.
Hearing that the pastor was receiving help, the Hindus came to the neighbor’s house and forced everyone outside. They proceeded to beat the neighbor’s family and rape their daughter, leaving her unconscious.
Seeing all this happen, another pastor, Brother James* called the police and guided them to the house where the attack was taking place. He helped the police stop the attack and took care of the wounded. When the police left, the Christians in the village heard the Hindus say, “If anyone comes to see or asks about the persecuted people, beat them severely and tie them to the pole.”
The families have not lodged an official complaint of the latest attack with the police because they are afraid of the retaliation.
Please pray for our brothers and sisters as they go through this dark and uncertain time. Pray that God would meet them where they are and remind them to “count it all as joy.” May we, when we experience hard times, be spurred on by their example and do the same.
*Names changed for security.
Part One of Three
Living amongst 200 million Muslims, Christians in Indonesia are long 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 month 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 first 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 persecution of the Indonesian churches continues to this day. In spite of the good news of the church growth that we often hear of, Christians are faced with many difficulties when it comes to freedom of worship in Indonesia. One of the cities which can be considered as a stronghold is Bekasi.
GKRI Sinar Gembala Church in Bekasi was started about 20 years ago, using a house as a place of worship for its congregation. As the times passed, the congregation grew and today, there are about 85 people who attend Sunday service weekly. For all these years, the church has been welcomed by the neighboring people and it has had no problem with the community.
Last year, Rev Mokhtar Siringoringo and his wife who had been pastoring the church decided to expand the church building by joining the next house they bought which attached to the church building. This is the beginning of the challenge. Before the pastor and the congregation even tearing down the wall that separate the church and the house, the surrounding people provoked by the Muslims who are living outside or even far away from the community, rally against this project. Not only that, the Muslims even succeeded in making the local government close and
seal the church since last year. As the result of this closing, the congregation now worship every Sunday outside the church building, guarded by about 20 policemen.
In spite of all these challenges, the pastor and the congregation are not afraid. They are still in a good faith and they believe that God is still in charge of all things and they also still have high hope that one day, the church will be reopened.
During my meeting with the pastor and the wife, I did not sense any fear or losing of hope. They really had a great faith in God! They even cracked some jokes despite the persecution and challenges they faced.