“They did many bad things to me…Apart from abusing me sexually, he (one of Hiba’s abductors) tried to force me to change my faith and kept reminding me to prepare for Ramadan. I cannot forget this bad incident, and whenever I try to pray, I find it difficult to forget.”
Hiba (left) was only fifteen years old when a gang of Muslims kidnapped her in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum in June of 2010. Remarkably, after one year of abuse, she escaped from her abductors in July of this year and told ICC when we met with her in September that she is praying “to Jesus that He reveals Himself to my assailants and forgives them for what they did to me.”
When we asked how she was recovering from the abuse, Hiba said, “I am feeling good now because I am reunited with my family after spending one year in the custody of my Muslim kidnappers. I escaped from them by the help of God who did not want me to suffer more in their hands. I have faith that one day God will change my situation for good and be a blessing to my mum and the family.”
Hiba is aware of the power of prayer. She appreciates all that prayed for her release, saying, “I want to thank God who saved me from the hands of the abductors. I also thank God for all believers all over the world for their prayers for me and my family. It was because of your prayers that my situation changed.”
Hiba, who missed one year of school due to the abduction, is now starting her studies again, but under financial constraints. Her widowed mother lost her job because she had taken time off work to search for her daughter.
Hiba told ICC, “All that I want now is to pursue my education. Even though my mum does not have money for that, I believe in the power of prayer of the believers.”
ICC is providing financial assistance to help pay for Hiba’s education and help rebuild the life of her family by helping her mother to start a business. If you would like to give to support girls like Hiba who have been abducted and abused, please give to “Save Our Sisters,” our new fund which our Facebook community helped us name. Click here to give today.
Imam Ahmed (name changed for security) is a fanatic Muslim known for spreading hatred against Christians. He believed in using money, deception, violence or any means necessary to bring Christians to Islam. As a radical Muslim, he believed it was his right to abuse Christians. That is why he forcefully married a Christian woman whose father was a priest. He forced his wife to change her faith and her name. When the girl’s father attempted to take the case to court, he threatened to kill his father-in law for trying to defend his daughter.
Passionate to learn about Islam, Imam Ahmed traveled to Saudi Arabia to expand and cultivate his knowledge of the religion. In Saudi Arabia, he made connections with people that give him money that he could use for his missions to convert non-Muslims to Islam. He was a devout Muslim through and through.
Ahmed’s story radically changed on May 3, 2011 when he organized a conference to speak about the “inaccuracies of the Bible” to 4000 Muslims. His plan was to educate the Muslims in challenging Christians on the authenticity of the Bible and converting them to Islam. Little did he know that the Lord had another plan for his life. As the Imam stood to speak to the crowd, he had a vision of Jesus. He described his vision by saying, “He (Jesus) looks like just a human being fully dressed up with a very bright white cloth and His face shining like a morning star. I was so confused and unable to speak anything. Immediately, Jesus touched my lips and my message was changed. Instantly, I started to preach the correctness of the Bible and birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for all humanity.”
The crowd started shouting at the imam, but he was bold because of the glory of God that he saw. The crowd then started to assault him. As they were beating him, the imam said that the Lord Jesus told him, “Nobody can kill you. Right now, follow me.” After the Lord led him safely out of the crowd, Jesus’ final words were a warning. He said, “Don’t look back.”
After Jesus disappeared from Ahmed’s vision, the Imam found himself in front of a police station. Not fully understanding how he arrived there, Ahmed rushed into the station to ask for protection. Though Ahmed was protected from being surrendered to the Muslims who had chased him to the police station, he was sentenced to prison after the Muslims accused him of being out of his mind and of preaching Jesus in a mosque. On September 12, he was released after serving 5 months.
The former persecutor is now the persecuted. Ahmed and his wife have been forced out of their home and have lost everything for the sake of his testimony of Jesus. Please continue to pray for this brother as he strives to honor Jesus’ warning not to look back. He has enrolled in a two-year Bible school with the intent of becoming a minister of the gospel, declaring that his sole purpose in life is “to preach the gospel to more than 30 million Muslims (who live in Ethiopia).”
Amidst intense and ongoing persecution, arrest and potential execution, an increasing number of Iranians in the country and those who are refugees abroad are turning to Christianity. Since the presidential election of 2009, there has been a surge of Muslims leaving Islam. Thousands have turned to Christ, but not without great cost.
Last October, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, denounced the network of house churches in a speech, calling Christians “enemies of Iran and the people.” This was the first time the new church movement was publicly branded by the ayatollah. Khamenei’s rhetoric encouraged a massive crackdown against Christians at the year’s end.
On December 26, government authorities arrested 25 Christians in Tehran and across the country and announced plans to detain others if they could be located. They were branded “evangelical missionaries” who were proselytizing Muslims, yet none were formally charged. In late December and early January, at least 70 Christians were arrested. Most were released from prison quickly, but church leaders said that 14 were imprisoned for more than a month.
Today, the crackdown continues. On March 17, a house church in the city of Kermanshah was raided and ten Christians were arrested. On April 5, five Iranian Christians who were recently sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for crimes against the Islamic Order in Shiraz will stand trial for blasphemy charges. Their trial follows the execution of an Armenian man and his Jewish wife in mid-March. The reason for their execution is unknown, but many worry it may be a sign that the government is heightening its efforts to stomp out Christianity.
Most disconcerting of all, however, is the plight of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani who currently awaits the death sentence for apostasy. A church leader in Rasht, Iran, Nadarkhani was arrested on October 12, 2009 for protesting against the Islamic education practice that requires Christian students – including his own children – to read the Quran in school. An appeal to the Supreme Court was filed in December, and a hearing is due within two months.
Iranian Christians in Exile
Within Iran, some say that there are as many as a million Christians who worship in underground house churches. Outside of Iran there are thousands more. During a recent visit to Cyprus, ICC heard the testimonies of a few of these believers who now live as refugees and are unable to return to their homeland without being arrested. To protect their identities, we have not used their real names.
Ebrahim fled Iran to Turkey and eventually to Cyprus after his outspoken criticism of Islam put him in danger. “I received a court order that they were going to try me for apostasy,” he said. “I had already been put in prison for months and tortured. They broke my bones. Day after day my hate of Islam built. That’s why I escaped from Iran.”
It was in Cyprus that Ebrahim found the God he had always been longing for. “I hated Christianity and I hated Islam. I hated religion. But, I liked how Christians prayed so I started reading about Jesus. Step by step, I became more and more interested. I was comparing Jesus with Muhammad and asking myself if I believed in Him. God eventually broke me as he broke Paul. I was an atheist. It was so difficult for me to believe in God, but he changed me.” Soon after, Ebrahim was baptized in Cyprus’ capital city Nicosia.
Another Christian, Ramin, also came to Cyprus after fleeing Iran for speaking openly for political reform and against the regime. Unlike Ebrahim, Ramin was a devout Muslim while in Iran. However, he too found faith in Christ while in Cyprus and believes that many more Iranians would also become Christians if they were free to hear the Gospel. “I think that ninety percent of Iranians would be open to the Gospel,” he said. “People are tired of Islamic dictatorship, tired of lies and corruption. I was tired of Islam, tired of the pressure, tired of religion, tired of actions without fruit. Iranians need hope and assurance. There is no hope in Iran.”
Fearing it too dangerous to return to their country, many Iranian Christian refugees in Cyprus have sought asylum, but most wait years before receiving an answer from the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). Iranian Christian refugees in Cyprus are not authorized to leave the country, cannot be legally employed, and are in constant danger of being deported back to Iran. Ebrahim and Ramin are among thousands of Iranians who struggle each day to survive, trusting that God will provide a way. Please remember these and all Iranian believers in prayer.
After voters cast their ballots last week in Sudan’s crucial referendum, it is apparent that the overwhelming majority in the south hope to finally have an independent country of their own. According to information from one of our sources, early voting results indicate that in Kajo-Keji county alone, 45,892 people voted for secession, while only 198 voted for unity. The county had a 99.6% voter turn-out. Secession will mean peace from almost constant civil war that has killed roughly two million people. While the voting has thus far proceeded with relative calm, some Islamic leaders are speaking of revolution and the overthrow of Bashir’s regime if the president allows the south to secede.
Pastor Ayumba’s Story
Christians have often found themselves in the middle of the conflict. We want to share with you the testimony of Pastor Ayumba, a southern Sudanese Christian who spent most of his life living in – or fleeing from – war. In his own words, Pastor Ayumba reflects on the suffering of Christians faced only years earlier at the hands of the Muslim north and the south’s own militia, the SPLA. May we remember what our Christian brethren in Sudan have suffered, and what the chance of independence and freedom truly means to them.
“I was born in 1972 at a village called Abukini in South Sudan, near the Congo border. At the age of five, my mom died and I was left with my dad, but he was too old to be able to take care of us or even care for himself. I decided to marry at the age of sixteen.
In 1994, the Sudan civil war between the southern rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the northern forces reached my village. I realized that my family could only be safe in exile, so we fled to Uganda. Life in Uganda soon became hard because of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels. They burned the houses of the refugees and even fellow civilians in Uganda.
By God’s provision, [the southern Sudan city of] Yei was liberated in early March 1997, which prompted my family and me to return home from exile. While on the way from Uganda to Sudan, we needed to cross through Congo (formerly known as Zaire). The Congolese militias did not like Sudanese refugees entering their country. If a Sudanese was caught by a Congolese soldier, he would be handed over to the government in exchange for food items, such as salt and sugar. Older men were sold for ten bags of salt, while youth were sold for twenty bags of sugar and ten bags of salt.
I even witnessed my pastor being sold and brought to Yei. At the time, the northern military was imposing Sharia (Islamic) Law across all of Sudan, including the Christian south. My pastor was commanded by soldiers to say “Allah Akbar” (God is great). Instead, he proclaimed “Halleluya Yesua” (Hallelujah Jesus). He was beaten and again commanded to exclaim “Allah Akbar.” His response was the same, “Halleluya Yesua!” For this act of defiance, he was tortured and thrown in prison, but the key for the prison could not be found. The guards looked for the key for nine hours but could not find it. Finally, they released him, saying, “Go, you cursed!” The guards then followed the pastor home to his church of worship in Yei town, and burnt the church down.
I remember one night when many Christians were imprisoned for praising the Lord. The soldiers said to them, “If God is really here, than prove it. Let Him save you!” After hearing this, I gathered a group of believers together and we began praying unceasingly throughout the night for those captured, believing that God would rescue them. At 3:00 am, the prisoners showed up at the front door while we were still praying for them! We praised God for releasing our brothers in Christ!
Then there were the Antonovs (Soviet built bombers operated by the north). You knew they were near by the loud, buzzing sound of the engines, and fear would immediately take hold of you. Only one question raced through your mind: “Where will the bombs fall?” I remember one night in Yei when we heard that terrible sound approaching. An SPLA traitor climbed high in a tree, signaling the Antonov to drop its bombs over our church. We began praying, and none of the bombs fell on our church.
Christians were often treated badly and suffered for their faith. If a person agreed to be a Muslim, they were given food daily. Some that converted to Islam were branded with a hot iron on the buttocks as a symbol of their allegiance to Allah in order to obtain food rations. For those who remained Christian, some were thrown into the Yei River or put in an empty sack and thrown into a pit as a result of refusing to be a Muslim. At times, we also had trouble with the SPLA, the army who was there to protect us. At nearby churches in Lainya, SPLA troops would use the buildings as their barracks and force the congregation to carry bullets and weapons to the frontlines. They would also raid villages, looting our possessions and livelihood. Many terrible things happened during the war, yet even still, the promises of God were not forgotten by the believers.
When the church was persecuted, many Christians went underground or joined other fellowships of believers, holding small prayer gatherings at their homes and under trees. However, the church could not be defeated or weakened and today it is strong and growing. I will continue to pray for my country Sudan. I encourage the Christians to remain firm and united serving the Lord’s people for life. Neither poverty nor hardship nor death will separate me from the love of God as it is written in Paul’s letters to the Romans (8:38-39). May the Almighty God bring an end to the suffering and the persecutions of the Christians in South Sudan.”