Father, as Alimjan suffers in prison, innocent of the crimes for which he is accused, we pray Your hand of healing and protection to rest upon him. Grant him opportunities to share the gospel with other inmates and to minister the Word to other believers that this time might not be in vain. Strengthen his wife, Gulnur, as she provides for her family, and grant her wisdom in these current conflicts with a business partner. Wash over them both with Your peace that is greater than all of their troubles. In the name of Jesus, in whom we place all our trust, Amen.
Central African Republic: Conditions at Refugee Camps "Shocking"
Posted on January 21, 2014 by Daniel in Stories
012114-car-odusaChristians gathered for worship on Jan 12, in the refugee camp at CAR's Bangui Airport. An Open Doors (OD) co-worker reported joining them for worship and communion in the midst of appalling conditions. He witnessed firsthand the desperate circumstances that aid agencies, including the UN humanitarian agency, have been reporting from CAR. The UN humanitarian agency reported increasing food and clean water shortages, and fears that tougher times are ahead as many people have lost their livelihoods and don't have seed for the next planting season. "People live like real animals. There is no latrine. People are living in over-crowded conditions," reported the co-worker.
Aid agencies estimate that at least 1 million people, about a fifth of the population, have been displaced by the violence in CAR. OD visited two of the camps scattered around Bangui from Jan 11-12. "There are 57 refugee sites in the city of Bangui. At the airport, there are at least 100,000 people. I went there this morning to worship and pray with the Christians who gathered there after victimization by ex-Seleka forces," wrote the OD co-worker.
He noted that tension permeated the atmosphere in the camps.
"The airport site inspires fear. Among the refugees there are members of anti-Balaka groups and also Muslims who disguise themselves as people of peace and then throw grenades among Christians."
Following the Jan 10 resignation of the interim president and the prime minister, the newly appointed interim president Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet issued a stern statement, saying, "The chaos is over; the pillaging is over, the revenge attacks are over."
Though violence continued over the weekend, by Jan 13, the atmosphere had reportedly calmed down some. The countless refugees across the country welcome the indications of the political will to end the crisis. However, bringing peace to CAR will be no easy task. Open Doors, in partnership with the local church, continues to call on the United Nations Security Council to approve the launch of a full-scale peacekeeping operation in CAR, which appeared this year on the World Watch List for the first time, ranking 16.
Considering the tremendously difficult circumstances Christians are facing, it is praiseworthy that the OD co-worker found them gathered for worship in the two refugee camps he visited. Though encouraged by their faithfulness, this OD worker, unnamed for his security, remains overwhelmed by the immense needs of those he met. "I have met many pastors who have been victimized who are in dire need of assistance. Our discreet assistance to others previously has made a big difference and I hope that we can make the same difference for these pastors I recently met."
Father, as we lift up yet one more nation on the continent of Africa caught up in conflict, we pray for Christians in the Central African Republic as they face this wave of persecution. We pray Your protection over the thousands who are living in horrific conditions at the refugee camps. Provide for their temporal needs and protect them from those who would destroy them. Pour out Your blessing upon them as they worship You even in the midst of fear and trauma. Strengthen the pastors who are in need of assistance that Open Doors workers might find safe ways to help. Soften the hearts of the nation's leaders and accomplish a work of reconciliation among them. In the name of Jesus, who is our strength when we are weak, Amen.
South Sudan in Turmoil
Posted on January 21, 2014 by Daniel in Stories
012114-sudan-odusaLess than three years after South Sudan voted for independence, a power struggle is rocking the world's youngest nation, resulting in extensive fighting since Dec 15. According to Al-Jazeera, the conflict between forces loyal to South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, and a coalition of army defectors and ethnic militia loyal to Riek Machar, has already left at least 1,000 dead and 400,000 displaced. Most of the fighting has been concentrated around the oil-rich border areas. The rebels took the cities of Bentiu and Bor, but the government took back Bentiu earlier this month while continuing a campaign for Bor. Fighting remains fierce throughout the region.
Meanwhile, peace talks in Addis Ababa seem to be stalling, though efforts to arrange a cease-fire agreement by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) regional bloc are continuing. Donald Booth, US special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, reportedly met with Riek Machar over the Jan 11-12 weekend and with Salva Kiir the following Monday.
So far Open Door's Emmanuel Christian College in Goli has not been directly touched by the violence. However, we expect that many of the students from northern affected areas will be unable to make it for the start of the new term. The local team is doing all they can to arrange for the students' safe passage to the center.
Father, we lift up this new nation, the Republic of South Sudan, who as a people set out to make their nation one that brings honor to You. As they now face internal conflict among the political forces, we pray for the negotiation process that soon there will be peace and reconciliation. As we consider these people who not so long ago suffered unthinkable atrocities from their countrymen to the north, we pray Your grace to be a soothing balm to heal the trauma of this new conflict. Protect innocent lives caught in the crossfire. We thank You for the many Christians who serve You there, and pray Your protection over them. Grant wisdom and discernment to church leaders as they guide Your people through this trying time. We pray for the students enrolled in Emmanuel Christian College, that You might provide safe travels for those who are still on the road. As they are trained up, use them, Lord to be ministers of reconciliation among the variety of ethnic groups they represent. In the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, Amen.
Bomb Scare for Congregation in Mali
Posted on January 21, 2014 by Daniel in Stories
012114-mali-odusaDisaster was narrowly averted for a local congregation in Gao, Mali, on Jan 12, when military personnel patrolling the area that Sunday morning discovered explosives behind one of the doors of their meeting place. After police ushered frightened parishioners to safety, French army personnel were able to safely diffuse the devices.
In 2012, Mali seemed to be another state on the verge of succumbing to an Islamic takeover. But in January 2013, the French military intervened and helped to stabilize the situation, at least temporarily. Sadly, for the Christian community, the infrastructure of Christianity in the north has been largely destroyed. Believers who are slowly trickling back to the north are forced to meet in school classrooms because churches have been either looted or destroyed. An Open Doors representative in the area comments, "Building up a Christian presence again will be difficult, and the Christians who fled the north are afraid to return."
Even though most Malian Christians, who make up less than 5% of the population, live in the southern region, they still feel threatened by Islamists in the north and fear a new uprising.
This month's bomb threat has left church members shaken, but thankful for God's protection. Please pray for this small community of believers.
We thank You, Father, for protecting this Christian community that has suffered so greatly in recent years. Continue to protect them not only as they suffer for their faith in Christ, but also as they live in fear of bandits who continue to be a threat in Gao. We pray for Your sustaining grace to these believers as they seek to live lives that honor You, and demonstrate the presence of Christ in them in the midst of these difficulties. Give them opportunities to share the gospel of Christ with their Muslim neighbors. In the name of Jesus, our sustainer and provider, Amen.
World Watch List Challenge- 2 Somalia
Posted on January 20, 2014 by Janelle in Countries, Stories
After many years of anarchy, elections last September paved the way for greater stability and growth in Somalia. The decreased violence, coupled with increased successes in the internationally supported fight to drive out al Shabaab Islamist insurgents, greatly improved the atmosphere in Somalia. This did not necessarily bring freedom for the church, but it did bring some welcomed consistency, and created "space" for increased discipleship – albeit still under great secrecy.
However, the atmosphere is changing rapidly.
The newly installed Somali government is increasingly challenged in its efforts to maintain stability. It was expected that President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud would stamp out notorious clan politics, corruption and the "stubborn Islamist insurgency" of al Shabaab. But observers say his inexperienced government lacks funds and also the authority to get the job done. Additionally, in the absence of clear instruction from the provisional constitution, the government is battling to find a way to divide power between the center and the regions.
Al Shabaab, in what they called their "Ramadan Offensive", went to great lengths to warn the government of President Mohamud not to underestimate the insurgents' power and influence. The month of fasting saw several attacks in Mogadishu.
The Somali constitution continues to see Islam as the sole religion in the country, and the Quran and the Sunnah as the main source of the law within the country.
• 6 days ago
Heavenly Father, thank You for the Somali people and for Your promise that we will be worshiping alongside them in Heaven. You know the plight of the people there far better than I do; just seems like a never-ending state of conflict that uproots people's lives and that kills and injures. Father, I draw comfort this morning from knowing that no one loves the Somali people more than You do. That somehow, some way, You will glorify Yourself in Somalia, and that You will make good out of the evil that is perpetrated on Your children there. Thank You, Father, for Your promises. May Your Holy Spirit bring those promises to the forefront of the mind of those who are suffering for Your Son. May they hear Your still small voice guiding their next steps. Father, I pray that You turn this country that has vaulted to 2 on the WWL into a shining light and beacon of Your great love and that through Somalia, many are drawn to the Kingdom. I ask these things in the Name above all names, the King above all kings, The Lord above all lords, Your Precious Son, My Savior, and Savior of the world, Jesus. Amen.
Literacy Draws Woman to Christ
Posted on January 17, 2014 by Janelle in Countries, Stories
Ever wonder about the real lives and people that are being affected through Open Doors' literacy programs? Here we meet Zohra*, a woman from Bangladesh whose life was forever changed by the opportunity to learn to read, and ultimately, read about the One who created her.
My name is Zohra, and I am 30 years old. I'm married to Mateen, a laborer, and we have a ten year old daughter, Anamika. I was born in a Muslim family in Bangladesh. Our society expects women to stay at home. Though the government strives to educate young girls, family tradition and economic limitations force them to drop out. Eventually, when they reach their teens, they are set up for marriage.
Because my family forced me to stop schooling when I was very young, I thought my dream of becoming a valuable part of society would never be fulfilled. I always knew about the importance of education, and I really wanted to get a diploma. But, true to tradition, my family married me off to Mateen when I was 15. Mateen didn't go to school either.
That was before I met Sharinah, a literacy teacher. Sharinah and I became good friends, and we shared our lives with one another. Some tears and laughter and many stories later, Sharinah sat down with me and shared the most important story of all – the story of Jesus Christ.
I didn't know how to read, so Sharinah would read the Bible to me. She would read about miracles, healings, suffering and joy. She would read about Jesus's love and sacrifice, about how He came into the world to save us from sin and death. I would listen and imagine, and cling to her every word.
Sharinah's stories were wonderful. Because of them, I surrendered my life to Christ. With that decision came the desire to proclaim my faith, and I was baptized not long after. I wanted Mateen to know Christ too, but I couldn't read the Bible to him. I prayed, and God answered. In January 2013, Sharinah started literacy classes near my home.
In class, we would always start and end with a prayer. Sharinah, now my teacher, would show us pictures as she presented Bible stories. We would learn the alphabet, try to pronounce, spell and discover meanings behind unfamiliar words.
I can read the Bible now. God truly answers prayers. I'm still a bit slow, but it is my great joy to finally be able to read all those stories about Jesus to my husband. We can manage our home better, because I've also learned how to add and subtract. Now, we can be more conscious of our family expenses.
Spiritually, I have never been better. I praise God for how He has allowed me to savor His Word. With it, He continually teaches me to be patient and forgiving. Now, I don't easily get upset. Peace has come into my household, because we no longer fight over petty things.
My neighbors have also noticed the change in me and my family. Other women now come to me to seek advice about family matters. I try to be a good example to them and I advise them to be patient, too, just as how the Lord has taught me.
*Names have been changed to protect the believers in this testimony.
Pray that Zohra and her family continue to grow in their faith in Jesus.
Praise God for Sharinah's life and ministry. Continue to pray for Christian workers like her; that they will be diligent and encouraged in their vocation, and that more people would know Christ through their example.
Zohra hopes that her husband and neighbors will also benefit from the literacy classes. Please pray that more programs like this will open near her home, and for the Lord to provide for them.
World Watch List Challenge 1 North Korea
Posted on January 13, 2014 by Janelle in Countries, Stories
There is no other country in the world where Christians are so fiercely persecuted because of their faith. Like other North Koreans, Christians live under one of the most oppressive regimes in recent history. They have to deal with corrupt officials, horrific policies, natural disasters, diseases, and starvation. On top of all this, they must hide their decision to follow Christ.
The regime is anti-Christian for two main reasons:
All other religions are seen as harmful to North Korea's Juche ideology, which stresses the importance of man's self-reliance. Because the people are forced to worship their leaders, there is simply no room for other gods.
Christianity is the religion of North Korea's enemies. Christians are seen as spies of the "imperialist Americans" and the "treacherous South Koreans." North Koreans are told that Christians use religion to poison their "glorious nation." As a result of this, the church has been completely pushed underground. It consists of 200,000 – 400,000 believers. Of these, between 50,000 – 70,000 are held in Nazi-like concentration camps and prisons.
"Christians have to teach their children the principles of the gospel without using words such as God, Jesus or the Bible," shares Chin Ho, a Christian from North Korea. "They make up stories with Christian values. Once the children are old enough to keep their faith secret, the parents explain to them the full gospel. This usually happens when the children are between ten and fifteen years old."
Despite being the most difficult place to be a Christian, the underground church in North Korea continues to grow- even in the prison camps.
*Names, photographs and other information have been changed for security purposes