Praying for persecuted places

Gary Fallesen

Praying for persecuted places

Project Prayer 2021

PAKISTAN

Distributing Bibles is legal in Pakistan but can be opposed by Muslims.

It was dubbed one of the biggest stories in Pakistan in 2020: the abduction of a 13-year-old Christian girl, Arzoo Raja, who was forced to marry a 44-year-old Muslim man. Sadly, this is not a news story, but the same old story.

“Christian girls are so much persecuted by forceful conversion,” said our Pakistani ministry partner, whose own sister was abducted and forced to marry a Muslim in 2014.

“Please keep praying for Christian girls who are in great persecution because the media do not show it; even hiding the news. Every second day, it is happening in Pakistan with Christian girls because of their faith.”

The International Christian Concern (ICC) recently cited a study that estimates 1,000 Christian and Hindu women – many of them minors – are abducted, forced into marriage, and forced to convert to Islam every year. “Sexual assaults and fraudulent marriages are used by perpetrators to entrap victims and authorities are often complicit,” the ICC reported.

Religion is injected into cases to put minority believers at a disadvantage.

“Christians are considered second-class citizens, inferior to Muslims,” Open Doors ministry stated in ranking Pakistan the fifth-hardest country in the world for Christ followers. Only North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Libya are considered worse on the 2021 World Watch List.

We are starting February with a short prayer series focusing on countries on the World Watch List in which Climbing For Christ serves – Pakistan, India (at No. 10), Turkey (No. 25), Nepal (No. 34), and Indonesia  (No. 47).

Pakistan is 98-percent Muslim with only about 4 million Christians in a country of 208 million people. “Because of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, Christians are at constant risk of being falsely accused of blaspheming Islam, the Quran or Muhammad, and they receive harsh punishments when convicted,” the Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) reported in its 2021 Global Prayer Guide.

Christians often work the most menial jobs or are victims of slavery.

“Brick workers are also facing many problems of (forced) conversion,” said a long-time Climbing For Christ member and the founder of Save Pakistan ministries. God has used C4C to pay the debts of 73 children and 26 adults, freeing them from slavery in abusive brick factories.

Street evangelism and the distribution of Bibles are permitted in Pakistan. But some Muslim groups oppose the spread of the Gospel, and heinous attacks on churches have occurred on CHRISTmas and Easter.

“Many Christians live together in closed neighborhoods known as colonies, which provide a measure of security amid the widespread oppression,” VOM said. Our ministry partner and his family live in such a colony, where Climbing For Christ helped them build a church.

“Those living in rural, tribal and mountainous areas have little access to God’s Word,” VOM reported.

Please join us in praying for Save Pakistan and the work God is doing through this ministry. Pray for courage and boldness among believers in Pakistan. May they overcome fear through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. May His Word go out to the unreached living in the mountains. We ask for protection for the church, especially the young Christian women and girls who are targeted by Muslim men. Father, watch over those who have been abducted, forced into marriage and conversion to Islam; may they keep You in their hearts. Give them strength. In the powerful name of Jesus, we pray - amen

INDIA

Praying on a riverbank for new believers from Himachal Pradesh before a recent baptism.

Thirty-two of the 37 countries in the world that are less than 10 percent Christian are in Asia, and five of those are places where Climbing For Christ serves. These five nations also are among the 50 most difficult places to be a Christian: Pakistan, India, Turkey, Nepal, and Indonesia.

“Yes, indeed things are getting worse here in India,” said a Climbing For Christ member and ministry partner in northern India.

Ironically, that is the result of a growing church. There are more than 67 million Christians in India, still only 4.9 percent of the country’s population of nearly 1.4 billion people. But 25 years ago, many parts of India were unreached.

“The persecution that our Indian Christian brothers and sisters are facing is the enemy’s reaction to his great failure – a tremendous move of God in which hundreds of thousands of Hindus have come to Christ in India’s most hostile areas,” the Voice of the Martyrs reported.

VOM notes that under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has seen a 20-percent increase in membership. Hindu extremists believe all Indians should be Hindus, and that Christianity is a foreign religion. This has led to anti-conversion laws in at least eight of India’s 29 states, including the western Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh.

Our ministry partner serves in that corner of India. When asked how we can pray for Christians there, he made three requests: 1. For “strongholds of evils spirits to be fallen down.” 2. Protection from “various groups working against Christianity, (that) hinder the work of the Gospel.” 3. “Providing regular training for the people, especially the youth coming to the Lord.”

We praise God for what He is doing in India. That those who are physically attacked would be counted worthy by Jesus. But we ask for His protection, especially for new believers, who live in isolation in remote areas.

While India has one of the largest Bible societies in the world, VOM stated, “many rural Christians have never had access to a Bible. Bibles remain unaffordable for those who suffer severe poverty resulting from oppression in Hindu- and Muslim-controlled areas.” We have been honored to provide Bibles through Climbing For Christ members in southeastern India. They continue to deliver the Living Word to remote interior regions where idolatry is practiced.

“Thank you so much for your prayers all these years,” said one of our members, adding that through continued prayer “we will reach and win more souls in these persecuted regions.” Pray on!

TURKEY

A dear Kurdish friend, in the wheelchair, has been in our prayers since we met him on Mount Ararat in 2014.

The roads were icy and snow-covered as temperatures hovered well below zero degrees. Our Kingdom worker negotiated the treacherous drive for one reason: “It was snow and cold everywhere, but it was a great feeling because we know we are doing something for Isa Mesih (Jesus).”

He arrived in eastern Turkey, in the shadow of Mount Ararat, and began visiting family members we have come to know and love over the past eight years. This was our brother’s third follow-up to last July’s Mission: Ararat 2020. This visit, which is occurring now, had been delayed more than a month by government curfews imposed because of COVID-19.

Our co-worker, who we led to the Lord in 2019, was sharing with one household about Jesus and Christianity. The patriarch, a Muslim we first met on the mountain in 2013, told him: “Christian people are much better than the Muslims.”

“I smiled to him,” our brother relayed. “I said, ‘I agree with you.’”

Turkey is 96-percent Muslim. Religious nationalism is very strong and is growing under the leadership of the current president. From 2020 to 2021, Turkey moved up from 36th to 25th on the World Watch List of persecuted countries. This week’s prayer initiative continues today with Turkey.

When the 2021 World Watch List was announced by Open Doors ministry, our worker stated matter-of-factly: “They (Muslims) are trying to crush us. They hate us.”

Our brother has been confronted by military and police who, upon learning he is a Christian, demand: “You are Turkish and you are living in a Muslim country; why are you not Muslim?!”

The Voice of the Martyrs wrote in its 2021 Global Prayer Guide: “Unfortunately, Islam is considered by most Turks to be part of their national identity; it is hard for them to imagine leaving Islam even if they know little about its teachings and do not practice its tenets.

“Evangelism faces significant opposition in Turkey, and Christian converts from Islam are harassed and pressured from all sides. Believers are opposed by their families, communities, and all levels of government.”

We had to move two shepherds from one mountain area to another after Muslim neighbors opposed their conversion in southeastern Turkey.

However, in eastern Turkey, our approach has been to deliver the Gospel to entire families. We have lovingly shared a desire to make them a part of our “family.” Several households have been exposed to the Truth and we have welcomed at least two dozen believers into the fold in the past year.

Operation World recently declared, “Many previously unevangelized peoples are experiencing spiritual first fruits and in some cases breakthroughs.” Among the people groups listed were the Kurds.

When our brother arrived at the home of one Kurd, bound to a wheelchair since a fall from a horse in his youth, he greeted him with “a big smile on his face and he said, ‘Incil geldi isa Mesihin en sevdi─či kulu geldi.’ That means, ‘The Bible is coming. Jesus’ son is coming.’ He said this with a very excited voice and with a lovely smile in his face.”

These words were music to our ears.

While we are welcome in some houses, many remain off limits. The place where the early Church began and flourished now is home to fewer than 200,000 believers – or 0.2 percent of the country’s population.

The International Christian Concern reported this week that it has “observed a marked increase of reported religious freedom violations within Turkey since the start of the New Year. These violations should be taken seriously and they are indicative that something is very wrong [in] regards to religious freedom in Turkey.”

Many HIStoric church buildings have been converted into mosques. “In Turkey,” Open Doors noted, “one’s religious affiliation is recorded on the electronic chip of identity cards, making it easy to discriminate against Christians.” The VOM has labeled Turkey a “restricted” nation, like China, Morocco, Pakistan, Tunisia, and Uzbekistan (to name a few).

PRAY that the stifling and suspicious atmosphere for Christians in Turkey will change. That converts will stand firm in their faith and grow closer to the One who calls them His. Ask the Lord of the harvest to protect the workers, especially our brother who labors to the glory of God. Grow Your church, Father. Be exalted in this place, where the church got its start.

NEPAL

Baptizing new believers in the mountains.

Our Kingdom worker in Nepal sent us a video this week showing a Bible being burned in his country. “They put the Bible on the fire, and they are telling, ‘The Christian God is destroyed. The Christian religion is destroyed. Jesus Christ is destroyed. Nepalese Christians are destroyed,’” he said, translating the video for us.

The social media post he sent included a comment by a brother in Christ: “His Word will always remain firm. Lord, forgive these people because they don’t know what they are doing. Change the heart. Amen.”

This is a good prayer and a good place to start our focus on persecution in Nepal.

Hinduism, the main religion of Nepal with 24-million adherents (nearly 84 percent of the population), and Buddhism, followed by eight percent of the country (the majority of those living in the Himalayas), have a long history here. Christianity (with nearly 1.3 million followers) does not.

“Some say Christianity is a foreign religion trying to establish itself in Nepal and convert the people of Nepal by giving them money,” said a long-time Climbing For Christ member and ministry partner. “People also say Christianity is a religion that eats cows – beef eaters – because cows are holy animals to the Hindu.”

Christianity was illegal in Nepal until 1951, when borders long closed to foreigners were reopened and missionaries returned to this Hindu kingdom. In 2015, a new constitution granted religious freedom. But in 2017, Nepal’s Parliament caved to external pressure and criminalized converting to Christianity. The anti-conversion law threatens five years in prison and a fine to those who proselytize. As a result, Voice of the Martyrs considers Nepal a “hostile” country.

“Family, friends, companies, employees, and the public don’t accept the one believing in Christ,” our ministry partner said. “Sometimes, some are compelled to leave their homes. Some get beaten up and threatened by society not to preach the Gospel. It truly means to be a Christian in Nepal is to suffer a lot socially, physically, and mentally.

“It is dangerous because the anti-conversion law is active and easy for anti-Christians to twist issues and complain against Christians whom they don’t agree with or like. Then police will intentionally listen to their voices instead of the facts. It is so risky here, especially for those who work on the front line – like pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and Christian social workers. We really need prayer.”

Hindu nationalists want to see this country – one of only two Hindu-majority countries in the world (India is the other) – return to being a Hindu kingdom.

Delivering COVID-19 relief to those in need.

Our co-worker there asks that we pray for “a breakdown of the evil power in Nepal.” May hearts be open to the Truth. May Christians, who Open Doors says are looked at as “second-class citizens,” be treated equally.

When COVID-19 relief was distributed last year by the government, Christians did not receive anything. Thanks be to God, Climbing For Christ was blessed to deliver $15,800 USD in aid to believers.

“God called me to expand the kingdom of God in Nepal,” our brother said. “Here, it is getting difficult for sharing the Good News. I haven’t got fear because Matthew 10:16b says ‘be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.’”

We pray for wisdom for Christians in Nepal. May the boldness we have witnessed among our brothers and sisters in Christ continue. We lift our co-laborers there and ask they be used by the Lord to deliver the Good News in remote mountain villages.

INDONESIA

Camera-shy children, lower left, hide in the boulders on a remote mountain stream in Central Sulawesi.

“For me,” one Climbing For Christ member in Indonesia said, “not all places are dangerous.”

The degree of hostility toward Christians in the world’s largest Muslim nation is based on one thing: location, location, location.

“Christians living in cities can worship openly,” Voice of the Martyrs reported in its 2021 Global Prayer Guide. “In rural areas, churches that actively share their faith face persecution from Muslims, local governments, and the community.”

Although Christianity is a recognized religion (along with Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism), it is illegal to evangelize. However, it is legal to convert from Islam to Christianity.

But Open Doors, which moved Indonesia up from 49th to 47th on this year’s World Watch List, stated: “Christians who grew up in a Muslim home often experience persecution from their families. However, persecution intensity varies given the individual family and location.

“Only a small percentage of converts face physical violence for their Christian faith. In certain hot spots, like West Java or Aceh, extremist Islamic groups are strong and heavily influence society and politics.”

Our C4C member and Indonesia leader said, “The big Muslim organization, we call FPI (Front Pembela Islam), was closed by the government on Dec. 30, 2020. Keep praying (against) the radical Muslims still in our country. They are underground in places like Central Sulawesi.”

Climbing For Christ sent a team on Mission: Indonesia 2019 into Central Sulawesi, where “civil unrest” continues to be a threat. We were scheduled to return to Sulawesi in 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic cancelled those plans. The country remains closed to us because of COVID-19.

More than 1-in-10 of the world’s Muslims live in Indonesia. But the Church continues to grow – with nearly 13 percent of the population (more than 33 million people) following Jesus. Operation World, a global prayer guide, credits national workers, local evangelists, and ordinary believers with recent gains made by the Church.

We pray for the bold indigenous evangelists who VOM said are willing to share the Gospel and lead to Christ those Muslims disillusioned by the violent acts of Islamic extremists. While more than 82 percent of the country is Muslim (about 225 million people), most practice “folk Islam” – a mix of animism, superstition, and Sunni Islam.

Operation World, in a recent prayer guide to “Hot Spots of Asia,” said Indonesia has “stabilized somewhat.” But authorities warn of extremists who are constantly plotting possible attacks that may come with little or no warning.

We have seen that attacks and persecution in places like Indonesia, Nepal, Turkey, India, Pakistan – or anywhere else in the world – are, ultimately, counterproductive.

Early Christian author Tertullian is credited with saying, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

In a sermon published in This Gospel, a brother in Christ who serves in a persecuted place, wrote: “Suffering releases the presence of Jesus. Suffering establishes His worth. And because a fallen world is in rebellion, a worthy Jesus is persecuted further, and further persecution releases further fragrance and further worth. And the more the body of Christ suffers, the more Jesus is lifted up. Thus, Jesus is worthy of our suffering over and over again!”

May our brothers and sisters in Indonesia, Nepal, Turkey, India, and Pakistan lift up Jesus. Our prayer is that Jesus would be glorified!

The final Word

“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.” – Jesus speaking in John 15:18 (NLT)

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