Persecution and Prayer Alert

"Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You believe in God; believe also in Me."

~ Jesus' words to His disciples (John 14:1 NIV)

IRAQ: Christians Forced to Flee Upon Threat of Death

Sources: Middle East Concern, Release International, CNN

Families who have fled from Mosul check into Kelek camp.
Photo: World Watch Monitor

Christians in Iraq, and especially those from the city of Mosul, are enduring yet more hardship and persecution because of their faith. The militant group called the "Islamic State" (previously known as ISIS), which is presently in control of Mosul, summoned Christian leaders to a meeting on July 17th to notify them of Islamic rules that are to be applied to non-Muslims. When the Christian leaders did not attend this meeting, it was announced that the remaining believers in the city should leave, pay a "protection" tax, or face execution. The Christians were also ordered to leave all of their property behind.

The ultimatum was initially set for noon on July 18th, but was then extended by 24 hours. Earlier, the Islamic State (IS) sought the takeover of houses belonging to members of minority communities by marking them with the phrase "property of the Islamic State" -- including homes that were still inhabited by families. Christian houses were marked with the letter "N" for "Nazarite."

It is believed that most Christian families have now fled from Mosul, many to areas of northern Iraq under Kurdish control. Some fleeing families were reportedly stopped at checkpoints manned by IS militants who ruthlessly confiscated their personal belongings, including money, jewelry and mobile phones.

The Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil, Bashar M. Warda, said of this upsetting news: "Christians have lost their trust in the land and in the future. Since 2003, two-thirds of the Christians have left the country. June was the first month in 1,600 years in which Mosul did not celebrate any mass. The attack on Christians has been immense." To view a recent BBC video clip about this situation, click here.

Trusting that God is ultimately in control, pray that He will use even these devastating events for His greater purposes. May His suffering children not despair or grow weary while under such severe trial, but look to Him for daily sustenance, strength and grace. Pray that those who have been forced to flee their homes will find safe refuge in other areas of the country, so that they may begin to rebuild their lives. Please also intercede for the militants of IS, asking God to work powerfully in their hearts so that they may turn from evil and instead embrace Jesus Christ as Lord. For it is God's desire that Iraq become a country where Christians can live peaceably and continue with the building of His Kingdom without threat of danger or loss.

In light of the immense needs facing our persecuted family in Iraq, VOMC is working with our trusted partners to provide emergency relief and pharmaceutical support. To join us in this vital work, please visit our donation page or contact our office at 1-888-298-6423.

KENYA: Christians Continuing to Face Violent Attacks

Sources: World Watch Monitor, Open Doors

After at least 65 people were killed a month ago on June 15th in the predominantly Christian town of Mkepetoni, attacks in the area have continued. In the June attack, an estimated 50 gunmen stormed the village and dragged victims out of their homes. Women and children were released, but men were asked if they were Muslim or Christian. Those who answered Christian were immediately shot.

On July 5th, up to 20 attackers with guns and knives killed at least 13 people in a village near Mkepetoni. Among those killed was Kenya Kazungu, who had been found in a pool of blood with a Bible on his back. One survivor testified that the assailants told non-Muslims to leave the area. "The attackers talked in Somali and Swahili, saying non-Muslims should get out; and, if not, they should convert to Islam."

Two nights later, assailants arrived at a church just north of the village as a Bible study ended. As the participants fled, two men, Joseph Kangethe and Kenda Masha, instead chose to hide. Sadly, they died when the attackers set fire to the building. Another church building in a neighboring county, located within the village of Gamba, was also razed the same night.

This ongoing pattern of attacks is particularly terrifying because the Somali Islamist militant group, Al Shabab, appears to be claiming responsibility. Sources also indicate that an intricate web of overlapping political and religious agendas is thickening in the region, with clashing interests over land, religion, ethnicity and politics.

As the situation becomes even more tenuous for Christ-followers in Kenya, pray that God will strengthen the faith of His children. Also pray that the country's authorities will seek justice in the aftermath of these callous attacks, and that adequate protection will now be provided for surviving believers. May the truth regarding the culprits of these vicious assaults be made known, leading to the accountability of these perpetrators and ultimately the recognition of their need for a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Finally, please pray that the church in Kenya will be a beacon of light and hope to their fellow countrymen who have yet to know Him as Lord.

To share your own prayer requests for our persecuted family in Kenya, please visit our Persecuted Church Prayer Wall.


CHINA: Gao Zhisheng to be Released from Prison Next Month

Sources: Christian Solidarity Worldwide, China Aid

Gao Zhisheng

Prison authorities recently announced to the family of human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng that he will be released next month. In a recent interview, Gao's wife, Geng He, shared that her husband's brother had managed to contact Shaya Prison, where Gao is being held, to request a visit. The prison authorities told Gao's brother that the detained Christian would be released on August 7th after finishing the required time in prison. However, the authorities did not respond to the inquiring brother's request to collect Gao from prison on his anticipated release date, explaining later that the prison needed to contact Beijing to work out the specifics of the release. Concerns remain about the degree to which the authorities will grant Gao genuine freedom in August, and whether his release will be subject to conditions or restrictions.

Gao is a prominent Christian human rights lawyer who is best known for his work defending vulnerable groups, including Christians. As a result, the government shut down his law firm and revoked his lawyer's license. In 2006, Gao was illegally detained by the police and later sentenced to three years in prison with a probation period of five years on the charge of "inciting to subvert the state power." In April of 2010, Gao disappeared while visiting his in-laws in Xinjiang. The following December, it was reported that because Gao violated the terms of his probation, he had been ordered to return to prison for another three years. (For more information on Gao's detention, please visit this page.)

Please pray that Gao will indeed be released next month and permitted to return home to his eager family members and friends. May his release be unconditional, and may authorities cease persecuting this brave man of unwavering faith. Ask God to continue to use Gao, whether imprisoned or free, to raise awareness for those who are suffering injustice and embolden the faith of other believers in China and around the world. Please also pray that religious freedom will soon be respected for all citizens in China.

For more information on China's persecuted church, visit our China Country Report.

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