Persecution and Prayer Alert

"Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness;
He is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous."

~ Psalm 112:4 NKJV


UKRAINE: Oppression of Christians Escalates

Source: Release International

Pray for the safety of church members in Ukraine.
Photo: Flickr / Peter Collins

Since the political uprising began in Ukraine, pro-Russian separatists have taken control of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of the country. The takeover has resulted in an escalating frequency of attacks being made against Christians residing within these areas, including the recent seizure of an evangelical church in Donetsk.

This latest attack took place on November 12th by armed separatists who broke into a newly constructed church, forcing the congregant members out of the building and forbidding them from holding any further services there. The separatists also threatened to kill anyone who disobeyed their orders.

A statement was issued by The Council of Evangelical Protestant Churches of Ukraine this past July, reporting on the intense persecution of Christians, and of evangelicals in particular. This statement made reference to the "abductions, beatings, torture, threats of execution, pogroms at the places of prayer meetings," as well as the capture of Christian buildings. Concerned ministry workers within Ukraine state that "the threat of war on a large scale" is growing daily.

Please pray for the protection of our oppressed brethren in Ukraine as they experience mounting insecurity and persecution. May they hold fast to their faith, being assured through the promises of God's Word that safe refuge can be found in Him (Proverbs 18:10). Pray particularly for the pastors and church leaders within these regions, asking the Lord to grant them wisdom from on high as they seek to lead their congregations amid such difficult circumstances and provide ongoing encouragement to those in their communities. Despite the invasion of darkness in this country, may the followers of Christ continue to let their lights shine brightly so that others in need of salvation will discover "the Way, the Truth and the Life" (John 14:6).


NIGERIA: Militants Seize Hometown of Abducted Schoolgirls

Sources: BBC, Fox News

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau.
Wikipedia via Morning Star News

It has recently been reported that the northeastern Nigerian town of Chibok (in Borno state) has been seized by Boko Haram militants. Since the group's abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls in April of 2014, this mainly Christian town has been frequently mentioned in international news headlines. Boko Haram has also repeatedly targeted the villages surrounding Chibok in recent months in its fight to create an Islamic state within Nigeria.

Borno state senator Ali Ndume reported that security forces posted in Chibok ran from the area during the attack as they were greatly outnumbered by the insurgents. A vigilante who was present at the time, in his effort to assist with the defense of the town, now serves as an eye witness of the scene. "You couldn't count (the militants) because there were so many," he testifies. "All the security and the soldiers ran away and left us on our own. They didn't shoot at them, they just ran. All the ammunition we had was finished, so there was no way we could attempt to hold the area."

Since the kidnapping of the schoolgirls, much concern has been raised over the fact that the area is not well protected. (For our previous report on the kidnapping incident, please click here.) As a result, thousands of Chibok residents have fled their hometown community, hoping to find safety in other parts of the country. In the midst of this perilous situation, especially considering the large number of abducted girls who have yet to be rescued from captivity, it is encouraging to learn from the officials and residents of Mubi (also located in northeastern Nigeria) that the army has managed to recapture their town from Boko Haram's control. To learn more about the challenges facing our Christian brothers and sisters in Nigeria, you may review VOMC’s country report.

First of all, let us pray for God's perfect peace to calm the distraught hearts of the kidnapped girls and their families, as well as those of their once close-knit Chibok community (Philippians 4:7). May He reveal the whereabouts of the girls who are still being held captive so they can be safely rescued and joyfully reunited with their loved ones. In the meantime, pray that they will be sheltered from any potential harm or abuse at the hands of their captors. God's Word also instructs us to pray for the persecutors of His people -- those who themselves are in desperate need of rescue from the captivity of the evil one and his works of destruction.

If you would like to join others in expressing prayerful concern for the victimized believers of Nigeria, we invite you to do so by posting your prayers on our prayer wall.


RECENT PRISONER UPDATE


IRAN: Conditional Release Granted to House Church Participant

Sources: Mohabat News, Middle East Concern

Mojtaba Hossein, Mohammad-Reza Partoei
Kourosh), Vahid Hakkani, Homayoun
Shokouhi and his wife, Fariba Nazemian
Photo: Mohabat News

The country's judicial authorities have conditionally released Homayoun Shokouhi who was sentenced to three years and eight months in prison for his faith in Christ. Homayoun's release took place on November 10th, after serving two years and eight months in Adel-Abad prison.

Back in February of 2012, Homayoun was arrested along with fellow believers during a worship gathering that was held in a house church. The plain-clothed security authorities who had raided the meeting insulted and then arrested all who were in attendance. Most of those arrested that evening were released on bail after 36 days, including Homayoun's teenage son Nima whose bail cost about $70,000 CAD (according to exchange rates during that time).

However, others were sentenced to serve longer terms. The harsher verdicts were imposed on Homayoun and his wife Fariba, as well as three Christian men: Mojtaba Seyyed Alaedin Hossein, Mohammad-Reza Partoei (Kourosh) and Vahid Hakkani. (Mohammad-Reza was granted conditional release on May 13, 2014.) While Fariba was released on bail after serving eight months of imprisonment under dreadful conditions, all four men were sentenced to three years and eight months for "holding house-church meetings, evangelizing, contacting foreign Christian ministry organizations, propagating against the Islamic regime and disturbing national security." (A previous report on the situation can be found here.)

According to Iranian laws, when a convict serves half of their sentenced term, he/she can appeal to receive conditional release. Yet despite the opportunity for such release, all Christians in Iran remain under constant threat of harassment, arrest and prosecution because of their faith. Additional information on the present political and spiritual climate in Iran can be found at the Iran Country Report.

While we are called to "mourn with those who mourn," we are also instructed to "rejoice with those who rejoice" (Romans 12:15). Therefore, let us rejoice with Homayoun and his family over the good news of his release and their wonderful family reunion. We can also be thankful for the earlier release of their Christian friend and colleague Mohammad-Reza. Praise be to our mighty God for working on their behalf by granting them favour with the judicial authorities! As God is "no respecter of persons," may the same mercy and favour be extended toward Mojtaba and Vahid who are patiently awaiting their own release from prison. Most important of all, may the spiritual seeds they have each sown in the lives of fellow prisoners, as well as the prison officials, during their incarceration bear much lasting fruit there in Iran.

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