This coming Sunday, November 14th, is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. As I have stated before from the pulpit, American Christians typically fail to acknowledge the widespread reality of Christian persecution because the laws and freedoms we enjoy here shield us from experiencing such suffering. But every single day, in places like the Middle East, China, India, and North Africa, Christians are persecuted and killed for living out their faith in Jesus Christ. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and with each passing week, the severity of what they face is growing.
As we continue to build missions awareness and participation here at Morningview, it is important for us to be informed and in prayer for fellow believers who are facing such trials. I encourage you again to avail yourself of resources provided by organizations like Voice of the Martyrs. Below are just a few of the hundreds of stories they reported on over the past few months. Be in prayer for those mentioned here, and pray for all our brothers and sisters in Christ this coming Sunday!
IRAQ: On Oct. 31, Islamic extremists attacked worshipers at the Syrian Catholic Church of Baghdad, killing 59 Christians and severely injuring more than 80 others. Several gunmen armed with automatic weapons and explosives entered the church during a worship service and opened fire on the worshipers. Two priests were among those killed in the attack. “This church was attacked because they are very active, especially among the youth and community,” Voice of the Martyrs contacts said. “This church works closely with the United Bible Society and VOM by distributing Bibles and Action Packs in Iraq. This is the second time this church has been targeted; in 2004 it was hit with a car bomb.”
A militant organization called the Islamic State of Iraq, which has links to al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, claimed responsibility for the attack, according to Compass Direct News. Following the attack, sources told VOM that churches throughout the city had received death-threat letters, warning them to stop their Christian activities or face similar consequences.
IRAN: Christians in Iran are reporting that Pastor Youcef Nardarkhani has been sentenced to death for what is called a “thought crime.” VOM contacts confirm that the pastor’s trial was held in recent weeks in the 11th Chamber of The Assize Court of the province of Gilan, but a formal verdict has not yet been delivered by the court.
Pastor Youcef, a leader in the Full Gospel “Church of Iran” network, is one of several members of his church who have been imprisoned. The Iranian government has also threatened his wife with life imprisonment and has threatened to take away their two children, who are currently being cared for by relatives. Pastor Youcef was arrested in October 2009 after protesting a decision by the government requiring that his son study the Quran.
SOMALIA: A 17-year-old girl in the Gedo Region of Somalia was severely beaten by her family recently after they discovered she had converted to Christianity, according to Compass Direct News. Nurta Mohamed Farah, 17, was later taken to a doctor, who prescribed medication for a “mental illness.” When she refused to abandon her Christian faith, her family forced her to take the medication.
Nurta’s family has read Islamic scripture to her twice a week since May 10, when they learned of her conversion. Somalis traditionally believe that the Quran cures the sick — especially the mentally ill. Nurta has been shackled to a tree during the day and held in a small, dark room at night, according to Compass. “There is little the community can do about her condition, which is very bad,” a Christian source told Compass. “I have advised our community leader to keep monitoring her condition but not to meddle for their own safety. … We need prayers and human advocacy for such inhuman acts, and for freedom of religion for the Somali people.”
INDIA: On April 17, Hindu extremists attacked a group of Christians at a prayer meeting in Madhya Pradesh, India, causing the death of a 25-year-old man and severely injuring three other believers, according to The Voice of the Martyrs contacts.
Hindu radicals disrupted the meeting of more than 400 Christians and began destroying Bibles and other property. They attacked the Christians with sticks and iron rods, accusing them of forcible conversions. During the attack, Amit Gilbert, a master of divinity student, fell into an open well, hit his head on the well’s outer wall and drowned. One of the other injured Christians sustained a broken back and at last report remained in serious condition.