Kyrgyzstan accelerates church registration, but religious oppression continues

We have some good news: Since December, Kyrgyzstan’s government has approved the registration of more than 60 religious communities, most of them Protestant churches. There is some bad news as well: The right to exist does not mean the right to actually meet.

“Communities cannot have public meetings outside their registered addresses unless they receive prior permission for each event from the authorities, and our experience is that the authorities do not normally give permission”, a Christian from the country said. “The authorities have punished people for sharing their beliefs in public places with adults”. Forum 18, reported this on their website, but did not disclose the identity of the Christian, to safeguard against government reprisal.

Religious literature still needs to pass a government review. No one is allowed to share religious information with children.

The question comes up to ask, what explains the sudden burst of registration approvals? Perhaps the government would like to improve its reputation among the international community. Also, early next year Kyrgyzstan is due for a review of its human-rights record before the United Nations Human Rights Council.

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In the past, radical extremists have spread hatred and fear amongst the Christian community. The picture above is of a church that was broken into, with a hateful message inscribed on the wall.

Please pray
For those in position of leadership in Kyrgyzstan to make concrete steps to promote religious freedom.
Pray for Christians who gather in secret, may they find protection. May they continue to be a strong witness for the Lord despite the repression they live under.

Sri Lanka two months after the Easter bombings

“We were only stewards of Peter”

Two months ago, on Easter Sunday three bombs exploded in three churches in three different parts of Sri Lanka – St Anthony’s Church in Colombo, St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, and Zion Church in Batticaloa. Three hotels were also targeted. Responsibility for these coordinated attacks, which killed 253 and injured hundreds of others, was later claimed by so-called Islamic State extremists.

No child should ever have to witness violence, but six-year-old Peter, died in the blast at Zion Church, that day. His parents have a memorial to him on the floor of their sitting room. His cricket bat stands proudly in the memorial with a teddy and his blue helmet. A framed photo of Peter wearing a shiny silver bowtie leans on a wooden cross engraved with his name.

There’s a cardboard hospital that Peter had made a week before the bombing with a person entering on a stretcher in a brownish red t-shirt. Peter wore the same colour on Easter Sunday.

“I’m glad that he’s with Jesus but it’s painful he’s not with me,” said Peter’s mom. “We were only stewards of Peter. God took him back,” said his dad.

There were 136 children in Zion Church on Easter Sunday. Fourteen of them died.

Ten year old Nerukesh has shrapnel in his spine from the attack. He is still on strict bedrest at home. Sixteen-year-old Sujiv’s mother died in the church. He said, “She is with God now, and God is with us.”

Senior leaders of Zion Church, Ramesh and Sasi, spoke to the suicide bomber in the church foyer. They stopped him from getting to the main congregation.

Chrishanthini, Ramesh’s wife, said: “We were about five minutes into the worship when we heard a loud bang, but I didn’t know what happened at that time. We thought it was the generator.”

Ramesh and Sasi died instantly.

“If the bomber had gone inside, more than 200 people might have gotten killed,” said Kumaran, an associate pastor of Zion Church.

Pastor Kumaran also lost his son, Malkiya in the attack. “When I think of what happened to my son, there is a pain in my gut,” he said. “But it’s not a question of why it’s happened, no – I’m not going to ask that. It’s a question of, ‘Lord, how can I pass through this? And how long?’

“I am a pastor,” he said. “I have to be strong.”

Tala*, an Open Doors fieldworker, travelled to Sri Lanka just after the attacks took place, to visit the affected Christians.

Open Doors and its local church partners have been helping the affected families in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa since the Easter bombings.

Open Doors has provided traumatized Christians with trauma care and counselling and is running persecution preparedness training in the three affected towns.

Local Open Doors partners are meeting with pastors and Christians from Batticaloa for prayer and encouragement. “That’s good ministry,” said Kumaran, when Open Doors partners visited his house to pray with him. “This is what the people need.”

Through livelihood and education support, Open Doors is helping families get back on their feet. At the beginning of June, Open Doors workers went to Batticaloa to buy new motorcycles for six Christians who lost theirs in the explosion. Open Doors worker, Liyoni* said: “Even the managers of the stores were very eager to help and at two stores they gave us very reasonable discounts on the bikes and the registration costs. We were also able to buy helmets for a few of them who did not have any left. The pastor and the believers send their thanks.”

Please pray for families who have lost loved ones and others who are critically injured to find healing and restoration. Please pray for peace to prevail in the nation. Sri Lanka is number 46 on the World Watch List. Visit the page Stand with Sri Lanka to read about the Easter Sunday attacks and how you can help.

More Christians killed in an attack in Burkina Faso

The grip of Islamic militants on northern and eastern parts of Burkina Faso is growing. Over 200 churches have been closed to avoid further attacks.

On Sunday 9 June at least 19 people died in another jihadist attack. “Several dozen armed men carried out an attack on the district of Arbinda, shooting several people dead,” said a local official who wished to remain anonymous.

INCREASING VIOLENCE

Burkina Faso had been known for peaceful coexistence between different religious and ethnic groups. But in 2014 a revolution ended the 27-year rule of President Blaise Compaoré. The power vacuum was quickly filled by extremist groups, exploiting ethnic fault-lines and fanning ethnic strife.

An Open Doors worker said, “There are many factors contributing to the violence in Burkina Faso, including political, economic, tribal and religious reasons. Many Burkinabe youths have been radicalized by the teaching of Islamist preachers and leaders of extremist groups.”

Church leaders told Open Doors that the church in Burkina Faso was not prepared for the present situation. They reported that no one expected the scale and speed of the deterioration in security.

Many pastors and their families have been kidnapped and remain in captivity. Over 200 churches have been closed in northern parts of the country to avoid further attacks and Sunday worship services are discouraged in most rural areas for safety reasons.

“This is the biggest shock of our lives as Christians. Never in our wildest imagination did we think this would happen and that today we would be left at the mercy of other believers in safer areas. We have left everything we laboured for. Our children have been pushed out of school. Some of our men have been killed without provocation,” Pastor Daniel Sawadogo told Open Doors.

Since the start of 2019, 90,000 people have been displaced. Health centers have been forced to shut or have cut back services, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without medical care. Over a thousand schools remain closed. One teacher told Open Doors, “The Jihadists are replacing state schools with Arabic schools. We received severe warning to leave. The government succeeded in relocating some pupils and teachers to safer areas.”

Churches all over the country are arranging collection of food items to support the affected believers but are unable to keep up with the need.

An Open Doors team member said, “The level of trauma among the displaced believers is extremely high, and they will live with it for a very long time if they are not helped. The situation needs urgent attention. The believers need practical help with things like food, clothing, shelter and medicine, and spiritual support like trauma care and prayer. They also need discipleship training and help in how to respond to this situation in a biblical way.”

Some churches are determined to remain: “During the revolution, the church was threatened by the state and experienced growth. So, the church will come out stronger than it is now,” said Pastor Phillipe Bamogo. “Pain may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning. We are suffering today, but our hearts are strong in the Lord. He will come to our rescue in due course.”

Burkina Faso sits just outside the World Watch List – the top 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. It is categorized as having high levels of persecution and is on Open Doors' list of Persecution Watch countries. Violence against Christians has risen dramatically in Burkina Faso this year. In the last 12 months, the increasing violence across Mali and Niger, as well as Burkina Faso, has led to a five-fold rise in the displacement of the local population.

Please Pray

Pray for Peace in the Region of Arbinda and Toulfe, where Christians are being attacked

Ask the Lord to touch the hearts of those affected by the tragedies; families who have lost loved ones and people who have been hurt

Pray for change to happen in Burkina Faso, as well as neighbouring Mali and Nigeria.

FACTS

  • WWL 2019 Rank: 61 on the list of Persecution Watch Countries
  • Main drivers of persecution: Islamic Oppression
  • Population: 19.7 million
  • Religion: Christian 25%; Muslim 54.5%, Ethnoreligionist 19.9%

 

 

Believers from a Muslim background threatened in southern Philippines

Muslims in the Philippines, especially in the southern part where the majority of the Philippines’ Muslims live, are celebrating Eid’l Fitr today to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan. The Festival of Breaking the Fast or Eid’l Fitr is traditionally celebrated for three days by praying at the mosques, giving alms to the poor (which is part of the five pillars of Islam), and visiting relatives and friends to give and receive gifts.

Eid’l Fitr may be a marker of the end of Ramadan – the month considered to be the most peaceful in Muslim areas in the southern Philippines – but this event also marks the return to war or bloody clan feuds commonly known as rido.

A local Christian worker, Isagani*, is trapped in one of these feuds, and it’s endangering his life and his ministry with Muslim background believers in certain parts of Mindanao.

Sometime last year, a rido happened between Isgani’s family and the family of Isagani’s wife, Lila*, after his relatives were found guilty of brutally killing one of Lila’s relatives. The two families are from different tribes, and this incident has led to Lila’s tribe waging a bloody revenge against Isgani’s tribe.

Most of the discipleship activities that Isagani carries out are in or nearby the areas where Lila’s tribesmen live. Lila is very afraid for the safety of her husband, who she believes is also being targeted by this rido revenge.

Aside from the threat of the rido, Lila’s uncle has spread rumors that Isagani is working with Christians from a metro city and recruiting Muslims to become Christians, which is highly offensive among the Muslims.

This has shaken both Lila and Isagani, and they have no idea what will happen next. Isagani has decided to lay low from the ministry until the situation cools down, but he still hopes to visit his disciples when needed.

Isagani now lives in the metro city and his family plans to visit him there every month. A few days ago, he was able to meet with his family. Open Doors has provided financial help so that he could meet with his family.

Please pray

· For God’s added provision for Isagani’s business – his income from this will be affected by these recent challenges, which will affect his ability to provide for his family

· For God’s protection for Lila and their daughter and all relatives affected

· For peace and comfort for Lila as she is very much concern for the safety of her husband

· That believers from Muslim backgrounds will continue to serve the Lord despite this situation and multiply rather than being crushed

· For peace and reconciliation between these warring families

· For salvation for those people who have caused this threat to Isagani and that they would have a miraculous encounter with Jesus Christ.

· That God will use this situation to show His eternal glory and salvation to the tribes of Mindanao and the nations of the world.

*Names changed and places withheld for security reasons.

UN: New International Day for victims of religious persecution

Good News! The United Nations has declared August 22 as the International Day [for] Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.

The General Assembly said in its draft resolution that it is “seriously concerned at continuing acts of intolerance and violence based on religion or belief against individuals” and condemned “all acts of violence against persons on the basis of their religion or belief”.

“This is wonderful news”, said Gary Stagg, Executive Director, Open Doors Canada. “Freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental human right - and no one should suffer violence or discrimination on the basis of religion or belief. Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world and the issues faced by the persecuted church are real and deserving attention. We urge the United Nations, the international community, and leaders of each country to use this resolution as a foundation to bring about real change and to move beyond awareness to impacting the lives of vulnerable religious individuals.”

Ewelina Ochab, a veteran researcher for UN reports and a human-rights activist who concentrates on the persecution of minorities, wrote May 28 in Forbes that with violence based on religion or belief being a growing problem, establishing such a day was “a historic step” with “great potential”.

“Until now, there has been no UN-led day focused exclusively on religiously motivated violence (or any other aspects of freedom of religion or belief)”, she wrote. “Furthermore, the day is intended to provide a springboard towards an action plan that addresses the growing issue of violence based on religion or belief”. It is not a goal in itself but a means to an end, she stressed.

“Nobody should be persecuted because of their faith. We welcome this clear statement from the United Nations that persecution on the basis of religion or belief cannot be permitted and the victims must never be forgotten. All people have the right to peacefully live out their faith,” said Kelsey Zorzi, President of the NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief at the United Nations and Director of Advocacy for Global Religious Freedom for ADF International.

The decision by the UN General Assembly follows reports that Christians are the most persecuted religious group, according to a review commissioned by the British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

 

Please pray:

That the day is used for more than just awareness. Pray that it will inspire people of influence to bring impactful change for those who face violence for their faith.

The issues faced by the persecuted church are be brought to the attention of the world.

That our brothers and sisters who cannot speak up for themselves will have many more voices standing up on their behalf as a result of this declaration.

Christians in northern Burkina Faso in fear after two more attacks

Two attacks on Christians in northern Burkina Faso in the last few days, in which 10 people were killed, has unnerved the Christian communities in the region even further.

On Monday, May 13, a procession of four Catholics was attacked while they returned a statue of Mary to their church in Singa, 25km from Kongoussi. The armed men let children go before killing four adults and destroying the statue.

One day earlier, between 20 and 30 armed men stormed a Catholic church in the same region, in village of Dablo, 90km from the city of Kaya, and opened fire on the worshippers. Six people were killed in the attack, among them 34-year-old Rev. Siméon Yampa. The funeral of the victims took place on Monday and was attended by representatives from different religious communities.

In addition, we got to know that before they left, the attackers burned down the church, shops and a health centre.

Also on Monday, suspected militants shot a Catholic priest in Dolbel, western Niger, media reports said. He survived the attack with gunshot wounds to one hand and a leg.

The attacks come two weeks after armed men gunmen raided a Protestant church in Silgadji village in the north-eastern province of Soum.

News agency, Reuters, further reported Paul Ouedraogo, president of the episcopal conference of Burkina Faso and Niger saying, “All of this indicates that our West African region is strongly troubled”.

The increased insecurity in the area has caused churches and schools to close and Christians have started to flee to safer towns in the country’s south.

“Christians are in hiding. No one dares to sleep in his house because of fear of being killed. It’s very hard for us. We need your prayers”, a local church leader, who wants to remain anonymous for security reasons, told Open Doors.

Burkina Faso has been long known for the peaceful co-existence between different religious communities, but the country has seen a rise in attacks by Islamist militants following the 2014 removal of long-time ruler Blaise Compaoré.

UN Secretary General, António Guterres condemned the attack and urged “all citizens of Burkina Faso to stand firmly with one another across communities and not to succumb to efforts to sow discord and breed further violence”.

Please pray

Pray for God’s special comfort to be with those who have lost loved ones.
Pray for God to protect and strengthen our brothers and sisters going through a difficult time in the country.
Thank God for the efforts that the Government of Burkina Faso is taking to maintain peace.

FACTS
WWL 2019 Rank: 61 on the list of Persecution Watch Countries
Main drivers of persecution: Islamic Oppression
Population: 19.7 million
Religion: Christian 25%; Muslim 54.5%, Ethnoreligionist 19.9%

Map of Burkina Faso