Believers Caught Smuggling Christian Books in Kazakhstan

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Open Doors recently received an update on a group of Christians who were stopped and then arrested in the Kazakh Airport in Kazakhstan for smuggling Christian literature. The group—which consisted of believers from Russia, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries—had about 30 Christian books in their possession. Most of the group are believers who have converted from Islam.

Kazakh police have released several of the Christians who are Russian citizens, but others are still in the police station. The books that were confiscated were sent for review to a special group. If this group determines the literature is Christian, police could pursue a criminal case against the Christians in custody. If the group doesn’t find the books to be Christian contraband, the believers would pay the fine for smuggling literature.

Our brothers and sisters in Central Asia are asking we join them in praying.

Please pray that the rest of the group would be released.

Pray the believers would find favor with the group reviewing the literature.

Pray that there would be no criminal case and no jail sentence for our Kazakh brothers.

*Representative names and photos are sometimes used to protect identity.

BREAKING: Asia Bibi Reportedly Left Pakistan

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Multiple outlets are reporting that Asia Bibi has left Pakistan and landed safely in Canada. We are working to verify these news stories and will update when we have more information.

Asia is a Christian mother who served almost nine years on death row for blasphemy in Pakistan before being acquitted. Although she was released from prison last fall, she had been forced into isolation as she awaited being reunited with her family.

For now, thank you for your continued prayers for Asia Bibi and the millions of Christians following Jesus in Pakistan!

Scripture of the Day

Psalms 131
A Song of degrees of David.
1. LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.
2. Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.
3. Let Israel hope in the LORD from henceforth and for ever.

Scripture of the Day

Psalms 129
A Song of degrees.
1. Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth, may Israel now say:
2. Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth: yet they have not prevailed against me.
3. The plowers plowed upon my back: they made long their furrows.
4. The LORD is righteous: he hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked.
5. Let them all be confounded and turned back that hate Zion.
6. Let them be as the grass upon the housetops, which withereth afore it groweth up:
7. Wherewith the mower filleth not his hand; nor he that bindeth sheaves his bosom.
8. Neither do they which go by say, The blessing of the LORD be upon you: we bless you in the name of the LORD.

Scripture of the Day

Psalms 127
A Song of degrees for Solomon.
1. Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.
2. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.

3. Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.
4. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.
5. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.

Scripture of the Day

A Song of degrees of David.

1. If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, now may Israel say;
2. If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when men rose up against us:
3. Then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us:
4. Then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul:
5. Then the proud waters had gone over our soul.
6. Blessed be the LORD, who hath not given us as a prey to their teeth.
7. Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped.
8. Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

Life under ISIS: Raqqa’s Christians tell their story

The handful of Christians remaining in Raqqa tell me what life was like under ISIS – and how they still need help to survive.

The churches of Raqqa lie in ruins following the defeat of ISIS. But remarkably the city’s Christian community has survived.

Before the Syrian conflict began in 2011, Raqqa was home to hundreds of Christian families. Today there are a mere 30 or so individuals, almost all men.

It’s not just the churches that have been reduced to rubble. The rest of the city was largely destroyed in the operation to oust ISIS. In October 2017, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by Western air power, seized Raqqa from the militants. Although the fighting has ended, the atmosphere remains tense. The Kurdish-led SDF remains in charge, and reconstruction is slowly underway, though ISIS still operates underground.

Anyone who has followed the news over the last few years will be familiar with the crimes of ISIS. They include beheadings, crucifixions and the subjection of non-Muslim women to sexual slavery. Throughout this reign of terror, a small number of Christians remained in the city. They did their best to avoid incurring the wrath of ISIS.

Raqqa’s Christians tell me that, before ISIS took over, the city had been an ideal place to live. They had good relations with their Muslim neighbours. Unlike in other cities in Syria, such as Damascus and Aleppo, Christians did not live in separate neighbourhoods from Muslims, but were spread throughout the city and were fully integrated into the social fabric. They spoke Raqqa’s unique dialect of Arabic. Some of the Christian presence in Raqqa dates to the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1917, when Arab residents of the city protected Armenian Christians from the Ottoman government, and others moved from other parts of Syria as the city grew during the 20th century.

After ISIS took over, the Church of the Forty Martyrs – used by both the Armenian Catholic and the Syriac Orthodox communities – became an Islamic court and a centre for the hisbah, or morality police. Just around the corner, the Greek Catholic Bishara Church became a field hospital. Residents say that both churches were deliberately destroyed by ISIS. But an air strike also hit the Bishara Church, leveling it entirely.

An empty shell of cement and rebar is all that remains of the Church of the Forty Martyrs. It looks out on Harun al-Rashid park, a sad reminder of the city’s recent history.

When ISIS took over, Christians went from being equal citizens to lower than zero, as one Christian from Raqqa told me. (Everyone interviewed for this article – five Christians currently in Raqqa and two living elsewhere in Syria – asked that their names not be used, as the security situation remains uncertain.) When ISIS first seized power, about 100 Christians – mostly men whose families had fled elsewhere – remained. Over the next four years that number steadily decreased.

ISIS viewed the Christians as infidels and repeatedly tried to convert them to Islam. Their approach was strikingly different from that of the first Muslim rulers of Raqqa in around 640 AD. In one version of the conquest of Raqqa, told by the 9th century historian al-Baladhuri, an agreement was reached guaranteeing the safety of the Christian community’s members, churches and money, albeit with certain restrictions. These were, by today’s standards, fairly stringent and included the payment of a jizya tax (levied on non-Muslims) and a ban on displaying crosses or building new churches.

ISIS most certainly did not read this agreement – which might have theoretically bound them as Islamic rulers of Raqqa – when they destroyed the city’s churches. ISIS members would visit the homes of Christians and talk to them about Islam. They would also gather Christians for meetings every month or so and provide lectures by converts from Christianity. (One was French and one a former Coptic Christian, recalled one resident.) ISIS reinstated the jizya tax, which had long ceased to be imposed. The amount paid differed depending on the family’s economic situation.

Christians could not – and did not dare – celebrate feasts such as Easter and Christmas. One resident said people would sometimes discreetly pass by their Christian neighbours’ homes and wish them a happy holiday. But even this was not common as people wanted to avoid attracting attention.

So if you were a Christian from Raqqa, why stay? Most of the people I interviewed said that they knew ISIS’s rule would end soon. They were simply waiting for the storm to pass, and noted that if Christians left, then their homes and businesses were stolen by ISIS. Those who fled risked losing everything they had.

Christians who stayed, however, were allowed to leave for short visits to other areas. They had to present a request to an ISIS official who would approve a visit for a specific length of time. If they overstayed, their possessions would be confiscated.
One resident said he received a call while outside ISIS territory telling him not to bother coming back: the group had taken his house and he would not be able to go back to it, even though he had not exceeded his allotted time.

While the Christians of Raqqa were doing their best to keep their heads down and survive, an international military campaign was underway to defeat ISIS in both Syria and Iraq, as well as Libya and other countries where the group had established a presence. As the campaign to liberate Raqqa moved forward, air strikes intensified and became more unpredictable.

One resident said that for the first few years of ISIS’s rule, air strikes were generally directed at specific targets and were limited in scope. But as the Western-backed SDF approached, they became more frequent and less accurate. It was difficult to distinguish ISIS members from civilians, because the terrorists avoided large crowds, and because all residents were required to follow ISIS’s strict dress codes: beards and Islamic robes for men, full covering for women with no skin or hair showing.

As coalition forces approached, the Syriac Military Council, a Christian-led unit of the SDF, began using its networks within the community to identify how many Christian residents were left in the city and where they were located. As circumstances allowed, they were smuggled to safety. The Syriac Military Council saved many Muslim civilians too.

ISIS was keen to use civilians as human shields, so those working to rescue civilians would wait until coalition airplanes were flying overhead, which usually sent ISIS fighters into hiding to avoid getting hit by bombs. Civilians would then run to safety with the SDF.

Now, more than a year after ISIS’s defeat in the city, a handful of Christian residents have returned to Raqqa. Everyone I spoke to in the city said the security situation is good thanks to the efforts of the SDF. The main barrier to more Christians returning is the destruction of homes and businesses, not the remaining ISIS cells which have attempted to upset the improving security situation in the city.

Local Christians complain there has been no support for the community from inside Syria or abroad. They say that they have received little help from the respective churches which have congregants in the city or from international organisations which have worked to help Christian communities elsewhere rebuild in the wake of ISIS.

More than anything else, this prevents more Christians from returning to the city and rebuilding their lives alongside their Muslim neighbours. Will that support be forthcoming? Will the global Christian community help their brethren in Raqqa to rise from the rubble?

Samuel Sweeney is a former US congressional staffer and is now a writer and translator based in the Middle East. He has a master’s degree in Islamic-Christian Relations from l’Université Saint-Joseph in Beirut

Scripture of the Day

2nd Peter 2

18. For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error.
19. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.
20. For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.
21. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.
22. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.

40 Believers Killed Before Easter in Nigeria

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Our field has confirmed recent news about Easter attacks on Christians in Nigeria that killed more than 40 people—many of them children. We ask for your urgent prayers for those who lost loved ones and those who are recovering from injuries after these attacks.

On Palm Sunday, April 14, Fulbe-speaking Fulani herdsmen invaded the village of Kochum-Numa, Andaha in Akwanga local Government area Nassarawa State, a part of north-central Nigeria. They killed 17 people gathered for a late-night christening for a child.

Eleven people were killed and many are unaccounted for in a Good Friday attack by gunmen on worshippers returning from church at Tse-Aye and Tse-Ngibo, Ikurav Tiev in Katsina-Ala Local Government Area of Benue State, according to the newspaper Vanguard. Neither the identities of the attackers nor their motive is clear at this stage.

On Easter Sunday, a Muslim defense officer killed 13 boys taking part in a late-night Easter procession in Sabob Layi, Gombe State. The procession in Sabon Layi is an annual event to commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Please join our Nigerian brothers and sisters in praying for the situation in northern Nigeria.

Pray for the Lord’s comfort to all those who have lost loved ones.

Pray that the government will be true to their promises to find perpetrators and bring justice to those harmed.

Pray that the Church will have wisdom as they interact with the authorities regarding these incidents.

After you click “Pray” below, please CLICK HERE to learn more about this story.

*Representative names and photos are sometimes used to protect identity.

Pastors Detained by Insurgents in Myanmar

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In Myanmar, Pastor Lim*, Pastor Son* and Pastor Aung* were recently detained by an insurgent group after being threatened to stop preaching and sharing the gospel with non-Christians in their area. The pastors not only refused to stop preaching and sharing the gospel but also refused to sign an agreement stating that they would stop preaching.

Eventually, the insurgent group released two of the three pastors, while one pastor along with five other church members are still detained.

Please pray for strength, hope and courage for Pastor Lim, Son and Aung and their families as they face challenging and difficult times.

Pray for the church to be prayerful and strong during the absence of their pastor.

Pray that the insurgents may come to know the Lord Jesus and experience His peace and love.

Pray the detained believers will be strong in faith and remain hopeful.

*Representative names and photos are sometimes used to protect identity.

Believers in Venezuela Request Prayer Amidst Crisis

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In Venezuela, the BBC reports that mass protests are expected to arise in the coming days.

Recently, Juan Guaidó declared himself president of the country, after accusing current president Nicolas Maduro of taking power through rigged elections. Then, earlier this week, the revolt against Maduro intensified as an attempted coup was launched to remove him from power.

An Open Doors staff member tells us Maduro’s current regime, which has violently impoverished the country for years, may potentially end. However, the situation on the ground remains very fluid.

In the last 24 hours, President Maduro has publicly claimed that he stopped the attempted coup led by Guaidó. Sources vary over whether this is true or whether things will now stabilize.

Our brothers and sisters in Venezuela are asking us to:

Pray for safety and courage amongst the people of Venezuela.

Pray President Maduro would have wisdom and humility.

Pray Christians would have resilience and grace while offering a sound testimony and have the wisdom to play a God-inspired role in the process.

*Representative names and photos are sometimes used to protect identity.

Pray with Nigerian Believers after Another Deadly Attack

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Friends, Open Doors has just received a call for prayer from Nigeria. During the evening of April 29, a group of armed Boko Haram members invaded the Christian community of Kuda which is in the Madagali area of northeastern Nigeria.

The terrorists surrounded the community around 8pm and went door to door, killing as many as 25 people, according to a VOA report.

When community members and security agents were preparing for the burial of the slain the next day, Boko Haram members were spotted approaching for a second attack on the community. The funeral preparations were abandoned as the bereaved believers, sympathizers from neighboring communities and security agents fled. Since the attack many more villagers have fled the town.

Christian leaders in the area told Open Doors, “We are in danger, we have no one to fight for us to end this killing of our people.”

Field workers with Open Doors asked supporters to:

Please pray for the Lord’s grace to be on the church in Madagali area as they face this renewed instability.

Pray for the Holy Spirit to be at work in the lives of all those affected.

Pray that security will be restored soon.

*Representative names and photos are sometimes used to protect identity.

Scripture of the Day

1st Peter 5
1. The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:
2. Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;
3. Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.
4. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
5. Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.
6. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:
7. Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.
8. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:
9. Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.
10. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.
11. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
12. By Silvanus, a faithful brother unto you, as I suppose, I have written briefly, exhorting, and testifying that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand.
13. The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son.
14. Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity. Peace be with you all that are in Christ Jesus. Amen.