The west African country of Niger is 80% Muslim. Jeff Woodke, an American citizen, has served in Niger for more than twenty-five years as a Gospel worker among an unreached people group known as the Tuareg. Woodke made himself at home among these nomadic people by living among them and learning their language. In October of 2016, Woodke was kidnapped by radical Islamists and taken across the border into neighboring Mali. For more than 20 months nothing was known of his condition. This past June, Niger’s President Issoufou indicated that Woodke is still alive. Please pray for God’s enabling strength for Jeff Woodke and for his family as they suffer for the sake of the Cross.
In order to Sinicize Christianity, the Chinese regime is retranslating the Bible for their own political purposes and compelling house church leaders to pledge loyalty to the Marxist government.
Pastor John Cao (a Chinese-American who previously pastored in North Carolina) was arrested in 2017 on charges of illegal border crossing. Prior to his arrest, Pastor John, a leader in the house church movement, led efforts to take Chinese believers into Burma to build 16 Christian schools for more than 2,000 children. Now serving a 7-year sentence in prison, his health has suffered. Please intercede for God’s strength and grace for Pastor Cao, his American wife and two sons, and other believers in China who suffer for the Gospel’s sake.
The communist nation of China has seen some decrease in harassment of believers in recent years, so the country’s persecution ranking dropped to 39. However, this year President Xi increased the pressure on Christians through tougher laws and his insistence on installing government surveillance cameras in church buildings. Also, new laws passed in September 2017 mandate that all underground churches must register with the government by March 2018.
Though some areas of China have seen lessened oppression, in Henan province the persecution is growing more intense. In 2014, a well-known pastor of a Three-Self Patriotic church, Zhang Shaojie, was given a sentence of 12 years in prison and a $16,000 fine for the crime of “disrupting public order” — the harshest given since Mao in the 1970s. In prison, Pastor Zhang has been cruelly tortured, given meager food, and subjected to sleep deprivation. The latest report from his family indicated that he is close to death. Please intercede for God’s strength and grace for Pastor Zhang and for the other believers in China who suffer for Christ.
(Photo from www.worldwatchmonitor.org)
Although 82% of the population of Kenya self-identify as Christians, Kenya ranks 18th on the list of countries that are the worst persecutors of Christians. Kenya’s 10-15% Muslim minority is growing and becoming radicalized. The Al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabbab, which is based in neighboring Somalia, has been attacking Christians in eastern Kenya. In August, three Kenyan Christians in eastern Lamu County were beheaded when they refused to deny Christ by reciting the Islamic prayer of faith. One of the men was Joseph Kasena, age 42, who was an elder in his church. In July, al-Shabbab militants raided a village and went door-to-door looking for Christians. Seven Christian men—all poor farmers—were brutally killed by the attackers. In 2015, al-Shabbab terrorists killed 148 Christian students at Garrisa University near Kenya’s Somali border, and in 2016, the same group of militants murdered 48 Christians in Lamu County who could not recite Quaranic verses. Please pray for special grace for suffering Kenyan believers and their families who endure torture and death for their faith in Christ.
(Photo from www.uscirf.gov)
Malaysia has prided itself in being a moderate Muslim nation. However, in recent years efforts towards the full Islamization of Malaysia have been underway, and official law mandates punishment for apostasy if a Muslim converts to another religion. In February 2017, Malaysian Pastor Raymond Koh, age 62, was kidnapped on a public road by masked men near Kuala Lumpur. The kidnapping was captured on video, but no one has seen or heard from Pastor Koh since. Pastor Koh faithfully ministered for years to the poor and to drug addicts and provided free education to children. In 2011 government officials questioned Pastor Koh after he was accused of trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. The case was dismissed for lack of evidence, but many Christians think that the authorities are now not doing enough to find Pastor Koh because he is a Christian. Christians comprise less than 10% of the population of Malaysia. Please pray for Pastor Koh and his family during this difficult and uncertain time.
Turkmenistan ranks among the top twenty countries that persecute Christians and remains one of the world’s most repressive regimes. Evangelical believers number less than 2,000 in that Central Asian nation and are suffering under a combination of an old-style Soviet dictatorship and an overwhelmingly Islamic religious system. The late President Niyazov (1985-2006) began a strong personality-driven cult based on his book, the religious text Ruhnama (“The Book of the Soul”), which was given equal status as the Quran. In this environment, evangelistic activities, Christian literature, and unregistered churches are all illegal. Christians face loss of jobs, pastors have been beaten and imprisoned, and great pressure is applied to Muslim-background believers to return to Islam. Please pray for God’s grace for faithful believers as they face persecution for the sake of the Cross.
Egypt is a deeply divided nation—even within the 95% Muslim population. While some Muslims there desire a secular state, many want Egypt to be an Islamic nation strictly ruled by sharia. The minority Christian population, caught in the middle of this national controversy, are being targeted; and currently Egypt ranks #21 among nations that persecute Christians.
In January, 18-year-old Hanan Adly Girgis, a Christian young woman who was planning her wedding, was kidnapped from her home at night. Her family is heartbroken because the police have done little to solve her abduction. It’s not uncommon for Christian young women in Egypt to be pressured—and even kidnapped—to become brides for Muslim men.
Also in the last few months, shootings of Christians by radical Islamists have increased in the Sinai Peninsula area of Egypt, and hundreds of Christians are fleeing the area. Please pray for God’s special grace for Hanan, as well as for her family, and for all the others who stand for Christ in Egypt, as their nation becomes increasingly hostile to the Cross.
Syria is currently ranked as the sixth worst nation in persecution of Christians. The situation there is very complex because of warring Islamic factions, and those who have left Islam to follow Christ face extreme persecution, including murder, kidnappings by ISIS, and forced slavery. Because of this, approximately 50% of the Christian population has fled the country, leaving behind their homes and businesses. The remaining Christians are conflicted about whether to stay or to leave. In Aleppo, the Christians who stayed are seeing extraordinary opportunities to reach Muslims with the Gospel. Bombs are exploding around their church, but one pastor said in spite of that, they are conducting mercy ministries to 2,000 families—half of whom are Muslims. Muslims are shocked to see Christians caring for them, which often causes them to abandon their prejudice against Christians. A pastor said, “I think God is giving us double grace.” Another believer said, “For the first time in history, Muslims are coming to us. The only thing we have to do is tell them the Good News.” Please intercede for special grace for our suffering brothers and sisters in Syria who are courageously following Jesus.
Since last July, Turkey’s President Erdogan has intensified his crackdown against tens of thousands of Turkish citizens—mostly educators, journalists, judges, military personnel, and especially Christians. Caught up in the crackdown is Pastor Andrew Brunson (pictured), a 48-year-old American from Black Mountain, North Carolina, who has been a pastor in Turkey for the past 23 years and is currently the pastor of the Izmir Resurrection Church. On October 7, 2016, he and his wife were arrested on vague “national security” grounds. They were held in isolation without formal charges and were not allowed to see a lawyer. Andrew’s wife, Norine, was released two weeks later, but Andrew continues to be detained. On December 9, Andrew was formally brought to court and charged with “membership in an armed terrorist organization.” No evidence was presented except the word of a secret informant, and Andrew was sent to a maximum security prison. Please intercede earnestly for God to give grace and a special sense of His presence to Pastor Andrew in prison and to his family who is working for his release.
Cuba, one of five Communist nations left in the world, has persecuted Christians for more than fifty years under the dictatorship of the late Fidel Castro. Thousands of Christians were imprisoned and martyred during Castro’s reign of terror, when simply being a Christian was considered a “disease.” Reports during that time tell of Christians shouting out “Viva Cristo Rey! (Long live Christ the King!)” before being silenced by government firing squads. Though persecution in Cuba today is not as brutal as in years past, government threats, intimidation, and surveillance are still the norm for Protestant churches and believers. Church services are infiltrated by government informers to monitor sermons, and Christian literature and Bibles are still restricted. In October of this year, Pastor Juan Carlos Nunez was sentenced to one year of house arrest after his church was charged with “disturbing the peace.” Yet, Cubans are being converted to Christ as the Cross continues to triumph over Marxism. The estimate of house churches today is as high as 10,000. Please pray for brothers and sisters in Cuba who joyfully stand for Christ under persecution.