Syrian refugees already face huge challenges, such as where will they get their food? Where will they sleep during the winter? How will they provide for their families if they can’t get jobs? How can the children get an education? The culminating dark reality of all these issues means hope is quickly being extinguished in the hearts of many refugees. Without hope, many of the younger generation are contemplating suicide as a way out. The United Nations Population Fund recently reported that 41% of young refugees had suicidal urges. They highlighted a number of grim patterns that go hand-in-hand with desperation. Rex Rogers of SAT-7, a Christian satellite television ministry to the Middle East and North Africa, says they see many suicides taking place in refugee camps.
“We’re hearing back about increased suicides, increased sexual trafficking of young people, girls of course and young women but also young boys, we’re certainly seeing and hearing about abuse. And aside from all that, just the tragedy of living under very difficult circumstances in some of these camps.” On a basic level, they don’t have enough food or hygienic resources. Spiritually, mentally and emotionally, things are equally as grim. “It’s just a difficult life, to understate it tremendously,” Rogers says. Lebanon, in particular, houses a large number of refugees, and they have scant amount of resources to keep up. As Rogers puts it, the country is roughly the size of Connecticut and is housing somewhere around 1.5 million refugees on top of the four million-plus Lebanese.
And as long as despair is rising in these communities, things like suicide, sex-trafficking, and abuse will continue to grow. The Foreign Policy says refugees are not permitted to get official jobs, nor are they allowed to build permanent residences. Experts on the ground believe it will become increasingly unsafe for both the Syrians and Lebanese. One of the biggest problems we’ve seen in refugee camps is the lack of education. While efforts have been made, there are still millions of children who are without school. Rogers says without education, without guidance, and without a future, these children will be swallowed up and forgotten – a lost generation.
Last spring, SAT-7 began broadcasting a program called ‘My School’. It teaches Arabic, English, mathematics, science, and even French in 30 minute segments, three times a day. While they can’t overtly present the Gospel, Rogers says it’s a big statement that they’re not using the Koran to teach Arabic. In addition, the classes are taught by Christian teachers. “We’re trying to get into the hearts and lives of these young people, as they say, a potential lost generation. If they grow up without education, and there’s about 12 million out of school right now or at risk of being out of school – they are illiterate, they are much more vulnerable to being radicalized by extremist values and groups, and it’s a time bomb because it doesn’t take long for children to grow up.”
By their teenage years, these children are at a great risk to join the ranks of terrorist organizations. Education is extremely important. Without hope, these people are despairing to the point of suicide. But Rogers says it’s not easy to strike up a conversation with these hurting people to share the hope of the Gospel. He says it takes time, and it takes effort. “If a person is starving to death, they can’t focus on someone talking about hope in Christ and the Gospel. So they do need to be fed, they need to be clothed, they need to be warmed, they need to have water.” In addition, he explains, you have to earn their trust. They’re not coming from a Christian background. “They’ve been taught all kinds of weird ideas about Christianity and who Christ is, who Christians are. They may be suspicious about that.”
Helping meet physical needs, including education, is a way to have conversations about Jesus and to model Christian values. “The situation is so dire and there’s so much incredible need that SAT-7 feels like it’s in a position being a satellite television broadcaster, that at least we can speak to the masses. Because strangely and interestingly, in all those refugee camps, there are satellite dishes and there are TV sets.” There are numerous things to pray for. Pray for SAT-7 and for the people involved in television ministry. Pray for the Christian ministries working in the camps. Pray for Lebanon and the other countries housing refugees. Despite the suffering, Rogers say, “There’s a hunger for a God who cares, there’s hunger for a religion that works, and of course Christ and Christianity is all of that.”
CRY OUT FOR ALEPPO AND FOR AN END TO THE WAR IN SYRIA
Pope Francis has decried the bombing of Aleppo in Syria, saying those responsible for killing civilians will have to answer to God. Speaking at a public audience in St Peter’s Square in Rome, he called it “an already martyred city, where everybody is dying”. Russian-backed Syrian government forces have launched a fierce campaign to take control of rebel-held eastern areas. Air strikes continued to hit the besieged districts. Pope Francis urged all sides to “commit themselves with all their strength to protect civilians”. “This is an imperative and urgent obligation. I appeal to the consciences of those responsible for the bombings.” he said. Reports citing medical workers say that two major hospitals in rebel-held eastern Aleppo have been put out of service by recent air raids.
One activist in the city told the BBC that the hospitals still appear to be operational. In recent days, pro-government forces have begun ground operations to try to recapture more territory from rebel forces. The government of President Bashar al-Assad and its Russian backers have been accused of war crimes and “barbarism” by the US and its Western allies, who back the rebels. Moscow has vigorously denied the allegations and criticised their “unacceptable” rhetoric. Fresh allegations of chemical weapons use on the part of Syrian government have been made by the New York-based group Human Rights Watch. It said that Syrian government helicopters appeared to have used chemical weapons in two incidents in Aleppo on 10 August and 6 September that killed five people, including two children.
“After each attack, dozens of people suffering shortage of breath, coughing and reddened skin and eyes, sought medical treatment in hospitals,” the group said. Syrian rebels have been supplied with a new type of surface-to-surface rocket by their foreign backers to help defend against the current offensive, a rebel commander said. The rockets supplied will be used in Aleppo, and the Mediterranean coastal region. It was not clear which foreign states supplied the rockets. Aleppo, once Syria’s largest city and the country’s commercial and industrial hub, has been divided in two since 2012, with President Bashar al-Assad’s forces controlling the west and rebel factions the east. In the past year, government troops have gradually broken the deadlock with the help of Iranian-backed militias and Russian air strikes.
Earlier this month, they severed the rebels’ last route into the east and placed its 250,000 residents under siege. Children in Aleppo have made up a large proportion of casualties from air strikes, according to aid groups. At least 100,000 children remain trapped in the eastern part of the city. In the government-held west, 49 children were killed by rebel shelling in July alone according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The US pledged recently pledged to provide an extra $364m in humanitarian aid to people affected by the Syrian war. The World Health Organization meanwhile called for the “immediate establishment of humanitarian routes” into Aleppo, where hospitals are running out of supplies and rubble-strewn streets are preventing ambulances from getting through.
Through the united prayer of God’s people over many years, we have seen 8 wars stopped, often suddenly, by the united prayer of God’s people. Let’s pray, in faith, for the shattered ceasefire to be re-enacted and to lead to a real peace agreement. Pray that President Assad and leaders of the various rebel factions will agree to end this endlessly destructive conflict for Aleppo and other war-torn areas in order to bring healing and restoration to their suffering people and land. Pray that the flow of urgently needed humanitarian supplies would not be impeded by either side in the conflict. Pray also for those who follow Jesus in the midst of it all that they will be strengthened and know how to “stand in the gap” from the inside. With God, “all things are possible” so let’s pray that peace will break through soon!
TRANSFORMING YOUR CITY – THE EXAMPLE OF JUAREZ, MEXICO
Recently in Albuquerque, New Mexico, 140 ministry leaders and public officials were electrified to hear the testimony of Pastor Poncho Murguia. Poncho after leading a large and successful mega church for years was instructed by the Lord to “leave everything” and to go to a city park in his native Juarez, Mexico in order to fast and pray for three weeks over the city. During that process, he learned for the first time to really love and understand his city and then to “adopt” the city. Eventually 4000 other believers in Jesus joined him in a movement of transformational prayer and action that has changed Juarez from “the murder capital of the world” with violence 25 times as much as any on other city on earth, to one of the safest of Mexico’s cities.
At the height of the violence that swept the city which had become the site of a prolonged turf battle between drug cartels, 20-30 people were being assassinated by “sicarios”, hit men paid an average of $50 to kill anyone. They killed a young man just as he was being married to his fiancee in a church and freely machine-gunned peace-loving people who were having dinner in restaurants. There were also an average of 10-15 kidnappings per day and if loved ones did not pay the ransom that was demanded, their family member would have his ears or fingers amputated first and if there was still no payment, he or she would be killed and buried under the floor of the “safehouse” that served as their prison.
Twenty percent or 300,000 people left the city; 30% of the businesses closed. The cartels made lists of police officers and systematically assassinated them one by one to terrorize and exact concessions. The smell of blood filled the streets. Such overwhelming violence that the police and even the army could not control finally drove the pastors of the city’s churches together in prayer. They humbled themselves before the Lord, taking responsibility for the situation since they had been occupying themselves with their own congregations and “building their own kingdoms” without a real love and concern for the whole city. As they underwent this process together, God demonstrated His presence and the crime rate fell by 93% within 18 months. Even the United Nations cannot understand how this happened!
Other wonderful transformations happened and as they “adopted” the “sicarios”, many of these vicious hit men came to Christ and were discipled to serve Him back in their own towns across Mexico. Poncho challenged the Church and ministry leaders to tackle problems in our communities that the government and police are not being effective in fixing. The church he said spent too much time studying the Bible when God wants us to “be the Bible”
to our needy city. Those who heard Poncho’s testimony were deeply challenged to apply what we learned. Many went home determined to see a transformational movement happen in their communities.
PASTORS SAY ENOUGH IS ENOUGH DURING PULPIT FREEDOM SUNDAY
American Pastors have joined together to protest an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) law limiting what they can say from the pulpit. The initiative, called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” came after legislators proposed a bill to reinstate pastors’ rights to speak freely. The Free Speech Fairness Act was introduced in an effort to repeal the 1954 Johnson amendment which barred all non-profits, including churches, from active involvement in political campaigns, including supporting or opposing candidates. “In the first 200 years in America, pastors spoke freely from their pulpit about the issues of the day,” said the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal group that started “Pulpit Freedom Sunday”. “A pastor’s pulpit should be accountable to God alone, and the future of religious freedom depends on it,” its website read.
“The ultimate goal of Pulpit Freedom Sunday is to restore a pastor’s right to speak freely from the pulpit without fearing government censorship or punishment,” Erik Stanley, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, said. “The IRS currently holds the power to impose legal sanctions on a church for something its pastor preaches from the pulpit.” “Until 1954, America’s pastors had the right to speak freely, a right they exercised responsibly,” Stanley continued. “Churches did not become political action committees and party bosses did not set up shop in the basement of churches. Instead, pastors spoke out as they believed their faith intersected with something that was happening in an election. Pastors should have the right to decide that issue for themselves.”
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has pledged to repeal the Johnson Amendment if he takes office. Trump has said he would change how the Christian community is being singled out. “If they want to preach about Christian values or talk about politics, they’re unable to do so. If they do, they take a tremendous risk they may lose their tax-exempt status,” he said. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, stressed that pastors should be free to speak openly with their congregation. “Pastors, have a Biblical responsibility to help their congregation understand the issues and how they line up with Scripture,” he said. “We’re looking at Biblical issues like life, human sexuality and marriage and speaking to what Scripture says and comparing that with the positions of the candidates.”
NORTH KOREANS ARE DEFECTING FROM THE COUNTRY IN DROVES
From the fear of deadly snakes to alleged executions by anti-aircraft gun, it’s understandable why many North Koreans desire to flee the Hermit Kingdom. What’s interesting however is the economic class of defectors that have left North Korea. A survey from the Korean Unification Ministry reveals the percentage of defectors from the “middle-class” rose from 19% in 2001 to 55.9% after 2014. The increase stems from the fact that more defectors from higher statuses in the North possess the resources to escape, said the Unification Ministry. So far this year, 894 North Koreans have escaped the country, compared to the 777 in the previous year during the same period.
The Unification Ministry claims that this 15% increase is on track to bring the total number of defectors to 30,000 by the end of the year.
Although the reasons to cross the border, or in some exceptional cases remain away from, are numerous, it’s noteworthy that one of their highly publicized punishments in North Korea seems to have decreased: North Korea leader Kim Jong Un is estimated to have executed about 130 officials in the 5 years he’s been in power, while Kim Jong Il, his father, had put to death over 2,000 officials in a 6 year span. The latest high-profile defection is Thae Yong-Ho, North Korea’s deputy ambassador to London, who has since been accused by his former country of leaking state secrets, embezzlement, and child rape. As one of the highest-ranking North Korean officials to have defected, it wouldn’t be unrealistic to believe that others will eventually follow suit.
Recently hundreds of Christians from over 30 countries gathered at the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea to pray for the re-unification of Korea, praying with one voice and lighting candles, as a symbol of the light of Jesus in one of the darkest corners of the world. With all the calamities and chaos facing our world, it is easy to see why darkness seems to be prevailing. But we are the David’s that slay the giant of darkness, division, and despair. We are the light of which the darkness is afraid. We must let this light shine on the darkest valleys and continue to pray for His light to flow into North Korea. Ask for regime change and that the oppression of the North Korean people will come to an end. Pray for the protection and success of those seeking to bring reform to this part of the world.
COLUMBIAN GOVERNMENT TO CONTINUE TO WORK TOWARDS PEACE
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is urging the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to continue working towards a peace agreement after the current deal was narrowly rejected in a public plebiscite by a margin of 50.24% to 49.76%. The current peace deal, which was signed in Cartagena on 26 September following 4 years of public negotiations was considered a major step towards ending the 52-year internal armed conflict in Colombia. A positive result in the plebiscite on the deal was required in order for it to come into force. Voter turnout was low at 40%. Among a range of measures, the agreement committed the Colombian Government to agrarian reform, a more open democracy and development programmes focused on solving the drug problem.
The FARC agreed to a ceasefire and to abandon all arms in the coming months. In his address to the nation, President Santos said that the ceasefire remains in place and that negotiations will continue. CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “In light of this unexpected plebiscite result CSW urges all parties to honour their promise to continue working towards a peace agreement. Over 50 years of armed conflict has left millions of victims. We will continue to stand with our partners in Colombia as they work towards peace, truth and reconciliation. We pray for a peace agreement that meets public approval, and for a truth and reconciliation process that uncovers the human rights violations committed by all in this conflict and brings some measure of peace for the victims and their families.”
All sides in the 52-year internal conflict have been responsible for human rights violations, including violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief. Hundreds of church leaders have been the victims of targeted assassination since 2000 and churches have faced extortion from armed groups. Young people who are pacifist because of their religious convictions have also been forcibly conscripted by the army. Since 2005, CSW has been documenting human rights violations affecting communities of faith. It is hoped that this documentation will contribute to future investigations as part of a truth and reconciliation process to shed light on the tens of thousands of unresolved cases of murder and forced displacement in Colombia, including the kidnap and murder of US missionaries in the 1990s.