Just before the recent tragic shooting spree in Paris, Islamic militants Boko Haram attacked the Nigerian town of Baga, killing hundreds – if not thousands – of people. Deeply distressing pictures were posted later… but they were largely ignored. We simply cannot imagine the violent scenes in Baga. So how do we – followers of Christ – deal with the terror of Islamic extremism? For 60 years, Open Doors has served Christians in areas of intimidation and extreme violence. How do church leaders and ordinary believers in these regions react to an attack in a place like Paris? Gina lives in the Southern Philippines where the Muslim Islamic Liberation Front frequently causes havoc. She lost her fiancée after he was shot.
Looking at the Paris situation from another perspective, Gina says: “God might have brought Muslims to France to be exposed to God’s love in Christ Jesus. I hope our brothers and sisters there will have the heartbeat of God and have compassion on them. Perhaps God will use the terror in France to shake the body of Christ to pray, to love, and to reach the Muslims in every way they can.” Hea Woo, a North Korean refugee, says, “Sadly, this terrorist attack reminded me of the North Korean government. But I can never give up the name of Jesus Christ, not in any circumstance. God is faithful. He never fails me. That’s why it is possible to go on despite all the threats. Remember: our Heavenly Father is with us! Never give up!”
Christian leaders from Sri Lanka to Kazakhstan tell of praying within their congregations for the French victims and the need to respond in a Christ-like manner. “It is crucial to remember that nobody is born a terrorist,” Open Doors’ founder Brother Andrew has said often. He has befriended many Muslim extremists and challenged them with Christ’s message of love and forgiveness. His message was echoed by a Nigerian church leader speaking after a massacre in Adamawa state in Nigeria a year ago. In the aftermath of over 50 murders at the hands of Boko Haram, he said, “We can only silence the guns of hatred with the guns of love.” Listening to brothers and sisters in places like Nigeria is a sobering experience.
The last 3 years have seen a remarkable rise in the global persecution of Christians. More than ever before, mainstream and social media are bringing the plight of the persecuted to the forefront of public consciousness. In some nations Christians are seen as easy targets. Recently, protests erupted in Niger’s second largest city, Zinder in response to a cartoon of the Muslim prophet Mohammed on the cover of the Charlie Hebdo magazine in France. The protests in Zinder quickly turned violent and then spread to surrounding areas and finally the capital Niamey. At least 10 people died in the ensuing days of violence, including three Christians who were killed while trapped in churches.
Open Doors contacts have counted at least 72 churches that have been destroyed, along with several Christian schools, shops and vehicles owned by believers. Over 30 Christian homes have been looted and burnt. The fighting sent 300 of Zinder’s estimated 700 Christians fleeing, many with just the clothes on their backs. In a television address, President Issoufou expressed surprise at the attack, “What have the Christians done to deserve this? Where have they wronged you?” While Niger has been praised for its secular government and relative tolerance towards Christians, the past few years the country has seen growing radicalisation.
Associating local Christians with the French publication is a convenient reason for extremists to pounce. Local church leader, Pastor Nomau called on Niger Christians to respond with the love of Christ. “I call on all believers to forgive and forget, to love Muslims with all their heart, and to love Christ like never before. I ask believers to see all Muslims in Niger as our brothers and sisters. Although it is painful, and what we are experiencing is difficult, we are God’s children. We must love our persecutors. We must welcome them into our houses, give them food when they are hungry, give them a drink when they are thirsty. Let no one seek revenge. God will strengthen us. Muslims in Niger we love you with the love of Jesus Christ.”
* giving praise for the Godly attitude of Christians suffering persecution. Pray their Christ-like attitude will make a positive impact on their communities and upon non-believers.
* that Islamic extremists who seek to target Christians will be shown the light of Christ and be convicted of their wrongs. Pray they seek forgiveness and become a living testament to God’s love.
* giving thanks for the words of Niger’s President Issoufou and pray for peace to descend on the country in aftermath of these extremists attacks.
JAPANESE CHRISTIAN LAYS DOWN HIS LIFE FOR HIS FRIEND
It is an unlikely friendship that ties the fates of war correspondent Kenji Goto and troubled loner Haruna Yukawa, the two Japanese hostages for whom Islamic State militants have demanded a $200 million ransom. Yukawa was captured in August outside the Syrian city of Aleppo. Goto, who had returned to Syria in late October to try to help his friend, has been missing since then. For Yukawa, who dreamed of becoming a military contractor, traveling to Syria had been part of an effort to turn his life around after going bankrupt, losing his wife to cancer and attempting suicide, according to associates and his own accounts.
A unit at Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had been seeking information on him since August, people involved in that effort said. Goto’s disappearance had not been reported until Tuesday’s video apparently showing him and Yukawa kneeling in orange t-shirts next to a masked Islamic State militant wielding a knife. Yukawa first met Goto in Syria in April and asked him to take him to Iraq. He wanted to know how to operate in a conflict zone and they went together in June. Yukawa returned to Syria in July on his own. “He was hapless and didn’t know what he was doing. He needed someone with experience to help him,” Goto, 47, told Reuters in Tokyo in August.
Yukawa’s abduction that month haunted Goto, who felt he had to do something to help the man, a few years his junior. “I need to go there at least once and see my fixers and ask them what the current situation is. I need to talk to them face to face. I think that’s necessary,” Goto said, referring to locals who work freelance for foreign correspondents, setting up meetings and helping with the language. Goto began working as a full-time war correspondent in 1996 and had established a reputation as a careful and reliable operator for Japanese broadcasters, including NHK. “He understood what he had to do and he was cautious,” said Naomi Toyoda, who reported with him from Jordan in the 1990s.
Goto, who converted to Christianity in 1997, also spoke of his faith in the context of his job. “I have seen horrible places and have risked my life, but I know that somehow God will always save me,” he said in a May article for the Japanese publication Christian Today. But he told the same publication that he never took risks, citing a passage in the Bible, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” In October, Goto’s wife had the couple’s second child. He has an older daughter from a previous marriage. Around the same time, he made plans to leave for Syria and uploaded several short video clips to his Twitter feed, one showing him with media credentials issued by anti-government rebels in Aleppo.
On October 22, he emailed an acquaintance, a high school teacher, to say he planned to be back in Japan at the end of the month. Goto told a business partner with whom he was working to create an online news application that he expected to be able to travel in territory held by the Islamic State because of his nationality. “He said that as a Japanese journalist he expected to be treated differently than American or British journalists,” Toshi Maeda said, recalling a conversation with Goto before his departure for Syria. Japan has not participated in bombing and has only provided humanitarian aid. For that reason, he thought he could secure the cooperation of ISIS.”
Friends say Goto travelled from Tokyo to Istanbul and travelled from there to Syria, sending a message on October 25 that he had crossed the border and was safe. “Whatever happens, this is my responsibility,” Goto said on a video recorded shortly before he set out for Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State. That was the last time he was seen before the ISIS video was released. The latest news at the timing or preparation of this newsletter is that Haruna Yukawa has been beheaded and that Goto is facing execution within days pending the outcome of negotiations between the Japanese and Jordanian Governments and the Islamic State leadership. We pray that by the time you read this article, Goto will still be alive.
70 YEARS AFTER AUSCHWITZ CONCENTRATION CAMPS ARE ALIVE AND WELL
Last week was marked by 70th anniversary ceremonies, remembering the liberation of the Nazi German extermination camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau. It has been 70 years since the final evacuation of 56,000 prisoners from the Nazi Auschwitz concentration camp began. An Open Doors reporter, Jan Vermeer, who recently visited Auschwitz, tells the following in “Walking through Auschwitz with North Korea on My Mind.” 70 years after Soviet troops liberated the Nazis’ biggest camp Auschwitz-Birkenau and 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, people are still exterminated in a country like North Korea.” The god-like worship of the leader, Kim Jong-Un, and his predecessors leaves no room for any other religion.
Christians face unimaginable pressure in every sphere of life. They are forced to meet only in secret and they dare not share their faith with their families for fear of imprisonment in a labour camp. Christian parents even hide their faith from their children. Anyone discovered engaging in religious activity may be subject to arrest, arbitrary detention, disappearance, torture, and even public execution. Not only are individuals affected when their faith is discovered, but also their entire family. Jan Vermeer concludes his article with the following: “The last place we visit are the lavatories.‘
The building was so dirty the SS officers would not go inside,’ the tour guide says. ‘But as it was warmer than outside the prisoners preferred to work here and clean it.’ The tour guide went on, ‘Because the SS did not come here, this was also a place where groups of Jews and Christians would gather to pray.’ Immediately I see the face of Hea Woo, a 70-year-old lady who survived 3 years in a North Korean labour camp. ‘Every day was as if God was pouring out all ten plagues on us simultaneously. But God brought a secret fellowship into existence” she said. Every Sunday we would gather in the toilets and pray. “People worshipped Him in Auschwitz and people still worship Him in North Korean camps today” she said
Please pray for the persecuted in North Korea as we remember those who both died in and survived Nazi concentration camps.
* asking God for comfort and strength for the thousands of North Korean Christians imprisoned in labour camps, and the isolated believers who worship in secret.
* praising God that the Church in North Korea is very much alive and has a vision to bring the Gospel to the nations.
* that God will change Kim Jong-Un’s heart and the hearts of all who hold power in North Korea.
It started with street battles between Shiite Houthi rebels and government forces in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a. Ordinary citizens feared for their lives. Talks between President Hadi and representatives of the Houthi rebels had broken down. Hothis rejected a draft constitution dividing Yemen into six regions. Businesses and embassies closed as the clashes continued ending with a tentative ceasefire. The next day brought an escalation of violence as Houthi rebels shelled the presidential palace and seized the state-run media. The commander of the Presidential Protection Force guarding the palace said, “There is no other word to describe what is happening but a coup.” The future of this nation is very much up in the air.
The powerful Houthi movement, believed to be backed by Iran, dominates northern Yemen. The third player in this complicated political conflict is Al Qaeda. Both President Hadi’s government and the Houthi rebels are opposed to this terrorist organization. Many fear that the clashes between government forces and Houthi rebels may actually strengthen Al Qaeda’s position. The president has now resigned under pressure from the Houthi rebels. President Hadi was a close U.S. ally. His ousting raises fears Yemen could split apart again, severely complicating U.S. efforts to combat al Qaeda’s powerful branch in Yemen. Yemen’s prime minister and cabinet have also stepped down under pressure from the rebels.
Let’s pray for:
* Christian Believers in Yemen to clothe themselves with the full armour of God, and having done all to stand boldly as they continue to witness to others about the love, peace, protection, and eternal life found in Jesus Christ.
* Al Qaeda terrorists to fall into the pit they have dug intending to snare the innocents and create havoc.
* President Hadi and his government to negotiate an agreeable compromise with the Houthis that will benefit all of Yemen’s tribal interests.
Jakarta’s first Christian governor in nearly 50 years was sworn in in the face of protests from religious hardliners opposed to a non-Muslim taking over one of Indonesia’s most powerful political jobs. Basuki Purnama, better known by his nickname “Ahok”, has been acting governor of the Indonesian capital since Joko Widodo stepped aside to become president. Hundreds of Islamic hardliners have protested against the inauguration of Ahok, underlining the growing religious intolerance in a nation with the world’s biggest Muslim population. Thousands of police were deployed around the capital in case of violence, but there was only one small group of peaceful protesters.
Ahok, who is the first ethnic Chinese governor of Jakarta, has a reputation for being a transparent, no-nonsense and at times abrasive leader. His style has been praised by residents long weary of a graft-ridden and inert bureaucracy. Many Muslim organizations have also voiced support for Ahok. The country of 240 million people has seen a rise in attacks over the last decade against Christians and Shia Muslims. Widodo’s administration has pledged to protect all religious minorities in Indonesia, where nearly 90% of the population consider themselves Muslim. But experts believe that Widodo will be hamstrung by parliament, which is controlled by his opposition.
SAUDI KING ABDULLAH’S DEATH RAISES FEARS OF WHAT MAY BE NEXT
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has passed away. He was 90 years old. News of his death comes during a time of turmoil throughout the region. Abdullah was known for assertively throwing his oil-rich nation’s weight behind efforts to shape the Middle East. As a Sunni Muslim, he made it a priority to go against the influence of the rival Shiite regime in Iran wherever it tried to assert itself. A strong U.S. ally, he joined Washington in the fight against al Qaeda. He was constantly frustrated by the failure of U.S. leaders to bring about a settlement to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The new Saudi king is 79-year-old Salman Bin Abdul-Aziz, the half-brother of Abdullah. He has promised to continue the policies of his predecessors.