Archive for the ‘Pray for the Persecuted’ Category
Posted on March 10th, 2014 by Jonathan
Reports coming out of North Korea reveal that 33 Christians have been sentenced to death for working with Kim Jung Wook, a Baptist missionary from South Korea who was arrested in North Korea last year. Together, they have planted approximately 500 underground churches. Kim Jong-un has called for their execution as he believes these efforts to be in direct opposition to his regime, a threat to national security. This would not be inconsistent with past actions, as he executed his own uncle–Jang Song-thaek–late last year, along with all of Mr. Jang’s relatives, because he perceived him to be a threat to power. Tragically, public executions in North Korea are not a rare occurrence. Hundreds upon hundreds have taken place, some for offenses as small as owning a Bible.
First, let us be encouraged and challenged by the example of these 33 believers who, at the risk of their lives, have done the work of ministry. Five hundred churches! Are we taking full advantage of our religious freedom to even aim at doing what the unfree have, by God’s grace, accomplished?
Second, let us pray for them. There is no doubt these precious brothers and sisters have some tough days ahead. Let us pray for their freedom. But most importantly, let us pray for their faithfulness to Christ. Ask the Lord to give them strength to endure. And as a result of their example, pray that the gospel goes forth strongly, spreading like wild fire to Kim Jong-un, throughout his regime, across North Korea, and beyond.
Posted on March 10th, 2014 by Paul
Pillar 3: Zakat (Giving Alms/Charity)
What is Zakat?
The term “zakat” is mentioned more frequently in the Qur’an than any other of the five pillars. In fact, over 80 verses in the Qur’an mention the requirement to give charity and alms to the poor. One verse says, “Those who believe, and do deeds of righteousness, and establish regular prayers and give zakat, will have their reward…” (Qur’an 2:277). Based on this verse and others in the Qur’an, all Muslims are expected to give zakat, which is 2.5% of one’s accumulated wealth (not annual income) to the poor and needy in their community. If a particular family is poor they can offer food or something else as a replacement for money.
Zakat is a system established for equitable distribution of wealth in Muslim societies. The background for this practice is the Islamic understanding that Allah as the creator is the rightful owner of all things. He alone determines the religious tax and implemented zakat as a way to care for the needs of the poor and destitute in the community. Therefore the giving of zakat is considered an act of worship to Allah. Zakat is intended to serve as a simple reminder to Muslims that everything they have ultimately belongs to God.
Some Muslim nations require zakat by law and zakat stamps can be purchased from local post offices. In other countries, giving zakat to the mosque or to the poor is a voluntary activity. Many mosques will have a metal zakat box near the entrance that Muslims can place their monies into as they exit the mosque. The month of Ramadan is the time when most Muslims will pay the zakat.
According to Islamic theology, those who give the zakat will receive rewards, be assisted in their journey towards paradise, and perform an act that is pleasing to Allah. A common mantra is that zakat is not just charity, but also duty, worship, and purification. Zakat is a central tenet to Islamic theology and something that Muslims all around the world practice annually.
What is the significance of the Zakat in Turkey?
In Turkey, many of the Muslims will at least claim and likely give the zakat in some form or fashion on an annual basis. A common occurrence in Turkey and other Muslim countries during Ramadan is for beggars and the needy to go door to door in apartment complexes asking for food and charitable gifts. This practice is not discouraged and serves as a way for the poor and needy to receive food and gifts from the Islamic community. As a country, Turkey does not have an official government run zakat system. Prior to Atatürk’s reforms in the 1920’s, the state collected the zakat, but it now has largely become a matter of individual responsibility. Therefore, the practice of zakat by Muslims in Turkey will differ from person to person throughout the country.
Posted on March 7th, 2014 by Paul
- “Friday Prayers”
Pillar 2: Salat (Prayers)
What is Salat?
Five times a day the muezzin calls from the minaret of mosques all around the world to call Muslims to prayer. The Muslim call to prayer (adhan) is perhaps the most recognizable sound throughout the Muslim world. Muslims are expected to pray 5 times per day. Each of the 5 prayer times have a name and specific time of the day in which they are to be performed. Fajr is between dawn and sunrise, Zuhr is between midday and mid-afternoon, Asr is between mid-afternoon and sunset, Maghrib is just after sunset, and Isha is between nightfall and dawn. Muslims are expected to pray during these times each day either corporately in a mosque or individually at home or at work.
One of the unique characteristics of Islamic prayer is that those praying are expected to turn and face the city of Mecca. Mecca is in modern day Saudi Arabia and known as the holiest place in Islam. Muslims all around the world are expected to turn wherever they are (even in an airplane which can be interesting) 5 times per day and face Mecca when they pray. Before they pray, Muslims must ritually cleanse their hands, arms to the elbows, face, head, ears, nose, and feet to the ankles with water. This ritual cleansing process is known as wudu. Being outwardly clean before God is an essential part of Islamic prayer.
As they pray, Muslims assume special prayer positions throughout the prayer. The following steps are involved in a Muslim prayer:
- Raise their hands and say in Arabic, “God is great.”
- Fold their hands and quote the opening of the Qur’an.
- Bend over three times and says three times in Arabic, “Glorify the name of God most great.”
- Stands with hands to their side and says once in Arabic, “Give thanks to God.”
- On their knees they touch the prayer rug while saying five times in Arabic, “Glorify the name of God most high.”
- They sit up.
- They bow down again and repeat step 5.
- They stand and prepare to repeat the steps a second time.
- They turn their head to the left and to the right. These steps end the series of prayers each time.
What is the significance of Salat for Muslims in Turkey?
Most sources estimate that more than 96% of the people in Turkey follow the religion of Islam. The challenge is that the level of devotion varies significantly from region to region, city to city, and person to person. Pew Religion Research suggests that 27% of the Muslims in Turkey actually pray five times per day. 15% of Muslims in Turkey claim to pray several times per day, but not all five. Based on this research and my own personal experience in Turkey, it is safe to say that Muslims are practicing the prayers, but perhaps not as often as one might think. Again, this varies from person to person, but while many of the confessing Muslims in Turkey know the process and content of the prayers, chances are that they are not performing it as much as they might claim. Five times a day, the call to prayer sounds out from the minaret in cities all across Turkey, but the question is . . . do Muslims believe they are actually communing with God when they pray or are they simply going through the motions of religion?
Hear the Muslim Call to Prayer below:
This is part 2 of a 5 part series on the 5 Pillars of Islam. Check out part 1 here, and be on the lookout for the other parts over the next week.
Posted on March 5th, 2014 by Paul
Pillar 1: Shahada (The Witness)
What is the Shahada?
“There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” This confession is the first thing whispered into the ear of a newborn Muslim baby and the last thing heard and spoken at death. This basic confession defines what it means to be Muslim. These words set Islam apart from the other monotheistic religions: Christianity and Judaism. If one desires to be Muslim, the starting point is a sincere confession of the Shahada.
At its core, Islam is a religion that demands devotion to one God, Allah. The Arabic word for God is “Allah.” The word Allah was used in reference to God in Arab culture since before the birth of Muhammad in 570 AD. The Shahada begins with God. It assumes that there is one God who created all things and sustains all things. Muslims around the world strive to live a life of submission and surrender to this one God, Allah.
According to Islam, Allah sent humanity many prophets to lead them towards God. The final prophet he sent was Muhammad. Muhammad, though he was human, served as a role model and messenger from God. In their daily lives, Muslims are to emulate and follow the example set by Muhammad while he lived on the earth. The explicit mention of Muhammad as the “messenger of Allah” in the Shahada stands again in contrast to both Christianity and Judaism, who do not recognize Muhammad as a prophet sent from God.
For Muslims, the Shahada serves as a guide to life. It encapsulates both belief in Allah as the one true God and also points Muslims to Muhammad as the definitive example of what it means to be submit and surrender to God. The Shahada is a statement of both faith and practice and serves as the foundational statement for the 1.2 billion Muslims around the world.
What is the significance of the Shahada for Muslims in Turkey?
For many Muslims in Turkey today, the Shahada functions merely as a traditional saying that brings order and structure to Turkish society. The day-to-day implications of the Shahada are minimal for many Muslims in Turkey. Having been to Turkey several times the past few years, I am always surprised by the indifference expressed by Muslims towards Islam. Operation World estimates that Turkey is over 96% Muslim. In fact, the Turks proudly say that “to be Turk is to be Muslim.” Yet, in reality, when it comes to Islam as a whole and the confession of the Shahada in particular, there might be a lot of intellectual ascent, but little heart felt devotion to God, Muhammad, and this confessional statement.
This is part 1 of a 5 part series on the 5 Pillars of Islam. Be sure to check back here for the other parts over the next 2 weeks.
The following post originally appeared at Voice of the Martyrs. Let this report guide your prayers for Pastor Zhang, the members the church still imprisoned, and the rest of the church family suffering from threats and opposition. His trial is tomorrow, but be sure to pray today with the time change!
Three of the 12 Nanle County Christian Church members who have been imprisoned since mid-November 2013 have been released, but their pastor still faces a criminal trial on Feb. 12. The three women, Zhao Xiping, 47; Yang Miling, 40; and Sheyin Duanmu, 44, were released on Jan. 24 from Nanle County Detention Center.
Pastor Zhang Shaojie, 49, was arrested on Nov. 16 after a meeting with local government officials. About 20 people who protested the pastor’s arrest were detained or arrested in the following days.
The pastor now faces charges of “fraud” and “gathering a mob to disrupt public order.” Although he was allowed to see his attorney on Jan. 16, government officials have postponed his trial date of Jan. 28 to Feb. 12. Lawyers involved in the Nanle County case have been beaten and even threatened with having their credentials revoked. Local officials have also tried to prevent Zhang and other church members from hiring particular lawyers.
Pastor Zhang’s family and other church members have continued to face persecution from local government authorities. Zhang’s eldest daughter received harassing phone calls in which authorities threatened to “wipe out her entire family” for trying to contact higher authorities and report on the persecution of the church. Fearing for her life, she fled to another town with her husband and 10-month-old child.
Zhang’s youngest daughter was held in the detention center for a short period of time. The family’s Internet service was stopped and the tires on their vehicle were slashed in apparent attempts to prevent them from connecting with those outside the Nanle County area. The local government has also prohibited church members from worshiping at the church.
Among those still imprisoned is Wu Guishan, the 43-year-old husband of Zhao Xiping, one of the women just released from the detention center. The couple was detained in November because of their interaction with the church. They have two school-aged children. Their eldest daughter dropped out of school to try to locate Wu, who was taken by authorities when he tried to appeal his case. His location is currently unknown. The couple’s 15-year-old son was taken to an orphanage while his parents were imprisoned.
Posted on January 27th, 2014 by Jonathan
A Scripture-saturated excerpt from the letter that William Tyndale wrote to his best friend, John Frith, right before Frith was burned at the stake for his loyalty to God’s Word.
Your cause is Christ’s gospel, a light that must be fed with the blood of faith…. If when we be buffeted for well-doing, we suffer patiently and endure, that is acceptable to God; for to that end we are called. For Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow his steps, who did no sin.
Hereby have we perceived love, that he had lain down his life for us; therefore we ought also to lay down our lives for the brethren…. let not your body faint…. If the pain be above your strength, remember, Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, I will give it you. And pray to our Father in that name, and he will ease your pain, or shorten it…. Amen.
Taken from Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ (Crossway), by John Piper, p. 52
This post was originally seen on the Secret Church blog. Be sure to check it out for updates and information on Secret Church gatherings and the persecuted church.
Posted on January 15th, 2014 by Jonathan
If you haven’t already seen, the 2014 World Watch List is out. With about twice as many Christian deaths due to persecution in 2013 as there were in 2014, watching where and how these violent trends grow is more important now than ever before. We ought to be well acquainted with the suffering of our brothers and sisters overseas so that we can better pray for and minister to them.
Sadly, North Korea’s prison camps and public executions earned it a number one spot for the 12th consecutive year. Syria, accounting for over 1,200 Christian deaths, continued it’s rapid climb from number 36 two years ago, coming in at number three in 2014. This is largely due to the ongoing civil war in which almost half of the fighting rebels come from Islamic extremist backgrounds. Overall, it’s hard to ignore the impact that Islamic extremism has had on the persecution of Christians. It is the main source of persecution in 36 of the top 50 countries ranked, as well as the reason that Bangladesh and Central African Republic were both newly added to the list.
Take some time to familiarize yourself with the list. Remember the believers that live in these places and pray for them. Also, note that this is where the gospel is urgently needed… so pray for bold gospel proclamation resulting in the salvation of the persecutors.
This post originally appeared on the Secret Church blog. Be sure to check it out for updates and information on the persecuted church and future Secret Church gatherings.
Posted on January 2nd, 2014 by Jonathan
Last month, the issue of Christian persecution was brought before the UK House of Commons. To those of you who, like me, may initially find it puzzling that such a topic would be discussed and debated in the British Parliament, this sobering statistic will make it clear why: an estimated 200 million Christians will be persecuted this year, while around 500 million live in “dangerous neighborhoods.” In the words of Member of Parliament Bob Neill, specifically addressing persecution of Christians living in the Arab world (perhaps the most dangerous of “neighborhoods”), “It is legitimate, as a matter of policy, for us to seek to use our leverage to change that situation.” However the issue is addressed, it is here before us all as 2014 begins.
Thankfully, this global issue is catching the eye of more than just the British Parliament. Recently on BreakPoint, Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet discussed a new book by John Allen titled The Global War on Christians. In a short four-part series (part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4) Metaxas and Stonestreet discussed a variety of topics covered in the book, ranging from the millions of Christians living in Muslim contexts, to Christian persecution from people with varied religious beliefs, to the rise of persecution in the West. If this short series doesn’t make you want to read Allen’s book, it will at least awaken your heart to the suffering of our brothers and sisters for whom persecution is far from myth or rumor.
And there are many who call persecution of Christians just that: myth and rumor. In reality, the notion that Christians aren’t persecuted or marginalized is the real myth. Timothy Shah (Fox News) recently showed this in an article that pinpointed some of the things that “cloud popular thinking” and make the general public blind to the hostility that Christians all over the world must endure on a daily basis.
All this in mind, here are some reminders for us this January:
- Persecution is real. Let’s be prayerful. (Jam 5:13) (1 Thes 5:17)
- Persecution is growing. Let’s be watchful. (Matt 24:9-13) (Col 4:2)
- Persecution is temporary. Let’s be hopeful. (Rom 8:18)
- Persecution is sometimes a sign of gospel advance. Let’s be thankful. (Phil 1:12-13) (Matt 24:14)
- Persecution is part of our identity with Christ. Let’s be joyful. (Rom 8:16-17)
This post was originally published on the Secret Church blog. Be sure to check it out of updates and information on the persecuted church as well as Secret Church simulcasts.
Posted on December 23rd, 2013 by Jonathan
For Christians all over the world, today is a day to celebrate the coming of our Savior. And most of us are free to do that openly. Right now, many are gathering together with loved-ones, singing songs about the coming of the Messiah, feasting, celebrating. In fact, for many of us Christians, taking advantage of this religious freedom doesn’t stop at personal worship in our homes or churches; Christmas is an opportunity for gospel proclamation. We “tell it on the mountain” as we strike up gospel conversations using our seasonal surroundings, from our front yard nativity scenes featuring baby Jesus to our “Keep Christ in Christmas” bumper stickers. However, there are many believers who pay a high price for associating with Jesus during Christmas.
Last Christmas in Nigeria, 36 Christians were killed between December 24 and December 30, 6 of those deaths occurring at the hands of gunmen during a Christmas Eve service. Christmas 2011 saw the death of 44 Christian Nigerians.
These tragic killings happened in a place where people are often murdered for following Jesus, but Nigeria is just one of many places where such atrocities occur. And most instances of persecution don’t end up in believers’ deaths. Sometimes worse, their persecutors often make their lives miserable. So they limp on, repeatedly counting the cost and, with joy, daily taking up their cross.
Today, let us pray for these dear brothers and sisters. Whether they find themselves homeless and outcast in the Middle East or face-to-face with violent opposition in places like Nigeria or the Central African Republic, they need our prayers for God’s strength in their lives.
Over 2,000 years ago, when thousands of baby boys were murdered at the hands of King Herod, it was made clear that suffering and death were not to be strangers to Christmas. After all, Christ was born in the manger to die on the cross. And as encouraging confirmation to our brothers and sisters suffering this Christmas, let us remember Jesus’ words to His disciples in John 15:20: “‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” God fulfilled His glorious purposes through Christ’s suffering, and in Jesus, we can be sure that God will do the same for Christ’s followers.
“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us… And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” – Romans 8:16-18, 28-29
This post can be found at the Secret Church blog. Be sure to check it out for updates and information on Secret Church and the persecuted believers around the world.
Posted on December 6th, 2013 by Jonathan
Ronnie Smith, chemistry teacher at the International School Benghazi in Libya, was shot and killed yesterday morning while going on a jog. He was a member of the Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, TX. Below is an open letter regarding this tragedy, posted to the church on Austin Stone’s website. Let us join them in grief and prayer as we are inspired to emulate the example of sacrificial service Ronnie gives us, to the glory of God among all nations.
It is with a very heavy heart that we write to you today about the loss of our dear brother Ronnie Smith. Ronnie was shot and killed in Benghazi while going for a morning jog. We don’t fully understand the motives of his attackers. He had been teaching chemistry at the International School Benghazi in Libya for the last year and a half.
Before moving to Benghazi, Ronnie was a member of the church staff at the Austin Stone. Ronnie, his wife Anita, and his son are dearly loved by our church family; many of us knew Ronnie and his family well. Ronnie and his family were planning to spend time before Christmas with us here in Austin. Anita and their son had returned to the U.S. and are safe with family. Ronnie, out of a sense of dedication, had stayed in Libya to be with his students through their midterm exams.
Ronnie and his family moved to Benghazi to teach high school chemistry and to be a blessing to the Libyan people. Ronnie loved Libya and was dedicated to his students to help them aspire to their dreams. Ronnie’s greatest desire was for peace and prosperity in Libya and for the people of Libya to have the joy of knowing God through Christ.
Ronnie was a brother in Christ and a faithful servant of this church for many years. Although we grieve because we have lost a friend, a husband, and a father, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has a greater purpose than we can imagine right now. Though we don’t fully understand right now, we place our full trust in the one who does until we see our friend again.
For right now, we ask you to:
- Pray for Anita, Hosea, and the rest of Anita and Ronnie’s family
- Grieve for the loss of our brother with the hope of Christ
- Trust that God’s will is perfect and His purposes are good
If you happen to be contacted by news media, please refer them to Dave Barrett, our Executive Pastor.
“If one member suffers, all suffer together…” – 1 Corinthians 12:26
“… follow me.” – Luke 9:23
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