Archive for the ‘Pray for the Persecuted’ Category
Posted on April 1st, 2014 by Jonathan Lenning
Several weeks ago, we told you of reports coming out of North Korea that told of 33 Christians who were awaiting execution for their involvement in planting 500 underground house churches. We cited theWashington Times and the Christian Post, and it has since come to our attention that their source may not be entirely accurate.
A seemingly more reliable report confirms that many people were detained and for their alleged involvement in helping South Korean missionary Kim Jung-wook sneak into North Korea, though they may not have all been Christians:
North Korean authorities have detained dozens of people accused of helping a South Korean missionary smuggle himself into the country, a local source said, as a report suggested that some of them face execution on charges of conspiring with him to set up underground churches.
As you can see, while it is still entirely possible that underground Christians face execution, we simply don’t know for sure. The report goes on to say that some of the detainees “include guards,” which means that it’s also entirely possible that not all the detainees were Christian and that the motivation for their detention may have had nothing to do with underground house churches.
We would still urge you to pray for Kim Jung-wook, whose current plight is far from favorable. And while one Christian blogger cautions us to stop referring to the detainees as “underground Christians,” we should still pray for them, too. Whether or not they’re all believers, it’s undeniable that they are in danger. Although the nature of news coming from North Korea can be murky and disputed, at least two facts do remain: the government is impossibly harsh toward its citizens and vehemently opposed to Christians.
Posted on March 17th, 2014 by Jonathan Lenning
In case you missed it, the prayer focus for the upcoming Secret Church (“The Cross and Everyday Life”) is the peoples of Turkey. Today, Turkey is 99% Muslim. Though there are only a handful of believers there now, there was a day when Christianity thrived in the region. Join us as we learn more about this country and the rich Christian history of a region now dominated by mosques.
Secret Church 14, “The Cross and Everyday Life,” takes place on Good Friday, April 18, 2014. You can find out more information and register for the simulcast at SecretChurch.org.
Posted on March 14th, 2014 by Paul
Pillar 5: Hajj (Pilgrimage)
What is the Hajj?
Every Muslim, anywhere in the world, is obliged to perform, at least once in a lifetime, the Hajj. The Hajj is the Muslim ritual pilgrimage to Mecca. Mecca (Saudi Arabia) is the holiest city in Islam. Every Muslim that is physically and financially able is expected to make the trip to Mecca. This pilgrimage occurs during a fixed time on an annual basis. Every year during the 12th month of the Islamic calendar (Dhul Hijjah) Muslims from all over the world assemble in Mecca to worship Allah. This gathering of Muslims is very diverse and signifies the global influence of Islam around the world.
An estimated 3 million Muslims perform the Hajj on an annual basis. Over 60% of the visitors to Mecca during this time come from outside of the country. While on Hajj, Muslims focus on ritual cleansing and purification. Pilgrims will wear white Ihram clothing that typically consists of two white un-hemmed sheets (like towels) that are intended to make every pilgrim look and appear the same. It is important that the cloths do not have any stitching or color. The top sheet is draped over the chest and torso while the bottom sheet covers the hips and the legs. Muslims celebrate the sense of unity that is created when everyone is dressed in the same Ihram clothing.
Once in Mecca for the Hajj, Muslims will enter the Grand Mosque and perform a series of rituals over a four to five day period. Each person will walk counter-clockwise seven times around the Ka’ba. The Ka’ba is a small square building in the middle of the Grand Mosque that Muslims consider to be the original House of God built by Abraham. During the Hajj, Muslims will also run back and forth seven times between the mountains/hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah. Muslims will also drink water from the Zamzam well. According to Muslims, the Zamzam well is a miraculous source of water that is often associated with Abraham’s son, Ishmael. Perhaps the most interesting ritual during the Hajj is the stoning of the Devil. Muslims will throw seven stones at one of three walls in the city of Mina, which is nearby Mecca.
What is the significance of Hajj for Muslims in Turkey?
While many Muslims in Turkey desire to go on the Hajj, the reality is that very few have made the pilgrimage to Mecca. The cost and the ability to get from Turkey to Mecca is a barrier to many Muslims in Turkey. In fact, the Pew Research Center on religion estimates that only 9-10% of Muslims around the world have actually made the pilgrimage to Mecca. When Muslims in Turkey are able to go on Hajj it is a special event. In smaller towns, it is common to have a celebration, send people off, and then welcome them back. If you are in a Turkish airport around the time of the Hajj, you will likely see some Muslim pilgrims dressed in Ihram clothing and sandals. In the end, the Hajj is a once in a lifetime event for Muslims and exposes them to both the diversity and global influence of Islam as they gather with Muslims from all over the world in the birthplace of Islam to worship Allah and perform sacred Islamic rituals.
Posted on March 12th, 2014 by Paul
Pillar 4: Sawm (Fasting and Ramadan)
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan (or Ramazan in Turkey) occurs in the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Historically, it was during this month that Muhammad received revelations from the angel Gabriel that later were incorporated into the Qur’an. The emphasis during the month of Ramadan is on the practice of fasting. Muslims all around the world during this month will fast from sun up to sun down. For Muslims fasting includes refusing to drink water, eat food, or enjoying other pleasures during the daylight hours. All Muslims are expected to participate in the fast. There are some exceptions that are allowed. For example, senior adults, young children, and pregnant women are exempted from practicing the fast during Ramadan.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Ramadan is the celebration that occurs each evening as the sun goes down and Muslims are permitted to “break the fast” (this meal is referred to as “iftar”). Each night as the sun goes down, many Muslims will gather with their families and partake in a big feast to celebrate the end of the fast for that day. In fact, food consumption during the month of Ramadan greatly increases. This has led some to suggest that Muslims actually consume more food during Ramadan than during any other month of the year. For this reason, Ramadan is a bittersweet time of year. On one hand abstaining from food and other pleasures during the daytime is very difficult. On the other hand, gathering with family and friends and breaking the fast together is a joyous occasion for many Muslims.
Ramadan is a significant time of year for Muslims and something they take very seriously. In fact, in some Muslim countries it is against the law to eat or drink in public during the daytime. This is such a sensitive subject in some Muslim countries. For example, I recently was in the Middle East during Ramadan and bought lunch at a restaurant in a food court and ended up hiding myself in a bathroom stall just to eat lunch! Some places are more relaxed on this issue than others, but Muslims in general take Ramadan seriously and view it as a time to reflect and hopefully hear a word from Allah.
What is the significance of Ramadan in Turkey?
During Ramadan in big cities, restaurants and businesses will remain open during Ramadan. At the same time, it is assumed that tourist and non-Muslims will respect the culture and attempt to refrain from eating and drinking in public. In smaller cities and towns throughout Turkey, many restaurants will be closed during the day. In Turkey, it is customary for drummers to walk around in the early hours of the morning to wake people for the predawn meal (sahur). This is always an interesting wake up call for tourists and visitors!
At the conclusion of Ramadan, Muslims around the world celebrate a 3-day celebration known as Eid al-Fitr (Ramadan Bayram in Turkey). This celebration includes singing, dancing, visiting, gift giving, and lots of fireworks! This celebration is perhaps the most joyful event for Muslims every year.
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 Lenning
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 Lenning
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.
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