Taking up prayer Iran for Lent

I was slightly thrown when my 8 year old asked me yesterday what I was giving up for Lent. I hadn’t realised it had hit his consciousness, but there we are! For me it’s no more chocolate. But more significantly in the spiritual realm is what I intend to take up for lent. I am going to be praying for the church in Iran. Over that last couple of years I have discovered more about this beautiful country and it’s growing church. A church desperately in need of our prayers and our material support. Elam is a wonderful ministry supporting the Iranian church – led by Iranian Christians and their prayer diary is going to be the basis of my intercessions for the next 40 days.

I commend them and the church in Iran to you.

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Heartbreaking news from Iraq

As the horrors of the situation in Gaza and the fate of flight MH17 dominate the news agenda so the fate of Christians in Iraq and Syria begins to slide off the agenda. But under the rule of ISIS in Mosul the few remaining Christians suffer appalling treatment. Stripped of everything they are forced to flee their homes on foot as Mosques loud speakers threaten their death if they remain. One of the organisations I support – Release International tells their story:

According to reports, IS militants stopped some fleeing families at checkpoints and confiscated their belongings, including money, jewellery and mobile phones.

The Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil, Bashar M Warda, told Release: ‘Christians have lost their trust in the land and in the future. Since 2003 [the allied invasion of Iraq], two-thirds of the Christians have left the country. June was the first month in 1600 years in which Mosul did not celebrate any mass. The attack on Christians has been immense. In the future I imagine Iraq becoming a country where you have many Christian sites, just for tourism – due to the families that are leaving.’

Other church leaders painted an equally gloomy picture.
Gradually, a picture of life under the IS militants who have seized much of Iraq is emerging. Ahead of their invasion, they distributed videos of public beheadings, mass executions and public crucifixions of enemies they had executed.

Such was the firestorm of fear that this Sunni terror group whipped up, that the largely Shia Iraq army deserted in droves, leaving their weapons and the territory to the militants. IS has now declared a Caliphate in Iraq and Syria and has become an umbrella group for various armed factions willing to pledge allegiance to the self-proclaimed Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

‘The terror is palpable,’ says Release Chief Executive Paul Robinson, ‘and that fear is driving Christians from their homes. If IS behave true to their form in Syria, then the Christians who remain in Iraq under their control can expect to live a life of subjugation under their brutally-enforced variation of Islamic law, and to have to pay for the privilege.’

The coming of Islamic State is just the latest tightening of the screw on Christians. Persecution has been relentless since the downfall of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Christians have been killed, car-bombed and gunned down in their churches.

Inspiring testimony of a Bhutanese pastor

I find this short video from the US inspiring. It tells the story of a pastor from Bhutan planting a new church among Bhutanese refugees in America. Bhutan is one of the least evangelised countries in the world and Christians are denied religious freedoms we in the West take for granted; church buildings are forbidden and Bhutanese who become Christian face the loss of their citizenship and other benefits such as free education and health care.

They need our support and prayer.

 

Silence of our friends – Spectator

I’m cross posting this article from the Spectator as I believe it merits the widest readership possible. The original posting can be found here.

The last month and a half has seen perhaps the worst anti-Christian violence in Egypt in seven centuries, with dozens of churches torched. Yet the western media has mainly focussed on army assaults on the Muslim Brotherhood, and no major political figure has said anything about the sectarian attacks.

Last week at the National Liberal Club there was a discussion asking why the American and British press have ignored or under-reported this persecution, and (in some people’s minds) given a distorted narrative of what is happening.

Among the four speakers was the frighteningly impressive Betsy Hiel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, who has spent years in Egypt and covered Iraq and Afghanistan. There were lots of stories of Muslims protecting Christian neighbours, but there were also incidents with frightening echoes; Hiel described a man riding on his bike past a burned down church and laughing, which brought to my mind the scene in Schindler’s List when local Poles make throat-slitting gestures to Jews en route to Auschwitz.

Some of this has been reported, but the focus has been on the violence committed against the Brotherhood. Judging by the accounts given by one of the other speakers, Nina Shea of the Center for Religious Freedom, the American press is even more blind, and their government not much better; when Mubarak was overthrown one US agency assessed the Muslim Brotherhood as being ‘essentially secular’.

The night ended with historian Tom Holland declaring sadly that we are now seeing the extinction of Christianity and other minority faiths in the Middle East. As he pointed out, it’s the culmination of the long process that began in the Balkans in the late 19th century, reached its horrific European climax in 1939-1945, and continued with the Greeks of Alexandria, the Mizrahi Jews and most recently the Chaldo-Assyrian Christians of Iraq. The Copts may have the numbers to hold on, Holland said, and the Jews of Israel, but can anyone else?

Without a state (and army) of their own, minorities are merely leaseholders. The question is whether we can do anything to prevent extinction, and whether British foreign policy can be directed towards helping Christian interests rather than, as currently seems to be the case, the Saudis.

The saddest audience question was from a young man who I’m guessing was Egyptian-British. He asked: ‘Where was world Christianity when this happened?’

Nowhere. Watching X-Factor. Debating intersectionality. Or just too frightened of controversy to raise Muslim-on-Christian violence.

Bishop Angaelos, leader of the UK Copts, also expressed disappointment at the response from other religious leaders, saying that if Christians burned down 10 synagogues or mosques, let alone 50, they’d be going over to show their sympathy and shame.

The most outspoken British religious leader has been Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, and the debate brought to mind something Rabbi Sacks recently said about Middle Eastern Christians, comparing their fate with those of the Jews in Europe, and quoting Martin Luther King: ‘In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.’

Praying for Syria – Day 30

From Open Doors:

Open Doors has been working in Syria for a number of years, to serve the church through leadership and discipleship training, Bible distribution and trauma counselling. Pray for discernment for Open Doors teams as they consider how best to strengthen the church in Syria, not just in the short term but also for the longer term task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.