China’s house churches need your prayers as crackdown continues!

shutterstock_514604989Our Chinese family needs your prayers as officials continue to clamp down hard on house churches across their nation.

Please pray for our brothers and sisters in China, amid a fresh wave of persecution which appears now to have spread to the north-west.

Our partner China Aid reports that ‘dozens’ of Christians have been detained or arrested across remote, north-western Xinjiang province in the past two months, for holding house church gatherings.

Meanwhile, in coastal Zhejiang province, Pastor Zhang Chongzhu has been stripped of his licence and removed from his post – in an apparent attempt to stop him ministering in the house church movement.

Pastor Zhang from Pingyang was detained in an illegal detention centre in September for crimes ‘against national security’, after protesting over cross removals and church demolitions in the area. He was released in May.

  • Pray that our Chinese family will stand firm in their faith and seek to deepen their relationship with our Heavenly Father even further.
  • Pray for wisdom for Pastor Zhang as he considers his future. Ask God to provide for him and his family.
  • Continue to pray for the officials behind this current crackdown: pray that they will be struck by the powerful witness of the people they are persecuting – and want to know Jesus for themselves.

(Source: China Aid)

UPDATES
Please pray for our Algerian brother Slimane Bouhafs who has lost his appeal for a presidential pardon. He is serving a three-year sentence for ‘insulting Islam’ in posts he made on social media. His relatives say he is in poor health and has been abused by fellow inmates: they are asking for him to be transferred to another prison. (Source: Middle East Concern)

Praise God with us that Pastor Behnam Irani has been reunited with his family, after serving six years in jail. He and his family were reunited in Turkey. Pray that God will heal and restore them all. (Source: Release contact)

Thank God that blasphemy charges against an eight-year-old boy in Quetta, Pakistan, have reportedly been dropped. Police arrested the child and his mother on suspicion of burning pages of the Koran, but they were freed after local clerics and politicians intervened. (Source: World Watch Monitor)

We need your prayers!! Our sister in the faith, Maryam, is back in prison.

We need your prayers!! Our sister in the faith, Maryam, is back in prison.

Maryam Naghash-Zargaran has been returned to her prison cell from hospital – before medics were able to treat her properly for serious health problems.

Please pray that God will heal and comfort our Iranian sister who’s now back behind bars in Tehran’s Evin Prison.

Maryam had been on hunger strike in protest at the lack of proper medical care she’s had in jail. She was ‘almost comotose’ by the timeshe was finally allowed out of prison for treatment on June 6, having deposited a bond of £74,000.

When a court ordered her return to jail last week, her family applied to have her medical leave extended. The prosecutor’s office refused – and threatened to confiscate her bond money. She was returned to jail on Monday.

Maryam, who has a Muslim background, has been in jail since 2013 because of her work on an orphanage with Pastor Saeed Abedini. She’s serving a four-year sentence.

PLEASE PRAY

  • That God will heal and strengthen Maryam in a way that human doctors cannot. Pray for her swift release.
  • Thank God that Maryam’s fellow prisoners have been supporting her and backing her bid for medical treatment.
  • Pray that every Christian behind bars in Iran today will know God’s peace and presence.

(Source: Middle East Concern)

Repeal Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws

Repeal Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws

Repeal Pakistan's blasphemy laws

SIGN THE PETITION

Less than one week after the Easter Sunday killing of over 70 people, mostly Christians, in Lahore, the government of Pakistan again showed itself to be weak in the face of protests by Islamists angry at the execution of political assassin Mumtaz Qadri.

Initial promises to crack down on extremists now seem a long way off as the government gave in to seven of the ten demands made by protesters in Islamabad, including a promise not to make any amendments to the extremely controversial and widely misused blasphemy laws.

Of great concern is the government’s accession to one of the demands to ‘show no leniency’ to anyone convicted of blasphemy. This, alongside the protesters calling for her execution, puts Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who has been on death row for blasphemy since 2010, in a very grave position.

As well as demanding no amendments to the blasphemy law and no leniency for those convicted under it, they have been specifically demanding Asia Bibi’s execution.

The voices of those who oppose the blasphemy laws are silenced through violence. Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti were both assassinated after speaking out against the blasphemy laws and in support of Asia Bibi.

Release International first ran a campaign for the repeal of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan in 2011.

Today we are renewing our call for the government of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to act with courage and humanity and abolish these iniquitous laws for the good of all Pakistanis.

The Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) in Islamabad states in its report “Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan – A Historical Overview”, that since 1990, as well as those convicted through the courts, “52 people have been extra-judicially murdered, for being implicated in blasphemy charges”.

Will you add your voice to our campaign to see this unjust, misused law finally repealed?

Please sign and share the petition below so that we can together raise our concerns on behalf of those who suffer such great injustice.

 

To Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

We strongly urge the Government of Pakistan to repeal the nation’s blasphemy laws, most notably section 295c which carries a mandatory death sentence. These laws, which are frequently misused and foster religious intolerance, are incompatible with Pakistan’s aspiration of being a modern, democratic, Islamic state respected by the international community.

We would encourage you when considering this to listen afresh to the words of Muhammad Ali Jinnah in his first Presidential Address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan (August 11, 1947), where he stated “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State”.

IRAN – Christian prisoner allowed out for treatment

IRAN – Christian prisoner allowed out for treatment

Thank you for praying for Maryam (Nasim) Naghash-Zargaran, whose case we highlighted in a prayer alert last week.

We are delighted to say that Maryam has been allowed out of prison to receive medical treatment. It is reported that permission was granted for her to leave prison to get treatment but due to problems in bureaucratic procedure her release on bond was delayed until today.

Maryam, a believer from a Muslim background, is currently serving a four-year sentence in Tehran’s Evin prison.

Recently Maryam went on hunger strike as a protest against the lack of adequate medical treatment for long-standing health problems. Sources close to the family said that her condition was serious and that Maryam was close to becoming comatose. She has a history of heart problems.

Maryam was arrested in January 2013 in connection with her work on an orphanage with former Christian prisoner Saeed Abedini. She was charged with ‘acting against national security’ and was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment, which she started serving in July 2013 in the women’s ward at Evin. A request for a retrial was refused.

View her prisoner profile here.

(Source: Middle East Concern)

FOR YOUR PRAYERS

  • Join us in thanking God for Maryam’s release and pray that she would get proper medical treatment and be restored to complete health.
  • Pray too that she would be fully released from priso
Persecution Uncovered(Part 2): Dealing with Persecution

Persecution Uncovered(Part 2): Dealing with Persecution

Dealing with Persecution

A youth group in India were gathering for praise and worship when their meeting was stormed by a group of militant Hindus.

Maggie, 24, said, “We stopped worshipping. My brother Paul asked one of the intruders what was wrong. The intruder started punching Paul in the face. Everyone, men, women and children, were attacked and beaten.”

The assailants were from the local neighbourhood and the attack is understood to have been pre-planned. This is just one of a number of attacks experienced by Christians in recent years in India, by militant Hindus who want to stop Christians practising their faith.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never been in a youth meeting that’s been broken up by bunch of local militants. Have you?

Put yourself in that room for a minute. What would you have done when you realised it was beginning to fall apart? Would you have run? Would you have made an escape and promised never to attend that meeting again? Would you have stuck it out and been there for the aftermath?

In part one of Release Potential’s new resource, Persecution Uncovered, we begin by dealing with persecution: putting ourselves in the positions of those who face real hardship because of their faith in Jesus.

The Bible gives us three responses to persecution: endure, avoid, and overcome.

Acts 16: 25-36 talks about enduring persecution, and asks what we think it means to stick something out, even though it costs us a great price.

Acts 9: 23-25 talks about avoiding persecution, about those times when it’s ok to run away from opposition.

Romans 12: 14-21 talks about overcoming persecution, and asks how we can rise above the brutality to a place of blessing.

Helping our young people to think about what their brothers and sisters – their peers – around the world face because of the faith they share is a tough task. But if we begin with confronting the reality of persecution, and looking to the Bible for some answers, we enable them not only to identify with their Christian family, but we also equip them for the moments in their lives that will put pressure on their faith.

Persecution Uncovered is a really helpful way to walk with young people through some of these issues. Starting with a story, and using games, creativity, prayer and application, you can help young people to understand better what it is to follow Jesus at a cost.

And the more they understand about what goes on around the world, the more they will see the active, faithful and merciful hand of God at work in His people.

Keep in touch with Release Potential on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – and get your youth connected too!

For young people age 17 -25, how about finding out about becoming a Changemaker programme? Changemakers impact their world as they learn the cost of following Christ. Find out more at Releasepotential.org.

– Alexandra

ali

INDIA – CHRISTIAN FAMILIES BEATEN AS BELIEVER ENDURES ‘PURIFICATION’ BURNING

INDIA – CHRISTIAN FAMILIES BEATEN AS BELIEVER ENDURES ‘PURIFICATION’ BURNING

Please pray for our brothers and sisters in India’s central Chhattisgarh state who are facing intense opposition from Hindu extremists. 

In one village, 28 Christians including children were beaten and driven from their homes twice in two days.

Local Hindus in Katholi village had summoned the four families to a public meeting and demanded they recant their faith – but they refused. During the first attack, six believers were badly injured and needed medical treatment. They returned to Katholi the next day, only to be beaten and thrown out again.

The Hindus justified the attack, saying that their ‘gods were angry’ that their neighbours had become Christians – and so were not responding to their prayers.

The four families returned on May 3, in some trepidation, after police registered a case against their assailants and local Hindus agreed not to attack again.

Meanwhile, 50 miles away in Sukma village, Hindu extremists subjected two Christians to a two-hour ‘purification’ ritual: one of them, known only as Jaisingh, was burned with heated coins. When the men refused to deny Christ, they were fined.

  • Ask God to protect and strengthen Christians in Katholi and Sukma villages. Pray they will know His presence and His peace.
  • Pray for Christians in Chhattisgarh state: there were 49 reported incidents of organised attacks on Christians between January and April.
  • Pray that Indian officials will do more to uphold religious rights for all citizens.

(Source: Morning Star News)

 

Pastor Han was tragically martyred on the 30th April 2016

Pastor Han was tragically martyred on the 30th April 2016

A precious member of our Christian family was tragically martyred on 30th April. It is assumed he was ruthlessly murdered for being a pastor, teacher, friend and evangelist to thousands of North Koreans. Living and serving in China, North Koreans would flee to his Church having been told ‘look for a building with a cross’. The ministry began as millions suffered starvation in the 1990s and in recent years and escaped over the border. They would be taken care of and be filled not just with food but with faith. Please pray for his wife and 2 children, a girl and a boy.

A blog by an associate ministry reporting Pastor Han’s death included this: “Pastor Han… started each day in morning prayer. He said that if he didn’t pray, he couldn’t do the work. God gave him a piercing sense of discernment, and people often commented about his sharp eyes. Those eyes kept him focused on Christ, and this kept him alive for a lot longer than anyone else could have survived in his situation.”

To read the full blog:
http://vomkorea.kr/…/pastor-han-chung-ry…/__blogtitlelink__/

‪#‎Pray‬ ‪#‎NorthKorea

Cheering on and on

We hear stories about persecuted Christians. We try to envisage the fear, the hope, the turmoil they must experience.  We pray for them and after that, we move on with our lives, preoccupied with the demands of everyday living. For our brothers and sisters, the turmoil remains for longer than that day.

When the apostle Paul was faced with the news that the church in Thessaloniki, which he had to flee shortly after founding it, was facing persecution, it tore him apart.  He wrote: ‘Finally, when we could stand it no longer, we decided to stay alone in Athens, 2 and we sent Timothy to visit you. He is our brother and God’s co-worker in proclaiming the Good News of Christ. We sent him to strengthen you, to encourage you in your faith’. (1 Thessalonians 3:1-2, NLT)

The wellbeing of his fellow Christians was always on his mind. Paul readily sacrificed his own comfort to make sure they were comforted and cared for, cheered up in their suffering.

His example can be a challenge to us, asking exactly how close to our hearts we allow the knowledge of what is happening to Christians all over the world. Or, as the book Jars of clay puts it: “Is it our earnest desire to see Christians ‘established and exhorted’ in the face of opposition to the gospel?”(Jars of Clay, p 81). 

-Lisa-Marie

Pusch 15-3-1

Horrific Suicide Bomb Attack In Pakistan –  We Need Your Prayers!

Horrific Suicide Bomb Attack In Pakistan – We Need Your Prayers!

Please continue to pray for the bereaved and injured following Sunday’s horrific suicide bomb attack on Christians in Lahore.

More than 70 people, Christians and Muslims, were killed and over 350 seriously injured in the blast at a leisure park. A Taliban splinter group admitted responsibility for the attack which was deliberately targeted at the Christian community.

A church leader in Lahore, who previously expressed to us fears of such an attack, told us: ‘Once again the Christian community is targeted on Easter Sunday.

‘Gulshan-e-Iqbal is a very attractive and popular park in the northwest of Lahore and on special occasions this park is always overcrowded with children and parents. On Easter Day after church services many Christian families from all sides of Lahore city went to this park to have some recreational time with their children.’

Most of the dead and injured were women and children.

The church leader added: ‘Please continue to pray for the bereaved and grieving. We need more prayers!

Also on Sunday thousands of Islamist activists went on the rampage in the capital, Islamabad. At least three people were killed and several others injured in violent clashes with government forces. The protesters demanded the immediate execution of Asia Bibi, a Christian whose appeal against the death sentence for blasphemy is pending in the Supreme Court.

  • Pray for protection and peace for the Christian community in Lahore and throughout Pakistan. Remember especially those bereaved or injured in Sunday’s attack.
  • Pray that Pakistan’s Government would take decisive action to tackle terrorism.
  • Pray that Christians in Pakistan would be able to respond in love to those who seek them harm and that those who persecute them would be touched and changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Ask God for protection and peace for Asia Bibi and other Christians in prison for their faith in Pakistan, and for their families, and pray too that those unjustly imprisoned would be released.

(Sources: Release contact, Morning Star News)

Persecution Uncovered (Part 1)

Persecution Uncovered (Part 1)

“Around the world today, many young people face extreme challenges and attacks on their faith. Confronted with tough choices, time and time again, they choose Jesus and live their costly faith in the face of persecution.”

Ever thought about teaching your youth group or student church on the subject of persecution but had no idea where to start? Ever been unsure of the theology of persecution, or how it applies to those of us who live relatively comfortable lives of faith, unchallenged by the pressures of persecution?Release Potential has developed a brilliant new resource to help groups work through together what persecution really is and how we can all learn from it.

Persecution Uncovered explores issues creatively and honestly, offering groups the chance to work things out for themselves and experience the hope and support that come from knowing that we are all one body in Jesus.Starting with dealing with persecution, the series goes on to cover solidarity, forgiveness, resilience, redemption and sacrifice.

The six sessions are designed to be adaptable to each group’s needs, exploring different aspects of the realities of persecution in practical, engaging and challenging ways.

Each session includes icebreaker games, Bible study and discussion, creative response and prayers designed to encourage the group members to think about persecution, supported by what the Bible teaches, and then to respond in a way that helps them take their thoughts and apply it into their everyday life.

Release Potential’s desire is that all young people will understand better what persecution is, and the experiences that so many of their peers around the world have because they too believe in Jesus.Persecution can be a tough topic to tackle and can leave some of us feeling inadequate, unspiritual, ungrateful or unworthy. But when we really look at what persecution is, and when we really choose to learn from our family around the world, we get to know the true grace and kindness of our God.

Understanding persecution is a great way to disciple young people, and for us all to grow in our faith. Persecution Uncovered is just what we all need to get our heads around a difficult subject and move closer to Jesus, sharing in his suffering and the suffering and joy of our brothers and sisters.

– Alexandra

ali

North Korea Appeal

North Korea Appeal

She may have not changed your life or mine, but she is changing lives of troubled North Korean defectors who are struggling to make a fresh start in South Korea. Yong-Ae is loving people like Jesus did. And, some defectors are not easy to love. Take Kyung-Gu, for example. When Yong-Ae first met him he was a harsh-looking elderly man, deeply traumatised by his arduous and dangerous 12,000-mile journey to South Korea. What’s more, as a former Communist Party member he was shocked to discover that everything he had believed in and worked and suffered for was a lie. Yong-Ae befriended Kyung-Gu and his wife and visited them often. But, while his wife welcomed the friendship and opened her heart to God, Kyung-Gu refused to have anything to do with Jesus.

One day Kyung-Gu had a bad fall and was taken to hospital. Yong-Ae visited him regularly and prayed for him despite his objections. The situation seemed hopeless. But, one morning when Yong-Ae walked into the hospital room, she found Kyung-Gu sitting on the side of his bed eating porridge. She couldn’t believe her eyes. Kyung-Gu had been unable to sit up and he still couldn’t talk. She told him that God had spared his life.

Kyung-Gu smiled weakly and asked her for a piece of paper and a pen. ‘I want to go to heaven,’ he scribbled on the piece of paper. Yong-Ae pulled out her Bible and read John 3:10-21. Then she prayed with him. In the following weeks Yong-Ae, Kyung-Gu and his wife witnessed a miracle, as God answered their prayers by healing Kyung-Gu’s body and his spirit.

Kyung-Gu struggled in silence until he decided to surrender His life to God.

I came across Yong-Ae’s testimony in one of the reports from our ministry partner Voice of the Martyrs Korea (VOM Korea) and I was deeply moved by it. That’s why I decided to share it with you, hoping that it will inspire you to support more North Korean Christians like Yong-Ae. You see, Yong-Ae is one of 30 Christians who are being trained and prepared for service to other North Koreans on a six-month discipleship training course run by VOM Korea. VOM Korea’s vision is to train and equip more believers like them in 2016.

Will you help more North Korean Christians to touch the lives of other defectors by making a gift to Release today?

Your gift of £10, £25, £50 or £100 or more will enable VOM Korea workers and volunteers to:

Help North Korean defectors to come to terms with the trauma they might have experienced on their dangerous journeys to South Korea. Grow spiritually through studying the Bible, praying, and using their ministry gifts in mission. Offer hospitality to new defectors, counselling and praying with those who are struggling, etc. Serve as missionaries and evangelists by working with the underground church in North Korea or by ministering to North Koreans worldwide.

The vision of VOM Korea is based on Romans 1:11-12 where the Apostle Paul says:

“I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong – that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”

Through your generosity today you can help turn this vision into reality. You can enable hundreds of Christians who benefit from VOM Korea’s ministry to apply the truths of Scripture in their lives. They in turn, can complete the circle of encouragement by sharing God’s love with those whose pain is excruciating. May I ask you to send your gift today, while it’s on your mind?

www.releaseinternational.org or by calling 01689 823491.

The costs of serving North Korean Christians and defectors are real and urgent. But, our joy is found in knowing that: God provides through friends like you – who can help believers like Yong-Ae to change lives for eternity.

Yours in Christ’s service,

Paul Robinson, CEO

DANGEROUS TRUTH

Truth is often simple. Its message can be surprisingly short and crystal clear to those who encounter it. That means understanding truth is not the problem. It’s finding it that causes all the trouble.

Today we will often hear things like: “there is no definite truth” or “everybody has his own truth”. On the other hand we read about Jesus saying: “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) That sounds pretty clear enough. But it takes courage to stand up for this truth that we share as Christians and proclaim it to the world. It takes security and knowledge about what we are proclaiming and the will to face opposition.

Paul and Barnabas, when they met with newly founded churches in Greece were encouraging them to stand firm ‘…They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God. (Act 14:22 NLT)

What they said to the first churches 2,000 years ago is as important as ever today. The Church all over the world needs leaders who are ready to testify of their faith to strengthen and encourage others, no matter the cost.

We live by a simple truth and a dangerous one, too. Are you ready to stand up for it?   

Lisa-Marie

Pusch 15-3-1

LIGHT

In the Bible we are told to love our neighbour and if we are really honest with ourselves, we know that it can be difficult. But have you ever been challenged to love your enemy? Many of us will answer this with a no. We may encounter people we dislike or even despise but rarely do we meet people who are genuinely interested in making our lives as bad as possible or ending it altogether. 

It is a story for Sarah, a pastor’s wife in Kenya. Islamist extremists killed her husband and injured Sarah during an attack on her church. Those extremists are the declared enemies of anyone who claims to follow Jesus. Sarah and her children lost a husband and father; they had to move and now they struggle to make a living in the slums of Nairobi.

Matthew 5:44 reads: ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’.  With her recent history in mind it’s all the more amazing when we now hear Sarah say of those who killed her husband: “I always pray that one day God will change their hearts and they get saved… and they can become the biggest servants of the Lord.”

This is an outstanding example of being “a light to the world”, as Jesus called his followers to be. Sarah forgave her enemies and continues to pray for them “because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5).

We are, like Sarah, called to be a light in this world. The way we personally and as a church respond to persecution can be a powerful way of showing the love of God that is ours, in and through Jesus Christ.

Reflection

Watch Sarah’s story here.

How do you react when you hear of persecuted Christians forgiving – and praying for – their attackers? In what way is their testimony a challenge or an encouragement to you?

  – Lisa-Marie

Pusch 15-3-1

Increasing Attacks Against Christians in Kenya #PrayForKenya

Release International welcomes calls by the Pope in Kenya to guard against ‘barbarous’ attacks by Islamic extremists. As attacks against Christians increase, Release says Muslim leaders in Kenya must take urgent steps to counter youth radicalisation.

‘Release has charted a worrying increase in attacks against Christians in Kenya, as Al-Shabaab militants seek to infiltrate the country,’ says Paul Robinson of Release International, which supports persecuted Christians around the world.

A recent fact-finding visit by Release recorded increasing attacks against churches by Islamist gunmen based in Somalia, who are affiliated to al-Qaeda. There are also disturbing signs of hard-line intolerance towards Muslims who change their religion.

Earlier this week, Release called for prayer for Hassan Ali, a recent convert to Christianity, who has had to leave his home for fear of being murdered by his relatives.

According to Hassan, his in-laws were among a group of men armed with knives who came to his door in Witu, Lamu County, demanding to see him. He escaped through a window when he heard the visitors questioning his wife about her faith.

His wife and their children, aged seven and four, have been taken back to live with her relatives. Her parents are reportedly insisting the children attend a madrassa (Islamic school).

Hassan was raised as a Muslim but became a Christian about ten months ago.

Attacks against churches in this Christian majority country are increasing. Last month, Islamist extremists set fire to two church buildings in Tiribe near Mombasa. Pastor Mutuku of Faith Victory Church says his congregation now meet in a tent.

Pastor Nyawa, whose Holistic Church was also burned, says his remaining members are now forced to meet outside, under police protection, but are contending with heavy rains and flooding.

‘Pope Francis is right to highlight the growing risk from Islamic extremists in Kenya,’ says Release International Chief Executive, Paul Robinson. ‘We urge the Kenyan government to do all it can to step up security. Muslim leaders must take urgent steps to counter the radicalisation of their youth.’

Last April, al-Shabaab attacked a predominately Christian college in north-east Kenya, killing 150. The terrorist group became notorious after attacking the Westgate shopping Mall in Nairobi in September 2013, killing at least 67 people.

The Kenyan government has sent troops to Somalia, where al-Shabaab is based, and has raided mosques in Kenya to counter the growing radicalisation.

Through its international network of missions Release International serves persecuted Christians in more than 30 countries around the world, by: supporting pastors and Christian prisoners, and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles; and working for justice.

Change It Up: The Eternal Hope

Change It Up: The Eternal Hope

What do you hope for?  Good relationships?  A friend to come to know Jesus?  A new perfume for Christmas?  I hope for all of these things.  And some other stuff.

And then there’s always the hope.  The hope of things eternal, life lived forever in the presence of God.

This is the final part of our series from the book Jars of Clay, and it leads us to the International Day of Prayer for the persecuted Church.  If you want to think and read more about our Change It Up series, you can get your own copy of Jars of Clay here.

Persecution magnifies hope: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18) Paul, both the persecutor and the persecuted, wrote that.  Some of us will know something of sufferings, of a life punctuated by hardship, uncertainty, sorrow.  Our brothers and sisters in persecuted communities know of those sufferings alongside the constant suffering of being under pressure because of their faith.  And when we understanding suffering, we understand hope: hope of things yet to come, glorious hope in glorious peace with our glorious King Jesus.

Hope makes sense of persecution: because we know that Jesus not only died to bear away our sins but that He also rose to start up something new with us, we know that there is a hope to come which is above and beyond all that is experienced in this life.  “He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.” (2 Corinthians 4:14).  It’s this that motivated Paul as he preached in continuing hostility and aggravation at his message: the hope that he would be given the same eternal life as Jesus.

Hope brings joy where there is persecution: the Christian’s ultimate goal is eternal life with God and it is in that hope of eternal life that complete, untarnished joy is found.  And it is in the experience of the persecuted that joy is found – for many it is when their church is destroyed, or their livelihood ruined, or their family member killed, that the deep joy that surpasses all earthly goodness remains.  When all is lost but Jesus and eternity in Him, all joy is found in that hope.

If you wonder whether that can really be real, whether people really can be truly joyful in the face of real, constant, painful opposition, get involved with the persecuted and see for yourself.  Learn from them, those who suffer for Jesus.  Learn about the breadth and depth of God’s love, His grace that never runs out, His love that helps so many to live despite such horror.  And honour those who suffer and yet bear your name – Christian.

Find out how you can be a Changemaker and commit to understanding the journey of faith that so many others like you, but not like you, make.  Get involved with Release Potential, follow us  on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.  Like, share, tweet, repeat. 

Find your way to honour your Christian family.

– Alexandra

ali

SO…WHAT ARE YOU ASKING FOR?

Every two months Release International produces a prayer booklet called “Prayer Shield” in which incidents of persecution of Christians all over the world are reported.  Each day there’s a small paragraph (only a few lines really) that summarises the hopes and fears and struggles of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Reading something like this will not make you an expert on the issue, but it will inform you. It will enable you to be motivated and moved to pray specifically for persecuted Christians.

We often need a gentle reminder that it’s important to pray for those facing persecution, and the best way we can do this is by informed prayer.  It’s not just a fancy idea but it’s biblical; the apostles did the same thing with the first church.

After spending the night in prison for preaching the gospel, when Peter and John were released “…they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God…” (Acts 4:23).

This shows how much we need each other, to stand with, share with and support in prayer. We see it in the lives of the apostles as they share in their difficulty and problems. We can form a strong band of prayer to support our brothers and sisters especially when they need it the most.  It’s as simple as living, listening and praying. And when you do that, we will know what to ask for.     

– Lisa – Marie

Pusch 15-3-1

CHURCH BURNED DOWN AFTER CAMPAIGN PRAYER MEETING

CHURCH BURNED DOWN AFTER CAMPAIGN PRAYER MEETING

Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Sudan whose churches have been destroyed in recent weeks.

Suspected Islamists set fire to the Lutheran Church of Sudan in the eastern city of Al Qadarif last month, apparently in response to an outreach by local Christians.

Church leaders said the attack followed a prayer meeting which was part of a week-long evangelism campaign they conduct each year. The church and a guest house attached to it were gutted by the fire.

Meanwhile, in Omdurman, officials demolished another Lutheran Church of Sudan building on October 21 – on the pretext that it was in an area designated for business. Local Christians point out that the same rationale has not been applied to a nearby mosque, which remains standing.

  • Please pray that God will encourage and strengthen both Lutheran congregations who have lost their buildings. Pray that they will soon find new premises.
  • Pray that the light of God’s love will be radiant through His people in Sudan.
  • Pray that President Omar al-Bashir and his Government will come to respect Christians as responsible citizens and will uphold religious rights for all.

(Source: Morning Star News)

Change It Up: Church

Change It Up: Church

“So what church do you go to then?” 

The standard question of the Christian.  When we go to church we join usually with a local community of fellow Christians, we have a nice time together (hopefully), worship God, learn about God, share with one another and pray for each other.  It’s nice.

Most of us will be well aware though that the Church (capital C people) is the Body of Christ – the family of Christians wherever they/we are in the world, united together with Jesus as the main man (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). 

Part 4 of our Change It Up series, based on the book Jars of Clay (buy it), looks at how our understanding of church is challenged when we look at it through the lens of persecution. 

The Apostle Paul encouraged the community of believers in Hebrews, “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Hebrews 13:3.  He wrote this to encourage them in their faith as a community and to remind them that part of Christian discipleship is to engage with persecution. We can learn, as one body, from the experience of persecution, whether it physically happens to us or not. Persecution of the Church means persecution of all of us, wherever we are and whatever we did at church this week.

And so, as one body, we are to love one another: “Love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13: 34-35.  Paul was anxious to get to the persecuted community in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2) that he had nurtured and when he wasn’t able to go he sent his friend and co-worker Timothy in his place.  Paul was desperate to show his love and care for the persecuted and when Timothy returned from Thessalonica with good news, Paul is clearly encouraged: “…in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith.  For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.” 1 Thessalonians 3: 8. 

We can be encouraged to hear the witness of our persecuted sisters and brothers as they stand firm in affliction.  We as one body, the Church, learn from persecution and grow in love for one another.

One of the most powerful testimonies I’ve heard is the story of Sarah Ambetsa from Kenya.  Her faithfulness to God in the midst of horror is a constant reminder to me that God is at work through His grace in His people; when I join with her as a member of the one body, the Church, that we are both part of, I connect with persecution, I seek to learn more about who God is and what He calls me to, and I seek to love Sarah and others like her.  Please watch her talk about her story here and get ready to Change It Up…

Follow Release Potential in the usual ways, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or you can change it right up and become a Change Maker.

– Alexandra

ali

He is my Refuge and my Fortress

He is my Refuge and my Fortress

Hey guys, so today I read something a little bitter sweet (I had so many mixed thoughts). Initially I thought wow…isn’t God amazing? But then on the flip side I thought how could humanity be so cruel? Being persecuted for your beliefs and what you know is truth, is in itself inhumane and wrong.  We all want to live in freedom but it’s come to light not everyone gets to live in the land of freedom.

An account was given by a volunteer who went to Pakistan on a Release ministry trip. They mention meeting a woman called Rose, who is a convert from Islam.  Her parents shunned her for converting to Christianity and hired Islamists to attack her.  At the time of the assault Rose was pregnant. The attacker poured kerosene over her abdomen and set her on fire.  They did this to shame her, and because of this attack she lost her first baby. However, little did they know that God had a plan.  With support from Release, Rose recovered.  Later she became pregnant and had a beautiful baby girl!

 In the same article there was another story about Shokhert, a convert from Islam who is growing in faith despite ongoing attacks from inside the Islamic community.  When Shokhert became a Christian, his dad and brother tried to break his legs.  They were unsuccessful.  But despite this trauma, his faith didn’t waver.  Both of these stories reminded me of Psalm 91:1-2 Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the LordHe alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him.”

I truly believe that the struggles persecuted Christians face bring them to a special dependence on God, where he keeps them under his wing.

 The challenge here for us is to get together with friends and family and pray for our brothers and sisters who are facing persecution and cover them in prayer.  We might even be praying at their very lowest moment.

In Matthew 18:20 it encourages us and says: ‘For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them’. Church… Gather together and pray, remember those who are suffering, and act.

 Love Rach x

Rachel-CM

Change It Up: Desiring Grace

Change It Up: Desiring Grace

We can do it all.  We’ve got this.  We’re educated to a pretty good level, we might not have tons of money but we’ve probably got basically enough compared to a lot of people, we’re protected by the law and we have competent security services designed to look out for people.  All this means we’ve got a good framework for building a career, growing a family, serving in our churches and communities, maybe owning a home.  Not everything goes our way and we all know that none of this in itself brings happiness, but we’re basically set to be able to do it all.  Correct?

Nope.  Christians know that God’s work in our world is a massive demonstration of grace: we cannot save ourselves; we must have Jesus to do that work for us.

And for those whose communities persecute them because they love Jesus, God’s abundant grace is the only way they can do it all: “For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.  But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” 2 Corinthians 1:8-9.

All suffering should lead us back to God, but there’s something extra poignant about suffering rooted in very relationship with that God.  To trust in the God to whom commitment is the cause of your suffering requires a dependence on God that is far beyond what those of us who live self-sufficiently can really imagine.  And we can learn so much from our persecuted family when we look to their dependence on God’s grace to sustain them through the fire of persecution.

Jars of Clay,  (get your copy here) says “Humanly speaking, persecution is more likely to lead us to hide, to be silent, or, worse, even to deny our faith – if all we had were our own resources and strength.  But the resources we need are found in the Lord himself.  Persecution teaches this.  It exposes the inadequacy of a ‘self-sufficient’ attitude to life and deepens our desire for God’s sustaining grace.”

In the book of Hebrews Christians are called to persevere through persecution.  It builds to a great command to run with endurance the race of faith, continuing to look to Jesus.  When we look to the persecuted and watch them run this difficult race of faith with perseverance and dependence on God’s grace for their success, we get a chance to change up our view of faith and to seek and desire grace in a whole new way.

And when we know God’s grace, we learn how to show it: in forgiveness.  One of the most frequent testimonies that come from persecuted communities is the willingness of the persecuted to forgive the persecutor.  This isn’t because they are super-holy super-Christians; this is because they desire and require God’s necessary and active grace in their lives and when we know God’s grace we can show God’s grace.

So change it up.  Learn from the persecuted, follow their example: desire grace, persevere through trials, forgive. 

Maybe you want to be part of a community of people changing it up!  Check out what Release Potential is getting up to with our Changemaker programme and become a Changemaker yourself!  Find us and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

– Alexandra

ali

Pakistan Appeal – September 2015

Pakistan Appeal – September 2015

Your gifts are needed to touch and encourage the hearts of your brothers and sisters in Christ enduring intense pressure.

If you could have seen with your own eyes what I saw during my recent trip to Pakistan, you would know straight away that you are already helping to change the lives of persecuted Christians. You would have witnessed the blossoming of hope in Rose’s face as she held her new-born baby in her arms. Islamists hired by her parents who resented Rose becoming a Christian poured kerosene over her abdomen and set her on fire. They wanted to shame her and maybe even prevent her from having children.

 I was pregnant and because of what happened I lost my first baby and miscarried. This was really painful for me. I was very scared. My parents would do anything to hurt me because I am a Christian. They can still kill me.

But God had other plans for Rose’s life. So, thanks to the generous gifts from friends like you, and the help she received from our partner, Rose recovered from her terrible ordeal and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl the day before we visited her. You would have been delighted to see how Muslim-background believers (MBBs) like Shokhert are growing in their faith despite constant threats and suffering. Shokhert and his wife welcomed me into their home. They told me that when Shokhert became a Christian his father and brother tried to disable him. They attacked him and viciously broke his leg. Despite the pain and suffering Shokhert did not abandon his newfound faith.

Our partner in Pakistan helped Shokhert to start a new life in hiding. Also, they are providing pastoral support to Shokhert’s family, to encourage them in the Lord and to pray with them.

I want you to know how much persecuted Christians like Rose and Shokhert appreciate your generosity and prayers. These enable our partner to provide practical and spiritual support.

But I want to share with you that the situation of many Christiansin Pakistan is getting worse.

During my time in Pakistan I spoke with Shunila Ruth, local government Minister for Minorities. She told me that Christians are routinely discriminated against. Many are illiterate or innumerate and can’t break the cycle of poverty without some help. The few who are well educated rarely get well-paid jobs. Christians are wrongly accused of blasphemy, taken to prison and even killed. Shunila was on her way to visit the family of a young Christian who had died in jail. She said: “Police corruption is widespread and there is a real concern that he was killed by police officers while he was in custody”.

Other Christian leaders I met told me about attacks on individuals and churches. They also spoke about abductions, forced conversions and marriages of young Christian women to older Muslim men. Just days before, a young couple accused of blasphemy had been brutally killed in a brick kiln.

The very next day, suicide bombers attacked two churches in Youhannabad, killing 17 and wounding more than 70 people. That evening we visited some of the bereaved to comfort them and pray with them.

In this context, it is not surprising that the last Muslim-background believers (MBBs) we met werebaptised in secret one evening, and those present were not even told their names. You and I do not know the names of all our brothers and sisters in Pakistan who need our help, but we can do something about their situation. Will you show your care for persecuted Christians like Shokhert and Rose by making a special gift to Release today?

Here are just a few of the big and small ‘miracles’ that your gift could make possible:

£20 could cover the travel costs of visits to an MBB for three months

£50 could cover a community group facilitator’s monthly salary

Your decision to give today really matters because it can change a believer’s or a family’s life. So, please send your gift using the response form provided or give at: releaseinternational.org/donate

Together we can continue to share God’s love in practical ways with those who are struggling in Pakistan.

 

Change It Up: Understanding the Gospel

Change It Up: Understanding the Gospel

Change it Up: Understanding the Gospel

I’m probably not the first person you’ve heard mutter about a consumerist view of the story of God, our saviour Jesus, and the reconciliation of people to God: the gospel.  We do like to consume the gospel, to see what we can get from it.  We all know we prefer to tell our friends and family who don’t know Jesus about how loving He is and how gracious He is because we get a lot from that; but we don’t want to mention sin and judgement, because they’re scary and no one wants to consume fear. 

In our second post of highlights from Release’s book Jars of Clay (get yours here), we’re thinking about changing up our consumerist view of the gospel for the view the persecuted have of the gospel: that to follow Jesus is not about consuming the warm and fuzzies, but about standing firm in God’s promise of salvation throughout hardship.

Jesus taught that His story would bring opposition; that even families would turn against each other because of Him (Matthew 10).  And we know this to be true – throughout history we have heard stories of families rejecting and punishing those who become Christians.

The world persecutes Christians because it hates Jesus.  John 15:18 says “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” – when those that reject Jesus hate Christians, they hate Jesus. 

The world persecutes because it doesn’t know Him, they don’t know that He is the way to God: “But all these they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me” (John 15:21). 

And the world persecutes because Satan exists and opposes the truth of Jesus. John 17: 14-15 puts together hatred of Jesus and the “the evil one” – where God is at work in the world, Satan is working to oppose Him. 

Yet we know this Story of God to be true, despite the opposition.  So we need to change up what we think about the gospel; we need to change up our expectation that it will be consumed to make us feel better, and know instead that when we share the truth of Jesus the world will hate it, they will be ignorant of Him, and the Devil will oppose us.

Ultimately this is not a story the world wants to consume: they don’t want to buy it.  So let’s change up our view of the gospel which says “come on in, Jesus loves you and you’ll feel great!” to a view that says “come on in, here is truth, love, justice and grace.  You won’t always feel great, and you won’t always be everyone’s favourite, but you will know God and to lose everything for Him is to gain it all!”

If you want to be part of this kind of journey of faith, Release Potential is working hard to share amazing stories of amazing people, loving Jesus around the world under opposition, fear and hatred.  Get involved, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.  If you want to change the world, become a Change Maker.

– Alexandra

ali

LAOS – PASTOR STABBED TO DEATH AFTER REFUSING TO STOP PREACHING

LAOS – PASTOR STABBED TO DEATH AFTER REFUSING TO STOP PREACHING

Please pray for the family and friends of a pastor in northern Laos who was stabbed to death after ignoring orders to stop preaching.

Singkeaw Wongkongpheng, a father of six, was reportedly attacked by an official who came to his home in Na-ang village, Luang Prabang province, last week.

The assailant told Pastor Singkeaw that he was a member of the secret police and had come to kill him. He then stabbed the pastor and fled.

Local Christians believe the killing was a direct result of the pastor’s refusal to obey officials’ orders that he stop preaching – orders that had been repeated several times since 2000.

  • Ask God to bless and comfort Pastor Singkeaw’s widow and six children. Pray that He will also raise up a new leader for their church which has 58 members.
  • Praise God for the steadfast determination of Pastor Singkeaw who continued to uphold his constitutional religious rights, despite intense opposition.
  • Pray that Pastor Singkeaw’s powerful witness will lead many others to follow the Saviour he died for.

(Source: Morning Star News)

Change It Up: Mission and the Persecuted

Change It Up: Mission and the Persecuted

Change It Up: Mission and the Persecuted

Release International published a book this year called Jars of Clay which looks at what we Christians can learn from our persecuted brothers and sisters .  We think It’s really good.  Get your copy.

At Pain and Passion we are going to have a quick look at some of the ideas the book explores in a series of posts over the next few months.  It’ll just be an overview; get the book for more juice.

In this post we’re going to look at the idea of changing up how we think about mission, the assumptions we take with us when we think about telling others about Jesus.

Our world likes triumph and success.  We like triumph and success.  Jesus likes triumph and success.  Only Jesus showed us triumph and success in a very non-triumphant, non-successful way; Jesus went for vulnerability, when He refused to fight the guards in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26); He went for suffering when He hung on the cross (John 19); He went for defeat when He died on that cross (Luke 23).

Except that in His vulnerability He showed us that God works out His plans in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).  In His suffering He showed us that God is in control (Acts 2:23).  In His defeat He showed us God’s victory (2 Corinthians 15: 54-56).

In the New Testament Paul tells us that our message is foolish to the world, our messengers are inadequate, and our methods are simple (1 Corinthians 1).  The persecuted are often those inadequate people, taking a foolish message in the simplest ways.  And yet, they are living examples of what the Bible tells us following Jesus looks like.

The persecuted are vulnerable in their towns, their villages, sometimes in their own homes and relationships.  They suffer humiliation at school, violence at the hands of their communities, or solitary confinement in jail.  They are defeated when they are shamed by their families, sacked from their jobs, or meet death at the hands of a suicide bomber.

So what do we need to learn from persecuted Christians?  Change up what you think mission should look like, what you think telling your friends about Jesus will be like.  “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” 2 Corinthians 4: 7.  Clay pottery was everyday stuff back in Bible times – there was nothing special about it.  And it smashed easily.  But it’s in these weak, boring, fragile, slightly pathetic containers that the power of God lives – it’s God who transforms, not us. We take our foolish message, our inadequate selves, our simple ways, and in our vulnerability, our suffering, and our defeat the power of God is working, in control, and achieving a victory.

If you want to hear more of the stories of the persecuted, spend a bit more time on the Release Potential website and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, think about becoming a Change Maker.

Look to the persecuted – their love of Jesus and the choices they make to live for Him will help you change it up.

– Alexandra

ali

YOUR LIKE HAS POWER

YOUR LIKE HAS POWER

IMAGINE being jailed for six years simply for ‘liking’ an Arabic-language Facebook page administered by an anonymous group of Christian converts. We find that kind of injustice hard to understand but that’s exactly what’s happened to Egyptian Christian Kerolos Shouky Attallah.  Kerolos is currently in hiding. Please pray for his safety and share this post. Encourage your friends and family to sign the petition for Christians in Egypt.
http://ow.ly/PxC8U #YourLikeHasPower#OneFamily