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EGYPT: 127 Churches Approved

EGYPT: 127 Churches Approved

A committee established by the Egyptian government has approved legalising 127 churches who were previously operating without a permit. This brings the total number of legalised churches by this committee to 1,021.

The committee is a result of a 2016 law which purported to streamline the legalisation process for churches. Egypt has a long history of regulating the building of churches, but many churches were not able to complete this process. Instead, they were built illegally. The 2016 law included the creation of the committee which would reportedly legalise all churches existing before 2016 – an estimated number just reaching over 3,000.

The government has faced heavy criticism for its slow record of retroactively applying legalisation to these existing churches. The 2016 law was supposed to make it easier for new churches to go through the legalisation process. However, President Sisi’s government has a worse record than his predecessors when it comes to approving new church buildings.

Most of the Middle East’s Christians live in Egypt, where they are subject to indiscriminate mob violence, discrimination, and other acts of persecution. The federal government has made several symbolic gestures towards Christians but has not taken steps to ensure that the root causes of persecution are addressed at a local level. The official state religion is Islam, leaving Christians to live as second-class citizens.

Source: International Christian Concern

  • Thank the Lord for the recent progress made. Pray the Egyptian church will be encouraged by this development.
  • Ask the Lord to bless the local church with a renewed boldness and readiness to share the Gospel with those who do not yet know Him.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to be at work in changing hearts and minds towards Jesus, in all levels of society in Egypt.

Post your prayer in the comments below.

CHINA: Pastor Yang Hua Sentenced

CHINA: Pastor Yang Hua Sentenced

After secretly trying Yang Hua for “divulging state secrets,” a judge sentenced the pastor of Living Stone Church on 5 January to two years and six months in prison. Pastor Yang, also known by his legal name, Li Guoshi, has been held since 9 December 2015.

While incarcerated, prosecutors tortured Yang and threatened his family to force a false confession. Yang subsequently requested that the prosecutors be banned from the case and his lawyers sued members of the prosecution. However, the court still allowed the prosecutors to continue with the case. They eventually provided forged evidence that implicated Yang.

Pastor Yang co-founded Living Stone, also known as Huoshi Church, with Pastor Su Tianfu. Chinese officials reportedly forced Pastor Su to “take a trip” in recent weeks. The details of his trip and his current condition are unknown. The church has grown from its original 20 members in 2009 to more than 700 today.

Pastor Yang was originally taken into custody after he tried to prevent officials from confiscating a church hard drive. He received two consecutive, five-day administrative detention sentences for “the crime of obstructing justice” and “gathering a crowd to disturb public order.” When his wife, Wang Hongwu, came to pick him up on 20 December 2015, she saw four men put a black hood on his head and throw him into an unmarked van. Wang later learned her husband was being transferred to a criminal detention facility, having been charged with “illegally possessing state secrets” About a month later, Yang was charged with “divulging state secrets,” but given no trial date.

 Source: The Voice of the Martyrs USA

 Prayer Points

  • Ask the Lord to give Yang courage during this time of suffering and uncertainly. Pray he will take great strength from the knowledge that the Lord walks with him and his family during this difficult time.
  • Pray for Yang’s church, may they be spurred on by his example and continue to serve the Lord as they live out their faith.
  • Pray the Holy Spirit may use Yang as a witness for the Gospel.
NEPAL: Eight Christians Cleared of Charges

NEPAL: Eight Christians Cleared of Charges

Eight Nepali Christians were cleared of “proselytising” charges on 6 December, bringing a close to their ordeal.

“Praise the Lord!” a VOM contact said. “All eight Christians having court case got clean sheet today. We are thankful to all who continuously prayed and helped in many different ways.”

Police arrested a pastor, two school principals and five school staff members on 9 June, accusing them of evangelism after they distributed children’s books about Jesus at a Christian school. Under Nepal’s new constitution, evangelism is a crime. Please pray for Nepali Christians, who face increasing persecution under the new constitution.

Source: The Voice of the Martyrs USA

 Prayer Points

  • Pray that the released believers will not be afraid to resume evangelising the lost with the Good News of Christ.
  • Pray that this answer to prayer will give Nepali Christians great encouragement to remain faithful and to depend on God to do His work regardless of circumstances.
  • Ask God to give Nepalis a deep curiosity about the Gospel they are forbidden to hear and to bring them into contact with believers who will witness to them.
CHINA: Crackdown on House Churches Continues

CHINA: Crackdown on House Churches Continues

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

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.

Sources: China Aid, Release International

 Prayer Points

  • 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.
Living a Print-Worthy Faith

Living a Print-Worthy Faith

People love seeing their name in print.

During my days as a reporter for a small daily newspaper, people who had been featured in the paper would often stop by to pick up extra copies. They wanted to send them to family or friends, or cut out their story to display on their refrigerator. Some would even frame it.

Seeing their name, story and photo included among the day’s top news and feature stories was a validating experience. They felt, maybe for the first time, that their story mattered.

Given the opportunity, I think we all would feel the same way. We all want to be known on a deeper level. We all want to be remembered.

In January, a field worker and I travelled to Bangladesh to collect new stories to share with our readers. During the trip, we met “Fani” Bitan, 44, a pastor living in northern Bangladesh. That night, he sat in a plastic chair across from us and, in front of a room full of other pastors sitting on a dirt floor, shared the story of the persecution he had experienced.

In our western context, his story was remarkable. It included him being shut off from the Muslim society and suffering multiple beatings. In the context of the other pastors in the room, it was somewhat ordinary. In fact, he started his story by saying, “As a believer of Christ, we have to go through lots of persecution every single day.” In Bangladesh, pastors often receive death threats and have been attacked conducting VOM projects for persecuted believers.

As I listened, I waited for something that made his story stand apart from the rest – those details that were unique to him.

Suddenly, his eyes grew big. He remembered something. He put his hands in his right pants pocket and pulled out some crumpled pieces of paper. Under the room’s single light bulb, he handed them to me.

I unfolded the papers to discover copies of newspaper articles. Although I couldn’t read Bangla, I knew why he was excited.

His story was print-worthy.

The articles discussed a Top 10 list created by the Islamic extremist group Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh. The list ranked the most-wanted Christians in the region – those who were working among Muslims.

Fani was Number 8 on the list for living a bold Christian life, sharing the Gospel and baptising former Muslims.

“Oh my goodness, I saw this news on TV, but I didn’t know he was one of them,” our translator said after Fani explained what he had just handed me.

Fani’s inclusion on the list didn’t bother him. He was actually thrilled to see his name in the paper.

“I am very happy because my name is on the list,” he said. “How many people can get their name on the list?”

I then asked him if he was worried since his name – and Christian faith – were now in print, for potentially thousands of Muslims to see.

“No, I have no worry,” he said. “I am not nervous. If God wants me to die in this way, why not? It is up to God. What can I do?”

One of our many goals at Voice of the Martyrs is to tell the stories of our persecuted brothers and sisters standing firm in their faith in the countries where we serve. And they are not spiritual superheroes. They are regular believers, like you and I, who, after remaining faithful, were empowered by the Holy Spirit to stay strong in their faith during persecution. The strength of their story is found in its ability to be shared as a testimony to God’s work in their lives.

Another goal of VOM’s is to inspire you, as part of the church, to live a better faith story by hearing those of our persecuted family members. After reading how they’ve overcome fears to stand for Christ, we hope you’ll be moved to do the same in your own unique circumstances.

Not all of us will experience the thrill of seeing our stories told in the pages of a newspaper. Thankfully, we don’t need that to happen to be known on a deeper level or to be remembered.

God already knows our stories intimately. He knew them before we were born (Psalm 139:16), and is recording the stories of those who look to Him in a “Book of Remembrance” (Malachi 3:16). Your story matters to Him. What a validating thought.

In the meantime, we must allow Him to continue writing our stories while prayerfully and courageously following His lead. Then, when the time is right, we’ll be able to reach into our figurative pockets, pull out our testimony of His work in our lives and be able to share it with others, printed or not.

Darren Sanders writes for VOM USA.