• Iran: Christians hit with massive bail fees

    Iranian Christians paid almost £1 million in bail fees over the last year, according to a new report co-authored by Open Doors and other religious-freedom organisations.

    For many of those arrested, the charges against them were simply that they had attended church. Christians in Iran are being hit with outrageous fees to stay out of prison – with some even having to surrender deeds for their homes in order to foot the bill.

    Dr David Landrum, director of advocacy at Open Doors UK and Ireland, says that extreme rights violations against Christians in Iran didn’t let up with the coronavirus pandemic.

    “At least 115 Iranian Christians were arrested on grounds of religious activities or their Christian identity in 2020,” he said. “Simply going to a house church is treated as a threat to national security. Christians – particularly converts from Islam – continued to be targeted for their faith. This repression stops Christians in Iran living a normal life, free from fear.”

    In one case, fees for four Christians came to seven billion tomans, about £159,500 each – the most ever demanded for an Iranian Christian’s bail. The minimum annual salary in Iran is about £1,000.

    The judge reportedly told them: “Your actions are worthy of death! Who set this low bail amount for you [it was 800 million tomans previously], so you could be free to roam about on the streets?”

    Overall, in 2020, Christians detained over national security allegations had to pay a total of £868,169 to be granted bail.

    Image: Street scene in Iran, pre-Covid-19

    Persecution in Iran is becoming increasingly cruel

    Prison or fines are far from the only ways that Christians are persecuted in Iran. Two Christian converts, Sam Khosravi and wife Maryam Falahi, recently lost custody of their daughter, Lydia, who they had adopted from an orphanage in 2019 when she was just three months old – because the couple are Christians.

    “We have looked after our daughter for nearly two years,” they said. “Even the judge admitted an ‘intense emotional tie’ has been established between us. After taking her away, based on their own assessment, Lydia will face an ‘uncertain future’, yet they insist on separating us from one another.

    “This will have an immense emotional toll on all of us, and most importantly, on Lydia.”

    In another case of harsh persecution, Article18 reported that two Christians, Youhan Omidi and Saheb Fadaie, were ‘flogged with 80 lashes each this last year – for the crime of drinking communion wine’.

    Please continue to pray for our persecuted sisters and brothers in Iran – and pray for the work of Open Doors as they support believers through local partners with online leadership training and discipleship, and advocacy.

    Pray now…

    • That God would protect Christians in secret house churches from detection
    • For God’s comfort to surround Sam Khosravi, Maryam Falahi and Lydia, and that they would be reunited soon
    • That He would soften the hearts of the Iranian judiciary towards Christians, that they would act with justice and compassion.

    What you can do now…

    Want to respond and help your persecuted family around the world? Try these things:

    Get our World Watch List prayer map and resources to learn more and pray regularly. Do that here…

    Blackout during lent – get sponsored to give up something you love for a short time in the run up to Easter and raise money and prayer for those who have lost everything because of their faith in Jesus. Sign up here…

  • Central Asia: ‘Why would you do this?’

    Across Central Asia Christianity faces restrictions and in many places it’s really difficult for Christians to openly express and share their faith in Jesus. But, the Covid-19 pandemic has meant new opportunities to speak about Jesus are emerging…

    In one country, Open Doors local partners heard that hospitals did not have enough small, portable machines that provide oxygen for Covid-19 patients for four hours at a time.

    Having purchased machines – thanks to your amazing generosity – the partners contacted local hospitals, asking, “Who are the families that cannot be taken to hospital but need urgent help?” Names and addresses were provided for the partners to visit.

    “One case was an older lady whose family was previously very hostile to the gospel,” shares Timur, an Open Doors local partner whose name we’ve changed to protect his identity. “The family didn’t even ask who these people were. They accepted them very gladly.”

    Whilst the lady was given oxygen for four hours, there was ample opportunity to talk. “Central Asian people love to talk,” Timur continues. “After the family discovered their visitors were Christians, they asked, ‘Why do you do this?’ It was a wonderful opportunity to reach out to this family. Now this family attend church. They haven’t yet accepted Jesus, but their attitude completely changed.”

    Christian books distributed openly for the first time in 20 years

    Given the limitations on leaving home, local partners made themselves available to deliver food to people – which the governments permitted. “In some cities, believers started to walk the streets and help people with food shopping,” Timur says. “Surprisingly, the police – who were watching the city and knew they were Christians – didn’t stop them.”

    “Together with the food, believers also gave out (Christian) books,” Timur adds. “In some cases, it was the only moment, probably in the last 20 years, when we could do this openly.”

    “The negative part of Covid-19, we all know, but the positive part for us is that many people who were closed to the gospel are suddenly open,” Timur continues. “We could meet families, thousands of them. They just needed help and somebody who could come and at least talk to them, because in some of the countries quarantine was so strict.”

    There have been other areas where local partners have quickly adapted to lockdown restrictions. Online meetings and streaming have developed, enabling church services, youth work and leadership training to continue. Websites for young people are being produced. “God found solutions for us, even in this challenging time,” Timur says.

    Covid causes new discrimination against Christians

    Sadly, as has happened across the world, following Jesus has led to many being overlooked in the distribution of aid. Across Central Asia, many believers from Muslim backgrounds have been denied help by their Muslim communities. One group of believers were not given food packages by their community, leaving them to survive by eating grass. Thankfully, Open Doors local partners have since been able to provide them with food.

    Thank you

    Timur closes with a word of gratitude for you. “We are very thankful that, even though we have never met personally, we feel your presence and love and faith in God, and we are very encouraged by this. Thank you very much to each of you. We will also pray for your personal situations, businesses and families, that God will protect and guide you, and give you shalom – a deep, deep shalom in your heart in whatever situation you are in.”

    Pray now…

    • Give thanks to God for the remarkable opportunities that have opened up in Central Asia to talk about Jesus – please pray that this will continue and lead to a bountiful harvest of people coming to know Jesus
    • For protection, strength and wisdom for local partners as they serve in the region, and for complete healing for all those infected with Covid-19
    • That all believers suffering financial hardship because of the pandemic will have all their needs met.

    What you can do now…

    Want to respond and help your persecuted family around the world? Try these things:

    Get our World Watch List prayer map and resources to learn more and pray regularly. Do that here…

    Blackout during lent – get sponsored to give up something you love for a short time in the run up to Easter and raise money and prayer for those who have lost everything because of their faith in Jesus. Sign up here…

  • North Korea: Imprisoned four times before he was 22

    By the time Yeong Woo was 22, he had suffered greatly for his faith. He had only become a Christian in China several years previously, but had already been imprisoned and tortured four times after repeatedly escaping North Korea and fleeing to China.

    A young believer

    Image: Pastors praying, China.

    When Yeong Woo sat in his fifth prison cell, he thought of all he had endured.

    He remembered his first arrest. It had been at 5am at the end of a long prayer meeting in China.

    “Freeze!”, someone had shouted. Yeong Woo felt the gun against his temple.

    Yeong Woo then suffered his first stint in prison with the leader of the prayer group. Sometimes they spoke, sometimes they sat silently. They knew they would be sent back to North Korea.

    Persecution rises

    Image: Soldier in border camp, North Korea.

    On his second arrest, Yeong Woo was sentenced to two years ‘reform by hard labor’ in a North Korean re-education camp.

    “The prisoners all looked terrible. They didn’t even look like humans anymore. Almost nobody was standing up straight. They were all weak from malnutrition.”

    Yeong Woo was released and arrested once again for escaping to China, where he hoped to learn more about Jesus. The punishment grew worse during each imprisonment.

    “The pain from the torture in prison is beyond description,” he said.

    Joy and torture

    Image: Soldiers standing guard at border, Yalu river North Korea.

    Whilst in prison, on one occasion, Yeong Woo saw military boots in front of him, just centimetres from his face. The officer sat down. He yelled for Yeong Woo to look up.

    “Hey!” said the agent, “Don’t you recognise me? Look at me.”

    Yeong Woo looked at the man. He saw a memory of a much younger version of the soldier in front of him. The guard began a surreal conversation with him about their childhood. Yeong Woo remembered that the man was an old friend from school.

    “I believe God sent my friend to help me,” Yeong Woo says, as he recalled being led out of prison for the fourth time. “They led me out the door. Just before they opened it, I could see my friends standing on the stairs.” Yeong Woo knew this man had helped him.

    The cost of following Jesus

    Image: Yeong Woo praying, North Korea.
    But Yeong Woo was not yet free.

    He was moved again to a fourth prison, where the harsh treatment broke him psychologically.

    “All I did every day, the whole day, was chop wood. I saw the deaths of at least 50 people, and I saw that human rights don’t exist in North Korea.”

    Yeong Woo prayed, but God seemed silent.

    A grace-filled escape

    Image: Women praying in a government sanctioned ‘show’ church in Pyongyang, North Korea.

    When Yeong Woo was released and escaped to China a final time, he felt broken. The feeling stayed even when he had successfully fled to South Korea. Yeong Woo didn’t feel at home in any churches there. He became obsessed with drinking and gambling; anything to make him forget his past.

    Until one day, something changed. Yeong Woo prayed his first true prayer since arriving in South Korea.

    “I lifted my hands to the sky and prayed out loud.”

    And God answered him more clearly than before. “Yeong Woo, I never abandoned you.” Yeong Woo knew God loved him. The words pierced him like a sword. He wanted to teach others of this love.

    Yeong Woo knew that God wanted him to share the love of Jesus with others.He is now a pastor, and looking back on his life, sees God’s hand everywhere.

    North Korea is the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian. Believers risk abduction, torture and even death. But Yeong Woo and fellow Christians continue in Jesus despite all cost.

    Pray now:

    • Thanks God for Yeong Woo. Pray God would use him to bring many more to know Jesus.
    • Pray for those in prison in North Korea because of their faith in Jesus. Ask God to give them hope and strength.
    • Pray for secret believers in North Korea. Ask God to help them find support and to grow with other Christians.
    • Pray that God would speak to Kim Jong-Un, the nation’s leader, and that he would introsuce new freedom that don’t target Christians.

    What you can do now…

    Want to respond and help your persecuted family around the world? Try these things:

    Get our World Watch List prayer map and resources to learn more and pray regularly. Do that here…

    Blackout during lent – get sponsored to give up something you love for a short time in the run up to Easter and raise money and prayer for those who have lost everything because of their faith in Jesus. Sign up here…

  • Nigeria: Three years since Leah was taken

    Friday 19th February marks a tragic milestone. On this day three years ago, Boko Haram, an extremist Islamic militia, kidnapped over 100 girls from a school in a town called Dapchi in Yobe State Nigeria.

    Of those girls, all who survived the initial raid were released within a month – all except one, Leah Sharibu. As she was due to be released, her Christian faith was discovered. Her captors said she could go free if she converted to Islam. She chose not to. And therefore wasn’t allowed to leave.

    Leah chose Jesus over her freedom. 

    As the other girls were released, Leah gave this message to some of her friends to give to her mum:

    “My mother you should not be disturbed… My God, whom we have been praying to with you, is showing Himself mighty in my trying moment… I am confident that one day I shall see your face again. If not here, then there with our Lord Jesus Christ.”

    Three years on, she’s still in captivity. It’s likely Leah has been forced to marry one of the Boko Haram soldiers. A friend of the family, Rev. Gideon Para Mallam told Open Doors in an interview, “I think it is safe to say that Leah is alive. But the silence from her captors and from the federal government is absolutely not good. Indeed, no official news has come out about Leah this past year, neither from her kidnappers, nor from the Federal Government of Nigeria. The silence is troubling. …The parents deserve to be briefed by the government, at least covertly. But we are not getting any of that.”

    Many other ‘Leah’s

    Leah’s story is one of brave and determined faith – and she represents many thousands more who share her fate. In the last year, despite more pressure from armies in Chad and Nigeria, Boko Haram have still continued to take people captive. Not even Covid19 has been able to slow them down.

    In one day in December, just before Christmas, they kidnapped 70 people. They killed over 50 people. And then again, on Christmas eve, they went to a number of villages in the Garkida area in Adamawa State and kidnapped a number of Christians. And there was also an attack by Boko Haram on a rice farm in which they killed a little over a hundred people. They are still causing havoc.

    Not forgotten

    Leah turns 18 in May, and we want to ensure that her story, and the story of thousands of others like hers, is not forgotten. So, why not write Leah’s name on your hand. Keep it there for a day, and every time you see her name, pray for her. Not sure what to pray. Try these quick points:

    • Thank God for Leah and her brave faith.
    • Ask that God will be giving her strength, comfort and hope. Pray the Holy Spirit would sustain her. Pray that she’d become aware of the many prayers being spoken on her behalf, and that she will know she is never forgotten and never alone.
    • Pray for Leah’s family – ask they would know God’s comfort, provision and help.
    • Pray that the government will step up all efforts to ensure Leah’s freedom. Pray for wisdom and a breakthrough in the negotiations.
    • Pray for the Lord to soften the hearts of Leah’s captors so that they will be filled with compassion for her and allow her release.
    • Pray for the many thousands of others who are in captivity whose names are not known. Pray that the Lord will show them His mercy in salvation and that they would find freedom soon. Pray that He would provide in their physical needs.
  • Myanmar: Christians worried about the military takeover

    You may have heard about the situation unfolding in Myanmar – over the last week, the military have taken over the country and arrested the democratically elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Many are appalled, and over the weekend, tens of thousands of people protested against the military takeover. The angry public grew uneasy as the government banned internet access on Saturday morning.

    The situation has worried the countries Christians – especially as a hardline Buddhist group has shown support of the military and is actively promoting the importance of Buddhism in Myanmar. If this group gains more power, then Christians who are already under pressure, could find their situation becomes more precarious.

    Brother Lwin*, another local partner, highlights what this means for the church. “Military rule could mean reinforced power for the dominant religion,” he explains. “The military government of the past has always been protective of their Buddhist culture and tradition. This may have serious implications for the church. We are expecting restrictions on the church to happen once again, though as yet we’re unsure of the extent and form it will take.”

    And with the army shutting off internet access to try and hinder the protests, church activity is being disrupted too.

    Image: Protests at the weekend happened across the whole country…

    ‘The number of protestors have been increasing…’

    “The tension between the Myanmar’s pro-democratic supporters and the military remains volatile,” shares Daisy, Open Doors’ local partner. “Police stood in two lines barricading the path for the protestors. If protestors cross the first line, they will be shot at sight. The protest will intensify in coming days and the number of protestors have been increasing each day.”

    Pastor Ko Ko Thun*, an elderly pastor tells Open Doors: “When I recall the previous military junta, I become so angry and upset that I want to vomit.”

    “When I was still a student, I remember them checking me and my friends’ identity cards and making us stand under the rain. They also confiscated our books. Once, we carried our own rice to cook in our hostel, and the soldiers accused us of supplying rice to the insurgent groups and detained us.”

    “There are many things I can share,” Ko Ko Thun continues. “When I think deeply, if the military is going to rule over us again – I cannot, I dare not imagine – my tears can’t stop.”

    Many believers are fearful that the same situation like the 1988 uprising will happen again, but our local partners continue to have peace in God. “It’s amazing how God allows us to communicate inside the country today,” says Min Thaing, an Open Doors field partner. Around 500 workers gathered on the streets to protest in Min Thaing’s neighborhood on Saturday, and the police and military have been on high alert.

    “Yesterday, we were totally cut off, today, we are able to connect again. We feel left out when there is an internet blackout, but now we are able to share updates and videos and photos. It is amazing how God works and allows us to connect by making internet connection available on time. The internet availability here is uncertain and unpredictable, it may not be available in the evening or tomorrow, but we have a God who can part the seas and we know that He will make a way for us.”

    Pray now…

    • Pray for believers to be salt and light wherever they are, pray for their safety as they stay in their homes, or as they join the protests.
    • Pray for fund transfers to be possible again – because of the internet ban, the public was also unable to use Wave Money, a Burmese e-wallet service. “This money transfer app is most reliable and is commonly used by public. Since its suspension, many people have been facing difficulties.”
    • Pray for peace and stability in the country
  • North Korea: Secret letter shows how Christians communicate in code…

    North Korea has been at the top of the World Watch List for twenty years in a row, meaning it’s the most dangerous country in the world to be a Christian. It’s so dangerous to be a follower of Jesus in North Korea that communication between fieldworkers and secret believers often has to be done using code.

    With your support and prayers, Open Doors fieldworkers are keeping 90,000 North Korean believers alive with vital food and aid through networks in China, as well as providing shelter and training for North Korean refugees in China.

    To make this happen, our North Korean brothers and sisters often communicate with fieldworkers in hidden and secret ways. Below is an excerpt from a secret letter written by a North Korean believer, who has created a story to explain their current situation. But to help you understand the meaning of the story, you need to know who all the characters are. So, here goes…

    • The owner of the dog signifies the North Korean government
    • The mother dog is the church leader
    • The puppies are the pastored believers
    • and the strange medicine represents aid from you, their Christian family across the world

    Image: Fishermen in a river on the border of North Korea and China

    The secret letter

    “Once upon a time, there was a mother dog. The mother dog fed the puppies but could not feed itself. Slowly the mother dog suffered malnutrition and was infected with a disease. Soon, the owner abandoned the mother dog. While it was waiting to die, somebody had put a strange medicine next to it and it cured itself with that.

    “When it returned to its home, it could not find its puppies. It was sad but it bore puppies again and became useful to the owner. Nowadays, the mother dog and new puppies often run into dangerous situations, but they are happier than ever to be together. They are deeply grateful to the people who had left the strange medicine earlier on, and they decide to fight today’s fight and maintain a strong spirit and body for the sake of those who had left them the medicine. The story will go on.”

    It’s difficult not to be able to communicate openly – but praise God for the creativity and ingenuity of this North Korean believer. And, as a fieldworker we call Peter says, “We need to remember our brothers and sisters. We must continue our work until North Korea is restored and overflows with holy worship and praise!”

    Thank you so much for faithfully standing with our brothers and sisters from North Korea. Please keep praying.

    Pray now…

    • For the protection, provision, strength and spiritual growth of all North Korean believers
    • That the gospel will never stop spreading across generations in North Korea
    • That the day will soon arrive when the name of Jesus Christ can be praised openly in North Korea.

    What you can do now…

    Want to respond and help your persecuted family around the world? Try these things:

    1. Get our World Watch List prayer map and resources to learn more and pray regularly. Do that here…
    2. Blackout during lent – get sponsored to give up something you love for a short time in the run up to Easter and raise money and prayer for those who have lost everything because of their faith in Jesus. Sign up here…
  • Mozambique: “I thank God for the help that arrived”

    In just one day, Furaia from Mozambique became a widow and a single mother to 14 children. Thanks to your prayers and support, Open Doors have been able to provide for her and her children, as well as 328 other families affected by jihadist violence.

    Image: Furia, now safe in Nampula

    “We were all surprised,” Furaia told visiting Open Doors partners. “The attackers rounded us up and forced us to get together in some open space using a path through grass and bush. I managed to hide in some of the tall grass… They did not see me… But I watched everything that was happening.”

    Furia witnessed the murder or her husband, brother and other men from her village. It was also the last time she saw her sister, who was abducted by the terrorists in the attack.

    After making sure that the terrorists were gone, she went back home and gathered her children and those of her brother and sisters. In total, she now has 14 children to care for.

    Finding support in Nampula

    They spent the next few days hiding while running towards Nampula, a larger city in the neighbouring province. They brought nothing with them, as most of their belongings were burnt in the fires the rebels started, and there was no time to pack any of what was left.

    When they arrived in Nampula, Furaia found a place to rent, but it took whatever funds she had left. The family felt safe for the first time in many weeks, and they were thankful to God for the roof over their heads. But they did not have much to eat, and no utensils or bedding, and only the clothes on their backs.

    It was then that your help reached her – and it could not have come at a better time. Furaia received food, kitchen utensils and bedding, thanks to your support.

    She says, “I thank God for the help that arrived. My children and I now have something to eat. Without this help we would have starved. I am very, very thankful for all the things I received. To the supporters, I would like to say thank you and God bless you.”

    Image: Aid packs being sorted before being handed out

    Now that their most urgent needs are covered, Furaia hopes to have more time to mourn and process what happened. She has not yet found a spiritual home in Nampula.

    “Things are hard,” she says. “I was used to having my husband to share life and hardships with. I had a family and relatives. Now I am alone with the children, wondering what to tell them, how to bring them up, and how to give them adequate protection. I can only pray for peace and that we will not be abandoned.”

    Image: Cooking utensils being organised before being given to those in need.

    Thank you for helping to provide relief aid to hundreds of believers

    Furaia isn’t the only believer you have helped. Thanks to you, desperately needed relief aid has been delivered to 328 mostly Christian families displaced by the jihadist violence in Cabo Delgado. Among the beneficiaries were believers, pastors, and mission workers.

    Pray for Mozambique

    This year is the first time that Mozambique has appeared in the World Watch List Top 50. It has jumped 21 places, largely because of the increasing violence faced by believers in more areas of the country. Please continue to pray for our church family there. Pray now…

    • For Furaia and her family, that the Lord would provide for all their needs and that they would find fellowship with other Christians
    • For displaced believers in Mozambique and Open Doors partners as they reach and serve them
    • That the hearts of persecutors would soften, and that Jesus would reveal Himself to them.

    Pre order 2021 World Watch List resources…

    Find out more about the places where following Jesus costs the most with our all new 2021 World Watch List resources. We’ve produced an all-new map with country stickers and stories, plus a special youth leader guide too.

  • North Korea: Life in the notorious prison camps

    If you are discovered to be a Christian in North Korea you will be arrested, interrogated and imprisoned. And you are unlikely to ever be released. Open Doors estimates that tens of thousands of North Korean Christians are in prison and labour camps for their faith.

    It emerged last year that, since Kim Jong-un came to power in 2011, the number of prisoners in political prison camps run by the Ministry of State Security in North Korea has increased substantially. In 2012, around 130,000 people were detained. As of March 2020, this is reported to have been around 160,000. The largest, Yodok – described by one Christian as ‘a living mass grave’ – has around 55,000 detainees.

    Prisoners include officials deemed to have performed poorly in their job, people who’ve criticised the regime, and those suspected of engaging in anti-government activities. The North Korean authorities believe following Jesus is an anti-government activity.

    Image: Street scene in northern region of North Korea

    Christians can be sent to political prison camp or a re-education facility

    Most Christians are sent to political prison camps. These camps tend to be a Kwan-li-so – a ‘total control zone’ – from which inmates will never be released. Prisoners are considered ‘enemies of the state’ and beyond the protection of the law. If not secretly executed, they endure lives of unending physical and psychological torture, hunger and labour. They may even be used for chemical tests.

    These camps differ from other detention facilities in North Korea, such as the Kwo-hwa-so (or ‘revolutionary zone’) which are for ‘less serious’ crimes, where detainees receive an ‘ideological education’ whilst doing forced labour.

    “Nobody survives the Kwan-li-so”

    “In the camp, I worked 12 hours a day, sometimes more. Every day is just one long nightmare” recalls one Christian of her time in a Kwo-hwa-so.

    The believer, who was released after two years, discovered another Christian in the camp. “She was much braver than I was – she spoke to others about Christ.” But it came at an awful cost. “One day a car came to pick her up. When I saw her leave, I knew they were taking her to a maximum-security prison, a Kwan-li-so. Nobody survives the Kwan-li-so.”

    More about North Korea

    North Korea has been at the top of the Open Doors World Watch List for 20 years, meaning it’s the most dangerous place on the planet to be a Christian. These prison camps are one of the main reasons – known or suspected Christians will be sent to these camps, many never returning.

    The above quotes come from Prisoner 42, whose story is based on a real-life account of a North Korean Christian sent to prison and then to a re-education camp. You can watch a film about her experiences here…

    Pray now…

    Heavenly Father, strengthen my brothers and sisters imprisoned in these camps. Nourish them physically, mentally and spiritually, and reveal Yourself to them in amazing ways. Use Your children in these camps to share the hope of Jesus with others. Further expose the brutality of these camps to the international world, leading to their abolishment. Bring about the release of believers and protect further Christians from arrest. Amen.

    Pre order 2021 World Watch List resources…

    Find out more about the places where following Jesus costs the most with our all new 2021 World Watch List resources. We’ve produced an all-new map with country stickers and stories, plus a special youth leader guide too.

  • Malaysia: Baptisms despite severe flooding

    Like most countries Malaysia has been struggling with a severe outbreak of Covid-19, but earlier this month flooding killed several people and displaced around 50,000 others. But, in the midst of the floods and a global pandemic, five believers still chose to get baptised.

    Image: The baptisms took place in a river

    “Amid this natural disaster, there is space for praise,” shares Mikal (not her real name), a local OD partner. “Five new believers were added to a church… To hear from three pastors that a lot of them are beginning to grow so much in their faith and have shared the faith with their neighbours too (is fantastic).”

    Heavy monsoon rains have led to intense flooding and a landslide in the past two weeks: “In some states, flood waters have gotten so high, you can only see the roof of homes and buildings,” Mikal said.

    This disaster, coupled with an intensified Covid lockdown, hit believers hard.

    “Some of the believers who work in fields to grow crops had a major loss during the first Covid lockdown, when they were unable to harvest any of their crops as policemen were nearby making sure that everyone stayed inside,” shares Mikal. “They didn’t lose hope and began to replant, but just as it was time to harvest their crops again, the floods destroyed their crops.”

    “It’s been very difficult. I know that these men – these farmers – are full of faith, but this has really challenged them,” Mikal continues.

    About Malaysia

    Malaysia in number 46 on the 2021 World Watch List, a ranking of countries where Christians face the worst persecution. In Malaysia, the government and other religious groups monitor churches. It is illegal to share the gospel with Malay Muslims. Converts from Islam to Christianity experience the most persecution, as every ethnic Malay is expected to be Muslim. These believers are often forced to hide their faith and meet in secret. If discovered, they could face divorce from their spouse, rejection from their family – or even risk being sent to a re-education camp.

    Pray now…

    Please pray for our friends, our partners, the believers we serve, and everyone else affected by the floods. Pray for the waters to subside soon and people to be able to rebuild their lives. Pray too for an improvement in the Covid situation in the country.

  • China: Christians charged for distributing audio Bibles

    The last few years have seen a big increase in the crackdown on Christian activity in China. Last month, five Christians were charged for involvement in the distribution of audio Bibles. In the latest World Watch List, released last week, China re-entered the top 20 for the first time in a decade.

    On 9 December 2020, four men part of Life Tree Communication Co. Ltd, which mainly sells audio Bibles, appeared in court in Shenzhen, south-east China, on charges of ‘illegal business operations’. The prosecutor recommended a prison sentence of five years for the business owner, Fu Xuanjuan, and sentences of between 18 months and three years for his three colleagues.

    Two days earlier, on 7 December, Lai Jinqiang appeared in the same court on charges of selling audio Bibles. Open Doors understands that his case is ongoing, with the court yet to reach a verdict.

    Image: A Chinese mother shares stories from the Bible with her daughter

    High demand for Bibles

    “Audio Bible players first appeared in China around 2006 and they became popular, especially in rural house churches,” a local source told Open Doors. The devices are easy to use and, unlike printed Bibles, are widely available on the internet. They also contain sermons, songs and other Christian content.

    One of the leading distributors in this growing market is Lai Jinqiang. “He focused on making audio Bible players for the older Chinese Christians who were not familiar with finding sermons and worship songs on the internet,” the source said. “The scale of production was ramped up and it reached tens of thousands of devices and even more over the years.”

    The source believes Lai’s business likely caught the attention of authorities some time before being charged. “His trial is most likely part of the bigger crackdown on the Christian churches, which started seven to eight years ago and has, particularly in the last two years, developed into a nationwide repression of Christian activities.”

    Image: A street scene from the Chinese city of Yanji

    Changing the Bible

    Restricting distribution of audio Bibles is not the only way in which the Chinese authorities are seeking to stop its citizens from being impacted by God’s Word.

    In church raids – which are becoming increasingly common – Bibles are often confiscated and verses on walls defaced. In 2018, printed Bibles were removed from online platforms. Now they can only be sold in state-affiliated church bookshops. Bible apps are popular and still accessible, though closure of some apps on online platforms have been reported.

    Meanwhile, the Bible itself is being manipulated according to socialist values. Churches have been forced to display government-prepared posters which feature Bible verses that reflect the 12 principles of socialism, including prosperity, democracy, patriotism and dedication. Furthermore, an official ethics textbook includes an appalling interpretation of Jesus’ encounter with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). In it, instead of Jesus calling off a crowd who want to stone the woman, Jesus stones her himself, saying, “I too am a sinner. But if the law could only be executed by men without blemish, the law would be dead.” It’s a blatant and sinister change to the original meaning of this woman’s encounter with Jesus.

    According to one report, the Chinese government announced in 2019 that they will be producing an ‘official translation’ of the Bible as part of ‘a comprehensive evaluation of the existing religious classics aiming at contents which do not conform to the progress of the times’. Any content deemed incompatible with socialist values will be changed.

    Pray now…

    These are concerning times for Christians in China as the government seeks to stifle and suppress Christian freedom – and, in doing so, stop the number of Christians exceeding that of the Chinese Communist Party. Please pray:

    • That all charges against the five men will be dropped, and that each of them (and their families) will continue to stay strong in their faith and know that their ‘labour in the Lord is not in vain’ (1 Corinthians 15:58)
    • That every Christian in China will have access to a Bible
    • That the authorities will recognise the sanctity and power of the Bible and will stop reinterpreting it according to socialist values.

    Pre order 2021 World Watch List resources…

    Inspired by these stories of brave faith from China? Find out more with our all new 2021 World Watch List resources. We’ve produced an all new map with country stickers and stories, plus a special youth leader guide too.

  • We support people who are beaten, tortured,
    imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.