In Egypt, several Christians were killed and over a dozen injured in the second bus massacre in the past year. Two church buses were returning from a visit to a desert monastery when they were violently attacked by masked gunmen. One bus driver managed to escape with his passengers unharmed, but the second, including family members returning from a baptism, suffered the casualties.
The Islamic State, who frequently targets Egypt’s Coptic Christians, has claimed responsibility for the attack. This was merely the latest in a long string of attacks on the Coptic Christian community, who proclaim to trace their roots back to Mark, the companion of Peter and writer of the second Gospel. Let's please keep this group in our prayers.
The second story is undoubtedly one of the highest profile cases over the past decade. It involves the acquittal of a Christian woman, Asia “Bibi” Noreen, after spending eight years on death row in Pakistan for the false charge of blasphemy. Since her arrest, countless Christians, including ourselves, have been fervently praying for her release. This is a long story so we’ll give the highlights and include links for those interested in learning more details.
Ms Bibi’s ordeal began in 2009, when she brought a bucket of water to some Muslim co-laborers who were harvesting fruit. The women claimed that, since Ms Bibi was a Christian, she had made the cup “unclean” and as a result, they could no longer drink from it. They later beat Ms Bibi at her home, and after she refused to convert to Islam, her co-workers complained to the police. They accused her of “blasphemy” and claimed she even confessed during the beating. This resulted in to her arrest; after which she was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death by hanging.
Pakistan added blasphemy as a separate article to their penal codes in 1986. These blasphemy laws, which carry a recommended sentence of death or life imprisonment, are extremely controversial and almost impossible to defend against, since the law code does not even define what actually constitutes “blasphemy”. Thus, it is often used (or more accurately, abused) in disagreements with, and to target religious minorities.
After Ms Bibi’s conviction, she spent eight years in prison while her appeal hearing was repeatedly delayed, until finally receiving a hearing and being freed this past week (Oct 31, 2018). Yet, this could turn out to be only a temporary victory. The Tehreek-i-Labaik (TLP) party, an Islamic extremist group, immediately organized and launched nationwide protests calling for Ms Bibi’s execution. Due to these protests, her lawyer fled to Europe for his own safety. Even more troubling however, Pakistani officials, in an agreement with the extremists to stop the protests, agreed to ban Ms Bibi from leaving the Pakistan even though several countries have offered her asylum. We must continue to pray for Ms Bibi’s safety since many attempts have already been made on her life, and likely will continue until she is allowed to leave.
For more information, the BBC has a good article on Why Pakistani Christians are Targeted, and Open Doors USA writes about Five Things Christians Need to Know about Asia Bibi and the Church in Pakistan.
I find very few things as inspiring as listening to the stories of Christians that are being or have been imprisoned, persecuted and even martyred for their faith. I rarely hear them request prayers for their own comfort. Instead, they typically ask for grace to forgive their persecutors (Mt 5:43-44, Rom 12:14) and for courage to continue to spread the Word (Ac 4:29), even to those who are oppressing them. In these faithful saints, we’re seeing true first century Christianity displayed before our very eyes. Please pray for all those facing persecution (Heb 13:3).
As of May 2019, Ms Bibi has been re-united with her family in Canada; however, she must remain cautious since she is still receiving death threats. Please continue to pray for her safety.