Freedom for Middle East missionaries imprisoned for evangelizing; healing and salvation for fellow prisoners!

Report: Bibles for Mideast and an Assembly of Loving God (ALG)  church in the Middle East

Pastor Zakkir of Bibles for Mideast labored long, hard and secretively in one of the most restrictive countries in the Middle East, as we reported last year in our story From Islamic enforcer and Christian killer to underground church leader: a modern-day Muslim Saul.

After his dramatic conversion, he had been pastoring an underground ALG (Assembly of Living God) church and taking care of a number of persecuted Christians who had converted from Islam. He lived with and was training seven young men in how to effectively evangelize in the Middle East.
 
About seven months ago, he and his team headed out to evangelize and distribute gospel tracts and bibles in a particularly dangerous area. They shared with many Muslims in the region and on returning home, sat down to intercede for the salvation of those they'd reached out to. 

As they prayed, a group of policemen and angry locals barged in on them, brandishing guns. They brutally attacked Zakkir and the team, burned their bibles and gospel literature along with their clothes and other items. While the men who’d accompanied the police aimed to kill the Christians, fortunately the officers decided to 'only' arrest them. They were whisked away to a religious court for trial and sentenced to prison for blasphemy and proselytizing.

When thrown into a common cell with notorious criminals and murderers, their real trials began. For over a month they faced cruel torture by jail wardens and relentless, often violent harassment from fellow prisoners. Yet they report now they felt the ever-present love of the Lord Jesus Christ. Compared to what He endured for us, they explain, their sufferings amounted to nothing.

Inside a Mddle Eastern jail cell

Inside a Mddle Eastern jail cell

On first arriving at their cell, they immediately knelt down and prayed in the name of Jesus. Seeing this, other prisoners beat them and made it clear they were not to ever pray like this. So the men resorted to waiting till the others were sound asleep, then join hands in fervent worship and prayer. They figure the Lord must have induced deep sleep in their fellow prisoners, just to allow His children to worship Him in spirit, truth and safety. They prayed especially for their jailers and cellmates.
 
One day a man imprisoned for murdering three people developed severe chest pains and began vomiting blood.  He had been the one encouraging others to torture the gospel team members. 

“Shall we pray to Jesus for your healing?” Pastor Zakkir asked him.

“No!” he replied. “You cannot pray for me in that name and I do not want to hear that name again!” 

When his vomiting resumed even more severely, the man, now exhausted, thought he was going to die.

“Shall we pray for you?” Zakkir inquired again. ”Jesus is the mighty healer and He will heal you and will give you life, for which we are the witness.”

The criminal didn’t turn down the offer this time. So the pastor touched his head and prayed over him. The other team members laid their hands on him as well, joining in the prayers.

His stomach settled down immediately, as did his chest pains. Leaping to his feet as if absolutely nothing had been wrong, he marvelled that he'd felt something like an electric current flow through his body when the men prayed.

Others in the cell were equally stunned by his swift relief. The atmosphere in the cell soon transformed as the convicts grew friendly and accommodating. The missionaries could now freely pray as and when they wanted.

Furthermore, when any prisoner felt sick, depressed or upset, he'd now ask for prayer and find rapid, remarkable relief. One by one the convicted murderers, rapists, thieves and other outlaws joined the gospel workers in their times of prayer. Without the jail wardens or officers knowing, the whole cell resembled an underground church each night, with praise, worship and prayers rising to the heavens. 

Zakkir and his team related their own stories of salvation to the others, and the pastor shared the gospel message. Each and every prisoner confessed his many sins before Jesus Christ, and readily accepted Him as personal savior and Lord. They agreed that if released from jail, they too would become witnesses of Jesus to others.
 
Three months ago, a new officer took charge of the prison. Apparently trying particularly hard to prove he was tough and up to the task of controlling those in his charge, he behaved harshly towards prisoners. He could not figure out, however, why the men in this one particular cell actually seemed calm and happy. They behaved well and kindly to each other and even more surprising, when beaten or tortured, responded with “Praise the Lord!” Keeping a close eye on them, he discovered it was all because of the prayers of the gospel team members. So after two weeks, he moved Pastor Zakkir and his team into a separate cell.
 
And he continued to watch them. One night, as soon as he heard them praying, the officer entered their quarters. The gospel workers’ initial fear turned to wonder as he walked unthreateningly towards them and sat down. He then opened up about his own life. He had studied at a western university, he explained, and while there, had many Christian friends. Through their influence, he learned about the sacrifice of Jesus and had even accepted Him as his personal savior. He attended worship and prayer services with his Christian buddies and had numerous experiences with God at the time.

But on returning to his homeland after studies, he joined the government services and lost all Christian fellowship. He did however still begin his day reading the bible and secretly prayed to Jesus both morning and night.

Now, he eagerly joined with the evangelists in prayer. He asked each of them to share their testimonies, which they of course did. The men continued in worship and prayer till dawn. From then on, the officer interceded with them every night. With his help the prisoners in the team's previous cell continued their prayers as well.
 
Since the new, secretly-Christian officer held sway in higher circles within the prison system, he took the initiative in securing their release from jail, with one condition: they must leave their native land.

Agreeing to this, the evangelists were freed from jail several days ago. Before departing, Pastor Zakkir asked two of the prisoners to lead in regular prayer services in the jail, as the Lord Himself would lead him. The Christian prison officer offered his full support to this. 

Worshippers in an underground church

Worshippers in an underground church

The officer then made arrangements for Pastor Zakkir and his brave team of seven to leave the country. They are now safe with Bibles for Mideast pastors in another region, and continuing ministry there.

Please pray for them and the entire ministry, all ministers and believers of Bibles for Mideast and the ALG Church, and the ministry as a whole. Pastor Zakkir and his team also want to sincerely thank all who prayed for them over these challenging yet God-ordained seven months.

Indian state laws make converting to Christianity increasingly dangerous

Last week, two Bibles for Mideast pastors were attacked by Hindu radicals in north India. The pastors, both converts from Hinduism, led a house church in the region. A group of people entered the church, demanding they discontinue all meetings and services.  The pastors refused, so two days later were brutally attacked. Pastor Stephen of Bibles for Mideast reports that the local government and police apparently fully supported the attackers.

India’s governing party, the BJP, continues to push forward in its stated Hindutva ideology, or the 'Hinduisation' of India. With power at both national and state levels, their philosophy basically holds that the nation can be cohesive and workable only by maintaining the beliefs, tenets and culture of one religion—Hinduism.

The Indian state of Jharkhand just last week joined five other states (Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat) in passing an anti-conversion law.

While dubbed the ‘Religious Freedom Bill 2017’, it is anything but. The new law bans people from attempting to convert others "by use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means," with punishments including fines of up to 100,000 rupees (US$1,600) and four years in prison. It also states that a person converting willingly must give Jharkhand’s Deputy Commissioner details of the time, place and name of the person administering the conversion.

"This is very unfortunate for the people of Jharkhand," said the Rev. Dr. Man Maish Ekka, a member of the Jharkhand Sadbhavana Munch, a local religious freedom forum. "This is not just an attack on Christians, but is an attack on the religious freedom that the constitution gives to the very citizens of this country.”

The Indian government’s pro-Hindu stance has left it unwilling to tackle Hindu extremism     [Photograph: Str/AFP/Getty Images]

The Indian government’s pro-Hindu stance has left it unwilling to tackle Hindu extremism   [Photograph: Str/AFP/Getty Images]

William Stark of International Christian Concern pointed out that Hindu radicals have taken advantage of similar laws in other states to harass and intimidate the country's minority Christian population.

"These laws are widely abused by Hindu radicals due to the legal ambiguity within the laws themselves. Often, these laws provide an easy excuse for radicals to attack Christian leaders with impunity. One simply needs to claim the pastor was forcefully converting an individual following an assault,” Stark explained.

"As a result, instead of the pastor's assailants being arrested, it's the assailed pastor who is arrested by police following an attack.”

As this ministry and many others have experienced and reported, harassment and threats on Christians in India in the first six months of 2017 have been the highest since the country’s independence (report on increasing persecution of Christians in India from Open Doors USA here). Extremists have tortured and killed believers and vandalized and demolished churches, some from Bibles for Mideast.

The anti-conversion laws of course make it extremely difficult and dangerous to talk about and share the Christian faith.

“It's based on the idea that conversion by force should be made illegal,” pointed out Andrew Boyd of Release International.  “I think everyone would agree that conversion by force would be useless."

"But actually, if you preach about heaven, then it's considered to be bribery. If you speak about hell, it's considered to be a threat. If you offer any kind of Christian charity, then it's regarded also as bribery.”

In many of the places Bibles for Mideast missionaries live and work, severe persecution from both Muslims and Hindus remains an increasingly harsh reality.

Please pray for all of our pastors, missionaries, churches and believers. As regular visitors to this site would know, Pastor Paul, director of Bibles for Mideast, has himself been the victim of threats and assaults by both Hindu and Muslim extremists. He is still recovering from a stoning attack which happened several months ago in a country neighboring India (URGENT call to fast and pray for Pastor Paul, director of Bibles for Mideast). He continues to improve and hopes to be back working in several weeks.