Strength to Stand Groups
Thanks to your support, Christian women in Egypt have been able to strengthen one another throughout the Covid-19 crisis. Initially as the Covid-19 pandemic began to take hold many of the normal activities of our Strength to Stand (S2S) women’s groups in Egypt came to an abrupt halt.
Regular gatherings to train and equip team members had to be stopped, along with the regular visits to families in their homes. This deprived vulnerable Christian women of one of their primary support mechanisms. However, over time ways have been found to reconnect safely with these precious women, and we have recently heard how many have been helped practically through the crisis – even growing in their trust in the Lord through these challenging times.
Practical help and advice have been given by the facilitators to women such as Mariam, who lost her husband very early in the pandemic. Deprived of the income he brought in, her Strength to Stand group quickly helped her to start a small project using her sewing skills to make and sell face-masks!
Another active S2S member, Gehan, was infected with the virus early on and quickly lost her strength and felt helpless. Her group facilitators quickly put together a plan. After getting her to a medical centre to be examined, they made sure her drugs were safely delivered to her home and helped her to isolate. Thankfully, after a short period of time she started to get well. She says she has learned a great lesson about how God is always there for His people, and how He brings other members of His Body to provide help and support at the right time.
Thanks to your support, Release International stands with persecuted Christians in Egypt:
- Helping to disciple believers from a Muslim background
- Providing food for poor families during the Covid-19 crisis
- Empowering vulnerable Christian women through our Strength to Stand groups
Support for believers from a Muslim background
Christians are estimated to make up about 2.5 per cent of Pakistan’s mainly Muslim population. In recent years the Christian minority has experienced increasing discrimination and persecution. There have been a number of attacks on Christians in rural areas and others have been accused under Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws. Christian women, in particular, have experienced all kinds of abuse, including rape and kidnapping.
In such an environment it is extremely difficult for those who come to faith in Christ from a Muslim background (such as ‘Peter’ (pictured). Many have had to go into hiding, in the face of threats from their local community – even from their families. One Christian convert has not seen her family for 11 years, and said that if she went back to her community she would be killed. She told Release that at times it felt like she was “living in a prison”.
One of our partners in Pakistan runs a ministry that supports those who have converted to Christianity from Islam. The team regularly visits these new believers, with the aim of strengthening them and supporting them, both practically and spiritually.
Because some of these Christians live in isolation our partner brings them together to have fellowship with one another and to be strengthened in their faith. Many of these believers find it hard to obtain employment and so struggle to make ends meet. Release staff and volunteers have seen for themselves the difficulties some of these believers face. However, in the midst of their struggles and difficulties these believers continue to trust in the Lord and to find their hope in him.
WHAT YOUR SUPPORT ACHIEVES
It costs approximately £17,600 a year to support the pastoral work among believers from a Muslim background in Pakistan.
India is a country where Christians have experienced growing persecution over the past two decades, at the hands of a radical Hindu nationalist movement. The country has a secular constitution which, in theory, grants freedom of worship and witness – but this is not always upheld in practice.
Hindu extremists have been open and violent in opposing the church, particularly in rural areas and where new gospel initiatives are taking place. There have been cases of pastors being murdered, and many more have been beaten up and seen property damaged or destroyed. Pastors are also frequently accused of ‘forcibly’ converting people to Christianity – a tactic intended to intimidate, and to hinder gospel work.
Our partner organisation in India runs several one-day conferences throughout the year, for pastors living in sensitive areas where persecution has been rife. These conferences draw together, typically, two or three hundred pastors for a day of teaching, fellowship and prayer. The aims of the conference are to encourage, inform, unite and empower the pastors; to help them understand their rights under Indian law and, above all, to give them solid biblical teaching on persecution. Release staff have had the opportunity to contribute to the latter over the years, and have witnessed first hand what an encouragement these events are to pastors serving the Lord in difficult – and often isolated – situations.
WHAT YOUR SUPPORT ACHIEVES
It costs approximately £1,500 to fund a single pastors’ conference. This includes helping the pastors with travel costs and providing a midday meal.
“I was very encouraged by the teaching from 1 Peter at the conference. Whatever happens, we will continue with what we were called to do.” – Pastor Nagaraju, speaking after a Pastors’ Conference.
Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan
Enabling outreach and discipleship through media
In Afghanistan and the northern tribal areas of Pakistan the intimidation of Christians is ever present. A close association of Islam with nationalism has led to frequent attacks on Christians – be they converts, ethnic Christians or Christian workers.
If converts are discovered there is the risk that they will be killed. Anyone doing Christian work in this area, including expatriates and their children, are also at great risk.
Believers are few in number and many of those who have come to faith have on-going links to someone from the west who provides pastoral support. Unfortunately this can lead to the falling away of individuals and fledgling Christian churches if the western pastoral support dries up. Encouraging indigenous Christian leadership in the church continues to be a major challenge.
Our partners support the local church, both with outreach, and working alongside persecuted believers. This includes the development and distribution of Christian materials (whether in print form, or in audio and visual formats), intended to help believers stand firm and grow in a very difficult environment.
It is an exciting time as more local people are becoming involved in the work. The daily radio broadcasts are also streamed on the internet and are suitable for mobile phones. This ministry received more than 1,500 unique calls in 2016, with many people calling multiple times. Nearly 5,000 follow-up calls were made and the follow up team is in regular contact with 500-600 people. Those producing and speaking on the programmes are from Pakistan and Afghanistan, which is a great step forward. Five websites established by the ministry have been visited 29,000 times and many Bibles and portions of Scripture have been produced and distributed.
Nearly 5,000 people are receiving scriptural encouragement via text or memory cards for mobile phones (which contain evangelistic, teaching and discipleship material). The demand for material is at a level not seen previously.
Supporting pastors and Christian workers
Central Asia (the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) is the vast area between the Caspian Sea and China, with Russia to the north and Afghanistan to the south.
Churches are raided and Christians are arrested – especially if they are meeting in homes because they cannot get their church registered. Pastors have been prosecuted for allowing children to attend their meetings, and have been fined, imprisoned, and had their activities banned. Promotion of their faith can result in prosecution and even imprisonment, while Bibles and Christian literature are confiscated and burnt.
‘People who become Christians are forced out of society and face many problems at work,’ says pastor Anton, from Tajikistan. He described a teenager who became a Christian. When his family found out, they locked him in his house and beat him. ‘They made him lie on a cold floor for months,’ said Anton. ‘I praise the Lord that he gave him strength not to give up on Jesus. Eventually he managed to escape.’
This project supports 22 Christian workers across the region. It has been running for over 15 years. They lead churches which are generally too poor to support them. Many of them have part-time jobs, and Release’s gifts supplement their income to make their ministry possible.
They regularly report how non-Christian neighbours in trouble turn to them and find wonderful answers to prayer which lead them to put their trust in Jesus and become his followers. These new believers then need to be built up in their faith, and the money from Release can help to provide Bibles, Christian literature and study materials.
WHAT YOUR SUPPORT ACHIEVES
£2,000 would cover our support for one of these Christian workers for a whole year.
The long-term support is a great encouragement to them and enables a consistent Christian witness in hostile environments.