One of the first main news stories of 2019 has been about an 18-year-old Saudi woman who renounced her religion and has had to flee her country and family to seek refuge in Australia. Although women’s rights are a global issue, it is especially a problem within the Middle East. This story has brought home the real dangers that women in the Middle East are in just for asking for basic human rights – freedom of travel and freedom of religion.Read More
Reaching people where they are
There's a reason we use online media to reach the people of the Middle East. The MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region has some of the highest internet usage rates in the world, with 4 in 10 MENA nationals watching online videos daily!
We found a very useful infographic (keep scrolling!) which gives a great overview of online video consumption in the region. We hope it inspires you that our online media really can make a difference - it's truly reaching people where they are.
Just some of our current online video content includes:
- Arabian Dawn - This is our video testimony series by Gulf believers from a Muslim background. These testimonies have been viewed millions of times in the region and have sparked many conversations.
- Future Leaders videos - Trainees on our Future Leaders course created short films on current topics such as sexual harassment and loving your neighbour. These have been shared on Facebook and have now been viewed tens of thousands of times.
- Nisa'a women's project - We create online video content for our highly popular Nisa'a women's website, creating shareable content to teach women about their equality and worth. The Nisa'a website has around 60,000 monthly views and over 360,000 likes on Facebook!
As you read through the infographic below, here are some ways you can pray for the Middle East:
- Thank God for the development of the Internet! Whilst it can be used for great harm, especially by extremist groups such as ISIS, it can also be used for great good - by giving us the unique opportunity to communicate to people who may otherwise be unreachable. It also enables people to ask questions and find online communities in relative anonymity, which has great potential for those who may otherwise never meet a Christian. Thank God that people are coming to him through online media.
- Thank God that organisations like Middle East Media are making the most of high internet usage in the region to reach straight into people's homes and hearts in a relevant and accessible way. Pray that we would be able to keep up with technological developments to reach as many people as possible.
- Pray for internet users in the region, that whilst online they would come across Christian media like ours and that it would start them on a journey of questioning and seeking.
- Pray that our filmmaking staff would be given sustained creativity to create videos which truly inspire people and bring about change in society.
Infographic by- GO Gulf Web Design Abu Dhabi
Becoming a believer in the Gulf often carries a huge price tag... and yet, people continue to come to Christ! Please join us in praying for these bold believers as they risk everything - their families, jobs, homes, and even their lives - for Jesus.
Many believers from a Muslim background are involved in our On Bended Knee project - a video series of prayers, poems and prose by and for the people of the Gulf. Each one of these believers has a powerful story to tell.
One such new believer is Mark (not his real name), an elderly gentleman in his 70s. He wanted to wear a cross necklace to display his newfound faith, but couldn't find a cross big enough... so he went to the only church in his city, bought a cross keyring, and now wears it proudly around his neck every day! Despite the risks of being openly Christian in a Muslim society, he sits in his local cafe wearing his cross necklace and and waits for people to strike up conversations with him about it.
Pray for new believers in the Gulf:
- Thank God that people are coming to faith across the Arabian Peninsula and that they are taking huge risks to do so.
- Please pray for the new believers we are in contact with, most of whom have had to make huge sacrifices like fleeing their homes and families. Pray that God would be close to them and strengthen them.
- Thank God for the boldness of believers like Mark, and for the impact they are having on those around them.
- Please pray for the On Bended Knee video project. We have filmed several episodes now, including a powerful poem in the Omani Arabic dialect. Poetry is an important part of Arab culture, so we hope these videos will show that becoming a Christian doesn't mean a loss of cultural identity (a common misconception).
- Pray for the families of these new believers, who are often the main source of persecution. Please pray that they too would come to Jesus.
You can read more about what it's like to follow Jesus in the Gulf in the latest issue of Prayer & Praise, out now. This also includes an update on Basma, our Gulf producer who had to flee her family after she became a Christian. Read more >
For an alternative perspective on what it's like to follow Jesus in the Gulf, you may enjoy this episode from our I Believe, But... series.
In this episode, a Gulf believer from a Muslim background struggles with pride, because believers from a Christian background make him feel like he is better than them for the sacrifice he has made and the risk he has taken!
Watch as our hosts explain the meaning of grace, and how it counteracts pride: "For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast." - Ephesians 2:9
Please join us in urgently praying for Egypt and its Christian community following two attacks on Coptic churches on Palm Sunday yesterday.
At least 27 people were killed and many more wounded in an explosion inside a church in the Nile Delta city of Tanta. A further 16 people were killed outside a church in Alexandria by a suicide bomber, including police officers who stopped the bomber from entering the church. ISIS have claimed responsibility for the bombings.
Both churches were packed full of worshippers for Palm Sunday. These attacks were the latest in a worrying rise in violence against the Coptic Christians of Egypt, including a bombing at the Coptic Cathedral in December, which was the deadliest attack on Egypt's Christian minority for many years.
The Prince of Peace
The story of Palm Sunday is one of Jesus as the Prince of Peace, riding peacefully into Jerusalem despite his full knowledge of the suffering He is about to face. As you pray for Egypt, please pray that Jesus the Prince of Peace would reign over the whole of Egypt and every Egyptian, to bring unity, healing and mercy in the face of suffering.
Here are some more ways Egyptian Christians have asked us to pray, via Middle East Concern:
- For God's comfort for those who lost loved ones and for full recovery of the injured
- For comfort and encouragement for the wider Christian community and for God's protection over his church in Egypt and over other targets of these kinds of attacks
- That the perpetrators of these violent attacks and the instigators behind them will be found and brought to justice
Thank you so much for your prayers for this situation, and your ongoing intercession for the Middle East and its people.
Please join us in praying for Dina*, a woman who volunteers with our Gulf team at their filmmaking workshops in schools. Dina is a Muslim, but has been questioning her faith and is becoming more and more receptive to the Gospel. Our Gulf team sent us this story, and have asked us to pray for her:
"Dina has volunteered with us for 9 years now, and in that time has become more and more open about discussing her faith. She wants to know what's different about our team, as she senses a joy and peace in them which she doesn't have.
"Usually Dina drives to the workshops in her own car, but on one particular day she decided to come along to the training in the same car as us. As she got in the car, she noticed a gift wrapped package - it contained a Bible our director Wayne had bought for someone as a gift 9 months before, but hadn’t given them yet.
"Since she was curious about it, Wayne unwrapped the Bible and handed it to her. At first, she was unsure if she could hold it, since in her own religion it is forbidden for anyone from a different religion to touch their holy book. One of our staff members, who is from a Muslim background, told her that in Christianity anyone can hold and read the Bible!
"As she flicked through the Bible, Dina said, “I have always wanted to get more information about your religion, but it's impossible to just go and buy a Bible.” Just before we arrived at our destination, she asked if she could borrow it. Of course, Wayne told her she could keep it!
"We don’t know for sure whether she’s been reading it, but since that day she has asked members of our team to pray with her during a difficult time in her life, and has discussed with them her frustrations with her faith."
Please join us in praying for Dina and our Gulf team:
Pray that Dina would feel curious to read the Bible, and that God would speak to her clearly through it. Please pray that she would continue to seek God and that he would reveal himself to her.
Thank God for the providing Dina with a Bible through our team - God knew she had been curious about reading the Bible, so placed one directly in her path through seeming coincidences!
Thank God for our Gulf team, that they are being bold in their witness and are open to opportunities to speak about Him. Their work isn't just about producing fantastic media, but is about showing Jesus to everyone they work with along the way.
*Not her real name or photograph.
Yesterday marked International Women's Day 2017, a celebration of women around the world and a commemoration of the movement for women's rights. Today, we'd like to ask you to pray for our work with women in North Africa - take a look at this short video as an introduction:
Something that has particularly struck me about our women's work is that it promotes women supporting other women. Through our Nisa'a website, North African women are writing articles for their fellow North African women. When we recently wanted to create short films for our Nisa'a website, we invited the readers to submit their own scripts, which we then made into films. Many of our women's training courses, day events and media departments are also run by women, and we seek to train key women in the community to pass on their training to others.
Sadly, this works the other way too - often the discrimination women face, including child marriage and human trafficking, can be at the hands of other women. Many have internalised the dominant view that they are inferior to men, and actually we have found some women even get upset when they are told they are equal to a man! This story, from one of our recent human trafficking seminars, illustrates the way women's deeply held views can sometimes be an obstacle to their own freedom:
"In our trafficking project, our female trainer goes to the villages and sits with very poor and illiterate mothers and grandmothers. She attempts to shake their deeply rooted cultural beliefs, and challenges the practice of forcing young girls to get married... She does an amazing job. Sometimes these workshops go very smoothly, but other times she gets all sorts of opposition. One time a group of village women totally rejected what she was saying and stood up and left suddenly! These mothers have a genuinely deep belief that they are doing the right thing - they consider themselves to be protecting their girls from the unknown by getting them a husband who will protect them. What a lie, right?!
Anyway, in one of these workshops an old mother at the end of the day came up to our trainer with crying eyes, pat her on the shoulder and said "if only you had come to us one month ago, I wouldn't have forced my young daughter to marry." This broke our hearts, because we were late and could have saved this girl if we had known or if we were there before the decision was made. How many other girls can our team help save if we had the resources?"
Please pray for our women's work:
- Pray for the staff in our North Africa team, who have a real heart for giving women a voice of their own and showing them their value to God. A lot of our work is created by women and for women, which makes it even more impactful. Pray that our staff would know what is on God's heart for the women of North Africa and the Middle East, and that they would continue to communicate boldly.
- Please pray for every woman who comes across our media, reads our Nisa'a website, watches our videos, or attends our training courses! Pray that God would be speaking into their hearts through everything we do, and that he would reveal himself to them.
- Thank God for the work are teams are doing with women, particularly in rural areas, to challenge the dominant cultural view of women and their worth, and to prevent human trafficking and child marriage. Pray that they would start to get through to these women and that attitudes on these key issues would start to change.
- Thank God that we are already seeing a shift in heart attitudes among the women we are reaching - that they are realising their true worth and equality.
The hold of ISIS may finally be beginning to crumble in the Middle East. Over the past few weeks, ISIS has faced losing its key cities of Mosul and Raqqa, and yesterday the Syrian town of Al-Bab finally fell to Syrian rebels. The militant group has lost significant territory over the past year, and now that the “caliphate” is shrinking, thousands of fighters are reported to be leaving the cause.
But if defeated militarily in Iraq and Syria, will this really spell the end for ISIS?
There is growing international concern that if defeated in Syria and Iraq, ISIS will disperse to many other countries and form a global underground network. Furthermore, Al Jazeera reported yesterday that “perhaps up to 30 or 40 million people across the Arab World express sympathy, support or approval for ISIS and its actions,” which means there are clearly deeper issues which need to be dealt with in order for ISIS to be fully defeated.
As well as praying for the imminent end of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, we can also pray for solutions to the underlying causes behind ordinary Arabs showing sympathy for ISIS.
In yesterday's Al Jazeera piece, writer Rami G Khouri states that even if ISIS is dismantled, support for them is likely to increase if nothing is done to "improve the degrading conditions that have pushed millions of desperate Arabs to turn to ISIS as a last resort.”
Many of the factors that drive Arabs to support ISIS aren’t in fact religious, but are based on socioeconomic concerns such as lack of jobs and opportunities, low living standards, disillusionment with governments at home and abroad, lack of personal freedoms and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
“The most common sentiment among many who join or like ISIS is a desire to transform their life of vulnerability, humiliation, weakness and suffering into a new life defined by strength, purpose, direction and pride,” Khouri writes.
So how can we pray?
- Thank God for the defeats ISIS has already suffered in Iraq and Syria, including the restoration of Iraqi Christians to their homes and churches in Mosul.
- Pray that ISIS will be totally defeated in Iraq and Syria, to enable people to return to their homes and lands in safety.
- Please pray for the millions of people across the Arab world who show sympathy towards ISIS. Pray that they would see that militancy isn’t the answer to their problems and that it won’t give them the purpose and strength they need – that can only be found in Jesus!
- Thank God for our teams in the Middle East who continue to reach out to the communities around them with a message of God’s love and hope, and who are working to make their societies better and fairer places.
- Pray that leaders would have wisdom to deal with the root causes of people’s support for ISIS, so that there won’t only be short-term fixes but lasting peace and change.
Do you have any more ideas for how we can pray for Syria, Iraq and the fall of ISIS? Let us know in the comments below!
This week, the UK government announced that it would be ending its commitment to take in up to 3,000 child refugees under the 'Dubs' scheme, after taking in only 350 children.
Meanwhile, across the pond, President Trump recently signed an executive order known as the 'Muslim ban', to bar travellers to the US from seven Middle Eastern countries including Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The order even included Syrian refugees, who were to be barred indefinitely.
In both cases, human beings have been reduced to numbers on a page, a political problem to be dealt with. Instead of being seen as human people, they are seen as a mass of the ‘other’ – those who speak the ‘wrong’ language, were born in the ‘wrong’ country, whose skin is the ‘wrong’ colour, and are a threat to ‘our’ way of life. Is this how God sees people?
Hearteningly, people are rising up to resist these policies of excluding the stranger and to affirm our common humanity. Thousands of Americans assembled at airports across the US to protest the travel ban, and lawyers and judges were quick to take legal action. As of today, the travel ban has now been overturned by the US courts.
And here in the UK, people are already speaking out against the decision not to accept any more child refugees – including many of our Christian leaders:
As well as praying against these worrying trends and the spirit of disunity and suspicion, we can also advocate for those who don’t have a voice. Why not write to your MP to ask them to speak up and support allowing more child refugees into the UK, and/or sign the UNICEF petition?
Now more than ever, we must remember Jesus’ words – that we should welcome the vulnerable, the poor and the stranger as though we were welcoming Jesus himself.
How can we respond?
- Pray for world leaders such as Donald Trump and Theresa May, that they would have ears to hear their people, and show compassion for refugees.
- Thank God for those who are speaking up for justice on behalf of the people of the Middle East, like our Christian leaders, the US court, and thousands of ordinary people. Pray that we, like them, would have the courage to challenge injustice and stand up for the marginalised.
- Thank God that the ban has been stayed and that people from Middle Eastern countries are now being allowed in to the US again.
- Pray for the refugee children who are waiting to hear if they will be allowed into the UK – that the decision would be made quickly to let them in, and that God’s peace would be with them in the meantime. Pray also for their safety, as they are currently extremely vulnerable to human trafficking and sexual violence.
- Ask your MP to join the government debate on reuniting refugee children with their families. Click here to email your MP via the Unicef website – it only takes a few seconds!
- You can also sign Unicef's petition to ask the government to speed up the process for child refugees trying to join their families in the UK - click here to find out more.
Over 4.8 million refugees have now fled Syria to neighbouring countries, and around 120,000 of those have made their way to the country in which we work. We want to support these individuals in any way we can. In 2016, we ran a Blossoms art & drama therapy workshop specifically for Syrian refugee women, to give them the tools to express their feelings, fears and thoughts in a safe environment.
Having lost their homeland, homes and even their families, many refugees have severe psychological trauma which is largely going untreated. We welcomed 28 Syrian refugee women to participate in an emotional intelligence workshop - part of our Blossoms project to provide psychological training, art and media therapy to women to bring about emotional healing in a healthy and constructive way.
The first day of the workshop involved a talk on emotional intelligence, covering topics such as parenting and marriage styles, how to channel fear and anger in healthy ways, and how to challenge negative thought patterns. On the second day, the women participated in art and drama therapy, giving a safe environment for them to explore, address and deal with personal and societal difficulties like grief and anxiety. This included drama games, role-playing and using art to express feelings.
Many of the women had been through extremely traumatic experiences and carried a great sense of loss, yet our trainers found that the women felt great comfort and relief in drawing and acting out their feelings. Most of their paintings depicted a beautiful new Syria, where they could return to their homes and families once again.
Some of the women had their children with them as they had nowhere else to leave them for the day. The children were able to participate in the art therapy too - they were so excited to hold colouring pencils as they hadn't seen them for such a long time! The women recommended that in the future we also run these workshops for children, as they had appreciated the chance to express themselves and their feelings.
- For the women and children who attended the course, that God would continue to use the experience to bring healing in their lives.
- That we would be able to run more courses like this, as there is clearly a huge need for this kind of training.
Further reading: If you're interested in the use of art therapy with refugees, you may also enjoy this article on Al Jazeera on an artist who recently spent time with Syrian refugee children in Lebanon - it's unrelated to our work, but is a fascinating insight into how art therapy can be a powerful tool for change.
When I see the intense challenges Christians face in the Middle East, I can't help but reflect on my own faith. Many Christians, particularly those of us in the West, take our religious freedoms for granted - like being able to own a Bible (or several!), freely attend a house group or Sunday church service, talk openly about our faith without fear, post Bible quotes to our Facebook walls and listen to Christian music.
How many of us would still try to meet with other Christians if we might get beaten up, lose our jobs or even get killed for doing so?
Open Doors have released their annual World Watch List for 2017, showing the countries around the world where Christians are at the highest risk of persecution - and most countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have made the list.
Persecution in the region ranges from state-sanctioned killings and violence against Christians, to destruction of church buildings, ostracisation by friends and family members and discrimination in education and employment.
The MENA countries where persecution is highest include Sudan, Yemen, Syria and Iraq.
We know from our work, particularly in the Gulf, that Christian converts from Islam face extreme measures - often at the hands of their family and friends rather than the state. This is why we take such great care to conceal the identities of believers who give their testimonies in our Arabian Dawn series, as many of them are living out their faith in secret and would be at risk of violence and isolation if their true identity was revealed. We recently filmed the testimony of a Kurdish believer who bravely decided to show his true face and voice in the video, and subsequently he had to flee the country he was living in.
We must always remember the amazing, terrifying and traumatic sacrifices others make for their faith, and pray for them, support them and advocate for them in any way we can.
How to respond:
- Pray for individuals who are being persecuted, that they would remain strong in their faith despite persecution, and that in cases where they are isolated, they would find access to online media like I Believe But and Arabian Dawn. Pray that they would experience the love, peace and joy of God amidst their sufferings.
- Support charities like Middle East Media who are providing resources for Christians suffering persecution. Many believers, particularly in Islamic countries, are unable to meet together physically, so virtual and online support systems become even more vital. Would you consider giving to us to support our programmes for the Gulf such as I Believe But, so we can continue to equip, disciple and encourage secret Arab believers?
- Pray for the nations of Sudan, Syria, Iraq and Yemen where persecution is at its most extreme. Pray that 2017 would be a year of peace rather than escalated conflict. Pray especially for Christians of Iraq and Syria, that they would be able to return to their homes in safety and that their countries could start to be rebuilt.
- Read up on the realities of persecution around the world - Open Doors has a range of resources on the persecuted church, including this excellent report on persecution and global displacement which makes a fascinating, terrifying, encouraging and sobering read.
- Pray for Christians in places where there isn't persecution, that they would see the witness of the persecuted church and take their own faith more seriously.