Meet 1,000 Andrew Brunsons still in prison for their faith

October 12, 2019 by Lindy Lowry in Stories of Persecution

October 2019 marks the one-year anniversary of U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson’s release from Turkey. On October 12, 2018, the news that millions of Christians had prayed and waited for filled the headlines: Andrew Brunson was free. The pastor from North Carolina who spent 25 years leading a church in Izmir, Turkey—the last two of those years from a Turkish prison cell—had been acquitted of false charges of espionage and terrorism.

U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson spent two years in prison for his faith.

During his imprisonment and ongoing trial (it was paused and continued four times), Pastor Brunson, his wife Norine and their family were at the center of millions of prayers, numerous news articles, and even tweets and diplomatic efforts from members of the U.S. government. With each development in Brunson’s case, Open Doors mobilized thousands, maybe millions, of prayers for the Brunsons on the Andrew Brunson Prayer Wall on our website and through social media.

We rejoiced at the news of his release—and still do.

But this anniversary is also a stark reminder that thousands of Christians, including many leaders in the church, remain imprisoned for their commitment to follow Jesus. Yet unlike Pastor Brunson, reporters aren’t writing about these believers; politicians aren’t posting about them; and the worldwide Church isn’t praying for them by name.

There are thousands of Andrew Brunsons around the world, imprisoned because they follow Jesus. But their names and stories are virtually unknown.

Because they carry the name of Jesus

In many of the 50 countries on Open Doors’ World Watch List, Christians are arrested and imprisoned for their faith in Christ. At Open Doors, we get almost daily reports from our field that a man, woman or child has been arrested or sentenced because they carry the name of Jesus. Almost every day, we hear of another family that will be forever changed through a parent’s imprisonment.

In many countries, such as Iran, China and North Korea, Christians are considered “political prisoners,” which often carries a longer sentence in brutal conditions. Morad*, a former church leader in Iran, describes his experience in prison; he spent the first week in solitary confinement. His story offers glimpses of the physical brutality and mental isolation that Christians imprisoned for their faith must endure.

“It was just me, the door and three walls,” he says. “Sometimes the guards brought me tea, but they didn’t let me out to go to the bathroom [a torture tactic].”

In the six months he was there, Morad saw 20 people executed. “They announced it through the prison loudspeakers,” he says. “Some of them had been in my cell; it was heartbreaking to see the fear of death in their eyes. Prison was a terrible, terrible place.”

While it’s impossible to introduce you to all of the persecuted Christians either in prison or awaiting trial today, we wanted to tell you about a few who represent thousands of believers. Because of where they live and that country’s laws or cultural mores, they have been hunted and jailed.

Meet Fatemeh Mohammadi

Fatemeh Mohammadi is now serving a six-month sentence in Evin Prison. Photo courtesy of Article 18.

Iran is one of the worst offenders of religious freedom, with the state seeking out Christians and arresting whole house churches. Meet  Fatemeh Mohammadi, a leader in the underground church in Iran who was recently sent to Iran’s Evin Prison in Tehran (known as the country’s “torture factory”).

She is 19 years old and prior to this sentence, she had already spent six months in prison. Her crime? Being a member of a house church in Tehran. She is also an activist for Christians, boldly speaking out about believers’ rights, including the cruel treatment she received in prison.

Earlier this year, the bold young woman wrote an open letter to Iran’s Minister of Intelligence, accusing him of violating the constitution by targeting Christians. In her letter, she accused him of violating Article 23 of Iran’s constitution, which states that “no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief.”

Fatemeh also questioned why Christians are prevented from “talking about their beliefs with their peers,” while Muslims can freely engage in “propaganda” at schools, universities, mosques and shrines.

Meet Shagufta Kausar and Shafat Masi

While Asia Bibi no longer occupies the prison cell she lived in for almost a decade, another Christian woman, also accused of blasphemy, has literally taken Bibi’s place. Meet Shagufta Kausar and her husband, Shafat Masi. The couple has been on death row in Pakistan since 2014 for allegedly texting blasphemous messages. They have been waiting for five years for their appeal to be heard by the Lahore High Court. Kausar, a mother of four, is reportedly imprisoned in the same cell in Multan Women jail, where Bibi was kept for many years.

Meet Pastors David Lin, John Cao, Wang Yi and five unnamed others

Pastor Wang Yi, founder of Early Rain Covenant Church, remains in prison since his arrest in December 2018.

As China continues its crackdown on Christians, arrests and imprisonment are part of the reality for many Christians, especially church and ministry leaders,. Two U.S, pastors, David Lin and John Cao, are currently imprisoned in China. Lin is serving a life sentence, and Cao’s conviction was recently upheld.

U.S. Pastor David Linn with his daughter in 1984. He remains in a Chinese prison.

Lin was placed under house arrest in China in 2006 when he tried to get government permission to run a ministry in China. He was jailed and then reportedly convicted under fraudulent charges.

For 12 years, Lin was allowed a Bible, and he even started a ministry within the prison. However, n December 2018 his Bible was sent to the United States and a few months later, Lin phoned his family and requested assistance in getting out of the prison. His health is now deteriorating.

U.S. Pastor John Chao has been sentenced to seven years in a Chinese prison. His conviction was recently upheld.

Linn’s case closely resembles that of Greensboro, North Carolina-based Pastor John Cao, who was seized in March 2017 after he attempted to cross the border between China and Myanmar working for the education ministry he has run for 30+ years for minority children. He has since been sentenced to seven years in prison on an “organizing illegal border crossings” charge. He, too, is suffering from poor health. Reportedly, he has lost 50 pounds and is forbidden to have any visitors other than his attorneys.

Pastor Wang Yi and five elders of Early Rain Covenant Church remain in prison after last December’s raid on the church in Chengdu, followed by the arrests of Wang and five other leaders. Recently, Wang was charged with “illegal business activities” on top of “incitement to subvert state power.” His lawyer, Zhang Peihong, has reported that authorities have refused to let him meet with Pastor Wang. After Wang’s arrest in December 2018, church members released an open letter the pastor had written in September–giving instructions that it be publicized if he went missing for more than 48 hours.

In it, he wrote that the persecution of the church by the Chinese Communist regime is an “extremely evil crime” and that “the great mission of Christ requires our great resistance to the world.”

Meet 50,000 unknown believers imprisoned in North Korea

This photo, recently captured in an undisclosed location, offers a rare glimpse of a North Korean prisoner.

We could never reveal the names of any North Korean Christians who are living in conditions that have been described as equal to or worse than World War II-era concentration camps. But our ministry partners to North Korea estimate that there are at least 50,000 believers hidden in one of the country’s many labor camps or maximum security prisons (called a Kwan-li-so) where political prisoners (including Christians) are taken.

Ex-prisoners like Hannah* have shared horrific abuses, such as being caged and not allowed to stand up. Hea Woo* recalled being given a handful of rotten corn as a daily food ration. An unnamed prisoner (Prisoner 42) offered a vivid and detailed account of her time as a North Korean prisoner:

“In the camp, I work 12 hours a day. Sometimes more. Every day is just one long living nightmare. One day they will call me, and I won’t move. I will have died here in a North Korean prison. They will dispose of my body, and the first new prisoner that comes in will be ‘Prisoner 42.’ They will wear my clothes.”

Stand with persecuted believers

We believe Christian persecution is the issue of our time. Today, millions of believers around the world are suffering for our faith and they often feel alone and isolated. You can stand with your brorthers and sisters in Christ. The most effective way to come alongside them is by becoming a Frontline Partner and giving monthly to provide them with Bibles, ex-prisoner counseling, rebuilding churches and homes, emergency relief, trauma counseling, discipleship and so much more.

Become a Frontline Partner

Called to remember the prisoner

Just as Pastor Brunson said from his Izmir cell, “My greatest fear is I will be forgotten,” our incarcerated brothers and sisters share the same feelings. Open Doors has visited and ministered to enough ex-prisoners to know all too well that while believers like these demonstrate unimaginable perseverance and faith behind bars, they’re also suffering as they endure. They feel abandoned, depressed, oppressed. They are weary and crippled physically and emotionally.

But we can take comfort in knowing that our sovereign, omniscient and omnipotent God knows about every arrest, every conviction and every prison sentence, and every appeal won and lost. And that He has a plan our limited human view can’t comprehend. In the meantime, God has asked us to pray in these specific situations.

Writing in a time of great persecution for Christ followers who had lost property, been thrown into prison, were ostracized from their Jewish community, etc., the author of Hebrews offers a clear call to prayer for those who are suffering for the gospel:

“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Heb. 13:3).

And in Matthew 25:34-36, Jesus is clear that when we enter into the suffering of others, we are answering His call:

“Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.”

We also know, through conversations with ex-prisoners and our ministry partners, that the prayers of the worldwide church are like a nourishing lifeline—believers know they are being carried to the throne of God. We are called to intercede for one another, and when we do, God uses that obedience to strengthen both us and the prisoner.

We have numerous accounts from ex-prisoners and persecuted believers telling us that they sensed the Body of Christ praying for them in their prison cell—and that they drew strength from that knowledge, especially in the most difficult situations.

When we spoke with Mojtaba, he said he remembered feeling the prayers of the Body of Christ—and it gave him the strength to go on. “I am the fruit of prayers,” he says. “The most important thing you can do is pray.”

Saman*, also a house church leader before he was arrested and imprisoned in Iran, said that knowing the global Body of Christ is praying for him and knows his story has strengthened him.

“I am encouraged that you visit us, that my story is shared, and that people pray for me,” he says. “You can’t imagine how much it means to me to know I’m not alone in this.”

*representative photos and names used for security reasons.

Praying for imprisoned believers

Scripture tells us repeatedly that we will not always understand God’s ways. But we continue to pray even when things don’t make sense in our heads and hearts, trusting God and His wisdom—remembering that He is good.

  • Pray that prisoners experience the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit,
  • Ask God to give them supernatural endurance and courage, becoming bold witnesses to guards and other inmates.
  • Pray they walk in peace and talk in wisdom during interrogations.
  • Pray they will find physical healing and favor with guards as they request medical treatment.
  • Ask God to give them dreams and other ways to assure them their families are safe.
  • Pray that imprisoned Christians learn to pray for their persecutors and to see them as tools the enemy is using.
  • Pray that they will continue to pray each day, asking God to guide their steps and bring them closer to the heart of Christ.
  • Ask God to make a way for prisoners to have a Bible.
  • Pray they will be reminded of strengthening and comforting scriptures.
  • Pray that ultimately, prisoners will be released and allowed to return home.
  • Pray for peace and comfort for families awaiting appeal verdicts.
  • Pray with prisoners in Open Doors’ post-prison trauma counseling. Ask God to open their hearts and close their eyes to difficult memories that would keep them from recovery and healing.

 

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