By the time you read this article, several significant things will have taken place.
Ethiopia's general election had been postponed to Monday 21 June. Two diametrically opposed visions are in play: Prime Minister Dr Abiy's (a committed Ethiopian and Protestant Christian) vision of a strong, united, multi-ethnic, multi-religious Ethiopia versus the dream of ethno-nationalists who would dismantle Ethiopia along ethnic lines through widespread cleansing of minorities and causing gross insecurity nationwide. Those most at risk are the mostly Orthodox Christian ethnic Amhara, multitudes of whom have long lived as ethnic minorities outside of Amhara State.
The Algerian parliamentary election was due to take place on 12 June. The election was postponed from April, as Algerians continue to demand systemic structural change. Some are predicting that Islamists will win the election, but that is uncertain, among suggestions that pro-democracy forces may boycott the election.
In Iran a presidential election would have been held on 18 June. The ruling Guardian Council seeks to control this by hand-picking the candidates, making the election a sham. For both Algeria and Iran these elections will have consequences for Christians in those countries. However, let us remember that 'The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord' (Proverbs Chapter 16, verse 33 ESV) 'who works all things according to the counsel of his will' (from Ephesians Chapter 1, verse 11 ESV).
Meanwhile Christians remain imperiled in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Burkina Faso.
Pakistan’s blasphemy law seems to give license to powerful Islamic fundamentalists to harass and imprison Christians, using accusations that have no basis in truth and have not been verified by impartial authorities. Any attempts to amend the legislation have met with death threats, assassinations and destructive riots.
However, there has been a breakthrough! On 3 June 2021 the Lahore High Court accepted the appeal of Christians Shafqat Emmanuel (49) and his wife Shagufta Kausar (52), acquitting them of the charge of blasphemy. In prison since being falsely accused in 2013, the couple have been on death row since 2014.
Their appeal was handled by attorney Saif ul-Malook (who represented Asia Bibi). They urgently need trustworthy security, medical care and asylum overseas. Partially paralysed since 2004, Shafqat has spent the last eight years confined to a prison bed with minimal assistance or medical care. He is covered in painful bedsores and is seriously unwell; many feared he would die in prison. Separated from each other and their four children, Shafqat and Shagufta have suffered depression.
The European Union (EU) instituted the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) to help developing countries integrate into the world economy by removing import duties from products coming into the EU market from vulnerable developing countries.
In December 2017, the EU had taken a stand against injustice by warning Pakistan that its GSP+ Trade Agreement with the EU - enabling Pakistan to earn billions of dollars of trade income - would be at risk should Asia Bibi be denied justice. This moral stand highlighted the blasphemy law and secured justice for Asia Bibi and helped Shafqat and Shagufta. Determined to maintain its pressure on Pakistan, the EU passed a motion in April 2021 to review Pakistan's GPS+ trade status.
Let us give thanks to Almighty God for the justice received for this family and pray for peace and healing for them. Praise God for the courage and moral conviction displayed by the Justices who ruled rightly, despite threats and intimidation from Islamic fundamentalists. Surely this courage was a gift from God 'in answer to the prayers of many' (2 Corinthians Chapter 1, verse 11).
Give thanks also for the courage and faithfulness of attorney Saif ul-Malook who has defended accused and persecuted Christians despite protests against his work and threats on his life; may the Lord grant him the greatest gift and open his heart to receive the Gospel.
Give thanks also for the EU’s attempt to call out injustice in Pakistan, bringing it to the world stage.
While the US-led campaign from 2001 to 2021 achieved little in terms of enduring freedom, it opened a window of opportunity for Afghans to become Christians and do amazing things. Despite severe repression and persecution from the government, the Taliban and Muslim society, the number of Christians in Afghanistan was estimated to have grown to between 2000 and 3000 in 2013, an increase from a couple of hundred a decade earlier.
As Western troops withdraw, this window of opportunity will close. Afghans face the prospect of civil war and exploitation by outside interests such as Pakistan, Russia, Turkey and China. The biggest losers will be the Afghan people, in particular Afghan women and Christians.
This article from the University of Notre Dame gives an interesting and concise history of Christianity in Afghanistan, including a summary of the current situation and Christian responses to persecution. It stresses that unless Afghan Christians can leave the country and meet and worship freely, they must hide their identity. Bibles and any other printed material are forbidden.
Let us pray that God would give Afghan Christians all the wisdom and understanding they will need to stay ahead of - or be able to overcome - every evil scheme designed to silence, crush and eliminate the Afghan Church; may the Lord preserve his Church in Afghanistan. 'I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it' (Jesus, from Matthew 16:18 ESV).
Pray that more and more Afghan Muslims seek and find that better way - the way of Jesus Christ. 'For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.' John Chapter 3, verse 17 ESV
On Tuesday evening 18 May, Christians had gathered for a baptism in Burkina Faso's far north when gunmen stormed the celebration and opened fire. The attack took place in Adjarara, in Oudalan Province, close to the border with Mali. Islamic State and al-Qaeda operate in the area, but no group has claimed responsibility. Many people have reportedly fled the area.
On 20 May Islamic State released photos within its weekly Al-Naba newsletter purporting to show its men enacting hudud punishments - specifically amputations - in the market in Tin-Hama, Gao Region.
May our God comfort those who mourn; heal those who are wounded in body, mind and/or spirit; and provide the needs of all who look to him in faith or even just in desperation.
May God be an awakening and revealing light to Muslims and others who are struggling in darkness (John Chapter 8, verse 12); and a consuming fire to those who would bring bloodshed, suffering, repression and evil to Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and the wider Sahel region (Isaiah Chapter 59, verses 14-19).
May God grace the government of Burkina Faso - and especially President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré (a devout Catholic) - with all the wisdom and insight, conviction and courage, as well as the international support and assistance they need to turn back the battle (Isaiah Chapter 28, verses 5-6) in Burkina Faso, so that peace will be restored and liberty preserved.
Aira Chilcott is a retired secondary school teacher with lots of science andtheology under her belt. Aira is a panellist and editor for PSI and indulges inreading, bushwalking and volunteering at a nature reserve. Aira is married to Billand they have three adult sons.
Aira Chilcott's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/aira-chilcott.html