Jono Fox is the Assistant Coordinator for Thirteen Three. After studying at Youthworks College, Jono joined the team at Voice of the Martyrs in 2010.
Jono Fox recently travelled to Nigeria with Voice of the Martyrs to meet persecuted Christians. Jono will be sharing his experiences at this year’s Fearless events to help raise awareness and funds for Nigerian Christians.
We caught up with Jono recently to find out more about his trip and what life is like as a Christian in Nigeria.
Q: Tell us what you learned about the situation for Christians in Nigeria.
Life is incredibly hard in Nigeria. Many families struggle to put food on the table and there is poor access to clean water. Houses are not built with good materials and the roads are not well-maintained.
For Christians, the hardships are increased, especially in the north.
The Islamic militant group Boko Haram is trying to eliminate Christianity from northern Nigeria. Many Christians have been killed or maimed and many churches have been burned to the ground.
The violence against Christians is so frequent that it has become normal. If you are a Christian in northern Nigeria, you expect persecution.
Q: Can you tell us about one person you met who particularly encouraged your faith?
I was really challenged by what one of our Nigerian contacts, Yoney, said to me: “Christianity is only in the north because Christians remain there.”
Put yourself in the shoes of Nigerian Christians and imagine what it would be like if your friends were killed for their faith and your church was burned down. I know that I would want to move my family further to the south where it is safer for Christians.
But many of the pastors I met are convinced that God wants them to stay in the north to advance the Gospel. They truly believe that “to live is Christ and to die is gain” Philippians 1:21.
The courageous faith of these Nigerian pastors continues to be an inspiration to me.
Q: You gave out Thirteen Three wristbands to many persecuted Christians in Nigeria. Why did you do this? And how did they respond?
I met one pastor called Samuel whose church had been burned down by Islamic militants. I really wanted to encourage Pastor Samuel so I gave him a Thirteen Three wristband and told him, “The youth of Australia wear these wristbands to remember that they are bound with their persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. This year the youth of Australia will be praying for you and raising money to support Christians in Nigeria.”
Pastor Samuel put the wristband on immediately and had a huge smile on his face. He was so grateful for our support. A few hours later, Samuel came and asked me for more wristbands to encourage other pastors in the region.
This made me realise how important a simple gesture like wearing a wristband is to encourage persecuted Christians who often feel alone.
Q: You will be sharing your experiences from Nigeria at this year’s Thirteen Three Fearless youth events. What do you think Australian youth can learn from Nigerian Christians?
Most of us will probably never face the same persecution that Nigerian Christians face. They live in constant danger, and yet many say they are not afraid because they have Jesus.
Even though we live in safety and freedom, Australian Christian youth have many fears. Some are afraid of not belonging, others of being alone, of being teased or bullied. These fears can get in the way of living for and proclaiming Jesus.
My prayer is that through the Fearless events Australian youth will learn from Nigerian Christians to overcome their fears and “fearlessly make known the mystery of the Gospel” Ephesians 6:19.
In 2013, Thirteen Three will be running a series of youth events focusing on persecution of Christians in Nigeria.
If you are interested in hosting a Thirteen Three event in your local area, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to express your interest.
We would love to see you at a Thirteen Three event in 2013!
Jennifer Coleby is currently doing Work Experience with Thirteen Three.
Q: Jennifer, tell us a little bit about yourself.
A: I am 15 years old, and I live in Darlinghurst with my parents. I am in year 10 at Randwick Girls’ High School. My hobbies include reading, babysitting, skateboarding, annoying my older sister, playing sport and pretty much anything fun. I go to St Johns Anglican Darlinghurst and go to youth group at St Barnabas Broadway (yes, the church that burnt down!).
Q: How did you first find out about the persecuted church?
A: A couple at my church had a copy of Voice of the Martyrs’ free newsletter in their house. They encouraged me to read it and sign up to receive it. I did just that. I then ordered the books Tortured for Christ and Jesus Freaks.
When I was reading the stories of Christians in restricted nations I was amazed that my brothers and sisters were suffering so much!! I knew stories of people in the Bible like Abel, Daniel, Stephen and Paul who were persecuted, but I didn’t have any idea it was still going on today.
Q: How have you been challenged in your faith by the persecuted church?
A: A Christian man in Somalia was recently beheaded for his faith. There are Christians in prison right now in China, Pakistan and Vietnam. And in North Korea, you can be executed for following Jesus. There are more than 50 countries where it’s dangerous to be Christian. In many of these countries, owning a Bible is rare, so I am encouraged to read my Bible more to know God better.
I am also encouraged to stand up for Jesus at school and tell others about Him even if they laugh or say nasty things about me. I know God is with me and my persecuted brothers and sisters are facing the same thing and even worse.
Q: What are you doing to be bound with them?
A: Voice of the Martyrs offers a free Prayer Map showing the countries where persecution is happening today. The Holy Spirit uses that to help me remember them and I pray for a different country everyday. I also share videos and articles from Voice of the Martyrs with other Christians so they too can be bound with them.
I recently baked cupcakes with a friend from school to raise money for persecuted Christians. We sold them at school for $2.50 each and donated the proceeds to Voice of the Martyrs. It’s amazing how much teenagers like cupcakes!!
Don’t forget the persecuted!
Asia Bibi is a Christian mother of two from Pakistan who has been in prison for more than three years waiting for her appeal against the death sentence.
Watch this video for more information about her story.
Write a Letter to Asia Bibi
You can write a letter to encourage Asia Bibi and let her know that Christians in Australia are praying for her and her family. Voice of the Martyrs has prepared a letter writing template which you can download, print and complete.
Youth Leaders: This is a fantastic activity to help your youth group remember the persecuted church. Please encourage your youth to pray for Asia Bibi and write letters to encourage her.
Thank you for being bound with them!
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has been released from prison in Iran and reunited with his family.
In November 2010, Pastor Youcef was found guilty of apostasy and sentenced to death.
During his imprisonment, prison authorities used various methods, including medication, to convert Youcef back to Islam. But he refused to deny his faith in Christ.
After two years of prayer and international advocacy, Pastor Youcef was released on Saturday 8 September and greeted by his family at the prison.
— Jordan Sekulow (@JordanSekulow) September 8, 2012
— Jordan Sekulow (@JordanSekulow) September 8, 2012
— Jordan Sekulow (@JordanSekulow) September 8, 2012
After his release, Youcef said,
Thank you to everyone that has supported me with you prayers.
Praise God for this incredible answer to prayer! Please continue to pray for Youcef and his family as his life is still in danger.
Muslim extremists attempted to kill a pastor supported by Voice of the Martyrs and his family earlier this month in Nigeria.
At least seven gunmen entered Pastor Audu D Gadzama’s church on 10 August, intending to kill the pastor, his wife and his three children.
One gunman shot Pastor Audu’s 24-year-old son, Thomas, in the leg.
When he heard the gunshot, Pastor Audu ran outside and the gunmen fired at him as well but missed.
The gunmen, assuming both their targets were dead after seeing the men fall to the ground, then entered the house to search for the key to the church.
They forced Pastor Audu’s wife and other two children to lie on the ground as they set fire to the house and church. The family was able to escape and hide in the bushes as the gunmen fired into the air while shouting, “Allahu Akbar!”
The Christians remained in hiding through the night, and the next morning took Thomas to a hospital. The family is now living with another pastor in the area.
Source: Voice of the Martyrs
- Please pray for the safety of this family.
- Pray for wisdom for Pastor Audu and other church leaders in Nigeria.
- Pray that Nigerian Christians will be able to forgive and love their persecutors.
Pastor Behnam Irani is currently serving a five-year prison sentence in Iran.
His crime? Holding house church services and leading Muslims to Christ. Because of these “illegal” activities, he is considered a threat to national security.
Pastor Behnam’s Family and Ministry
Behnam Irani is 41 years old. He is married to Christine and has a daughter, Rebecca, 10, and a son, Adriel, 3.
He became a pastor in 2002, 10 years after becoming a Christian.
He has been arrested and tried for crimes against national security twice, in December 2006 and April 2010.
Persecution and Imprisonment
After his first arrest in December 2006, Pastor Behnam was given a five-year suspended prison sentence. He was not required to go to prison.
On 14 April 2010, officers from Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and National Security (VEVAK) raided a house church service, assaulted Pastor Behnam and took him into custody. Other church members were interrogated by the officers who also confiscated Bibles, Christian literature and DVDs.
Pastor Behnam was imprisoned for two months before being released on bail in June 2010.
On 31 May 2011, a warrant was issued for Pastor Behnam’s arrest. He turned himself in and began serving a one year sentence. Shortly before his release, Pastor Behnam was informed that he was required to serve five years in prison from his previous sentence.
Pastor Behnam is Sick in Prison
There are recent reports that Pastor Behnam is very sick in prison. He is regularly beaten by prisoners under orders from the prison authorities and has recently been vomiting blood. It is believed that he may have Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
VEVAK (considered a terrorist organisation by the United States) is denying Pastor Behnam access to medical care. Instead of executing him for apostasy (rejecting Islam), it appears that the authorities are happy for Pastor Behnam to die slowly in prison.
It is urgent that we pray for Pastor Behnam Irani and his family. Please take a few minutes right now to pray for him. Also, please encourage your youth group or church to pray for him and for other persecuted Christians in Iran.
- Pray that Pastor Behnam will be allowed access to medical care and that the Lord will restore his health.
- Pray that Pastor Behnam will continue to be unashamed of the Gospel and will take every opportunity to share the love of God with his fellow-prisoners.
- Pray that God will comfort Pastor Behnam’s wife and children and that they will continue to trust the Lord.
1. The importance of prayer
I met an incredible Vietnamese pastor who told me many stories of persecution.
One time, he had to flee Vietnam to escape the authorities. He was in exile away from his family for three years. He told me about all the dangers he faced and how close he came to being caught by the authorities and imprisoned.
He would spend days in prayer when he did not know what to do. Every time God made a way.
I am encouraged to give God more of my time in prayer to lift up the people I feel burdened for and the issues I’m concerned about.
2. Expressing our love for one another
One thing I noticed in Vietnam was how willing people were to be real with one another, to cry in front of others and express love to one another.
When one pastor met David Low, he said:
I will shake your hand with my left hand because it is closer to my heart.
Another Pastor wept in front of everyone at a youth service when he heard how David walked over 400km to raise money for Vietnamese Christians.
I was encouraged to not be afraid of being real with one another and expressing our love for one another. God knows we need it from each other.
3. Joy in suffering
One of our translators, Rose, was one of the happiest, most joyful ladies I’ve ever met. Always warm, always smiling, always laughing.
But when I got to know Rose a little better, I found that she was not without her fair share of hardship and pain. Despite this, she was full of joy in the Lord.
Most of the people we met in Vietnam had been been persecuted and been through trials of many kinds. But they continued to rejoice in the Lord.
They encouraged me to rejoice in the Lord in the trials that I face, to walk life a little more lightly knowing that Jesus paid it all.
A teenager in Tanzania was recently sentenced to two years in prison after being accused of desecrating the Koran.
Eva Abdullah, 17, converted from Islam to Christianity three years ago. Her parents disowned her after her conversion and a group of Islamic radicals in her hometown of Bagamoyo tried to persuade her to renounce her Christian faith. When she refused, they falsely accused her of desecrating a Koran.
Many Christian leaders were afraid to defend Eva because of Muslim dominance in the district.
On 26 July 2012, Eva was sentenced to two years in prison by a judge who was allegedly bribed by the Islamic militants.
Source: Voice of the Martyrs
- Ask God to strengthen Eva’s faith during her imprisonment.
- Pray that justice will be done and that Eva will be released.
- Pray that the Lord will give Eva opportunities to share her faith in prison.
- Pray that God will use Eva’s testimony to strengthen the faith of believers all over Tanzania.
This post was written by Jeremy Slough who is a blogger for Thirteen Three.
I recently had the privilege of travelling to Thailand with eight people from my church.
From jolting rides in the back tray of a rusty ute holding on for dear life, to sleeping in 35 degree heat in a pool of sweat, to cooling off in a muddy waterhole with majestic mountain views, the experiences we had were unforgettable.
It certainly wasn’t a holiday. We were there to serve at a children’s home in northern Thailand. This home gives life and hope to approximately 70 children. The staff work tirelessly to provide for these children.
We met one little girl who touched everyone’s heart in the short time we were there. This girl was the child of refugees who had fled from Thailand’s oppressive neighbour, Myanmar. Her parents are currently in prison and she is being looked after by the team at the children’s home.
Persecution in Myanmar (Burma)
While there is religious freedom in Thailand, Christians are facing harsh persecution in Myanmar. Both countries are predominantly Buddhist, but in Myanmar if you are not a Buddhist then you are denied employment opportunities. Forced conversions to Buddhism occur regularly.
Evangelism is banned in the Myanmar, and many Burmese people have fled the country after being attacked for practicing Christianity “illegally”. The government still controls religious and spiritual freedom in Myanmar.
The current government has promised change and refugees have been encouraged to return home. But Burmese Christian refugees are hesitant to return as it is likely they will still face severe persecution.
Pray for Myanmar
In this dangerous landscape, true believers are rising up. Christians are marching into battle covered in the armour of the Lord. They need our prayers and support.
Christians in Myanmar are asking for prayer as they preach the Gospel and reach out to the unreached people groups. God is at work in Myanmar, and I praise Him that His children there are willing to count the cost for following Him. May we also do the same.
Please pray for Christians in Myanmar who are facing harsh persecution from the government.