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16 April 2020

Coronavirus: crisis and relief in Asia

As coronavirus and the lockdown continue to have an impact across the world, this post updates Open Doors supporters on the needs, prayers and impact of support across Asia.


“Our government does try to help people in need,” Hana* says. “But some of our most remote communities have been neglected when they were identified as Christians. We distribute this aid to the Christian pastors and leaders.” Hana is an Open Doors partner in an Asian country we can’t name for security reasons. She’s already helping hundreds of Christian families get the vital food, medicine and financial assistance they need, but there is much more to be done.

“These are going to pastors and partners who are being side-lined and ignored,” says Hana. “Each parcel is a point of hope and mercy for their communities. They contain enough food and soap to get families through at least two months. We have planned a few dozen more of these distributions.”

Bangladesh believers

Persecuted Christians receiving urgent Open Doors aid in Bangladesh

Two types of risk that Open Doors partners face

This work has to be done in secret. Everyone involved faces two great risks: of being imprisoned by the authorities, and of catching the contagious virus themselves. Hana says, “They wear gloves and homemade masks. Unfortunately, we don’t have any protective suits, but we do sanitise the bags and the cars. We trust God. He has done so much for us.”

As Hana says, it’s also important to explain to these communities how to combat this virus. “We not only give them food but also a quick presentation, from a distance, on safety and hygiene protocols to encourage them to stay safe and act smartly at this uncertain and confusing time. However, it is very painful to see how our people have been neglected and ignored because of their Christian faith.” 

Hana has seen this discrimination first-hand: “I was going to get some medicines for one of our medical workers. A woman walked right up to me and suddenly took a step back. I thought she did it because of social distancing but then I could hear her utter from under her face mask, ‘Oh these filthy people, when will they ever leave’. Suddenly, I remembered I was wearing a necklace with a cross.”

Despair and hope

Messages of despair and hope alternate. Hana says, “I’ve heard people cry before, but this is something else, much deeper. At the same time, I’m very proud of our teams who provide hope to persecuted Christians. I’m amazed by how much they accomplish. We distribute relief and have social media campaigns to encourage Christians. Yet, we worry about everyone. People can’t go to church. Their Christian family has been taken away from them.”
Your support can make an incredible difference. Your gifts and prayers help these persecuted believers know the presence of their worldwide church family, standing by them as they disproportionately suffer the effects of coronavirus and the lockdown.

This is a pandemic that is impacting every nation in the world, to a greater or lesser extent. Official response, and the likelihood of Christians receiving aid, differs in each country. You might already have read about the crisis in India on the Open Doors site, and how your support is making a crucial difference. Having spoken with partners across Asia, here are updates, testimonies and calls for help from different countries in Central, South and South East Asia. This isn’t an exhaustive list of countries facing need or receiving relief – but gives a snapshot of how your support is needed for, and reaching, those in urgent circumstances. 

Relief pack

Each relief pack to Asia contains these essential items

North Korea

Official reports from North Korea state media claim that there are no cases of coronavirus in their country, and that a few hundred people only are ‘under medical observation’ – but this report has been described as ‘impossible’ by the US Commander General Robert Abrams. Though North Korea is notoriously isolationist, it also has extremely poor medical services and infrastructure. If the virus is spreading in the country, as is quite likely, there will be little that can be done to prevent it. In many countries, the virus spreads quickly in crowded, unclean prisons. North Korean prisons and labour camps are already unbelievably horrendous – they might also become hotbeds for the pandemic. Anybody who is discovered to be a Christian is likely to end up in one of these prisons, along with the rest of their family.

“At the moment we cannot do much for the believers,” an Open Doors partner says. “We encourage them via our weekly radio broadcasts.” Please keep praying for our brothers and sisters in North Korea, the place where Christians face the most extreme persecution.

Lord, we pray that You would protect vulnerable believers in North Korea, showing them the depths of Your love, protection and strength. May our courageous brothers and sisters in North Korea know You more closely than ever.

Bangladesh

An Open Doors local partner says, “Some of the believers are starving. Some are forced to eat less, so that they can maximise the number of days they can continue to have food. Some are borrowing money with high interest rates to buy food.”
Thanks to your prayers and support, Open Doors has so far provided help for 74 families in Bangladesh, but the need is far greater. Please pray for Open Doors local partners as they take risks to reach and support those in need.  

God, please give Open Doors partners wisdom, courage and resilience to take vital food and support to suffering families in Bangladesh. Give joy to our persecuted Bangladeshi family.

Turkmenistan

In Turkmenistan, the government had forbidden even talking about coronavirus. State television doesn’t mention it, and there are no data about the number of cases – it’s even against the law to wear protective masks. While that means people aren’t facing the same lockdown-related loss of income as elsewhere, there is great risk of infection in the country. According to unofficial information, the number of people with the virus is growing. Fear is also growing, and the situation is getting worse after a hurricane in the Turkmenabad region. Many houses have been destroyed, and there was no electricity, water or natural gas for several days for many people. Christians are more vulnerable in this situation, because of the attitude of the local Muslim community.

Food is extremely expensive and limited. People from other regions can't enter the cities, and believers are isolated from one another. Praise God, though, last week some Christians from a city church managed to send food packages to persecuted Christian families in remote villages. But now the roads to the countryside are closed so they can't visit - though they can still send food packages.

Lord, we lift up our family in Turkmenistan who already face so much. We also pray for the Turkmen Government to start protecting their citizens from coronavirus, and we pray against the spread of the virus in the vulnerable communities there. We pray for all those suffering the effects of the hurricane, particularly vulnerable Christian families.

Uzbekistan

Aid in Uzbekistan

Aid distributed by Open Doors partners in Uzbekistan

The situation in Uzbekistan is getting worse day by day, and the country has strict lockdown, but many churches continue to serve those who are in need. Many Christian families can’t get food and have no money, and aren’t offered support by their communities – that’s why the church is stepping in.

As an example, an Open Doors contact is in touch with a family in a remote mountain area of Uzbekistan. They have four children, one of whom is a person with disabilities. They’re the only Christian family in the area and face continual oppression from their relatives and neighbours. 

Even before the quarantine, the father Batyr* was unable to find work because of the obstacles put in place – now he can’t go further afield to find work. Batyr’s family didn’t get any aid when the village authorities distributed it, because of their Christian faith. Thankfully, a church from the nearest city was able to support Batyr with grocery packages and some money, which is very helpful and encouraging for the family in such a hard period.

God, please protect Christians from a Muslim background in Uzbekistan, and ensure they get the food and medicine they need. Thank You for the churches who are helping those in severe need. Please protect Batyr and his family.

Malaysia

Open Doors has supported a few dozen other Christian families with a Muslim background in other Islamic Asian countries as well. A Christian woman from Malaysia told us on the phone: “My husband and I have lost our income and we were praying to the Lord for a solution for our little family. We have a one-year-old girl to take care of. Immediately after saying ‘amen’, you called us to ask if we needed any basic necessities! Yes, we do! Thank you so much!” 

God, thank You that You love to answer prayers and to give good things to Your children. We praise You for this instant provision.

Philippines

Most of the Philippines is predominantly Catholic, but the southern Philippines is a Muslim majority region where Christians face persecution from their families or communities. The government is doing its best to help the poor, including the Christians, but some of the relief work is starting up slowly. 

For example, a group of believers in Central Mindanao have yet to receive aid from the local government. One of our partners shared there are only a few volunteers packing the relief goods, which is why it will take a while before the goods reach the area.

“There are around 30 families in the community who are still in need of food supplies and necessities. We need at least five kilos of rice and groceries costing £8 for each family,” said our partner.  Open Doors promised to send practical assistance to the 30 families affected in that area. A local Christian leader (a believer from a Muslim background) has been assigned to deliver the relief to them. 

Father, we thank You that the Filipino government is offering aid to its citizens. Please ensure that our family are not discriminated against and receive vital provision. May their cup even run over, and give them the opportunity to be generous to their neighbours!

Kyrgyzstan

In the midst of Covid-19 quarantine, we got very encouraging testimonies from Kyrgyzstan from our media team how the ministry is moving in spite of all difficulties of isolation: "Our YouTube channel with Christian content – films, cartoons and audiobooks in Kyrgyz language – is very effective. Some videos already have more than 10,000 views!”

This the testimony we recently received from a Christian woman from a Muslim background. She works in counselling, and often meets people who are experiencing great hardship, most of whom aren’t Christian. She sees the YouTube channel as a great way to tell others about Jesus: “The YouTube channel with Christian content is very helpful in my everyday life and work. I use audiobooks, films and cartoons for myself and my family – and for other people, I simply send the link to people, according to their situations. For example, today there was again a call from a couple who are having a lot of difficulties in their relationships with their teenage children. I've sent them a link to ‘The power of parental prayer’.

“It is so great that the content of the channel is in Kyrgyz language. More than 98% people who request our support are Kyrgyz-speaking people and I can easily share the content because it is in their native language. It is so great that there are materials for different topics. It helps me to share the gospel with Muslim people and the gospel touches their hearts and change their lives. Thank you for this resource!"

Coronavirus means isolation for many people in Kyrgyzstan, but it has also been an opportunity for the increase of this work. It’s illegal for the team to produce and distribute this work, so they need prayers for protection.

Father, thank You for using these digital resources to reach people who don’t yet know You, and thank You that You are using them to shine light in the darkness of coronavirus. We pray that You protect the team making and distributing these videos, and grant more opportunities to add more content in Kyrgyz.

Vietnam

Thankfully, there have been no deaths related to coronavirus in Vietnam, and the country has started to lift the lockdown outside of major cities. Open Doors partners in Vietnam have resumed visiting persecuted churches in certain parts of the country.

God, thank You that You have protected Vietnam from Covid-19 fatalities. Please protect Open Doors partners as they travel to meet with persecuted Christians, and for wisdom as they implement projects.

*Names changed for security reasons


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