Thank you to everyone who attended Standing Strong events across the UK and Ireland in recent weeks, and thanks to everyone who prayed for Standing Strong. It was inspiring to hear speakers from North Korea, Nigeria and Syria talk about their experience of God’s grace and love in extremely difficult circumstances. We can certainly learn from their courageous faith, and it was a privilege to pray alongside them.
For those who weren’t able to attend, we wanted to share some highlights from the event in Birmingham (16 November 2019). Here are some of the quotes and stories shared, and how you can pray. All the speakers’ names have been changed for security reasons, and for the same reason we aren’t able to share identifiable photographs of the speakers on stage.
Tirham: Trauma care in Nigeria
The first speaker was Tirham, an Open Doors partner who works as a trauma care counsellor at an Open Doors centre in Nigeria, which was opened thanks to your support and prayers. She shared the transformation she sees in the women and men who come to the centre, many of whom have suffered extreme persecution because of their Christian faith.
“It’s changing people’s live,” said Tirham. “It’s touching people’s lives.” She has worked for several years After working with people for only five or so days at the centre, and witnesses extraordinary changes in people over a short period of time. Most people stay for about five days, and in that time find the restoration of hope by God’s grace.
One of the major transformations that Tirham has witnessed is people’s ability to forgive, which often starts by being honest with God. “People are told that they cannot tell God they are angry at Him – that it’s a sin. But we tell them that God knows their heart, and that He can listen to their frustrations.” As they open up about their experiences and how it has affected them, the men and women Tirham works with come to a new understanding of God’s love and His plan for them: “God really heals. Even wounds that we cannot see.”
Many of the women who come to the trauma care centre have been victims of sexual violence at the hands of Boko Haram or Fulani militants. Tirham told the crowd in Birmingham that the greatest challenge facing women in Nigeria was that they are not seen as equal to men. “A woman is more like a slave than a person,” she said. “Christian women are vulnerable to persecution and so much hatred because they are women – and because of their faith.”
Her prayer for Nigeria is that Nigerian men ‘will recognise that men and women are created in God’s image, not just men’, and that women will be supported rather than stigmatised.
She spoke about a woman who attended a trauma care course three years after her husband had been killed: during that time, she hadn’t spoken to anybody. “For three days on the course, she was silent,” remembers Tirham. “On the fourth day, she praised God and couldn’t stop singing and dancing!”
Tirham is encouraged by the prayers and support of Open Doors supporters and the worldwide church: “It shows us the family of God. That we are not alone. It encourages us to keep on fighting the good fight of faith.”
- That Christian women in Nigeria would be protected from persecution and violence
- That those attending the centre would be healed from their trauma and be filled with joy.
Kim Sang-Hwa: Escaping North Korea
Kim Sang-Hwa became a Christian in the most dangerous country in the world to follow Christ: North Korea. She told the crowd in Birmingham about discovering her parents’ Bible – knowing that having it in the house could mean she and her family would all be sent to a labour camp, or even killed.
She made the brave choice to ask her parents about their faith, and decided to become a believer herself. You can read more about her story in the January 2020 magazine.
Sang-Hwa lives in South Korea now, and doesn’t face the same threats. Despite the extraordinary dangers of life in North Korea, Sang-Hwa still loves her home country. She told us that her deepest wish is the freedom to go back and tell other people about her faith: “My hope is that the doors will open in North Korea, so I can share God with my brothers and sisters.”
When asked how she and other North Korean Christians persevere in prayer when persecution in the country is so extreme, she replied “North Korean Christians strongly believe in God’s plan – we don’t ask anything else; we ask that God’s kingdom comes first.
“In North Korea, every Christian will have this question at some time: why does God leave us in this situation? But we find the answer in the Bible: we trust God’s promise in the Bible, and His faithfulness. We’re like the Israelites in Exodus. God promised that He saw their suffering, and that He would lead them to the land of milk and honey.
“One thing we strongly, strongly believe – no matter who or where we are, God created us to honour Him, to bring glory to Him.”
Sang-Hwa’s faith and perseverance are extraordinary. And her message to the church in the UK and Ireland is that we should ‘be thankful to God because you can worship freely and come to God freely’.
- For a miraculous transformation in North Korea – that people would be freely able to hear about Jesus and turn to Christ
- For healing and renewed faith for those currently facing extreme persecution in labour camps in North Korea.
Elias: Bringing God’s hope to Syria
“People do not feel hope,” explained Elias. Many of the Syrians he meets have suffered economically and socially, and the overwhelming sense he gets is that people have lost faith. He told about a man he met running a shop selling decorative boxes. The shop is successful, but the man had suffered a great deal from Islamic extremists: “They burned our factory. They burned out hearts.”
He also shared that there is a great gender disparity now – he estimates that there are seven women for every two men, as many men have been killed, joined the army or emigrated to seek a livelihood. The church is losing many leaders for the same reasons.
But, through Centres of Hope, Open Doors partners in Syria are bringing this hope to a grieving generation. They are offering essential short-term aid and long-term support. And he sees that God is also using suffering to bring fruit in the country: “There is no olive oil without crushed olives.”
“Please pray for the Centres of Hope,” said Elias. “We want to see the church in Syria to be revealing Christ as the only hope.”
He has a message for Christians in the UK: “I would like to thank the church in the UK. People in Syria see that the UK church is helping them.” And he added that we should use our religious freedom to speak to Syrians we can meet in our country: refugees. Elias encouraged us to pray for miracles.
- For God’s message of hope to spread throughout Syria
- That peace and protection would come to Syria, and that Syrian refugees would hear the truth of God’s love for them.
Book for 2020
Book now for an early-bird discount to Standing Strong in Birmingham on 3 October 2020! Other dates and venues to be confirmed soon.