In countries where Christians are persecuted, church leaders are prime targets—often fined, imprisoned, attacked and even killed for their faith.
We hear it from every country where Christians are persecuted for their faith—pastors and church leaders are prime targets. Groups that are bent on crippling and eradicating the church in their region know that when they attack—and even kill—those who
lead the church, their acts will cause a ripple effect. From the leader’s family to the church, to the community and even the region, when a pastor is hurt, an entire community suffers.
The writer of Hebrews tells us to “remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” God calls the Body to “remember” the men and women who lead His Church.
Recently, we’ve seen a long and growing string of incidents involving pastors. We hope you’ll read their stories and pray with us for these leaders who risk their lives and freedom to guide the church in places where their faith—and the faith of their
church—are not welcome and often attacked. Below, we share their stories and specific prayers for each one.
Pastor Hakim, Central Asia
Pastor Hakim* has been missing for months.
He attempted to leave his home country (unspecified for security reasons) for another Central Asian country when police stopped him from leaving. Instead of returning to his family, he decided to stay in another city to keep them safe. He and his family
lived under ongoing police surveillance. Police even listened in on their phone calls.
Several times, he contacted church members, looking for a place to hide. But he asked for help and then disappeared. He has been missing for months now with no messages. There is no news from his family either.
Pastor Hakim has a large community, which looks like a network of home groups/churches. They continue the ministry, but they also need their chief pastor, their leader.
Our field has asked us: “Please keep praying for Central Asian Pastor Hakim and his family. We still have no news from him, his phone is silent, and this ‘disturbing silence’ does not look good.
“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”
“We are worried about Hakin. His phone is silent. There is no news from his family either. He asked for the help and then disappeared. Where is he now? Where and how is his family? Please, pray ... “
Father, we pray for Pastor Hakim’s safety and that he will have opportunity to contact his family and church. We also pray for Hakim’s wife and children and ask you to open doors to enable this family to reunite. Finally, we ask you to protect Pastor Hakim’s church and raise up strong leadership in his absence.
Iranian house church leaders Homayoun Zhaveh and Sara Ahmadi
We’ve shared about this faithful couple from Iran before: Homayoun Zhaveh, 63, and his wife Sara Ahmadi, 45. Homayoun suffers from Parkinson’s disease.
Since August 13, 2022, the couple has been held in Tehran’s Evin Prison for leading a house church. In November 2020, a court sentenced them to two and 11 years in prison, respectively, for “crimes against national security”—which in Iran
often simply means being part of and leading a house church. On appeal, one month later, Sara’s prison sentence was reduced to eight years as the court upheld the maximum sentence that she received for one of the charges.
While both leaders deny having done anything that would undermine or threaten national security, their lawyer told the court that even if Homayoun wanted to, his illness made it impossible for him to get involved in any such actions.
After two failed appeals in June and November 2021, Article 18 reports that Iran’s Supreme Court has unexpectedly agreed to a retrial—this comes after two failed appeals in June and November 2021. The review is scheduled for May 9.
Lord, we pray as a community for our sister and brother. Pray that this review happens on May 9, that it will be not be delayed and rescheduled repeatedly in an attempt to frustrate believers and the church at large.
Pastor Hkalam Samson, Myanmar
Pastor Hkalam Samson will unjustly spend the next six years of his life in prison. He was sentenced just a few weeks ago, on April 7.
Reportedly, on a Zoom call with youth from Kachin state, the 65-year-old Baptist church leader called for people to “rebuild the nation.” And because of those words and a prayer meeting in which he cited the Bible, he was found guilty of "intent to cause
... fear or alarm to the public ... whereby any person may be induced to commit an offense against state or public tranquility.” He was charged with “terrorism” and “unlawful association” and “inciting opposition to the regime.”
His lawyer said they would appeal but was “not optimistic” about the outcome.
Pastor Samson was arrested at the airport on December 4 while on his way to Bangkok, Thailand, for medical treatment. At press time, Pastor Hakim had not been allowed to see his family other than his wife Zung Nyaw when she made an appearance in
the witness box during the trial. She said that for 24 days after his arrest, he was subjected to harsh interrogations.
“He is a man who knows God and loves God,” she told The New York Times.
“He is a preacher, so he has no enemies. He is a person who sacrifices
himself and helps others.”
His daughter, Hkalam Hparat Hkawn, added: “It is too much to imprison an innocent person for six years. Now they threaten not only our freedom of expression, but we are afraid to even breathe.”
God, we pray for our brother, Pastor Samson, and all our family in Myanmar who live under so much pressure. Please be with Pastor Samson in prison. Give him strength to persevere and favor with the prison guards. Give him your peace that transcends all our human understanding. Ultimately, we pray for his release and safe return to his family.
Three church leaders, southern Laos
On the morning of February 3 in a village in southern Laos
, police pulled up in a prisoner transport truck and rounded up all the Christians for an “urgent” meeting. Then they
demanded that all the believers renounce their faith or go to jail.
Three church leaders in the group boldly refused and were immediately dragged into the truck and transported to a district jail. Our field tells us the men were not allowed to say anything or defend themselves.
Open Doors partner and Laos expert Naomi* shared: “These three church leaders attended a training and church assessment we did last year, and they were bold in their faith.” She added, “Our local partners have expected this to happen as believers from
nearby churches were also imprisoned and their church buildings closed. Many Christians in the area also fear that more churches will be banned from operating in the coming months.”
Since the beginning of 2023, at least 15 Christians, including minors, have been arrested by local authorities because of their faith. And there is fear that more “roundups” like this will happen and more churches will be banned in the coming months.
In this area alone, two house churches were already closed this year, and some communities are still being monitored by authorities.
Through our local partners, Open Doors is providing practical and emotional support to families of the imprisoned believers, as well as supporting church leaders and legal aid organizations.
Jesus, we pray for our Laotian family who live knowing they could be the next ones targeted and tested. We pray for strength for these imprisoned church leaders, and we ask you to help them remain steadfast in their faith. We pray for provision for their families, that they would continue to abide in you. And we pray for wisdom and favorable dialogue between the leaders assigned to work on this case and government authorities.
Tahir*, Central Asia
A few weeks ago, one of our partners in Central Asia visited a secret house church that meets in a suburb of an undisclosed city. Tahir*, the leader and founder of the covert church, is a former member of the KGB. After coming to Christ, he became a pastor.
Will you pray with Tahir? He has specific requests, so here’s how you can pray:
God, we ask you to give believers in Tahir’s church more strength and courage to share the gospel and raise up evangelists to speak the Good News. Please protect him and his church—we pray that the ] eyes of neighbors and officials would be blind to their meetings.
*representative names and images used for security reasons.