The diabetes rate in this country is very high. People with diabetes need to carefully regulate their blood sugar levels—a process rendered impossible by the fasting during Ramadan. Doctors beg people not to fast, and the Qur’an even permits exemptions on account of medical difficulties. Yet people continue to fast at the risk of their lives in order to fulfill the legalistic requirements. Most believe it's worth the risk. Emergency rooms packed with people suffering from wildly fluctuating blood sugar levels would argue otherwise.
Kids as well suffer from extreme legalism. Many are pushed into fasting well before the required age as a sign of devotion. In extreme cases, newborns are deprived of food during the daytime because of the belief that the religious code applies even to them. Another motivation is that every day of fasting that is missed must be made up throughout the course of the year, leading many to either persevere through the month or try to work ahead to prepare for the it. In either case, the strain on both mother and baby can be harsh.
God, this kind of fasting isn't what you desire. Fasting like this will not have their voices be heard. And many are putting their lives on the line to try to meet a false requirement. Lord, break this people of the need to please society and open their eyes to the freedom that is only found in you.
“Is this not the fast that I choose to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke”? Isaiah 58:6
EQUIPPING THE CHURCH
A national believer observed his young son beginning to pray in the manner of a Muslim. The children are taught the Islamic rituals as part of the national school curriculum. The believer stopped his son, but then commented with a touch of discomfort on the boy’s habit and how his response had to be limited. “My son sees me reading the Bible, he sees me pray,” he said. “Once he is old enough to be able to understand and able to be trusted with it, I will teach him my faith.”
There has been no established method for the believers to pass on their faith to their children. How do they participate in church? Can a Sunday-school-style class be used? How much information can they be trusted with? How far can you allow the indoctrination of Islam? These issues have yet to be resolved. And every year strengthens the culture's grips on the lives of the children.
Lord, when you were here on earth, you took special care of the children. And now we ask you to look after the children in this country. They are pulled and tugged by the lies of the world and need you to look after them. Please, guard their hearts and their minds in you.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he shall not depart from it,” Prov. 22:6
The clash of culture is easy to see just by observing people walking down the street. A girl in full Muslim covering will walk side-by-side with another dressed in the latest European fashion. A stroll through the market is as likely to be accompanied by “Hotel California” as traditional Arabic music. As the region continues to modernize, the influence from the west continues to grow. Foreign influence has forced many out of homes their families have lived in for generations.
At the same time a fundamentalist movement has also started to grow. The number of covered women has grown and the number of men growing full Muslim beards has also increased. There's a sense of people rededicating themselves to Islam in an attempt to preserve their culture, among them people who might choose violence in order to preserve it.
Lord, when people are polarized, there is stress. And that stress can lead to breaking. So we ask that you would use this turning point in this nation's history. They need to be seeking the truth. And only you can use it to set them free.
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36
A national believer was working in a garden. The local man served the believer breakfast, and, as he ate, the believer looked in the window and saw a cross hanging on the wall. After he finished his work, the believer commented that “the Lord helped me to do the work.” Moments later, the two men recognized each other as believers. When he asked how he knew, the gardener pointed to the cross. The other believer said, “Many people have come through my house but none of them have understood.”
The gardener also commented that there are many believers, but there is no way to recognize them. Society prevents people from openly identifying people as believers, which leads to a sense of isolation. Many nationals comment how difficult it is “to be the only believer in the country.”
Father, we ask that you would surround the church with a great cloud of witnesses, that they would see and know that they are not alone. We ask that You would unite them in communities and in groups for the purpose of glorifying Your name and that through these groups, Your name would spread throughout the country.
“Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.” I Kings 19: 18
Fatima believes that her main hope for the future lies in her education. She looks to success stories of other women who have been able to achieve professional prominence. Intelligent and curious, she consumes as many of the new ideas as possible. But she struggles to reconcile the ideas tossed around in the university settings with those of her traditional beliefs. She has, at times, worn the traditional conservative coverings, not out of any conviction but out of convenience—men are much easier to deal with when dressed conservatively. While her exam scores were high, her family still had to pay someone to secure her spot at the university. That personal debt only adds to her motivation to succeed.
Fatima is pulled between wanting to please her parents by fulfilling their traditional expectations and pursuing her worldly ambitions. The gospel runs counter to both of those. Should she become a believer, she would face opposition from her family, the closure of the potential job market, and the loss of any serious or traditional marriage opportunities.
Lord, this generation values today's things over Your ways. And while many look at worldly knowledge as a path out, too often it's just another layer of traps that keeps them from You. And we ask that You break through those walls to make them see Your truth.
“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.
What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” Philippians 3:7-8
Tradition seeps into all parts of life, including Islam. For instance, there are graves of Muslim saints that attract worshipers. Many of those who go to those sites are seeking solutions to problems, whether physical, spiritual, or relational. They will give sacrifices of money or animals to try to win spiritual favor over the issues. Each issue has specific saints and rituals. Some even think that visiting a series of tombs can even substitute for the Hajj for those who are unable to travel to Mecca. While these practices are frowned upon by Islam, society continues to indulge in them.
The fear of the spiritual realm has a bigger impact on daily life than any of the formal religious teachings. Even the most mundane actions carry spiritual ramifications. For example, some nationals will not pour hot water down a drain out of fear of offending or injuring the spirits that may live there. They believe that spiritual blessing is carried by amulets and objects, often using the symbol of the hand in order to ward off bad luck. It is seen in signs, jewelry and even some advertising campaigns.
There is no power in the world greater than you, O Lord, no ancient tradition or folk spirit worship that can compete with the power in the name of Jesus. And we ask that your name would be glorified in this country and among these people. Help them to turn from the darkness to your light.
“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” I John 4:4
THINGS YOU DON”T TALK ABOUT
There are many orphanages throughout the country. In many, however, by age five, the vast majority of the orphans left are boys. Almost all of the girls will have been adopted away to serve as maids and house servants in the homes of wealthy families. This practice crosses over to all levels of society. The value of a young daughter is high enough that families in villages will sell their daughters in exchange for money. Laws of mandatory education are often flaunted, and many suffer from physical and sexual abuse in these houses. 72 percent are under the age of 12. And not all of these are adoptions that remain in the country. Many are exported back to other countries in North Africa
There have been some developments in the women's rights movement in North Africa. Recent changes have increased rights in, among other situations, divorce proceedings. However, the general populace has been slow to adapt, as any departure from tradition requires much more time and motivation to change. That change has been even slower as the distance from the urban settings increases.
Lord, you said that true religion was to look after widows and orphans in their distress. Many are in distress here; there are a lot of kids who need fathers, a lot of kids who need advocates. They need you. So we're asking for change in their lives. We're asking for you to set them free, both spiritually and physically.
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' Matthew 26:40