Saturday, July 16, 2011

House of Worship on Hold

Gospel for Asia
For Immediate Release

The opposition of anti-Christian extremists has left the church building for Pastor Kirit's congregation unfinished.

SOUTH ASIA (ANS) -- Gospel for Asia-supported missionary Kirit Mistry and his congregation are facing unbending opposition from anti-Christian extremists in their village.

First, the extremists stopped the construction of the church building Kirit's congregation was erecting. Pastor Kirit and the believers need the church to be completed as soon possible, but the extremists have shut down the construction and are even preventing the Christians from meeting for prayer in the unfinished building.

To add insult to injury, the extremists started questioning other villagers about the activities that occur in the church. They are also threatening to put statues of their deities in the church building, Pastor Kirit informed a GFA correspondent.

In the face of this persecution, Pastor Kirit and the other GFA-supported missionaries in this region request prayer for the following:

-that a political leader, whom Christians in this area met with on July 5, will support the believers.
-that God will change the hearts of the anti-Christian extremists, and they will put their faith in Him.
-that the church building will be finished soon.
-that the Lord will protect the pastors, missionaries and believers in this area.

Gospel for Asia is an evangelical mission organization based in Carrollton, Texas, involved in sharing the love of Jesus across South Asia.

Their Changed Lives Landed Him in Jail; Their Testimonies Freed Him

Gospel for Asia
For Immediate Release

GFA-supported missionary Murli Ghulam is shown with his wife and children. He was arrested while conducting a prayer meeting. The testimonies of those who came to know the Lord through him helped him get released from jail.

SOUTH ASIA (ANS) -- Gospel for Asia-supported missionary Murli Ghulam was released from prison, but he is restricted from traveling outside his own village. Additional details about Murli's ministry and the events leading to his release are also being reported.

Murli was arrested on July 2 as he was leading a prayer meeting in a believer's home and charged with bribing and forcing people to convert to Christianity. The charge was brought by anti-Christian extremists in his village. Murli lives in an area with strict laws that make it difficult to share the love of Jesus with people from the area's traditional religions. These statutes, which are often used as a basis of arresting Christian pastors, are known as "freedom of religion laws" and outline what steps must be taken to change one's faith. In some places where there are "freedom of religion laws," individuals are legally obligated to submit paperwork to the government before they are allowed to publicly follow Christ.

As a result of Murli's ministry, dozens of people have embraced the love of Christ. When this happens, it generally stirs up the anger of the local followers of the traditional faiths, who often complain about the missionary's activities to the police. This appears to be what happened to Murli.

Changes Lives Show Christ's Power
After his release, Murlie told a GFA correspondent about several dramatic answers to prayer that have occurred as part of his ministry, which may have brought the wrath of anti-Christian extremists down on him.

Sheenu Manim's Story

Sheenu Manim used to wander around her village asking every young man she met "Will you marry me?" Sheenu had a mental illness, and no one knew how to help her. In January, 2010, some people from her village brought Sheenu to Murli and asked him to pray for her. He prayed for the healing power of Jesus Christ to fall on the 25-year-old's life, and God answered his prayer. From that day on, Sheenu was in her right mind and began proclaiming the love of Christ in her village and telling everyone about His healing in her life. A group of anti-Christian extremists asked her who prayed for her healing, and she gladly told them about Murli and gave them his phone number.

Panjit Lukkise's Story

Panjit Lukkise was the target of a witchdoctor's vengeful wrath. The witchdoctor summoned evil spirits to attack Panjit with the goal of ending his life. It seemed to be working; Panji's health started to fail. The 40-year-old man went from doctor to doctor, spending all of his family's money seeking a cure. He was incredibly weak and could barely keep any food down. His health continued to go downhill. But then the family heard about Murli and carried Panjit to the missionary's doorstep. Murli cried out to God on Panjit's behalf, and this suffering man experienced full healing. He ran back to his village and shared the wonders Christ had performed in his life. Because of Panjit's testimony, 80 people chose to follow Jesus in that one village.

Sunil Andamimad's Story

Sunil Andamimad had a painful ulcer in his stomach. The ulcer perforated his stomach, and he was hospitalized and in great pain. When the doctors failed to provide any relief, Sunil begged his family to get him out of the hospital and to someone who could really help him.

"Please take me to Pastor Murli; he can heal me!" Sunil pleaded.

When Murli heard Sunil's request, he prayed and Sunil got a little better. Then Murli asked his church members to pray and fast for seven days for Sunil. At the end of that week Sunil was healed.

Jagon and Mushi Gopal's Story

Jagon and Mushi Gopal were living a nightmare. They lived in an area that was prolific with idol and spirit worship. By actively participating in these practices, the couple opened themselves to the dangers, and soon, they were personally attacked by an evil spirit. This torment continued for 10 years. Murli heard about their condition and traveled 24 miles to the couple's home just to pray for them. At the name of Jesus, the evil spirit fled and their lives have changed dramatically. Both husband and wife chose to follow Christ, and a church was started in their home. The church is growing and adding many new members each week.

Fear And Anger Over New Faith

Several local anti-Christian extremist groups were horrified at the changes they were seeing in their villages as many people abandoned their traditional religions and chose to worship Christ. They filed a police complaint charging Murli forcing people to convert to Christianity.

Murli was arrested the day after the charges were filed against him. His accusers urged the police to deny bail for Murli and keep him in jail. But Murli did not worry about the pressure.

"My Lord, whom I serve, will make a way for me to come out from jail," he said.

When they heard their pastor had been arrested, believers from several villages rushed to the jail and began telling the police their testimonies.

"Jesus has healed me."
"Jesus has blessed me."
"We ourselves willingly come to worship Him."
"Who said that Pastor Murli is changing our religion? No! He never forced me to change my religion. He just prayed and shared the Good News, which I never knew before."

They also threatened to stage a peaceful protest outside the jail until their pastor was released.

When the police heard the testimonies of these believers, they granted Murli bail, and he was released within the hour.

Murli is back teaching God's principles to an average crowd of 250 people on Sundays. Since they don't have a church building, Murli leads Sunday worship in his home.

Murli asks that you continue to pray for him, that God would protect him and his family from danger and opposition. Also pray for God's guidance and abundant grace on the pastor.

He also asks for prayer that those who brought the charges against him would embrace the love of Christ.

Gospel for Asia is an evangelical mission organization based in Carrollton, Texas, involved in sharing the love of Jesus across South Asia.

ASSIST News Service Receives Unofficial Translation of Verdict in Youcef Nadarkhani’s Apostasy Case

By Michael Ireland
Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

RASHT, IRAN (ANS) -- An unofficial translation of the written verdict, delivered by the Iranian Supreme Court, in the apostasy case against Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, has now been made available to ASSIST News Service (ANS).

Jason Demars, of Present Truth Ministries (  ) says there are some very significant points included in the translation obtained by his ministry, which has been monitoring Nadarkhani’s case.

“I want you to note that they include the denial of the 12th imam as one of his sins. Also, as we stated previously, if it is discovered that he was a practicing Muslim prior to becoming a Christian he must recant or else be executed by hanging,” DeMars told ANS.
Pastor Nadarkhani and his wife(Photo courtesy Present Truth Ministries). Dan: Breaking News?
He added: “Youcef was not a practicing Muslim from age 15 to 19. He was born into a Muslim family and did not truly embrace any religion prior to coming to Jesus Christ.

“We ask that you pray for him and his enemies, seek God’s deliverance for him. I also request you continue to write a letter to brother Youcef and take immediate action for brother Youcef.”

The unofficial translation of the Iranian Supreme Court’s written verdict is as follows:
“In the name of Allah
“To the lawyers of the accused (defendant)
“To the local court
“To the state court of Gilan Section 11
“December 5, 2010

“Issued by section 27 Supreme Court Judge Morteza Fazel and Azizoallah Razaghi
“Mr. Youcef Nadarkhani, son of Byrom, 32 years old, married, born in Rasht in the state of Gilan is convicted of turning his back on Islam, the greatest religion the prophesy of Mohammad, at the age of 19.

“He has often participated in Christian worship and organized home church services, evangelizing and has been baptized and baptized others, converting Muslims to Christianity. He has been accused of breaking Islamic Law that from puberty (15 years according to Islamic law) until the age of 19 the year 1996, he was raised a Muslim in a Muslim home. During court trials, he denied the prophecy of Mohammad and the authority of Islam. He has stated that he is a Christian and no longer Muslim.

“During many sessions in court with the presence of his attorney and a judge, he has been sentenced to execution by hanging according to article 8 of Tahrir -olvasileh (one of Khomeni’s books about Sharia Law and Khamenie’s and Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi’s fatwa) His sentence was appealed by his attorney and sent to the Supreme Court.

“The Supreme Court’s Response
“In the name of Allah
“June 12, 2011
This subpoena states:

“We know that Mr. Nadarkhani has confessed that in his heart and in his actions he has denied being Muslim and converted to Christianity and have advertised and encouraged other Muslims to convert to Christianity. And because of advertising and pastoring a church repeatedly professed his Christian faith and denied the prophet Mohammad and the 12th Imam and denied the entire Koran and truth of the Koran
“His case was forwarded to the Supreme Court (Judge Fazel) and
“According to Part 2 of article 265 of the Islamic Republic Criminal Law, this case received by and must be returned the state court of Gilan Section 11, and further investigated to prove that from puberty (15 years) to 19 he was not Muslim by his acquaintances, relatives, local elders, and Muslims he frequented. He must repent his Christian faith if this is the case. No research has been done to prove this, if it can be proved that he was a practicing Muslim as an adult and has not repented, the execution will be carried out.

“Signed by Morteza Fazeli and Azizollah Razaghi.”

DeMars said: “The situation is quite critical at this time. It appears that the lower court will do a re-examination of the case sometime this fall. They will interview relatives and try to determine according to their judgment whether or not Youcef was a practicing Muslim from age 15 to 19.
“I'm certain if he ever went to the Mosque or went through any Islamic rituals it will be used against him. Our greatest weapon is prayer.”

** Michael Ireland is Senior Correspondent for ANS. He is an international British freelance journalist who was formerly a reporter with a London (United Kingdom) newspaper and has been a frequent contributor to UCB UK, a British Christian radio station. While in the UK, Michael traveled to Canada and the United States, Albania,Yugoslavia, Holland, Germany,and Czechoslovakia. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China,and Russia. Michael's volunteer involvement with ASSIST News Service is a sponsored ministry department -- 'Michael Ireland Media Missionary' (MIMM) -- of A.C.T. International of P.O.Box 1649, Brentwood, TN 37024-1649, at: Artists in Christian Testimony (A.C.T.) International where you can donate online to support his stated mission of 'Truth Through Christian Journalism.' If you have a news or feature story idea for Michael, please contact him at: ANS Senior Reporter

Friday, July 15, 2011

Nepal Church Workers Unfazed by Anti-Conversion Bill

Nepali partners, radio station
 (Photos courtesy HCJB Global)

Nepal (MNN) ― In about a month and a half, Nepal is supposed to have a new constitution ready to go.

Faced with an August 31 deadline, there's a high risk of a collapsed peace process should the draft not be completed by that time.

The new deadline is the extension of another deadline at the end of May which was missed. The May target came about as the result of a 2008 election that eventually brought about an accord between the Maoist rebels and the government. However, the peace was hinged on meeting a two-year mandate for a new constitution.

The political chaos that could result from another miss could permanently derail what's been accomplished since the civil war ended in 2006.

With such dire warnings ringing in their ears, lawmakers set about working on something they could finish quickly: the penal codes. According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a committee established by the government to review those submitted a proposal that would ban all religious propagation.

The concern is that this revision mirrors similar anti-conversion laws throughout India and pushes even further away from religious freedom. Christians have been sounding the alarm over the proposed changes, but Ty Stakes, Regional Director for HCJB Global Asia Pacific, says their partners are much more steady in their response. "They've experienced persecution before. Almost everybody I know that is a Christian has experienced some sort of persecution from their families."

Stakes points out that 25-30 years ago, there were hardly any Christians in Nepal. He estimates that today, there are probably over 700,000 Christians. They were the trailblazers, so hardship and oppression isn't seen by them as a new thing. "Many of the leaders I know that are older, who lived through the times before the mid 80s and earlier (and were Christians), have been in jail, and they have been prosecuted previously by the government for their faith."

However, because the Church is growing, there are many new believers who haven't experienced persecution yet, and there are questions about the "chilling effect" rumors of trouble might have on evangelists. The answer is simple, Stakes notes. "My friends in Nepal see the political instability as evidence of a continued open door for them to reach out to their communities, to their people for the Gospel."

History brings a great deal of strength and confidence to the foundation laid by the Gospel. "The advantage they have is a generation of people who are right there, right now, that can say to the many, many people who have come to Christ in the last decade or so, 'This is going to be okay. We've lived through this before. Get ready.' They can prepare for it and speak to it from their experience."

HCJB Global equips these evangelists for evangelism and church planting, says Stakes. "These are the guys that God has brought to us who want to see a greater evangelism blanket put out there with local radio, so we help them do local radio." Many have also established small Bible training schools, as well as leadership training schools, working on the principle of grassroots. "The leadership development process is always behind, so they just keep struggling ahead and teaching people to teach other people."

With the indigenous church structure setting deep roots, are there concerns that an anti-conversion law will undo years of work? Stakes notes, "This isn't a done deal yet. The legislation is not in place, and it's not being enforced on any level. The situation for Christians to reach out to their communities hasn't changed as of today."

A new draft constitution is supposed to be presented August 31. There's time to pray. "Pray that God will keep the door open, and that He will create momentum in the political process so that as He's working out His will in governments and leadership all around the world, He'll do that in Nepal and will continue to allow the opportunity for the Nepali Church to grow."

Militants' Threats Keep Christians Cautious

CRI staff and volunteers pray over
 the crate sent to Nigeria last week.

Nigeria (MNN) ― Christians across northern Nigeria are closing their windows and posting guards at their entrances. Attendance has decreased significantly in many congregations as believers brace themselves for what may be to come.

AFP News reports that militant Islamists, members of the sect Boko Haram, have threatened attacks across Nigeria. Compass Direct reports that Christians fear they may become scapegoats for a commemorative assault in honor of the extremist group's late leader.

Nigerian Christ-followers are not new to such attacks. Many believers and church members have lost lives in the past to attacks by Muslim extremists. Recent overt threats made to the Nigerian military have forced Christians to take caution.

The timing is tricky for Christian Resources International. Just last week they sent a crate of Christian teaching tools, Bibles and literature to Nigeria. The shipment is not expected to reach Nigeria for another three weeks, and in the meantime, the ministry is praying it won't be disrupted.

Executive director Jason Woolford says CRI experienced a few bumps in the road right off the bat. "With this particular container that's going to Nigeria, basically the government had come to us and told us that they needed to know by line item every single thing that was in every single box."

With the added concern of possible militancy, Woolford says the ministry has put their trust in God to keep the resources and their recipients--who are spread out all across the country--safe.

If anything, says Woolford, this is further confirmation that Nigeria is in desperate need of the Word. "When you look at a 50-50 split [of Islam and Christianity in Nigeria], that equates to 45% of people in this particular area that are headed to hell. And we know that the only way they're going to be saved is through the Name and the blood of Jesus Christ."
And, Woolford adds, "The only way they're going to find that out is through his Word." 

"This container has about 30,000 Bibles and Christian pieces of literature that will hopefully change the hearts of those who read them," says Woolford. Pray that the literature might get into the hands of even some of these Muslim extremists.
Pray that believers who receive the materials would take it even to the darkest depths of their nation, where Christ has yet to be preached.

CRI has five more container shipments planned for 2011 in other volatile regions. You can help provide the materials needed to transform nations for Christ by sending Bibles and Christian literature to the CRI headquarters. Learn more about how to get involved here. 

Egyptian Muslim Ring Uses Sexual Coercion to Convert Christian Girls

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

EGYPT (ANS) -- The number of Christian girls abducted and coerced into converting to Islam since the Egyptian "January 25 Revolution" has skyrocketed.

According to a story by Mary Abdelmassih for the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), that's according to Father Filopateer Gamil of St. Mary's Church in Giza.

"More than two to three girls disappear everyday in Giza alone," AINA reported he said. "The cases that are brought to public attention are few compared to what the numbers actually are."

Many Christians blame the military council for not intervening to put an end to this problem, which has escalated after the Revolution because of the "emergence of Muslim Salafists," said activist Mark Ebeid.

AINA said Ebeid added that Muslim Salafists "believe strongly that converting a Christian Infidel is in some ways like earning a ticket to paradise -- not to mention the earthly remuneration they get from the Saudis."

AINA said Jackline Ibrahim Fakhry, 17, disappeared from a town on the outskirts of Cairo, prompting her parents to stage a sit-in until her appearance.

AINA reported they accused 31-year old Muslim Shokry Abdel-Fatah, who used to take lessons with her mother (a teacher) of kidnaping her. After she returned, Shokry said in a television interview that he had loved her since she was nine years old. He brought her to Alexandria where she met many sheikhs to convert, but she refused.

Nancy, 14, and her 16-year-old cousin Christine Fathy disappeared from their town in Upper Egypt. Their parents staged a sit-in in Minya until their children surfaced and accused two Muslim brothers, in their late twenties, of being behind their disappearance. The two teens appeared in Cairo, wearing burkas and claiming they had converted to Islam, which is illegal before the age of 18.

Instead of being returned to their parents, AINA said, they are now in a state care home pending investigations, and until they and their parents have reconciled. The two men accused of their abduction have been discharged by the court.

This issue has been ongoing for over four decades. AINA said Coptic Pope Shenouda III warned against this phenomenon back in 1976. He said, "There is a practice to convert Coptic girls to embrace Islam and marry them under terror to Muslim husbands."

AINA reported Christian parents say their girls are underage children who disappear either due to emotional ties or to blackmail. They do not receive any assistance from the police in locating them, even after they have been coerced into converting to Islam, which is illegal before the age of 18. Muslims claim the girls, of whatever age, flee their homes and convert to Islam of their own free will.

AINA reported that Coptic activist Michael Saeed denied this. He said, "there is no legitimate reason which prevents Muslim men from marrying women 'of the Book' - either Jewish or Christian -- without their conversion to Islam. What we have here is a Saudi Arabia funded campaign of Islamization of Christians in Egypt."

Egypt4Christ, which monitors the abduction and forced Islamization of Christian minors, published this week its latest report. AINA said it shocked many people because of the age of the targeted Christian girls and the involvement of high ranking officials including the Salafist leader from Alexandria, Sheikh Osama Borhammi. He is considering running for President in the upcoming Egyptian elections.

AINA said Egypt4Christ initiated this project when an Alexandrian priest reported that a ten-year old Coptic girl was sexually abused by a 20-year-old Muslim university student.

AINA reported that the investigation by Egypt4Christ, carried out under secrecy, exposed a highly organized Muslim ring centered in the Fatah Mosque in Alexandria. The investigation also uncovered a systematic "religious call" plan, where young Muslim males in high school and university are urged to approach Coptic girls in the 9-15 age group and manipulate them through sexual exploitation and blackmail.

AINA said the plan, called "operation soaking lupin beans" (small dried beans, soaked until they grow in size and are then eaten raw), aims at sexually compromising Christian girls, defiling them and humiliating them in front of their parents. As a result they are forced to flee their homes, and use conversion to Islam as a "solution" for their problems.

"The architect of this idea, who diligently promotes it among the Muslim youth, is Salafi Muslim Sheikh Osama Borhammi, in collaboration with other Sheikhs," said Rasha Nour, head of Egypt4Christ. Some volunteers from the Young Female Muslims Service are also engaged, according to Nour.

AINA said the report has published the names of those involved in this Islamization ring. They include names of co-operating department heads and officers of the Alexandria headquarters of State Security, the name of a legal firm supporting this ring, the location of places used to keep Christian girls, as well as complete addresses and unlisted telephone numbers of those involved.

AINA said Magdy Khalil, political analyst and researcher in Coptic affairs also believes that abduction and forced Islamization of Coptic girls is an organized crime, carried out through carefully pre-planned process by associations and organizations inside Egypt with domestic and Arab funding.

Recently a new organization named "Alliance for the Support of New Muslim Females" staged protests against the Coptic church, accusing it of abducting Christian-born converts to Islam. "It is a Salafist organization, without a doubt," said Michael Saeed.

AINA said he added, "It has a primary role in the Islamization of minors. The proof for this, is that any case of disappearance of a Coptic female in any province in Egypt and at any time, you find they have a complete file on it. A clear blueprint is followed, in coordination with security and legal agencies, to get the results they want."
For more information about AINA go to

Jeremy Reynalds is Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, a freelance writer and also the founder and CEO of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter, He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. His newest book is "Homeless in the City."

Additional details on "Homeless in the City" are available at Reynalds lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For more information contact: Jeremy Reynalds

What We Don’t Know about the Persecuted Church

American Christians know astonishingly little about their brothers and sisters overseas, say Dr. Carl Moeller and David Hegg, co-authors of the book The Privilege of Persecution: And Other Things the Global Church Knows That We Don't (Moody). Moeller, who heads up persecution ministry Open Doors USA, says many people believe his job must be depressing because they think he works with needy, third-world believers who live in fear. In an interview with, however, he says nothing could be farther from the truth.

Read full article...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Is Venezuela The New Cuba?

Venezuelan Church (Photos
 courtesy of Brian Russell)
Venezuela (MNN) ―Venezuela has formed a major alliance and a significant trade relationship with Cuba since the election of President Hugo Chavez in 1999.

Chavez has described Cuba's dictator, Fidel Castro, as his mentor. As the warm relationship continues to intensify, it's bringing along with it a growing sense of concern for religious freedom.
Castro's attitude toward the church has been decidedly unfriendly. However, according to Voice of the Martyrs Canada, over the last year, the government shifted away from higher profile forms of oppression to putting pressure on pastors and other Christian leaders.

The concern, says VOMC spokesman Greg Mussleman, is that because of the Chavez admiration for Cuba, Venezuela may be adopting a similar mindset and ideology. Mussleman spoke with Colonel Nelson Castro (unrelated to Fidel Castro), a Venezuelan Church leader, about his concerns. Castro's first comment was, "The church in Venezuela in the past has been very active and has done a lot of evangelical campaigns."
Then, says Mussleman, came agreement. "We don't see the more demonstrative persecution--church buildings set on fire, or people thrown into prison--but more subtle kinds of persecution that causes people to compromise."

Many church leaders have gone along with the radical socialist government or kept a low profile to avoid problems, but it backfired. Mussleman goes on to say that the current scenario is proof of that. "What you're seeing is a situation where pastors have compromised, and Colonel Castro is saying that this kind of persecution is intensifying for those who stand up and preach the Gospel."

Subtle persecution keeps governments under the radar of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Rather than a direct hit, it's a campaign of discouragement. "Where a lot of the pastors now are starting to stand up and speak the truth, they're running into problems. Again, it's subtle, where people are losing their jobs, their churches, or some buildings have been shut down. They won't allow them to meet."

Mussleman notes that on the face of the issue, it looks like there is freedom. "You can have Christian radio stations in Venezuela IF you agree to some very strict regulations. One of those regulations is that you cannot speak out in any way against the government."

However, that regulation can put a preacher afoul of the law. "Some of the teachings of Scripture, in our allegiance to Jesus Christ, would be seen as an affront to the government. So if you're not close to the government and going along with what they're saying, you won't be granted a license to operate a radio station."

The same is true for those trying to keep their churches above ground. However, says Mussleman, "If you're not close to the government, or if you're in any way seen as outside of their control, they won't grant a license or permits to build new structures or renovate the  existing structures." As a result, many churches are going underground.

That's good and bad news. Castro warns, "I firmly believe that there is going to be a law passed that will modify the way churches gather, and there will be a price to pay. I think that is what is ahead."

Mussleman responds, "Pray that the church in Venezuela will mature. With persecution and the difficulty the church is facing, pray that the church will be strong, the leaders will be strong, and they will be preparing their people in what the Bible says about persecution and difficulty."

The time for compromise is over. Colonel Castro says, "Preaching the Gospel will always bring consequences, but we have to continue to preach Christ as Jesus as our King, no matter what that brings."

Nigeria: Boko Haram strikes

-- Nigeria, especially the Church in Nigeria, needs our prayers.

By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 116 
Special to ASSIST News Service

AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- On Sunday 10 July around 2:30pm Boko Haram jihadists riding a motorcycle threw a bomb at the All Christian Fellowship Mission on Church Road in Selija, Niger State (Northern Nigeria), only 40km from the capital Abuja. Whilst the worship service had ended and most people had left, a number of members had stayed behind for a meeting. Two of them were killed instantly in the blast, two others died in hospital and seven more were seriously wounded. The explosion was powerful enough to damage the Faith Mission Church next door. Had the bomb been thrown during worship the toll would have been enormous. Later, at about 11 pm, a bomb exploded outside the Ngozi Beer Parlour in Kaduna city, Kaduna State (Middle Belt), seriously wounding more than 20 people.

Boko Haram -- also known as 'the Nigerian Taliban' -- was founded in 2002 in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri, capital of Borno State, by a religious leader named Sheikh Mohammed Yusuf. When Sheikh Yusuf died in police custody on 31 July 2009 Boko Haram declared jihad against the government of Nigeria. In mid-June 2010 Boko Haram formalised its links to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). AQIM is seeking to gain 'strategic depth' in sub-Saharan Africa and the solid foothold in Nigeria required for operations in West Africa. Terrorism has escalated, targeting particularly the police, beer gardens, traditional and religious leaders, churches and centres of non-Islamic education.

On 16 June 2011, Boko Haram perpetrated Nigeria's first ever suicide bombing. The bomber struck Police Headquarters in Abuja, killing eight and wounding dozens, the day after the Inspector General of Police, Hafiz Abubakar Ringim, boasted that Boko Haram's days were numbered. In claiming responsibility, Bo ko Haram declared they had done it 'to prove a point to all who doubt our capability'.

Terror is now routine in Maiduguri. Rev David Usman of the Church of Christ in Nigeria and an assistant were ambushed and shot dead in their church on 7 June. On 26 June a young woman pretending to be a Christian worshipper was caught attempting to smuggle a bomb into a church service. Security officials are on high alert. Some churches have closed their doors, while others are worshipping under tight security. The University of Maiduguri has closed its doors indefinitely in response to general terror and specific bomb threats.

Seven soldiers in the Joint military Task Force (JTF) were killed on 6 July when Boko Haram militants threw a bomb at their patrol van. The subsequent fire-fight between JTF soldiers and Boko Haram continued through the weekend, leaving scores dead. During this time Borno's State Governor Kashim Shettima narrowly escape d an assassination attempt when security agents intercepted a 10-year-old boy who was approaching the governor bearing a bomb. After this daring and shocking incident JTF soldiers reportedly went 'berserk', seizing and shooting anyone they suspected of supporting Boko Haram. The soldiers claim to be frustrated by what they say is the refusal of some locals to volunteer information about the militants.

On 9 July Nigeria's Saturday Tribune reported sources close to the administration had confirmed that Boko Haram is planning a massive terror campaign to coincide with the 31 July anniversary of the death in custody of their founder and leader Sheikh Mohammed Yusuf. Boko Haram claims that more than 100 jihadists trained by AQIM in Sudan and Somalia have returned ready to be deployed. They have warned Muslims not to obstruct them and to avoid Christians, security agents and government employees, who are all regarded as 'infid els . . . marked for elimination'.

(See Religious Liberty Monitoring, 'Nigeria: the Boko Haram threat', 10 July 2011, for more background.)

  • Yahweh Sabaoth (the Lord of Hosts / the commander of heaven's armies) will protect and defend his people and that the deadly plots against them will all come to naught.
'But my eyes are toward you, O GOD, my Lord; in you I seek refuge; leave me not defenceless! Keep me from the trap that they have laid for me and from the snares of evildoers! Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by safely.' (Psalm 141:8-10 ESV)
  • God will give Nigeria's leaders the wisdom, courage and conviction they need to tackle Boko Haram and resist Nigeria's Islamisation.
  • God will turn this terror on its head and use it for his glorious purposes: may the violence and terror shake many Muslims and generate an exodus from the darkness of Islam to the light of Christ.
Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. This prayer bulletin was initially written for the Australian Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (AEA RLC).

Elizabeth Kendal's blogs:
Religious Liberty Monitoring and Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Churches in Nigeria Shuttered, Reduced with Uptick in Terrorism

Christians flee northern city as Boko Haram is said to be planning massive assault.
By Obed Minchakpu
Rev. Yuguda Mdurvwa
MAIDUGURI, Nigeria, July 13 (Compass Direct News) – Christians in northern Nigeria’s Borno state, already forced to abandon worship services due to attacks by Islamic sect Boko Haram, are bracing for a massive assault to commemorate the death of the extremists group’s leader at the end of the month.
Christians are streaming out of Maiduguri, about 540 miles northeast of the Nigerian capital of Abuja, where some of the worst-hit churches are located. Churches are shutting down as many of their members have lost their lives in attacks that have not ceased even after security agencies were enlisted to confront the assailants.
Compass witnessed most church buildings were shuttered and guarded by soldiers and police in the Maiduguri areas of Wulari-Jerusalem, Railway Station, Bulunkutu, Damboa Road, and Bayan NNPC. Some churches bold enough to open were compelled to reschedule their worship services in order to outmaneuver militants who knew that most services start at 10 a.m.
“As you can see, the town is unsafe, and it is just appropriate for any church leader to be reasonable and safe,” a pastor with The Apostolic Church who declined to give his name for fear of attack told Compass. “We took the decision to hold a one-and-a-half-hour service earlier than our usual time so that our people can return home in time because of the threat.”
Church leaders said The Living Faith Church (Winners Chapel) in Maiduguri’s Bulunkuttu area and the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) in the Gomari area have seen attendance at worship drastically reduced – from 2,250  to 759 for the Living Faith Church, and from 500 to 240 for the COCIN body.
In early June the Islamic sect attacked St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Maiduguri twice, killing a total of 10 people in bombings on June 1 and June 7.
“The Islamic bombers, driving in a Honda car, stormed the church in the afternoon of that fateful day and threw the bombs into the church premises,” said police spokesman Abdulahi Lawal of the June 7 incident.
A Catholic priest at the St. Patrick’s Catholic Church who requested anonymity told Compass that the attack of June 7 took place in mid-afternoon, with about 50 members gathered inside.
The Rev. Yuguda Mdurvwa, chairman of the Borno state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, told Compass that besides St. Patrick’s and the COCIN church, churches attacked in Maiduguri include a Church of the Brethren (EYN) and several others. He said CAN leadership has directed churches to either suspend or reschedule their church services due to the dangers.
On the afternoon of June 16, Boko Haram militants attacked a Church of the Brethren congregation in Damboa, about 87 kilometers (54 miles) from Maiduguri, killing four persons.
Declaring Jihad
Members of the Jama’atu ahlus Sunnah lid da’awati wal Jihad, popularly known as Boko Haram, have claimed responsibility for these church bombings and other attacks. Moreover, the Islamist sect that has declared jihad on the Nigerian government is reportedly expected to launch a terrorist offensive at the end of this month, the two-year anniversary of the death of Boko Haram founder Mohammed Yusuf.
Nigerian security forces captured Yusuf on July 30, 2009, and the next day he was dead under mysterious circumstances.
Religious freedom analyst Elizabeth Kendal writes in her Religious Liberty Monitoring blog that in June 2010, Boko Haram formalized its links with Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Kendal notes that terrorism analyst Yossef Bodansky predicts this development could lead to the emergence of large-scale terrorism, including suicide bombings, unknown in Nigeria.
Nigeria’s Saturday Tribune reported on July 9, Kendal notes, that the government is expecting more than 100 jihadists trained in Sudan and Somalia to lead the terrorist assault planned for the end of the month. The jihadists, who reportedly received training from AQIM, would lead attacks planned for Borno as well as the northern states of Katsina, Kaduna and Yobe.
Boko Haram has issued statements to media organizations asserting the desire to impose its extremist version of sharia (Islamic law) on all of Nigeria. Sharia is already in force in 12 northern states, where Christians are supposed to be exempt but are often compelled to comply by various sectors of society. Borno state, where Boko Haram has its base, is one of the states implementing Islamic law.
After the death of Yusuf, the extremist Islamic sect has been led by Abu Zaid, who last October claimed responsibility for bombing churches in Borno state. Zaid told the Hausa-language service of the BBC and Voice of America at that time that the group attacks as a means of pressuring the government to allow Islamic law in Nigeria.
Dr. Abdulateef Adegbite, secretary-general of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, said Muslim leaders did not support the activities of Boko Haram, and that they were finding it difficult to reach out to the militant sect. He pleaded with members of Boko Haram to put an end to the senseless killings.
“Our plea is that you cease fire and embrace peace,” he said. “We can’t continue to go on like this.”
Nigeria’s population of more than 158.2 million is divided between Christians, who make up 51.3 percent of the population and live mainly in the south, and Muslims, who account for 45 percent of the population and live mainly in the north. The percentages may be less, however, as those practicing indigenous religions may be as high as 10 percent of the total population, according to Operation World.
Northern Nigeria climbed to 23rd place in 2010 from 27th in 2009 on Christian support organization Open Doors’ World Watch List of nations with the worst persecution.
Church Response
Ayo Oritsejafor, president of CAN, said he wondered how the militant sect could continue to carry out deadly attacks on churches in spite of the presence of security agencies. He said Christian leaders believe the sect has compromised or infiltrated security forces.
“The way and manner this is happening shows that some of our intelligence security operatives have either been compromised, or their rank-and-file are already infiltrated by members of this Islamic sect,” he said.
The Rev. Paul Emeka, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God Church, Nigeria, lamented that the violence of Boko Haram has gone unchecked.
“They have burned churches and forced many Christians to run away from their homes,” he said.
He warned that the Muslim militants’ violence could divide the country along religious lines. Peter Okoduwa, a Pentecostal pastor, concurred, saying the Islamic sect has infiltrated the ranks of security agencies and warning that if the government does not take decisive action, the country’s Christian/Muslim divide will deepen.
Dr. David Oyedepo, bishop of Living Faith Church, said the government needs to step up its prosecution of the sect.
“This Boko Haram has to be frontally dealt with before they plunge the entire nation into a very serious crisis,” Oyedepo said. “The federal government should deal with the issue tactfully before the sect sets the entire nation ablaze. Those behind the crisis should be fished out and dealt with and there should be no sympathy for them.”
The Rev. Ladi Thompson, coordinator of the Macedonian Initiative, a ministry to Christians facing persecution, said Boko Haram has plans to attack more churches in the months ahead, putting Christians under more pressure, unless the government takes immediate steps to strengthen security.
Church leaders said they are aware that the Islamic sect could be an offshoot of Al Qaeda and are urging Nigerian security agencies to rise to the challenge.
President Goodluck Jonathan has admitted that the attacks were carried out by the Islamic terrorist group that has declared war on the nation.
“Everybody is a target when it comes to terrorist attacks,” Jonathan told media. “Terrorists will aim at the top. If they can bomb the president, they will do it.”
Nigeria has created a military task force headed by Maj.-Gen. Jack Okechukwu Nwaogbo to hunt down members of the Islamic sect. Nwaogbo told journalists in Maiduguri on June 27 that authorities had arrested two members of the sect carrying explosives to bomb a church in the city. He explained that these members of Boko Haram pretended they wanted to convert from Islam in order to gain access to the church building and bomb it.