Friday, December 16, 2011

U.S. declares war in Iraq at an end

(Photos by Gregg.Carlstrom)

Iraq (MNN) ― U.S. defense secretary Leon Panetta formally declared an end to nine years of a war in Iraq on Thursday at a ceremony in Baghdad.

The cost: 4,500 American dead, 32,000 wounded and more than $800 billion. However, Mr Panetta said that "the mission had succeeded in "making that country sovereign and independent and able to govern and secure itself."

According to government reports, the pullout of U.S. troops began in 2009, and combat operations stopped a year later. U.S. troops pulled out of the cities in 2009 and halted combat operations a year later. Training Iraqi personnel has been on schedule, so it's assumed that the withdrawal will have little immediate impact on the lives of most Iraqis.

However, that might not be true for one of the minority groups in Iraq: the Christians. Spokesman for The Voice of the Martyrs USATodd Nettleton explains, "The potential is there for it to affect believers, because believers have had a sense that American presence provided at least a little bit of protection, a little bit of oversight for them."  

However, Nettleton notes that "the reality is that there have been attacks on believers while the Americans have been there. There will be attacks on believers, now that they're gone. It is simply a continuation of the persecution that Christians in Iraq face on a day-to-day basis."

About 334,000 Christians remain in Iraq, less than half of the number there in 1991. The violence has caused hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people--both Muslim and Christian--to leave the country, and many more are displaced inside Iraq, particularly in Kurdistan.

There is one question Iraq's believers want answered. "Now that the Americans are leaving, now that the Iraqi government is fully in charge and fully in place, what will be done about religious freedom? Will there be protections for Christians to meet together?"

A wait-and-see approach is the only option. In the meantime, the Gospel is going forward. "The Voice of the Martyrs is directly involved in ministries that equip the church, particularly equipping Christians who are doing evangelism. We provide Bibles, we provide other Gospel materials. We are also providing other material needs to Christians, especially those who have been displaced by the violence."

Pray for protection for the Christians who remain. Nettleton says their teams are praying for government leaders who will stand for religious freedom. "We can pray about the evangelism efforts that are going on. We can pray for those who are spreading the Gospel that God will protect them, that seeds will be planted, and that lives will be changed by the love of Christ." 

Help us Celebrate Freedom this Christmas

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

LAKE FOREST, CA (ANS) -- Dear ANS friends: As we celebrate Christmas around the world, we also celebrate freedom. Yet for many of us, the two ideas are not necessarily synonymous.

In fact we enjoy so much freedom that we don’t give a second thought to the liberty we enjoy during this special season. But for many people around the world, such freedom is just a dream.

Thousands of Christians in Iran are afraid to openly celebrate the birth of our Savior. Young men such as Abdol-Rahman Mohammad have fled their homeland leaving behind their entire family as they seek asylum in other countries rather than face persecution or death.

In some countries such as Myanmar, whole villages of Christians face brutal treatment by a militant government that is systematically performing the ethnic cleansing of Christian tribal peoples such as the Karen, Shan and Kachin.

And believers in Plato state Nigeria live in fear after witnessing brutal killings of fellow Christians. Many victims were literally burned alive as Moslems dealt out their hatred.

These are just some of the alarming stories carried by ASSIST News Service in recent months. It is essential that these stories are told. It is imperative that the world’s press is fed these stories and can bring them to public attention. It is our duty to our brothers and sisters in Christ that we champion their cause and lift them up in prayer.

Over the Christmas holiday, ASSIST News will remain vigilant and carry the torch to expose suffering and gain freedom for persecuted Christians everywhere. With your help, we can provide news to some 2,600 media outlets around the world several times a day via Twitter, email, RSS, audio and video. The stories filed by our experienced team of writers are widely used by Christian media and are often picked up by secular media too.

None of the ASSIST News reporters receive a salary, they are media missionaries. So would you please help us continue to get the word out to the media by making a special gift this Christmas? What better Christmas gift could you give than hope? As you support ANS, you help to make freedom for persecuted Christians a reality. We urgently need your gift today!

All you have to do is go to our secure site -- -- and then click on “Where Needed Most” or designate your gift for the support of Dan and Norma Wooding. (We are blessed when friends like you stand with us in this way.)

If you prefer to send a check, just make it out to ASSIST (tax deductible in the US) and mail it to ASSIST, PO Box 609, Lake Forest, CA 92609, USA.

All of us at ASSIST wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Dan Wooding

Dan Wooding, 70, is an award winning British journalist now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for 48 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. He is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS) and was, for ten years, a commentator, on the UPI Radio Network in Washington, DC. He now hosts the weekly “Front Page Radio” show on KWVE in Southern California which is also carried throughout the United States. The program is also aired in Great Britain on Calvary Chapel Radio UK and also in Belize and South Africa. Besides this, Wooding is a host for His Channel Live, which is carried via the Internet to some 200 countries and also provides a regular commentary for Worship Life Radio on KWVE. You can follow Dan Wooding on Facebook under his name there or at ASSIST News Service. He is the author of some 44 books. Two of the latest include his autobiography, “From Tabloid to Truth”, which is published by Theatron Books. To order a copy, press this link. Wooding, who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, has also recently released his first novel “Red Dagger” which is available this link.

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Bhutan Christian calls persecution 'necessary'

by Caroline Anderson

SOUTH ASIA (BP) -- There's not a day that goes by that Kencho Kinle* isn't sharing the Gospel door to door.

Everyone in the city knows him; some even run when he approaches. His testimony is hard to forget because it is written in blood -- both in Jesus' blood and his family's.

Black magic and meditation coexist in the mountainous kingdom of Bhutan, where Buddhism entails elements of shamanism.

Because the most powerful sorcerer in Bhutan cursed Kinle's family, he watched as his wife, three of his children, his sister and her children died.

Kinle says he almost lost his fourth child to the sorcerer's spell, but a Christian told him about the God who is more powerful than any curse.

Dorji Sangay*, Kinle's house church pastor, recounts, "Someone came to him and challenged him, 'If you put faith in Christ, your son will be saved, he shall not die.' So they put faith in Christ, and his son is still alive today." 

Twenty-three years later, Kinle, now in his late 60s, lives outside his home country, but he has shared the Gospel with everyone in Buddhist communities in the area. 

"I always make a point to share to the new people, so I have visited almost every single house," Kinle says, gesturing toward the apartments outside. He says he always tries to share with those who are sick and hopeless or have never heard the Gospel before. 

"Whether they listen or not, whether they respond or not, I believe that my job is to share the Gospel," Kinle says. 

Kinle has returned to his village in Bhutan many times to share with his extended family. None of Kinle's relatives has accepted his message yet, but he constantly prays that they will come to faith in Christ.

Kinle's uncle asked him why he would leave Buddhism to follow Jesus. Kinle pointed to his son and said, "Because He healed him."

Kinle and his entire church later prayed that his son would find a godly wife -- a serious challenge when so few in their circles follow Christ. The Lord answered their prayer this year. Kinle, his son and his daughter-in-law live in a small two-room apartment. 

"God's work is very exciting," Kinle's son, Tshering*, says. Tshering's income supports their family. Kinle was forced to resign his job when complaints about his faith reached his boss, but because of this, Kinle says, he has more time to share. 

"It is necessary to be persecuted, the work of God becomes greater," Kinle says. His wrinkles say more about his pain and joy than words ever could. 

Kinle is considering attending a six-month discipleship training this year. His only hesitation is being unable to share the Gospel all day, every day, sharing about the God that his wife and three children never had a chance to know. 
*Names changed. Caroline Anderson writes for the International Mission Board. For more information about Bhutan, including a 30-day prayer guide, virtual prayer walk and videos, and

Young Christian Convert Forced to Flee Due to Pressure

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

TURKEY (ANS) -- Abdol-Rahman Mohammad Pouri is one of a thousand Iranian youth who was born and brought up in a strict Islamic family, but chose not to follow his parent's religion and converted to Christianity.

Abdol-Rahman Mohammad Poun
According to a story by Iranian Christian News Agency, Mohabat News, although he had to leave his home, he has remained strong in his faith and continues to grow in his relationship with God. Abdol-Rahman, 29 is currently seeking asylum in the neighboring country of Turkey.

Mohabat News reported he said that after he heard about Jesus he began to share his faith in the city of Semnan.

He said, “This action caused me problems as our city was fairly small. As a result and since I had some good Christian friends in Mahabad, I moved to that city and rented a house ... That was the starting point for my extensive evangelical activities.”

He continued, “In my opinion, the violence and contradictions in Islam made it impossible for me to feel close to God. Because of this I replaced my traditional religion with Christianity.”

Separation from Family and friends

His conversion caused him family and social problems.

Mohabat News said Abdol-Rahman explained, “When my family and friends learned of my decision, they didn't accept it and rejected me as a result. They made me leave our family home. In addition, my friends treated me like my family had and began calling me an apostate and an infidel. In Iran, anyone who converts to Christianity faces various problems. In spite of the love I had for my family, I had to leave my home. Everyone rejected me. The only thing that helped me through all these challenges was my faith in Christ.”

Restrictions of the Traditional Society

Abdol-Rahman spoke about people who choose to become Christians in Iran's traditional society with all the security restrictions.

Mohabat News reported he said, “We couldn't express our faith among other people or attend church freely. And because of the difficulties we faced about going to a church, I decided to devote my rental house to the Lord to be used as a house church.”

According to Abdol-Rahman, speaking openly about their faith and going to the churches was so dangerous for him and his friends that they had to gather in a house church in order to worship God, receive Christian teaching and study the Bible.

Their house church attendance attracted the attention of the security authorities who raided the house church, and prevented them from worshiping. In addition, some of the house church leaders were also identified by the authorities.

Mohabat News said Abdol-Rahman criticized the current Sharia based laws of Iran saying, “The Iranian regime is based on Islam, and in Islamic doctrine anyone who leaves Islam is considered an apostate and deserves to be killed. The Islamic regime is afraid of any kind of gathering, especially ones that contradict the Islamic faith and regime. In short, they cannot tolerate any other way of thinking than their own.”

Abdol-Rahman described his painful experiences in Iran and said the situation of his fellow believers in Iran is intense. “They face all the above-mentioned problems on a daily basis which unfortunately, sometimes end up in stress, torture, long term imprisonments and even death threats.”

Increase of Threats and Leaving the Country

Abdol-Rahman then described his leaving of Iran. He said, “After our house church was discovered by security authorities, I fled to the city of Urmia and stayed overnight with a friend in that city. The next day I learned that security authorities had broken into my home. So I decided to leave the country to avoid being arrested.”

Mohabat News said he added, “After some days, when I arrived in Turkey I also heard that security officers had raided my father's home in Semnan. They showed my family a warrant and thoroughly searched there as well. During the raid they confiscated some personal belongings of my brother including his computer, CDs and some of his books.”

According to Mohabat News, Abdol-Rahman said after the security authorities made his house a target in the city of Mahabad, they raided it. Then the judicial and security authorities, following an order issued by the provincial court, confiscated all his belongings and his savings.

He said the authorities even sent a letter to his employers ordering them to fire him and ban him from working. They also sent several subpoenas to his father's home, instructing him to appear at the revolutionary court of Semnan. But before all this happened he had left the country for Turkey.

Appeal to International Community

Mohabat News said Abdol-Rahman Mohammad Pouri hopes for a day when all religions, intellectuals and dissidents are able to express their opinions and no one is imprisoned, tortured or executed for his/her beliefs.

He has also appealed to the International Community and Human Rights organizations to put pressure on the government of Iran to release followers of different religions and intellectuals who oppose this regime, which violates human rights and oppresses people indiscriminately.
To learn more about Mohabat News 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 at

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Algeria Stalls Appeal of Convicted Christian

Court’s indefinite postponement of hearing said to reveal judicial foot-dragging.
By Damaris Kremida

ISTANBUL, December 15 (Compass Direct News) – A judge’s decision this month to indefinitely postpone the appeal of a Christian sentenced under Algeria’s defamation and anti-proselytizing laws shows how the judicial system keeps Christians locked up without officially punishing or acquitting them, according to sources.

In May a judge in Oran, 470 kilometers (292 miles) west of Algiers, sentenced a convert from Islam, Abdelkrim Siaghi, to a prison term of five years. He had been charged with insulting Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, and with “proselytism” for giving a Muslim a CD about Christianity. Siaghi (whose name is also spelled Siaghi Krimo) was also fined 200,000 dinars (US$2,663).

The prosecutor had reportedly requested that the judge sentence him to a two-year prison term and a fine of 50,000 dinars (US$665). The judge instead gave him the maximum sentence.

In Siaghi’s appeal, however, the judge has been unable to find any evidence against him and has postponed hearing dates several times. A scheduled Dec. 1 hearing was postponed indefinitely on that day, when judges were expected to pronounce a verdict, according to Siaghi’s lawyer.

“The process of the [appeal] inquiry is strange since the first judge with the same file gave a maximum sentence – five years of prison and a fine of 200,000 dinars,” said Mustapha Krim, president of the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA).

Authorities arrested Siaghi in April after he purportedly gave a CD about Christianity to a Muslim. Siaghi had gone to a phone shop to buy minutes for his mobile phone, and the merchant there initiated a conversation on religion. Unhappy with Siaghi’s non-Muslim answers, the merchant tried to force him to pay homage to the prophet and to recite the Muslim creed, “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet.”

Siaghi refused and said he was a Christian, according to Krim.

“The merchant felt offended in his faith and would hear nothing more,” Krim said. “He filed a complaint that Abdelkrim had belittled the prophet, and in the absence of other witnesses, charges were brought against him.”

The merchant was said to have seen Siaghi give a CD to someone but never appeared in court to testify to that effect, according to Krim. Siaghi’s lawyer said there was no proof of the charges against the Christian.

Experts on Algeria’s treatment of Christians say that Algerian courts customarily have preferred to defer deciding in favor of Christians so as not to aggravate local Muslim sentiments. Judges have also been slow to pronounce final verdicts in order to keep from provoking international criticism over religious freedom.

In the case of Habiba Khouider, who was charged for illegally practicing worship after authorities found her in possession of her personal Christian literature, prosecutors in Tiaret have not called her for a hearing since 2008.

Krim said it is possible the judges are avoiding a concrete decision in the case of Siaghi, though it is not clear if and when the court will progress.

For the moment, nothing is decided,” he told Compass. “For the judge, this is an honorable way out – he can leave the case on hold for months or even years, as in the case of Habiba Khouider in 2008, claiming that the situation is still pending.”

Algerian courts have also handed Christians suspended sentences for practicing their faith. Last year four Christian leaders in Tizi Ouzou received two and three months of suspended jail time for worshiping without a permit. Thus the Christians were officially punished but served no time.

In 2008 a Christian leader in Tiaret, Rachid Essaghir, received suspended sentences in two separate cases against him for sharing his faith. Though Christians appeal these verdicts, they are rarely conclusive.

A law passed in 2006 known as Ordinance 06-03, which outlaws proselytism of Muslims, as well as the distribution, production and storing of material used for this purpose, is cited in court cases against Christians.

“My view is that once more this 06-03 law of 2006 shows its pernicious character by allowing any Muslim who does not like Christians to claim they are insulted or simply ‘shaken in their faith,’” Krim said.  “It is imperative that the law be abolished or changed.”

The restrictive law also prohibits churches from operating without registration.

In May, the governor of Bejaia ordered the closure of seven churches for lack of compliance with registration regulations. The order was never enforced, and the churches continued to meet for worship. 

Algerian churches claimed a victory in July when the Ministry of Interior officially recognized the EPA and gave it registration papers to act as the council of the country’s Protestant churches. The EPA was established in 1972. 

Algerian church leaders said they hope that the official recognition of the EPA will help lift restrictions on individual churches, which are still required to register individually though they are under the EPA.


Copyright 2011 Compass Direct News

Christian Areas of Jos, Nigeria Bombed, Killing One

Explosions hit three TV viewing centers during high-profile soccer match.
By Obed Minchakpu
JOS, Nigeria, December 15 (Compass Direct News)  Joshua Dabo, like other young Christians in this city in central Nigeria, had dreams for his life. He had graduated from a Christian high school, Mt. Olives Secondary School, and at 31 was finally looking forward to attending university.
Apart from commitment to his fellowship at Nasara Baptist Church at Tirji Junction near the University of Jos, Dabo ran a barbershop to earn income as he awaited admission to college, and he was an ardent soccer player and fan.
As such he made sure to be among the 120 people from the Christian community on Bauchi Ring Road who paid to watch a classic soccer rivalry, Barcelona FC v. Real Madrid, on TV at an outdoor bar (called a “viewing center” in Nigeria) on Saturday night (Dec. 10). A few minutes into the match, televised in the hall of corrugated sheet metal at Yangwava Television Viewing Center at Ukadum village, a bomb went off.
“It was shocking for me,” said viewing center owner Emmanuel Exodus Nimkun, 30, of the Ukadum congregation of the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN). “I saw Joshua Dabo standing without a head. I have never seen a thing like this – a human being standing but with his head blasted off, and he was struggling to move.”
Dabo was the lone fatality in three bomb blasts targeting viewing centers in predominantly Christian areas of Jos during the Spanish soccer match; at least 10 others were injured in the blasts, leaving four in critical condition, including two in a coma.
Nimkun told Compass that he was bleeding and his back was hurt after the explosion, but he held Dabo and brought him down.
“I began to cry, and suddenly there were shouts that another bomb was hidden in a bag beside the viewing hall that had not exploded,” he said. ‘We all ran out, and then a policeman came to the scene. He picked up courage and went to check the bag, and the device was intact.”
A few minutes later, military personnel arrived and took the device away, he said.
“They told us that the battery of the device had run out, and that that was the reason it did not explode,” Nimkun said. “If it had exploded, they told us, the destruction could have been massive.”
Nimkun said his cousin was badly injured and was among six people taken to Jos University Teaching Hospital.
A worker with the Plateau State Independent Electoral Commission, Nimkun said he opened the TV viewing center for additional income, never considering that it would become a target for Muslim extremists. The culprits were unknown at press time, but the area has a history of Christian-Muslim conflict.
“I cannot reconstruct that place again, because it will keep reminding us of that sad incident – if only for the remembrance of Dabo, I will not reopen that place again,” he said. “This is a person killed not because he has done anything wrong but because he is a Christian.”
Danladi Dabo, Joshua Dabo’s older brother and a member of Nasara Baptist Church, said he was at home when he first heard an explosion at another viewing center, in Jos’ Tina Junction area.
“Knowing that my brother is a soccer fan, I raced to the viewing center near our house to alert them, but just about 100 meters to the place, my fears were confirmed as a bomb exploded,” Dabo said. “I was dazed by the explosion, but I kept running there, knowing that my brother was in there. On getting there I found my brother’s body but with no head. I was shocked.”
Family members buried Joshua Dabo on Sunday (Dec. 11).
Danladi Dabo said that Christians in Jos have reached out to their Muslim neighbors, but Muslims seem uninterested in peaceful relations with Christians.
“The government has urged us to live peacefully with each other, but while we Christians have accepted to live peacefully with Muslims, they have continued to attack us,” Dabo said. “I pray and urge the Nigerian government to take decisive steps to stop these killings, now that they know that Muslims are the aggressors.”
Damaged House
One of the survivors of the attack, 22-year-old Gift Danjuma of Zumunci Baptist Church in the Ukadum area, told Compass that her family has lost four members to religious conflict in Jos in the past three years.
“I thank God that I survived this attack, but this is becoming too much for us,” she said. “In the last three years we’ve had four members of our family killed – Umaru Haruna, Salami Mainoma Dutse, Esther Ishaya, and Ruth Danladi.”
Muslim extremists killed Haruna, Ishaya and Danladi as they returned from work in 2008, while Dutse was killed in 2010 while returning from a church activity, she said.
“Unless the Nigerian government does something urgently to curtail these attacks on us Christians by Muslims, we will get to the point that Christians will have no other option than to fight back in order to stay alive,” Danjuma said.
At Tina Junction along the Bauchi Ring Road in Jos, where the first bomb exploded, Hiroshima Ishaku Nyam, a member of the Jos Jarawa COCIN congregation, told Compass that his house was damaged by the bomb at the TV viewing center opposite his house.
“I was sleeping when the sound of a loud explosion woke me up,” Nyam said. “The entire house was shaking and vibrating. Suddenly the ceiling in my bedroom and the living room caved in.”
He switched on a flashlight but could hardly see anything, he said.
“There was dust all over,” Nyam said. “I struggled until I found my way out of the room. It was then that I heard people outside our house shouting that a bomb had exploded at the TV viewing center opposite our house.”
Nyam said his family had travelled to Abuja for a church program, so he was able to restrain himself from running out to check on them. Some 20 minutes later, he heard gunshots outside, confirming his resolve to stay inside.
Ironically, he said, the University of Jos had organized a peace meeting that brought together area Christians and Muslims a few meters from one of the bombed viewing centers.
Nyam said that after the bombings, it will be difficult for Christians to trust Muslims again.
“How will Christians be convinced that Muslims really want genuine reconciliation in the face of the bombings and secret killings of members of Christian communities going on in the city of Jos?” he said.
The third TV viewing center bombed is located opposite the University of Jos Staff Quarters along Bauchi Ring Road. It is also a few meters away from a Christian ministry known as City of David.
James Daniel, 22, an apprentice carpenter and a member of the Evangelical Church Winning All Nasarawa Gwong congregation, told Compass that about 100 Christians were watching the soccer game at the TV viewing center.
Daniel, whose carpentry workshop is near the TV viewing center, said the bombs planted at Tina Junction and Ukadum went off first.
“Most of the viewers here are Christian students of the University of Jos who reside here,” he said. “Thank God none of them died, as most of them only sustained injuries.”
Daniel said that ever since the Christmas Eve bombings in the Angwan Rukuba area of Jos last year, Muslims have targeted Christians through bombings or secret killings.
Plateau state has seen religious conflict since 2001.

Iraq: propaganda versus reality

-- a call to pray for Iraqi’s imperilled remnant Christians as US and NATO troops withdraw

By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 138 
Special to ASSIST News Service

AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- By 31 December 2011 all US and NATO troops will have completely withdrawn from Iraq. Whilst the US and NATO had wanted to keep thousands of military trainers there, the Iraqi parliament -- dominated by pro-Iran Shi'ites -- ruled that any remaining military personnel would be subject to Iraqi laws and jurisprudence. Without immunity from prosecution, US and NATO forces would not stay. However, if the propaganda is to be believed, the decimated, imperilled, besieged Christian minority will have nothing to fear when the last US and NATO forces leave Iraq after Christmas. On Monday 12 December, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met with US President Barak Obama at the White House in Washington. The two men had nothing but praise for how the Iraq adventure has turned out. PM al-Maliki boasted, 'We have proven success. Nobody imagined that we would succeed in defeating terrorism and al Qaeda.' President Obama likewise effused that Iraq can be 'a model for others aspiring to build democracy'. The reality, however, is somewhat different.

The Superior of the Dominicans in Baghdad, Fr Amir Jaje, described the atmosphere in Baghdad ahead of the US-NATO withdrawal as 'tense'. 'The extremists,' he reports, 'are taking advantage of tensions to make their voices heard and the faithful are increasingly distressed.'

The Latin Archbishop of Baghdad, Mgr Jean Benjamin Sleiman, told Aid to the Church in Need that Iraqi Christians are preparing for a 'Christmas under siege'. Traditions will be quietly kept in the privacy of family homes, while Christmas Masses will only be celebrated during the day for safety reasons. 'It will be a Christmas, between fear and sturdy faith.' Christians, he said, have been reduced to dhimmitude: a state of subjugation, without rights. Helpless before endless mafia and militia attacks, they are forced to pay the jizya (protection money) as mandated in the Qur'an, Sura 9:29.

The situation in the Nineveh Plains of Northern Iraq -- the ancient Assyrian homeland -- is no better. On 2 December, following Friday prayers, thousands of Muslims went on a pogrom through the predominantly Assyrian northern town of Zakho. They looted and torched businesses they deemed 'haram', that is, forbidden in Islam. After torching a Chinese massage centre, the rioters moved on to raze liquor stores, hotels and beauty salons -- most of which were run by Assyrian Christians, others by Kurdish Yazidis. According to eyewitnesses, some rioters tried to attack the Christian quarter of the town. Fortunately those guarding the political offices fired over their heads, dispersing the mob. The Kurdistan Islamic Union is believed to have instigated the violence. That local Muslims could be so easily incited into such a destructive pogrom is of great concern. Nobody expects things to improve after the US-NATO forces leave. 'It's a big mess,' said David Lazar of the American Mesopotamian Organization. When asked who would be there to ensure the safety of Christians he answered, 'Basically, no one.'

Archbishop Louis Sako of the Chaldean Catholic Church in the northern provinces of Kirkuk and Sulimaniya has expressed the fear that, if the persecution continues with such intensity, 'Iraq could be emptied of Christians' completely. The Director of the Christian Defense Coalition, Rev Patrick J Mahoney, is likewise concerned, stating that unless the situation is addressed 'the public expression of Christianity will be exterminated. America must realise,' he adds, 'that this horrible extermination of Christians is directly related to our failure in ensuring their safety. It is a tragedy that America's involvement in Iraq did not bring liberation for Christians but brutality, oppression and possible extinction. We cannot abandon them. We must do better.'

  • Iraqi Christians will draw closer to Jesus, their Saviour, be more reliant on the Holy Spirit, their strength, and more dependent on God, their sovereign, faithful Rock. 'In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.' (Isaiah 30:15 ESV)
  • God will bless all Christian witness -- active and passive -- with effectual saving power,'because only through Christ is it [the veil that covers the unbeliever's heart, hardening their mind] taken away.' (2 Corinthians 3:14-16) 'Therefore [believers] be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour [including suffering and death] is not in vain.' (1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV)
  • God will intervene to bring security to Iraq's remnant Christians. (Isaiah 59:15b-19)


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

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This year to be man's third Christmas in prison for organizing prayer rally in 2009

China (MNN) ― Can you imagine being in prison during Christmas just for hosting a prayer rally? How about being in prison for three Christmases?

This year will mark Yang Xuan's third Christmas in prison for organizing a prayer rally in September 2009. Yang was arrested on September 14, 2009 along with four other church leaders.

On November 25, 2009, Yang and the other four Linfen-Fushan church leaders from Shanxi Province were sentenced to criminal detention for 2-7 years. The five church leaders were accused of "gathering people to disturb the public order" because they organized a prayer rally the day after 400 military police raided the church's grounds. During that raid, more than 30 believers were seriously wounded, and 17 buildings were destroyed.

Yang has been imprisoned for over 750 days. According to his daughter, Yang's visits in prison are very limited.

This Christmas, Voice of the Martyrs is calling on you to be an encouragement to this suffering brother in Christ. There have been 814 letters written to Yang over the past couple of years. VOM wants to increase that number to 1,000 by Christmas.
To help VOM send 200 letters to Yang this Christmas, click here and write a letter. Help let Yang know you love him and are praying for him this Christmas.

In the meantime, pray for Yang and his fellow prisoners. Pray that they would be a blessing even in prison and would have opportunities there to share the Gospel, just as Paul did nearly 2,000 years ago.

To learn about more faithful believers imprisoned for their faith, and to send them letters, too, visit 

Arab Spring not bringing revolution or freedom for Christians

(Photos by Maggie Osama)

Egypt (MNN/ODM) ― 11 months ago, the spark of revolution ignited in Tunisia. Within weeks,  the first regime tumbled. 
What followed in the next few months was the toppling of other repressive governments. The season of protest was soon dubbed "Arab Spring." The movement changed the landscape of the Middle East and North Africa and sent shockwaves around the world.

However, not everyone has been benefitting from the uprisings. Carl Moeller is President and CEO of Open Doors USA, a ministry advocating on the behalf of the persecuted church. He says, "The reality for Christians in Northern Africa, Middle Eastern region, that have experienced an 'Arab Spring' is that the situation is far more complex and dangerous for Christians in that region than it was a year ago. The political dimension of almost every one of the revolutions has become the contours of an Islamic government."

Christians were already a minority population in countries like Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, and for them the future is all but clear. Did they get any benefit from the democracy movement? It depends on who you ask. Many hailed the movement as a victory for democracy. However, the reality doesn't resemble democracy as Americans recognize it. Moeller says, "That didn't dim the optimism that many of our Christian brothers in Egypt had during that time frame, because they were throwing off a regime that was oppressive. One of the challenges now is to reconcile those great hopes with the unmistakable reality that there is still a very strong possibility that persecution is going to increase."

Will 2012 bring more persecution and marginalization for Christians, or greater liberty to worship?Moeller says, "In places like Egypt, we are going to see a lot more turmoil before the day is out. There's one thing you can say about this movement: it is still defining itself." It's not totally set in stone, Moeller points out. "There are still two more election rounds to go, and we know that in those election rounds, other things can happen to form the final form of the government."

Moeller adds that the current situation in Egypt in which the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood is holding an estimated 40% of the seats in the parliamentary elections so far is a reality check for Coptic and evangelical Christians, who comprise 10% of the population. Hardline Salafists are also doing well in the on-going election.

Soon, Egyptian believers may be joining the ranks of Iraqi believers on the move. "We think that Christians will emigrate more; we think there will be an upswing in persecution and restrictions. But we're still hopeful and prayerful that the church will continue to grow, nonetheless."

The up-side of this story is that it means the Gospel is taking root. "Where the Gospel is penetrating more, there's more persecution. Where there's more persecution, it seems that there's a greater opportunity for the Gospel to be shared and for the church to actually grow."

It's a paradox of note: "They become more committed to their faith as their faith that they're committed to costs them more."  The single most requested help coming from believers in the region is prayer.  Moeller says, "Pray for the Christians in Egypt to be strong amid the uncertainty and the increasing pressure. Pray for the political process that it will produce a government in many of these countries that will respect the rights of Christians."

A Christian in Egypt made the following request to the Open Doors team while saying goodbye: "Thank you for coming. It was a great encouragement, and it really meant something for us. Please remember us in your prayers and ask believers in the West to pray for us. We need your prayers. We need to be one in Christ in this challenging chapter of our history. My wife and I want to stay here, but we know it will not be easy. Please, do not forget us and leave us alone."

Christians in Kashmir, India Increasingly Fearful, Report Says

Muslim leaders setting hostile tone as Christmas nears.
By Vishal Arora
NEW DELHI, December 14 (Compass Direct News) – A fact-finding mission to India’s Kashmir Valley found that Muslim leaders’ increasingly shrill opposition to conversions has instilled fear among the Christian minority, which has been threatened as Christmas nears.
Christians in Srinagar, the summer capital of India’s northern-most state of Jammu and Kashmir, are “really scared,” said Dr. John Dayal, a member of the National Integration Council and part of the fact-finding team. “Christian men, women and children are in a state of panic, fearful of their security, uncertain of the future, uncertain of their jobs.”
The Rev. Chander Mani Khanna, pastor of All Saints Church in Srinagar, was arrested on Nov. 19 on charges of hurting religious sentiments of Muslims after several youths were baptized; he was released on bail on Dec. 1. But the pastor of the Church of North India denomination, who is due to retire early next year, may never be able to go back to his church due to security concerns, Dayal said.
“There may be no proper celebration of Christmas in the church if the bishop does not send a new priest immediately,” he added. “The church [in Srinagar] needs to get its act together in how it faces such religio-political persecution.”
At the same time, a sharia (Islamic law) court has reportedly summoned the Rev. Jim Borst, a Dutch Catholic missionary, to appear on charges of proselytizing and “forced conversions.” Borst runs two schools in Baramulla and Srinagar that are said to have aroused jealousy in area Muslims.
Sentiment against Christians was evident when a member of the Kashmir Bar Association disrupted court proceedings as a lawyer was seeking bail for Pastor Khanna.
“Their behavior tested the patience of the judge, who remarked, ‘Do you want me to hang him?’” states the fact-finding report, entitled “Dealing with Islamic Groups in Kashmir on Christian Persecution.”
The investigative team was headed by Dr. H.T. Sangliana, vice-chair of the National Commission for Minorities, and included the Rev. Dr. Richard Howell, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India. The team noted hostilities toward Christian workers, churches and Christian educational institutions in Kashmir.
Jammu and Kashmir state is 67 percent Muslim, 29.6 percent Hindu and 0.2 percent Christian, but the Kashmir Valley region is 97 percent Muslim, according to Operation World. Christian organizations run schools where many state leaders have studied.
Veiled Threat
Muslim leaders in the Kashmir Valley began to rally against Christians after a video recording of Muslim youth being baptized at the All Saints Church was posted on YouTube in late October. Kashmir Grand Mufti Bashir-ud-din Ahmad told the fact-finding team he would prove that “we are men, not impotent persons.” The highest authority in Islamic law in Kashmir added that the sharia court he heads will soon come out with its “judgment.”
The sharia court has no legal authority for non-Muslims in India, but the mufti hinted that the “judgment” could include demands such as a halt to further baptisms and morning prayers in schools run by Christians. He accused Christian schools of encouraging drug abuse among children, though the only evidence he offered was the statement that “it is well known.”
Though generally polite, the mufti issued a warning, saying, “We will do what we have to do, and others will have to do what they have to do.” He also said he was keeping an eye on the schools, their principals and staff, and that they would hear from him soon.
The report said it was clear that the mufti was “contemplating a denunciation of the church, if not actually calling for mass action,” though he had asserted there would be no violence.
Sharia courts deal only in local civil matters applicable only to Muslims. But the mufti summoned the pastor to appear for a hearing held on Nov. 17 concerning allegations of fraudulent conversion. Bishop Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy of the Church of North India has said the mufti’s allegation that Pastor Khanna had converted Muslims by offering money is “totally baseless and untrue.”
The pastor earlier told Compass that the Muslim youths had been coming to the church on their own initiative and wanted to take part in Holy Communion. Pastor Khanna told them they had to follow a procedure if they wanted to join in the sacrament, and they expressed desire to be baptized in due course (see www.compassdirect,org, “Pastor’s Arrest Stir’s Anti-Christian Sentiment in Kashmir, India,” Nov. 23).
The fact-finding team, which visited Kashmir from Nov. 29 to Dec. 2, criticized the role of local media in helping vested interests to create tensions.
“The reporting and editorializing have been one-sided and without any reference to the truth as seen by the religious minority,” the report states.
The team also concluded that the state administration was making concessions to the Muslim majority for political reasons, and that police had “acted on behalf of the political leadership.”
Article 370 of the Indian Constitution grants considerable autonomy to states, where many Indian institutions and laws have no jurisdiction.
With India and Pakistan frequently fighting over Kashmir, local complexities have given rise to extremism and a rigid politico-religious Islamic clergy that seeks to carve out space to challenge the state government, political groups and the Indian army, according to the report.
“The vast majority of Kashmiris are peaceful and adhere to a soft and melodious Sufi Islam, far removed from the stridency of Wahhabism espoused by the extremist groups,” the report notes.
Local residents told the team that some extremist groups and other vested interests have been seeking to use the issue of conversion in their confrontation with the state government, political parties and moderate Islamic groups. They were “looking to score political points against each other, and any excuse was good enough to foment trouble,” according to the report.
This dynamic was why the state government was quick to arrest Pastor Khanna, and it will go to any extreme to ward off trouble from Islamic groups, the report said.
As Christmas approaches, the government has moved to its winter capital in Jammu, and there is no senior officer in Srinagar to give any assurance of security to the Christian community, the team pointed out. There is also a “total absence” of human rights organizations in the region, the team reported.
Barring a few sporadic incidents of communal violence, Christians and Muslims had had good relations in Kashmir, as elsewhere in India. Tensions in Kashmir began in March 2003, however, after local newspapers alleged that Christian missionaries were converting Muslim youth; the allegations were based on an article on a U.S. evangelical news website that local Christians say was fictitious.
The fact-finding team said Kashmir’s Muslim groups were not concerned that, in the rest of India, Christians and Muslims are both minorities that need each other and civil society at large in order to face the challenge of Hindu nationalists, who see the two communities as “outsiders.”
The report called for the formation of a state minorities commission and assurances of security for Christians from state and federal governments.
There is also a need for introspection within the church, the team reported, regarding the spoken word, the language of evangelization and the translations of various Biblical verses.
“We have seen many verses whose local translation entirely mutilates the real meaning and lends itself to misinterpretation,” the report states. This exercise must be carried out “as early as possible, not just for the sake of the Kashmir Valley, but for the country as a whole.”
Copyright 2011 Compass Direct News