Saturday, December 29, 2012

Human Rights Group Urges Burma's Government to Immediately Stop Military Offensive against Kachin People

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

NORTHERN BURMA (ANS) -- Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) today (Friday, December 28, 2012), urged Burma's military to end its offensive against the majority Christian Kachin people in northern Burma immediately, and called on the international community to put pressure on the government of Burma to engage in a meaningful political dialogue with the Kachin and other ethnic nationalities.
Kachin people flee violence in their villages

According to news reports, four jet fighters and two helicopter gunships were used this morning to attack Kachin Independence Army (KIA) troops close to their headquarters at Laiza, on the China-Burma border. 

The aerial attack follows several days of shelling and a significant increase in troop movement and fighting.

CSW says that the Burma Army has been conducting a military offensive against the Kachin since June 2011, breaking a ceasefire that had lasted for 17 years. Over 100,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the war began, and the Burma Army has been accused of grave human rights violations, including rape, torture, destruction of villages, looting and desecration of churches, and killing civilians. The offensive has intensified severely in recent days.
Andrew Johnston, CSW's Advocacy Director, said: "The dramatic escalation in the Burma Army's assault on the Kachin is deeply disturbing. To launch aerial attacks and deploy fighter jets and helicopter gunships marks the most serious intensification in this conflict since the war began.

Ethnic Kachin people wave their hands at a ceremony to mark the International Day of Peace in Rangoon on September 21, 2012. (Reuters)
"The government of Burma must be urged to stop this offensive immediately, and engage in a genuine peace process. The KIA, and its political arm, the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), are seeking autonomy and equal rights in a federal, democratic Burma, not secession, and have made clear their desire to talk. But they are demanding a genuine peace process, involving a political dialogue, to find a lasting solution to decades of war, not simply a ceasefire.

"President Thein Sein and his government present an image of reform to the world, but how can reform be serious if it is accompani ed by fighter jets and helicopter gunships? Unless reform is accompanied by a genuine peace process, it will not lead to the lasting change Burma's people desire and deserve.

The international community must take this latest escalation very seriously, and must make it clear to Thein Sein that unless the Burma Army's offensive stops and a peace process begins, international pressure will be applied."

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

Plight of Syrian Christians Intensifies

Vietnamese Christians fear increased harassment following new restrictions 

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

MCLEAN, VA. (ANS) -- The condition of the Church in Syria is becoming more and more desperate. Christians, their property and their churches continue to be the targets of violent attack.

According to a prayer bulletin from Barnabas Aid, a group which provides assistance to the persecuted church, a senior church leader reported some disturbing facts.

Christians in Syria also face "inflation, poverty, growing of sectarian enmity, shortages of supplies of food and fuel, cold weather, revenge, kidnaping for big amount of ransom, risks of traveling, frequent Internet cut off and (more)."

Barnabas Aid reported that while the Christian population of Homs was once 50,000-60,000, just 80 Christians remain in a Christian neighborhood of the old city in Dec. 2012. They are being held hostage by rebels and prevented from leaving. They're dying one by one as a result of serious hardships and lack of medication.

A Barnabas partner said they are being kept there as "human shields" by Salafist rebel groups to deter government forces from attacking the Christian area, which is now occupied by rebels.

Despite the dangers they face, and the fact that many Syrian Christians have fled their homeland, church leaders in Syria have refused to leave their people.

Barnabas Aid reported one senior Christian leader said, "We have to say we want to stay here. It is our vocation to give our testimony. We had a lot of persecution in the past and we have to find a way to continue."

As observers predict the collapse of the Assad regime, under which Christians in Syria had been well treated, the future for Christians looks bleak.

Barnabas Aid had a request. "Give thanks to the Lord that He is a faithful God who does not desert His people in need. Ask that He will be a stronghold and a refuge for the 80 Christians left in Homs, and that they will be allowed to leave in safety."

Barnabas Aid added, "Pray that all Christians in Syria will know the Lord's peace in these desperate times, and that He will make a way for them to live in safety in their own country."


Barnabas Aid said the situation also appears to be worsening for Christians in Vietnam, who while already enduring severe restrictions on their activities, are now facing the prospect of even tighter control.

Churches are already required to register with the government, and those who do not register, or are refused registration, are subject to severe harassment. New restrictions, which come into force on Jan. 1 2013, will make it even harder for churches to register.

Barnabas Aid said religious groups will now have to prove that they have operated for 20 years without violating any law, including "infringing national security."

However, because this charge is often leveled at groups that the government wants to suppress, it is feared the new conditions will allow the government to refuse registration to more churches.

Barnabas Aid said the decree also requires that religious leaders obtain permission from authorities before they can travel abroad for conferences.

Disturbingly, Barnabas Aid commented, a senior member of the Vietnamese Parliament said recently that "Vietnam will increasingly model itself on China in matters of religious policies."

Christians in China who are members of unregistered house churches often suffer intense harassment, including the possibility of jail terms.

Barnabas Aid asked that readers pray for Vietnamese Christians. "Lift up to the Lord our Christian brothers and sisters in Vietnam, and ask that they will be protected from harassment resulting from these tightened restrictions. Pray that the Lord who gives strength to His people and blesses them with peace (Psalm 29:11) will be with the congregations of churches that are unable to register. "

The group added, "Pray also that the government will not continue to make its policies on religious freedom more repressive."

The mission of Barnabas Aid is to support Christians where they are in a minority and suffer discrimination, oppression and persecution as a result of their faith.

For more information about Barnabas Fund go to

Friday, December 28, 2012

Open Doors Founder Brother Andrew to Speak at Church Event

DC Area Program Will Highlight Information About Persecuted Christians around the World

 Brother Andrew of Open Doors 
SANTA ANA, Calif., Dec. 27, 2012 /Christian Newswire/ -- In Algeria, a pastor was threatened by four men and was told they would burn down his church. Another continent away in India, a pastor and two other Christians were attacked and kidnapped by Hindu extremists. They were later set free. In Nigeria, more than 800 people -- mostly Christians -- have been killed by the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram this year, including 12 on Christmas eve.

There have been numerous incidents of Christians facing persecution around the world this year. Many Christians in the West who are not persecuted wonder how these believers maintain their faith under such circumstances.

Open Doors USA, International Mission Board (IMB) and B&H Publishing Group will host a special one-night event featuring a rare United States appearance by Brother Andrew, founder of Open Doors and one of the heroes of the faith. He and others will talk about what Christianity is like in restricted countries such as Somalia, North Korea and Iran. Open Doors is an international Christian ministry which has been supporting and strengthening persecuted Christians for almost 58 years.

The program will be held Tuesday, Jan. 8, at 7 p.m. at Riverdale Baptist Church, 1177 Largo Rd., Upper Marlboro, MD 20774. For more information call 301-249-7001.

"Millions who claim to follow Christ live under daily persecution throughout the world," says Open Doors USA Interim CEO/President Steve Ridgway. "These precious ones are our family and we as Christians are not complete or whole or healthy without knowing them and without knowing their stories. On January 8 we will have an opportunity to take a step toward being whole by hearing their stories."

Brother Andrew is the author of the worldwide best-selling autobiography God's Smuggler. He has been traveling on behalf of suffering Christians since 1955. He has visited an estimated 128 nations.

Other guest speakers are Nik Ripken, author of the soon-to-be released (Jan. 1, 2013) book The Insanity of God (B&H 2013) and Ron Boyd-MacMillan, chief strategy officer for Open Doors. They will celebrate the faith of persecuted Christians from around the world through sharing their stories and prayers in hopes of encouraging listeners to join the celebration and support their brothers and sisters living under persecution.

The event will highlight the Open Doors 2013 World Watch List, which highlights the top 50 countries where Christians face the worst persecution. For more information on The Insanity of God, go to

An estimated 100 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with millions more facing discrimination and alienation. Open Doors supports and strengthens believers in the world's most difficult areas through Bible and Christian literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development, prayer and presence ministry and advocacy on behalf of suffering believers. To partner with Open Doors USA, call toll free at 888-5-BIBLE-5 (888-524-2535) or go to

The Palestinians’ Christmas Lies | Stand for Israel

Bethlehem Church of the Nativity
The Palestinians’ Christmas Lies | Stand for Israel: "If you’re one of millions who saw video from Bethlehem this Christmas and thought how nice it was to see Christians flourishing in the city where Jesus was born, Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin has some bad news for you.

Modern day Christians face harassment and exclusion throughout a region where the Arab Spring has brought Islamists to power, and nowhere is that more true than in the West Bank and Gaza. Moreover, the assertion that Jesus was a Palestinian, first aired by Arafat and often repeated by his successor Mahmoud Abbas as well as moderate Salam Fayyad, is nothing less than an attempt to delegitimize the Jewish people and to steal its history."

Full story...

12 Christians Killed in Christmas Bloodshed in Nigeria

Gunmen attack two churches in Borno, Yobe states on Christmas Eve

By Dan Wooding, who was born in Nigeria
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

JOS, NIGERIA (ANS) -- Christmas Eve attacks by suspected Islamic extremists in northern Nigeria's Borno state - already reeling from the slaughter of at least 10 Christians earlier this month - took the lives of six people at a Baptist church, as gunmen killed six others in Yobe state the same night.
One of the vehicles used by the bombers in the attack that hit a church inside a military barracks of the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, in Jaji, Kaduna state

According to Morning Star News ( in Borno state, where Islamic extremist group Boko Haram is based, six Christians were slain at First Baptist Church in Maiduguri on Christmas Eve.

About 160 kilometers (100 miles) away in Kupwal village in Chibok Local Government Area, suspected jihadists shouting "Allahu Akbar [God is greater]" on Dec. 1 slit the throats of at least 10 people in carefully selected Christian homes, according to reports from survivors.

The story went on to say that in Yobe state on Christmas Eve, gunmen believed to be members of Boko Haram reportedly entered the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in Peri, near Potiskum, and killed six Christians including a pastor before setting the church building ablaze. Several others were reported seriously wounded.

"No group has claimed responsibility for the Christmas Eve attacks, but Boko Haram mounted Christmas assaults on Christians last year and in 2010," said the Morning Star News Nigeria correspondent. "Boko Haram, which reportedly has ties to Al Qaeda, has vowed to eradicate Christianity from Nigeria and seeks to impose a strict version of sharia (Islamic law) on the entire country. Boko Haram has targeted churches, state offices, law enforcement sites and some moderate mosques in its effort to destabilize the government.

"Before the attack in Peri, Boko Haram had reportedly battled Nigerian security forces in Potiskum, bombing a local police station and attacking a bank. Potiskum has reportedly become a hotbed for Islamic militants of Boko Haram. Attacks on Christians in Yobe state have forced thousands of Christians to flee to others parts of Nigeria, while others have become refugees in Cameroon.

"Attacks on churches in northern Nigeria have intensified since a 2011 Christmas Day attack at the town of Madallah near Abuja, Nigeria's capital."

Morning Star News added that in Jaji, in northern Nigeria's Kaduna state, 11 Christians were killed in a suicide attack on a church on Nov. 25. The Rev. Titus Sambo and Israel Olaleye, students at Baptist Theological Seminary in Kaduna, died in the dual bomb blasts at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, a military barracks church serving military personnel, their families and civilians in Jaji, about 25 miles from Kaduna City. At least 30 people were reported injured.

The bombers were suspected members of Boko Haram group, also suspected of bombing a Kaduna church on Oct. 28, killing seven Christians.

"Jaji is located midway between Kaduna and Zaria, two cities that have witnessed suicide bombings in recent months," said Morning Star News. "Besides the Oct. 28 bombing of St. Rita's Catholic Church in the Malali area of Kaduna City, in Zaria suicide bombers on June 17 carried out attacks on an ECWA congregation in the Wusasa area of the city, killing at least 24, and the Catholic Christ the King Cathedral in the Sabon Gari area, killing at least 16. In Kaduna, the group bombed a Pentecostal church, Shalom Church, where at least 10 died. Boko Haram took responsibility for the June attacks."

Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria's population of 158.2 million and live mainly in the south, while Muslims account for 45 percent and live mainly in the north. But those practicing indigenous religions may be as high as 10 percent of the total population, according to Operation World, so the percentages of Christians and Muslims may be less.

Note: Morning Star News is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation whose mission is to inform those in the free world and in countries violating religious freedom about Christians worldwide who are persecuted for their faith. For free subscription or to make tax-deductible donations, contact,  or send check to Morning Star News, 24310 Moulton Parkway, Suite O # 157, Laguna Hills, CA 92637, USA.

2012: Boko Haram's bloodiest year

(Photo courtesy of Christian Aid)

Nigeria (MNN) ― Boko Haram, a Nigerian militant Islamist group, had their bloodiest year in 2012, responsible for over 750 deaths.

General Aziza, Nigeria’s former national security advisor, says the upscale in Boko Haram’s terrorist attacks may be linked with the upcoming 2015 Nigerian presidential elections.

When President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, was elected president of Nigeria in 2011, a series of Boko Haram killings followed. Boko Haram made threats on the president to resign or else turn Nigeria into an Islamic nation.

Rae Burnett, the Africa Director for Christian Aid Mission, explains, “I do believe that it’s spiritual warfare, but it’s definitely the desire to see that Islam is the world religion. They start where they are, and these guys are Nigerian, so they want to be empowered in Nigeria.”

Several of the Muslim-majority Northern states began declaring themselves under Sharia law after the 2011 elections. Of the 32 Nigerian states, 12 currently are govern by Islamic Sharia law. 2015 will be Muslims’ next chance to gain power in Nigeria’s political arena.

However, Boko Haram grew quiet on the large-scale attack front earlier this month. The fact that Christmas was approaching—the biggest Christian holiday of the year—wasn’t lost on anyone and created an eerie silence. Attacks were expected, especially since Boko Haram has declared intent to eradicate Christians from Nigeria.

And Boko Haram militants have the means to back up this desire. With ties to Al-Qaeda and funding for weapons, they fight in pockets and avoid any clashes with the Nigerian military. They’ve gotten bolder. According to Burnett, “They do whatever is in front of them. If it’s a school bus, they’ll blow it up. If it’s a school, they’ll blow it up. They’re trying to make people afraid.”

Because of the disjointed nature of Boko Haram’s fighting tactics, several smaller attacks still occur weekly in Northern Nigeria, but they are largely unreported.

Burnett shares, “Once, I read [about another attack] and called my friend [in Nigeria] and said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me about this?’ He said, ‘Look, if I tell you about every terrorist attack, we would be on the phone all the time.’ They’ve become so common place that they are happening every day. We don’t hear about them.”

The attacks have gotten so bad in the state where Christian Aid’s headquarters are located that they need to move to a safer site. But Christian Aid can’t do it without the funds. Out of the $40,000 needed, they only have $10,000—enough to buy the land and lay a foundation. Christian Aid still needs $30,000 to finish the headquarter buildings and residences.

“They really need to move from the state where they are now,” says Burnett. “Two and three times a week, they are suffering terrorist attacks.”

But despite the danger, the 120 missionaries in Nigeria associated with Christian Aid are staying in the ministry field. “They are committed to making the Lord known and dying for Him if need be,” says Burnett. “They’re doing wonderful work, and many people are coming to Christ.”

Pray for Christians in Nigeria to persevere and hold fast to their hope in the Lord. Pray for many others in Nigeria to come to know Christ and for church leaders to advance their ministry.

Muslim extremist groups continue to grow violent toward Christians in Indonesia

Indonesia (MNN) ― The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights recently raised concerns over the plight of religious minorities in Indonesia.

Many are Christians who have been noting the rise of violent attacks and forced displacement. This, in addition to other forms of discrimination, such as being denied identification cards. Sources from Open Doors and the Voice of the Martyrs say there have been reports of forced church closures, even where the churches have secured legal permission.

International Christian Concern reported Jakarta police finally taking security measures to protect Christians as they gathered to celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. More than 12,000 police were deployed to roughly 2,000 churches throughout Central Java.

Muslim extremist groups in Indonesia, with suspected ties to al Qaeda, continue to grow more violent towards Christians, with little resistance from authorities.

Voice of the Martyrs noted one incident with a girl named Ribur who was jailed for 60 days for talking about her faith in Jesus. According to the VOM report, she chose to be part of an agricultural mission project in Aceh on the island of Sumatra. Teaching about how to raise crops and livestock often gave the team opportunities to answer questions about their faith.

ICC says Ribur eventually began a community Bible study. She and another teammate had developed a relationship with a local woman, who eventually gave her life to Christ. That’s where Ribur ran into trouble.

Shortly after this, a mob attacked Ribur and the other Christian worker. The beating continued for 45 minutes, eventually ending when the police came and arrested the pair for blaspheming Islam. When officials asked her why she shared about Jesus, Ribur said, "Jesus wants everyone to know about Him."

Eventually, the pair was released. However, Franz Magnis-Suseno of the Driyarkara School of Philosophy says, "The religious situation in Indonesia is marked by a rising number of social conflicts between neighborhoods and villages; conflicts on ethnic and, increasingly, on religious lines."

The Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) cited the lack of religious freedom in Indonesia as among the issues that marred the country's human rights record.

Ignorance by the government has obviously encouraged increasing violence against minority groups in other areas, too, all across the country, which could potentially be misused by political interests approaching the 2014 legislative and presidential elections, said Kontras.

Pray for Christians like Ribur who are facing persecution for their faith. Ask God to give those who face persecution the strength to stand strong and testify the truth.

Iran: Pastor Nadarkhani Jailed Again

He again spends Christmas behind bars

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

Pastor Nadarkhani

RASHT, IRAN (ANS) -- It was a bad Christmas for Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, the Church of Iran pastor who, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), has been returned to jail on an earlier charge.

In September, a court acquitted Pastor Nadarkhani of apostasy, but sentenced him to three years for evangelizing Muslims. Since he had already spent close to three years in Lakan Prison in Rasht, the pastor was released after posting bail.

However, CSW sources now report that Pastor Nadarkhani has now been returned to jail on the orders of the director of Lakan Prison, who claimed he had been released several days too early due to the insistence of his lawyer, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah.

In November, Pastor Nadarkhani was a special guest at CSW’s National Conference in London, England, where he thanked all who had prayed and petitioned for him during his initial incarceration.

Mervyn Thomas, CSW's Chief Executive told the ASSIST News Service: “We are disappointed to hear Pastor Nadarkhani has been returned to prison in such an irregular manner. The timing is insensitive and especially sad for his wife and sons, who must have been looking forward to celebrating Christmas with him for the first time in three years.

“We hope that Pastor Nadarkhani will be released without delay once this alleged sentence has been fully served. We are also asking for prayers for the pastor's safety, and for his family at this difficult time.”
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organization working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

Difficult Christmas for Asia Bibi and Younis Masih

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

Asia Bibi

PAKISTAN (ANS) -- This will be Asia Bibi’s fourth Christmas in prison. The mother of five was arrested for blasphemy in 2009 and has been in prison ever since. In November 2010 she was sentenced to death and two senior ministers who spoke in her defense – Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti – were assassinated by Islamic extremists.

According to the Pakistan Christian Post (, no one has been arrested over Bhatti’s murder and although Taseer’s killer was imprisoned, the judge who passed the sentence had to flee the country after receiving death threats.

“Asia is appealing against her death sentence at the Pakistani High Court but the process is a lengthy one and has faced many setbacks. We have heard reports that she remains strong in faith despite her unimaginable ordeal, but her future remains very uncertain and the appeal could last many more years,” said the Pakistan Christian Post story.

The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) is monitoring this case with grave concern, and a spokesperson said, “We are providing financial support to her lawyer, Mr. Chaudhry, and we are campaigning at the international level by raising awareness of her case with politicians and the EU.

“We also continue to speak to the international community about the lack of religious freedom and respect for human rights in Pakistan generally. Please pray for Asia this Christmas and her strength as she fights for her freedom.”

Younis Masih
The spokesperson added, “Younis Masih is still in prison after seven years and we regret to report that the appeal against his death sentence for blasphemy is carrying into another year. CLAAS has been working with Younis on his case since January 2011 and we have been paying regular visits to him in prison.

“In addition to spiritual and legal support, we are providing basic items to help make his detention more comfortable. We are also proving food aid to his wife and children each month.

“It has been another difficult year for Younis, who was sentenced to death for making derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad in 2005. An appeal hearing was held in November but proceedings were halted by the judge and it was rescheduled for December 17. Younis was present for the hearing and joined by CLAAS national director Joseph Francis and defense lawyer Naeem Shakir. However, the hearing was once again adjourned and is now due to take place on January 17, 2013.”

Christianophobia - To Find Ttrue Persecution, Look Abroad

Book Review

Rupert Shortt, 298 pp. (including index), 2012, Ryder/Random House (UK)

By Steve Rabey

"The next 10 years will bring increasing persecution upon believers," wrote bestselling US author and former megachurch pastor Jack Hayford in 2010. "The spirit of anti-Christ is increasing its intensity. The heat will not only increase against institutional Christianity, but any believer who lives 'out of the closet' of silence or reserve."

Where will the "fires of this persecution" burn brightly? "In the Western world," wrote Hayford, who was one of the leaders the American monthly Christian magazine ‘Charisma’ asked to answer the question, "What will life be like for the church in 2020?"

While Hayford and other high-profile religious leaders use tax-exempt churches, para-church ministries, or popular print, broadcast and web outlets, to proclaim that Christians in America suffer grievous oppression, veteran British journalist Rupert Shortt seeks to set the record straight by painting a vivid portrayal of global persecution in “Christianophobia,” a good book with an unfortunate title.

"About 200 million Christians are now under threat" around the world, writes Shortt, "more than any other faith group." In his guided tour of nearly 20 countries where believers are in danger, Shortt recounts numerous incidents that could serve as updates to John Foxe's Reformation-era “Book of Martyrs.” In recent years, believers have been burned alive, beheaded, crucified, tortured, had their tongues cut out, been forced to emigrate, and witnessed their churches bombed and their homes burned to the ground.

This is "persecution as I understand it," he writes. "None of the opinions, insults, or laws judged offensive by many Western Christians amounts to persecution." And unfortunately, things have only been getting worse in many regions, generating more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than during the previous nineteen put together.

Jesus warned his followers that they would experience persecution, a prediction that was already coming true before the books of the New Testament were completed. Today, Shortt argues, "the greatest curbs on religious freedoms take place in Muslim majority countries."

Take Egypt, where Christianity grew deep roots in the centuries before Mohammed. Today, there are more than 10 million Christians among a population of more than 80 million. But Christians have faced increasing pressures in recent decades, and the overthrow of a dictator and a historic election that promoted the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi have complicated matters even more.

The book documents how attacks and bombings of churches have increased since the election; forced emigration is shrinking the Christian population; Coptic Christians (the largest group of Egyptian Christians) face systematic obstacles to promotion in the army, police and legal professions; Coptic women have been abducted and forced to convert to Islam; and Muslims who convert to Christianity may be shunned, harassed, physically harmed and even killed.

Shortt is quick to point out he doesn't blame Islam per se for the growing pressure on Christians. After all, Christians and Muslims marched hand-in-hand in 2011 during the Tahrir Square demonstrations against the Mubarak regime. Rather, an increasingly fervent strain of "politicized Islamism" has swept the Arab world, exploiting popular anxieties and endangering interfaith. Religion has only become more politicized as the scheduled Dec. 15 vote on a proposed Egyptian constitution nears.

Still, Shortt notes the causes of conflict often are more mundane, such as differences in lifestyle, or fears that hard-working, thrifty and self-disciplined Christians may have an edge over their neighbors in the daily competition for survival. "I reject the...fantasy that holds Islam to be uniquely violent," he writes. In fact, he asserts, "much anti-Christian prejudice and violence has nothing to do with militant Islam."

Throughout the Middle East, for example, both ancient grudges and modern statecraft contribute to Christians' vulnerabilities. The West has embraced, supported and armed a series of unpopular dictators, unintentionally increasing the credibility of groups like Al Qaeda. And interventions that may have seemed like a good idea to some at the time, such as restoring Iran's Shah to power in 1953, have more deeply entrenched both anti-Western and anti-Christian feelings.

Nor does Shortt hold Christians blameless in the rise of religious intolerance. For one thing, Christian churches in the region have their own long history of "violent intolerance." Christians in many countries have also been slow in embracing or promoting interfaith dialogue and tolerance. In other places, Christians have allowed inter-church divisions to weaken both their witness and the social fabric. Not all church leaders have been well trained or temperate. And in some cases, he writes, overzealous believers have allowed their exuberant house church worship services to antagonize their neighbors.

In Nigeria, where the population has roughly equal numbers of Christians and Muslims, religious conflicts play out against a backdrop of chronic sectarian problems among some 500 ethnic groups. When tensions rise, followers of Jesus and followers of Mohammed seem more apt to blame and attack each other rather than to love and work with each other. "Muslims have (also) suffered grievously at the hands of Christians," writes Shortt. In too many of these cases, the conflicts turn deadly. Shortt describes conflicts that erupted after the 2011 Nigerian Presidential elections in which a Christian candidate was elected. The results led to outbursts of violence that left more than 800 people dead, more than 300 churches razed and some 65,000 people displaced.

In Iraq, he says, the American-led invasion of 2003 has been a "disaster" for a struggling Christian population that numbered between 1.2 and 1.4 million in 1990. Today the Christian population in this "cultural and spiritual heartland of Christianity" has dwindled to fewer than 200,000 souls. The Christians who remain have witnessed the destruction and desecration of their churches, convents, monasteries and orphanages. Bishops have been murdered or beheaded in their churches. "Few populations on earth have suffered as acutely as Iraq's in recent years," he writes.

Shortt does not make out his exhibition of petty disputes, Western diplomatic miscalculation and Christian culpability to be excuses for anti-Christian violence. Nor does he explain why it may be important to believers to face up to these realities. Beyond the argument that the threat to Christians is vastly under-recognized, he draws few conclusions from his just-the-facts approach to the subject.

In some countries where Christians are persecuted, national constitutions officially enshrine religious freedom. The problem, writes Shortt, is that "beliefs may be manifested only in particular ways." The danger is not in embracing Christian doctrine, but in living it out. In country after country, Christians who attend church worship services, read Christian literature, observe Christian holidays or wear crosses subject themselves to social ostracism, violence or criminal charges, and courts seldom support their constitutionally mandated rights.

Conditions are bad and getting worse. So, what can be done? If you were hoping the Arab Spring, with its promise of democracy, would bring relief, think again. "Nowadays," says Shortt, "where political systems reflect people's values, they usually also reflect people's strong religious beliefs." Even in "secular" nations such as Turkey, a country "torn between two versions of itself," religious values often trump official policies. In 1965, Harvard's Harvey Cox predicted the imminent rise of "the secular city," but Shortt sees religion on the rise. "God is winning in global politics," he writes.

In some cases, Christians persevere amidst the persecution. Such is the case in China, where decades of suppression following Mao's Cultural Revolution haven't been able to halt the growth of underground and house churches that Shortt says have brought about "a spiritual renaissance" that is considered by some to be "the greatest religious revival in history."

Elsewhere, one bright spot is the influence of individual, incarnational Christians who minister to people's needs and serve as ambassadors of Christ. Shortt says these nurses and doctors in hospitals, teachers in schools and "Bible women" who work in villages around the globe are "translators" who "help interpret Christianity in local languages and cultures."

Such committed individuals can't singlehandedly eradicate the growing global problem of Christian persecution, but at least they can embody the message that Shortt conveys to all people of faith: "Good religion promotes conflict resolution; bad religion fosters discord."


Steve Rabey is a Colorado writer, editor and consultant who has written more than 2,000 articles and more than 30 books (


Copyright 2012 World Watch Monitor


Monday, December 24, 2012

Pakistani Mob Beats to Death Muslim Accused of Blasphemy

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

KARACHI, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- A mob in Pakistan has stormed a police station and beaten to death a Muslim man accused of desecrating the Koran.

The victim's body was then set alight, according to witnesses.

According to a story by the BBC, the unnamed victim had earlier been handed over to the police after burnt pages of the Koran were found in a mosque in Dadu district, 330km (200 miles) north of Karachi, where he had been staying overnight.

Hours later a mob went to the police station, seized the man and killed him.

The district police chief, Usman Ghani, told the BBC the gruesome incident was filmed on cell phones. He said the video was being reviewed to help identify those responsible for the attack.

The BBC reported that 30 people have so far been detained in connection with the attack.

The local police chief and five of his officers have been arrested for failing to protect the man.

The BBC's Karachi correspondent Shahzeb Jillani said blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue in Pakistan, where scores of people have been killed by mobs or vigilantes.

He added that the controversial laws are often misused to persecute minorities or settle disputes.

Most recently, the BBC said, international attention focused on the case of Christian teenager Rimsha Masih, who was held over blasphemy allegations.

The BBC said the case was dismissed last month after a neighbor testified that she had been framed, possibly to force Christians out of her neighborhood outside Islamabad.

In 2011, two leading politicians - the Governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, and the Religious Minorities Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti - were assassinated after speaking out against the existing blasphemy legislation. 

Muslims Told not to Celebrate Christmas, or Wish Christians a 'Merry Christmas'

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

JAKARTA, INDONESIA (ANS) -- Indonesia's top Islamic clerical body has warned the country's 200 million-plus Muslims not to attend Christmas celebrations or even wish Christians a "Merry Christmas', maintaining that to do so remains forbidden under local Islamic law.

Indonesian children singing Christmas carols wearing Santa costumes in Jakarta (Photo via
Mohabat News ( says that according to a news report by UCA News, Ma'ruf Amin, head of the Fatwa Division of the Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI), a government funded organization, has reminded Muslims of a ban on celebrating Christmas imposed under a fatwa, or religious edict, in 1981.

"Wishing a 'Merry Christmas' is still not right," he said. "It would be better if (Muslims) say 'Happy New Year.
 It is sufficient for Muslims to show their tolerance towards Christmas by allowing Christians to celebrate peacefully.

He added, "(Muslims) must maintain tolerance and harmony."

Zuhairi Misrawi, a Muslim leader from Nahdlatul Ulama, the country's largest Islamic organization which falls under the umbrella of MUI, said that not all Muslims would accept this blanket ban on Christmas.

"Islam is like a wide and deep blue sea, and MUI's religious edict is only a flow of water. There are many other flows of water," he said.

Theopilus Bela, secretary general of the Indonesian Committee of Religions for Peace, said that MUI had a history of issuing fatwas which demonstrate a lack of religious tolerance.
"I hope Muslims, the majority group, won't be affected by MUI's remarks," he said.

Christian Teen Cleared of Blasphemy Appeals for Help for Christians in Prison

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

ROME (ANS) -- A Christian teen gave a heartfelt plea. "I ask Catholics, the West, the international community to help all Christians in prison, victims of the blasphemy laws."
Rimsha Masi

According to a story by Dario Salvi of AsiaNews, that was the appeal of Rimsha Masih, a Christian teen suffering from mental problems who was arrested last August for blasphemy, and then cleared.

For weeks, her story occupied Pakistani newspapers and world media, motivating worldwide appeals for action.

Asia News said as a result of the work of the Federal Minister Paul Bhatti, supported by the Muslim community and the government in Islamabad, the story - for the first time - has resulted in a positive outcome.

A few days before the holidays, Asia News reported, Rimsha and family wanted to send "greetings to Pope Benedict XVI and all Christians of the world."

In a plea addressed to all Christians, the West and the international community, Asia News reported Rimsha said, "I ask you to support and assist all Christians ... who are in prison because of the blasphemy laws" ... "be close to them."

Asia News said during the telephone interview, Rimsha was playing with her brothers. She laughed several times, confirming an atmosphere of relative calm.

Rimsha said that after a difficult period she is now happy. "This Christmas I thank God for saving me and Jesus Christ for helping me."

Asia News said her words showed the simplicity of a young girl whose life was turned upside down by a terrible accusation, and who asked only for things to return to normal.

"For Christmas," Rimsha told Asia News, "I would like to get nice clothes and a pair of sneakers."
She added that wish is to "be able to return to school."

Asia News said Misrek Masih, father of Rimsha, thanked "Jesus for saving us," and "the minister Paul Bhatti and his entire organization (the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance-APMA) for supporting us."

Asia News said Misrek also thanked the Pakistani government for protection. However, he added that the family still does not feel safe and would like to move to another country, "because here we still feel threatened. We cannot leave quietly. Our life is always in danger; extremist groups might strike. We strongly desire to start a new life elsewhere."

Despite the difficulties, dangers and threats, Asia News said, Rimsha and her family are looking forward to the holidays.

They said, "We want to wish Merry Christmas to the Pope and all the Christians of the world, and we thank you very much for the support we received."

Asia News said Rimsha and her family are currently under the protection of the Pakistani government and Catholic activists of the APMA, an association founded by Shahbaz Bhatti - former Minister for Minorities, who was assassinated by Islamic extremists. APMA is now led by his brother Paul.

Iran Court Convicts Christian Pastor who is a US Citizen

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

NEW YORK (ANS) -- A 32-year-old Iranian who is a U.S. citizen and a Christian convert has been imprisoned without notice of any formal charges while visiting his family in Iran.

That's according to his wife and attorneys in the U.S., who are now hoping that a media campaign will help set him free.
Saeed Abedini and his family via ACLJ
According to a story by Lisa Daftari for Fox News, Rev. Saeed Abedini, who lives in the U.S. with his wife and two young children, was making one of his frequent visits to see his parents and the rest of his family in Iran, his country of origin. Abedini spent many years there as a Christian leader and community organizer developing Iran's underground home church communities for Christian converts.

On this last trip, Fox News reported, the Iranian government pulled him off a bus and said he must face a penalty for his previous work as a Christian leader in Iran.

He is currently awaiting trial at Iran's notoriously brutal Evin Prison, where he has been incarcerated since late September.

"When he became a Christian, he became a criminal in his own country. His passion was to reach the people of Iran," Naghmeh, his wife, said in an exclusive interview with Fox News.

"He comes from a very close-knit family, and he loved evangelizing and passing out Bibles on the streets of Tehran. This was his passion," she said.

Fox News reported that in July, Abedini left his wife and kids to go to Iran to visit family and continue a humanitarian effort he began years ago to build an orphanage.

After a short visit to a nearby country, Abedini was traveling back into Iran to catch his flight back to the U.S. That was when members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard stopped his bus near the Turkey-Iran border and pulled Abedini from the bus, confiscating his passports and subjecting him to intense interrogation, according to his wife.

Fox News said after weeks under house arrest and many calls to Iran's passport control office about the status of his confiscated passport, Abedini was told that his case has been referred to the Revolutionary Guard, the Iranian government's elite military force.

Fox News said on Sept. 26, five men kicked open the door of Abedini's parents' residence in Tehran. They collected all communications devices and arrested him while placing the rest of his family members, who are also Christians converts from Islam, under house arrest.

The family remains under house arrest, according to Naghmeh.

Two days before the home raid, Fox News said Naghmeh reported getting a call to her cellphone in the U.S., from someone she thinks was an Iranian government agent threatening that she would "never see him again."

Abedini is the father of a house church movement in Iran, a community of underground places of worship for former Muslims who convert to Christianity and are not allowed to formally pray in recognized churches.

Fox News said over the course of his involvement, his home church movement had about 100 churches in 30 Iranian cities with more than 2,000 members.

"It was just growing so fast. They see the underground churches as a threat and they see Christianity as a tool from the West to undermine them," Fox News reported Naghmeh said. "They think if the country becomes more Christian, they are no longer under Islamic authority. That's why it's a threat."

But "Christianity saved his life," Naghmeh said of her husband, who converted at the age of 20, after becoming severely depressed from undergoing suicide bomber training by a radical Muslim group.

Abedini was recruited in high school and taken to the mosque to be trained, Fox News reported she said. The more he sought to be a devout Muslim and the deeper he went into training, the more depressed he became.

Under Shariah, or Islamic law, a Muslim who converts to Christianity is on a par with someone waging war against Islam. Death sentences for such individuals are prescribed by fatwas, or legal decrees. They are reinforced by Iran's Constitution, which allows judges to rely on fatwas for determining charges and sentencing on crimes not addressed in the Iranian penal code.

All religious minorities in Iran, including Bahais, Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians, have faced various forms of persecution and political and social marginalization throughout the regime's 30-year reign. But the government saves its harshest retribution for those who have abandoned Islam.

During ongoing interrogation, Fox News reported Abedini has informally been told he will be charged for threatening the national security of Iran and espionage, due to his involvement with Christian house churches and foreign Christian satellite TV ministries.

Fox News said the Iranian government offered bail in the amount of 500 million toman, or roughly $410,000. Abedini's family has prepared the bail documents many times already but have not been successful in having it accepted or approved, they said.

Just this week they prepared yet again the bail documents but were told they were not going to be accepted.
"It's hardest on the kids," Fox News reported Naghmeh said. "Saeed was a stay-at-home dad. My daughter said she is forgetting Daddy's voice and she asked me, 'Do you think he has a beard now?' I didn't even think of that. She keeps playing the home videos over and over. It's the hardest at night because he had a night routine with them when he would read them books and tuck them in. They miss that the most."

Abedini and his wife had met in Iran in 2002, while she was there working for Iranian relatives, and were married shortly thereafter. Together, they worked as Christian leaders in the underground house churches. After facing persecution for these activities, in 2005, they moved to the U.S. together.

According to Fox News his first trip back to Iran was in 2009 with his wife and two children to visit his family when he came under government scrutiny. As the family attempted to catch their flight back to the U.S., Abedini was detained and told he would have to stay in the country for further questioning. His wife and children were put on a plane bound for the U.S., separated from him.

After the arrest and rounds of intense interrogation, in which the interrogators threatened Abedini with death for his conversion to Christianity, they agreed to release him, according to his attorneys. Fox News said that was only after he signed a written agreement in which the government would not charge him for his Christian activities, and he would be allowed to enter and exit the country so long as he ceased all official house church activities.

Fox News said according to his attorneys, he had honored this agreement. "He thought if he honored his part, they would honor theirs. He was transparent about his humanitarian work there," said Tiffany Barrans, International Legal Director at the American Center for Law and Justice based in Washington D.C, the organization representing Abedini's U.S.-based family.

This was ninth trip since 2009 to visit family and to continue his humanitarian work on developing a non-sectarian orphanage in the city of Rasht on a family-owned land plot.

"You have a situation of arbitrary detention here. Iran is violating its own constitution and its international obligations. As citizens of the world, we need to wake up to these violations. Iran needs to be exposed for its violation of these laws," said Barrans, who has been working very closely with Naghmeh to push for her husband's release.

Fox News said the American Center for Law and Justice is providing legal support to Naghmeh by working through the US government, members of Congress, various governments around the world, and with leaders in the United Nations to help release Pastor Saeed.

According to Fox News, the ACLJ previously played an integral role in reaching various government representatives in the case of imprisoned minister Youcef Nadarkhani, who was freed from an Iranian prison after nearly three years following a tremendous international outcry demanding his release.

Despite the fact that Abedini was arrested Sept. 26, the family chose to work through different private means to get him released. In that time, however, he was denied access to an attorney and was badly been beaten by prison guards.
Fox News said according to his wife, Abedini is also being severely beaten by his cell mates who self-identify as members of Al Qaeda. The family is greatly concerned for his health and well being.

The U.S. has not had formal diplomatic ties with the Iranian government since 1980 and relies on alternative efforts in such instances.

Fox News reached out to the State Department for comment on Abedini's case, but has yet to received a call back.

Fox News reported Barrans said, "We were hopeful that the Iranian government would have released him by now and that private efforts would have been more successful. Also, as Saeed has family in Iran, we had to be mindful of the fact that any public action taken could put his family at risk."

She added, "They see that the house church culture is alive and thriving. They believe that making an example out of their former leader will deter others from practicing and converting to Christianity."

Fox News said several house church members, friends and distant relatives of Abedini have had to flee the country in recent months after being summoned by the government to collect evidence against him.

As a convert away from Islam, worshipers are not permitted to attend services at official churches. Underground house churches became a popular way to get around this restriction.

According to Fox News Barrans said, "They have denied converts the opportunity to worship in an official place of worship. Then they tell them they can't practice their faith underground, and doing so is a crime against Iran's national security interests. How is this not a violation of religious freedom?"