Friday, January 6, 2012

Bomb blasts target Northern Nigeria

(Photos courtesy VOM Nigeria)

Nigeria (MNN) ― There's a reason the state of emergency exists in Nigeria. In the wake of an ultimatum from the Boko Haram, there were two bomb blasts in northeastern Nigerian cities, authorities said Thursday.

The state of emergency gives security forces control of the areas under the declaration, and closes some of the borders with Niger, Chad, and Cameroon.

Boko Haram is Hausa for "Western education is a sin." The elusive group has ties to both the Taliban and al Qaeda. Known for pushing a national Sharia law, they warned all Christians living in the North to leave or risk being killed.

Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA, says, "It's an incredible threat to religious liberty, and it's a threat to Christians who live in that part of Nigeria."

Many feel like they're in a deathtrap. Nettleton explains, "For the Christians there, it's obviously a state of fear. They have said, 'How can we leave? This is our home.'" The Boko Haram has said, 'You go to the South with the rest of the Christians. We want northern Nigeria to be all Muslim.'"

As the deadline to vacate expired, the attacks began, although there were no casualties. President Goodluck Jonathan declared the state of emergency last weekend in 15 parts of the country hard hit by violence blamed on the Boko Haram.

"I don't think it's a surprise because Boko Haram has made a target of Christians. They've made a target of churches, as well as targeting the government--targeting police stations, and military establishments and recently, a United Nations building."

Simply put, recent attacks were a warning shot across the bow. "In previous situations in northern Nigeria, there's been a push toward Sharia law. But it was said, 'This won't apply to the Christians. This is only for Muslims.' Boko Haram is saying, 'We only want Muslims in northern Nigeria, and Sharia law will apply to everybody.'"

Human rights activists are doubtful that the state of emergency and troops would improve the situation.  Past history shows that military presence has done little to reduce violence. Nettleton agrees. "There are Christians who don't trust the military to really be a protector for them and to insure the peace of northern Nigeria. There have been cases where the military has stood by while attacks went on. There have been other cases where people in military uniforms were a part of the attack."  

Christian leaders have demanded a stronger response to the attacks from the government and the Muslim community. According to Open Doors, more than 300 Christians were martyred last year in Nigeria, though the actual number is believed to be double or triple that number.

Since 2009, the extreme Islamic group Boko Haram has destroyed more than 50 churches and killed 10 pastors in Nigeria. "Pray for protection. Obviously, it's a very difficult situation. They face danger literally on a daily basis. The fact now that this ultimatum has been delivered: 'Leave the area or else,' the danger is only going to go up."

In the meantime, Nettleton says, the good news is that the Gospel is still moving forward. "One of the significant sources of that outreach is Muslims who have come to Christ. They understand the hopelessness of Islam. They can speak directly to those needs and to those heartfelt things because they, themselves, were Muslims."

With all the violence though, Nettleton notes, "What does this mean for Gospel work? Obviously, it raises the stakes; it raises the danger level for Christians in that part of Nigeria, and it makes their work more difficult."

Sudan and Nigeria were the countries which jumped the most on the 2012 Open Doors' World Watch list; Sudan climbed 19 spots from No. 35 to 16 and Nigeria from 23 to 13.  

Check our Featured Links section for details on the Voice of the Martyrs' work.

Bombings kill at least 72; are Christians next?

Iraq (MNN) ― At least 72 people were killed and dozens more injured yesterday when a series of bombs went off in and around Baghdad.

The attacks were reportedly aimed at Shiites, two bombs detonating in Shiite neighborhoods and another among a group of Shiite pilgrims headed to Karbala for a holy festival.

The bombings came exactly two weeks after the December 22 car bombings, which left at least 63 bodies behind.

Carl Moeller with Open Doors USA says the upswing in violence is unfortunately related to the United States' withdrawal of troops in Iraq.
"One of the great realities of our involvement in Iraq is that as we leave, the elements of extremism on both the Sunni and the Shia side are becoming more and more violent."

And it's not just Muslims who are affected. Although the recent violence has been Muslims targeting Muslims, Moeller says Christians are swept up in the crossfire.

"Today, the Iraqi Christian population has been literally devastated by violence such as this," notes Moeller. "Christians are being forced from their homes, they're forced to flee the country, they're killed."

Even in attacks where believers are not targeted directly, the increase in violence is an indication of worse things to come, "as these extremist elements become more and more uncontrolled," says Moeller.

As it is, Iraq placed ninth worldwide on the Open Doors 2012 World Watch List for the persecuted church. The ranking is one place lower than it was in 2011, but only because persecution in other nations has heated up dramatically. Moeller says in fact, persecution in Iraq has gotten worse over the last year.

The result of the American-Iraqi war's end could have fatal effects for Muslims and Christians alike in 2012. "After years and years of fighting in that country...Christians have fewer rights. Christians are more persecuted."
Amazingly, however, among the few Christians left in Iraq, the Gospel is still moving.

"The persecution of Christians is actually providing a validating witness to the truth of the Gospel," says Moeller. "The fact that Christians are holding on to their faith despite all of the violence perpetrated against them is actually a witness to Muslims who are looking at that and wondering, ‘What on earth could possibly be so compelling and true to keep these Christians believing in it?'"

Pray for Iraq as it enters this increasingly hostile period. Pray for believers to reach out to their neighbors with the truth and to be protected in doing so.

To get directly involved, visit, where you can advocate on behalf of Iraqi Christians, or support Christian leaders in the country. 

Kazakhstan and other former Soviet nations earn a spot on the World Watch List

Photo by Irene

Kazakhstan (MNN) ―Kazakhstan has experienced a lot of religious firsts over the last year, including the introduction of two new restrictive religion laws. The start of 2012 has thrust them into another one: a spot on theOpen Doors World Watch List.

The World Watch List is a detailed analysis of Christian persecution worldwide, ranking the top 50 nations with the worst persecution worldwide. The 2012 list came out this week, revealing Kazakhstan at slot 45.

It's Kazakhstan's first time on the list. Still, Joel Griffith with Slavic Gospel Association says he wasn't surprised to see Kazakhstan ranked.

"When you consider the ‘Stan' countries that are largely Muslim in makeup, Kazakhstan--since the Soviet Union broke apart in 1991--had really been a country where there was quite a bit of religious freedom," says Griffith. "Here in the past couple of years, we've seen that steadily start to decrease, sadly, with Kazakhstan joining the other central Asian Islamic Republics and cracking down on their religious groups."

Kazakhstan does seem to be following suit with surrounding countries. Other former Soviet nations have been on the list for years. Tajikistan came in at 34 this year, Azerbaijan at 25 and Turkmenistan at 18, to name a few. Uzbekistan moved up from 9th last year to a ranking of 7th for 2012--a placement two spots worse than Iraq.

"It's hard to imagine that the Soviet Union and atheistic communism came to an end 20 years ago," says Griffith. "It's almost like we're waking up and entering that world all over again. Even though it doesn't go under the name ‘Soviet Union,' we're seeing some of the same restrictive practices rear their heads again."

Much of the reasoning behind crackdowns in these nations is the avoidance of radical Islam. Unfortunately, Christians suffer so much as a result that ministry may need to resort to old ways, says Griffith.

"I think basically we have to do what we did during the Soviet days--as long as we're able to assist [churches] with resources, to do that as directly as we can. And then we have to start planning for times when maybe access is going to be very restricted and we need to be a little bit more creative about how we do it."

Ministry will not need to revert completely back to Soviet days; Griffith points out that the addition of internet and smart phone capabilities to ministry now certainly allow for more opportunities. Still, the safety of the church is a priority.

Prayer is needed for these former Soviet nations. The Gospel is still spreading despite restrictions, but pray for safety and boldness as these Christians enter a new year of hardship. Pray, more immediately, that SGA children's Christmas programs would not be disrupted tomorrow, Russian Christmas. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Nigeria: Boko Haram threatens Christians

-- the battle for Nigeria heats up

By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 140 
Special to ASSIST News Service

AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- Boko Haram -- also known as the 'Nigerian Taliban' -- was founded in 2002 in Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria's most north-eastern state, Borno. The group demands the complete Islamisation of all Nigeria. After their leader, Sheikh Mohammed Yusuf, died in police custody on 31 July 2009, Boko Haram declared jihad on the state. In June 2010 Boko Haram formalised its ties with al-Qaeda which has long sought strategic depth in sub-Saharan Africa and a foothold in Nigeria. Since then, Boko Haram has been sending militants to Somalia for military training under al-Shabaab and escalating, intensifying and expanding its terror campaign. 

Vowing to render Nigeria 'ungovernable', Boko Haram targets anything that does not support its fundamentalist Islamist ends and jihadist means: universities, police, secular courts, Christian churches and even liberal mosques. On 16 June 2011 Boko Haram perpetrated Nigeria's first ever suicide bombing, killing eight and wounding dozens at Police Headquarters in the federal capital, Abuja. In August they followed that up with a suicide bombing at the UN headquarters in Abuja, killing 25. Throughout 2011, citizens have been fleeing Borno in large numbers to escape the gun battles, assassinations and terrorism that have become a near-constant phenomenon there. Despite all this, the Nigerian government has been reluctant to treat the threat seriously. While the federal government has been equivocating, Boko Haram's projection of strength has been winning it popular support from radicalised Muslims amongst the masses and in the military. (Background, see Religious Liberty Monitoring: The Boko Haram Threat.)

On Christmas Day 2011 Boko Haram bombed two churches: one on the outskirts of the federal capital Abuja and one in the volatile Middle-belt city of Jos. The car bomb that exploded in the car park of St Theresa Catholic Church at Madalla, Niger State, just 29km from Abuja, was massive. At least 42 were killed, most incinerated by the massive fireball that consumed 17 vehicles. Dozens were seriously wounded. About the same time, a suicide bomber attacked the Yobe State Command Headquarters of the Department of State Security Services (SSS) in Damaturu, killing three. Nigeria's President, Goodluck Jonathan, was subsequently slammed for his lame response quoted in Vanguard 25 Dec 2011: 'The issue of bombing is one of the burdens we must live with,' he said. 'It will not last forever.' (Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had the same lame response to the unconstitutional implementation of Sharia law across the north.) On Friday 30 December four Muslims died in Maiduguri when a bomb planted by Boko Haram exploded outside their mosque after Friday prayers. By the next day, President Jonathan had closed Nigeria's borders with Chad and Niger Republic and declared a state of emergency in 15 hard-hit local government areas of Borno, Yobe, Plateau and Niger states, sending tanks and soldiers to patrol the streets.

Boko Haram has responded to the state of emergency by upping the ante. On Monday 2 January 2012 Boko Haram spokesman Abul Qaqa issued a statement that southern Christians living in the north -- particularly those in the north-eastern states of Borno and Yobe -- had three days to leave or face further violence. Boko Haram says it is prepared to confront the Nigerian military, which it claims is only interested in killing innocent Muslims. Many believe Boko Haram is keen to trigger a religious civil war that would attract international jihadists who themselves have a strategic interest in Nigeria.


* churches and individual Christians across Nigeria will respond with radical faith: not as the world does, by putting faith in weapons, money or might, but by crying with one voice to the LORD who gives strength and wisdom and deliverance (Psalm 34). 'Our God is a God of salvation, and to GOD, the Lord, belong deliverances from death' (Psalm 68:20 ESV). 'It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes' (Psalm 118:9 ESV).

* God will intervene in Nigeria to end the terror, expose the falsehood of Islam and deliver his people from evil. May the wicked who plot evil against the Church be snared in the work of their own hands (Psalm 9:15,16) and repent and turn to the LORD; may God be glorified (Galatians 1:23,24).
Since formally linking with al-Qaeda in June 2010, the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram has intensified and expanded its jihad against the state, vowing to render Nigeria 'ungovernable'. Christians have been hit hard. On Christmas Day 2011 a massive car bomb exploded outside St Theresa Catholic Church at Madalla, Niger State, just 29km from the federal capital Abuja. At least 42 were killed, most incinerated by the massive fireball that consumed 17 vehicles. A state of emergency has been declared with tanks and troops now patrolling 15 of the most hard-hit local government areas. Boko Haram responded by giving southerners and Christians three days to leave the north or face more violence. The battle for Nigeria has begun -- please pray for Christians, the Church and the nation.

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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International campaign in support of arrested children of AOG church of Ahwaz

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

AHWAZ, IRAN (ANS) -- The brutal attack on the Assemblies of God (AOG) church of Ahwaz on December 23, 2011, seems to have psychologically affected the children who were arrested in a harsh manner by security authorities. In this connection, Iranian and non-Iranian Christians and churches are invited to reassure these children by sending cards of encouragement.
Illustration by Mohabat News

According to the Iranian Christian news agency, Mohabat News (, following the attack by security authorities on the AOG church of Ahwaz at Christmas, the Hamgam Council of Iranian Churches is inviting all Iranian and foreign churches to send cards of encouragement to the children who were mentally affected during the raid.

“Based on earlier reports received, the security authorities had their faces covered and treated the Sunday school children of the church badly as they arrested them. This frightening ordeal deeply affected these children's minds,” said a spokesperson for Mohabat News.

According to Article 14 of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child concerning freedom of thought and religion, “Governments should honor the freedom of thought and religion of children and the right of the parents to provide direction to their own child.”

The news agency told the ASSIST News Service ( that "The Islamic Republic of Iran adopted the International Convention on the Rights of the Child and is obliged to apply its provisions in Iran. Seventeen years have passed since acceptance of this convention and the Iranian regime should explain why they treat children, who were present with their parents at a religious place, like criminals and take them to security centers and jails that were intended for criminals?!

“The Hamgam Council of Iranian Churches is inviting all Iranian and foreign churches to send cards of encouragement to the children who were mentally affected during the raid.”

It added, “The children in the Sunday schools of other churches are also called to take part in this campaign and demonstrate their solidarity with the children who were prevented from celebrating our Savior’s birth.”

The cards of encouragement can be sent to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) at the address below where the cards will be forwarded to the affected children.

“Let's hope these cards will help wipe this bitter experience from the minds of the children of the AOG church of Ahwaz,” concluded the news agency.

Address to send the cards:

Christian Solidarity Worldwide
P.O. Box 99,
New Malden,
Surrey KT3 3YF

Dan Wooding, 71, 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 192 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, one of which is 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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International Communique: No Christmas in Laos for Persecuted Christians

By Michael Ireland
Senior International Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

WASHINGTON, DC (ANS) -- A coalition of Laotian and Hmong non-governmental organizations (NGOs) issued on Christmas Day a statement and international communique to raise awareness about ongoing religious persecution in Laos directed against Christian believers in the Southeast Asian nation.

They were joined by The Lao Movement for Human Rights and the Center for Public Policy Analysis.
Map of Laos
“Sadly, Laotian and Hmong Christians continue to be arrested, imprisoned and tortured in Laos by security forces and the army,” said Philip Smith, Executive Director of the Center for Public Policy Analysis.

“Again this year, many Protestant Christians and Roman Catholic believers in Laos are prohibited from celebrating Christmas, or are being arrested and imprisoned for seeking to practice their religious faith independent of government monitoring and control,” Smith said.

The Paris, France-based Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR), in cooperation with the CPPA and other NGOs issued the following international communique on Christmas Day in English and French:


The statement continued:“On this day of joy, love and hope for Christians in the whole world, the Lao Movement for Human Rights wishes a Merry Christmas to the Christian community of Laos, particularly to those Christians arrested in the year 2011 and still detained to this day in the prisons of the Lao People’s Demcratic Republic (LPDR). The Lao Movement for Human Rights expresses its deep concerns on the plight of the Christians in LPDR, victims of threats and arrests in different provinces in the course of 2011, until these last days which were marked by an intimidation campaign aiming to prevent them from celebrating Christmas.”

The communique stated that on December 21, 2011, authorities of Natoo village, Phalansay district, Savannakhet province (South) threatened four leaders of a community of 47 Christians and “chased them from the village unless they renounced their faith.”

The communique says this intimidation happened less than a week after authorities of Boukham village (3 km from Natou), Adsaphanthong district, Savannakhet province, arrested eight leaders of a community of 200 Christians -- Mr. Phouphet, Mr Oun, Mr Somphong, Mr Ma, Mr Kai, Mr Wanta, Mr Kingmanosorn and Mrs Kaithong -- for having organized Christmas celebrations although a formal authorization has already been obtained. If Mr Kingmanosone was freed after a caution paid by the “Lao Evangelical Church,” the only Anglican Church recognized by the LPDR, the other persons are still in prison, their hand and legs blocked by wooden stocks.

“Just like the other past years, the LPDR government has not given a rest to the Christians who have continued to suffer in 2011,” the groups said in the joint-communique.

The Lao Movement for Human Rights recalled some recent cases:

** On January 4, 2011, the police of Nakoon village, Hinboun district, Khammouane province (Center) arrested nine Christians for “having celebrated Christmas without authorization.”. To this day, Pastor Vanna and Pastor Yohan are still continually imprisoned.

** On March 28, 2011, four Christians of Phoukong village, Viengkham district, Luang Prabang province (North) were arrested for “spreading foreign religion and evading Lao traditional religion.” In the same village, on July 11, 2011, another Christian, Mr Vong Veu, was arrested for having chosen the Christian religion, and is imprisoned until this day.

** In Luang Namtha province (North), Namtha district, village of Sounya, four Christians -- Mr Seng Aroun, Mr Souchiad, Mr Naikouang and Mr Kofa -- were arrested on July 10th, 2011 , for “having practiced Christianism.”

** On July 16, 2011, ten Christians were forced by the authorities to leave their village Nonsavang, Thapangthong district, Savannakhet province (South), after they refused to renounce their religion. These persons, including women and children, took refuge in their rice fields, 3 km from the village, by building a temporary bamboo shelter, but then, were again chased from their rice fields at the end of August 2011, with the promises that they could return to the village the day they renounce their religion.

The communique stated: “The Lao Movement for Human Rights firmly condemns these basic human rights violations against the Lao people, that are contrary to the International Conventions ratified by the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and contrary to the LPDR Constitution’s provisions on ‘religious freedom.’

“The Lao Movement for Human Rights asks the LPDR government to implement its international engagements and agreements related to the United Nations on Human Rights with the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners detained for their faith or their opinion and in ending all forms of religious repression,” the LMHR statement concluded.

The international coalition of Laotian and Hmong non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which joined in support of the statement and international communique include the LMHR, the CPPA, Hmong Advancement, Inc., Hmong Advance, Inc., the United League for Democracy in Laos, United Lao for Human Rights and Democracy, the Laos Institute for Democracy, Inc., Laos Students for Democracy, the Lao Veterans of America and others.

Contact for further information:
Kristy Lee or Philip Smith 
Tel. (202) 543-1444
Center for Public Policy Analysis
2020 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Suite No. 220
Washington, D.C. 20006 USA  

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

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Eritrean Hostages in Sinai Appeal for International Help

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

SURREY, ENGLAND (ANS) -- Thirteen Eritrean hostages currently held in northern Sinai, close to the Israeli border face a bleak future.

They’ve issued a desperate appeal for international intervention after being informed that they will be sold to organ traffickers if a large ransom is not paid for them.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported that in an appeal publicized by Italian NGO EveryOne Group, the hostages said, “We have been beaten, tortured, humiliated in the most atrocious fashion. We have now received an ultimatum from our persecutors: if our families do not pay US$33,000 per head within 24 hours, we will be sold to clandestine clinics that traffic in human organs.”

CSW said the hostages continued, “We are calling on the civilized countries, religious people who abhor these atrocities, the United Nations and the European Union not to abandon us. If we had been Europeans or Americans, would you have left us in this terrible condition? We are young men and women who have fled from a country that persecuted us.”

CSW said that Eritrean citizens are fleeing the repressive regime of President Isaias Afwerki at a rate of 1,000 people per month, conservatively speaking. Eritrea has one of the world's worst human rights records, including stringent restrictions on religious freedom.

Tens of thousands of Eritreans are thought to be imprisoned in the country's many detention facilities, including around 3,000 Christians. CSW said hundreds of Eritrean refugees, including women and children, have fallen into the hands of human traffickers.

Many are still held hostage in purpose-built camps in the Sinai Desert, CSW reported. There they face harassment, extreme sexual abuse and torture until relatives or friends make large payments to secure their release. A recent CNN report also confirmed that many African refugees have organs removed from their bodies for sale, before being left to die.

Andrew Johnston, Advocacy Director at Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), said in a news release, “This group of young people is representative of many other Eritrean refugees who are being held hostage in the Sinai. It has been over a year since these hostage camps were brought to light. In some cases the people traffickers have even been identified, yet these camps still exist, and the inhumane treatment of these refugees, along with the threat of organ trafficking, continues.”

He added, “We urge the Egyptian authorities to take effective action to end human trafficking within their borders, and to ensure that perpetrators of these appalling crimes are brought to justice. Human trafficking is a transnational crime carried out by criminal syndicates, and ought to be of international concern. It is therefore vital that the international community assists in combating this affront to human dignity, and in ensuring that victims are afforded protection and refuge.”

Christian Solidarity Worldwide works for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

For further information, visit

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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Nigeria under state of emergency

Nigeria (MNN) ― Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has declared a state of emergency in parts of the country following attacks from the Islamist group Boko Haram.

Boko Haram means "Western education is a sin." The group is pushing to establish Sharia law and has been the source of explosive discontent over the last few years. They have been carrying out increasingly deadly attacks throughout 2011, including an August suicide bombing of UN headquarters in Abuja and Christmas violence that triggered fear and anger.

Authorities temporarily closed international borders, and the military is in place, a measure meant to reinforce the emergencies in Yobe, Borno, Plateau and Niger states.

This came in response to a threat issued by the Boko Haram, an extremist Muslim sect with close ties to al Qaeda. They issued an ultimatum, warning Christians to leave the North by January 3, which led to a response from Christian leaders that they would defend themselves if such attacks continued.

Bruce Smith, President/CEO of Wycliffe Associates, says their translations teams have not been directly affected by the threat. However, the emotional and spiritual toll has been much higher. "It's an extremely stressful circumstance for them. They're very concerned. They're seeking wisdom about how to respond in these circumstances. They're actually looking to God's Word for the answers that they really need in terms of how they relate to their neighbors and other members of the community that are part of this stressful situation."

While Jonathon has been urging calm, a religious war weighs heavily on recent memory. Even with the stepped-up security, their teams have not allowed the situation to disrupt their deadlines for translation work. Smith acknowledges, "It's definitely creating a climate of uncertainty and increases their concern about how to continue carrying out their work." However, "They know that God's Word has the real power to change people's hearts and that continuing to move forward in Bible translation is the best way to remedy the situation that they face."

There's "news," and then there's the story behind it that impacts local Christians, Smith explains. The team has a testimony in the local community, and fleeing impacts the mission work and Bible translation, in terms of its ability to move forward, he adds. That's why they're laying low and being extra vigilant. "The people that are primarily working in Bible translation right now are Nigerians. These are people that are working in their own communities. They are well aware of the local circumstances; they know who is affiliated with which groups and where their allies are. They're wired into the local situation and very attuned to it."

Tension is a normal part of living in a country like Nigeria. For the local translation teams, they work around it and pray. "Pray for God's protection. But also pray for God's wisdom that these circumstances will actually yield opportunities to speak a testimony for Him, to make His name known, and for hearts to be changed, because that's the ultimate solution."

Boko Haram is blamed for three murders this week that could be a precursor to a bloodbath, and Smith says their team wants other Christians to pray for change. "Pray that God's Word and the truth of God's Word continues to impact the communities across Nigeria. It's not government, it's not political, it's not military force that's going to change people's hearts and minds. Ultimately it's the truth of God's Word." 

Anti-Christian Incidents Nearly Doubled in Indonesia in 2011

Attempts to institutionalize intolerance, close churches increase.
Acts of violence and intolerance against Christians in Indonesia almost doubled in 2011, with an Islamist campaign to close down churches symbolizing the plight of the religious minority.

The Indonesian Protestant Church Union, locally known as PGI, counted 54 acts of violence and other violations against Christians in 2011, up from 30 in 2010.

The number of such incidents against religious minorities in general also grew, from 198 in 2010 to 276 in 2011, but the worst is perhaps yet to come if authorities continue to overlook the threat of extremism, said a representative from the Jakarta-based Wahid Institute, a Muslim organization that promotes tolerance.

Rumadi, who goes by a single name, said his Wahid Institute also observed an attempt to institutionalize intolerance in this archipelago of about 238 million people, of whom about 88 percent Muslim. At least 36 regulations to ban religious practices deemed deviant from Islam were drafted or implemented in the country in 2011.

A Jakarta-based civil rights group, the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, noted that both the government and groups in society were responsible for the incidents, with the main violators including religious extremist organizations such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI).

Indonesia’s hot-bed of extremism is West Java, the most populous province that includes the nation’s capital city of Jakarta. This province alone witnessed 160 incidents against religious minorities. In the 1950s, West Java was the base of an Islamist group, Darul Islam, whose splinter groups are still active, fighting the “secular” government and religious minorities.

Church Closures 
Churches in West Java, which has about 520,000 Christians, also suffered the most last year. On Christmas Day, two churches in West Java’s Bogor city bore the brunt of growing extremism.

“Islamist vigilantes screamed and yelled at us and threatened us, as we sought to hold a Christmas service,” a leader of the Gereja Kristen Indonesia, also known as the GKI or the Yasmin Church, told Compass in an email.

“We could not hold Christmas service in our own church for a second year,” said the source, who requested anonymity.

The city administration, allegedly under pressure from local extremist groups, sealed off the half-constructed building of the church, situated in the Taman Yasmin housing complex on a street named H. Abdullah Bin Nuh, in 2010. Before Christmas that year, the Supreme Court ordered the city mayor, Diani Budiarto, to unseal the church building, and later an ombudsman also recommended the same, but the official refused to oblige. The church has held worship services on a sidewalk, with police cordoning off the compound, since April 2010.

On Dec. 25, church members insisted they wanted to celebrate Christmas in the building, which is legally theirs, but police prevented them from even going near the structure, the source said. The congregation met in a church member’s home.

Showing solidarity with the church were members of Ansor, youth wing of one of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU); interfaith activists, including the sister and youngest daughter of former president Abdurrahman Wahid; and members of the Asian Muslim Action Network. But they could do little to help.

“The police first allowed the vigilantes to stand next to us, and then moved them just about three meters away,” the church leader said. “The vigilantes issued threats to us, but the police did not arrest them.”

Having overseen the sealing of the Yasmin church, Muslim extremists are now targeting a 2,000-member Catholic church in Bogor city’s Parung area. The Santo Joannes Baptista (St. John the Baptist) church was able to hold its mass on Christmas Eve, followed by a Christmas Day service, although authorities had formally ordered the church to stop all activities.

The church building was constructed six years ago, but days before Christmas the head of Bogor district, Rachmat Yasin, issued the cessation order arguing that its construction violated planning rules due to its proximity to a residential area. Soon after the order, a group called the Muslim Community of Parung Bogor placed a banner near the church, stating that it was in support of Rachmat’s move to ban church activities, according to The Jakarta Globe.

“The site is not for a church, but it was a house turned into a house of worship. It is a violation,” Rachmat told the daily. “Moreover, they worship on a regular basis. It is a mistake.”

The head of the Indonesian Bishops Conference, Benny Susetyo, said there had been no conflict between the church and the people living in its vicinity for six years.

“The problem arose when a group of people started to disturb the calm in the region around the house of worship,” he told The Jakarta Globe.

Susetyo added that district authorities had repeatedly rejected demands made by the church for a permit, without giving any reason.

“This is despite us having clearly followed the procedure for the construction of houses of worship.”

Islamist groups have demanded a similar action against five other churches in Pracimantoro town in Central Java province, the source added. These churches – Pentecostal Church of Indonesia in the Ngalu Wetan area, Church of all Nations and Bethel Tabernacle Church in the Gebangharjo area, Javanese Christian Church in the Godang area, and Nazarene Christian Church in the Lebak area – have operational permits to hold church services. They had applied for building permits, but authorities never responded.

Central Java is also a hub of Islamist extremists. Last Sept. 25, a suicide bomber said to be an Islamist terrorist blew himself up at the gate of the Sepenuh Injil Bethel Church (Bethel Full Gospel Church) in Solo city, injuring about 20 people.

Sealing of church buildings and the refusal to grant building permits top the list of major violations of Christians’ religious rights in Indonesia, according to the Setara Institute. A 2006 joint ministerial decree requires signatures from congregations and residents living nearby, as well as approval from the local administration, to build a house of worship.

Government Inaction
The Setara Institute criticized President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for inaction. The president urged people to be tolerant in at least 19 of his speeches in 2011, but he has not backed his words with action, it noted in a recent report.

Intolerance has steadily been increasing in Indonesia, whose constitution is based on the doctrine of Pancasila – five principles upholding the nation’s belief in the one and only God and social justice, humanity, unity and democracy for all.

The Setara report cited a February incident in which a mob of about 1,500 Muslim extremists brutally killed three members of the Ahmadiyya community, which is seen as heretical by mainstream Muslims, in the province of Banten near West Java.

“Cases of intolerance have intensified this year, numbering more than last year, and at the core of the problem is poor law enforcement by the government,” Setara deputy chairman Bonar Tigor Naipospos told The Jakarta Globe.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Maryknoll Magazines Focus on a Preferential Option for the Poor with Stories About Mission in Tanzania and Vietnam in January-February Issues - Christian Newswire

Maryknoll Magazines Focus on a Preferential Option for the Poor with Stories About Mission in Tanzania and Vietnam in January-February Issues - Christian Newswire: "MARYKNOLL, N.Y., Jan. 3, 2012 /Christian Newswire/ -- "A Preferential Option for the Poor," with stories from Maryknoll's field afar that focus on mission projects for the poor in Tanzania and Vietnam, is the theme for the January-February issues of Maryknoll magazine and the Spanish-language Revista Maryknoll. Both magazines are published by the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, the foreign mission society of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. Current and recently published issues of both Maryknoll magazines can be viewed online."

'via Blog this'

Persecution Increased Most in Sudan, Nigeria, Report Says

Open Doors’ 2012 World Watch List ranks countries where Christians suffered in 2011.
By Jeff M. Sellers
Nigerians killed in Vwang Kogot
Photo courtesy: Compass Direct News
LOS ANGELES, January 4 (Compass Direct News) – Sudan and northern Nigeria saw steeper increases in persecution against Christians than 48 other nations where Christians suffered abuse last year, according to an annual ranking by Christian support organization Open Doors.
Sudan – where northern Christians experienced greater vulnerability after southern Sudan seceded in a July referendum, and where Christians were targeted amid isolated military conflicts – jumped 19 places last year from its 2010 ranking, from 35th to 16th, according to Open Doors’ 2012 World Watch List. In northern Nigeria, a rash of Islamist bombings, guerrilla-style attacks and increased government restrictions on Christians contributed to the region leaping by 10 on the list, from 23rdto 13th place.
“Nigeria continues to be the country where the worst atrocities in terms of loss of life occur, with over 300 Christians losing their lives this year, though the true number is thought to be far higher,” according to the Open Doors report, noting that the Islamic extremist Boko Haram (literally, “Western learning is forbidden”) became increasingly violent across the reporting period through most of 2011.
As it has the previous nine years, North Korea topped the list as the country where Christians are most persecuted, with a persecution index of 88. The list is based on a questionnaire filled out by Open Doors in-country field personnel and cross-checked with independent experts. Countries are then ranked according to their points total, or index.
Both Sudan and northern Nigeria saw their persecution indices rise more than other countries’ – Sudan by 16.5, from 37 in 2010 to 53.5 last year, and northern Nigeria by 9, from 44 to 55. The persecution index for three other countries rose by at least 5 points – Egypt from 47.5 to 53.5, Ethiopia from 30 to 36, and Indonesia from 26.5 to 31.5.
In terms of ranking, Egypt landed at 15 in the 2012 list after being ranked 19 last January, before political chaos loosened the grip on Islamic extremists; Ethiopia went from 43rd to 38th place, and Indonesia from 48th to 43rd place. Most of the countries on the list, 38 out of 50, have an Islamic majority – including nine of the top 10.
“As the 2012 World Watch List reflects, the persecution of Christians in these Muslim countries continues to increase,” said Carl Moeller, president/CEO of Open Doors USA. “While many thought the Arab Spring would bring increased freedom, including religious freedom for minorities, that certainly has not been the case so far.”
In the case of Sudan, the secession of mainly Christian southern Sudan left Christians in (north) Sudan “much more isolated under President Omar al-Bashir,” who is wanted for crimes against humanity, according to the Open Doors report.
“In response to the loss of the south, he has vowed to make his country even more Islamic, promising constitutional changes,” the report states.  “On the ground, however, Christian communities have been attacked in complex battles over resources, and estimates of thousands killed by the Sudanese military are known of, yet impossible to verify.” 
Territorial violence flared on border areas with South Sudan in the provinces of Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and “Christian communities were disproportionately affected,” according to the report.
In Egypt, a bomb attack on a Coptic church in Alexandria killed at least 21 Christians on New Year’s Day, 2011, and the Feb. 11 ouster of President Hosni Mubarak was followed by a series of Islamic extremist attacks on Christians that culminated in the Maspero massacre in Cairo on Oct. 9, “when the military turned on its own citizens,” killing 27 Coptic Christian demonstrators, the report notes. 
“Some were shot by soldiers or ran over by tanks, while others were killed by Muslim extremists,” the report states. “At the closing of 2011, Islamist parties flourished in the November elections, prompting some to speak of an Arab Winter instead of an Arab Spring for Christians.”
China moved from 20th place to 21st on the list, “mainly due to other countries comparatively getting worse,” though it still has the world’s largest persecuted church of 80 million, the report notes. That it dropped out of the top 20 this year “is due in large part to the house church pastors knowing how to play ‘cat and mouse’ with the government,” the report states – that is, knowing how not to attract the attention of authorities, such as not putting up church name signs, limiting worship attendance to no more than 200, and not singing too loudly.
A new addition to the list is Kazakhstan at 45th place, and Colombia returned to the list at 47th after being absent in the 2011 and 2010 editions.
Kazakhstan moved onto the list due to the passage of “an invasive and restrictive religion law” requiring the re-registration of all religious communities, the report notes. The law will make youth work virtually illegal and put all religious acts under government scrutiny, it adds.
Colombia had been included on the World Watch List annually before 2010, with left-wing insurgencies as well as paramilitary groups targeting Christian pastors. During the reporting period these movements “have branched into narco-trafficking, and Christian leaders that will not cooperate in the drug trade are targeted for assassination,” the report notes. “Five were killed this year, and it is thought the number could be as high as 20.”  
After North Korea, the top 10 on the list are Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Iran, the Maldives, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Iraq, and Pakistan. Pakistan entered the top 10 for the first time with a spike in radical Islamist violence that included the assassination of the nation’s highest-ranking Christian politician, Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, for his efforts to change Pakistan’s blasphemy law.
Copyright 2012 Compass Direct News

Pressure heats up for Assad

(Cover photo by Saleem Homsi.
 Story photo by Teresa Forn.)

Syria (MNN) ― Despite an ongoing investigation thrusting members of the Arab League right into the heart of the fighting in Syria, violence has not let up.

The Arab League has been threatening Syrian president Bashar Assad for months now and is finally in Syria assessing the situation. Since members of the League have been in the volatile nation, fighting has not only continued, but the Arab Parliament has actually advised the League members to leave Syria for their own safety, according to BBC News.

Tom Doyle with E3 Partners has been providing updates on the Syrian conflict since it began in early 2011. Doyle says now, "It is bloody, and we keep getting reports from our E3 leaders in Syria that say some of the things happening in broad daylight in the middle of the streets are unspeakable."

The Local Coordination Committee, an umbrella group of activists, has reported that since December 21--less than two weeks ago, 390 people have been killed. The total death toll throughout the clashes between Assad's regime and civilian rebels has surpassed 5,000.

Despite the treacherous outlook, the international response to the violence is growing stronger by the second. French president Nicolas Sarkozy reportedly demanded that Assad step down in a statement he made yesterday. On Monday, Israeli Defense Ministrer Ehud Barak went as far as to say that Assad only had "a few weeks" left to control Syria, according to Agence France-Presse.

Even as violence continues, Doyle agrees that Assad cannot hold on much longer.

"There's a Sunni majority within the country, and they've always despised the whole Alawite control of the government. But I think it's all come down to that fight. And I really just don't know if Assad is going to be able to hang on through this.

There is so much international outcry, and if there's international assistance, I think his days are over."

The Alawites, an Islamic sect in Syria, make up a mere 20% of the nation, says Doyle. Assad's family is Alawite, but the majority of the population is made up of Sunni Muslims. Those facts combined with extreme international pressure could push Assad to boiling.

There can only be speculation as to what will happen then.

In the midst of the turmoil, E3 Partners has seen tremendous church growth. The ministry has repeatedly heard of Muslims knocking on the doors of Christians in the night, looking for someone who is not taking part in the violence. 

Muslims all across the Middle East are hungry for Truth, says Doyle, and many have already come to Christ underground.

Fervent prayer is needed in Syria. Pray for boldness for the church, for guidance and stability for the nation, and for heart change among the people. You can also get behind specific church leaders working in Syria at the E3 Partners Web site. 

Islamic countries dominate list of persecutors

(Photo by Quinn Dombrowski)

International (ODM/MNN) ―The Open Doors 2012 World Watch List has a familiar look to it.

North Korea tops the list for the 10th straight year as the country where Christians face the most severe persecution, while Islamic-majority countries represent 9 of the top 10, and 38 of the 50 countries on the annual ranking.

Open Doors USA President/CEO Dr. Carl Moeller said this year's report also reveals an interesting, but not surprising, reality. "Islamic extremism is on the rise. Nine out of the top ten countries on our list of the worst persecutors of Christians around the world are Islamic. 38 out of the top 50 that we've ranked are Islamic extremist situations."

Afghanistan (2), Saudi Arabia (3), Somalia (4), Iran (5) and the Maldives (6) form a bloc where indigenous Christians have almost no freedom to openly worship. For the first time, Pakistan (10) entered the top 10, after a tumultuous year during which the nation's highest-ranking Christian politician, Cabinet Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, was assassinated for his attempts to change the blasphemy law.

Moeller says, "I was told by an Egyptian brother who was with me just last week: 'The situation for Christians in Egypt and all of North Africa is not an 'Arab Spring' at all, but a 'cold winter' of threat and increased persecution.'" He adds, "The pressure on the church is causing, literally, hundreds of thousands of Christians every year to flee these countries. That will devastate the Christian populations in the Middle East."

In 2011, remnant churches are becoming the norm in many countries where Islamic hardliners are in power. "There is a Muslim-background believer (MBB) church that is growing remarkably during these very chaotic times. We can attribute that to the work of the Holy Spirit. We can attribute that to the spiritual emptiness that is still present amidst the political and social upheaval."

There are significant moves on the World Watch List, including Sudan moving up 19 spots to No. 16 - the biggest leap of any country from 2011. Nigeria jumped 10 spots to No. 13. Egypt, wracked by violent protests and upheaval during the Arab Spring, rose four positions to No. 15. Increased Islamic extremism triggered the upward movement of Sudan, Nigeria and Egypt.

However, it's not only the Middle East and North Africa that are topping the list. The rest of the top 10 is composed of Uzbekistan (7), Yemen (8), and Iraq (9). Laos was the lone country to drop from the top 10 list, falling to No. 12 from No. 10.

"Persecution globally is increasing dramatically," says Moeller. "It's coming from a number of new sources. One of the megatrends that we noticed is that more and more countries, particularly in the Islamic world, are becoming unstable and close to becoming Failed States--or are indeed Failed States."

For example, Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan could be considered Failed States. "That's producing untold hardship on the Christian communities in these places, because in a Failed State, there are no vehicles for Christians to address their concerns politically. They can only address them spiritually through prayer and through the encouragement of God's Word."

While persecution has worsened due to persecution by Muslim extremists, without question North Korea once again deserves its No. 1 ranking. Defiantly Communist, North Korea built a bizarre quasi-religion around the founder of the country, Kim Il-Sung. Anyone with "another god" is automatically persecuted. The estimated 200,000 to 400,000 Christians in this country must remain deeply underground. An estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Christians are held in ghastly prison camps.

"How the death of Kim Jong-Il last month and the coming to power of his son, Kim Jong-Un, will affect the status of Christians in North Korea is hard to determine at this early stage," Moeller said. "Certainly the situation for believers remains perilous. Please pray with me that the Lord will open up North Korea and there will be religious freedom to worship the One, true God, not the gods of Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-Sung."

In July 2011 southern Sudan, which is mostly Christian, seceded to become an independent country, called South Sudan, leaving the Christians of North Sudan much more isolated under President Omar al-Bashir. In response to the loss of the south, al-Bashir vowed to make constitutional changes to make his country even more Islamic. On the ground the military has attacked Christian communities in battles over resources with many being killed.

Nigeria remains the country with the worst atrocities in terms of lives lost. More than 300 Christians were martyred last year in Nigeria, though the actual number is believed to be double or triple that number. The total is probably greater in North Korea, but impossible to confirm due to its isolation. Since 2009 the extreme Islamic group Boko Haram has destroyed more than 50 churches and killed 10 pastors in Nigeria.

Egyptian Christians experienced a disastrous start to 2011 when a bombing at the Coptic Orthodox Church of Saint Mark and Pope Peter in Alexandria killed 21 Christians on New Year's Day. After the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in February, hopes soared for new freedoms for all Egyptians. But on Oct. 9, the military turned on its own citizens in the Maspero massacre in Cairo, killing 27 Coptic Christian demonstrators. At the close of 2011, Islamist parties flourished in the November elections, prompting some to speak of an Arab Winter instead of an Arab Spring for Christians.

China still has the world's largest persecuted church of 80 million, but it dropped out of the top 20 this year to No. 21. Last year China ranked No. 16. This is due in large part to the house church pastors learning how to play "cat and mouse" with the government.

The good news behind the bad news of rising persecution is an increase in church growth. "Muslims are turning to faith in Christ, so we see both things happening: the visible church being incredibly pressured and many Christians fleeing the region, and also the growth of Muslim-Background Believer churches and cell groups despite the persecution."

Through the upheaval, Moeller says, "Open Doors is committed to being on the ground, shoulder-to-shoulder with our brothers and sisters throughout North Africa, providing Bibles, providing spiritual encouragement, training."

The WWL is based on a questionnaire devised by Open Doors to measure the degree of persecution in over 60 countries. The questionnaires are filled out by Open Doors field personnel working in the countries and cross-checked with independent experts to arrive at a quantitative score per country. Countries are then ranked according to points received.