Saturday, February 4, 2012

Missionary Couple Slain in Mexico; Peace Pact in Puebla

Drug traffickers suspected in robbery/murder.
By Elisabeth Isais

John and Wanda Casias
MEXICO CITY, February 3 (Compass Direct News) – A married couple who had served for 28 years as Baptist missionaries in Mexico were murdered on Tuesday (Jan. 31) at their home near Monterrey in El Cercado, Santiago, Nuevo Leon.

John Casias, 76, and Wanda Casias, 67, were strangled with electrical cords when intruders broke into their house and stole a safe, televisions and ministry vehicles, along with other items. The area has suffered heavily from attacks by drug cartels in recent weeks, including the murder of the mayor of El Cercado, leading to the tentative conclusion that the crime was committed by people serving narcotics traffickers.

Drug traffickers in Mexico oppose the message of Christ because it turns people away from their business, and thus Christians have been among the targets of the criminals. Christians noted that the assailants would not have needed to kill the missionary couple in order to rob them.

The killers left Wanda Casias dead inside the house, and the body of her husband was reportedly found in a storage room of a small building elsewhere on the property.

They were affiliated with the Global Independent Baptist Fellowship; the couple’s home church is located in Lewisville, Texas.

Their ministry included the founding of churches, beginning with the First Fundamentalist Independent Baptist Church in their locality, and they also did work in Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí, Coahuila, and other parts of the state of Nuevo Leon. Daily vacation Bible schools and youth camps were important aspects of their ministry, and they placed strong emphasis on Bible study and music.

They are survived by 10 children who have reportedly said they hope to continue their parents’ ministry.

Peace in Puebla
With intervention by Puebla state authorities after Protestants came under threats of expulsion and death, Catholics in San Rafael Tlanalapan, have agreed to allow evangelicals to construct a worship place in the town far from the Catholic church building.

Last fall Catholics threatened to crucify the Protestants if they didn’t leave town immediately. Parishioners later revealed that a local priest incited them to make this threat, and after this became public, Catholic authorities transferred the priest to another town.

State officials initiated negotiations to resolve the conflict, and an agreement was reached last October; officials will be responsible to ensure that terms of the agreement are kept.

Pastors Agustin Castillo Morales and Josue Ovando Jimenez accepted the pact, which calls for them to hold worship services far from the Catholic church site. Evangelical leaders from Mexico City celebrated the peaceful solution to the problem in an event that included musical groups.

Last September about 70 Protestants in San Rafael Tlanalapan had been given the ultimatum to leave immediately or be “crucified or lynched.” Catholics (not “traditionalist Catholics” that mix Catholicism with indigenous practices, as previously reported) in the town, near San Martín Texmelucan, about 60 miles from Mexico City, reportedly threatened to burn down or otherwise destroy their homes.

The conflict goes back several years; in 2006, the Protestants asked for government help after Catholics led village authorities to cut off their water supply.

Last year the evangelicals promised to leave town at a Sept. 7 meeting, though the 200 Catholics present sought to beat them and expel them at that time (, “Christians in Mexico Forced from Village,” Sept. 16, 2011). The Protestants sought refuge in nearby towns, including the municipal center of San Martin Texmelucan, where their churches have become prominent. Othersreportedly fled to a church building in Alto Aposento.

Copyright 2012 Compass Direct News

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Fatwa proves costly for ministry in India's Kashmir region

India (MNN) ― A self-styled Sharia Court is doing its best to silence the Gospel in India. The panel of Muslim clerics expelled three pastors from Kashmir state over allegations of forcible conversions.

However, the row created by the situation has believers raising the alarm. In mid-January, Muslim clerics issued a fatwa against them for "luring the Valley's Muslims to Christianity."

David Bast with Words  of Hope says, first, "The Sharia court is not an official institution. It's not a government court. This is simply a group of Muslim clerics who set themselves up and say, 'We will dictate what happens because Kashmir is Muslim.'" 

Second, the current crisis was sparked by video, posted in October 2011, of a pastor baptizing Kashmiri Muslim youth. There were calls to kill the pastor and to burn down churches and schools in the Valley.

Within hours of the warning, the pastor was arrested. The panel also accused two other Christian workers of being accomplices. As a result, says Bast, "Active ministry has ceased for the moment, as far as we know, and the Christians who were involved in that have had to flee for their lives."

Specifically, the expulsion is costly in terms of outreach. "Our team has experienced directly the results of that ruling because one of those three was heading up the work that we're involved in. The report we're getting from the direct for South Asia where Words of Hope is involved is basically that Christian ministry has shut down in Kashmir."

Bast goes on to say that before this happened, there was one above-ground church in the capital city. Now, there are none. It's unlikely that the situation will improve much. The Sharia court has also called on the government to take over management of missionary schools. There are several media reports indicating the Sharia court wants to introduce Islamic prayer and to allot classes for Islamic studies at these schools.

Jammu/Kashmir is India's only Muslim-majority state; Muslims account for 67% of its population. In the Valley, Muslims are the overwhelming majority constituting 97% of the population.

Bast notes that although there is dispute with Pakistan over the region's identity, "Legally, it's part of India, so it should be governed by the constitution of the state of India which guarantees religious freedom, but that's not happening there right now."

Words of Hope's ministry includes Gospel broadcasts in eight languages to four countries. It is the only region where Words of Hope broadcasts to audiences which are predominantly Hindu (Hindi, Bhojpuri, Dogri, Garhwali, Nepali), Buddhist (Tibetan, Dzongkha) and Muslim (Kashmiri).

Please pray for Words of Hope's continued efforts in South Asia. Bast requests, "Pray for the believers that are still there. They are very much under pressure. They're probably mostly underground. They're being intimidated, so pray that they'll be strengthened, that they'll be courageous, that they'll be able to stand."

Ethiopian Convert from Islam Dodges Dangers in Kenya

Muslim extremists try to kill him; others threaten his life.
A Christian convert from Islam who fled hostilities in his native Ethiopia has faced attempted murder and ongoing death threats in Kenya.

Somali Muslim extremists in Kenya kidnapped and tried to kill Barack Hussein Kedir in July 2010, and most recently Kenyan-born Islamic extremists in contact with their co-religionists in Ethiopia sent a death threat to his cell phone on Dec. 3, the Christian told Compass. Since then, Hussein has reported the threatening text message to police, and his wife has fled the country with their two children.

“Although I have been experiencing all these countless problems, suffering persecution and merciless harassment both in my own country and outside of the country, I have never given up or lost my hope in serving the Lord,” Hussein said. “Muslims have tried to murder me several times, even here in Kenya.”

Born to Muslim community leaders in Arsi Negelle district in southern Ethiopia, Hussein had been a zealous Islamic youth coordinator who once harassed Christians before his conversion – a long process that led his father to shoot him in the leg for his commitment to Christ, he said.

Hussein had fled to Kenya in 2003 but secretly returned to his rural home in Ethiopia in June 2009 to help establish three new churches. When area Muslims discovered his work, they started looking for him with intent to kill him, forcing him to return to Kenya, he said.

Shortly after midnight on July 8, 2010, Muslim extremists in Nairobi slipped a CD under his door containing information on how they kill Christians and burn church buildings, along with a threatening letter in the Arabic and Somali languages, he said. The next evening at about 7:30 p.m., presumed Muslim extremists rammed their car into the driver’s side door of the car he was driving and told him they would kill him.

On July 27, 2010, four Somalis, presumed Muslim extremists, forced him into a car at about 9:30 p.m. in Nairobi and, at gunpoint, made him take a detergent (Jik) mixed with powdered soap (Omo), and he fell unconscious and was pushed out of the car, he said. Passers-by took him to a hospital, where staff determined that he must have been thrown out of the car at high speed.

The Somalis, whom he did not know, objected to his preaching Christianity, he said.

Hussein converted to Christianity in 1995 after a series of life threatening episodes that began in 1990. Previously he had traveled to various regions teaching about Islam and developed hostility toward other religions; he harassed many Christians, stealing their food and trying to burn some church buildings, he said.

“While I was practicing and spreading Islamic faith in the country like wildfire, something amazing happened to me,” Hussein said. “I converted to Christ in an unusual way, when Jesus revealed Himself to me through difficult circumstances in which I almost lost my life.”

In 1990 he was mysteriously blinded, he said. After hospital treatment and the prayers of Muslim leaders were of no avail, he said he heard the voice of Jesus saying He loved him.

“In response I said, ‘No, I do not need your help, go away,’” he said. “The voice then said to me, ‘Do you need to get back your health?’ I said, ‘Yes, but I do not need you.’”

Hussein told Compass he later became hopeless and heard the voice again bidding him to ask to be healed, but that again he declined.

“That very evening I saw a white image, and there came the sign of the cross, and I rebuked it,” he said. “The house shook like there was an earthquake. I then decided to cover myself inside the blanket. Everyone inside the house was frightened. Then came again the cross. This time I wanted to catch the cross. My eyes then got opened, though I could not see well. It was very red. Then another voice came to me saying, ‘I am Christ Jesus, follow Me. I am the one who made you blind. I now have healed you.’”

Still skeptical about the healing, he left for a predominantly Christian area to preach Islam, he said, but he lost all sight again and was also paralyzed for seven months.

“I was then taken to my rural village to die there,” Hussein said. “I used to lie on the floor, helping myself [to food or drink] right where I was lying. The place became filthy and smelly. Death dominated my thoughts. I questioned Allah, why he does not want to heal. I then contemplated committing suicide. At that point my eyes got opened and a voice called me again, ‘Barack, I love you. I caused you to be paralyzed. I love you. I am Jesus Christ. Follow Me.’”

The voice directed him to a location about 200 kilometers (124 miles) away in order to regain his health.

“I found this to be very difficult,” he said. “People said I was going crazy. I was then put on a horse and traveled for one hour to reach the bus station. Before reaching the destination, in a vision, I saw a narrow road and a white sword in front, and fire. I got afraid thinking that it wanted to kill me. That time I was barefoot. Then I was woken up, for I had reached the destination. There a cross sign was handed over to me and the message came, ‘Follow Me.’ I got healed miraculously, then returned back with the cross.”

When he arrived home with the cross sign, his father shot him in the leg, forcing him to try to take refuge in a church building – where he was initially rebuffed as an enemy of the faith.

“After a while I was accepted and was taken by the church to Jimma Bible College,” Hussein said. “There I had the seal to preach the gospel within the Jimma vicinity. Soon things turned bad. With my miraculous healing, especially carrying the cross sign around, I faced persecution from my own family as well as the community. It would have been safer for me to either kill myself or recant the Christian faith, but I endured it all, and finally I fled to Kenya in 2003.”

He was admitted to Pan Africa Christian University, and after earning his degree went on to obtain a Master of Leadership from the Nairobi International School of Theology. He is now pursuing another master’s degree, this one in peace and international relations, at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa.

“God has called me to a precious life,” he said. “I have no regrets, and I thank God for delivering me from Islam. I know I have to pay the price, since those who wish to live a godly life must be ready to face persecution.”

Hussein submitted his application for asylum to a third country on July 19, 2010 to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Officials there interviewed him on Nov. 4, 2010, and also last year, but to date he has not received a determination. A letter to the UNCHR requests that he not be returned to a country where he faces threats on his life or freedom.

A decision is expected at a scheduled May 17 appointment.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

International Petition Drive to Help Pastor Persecuted For Conducting Baptisms

By Michael Ireland
Senior International Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

SRINIGAR, INDIA (ANS) -- The president of the Global Council of Indian Christians is trying to raise international awareness of the case of an Indian pastor arrested on charges 'disturbing communal peace.'

In a media update, Ann Buwalda, Executive Director of Jubilee Campaign, says that Sajan George is highlighting the case through a petition drive.

Jubilee Campaign says Rev. Chander Mani Khanna, pastor of All Saints Church in Srinagar was on November 19th, 2011 arrested on charges 'disturbing communal peace.'

The arrests of Khanna and two others came after a local Muslim clerical association calling itself a 'Sharia court' accused Rev. Khanna of 'luring' Muslims into converting from Christianity. Their only evidence was a YouTube video of Rev. Khanna baptizing seven believers from a Muslim background.

Jubilee Campaign says that after 11 days in, jail Rev. Khanna was released on bail, but the so-called Sharia court issued a fatwa of expulsion, ordering him and two other Christian workers to leave the state.

In the media release, Buwalda says: “This case represents a worrying continuation of a dangerous trend Jubilee Campaign has seen in India for some time. Over the past several years radical Hindu leaders have reacted to the massive growth of Christianity with frequently accusations that Christians are 'luring' poor Hindus into converting by bribing them or lying to them. It was this sentiment which led to the passage of anti-conversion laws in several states of northern India and led to the 2008 violence against Christians in Orissa.”

Buwalda explained the causes of this sentiment are “complex and specific to the traditional Hindu society where political and economic power was based around the caste system.”

Buwalda said: “The Muslim view on conversions is more explicitly theological, as indicated by the term apostasy. Nevertheless the Hindu response to conversions, which involves baseless accusations of misconduct resulting in vigilante killings of religious minorities is very similar to the Muslim response that we have seen in Pakistan and elsewhere.”

Buwalda went on to state: “This attempt by the Kashmir Muslims to activate the radical Hindu lobbying in support of their actions has been at least partially successful judging by the response of a high-ranking Indian official.

“Of more immediate concern is to the local Christian community is the way that the Sharia court was able to enforce its fatwa of expulsion against Rev. Khanna and the two other Christian workers,” she said.

Buwalda added that, emboldened by their success, groups of local Muslims have been pressuring the families of converts, causing several other converts and Christians workers to flee.

In response, Sajan George, the president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, is trying to raise international awareness through the petition.

Jubilee Campaign urges concerned believers to sign the petition calling for the government of India to respect its own laws and stop the unjust persecution of Rev. Khanna.

Support Rev. Khanna and the Christian Minority in Kashmir, by signing the Petition here:  

** 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

** You may republish this story with proper attribution.

A Pakistani Christian leader had told the believers of his country, ‘We need to come out of our self-pity and minority syndrome’

By Rodrick Samson 
Special to ASSIST News Service

RAWALPINDI, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- A Pakistani Christian leader, has told believers of his country that there is a lack of unity in the Christian community, and stressed the importance of education.

Christians protesting in Pakistani led by Joseph Francis from CLAAS
Speaking at a special event in Rawalpindi, Pakistan last Thursday (January 26, 2012), Zeeshan Joseph of the All Pakistan Christian League (APCL), a political party, went on to say, “We need think tanks. We have to make our weakness [into] our strength. We need to come out of our self-pity and minority syndrome.”

Joseph was one of many speakers at a six-hour seminar on the “Challenges faced by the Christians in Pakistan and their solutions.... How religious freedom and human rights can be ensured in the present scenario of Pakistan,” a well-attended event organized by overseas Christian Pakistanis and held in a local hotel.

Christian political parties, clergy and human rights activists all participated in the event.

Pervaiz Rafique, a Member of the Provincial Assembly, spoke about the lack of “political and spiritual leadership” in Pakistan telling those there, “We have to stop looking at others and instead do something ourselves. The spiritual leaders should make our Christian community spiritually strong, rather than trying to participate in political activities. We need to unite on our national issues, when was the last time a 100,000 Christians gathered to raise their voice?”
Mumtaz Qadri after his arrest

He then raised the case of Mumtaz Qadri, who on January 4, 2011, assassinated Salmaan Taseer, the 26th Governor of the Province of Punjab, after disagreeing with Taseer's opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy law and his support of Asia Bibi, a mother-of-five who had been sentenced to death for alleged apostasy.

One of Taseer's bodyguards, Qadri shot him 27 times with an MP5 sub-machine gun at Kohsar Market, near his home]in Sector F6 of Islamabad, as he was returning to his car after meeting a friend for lunch
“Qadri is supported by over 2000 lawyers who are willing to fight the case for free, and thousands have shown their solidarity with him. It is a shame that no Christian lawyer is willing to fight for the Christians for free, [and that] no Christian lawyer is even willing to take the initiative for the community,” said Rafique.
The church being demolished

Another speaker, Bishop Ijaz Inayat Masih of Karachi, who is said to be the only Bishop of the Church of Pakistan who is openly campaigning against sales of church properties in Pakistan, said, “The Church Property Ordinance 2002 needs to be amended as it is not being implemented and Church properties are being sold unchecked. Recently the church at Gosh-e-Aman in Lahore was demolished [and desecrated) with claims that it was sold to… [a Trust). We need to make laws that would ensure the protection of the Church Properties.”

Father Anwar Patras from the Catholic Diocese of Rawalpindi said, “It is nice to see that we have the major political parties, the clergy from the Catholic, the Anglican Church and the Presbyterian Church under one roof. We all share the same faith, such seminars must be encouraged. I feel that this initiative should have been taken by the Catholic Church. We support an amendment in the Church Property Ordinance and it should be implemented.”

Joseph Francis from CLAAS (Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement) then said, “Pakistan was founded by the decisive vote by S.P. Singha, a Christian. That letter is still available at the national library Lahore. The minorities have been facing constitutional discrimination, they are not been given the rights they deserved. The Government talks about religious freedom and rights, they make minority parliamentarians but in reality the minorities are titled as rubber stamps and have no say in their parties.”

Professor Salamat Akhtar added, “Rawalpindi is a city of the martyrs. In 1971 the Christians of Rawalpindi fought for their lives and gave their lives for the cause. The Christians should demand dual vote for themselves, the Muslims in the subcontinent were given the right of dual vote in 1910, 1941 and 1946 as they were a minority. Now why can’t the Muslims give us the right of the dual vote. We need to focus on education and get our children in the public services so that that can be in position for policy making one day and be able to make a difference.”

Albert David, an activist from the British High Commission said, “We all agree on Jesus Christ, and so we need get united. I do agree about the idea of sending our children in public services that is where the policies are made. I wouldn’t encourage going after the political parties, instead do something about the policy making.”

Cornelius Mohsin from the Pakistani Christian Alliance USA said, “Today’s event was made possible by the overseas Pakistani Christians who are away from their homeland, but love their country and want to do something for the Christians in Pakistan. One of the major challenges we face is that we don’t even know our exact population. Some say its 1.5% , 3% or 5 %... do we have anything documented? Have we ever stressed on having a census?

“As far as I know, there are around 17-20 Christian populations where the Muslim politicians win on the Christian votes. Why don`t we demand election on a general seat for our candidates instead of getting them selected. If we have 17-20 strong candidates we will be able to have a voice in the parliament. If MQM (Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a liberal-secular political party of Pakistan] can make a government with 17 seats, then why can’t the Christians become strong by having seats in the parliament?”

Rodrick Samson is a freelance journalist based in Pakistan.

Christians fear being kicked out of unreached areas

Africa Director Rae Burnett took this
 photo of a Kanuri woman who just
 heard the gospel for the first time
from indigenous missionaries.

Nigeria (MNN) ― Five more people are dead as Boko Haram continues its spread of terror across northern Nigeria. Churches have been attacked, Christians murdered, and now even Muslims are being targeted. Mostly those who are trying to protect Christians, or are sympathetic to them.

The most recent attack came when the Boko Haram Islamic Sect on Monday night invaded the Nigerian Air Force, NAF, barracks as well as a police station in Maiduguri, Borno State, killing five people including a soldier, two policemen and two civilians.

It's a quest to force the region into Sharia law.

Africa Director for Christian Aid Mission Rae Burnett says missionaries they're supporting are reaching the unreached in these areas, but she's concerned that openness will end. "The fear is that the villagers will get word of this and be afraid to allow the Christian missionaries in. They've seen and appreciated the love of the Christians to be helpful to them. If Boko Haram gets word of it, they'll chase them out."

Up until just recently Boko Haram had been focusing on terror in major cities. But, that's changing, says Burnett. "Some of the villages in the north.

This would destroy the work Christian Aid Mission has been able to do. It's already affected some of their partners. 

"Several of the missionaries have had to leave their fields because of the threats. Of course, these Boko Haram people have relatives everywhere. And if one of them is in one of these villages, then it can cause these missionaries trouble."

Christian Aid Mission supports national Christians who are focused on reaching the unreached. Burnett says, "Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa, and there are many, many areas that have not been reached with the Gospel. The ministry that we have, primarily, helped has been so successful."

Burnett says, "They came into being to reach one particular tribe, and they've grown. Now they're reaching 14 tribes. Most of them are in the north, which has been extremely closed to the Gospel."

Christian Aid Mission supports Nigerian believers who have a plan to reach the unreached with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Your financial support can help keep them work in these areas while the doors are still olpen. Click here to help Nigerian missionaries.

Niger casts a wary eye to the violence in Nigeria

Niger (MNN) ― Clashes continue in northeast Nigeria, the part of the country with the greatest Boko Haram activity.

Boko Haram is an Islamism sect with ties to al Qaeda. The group's name in Hausa means "Western education is sinful."

David Bast with Words of Hope doesn't doubt the flare up of trouble in the neighboring country, but he says there's something else to consider. "I think it's important to note that there's some question about Boko Haram. It's always possible for ordinary criminals or thugs to use that in order to cover their activities, so it's very difficult for us to know what's going on, on the ground."

Either way, the atmosphere across the North remains tense among Christians in Nigeria. Bast says while their Niger team is not being directly affected by the persecution, there's reason to be wary. "The tribal and linguistic group straddles that border--they're Hausa speakers, and something like 40 to 50 million."  

Words of Hope's French programs are trying to influence the region for good. Given that radio is the most important means of mass communication, it's one of the best ways to share crucial information.   

An overwhelming majority of the population has ownership or at least access to radios within their household and listens to radio faithfully. From the survey results, the respondents' favorite radio programs discuss news and religion. That's another plus. The Words of Hope team is producing daily radio programs in Hausa. Bast says, "They're on 30 radio stations throughout the country. They're very positive in the way they present the good news about Jesus. One of the things that they report is that their programming has made it easier for evangelists from the church to enter the villages."

Although Niger is majority Muslim country, the history with Christians has been peaceful. Radio capitalizes on that relationship to introduce Christ. "The Muslim population of the villages has already heard from the church, in effect, through the radio. They like the programs, and so they're willing to give a hearing to the evangelists that come in. It's kind of clearing away misconceptions and maybe popular prejudice."

Over the last five years, the number of listeners has grown exponentially because of what the ministry addresses. As a result, they've heard from missionaries and pastors who say the Muslim community is listening. There are several imams who listen to the programs and appreciate them.

As the situation continues to deteriorate in nearby Nigeria, the Words of Hope program director says despite the uncertainty of the time they're living in, "'We have a great duty which consists in loving our Muslim brothers despite the fact that some of them kill innocents every day. It's also the love that brought Jesus to the cross. We must redouble our efforts to bring the Gospel of peace, restoration, and forgiveness wherever it should be.'"

North Korea to release prisoners, but spots may be filled with Christians

North Korea (ODM/MNN) ―North Korea has announced it will release an unspecified number of prisoners starting today.
The amnesty is in commemorative honor of deceased leaders Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il, who would have been turning 100 and 70, respectively, this year.

Open Doors, USA reports that it is not unusual for North Korea to release prisoners for a leader's birthday, but general amnesties used to be granted twice a year until 2005. After that, only occasionally have prisoners been released before they have served their sentences.

It is still unclear as to how many prisoners will be released, but it's certain that only "re-educated" prisoners will be granted amnesty--prisoners who have been in a re-education camp for several years and have performed well in their tasks and in the mandatory ideology classes.

Christian prisoners will almost certainly not be released. People in political labor camps will never be released because they are labeled as "incurable." Those camps are full of politically-active people, refugees who are suspected to have been in contact with South Koreans, and ideological opponents such as Christians.

The prisoner release in North Korea is a bittersweet event. It's good news for those who will leave, but prisoners make up the bulk of North Korea's labor force. Therefore, as prisoners are released, others will need to be arrested to fill their spots. It would not be the first time that the police are ordered to increase the number of arrests. Those arrested could easily include Christians.

These prison camps have been described as torturous.

"I was in a small camp, not for my Christian activities, but because I was arrested in China," one young Christian told Open Doors. "Every day someone died, and I was forced to take the person outside the camp and bury him or her."

Another Christian spent several years in the most infamous camp, Yodok, a place he describes as "a living mass grave. The whole system made me desperate. I saw people dying of hunger and sickness. I saw executions. But one day we had to assemble in a big hall, and it was made known that in honor of the birthday of one of the leaders, a few prisoners would be released for good behavior. At that moment, I made the decision that I would be a model prisoner and I would survive this. I knew that I would have to stay at least three to five years in Yodok in order to be considered for release. I determined not to make any mistakes."

More than 1% of the total North Korean population wakes up in a prison or labor camp each day. The number of Christians in the political camps is estimated at 40,000 to 70,000.

North Korea is ranked the #1 persecutor of Christians by the Open Doors 2012 World Watch List of the 50 worst persecutors of believers. It was the 10th straight time North Korea has been ranked No. 1.

Pray for Christians during this amnesty. Pray that believers might be released and be safe from arrests. Pray that no matter what happens, the Gospel will not be silenced in North Korea. 

India Briefs: Recent Incidents of Persecution

By Mahruaii Sailo
Orissa, India, January 31 (Compass Direct News) – A Hindu extremist in Adigar, Phulbani, Kandhamal district on Jan. 25 attacked a pastor’s hut and harassed his family, according to the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC). Jaleshwar Pradhan threw stones at the home of Pastor Patiba Mohan Kota while he was away, verbally abused his wife and pushed his daughters, shouting, “You Christians must not live here – it is not your land; the last time your houses were only damaged, this time all of you will be buried here,” the GCIC reported. Though damage to the house was minimal, the pastor and his family were anguishing in fear as Hindu extremists have previously tortured him physically, causing partial loss of eyesight and hearing, reported the GCIC. The pastor was among those whose houses were destroyed during anti-Christian violence in 2008. Pradhan was booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, reported the GCIC.
Karnataka – Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh on Jan. 23 barged into a prayer meeting led by Pastor Chandrakanth Chavan of New Life Fellowship in Haliyal, Kanara, beat him and stripped him naked. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that the extremists shouted at the Christians in coarse language as they started beating and kicking Pastor Chavan and Kishore Kavalekar before parading the naked pastor in a procession throughout the village. At about midnight they tied the pastor to a tree near a temple and sent for police. Haliyal Police Sub-Inspector Umesh Shet and a dozen officers took Pastor Chavan and Kavalekar into custody for questioning, according to the GCIC. Both were charged and locked up but were released the same night.
Orissa – Raikia police on Jan. 9 arrested Pastor Sukadeb Digal from his home in Sipainju (or Sipainjari) village, Tiangia, G-Udayagiri Block, in Kandhamal district on false charges of forced or fraudulent conversion. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that police incarcerated him. Digal, pastor of Danekbadi Baptist Church at Daringbadi, remained in jail at press time.
Karnataka – Armed Hindu extremists on Jan. 9 beat Christians at a prayer service in Anekal, Bangalore, seriously injuring a pastor and others and accusing them of forceful conversion. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that a pastor identified only as Shanthakumar had organized the service at the home of another Christian where about 20 people had gathered in the Coogur area. At about 10:30 p.m. some 20 Hindu extremists attacked with huge clubs and iron rods, ranting in foul language and accusing them of fraudulent and forcible conversion, according to the GCIC. In the beatings, Pastor Shanthakumar lost one finger, and a church member identified only as Yashodamma received treatment for head and nerve injuries at Anekal Government Hospital. Another church member identified only as Vijay suffered a serious leg injury. The Christians reported the matter to the police; officials have held an inquiry and registered a First Information Report against the extremists, but no arrests have been made.
Andhra Pradesh – Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal on Jan. 17 beat a pastor and another church member in Yadagirgutta, accusing them of forceful conversion. The All India Christian Council (AICC) reported that the pastor, identified only as Kiran, and another Christian were on their way to visit a church member who works with the tourism department in Yadagirigutta, Bhogri, a Hindu pilgrimage town, when the extremists took notice and gathered a mob to attack them. As is customary in India, police arrived and arrested the victims. After area Christian leaders’ intervention, the accusations against the two Christians were found to be baseless, and they were released without charges, according to the AICC.
Karnataka – Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal on Jan. 1 attacked a New Year’s prayer service and accused a pastor of forceful conversion in Humnoor, Bagalkot. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that the extremists stormed into the prayer meeting led by Pastor Siddu Seemanth Gunike of Blessing Youth Mission Church, ordered it to stop and beat the pastor, alleging that he was involved in fraudulent and forced conversions. After manhandling the pastor and other Christians, the extremists sent for Jamkhandi police, according to the GCIC. The sub-inspector and a few other officers arrived and began questioning those present. Area Christian leaders intervened, and police took a written statement from the extremists that they would not disturb the Christians again; officers advised the Christians to continue their prayer services.
Karnataka  About a dozen Hindu extremists in North Kanara forced their way into a New Year’s Eve prayer service, ordered Christians to stop praying and beat them. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that extremists led by Biju Nair and a friend identified only as Venkatesh accused the Christians of fraudulent and forcible conversions. The extremists informed police, and two police constables arrived and joined in harassing the Christians, threatening to harm them. The officers ordered the pastor to go to the police station the next morning, and on that day Christians filed a police complaint against the extremists and the two constables for trespassing on church property and for their heavy-handed tactics, according to the GCIC. Later, the Christians met with Ramnagar Police Sub-Inspector Babu Madar and briefed him about the incident. The sub-inspector reprimanded the two constables and advised the pastor to continue the prayer services without fear.
Copyright 2012 Compass Direct News

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Campus ministry chided for 'discrimination' among leadership

USA (MNN) ― The Gospel has offended enough people that InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has been threatened with suspension from another college campus.

Over this past school year, Vanderbilt University leadership decided to place on provisional status InterVarsity's Graduate Christian Fellowship and three other campus Christian groups for non-compliance with Vanderbilt's anti-discrimination policy.

The anti-discrimination policy, as it currently stands, would prohibit a Christian organization from using any religious criteria when selecting leaders. InterVarsity believes such a policy not only flies in the face of common sense, but is contrary to the spirit of the Freedom of Religion protections in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Senior Vice President and Director of Collegiate Ministries for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA Jim Lundgren has sent a letter to InterVarsity's Vanderbilt University chapter alumni and others asking for prayer in support of religious freedom at Vanderbilt.

"We love the university environment, and we welcome all students and faculty into our chapter activities at Vanderbilt," Lundgren said in the letter. "However, it is essential that InterVarsity student leaders be committed Christians who understand their faith as they seek to lead their peers. No organization of any kind can survive without leaders committed to its basic beliefs."

Lundgren is asking for prayers that Vanderbilt will change its position and allow religious organizations to choose leaders who believe in the principles and beliefs of those organizations.

A Town Hall meeting will be held on the Vanderbilt campus on tonight. University officials will explain how the anti-discrimination policy will be applied to student groups at that time.

For more background on the Vanderbilt situation, click here where you can check out statements by Vanderbilt's leadership, a response from an InterVarsity Campus Staff Member at Vanderbilt, and an open letter to Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. 

Christian Charged with ‘Blasphemy’ in Pakistan Denied Bail

Young man accused after argument with his landlord.
A judge has denied bail to a young Christian man charged with desecrating the Quran under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws despite the lack of evidence against him, sources said.

Police in Shahdara, near Lahore, had arrested 23-year-old Khuram Masih on Dec. 5 and charged him with desecrating the Quran after his landlord, Zulfiqar Ali, alleged that he had burned pages of the book in order to prepare tea. Section 295-B makes willful desecration of the Quran or use of an extract in a derogatory manner punishable with life imprisonment.

Masih’s previous lawyers, Muhammad Farhad Tirmizi and Liaqat John, on Jan. 3 petitioned for his bail. In their petition, they stated to Additional Sessions Judge Anjum Raza Syed that police had registered a false case against Masih based on hearsay, and that police had not found any incriminating evidence.

Judge Syed, however, refused to grant bail to Masih on grounds that the case was “very sensitive, and bail to the accused would fan religious sentiments and cause a great mishap.”

Asif Aqeel, executive director of the Community Development Initiative (CDI), an affiliate of the European Centre for Law and Justice, told Compass that the lawyers hired by Masih’s relatives should not have petitioned the trial court for Masih’s bail so soon.

“There’s no use moving for bail in the trial court, because the lower courts cannot sustain pressure in such cases,” Aqeel said. “The judges in trial court are under extreme pressure from religious quarters and simply cannot set a blasphemy accused free on bail after just a month of the incident.”

He added that, similarly, trial courts in blasphemy cases tend to deliver guilty verdicts due to the same pressures from Muslims.

CDI lawyer Niaz Amer, who has now acquired Masih’s power of attorney, would make efforts for his bail in the Lahore High Court once the proceedings begin, Aqeel added.

“It is very unfortunate for those accused of blasphemy, but this is how the legal system of Pakistan operates,” he said. ‘The accused have to spend several months, even years, in jail without bail, just because the judges are unwilling to put their own lives at risk from religious extremists.”

In their petition for bail, Masih’s lawyers stated that in First Information Report (FIR) No. 1211/2011, complainant Ali had claimed that Masih’s neighbors had tried to stop him from burning the pages of the Quran and had ignored their requests, and that the Christian ran away when Ali arrived at his home.

“It is further alleged in the FIR that the petitioner [Masih] was arrested later from the same spot when the police arrived,” the bail application states, adding that the charges against Masih were concocted and baseless because the complainant had not witnessed the alleged incident. No other person is mentioned in the FIR to substantiate the allegations.

At the same time, Napoleon Qayyum, a Christian rights advocate and field officer of CDI, denied reports that Masih has been tortured or mistreated by prison authorities.

“Someone has misreported that Masih has been tortured at the District Camp Jail, where he is currently being held,” Qayyum said. ‘I am in regular contact with Masih and his family, and he has not been harmed by anyone in jail.”

Masih has said that he was falsely accused in the case because he had had an argument with his landlord, Ali, earlier in the day over the rent of the house in which he and his wife, Bano, a convert from Hinduism, lived along with five other families.

A Christian rights activist in Shahdara, Khalid Shahzad, had earlier told Compass that police had shown unnecessary haste in registering the case (see “Christian Charged with ‘Blasphemy’ after Argument,” Dec. 26, 2011).


Monday, January 30, 2012

Petition for Asia Bibi on its way to one million signatures

Pakistan (MNN) ― After hundreds of thousands of signatures, Voice of the Martyrs is still calling for more to speak up on behalf of believer Asia Bibi.

In November 2010, Bibi was falsely accused of blasphemy and thereby sentenced to death by the Lahore High Court of Pakistan.

Bibi has been in jail ever since. Although she appealed the case, no verdict has been made. She remains apart from her husband and two daughters. If the High Court does decide that Bibi is guilty, the case could be appealed to Pakistan's Supreme Court.

Voices have not been silent about Bibi. VOM's Todd Nettleton recently told Assist News that the number of international signatures on a petition for Bibi's freedom has now reached well over half a million.

The petition was delivered to the Pakistani Embassy when it had just 400,000 signatures in November. Since then, 160,000 more have signed for Bibi's release.

"More than 560,000 people around the world have signed a petition asking the Pakistani government to release Asia Bibi, a Christian wife and mother falsely accused of blasphemy against Mohammed and sentenced to death by a Pakistani court," noted Nettleton.

The online petition, at, was launched by The Voice of the Martyrs after 150,000 Pakistani Christians started the petition calling for justice for Asia Bibi and better protection of religious minorities in Pakistan.

The goal now is to reach one million signatures asking for Bibi's release. Help reach one million by clicking here so the Gospel might spread freely in Pakistan in the future.