Saturday, February 18, 2012

Churches Forced to Stop Farsi Worship in Tehran, Iran


Ministry of Intelligence issues halt to services, which attracted converts.
Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence has ordered the last two officially registered churches holding Friday Farsi-language services in Tehran to discontinue them.


Emmanuel Protestant Church and St. Peter’s Evangelical Church were the last two official churches offering Farsi-language services on Fridays in Tehran, according to Middle East Concern (MEC). Officials issued the order on Feb. 10


Authorities had ordered the Central Church of Tehran to close its Friday Farsi services in December 2009. The Central Church, an Assemblies of God (AOG) congregation, had conducted multiple services on Fridays.


Friday services in Tehran attracted the city’s converts to Christianity as well as Muslims interested in Christianity, as Friday is most Iranians’ day off during the week. Authorities told the churches they can hold the services on Sunday, a working day when most Iranians are not able to attend.


“This decision means that there are now no Farsi-language services on Fridays in any officially registered church in Tehran,” an MEC report issued this week stated.


Emmanuel and St. Peter’s are Presbyterian churches, and, along with the Central Church, are among Tehran’s few registered churches. They exist mainly to serve the Armenian and Assyrian communities. The three churches’ Armenian- and Assyrian- language services are typically held on Sundays.


Because these churches belong to minority groups, government officials cannot stop them from operating but are doing what they can to limit them and the spread of Christianity to Farsi speakers, an Iranian Christian who requested anonymity told Compass.


“Authorities want church operations to stop, but because these churches are established by Armenians and Assyrians and their leaders are Armenian and Assyrian, they can’t stop them,” the source said, “but they can stop the Farsi-speaking services.”


The source said that the newest restrictions have cut the two churches’ attendance by half.


The MEC report stated that “the order to stop Farsi services is consistent with the authorities’ policy of restricting Christian activities to these traditional communities,” indicating that Tehran is determined to eradicate access to Christian worship for the country’s growing number of Christian converts.


Authorities have prohibited musical worship and Bible distribution at the Central Church of Tehran, the largest and most visible AOG church in the country. Last December officials enforced a policy under which only invited guests could attend a Christmas service at the church.


The Iranian Christian said authorities recently have pressured leaders of Emmanuel and St. Peter’s churches to turn over to officials the national identity numbers of Christians. As a result, many Christians from these churches, as well as the Central Church of Tehran, have lost their jobs.


“We have some people who were fired from their jobs,” the Christian said. “The authorities pushed the bosses to fire their Christian employees.”


The source explained that this is a new tactic by the government to discourage Iranians from becoming Christians and to deter Christians from being involved in church.


“If I have too many difficulties in my life, I won’t have time to be involved in church, and people will see how difficult it is to be a Christian,” the source said. “This is not a good face for the Christians. The others see and say, ‘Oh, they became Christians and God stopped His blessing to them.’”


Most Iranian Christian converts attend underground house churches that belong to various networks. For their own protection, these Christians often do not know about other house church networks.


Authorities often detain, question and apply pressure on converts from Islam, viewing them as elements of Western propaganda set against the Iranian regime; as a result, the converts are forced to worship in secret.


This week news surfaced of the arrest in Tehran of an AOG leader, Masis Moussian of the Narmak AOG church. Mohabat News reported that his arrest was a result of “waves of anti-Christian pressures and distribution of unsubstantiated reports by regime-supported media regarding the AOG churches of Iran.” According to these reports, members of the AOG church in Tehran are “extreme Christians” trying to recruit new members and particularly youth across the country.


Moussian is held at the Rajaei-Shahr prison and is not allowed visitors. His family has not been able to obtain information on his condition in prison.

On Feb. 8 authorities also arrested about 10 Christians who had gathered for worship at a house in the southern city of Shiraz. A new report by Mohabat News revealed that authorities mistreated the Christians in attendance and searched the house, confiscating Bibles. The Christians still remain in an unknown location.


The new report identified two women, three men and a teenager by their first names. Another was identified as Mojtaba Hosseini. Authorities had also arrested Hosseini in 2008, along with eight other Christian converts, on charges of being Christians, according to Mohabat.


Among those arrested last week was a 17-year-old boy named Nima, along with his mother, Fariba, and father, Homayoun. Another woman was identified as Sharifeh, and two men were identified as Kourosh and Masoud. Authorities searched the homes of those arrested and seized CDs, Bibles, Christian materials, computers, fax machines and satellite receivers, according to Mohabat.


Iran applies sharia (Islamic law), which dictates that converts from Islam to other religions are “apostates” and thus punishable by death. Although judges rarely sentence Christians to death for leaving Islam, one Christian, Yousef (also spelled Youcef) Nadarkhani, is appealing such a decision in the northeastern city of Rasht.


Nadarkhani has been in prison since October 2009. A Rasht court found him guilty of leaving Islam and handed him the death sentence in September 2010. Remaining in prison also are Farshid Fathi in Tehran; Farhad Sabokroh, Naser Zamen-Defzuli, Davoud Alijani and Noorollah Qabitizade in Ahwaz; and Fariborz Arazm and Behnam Irani in Karaj.


There are an estimated 350,000 Christian converts from Islam in Iran.


“I believe 100 percent the whole movement in Iran is in God’s hand,” the source said. “This pushing [of the government] can stop the church buildings, but they cannot stop the Kingdom of God.”



END

Friday, February 17, 2012

China blocks U.S. religious freedom envoy

(Cover photo by Talk Radio News
 Service. Story photo by Glyn Lowe)

USA/China (MNN) ― A visit to the U.S. by China's presumptive next president, Xi Jinping, has not been without its controversy.

Protestors have been gathered outside of the buildings where high-level meetings are being held. One bombshell released by religious freedom advocates this week: an official snub to a religious envoy.

Lindsay Vessey, the advocacy coordinator for Open Doors USA, explains. "Dr. Suzan Johnson-Cook, who is the ambassador for international religious freedom, was supposed to go to China earlier this month to meet with a number of people who have been persecuted for their faith. She was actually denied her visa by the Chinese government."

Meetings Johnson-Cook was to have been a part of were cancelled. Without meetings, China said there was no reason to need a visit. Interestingly, the snub was already known in Washington prior to Xi's arrival. Vessey says, "One of the things that was stated by these advocates who kind of broke the story is that the State Department, and the Obama Administration actually directed that they not talk about the denied visa in advance of Xi Jinping's visit."

In a time when China is concerned about its internal security, "They've increased their internal security budget even more than their national defense budget," says Vessey. "They believe often that people who are Christians, Falun Gang practitioners, or Muslims are a threat to State security."

Such scrutiny makes it all the more important for Johnson-Cook to speak out. The silence from Washington was deafening. Vessey says the lack of open support could undermine any further work Johnson-Cook tries to accomplish in other areas. "This is basically demonstrating to the Chinese government that religious freedom really isn't that important to this administration, that they're not willing to stick their neck out and speak publicly." 

Xi defended Beijing's human-rights record, but Vessey says sweeping China's treatment of religious minorities cannot be ignored. "That's concerning [us] because when a government isn't willing to treat their own people well, why should we trust them in other matters?"

Vessey notes the job will be more complicated now. "I think it's going to make things more difficult because in the past, we've had administrations that were more willing to be vocal in support of Christians and other faith groups that are persecuted. And when the Chinese government is aware that people are watching and that people are trying to hold them accountable, that really makes a difference."  

Disclosure drew criticism, but it had the intended effect. As the stir grew, the story seems to have changed a bit. Now, White House spokesman Jay Carney says that Chinese officials have told the White House they are working on dates for Johnson-Cook's visit.

The envoy post was created as part of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which seeks to promote religious freedom as a U.S. foreign policy and to advocate on behalf of individuals viewed as persecuted in foreign countries due to their religion.

Cook is the first woman and the first African-American to hold the post.

Vicar of Baghdad: ‘We Have Been Left and We Have Nothing!’

By Michael Ireland
Senior International Correspondent, ASSIST News Service


BAGHDAD, IRAQ (ANS) -- Following the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, the Christian minority faces continued sectarian violence, political mayhem, unemployment, lack of security, failing health care and the inability to buy food.

Canon Andrew White,
the ‘Vicar of Baghdad'
According to the popular cleric, Canon Andrew White, the ‘Vicar of Baghdad’ who serves St. George’s Church in Baghdad, conditions have grown worse for the Christian community since the American departure. Among the exclamations of the Christians in Iraq is the statement: “We Have Been Left and We Have Nothing!”

Canon White told ANS in a recent update: “None of us thought there would be any change here after the US troops left. They had not been seen on the streets for two years. We were totally wrong: from the day that the US military left we were in total chaos and disarray.

“Violence increased, religious sectarianism increased again in force. We could not even enter the Green Zone, as any badges issued by the US were no longer valid; the new badges were simply not being issued. Total mayhem politically began with the prime minister issuing a warrant for the arrest of the Vice President Tariq Al Hashami. He was accused of terrorism, and sadly there was a lot of evidence to suggest this was true.”

 
White said that with this action, great significance was placed on the fact that the Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki was Shia and the Vice President was the most senior Sunni political figure in the country. “Terrible sectarian violence targeting the Shia has begun,” White said.

White continued: “There were also coordinated attacks on the institutions of the state, including on the Foreign Ministry, which is very close to St. George’s Church. With the arrest warrant for the Sunni Vice President issued by the Shia Prime Minister, the fragile coalition government is fracturing down sectarian lines and turning violently on itself.

“What I most feared would happen, is happening. I said all along that it wouldn’t make any difference to us if the Americans leave. I was really wrong,” said White.

White stated: “It is becoming really difficult in Iraq right now. Before, we knew that the US were just around the corner, so we could get them if we needed them, but now they are not there. But we won’t give up, we won’t stop our work, and by God’s grace we will keep going.”

Canon White said events in Iraq have escalated in recent days, as the departure of the US troops appears to have sparked a series of attacks and disputes within the divided country.
Just one week ago, US President Barack Obama declared: “We are leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government elected by its people."
White says the reality is “swiftly proving to contradict the President’s words.”

Canon white said there have been attempts to ransack both al Hashami’s office and that of al Maliki in recent days.

“There has even been a car bomb in the supposedly secure Green Zone. The attacks form part of wider and increasing sectarian violence in Iraqi society,” he said.

He continued: “Even as the US troops left Iraq, the fear of the Christians and other minorities has increased. They say, ‘At least before, under the old regime we were protected; now we have nothing. Those who have set us free from an evil dictator have now left us and we have nothing.’”

White asks: “What is this ‘nothing’? It is no security (where) before the Christians, as minorities, were protected. The evil regime of Saddam (Hussein) was led by man who was not the Shia majority but a Sunni from the second group not the first. When the foreign troops were here, even though we often did not see them, they were not far away and if and when we needed them they were there.
“There are times when we ourselves face great danger. Our people have been slaughtered, massacred and murdered, but now we have nobody to turn to. There has been much talk about the security needs of our people. The Iraqi Government has tried to do what it can, but we do not live in a ghetto. The Christians are based all over Iraq, but especially in Baghdad and Nineveh/Mosul. 2,700 years after Jonah, Nineveh is still the place where all Christians come from. So the Christians and all minorities are less safe than they have ever been,” Canon White said.

“ ‘Nothing’ is far more than security though. Employment is far more limited, not least for women. The main industry is now security, and for the Christians -- educated women -- things are more difficult than ever in an increasingly orthodox Islamic state. A state where the rights of women have sadly diminished,” he said.

“No employment means no money, and that means no ability to buy food, pay rent for housing, or even possess proper health care. The health care system here in Iraq has seriously collapsed. The hospitals are falling to pieces and many of its leading doctors have been killed, kidnapped or have fled from Iraq.”

Canon White said that although he may be the leader of a church, “but after services each week I also have to give all my 4,000 plus people food for the week.

“We have had to establish a large clinic with doctors, dentists, laboratory, and specialist units and also a pharmacy. All treatment is totally free -- and it is not just restricted to Christians either, but is totally open to all and is totally free of charge. In addition to these services we also have also built a school to provide excellent education to our many children. It is fortunate that we can provide this service for our people, but we did not envisage that this long after 2003 we would still have to, but we do. 

“Iraq today is still an insecure place where most of the people have nothing.”

White added: “Things are difficult for all Iraqis, but for us as minorities, it is particularly so. The violence here is known about and is terrible and much of it has come from outside, but now we have another huge problem. It is such a big issue that three years ago we became the top nation in the world in this crime; it is nothing less than corruption. Corruption that is so great that we no longer know whom we can even trust.”

Canon White explained that when the Coalition Provisional Authority took control of the nation in 2003, he remembers telling one of the diplomatic leaders that “we needed to deal with the issue of religion in order to prevent religious sectarian violence.

“I was told that this was not really an issue in Iraq. First, I was told that water and electricity needed to be dealt with. It was only a few weeks later that this diplomat came to me and said that he could not even deal with water and electricity because religion kept getting in the way.”

Canon White went on to say that it was William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Second World War, who said, “When religion goes wrong it goes very wrong.”

“Sadly, that is what has happened here. Religion here now is not seen as a tranquil means of relating to the Almighty, but a means of fighting for the rights of their own. A fight that sadly often involves violence. The fight that recently arose from Sunni to Shia was just a further symptom of this sectarian violence. If religion is the cause of the violence, it must also be the cure. That is the work of the High Council of Religious Leaders in Iraq that we established in 2004,” he said.

“Many were killed and injured,” said White. “We, as religious, began an urgent process to try reducing the sectarian violence. We met in Najaf, the Holiest City in the world to the Shia. For the first time ever we took some of the Sunni religious leaders to Najaf, we heard first hand from the Shia religious leaders of their immense fear of the renewed sectarian violence. A few days later we met with a large number of Sunni leaders in Baghdad. Together we produced an Islamic Fatwa (injunction) against the Sunni attacking and killing the Shia. Much of diplomatic world still fails to see that this problem of ‘Religion gone very Wrong’ has to be dealt with by religion itself. That is why we are here and what we try and do.”

Canon White concluded: “Sadly, this radical sectarianism is no longer just restricted to Iraq -- the so called Arab Spring has greatly increased this risk of this sectarianism in the whole of the region. Will there now be a lot more minorities in the region saying, ‘We have nothing?’

“I have just come from our prayer meeting and I told people about today’s update and they said, "Everybody may have left us, but Yeshua (Jesus) has not!"


** 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.

Accused Pastor in Kashmir, India Given Reprieve


Police fail to find evidence of fraudulent conversion; converts urged to return to Islam.
A court has ordered the Jammu and Kashmir state government to temporarily halt criminal proceedings against a pastor accused of bribing Muslim youths to convert to Christianity.

The state’s High Court on Saturday (Feb. 11) halted proceedings in the police complaint of “promotion of religious enmity by conversions” against the Rev. Chander Mani Khanna of the Church of North India denomination. Responding to a petition by the pastor to quash the complaint, the court issued notices to top officials of the state’s police department and interior ministry because investigators have not been able to formulate charges even though the case was registered last Oct. 29, Pastor Khanna told Compass by phone.

Pastor Khanna, who retired on Jan. 16 from All Saints Church in Kashmir Valley’s Srinagar city, seemed relieved.

“After I was released on bail, the court had asked me not to leave the state, but with this stay order I can at least travel out,” he said.

The pastor, who remained in jail for more than 40 days until he was released on bail last Dec. 1, added that the court asked the government to file its response by March 14, and then it will set the date for the next hearing. Police have not been able to gather evidence of “conversion by allurement” against Pastor Khanna.

The pastor added that real victory will be achieved when he is allowed to return to Kashmir, in the Muslim-majority region of the state.

“We do not want to retaliate,” he said. “We want to promote the spirit of acceptance, accommodation and tolerance and be salt to the community in Kashmir for the betterment of the whole country.”

Kashmir’s sharia (Islamic law) court, which has no legal authority in India, in December found Pastor Khanna, the Rev. Jim Borst, a Dutch Catholic missionary and Gayoor Messah, a Christian worker, guilty of “luring the valley Muslims to Christianity” and ordered them to leave the state. The court, headed by Kashmir Grand Mufti Bashir-ud-din Ahmad, also “directed” the state government to take over the management of all Christian schools in the region.

Muslim leaders had been rallying against Christians after a video posted on YouTube last October showed the baptism of formerly Muslim youths at All Saints Church. The sharia court summoned Pastor Khanna and held a hearing before announcing its verdict against the three pastors.

Reconversions
Life has been extremely difficult for Kashmir’s Christians since the sharia court’s verdict, said a Christian worker who fled the region last month along with 15 others.

Muslim clergy, he told Compass, claim to have converted 155 Christians back to Islam.

“But I don’t believe that,” added the source, who said he fled fearing police would force him to speak against Pastor Khanna. “I have spoken to some of them, and they said they neither denounced their faith, and nor did they embrace Islam. Out of fear, they listened to the ‘advice’ while remaining non-committal.”

Local online news portal Kashmirwatch.com late last month reported that an Islamic seminary in north Kashmir was working with 115 converts to bring them back to Islam.

“We are collecting details,” it quoted a seminary official as saying. “We would try to catch them all and persuade them to revert to Islam.”

Local Christians say the sharia court has formed area committees to prevent conversions and reconvert Christians. Committee members are visiting Christians’ homes and allegedly pressuring them and their families to return to Islam.

Kashmirwatch.com reported that over 20,000 Kashmiri Muslims had converted to Christianity since separatist militancy erupted in Kashmir in the 1990s. According to a September 2002 report in Christian media in the United States, it reported, the number of “neo-Christians” was 15,000.

“The conversions are likely to have surged past 20,000, with over a dozen Christian missions and churches based in the U.S., Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland operating in the state,” the news portal stated.

Local Christians said the report in the U.S. media was not accurate.

Support from Separatists
While most Muslim leaders have turned against Christians and the state government is apparently unconcerned about their safety, a highly influential separatist group has spoken out for Christians.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani, head of a faction of the Hurriyat Conference separatist political front, has reportedly said his group does not support the sharia court’s fatwa calling for the expulsion of a few Christian workers from the state.

“Banishing someone is no solution,” the Kashmir Times quoted him as saying. “As Muslims, it is our responsibility to ensure that we reach out to our youth and create awareness about Islam.”


The 82-year-old leader also acknowledged the contribution Christians have made to Kashmir.

“They are part and parcel of the society,” he reportedly said. “It is our duty to protect them. Kashmiris cannot ignore the contributions of Christian missionary schools towards the educational system in the Valley. Unfortunately, Kashmiri Muslims have not been able to build an educational institution like those by the Christian missionary schools despite all available resources.”

A fact-finding team, which included a senior official of the National Commission for Minorities, visited Kashmir from Nov. 29 to Dec. 2 last year. It learned that some extremist groups and other vested interests had been trying to use the issue of conversion in their confrontation with the state government, political parties and moderate Islamic groups. They were “looking to score political points against each other, and any excuse was good enough to foment trouble,” the fact-finding team reported.

The state government apparently sided with the extremists to preempt any unrest, local residents told the fact-finding team.

END

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Is the Muslim Brotherhood a New Target of Egypt’s Anti-Government Protests?

By Aidan Clay
Special to ASSIST News Service


CAIRO, EGYPT (ANS) -- Thousands of activists gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square last weekend in continued protests to denounce the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and, in a surprising turn of events, the election of the Muslim Brotherhood-ruled parliament. The large demonstrations marked the one year anniversary of President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster from power.

A boy waves the Egyptian flag, hopeful that change is still on the horizon in the new Egypt
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, which won 47 percent of the votes in Egypt’s elections for the lower-house of parliament in January, has fallen under increasing pressure in recent weeks, Christian and moderate activists told International Christian Concern (ICC). Many accuse the Muslim Brotherhood of participating in fraudulent elections and tacitly allying with the SCAF. Meanwhile, protestors continue to demand that the SCAF immediately cease power to civilian rule while condemning them for committing human rights violations that rival those of Mubarak’s regime.

“Protestors were shouting, ‘No military council and no Brotherhood. This is our revolution, the youth’s revolution,’” Coptic activist Wagih Yacoub told ICC. “Many people have regretted electing the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is more concerned with their movement than the benefit of the country.”

Mary Ibrahim Daniel, the sister of Mina Daniel – a well-known Coptic activist who was killed by the SCAF during a peaceful protest on October 9 – continues to march with demonstrators to defend the memory of her brother and to demand the same freedoms that were sought in Egypt’s revolution.

“I dream that one day all the Egyptian people will demonstrate against the Brotherhood,” Daniel told ICC. “I was surprised to see so many people, including Muslims, protesting against them outside the House of Parliament. I think that finally the Egyptian people are waking up to the fact that the Brotherhood used religion to get into power and are using religion to stay in power. The Brotherhood is hijacking the ideals and motives behind the revolution.”

“No military council and no Brotherhood. This is our revolution, the youth’s revolution,” activists chanted in Cairo's Tahrir Square last weekend, marking the one year anniversary of President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster from power
The Muslim Brotherhood recently pulled away from popular demands that Egypt’s new parliament should immediately replace the military-appointed government, which raises concerns that the Muslim Brotherhood is tacitly allying with the SCAF for political gain. Alliances formed by the Muslim Brotherhood will likely set the agenda of the new parliament, including its appointment of an assembly to draft the constitution. The SCAF has made clear its intention to influence the process and has opted for autonomy from parliament oversight, The Wall Street Journal reported last November.

The Egyptian daily Al-Wafd, published by the Wafd political party, recently reported that the SCAF has discretely helped finance the Muslim Brotherhood, enabling them to carry out social programs which have played a major role in securing votes. Some Egyptians claim that the SCAF will hand over internal powers to the Muslim Brotherhood while it remains in control of defense, security and the country’s enormous budget.

“The Brotherhood has always publicly insisted that there is no deal [between them and the SCAF]. But especially since they offered immunity from legal action to the SCAF for its actions since the revolution, the allegations grew louder,” Mara Revkin, analyst at the U.S. think-tank the Atlantic Council, told Now Lebanon. The SCAF has been accused of killing hundreds of protestors, including 27 Christians on October 9 and at least 41 activists during demonstrations leading up to the parliamentary elections.

Renewed protests are planned to take place outside the hospital where former President Mubarak is being held. In a message intended to undermine demonstrators, the SCAF warned on Friday that it will not bow to threats and plots that aim to topple the state and spread chaos, The Associated Press reported. The Muslim Brotherhood also condemned recent protests, saying that it will not take part in demonstrations that will hurt Egypt’s already fragile economy. However, many activists, including Coptic Christians who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population, remain hopeful that change is still on the horizon.

“Every day is a new day. Every hour is a new hour,” Yacoub said. “I stopped predicting what will happen next. I’ll wake up and find that a new disaster has happened. You just don’t know in Egypt. The 24th of January was different than the 25th, which was different than the 11th of February when Mubarak stepped down. I’ve learned to take things step-by-step, day-by-day, hour-by-hour.”


Aidan Clay is the Middle East Regional Manager for International Christian Concern (ICC), a Washington, DC-based human rights organization that exists to support persecuted Christians worldwide by providing awareness, advocacy, and assistance (www.persecution.org). Aidan is a graduate from Biola University in Southern California. Prior to joining ICC, Aidan worked with Samaritan’s Purse in South Sudan and has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, Africa and Europe. He and his wife currently live in Nairobi, Kenya. For more information, contact Aidan Clay at clay@persecution.org 

** You may republish this story with proper attribution.

Church Elder Seized and Imprisoned

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service


TEHRAN, IRAN (ANS) -- A prominent elder of Narmak’s Assembly of God Church in Tehran has been arrested at work by the Islamic Republic’s Ministry of State Security agents.

According to a story by the Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN), on Feb. 8, agents of the Ministry of State Security of the Islamic Regime raided Maasis Mosesian’s work, and took him to Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj. As yet his family and friends have not been informed of charges against him, and reasons for the sudden arrest.

FCCN said Mosesian was able to let church members know with a brief phone call where he was being held, although he was not allowed to contact his family until Feb. 11.

His wife and son drove to the prison on Feb. 12 hoping to see Mosesian. They were not allowed to do so, and told to leave.

FCNN said other than an admission of his incarceration, there is a lack of legal documentation or even verbal reasons for the sudden arrest.

FCNN commented, “Unlike the civilized world, in the Islamic Republic burden of proof rests with the accused. However, accusations are only leveled after lengthy interrogations, frequently under torture.”

FCNN said Mosesian is Armenian and married with two children. He works in a private company, as state jobs are denied to non-Muslims. He is well known as a Christian.

FCNN said the news of his sudden arrest has been met with disbelief and apprehension amongst church membership.

FCNN commented, “We should remind our readers of the sustained waves of arrests and detentions of Christians carried out by the Islamic Regime across the country. (This) has been going on since before Christmas.”

FCNN said even though most of these attacks have been directed against new converts, the more traditional Assyrian and Armenian Church and their members have not been immune from the Ministry of State Security’s attention.

FCNN said Assembly of God Churches in Tehran and other Islamic ruled cities are being spied on and raided on an almost daily basis.



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, http://www.joyjunction.org 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 athttp://www.homelessinthecity.com. Reynalds lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For more information contact: Jeremy Reynalds at jeremyreynalds@comcast.net.

** You may republish this story with proper attribution.

20,000 Muslims Attempt to Kill Pastor and Torch Church in Egypt

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service


EGYPT (ANS) -- A mob of nearly 20,000 radical Muslims, mainly Salafis, attempted recently to break into and torch the Church of St. Mary and St. Abram in the village of Meet Bashar, in Zagazig, Sharqia province.

St. Mary's Church in Meet Bashar, Egypt
According to a story by Mary Abdelmassih for the Assyrian International News agency (AINA), they were demanding the death of Rev. Guirgis Gameel, pastor of the church, who has been unable to leave his home.

AINA said nearly 100 terrorized Copts sought refuge inside the church, while Muslim rioters were pelting the church with stones in an effort to break into the church, assault the Copts and torch the building. A home of a Copt living near the church and the residence of a church staff member were torched, as well as three cars.

AINA said the mob demanded the return Rania of Khalil Ibrahim, 15, to her father. 

She has been held with the Security Directorate. Christian-born Rania had converted to Islam three months ago after her father, who had converted to Islam two years ago and took custody of her.

AINA said she had disappeared from the village last Saturday, after claiming to go shopping. According to Gameel, she had a disagreement with her father, who had arranged a marriage for her with a Muslim man.

Her father, Khalil Ibrahim, went to the police on Saturday and accused the priest of being behind her disappearance, and said she had gone to live with her Coptic mother.

AINA said a Salafi mob of 2000 went to the priest's home and destroyed his furniture and his car, surrounded the church and pelted it with stones. They demolished a large section of the church fence. In the evening security forces announced that they had found Rania in Cairo and that she was not abducted by Christians. She was brought to the police station in Meet Bashar.

“After hearing this news yesterday everyone was relieved,” AINA reported Coptic activist Waguih Jacob said.

He added, “However, the Copts noticed that the Muslims did not completely disperse, but were hovering in all streets.”

AINA said the few security forces stationed in front of the church were dismissed as the village seemed to return to peace.

But the mob became more angry when they heard that Rania refused to go back to live with her father, and returned in much greater numbers.

AINA reported some Coptic eyewitnesses said a number of Muslim villagers tried to prevent the Salafis from assaulting their Christian neighbors, and some stood as human shields to protect the church until security forces arrived.

Bishop Yuaness, Secretary to Pope Shenouda III, said that they have been in contact with authorities “at the highest levels.”

AINA said Marian Malak, a Coptic member of parliament, contacted Egyptian Prime Minister El-Ganzoury, who ordered sending reinforcements to contain the crisis.

Bishop Tadros Sedra, of Minia el Kamh and Zagazig Coptic diocese, said that military and police forces have arrived in great numbers and have dispersed Muslims from outside the church and Gameel’s home. He confirmed that security will stay in the village for at least two weeks.

AINA said US-based Coptic Solidarity International, issued a press release strongly urging the international community, through the United Nations Human Rights Council, to appoint a special rapporteur for the Copts in Egypt. That particularly in light of the recent evictions, property confiscations and attacks against Copts.


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, http://www.joyjunction.org 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 athttp://www.homelessinthecity.com. Reynalds lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For more information contact: Jeremy Reynalds at jeremyreynalds@comcast.net.

** You may republish this story with proper attribution.

Priests Released amid Wave of Abductions in Sudan


Southern Sudan Christians in north targeted for forcible conscription into rebel militias.
Two Catholic priests abducted at gunpoint in Rabak, Sudan last month have been released amid a wave of forcible conscriptions into rebel southern militias.


Their captors – South Sudanese militiamen loyal to (north) Sudan’s Islamic government – accused the Rev. Joseph Makwey and the Rev. Sylvester Mogga of ties to the South Sudan military. South Sudan, which seceded from Sudan on July 9, 2011, has been in military conflict with (north) Sudan over border areas while staving off southern rebel militias.


“They knew we were just priests, yet they ‘arrested’ us,” Mogga told Compass.


The two priests were kidnapped from the compound of St. Josephine Bakhita Catholic Church on Jan. 15 and were released two weeks later, they said. For security reasons they would not discuss conditions of their release, but the kidnappers had demanded 500,000 Sudanese pounds (US$185,530); press reports indicated no ransom was paid and that they were released after pressure from influential groups including the government in Khartoum.


Christians in Sudan have complained of a spike in threats against them by South Sudanese militias rebelling against the new South Sudan government. The South Sudanese rebels go house-to-house in Khartoum and other towns in the north abducting mainly Christian men, Christian sources said; hundreds of young men have been forcibly conscripted, while older men are either killed or ransomed.


The kidnappers tortured the two clergymen physically and psychologically, and they are now undergoing medical treatment, sources said; they will require more time to recover.


“The two Catholic priests were mistreated,” Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Adwok Kur told Compass by phone.


There are at least three South Sudanese militia groups fighting against the government of South Sudan with the support of the government of Sudan. With almost no support within South Sudan, they have resorted to forcibly conscripting South Sudanese who are still living in (north) Sudan, where the government supports them as part of an effort to rid the country of Christianity, sources said.


Christians in (north) Sudan said that such abductions are increasing as the Islamic government in Khartoum supports these militias, which are fighting the government of South Sudan and the South Sudan-based Sudanese People’s Liberation Army


“Christians in Khartoum live in fear as they become the target of these militia groups,” one church leader said.


Episcopal Leaders KidnappedIn a separate incident, two leaders from the Episcopal Church of Sudan were abducted at gunpoint on the same day by members of the same militia in Gerif West, near a local Bible school in Khartoum, sources said.


Michael Mikol and Jacob Makeer were kidnapped on Jan. 15 at around 7 p.m. and were released one hour later, after the assailants took their mobile phones and other belongings, according to Christian sources in Khartoum.


Christians from South Sudan and South Kordofan in Khartoum are afraid to attend church services because these militias are targeting them, the sources said.


The official Islamic clerical authority in Sudan has called on the body tasked with drafting the country’s constitution to ensure inclusion of sharia (Islamic law), reported the Sudan Tribune website.


Sudan’s [Muslim] Scholars Association, a body of state-controlled imams and clerics, issued the statement last week.


Sudan’s Interim National Constitution holds up sharia as a source of legislation, and the laws and policies of the government favor Islam, according to a U.S. Department of State report. On several occasions in the past year, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has warned that Sudan’s constitution will be more firmly entrenched in sharia.

'Blaspheming' Christian still awaiting sentence after eight months in Pakistani prison

Pakistan (MNN) ― Things are only getting worse for another Christian charged with blasphemy in Pakistan.
Dildar Yousaf, 28, was arrested and charged with blasphemy after defending his 8-year-old nephew from a group of Muslim boys last June, according to Voice of the Martyrs.

Dildar's nephew, Ehtasham, was taunted by a group of boys as he passed an Islamic school. As Ehtasham walked by the "madrassa," seven boys gathered around him and tried to force him to become a Muslim. When Ehtasham refused, the boys began to scream and beat him.

Dildar happened to pass by and pulled his nephew away from the boys, took him home, and went about his work for the day. That afternoon, the news spread that Dildar had disgraced the Muslim proclamation of faith.

Police picked up Dildar from his workplace and put him in protective custody. They also filed a blasphemy charge against him under Pakistani law 298A, which carries the lightest sentence for blasphemers.

Months later, Dildar remains in prison, awaiting a sentence. His wife and two children have now been forced to flee because of ongoing threats. Ehtasham and his family have also had to leave their village. VOM is supporting the family and providing legal assistance to Dildar.

Dildar's village has a history of persecution, VOM reports. Pray for Christians in the area to remain bold. Pray that despite ongoing trials, Dildar would remain safe and faithful to the Lord.

To learn about others willing to take a stand for Christ in places dangerous to do so, visit persecution.com

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Middle Eastern Christians face bleak future

-- a call to pray and stand up for the Middle East‘s imperilled Christians 

By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 146
Special to ASSIST News Service


AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- The 'Arab Spring' opened the door for long-repressed Sunni Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi forces to rise up and seize power locally and challenge the balance of power regionally. Faced with escalating persecution and decreasing security, Christians are increasingly opting for flight. The alternative is to exist as dhimmis: subjugated second-class citizens forced to live with crippling inequality and profound insecurity under Islamic domination.

In Egypt, Iraq and Syria -- homes to the region's largest and most ancient Christian communities -- the security situation is critical. Furthermore, the conflict in Syria has the potential to inflame sectarian tensions in neighbouring volatile Lebanon, which is also home to several large and ancient Christian communities.

Egypt, which once gave refuge to the Christ-child, is today a tinderbox where anti-Christian hostility is rising to incendiary levels. Not only do those who violently persecute and terrorise Christians do so with absolute impunity, but Islamic ad hoc 'courts' and 'reconciliation sessions' then compound that persecution. The victims are denied compensation, expelled from their homes and dispossessed, or they are charged with offending Islam or threatening social cohesion. In Iraq, where the Assyrian Church of the East -- the world's first Christian denomination -- was established, Christians are today the victims of violent Islamic jihad and ethnic cleansing. Over recent years the Christian population of Iraq has halved. In Syria, where followers of Jesus were first called 'Christians', radical Sunni Arab fundamentalists are fighting for control of Syria and the regional balance of power. Not only is the Syrian Church imperilled, but so too are the Assyrian-Chaldean Christian refugees who fled the genocide in Iraq for refuge in Syria.

Persecution is escalating in Iran. On Wednesday 8 February, plain-clothed security officers raided a house church gathered for prayer and worship in the southern city of Shiraz, arresting all ten believers present. One of those arrested, the convert Mojtaba Hosseini, had been arrested previously in May 2008 when aged only 21. Iranian sources think the authorities have had Mojtaba under surveillance for some time. The whereabouts of these believers are unknown. Several other believers incarcerated over Christmas remain in prison. Regarded as traitors, spies and sources of 'fitna' (anything that could threaten the faith of a Muslim), all Iran's Christian prisoners are subjected to harsh conditions and cruel treatment.

Western powers pursuing economic and geo-strategic gain seem to regard the Christians of the Middle East as inconvenient peoples who may be sacrificed for greater ends such as oil and power. Needless to say, God does not see his imperilled children that way. Indeed, he suffers with them. 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me. . . . Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' (From Matthew 25:40,45 ESV) The Church must stand up for the Middle East's imperilled Christians.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --
  • use this catastrophe to draw all Christians closer to him and to each other; as conflict and terror abound, may the LORD deliver to that 'faintly burning wick' -- the besieged Church -- fresh oxygen not only for life, strength and hope, but for revival. (Isaiah 42:3)
  • intervene on behalf of his precious people (Isaiah 59:14-19) that they might see and know his hand of wise guidance and arm of loving provision and protection. (Isaiah 40:10,11)
PRAY ALSO for the NUBA of SUDAN, half a million of whom will soon be dying en masse as the Government of Sudan's engineered famine explodes as a 'weapon of mass destruction' to effect the genocide of these non-Muslim, non-Arab, predominantly Christian peoples. [See prayer requests in RLPB 145]

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
----------------------------------------------------------------------
MIDDLE EASTERN CHRISTIANS FACE BLEAK FUTURE
The so-called 'Arab Spring' opened the door for long-repressed Islamist forces to rise up and seize power locally and challenge the balance of power regionally. In Egypt, Iraq and Syria -- homes to some of the region's largest and most ancient Christian communities -- persecution is escalating and the threat of genocide is real. Furthermore, the conflict in Syria has the potential to inflame sectarian tensions in neighbouring Lebanon, which is also home to several large and ancient Christian communities. Whilst poor socio-economic conditions and escalating discrimination and persecution have been driving Christians to emigrate from the Middle East for decades, the deteriorating security situation is giving rise to effectively a Christian exodus. There is much fear. Please pray for the Church in the Middle East.


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

** You may republish this story with proper attribution.

Have You Experienced A Miracle Today?

Have You Experienced A Miracle Today?: "Can you imagine a 10,000-pound axle from a logging truck falling on top of you and nearly cutting the midsection of your body in two? That's what happened to diesel mechanic Bruce Van Natta when the semitrailer he was repairing fell off a jack in November 2006."

Read more...

Genocide in Syria?

A Syrian protester gestures victory signs behind their
 national flag as they shout slogans calling for Syria's
 President Bashar al-Assad to step down during a protest
 in front of the Syrian embassy in Amman April 17, 2011.
 UPI 


Syria (MNN) ― The U.N. human rights chief Monday urged that Syria's dictator Bashar al-Assad be referred to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, according to NBC news.

Dozens of nations have called for Assad to end violence or to step down. As violence continues to rattle Syria, it's becoming clearer and clearer that a transition away from Assad's regime will need to be made one, way or another.

"We can't see the future to know how this transition is going to take place--although it does seem inevitable that there will be some sort of transition at some point," agrees Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs.

But what will such a transition mean for Christians? Throughout the rebellion in Syria, Mission Network News has reported repeatedly on the relative peace Christians have experienced. As violence has been redirected to others, Christians have not been so hunted. Most cannot support Assad's regime but are fearful of what will happen when he falls, says Tom Doyle with E3 Partners.

"What our contacts in Syria are saying is that they are concerned about a potential of a backlash against the church and against Christians, in particular, if an Islamic-leaning group becomes the head of the country," explains Nettleton. "They worry what that will mean for religious freedom."

Catholic bishops have gone as far as to suggest that an all-out genocide could easily take place, reports the New American.

Why the backlash against Christians? "They are seen by the masses as having been aligned with Assad, maybe even protected by Assad," Nettleton explains. "So, anger at the Assad regime becomes anger at Christians."

Nettleton says the word "genocide" may be too strong for what may take place. He says the response toward Syrian Christians depends largely on the outcome of the Assad regime. If it's a violent end where extremists take over, says Nettleton, it doesn't bode well for Christians. If it's a more peaceful transition, Christians may stand a chance at relative freedom.

With so much of the future unknown, Christians are going about their lives responding to God's call. The Syrian church has breached denominational lines in unity throughout this conflict, says Nettleton, which has helped sustain the nation's massive hunger for the Gospel.

"One of the statements that our contact made was, ‘Hey, you can start a house church in a day if you just go out and start talking to people and presenting the Gospel.' There's so much openness to the Gospel message right now."

Pray for hearts to remain open no matter what lies ahead. 

Kashmiri Christians forced to revert to Islam

By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Monitoring
Special to ASSIST News Service


AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- Kashmiri Christians are coming under increased pressure to return to Islam since Kashmir's Islamic clerics and scholars decided to crack down hard of fitna (anything that could shake the faith of a Muslim) and put an end to apostasy in the semi-autonomous province.

The clerics established the Majlis Tahaffuz-e-Imaan (Council for Protection of Faith) after video footage emerged of seven young Kashmiri men being baptised in All Saints Church, Srinagar.

By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 22 Jan 2012
According to Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), the atmosphere in Srinagar is increasingly tense. "The situation is precarious and unstable. Islamic fundamentalists have threatened to seize all the properties of the families of the converts in order to have them go back to Islam. Intimidations have had their effect, at least partly. Three of the seven converts have decided to abjure Christianity."

On 29 January, Kashmir Watch (a Europe-based news portal of Kashmir International Research Centre) posted an article entitled: "Over 20,000 converted to Christianity since 1990 in Kashmir". The article gives further insight into the pressure Kashmiri Christians are facing.

After detailing the Christian missionary "operation", which allegedly is advanced by means of "close coordination under a well-thought out strategy", the writer reports:

"A north Kashmir religious Madrassa is presently working on 115 Kashmiri Christian converts to bring them back to Islamic fold. A functionary of the Madrassa involved the job told the Honour [the writer] that the Madrassa has already brought back 150 converts over the past some months. He said that there are reports of scores of other people who have converted to Christianity. 'We are collecting details. We would try to catch them all and persuade them to revert to Islam', he said.

"Details also revealed that the conversions are voluntary, and are done for material benefits. One of the eight (sic) converts, whose video was posted on YouTube recently, is reported to have converted for a paltry sum of Rs.5000. He is a poor labourer who changed religion in the hope of getting some financial aid from the Christian Missionary to pay off bank loan his father had taken."

The writer goes on to lament that "ritual press statements, street protests, in-house meetings, seminars and routine condemnations was all that came up from the religious leadership. Mufti Bashiruddin did not move beyond asking for expulsion of Pastors." The writer would like to see the religious leadership sleeping less and acting more, so they might actually become "the embodiment of what they say" in their sermons.

The writer did not elaborate on what this would mean in practice.

In an article entitled "Kashmir zealots push Christians into valley of fear" (23 Jan 2012, Times of India), Randeep Singh Nandal comments that the recent conversions have opened the door "for further pressure on the 400-odd Christians in the Valley. The two missionary schools in Srinagar are now facing calls to include Islamic prayers as part of the curriculum and prove they do not promote Christianity.

"The few foreign nationals who live here are harassed," Nandal writes, quoting one foreigner who told him: "I got a call around midnight, and this man on the phone asked me how many Bibles I had, how my 'real motive' was known to him."

"Local converts are worse off," notes Nandal. "A few weeks ago, the mere rumour that a few boys in a Ganderbal village had converted led to a raids by five carloads of men led by a maulvi from a madrassa. Their homes were ransacked."

Into this already incendiary climate came a highly inflamatory feature article. Published 20 January 2012 on greaterkashmir.com it alleged to be the confession of a repentant convert.

See: "Apostasy Unveiled!" 
When teenager converted to be John Douglas
By M HYDERI, Greater Kashmir, 20 Jan 2012

As Randeep Singh Nandal (Times of India) notes, "the alleged first person account of one of the boys pastor Khanna had converted . . . reads like a film script".

According to the article, the boy -- whose name is given as Imran -- was trapped by Pastor Khanna who used a girl to entice him to drink alcohol. After filming Imran in a "boozy" state, the pastor then allegedly used the video recording to blackmail the boy. Imran claims that, on account of the pastor, he became "progressively addicted to alcohol, women, money, drugs, and the promise of weapons".

"At each stage," notes Nandal, "pastor Khanna's personal involvement is recorded."
For Nandal, this passage is the "highlight":

"And then came the Black Sunday. Imran says he was asked to attend a prayers at a place other than church. There were candles lit up all around and an empty glass was lying inside. As prayers went on someone brought a jug full of red liquid and poured it into the glass. When Imran asked what it was, he was told it was swine blood which they all had to drink. 'For a moment I couldn't even think of touching but then in no time Khanna took some sips, next I drank it and after that many more including Khanna's daughter did the same.'"

According to Nandal, "This is the most talked about news in Srinagar - on twitter and facebook, in living rooms and cafes.'One comes to know the extent to which these people will go to convert,' read a facebook comment."

Uncertain Future

As Sudha Ramachandran writes for Asia Times online(1 Feb 2012): "The treatment meted out to clergy and threats to the Christian community and its institutions have triggered fears that they, like the Pandits before them, will have to flee the Valley."

Ramachandran explains how between January and March 1990, some 300,000 Hindu Pandits were forced to flee the Kashmir Valley after the Hizbul Mujahideen ordered their expulsion. Memory of this event still brings anxiety to the hearts of Kashmir's religious minorities.

"The past two decades has witnessed the rise of a doctrinaire Islam in Kashmir ," writes Ramachandran. "Kashmiri Christians fear that they are now in the crosshairs of religious radicals."

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

** You may republish this story with proper attribution.

Turkish Christians Subject to Discrimination, Attacks, Report Says


Textbooks, media vilify followers of Christ; intolerance an ‘urgent problem.’
Despite some promising developments, Christians in Turkey continue to suffer attacks from private citizens, discrimination by lower-level government officials and vilification in both school textbooks and news media, according to a study by a Protestant group.


In its annual “Report on Human Rights Violations,” released in January, the country’s Association of Protestant Churches notes mixed indicators of improvement but states that there is a “root of intolerance” in Turkish society toward adherents of non-Islamic faiths.


“The removal of this root of intolerance is an urgent problem that still awaits to be dealt with,” the report states.


“There is still a lot of room for improvement,” said Mine Yildirim, a member of the legal committee for the association. “These problems have not been solved in some time.”


The report documented 12 attacks against Christians in 2011, including incidents in which individuals were beaten in Istanbul for sharing their faith, church members were threatened and church buildings attacked. None of the attackers have been charged. In some of the attacks, the victims declined to bring charges against the assailants.


In some places in Turkey, some church leaders have to “live under some sort of police protection,” the report reads.


“There are at least five church leaders who have bodyguards, and at least two have a direct phone line to a police protection unit,” the report states. “Several churches have police protection during worship services.”


Yildirim said attacks have increased since the previous year, and that much of the problem lies in the fact that the Turkish government won’t admit there is a problem. The state routinely characterizes attacks on Christians as isolated acts of violence rather than the result of intolerance within elements across Turkish society.


“I think it has to be identified as a problem by the state, initially,” Yildirim said. “It is a problem that nothing is being done about at all.”


There are an estimated 120,000 Christians in Turkey, of which 3,000 are Protestants. Sunni Muslims make up close to 99 percent of the country’s 75 million people, according to United Nations’ population figures.


Attacks against Christians come from those who, at a minimum, question the “Turkishness” of Christian nationals or who, at the extreme, view Christians as spies out to destroy the country from within. Many of the more horrific attacks, such as the 2007 torture and killing of three Christians in Malatya, have been linked to members of nationalist movements. The criminal case into the murders continues without a court ruling thus far.


Along with attacks, Christians in Turkey continue to have problems establishing places of worship. The worst incident in that regard last year was on Dec. 23, when the local government of Istanbul’s Sancaktepe district sealed the entrance to the floor of a building rented by the Istanbul Family Life Association, allegedly because of licensing issues.


“When individuals went to the municipality to inquire about the situation, they were told there would not be any activity by the association allowed in that area and that the seal would not be removed,” the report states. “In the same building there are bars and cafes that continue their work along with other businesses. It is only the church association activities that are being banned; they are targets of hate speech and open favoritism of others.”


The report also identifies state policies that single out Christian children for harassment or vilification. A civics book, “The History of the Turkish Republic’s Reforms and ‘Ataturkism,’” taught to eighth-grade students, continues to characterize “missionary activities” as a national threat. The Ministry of Education ignored the association’s efforts to change the language, according to the association’s report.


“This example vividly shows that prejudice and intolerance has been built up by the Ministry of Education and has been worked into the thinking of others,” the report states.


Along with the government, the association points a finger squarely at Turkish news media for perceived bigotry toward Turkish Christians.


“The increase in the slanderous and misinformation-filled and subjective reporting with regard to Christians in 2011 is a worrisome development,” the report states.


Being a Christian is often characterized in the news media as a negative thing, according to the study, and many legal activities of church bodies were portrayed as if they were illegal or a liability to society. Some church groups were falsely linked to at least one terrorist group.


Despite all the problems, Christian Turkish nationals are still faring better than their regional counterparts in countries such as Iran, Iraq and Egypt. The report notes some positive developments in Turkey over the past year, including school administrators being more responsive to the rights of non-Muslim students to opt out of state-mandated Islamic education.


In addition, due to a court order, Turkish citizens are allowed to leave the religious affiliation space blank on their state-issued identification cards. The association noted that some government agencies have been more responsive to concerns about the rights of the Christian minority.


Yildirim declined to speculate on the future of Christians in Turkey but concluded, “Change can happen in Turkey; it just needs to be a priority.”


END

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Bright Future for Bhutan

Believers Bring the Good News to Their Country

Gospel for Asia
For Immediate Release


SOUTH ASIA (ANS) -- It was the first time Thaye saw his father cry. This was the same man who had chased him out of the house three times (once with a knife), mercilessly beat his own wife and children for their faith in Jesus Christ and falsely accused a pastor of kidnapping his family. This same man now stood before a church congregation with tears streaming down his face as he testified of his personal encounter with Christ— the very one he used to loathe and oppose.

In Bhutan, many people feel the same way about Christianity that Thaye's father, Zinjay, once did. They fight it and do everything in their power to turn believers away from their faith. They beat them, harass them, threaten their lives, disown them and even revoke their citizenship. But Thaye is one of many Bhutanese believers who are standing strong despite the odds against them.

Safe and Secure

Thaye remembers the night he thought his life was ending. His father had barged into his room while he was studying for his year-end exam.

“I thought he was there to wish me good luck,” Thaye states. He was only 16 at the time.
“But as my father entered,” he remembers, “I saw him throwing my books and all my things around. I was nervous, not knowing what to do or what not to do.”

“When he finished, he shut the door and nobody was able to come in. He started beating me.”
Thaye’s body buckled with each blow. His mother rushed to find neighbors who could rescue her son. They broke down the door and somehow managed to pull Thaye outside. He collapsed on the ground under the brightness of the full moon. Half an hour passed; then suddenly his father ran out of the house, a knife in his hand—and straight toward Thaye.

“I was not able to run away; I was badly beaten up,” Thaye says. “I just lay there, thinking it was the end of my life.”

But that’s when thoughts of Jesus entered his mind. As he lay crying on the ground, he felt a warm presence engulf him. At that moment, Zinjay ran by—but never saw his son. This happened three times. The house was located in an open area and everything was clearly visible under the light of the full moon, but Thaye remained unnoticed.

“I could feel his feet touching my back,” Thaye recalls. “But to my surprise, he didn’t see me at all. I was safe and secure in the hands of God.”

Unable to find his son, Zinjay exchanged Thaye’s life for the boy's bicycle, chopping it to pieces in his rage.

‘Jesus is Right Here’

For 10 years, Zinjay remained antagonistic toward Christianity, but the battle he waged against his family and their faith began to tire him. Nothing he did could separate them from Christ's love in their hearts. He was exhausted.

Thaye and his brother and sister sensed their father's weariness.

“We saw a change in him and took bold steps to share our faith,” Thaye says. “He agreed in some points, but that stubborn nature was still there.” But then Zinjay woke up one morning completely paralyzed. Thaye and his siblings saw this as another opportunity.

“There is sin in you,” Thaye's sister told her father. “If you confess, Jesus is right there to heal you.”

After listening to his children, Zinjay decided to pray and confess his sins, though he wasn’t ready to surrender his life. His body was instantly healed.

The believers in Zinjay's village heard about this miraculous event. Zinjay had banished them before, but now they were free to visit him and pray for him. Their love and forgiveness convinced Zinjay to take the next step and trust Jesus for salvation.

Trusting the Lord to Work


The country Zinjay grew up in shaped his mind to resist Christianity and believe that it was a Western religion accepted only by low-caste people—“not at all Bhutan,” as Thaye put it.

But today, just as Zinjay’s spirit has softened to know the true God, so also the heart of his nation is gradually opening to receive the Gospel.

All across Bhutan, people are experiencing miracles in the name of the living God. The lame walk, people are healed from mysterious, life-threatening sicknesses and countless people like Zinjay are experiencing the mighty power of Jesus firsthand.

One missionary team is working in some of the most remote areas of the country where the illiteracy rate is high. They’ve discovered that the best way to express the love of God is through Christian films, and so they're prepared to hike through dense forests and high mountains, often carrying all the equipment.

“Sometimes the film teams encounter wild animals like elephants, snow leopards, tigers and bears,” notes a Gospel for Asia leader.

Today, the first residential Bible college in the country has sprung up in Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital city, offering believers a place where they can grow spiritually and be equipped to reach the ones around them.

“It was absolutely a historic event in this Buddhist nation,” a GFA field correspondent reports of the inauguration.

In addition to a well-rounded course of study that includes subjects such as Christian Leadership, New Testament Survey and Missionary Biographies, students at the Bible college are regularly involved in a special program.

“Students and staff members go two by two to areas where Christians have no access to proclaim the Good News openly,” the correspondent explains, “and pray for the salvation of the nation while walking.”

Jesus is Worth it All


While the Bhutanese way of life is still heavily entrenched in keeping the ancient traditions and preserving a cultural heritage, Christians see a bright future for their nation. Even with threats of persecution and imprisonment, missionaries and new believers alike continue to stand firm in their love for the One who delivered them out of darkness.

For Thaye—who has made it his life’s passion to bring the Good News to his own people—and thousands just like him, Jesus is worth it all. These believers want that same life and hope for everyone in Bhutan. One leader sums up that desire:

“We trust that the Lord will be working in the hearts of the people and help them open their hearts to Jesus Christ.”

Pray for Bhutan:
-For believers to stand firm despite opposition and persecution
-Wisdom for Christian leaders
-Demonic strongholds to be broken
-Those opposing Christianity to personally encounter the love of Christ
-Increasing freedom for the Gospel
Bhutan Basic Facts:

-Nearly 700,000 population
-Religions: Lamaistic Buddhism (official state religion) -72%; Hinduism-23%; Islam-4%; Christianity-less than 1%
-Christian missionaries are banned from entering the country
-Illegal for a Buddhist to choose to follow Christ, and church buildings are forbidden

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

** You may republish this story with proper attribution.