Friday, March 9, 2012

Boko Haram strikes again in Nigeria

VOM Medical comes to the aid of
 persecuted believers.

Nigeria (MNN) ― A school, a police station, and banks are the latest targets of the Nigerian terrorist group Boco Haram. More than 300 people have been killed since the beginning of the year. These attacks have Christians fearing for their lives since the terrorist group declared war on Christians.

Todd Nettleton with The Voice of the Martyrs says, "The Boco Haram is basically attacking everything that they view as western, or everything they view as government controlling, and that includes police stations as well as churches, Christian schools, and other overtly-Christian places."

Why? Nettleton says, "Early this year, they made the announcement that they wanted Northern Nigeria to be completely free of Christians, basically telling the Christians there that you must leave, or you must convert to Islam, or you will die."
The Boco Haram attacks used to be sporadic, Nettleton says. "Now, it's almost coming day after day after day. There's a new target. There's a new attack. It really seems like the Nigerian government is incapable of bringing the situation under control."

Apart from Christ, there doesn't appear to be any answers. The Nigerian government says they want to negotiate with Boko Haram, however. Nettleton isn't thrilled with this decision. "The Boko Haram has really given no indication that they're willing to compromise. They want Sharia law. They want Northern Nigeria to be Islamic. They want everyone there to be Islam. They really have been uncompromising."

Christians have been the targets of many of the attacks, and The Voice of the Martyrs has a program specifically to help them. Nettleton says it's called VOM Medical. "It's basically a medical care project to go in immediately after persecution situations -- whether it be a church bombing, or an attack on a Christian -- to be able to provide medical help in the immediate aftermath."

VOM is raising money because of the increasing number of attacks on Christians worldwide. "The money is given so that we can act immediately when there's an event, when there's a case," Nettleton says.

While you may think that Christians are cowering in fear, that's just not the case. Nettleton observes, "There's a lot about the persecuted church that's just amazing, but that willingness to go back into harms way [is incredible]. The other thing that is amazing is the ability to forgive the people who attacked you."

VOM Medical not only meets physical needs, but they also help spiritually.

Minorities Fear Persecution in a Post-Assad Syria

Why a swift fall of the Syrian regime may be disastrous for the Assyrians

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN (ANS) -- “While much of the rest of the world is waiting for the Assad regime in Syria to crumble, some Syrians, while not supporting the brutal dictatorship, still dread the prospect of a rapid disintegration of the Syrian state power. One such group is Assyrian Christians, who make up around 5 percent of the Syrian population. “There is great concern and fear among the Assyrians. Many think they will have to leave the country as soon as possible should the regime suddenly fall as a result of the uprising,” says Rima Haro, a political scientist and Middle East expert, herself of Assyrian origin, living in Sweden.”

So wrote By Aron Lamm in the Epoch Times (
File photo of Iraqi Assyrians in Damascus, Syria, wearing traditional dress to celebrate the New Year (Photo: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images)
Lamm said that the Assyrians are an ethnic group, traditionally spread out over Syria, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Turkey, but with a large diaspora in other parts of the world.

As Christians in the Muslim-dominated Middle East, they have faced rounds of persecution throughout history, and just like the Kurds, they have not had a nation-state as a homeland.

One country, with a large Assyrian population is Sweden. Over 100,000 Assyrians live here, particularly in the city of Sodertalje, about 19 miles south of the capital Stockholm, he went on to say. Out of 80,000 inhabitants in Sodertalje, more than 20,000 Assyrians are a core part of the community.

“Haro, 36, has been an interpreter and journalist, and worked for the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, before becoming a local politician in Stockholm,” Lamb continued. “She is an example of why the Assyrians are considered one of Sweden’s most well-integrated immigrant groups.”

Born of an Assyrian mother and an Armenian father in the northeastern Syrian town of Qamishli, she moved with her family to Sadertalje when she was 10 years old. Like many other Assyrians in Sweden, she is very worried about the current situation in her homeland.

“To be perfectly honest, I dread the prospect of a regime collapse,” she said. “I have relatives and friends living there, and I fear for what will happen to them. It will be Iraq or Egypt all over again,” she added, referring to the persecution of Christians following both the fall of Saddam Hussein and Hosni Mubarak.

“The several areas where most Christians in Syria live have been relatively quiet, but some Christians, like so many other civilians, have been caught in the crossfire in the brutal siege of Homs recently,” wrote Lamm. “Haro hasn’t heard of Christians being persecuted in particular, however.

“Haro strongly emphasizes that she in no way supports dictatorship and says that democracy is ‘the best thing in the world.’ But the fact remains that the Assyrians, with a long history of religious persecution behind them, have had a relatively easy time under Assad, compared to many of their brethren in other countries in the region. If the regime would simply crumble, she, like many Assyrians, fear an even worse bloodbath than the one taking place right now, in the ensuing power struggles and retaliations.

“Furthermore, should fundamentalist forces from the majority Sunni population come to power in Syria, the risk of religious persecution seems obvious to the Assyrians.”

Haro, said the journalist, has met many Iraqi Christian refugees in her work as an interpreter, and for them, the persecution that followed in the civil war after the disintegration of Saddam’s rule has been a disaster.

Haro says that a similar development in Syria would be a worst case scenario. “We are not too far from that situation right now,” she said.

Lamm added, “A peaceful group, largely content with enjoying their religious freedom and not being persecuted, the Assyrians have never challenged the Ba’ath Party’s authority. This is also a reason why they have enjoyed relative peace and quiet under the Assad regime, Haro says. Unlike the Kurds, who have carried on an armed struggle for decades, the Assyrians do not pursue dreams of a homeland.”

“The Christians in Syria have been very compliant, and in return, their rights have been guaranteed. This has been incredibly important for them,” she said.

“Now, however, the Assyrians, like other minorities in Syria, find themselves caught in a bind, Haro says, If they choose not to support the uprising, they may be viewed as regime loyalists and face persecution should the uprising succeed; if they side with the opposition and the regime stays in power, they risk retaliation from the regime.”

“I feel really sorry for the minorities right now. They don’t know which way to turn,” she said.
Lamm said that Haro is very disappointed over the international community’s and most of the Western media’s stance, that the swift fall of the Assad regime is the only option. She hopes that United Nations-led mediations will be able to break the deadlock and open up for a more peaceful development.

“We need dialogue. Some people say ‘It’s impossible to have a dialogue with the Assad regime.’ But I think we need to try not only once or twice, but three, four or 10 times. People’s lives are at stake,” she said.

Lamm concluded his story by saying that the best case scenario in Haro’s opinion would be if the regime could be convinced to instigate reforms, and eventually to hold free elections. As long as the violence ends and martial law is revoked, years of difficult negotiations would be preferable to an even worse bloodbath.

“It will take a long time, and it’s an incredibly complicated situation. It will not be easy to convince the Assad regime to surrender power to anyone else, but I would still like to see all possible options of mediation tried before any attempts at a military solution,” she said.

Dan Wooding, 71, is an award winning British journalist now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for 48 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. He is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS) and was, for ten years, a commentator, on the UPI Radio Network in Washington, DC. He now hosts the weekly “Front Page Radio” show on KWVE in Southern California which is also carried throughout the United States. The program is also aired in Great Britain on Calvary Chapel Radio UK and also in Belize and South Africa. Besides this, Wooding is a host for His Channel Live, which is carried via the Internet to some 192 countries and also provides a regular commentary for Worship Life Radio on KWVE. You can follow Dan Wooding on Facebook under his name there or at ASSIST News Service. Dan has recently received two top media awards -- the Passion for the Persecuted award from Open Doors US, and one of the top "Newsmakers of 2011" from Plain Trust magazine. He is the author of some 44 books, one of which is his autobiography, “From Tabloid to Truth”, which is published by Theatron Books. To order a copy, press this link. Wooding, who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, has also recently released his first novel “Red Dagger” which is available this link.

** You may republish this story with proper attribution.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Libyan Islamists Destroy 150 British Graves From WWII, Tear Down Crosses One Year After Begging For Their Help…

How and why did they do it?

By Lisa Gibson
Special to ASSIST News Service

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO (ANS) -- I was saddened when I heard the news about the Islamists in Libya who destroyed the graves of British soldiers at a World War II cemetery in Libya. In my culture it is wrong to desecrate a grave. I would imagine it is wrong in Islam as well, which is why they did it. But even more scandalous was the desecration of the cross that hung above the graves of the soldiers who died there. As Christians, that speaks a very clear and hate filled message.

When I saw the copy of the self- promotional video ( created by the vandals that was so brazenly aired on YouTube, I was caught off guard. The vandals wore no masks to cover their faces while committing the crime. Instead, they openly and unabashedly engaged in the crime and destruction while all along chanting “Allahu Akbar”, God is great.

Tearing down a cross in the cemetery
The reason for the act was simple, revenge. It was in response to the US burning of the Koran in Afghanistan. Perhaps the Libyan’s hadn’t gotten the whole story of the secret spy codes in Koran’s that were burned, or even heard that the US and even President Obama himself apologized for burning their holy books. But either way, I am confident God wasn’t behind either act of destruction so rather than chanting “God is great” while committing the crime, let’s keep his name out of it.

What saddened me most about this act, is that the actions don’t reflect the sentiment of the majority of Libyans. In fact, many of the progressive leaders I have worked with in Libya in recent months also have concern about the growing fundamentalist influence and the propaganda that is being spread among the Libyan people, especially as the June elections approach.
Lisa teaching conflict resolution
in Libya in January

I was just in Libya in January. We held a two-week leadership training course for 100 medical, business and governmental leaders in Benghazi in ethics, leadership, conflict resolution, and administration. It was the first of many trainings to come, in civil society and capacity building. It was all very new information and designed to help transform wrong patterns of thought that were indoctrinated into the minds of the people during 42 years of tyranny. The leaders were challenged, but greatly appreciated the material and were given concrete skills to apply immediately in their workplaces and lives.

In my experience, the majority of Libyans are peace-loving people who want change and prosperity. They aren’t looking for another civil war, or to continue fighting. But just like you have the Taliban in Afghanistan and Al Qaeda in Iraq, you have militant leaders in Libya who are trying to seize power for their own agenda and purposes. They use hate rhetoric and half-truths to stir up discontent among the poor people in the country who are still struggling and not seeing the life altering changes that they believed the revolution would bring. Change doesn’t happen overnight. This breads discontent. Discontent can lead to hate and abuse. We have seen this play out time and again through history.

I haven’t given up on Libya. Despite the lopsided articles I read in the media, I don’t believe it is imploding or bound for ultimate demise. I have a great deal of hope for the future of Libya. They are a people dearly loved by God, who have gone through 42 years of abuse by a brutal regime and they need to learn there is a better way of doing things. They need the western world to go and help them develop, transform and become peaceful and prosperous.

Even though the vengeful acts of destruction make me angry. I refuse to fight with the enemy’s weapons. I want to see the vandals brought to justice, so it creates deterrence of future bad behavior. But more than that, I want to see forgiveness and reconciliation reign. Matthew 5:9 says “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” The reason is simple. The only way to effectively fight hate, is through love!

Lisa Gibson is the Founder and Director of the Peace and Prosperity Alliance ( She is an ambassador of forgiveness and reconciliation, also an attorney, mediator, public speaker and author of the Award Winning book “Life in Death: A Journey From Terrorism To Triumph.” Lisa has a unique voice on global terrorism having lost her brother on the 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. As a result of this tragedy she is overcoming evil with good by serving the people of Libya, the country found responsible for her brother’s death. Her story of forgiveness made the headlines when she met with and forgave Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi, the world’s most notorious terrorist and the man responsible for her brother’s death. She can be contacted by e-mail at:

** You may republish this story with proper attribution.

War on Christians in Nigeria?

The wreckage after a suicide bomber
 struck a church in Jos

Image source: Stefanos foundation

Nigeria (MNN) ― A Nigerian spokesman for the Islamic militant group Boko Haram told this week that they are planning a "war" on Christians in the next few weeks.

According to the spokesman, speaking via telephone from northern Nigeria, the group "will launch a number of attacks, coordinated and part of the plan to eradicate Christians from certain parts of the country." Some wonder if it will come with Easter.

Boko Haram has taken responsibility for a number of bomb attacks on Christian churches across the country since a Christmas Day bombing left dozens of people killed. The spokesman said, "The government cannot be prepared for what is to come. We will create so much effort to end the Christian presence in our push to have a proper Islamic state, that the Christians won't be able to stay."

The militant group has called for an Islamic state in Nigeria and has claimed more than 1,000 lives since mid-2009, including more than 300 this year alone. Though the terrorists have attacked many churches, the primary targets have been schools and police stations in Muslim areas. To date, the extremists have murdered far more Muslims than Christians.

The location of an indigenous missionary ministry in Nigeria thatChristian Aid Mission has supported since 1986 is well-known to all. In spite of its location in an Islamic state, it has never been in danger of violence until the past few months when aggressive terrorist attacks have become bolder. With this new threat to focus on Christians, the need to relocate ministry headquarters has become critical.

One ministry leader with Christian Aid Mission reports, "Missionaries are going forward with the Lord's work in the midst of the terror of Islamic extremism. The whole nation is terrified, but we will never go underground. That would kill mission work in Nigeria, leaving the devil and his supporters to celebrate our weakness. With 90% of our work now among Muslims and making a tremendous impact, we will move forward with soul winning. But we must strategize wisely."

Just yesterday, a bomb blasted in Demsa, very close to the ministry leader's headquarters. "We do not even operate our office the usual way anymore due to current problem of Boko Haram militants," says the leader. "Two local people were killed in their offices a few days ago. On February 23, terrorists went into a neighborhood shop and randomly shot the owner and his customers. The murderers just walked away. No one does anything. They have nothing to fear."

Pray that God will protect these frontline Christians. Pray also that their boldness will be a witness for Christ.

Two Christian Hospital Workers Abducted in Karachi, Pakistan

Police do not rule out Islamic extremists as suspects.
Authorities do not know who abducted two Christian hospital employees in Karachi last week, but police sources said they suspected the kidnappers had links with banned terrorist organizations.

There is a strong possibility that Islamic extremists took the two workers of South Korea-based Good Samaritan Hospital, Issac Samson and Indrias Javaid, to Pakistan’s tribal areas after kidnapping them on Thursday (March 1), the sources said.

“Such cases are on the rise, as banned Islamist groups and other criminal gangs are turning to kidnappings for ransom in order to survive and procure weapons and ammunition, but at the same time one cannot rule out the possibility of a targeted elimination of foreign and local NGO [Non-Governmental Organization] workers,” a senior investigator for the Karachi police told Compass.

He said that most radical groups believed that Christian NGOs were involved in evangelizing “under the guise of charity” and have been targeted for that reason.

Samson and Javaid, along with a worker identified only as Austin and a driver identified only as Nasir, were headed to the Good Samaritan Hospital in Karachi’s Orangi area when their hospital van was intercepted by four “fair-skinned” suspects in a car in the Islam Chowk neighborhood.

According to witnesses, the kidnappers asked the occupants of the van to identify whether they were Korean or not. The terrified aid workers informed them that they were Pakistanis, but the abductors dragged Samson and Javaid from the van and forced them to get into their car.

Nasir told police that the kidnappers, in a car that appeared to be jam-packed, said they would take the “pant-shirt guys” – those wearing Western clothing suggestive of office workers – and left the other two, who were wearing traditional Pakistani clothes.

Saul Ashraf, brother of the 42-year-old Javaid, said his abducted brother had two small daughters, 5 and 7. Associated with the hospital since 1992, Javaid has been working as its general manager.

“My brother never shared any security threat with us,” Ashraf said. “This incident has shocked us. The police say that he might have been kidnapped for ransom, but we haven’t received any demand for money so far.”

He said that the Sindh Province government had assured them that steps were being taken to ensure the Christians’ safe recovery, “but so far nothing concrete has come up.”

“I request the kidnappers to let him go,” Ashraf said. “My brother has two little daughters, and they should have mercy on them.”

Younus Sadiq, father of the 26-year-old Samson, who worked for the finance department of the hospital, recalled how the young man left home for the hospital in the morning.

“We came to know through a news bulletin that he was kidnapped,” Sadiq said.

He has been working for the charity hospital for the past three years. It is run and supported by South Korea-based Agape Medical Service since 1991. Six Koreans work at the hospital and reside in a nearby housing compound, all of them in the country temporarily.

A Korean worker who requested anonymity told Compass that the foreigners did not venture out unnecessarily. Another Korean worker said the hospital staff is Christian, but that 99 percent of its patients are Muslims.

“I don’t know what irked the kidnappers,” the worker said.

Three months ago, unidentified men fired on a Korean doctor in Karachi’s Banaras area. According to the staffers, he is currently undergoing treatment in his home country.

Police are conducting interrogations in their search for leads on the kidnappers’ identities.

Sabir Khan, station house officer of the Pakistan Bazar police station, told Compass that two witnesses said the kidnappers had first asked about the Christians’ nationalities and then took away the two men.

“We cannot say that they were Taliban or members of any other banned Islamist organization,” Khan said. “We are investigating the incident from all angles and will soon be able to trace the kidnappers.”

He added that police were questioning people with possible links to the kidnappers, and “good news can be expected anytime soon.”


Egyptian Court Sentences Priest from Attacked Church Building

Assailants uncharged, but clergyman gets six months in jail for building violation.
A priest in Egypt was sentenced this week to six months in jail for a minor construction violation at his church building, while no one in a mob that burned the same structure down has been arrested.

The Rev. Makarious Bolous of the Mar Gerges Church in Aswan was sentenced on Sunday (March 4), but neither the imams who called for the attack nor the Muslim villagers who destroyed the church building last September have been charged with any crime.

Bolous said the ruling, coupled with the absence of prosecution against those who burned down the church building, is clear evidence of persecution and a legal double standard between Christians and Muslims.

“I feel it is unjust,” Bolous said. “It’s not fair.”

The lower court that made the ruling also fined Bolous 300 Egyptian pounds (US$50). Bolous remained free Tuesday (March 6) awaiting appeal.

Local government officials said the building was 2.5 meters taller than what they had approved on a series of architectural drawings. Bolous said the citation was issued days after the fire.

The priest said the charges surprised him. A significant percentage of construction projects in Egypt are done without permits, he said, and even when permits are issued, adherence to their stipulations is casual and enforcement is lax. The village where the church building once stood is surrounded by homes that have two or three extra floors built outside of permitted specifications and by others that were built with no permit at all, according to Bolous.

“The whole village is full of people who are building against their licenses,” Bolous said. “So the whole thing is, ‘Why did they only cite the church and pick on the extra bit of building?’”

Bolous’ attorney, Osama Refaat, said the citation was unusual because by law contractors, not property owners, are responsible for permit violations.

“The right law was used, but in the wrong way,” Refaat said.

The Attack
On Sept. 30, 2011, shortly after afternoon prayers, approximately 3,000 villagers set fire to and then demolished the Mar Gerges building in the El Marenab village of Aswan. The mob also razed four homes near the church building and two businesses, all Christian-owned. Widespread looting was also reported.

“Imams in more than 20 mosques called for crowds to gather and destroy the church and demolish the houses of the Copts and loot their properties,” Michael Ramzy, a villager from El Marenab, told local media in September.

The tension in El Marenab began the last week of August, when Muslim extremists voiced anger over renovations taking place at Mar Gerges. Muslim villagers claimed that church officials were turning a guesthouse on church property into a church. They were also upset that symbols of the Christian faith, such as crosses, could be seen from outside the church building.

That same week, Muslim villagers began blockading the entrance to the church building and threatening Copts on the street – in effect making them hostages in their own homes.

On Sept. 2, a meeting was held with military leaders and village elders in which the local leadership of the Coptic Orthodox Church agreed to remove all crosses and bells outside the building. Peace returned briefly to the village, but by early the next week, the Muslim villagers abandoned the agreement and went back to harassing local Christians. They demanded the removal of domes newly constructed on top of the church building, and the hard-line Muslims – ignoring pleas by priests to leave the church building alone – called for it to be burned.

Throughout the dispute, Muslim leaders in the village claimed that the renovations were illegal because the building wasn’t a church but a hospitality facility – even though the original structure on the site was used as a church building for roughly 100 years.

The governor of Aswan, Mostafa al-Sayyed, sided with the rioters and cast blame for the attacks on the Copts and local leaders of the Coptic Orthodox Church. He claimed he had never given permission to turn a guesthouse into a church, in effect blaming the Copts for bringing the attack on themselves. But documents produced by church officials and independently verified by a non-sectarian group, The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, showed that Al-Sayyed signed off on construction permits that authorized the renovation of an existing altar area inside the building.

Bolous said Tuesday (March 6) that tensions remain in the village. Despite government guarantees to fund and build a new church structure to replace the old one, the promises have proven empty.

“It’s been six months now, and even after Field Marshall Tantawi gave the permission to rebuild the church, I cannot go back to the church or hold any prayers there or even go to the village at all,” Bolous said, adding that part of the problem is that Al-Sayyed blocks all attempts to build the replacement. “He keeps saying, ‘Tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, the day after – we are going to do it,’ but it never happens.”

The villagers who burned down the church building and have escaped criminal prosecution, Bolous said, are the same ones blocking the construction of a replacement. Because he can’t go back to the village, approximately 40 Coptic families in El Marenab are without a priest and cannot meet for Mass or other meetings traditionally held at a church building.

Protests and DeathCopts across Egypt were incensed at being blamed for the destruction of the Mar Gerges Church building. Coptic leaders also accuse the government of playing a colluding role in the violence by not enforcing the law, which requires imprisonment as a penalty for acts of sectarian strife, “thuggery” and vandalism of private property.

On Oct. 9, thousands of people marched through the streets of Cairo to protest the governor’s statements, the government’s lack of action to stop attacks against Christians and its refusal to prosecute perpetrators of violence against Christians.

The protest turned into a blood-bath after counter-protestors opened fire on some of the demonstrators, and soldiers ran over others with riot-control vehicles. Of the 27 people killed, at least 23 were Christians. Witnesses claimed that the shooters and the military were seen working closely together on the evening of the protest.

The army denied any responsibility for the killings, but eventually charged three soldiers with what amounts to accidental vehicular manslaughter. No one was been charged in connection with any of the shootings.

By comparison, the government has charged two priests with inciting sectarian strife, illegal possession of firearms, illegal possesion of a bladed weapon, and destroying public property – charges that are much more serious than anything the soldiers face.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Concern over Arrest of Lawyers Protesting Against Constitutional Delays in Nepal

By Michael Ireland
Senior International Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

Nepalese police arrest Tibetan women
 during a protest in Kathmandu

NEPAL (ANS) -- A UK-based Christian human rights group is expressing concern over reports that police arrested 166 lawyers in Kathmandu, Nepal, on February 24, for participating in a protest demanding that the peace process and constitution be completed by the end of May deadline after four previous deadline extensions.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW)  says an estimated 800 lawyers belonging to the Nepal Bar Association (NBA) were involved in the protest in February.

CSW reports that following speeches at the NBA premises, they attempted to walk to Ratnapark, but were prevented by police from walking through the prohibited area around the Supreme Court.

“Struggles ensued, and the lawyers sat down in the road, shouting slogans against police intervention. Later, police arrested 166 lawyers, who were held in custody until 6.30 pm, when they were released,” CSW told ANS in an e-mail.

CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said, “There is a clear need for the peace process to be brought to a close and for Nepal to define its new identity as a secular republic.

“By confronting and arresting lawyers who were exercising their democratic right to protest, the police simply risk compounding widespread public frustration about the delays in the process. 

There are concerns that the government of Nepal is refusing to recognize the urgency of constitutional priorities within the peace process, or recognize legitimate democratic pressure to meet urgent deadlines.”

Johnson added: “CSW continues to urge Constituent Assembly members to do their utmost to meet the new deadline, and to ensure that the new constitution protects human rights in a manner consistent with the international human rights framework, including full guarantees for freedom of religion or belief.”

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organization working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.
For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663,  or visit  

** 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.

Raids, Threats and Warnings in Belarus for Religious Meetings

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

Police chase anti-communist protestor

BELARUS (ANS) -- On the same Sunday in January, police and local officials visited three worship services in villages in different parts of Belarus, issuing threats and warnings over what they claimed were unauthorized meetings. Court proceedings against two of their pastors might follow.

Forum 18 News Service reported that in February, police in the capital Minsk launched a mass raid on a cultural meeting being held in a pastor's home. All were meetings organised by local congregations of the Pentecostal Church.

Three Jehovah Witness communities which have been unable to gain mandatory state registration suffered raids during meetings for worship in the last quarter of 2011.

Forum 18 said Belarus imposes strict controls on exercising freedom of religion or belief without state permission. All unregistered activity is banned under the highly restrictive 2002 Religion Law, while activity by registered religious communities away from their legal address is similarly illegal.


Forum 18 said police raided a meeting to discuss historical and cultural issues in Minsk on the evening of Feb. 8. About 34 members of several Minsk Protestant churches – including Grace Church and the Church of Jesus Christ - and a small number of students who did not belong to any church were detained.

An hour after the meeting started in the house of Antoni Bokun, Pastor of John the Baptist Pentecostal Church, OMON special riot police officers – some in masks - broke in through the windows and ordered all the 55 people present, including children, to gather in one room.

Forum 18 said police explained to the detained that a police hotline had received a call informing them of a secret drug laboratory in the Pastor's house. Thirty four participants were taken to a police station, but were released two hours later without any explanation and without any official record being drawn up. (Drawing up such a record is a legal requirement.)

Dmitry Fedoruk, a Pentecostal who took part in the meeting, expressed his doubts to Forum 18 that it was a raid in search of drugs, as the officers were unarmed, and did not have forensic investigators and sniffer dogs with them to search for drugs. Without presenting identification, officers took out cameras and started to videotape.

Another member of John the Baptist Church, Boris Goretsky, told Forum 18 that besides intimidation, the purpose of the raid was to get more information about the meetings and the people who attend them.

“Though it was not a religious meeting, this one had a symbolic topic: we were to discuss a book by Belarusian writer Franciszek Alachnowicz about the punitive Soviet system,” Pastor Bokun told Forum 18. The next discussion in the series is to cover a “long expected event,” publishing the Bible in Belarusian.

“The only thing they wanted was to arrest everyone..”

John the Baptist Pentecostal Church has faced pressure in the past. Bokun was fined and detained for three days in 2007 for religious activities without state permission.

Asked if he connected the raid with his previous issues, Bokun said that the intruders gave no reason for such connection.

“We were not asked any questions and nobody answered ours,” Bokun said. “It seemed that the only thing they wanted was to arrest everyone, take passport details and then release us.”

He added that it was just like in Soviet times, when police were waiting at the door of the church taking passport details of those attending worship.

Dmitry Fedoruk, who was among those detained, told Forum 18 that at the police station those detained had a chance to pray and sing.

“The policemen were at first at a loss, then pretended that they didn't care, and finally started to feel nervous,” Bokun said. He added that many of Minsk's senior police officers were present, but none of them were able to explain to the detained church members what was going on.

Forum 18 reached the head of Moscow District Police Station, Nikolai Nazarov. He declined comment.

Complaints at police action

Sergey Khomich, Bishop of the Pentecostal Union to which John the Baptist Church belongs, said that he was shocked by the police actions.

“The meeting was within the bounds of the Church's Statute and no law was violated,” he told Forum 18. The day prior he submitted a written complaint to Aleksandr Barsukov, the head of Minsk City Police.

A formal official reply, signed by the Head of Minsk Security Police Yury Sorokin and seen by Forum 18, informed Bishop Khomich that his complaint would be not considered because he had not attached documents confirming his position. Despite this, the letter was addressed to him as Bishop of the Pentecostal Union at his Church's address.

Forum 18 said when the news organization called the Minsk City Police, the person who answered the phone refused to transfer the call to Colonel Barsukov. Forum 18 repeatedly called the Police Press Service, but each time the telephone went unanswered.

Threats, warnings

Forum 18 said three Pentecostal pastors faced problems in January for leading religious worship, which the authorities regarded as illegal. At least two of them received verbal official warnings and were required to sign official records.

On Jan. 8 in the village of Ogarevichi in Brest Region, local officials and a local police officer attended Sunday worship led by Pastor Vasili Raptsevich.

Forum 18 said two days later, Raptsevich was ordered to the police station in Gantsevichi where the Pentecostal community is registered. There he was told that he had violated the law by conducting a religious service away from its legal address without permission from the Regional Executive Committee. Ogarevichi is about four miles from Gantsevichi.

“In Ogarevichi there are about ten disabled believers who can't walk without crutches and we have been visiting them regularly for many years,” Raptsevich told Forum 18.

In 2011 the Gantsevichi Pentecostal community bought a house in the village to make it easier for the disabled church members to pray together.

“At the police station they threatened to take away the church's registration if I don't stop violating the law,” Raptsevich told Forum 18.

Though he denied all the charges - insisting that since the church bought the house it could use it for religious purposes - he was made to sign an official record. He was told that he would be summoned to court later.

Forum 18 did reach local police officer Andrei Bukato, who had taken part in the raid, but he declined comment.

Forum 18 said when Raptsevich later talked with the Deputy Head of Gantsevichi Regional Executive Committee Nikolai Volynets, he told the pastor either to apply for permission or visit the believers individually in their homes. He insisted that Raptsevich and the church had violated the law.

Volynets acknowledged to Forum 18 that Raptsevich had been warned, but explained, “It's not a question of prohibiting, but of keeping all the formalities.”

Forum 18 said on Jan. 8 in the village of Lasitsk, 28 miles from Pinsk, the authorities also attended the congregation's Sunday service.

Officials issued Pastor Anton Yatskevich with an official warning.

“There are a lot of people with different problems who need help, and as Lasitsk village is too far from Pinsk we come ourselves,” Yatskevich told Forum 18. He said that the Lasitsk congregation has fewer than twenty members, not enough to register a community.

However, Yatskevich wouldn’t blame the authorities for checking on the church's services. He said, “They get complaints from Orthodox believers and have to respond.”

Forum 18 twice called the village council, but the phone was not answered.

Also on Jan. 8, Pentecostal Pastor Viktor Kokhovets was given an official warning for leading Sunday worship in the village of Kovnyatin in Pinsk Region, the Bishop's Assistant in the Brest and Pinsk regions Fyodor Suvorov told Forum 18.

Forum 18 said the news service repeatedly called the head of the village council Konstantin Shlyazhko to find out why Khokhovets had been warned for leading religious worship, but the telephone went unanswered.

Forum 18 said police officers told Raptsevich that he would face a court hearing. However, it is unclear if that will be the case.The Bishop's assistant told Forum 18 that Kokhovets simply received a warning and no court procedures are expected “unless there are further violations.”

For a personal commentary by Antoni Bokun, Pastor of a Pentecostal Church in Minsk, on Belarusian citizens' struggle to reclaim their history as a land of religious freedom, see F18News May 22

For more background information see Forum 18's Belarus religious freedom survey


Jeremy Reynalds is Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, a freelance writer and also the founder and CEO of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter, He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. His newest book is "Homeless in the City."

Additional details on "Homeless in the City" are available at Reynalds lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For more information contact: Jeremy Reynalds at

** You may republish this story with proper attribution.

Several Christian converts arrested in raid on Iranian house church

By Michael Ireland
Senior International Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

TEHRAN, IRAN (ANS) -- Thirteen Christian converts have been arrested following an attack by security authorities on a house church in Iran. Three of them are being held in custody at an unknown location, according to Mohabat News ( ) .

Three of the arrested Kermanshah House Church Christians. (Photo courtesy Mohabat News).
The news agency says that February 21, 2012, at 7 in the evening, security authorities raided a home dedicated to be used a house church and seized all thirteen gathered there for worship. To date, no precise news is available regarding some of these detainees.

Mohabat News says that during this incident, security authorities who were wearing plain clothes transferred these Christians to an unknown location while insulting and abusing them.

The authorities also invaded and thoroughly searched the detainees' homes and confiscated some of their personal belongings.

Numerous Christian converts have already been arrested in various cities in their house church gatherings, homes or workplaces by order of judicial and security authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran, as a result of the continued anti-Christian wave in Iran during past months.

Now, in addition to Ahwaz, Shiraz, Esfahan and Tehran, this on-going wave has reached the city Kermanshah, 526 KMs west of Tehran, in the western part of Iran.

A knowledgeable source told Mohabat News that the Christian detainees may have been transferred to a building in Hafezieh Junction in Kermanshah or 22-Bahman Street which is known as the location of security and intelligence forces.

The source said that nine of these detainees (their names are not given due to security reasons) were released the next day after their photos were taken, their details and fingerprints recorded and they signed a disclaimer stating they would not attend any Christian gatherings.

Mohabat News also received word that Ms. Azadeh Sharifi was released on February 28 after enduring 8 days in custody. As yet, no detailed information has been received regarding the way she was released.

Three other detainees, Mehdi Chaghakaboudi, Mojtaba Baba-Karami and Shirin Ghanbari, however, are still being held. Some of the named Christians had also been arrested by security authorities before.

The source also stated that on February 28, Ms. Shirin Ghanbari and Mojtaba Baba-Karami were permitted to have a brief contact with their families telling them that they are in a good health. However, it seems that they were prevented by prison authorities from giving any additional information or details on their situation.

Mohahbat News further says that Masoud Delijani, a Christian convert resident of Kermanshah and a member of a house church, was sentenced to three years in prison by the Revolutionary Court of Kermanshah for the charges of having faith in Christianity, holding illegal house church gatherings, evangelizing Muslims and action against national security. He is currently being held in Deizal-Abad prison in Kermanshah to serve his sentence.

Prior to this, on January 2, 2010, the official Pentecostal church of Assyrians in Kermanshah was also closed by the order of the judicial and security authorities for spreading Christianity among Farsi-speaking Muslims and for preaching the gospel. Security authorities also arrested the pastor of the church, Wilson Isavi on February 2, 2010. He was temporarily released on bail after 54 days in Dastgerd prison in Esfahan.

Mohabat News states: “With the growth in the number of Iranian converts to Christianity in recent years, and the increased pressure by the Islamic government on Christians, especially Christian converts, the Islamic Republic is seeking to stop the growth of house churches in Iran by any means.

“The Islamic Republic considers the growth of Christianity as a religious threat against its national security and is greatly concerned about the spread of the truth of the gospel among the people.”

** 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.

Rick Warren Doublespeak

Rick Warren with Cat Stevens

MADISON, Wisc., March 5, 2012 /Christian Newswire/ -- Rick Warren issued a response to the Orange County Register's article "Rick Warren Builds Bridge to Muslims." In his response, Warren said editor Jim Hinch misinterpreted him. In the article, Hinch said Warren was "proposing a set of theological principles that includes acknowledging that Christians and Muslims worship the same God."
Jim Hinch must have read "A Common Word Between Us and You" that Warren signed in 2007. He signed the document with the late John Stott, Brian McLaren, Robert Schuller, Leith Anderson (NAE President), David Neff (Christianity Today), Richard Cizik (former NAE VP), and Bill Hybels (Willow Creek).
The document called for peace between Muslims and Christians. It pushed a common understanding between both faiths based on the Koran commandment, "O People of the Scripture! come to a common word as between us and you: that we worship none but God."
This document was an attempt to apologize for the supposed mistreatment of Muslims around the world. Christians should not have signed this document because Allah and the Judeo-Christian God are not the same. Christians believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity.
Muslims deny this doctrine as they believe Jesus was only a prophet and not God. Rick Warren's response to the Orange County Register's article clarified that he believes the doctrine of the Trinity and that Jesus is the Son of God.
The problem that we have is that he has a case of doublespeak. Warren denies the Orange County Register article's contents, but the document he signed "A Common Word Between Us and You" says differently.
Steve McConkey, leader of, says "A person should not say one thing one time and another thing later and then blame the reporter. Also, it gets old as he vilifies his critics as being Pharisees and not reaching out. He knows nothing about us. I minister to more foreign people here at the University of Wisconsin in a week than most people meet in a year."
Steve McConkey is the leader of, a brand new site that will cover news to discern the times. will take over the news section of will continue to provide track and field news, athletes testimonies, and apologetics. will be totally independent of

Bible Translation Center moves forward despite Boko Haram concerns

Cameroon (MNN) ― Boko Haram's efforts to rid Nigeria of Christians has also raised concerns in neighboring Cameroon.

There are reports from Cameroon's Muslim leaders that religious extremism could be gaining a foothold.

According to the Cameroon Association of Imams, there are some mosques that have allowed the Boko Haram to preach. Boko Haram is a jihadist terrorist organization based in northeast Nigeria.  

It seems that the concern is serious enough that Muslim leaders may look at regulating religious groups in an effort to keep Boko Haram's extremism out of Cameroon.

At the same time, Wycliffe Associates, an international organization that involves people in the acceleration of Bible translation efforts, is moving forward on plans to build a new Bible translation center in Cameroon.

Bruce Smith, president and CEO of Wycliffe Associates says, "There is a lot of concern about what might happen, but so far, it's been peaceful. We're obviously concerned that the translations would be able to move forward without interruption. We'd certainly request people to pray." 

The region is strategic to unreached people groups. Smith explains, "It's a place where there are so many different languages--about 300 in Nigeria and about another 100 in Cameroon--that are still without one verse of Scripture. We are convinced that the best solution for the instability and the concerns that have arisen there is that God's Word go forward in a language that they can understand."

The project has been a long time in the planning, made even longer by unexpected delays. "The main holdup has actually been that the government has been thinking about building a football (soccer) stadium, and recently the approval came through to start the construction project for the training center. So we're moving ahead with it now, along with our partner, the Cameroonian Bible Translation Association."

The idea is to move the training closer to the actual language work itself. The current Bamenda Translation Training Center is actually a tiny, old, three-bedroom house and three other houses spread out over four separate properties. A new Bible translation training center would provide a more efficient space which would help facilitate the more than 40 language projects that are currently underway in Cameroon.   

Now that the last obstacle has been cleared away, Wycliffe Associates wants to waste no more time getting a  training center in Bamenda built. They're raising the first $50,000 to launch. "We're actually going to begin immediately. We have a construction superintendent assigned; we've got materials being ordered at this time. We've got volunteers, professional construction people from the United States who are going to assist with the local laborers."

Once the work teams make it to the site, Smith says, "We expect that they'll be finished in about a year, at least with the initial phase, and then maybe continuing beyond that with some additional buildings."

Why the rush? "The need for Scripture is so great in Cameroon that there are many more communities, many more people desperate for hope," says Smith. "We have a window of opportunity now to provide national translators the resources needed to accelerate translation efforts and reach the remaining language groups."

Wycliffe Associates involves people in accelerating the work of Bible translation through their time, talents, and treasure. Because millions of people around the world are still waiting to read the Scriptures in the language of their heart, Wycliffe Associates is working as quickly as they can to translate every verse of the Bible into every tongue to change every heart.

The organization partners with nationals, mother-tongue translators, staff, volunteers, and supporters to direct and fund these efforts, as well as provide logistics, networking, and technical support. Through a growing global network, Wycliffe Associates is striving to overcome local limitations of time and resources to achieve the goal of beginning the translation of God's Word in every remaining language that needs it by 2025.

Chinese church sees dozens come to Christ, in China

Erik Burklin in China to help train
 Christian leaders.

China (MNN) ― Ministry reports out of China are mixed. Some report ministry is more open than it's ever been before. Other groups say Christians are oppressed more than ever. We know both are true. We've told you about stories of house churches being closed down and Christians arrested. However, here's a story not at all like that one.

President of China Partners Eric Burklin just returned from China. He says one registered church pastor is seeing many turn to Christ through hotel outreach "by renting a ballroom at a local hotel, and then having each church member bring a non-Christian friend or family member to this special event. They have dancing, plays, and music. At the end, he preached an evangelistic message, and 60 accepted Christ."

Burklin says pastors are using avenues outside the local church to introduce people to Christ. This pastor says he's baptized more than 200 new believers.

Many people wonder if this is illegal. Burklin did, too. "I asked this pastor very specifically, 'Isn't this illegal?' He said, 'Well, we didn't ask authorities ahead of time. We just did it. We figured that if they weren't going to say anything, we were just going to do it.'"

China Partner provides training to church leaders in the country. Burklin says the leaders are asking for something controversial -- youth training. It's illegal to evangelize children under 18. "They would have to figure out how they could legally do that. The government is very concerned about not forcing anybody under 18 to make a decision in any religious direction."

Despite that, China Partners is raising money for this new ministry push. Burklin says it's important, especially since many young people who are in their late teens and early 20's are interested in knowing about God. He says a conversation with a 22-year-old university graduate at McDonalds in China proves this. "This conversation at McDonalds turned into a day-long witnessing [event], because the next day we invited her to come to church where we were doing our training. And she did show up."

If you'd like to help China Partner with youth ministry training in China, click here

Islamists in Egypt Use Rumors to Attack Christians

Salafis attack in one village, while officials in another overturn evictions.
Tensions remain high in an Egyptian village where as many as 5,000 mostly Salafi Muslims went on a rampage over a false rumor that a church was holding a girl against her will in order to convert her back to Christianity.

Dismissing media reports of 20,000 rioting Muslims, sources told Compass that between 2,000 and 5,000 hard-line Muslims, most of them from the Salafi movement, last month harassed Christian villagers in Meet Bahsar in the Nile Delta, attacked a church building in a misguided effort to “save” the girl, damaged a priest’s house and then destroyed his car.

The 14-year-old girl’s father, an ethnic Copt who converted to Islam, had stirred them up on the mistaken notions that his daughter had converted to Islam and that Christians had kidnapped her, the church priest told Compass.

“Things are partly calmer now, and parishioners still go to church but they are a bit hesitant,” said the Rev. Gerges Gamil of the Church of the Virgin Mary. “Some things got broken in my house, because they threw rocks and stones at the house, and my car was destroyed, but thankfully no one in my family was hurt.”

The girl, 14, was not in the church building. It was unclear if her father was merely mistaken about her location or intentionally misled villagers.

The attack mainly by Salafists, an extremist movement that patterns its belief and practices on the first three generations of Muslims, happened on the evening of Feb. 12. Skirmishes in Meet Bahsar lasted for two days, with Muslim villagers threatening to kidnap Coptic girls in retaliation for the alleged kidnapping.

Some media reported that the rioters knocked down a wall surrounding the church, but priests speaking on behalf of the parish said the wall was already being demolished.

The events that led to the attack involved a family dispute.

The girl’s father, Khalil Ibrahiem Mouhamed Abd Allah, converted to Islam in 2009, and then divorced his Christian wife and married a Muslim woman. Abd Allah claimed that his daughter converted to Islam in October of last year. In February, the girl got engaged to a Muslim man in her father’s village, but shortly after the engagement she ran away.

“She got engaged to a Muslim man called Ahmed Abdallah, but she was still in touch with some Christians, and after the engagement she disappeared,” Abd Allah told local media. “So, I immediately thought that the Christians kidnapped her.”

By contrast, the girl reportedly said her father treated her poorly and that she never converted to Islam. She confirmed the engagement but said that ultimately she couldn’t continue with it because the groom-to-be was Muslim.

The girl was able to make it to Cairo, but after finding out about the attacks and the reports that she was being held against her will, she contacted police. Her location was not publicly known at press time, but she has reportedly asked not to be returned to her father or mother.

Egyptian newspapers have reported that she was either in state care or the custody of an uncle. She reportedly said she went to Cairo to stay with an uncle.

The Salafi movement is made up of extremely conservative Muslims increasingly known for their vitriolic rhetoric and attacks against churches in Egypt. The Salafis have used rumors of kidnappings or relationships between Christians and Muslims to incite other attacks against Christians. In May 2011, an attack in downtown Cairo left 12 people dead and at least one church building in ruins.

More recently, in January Salafists terrorized Christians of a village in northern Egypt after an unsubstantiated rumor spread about a video recording of a Coptic man having sex with a Muslim woman. The Muslims in Sharbat, near Alexandria, rioted and then forced numerous Christians to abandon their property in informal but binding “reconciliation councils,” though a parliamentary commission overturned the council decision last month, and most of the evicted Christian families have returned home.

Human rights activists say such councils are unjust and are often a guise to force members of the Coptic minority to relinquish their rights.