Saturday, March 24, 2012

Salafist Leaders Celebrate Death of Coptic Pope in Egypt

Pope Shenouda III 

Open contempt for head of church of more than 40 years bodes ill for Christians.
As Christians across Egypt continued to mourn the loss of Pope Shenouda III this week, Islamist leaders of the Salafist movement issued a litany of insults, calling the late leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church the “head of the infidels” and thanking God for his death.

The vitriol indicated the level of hostility the Salafists, who now make up 20 percent of Egypt’s parliament, have toward Christians. In a recorded message released on the Facebook page of one leading Salafi teacher, Sheik Wagdy Ghoneim, the sheik celebrated the pontiff’s death.

“We rejoice that he is destroyed. He has perished,” Ghoneim said on Sunday (March 18), the day after Shenouda died at the age of 88. “May God have His revenge on him in the fire of hell – he and all who walk his path.”

After the cleric issued his statement, several others followed suit, releasing insults throughout the week. On Monday (March 19) in the lower house of Egypt’s parliament, the People’s Assembly, several Salafi members refused to stand in remembrance of Shenouda during an official moment of silence. Others left before the moment of silence took place.

Bishop Mouneer Anis, head of the Episcopal and Anglican Diocese of Egypt, North Africa and the Horn of Africa, said that insulting people after their death is considered one of the rudest things someone can do in the Middle East. Anis, a close friend of the pontiff, told Compass the comments and actions were “very sad.”

“I see this as being moved by hatred,” Anis said. “To be honest, I feel sorry for members of the Salafi – to criticize such a remarkable man.”

The provocative comments are not a good sign for Egypt’s Christians. Adherents of the Salafist movement, which obtained that one-fifth of the People’s Assembly through the Nour Party, have led most of the recent attacks against Christians in Egypt. The comments were thought to reveal the utter disdain the Salafists have toward Egypt’s Christian minority.

The Salafist movement claims it patterns its beliefs and practices on the first three generations of Muslims.

Shenouda, formerly know as Nazeer Gayed Roufail, died due to complications from kidney disease and other health issues. A former theology teacher, Shenouda was enthroned on Nov. 14, 1971 as the 117th Pope of Alexandria and head of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

He led the church through some of its most challenging times, often coming into conflict with the government. In 1981, he criticized then-President Anwar Sadat for what Shenouda characterized as an inadequate response to the rise of what is now called “political Islam” in Egypt. For this and the Coptic protests against Sadat that followed, Sadat banished Shenouda to a monastery in the desert.

Shenouda was released three years later, after Islamic militants assassinated Sadat, and after his successor, Hosni Mubarak, granted the pope amnesty. Last year, Mubarak was deposed after a series of pro-democracy protests roiled the country.

Shenouda’s passing leaves many questions unanswered as to how the leaders of the Coptic Orthodox Church will direct its followers to deal with the persecution leveled against them. Mubarak’s removal from power brought heretofore unfulfilled promises of change by the transitional military-run government, but it has also unleashed a tide of violence against Copts unheard of in recent history.

In his statement, Ghoneim made a long list of accusations against Shenouda that, put together, portray the former pope as waging a war against Muslims in Egypt. The accusations were considered either twisted by lack of context or were blatantly false, such as the claim that Shenouda was holding two female Coptic converts to Islam against their will in a monastery. Ghoneim characterized Shenouda’s well-known desire to see Egyptian society protect the human rights of Christians as impudence.

Most surprising was the claim that the former pope was somehow orchestrating the religiously motivated violence against Christians in Egypt.

“He wanted the sectarian strife,” Ghoneim said. “He wanted to burn Egypt.”

The irony of the comments has not been lost on most Copts. In May, Salafist leaders publicly threatened to kill Shenouda over the rumors about hiding the two women against their will. This was after groups of Muslims, led by members of the Salafist movement, held massive protests in April and blocked rail and road ways because the transitional military government appointed a Copt to be governor over the province. The rioting stopped only after the appointment was withdrawn.

Though it all, Anis said, Shenouda remained ardent in trying to engage Muslims in a peaceful way.

“He was a friend of many Muslim leaders. He was a peacemaker,” Anis said. “He was even criticized by Christians for making peace with those who persecuted the church.”

The last public meeting Shenouda had was with members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a little more than a week before he died.

“Pope Shenouda met members of the Muslim Brotherhood even when he was in pain,” Anis said.

Most Muslims in Egypt did not share Ghoneim’s sentiments. The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest Islamic group in the country, issued a statement expressing his condolences over the Coptic pope’s death.

Shenouda was buried on Tuesday (March 20) in the Monastery of St. Bishoy in Wadi el-Natrun, with several thousand followers attending. Before Shenouda was buried, Naguib Ghobrial, lawyer and head of the Egyptian Union for Human Rights, filed suit on Monday (March 19) against Ghoneim for contempt of a revealed religion.

Undeterred, Ghoneim released a statement the next day denying any wrongdoing and issued a challenge to all Christians.

“You believe in your Bible and say its words are holy,” he concluded. [Your Bible teaches] ‘Love your enemies and bless all who curse you.’ Your enemies – you love them and those who curse you – you bless them. So I say, God curse you! Bless me now. Bless me. Isn’t this your religion? I am going to say it again – I am your enemy, and I say, God curse you. Now, say it, ‘We love you Wagdy. And God bless you Wagdy.’”


Friday, March 23, 2012

Parents Torn over Loss of Daughter in Nigeria

Catholic troubled by Muslim college instructor disappears in volatile northeast.
Nearly seven months after their 24-year-old daughter disappeared during a wave of Islamic extremist violence here, Helen and Dakim Gyang Bot can only assume that the voice on the other end of her cell phone that told them “we have killed her” was telling the truth.

The body of Simi Maltida Kim has not been found, and those who answered the active Catholic’s cell phone shortly after she disappeared on Sept. 1, 2011 did not indicate why they killed her. But there are signs that she was one of the hundreds of victims of Islamic extremist violence in northern Nigeria last year that has driven thousands of Christians to flee.

The Bots live in an undisclosed town near Jos, in Plateau state, but their daughter was a final-year student of Science Laboratory Technology at the Federal Polytechnic, in northeastern Nigeria’s Bauchi state. She had told them of an instructor there who humiliated her because of her Christian faith, they said.

“She told us that this Muslim teacher would summon her and then question her faith, or even bring in some Muslim students to confront her over her Christian faith,” said her mother, Helen Bot. “When she told us this, we advised her to keep away from the Muslim teacher as much as possible.”

The problem came to a head when the instructor failed her on a written exam without even looking at it, she said.

“This Muslim teacher did this to force our daughter into submitting to recanting her Christian faith, but this did not deter her from remaining firm as a Christian,” Helen Bot said.

Kim retook the exam. Right after turning it in, again the Muslim teacher took her answer sheet and followed her out of the examination hall, telling her that he would never allow her to pass his course.

“The Muslim teacher tore her answer sheet in the presence of other students,” Helen Bot said. “And, disturbed about this sad threat to her, Simi reported the matter to her school supervisor and the head of the Department of Science Laboratory Technology. She also phoned us to inform us about her plight in the school. We asked her to report the issue to appropriate authorities in the school and then return home.”

Officials at the Federal Polytechnic in Bauchi declined to comment on the matter.

On Sept. 1, Simi told her friends in school that she was returning to the Jos area. Her mother phoned her that day and was surprised that she did not answer. She told Compass that it was the first time her daughter had never picked up the call.

“We communicated on the phone almost on a daily basis, and whenever I called her, even if she was sleeping, she would wake up and call me back,” she said. “So it was unusual that day when I phoned her several times and she did not respond.”

Dakim Gyang Bot, Kim’s 59-year-old father, told Compass that when she did not return home the next day, the family was all the more anxious because news had filtered into town that Christians were being killed in Bauchi city.

“We phoned her, and instead, someone answered the phone,” he said. “The voice was that of a male Muslim – we were able to know this from his accent; the man spoke to us in Hausa language, confirming our fears that he must be a Muslim. He refused to tell us where our daughter was.”

The family immediately contacted two of her Christian friends in Bauchi, who searched for her without success, he said. They sent back word, however, that Muslim extremists had killed some Christians there on the day Kim was to leave for the Jos area.

“Her friends were told at the Bauchi motor park that some Christians who had got to the motor park on that day were killed by some militant Muslims,” Bot said.

The family reported the disappearance to police and the State Security Service and continued to call her mobile phone, in hopes that someone would answer again. Someone did. This time, a female with a similar Hausa accent said, “Don’t ever call this phone number again – we have killed her, so stop wasting your time looking for her,” her father said.

The priest at the family’s Catholic church told Compass that Kim might well have been killed by Muslim extremists in Bauchi.

“We learned that many Christians were killed in Bauchi at that time, so we are convinced that she must have been killed, too,” he said.

He described Kim and her parents as faithful and prayerful.

“In fact, in the past six months, her parents have been on their knees praying for her even with the knowledge that she must have been killed by Muslim militants,” he said.

Born Feb. 12, 1987, Kim was active in the Legion of Mary and the fellowship of Catholic students while at Bauchi Federal Polytechnic. A membership certificate from Christ the King Catholic Chaplaincy in Bauchi commends her as a distinguished member of the Catholic fellowship who was actively involved in the activities of the Legion of Mary.

Attacks on Christians in Bauchi state date back to 1958, but the recent incursion of Boko Haram has resulted in the killings of a dozen pastors and hundreds of Christians, sources said. Tafawa Balewa and Bogoro local government areas, which are mainly inhabited by Christians, have become the targets of attacks by Boko Haram sect members and Muslim Fulani herdsmen.

Boko Haram seeks to impose a strict version of sharia (Islamic law) on Nigeria. The name Boko Haram translates loosely as “Western education is forbidden.”

On Jan. 22, two church buildings were bombed by Boko Haram in Bauchi city. The two churches, Evangelical Church Winning All 2 and St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, are located in the Fadaman Mada area near the town’s railway station. On the same day, Boko Haram members attacked Tafawa Balewa town, killing six Christians.

Other major towns and local government areas where Christians have been attacked and their church buildings destroyed are Bauchi, Alkaleri, Toro, Bulkachuwa, Misau, Darazo, and Azare.

In October and November 2011, 25 Boko Haram sect members were arrested in a training camp in Bauchi, where they were preparing to attack Christians. Security agencies recovered 435 rounds of ammunitions, 26 pistols, a pump action machine gun, and many explosive devices from the Islamists.

Nigeria’s population of more than 158.2 million is divided between Christians, who make up 51.3 percent of the population and live mainly in the south, and Muslims, who account for 45 percent of the population and live mainly in the north. The percentages may be less, however, as those practicing indigenous religions may be as high as 10 percent of the total population, according to Operation World.


Some Christians may lose citizenship in Sudan

Sudan (MNN) ― Hundreds of thousands of people face an uncertain future in Sudan. Many who live in the north may have move to the south.

Lee DeYoung with Words of Hope explains. "People of South Sudan ancestry, who may have been living for generations in the north, will lose their citizenship and may be forced to leave on perhaps very short notice. These are rumors. They may come true. It's also perceived by some that they may be posturing."

Sudan and South Sudan are in negotiations about imports and immigration issues. Some reports suggest an agreement had been reached allowing citizens in either country to live, work, and own property on either side of the new international border and travel between the two nations without any pre-conditions attached to their activities.

However, a recent Barnabus Fund report indicates an estimated 500,000-700,000 people of South Sudanese descent have lost their Sudanese citizenship and are forced to repatriate by to South Sudan.

Since many of these people are Christians, DeYoung says this has had a negative impact on the church in the north. "People who were born there and never lived anywhere else have been leaving for the last year and a half, anticipating this could happen. So there are a lot of churches there that have been de-populated of their members."

It's also caused a population boom in South Sudan, which brings with it additional problems: food, housing and job shortages.

DeYoung says his ministry is tackling an issue that's been a problem for years. "Words of Hope broadcasts in both Dinka and Nuer languages, and also in the Bari language. We're definitely emphasizing peace and reconciliation among the different tribal groups," especially as South Sudanese return to their homeland.

Words of Hope is using shortwave radio transmitters to broadcast into the country, but their broadcasts are also on local radio stations that are going up. DeYoung says, "A number of these stations are Christian. Most of them are very friendly to putting Christian programming on the air. So, there's a lot about it that's very interesting and very encouraging, but it's still one of the poorest areas of the world."

To help support Words of Hope's broadcasts into Sudan, click here.

Chinese officials take 70 Christians into custody

China (MNN) ― ChinaAid, a ministry partner of the Voice of the Martyrs, got word this week that a house church which has been meeting for nearly 20 years was raided by police. More than 70 Christians were taken into custody.

The church, in far west China's region of Xinjiang, China, was meeting at the pastor's home when officials stormed in. 

Ten policemen and Domestic Security Protection agents announced that the believers were holding an "unapproved, illegal meeting" and ordered an immediate end to it, reports ChinaAid.

The police confiscated the Christians' Bibles, hymnals, notebooks, Christian education DVDs, and other materials, but they refused to provide a receipt for the confiscated items as required by law.

Police then took the believers away. After forcing each Christian there to be photographed, authorities took them to the respective local police stations of their places of employment for questioning. Some were not released for two days.

The pastor and his wife were called into the local police station again the day after the raid for further questioning. They were threatened by the police, who ordered them to stop holding meetings in their home.

Pray for this persecuted body of believers. Pray that they will boldly continue living out the Gospel. Pray also that the officials would have a change in heart.

ChinaAid encourages calls to the Chinese police station to advocate on behalf of this house church. Find phone numbers here.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Egypt's Coptic church mourns loss amidst concerns

( Cover photo by David Hoffman)  
Egypt (MNN) ― Mourners packed Cairo's main cathedral for the March 20 funeral of the leader of Egypt's Coptic Church, Pope Shenouda III.

He led the church during a time where Egypt was becoming increasingly Islamist, and Copts were beginning to come under attack in the majority Muslim nation. SAT-7 Egypt director, Farid Samir, explains, "For Christians, he was like their political representation. That was not a good thing that Christians were living behind the walls of the church, but that was the system because of the oppression. You can say the Christians felt that the church [was] their place. (Sic) "

The loss of Shenouda's influence at a time when upheaval is a regular part of the landscape hasn't been reassuring, Samir says. "All Christians feel that we lost an important leader and pioneer. He's been there 41 years as a Pope. He dealt with all kinds of situations, so he was like a pioneer in that area. Lots of Christians now feel like they're orphans."

Muslims and Christians came together in a common cause in the 2011 revolution that eventually ousted President Hosni Mubarak. A civilian transition government supervised by the Supreme Military Council leads the transition now. Under it, there is an increasingly anti-Christian attitude and simultaneous sympathy toward the Muslim Brotherhood.

SAT-7 is a Christian satellite television ministry to the Middle East and North Africa. Samir says with all the uncertainty, "They (the Christians) feel their loss, especially at this time. They don't know who the coming president is. Do we have an Islamic state? Do we have a liberal state? They're not sure what's happening, so there's a lot of uncertainty which makes it worse."

The production team adjusted their programming to address the current events. "SAT-7 tried to give hope and tried to share the emotions of the people, but also to present the hope of Christ." Mock goes on to say that this week, they've focused on the emerging worries without Shenouda III. "There is another episode called 'Salt of the Earth.' It's a talk show for current affairs, and it discusses the future of Christians in Egypt, how to deal with the new government, how to deal with the political situation."

Although Egypt has seen less of the religious violence that has prompted members of ancient Christian communities to migrate from Iraq and other Arab countries, the country ranks 15th on the 2012 Open Doors World Watch List. 

There have been increasing reports of Salafi Muslims intimidating local Christians by blocking entrances to churches, demanding that church buildings be moved outside communities, or that church repairs be forbidden.

However, Shenouda was making headway at least in opening dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood. Samir says, "The good thing that was happening was the Muslim Brotherhood went and visited him lately to show that they want to make a bridge between Muslims and Christians or between the government and Christians."

Shenouda's loss is a blow to some, but what he started can be continued. Samir says, "The good thing that was happening was the Muslim Brotherhood went and visited him lately to show that they want to make a bridge between Muslims and Christians or between the government and Christians."

The selection process for a new pope could take months. An interim leader will be selected this week, and nominations for papal candidates will begin then. After two rounds of voting by the Supreme Council of Bishops, three candidates names will be put on slips of paper, placed in a jar, and a child will select one of the names.

Samir says until there is a new Pope, many feel vulnerable during a time of extreme change in Egypt. "Pray for us at SAT-7 to tackle issues that Christians suffer from, to start real dialogue between Christians and Muslims, to start a real dialogue about politics, and at the same time, to have hope in Christ."

Morocco church looks different

Morocco (MNN) ― Two years ago, many foreign Christians were expelled from Morocco. It changed the face of the Moroccan church. The Christians, for example, now meet in smaller groups than they were used to. Twenty members are a big church nowadays.

2010 was a difficult year for the church in Morocco. "After the foreigners were expelled, almost half of the churches stopped; it was really a big crackdown" says an Open Doors worker responsible for North Africa. A year later, things turned normal again for the estimated 3,000 Christians, but the tendency is to split up the groups of believers into smaller groups.

The current year is seen as a crucial year for the church. There are some signs that things might become more difficult. 

In the beginning of March, three brothers were arrested at a coffee shop. "It was clear that they were arrested because of their Christian activity. The police asked questions about this and tried to find Christian literature or material." According to the Open Doors spokesman, they also tried to find the pastor of the three men. He was warned, however, and went to a safe place. The three men were released a day after their arrest because of lack of proof.

"For the Christians in Morocco, these arrests are a sign. The country is now governed by a government with clear influence of Islamists. Christians believe that the arrests are the start of a new trend," says the Open Doors worker.

According to the Open Doors worker, the fact that many foreigners had to leave the country has turned out to be a positive thing for the Moroccan church. "The church needs its own personality to organize itself. The only big difficulty is financial. The churches have less money now."

Becoming a Christian in Morocco is, in itself, not forbidden. But it is almost a miracle when someone converts. "It is forbidden to share the Gospel with non-Christians," says the worker. One of the tools Open Doors uses to support and to strengthen the church are Christian TV programs, Web sites, and follow-up. For Web sites, Christians need a lot of wisdom and discernment. "The government tries to infiltrate this with spies," says the worker about the Web sites.

The face of the churches has changed in the last years. "Ten years ago, I would have said that most of the members were singles; now you see families in the churches. That also makes the churches stronger. I would say that the church has potential to grow by itself. The church has good leaders that have no fear. The foundation is good."

Open Doors is helping Christian leaders in Morocco. "We offer training and help the leaders to be able to train others so they can stay in the country."

Morocco is No. 29 on the Open Doors 2012 World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians in the world.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Christians Targeted in Sudan’s ‘Ethnic Cleansing’

Black, largely pro-south civilians of Nuba Mountains flee aerial bombing.
The “ethnic cleansing” that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has undertaken against black Africans in the Nuba Mountains is also aimed at ridding the area of Christianity, according to humanitarian workers.

By targeting Christians among people who are also adherents of Islam and other faiths in the Nuba Mountains, military force helps the regime in Khartoum to portray the violence as “jihad” to Muslims abroad and thus raise support from Islamic nations, said one humanitarian worker on condition of anonymity.

In South Kordofan state – which lies on Sudan’s border with the newly created nation of South Sudan but is home to sympathizers of the southern military that fought against northern forces during Sudan’s long civil war – Bashir’s military strikes are directed at Muslims as well as Christians, but churches and Christians are especially targeted, he said.

“The ongoing war against Christians and African indigenous people is more of an ‘ethnic cleansing’ in that they kill all black people, including Muslims, but they give specific connotation to the war in targeting Christians to secure funding and support from the Arab and Islamic world by saying this war is a religious war,” he said. “And in so doing, they get huge support from those countries.”

Aerial bombardment killed the five members of the Asaja Dalami Kuku family, which belonged to the Episcopal Church of Sudan, in Umsirdipa in the Nuba Mountains on Feb. 25, the source said.

The government in Khartoum is using Antonov airplanes to drop bombs, “coupled with state- sponsored militia targeting churches and Christian families,” said the humanitarian worker.

“The brutal state-sponsored militias are moving from house to house searching for Christian and African indigenous homes as the government continues with air strikes,” he added.

The Satellite Sentinel Project has gathered evidence that Antonov aircraft have indiscriminately bombed civilian populations in South Kordofan, although after a recent crash the government has said it will no longer use the planes.

In Kadugli, the capital of South Kordofan, at least four church buildings have been razed and more than 20 Christians killed, he said.

“The Islamic north sees Nuba Christians as infidels who need to be Islamized through Jihad,” the source said. “But the fact of the matter is this war is ethnic cleansing – a religious as well as political war, indeed a complex situation.”

Between June 2011 and March 2012, four church buildings have been destroyed, said another humanitarian worker; they belonged to the Episcopal Church of Sudan, the Roman Catholic Church, the Sudanese Church of Christ and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

“On Aug. 18, 2011, the Sudanese Church of Christ building was razed to ashes,” the worker said.

On June 7, 2011, state-sponsored militia destroyed the office of the Sudan Council of Churches at Kadugli, along with its vehicle, the sources said.

On Feb. 26, three church leaders visited the devastated areas of Kaduguli, led by Bishop Daniel Deng of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, and then presented grievances to the government. They were surprised that the government denied the attack on the church buildings.

“A government official said [southern and other] militia groups were the ones destroying the churches, and not the government,” one of the aid workers said.

Fighting in South Kordofan, a major battleground during Sudan’s 1983-2005 civil war, broke out again in June 2011 as Khartoum moved to assert its authority against gunmen formerly allied to the now independent South Sudan. The conflict between Bashir’s forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) spread from South Kordofan to Sudan’s Blue Nile state in September 2011.

The United Nations estimates the conflict has displaced 400,000 people, with 300,000 in danger of starving within a month. Additionally, the U.N. Commissioner for Refugees estimates there are 185,000 refugees from South Kordofan and Blue Nile in South Sudan and Ethiopia.

Sudan’s Interim National Constitution holds up sharia (Islamic law) 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, Bashir has warned that Sudan’s constitution will become more firmly entrenched in sharia.

When the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005, the people of South Kordofan were to decide whether to join the North or the South, but the state governor, wanted for war crimes himself, suspended the process, and Khartoum instead decided to disarm the SPLM-N by force.

“The church and enfeebled women and children have become victims of this fight,” one of the humanitarian workers said. “We as the church have a moral and spiritual obligation to stand with our brothers and sisters who are suffering in the Nuba Mountains.”


Parents, Islamic Extremists Beat Young Woman in India

Christian in West Bengal cast out of home for her faith.
A young woman was thrown out of her home this month for daring to give thanks for healing in Christ’s name in a predominantly Muslim village in India’s West Bengal state, and then her parents helped Islamic extremists to beat her nearly unconscious.

The attack on Rekha Khatoon, 22, took place on March 9 in Nutangram, Murshidabad.

“I boldly told those who beat me up that I may leave my parents, but that I will not leave Jesus,” Khatoon said. “Jesus has healed me, and I cannot forget Him.”

In a village where hard-line Muslims have threatened to kill the 25 families who initially showed interest in Christ, leaving only five frightened Christian families, Khatoon was returning from worship with Believers Church at Al Hamdulillah Hall when her parents and Muslim extremists attacked her, she said. They called her a pagan, among other verbal abuse.

The mob also harassed the Christian woman who encouraged Khatoon to trust Christ as Lord, Aimazan Bibi, said Bashir Pal, pastor and founder of the village Believers Church.

“On the same night, Rekha Khatoon’s father, Nistar Shaike, and about 20 Muslim radicals surrounded Aimazan’s house, shouted anti-Christian slogans, threatened to harm her and her family and falsely accused her of ‘luring’ Rekha to convert to Christianity,” Pastor Pal told Compass.

After finding herself alone on a road after the beating, Khatoon had taken refuge in Aimazan Bibi’s home.

Khatoon had met Amaizan Bibi last year and told her about a reproductive ailment that caused her to bleed heavily, and the older woman had shared both the gospel of Christ and His healing power with her, Pastor Pal said.

“After Rekha Khatoon came to know about her ailment, she met one of our church members, Aimazan Bibi, and she shared her physical problem with her and told her that her illness was getting worse as she was not able to purchase medicines anymore,” he said.

Aimazan Bibi also invited Khatoon to attend church. On Dec. 23, Khatoon came to the worship center, where Christian women laid hands on her, he said. The pastor and congregation prayed for God’s healing touch in Jesus’ name.

“She received healing from Christ, and thereafter she attended the worship services whenever she could,” Pastor Pal said. “On Jan. 17, Khatoon attended one house church meeting in her village and once again testified that Jesus has healed her, and that she had not taken any medicine since Dec. 23.”

He said the Muslim extremists warned Khatoon not to have contact with Christians. West Bengal is 25.2 percent Muslim, with Hindus in the predominantly Hindu country making up 72.5 percent of the population in the state, according to Operation World. The state, which borders Muslim-majority Bangladesh, is only 0.6 percent Christian.

Upon learning that she was attending Christian worship meetings, her parents had strictly warned her not to have any relationships with Christians and not to attend their fellowship, Aimazan Bibi said.

“However, she told them that she cannot forget Jesus and His love for her,” she said.

Pastor Pal’s wife, nurse Anasea Pal, added that at another house church meeting, Khatoon brought her sister and talked about the healing she had received from Christ.

Khatoon has since relocated to another area, where she lives largely confined for her own protection.

Khatoon and her mother had attended worship services at the church previously; they began there in 2009 until area Muslims, furious to hear that several women were attending worship services, warned them to cease all contact with Christians or else they would face harm. The local mosque then offered Khatoon’s mother a job carrying food for the local Islamic leader to ensure she stopped all contact with Christians.

She also stopped Khatoon from attending Christian meetings.

Tensions prevail in the area, with enraged Muslim radicals threatening to hurt the five Christian families on the slightest pretext. In addition to harassing Aimazan Bibi, Islamic extremists have ruined her son Sirajul Shaike’s business, throwing away all his vegetables and chasing him out of the village market.

“It is very difficult for them now, since selling vegetables was the main source of income for the family,” Pastor Pal said.

Christians in the village have endured all manner of physical torture and social boycotts at the hand of Muslim extremists, Pastor Pal said. He added that the extremists are not allowing Christians to enter the village.


Uzbekistan tightens grip on unregistered churches with series of raids

Uzbekistan (MNN) ―Uzbekistan has earned its spot as 7th on the Open Doors World Watch List for the persecuted church and is proving its keep.

Basic religious rights have been defied multiple times in Uzbekistan over the last couple of months. According to Forum 18, last month police raided an unregistered church and confiscated literature, pianos, and church property. A week later, the church pastor was fined $3,421 -- a cost of 100 times the minimum monthly wage.

Just a few days before the raid on the church, a woman's home was raided. She was fined 20 times the minimum monthly wage, and her Christian books were handed over to Samarakand Regional Muslim Board.

Just a couple of weeks later, a Baptist congregation in the southern town of Mubarek was raided and will be fined.

These types of raids are not new to Uzbek Christians, and especially not to members of unregistered churches. Alleged "expert analyses" are routinely used by authorities to confiscate religious material, Forum 18 reports.

The number of serious raids and fines that took place in recent weeks has some concerned. "It really does seem like Uzbekistan is beginning to step up its campaign against unregistered churches and groups of any kind," says Joel Griffith with Slavic Gospel Association. "Of course we're watching to see what kind of trickle-down this has on even the registered churches."

Griffith agrees that raids like this could be indicators of worse persecution to come. Already, pastors have been arrested all across Central Asia.

The number of basic rights that have been denied is disconcerting. Uzbekistan and surrounding, oppressive nations continue to bring concern to human rights watch groups.

Despite the influx of persecution and more likely to come, the church is standing strong. SGA has to be discrete about what they've seen, as far as church growth is concerned. But Griffith does say this: "You could look on a global perspective: typically, the more they try to stamp the church out, the more it grows."

Pray for boldness for church members, especially those who are younger. Griffith says many older members of the church remember well what it was like to live under the oppressive Soviet regime, but younger Uzbeks don't. Pray for church growth despite persecution. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Three Iranian Christian converts released on bail

Three Iranian Christian converts released on bail: "TEHRAN, IRAN (ANS) -- An Iranian court has agreed to temporarily release three Christian converts on a large sum of bail.

According to the Christian news agency, Mohabat News, , the three Christian detainees who were arrested in Shiraz were released after 36 days in custody and uncertainty. Shiraz is located in Fars province, 934 KMs south of Tehran, the capital."


Monday, March 19, 2012

Brutality in Syria creates humanitarian crisis

(Photos courtesy Christian Aid Mission) 
Syria (MNN/CAM) ― The crisis in Syria has created a flood of refugees. According to the United Nations, the number fleeing the regime's wrath has risen by several thousand in the past few days and now tops 34,000.

Their most recent numbers show that hundreds of thousands are thought to be displaced within Syria. Bill Bray with Christian Aid Mission says, "Almost every day, we're getting new reports of increasing numbers of refugees and increasing sacrifice being made by the Christian community in the surrounding countries to reach out."

Most of the poor refugees, made up of nominal Christian and other minorities, are fleeing to neighboring countries where the reception has been chilly. "They are trying to contain the refugee crisis, and displaced persons within Syria and not welcoming them across their borders. All the borders are mined and armed--protected. They don't want a huge rush of refugees from Syria coming into their countries. They don't want to set up great refugee camps and so forth."

Bray says their team has been responding to the building humanitarian crisis since last June. Their first inkling of how bad it was going to be was when "the leaders that we assist kept saying, 'Can we have permission to divert the funds that you've been giving for evangelism or other causes that were earmarked.... Can we start using this to aid the Christian refugees that are coming across the border?'  They asked for more help, and we've been sending more and more help." 

Why? "The Christian community is often neglected in the distribution of aid to the refugees. And the host governments in Turkey and Jordan and Lebanon really are not welcoming these refugees and don't want to recognize them." Bray adds that it's not just Christians, but also "the Bedouins, the gypsies--there are minority groups that are neglected in aid distribution." As a result, "An amazing number of Bedouins are coming to believers for help," says the Christian Aid Mission spokesperson.

The good news is that more help is getting in. But the bad news is that things are getting worse. Even as international pressure grows on President Assad al-Bashar, the government response has been bruising. For most Non-Government Organizations, that means no aid in the country. For informal response like Christian Aid, it's quite a different story. "We have a vast network in all of hose countries. They're already in place. There are missionaries that are doing covert evangelism; they're reaching out to their communities. They're seeing the needs, and the heart of Christian compassion is in them."

This is an opportunity to show the love of Christ to people who are suffering terribly, says Bray. First, the physical needs. "There's a lot of need for anything that provides warmth. Fuel oil, mattresses, warm clothes, blankets, shoes, because they're fleeing with what they've got on their backs." Feeding and housing one refugee family costs about $130 a week in temporary shelters -- the cost of food alone is $70 a week.

When believers help, the inevitable "why" is answered with "Christ." As a result, "They very much want Arabic Bibles, CDs, Christian literature. There's a great demand to receive spiritual aid as well as material aid."

"We are not really prepared to help these people," says a local missionary leader, "but we cannot keep our doors closed when we see our brothers and sisters in need--whether they are from Christian or Muslim background."

"God uses times of crisis to soften hearts to the gospel," added the Christian Aid staff spokesman. "This may be a time of harvest among Muslim and Christian refugees. God is sovereign. He cares for Muslims. Countries in the Middle East are going through great upheaval. Now many Muslims are turning to Christ. Maybe the long turmoil in Syria is God's way of bringing this about."

Bray concludes, "They can pray for strength for the Christian community and wisdom in dealing with the government and local police officials. A lot of these people are illegal immigrants, they're undocumented; there are no jobs for them so we need to pray for the Christian community as they try to integrate these refugees into their churches and into the community."

Christian Aid has set up a special emergency fund: Gift Code 400REF. Check our Featured Links Section for details.

Congressional Scorecard to hold U.S. legislators accountable for religious freedom decisions

USA (MNN) ― The points have been tallied and the scores are in. The Open Doors USA Congressional Scorecard for International Religious Freedom of the 112th session of Congress was just released, ranking U.S. Congressmen and Senators on their promotion of religious freedom.

Why assign a point value to a legislator's record on issues regarding international religious freedom? Lindsay Vessey with Open Doors has spent six years on Capitol Hill talking to various legislators, and she says one idea has become quite clear:

"Nearly everyone says that they care about religious freedom. But when it comes to actually taking action to help people who are being persecuted for their faith, we find that a lot of legislators weren't willing to take action."

Vessey explains, "The Scorecard is a tool that Open Doors created, mostly to create awareness and accountability regarding international religious freedom with our federal legislators."

Essentially, the Scorecard is a way to keep tabs on legislators' voting records on religious freedom legislation. Open Doors has published this midterm Congressional Scorecard to evaluate each senator's and representative's record on religious freedom issues.

Legislators are graded on their votes and co-sponsorship of a selection of the most important religious freedom bills and resolutions that seek to protect Christians and other persecuted faith groups worldwide.

After the first Scorecard was released in the 111th session of Congress, the response of U.S. citizens caused a reaction. And seeing their support of religious freedom in tangible numbers made legislators think about their actions.

"As we're raising this issue and getting people more engaged, we see a lot better response to various things that are happening around the world," adds Vessey.

Vessey says one example this year was with Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. A resolution drafted in Congress on Nadarkhani's behalf was passed nearly unanimously.

Decisions to promote religious freedom like this inadvertently help further the spread of the Gospel. The hope is that the more the U.S. pressures countries with poor religious freedom policies, the more freedom there will be. More freedom to practice religion means more doors open for the Gospel, especially in nations where it's currently unsafe for believers to share their faith.

There's still a long way to go for U.S. legislators to make the maximum impact. According to the Scorecard, U.S. senators on average scored much lower than their House counterparts. The highest score for any Senator was 75%, whereas 10 Members of the House received perfect scores. Many legislators argue that they don't cosponsor bills because there doesn't seem to be a demand from constituents. International religious freedom is thus a low priority.

However, when U.S. citizens get involved and voice their concern, state and federal heads turn. To view the Scorecard and find out if your representative or senator has religious freedom as a top priority, click here. Open Doors has sample letters you can send to your senators and representatives to thank them for their support or to ask for increased support. 

Christians win legal challenge brought by Muslims for village in Indonesia

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

HORALE, MALUKU PROVINCE, INDONESIA (ANS) -- Indonesian Christians have won a lengthy legal battle over the ownership of their village against neighboring Muslims who had virtually razed it to the ground in 2008.

Arial view of the destruction

According to Barnabas Fund ( Horale in Maluku province, Indonesia, was destroyed in an attack by a Muslim mob from the neighboring village of Saleman on May 2, 2008.

They were said to have burnt down 120 houses, three churches and the village school, and destroyed 15 hectares of crops. Four Christians were killed and 56 injured in the onslaught.
“One week after the incident, Muslims from Saleman brought a legal challenge over the ownership of Horale, claiming that the land was part of their territory,” said a Barnabas Fund spokesperson. “The case was first heard at county level, where a Muslim is the head of the government. Despite evidence in support of the Horale Christians, the court ruled in favor of the Saleman villagers.

Villagers helped to rebuild their homes
“The Christians appealed to the provincial court, which overturned the verdict, prompting the Muslims to take the matter to the Supreme Court. It has now ruled that the ten square miles in question rightfully belong to the Christian residents.

“Had they lost the case, they would have had to leave the village with nowhere else to go.”
Barnabas Fund helped the Horale Christians, who are low-earning farmers, with their legal costs.

The spokesperson added, “We have also helped finance the reconstruction of the village, which is now home to around 150 families (900 individuals). Funds were used to turn 106 semi-permanent houses provided by the government in the aftermath of the attack into permanent homes, and to build 14 new properties for those who had none.
Barnabas Fund helped finance
the reconstruction of Horale
“We assisted in rebuilding the three damaged churches and also provided other resources for the villagers, including rice and electricity.
The attack in May 2008 forced the Christian villagers to flee to the jungle. Now that their properties have been rebuilt and their right to Horale has been established, they hope to be left to resume their lives in peace.”

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.

Lawyers for Accused Christian Prevented From Entering Hearing by 300 Muslim Lawyers who Stormed Egyptian Court

By Michael Ireland
Senior International Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

Egyptian High Court of Justice
CAIRO, EGYPT (ANS) -- More than 300 Muslim lawyers inside and outside a courthouse in the southern Egyptian province of Assuit today prevented defense lawyer Ahmad Sayed Gabali, who is representing the Christian Makarem Diab, from going into court.

Egyptian journalist Mary Abdelmassih, writing for AINA -- Assyrian International News Agency,  says Diab was found guilty of 'Insulting the Muslim Prophet' and today was scheduled a hearing on his appeal.

In her report, Abdelmassih reports that attorney Dr. Naguib Gabriell, head of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organization, said there was "terror in the Assiut Court today."

Gabriell added that he was on his way to court when he was advised that Muslim lawyers have issued death threats to any Christian lawyers who attend the court session.

"Makram Diab was assaulted by Muslim lawyers during his transfer from the courtroom and security failed to protect him," Gabriell told AINA.

According to the AINA news report, Peter Sarwat, a Coptic lawyer, said that Muslim lawyers representing the plaintiffs prevented the defense team from entering court.

"They said no Muslim will defend a Christian. It was agreed that Christian lawyers would take over and two Coptic lawyers volunteered, but the Muslims decided later that even Christians would not defend him,” Sarwat said.

Sarwat told AINA the Muslim lawyers wanted to assault the chief judge, but he managed to leave the court via a rear door.

The AINA news report goes on to say that Adel Ramadam and Ahmad Mohamad Hossam, two Muslim lawyers and activists from the renowned NGO Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) went to court to defend Diab's right to a fair trial but were assaulted by the other Muslim lawyers.

"They were assaulting us in a beastly and strange way just because we went there to defend a citizen who happened to be a Christian," said Adel Ramadam.

Ramadam also said that to get out of court was a complex operation and a huge task for the security personnel. "We left court in a security vehicle which took us to Security headquarters, otherwise, we don't know what the outcome would have been for us."

AINA explained that Makram Diab, a school secretary was sentenced by the Abanoub misdemeanor court two weeks ago to six years imprisonment on charges of insulting Islam's prophet. His defense lawyer, Ahmad Sayed Gabali, was also prevented during that session from entering the court by Muslim lawyers.

"I went to court today because I believe this citizen was stripped of all his rights," said Adel Ramadam in an aired interview today. "He had a quarrel with a Salafi school colleague and then 11 days later, it was suddenly decided by Muslims that they will report the case. He was detained by the prosecution for 4 days and two days later in a 10-minute session and without any defense lawyer present, he was sentenced to 6 years, which is way above the maximum of a misdemeanor case."

AINA said that eyewitnesses reported the Muslim lawyers were armed with clubs. A police captain, two EIPR lawyers, and two reporters from Ros-el-Youssef and El-Bashayer Egyptian newspapers were injured in the milieu.

Human rights groups reported that they were also forced out of the courtroom by the Muslims, AINA also reported.

Adel Ramadam said the court session never started because the judge knew that the defense team was prevented from entering the court, and knew of the assaults. "He just postponed the appeal session to April 5."

** 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.

Crackdown in Iran Hits Official Churches

Authorities target Isfahan’s Anglicans, as well as ‘underground’ Christians.
In a rare crackdown on a concentrated area, Iranian authorities have arrested Christians living in the country’s third largest city in what is seen as a tactic to discourage Muslims and converts to Christianity from attending official churches.

Since last month officials have arrested about 12 Christian converts in Isfahan, 340 kilometers (211 miles) south of Tehran. Authorities have arrested leaders and members of churches meeting in buildings, as well as some from underground churches, according to Mohabat News.

The targeted arrests started on Feb. 22, when intelligence officers arrested approximately seven Christians at their homes between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., Mohabat reported. Authorities raided their homes and confiscated valuables, including Bibles, computers, identification and other documents, and in one case even pictures decorating walls.

The Christian Iranian news service identified those detained on Feb. 22 as Hekmat Salimi, pastor of St. Paul Anglican Church, a convert of 30 years and author of theological books; Giti Hakimpour, 78, a female pastor at St. Luke’s Anglican Church; Shahram Ghaedi, an actor; Maryam Del-Aram, 54; Shahnaz Zarifi, a mother of two; and Enayat Jafari.

Another Christian, Majid Enayat, was arrested on the same day at his workplace. He is a member of a house church, and Mohabat reported that prior to his arrest, authorities arrested other members of his group. Some of these Christians warned him that authorities intended to arrest him.

Of those arrested, Mohabat reported that authorities released Hakimpour on Feb. 25. Authorities have denied proper medical treatment to Del-Aram, who is under medical supervision. When her daughter tried to bring her medication to her at the prison, they refused it, according to Mohabat.

On March 2, authorities arrested another convert in Isfahan, Fariborz Parsi-Nejad.

Authorities have allegedly arrested more Christians in Isfahan, but sources have not been able to confirm the arrests and details. None of those arrested in Isfahan last month has been officially charged.

Though religious freedom monitors in Iran said it was not clear what triggered authorities to target Christians in Isfahan, one Iranian Christian outside the country said it may be yet another tactic to stop converts from attending Farsi-speaking meetings in official church buildings.

“I now have 12 names of Christians arrested in Isfahan,” said the Iranian Christian, who requested anonymity. “Isfahan is a very Islamic city. We have two or three church buildings there. The government is very sensitive in Isfahan, which is the only city apart from Tehran with official church buildings. Now the government is focusing on the church buildings to scare the people so they don’t go.”

There are also a number of church buildings in various cities in Iran that are attended by ethnic Armenian Christians. The services are held in Armenian, and members have relatively more freedom to meet.

Earlier in February, authorities in Tehran ordered Emmanuel Protestant Church and St. Peter’s Evangelical Church to discontinue their Farsi-language services. These were the last two official churches in the capital offering Farsi-language services on Fridays.

On Feb. 12, Noorallah Qabitizade was transferred to Dastgerd Prison in Isfahan. He was originally arrested in Dezful on Dec. 24, 2010, and this is the third time authorities have transferred him to a different prison because he is outspoken about his faith while incarcerated. His conditions in Isfahan were expected to be harsher, according to Mohabat.

Previous ArrestsSince the beginning of this year, authorities have arrested Christian converts in Tehran, Ahwaz, Shiraz, Isfahan and Kermanshah.

In Tehran, authorities on Feb. 8 arrested the pastor of Narmak Assemblies of God Church. He was released on bail on Feb. 16. Sources reported that his arrest was part of a government targeting of government-sanctioned, evangelical denominations.

In Kermanshah, authorities raided a house church on Feb. 21, arresting 13 Christians who had gathered to worship. Authorities verbally and physically abused them during the arrest, according to Mohabat. Of those arrested, most were released the next day, and now only three remain in prison.

But the Revolutionary Court of Kermanshah last month sentenced Masoud Delijani, a convert to Christianity arrested last year, to three years in prison on charges of being a Christian, holding illegal house church gatherings, evangelizing Muslims and action “against national security,” according to Mohabat.

Arrested on March 17, 2011, Delijani suffered great mental and physical pressure while in prison, according to Mohabat. In July 2011 he was released on bail amounting to about US$100,000 and rearrested two weeks later. Authorities did not give him due legal process, denying him legal defense, according to Mohabat.

In January 2010, officials had ordered the Pentecostal Church of Assyrians in Kermanshah to close on charges of spreading Christianity among Muslims.

Christians in Iran, most belonging to networks of house churches meeting in small groups in secret, are routinely arrested and interrogated. Iranian authorities view Christianity as a deviant anti-government movement and Christians as pawns of the West.

Iran is the fifth worst persecutor of Christians in the world, according to the most recent World Watch List by Christian support group Open Doors.


Nuns Traumatized after School Attack in Egypt

One hospitalized for breakdown after sword-wielding Muslims converge.
Two nuns in Upper Egypt faced “unimaginable fear” – with one later hospitalized over the emotional trauma – when 1,500 Muslim villagers brandishing swords and knives trapped them inside a guesthouse last week and threatened to burn them out.

The next day, the assailants frightened children at the school; attendance has since dropped by more than a third.

Accusing the nuns of building a church at the site, the throng on March 4 chanted Islamic slogans as they surrounded the guesthouse of a privately run, public school in the village of Abu Al-Reesh, in Aswan Province. Two nuns, volunteer teachers at Notre Dame Language Schools, barricaded themselves into the school’s guesthouse for about eight hours.

The women were “terrified,” said Magdy Melad, director of the school.

“No matter what I say, I cannot give a picture of the fear and the worry they had,” Melad said.

School workers hid a third nun from the mob in a separate building on the campus out of fear that the mob would attack her as well. While two of the three nuns are Egyptian, one with a French name holds both Egyptian and French passports.

Conservative Muslims began milling around the school and accosting school employees at 2 p.m. on March 4. A group of men with swords stopped one employee and accused him of “building a church, and we are coming to attack the place,” the employee told Melad, who was at the scene of the attack.

“Huge numbers of people with swords, knives and daggers were gathering,” Melad said. “All that was in my head was that I was worried about the nuns. So I called and told them not to open the door and not to move until I came to get them.”

The Muslims tried to push their way into the building as the nuns kept calling for help. The door to the guesthouse is made of heavy reinforced metal, according to Melad, which prevented the building from being breached. Members of the mob ransacked the entire building, stealing security cameras, electrical equipment and a satellite dish on top of the guesthouse, among other items.

From three mosques near the school, people began shouting over loudspeakers in minarets, summoning more Muslims to surround the guesthouse.

“People of Abu Al-Reesh, get down [there] – the Christians are building a church and building a monastery,” the loudspeakers blared, according to Melad Kamel Garas, owner of the school. “The Christians took our ancestor’s land and are building a church.”

School workers tried to get the nuns out of the building, but the Muslims sent them away.

“When we tried to get them out, they refused to let them out, and they wanted to burn them alive in the guesthouse,” Garas said.

School employees called police, but initially only three officers showed up, according to Melad. The mob set upon them. Four more trucks arrived with reinforcements, but authorities were still unable to control the mob.

Eventually, school workers began talking with moderate Muslims and were able, along with the police contingent, to get all the nuns out. As the women were pulled through the crowd, different men began shouting that they were “pigs” and “infidels” who wanted to “build a church,” according to Garas.

The two nuns suffered cuts and bruises in the attack, and one fainted during the ordeal, according to Garas. The women were taken to a Catholic church in Aswan, except for one, who suffered what Melad characterized as a “major” nervous breakdown and had to be transported on March 8 to Cairo, where she was hospitalized.

The three nuns, who range in age from 30s to mid-50s, were part of a volunteer contingent brought to the school to teach manners to younger students. The nuns have been there for a year and are certified teachers. They did not teach religious classes other than to Christian students; school officials inspected all of their course work and materials, and their texts were approved by the national Ministry of Education, Melad said.

“They are committed to teach what the Ministry of Education has told them to teach,” Melad said.

The next day, the mob started intermittently attacking the school itself.

“They scared the children in a very, very bad way,” Melad said. “The children were so scared, terrified.”

Notre Dame Language Schools enrolls about 560 students ranging from preschoolers to ninth graders. It is open to students from all faiths; roughly 360 of the students are Muslim, the rest being members of the Coptic minority. Having opened two years ago, the school has about 170 employees, 60 of them Coptic Christians and the rest Muslims.

After the nuns were removed from the guesthouse, members of the mob refused to let anyone inside, even after police inspected the building’s interior and found no place of worship.

Leaders of the mob told school officials that they were not allowed to use the guesthouse. They also said the school could no longer continue doing construction work around the guesthouse.

Eventually the Muslims left the school property, and police posted a guard outside the building. But now the Islamists have enlisted a group of children who mill around the guesthouse and tell them if anyone goes inside, according to Melad.

This poses a problem because the guesthouse is also the utility control room for the school; all electrical switches, and the valves for the school water supply, are located there. School workers find themselves in the strange position of having to ask people from the mob to use school property. Police, Garas said, have done nothing to regain control of the guesthouse.

As a result, attendance at the school has dropped by 34 percent, something Garas said he understands.

“All the loss in property, that can be replaced,” Garas said. “But all I am worried about is I don’t want to lose one of the children. Because God forbid, if in an irrational act like this, one of the children got injured or hurt, all the money in the world wouldn’t be able to fix or replace that.”

An attempt is underway to force school officials into a “reconciliation meeting,” which in Egypt usually results in Christians having to accept concessions with nothing in return. In September another group of Muslims in Aswan rioted outside another guesthouse, wrongly claiming that church officials were building a house of worship inside. In a reconciliation meeting, church officials agreed to remove the crosses outside the building and not to ring any church bells.

This wasn’t enough, and eventually Salafis and other hard-line Muslim villagers began rioting again. Ultimately church officials entered another series of reconciliation meetings. Altogether, the priests conceded to every major demand the Muslim villagers made but received no conciliatory offers in return. While the domes on top of the church building were being removed in accordance with the meetings, the villagers attacked and burned it to the ground.

The priest of the church was later charged with a building violation and sentenced to six months in jail. None of the Muslims who attacked the church building have been charged. The priest will appeal the sentence.

Reconciliation meetings are, in theory, arbitration meetings between two equal entities that are loosely based on traditional tribal councils. But most human rights activists in Egypt say that the reconciliation process works to deny rights to powerless groups while maintaining an image of legality and fairness.

All in all, Garas said, the persecution in Aswan echoes what seems to be an unofficial motto there, “No Christians allowed.”