Friday, March 30, 2012

Two Christians Prosecuted for Reading the Bible in Public

MURRIETA, Calif., March 29, 2012 /Christian Newswire/ -- Yesterday, a trial court in Riverside County, California, heard arguments why the prosecution's case should be dismissed in the case of People v. Brett Coronado. Advocates for Faith & Freedom are defending Pastor Brett Coronado and Mark Mackey on misdemeanor charges after they were arrested in front of a California DMV while Mr. Mackey was reading the Bible out loud. The incident took place on February 2, 2011, in front of a group waiting for the DMV to open for business. 

This case has generated national news, such as the story that ran on Fox News Channel today. Additionally, a YouTube video of the incident and arrest can be viewed by typing in "Hemet Pastor Arrested for Reading Bible". Both men have been spit on and threatened at other locations in the past when engaging in similar activities. As a result, it is their practice to video their evangelism to protect them from false accusations -- just as appears to be occurring in this case. 

Initially, when Mr. Mackey was arrested, the CHP officer stated that it was illegal to "preach to a captive audience." After the defendants were placed in jail and upon learning that no such penal code prohibits preaching to a "captive audience," the officer issued a citation for "impeding an open business" with threats or intimidation under Penal Code Section 602.1(b). However, the district attorney again changed the charges claiming trespass after the government realized the business was not actually open and, presumably, saw the video showing no threats or intimidation.

Unfortunately, the trial judge declined to dismiss the case. Advocates vows to appeal the decision because the trespass law the CHP is currently relying on is unconstitutional. In fact, other federal courts that have reviewed the same statutory language used in the California Penal Code have been declared unconstitutional. 

"This is an abuse of power on the part of the CHP," said Robert Tyler, Associate General Counsel for Advocates for Faith & Freedom. "The arresting officer could find no appropriate penal/ code to use when arresting these men. The purpose of the arrests appears to have been to censor them."

Advocates for Faith & Freedom has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of these three men for violation of their right to free speech and for unlawful arrest, but that case has been stayed pending the resolution of the state court prosecution. Also, join us on Facebook and Twitter to stay up-to-date on our progress in this case and others.

Ministry undaunted despite murder

(Photo courtesy Pioneers)

International (AWM) ― A Pioneer working in the Middle East and North Africa says the community of Gospel workers is mourning the loss of one more.

Though the Pioneer team did not work directly with the man we'll call "Mark," he was a colleague sent by an African partner mission in sub-Saharan Africa. Throughout the Arab World, these workers are among the strongest discipleship partners, providing both cultural understanding and significant contribution to ministry.

Mark was part of a team of two families serving in a Muslim region. The team began getting death threats, so the families were evacuated. But Mark stayed for one last meeting with believers before joining them.

The night after the meeting, while at home preparing his dinner, Mark was shot. He was discovered the next morning in his home, but he had lost too much blood to survive. At his passing, Mark leaves a young wife and two infant twin daughters.

Romans 8 declares, "For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us."

Mark's mission team feared the possibility of legal action from Mark's father, who was not a believer and who vocally opposed his son's service among Muslims. But at Mark's funeral, Mark's father was among fifteen people who gave their lives to Christ.

The mission Mark began will continue: his wife plans to minister in the same region where her husband was killed.

The ministry in the Arab World is held together by missionary colleagues and national believers like Mark. These are people who stand firm in the conviction that they are fulfilling God's call upon their lives and who are not quick to abandon their posts.

Pioneers has an opportunity to extend eternal hope to Arab world Muslims through the 2012 "Winds of Change" 

Campaign. The goal of this initiative is to supplement Arab World Media's current pan-Arab broadcasts with messages that appeal specifically to different demographics in 10 strategic countries. This will also include the distribution of Bibles and film packets. It will support the work already being done by men like Mark. 

There are details at our Featured Links Section.

Thousands of Bibles delivered to China

Wendell Rovestine hands out Bibles in China.

China (MNN) ― While there always seems to be two sides of the "Bibles in China" issue, the fact remains there are two sides to the "Bibles in China" issue. Some say it's difficult to get Bibles into some parts of China and the only way to get them in to the country is to smuggle them. However, others say if you go through the proper channels, including the registered church, you can distribute Bibles with no trouble.

President of Bibles for China Wendell Rovenstine says they opt to go above ground. "Our desire is to be as honest as we can possibly be and to operate only in an open and legal opportunity that exists in China."

Rovenstine says Bibles for China opts to work with the above-ground churches. "Some would call that the registered church. There's a Chinese Christian Counsel, there's a Religious Affairs Bureau. We work through them and through our partners in China."

While there is a need for Bibles all over China, Rovenstine says, "We've opted to work in the rural area where Bibles are needed, where they can do it openly and legally and have a great opportunity to present the Gospel through His word."

Rovenstine recently returned from Hunan Province. "I went to the Coconut Island to give out Bibles. There hadn't been anyone that had been there with Bibles. And our team of four verified 8,000 Bibles through the churches that showed up to receive the Bibles."

While Bibles are available in China, most people in rural areas can't afford them. Rovenstine describes the need in a story about a pastor on the island. "On the side of his church, he had Scripture that someone had come and written on the side of the wall. [People were coming] there to copy down Scriptures to take back to their communities where they touched individuals for Christ."

While many areas need people to tell them what the Bible is saying, Rovenstine says these Christians just need Bibles. "Give them God's Word. Let God's Word be what's written on their heart and established by God speaking through His Word. And I believe churches are strengthened locally because now they are able to have Bibles and to present this as what God said."

Bibles for China is planning two more distribution trips this year. Funding is needed to purchase more Bibles; the cost is just $5. And right now you can maximize your giving, thanks to a matching gift. "For every $5 you give for a Bible, we send two Bibles into China. For $5, you're touching two souls or two families for Jesus Christ. It's a pretty easy way to 'Go into all the world.'"

If you'd like to support their work, click here

North Korea trades launch for lunch

Cover photo by Babel Travel. Story
photo courtesy Open Doors USA

North Korea (MNN) ― The Pentagon says the U.S. has suspended food aid to North Korea over undeterred plans to launch a rocket.

The reclusive country claims it is launching a weather satellite, but South Korea fears the launch is a disguised ballistic missile test.  

The loss of food aid complicates an already desperate situation for the average citizen in North Korea. A UNICEF assessment in January concluded that 80% of the children in North Korea are malnourished. The country faces its worst food shortage in a decade, with six million people at risk.

Government food rations for some have been cut to a tenth of what is needed to keep people alive. It's against that backdrop that word has leaked out about continued preparations for the annual "Day of the Sun" celebrations, a move that President and CEO of Open Doors USA Carl Moeller finds troubling.

He says, "We've come to expect horrible things from the North Korean government, but the fact that the super elite of this country continue to bask in luxury and wealth while the vast majority of the country suffers horrible poverty and starvation is a situation that almost defies imagination." 

An unnamed Open Doors partner shared the government spin: "Glorify this year 2012 as a year of proud victory, a year when an era of prosperity is unfolding, true to the instructions of the great General Kim Jong-Il."

It was this New Year's message that ushered in Kim Jong-Un's regime in 2012. The peak of planned festivities will take place on April 15th, the 100th birth anniversary of Kim Il-Sung. The preparations for the celebrations have already caused much suffering for the people--and the end is not in sight. Moeller says scrutiny is especially close now. "I think it's important for people to realize that about 1% of the population of North Korea actually is in a labor camp right now, which is a staggering figure if you think about that in terms of what those labor camps mean. I can't picture anything other than just a charade of horror with these people being forced to celebrate the birth of this horrible dictator."

To the outside world, the picture will be one of prosperity, color, and a vibrant new leader for the Republic. The "Arirang" mass performances will be bigger than usual. They're designed for two purposes: to impress the world and to give honor to (or even worship) the leaders. No doubt, there will be a large emphasis on the glorification of Kim Jong-Un, who assumed power after his father Kim Jong-Il died in December.

The celebrations will not only take place in Pyongyang, but throughout the country citizens have to participate in events to commemorate the leaders. Those events vary from playing games to local dance performances.  

North Korea also announced that people could expect a "generous gift from the Respected Comrade Kim Jong-Un."

Another celebration will be  the 4th Party Conference, which is scheduled to be held in mid-April. Kim Jong-Un will most likely receive some new, important positions in the state apparatus.

Celebrating the anniversary and the "state's progress" is mandatory. Aside from the normal cleanup, households have to contribute 20,000 won for the state's "total mobilization period." The average worker receives a monthly salary of only 2,000 won. A US dollar, on the black market in North Korea, is worth 5,300 won.

The funds will likely go to the feasts and celebrations at the highest levels of society, with the poor receiving little more than an extra food ration. Moeller says, "I shudder to think what the impact of the celebration is going to do economically for the country as this money is literally going to be wasted."  

As preparations reach a fevered pitch, one church leader writes: "It is very difficult to speak our minds, even to our friends and family. There is a good chance we will be arrested if we speak freely."

The North Korean Church deeply appreciates the prayer of their foreign brothers and sisters during these very difficult weeks. Moeller says they're encouraging a show of solidarity. "We're calling on Christians in the West to have a day of fasting and prayer on April 15. That is the day that this Day of the Sun is going to take place. It's really important for us as Christians to show our solidarity with the believers in that country by praying for them and taking a day off of food for remembrance of the suffering of the Korean people."

Out of the bleakness comes hope. Despite the scrutiny and the increasing volatility of the government, Moeller says the Gospel is still reaching people. "We have had great reports from coworkers who are talking about the remaining hunger, the passion of the Christians in that country--the passion for spiritual sustenance."

That, he notes, is the paradox of Christ. "We know that the church is growing in North Korea. We also know that it's horribly persecuted. Persecution is actually an indicator that the church is growing and that the church is growing is going to inevitably produce persecution."

We'll keep you updated about how you can participate in the April 15 vigil. For now, check our Featured Links section for more on Open Doors.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lao Officials Arrest Five Christians in Southern Village

BANGKOK, Thailand, March 28 (Compass Direct News) – Officials in a village in southern Laos on Sunday (March 25) arrested and detained five Christians during worship and charged them with leading a religious movement without official approval, according to advocacy group Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF). The five Christians from Palansai district were attending a worship service in nearby Boukham village in Ad-Sapangthong district. HRWLRF identified the five by their single names, as is customary in Laos: Phosee (male), Viengsai (male) and Alee (female) from Phosai village; Poon (female) from Pone village and Narm (also female) from Natoo village. Previously they had attended many services in Boukham, Savannakhet Province, without interference from authorities. Boukham church members meet in a private home, as do Christians in most other provincial villages. Officials strongly oppose small groups meeting outside the umbrella of the government-approved Lao Evangelical Church (LEC), but many Christians prefer meeting as house churches, citing strict controls over LEC activities. “This is typical of Laos now,” a pastor from the capital, Vientiane, told Compass on condition of anonymity. “In Vientiane we see things opening up a little. But the law is fluid. Things can change from day to day, and the situation is still very difficult in the provinces.”

Read complete article...

Burma: Burma Army Ransacks Church in Bhamo District

Burma: Burma Army Ransacks Church in Bhamo District: "PANG MU VILLAGE, BURMA (ANS) -- Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is reporting that the Burma Army ransacked Sin Lum Pang Mu Baptist Church in Pang Mu village, located in the Bhamo district of Burma, on Tuesday, March 13, 2011"'

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Islamic sect violence growing in Nigeria

Photo: Compass Direct News

Nigeria (MNN) ― A shootout in northeast Nigeria Sunday claimed six lives, three of them members of the Islamist sect, Boko Haram, suspected of cultivating links with Al Qaeda.

Boko Haram's war against the government now includes an ominous new front: a war against schools. On Friday, extremists planted a bomb at a local primary school, although no one was injured in that attack, but at least eight schools have been firebombed in recent weeks. 

Embattled President Goodluck Jonathon tried to pursue diplomatic means of settling differences, but following the breakdown in talks, Boko Haram threatened to intensify its bombing campaign. Voice of the Martyrs Canada spokesman Greg Musselman says, "Obviously, they want to enter talks because the military/the resources they have to control the Boko Haram is difficult. I guess they have to be open to the option of it. In reality, it's just a collision of ideology."

Musselman also observes that it's no longer just Christians in the cross hairs. "It's becoming more and more dangerous, not only for those doing work like the Voice of the Martyrs and other organizations like ours that work with persecuted Christians, but those working in the oil field or on the outside, and also for the Nigerian citizens themselves."
The insurgent violence stalking northern Nigeria now includes a long list of official targets: police and army officers, elected officials, high-ranking civil servants, United Nations workers, and other perceived supporters of the Nigerian government.  

More and more governments are taking notice. The 2012 report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended that Nigeria should be designated as a "Country of Particular Concern" (CPC). Over 14,000 Nigerians had been killed in religiously-related violence between Muslims and Christians since 1999. That is expected to intensify, says Musselman. "They [Boko Haram] have given basically an edict to the Christians to get out or they will be killed--or they'll burn down their churches, businesses, those kinds of things."

The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. Federal Government commission with principal responsibilities to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress.

Nigeria--which had been on USCIRF's Watch List since 2002--was first recommended for CPC status in 2009. Presently, 10 countries--Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan--are designated as CPCs by the State Department.

The question now is: what kind of impact does the threat of violence have on evangelism? Musselman says, "If [Christians] are meeting, they're going to meet where you've got security and they can at least be somewhat aware of what's happening around them and try to prevent these suicide bombings and attacks on the churches."  

The other effect has been unity. "The church's desire to focus on Christ is strong, and their desire for evangelism has increased. In fact, one of the things that many of the leaders told us is that the reason the attacks have intensified against them is because they are doing evangelism and people are coming to Jesus Christ."

Pray for a peace that surpasses all understanding for those living amidst the ensuing violence. Pray that God will give Nigerian Christians the patience to entrust true justice into the hands of God. Musselman adds, "We need to be praying certainly for the church in Nigeria: 'Thank you for not forgetting about us' I think was one of the messages that was clearly said. But we also need to be praying that the Lord will give the Nigerian church wisdom on security and protection."

Status of Iranian pastor is in question

Iran (MNN/ASN) ― A well-known publication recently wrote an article stating that Iranian authorities claim Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani will not be executed. Jason DeMars of Present Truth Ministries ( which has been following Nadarkhani's case, says that "while this appears to be great news, we cannot trust it."

According to Assist News, DeMars says, "We have documented many instances that Iranian media and government authorities have lied about this case to the public. They have recently acknowledged that Nadarkhani is charged with Christian activities but [authorities] continue to deny that he has been convicted of apostasy."

"We have copies of his written verdict that can easily be found online stating that his only charge is apostasy. In addition, his attorney, Mr. Mohammed Dadkhah, has clearly stated that the only charges levied against his client are apostasy," DeMars said.

DeMars added that Iran wants Nadarkhani's case to disappear from the news so that they can do as they wish with him, but "we will not forget, and we will keep praying and working until he is released."

There also have been rumors circulating once again that Youcef was executed, says DeMars. "These rumors are completely false. We are thankful to be able to confirm that as of March 16, Youcef was still alive. Keep praying and spreading the word to everyone you know; ask your friends and your pastors to do the same."

Meanwhile, a Twitter campaign on behalf of Pastor Nadarkhani has reached one million people worldwide, according the Christian Post.

Pastor Nadarkhani preached to a congregation of 400 before he was arrested by authorities in Oct. 2009. Now the story of his standing for Christ against enormous odds reaches far and wide around the globe.

An online article by Katherine Weber for the Christian Post states that the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has been at the forefront of Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani's court case, and the group's many endeavors--namely its "Tweet for Youcef" campaign and congressional petition--have seen substantial results.

The article says those who sign up for the "Tweet for Youcef" campaign allow the ACLJ to use their Twitter accounts to post a daily Nadarkhani update, which includes the number of days Nadarkhani has been imprisoned, facts about his court case, and a link back to the ACLJ's Nadarkhani information page.

Since the campaign began in mid-February, it has gained a substantial following, now reaching 1.1 million Twitter users per day in 89% of the world's nations, the Christian Post (CP) reported. Of those nations, 35 are mostly Muslim populated or governed by some form of Shariah law -- including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt, and Libya, the ACLJ told CP via an e-mailed statement.

"The ability for people all over the world to express their support for Pastor Youcef is remarkable. We're delighted that the 'Tweet for Youcef' campaign expanded so quickly, reaching one million Twitter accounts daily -- truly an important milestone," Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the ACLJ, told CP. "But we're not stopping there. The number now exceeds 1.1 million -- a vital tool in providing information, support for Pastor Youcef, and pressure on Iran to release him without delay."

The Christian Post goes on to report that celebrity icons have pledged their support for Nadarkhani using the ACLJ's "Tweet for Youcef" campaign. On March 1, Matt Hasselbeck, NFL quarterback for the Tennessee Titans, tweeted his support for the Iranian pastor.

Donald Trump, Megyn Kelly, Actress Julie Benz, Michelle Malkin, Rep. Michele Bachmann, and Ann Coulter have also tweeted their support for the ACLJ and Nadarkhani.

Actress Patricia Heaton from "Everybody Loves Raymond" has signed up for the "Tweet for Youcef" campaign, allowing the ACLJ to use her Twitter account to post Nadarkhani tweets, providing information on his imprisonment and how viewers can do more, the Christian Post article stated.

"We're grateful that a number of high-profile individuals -- including those in the business, media, sports and political worlds -- want to help spread the word about Pastor Youcef's plight," Sekulow told CP. "It's clear that this social media campaign transcends all boundaries -- geographic, political and ideological -- all joining together with one goal in mind: to stand up for human rights and religious freedom, and demand the release of Pastor Youcef immediately and unconditionally," Sekulow added.

The ACLJ also successfully issued a petition to free Nadarkhani, gaining 189,000 signatures in just two weeks. The petition called on Congress to pass House Resolution 556, which condemned Iran for its human rights violations and demanded Nadarkhani's immediate release. The Resolution was passed March 1.

Jordan Sekulow traveled to Brazil recently to raise awareness for Nadarkhani's plight. There, he spoke with Brazil's Vice President Michel Temer, who promised that the Brazilian government will continue to stand in solidarity with Nadarkhani.

Although the ACLJ has confirmed that Nadarkhani was alive as of March 3, there has been no further information on the state of his execution order, which is believed to have been issued in late February.