Saturday, July 28, 2012

Violence topples Nigeria's 'bridge'

Murder of Christian senator, physician leaves big plans unfinished

The Church of Christ in Nigeria, Bachit village.
Dantong nearly singlehandedly funded the
 construction of the expanded sanctuary.
(ODN photo)
JOS, Nigeria, July 23 (Open Doors News) -- Gyang Dantong was killed while attending a funeral.

He was among a handful of elected members of Nigerian government attempting to bury the more than 100 Christians killed just the day before, when Muslim gunmen had rampaged through several villages in Nigeria’s central Plateau state.

The sheer scale of the violence July 7 convulsed a country where attacks upon Christians are commonplace. Then the attackers returned the next day, killing scores more, including Datong, 53, and another elected government official, who had gathered to bury their dead. The two days of brutality have pushed Nigeria beyond shock into a debate about whether it can even survive as a nation.

The death of Senator Gyang Dantong, a member of the National Assembly, reverberates through Nigeria’s struggle to hold itself together.

Gyang Dantong

“Senator Dantong was the bridge between religions, cultures and tribes,” said Senate Majority Leader Victor Ndoma-Egba at a July 18 valedictory session of the National Assembly. “Let his death not be in vain. Leaders of all inter-religions and cultures owe it to themselves and Senator Dantong to terminate this culture of hate and promote reconciliation and peace that Plateau was known for.”

Yet the void created by Datong’s death may be felt most directly on a more personal scale, certainly by his wife, Hanatu, and three children, but also by the surviving members of his church and hospital, both of which he helped to build. As all of Nigeria paid its respects to Dantong’s national legacy, Open Doors News sought out those closest to him to reveal his legacy to Nigeria’s suffering church.

Service to God

Gyang Dalyop Dantong was born in February 1959, in the village of Bachit, about 50 kilometers south of Jos, the capital of Plateau State, in central Nigeria. The son of a pastor, he studied medicine at the University of Jos, and at the University of Legon, in Ghana.

He worked for several years at the Vom Christian Hospital, about 30 kilometers southwest of Jos, before being elected into Nigeria’s National Assembly. He served four years in the House of Representatives, and then was elected to the Senate, where he had served for the past five years.

The church of Dantong’s youth, a Church of Christ in Nigeria congregation in Bachit, was founded in 1936, and had about 550 members at the time of the July 7 and 8 attacks, according to its pastor, Rev. Bulus Alamba Bindi.

“Bachit is a village whose population are farmers,” Bindi said. “Only a few of them are in public service and they live in townships. As for the commitment of these villagers to the Gospel I can tell you that they have embraced the faith without reservation.”

Dantong may have been among the few villagers to leave farming behind to take up a profession, but he remained a student of the faith. A physician by training, a senator by avocation, he also was pursuing a divinity degree from the Theological College of Northern Nigeria in the town of Bukuru, near Jos.

And he remained active in the church’s local affairs. He provided the funding to build a church building in the village of Gashish, about 12 kilometers south of Bachit, Bindi said. The church building, he said, later was burned by Muslim attackers.

When the Bachit church – a simple rectangular structure -- needed renovation, Dantong again offered his help, even though his regular place of worship had become the Church of Christ in the town of Vom, about 15 kilometers away.

“When he came to us with the decision to assist us build the church, we asked him to allow us to handle the work, but he said no to our request and insisted in bearing the complete cost of building the church,” Bindi said. “He said he has made up his mind to build a sanctuary for the Lord.”

Dantong provided 6 million Nigerian naira – about US $38,000 – to reconstruct the church’s sanctuary, complete with a terrazzo floor, Bindi said.

“What are left (to install) in the church now are pews,” he said. “He was preparing for the second and last phase of the construction work when he died.”

His murder, and the wider violence that forced many Christians to flee from their homes in and around Bachit, has not only left a church building unfinished. It also has cut the congregation down to 40 elderly members.

“They said they cannot run away because they do not have the strength to leave,” Bindi said. “They prefer to remain and die here.”

Service to the sick

Dantong was a fixture at Vom Christian Hospital, established by the Church of Christ in Nigeria in 1922. He worked as the hospital’s medical superintendent for about 10 years.

He was “a committed member of our church and a former church worker, medical doctor, with our hospital at Vom,” said Rev. Dachollom Datiri, Vice President of the Church of Christ in Nigeria.

Hospital staff members tell stories about how, for two years, Dantong ran the 154-bed hospital as the only physician in residence, tending to about 150 patients daily. He is also said to have carried out, in some weeks, as many as 15 surgeries.

“He was the only medical doctor we had for about two years here, and during this time, he was on call duties every single day,” said David Yakubu, a radiographer at the hospital.

“He never had time to even go back to his house to eat. Instead, his wife brought his food to him in the theater where he carried out surgeries,” said Sarah Elijah Kpadu, the hospital’s chief matron.

His election to the National Assembly took him away to the capital, Abuja, about 150 kilometers away. Even so, Kpadu said, “his love for this hospital was so great that he returned from the national assembly to assist in surgeries on a weekly basis.”

Vom Hospital’s current medical superintendent, Dr. Samuel Dido, said Dantong’s commitment to the church hospital was a personal sacrifice.

“Dantong gave his life to work in this hospital in spite of the fact that he had better opportunities to work in public hospitals or elsewhere where he could earn better salaries,” Dido said.

“He also was building a 12-room private ward, as a donation to this hospital, before he died.”

That project, as with the Bachit church and so many other bridges Gyang Dantong had begun to build, now is left to the survivors to complete.


Copyright 2012 Open Doors News

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Russia: the jihad spreads north

Russia: the jihad spreads north
-- terror comes to Tatarstan.

By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Monitoring
Special to ASSIST News Service

Russian investigators work near the scene
 of a car bomb blast in the city of Kazan (Reuters)

AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- On 19 July, the day before the start of Ramadan, two senior Muslim clerics known for their efforts to halt the spread of Salafi Islam in Russia's Tatarstan province, became victims of targeted terror attacks.

Tatarstan's chief mufti, Ildus Faizov (49), only narrowly escaped death. He had unbuckled his seatbelt and was exiting his Toyota Land Cruiser to make a phone call in the capital, Kazan, when three massive bombs attached to his vehicle exploded. Faizov was thrown clear while the car, which was ripped to shreds, was engulfed in flames. The bombing came just half an hour after Faizov's deputy, Valiulla Yakupov (48), was assassinated. Yakupov, who was shot six times on the porch of his apartment block, managed to get to his car where his driver was waiting for him, but died from chest wounds on the way to the hospital. Faizov was hospitalised with injuries mostly to his legs. He was released on 24 July in a stable condition to return to his home, which is now under police guard.

See: Muslim leaders targeted in twin attacks in Russia's Tatarstan (includes video)
Russia Today, 19 July 2012

Since becoming Tatarstan's chief mufti in 2011, Faizov has been cracking down on radical Islamists, dismissing ultraconservative preachers and banning textbooks from Saudi Arabia. 

He maintains that the main threat comes from followers of Salafism and Wahhabism which are increasingly being preached in some of the mosques in Tatarstan. "The Salafis and Wahhabis constitute a very great danger," he told AFP last year. "There are no moderates among them. They all finish one day by taking up arms."

As for Yakupov, the Kazan Week website recently listed Yakupov as Tatarstan's second most influential Muslim, calling him the "strategist behind Faizov's policy of rooting out religious extremism."

Muslim-majority Tatarstan is home to some exquisite ancient mosques and boasts the world's largest Qur'an. As Daisy Sindelar notes in the Turkish Weekly (20 July), it has long been "a relatively peaceful, prosperous republic with a reputation for cultural diversity and religious tolerance".

See: Tatarstan Attacks Spark Fears That Islamist Threat Is Spreading
By Daisy Sindelar, Friday 20 July 2012

"No one has claimed responsibility for the dual assaults," writes Sindelar, "the first terrorist-style attacks in the republic. . . But the clerics' pro-Kremlin, anti-Wahhabi stance has stirred speculation that they may have been targeted by hard-line Islamists looking to break Moscow's grip on Russia's second-largest religion.

"In a statement, Russia's National Antiterrorism Committee said it was exploring a number of motives behind the attacks, including the work of the Tatarstan Mufti's Office 'to counter the spread of radical religious ideas across the republic's territory'."

Dozens of Muslims have reportedly been questioned and five suspects have been detained in connection with the attacks, which appear to be related to "ideological disagreements" and Faizov's business interests. Faizov has been criticised in local media for allegedly profiting from tours he organised for Muslim pilgrims and for trying to gain control of one of the oldest and largest mosques in Kazan, which receives hefty donations from thousands of believers. (Kuwait Times, 19 July)

Moscow Times reports: "Working together, the Federal Security Service and police arrested the Muslim head of the Vakf parish, 39-year-old Kazan resident Murat Galeyev; 41-year-old Airat Shakirov, a resident of Tatarstan's Vysokogorsky district; Abdunozim Ataboyev, 26, an Uzbek native registered in Kazan; and a 36-year-old Kazan resident whose name was not disclosed.

"The suspected mastermind of the attacks -- the board chairman of the Idel-Hajj company, 57-year-old Rustem Gataullin -- was also detained. A Kazan court is scheduled to decide Monday whether to sanction his arrest. . . Gataullin also has links to radical Wahhabis, Kommersant reported."

Kuwait Times notes that Salafi Islam has been spreading in the oil-rich Volga River province due to an influx of Muslim clerics from Chechnya and other predominantly Muslim provinces of Russia's North Caucasus region. Chechen separatist leader, the Islamist Doku Umarov, reportedly issued a religious decree in 2011 calling on radical Islamists from the Caucasus to move to the Volga River region that includes Tatarstan. According to the Qatar Tribune, Umarov warned that his fighters were on a mission to "free the lands of our brothers" (i.e. to supposedly "liberate" Russian regions with large Muslim populations).

The Qatar Tribune comments: "Around half of Tatarstan’s population is Muslim . . . In Kazan [the capital] few women wear headscarves and a huge mosque stands beside an Orthodox cathedral." 

Pavel Salin, a political analyst at the Center for Political Assessments in Moscow, down played suggestions that Tatarstan, as a largely peaceful and compliant Russian republic, would be the target of a full-scale Kremlin crackdown. He agreed, however, that the Kazan terror attacks would be a "serious worry" for the Kremlin. 

Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. This article is an edited version of a posting written for her blog: Religious Liberty Monitoring .

Suicide bomber threatens ministry

(Photo courtesy of Freedom House)

Syria (MNN) ― [Note: The violence is growing. On average, 131 Syrians are killed each day. Assad troops continue to clash with Syrian rebel forces.

Lyndsey Gammage with Mission Network News had a chance to hear about the current situation in Syria from a representative of a ministry doing humanitarian aid work and evangelism there. Because the situation is so dangerous, we can’t name the organization, the correspondent, or go into detail about their project. But they’re doing great work for the name of Christ. Here’s the interview.]

Lyndsey: Syria. Kind of a hot topic right now, and you’re updated on a lot of the issues going on there and even some humanitarian aid work. Could you just tell us a little bit about the current events and what’s going on?

*Joe: Okay, thank you for this opportunity. I just got off the phone about half an hour ago with our contact [in Syria]. The people that are working on [our] project are all scattered. As a matter of fact, all the people that we have inside this country have been taken out. They’re not in the country anymore; they’re in neighboring countries. We had to close our big distribution effort [in a strategic location]. They were threatened by suicide bombers, and so they had to close everything down. So there is no distribution going on inside the country at the moment.

But we do have distribution in neighboring countries because of the refugees. You know, there are thousands of people. As I heard this morning, it’s a continuous stream of people now crossing the border into Lebanon and Jordan. It’s a devastating situation, but it’s an opportunity for us to be able to give out food packets and medical packets to these people. So we have two huge distribution efforts going on at the moment [outside Syria].... In both situations, [we] are working with established churches. While there are advantages and disadvantages of working with a church, one [advantage] is that you have a lot of volunteers helping you, and it’s a little bit more official--especially in [unnamed city] where the people could come onto the church compound and get packets where you could freely share whatever you want with them because it’s a Christian environment. In [another area], it’s not as easy because they go door-to-door, and they offer them a packet which contains food and medical supplies and some other materials that we hope they will be able to watch and read. But there’s an opportunity to talk to the people; there’s a personal contact. Mostly what the [volunteers] do is sympathize with the situation and find out what their real needs are. And then most of the time, they would offer to pray for them. Most of these people—although they are Muslims—would accept prayer. And of course. the prayer is in the name of Jesus.

Lyndsey: When exactly did your team have to pull out of Syria?

Joe: Two days ago they had to pull everybody out. The situation is escalating at an incredibly dramatic pace. They expect that in the next month or two...the violence is just going to escalate, and we don’t know how much of that is going to spill over into Israel because, as you see in the news, there are other countries supplying weapons to the radical groups [in Syria], and their aim is to take Israel out. So the thing is really in a very volatile situation at the moment.

Lyndsey: Now what would it take for your team to be able to go back into Syria and continue the distribution?

Joe: Well, as soon as things normalize. I mean, the people who have come out of there are all nationals. They love [Syria]. Their kids are in school there. So, as soon as the situation normalizes, they will go back. For now, they’re all out of the country. [The] people that have pulled out are all nationals; there are no westerners. We don’t have westerners working in that part of the world.

Lyndsey: The suicide bombers threatening: Is that troops with Assad, or is it the rebel forces, or is it just independents?

Joe: You know, we don’t know. It could be both. It could be from either side. You know what happens: if there’s an escalation of violence against the government…the radical Muslims in the country then use that position or situation to their advantage. We find in every country, when the violence starts breaking out, the next thing that happens is they start targeting Christians and churches. They start burning down. It happened in Egypt, it happened in Libya, it happened in Indonesia, it happened in Bahrain, all over the place. The minute there’s violence against the government, the radicals use that opportunity to start persecuting the Christians. I doubt [the threats] would be from the government because they normally wouldn’t [conduct] suicide bombings. It would probably be the radicals, which I think if you scratch a little bit on the surface you’ll find out its al-Qaeda that is behind all of this. So they just use the situation normally, and they take advantage of it because it’s chaos. The more its chaos and energy, they would be able to do stuff without being opposed or stopped. Normally the government, if a church is bombed, will sort of turn a blind eye, but they would still try and warn the people not to do it. But if you have energy like this and there’s chaos, then nobody even cares about that.
Lyndsey: How is your team encouraging the church in this time?

Joe: We help them like we are doing right now, channeling as much as we can in there to get them at least humanitarian aid as far as possible, to relieve the need. We try and uplift the people by praying with them, helping them. A lot of times we would evacuate people out of the refugee camp or where they are and take them to a hospital because they don’t have transportation. We could take children and people that are wounded or sick and help them get medical treatment.

Lyndsey: And how can other Christians be praying?

Joe: Our staff has a huge prayer network going on all over the world and is praying for the situation.

Lyndsey: Well, thank you so much for talking with us today about this. Is there anything you wanted to add, anything that I missed?

Joe: No, this is the information I have at the moment.... I think from what I’ve said now, it should be okay. We mentioned cities and names of places, but it shouldn’t be a problem as long as we do not connect it with people, names, or with the specific product.... That’s a huge security risk.

Lyndsey: Will do. I’m Lyndsey Gammage with Mission Network News.

*Correspondent’s name changed for security reasons.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Churches Continue to Suffer Persecution in Iran and Nigeria

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

               Assemblies of God National Office

SPRINGFIELD, MO. (ANS) -- The Assemblies of God, along with other church organizations ministering in Iran and Nigeria, is experiencing increasing levels of persecution as authorities and extremists attempt to stamp out Christianity.

According to a story by Dan Van Veen for the Assemblies of God News (AG), in Iran, Central Assembly of God in Tehran had its summer campsite closed by authorities, who posted a notice on the campground gates warning of severe consequences should anyone try to enter. This action follows the official termination of Friday Farsi Language services, all Bible classes and any distribution of Christian literature by the church or its members.

The AG reported that Eurasia Regional Director Omar Beiler said, “The increasing pressures put on the AG churches in Iran in recent days is a cause for great concern. We are doing everything we can to help them, but they need God's intervention most of all.”

In Nigeria, the AG said, extremists are demanding the adoption and enforcement of Sharia law and the establishment of a new Nigeria under those laws. Villages, churches, government institutions, and schools (especially Christian schools) are being violently attacked. So far in 2012, the Assemblies of God has lost more than 25 churches, with many members fleeing for their lives.

“Last week, more than 300 extremists attacked nine villages in Plateau state, killing and injuring hundreds of innocent men, women and children,” said Randy Hurst, communications director for AG World Missions, speaking in the story.

He added, “Of these, one AG church was burned, four members killed, and many are hospitalized and displaced.”

Mike McClaflin, regional director for Africa, said in the AG story, “These latest violent acts remind us that the Nigeria Assemblies of God needs our partnership in fervent prayer for their safety.”

AGWM Executive Director Greg Mundis also encouraged prayer for those experiencing severe persecution.

The Ag reported he said, “The World Missions Executive Committee is increasing our own personal prayers for the suffering church around the world and appealing to our broader constituency to seek the Lord on behalf of our brothers and sisters in places like Iran and Nigeria who are paying such a heavy price to faithfully follow Christ.”

According to the story, AG General Superintendent George Wood, who met earlier this year with President Obama and asked him to have his administration speak forcefully against religious persecution, agreed that prayer is desperately needed. He also believes it is important for people to let their voices be heard.

“People should continue to contact their elected leaders in Congress and the executive branch and voice their concern that everything possible be done to speak out on the cause of religious freedom,” Wood said.

After Long Period of Detention without Charge, Freedom for Two Christian Converts in Iran

By Michael Ireland
Senior International Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

TEHRAN, IRAN (ANS) -- The release of two Christians by the Islamic Regime is being viewed favorably by the Iranian-Christian community of believers in that country, and they are now demanding the urgent release of Farshid Fat’hi from Evin prison.

Nur-ullah and Ehsan (Courtesy: FCNN)
Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN)  reports the welcome news of release from prison of the two imprisoned Christians, Mr. Ehsan Behrouz, and Mr. Nour-ullah Ghobeytizade, has come as a pleasant surprise, and been met with great joy. The two had, for the past several months, been detained on spurious charges in Ahvaz and Mash-had prisons, respectively.

FCNN says the news of Ehsan Behrouz’ freedom, in Mash-had, was first received some three weeks ago, but in consideration of his family’s concerns in view of the unprecedented restrictions imposed by Islamic courts, and multicity of security services of the Islamic Republic, it was not published at the time. Ehsan was released, after seven months of solitary isolation, on Thursday, June 14, 2012.

FCNN says that reports show, not only was Ehsan kept in isolation, he was for the most part, not allowed any contact with, nor visits from his family. It was only in June that his mother was allowed to see him, whereas the distressed family had been promised his freedom since early April.

Ehsan, who is a 24 year old Mash-had University student, was first detained by agents of Ministry of Intelligence and National Security of the Islamic Republic, more than two years ago, while on a visit to Bujnord in northern Khorassan.

Along with other Christians from Mash-had, Ehsan had planned to join the local Christians in a united prayer and deepening meeting. The rest of the group were also detained and jailed along with Ehsan.

At branch 901 of the Revolutionary Court of Mash-had in Koh-Sangi Street, Ehsan was placed in prison for more than three months, before being conditionally released after payment of over USD$ 80,000, FCNN reported.

“His temporary freedom only lasted until November 2011, but constant and unrelenting surveillance and shadowing had turned him into a nervous and troubled young man,” FCNN said in a media update.

Ehsan suddenly disappeared in Nov.2011, and it was some weeks later when his re-arrest was confirmed by the Islamic Regime, FCNN said.

FCNN went on to say that reports from Ahvaz, in South Western province of Khuzestan, also confirm the release of the Christian convert, Mr. Nour-ullah Ghobeyti-Zadeh, from prison on July 16, 2012, after more than 18 months of captivity.

FCNN stated that after the raid by agents of Ministry of Intelligence and National Security of the Islamic Republic, the arrest of its Pastor, and closure of the Church of Assembly of God in Ahvaz, Nour-ullah was said to have been transferred to the infamous prison of Esfahan.

During his 20-month imprisonment, starting on Dec. 20, 2010, Nour-ullah was only authorized a few hour-long visits from his family, and was never allowed legal representation.

FCNN added that Ghobeyti-Zadeh, who was 47 at the time of his arrest, is an agricultural day laborer, and was hosting a House Church Christmas meeting celebrating the birth of Christ in a fruit orchard, where he was employed at the time.

FCNN said: “Ten months earlier he had been picked up and taken to an un-identified religious court. There, he had been told by the self-declared judge to re-think about his conversion, recant his faith in Christ, and return to Islam.

“During the following months until his arrest in Dec. 2010, he was under surveillance, openly harassed by the state security agents, and a number of times had been ordered to report to the local police and security offices for interrogations.”

Ghobeyti-zadeh is the last of the Christmas 2010 arrested Christian converts being freed from prison, FCNN reported.

FCNN commented: “This sustained wave of attacks against Christianity and massive arrests of Christians was the result of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatullah Khamenei’s speech in Ghom, warning of ‘dangers of rapid and alarming spread of Christianity amongst people.’”

Tehran’s governor at the time, Morteza Tamadon, had called for severe consequences against Christians and new converts to Christianity in the Islamic Republic, FCNN said.

“Tamadon’s zeal has for now been relegated to the back seat as he is fighting to stay out of prison himself, facing massive corruption charges during his governorship of Tehran, brought against him by the Islamic Parliamentarians,” the agency reported.

FCNN stated the release of the two Christians by the Islamic Regime “is viewed favorably by Iranian-Christian community of believers, and they now demand the urgent release of Mr. Farshid Fat’hi from Evin prison.”

The Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced Fat’hi to six years in prison for his conversion to Christianity earlier this year.

Weekend violence ups refugee flight

(Photo courtesy of Christian Aid Mission)

Syria (MNN) ― This past week marked the bloodiest set of conflicts since the start of the Syrian civil war with a death toll of around 1,200.

The violence reached a climax over the weekend as President Bashar al-Assad’s military struck back against rebel forces occupying various districts of Damascus, the capital of Syria.

Government tanks and helicopters blasted the capital as pockets of rebels roamed the streets. According to The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 140 Syrians, including 43 troops, were slain in the clash on Saturday.

The retaliation of Assad forces on the rebel-held districts of Damascus came after a six-day series of rebel attacks resulting in the assassination of four Assad top security officials last week. The rebels marked their six-day operation as “Damascus Volcano.”

Bill Bray with Christian Aid Mission says the increased Syrian violence is affecting refugee numbers. “What we saw over the weekend especially was just everywhere.... All of the missions and outreaches that we’re supporting in the front-line states are seeing a massive increase in refugees from Syria coming across the border: all kinds of refugees, but especially Christians.”

EU officials report that the number of Syrian refugees fleeing the country has reached 115,000.
Bray says one of their workers witnessed the waves of Syrian refugees fleeing by night. “He said it looked like army ants were coming across the border all night. Everywhere he could look, under fences, everywhere there’s a hole, they’re coming across.”

Yet the hope of the Gospel casts a beam of light on a seemingly devastating situation. Christian Aid Mission is providing funds for Syrian refugees to provide humanitarian aid such as food packs and housing, along with God’s Word.

“Over the weekend, 20 new believers were baptized, so evangelism is still going on. Church planting and small group Bible studies also continue…devotional fervor is high,” says Bray.

And in Lebanon, Christians aren’t just reaching out to refugees in their country. According to Bray, “While the Turks are allowing Syrian refugees to cross the border to some extent, they’re not allowing any mobilization of the Turkish Christians to reach out to them. But the Lebanese Christians are crossing the border. They are asking us for New Testaments and 15,000 New Testament CDs to distribute, so they are viewing the Turkish refugee camps as an evangelistic opportunity.”

Such an evangelistic opportunity for such a great need, however, requires funding. Bray states, “Just as fast as the money comes in, we’re sending it over. The need is tremendous: the need for housing, rent, [and] food packs. We can feed a refugee family for $90 a week.... And of course, there’s a great hunger for the Word of God. So giving out Bibles; that’s really an important part of the witness.”

Pray for the safety and salvation of Syrian refugees and for the safety of evangelizing Christians.

Kremlin in Moscow (photo by Oleg Koryagin)

Russia (MNN) ― A new law in Russia will punish non-governmental organizations for receiving funding from abroad. 

The bill cleared the upper house of parliament and was signed into law last week by President Vladimir Putin. Foreign government leaders and Russian activists are concerned. Under the bill, if an NGO receives funding from abroad, they have to register as "foreign agents."

President of Russian Ministries Sergey Rakhuba says while the law is specifically targeting those involved in political activities, "We see that there is an effort to control protests. But I know from experience that many local authorities will interpret that in order to control religious activity."

While government leaders say the law applies to NGOs engaging in political activities, opponents say it is a Kremlin attempt to silence critics.

Rakhuba's response to this new law isn't from a religious persecution angle. "We're not saying that this law was aiming at evangelical or mission organizations, but since they are under the category of non-governmental organizations, definitely local authorities can interpret it as a signal to control specifically religious activities."

The term "foreign agents" will push many Russians away, especially organizations that would use outside funding to provide aid, resources, and the Gospel.

Rakhuba says Christian NGOs will be affected. "Most of those who receive support from foreign donors will be very much restricted. And, unfortunately, they will need to be more creative. Many of them will ignore (the law) and go back to receiving support underground."

"But, I don't think it will stop mission work," says Rakhuba.

One of the oldest NGOs in Russia says not only will they ignore the law, they'll challenge it in court. Rakhuba says, "Of course this law needs to be challenged. It needs to be challenged, not a by a few in Russia, but I think the foreign community, the human rights networks, need to address this issue and create some pressure. This law needs to be revised."

Will Russian Ministries curtail their work? Rakhuba says there's no need for them to do that. They need to continue reaching the lost through young church leaders. "True change will come when the Gospel will reach thousands and millions of Russian citizens." That's when these types of laws will end.

In the meantime, ironically, Russian Ministries needs your support. "The need in Russia, training next generation leaders, is bigger than ever before. And we still need support to provide resources for these young people." The funding covers Bibles, other Christian literature, and training and more.

Persecuted family finds rest in the body of Christ

Thailand (MNN) ― A family of five was recently forced to flee their home country in South Asia to avoid certain death. When they arrived in their new home, however, they discovered that life wasn't much easier.

Obaid Wasti ran a business and was the associate pastor of music in his home country. His family lived well. "Every day I bring lots of things home for my children," says Obaid. But that's not the case anymore.

The Wastis were attacked and threatened multiple times before deciding it was time to leave. The family was accused of converting people to Christianity, a crime punishable by death in their nation, according to Baptist Global Response.

After several death threats to the family, men finally stormed the Wasti home.

"They tied up me and my brother and took us into one room," 13-year-old Julie Wasti recounts.

"They beat my mother and father so hard and told them not to tell others about Jesus anymore or else they would kill them. That's why we ran away from there."

Yet the Wastis continued to faithfully pray for the Lord's provision. His answer came in the form of a small Baptist Church.

Another refugee gave the Wastis an address for a place known to help people: Calvary Baptist Church. The Bangkok church welcomed the Wastis with open arms. As Obaid shared and prayed with BGR partner Martin Chappell, another church member packed a food basket for the family using food from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund, coordinated through BGR to help refugees.

The Wastis still live in a windowless room with no furniture except for a bed. They hang their clothes from a rope stretched across the room. But the family is grateful for God's provision.

Julie says, "Now we have more food. Papa found Calvary Baptist Church. I know they love us like Jesus."

It's a stunning example of the body of Christ in action. You can be a part of this important Kingdom work by helping more refugees through the World Hunger Fund. Your prayers are also needed. Pray for God to use the Wastis' story to bring many people to eternal life. 

Imprisoned pastor in critical condition

Pastor Behnam Irani (Photo courtesy of VCM)

Iran (MNN) ― Behnam Irani, a 41-year-old Iranian pastor serving prison time, is currently facing severe health concerns due to physical persecution.

While serving his time in Karaj’s Ghezel Hesar Prison, Behnam has suffered several beatings from prison authorities and his cell mates. Authorities have ordered these beatings to occur regularly.

In a recent update, Voice of the Martyrs, Canada (VCM) reports that Behnam lost consciousness in the last few days due to colon complications and severe bleeding from ulcers. He was admitted into a military hospital.

Benham has since regained consciousness, but his health is reportedly declining because of harsh mistreatment and prison conditions. He is unable to walk or see well, and VCM says there are growing concerns that he may not even survive these next few months.

Serving a five-year sentence, Behnam has a little less than four years left to serve in prison. For the first few months of his sentence, he was held in solitary confinement.

His conviction occurred on January 2011 for crimes against national security. At the time of Behnam’s arrest, he was conducting a Bible study for 10 young Iranian men who had recently come to Christ.

Behnam is a husband and father to two children. His family is concerned about his poor health, especially since his brother died from intestinal cancer.

Ghezal Hesar Prison, where Behnam is held, is one of Iran’s largest and most notorious prisons for violence and cramped conditions. The head of Prisons Organization says it houses 20,000 inmates: 300 times its holding capacity.

Please pray for the Lord to fully restore Behnam’s health. Pray for Christ’s perfect comfort to give his family peace. Pray that prisoners and guards in Ghezal Hesar Prison will come to know Christ through Behnam’s example and faith.

Extremists poised to take control in Syria

Syria (MNN/OD) ― With Syrian President Bashar al-Assad possibly losing his grip on power, and rebels making major inroads, a possible end to the bloody civil war may be in sight. The United Nations estimates more than 10,000 have been killed in the violence since the crisis began in March 2011. Another report puts the total at more than 17,000, including 1,261 last week.

But while the defeat of Assad and the military would be welcome news to most, the sizeable Christian community of over 1.5 million is fearful for its future.

Under Assad, Christians enjoyed a measure of freedom to worship in Syria, which is 90% Muslim. In fact, Christians were granted a degree of religious freedom not seen in most other Middle Eastern countries -- before and after Arab Spring.

According to Reuters News, the rebels include the Free Syrian Army, al-Qaeda-style jihadists, the Muslim Brotherhood, and local pro-democracy Sunni liberals.

"If Assad falls, Christians in Syria are fearful of what will happen when a new government--probably a radical Islamic one--will come into power," says Open Doors USA President/CEO Dr. Carl Moeller. "Will their freedom to worship end?

Will persecution increase? Will they have to flee Syria with their families as have thousands of believers in Iraq?

"Already, thousands have been targeted and have fled Syria. Some have been forced to flee from cities like Homs and seek shelter and help from Christian churches in the area. 

Christians who supported Assad could face reprisal from the rebels. There is just a tremendous fear for their future."

A Christian from Syria asks, "What is the free world doing to prepare for that exodus? Who is going to welcome Syrian Christians?"

In the last few months, Open Doors has been responding to the pleas for help by providing emergency relief packages to displaced Syrian Christians ,as well as food and medical supplies. Open Doors works in partnership with leaders from churches in designated areas.

An Open Doors worker says, "The aid will help them survive. And it will be enhanced by the other work that Open Doors is doing in Syria, such as providing biblical training, trauma counseling, and discipleship training."

Moeller says believers must be on their knees in prayer for the Christians in Syria.

"Pray that if the rebels overthrow the Assad regime, they will not retaliate against Christians, forcing a mass exodus of believers from Syria," says Moeller. "Pray for an end to the chaos and violence. Pray that Syria will allow freedom of religion for all minorities. And pray that Christians will continue to reach out to Muslims who are also suffering from the violence."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Boko Haram kills six at the start of Ramadan

Nigeria (MNN) ― Six more people were killed late last week at the hands of Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram.

Attacks on Christian churches by the Boko Haram have been practically a weekly occurrence in Nigeria for the last couple of months. But this particular string of attacks was not directly against Christians. Instead, the attacks included a run-in with the military Joint Task Force (JTF).

Two people were killed in Maiduguri during a gunfight between the JTF and suspected Boko Haram members, according to Reuters. Gunmen later killed four people at a nearby market.

Interestingly, this all happened the day after Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan agreed to lift the state of emergency on several regions.

"It seems like they clearly are making a statement," says Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs. "But it also is the beginning of Ramadan, so it's interesting to think that may also play into this."

During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, jihadists often have increased their attacks. Ramadan just began on Friday.
More Boko Haram attacks like this only increase the concerns of Christians, many of whom bring machetes with them to church to defend themselves from militants. But the way these particular attacks were handled by the government is actually a good indicator.

"I think one of the positive things about this story is that the military was actually fighting back against Boko Haram," says Nettleton. "That has not always been the case in the attacks in Nigeria, so the fact that the military was involved--that they were trying to take an active role in stopping Boko Haram--is good news."

Better news than that is the prayerful approach Nigerian believers have begun to take. "As they think about defending themselves, they're also thinking about praying and seeking God's favor, and seeking the move of God's Spirit in Nigeria," says Nettleton.

Especially in this season of Ramadan when Muslims are more openly seeking God, believers are praying for Muslims and even Boko Haram members to meet Christ. Pray with them that the Holy Spirit would reveal His truth to many in Nigeria, not only so that the attacks might stop, but so that more people would be rescued from death and brought into the eternal grace and life of Jesus Christ. 

Syrian Christians Fear for Their Future if Extremists Take Control

SANTA ANA, Calif., July 23, 2012 /Christian Newswire/ -- With Syrian President Bashar al-Assad possibly losing his grip on power and rebels making major inroads, a possible end to the bloody civil war may be in sight. The United Nations estimates more than 10,000 have been killed in the violence since the crisis began in March 2011. Another report puts the total at more than 17,000, including 1,261 last week.

But while the defeat of Assad and the military would be welcome news to most, the sizeable Christian community of over 1.5 million is fearful for its future.

Under Assad, Christians enjoyed a measure of freedom to worship in Syria, which is 90 percent Muslim. In fact, Christians were granted a degree of religious freedom not seen in most other Middle Eastern countries -- before and after Arab Spring.

According to Reuters News, the rebels include the Free Syrian Army, al-Qaeda-style jihadists, the Muslim Brotherhood and local pro-democracy Sunni liberals.

"If Assad falls, Christians in Syria are fearful of what will happen when a new government -- probably a radical Islamic one -- will come into power," says Open Doors USA President/CEO Dr. Carl Moeller. "Will their freedom to worship end? Will persecution increase? Will they have to flee Syria with their families as have thousands of believers in Iraq?

"Already thousands have been targeted and have fled Syria. Some have been forced to flee from cities like Homs and seek shelter and help from Christian churches in the area. Christians who supported Assad could face reprisal from the rebels. There is just a tremendous fear for their future."

A Christian from Syria asks. "What is the free world doing to prepare for that exodus? Who is going to welcome Syrian Christians?"

In the last few months, Open Doors has been responding to the pleas for help by providing emergency relief packages to displaced Syrian Christians as well as food and medical supplies.  Open Doors works in partnership with leaders from churches in designated areas.

An Open Doors worker says: "The aid will help them survive. And it will be enhanced by the other work that Open Doors is doing in Syria, such as providing biblical training, trauma counseling and discipleship training."

Moeller says believers must get on their knees in prayer for the Christians in Syria.

"Pray that if the rebels overthrow the Assad regime, that they will not retaliate against Christians, forcing a mass exodus of believers from Syria," says Moeller. "Pray for an end to the chaos and violence. Pray that Syria will allow freedom of religion for all minorities. And pray that Christians will continue to reach out to Muslims who are also suffering from the violence."

To pray for Christians in Muslim-dominated countries such as Syria during Ramadan, go to

An estimated 100 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with millions more facing discrimination and alienation. Open Doors supports and strengthens believers in the world's most difficult areas through Bible and Christian literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development, prayer and presence ministry and advocacy on behalf of suffering believers. To partner with Open Doors USA, call toll free at 888-5-BIBLE-5 (888-524-2535) or go to our Website at

Religious Liberty Monitoring: US State Department fails to designate Boko Haram as FTO

Religious Liberty Monitoring: US State Department fails to designate Boko Haram as FTO: "-- Maintains socio-economic grievance is to blame for terror.
-- Prescribes economic development as remedy.

By Elizabeth Kendal

On Thursday 21 June, the U.S. State Department designated three Nigerians as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT). All three are senior leaders of Boko Haram with known links to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM): Abubakar Shekau (Boko Haram's most visible leader), Abubakar Adam Kambar and Khalid al-Barnawi. "


Christian house-church leader released after 560 days in prison

By Michael Ireland
Senior International Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

AHWAZ, IRAN (ANS) -- A house-church leader who had been arrested by security authorities because of his Christian faith together with some other Christian converts, has finally been released after 560 days in prison, according to Mohabat News ( ).
Noorollah Qabitizade was interrogated and tortured in prison. (Courtesy Mohabat News).
According to Mohabat News reporters, Noorollah Qabitizade, a Christian convert who had been arrested for his Christian faith, was released after being held captive for nearly 19 months. During his imprisonment, he was put in solitary confinement and interrogated many times.

Mohabat News says Mr. Qabitizade spent his time in prison in Dezful and Ahwaz. He was released on July 16, 2012 from Karoon prison in Ahwaz following an order issued by judicial authorities of Khuzestan province. Khuzestan province is about 800 KMs south-west of Tehran.

Noorollah Qabitizade was arrested on December 24, 2010 together with 10 other Christian converts. They had gathered to celebrate Christmas Eve in a house-church in Dezful when security authorities attacked their meeting, hand-cuffed and blind-folded him. He was then transferred to an abandoned house where only two security agents were present. Later he was transferred to the Intelligence office of Ahwaz for further interrogation.

Mohabat News says Qabitizade, who was a resident of Dezful, was subjected to numerous interrogation sessions.
In its online report of his release, Mohabat News says security interrogators subjected him to severe mental torture and solitary confinement in an effort to cause him leave his faith in Christianity. The mental torture ranged from forcing him to sign a disclaimer stating that he would stop evangelizing, to writing a letter denouncing his Christian faith.

Qabitizade’s trial was held in September 2011 in Criminal Branch one of Ahwaz court, chaired by Judge Pour-Mohammadian.
An eyewitness told Mohabat News that Mr. Qabitizadeh was brought to the court with his hands and feet in chains. To put more mental pressure on him and intimidate him, he was also told that he was going to be sentenced to death in that session of his trial.

Qabitizade, who is 48 years old, was among those arrested during a broad wave of arrests of Christians all across the country carried out by Iranian security and intelligence authorities at Christmas 2010.

Mohabat News says that at that time, security authorities arrested more than 60 Christians and house church members all across Iran in a pre-organized and well-coordinated plan. After these Christians were arrested, their families were informed that their charges were apostasy (changing religion), promoting Christianity, and being in touch with Christian organizations as well as the formation of house-churches.

“The day after this incident, many regime-supported media reported that evangelical Christian leaders in Tehran and other cities had been arrested. They broadcasted this report broadly in their own media,” the news agency stated.

Morteza Tamadon, Governor of Tehran, also called these Christians “extreme propagators who enter the body of Islam like ‘corrupted and deviated ones.’"

Tamadon also promised to increase the pressure and arrest of evangelical Christians.

Mohabat News says that in addition, during his speech on October 19 in Qom, for the first time Iranian Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei warned against the growth of house churches along with false mysticism and Baha'ism.

The agency said that following his speech a new wave of attacks by Iranian security and judicial authorities was initiated and made the situation even tougher for Christians, especially those with an Islamic background. It also caused the attacks to be more organized and coordinated.

Mohabat News explained that this situation has worsened since the beginning of 2011 and reached official churches as well. Iranian security authorities further restricted official churches and even ordered the cancellation of some Farsi-language church services and closure of some churches in Iran.

Mohabat News said these pressures continue even to the present day.

** 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

Christian Surgeon’s Heart Center under Threat from Muslims in Egypt

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

EGYPT (ANS) -- A charitable medical center that performs free heart operations on children in Egypt is under threat from radical Muslims, who want it closed down because it was founded by a Christian surgeon.

Sir Magdi Yacoub is a world renowned cardiothoracic surgeon
According to a news release from Barnabas Aid, the center in Aswan city was established by the world-renowned cardiothoracic surgeon, Sir Magdi Habib Yacoub, an Egyptian Christian who emigrated to Britain in 1962. His charitable organization covers all the center’s costs, and operations are performed free of charge on both Christian and Muslim children alike.

Barnabas Aid said the center’s Muslim director was interviewed on Egyptian television about the protests by radical elements in Aswan. She said that closing down the government licensed center would be a big loss for Egypt.

Barnabas Aid said Sir Magdi, who specializes in surgery on children with congenital heart defects, goes to the center in Aswan himself to perform operations on needy youngsters.

 His charity sends teams of medics to various parts of the developing world to treat for free children suffering from heart disease.

According to Barnabas Aid, the protests against his medical center follow the election last month of an Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, in Egypt, which heightened concerns for the future of Christians in the country.

Barnabas Aid said although Morsi has made encouraging overtones about being a “president for all Egyptians,” and even pledged to appoint a Christian vice-president, it seems that Islamists have been further emboldened by his election to push for their agenda.

Barnabas Aid said Sir Magdi, who was knighted in 1992, qualified as a doctor in Cairo in 1957 but soon experienced discrimination, which prompted him to emigrate. He became a consultant cardiothoracic surgeon at Harefield Hospital in 1973, and under his leadership it became the country’s leading transplant center.

Sir Magdi was involved in the first UK heart transplant, and his pioneering research has led to great advancements in heart and lung surgery. He is Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Imperial College London, having retired from the National Health service in 2001.

Barnabas Aid provides hope and relief for the persecuted church. For more information go

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