Friday, August 17, 2012

Christian Evangelism in the Skies of Iran!

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

© 2012 - MohabatNews all rights reserved.

IRAN (ANS) -- Iranian Christians, and especially Iranian Christian evangelists, are very aware of the risks of any attempt to express their faith.

According to Iranian Christian news agency Mohabat News, a report was published some time ago on a Iranian security website called “Mahdoudeh.” The report was titled “Christian evangelism and removing hijabs in the skies of Iran.”

Mohabat News said the report writer claimed that on an Iranian domestic flight some people noticed books and publications promoting, what they called, “Zionist Christianity.”

Mohabat News said the short report went on to say that a book entitled “Does God truly care about us?” was made available for passengers to read as part of an outreach package. The books were reportedly printed in Italy.

According to Mohabat News, the pro-regime website also said that distribution of evangelical books, especially the Gospels, among Iranian passengers in foreign airports, has noticeably increased since the beginning of this Persian year.

Mohabat News said the anti-Christian report on the website also connected women removing their hijab. (A hijab is a veil which covers the hair and neck. It is worn by Muslim women especially in the presence of unrelated adult males).

In addition, it claimed that some pilots and crew serving on foreign aircraft used by some domestic airlines like T. and others, removed their hijab and paid no attention to people and the flight's security team who asked them to cover themselves.

Mohabat News said “It is clearly evident that by saying T. Airlines the author of the report is pointing to Taban Airlines which is an airline company based in the religious city of Mashhad and owned by pro-government people. Taban Airlines owns four old Russian planes which people sarcastically call ‘Russian coffins,’ and are not interested in flying in them.”

Mohabat News said regarding the claim of the distribution of Christian books and connecting that with women removing their hijab, every Iranian citizen knows that rigid security measures are in place on all domestic and international flights departing from Iran.

On every flight, Mohabat News said, intelligence officers are present who board the plane as passengers and closely monitor all passengers and crew members.

Mohabat News commented, “Therefore the claim cannot be true that Christian evangelists distribute books promoting Christianity or as they have claimed ‘Zionist Christianity.’ It is incomprehensible how they have come to this conclusion and related it to women removing their hijab.”

Mohabat News said “Zionist Christianity” is a term Iranian security authorities use to suppress Christians in Iran. By calling Christians ‘Zionists,’ they aim to label them as Israeli spies.

Mohabat News commented, “However, it seems that the editor in chief and news editors of the pro-regime website have closed their eyes on ‘truth’ and the realities of Iran's society today and want to express their own views and understandings. It is not surprising to see fanatic news writers who only work for money writing hostile reports.”

The Mohabat News story concluded, “Anti-Christianity and anti non-Islamic ideas as well as treating other non-Islamic faiths as lies, is a deeply rooted practice in reports of pro-government journalists.”

Nigeria addresses the question: When is a terrorist group not a terrorist group?

Story photo: President Jonathon Goodluck.
 (Photos courtesy Voice of the Martyrs Canada)

Nigeria (MNN) ― You know the saying: 'If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck'?

It implies that an unknown subject can be identified by observing habitual characteristics. In this case, it's the group Boko Haram that has been hard at work spreading its message of "Western Education is sinful."

According to the Associated Press, the group is responsible for attacks on schools, churches and police stations. In the first six months of 2012, they killed well over 600 people and injured thousands more. They've declared a jihad on Christians in the North and are pushing for Sharia law throughout the country by whatever means possible. Yet, the government does not want them identified as a terror group.  

Nigerian government officials are protesting the U.S. State Department listing Boko Haram as a "Foreign Terrorist Organization." It's a move that "boggles the mind," says Voice of the Martyrs USA spokesman Todd Nettleton. "In June, the State Department designated three of the top Boko Haram leaders as 'Specially Designated Global Terrorists.' So the three top leaders are terrorists, but the group itself is not a terrorist group? It makes no sense."

Nettleton goes on to say it appears that "the status quo is working for them in the financial and trade areas even if it is not working for them in terms bringing a stop to these attacks."

There are concerns that such a designation would give the group credibility and embolden them to more attacks. The government also says Nigerian travelers would be inconvenienced by embarrassing scrutiny, humiliation and harassment. "It just complicates matters," says Nettleton, explaining the government rationale, "because it places restrictions on travel, it places restrictions on aid. So from the government's perspective, they don't want those restrictions; they don't want those issues to be raised. So they have said, 'Please don't call them a terrorist group.'"

Yet, Boko Haram's objectives have been clearly stated. "This is a group that is trying to make Nigeria into a Sharia state. They want to follow Sharia law. They have told the Christians, 'If you want peace in Nigeria, you should become Muslim because Islam is the only religion.'" Their actions, in any other context, would be considered terrorism. 

The government's stance on the terror designation sends an odd message to the Christians who have been caught between the desire to avenge loved ones, protect themselves, and yet 'turn the other cheek.' Nettleton notes, "The Nigerian government, while they don't want the world to call them a terrorist group, seems completely incapable of stopping the Boko Haram from these attacks."

Lack of recognition or effective deterrence is fueling more dissatisfaction. Despite the frequency of the attacks, there's been little attention paid to the plight of the Boko Haram's targets. Nettleton says, in fact, "The U.S. Government has said, 'Poverty has really caused this.

It's not a matter of ideology. It's really a matter that the people are poor and they're disenfranchised. That's why they've blown up your church.' That's not even the reality.  I think there's a frustration that the world doesn't recognize what's going on in Northern Nigeria."

However, Nettleton says even though the circumstances have created incredible fear among Christians, it hasn't stopped the advance of the Gospel. VOM has come alongside to provide support as needed, but he says, "Pray for the protection of all of our brothers and sisters there, those who are doing the Gospel work. I think, secondly, we can pray for fruit. We can pray that they will find receptive hearts, receptive minds, and people who really want to know the Truth."

Mosul is the most violent city in Iraq

Iraqi church before the exodus. (file photo)
Iraq (MNN/OD) ― Mosul is now one of the most violent cities in Iraq, with Christians and other minorities often targets of the violence.

As a result, thousands of Christians have left the Iraqi city since 2003 when U.S. forces deposed Saddam Hussein. The war triggered a wave of continuous violence in the second-largest city in Iraq.

Before 2003, Mosul was home to 75,000 Christians. Approximately 70% belonged to the Chaldean Church, while the rest were Syriac Orthodox and Catholic. Now approximately 25,000 Christians live in Mosul, which has a population of 2 million. Many more Christians live in the surrounding Nineveh province.

Dr. Carl Moeller, Open Doors USA President/CEO, labels the attacks against Christians in Mosul and all of Iraq as "religicide." He states: "Christians in cities like Baghdad and Mosul are gripped by terrorism. They are fleeing in droves.

Today it was reported that at least 20 people died in blasts and shootings across the country.

"With the spotlight currently on Syria, Nigeria, Afghanistan and the pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq last December, Iraq has been placed on the back-burner. But we as Christians in the West must continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in Iraq who face extinction if we don't pray and advocate for them."

Almost no day passes without someone being killed by bombs or bullets in the city, which is the capital of Nineveh province. The violence targets Christians but also policemen, soldiers or officials working for the government. In the midst of all this, it's not difficult to find examples of growing hostility toward Christians. In May, for example, it was reported that 20 families living in Mosul received threatening letters. The letters said that they had to move out of Mosul or face possible violence or kidnapping.

A Mosul Christian said terrorists in Mosul visited four real estate agents, asking the names of Christians who recently sold their houses. With this information, they know who has money and might be possible targets for kidnappings. "One of the agents refused to give information to the terrorists and was killed," said a spokesman for Open Doors.

Also in Mosul, the house of a Christian was set on fire, and the police dismantled a bomb placed in the car of another Christian.

General Ahmed M. Aljaboury, director general of the Mosul police, said: "Between 2005 and 2011, our operational command recorded the assassination of about 69 Christians, including university students, priests, female employees and housewives."

Two waves of killings and intimidation in 2008 and 2010 sent Christians fleeing from Mosul in such haste that the United Nations had to arrange emergency assistance. Many Christians have fled to Turkey, Jordan, Europe and the United States.

Before the Gulf War in 1991, the number of Christians in Iraq--ranked No. 9 on the Open Doors 2012 World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians--was estimated to be over 1 million. That number fell to an estimated 850,000 in 2003. Since then, the numbers have plummeted. Open Doors estimates the number of Christians remaining in Iraq at 345,000. However, the number decreases every month.

The role of Open Doors in Iraq includes distributing Bibles and Christian literature to churches and Internally Displaced People; supporting a project which translates literature, including the Bible, into the Kurdish languages; training of church leaders and new Christians; and training leaders in trauma counseling, especially to children.

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 Web site at

Monday, August 13, 2012

GAZA: shroud of despair descends on Christian community

Religious Liberty Monitoring: GAZA: shroud of despair descends on Christian community: "By Elizabeth Kendal

Gaza Christians
Local Christians in the Gaza Strip claim that two members of their community, Ramez al-Amash (24) and Hiba Abu Dawoud (32), were kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam.

According to Gaza's Greek Orthodox Archbishop Alexious, when Ramez al-Amash disappeared his parents filed a police complaint, but the police ignored it after learning that the mastermind behind the alleged kidnapping was a senior cleric identified with Hamas. Christians are blaming Salem Salama, chairman of the Palestine Scholars Association.  "


Uzbekistan tightens grip on Christians

Uzbek man (File footage courtesy of Open Doors USA)

Uzbekistan (MNN) ―Uzbekistan appears to be taking the repression of Christians one step further.

Joel Griffith with Slavic Gospel Association explains, "It seems the authorities are going into private homes and actually confiscating religious books from these homes during the raids they make; and they're also threatening fines."

The case stems from a series of recent raids, as reported by Forum 18 News. Based on the details of the case, Forum 18 began questioning the apparent violations of due legal process, denials of legal representation, misrepresentation defendant pleas, untimely verdicts, and so-called "expert analyses" that confused Protestant books with Jehovah's Witness books.

Griffith notes, "Police confiscated one Bible in the Uzbek language, and then there was a Bible in the Russian language that was confiscated. Then, from one Protestant home, reportedly, a book by John Bunyan was confiscated." It was during that raid, Griffith says, when "police allegedly said that it's prohibited to have such books at home, that they were going to be sent to the Religious Affairs Committee of the government, and that the owner of the books would be fined."

Griffith goes on to say that the alarm bells began ringing because "this latest report on the private homes being raided and books being confiscated is certainly a step up from what they'd been doing previously."

The alleged violations of due process would seem to be unconstitutional, which is the same word used to defend authorities' actions, according to Forum 18. The judge in one of the cases claimed that the defendant was "engaged in anti-constitutional activity and is a member of Jehovah's Witnesses, which was confirmed by the literature confiscated from him."

Wrong on that last count, it turns out. But Griffith says this is more insidious. "Previously, they had been raiding summer camps and trying to shut down churches here and there and stopping public witnessing. But going into private homes is certainly a new twist."

The Baptist in that case filed an immediate appeal, which has yet to be heard. "There was a fine imposed for possessing religious literature. There was a Baptist fined. He was given the equivalent of 40 times the minimum monthly salary. That's about $1300."

Griffith says fear is initially what led to these vaguely-worded criminal codes. "The secular governments of these countries had been concerned about radical Islam. The thought was that if they're going to crack down on radical Islam for the appearance of fairness then, they needed to crack down on everybody."

However, as the countries in the former Soviet Bloc became more Muslim, "No matter what a constitution will say in a lot of these countries, the authorities pretty much end up doing what they want,"says Griffith.

Meanwhile, police have continued their raids and confiscations. "We know that the churches there are going to continue to proclaim the Gospel, no matter what the personal risk they have to themselves," says Griffith. The Body of Christ in places like Uzbekistan need advocates. "Obviously, the western governments will continue to protest and intervene in cases like these. 

But we as believers here in the West, above all, need to pray for our brothers and sisters there and come alongside and support them however we can."

Uzbekistan is #7 on the Open Doors World Watch List of countries known for the persecution of Christians. Pray for pastors trying to lead their churches with limited resources. Pray for courage for Muslim-background believers who experience great pressure from family and society.