Saturday, September 8, 2012

Iran: Pastor Nadarkhani Released, Acquitted Of Apostasy

He thanks everyone who supported and prayed for him

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

IRAN (ANS) -- ASSIST News Service ( has confirmed that Youcef Nadarkhani, the Church of Iran pastor sentenced to death for apostasy, has been released and is now at home with his family.

According to reliable sources, including Christian Solidarity Worldwide ( and Present Truth Ministries (, Pastor Nadarkhani was acquitted of apostasy, but found guilty of evangelizing Muslims during court proceedings that took place today (Saturday, September 8, 2012).

He was sentenced to three years imprisonment for the latter charge, but released because he had already served this time.

Pastor Nadarkhani was arrested in his home city of Rasht in 2009 soon after questioning the Muslim monopoly of religious instruction for children, which he felt was unconstitutional. He was sentenced to death for apostasy in 2010, a decision that was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2011. Although the Iranian penal code did not specify death for apostasy, a constitutional loophole allowed judges to refer to Sharia law and authoritative fatwas to justify such a sentence. Today the pastor had been expected to face new charges for unspecified crimes, but was instead released.

CSW’s Chief Executive, Mervyn Thomas said, “CSW is delighted to learn of Pastor Nadarkhani's release after a long incarceration. We commend the Iranian judiciary for this step, which is a triumph for justice and the rule of law. While we rejoice at this wonderful news, we do not forget hundreds of others who are harassed or unjustly detained on account of their faith, and CSW is committed to continue campaigning until all of Iran's religious minorities are able to enjoy religious freedom as guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is party.”

Jason DeMars of Present Truth Ministries, “We give thanks to God for his deliverance and the answer to our prayers. Our sources in Iran have informed us that Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has been acquitted of apostasy and found guilty of evangelizing Muslims. He has been sentenced to 3 years in prison which he has already served.

“He has been released from prison and has now been reunited with his family and is at home with them.”

DeMars added that Pastor Youcef had said, “Thank you to everyone that has supported me with your prayers.”

“We are filled with joy from this news and are so grateful that God has delivered our brother,” said DeMars.

“Please don’t forget what happened to Pastor Mehdi Dibaj who had his apostasy charges reversed and then was murdered shortly after his release. Pray for him, his family and everyone involved in his case.”

14yr old girl released on bail into protective custody

Islamabad, Pakistan, Sept. 7 (Open Doors News) — A court has ordered that Rimsha Masih, the 14 year old accused of blasphemy, is to be released into protective custody, on bail security of approx. $10,500. It’s rare that bail is granted in a blasphemy case, partly for the defendant’s own safety, but Masih’s lawyers pleaded that she was a juvenile. The girl is expected to be released shortly, after which a further application will be made to drop all charges against her.  Robinson Asghar, aide to the Minister for National Harmony, told Reuters she is expected to re-join her family in a secret location. Asghar said there are no plans to send Masih abroad. Prosecution lawyers said this was a risk, as a result of the prominence the case has received in international media. Asghar’s boss, Minister Paul Bhatti, is closely concerned with the girl’s security after his brother Shahbaz, then himself Minister for Minorities, was shot dead in March 2011 for challenging the blasphemy laws.

Rimsha’s original accuser, her neighbor Malik Ammad, was supported by the local mosque leader, Khalid Jadoon. In Friday’s hearing, Ammad’s lawyers argued that Rimsha should not receive bail, as she had confessed. However, Pakistan’s leading daily ‘Dawn’ reports that, on Wednesday, police interviewed Rimsha again for an hour, during which she is reported to have denied all charges. The mosque leader has now been charged with blasphemy by planting pages of the Quran among burnt papers in Rimsha’s  bags.  He denies the charge, seen as desecration of the Quran, carrying a sentence of life imprisonment. He could also be convicted of falsely accusing a minor.  Jadoon remains in custody until Sep 16th.

Human Rights Watch and civil society groups welcomed the decision. The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement, speaking to Open Doors News, hailed this as a landmark case.  
Rimsha, resident in a sector of Islamabad, G12, where many poor Christian families live, was reported to police on Aug. 16 on the testimony of neighboring Muslims who accused her of carrying burned pages of Quranic verses. Her defense has argued she is too young to face blasphemy charges as an adult, and too mentally handicapped to even understand the concept of blasphemy.

Her case has taken several dramatic turns.

On Aug. 28 a medical report determined the girl to be 14 years old. Her attorneys considered the medical opinion to be powerful evidence that would persuade the court to shift Rimsha’s case to the juvenile courts, where potential penalties are less severe.

Instead, the court delayed a decision and agreed to a new medical exam at the insistence of lawyer representing Rimsha's accuser. The lawyer hinted strongly that there would be violence if the girl were released on bail and her case transferred out of the adult court system:

"This girl is guilty,” said Rao Abdu Raheem, a lawyer for the man who has accused the girl of blasphemy against Islam. “If the state overrides the court, then God will get a person to do the job.”

One of the girl’s attorneys, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, said Raheem's remarks amounted to "an open threat."

The most dramatic development yet occurred Sept. 2 when police, acting on information provided by members of a local mosque, arrested a Muslim cleric on suspicion of supplying Rimsha with the torn Quranic pages she was later accused of desecrating herself. The new twist forced yet another delay in a determination whether Rimsha would be released on bail.

Rimsha’s attorneys say she and her family never could return to their home, in the Mehrabad sector of Islamabad.

Rimsha’s arrest has prompted widespread international condemnation of Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws. Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has ordered an investigation, and has said the law must not be used to settle personal scores. Prominent Muslim clerics in Pakistan urged the courts not to rush to judgment under public pressure, though the law is widely popular among many ordinary Pakistanis.

The laws have been especially in the spotlight since a Christian mother-of-five, Asia Bibi, was sentenced to death in November 2010 for insulting the Prophet Muhammad. She remains in prison.

In Jan 2011, two months before the death of Shahbaz Bhatti, the powerful Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was killed by his own bodyguard forpublicly urging reform of the blasphemy laws. His assassination divided Pakistani opinion, with many hailing the bodyguard as a hero for what he’d done. 


Saudi Arabia: Convert flees; helpers to face court

-- Interpol and Swedish authorities aid Saudi Embassy to hunt convert.

By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 175 
Special to ASSIST News Service

AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- Since late July Saudi media have been buzzing with reports that a 28-year-old Saudi woman has embraced Christianity and fled the country, staying initially in a church in Lebanon before moving on to Sweden. According to the Saudi Gazette, the woman, Maryam, appeared on an Arabic TV channel saying she was tired of performing prayers and fasting during Ramadan -- rituals that never brought her any benefit. She also criticised Saudi Arabia's Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. She claimed to have been converted through a dream and said that though she was raised to hate Judaism and Christianity she has come to love those religions since finding peace in Christianity.

The woman's father said his daughter was working in an insurance company in Al-Khobar (in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province) when her boss, a Lebanese Christian man, influenced her and ultimately encouraged her to leave Islam. According to Saudi investigators, a second man, a Saudi national, helped the woman obtain false documents and leave the country. The woman's family have pressed charges against the two men because apostasy (leaving Islam) is an Islamic capital offence and a Saudi woman is not allowed to get a passport without the permission of her male guardian. The men will face court on Saturday 15 September.

Prosecuting lawyer, Humood Al-Khaldi, said that whilst the penalty in Islam of death for apostasy is clear, 'the roles played by the two men, the Saudi and Lebanese, in making the girl become Christian should be taken into consideration'. He said 'the court should make sure first that the girl was coerced into converting to Christianity and fleeing the country'. According to Gulf News, 'Most Saudis reacting to the Khobar woman saga . . . have been calling for stringent action against the Lebanese and Saudi nationals for their alleged roles in the case, claiming that they were "well aware of the consequences of their act".'

Domestically, the totalitarian Wahhabist Saudi regime will be keen to perpetuate its lie that Saudi Arabian citizens are 100 percent Muslim and that the land of the two holy mosques could never produce Saudi Arabian Christians! Consequently it will be imperative that the Saudi woman, Maryam, be deemed to have been emotionally unbalanced and coerced and/or kidnapped -- anything but a convert. Likewise the Saudi man must be deemed to be an opportunistic criminal -- anything but a sympathiser.

Saudi media are sparing no effort to influence public opinion. Whilst initial reports described Maryam as a 28-year-old professional, later reports simply describe her as a 'girl'. (One article stated she is 17.) According to the Saudi Gazet te, Maryam's conversion was nothing more than that of a 'girl' forming an 'emotional attachment to a Christian young man'. In other words, her act was emotional not rational. It also claimed the 'girl' rejected Islamic rituals only because she had not been properly taught to understand and appreciate them -- her action was based on ignorance, not reason. The Saudi Arabic daily Al Youm claimed Maryan had contacted them, denying she had appeared on television, maintaining she is still a Muslim and requesting help to return home. According to Gulf News, Maryam's family has suggested she may be 'a victim of an international organisation trafficking in people'.

On 2 September the Saudi Gazette reported that 'Interpol is co-ordinating with the Saudi Embassy in Stockholm and Swedish authorities to return the girl to her homeland before her "kidnappers" move her to another country.' The embassy reportedly has started a search for the woman, with the aid of Swedish authorities.

  • break the chains of fear and darkness that keep the hearts and minds of Saudi Arabs shackled to an Islamic Jesus who cannot save, while the biblical Jesus is waiting to show grace.
    '. . . you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.' (John 8:32) 

  • work powerfully in and through Henna Sarkees, the Lebanese, and his Saudi colleague when they face the court in Al-Khobar on Saturday 15 September. May this trial be redeemed for the glory of the LORD. (Pray through Matthew 10:16-20 and 26-33.)
  • protect Maryam from a forced return to Saudi Arabia where, as an apostate, she may well face violent retribution, even death.

To view this RLPB with hyperlinks, visit the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Christian worker murdered in Jordan

Jordan (IMB) ― Jordanian authorities are investigating the death of Southern Baptist worker Cheryll Harvey whose body was discovered in her apartment in Irbid, Jordan, on Tuesday, Sept. 4. Foul play has been confirmed in the death of the 55-year-old single woman from Texas.

Harvey had served the Jordanian people for 24 years, demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ through teaching English and other subjects in connection with the Jordan Baptist Society.

"Cheryll was greatly loved by both our personnel in the Middle East and by her many students," IMB President Tom Elliff said. "We are faced once again with a sobering reminder of the brevity of life and the importance of faithfully serving the Lord to the very end of our time on earth. Cheryll has left for us a great example that we should follow.

"She...will always be remembered for her quiet and unassuming spirit, as well as her passion for sharing the Good News," Elliff said.

Harvey was a member of College Heights Baptist Church in Plainview, Texas, and grew up attending First Baptist Church in Sudan, Texas. Family and colleagues in the United States have been notified and await word about the circumstances surrounding her death. Harvey is survived by two brothers who reside in Texas.

"As with any event such as this, it is imperative that we remember Cheryll's surviving family members and friends," Elliff said, "and that we lift them up in prayer during these days. We best honor her by giving honor to the Lord Whom she so faithfully served."

Robert Roecker, pastor of First Baptist Sudan, said the church is in a "state of shock." Harvey had visited her childhood church several times since Roecker became pastor, offering slideshows of her work in the Middle East.

A friend of Harvey's relayed to him that "Cheryll talked about how when she retired she might just stay in Jordan. She just really loved it there and loved the people."

"The thing that always astounded us was when you heard her speak she was just a meek and mild person with just a soft voice," Roecker recalled. "It's not the picture you have in your mind of someone who is on the front lines in Jordan. To have that courage and faith was amazing to us. The folks who knew her here were always saying how surprised they were at what was God was able to do through her."

LaDelta Vernon, Harvey's third-grade teacher who would often talk to her when Harvey came home on occasional furloughs, said she always imagined that the quiet, well-behaved girl with the distinctive laugh would grow up and raise three daughters. As it turned out, she never married. She was a helper, Vernon said, so her teaching English wasn't a surprise. Her teaching it in the Middle East was, however.

"She was a good student. If she was your friend, she was your best friend. She didn't talk behind people's back. She was just a sweet, sweet girl," Vernon said. "She was doing what she wanted to do, what God called her to do."

Pakistan Christian Cabinet member urges re-think of blasphemy law

Rimsha Masih (Image courtesy Asia News)
Pakistan (MNN) ― What began as a blasphemy accusation has led to scandal and a call to re-evaluate Pakistan's blasphemy law.

Todd Nettleton, spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs USA, says the blasphemy law is often misused by Muslims to settle personal scores with Christians. Even unproven allegations can prompt a violent public response.

"Whatever it is that you wanted to get even with them for, you can take care of that while they're locked away in prison", says Nettleton. "Even if eventually the court says, 'There was no evidence of this. This is a ridiculous charge; let this person go.' They've still lost four to seven years of their lives fighting the charges and waiting for the legal process to go forward."

Nettleton goes on to say, "The level of what it takes to get the charges filed is so small, and it really ruins somebody's life." Gospel work has been negatively impacted, too. He explains that "if you say anything negative about Mohammed, that's blasphemy. Obviously as we share the Gospel, we want to do that out of a sense of love and out of a sense of respect. But at some point, when you compare two religions, you're probably going to say something negative about Islam and about Mohammed and about the Quran. All of those things would fall under the blasphemy laws there in Pakistan."
In other words, the interpretation is loose, and yet the penalties are harsh. Convictions carry the potential of a life sentence for desecrating the Quran and the death penalty for insulting the prophet Muhammad.
The case that started the ball rolling involves a young girl, Rimsha Masih, who is developmentally disabled. She is in custody nearly three weeks after she was accused of burning pages containing verses from the Quran.

In an odd twist to the case, Nettleton says, "The mullah at her local mosque: apparently now there are witnesses who say he put the burned pages in her stuff and then took the stuff to the police and said, 'This is Rimsha's stuff.' She's been burning pages from a Quran'."

Investigating authorities found the motive revealing. "Apparently now, it was all a set up by him to try to get the Christians out of the village or create animosity by the Muslims toward the Christians. So that evidence coming on top of the questions that were already there because of her age, or because of her mental capacity, is really giving some momentum to this idea of 'this is really a black eye for the entire country to have these laws on the books.'" With that evidence, the cleric was arrested for tampering with evidence. Activists hope to use the case to stop the abuse of Pakistan's strict laws on insulting Islam.

As a result of the turn of events, activists hope Masih could be released as early as tomorrow. According to Open Doors News, Rimsha Masih is likely to be cleared of the blasphemy charge against her, but Nettleton says the family's life is changed. "Even if she is released on Friday and is returned to her family, there is still an issue of safety for them that we can pray about and pray for."

Police put the girl in jail both to placate angry demonstrators and to keep Rimsha safe from attack. Her parents likewise were removed to protective custody, while hundreds of Christian neighbors fled to the relative safety of more distant Islamabad sectors.

Paul Bhatti is the Minister for National Harmony, and the only Christian on the cabinet. He is calling for a re-evaluation of how the law is enforced. His brother and predecessor Shahbaz Bhatti was gunned down last year for speaking out against the blasphemy law.

However, Nettleton says the circumstances now are different. "The fact that someone has suggested reforming the blasphemy law is not a new thing. What will be interesting to see--especially in light of this mullah being arrested--is if this gains any traction within the legislative process there and if there is really some practical change for the Christians in Pakistan."

Pray for justice, as it relates to the blasphemy law. This is a unique opening to change laws that are unfair. "Pray for the Christian community there, regardless of what happens with the government or what happens with the blasphemy laws, that they will continue to focus on Christ and be a witness for Him in spite of whatever laws are on the books or whatever persecution comes their way."

Head of Open Doors USA steps down

(Photo courtesy Open Doors)

USA (ODM) ― Dr. Carl Moeller announced Tuesday that he is stepping down as president/CEO of Open Doors USA. Open Doors is an international ministry that supports and strengthens persecuted Christians in the most dangerous countries in the world.

Moeller is leaving Open Doors USA after nine years to accept the position of president and managing partner of Sequoia Global Resources, located in Irvine, California.

"It has been a joy and privilege working with my persecuted brothers and sisters around the world over the past nine years," said Moeller. "They have taught me so much about being faithful in the midst of suffering. My prayer is that more Christians in the West become informed about persecution and unite as one in supporting persecuted believers.

"It also has been my privilege to work with so many dedicated people at Open Doors. Many of them literally risk their lives to bring Bibles, conduct seminars, and bring hope and comfort to marginalized believers."

The Open Doors USA Board announced that board member Steve Ridgway has been appointed interim CEO during the transition period. Ridgway is executive director of Northwest Network Foundation, Puyallup, Washington. Northwest Network Foundation is a non-profit organization that mentors existing and emerging leaders. Ridgway has been an Open Doors USA board member for nine years.

"For the past nine years, Carl Moeller has been a voice for Christ-followers living in the midst of persecution," said Ridgway. "Through the artistry of his vision and voice, he has clearly and vividly painted a picture of what the church looks like where following Jesus is both difficult and deadly. Carl's presence will be missed, but his vision will remain."

Ridgway added: "The future of Open Doors USA will be to move forward in filling the CEO's position during this transition and to continue to support our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world."

Open Doors International CEO Jeff Taylor stated: "Carl's passion for persecuted Christians was evident in his nine years as president of Open Doors USA. He desperately wanted the American church to be more aware of the persecution of Christians, but he also wanted the church to mobilize on behalf of our brothers and sisters suffering for their faith in Jesus Christ. I know Carl will take that same passion and desire to his new ministry role."

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.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

No end in sight in Syria civil war

Syria (MNN) ― The United Nations says more than 100,000 people fled Syria last month as the civil war exploded out of control. Over the weekend, Syrian aircraft went on the offensive, going after what they're calling insurgents. However, many of those killed are civilians, caught in the middle of this conflict that's trying to push President Assad out of power.

New U.N. statistics indicate the number of refugees in neighboring countries exceed 220,000. According to reports, fewer than half of Syrian hospitals are even functioning.

E3 Partners Vice President Tom Doyle says, "The government is holding nothing back. Aircraft is flying in and blowing up things. Nobody really even has a handle on how many people are dead. The statistics are being withheld by the government."

Rebels want President Assad to step down. Doyle says the sad thing is: there are no signs that the situation will get any better. "Iran is backing Syria, and Russia is in the background--and so is China. The Arab League is supporting the Sunnis. It's just two groups that are going to keep going at each other, and innocent people are caught in the middle."

While the situation appears desperate and hopeless, Doyle says one leader told him, "We're praying that God uses every one of these terrible, horrible situations for His glory, and that it would open up people's hearts that the only peace they're ever going to experience comes from Jesus Christ."

Doyle says it's already happening. The leader added, "We have met Alawites and Sunnis that are now convinced that Jesus is the only way. This religious hatred: they're not seeing it from Christians."

Christians in Jordan are doing everything they can to help the growing refugee population. Doyle says e3 Partners in Syria have been able to help because of donations from people like you. "We've had some significant funding come in to help feed them, clothe them, and provide places for them to stay. And they understand that this is coming from believers and they are overwhelmed by it."

You can help e3 Partners do even more with your donation. Click here to help Syrian refugees.

Doyle says this kind of a conflict can be something God uses to bring Muslims to Himself. However, He's also using dreams and visions. With 60-70% of the Muslim world illiterate, the supernatural may be responsible for Muslims giving their hearts to Christ, says Doyle. He's collected those stories and has written a book called, "Dreams and Visions: Is Jesus Awakening the Muslim World?" It's about "dreams and visions that sound very much like the Old and New Testament-kind of experience where Jesus appears to them in a dream."

While many believers question the validity of these reports, the book describes them. Doyle says, "90 percent of the Muslims who have dreams about Jesus are led to faith in Christ with someone who reaches them with the Bible and shares God's Word with them."

As they do, they talk about dreams and visions of the Bible.

Four years: shadow of anti-Christian pogrom lingers

India (MNN) ― Four years after the anti-Christian pogrom in India's Orissa State, 10,000 remain displaced.

Dave Stravers, president of Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Mission India, explains that in the wake of the violence, "Promises were made to these tribal villagers by government officials, but really not kept. People are afraid to go back because there are still threats of violence and even continuing violence in the area."

Justice has been slow in coming, so nearly 5,000 victims and survivors of the 2008 communal violence in Kandhamal district, Orissa, lent their voices of protest at a public rally marking the fourth anniversary of the violence and call for justice, peace, and harmony.

The attacks, led by Hindu extremists, caused 55,000 Christians to flee their homes. They have little recourse, Stravers says, because "these tribal Christians would be considered the bottom of the social ladder, so they don't have much political clout. They're discriminated against anyway, so they're just basically being ignored by the powers that be."

Asia News reports bear that out. Of the 3,232 complaints filed by victims and their families, district police accepted 48% of the cases. A scant 828 were registered as a first information report (FIR).

The numbers from Asia News also show that out of 245 cases dealt with by the Fast Track Court, convictions were obtained in 73 cases. Another 267 cases are still waiting to go to trial. Of the thousands accused in the pogroms, only 452 have been convicted; all the others were acquitted of the charges. Six have been sentenced to life in prison out of the 30 cases involving murder.

Despite the slow journey to justice, the work of Mission India continues, notes Stravers. "We still continue to work in all of Orissa, in all the different districts, including the tribal districts--all those places where you have these incidents of violence and our partners continue to work."

However, teams have had to be more careful in the days since the 2008 riots. "Obviously in those places where there has been this violence and continuing threats, there are many Christian workers that just don't feel that it's safe to carry on ministry. For us, that's the big prayer request."

Then, this news came: the Himachal Pradesh High Court struck down two provisions of the anti-conversion law. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported the decision on August 30.

Stravers says, "The changes that the Himachal Pradesh High Court delivered are really good for Orissa because they struck down a section of the law which makes it mandatory for any person seeking to convert to go and give prior notice to local authorities before he actually would be baptized."

On the other, "The court decision of Himachal Pradesh did not strike down the entire law, and people are unhappy about that." Stravers goes on to add, "The prayers are that these anti-conversion laws will continue to be struck down piece by piece, if necessary."

Yet, because the legal precedence has been set, they're hoping for a similar response to follow in neighboring states. "Orissa has the same law. Technically, in Orissa if you become a believer and you want to be baptized, you have to go to the chief of police and receive their permission first to do this. Of course, this sets you up for all kinds of intimidation/threats of violence."

Stravers knows their team. Regardless of what happens with the anti-conversion laws, the Gospel will still go forward. In fact, so far, "People are baptized, usually en masse, without first seeking permission because they're going to do it whether they get permission or not. So this section of the law is not routinely enforced."

Disruption their partners endure isn't on the same scale as the anti-Christian violence of 2008. However, it comes regularly. One of their literacy class teachers and his mother were recently assaulted and warned to stop their work or be driven out of the village. Stravers says what happened next is a near-daily occurrence throughout India. "They were both told, 'Convert back to Hinduism within a week or else leave the village and stop your work.' They're praying. They don't know quite what to do. It's a real situation of severe persecution for anyone who is aggressively bringing good news to people."

Pray for patience in this situation. Once the villagers learn to read, they will see the benefits of finishing this class. Pray for patience and wisdom for the teacher and his family. It's only a matter of time before something good comes from the Gospel seeds planted.

Stravers sums it up this way: "Jesus said repeatedly to His disciples, even when He was predicting persecution, 'Do not be afraid. Speak boldly because Jesus reigns.' So that's what we pray for."

Pakistani Christian Parents worry about ‘the next Rimsha’

Hushed conversations amid the country's renewed debate

LAHORE, Pakistan, Sept. 3 (Open Doors News) — Nabil was out pretending to wash his father’s car, as an evening breeze cut through Pakistan’s monsoon humidity. Together with his father and a Christian neighbor, they had made their way out of the house late last week on this everyday pretext. In reality, they were trying to prevent their Muslim neighbors and the women in their families from overhearing or worrying over their conversation.

As he wiped the car, Nabil spoke in hushed tones to their friend from two blocks away and his father, a pastor in Lahore. Nabil had come home to spend the summer with his family. Natrually, the topic was Rimsha Masih, the young Islamabad Christian girl arrested Aug. 16 after Muslim neighbors told police she was carrying burned pages of Quranic texts.

Because of the vulnerability of Christians in Pakistan, especially when questioning the country's blasphemy law, Open Doors News is not publishing his real name.

"I live and work in the Middle East, so I am able to send my children to school here in Pakistan," Nabil said. "But I am seriously thinking of coming back now. What happens if my little Zari becomes the next Rimsha, or my wife the next Aasiya (Bibi, the first woman sentenced under Pakistan’s blasphemy law)? What good is school, if she will only graduate into prison?”

Nabil’s conversation echoed questions being raised across Pakistan. He said there is little that will change in terms of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law.

"God’s word has told us that there will be trials and tribulations, and that there will be persecution for Christians,” he told the neighbor, who questioned how Pakistani Christians could have any hope for a future.

"That is our future before we go to heaven. Either we accept that difficulty will come, or we pretend we have the right to something outside of the Word of God. Let us just seek His grace and hope.”

The conversation continued in low tones. All three were afraid their voices might carry to the neighbors. Nabil’s family lives on the second floor of a home that belongs to a Muslim landlord who lives directly below them. He is always concerned that his children will say something to cause them to be falsely accused of blaspheming against the prophet Mohammad, the Quran, or Islam.

The story of Rimsha has shaken Christian families across Pakistan, and has re-ignited national debate on the blasphemy law. Immediately after Rimsha's arrest, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari warned against misuse of the law. The Sept. 2 arrest of a Muslim cleric on suspicion of placing the religious texts into the girl's possession has elevated tensions to a high pitch.

"President Zardari has finally spoken! Thank goodness someone came to the rescue, although it seems a meager and useless attempt,” the neighbor said with some skepticism, because Rimsha’s ordeal follows three particularly devastating cases.

After being falsely accused and arrested in June 2009, Aasiya Bibi became the first woman in Pakistan sentenced to death under the blasphemy law. She has been languishing in a Pakistani prison and solitary confinement ever since. Her controversial case prompted criticism of the blasphemy law from Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, who were subsequently assassinated. Threats also have been leveled at Sherry Rehman, the Pakistan Ambassador to the United States.

Copyright 2012 Open Doors News

United Nations crisis meeting on Syria ends in failure

(Photos courtesy SAT-7)

Syria (SAT7/MNN) ― The United Nations gathered last week to try to come to some solution to the Syrian violence.

Even as the world's leaders puzzled over the lack of safe zones and supporting refugee camps, rebels kept the government forces occupied with a barrage of attacks in Aleppo, and the violence spilled over the border into Tripoli, Lebanon.

That led to requests for U.N. help from Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, which are bearing the brunt of the mounting refugee crisis.

SAT-7, a Christian satellite television ministry to the Middle East and North Africa, has studios in Beirut. "The condition in Lebanon is becoming more and more difficult for everybody. There aren't a lot of opportunities for young people," says Naji Daoud, Executive Director of the SAT-7 studio in Beirut. The unrest has added to the challenges facing the region, both acknowledged and answered by SAT-7.

About 30,000 Syrian refugees have flowed into Lebanon since the uprising against the regime of President Bashar Assad. According to Naji, wealthy Syrian refugees typically rent hotel rooms or apartments, while poor Syrian refugees live in tents in substandard conditions. Many of the poorer refugees are alienated from the assistance of Lebanese who support Syrian President Assad.

Naji says that churches, on the other hand, are helping these individuals. At the same time, while there has been an influx of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, there has also been an exodus of Lebanese Christians. The exodus is in response to the lack of job and educational opportunities in Lebanon, and the decline in state services.

"Bridges," a SAT-7 show broadcast from its Beirut studio, is confronting Lebanon's challenges head-on. An entire episode was dedicated to the effect of Syria's conflict on Lebanon. Tapping into widespread concerns, the show host posed the question, "Are Christians in danger?" Show guest Gussan Hejar said of Christians, "They fear the unknown today."

SAT-7 USA President Rex Rogers weighs in on importance of their during crisis times. "We broadcast also, in terms of live programming, sometimes panels of individuals who talk about how to protect yourself, how to exercise your 'rights,' so to speak, how to be salt and light in a society that isn't open to Christians doing that kind of thing, typically."

Rogers goes on to say that as viewers also minister to the staff, another picture is emerging. "I think God is drawing the Church (capital C) together in the Middle East, and they're performing an incredible function of connecting with these folks and helping them to get through a very, very difficult time."

Building the Church remains SAT-7's goal, while at the same time offering a message of comfort and hope to all through the presentation of a Christian worldview. That extends far beyond the borders of the Middle East and North Africa, explains Rogers. "It makes the American Christian community a little more aware, that is to say the region is more salient, it's more on their mind, and they understand more so they respond more quickly."

Despite uncertainty, the team at SAT-7 has no plans to go anywhere. That sends a strong message to their viewers: they're committed to the community. Developing future projects sends the message that they're sending down roots. Rogers says, "We have a new initiative, or project, we call the TEACH project: TEACH stands for Theological Education for Arab Christians at Home, and it's simply Bible instruction and discipleship. It's helping people who've recently come to the Lord to be able to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord."

With Syria's violence in the foreground, it may be some time before the fighting stops and things settle down. In the meantime, SAT-7, along with its entire sister channels, SAT-7 PARS, SAT-7 KIDS, SAT-7 ARABIC, SAT-7 TURK and SAT-7 PLUS are all working to bring a measure of peace that passes understanding.

Christians still suffering in Orissa state

Tens of thousands still homeless following 2008 violence.
 (Image courtesy of Voice of the Martyrs Canada)

India (MNN) ― As if being terrorized by Hindu extremists and watching their homes burn to the ground wasn't enough, believers are still waiting for justice and compensation after four years.Voice of the Martyrs Canadasays 10,000 believers are still homeless after radicals destroyed over 5,000 homes and hundreds of church buildings throughout late 2008 and early 2009.

Pray for these suffering believers.

India's Orissa state (now called Odisha State) has always been a hotbed for anti-Christian violence. But it reached a new peak following the assassination of Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati on August 23, 2008. Saraswati was the leader of India's radical Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP). Although a Marxist group claimed responsibility for Saraswati's death, the VHP pinned the blame on Christians and launched vehement attacks.

As the attacks increased in severity and frequency, it became clear to the worldwide community that this situation was beyond violent protests: it was genocide.

Eventually, India's Supreme Court stepped in and ordered authorities to protect believers. Change in leadership at the national level and new protections for religious minorities seemed to bring hope to oppressed believers.

But it's hard to remain hopeful in your fourth year of desperate homelessness.

According to a fact-finding visit by a group of journalists, activists, and writers, there's been no justice for victims and even less compensation for lost homes and churches. And according to, India's government isn't planning to pay. Hundreds of churches and Christian facilities destroyed by Hindu radicals will remain in rubble.
What's bright side of this dark situation? You can help.

Pray for persecuted believers in Orissa state. Pray for boldness and strength as they face continuous adversity for their faith.

Give online to VOMC's Relief and Development Fund. Voice of Martyrs Canada helps Orissa Christians rebuild their lives through skills training, micro-loans, and discipleship training for church leaders. VOMC also cares for children orphaned by the violent attacks, providing a safe home, education, clothing, food and medical attention.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Christians across Pakistan protest and call for the ‘urgent release’ of a 14-year-old girl arrested in a ‘fabricated case’ of blasphemy

It follows the arrest of an imam charged in a ‘Quran plot’ of planting evidence

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

Pakistani Christians carry crosses during a protest against the imprisonment of Rimsha Masih, a Christian girl accused of blasphemy, in Hyderabad, Pakistan, Sunday

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- Following the news that a Pakistani imam has been remanded in custody, accused of planting pages of the Quran among burnt pages in the bag of Rimsha Masih, a 14-year-old Christian girl, Christians across Pakistanis have held a protest rallies demanding her immediate release.

The protests came after the media reported that Imam Khalid Chishti had allegedly told a witness, after tampering with the girl's bag, that this was a “way of getting rid of Christians”, a prosecutor said, and now he will himself face charges of blasphemy.

The imam was arrested after his deputy Maulvi Zubair and two others told a magistrate he added pages from the Quran to the burnt pages brought to him by a witness,” an investigator Munir Hussain Jaffri said.
He said Mr. Zubair and some others had told the imam not to interfere, urging him to “give the evidence to the police as he got it”.

The accused Imam being brought blindfolded
into court
According to Mr. Jaffri, Imam Chishti had told them: “You know this is the only way to expel the Christians from this area.”

The investigator said the cleric had been arrested at his home on Saturday under Pakistan's blasphemy law.

“By putting these pages in the ashes he also committed desecration of the Holy Quran and he is being charged with blasphemy,” he said.

The girl's lawyer told AFP news agency that Rimsha “should be acquitted immediately”, as it had been “fully proven that it was a conspiracy”.

Protesters in Rawalpindi
Now ANS has been told by Shamim Masih, an ANS correspondent in Pakistan and also a human rights activist, a group called the Pakistan United Christian Movement (PUCM) organized a Demonstration on Sunday, September 02, 2012, outside of St. John’s School, Rawalpindi.

Mr. Masih told ANS that Albert David, Chairman of the Executive Committee of PUCM, appealed to the Pakistan government to immediately release Rimsha saying, “The real culprit has been arrested yet the girl is still in jail.”

He went on to say, “Failure to do so, points to a bleak future for the minorities in this country.

The time has come for Christian in Pakistan to be treated equally in all spheres of life.”

Mr. Masih said that the rally protestors were holding placards and banners, demanding equal citizenship for Christian and the ending of discriminatory practices.

He added that PUCH made a number of recommendations to the government which included steps to be taken for solve the problems that all minorities in the country face in accordance with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It also called for the various blasphemy laws should be “revisited” an also the victims of blasphemy allegations that have not yet been proved, should be released.”

Shamim Masih added there were with other Christian, religious and social reformers, who also made speeches there at the rally.

Another large protest rally took place in Hyderabad, Pakistan, on Sunday, when Christians carrying crosses called for justice for the young girl.

Also reports are coming into ANS reveal that other protest rallies have taken place across the United Kingdom and also outside the United Nations in New York and if she is not free immediately, the groundswell of protests are expected to spread around the world.

Pakistan ‘Quran plot’ imam remanded in blasphemy case of Rimsha Masih

She ‘should be acquitted immediately’ says her lawyer

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- In an extraordinary development in the case of Rimsha Masih, a young Pakistani Christian girl accused of blasphemy, a Pakistani imam has been remanded in custody, accused of planting pages of the Quran among burnt pages in her bag.

1) There was a heavy police presence as
Khalid Chishti was lead into court 
(Photo: Reuters)
The case, which has sparked international condemnation, relates to the girl, who is said to be about 14 years old and has learning difficulties, who was detained two weeks ago near the capital Islamabad after an angry mob demanded she be punished.

Now, comes an incredible twist in the case as, according to the BBC, prosecutors say Imam Khalid Chishti will himself face charges of blasphemy.

Imam Khalid Chishti allegedly told a witness, after tampering with the girl's bag, that this was a “way of getting rid of Christians”, a prosecutor said.

Earlier this week, a court extended Rimsha's detention at a maximum-security prison by a further two weeks.

“Her father has said he fears for his daughter's life and for the safety of his family. He has called on Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to pardon her,” said the BBC.
Rimsha Masih
“Rimsha's parents have been taken into protective custody following threats, and many other Christian families have fled the neighborhood.

“Pakistan's strict blasphemy laws are often used to settle personal vendettas, correspondents say. Last year two leading politicians were assassinated after speaking out against the legislation.”

“Proven conspiracy”

Imam Chishti appeared in the Islamabad court with a white blindfold and shackled hands.
There was a large police presence as he was ushered into the building.

“The imam was arrested after his deputy Maulvi Zubair and two others told a magistrate he added pages from the Quran to the burnt pages brought to him by a witness,” an investigator Munir Hussain Jaffri said.

He said Mr. Zubair and some others had told the imam not to interfere, urging him to “give the evidence to the police as he got it”.

According to Mr. Jaffri, Imam Chishti had told them: “You know this is the only way to expel the Christians from this area.”

The investigator said the cleric had been arrested at his home on Saturday under Pakistan's blasphemy law.

“By putting these pages in the ashes he also committed desecration of the Holy Quran and he is being charged with blasphemy,” he said.

The girl's lawyer told AFP news agency that Rimsha “should be acquitted immediately”, as it had been “fully proven that it was a conspiracy”.

If this charge against the imam is proven true and he did plant evidence that could have Rimsha sentenced to death, it is absolutely shocking that this so-called religious leader would pick on this simple girl who couldn’t fight for herself.

We now hope that Rimsha will be immediately released and Pakistan will make sure that she and her family are given full protection. However, with the country's abysmal  record in protecting people speaking out against the blasphemy law (or having been charged with it), I have grave doubts about what will happen to this poor girl and her family.

North Korean leaders shaping new leader's image

(Images courtesy of Voice of the Martyrs USA)
North Korea (MNN) ― North Korea's new leader has been photographed smiling. He has a wife. He even rode a roller coaster. Don't be fooled, says Voice of the Martyrs USA spokesman Todd Nettleton. 

"Photographically, he is drawing comparisons--not to his father, Kim Jong Il, but to his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea."

What's happening in North Korea is cultivation of an image. "He's doing that in his hair style, he's doing that in his clothing. For us, looking on from the outside, we don't necessarily think that immediately; but to the people of North Korea who ultimately are his audience, they would see that instantly."

A modern face to go with modern ideas? According to contacts working with the Voice of the Martyrs, it's pretty much the opposite. Nettleton explains the connection being made. "This is Kim Il Sung's grandson. This is the founder of our country coming back and taking control and leading us to prosperity and greatness."

The reality is: North Korea faces even more than usual food shortages when drought was followed by devastating floods. Without China's help, mass starvation is likely. Yet, that has done little to challenge the ideology that has shrouded North Korea in secrecy. Nettleton explains "The government is built on the idea of 'juche,' which is their word for 'self-reliance' and really, it is a religious system that is designed to deify the leaders."

The other thing to remember is that the people behind the scenes have not changed. The generals who installed Kim Jong Un as leader are still controlling the strings. Promises of reform are misleading, at best.

Nettleton doesn't think much will change for Christians, either. "When you say 'I'm a Christian,' it's not just the wrong religion: you're really undermining the government. It's really a treasonous thing to say 'I'm not following juche. I'm not worshiping our leaders. I'm following Jesus Christ.'"

Already the most hostile country in which to live and practice the Christian faith, there are still reports of Christians being arrested. According to Open Doors, it's thought that at least a quarter of the nation's believers are languishing in labor camps for their refusal to worship founder Kim Il-Sung's cult.

Anyone with "another god" is automatically persecuted, which is why the 200,000-400,000 Christians in this country must remain deeply underground. Traditional discipleship and evangelism methods do not exist in the totalitarian regime.

However, Nettleton says they've found other creative ways to float the Gospel into North Korea...literally. "We have been sending balloons into North Korea for decades. It's based on some of the technology developed for weather balloons. We can now actually attach a full New Testament to a balloon to float it across into North Korea."

Although many crews pick up the balloons and dispose of the literature, Nettleton says it's still working. "We are hearing stories of these balloons and these New Testaments reaching people and changing lives." Keep praying that the seeds of God's Word will be planted deeply and take root.