Saturday, September 22, 2012

Rescue mission for 2,000 vulnerable Christians trapped in Sudan underway

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN (ANS) -- Barnabas Aid’s major operation to rescue 2,000 Christian women and children trapped in Sudan got underway on Thursday, September 19, 2012, with the first successful airlift to South Sudan.

The first group of returning Christians
are helped off the plane in Juba
A number of practical and bureaucratic obstacles that had delayed the start of the rescue mission have been overcome, enabling the first of 12 chartered flights to depart from Khartoum for Juba.

The second and third flights are scheduled for tomorrow, with more to be arranged in the days and weeks ahead.

Church and community leaders have identified the most needy and vulnerable Christians among the hundreds of thousands of Southerners trapped in Khartoum.

“We are flying approximately 800 women, around two-thirds of whom are widows, and 1,200 children to Juba. The cost per person is US$275,” said a spokesperson for Barnabas Aid.
“They will be welcomed at temporary reception facilities set up by the South Sudanese government before moving on to extended family connections around the country. The Church in South Sudan is ready to help with their practical needs."
Endangered and impoverished
Christian women and children awaiting
 their return to South Sudan
Christians of Southern origin remaining in Sudan are extremely vulnerable. They were stripped of their citizenship after the South voted to secede and were given a deadline to leave. President Omar al-Bashir has made it very clear that they are not welcome, repeatedly declaring his intention to make the country’s next constitution 100% Islamic and strengthen sharia law.

Many have made their own way to South Sudan, but hundreds of thousands remain trapped in a country that is increasingly hostile to their presence, and the Sudanese government has closed the border to prevent any more travelling to South Sudan by the river Nile.

“Their vulnerability has intensified over the last week as violent Islamic protests against the film Innocence of Muslims rocked Sudan; several Western embassies in Khartoum have been attacked and threats made against Christians in the city,” said the spokesperson.

“As well as facing danger, the impoverished Southern Christians have been living in dire conditions in makeshift shelters on the outskirts of the capital for many months.”

Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, said: “We are extremely thankful to the Lord that this rescue mission is now underway. He has gone before us and prepared the way, removing obstacles one by one. These vulnerable Christian women and children, who have endured so much hardship and suffering, can now look forward to beginning a new life in South Sudan.”

Turkish courts finally put murder suspects on trial

Turkey (MNN) ― In 2007, three Christians were brutally murdered in the Malatya Massacre. Five years down the road, suspects are finally taking the stand, and there could be an end in sight, according to Compass Direct News (CDN). In a recent article, CDN said 19 suspects stood on trial for the Zerve Publishing slayings. This is a big step, as the case has progressed at a remarkably sluggish pace.

But during the six recent consecutive days of court hearings, the massacre mastermind failed to show up. On the stand, one of the defendants denied any connection to the prime suspect.

"We went on an expedition on behalf of Islam on our own to accomplish this event," said defendant Emre Gunaydin.
A recurring theme seems to have surfaced for this trial: one step forward, three steps back.

In late 2007, five men went to trial and faced life sentences for tying up, torturing, and slitting the throats of Necati Aydin, 35, Ugur Yuksel, 32, and German national Tilmann Geske, 46. A year later, the Turkish Interior Ministry investigated accusations against state prosecutors for mishandling the case. The case was expanded in 2009 when evidence suggested the attacks were instigated by Ergenekon, a loose collection of ultra-nationalist generals, businessmen, mafia and journalists. It hit a bump in the road in June 2009 when a suspected middleman failed to show up for court. 

Although the end seemed to be in sight in 2010, the trial dragged on for another two years.

In June, CDN recounts, the courts accepted a new indictment accusing military higher-ups of orchestrating the attacks. The 761-page report claims the murders were planned by a retired military general as part of the Cage Action Plan, formed by military officials trying to undercut the government through "assassinations, threats, and acts of terror against Turkey's non-Muslim minorities."

"This indictment provides the first solid evidence that our military authorities officially assigned the named suspects to monitor and attack the Christians in Malatya," a representative told CDN.

The case's prime suspect, 70-year-old Ret. Gen. Hursit Tolon, reportedly sent the court a 10-day medical excuse from his prison cell. CDN said Tolon and the remaining suspects will testify on November 12, when hearings are scheduled to resume.

Two widows, five young children, and a fiancée survive the victims of the Malatya Massacre. Keep them in your prayers, and pray for the quick resolution of this case. Turkey is #31 on the Open Doors World Watch List. Pray for boldness for Turkish believers.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

French publication fuels Muslim anger

(Story Photo by Rae Burnett)

Egypt (MNN) ― The last day or two have been without blaring headlines describing Muslim rioting, but that could all change. 

A French magazine this week published vulgar caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, despite government entreaties not to publish the images. In response, the French government ordered embassies and schools to close Friday in about 20 countries.

The incident is likely to raise tensions that were already dangerously high. It follows days of violent protests from Asia to Africa against the U.S.-produced film "Innocence of Muslims" and turned France into a potential target of Muslim rage
But don't be fooled, says Rae Burnett with Christian Aid Mission. "The film was just a pretext for the violence." She goes on to explain that the event gave a cover story for lashing out at intended targets--a theory that's been substantiated by the Libyan government. Further, says Burnett, "Since the violence has subsided, nothing has gotten better because these believers are in grave danger. They're afraid of being slaughtered because everything is intensifying."

That concern is magnified by the feeling of isolation. "They [extremists] are overtly burning churches and persecuting Christians and kidnapping their children...just terrible things far surpassing what they used to experience, and the world is silent." 

Burnett says the real story is the uncertainty. Christian Aid supports indigenous ministries who seek to engage the lost people of Egypt through holding house meetings, setting up Bible training, and doing evangelistic outreach. She explains that "one of these guys called me the first day of the rioting in Egypt and said, ‘They're burning Bibles in front of the U.S. embassy.' They were doing those kinds of things just to show their hostility, and they were burning churches and things that weren't reported."

The threat plays out on the political stage, but Burnett says, "This is all spiritual warfare. We're seeing it in a political environment because that's the environment through which this takes place. But the point is to destroy the work of the Lord and to destroy those who might come into the Kingdom, to keep people in darkness."

Given that understanding, the workers supported by Christian Aid Mission haven't fled. "It hasn't diminished any of their efforts. The main group that we help just had a conference of their workers, training their workers and praying together to ask the Lord for direction. So they are going forward in the work, but they are really discouraged about the political situation and the future of Christianity in Egypt." 

They're careful, but they won't be intimidated. Burnett says the Coptic Church is targeted because they have a noticeable presence in Egypt. However, "The people that we're helping generally meet in homes. They might have an office somewhere if they can afford that, so they're less of a target. Of course, because of their evangelistic efforts, people know who they are."

The Gospel, as she's said multiple times, is still going forward. It's about standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the worn out believers of Egypt and advancing together. Burnett says, "We have to understand that and pray accordingly and act accordingly to be lights in the darkness." Pray for creative and effective approaches to spread God's Word in Egypt. Pray for open hearts. Pray for change in the chaos.

Pastor awaits extradition in Kazakhstan

Makset Djabbarbergenov with his wife, Aigul, and three sons in 2010.
The family now has four boys and is expecting a fifth child.

Kazakhstan (MNN/ODN) ―Last week we told you about a former Uzbek house church pastor facing deportation from Kazakhstan. We now have received an update from Open Doors News.

32-year-old Makset Djabbarbergenow is in a Kazakhstan jail, awaiting a ruling on whether or not he will be returned to his native country, even as Kazakhstan's Supreme Court considers whether to declare him a refugee from almost-certain persecution.

Kazakhstan is in Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

According to a story by Open Doors News, Djabbarbergenov was arrested Sept. 5 in Almaty, Kazakhstan's financial center and largest city. Uzbekistan wants to issue back-to-face charges that he practiced religion outside state regulation.

Open Doors News said it's not the first time Djabbarbergenov, 32, and the father of four--soon to be five--has been detained by authorities who have frowned on his leadership of unregistered Christian communities. But he told a friend he has been shaken by this arrest.

Speaking from his jail cell, Djabbarbergenov told the friend that he was too disturbed to eat during the first few days of his incarceration, according to Open Doors News. To shield his identity, Open Doors News is not reporting the name of Djabbarbergenov's friend. Djabbarbergenov initially told his friend that he told God he did not want this cross. Now, he said, "I pray that if this is from You, Lord, I will accept whatever You say. Just help me carry it."

He has carried a cross for more than a decade. Open Doors reported that born in Uzbekistan in the small town of Symbai, Djabbarbergenov became a Christian in 2000 and soon became an active church leader in Nukus, the capital of Karakalpakstan, the autonomous republic of Uzbekistan.

Currently, no Protestant church in Karakalpakstan has an official registration. They are considered illegal.

Open Doors News said Djabbarbergenov was hauled into court six times. Police raided the family's apartment in Aug. 2007, prompting Djabbarbergenov and his wife, Aigul, then pregnant with their third child, to flee to Tashkent, the Uzbek capital. He crossed into Kazakhstan the following month, his family following a few months later.

Their time since then has been spent seeking asylum in Kazakhstan. Open Doors News said while the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees determined the family to be refugees who would face prosecution in Uzbekistan because of their Christian faith, the Kazakh government disagreed and has ruled against Djabbarbergenov at several turns. His case now rests before the country's highest court, which has yet to set a hearing date.

Even as Djabbarbergenov's refugee status hangs in the balance, Open Doors News said prosecutors have moved ahead in response to Uzbekistan's request to return him to face charges.

In a detailed account of the lengths to which Kazakh investigators have gone, Open Doors News said the Norwegian religious freedom watchdog agency Forum 18 reported they held his sister-in-law for two weeks in an attempt to flush him out.

From her cell phone, they obtained the phone number of Djabbarbergenov's wife and tracked down the location of the family's home, where they arrested Djabbarbergenov on Sept. 5--his youngest son's 2nd birthday--Forum 18 reported.

Open Doors News said the two charges awaiting Djabbarbergenov in Uzbekistan each carry a maximum penalty of three years in prison. Uzbekistan is ranked No. 7 on the World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

"Christians are fined or given short-term prison sentences. When brought to court, fair treatment is not ensured," according to the World Watch List.

Open Doors News said the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom have designated Uzbekistan as a "country of particular concern."

The Uzbek government violates the full range of human rights and harshly penalizes individuals for independent religious activity regardless of their religious affiliation," including Muslims, the Commission declared in its 2012 annual report.

Perpetrators of Turkey’s ‘Malatya Massacre’ Put on Trial

Military officials accused of masterminding attack, manipulating investigation.

ISTANBUL, Sept. 19 (Open Doors News) — Nineteen suspects accused of inciting the brutal 2007 murders of three Christians in eastern Turkey went on trial before Malatya’s Third Criminal Court in early September.

With the court’s acceptance in June of a third indictment in the case, known as the “Malatya Massacre” in the Turkish media, allegations against primarily military officials have finally been made public.

“This indictment provides the first solid evidence that our military authorities officially assigned the named suspects to monitor and attack the Christians in Malatya,” Umut Sahin from the legal committee of the Turkish Association of Protestant Churches told Open Doors News.

The new 761-page indictment alleges that the attack by five young murderers who stabbed, tortured and slit the throats of two Turks and a German citizen in their Malatya office had been masterminded by a retired general in Turkey’s 1st Army Corps and ultranationalist military officials in the Malatya gendarmerie. The gendarmerie is a law-enforcement arm of the military; It has jurisdiction outside of Turkey’s cities and towns.

Ret. Gen. Hursit Tolon, who was named as the prime suspect behind the killings, at the Zirve Christian Publishing House in Malatya, failed to appear during the six consecutive days of hearings that began Sept. 3. The 70-year-old former general sent the court a 10-day medical excuse from his prison cell.

Initially jailed in 2008 as a suspect in the alleged Ergenkon conspiracy, Tolon was accused of plotting to topple the ruling Justice and Peace Party (AKP) government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. After his release in 2009 due to poor health, he was re-arrested in January 2012 on "serious suspicions of a criminal act."

According to the new indictment, the Zirve murders were part of the so-called Cage Action Plan hatched by military officials trying to undermine the AKP government through assassinations, threats and acts of terror against Turkey’s non-Muslim minorities.
In the initial indictment, state prosecutors demanded three consecutive life sentences for the five killers, all apprehended at the scene of the crime.  When the presiding judge questioned them during the September hearings, several of the murder suspects insisted that they had no motive to overthrow the government and had in fact voted for the AKP.

Denying any acquaintance or links with Tolon and the other accused conspirators, defendant Emre Gunaydin declared, “We went on an expedition on behalf of Islam on our own to accomplish this event.”

A judiciary scandal?

Just two days before the Sept. 3 hearings began, Turkish authorities shocked the lawyers for the victims by abruptly replacing the two prosecutors, and two of the three judges, in the case, leaving only one member of the judicial panel familiar with the trial’s massive files:  presiding Judge Hayrettin Kisa.

“This has seriously damaged effective progress in the trial,” said Erdal Dogan, a lawyer for one of the victims. In particular, the two prosecutors who had worked on the new indictment for the past 1.5 years, examining the evidence and questioning witnesses and the accused in person, were taken off the case.

“Changing the court prosecutors has had an unbelievably negative impact on the case,” Sahin said.  “For six days, the accused suspects made incredible criticisms of the indictment, but the new prosecutor did not utter a single word for the whole six days!”

In response, the Council of Judges and Prosecutors stated that the Justice Ministry’s reassignment of the Malatya prosecutors and judges was a routine transfer, simply following recent legal reforms affecting the status of criminal courts.

But according to Orhan Kemal Cengiz, a lawyer for the victims, “This is a serious and really unacceptable scandal, concerning such a huge case. There are more than 40,000 pages in the attachments to this indictment alone!”

“Is it possible that the AKP government is uncomfortable with the conclusion of this case?” questioned Today’s Zaman columnist Orhan Oguz Gurbuz on Sept. 16. “The government must address these doubts and questions. Otherwise, it will undermine its own legitimacy and the pluralist/democratic identity that it has relied on since the beginning.”

Spying on Christians

After the new indictment was read out in court, six of the accused soldiers testified to what had been going on behind the scenes for at least a year before Necati Aydin, Ugur Yuksel and Tilmann Geske were attacked and killed in their office on April 18, 2007. According to their testimony:

Under the local commander’s direction, the Malatya gendarmerie had been monitoring the handful of Christians in Malatya 24 hours a day, tapping their telephones and paying informers some 60 percent of their intelligence budget to collect data on their activities, sometimes in cooperation with police and secret intelligence officials.

And after the attack, the gendarmerie officers tapped the telephones of the victims’ families, lawyers and judges in the case, and then gave false documents and testimony to manipulate the trial, trying to portray the three murdered Christians as criminals linked with illegal groups like the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the soldiers testified.

On the witness stand, the soldiers told Judge Kisa that they refused to accept “any of the accusations” against themselves.

“I was obeying orders conveyed to me within the command-chain hierarchy,” Sgt. Adem Gedik said, defending his illegal surveillance within the Malatya city limits, which fall under jurisdiction of the police force, not the gendarmerie.

Hearings on the case will resume on Nov. 12, when Tolon and the remaining alleged perpetrators are scheduled to testify.

The key suspects include Col. Mehmet Ulger, Malatya’s gendarmerie commander at the time; Ruhi Polat, a theology instructor at the local Inonu University;  Maj. Haydar Yesil; and Ilker Cinar, an intelligence agent assigned by military officials to fake his conversion to Christianity, infiltrate the Turkish Protestants and then publicly “reconvert to Islam,” denouncing  Christians as a threat to national security.


Copyright 2012 Open Doors News

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Egypt Charges Coptic Christians Linked to Infamous Video

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

CAIRO, EGYPT (ANS) -- Egyptian authorities have charged seven Coptic Christians living in the United States and a Florida pastor with insulting Islam, and inciting sectarian strife for their alleged links to an online video that has enraged much of the Muslim world.

Egyptian protesters gather around a burning vehicle in downtown Cairo, Egypt, early Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012
According to a story by Ed Payne and Saad Abedine of CNN, Egypt's public prosecutor announced the charges Tuesday. It is the latest development in the deadly backlash against the low-budget, amateurish 14-minute movie trailer produced privately in the United States and posted on YouTube.

The clip from "The Innocence of Muslims" mocks the Prophet Mohammed as a womanizer, child molester and killer. CNN said "Innocence of Muslims" was an obscure Internet video until Sept. 11, when rioters, seizing on it, breached the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

Protesters also attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

CNN said the charges -- largely symbolic because the accused all live outside Egypt -- name alleged filmmaker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, who is identified by Egyptian officials as Elia Bassili.

According to CNN, reports that Nakoula is a Coptic Christian have raised concern about a possible backlash against the minority religious group in Egypt, where tensions between Copts and Muslims have risen recently.
Egypt also charged Morris Sadek, who is believed to have posted the clip to YouTube.

CNN said the Florida pastor charged is Terry Jones, who was allegedly contacted by the filmmaker to help promote the video. Jones sparked some protests in Muslim countries last year when he staged a trial of Islam at his church.

CNN said the others accused were identified as Morcos Aziz; Fikri Zokloma, also known as Esmat Zokloma; Nabil Bissada; Nahed Metwali; and Nader Nicola. Aside from Nakoula, who lives in California and Jones in Florida. It was not clear where the others live in the United States.

In addition to charges of insulting the Islamic religion, insulting Mohammed and inciting sectarian strife, all eight are charged with harming national unity and spreading false information, according to Adel Saaed, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office.

CNN said Egyptian authorities added the names to their airport watch list.

CNN reported prosecutors said they will ask the international police agency, Interpol, to add the names to its wanted lists. U.S. authorities would also be contacted, according to prosecutors.

Although Washington has made it clear that it did not sanction the film, a week of protests have rippled from Morocco to Malaysia, spurring U.S. officials to increase security at diplomatic missions and demand other governments to take action.

CNN said Sherif Doss, head of the Egyptian Coptic Association, said the accused Copts have created their own "cult-like" organization in the United States, have appointed their own minister and are "disregarding any church or religious norms."

Call to kill Americans

CNN said that as part of the fallout from the video, al Qaeda's affiliate in North Africa on Tuesday urged Muslims in the region to kill U.S. government representatives and called the death of Stevens a "gift."

"We encourage all Muslims to continue to demonstrate and escalate their protests ... and to kill their (American) ambassadors and representatives or to expel them to cleanse our land from their wickedness," said the statement from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

The group called last week's killing of Stevens "the best gift you (can) give to his arrogant and unjust administration."

CNN reported that State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland reiterated the Obama administration's stance that the video, which she called "reprehensible," was no justification for violence.

U.S. and Libyan officials have held a series of high-level meetings to "assess what went wrong" in Benghazi, a senior Libyan official said Tuesday. Some of the U.S. officials had flown in for the meetings, which included security experts.

Following the attack, Libya suspected an increase in U.S. drone activity over eastern portions of the country and were worried the Obama administration would take military action because of domestic political considerations, the official told CNN.

CNN said Mohamed al-Magariaf, newly elected president of Libya's parliament, spoke with the White House "to contain the situation," the official said.

CNN reported the official said the government urged the Americans to work together "in full partnership," because any military action during this "fragile and sensitive situation" would give "an excuse" to the two main threats to the state; extremists and loyalists to the deposed Gadhafi regime.

The official expressed concern with the deteriorating regional picture.

"They (the United States) are losing Egypt, if they lose Libya ... they and we cannot afford to lose our partnership."

CNN correspondent Brianna Keilar pressed the White House on Tuesday on whether the Libya attack was planned or spontaneous.

"We saw no evidence to back up claims by others that this was a preplanned or premeditated attack," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "But there is a lot that is under investigation here, and as more facts come to light, if they change that assessment, we'll make that clear."

CNN said Libya has taken steps to arrest those responsible for last week's deadly consulate attack, bringing in dozens for questioning over the weekend, Libyan officials said.

The exact number of arrests was unclear. CNN said one Libyan official said those arrested included suspects from Mali and Algeria as well as al Qaeda sympathizers.

Christian displaced families now back home and living in 'shocking conditions' following release of Rimsha Masih

Many are also 'living in fear' and children cannot go back to school

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- Following the released on bail of a 14-year-old Pakistani Christian girl who was accused last month of blasphemy against Islam, local Christians are living in "shocking conditions" are in fear for their lives.
Latest picture of Rimsha Masih (Photo: Daily Express Tribune, Pakistan)
The girl in question, Rimsha Masih, who is said to be "mentally challenged," had been accused of burning pages of the Koran and taken into custody. The incident prompted worldwide protests and outcry.
Eventually, witnesses came forward reporting that a Muslim cleric, Mohammed Khalid Chishti, had torn pages from a Koran and planted them in Masih's bag which contained burned papers. The cleric was arrested this week for attempting to frame the young girl who is said to be illiterate.
After she was granted bail by the judge, she was rushed outside where a military helicopter lifted her out of the prison yard and into hiding.
Shamim Masih, a Pakistani Christian rights activist and an ANS correspondent, said, "Since the incident occurred, the Christian residents of that vicinity, where the girl lived with her family, had fled to other places because of a huge mob of militants that had formed.
Rimsha being led out of court (Photo Daily Express Tribune, Pakistan)
"But once the real story came out, and Rimsha was released, many of them have returned to their homes in a slum area on the edges of Islamabad.
"When I visited the area couple of days back, I was told by one couple that they are 'living in fear and unsecure circumstances'. The husband told me, 'We can't live peacefully here as our females are not secure.'
"I saw fear and uncertainty on their faces. These families want to know what their 'fault' is saying that they are Pakistani citizens and yet are being treated as second class citizens."
Some of the children
Mr. Masih also told ANS that the conditions in which they are "living" are "disgraceful" and they they told him that, since they had returned, and because of the tense situation, their children cannot go back to school. He went on to say that many fathers are afraid to go to work as they fear for the safety of the children.
"There are more than 250 families back in that area and average family has five children, which make it that hundreds of the children are out of school. I have not been able to understand about who will be responsible for their loss of education."
Mr. Masih said that after the release of Rimsha, "I went in search of displaced families, after two days struggle, I reached to those families in the Mehrabadi area."
Shamim Masih presenting aid to a family
Mr. Masih was able to deliver aid to some of the families donated by the British Christian Pakistani Association and talk with a few of those who had now returned.
He said that one of them, a 48-year-old father of 5 children, said that when the mob initially formed after the false allegations against Rimsha were levelled, he took his family at midnight and went into hiding.
"Even though we are now back, the situation is still not under control," he said.
Another man, who works in a motor workshop, told Mr. Masih that on that night "we ran for our life and stayed in H-9 tents for few days until the situation was calmer."
Another man told him, "We are back in the town, but are aware of the mentality of the people. They are feudal-minded people and want to rule over us. Our children cannot go to school since the incident happened."
Mr. Masih said that not only were families facing serious problems, but he also met a pastor who said he had been severely beaten up by authorities.
A family that has now returned
He said that according to Pastor Arif Khokher, on Friday, September 7, 2012, an official with a task force "came to the slum and start beating up Christians residents." He told Mr. Masih that one of the officers called him [the pastor], and as he came out from his tent, where he had been staying, the man started slapping him without any reason.
"He tried to pull him up his van but fortunately, when the people heard the cry of their pastor, they came out of their tents and rescued him from further beating," said Mr. Masih. "However, they broke the arm of a Mr. Yousaf Masih, as they beat him with sticks."
Our ANS correspondent said that the official's warned them to leave this area where they were staying as soon as possible, otherwise they would go and find their homes and demolish them.
"This slum is known as 'Akram Masih Gill Colony', and these Christians were allowed to live there by the former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Galiani in 2009, when they were displaced from the Shehzad town, Islamabad and then they lived on the road side of G-7.
"Since then they are living there in the tents, there is no electricity, no water provision, and no drainage system. Their living conditions are pathetic."

Outrage and growth: two peas in the same pod?

Flag similar to the one flown over U.S. embassy in Cairo during riot.
 Believed to be Al Qaeda flag. (Photo by Rob Giampietro)

Egypt (MNN) ― The hot rage that fueled days of unrest in Egypt seems to be simmering at a low level now. 
The rioting was blamed on an anti-Islam video, and for the next week provoked Muslims in 12 countries showed their ire. The fallout is beginning now. 

Egypt's authorities are now cracking down: not on the rioters, but on those they deem responsible for setting off the whole thing. Arrest warrants have been issued, according to the nation's general prosecutor, for eight people connected with the project.

Meanwhile, a Coptic Christian has been jailed for a Facebook post defaming Islam and insulting President Mohamed Morsi.

First, says Open Doors USA spokesman Michael Woods, put things into context. "We need to understand that culture in which they're living. They don't have the freedom, the information and press like we do and the right to speak out in our own voices as we do in public." 

Then, although anti-Christian violence does seem to be stemming directly from a rise in fundamentalist Islam in Egypt, understand that, "We're seeing people from Islam converting to Jesus Christ in numbers that are unprecedented. I think that means that you kind of get Islam back on its heels, seeing people convert from Islam to Christianity and this may be a reaction."

Iran has set that precedent, already. Iran's movement in Islam is closely tracked by the Middle East and North Africa. They are at thecutting edge. "I remember a couple of years ago when Ahmadinejad made a statement in one of his speeches that his biggest fear was not the military of other countries, but the rapid growth of the Church." So it's not surprising, says Wood, to see similar trends in neighboring areas. 

However, the accusation against the Coptic Christian who posted to Facebook bears an eerie resemblance to accusations made in Pakistan. Wood says they're similar. "They really don't know what to do. They don't know how to respond, so the natural thing is to say ‘you're insulting Islam' and protecting what they hold dear." He goes on to say the heart of the matter is one you can see through the lens of politics. "I think that if we really saw the battle that we don't get to see on a day-to-day basis, we'd understand a better perspective of light and darkness here." 

Despite the swelling tide of violence against the church, there's no wave of Christians fleeing. Egypt's believers hold fast to Christ...and to each other. "When you do have support, when you do have other people that you can lean on, and knowing that they're praying and you can worship with them, it makes a little bit of a difference to know that there's somebody else going through what you're going through."

By providing training seminars, along with Bibles and study resources for isolated pastors, Open Doors is equipping churches to stand firm in the face of persecution. They're doing it for another reason. Wood explains, "I just read recently some stats that there are more people that have come to Christ in the Middle East in the last ten years than there have been in all of Christendom combined."

Christians are staying to advance the Gospel in the face of increasing uncertainty, and they're doing it on their knees. 

"Pray for those believers because there is a Church. There are those people. They're just common-day mothers and fathers, and brothers and sisters, and teachers and business people that have to live in that environment. To know that the Church and the Body is interceding for them, speaks volumes."

Growing number of believers cause unease among Muslim leaders

Afghanistan (MNN) ―According to the Mohabat News Agency, Muslim officials are calling for action against believers. This is nothing new for the Islamic nation: 
Afghanistan is ranked #2 on the Open Doors World Watch List. But the "rate of growth of Christianity in Afghanistan" is causing unrest among Muslim clerics.

In a recent article, Mohabat News said Islamic seminary students and Muslim clerics called on President Hamid Karzai to "limit the number of aid-workers and Christian missionaries coming to Afghanistan" to keep Afghanis from converting to Christianity. The Iran-based news agency also cited the actions of Afghani Muslim clerics, who "warned the country's government against the spread of Christianity."

Recent turmoil began after a Kabul-based TV station reported the conversion of several Afghans to Christianity and aired photos of them praying and being baptized. This reportedly sparked anger in the Parliament, and some members asked to convict believers under Sharia Law. Under Sharia decree, if someone leaves Islam and converts to another religion, they can be executed.

Ask God to protect these new believers.

The Afghan church is completely underground; the last church building was destroyed two years ago. The small number of known Afghani believers risk their lives each time they gather in small house meetings. Pray for courage and perseverance for Afghani believers. Pray that the Gospel would spread despite significant challenges.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Believers demand response for anti-Christian actions

(Image courtesy of

Egypt (MNN) ― Digital politics editor Chris Stirewalt said recently on, "This is a very bad time to be an American in a Muslim country." Recent chats with missions organizations andan article from the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) indicate that being a Christian in a Muslim country is even worse.

"It's not the people that are making the movies or the cartoons in the Western world that pay the price for their enjoyment of free speech," SAT-7 CEO Terry Ascott told MNN's Greg Yoder last week. "It is the Christians in the Middle East that bear the brunt of the reaction that inevitably comes."

Case in point: a Muslim cleric named Abu Islam tore the Bible and burned its pages last Tuesday, September 11. His actions were met with loud approval from thousands of Muslims gathered to protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. The cleric's real name is Ahmed Abdullah.

"Next time I will make my grandson urinate on [the Bible]," Abdullah reportedly told an interviewer. "As the saying goes, 'an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth,' and the starter is at fault."

A video shows Abdullah tearing the Bible. The AINA article contained a rough translation of the video's contents, shown below:

  • 0:02 "...the overwhelming Book, the Book of Truth and Peace. The place for these words and this book is over the heads because it is the real inspiration..." (He places the Koran on his head) voices chanting Allahu Akbar.

  • 0:30 He Says: "...message to the Egyptian Christians. Out of respect and politeness to the Egyptian Christians, we will not do the same like what they did to our God's book. We will be generous towards you today and say we will respect you momentarily. We will respect this book which is in the Arabic language.

  • 0:54 Demonstrators' chants "Coming, Coming O Islam" 1:09 Abu Islam holds another Bible and says: "This is the book the dog Terry believes in, as well as those dogs with him the Egyptian Christians in America."

  • 1:19 Abu Islam: "Today I can only TEAR IT APART. He starts tearing the Bible and throwing the leaves towards the mob, amid chants:"Allahu Akbar and Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews, the army of Mohammad is coming."

  • 2:06 Abu Islam saying: " all the cross worshippers around the world, we will not keep quiet. Today, we tore it."

  • 2:13 A man in blue beside him burns the Bible raising it for everyone to see. Abu Islam: "Salamu Aleycom (Peace be with you)"and leaves, with mob chanting: "Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews, the army of Mohammad is coming." "Governing, governing, O Koran." "Coming, Coming O Islam."

In the story carried by AINA, Mary Abdelmassih said multiple complaints were filed by Coptic organizations within Cairo. Dr. Mustafa Maraghy, law professor at Cairo University and chairman of the Coptic Coalition, filed a complaint citing Abdullah for "contempt of religion, disturbing public security and peace." A lawyer with the Copts of Egypt Coalition filed a complaint against Abdullah for damaging the Bible and for previous insults made to Christianity through books and his Islamic Nation TV channel.

Abdelmassih also stated that the Maspero Youth Union (MYU) had called upon President Morsi to "intervene immediately." Magdy Saber, an MYU spokesman, said officials should take action necessary to prevent trouble.
"If we condemn the file-makers…who live outside Egypt," he said, "we should also condemn this disgraceful act in Egypt, stressing the need to punish Abu Islam for his irresponsible actions."

MYU is a group of young Coptic Christians who played a key role in delivering information to the world following attacks on Christians last fall. On October 9, 2011, Christian protestors marching peacefully toward the television and radio broadcasting building near downtown Cairo were attacked by the army and an extremist mob. The attacks left 26 dead and wounded hundreds.

Pray for Egyptian Christians as violence spreads. Ask God to protect Christian ministries in this area.

Kazakhstan Jails Pastor, Considers Extradition To Uzbekistan

U.N. considers him a refugee; Kazakhstan disagrees

(Photo: Courtesy Djabbarbergenov family)
Sept. 15 (Open Doors News) — A former Uzbek house church pastor is in a Kazakhstan jail, awaiting a ruling whether he will be returned to his native country, even as Kazakhstan’s Supreme Court considers whether to declare him a refugee from almost-certain persecution.

Makset Djabbarbergenov was arrested Sept. 5 in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s financial center and largest city. Uzbekistan wants him back to face charges that he practiced religion outside state regulation.

It’s not the first time Djabbarbergenov, 32 and the father of four – soon to be five – has been detained by authorities who have frowned on his leadership of unregistered Christian communities. But he told a friend he has been shaken by this arrest.

Speaking from his jail cell, Djabbarbergenov told the friend he was too disturbed to eat during the first few days of his incarceration. To shield his identity, Open Doors News is not reporting the name of Djabbarbergenov’s friend. At first, Djabbarbergenov told his friend, he told God he did not want this cross. Now, he said, “I pray that if this is from you, Lord, I will accept whatever you say. Just help me carry it.”

He has carried a cross for more than a decade. Born in Uzbekistan in the small town of Symbai, Djabbarbergenov became a Christian in 2000 and soon became an active church leader in Nukus, the capital of Karakalpakstan, the autonomous republic of Uzbekistan. At present, no Protestant church in Karakalpakstan has an official registration: they are considered illegal.

Djabbarbergenov was hauled into court six times. Police raided the family’s apartment in August 2007, prompting Djabbarbergenov and his wife, Aigul, then pregnant with their third child, to flee to Tashkent, the Uzbek capital. He crossed into Kazakhstan the following month, his family followed a few months later.

Their time since has been spent seeking asylum in Kazakhstan. Though the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees determined the family to be refugees who would face prosecution in Uzbekistan because of their Christian faith, the Kazakh government disagreed and has ruled against Djabbarbergenov at several turns. His case now rests before the country’s highest court, which has yet to set a hearing date.

Even as Djabbarbergenov’s refugee status hangs in the balance, prosecutors have moved ahead in response to Uzbekistan’s request to return him to face charges.

In a detailed account of the lengths to which Kazakh investigators have gone, the Norwegian religious-freedom watchdog agency Forum 18 reported they held his sister-in-law for two weeks in an attempt to flush him out. From her cell phone they obtained the phone number of Djabbarbergenov’s wife, and tracked down the location of the family’s home, where they arrested Djabbarbergenov on Sept. 5 – his youngest son’s 2nd birthday – Forum 18 reported.

The two charges awaiting Djabbarbergenov in Uzbekistan each carry a maximum penalty of three years in prison. Uzbekistan is ranked No. 7 on the World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. “Christians are fined or given short-term prison sentences. When brought to court, fair treatment is not ensured,” according to the World Watch List.

The U.S. State Department and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom have designated Uzbekistan as a “country of particular concern.” “The Uzbek government violates the full range of human rights and harshly penalizes individuals for independent religious activity regardless of their religious affiliation,” including Muslims, the Commission declared in its 2012 annual report.


Monday, September 17, 2012

‘The World Changed Today for Christians,’ says Mary Marr, Founder and President of the Christian Emergency Network

She gives vital recommendations of how Christians and missionary groups can protect themselves and their staff during this time of unparalleled violence

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

PHOENIX, AZ (ANS) -- In an unprecedented and well-organized attack on over 21 U.S. and German embassies this week, the loss of security and sovereignty represented by each embassy is a “world changing” event for Christians, churches, and missionaries around the globe.

Protesters try to break into the US embassy in Sana’a, Yemen, during a protest yesterday (Photo: AFP)
This is the view of Mary Marr, Founder and President of The Christian Emergency Network (CEN), who spoke to the ASSIST News Service ( today (Saturday, September 15, 2012) in an exclusive interview.

She began by saying, “These events beg the questions: If the U.S. cannot or will not defend embassies, what will be defended? If the embassy staff, in Libya or elsewhere, is not defended, what will the aid be to any U.S. citizen traveling in a country who may be at risk? Apart from domestic security in the U.S. what does this mean for Christians, churches and missionaries around the globe?

“Missionaries have long lived with an eternal perspective in that each day their lives may be at risk in many countries where they minister. And, those with U.S. citizenship may have long relied upon the belief the U.S. embassies were not only symbolic, but bastions of security, while traveling or residing in another country.

“However, the events of this week are putting that assumption into question. As responsible caring believers, we must not refuse to examine the consequences for Christians (or any U.S. citizen) living or traveling abroad after this week nor to ignore the consequences domestically.
“It is not a matter of simply making ‘a statement’ with our wallets by curtailing tourist travel as some in the media have called for, or demonstrating anger over a foreign sovereign country not securing our embassies called for under international law. It is a matter of realistically assessing the security of our citizens. And, that includes Christians and missionaries residing around the world.”

Mary Marr
Marr went on to say, “This cauldron has been simmering for a very long time. Anyone can readily see this level and highly organized outrage was not simply because of one movie as anything may have triggered the outrage in countries angered with the U.S. for one reason or another. These are highly orchestrated protests with historic and current security consequences for all Christians and missionaries, as well as citizens of the U.S. and other countries who consistently defend their citizens when traveling around the world.

“Historically in times of battle when a fort is taken a victorious flag rises as a symbol of defeat, such as we have seen with the U.S. flag in many countries being replaced by a black Islamist flag in recent days.

“When Francis Scott Key was awaiting word on a British or U.S. victory, he began writing what was to become the American National Anthem with the words, ‘And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there….’ This was a symbol of victory and an inspiration for a fledgling new nation standing for the freedom, including a nation built upon religious freedom for all faiths.”

Marr, who founded CEN after Sept 11, 2001 to “help the Body of Christ respond more biblically, intentionally and collaboratively to national emergencies,” went on to tell ANS, “During WWII, when fellow soldiers raised the flag over Iwo Jima the infamous photograph was formed into a memorial, which still stands as a remainder and symbolic declaration of strategic victory inspiring the war was at an end. Just as words have meaning, flags have meaning.

“And, just as the Christian flag has meaning for followers of Christ, so the Islamic flag has meaning for many Muslims around the globe. Erecting the Islamist flag over our embassies has meaning in that it makes the statement the Islamist flag has replaced the sovereignty of the country and it is no longer recognized as a place of security and defense for that country or the citizens who reside in those countries.

“The boldness of taking down one flag of an embassy of a sovereign nation and replacing it with a religious flag should not be minimized as bold consequences may follow as result. Just this week the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a rare security bulletin putting faith-based organizations on alert as the situation escalates in the Middle East and beyond.

“Rather than retreating in denial or avoidance, as those without the 'Hope of Christ' as we have been prone to do, the situation before us means a vital question must be decidedly answered.”

When asked what Christians, churches, Christian ministries and missionary organizations specifically should do right away regarding to their own global security from a Biblical perspective, she replied, “First, they should not minimize the consequences of the security risks of their Christians missionaries in countries around the globe. Prayerful and intentional decisions need to be made by the missionary organizations, apart from their traditional decision-making processes, since these are unprecedented times.”

Marr said that the U.S. government "may be distracted, unable or unwilling to be efficient in aiding missionaries, so it is incumbent upon the missionary organization itself to ask tough questions.”

She then listed them as:
1. Is the current environment in a given country secure for Christians and missionaries? What does security mean to your organization?
2. Are the missionaries “in country relationships” reliable, silent, less valuable, or becoming less constrained related to matters of security?
3. Do we stay the course as a missionary organization regardless of the security risk and cost or pull our missionaries out for another day when they may minister more effectively? Two Scriptures, which may apply in making this decision, are: “Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears. Let the weakling say, ‘I am strong!’” (Joel 3:10 NIV) or, “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4 NIV).

Marr continued by saying, “When Rome was encountering the plague, many Christians stayed to assist those in need, for the cause of the Gospel. There is a place biblically for the first responder, as we know full well, and the soldier who sacrifices his life for the lives of many. Yet, the ultimate sacrifice should not be given without cause. Self-sacrifice is not always called for as there is also the biblical perspective to survive another day and fulfill the mission by going on. This perspective is in fact the first recommendation! However, God is the only one who is able to guide us in which biblical principle applies in every situation.

“However, regardless of which Scripture and biblical perspective applies to any situation the primary responsibility for securing Christians within the church facility while in worship is the church itself for example. And, the primary responsibility for securing missionaries is the mission organization itself, not the missionary in the field. Regardless of risk and cost, whether it is Church leadership, ministry or missionary organizations Christian leaders need to make prayerful, intentional, and deliberate decisions based upon the reality of the situation, as no decision is a decision, and the most dangerous decision of all!

“We cannot stand idly by and wait for government to address the security of our churches, ministries or families whether domestically or abroad. The responsibility primarily resided with us. What should churches, missionaries, and Christians do right now whether they are clearly in an 'at risk' situation abroad are this week or domestically in the future?"

Marr added, “To assist you, your family, church and local Christian community to assess your level of biblical readiness, develop emergency operations plans, build spiritual, emotional, mental and physical resiliency to biblically respond in crisis of all kinds, CEN ( provides three helpful training programs - ReadyChristian,ReadyChurch, and ReadyCity.”

She then suggested the following immediate steps for churches, ministry and missionary organizations:
* Train staff to be aware of unusual activities such as loitering or taking photos of facilities
* Sign up for CEN Alerts ongoing for timely updates on unfolding crisis
* Develop emergency operation plans
* Establish safe rooms, shelter in place actions, and communication plans
* Post sentries during events and worship services who rotate and rove
* Establish relationships with local law enforcement and report suspicious any activity immediately
* Limit vehicle access to the perimeters of facilities
* Lock windows and doors, use fencing and gate locks
* Review your faith-organization’s website for any information that may be sensitive
* Identify entry exits clearly to emergency evacuations and conduct an evacuation drill

Mary Marr’s expertise is in providing a unique Christian worldview to emergency preparedness and response, working with Department of Homeland Security and FEMA faith-based initiatives, developing the Biblical Readiness Standard, and offering a biblical perspective on any crisis situation provides a unique and valued service to the Christian community worldwide. In addition to being a seasoned radio broadcaster, educator, speaker, and author of Lighting the Way, Mary is also the author of CEN's three core ready training programs: ReadyChristianReadyChurch andReadyCity.

She concluded by saying, “Every Christian should be ready to respond biblically to emergencies large or small. Christian Emergency Network unites Christian volunteers, community leaders and emergency professionals in equipping the Church to be aware and ready to respond in emergencies large and small. To learn more about how you or your Christian organization can be prepared to respond to emergencies go to”