Thursday, December 20, 2012

Some resignation, optimism in advance of Saturday's referendum

Egypt protests near Presidential Palace
(Photos courtesy of Moud Marthez)

Egypt (MNN) ― The Muslim Brotherhood hoped that an overwhelming approval to the draft constitution would quiet the restive opposition. 

However, that was not to be the case in either scenario. First, although the first round of voting has brought a 56% "yes" vote to the constitution, it isn't a done deal. Second, protestors have been packing the streets to show their discontent with the process. 

Despite Islamist claims that a win proves they have a mandate, the opposition says the whole process has been rushed, there have been irregularities at the polls, and turnout: low. There may be enough to the accusations that the Justice Ministry has launched a probe investigating the allegations. 

It's not over yet. Saturday's round covered 10 of Egypt's 27 provinces. The second round of voting is this Saturday.
Paul Estabrooks, a spokesperson for Open Doors, says a lot of Christians are doing what they can in the referendum. However, "They do have a sense of resignation, and we need to pray that God will overrule in the situation for them." 

Why the concerns? Estabrooks explains, "The draft referendum, they say, is poorly crafted, is too Islamist, and they're afraid that this is going to bring even more persecution against the Christian minority there." More specifically, he notes, "This new draft that Mohammed Morsi is proposing gives the Islamic clerics a say over legislation and over civil liberties. This is the area where believers are most concerned."

Estabrooks goes on to compare the possibilities of a Sharia state to what Chinese Christians have experienced. "It's very much like the old days in China. Believers there were saying, ‘It's not so much the policy that Beijing sends out; it's how the local authorities implement it.'" 

Concerns were heightened when President Mohammed Morsi awarded himself extra powers and an Islamist Parliament. Article 2 of the proposed constitution establishes Islam as the state religion. "Principles of Islamic Sharia are the principal source of legislation," it states. Article 219 spells out those principles as "general evidence, foundational rules, rules of jurisprudence, and credible sources accepted in Sunni doctrines and by the larger community." Article 44 outlaws blasphemy.

If it's approved in its current state, the constitution calls for a parliamentary election in early 2013. There are fears that the new parliament will consist of nothing but people who support the Sharia turn. 

What's more, if the Islamists succeed in their gambit for power, believers expect even more harassment, oppression and outright persecution. "They hear the preaching every Friday from the mosques, where the local clerics sometimes can be far more strident in opposition to them than even the political leaders."

But will the opposition quit? That's unlikely. It's not Christians alone who oppose the shift to Islam, says Estabrooks. "There are a number of Muslim people who are also opposed to this constitutional draft because they see it as a negating of the whole Arab Spring initiation. It just transfers absolute power from one group to another."

However, some Christians believe that the recent wave of persecution has prompted many nominal Christians to turn to Christ for solace. It means hearts are united, and that, says Estabrooks, brings a sense of hope. "Believers are going to be in a situation where they have a wonderful opportunity to exhibit a Christ-like lifestyle and a response to what happens in their country. I think that's how we should pray, that first of all, we will be led and guided by the Holy Spirit in their responses, and that what they do will indeed reflect true Christian values."

Egypt is a nation in its birthing throes. Estabrooks says that Open Doors has had to adjust to changes almost as rapidly as the national believers do. He explains, "On the one hand, the way we were working before has been interrupted, of course, because of the instability. On the other hand, that has enabled us to distribute more Scriptures, more training materials, and more children's materials because of the spiritual growth that's occurring there."

ChinaAid Obtains Secret Central Committee Document Ordering Crackdown on Evangelism on College & University Campuses

BEIJING, Dec. 19, 2012 /Christian Newswire/ -- ChinaAid on Tuesday released a secret Communist Party Central Committee document it had obtained that contains detailed instructions for a nationwide crackdown on evangelism on college and university campuses and among students, confirming that China's leadership at the highest levels is behind the increased Christian persecution of recent years.

The May 15, 2011 document entitled "Suggestions for doing a good job of resisting foreign use of religion to infiltrate institutes of higher education and preventing campus evangelism" and known as Document 18 was drawn up by the ministries of education, public security, state security and foreign affairs, the State Administration of Religious Affairs, and the United Front Work Committee, the party organ that oversees religious affairs. As befitting a document of the highest importance, it was distributed by the Communist Party Central Committee and the State Council. Only 8,330 copies were printed, and these were distributed to party, government and military offices at or above the municipal or regiment level only.

Its references to "religion" refer mainly to Christianity, and it named the United States as leading the attempts to use Christianity to infiltrate China's institutes of higher education. ChinaAid obtained the document, which has never been publicly released, from informed sources at the top levels of the Chinese Communist Party.

"With China's rapid economic and social development and the steady growth of China's comprehensive national strength, ... [f]oreign hostile forces have put even greater emphasis on using religion to infiltrate China to carry out their political plot to westernize and divide China," the document said. "Foreign forces regard institutes of higher education as key targets for using religion, Christianity in particular, for infiltration."

"The goal of foreign use of religion to infiltrate institutes of higher education is not just to expand religious influence but even more to vie with us for our young people, our next generation," it said.

"The real harm and the long-term effects ... must not be underestimated, and forceful measures must be taken to respond actively and effectively," Document 18 said, calling the job of resisting the infiltration and preventing campus evangelism "important to the fate of the country and the fate of the people; it has important and far-reaching implications."

The document's authenticity has been confirmed by the respected Sinologist Andrew Nathan, a political science professor at Columbia University and co-editor of The Tiananmen Papers, a compilation of secret documents about the military crackdown on the 1989 student pro-democracy movement, and by the fact that lower-level government and party documents freely available in the document archives of, China's own Google-like web services monolith, include multiple documents that refer to Document 18 or report progress in implementing the measures outlined in Document 18.

"Content-wise, although the specific contents are new to me, they line up with my understanding of the fears the Chinese security apparatus has about religion and about American subversion via religion and culture more generally," Nathan said.

ChinaAid founder and president Bob Fu said, "It is absolutely laughable to suggest that there is such a thing as American-led religious infiltration as alluded to by the top leadership of China. In the name of supposedly countering foreign religious infiltration, the repressive nature of both the policies and procedures revealed in the secret document shows the Chinese regime's disregard for freedom of religion, which is both enshrined in China's own Constitution and central to international human rights norms and is guaranteed to all Chinese citizens, including university students."

"We call upon the new leadership in China to reject this outdated Cold War-era mentality and these religious policies," Fu said. "Religious freedom will only enhance the moral vigor of Chinese society through a more mature civil society in which both conscience and the rule of law operate."

The 16-page directive is divided into the following five sections:
  1. Resisting foreign use of religion to infiltrate institutes of higher education and preventing campus evangelism is an important and imperative strategic task

  2. Educate and guide college students to correctly understand and handle religious issues

  3. Effectively block the use of religion to infiltrate institutes of higher education and block channels for campus evangelism

  4. Deal with the problems of foreign use of religion to infiltrate institutes of higher education and campus evangelism according to the law

  5. Effectively strengthen organizational leadership of the task of resisting foreign use of religion to infiltrate institutes of higher education and preventing campus evangelism
The document gives specific instructions on a host of alarming measures designed to combat religious activities on college and university campuses, including expulsion and firing for students and teachers who engage in "illegal" religious activities, warnings about online religious activities and materials, and the establishment of a database shared by government ministries of information about groups and individuals deemed to be engaged in acts of infiltration or evangelism. 

ChinaAid has been documenting a steadily rising trend in recent years of the incidences and severity of persecution against Christians, both those from the house church movement as well as those belonging to government-sanctioned Three-Self churches. See ChinaAid's annual persecution reports that statistically document this alarming trend at

An English translation of the whole document is forthcoming and will be posted on the ChinaAid website.
Christian Newswire

Crackdown on religious freedom continues

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Central Asia (MNN) ― Like the steady drip of a leaky faucet, authorities are slowly but surely draining religious freedom from Central Asia.

According to Forum 18, Kyrgyzstan leaders flew under the public radar in recent days, adding new censorship amendments to the country's Religion Law.

While authorities were unable to tell Forum 18 what censorship categories like "extremism," "separatism" and "fundamentalism" meant under the new amendments, a political analyst said it could spell trouble for Protestant Christians.

"No one will check Muslim Board or Russian orthodox literature, but faiths deemed 'non-traditional' could face problems," the analyst said.

Joel Griffith with Slavic Gospel Association says, "It's apparently going to increase state control over religious literature and other materials. It really remains to be seen, though, exactly how this is going to be implemented and carried out.

"This is all part and parcel of something larger that's actually been going on in the so-called 'Stan' countries for some time."

Central Asia consists of five countries that once belonged to the Soviet Union: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. While Kyrgyzstan is tightening the collar on its Religion Law, church registration is a challenge in Kazakhstan and having more than a Bible in Uzbekistan could send you directly to jail.

"The interesting thing is: in the former Soviet days, you had atheistic Communism that was against religion in general," Griffith states. "Nowadays what we're seeing, even though the governments of these nations are…considered secular: [Islam is becoming] predominant. Because of that, other religious groups tend to receive some pressure.

"But…and this is an interesting thing to watch," Griffith continues. "The governments are also concerned about Islamic extremism and terrorist activity."

He cites last year's attacks as an example.

"That had not happened in Kazakhstan before," Griffith explains. "Even though Islam is the predominant religion inside these Central Asian countries, you're going to have the secular government scrutinizing very closely what's going on."
Could the region possibly be returning to its atheistic Soviet roots?

"It really is a mixed bag of what governments are doing and the reasons they're giving for doing i. But in the sense of religious freedom in general, the trend is not promising, and we need to make that a matter of prayer," Griffith says.
Pray for wisdom and discernment for God's people in Central Asia.

"We need to pray that as [believers] share the Gospel, the Lord would grant them open doors to be able to do that," says Griffith. "We also need to remember that God is not stopped by human governments from accomplishing His purpose."

Organized violence not enough to stop Gospel work

Police join Hindu extremists in persecuting Christians.
(Image courtesy of Mission India)

India (MNN) ― It's not unusual to hear about persecution in India, especially in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.

"In Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Orissa--those states in what's called the 'Hindu Heartland,' there is a very organized violence against Christians, trying to stop the growth of the Church," says Dave Stravers with Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Mission India.

However, reports of police helping Hindu extremists attack Christians in Madhya Pradesh is a little disconcerting.

Usually, Stravers explains, extremists go to police before they engage in violence against believers; then when the attack is reported and police are called in, they often arrest the Christians.

"This is the first time I've heard a case that confirmed police officers were part of the attackers," Stravers says.

A church pastor told Morning Star News that at the end of November, four police officers broke into his church during worship service and ordered Christians to leave. Close behind was a mob of Hindu extremists who told the leader "Jesus' name will not work in Madhya Pradesh" and warned against future mention of His name.

"The extremists further threatened to kill us, cut off our legs, burn down our houses. and expel us from the village if we speak the name of Jesus again and conduct meetings in the future," the church leader said.

When a church member tried to file a complaint at the local police station, an officer slapped him twice in the face.

"India has been resistant to the Gospel for centuries, and just in the last 10 or 15 years, places that once [had] just no Christians at all are now open to Christ, and people are coming to Jesus," says Stravers. "This is found to be very threatening by the Hindu and some community leaders."

Believers aren't holding back, though. Stravers says hundreds of volunteers want to share the Good News through Mission India's adult literacy classes and children's Bible clubs.

"They just need the training. They need to know how to carry out the ministry, and they need the literature and materials to do it," he explains. Click here if you can help.

"We can reach a child for $1 -- that's for the training and all of the materials," says Stravers. "We can reach an illiterate adult for $30 per person, bringing him from zero to fifth-grade reading level."

Pray that Great Commission work would keep moving forward despite persecution, and pray for courage for believers in India.

Stravers says, "The intention is not really to kill anyone or even to imprison them, but to stop the Message from going out; so we pray for courage."

In places like the "Hindu Heartland" where tolerance is threadbare and injustice is commonplace, Stravers says the storms of persecution only make believers tighten their grips on the Rock that is Jesus Christ.

"Their faith is increased, they're stiffened in their resolve, and if you go back 6 months later, you'll find the work is progressing even stronger than before," he explains.

Check out our Featured Links section to see how you can support and encourage believers in India.

Finally, Istanbul gives Syriac Christians a place to build: a cemetery

Syriacs call it a ploy to pit Christian communities against each other

By Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, Dec. 17 (World Watch Monitor) —Three years after a Syrian Orthodox foundation applied to build a church in Istanbul, the Greater Istanbul Municipality has granted them a large plot of land and a building permit.

Banner headlines in the Turkish media praised the early-December decision as “a first in the history of the Republic,” declaring that never before had Turkey allowed a non-Muslim minority to build an official new house of worship.

Still, Syriac Christians were far from pleased.

For one thing, the land they were “granted” by the municipality is, in fact, a Latin Catholic cemetery.

“We don’t want a Syriac church on top of a cemetery!” the website suryaniler.comstated. “This is a big scandal.”

In fact, the graveyard had been donated back in 1868 to the Italian Catholic Church in what is now Istanbul’s Yesilkoy district. It was then officially registered as Catholic property in 1936, although later confiscated in 1951 by the city.

The Council of Europe’s 2011 progress report noted that Turkey was not fully implementing Law No. 3998, which states that cemeteries belonging to minority communities can no longer be taken over by local municipalities.

According to lawyer Nail Karakas, the Latin Catholic foundation had applied to the city last summer, in accordance with the government’s August 2011 pledge to restore expropriated minority properties, to regain possession of their property and resume Christian burials in the graveyard.

So Syriac leaders are insisting that the cemetery land newly designated for their church be returned instead to its rightful owners. “It is clear that (the authorities) want to cause conflict between the minority communities,” commented Syriac layman Sabo Boyaci.

Boyaci also faulted the government for trying to exploit the Syriac community politically. “I don’t believe the government’s sincerity. They delivered this land to us in order to silence us on the matter of Mor Gabriel Monastery. The government simply aims to make a good impression on the European and Turkish public,” he told Hurriyet Daily News.

Monastery lands under threat

European Union officials have expressed “serious concerns” since the final Nov. 15 verdict by the Turkish Supreme Court of Appeals against the 4th century Mor Gabriel Monastery. The court ordered the confiscation of some 680 acres belonging to the monastery built more than 1,600 years ago near Mardin, in eastern Turkey’s Tur Abdin region. The decision was termed an “unlawful appropriation” by the Council of Europe.

Five disputes over the ownership of the ancient monastery’s lands have bounced back and forth in the courts since 2008, when Muslim villagers in the vicinity of the monastery protested to the state Treasury and Forestry Administration, claiming that the monastery was illegally occupying their lands.

Litigation was then instigated by state institutions, which had redrawn local boundaries earlier that year to update the national land registry, and passed new laws authorizing the transfer of “uncultivated or forested lands” to state ownership.

“I know from my experience very well that if some ‘citizens’ bring an organized action against non-Muslims in Turkey, it is almost certain that the state somehow has a hand in it,” columnist Orhan Kemal Cengiz wrote Dec. 7 regarding the case in Today’s Zaman.

The lawsuit was openly supported by Mardin parliamentarian Suleyman Celebi, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party. Celebi claimed that although the monastery’s legal boundaries were established in Ottoman times, the Syriac Christians had failed to observe them properly.

According to a deputy chairman of the monastery foundation, if an individual appeal to the Constitutional Court does not overturn the Nov. 15 decision, the monastery will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

The Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate had once resided in Midyat, until it was forced in 1930 to move to Damascus, where it still remains.

The oldest surviving Syriac Orthodox monastery in the world, Mor Gabriel still keeps alive the ancient Aramaic language closest to that spoken by Jesus.

Some 2,000 Syriac Christians still reside in their traditional homelands in and around Mardin.  More than 10,000 others have immigrated to Istanbul in recent decades. Without any official church of their own, the Istanbul parishes worship in rented Catholic Church buildings located throughout the city.

The Syriac Church of the Virgin Mary Foundation says their proposed new church needs to be large enough for 1,000 worshippers.



Copyright 2012 World Watch Monitor

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Pastor Threatened in Lahore for evangelizing

Women's group condemns the killing of a 71-year-old Swedish missionary

By Alex John
Special to ASSIST News Service

LAHORE, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- Pastor Kamran Gill, 39, a resident of Lahore, has been threatened for evangelizing in the Punjab province.

Gill has been working with various human rights organizations and denominations for the development of the Youth and the marginalized communities.

He has been emphasizing on the importance of education in the central Punjab. The locals are not in the favor of educating the youth, so that they can keep them enslaved.

His wife passed away in Sept, 2011 leaving behind a 9 years old daughter. The recent threats forced Gill to keep his daughter at home as the extremists may target his daughter.

A formal complaint has been lodged and the police are investigating the matter.

Father John Samuel from the Lahore Diocese said, "It is ironic that a person stands to educate the masses, instead they start threatening him. They are afraid to educate the youth and they fear that if they will become educated, they will start asking questions and they will start thinking on their own.
"Unfortunately a few people in Pakistan want to keep the people covered with illiteracy, so that they can use them for their gain. On the International Human Rights day, we condemn such a violation of the basic human rights and we condemn the threats given to the evangelist for his work."

A group called Illuminate, a women's rights organization headed by Huma Kristina Yousaf, has issued a news release regarding International Human Rights Day in which it says, "Human rights belong to every one of us without exception. However; unless we know them, unless we demand that they be respected, and unless we defend our right and the right of others to exercise them, they will be just words in a decades old document.

"The importance of human rights has been underlined repeatedly over the years. Across the globe, people mobilize to demand; justice, dignity, equality, and participate in cherishing the rights contained in the Universal Declaration.

"Illuminate concentrates on the integral development of the disadvantaged sections of society, in response to unsatisfactory labors made for socio-economic development of the marginalized and weaker section of the society. It is committed to attaining the goal of inspiring and formulating; a just, vibrant, progressive and democratic society where women are fully empowered, and not victimized by the traditional societal disease of gender inequality. It also aims to create awareness of noble concepts, such as; human security and equal opportunities for all."

Illuminate released went on to say that it condemns the assassination of Birgitta Almeby, the 71-year-old Swedish Christian missionary who was shot in Lahore, Pakistan, on December 3, died in a Stockholm hospital on Wednesday night.

"She had served for over 40 years in Pakistan and has been on the go; living a life dedicated to helping masses of people who live in abject poverty, regardless of their; religions, cast or any such forms of racial or religious segregation."

Illuminate also expressed its "outrage and resentment" over the state of affairs, "where women and young girls are being murdered, kidnapped and subjected to various forms of violence, including; killings in the name of 'honor', suicides, acid throwing and stove-burning with shameless impunity, while the State functionaries are doing nothing except lip service for TV cameras, and that too only in a select few cases that are fortunate enough to be voiced over the media for general awareness. We at Illuminate, also acknowledge the brave stand that Malala Yousafzai took, concerning the right for education for the girls in remote areas of Pakistan.

"Although the country has advanced in many ways but only a select few women, belonging to the posh or upper middle educated class truly understand and stand up for their rights. On the side of the spectrum, unfortunately; the old adage that says 'hammers for boys and needles for girls' is still prevalent."

The released added, "Our purpose is to inspire women and create awareness among them, regarding the rights they are entitled to, because in order to be able to stand up for ones rights it is integral to be able to identify them. Unfortunately, there are masses of women in Pakistan that are still living in ignorance. We want to highlight the fact that girls are capable of defending their rights and we plan to use Illuminate as a platform that defends and raises the voice of the girls in Pakistan who face injustice and violence and abuse at the hands of the male perpetrators, family members and state agents.

"The aim of Illuminate is to be a part of the strive to make a difference in beliefs and thoughts Pakistan, which have been troubled since generations, with a lousy concept of taking the term 'women' synonymous with terms like; weak, absurdly sensitive and risky when it comes to leadership. Our mission is to make a point that women from all the social classes in Pakistan, are equally desirable, based on their mental capabilities and competences, to be the leaders as they have proven around the world to be the best whenever the reigns have been given in their wholesome hands. Women just need the right education, enlightenment, exposure, opportunities and empowerment like the other gender to make their mark and prove themselves."

Alex John is a journalist based in Pakistan.

Wiesenthal Center Decries Attacks on Christian Sites in Israel

By Michael Ireland
Special Reporter, ASSIST News Service

ISRAEL (ANS) -- Overnight, offensive graffiti were painted at an Armenian cemetery and the Valley of the Cross monastery in Jerusalem, cars were also spray-painted and tires slashed at the monastery, and at Shukba, near Ramallah.

Now, in a media update, the Simon Wiesenthal Center has voiced its outrage over the recent desecration of these Christian religious sites in Israel, as well as vandalism of an Arab village.

"The desecration of religious sites in a democratic Israel pains us as Jews as much as it pains the intended victims," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Wiesenthal Center.

"Our outrage is mitigated only by the unequivocal response from the highest places in Israeli society," he continued.

Cooper referred to "the quick expression of 'disgust' by Prime Minister Netanyahu, and his commitment to apprehend and prosecute those responsible, and to redoubling Israel's educational emphasis on its core values of tolerance and respect for all people."

"The perpetrators added 'Happy Hanukah' slogans in their vandalism but there was nothing happy and nothing Hanukah about these attacks," remarked Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, the Center's director of interfaith affairs.

"At a time that Jews commemorate winning religious freedom from their ancient oppressors, they are mindful of not violating the welcome mat that Israel extends to all other religious groups," he added.

"How tragic that while the vast majority of Jews celebrate their own religious values, misguided people would resort to such ugly and un-Jewish tactics," Adlerstein concluded.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is one of the largest international Jewish human rights organizations with over 400,000 member families in the United States. It is an NGO at international agencies including the United Nations, UNESCO, the OSCE, the OAS, the Council of Europe and the Latin American Parliament (Parlatino).

For more information, please contact the Center's Public Relations Department, 310-553-9036, join the Center on Facebook, , or follow @simonwiesenthal for news updates sent direct to your Twitter page or mobile device.

Imprisoned South China Church Leader Gong Shengliang Paralyzed by Stroke; Family's Request for Medical Parole Rejected

WUHAN, China, Dec. 15, 2012/Christian Newswire/ -- The founder of the South China Church, serving a 19-year prison sentence, has suffered a stroke that has left him paralyzed and unable to speak, but prison officials have refused the family's request to release Gong Shengliang on medical parole.

ChinaAid received an urgent appeal letter Thursday evening from Gong's family in which they detailed Gong's condition and their efforts to secure his release on medical parole.  (The full text of the family's letter and medical parole petition is provided below.)

Gong, who is in his 60s, suffered a stroke at 8 p.m. on Dec. 2 that left him paralyzed on the left side, unable to speak and drooling from his mouth.  It was not until the next afternoon that Gong was taken to a hospital to be treated and to confirm that he had suffered a stroke.  He was then transferred to the Wuhan municipal prison.

Family members were not notified of these developments until Dec. 7, whereupon they immediately asked to go see him.  The prison said that a visit could not be arranged until Monday Dec. 10.

At that meeting, Gong needed the assistance of two people, one on each side to hold him up, in order to enter the visitors room.  When they seated him, he was unable to sit upright and kept sliding off the chair.  He was also drooling and unable to speak.

The next day, the family submitted a request for Gong to be released on medical parole, but was told that his condition did not meet the requirements for medical parole.  Gong's family had requested medical parole on previous occasions as his health over the years has declined, but had been rejected each time.  His two daughters have also been refused permission to visit their father.

See the family's earlier appeal for medical parole here: 

"We ask brothers and sisters from churches everywhere to extend a helping hand to our teacher Gong Shenliang, whose life is at stake, to pray for him...and pay attention (to his case), so that he can be released on medical parole as soon as possible and receive timely treatment," the family said in the appeal letter received by ChinaAid.

Gong was one of 17 South China Church leaders convicted and sentenced in December 2001 of "using a cult to undermine law enforcement."  Gong and four others were given the death sentence.  But as a result of the ensuing international outcry initiated by ChinaAid founder and president Bob Fu, a higher court revoked the death sentences in September 2002, citing lack of clarity about certain facts and insufficient evidence.  The case was retried in October 2002, and instead of the crime of "using a cult," the five who had been condemned to death were convicted of "intentional assault" and sentenced to life imprisonment. Gong was also convicted of rape. His sentence was commuted in 2006 to 19 years in prison.

See our earlier report on his case: 

The South China Church under Gong's leadership was a source of controversy because of Gong's personal conduct and questions about the orthodoxy of some of his teachings.  After Gong's imprisonment, some church elders left the church and set up independent churches, but the South China Church has continued to meet and has accepted the teaching of other, more orthodox pastors.  Its numbers are slightly lower than the 100,000 members at the time of Gong's imprisonment.

"Regardless of his past moral issues in the church before his imprisonment, Gong should be treated humanely, in accordance with Chinese law and international standards for treatment of prisoners,"  said  Fu.  "We appeal to the Chinese authorities to grant the Gong family's appeal to provide urgent medical treatment for Gong and to allow his two daughters to visit their critically ailing father."

Fu's experience and success in advocating for Gong was the impetus for his establishing ChinaAid in 2002 to draw international attention to China's gross human rights violations against house church Christians, and to monitor and report on religious freedom violations in China.

The family's letter of appeal and petition for medical parole:
    Imploring Brothers and Sisters of Various Churches to Show Concern and Care for Brother Gong Shengliang Who is in Critical Condition
    Dear brothers and sisters,
    As we write this letter to you, our hearts are bleeding, tears flow from our eyes and our hands are trembling....
    Teacher Gong Shengliang (originally called Gong Dali) was born on May 20, 1952 and lived in Zaoyang, Hubei province.  He is the founder of the Chinese Christian Huanan (South China) Church.

    Teacher Gong has been a believer of Jesus since childhood and is a devout Christian who loves the Lord. At the age of 17 (in 1969), he was called by the Lord to preach the Gospel. He is the third generation of Christians in his family.  American Baptist missionaries preached the Gospel to his mother and his maternal grandmother, who were saved by grace and baptized as Christians in the 1920s and 1930s.

    Teacher Gong not only preached the Gospel, he also led people to repent and turn to God and founded the South China Church, for which he was attacked, persecuted and arrested by the Chinese authorities.
    Teacher Gong was arrested on August 8, 2001 in Jingmen, Hubei province, and given two death sentences by the Jingmen Intermediate Court on the charges of "organizing and using a cult to undermine law enforcement," "intentional harm," "rape," etc.  Later, as the result of the prayers, concern, care, efforts and help of Christian brothers and sisters, care and concern from people from all walks of life and the reports in the international media, God heard our prayers and Teacher Gong's death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, which was commuted again on April 13, 2006, to 19 years in prison.  He is serving time at Hanxi Prison in Wuhan, Hubei province. On the afternoon of the 3rd of this month, he was sent to Wuhan's Hongshan Prison because he was in critical condition.

    Teacher Gong has now been imprisoned for more than 10 years and he is in his 60s.

    Authorities have refused medical treatment when he became ill and his health has been deteriorating.  Teacher Gong has long been wanting to see his two daughters but cannot because the authorities won't issue ID cards to his two children and the prison refuses to allow them to visit on the excuse that they don't have ID cards.  This is another way they are tormenting Teacher Gong in both mind and body.  His worries about the brothers and sisters in the church have also contributed to his deteriorating health.  Because of this, his family has made several requests for the prison to provide medical treatment and to release him on medical parole, but all the requests were rejected.  At about 8 p.m. on the 2nd of this month, he suddenly became very sick and his condition became critical. He couldn't speak, was drooling, and was paralyzed on the left side of his body.  On the afternoon of the Dec. 3, he was sent to a hospital for examination, and the diagnosis was cerebral infarction and high blood pressure.  Then, he was transferred to Wuhan's Hongshan Prison.

    On Dec. 7, Teacher Gong's family learned of this (development) and asked to see him. The prison authorities said: "Dec. 8 and Dec. 9 are the weekend and no one will be working. The request is denied."

    The family were not able to visit until Dec. 10, but Teacher Gong's two daughters were not allowed to visit him in prison because they lacked ID cards. At a time when Teacher Gong is so critically ill, he is not allowed to see his two children and the two daughters can't visit their sick father. The prison's actions have caused us great pain, and we express our deep regret.  During the visit, family members saw two people supporting Teacher Gong into the visitors room.  Even with the two people holding on to him, he kept sliding down in his chair.  His face was very red, he was drooling and unable to speak, and the left side of his body was paralyzed.  His life is in danger and Teacher Gong needs timely treatment.  We did all that we could do as family members.  On Dec. 11, we the family members submitted to Hanxi Prison an application for a medical parole, but the Section Chief of the prison said the conditions had not been met.

    Yesterday afternoon, Teacher Gong's youngest daughter went again to her local police station and asked for an ID card.  Instead, she was frisked and interrogated for several hours until it was dark. Then, they photographed and fingerprinted her before releasing her.

    We ask brothers and sisters from churches everywhere to extend a helping hand to our teacher Gong Shenliang, whose life is at stake, to pray for him, care about him and pay attention (to his case), so that he can be released on medical parole as soon as possible and receive timely treatment.

    Members of the body of Christ:

    Gong Shuqin
    Gong Dasheng
    Gong Shuying
    Gong Shuzhen (Gong's sister)
    Gong Xiaoyan (Gong's daughter)
    Gong Huali (Gong's daughter)

    Addendum: Application for medical parole for Gong Dali
    December 11, 2012

    Leaders of Hanxi Prison, Wuhan, Hubei province:
    We are the family members of Gong Dali who is being held in your prison. Our relative Gong Dali suddenly became very sick on the 2nd of this month and is in critical condition.  He has been transferred to Hongshan Prison for treatment.  Because he is critically ill, we went to see him yesterday and saw he was in a very bad state both physically and mentally.  He can only lie in bed and was not able to talk to us.  He needs timely medical treatment.  His condition will not improve if he is treated in prison and he needs better medical care.  Therefore, out of humanitarianism and in the spirit of "cure the sickness to save the patient," we hereby apply for medical parole so that this loved one of ours can receive treatment at an early date and also to show the humane administration of the government!
    We hereby again request medical parole
    To: Hanxi prison of Hubei province
    Applicants: Gong Shuqin, Gong Dasheng, Gong Shuying, Gong Shuzhen, Gong Xiaoyan and Gong Huali
    Contact number: 15072290147
Christian Newswire

Likely to lose constitution vote, Egyptian Christians gird for long struggle

Religious freedom will have to be won within Islamic system of laws

CAIRO, Dec. 13, (World Watch Monitor) — Politically connected Christians in Egypt give credit to the Muslim Brotherhood for one thing: they can win elections. The Brotherhood got 13 million ordinary Egyptians, many of them poor, rural and illiterate, to the polls in June to vote for their presidential candidate, Mohamed Morsi.
Governing has been a different matter.

“What is helping us today is that the Muslim Brotherhood and political Islam are not always clever,” said Hassan Ismail, secretary general of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organizations. He has been networking among Christians, moderate Muslims and secularists to assemble a political counterweight to the more numerous supporters of the Brotherhood and the fundamentalist Salafis.

“Average people are starting to be against them because they don’t see anything helping them,” Ismail said, passing a sultry autumn afternoon at a Cairo café table. “Our bet is on the stupidity of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Since the January 2011 revolution that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak, economic growth has slowed and Egypt’s unemployment rate has been running at 12 percent. Prices are up by 20 percent, and likely would be higher if not for the central bank’s raid on its foreign cash reserves to prop up the value of the Egyptian pound. 

Textile workers and doctors alike have staged walkouts for higher wages. Tourism is moribund. The day after he was enthroned, new Coptic Pope Tawadros II said he and Egypt’s 10 million Christians would reject the proposed constitution, drafted by a committee dominated by Islamists, if it retained language establishing a religious state.

“The Muslim Brotherhood, they don’t know politics. Every day they provide us with proof,” said Dr. Ehab El Kharrat , a psychiatrist, member of Egypt’s upper house of Parliament, and a Christian member of the country’s constitution-drafting committee until he walked out in protest. “They are not the underdog any more. Now they are making one mistake after another.”

This was the view several weeks ago, when growing public exasperation with the impotence of the Morsi government appeared to open a plausible path for Christians to secure some space for themselves alongside Egypt’s widely popular Islamist political movements.

But it also was before Morsi made his late-November lurch for power with a series of decrees – since rescinded -- that expanded his authority and shielded him from court oversight. It was before he ordered the committee drafting the constitution, already deserted by frustrated Christians and the object of widespread protests, to finish the job in a single night, and scheduled a popular vote for Dec. 15.

Cairo streets filled with tens of thousands of protesters, and with even more Morsi supporters, in sometimes violent confrontations. Tanks lined up in front of the presidential palace. In the streets, the dividing line has become a largely religious one: The Brotherhood and Salafis on one side chanting in support of Islam and majority rule; and opponents on the other chanting in support of a constitution without religious preferences and that protects minorities.

Article 2 of the proposed constitution establishes Islam as the state religion. “Principles of Islamic Sharia are the principal source of legislation,” it states.  Article 219 spells out those principles as “general evidence, foundational rules, rules of jurisprudence, and credible sources accepted in Sunni doctrines and by the larger community.” Article 44 outlaws blasphemy.

Now that the national vote is nigh, ordinary Christians told World Watch Monitor through an interpreter that their way forward likely will be a longer, harder grind under a system of laws tilted against anyone who is not Muslim.
“The result will be fraud and the Brotherhood will win,” said Meshel Gerges, 30, a Catholic electrical engineer.

“Nothing will happen for us as Christians after the ratification of the constitution in the short term. But I think after two years they will get rid of their enemies,” Gerges said. “The church will face persecution and they will not allow us to build churches.”

Meriam Hana Wadeaa, a 32-year-old industrial manager and a Coptic Christian, said “we will see bad days” under the constitution.

“Life will be pitched,” she said. “Everyone is scared and don’t know what they do (except) pray to God to save us from this nightmare quickly.”

“The constitution is not appropriate for us as Christians because the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis are the majority who wrote the constitution,” said Sameha Ibrahem, a 45-year-old cleaning worker and Coptic Christian. “My feelings toward it are a very intense fear for my children and the country.”

The mutation of Egypt’s revolution against a dictator into a sectarian struggle troubles Mohamed El Dahshan, a Cairo-based economist and policy adviser.

“Painting society as a pro-Islam vs. anti-Islam binary choice isn't a political dispute -- it's a civil one,” El Dahshan blogged Monday for Foreign Policy Magazine. “Because there isn't a region, a street, a family where people don't disagree about politics; if this kitchen table conversation is transformed into one about faith, then we're lost. And the damage will reach all the way to the deepest threads of the society that we love to compare – mostly thanks to a Christian minority that throws in some diversity – to a complex, tightly woven tapestry.”

Giving voice to El Dahshan’s fear, several Christians who spoke with World Watch Monitor said talk of leaving Egypt for good is common in their church congregations.

Among his young church peers, 25-year-old teacher Michel Rauof said there are worries the approval of the constitution will make a bad economic situation worse, and that the unemployed will simply be forgotten. “Many think of emigration, but there is no way to emigrate,” he said through an interpreter.

Though they are likely to come out on the short end of Saturday’s constitutional referendum, Egypt’s 10 million Christians will not be left completely empty-handed.

“If this constitution were allowed, there are natural and legitimate channels to make the objection of people and organizations,” Dr. Reverend Safwat Al-Bayaadi, head of the Anglican Communion in Egypt, told World Watch Monitor through an interpreter. “And we will do so, but the church does not call for disobedience. We'll look for ways and legitimate channels for objection and request for reconsideration. However, we reject disobedience.”

A Christian history professor in Cairo, speaking anonymously to protect his position, said believers will have little option but to confront injustices directly, and loudly.

“The oldest and best way is continuing our resistance and exposing it to the whole world,” he said. “Go publicly to the international society, while resisting on the inside.”

“We are preparing ourselves for a long, long struggle and battle with Islam,” the professor said. “What is happening with Islamists in the streets is one part of that. We win some of these small battles. We have some of the rights we fought for.”

Even if Christians have run out of time to gather the votes needed to reject the proposed constitution Saturday, the professor said they continue to win converts to the cause of religious freedom for Egypt.

“The number of people refusing political Islam is increasing every day,” he said, “and this is encouraging us that maybe we will be victorious in the future.”


Copyright 2012 World Watch Monitor

Church Leaders Wounded in Attacks on Sri Lankan Churches

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

SRI LANKA (ANS) -- Two church leaders were wounded in separate attacks targeting worship services in Sri Lanka.

According to a story from Barnabas Aid, on Dec. 9, a rock was thrown at the pastor of a church in Weeraketiya, Hambanthota district, as a large mob, including numerous Buddhist monks, stormed the building. The pastor was left with severe pain in his lower abdomen.

Barnabas Aid said the attackers overwhelmed eight police officers, who had been sent to the scene to oversee a planned demonstration by the monks against the church.

The mob vandalized church furniture and equipment, and also vehicles belonging to church members that were parked outside the building. Children were present during the attack.

Barnabas Aid said the day before the incident, a group of Buddhists, including a number of monks, had visited the pastor. They told him that he was not allowed to conduct Christian worship in Weeraketiya without the permission of Buddhist clergy.

When he insisted that it was his constitutional right to do so, Barnabas Aid said they incorrectly claimed that the constitution had now changed. They gave the pastor an ultimatum that either he stop holding services or else they would destroy the church.

In an earlier incident, Barnabas Aid reported, a Sri Lankan bishop who has been threatened for speaking out against the regime's abuses was wounded in an attack on a church in Karusal, Mannar district.

Stones were thrown into the building during a service on Sept. 7, and firecrackers reportedly lit at the scene.
According to Barnabas Aid, Rayappu Joseph, Bishop of Mannar, was leading the service at the time and sustained minor injuries. Two young worshipers were assaulted by the attackers when they went outside to investigate.

Barnabas Aid said the bishop has been a leading figure in defending the rights of the Tamil people in north and east Sri Lanka. He suffered serious abuse during the 26-year long civil war in which the government fought the Tamil Tigers. Open threats have been made against him.

Barnabas Aid provides hope and relief for the persecuted church.

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