Thursday, February 7, 2013

Open Doors USA Launches New 5-5-5 Challenge

Campaign Promotes Prayer and Support for Christians Suffering in World Watch List Countries

SANTA ANA, Calif., Feb. 6, 2013 /Christian Newswire/ -- Open Doors USA has launched a campaign to pray and support persecuted Christians called the "5-5-5 Challenge."

Each year Open Doors releases the World Watch List, a ranking of the top 50 countries which are the worst persecutors of Christians. North Korea has held the No. 1 spot for 11 years in a row. Other countries following North Korea on the 2013 list are Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Maldives, Mali, Iran, Yemen and Eritrea.

The 5-5-5 Challenge is a three part campaign. The first part is a challenge to set aside five minutes (or more) a week to pray for the country of the week on the World Watch List website. While some of the countries on the list are frequently in the news, such as North Korea and Syria, there are some that are rarely noticed. Those include such countries as Maldives and Eritrea. This portion of the challenge was created so Christians in every country on the World Watch List are covered with prayer.

The second part of the challenge is to share the challenge with five friends on various social networks and to encourage them to get involved in the 5-5-5 Challenge. The final part of the challenge is to give $5 a month (or more) to support persecuted Christians around the world.

Here is how the campaign works:

Users sign up on the website at

Each week they will receive an email with the featured country from the World Watch List

Users click through the email to visit the detail page of the website where they can pray (write a comment) and share the page on social media

On social media, Open Doors focuses on the featured country during the week, sending people back to the detail page of the World Watch List website

There is also a place on the website to give $5 or more.
Open Doors USA Interim President/CEO Steve Ridgway states: "People love a challenge and Open Doors USA is offering a very unique challenge. We are asking you to pray, communicate and give. The first is a challenge of time, the second involves informing others about our persecuted brothers and sisters and the third is a sacrifice of your resources. Will you join us? Will you dare to engage and step into the lives of faithful Christians who live in hostile places? Will you risk by being one with them?"

The World Watch List website offers numerous resources for the 5-5-5 Challenge for both individuals and churches. Some of the resources include sermons, bulletin inserts, infographics, pictures, videos and testimonies. All of the resources can be downloaded at

For almost 60 years Open Doors has worked in the world's most oppressive and restrictive countries, strengthening Christians to stand strong in the face of persecution and equipping them to shine Christ's light in these places. Open Doors empowers persecuted Christians by supplying Bibles and Christian literature, training Christian leaders, facilitating social/economic projects and uniting believers in the West in prayer for Christians, who are the most persecuted religious group in the world and are oppressed in at least 60 countries. To partner with Open Doors USA, call toll free at 888-5-BIBLE-5 (888-524-2535) or go to our website at

Alleged Kidnapper Threatens Family of Christian Girl in Pakistan

Police refuse to arrest politician's aide who allegedly forced 15-year-old to convert, marry

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

LAHORE, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- A powerful Pakistani politician's aide who abducted a Christian girl from her home in Karachi has warned her parents that the same fate awaits their other daughters unless they drop charges against him and leave the city, the family said.

According to a story by Morning Star News, Khursheed Bibi said that Ghaji Khan, a close aide of Sindh Provincial Minister for Local Government Agha Siraj Durrani, had abducted 15-year-old Asma Masih from their house on Dec. 10 and forced her to marry him and convert to Islam. Authorities have refused to take Khan into custody in spite of court orders to arrest him, according to the family.

"We told the police that Ghaji is threatening us, telling us to withdraw the case or else he would abduct my other daughters, but our pleas have fallen on deaf ears," Morning Star News reported she said. "We have lost our daughter, but now it seems we also have to relocate to another city to protect my other daughters."

Morning Star News said the girl's mother, brother and father Rehmat Masih saw her in the company of Khan's subordinates on Jan. 28 - and heard her plead for them to rescue her, her mother said - after a family member informed them that Khan and Asma had been seen at the Sindh High Court (SHC). The family members rushed to the high court from a hearing at the judicial magistrate's court, Khursheed Bibi said.

"We immediately boarded a taxi and went to the high court, where Ghaji, Asma and some men were present," she said. "I immediately ran toward my daughter, who started weeping on seeing me, but Ghaji and his men snatched her away and managed to escape from the premises after manhandling us."

Morning Star News said the family immediately called Sub-Inspector Abdul Ghaffar, who has refused to arrest Khan, presumably because he is an employee of Durrani, who is both influential and biased against Christians, Khursheed Bibi said. "

We told him that Ghaji was at the SHC and was now escaping with our daughter, but the police official told us that he was at the judicial magistrate's court for the hearing and could not go after the accused," she said, adding that Ghaffar was openly siding with the accused.

The family told Morning Star News that Sub-Inspector Ghaffar's refusal to arrest Khan has been unwavering in spite of repeated court orders to do so.

"On Jan. 21, the judicial magistrate issued non-bailable arrest warrants for Ghaji Khan and ordered police to arrest the accused within 24 hours, but Sub-Inspector Ghaffar has been making excuses to avoid arresting the man, who is running a prostitution racket in the city with the blessings and support of Minister Durrani, a close confidante of President Asif Zardari," a member of the family told Morning Star News.

Ghaffar later told the family - falsely, according to their lawyer - that Khan had filed an application before the SHC seeking protective bail and "security" from the girl's family.

Morning Star News reported Khursheed Bibi said that that the supposed court petition claimed that Farzana (the Muslim name forced on her after forced conversion) and Khan had married against her parents' wish, and that now the family was harassing them through the police.

"Ghaffar said that now that Ghaji had filed a petition in the SHC, he could not arrest him until his petition was decided by the court," she said. "But the police official had lied to us about the SHC petition, as our lawyer found out later from the court that no such action had been initiated."

Sub-Inspector Ghaffar insisted to Morning Star News that the couple had surrendered to the SHC and had filed a petition against the girl's family and police for harassment.

"The SHC accepted the petition, and the matter is pending before the court," he said.

Morning Star News said he denied Khursheed Bibi's accusations that he was supporting Khan in the investigation, saying he never asked the girl's mother to stop pursuing the case. But the family's attorney, Aamir Jamil, said that police were lying about Khan having sought the SHC's intervention in the case.

"I checked with the SHC Registrar's Office, and there's no record of any such application," Jamil said. "Sub-Inspector Ghaffar made up the story to discourage the family from pursuing the case."

Morning Star News reported Jamil informed the court on Jan. 29 that police were using delay tactics to avoid arresting Khan, and to put off recording an independent statement by Asma in court.

"The court took strict notice of the police official's mala fide intentions and issued a show-cause notice to him to explain why he hadn't arrested the accused so far," he said.

Morning Star News reported Jamil said police were obligated by law to produce the girl in court to record her statement about whether she had been forcibly converted and forced to marry Khan or had done so of her own will.

"We have also asked the court to move Asma to a women's shelter home until the case is decided," he said. "Asma's statement under sections 161 and 164 are mandatory to get to the bottom of things, but the police are deliberately hindering this legal process."

Asma is 15 years old and four months according to her birth certificate, while Khan is claiming that she is more than 16, Morning Star News said he added.

"According to Islamic sharia law, the marriageable age of girls must be 16," he said. "If the police produce the girl in court, we will seek a medical board to determine her age to support our claim that she is underage, and hence the act of getting her married by an Islamist cleric is also illegal and punishable under the law."

Jamil said he had advised the family to file a court petition to change the investigating officer of the case, as Ghaffar's complicity was quite evident by his reluctance to arrest the accused despite repeated court orders.

Morning Star News reported Khursheed Bibi said that not only have police ignored the family's complaints about Khan's threats, but Ghaffar has also pressured them to drop the case, telling her "the accused was very influential and beyond the reach of the courts and police," she said.

"He has often told us that the girl might never be returned to the family, as she was a Muslim now and would continue to stay with her lawful husband," she said. "Even if this is the case, why isn't he producing her in court where she can speak her mind?"

The family has given up hope of ever seeing Asma returned to them, she said.

Morning Star News reported Jamil said police have submitted a charge-sheet in court, claiming that they had been unable to arrest the accused as he was absconding.

"The court has now fixed Feb. 8 to record Khursheed Bibi's statement, during which we will move an application for changing the investigating officer," he said.

For more information about Morning Star News go to

New North Korean leader more oppressive, says Christians

North Korea's new leader Kim Jong-un 

North Korea (MNN/CAM) ― The uncertainty surrounding North Korea's new leader Kim Jong-un is less uncertain now. According to Christian Aid Mission, the grandson of Kim Il Sung is making life difficult for Christians, which is far different than 100 years ago.

In the early 1900s, Pyongyang was referred to as the "Jerusalem of the East." Christianity had taken root in the capital of present-day North Korea, and some 3,000 churches were established and growing.

A century later, the spiritual landscape is far different. North Korea, also known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, is considered to be the world's most hostile nation to Christianity.

Persecution of Christians began in 1910 when Japan seized control of the Korean peninsula and worsened with the rise to power of Kim Il Sung's Communist regime at the end of World War II. The oppressive dynasty continued with his son, and more recently with his grandson, Kim Jong-un.

"The North Korean people feel that Kim Jong-un is making life even harder for Christians than his father and grandfather did," reports one of Christian Aid's missionary contacts who works in the country.

Today there are an estimated 100,000 to 400,000 Christians in North Korea. Despite ever-present dangers of imprisonment, brutality, and death, faithful followers of Jesus Christ remain committed to sharing the gospel in the midst of very difficult circumstances.

"Mr. E" leads three underground churches in North Korea, with a total of 87 members. He became a Christian in 2006. The following year he was arrested by the police and charged with espionage for helping North Korean refugees escape across the border into China. The penalty for his crime against the government: 18 years in prison.

Another underground church leader provided money to help Mr. E, and his sentence was reduced to five years. He was released and returned home to his family in 2012.

At the time of his arrest, however, Mr. E's home was confiscated by the government. He currently lives in his mother's one-room house with seven people. His desire is to have a house with a large room so he can have the space to host house church meetings.

Mr. E already is seeing the fruits of his labors as the network of believers and house churches increases. He travels about 80 miles to lead worship services and meetings.

"He is now fully active and more energetic in the ministry," said the missionary contact. "He has become a good partner in planting underground home churches."

Christian ministry leaders in North Korea are encouraged as God's love shines forth, bringing light to the darkness and transforming hearts. Whatever the political situation, they can experience spiritual freedom through the redeeming power of Jesus Christ.

Prayer requests:
For Mr. E to have a motorcycle so he can travel more easily to his circuit of underground churches.
For wise, Spirit-filled, bold missionaries, and the rapid expansion of underground churches and networks.
For spiritual encouragement for believers who are enduring extremely harsh prison conditions.
For a wide dissemination of Bibles. Pray that believers will have a clear understanding of God's Word.
• For Christians to know how to work within the North Korea system to evangelize, build up believers, and plant churches.
Though missionaries and Christians know a lot about being secretive and avoiding arrest, ultimately they need God's protection from the authorities. Pray that they will be able to minister undetected.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Ten Months in a Communist Prison

By Don Milam
Special to ASSIST News Service

MOZAMBIQUE (ANS) -- It was June 3, 1975 and I was at home having lunch with my family when there was a knock at the door. As I got up to answer the urgent rapping, I did not realize that when I opened that door the course of my life would change forever. The man on the other side of the door was a detective from the secret police of Mozambique. He confirmed my identity and then told me I would have to come with him to the police station.

Let's spin the time clock backward to 1967. At that time I was a junior at Prairie Bible College in Alberta, Canada. During that school year the Worldwide Evangelization Crusade (founded by the British cricketer, C.T. Studd) came to talk to us about the 19 point evangelistic program. They informed us of their intention to reach 19 places in the world that had not been evangelized by the Gospel. One of those places was northern Mozambique. During those years I had already heard many missionaries speak of the great opportunities to reach the world. However, it was at this point that I knew that Mozambique was in my future.

Some of the YWAM team in Mozambique
Micki and I graduated in 1968 and got married that summer. Because Mozambique, a Portuguese colony, was not open for new missionaries we decided to work with Teen Challenge, a drug rehabilitation program founded by David Wilkerson. We arrived in Philadelphia in the fall of 1968 and worked on the streets of Philadelphia for two years. We did not realize that this decision would be crucial to our future work in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. At the end of those two wonderful years we heard that there was a little crack in the door to Mozambique so we said goodbye to our friends at Teen Challenge and moved to Ft. Washington and joined the Worldwide Evangelization Crusade.

In 1972 my wife and I and our two children flew to Lisbon where for the next 10 months we would study Portuguese in preparation for the journey to Mozambique. At the end of that time we heard that we had been granted a temporary visa to enter Mozambique. On our last day in Lisbon we packed up our belongings and headed for the ship that would take us to Maputo (called Lourenco Marques in those days). For three weeks we sailed down the coast of Africa, rounded the Cape of Good Hope and finally landed in Maputo. We were met by a South African couple that had prepared for our arrival.

Tom, Salu, Clecius and Don
When we arrived in Mozambique we knew that the Portuguese colonialists had been in an ongoing struggle with freedom fighters in the North of this beautiful country. FRELIMO, the communist-backed rebel group, had been waging a guerilla-type war for independence. This war had been going on for ten years but it had not affected life in Maputo. In the South, where we lived in the capital city, life went on in a relatively normal fashion. No one really talked much about the war mainly for fear of attracting the attention of the PIDE, the Portuguese secret police.

It was about a year later that I met Joao, a young man addicted to drugs and prostitution. Joao accepted Christ and this encounter would change the direction of our life in Mozambique. After Joao's brother committed suicide while high on drugs, Joao asked me to talk with his uncle who was grieving over the death of his nephew who had jumped from the 7th floor of their condo. The conversation eventually turned towards our involvement with Teen Challenge. They were fascinated by the tales of lives changed by the power of God. A few days later the uncle called me and asked if he could take me to visit a friend of his. Well, the friend he was talking about just happened to be the Secretary of Health for Mozambique.

FRELIMO soliders on a combat mission
The outcome of that meeting was that the government decided to finance the opening of a drug rehabilitation center in Matola, a suburb of Maputo, and give us all permanent visas to stay in Mozambique. Tom Bauer and Salu Daka Ndebele, who had just come to Maputo from the Youth With a Mission base in Zimbabwe, joined our staff. They were a great addition and their work on the streets reached a lot of kids. Many of these young people were delivered from drugs, a standing testimony to the power of God. My dream for ministry in Mozambique was becoming a reality.
Locked Up in Maputo Prison

In 1974 the unimaginable happened. The military in Portugal successfully launched a coup d'état against the government, and the first thing the new junta did was give independence to their three African colonies, Mozambique, Angola and Guinea-Bassau. For us in Mozambique that meant that FRELIMO would take over the government of Mozambique.

At the urging of the U.S. Consulate, most American missionaries had already left the country, but Micki and I and our staff sought the Lord for direction and felt it was right for us to stay. The people we had been ministering to and come to love had no place to go for sanctuary. We could not leave them.

The YWAM Mozambique before the arrest of some of them
A year later, in April of 1975, the people of Mozambique celebrated their independence from Portugal and FRELIMO soldiers drove through the city of Maputo in their jeeps firing AK-47s into the air.
One month after Independence Day that fateful knock on the door of my home happened. I was about to enter into what St. John of the Cross called "The Dark Night of the Soul."

I was arrested and taken to the police station not suspecting how my life was about to dramatically change. I was questioned for six hours and had no way of knowing that Clecius, our Brazilian co-worker, was also being interrogated in another room. Later that evening I was put in a military jeep with armed soldiers and taken to my home. Several soldiers woke my wife and children as they searched our house, waving their weapons at us. I didn't know what they were looking for and had only a minute to quickly whisper to Micki that it would be all right. This was just a big misunderstanding, and once they realized it, I would return home. How wrong I was!

By then it was about ten o'clock at night, and I was brusquely ordered back outside and into the jeep. I was taken to the ominous-looking Maputo Civil prison. Arriving in the dark of night, I was processed and led to cell number six in prison block A. Dazed, I found myself secured in that cell with two other prisoners.

The little blanket they had issued me was not pulled over my head as I sought to make sense of the events of that day. My thoughts turned to God. "Oh God, where are You?" I cried out. No answer seemed to come.

The next morning I connected with Clecius who was in Cell Block C. Two days later Salu was arrested and put in Cell Block B. Also, on that first day Mr. Cunha, head of the block, came and introduced himself to me. He and many other people on that block would become dear friends during our mutual ordeal. A month or so later two American missionaries were also arrested. Hugh Friberg and Armand Doll would join me in my cell.

That was the first of the 300 nights I would spend in that dark, fear-filled, concrete prison. I had prepared my whole adult life to serve the Lord in this very country where I now found myself imprisoned. My lifelong dream had turned into a nightmare. I was confused and depressed. Where was God, and how could He let this happen? My earlier confidence that this was all a mistake began to evaporate. What was going to happen to Micki and my three small children with chaos and violence escalating in this new Marxist country? Horror stories of the unrestrained actions of the guerillas turned "policemen" filtered throughout the prison daily.

Gradually I began to settle into the daily routine of prison life. From the very first day, the prison guards expressed great antipathy for all the foreigners under their care. The first morning I was dragged by the soldiers into the mess hall and ordered to take off my shoes, get on my knees, and wash the floor with a brush. This was the first of many humiliations. I came to dread the times when the whole prison population was brought together and made to watch while certain inmates were beaten and tortured. As a sheltered American, I was shocked at the total disregard for human life by these cruel jailers.

Adding to my ragged emotional state of mind was the fear for my family living on the outside. They were trying to get by in those tumultuous days. Single women were being targeted by roving bands of ex-guerillas, now soldiers. Food was scarce. Homes were being broken into and robbed of all belongings. On one stormy night while my wife and children were sleeping, our home was broken into and all our belongings were stripped from us. My mind was racked with a deep sense of helplessness to protect them.

In the midst of the dark cloud of fear and uncertainty that hung over me, I became aware of a quiet but powerful energy at work in me. I think this was the first time I experientially came to know the force we call grace. While I was not always conscious of this power, it was there and it was working. Grace was empowering me for this moment. It was making me stronger than I naturally was. At times I could literally feel the warmth of God's presence sweeping over the cold gripping my soul. More often, though, I felt like such a failure and would be almost overwhelmed by depression. I was plagued by the question, "What had I done wrong to deserve this imprisonment?"

Grace in a Prison Cell

The FRELIMO soldiers who were the official guards over the prison looked for ways to frighten and humiliate the foreigners. Toward the end of my time in prison, their fear tactics increased. One Sunday they burst into my cell and hauled me and six or seven other prisoners into the prison courtyard. Handing each one of us a shovel and herding us to the middle of the courtyard, they sharply commanded us to start digging.

After digging for nearly four hours we stood in a massive hole whose lip was over our heads. During this whole time the soldiers, who were high on marijuana, yelled and waved their AK-47s threateningly at us. Finally, they screamed at us to climb out of the hole, whereupon they lined us up facing the gaping hole in front of us. "Had we just dug our grave?" I wondered if this might be the end. I was never going home; I was never going to see my family again.

With our eyes tightly closed, we listened to the frightening sound of weapons being loaded. I stood resigned, waiting for the bullets that were going to end the horror. Nothing! Suddenly a wild fit of laughter broke the silence. Immediately they started demanding that we fill up the hole we had just dug. After filling the hole they marched us back to our cells. It took me some time to realize that I was still alive. I had survived another life-threatening encounter in my Mozambican nightmare.

But not all the days were so dark. We had the opportunity to minister to many people during those days. I was allowed to preach in the Catholic chapel that was on the prison grounds. It gave hope to those enduring those times with us. I was able to lead several to the Lord including Virgilio, who had been with the Portuguese Special Forces and was a bouncer in an underground casino when he was arrested. He still serves the Lord to this day.

Release from Prison

In December of 1975, my wife and our three kids returned to the States. We had made a mutual decision that it would be better for her and the kids to get out of this insanity. Life in Maputo was too dangerous and I would be at peace if she were at home with our families. For the next four months life would drag on. Some prisoners would be dragged out of the prison to be executed. Others were taken to re-education camps in the north. There would be repeated rumors that all foreigners would be released but it never happened.

A week or so before my release I was in my cell reading my Bible that had survived multiple searches of our cell by the prison guards. I had just started reading the Psalms and landed on chapter 13. The chapter began with a cry the mimicked my own personal cry in that prison cell:

How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, "I have overcome him,"
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

I paused for a moment as I reflected on David's words that I could have written myself. Then I moved to verse 5:

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.

At that moment I just knew that my life in this prison would soon be over. There was a renewed confidence in the goodness and mercy of God. About a week later I was called to the front of the prison where a police detective told me that I was going to be expelled but that is was my responsibility to get my own ticket home. I returned to my cell to share the news with Clecius and Salu. They were excited for me but a little discouraged about their own situation. That very day Clecius was also informed that he was being expelled.

Later that day I was called back to the warden's office where I was met by two men for the USA consulate. This was the first time in 299 days that I was allowed any visit from an American official. They informed me that they had heard I was being expelled and that they were aggressively seeking to get us tickets so that we could return home.
The next day Clecius and I found out that our respective governments had secured tickets for us and we would be flown to the airport that very day. We spent time with Salu given him all of our prison belongings and trying to encourage him. After lunch we were picked up and taken to the airport in similar jeeps that had brought us to prison. The American ambassador met us at the airport gave us our tickets and one hundred dollars each. As I sat in my seat on the plane I knew that I would not fully be at peace until we landed in Johannesburg where we would change planes for our final journey home. Arriving at JFK in New York we knew that our journey had ended. We were home, free at last. Thank God, free at last.

Book cover

I shook off the fear that had been my companion for 300 days and was ready to begin a new life. Unfortunately, Salu would not be released until the following year but thankfully all of us had survived and gave thanks to God who had been our constant companion.
Sometime later, Salu was released, and he wrote a book called "Guerrilla for Christ," about his own experiences in that prison, with ANS founder, Dan Wooding, which is still available at:

Since that time my life has taken a few twists and turns. For 10 years I was a pastor in eastern Pennsylvania and then for the last 18 years I served as head of author development at Destiny Image Publishers. The lessons I learned in those dark days in prison have strengthened me throughout my life. My story continues to be a source of great encouragement for many helping them to understand that there is no situation to dark that cannot be overpowered by God's amazing grace.

Mozambique is no longer what it was in those days. It is no longer a Marxist country and is now totally open to the gospel and there are many missionaries serving there. One of those missionaries is Roland and Heidi Baker who founded Iris Ministries. Their work in Pemba, in the northern part of Mozambique, has had a huge impact on the people of that wonderful country. A few years ago I was with Heidi and she told me that the work we had done in Mozambique in the 70s planted a seed that they are now reaping.

14 arrested in connection with attempted murder

Pastor Emre Karaali
(Image coutresy of Voice of the Martyrs Canada)

Turkey (MNN) ― Persecution seems to be on the rise in Turkey, a country where Christians make up only .2% of the population.

The Voice of the Martyrs Canada says 14 suspects were recently arrested in the attempted murder of Pastor Emre Karaali. The suspects also planned to attack Christians during a series of evangelical outreach meetings in January.

When these suspects brought someone from eastern Turkey to carry out the murder, the country's anti-terror division became involved. Karaali had been working with police for a year after being repeatedly threatened.

Two of the suspects had been attending Karaali's church for more than a year in order to get close to the pastor and his wife. When police raided the suspects' homes, they found maps of the Karaali home and his church, personal information, and photos of other preachers connected to the church.

In addition to recorded telephone conversations, officers also found two guns in one of the homes they raided.

The Karaali's have served the Church for four years, in an environment Karaali describes as difficult: "Two years ago, I almost lost my life because of my health, but the Lord brought me back to life, and He has done this for me again.

"He protects us, so we believe this means the Lord has work for us to do. We haven't lost our confidence. On the contrary, we feel the Lord is with us because He didn't allow this (assassination) to happen, and we will continue to do what the Lord asks."

A Human Right Violations Report by the Association of Protestant Churches lists at least ten incidents of verbal and physical assault hate crimes against Christians in 2012. Police protection from possible attacks continued throughout the year for leaders of five Protestant congregations.

Pray for Pastor Karaali and his wife as they continue to share the Gospel with a people group that is over 95% Muslim. Ask God to keep a hand of protection around them. Pray for protection over all believers who are spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ in Turkey.

ChinaAid Releases 2012 Annual Report on 'Chinese Government Persecution of Christians & Churches in Mainland China'

Photo Courtesy: ChinaAid

MIDLAND, Texas, Feb. 4, 2013 /Christian Newswire/ -- Government persecution of Christians and churches in mainland China deteriorated for the seventh straight year, ChinaAid said Monday in its annual report, with the defining characteristic of 2012's persecution being the government's stated intention of eradicating house churches.

Based on information collected by ChinaAid in 2012 on 132 persecution cases involving 4,919 people, the number of people sentenced jumped 125% over the previous year and the incidences of persecution rose 41.9% from 2011.

ChinaAid cited a secret document issued in September 2011 as the reason for the focus in 2012 on eradicating house churches. Four different measures were used: Forcibly banning and sealing up churches, pressuring churches to join the official "Three-Self" church system, detaining church leaders and sending them to labor camps on the pretext of "suspicion of organizing and using a cult to undermine law enforcement," and strictly restricting the spread of the Christian faith among students.

The report, however, concludes with an upbeat tone, noting that the political scandal late last year that saw the ouster of rising political star Bo Xilai and the leadership handover at the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party that ushered out the Hu Jintao-Wen Jiabao government ended their era of ultra-leftist ideology.

"ChinaAid is cautiously optimistic," the report said, pointing out that despite the escalating persecution and the political upheaval of 2012 "the church ... is still standing firm, flourishing like the cedars of Lebanon and fruit trees planted by the streams, bearing much fruit at the appointed time."

For the full text of the report including diagrams click here.

Anti-Christian Hostility Heats Up Amid Unrest in Egypt

Two children to be tried for insulting Islam; family imprisoned for reconverting

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

JERUSALEM (ANS) -- Among files on arrested converts from Islam, kidnaped Christian girls and beaten monks piling up on the desk of a noted lawyer in Egypt, on top is the case of two boys about to be tried for allegedly showing contempt of Islam.

 According to a story by Morning Star News, attorney Karam Gabriel said anti-Christian hostilities in the restive country are getting worse as the two boys are to be tried in a court in Beni Suef. That's the same city where a mother and her seven children were convicted last month for reconverting to Christianity - for showing "contempt to Islamic religion and insulting the Koran."

Morning Star News said the accusation against Nabil Naji Rizq and Mina Atallah (identified in some press reports as Mina Nadi Faraj) of insulting the Koran made headlines throughout the country after a man saw them playing in garbage that he claimed included pages from the Koran.

The children were 10 and 9 years old respectively at the time of their arrest in late Sept. 2012.

Accusing them of tearing pages of Islam's holy book - a later version of the story had them allegedly urinating on it - he filed a report that led to the arrest of the two children. They were released in early October.

Morning Star News said angry protestors from Beni Suef reportedly intimidated Christian residents of the nearby village of Ezbat Marco at that time and prevented them from going to work.

"They are just small children, and they don't really understand what all the fuss is about - they can't even tell the difference between the Koran, the Bible or any other holy book," Gabriel said.

Clearly outraged at recent cases of hostility toward Coptic Christians in the post-Hosni Mubarak era, Morning Star News reported Gabriel said that since Mohamed Morsi came to power last June, the Christian community is in dire need of protection. Tensions are such that, for the moment, there is no information on the exact date of the two boys' trial, as authorities fear it will increase hostilities in the city.

Beni Suef became a greater flash point last month after a criminal court sentenced Nadia Muhammad Ali and her seven children to 15 years for re-converting to Christianity after having converted to Islam.

Leaving Islam is punishable by death in the traditional view of sharia that most Muslim scholars uphold, and sharia is cited as a source of law in Egypt's new constitution approved in a December referendum.

Morning Star News reported that usuf Zaki, head of the Coptic Alliance in Egypt, said that he was deeply alarmed by the Beni Suef court's verdict.

"We were sure, especially after the revolution that, our court will respect the right of every human being to choose his or her religion, but apparently the court is relying on the Islamic sharia, and therefore Nadia was sentenced to 15 years in prison," he said.

Morning Star News reported that Ali had married a Muslim, Muhammad Abdel-Wahhab Mustafa, 23 years ago in Sharqiya Province. Her family claims that he pressured her to convert to Islam. Several years after her husband died, Ali in 2004 decided to convert back to Christianity. Her seven children, born as Muslims, reportedly supported her decision and joined her in converting.

Conversion by Muslims is prohibited under Egyptian law, however, and so changing the religion designation on their national ID cards was practically impossible. The prosecution claims that Ali had forged birth certificates in order to receive new IDs for her and her children with the help of a few officials in the Ministry of Interior.

Morning Star News said the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry al-Yom reported on Jan. 13 she re-converted in order to obtain an inheritance left by her father, which stipulated she would receive it only if she converted back to Christianity.

After the sentencing on Jan. 14, Ali and her children were imprisoned, along with two clerical employees of the Ministry of Interior who reportedly helped the family change their identity and residence documentation.

While cases such as that of Ali and her children have drawn international attention, many others remain largely hidden local affairs, Gabriel said.

Morning Star News said Coptic Christians would like to see more pressure put on the Egyptian government to protect religious minorities, and they expect more concrete steps from the United States, he said.

"We just like to be equal citizens in our own country," Morning Star News reported Gabriel said. "Copts and Muslims need to be equal; it's a simple as that."

Copts would also like to see more international monitoring of elections, as many outrageous violations take place far away from Cairo, he said.

"In some Coptic regions, the ways are blocked on the election day so that the voters would not be able to reach the polling stations," Gabriel said. "Also, the kidnaping of our girls and forced conversion to Islam - all of these crimes must not remain unpunished."

Morning Star News said since the fall of Mubarak in the Jan. 25-Feb. 11, 2011 revolution, Coptic Christians have been subjected to attacks in Qana and Minya (Upper Egypt), Alexandria, Helwan, Dahshour, during a demonstration at the Maspero building in central Cairo and Rafah, among others.

Tens of thousands of Coptic Christians are said to have left Egypt since the revolution, and religious rights advocates say lack of protection as well as pressing economic conditions are a growing threat to the existence of the largest Christian community in the Middle East.

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Abducted Egyptian Christian Girl Possibly Smuggled to Libya

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

Sarah Ishaq Abdelmalek 
EGYPT (ANS) -- Hundreds of Christian Egyptian girls having been abducted and forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men since the 2011 Egyptian Revolution.

However, according to a story by Mary Abdelmassih of the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), the case of 14 year old Sarah has become symbolic. AINA said it has brought to a head the issue between Muslim groups, whose members are implicated in the kidnappings, and the Coptic Church and human rights organizations.

AINA said on Sept. 30 2012 ,Sarah Ishaq Abdelmalek was on her way to school with her cousin Miriam, when they stopped at a bookstore. Miriam went ahead of Sarah to school, leaving Sarah behind. Sarah never made it to school and no one has seen her since then.

AINA reported that her father was hesitant at first to contact the authorities for fear of harm to his family and his other children by the Salafi Muslims, who have a large presence and influence in Mersa Matrouh and Alexandria.

AINA said he finally filed a report with the police on Oct. 20 2012, accusing 27-year-old bookstore owner and Salafist Mahmoud Abu Zied Abdel Gawwad, a married man and father of children, of abducting Sarah and marrying her against her will.

"Sarah was smuggled across the borders to Libya with the help of the Interior Ministry," said Ebram Louis, founder of the Coptic non-governmental organization Association of Victims of Abduction and Enforced Disappearance (AVAED), which handles cases of abducted Coptic minors.

AINA reported Louis blamed the interior ministry for all the disappearances of Coptic minors, saying the ministry colludes with the Muslims.

AINA reported that the recently elected Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II said the kidnapping and forced conversion of Sarah is a "disgrace for the whole of Egypt."

During a meeting with a delegation of the Journalists Syndicate Council at Anba Bishoy Monastery in Wadi Natrunon on Nov. 12 2012, he said "Can any family accept the kidnapping of their daughter and her forced conversion?"

AINA said the Pope dismissed the term "emotional ties" for what is happening among young men and girls from different religions, cited as the apparent cause of conversions by the Salafists. In an interview with Al Ahram Daily he said it is "sentimental coercion of girls who have not reached adulthood."

AINA reported the Pope said it is now common among Coptic families not to send their daughters to school because of fear kidnapping and forced conversion.

Anba Pakhomios, the bishop of Mersa Matrouk, said Coptic families are increasingly making their daughters study at home and only go to school for exams.

AINA said the Muslims accused the Coptic Church of causing sedition, because they claim Sarah left home, embraced Islam and married a Muslim of her own free will. They have denied she is a minor.

"When they talk of adulthood, it is not adulthood in the legal sense (18 years old)," said Dr. Naguib Gabriel, head of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organization, "but according to their concept that a girl reaches adulthood when she starts menstruating."

AINA said the Coptic Church and several rights organizations, including the Egyptian National Council for Women, categorically regard Sarah as a minor. They say the law and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), ratified by Egypt, including the Minimum Age Convention, which clearly states anyone under 18 is a minor.

AINA said Dr. Ahmed Rifaat, a law professor at Beni Suef University confirmed that Sarah is a minor legally.As a result she may not have sex or marry until she becomes 18. He said any talk about her marriage or change of her religion is completely illegal. Her marriage is void, and she must get divorced.

AINA said Rev. Bigemi Anba Paula, from the Mersa Matrouh dioceses, where Sarah attended church, responded to the Salafist accusations that the church is meddling.

He said, "If the State did its work, the church would not have been pushed into the problem. We reported the case to the director of security, central security, military security, minister of interior, heads of Bedouin tribes and NGOs."

He added, "We also hand delivered a complaint to President Morsy on October 18 during his visit to Mersa Matrouh. The prosecutor in Alexandria ordered the arrest of the Muslim husband, but no action was taken by the police."

AINA said he accused the authorities of siding with the Salafists, saying "All the time security knew where Sarah was. I wonder whether security are afraid of a confrontation with the Salafists."

AINA said in a statement, Salafist Front made clear that they will not hand over Sarah under any circumstances. They said, "When we take up the issue of the girl Sarah, our response is purely in terms of her human rights."

AINA reported their spokesman, Khaled el Masry, said that once a girl has embraced Islam she has no Christian guardian and can therefore get married without consent.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Egyptian Christian Girl, 13, Abducted By Muslims

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

Agape Essam Girgis
ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT (ANS) -- On December 23, 2012, 13-year-old Agape Essam Girgis from the village of Nahda, el-Ameriya, near Alexandria, went to school as usual.

Failing to return home, the family knew that she went out of school accompanied by the Muslim social worker Heba and two teachers, one of the them a Salafist, a member of a militant group of extremist Sunnis who believe themselves the only correct interpreters of the Koran and consider moderate Muslims to be infidels; seek to convert all Muslims and to insure that its own fundamentalist version of Islam will dominate the world.

According to Mary Abdelmassih of the Assyrian International News Agency (, "she stayed missing for nine days during which the family and sympathizers organized a sit-in in front of the renowned Alexandria Library."

The Coptic Church in Alexandria also organized a conference on December 30, 2012, on the abduction of Coptic girls, with focus on Agape, which was attended by journalists and the public.

The girl's family protesting her abduction
"On December 31 state security contacted Bishop Pachomios and told him that they have the kidnapped girl. She was handed over to her family and the church priest where she stayed with his family for some time due to the terrible ordeal she experienced during her abduction," said Abdelmassih.
Bishop Pachomios said in an aired interview with Al Balad TV that what happened to Agape is "heart-breaking." He said that she went in a taxi with her school's social worker Heba and two men, and that she was drugged and awakened to find herself in a secluded place with an elderly woman. He said that after she returned home he spoke to her and she said that the Salafists tried to convert her to their brand of Islam.

Abdelmassih went on to say that activist Ramy Attia Zakaria, of the April 6 Liberal Movement in Alexandria, interviewed Agape upon her return and said it is now confirmed that her Muslim social worker Heba was behind the abduction.

Salafist followers in Egypt
"Agape left school with her and two teachers. The girl was drugged in the car to wake up in a secluded house with two sheikhs and an elderly woman," Ramy said. He added that Agape stayed there for about eight days until three sheikhs came and spoke with one of the sheikhs she was staying with, telling him that Agape has to returned to her family as they are making demonstrations for her return. Agape said that during her stay with the Salafis sheikhs they tried to make her convert to Islam by saying the "Islamic Two Faith Confessions" but she refused.
They forced her to wear the full veil and took photos of her in this dress. Agape said that she was beaten two or three times when she refused to convert to Islam.

After her release she was taken to el-Ameriya police station where she was told to say that "she has left home and went to el-Ameriya, where she found a sheikh and she told him that she wants to convert to Islam," continued Ramy. When her family received her from the police station, her father, who works as a tailor, said they do not wish to accuse anyone in this case as he was pleased to get his daughter back. "Besides I have a younger daughter and I fear for her safety" said her father.

Abdelmassih stated that Agape's father and their church priest decided that she will not go back to school. Activist Ramy said that most of the Coptic inhabitants of Alexandria are refusing to send daughters older than nine to school. He accused the Salafist Sheikh Sherif el-Hawary in el-Ameriya of being behind all abductions of Coptic girls in Alexandria and surrounding areas. "When a girl is abducted we go and get her from this sheikh," said Ramy.

Egyptian schoolgirls face danger as
 they walk to school
"From the beginning of the Egyptian Revolution on January 25, 2011 until January 26, 2013, over 500 girls have been abducted," says Ebram Louis, founder of the Coptic non-governmental organization Association of Victims of Abduction and Enforced Disappearance (AVAED), which handles cases of abducted Coptic minors. Louis blamed the interior ministry for all the disappearances of Coptic minors, saying the ministry colludes with the Muslims. "There is hardly a day which passes by without a Coptic girl disappearing."
According to Louis it is Salafists sheikhs who are behind nearly all abduction cases, especially in Alexandria and Mersa Matrouh. "In every Egyptian province there is a Salafist association which handles the kidnapping of Coptic girls. They have homes everywhere where they keep them." He added that "if we inform the police where the kidnapped girl is being kept, they inform the Salafists, who then move her away to another home and then we lose all trace of her."

Attorney Said Fayez, who also works for AVAED, said the reason for the escalation of cases of adduction and forced Islamization of girls since the 2011 Revolution is that before the ousting of the Mubarak regime the then so-called State Security was carrying out these abductions for political reasons, and the Salafists at the time were doing the kidnapping on their behalf.

"After the Revolution and with the dissolving of the State Security, it is the Salafists now that are abducting the girls." Fayez said that whenever a girls goes missing the new central security directs us to ask certain Salafist sheikhs on her whereabouts, depending on the area where the kidnapping took place.

"We have observed that the age of the abducted girls is growing younger -- 13, 14 years old. A girl disappears until she is 18 years old, which is the legal age for marriage and conversion of religion." He said that they were directed by security to go to the Salafist leader of the area, Sheikh Sherif el-Howary. Attorney Fayez confirmed that this is an organized operation which includes Salafist leaders, parliamentarians and the police.

Midwest Pastor and Missions Team Kidnapped and Robbed at Gunpoint in Guatemala

By Michael Ireland
Special Reporter, ASSIST News Service

Short term missionaries Grant Lind and Pastor Bill Hieb
 stand by an advertising poster for the
 event with 600 Guatemalan pastors. 
SOMERSET, WI (ANS) -- The pastor of a small church in the upper Midwest and his missions team were kidnapped, beaten and robbed on the first day of a 14-day missions trip to Guatemala.

Rev. Bill Hieb of Riverside Church in Somerset, Wisconsin, and a team of eight others, five members of his church, including three women, were likely followed from the airport in Guatemala City while driving to the home of their host five hours away on Wednesday, January 23rd.

The team was in a van being driven by a Guatemalan national when they were forced off the road by four armed men in a pickup truck, about 30 minutes away from their destination.

"I'm sad to say we were not prepared. We had been always cautioned about the dangers of this world, but you know there was a sense of invincibility in that we'd been on so many (missions trips) ," Pastor Hieb told ASSIST News in an exclusive interview.

Grant Lind, Jorge Romero, and Pastor Hieb
 relax after their kidnap ordeal. 
"We'd escaped so many different crises. In India we once we were stoned and at one point we thought our car was going to be overturned. You know and we've had experiences with pick pockets and muggings and things but and we had lost some of our supplies. But we've never had the threat beyond that India episode of physical harm by another person. In Malawi, I inadvertently walked into a mine field and that was kind of tense as to how I was going to get out of there. But beyond that, no we felt that God was with us and he was going to make sure that everything was successful and that we came home with rejoicing," said Hieb after his return from Guatemala.

"Actually there were nine of us -- my former youth pastor from California, seven people from the river valley between Wisconsin and the state of Minnesota, six of whom are members of my church and myself. Another brother from a local church, and then another brother who's our host a Guatemalan who lives in the city of St. Paul. So there were a total of nine of us Americans that went on this trip."

Hieb said the trip was uneventful until four and a half hours into the drive to the home of their Guatemalan host.

Pastor Hieb preaching in Guatemala after the robbery. 
"Well, yes, I mean we'd been praying and preparing for some time. You know, we plan these trips a year in advance. So we traveled to Guatemala City where we had tremendous security because of the relationships that we've had with the officials at the airport and government so it was we were given the red carpet treatment from day one of going to Guatemala. We were whisked away in a nice van and we headed five hours towards our destination and we actually got within about four and a half hours of where we were headed when this particular incident took place. The incident itself was very harrowing, nothing that we could have imagined, we can't even begin making something like this up," Hieb said.

"I was ministering to the car full of people as far as what I felt the Lord was going to do and there was a real sweet anointing in the car and we began to worship. And we were worshiping in the car when a pickup truck with three men in the back and a driver pulled alongside of us screaming and driving, pushing us off the road and as we began to slow down they fired three pistol shots over the bow if you will. We saw the flashes of the gun and the driver slumped and I was in the front seat and I ducked down thinking that the bullets were in fact coming in the car but they weren't, it was just a surprise and shock. They were professionals, there's no doubt that, this was not their first experience at this sort of thing. In seconds they were in the car with guns. One pistol was shoved into my ribs, one pistol robber got into the side door of the van and one gentleman jumped into the front seat literally threw our driver into the back seat. He was a very large man, but they threw him like a puppet. And they were screaming at us and telling us not to look at them shut our eyes and don't talk," said Hieb.

The three men were dressed as civilians, and were carrying pistols, but their faces were not disguised, Hieb said.

"Their faces were not covered, two of them spoke fluent English, the driver did not. They drove ahead about I don't know a hundred yards and our driver had inadvertently stepped on the emergency break so the van that we were in was roaring with the rpm's and they were screaming at one another and trying to shift it.

"We were just silent, and they veered off into the forest at a high rate of speed with the engine roaring and the gears shifting. They were terrorists you know; I'd like to say they're robbers I say yeah, they might have been robbers, but they were terrorists. And the van was just rocking back and forth hitting stumps and bumps and rocks -- it was the most horrible ride that I've ever had and I've been on some pretty bad airplane rides with turbulence but this was horrifying."

Pastor Hieb and Grant Lind were joined
 on the platform by Guatemalan pastors. 
Hieb continued: "The gunmen went into the woods about a quarter mile, maybe a little more, and there was a gentleman out front -- forgive me I keep calling them gentleman, but they did show some gentleness eventually. We do forgive them, and we pray the Lord would bless them. But at the moment all we were really thinking about was our lives. So there was a man out in front of them with a flashlight who said this is a good place to stop and that's where we stopped. And they got out of the car, held everybody in the back seat at gunpoint and took me out first, put my hands against the vehicle and commenced to empty my pockets. Then he told me to put my hands behind my back and he tied my hands very tightly with shoe laces from my tennis shoes and brought me over, and as he was grabbing me the Guatemalan host began to yell at him 'don't hurt him, don't hurt him.' And they commenced to start kicking him assaulting him. It was very traumatic to see that, and they grabbed me by the collar and dropped me over and knelt me down which I thought at that moment that I was going to take a bullet in the back of the head but. He pushed me to the ground and I hit my face on the dirt and he said don't move. And then they did the same thing to every single person in the van. Tied them up and laid them next to me and we were all laying there like cord wood."

Hieb said the three women in the group were quite worried. "One of them, this was her first missions trip, two of the men it was their first time missions trip. And the last woman to be tied was really frightened because she didn't want them to tie her hands and we were saying to her 'cooperate, please cooperate.' She finally did laid down and they tied her hands and then they tied her leg to the gentleman lying next to her. And we laid there for a good two hours, a time of real reflection for each of us."

The gunmen emptied the team's fourteen suitcases and cleaned them out of cameras and iPads, a laptop, cell phones and iPods.

"Then they took our jewelry and our watches and our rings they got almost all the money," said Hieb.

"They just scattered the medicine and the clothing which we brought, about three-hundred dresses handmade dresses for little girls and shorts for the boys. They had just scattered them and when they left there were fourteen suitcases with all of our belongings strewn within a radius of about seventy-five feet. We had one flashlight. But they left the keys to the van and they left all of our passports except one, we lost one passport. The American Embassy was gracious enough to expedite that for us.

The team was told not to move for three hours, but Hieb and the other missionaries didn't wait that long.

"When they were leaving they said to us don't move for three hours do not move and they left into the night. We laid there for probably twenty minutes which seemed like three hours and somebody got untied and began to untie the rest of us and of course we were exuberant to be alive and half the team was saying be quiet be quiet they're still there. We could hear them whistling, it was harrowing," said Hieb.

At one point during their terrible ordeal the team were also praying and praising God.
"When we all gathered together, began to get our senses and we were hugging one another people were crying, some people were sick to their stomach, some were in shock. We held hands and prayed and then we sang a song and gave God glory and honor that He had. You know like John and Peter I believe in the book of Acts when they were beaten and told not to do any teaching in this name and it says that they left there rejoicing in the fact that they were counted worthy to suffer for the Name."

Hieb was asked how they got out of the woods and to the house where they were staying?

"We had one cell phone, oddly it was in a top pocket of one of the people and they never searched his top pocket and we also had managed to salvage approximately thirteen-hundred dollars that they didn't recover from us which really gave us the impetus to get home safely without having to borrow any money or wire any money. But had that cell phone gone off two and a half hours while we were laying there we would probably have had some problems. But we did call our pastor and he came with a vehicle and another man and they came into the woods and found us after we had sent two men to the road to make the call and to wait. Actually they came with just the pastor and another Christian and no security and we were very happy to see them. And they said that they had called the police and the police were on the way.

"Shortly after that the police did arrive and it was kind of amusing one of the policeman had a machine gun and he cocked it and stood there rather alarmed and said to us this is very dangerous here we need to get out of here now. Guatemala near the Mexican border is a haven for narco-trafficking and gangs. Life isn't really worth a whole lot in that particular section or segment of society. So we were able to get with the police and get out of there and go down to the highway to a lit up area where we gave the police a report, and they wanted us to come to the police station and we just said no we're going home. We commenced to load up and went to the house where we'd been staying for the last three years and we prayed and went to bed. The next morning we could tell how traumatized the team was we determined that five team members needed to return home immediately. So we rescheduled their tickets sent them home the next morning and three of us stayed behind," Hieb recalled.

Even after this awful experience Hieb and two others who chose to stay in Guatemala carried out a pastor's conference with six-hundred pastors from all over the country. They were expecting Hieb and his team from Wisconsin, and Hieb didn't want to disappoint them.

Hieb said he was able to carry on with the planned meetings, "Only by the grace of God, only the grace of God.

"Everything in us felt that we needed to go home but there was no way, there was no way that I could consciously abandon that work. And I asked those that wanted to stay certainly could and there was another couple that elected to stay and one of the gentlemen is a teacher, he did the conference with these six-hundred leaders pastors and the topic was eschatology. The End Times, signs of the End Times. So obviously it played really well into our most recent experience of being able to talk about the love of man growing cold and boasters, proud and lovers of self, and that the darkness would surround us and that the Lord would one day rescue us from the wrath to come. We preached and taught from a dispensational perspective of a pre-Tribulational rapture, and it was very well received."

Some of the local Guatemalan people offered help to get the team back on its feet.

"Sure they did, people were coming up to us handing us money. I remember in particular this young man gave us two-hundred dollars and all he did was look at us. Two-hundred dollars in that economy is incredible. Another woman at the conference weeping, weeping reached in her purse and fumbled through envelope after envelope to dig out this one hundred dollar bill that she'd been saving for years it sounded like, and just handed it to me because she said the Lord wants me to give you this. And then there was food that was brought to our house and tears and hugs, the love that we received from our Guatemalan friends. We have no resentments, no blame against the Guatemalan people, or no confusion regarding the sovereignty of God. Our Lord is an awesome God. All things work together for good for those who love him and for those who are called according to his purpose. My theology is summed up in this sentence and that is that God is never wrong, and He is absolutely sovereign and in control."

Hieb went on to say: "You know there were some choices that were made along the line but God was in it and He will glorify himself and He will not share it with us and He did it for a reason and a purpose. I don't have to know what it is, all I have to know is that my God is never wrong and that He loves us with an everlasting love. The result of this is yet to be, but we are hopeful and we have our eyes on the prize."
Earlier, Hieb described how he has been to about ten to fifteen countries traveling on between fifty and sixty short-term missions trips, "and we've encountered a number of things along the way."

Hieb has been to Africa several times, specifically Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania.

"In Asia, I've been in to India a number of times as well as Indonesia, actually Sumatra where they had that horrible tidal wave and earthquake several years ago. We were right on that close location there. And I've been to the Ukraine half a dozen times as well as Mexico twenty times and Guatemala four times. Pretty well seasoned in different cultures and travels."

Because of these experiences, Hieb considers himself to be a hardened missions traveler.

"I think so, I've learned a lot along the way you know most of the time we learn by virtue of our mistakes -- Lord knows I've made many of those but I've learned how to travel. I've studied a lot. I wrote my Master's thesis on missions so I'm familiar with it. It's a passion of mine. Actually I escaped into missions because in the early days I believed the Lord was calling me into the pastorate and I didn't want to do that. So I instead went on a missions trip came home from the Ukraine and felt that was my call and I was supposed to be a missionary. And so I was like a Jonah trying to escape the pastoral ministry. But god had other plans and he and he actually had me do both. And our church's DNA is very missionary minded. Most of the people in my church both those that are there now and those that have passed through have been on missions trips. When you talk about those fifty sixty missions trips there's been an average of six eight ten people on every trip. So there's a lot of good training in our ministry for missions and w e have networked around the world with other ministries. At one time we had nearly a thousand churches and ministries that we had access to for the purposes of evangelism and a special emphasis on medical ministry. We do a lot of medical missions as well."

Hieb was asked how the team got out of Guatemala, would they go again and what have they learned from this?

"The U.S. embassy was helpful they did get us in contact with tourist security and we were given a police escort all the way back to the airport, both teams the one that left right away and the last one. We were given security all the way. We learned a lot. About being wise a serpents and gentle as doves. Americans tend to be gregarious and outgoing," he said.

"We need to be a little bit circumspect, a little bit more cautious, a great deal more cautious whether it's riding at night or driving with ten suitcases on your roof there's a lot that we learned. Are we finished with missions, absolutely not. Is our missions program on hold? Yes it is. There's some healing that needs to take place. I as the shepherd of this flock have some wounded sheep and the shepherd has been struck. I can't say that I'm perfectly emotionally and mentally stable. I've had a few nightmares, but I know that we will all recover and that we will stick together and that we will pray together, worship together and glorify God together. And for some of our team members it may take a little more time to recover but we are not victims. We are more than conquerors through him who loved us and the war has been won. This was a skirmish where we took some wounds, but we are hope-filled and encouraged by all of this. And whether or not we return to Guatemala I would say that I don't know that much that it's the particul ar country that's the most dangerous. I mean I had a visa to go to Pakistan a couple of years ago. I'm really not afraid to serve the Lord. If this was something that would knock us out of the ministry that would be a great loss and I don't believe that that's the heart of God. But I think it's a wakeup call and that our future missions trips whenever that happens will be done a lot more efficiently and cautiously and deliberately."

Did he have anything to say to young American teen-agers or older adults who are going on missions trips now that he has been on this very dangerous trip? What would he like to say to them about going on a missions trip to a difficult part of the world?

"I would like to tell the adults that your children are going to be called by God to do some of these tasks and missions for the Lord and to remember that it is the Great Commission and that we must not shrink back because of the fears of dangers or toils or snares and that God will protect you."

Hieb mentioned something one of their captors said to the team during their ordeal.

"When I turned back and spoke to him in Spanish, I said to him 'Jesus lives' in Spanish basically meaning Jesus is alive and he said to me 'I know.' And before he released us he said something else, he said 'you guys are Christian missionaries, God will save you.' And so I want to tell the parents that are afraid to allow their children to respond to the call of God -- be cautious certainly, know who they're going with and where they're going, but don't quench the Gospel. At this time in history 'His Story', missionaries are needed more than at any other time in history than right now. We are in the end days we are in the End Times and God is standing at the door and we need to be ambassadors and servants of the Most High and we need to open our mouths and trust that God will fill it with the Gospel and that many will come to know and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to count our lives as nothing, we need to reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ and recognize that our lives are hidden with Christ in God and to nev er forget that he who seeks to save his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for my sake will save it. Don't shrink back, the Enemy would love it if we dug a hole and jumped in it."

How can those reading this article pray for Hieb and his team?

"They can absolutely pray for us, as you imagine or as I've already spoken we are wounded but we will recover. We need prayers to keep our team unified. Spiritual warfare seems to be sometimes increased when you get home and there are doubts and fears and murmuring. Pray for our team unity. Pray for our emotional and mental health. Pray that we'll see this as an opportunity and a blessing as opposed to any kind of victimization or defeat. To God be the glory."

Hieb mentioned the team lost about $15,000 in cash, plus their airfares, as well as much needed medical supplies for the clinics the team was planning to hold for the Guatemalan people.

If you would like to donate funds to help restock the team's supplies for future missions trips you can log-on to  or . You can also e-mail Besides Still Waters Medical Missions at

** ANS would like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.

Cuba: Pastor Gude Perez And Family Arrive In The United States As Refugees

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

Pastor Gude and his wife  (Photo courtesy CSW)
USA (ANS) -- Pastor Omar Gude Perez, his wife Kenia Denis and their two children arrived in the United States as refugees yesterday (Thursday, January 31, 20).

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (, they were finally granted permission by Cuban emigration authorities to leave the island following an 18-month wait for the appropriate paperwork.
Former prisoner of conscience Pastor Gude Perez and his family were granted asylum by the United States in July 2011 after he was barred from working as a pastor and following a campaign of official harassment lasting a number of years.

Despite multiple verbal promises on the part of government officials, the family was blocked from leaving the country for 18 months.

State security officials contacted Pastor Gude Perez on 14 November following his wife's high profile visit to Washington DC, facilitated by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), during which she highlighted their case.

He received a citation to present himself a police station the following day in Havana in order to sign a series of documents that they assured him would allow him to leave the country. There were no further developments until mid-January when state security officials contacted the family to inform them that an exit permit had been issued.

The couple expressed relief that they have finally been able to leave the country, expressing particular concern for their teenage children, who were barred from attending school after the offer of asylum was extended.

In a statement to CSW, Pastor Gude Perez said, "My son, Omar Daniel, who is seventeen years old, has in just six months, lost fifty pounds of his bodily weight. My daughter Keila Rosa, who will soon celebrate her fifteenth birthday - the dream of every little girl - has lost three-quarters of her hair since the Americans first told us we would be able to travel."

CSW's Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said, "CSW has made this case a priority since we first learned of Pastor Gude's arrest in 2008. We are overjoyed that the Gude Perez family has finally been allowed to take up the offer of asylum in the United States where they will be able to practice their faith in freedom. The decision to leave Cuba has been a difficult and painful one for the family but the constant harassment on the part of the government and the official prohibition on their participation in religious ministry gave them no other option.

"We know they will continue to fight for religious freedom in Cuba from their new home in the United States and will be an effective voice for their network of churches, which continues to suffer targeted persecution. CSW will support them in this important work, drawing attention to the Cuban government's ongoing violations of rel igious liberty."

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email or visit

Notes to Editors

1. Pastor Gude Perez, a national leader of the Apostolic Movement, a fast growing network of independent churches, was first imprisoned on trumped up charges in May 2008. A year later, he was sentenced to more than six years in prison. He was released on conditional liberty following an international campaign in early 2011; however he is prohibited from working as a pastor or from travelling outside the city of Camaguey without official permission.

2. Communist Party officials, who oversee and regulate religious activity on the island, have publicly declared the government's intention to eradicate the Apostolic Movement and in recent years individuals affiliated with the group, at all levels, have been singled out for targeted persecution.