Thursday, February 14, 2013

Persecution and The Church of the Brethren

By Brian Nixon
Special to ASSIST News Service

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS) -- When news surfaced concerning the widespread persecution of Christians in Nigeria (as reported by Dan Wooding:

An early Brethren church in America
(, one stops to ask: Why? And who are these people being persecuted? Sadly, persecution of Christians in this part of the world is becoming commonplace, and ultimately, the reasons seem to revolve around religious or political strife, or a combination of the two.

Persecution is nothing new for Christians who are-and were-part of what is known as the Radical Reformation (roughly 1530's-1800 AD), of which the Ekklesiyar Yan'uwa churches in Nigeria derive their lineage.
According to Brethren writer, Donald Durnbaugh ("Believer's Church: The History and Characteristic of Radical Protestantism"), the Radical Reformation consisted of groups such as the Mennonites, Quakers, Brethren, and later, the Methodist, in addition to several others known groups.

Though sharing core beliefs with the larger protestant community of faith such as Christ alone (Solus Christs), grace alone (Sola Gratia), faith alone (Sola Fide), and the priesthood of all believers, the Radical Reformers held individual core beliefs (though not all Radical Reformers agreed upon the details of these beliefs).

Here is a snapshot of values held in common among the Radical Reformers.

George Fox
One, the church universal is composed of individuals who have received Jesus as Lord. The government should not sponsor a church. In the United States this idea has become known as "the separation of Church and state." Thus, Believers show their dedication to Jesus by following His example with a "believer's baptism" (Anabaptist), as opposed to infant baptism. Taking it one step further, Quakers denied the need for any physical baptism, pointing to the need for a spiritual baptism only (what we'd call being "Born Again" in today's vernacular). Because of their dedication to Christ and the larger community of believers, a key word to individuals in the Radical Reformation is commitment.
Two, the Bible is the only source of authority for the Church, not an individual (such as the Pope) or particular statement of faith (much like Luther's Catechism).

Three, because a Christian is a saved individual, he or she should act in accordance with his or her new life in Christ. Particular attention was given to Christian living, rather than disputing theological points or developing set theologies. From the yearning to live like Christ, many in the Radical Reformation turned to pacifism and simple living as means to live "peaceable with all men" (Romans 12:18). Additionally, members in the Radical Reformation tended to take Jesus' teachings in the four Gospels as their rule of living, particularly those found in the Sermon on the Mound. Today, groups such as the Brethren, Mennonite, and Quaker continue their strong stance on pacifism and simple living. The Brethren are fond of saying, "When Jesus said to 'love your enemies,' I don't think he meant to kill them."

Menno Simons
Beyond these three summary points, there are similarities in end times views (early Radical Reformers tended to be pre-millennial), salvation (early Radical Reformers tended to believe in free-will over against hyper-predestination) and the person and work of the Holy Spirit (the Radical Reformers placed great stress on the work of the Holy Spirit in relation to the larger community of faith). Because of these similarities, many in the Radical Reformation were instrumental in developing what's called the Holiness Movement (roughly 1750-1900 AD).

When you turn to the history of the Radical Reformation, you would need to look to each particular group for its unique heritage and leaders. I recommend Donald Durnbaugh's book mentioned above. But because we've mentioned four groups (Mennonite, Quakers, Brethren, and Methodist) as representative of the Radical Reformation, a quick summary is in store.

The Mennonites were started by a former priest named Menno Simons (1496-1561). Growing up in Witmarsum, Friesland (Netherlands), Simons became the leader of a group of Radical Reformers within Northern Europe knows as the Anabaptist (meaning "re-baptizers").
The Quakers were started by an Englishman named George Fox ((1624-1691). After a survey of all the religious denominations of his day, Fox came to the conclusion that "only Christ spoke to my condition," thereby developing his ideals based upon the larger Radical Reformer positions, yet with a Holy Spirit-centered emphasis ("The Light Within").

John Wesley picture by William Hamilton
The Brethren began with a group of eight men and women in Schwarzenau, Germany. Alexander Mack (1679-1735) became the spokesperson for this group. Mack taught against coercion of a particular denomination, strong pacifism, believed the Bible was the only rule of faith, and taught that Christians should live a life of love and service to Christ and one another. The Brethren were also part of larger movement in Germany occurring at this time called Pietism.

Methodism began with Anglican clergymen, John (1703-1793) and Charles (1707-1788) Wesley. Being influenced by the Moravian Brethren, the Wesley's combined Anglican thought with larger Brethren values in a four-fold Christian experience: the Bible, tradition (learning from history), reason, and experience (being born again). The end result of a Christian life would produce fruit. Thereby the Wesley's placed strong emphasis on Christian behavior and piety.
As pointed out above, the history of believers within the Radical Reformation have been riddled with persecution. Beginning in the mid to late 1500's, many Christians were persecuted for their beliefs and lifestyle, particularly their emphasis on adult baptism. Some Anabaptist were killed by both Protestants and Catholics, being drowned as mocking representation of their belief in an adult baptism. Later, groups such as the Quakers and Brethren had to flee Europe due to persecution, arriving in the West (The United States and Central America) to practice their understanding of Christianity, and establishing "Peaceable Kingdoms." Artist such as Edward Hicks portrays the early Quaker quest for Christian living in his "Peaceable Kingdom" series of paintings now considered American classics.

Alexander Mack Seal
The Methodist persecution was less severe, though mocking and misunderstanding occurred. By the time Methodism took root in the mid 1800's, many in Europe and America had come to terms with these distinct group of Christians that valued peaceful and simple living, devotion to the Bible and Christ, and separation of Church and state.

Even more, groups such as the Amish, Shakers, and Hutterites (with a lineage going back to Menno Simmons and other Radical Reformers) became points of fascination for the larger public, being sought out for their craftsmanship and furniture.

As sad as it sounds, persecution has been part in parcel for believers within the Radical Reformation. So when news arrives that Nigerian Brethren Christians are being killed for their faith, they stand in a long line of Christians before them who have suffered for the cause of Christ.
What response should we-in the West-do for Christians suffering persecution around the world, and specifically in Nigeria?

I suggest three concrete steps:

One, pray for them. As a former member of a Brethren church, I know first hand that these brothers and sisters value our prayers. Ask God to give them strength and encouragement in the face of persecution, suffering, and death. Pray that they stand tall for Christ, loving their neighbor and their "enemies."

Two, support them. The Church of the Brethren is collecting funds to assist with the families struck by persecution, called the EYN Compassion Fund. Go to the Church of the Brethren website and click the donate button:

Three, bring awareness to your community and Church. Let others know about the persecution of our fellow Christians. Become a voice for the voiceless.

As one who spent many years ministering within the Brethren church, I've been privileged to meet, interact, worship with, pray with, sing with, and wash the feet of fellow Christians who love the Lord with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength. Because my own family heritage is a combination of Brethren (my great-grandmother was a Kline, a highly regarded Brethren family) and Quaker, my love for people within the Radical Reformation Christian family is great. But beyond my own experience, I count it a privilege as a Christian to support fellow Christians in a time of need. I plead with you to pray, support, and bring awareness to our fellow Christians in Nigeria and around the world facing persecution.

For Mali Church Leader, Liberation of Main Cities in Northern Mali Gives Relief and Anxiety

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

Figthers of the Islamic group Ansar Dine standing guard at Kidal airport,
 northern Mali (AFP Photo / Romaric Ollo Hien)
NORTHERN MALI (ANS) -- The liberation of the main cities of Northern Mali has created a great sense of relief and joy in the country, but the task of reconstruction and reconciliation is huge.

Mali is a landlocked country in West Africa.

According to a story published by the World Watch Monitor, a month after the French offensive, the Malian and African troops have regained control of the main cities in the North, previously occupied by Islamist armed groups. The French-led operation began on Jan. 11, following an attempt by Islamist militants to progress further south.

"The whole of Mali was in turmoil when we learned with dismay the progress of Islamists to the South," Mohamed-Ibrahim Yattara, a church leader in Bamako, told World Watch Monitor.

A year ago, World Watch Monitor reported, he and his family fled Timbuktu in the northeast and headed to the capital, in the southwest of the country. Like him, thousands of Malians have sought refuge in the South and others in neighboring Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

"For us who fled our homes and our cities in recent months, the victory of the Islamists over the armed forces and security has aroused painful and excruciating memories. Our minds were full of intrusive memories of looting and destruction of our homes and institutions," he said.

World Watch Monitor said for almost a year, the Islamist armed groups imposed a strict Islamic law in the regions under their control. Intimidation, threats and mutilation became common practice. The practice of other religions was banned; places of worship and churches were desecrated and looted.

"All these memories suddenly vanished and turned into a dream when we learned with great joy about the French army intervention. What was commonly called 'the crisis in Mali' has come to an early settlement," said Yattara, who also is the head of a Bible training institute in Timbuktu.

Despite regaining freedom, World Watch Monitor said, Malian people face new challenges created by the Islamic takeover. Nine months of occupation have left Northern Mali in great need of reconstruction. A number of public buildings were destroyed, including schools, health clinics, ancient monuments, hotels and restaurants.

World Watch Monitor said human-rights groups have accused the army of attacking civilians. Malian government forces targeted light-skinned Arab and Tuareg ethnic groups associated with the rebels, Human Rights Watch said in a report published Feb. 1. The Malian government has denied the accusations and has publicly warned against revenge attacks.

Mali is No. 7 on the 2013 World Watch List, a ranking of the 50 countries where persecution of Christians is most severe. The list is published annually by Open Doors International, a ministry to persecuted Christians worldwide.

Is a ceasefire a reality with Nigeria's Boko Haram?

(Images courtesy Compass Direct News)

Nigeria (MNN) ― After three years of incessant attacks on places of worship and other public places, Nigeria's Boko Haram sect has called a truce.

The price of the ceasefire: freedom for the arrested members of the group and the rebuilding of the destroyed mosque of its leader, Mohammed Yusuf.

Too high a price to pay? For its part, the embattled Nigerian government said it would not make a formal pronouncement yet on the ceasefire until it had time to study the conditions. "It seems the government and the military are working on the assumption that this is a legitimate ceasefire offer. The military there has kind of taken a 30-day "wait and see,'" notes Voice of the Martyrs spokesman, Todd Nettleton.

"If there are no incidents, if there are no attacks, if there are no church bombings for the next 30 days, then we'll know they're serious and then we can move forward," adds Nettleton.

Boko Haram is loosely translated "Western education is sinful" in Hausa. The group had its origins in Borno state, and under the banner of fighting to impose Islamic law on Nigeria, spread to Adamawa, Abuja, Bauchi, Niger, Kano, Yobe, Kadun,a and throughout other parts of Nigeria's northeast.

However, since the ceasefire was announced 17 days ago, nine women taking part in a polio vaccination exercise in Kano city were murdered, and three Korean medical doctors were killed in Yobe state. These attacks bear the hallmarks of the extremist group, but security forces admit that the violence could also have been a criminal gang profiting from the growing lawlessness in Nigeria's northeast.

That raises doubts about how much effect a ceasefire would have on security. Nettleton agrees. He goes on to explain, "They want westerners out of northern Nigeria, and they want to push for Sharia law in northern Nigeria. It is hard to imagine, for me at least, a situation where they stop short of that and agree to some form of compromise. So this may just be a small period of them sort of regrouping, but again, it's just so early that we don't know how this is all going to play out."

As to the reason this story has flown under the radar? Past history and several broken accords litter this road paved with good intentions. Nobody knows who backed the idea or who will cooperate with the truce. "Is this widespread? Is this going to come down from the top to everybody? Is this one small group that wants to have some peace, and maybe there are others who don't?" Nettleton asks.

There is some cautious optimism. Nettleton says partners have been sending back reports. "In the city of Maiduguri, which is kind of the headquarters of Boko Haram, there are stories of businesses returning to somewhat normal business hours, people in the markets, people in the streets, more so than they have been."

Still, the instability has taken its toll. "One of the impacts of the violence is that a lot of Christians have left the area. They simply have said, ‘We don't have a future here,' so there's that. When you talk about outreach, it complicates things--even simply to have someone come visit your church."

People are jittery, especially those who gather on Sunday in church. "Any guests at a church right now in northern Nigeria are watched with some apprehension and even fear. I've heard of churches that are putting in metal detectors. I've heard of churches where the Christians literally are taking machetes with them to church in case there's a battle that breaks out during the service, in case they have to fight their way out of the building."

Please pray for God's protection, regardless of whether the cease-fire holds. Pray that Muslims there will be reached with the Gospel. What's interesting, says Nettleton, is that more and more, Muslims are disenchanted with the things they're hearing from the al-Qaeda-linked Boko Haram. "The truth of Islam is coming out, and that can be a time of seed planting and even a time of revival."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Be a part of a petition

(Photo Courtesy of BP)

Iran (MNN) ― You can be a part of saving a life. An Iranian-born pastor, who is a U.S. citizen, was arrested by the Iranian government on September 26, 2012. He is undergoing physical and mental torture in a notoriously brutal Tehran prison. An international campaign for his release is being shared, according to the American Center of Law and Justice (ACLJ).

On January 27, Saeed Abedini was sentenced to eight years in prison for establishing a network of Christian house churches years ago and for "attempting to sway Iranian youth away from Islam."

Since his conviction, he has not been allowed to communicate with his wife and two children who are in the United States, according to Baptist Press.

In the beginning of February, his Iranian relatives were allowed to visit him. According to, he expressed apprehension and concern for his future. Abedini asked if there were international efforts to secure his freedom, the news network said, adding that his downtrodden spirit "is due to abuse and brainwashing techniques used by prison officials."

"It is no surprise that the Iranian prison guards are engaging in this kind of psychological abuse," Jordan Sekulow, ACLJ's executive director, told "We know that Pastor Saeed is undergoing physical beatings and torture. And we know there is growing concern about his health."

One of the many things ACLJ has done for the pastor is to launch a Web site, and they are promoting #SaveSaeed on Twitter.

As of Monday (Feb. 11,) almost 195,000 people had signed a petition at asking the United Nations, European Union, and Council of Europe to mobilize their resources to require Iran to honor its treaties and its constitution, and release the pastor.

ACLJ is looking for 300,000 signatures for this petition. That means for every day Saeed is supposed to be in prison, 100 people will have signed the petition. ACLJ believes that the more people are calling for Abedini's release, the more international media, governments, and world leaders are willing to put pressure on Iran to grant his freedom.

If you would like to sign this petition, click here. You can be a part of getting Pastor Saeed Abedini his freedom back. Also on the site are videos of Steven Curtis Chapman, TobyMac, Bart Millard of MercyMe, and other musicians and concerned citizens who have joined the effort.

Pray for Saeed as he is facing many trials in prison. Pray for his safety and continued strength to keep fighting. Ask God to give his wife and children the support they need at this time. Pray that God will use this devastating situation for growing His kingdom.

Violence against Christians Spreading in India Maharashtra state increasingly vulnerable, rights leaders say

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

Ram Puniyani of All India SecularForum.
MUMBAI, INDIA (ANS) -- According to the Mumbai Correspondent for Morning Star News (, Hindu extremist attacks on Christians in Maharashtra state could expand even as violence elsewhere in India grows in areas where extremist groups had not been so active, Christian leaders said.

The correspondent said that Ram Puniyani of the All India Secular Forum said at press conference in Mumbai this month that Maharashtra is vulnerable to increased attacks on Christians after "a decade of heightened Hindutva [Hindu nationalism], especially targeting tribal and Adivasi [indigenous] communities, as they are easy targets, with little fear of retaliation."
The Catholic Secular Forum (CSF), he added, released preliminary results of a study on Feb. 1, with Christian leaders saying that persecution is not increasing in comparison with previous years but is appearing in new areas. While the perennially troublesome Karnataka state last year saw the most attacks on Christians with 67, followed by Madhya Pradesh with 28, four new states entered the top 20: More attacks from Hindu extremists took place in Tamil Nadu, Assam, Mizoram and Goa than in previous years.

Moreover, he said, CSF noted persecution against Christians from Islamic extremists in Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala and West Bengal.

Indian women Christians protesting about
increasing violence in their country
Joseph Dias, general secretary of CSF, said the study chronicled 250 of the worst cases of persecution, but that the actual number of incidents nationwide was much higher. While there were no pogroms such as occurred in Orissa state in 2008, persecution has become more widespread, with an increase in Hindu nationalist attacks even where the "Hindu brigade" is not traditionally strong, he said.

Parliamentary and state assembly elections in the next year portend an increase in attacks as Hindu extremists try to divide voters along religious lines, he said.

Michael Saldanha, former justice of the Bombay High Court, told Morning Star News that he has urged federal Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde to ban Hindutva groups such as the Sanathan Sanstha and Abhinav Bharat, which come under the "Saffron umbrella" with an agenda of a Hindu religious state.

"Overall, the states with the highest number of incidents after Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh were Tamil Nadu with 25; Orissa - where the most serious crimes took place, including rapes of minors - with 20; and Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, both also with 20. Maharashtra, with nine incidents, was seventh on the list," said the story.

The Maharashtra-based Christian leaders emphasized violations in their state, including not just abuses by Hindu nationalists but by family members of converts to Christianity. Two young women in Padmavati Nagar, Pune, 20-year-old Lakshmi Rathod and Vimla Rathod, 19, fled their home on Aug. 12, 2012, after their parents had forced them to drink cow urine daily. They were assaulted, threatened with "honor killing," labelled unholy and locked in a room for several days after they were found reading the Bible.

The report included an account of an attack last month in Maharashtra by Hindu nationalists suspected to belong to Sanathan Sanstha. On Jan. 11 a Hindu extremist mob stormed into New Life Grace Ministry Church in the Sawantwadi area, Sindhudurg District, and severely beat members of the 600-strong congregation, including many women, children and elderly Christians. They threatened to stop any Christian services in the district, according to CFS.

The correspondent went on to said that in Malwan, Hindu extremists under the banner of the Hindu Dharma Jagaran Samiti attacked a prayer meeting on Oct. 26, and 11 Christians were then arrested on false charges of forced conversion, according to CFS. The assailants were also detained, and upon their release on bail villagers congratulated them and encouraged them to continue attacking Christians. Meantime, villagers organized a boycott - refusing to buy fish from Christians, or even sell it to them.

Abraham Mathai, ex vice-chairman of the State Minorities Commission, told Morning Star News that police often look the other way.

"Such police apathy encourages the perpetrators of the crimes to continue their unprovoked violence against Christians with impunity," he said. "If the police do not reign in the perpetrators, violence against the minority Christian community would increase in the run-up to the forthcoming general elections scheduled for 2014."

India's population is 74.3 percent Hindu, 14.2 percent Muslim, 1.9 percent Sikh, 0.82 percent Buddhist, and 5.8 percent Christian, according to Operation World.

More Nigerian 'Brethren' die in violent attacks, US work campers return home safely

By Dan Wooding, who was born in Nigeria
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
Boko Haram members who have been
accused of killing many Nigerian Christians
MUBI, NIGERIA (ANS) -- More members of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, known there as EYN, have died in violent attacks on the churches of Ekklesiyar Yan'uwa in the West African country.

According to the Church of the Brethren Newsline (, the Local Church Council (LCC) Samunaka church on the outskirts of the city of Mubi was attacked twice in four days, first on Feb. 1 and again on Feb. 4.
At least 15 people were killed in the attacks, including eight members of the congregation, while one member of the church sustained gunshot wounds said an EYN report.

During the attacks, the Samunaka church building and the pastor's office were burned down, along with some houses belonging to Christians.

Two EYN churches in other areas were burned in attacks on the same weekend: LCC Huwim in the Mussa district was burned on Feb. 2, and LCC Bita in the Gavva west district was burned on Feb. 3, the EYN report said.

These most recent attacks on Brethren occur in a month in which northern Nigeria has experienced several well-publicized attacks by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram: the murders of three North Korean doctors and nine nurses who were administering polio vaccine, and an assassination attempt on the Emir of Kano, a prominent Muslim leader.

Woman at one of the Nigerian churches during happier times
Two visitors from the US church were in Mubi on the day of the first attack on the Samunaka church, but had returned to the EYN headquarters just a few miles away before the violence occurred. The two were on a "mini workcamp" representing the US church: Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of Global Mission and Service, and Fern Dews of North Canton, Ohio, and East Nimishillen Church of the Brethren. They returned safely to the US on Feb. 7, 2014

The two delivered cards and letters of support to EYN, expressing prayer and encouragement from American Brethren to Nigerian Brethren in the face of the continuing violence. The Church of the Brethren also has transferred to EYN donations amounting to $30,268.25, for a fund that helps care for churches and members affected by violence.

Wittmeyer met with EYN leaders during the work camp trip, and also with Church of the Brethren mission workers who are seconded to EYN: Carol Smith, who teaches at the EYN secondary school, and Carl and Roxane Hill, working at Kulp Bible College. Both institutions are on the EYN headquarters campus.

In addition to those lost in violent attacks against its churches, EYN has suffered other losses recently. The director of EYN's Peace Program has died from illness, reports Wittmeyer, and a son of former EYN president Filibus Gwama has died in a car accident. A bus carrying EYN women home from that funeral also had a serious accident, causing injuries among the women but no deaths, Wittmeyer said.
Wittmeyer called Brethren in the US to continued prayer for the Nigerian Brethren.
Note: Church of the Brethren traces its roots back over 300 years to 1708. Eighteenth-century Europe was a time of strong governmental control of the church and low tolerance for religious diversity. Nevertheless, there were religious dissenters who lived their faith in spite of the threat of persecution. Some of these dissenters found refuge in the town of Schwarzenau, Germany. Among them was Alexander Mack, a miller who had been influenced by both Pietism and Anabaptism.

In August 1708 five men and three women gathered at the Eder River in Schwarzenau for baptism, an illegal act since all had been baptized as infants. They understood this baptism as an outward symbol of their new faith and as a commitment to living that faith in community. An anonymous member of the group first baptized Mack. He, in turn, baptized the other seven. This new group simply called themselves "brethren."

Though the early Brethren shared many beliefs with other Protestants, a number of issues separated them from the state churches. Relying on the New Testament as their guide, these men and women believed that Jesus had intended for his followers a different kind of life-one based on peaceful action, plain and compassionate living, and a shared search for truth. They also shared their faith enthusiastically with others, sending evangelists to other parts of Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands.

Moving to America

Due to growing persecution and economic hardship, Brethren began emigrating to North America in 1719 under the leadership of Peter Becker. Most Brethren left Europe by 1740, including Mack, who brought a group over in 1729. The first congregation in the New World was organized at Germantown, Pa., in 1723. Soon after its formation, the Germantown congregation sent missionaries to rural areas around Philadelphia. These missionaries preached, baptized, and started new congregations.

Their zeal, honesty, and hard work drew many new members into the Brethren faith community through the 1700s. New congregations were formed in New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia. With the promise of inexpensive land, they moved into Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri after the Revolutionary War. By the mid-1800s Brethren had settled in Kansas and Iowa and eventually the West Coast.

Expansion across the continent and changes due to the Industrial Revolution caused strain and conflict among the Brethren. In the early 1880s a major schism took place resulting in a three-way split. The largest branch after the schism was the German Baptist Brethren, who changed their name to the Church of the Brethren in 1908.

20th century and beyond

During the 20th century, focus areas of Church of the Brethren included educating its young people by developing Sunday schools, camping, and youth programs; strengthening its emphasis on service, missions, and peacemaking; increasing its inter-faith involvement; and developing a new denominational structure.

The Brethren began mission partnerships in India, China, Nigeria, Ecuador, Sudan, South Korea, and-more recently-in Brazil and the Dominican Republic. Mission staff and Brethren Volunteer Service workers are assigned throughout the US and more than a dozen countries around the world.

In the 21st century, the Church of the Brethren has about 125,000 members in more than 1,000 congregations in the United States and Puerto Rico; about 150,000 in the fast-growing Ekklesiyar Yan'uwa a Nigeria (Church of the Brethren in Nigeria); and hundreds more in India, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti.

While times have changed, the Church of the Brethren today maintains the basic beliefs of the first Brethren and seeks to find new ways to continue the work of Jesus in the world.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Silent Exodus of Syria's Christians

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

Here, refugees leave Qusayr on their way to Lebanon.
 It only takes 45 minutes to get there by car

SYRIA (ANS) -- According to Nina Shea, Director of Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom (, in Syria's rebellion, "no religious or ethnic group has been spared horrific levels of loss and suffering, but its 2,000-year-old Christian minority is now facing a distinct persecution."

Writing for the National Review (, Shea says, "Under the cover of war and chaos, this group, which alone lacks militias of its own, is easy prey for Islamists and criminals, alike. These assaults are driving out the Christians en masse. This 2,000-year-old community, numbering around 2 million is the largest church in the Middle East after Egypt's Copts, and it now faces extinction.

Armed insurgents with the Free Syrian Army (FSA)
 in Qusayr have transformed the city of 40,000
residents into a place where Christians 
no longer feel safe

She went on to say that Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana of the Assyrian Church of the East, despite recent heart surgery, is now constantly on the road in Lebanon and Iraq trying to cope with the refugee crisis.

Armed insurgents with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Qusayr have transformed the city of 40,000 residents into a place where Christians
no longer feel safe

She then quoted him in a message she had received as saying: "We are witnessing another Arab country losing its Christian Assyrian minority. When it happened in Iraq nobody believed Syria's turn would come. Christian Assyrians are fleeing massively from threats, kidnappings, rapes and murders. Behind the daily reporting about bombs there is an ethno-religious cleansing taking place, and soon Syria can be emptied of its Christians."

A destroyed church building in Homs, Syria
(Photo: Barnabas Fund)

Shea, who is also the co-author of "Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians" (Thomas Nelson Publishers, March 2013), said that official information and media reports about the Christians' fate has been sparse, but added that a new report by Nuri Kino, a Swedish journalist of Assyrian background, "sheds valuable light on the atrocities visited upon the Christians inside Syria," and their ordeals in attempting to escape, relying as they must on exploitative human-trafficking networks that have sprung up.

Entitled "Between the Barbed Wire," the report resulted from a trip sponsored by a Swedish charity, the Syriac Orthodox Youth Organization, to assess the needs of refugees. It is based on over a hundred interviews this past Christmas with Christian refugees in Turkey and Lebanon.

Two Syrian Christians who are not ashamed of the cross
She said that the refugees and the Lebanese bishops whom Kino and his team interview relate that Christians are leaving in a torrent. Once they cross into Lebanon, guided by Middle Eastern versions of "coyotes" through a harrowing series of checkpoints guarded by various sides in the conflict, they mostly seek out the local Christian communities for help.

A clearly overwhelmed Archbishop George Saliba, on Mount Lebanon, says about the refugees: "I want to help as many as I can, but it is not sustainable. We have hundreds of Syrian refugees who arrive every week. I don't know what to do."

Shea stated that elsewhere in Lebanon, St. Gabriel's monastery has opened its 75 unheated rooms to over a hundred refugees. In another Lebanese Christian town, the Syrian Catholic patriarch Ignatius Ephrem Josef III has converted a school building into a shelter for the hundreds of refugees there now and the others constantly arriving. The patriarch describes it as the "great exodus taking place in silence."

Nina Shea
"He also says he houses Christians who fled several years ago from Iraq. All of the Christian towns visited for the report are scrambling to keep up with the influx of Syrian Christians. Church leaders were grateful for the beds, washing machines, heaters, and medicine brought by the Swedish visitors," wrote Nina Shea.

Some of the Syrians, she added, say they plan to stay in Lebanon until Syria "calms down" and they can return to their homes. Many others say going back is "unthinkable" and are making plans to try to get to Europe either on valid visas or by paying smugglers the going rate of $20,000. They are largely small-business owners and skilled professionals - an engineer and his family, a jeweler and his, a hairdresser, a medical student, etc.
Many hope to be smuggled to Sweden and Germany, where they can receive some state subsidies until they find work. The town of Sodertalje seems to be a popular destination, with 35 new Christian families arriving from Syria each week. Kino, himself a citizen of Sodertalje, relates that there are already many Syrian Christians living there, and Arabic is more common than Swedish.

"The refugees were panic-stricken, pointing to some horrifying triggering event that forced them out - a kidnapping of a relative, a murder, or a robbery," Shea continued. "They feel they are targeted for being Christian, which means that militants and criminals can assault them with impunity. Some point to a government that fails to protect them; others to Islamists rebels who want to drive them out."

A refugee tells Kino: "Two men from a strong Arabic tribe decided one day to occupy our farmland, just like that. When I went to the police to report, I was told there was nothing they could do. The police chief was very clear that they would not act, as they didn't want the tribe to turn against the regime."

A woman from Hassake recounts how her husband and son were shot in the head by Islamists. "Our only crime is being Christians," she answers when asked if there had been a dispute.
A father says: "We're not poor, we didn't run from poverty. We ran from fear. I have to think about my twelve-year-old daughter. She's easy prey for kidnappers. Three children of our friends were kidnapped. In two cases they paid enormous ransoms to get the children back, and in one case they paid but got the child back dead."

Another man attests: "In Syria, you don't know who is your friend and who is your enemy. The wealthy have it the worst. Criminals wait in line to kidnap them."

The refugees, said Shea, all fear the Islamists. When the jihadi rebel units show up and take over a town, like Rasel-Eyn, it loses its Christian population over night. One man from there tells Kino: "The so-called Free Syrian Army, or rebels, or whatever you choose to call them in the West, emptied the city of its Christians, and soon there won't be a single Christian in the whole country."

"There is no complete data on the number of refugees," she continued. "How many Christians have fled is not known and escapees continue to come across the border each day. We are only beginning to understand the peril they face."

Archdeacon Youkhana pleads: "The world must open their eyes to the plight."

Note: An international human-rights lawyer for over thirty years, Nina Shea joined Hudson Institute as a Senior Fellow in November 2006, where she directs the Center for Religious Freedom. Since 1999, Shea has served as a Commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. She has been appointed as a U.S. delegate to the United Nation's main human rights body by both Republican and Democratic administrations.

Religious oppression continues in Belarus

Belarus (MNN) ― Imagine having the state control where you have church. Imagine having to stay out of sight when you practice religious freedom. In Belarus, officials are often hostile toward Christ-followers: people they see as a threat.

(Photo Courtesy of SGA)
Joel Griffith with Slavic Gospel Association (SGA) says, "It's Evangelical Protestant Christianity that they give a hard time to, particularly."

New Life Church in Minsk is famous for its back-and-forth battle with the government. In 2002, they had to fight to keep control of their private church property. In November of 2012, they were once again threatened by the government.

In Belarus, members of a religious organization do not have the right to share their convictions or to carry out any religious activity beyond the borders of the location where the community is registered.

"In terms of religious freedom, though, it really has proven to be a mixed bag through the years. The government does indeed keep very tight controls, especially over evangelical Christianity. But it seems like, if you watch it over time; you have periods of ebb and flow," Griffith said.

He adds that there are times when some local regional leaders are quietly supportive of the ministries. "You can see some significant ministry take place, as long as they keep it low key."

Forum 18 noted that in the most recent years, the government has been more reluctant to crack down on religious freedom. Griffith noted, "The reason they attribute to that is that they don't want political opposition to increase."

He adds, "The evangelical churches that SGA serves are certainly dedicated. They're intent on proclaiming the Gospel, and I think one thing that works in their they try to avoid politics. They really just want to focus on their ministry and proclaim the Gospel."

SGA is very flexible when it comes to supporting local pastors, churches, and other Christian ministries. "We do our best to sponsor missionary pastors," Griffith said. "We help them distribute Russian language Bibles and Christian literature; we're involved in helping evangelical churches there do orphan's ministry through a program we call 'Orphans Reborn.'"

"Our basic purpose is to serve evangelical churches in whatever way the Lord opens up. We don't view it as our place to be a sending organization, to send western missionaries over. We very much believe in serving the indigenous church and helping them reach their own people," Griffith said.

Griffith asks you to pray that the "freedom to worship and minister would open up, that there would be a change of heart in the leadership so that they would really allow true religious freedom there and freedom to proclaim the Gospel openly, without having to be quite so discrete about it."

VBB and VOM combine connections to 'sneak' Bibles into enemy territory

International (MNN) ― Ministries are teaming up to bring God's Word into a Muslim-dominated country with a history of persecuting Christians.

If it sounds dangerous, that's because it is.

"Pastors and evangelists are killed regularly in this country. Christians are persecuted. Sometimes Christian girls are forced to marry Muslim men," says Patrick Klein with Vision Beyond Borders (VBB).

He doesn't disclose the nation's name because terrorist acts are a daily occurrence, and religious persecution is rampant. Christ-followers comprise only about 2% of the population in this country, or roughly 3 million people.

"We really want to protect [the Christians] inside," Klein explains. "We don't want to cause anymore grief for them."

VBB is working with Voice of the Martyrs USA (VOM) to truck 50,000 Bibles into the closed nation from a neighboring country.

"They have a network, but we also have a network in this closed country to get Bibles to them, so we just thought, 'Let's partner together,'" Klein says.

Given the hostile nature of the closed nation where VBB and VOM are working, permission to bring Bibles across the border was a surprise, but a much-needed blessing.

"It took about a year to get permission. We've been working at it, and thankfully the Lord has really blessed us to be able to get permission," explains Klein. "There's such a great need for Bibles, and people are just hungry.

"There's a great receptivity to the Gospel in the villages. People are tired of all the terrorism and all the bloodshed, and people are just hungry for the Truth."

Klein says the so-called Arab Spring brought Islamic extremists to power in this country. As people push back against the country's dominant religion, they start looking elsewhere for answers.

"People are questioning Islam, and they're open to the Gospel," says Klein.

Even former terrorists are being transformed by the Truth they find in Jesus Christ. The last time VBB and VOM worked together on a project like this, Klein says, a terrorist obtained one of the Bibles.

"He read the Bible, got saved, and he's given out 600 Bibles to more terrorists," says Klein.

Over the next few months, VBB and VOM hope to send approximately 20,000 Bibles into the region. But they need your help.

"It's about $3.35 to print and ship them into the country," says Klein. He credits the project's affordability to a direct relationship with the Bible printers.

"Because of the big quantity of 50,000 as a total project, we were able to get the price down as low as possible," he explains. Even with a highly-reduced price, they're still looking to raise $65,000 USD.

You can help this project happen by clicking here.

Pray that as people receive God's Word, they'll find salvation through Jesus Christ. Pray also for the country's leadership.

"Pray that God will really touch the Islamic leaders in this country," Klein requests. "There is Sharia Law in the country, which makes it very difficult for Christians."

Pray that Christ-followers in this country will remain strong in their faith, and that there will be unity among believers. Pray also for openness for the Gospel.

#SaveSaeed: An International Push to Free an American Pastor in Iran

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

WASHINGTON D.C. (ANS) -- In addition to legal and diplomatic efforts by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) to free to free American Pastor Saeed Abedini, the group is spearheading an international social media effort to raise awareness about his plight.

According to a story by Matthew Clark for the ACLJ, award-winning musicians, Christian radio stations, and concerned citizens all across America and around the world are trying to get #SaveSaeed trending on Twitter and encourage people to sign the petition at

ACLJ said Ricky Skaggs, TobyMac, Bart Millard (Mercy Me), Kevin Max (DC Talk, Audio Adrenaline), Steven Curtis Chapman, Skillet, Rhett Walker Band, Air1 Radio, and thousands of others are helping to #SaveSaeed.

ACLJ wrote, "The idea is simple. The more people taking about Pastor Saeed and calling for his release means the more international media, governments, and world leaders are willing to put pressure on Iran for his release. It is the same idea that led to the release of Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani in Iran through Tweet for Youcef."

ACLJ said this is an easy way to help save the life of a persecuted pastor.

"Today," ACLJ said, "Tweet the hashtag #SaveSaeed and urge your followers to sign the petition at Share this blog with your friends on Facebook to encourage them to join this effort."

ACLJ said the advice is simple and can make an enormous difference in the life of a man whose only "crime" is choosing to follow Christ in an oppressive Islamic regime.

ACLJ concluded, "Tweet to #SaveSaeed today."

Pakistan: Hope grows for clemency in Asia Bibi case

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

Asia Bibi
VATICAN CITY (ANS) -- Influential Cardinal Archbishop Roger Etchegaray, who serves as the Vice Dean of the Vatican's College of Cardinals, has sent a letter to Pakistani President Asi Ali Zadari begging for clemency in the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman now on death row in the South Asian country for having allegedly blasphemed, according to Muslim law.

In a story, Spero News editor Martin Barillas, stated that the letter said, "I ask you to think of her as a sister, a daughter of Abraham, our common father in faith."

"Cardinal Etchegaray wields significant influence in dialogue between the Catholic Church and worldwide Islam," said Barillas.

"Ever since Pope John Paul II commissioned a Vatican council on inter-religious dialogue in 1986, along with the organization of a world inter-religious prayer meeting in Italy, the 90 year-old Cardinal Etchegaray has sought to find the means for Christian/Muslim coexistence.

Cardinal Archbishop Roger Etchegaray
"Asia Bibi, a mother of five, was convicted in 2010 by a Pakistani court of blasphemy and sentenced to death by hanging. The charges emerged when Bibi insisted that Christians and Muslims are equal before God, after a Muslim woman contended that any Muslim who shares food or drink with Christians is thus defiled. Numerous appeals of mercy have been presented to the Pakistani government.

"Even an appeal from Pope Benedict XVI has been for naught. A year ago, more than 500,000 people from 100 countries signed a petition to the government of Pakistan to pardon the Christian woman who has been sentenced to death."

Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law is enshrined in the Criminal Code of the South Asian country. It forbids the insult towards any religion, but in practice this is applied most rigorously concerning Islam. The most severe penalties for the desecration of the Koran or denouncing Muhammad can be life imprisonment or death. Pakistanis coming to the defense of Bibi have not been immune from blasphemy charges themselves.

Martin Barillas
Barillas went on to say that in January 2013, Pakistan's Supreme Court reopened a blasphemy case involving Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Sherry Rehman. The ambassador, who had been one of Pakistan's few members of parliament, had criticized the blasphemy law during a television debate in 2011. A businessman living in the Pakistani city of Multan claims the diplomat had insulted Islam by calling for an end to the blasphemy law. Rehman was also an outspoken defender of Bibi.

"While in Pakistan no death sentence for blasphemy has yet been executed, but several defendants have been lynched after release. Islamists are up in arms in protest against any amendments to the law, which they contend honor Allah," Barillas added. "In its present form it was introduced in 1986 by military dictator Muhammad Zia ul-Haq. Religious minorities and liberal Muslims are demanding better protection against abuse of the law, since spurious charges are often made for revenge or material motives. Minorities such as Christians are often accused disproportionately.

"In 2011 were assassinated both the Minister for Minorities - the only Christian in the government - and the governor of Punjab province who defended him. Both criticized the blasphemy law, which is often misused to denigrate personal enemies."

World Vision In Progress, a Pakistani group, announced on February 7 that Barkat Masih, a Christian the group had defended from blasphemy charges, has been acquitted by Pakistan's supreme court.

"That Masih will not receive the death penalty has been interpreted that clemency may also be granted to Bibi," Barillas concluded.

Note: Spero News Editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator. For more information, please go to:

Persecution on the Rise for Christians in Eastern Europe

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

VIRGINIA BEACH, VA (ANS) -- "It's been a long road since the revolution that swept away atheistic communism in Eastern Europe 20 years ago. The wave of religious freedom that swept the region now seems to be receding."

Russian boys in church
This was said in a video story by Stan Jeter, CBN News Senior Producer, who went on to say, "Citizens of the former Soviet Union are facing growing restrictions on their religious freedom."
On Wednesday, Jeter reported, a panel of experts in Washington reported that governments are closing more churches, fining and arresting their religious leaders, and destroying church literature.

"Twenty years ago when the Soviet Union fell apart, collapsed, when the Berlin Wall fell, everybody was sort of excited about all the future possibilities. Twenty years later we are again talking about freedom. What happened?" Victor Ham, vice president for the Billy Graham Evangelical Association Crusades, said.

Russian Christians during a church service
Jeter said that the situation might not be a return to the Soviet era, but the signs spell trouble.

"Churches are being torched, crosses are being burned. There's a lot of anti-Semitism, a lot of negative things appearing in the press about different organizations. So there's some reason for concern," Lauren Homer, with Homer International Law Group, said.

The atmosphere is thick with intolerance in these countries. Individual pastors are reluctant to speak out against abuses and restrictions.

"He's not so interested in going to the government and speaking to the ministers and so on because really it is a question of security most of all," Matti Sirvio, with Greater Grace Protestant Church, said. "Will it be used against them? Will their persecution become even worse."

In Uzbekistan, Sirvio encouraged church members to connect to the outside world as their best defense.

"I think people should all learn how to use the Internet, they should all learn the English language," he said. "And these two things will connect them in the future with the rest of the world and especially with the Body of Christ around the world."

To see this video, please go to:

Laos: Police Arrest Three Pastors for 'Spreading the Christian Religion'

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
LAOS (ANS) -- Three Christian pastors in Laos have been arrested and detained for "spreading the Christian religion" by reproducing a DVD of a Christian film. Pastor Bounma of Alowmai Village Church, Pastor Somkaew of Kengsainoi Village Church and Pastor Bounmee of Savet Village Church, were arrested on February 5, 2013 by the Phin District police in Savannakhet province.

A church in Laos
According to sources known to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the pastors took a DVD copy of a film about the "End Times" to a shop in Phin District market in order to make three copies. After the copies were made, the owner of the shop, along with the three pastors, tested one of the DVDs and watched the film through to the end.
"While they were watching, a police officer came to the shop and saw the shop owner and the pastors watching the film," said a CSW spokesperson. "The police officer then contacted his superior, Lieutenant Khamvee, who came to the shop accompanied by two deputies. The police arrested the three pastors and took the shop owner to the police station for further questioning. The shop owner was later released without charge.

"During their interrogation, the pastors claimed that the three copies were for their own use, but the authorities insisted that they were 'spreading the Christian religion' through the film. The three pastors are currently being detained in Phin district prison."

Children praying in a church in Laos
CSW added that although Article 30 of the 1991 Lao Constitution guarantees citizens the right to "believe or not to believe in religions", the 2002 "Decree Regarding Governance and Protection of Religious Activity in the Lao PDR" (Prime Minister's Decree No. 92/PM) places significant restrictions on the activities of religious believers. Article 14 of the Decree states that the printing of books, documents for dissemination, signs and various plates related to religion must be authorized by the Ministry of Information and Culture with the approval of the Central Committee of the Lao Front for National Construction.
It goes on to say, "It is forbidden for believers in the Lao PDR to publish or possess books, documents, photographs, signs, video cassettes, VCD, films or other media having characteristics of superstitions.or distortions of truth".

In this case, the film in question can be found in other shops in Savannakhet province, which suggests that either the film has been approved by the authorities, or that the local authorities have turned a blind eye to the sale of the film in other areas.

CSW's Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said, "CSW is deeply concerned about these arrests, which highlight the restrictions placed on the reproduction and dissemination of religious materials. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by Laos in 2009, protects the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the public manifestation of religion and the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds in any media. We urge the Lao authorities to release the three men immediately and to lift restrictions on the reproduction and dissemination of religious materials, in line with its obligations under the ICCPR."

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

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Gunmen target two church leaders in Kenya's deadly Garissa region

Map courtesy Wikipedia)

Kenya (ODM/MNN) ― Police in Kenya say gunmen shot two church leaders and wounded several others Thursday in the northeastern Garissa region.

Garissa has long had a perilous reputation in Kenya. A small outpost down near the Somalia border, the area has been filled with dangerous people for over a decade. The latest in a string of attacks, accounts say the gunmen opened fire on a vehicle as it drove in Garissa, not far from the border with war-torn Somalia.
Open Doors contacts report that Pastor Abdi Welli was pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital. Pastor Ibrahim Makunyi, of the East Africa Pentecostal Church, is in stable condition.

Attacks have increased in Kenya since Nairobi sent soldiers into Somalia in late 2011 to fight al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab insurgents who have vowed to take revenge on Kenya. While the violence has been blamed on the insurgents or their Kenyan supporters, the al-Shabaab have not claimed responsibility for any of them.

Al-Shabaab means "The Youth" in Arabic and emerged in 2006 as the radical youth wing of Somalia's previous Union of Islamic Courts. Since Kenyan troops entered Somalia a year ago, al-Shabaab has increased its attacks in Kenya. It seems the terrorists aim their Muslim rage at believers.

Pastor Welli, who was evangelized, discipled, and mentored by Pastor Makunyi, is survived by a widow Hellen and three young sons. Open Doors is monitoring the situation and will provide further updates as soon as more details are available.

According to OD, al-Shabaab influences have triggered instability in Kenya and cast a shadow on the future religious atmosphere in the country. In light of the March 4 elections, along with the Muslim minority's growing influence in the government, the worries are growing.

Islamic family courts based on Sharia Law have been implemented in all counties--even in those with a low Muslim presence. It is feared that at least 10 of the counties with higher Muslim representation may push for the implementation of Sharia Law and may even be harboring ambitions to break away from the rest of the country, which is Christian dominated (83%).

Prayer Points:
• Please pray for the family of Pastor Welli, his widow Hellen and 3 sons as they mourn the loss of their husband and father.
• Pray for quick healing and comfort of Pastor Makunyi as he has lost his spiritual son.
• Pray for comfort and reassurance upon Pastor Makunyi's family as they live and work in Garissa.
• Pray for the congregants of the East Africa Pentecostal Church as Pastor Makunyi recovers.
• Pray for the security situation in Garissa.
• Pray for the believers there as they live in constant danger.

Pray that God would keep opening doors for missionary pastors in Chechnya

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Chechnya (MNN) ― Jihad rages on in the North Caucasus, but it suffered some major losses in recent days.

Some reports say bombings and attacks from Islamic radicals are a weekly occurrence in the political region consisting of Chechnya, Dagestan, North Ossetia, and six other former Soviet Union nations. As a result, Christian work must be done discreetly.

"They're very much Islamic terrorists, and that can certainly make things very dangerous for Christians that are there," says Joel Griffith of Slavic Gospel Association.

Earlier this week, Russia announced Gusen Magomedov--the last surviving militant involved in Moscow's 2010 twin suicide bombings--had been killed by forces patrolling a forest hideout in the North Caucasus.

In March 2010, Magomedov had been seen escorting one of the suicide bombers to her destination: a busy Moscow underground where twin bombings claimed more than 40 lives. The attacks were orchestrated by Chechen Islamist rebel Doku Umarov.

At the end of January, Russian forces killed at least 11 Islamic militants in Chechnya. Among the dead were two senior jihadists commanders, Khusein and Muslim Gakayev. The brothers were among Russia's "most wanted" men for their active involvement in terrorist activities.

Despite the deaths of these key militant leaders, Griffith says Chechen believers aren't in the clear yet. Pray that the Chechen government would take its foot off of the Church as it gains victories over Islamic terrorists.

Pray "that they would lessen the controls that are on evangelical Christians there to allow them more freedom to minister and operate," requests Griffith.

Pray also for open doors to share the Good News of Jesus with jihadists.

"Yes they're terrorists, yes they're out to committing a lot of violence and atrocities, but they're still human beings in need of the Gospel," says Griffith.

SGA supports missionary pastors who live in neighboring countries and visit Chechnya to encourage believers there. You can help their work by clicking here.

"When they go into Chechnya and some of these other heavily-Islamic regions of the Caucasus Mountains, they do so in a very low-key way, and we don't publicize when and where and what they're doing," Griffith explains.

"We know that God is at work changing hearts and lives, so we just need to remember them in prayer, that they would find more opportunities and that the people would come to saving faith there."

Religious freedom policies forthcoming following briefing

President of Russian Ministries
Sergey Rakhuba addresses briefing in Washington, D.C..

USA (MNN) ― Christians from all over the former Soviet Union were in Washington, D.C. Wednesday for a briefing on Religious Freedom issues in that part of the world. It was hosted by Russian Ministries and their partnering organizations.

President of Russian Ministries Sergey Rakhuba says 90 people attended: more than anticipated. "It shows that a lot more people--many different leaders, even people from the State Departmen--are very much interested in discussing the issue of religious freedom in the former Soviet Union."

Some of the leading evangelical Christians in the region made presentations. "We brought some experts from Russia and Belarus, and we read some reports from Uzbekistan about all the freedoms that have been stripped from people there," says Rakhuba.

It's like going back to the days of the cold war, he says. "Evangelical churches are not allowed to do anything outside of their homes, even inside their homes. If they gather together for prayer meetings they are punished and are penalized. Many pastors have already been thrown into prison there."

While it's reminiscent of the days of communism, Rakhuba says, "This is a new wave of persecution that's based on radical Islamism, on nationalism, and even mainline churches like the Orthodox the reason for persecution of local believers in Russia and Ukraine or other Slavic countries."

The information presented will help create a policy guide for Christians in the region to help fight laws that are meant to fight terrorism. "Based on those laws, evangelical Christians--for their most humble actions--are punished just for having prayer in their own home. So, we'd like to create some policies and to encourage governments to change it."

Rakhuba is hoping politicians will use the policies to help press for those changes so the Gospel can be shared freely.

Muslims in Pakistan Allegedly Rapes Christian Teen

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

Fouzia Bibi
PAKISTAN (ANS) -- A Christian teen has allegedly been raped in Pakistan.

Fouzia Bibi, 15, lives in Village Roday, District Kasur.

Her father Malooka Masih has worked as a laborer for the last five years in his landlord's fields. He has three daughters and four sons. Due to the family's poverty, his children also work in the fields to earn some more money for the family.

According to a news release from Christian relief and advocacy group LEAD, on Jan. 25 2013 at about 6:30 PM, Fouzia Bibi went to get milk from one of the landlord's buildings.

LEAD said two influential area Muslims, Sher Muhammad and Shabir Ali, allegedly imprisoned, raped and tortured the young teen. There was no one around to hear Bibi's cries. She was left unconscious.

After regaining consciousness, LEAD said, Bibi returned home and told her mother what had happened-including the names of her alleged attackers. When Bibi's father returned home, her mother let him know about the attack.

LEAD said Masih, along with some other area Christians, immediately went to the police station at Sarai Mughal, but the officials there apparently didn't listen.

The group then went to Pattoki and told Rev.Saleem Gill of the Pattoki Church of Pakistan about the incident.

Gill contacted LEAD Chief Advocate Advocate Sardar Mushtaq Gill about the incident and asked for legal assistance with the case.

On Jan. 29 2013, LEAD's legal team went to the Deputy Superintendent of Police for Pattoki and filed a complaint against the alleged rapists.

According to LEAD, Masih said the alleged rapists were threatening him and other family members with serious consequences if they pursued the case.

Bibi's uncle Ashiq Masih said, "They are terrified and under threats."

LEAD reported that Mashooq Masih, another uncle, said "We want and demand security for our lives while we will go on work and jobs."

Sardar Mushtaq Gill met with Bibi's family and prayed for them. He said the family is appreciative fo LEAD's support involvement in the case.

LEAD said the group strongly condemns such rapists who destroy the lives of poor and innocence girls.

A LEAD spokesman said, "We demand (that the) government take .. strong steps to eliminate such elements from society."

LEAD is a Christian relief, development and advocacy organization  working with children, families and communities to help overcome poverty and injustice.