Thursday, April 18, 2013

Church shelled, seven Christians killed in Central African Republic

Reports: At least 20 are dead after weekend of fighting with rebels

A weekend of violence in the Central African Republic included three artillery shells that crashed into a church and killed seven people, according to a pastor.

At least 20 people were reported dead after gun battles in sectors of Bangui, capital of the republic, where an alliance of rebel groups took power last month. Seven of the victims were attending services in the Evangelical Federation of Brothers church on Sunday.

‘‘Two shells landed on the church building and another one landed in the church yard,” Rev. Mbaye-Bondoi told Watch World Monitor in a telephone interview.

“Many children account among wounded persons and were transferred at the paediatric hospital for treatments,” he said. The pastor himself, who also is the general Secretary of the Evangelical Alliance in Central African Republic, was hurt in his right ear, but he said the injury is not life-threatening.

Various independent news reports said clashes erupted Saturday after members of the rebel forces known as Séléka began a sweep through parts of Bangui to round up weapons.  The Chinese news agency Xinhua, citing an unnamed source within the recently formed National Transition Council, said the weapons had been handed out by the ousted Central African Republican president, François Bozizé.

Reports by witness and local media say small- and heavy-arms fire ripped through Boy-Rabe, an area considered supportive of the deposed president. Reported death tolls, some citing the local Red Cross, ranged from 13 to more than 20.

Three shells launched by Séléka forces from Boy-Rabe landed in the neighbouring Cité Jean 23 area and hit the Evangelical Federation of Brothers. Most of the churches located in Boy-Rabe and Cité Jean 23, the two most affected areas, were closed Sunday and many residents have fled to more secure areas of the capital.

There’s no official confirmation whether the church was targeted or simply caught in the crossfire, but since the Séléka coalition formed in December, elements have attacked Christian clerics and lay people, as well as their homes and churches.

Several rebel groups unhappy with the Bozizé government joined forces in December under the Séléka banner and within weeks had taken control of much of the country’s north, northeast and the central regions.
Since Séléka took power on March 24, looting continues in Bangui despite some attempts by new authorities to restore order.

“Our security is not guaranteed. As long as rebel fighters will stay in the city, insecurity will persist,” Mbaye-Bondoi said from an undisclosed location, where he is receiving care.

A BBC report said insecurity is amplified by a huge number of weapons circulating in the city. Also, local residents, particularly the youth, are exasperated by the looting.

Many of those injured during the weekend violence were admitted to the Bangui's Community Hospital and some of them are lying on the floor, had observed a reporter with a private Station Ndeke-Luka radio, who had visited the centre.

The recent incidents come a day after the rebel leader, Michel Djotodia, was elected interim president of Central African Republic by the National transitional Council, the acting parliament formed of 105 members.
Djotodia has pledged not to run in the presidential elections in 2016.


Pre-election violence rattles sectarian nerves

Image courtesy the Voice of the Martyrs Canada)

Iraq (MNN) ― There's been a deadly wave of bombings in advance of Saturday's 450-seat provincial elections.

On Monday, police say insurgents coordinated 24 separate attacks in six different provinces, killing nearly four dozen people and wounding more than 257 others.

Based on the targets and who claimed responsibility, the violence appears to be sectarian. Greg Musselman, a spokesman with the Voice of the Martyrs Canada, explains, "There is a lot of instability. You've got al-Qaeda who definitely wants to make it their mission to take over the country and what they believe--their brand of militant Islam--and they will use any means to do that."

Noting what seems to be a spike within the last few weeks, Musselman attributes some of it to bad timing. "Part of that is with the U.S. pullout, they are really testing to see how strong the military--the police--are in the country. Obviously, they're finding out that there are some holes. That's become a very big challenge for the Iraqi officials and security."

While most of the violence is between the Shia and Sunni, it doesn't take much before Christians are caught in the crossfire. Iraqi Christians--one of the oldest communities in the world--have faced such violence, that tens of thousands left the country in 2011.

Although Iraq's constitution says each individual has freedom of thought, conscience, and belief, Christians feel that the government fails to protect them. Since there is no article on changing one's religion, and Islamic law forbids conversion of Muslims to other religions, believers--especially Muslim-Born Believers--are routinely threatened, robbed, raped, or kidnapped, and their churches bombed.

As a result, persecution watchdog groups note with some alarm that Christians in Iraq are on the verge of extinction. Musselman says, "Somewhere back in the mid-1990s, there were 1.2 to 1.4 million Christians. Today, some say there are less than 200,000. Not all of those Christians are meeting in visible churches. There's a lot of underground activity going on."

The head of the Chaldean Church estimates that only 57 churches remain with members of the minority fleeing Islamist attacks. Musselman is quick to point out that not everyone is taking the exodus in stride.

Some believers are going against the flow. "Some of the evangelical denominations are starting new churches, so there's some activity--especially in the North, like Kurdistan--where there's certainly more security. But in Baghdad, they have to be more careful."

In fact, church leaders are answering difficult questions concerning fear and family safety: "Should I stay or should I go?" That's where strong faith comes into play, says Musselman. "One of the pastors in Kirkuk we talked to told us, ‘We want the Christians to stay. We need to be the light. This is an historic place where the Church has 2000 years of history, and if all the Christians leave, where will that leave us?'"

Syrian Pastor: situation for Christians worsening

Syrian Refugee (Photo courtesy Open Doors)

Syria (ODM) ― More than 1.3 million Syrians have fled the war-torn country, according to the latest figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Syria is over 2 million.

People that are staying in their embattled cities are in need of assistance. Open Doors is helping more than 3000 families spread all over Syria in partnership with local churches. The Alliance Church in Damascus is one of them.

Open Doors recently spoke with Alliance Church pastor Edward Awabdeh. "The fighting gets closer and closer to where the church is located," he says. "Many people see no light at the end of the tunnel. Things are getting worse, with more fighting and bloodshed."

Since April 2012, Open Doors has been supporting many Christian families working with Pastor Awabdeh's church. Open Doors is helping facilitate food supplies, medical assistance, and sometimes even financial support for paying the rent of apartments for temporary shelter for the homeless.

Refugees that come to Damascus often arrive with only the clothes they can carry. There is no work and no income for them. Many families rent an apartment together with one or two other families to share the costs.

The families that flee to Damascus are visited by church team members. The families are registered with the church, and the visiting team makes an assessment of their situation. Then material for the relief packages has to be bought.

"It is risky, yes," says Awabdeh. "When you need to drive through the city, you run a high risk. Roads are closed. Twenty-four hours a day there is shooting and shelling."

It has been difficult to get the materials, the pastor explains. "Sometimes it takes two weeks to have enough of a product. Sometimes we do this in unconventional ways. For example, instead of buying the oil in small bottles, we buy it in gallons and we fill bottles with oil to distribute. For many products we have to go to the outskirts of the city, and that is very risky. Sometimes we make agreements that we pay something extra to have people bring the products, and then it is their risk."

But ministry goes on. Last week the church opened a new distribution center, and now the ministry is able to help hundreds more families.

"We thank the Lord for all the people that are praying for us. We feel the effect of that. We feel supported by that, personally and on the ministry level," says Awabdeh. "This is the time for the church to help; time to support the refugees. Who else can give hope and spread peace than the Lord?

"We see how the Gospel, the message of Christ, fits in the suffering. Love touches the deepest wounds. It is a tool to open hearts for the Gospel."

Last month Open Doors launched a campaign called "Displaced Peoples Project." It is targeting countries such as Egypt, South Sudan, Nigeria, Mali, Laos, and Iraq because displacement of Christians is a worldwide problem. Thousands of Christians are being forced to leave their original family homes and villages due to persecution and ravages of war.

"The focus of this project is to embrace uprooted believers, not only in Syria, but also around the world," says Open Doors USA spokesman Jerry Dykstra. "Thousands of Christians are being forced from their homes, churches, schools, and places of work. They find themselves completely destitute and face an uncertain future.

Beatings Intensify: American Pastor's Condition Worsens in Iranian Prison

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

WASHINGTON D.C. (ANS) -- American Pastor Saeed Abedini, who is serving an eight-year prison term in Iran because of his Christian faith, has been suffering from internal bleeding for months - injuries received from beatings in prison.

Saeed Abedini (via ACLJ).
A story by Jordan Sekulow for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), said "In what could only be viewed as a cruel act of psychological abuse," 
prison officials took Pastor Saeed to a hospital last week - only to be turned away - and brought back to Evin prison without receiving medical treatment for his internal bleeding.

The ACLJ said that the beatings and physical abuse are intensifying. Abedini reported that last week he was severely beaten the same day the prison officials took him to the hospital.

During the weekly prison visit, Abedini's family reported that his physical condition is worsening - seeing first-hand the marks and symptoms left by the recent beating. These beatings and the internal injuries are causing him frequent fainting spells.

The ACLJ said Iranian officials are telling Abedini it could be an additional two months before he will receive medical treatment. The ACLJ said, "Such a delay is inhumane and a gross violation of Iran's international obligations."

The ACLJ said in addition to refusing to give Abedini necessary medical care, it now appears authorities are stepping up their physical abuse and psychological torture.

Abedini said that cell mates, "who appear to have connections to the Iranian intelligence police," recently threatened they would suffocate him in his sleep, making his death look like an accident. The ACLJ said the daily threat that his life could be taken by his internal injuries or by the hands of cell mates, weighs heavily on Abedini.
The ACLJ said these issues developments are a huge concern to Abedini's wife, Naghmeh, who lives with their two children in the U.S.

"I cannot express in words how concerned I am about Saeed's physical and mental health," the ACLJ reported Naghmeh said.

She added, "He is now continually attacked and threatened. The Iranian government should know that we are watching and aware of what they are doing to Saeed inside Evin prison. We need to speak louder until Saeed is home safely on US soil."

The ACLJ said that Abedini has spoken often about the beatings and abuse he has suffered at the hands of his captors.

In a recent letter from his prison cell, the ACLJ said Abedini wrote that he cannot even recognize himself after all the beatings and torture he has endured. He wrote, "My hair was shaven, under my eyes were swollen three times what they should have been, my face was swollen, and my beard had grown."

The ACLJ said prison officials want Abedini to to recant his faith in Christ. However, his faith remains strong.
The ACLJ said, "We ask that you continue to pray for Pastor Saeed. At the same time, thanks to the more than 33,000 people who have already sent letters of support to Pastor Saeed. If you haven't done so yet, please take a moment and craft a letter of prayer and support for this hostage in Iran. You can send a letter by going"

The ACLJ represents Abedini's wife, Naghmeh and their two young children.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Iranian Authorities Demand American Pastor Saeed Recant Faith in Christ

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

WASHINGTON D.C. (ANS) -- Iranian officials are now threatening American Pastor Saeed Abedini that he will be held longer than his eight-year sentence unless he recants his faith.
Saeed Abedini and his family.

Writing for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), Jordan Sekulow said the ACLJ has just obtained a new letter from Pastor Saeed, dated March 9, where he talks about the humiliation and psychological torture he undergoes daily.

Sekulow said that Abedini writes he was told, "'Deny your faith in Jesus Christ and return to Islam or else you will not be released from prison. We will make sure you are kept here even after your eight year sentence is finished.' These are the threats that prison officials throw at me."

Abedini continues, "My response to them is Romans 8:35-39. The reality of Christian living is that difficulties or problems do arise in our lives. Persecution and difficulties are not new occurrences, but are seen often in the Christian life. It is through the suffering and tribulations that we are to enter the Kingdom of God."

Sekulow said Abedini closes the letter, "Pastor Saeed Abedini, the servant and slave of Jesus Christ in chains, with a lot of joy to see you soon. Evin Prison 9th March 2013."

Sekulow wrote, "It is clear that Pastor Saeed's faith is what is keeping him alive - sustaining him - as the mental and physical abuse he suffers at the hands of the brutal Islamic regime weakens his body."

Sekulow continued, "He is being ordered to deny Christ, yet his faith holds strong. This is why tens of thousands of people from all over the world are writing letters to Pastor Saeed for his upcoming birthday on May 7th. Letters of prayer and support."

Sekulow said, "Pastor Saeed is refusing to deny Christ. We must let him know that we will never forget him and will never stop working for his release."

Sekulow encouraged readers to get involved. He said, "Join the over 20,000 others who have already done so, and write a letter to Pastor Saeed at This has already quickly become one of the largest letter writing campaigns ever."

Assyrian Girl Escapes Muslim Death Threats in Iraq, Fights Cancer in Lebanon

By Juliana Taimoorazy
Special to ASSIST News Service, courtesy of the Assyrian International News Agency (

BAGHDAD, IRAQ (ANS) -- It was a pleasant morning and the sun was warming the faces of those who were walking to St. George Church in Baghdad. Among them was Ronda, a 10 year old little girl with beautiful wavy black hair tied in pigtail fashion with little pink and white ribbons. In her little hands she was carrying her rosary and a little white scarf to cover her hair out of respect for when she stepped inside the church. Customarily, Assyrians (also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs) cover their hair while in the presence of the Holy Eucharist.

Ronda's parents, along with their younger daughter Lourde, were trying to catch up with their 10 year old, who was joyously rushing to get to church.

Smoke from a car bomb pours over
a Baghdad street
It was evident; however, the parents were trying to hide an immense worry written on their faces. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Christian families and churches throughout Iraq have been targeted by Muslims and many have been killed. This however, would not stop our little Ronda and her family from attending mass and receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Once in church, women covered their hair with scarves and traced the sign of the Cross on their body. Men knelt in respect and blessed themselves with Holy Water. As soon as she stepped inside St. George church, Ronda ran to her usual seat in the pew and wiggled her little body to give room to her sister, who was complaining that she did not have enough space to sit. Mass began, continued and was completed without any explosions being heard in the neighborhood.

The fairly quiet streets were now full of people coming and going, you could see American troops walking with their AK40s, watching carefully the face of every passerby. Ronda's father Basil asked the family to walk faster so they could get home as he did not feel safe being outside. They began to walk faster and faster, passing street after street, alley after alley. All they could see were the ruins of buildings which were destroyed by bombs. After a few long minutes filled with anxiety, the family turned the corner of their street and as they began getting closer to their home, they noticed their yard door was open.
The congregation at St. George Church in Baghdad

Basil assured the family that he had locked the door when they left for church. As they neared the house, they noticed the door had been cracked in many places, exhibiting the impact inflicted by those who were trying to break in.

Ronda's little brown eyes were fixated on the door, staring at it in horror. Basil carefully pushed the door open and stepped into the yard, which seemed quiet and untouched. As they walked through, they saw windows shattered and doors barely hanging on their hinges.

Basil screamed: "Who is there? What do you want from us?" There was no answer. He asked Ronda's mother, Nadia to get the girls and take refuge behind the age old oak tree in the yard. They obeyed but their fearful eyes followed their father into the house. Next they heard a loud scream. Ronda's mother could not tolerate the unknown and ran into the house where she found Basil standing there in dismay. She traced his stare and saw their living room ransacked; their beautiful chandelier was in pieces on the ground, their television had been destroyed, their furniture was torched and still smoldering, their dishes were in thousands of pieces all over the floor, and on the wall their fate was written in red: "Leave or Die." This is how Ronda's story of exodus, trials, and a life threatening illness begins.

It was a beautiful sunny morning in Scottsdale. I looked at my calendar and it read Tuesday, 10/16/2012. My laptop in my hand, I stepped out on our balcony where the sun warmed my face. I placed myself in a comfortable chair and opened my laptop. The first email which caught my eye was titled Message to Iraqi Christian Relief Council. I eagerly clicked on the message and read it carefully line after line. I read and re-read the email sent by Sarah, sharing her sister's devastating situation in Syria. This is an excerpt of that email:

Message: I am writing to beg you to please help me!

I was able to speak with my sister a few minutes ago and I am shaking as our phone call was abruptly disconnected. I could hear the bombs and sound of explosions in the background. She was crying and begging me to do something to save them. My nieces were crying and praying in the background, it was very scary and sad at the same time. I beg you please, if any of you or someone you know has connections in a high government office, please help me get them out of Syria before it is too late.

I held my breath and uttered a prayer. I called Sarah immediately and spoke to her about this situation. It was my first time talking with her and found her to be profoundly nervous for her sister's family and at the same time she possessed an unshaken Christian faith. She told me in 2004, while the family was in St. George church, her sister Nadia's house was ransacked and there was a threatening message written on the wall giving them the option to leave or die. After taking a deep breath and with a quiver in her throat she continued to tell me her sister and her family fled for their lives to Syria where they have been stuck for 9 years. They had not been able to secure a visa from any of the Western countries and now their lives are in danger once again.

Nadia, her husband Basil and their daughters Ronda and Lourde are like other Iraqi Assyrian families in Syria who have become refugees for the second time. I vowed to help in any way I could, explaining that Iraqi Christian Relief Council, an organization founded in 2007, was mainly an aid organization and that we had not been involved in immigration issues.

Months later, I received another email from Sarah which added to the urgency of the matter. The following is an excerpt of the email:

Message: Update from Syria!

As if the challenge to survive in the war torn country of Syria is not enough, my sister just informed me that her oldest daughter Ronda, 19, has multiple small tumors in her lymph nodes from the upper part of the neck to the lower part of her chest. The family is terrified that they are cancerous.

And the next email:

Dear Family and Friends,

I received the call I have been waiting for with news I have been dreading about Ronda. It is Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

By grace of God, the family was able to get a temporary visa into Lebanon where they were able to have a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan administered on our young heroine. The results showed she has tumors in her neck and in her upper chest. The doctors told her she needs eight Chemo treatments which would be very costly. Through much prayer and efforts, we have raised a small amount and still have a long way to go to meet the demand for all of the required chemo therapy sessions in order to save Ronda's life. In addition to this hardship, finding housing has been a taxing and an exhausting process for this family.

Because of the rise in Syrian and Iraqi refugee influx into Lebanon, the cost of living has skyrocketed. Amidst his tears, Basil explains he has knocked on many doors, traveled on foot from street to street to find a place for his ailing daughter and his persecuted family. Sadly, he has been rejected time and time again. The excuses given to him range from: "You were not baptized in our church" to "We are at capacity." Even Christian organizations have turned him away.

Those who have suffered and achieved victory in their battle with cancer know very well in order to be triumphant; a patient needs a complete support system, a healthy lifestyle, peace of mind and a good exercise program. 

How can Ronda prevail over this life threatening battle while not eating adequate meals, not having adequate housing or loving support from her community? Is it cancer that betrayed Ronda at the tender age of 19 or are we as Christians failing to comply with the Lord's command: "Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me." [Mathew 25:35-40]

Copts Arrested in Egypt Following Attack on St. Mark's Cathedral

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

CAIRO (ANS) -- Egyptian authorities have arrested four Coptic men who were at St. Mark's Cathedral when it was attacked last weekend.

According to a story by human rights agency Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Shadi Sami was arrested at 4 am, while Michael Morcos was arrested at 6 am by Special Forces who stormed the back entrance of his apartment.

It appears the men were detained for being on the grounds of St. Mark's Cathedral at the time of the Sunday attack. Two other Coptic men were also arrested, according to the Coptic Maspero Youth Union.

CSW said the men were amongst hundreds of people who attended Sunday's funeral at St. Mark's for four Coptic men who were killed in sectarian violence on April 5 in Khosous, a town 10 miles from Cairo.

As mourners left the funeral, they were attacked with stones, petrol bombs and Molotov cocktails, forcing them to seek shelter in the grounds of the Cathedral. As the stones and other missiles were thrown from the roofs of surrounding buildings and by people who had climbed the walls of the Cathedral, CSW said young Coptic men picked up sticks and rocks to retaliate.

Two Coptic men were killed during the violence and 84 were injured, including Michael Morcos, who required sixteen stitches to the head after being hit by a glass bottle. CSW said when police eventually arrived at the scene, they fired teargas into the grounds of the Cathedral but did nothing to end the attack, which continued for at least five hours.

Andrew Johnston, CSW's advocacy director, said in the news release, "These arrests come at a time when the Coptic community in Egypt is still coming to terms with an unprecedented attack on the headquarters of the Coptic Orthodox Church and the violence in Khosous. Two Copts were killed during the attack on the Cathedral; four more died in Khosous, yet not one of their attackers has been arrested. Such discrepancies in the discharge of justice contribute to impunity, and can only foster more sectarianism."

Johnston added, "They also sends a clear message that Christians are not viewed as equal citizens, despite the government's verbal protestations to the contrary, and the fact that Egypt is party to international covenants that prohibit discrimination. Being in the Cathedral identifies these men as victims, not perpetrators."

He concluded, "CSW therefore urges their immediate release, and calls on the Egyptian authorities to focus instead on apprehending assailants caught on camera as they attacked the Cathedral with stones and guns."

Christian Solidarity Worldwide works for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

For further information, visit

Caught in the Crossfire

Situation worsens for Christians in Syria

Christian Aid Mission
For Immediate Release

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (ANS) -- As the exodus of Christians from Syria continues unabated, more reports are surfacing of the alarming conditions facing those who choose to remain.
Everywhere they turn, children are subjected to the harsh realities of war

"When people leave their houses in Syria in the morning to go to work, they say goodbye to their families in case they don't come back. There are suicide bombers and car bombs going off all around," a ministry leader in Damascus told Christian Aid Mission.

It is estimated that around 70 to 80 percent of the Christian population has fled Syria, particularly from the major cities where the fighting has been most intense. Over one million refugees, both Christian and non-Christian alike, have fled the civil war and poured into the neighboring countries of Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, and Egypt. The majority of those refugees, some 335,000, have sought refuge in Jordan.

Christian Aid Mission assists the ministry in providing emergency relief and spiritual help both to Syrian families who stay in their homeland and to refugees who have relocated to other countries.

The stories from inside Syria describe extremely harsh and dangerous living conditions for everyone. Few people are employed. The infrastructure is in tatters. People are beheaded.

Girls are raped and killed. The prices for gas and food are ten times what they were two years ago.

But according to the leader, the situation is even more threatening for Christians because they face persecution from all sides of the conflict. There is al-Qaeda, dissidents from the Syrian army, a Muslim group called Victory, and other factions.

Some 300 churches in and around Syria have been damaged or destroyed. Before the revolution, Syria was governed as a secular nation and Christians enjoyed some measure of freedom to worship in their churches.

Rubble is all that remains of this
Syrian neighborhood
Most Christians remain supportive of President Bashar al-Assad. The legal protection afforded them by the current government would most likely vanish if the rebels seize power, he said.

"The outside world thinks because of the media and news that the president is responsible for what's going on in Syria, that he is the one who kills and destroys. 

But it is totally the opposite," the spokesman explained. "Whenever the government fixes the damage from a terrorist attack, there is a repeat of destruction."

Disrupting the power grid brought a great deal of misery to Christians and non-Christians alike in Syria during the winter months. With no electricity available up to 14 hours a day, people suffered in their unheated homes. The ministry leader said the situation has improved, with electricity now cut for only four or five hours each day.

"Every time the government fixes the generators, the terrorists attack them again on purpose," he said. "A lot of people have lost their jobs because of the destruction of the country's infrastructure from the bombing of hospitals, businesses, factories, hotels. The terrorists attack and steal everything."

Without the presence of the Syrian army, he said there would be an even higher incidence of Christians dying.
In spite of the horrific situation, God is moving and subtle changes are taking place. The Syrian government appears to trust Christians more and is permitting them to freely do mission work and evangelize.

Syrian believers who remain are providing food packages, clothing, shelter, and New Testaments to people who have been displaced from their homes and relocated to other communities. These acts of compassion give them the opportunity to share the gospel.

"They visit Muslim neighborhoods and help them as much as they can, and they evangelize more than ever before now that the government has given them the green light to do so," the leader shared. "Muslims in these areas now trust Christians, because it's the Christians who provided for them and stayed beside them. Lots of Muslims have realized the love of Jesus and the Christian faith."

With no end in sight to the crisis, Syrian believers are asking for Christians around the world to join them in prayer and fasting. Please go to for more information on ways to support the refugee relief efforts of ministries assisted by Christian Aid Mission.

Christian Aid Mission is an indigenous missions-supporting organization based in Charlottesville, Va., that provides the financial resources to help ministries share the gospel of Jesus Christ in their home countries, particularly among unreached people groups. Since 1953, Christian Aid Mission has provided more than $100 million in assistance to more than 800 ministries based in 122 "mission field" countries overseas. These ministries deploy a combined total of 80,000 missionaries serving in the most unevangelized nations of the world.

Proposed law against cults in Sri Lanka threatens churches

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (ANS) -- According to Barnabas Aid, which is part of Barnabas Fund (, the Religious Affairs Ministry in Sri Lanka has announced that it intends to introduce legislation enabling the authorities to take action against religious groups that are deemed cults in a move that threatens some of the country's churches.

St Paul's in Milagiriya, Colombo, is one of the oldest churches in Sri Lanka
The group says that Sri Lanka's Ministry Secretary M.K.B. Dissanayake said that a dialogue with the relevant stakeholders had been initiated regarding the introduction of such a law. It would be designed to prevent anyone from "distorting the original teachings" of the country's four main religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity.

Barnabas Aid's coordinator for South Asia said that this was "a very dangerous proposal as it will affect all Evangelical churches in the country". Evangelical churches are not recognized by the Religious Affairs Ministry and are thus liable to be labeled as "cults" by those who do not understand the Christian faith and want to prevent activity they deem undesirable or threatening.

This proposed legislation is the latest threat to the Church in Sri Lanka, which has been facing increasing opposition. Last month, ten anti-Christian incidents were recorded in the country. These mostly involved the harassment of churches by Buddhist extremists in what may be a concerted campaign.

On Sunday (March 24, 2013), Galaboda Aththe Gnanasarathera of hardline Buddhist group the Bodu Bala Sena said that the country should be ready to rally against what he described as Christian and Muslim extremist groups operating in the country. Buddhists are particularly hostile to Christian evangelism and campaign for laws to control religious conversion.

"In this context of animosity towards Christian groups, Buddhists would undoubtedly use the proposed new religious legislation to put pressure on the authorities to target vulnerable churches. Buddhism is already afforded the 'foremost place' by the government," said Barnabas Aid spokesperson.

"The new law being considered in Sri Lanka is reminiscent of the efforts of governments in Communist and former Communist countries to restrict religious freedom, especially Christianity.

"In China, for example, the constitution grants freedom of religious belief but limits protections for religious practice to 'normal religious activities'. The government determines what is 'normal'.

"Only religious groups that belong to one of the five state-sanctioned 'patriotic religious associations' - Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Roman Catholic and Protestant - can register with the government and legally meet for worship. These organizations are subject to close state control."

Barnabas Aid goes on to say that some religious groups, including certain Christian ones, are banned, and these are labeled under Chinese law as "evil cults'. Individuals involved in such groups have been imprisoned or sentenced to 'Reeducation Through Labor' on charges such as "distributing evil cult materials" or "using a heretical organisation to subvert the law".

The spokesperson concluded, "Many of the countries that impose restrictive rules on religious matters have signed up to international treaties that uphold the right to freedom of religion and belief, and they should be held accountable to these commitments.

"It is never the role of the state to play theological watchdog, determining the validity of its citizens' beliefs. The proposed legislation in Sri Lanka must be resisted and the rights of its citizens honored."

Gospel Broadcasts Reinforced As War Threats Loom

TWR offers messages of hope and peace to embattled listeners in North Korea

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

CARY, N.C. (ANS) -- While war drums pound loudly in the foreground of daily news reports, in the background a message of peace and hope connects North Korea and Guam.
TWR's powerful transmitter site on the Pacific island of Guam broadcasts biblical messages of hope and peace to North Korea every day.

According to a news release from Trans World Radio (TWR), world tensions entangling the Korean peninsula and the United States have spilled over to the tiny island of Guam, home to international media ministry TWR's 100,000-watt transmitter site.

TWR beams shortwave messages of biblical reconciliation to people who are hungering for God's love rather than political confrontation.

TWR said the Guam site already broadcasts several hours of gospel programming every week to North Korea, where the government maintains strict controls on the media and persecution of Christians is reportedly severe.

Today, though, the escalated saber rattling is spurring TWR's regional and national offices, in concert with partner Child Evangelism Fellowship of South Korea, to redouble efforts to air three new programs in response to the spiritual needs of North Koreans.

TWR said Gospel Train for Children will help North Korean parents pass on the Good News.
Let's Talk About Something will work to connect with nonbelievers and brand-new believers to promote a positive attitude toward hearing more of the Bible story via TWR broadcasts.

Teacher's Institute, produced by CEF-Korea, will train Sunday school teachers and other church leaders to teach the Bible to children.

As TWR Asia strives to raise the necessary additional funding to put the new programs on the air, reports from North Korean believers have emerged about life on a wartime footing.

TWR said Open Doors, a nonprofit organization that supports persecuted believers around the world, recently reported on a smuggled letter in which underground Christians said prices for food and other goods are skyrocketing as people stock up on emergency supplies.

"I would like to thank the many brothers and sisters around the world for their continuous love and support," TWR said Open Doors quoted one North Korean believer as saying.

The believer continued, "We know that our journey will not be an easy one, but we are sure that our faith, desperate hope and passionate desire will someday bear fruit . Please pray for us."

TWR is working to build financial support for what it calls the North Korea project and counter the swirling rumors of war, as it tells and retells the story of the God-man who taught his followers to "love your enemies."

In response to TWR broadcasts, one North Korean listener wrote, "When we listen to your program every night, we are encouraged and find life worth living. If not for the Word of God, and your love and devotion in the midst of our sufferings, our lives would be dark and hopeless."

TWR said another listener shared, "TWR's Korean broadcasts help me keep the faith and understand God's Word more and more. I never forget you and your team in my prayers, as you are serving God by broadcasting His Word to us, day and night . Please do not stop these programs, for they give us the hope of God."

Speaking fluently in more than 200 languages and dialects, TWR exists to reach the world for Jesus Christ. Its global media outreach engages millions in 160 countries with biblical truth. Since 1952, God has enabled TWR to help lead people from doubt to decision to discipleship.

To be a part of the North Korean outreach or to learn more about the project,

Pastors fined in Azerbaijan

Pastor Zaur Balaev (file photo)

Azerbaijan (MNN) ― A court in Azerbaijan has fined a pastor and church worker, another blow to religious freedom in the country. Azerbaijan has restricted religious freedom over the last decade, refusing registration for evangelical churches and restricting churches from holding services.

Pastor Zaur Balaev was arrested and charged on trumped up changes in 2007. This appears to be another attempt to persecute him. This time Balaev and church worker, Hinayat Shabanova, were fined more than $1,900.

Spokesman for Slavic Gospel Association Joel Griffith says the fines are just another trial for Balaev. "His wife, Nunuka, developed pancreatic cancer, so he's been in the middle of trying to make sure she gets treated for her serious illness. Then, to have to face these legal difficulties is just doubly tragic."

Pastor Balaev's church has been seeking registration since 1994. Forum 18 reports that's the longest known period for any religious community in Azerbaijan. "Now, in light of them continuing to meet, obviously, and worship as a church--even though they've not been able to get legal registration, authorities have moved in now and decided to levy these very severe fines," says Griffith.

Griffith says Christians in the West need to be wise in their response to this. "We don't want to do anything that would cause any harm to come to any of our missionary pastors or any of the churches there. We've seen sometimes where western pressure has the opposite result, and they end up cracking down even harder."

Christians are being asked to pray on behalf of pastors in Central Asia. "We think of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan--so many of these Muslim-dominated regions where believers are having a very tough time. They need our intercessory prayer," Griffith says.

He continues, "Pray that the Lord would raise up resources to help in this situation. Certainly it's not just going to be Pastors Balaev and Shabanov; there are others that may need help."

The Azeri Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists is appealing the fines to a higher court. In the meantime, Griffith says, "Our sponsor church planters are going to be doing all we can to come alongside and support [them]."

Despite the fines and persecution, the churches are growing in these nations.

Turkish Church's Faith Shines after Foiled Assassination Plot

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

IZMIT, TURKEY (ANS) -- Pastor Emre Karaali smiled as he discussed the number of first-time visitors at his church's Easter service. This was less than three months after a foiled plot to assassinate him that involved two visitors who pretended to be church members for a year.
The Izmit Protestant Church and its nondescript building have been threatened before, including an attempted arson.

According to a story by Morning Star News, police have released all but one of the 14 people arrested in mid-January in connection with the foiled assassination plan against the pastor of the 20-member church in Izmit, an overwhelmingly Muslim city 62 miles east of Istanbul.

Of the two suspects who attended the fellowship for a year, one acted amiably - "like a Christian," and visited the pastor's house a number of times, according to Karaali. The second one documented everything that happened in the church and wrote a detailed account of Karaali's activities.

According to Morning Star News, when Karaali went to the police station to give a statement following their arrest, an officer showed him the suspect's account. It logged all his activities hour-by-hour, such as when he left his home, when he arrived at church, and what he did publicly with his family.

Since the assassination attempt, the church has been determined to continue as usual, though members are more suspicious of newcomers - particularly those who take pictures of them or the building, the pastor said.

"Some wonder if newcomers are fake Christians as well," Morning Star News reported Karaali said. "But I remind my congregation that the apostles and early church went through similar troubles. Satan is angry, and he is trying to attack us."

Morning Star News said Karaali did not have any information about the whereabouts of the conspirators, who had reportedly planned to murder the pastor during a week of evangelistic meetings before authorities intervened. He and his congregants will not know anything until details of the police investigation are released at trial, which has not yet been scheduled.

Nevertheless, Karaali remains open to visitors who drop by the church and ask questions about religion. Morning Star News said he estimated 30 such visitors a week stop by, and he explained to most of them the gospel of Jesus' redemptive suffering for a sin-filled world.

On one overcast Wednesday morning (April 3) in the coastal city off the Sea of Marmara's Gulf of Izmit, Morning Star News said he encouraged a visibly agitated man in his early 20s with promises of God's faithfulness. The young man had become a Christian a few weeks prior and was fleeing the antagonism of his Muslim family in Istanbul. Passing through Izmit, he wanted to talk with Karaali before moving east.

Morning Star News said that the pastor keeps an open door is quite a statement of trust in God, considering that all but one of the conspirators were set free days after their arrest. The suspect who befriended him most closely is still in jail, and two others must remain in Kocaeli Province until the trial.

The church has made only small changes to its security since January. A new lock was installed on the door, as one of the alleged conspirators had a key to the building.

Morning Star News said before the attempted assassination, the building already had a sophisticated security system in place due to past attacks. Three security cameras monitor the perimeter, and chicken wire covers the windows to defend against projectiles.

During the Christmas 2006 season, an unknown arsonist started a fire outside the wall of the church building. Molotov cocktails have also been thrown against the building in the past.

Five years ago, Morning Star News reported, 28 people were taken into custody on charges of forming a criminal organization involved in violent extortion. Among their objectives was to assassinate Izmit Protestant Church's then-pastor, Wolfgang Hade.

Since the foiling of the planned assassination, Karaali, his wife, and their two small children have moved from a ground-level apartment to a more secure apartment complex. Police offered him protection, but he turned it down.

"I would be too uncomfortable with this," Morning Star News reported he said, "particularly when doing things like helping out with another house church."

At the same time, as a security precaution Morning Star News said he did not allow members of his congregation to be interviewed for this article.


The assassination plot was a harrowing reminder of the vulnerability of Turkey's miniscule Christian population. Morning Star News said it is threatened not only by a sometimes antagonistic Muslim majority, but by anti-government elements trying to destabilize the administration by portraying it as unable to contain violence aimed at religious targets.

Such elements include the suspected "masterminds" in the murder of three Christians. They are German national Tilmann Geske and two Turkish converts, Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel, who were tortured and slaughtered at the Zirve Publishing House in the eastern city of Malatya on April 18 2007.

Morning Star News said the prosecution team in that case believes there is a connection between those murders and the 2006 killing of Father Andrea Santoro in the Black Sea city of Trabzon, the 2007 killing of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink in Istanbul, and the 2010 killing of Father Luigi Padovese in the southern district of Iskenderun.

Morning Star News said in early March, a witness and suspect in the Malatya murder case gave new details of how Turkish military members orchestrated the attack as part of a wide-ranging plan to topple the government.
Ilker Cinar told prosecutors that the alleged masterminds of the murder planned to frame the attacks as an example of radical Islamic and anti-missionary sentiment in Turkey's provinces.

Morning Star News reported he said that Col. Mehmet Ulger, a former Malatya gendarmerie regiment commander and leader of a local branch of a clandestine organization within Turkey's military, wanted to use the murders as an example of a deteriorating social order that the military would then step in and "solve."

Morning Star News said the Turkish military views itself as the guardian of secularism in Turkey, a majority-Muslim country that has a troubled relationship with its religious identity. Many former officers are charged with attempting to remove from power the democratically elected Justice and Development Party, which they perceive to be a Trojan Horse of Islamism.

Judge Hayretin Kisa noted the similarities in profile between the suspected Malatya murders and those of other non-Muslims in recent years, suggesting a conspiracy.

"The one who killed Father Santoro in Trabzon was 17 years old, just as the convict in the Hrant Dink murder," Morning Star News reported he said. "Also, the five assailants who committed the Malatya Zirve Publishing House massacre were of the same age group."

Some 14,500 evangelical Christians live in Turkey, a nation of 75.7 million that is 96.6 percent Muslim, according to Operation World. Christians can legally practice their religion, but converts face significant informal social discrimination from family members, the government, and work places.

Morning Star News said only 30 to 40 Protestants are estimated to live in Izmit, a city of nearly 303,000 people. The Izmit Protestant Church's unassuming two-story church building is located in the back streets of the city, near a school. The church also supports a house church of 10 in the nearby city of Adapazari.

For a church of Turkish Christians outside Istanbul, Morning Star News said the congregation is considered large. Obtaining legal permission for new church buildings is difficult in provincial areas, and converts from Islam in such areas are more often targets of persecution and violence.

The biggest problem that such provincial churches face is prejudice, as different groups in the city perceive them as a threat, said Carlos Madrigal, leader of the Istanbul Protestant Church Foundation. In Izmit, these threats have gone as far as attempts to set the church building on fire.

Madrigal, one of the most prominent members of Turkey's Protestant community, told Morning Star News that Karaali has helped the small congregation to maturity from its humble beginnings in 1999 despite "bumpy periods" in which members frequently came and went.
At the same time, relations are slowly starting to improve with those who live in the church's neighborhood, he said.

"Due to the years-long relationship with neighbors and the patience and love of the mature believers, these prejudices are slowly starting to change," Morning Star News reported Madrigal said. "They rejoice in faith that God's love will have victory over all this hate."

Morning Star News said Karaali shares this enthusiasm. While his congregation is small and under persecution, he sees it as part of the larger narrative of Christian history. Izmit is located on the grounds of Nicomedia, an ancient Roman capital and the site of intense persecution before Emperor Constantine removed legal restrictions against practicing Christianity.

Morning Star News said an archeological excavation of a Roman-era palace is underway fewer than 100 meters from the doors of the church building. Emperor Diocletian killed thousands there in the early fourth century, and Karaali believes that God is blessing his congregation by remembering the ancient church's sufferings.

He concluded, "It's as if to the degree Satan destroys something, God puts up something new right next to it."
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Sudan – President’s amnesty ‘for all prisoners’ releases Christian woman

In prison for 7 weeks without trial, against backdrop of Khartoum church closures

It has been a little more than a week since Salwa Fahmi Suleiman Gireis, a 64-year old Sudanese accountant has been released from prison on Tuesday, 2nd April. She was detained without charge for 7 weeks by the Sudanese security services, following arrest from her home in Khartoum. Amnesty International had called Ms Fahmi a ‘prisoner of conscience,’ held solely for her peaceful work with a religious organisation.

One of Ms Fahmi’s family said “She is doing fine, and has been welcomed home by a stream of visitors throughout the week.” He went on to say that “It was a joy to reunite with her brothers and sisters from church for worship, as many have been praying and fasting for her.”

The move comes as tensions ease in Sudan amid improving relations with neighbouring South Sudan.
Ms Fahmi was freed from prison a day after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on Monday 1st April ordered the release of all political detainees. He said in a speech to Parliament that all political prisoners would be freed, and that Sudan now "guaranteed the atmosphere for freedoms and the safeguarding of the freedom of expression of individuals and groups".

"Today, we announce a decision to free all the political prisoners and renew our commitment to all political powers about dialogue," he said, without giving further details.

The government would continue to communicate with "all political and social powers without excluding anyone, including those who are armed, for a national dialogue which will bring a solution to all the issues," he added.
The same day as Salwa was released, seven opposition political activists were also released – most of them had been arrested after attending a meeting in Uganda, allegedly to plot a coup.

Religious tensions and security have been heightened since South Sudan became independent in 2011, with a dispute over oil escalating to the brink of war nearly a year ago.

However, in September the leaders of both nations signed a deal, mediated by the African Union, to resume oil sales and set up a demilitarised buffer zone. The oil production from South Sudan started to flow again into Port Sudan in the North on 6th April. 

The President claimed that his efforts have been made to ease strains and improve relations between the two countries.

In the newly formed Muslim majority country, President Bashir has made it clear that he’s set on creating a Sharia state. Christians are increasingly persecuted; over the past few weeks Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) have ordered more than 100 expatriate workers suspected of being involved with Christian activities to leave the country or face deportation.

 Ms Fahmi was the last Christian national to be released: she was arrested on February 12th when four men who identified themselves as members of the NISS entered the house and arrested her without providing a reason. Later that same day, the men returned and confiscated her passport and all of the house’s electronic equipment, including laptops, a desktop computer, tablets and a router.

Following Ms Fahmi’s arrest, plain-clothed men proceeded to cause havoc at her family’s farm by killing pigs, stealing a motorcycle and sealing up cupboards containing the family’s Bibles.  

While in detention she was denied access to a lawyer and her family was only allowed to visit her once.

Upon her release she was promised that her passport, identification papers and the other IT things that were taken from her home would be returned, but so far that has not happened. 
President Bashir's announcement of “an atmosphere for freedom” was welcomed by Human Rights Watch, which said “it hoped it would lead to an end to arbitrary detentions and torture under Sudan's strict national security laws.”
 The government says the new constitution will guarantee religious freedom, but many Christians are wary because authorities started a crackdown in December; believers say that it has been getting worse, with several Khartoum churches destroyed or locked up by government authorities. 
The Sudan Council of Churches’ office in Nyala, Darfur remains closed since we first reported this in May 2012. 
President Bashir came to power in a coup in 1989, and is the only sitting President wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide - related to the decade-long conflict in Darfur. In March he said he would step down at the next election in 2015 because Sudan needs "fresh blood".
"He is considering his legacy having indicated he will not run in 2015," says Alex Vines, head of the Africa program at Chatham House, a London-based think tank. "This about the redefinition of Sudan following the independence of the South. Bashir knows old strategies need to be reformed. It is also a clever way to respond to growing unified opposition."