Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A registered church is raided in Kazakhstan, says Forum 18

Kazakhstan (MNN) ― In former Soviet Union countries, preaching or attending an unregistered church is against the law. But if a church is registered, they have so far flown under the governmental radar.

However, according to a recent article from Forum 18 News, that seems to be changing.

Forum 18 says a visiting pastor was delivering an Easter sermon at a New Life congregation in Kazakhstan when four police officers raided the church. The pastor was accused of being a missionary and conducting illegal missionary activity; but in reality, he was a local pastor associated with the New Life network.

He and the lead pastor were brought to the Police station to write down their statements, but the police found no evidence of any law-breaking, so they were allowed to leave. This is one of the first raids on a registered church in this area.

Joel Griffith of Slavic Gospel Association says, "If this is now something that is being done by authorities on a registered church that actually has an existing legal charter, that's a definite change in the game on the ground there."

Kazakhstan's restrictions against the church have risen in the past few years, but this raid is something Griffith hopes doesn't become a regular occurrence. He says, "We're going to have to watch and see how this filters down to the rest of the registered churches."

Because of increased pressure, SGA has made it a point to be discrete when it comes to their ministries. Griffith says the pastors' safety is a "top priority."

If the situation worsens, SGA will be with Kazakh Christians every step of the way. "We're going to try to serve them however they need us to serve them," he states. "We will be there to support them in prayer and we will be able to support them however they have need for us."

Monday, April 22, 2013

Islamist Ultimatum to Syrian Christians: Convert, Leave, or Die

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

SYRIA (ANS) -- Syria's Christians fear an Islamist takeover should the current government be overthrown. During the ongoing civil war there has been a well-documented rise in the number of salafi-jihadist groups operating in Syria that pose a direct threat to Syria's Christian community.

Nina Oshana, killed in a bus
attack in Syria
According to a story by Matthew Thomas for the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), these militant opposition forces espouse an Islamist ideology, which incorporates elements of Wahhabism and Salafism and whose stated goals and objectives are hostile towards Christians.

AINA said firsthand accounts from Syrian Christian refugees in Lebanon reported by award winning investigative journalist Nuri Kino detail the horror in which they described kidnappings, rapes, harassment, theft and other violent reprisals at the hands of Islamist groups.

AINA said those who survived reported "just being Christian is enough to be a target," disproving theories that violence and kidnapping directed towards Syrian Christians is purely incidental or for economic reasons. One individual said, "We're not poor. 

We didn't run from poverty ... we ran from fear."

AINA said there are dozens of armed Salafi-jihadist groups both foreign and domestic currently operating in Syria. They overtly advocate Islamist agendas and possess the intentions and capabilities to violently persecute Syria's Christians.

Most notably from the global Sunni jihadist milieu is al-Jabhat al-Nusra lil-Ahl al-Sham min Mujahedin al-Sham fi Sahat al-Jihad (The Front for Supporting the People of Greater Syria by the Mujahedin of Syria on the Battlefields of Jihad). It's also known as Jabhat al-Nusra, which in Dec. 2012 the U.S. government officially listed as a terrorist organization.

In addition, AINA said, on April 9 the leader of Tanzim Qai'dat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (Organization of Jihad's Base in Mesopotamia) aka al-Qaeda in Iraq released an audio announcement that officially declared the unification of al-Qaeda in Iraq and Jabhat al-Nusra. It included the establishment of an Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, effectively expanding the threat to Syria's Christians.

AINA said the other notable militant Islamist group is al-Jabhat al-Islamiya al-Suriya (Syrian Islamic Front), a large armed coalition force comprised of several interdependent blocs and alliances organized throughout Syria.

AINA said even the relatively less hardline al-Jaysh al-Suri al-Hurr (Free Syrian Army) and al-Majlis al-Watani al-Suri (Syrian National Council) are by no means monolithic entities. They both exist as umbrella organizations, comprised of several independent and competing ideological currents and sub-currents including Islamism.

AINA said regardless of the means employed, whether violent or non-violent, to achieve the goals of these Islamist movements, the future is unfortunately no less hostile towards Christians.

AINA said within an Islamic State governed by Shari'a (Islamic Law), Jews and Christians, known colloquially as ahl al-Kitaab (People of the Book), are afforded a certain protected status called dhimmi, but only if they willingly submit to a tribute or coercive tax known as jizya.

Based on Islamist interpretation, which is strictly literal and uses the "doctrine of abrogation" first instituted by the 13th century Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiyyah, the later and more belligerent suras (chapters) of the Qur'an take precedence over the earlier and more tolerant suras.

As a result, AINA said, the salafi-jihadists frequently reference Sura al-Tawba (The Repentance) otherwise known as Sura al-Bara'a (The Ultimatum), which is the 9th chapter of the Qur'an, to justify their violent actions.

AINA said, "Numerous internationally recognized translations of Verse 29 of Sura al-Tawba explicitly state, "Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued."

Ultimately, AINA said, Syria's Christians as well as Jews will suffer persecution at the hands of Islamists unless they convert to Islam, submit to Shari'a and pay the jizya, emigrate or die.

Guilt by association: Syria's Christians labeled pro-Assad

The question of who would protect the Syrian Christians after the fall of Assad has historically led many Christians to support the status quo out of fear. AINA said a Congressional Research Service report from Aug. 2012 accurately portrays the dilemma of Syrian Christians who are "caught between their parallel fears of violent change and of being associated with Assad's crackdown."

AINA said according to a Sept. 2012 report by the Institute for the Study of War, President Assad has "used the threat of jihadists within the opposition to galvanize support for the regime among the Alawite and Christian communities."

Similarly, AINA said, the U.S. State Department's 2011 International Religious Freedom Report for Syria also recognizes the rising level of animosity towards Syria's Christians. It also acknowledges Assad's attempts to translate their fears into political support by sponsoring pro-government demonstrations in predominantly Christian neighborhoods, and violently rebuffing those viewed as undermining this effort.

AINA said, consequently, even individual Christians who don't in any way support the regime may still be identified as pro-Assad and thereby targeted for violent persecution by the Islamists and other opposition forces, or by government security forces for being perceived as unsupportive.

"Arab Spring" is "Christian winter." Persecution of Christians is a regional issue

AINA said Christian persecution is prevalent not only throughout Syria but also the entire region.

Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Virginia) has consistently published reports testifying that Christians throughout the Middle East, specifically in Syria, Egypt and Iraq, have been suffering persecution at an alarming rate. It includes a sustained campaign of violence, discrimination, mass emigration and internal displacement, all of which too often go unrecognized and unreported.

In an urgent attempt to bring attention to and spur action from policymakers, Wolf recently traveled to the region and met firsthand with Christian refugees from several Arab nations, including Syria.

AINA reported he said, "In fact, it often appears that there is an anti-Christian bias at the State Department. For years the department refused to recognize that Iraqi Christians were being targeted, insisting instead that they were simply victims of generalized violence."

AINA said unfortunately, the same can now be said of Syria's Christians, as Western naivety falsely assumes that anti-Assad opposition forces are automatically pro-democracy, pro-secular, and pluralist and Christians are merely victims of incidental violence.

However, AINA said, a recent report from the British newspaper The Guardian revealed that until recently hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians sought refuge in neighboring countries like Syria. Now they are once again forced to flee due to rampant religious persecution.

The Guardian report continued by saying that the majority of Christians have been emptied from the broader Middle East, and while the "Arab Spring" may have sprung new life for Islamists in the region, it has brought death to Christianity in places like Syria.

For more information go to www.aina.org

Kazakhstan: 'He Needs Local State Permission to Preach'

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

STEPNOGORSK, KAZAKHSTAN (ANS) -- Officials who raided a Protestant church in Stepnogorsk in Kazakhstan's northern Akmola Region, as the Easter Sunday morning service was finishing, have defended the raid.

A church service in Kazakhstan
"The visiting pastor needed permission to preach here," Duman Uvaideldinov of Stepnogorsk police Criminal Investigation Department - who led the raid - insisted to Forum 18 News Service (www.forum18.org). "He will receive an official warning."

According to Felix Corley, Editor, Forum 18 News Service, the raid followed a visit by a dual-role official of a state-backed "anti-sect" center and the local Internal Policy Department. Pastor Igor Andreikin and others from New Life Pentecostal Church are also concerned by an apparent attempt to discredit or blackmail them.

Corley went on to say that an unidentified "law-enforcement officer" attempted to send two young women into a sauna session with men from the church, to be closely followed by two ordinary police officers. Both the ordinary police and the KNB secret police have denied to Forum 18 that they had any involvement.

Pastor Andreikin told Forum 18 that as "boundaries have been crossed", there is nothing to stop officials planting drugs on church leaders or using other methods of framing them. He told Forum 18 that he was going public on this case to try to stop such methods being used in future.

Christians experience threat, danger in one of the world's most violent cities

By Kenneth D. MacHarg
Special to ASSIST News Service

SAN PEDRO SULA, HONDURAS (ANS) -- The large type, appropriately black, shouted the message across the front page of the newspaper. "12 More Bodies Found Dead in One Day."
Another vicious killing, this time at a soccer game where no one is safe in this city.

It was a typical, almost daily news bulletin in this second-largest Honduran city. With each passing day the death toll from the country's out-of-control violence mounts.

Everywhere one turns beefed-up security is visible: guards armed with machine guns outside of supermarkets and pharmacies; entrances to tranquil-appearing residential neighborhoods protected by three or four armed guards, vicious looking dogs and roads blocked by chains; electrically charged barbed wire atop walls surrounding houses; and people riding in bullet-proofed cars driven by heavily armed men.

Such is life in what has been termed the world's most violent city where drug-fueled gangs fight it out on city streets, feuds between Mexican drug cartels break out into violent conflict and innocent shoppers or church goers are victims of "express kidnappings" in which victims are driven to ATM machines and ordered to empty their accounts.

"Many people point to the irony that they have become prisoners (in their homes) while, because of the failures in the justice system, the criminals roam free," said Jill Powis, a Honduras-base human rights worker in an interview with the Guardian Weekly newspaper.
Pastor Misael Argeña and his wife

Even churches are not exempt from the violence. Pastor Misael Argeñal who heads Ministerio La Cosecha (Harvest Ministry), an international network of churches, from his soccer-stadium sized church in the city fled in mid March with his extended family to refuge in the United States after receiving death threats. The threatening messages followed the kidnapping of his wife at an upscale shopping mall, in which she was forced to empty her checking account and beaten before being freed.

Two weeks later in the coastal town of La Ceiba Pastor Dago Irias of the Iglesia Gran Comision (Great Commission Church) and his family went into hiding after an extortion attempt.

Both pastors returned to their places of service after those making the extortion threats were arrested.

"Most of the threats to pastors are for the extortion of money," explained independent missionary Terry Sorah.

Sorah said that he and his wife were robbed by armed gunmen but they considered the incident to be a "crime of opportunity." They believe that the thieves followed them home from a shopping center.
Man tries to save the life of a boy shooting victim ((AFP/Getty Images)

"Many churches here preach a prosperity gospel with an emphasis on health and wealth," explained Mark Hoff, a long-term missionary with Bajio Christian Mission in San Pedro Sula. "With that emphasis on money and the fact that pastors drive big cars they are often targeted for financial extortion."

Freddy Rodriguez, the associate pastor of the Iglesia Cristiana (Christian Church) in Buenos Aires (a San Pedro Sula neighborhood) says that some opposition is directed toward those who work with gang members or preach on issues that are important to organized crime.

"The message of God addresses injustice, immorality and sin," Rodriguez said. "Pastors who preach prophetically about those issues and the evil of sin are often opposed by the gangs and drug traffickers."

"The criminals attack what the pastors say is good," 
reported Jorge Garcia, a Honduran layman working with a mission agency. "Members of churches have died because they go to church and gangs stop people from attending church."

Garcia said that some pastors are preaching about themes they have never addressed before while others are intimidated and seldom address crucial issues.

By far most of the violence is attributed to the growing presence of gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha which began among El Salvadorian immigrants in Los Angeles, California and were transported back to Central America when they were deported.
Gangsters pose for the camera (STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)

As these lawless gangs vie for territory they usually settle disputes by murdering opponents, often with open battles on city streets that claim the lives not only of gang members but innocent bystanders including very young children.

Many churches are reaching out and programming to reach both gang members and young people before they are attracted into the gangs. Antonio Orellana pastors a church in a gang-infested neighborhood of San Pedro Sula. His church operates a clinic, a school and a counseling center to address the needs of unemployment and social turmoil.

"The youth of our community feel that they have no opportunities," Orellana said. "They have no confidence in authority, they experience corruption and unemployment and their family structure is absent.

The main reason young boys enter the gangs is because of the disintegration of the family," he said.

To prevent younger boys from being attracted to the gang life style in which they find authority that they can trust and an organization that cares for them while at the same time it is also exploiting them for economic gain and control over neighborhoods, Pastor Rodriguez said that his church is working to train parents about their proper role in raising children.

"We are teaching families to follow the biblical guidance of Proverbs 1:8," (Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching), he explained.

"We show them that the function of the father is to correct and discipline while the mother gives direction and counsel," he said. "When the two roles are applied they have positive results."

The problem, both pastors said, is that with the disintegration of the family most children grow up without at least one parent, usually the father. That is why they place so much emphasis on strengthening the families in their churches.

There is some success in working with gang members, but small in comparison to the thousands of young men entrapped by the criminal organizations. Pastor Orellana says that there are around nine former gang members attending his church.

The two pastors agreed that the only way out of a gang is either to be killed or to accept Christ and join an evangelical church.

Pastor Rodriguez said that a former leader of a gang is now a part of his fellowship. "But if a member is allowed to leave and join an evangelical congregation he had better not ever leave the church. If he does, he will be killed," he warned.

Another side of life in San Pedro Sula with U.S. fast food restaurants lining a busy street (Photo: Polly B. MacHargh)
Missionaries in the country confront the threat of violence regularly in their work and they deal with people who have suffered from the effects of the murder or robbery of a loved one.

"In our church, the pastor asked everyone who had been assaulted on the street to raise their hands" Latin America Mission (LAM) missionary Cindy Williamson reported. "Well over half the congregation did. We were the only ones in our area who had not been assaulted. We thank God for his protection! But every detailed story I know is a random act or a result of an unwise choice. I think if you asked a group of Hondurans anywhere the same question, you would get a similar response."

Cindy Williamson and her husband Wes serve in a camping ministry outside of San Pedro Sula but often attend a local Evangelical and Reformed church in the city.

Telling of an experience with the country's problems Williamson wrote in an email, "In 2010 a young friend of ours was shot and killed. He was out with two friends playing soccer and they were in a fender-bender on the way home. The driver of the other vehicle got angry and began to shoot them. Our friend was killed (buried on his 20th birthday) and the other two, also from church, were seriously injured. The violence struck hard in the youth group.

At Guillermo's funeral, we mourned the loss of a godly young man, a talented worship leader, someone willing to speak out for God. But at the same time, we rejoiced that he was in Heaven with Jesus, hearing, "Well done my good and faithful servant."

In the south of the country LAM missionaries Matthew and Jennifer Allen work at the Way of Life Christian Church in the capital city Tegucigalpa.

Violence is no stranger there either. "It makes us more aware of the fleeting nature of life, and therefore helps us to focus more on that which is of eternal value," Matthew said. "Since we have been here, we have gotten to know several young men who have been directly impacted by the untimely and seemingly needless death of a loved one."

Allen reports that churches struggle when someone is robbed, kidnapped or murdered. "In our churches, the response is mixed," he said. "Some are made stronger and have become more reliant on Scripture and prayer. Others have become cynical and fearful, wrongly fearing man and not God."

He added, "Through teaching God's Word, we pray to change the mentality of the church to make the most of every opportunity to live out the certainty of the Gospel in uncertain times."

Missionaries reflect that the on-going turmoil has become a part of daily life and goes well beyond that which is generated by gang or drug trafficking activity.

"The culture here is like the old west," explained one missionary who asked not to be quoted on the subject by name. "There is a lot of vigilante "justice" and retribution embedded in the Honduran culture. When we came, we were advised not to take sides on issues, not to talk about politics, and not to ask questions."

"So it seems to me that in our area the two things that expose you to violence are crossing someone or getting involved in a "feud" with them, and making unwise choices to travel at times and in places that are not safe," the missionary continued. "There are always a few cases of being caught in the crossfire of someone else's fight, but that is not the main problem in our area. We have made the choice not to travel at night."

Missionaries themselves must deal with the safety of their family. "We do feel confident that the Lord continues to call us here, and he has plans for us here," Cindy Williamson said.

"We want to walk in the path He has laid out for us, so we continue to stay. We feel a passion to carry out whatever plan God has for us here, but we are cautious to be sure we are not stubbornly staying where He placed us without confirming that we're still supposed to be here," she concluded.

Missionary Esther Bettney who, with her husband Dave, serves at a bilingual Christian School in Siguatepeque, Honduras said "We know of some missionaries who have left because of the violence when it has personally impacted or threatened their lives."

"At moments we have questioned our call to Honduras," she reflected. "But we always return to the truth that God is with us in all circumstances and that we will serve in Honduras until we feel God leads us elsewhere."

In the midst of daily chaos and uncertainty the church in Honduras is growing according to Assemblies of God missionary Dave Turner. "We have 1,300 churches in the country and are adding more each year," he said.

But in the midst of that growth there are challenges for the churches. "They must look at the condition of our cities and ask why," Turner commented. "Winning people to Christ is one thing but making them disciples is another."

Turner said that moving beyond the conversion experience and helping people to understand what the Gospel means in how they live their lives will be crucial to overcoming the country's problems. He said that living the Christian life is not so much what he called "religiosity" but "requires a change in how we do things."

Convert from Islam Tortured

Al Shabaab rebels monitor movement of Somali Christian returning from Kenya for visit

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

NAIROBI, KENYA (ANS) -- Muslim militants still controlling part of the Lower Shebelle Region of Somalia have jailed and tortured a Christian for converting from Islam, sources said.
Somali refugees in border town of Liboi, Kenya, enroute to other parts of the country. (UNHCR photo).

According to a story by Morning Star News, Al Shabaab rebels seized Hassan Gulled, 25, on March 23 in Bulo Marer near Qoryoley District, they said.

Gulled, who had fled to Kenya in 2007 in search of safety and a better life, had left Kenya on Feb. 27 to visit family in Somalia, sources said.

Gulled is one of dozens of Somali refugees in Kenya facing dangers from Al Shabaab extremists as they return to Somalia following the establishment of a new government in Mogadishu and the weakening of Al Shabaab, which once held large portions of territory.

Morning Star News said as Gulled was only visiting family in Somalia, his wife remained in an undisclosed city in Kenya. Al Shabaab extremists in Kenya who knew of his Christian activities there apparently contacted members of the militant group in Somalia, who monitored his movement for three weeks before seizing him, sources said.

"Four masked, armed militia from Al Shabaab took Gulled into a Land Cruiser and then drove away as family watched him helplessly," Morning Star News reported one source said.

Another source said it was confirmed that Gulled has been jailed in Bulo Marer.

"The Al Shabaab have been torturing him to see whether he would deny his Christian faith," the source said. "Since last week, no information has surfaced concerning Gulled. There is a possibility that he could have been killed."

A militant Islamist group with ties to Al Qaeda, Morning Star News said Al Shabaab has a base in Bulo Marer, about 50 miles from Mogadishu.
Last week, however, Somali government troops backed by African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces had reportedly taken control of nearby Qoryoley.
Morning Star News said Al Shabaab has vowed to rid Somalia of Christians, who meet secretly due to persecution. Besides Al Shabaab, the government and many in Somali society also view leaving Islam as deserving of death.

Gulled became a Christian in Kenya in 2010. He married there in 2011 and has no children.

"Gulled's wife is very distressed and worried that she might not see her husband again," Morning Star News reported a source said.

Many Somali members of Christian fellowships in Kenya have returned to Somalia after formation of a Somali government on Aug. 20, 2012, which replaced the Transitional Federal Government, said the source, who requested anonymity.

"Several Christian agencies are helping them settle," Morning Star News reported he said. "But we are worried that some of our members are being monitored closely by Islamic extremists."

Al Shabaab has lost control of several areas of Somalia since Kenyan military forces helped to dislodge them in the past year, but they are suspected in the shooting death of a Christian pharmacist on the outskirts of Kismayo in February.
Morning Star News said two masked men killed Ahmed Ali Jimale, a 42-year-old father of four, on Feb. 18 as he stood outside his house in Alanley village.

On Dec. 8, 2012 in Beledweyne, 206 miles north of Mogadishu, gunmen killed a Christian who had been receiving death threats for leaving Islam. Two unidentified, masked men shot Mursal Isse Siad, 55, outside his home, Muslim and Christian sources said.

Morning Star News said Siad and his wife, who converted to Christianity in 2000 according to a source who used to worship with them, had moved to Beledweyne from Doolow eight months before. That was after Somalia's transitional federal government and African Union Mission in Somalia troops captured Beledweyne from Al Shabaab rebels.

Morning Star News said the area was under government control and there was no indication that the killers belonged to the Al Shabaab rebels who have vowed to rid the country of Christianity, but the Islamic extremist insurgents were present in Buulodbarde, 12 miles away. Christians believed a few Al Shabaab rebels could have been hiding in Beledweyne.

In the coastal city of Barawa on Nov. 16, 2012, Al Shabaab militants killed a Christian after accusing him of being a spy and leaving Islam, Christian and Muslim witnesses said. The extremists beheaded 25-year-old Farhan Haji Mose after monitoring his movements for six months, sources said.

Morning Star News said Mose drew suspicion when he returned to Barawa, in Somalia's Lower Shebelle Region, in Dec. 2011 after spending time in Kenya, according to underground Christians in Somalia.
Kenya's population is nearly 83 percent Christian, according to Operation World, while Somalia's is close to 100 percent Muslim.
For more information go to http://morningstarnews.org

Brazilians’ ordeal in Senegal prison over, but legal challenges remain

Held without a hearing for 5 months, two missionaries free on bail

Two Brazilian missionaries held in a Senegal jail without charge for five months were released on bail this month, yet still face accusations they operated youth programs without permits.

Jose Dilson Da Silva is a missionary with the Brazilian Presbyterian Church in the Senegalese capital Dakar. Zeneide Moreira Novais, who works for Missao Servos, runs an orphanage for street children in Mbour, 80 kilometres south of Dakar.

The Brazilian National Organisation of Evangelical Lawyers for the Defence of Fundamental Civic Freedoms, or ANAJURE, says a final judgment on their case is expected within 30 days of their April 5 release.

Da Silva, who has worked in Senegal since 2005, runs a private school in Dakar. He set up the orphanage and Project Obadiah in 2011 to take children from the streets, house and feed them and provide education and sports activities. Novais works as the orphanage “mother.”

ANAJURE President Uziel Santana told World Watch Monitor that the complaint about forceful conversions of Muslims found a legal foothold in the discovery that Da Silva’s projects had been operating without necessary licenses.

Their troubles began when a father became upset that his son, said to be 17 years old, had learned about Christianity in the project, which has 200 registered children. Local media reported that the teenager “refused to take part in Islamic prayers, and was acting like a Christian.”

Da Silva’s son Jon wrote about the episode online:

“The man said my father had started an association to harm the children of Senegal,” the younger Da Silva wrote. “The charge is said to be that ‘this association opened a centre where they receive street children and talibes, and the association has thus recruited 17 children to force them to undergo a two to three month training for trades such as carpentry and sewing.’ “

The elder Da Silva apparently went to the police station to respond to enquiries, and was then detained. Shortly thereafter, Novais was arrested in Mbour. They were held in a prison in Thies, the capital of eastern Senegal, awaiting formal charges. A request for bail was initially denied.

The original accusations were of child trafficking and conspiracy to break the law. The charges of conspiracy, “exploitation of minors” and “juvenile diversion,” according to ANAJURE, were “proved later by the local authorities themselves as unfounded.”

Yet the two missionaries remained in detention, and authorities never appeared before a judge to argue why it would be lawful to keep them locked up.

According to the missionary’s son, who started an online petition for Da Silva's release, the two were held in filthy, overcrowded conditions, and were forced to share a cell with already-convicted prisoners.

“He is incarcerated in a filthy cell crammed with 35 other prisoners,” the younger Da Silva wrote. “The prison conditions are severe. They have been forced to sign papers without being allowed to read them, put into overcrowded rooms without windows or a place to sit or sleep, and affected by the mosquitos and heat. My mother and brother are only able to visit my father on Mondays and Fridays for 10 minutes. It is difficult for them to see him being treated like a criminal, dragged away from them and treated poorly.”

ANAJURE President Uziel Santana told World Watch Monitor that the complaint about forceful conversions of Muslims found a legal foothold in the discovery that Da Silva’s projects had been operating without necessary licenses. Santana said Da Silva had attempted to obtain the permits when he began Project Obadiah, but was defrauded by a bogus lawyer who took his money without securing the licenses. Santana said Da Silva let the issue lie.

“Project Obadiah was running normally. Even without its permits, (Da Silva) had no idea that it was illegal until a child’s father fills a complaint,” Santana said.

“However, at the police station, the issue about the permits was not important,” he said. “The main problem was ‘Christianization.’ A misplaced legal comma gives room to any complaint against Christians.”

Santana said ANAJURE was able to obtain the missionaries’ release by persuading the judge that the licensing snafu is the only mark on their otherwise spotless records in Senegal.

“When we submitted evidences that they didn’t have criminal records, both were temporarily free to go,” he said. “They (are required) to present themselves fortnightly at the jail and have no authorization to leave the country. Within 30 days of their release they will be judged.” In the meantime, Santana said ANAJURE is working on obtaining the necessary permits for Project Obadiah.

Despite the ordeal, several local sources reported that Da Silva remained in good spirits throughout, providing witness to his faith to cellmates. He is reported to have said, in a letter to his wife, Marli, "Write to everyone, even to those in Senegal, that the enemy will throw some in prison, but everything will be to God’s glory.”

Many thousands of children in West Africa, some as young as 3 or 4 years old and mainly from rural poor families who cannot afford to raise them, are sent to cities like Dakar for an education, which consists mainly of Koranic classes. These “talibes,” or “students of the Koran,” are required to beg on the streets, overseen by older talibe boys, and can become subject to various abuses.

They are often kept in poor conditions. In March, nine children were killed in a fire at a Koranic school in Senegal.

When the children become teenagers, they leave the imams’ care and are expected to look after themselves and find work.

The release of the two missionaries was welcomed with relief by members of Christian communities in Thies. An expatriate who attended the Sunday service at the Baptist Church told Watch World Monitor that there were tears of joy and an emotional time of prayer.

This detention without trial of foreign Christian workers raises a number of questions in a country seen as a democratic model in Africa and known for its culture of tolerance.

Senegal neighbours Mali and Mauritania, and of its population of 13 million, about 94 percent are Muslim.

Co-habitation with its Christian minority has been historically peaceful; Senegal’s first President (1960 to 1980) Léopold Sédar Senghor, was a Catholic, and Pope John Paul II visited in 1992.

This culture of tolerance is seen in various ways in Senegal: Christians and Muslims are buried in the same cemeteries in several cities such as Joal, and Ziguinchor in the Casamance.

However, as with many West African countries, Senegal has high poverty and widespread unemployment; human trafficking and child exploitation are a serious social concern, despite a relatively stable economy.

A number of attacks targeting Christians have been reported in more recent years. Seven evangelical churches were ransacked or burned during 2010 and 2011, prompting a strong reaction from the Fellowship of Evangelicals in Senegal. Its President at that time, Pastor Eloi Sabel Dogue, condemned those attacks and called for respect for the law in a press conference held on July 1st, 2011.

“Neither the Constitution of Senegal, nor the African Charter of Human Rights, nor the UN Declaration of Human Rights, nor even less our cultural values can be invoked in justification of such acts,” he said.

©2013 World Watch Monitor

Christians believe they will die in Syria

Syria (MNN) ― Syrian rebels have taken a military base in central Homs as the group continues to expand its grip on the region. The violence continues to claim lives in Syria, and Syrians are caught. Christians are doing everything they can to help the refugees who have left Syria, as well as those still inside.

E3 Partners is involved in helping in both circumstances. E3 vice president and Middle East expert says the Gospel is having an impact. "The Syrian refugees who are predominately Sunni Muslims have softened toward believers in the region who are reaching out to them."

Muslims have been fighting Muslims, Doyle explains. "There's danger all around them, and the only group that they're trusting are the Christians because they don't want anything from them. They're just serving them and reaching out. We've seen a significant number come to faith in Christ."

This kind of outreach is risky, especially inside Syria. Doyle says one of their partners, Ahman*, could be in trouble. "We have not been able to hear from him or his family for five weeks now--over a month! What we're praying is that he's just gone underground to stay out of the radar of those that might want to kidnap him or even want to kill him."

Doyle says more than nominal Muslims are meeting Jesus. "There are breakthroughs. We know of even religious Sunni Muslims who have embraced Jesus during this difficult time. There are some underground church things going on."

While good things are happening, Christians are prepared for the worst. Doyle tells us what one Christian said to him: "We fully expect to die. We believe that's what is coming: that we'll be martyred. But we're not leaving. God has placed us here, our people need us, the Gospel is moving through during this wicked time, and we're not going."