Monday, May 27, 2013

Largest Persian Speaking Church in Tehran Closed

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

TEHRAN, IRAN (ANS) -- The Central Assemblies of God church in Tehran was closed on Thursday due to pressure from Iranian security authorities.

The Central Assemblies of God church in Tehran.
According to a story by Mohabat Iranian Christian News Agency, a well placed source said that a sign is posted on the main entrance of the church saying that the church is temporarily closed.

Mohabat News said the source also said that the church staff have not gone to work for two days.

The source also told Mohabat News, "The Islamic regime's intelligence forces have been pressuring the church to close down since six months ago. The authorities also announced two days ago that anyone who tries to enter the church will be arrested."

Mohabat News reported that its source believes the main reason for closure of the church is that the Iranian security authorities wanted to limit the church service to just the Armenian language, and prevent any Farsi services.

In another incident on May 21, security authorities arrested Pastor Robert Asseriyan in the middle of a church service and transferred him to an unknown location.

Asseriyan is one of the leaders of the Assemblies church in Tehran.

Dr. George O. W ood, the General Superintendent of the General Council of the Assemblies of God in the U.S., released a statement after the pastor's arrest.

Mohabat News said he expressed concern over the pressure on Persian-speaking churches in Iran, and appealed that the persecution and pressure exerted by the Iranian authorities on the country's Christians be lifted.

Elsewhere in Wood's statement, Mohabat News reported he said that closure of the Central Assemblies of God church in Tehran is a beginning of the end for all other Farsi speaking churches across Iran.

Mohabat News reported Wood commented, "Such a move would essentially remove all open witness of the gospel of Christ in the country."

Mohabat News said Central's congregation was told to attend this Sunday's service to hear the final decision of the church council regarding the situation. It is unclear at this point whether or not that service will be held.

Mohabat News said for some time the Central Assembly of God and other churches affiliated with it, have been under pressure to cancel their Farsi language services. For their church services to continue, they were told that all services be held in Armenian.

Mohabat News said Iran's Islamic regime has had anti-Christian plans for a long time.

They include pressuring pastors and church leaders to prevent Farsi speakers from entering their churches, arresting members of the congregation and pastors and closing churches.

Mohabat News said house churches have also been raided, and new Christian converts have been arrested and terrorized.

There's a reason for this, Mohabat News said.

The news service commented, "The Iranian regime has done all (this) ... to stop the growth of Christianity in Iran, and put more pressure on Iranian Christians and (new) Christian converts."

Many Openly Accept Christ Despite Great Opposition on Final Night of Leading The Way To Revival in Indonesia

From Leading the Way
For Immediate Release

JAKARTA, INDONESIA (ANS) -- Many openly accepted Christ on the final night (Saturday, May 25, 2013) of the Leading The Way to Revival gatherings at the Istora Stadium, Jakarta, despite a death threat on a pastor instrumental in inviting people to the three-day event.
Choir Leads Crowd in Worship

Dr. Michael Youssef changed his sermon only this afternoon, when he felt the Lord leading him to preach on "The Pearl of Great Price"-Christ Jesus.

Hundreds of men, women and children received the message of the eternal worth of Christ Jesus and accepted Him as their Savior and Lord.

It emerged one of the pastors was visited by a man in his home who threatened to kill him if he continued to bring people to the evangelistic event. The pastor soon discovered there had been a plot to kill him involving 30 people, but God had supernaturally protected him and his family.

"But it was more important that those I brought hear the gospel," explained the pastor, who instead of staying home in fear brought his three daughters, his wife and a bus load of Indonesians.
Worship on the final night of the Leading the way to Revival, Indonesia

The three day revival attracted thousands of people to the Istora Stadium, and approximately 1,000 came forward to accept Christ over the three nights. Dr Youssef's messages also reached many more millions of homes across Indonesia and around the world via live broadcasts on eight satellite networks and online streaming.
Reflecting on the three day revival Dr Michael Youssef commented:

"There are so many that need to continue to hear the Gospel, and that is why this revival is just the beginning of the work God is going to do through Leading The Way in Indonesia."

About Leading The Way:

Now celebrating 25 years of ministry, Leading The Way's television and radio programs are broadcast in more than 21 languages, covering more than 190 countries. Leading The Way also produces DVDs, CDs, books, a monthly devotional magazine, and daily e-devotionals to spread the light of Christ. This Atlanta-based organization partners internationally with in-country follow-up teams to encourage new believers in their faith, helping God's Kingdom to grow around the world.
About Dr. Michael Youssef:

Dr. Michael Youssef
Michael Youssef, Ph.D., is the Founder and President of Leading The Way with Dr. Michael Youssef. Dr. Youssef was born in Egypt, lived in Lebanon and Australia before coming to the United States. In 1984, he fulfilled a childhood dream of becoming an American citizen. He holds degrees from Moore College in Sydney, Australia, and from Fuller Theological Seminary in California. In 1984, he earned a Ph.D. in social anthropology from Emory University. He has authored more than 29 books, including "Blindsided: The Radical Islamic Conquest." He and his wife reside in Atlanta and have four grown children and seven grandchildren.

American Missionary Mysteriously Disappears in Africa

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (ANS) -- American missionary Jerry Krause has been missing for nearly two months.
Jerry and Gina Krause
According to a story by Efrem Graham for CBN News, the 54-yr-old missionary pilot disappeared April 7 while flying his turboprop aircraft from South Africa to Mali.

Jerry's wife, Gina Krause, served with her husband as a missionary to Africa for more than 25 years. Jerry worked with Mission Aviation Fellowship until the ministry left Mali back in 2009. They remained in the country and Jerry took a job with a private aviation company.

"I want my husband back," CBN News reported Gina said. "My husband is self-motivated, very intelligent."

Their daughter Jessica added about her father, "He's a central figure to our family. A man of God you know. He's awesome, I love him to death."

CBN News reported Gina said her husband was so solid he was the one who kept "the family together." Now Jerry's family is having to rely more on God.

He phoned right before departing South Africa and said he had some engine problems with the plane. But having years of experience Gina knew her husband could fix the engines.

" He's a little bit of a McGuyver. He likes fiddling with things and he's able to get things to work. So, he was going to do that and he was pretty optimistic about leaving," CBN News reported Gina said.

Enroute to Mali the family expected Jerry to refuel in Sao Tome, an island nation at the equator, in the gulf of Guinea. But no one could tell the family if he was seen refueling there.

CBN News reported they are now left wondering if Jerry experienced engine trouble and landed the plane in a remote region of Africa, or did something worse happen?

"Though we didn't have any concrete evidence, I think rationally there's definitely a lot of different little indications leaning towards a plane crash," said Jessica.

CBN News said not knowing her father's whereabouts or what happened is the hardest part for daughter Alyssa. She said she's comes to trust God in everything.

"Okay, alright God, this is all yours. Whenever you're ready to tell us where my dad is, that's awesome, but we'll wait for your timing."< /p>

CBN News reported Jerry's son Nathan says the book of Job reminds him not to blame God. "I'm giving praise to God instead and asking God why did he do this, but not in a demeaning way--just questioning and waiting for God to answer."

No plane wreckage turned up after rescuers searched the gulf of Guinea.

"And to this day we don't know where Jerry is, but God does," CBN News reported Gina said.
His family and Christians around the world are praying for answers.

For updates on this situation go to

China: Noted church leader close to death in prison due to lack of medical attention

By Mark Ellis
Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (ANS) -- Pastor Gong Shengliang, imprisoned leader of the South China Church (SCC), an evangelical house-church with more than 50,000 members, is close to death due to a lack of medical care, according to his daughter.

Pastor Gong
"My father was arrested because of his faith in Jesus Christ," wrote Pastor Gong's daughter, Gong Huali, in an open letter to Chairman Xi Jingping. A copy of the letter was received in the U.S. three weeks ago by Dr. Samuel Chao, president of China Ministries International.

The SCC was banned in 2001 after the government labeled it an "evil cult." During the government's crackdown, hundreds of church leaders were arrested, more than 500 church leaders had their homes and property seized, and thousands of SCC members were persecuted, fined, and beaten.

In 2001, Pastor Gong was sentenced to death in a secret trial for "using an evil cult to undermine the enforcement of the law," Due to international pressure he was not executed.

Pastor Gong was retried in October 2002. This time, the government charged him with rape, and tortured several SCC women prisoners until they 'confessed' that Pastor Gong raped them. Pastor Gong is now serving a life sentence under the multiple rape charges.

In his daughter's poignant le tter, she recounts his mistreatment at the hands of the government. "When he was arrested, he suffered many savage tortures. He was imprisoned in a very damp area for the first two years," which led to severe rheumatism and gastroenteritis.

Prison officials have not provided any medical care in the last 10 years, according to Pastor Gong's daughter.
More recently, he faces life-threatening medical conditions.

Myanmar Christians blanket country in prayer

Bishop Zothan Mawia (Photo courtesy of Tasha Sargent)
Myanmar (MNN) ― Christians in Myanmar experience some of the worst persecution in the world.

Earlier this month, a U.S. government agency recommended that Myanmar stay blacklisted in the top 15 world governments with ongoing violations of religious freedom.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedoms said in its annual report, "Ongoing and important political reforms in Burma have yet to significantly improve the situation for freedom of religion and belief."

In the midst of religious discrimination, the Methodist Church of Lower Myanmar is holding a prayer conference in Myanmar tomorrow, May 25. Bishop Zothan Mawia, who serves as honorary national director of Asian Access/Myanmar, arrived on Thursday May 23 to prepare for the conference.

According to Mawia, "We have invited from all denominations prayer warriors to come together at the Methodist English Church where we will be praying for our country."

Specifically, the conference will be focusing on prayer for “the leaders of [Myanmar], the ministers, and for peace in our country; for the conflict between the Muslims, the Buddhists, and also among the ethnic groups,” says Mawia.

The program with Asian Access stands out as it encourages Christians to promote Christ’s peace and truth. Mawia hopes Christians in Myanmar embrace this call “that we may be a channel of peace, a channel of love, and a channel of forgiveness and reconciliation.”

Would you take some time out of your day tomorrow and pray for Myanmar?

More action on behalf of kidnapped Syrian church leaders

(Image courtesy SAT-7)
Syria (Vatican Radio/MNN) ― From Vatican Radio, the following statement regarding the April 22 kidnapping of two Archbishops Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim Metropolitan of the Syriac Orthodox Archdiocese of Aleppo (and also a SAT-7 International Council Member), and Boulos Yazaji Metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Aleppo:

An unknown group has abducted them without claiming its responsibility until now, neither announcing the reasons for the abduction nor knowing their place.

We the Syriac and the Greek Orthodox Archdioceses of Aleppo and in coordination with our two Patriarchates in Damascus, express day after day our sadness and increasing pain about the abduction and the absence of these two eminent Prelates, and to what they represent in terms of their holiness, their local and international rank, their active role on all levels including the spiritual, the thoughts, the academic, the education and the social; but above all the humanitarian work which they were carrying within the current crisis which is engulfing our country Syria.

Today, and after one month of abduction, and despite all the prayers and the supplications in the local churches and worldwide; as well as the calls, the statements and the efforts from the Christian and Muslim organizations in the world and the international community, we renew our request for the abductees to revise their action, fear God, and release the two Archbishops without hurting their health or physical situation; and release all other abducted priests and innocent civilians. One month in abduction is more than enough for the two Archbishops. As it is painful for them in their abduction, it is also painful for all the faithful of their two communities, the people of Syria and the world. The continuous abduction of the two Archbishops is damaging the structure of Syria in its diverse components and its long history of coexistence and citizenship. Such a catastrophe will be remembered and recorded in history, likewise the devastating and the grief of Syria. Such acts will not terrify us because we are the sons of the "Resurrection." We trust that the mercy of the one God whom we all believe in, will guide the abductees and induce them to release the Archbishops without any pre-conditions, because there is no price that equals the freedom of the two Archbishops, and no condition equals their safe return to their communities and churches.

We renew our supplication and continue our prayers with solemnity to our God for the release of the Archbishops, the priests, and all those who are in abduction.

Seven days ago, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan met with His Eminence Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim. Church leaders asked him to use his clout to get answers on the whereabouts of the two abducted Archbishops, find out who the kidnappers are, and secure release.

According to the news release from the Archdiocese, "His Eminence also personally delivered a private letter to the Prime Minister about what is believed to be relevant facts surrounding the kidnapping and potential whereabouts of the Archbishops. The Prime Minister, through a translator, said to His Eminence that only criminals and terrorists would even think to kidnap holy men and agreed to work toward their release. Prime Minster Erdogan clasped the hand of Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim for a few minutes and added, "Inshallah, they will be released soon."

Meanwhile, during their discussions and international deliberations about Syria, six members of the U.S. House of Representatives circulated a petition on a letter addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry asking him to prioritize the release of the two kidnapped Archbishops. So far, they have 72 signatures.

In the meantime, SAT-7's production team has been tailoring programming to allow a forum for concerns and questions regarding the situation in Syria. Staffers take the opportunity to pray with viewers as well as share biblical truth and wisdom. Please continue praying for the men's safety and release. Pray for wisdom, too, for the SAT-7 team as they address the bishops' critical situation.

Nigeria (MNN) -- Nigeria approaches Boko Haram with Dove and Hawk

(Boko Haram images courtesy Compass Direct News)
Nigeria (MNN) ― Nigeria is in lockdown.

Nigeria has rebels on the run. Nigeria is releasing criminals.

What's really going on? Todd Nettleton, a spokesman with the Voice of the Martyrs USA, would not confirm the reports of the Islamist terrorists being in disarray. However, he did address the government's plans to release members of the Boko Haram Islamist group held on suspicion of terrorism, in phases.

In an e-mailed statement by the senior special assistant to the President on public affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe said the effort was aimed at the peace effort.
The statement read in part:

"It has become necessary to make further clarification on the directive for the release of some people held in connection with activities of the Boko Haram sect, in view of misrepresentations in some sections of the media.

"The order for the release of the detainees will be in phases.

"Concerning the first batch, the emphasis is on women and children who have been in detention on suspicion of involvement and/or connection with insurgency in some parts of the country.

"This will be followed by other phased releases where cases will be treated on their individual merits by the Defence authorities and security agencies."
Yet, it follows a decision by President Goodluck Jonathan to impose a curfew as well as emergency rule in the northeastern states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa, and start a military campaign against Boko Haram Islamist insurgents.

Nettleton explains, "My perception is that President Goodluck Jonathon is taking a dual approach in the sense that with one hand, he's reaching out the hand of fellowship. In the other hand, he's kind of balled up a fist."

Rather than viewing the approach as a ‘see what will stick,' he says it's one of options. "If you will talk peace, and if you will cooperate, yes, there's a pathway for that. If you won't, then we're going to come and hunt you down. I think it'll be interesting, in the weeks to come, which pathway produces the most progress in establishing peace and security in northeastern Nigeria."

However, that has been an uphill battle ever since Jonathon took office. "There's not always the level of cooperation in the northern states with the federal government to get a handle on some of these situations.

They want to see a Muslim president elected, and they see it as somewhat good if there are problems, if the people lose confidence in the Christian president that's currently in office."

Boko Haram is a terror group whose campaign is to turn Nigeria into an Islamic state. The resulting bloodbath has cost the lives of 3,000 people in the past four years, and Christians have borne the brunt of the Boko Haram's wrath. In the early months of 2013, it seemed that every Sunday brought news of another church bombing or drive-by shooting massacre. Then, if possible, the violence escalated.

After attacks that left several hundred people dead in the previous fortnight in towns near Maiduguri, on May 14th, Jonathon imposed the state of emergency.

Morning Star News reported that within an hour of the state of emergency declaration in Borno state, Faye Pama Musa, leader of the chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria was assassinated. Police say the gunmen followed him home from the evening Bible study he led at his church.

Security got tighter at church services. Nettleton noted the presence of armed guards outside the churches during his visit last week, noted vehicle proximity to buildings in case of car bombs, and yet, the most notable thing, he said, was that "people continue to gather for worship even though they know there are risks, even though they know there could be attacks. The church service that I attended was a fabulous church service. I really enjoyed the presence of the Lord and worshipping together with my Nigerian brothers and sisters."

Despite the violence, despite the tension and the threat of harm, people are still following Christ openly and sharing their faith. Nettleton acknowledges that is where the challenge gets real. "That's where the danger is, when you're going into the Muslim community and sharing the Gospel. One of the things they said is ‘to be effective, that's almost always a one-on-one conversation' where they can sit down and talk to somebody, and look at the Bible and look at the Quran, and point them to Jesus Christ."

For the new Muslim-Background Believer (MBB), the risk comes not from outside assassins, but from those they love and trust. "Do you tell your family? Do you tell your friends? How long after you accept faith do you come forward and say, ‘Listen, dad...listen, older brother: I'm a Christian now. I'm following Christ...', because that is where the danger lies, even danger from your own family members."

Despite the confusion surrounding Nigeria's approach to the Boko Haram question, Nettleton says one thing is clear: Christians are hard-pressed, and they're begging for their family to advocate for them. "They asked us to pray for peace, for there to be some kind of long-term stable peace in their country. Secondly, we need to pray for God's protection. I think also, we can pray for these Muslim converts and for the evangelists that are reaching out into the Muslim community."

Prayers from Prison: American Pastor Held in Iran Releases Letter

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

WASHINGTON D.C. (ANS) -- The American pastor jailed in Iran for his Christian faith has managed to get a letter out to his global supporters, thanking them for their prayers while confirming the brutality of his conditions.
Saeed Abedini and his family.

According to a story by Lisa Daftari for Fox News, Saeed Abedini, the 33-year-old Idaho resident serving an eight-year prison term in Tehran's infamous Evin prison, passed the letter to family members who were permitted to visit him after several weeks of isolation.

The letter was passed to Abedini's wife, Naghmeh, who is at their Boise-area home with their two children and unable to visit her husband for fear of being arrested herself.

"I heard that the persecution, my arrest and imprisonment has united churches from different denominations, from different cities and countries, that would never come together because of their differences," Fox News reported Abedini wrote.

He added, "You don't know how happy I was in the Lord and rejoiced knowing that in my chains the body of Christ has chained together and is brought to action and prayer."
Fox News said Abedini signed the letter, "With many thanks for your continued and faithful prayers, Servant of our Lord in chains for Jesus Christ, Saeed."

Abedini has been held at the brutal prison for 238 days, enduring long stints in solitary confinement, and, according to his supporters, beatings and torture at the hands of his jailers and fellow inmates.

For months, Fox News reported, he has been suffering from serious injuries, including internal bleeding from beatings with no proper medical attention, according to his family and attorneys.

More than a decade ago, Abedini began working as a Christian leader and community organizer developing Iran's underground home church communities for Christian converts who are forbidden from praying in public churches.

He was arrested in 2009, but released after pledging to stop formally organizing house churches in Iran.

Fox News said when he returned to Iran last year to help build a state-run, secular orphanage, Iranian police pulled him off a bus and imprisoned him.

After spending months imprisoned without any notice of charges, Abedini was sentenced in January to eight years in prison, as his family and attorneys continue to press the State Department and other public and private groups to help win his release.

Fox News said the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which represents Abedini and his family in the U.S., last week met with State Department officials after noting the U.S. diplomats had not issued a single press release demanding Abedini's release.

"The fact is with each passing day, Pastor Saeed's health worsens - he's now suffering from internal bleeding," said ACLJ chief counsel Jay Sekulow.

He added, "Time is of the essence."

Fox News said Sekulow noted that Iran in January freed an Iranian Christian pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani, under pressure from the international community - including the State Department and the White House.

"This year, the international community - including the European Union and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran - have spoken out clearly and directly for Pastor Saeed, but his own adopted nation has done less for him than the EU, less than Australia," Sekul ow said.

Fox News said Sekulow added, "Shouldn't the United States do at least as much for its own citizen as it did for that brave Iranian pastor?"

Sabra now says he doesn't know of bishops' whereabouts

Syrian opposition leader gave more certain account 2 weeks ago

By Nuri Kino

The leader of the Syrian opposition coalition is backing away from previous reports that he is certain of the location and condition of two Syrian Orthodox bishops kidnapped April 22.

George Sabra, president of the Syrian National Coalition, told World Watch Monitor on May 21 he is not informed of the movement of the bishops from day to day, or of the identity of the captors. This is a change from May 7 statements attributed to Sabra during a meeting of Middle East leaders in Beirut.

Sabra also told World Watch Monitor the coalition is ”doing our best” to expel the handful of Muslims who have come from Europe at the urging of jihadist groups with al-Qaeda links who count themselves among the broader Syrian opposition movement.

Yohanna Ibrahim, head of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Aleppo, was kidnapped alongside his counterpart from the Greek Orthodox Church, Boulos Yaziji, after travelling to the Turkish border in an attempt to secure the release of two priests kidnapped in February. Their driver, Fathallah Kaboud, later was killed.

Apart from an early flurry of erroneous reports that the clerics had been released, little was heard about their whereabouts, who snatched them, or why.

That changed May 7 when Amin Gemayel, former president of Lebanon and current leader of its Kataeb Party, held a meeting in his Beirut office, according to the Lebanon Star.

“The bishops are in good health and are being held by a small group in a town called Bshaqtin, 20 kilometers northwest of Aleppo,” Sabra told Gemayel by phone during the meeing, according to the Star.

Attending the meeting were Deputy Bishop of Aleppo Joseph Shabo, Mount Lebanon´s Syriac Orthodox Bishop George Saliba, Beirut´s Bishop Daniel Koriyeh and Syriac League President Habib Afram.
Afram told World Watch Monitor the group had sought the meeting with Gemayel to seek his help securing the bishops’ release. Instead, he said, they heard Sabra tell them he was powerless to help.

”During our meeting, Syrian opposition leader George Sabra spoke with both Cheikh Gemayel and Bishop Saliba over the phone. Sabra claimed that he knows where the abducted bishops are and who the kidnappers are. I find it outrageous that one of the most powerful leaders of the Syrian opposition says he knows where they are but can´t do anything to release them.”

Afram, Secretary General of the Union of Lebanese Christian Leagues and a prominent defender of the fate of Christians in the Middle East, said Sabra’s inability to secure the release of the bishops has troubling implications for the future of Christians in Syria.

”Sabra said things like ’This is not giving a good impression of our revolution and we promise to take all possible actions to get them released’. But that is only words,” Afram said. ”We emphasized that if he can´t control his own area — the place where the bishops were kidnapped — then how can he claim that he can change Syria for the better? And how will he be able to make Christians remain in Syria?”

Contacted May 21 by World Watch Monitor, Sabra gave a less certain accounting of the bishops than he was reported to give May 7.

”You know that the bishops are moved always day by day or from week to week. So therefore we don’t know the place exactly,” he said.

He also said the coalition isn’t sure who is behind the kidnappings.

”About this we have different information, we have new news that we will check. We have news that they are in Aleppo. We can’t say that this information is real, we have to check.”

When asked how he knows the bishops are moved, if anyone has spoken to them, and if there is any evidence they are alive, he replied, ”you know, by our people inside Syria that interrogated the groups.”

”Really we believe that they are alive,” he said. ”But there is no clear picture of that. We are doing our best, but right now we didn’t succeed.”

Thousands of Christians have fled the violence in Syria, and church leaders say the abductions have accelerated the exodus. Sabra said he wants Syrian Christians to remain courageous.

”We are aware of the impression these gives to our revolution,” he said. ”But we are doing our best. Syrian Christians have been living in the country for thousands of years. And they should be courage enough to stay in their homeland.”

Sabra, himself a Christian, insisted there is no evidence Syrian Christians are under pressure because of their religion, despite testimony to the contrary from Christians inside Syria and those that have fled to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

”Maybe there are some small events here and there,” he said, ”but we have not the right to exaggerate with these events to tell it as a fact, as a truth, of the life in Syria. Really it is not true. And the only way to protect Christians, as to protect other Syrians, is to push Bashar al-Assad’s regime out of power and start a new era in Syria with (a) civil state, democratic state, with elections, constitution, a law. This is the only thing which (will) help all people in Syria to be protected in their country.”

Sabra also rejected any comparisons of the impact of Syria’s drawn-out civil war on Christian nationals to the flight of Christians from neighboring Iraq.

”We have here two major principal differences here in Syria,” he said. ”Iraq was occupied by foreign troops, and also they have a neighbour considered an enemy to Iraqis for many years, I mean Iran. So the effect of the occupation and the effect of Iranians inside Iraq caused the situation. In Syria we have something different. I’m sure that Christians will stay and live in Syria as they did for hundreds of years. It’s their country. In Syria we have thousands of churches and nobody can prove or give one example of a church being persecuted by Muslims.”

Still, when pressed, Sabra acknowledged one similarity to Iraq of grave concern to resident Christians: the presence of imported Islamist militants, some of them aligned with al-Qaeda. An April report by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, at London’s King’s College, estimates that somewhat less than 10 percent of the opposition fighters are from outside Syria, and that between 7 percent and 10 percent of that fraction come from Europe.

”We are sorry to hear about that,” Sabra said. ”We were informed about two young people from Belgium. Believe me, we are doing our best to contact these people and to operate with the European community and the European governments to save their lives and send them back home to their countries safely.”

Meanwhile, Afram said he meets with Christians that have fled Syria every day in his office in Lebanon. ”People are kidnapped on a daily basis for ransom or just to scare them to leave,” he said. ”Christians are systematically targeted by kidnappings.”

He said if the bishops are alive, Sabra should employ the power of his position to win their release.

”George Sabra should act and he should show leadership capability, or leave” Afram said. ”He should exercise direct involvement, even take risks to go himself with (the) army of the opposition to negotiate the release of the bishops. Make (a) clear statement regarding his (objection) that bishops were treated like this.”

Nuri Kino, of Assyrian (Syriac Orthodox) background, is an award-winning TV/radio journalist now living in Sweden. In January 2013 he wrote a report "Between the wire" in which he conducted more than 100 interviews with Syria’s minority Christian community. He is co-author of the independently published political thriller "The Line in the Sand."

©2013 World Watch Monitor

Underground Catholic lost everything in Chinese labor camp, but gained faith

By Mark Ellis
Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (ANS) -- He was once a presiding judge of the intermediate court in an affluent city on China's east coast. But he became a beaten prisoner imprisoned for 11 years due to his involvement in the underground church.

Bob Fu
"That's the story of brother Li JF, a dedicated Catholic brother in the underground church," says Bob Fu, founder and president of ChinaAid Association. "He was imprisoned not because of corruption or criminal activities but because he provided free legal advice to the weak and vulnerable," says Fu.

"Li could easily have gained a fortune if he chose to continue his comfortable legal career; he could have avoided arrest, beatings, and torture by staying silent in the face of injustice. But he chose a different way because his ears heard the Voice behind him: 'This is the way; walk in it.'" (Isaiah 30:21.)

In a letter to Fu after his release in April, Li wrote, "I lost everything but gained my faith in God!" In the letter he described how his health was destroyed during his incarceration, his wife divorced him following government threats, and his daughter disappeared.

Li's younger brother fled to Thailand in 2010 because of government threats, after two years in jail. While Li was imprisoned, government authorities s old his house.

"Brother Li still claims he gained from his imprisonment because he did not lose his faith in God," Fu says.
In the labor camp, Li worked 14 hours a day and spent three hours each day in "re-education" classes, which amounted to brainwashing sessions. 

Egypt is at a crossroads, says Coptic Bishop

 Will religious extremism or tolerance mark the future of Egypt?

Bishop Thomas of the El-Qussia and Mair Diocese in Upper Egypt.
(Stefanus Alliance International/Wegge)
A “big force” is pushing Egypt towards greater conservatism and religious extremism, according to Bishop Thomas of the El-Qussia and Mair Diocese in Upper Egypt.
However, he said he still believes Egypt can enjoy transformation of a different kind – towards true democracy, gender equality and religious tolerance.

The Bishop, speaking in London on Tuesday (May 21), said that in the two years since President Hosni Mubarak’s deposition, Egypt has enjoyed improved freedom of speech, and until that freedom is taken away, he said there will always be hope.

“Since the revolution, people are able to talk; people are able to express themselves; people dare to say their opinion,” said Bishop Thomas. “And this is a great step that has happened within society. The day that Egypt and Egyptian people will not be able to talk, then I would lose hope. But I hope this day will not come.”

Increased sectarian tension and violence between the Coptic Christian minority and Muslim majority has caused a lot of Christians within Egypt to flee.

World Watch Monitor reported in April that, by some estimates, tens of thousands of Christians have left since the revolution in 2011.

However, Bishop Thomas said he hopes more Christians will choose to stay.

“We know that some people are migrating because of the pressure, and that’s OK,” he said. “They are good people; they are very well educated; they are the rich ones. But I want to tell them: ‘please stay; we need you now’.”

The Bishop called Egypt a “great country in a great confusion”, as its citizens adjust to life under the rule of a new government.

However, he said that the embedded philosophy of coexistence and hospitality in Egypt was another reason to hope for a brighter future, as the country stands at the crossroads between two possible directions.

“Either Egypt will go in the direction of strong, fundamentalist conservatism, or we will go in the direction of openness and civil society,” he said. “We see sectors in Upper Egypt which are not clearly marked as Christian or Muslim. Not everything is black and white; Christians and Muslims are working together.

“There is a big force leading and pushing the society towards conservatism. We need to bring forces that work towards openness and civil society.”

Egypt is a nation in need of transformation, said Bishop Thomas, and that transformation must take the shape of three societal changes – democracy, gender equality and religious freedom.

Democracy does not mean the rule of the majority, he said, but a responsibility for the leaders of the country to ensure that all members of society are able to express themselves.

Gender equality, for Bishop Thomas, means “the day, which will come, when a family in Upper Egypt in a very poor area will have the same joy when they give birth to a baby girl, as they would have with a baby boy.”

Egypt must be transformed from a male-dominated society to a gender equal society, he said: “We need to teach men to value women.”

And religious freedom means a transformation from religious rigidity to spiritual openness. “I’m sorry; I’m a bishop. I cannot say I want to transform the society to a secular society, but I want the society to respect spirituality and be open to spirituality. Openness is the key word for us,” he said.

Why were Hundreds of Religious Organizations in Russia Inspected?

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

RUSSIA (ANS) -- Hundreds of religious communities across Russia were among non-governmental organizations (NGOs) inspected by officials.

According to a story by Geraldine Fagan of Forum 18 News Service, the inspections ranged from a simple telephone request for documents to numerous, extensive searches.

It "wasn't simply the initiative of the Prosecutor," Moscow-based lawyer Konstantin Andreyev told Forum 18.

He added, "There's a political subtext."

Forum 18 said yet the new regulations on foreign funding for NGOs - including designation of some as "foreign agents" - do not legally apply to religious organizations.

In several cases, Forum 18 reported, religious organizations appear to have been inspected due to "foreign" links, such as the Catholic charity Caritas and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Forum 18 said the General Prosecutor's Office order for the sweep is not public.

However, Samara Regional Public Prosecutor's Office ordered that inspections should check compliance with laws on "surveillance and criminal procedure," and the Extremism Law by "social and religious associations and other non-comm ercial organizations."

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