Friday, July 19, 2013

Egypt's Coptic Christians Pay Price of Political Chaos

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

MINYA, EGYPT (ANS) -- Khamis had no other choice than to leave his house in the village of Dalga, near the central Egyptian city of Minya. After an arson attack on his cousin's house and the fatal shooting of another relative, he fled into hiding with his wife and six children.

According to a story by Ahmed Maher for the BBC, Khamis said they had been singled out for no other reason than being Christians.

"It was a terrible night," recalled Khamis (not his real name) who agreed to talk to the BBC, but did not want to be identified.

Khamis recounted what happened on the night of July 3, when the army deposed Islamist former President Mohammed Morsi.

The BBC reported he said, "Angry mobs and thugs rampaged through houses owned by Christians. They started with the house of my cousin, looting and setting it on fire. We weren't taking any chances - we fled the village."

The BBC said since Morsi was forced from office, there has been a string of attacks on Christians in different provinces.

According to the BBC, local Copts say they have been singled out by radical Islamists, for campaigning against the former president and his Muslim Brotherhood movement.

On July 6, a priest was shot dead by gunmen in an outdoor market in northern Sinai.

Five days later, the BBC said , the body of a beheaded Christian man was found in the same area, where Islamist militants have launched a string of attacks on security and military posts since Morsi's overthrow.

Arson attacks on Christian houses and shops have also been reported in remote southern villages, where Islamist hardliners hold sway.

The violence included a church in Dalga, 220 miles south of Cairo.

The BBC visited the site and found a burned-out shell, ransacked and blackened by fire.

Father Ayoub Youssef said Muslim neighbors helped him escape during the attack on his church.
The church's priest, Father Ayoub Youssef, told the BBC what happened the night Morsi was removed from power.

"They were many people, about 500," he said. "They stormed the church chanting slogans accusing Christians of campaigning against Morsi like 'Shame on you Christians! You traitors conspired against the president. You are doomed!'"

The BBC said he added, "They looted everything - benches, ceiling fans, windows and even toilets. They smashed a statue of the Virgin Mary, before setting the whole building on fire."

Father Ayoub was grateful to Muslim neighbors for saving his life.

"They helped me escape from the roof to their house. Had it not been for them, I would have been lynched," the BBC reported he said.

Egypt's Christian minority, estimated at around 10 percent of the 85 million population, has felt vulnerable for decades.

For a long time they steered clear of politics. However, the BBC reported, with the recent dramatic changes to the political scene, they have become more active.

The new Coptic Pope, Tawadros II, openly criticized the ousted president, calling him a divisive figure who had set Egyptians against one another.

The BBC said he blessed the president's removal and was in attendance when General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, the defense minister, announced Mr Morsi's removal from office.

Father Ayoub said being politically active or associated with opponents of the former president was not an excuse to take innocent lives.

"If you are attacked because of your political affiliations, I really don't know what the world is coming to," the BBC reported he said.

Change comes at a price for Egyptian Christians

Egypt's interim president getting to business.
(Screen grabs courtesy Kodak Agfa/Flickr/Creative Commons)
Egypt (MNN) ― Egypt‘s new cabinet got to work this week, rolling sleeves up and tackling big problems.

Outside, former President Mohammed Morsi's supporters were ranting and marching through Cairo protesting against a military-backed cabinet and ouster. Greg Musselman, a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs Canada says, "It appears it's in organized chaos in some ways, but then on the streets, you're seeing all this violence and the Muslim Brotherhood. They're certainly making their point being heard, but also using violence to try to get Mohamed Morsi back into office."

The new secularist-leaning government essentially shuts out the Islamists that were elected into power last year. However, notes Musselman, the price of the political tumult is being paid by the Christians. "They felt that they needed to make their voice more heard and as a result of that, they have set themselves up, in some ways, to be the scapegoats. The Muslim Brotherhood has already started attacking Christians."

Since Morsi was forced from office, there has been a string of attacks on Christians in different provinces in Egypt. "On one hand, they see the situation, all that's gone on as a positive; yet on the other hand, as we've seen in reports over the last week or two, the attacks against Christians, there have been deaths, there have been churches attacked, (and) Christian businesses."

Specifically, 12 days ago, a priest was shot dead by gunmen in northern Sinai. Five days later, the body of a beheaded Christian man was found in the same area. Arson attacks on Christian houses and shops have also been reported in remote southern villages.

Just this week, a church near Minya, in central Egypt was looted and destroyed and the priest fled for his life. A number of other churches in the region suspended summer activities and postponed several gatherings. Musselman explains, "For the most part, Christians have been pretty low key when it comes to these kinds of situations because they know that retaliation can be something that would happen very naturally if they got involved because of the political and religious dynamic that takes place in the country."

At the beginning of the upheaval, there was hope expressed by the Christian community in Egypt, Musselman says. "The hope is that with the changing of the guard again that they will be more sympathetic to Christians. There may be less persecution coming from the state government, but again, with the radical groups who are not going to sit still, the fear is that these attacks will continue to increase." Despite the threat hanging over the heads of believers, Musselman says the Church will not cower in fear. "We really need to be praying, and that's the [request] coming from Christian leaders in Egypt: ‘Please pray for us. This is a time of great opportunity.' Also what's being said is that ‘Many are coming to know the Lord.'"

In these troubled days of Egypt, the followers of Christ are finding the paradox of persecution to be true. The violence of the militants is prompting questions among Muslims. "There is more of openness to the Lord and to the message of the Gospel." Click here for a link to more ways to get involved.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Persecuted death in Eritrean prison

(Photo courtesy of Aap Haapanen/Flickr)
Eritrea (MNN/ODM) ― Open Doors USA recently learned about the death of another Christian in an Eritrean prison.

Yosief Kebedom Gelai, a recently converted single Christian, died in Medefera July 5.

Sources told Open Doors that Yosief, 41, had been sick for a long time, but that the harsh treatment at a secret Medefera incarceration center aggravated the effects of the unknown disease.

Eritrea ranks #10 on the Open Doors World Watch List of countries with the worst persecution of believers. Yosief is the 24th reported death connected to punishment for religious activities outside of the government-sanctioned Catholic Church, Orthodox Church, Lutheran Church, and Islam.

However, because of the government's secrecy surrounding prisoners and denied access to watchdog organizations, there may be many more deaths and burials that have not been reported.

Yosief was originally from Asmara. He went to Mendefera to teach at a primary school some time prior to his arrest. Six months after his arrival, Yosief came to faith in Christ. His devotion to Bible study and prayer caught the attention of representatives of the ruling Eritrean People's Front for Democracy and Justice (EPRDF) at the school.

Authorities arrested him in December and took him to the secret incarceration center in Mendefera where he was kept incommunicado. Sources told Open Doors the center holds many other religious prisoners whose whereabouts were previously unknown to family members and churches.

"Christians should be hugely encouraged to see how God through His Holy Spirit enables His children even new--and isolated ones like Yosief--to remain firm in their devotion to Christ no matter the circumstances," commented an Open Doors team member.

Please pray for other Christians incarcerated in Eritrean prisons. Pray for the Holy Spirit to give believers strength and peace.

You can be an encouragement to persecuted believers by supporting the ministry of Open Doors. Learn more about their work in oppressive countries.

Christians the scapegoat of Egyptian coup

Egypt protests July 2013. (Photos courtesy Kodak AGFA)
Egypt (MNN) ― On one hand, Egypt appears calm as the interim prime minister assembled his cabinet over the weekend. He's trying to lead the country under an army-backed "road map" to restore civil rule after the military removed President Mohammed Morsi.

On the other hand, Egypt's Muslim extremists, enraged over the ouster, have apparently zeroed in on the nation's Christian minority, scapegoating them even though the Islamist leader was widely unpopular. E3 Partners Middle East expert Tom Doyle says, "I talked to leaders up in Alexandria that have said it's an absolute mess up there. It is on the radar, not as much as Cairo and Tahrir Square, but there are some terrible things happening."

Despite the recent seeming unity among the 20+ million on the streets calling for Morsi to step down, Doyle thinks this was not an unexpected reaction. "The believers, as they were elated with the removal of Morsi, they also at the same time were bracing themselves for blowback. So they were telling us, ‘Please pray for us."

More people packed the streets to call for Morsi to leave than elected him into office. Despite the fact that Christians could only make up a small percentage of the millions, Morsi's supporters seem to be targeting them for retribution, notes Doyle. This may be due to rumors that Christian leaders masterminded Morsi's removal. "It's everything that they detest. They can't really go after the military; they're not strong enough. The logical result is they're going to attack Christians, and we're seeing it."

It didn't help matters when the face of Christianity in Egypt took a public stand. "The Coptic pope came out and said some things in support of Morsi's removal, and then in support of the interim government. You could just see this conflict had to be on the horizon."

Since then, kidnappings, assaults, and worse have been reported. Many of the victims have been Christians, note reports from Fox News and Reuters. Historically, Egypt's Coptic community--roughly a tenth of the population--has faced severe marginalization and often has been imprisoned and tortured for their Christian faith.

Although there may be some protection from the military government, the future is all but clear. Will the remainder of this year bring more persecution and marginalization for Christians, or greater liberty to worship?

So far, the signs are not encouraging, says Doyle. In fact, the concern now is a chain reaction that could be sparked by what's happening in Egypt. "We just want to pray for Egypt--all of North Africa, too, because as Egypt goes, so usually goes North Africa. Admittedly, there are many more Christians. There are more Christians in Egypt than in any other Middle East country, but yet the shock waves go out from Egypt."

It's no coincidence, remarks Doyle, that this is happening at this time of year. It's spiritual warfare, he adds. "Here in the holiest month of Islam is when this conflict is happening; so we have put together a Facebook page: 8thirty8 to just give believers each day an opportunity to pray for believers in dangerous countries, that they'd be protected."

Is prayer effective against the wave of ire in Egypt? More than effective: it's catalytic. Doyle explains, "We're praying for Muslims to come to faith in Christ. About 75% of the Muslims that we've interviewed (who are now following Jesus) say that something significant happened to them in their journey to Christ during Ramadan."

Pray that the Egyptian Christians would rely on God's wisdom, especially during their transition of leadership. As they are building their government, pray that they would make Truth the foundation. And finally, says Doyle, "Pray for Muslims to have an opportunity to respond to Jesus' message of love."

Man Found Guilty and Given Life Sentence for Sending "Blasphemous" Text Messages

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

TOBA TEK SINGH, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- Convicted of blasphemy, Sajjad Masih Gill, 28, a Christian resident of District Pakpatan-Punjab, has been fined USD $2000 and is now looking at a lifetime prison sentence.

According to a report by Aftab Alexander Mughal, editor of Minorities Concern of Pakistan, Judge Mian Shahzad Raza handed down the unexpectedly heavy sentence on July 13.

Mughal said according to the Dawn newspaper, Gill had been charged with sending blasphemous text messages that defiled the name of Muhammad and insulted Islam, to clerics and a number of influential people.

Mughal said this is the first case in Pakistan of someone being accused and convicted of blasphemy by text messages.

Mughal said on Dec. 18 2011, one of the blasphemous texts was reportedly received by Malik Muhammad Tariq Saleem, a businessman living in Gojra, District Toba Tek Singh. The following day, Mughal said, Muhammad Tariq filed a complaint with area police.

Mughal said, "The police as usual without examining the source of sender (or) ... following the procedure ... registered a blasphemy case ... against Mr. Gill and his (then fiance) Ruma Ilyas ... "

Mughall said Ilyas had broken off her relationship with Gill and decided to marry an individual living in the UK.

"The convict had with him a mobile phone SIM (card) belonging to Ruma and from that SIM he had sent blasphemous texts to teach her a lesson,"Mughall said the newspaper reported.

Later, on the demand of Muslim scholars from Gojra, the name of Ruma Masih was also included in the First Information Report (FIR) as an additional accused party to the charge, Mughall said the Dawn newspaper reported. A warrant for her arrest and extradition from the UK was issued, but it was unsuccessful.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Christians have a unique voice in Middle East democracies

Todd Nettleton (Courtesy of VOM)
Middle East (MNN) ― The coup in Egypt, civil war in Syria, uncertainty in Lebanon, and disenfranchisement in Iran. All of these issues in the Middle East spell trouble for citizens of these nations whether they are Muslim or not. While Christians are endangered as well, opportunities for the Gospel abound.

Spokesman for Voice of the Martrys USA Todd Nettleton says Christians are involved in politics across the Middle East, but that's not their top priority. "We know that Christians are involved really across the Middle East, as much as they can be in the political process. But their first priority is not politics. Their first priority is to serve the Lord and spread the Gospel."

The question is: with all the unrest, are people in these nations ready to hear it? Nettleton says "yes." "Ten or 15 years ago we would talk about one Muslim coming to Christ. Today, we're not talking about one Muslim, we're talking about hundreds and even thousands of Muslims coming to Christ."

What about the violence in these nations. Can ministry happen in places like Syria, for example? Nettleton says, "There is ministry that's going on in these situations of great upheaval and sometimes even great suffering. There are Muslims who are coming to see the hopelessness of Islam."

Nettleton says Christians have a platform to share. "Christians can have a great ministry simply by presenting the hope of the Gospel and the hope of eternity with Christ."

Helping to perpetuate this is many of these Islamic governments like Iran. "30+ years of an Islamic government, the people look at the failures of the government,nd they see them as failures of Islam."

Those failures open other doors. Nettleton explains: "If Islam doesn't really work, if it fails, what are other options? That is a great time to say, 'Well, let me tell you about Jesus. There is another option.'"

Now is an important time for Christians to pray. "We are right now in the midst of Ramadan. This is a key time for outreach to the Muslim world. Muslims are thinking about spiritual things, things of eternity. So, this can be a great time for ministry, for Gospel seeds to be planted."

If you'd like to help Voice of the Martyrs work on behalf of persecuted Christians in the Middle East and worldwide, click here.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sudan Tracking Down Converts from Islam in Purge of Christianity

Christian flees country after weeks of threats from authorities
By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN (ANS) -- A Sudanese Christian has fled the country after authorities in Khartoum threatened to kill him for refusing to provide names of converts from Islam, sources said.

Sudanese authorities left a Presbyterian Church of Sudan building in ruins in January.(Morning Star News photo)
According to a story by Morning Star News, the Christian, a native of Sudan's Juba Mountains area, left the country last month after officials from the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) forced him to report to their offices nearly every day since raiding his home on Feb. 23

"His life was at great risk, especially as NISS threatened to kill him if he did not cooperate with them and reveal names of Muslim converts who became Christians in Sudan," a source told Morning Star News. "He is in hiding in another country." 

The detained Christian, speaking on condition of confidentiality, told Morning Star News that officials, some of them armed, took him to jail on Feb. 23 for interrogation after confiscating his passport and other documents, cell phone, computer, two laptops, iPad and the mobile phones of his brother and sisters. 

"They took me to their offices with me in only my sleeping clothes, shorts and a T-shirt," Morning Star News reported he said. "And they took me to their officer just like this, and he said to me, 'If you need your life, just cooperate with us.'" 

That night they took him to his workplace in Khartoum and seized papers and 1,370 Sudanese pounds (US$310), he said.

After visiting another workplace site the next day, a Sunday, the NISS officials accused him of being a spy for insurgents in the Nuba Mountains and said that he and another Christian taken into custody would therefore be killed in accordance with Sudanese law.

"They left us on Friday and told us to come back on Monday, and they told me I must cooperate with them in giving them the names of Muslims who have changed their religion, and they asked me about the whereabouts of my friend, a guy who was a Muslim and became Christian," he told Morning Star News before fleeing the country.

Morning Star News said he added, "I am now threatened badly before them, and they were making me every day to be in their office, sayi ng if I refused to deal with them they will accuse me, with unknown fate."

Freedom of religion is a key provision of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sudan is a signatory. But "apostasy," or leaving Islam, is punishable by death in Sudan under Article 126 of its 1991 Criminal Act, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Sudan has not executed anyone for apostasy in almost two decades, but in 2011 and 2012 nearly 170 people were imprisoned and/or charged with the "crime," according to USCIRF.

Morning Star News said harassment, arrests and persecution of Christians have intensified since the secession of South Sudan in July 2011. That was when President Omar al-Bashir vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language.

South Sudan's secession has served as a pretext for Bashir's regime to bulldoze church buildings once owned by South Sudanese and to deport Christians based on their ethnicity, sources said.

In an April report, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) noted an increase in arrests, detentions and deportations of Christians since Dec. 2012. Morning Star News said the organization also reported that systematic targeting of Nuba and other ethnic groups suggests the resurgence of an official policy of "Islamization and Arabization."

Due to its treatment of Christians and other human rights violations, Sudan has been designated a Country of Particular Concern by the U.S. State Department since 1999, and in April USCIRF recommended the country remain on the list this year.

Church Raid

In Omdurman, Morning Star News reported, opposite Khartoum on the River Nile, plain-clothes police officials on June 25 raided the offices of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) in what church leaders called a bid to take over the property.

Without permission from government authorities, the officers entered the church compound and chased SPEC pastors and others out of the offices, a Christian leader said.

In apparent interference in church affairs, Morning Star News reported the officers said they had sided with some church officials in an administrative dispute and therefore were ordering church leaders to leave the premises or face arrest, said the Christian leader, who requested anonymity.

The government is trying to divide the leadership by becoming involved with administrative disputes within SPEC so that it can take control of the property, he said, without divulging the nature of the administrative conflict.

"The Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowment is behind what is taking place in SPEC," he told Morning Star News by phone. "All that is happening now is because the government wants to confiscate the SPEC property."

Morning Star News said a government official denied the government was trying to divide the leadership, but admitted it had inserted itself into church affairs.

"We are not favorin g one side against another," Abdallah Hassan, director of Church Management in the Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowment, told Morning Star News. "We wanted to solve the disputes, but our solution was rejected by the other group within SPEC. They need to hold a general assembly as soon as possible."

Southerners in Sudan

Noting that July 9 was the two-year anniversary of South Sudan's independence from Sudan, Morning Star News reported USCIRF officials said in a press statement that the legal status an estimated 500,000 southerners in Sudan remains unresolved.

"With the independence of South Sudan, senior Sudanese government officials have called for a more comprehensive and rigid application of Sharia law in Sudan, where southerners who are Christian have been subject to a range of religious freedom violations," USCIRF stated.

The statement continued, "In particular, there have been credible reports of the destruction of churches, refusal to permit construc tion of new churches and other forms of intimidation and harassment."

Morning Star News reported that South Sudanese lost citizenship in Sudan and were ordered to leave by March 1 2012. However, thousands have been stranded in the north due to job loss, poverty, transportation limitations and ethnic and tribal conflict in South Sudan.

Sudan and South Sudan signed an agreement on Sept. 27, 2012, to hold negotiations on citizenship rights for South Sudanese in Sudan and northerners living in South Sudan, but there has been no progress, according to USCIRF.

Morning Star News said South Sudanese Christians in Sudan have faced increased hostilities due to their ethnic origins - though thousands have little or no ties to South Sudan - as well as their faith.

For more information about Morning Star News go to

Christian Prisoner Tells Story of Her Arrest, Persecution and Departure from Iran

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

IRAN (ANS) -- Just one day after Christmas 2010, security authorities arrested a number of Christian converts in Esfahan, Tehran and other cities across Iran.

According to a story from Mohabat Iranian Christian News Service, unofficial sources announced that 60 people were arrested, some of whom were released later that day.

As they attacked the houses of these Christians, Mohabat News reported, security authorities confiscated their belongings, including computers, books, CDs, etc. They also "mistreated" the Christians' family members.

Fatemeh Yar-Ahmadi ( Yasaman) came to faith in Jesus 10 years ago. She was among the Christians arrested in Esfahan by Iranian security authorities and spent time in prison for her faith.

Now that she has left the country, she is sharing the story of what she went through.

Yasaman told Mohabat News at the time she was arrested by agents of the Iranian Intelligence Service she was working with many believers across the country.

She commented, "The Iranian regime considered this to be a 'soft war' against Islam and the Islamic regime."

Her Arrest

According to Mohabat Ne ws, Yasaman said it was 7.30 a.m. the day after Christmas, and she was still in bed when several tall strong men broke into her house. She said a neighbor living on the upper floor had apparently opened the exterior door for them.

Hearing all the noise, Yasaman said she initially thought she was dreaming.

Mohabat News reported she said, "They were screaming 'cut the telephone line, spread all over the house and start searching.' There were about 15 men in all. I started shouting, 'who are you?' They did not reply. My mom, who has heart disease was anxious and crying."

Yasaman said she again asked the men what they wanted. She recalled telling them, "'say something! My mom is scared.' One of them who looked to be the oldest among them showed me a paper and said, 'we are here looking for Christians. Who is a Christian here?'"

Mohabat News reported Yasaman said she remembered telling them not to do anything to her mom, as she (Yasaman) was a Christian.

"I turned to my mom and said, 'don't worry, they are looking for me.' My mom was shaking. One of them was filming everything with a camcorder. The older man told me, 'Do you clearly confess that you are a Christian!? You can be killed for this."

Yasaman said she just looked at him and went to get some water for her mother.

According to Mohabat News, Yasaman said they searched all over the house for about an hour and found a lease with her name on it. It was for a house she had rented in another neighborhood to be used as a house church and as a residence for some believers.

Yasaman said a man who seemed to be their boss said to her, "'how far have you gone into this? The lease paper for the house in Malek-Shahr is under your name. Have you started a church? Didn't you think about your poor mother?'"

Yasaman said the other men wanted to take her away with them.

Mohabat News reported she said, "As we were leaving the house, I said to the older man, 'can I take my Bible with me?' He said 'yes.'"

Mohabat News said Yasaman took her Bible and sat in the car. "Then I started to read my Bible to engage my thoughts with the Word of God."

They took Yasaman to the intelligence office in Dastgerd Prison. She said, "I put my Bible in my pocket. They didn't search me. I was thinking to myself, that if they found my Bible I would tell them 'you allowed me to have it yourselves.'"

According to Mohabat News Yasaman said they blindfolded her and took her to a solitary cell. She continued, "There was just a carpet, an old blanket, some empty bottles, a pocket-sized Quran and a Turbah (A clay tablet Muslims use for their daily prayers). After half an hour of silence, I heard a man begging, 'Don't beat me. Don't beat me!' My heart was beating so fast."


Yasaman said after a while the door of her cell opened, and she was ordered to blindfold herself and come out. A man took her to the interrogation room and she waited for what would happen next.

Mohabat News reported Yasaman said two male interrogators main ly asked her who she knew outside the country, who she worked with, why she traveled to a foreign country and from where she obtained the Bibles she had at home.

Yasaman said, "It seemed they wanted to connect me and other Christian converts to Israel and England, and prove that our activities were intended to disrupt national security and ultimately overthrow the Islamic regime of Iran."

According to Mohabat News Yasaman said as the hours passed, she grew tired. "The more I kept quiet the more they threatened and cursed me to the point where they eventually started to beat me. They also threatened to take my daughter away. They knew every little detail about our house church which had probably been obtained by monitoring our phone calls. They had also ... several photos of people coming to and leaving the house church in Malek-Shahr."

Yasaman said her first interrogation lasted 14 hours.

Mohabat News reported she said, "Of course, the court issued a temporary prison sentence for me so they transferre d me to prison. I had hidden my Bible under a blanket in the corner of my cell. When they took me away from there, I was praying that someone would take that Bible and read it."

Situation in Prison

According to Mohabat News, Yasaman said conditions in prison were very bad. There were 63 in one cell, which was 24 square meters with 27 beds in it. The rest were sleeping on the floor.

She said, "I was occasionally taken for interrogation, each occasion lasting about seven to eight hours."

Mohabat News reported Yasaman said she was eventually released on bail after 37 days. However, authorities said they would call her again for her trial.

Yasaman continued, "Although I was released, I was under the government's watch and sometimes called to report to the Intelligence Office. The mental tortures continued even after I was released. After a while a date was set for my trial. Since I didn't know what awaited me in the trial and what kind of verdict I would receive, I ... left my country in January 2013."

Mohabat News commented, "It is worth mentioning that despite all these persecutions, the Islamic regime of Iran knows that Christianity is increasingly spreading across the country and penetrating the hearts of many Iranians. However, the regime fails to realize that its life span depends on God's will and that oppressing people's beliefs cannot strengthen the shaky pillars of the regime."

Religious freedom a stuttering pulse in Central Asia

(Cover photo courtesy of Stefan Krasowski/Flickr.
 Story photo courtesy of SGA.)
Central Asia (MNN) ― There are 12 nations either in Central Asia or sometimes included in listings of Central Asia. Of those 12 countries, 10 of them are on the World Watch List for worst persecution of Christians.

That means Central Asia makes up 20% of the World Watch List.

Countries on the World Watch List located completely or partially in Central Asian include Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and China.

Islam is the prominent religion in Central Asia, and restrictions on Christians make ministry difficult.

Slavic Gospel Association (SGA) is currently holding children’s summer camps to share the Gospel in Russia and the surrounding Central Asian countries with heavy Muslim presence. Last weekend, SGA President Bob Provost received a disturbing e-mail from one camp’s church leaders.

15 agents including law enforcement and alleged medical personnel swept into an SGA-sponsored children’s camp. The authorities took several photographs, arrested the camp leaders, and heavily fined them. Some of the frightened kids were even interrogated. When parents heard about the incident, they were alarmed.

Joel Griffith with SGA says, “The specific wording of the charge was ‘holding an unsanctioned religious gathering,’ and even that can be very difficult. I mean the church is trying to follow the law there, and the law says that they have to register their churches; so they do everything they can possibly do to follow the law, and then the authorities throw obstacles in their way to make it impossible for them to register their churches.”

They’re seeing a step-up in persecution of Christians in Central Asia. Even for security concerns, SGA was unable to share the specific nation and needed to protect the identities of the church leaders.

“We know of situations in this same country where there are churches that have to meet discreetly, even going out in the woods sometimes,” says Griffith. “They circulate the word of the services by word of mouth and try not to communicate it electronically or by telephone because they’re watched carefully. That’s basically the reality of how Christians in this particular country have to operate.”

Even the requirement that churches register in Muslim-dominated countries is difficult. Griffith states, “These laws that these countries are passing can be very arbitrary. Sometimes the provisions in these laws can be very contradictory. I know that some of them at times have been appealed to places like the International Court of Human Rights. I know that a lot of religious rights and human freedom watchdog organizations keep an eye on this sort of thing to see when new legislation comes out that could potentially impact the freedom of the churches.”

Now the church leaders from the SGA children’s camp could face property confiscation if they can’t pay the fines in a short amount of time.

“These church members and church leaders do not have a whole lot of resources. The fines, if I were to give them in American dollars, would not sound necessarily like a whole lot of money,” says Griffith. “But to these people who are largely very poverty stricken, these fines are sometimes insurmountable. It is a serious situation.”

Despite the oppression, believers in the Central Asian country are pressing on, says Griffith. “They lived under the communist system, and they know what it’s like to have to operate under these restrictions--and even worse. They’re certainly going to keep proclaiming the Gospel as they always have.”

Griffith goes on to share, “The purpose of our ministry at SGA is basically to come alongside them and serve them however they need us. First we help by getting the word out for intercessory prayer, and then we do our best to help sponsor in terms of some of the financial resources they need for the children’s Bibles, materials, supplies.... Yet, as I say, we have to do it very discreetly because of the issues that get raised.”

When SGA was founded around 80 years ago, founder Peter Deyneka's motto was, “Much prayer; much power.” Please pray for the church leaders to be able to pay the fines and to continue in ministry somehow. Pray for the kids and their families, and for religious freedom in Central Asia.

If you’d like to support SGA’s ongoing ministry with churches and children’s summer camps, click here.

Good news for believers from Iran

Pastor Robert Asseriyan. (Photo courtesy Mohabat News)
Iran (VOM) ― Despite reports of crackdowns on Christians in Iran, there is one bright spot.

According to reports from Mohabat News and the Voice of the Martyrs USA, Pastor Robert Asseriyan, one of the leaders of the Assembly of God Church in Tehran, was released from prison. He had been arrested during a worship service at the church on May 21.

The Farsi services at the church--one of the last "building churches" that remained open in Iran--have been forcibly closed down by the police, according to Mohabat News.

It seems one of the conditions for Pastor Asseriyan's release was his silence, as authorities instructed him and his family not to be interviewed by the media or to make public statements about his arrest, his 43 days in prison, or conditions for his release. The status of the charges against him is unclear at this time.

Often in Iran, Christians are released from jail after making substantial bail payments, but the charges against them are never dropped. In this way, police can pick them up at any time in the future and can use the unresolved case against them to pressure them to cease Christian activities.

Please continue to pray for Pastor Asseriyan and his family. Pray also for other Christians who remain imprisoned in Iran. You can write letters of encouragement to several of them through the Prisoner Alert Web site.

Egypt: Islamic wrath falls on the church

By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 218 
Special to ASSIST News Service

AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- On Wednesday 3 July the Egyptian military ousted the country's first democratically elected President, Mohamed Morsi, and placed him under 'house arrest'. Tanks moved into Cairo, the Parliament was dissolved and the Constitution was suspended. Whilst the military ousted Morsi in pursuit of its own interests, it did so under the cover of anti-Morsi protests, all but guaranteeing that Morsi's civilian opponents will suffer the reprisals.