Friday, October 11, 2013

Leaving home

A sharia court set up in a building in Kansabba, Syria.
The writing on the left reads:
 “Judge people according to the words of Allah.
” Centre: “Sharia Court.” Right: “There is no God but Allah.”
Photo courtesy of Nuri Kino
Sweden-based journalist Nuri Kino reports on the situation for Christians in Syria, where sharia courts have been erected in some towns. Meanwhile, Ninar Odisho, a 26-year-old Christian was killed because of his faith.

One Syrian jihadist tells him: "Everybody who wants to live in Syria, and who obeys to live according to the Sharia laws and the holy Koran, are welcome to stay in the country. All the others have to go to sinful places. It’s our duty to preach the word of the prophet Muhammad. If we don’t do that and don’t force people to follow his words, we will be punished ourselves."


Do Christians have a future in the Middle East?

(Images courtesy Open Doors)
Middle East (MNN) ― One of the factors in understanding the cultural dynamics of the Middle East and its upheaval is the presence of the Christian communities.

Since the "Arab Spring" began, regimes have fallen and Islamist governments have risen. The turmoil has left many of these Eastern Christians wondering what future is left for them given the corresponding increase in persecution.

President of Open Doors USA David Curry says, "Over the last several decades, we've seen the percentage of the population of Christians drop from about 20% in the Middle East to just 4%." It isn't merely reports of beatings that he finds alarming, but the dramatic shift that they're tracking. "In the next decade or two, unless we do something about it, unless we can find a way to stand up and get heard on this subject, it's possible that Christianity could be extinct in its birthplace."

The reality is that in Pakistan, Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan, and Iraq--lands where Christians have lived for 2000 years, being identified as anything but Muslim is dangerous. Curry explains, "Some of it is low-grade discrimination. Some of it is intentional persecution of believers. In other cases, it is outright murder and attacks on believers that are driving them out of their homes. I think the population is being driven out of the Middle East."

Regardless, the current repression clearly communicates that followers of Christ are no longer welcome as full members of society. If nothing changes, that begs the question: Do Christians have a future in the Middle East?

On Sept. 27, a group of academics, politicians, and parliamentarians (all Christians) met in Amman, Jordan to try to scratch out an answer to that question. The conference was titled "Eastern Christians in Light of the Arab Spring."

The group looked at the laws of the land, shifts that subtly altered laws and practices of religious freedom, then the impact on the Christian body, and finally, expectations for the future.

Since the constitutions in many of these countries (except Lebanon) presumes that "Islam is the state religion," Sharia becomes a source of the state's legislation, laws, and regulations. Curry says, "It's basically illegal to decide for yourself what you want to believe. That has very dangerous implications for Christians who may be converting from other religions and deciding that they want to call themselves followers of Jesus.
In many of these places, that marks them immediately for death."

The "religicide" becomes systematic and protected.

Today, more than one million Christians have fled Iraq. Half a million Christians have left Syria, where there were once around 2 million. There remains a remnant church in Egypt. In Lebanon, the retreat is obvious.

Curry notes that despite Islam's obvious impact on the body of Christ, "Christianity is not at the verge of extinction in the Middle East because we've lost the battle of ideas. We are on the verge of being extinct in the Middle East because we are being persecuted, because we are being driven from those areas, and because en masse, we are being targeted for death."

What are the possible ways of dealing with what has become one of the greatest humanitarian catastrophes of our time? Curry takes that question head-on. Be aware. "First of all, I think that there is an element of these extremist groups that is, for lack of a better word, ‘imperialist.' They believe that they can force their faith on people. They'll do it in their regions, and then they're going to do it in our regions."

Be active. Realize that the Gospel is still going forward. Share the predicament of new believers with your Church body.

Also pray. "There's a scriptural premise here, for believers, certainly. It says, ‘When one part of your body hurts, then the whole body hurts.' Right now, we have members of the Christian faith that are suffering; not a few, but millions of people who have no freedom to study and to choose for themselves how they share their faith."

Christian man prays for the men stoning him

Global Advance provides many opportunities to get involved
 with spreading the gospel. (Photo by Global Advance)
Central Asia (MNN) ― In a country that stresses religious freedom, it is often difficult for Americans to understand what it means to live and die for faith. Global Advance reports about pastor Ibrahím, a man who knows first-hand the dangers of pursuing God.

Ibrahím lives in a community of radical Muslims. His country, unnamed for security reasons, is one of the "Stan-Nations," all of which are Islamic countries in which the persecution of Christians is not uncommon. The region, in general, is charged with violence.

When Ibrahím converted to Christianity, his Muslim friends decided that it was necessary to kill him. It was their "sacred duty" to stop the spread of Christianity, and this was the way to do it.

His friends informed him that he could say goodbye to his wife before they stoned him. Ibrahím chose to keep the situation from his wife, and told her he would be right back. He did not want to risk her life or alarm her.

The friends took the new Christian to the local dump. There they began beating him. One man picked up a large rock to complete the act of murder by hitting Ibrahím in the head. At this, Ibrahím launched aloud into prayer for his abusers and their children. His prayer was not in vain.

The man holding the rock dropped it and yelled, "I cannot kill the man that is proclaiming blessing over my children!" God was watching over His faithful child.

Many Christians around the world experience similar situations every day. Unfortunately, their stories don't always end the way Ibrahím's did.

According to one of Global Advance's sources, February 2012 saw a 309% growth in Christian-targeted terrorist attacks in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

You can help. Though there is not always a direct solution to this violence, there are ways to strengthen, encourage, and support Christians who are undergoing persecution. One of ministries of Global Advance is the Persecuted Church Fund. The money raised will go to support these efforts. For more information on this and other Global Advance ministries, click here.

Pray for continued strength for Christians who are persecuted, and for the increase of their faith. Pray for the success of the gospel in these countries so resistant to it. 

The stresses of Evin Prison often fall upon active Christians in Iran

Nasim is an Iranian Christian convert sentenced to
 four years in prison for her faith.
 (Photo by Iranian Christian News Agency)
Iran (ICNA) ― According to the Iranian Christian News Agency, Maryam Naghash-Zargaran (also known as Nasim) is an Iranian Christian convert currently serving her four-year prison sentence in the women's ward of Evin prison.

ICNA reports that Nasim was transferred to Modares hospital on Sunday, September 29, to be treated for her heart disease. Having had heart surgery before, mental pressures in prison resulted in her heart attack, and as a result she was transferred to the hospital. As of now, there are no details about her condition.

Nasim also suffered depression due to inappropriate conditions in prison.

The 35-year-old Christian was first arrested in the winter of 2013 for "acting against national security." On the day of her arrest, she received a phone call from the intelligence police on Vozara Street in Tehran. When summoned there, she was immediately arrested and kept for three days. Then she was transferred to Evin prison and remained there for 19 days. After that, she was released on bail.

Since the time of her arrest, security authorities have searched her house several times, confiscating her personal belongings as well as any Christian-related material.

Later she was called for her trial at branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran. There, Judge Mohammad Moghiseh sentenced her to four years in prison for "propagating against the Islamic regime and colluding to undermine national security." She appealed the ruling but the appeals court upheld her sentence. Nasim was summoned to prison to start serving her sentence on July 15, 2013 in the women's ward of Evin prison.

Her name previously had not been published among Christian prisoners in Evin, which raises speculation that there are more unknown Christian prisoners in Iranian prisons.

At the same time, reports indicate that three other Christian convert activists--Somayeh Bakhtiari, Ronak Samavat, and Nasim Zanjani--are still being held in prison. These Christian women had been arrested and imprisoned in the first half of the Persian year (March - September). They were accused of holding prayer and worship meetings in house-churches.

The court verdict for Nasim, a copy of which was provided to Mohabat News, states that "she converted from Islam to Protestant Christianity through her sister who lives abroad. She is an active member of the Central Assemblies of God Church as well. Through Pastor Saeed, she started a house-church to proselytize Muslim youth. She is an evangelist herself and is in contact with...ministries."

(Some names of individuals and places mentioned in this verdict will not be made public for security reasons.)

Another part of this verdict states, "She has traveled to Turkey several times with Christian-related intentions and stayed at...Hotel where Christians often assemble for evangelical purposes. In July, she took 20 women with her on a trip to Ramsar and held classes for them to attract them to Christianity. Additionally, although she had signed a disclaimer not to collaborate with the Assemblies of God Church, she went to the church on Sundays and Tuesdays and is still in contact with Pastor.... The court considers her actions as supporting the anti-security intentions of England and Israel to spread house churches in Iran and to divert the Islamic society from the way of truth. Based on these allegations, and according to articles 46 and 610 of the Islamic penal code, she will be sentenced to four years in prison which includes the time she has been under detention."

To counter non-Shi'ite religions in Iran, especially Christianity, the Islamic regime of Iran raises unfounded allegations against Christians, including moral and financial accusations, and spying for England and Israel.

Iranian judicial and security authorities have repeatedly tried to make up false allegations against Christian converts to pressure them and distort public opinion about them. Most of these false allegations are political and argue that house-churches are actually political groups which are in contact with/spy for foreign countries like England and Israel. In most of the Christian cases, Iranian authorities try to downplay the religious aspect of these cases and make them appear as political cases in order to unmercifully sentence them and avoid international pressure.

It is interesting to note that just before President Hassan Rouhani's trip to New York to attend the UN General Assembly, two Christian woman prisoners, Maryam Jalili and Mitra Rahmati, were released together with a number of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. The women had been sentenced to two and a half years in prison. When they were released, only one month remained on their prison sentence.

Pray that Nasim would recover. Pray for awareness of Christians like Nasim, and for their strength. Pray that the spread of the gospel would continue in Iran despite the resistance to it.

Upcoming political change triggers a rise in persecution

Image courtesy Mission India)
India (MNN) ― Christians are becoming scapegoats in the run-up to India's national elections.

According to ASSIST News, Hindus are trying to secure votes in the run-up to next spring's national elections. India's politics have two major players: the secular Congress Party, which has ruled India for the past decade, and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

"The BJP official party platform is that India is a country that's only for Hindus," says Dave Stravers of Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Mission India. "Hindus have the rights, and any other person of any other religious persuasion should leave the country."

As a result, Christians are coming under fire.

Sajan George, president of the Global Council of India Christians (GCIC), told Morning Star News that persecution in Karnataka state increased from 4 attacks between the months of January and May to 21 attacks from June to mid-September.

"The Hindu extremists want to show their existence by attacking the Christians, and sadly the present Congress government is not serious about these attacks launched against the Christians," Senior Advocate S. Nova Bethania of Christian Legal Association told Morning Star.

"Christians are targeted because of the very fast growth of the Christian Church," states Evans. "We actually have seen presentations by Hindu leaders saying, 'The growth of Christians is so fast in our region, within a generation we'll be majority Christian if we don't put a stop to this.'

"That fear of losing political power when your party is based on religion, because so many people are turning to Christ: that's really the basis of the persecution."

In mid-September, a mob of Hindu extremists beat a 50-year-old believer and dragged her around the streets, Morning Star reports. They also tried to re-convert the woman to Hinduism, pouring water on her to symbolize religious cleansing and applying a red dot to her forehead.

The attack lasted a total of six hours. The woman was eventually rescued by her sister-in-law and taken to a hospital where she was treated for internal injuries and multiple contusions.

"What I am suffering is nothing compared to what my Lord Jesus has suffered," she told Morning Star. "I will love Him forever for giving me a new life."

Mission India workers face the same dangers.

"Our workers are threatened every day," says Stravers. They are "beaten up, attacked, forced out of locations."

Despite daily persecution, the Gospel is spreading and the Church continues to grow.

Mission India's Adult Literacy program and Children's Bible Clubs are widely accepted by Muslim and Hindu populations alike. Click on each program name to learn more.

"Without literacy, [people] cannot participate in the economic growth of India," explains Stravers.

India is one of five developing world economies known as BRICS: Brazil, Russia, China, and South Africa compose the rest of the acronym. These countries have experienced an economic boom over the past decade.

Rapid growth isn't limited to the economy.

"I'm just so impressed and overwhelmed, in fact, by the response to the Gospel," says Stravers.

"Everywhere we go, people are open to the message of Christ. People seem so eager to get out from under the burden of Islam, or the burden of Hinduism."

Pray that more people will turn to Christ from these religions. Please ask the Lord to protect Gospel workers in India.

Links with Jihadists from Somalia Increasingly Bring Battle to Kenyan Soil

Religious tensions mount in Kenya as church building is burned.

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

NAIROBI, KENYA (ANS) -- Two weeks after Somalia-based Islamic extremists attacked a Nairobi shopping mall, Kenya saw another pocket of its territory turned into a battle zone on Oct. 4.
Fire damage to Salvation Army Church in
Mombasa, Kenya. (Morning Star News)
According to a story by Morning Star News, sources said responding to the shooting death on Oct. 3 of hard-line Sheikh Ibrahim Omar and three others, Muslim youth from the Masjid Musa Mosque shouting “Allahu Akbar (God is Greater)” set fire to the Salvation Army Church building the following afternoon in the Majengo area on the outskirts of the coastal city of Mombasa. 

Christians in Mombasa remained tense. 

“The incident of burning the Salvation Army church is aimed at creating a religious conflict between the Christians and the Muslims,” Peter Karanja, general secretary of the National Christian Council of Kenya, said in a media statement. 

In the police response to the rampaging Muslim youth, including officers’ efforts to stop them from attacking a Pentecostal church in Mombasa, four people were reportedly killed and several others wounded. 

Muslim leaders accused police of killing hard-line imam Omar as part of a campaign against Islamists following authorities’ much-criticized handling of the Sept. 21 assault on the Westgate Shopping Mall by members of the Islamic extremist Al Shabaab rebel militia.

Omar was a student of sheikh Aboud Rogo, also mysteriously killed in his vehicle on the same road in Aug. 2012, who had been accused of aiding in recruitment and funding for Al Shabaab. 

At the Musa Mosque, some 200 meters from the partially burned Salvation Army Church building, Omar regularly "issued incendiary sermons against non-Muslims," The Standard newspaper reported.

Morning Star News said that according to Kenya's National Intelligence Service, the imam had invited jihadists from Somalia to bomb targets in Nairobi and Mombasa in retaliation for the killing of Rogo, the newspaper reported.

“The Muslims living at the coastal area of Kenya do not want to see the existence of churches, and on many occasion they see this region not to be part of Kenya,” an area pastor told Morning Star News.

He added, “To them, the coastal region should be treated as an independent Islamic state.”

He added that the Majengo area is a hub of Islamic extremist activity. The same Salvation Army Church building was set ablaze last year in response to the killing of Rogo.

“We as the church living in the coastal region of Kenya have witnessed many times the church becoming a scapegoat for the Muslims as they release their anger,” another pastor told Morning Star News. “What has the church to do with the police killing the Muslim sheikh? Christians will not be cowed by this mayhem.”

Jihadist Links

Al Shabaab, which has joined with Al Qaeda, has recently come under the control of a faction that emphasizes international terrorist strikes rather than limiting activity to taking over Somalia, according to Robin Simcox of the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think tank.

“Losing territory in areas such as Kismayo and Mogadishu has allowed Al Shabaab to focus more on perpetrating traditional terrorist attacks instead of having to control territory,” Morning Star News said Simcox recently wrote in The Wall Street Journal.

He added, “In other words, the factors that give the impression that Al Shabaab is in turmoil are making the group even more dangerous. Turmoil has made it lash out.”

U.S. Navy Seals on Oct. 4 took part in a raid on the Somali coastal home of a Kenyan national who is an Al Shabaab leader, according to the The Associated Press. There were casualties among the Al Shabaab, but the targeted leader escaped.

Moening Star News said he was identified as Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, a Kenyan who had planned attacks on Kenya's parliament building and United Nations offices in Nairobi that were foiled.

The Al Shabaab attack on the upscale Westgate mall in Nairobi on Sept. 21 killed at least 67 people, with dozens still unaccounted for, according to authorities' latest figures.

Among those who escaped was a Christian accounts clerk named Joshua Hakim, according to an extensive account of the protracted stand-off in the British newspaper The Guardian.

Before an Israeli helped Hakim and at least a dozen others to escape through a third-floor fire escape, Hakim had repeated “Jesus is Lord” as he heard shots above and below him while on the interior balcony of the first floor, according to the Guardian account. He heard two armed men say in English, “Muslims, get out of here!”

Morning Star News said eventually Hakim approached one of the gunmen and showed him his voter card, covering his Christian name with his thumb, and the militant shouted at him to leave.

“An older man, of Indian origin, approached and was asked to name the mother of the prophet,” the Guardian reported. “When he hesitated, he was shot.”

For more information about Morning Star News visit

Monday, October 7, 2013

Iranian Christian Prisoner in Evin Transferred to Hospital

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

IRAN (ANS) -- Maryam Naghash-Zargaran (also known as Nasim), is an Iranian Christian convert currently serving her four year prison sentence in the women's ward of Iran's notorious Evin Prison.

According to a story by Mohabat Iranian Christian News Agency, Nasim, 35, was transferred to Modares hospital on Sept. 29 to be treated for her heart disease. There is currently no more news about her condition.

Nasim was first arrested in the winter of 2013 for "acting against national security." The day she was arrested she received a phone call from the intelligence police in Tehran.

She was told to report to them, where she was immediately arrested and kept for three days. Then Nasim was transferred to Evin Prison where she was incarcerated for 19 days. She was subsequently released on bail.

During that time, security authorities searched her house several times, confiscating her personal belongings as well as Christian related material.

Mohabat News said Nasim's trial was at branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran. Judge Mohammad Moghiseh sentenced her to four years in prison for "propagating against the Islamic regime and colluding to undermine national security."

Her appeal was denied, and Nasim began serving her sentence on July 15 2013.

Mohabat News said the fact of Nasim's name not being published before as being a Christian prisoner in Evin raises speculation that there may be more unknown Christian prisoners in Iranian prisons.

Court's Verdict

For security reasons, some of the names of places and individuals mentioned in the verdict have been omitted.

The court verdict for Nasim, a copy of which was provided to Mohabat News, states that "She converted from Islam to Protestant Christianity through her sister who lives abroad. She is an active member of the Central Assemblies of God Church as well ... She started a house church to proselytize Muslim youth. She is an evangelist herself and is in contact with ... ministries."

Another part of the verdict reads, "She has traveled to Turkey several times with Christian related intentions and stayed at ... a hotel where Christians often assemble for evangelical purposes. In July, she took 20 women with her on a trip to Ramsar and held classes for them to attract them to Christianity."

It continues, "Additionally, although (Nasim) had signed a disclaimer not to collaborate with the Assemblies of God Church, she went to the church on Sundays and Tuesdays and is still in contact with pastor ... The court considers her actions as supporting the anti security intentions of England and Israel to spread house churches in Iran, and to divert the Islamic society from the way of truth. Based on these allegations, and according to articles 46 and 610 of the Islamic Penal Code, she will be sentenced to four years in prison which includes the time she has been under detention."

Mohabat News said Iranian judicial and security authorities have repeatedly tried to make up false allegations against Christian converts to pressure them and distort public opinion. Most of these false allegations are political (the religious aspect is downplayed to avoid international pressure), and argue that house churches are really political groups working as spies for countries such as England and Israel.

Mohabat News said just before President Hassan Rouhani's recent trip to New York to attend the UN General Assembly, two Christian woman prisoners, Maryam Jalili and Mitra Rahmati, were released together with a number of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. They had been sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison. However, when they were freed, only one month remained on their prison term.

For more information about Mohabat News visit

Persecution of Christians Increases Sharply in Karnataka

India Hindu extremists drag woman to temple in attempt to "reconvert" her

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

NEW DELHI, INDIA (ANS) -- Incidents of violence against Christians in India's Karnataka state have spiked since June, including hospitalization of a school helper this month after Hindu extremists beat her and marched her through the streets.

Church members visit Sannamma as police take her statement. (Morning Star News)
According to a story by Morning Star News, Hindu extremists kicked and punched the 50-year-old Christian woman, who goes by the name of Sannamma, after intercepting her in Chamrajnagar District on Sept. 13.

A resident of Kolipalya, Sannamma was in Nirayanpalya village to invite students back to school when a mob of about 40 Hindu nationalists stopped her and demanded she give money for a Hindu festival, a Christian leader said.

"Sannamma agreed to give them the money later, as she did not have any money with her at that time," area pastor Vincent Dass told Morning Star News.

However, the Hindu extremists began beating her, calling her "pagan," and accused her of forceful conversion. As they verbally abused Sannamma, the mob punched, kicked and shoved her around before dragging her to a Hindu temple.

There they tried to forcefully convert her back to Hinduism by pouring water on her as a symbol of religious cleansing from Christianity and applied a red dot on her forehead as a symbol of reconv ersion, Christian leaders said.

The Hindu extremists also forced Sannamma, who belongs to The Glorious Church, to sign a paper stating that she and her husband, Shidda Naik, would not spread word of Christianity. Her husband, however, was not with her at the time of the attack, Christian leaders said.

After that they dragged her out from the temple and marched her around the village again, continuing to slap and push her.

"The attack against her lasted more than six hours, until she was finally rescued by her sister-in- law," Morning Star News reported Pastor Dass said.

She was rushed to the hospital, where she was treated for internal injuries and multiple contusions. Sannamma spoke of pain in her throat, inner chest and back, and doctors said she would require bed rest for some time.

"What I am suffering is nothing compared to what my Lord Jesus has suffered," Sannamma, who became a Christian eight years ago, told Morning Star News.
She added, "I will love him forever for giving me a new life."

Police registered a First Information Report against four attackers, attorney Moses Muragavel of the Karnataka Legal Aid Cell said.

Increased Christian Persecution

Christians in Karnataka state have suffered at least 21 attacks from June to mid-September, compared with just four attacks from January to May, said Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC).

"Karnataka Christians are being threatened, attacked and harassed for their faith and practice of charitable works," Morning Star News reported George said. "The Hindu extremists of the Bajrang Dal collude with lower level police and district administration officials to terrorize Christians and their institutions in Karnataka."

Since the Hindu extremist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost seats in a state legislative assembly election onMay 5, they have been compensating with increased attacks, said Christian Legal Association Senior Advocate S. Nova Bethania in Bangalore.

"The Hindu extremists want to show their existence by attacking the Christians, and sadly the present Congress government is not serious about these attacks launched against the Christians," Bethania told Morning Star News.

In Yelahanka New Town, Bangalore North on Sept. 8, Hindu extremists disrupted the worship meeting of The Living Hope Church, shouting, "No prayer, no church," Christian leaders said. Previously they had attacked onSept. 1, accusing Pastor William John of forceful conversion and telling him to stop worship services.

"About 15 extremists first came to the meeting to see what was going on, and when more of them started streaming into the hall, I thought I should leave the meeting to avoid further trouble," John told Morning Star News.
The extremists ran after him, tried to pull him from his car and accused him of forceful conversion, he said. Holding him by his shirt, they beat him as well as a church member who came to help him.

"It was only by the grace of God tha t I managed to close the car door and speed off," John said.

The next Sunday, the Hindu mob gathered at the church premises shouting the same anti-Christian slogans, and no church meeting took place in the rented hall.

"The extremists threatened to tear me apart and kill me if I ever conduct meeting again in the future," Morning Star News reported John said.

The following Sundays, Sept. 15 and Sept. 22, however, the pastor was able to lead worship services under police protection.

"The police did not file First Information Report against the attackers, as Pastor John chose to forgive the attackers," attorney Muragavel said.

In April last year, Hindu extremists attacked an assistant pastor of Living Hope Church in the same area. He was hospitalized for about a week with serious injuries.

In Ilkal Bagalakote on Aug. 24, a pastor identified only as Samson of Jehovah Shalom Prayer House was rushed to the hospital with bleeding nose and ears after Hindu extremists beat him just two days af ter assaulting another pastor, identified only as Kotresh, in Jagalur tilak, Davengere.

Two weeks earlier in Mobanahalli, Chitradurga, Morning Star News said Pastor Parama Jyothi lost three front teeth from a Hindu extremist attack, according to advocacy groups.

Also in August, Hindu extremists drove Pastor Devu Gowli, his wife and one-month-old baby from Mundgodu, Karwar, according to advocacy groups.

Hindu extremists also beat a Christian couple, Soma Shekhar and his wife Kusumabai, and chased them from their village after they refused to renounce Christ.

Three Christians were arrested in August after Hindu extremists accused them of forceful conversion on in Honnavar, Uttara Kannada.

On Aug. 31 Thimdoli in Belgaum, Hindu extremists broke into the houses of two Christian families identified only as Suresh and Gangadhar, badly beat them, took them to the Hindu temple and tried to force them to worship idols.

For more information visit

Sunni/Shi'ite battle intensifies, Christians flee to safer ground

Canon Andrew Wright refuses to leave Iraq,
 despite escalating violence
. (Story image courtesy Voice of the Martyrs Canada.
 Cover image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
Iraq (MNN) ― Rising sectarian violence is putting Iraq on the path of civil war.

Battle lines have deepened since April, as Sunni Islamist militants kill increasing numbers of civilians to invoke "revenge" on the Shi'ite government. Since 2013 began, nearly 5,000 people have lost their lives in sectarian violence.

"The mujahideen [holy warriors] will not stand with their hands tied while the despicable project of Iran shows its ugly face in Iraq and the Levant," the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) stated on a militant Internet forum.

The al Qaeda branches of Iraq and Syria merged in August to form this new group, which quickly rose up as the main opposition fighting President Basheer al-Assad's reign in Syria. An analyst at the Center for International and Strategic Studies, Jon Alterman, recently told TIME Magazine that Syria's civil war is playing a "huge part" in Iraq's tension.

"You're having jihadis from all over the world traveling to Syria, being considered surplus and being sent to carry out suicide attacks in Iraq," said Alterman.

Statements made by U.S. officials seem to confirm this reality.

"Over the last two years, we've had an average of about 5 to 10 suicide bombers a month in 2011 and 2012," a senior U.S. official said at an August press briefing. "We've seen over the last 90 days the suicide bomber numbers approach around 30 a month, and we still suspect most of those are coming in from Syria.... What that shows is a fairly sophisticated al-Qaeda network."

Voice of the Martyrs Canada works alongside St. George's Church in Baghdad, supporting a variety of their projects: feeding programs, medical and dental clinics, etc. Spokesman Greg Musselman says their ministry partner, Canon Andrew Wright, told him the last few weeks have been especially terrible.

"'There are no longer 'rumors of war:' war is here,'" Musselman says Wright told him.

While the overall violence gripping Iraq is primarily between Shi'ite and Sunni followers of Islam, Musselman says Christians fall victim, too.

"It's definitely having a devastating effect on the Church because of everything that's happening with the rise up of militant Islam," he states. "The Church has been so decimated and it's become so small.

"Before the First World War, about 20% of the population in the Middle East was Christian. Now, it's anywhere between 2 and 4%--and shrinking."

In a recent interview, Musselman says Wright revealed a "shocking" statistic.

"More than 1,200 people in his church have been killed since 2003," says Musselman.

Click here to read a recent letter to Voice of the Martyrs Canada from Reverend Wright.

Born in England, Wright leads the only Anglican Church in Baghdad. Musselman says Wright has dedicated his life to the people of Iraq, and often tells them in times of turmoil, "I'm not going to leave you. Don't leave me!"

"But now he's hearing from many of them, including those very close to him: 'You know what, it's just too dangerous. We need to get out of here,'" explains Musselman.

"I confess that such statements drove me to tears," Wright penned in a letter to Musselman.

"Then I remembered that He who has called me to this place will never fail me. As He remained with Daniel, so He will remain with me."

The rise of radical Islam in Iraq and the perseverance of Christ-followers like Wright reveal a conundrum.

"If all the Christians leave Iraq…where will the Light be?" asks Musselman.

"A million Christians have left the country, and that's decimating what already was a fairly small Church.... But even in the midst of all that, there are still those that are willing to stay and be the Light, and even start house churches…because they really believe that God wants them there."

Want to know the best way to help them? It's easy. Pray.

"There are a number of things I think that we can pray for, but the number one thing is that fear would not overtake our brothers and sisters in Christ," says Musselman.

To provide tangible support, click here to send resources and other forms of encouragement to persecuted believers in Iraq through Voice of the Martyrs Canada.

"Just remember, these are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We're not physically with them, but spiritually we are," says Musselman. "We're in this together. Pray! And as the Lord maybe tells some of us to go or to do something practical, we need to do that."

Promised legal reforms disappoint Turkey’s religious minorities

Latest reforms positive but inadequate, say minority groups

An empty classroom in the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary
 near Istanbul, closed by the Turkish government since 1971
World Watch Monitor
The Turkish government’s long-awaited “democratisation package” of reform laws announced this week has met with considerable disappointment among Turkey’s minority religious communities.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed on Monday (September 30) a broad array of reform laws, drafted by his ruling Justice and Development Party for parliamentary debate and approval.
Although public focus remained on legal changes in the Kurdish resolution process, electoral reform and lifting the headscarf ban in public offices, there were some positive, if symbolic, steps affecting the nation’s non-Muslim communities.
But without question, the religious minorities were expecting more tangible changes to correct their status as second-class citizens:  most prominently, the re-opening of the Orthodox Church’s Halki Seminary, along with recognition of the Alevis as a distinct faith community.

‘Surprise’ release of Moroccan jailed for 30 months for evangelism

Mohamed el Baldi released temporarily, pending appeal

New Life Church in Fes, Morocco.
World Watch Monitor
A Moroccan Christian man jailed for evangelism has been temporarily released after serving one month.
Mohamed el Baldi, 34, from the town of Aïn Aïcha, near Fes, was given two-and-a-half years in prison, and ordered to pay 5000 dirhams ($600) for “shaking the faith of a Muslim”, at a court hearing on September 3.
El Baldi was informed of his release during a brief appearance before the Court of Appeal in Fes, on September 26.
The Moroccan Association for Defence of Human Rights (AMDH) is delighted with this “unexpected” release as his appeal hearing is planned for October 10. It understands that any formal release is pending the outcome on that date.  

Catholic clerics mugged at gunpoint in Central African Republic

Archbishop says Christians continue to pay with their lives, property and dignity

Fr. Beniamino Gusmeroli was attacked by armed men on Friday.

Two Catholic clerics in the Central African Republic were bound and robbed by armed men on Friday, Sept. 27.

Italian missionary Fr. Beniamino Gusmeroli, and Fr. Martial Mengue, a Central African deacon, had their rooms ransacked and valuables stolen.
The incident took place in the mission of Our Lady of Fatima Bouar, in the northwest of the country.
The Archbishop of Bangui, Mgr. Dieudonne Nzapalainga, said: “This rebellion has brought doubt and mistrust in relations between Christians and Muslims. It has shaken the roots of mutual trust that characterised our life together, once harmonious and smooth. Christians have paid massively and continue to pay with their lives, property and dignity for the evils of Séléka.”

Peaceful Protests in Sudan Continue Amidst Crackdown

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

SUDAN (ANS) -- Over 200 people are reported to have died and an estimated 500 may have been injured as Sudanese security forces continue to use live ammunition on unarmed anti-government protestors.

According to a news release from human rights organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the demonstrations have continued into their ninth day with a crackdown on press freedom and mass arrests of activists.

Peaceful demonstrations began last week in Wad Madani, parts of Khartoum, Port Sudan, Gadarif, Sinaar and Nyala. They were protesting the government's decision to lift fuel and food subsidies, causeing these commodities to double in price overnight.

However, the protests soon evolved into a demand for the government's downfall, with protesters adopting chants made popular during the Arab uprisings. The demand became stronger as security services responded to protestors with disproportionate force, firing teargas, rubber bullets and live rounds.

According to the Ministry of Interior, the death toll stands at 29. However, CSW said, in an interview with Sudanese media, Dr. Ahmed Al Sheikh, the head of the Sudanese Doctors' Syndicate, said at least 210 people had died. 

Deaths were mostl y from gunshot wounds to the head and chest, with families forced to accept death certificates stating their relatives had died of "natural causes."

The National Intelligence Security Services (NISS) are reported to have arrested 700 people, including many activists in Khartoum, Wad Madani, and Port of Sudan, whilst opposition leaders remain under surveillance.
Press freedom has been curtailed further. CSW said on Sept. 25, internet access was shut down, and mobile phone networks have remained jammed since Sept. 26, in an attempt to hinder the ability to organize protests.

On Sept. 27, journalists from Al-Sahafa resigned in protest at censorship by the Sudanese security services. On the same day the authorities closed down Al-Arabiya and Sky News Arabia Service television stations due to their coverage of the protests.

On Sept. 29, Sudan's largest newspaper house, Al-Arabaya, run by President al-Bashir's uncle, Al Tayeb Mustafa, was forcibly shut down. Before its closure, Al-Arabya reported that 5,000 protesters had taken to the streets in Khartoum alone after Friday prayers on Sept.27.

Commentators noted that the day's protests were one of the most diverse, comprising thousands of citizens representing Sudan's different social groups.

CSW said that is an indication of a strengthening popular voice against the Khartoum regime, which has a history of suppressing the media, civil society, opposition parties and religious minorities.

The government's use of excessive force against unarmed protesters has occasioned international expressions of concern from among others, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton, and the UK, French and American governments.

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said in the news release, "We extend our condolences to the families of those killed during the on-going protests. CSW condemns the use of lethal force by the Sudanese authorities against unarmed protesters. The right of citizens to gath er and protest peacefully is guaranteed in international legislation to which Sudan is a signatory, as is the right to life."

Thomas added, "The international community must hold the government of President al-Bashir to account for its human rights violations, and put pressure on the regime for the swift release of all who have been detained arbitrarily in connection with these protests, as they are at serious risk of torture and other cruel inhuman and degrading treatment."
Christian Solidarity Worldwide works for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

For further information visit

Missing Italian priest 'still alive'

Paolo Dall’Oglio is alive, Assyrian Archdeacon tells European Parliament

Fr. Paolo Dall'Oglio, pictured in his native Italy in 2012.
veDro / Flickr / Creative Commons
An Italian Jesuit priest who went missing in Syria several months ago is still alive, according to an Assyrian priest speaking at the European Parliament on Tuesday (October 1).
Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana of the Assyrian Church in the East said the latest reports from inside Syria were that Father Paolo Dall’Oglio is alive, although no more detail was given about his condition.
Fr. Youkhana was a guest speaker at the presentation of a report, “Vulnerability Assessment of Syria’s Christians” to a packed room of  Brussels parliamentarians, policymakers and NGOs  by Open Doors International (ODI).

Priests murdered in Colombia buried amid community protests

(Photo by
Colombia (ODM) ― Father Bernardo Echeverry, 62, and Father Hector Fabio Cabrera, 35, who ministered at San Sebastian Roman Catholic parish, Roldanillo village, Valle department, were found murdered late Sept. 27.

Neighbours reported to police having seen two men running from the parish. Investigating officers found the priests' bodies in the residence they shared near the church.

Open Doors Colombia notes that in the last year alone, eight priests have been killed.

According to police and media reports, two men broke into the residence while the priests were celebrating 8 p.m. Mass and awaited the priests with knives. The murderers fled with offerings, a computer, and an iPad.

Local authorities convened a security council meeting where Ubeimar Delgado, governor of Valle, linked the double murder to organized crime. General Rodolfo Palomino, national police director, promised that his organization would not allow the snatching of this community's most sacred members: its spiritual leaders.

After the priests' Sept. 30 funeral, Roldanillo residents peacefully marched to demand justice for the murders.

In Medellín early Sept. 28, disabled priest Luis Javier Sarrázola Úsuga was found stabbed to death in his residence in Manrique neighborhood. According to media reports, a woman bringing a meal to Sarrázola Úsuga entered his home as an unidentified young man fled with a suitcase. The woman and neighbors found his body, which had been stabbed in the chest more than 30 times.

Sarrázola Úsuga, 48, operated a charity called by its acronym FUNEPALIS, or Educational Foundation for Peace and Social Freedom, which served the poor in Medellín's Carambolas neighborhood. Some media reports state that Sarrázola Úsuga was affiliated with the Anglican church.

According to the Episcopal Conference, in the last 29 years in Colombia 84 Roman Catholic priests and two bishops have been murdered.

Pray that the Lord would strengthen and sustain the families of these priests. Pray for the village of Roldanillo and Medellín's Carambolas neighborhood. Pray for the Lord's guidance for the new spiritual leaders appointed.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Bangladeshi Christians told to close church, convert to Islam

Construction of Tangail Evangelical Holiness Church,
 in Bilbathuagani village, was halted by local officials.
World Watch Monitor
A local government official in central Bangladesh has halted the construction of a church, forced Christians to worship at a mosque and threatened them with eviction from their village unless they renounce their faith.

The Tangail Evangelical Holiness Church in Bilbathuagani village, was created Sept. 8 by a group of about 25 Christians who had been meeting secretly for three years.

Local council chairman Rafiqul Islam Faruk joined around 200 demonstrators Sept. 13 to protest against the start of the building of the church. He summoned the Christians to his office Sept. 14, as about 1,000 Muslims gathered outside.

“The chairman and the imams of the mosques interrogated me for accepting Christianity,” Mokrom Ali, 32, told World Watch Monitor. “They asked me why I had become a Christian. It is a great sin to become a Christian from Islam. If I did not accept Islam, they would beat me, burn my house, and evict me from the society.

Others reported being pressured to embrace Islam. They later filed documents in court re-affirming their Christianity.


Will 'dialogue' help settle Boko Haram in Nigeria?

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.
 (Cover image courtesy Voice of the Martyrs.
 Story photo courtesy Flickr/GovermentZA )
Nigeria (MNN) ― October 1 marked 53 years of independence from Britain, but the occasion was somber due to an eruption of violence by an Islamic insurgency group.

Given the events of the last month, is the state of emergency effective in curbing the Boko Haram?

Not exactly. Violence has been increasing over the past few months. Todd Nettleton, a spokesman with the Voice of the Martyrs USA, says, "Boko Haram means ‘Western education is a sin' or ‘Western education is evil,' so they are going after educational institutions. They're going after schools that they perceive to not be teaching the correct radical Islamic ideology."

Nettleton is referencing the attack on a secondary school dormitory in Yobe around 1:00AM on Sunday.

More than 40 students, many of them Muslims, died. Coincidental? It came just after the government promised protection and urged schools in Yobe to re-open after earlier similar attacks. Nettleton asks, "When will the general population of Northern Nigeria--which is heavily Islamic-- turn against Boko Haram and say, ‘Hey, we have had enough?'"

Other news accounts surfaced indicating President Goodluck Jonathan pledged a national dialogue to heal a "divided" Nigeria. Earlier accounts seemed to point to negotiations and peace talks with the Boko Haram.

However, Nettleton says when he took that issue up with church leaders, "Their number one response was: ‘Who are we negotiating with? People who will not step forward; they will not have a name and a face and admit what they are doing, and admit who they are. How are we going to negotiate with those people? Even if we come to an agreement, how are we going to hold them to it?'"

"The renewed violence is creating uncertainty and fear among people," reported an Open Doors worker. "It is intensifying an already explosive atmosphere as the government continues its battle against Boko Haram."

The violence is expected to continue, if not worsen. Nettleton explains, "Next year, there will be national elections in Nigeria. Goodluck Jonathan is running for president again. I would assume that one or probably more than one Muslim candidate for president will be running against him."

Nettleton goes on to say that in the grasp for political power, an insurgency could be enough to tip the balance. "As Boko Haram can create chaos and make Goodluck Jonathan and his government appear powerless, they affect the political process. They affect what the voters do and what the voters think."

The Islamist agenda for Nigeria is to bring the whole country under the House of Islam, using whatever method works. For believers, the months ahead will be the ultimate test their faith. "It's an act of courage just to go to church on Sunday. It takes some courage to do that because you realize our church could be targeted. We could be bombed. There could be gunmen that come to the church . That changes how they function."

Fear is pervasive among churches. Security has been beefed up in many places. Christians don't feel safe. Isolation and separation can lead to discouragement and intimidated silence. That's what we have to pray against, urges Nettleton. Stated another way, he says, "I think one of the first things to pray for is a sense of encouragement and a sense of passionately following the Lord even though there is risk, even though it is dangerous."

Pray that God will intervene to preserve their places of worship, fellowship, and teaching. Give thanks that believers are responding to recent pressure with increased prayer, evangelism, and care for Muslim Background Believers. Click here for a look at some past issues Nigeria's believers have had to contend with.

Ministries advance amid growing tensions

The son of ICDI staff member Albert
 Yahimi was shot to death in April by
 troops in the Central African Republic.
 (Image, caption courtesy HCJB Global)
Central African Republic (MNN) ― Rebel violence is rising in the Central African Republic.

Nearly 400,000 people are now internally displaced according to the Geneva-based Assessment Capacities Project, or ACAPS. That figure almost doubled within the span of a month.

Jim Hocking with Integrated Community Development International (ICDI) works in the CAR with Living Water International and HCJB Global.

"What we're seeing on-the-ground is pretty much the collapse of the government," says Hocking.

That leaves people on their own against armed and dangerous Seleka militants.

"Because of that, people are leaving their homes, even in the capital city; I was there two weeks ago," Hocking reports.

"It's kind of a 'Catch 22,' in a sense, because although they're scared for their lives...they still have to live, they still have to provide for their families."

Central African legislature and civil society members met last week in Washington, D.C. to discuss the situation.

"The crisis that has been brought about by Seleka is now turning into a conflict between Christians and Muslims," Rev. Nicolas Guerekoyame Gbangou said through a translator.

Nearly all Seleka factions follow Islam, Gbangou explains, and approximately two-thirds of the group comes from countries outside the CAR. He says they're targeting Christians and trying to force their religion, customs, and traditions on communities and individuals.

"As they proceed through the country, they tend to destroy everything that is Christian," Gbangou states. "We've come to a point where people have had enough. They no longer are willing to tolerate these massacres and torture. People are starting to form self-defense groups.

"They're starting to buy machetes so they can defend themselves against aggressors, and we're now starting to take the path of Rwanda, if you will," he continues. "And maybe that's what it's going to take for the international community to finally intervene."

Along with leading a church in Bangassou, Gbangou is Chairman of the Regional Association of Evangelical Churches.

Despite growing religious tensions and rising violence, Gospel work continues.

"It has been difficult, but we have been able to accomplish actually MORE since May 1 than we have normally [during] this time of year," says Hocking.

ICDI teams have drilled 72 wells and performed over 400 maintenance visits. Hocking credits the success to ICDI's national staff, who dedicate their lives to sharing clean water and the Living Water of Christ. To this end, Living Water International is a crucial component.

"Living Water is a huge help with our maintenance program," Hocking states. "We're trying to keep the maintenance going on over 500 wells in the country, and keep the water flowing for the people in that country."

While Hocking was in the CAR recently, he attended training sessions for national ICDI workers with Jerry Wiles, President Emeritus of Living Water International. He says Wiles was teaching staff how to share the Gospel with villagers using orality.

"We trained all of our trainers and our maintenance teams that travel around," Hocking explains. "18 people had a follow-up training [so they could] become trainers, to help train even more people in the villages how to use Gospel stories, because it is an oral tradition there in the [CAR]."

The Gospel is the only glimmer of hope in a nation coming apart at the seams.

"Villages are continuing to receive Gospel tracts [and] receive encouragement from our staff," Hocking says. "Basically, a little touch of hope comes back to them that [there are] still people in the country who care about them."

It's up to you to keep hope alive in the CAR. By financially supporting the work of ICDI, Living Water International and HCJB Global, Hocking says you're helping them stay in the troubled nation.

"These organizations are what are giving hope to people in the Central African Republic," states Hocking.

The most important way to help is through prayer. Please keep praying for the Central African Republic. Pray for an end to religious tensions in northern CAR. Ask the Lord to bring peace to this troubled nation.

"Your prayers are going to make a difference in that country," says Hocking. "There isn't anything else that can really solve it."

Censorship in Azerbaijan is crippling for the church

Azerbaijan (MNN) ― For years, many have been intrigued by novels such as Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and George Orwell's 1984. More recently, Americans have eaten up movies like The Book of Eli and Equilibrium.

These are stories of total government control and oppression. In these stories, written works aren't allowed. While fictional in these stories, this is actually happening.

Open Doors USA reports that Azerbaijan is facing this very scenario. Censorship has become increasingly restrictive in recent years, and stricter laws and codes have been enforced to progress this control. While the country still has access to books and other media, it is extremely regulated.

The State Committee is need for the possession, importation, or reproduction of any work. Every title must be inspected. This State Committee also sets the limit to how many of any approved title is allowed. Any book sent to Azerbaijan has to be inspected before it can be released. At airports, too, inspection of books has become regular routine.

Anyone found with illegal material is subject to punishment including the confiscation of the text, raids, detentions, and fines.

This is a big problem for Christians. Even the Bible is condemned to these limitations. Most religious material must be approved. This includes other media, too. This ban and limitation on religious texts, including the Bible and the Koran, has been set in place since 2008.

Even internally it is difficult to produce copies of the Bible. Because printing and photocopy shops must get permission before they print anything, they usually will refuse to copy the Bible. This is because the State Committee usually refuses consent.

Religion overall is already looked down upon by the government. All things religious are controlled by the Committee on Religious Affairs. The government and the people of Azerbaijan are especially harsh toward Christians. This is largely because Christianity is associated with Armenia, Azerbaijan's biggest enemy.

This country needs prayer. We can rejoice that the church is still growing amidst oppression. But as more and more citizens become Christians, the need for Bibles increases. Pray that the church continues to receive converts, and that Christians in this country will grow in their faith in light of the oppression of the government. Pray that the Word will not be stopped despite the government's regulation.