Tuesday, November 26, 2013

After Retaking of Delga, Christians Terrorized in Other Towns in Egypt

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

CAIRO, EGYPT (ANS) -- Three months after the Egyptian Army liberated Delga from militant Muslims, Islamists and criminals are terrorizing Christians in other towns across Egypt, human rights activists said.
Priest examining damage in church building in Minya Governorate, Egypt. (Photo: Watani Weekly)

According to the Middle East Correspondent of Morning Star News (http://morningstarnews.org), Islamists in the towns are again charging Jizya, a Koranic fine on non-Muslims also known as the "submission" or "humiliation" tax, after a lull following the retaking of Delga on Sept. 16, said human rights activists within the country. In several towns across Egypt, Muslim extremists and criminals have set up a cottage industry persecuting Christians for profit, the activists said.

"Extortionists using the threat of kidnapping, torture and murder are seizing money, land and other property from Christian's throughout the southern part of the country but mainly in Minya and Assiut governorates," said the story.

Mina Thabet, founding member of the Maspero Youth Union said, "What you are dealing with now is some criminals attacking Christians - Christians who own shops and things like that. He added that in the case of militant Islamists, persecuting Christians is seen "as a religious duty."

Although exact numbers of the crimes are difficult to estimate, human rights activists say the attacks are both common and widespread, affecting Christians in dozens of towns. Almost every week, there are reports of Copts kidnapped and held for ransom.

"This past month alone, we had nine cases of kidnapping in Minya, and they all paid their ransom, which was between 100,000 and 250,000 Egyptian pounds [US$14,500 to $36,300] for each case," said Ezat Ibrahim, director of the Minya branch of the Al-Kalema Human Rights Organization.

An Egyptian Christian who had been
kidnapped and tortured
Most of the kidnapping victims have been tortured, Ibrahim said. Many were tortured so severely that when they returned to their families, they were completely broken, unable to talk about their ordeals, much less report the crimes to police.

Morning Star News went on to say that one victim, a Copt who works as a human rights researcher, was kidnapped in an undisclosed town in Minya and severely tortured. The kidnappers tied him up, held an automatic rifle next to his ear and fired it repeatedly.

Besides the emotional damage he suffered, the shockwaves exiting the rifle combined with the muzzle blast shattered the Christian's eardrums and burned his face. The Copt begged his family to gather the ransom money, and eventually they paid the kidnappers some 50,000 Egyptian pounds (US$7,260). He returned to his family shattered and unable to speak of the ordeal until recently.

Most of attacks are happening in Minya Governorate, 152 miles (245 kilometers) south of Cairo, with another large share taking place in Assiut Governorate, 200 miles (320 kilometers) south of Cairo. In Manshat al-Mughlaqa, a village in Minya, a heavily-armed group led by a criminal who goes by the name of Saddam Hussein collects the Jizya by threatening to kill Christians or their children, according to Watani Weekly. Many Copts have paid the "tax" with amounts ranging from 25,000 to 250,000 Egyptian pounds (US$3,630 to US$36,300).

The Middle East Correspondent said, "The ransom demands are enormous for the average Egyptian, with the amounts based on Muslims' widespread perception that Copts are wealthy. And those who don't have the means to pay have to beg for money from family and neighbors, meaning just one kidnapping can terrorize and financially drain an entire community. If victims of extortion attempts fail to submit and happen to own land, their fields and livestock are promptly set on fire.

"Under attack for weeks, the Copts of Manshat al-Mughlaqa have asked police and military security several times for protection, but personnel have done nothing, according to Watani. Thabet said it is rare for police or military security to intervene to protect Copts because the forces lack either the will or the capability to take on criminal gangs."

Lack of initiative by police, perpetrators' hatred for Christians and failure of the justice system to prosecute people attacking Christians all contribute to the extortion and allow it to continue, Thabet said. There is a perception that Christians can be attacked with impunity.

"If you hurt a Christian, no one is going to do anything to you," Thabet said. "No one is ever brought to justice in any sectarian violence against Christians."

Police on a street in Delga trying to restore order (Photo: Open Doors)
The Egyptian Army, joined with local police on Sept. 16, as they moved into Delga ostensibly to break up a group of Islamists that had set up a state within a state who claimed they had done so under the authority of Islam. In two days, the army brought the town back under control with sporadic fighting and arrests that lasted until Sept. 20.

What seemed to be an attempt to save the Copts, Thabet said, was actually meant to crush Islamic opposition to the military government that took power following a wave of national protests that led to the removal of then-President Mohamed Morsi. Weeks after the army cleared the streets, Islamists and criminal elements returned to Delga and villages across Minya Governorate to make money by attacking Christians, although to a lesser degree and in ways that were less of a threat to the national government than before.

"It's like groups of criminals were coming there for a job," Mina said.

Part of the difficulty in breaking up the groups is the way they are structured and how they go about committing their crimes. The extortion gangs started operating when Morsi was still president. Before the military removed him from office on July 3, the gangs usually forced Copts off land by "squatting" on their property and harassing and threatening them until they abandoned the lands or even their businesses, Ibrahim of Al-Kalema said.

President Morsi before his arrest
The Morsi regime did nothing to stop the seizures; in fact, most Coptic activists and journalists say that his rhetoric, which tended to be divisive, contributed to the atmosphere of impunity. But after Morsi was pushed out of power, the extortion gangs switched their approach to kidnapping and intimidation. Victims could be abducted in one village and held in another until the ransom was paid. Even if police did decide to get involved in stopping the extortion, they would be faced with a constantly moving target, Ibrahim said.

Thabet told Morning Star News that that regardless of the cost, the Christian community, international interests and the Egyptian government all have to do something to stop the extortion and kidnappings.

"We have a long history of sectarian violence," he said. "But we are in the 21st century now. There has to be a stop to this."

Every Day Is Thanksgiving Day In North Korea-By Order Of The State

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. (ANS) -- Thanksgiving is fast approaching-a day every year when Americans stop to give thanks.

North Korea (unlabeled graphic on Seoul USA's
news release).
But according to a news release from Seoul USA, in the country of North Korea, Thanksgiving to North Korea's "Eternal President" Kim Il Sung must be given at every meal. 

"The best wall on every house in North Korea must have well cared for photos of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il," said Seoul USA CEO Eric Foley speaking in the news release. "At every meal families look up at the picture and pray, thank you, Father Kim Il Sung, for this food." 

While most Americans view the Hermit Kingdom as an atheist nation, Foley said in reality, it is perhaps the most religious nation on earth because one hundred percent of its citizens are required to worship Kim Il Sung. North Korea is the world's only "necrocacy" - ruled forever by its deceased eternal president. 

"This is challenging to Christians who refuse to worship anyone other than God," said Foley.
He added, "Those seen bowing their heads in prayer are considered seditious citizens and are persecuted."

Seoul USA said overcoming this idolatry is the mo st pressing issue for the North Korean church. The way they've done this is to rely on four pillars: The 10 Commandments, The Lord's Prayer, The Lord's Supper, and The Apostles Creed. Each of these is a protection against idolatry, and helps them navigate through NK's state religion known as Juche.

"As Americans thank God for our blessings and prosperity this Thanksgiving, let's also consider our need to combat idolatry in our own lives," Foley said.

He added, "We can grow stronger in this overcoming faith by learning from the example of our North Korean brothers and sisters in Christ. Reliance on the four pillars of worship is the key."
For more information visit www.seoulusa.org 

New edict raises red flags in Egypt

(File photos courtesy World Watch Monitor)
Egypt (MNN) ― On Sunday, a new edict went into effect that forbids gatherings larger than 10 people without government permission.

It sounds like it could be a new religion law in Central Asia. It could be a story from the former Soviet Union. But this story comes from Egypt.

Voice of the Martyrs USA spokesman Todd Nettleton explains the new ban. "They're basically saying, 'If you want to have a protest, if you want to have a gathering, you need to come to a government office three days before that, and somebody in the government needs to sign off of you having that gathering." The law imposes hefty fines and prison terms for violators.

Like the religion laws in Central Asia, the purpose behind the law was to restore order. In this case, it was to put a lid on the violent protests plaguing Egypt. Nettleton observes, "I don't think the purpose is to close down churches, but if you go to a particular area of Egypt where the local officials are opposed to the church, they can now use this law and come against the church."

The trouble is that one of the points of the law targets gatherings at places of worship. Again, it's understandable when you come at it from the perspective of a government trying to quell the uprisings of the last two years, notes Nettleton. "A lot of the protests that have happened over the last few months have started at a mosque, and then they've gone out from the mosque. So I think that is why it specifically says that in the law. But, obviously, a church is a place of worship, too, so we don't know what that's going to mean for churches in Egypt."

Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak also tried to ban gatherings, but in the wake of his ouster in 2011, it was pushed aside.  The new ban is considered more restrictive, and rights groups are denouncing it already.
The law requires three-day prior notice for protests. Officials have the right to bar any protest or gathering considered a threat to public safety and order. Nettleton goes on to say that nobody knows what this means for churches preparing for the Advent and Christmas season. "Are they going to say if a church is established, if a church has officially documentation of their existence, then they're exempt from the law? Are they going to have to come one time and say, 'We gather for worship every week,' and the government signs off on it, or are they going to have to come every single week?"

Nettleton adds that throughout this three-year period of stress on the Church, new people are still turning to Christ. As the Church figures out its response to the new edict, he urges you to "pray for justice in the country, for the Christians there. We can pray for wisdom for them, and again we can pray for protection for our Christian brothers and sisters living in Muslim countries."

Ministry tackles unseen trauma in South Sudan.

(Image Yida Refugee Camp courtesy UNITAR.org)
Sudan (MNN) ― Ever hear the saying that goes, "You reap what you sow?"

Parts of Africa are experiencing that in an unbreakable vicious cycle of violence that has become a culture. South Sudan is no exception. The world's newest country, its birth didn't come quickly or peacefully.

After more than two decades of war, with two million dead and four million people displaced, literacy levels are low. And the war is not over for all. Hundreds more refugees are still arriving in the camps, and there are no schools. An entire nation has been traumatized, and the devastating effects of this generational trauma are sure to impede the stable and healthy recovery process of this nation.

But a ministry is part of trying to change that by sowing the seeds of peace through story-based trauma-healing workshops in South Sudan's refugee camps. The Seed Company, in partnership with the Bible Society in South Sudan and Samaritan's Purse, launched a trauma-recovery program.

Its emphasis on the recovery--from a physiological level rather than a psychological one--allows the program to be used across cultural boundaries.

There was an overwhelming response by the Sudanese people, and many had requested training in trauma awareness and a recovery methodology.

Mark Kordic with The Seed Company says, "When we've seen teenagers being forced to do unspeakable acts of violence, families separated, death and destruction and rape and other things occurring, our partners on the ground said, ‘We must offer hope for these families--especially the children.'"

That brought out a clear need, especially when the youngest survivors weren't doing well. Kordic asks, "How in the world can you process this when you're eight years old?"

Another challenge, he says, is, "How do we reach out to them in a language that they understand. The challenge is: there are 50 language groups in this refugee camp of 70,000 people."

The Seed Company started the first training in seven of the groups that have no Scriptures in their own language. "We'd love to reach out to a dozen more languages, and we can do that as people support these trauma-healing workshops. We'd love to reach more of the 70,000 people that are really suffering from unspeakable abuse."

The initial teams translated and memorized six Bible stories, five real-life stories, and six Bible verses which were set to music. In January, they began regular trauma-healing listening groups in the camp, where they told stories and led discussions about how God can heal pain.

As a result of this initial offering, plus a second training in the summer, Kordic says now "20 Christian congregations, amazingly, have been developed among seven of the 50 language groups as people respond to the stories from the Scripture in a language that they understand best."

Surviving war and war atrocities is huge. In hindsight, it's really the first step on a long road to recovery. Having a shoulder to cry on, so to speak, and someone who can offer hope makes a huge difference. "It involves song, it involves dance. It involves storytelling. And as folks go through the workshop experience, in which Scriptures are brought to life in their native language, heart language, it speaks to the way that they've always communicated."

In fact, as Christmas approaches, there's a clear difference in parts of the camp where Christ's name is known. Kordic describes the scene. "If you can think of the horizon of a refugee camp and stringing colorful cloth on clotheslines, it gives you a little glimpse of the change from a fear-based refugee experience to one that at least they can look forward to hope because Jesus has entered into their life."

There's so much more that can be done. So far, the trauma program is only available in seven languages. The Seed Company wants to expand that to cover all 50 language groups in the camps. Kordic acknowledges the scope of the project, but says everyone doing their own part will help it succeed. "There's never been a greater acceleration of the Great Commission than right now. Today. I would just encourage folks to consider joining the race to end Bible poverty."

Embracing Christ and tradition in Kyrgyzstan

(Photos courtesy Christian Aid Mission)
Kyrgyzstan (CAM/MNN) ― Kyrgyzstan is the first country in Central Asia to have a democratically-elected head of state. Unlike the rest of Central Asia, persecution of believers comes mainly from family, friends, and community. In rural areas especially, Muslim-background believers face enormous pressure to recant their new faith.

To be a traditional Kyrgyz practically equates with being Muslim. Identifying oneself as a Christian brings all sorts of challenges for new believers who experience misunderstanding, ridicule, and in some cases even abandonment by families who feel they have scorned their very heritage.

Nearly 90% of Kyrgyzstan's 5.5 million people consider themselves Muslim, according to Operation World. Most adhere to a form of traditional Islam that combines remnants of tribal folk practices with Sunni beliefs.

More militant forms of Islam, however, are perceived to be a threat to the country's secular government. To combat increased pressures from radical groups, Kyrgyzstan passed a law against extremism in 2005. Additional religious laws approved in 2009 tightened controls on all faiths but had an especially adverse effect on Christianity.

Proselytism, the distribution of religious literature, and private religious education were among the practices banned under the regulations. Most challenging was the mandate that churches and other religious groups have at least 200 adult citizen members in order to qualify for legal registration. The former law required only 10 members for registration.

Critics expressed concern at the time that the laws violated Kyrgyzstan's own constitution, which on paper upholds religious freedom. Fears persist that harsher laws will propel Kyrgyzstan down the same course as its Central Asia neighbors, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, where religious activities are highly restricted.

Despite cultural resistance and stiffening government regulations, GNM Mission has planted seeds of the Gospel in Kyrgyzstan for over 17 years. In 1995, GNM opened the first Bible school in Central Asia. Graduates have gone on to serve as full-time native missionaries or church leaders.

Gifts from Christian Aid Mission, your link to indigenous missions, help support the Bible school and evangelistic events. Three outdoor services, complete with music and dramatic presentations, attracted the curious as well as the faithful. As a result, more than 150 people received Jesus Christ into their hearts and 30 people joined home churches.

More than any other Central Asian people, the Kyrgyz cling to their traditional way of life. That poses both difficulties and opportunities for missionaries, who sometimes travel far into the mountains to reach isolated communities with the gospel.

In July, GNM sent a team of five workers to an impoverished village in the southern part of the country. There are few jobs and not much hope for the future for the area's young people. The missionaries sought to encourage residents with the good news of the Savior who will stand beside them in the midst of their suffering.

Pray that God would show believers how to be wise when sharing their faith with others. Ask God to comfort and lavish His love upon believers who face rejection, abuse, and isolation from their own families and friends.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Christian Convert's Fate Unknown in Iran's Karaj Prison

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

IRAN (ANS) -- Hossein Saketi Aramsari is an Iranian Christian who has been in custody since July 2013 in Central Detention House in Karaj.

According to a story by Mohabat Iranian Christian News Agency, Saketi's situation is currently unknown. He is currently being held in Ward 7 of Karaj Central Detention House where another prisoner of conscience, Behnam Irani, is also imprisoned.

Mohab News reported that human rights activists are saying Iranian Intelligence authorities arrested Saketi on July 23, in Golestan.

Saketi (known as Stephen by his friends), was transferred to Jajrom county jail, and then to the Intelligence Office in Bojnord, the capital of North Khorasan province.

After 15 days in solitary confinement, his case was submitted to the Revolutionary Court in Alborz county.

On Aug. 6, he was transferred to the Intelligence Office of Karaj, and held in solitary confinement in Ward 8 of Rajaei-Shahr prison until Oct. 26 2013. Ward 8 of the Rajaei-Shahr prison is managed by the Revolutionary Guards.

After his time in solitary confinement, he was transferred to the Central Detention House in Karaj.

He was later taken to Branch 6 o f the Revolutionary Court where Judge Mohammad-Yari officially charged him with doing evangelism.

While Christianity is increasing in Iran, especially in the past few years, Mohabat News said youth and family conversions have become a major concern for the Iranian security authorities and Islamic leaders.

Mohabat News said reports indicate that cases of those who have converted from Islam to Christianity has been processed faster in the last few months.

For more information visit www.mohabatnews.com

Facing another Thanksgiving without Her Imprisoned Husband, Naghmeh Abedini Relies On God's Strength

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

BOISE, IDAHO (ANS) -- Imprisoned Pastor Saeed Abedini's wife Naghmeh communicates his plight and the family's pain with such passion and poignancy that listeners are quickly transported into their world.
Naghmeh and Saeed Abedini in happier times

That's a reality that began when Saeed, 33, was suddenly detained in Iran for his faith. He had been in Iran in mid-2012, working on the administrative details for an orphanage he was planning in the city of Rasht. He was forced off a bus at the border of Turkey and Iran, his passport confiscated and placed under house arrest at his parent's home. The nightmare was about to begin.

On Jan. 27 2013, he was sentenced to eight years in prison, on charges of undermining national security because of his Christian faith.

Saeed was taken to Evin Prison, a facility for political prisoners, and recently transferred to Rajai Shahr Prison. He is now held in a ward for rapists and murderers, according to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which represents Naghmeh and her husband, who is now an American citizen.

In a recent telephone interview, 36-year-old Naghmeh, who lives in Boise, Idaho with their two children, answered a number of questions and began by sharing how God's strength is sustaining her in spite of high s and lows.

"I get a blow, and I crumble and I fall down, but giving up is not an option," she said. "My kids need me and Saeed is in a desperate place. I'm carried by God's grace and I couldn't function without Him."

However, Naghmeh added, "I'm an everyday mom and not a super hero."

House Raid and Imprisonment

Naghmeh recalled initially feeling, after initially learning that her husband was in some kind of trouble, that the situation would be resolved in a few days. She told me that she was "surprised, but not too worried."

The nightmare began on July 28, 2012, when Revolutionary Guards forced her husband off of a bus in Iran and put him under house arrest in the Tehran home of his parents. He was on his way visit his family and finalize the board members for an orphanage he was building in Iran.

But then things took a turn for the worse when, on September 26, 2012, five members of Iran's notorious Revolutionary Guard burst into Saeed's parents' house and took him away. Naghmeh learned the news from his parents, who still have nightmares about the raid. Along with Saeed, officials also took cell phones, computers and documents.

"That had to be one of the biggest shocks I had ever received," Naghmeh said. Not surprisingly, she couldn't sleep. It was a very long night.

Naghmeh wondered about the need for the raid, as well as the use of five people to carry it out. After all, she said, Saeed "was waiting-not in hiding."

It was a week before Saeed's family learned he'd been taken to the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran. While she was glad to learn where he was, she said this location was very hard for her to hear, as she told me that she had visited the facility as a child to see an uncle who was imprisoned and killed there.

"Everyone who was taken there never came out alive," Naghmeh said.

Telling the Children

Naghmeh didn't tell the couple's two children about Saeed's imprisonment until a few weeks after sh e found out where Saeed was being held.

"I put myself back together first," she explained.

Prior to telling their children, whenever she was working on the computer, Naghmeh said Rebekka, 7, and Jacob, 5, would keep coming over to her and ask to speak to their dad. They had been in frequent communication with Saeed by Skype while he was away. However, Naghmeh said she kept "putting them off".

Finally, things came to a head. Naghmeh said that with tears streaming down his face Jacob asked her, "'Doesn't daddy want to hear our voice anymore?'"

Not wanting them to doubt their dad's love, Naghmeh told him that while Saeed would like nothing more than to speak to them, but he was in prison and there and he had no access to a computers or Skype.

Both children had a lot of questions, and Naghmeh said they were all in tears when she told them that "bad guys" had taken their dad.

Naghmeh initially told Rebekka that her dad would be home by her seventh birthday, but added "All the promises I made (about he r dad's return) I couldn't keep."

Coping with Saeed's Absence

Rebekka and Jacob Abedini
Not surprisingly, Saeed's imprisonment has deeply affected Rebekka and Jacob and Naghmeh said their personalities have changed.

"They're traumatized. I don't see as much of the joy," Naghmeh said.

Rebekka has tantrums, Naghmeh said. She screams and yells, but wants to talk more about the situation than her brother. She wants her dad.

Jacob had been more reserved but recently said, "I would be the happiest boy ever if daddy came home for Christmas."

Who is Saeed?

Naghmeh said Saeed has become the face of the persecuted church. "He is a fighter who doesn't back down. He's not backing down in face of death, although it tortures him being separated from his family."

She added, "What sets him apart is his passion for what he believes in, even though it may cost him his life."

There are those people who say that knowing the unpredictable behavior of the Iranian government that Saeed should never have continued his visits to Iran, the land of his birth. Na ghmeh said he had to follow his passion to help Iranian orphans.

"I don't know if I could take away that passion," she continued. "That's what made me fall in love with him. I can't ask Saeed not to be true to himself. He saw the poverty and the kids out in the streets."


Naghmeh had a special request on her Facebook page (www.facebook.com/npanahi77?fref=ts&ref=br_tf). 

She wrote, "As Thanksgiving and Christmas is once again approaching with Saeed painfully missing from our midst, please join with the kids and I as we place empty settings for Saeed and the persecuted church to remember that they are in chains for Jesus as we enjoy our freedoms here."

She added, "Please speak out for Pastor Saeed and the persecuted church by leaving a place setting for him at your Thanksgiving dinner."

For more information about the plight face d by the Abedini family and how you can get involved, visit www.savesaeed.com

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Jihadists could end Christianity in Syria if given power, says nun

Catholic nun warns against deposing Assad until viable alternative appears

Monasteries like this one in Maaloula have been part of the fabric of Syria for centuries.
Monasteries like this one in Maaloula have been part of the fabric of Syria for centuries.
Hovic / Flickr / Creative Commons
An outspoken Catholic nun living in Syria has denied suggestions that she believes the toppling of President Bashar al-Assad would bring an end to Christianity in Syria.
Instead, Mother Agnes-Mariam says that could be the consequence if religious extremists were to seize on a power vacuum left by his deposition.
The Lebanese-born nun, who is Mother Superior of the monastery of St. James the Mutilated – the oldest monastery in the Qalamoun area of Syria – is part of the Syria Solidarity Movement and has recently finished a speaking tour in the US.
Now in the UK, Mother Agnes-Mariam told the BBC yesterday that supporting Assad is not her goal; rather, she said, it is to bring peace to Syria and to find a viable alternative to the current government before any attempts are made to overthrow the beleaguered dictator.
“It’s not about Assad; it’s about the Syrian population and the fate of a whole country,” she said. “If you have a tumour, you do not kill the patient; you have to bypass the problem to be able to give the good answer, and now the good answer is a peaceful process.
“It will be the end of the civilised world today in Syria, where the alternative is the fundamentalist and extremist jihadists that are throwing violence and terror everywhere.”
Mother Agnes-Mariam denied that she was working for President Assad, saying suggestions that she was were “deprived of any root in reality” and only seeking to undermine and discredit an “honest and fair work” to help Syrians.
She also thanked the British government and people for voting against military intervention in Syria, saying that this had “opened widely a door for peace”.
However, Mother Agnes-Mariam acknowledged that the greatest challenge facing Syria was the lack of a credible opposition.
“The big problem is that we are talking about toppling a government while we don’t have an alternative,” she said. “It’s good to look at the Syrian population and to look who is representing effectively on the ground the Syrian population.”
Mother Agnes-Mariam also reinforced her controversial belief that videos purportedly showing chemical weapons attacks in Damascus on August 21 were fabricated.
“I am sure 100 per cent,” she said. “I have new evidences through observation and metadata.”
Mother Agnes-Mariam denied accusations that in order to orchestrate the evacuation of several thousand families from Damascus, she had agreed to hand over 600 people to government forces.
“[The accusation] is false, it’s false,” she said. “We have been working with the families, they asked us for evacuation. I entered on danger of my life to talk with the military council; there was a battle inside, we were going to be killed and then to be abducted. Finally a rebel leader protected us because he wanted his family to go out and that’s how we could evacuate 7,000 families. Nobody was imprisoned; on the contrary they were treated with the best standards.”


Religious Freedom Advocate Flees Sudan New constitution considered as Sharia looms

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN (ANS) -- Morning Star News (http://morningstarnews.org), is reporting that a Christian lawyer helping to promote religious freedom in Sudan has fled the country after authorities threatened to kill him if he failed to report to them every day, his attorney said.
A Sharia flogging in Khartoum (Photo Newscom/Photoshot)

As Sudan prepares to draft a new constitution, personnel from Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) in Khartoum this year questioned the lawyer, Nahmia Ibrahim Omer Shaloka, about conducting training on religious freedom and reconciliation in Sudan, he told Morning Star News.

"After security officials arrested him at his home in Khartoum on May 27 and seized his documents, laptop and Internet modem, they interrogated him for eight hours, he said," reported the Sudan Correspondent for Morning Star News.

"While in custody, they interrogated me about many things, including workshops I conducted on freedom of religion in Sudan," Shaloka said.

If he failed to report to their office on a daily basis, the NISS officials threatened to kill him, he said. Later in the year, he managed to flee to another country, where the now destitute Christian from the Nuba Mountains has few options but feels that his life is less in jeopardy.

"I knew it would be bad if I had returned back to them," Shaloka said.
As a rights worker for a Christian organization, Shaloka had been collaborating with other civil society groups urging Sudan to include religious freedom provisions in the constitution to replace the Interim National Constitution that grew out of the 2005 peace agreement with southern Sudan.

Sudan flag (The World Factbook)
"The interim constitution upholds sharia (Islamic law) as a source of legislation, and the laws and policies of the government favor Islam, according to the U.S. Department of State," added the story. "If Sharia is further entrenched in the Sudanese constitution, Christians fear they and people of other faiths will lose all religious and many other civil rights.

"How and when the new constitution will be formulated is a matter of deep uncertainty.

"Christian institutions formerly owned by or associated with southern Sudanese Christians have already faced months of seizure or destruction at the hands of authorities influenced by Islamist elements. Among them is a Catholic school that authorities confiscated on the claim that its ownership can be traced to southern Sudanese who lost citizenship rights following the secession of South Sudan on July 9, 2011."

Authorities from Khartoum's Karary District - north of Omdurman District, where the church is located - first forcefully entered Comboni School more than a year ago, confiscating the building on Aug. 5, 2012 on the claim that it belonged to South Sudanese who were no longer citizens.

"We were so surprised to learn that some people are determined to seize the school and make many students go without school," said a school official.

Morning Star News went on to say that the school produced documents showing it belonged not to South Sudanese but to the Khartoum Diocese of the Catholic Church and made several appeals to Khartoum state officials and the Court of Appeal. That court ruled on March 26, however, that the school belonged to South Sudanese.

The Khartoum state minister of education subsequently determined that the school was owned by the Catholic Church, not South Sudanese, and school officials on May 14 instructed the Karary District officials to turn the property over to them. The Karary officials refused based on the court's refusal to acknowledge ownership by the Catholic Church.

"We would like to assert that the school belongs to the Catholic Church," the school official said.

Anti-Christians are coming down hard

India (GFA) ― One Gospel for Asia Bridge of Hope center was closed November 17 after extremists forced the landlord to stop renting space to the program. They also threatened to kill staff members if they stay in the area.

On November 16, the center’s staff held a medical camp for the students, followed by other activities. At around 4:30 p.m., a group of more than 300 people from a nearby village came to the Bridge of Hope center and told the staff to leave the cluster of local villages as soon as possible.

“We will not allow any Christian activity in our village, even if it is social work,” they said, while others shouted anti-Christian slogans and verbally abused the staff.

The staff talked with the protestors for nearly an hour, explaining the activities of the center and how they help impoverished children, but the crowd was unmoved. They called the landlord of the house and threatened to banish him from the village if he continued to allow the program to operate in his building.

At the homeowner’s request, the staff brought all the center’s supplies to a local believer’s house. The following afternoon, however, more anti-Christian groups arrived in the village, many bearing weapons.

They told the staff to leave the area, saying, “We will not allow any work of Christians in this area. If you do not obey, we will take your lives.”

Upper caste groups, who are a minority in India, often oppose the education of lower caste and Dalit (“Untouchable”) children. However, this is the first time such a severe campaign has been mounted against a Bridge of Hope center, marking an increase in persecution.

The center’s closing means a loss of free education, food, and medical care to more than 100 local children, many of whom come from Dalit backgrounds and will be unable to receive an education apart from the Bridge of Hope program.

"It breaks our heart to see adults who should be the protectors of these children become the roadblocks to their future and hope of a better life," said K.P. Yohannan, the founder and international director of Gospel for Asia.

The Bridge of Hope staff and local church ask for the prayers of fellow believers as they determine how to serve the community at this time.

"We will do all we can to ensure that these children will continue to have the future they deserve," Yohannan said.

Pray for the protection of the Bridge of Hope staff, local believers, and everyone in the area who stands in support of the Bridge of Hope. Pray for wisdom as GFA staff determines its response to the anti-Christians’ demands. Pray for open eyes and softened hearts in the people who are making threats against believers.

‘White Widow’ key suspect in Kenyan pastors' murders

Samantha Lewthwaite also wanted for execution of two radical Muslim clerics

Fort Jesus, Mombasa.
Fort Jesus, Mombasa.
Ricky Thakrar / Flickr / Creative Commons
The widow of one of the bombers on the London Tube in July 2005, 29-year-old Samantha Lewthwaite, has been named in connection with the murders of two Kenyan pastors.
Lewthwaite is wanted for seven murders in Kenya altogether, including the recent execution of two radical Muslim clerics, and others. She was previously linked with the Nairobi Westgate bombings, though no charges were brought.
The Kenyan police chief of the regional coastal area (including Kenya’s second city, Mombasa), Aggrey Adoli, told Kenyan media that the security services have Lewthwaite (the daughter of a former British soldier, and colloquially known as the ‘White Widow’) as the top suspect in thedeaths of Pastors Charles Mathole and Ibrahim Kithaka recently in Mombasa.
Mathole was a leader of Mombasa Redeemed Gospel Church in Mtopanga and Kithaka a leader of East African Pentecostal Churches in Kilifi.
The murder of the pastors shook Christians in Mombasa, with the Mombasa Church Forum calling on the government to protect churches. One church leader called for the government to issue them with guns, saying to the police to either protect the Christians or give them the means to do it themselves. 
There is widespread criticism against the police for their inability to protect Christians in the coastal regions.
“Our many churches are not under any protection. They do not have walls or gates. The government should issue AK-47 rifles to every church so that we can stop them from being burnt, our property from being looted and our pastors and Christians from being killed,” said Lambert Mbela, a pastor at Mathole’s church, during his funeral.
Christians from different churches said that such a move would contradict Biblical teachings but argued that it showed the frustrations of the increasing level of insecurity.
“I don’t think arming Kenyan [clerics] will ensure security. However, the government should see this as the writing on the wall. Kenyans are getting tired of the continuing insecurity,” said the Rev. Peter Karanja, the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya, at a news conference in Limuru, near Nairobi.
Kenya’s top Muslim leader also added his voice to halt the calls to arm pastors: “It is a good idea, but not all clerics should get the guns. Some are rogue clerics and may pose more danger to other religious leaders,” said Sheikh Juma Ngao, Chairman of the Kenya Muslim National Advisory Council.
The ‘White Widow’ has also been named as the key suspect in the executions of two radical Muslim clerics, Aboud Rogo Mohammed and his successor, Sheik Ibrahim Rogo, after reportedly falling out with them.
The murder of the two radical clerics had led to the worst violent protests Mombasa has seen. Muslim youths torched a Salvation Army church and also caused destruction elsewhere.
Lewthwaite is said to have ordered the murder of Mathole, 41, after she became paranoid over his contact with Kenyan intelligence officials. Mathole’s widow is reported to have told the Star newspaper that her husband had received death threats weeks before he was killed, after allegedly being approached by Kenyan Security Services. It is believed they wanted him to inform them if any young Muslim men had approached him for help to avoid being recruited by Al-Shabaab.
UK newspapers report that Lewthwaite sought larger control of Al-Shabaab, thereby angering the Al-Shabaab elders.
Police boss Aggrey Adoli said: “She is without a doubt an incredible threat to national and international security. We are working round the clock to bring her in, to stop her causing more carnage.”
Lewthwaite is apparently not working alone. Security Services say she has seven disciples: a Tanzanian preacher, a Somalian, a Ugandan and three Kenyans. They are also on the radar of security services.

Pastor Saeed Abedini Alive But Still Held in Deadly Iranian Prison as Iranian Family Allowed Visitation

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

WASHINGTON D.C . (ANS) -- For the first time since he was abruptly transferred from Evin Prison to Rajai Shahr Prison earlier this month, American Pastor Saeed Abedini was allowed visitation with his Iranian family.
Pastor Saeed Abedini with his wife Naghmeh
and their children.
According to a story by Jordan Sekulow for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), this is a positive sign that international pressure continues to work to keep Abedini alive.

Abedini's Iranian family has, for the past two weeks since his transfer, been prevented from visiting him - something they had previously been permitted to do once a week during his imprisonment in Evin Prison.

The ACLJ said it is also the first physical confirmation of Abedini's condition and life since his transfer to the brutal prison.

Abedini remains in the violent criminal ward - Ward 3 - of Rajai Shahr, sharing a three meter by three meter cell with other prisoners. This ward of the deadly prison holds some of the worst criminals in Iran - murderers and rapists.

International human rights organizations have reported that prisoner on prisoner violence, including murder, is routine at Rajai Shahr Prison.

Abedini's situation remains serious. However, the ACLJ said it's encouraged that his Iranian family was allowed vis itation - and that his Iranian family was able to see him face-to-face and communicate with him.

Abedini has yet to receive the medication he has been prescribed for internal injuries suffered at the hands of his captors.

The ACLJ said, "We believe that prayer and strong international pressure - the outcry of hundreds of thousands of people around the world - are keeping Pastor Saeed alive."

Last week the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution calling for the release of this U.S. citizen, and key members of the European Parliament wrote a letter raising Abedini's case.

A similar resolution is pending in the U.S. House of Representatives. The House Foreign Affairs Committee has announced that it will take up the resolution (H. Res. 147) this Wednesday. These statements, resolutions, and letters from U.S. and international government leaders are key to Abedini's case.

The ACLJ said, "We must not allow him to be forgotten. We must not allow him to disappear.

We continue to urge President Obama - who has previously directly spoken out about Pastor Saeed's case - and the U.S. State Department to reengage this issue at the highest levels. As international negotiations continue with Iran regarding its nuclear program, Pastor Saeed's freedom must be a chief concern. Human rights and specifically religious freedom - the first freedom - is a critical step forward for any nation on the world stage."
For more information visit www.BeHeardProject.com.

Ban Ki-moon warns Central African Republic ‘spiralling into anarchy’

UN Secretary General expresses alarm about increasing retaliatory attacks between Muslim and Christian groups

Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, pictured in 2012.
Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, pictured in 2012.
Africa Renewal / Flickr / Creative Commons
The UN Secretary General Ban-Ki moon said on Monday (Nov. 18) that anarchy in the Central African Republic risks spiralling further out of control, and could need up to 9,000 peacekeepers.
In a report Ki-moon commissioned, due to be debated at the UN on Nov. 25, his adviser expresses alarm about increasing retaliatory attacks between Muslim and Christian groups. The report calls on the UN Security Council to act urgently on the crisis.
The Security Council is due to meet on Nov. 25 at France’s request, to decide whether to create a UN peacekeeping force for the area. Ki-moon said on Monday the UN is preparing to deploy peacekeepers to CAR eventually, but that the African Union (AU) and Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) first want a chance to try to combat the crisis.
The UN and France have warned that the number of African peacekeepers intended to be deployed under ECCAS and the AU by 2014 will not be enough to curb the spiral of violence in the country. The latest report offers the option of a UN peacekeeping force of between 6,000 and 9,000 troops, plus 1,700 police.
Ki-moon stressed the importance of implementing strategies which will see that the focus on security and development coincides. “Today we are sounding the alarm for immediate, decisive action to ensure that the crisis is addressed in all its dimensions – security, political, human rights and humanitarian,” he said.
Last Wednesday, rebels from the Islamist Séléka group opened fire on civilians protesting the kidnapping of a soldier, killing at least three and injuring several others. ECCAS peacekeepers responded but retreated when the rebels fired at them. On Nov. 16 ex-rebels also shot dead Judge Modeste Martineau Bria, the Director of Judicial Services, and his assistant. “Ex-Séléka members... sped up to them on a motorbike and opened fire,” a police officer said. The motive for the murder is unknown.
The UN has called on the Transitional Government to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Ki-moon also discussed the escalating religious tensions between Muslims and Christians in the CAR. These tensions are being exploited by the ex-Séléka coalition.
Red Cross workers bury a corpse near Bossangoa.
Red Cross workers bury a corpse near Bossangoa.
World Watch Monitor
Since the Séléka coup in March, the country has descended into anarchy. Warlords and militia continue to loot, rape and murder. After facing months of victimisation, the mostly Christian and Animist local population started forming self-defence groups in September to counter the marauding Séléka. These self-defence groups have now attacked Muslims, raising fears of inter-faith genocide, inviting brutal reprisals from Séléka.
The Séléka rebel alliance led by Michel Djotodia toppled the government of President Francois Bozizé in a coup in March. The rebels recruited as many as 20,000 mercenaries from Chad and Sudan. Their campaign to conquer Bangui was characterised by horrific violence directed at the mostly Christian population.
After the fall of Bangui and after Djotodia became President of the Transitional Government, the coalition lost control over the Séléka soldiers. Séléka was disbanded by Djotodia in September, but warlords and militia continue to loot, rape and murder Christians, in particular, while sparing Muslim villages.
The Africa Director of Open Doors, which is partnering with the main CAR Church leaders and denominations to both bring in aid and raise global awareness, said: “We remain concerned over ECCAS and the AU’s reluctance to ask for help from the UN in restoring order to CAR. We support the Church in CAR in asking for the deployment of at least 10,000 troops under the authority of the UN. We call on the UN Security Council members to vote in favour of this deployment, and thus prevent the genocidal interfaith war Christian leaders have warned the international community about in their Bangui Declaration.”
Meanwhile, the situation in the CAR was the subject of an hour’s debate in the UK’s House of Lords.
The founder of the All Parliamentary Group on International Freedom of Religion or Belief, Baroness Elizabeth Berridge, introduced the debate. Baroness Kinnock, a former Minister for Africa and the UN, quoted Adama Dieng, UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide, who, she said, after a recent visit to the CAR, “did indeed speak of the possibility of genocide, in what he described as a ‘tinderbox’ and a country where ‘the scale of suffering is among the worst in the world’, and where a daunting host of problems impede delivery of humanitarian assistance”.