Sunday, March 31, 2013

Christian Persecution Continues to Grow Worldwide

I will never cease to pray for my brethren in Christ who are being persecuted for the Risen Lord.

3/28/2013 United States (Chicago Sun-Times) - Nearly a third of the world’s population celebrates Good Friday and Easter this weekend, testimony to the influence of a religion that is a foundational pillar of Western civilization and the advancement of human rights. Yet, the observance of the faithful is shadowed by the reality that Christians are persecuted in a third of the nations of the world and are literally running for their lives from parts of the Middle East where the faith originated.

At least 100 million Christians in 65 countries suffer persecution, according to Open Doors USA, a non-denominational organization supporting oppressed Christians. That persecution can come from terrorism, as is the case with the so-called “Arab spring” that unleashed killings, assaults and arson against Coptic Christians in Egypt. Civil war in Syria forced tens of thousands of Christians to flee the country as violence and abductions targeted their community, Open Doors reports. The chaos of the worst years of the Iraqi war resulted in the number of churches falling to 57 today from more than 300 in 2003, according to the MidEast Christian News service.

Or oppression can originate with governments. North Korea outlaws Christianity and punishes Christians with imprisonment in labor camps or even death, reports Open Doors. Saudi Arabia decrees death for conversion to Christianity. Pakistan is notorious for directing draconian blasphemy laws against Christians.

We know of the widespread oppression thanks to the work of Open Doors and other organizations and individuals alarmed by the growth of bigotry against Christians.
nternational Christian Concern operates the website to document assaults on Christians around the world. Recent postings report on discriminatory building regulations and forced church closures in Indonesia; mob violence by Buddhist nationalists against Christians, and Muslims, in Sri Lanka, and Sudan’s air strikes killing Christian civilians in the Nuba Mountains region(Source).

Christians Losing Hope in Egypt

My Egyptian brethren should remember the resurrection so they do not lose hope at all.

3/31/2013 Egypt (Global Post) - Down the narrow warrens of the gritty neighborhood of Shoubra, past the bakeries and butcher shops adorned with pictures of the new Coptic pope and ancient martyrs and saints, the Church of the Virgin Mary opened its doors for Mass. A congregation of mostly working class Cairenes filed into the pews at 7 a.m. on a recent Sunday morning. The women with their cross necklaces and small linen veils took seats on the right. The men, with their small dark blue tattoos of the Coptic cross on their wrists just at the edge of their shirt cuff, slid into the left side.
A wan sun shone through stained glass and reflected on the iconography paintings that tell the 2,000-year history of the Coptic Church. One pictured the Holy Family traveling by donkey along the Nile.

A series of icons featured the evangelist St. Mark and the martyrs St. Mina and St. George slaying serpents, the biblical symbol of courage against evil. The priests, dressed in the traditional white Coptic robes, emerged from the sacristy amid a billowing gray cloud of incense. Prayers were chanted for the martyrs of a 4th century attack by Berbers from North Africa on the ancient monastery of Wadi Natrun. Forty-nine were killed then and their names were read.

The Coptic Church has always revered its martyrs. The history starts with the revered St. Mark the Evangelist who “received the crown of martyrdom” in Alexandria in 68 A.D. after being hunted down by a mob of Roman pagans on Easter. The Coptic calendar itself begins with the “year of martyrdom” in 303 A.D. when decades of Roman brutality to Copts reached a deadly crescendo. Whether it was North African brigands ransacking their monasteries in the 7th and 8th centuries or Islamic fundamentalists attacking churches in the 1990s and right up until 18 months ago when the Egyptian army killed 29 Copts who dared to protest over a church burning, fear is part of what it is to be an Egyptian Copt.

But many young Copts were proud to take part in the early stages of the demonstrations in Tahrir Square and around Egypt that toppled the brutal regime of Hosni Mubarak.Then, within months of the popular uprising and the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Copts realized that they were as vulnerable as ever in a predominantly Muslim country where Islamic fundamentalist movements were on the rise. The newly elected Coptic Pope Tawadros II has spoken out forcefully against the Islamists.

And since then there have been church burnings and a spate of murders. The number of attacks is not as high as it was in the mid-1990s when Egyptian Islamic fundamentalists targeted Christians, but Coptic leaders say a palpable wave of fear is now more intense than anyone can seem to remember.
And the Mass on this Sunday carried a passage in the gospel that has given Copts in particular solace and courage from one century to the next.

“Be not afraid. That was the message today,” said Mina Tamer, the Coptic priest who is referred to here in Arabic as “Abouna Mina,” of Father Mina. Abouna Mina added, “Thank God the Lord confided to us that we should not be afraid. Everyday people come to us with complaints. It is not easy. People want to leave to escape. They are fearful. But we tell them what the Lord has said, ‘Be not afraid.’”

“We understand that they want to emigrate, but we tell them our life is here. Our faith is here,” said Abouna Mina, who stroked a long gray beard as he talked and looked up over reading glasses in a small office just after the Sunday service where he was recording birth certificates, marriage licenses and death certificates.

“We have a lot more of these,” he said, pointing to the column recording deaths and then moving his finger to the ledger for births, adding, “and a lot less of these.”

]His office overlooked a small courtyard where young people gathered in loosely tied knots and families huddled together in circles. They were lingering, buying the sweet rolls for sale and reviewing religious books laid out at another table. The courtyard of the church is set back behind a wrought-iron gate, protected and separated form the bustling streets of this poor corner of Cairo where Muslims have often lived peacefully with Christians, but where religious tension have also periodically flared into violence(Read More).

Friday, March 29, 2013

ChinaAid Provides Detailed Explanation of Report on Persecution in China


03/24/2013 China (ChinaAid) - ChinaAid's 2012 annual report on persecution of churches and Christians in China has sparked an online dialogue, with reactions ranging from support to doubts and even rejection. On Monday Feb. 25, Christianity Today ran two pieces by two experts on the church in China under the headline "China Isn't Trying to Wipe Out Christianity."

In response, ChinaAid wishes to point out first that those who question and doubt our 2012 annual report appear to have overlooked this key point: "In 2012, Christians and churches in China experienced a serious comprehensive escalation of government persecution. In comparing the total number of persecution cases, the number of people persecuted, the number taken into custody, the number sentenced, the number of abuse cases and the number of people abused with the same figures for 2011, the total of all six categories rose 13.1% over the previous year..." The report also lists "the Main Characteristics of and Reason Behind 2012 Persecution: To Eradicate House Churches."

The first CT piece, "China's Actions Are Not About Christianity," was written by Brent Fulton, president of ChinaSource and the editor of ChinaSource Quarterly. His basic point was, "On their face these numbers appear to be cause for serious alarm, and the China Aid report has in fact spawned headlines decrying the beginning of the end of the house church in China. However, upon closer examination these statistics do not support China Aid's assertion of a nationwide government-sponsored campaign against Christianity in China.

The problem here is three-fold.
First, the problem of persecution is indeed serious, and ChinaAid's Christian position is that the persecution of any church, not to mention that of thousands of Christians and their families, should always be considered serious. Incidentally, as Mr. Fulton correctly noted, it was news reports about our report that were "decrying the beginning of the end of the house church in China." We wish to emphasize that it is not ChinaAid's belief that this is "the beginning of the end of the house church in China" because we simply do not think that the Communist's state machinery can ever succeed in eradicating China's house churches: house churches have grown and spread to such an extent that no group is strong enough to contend with it. Just as happened with the persecution of the early Roman Church as well as the Communist Party's persecution of the church in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, Chinese government persecution will also fail.

Second, the conclusions in our report are supported by our investigations and data, and they show that the persecution in 2011 and into 2012 has been characterized by thorough investigations of house churches and eradication of those churches for which the government has set up files; this is all part of Phases 1 & 2 of the government's ten-year plan to eradicate house churches.

Third, the cases cited in the annual report come from all over China and are just the tip of the iceberg, but they have representative value. Mr. Fulton notes that "the China Aid report mentions only two cases involving Beijing house churches for the entire year." But if he thinks that the two persecution cases we listed for Beijing were the only two cases of persecution in the Chinese capital in all of 2012, he clearly does not understand the persecution situation that Beijing house churches face.

It's hard to imagine that anyone with a basic understanding of China's house churches would think that only two cases of house church persecution occurred in Beijing for the whole of 2012(Source).

Sudan Continues to Bomb Christians Living in the Nuba Mountains

If anyone thought that Sudan becoming two countries would solve things this article proves otherwise.

3/28/2013 Sudan (Morning Star News) - The Sudanese government’s bombing of predominantly Christian, ethnic Nuba civilians in South Kordofan state has taken more lives the first three months of this year – possibly including Muslims, sources said. Two civilians were killed and 12 seriously wounded on March 19 when a Sudan government Antonov airplane dropped bombs on them in the Hadra area, local sources told Morning Star News. The identities and religion of those killed and wounded were not available, but there are some Muslim Nuba people in the area, they said.

The government’s Russian-made Antonov airplanes dropped bombs that killed six Christians on Jan. 9 and destroyed a church building on March 11, sources said. Since South Sudan split from Sudan in a 2011 referendum, Nuba people in Sudan’s South Kordofan state believe the government’s goal of quashing Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N) rebels is also meant to rid the area of non-Arabs and Christianity.

The March 11 bombing in the Angolo area reduced the Evangelical Church building to ashes, sources said. A store attached to the church building was also destroyed, but no injuries were reported.
“The bombardment took place while believers were away from church that day,” a Christian leader from the area said by phone.

In Dabi, one of the Jan. 9 bombs hit as Christians were holding a worship service in a home, area sources said; three of those present were killed, but only one, Simon Juma, was identified. Another bomb from the same plane fell near the house of a member of the Sudanese Church of Christ, Krna Tutu, instantly killing a mother and her two sons, an area Christian leader said.

Online news portal Nuba Reports, run by aid worker Ryan Boyette, who remained in South Kordofan after his Christian humanitarian organization was forced to evacuate after military conflict escalated in 2011, reported that Sudan dropped eight bombs on Dabi on Jan. 9, the town’s market day, killing 58-year-old Abdu Jadaih and wounding seven others, including a 68-year-old woman, Nadia Arna, whose leg was severed by shrapnel.

“These bombardments are major sources of fear among the people in South Kordofan,” a church leader who recently returned from the region told Morning Star News. Bombings in February destroyed cattle and several homes and injured at least two people, and previously unknown attacks on Christmas Day have also come to light. A source who recently returned from the region said one bomb hit the home of Ayoub Kodi, an evangelist in the Koda area, injuring him. Also on Dec. 25, an Antonov bomber destroyed the house of Basama Kodi of the Episcopal Church of Sudan in the area.
Since military conflict began in June 2011, the Sudanese military has bombed Nuba churches, schools and farms, with most civilian deaths taking place where witnesses reportedly told Human Rights Watch there was no evident military target or rebel soldier.

Thousands of civilians have reportedly taken refuge in Nuba Mountain caves in South Kordofan, which borders South Sudan. The Nuba people have longstanding complaints against Khartoum – including neglect, oppression and forced conversions to Islam in a 1990s jihad – but as Sudanese citizens on the northern side of the border, they were never given the option of secession in the 2005 peace pact between northern and southern Sudan.

The SPLA-N rebels in the Nuba Mountains were formerly involved with the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) forces fighting Khartoum before the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The SPLA’s political arm, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), now governs South Sudan, and a border conflict has kept the two Sudans on the verge of another full-scale war since June 2011. The growing rebel movement in the Nuba Mountains has sparked tensions, and Sudan reportedly bombed civilians in the South Sudan state of North Bahr El Ghazal on Nov. 20-22, killing seven(Keep Reading).

Innocent Christians Are the Real Victims of Boko Haram’s Violence in Northern Nigeria

3/29/2013 Nigeria (Canada Free Press) - At least twenty people were killed on March 18th by a series of bombings targeting buses in a predominantly Christian neighborhood of Nigeria’s northern city of Kano. A rescue official on the scene reported: “I saw three buses on fire. One of them was fully loaded with passengers waiting to leave the station at the time of the blasts.” While officials suspect the series of explosions were likely initiated by suicide bombers, investigators are still collecting evidence to confirm that theory.

As the bombings took place in a predominantly Christian area of Kano, officials suspect that Christians were most likely being targeted by the attacks. Sadly, too many innocent victims in northern Nigeria have either been killed or injured by Boko Haram’s heinous acts of violence. The official death toll is expected to rise as security officials continue to examine the scene of the most recent bombing. For other reports on Nigeria, go to the Nigeria Country Report.

Pray that these believers in Nigeria will find refuge in the Lord and not be overcome by fear (Psalm 46). May they follow Christ’s example in both their reaction to this unwarranted violence and their attitude toward the perpetrators (1 Peter 2:21-23). Also pray that the Lord’s comforting presence and promised ‘peace that surpasses all understanding’ be experienced by the families of the victims(Source).

Persecution of Christian in Egypt Continues to Rise to Unprecedented Levels


3/28/2013 Egypt (Amnesty International) - A rise in tensions between religious communities in the town of Wasta, about one hundred kilometres south of Cairo, in recent weeks highlights the failure of the Egyptian authorities to protect Egypt’s Coptic Christians, the largest religious minority in the country.

Tensions were sparked in February when a local Muslim young woman was reported “missing” and members of her family and local Salafis – Sunni Muslims who advocate a return to what they consider to be Islam's fundamental principles as practiced by the first Muslims – blamed the Mar-Girgis Church, claiming they had influenced the woman to convert to Christianity – an allegation the Church denies.

People in the town went out on the streets calling for the return of the woman or the departure of the Coptic Christian community from Wasta. In some of the protests, shouts of “let the Christian die from fear”, “today your sister, tomorrow your wife” and “she returns or they (Coptic Christians) leave” were heard.

Local residents told Amnesty International that leaflets are being distributed at the market, the public transport rank, and outside stores owned by Christians highlighting Muslims’ religious duty to stand-up against the woman’s alleged disappearance.

Discrimination and violence
According to local residents, violence escalated further between 19 and 25 March, when groups of men believed to be Salafis and their supporters forced all Christian stores and other businesses to close. They then patrolled the area to ensure they stayed shut and became violent with anyone who resisted.

A restaurant owner told Amnesty International that on 20 March, at around 6pm, some 15 men carrying sticks entered his restaurant whilst clients were inside, ordering its closure. Larger groups of men waited outside, while others entered other Christian businesses on the street also ordering they shut.

Local residents said security forces failed to intervene and that, in most cases, police stations refused to register complaints. One resident told Amnesty International that the head of the Security Directorate and the head of the General Security Investigations told him that filing complaints would only serve to ignite tensions further, advising him to pursue the reconciliation route.
As days progressed, the situation deteriorated.

On 25 March, after evening prayers, a large group of Muslim men walked to the Mar-Girgis Church and threw stones and Molotov cocktails inside the building. Some of the church employees who were there at the time managed to contain the fire.

Members of the security forces arrived at the scene shortly after and managed to halt the violence.
That night, the car of a local priest Father Shenouda Sabry was set on fire while parked outside his home. Other cars parked near-by were left untouched. However, according to information available, no arrests have been made and no investigation established to find out who was responsible.

“Coptic Christians across Egypt face discrimination in law and practice and have been victims of regular sectarian attacks while authorities systematically look the other way,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International. Later on 25 March, Coptic Christian and Muslim elders held a “reconciliation meeting”.

It was agreed that businesses run by Coptic Christians could reopen save Fridays.
However, Coptic Christians in Wasta were also warned that if the “missing” woman did not return by 24 April, they will face dire consequences(Source).

Christians in Pakistan Won’t Allow Persecution to Stop Them from Celebrating Easter

  I praise God for their courage. We need more examples of that these days.  

3/29/2013 Pakistan (ICN) - Fear and violence will not prevent Christians of Pakistan to celebrate with great devotion, and massive presence, Easter. Mgr Joseph Coutts, Archbishop of Lahore and President of the Episcopal Conference, said: "At Easter, our churches will be packed. The faith of the faithful is alive and strong: violence or attacks, such as that of Joseph Colony in Lahore, have the effect of strengthening it even more."

Archbishop Coutts is convinced that Christians in Pakistan will continue to give a strong testimony: "Let us not lose hope, we know that the Lord is with us and the faithful themselves, even in difficult moments, encourage all priests: the Catholic laity in Pakistan is growing."
The incident of Joseph Colony, where 178 homes of the faithful were burned by a Muslim mob, for an alleged blasphemy case, has not discouraged the faithful in Lahore.

Fr. Bonnie Mendes told Fides: "the atmosphere, despite the tragic violence, is of great optimism and there is a will to rebuild or repair their homes. The reconstruction is being carried out very quickly, people are going back to their homes, the provincial government gave compensation and in a few days, working day and night, more than 30 families have already rebuilt their homes. Caritas is also helping the homeless a lot (Source).

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Two Christian Women Detained For Distributing Gospel Tracts in China

(Bazhou, Xinjiang–March 27, 2013) Two Christian women who had printed and were distributing Gospel tracts in the far western region of Xinjiang were held under administrative detention for 10 days and have hired a lawyer to seek a review of their case, ChinaAid has learned.

Wang Yuxia and Zhang Xiaocun were released from their 10 days of administrative detention on March 8 and have retained a rights defense lawyer and have applied for an administrative review of their case in an effort to protect their right to religious freedom in accordance with the law.

The two women, who are passionate about evangelization, had printed up a large number of tracts about the history of Christianity, the Christian faith and the benefits to society of believing in Christianity, and were distributing them in a law-abiding manner on Feb. 25 in the town of Qixing (Seven Stars), the village of Naimudong, in the Group Two area when they were taken into custody by officers from the Qixing police station at about 3 p.m.  They were sentenced to administrative detention the same day.

While they were in detention, the family members of the two women received "Notification to Detainee's Family Members," and when they were released, the two women received their "Administrative Penalty Decision" and their "Statement of Release from Detention."  The two women have now, with the help of their lawyer, drafted an "Application for Administrative Reconsideration" in compliance with the legal procedure for a review(Source). 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Hypocrisy of Muslim Discrimination against Christians in Pakistan


3/14/2013 Pakistan (Pakistan Today) - Two hundred houses were looted and burnt – Bibles were burnt to ash and crosses put to flame – by a mob of over 2,000 Muslims at Joseph Colony, Badami Bagh in Lahore. At the heart of it was a drunken exchange of abuses between two men: a Muslim and a Christian. Somehow, after one day of silence, the exchange was reported to have involved certain allegedly ‘blasphemous’ remarks against the Prophet (PBUH). Sunni Tehreek activists entered the fray to act as ‘witnesses’ to the apparent quarrel in the Christian’s bilSourceliards shop.

First: the accused’s father was arrested under mob pressure last Friday, then the accused turned himself in. However, the climate was reported to have been amplified by the entry of certain external actors and police officials asked the over 200 Christian families in Joseph Colony to leave. They did. The next morning, it was as if police had invited the mob to ransack, loot and burn Joseph Colony as they stood and watched. Media got a full out view of the mob attack. And slowly but surely viewers began to react and condemn the incident – but while confined to drawing rooms. The homes that were burnt were not ours.

We would call the violence: “outrageous”, “madness”, “shameful” but it would not force us to get out of our homes – or even question the everyday practices which cause such an event. Surely, the daily discrimination against Christians, labelling of them as ‘untouchables’ – let alone questioning the perimeters of the blasphemy law is what the debate should have been about. “The violence was wrong but the accused must still be punished” was the view many presented on the day. The fact that a drunk man’s testimony – let alone accusation – has little weight in the due process of law. To the mob who burnt down Joseph Colony “the drunk Muslim was upholding the honour of their Prophet”.
The irony in the ground reality was lost on most Muslim Pakistanis – but certainly not on the city’s 500,000 strong Christian community. Protests began the same day and lasted till Tuesday. But more reason for outrage should have been found. The same police force that stood by and watched 3,000 people loot and plunder Joseph Colony, fired over 500 tear gas canisters on Youhanabad, the largest Christian settlement in the country, with over 4,000 households. Over a hundred Christians were arrested at a point when no one had been arrested for the Joseph Colony mob attack. Policemen in riot gear told a reporter in this newspaper: “These are choorhas.”

The term evoking the severe caste-based discrimination prevalent in the subcontinent Muslims maintains that Christians/choorhas (used interchangeably) are ‘untouchables’. This was clearly the basis of the Asia Bibi case which came to light in late 2010 and by early 2011 had resulted in the murder of both the then Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti. Having spent two months back then trying to get to the bottom of the case, the only undisputed fact was that the cleric and two accusing ladies believed that “Christians could not shake hands with Muslims, let alone eat with them”. The principle the public protests against the demand for her release defended was not the honour of the Prophet (PBUH) but the right to maintain the status of Christians as ‘untouchables’(Source).

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Five Christians, Including Children, Shot Dead in Nigeria


3/20/2013 Nigeria (ChristianToday) - Christian children fleeing from gunmen saved their lives by hiding among the rock formations towering over the eastern side of this northern village, but a 6-month-old baby and a 13-year-old girl never got the chance.

The infant, Alexander Blessed, and the girl, Happiness Adamu, were the youngest of five people from five churches who were slain. Christians were still gathered in and about a home where a funeral for the village chief had taken place in the predominantly Muslim state of Kaduna when, under cover of darkness on a Saturday night (Feb. 23), marauding, black-clad gunmen arrived from the west and began firing.

Eleven Christians were hospitalized with wounds, including Martha Blessed, who was shot as she tried to protect her infant son. Bullets broke both legs of another 13-year-old Christian girl, Gloria Livinus, of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Aduwan. The raid came as a shock as area Christians had been living without enmity toward anyone, said John Audi, 45-year-old grandson of the village chief and a member of St. Patrick’s church.

“We were all scattered, and some that were shot were crying,” he told Morning Star News. “We all ran for cover where we believed we could avoid being hit by the bullets.”

Witnesses reportedly said the gunmen spoke in Fulani dialect, but church leaders said the area had been free of the land and property conflicts that have marked relations between Muslim, ethnic Fulanis and predominantly Christian tribes. Islamic extremist groups have increasingly incited Fulani Muslims to attack Christian areas, and witnesses reportedly said the assailants carried sophisticated weapons. Area church leaders questioned how the shooting could have gone on for three hours without response from authorities in a north-central state that has been blanketed with military security forces to counteract terrorist violence.

“This village was attacked for three hours, yet no help came to our people here,” said the Rt. Rev. Danlami Bello, bishop of the First African Church, Kafanchan Diocese, whose headquarters are in Aduwan. “These attacks have gone unhindered without security agencies coming to the scenes of the attacks to assist Christian victims.”

As did others, he suspected a strong religious element to the attack.
“There is no doubt that this attack, like many others on Christian communities in northern Nigeria, had religious bearings,” he said. “There is this desire by Muslim leaders in Nigeria to Islamize the country by force; hence the attacks are aimed at forcing Christians into submitting to Islam.”

The Rev. Casmir Yabo, vicar of the First African Church Mission in Aduwan, told Morning Star News that church members who hid in farmlands west of the village reported seeing about 10 assailants leaving after the attack.

“We believe that the attackers are Muslim Fulani gunmen who invaded and attacked this village. I wept as I saw corpses of the five killed for no justifiable reason,” said Yabo. “The impact of the attack is that at the moment our members are scared of coming to churches for worship services.”

The attack came two days after a similar slaughter of 10 people in village near Jos in Plateau state.
Besides hit-and-run attacks by Fulani Muslims, Christians in Nigeria have also been targeted by the Islamic extremist Boko Haram group in its effort to destabilize the government and impose sharia (Islamic law) nationwide. Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population of 158.2 million and live mainly in the south, while Muslims account for 45 percent and reside primarily in the north. Nigerians practicing indigenous religions may be as high as 10 percent of the total population, according to Operation World, so the percentages of Christians and Muslims may be less.
Attempted Bombing Raymond Markus, 31-year-old uncle to Happiness Adamu, told Morning Star News that the villagers had no reason to expect the onslaught.

“We were all gathered here while prayers were being said when suddenly, we were attacked,” he said. “We all ran in different directions. We are still in shock about this attack.”
He said that his slain niece was a faithful servant of Christ.
“It is a painful thing to lose such a brilliant teenager,” Markus said. “She was an obedient child and was committed in church activities; a very hard working church member.”