Friday, December 28, 2007

Gaza Christians Observe Somber Christmas after Murder

Christmas in the Gaza Strip is quiet if not utterly dreary this year as droves of frightened Christians flee the territory after the recent murder of a prominent Christian leader by unidentified extremists.Palestinian Christians gather during the Christmas Mass at the Deir Al Latin Catholic Church in Gaza City,Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2007. Gaza's tiny Christian community is keeping a low profile this Christmas, traumatized by the killing of a prominent activist in the wake of Hamas' takeover of the coastal territory.Few Christmas trees or decorations are on display in Gaza’s tiny Christian community, including in churches. Christians – who were once well-respected and influential citizens in Gaza – are now hastily selling properties to resettle in the West Bank, or quietly huddled in empty churches to observe what should be one of the most joyous Christian holidays.“We have a very sad Christmas,” said Essam Farah, acting pastor of Gaza’s Baptist Church, which has canceled its annual children’s party because of the grim atmosphere, according to The Associated Press.The Baptist Church had only 10 people attend the regular weekly prayer service on Sunday – down from an average of 70. There was also no Christmas tree visible.Moreover, the church’s full-time pastor, his family and 12 employees from a related Christian bookstore have relocated to the West Bank, which is under the control of a pro-West government.Hundreds of Christians hope to travel to Bethlehem in the West Bank this Christmas and many don’t plan to return to Gaza.The strip’s community of 3,000 Christians has not recovered from the death of 32-year-old Rami Ayyad, the manager of Gaza’s only Christian bookstore, who was brutally killed and then discarded on the streets of Gaza in early October.Ayyad was a member of the Baptist church and had received regular death threats from Muslim extremists angry over what they perceived to be his missionary activity. The bookstore was also firebombed six months before Ayyad’s death.Gaza is overwhelmingly Muslim and fear of persecution has risen since the Muslim fundamentalist group, Hamas, took over the territory in June. The United States and Israel considers Hamas a terrorist group.Although Hamas has promised to protect Christians in Gaza, persecution has increased in the territory. Moreover, a high level Hamas leader is accused of being behind Ayyad’s murder, although no action has been taken to prosecute him.In addition to persecution, Israel’s heavy economic sanctions compounded with continuous violence in Gaza have forced many believers to abandon their homeland.“In previous years we didn’t see this rate of migration,” said the Rev. Manuel Musallem, head of Gaza’s Roman Catholic Church, according to AP. “Now, exit is not on individual basis. Whole families are leaving, selling their cars, homes and all their properties.”Gaza Christians are using their travel permits to leave the territory and then plan to remain as illegal residents in the West Bank.There are about 75,000 Palestinian Christians but only about 3,000, mostly Greek Orthodox, living among Gaza’s 1.5 million population of Muslims. Ibrahim Ayyad, brother of murdered Rami Ayyad, estimates that up to 70 percent of the Christians in Gaza would leave if given the opportunity, according to Mission Network News.

As in the days of Noah....

North Korea Sets Up Fake Underground Churches to Expose Christians

The North Korean government is reportedly setting up fake underground churches and disguising national security agents as defectors to expose Christians, reported a North Korea-focused online news agency.The Daily NK, established by long-time activists who have been working to change North Korea, claims that a portion of underground churches existing in North Korea are disguised churches controlled by North Korea’s National Security Agency.“The fact that North Korea government formed a fake underground church with National Security Agency agents was revealed as the truth,” an inside source told the Daily NK.According to the source, NSA agents disguise themselves as defectors and approach Korean church organizations based in China to receive Bibles and money. After they receive funds by claiming to church organizations that they are engaging in mission activities, they start up secret churches beginning with NSA agents and then concentrate their efforts to arrest real secret churches connected with China.The Daily NK’s inside source said they verified this fact with an NSA-related member. Among NSA agents, the operation is an open secret.The fake underground church is receiving funds from Korean churches that do not know the reality of the situation, the inside source claimed.If the Korean church is not stricter about the security regarding the underground church support project and underground church member circumstances then they will fill up the stomachs of NSA agents and cause damage to the underground church, the source added.North Korea, one of the most repressive regimes in the world, has been criticized for the systemic, widespread and serious violations of human rights that reportedly take place in the country as well as the government's refusal to cooperate with the U.N. human rights commissioner or special investigator.The communist state has also been criticized for its all pervasive and severe restrictions on freedom of expression, religion, assembly and movement, its imposition of the death penalty for political reasons, the detention of thousands in prison camps, the punishment and torture of border-crossers, and the maltreatment of people with disabilities.North Korea is ranked by the international ministry Open Doors as the world’s worst persecutor of Christians.

As in the days of Noah....

Christmas Riots Continue in Orissa

Violence against Christians in the Indian state of Orissa continued for a third day Thursday even as hundreds of armed police patrolled parts of eastern India.A bus set on fire by protestors goes up in flames at Baliguda in Phulbani district in Orissa state, India, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2007. Hundreds of armed police patrolled parts of eastern India on Thursday, enforcing a curfew that left the region tense but quiet after two days of attacks on Christians and churches by Hindu extremists.According to unconfirmed reports by the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), at least 2,000 believers have been injured and about 20 churches damaged since the violence initially broke out Christmas eve. "The believers in Orissa had their worst ever Christmas," lamented GCIC.On Monday, a mob allegedly led by activists affiliated with the Viśva Hindū Pariṣad (World Hindu Council) had reportedly killed at least two and damaged 12 churches in the Kandhamal district, where at least 100,000 of 650,000-person population are reportedly Christian. All Catholic institutions in the area, including a convent and seminary, were attacked. Rioters also targeted two church-run hostels and high schools as well as a few shops managed by Christians in the small town of Bamunigam.
”A series of well-planned attacks on innocent Christians and their leaders have completely shocked us,” reported Fr. Babu Joseph, spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, “and we are deeply pained at a time when we are celebrating peace and harmony of Christmas.”“These attacks on Christians on the day of Christmas seem to suggest a planned effort to disturb communal peace by some misguided and anti-social elements,” he added.”What is more worrying and disheartening to note is the manner in which the unruly mob went on rampaging in villages where Christians were preparing to celebrate Christmas with a near total impunity.”Police had said they had deployed hundreds of armed officers to the area, restoring calm after hard-line Hindus initially marred Christmas celebrations in Orissa state.However, Radhakant Nayak, a member of the Indian parliament's upper house and a Christian leader in the area, said there was no evidence that forces were on the ground."The state government has been saying they have sent forces, but on the ground we are hearing there is no force.The situation is still tense," he told the CNN-IBN news channel.Orissa state has been notorious for its anti-Christian activities, noted K.P. Yohannan, president and founder of the missions group Gospel for Asia,"This is one of the most anti-Christian states in the sense of persecution, and over 12 churches were demolished by the anti-Christian communities,” he said. “They beat up quite a few missionaries, and they continue to create more difficulties for the church at large."
Yohannan reported that one GFA church had been burned down amid the latest violence and that it happened in the presence of police.“The police could not do anything because there were too many that were attacking the church building,” he stated. “Then one of our missionaries was caught; they shaved his head and marched him to the temple, and they forced him to kneel down before the [Hindu] deities. And of course they beat him up."In response to the clashes, Christian leaders on Thursday called for the prime minister’s intervention in Orissa when they met him in the morning.“We have asked the prime minister to intervene in the matter and bring the criminals to justice,” said Madhu Chandra, secretary of the All India Christian Council, adding that memorandums would also be submitted to National Human Rights Commission and National Minority Commission.Political parties have also condemned the violence unleashed against Christians in Orissa, demanding immediate security measures to control the situation.
Chief Minister of Orissa Naveen Patnaik reviewed the situation at a top-level meeting and again appealed to people to maintain communal harmony.India is overwhelmingly Hindu but officially secular. Religious minorities, such as Christians, who account for 2.3 percent of the country's 1.1. billion people, and Muslims, who make up 13.4 percent, often coexist peacefully. Some have risen to the highest levels of government and business.But throughout India's history, both communities have faced repeated attacks from hard-line Hindus, with violence against Christians often directed at foreign missionaries and converts from Hinduism.Hindu right-wing groups have often accused Christian missionaries of luring poor and uneducated tribal people to convert to Christianity with money and promises of jobs, education and healthcare.Orissa is the only Indian state that has a law requiring people to obtain police permission before they change their religion. The law was intended to counter missionary work.

As in the days of Noah....

World Vision offices in Sri Lanka attacked

Sri Lanka-Sri Lankan police confirm reports of an unidentified assailant who lobbed a hand grenade at World Vision's Sri Lanka office in Batticaloa on December 21 at around 7:30 pm.According to WV staff, the resulting explosion damaged three vehicles and the office building, but thankfully, none of the staff was injured because no one was in the office at the time.Police are investigating the attack, but so far, they have no motive, suspects or arrests. Little else has been revealed in the investigation.Concerned over the safety and security of its staff and property, WV's Head Office has alerted the appropriate officials in the Sri Lankan government.World Vision has been working in the Asia-Pacific region for some time. Their staff was crucial in organizing a response following the tsunami, the landslides and now, helping with the Internally Displaced Persons fleeing the civil war.This means sometimes advocating for and with children; in other places it is as simple as giving a child a satchel and some books and helping them go to school, or it might mean assisting families to help them stabilize against the backdrop of war.The WV staff continues to partner with children and their communities, talking to governments and the UN, and working with other agencies and faith groups to combat the complex problems that affect children.As World Vision's team works with children, families, and communities to overcome poverty and injustice, pray for their safety as they continue to reach out as the hands and feet of Christ.
As in the days of Noah....

CURE breaks ground for hospital despite security risks

West Bank-It's taken a while longer than expected, but CURE International broke ground for their new state-of-the-art teaching hospital in Bethlehem.They plan to start building in the early part of 2008. It generally takes 12 to 14 months to complete such a project. During the building phase, they will send in medical teams to do some work and assess the needs as they go in order to fine-tune the hospital so it meets the specific needs of the area.In its completion, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim doctors will work side-by-side to treat children with complex medical needs. "There is nothing like that in Bethlehem or in the West Bank at all," said Scott Harrison. The four surgical needs they will focus on are orthopedic, neurological, reconstructive cardiac surgery, and plastic surgery for facial deformities and burn victims.As far as security, Harrison said, "The first thing we have to expect is that it's going to be changing rapidly; sometimes for the better, and unfortunately, sometimes for the worse.We've been trying to get the hospital up and running for three years now, and just in that time, Hamas has won an election." If control of the area were to change, it would be very difficult for them to work there since Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization."That's a risk that comes with hospitals in various parts of the world, and the people that volunteer to go there are well aware of it. We try to mitigate that risk, but at the end of the day, if someone's willing to commit suicide themselves in the process of destroying others, it's been very difficult avoiding assassination," said Harrison. However, the opportunities for sharing the Gospel are many. Harrison said, "We find that these people are very receptive to working with us and re-appraising what Christianity is when we offer to pray with them for the health of their children. And then, in a very non-confrontational, culturally-sensitive way, demonstrate to them what the message of Christ was."Harrison said there is more and more a need for the recognition of the importance of the individual in breaking stereotypes to create peace, especially between jihadists and the West."We have, as individual citizens of the world, an obligation to do what we can to change that. And as is often the case, it may be, ultimately, collectively, all of us working to be more effective than what government treaties and others can do."
As in the days of Noah....

Hindus, Christians clash again in India

India-Hindu extremists burned down the house of a prominent Christian politician in eastern India yesterday.The violence appears to be ongoing despite a curfew imposed after two days of attacks against Christians in Orissa State. At least a dozen churches were burned or ransacked in the Christmas riots.A mob of Hindus torched the house of Radhakant Nayak, a member of the Indian parliament's upper house and a Christian leader in the area. One official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, thought the attacks were an apparent retaliation for earlier attacks on churches, which were followed by the burning of several Hindu homes. Angry Hindus then burned down the village police station.At this point, the situation seems to be escalating. Yet, Voice of the Martyrs' Todd Nettleton wonders, "Will the police really go after the instigators, or will it be swept under the rug? Orissa is a state that has a history of violence against Christians, so it's hard to say if there will be justice. What we do know is that these Christians will continue to reach out."Christian leaders are urging government protection after the attacks. They expressed concerns that the violence could rival Gujarat's troubles in December 1998.The predilection toward sectarian trouble makes this more likely because Orissa is also one of four states with an active anti-conversion law, and, since 2000, baptism requires the permission of the government. Despite all of this, the body of Christ in Orissa continues to flourish. A new Oriya Bible was published in 1998.Nettleton says prayer goes a long way toward peace. "Voice of the Martyrs is very active in India. I would expect that our staff there very soon will talk to the believers there, to see how we can best assist them and to encourage them that we're lifting them up."
As in the days of Noah....

Benazir Bhutto assassinated, unrest ahead

Pakistan-The country of Pakistan and the world are in shock today after Opposition Leader Benazir Bhutto was killed Thursday in a suicide attack. She was driving away from a campaign rally just minutes after addressing thousands of supporters when the attack took place. According to reports, a man first shot the 54-year-old Bhutto twice before blowing himself up, killing as many as 20 and injuring dozens more. The death of the charismatic former prime minister threw the campaign for the Jan. 8 election into chaos and created fears of mass protests and an eruption of violence across the volatile south Asian nation.Next to President Pervez Musharraf, Bhutto was the best-known political figure in the country, serving two terms as prime minister between 1988 and 1996. She was respected in the West for her liberal outlook and determination to combat the spread of Islamic extremism, a theme she returned to often in her campaign speeches.Open Doors supports the evangelical church in Pakistan, which numbers about 2 percent. Minister-at-large for the ministry, Paul Estabrooks, says, "This seems to be a real upset in the country. Is he going to impose martial law because of the violence which could result, or will he allow the elections to go ahead?"According to Estabrooks, al Qaeda is probably responsible. "She really believed that it was extremist Muslims that were out to kill her. That was her personal belief. I don't think she was a paranoid person, so I think there was something to her beliefs on this."Estabrooks predicts the immediate future doesn't look good for the country or for Christians. "I think there's going to be some turmoil for quite some time over this, and of course in the past Christians have often been the object of anger of the dominantly Muslim society there."However, he believes this could give Christians a platform to make more of a difference in that culture. "One of the criticisms of the church in Pakistan is that they haven't come to the front and spoken out against crimes like what has just happened. They're always worried, of course, of creating more anger against them. So it's a really delicate tight-rope that they have to walk."While Christians must be careful, Estabrooks is hoping that "out of this crisis, which seems to be so terrible, that God will give opportunities for our Christin brothers and sisters to share their faith with their community, both at a public statement level and in an individual one-on-one."
In the mean time, Open Doors is continuing to support the local church in Pakistan. You can help support their work by clicking here.

As in the days of Noah.....

Christians demand help against Hindu violence

Christians have staged a rally in India to demand government intervention to halt violence against members of the minority religion in Orissa state, after reports of Christians being killed, church buildings destroyed and meetings broken up over the Christmas holiday.The rally yesterday in Delhi drew an estimated 1,000 Christians and was organized by the All India Christian Council to unite protesters from a wide range of denominations whose members have been victimized by the violence in Orissa.A message was delivered to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after officials met with Union Home Minister Shivraj V. Patil, as well as the head of the National Commission for Minorities.During the meeting with Patil, Christians were told that roadblocks and communication breakdowns are making it difficult to restore security in the villages of Orissa, and Patil confirmed he likely will visit the state in order to stop the attacks, prosecute the criminals and provide compensation to the victims."Sadly, the delegation was not satisfied with the promises of the Union Home Minister since most violence continues in rural villages and the government didn't give specific plans to halt the violence in villages nor a planned amount for compensation of victims," Rev. Abraham Sahu, the president of the Delhi chapter of AICC, said."It is clear that the local police and Orissa state government have not been able to protect the Christian minority. While Orissa's leader claims they were prepared and are fully committed to stopping communal violence, we have doubts. For example, why does Orissa not have a state minorities commission? The Central Government must act now." said John Dayal, the secretary-general of the AICC.During the meeting with Mohamed Shafi Qureshi, the head of the National Commission for Minorities, the Christians were told that a visit to Orissa was planned in order to set up procedures that would protect Christians from attack.Also represented at the rally were the Evangelical Fellowship of India, All India Catholic Union, Catholic Bishops' Conference of Indian and others."Authorities clearly don't believe in freedom of religion or freedom of speech. They use accusations of forced and fraudulent conversions as an excuse for violence. Has there been a proven case in the courts of a missionary forcing someone to become a Christian recently? No! We are requesting immediate action to protect peaceful Christians and the arrest of miscreants from radical Hindutva groups," said Sam Paul, the secretary of public affairs for the AICC.According to reports, the violence broke out last weekend. At least 30 churches, Christian schools and convents were damaged or destroyed in a series of attacks that began on Christmas Eve, and four Christians were killed, the reports said.
Radical Hindutva activists also have been blockading roads, preventing both police and other aid from reaching victims, the reports said.According to the AICC, "the violence allegedly began when Christians in a village 150 kilometers from the district headquarters of Phulbani began to celebrate Christmas Eve. Local Hindu fundamentalists opposed the event and a fight ensued."
According to Gospel for Asia, a Christian ministry working in India, the violence amounted to a virtual terror campaign against Christians."This violence against believers in Orissa breaks my heart," said K.P. Yohannan, founder and president of GFA. "This is the same state where missionary Graham Staines and his two sons were martyred. The believers know they will face opposition, but this outburst of persecution at Christmas time is especially disturbing."GFA said a project on which its missionaries had worked in Orissa was destroyed, and its missionary leader Matish Junni attacked."The mob beat Matish and shaved his head. Then they mockingly paraded him around the village, shouting slurs against him and other Christians," the report said. "They also forced Matish to go to their religious temples. When the mob finally released him, they warned him not to continue the construction."Another GFA structure "stood for only one month before the militants attacked," and the "anti-Christian hate groups have also taken over another GFA-related church building in Orissa."World Vision facilities also were involved, officials said."The extremist organizers saw an opportunity to bring more sadness and grief to the Christians by attacking them on their most joyous holiday," GFA said."I hope that the government in Orissa will do everything in its power to protect the believers and bring peace to the state," said Yohannan.Gospel for Asia is a mission organization involved in evangelism and church planting in Asia's unreached regions. It currently supports more than 16,500 native missionaries in 10 nations.The AICC, which was launched in 1998, was set up to serve the Christian community, minorities and oppressed castes in India. It is made up from thousands of Indian denominations, organizations and lay leaders.WND also reported earlier when religious radicals threatened to burn a Christian church's pastor and his family, and the church building was vandalized with a Hindu "Om" symbol.Just weeks earlier, another church leader in India was attacked, beaten and kicked for being Christian.{{{{{{Even within the United States, there have been attacks, although verbal instead of physical. As WND reported, the Hindu American Foundation has attacked Christian organizations ranging from the Southern Baptists' missions board and Gospel for Asia to Olive Tree Ministries, which aims to teach Christians about their beliefs."The proliferation of websites promoting religious hatred is an unfortunate consequence of the universality of access to the Internet," said Vinay Vallabh, the lead author of a report that attacked the Christian groups for their expression of their beliefs."We must vigorously identify, condemn and counter those who use the Internet to espouse chauvinism and bigotry over the principles of pluralism and tolerance," Vallabh said.Vallabh's report, called "Hyperlink to Hinduphobia: Online Hatred, Extremism and Bigotry Against Hindus," expresses his hope that Internet Service Providers will start censoring Christian postings of their beliefs, "a necessary step as we continue our balancing act between free speech and licentious speech that leads to violence in the electronic age."}}}}}}

As in the days of Noah...

China's Bible phobia reveals religious freedom worries

The heated Chinese reaction to a controversy over whether officials actually had issued an order to ban Bibles in Olympic facilities being built for the 2008 games shows there is an underlying worry over issues involving religion, according to a Christian ministry."While the U.S. Olympic Committee has received confirmation that visiting athletes, journalists and tourists will in fact be allowed to bring Bibles into Beijing for personal use, the mere possibility of the ban's existence has been seen as yet another attempt by the Chinese government to suppress religious freedom within its borders, despite its repeated claims to the contrary," according to a new statement from Christian Freedom International.A media report earlier revealed that Bibles were going to be banned from the housing complexes for athletes during the 2008 Games. While Chinese officials, who have expelled dozens for Christian missionaries in an apparent crackdown on Christianity in advance of the 2008 Beijing Games, called the report a "total rumor," others said the reaction still indicates problems."Christian Freedom International … is encouraging all believers to pray for the persecuted church in China," the group said. "As the international community keeps a watchful eye on a country still defending itself against a long history of religious and human rights abuses, even as it prepares to welcome the world to the 2008 Olympic Games, CFI is challenging Christians everywhere to remember those in China who routinely suffer harassment, torture and even martyrdom for their faith."The report of the ban had outraged both human rights groups and U.S. officials. Sen. Lindsey Graham had contacted the Chinese ambassador about the situation and U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter introduced a resolution condemning China's action.Even when the Chinese government issued a statement denouncing reports of a ban, the message was given considerable scrutiny, especially since the Chinese government continues to advise that athletes, visitors and journalists should bring no more than a single Bible with them to the Games.The warning is from the Olympic Games' official website, which outlines the process to enter China. Authorities there explain they have been given the right to inspect any and all luggage that arrives with people coming to the Games.And without the inspectors' approval, no one will be allowed in."Only when you pass all the procedures … you really and legally enter China," the website says, right after the advisory that, "Note: Each travel (sic) is recommended to take no more than one Bible into China." Christian Freedom noted the underground Christian church in China has grown "by the millions" in recent years, even though it operates in a technically illegal status, without governmental approval to operate – or even exist.And the printing and distribution of Bibles in the Communist nation remains "severely restricted," the ministry added.CFI said under the direction of its president, Jim Jacobson, a former White House policy analyst, it has "smuggled" thousands of Bibles into China over recent years, because fewer than half of all Chinese Christians own a copy of the Bible, and governmentally approved printers cannot keep up with the demand.Adding to the worry when China states it doesn't ban Bibles are cases such as the recent situation in which the father of a U.S. citizen who has been working on Christian book projects in China suddenly disappeared.Family and friends of Weihan Shi, 37, a businessman who works as a travel agent and recently got government permission to work on some Christian book titles, said the government has not released information about why he was detained.The U.S. embassy was asked to look into the case because Shi's daughter, Grace, 7, is a U.S. citizen. The man's office, not far from some Olympic projects, was raided, as was the family's home, friends said.WND already has reported on China's Olympic blacklist. A man who escaped from China after being imprisoned for teaching Bible classes and now runs an organization to help persecuted Christians is confirming the nation will target 43 types of people with investigations – and possibly bans – when the 2008 Olympics are held.And those targeted will include "religious infiltrators," employees of media organizations, those tied to "illegal" religious organizations and others, the report said.China Aid Association, run by Bob Fu, says the information comes from a "secretly issued" notice from China's Ministry of Public Security that went to security officials and departments throughout the nation."CAA learned from reliable internal Chinese government sources that in April of 2007, the Ministry of Public Security of the Chinese government issued a general nation-wide order, requiring strict examinations on all people both in China and overseas who will participate in the Olympic Games," the organization said. "These include members of the Olympic Committee, athletes, media and sponsors. With this, they also provide a list of 43 types of people in 11 categories to be barred from attending the Olympic Games."The document, a "Notice on Strict Background Check on Applicants for the Olympic Games and the Test Events," targets those who are considered "antagonistic elements," followers of Falun Gong and other "cults," as well as "religious extremists and religious infiltrators."Other categories include media employees "who can harm the Olympic Games," non-government organizations that "pose a real threat to the Olympic Games," those with grievances against the communist party, those under investigation by Chinese authorities, as well as "terrorists" and "members of illegal organizations."The report, China Aid Association said, lists among the targets anyone who belongs to an independent house church in China, which are identified as "illegal religious organizations" and those who have given "illegal sermons."Also targeted and banned will be "people who illegally distribute religious publications and video-audio materials" and "people who have illegally established both in China and abroad religious organizations, institutions, schools, sermon sites and other religious entities.""While CAA understands the legitimate security concern during Olympics, nevertheless we urge the Chinese government to be more transparent regarding the preparation of [the] 2008 Beijing Olympics," CAA said. "We call upon the Chinese government not to use Olympics as a cover to engage in a crackdown on peaceful people of faith both in China and abroad."

As in the days of Noah....

Christians banned from saying 'Allah':'We cannot let other religions use it, because it will confuse people'

A Malaysian newspaper is reporting that Christians in that Muslim nation are being banned from using the word "Allah.""We cannot let other religions use it because it will confuse people," Malaysia's Deputy Internal Security Minister, Johari Baharum, told the DNAIndia publication.He said "only Muslims can use the word 'Allah.'"The issue erupted when a Catholic publication used the now-banned-for-Christians word.Herald, the Catholic Church's weekly newsletter, used the word and was warned it is at risk now of losing its publication permit.The report said the move would shut down the 13-year-old publication, which is available in English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil, and has a circulation of about 12,000, because without a renewed permit it cannot operate.The present permit expires Dec. 31, officials reported.It is not right, Baharum said, for such a publication to use the protected word."We cannot allow non-Muslim publications," he said.An estimated 10 percent of Malaysia's estimated population of 26 million is Christian, and a part of that segment is Catholic. Lawrence Andrew is editor of the Herald, and said "Allah" was not used to offend or confuse anyone.He said the Malay-language Bible uses the word "Allah" for God, and uses "Tuham" for Lord."It is not the first problem Christians have had in Malaysia, even though the nation's constitution calls for religious freedom.The Wall Street Journal has summarized the plight of a Malaysian woman who converted to Christianity, but lost a court case seeking to have "Islam" removed as her religion on her identity card."While Muslim-majority Malaysia is considered a largely moderate, modern society, renouncing one's Muslim faith still is considered both sinful and illegal by Islamic authorities – who have gained increasing sway of late. Ms. [Lina] Joy's apostasy case ... has inflamed public debate, divided the legal community … and threatens to set off political tremors in this Southeast Asian nation."The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty said the government's refusal to allow the woman to choose her religion violates customary international law protecting freedom of conscience as expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.It also violates the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, to which Malaysia is legally bound, the Becket Fund said.
As in the days of Noah....

Monday, December 24, 2007

Trouble mounts for the Church in Venezuela

Venezuela-The World Bible Translation Center is urging prayer for the Church and her members in Venezuela along the Colombian border.There are reports beginning to trickle in that believers there are starting to experience unrest and persecution.Organizations like Voice of the Martyrs confirm the reports.Says Todd Nettleton, "There are some cases of Venezuela providing sanctuary for FARC guerrillas from Colombia, and in other cases, literally, persecution instances against the church in that particular area."The Center has been using the Spanish Easy-to-Read Version in the region, which is written at a third-grade reading level.Since the religions of Latin America are so diverse, people searching for God need a Bible that is easy to read and understand. Providing the Gospel to those seeking a relationship with God has multiple approaches.Typically, the distribution begins with indigenous member churches, which in turn provide them to worshipers.Evangelists are also planting home churches in neighborhoods throughout Cuba that will have between 10 to 40 people meeting in each church.These churches have become very popular and are quickly providing the gospel to people that normally would not go to church buildings.Pray that Christians continue to have boldness and wisdom as they continue to spread the Good News.

As in the days of Noah....

Christmas celebrations in the Middle East marked with security issues

Middle East-Security has been beefed up to protect tourists in Bethlehem and Jerusalem over the Christmas season.Israeli and Palestinian forces have cooperated to ease the congestion of visitors through the checkpoint into Bethlehem. In addition, the Palestinian security chief promised roughly 1,500 Palestinian police during the festivities.Tourism to Bethlehem has grown 60 percent in the past three months. That may be due, in part, to churches abroad projecting an image of safety and encouraging Christians to show solidarity and visit.Over the festivities hangs the pall of the failed Annapolis Summit. At the same time, Israel and Palestine have opened their peace talks, already in discord. Palestinians have already begun to call for a halt to settlement building, and Israel wants a crackdown on militants.SAT 7's David Harder says the whole situation is tenuous for believers in the Middle East."There's tremendous pressure on Christians to convert to Islam. Be praying that their churches would grow and that they'd be protected. In many places, Christians are persecuted outright. They're not allowed to build churches. Converts have a very difficult time."Harder says they're encouraging the Christian population, standing near five percent in this area."We can be broadcasting into these countries; we can be bringing Christ's message. It's very important that we have this opportunity, and it's wonderful that during this Christmas season, we can be playing shows that help our viewers who don't know that much about Christianity to see what Christians believe about their Savior."Pray that God will use these Christmas programs to encourage Christians during this holiday season and to help viewers better understand the true meaning of Christmas. Pray also for the funds to come in to enable the SAT-7 ARABIC team to produce all the shows they are planning to create in the new year.

As in the days of Noah....

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sisters of faith remembered:With tears and hope, family and friends celebrate lives of two slain at church

COLORADO SPRINGS-Those who knew Stephanie and Rachel Works want the world to know they have a new address: heaven.Friends say that if the two sisters are behaving there as they did on Earth, they've already made many new friends. Stephanie is writing short stories, being a mother hen to the young ones and playing chess.Rachel is dancing, choreographing routines and likely wearing two dresses, one on top of the other, and somehow making it look great."Can you imagine the reception they got last Sunday? Boy, what a party that must have been," said New Life Church pastor Brady Boyd to 3,000 people who gathered for a memorial service Wednesday to celebrate their lives. The girls, who were home-schooled and did missionary work through the church, traveling to China, Mexico and Brazil, were killed Dec. 9 as they got inside the family van after a service at New Life.Matthew Murray, 24, opened fire with an assault rifle after killing two people earlier that day at a Youth With a Mission facility in Arvada.The girls were buried Wednesday morning at Monument Cemetery in a private service. At New Life, mourners rose to their feet when the girls' father, David Works, seated in a wheelchair, led a procession with his wife, Marie Works, of family and friends into the church. Works was shot twice in the torso and was released Tuesday from Penrose Hospital.The crowd hushed when he addressed them during service."Thank you for coming to celebrate the lives of Rachel and Stephanie," he said.Works, who will do an exclusive interview scheduled to air Friday with ABC's "Good Morning America," thanked God, the New Life Church family, his employer, First Data Corp., Penrose Hospital staff, first responders to the shooting, and his sister and brother before he read a prayer.
Favorite Bible verses read
His two surviving daughters, Laurie Works, 16-Rachel's twin-and Grace, 10, also read their sisters' favorite Bible verses.Laurie Works told the congregation that her twin sister wrote a note quoting Philippians, verses 6 and 7. The passage was also the last entry in Rachel's journal.
"Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. This peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus," Laurie said, reciting the verse.Connie Schertel, a friend of Stephanie's since they were children living in Montana, said she loved to talk to her dear friend on the phone."I loved to laugh and giggle with her. We giggled even when things weren't funny," Schertel said.She said Stephanie was intelligent, talented and had a passion for short stories.
"I loved her dearly," she said. "I shall never forget her."Aimee Donahue, a friend of Rachel's, said she cried nonstop for 13 hours when she heard of her friend's death."I think what hurts the most is that all I can think about are things she'll never get to do, but I can do. Why did I live and she died?" Donahue asked. "I thought about the places she said she wanted to go, all the things that she wanted to do. We both wanted to work with teenagers, especially in New Zealand because they have the highest teen suicide rate in the world."Donahue said she cannot erase the images of how the girls died from her psyche."I try and think about all the good times we had. But all I can seem to think about is how their lives ended. So many people have told me she's in a better place, but I guess I'm a little selfish because I wanted her here with me," Donahue said."You were good parents"At the end of the service, Boyd, the pastor, turned to the Works parents."You were good parents, David and Marie, I want you to know that. You're a good mom and dad; you did a good job. You did your work well," Boyd said.And then, the preacher turned to those who had come to mourn and left them with one final thought: "Live life on purpose. Every day matters. Every hour matters. Every relationship matters. Every friendship matters. That's what I'm hearing from Rachel and Stephanie."

As in the days of Noah....

Friday, December 21, 2007

Police target Christmas services to arrest believers:'International community should be concerned about increased persecution' in China

Dozens of Christians have been questioned, arrested, jailed or beaten in a series of attacks on house church Christmas programs as China tries to wipe out "subversive" or "reactionary" forces before the 2008 Olympics, according to China Aid Association.The organization has released a list of the most recent assaults on Christians, including the detention in Henan province of Pastor Liang Qi Zhen, vice president of the Chinese House Church Alliance."After disbursing Liang's congregation, police officials took him by force and transported him to an undisclosed location where he was tortured for several hours. Liang's ears and right hand were injured during the lengthy assault," said the organization, which seeks to be a window into China so the world can "witness the oppression, imprisonment and torture of Christians…"The organization also said of the 270 protestant pastors arrested in Shandong province recently for participating in the Bible study, only 200 have been released and 70 remain in custody.In Jiangsu province, a house church was attacked by police officials during members' Christmas celebration, and four women were "detained," including one who was hospitalized, the group said. In Yunan province, members of the Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs raided a house church meeting and arrested several people, including the woman who rented the property. They burned hundreds of Christian books and ordered the landlord to stop renting to the woman, CAA said.House church members are labeled by authorities as "cultists" because they do not belong to the state-sanctioned official church organizations, and frequently face a year in labor camps when arrested, the group said."To arbitrarily arrest peaceful Christians for celebrating Christmas shows how much religious freedom Chinese people have," said Bob Fu, president of China Aid. "The international community should be concerned for the increasing religious persecution in China in recent months, especially in light of the Beijing Olympics just a few months away."There have been multiple reports from human rights advocates and Christian ministries that repression of Christianity by the Chinese government is intensifying in the lead-up to the Games.Those reports include the recent arrest of Shi Weihan, 37, who runs a Christian bookshop near the Olympic Village. Compass Direct has reported his bookshop has sold no other books but those given government permission, but he, his wife and several employees recently were arrested.Writer Graeme Philipson, in Melbourne, Australia, noted that, "China will use the 2008 Olympic Games to market itself to the world. All countries do this, but the Chinese example will look more like Berlin 1936 than Sydney 2000.""Visitors to China next year will see the new stadiums and the expressways and skyscrapers and apartment complexes. They will probably even be able to access their hometown newspapers on the web," Philipson continued. "They will probably not stop to think that the 1936 Olympics were followed by the most vicious repression the world has ever seen."Radio Australia reported earlier that China's Vice Prime Minister, Li Langing, said winning the 2008 Games proved the international community appreciated the social stability in China and that justifies China's fight against "cults."The crackdowns have prompted Pastor Zhang Mingxuan, president of the Chinese House Church Alliance, to write Chinese Communist Party leader President Hu Jintao pleading that he would listen to the victims of persecution.The pastor asks the Communist leader "to seriously consider the misery of the common people and urge the officials subordinate to you to stop persecuting Christians and implement their promises in the Constitution on religious freedom … just as you said, we can have a harmonious society when we build it on the foundations of love, friendship, fairness and justice.""We sincerely pray to the Lord to punish the evil and promote the good so that the common people can receive blessings and that China will have real religious freedom. I believe this is also the wish of President Hu," the letter said.However, CAA also has revealed a confidential document issued in July by a local Communist Party branch that reveals "that the central government has directed a national campaign specifically against unregistered Christian house churches."The document apparently was formulated by the nation's Department of United Front of District Committee, District Bureau for Religious Affairs of Ethnic Minorities and Duodao Branch of Public Security Bureau.The purpose, the document said, is to "fight against infiltration activities by hostile overseas forces under the guise of Christianity and safeguard the stability in our society and in the religious arena."The plan seeks a socialized mechanism "of management of religious affairs" by having government-sanctioned churches cooperate with police in their plans."As for the self-appointed missionaries (house church leaders), the document urges authorities to 'tackle the problem in three ways: education and stop, order them to stop their activities and crack down on their activities according to law,'" China Aid said.Leaders "should be investigated and due penalties rendered," the document said."All their illegally acquired income shall be confiscated."Finally, the document advocated secrecy."We should only perform the special administration, but not talk about it. Without approval from the district's leading team for the special administration, no agencies in all the areas shall disclose the information in this document to any media. All the documents for the special administration are classified as 'confidential' and must be printed in serial numbers. After the documents are used, they shall be stored at a confidential room and their content must not be disclosed," China Aid reported the document said."This campaign is another clear example of absolute violation of the relevant international human rights covenants and China's own Constitution on protection of citizen's religious freedom," said Fu, "We urge the Chinese government to stop this kind of illegal secret practice if China intends to be a true respected responsible stakeholder in the international community."Fu, who escaped from China after being imprisoned for teaching Bible classes and now runs China Aid to help persecuted Christians, also has confirmed China will target 43 types of people with investigations – and possibly bans – when the 2008 Olympics are held in Beijing.
And those targeted will include "religious infiltrators," employees of media organizations, those tied to "illegal" religious organizations and others, the report said.That comes from a "secretly issued" notice from China's Ministry of Public Security that went to security officials and departments throughout the nation."CAA learned from reliable internal Chinese government sources that in April of 2007, the Ministry of Public Security of the Chinese government issued a general nation-wide order, requiring strict examinations on all people both in China and overseas who will participate in the Olympic Games," the organization said. "These include members of the Olympic Committee, athletes, media and sponsors. With this, they also provide a list of 43 types of people in 11 categories to be barred from attending the Olympic Games."The document, a "Notice on Strict Background Check on Applicants for the Olympic Games and the Test Events," targets those who are considered "antagonistic elements," followers of Falun Gong and other "cults," as well as "religious extremists and religious infiltrators."The report, China Aid Association said, breaks down the categories to identify and target "frequent traffic violators in running red lights and j-walking," anyone who has had "close contact" with anyone considered suspect in "counter-revolutionary activities or other crimes of endangering the security of the state," anyone who belongs to an independent house church in China, which are identified as "illegal religious organizations" and those who have given "illegal sermons."Also targeted and banned will be "people who illegally distribute religious publications and video-audio materials" and "people who have illegally established both in China and abroad religious organizations, institutions, schools, sermon sites and other religious entities."

As in the days of Noah....

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lonely Christmas for Christians in North Korea

Believers in Jesus Christ will most likely celebrate the birth of their savior in isolation if they live in North Korea, where it is a state crime to be a Christian.In public, there will be no observation of Christmas and citizens will go on with their daily routines as if it were any other day in the year. There will be no string lights on the streets, no wreaths, no Christmas music, and no holiday greetings in public as well as private.North Korea remains one of the few countries in the world where citizens are not permitted to celebrate Christmas at all.But Christianity is alive and growing in the oppressive communist state with some estimates putting the underground Christian population at tens of thousands.Although these believers are not allowed to openly express their joy at Christmas, they will still observe the meaning of the holiday, according to a Christian ministry working with persecuted believers in North Korea.“But, of course, Christians do reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ,” said Brother Simon, who coordinates the work of Open Doors in North Korea, from a secret location. “Only they can’t just go along to church to sing or listen to a sermon. They can’t even visit one another to read the Bible together. Being a Christian in North Korea is very lonely.”Simon, whose full name cannot be given for security reasons, explains that believers in North Korea can usually only gather two at a time on a given Sunday. A Christian would sit on a park bench and another Christian would come sit next to him. If no one is around, they may be able to share a Bible verse they know by heart and briefly give a reflection. They also share prayer topics with each other, said Simon.“Then they leave one another and go and look for Christians in some other part of their town. This continues throughout Sunday,” he said.A cell group usually has less than 20 Christians who meet and encourage one another this way or meet one-on-one in people’s homes.In this way, Christmas will also be celebrated.“Christmas is mainly celebrated in the heart of the Christian,” said Simon. “Only if the whole family has turned to Christ is it possible to have something like a real gathering. For fear of retribution it is necessary to keep your faith hidden from the neighbors.”But in remote areas, a group of up to 20 people can sometimes meet. In rare instances, some gatherings in the mountains bring together some 60 to 70 North Korean Christians.North Korea is ranked number one in the annual Open Doors Watch List as the country that has the worst persecution of Christians. If the regime discovers a person is a Christian, the believer can be thrown into a labor camp, tortured, or even publicly executed to dissuade others from following the faith.It is believed that tens of thousands of Christians are currently suffering in North Korean prison camps, according to Open Doors. The regime is suspected of detaining more political and religious prisoners than any other country in the world.Instead of a globally recognized religion, citizens of the reclusive country are forced to worship a cult-like version of the trinity consisting of the deceased dictator Kim Il Sung (father), current dictator Kim Jong Il (son) and the Juche ideology.All religions other than the worship of the North Korean dictators are forbidden. Christianity, in particular, is seen as the greatest threat to the state and to Kim’s power and is harshly punished.The U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, John V. Hanford III, described North Korea as the “worst violator of religious freedom in the world” during his presentation earlier this year of the 2007 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom.

As in the days of Noah.....

Egypt Arrests 13 Christians for Collecting Church Donations

Egypt officials arrested 13 Christians earlier this week for collecting donations to rebuild a church without a permit, their lawyer said Wednesday.The group of believers, who work in a church in the southern city of Assiut, had been collecting money to rebuild a church in another southern town called Saqulta, according to Agence France-Presse.They had raised suspicion in Saqulta when they asked a local resident where the nearest church was. The resident had then called the local police out of fear that the strangers were terrorists plotting to attack the church, said their lawyer Hani Hanna Soliman. “They were arrested on Monday and now face the charge of collecting donations without a permit,” Soliman told AFP.Security authorities had arrested eight men and five women and deployed troops to surround local churches. After hours of interrogation, the group was cleared of any terror related charges but continued to be imprisoned because they collected donations without a valid permit, according to their lawyer.Authorities are on high alert for suspicious activities near churches after seven Muslims in the southern town of Isna set fire to a church and shops owned by Christians on Sunday. The attack was retribution for the alleged rape of a Muslim girl.Christians in Egypt remain a small and largely powerless minority that often complains about discrimination – which ranges from social to economic to religious oppression – in the Muslim-dominated society.One of their main complaints is about the requirement to obtain a license to build or rebuild churches when Muslims can build mosques anywhere and without requesting a permit.Another growing debate is over the right of Egyptian Muslims to convert to Christianity and have their religion changed on their official documents. It is nearly impossible for a convert to legally change his religion to Christianity, which means that the person cannot marry a Christian and their children must be raised as Muslims.In recent months, converts to Christianity have for the first time challenged the Egyptian system. But as a result, their lawyers and their families have received numerous death threats and in the end were forced into hiding.Officially, Egypt has no law banning conversion from Islam, but the country’s Muslims look upon apostasy very negatively with some even calling for punishment by death.Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 80 million. Although they are the minority in Egypt, they represent the largest Christian population in the Middle East.

As in the days of Noah....

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Will Islamic law come to Kenya?

Kenya-With the election coming December 27, promises and alliances are dominating the political landscape in Kenya. The West African country has more than 40 ethnic groups, and they may determine who wins the presidential election. However, the opposition candidate and front runner seems to have a controversy brewing.Reports indicate Raila Odinga has signed a memorandum of understanding with local Muslims promising to impose Sharia law for Muslim-held areas of the country. Voice of the Martyrs' Todd Nettleton says, "He has responded to that claim saying, 'No, it's not for Sharia Law. I simply have promised that I will not allow Muslims to be discriminated against if I take office.' So it's hard to say exactly what the agreement was."Nettleton says one thing is certain. "We do know there was a signed agreement with Muslim leaders. We don't know if that had to do with (for sure) pushing for Sharia, or if it was simply a goodwill gesture that there wouldn't be discrimination as a way to try to lure those votes."One-third of the population identify themselves as Muslims. Two-thirds of the country are non-Muslim. Nettleton's not sure how this will play out in the populous. "If they believe the currently government that this would be a push for Sharia law, I think it would signal more support for the government. I think if they believe this is somehow misinformation, though, it's hard to predict if they might swing back to the opposition."According to Nettleton, "I think Kenya is at a crossroads. The Muslim population is growing, and so there is more push for more political power for Muslims. Now, whether that is going to lead in the short-term to Sharia law-I have a hard time believing that. But long-term it's hard to say what might happen."Christians are being urged to pray that Kenya doesn't turn into another Nigeria where Sharia law was supposedly only for the Muslims. "Since that law has come into effect, we have seen cases where Christians were prosecuted and accused under Sharia mandates."Nettleton is also urging Christians to pray that voters will be wise in their choice for president, and that religious freedom would be preserved.
As in the days of Noah....

Martyrdom awaits North Koreans on Christmas:'Nowhere in the world is such a high price paid for being a Christian'

In a nation where being a Christian can bring the death penalty for the "offender" and his entire family, where tens of thousands of Christians are held in terminal prison camps, and the populace is taught to revere its dictator as a god, there will be martyrdom for Christians on Christmas Day, according to an international ministry."Just like on other days of the year, at Christmas time there will be Christians who perish in the death camps of North Korea, ranked No. 1 on the Open Doors World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the greatest persecution," said a spokesman for the group.Reports of the execution of Christians in North Korea circulate routinely, sometimes for an offense no worse than having a Bible."The state is working hard to wipe out Christianity," said Open Doors USA spokesman Jerry Dykstra."Nowhere in the world is such a high price paid as in this country with its tyrannical regime," he said.Dykstra released a statement on the "celebration" in North Korea of Christmas, as an observance of the birth of Christ one of Christianity's most significant dates. "No bright lights, no Christmas dinner and not even a Christmas Eve service for the followers of Jesus Christ," will be on tap for the holiday."This Christmas – just like any other day in the year – there are no festive lights in the streets of Pyongyang. The city is largely shrouded in darkness. North Korea is the only country in the world where the Cold War is not yet over, and one of the few countries in which it is not permitted to celebrate Christmas at all," he said.But even under such repression, "Christians find ways to celebrate Christmas," he said.Confirmation comes from "Brother Simon," who coordinates the work of Open Doors from a secret location."But, of course, Christians do reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ," he said. "Only they can't just go along to church to sing or listen to a sermon. They can't even visit one another to read the Bible together. Being a Christian in North Korea is very lonely."He said most often Christians gather in groups of only two, trying to keep underneath the social radar that alerts authorities to groups that meet. Only sporadically, and in secret locations, do numbers higher than that assemble."For example (on an ordinary Sunday), a Christian goes and sits on a bench in the park. Another Christian comes and sits next to him. Sometimes it is dangerous even to speak to one another, but they know they are both Christians, and at such a time, this is enough. If there is no one around, they may be able to share a Bible verse which they have learned by heart and briefly say something about it. They also share prayer topics with each other. Then they leave one another and go and look for Christians in some other part of their town. This continues throughout Sunday. A cell group usually consists of fewer than 20 Christians who encourage and strengthen one another in this way. Besides this, there are one-to-one meetings in people's homes," Simon said.It's similar with Christmas. "Christmas is mainly celebrated in the heart of the Christian," said Simon. "Only if the whole family has turned to Christ is it possible to have something like a real gathering. For fear of retribution it is necessary to keep your faith hidden from the neighbors. It is sometimes possible to hold a meeting in remote areas with a group of 10 to 20 people. Very occasionally, it is possible for Christians to go unobtrusively into the mountains and to hold a 'service' at a secret location. Then there might be as many as 60 or 70 North Koreans gathered together."But he noted that like any other day of the year, there will be those martyred for their faith on Christmas Day.This repression, however, is proving unsuccessful at halting the church's growth, he confirmed."The church is growing," he said, based on information from his networks of sources, and largely is due to refugees who have fled North Korea, but come to Christ in the relatively free society of China, and return to their homeland as missionaries.WND previously reported on the escape of a North Korean man from the bondage of that nation's dictatorship, who reported many North Koreans believe dictator Kim Jong-il actually is a god.The Christian, now living in South Korea, was identified only as Mr. Kim. He told Voice of the Martyrs that Kim Jong-il, and his late father Kim Il Sung, both are portrayed as gods."All North Koreans really believe that Kim Il Sung is a god. He [hid] the bad things he had done, to preserve his godlike status to the people. I think 70 to 80 percent of what is said about Kim Il Sung is similar to the Bible," he told the ministry, for which he also recorded himself singing.While comprehensive information about Kim Jong-il's present rule in North Korea is hard to obtain because of the absolute dictatorship that exists, anecdotal evidence abounds about his cruelty and excesses.For example, Camp 22, the nation's largest concentration camp can hold up to 50,000 men, women and children accused of political "crimes," while reports of atrocities such as the rampant murder of babies born to inmates are supported by witnesses.Meanwhile, his expensive tastes have become known internationally. Reuters reported, "No one enjoys luxury goods more than paramount leader Kim Jong-il, who boasts the country's finest wine cellar with space for 10,000 bottles. … His annual purchases of Hennessy cognac reportedly total to $700,000, while the average North Korean earns the rough estimate equivalent of $900 per year."Mr. Kim said while growing up he had no real knowledge of religion, and had not even heard about Christianity. He had seen filmed representations of Christmas parties but had no idea they were related to Jesus."We were taught that religion is the opium of the people, and that pastors were spies of South Korea, trying to bring imperialism to North Korea. I was taught that religion was bad and school text books reinforced this idea, explaining that people from other countries built the hospitals, schools and did all kinds of good deeds for North Korea in order to spy," he said.
Then, like others, he went to visit relatives in China as a college student during 1998, and was shocked."The conditions overall were better in China, but one thing I really noticed was that people were energetic and had dreams. In North Korea, even college students were depressed and under a lot of pressure. When I returned to North Korea, I couldn't forget the faces of those in China," he said.He went back to China, "escaped" is how he described it, just a few months later."I had heard if you go to churches the members would help. That's why I went to a church," he said. There he first got financial and other help. "I also went to a church in Shanghai, where I met a man who was president of a company who offered me a job… I found out later that this man was also an elder in a church," he said.At that company, he was exposed to worship services morning and night."I spent one and a half years studying the Bible, underlining passages and taking notes," he said. "I really focused on studying the Bible, and this was the time that I became a Christian."As WND has reported, not all Christians are so fortunate.Son Jong Hoon and his brother, Son Jong Nam, who has been condemned to execution in North Korea for being a Christian (Voice of the Martyrs photo)An international campaign was launched by the Voice of the Martyrs to generate worldwide pressure on North Korean officials who have ordered a man executed for being a Christian.Son Jong Hoon told a news conference in Washington, D.C., that his life's goal now is to save his brother, Son Jong Nam, a former North Korean Army officer turned underground evangelist."I pray to God for my brother's safety," he said, describing the horrors of the basement jail cell where Son Jong Nam has been held, beaten and tortured since his most recent arrest.
To hear Mr.Kim sing,go to:

As in the days of Noah....

Monday, December 17, 2007

Arrests in Indonesia -- Prayer, persecution go hand in hand

While we certainly should be praying for their safety, we shouldn't be surprised by the recent arrest and imprisonment of more than three dozen Christians in Indonesia. Scripture tells us as believers to expect persecution because of Jesus' name.Several weeks ago Bob Prouty, a longtime friend and a leader for Campus Crusade for Christ (Australia), told me about an outrageous Indonesian government case against a group of Christian leaders in that country. He shared with me that 41 Christians with ties to Campus Crusade's ministry were sentenced to five years in the Indonesian prison system for their participation in a prayer meeting. Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) reported that "during the time they prayed for the nation, [they prayed] that all Muslim leaders come to know Christ." VOM reports that video footage of the prayer meeting was "leaked to a Muslim organization."Apparently the most controversial part of the film revolved around a segment showing a person at the prayer meeting pointing to the Koran and describing it as the "source of all evil in Indonesia, from violence to terrorism." Asia News reported that "Article 156A of the Indonesian penal code establishes a minimum sentence of 5 years in prison for offending religion." Apparently Indonesian prosecutors condemned both the prayer gathering and the subsequent context of the video recording as a "religious offense" (punishable under Indonesian state law).Sources in Indonesia are quoted as saying the 41 believers were "found guilty of abusing the Koran" with "the judge [sentencing] them to five years in prison." All reported stories from Asia indicate the lawyers representing the Christians would appeal the conviction and impending sentence from Surabaya, Indonesia. We shall see.
Regardless of the outcome, it's evident there is little or no freedom of speech in Indonesia. Still, the American media establishment has shown it is very reluctant to tell the truth about the contempt and intolerance officials in these countries have for religious expression, particularly that of Judaism or Christianity. Talk to the Christians in Iraq, the Christians in Bethlehem, or the believers in Saudi Arabia or many other places in the Middle East. You'll find that sharing the gospel in those countries -- Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, the Gaza strip, Syria, Yemen, or the Sudan -- can cost Christians their lives.
By James L. Lambert

As in the days of Noah....

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Death threats can’t stop me being a Christian, says imam’s daughter

An imam’s daughter whose family threatened to kill her after she converted to Christianity at the age of 16 has told The Times that, because of her faith, she is not afraid to die.But Hannah, now 32, has been forced to live under police protection for the past month since her brother told her that he could not be responsible for his actions if she did not return to Islam. Hannah, who hopes to marry a fellow Christian next year, uses a pseudonym and has moved house 45 times since her conversion.She said: “Yes, there is a possibility I will be killed, just as there is for anyone that they can get run over by a bus. My faith means that I am not afraid to die. If I was to focus on that, I would spend my life at home, trapped. I am not going to let it stop me being who I am, from being a Christian.” She said that her freedom was made possible by living in Britain. “We are protected by the law in this country, which means I should be free to live the life God has called me to live.”Hannah was speaking to The Times after the Right Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, launched a new charity last week called Lapido Media, which aims to improve “religious literacy” about world affairs. Dr Nazir-Ali said that although the Koran did not specify the death penalty for apostasy, the four main Sunni and two Shia schools of Islamic thought agreed that this was an accurate interpretation of the hadith, or the oral tradition.However, two of the world’s leading Islamic scholars suggested recently that the death penalty was intended to be carried out only in the next life.Hannah, who was born in Britain but whose father is from Pakistan, said that she had a strict religious upbringing. She prayed five times a day and wore the full hijab from the age of ten.Although she attended a Church of England primary school, 80 per cent of her fellow pupils were also Muslim. She learnt to read Arabic and had read the Koran by the age of 8. “I did not really know what was beyond that Pakistani community.” When she started secondary school she became more aware of the outside world – and when, aged 16, she overheard her father on the phone arranging her flight to Pakistan to marry a cousin whom she had never met she was shocked into action. “I went to college and did not go home,” she said. “I had nowhere to go. Everyone I knew was Muslim and knew my dad. I was on the street for about a week.” She slept in bus shelters until her religious education teacher offered her a bed. Against the teacher’s wishes, she started going to church. “I watched everyone and saw how they lived their lives. I heard about God’s love, about how Jesus died on the cross. I was totally blown away by it. I asked someone how I could get to know Jesus. They said, ‘Ask him to come into your life. Ask for forgiveness’. So I did and that night I became a Christian.”Hannah was still in contact with her family but they did not take her conversion seriously. Three years later she was baptised and invited them to the ceremony. They told her she was bringing shame upon them and the death threats began. At one point, 14 men with stones and knives came to her door and shouted at her to come out. When the threats became more serious a month ago, she went to the police. She said: “I pray that one day there will be a reconciliation with my family. But I have no regrets, not one.”

As in the days of Noah...

China Arrests 270 Underground Protestant Pastors

Chinese police forces recently arrested 270 Protestant house church pastors in an eastern province, reported a Chinese Christian human rights organization.The pastors were gathering in the district of Hedeng in Shandong province when about 50 policemen from 12 different towns raided the meeting place, blindfolded and handcuffed attendees and took them to the local police station for questioning, according to U.S.-based China Aid Association (CAA.).CAA’s president, the Rev. Bob Fu, told The Christian Post that 70 Christian leaders remain in prison as of Thursday morning.The massive arrest took place last Friday at around 1:30 p.m. local time when the clergymen were gathering for a Bible study, according to AsiaNews. A police squad arrived in armored trucks and arrested participants for engaging in an “illegal religious gathering,” recalled an eyewitness, who noted the raid was “violent and swift.”Some 120 pastors had been released early on after paying 300 yuan (US $40) as an “interrogation tax,” according to AsiaNews.
“Obviously, the detention of these pastors illustrates China’s insincerity in moving toward a culture of religious tolerance,” commented Washington-based Family Research Council (FRC) President Tony Perkins in a statement Tuesday.“While the regime tries to project itself as progressive, the reality is that China has no intention of abiding by international law or abandoning its hostility to Western religious ideals,” noted Perkins, an influential conservative Christian leader.FRC issued a letter on Tuesday to the U.S. State Department urging Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to broker the remaining pastors’ quick release.China allows protestant Christian groups to exist but requires them to register with the government-sanctioned Three Self-Patriotic Movement. There are about 10 million members within the state-approved Protestant church group.According to CAA, there is a campaign to “normalize” underground Protestant churches by giving them two options: either join the Three Self-Patriotic Movement or be oppressed by government forces.House church worshippers refuse to join the TSPM because they argue God should be the head of the church and not the government. They also believe that requiring government-approval to hold religious gatherings is a violation of their religious freedom.China has been under greater scrutiny by the international community for its human rights conduct as it prepares to host the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Although it claims to be a country of religious tolerance, human rights groups have reported a secret campaign to crackdown on unregistered church activities before the Olympics.Many house church pastors in Beijing have been visited and “requested” to leave the city before the Games, according to Open Doors’ contacts in China.“These crackdowns on Chinese house church believers and others is not unexpected as the communist government of China tries to put its best foot forward to the world in preparing for the Olympics,” commented Dr. Carl Moeller, president and CEO of Open Doors USA-a Christian persecution watchdog.In a widely publicized event, over 100 foreign missionaries were expelled from China and some even blacklisted earlier this summer. The massive expulsion was the largest of its kind since 1954 after the communist government took power in 1949.Some U.S. human rights groups have urged a boycott of the Beijing Olympics if China does not improve its human rights record before the Games.China has an underground Christian population estimated to be as high as 100 million, although experts are quick to point out the difficulty in obtaining the real count.
As in the days of Noah....

Religious Hatred Fuels Escalating Attacks on Christians in India

BANGALORE, India-There have been 500 reported incidents of anti-Christian violence in India in the past 23 months, claimed a Bangalore-based Christian advocacy group this week.As the world this week prepared to mark International Human Rights Day, the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) accused influential Hindu organizations such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteers' Organization) and the Bharatiya Janata (Indian People’s) Party of promoting attacks against Christian workers. "The attacks on Christians have been largely the sinister religious hatred of the Hindutva forces, under the umbrella organization of the Sangh Parivar (Family of Associations) like the RSS and the BJP, and their affiliate bodies like Bajrang Dal (Army of Hanuman), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and others," GCIC stated.The group said it has urged Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to invoke the constitutional provisions to control the BJP and its affiliates in order to restrain staff members from polluting the atmosphere with what appears to be its communal agenda.Quoting one of the constitutional rights that grants every Indian citizen the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, GCIC questioned why "seven states in India have introduced the anti-conversion laws which ban 'forced' religious conversions."“In the name of ‘forced’ religious conversions, many Christian workers and converts are being persecuted,” it alleged.GCIC said this is in violation of Article 25 of the Indian Constitution which guarantees everyone the right and the freedom to preach, practice and propagate his or her religion.The advocacy group expressed grave concern over the renewed activities of communal forces – the latest manifestation of which was the attack on two groups of individuals belonging to the order of the Missionaries of Charity.It also made note of the series of escalating brutalities inflicted on hapless individuals, and attacks on worshippers in India.“While the missionaries are quite willing to pardon the evil doers – from the point of view of peace in society – such disruptive forces cannot be allowed to play free," GCIC asserted."They have already done enough to sow seeds of discord in the name of religion and caste. This type of threat to internal freedom is worse than terrorist attacks."
According to Dr. John Dayal, president of the All India Catholic Union, statistics gathered from Jan. 1 to Nov. 16 showed that the number of atrocities against Christians this year surpassed the marks of recent years.The victims include members of almost every church denomination in the country - Catholics, Protestants, and Evangelicals. They include priests, nuns, pastors, wives of pastors, believers, seminarians and Bible school students, and lay persons.Violence includes attempted murder, armed assault, sexual molestation, illegal confinement and grievous injury.
Dayal noted, however, that the figures “do not include cases that have not come to the notice of the All India Christian Council, the All India Catholic Union, the GCIC, the Evangelical Fellowship of India and the Christian Legal Association.”The list also does not include widespread incidents that were simply categorized as “violence” but which Dayal said certainly bore signs of religious intolerance, bigotry, social discrimination and ostracization.Nor does it include violence in which Christians are victims together with others, such as the displacement of Tribals due to government action, Dayal added in a statement.
As in the days of Noah....