Saturday, May 31, 2008

Suspicious Ending in Trial Concerning Uyghur Christian Alimujiang Yimiti

(May 27, 2008)Xinjiang-CAA has learned that, the trial for Uyghur Christian Alimujiang Yimiti commenced on May 27 at 10am.The trial lasted for 6 hours and 30 minutes.The court recessed from 1pm to 4pm before resuming.Mr. Yimiti was allowed legal representation from two lawyers who were permitted to be present during the trial.Mr. Yimiti’s wife, Nuergul, however was prohibited from entering the courtroom as were members of the media due to the Government’s claims of the sensitivity of the case. At 7:30pm the court reached a verdict that the case be sent back to the original PSB prosecuters due to "insufficient evidence" against the accused.On Monday in Beijing a US delegation led by assistant Secretary of State, David Kramer reinstated human rights dialogue with the Chinese Government. Mr. Yimiti’s case will be one that will be raised to the Government officials. n an interview this morning with CAA’s President Bob Fu, Mr. Yimiti’s wife, Nuergul, restated her husband’s innocence due to the fact that he is an agricultural worker and has no access to state secrets, nor was he engaging in separatist activities.She pleaded for the early release of her husband. She also relayed to Mr. Fu that her two year old daughter points to her father’s picture everyday and tells visitors that herdad is busy buying toy cars for her and will return soon.Nuergul thanked the many people around the world for their continual support and prayers which have continued to strengthen her faith through this difficult time.
CAA has also learned from two independent sources that the Ministry of Public Security has received funding from the Chinese Central Government to increase their campaign of eradicating House Churches throughout China
.While the amount of funds allocated for this campaign is unknown, the steady increase of persecution against house churches continues to rise substantially across China. On Sunday May 25, the Beijing Gospel Church, home to more than 1000 members was raided by PSB Officials. Pastor Gao Zhen was detained and interrogated before being released at 6:00pm.
In a separate incidence, a house church Seminary in Weifang City, Shandong Province was also raided by more than 30 PSB and RAB Officials. The seminary is occupied by 48 students and staffed by 3 teachers. All 48 students were told to return to their home-towns immediately.Officials detained the staff members and confiscated Bibles, computers, printers and the seminary’s mini-van. Authorities labeled the school and its members as followers of Falun Gong.
To voice your concern please contact:
Chinese Embassy in Washington DC
Address: 2201 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W.,
Washington D.C. 20007
Tel: (202) 338-6688, (202)5889760
Fax: (202) 588-9760
As in the days of Noah...........

Iraqi Christians Warn of 'New Catastrophe for Humanity'

Days before Sweden hosts an international conference aimed at pushing ahead the political and economic reform process in Iraq, hundreds of exiled Iraqi Christians demonstrated outside the country's parliament Sunday to draw attention to the minority's plight in their homeland."A new wave of ethnic cleansing is going on in Iraq,"Iraqi Christian representative Behiye Hadodo told the gathering."If these atrocities continue, the Chaldean, Syriac and Assyrian communities there will be wiped out altogether, creating a new catastrophe for humanity."Iraq's Assyrians are a non-Arab ethnic minority located mainly in northeastern Iraq, and adherents of Christian denominations including the Chaldean Catholic and Syriac Orthodox churches.A 1987 census recorded 1.4 million Christians in Iraq, but the numbers began to drop after the 1990 Gulf War, reaching around 800,000 before the U.S. invaded in March 2003.Persecution at the hands of Islamic radicals-killings, church bombings, kidnappings, forced conversions and harassment-has prompted hundreds of thousands of Christians to flee the country since 2003. Although accurate statistics are unavailable, researchers believe the community may have been halved in the past five years.Many have moved to Syria and Jordan, and others to northern Europe, Australia and the United States.Of an estimated 70,000 Iraqi Christians in Europe, nearly half are reported to live in Sweden. Speeches during Sunday's rally in Stockholm centered on continuing harassment by fundamentalists in Iraq, including abductions and assaults of girls and women, and the forcing of women to wear veils in line with strict Islamic doctrines. Participants reiterated calls for international support for an autonomous safe region for Iraqi Christians in the historical Assyrian region in the north of the country.Hadodo, a representative of the European Syriac Union, said the demonstration's goal was to draw the attention of the United States, European Union and United Nations to the "ongoing terror" and especially to the murder of Christian clerics in Iraq.On Thursday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will join counterparts and officials from around the world including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for a meeting near Stockholm that will follow up last year's launch of the International Compact with Iraq.The compact is a partnership between the Iraqi government and the international community, aimed at pursuing political, economic and social development over a five-year period.Iraqi officials are expected to outline progress made during the past year, with a strong focus on the security situation. Among those due to attend is Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, whose government is accused by the U.S. of destabilizing Iraq by supporting insurgents there.Iraq's Christians are hoping that the meeting in Sweden will consider their concerns too.“Since the liberation of Iraq much attention has been devoted to the demands and expectations of Iraq's Shi'a, Sunni, Kurds,” Hermiz Shahen, secretary of the Australian chapter of the Assyrian Universal Alliance, said Wednesday.“Yet the plight of the Assyrian nation is attracting little attention in the outside world.”Pointing to the high number of Christian refugees, Shahen said the international community must make the issue a priority. Within one or two generations, he said, Christians in the Middle East - the birthplace of Christianity - may be reduced to a negligible number, having been forced to flee radical Islam.“It is important that the Assyrian voice be heard [at the meeting in Sweden] and the Assyrian nation be distinctly recognized,” he said. “It is time for the advocates who call for democracy, justice and human rights to stand up for the rights of the indigenous Assyrians of Iraq.”Shahen said Assyrians' demands included equitable representation in government and amendment of the Iraqi constitution to protect Assyrians and allow them “true and equal citizenship.”They also wanted the establishment of an Assyrian governorate or province, administered by Assyrians under the jurisdiction of Iraq's central government. This would encourage refugees, whether internally displaced or outside the country, to return, and enjoy political, educational, linguistic, religious and cultural protection, he said.Prior to the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, the U.S. designated Iraq as a "country of particular concern" (CPC) for religious freedom violations. The 1998 International Religious Freedom Act allows for a range of steps, including sanctions, to be taken against governments that engage in or tolerate serious religious freedom violations.CPC designation was subsequently lifted, but the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent body advising the White House and Congress, last year placed Iraq on a "watch list" pointing to escalating, unchecked violence against religious minorities as well as "evidence of collusion between Shi'a militias and Iraqi government ministries."Earlier this month, the commission in a letter to Rice said it remained seriously concerned about the situation, citing violence against non-Muslims "from Sunni insurgents and foreign extremists, as well as pervasive violence, discrimination, and marginalization at the hands of the national government, regional governments, and para-state militias, including those in Kurdish areas." Some of the commission's members argue that Iraq should already have be returned to the CPC blacklist, but the commission said it would make a recommendation in the near future, after a visit to Iraq.Earlier this year the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul, Paulos Faraj Rahho, became the most senior Christian figure to be slain. His body was found after gunmen abducted him at his church, killing three men with him.The Minority Rights Group International says Iraq is the second-most dangerous country in the world for minorities in 2008, behind Somalia and ahead of Sudan, Afghanistan and Burma.
By Patrick Goodenough International Editor
As in the days of Noah...

The church in Algeria is under attack and needs our support!

The church in Algeria is under attack and needs our support!
In March 2006, a new law governing non-Muslim places of worship was enacted and is threatening the very existence of Algerian churches.Since November 2007, 26 of the 52 known churches and Christian meeting groups have been ordered to close.
Please send an email to Algerian Ambassador Kherbi, on their behalf.
Algeria’s official state religion is Islam, and religious minorities like Christianity are seen as a threat to the government’s internal affairs. Anyone found trying to convert a Muslim to Christianity can receive a sentence of two to five years imprisonment and given a fine up to $15,800. Christianity has been compared to terrorism, and Muslim schools and mosques have been encouraged to continue the attack that threatens to drive the Christian community in Algeria underground.
Please email Ambassador Kherbi today, asking him to stop the closure of churches and to reopen those that have already been closed. We need to tell the Algerian government that these church closures must stop, and that freedom for all religions must be respected.
As in the days of Noah...

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Iran Arrests Suspected Converts to Christianity

Amid a growing crackdown on religious freedom, Iranian police reportedly have been rounding up people they suspect have converted to Christianity.On May 11, police arrested eight people in the southern city of Shiraz, according to Carl Moeller, president of Open Doors USA, a Christian organization that fights religious persecution. Converting from Islam is a crime in Iran; converts can face jail and other penalties.Most of those detained have been released, but at least one of them, 21-year-old Mojtaba Hussein, is still behind bars and is not cooperating with his captors, according to Moeller.“He may not be willing to give up the names of other Muslim converts. He may not be willing to recant his faith himself,” Moeller said.Numerous calls to Iranian government representatives in the U.S. have not been returned.Though they are protected under the Iranian constitution, Christians are not given the same freedoms as other citizens in Iran. Christians can’t worship freely or hold public office, and they can be arrested for even speaking to Muslims about Christianity.“Such people are persecuted, and particularly in the 1990s such converts were killed-it’s thought by government agents,” said Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank.Under the watchful eye of the Iranian government, many have been forced to worship in secret and are moving underground into what are called house churches-although some sects, such as Armenians and Syrians, have been allowed to worship in churches.“With Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president, the Iranians are intensifying the religious dimension of their rule,” Marshall said. “The concern about the religious purity of the regime has become stronger in the last two or three years.”Earlier this year, Ahmadinejad proposed a law that would impose a death sentence for any Muslim who converts to another religion. Under current laws, those charged with converting can be prosecuted and face jail time for vague crimes like “blasphemy” and “insulting Islam.”Marshall said these restrictive policies may be creating a backlash among Muslims.“There are indications that with the deep unpopularity of the regime that people are turning away from Islam,” he said.“Seeing Muslims converting to Christianity is directly threatening to an Islamic regime,” said Moeller.He compared these small groups of converts to early Christians living under the yoke of the Roman Empire, who met in secret and whose beliefs were “dependent on dreams, visions, signs and wonders.”Because Bibles are rare in Iran and teachings are not "as dependent on the Bible as Evangelical Christianity in America is,” said Moeller, there is a “real lack of scriptural foundation."But despite the growing pressure from the state, worshippers continue to practice, and Moeller said the house church system seems to be growing.“We’ve got confirmed reports of groups of Muslim convert believers doubling in size in the last six months,” he said.
As in the days of Noah...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Muslims equate Christians with terrorists:Police raid homes, seize literature, arrest converts and deport missionaries

Christian missionaries are "as dangerous as terrorist activities or the illegal drug trade," Islamic theologians in Uzbekistan declared. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports a new documentary called "In the Clutches of Ignorance," featuring Uzbek experts, state officials and representatives of Orthodox and Catholic churches in Uzbekistan, claims missionaries pose a serious threat to the Islamic republic.The Uzbek state film criticized Jehovah's Witnesses, the Christian Gospel Church and Blagodat (evangelical charity), saying they cause a "global problem, along with religious dogmatism, fundamentalism, terrorism, and drug addiction."Jasur Najmiddinov, one of many religious experts interviewed, accused Protestants of being a "political tool" and a "part of geopolitical games," RFE/RL reported. "Their center or place of origin traces back to the United States," Najmiddinov said. "They have even gone so far as meddling in politics. We all know representatives of the Protestant movement played a significant role in the Orange Revolution in Ukraine."The Uzbek theologian said missionary activities disrupt society because Uzbek families do not tolerate relatives who convert from Islam.The May 16 documentary featured clips of people praying and claimed Uzbek Christians, who have turned their backs on Islam, could effortlessly betray their country.Uzbekistan bans missionary activity, religions that are not registered with the government and printing of faith-based literature without state consent.Norway's Forum 18, an organization defending religious freedom, reports intolerance of religion is steadily growing in Uzbekistan as police invade private homes, seize Christian literature, arrest converts and deport missionaries.The new state documentary warns, Christian missionaries seek out "those with low political awareness and weak-willed young people, as well as minors," and it said they "get funds abroad" to destabilize Islam.Although the government says its official stance of "religious toleration" is part of its policy, persecution of a wide variety of religious groups is common in Uzbekistan. Human rights organizations say the government incarcerates Muslims for worshipping outside state institutions and calls them extremists determined to bring down the government.Uzbek imam Obidkhon Qori Nazarov blames the strict government for putting so much pressure on Muslims that it often separates them from Islam, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported."People are being fired from their jobs or expelled from universities for merely growing a beard or wearing head scarves," he said. "Some people are even sent to prison. People are afraid of following the most basic Islamic requirements." Nazarov claims terrified parents refuse to let their children pray or go to mosques because they fear the government, as it controls all religious activities and even appoints imams."It's like Soviet times," Nazarov said. "In the Soviet days, we also had mosques and churches everywhere. But in reality, they all operated under the tightest government control."

As in the days of Noah...

Secret plans under way to tear down Christian symbols:Army says chapel crosses violate policy

U.S. soldiers stationed at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo may be stunned to find three wooden crosses stripped from the exterior grounds of their chapel in coming weeks-and many never saw it coming.Several high-ranking officers have met behind closed doors to discuss plans for the crosses.They have decided to remove, and perhaps destroy, the Christian symbols located outside Peacekeeper's Chapel in the name of free exercise of religion.Lt. Col. William Jenkins, 35th Infantry Division's Kosovo Force 9 command chaplain, told WND, "The removal of the bringing the chapel into line with long-standing regulations and policies that apply to every U.S. Army chapel around the world and that are supported by all faith groups in the U.S. Army."Jenkins cited the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as validation for the cross removal, saying it guarantees every American the right to the free exercise of religion. He also referenced an Army directive that bans religious symbols from chapels:
Distinctive religious symbols, such as crosses, crucifixes, the Star of David, menorah, and other religious symbols, will not be affixed or displayed permanently on the chapel exterior or grounds. (Army Reg. 165-1, 13-3.d)
Army chapels are also required to be devoid of religious symbols on furnishings, such as altars, pulpits and lecterns."This is not a new regulation and exists to protect the free exercise of religion of all soldiers," Jenkins said. "Army chapels are for all soldiers of all faith groups." Following a secret vote, several officers decided to take down the crosses as part of a "relandscaping" project. Only one person present at the meeting voted against the measure.
Soldiers say high-ranking officers have been secretive about plans for the crosses and have not made an official announcement to troops – leaving most in the dark about plans until the crosses have been removed.The crosses will be replaced with a stone monument engraved with the name of the chapel and the crest of U.S. Army Chaplain Corps, Jenkins said. At the time of this report, there were no indications of plans to notify soldiers of the decision.Although the camp itself was named after Sgt. James Bondsteel, a soldier who earned the Medal of Honor in Vietnam, high-ranking Army personnel have also decided to remove a memorial plaque dedicated to fallen Chaplain Gordon Oglesby, who served and died in Kosovo, because it violates a policy against naming a chapel after a soldier.One person stationed in Kosovo became concerned about freedom of religious expression in the military after WND reported the Army deliberately shut down a chaplain's Baptist service at Forward Operating Base Loyalty in Iraq. The soldier expressed agitation at a perceived double standard after an American sniper accused of shooting a Quran for target practice faced disciplinary action and removal from Iraq for desecrating the religious property."It is very discouraging as a Christian soldier to see our Army punish him for destroying a Quran, but then it pays a private company to destroy some crosses," the soldier said. "I feel it is a slap in the face to me, my Lord and my freedom."
As in the days of Noah...

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Relief denied to Burmese Christians

The ruling military government, or junta, in Burma is being accused of denying relief aid to minority Christians.Because Christian Freedom International (CFI) has worked for years in the country now known as Myanmar, the ministry was able to provide relief to cyclone victims shortly after the storm hit.But now, ministry workers are accusing the Burmese military of diverting aid from areas heavily populated by ethnic Karen villagers.Jim Jacobson, president of CFI,says that move would be consistent with the longstanding policy of the military rulers."There are people in Burma who have faced genocidal persecution ever since World War II," says Jacobson. "... This is a regime that suppresses all of the people, but wages genocidal war against minority Christians .... it's an awful place." CFI is currently wiring donations for relief aid into Burma through its extensive network of underground house churches.
As in the days of Noah...

Jewish Deputy Mayor Apologizes for New Testament Burning

Following worldwide uproar, the deputy mayor who organized the Orthodox Jewish students responsible for the burning of hundreds of New Testaments has publicly apologized to Christians worldwide for the intolerant act and for any hurt feelings it might have produced. The burning of the New Testaments last Thursday by yeshiva students was regrettable and unplanned, said Deputy Mayor Uzi Aharon of the central Israeli town Or Yehuda to The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.Aharon had initially defiantly defended the students’ action when news broke out about the Bible burning. He had described their action to various media outlets as “purging the evil among us,” fighting those that break the law by trying to convert Jews, and following the “commandment.”But by the time he spoke to The Jerusalem Post, which publishes a monthly Christian edition, he changed his tone and said he was very sorry for the book burning, that it was unplanned, and that he was unaware the event may have caused damage to Christian-Jewish relations."I wasn't even on the scene when the boys rounded up all the Bibles and brought them all to one place [near the synagogue in Neveh Rabin],” Aharon claimed to the Post. “They started burning them before I got there. Once I arrived the most I could do was pull a Bible out of the fire. I put it in nylon and its now in my car. I am really sorry for the book burning, but I did not organize it, it was a spontaneous thing by the yeshiva boys," Aharon said.He added, “We respect all religions as we expect others to respect ours. I am very sorry that the New Testament was burned, we mean it no harm and I'm sorry that we hurt the feelings of others.”However, the Or Yehuda deputy mayor also declared that Israel cannot allow messianic Jews to “come into our homes and incite against our religion, and turn our children away from Judaism. That is against the law.”Aharon, a strong anti-missionary activist, admits he had initially organized “three or four” yeshiva students from the town’s Michtav M’Eliahu Yeshiva to go to apartments in a part of town with many Ethiopian Jews to collect packages recently given to them by local messianic Jews, according to the Post. The packages contained a New Testament and pamphlets, which Aharon claims encouraged going against Judaism.The New Testament burning is the latest incident revealing escalating tension between Orthodox Jews and messianic Jews as well as any Christian trying to share the Gospel with Jews in Israel.Bible Society in Israel director Victor Kalisher, whose organization printed the Bibles burned in Or Yehuda, responded to the incident:“What worries me is that nobody has stood up against this,” said Kalisher, the son of Holocaust survivors, to the Post. “It seems there is a war against messianic Jews in Israel.”Kalisher argues that Bibles are not forced on anybody or into any homes, contrary to what many Orthodox Jews claim about Christian evangelism.“The book has never harmed anyone, you can choose to read it or choose not to read it,” he said. “If this happened to Jewish books overseas we would be screaming anti-Semitism.”He acknowledged the increased tension between the two communities, noting bombs that have been sent to messianic Jews, “and now books have been burned.”“This cannot be allowed to happen here,” said the messianic Jew.Calev Myers, a lawyer representing messianic Jews in Israel, not only condemned the Or Yehuda incident, but he called it an “illegal act” and part of growing institutionalized discrimination against messianic Jews in Israel.The lawyer is waiting to see if Or Yehuda police will open an investigation into the New Testament burning incident, but if the do not, he said he will file a petition."I expect the police to investigate everyone who was involved in the book burning, including those who incited the youths to the act, even if that includes Mr. Aharon," Myers said."Israelis have to understand something: Messianic Jews here have strong ties to American evangelical Christians, and there are hundreds of millions of people in the world who see the burning of the New Testament as a very serious issue. The New Testament is believed in by hundreds of millions of people. It is not in Israel's national interest to allow the burning of their holy book,"Myers said.On a larger scale, various groups throughout Israel have increasingly tried to prevent Christians from sharing their faith with Jews.In September, Israeli rabbis had urged Jews to boycott a massive Christian tourism event to avoid attempts to convert them to Christianity. Earlier that same year, Israel’s interior ministry officials said an evangelical pastor and his wife – who had lived in Israel for nearly 20 years – had to leave the country within two weeks because their application for permanent residency was rejected. Officials said the decision resulted from suspicion that the two were involved in missionary work, which Israel bans.Another incident occurred in July, when the country’s cable television company pulled the plug on a major Christian TV Network, which has programs offering biblical teachings from the New Testament as well as infomercials that targets a Jewish audience with the message of Jesus.The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, which has in the past resisted criticism of Israel, has called the burning of the Christian Holy Book “unacceptable” and “offensive to most Christians.”

As in the days of Noah....

Pastor's Wife Burnt to Death in "Witches' Burning" in Kenya

New members on U.N. council

The United Nations Human Rights Council, which has yet to prove its worth in fighting violations, has new members.The U.N. Commission on Human Rights had taken a bad rap for its membership and was abolished for that reason in 2006. In its wake, the Human Rights Council was established-and the U.N. held an election this week to appoint new members to the Council. The General Assembly filled 17 seats out of 47, and in that process rejected Sri Lanka while approving Pakistan. Todd Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs believes the Human Rights Council could still suffer some of the old problems."Now, with this election, some of that old criticism could still be brought to bear," he suggests."Some countries were left off the list because of perceived human-rights abuses; but still, a country like Pakistan-which doesn't have the best human-rights record, particularly as it relates to our Christian brothers and sisters-was elected to the Council," Nettleton explains. He also questions whether the Council will be effective and wonders about the selection process. "It's a little bit of a balancing act and I think, you know, in the case of Sri Lanka, obviously a place where there have been human-rights problems, there have been religious freedom issues. But then you look at a country like Pakistan where there have been some of the same issues and you wonder how one gets left off the Council and the other one gets put on," Nettleton points out. According to Nettleton, this Council will be closely watched by the media to determine whether they can turn their talk into action.
As in the days of Noah...

Myanmar grants foreign aid access

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Aid workers abducted in Somalia

Two Italian aid workers and a Somali colleague have been kidnapped by gunmen south of the Somali capital, Mogadishu. Dozens of armed gunmen attacked the offices of Italian aid agency Cooperazione Italiana Nord Sud in the village of Awdhigle.The BBC's Mohamed Olad Hassan says it is not clear who was behind the attack.Somali insurgents vowed to target foreign aid workers after a US air strike killed the head of the al-Shabab militant group this month.Al-Shabab is the militant wing of the UIC, which ruled much of Somalia in 2006 before being ousted by Ethiopian forces backed by Somali government troops"It was a pre-dawn attack. The gunmen blindfolded the guards of the office and took two Italian aid workers, a woman and a man, and also the Somali man who was the head of the agency was taken with them," eyewitness Salah Sheikh Muhidin told the BBC.Two aid workers, a Briton and a Kenyan, who were abducted in southern Somalia last month are still missing. Meanwhile, a government spokesman has confirmed to the BBC that a checkpoint 14km south of Mogadishu was ambushed by insurgents overnight.Four government soldiers were killed and two civilians in nearby vehicles were injured in the attack.Somali has been devastated by conflict since 1991 when former president Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted.At least a dozen peace initiatives have collapsed since then.The latest talks, held this month in neighbouring Djibouti, ended without face-to-face discussions between the government and the main opposition alliance.The warring parties decided to meet again in Djibouti for further talks on 31 May.

As in the days of Noah....

Iranian Police Arrest 12 Christian Converts

The arrests began at 5 a.m. on May 11, when two couples were taken into custody before boarding their flights at the Shiraz International Airport and sent directly to jail. All four were subjected to hours of interrogation, questioning them solely "just about their faith and house church activities," an Iranian source told Compass.The detained Christians were identified as Homayon Shokohie Gholamzadeh, 48, and his wife Fariba Nazemiyan Pur, 40; and Amir Hussein Bab Anari, 25, and his wife Fatemeh Shenasa, 25. Although the two wives were released the same day of their arrest, Anari was detained until May 14, and Gholamzadeh remains jailed.Two hours after the early morning arrests of May 11, police authorities invaded the home of Hamid Allaedin Hussein, 58, arresting him and his three adult children, Fatemah, 28, Muhammed Ali, 27, and Mojtaba, 21. All the family's books, CDs, computers and printers were hauled off as well.Hussein, his daughter and one son were released later the same day, but son Mojtaba remains in prison. Two days later, local police picked up two more former Muslims involved in a separate house church in Shiraz as the Christian converts were talking together in a city park. Both men, Mahmood Matin and a second man identified only as Arash, are still jailed. Still another arrest incident was reported last month in the northern city of Amol, in Mazandaran province near the Caspian Sea. Two of the arrested converts to Christianity, one a pregnant woman, are still imprisoned, with no news of their whereabouts.
As in the days of Noah...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Deadly China Quake Triggers Rapid Responses, Calls for Prayer

As the aftermath of China’s deadliest earthquake in over three decades continues to bring widespread havoc, chaos, and panic, Christians around the world are rushing to scene with aid, supplies, and global appeals for prayer and reflection during these increasingly uncertain times."The first thing we're going to do is get water, food and shelter to those who are in need,” said Jeff Palmer of the Baptist Global Response, according to Mission Network News.Although many Christian organizations spoke of the challenges of responding to the second major disaster so soon after the cyclone that ravaged across Burma two weeks ago, Christian groups said they would be undeterred in their efforts to serve and provide for those in need.“It's the love of Christ that compels us, and we are commanded to help those who are in need,” Palmer explained.World Vision, which has a community development center just 200 kilometers from the earthquake’s epicenter, was among the quickest to respond to the crisis, and Franklin Graham, who is currently touring through China on a goodwill tour, said that his relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse, would send aid “immediately.”In a press release, Church World Service said that it expected, along with its Chinese-based partner organization, Amity Foundation, to budget a total of $1.5 million to help fund relief efforts throughout affected areas.More importantly, however, was the need for what Christians described as a moment of prayer, unity, and reliance on God during crisis.“We call upon the world churches to pray for and provide aid for the victims of the earthquake in Sichuan province. We mourn with the suffering Chinese people during this moment of great loss,” the China Aid Association said."Prayer is the strategy that we want to mobilize, first and foremost – praying for those who are in suffering, those who've lost family members, those already responding to the effort, and also pray for wisdom and knowledge of how to respond,” Palmer explained.The 7.9 magnitude earthquake, which struck China’s southwestern Sichuan province Monday, has claimed at least 19,500 lives. But the State Council, the country's Cabinet, said the number could rise to some 50,000, state TV reported, as nearly 26,000 remained missing or buried underneath debris.The earthquake is the nation’s deadliest since the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that leveled the city of Tangshan in 1976.
As in the days of Noah....

State media: Myanmar shuns aid from US warships

YANGON, Myanmar- Myanmar shunned a U.S. proposal for naval ships to deliver aid to cyclone victims on Wednesday, according to state-run media, dimming hopes that the vessels could provide a major boost to relief efforts.The New Light of Myanmar, a mouthpiece for Myanmar's ruling junta, said that such assistance "comes with strings attached," citing fears that Washington wants to overthrow the country's government and seize its oil.The United States, as well as France and Great Britain, have naval vessels loaded with humanitarian supplies off the Myanmar coast, and had been waiting for a green light to deliver them. The article did not say whether the French and British supplies would be allowed.The state media report said that other U.S. aid airlifted into the country was welcome, an apparent reference to ongoing relief flights, which land in the country about five times a day. American officials are required to hand the aid to Myanmar authorities upon landing in Yangon, from which it is a difficult journey to the Irrawaddy delta.The four U.S. warships were seen as a major potential boost for the relief effort with the capacity to deliver supplies to inaccessible areas of the delta, with 14 helicopters, two landing craft vessels, two high-tech amphibious hovercraft and about 1,000 U.S. Marines.The report gave no explanation why the regime was willing to accept aid flown on U.S. planes, with U.S. military personnel on board, but would not allow the warships and helicopters to deliver relief supplies.Myanmar's xenophobic leaders have long feared an invasion by the United States, a concern that some analysts believe prompted the junta's abrupt decision in 2005 to move the country's capital from Yangon to the remote city of Naypyitaw, which is equipped with bunkers.Despite Wednesday's announcement, the junta appeared to be slowly relenting to foreign pressure to accept more outside help for an estimated 2.5 million survivors faced with hunger, loss of their homes and potential outbreaks of deadly diseases.U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was headed to Myanmar, said the world body had received permission from the junta to use nine helicopters to carry aid to stranded victims."We have received government permission to operate nine WFP (World Food Program) helicopters, which will allow us to reach areas that have so far been largely inaccessible," Ban told reporters in New York on Tuesday before departing for Southeast Asia. His announcement was not immediately confirmed by officials in Myanmar."I believe further similar moves will follow, including expediting the visas of (foreign) relief workers seeking to enter the country," Ban said, warning that relief efforts to save survivors of the May 2-3 Cyclone Nargis had reached a "critical moment.""We have a functioning relief program in place but so far have been able to reach only 25 percent of Myanmar's people in need," he said.So far, the few foreign aid workers allowed inside the country have been banned from the areas of the worst devastation in the low-lying Irrawaddy delta.The official death toll from Cyclone Nargis was over 78,000 with 56,000 more people missing.Ban was expected to arrive in Bangkok, the capital of neighboring Thailand, on Wednesday and to fly on to Yangon on Thursday. In Myanmar, he was expected to visit areas devastated by the cyclone and to talk with officials and aid workers.He was also scheduled to attend a meeting of aid donors in Yangon on Sunday. Myanmar, one of the world's poorest nations, claims losses from the disaster exceeded $10 billion.At U.N. headquarters, Ban welcomed the junta's "recent flexibility" in saying it will allow relief workers from the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations _ of which Myanmar is a member _ to begin distributing aid.

Good News: Wisconsin School Recognizes Students' Religious Rights

A Wisconsin school has decided to respect students’ constitutional right to religious expression in class assignments, thanks to a lawsuit filed by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF).A Tomah High School student received a zero on a piece of artwork because it included a cross and a reference to John 3:16. School officials cited a grading policy that banned depictions of “blood, violence, sexual connotations (or) religious beliefs.” Students who portrayed demon-like creatures in their art, however, did not receive failing grades.“Christian students shouldn’t be penalized for expressing their beliefs,” ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman said.“It was clearly unconstitutional for the school to enforce a policy in such a way as to bar religious expression by a Christian student while allowing other types of religious expression. No school policy can require a student to surrender his First Amendment rights.”
As in the days of Noah....

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Eritrea Forcing Christian Ministers into Military Camps

The Eritrean government is reportedly sending some leaders of the Eritrean Orthodox Church to military training camps, a persecution watchdog group reported. On Thursday, a small number of church priests and deacons were given replacement identity cards, exempting them from military training, but the majority of church leaders did not receive the updated identity cards and are now required to go to military training camps, according to International Christian Concern.The largest Eritrean Orthodox Church in the country, St. Mary, is located in capital city Asmara. St. Mary had 96 ministers, but only 10 of them were issued IDs that exempted them from military training.Similarly, in rural areas, where most Orthodox churches are located, the maximum number of priests and deacons allowed to serve in any church is 10. The rest are expected to report for military service if they are under the age of 50.Besides churches, the new campaign also forces many in Orthodox monasteries to be conscripted into the army.In 2006, the Eritrean government had informed churches of its decision to rescind a long-standing exemption of clerics from compulsory military service.The Roman Catholic Church in Eritrea was the only church to express strong public opposition to the unprecedented action.In contrast, top leaders of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, who were hand-picked by the government, readily agreed to the new policy. As a result, officials are now forcibly recruiting church ministers into military service on a wide scale.The persecution of the Orthodox Church is a relatively new move by the Eritrean government.Previously, officials focused crackdown efforts on “unregistered churches,” which are mainly evangelical.But over the last two years, the government has tightened its grip on the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the oldest and most established religious institution in the country.His Holiness Patriarch Abune Antonios, the head of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, has been under house arrest since January 2006 after he openly criticized the government’s interference in church affairs. The government also responded by replacing him with a hand-picked pontiff.Almost 45 percent of the Eritrean population belongs to the Eritrean Orthodox Church.The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has for three straight years listed Eritrea under “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPCs) – the label given to the worst religious freedom violators.It is estimated that some 2,000 Christians are currently detained without trial or charge in Eritrea with some in metal containers and others routinely tortured.

As in the days of Noah....

Prominent House Church Leader Detained in Xinjiang on Separatism Charge

HUOCHENG, Xinjiang-CAA has learned that a prominent house church leader was detained in Xinjiang Province on May 16, 2008. Eyewitnesses have informed CAA that at 1:00pm on May 16, 2008, Lou Yuanqi, a house church leader in Qingshuihe Town, Huocheng County of Xinjiang Uygur Atonomous Region was summoned to Qingshuihe Township Police Station by The State Security agency and interrogated for an hour. At 11:30pm the same day, Lou Yuanqi was transferred to Huocheng County Detention Center under a charge of "inciting separatism".((Photo: Government Propaganda informs citizens to report "Evil Cult" activity, referring to House Churches across Xinjiang Province.))Pastor Lou has been arrested several times in the past.He was detained on October 20, 2006, along with 3 other pastors for organizing a House Church. All 4 pastors served 32 days in detention where they were severely beaten by guards and inmates on a daily basis. This is the first time Lou has been detained under criminal detention which means he will likely face a serious indictment in the court.On February 28, 2008, his 16 year old daughter Lou Nan was detained for one day along with other 10 minors when they were caught attending a children's Bible study. This will be the second time the Chinese government has used a "Separatist Charge" against a house church leader. On May 27, a Uygur Christian Alimujiang Yimiti will be tried in the Kashi City Court, in Xinjiang for being accused of separatism and espionage for foreigners. (more details available here)
CAA calls upon the Chinese government to immediately release this innocent pastor.
To Communicate your concern, contact:
Cell Phone numbers in Hucheng PSB office Director of Police:
Mr. Wang Keqiang +86- 13909999156
Director of Domestic Security Protection:
Mr. Di Li Xia Ti +86-13519980871
Deputy Director of Domestic Security Protection:
Mr. Li Gang +86-15894-181-855//+86-13899703878
Director of Detention Center:
Mr. Jiao Feng +86-13909991370
Deputy Director of Detention Center:
Mr. Sun Baoliang+86-13031375159
Ms. Wu Aiying,
Minister of Ministry of Justice of the PRC
Address: No. 10, Nan Da Jie, Chaoyangmen, Beijing City (Zip Code: 100020)

As in the days of Noah....

The Last Church Standing in North Cyprus

One lone church struggles to survive in a land where hundreds have been damaged or destroyed. But this is no ordinary land; it is the very area where Apostle Paul took his first missionary journey to proclaim salvation through Jesus Christ to the Roman Empire.Now, 2,000 years later, the small Mediterranean island of Cyprus is divided into two, with the northern third occupied by Turkey.In the span of three decades under Turkish control, more than 530 churches and monasteries have been pillaged, vandalized, or destroyed in the northern area, according to The Republic of Cyprus.“I cannot say that it (the destruction of churches) is encouraged openly by the Turkish government,” said Cyprus’s Ambassador to the United States, Andreas Kakouris, to The Christian Post. “All I can say is that it is taking place in the area that is under direct control of the Turkish military and I leave you to make your own conclusions from that.”Since its 1974 invasion, Turkey has controlled northern Cyprus, which it calls the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.” No international nation has ever recognized this entity except for Turkey. The United States has only recognized the Republic of Cyprus.Starting in 2003, Greek-Cypriots again were allowed to cross the border between the Republic of Cyprus and the area under Turkish control. It was around this time that scholars and photographers were able to visit northern Cyprus to document the destruction of historic churches and artifacts.St. Mamas Church in the northwest town of Morphou is the only notable church that is known to be semi-active in Turkey-controlled Cyprus, according to the New York-based Hellenic Times and the Embassy of The Republic of Cyprus in the United States. Turkish officials who rule the area reportedly give permission twice a year for remaining residents-who were there before Turkish occupation-to worship in the church.Other churches were not so fortunate.About 133 churches, chapels and monasteries have been converted to military storage facilities, stables and night-clubs. Seventy-eight churches have been converted to mosques, and dozens more are used as military facilities, medical storage facilities, or stockyards or hay barns, according to statistics from The Republic of Cyprus.Agia Anastasia Church in Lapithos was converted into a hotel and casino, while the Sourp Magar Armenian monastery – founded in the medieval period – was converted into a cafeteria.A Neolithic settlement at the Cape of Apostolos Andreas-Kastros in the occupied area of Rizokapraso – a site declared an ancient monument by the Republic of Cyprus – was bulldozed by the Turkish Army in order to plant two of its flagpoles on top of the historic hill.While Muslims make up more than 99 percent of Turkey’s population, according to the CIA World Factbook, Ambassador Kakouris says it’s “not a Muslim-Christian issue.”“I don’t think the Cyprus problem has ever been a religious issue between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots,” contends Kakouris, who is a Greek Orthodox Christian.But he added that even though Turkey’s constitutionally secular government may not have given the “green light” for the destruction of churches and artifacts, they have not given the “red light” either.“So it is … either directly taking place or with their blind eye or whatever you want to call it. But they are responsible for what is taking place there,” says Kakouris.Furthermore, over 15,000 portable religious icons were stolen and auctioned off around the world.Relics – which include fine icons, mosaics and frescoes from ancient Byzantine era – have turned up at auction houses around the world, including at the prestigious Sotheby’s in New York.In January 2007, six icons were returned to the Church of Cyprus after being smuggled out of the country. They were to be put up for auction at Sotheby’s.Also, back in 1988, four pieces of an invaluable work of art dating between 525 and 530 A.D. were recovered when a Turkish art dealer offered to sell it to an American antique dealer for $1 million. The American dealer contacted the Paul Getty Museum in Malibu to resell the mosaics for $20 million. The museum then informed the Cypriot Church about the art work.In the end, U.S. courts ruled that the Cypriot Church was the legitimate owner of the pieces, and they are now shown in the Byzantine Museum of Nicosia.It is estimated that more than 60,000 ancient artifacts have been illegally transferred to other countries, according to the Republic of Cyprus. Sadly, most of these artifacts were not recovered.Cyprus has some of the finest collections of Byzantine art in the world, offering scholars and others the priceless study on the development of Byzantine wall-painting art from the 8th-9th century until the 18th century A.D.The United States has recognized Cyprus’ endangered cultural heritage, and in 1999 and 2003 the U.S. Treasury Department issued emergency import restrictions on Byzantine Ecclesiastical and Ritual Ethnological Materials from Cyprus.Then, in 2002, the United States and Cyprus signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) concerning the import restrictions on pre-classical and classical archeological objects from Cyprus. The MOU was amended and renewed in 2006 and 2007 to include additional artifacts.Kakouris says that the Cyprus issue has been ignored for decades by the international community.“There is only so much oxygen that exists from a journalistic point of view,” he says. “When one picks up the paper and looks at international issues what does one see? Either a bombing that took place in the Middle East or a bombing in Iraq or loss of life in Afghanistan – issues such as that.“Although there are issues that appear to be more important than the Cyprus issue – because we don’t have that immediacy of seeing deaths or events on a daily basis in Cyprus, thankfully – that does not make the continuing occupation by Turkey of the northern part of Cyprus any more acceptable,” the ambassador adds.There were 20,000 Greek Cypriots in the Turkish-controlled area after 1974, but today there are about 450 Greek Cypriots remaining. Over 80 percent of the Republic of Cyprus population is Christian.While the island population is only 800,000, it is a major tourist attraction, drawing over 2 million tourists each year.

As in the days of Noah...

Mourning period declared for cyclone victims; hopes rise for open door

Myanmar-Myanmar has declared a three-day mourning period starting today for its cyclone victims.Faced with the threat of another wave of death from mass starvation and disease, they've also tentatively agreed to accept aid from their Southeast Asian neighbors. There are even reports that the country is starting to seek medics. Global Aid Network or GAiN-USA's Charles Debter says, "We are working with Burmese locals who are medical professionals, who are able to go in. And yet we are working with officials in the country with the Ministry of Health to gain permission--and that's a prayer request, that that might come about."A 30-member Thai medic team arrived in Yangon Saturday to extend direct aid to victims. They are the first foreign medical staff allowed by the Myanmar government to carry out relief work. As the days wear on, it is evident that they face a gargantuan task.There are few areas where families were untouched by the tragedy. Debter recounts the story shared by one of their workers. When 200 survivors of one remote area were gathered, a government official asked how many were the sole survivors in their family.Roughly half of those in the group raised their hands. One father said he lost 80 members of his family, including two of his children who were ripped from his arms during the cyclone.Sadly, his story is not unusual.Even sadder, the fight for survival robs people like him from grieving their losses.Believers are responding with the love of Christ. Staff members and local networks of churches and partners are working together to reach out with help and hope.To meet the immediate physical emergency, Debter says they sent six truckloads of food and water filters into the country for distribution. The most acute needs are for water purification tablets, plastic sheeting, emergency food packets, cookware, mosquito netting, and sanitation kits.GAiN-USA is working in tandem with GAiN Australia to assess the needs and to establish a plan to reach out with emergency assistance. They've already trained 350 pastors and other church leaders to distribute the relief in specific target area. "By training the local believers to reach out with care, we are able to demonstrate the love of God through providing tangible help and spiritual hope among those that survived."
Pray for their courage, protection, strength and dependence upon the Lord in these challenging days.

As in the days of Noah....

One organization has permission granted to give aid in Myanmar

Myanmar-Gospel for Asia has been given permission to receive and distribute supplies to the people who need them so badly following Cyclone Nargis.GFA's good reputation in the country has gained them several privileges. While many international media sources have reported that aid has been diverted, GFA has been assured that theirs will get where it needs to go. They have also been given permission to open any of their 400 churches as medical centers. K.P. Yohannan reports that this is nearly a miracle. The only obstacle will be finding Burmese doctors and nurses since the country has not been allowing any outside teams to cross their borders to work.Also, a church leader was granted permission to open temporary orphanage to take care of 90 children that came into their care after the cyclone. The children have no families and are entirely alone.The GFA Bible college in Yangon that was damaged during the storm opened its doors to survivors right away. And they are still open. They're providing shelter in their campus building which is usable despite the damages. Missionaries, using a projection screen, show a film about Jesus there each night. Almost 90 percent of the population of Myanmar adheres to the Buddhist religion.Currently, the threat of starvation is an issue, so missionaries are focusing on the two greatest needs: rice and water. Once GFA's shipment of food and medical supplies arrive in Myanmar, a group of 300 Christian students from the Bible college have volunteered to be there to help with the distribution.There is further concern for the country because there has been rainfall several days since the cyclone, and the monsoon season hasn't even hit yet. This makes helping survivors and doing relief work difficult, but GFA has not stopped. They have 500 indigenous missionaries in Myanmar who will be in it for the long-haul, even if rebuilding takes years, says GFA president K.P. Yohannan.
As in the days of Noah....

Ministry keeps an eye on Belarus

Belarus-Aleksandr Lukashenko was elected president of Belarus in 1994. "Since his election to the presidency, there has been a gradual tightening of restrictions against evangelical churches. They are not supposed to really evangelize publicly outside of their church buildings... They have a hard time registering churches, which they are required to do by government regulation," said Slavic Gospel Association's Joel Griffith.In the past few weeks, a tit-for-tat dispute between the United States and Belarus has SGA keeping their eye on the situation.The U.S. imposed economic sanctions and travel restrictions against Belarusian government officials because of the country's human rights record. Belarus countered that by asking the U.S. to reduce the number of officials in the embassy. "Relations have not been good, and our concern, of course, has been that we‘re hopeful and praying that this diplomatic arguing that's going on between the West and Belarus would not have a ripple effect and cause further trouble for the ministry of evangelical churches," Griffith said.Even with the restrictions, Griffith said a miraculous thing is happening on the local government level. "In local regions, we're finding they actually are asking evangelical churches for help," he said. They've been asked to talk to the youth about HIV/AIDS and drug-use prevention and to help in outreach with children in orphanages."Local officials see the good that the churches are doing. They see the noble behavior in believers; they see their loving behavior; they see the way lives are changed as a result of the ministries of the churches, and I think that makes a positive impact. So, despite what orders may sometimes come down from national officials, I think sometimes local officials tend to overlook it when they can because they know the churches are doing an awful a lot of good."SGA works in Belarus sponsoring church planters. hey provide Christian literature and Bibles when the church needs them. They also sponsor a men's theological seminary there as well as Orphan's Reborn, a ministry where workers visit orphans in state-run orphanages to disciple the children for Christ.
Pray for the diplomatic spat to be resolved and for the protection of churches from any resulting fall-out.
Pray for the church to have the resources they need in light of the ongoing economic down-turn.
As in the days of Noah...

Church growing in the face of persecution

35 years after the end of the Vietnam War, Vietnam is still a Communist country and ranks number 6 on Mission Researchers’ list of countries with the most persecution of Christians. I.N. Network supports 25 Vietnamese church planters who often face interrogation, arrest, and possible torture.Vietnam’s constitutional provisions protecting religious freedom are meaningless.In reality, only government-approved churches have religious freedom, and other churches are illegal.Essentially, Vietnam’s government controls all the religious activity. More than half of all Vietnamese Protestants attend illegal, unregistered house churches.Christian converts often face disinheritance and the loss of their families when they refuse to worship their ancestors. Church planters travel miles by foot every day and receive only the equivalent of $75 per month at best. However, I.N. Network reports that their dedication is bearing fruit, and thousands of Vietnamese are trusting in Jesus Christ.I.N. Network also supports 75 evangelistic teams sent out by local Vietnamese churches. One team visited seven leprosy camps, where 57 people became Christians. Christians also bring food and medicine to patients in hospitals and make follow-up visits with the patients when they are released from the hospitals.I.N. Network supports indigenous, “home-grown” ministries, managed and staffed by the country’s nationals. This works well in Vietnam, where the government prohibits its citizens from having contact with overseas Christians. I.N. Network allows Christians in free countries to sponsor Vietnamese church planters.
As in the days of Noah....

Former Systems Engineer Files Religious Discrimination Lawsuit

CEDAR RAPIDS,Iowa-A former systems engineer for Rockwell Collins has filed a federal lawsuit, claiming he was fired after he refused to sign a document accepting homosexuality.Thomas Meeker says in his lawsuit that he's a Christian who believes homosexuality is sinful and that he was fired because of his religion.The lawsuit says Meeker sent an e-mail to company officials objecting to diversity training and met with company officials to discuss his objections.Meeker received a certified letter last July telling him he was fired because of his unwillingness to treat gay or lesbian co-workers with respect and for violating company policies.A Rockwell Collins spokeswoman said the Iowa-based company does not discuss pending litigation.
As in the days of Noah....

Muslim 'Numbers Game' Proving Deadly for Christian Converts, Says Expert

Inflated accounts of how many Muslims are converting to Christianity are putting the lives of these vulnerable followers of Jesus Christ at risk, warns an expert on Islam and Christianity. Reports in recent months have cited “astounding statistics of conversion,” noted Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo, international director of the persecution watchdog group Barnabas Fund, in a newsletter Wednesday. These exaggerated figures incite Muslim violence against converts and inspire greater Muslim evangelism, he said.“Muslims view apostasy from Islam as bringing shame and humiliation on the Muslim community,” Sookhdeo, a former Muslim, explained. “Publicizing that there are large numbers of converts deepens the shame and loss of face.”In response, “many” Muslims believe the shame is best removed by the shedding of blood of not only the convert, but those who seek to convert Muslims, he said. Some may even go further to get revenge and restore honor to Islam by attacking anyone associated with the “Christian” West. Sookhdeo offered several reasons why someone would exaggerate the number of converts. Sometimes it is due to pure miscalculations stemming from the lack of clear information, such as names of the converts, when collecting data.Other times, it is because cross-cultural missionaries misinterpret what they see. For missionaries who grew up in an individualistic Western culture, he said, they might mistakenly believe that, say, 1,000 responding to an “altar call” means that 1,000 people have accepted Christ into their lives.But in many local cultures, people are more likely to go to the altar because of their community mindset than because they believe in Jesus Christ. In other words, they see their neighbor going to the front of the church and they follow.Another reason behind number inflation is that people are unaware of historic indigenous churches in many Muslim-majority countries. So when someone sees a large Christian congregation, such as in Egypt, they mistakenly assume that all the worshippers must be converts from Islam.There are also cases of deliberate efforts to exaggerate the numbers of converts. Muslim leaders have sometimes offered false numbers of Muslims becoming Christians in hope of alarming Muslims to persuade them to give more generously to Islamic missionary effort.There is also a “very strong anti-evangelism move” within Islam recently, aimed at blocking Christian mission work among Muslims. By saying that there are a large number of converts to Christianity, Muslims fuel the Muslim-majority public opinion against Christian evangelism.Also, since the invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 and the “war on terror,” Muslims have increasingly argued that President Bush’s policy is to transform the Middle East into a “Christian entity” using Christian mission combined with American military might. Motivation to prove this theory has caused some Muslim leaders to claim higher numbers of converts to Christianity.“This totally erroneous linkage has created more danger for Western forces based in Muslim countries as well as for Christian missionaries, whether expatriate or national,” Sookhdeo said.In addition to Muslims, some Christians are also at fault for intentionally enlarging the number of converts. To gain greater financial support, some Christian groups have inflated the number of converts to Christianity, he said.But Sookhdeo does acknowledge that at this current time in history, there are more Muslims coming to Christ than at any other time. However, he still expressed serious concerns about the misrepresentation of the number of those coming to Christ.“Converts are increasingly concerned at the way in which publicity in the West is creating extra danger for them,” Sookhdeo said. “The present ‘numbers game’ is proving deadly.“While it is good to highlight in public discussions the issue of Islamic law’s death sentence for apostasy, the quoting of provocative numbers in the Western media is not welcomed by converts,” he added. “In any case there are many secret believers known only to God.”Besides heading Barnabas Fund, Sookhdeo is also the director of the Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity.
As in the days of Noah....

Orthodox Jewish Youths Burn New Testaments in Israel

Orthodox Jews set fire to hundreds of copies of the New Testament in the latest act of violence against Christian missionaries in the Holy Land.Or Yehuda Deputy Mayor Uzi Aharon said missionaries recently entered a neighborhood in the predominantly religious town of 34,000 in central Israel, distributing hundreds of New Testaments and missionary material.After receiving complaints, Aharon said, he got into a loudspeaker car last Thursday and drove through the neighborhood, urging people to turn over the material to Jewish religious students who went door to door to collect it.The books were dumped into a pile and set afire in a lot near a synagogue, he said.The Israeli Maariv daily reported Tuesday that hundreds of Jewish religious school students took part in the book-burning. But Aharon told The Associated Press that only a few students were present, and that he was not there when the books were torched. Not all of the New Testaments that were collected were burned, but hundreds were, he said.He said he regretted the burning of the books, but called it a "commandment" to burn materials that urge Jews to convert."I certainly don't denounce the burning of the booklets," he said. "I denounce those who distributed the booklets."Jews worship from the Old Testament, including the Five Books of Moses and the writings of the ancient prophets. Christians revere the Old Testament as well as the New Testament, which contains the ministry of Jesus.Calev Myers, an attorney who represents Messianic Jews, or Jews who accept Jesus as their savior, demanded in an interview with Army Radio that all those involved be put on trial. He estimated there were 10,000 Messianic Jews, who are also known as Jews for Jesus,in Israel.Police had no immediate comment.Israeli authorities and Orthodox Jews frown on missionary activity aimed at Jews, though in most cases it is not illegal. Still, the concept of a Jew burning books is abhorrent to many in Israel because of the association with Nazis torching piles of Jewish books during the Holocaust of World War II.Earlier this year, the teenage son of a prominent Christian missionary was seriously wounded when a package bomb delivered to the family's West Bank home went off in his hands.Last year, arsonists burst into a Jerusalem church used by Messianic Jews and set the building on fire, raising suspicions that Jewish extremists were behind the attack. No one claimed responsibility, but the same church was burned down 25 years ago by ultra-Orthodox Jewish extremists.

As in the days of Noah....

Iraq Church Opposes Death Penalty for Archbishop Killer

An archbishop said Monday that the Iraqi Church is opposed to a court’s decision to sentence to death the convicted killer of an archbishop in Mosul.“This conviction does not meet Christian values,” said Louis Sako, the Archbishop of Kirkuk on behalf of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq, to Agence France-Presse. “We are not satisfied with this decision because the Church is against the death penalty.”Sako said that he and the church body were unaware of any details regarding the trial, and did not learn about the sentence until they saw it on television.“The announcement of the government gave very little detail,” he said. “We do not know any of those responsible. We don’t know why the archbishop was kidnapped, whether it was due to political, religious or criminal intentions.”Iraqi authorities announced on Sunday that Ahmed Ali Ahmed had been sentenced to death for his involvement in the murder of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho(picture left) in the northern city of Mosul, but did not release further information – including the date when Ahmed’s death sentence will be carried out.In late February, Rahho, described as a man of peace loved by all Iraqis, was kidnapped by unknown gunmen while returning home after mass. His body was found by police two weeks later in an early stage of decomposition at a location just north of the Mosul.The Chaldean archbishop was 65 when he was killed.Fellow Chaldean archbishop Sako said he fears that the death penalty will “not help improve the situation” in Iraq, which has been plagued by sectarian violence not only between Sunnis and Shiites, but also against religious minorities such as Christians.In recent months, violence targeting Christians has risen, including kidnappings for ransom money, church bombings, and death threats.Under intense persecution, many Christians have been forced to flee the country to live illegally in neighboring countries.Christians make up nearly half of all refugees leaving the country, according to estimates, although they make up less than three percent of the country’s population. In total, nearly 2.2 million Iraqis have left the country since the U.S.-led offensive in 2003.Now, there are only about 600,000 Iraqi Christians remaining in the country – down from 1.2 million before 2003.

As in the days of Noah....

Court scolds city for 'hostility' toward church:Federal judge finds fault with planners seeking to zone out house of worship

A federal court has taken the unusual step of criticizing San Diego for its "outright hostility" toward a local church and its failure to consider "relevant federal law."The dispute arose when Grace Church of North County approached officials with a plan to lease space in the same complex where a pair of religious institutions earlier operated.It was too much for city officials. First, the Rancho Bernardo community planning board tried to deny Grace Church a 10-year permit for the property. A San Diego city officer, however, approved a seven-year permit, compelling the board to appeal.Though community planners knew Grace Church needed 10 years to complete a long-term relocation plan, they whittled the permit down to five years, and made it non-renewable."These things have a tendency to become quasi-permanent," warned a former planning board chair, "that's why we're kind of opposed."City officials and neighboring businessmen argued that a church would "change the complexion" of the area, that it would "send the wrong message to the business community" and that potential building occupants may not want "to be next to a church."The U.S. District Court of Southern California, however, sided with the church, and took exception to the planning board's behavior.The court cited the 2000 Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which essentially requires governments to allow churches to operate within reason, to overrule the city's denial of the 10-year permit.Furthermore, the court stated that Grace Church had faced "decision-making that is seemingly arbitrary and pretextual." The church also had been subjected to "ignorance regarding the requirements of controlling federal law" and even "outright hostility."In Southern California's high-priced land market, such disputes are not uncommon. In 2003, an Oceanside city planner suggested a ban on churches in industrial zones. In 2002, El Cajon refused Foothills Christian Fellowship a place in the Towne Center mall until a lawsuit convinced the city to relent.The Alliance Defense Fund, a coalition of Christian attorneys who work to preserve religious liberty, supported Grace Church in the dispute."Federal law and the Constitution clearly prohibit government officials from treating religious groups the way Grace Church was treated in this case," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Brett Harvey. "ADF will continue to fund the legal defense of churches being taken advantage of in this way."Following the victory, Grace Church said it plans to use the 10 years in the new business park location to grow the church, plan for the future and find a more permanent home.But San Diegans also got a warning from John Eastman, dean at Chapman University School of Law, who served as co-counsel in the case."The court held that San Diego officials violated federal law by denying this church a permit that would enable it to operate in its building for the full 10 years of its lease. San Diegans should be particularly concerned about the court's finding that city officials exhibited 'hostility' toward religion," he suggested.
As in the days of Noah...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

In Iran, Covert Christian Converts Live With Secrecy and Fear:A draft Iranian law would mandate the death penalty for apostasy

TEHRAN, IRAN-Illyas, 20, precariously straddles two worlds.At home with his family, he's a devout Christian who wears a silver cross around his neck, devotionally reads the Bible, and, on the Sabbath, hums hymns of praise to Jesus.Easter and Christmas are celebrated with homemade grape wine, even though alcohol is banned in Iran.Publicly, though, Illyas is a devout Muslim.Before leaving home to attend university classes, he removes the cross.He falsely tells his teachers about reading the Koran regularly since, he says, expressing fealty to Islam is necessary to land a good job in Iran.And he regularly goes to Friday prayers at Tehran University, where, if necessary, he joins in chants of Marg-bar Amrika (Death to America)-although he says that he doesn't hate America and, in fact, hopes to move there someday.Illyas and his mother and stepfather-for their safety, their family name cannot be revealed—had been Muslims (as are 98% of the nation's 66 million citizens).That changed a year ago, when they were drawn to a seductively passionate voice on a satellite TV channel imploring Iranians to embrace Christianity.On hearing the voice, Illyas's mother called the channel's hotline number. She prayed with the counselor on the phone, she says, making a personal commitment to Jesus as her savior.Later, Illyas and his stepfather did the same, as the counselor from California's Iran for Christ Ministries led them in prayer.The counselor was able to put Illyas in touch with some local Iranians—also discreet believers—who could provide a copy of the Bible. "We were looking for a faith that offered the reassurance of freedom,'' says Illyas, who asked to be interviewed in a public restaurant in Tehran instead of his house.Islam is the state religion of Iran, governing most aspects of life since the 1979 Islamic revolution. But, exasperated with the obsessive atmosphere of Islamic purity in Iran since the revolution and the subsequent curbing of social freedoms, Illyas says, his family felt compelled to look for other spiritual answers, even at considerable risk.Leaving Islam for another religion, or apostasy, has long invited reprisals from the Iranian government, forcing the likes of Illyas and his family into absolute secrecy, practicing their new beliefs only in the privacy of their home. In Iran, Christians are prohibited from seeking Muslim converts, although there has been tolerance for those who are born into Christian families.The government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has introduced legislation before the Iranian Majlis that would mandate the death penalty for apostates from Islam, a sign that it will brook no proselytizing in the country. "Life for so-called apostates in Iran has never been easy, but it could become literally impossible if Iran passes this new draft penal code," says Joseph Grieboski, the president of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy in Washington. "For anyone who dares question the regime's religious ideology, there could soon be no room to argue—only death.''Minorities. Grieboski points out that the text of the draft penal code uses the word hadd (prescribed punishment), which explicitly sets death as a fixed, irrevocable punishment. He worries that it could be applied to religious and ethnic minorities like Christians, Bahais, Jews, and Azeris by treating them as apostates.Articles 225 to 227 of the draft penal code define two kinds of apostates: fetri, or an innate apostate—who has at least one Muslim parent, identifies as a Muslim after puberty, and later renounces Islam; and melli, or parental apostate—who is a non-Muslim at birth but later embraces Islam, only to renounce it again. The draft code says outright that punishment for an innate apostate is death. However, parental apostates have three days after their sentencing to recant their beliefs. If they don't, they will be executed according to their sentence. It isn't clear when this bill will be passed, though Grieboski says, "International pressure and attention—in large part due to our work—has significantly slowed the parliament's progress.''In the past, apostasy could draw a range of punishments, from imprisonment to death, under legal practices that were more ambiguous than the draft statutes. In one instance that drew international attention, Mehdi Dibaj, an Iranian convert, was held in prison for his Christian beliefs for 10 years starting in 1984. He received the death sentence at the end of 1993. But he was released from prison in January 1994 after an international publicity campaign by Haik Hovsepian Mehr, a prominent Christian pastor in Iran. A few days after Dibaj's release, Hovsepian Mehr was abducted in Tehran, and his body, with 26 stab wounds, was found secretly buried in a Muslim graveyard. Six months later, Dibaj, freed but still under a pending death sentence, was abducted and murdered...
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As in the days of Noah....