Friday, December 31, 2010

More Iraqi Christians killed in bombings

A series of 10 coordinated bombings in and around Baghdad last night appeared to target homes of Christians, police said. Two people were killed and 20 wounded, all of them Christians, said the Ministry of the Interior.

You can read a NY Times article about the bombings here.

Please continue to pray for our Iraqi brothers and sisters who have come under intensified persecution in recent months. Pray for their safety and well-being. Pray they will continue to “say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust” (Psalm 91:2).

Pakistan’s government refuses to review blasphemy laws

Pakistan's government is refusing to
review blasphemy laws like the one
under which Asia Bibi has been
sentenced to death.
The government of Pakistan has backed out its commitment to review the country’s controversial Islamic blasphemy laws, reported ASSIST News yesterday.

The government’s move is to appease Islamic religious groups who have announced that they will shutter their businesses on New Year’s Eve to protest against any move to amend the laws.

On Thursday, the Federal Minister for Religious Affairs, Syed Khursheed Shah, requested that merchants and those in favour of the blasphemy laws call off their nationwide, December 31 shutdown of businesses, because the government has no intention of changing or repealing these laws.

One week ago, the Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, declared that despite various pressures the government would definitely review the laws.

In the 1980s, the late General Zia-ul-Haq introduced Islamic laws against the “blasphemy” of Islam, Muhammad, the Qur’an and Islamic personalities. The laws have widely been misused against Christians, Ahmadis, Hindus and liberal Muslims. Christians and human rights groups have been demanding for the total repeal of the laws.

On Wednesday, the government in the National Assembly categorically denied any move to amend or repeal the blasphemy laws.

“The government considers that its prime responsibility is to protect this law, and it will never support any private members’ bill even from the treasury benches in this regard,” said the federal minister in a policy statement.

You can read the full report here.

In mailboxes this week

The January issue of The Voice of the Martyrs newsletter is hitting mailboxes this week. In 2011, VOM will celebrate its 40th anniversary, and this issue looks back at the past four decades of ministry.

Inside this issue:
  • You’ll learn how Klaas and Nellie Brobbel responded to God’s call after reading Richard Wurmbrand’s book, Tortured for Christ. Read how persecution has evolved in the past 40 years and how VOM has stood alongside persecuted Christians around the world during that time.
  • Hear the heart transformations of Ishmael, Abdulmasi and Joshua, as they share their stories of finding Christ.
  • Read about orphans in Ghana and how microloans are changing lives there. Learn about a pastor in Uzbekistan under fire from the government and a pastor in Turkmenistan who has been charged with swindling and sentenced to a labour camp.
  • Arrested for proclaiming Jesus Christ to be the head of the church, not the king, Isabel Alison and Marion Harvie were led to Edinburgh’s gallows in 1681. Read how the women declare God’s goodness moments before death.
  • Join us for The Voice of the Martyrs’ Prayer Conferences in March and 40th Anniversary celebrations throughout the year. Special guest Helen Berhane is scheduled to attend. Helen is a formerly imprisoned gospel singer from Eritrea and author of Song of the Nightingale.
The Voice of the Martyrs newsletter is the flagship publication of The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada. Published monthly, it is available free of charge to anyone in Canada who requests it.

You can subscribe online here.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas celebrations held in Orissa, India; Christian's vehicle torched

Suranjan Naik with his vehicle
(photo from GCIC)
Several Christians were able to celebrate Christmas in Orissa state, India, this past weekend, say reports from All India Christian Council and ASSIST News Service.

In Bodimunda village, Christians reportedly celebrated Christmas together for the first time in three years. In Barakahma village, police kept watch as approximately 2,000 prayed together.

The peaceful celebrations came as a relief for many, as there had been fear that the holidays could lead to a flare-up in anti-Christian violence, especially as the state has been the site of intense attacks in recent years (see here). Fear of attacks prevented Christians in remote villages from holding Christmas celebrations.

Christmas weekend was not entirely without incident in Orissa, as a believer's vehicle was set on fire in Phulbani on December 25. Suranjan Naik and his wife, a nurse, were staying on campus at the government hospital. They were away attending a Christian celebration when their vehicle was set ablaze.

Thank the Lord that many brothers and sisters in Orissa were able to gather and joyously celebrate the birth of their Saviour, Jesus Christ. Pray a spirit of trust in the Lord, not fear, will govern the hearts and minds of believers in India. Pray those seeking to harm Christians in India because of their faith will repent of their ways and come to know Christ as Lord.

New Christian convert beaten, tortured in Iran

Karaj is about 25 km from Tehran.
A newly converted Iranian Christian and active member of a house church in Karaj was arrested in September 2010 and beaten and tortured during his interrogation at the Shahryar detention center, reports Mohabat News, the Iranian Christian News Agency.

Alireza Najafzadeh, a 23-year-old new father and resident of Sharhyar, was arrested on the charge of Christian activism. He was severely beaten and tortured physically and psychologically for three days.

While in custody, Alireza was asked about his house church activities, the names of its members and leaders and which foreign Christian networks and affiliations he was associated with. He had water poured over his hooded head, and he was kicked and beaten. On more than one occasion, he was hung from a hook and whipped with a cable or water hose. All the while, his assailants insulted him, his family, his faith and Jesus Christ.

After three days of nonstop torture, Alireza’s family was able to find someone to post bail for him. The security officers agreed to release Alireza on the condition that he not seek any medical treatment from any doctor.

“The told me if I talk about my interrogation or torture or continue my Christian activities, I would face severe consequences such as being killed intentionally by a car that would look like an accident or my family would find my dead body in a farm field outside of the town with no reasonable explanation as to the cause of death,” Alireza told a Mohabat News reporter more than two months after his release.

Alireza and his family have since fled the country. They have become refugees, losing everything because of their faith in Christ.

To hear Alireza describe his arrest and torturous experience in his own words and to see images of his wounds, click here.

Please pray for Alireza and his family. Pray for their safety, well-being and health. Pray they would be encouraged to continue standing up for their faith in the midst of trials. Pray all Iranian believers would be filled with the peace of God.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christians killed in Nigeria; tensions rise

Tensions mount in Nigeria,
following the murder of
Christians on Christmas Eve.
Compass Direct News reported yesterday that tensions continue to mount in the Christian community in Maiduguri, capital of Borno state in northern Nigeria, following the killing of a Baptist pastor and five other Christians on Christmas Eve.

The outlawed Islamic Boko Haram sect opposed to Western education killed Rev. Bulus Marwa and the other Christians in the December 24 attacks on Victory Baptist Church in Alemderi and a Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) congregation in Sinimari.

Those killed at the Baptist church, which was set ablaze, included choir members Philip Luka, 22, and Paul Mathew, 21, as well as Christopher Balami, 50, and Yohana Adamu, age unknown. Philip Sopso, a 60-year-old a security guard, was killed at the COCIN church while 25 other persons were said to have been injured during the serial attacks by the Islamic group.

Many Christians have taken refuge to avoid further attacks as soldiers and police keep watch at churches and other strategic locations in the state.

In 2009, police crushed the activities of the Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sin,” by arresting many of its members and killing its leader. In retaliation, the group killed police officers and was recently responsible for a prison break to set free its members in the Borno state capital.

Worried about the safety of Christians in Borno state, the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, asked the federal government to curb the growing trend of terrorism in parts of the country.

“We can no longer allow this group of disgruntled elements to get away with these acts of terrorism in Nigeria,” he said.

You can read the full report here.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Will we give up or grow?

Excerpted from Extreme Devotion, a devotional book that includes 365 true accounts of men and women who totally sold out for Jesus.

Day 17
Sudan: Sudanese Boys

“Say it with us!” the soldiers screamed, kicking and punching the boys’ faces and abdomens. “Allah is God, and Mohammed is his prophet. Say it!”

The four young Sudanese boys cried and screamed out for their mothers, but they refused to repeat the words that would mean saving their live yet renouncing their Christianity. Their red blood began to flow across their black skin, but they would not give up their faith in Christ.

The older teenage boys looked on in horror. They had seen their Southern Sudanese families murdered by sword-wielding Islamic fighters. Now they watched as their four young friends and relatives—the youngest only five years old—were beaten to death.

Already the soldiers had forced each older boy to lie over hot coals and ordered them to repeat the Muslim creed and join the Islamic faith. None of the boys would say the words despite the excruciating pain.

There were 14 boys and 13 girls abducted in the raid that day. The girls have never been located and were likely sold as slaves or concubines in Northern Sudan. All of the boys were tortured, but none relented. The next night, the older boys escaped, bearing the scars of the previous nights. Not one renounced his faith.

Pain often plays an important purpose in God’s plan. Unfortunately, there is no other experience that equals its ability to grasp and focus our attention. Physical pain from a long-standing illness or sudden injury gets the whole attention of the human body. The brain sends signals throughout the nervous system to focus the body’s resources on the source of trouble. In the same way, emotional pain is difficult to ignore as well. The anguish of losing someone we love to cruel circumstances like cancer or disease, persecution or injustice can be nearly overwhelming. Whatever situation introduces us to pain, we have two options for dealing with it. We can give up. Or, we can grow. Those who experience pain can be unique ministers of God’s grace. Like an athlete in training whose muscles must be broken down through strain and exercise in order to get stronger, pain is our pathway to new growth.

“Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.” 1 Peter 4:16 NKJV

Monday, December 27, 2010

A letter from Ukraine

Hand-embroidered items
sent to VOM from Ukraine
Under the Communist rule of the former Soviet Union, thousands of believers were martyred and many others were detained in prisons and concentration camps in Ukraine. Today, many of the survivors from this period are elderly and face health challenges. The rising cost of living outweighs their insufficient pensions, and many now live in poverty.

VOM serves these faithful brothers and sisters by providing monthly financial support to pensioners. By supporting them, we remember and honour their faithful service and sacrifice to the Lord.

We recently received a letter from Olena, thanking VOM for its support, and we want to share it with you. Because, it’s through your support and prayers that we can provide for her.

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Dear Friends!

Thank you very much for the help that was especially generous this year. I regularly receive the help. It’s a pity that perhaps you take away from yourselves in order to help us. We have nothing to pay you back except a prayer. I ask God to be gracious to you and bless your work and your generous hands.

I give you over a simple present: a small embroidered pillow, a female embroidered blouse and an embroidery for a man shirt (unfortunately, I don’t know what size do you wear) and portrait of the famous Ukrainian poet Shevchenko. Maybe, it is not done so nicely, because I can’t see well anymore and my hands do not serve me so well. I am 84 years old. I live together with my son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. My son is already on a pension, my daughter-in-law and grandson work. It is not easy to live in our small provincial town.

We live very modestly and buy only necessary things. But we thank God for everything.

I am very grateful to you for the Bible.... It helps me a lot and gives me strength to live.

Every day I pray for all of you.

Sincerely Yours,


You can find out more about the ways in which VOM supports persecuted Christians around the world by visiting VOM’s website.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Blasts in Jos kill 32 on Christmas Eve

BBC News is reporting at least 32 people—many assumed to be Christians—were killed in bomb blasts in central Nigeria on December 24. The bombs were detonated during Christmas Eve celebrations near the city of Jos.

No group has claimed responsibility for the string of attacks at this time. Nigeria’s president, Jonathan Goodluck, has said the government will do all it can to find those responsible for the attack.

More than 70 people were injured in the blasts.

ASSIST News Service reports that Gregory Yenlong, a spokesman for Nigeria's Plateau state, told Bloomberg news agency that there had been threats “to disrupt Christmas celebrations in Jos.”

You can read the BBC report here.

Read the full ASSIST News Service report here.

Celebrating courage

"Stoning of Saint Stephen" by
Pietro da Cortona (1660)
Written by Cheryl Odden

By the middle of the second century, the early church was experiencing waves of persecution in the Roman Empire. As the church grew and became more organized, it developed traditions that live on today. During the second century, the church began celebrating “saint days,” honouring their brethren’s courage on the days they were martyred. Today, some churches still celebrate saint days.

Today—December 26—is the day that honours the early church’s first martyr, Stephen, whose story is told in Acts 6-7.

A man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit, Stephen was gifted in preaching the gospel and defending the Christian faith. Chosen as one of seven men to ensure Hellenistic (Greek-speaking) Jewish widows were receiving the food they needed, Stephen continued his preaching ministry. Hecklers were no match for Stephen. So, some chose to silence him for good.

When rumours spread throughout the city that Stephen had blasphemed God, the Law and the temple, he was hauled before the Jewish legal council called the Sanhedrin. Stephen answered the accusations through a lengthy monologue, telling God’s redemptive history from the time of Abraham to Jesus Christ. However, the Sanhedrin’s interest turned to anger when Stephen accused their forefathers of persecuting the prophets who told of Christ’s coming and crucifying Him.

With those words, they were done listening. In fact, Scripture says they were so mad that they gnashed their teeth. But Stephen wasn’t intimidated. He looked up and told the rage-filled crowd that he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

Covering their ears and drowning out his voice with shouting, the crowd hauled Stephen outside the city gates. Despite rocks hitting his young frame, Stephen prayed for his persecutors.

All the while, a young man named Saul stood watching, holding the cloaks of those who hurled the rocks, ending Stephen’s life.

Soon after Stephen’s death, Saul enacted a crackdown on the church, arresting the fleeing Christ-followers. But one time as he pursued them, he encountered Jesus Christ, setting this zealous persecutor of the church on a different course.

Today, take a few minutes to thank the Lord for Stephen’s courage. Ask God to continue filling His people around the world with the power of the Holy Spirit so they can witness boldly for Him amidst hostile situations as Stephen did.

The Voice of the Martyrs has published a children’s illustrated storybook about Stephen called God’s Witness: The Courage of Stephen. To order, visit our website at

Friday, December 24, 2010

A song, a saint and a square

Statue of St. Wenceslas in
Wenceslas Square. Sculpture by
Josef Václav Myslbek.
Written by Cheryl Odden

Here’s a riddle: What do a song, a saint and a square have in common?

If you answered King Wenceslas, you are correct!

King Wenceslas lived during the 10th century in Bohemia, now the western half of the Czech Republic. Wenceslas was not a king but a duke. He was born to parents Drahimora and Ratislav around the year 907, but it was Wenceslas’ grandmother, Ludmila, who taught him about the Christian faith and the importance of helping the poor and suffering.

When Wenceslas was just 13, his father died. Since he was too young to take the throne, his mother ruled and did so with an iron fist. She disliked Christianity. She imprisoned priests and persecuted believers. Worried that Wenceslas and his grandmother would conspire against her, Drahimora refused to let Wenceslas have any contact with her and ordered her to be killed. One night while his grandmother slept, she was strangled.

Distraught over his grandmother’s death, Wenceslas knew he needed to act. Despite his youth, he banished his mother to a nearby country and took the throne as duke of Bohemia.

Unlike his mother, 18-year-old Wenceslas ruled with a gentle hand. He released the priests from prison and encouraged German missionaries to spread Christianity throughout Bohemia. He showed kindness to the poor and children without parents and pledged his loyalty to Germany’s King Henry I. These actions angered his younger brother, Boleslav, whose hatred of Christianity and fierce jealousy of Wenceslas’ reign resembled that of his mother’s. So Boleslav and other angry nobles plotted their revenge.

Boleslav invited Wenceslas to a religious festival where he treated him well. One day, as Wenceslas walked to church, Boleslav followed him. Knowing his brother was behind him as he stood at the church door, Wenceslas rightfully sensed trouble. Boleslav drew his sword and struck Wenceslas on the head.

Wenceslas managed to hurl his brother to the ground only for Boleslav’s men to pin him down and stab him in the hand. Again, Wenceslas got away and ran to seek refuge in the church, but he was struck down at the door where he died on September 20, 929.

But Boleslav’s plan to wipe out his older brother backfired on him. Wenceslas’ short reign of five years was forever etched in the hearts of Bohemians and Czech citizens, who made him the patron saint of their country.

More than 900 years after Wenceslas’ ruthless death, his example of generous giving inspired Reverend John Mason Neale to pen the words to the Christmas carol, “Good King Wenceslas.” Just before Neale wrote the song, the people of Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, decided their town square needed a better name. Used as a horse market since the 1300s, the boulevard was renamed “Wenceslas Square.” And with its new name came a statue, featuring Wenceslas on his horse, that was placed at the top of the square in the early 1900s.

This Christmas, as you clear your throat to sing “Good King Wenceslas,” think about the man whose actions inspired the song, made him a saint and earned him the naming of a square.

Churches on alert for terror at Christmas

Governments in India, Afghanistan, Iraq, Indonesia, Kenya, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have boosted security during the fourth week of Advent, reports Mission Network News today.

In all of these areas, churches have either been threatened or attacked in years past. For several of these countries, the attacks are fresh.

The brutal killings of Iraq's Christians have led thousands to flee the country. In Egypt, Christians are under severe pressure and siege. A church bombing in Indonesia three weeks ago leaves believers feeling jittery.

It's a strategic time for an extremist to be heard, says Todd Nettleton with The Voice of the Martyrs USA. "If you were someone who wanted to make a point against Christians, that would be a day you might decide to strike."

It's an obvious choice. Christmas is considered one of the more important celebrations in the Christian faith, celebrating the birth of a Savior and the beginning of an unfolding plan for reconciliation with a holy God. Many believers coming together to mark this makes a tempting target. "Christmas is a time when Christians gather for Christmas Day services or Christmas Eve services. If you are looking for a large group of Christians to attack, they're all gathered at one place, at one time."

Nettleton says as the family of God, those who are not living through the persecution experienced by believers in hostile countries still have a responsibility. "The first and most important thing is that we pray. Secondly, though, I think we can keep our eyes open because it's important for the government officials to know that Christians here are watching and are aware of what's going on to make sure that it's on their radar."

You can read the full report here.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Iraqi Christians fear Christmas attacks

Iraqi Christians are scaling back
Christmas celebrations, fearful
of attacks.
VOM’s partner-mission Release International is reporting today that many churches in Iraq's major cities have been forced to cancel their Christmas services after extremist websites threatened further attacks.

Religious rights group Middle East Concern reports that many services in Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk have been called off after threats of violence were posted online on Tuesday for the second time.

Kirkuk's Archbishop Louis Sarko told Agence France-Presse news agency that he and 10 other Christians had received threats from a group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq. This group, which has links with al-Qaida, has claimed responsibility for the attack on October 31 on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad in which 53 Christians were killed.

A number of churches have decided not to put up Christmas decorations either. Instead, tall concrete barriers flank many with entrances guarded by security.

The UN estimates that 1,000 Christian families have fled from Baghdad and Mosul to the Kurdish region of northern Iraq since October 31 (read more here).

Some of the extremist threats online repeated calls for the release of two women in Egypt whom militants insist are being held against their will by Coptic church leaders. Extremists claim the women have converted to Islam. Egyptian church leaders and government officials have repeatedly denied these claims.

Iraq is one of the nations in which VOM takes to the airwaves to share the gospel and encourage believers. In June, VOM partnered with High Adventure Bible Voice to distribute 1,000 radios preset to a program called “The Voice of the Lord” to people in Kirkuk. The program reaches more than 700,000 people.

Please pray for our brothers and sisters living in Iraq this Christmas. Pray for their safety and well-being. Pray they will not be anxious, but they will know God’s peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:6-8).

Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place,
No evil shall befall you,
Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling;
For He shall give His angels charge over you,
To keep you in all your ways.
Psalm 91:9-11

Crisis in Ivory Coast deepens

The former president of Ivory Coast
has until Sunday to concede defeat.
Yesterday, Mission Network News reported that the West African country of Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) continues to face a political standoff, concerning the results of a November presidential election.

The European Union has given Former President Laurent Gbagbo until December 26 to concede defeat or face sanctions. He has yet to yield power to the declared winner, former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara.

Gbagbo and Ouattara both claim to have won, but the African Union, the United Nations and other international observers have given Ouattara their endorsements and demanded the incumbent step down.

Already there are reports of protests, escalating violence, and the concern that the country is heading to full-scale civil war.

Earlier this month, Elizabeth Kendal, an international religious liberty analyst and advocate, wrote a prayer bulletin about the country for the Australian Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission. She writes that the stakes are extremely high.

“Decades of Muslim mass immigration has tipped the demographic balance so that Ivory Coast—officially around one-third Muslim—is now actually majority Muslim with immigrants from Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea comprising up to 40 percent of the population. Ivory Coast's non-Muslims are traumatised, fearing that their homeland—once a strategic Christian centre—is about to come under the political domination of Muslims. War threatens.”

Please pray specifically for God to:
  • Give Ivory Coast's Christian leaders—pastors and politicians—great spiritual wisdom and authority.
  • Bring revival to the Church in Ivory Coast so believers will be compelled to go out with the gospel in boldness, empowered by the Holy Spirit, so that Ivory Coast might be spiritually transformed.
  • Intervene in the tense climate by interposing a spirit of restraint, compelling the people to seek a negotiated solution as a means of averting another destructive civil war—a war that would certainly attract international jihadists.
You can read the full prayer bulletin here.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Fight against Pakistan's blasphemy law continues

Asia Bibi
Spero News is reporting that the “fight over blasphemy continues unabated in Pakistan” as appeals and initiatives on behalf of Asia Bibi, a jailed Christian woman sentenced to death, continue around the world.

This week, the High Court in Lahore is expected to set the date for Asia’s appeal. However, extremist Islamic parties and organizations have launched a campaign in favour of Pakistan’s blasphemy legislation, announcing street actions and strikes over the coming weeks.

“Maulana Fazl ur Rehman, head of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islma Fazl party, launched the campaign at a press conference,” said the Spero News story. “He said that the campaign would unfold in three stages: demonstrations on December 24 after Friday prayers, a general strike on December 31, and a great rally on January 9, 2011, in Karachi.”

Maulana Fazl said that religious parties are "united on the issue." He insisted that he would oppose any attempt by the government to change the blasphemy law.

Last week, President Asif Ali Zardari stated that he wanted to modify the controversial law, which has been condemned around the world.

You can read the full report here.

Please continue to pray for Asia and her family.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

100 Canadian-Arab Christians targeted

The Canadian Press reported on Monday that names of more than 100 Canadian-Arab Christians appear on an al-Qaida-affiliated website, apparently targeted because of their alleged role in attempting to convert Muslims.

The Shumukh-al-Islam website, often considered to be al-Qaida’s mouthpiece, lists pictures, addresses and cell phone numbers of Coptic Christians, predominantly Egyptian-Canadians, who have been vocal about their opposition to Islam.

Three pages of the Arabic-language website set to “identify and name all of the Coptics throughout the world who hope to defame Islam.” The website calls Coptic Christians living abroad “dogs in diaspora,” a derogatory reference in Arabic.

Salim Nagieb, who helped establish a Coptic organization in Canada is described on the website as opposing Islamic Shariah and converting Muslims to Christianity. His picture, career background and cell phone number are listed on the website. He says he will not be frightened.

“I only fear God,” said Mr. Nagieb. “These websites mean nothing anymore.”

Mr. Mansour believes he is being targeted because of comments he made in an interview on CTV News where he was discussing the media’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian war. He said the fact that his picture, cell phone number and comments are displayed on the Shumukh-al-Islam website is an indication that fanatics are keeping a close eye on what happens in Canada.

You can read the full report here.

Shariah law to be tightened if Sudan splits, says president

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashi says the north of Sudan will reinforce its Islamic laws if the south secedes because of next month’s referendum, reported BBC News on Monday.

"If South Sudan secedes, we will change the constitution," Mr Bashir told a gathering of his supporters in the eastern town of Gederef on Sunday. "Shariah and Islam will be the main source for the constitution, Islam the official religion and Arabic the official language.”

Correspondents say the president’s comments are likely to alarm thousands of non-Muslim southerners living in the north as they are currently protected from some of the stronger aspects of Shariah.

Senior northern officials are just starting to acknowledge publicly that South Sudan—where most people follow traditional beliefs and Christianity—are almost certain to choose to separate in the referendum.

You can read the full report here.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Algerian Christians sentenced for setting up "illegal" place of worship

Freedom of religion in Algeria is
dwindling since legal changes in 2006,
and persecution has been intensifying
since 2008.
On December 12, four Christians were given suspended prison sentences for opening a place of worship in the eastern region of Kabylia, Algeria, without a proper license issued by authorities.

The Christians—a Protestant clergyman and three of his parishioners—were convicted on the basis of a controversial 2006 law that requires that anyone who wants to set up a place of worship, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, must obtain a permit indicating the name of the place of worship as well as that of the pastor. Some believe this law violates Algeria's constitution, and this is first time it has been enforced in the nation.

Three of the men—Abdenour Raid, Nacer Mokrani and Idir Haoudj—received two-month prison sentences. The fourth man, Pastor Mahmoud Yahou, was sentenced to three months in jail and fined the equivalent of $135 CAN for illegally sheltering a foreigner.

Although the suspended sentences mean the four Christians will not serve prison time, Yahou told Compass Direct News that he and the three other men plan to appeal the verdict because the outcome of their case could affect all Protestant churches of the country, none of which have official permission to operate.

You can read the full report here.

Pray for endurance of faith for these four believers as they face opposition. Pray that they will look to God, knowing that their lives and ministries are in His hands. Pray that the ministry of churches in Algeria will continue and that the gospel will be preached throughout the nation.

Pray for religious liberty today!

On Saturday, you read about Religious Liberty Trends in 2010 and how religious liberty is in decline globally. Please pray with us today.

Gracious Lord,

We ask you to bless your Church with a great awakening of faith.

May imminently imperilled Christians in Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Egypt put their faith in you alone.

May increasingly subjugated and threatened Christians throughout the Muslim world—including Indonesia (especially Papua and West Java), Malaysia, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Iran and the North Caucasus—put their faith in you alone.

May repressed and persecuted believers throughout Asia—including China, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, India, Maldives and Sri Lanka—put their faith in you alone.

May Western Christians experiencing the consequences of “culture change” put their faith in you alone.

May those who advocate for religious liberty, for the persecuted and for justice and righteousness put their faith in you alone.

May those who work to raise awareness and relieve suffering put their faith in you alone. For “without faith it is impossible to please” the Lord (Hebrews 11:6).

We ask this so that “all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the LORD” (Isaiah 37:20b).

In Christ’s name, we pray.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

The decline of religious liberty

Elizabeth Kendal, an international religious liberty analyst and advocate, recently wrote a report for the Australian Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission.

Her report is about religious liberty and its decline globally. It definitely warrants a read.

“In whom do you now trust?” (Isaiah 36:5b ESV)

Religious liberty is in decline globally. Consequently, persecution of Christians and repression of Christian humanitarianism and proclamation are on the increase globally.

In the non-West, persecution of Christians continued to escalate through 2010. The draining wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, combined with the “global financial collapse” of August 2008, have left America without the economic leverage to convince leaders of non-free states to rein in persecution.

This comes at a time when intolerant, fundamentalist Islam is in revival and intolerant, religious nationalism is emerging as a dominant political force in the world. Meanwhile, Iran is ascendant in the Middle East and exerting influence across the Muslim world. Likewise, China is ascendant in Asia and exerting influence in Africa and other places where it has established a presence. To counter domestic tensions, both Iran and China are escalating persecution against anything that could threaten “harmony,” i.e. the political status quo.
As persecution escalates, neither the US nor the EU (European Union) nor the UN nor any NGO (non-government organisation) can do anything about it. 

Not only is the West increasingly powerless to help the persecuted in the non-West, but due to “culture change,” the West itself is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity. The more the West “evolves” from a Judeo-Christian to a post-Christian culture, the more it becomes just like other non-Judeo-Christian cultures: intolerant, authoritarian, repressive and hostile towards Christ.

For many decades now, the West has been forgetting God (Deuteronomy 8: 11-20) and in pride and arrogance has been pursuing independence and self-sufficiency. Across much of the West, once dominant Christian values have become minority values increasingly deemed to be in violation of human rights. As the West lurches towards “culture collapse,” Western leaders are similarly becoming increasingly desperate for “harmony” at any price. Consequently, belligerent forces are being appeased while Christians are starting to lose their jobs, their places at university, their right to free speech and witness, and even their right to serve in a humanitarian and charitable capacity.

Unless there is widespread revival—for this is a spiritual issue before it is a political one—the situation will only get worse. 

Over recent decades, persecuted Christians and their advocates have increasingly invested their hopes, trust and faith in governments and NGOs, especially in the US and the UN. Persecuted Christians and their advocates should be starting to realise that politics, the projects of men, powerful alliances and military might are all failing to bring security.

As the devil mockingly asks, “In whom do you now trust?” let us pray that the crisis serves to awaken and revive the Church. Might we like King Hezekiah remember our gracious, faithful Lord and turn to Him (Isaiah 36-37).

Friday, December 17, 2010

We are Christians; we will suffer

Written by Reese Maguire

VOMC recently received some tweets via Twitter:

@VOMC Help me understand, pls. If Jesus said we were gonna share n His suffring b/c the world would hate us too...why r we complaining?

@VOMC I thought the Bible said to count it all joy? & that He would give us power to bear up under it?

If the Bible clearly tells us that we will suffer for His name’s sake, why then, as Christians, do we sometimes complain about suffering? And, why are we surprised when we suffer?

Now, there isn’t a post long enough to explore all the reasons why Christians suffer. Nor is there one long enough to cover the many issues that contribute to suffering or the explanations of those issues. So, I’ll simplify and say the Bible tells us that we will suffer and that we should be joyful when we do.

The Apostle Peter writes:
Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. (1 Peter 4: 12-13 NKJV).
“Don’t be surprised.” We should never be surprised when we suffer for Christ’s name. Instead, we should anticipate it. In the West, however, we enjoy religious freedoms that allow us openly to represent Christ. We don’t anticipate suffering in that context.

“Be very glad.” James 1: 2-4 tells us why: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (NKJV). In joy, Christ endured the cross. In joy, we endure trials, tribulations and suffering.

Around the world, there are more than 50 nations without the religious freedoms of the West. Many, many Christians suffer because of it. Our goal at VOM Canada is to raise awareness of the suffering that exists, not to complain about it, because we know we will suffer. We want our fellow believers to know we suffer with them. And, we want you to know about their suffering so that you can join in prayer and help provide for their needs.

So, to recap, when it comes to suffering, Christians should:
  1. never be surprised, 
  2. be very glad and 
  3. consider it an opportunity for great joy. 
Please pray for our fellow brothers and sisters today!

House churches forcibly closed in Indonesia

VOM partners in Indonesia are reporting that seven house churches were forcibly closed down in West Java, Indonesia, due to local Muslims' objections to the buildings being used for "illegal church meetings."

On December 12, between 200 and 300 Muslim militants from hardliner groups such as the Islam Protector Front (FPI), Moslem Forum (FUI) and the Islamic Reformation Movement (Garis) gathered outside seven houses and performed sudden inspections of the buildings.

The house churches were being used by members of the Protestant Batak Christian Huria Church. The militants said the buildings could not be used for Christian worship services and told the congregation to meet elsewhere.

The police high commissioner adjutant, Hendro Pandowo, denied the news, saying the Muslim fundamentalists raided some churches. The security troops of Bandung city were following up on that report by sealing the seven house churches.

The owners of the houses were told they could remain in their homes but were forbidden from opening their homes for Christian worship services.

Ask God to use this ordeal to strengthen the members of this church. Pray that they will demonstrate Christ's love to those who oppose them and that their faith will be a light which helps lead others to the Lord. Pray that Indonesian Christians suffering for Christ will keep their eyes on Jesus, persevere in their faith and not grow weary or lose heart (Hebrews 10:32-39; 12:1-3).

Take a look at this video on the dangers of being an evangelist in Indonesia (length 4:30).

For more videos about the suffering of Christians around the world, visit Persecution.TV.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

He came once; He will come again!

A reproduction of Lorenzo Lotto's oil-on-wood
painting of "Christi Geburt" or "Birth of Jesus."
Written by Greg Musselman

Two of the greatest and most important events in human history center on the person of Jesus Christ. Without His birth 2,000 years ago and then His death and resurrection, His return would not be possible.

We know that Jesus’ birth occurred under the radar. With no fanfare, the coming of the King was about as low key as it gets. Only a few shepherds knew of His birth. When they went to find Him, they discovered a baby lying in a manger and wrapped in swaddling cloths. Those are humble beginnings for the Son of God!

His return, however, will be unlike His humble beginning; it will be spectacular and amazing!

Now, there are many schools of thought about the return of Christ. Clergy and theologians have debated them for centuries. Many have predicted Jesus’ return—even just 20 years after His death and resurrection—though scripture tells us not to do so. What the Bible does tell us is that Jesus will someday return to earth. For now, we live in between His first and second comings.

Two millennia ago, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica, addressing false reports that said Jesus had come and gone (2 Thessalonians 2: 1-2). No, Jesus had not come back, and, no, he has not left His followers behind. Paul explained what events would happen before Jesus’ return so that His followers need not live in a state of perpetual uncertainty (verses 3-4).

What strikes me about this passage is the expectancy of the coming of the Lord these Christians had. There was a great expectation of His return, and the persecution Jesus’ followers underwent at the time fueled it.

Ultimately, these believers did not want to miss Christ’s return.

This Christmas, as we look back at the wonderful gift God has given us, let us also look forward to His promised return. When He does come back to earth, He will answer the cry of the martyrs. Revelation 6:10 reads, “And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth’" (NKJV)?

Until then the truth of His spectacular return that gave hope to the first-century Christians also gives our brothers and sisters around the world hope and comfort, as they suffer for the one born two centuries ago!

Iraq's War on Christianity

Tim Rutten with the Los Angeles Times recently wrote “Iraq’s War on Christians,” and it’s a bit of an expose on the lack of response by the West to help those being persecuted in the East.

Here is an excerpt:
Putting aside America's particular culpability in Iraq, the West as a community of nations has long turned a blind eye to the intolerance of the Middle East's Muslim states—an intolerance that has intensified with the spread of Salafism, Islam's brand of militant fundamentalism. Our ally Saudi Arabia is the great financial and ideological backer of this hatred. In fact, when it comes to religion, the kingdom and North Korea are the most criminally intolerant countries in the world.
Additionally, Mr. Rutten discusses how churches established in Christ’s name are being pushed to the brink of oblivion in the very region where their faith was born.

Another excerpt:
Paradoxically, the one country in the Middle East whose Christian population has grown in recent years is Israel, where more than 150,000 Christians enjoy religious freedom. That lends a particular pathos to the way in which the current persecution of Christians mirrors that which destroyed most of the region's ancient Jewish communities following Israel's establishment in 1948. Iraq, for example, was home to one of the Mideast's largest and most vibrant Jewish populations, one that predated Christianity by many centuries. It was in the great Jewish academies along the Euphrates that the more authoritative of the two Talmuds was argued out and compiled after the Second Temple's destruction. All that was swept away in a wave of hatred, as were all but vestiges of the equally ancient Jewish communities in Morocco, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and, more recently, Iran.

As one of the recent Christian refugees from Baghdad told the New York Times this week, "It's exactly what happened to the Jews."
I recommend taking a few minutes to read the full op-ed.

Azerbaijan officials want stiffer penalties for religious-activity infractions

Harsher punishment for religous
activity a "question of national
security" in Azerbaijan?
Eighteen months ago, Azerbaijan increased penalties for religious activity under the Criminal and Administrative Codes. Government officials and now ready to make the penalties stiffer.

Forum 18 News Service is reporting that parliamentary deputies are considering harsher penalties in proposed amendments to the Code of Administrative Offences. Minimum fines for individuals violating the Religion Law—such as holding unregistered religious worship—could be increased 15-fold.

"This is connected with religious communities which have failed to gain re-registration but still function," said Rabiyat Aslanova, chair of parliament's Human Rights Committee, on December 9. "It's so that they realise the responsibility for their actions. People are not fined just for praying to God. This is a question of national security."

The proposed amendments were approved on December 8, at a joint meeting of the Milli Mejlis (parliament) Legal Policy and State Building Committee and the Human Rights Committee. The amendments are ready to go to a plenary session, which is scheduled for late December.

The proposed increases in penalties have aroused concern among human rights defenders and religious communities, which are regularly penalised under the Code of Administrative Offences for religious activity such as for holding unregistered worship or other religious meetings, or sharing their faith.

You can read the full report here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pastor Quang released!

We reported yesterday that Vietnamese authorities demolished Pastor Quang's Mennonite Bible School in Ho Chi Minh City's district 2. Additionally, Pastor Quang was beaten and taken into custody.

Sources confirm that Pastor Quang has been released and reunited with his family. Praise God!

Stay tuned to upcoming issues of The Voice of the Martyrs newsletter for a special report on Pastor Quang and his work in Vietnam.

What we’re reading

In Son of Hamas, Yousef
finds Jesus and freedom.
Written by Floyd Brobbel

Son of Hamas by Mosab Hassan Yousef

The principal at my son’s school had the grade 11 class read Son of Hamas by Mosab Hassan Yousef. He challenged parents to read the book as well, so I picked up a copy.

Yousef is the eldest son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a founding member of Hamas. Hamas is the largest and most influential Palestinian-Islamist militant movement and is considered a terrorist organization by many governments. For years, young Yousef assisted his father in his political activities while being groomed to assume his legacy. Everything changed when Yousef decided to follow Christ.

This book will have a profound influence on anyone searching for a true and lasting peace, as Yousef himself concludes, “The message of Jesus—love your enemies—is what finally set me free.”  

Given a copy of the Bible, Yousef was touched by this revelation after reading the Sermon on the Mount. He found Jesus’ words incredible, and each verse seemed to touch a wound in his life.

“I had money, power and position in my former life” Yousef writes, “but what I really wanted was freedom.  And that meant, among other things, leaving behind hate, prejudice and a desire for revenge.”

The power of God’s love revealed through his Word is astounding. It can breathe into the darkest, hardest and most hopeless life to bring about a change. It brought freedom to Yousef who found that the real prison he was in was one of his own making. It can also bring change to the Middle East.

“Truth and forgiveness are the only solution for the Middle East,” writes Yousef. “The challenge, especially between Israelis and Palestinians, is not to find the solution. The challenge is to be courageous enough to embrace it.”

There is much brokenness in the lives of people all over the world. Many wounded people cling to hate and seek revenge. But, if Jesus is the only real hope for peace in the Middle East, doesn’t it make sense that He is the only solution for peace in our lives?

Yousef’s transformation came as a result of embracing Jesus and His words and finding healing from a life of bitterness and hate. We must pray that there will be more in the Middle East who will also find the courage to embrace the Word.

Sudan's referendum vote approaches; pray

Pray for Sudan as its
referendum vote approaches.
In 21 days, voters in southern Sudan will decide whether to secede from the North. Now more than ever, our fellow Sudanese brothers and sisters need our prayers.

Take a look at a report posted today by Mission Network News.

Anticipation and tension mount as Sudan's referendum approaches

Sudan (MNN) ― Anticipation is building as election officials in Sudan are ramping up for a key vote that could determine the peace of a nation.

In just 21 days, as part of a 2005 peace deal, voters in southern Sudan will decide whether to secede from the North. "Polling places are being established inside Sudan; absentee ballots are being distributed. There's a crescendo of activity pointing toward January 9."

Lee DeYoung with Words of Hope says everyone is aware of the weight of this decision. Already, believers in neighboring countries are organizing in solidarity. "There are large prayer meeting gatherings where the focus of the prayer meeting is to intercede on behalf of the people of South Sudan. Many prayers are arising especially in neighboring countries, including Kenya and Uganda."

The tensions could erupt if either side refuses to accept the outcome of the vote. Prayer is the best preparation for peace. "If the outcome is for separating, [pray] that the government of the north will accept the will of the South Sudanese people, and that the arrangements that ensue will take place in a peaceful atmosphere."

If violence blows up, it could be more than one deadly month. "The January 9 referendum, if it is in favor of separation, would be implemented six months later, in July."

At stake is a loss of power and the South's oil resources. Observers say there are already reports of coercion and threats because, as DeYoung says, "From all signs, it does seem as if most of the people, by a large margin of South Sudan, intend to vote in favor of becoming their own country."

Church leaders are calling upon Christians everywhere to pray for a peaceful referendum. The radio broadcasts are tailoring their content toward this message, too. "Words of Hope programs continue to point toward the referendum. The Words of Hope programs in Dinka, Nuer and Bari are focusing increasingly on themes of peace and reconciliation drawn from Scripture."

The Gospel message is echoed in the evangelistic work of the local church bodies. "These, we hope, will be complementing the work of many churches so that the tendency and the history for tribal conflict might give way."

A historic moment is three weeks away, sure to be one of the biggest news events of 2011. Keep praying for peace. Ask God to give believers wisdom as they navigate the days ahead in a time of change.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Vietnamese officials demolish Bible school

Members of the Civil Defence and Night Watchman
oversee over the demolition.
Our sister mission VOM Australia has learned that a force of 500 Vietnamese police officers, task-force soldiers and fire brigadiers used bulldozers to demolish Pastor Quang’s Mennonite Bible School in District 2 HCMC this morning.

Pastor Quang was one of many whose homes and businesses stood in the way of commercial development by the Vietnamese government.

Pastor Quang was detained. Sources say he was severely beaten. Twenty students were also arrested and interrogated.

Please pray for Pastor Quang’s safety and health, as well as the safety and well-being of his family. Pray for his immediate release. Pray the Bible School students would stand courageous and continue to proclaim Jesus Christ is Lord.

Stay tuned to upcoming issues of The Voice of the Martyrs newsletter for updates.

Christians in Karachi under fire

Pray for our Christian
family in Pakistan.
ASSIST News Service (ANS) is reporting local Pakistani Christians and the family of a Christian youth are receiving death threats, following the elopement and marriage of a young Christian man who converted to Islam and his young Muslim bride.

Recently in Baldia Town (located in the western part of Karachi) and Saeedabad (also in Karachi), the homes of local Christians were attacked, women were abused and household items vandalized by Muslim fanatics under the guise of “searching for a Christian youth.”

Sources say they attacked because a 20-year-old Christian man recanted his Christianity and converted to Islam to elope with an 18-year-old Muslim girl in Baldia on November 20.

Elvis Steven, a Christian lawyer and minority rights advocate, said that, although the Christian youth had contracted a court marriage and had become a Muslim, the people of the Hazara tribe “harboured a grudge against the local Christian family in particular and against all Christians of Baldia town generally.”

The father of the converted young man said that instead of protecting the Christians from Muslim fanatics, Saeedabad Police Officers launched a case against the young man and his family for allegedly abducting the young woman.

Steven said local police are “reluctant to provide security to Christians.” He also said that the Saeedabad Police and Rangers Police came forward to take security measures against Muslim radical groups only after police informers told them that radical Islamist militants were planning a massive armed attack against local Christians.

Many Christians in the area have fled from their homes to save their lives.

You can read the full report here.

Please pray for strength and courage for our brothers and sisters in Pakistan. Pray that God will make a way for them where there seems to be no way. Pray the young Pakistani man will be drawn back to Christ and that his young bride will have her heart drawn to Christ also.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Status of Christians in Hamadan Prison remains unknown

Image from FCNN video news report
on YouTube
Back in September, VOMC reported that nine Iranian Christians were arrested in Hamadan on charges of evangelistic activities. Three months later, charges against four of the individuals are still undecided.

Having heard from Mohabat News reporters and the Iranian Christian News Agency (ICNA), ASSIST News Service is reporting that Armenian-Iranian Christian Vahik Abrahamian and his wife, Sonia Keshish Avanessian, and Farsi-speaking Arash Kermanjany and Arezou Teimouri remain in jail.

Mohabat and ICNA reported that security authorities, in collaboration with the media, said the group’s purpose was to destroy the Islamic Republic of Iran. The story reportedly called them, “Zionist Christians.”

On the evening of September 4, security forces entered Vahik’s home and arrested him. Two other Christian converts were there as guests at the same time. Security officers searched the house and collected some personal belongings. Later they took the individuals to an undisclosed location.

Mohabat and ICNA sources said Vahik and Arash are incarcerated in Section 4 of the Hamadan Public Prison, and Sonia and Arezou are in the women’s section of the same facility.

Additionally, Mohabat and ICNA said judicial authorities have yet to say why these believers are still imprisoned without being formally charged.

You can read the full report here.

Please pray for the release of these believers. Pray that God will equip them to share the truth for which they suffer, even in prison. Pray that increased persecution in Iran will result in increased boldness among Christians (Acts 4:29-31).

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Pastor sentenced to 3 years in Bhutan prison

Proselytism and incitement to
convert are illegal in Bhutan.
ASSIST News Service is reporting that the Bhutan High Court sentenced Gospel for Asia-supported missionary Ugyen Tashi to three years in prison for “attempting to promote civil unrest” for showing a film about Jesus.

In late May, Tashi walked for two days, carrying a generator and a projector, into interior villages of Bhutan to give people a chance to learn about Jesus. When one of the village chiefs learned of the movie’s content, he informed the chief of his district, who then called the police to arrest Tashi.

After multiple postponements and cancellations, Tashi was taken to court two months after his arrest.

GFA leaders initially met with local officials to appeal for Tashi’s release on bail, but the officials refused their petition, because they considered Tashi’s case very serious and a possible violation of Bhutan’s constitution, which states, “No person shall be compelled to belong to another faith by means of coercion or inducement.”
Tashi was asked to write a statement for the court, but his first statement was considered insufficient. He rewrote his statement nine times, paying $2.50 each time.

On August 17, the court presented all of Tashi’s statements in the presence of the officials and asked Tashi to screen the controversial film on the life of Jesus before the court the following day. Although it was reported that the court officials wanted to watch all the films Tashi had shown before a final verdict was pronounced, not one was shown.

Bhutan’s High Court declared Ugyen guilty and gave him three years in prison.

You can read the full report here.

Please pray for Pastor Tashi while he is in prison. Pray for his health, and that he will be able to effectively minister while he’s behind bars. Pray also for the other believers living in Bhutan. Pray for their protection, strength to endure persecution and discernment on how to share the Good News with those around them.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

China launches crackdown on house churches

There are more than 50 million Chinese Christians in
unregistered church networks.
Chinese authorities last week launched a crackdown directed at Christians who belong to China’s huge network of unregistered house churches, says ASSIST News Service.

A ChinaAid news release says the powerful Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party launched "Operation Deterrence" on December 1, and it is expected to continue through March 2011.

The foot soldiers of China's security apparatus— CCP Central Committee for Comprehensive Management of Social Order—have been told to collect information about house churches throughout the country and turn these reports in to their superiors. A "blacklist" of church leaders and influential believers has also reportedly been drawn up.

ChinaAid had described "Operation Deterrence" as a broader crackdown on human rights defenders and activists during which 20 rights defenders were to be arrested and sentenced. The action was timed to coincide with yesterday’s award ceremony for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.

However, the latest information, obtained by ChinaAid from more than one reliable source, makes it clear that the target of the crackdown is more narrowly focused and may be directed solely at China's network of house churches and their members.

You can read the full report here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Afghan authorities block lawyer from visiting jailed Christian

Said Musa
(Photo courtesy
Release International)
Last week, we told you about Said Musa, an Afghanistan Christian who was arrested in May after video footage, showing Afghan Christians being baptised and participating in prayer gatherings, was televised nationally. The broadcast triggered protests throughout the country along with calls to execute Christians.

Said (alternatively spelled Sayed Mossa) is a father of six and an amputee with a prosthetic leg. Since his arrest, he has been tortured, abused and threatened with death. He has been unable to find an Afghan lawyer willing to represent him, and his family has been unable to access his file that includes the charges against him.

His trial, which was to take place on November 21, was postponed.

Compass Direct News is reporting today that, two weeks ago, a Christian lawyer traveled to Kabul on behalf of Christian legal rights organization Advocates International to represent Said. Authorities denied the lawyer access to Said and to his indictment file.

“If a man is not entitled to define his own beliefs, and to change those ideas, under the existing constitutional order of Afghanistan, then how is this government more moral than the Taliban’s?” the lawyer said in an email to Compass Direct News.

Said finally appeared before a judge on November 27 and without prior notice. Rejecting the case file as deficient, the judge sent it to the attorney general’s office for corrections, according to the lawyer. The lawyer said he has deduced that the file was missing a formal indictment and other “incriminating” evidence.

Afghan law says that Said is entitled to see a copy of the indictment and review the evidence against him, but authorities have denied him both rights. If the prosecutor does not present the court with an indictment within 15 days of arrest, the lawyer said, an accused person has the right to be released.

You can read the full report here.

Please continue to pray for Said Musa’s release from prison and for his safety and well-being. Pray that he will remain courageous and willing to share the love of Christ with those around him.

Christians fear civilian casualties in Burma

Burmese Christian minorities suffer
greatly at the hands of the military.
Civilians in two ethnic minority states with large Christian populations fear their lives will be in danger as skirmishes between rebels and a Burmese junta bent on instilling Buddhist nationalism threaten to escalate into war.

“It is likely that the military junta will carry out a military offensive against ethnic armed groups now that the elections are over,” Nang Mya Naddy, ethnic program coordinator of the Democratic Voice of Burma radio program, told Compass Direct News.

Christians fear that full-scale civil war in Burma (also known as Myanmar) could result in either ethnic cleansing or total subjugation of minorities. Persecution of Christians in Burma is part of a wider campaign against ethnic minority tribes to create a uniform society in which the only accepted religion is Buddhism.

Pray for intervention that will bring justice. Pray also for repentance of those who use their power in wicked ways. Burma is a deeply fractured nation on a political, ecclesiological and especially ethnic level. Pray for seemingly impossible ethnic harmony, effective federalism and peace. There are many causes of division among Burmese Christians—ethnic, political, passivism/military activism and doctrinal. Pray for spiritual unity.

You can read the full report here.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Stand in solidarity with missing Chinese Christian

Gao was last seen with his
family in January 2009.
(Photo ChinaAid)
For nearly two years, Gao Zhisheng, a Christian human rights lawyer in China has been detained by authorities, his whereabouts often unknown. He was initially seized from his home in Shaanxi province on February 4, 2009, and held incommunicado by security officials for 13 months. In early April 2010, news surfaced that he had been released. Shortly thereafter he was again reported missing.

In an October radio interview, Gao’s wife, Geng He, expressed her and her family’s eagerness to find him: “My family only wants to get some news of him. When I talked with his sister, she said: ‘He is a member of the family. No matter what he does, such as eating the daily meals, sleeping or even taking a walk outside, anything would make us miss him. Where on earth has he gone?’ The entire family of mine is puzzled and we have been looking for him ever since.”

You can get involved in a worldwide advocacy effort on Gao's behalf. In recognition of Human Rights Day on December 10, ChinaAid is coordinating a campaign with the aim of delivering 150,000 signed petitions to Chinese embassies around the world.

Please consider joining with your friends and family members in writing letters and delivering them to the Chinese embassy in Ottawa.

H.E. Zhang Junsai
Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Canada

515 St. Patrick St.
Ottawa, ON K1N 5H3
Tel: 613-789-3509
Fax: 613-789-1414

Your sample letter might look like this:

To the Honourable Ambassador from China,

I am aware that Chinese authorities have detained Christian attorney Gao Zhisheng since February 4, 2009. He was at the home of relatives in Shaanxi province when more than a dozen Public Security Bureau officers took him away. He resurfaced in April of this year and then disappeared again.

Since 2005, Gao has been repeatedly kidnapped, arrested, imprisoned and tortured for his work defending those persecuted for their faith. He and his family have been monitored by authorities for more than two years.

I am praying for the leaders of China and request that you communicate with relevant Chinese leaders and release Gao Zhisheng immediately, as arbitrary detention is in violation of Chinese law.

Thank you for your kind attention to this matter.

Your name

Need some additional letter-writing guidance? Download VOM’s letter-writing guide here.

Watch VOM's December Persecution Report

The December 2010 edition of VOM's Persecution Report is ready for viewing!

You'll see how Christians who escaped North Korea are preparing to go back to the "Hermit Kingdom" and bring light into darkness. You'll learn about the ongoing violence facing believers in Iraq and a 22-year-old Pakistani Christian who was killed after being released from jail on a charge of blasphemy. You'll also hear of six Christians beaten in Nepal after being accused of blasphemy against traditional gods, and how a follower of Christ was given a 3-year jail sentence for showing Christian films in Bhutan.

Watch this video and be encouraged! (Length: 9:59)

You can watch more videos like this one at Persecution.TV.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Growing concern over proposed legislative changes on religion in Armenia

Did you know Armenia was the
world's first Christian nation?
Human rights defenders and religious communities are harshly criticising proposed amendments to several Armenian laws that would impose new restrictions on and punishments for religious activity, says Forum 18 News Service.

Under these amendments, the state would conduct a "theological expert examination" before granting registration to religious communities, while those that fail to provide full information about all their activities could be liquidated. Sharing faith is a particular target, with penalties for violations of up to three months' imprisonment.

"If adopted, [these amendments] will create two kinds of citizens in Armenia—those of the Armenian Apostolic Church on one side, and then the rest," Pastor Rene Leonian of the Evangelical Church told Forum 18 News Service. "It is difficult for us to accept in an independent and democratic state that there can be two classes of citizen."

The amendments, prepared by the Justice Ministry, were first made known when placed on the Council of Europe's Venice Commission website on November 30.

You can read the full story here.

Pray for wisdom for the leaders of Armenia. Pray for unity and cooperation with the Armenian Church, that its groups will find common ground and the ability to work together for the purposes of God. Pray for deep spiritual regeneration of the Church and for godly leaders.

Teenage girl shot to death for embracing Christ

The murder of converts from Islam
to Christianity is increasingly
common in Somalia.
Compass Direct News is reporting a 17-year-old girl in Somalia who converted to Christianity from Islam was shot to death on November 25, in an apparent “honour killing.”

Nurta Mohamed Farah, who fled her village to live with relatives after her parents tortured her for leaving Islam, was shot in the chest and head with a pistol. Area sources said they strongly suspect that the two unidentified men who shot her were relatives or acting on their behest.

The murder of Somali Christians and especially converts from Islam to Christianity is increasingly common, reports Operation World. However, although they are despised and heavily persecuted, even martyred, they are also growing in faith and in vision.

There are possibly about 4,000 Somali Christians in Somalia and twice that in the diaspora. Some meet in secret and others follow Jesus in isolation. Burdened for their country, they are leading more boldly and will clearly not just disappear. Praise God for their faith!

Please continue to pray for our Somali brothers and sisters—those in Somalia and those around the world—as there is a worldwide effort by Somali Muslim fanatics to intimidate Somali Christians. Pray for protection as well as discipleship and fellowship opportunities. Pray for Somali Christian families to be raised up, as the great majority of Somali Christians are men. Pray for perseverance amid a most difficult situation.

Now may the God of peace—
who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus,
the great Shepherd of the sheep,
and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood—
may He equip you with all you need
for doing His will.
May He produce in you,
through the power of Jesus Christ,
every good thing that is pleasing to Him.
All glory to Him forever and ever!

(Hebrews 13: 20-21)