Monday, January 31, 2011

Church spreads gospel after pastor’s martyrdom in Philippines

On the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, a 50-year-old female pastor was brutally murdered while ministering in her Muslim neighbourhood. Editha Junio is still in shock over the horrific murder of her pastor, Juliet Catalan, and Catalan’s 10-year-old daughter.

Watch the segment, and learn about Pastor Catalan’s brutal murder, how those closest to her are healing and how the Church in the Philippines continues to grow.

***WARNING: This story contains some graphic images and is not suitable for children.***



From Christian World News (Length 2:50)

To view more videos like this, visit Persecution.TV.

South Sudan referendum: 99% vote for independence

South Sudan looks to split from the North.
BBC News said yesterday that 99 percent of South Sudanese voted to secede from the north, according to the first complete results of the region’s independence referendum, reported the Assyrian International News Agency.

The referendum commission said that 99.57 percent of those polled voted for independence.

Final results from the January 9-15 vote are expected next month. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has said he will accept the results.

If the result is confirmed, the new country will formally declare its independence on July 9.

You can read the full BBC News report here.

Continue to pray for believers in Sudan. Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala of Tombura-Yambio, in the southern region of Sudan, says his people have strong "expectations of change for the better" and urged continued prayers worldwide for "permanent peace in Sudan." Many Christians have reportedly left the North and capital city of Khartoum for the South out of fear that President Bashir's regime will shift toward "radical Islamization" in the wake of the referendum.

Thank the Lord for a peaceful voting process. Pray for the shalom of God to reign throughout Sudan. Pray Sudanese Christians will continue to courageously proclaim Christ's way of compassion and love, even to those who seek to oppress them.

In mailboxes this week

The February issue of The Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter is hitting mailboxes this week. This month, we’re exploring survival, courage and faith in North Korea.

Inside this issue:
  • Meet a North Korean defector who almost met death as she sought to provide for her children but found Jesus Christ instead.
  • Learn how VOM is helping North Korean believers.
  • Read about a Vietnamese pastor who was beaten and detained after his home and school were destroyed in December.
  • Find out how Canadians like you are serving today’s persecuted Church and how you can get involved doing the same.
  • Hear how God heard (and answered!) the prayer of a prisoner in a solitary cell where no shred of human decency was witnessed.
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.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Christianity in Iran increases despite persecution

Lisa Daftari with Frontpage Magazine wrote an article last week about how an increasing number of Iranians are turning to Christianity and other religions, even as they face intensified persecution, arrest and potential execution.

Why? Iranians are looking for a distraction from harsh governmental restrictions. They are opting to experiment with different ideologies and religions to find release.

Obviously, this trend is not sitting well with the regime. Daftari said, “For a government that has often claimed that it has tolerance for different religions, and that even has provisions in its Constitution protecting minority groups, the recent crackdowns on Iranian Christians demonstrate the inability of the Islamic Republic to make space for differing ideologies.

Since Christmas, more than 70 Iranian Christians have been detained. Tehran’s governor, Morteza Tamadon, confirmed more arrests would be made.

Though the Iranian constitution grants protection to religious minorities born into religions such as Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews, namely religions who have a sacred scripture, over the last year and a half, individuals in these minority communities have reported increased pressure and clashes with government officials and Revolutionary Guards as their influence continues to mount throughout the country.

Take a few minutes to read Daftari’s full story here, and continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in Iran.

An extreme volunteer

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

Day 117: Sister Kwang
China

After requiring many hours of hard labour and offering a near-starvation diet, the Chinese prison guards demanded that someone volunteer to clean the bathrooms daily. None of the women prisoners spoke up.

Finally, Sister Kwang stepped forward and volunteered to do the rotten task. She saw it as the ultimate opportunity to share her faith with women in the prison whom she would otherwise never see. During her time in that prison, she led hundreds of women to Christ.

Kwang’s devotion was evident to all who knew her, but it came through much suffering. Before her imprisonment, she and her husband had volunteered to organize groups of evangelists who traveled around China, forming small house churches.

When Communist officials discovered Kwang’s activities, they beat her 12-year-old son to death. Still, she refused to deny Christ and even continued to build the house-church movement after her release.

Finally, in 1974, the Communists decided to make an example of “Mother Kwang,” as her church members now knew her. She was sentenced to life in prison, put in an underground cell with a bucket for sanitary needs, and fed only dirty rice.

She was miraculously released after 10 years and always looked back on her prison time as a gift—a special opportunity to share the love of Christ with people who might never have heard otherwise.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the
Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17

Volunteerism is almost a professional occupation for some people. They volunteer at their children’s school, help with parent/teacher nights and help coach their children’s soccer teams. Volunteering for the not-so-popular opportunities can be more of a challenge. Often the volunteer spirit is nowhere to be found. Nursing homes, orphanages and shelters are the last places many people want to spend their time. The smell, depressing environment or other discomforts drive them away. But, where do you suppose Jesus would spend most of his time? Nearly any volunteer position involves necessary and admirable work, but listen carefully for the opportunities less travelled and with those less fortunate. Try being the first to volunteer the next time one comes you way.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Scars in Nigeria

It is clear that violence toward Christians in Nigeria is escalating.

Bukar Samson's scared face and body are the result of a brutal attack by militant Muslims that claimed the lives of dozens of Christians in the town of Yelwa in Plateau State, Nigeria. The town was burned and several churches were destroyed, including the Church of Christ where Bukar's father was pastor.

Watch this video, and find out how Bukar went from wanting revenge to being filled with forgiveness (Length 4:30).



To view more videos like this one, visit Persecution.TV.

Further deaths as Nigeria violence continues

Pray for believers in Nigeria today.
Midnight raids on two villages in Plateau state are reported to have claimed the lives of eight people, amid continuing religious tension in central Nigeria, said Release International on Wednesday.

Sources report that the victims, who included a woman and her daughter, were killed in the villages of Farin Lamba and Fan, which are in the Riyom and Barkin Ladi local government areas respectively.

This is the fifth recorded attack on Christian villages in this area in a fortnight. At least 13 people were killed during raids on several remote villages in the area earlier this month.

According to sources, many women recently joined a protest in Vom in Jos, South local government area, demanding the removal of the Special Task Force charged with keeping peace in the area. This force is facing mounting allegations that it is either turning a blind eye to attacks on Christian communities or may even be complicit in them.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that a soldier guarding a church in Maiduguri, Borno state, was shot dead at his post on Sunday. This incident follows bomb attacks on three churches in the city last month.

Please pray for an end to the cycle of violence that continues to claim lives in Plateau state. Pray particularly that officials will do more to ensure that effective security measures are in place to avert further bloodshed.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Anti-Christian extremists in South Asia use religious festivals to harass Christians

In one South Asian state, Christians in two different villages have been harassed and intimidated by anti-Christian extremists, who are using their religious festivals as opportunities to humiliate the believers, reported Gospel for Asia.

People in Pastor Jakson Kinar’s village erected a statue of a local goddess directly in front of the place where his small congregation meets. They then sang loudly in front of the idol to disturb services. When an annual religious festival was underway, the villagers put up a stage with loudspeakers and increased their harassment of Christians.

Bagirathi Singh, who is pastor of a church in another part of the state, said his congregation of 34 believers is experiencing similar difficulties. Political leaders from the village have threatened believers, warning them not to attend services. Government services are also being withheld from some believers.

During local religious festivals, villagers often demand believers continue contributing money to pay for the religious festival, even after they choose to follow Jesus. Some of the believers have paid the money out of fear.

You can read the full Gospel for Asia report here.

"This is truly a time we need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our brothers and sisters, holding them up in prayer before God's throne of grace. Please pray with me for our faithful workers and believers in this area, and for those who oppose them, that they will be transformed by the power of God's love." — GFA President K.P. Yohannan

Eritrea’s prisons claim two more believers

Pray for believers in Eritrea today.
Open Doors is reporting the deaths of two Christians in Eritrea's infamous detention centres, said Mission Network News yesterday.

Seble Hagos Mebrahtu, 27, died in the military training centre in Sawa on January 1. According to reliable sources, Mebrahtu was apparently refused medical treatment for malaria and died soon after.

Mehari Gebreneguse Asgedom, 42, was also denied medical treatment for complications from diabetes and injuries sustained from torture. He died on January 16, 2009, at the Mitire Military Confinement Centre.

These deaths come as the Eritrea government’s campaign against Christians escalates. Several large groups of believers—members of the underground church—have been arrested since the end of December. We shared with you on January 7 that 30 Christians were arrested for praying.

More than 3,000 Christians have been detained for their faith in Christ, since Eritrea’s government banned and criminalized dozens of churches outside of Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran and Islamic traditions in 2002. Most prisoners are kept in underground dungeons, metal shipping containers and military barracks. Several Christians have died while imprisoned due to torture and lack of medical attention. Too often, families wait years to hear any news of their loved ones' welfare.

Please continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in Eritrea. Pray the newly arrested would remain firm in the faith. Pray God would use their testimonies of faithfulness to convict their persecutors of their need for salvation in Christ.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Uzbek Pastor Dmitry Shestakov released from prison!

Pastor Dmitry Shestakov
We received a report this week that Uzbek Pastor Dmitry Shestakov was released from prison last Friday. Praise God!

VOM sources report that Pastor Shestakov was released at 3 p.m. local time on January 21. No official church representatives went to meet him—only two courageous elders from the Andijan Church.

Shestakov is the pastor of the officially registered Full Gospel Church. He was taken into custody by secret service officials on January 21, 2007, and accused of “incitement of national, racial and religious enmity” under Article 156 of Uzbekistan's penal code. He had been serving a four-year, work camp sentence.

Praise the Lord for Pastor Shestakov's release! Pray for the Shestakovs, as they adjust back to life together. Pray also that the church in Andijan will be strengthened. Pray the Holy Spirit will use Shestakov's faithful witness to bring many of his neighbours, friends and even persecutors to Christ (Romans 12:14, 21).

Stay tuned to future issues of The Voice of the Martyrs newsletter for more on Pastor Shestakov.

You can listen to a video testimony from the Shestakov family filmed during his imprisonment here.

Iranian Christian pastor detained

Pastor Benham Irani with his wife and one
of his children
(Photo: Present Truth Ministries)
An Iranian Christian pastor has been detained by Iranian authorities, reported ASSIST News yesterday.

According to Jason DeMars of Present Truth Ministries, Pastor Behnam Irani has been convicted of “actions against the Order.” DeMars said this means Irani’s organized house-church meetings and other Christian activities.

Pastor Behnam is a husband and father of two children.

You can read the full report here.

Please pray for Pastor Irani’s release. Pray he will be filled with strength to endure for Jesus and for peace for his family. Pray God will work in the hearts of the Iranian authorities who have detained him.

Who were Phoebe, Dorcas and Lydia?

The following is excerpted from Christianity.com.

January 27, 60 A.D.
Commemoration of New Testament Women


By Dan Graves, MSL

The woman walking up the Roman Road hugged a secret. Hidden beneath her robe was the future of Christian theology. For she bore with her a letter to the church in Rome that would spell out, like no other document ever written, the implications and significance of the gospel.

Paul had turned to her out of need. While in Corinth, he had written a letter to the distant Roman church. He could not slip the letter into an envelope, lick a couple stamps and drop it into a mailbox; there was no postal service. Instead, he must find someone to carry the letter. As F. W. Boreham points out, Paul could write the letter but at that time could not carry it. Phoebe could not have written the letter, but she could carry it. As Christians, we need one another.

What do we know about Phoebe? Not much. Paul mentions her in just one place (Romans 16:1, 2): "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchrea [the port of Corinth], that you may receive her in the Lord as befits the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a helper of many and of myself as well."

This day, January 27th, is remembered in honour of Phoebe and two other early Christian women, Dorcas and Lydia. All three shared one pre-eminent quality: they helped others.

Dorcas was known for her assistance to the poor. So highly regarded was she, that when she died, the saints of Joppa appealed to Peter. He prayed over her and God raised her from the dead.

Lydia was a seller of purple cloth. After Paul shared the gospel with her, Lydia and her entire household were baptized--his first convert in Europe. She insisted Luke and Paul stay at her house. Her prosperous home became the original church at Philippi.

As these three individuals of the New Testament show, middle-class women were already beginning to play an important role in the Christian world.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ethiopian Muslims warn Christians to convert, leave city or face death

Pray for believers in Ethiopia today.
International Christian Concern has learned that Christians in the Ethiopian city of Besheno are being harassed and physically abused after Muslims posted notices on the doors of Christian homes, warning them to convert, leave the city or face death, reported the Assyrian International News Agency.

Three Christian leaders were forced to flee the city and two Christians have been forced to convert to Islam. In the Muslim majority city, the entire evangelical Christian community consists of about 30 believers.

Evangelist Kassa Awano remains in critical condition after Muslims attacked him on November 29, 2010. A few days after the attack, nearly 100 Muslims surrounded a vehicle carrying Christian leaders on their way to negotiate for peace with Muslim leaders. Two men, Tesema Hirego and Niggusie Denano, were seriously wounded, and the other leaders suffered minor injuries. On January 2, Muslims assaulted Temesgen Peteros with a knife after he testified about the attacks on these Christians in court.

Christians in Besheno have been targeted by Muslims for many years. Unfortunately, the local Muslim officials of the city refuse to protect the Christians. The officials ignore their appeals for justice, declining repeated requests for the building of a place of worship and a cemetery.

Besheno is a city located in the province of Alaba in Southern Ethiopia. According to the 2007 national census, 93.84 percent of the population of the province is Muslim. Christians make up 5.82 percent of the population.

You can read the full report here.

Nigerian army implicated in attacks on villages in Jos

Members of the Nigerian Army have been implicated in an attack on a village in Plateau state, reports Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

On January 23, two men, one woman and a baby were killed in an attack in Farin Lamba. Villagers reported that the attackers wore military uniforms.

The villagers shot one of the attackers in the arm; he reportedly turned out to be a solider from a nearby security post. They pursued the men, who fled in a military vehicle. Upon investigation, it was discovered that the soldiers belong to a team led by Captain Zakari. The army has refused to comment on the allegations.

The latest attack follows the controversial introduction of a shoot-to-kill policy by the Nigerian army, reported BBC News.

On January 18, Military spokesman Captain Charles Ekeocha told the BBC that soldiers had been given permission to shoot-to-kill to retain order in Jos following outbreaks of violence over the Christmas period and the alleged murder of an election official at a polling station in Tina Junction on January 17.  However, continuing discrepancies in reports of this incident, coupled with persistent allegations of military complicity in violence, have forced a reappraisal of the policy.

You can read the full report here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Orissa government fails to uphold the law; anti-Christian violence continues

Orissa Christians suffer much
persecution.
In Orissa state, India, Christians continue to be killed, fall victims to act of violence and endure discrimination, this more than two years after the pogroms that took the lives of 75 people, reported Asia News today.

Last year, Christians and Dalits were victims in 62 cases of human rights violations, this according to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

On January 18, NHRC chairman K. G. Balakrishnan arrived in Bhubaneswar where he urged local authorities to stop religious and caste intolerance, especially in Kandhamal district.

Fr. Ajaya Kumar Singh, social service director of Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, told Asia News that the Orissa government could do more against human rights violations in Kandhamal. It could start by providing adequate and faster compensation to families who lost members during the 2008 Hindu pogroms.

In recent years, more than 50,000 people have been forced to flee their homes.

You can read the full report here.

Save the date!

Russell Stendal will share his experiences in
Colombia during VOM's Prayer Conferences
in March. You won't want to miss it!
The Voice of the Martyrs’ annual Prayer Conferences are coming in March!

Saturday, March 19
West Meadows Baptist Church
Edmonton, Alberta
9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Saturday, March 26
City Centre Baptist Church
Mississauga, Ontario
9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

This year, our special guest is Russell Stendal.

Russell Stendal was raised on the mission field in Colombia. He became a missionary jungle pilot at age 19. In 1983, Marxist rebels kidnapped him and held him hostage for five months. His book, Rescue the Captors, relates his experience, including how God worked in the hearts of the rebels.

Upon his release, God led Russell into radio ministry as a unique way to reach the fighting factions of the internal conflict in Colombia with the gospel. In partnership with Galcom, more than 88,000 radios have been deployed in violent areas of Colombia.

Today, Russell heads up the work of Colombia Para Cristo, which operates 12 radio stations that cover much of Latin America with the gospel. Tens of thousands of people listen to radio broadcasts, as terrorists have banned church buildings, meetings and many ministries in the past 30 years. A thriving underground church continues to develop in remote jungle areas of Colombia.

In addition to our special guest, you will hear from the following individuals:
  • Klaas Brobbel, VOM’s Co-founder and Finance Administrator
  • Corey Odden, VOM’s CEO
  • Floyd Brobbel, VOM’s VP of Operations
  • Greg Musselman, VOM’s VP of Outreach
Make plans to join us for an incredible day of raising awareness for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world!

Download a PDF flyer to share with you church, family and friends here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Pray for Tajikistan

Pray for believers in Tajikistan.
A January 19 Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin reported there have been many answers to prayer for the Church in Central Asia:
  • Unity among Protestant churches is growing.
  • There are many testimonies of a growing interest in the Good News among Muslims.
  • Many churches have a missionary vision for reaching out to the neighbouring Muslim countries.
However, much prayer is still needed.

Today, please consider praying for believers in Tajikistan.
  • Almost all registered churches in Tajikistan were able to re-register in accordance with the legal requirements. However, the Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists was denied registration as a union of churches. That limits their rights, e.g. to open new churches. Also some smaller new churches faced problems with registration.
  • The majority of the population continue to live in conditions of extreme poverty, unemployment and frequent electricity blackouts.
  • Many labour migrants from Tajikistan and elsewhere in Central Asia live and work in Russia and become more open to the gospel there than in their home countries.

Death sentence for perpetrator of attack on Egyptian Christians a year ago

Christian leaders are hopeful
the government will take effective
action to address violence
against Christians.
Middle East Concern shared a prayer request with us for Egyptian Christians today.

On January 6, 2010, six Christians and a Muslim security guard were killed in a drive-by shooting as worshippers left a Christmas Eve service in Nag Hammadi. Three men were arrested shortly afterwards. On January 16, 2011, they were convicted. The man convicted of firing the shots was convicted of first-degree murder and "intimidating citizens,” and given the death penalty. The sentences for the two accomplices are scheduled to be announced on February 20.

These verdicts come in the same month as the deadly attacks on Christians on January 1, in Alexandria, and January 11, on a train in Minya province. Egyptian Christian leaders hope that the severity of the sentence imposed is a sign that the judiciary and government will start to take effective action to address violence against Christians.

In the week prior to the January 16 hearing, Egypt's President Mubarak reportedly urged senior judges to speed up trials because "slow justice" breeds bitterness.

Please continue to pray for Egyptian Christians:
  • Pray those bereaved, wounded and traumatised in attacks on Christians will know the comfort, presence, peace and healing of Jesus.
  • Pray the justice system will consistently apply due process in investigating attacks, prosecuting those charged and imposing effective sentences of those convicted.
  • Pray that the perpetrators of violence against Christians will know the Spirit's conviction of sin and the Father's offer of forgiveness and life
  • Pray all officials involved will love mercy, act justly, learn about Jesus and choose to follow Him.
 

Pakistani government to ‘protect minorities at all costs’ says the country’s president

ASSIST News reported yesterday that the Pakistani government will protect the country’s minorities at all costs in accordance with the vision of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah—the founder of Pakistan—and the constitution of Pakistan, President Asif Ali Zardari has said.

According to Asian News International (ANI), Zardari made these comments while talking to the Federal Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, who called on him at the presidential palace on January 20.

“No one will be allowed to take the law into their own hands nor will anyone be allowed to misuse the country's laws,” the president was quoted as saying.

The president also asked Bhatti to continue the consultations with scholars and ulema (legal scholars) of different faiths and denominations with a view to building consensus against the misuse of Pakistani laws against the minorities and vulnerable groups in the country.

“The case of Pakistani-Christian woman Asia Bibi, who has been sentenced to death on blasphemy charges, has drawn huge attention in the media, and there is deep sympathy for her,” said the news story. “Several NGOs have called for repealing Pakistan’s blasphemy law because it was ‘being used by illiterate masses in rural areas to hoodwink the minorities.’”

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Pray for Kazakhstan

Pray for believers in Kazakhstan.
A January 19 Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin reported there have been many answers to prayer for the Church in Central Asia:
  • Unity among Protestant churches is growing.
  • There are many testimonies of a growing interest in the Good News among Muslims.
  • Many churches have a missionary vision for reaching out to the neighbouring Muslim countries.
However, much prayer is still needed.

Today, please consider praying for believers in Kazakhstan.
  • Kazakhstan currently chairs the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and proclaims religious tolerance.
  • The Christian community is concerned that after 2010 the legislation will be changed imposing more restrictions on religious activities.
  • While the majority of religious groups worship without government interference, the activities of unregistered minority groups, including some evangelical churches, are considered illegal. Some pastors and church members were fined for unregistered 'missionary' activities.
  • In March 2010, new missionary visa regulations came into force that caused growing difficulties for some religious communities.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Pray for Kyrgyzstan

Pray for believers in Kyrgyzstan.
A January 19 Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin reported there have been many answers to prayer for the Church in Central Asia:
  • Unity among Protestant churches is growing.
  • There are many testimonies of a growing interest in the Good News among Muslims.
  • Many churches have a missionary vision for reaching out to the neighbouring Muslim countries.
However, much prayer is still needed.

Today, please consider praying for believers in Kyrgyzstan.
  • In Kyrgyzstan, 2010 was a year of political riots and ethnic clashes, which affected the church as well.
  • The church leaders hope that the highly restrictive religious law brought in by former president Bakiev will be radically changed under the new government and restored at least to the level the country had before Bakiev.
  • The churches are actively participating in helping those who lost their homes and businesses because of ethnic clashes between Kyrgyzs and Uzbeks in Osh.

Being an everyday Christian

You do not have to try to lead a heroic Christian life. It is futile to try to be a hero as it is futile to try to be an elephant. Most heroes are average individuals who are placed in extreme circumstances. Very few of us have the stuff of which great saints and martyrs are made.

It is good for Christians to know that in the Roman, medieval, Nazi and Communist persecution, the majority of Christians were not ready to suffer and die for their faith. Perhaps only a minority faced torture and death with courage. But the others were also Christians. God saw how sorry they were for their weakness and how eagerly they returned to faith when the immediate danger had passed.

It is a miracle that Jesus can make at least some sheep lie down in green pastures (Psalm 32:2). Normally, a sheep does not lie down. It will graze for hours, even if it is not hungry. How can you lie down with so much green grass around? How can you renounce the world when it offers you so many pleasures?

But among the saints are reckoned not only a St. Anthonie or a St. Paphnutius, or others who have been canonized, or those who have died in prison for their faith. An average Christian life is also a Christian life. An everyday Christian is also a saint.

This passage is excerpted from Victorious Faith by Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, VOM’s founder. Victorious Faith is a collection of stories, anecdotes and insights that sustained Pastor Wurmbrand while he was imprisoned in a Romanian Communist prison.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Pray for Azerbaijan

Pray for believers in Azerbaijan.
A January 19 Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin reported there have been many answers to prayer for the Church in Central Asia:
  • Unity among Protestant churches is growing.
  • There are many testimonies of a growing interest in the Good News among Muslims.
  • Many churches have a missionary vision for reaching out to the neighbouring Muslim countries.
However, much prayer is still needed.

Today, please consider praying for Azerbaijan.
  • Religious freedom has been steadily deteriorating in Azerbaijan over the last few years.
  • Since changes to the Religious Law were adopted in May 2009, the churches have faced problems with re-registration. Many have been denied registration and unregistered religious activities are illegal.
  • Believers have been interrogated and fined when their gatherings have been raided by police.
  • In October 2010, police raided the house where 80 members of an unregistered Baptist church were celebrating Harvest Festival. Four of them were arrested and sentenced to five days in prison.
  • In December 2010, an Adventist church was raided by police and its members were interrogated and fined heavily.
  • New amendments to the Code of Administrative Offences are expected to be discussed in the parliament and if approved would impose even heavier fines for unregistered religious activities.
 Stay tuned for prayer requests for other countries in Central Asia.

Somali Christian woman slaughtered

On Monday, Compass Direct News reported that a mother of four was recently killed by Islamic militants in a village on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia.

On the morning of January 6, Islamic militants belonging to the insurgent group al-Shabaab arrested Asha Mberwa, 36, outside her home in Warbhigly village. According to one of her relatives, Asha was killed the next evening when the militants slit her throat in front of local people.

Asha had been receiving threatening messages after al-Shabaab members monitored her phone conversations with a relative. One of her relatives had phoned her on January 5 to make arrangements for moving her family out of the area for their safety. Al-Shabaab militants were reportedly able to monitor the conversation and confirm that Asha had become a Christian.

Asha leaves behind four children—ages 12, 8, 6 and 4—and her husband, Abdinazir Mohammed Hassan. Asha's relatives said that, at last report, Abdinazir had fled to an unknown location and a "good Samaritan" in Mogadishu was caring for the four traumatized children, who "continue to weep and cry out for their mother."

Pray that all those in mourning for Asha will find peace in the everlasting love of the Lord. Pray for comfort and provision for her children. Pray for endurance of faith and boldness of witness for Somali Christians in an environment of severe persecution. Ask God to work in the hearts of those oppressing Christians in Somalia, convicting them of their unjust ways and drawing them into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

Bless and do not curse

“Bless and do not curse.”
Romans 12:14

Mrs. Gerda Forster, while babysitting for a neighbour, suffered the misfortune of having the baby fall out of her hands. The infant was injured on the edge of a large vase, with resultant brain damage. It was paralyzed for life.

The mother cursed Mrs. Forster that her fingers might rot. Mr. Forster offered to pay large compensatory damages. The mother refused and repeated the curse: may her fingers rot.

Mrs. Forster suddenly started to have great pain in her fingers. The fingertips became first white, then blue. It was a case of necrosis, the malady known as “morbus Raynaud.” Psychic trauma can produce it, usually in women already possessing a precarious nervous constitution. The fingers had to be amputated.

When I was in solitary confinement, a neighbour tapped out his story in Morse code through the wall: “When I was six, I beat a schoolmate only because he was Jewish. He cursed me that my mother should not be able to see me when she was on her deathbed. Fifty years have passed since. I had just received the news that my mother was dying and intended to go to her deathbed when I was arrested.” A curse had been accomplished. I know of other such cases.

I do believe some curses are fulfilled. But so are blessings. So bless, don’t curse.

Excerpted from Reaching Toward the Heights by Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, VOM’s founder.

Want to read more? Reaching Toward the Heights is 365-day devotional in which Pastor Wurmbrand draws upon his own experience in prison and the testimonies of other persecuted Christians to encourage us to elevate our relationship with the Lord. See what 365 days of immersion in God’s love can do for your soul. Order your devotional for $10 today!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pray for Turkmenistan

Pray for believers in Turkmenistan.
Yesterday's Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin reported there have been many answers to prayer for the Church in Central Asia:
  • Unity among Protestant churches is growing.
  • There are many testimonies of a growing interest in the Good News among Muslims.
  • Many churches have a missionary vision for reaching out to the neighbouring Muslim countries.
However, much prayer is still needed.

Today, please consider praying for Turkmenistan.
  • Religious freedom is under the strict control of the authorities in Turkmenistan.
  • Only a small number of churches are registered, while many others have been unsuccessfully trying to get registration for years. None of the ethnic Turkmen churches was registered. The unregistered churches meet secretly in homes, often changing meeting places.
  • Police regularly raid the houses of believers, confiscating and destroying Christian literature.
  • Pastor Ilmurad Nurliev was sentenced to four years in prison and forced medical treatment under a false accusation of drug addiction in October 2010 and is now in a labour camp that has extremely tough conditions. He has not been allowed to have a Bible since his arrest in August.  He has diabetes and has been denied necessary medication. He was excluded from the recent prisoner amnesty.
 Tomorrow, you’ll learn about and receive opportunities to pray for Azerbaijan.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pray for Uzbekistan

Pray for believers in Uzbekistan.
Today's Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin shared that there have been many answers to prayer for the Church in Central Asia:
  • Unity among Protestant churches is growing.
  • There are many testimonies of a growing interest in the Good News among Muslims.
  • Many churches have a missionary vision for reaching out to the neighbouring Muslim countries.
However, much prayer is still needed.

Today, please consider praying for Uzbekistan and the following items.
  • In 2010, Uzbek churches were raided by police, numerous Christians were detained and fined, while some were sentenced to short-term imprisonment.
  • Pentecostal pastor Dmitry Shestakov served his fourth year in prison and is due to be released this month.
  • A Baptist believer, Tohar Haydarov, was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment in a labour camp on fabricated drug charges in March 2010.
  • The most restrictive situation remains in the Karakalpakastan region where none of the churches has been able to register. The authorities insist that individual believers must get permission even to have a Bible.
  • A decision on new religious laws is possible in 2011, bringing even more restrictions on religious freedom in Uzbekistan.
 Stay tuned for prayer requests for other countries in Central Asia.

Tunisia’s upheaval unlikely to improve situation for believers

Tunisia is experiencing much unrest.
In one month’s time, Tunisia has crumpled.

On December 17, an unemployed graduate set himself on fire. Soon, thousands were in the streets demanding more job opportunities and a higher standard of living, reported Mission Network News yesterday.

Police clashed with the protesters for the next nine days, which fuelled their outrage at the oppressive regime. On December 28, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali warns protests are unacceptable and those using violence will be punished.

By January 13, the president promised major reforms and not to run for office in 2014. A day later, he declared a state of emergency, dissolved parliament and promised to hold legislative elections within six months.

The violence continued and, finally, Ben Ali renounced power and fled to Saudi Arabia; the Speaker of Parliament was sworn in as interim president, forming a coalition government.

Todd Nettleton with The Voice of the Martyrs USA says it's hard to say what will result from the hurried changes, however, "I don't think we can anticipate a positive change, at least in the short term. This is a country with less than half a percent of the population as Christian. It's pretty unlikely that suddenly those believers are going to be celebrated by their government or by their countrymen."

While it seems that the community of believers is a little larger than thought previously, the attitude of the authorities has changed. Foreign Christian residents experience more inspections and suspect their phones are tapped.

"They have said, ‘We're not going have a law that is in opposition to Islam.' It's unlikely that the new government, whenever that gets situated, is going to change that policy. So I think that we need to pray for the believers."

Nettleton hopes this situation could lead to open doors for the gospel. "When there is upheaval, people are thinking about eternity; they're thinking about important things: What's worth living for? What's worth dying for?' That can be a time when revival strikes. It can be a time when the Spirit of God moves within a country."

Asia Bibi moving to new prison

Asia Bibi will be moved to a new prison.
Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian woman sentenced to death on blasphemy charges, will soon be moved to an all-women prison due to security concerns, reported ASSIST News Service yesterday.

Sheikhupura Prison superintendent Khalid Sheikh told the media, "I have received directives from the Punjab Home Department to shift Asia from Sheikhupura district jail to an all-women jail in Multan, as her life is in danger in Sheikhupura jail."

The transfer is expected to take place within the week.

Since Asia’s sentence, the Christian community has been raising concerns to the authorities and Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Minority Affairs, claiming Asia is not receiving sufficient security in spite of life threats from militants and rewards for her death being announced across Pakistan.

Asia`s husband, Ashiq Masih, also appealed to the authorities to raise her security, as her life is in danger.

You can read the full report here.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Indian pastor killed; authorities claim drowning

Authorities claim an Indian pastor
died from drowning, not from
being beaten.
Authorities are saying that an Indian pastor who was killed under mysterious circumstances on January 11, in Kandhamal District, Orissa state, died from drowning. The news has sparked the ire of Saul Pradhan’s family and villagers who accuse authorities of having manipulated the investigation to defend two Hindu extremists, reported Asia News and All India Christian Council.

Pradhan’s daughter and other relatives report that his body showed leg fractures and abrasions to the face and chest—clear signs of aggression.

Two of Pradhan’s employers were seen with him the day he died. The two men took part in an anti-Christian pogrom in 2008, during which Pradhan’s house was demolished. Fr. Bijay Kumar Pradhan, vicar of the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar, told Asia News that before Pradhan’s murder, the two men had ordered the pastor to convert to Hinduism, threatening serious consequences for a refusal.

In recent days, Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christian (GCIC), spoke of the danger of the investigation being manipulated and sought the intervention of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Monday, January 17, 2011

How to teach your kids about persecution

In our January BBM, kids
learn about the Khmu of
Southeast Asia.
Are you looking for ways to discuss Christian persecution with your children? We can help!

Bold Believers Magazine (BBM) is an exciting quarterly publication of The Voice of the Martyrs for Canadian kids ages 6-12.

Through BBM, your children will learn about the incredible courage of kids who are living in nations where it is dangerous to be a Christian. They’ll learn what it means to trust in and love God in all sorts of circumstances, how to share the love of God with others, and how to pray and reach out to persecuted kids around the world.

Subscribers to BBM also receive, free of charge, a monthly subscription to The Voice of the Martyrs newsletter.

Click here to subscribe today!

Iranian Christian couple detained for holding prayer and worship services

A Christian couple in Mashhad, Iran, has been detained for hosting Christian prayer and worship meetings in their home, reports Mohabat News. The couple has been identified as Hassan Razavi Derakhshan, 65, and his wife, Parya, 61.

Based on reports, several plainclothes security agents arrived at the couple’s home on December 27. Only Parya was home, and the officers—identified as agents of the revolutionary court—demanded she call her husband and have him return home immediately. Her husband obliged.

There is no report of what transpired between security officers and the couple. When relatives noticed the couple’s absence, they contacted Razavi’s workplace; his colleagues made them aware of the arrest.

Relatives say the couple’s house is missing personal items such as bibles, Christian literature, CDs and pictures of Jesus that had been hanging on the walls. After many attempts to gain information on the couple’s whereabouts, colleagues and relatives learned the couple was arrested and taken to the Vakil-Abad detention centre.

Sources reported that the couple was arrested because they hosted prayer and worship meetings in their home. They also organized a Christmas celebration at their home on December 22.

Family and friends are concerned, as Parya recently had major back surgery, following a car accident, and is not in the best of health.

Please pray for Razavi and Parya. Pray for their safety, health and well-being. Pray for all believers in Iran, that increased persecution will result in increased boldness (Acts 4:29-31). Pray that the persecutors will know Christ’s love, forgiveness and blessing through the lives of the Christians (Romans 12:14, 12).

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Commission: Arrests of Christians in Iran is condemnable, incongruous

Religious Liberty Commission
condemns violence in Iran.
Last Saturday, we told you about Iran’s crackdown on Christians and the arrest of dozens, many of whom are converts from Islam.

On Wednesday, the Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) of the World Evangelical Alliance issued a statement condemning violence against Christians in Iran, reports ASSIST News Service.

The statement, released to Christian media, says, “The ongoing raiding of homes and arrests of Christians in predominantly Shi’ite Iran, which began deplorably during the Christmas season, needs to stop immediately.”

The RLC says that since December 26, Iranian security agents in plain clothes have searched the homes of many Christians and arrested at least 40 of them in a crackdown in the capital city of Tehran and a few other places. Other reports indicate more than 70 Christians have been arrested.

The Commission says, “The onslaught, targeting converts from Islam and those engaged in evangelism, continued despite preceding international concerns over the arrest of a pastor, Behrouz Sadegh-Khanjani, and conviction of the pastor of the Full Gospel Church in Rasht, Youcef Nardarkhani, for apostasy, leading to awarding of death penalty.”

Tehran’s governor, Morteza Tamadon, was quoted by state news agency IRNA as saying that missionary evangelicals had stepped up their activity in Iran, which according to him is a “cultural invasion of the enemy.” The governor went on to say, “Just like the Taliban, who have inserted themselves into Islam like a parasite, [evangelicals] have crafted a movement in the name of Christianity.”

WEA-RLC Executive Director Godfrey Yogarajah said, “The growing authoritarianism in Iran only shows that the regime’s popularity is falling drastically which is making the government highly insecure and unnerved.”

Christians account for only around one percent of the Muslim-majority population in Iran. The Iranian regime also persecutes other minorities, including Zoroastrians, Baha’is and Sufis.

You can read the full report here.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Why should I ask the government what books I can read?

Tajikistan has imposed greater
fines on breaking censorship rules.
Tajikistan has a new law.

In late December 2010, President Emomali Rahmon signed into law severe new punishments for producing, distributing, importing or exporting religious literature and items of a religious nature that have not passed through the compulsory prior state religious censorship, reports Forum 18 News Service.

The Religion Law states that only officially registered religious organisations and their members may import, export, produce, sell and distribute religious literature or items of a religious nature—and they may do this only if they have specific permission for each item from the state Religious Affairs Committee.

Religious leaders have complained to Forum 18 about the high new fines and the continuing religious censorship that violates Tajikistan's international human rights commitments.

An Ismaili Imam from, who wished to remain unnamed for fear of reprisals from the authorities, told Forum 18 on Tuesday that it is "very bad that such heavy fines" were introduced by the Tajik authorities. "Why should I ask the Government what books I can read?" he asked. "I should be free to read any books about my faith."

Individuals who break the censorship rules will be fined up to $800 CAD, and religious organisations will be fined up to $1,600 CAD. Repeat violations will lead to fines for individuals of up to $1,200 CAD and for organisations up to $2,400 CAD. In addition to these new fines, religious organisations can also be fined up to $800 CAD for not marking the organisation's full name on the religious literature.

The new law was created with the addition of Article 474-1 to the Code of Administrative Offences, and took effect on January 1.

The new punishments come amid increasing government restrictions on religious activity. In recent months the government has pressured Muslims studying abroad to return home, has closed mosques and continued to deny state registration to religious communities.

You can read the full story here.

Chinese lawyer Gao Zhisheng tells of police torture

Gao Zhisheng
(Photo from ChinaAid)
The Associated Press recently revealed that it had an exclusive interview with Christian human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng eight months ago in which he revealed details of torture he suffered during his 14-month disappearance into government custody, said ChinaAid on Monday.

The American newswire service said that it had not reported immediately on the April 7, 2010 interview in keeping with Gao’s wishes that “his account not be made public unless he went missing again or made it to ‘someplace safe’ like the United States or Europe.”

Given that Gao disappeared again two weeks later and that there has been no word from or of him in the more than eight months since then, the AP decided to release the details of his interview, after consulting with his family. The Washington Post carried the exclusive report on January 10.

Gao told of the police torture he endured after he was “disappeared” on February 4, 2009, including a two-day, two-night beating session where police used handguns in holsters to pummel his bare body. Gao said this was the worst of the beatings he had ever endured and was the darkest point of the 14 months.

On September 25, while taking one of the strolls that his captors in Xinjiang occasionally allowed him, he was set upon by a group of Uyghurs who punched him in the stomach, handcuffed him, taped his mouth and eyes shut and took him into an upstairs room of a building. That began a week of torture that culminated with the 48-hour pistol-whipping session that he said was the worst torture of the 14 months. Gao said he knew his torturers were plainclothes police because they used handcuffs, which ordinary criminals would not have. He said they abused him in other ways that he refused to describe.

In November 2009, after U.S. President Barack Obama’s summit in Beijing, Gao’s treatment improved. In February 2010, police had Gao participate in a staged reappearance in response to international pressure. They transferred him to a temple on Mount Wutai, a Buddhist retreat, and on March 27 allowed him to be seen publicly. A short while later, he was taken to Beijing, where his interview with the AP took place, under the watchful eye of plainclothes police outside a teahouse. Two weeks later, he was “disappeared” again.

Chinese President Hu Jintao will be making his way to Washington next week for a summit meeting with President Obama. Although the AP did not mention Hu’s upcoming January 18-21 trip to Washington, the timing of the report likely was not a coincidence.

You can read the full AP story on ChinaAid's site by clicking here.

North Korean border guards kill five defectors

Ingwang-ri in North Korea's North Hamgyong Province
viewed from Helong, China
Our sister mission Seoul USA reported yesterday that five North Koreans were shot dead by North Korean border guards on the Chinese side of the border, as they tried to flee North Korea, a source said January 9. Two others were wounded.

The high-level source in Changbai in the Chinese province of Jilin said the seven individuals left Hyesan, Yanggang Province, and walked across the frozen Apnok (or Yalu) River and reached the Chinese side on December 14. North Korean border guards ran after the individuals and opened fire. Five died instantly. The two wounded were taken to the North.

Never before have North Korean border guards shot at defectors once they reached the Chinese side.

Observers say guards must have new instructions for dealing with defectors. Leader Kim Jong Il's son and heir, Kim Jong Un, has apparently ordered border guards to shoot anyone who crosses the border rivers without permission. He also reportedly said he would not tolerate defectors crossing the border.

While there is no reason to suspect that those killed in the recent incident were Christian, certainly everyone who crosses the border illegally will be impacted by this shocking change in security measures.

In the upcoming February 2011 VOM newsletter, we'll tell you about a North Korean defector who almost met death while trying to provide for her daughters and met Jesus Christ instead. We'll also share how VOM is involved in helping fellow believers in the "Hermit Kingdom."

Live in Canada and want to subscribe to VOM's free monthly newsletter? Go here.

Please pray that those living in hopelessness in North Korea will find hope in Christ. Pray for believers in North Korea who follow Jesus at great risk. Pray for all those in authority in this nation; ask the Lord to open their eyes to the wisdom, compassion and the light of the gospel.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Petition calling for lawyer's release thwarted

ChinaAid president Pastor Bob Fu (far left) and others
stand outside the Chinese Embassy in Oslo, Norway,
after attempting to deliver a petition calling for
Gao Zhisheng’s release.
In early December, we told you about a worldwide advocacy effort orchestrated by ChinaAid on behalf of Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng. Gao 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 recognition of Human Rights Day on December 10, ChinaAid coordinated a campaign to deliver 150,000 signed petitions to Chinese embassies around the world.

We learned late last week that Chinese embassies and consulates refused delivery of ChinaAids’s 2,600-page petition, causing disappointment among those who hoped that the campaign would raise public awareness of Gao’s plight and pressure the Chinese government into action.

Not one of the embassies or consulates in 14 countries around the world accepted delivery, and at the London embassy, a police officer greeted the delivery. When explained that the group was there to deliver a petition, the officer replied, “I’m aware of that, and I’m afraid it won’t be possible to deliver it.”

ChinaAid reported that the London participants of this worldwide petition-delivery expressed shock that a police officer, paid by the British taxpayer, was being used to prevent the delivery of the petition to the Chinese embassy and said they planned to complain to the Metropolitan Police.

You can read ChinaAid’s full report here.

Find out more about Gao here.

Please continue to pray that Gao will be safely returned home at last. Pray he will continue to find comfort in the everlasting love and mercy of a Saviour who never forsakes His children. Pray Gao’s family will also find refuge in God, casting all of their fears and cares on Him. Pray those involved in the petition will not be discouraged by recent events, but have enduring faith in God’s justice. Pray Chinese Christians will continue to boldly proclaim the righteousness of the Lord.

Asia Bibi facing threat of suicide attack

Officials are concerned there may
be a suicide attack on the prison
where Asia Bibi is being held.
Asia Bibi, the Christian woman who triggered a blasphemy furor in Pakistan and in whose defence Punjab province Governor Salman Taseer lost his life, is facing a threat of a suicide attack inside a jail, where she is currently lodged, reported ASSIST News Service on Tuesday.

According to a story by Z News, a militant organization known as the “Moaviya group” plans to mount a suicide attack on Sheikhupura district jail, where Asia is being held. An intelligence report issued last week has corroborated threat to her life.

Punjab police and jail authorities have reportedly beefed up security due to the intelligence report and the assassination of Taseer.

The Z News story said that 131 people are being held in jails across Punjab on blasphemy charges. Eleven of them have been sentenced to death, including Asia, who is the first woman to be given the penalty.

“Though no one has been executed after being convicted under the controversial law, 35 people, including Taseer, who were accused of committing blasphemy or defending those charged with blasphemy have been killed between 1990 and 2011,” said Z News. “They were either victims of extra-judicial killings or found dead in prison in suspicious circumstances.”

Last week, we told you that Asia’s family has been receiving threats from anonymous callers. Her husband Ashiq Masih insists that his wife is innocent and will be freed, but he worries about what will happen if she is released. "When she comes out, how she can live safely?" he asks. "No one will let her live. The mullahs are saying they will kill her when she comes out."

Please pray the Lord will protect and provide for Ashiq Masih and his children. May the entire family know the Lord's strengthening presence. Pray the Lord will use Asia's situation to bring about change in Pakistan for His glory. Pray for her release.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Persecution continues to escalate into 2011

Persecution of Christians in the Middle East is rising.
We’re only 12 days into 2011, and persecution of Christians is showing no signs of abating. In fact, many consider it to be escalating.

Take a look at one of Mission Network News’ most recent stories:

2010 persecution escalation continues into 2011

International (MNN) — Start praying: 2011 is ramping up to be a year of heavy persecution.

Many are hoping that the first 12 days are not an omen for what the rest of 2011 will look like for believers, especially in the Middle East. Many Christian leaders, however, may find it difficult to remain optimistic.

"We've just been sensing that 2011 is really going to be a year that is heated up with persecution," says Tom Doyle with E3Partners.

Already, Christian and secular news sources alike have reported a rise in the persecution of Christians worldwide. The arrests of 70 converted Christians in Iran, the assassination of anti-blasphemy law governor in Pakistan, and the bombing of a church in Egypt is a lot for just 12 days. And just yesterday, six Coptic Christians were shot by Muslim extremists on a train in Egypt, killing one and wounding the other five.

"We've been hearing things out of Iraq, Syria, Jordan, things out of the Gaza strip where there are threats," says Doyle. "Believers are bracing themselves because once something like this happens, where people coming out of a church are killed, or a church is blown up, or Christians are killed anywhere, it can be a chain reaction throughout the Islamic world. Many times, different terrorist groups try to outdo each other in their fanaticism."

Most of the persecution so far has involved various Muslim extremists—a trend influenced by the chain reaction Doyle describes, but also by pressure extremists face regarding Islamic youth. Doyle suggests that some of the persecution is a backlash in reaction to the general disinterest among youth toward Islam.

"[Islam] is, in a sense, imploding because the young people--some of them—want to go radical, but many of them do not," says Doyle. "They are tired of traditional Islam.... There's a fear there among religious leaders all throughout Islam that they're losing this young generation."

Not surprisingly, then, much of the persecution to come, says Doyle, will be as a result of Christian-Muslim clashes in the Middle East. Already, E3 Partners has gotten word of ten new terrorist groups dedicated to eradicating Christianity. "We just see this volcano ready to erupt that Islam is going to be a major part of, with persecution toward believers all throughout the region."

Because the Middle East is far away from most of us, though, there's a temptation to look away.

"I think it's so easy to look at the news and say, ‘Boy, Pakistan is such a terrible place,' and ‘Look at all the terrorists,'" says Doyle. "But there are believers there. And there are underground churches that are lifting up Jesus, living for Christ, trying to influence their neighbours; it's a harsh place to live when you want to walk with Christ."

The best response for Christians all over is to pray. "We're praying for the spread of the Gospel, the spread of new believers becoming true disciples, and building the church in these areas of darkness."

Christian checked for Coptic tattoo; killed

Yesterday, a gunman killed one Egyptian Christian and injured five others on a northbound train in Upper Egypt, reports ASSIST News Service. The suspect is in now in custody.

Media sources say that a gunman entered the train while it was stationed at the southern Egyptian city of Samalout in the Minya governorate, some 161 miles south of Cairo.

Security sources said that the assailant checked passengers for the green cross traditionally tattooed on the wrists of Coptic Christians in Egypt. After identifying several Copts, the culprit killed one of them and injured five others.

The same sources said that investigators are currently looking into the possibility that the assailant was an off-duty Muslim policeman. The victim has been identified as Fathy Said Ebeid, 71, and the wounded include his wife, another man and three other women.

You can read the full report here.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The problem of evil

Written by Cheryl Odden

“It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s....”

Admit it. We love superheroes. Their superhuman powers enable them to scale tall buildings in a single bound, capture criminals with a golden lasso, and drive cool cars that turn into jet planes at the push of a button. Every superhero has an evil nemesis. At the end of every story, the villain is caught. Justice prevails.

But in the real world, we know superheroes do not exist. However, their ability to conquer evil strikes at the heart of the justice we all long for.

One only has to turn on the nightly news or scan the front page of a newspaper to see that evil is rampant. Open the Bible. From Genesis beginning with the Fall of man and slaying of Abel to the plight of Job, the problem of evil is addressed. But, explaining the problem of evil is not as simple as blaming it on sin. Theologians would know. They have been wrestling with this issue for centuries.

The theological term that addresses the problem of evil is called “theodicy,” which comes from the Greek word “Theos,” meaning God, and “dikÄ“,” meaning justice. Theodicy is defined as justifying the ways of God to man, specifically in relation to evil.

Now regarding evil, there are two primary types:
  • Natural evil: acts of nature that are not controlled by man such as hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis.
  • Moral evil: man’s wilful actions against fellow man.
We know the Bible says that God works all things together for good and that we will experience trouble, so why do we care about explaining the problem of evil? There are two reasons:
  • Apologetical: For the atheist, the issue is, “If God exists, why does He allow evil?”
  • Religious: For the Christian, many grapple with questions like, “Why did my child have to die?”
Theologians consider these questions when formulating a theodicy.

Explanations of evil have been approached from different angles: however, they fall short, as they typically bring into question God as all-powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient) and good. For example, God allowing evil affects His goodness; likewise, God not knowing about evil acts affects His omniscience but gets Him off the hook for allowing the evil.

So you see: explaining evil is a problem. Some have admitted that the problem of evil will never be answered for the atheist. And for theologians, Millard Erickson has said that the problem is possibly the biggest intellectual challenge.

God is not a cosmic superhero who swoops in and saves people from evil. We read through Scripture that sometimes He did save them; other times He didn’t. As we deal with evil in the world, I would encourage you to spend time in God’s Word reading the accounts of those who faced evil, like Joseph in Genesis and definitely Job. Also, read about those who faced death, like Stephen, and death threats, like Paul. Pay close attention to those Scriptures about what happened after their suffering. Finally, read the stories we publish in The Voice of the Martyrs newsletter, and note how these Christians are responding to evil as they are persecuted for Christ’s sake.

Regarding the problem of evil, there is one thing we do know: It will be dealt with once and for all. And it won’t need a superhero, either. It will be the One called “Faithful and True” who will ride in on His white horse and cast the Evil One into the lake of fire (Revelation 19-20). Until then, may the stories of today’s persecuted Church inspire you to do good when faced with evil.

Violence toward believers in southern Mexico

Troubles for believers in southern Mexico have not ended.
Terrible violence has been sparking toward tribal believers in southern Mexico, reports ASSIST News Service.

Dr. Dale W. Kietzman, founder of Latin American Indian Ministries told ASSIST News, “While we want to be positive about the year ahead, we have to report to you a real concern for tribal believers in southern Mexico. The troubles for believers there have not ended!”

Here are confirmed reports of events that have happened just in the past few months, all from the Mexican states of Chiapas and Oaxaca:
  • A pastor was waylaid and killed as he travelled back to his village after a doctor’s appointment in Comitan, Chiapas.
  • Three pastors were killed in Santa Maria El Tule, Oaxaca.
  • Four families of believers were expelled from the village of Chilil, Chiapas.
  • The church in Llanos, Chiapas, was destroyed last June, and believers put on notice. This month, six homes were destroyed and the families expelled from the community.
  • In Mitziton, Chiapas, the church and many homes were destroyed, and 50 families were expelled from the community.
  • In Nachug, Chiapas, 86 families were expelled.
  • At the end of 2010, 498 Indian believers were living as street people, homeless in the city of San Cristobal, where they had sought protection.
Kietzman, who is the former US director of Wycliffe Bible Translators, says much of the persecution is the result of conflict that develops when new believers decide they cannot participate in their villages' drunken fiestas to saints who have come to represent ancient pagan gods. The responsiblity for funding the fiestas is passed around to families of the community, and the conflict begins when an evangelical family is supposed to purchase the liquor but refuses to do so.

You can read the full report here.

Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Chiapas and Oaxaca. Pray the Lord would make them strong to lovingly and boldly proclaim the gospel (Ephesians 6:18-20). Pray that their passion for Christ will be the light that draws their family members and fellow villagers to Jesus (Matthew 5:14-16). Pray also that increased persecution will result in increased boldness among believers (Acts 4:29-31).

Monday, January 10, 2011

‘Being offended’ comes with the territory

Albert Mohler, author, speaker and president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently wrote a piece for Christianity.com titled “How Not to Fight Atheism.”

He refers to a group in Texas that began running advertisements on public buses that read, “Millions of Americans are Good Without God.” Christians expressed outrage and called for a boycott of public transportation. The transportation authority then voted to ban ALL religious ads on buses. Supposedly, both sides cheered the decision.

Perhaps the Christians should not have been clapping.

In Mohler’s words:
Christians are sometimes our own worst enemy, especially when we claim to be offended. Those pastors and concerned Christians who demanded that the transportation authority ban the atheist ads actually gave the secularists the Grand Prize. By precipitating (and, of all things, celebrating) a ban on all religious messages from this public space, these Christians surrendered Gospel opportunities simply because they were offended by an atheist advertisement. No wonder the atheists clapped.

This is a disastrous strategy. Are Christians so insecure that we fear a weakly-worded advertisement on a public bus? These bus ads represent just how weak the atheists' arguments really are, but the response from agitated Christians represents a far more dangerous weakness. Instead of responding to the ads with a firm and gracious defence of the Gospel, these activists just surrendered the space altogether, rather than to bear the offense of the cross.

Christianity has enemies, and the greatest victory of these enemies is to prevent the proclamation of the Gospel. The strategy so celebrated in Fort Worth is a route to evangelistic disaster. Religious liberty is a friend of the Gospel, and constraints on religious speech serve the cause of the secularists.

Being a Christian does not mean never having to be offended. Like the Apostle Paul, we are called to bear the offence of the cross gladly. If Paul had followed the Fort Worth strategy, Acts 17 would never have happened.
As Christians, "being offended" comes with the territory. Take a moment to read Acts 17. I'll leave you with the last three verses: "And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, 'We will hear you again on this matter.' So Paul departed from among them. However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them."

Some believed! That makes everything else Paul experiences worth the offence.

You can read Mohler’s full story here.