Monday, February 28, 2011

Turmoil spreads to Iraq

Pray for believers in Iraq today!
Todd Nettleton with our sister-mission VOM USA recently spoke with Mission Network News about the turmoil in Northern Africa and the Middle East spreading to Iraq.

Take a few moments to read the story below.

Turmoil spreads to Iraq

Iraq (MNN) ― Tunisia. Libya. Egypt. Bahrain. Jordan. Most of the Arab world seems to be in an uproar. Now Iraq has thrown its hat into the ring.

“It seems that this same spirit of protest—‘Hey, our lives are not how we want them to be. The government is holding us back. Let's do something about it!’—is now spreading to Iraq as well,” says Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs.

On Friday, Iraqi protestors from every corner of the country flooded the streets to demand their leaders provide more opportunities, better jobs, and better infrastructure. Small level protests had occurred before Friday, but the “Day of Rage” resulted in lives lost and large-scale protests all over—even in Iraq's more peaceful north.

The question is why has unrest spread to Iraq? Many other uproarious countries were dictatorships before the people revolted, but Iraq, after all, is a democracy with elected officials. Nettleton says the answer lies in a lack of results.

“We [in the West] think of Iraq right now as liberated Iraq: Saddam’s gone, this is liberated Iraq. But to the people on the ground who see corruption in their government, they see infrastructure that is still not working properly, electricity that’s only on for a couple hours a day. And they say, ‘We want more than this. We want a better life than this.’... They also would identify the corruption of ‘Hey, these government leaders are making millions of dollars on different deals, and yet my electricity still doesn’t work.’”

Because Iraq is a democracy, however, responding well to the demands of the people could be tricky. “If you kick out these leaders, then who’s next in line? Because they did have elections, these are the people that a majority of the citizens voted for and chose to be in power,” Nettleton points out.
At this point, what this will mean for the country is unknown.

What this will mean for believers, though, could be progress. “I think obviously it means danger, because any time there’s upheaval, anytime there’s this type of situation, there’s danger there. But the other thing that I think it means is opportunity,” says Nettleton.

Nearly 100 percent of Iraq’s leaders are devout Muslims. Since the majority of Iraqis are upset with their leaders, this could mean that people turn a cold shoulder to Islam as a whole.

“If you see these leaders as good Muslims, it makes you open to other ideas or another religion,” explains Nettleton. “So this is an opportunity to share the Gospel. There’s an opportunity to present an alternative to Islam, which is the love of Jesus Christ.”

Pray that whatever happens, believers in Iraq would take every opportunity they have to share the love and peace of Christ with troubled neighbors. Pray for peace in the country and growth in the church.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Vietnamese priest facing imprisonment again

Father Nguyen Van Ly
Father Nguyen Van Ly, a Vietnamese priest who has spent more than 15 years in prison, including time in solitary confinement, could soon be imprisoned again.

The 64-year-old's last arrest was in February 2007, when he was detained for distributing material "harmful to the state." In March 2010, he was released to undergo a year's medical treatment after suffering two serious strokes that left him partially paralyzed.

During his medical leave, authorities prevented him from giving interviews or meeting with activists. Police reportedly roughed up a U.S. diplomat who attempted to visit with him.

Father Nguyen is scheduled to be re-admitted to prison on March 15. He has said that if he is indeed forced to return to prison, he will go on a hunger strike and refuse medical treatment as a means of protesting the injustice.

Pray authorities will not send Father Nguyen back to prison. Pray for continued healing for him. Ask God to equip him to stand firm in his faith in the face of oppression and to demonstrate unfailing trust in his Saviour. Pray he and Vietnamese believers facing similar trials will rest in the knowledge that the Good Shepherd walks with them at all times (Psalm 23).

Persecution is not a social justice issue, Part 5

Today is the final part of VOM Australia and Thirteen Three's series on persecution and social justice.

A FINAL WORD: Are we against Social Justice?

We want to be clear that we are not against social justice. The Bible has so much to say about God’s concern for the poor, the widow and the orphan. And caring for the poor is a crucial sign that we believe the Gospel. We are all for this as a real way of living out our faith!

We also don’t want to be fatalistic, “Oh, persecution is going to happen. There’s nothing we can do about it.” It is right that persecution makes us angry, and that it drives us to prayer and action on behalf of our persecuted family. It is right that we work to support them and care for them in their suffering and need.

We are not against equality, justice or freedom—but we understand there is a cost to discipleship and mission. And our call is not to stop discipleship and mission, rather our call is to unity, solidarity and partnership in discipleship and mission.

Our call is to be BOUND WITH THEM!

Thirteen Three (13:3) is a youth initiative of Voice of the Martyrs Australia. We are committed to mobilising a generation of passionate youth to be bound with their persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. Find out more here.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Chinese government planning increased regulations on Christian worship in 2011

Pray for believers in China today!
The Chinese government is reportedly planning to tighten regulations on Christian worship this year, according to a report in an English-language newspaper in China.

China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) has announced that it will “guide Protestants worshiping at unregistered churches into worshiping at government-sanctioned ones.” A VOM source in China confirmed that during a detention in 2010, police told him they would stop being “nice” in 2011.

The report also stated, “SARA will strengthen regulation of foreign nationals’ group religious activities in China and resist foreign infiltration under the pretext of religion.” This new policy could mean increased persecution of Christians in China, especially those who worship in unregistered churches. Christians faced similar pressure from the government before the 2008 Olympics, when several Christians were detained, forced from their homes and put under house arrest.

Pray Chinese Christians will continue to look to their God, knowing that He will give them courage and resolution in trial and opposition. Pray a new wave of intense pressure will not deter followers of Christ in China from proclaiming God's Word. Pray believers unjustly imprisoned will persevere in faith.

VOM's April newsletter will provide a special focus on China. If you do not already subscribe to our newsletter, you may do so by visiting our subscription page or calling our office at 1-888-298-6423.

Persecution is not a social justice issue, Part 4

We've been following along with VOM Australia's youth initiative, Thirteen Three, and its definition of social justice.

Some of you might be thinking, "Huh? Christians are being killed! Of course, that's a social justice issue!" Here is our final reason why it is not.

4. We are not trying to stop persecution

One of the first things persecuted Christians ask us is, “Will you pray for me?” But they don’t want us to pray that persecution will stop. They ask us to pray that God will give them strength to keep going, courage to share the Gospel and that through God’s power He would continue to grow the church.

This is also how we should pray for our persecuted family.

We’re not putting out the battle cry “Let’s stop persecution!” We’re putting out the battle cry “Let’s follow Jesus! Let’s see God’s kingdom grow in our local communities and all around the world.” There’s going to be opposition and rejection when you’re on the frontlines, so now is the time for us to learn how to prepare to be brave soldiers for Christ.

And we believe that there’s no better way to learn than by connecting with persecuted Christians who are living a faith worth dying for.

Will you be BOUND WITH THEM?

Thirteen Three (13:3) is a youth initiative of Voice of the Martyrs Australia. We are committed to mobilising a generation of passionate youth to be bound with their persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. Find out more here.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Review of the movie Iranium

Written by Riley K. Smith

From sending children onto the battlefield to detonate mines to reports of being a state sponsor of terrorism, Iran’s militant regime rightfully earned its reputation as an “axis of evil.” Yet despite the reports, Iran resumed its nuclear program, and many legitimately wonder, “Why now?”

The Clarion Fund’s recent DVD release, Iranium, explores Iran’s nuclear intentions and discusses theories behind the “Why now?” question. Though Iran claims its nuclear plans are purely to generate other forms of energy for its populous country, evidence suggests otherwise, as Iran sits on the world’s second largest, natural gas reserve.

Iran’s intentions rightfully come into question when coupled with President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s prayers, hastening the return of the Mahdi, Islam’s end times' redeemer. It is this apocalyptic worldview that Iranium explores and exposes.

Anyone wishing to view this DVD need not have much knowledge of Iran’s history. The producers skillfully recap the last several decades, from the ousting of the Shah to the arrival of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to the present-day protests against the regime. The question of who exactly is in charge in Iran is discussed—the Ayotallah, the Guardian Council of Mullahs, the basij, the Revolutionary Guard or the president?

What I found most poignant was the documentary’s comparison of the Cold War’s nuclear arms race between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union and the current hostility between Iran and the West, as well as Israel. This comparison takes the viewer back to the apocalyptic worldview and Iran’s promotion of martyrdom, making its intentions that much more of a concern. But the question remains: How long will the regime last given the numerous uprisings protesting the leadership?

Iranium is recommended for anyone interested in understanding the Iranian regime’s apocalyptic perspective and the potential danger it poses to the West and Israel. With respect to Christians in Iran, this film provides the political context to what believers are facing and gives substance to inspire prayers, especially for those believers currently in prison for their faith.

Riley K. Smith is the author of four books in VOM’s Restricted Nations series, including Iran, India, China and soon-to-be-released Pakistan.

Afghan convert Said Musa released!

Said Musa has been released!
After intense diplomatic pressure, authorities released Afghan Christian Said Musa, who had been in prison for nearly nine months on charges of apostasy (leaving Islam), punishable by death under Islamic law, reports Compass Direct News.

VOM sources have confirmed Said’s freedom. Praise the Lord!

A source in Afghanistan told Compass that the 46-year-old Musa (alternately spelled Sayyed Mussa) was released last week and had left the country on February 21, but the date of his release was not clear.

Musa had written a series of letters from his prison cell, the last one dated February 13, according to Compass sources. In that letter Musa, an amputee and a father of six, said that representatives of embassies in Kabul visited him and offered him asylum.

After the representatives left, according to the letter, Musa was taken to another room where three Afghan officials tried to convince him to recant his faith. They promised to release him from prison within 24 hours if he would do so. He refused and was sent back to his cell.

“I told them I cannot [follow] Islam,” he wrote in his letter. “I am Jesus Christ’s servant. They pushed me much and much. I refused their demands.”

Details of Musa’s release remained confidential in order to protect him and his family, who still remain in danger, sources said.

Praise God for Said’s release! Pray the Lord will swiftly reconnect him with his family. Pray for their safety and well-being and that Said would be encouraged to continue standing up for his faith in Jesus Christ.

Also, continue praying for fellow Afghan Christian Shoaib Assadullah, who has been in a holding jail in a district of Mazar-e-Sharif, in northern Afghanistan, since October. A recent letter from him suggests that his life is in danger. Assadullah was arrested on October 21 for giving a New Testament to a man who then reportedly turned him in to authorities.

Compass Direct reports that Assadullah, who has no legal representation, has also been pushed to recant his faith. Authorities have tried to build a case that he is insane in order to explain his change of faith and possibly to justify a more lenient sentence for him, sources have said. Sources said that there are diplomatic efforts underway for the secure release of Assadullah.

Persecution is not a social justice issue, Part 3

So far, we've learned that following Jesus is about dying, and that Jesus promises His followers that they will be persecuted. So, what's the third reason why persecution is not a social justice issue?

3. God grows His church through persecution

God’s ways are upside-down to the rest of the world. The world looks up to the powerful, the rich, the beautiful. It tells us success comes by getting ahead of everyone else, making sure you are number one and that no-one can tear you down.

But it’s a different story for Christians. God’s power is seen in weakness, His wisdom in foolishness. Those who want to be great among us will be the servants. Life comes through death.  And growth often comes through hardship, persistently obeying Christ even though it costs you.
“Consider it pure joy my brothers when you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” James 1:2-3

“We...glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” Romans 5:3-4
Look back on some of the difficult times in your life and reflect on the lessons God taught you. What is he teaching you right now?

Thirteen Three (13:3) is a youth initiative of Voice of the Martyrs Australia. We are committed to mobilising a generation of passionate youth to be bound with their persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. Find out more here.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

North Korean Christian to be released in China; sent back to North Korea; pray!

Kim Kyung Il
North Korean Christian Kim Kyung Il has been in prison for 10 years. Just a few days ago, VOM contacts received word that his sentence is expected to be commuted in March and he may be free in September.

Normally this would be cause for rejoicing, but as soon as Kim Kyung Il is released, he'll face deportation to North Korea. There, he will almost certainly be executed. Our contact writes, "The only hope he may have is a huge outpouring of public awareness on this issue, which might at least delay his execution once he's returned."

Friends are working frantically to help Kim Kyung Il, but it's not easy. Please pray with us for a solution, and take action by writing the Chinese Embassy officials in Canada today.
His Excellency Junsai Zhang
Embassy of the People's Republic of China
515 St. Patrick Street
Ottawa, ON K1N 5H3
Address for Kim Kyung Il
#104-1004 Mailbox Tiebei Prison
Changchun City
Jilin Province
People’s Republic of China
Kim Kyung Il’s story from

During early 1997, Kim Kyung Il and his brother crossed the border from North Korea into China. The following year he met a pastor, became a Christian and joined a Bible study group. Under the leadership of this pastor, Kyung Il served refugees from North Korea and started Bible studies in the Chengdoo region. He later became involved with sending refugees to South Korea.

Kyung Il was overseer of a safe house that discipled over 70 refugees. When a large number from the group were arrested by the Chinese police, he fled with some of the remaining refugees to the China-Mongolian border. He and his wife were captured, but the rest of the group continued their journey in the desert. Without their leader, they wandered for two days and finally crossed the border into Mongolia, where they reached the South Korean embassy and received passage to South Korea.

Kyung Il and his wife were sent back to North Korea and placed in prison. His pregnant wife was hit in the stomach with a stick, forcing an abortion. In the prison, many inmates knew Kim well, but they protected him by pretending not to know him. Thus, the authorities did not realize how involved he was with helping refugees escape from North Korea. He was released after serving only a short sentence. He remembers that those who protected his identity while in prison had asked him to work harder to let the world know about their situation.

Kim’s wife was released from prison shortly after the forced abortion. She escaped to South Korea with other family members. After his release, Kyung Il fled to China and worked at another safe house. He continued to disciple refugees and assisted them in escaping to South Korea.

In April 2002, Kyung Il was caught by the Chinese police. Since his arrest, he has been held in prison in China. He is scheduled to be sent back to North Korea when released from prison in China. All of his family now live in South Korea.

Please pray Kim Kyung Il will not be sent back to North Korea, where he will surely be executed.

Persecution is not a social justice issue, Part 2

This week, we’re following along with a series of posts by our sister-mission VOM Australia and thinking through why persecution is not a social justice issue. In yesterday's post, we saw that following Jesus is about dying.

Persecution is Not a Social Issue, Part 2

2. Jesus promises that His followers will be persecuted

The reality of persecution shouldn’t surprise us. We live as Christians in a world that is hostile to the Gospel, and Jesus promises us that persecution will come:
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first...If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” John 15:18, 20
As we call people out of the kingdom of darkness into God’s light, there is going to be rejection because people don’t want their sin to be exposed. Many will reject the message and the messenger.

But God will still grow His Kingdom!

Today, LIFT UP your prayers today for Christians suffering for their allegiance to Christ.

Thirteen Three (13:3) is a youth initiative of Voice of the Martyrs Australia. We are committed to mobilising a generation of passionate youth to be bound with their persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. Find out more here.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Christian villagers driven from homes in Laos face starvation

Pray God would move in the hearts of
authorities who are preventing food from
reaching Christians in Laos.
A group of approximately 65 villagers, who were driven from their village at gunpoint for refusing to give up Christianity, are facing starvation as local authorities in Laos destroy crops and prevent food from reaching the group, reported Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) on Tuesday.

The 18 families have been living in a temporary camp outside Katin village, Ta-Oyl district, Saravan province, since they were marched from their village at gunpoint in two separate incidents in 2010 for refusing to give up their Christian faith.

A report received from a CSW source this week said that village officials are refusing to allow the Christians to enter the village to farm their land. An area that had been farmed around the camp has been destroyed. Village officials have instructed families in surrounding villages not to help or provide food for the group, who lack access to adequate food, water and sanitation facilities, and medical treatment.

It is reported that the villagers believe these tactics are an attempt to starve them in order that they give up their Christian faith.

At first, 11 families were driven from the village at gunpoint during a worship service in January 2010, before a further seven families of new converts to Christianity were driven out in December 2010. Despite international advocacy on the case, the dire situation has not improved. One man from the group has died during this time.

In March 2010, the district head of Ta-Oyl, Mr Bounma, met with the group and urged them to reconsider their decision to follow the Christian faith, encouraging them to renounce their Christian beliefs. The group refused, and on hearing this, Mr Bounma reportedly stated that while the Lao Constitution provided protection for freedom of religion and belief, he did not allow Christianity in his district. He threatened the group with expulsion from the district if they refused to renounce their faith.

The Laos Constitution provides protection for its people to practise a religion of their choice without discrimination. However, legislative protection is weak and implementation at a local level can be arbitrary. Theravada Buddhism is the dominant religion in Laos. Religious minorities, including Christians, can face harassment. 

Please pray for believers in Laos today!

Persecution is not a social justice issue, Part 1

Our sister-mission VOM Australia has launched a youth initiative called Thirteen Three. The name refers to Hebrews 13:3 and the words “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also.”

Recently, Thirteen Three ran a series of blog posts about how persecution is not a social justice issue.

We’d like to share the 5-part series with you here.

Persecution is Not a Social Justice Issue, Part 1

“We are the generation that can end poverty!” Have you heard someone say this before?

Our generation loves social justice, doesn’t it? We genuinely believe that we can make an impact by righting some of the wrongs we see in the world today. As Christians, we are called to work for equality, freedom and justice in the face of oppression, evil and corruption, to care for the poor, the oppressed and the needy.

You might assume that persecution falls into the poverty/justice category. But persecution is not a social justice issue. Let me tell you why.

1. Following Jesus is about dying

“As a pastor, I believe Christians shouldn’t have to die for their faith.”
I read this quote from a well-known Australian pastor recently, and I immediately thought, “This guy has missed the whole point of following Jesus.”

Compare this with Pastor Trung who I met in Vietnam. Trung had been in prison for six years for sharing the Gospel and he told me, “I die with Christ every day!”

By definition, being a Christian is about dying—dying with Christ, dying to sin, dying to self, dying for Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor-theologian who was killed by the Nazis, said it best, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”

There is a cross to carry, but this pastor missed it. He’s missed Jesus’ call for His followers to deny themselves and take up their cross.

Over the next week we’re going to be looking at three more reasons why persecution is not a social justice issue. I hope you can join me for the ride!

Thirteen Three (13:3) is a youth initiative of Voice of the Martyrs Australia. We are committed to mobilising a generation of passionate youth to be bound with their persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. Find out more here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Conditional release of Christian couple in Iran after bail bond is posted

Hassan Razavi Derakhshan and Parya Jamali
A Christian couple who were arrested by secret security police on charges of “belief in the Christian faith” and “organizing and participating at a home-based church” were allowed to post bail and be temporarily released from the detention centre in Mashhad, reported Mohabat News.

Hassan Razavi Derakhshan and his wife, Parya Jamali, were arrested on December 27 and detained for 35 days. Allegedly, the couple organized a Christmas celebration in their home on December 22 (see more details here).

The couple was transferred to the Vakil-Abad Prison in Mashhad and subjected to ongoing and harsh interrogations. The harsh treatment was prolonged despite both husband and wife suffering from various ailments.

The couple must now await their upcoming court hearing.

Praise the Lord for Razavi and Parya’s release. Pray for their complete exoneration and freedom. Pray for their safety and well-being. Pray for all believers in Iran today!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Uzbek Christians facing prosecution after police raid

Pray for believers in Uzbekistan today!
Authorities who raided a Christian meeting in Syrdarya Region, central Uzbekistan, in January, are reportedly preparing to prosecute several of the Christians present, reported Forum 18 News.

On January 6, 12 police officials broke into the home of Pastor Andrey Shevchenko, where approximately 25 members of an unregistered local Baptist church were gathered to celebrate the baptism of Christ. The officials confiscated DVDs, CDs and Christian books. They also forced some of the believers to write statements.

Pastor Andrey showed the police documents proving that the materials had been purchased from the officially registered Bible Society of Uzbekistan. However, police told him that the literature would be sent to the State Religious Affairs Committee in the capital Tashkent for "expert analysis."

In early February, police reported that they are planning to prosecute Pastor Andrey and other local Christians under the code of Administrative Offences for "violation of the law on religious organisations" and "illegal storage, production, import or distribution of religious materials."

Please pray for believers in Uzbekistan. Pray for strength of faith for these Christians as they face opposition. Pray they will not face charges or fines. Pray they will bear witness to the love and grace of Christ, even to their persecutors. Pray Uzbek authorities will treat all of their citizens with true justice.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The essence of martyrdom

Ever wonder if the word "martyr" is relevant in this day and age? Take a few moments, and read the following, which is excerpted from Eberhard Arnold’s The Early Christians: In Their Own Words.
The early Christians were revolutionaries of the Spirit, heralds of the last judgment and the coming transformation; they had to be ready for martyrdom at any moment. Their witness meant they had to reckon with being sentenced to death by state and society.

Therefore, “martyrs” were those witnesses ready to die for their faith, those who bore this testimony before kings and judges with the steadfastness of soldiers of God. They were martyrs, that is “confessors,” even if they did not have to die.

To give witness is the essence of martyrdom. Martyrs uphold the truth of their testimony as eyewitnesses of the Lord and his resurrection. They see Christ and become his prophetic spirit-bearers. Through the Spirit, the blood-witness of the martyrs becomes part of the decisive battle waged by Jesus, the battle in which he himself died as a champion and leader of the future.

By dying, [Jesus] finally judged and routed the hostile powers of the present age. Put to death by the most devout Jewish people and the Roman state, Christ fettered and disarmed the demons and their darkness through his cross. Since then, each new martyrdom—each new dying with Christ—becomes a celebration of victory over the forces of Satan.
Martyrs aren't simply individuals who choose death over renouncing their beliefs. Martyrs are individuals who make great sacrifices or suffer much in order to further a belief, cause or principle. Martyrs are individuals like our brothers and sisters around the world, making a stand for Jesus Christ in the midst of persecution.

Pray for our family today!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Being God's instrument

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo's
"St. Francis of Assisi at Prayer"
oil on canvas
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so
Much seek to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

St. Francis of Assisi

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

Friday, February 18, 2011

Church constructions in India halted by opposition

Pray for believers in India today!
Anti-Christian extremists put a halt to church construction work in two states of India, reported Gospel for Asia.

In one of these states, Gospel for Asia-supported pastor Rahman Mukopadhyay has seen God do miraculous work in the village he was serving. When he first came to this village, Rahman faced a lot of opposition while sharing the Good News, but God touched people’s hearts, and eventually a good number chose to follow Christ.

As the congregation of believers grew, they no longer had sufficient room to worship the Lord together. So they began praying for a piece of land.

God answered their prayers, blessing them with property for the church building. They dedicated the construction to the Lord and laid the foundation for the building.

However, a group of anti-Christian extremists demanded the believers to stop immediately.

Pastor Rahman requests prayers for the church building’s construction to continue and for its timely completion. Please pray for him and his congregation to remain strong in the Lord in the midst of this opposition.

In another state of India, one village was about to receive a new church building, but some villagers and local officials opposed the work.

The village leader gave permission for the building to be erected, but when the believers had completed the first floor, the opponents told the believers to stop building.

GFA-supported leaders in the area desire prayer for God to change the hearts of those opposing the construction. Please intercede for this church building to be completed without any more hindrances.

Seven Iranian Christians released

Pray for Iranian believers today!
Seven Iranian Christians who were arrested on December 26, along with 31 other believers, were recently released from prison on bail, reported our sister-mission VOM USA. Praise God!

On January 26, two men and a woman were released in Isfahan. Three days later, four women were released from Tehran's notoriously brutal Evin prison.

The release of one of the women, Sara Akhaven, involved her family giving up their trade license in exchange for her bail. If authorities decide Sara has broken bail, however, the family's livelihood will be gone. Sadly, the trade license was not valuable enough to secure bail for Sara's sister, Leila, who remains in prison.

Some of the original 31 Christians who were arrested have reportedly been released.

The recently released believers reported that they spent more than a month in solitary confinement and endured hours of interrogation and torture. It is likely that those who remain detained continue to face the same brutal treatment.

Among those who remain in prison is a couple with two children. Although their mother, Maryam, has been able to phone her children from prison, they have not heard from their father, Rasool, in over a month. All of the other prisoners have reportedly been able to call their families, so there is great concern for Rasool's condition.

Please pray for Iranian believers today. Thank the Lord for the release of these believers. Pray that they will remain faithful in witnessing about Christ. Pray all imprisoned Christians in Iran will be released. Pray they will be emboldened and equipped by God's grace as they suffer. Pray for Iranian Christians who face extreme pressure and opposition under the government's new policy of "religious cleansing."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Christian Convert from Islam facing execution in Afghanistan

Pray for Said Musa's release.
Said Musa, who was imprisoned in Afghanistan for converting from Islam to Christianity, is reportedly facing execution.

In the second week of February, an Afghan judge allegedly informed Said that he would be hanged within days if he did not renounce his faith in Christ and reconvert to Islam.

A 15-year employee of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Kabul, Afghanistan, Said was arrested on May 31, 2010, after a television station in Kabul broadcast images that allegedly showed Western Christians baptizing Afghans. Since his arrest, he has remained in Kabul Detention Center, where he has reportedly suffered sexual assault and torture and been denied access to a lawyer.

Godfrey Yogarajah, the Executive Director of The Religious Liberty Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance, recently called attention to the illegal and unjust treatment of Said. "The arrest of Said in the first place and the subsequent demands for death for apostasy violate at least three provisions of the Constitution of Afghanistan," he said.

Said's trial is reportedly the first for apostasy that has reached near execution since the Taliban's fall.

Pray for God's enduring comfort and peace for Said in prison. Pray that, even in chains, he will exalt and praise the Lord. Pray for his release. Pray also for Said's wife and six children, who fled to Pakistan after his arrest, that they, too, will continue to find strength in Christ.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cuban church leader denounces persecution

Pray for religious liberty in Cuba.
A respected Baptist pastor in Cuba has published an open letter denouncing government persecution targeting him and his church, reported Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) today.

Pastor Homero Carbonell, long-time leader of La Trinidad First Baptist Church in Santa Clara, and a high-level denominational leader, says he has been forced to retire due to prolonged government pressure and threats made against his church.

The 12-page letter, sent by Pastor Carbonell to CSW, gives details of the Religious Affairs Office’s treatment of Pastor Carbonell and his church over the past three years. Spurious accusations against Pastor Carbonell, including allegations that he is associated with the counterrevolution and is tied to unspecified “illegalities” culminated in a series of penalties being applied to his church. While Pastor Carbonell finally stepped down from his role as leader of the church in October 2010, the sanctions have not been lifted.

Numerous requests for clarification on the part of church leaders went unanswered and a series of meetings with officials from the Religious Affairs Office, headed by Caridad Diego, failed to rectify the situation. In one meeting, government officials concluded the meeting by telling Pastor Carbonell to behave himself.

In the open letter, Pastor Carbonell echoes calls by other religious leaders in Cuba for legislation regulating religious practice. Such a law “would not only regulate believers, but would also regulate the government, and would give believers a legal instrument to deal with any legal dispute to support their claims and not leave them subject to political decisions emanating from groups in power, who can take coercive, wrong, or privileged decisions in matters of conscience.”

The government’s focus on Pastor Carbonell and his church appears to be driven by the church’s consistent refusal to expel family members of political prisoners and members of the human rights or pro-democracy groups from the congregation. The Cuban government has long heavily pressured church leaders of all denominations to shun anyone linked to human rights or pro-democracy activism.

Pastor Carbonell’s experience is in line with the conclusions by a 2010 CSW report which found that while overt forms of persecution such as the destruction of unauthorized churches had diminished somewhat, government pressure on individual church leaders had reached unprecedented levels. One church leader told CSW that government persecution had not been as subtle or as effective since the 1980s.

CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said, “We are deeply concerned and stand in solidarity with Pastor Carbonell and the entire La Trinidad Baptist Church. While the Cuban government has implemented some economic reforms over the past year, there appears to be little official will to consider reforms that would protect basic human rights like religious freedom. It is troubling that the situation for many church leaders across the island appears to be growing steadily worse. We call on the Cuban government to cease its harassment of Pastor Carbonell and his family, to remove the sanctions against La Trinidad First Baptist Church, and back his call for new legislation that would establish clear legal parameters and recourse for appeal regarding all religious activity.”

Church attacked in northern Nigeria

Pray for believers in Nigeria today!
Gunmen attacked a church Tuesday in northern Nigeria, but it was unclear if there were casualties in the latest such incident in the region where dozens have been killed in recent months, reported Agence France-Presse.

Police Commissioner Mohammed Jinjiri Abubakar said there was an attack on a church around the Gomari area of Maiduguri, and soldiers stationed there fired back. It is unclear who the attackers were.

Previous such incidents have been blamed on an Islamist sect known as Boko Haram that launched an uprising in 2009 put down by a brutal military assault.

Three churches were attacked on Christmas Eve in Maiduguri, killing six people. The sect has also claimed responsibility for the recent assassination of a high-profile candidate for governor.

Dozens of people have been left dead in Nigeria's north in recent months in hit-and-run shootings blamed on the sect, though police say politics may have also played a role in certain killings ahead of April elections.

Please pray for believers in Nigeria today. Pray those who suffer tremendous physical pain and trials will be strengthened and delivered by the Lord (2 Corinthians 1:9-11). Pray they will trust God to enable them to proclaim the gospel even while suffering (2 Timothy 4:16-18).

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Egypt's military has anti-Christian history

Pray for believers in Egypt today!
VOM USA’s Todd Nettleton recently spoke with Mission Network News about the history between Egypt’s military and its Christian population.

Take a look:

Egypt's military has anti-Christian history

Egypt (MNN) ― The pictures and reports appear to be positive in Egypt. There's relative calm, but the organization in power doesn't have a good track record when it comes to Christians.

With the military in control and the constitution set aside, many are wondering what will happen in the next six months. The constitution is expected to be revised, followed by national elections.

Todd Nettleton with VOM USA says while the military has done well so far, they don't have a very good track record. He says an Egyptian Christian did not fare well under their watch. "When his unit members and his commander found out that he was a Christian, they made his life miserable and ultimately beat him to the point that he died."

While this may have been an isolated incident, Nettleton says it's still a concern.

However, there are other issues, too. While democracy is good, it's not always good for those in the minority. "What happens in a country that's majority rule? If there a genuine election and yet we know that almost 87 percent of the people are Muslim, what religious freedoms will be protected, as that majority begins to vote and begins to make decisions?"

A lot hinges on hope. Nettleton says, "We hope that freedoms are protected. We hope that Egypt's people get to choose their leadership. That's really the hard work that has to be done by the Egyptian people and by the government."

That hope is also infused with the reality that Christians number 13 percent of the population. Nettleton believes they'll have at least a voice in the political process.

He also agrees that there is a spiritual awakening in Egypt. "People [are] coming to a more personal faith from an Orthodox background. People are coming to faith out of an Islamic background. There is definitely a move of God in the country."

There's also another bright spot. "There were stories of Christians and Muslims standing side-by-side, praying together for their country and working together to have a voice in this amazing process. We hope that this is a sign of good things, and we pray that the revival that we've heard about continues."

God can fill our empty bottles

“The water in the skin was used up...Then God opened
[Hagar’s] eyes, and she saw a well of water.”
Genesis 21:15, 19

Hagar was sent away by Abraham into the wilderness. After traveling a long way with her son, Ishmael, she found that the contents of her only bottle of water were depleted.

She was in a desert place. There was no hope. She sat the child under a shrub and then sat down across from him “at a distance” and wept. It seemed that the child was lost. A thirsty child, an empty bottle, a scorching sun. She expected him to die.

But, there was one factor she had forgotten to take into account. We also tend to forget this when we pass through difficulties. There is a God. He revealed a well of water to the woman who went about with an empty bottle. God may have deprived you of small possibilities in order to give you great ones.

We carry bottles; God has wells. Let us draw from the wells of salvation.

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

Want to read more? Reaching Toward the Heights is a 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. Find out more here.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Execution trial of Afghan convert is illegal

Said Musa's arrest violates
Afghanistan Constitution says
In early December 2010, we introduced you to Said Musa, an Afghan citizen and 15-year employee of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Kabul, Afghanistan. Said was arrested on May 31, 2010, for converting to Christianity from Islam and has been imprisoned ever since.

Said, 45, was arrested after a television station in the capital city of Kabul broadcast images that allegedly showed Westerner Christians baptizing Afghans. Since the May 2010 telecast, Said has remained in Kabul Detention Center and suffered sexual assault and torture with apparently no access to a lawyer to defend him.

Last week, an Afghan judge told Said he had days to reconvert to Islam or be executed.

On Saturday, The Religious Liberty Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance reported that Said’s trial violates the Constitution of Afghanistan (2004) and must be stopped.

“The arrest of Said in the first place and the subsequent demands for death for apostasy violate at least three provisions of the Constitution of Afghanistan, leave aside the illegality of the inhuman treatment meted out to him in the prison,” said WEA-RLC Executive Director Godfrey Yogarajah.

Article 130 of the Constitution states that courts can rely on the Shariah law as per the Hanafi jurisprudence only within the limits of the Constitution and only if a “pending” case does not relate to any provisions in the Constitution or any other law, Yogarajah said.

A case can be pending only is it is first registered under a law, but apostasy is not a crime recognized in the Constitution or any other statutory law, Yogarajah pointed out.

Additionally, Afghanistan is a signatory (1983) to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The three clauses under Article 18 of the ICCPR state:
  1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
  2. No one shall be subject to coercion, which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.
  3. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
While Article 3 of the Constitution says that no law can be contrary to “the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam,” this is a contradiction the earlier constitutions of the country had since 1923. But after the inclusion of Article 7, which carries a pledge to abide by international conventions, in the 2004 Constitution, the interpretation of Article 3 needs to be reformulated in light of the glaring contradiction, said Yogarajah.

The addition of the provision of Article 7 in the 2004 Constitution was surely not without a purpose, and nor was it an oversight. It was indisputably added to increase the nation’s commitment and compliance to international standards of civil rights.

“Calls for the death of an alleged apostate by extremist elements are understandable, but when the administration seeks death penalty for a convert by the misuse of the vagueness in laws, it raises serious concerns,” said Yogarajah.

Said, whose wife and six children fled to Pakistan after his arrest, is the first trial for apostasy that has reached near execution since the Taliban’s fall. But it is hoped and prayed that the administration of Afghanistan will do nothing that will denote an utter failure of the new regime as well as the international community.

Please pray for Said Musa and his family!

Ever wonder about the origin of Valentine’s Day?

“And walk in love, as Christ also has
loved us and given Himself for us,
an offering and a sacrifice to God
for a sweet-smelling aroma.”
Ephesians 5:1-2
This story of Valentinus (ca. 269 AD) is excerpted from Foxe: Voices of the Martyrs, which was written by John Foxe and The Voices of the Martyrs and published in 2007.

The story goes like this:

Three 3rd-century martyrs all carry the name Valentinus. One was a priest in Rome, one a bishop of Interamna and one a Christian in the Roman province of Africa. About the lives of these three, we know nothing. About the death of Valentinus at the decree of Claudius II, we think the story hinges on soldiering, marriages and a cold-hearted emperor—all the ingredients of passion and power that prompted Pope Gelasius in 496 to declare St. Valentine’s Day as a replacement for the Roman pagan holiday of Lupercalia.

Apparently, recruits for Claudius’s army were complaining about their long separations from wives and lovers, for the edict went forth that no soldier of Rome—may their hearts grow bloodlessly cold—could weaken his will or soften his courage in marriage. Of course, edicts do not command passions, so marriages simply went underground with an assist from the sympathetic priest Valentinus, to whom soldiers and their betrothed surreptitiously fled.

In time, the priest was caught and his treasonous disobedience duly sentenced by the Prefect of Rome. He was beaten by clubs and beheaded on February 14, in either 269 or 270 AD.

It’s an unlikely subplot, but nonetheless another story is told that during his imprisonment, Valentinus tutored his jailor’s daughter, Julia, who was blind from birth. On the eve of his martyrdom, Valentinus sent her a note of encouragement and faith, including on it a yellow crocus. When Julia opened the note, the story goes, her blind eyes fixed on the flower and she was healed. In gratitude, Julia planted an almond tree near Valentinus’s grave. Today, the almond tree remains a symbol of abiding love and friendship.

This Valentine’s Day, consider Valentinus and others whose faith caused them to give the ultimate sacrifice: their lives.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Angry Muslim crowd attacks churches in Indonesia

Pray for believers in Indonesia today!
More than 1,000 Muslim protesters stormed a courthouse and burned churches in central Java, Indonesia, on February 8, reported VOM sources.

The attacks in Temanggung happened after Antonius Richmond Bawengan, a Christian man, was sentenced to five years in jail for distributing leaflets deemed insulting to Islam.

BBC News reported that Indonesian police said the crowd considered the sentence too lenient and were demanding the death penalty. A police spokesperson told BBC that the angry crowd began attacking the court building after the verdict was read.

At least three church buildings were vandalised. Indonesia Bethel Church was set ablaze. Part of the school building inside the church's property was burned, along with six motorbikes. Arsonists also burned Temanggung Pentecost Church. The extent of the damage has not yet been reported. Santo Petrus Catholic Church and Santo Paulus Catholic Church received damage to their doors and windows as the mob threw stones at them.

In early October 2010, Antonius handed out books and tracts with writings that are considered an insult to Muslims. He was arrested on October 26. He was found guilty of violating the Criminal Code on insulting Islam and received the maximum sentence for the offense—five years in jail.

Pray for the Lord's protection to be upon Antonius while he is in prison. Thank the Lord for his efforts in spreading the gospel. Pray he will have opportunities to be a witness for Christ even while in prison. Pray the Christian population in Indonesia continues to grow and unite in their love for Christ.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Islamic Somali militants confiscate Christian farms

Pray for believers in Somalia today!
Since January 19, members of Al-Shabaab, an Islamic Somali extremist group, have confiscated eight farms from Muslims who showed an interest in Christianity, reported International Christian Concern.

Christian converts from Islam owned five of the farms and three belonged to Muslims who had attended Bible studies in the cities of Afgoye and Baidawa. Most of the landowners have fled their homes and remain in hiding.

There are also unconfirmed reports of additional Christian farm seizures in Dinsor and Burhakaba districts. The confiscated lands were given to businesspersons who regularly donate to Al-Shabaab.

The Islamic group has vowed to cleanse Somalia of any Christian influence. Since January 2009, Al-Shabaab militants have killed 23 Christians, most of whom were church leaders. Militants have also desecrated three Christian cemeteries in Mogadishu and destroyed a Christian library in the Luuq district. Despite intense persecution from Muslim radicals, the Somali Church has demonstrated remarkable growth.

Pray the Lord will provide for those who have lost their land. May His provision be evidence of the Lord's goodness and mercy to those who have yet to put their hope in Christ. Pray the Lord will bring about significant change in the culture and attitudes in the leaders of this nation. Pray His Church will continue to grow in spite of the opposition.

Interested in receiving a weekly prayer alert like this one? You can subscribe to our Persecution & Prayer Alert email that is delivered to inboxes every Thursday afternoon. Subscribe here.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Pastors under attack in Sri Lanka

Pray for believers in Sri Lanka today!
Two pastors were recently attacked in Southern Province, Sri Lanka, reported the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka.

In early January, a man broke into the home of a pastor in Galle district. The pastor and his family came into the house to find the intruder inside. The man shouted threats at the pastor and began to assault him. Neighbours were alerted to the attack when they heard screaming. When the pastor's elderly landlord arrived, the intruder also attacked him. He then fled. The pastor and the landlord lodged a complaint with the local police against the attacker. He was arrested, but later released with a severe warning and only after he apologized to the pastor and the landlord.

Assailants also broke the windows of an Assemblies of God church building in the city of Middeniya, Hambantota district, on January 23. A complaint has reportedly been filed with local police. The pastor and his family, who were inside at the time of attack, were previously targeted in July 2008, when assailants set their house ablaze, following threats to him and his church.

Pray God's enduring grace will drive out any fear in the hearts of these believers in the face of opposition. Pray they will stand firm in their faith, putting on the full armour of God and praying in the Spirit on all occasions (Ephesians 6:13-18). Pray their attackers will repent of their actions and place their faith in Jesus Christ. Pray Sri Lankan Christians will proclaim the love and truth of Christ with courage, wisdom and compassion.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Christians in India fear backlash at massive ‘reconversion’ event

Pray for believers in India today!
Responding to a petition by the state Catholic Bishops Conference, the High Court of Madhya Pradesh directed the state government to ensure the safety of Christians during a massive Hindu nationalist rally scheduled today through Saturday (February 10-12) in Mandla district, India, reported Compass Direct News.

Organizers of the Maa Narmada Samajik Kumbh on the banks of the Narmada River hope to draw 2 million pilgrims to the event. Christian leaders said that the Kumbh is the latest in a series of anti-Christian propaganda events that Hindu nationalist organizations have held in recent years.

A similar event in Dangs district, Gujarat state in 2006 was filled with hate speech against Christians and attempted mass “reconversions.” Area media in Mandla district have already begun carrying false stories of “forced conversion” and other malicious accusations against Christians.

A local tribal party known as the Gond Mahasabha (Great Assembly of the Gonds) has vehemently opposed the Kumbh. The Gonds, whose origins predate Hindu presence in the area, have stated that they are not Hindus and are against the proposed ghar wapasi or “homecoming” ceremony – a “reconversion” drive by the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS umbrella group of hard-line Hindu extremist groups asserts that all people born in India are Hindus, and that therefore anyone who believes otherwise must be “reconverted” back to Hinduism.

The Gonds have delivered an ultimatum to the RSS, threatening violence should even one case of “reconversion” occur at the Kumbh. They have called for a protest today, and clashes are expected.

Dr. John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council (AICC), told Compass that the RSS and its affiliates “have left no one in any doubt” that the main reason for the Kumbh “is to purge the region of ‘Christian missionaries’ they accuse of carrying on large-scale conversions of tribals, mostly Gonds, in this part of the country.”

Sources in the region have indicated to Compass that a hate campaign against Christians is already underway, fanned by local-language media reports hostile to Christian workers.

The current Kumbh is a follow-up of the Shabri Kumbh held February 11-13, 2006, in tribal-dominated Dangs district of Gujarat state.

Besides hate speeches before, during and after the event, the Kumbh also led to the beating of Christians, with many abandoning the area, and much loss of Christian property, including graveyards. Christian graves were reportedly dug up and crosses desecrated.

You can read the full report here.

Please pray for believers in India! Stay tuned for our March newsletter about India.

Persecution escalates in Muslim areas of Ethiopia

Pray for Ethiopian believers who are
experiencing an increase in persecution.
The Australian Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (AEA RLC) recently released a Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin about escalating persecution in Ethiopia. Elizabeth Kendal, an international religious liberty analyst and advocate, wrote it.

Here is a brief summary:

When the Ethiopian Government federalised the state in 1996, it devolved power to nine autonomous, ethnic regions. Rather than appeasing and pacifying Ethiopia's diverse peoples, this ethnic federalism only undermined nationhood while magnifying ethnicity and differences. Divisive forces are now stronger than ever.

Ethiopia's traditional Sufi Muslims are being radicalised by Saudi (Wahhabi) entities, inflaming religious tensions. Protestant believer Tamirat Woldegorgis (30s) is in an Islamic prison, having been falsely accused of defacing a Qur’an. Also, Christians in the southern town of Besheno are being told they must convert to Islam, leave or die. Persecution and application of Shariah law are increasing.

Yet, the central Government appears loath to intervene lest self- determination, “harmony” and “national unity” be undermined.

Please pray specifically that God will:
  • Protect Tamirat Woldegorgis and deliver him safely back to his family; may the family all know the sustaining presence of the Lord, their provider.
  • Protect the Christians living in restive Oromia and Islamic Somali, particularly the persecuted and threatened Christians in Besheno.
  • Grant Christian leaders great wisdom to know how to be "wise as serpents and harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16 NKJV).
  • Give the Federal Government much wisdom, strength and courage to tackle the issue of constitutional rights and the supremacy of the Federal Constitution over regional Islamic courts.
You can read the full prayer bulletin here.

Reaching the unreachable

Russell Stendal, a Christian worker in Colombia, is headlining VOM Canada’s Prayer Conferences is Edmonton (March 19) and Mississauga (March 26).

Raised on the mission field in Colombia, Russell became a missionary jungle pilot at age 19. In 1983, Marxist rebels kidnapped him and held him hostage for five months. Upon his release, God led him into radio ministry as a unique way to reach the fighting factions of the internal conflict in Colombia with the gospel.

Take a moment to watch this video and find out why he works to reach FARC Guerrillas with the Good News. You’ll be inspired to reach out to someone you may think is unreachable.

Learn more about our upcoming Prayer Conferences here.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Politician under death threat from Taliban thanks Canada

Yesterday, the Toronto Sun published a story about Shahbaz Bhatti, the Pakistani cabinet minister who has spoken out against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, like the one under which Christian mother Asia Bibi was sentenced to death back in November.

Bhatti met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and several cabinet ministers during his recent visit to Ottawa. They discussed the importance of standing up for the rights of religious minorities. Bhatti thanked Canada for its support of minority rights.

Check out the story here.

Imprisoned Iranian Christian unable to post bail

Because a Christian prisoner’s family is unable to pay a $40,000 bond, he must remain in prison, reported Mohabat News this week.

Ebrahim Firoozi, 26, is a new believer from Robat Karim who was arrested by security forces on January 11. After several interrogations, he was transferred to Ghezel Hesar Prison, one of the largest prisons in the Middle East.

In his first court hearing on January 29, the young Christian was charged with evangelism, being in possession of bibles, having a relationship with external forces and apostasy.

A close friend of Ebrahim’s told Mohabat News that Ebrahim could not afford to obtain a lawyer. He said the judge told Ebrahim’s family that Ebrahim might be sentenced to death or serve life in prison because of the apostasy charge against him. The decision would be made in one month’s time. Ebrahim has since been transferred to Rajai Shahr Prison.

During a short phone call to one of his close friends, Ebrahim said he is going through a lot of interrogations that are being recorded and photographed.

Please pray for Ebrahim and his family. Pray Ebrahim will rest in the knowledge that the Good Shepherd walks with him through this difficult time (Psalm 23). Pray he will exemplify the love of God through consistent love and prayer for those who persecute him (Matthew 5:43-48).

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Anti-Christian violence risk high during homecoming festival in India

Pray for believers in India today!
A mass religious gathering taking place February 9-13 is causing growing apprehension among Christians living in Madhya Pradesh state, reported Mission Network News today.

Mission Network News and Compass Direct News first reported this story in May 2010. At that time, Hindu nationalists promised to launch a "religious cleansing" of the Christians living in this area in advance of the Narmada Samajik Kumbh.   

At least a million people are expected to attend the homecoming festival that takes place on the Narmada, a river that flows through Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.   

The risk of violence against Christians in the area is high. Already, there are reports of plans for forced conversions of local Christians to Hinduism. Reports indicate that the area is heavily saturated with anti-Christian propaganda.

There is an anti-conversion law on the books in Madhya Pradesh; however, it will be interesting to see if it will be enforced on behalf of the believers who are being targeted during the festival.

According to Gospel For Asia, the believers and pastors struggle with mixed emotions over the intended plans. Some fear they will be harassed, beaten and maybe killed, while others have gathered courage in the Lord to continue sharing the Good News and love of Christ with the people.

Pray for the safety of the Christians and that they will stand firm in the Lord and His promises. Pray also that the religious gathering will not affect Christians and local ministries, but that believers will be a strong witness for Christ and reach many who are lost.

A special on Vietnam, Part 3

The last of 100 Huntley Street’s series on Vietnam is now available. Take a few moments to watch this segment. You won’t be disappointed.

Today, you’ll find out why so many Christians in Vietnam worship in underground churches. Greg Musselman, Todd Nettleton and Denise Lodde speak with men from several tribes, some illiterate and some even former witch doctors. All have a common deep desire to learn more about God and to teach others.

Missed the first two segments? View them here and here.

100 Huntley Street is Canada's longest running daily talk show and a production of Crossroads Christian Communications. It is broadcast live Monday through Friday, reaching nearly every home in Canada.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Iraqi Christians speed exodus to North Iraq

Pray for believers in Iraq!
The Assyrian International News Agency reported yesterday that an exodus of Christians to the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq's north has accelerated after a spate of attacks against the minority group, according to the International Organization for Migration.

An official from the organisation also spoke Sunday of reports that many Christians were either leaving Iraq, or planning to emigrate.

By the end of January, 1,078 families had moved to the three provinces that comprise Iraqi Kurdistan since an October 31 attack on a church in Baghdad by al-Qaida militants, IOM figures show. A total of 331 families moved in the six weeks immediately following that attack, while a further 747 have left the rest of Iraq for Kurdistan between December 15 and the end of January.

IOM monitoring shows that an average Christian Iraqi family consists of four to five members.

The report noted that "monitors in Baghdad report that Christians continue to face grave threats" and "despite increased security measures an atmosphere of extreme insecurity persists among Christians remaining in Baghdad and many still intend to move or emigrate."

Between 800,000 and 1.2 million Christians lived in Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003, but that figure now is estimated by religious leaders at 400,000.

You can read the full report here.

Uzbek prisoner of conscience 'released but not free'

Pastor Dmitry Shestakov was reunited
with his three daughters soon after
his release. He remains under probation.
We shared with you in late January that Uzbek Pastor Dmitry Shestakov was recently released from prison after serving a four-year sentence.

Despite his release, Shestakov remains under the severe restrictions of “administrative supervision,” reported Forum 18 News Service last week.

For one year, Shestakov must report to police in-person almost every week. He may not be outside his home between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. He may not leave his hometown without written police permission, and he cannot visit public places such as restaurants.

The term of administrative supervision can be extended, and the punishments for breaking the supervision range up to imprisonment for four years.

Shestakov is the pastor of an officially registered Full Gospel Pentecostal Church in the eastern city of Andijan. He was imprisoned for exercising his right to freedom of religion or belief. Uzbek authorities were unwilling to explain to Forum 18 why they have placed Shestakov under these restrictions.

You can read the full report here.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Anti-Christian speeches in Iran led to crackdown, sources say

Pastor Youcef Nardarkhani
was handed the death sentence
on November 13, 2010,
for leaving Islam.
We shared with you in early January that Iran had arrested dozens of Christians, beginning near Christmas, accusing Protestant evangelical groups of causing a cultural invasion.

Earlier this week, Compass Direct News reported that the crackdown was the result of speeches by Iranian religious and political figures between August and October who acknowledged the existence of home fellowships and condemned them as a threat to the state.

Iranian authorities have detained more than 70 Christians in a wave of arrests that began around Christmas, according to a report last week by Elam Ministries. With the release of seven Christians last week after they spent a month in solitary confinement, at least 26 Christians remain incarcerated. Sources said that with arrests across the country continuing, the number of Christians detained since Christmas could be as high as 120.

Though authorities have released most of the Christians after interrogations, many of them are still in prison, especially house group leaders. Many released in the last month had to sign statements saying they would not attend church again.

On October 19, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that Iran’s enemies want to shake the country’s religious and societal values through the spread of Baha’ism and a network of Christian house churches. Khamenei’s speech marked the fifth public statement from an Iranian leader condemning Iranian Christians in the three-month period.

“The public statements show that the government acknowledges the presence of the church and considers it a threat,” a regional analyst who requested anonymity told Compass. “It’s striking they have been talking about it publicly in a way they haven’t previously.”

Sources told Compass that Iranian Christians belonging to house churches knew it was a matter of time before the security forces acted on the supreme leader’s condemnation and tightened their grip on house church members.

While persecution against Christians has intensified, it is believed to be part of a wider government campaign to crack down on any group the government considers threatening. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported on January 16 that since the beginning of the year, the government had executed 47 people in a two-week period. Thousands have been sentenced to death since elections in 2009.

The Elam report confirmed that Iranian authorities have arrested more than 200 Christians in 24 cities since June 2010.

You can read the full story here.

A special on Vietnam, Part 2

Pray for believers in Vietnam.
The second part of 100 Huntley Street’s series on Vietnam is now available online. VOM’s Greg Musselman, VOM USA's Todd Nettleton and 100 Huntley Street’s Denise Lodde recently traveled to Vietnam and spoke with several persecuted Christians.

In this segment, you’ll meet women whose husbands have been imprisoned for their faith. You’ll also meet a tribal pastor and his son whose bodies bear the visible marks of persecution. Despite the risk, these believers continue to share the love of Christ with those around them. Their prayer? Strength to stand firm and be faithful. They ask others to pray for them.

Watch the segment here.

100 Huntley Street is Canada's longest running daily talk show and a production of Crossroads Christian Communications. It is broadcast live Monday through Friday, reaching nearly every home in Canada.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Government of Pakistan will not amend blasphemy law

Pakistan's prime minister
said Wednesday the
government will not
amend the blasphemy law.
Christians in Pakistan received a blow yesterday. The government of Pakistan will not be amending the country’s controversial blasphemy law, reported ASSIST News Service.

This decision followed on the heels of massive countrywide protests against the government by Islamic and mainstream opposition parties who had taken to the streets to demand that there be no amendments to the blasphemy law that has been widely criticized around the world.

The protestors demanded that the Pakistani government make clear its stance over the issue of blasphemy law, which uses its Penal Code to prohibit and punish blasphemy against Islam.

The Criminal Code provides penalties for blasphemy ranging from a fine to death. An accusation of blasphemy commonly subjects the accused, police, lawyers and judges to harassment, threats and attacks. An accusation is sometimes the prelude to vigilantism and rioting.

The prime minister told parliament in a speech before the National Assembly in Islamabad, on Wednesday that his government would not touch the legislation, which human rights groups say is routinely abused to persecute minorities and settle personal scores.

The prime minister called upon parliamentarians, media and Islamic scholars to come forward and help the government of Pakistan to introduce a mechanism to stop the misuse of the blasphemy law. He also urged people protesting against the amendments to now “stop their protests as the government has made it clear that there will be no change in the Pakistan Penal Code Section 295 B & C.”

Most recently, the blasphemy law was used against Asia Bibi, a Christian mother, who was found guilty of the alleged crime and sentenced to death by hanging. Her case is currently being appealed.

You can read the full report here.