Blue Flower

NORTH KOREA REMAINS AT TOP OF INTERNATIONAL PERSECUTION WATCH LIST

The past 12 months have seen a wave of persecution directed at Christian communities worldwide. The Islamic State (IS) sweeping across Iraq, the civil war in Syria, the kidnapping of more than 250 girls in Nigeria, the imprisonment of Meriam Ibrahim in Sudan, the list goes on and on. Despite these well publicised events, North Korea remains the toughest country in which to be a Christian, for the 13th year in a row. Life continues to be extremely difficult for believers – even those who are not amongst the thousands languishing in labour camps, danger can come at any time. In the wake of the  arrest of South Korean missionary Kim Jeong-Wook, dozens of people, presumably Christians, were caught and many tortured and murdered.

The Top 10 countries where Christians face the most pressure and violence in the reporting period of the World Watch List (WWL) 2015 are: North Korea (1), Somalia (2), Iraq (3), Syria (4), Afghanistan (5), Sudan (6), Iran (7), Pakistan (8), Eritrea (9) and Nigeria (10). In 40 countries of the Top 50, Islamic extremism was a major source of persecution. Even though violent Islamic jihadism in the Middle East has dominated the world’s news headlines in 2014, the creeping pressure of Islamisation in African countries is standing out on the WWL. There has been a marked increase in persecution for Christian communities in a large number of African states. This is a continuation of a trend Open Doors has been seeing over the last three years. 


For the first time in over a decade, for example, Sudan (6) is back in the WWL Top 10. This is the result of a deteriorating position for Christian converts from a Muslim background and faith-related violence against Christians living in the Nuba Mountains. Violence against individual Christians has shifted to indiscriminate attacks against groups. Another newcomer in the Top 10 is Nigeria (10), where pressure for Christians in the north of the country is especially high. Boko Haram has been blamed for nearly 4,000 deaths from daily raids or suicide attacks in 2014, of which the majority involved Christians. An estimated 15,000 people were displaced following a Boko Haram attack in Damboa, Borno State in July, with more than 100 people killed.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates 650,000 people are internally displaced in the northeast of the country. The African nations of Kenya (rising from 43 to 19) and Djibouti (from 46 to 24) are also the highest risers on the 2015 WWL and with Tanzania (from 49 to 33) also climbing considerably, the intensification of persecution in African countries is clear. In the Middle East, the violence of IS in Iraq (3) and Syria (4) has dominated international news headlines. In Syria, relative freedom for Christians has virtually disappeared with the arrival of violent Islamic jihadist groups. With the increased influence of jihadist groups, the society is radicalising. At the moment, most Christians have fled IS controlled areas.

Of the 1.8 million pre-war Christian population, only 1.1 million remain. This means that since the civil war began in 2011, 700,000 Christians have fled the country, of which 200,000 left in the past year. In Iraq, the emergence of IS has seen hundreds of thousands of Christians become internally displaced and has resulted in many fleeing to the region of Kurdistan. Nevertheless, fear is growing that the Kurdish region is still in the line of sight of IS militants. Virtually the whole Christian community has disappeared in regions controlled by IS, such as Mosul and the Nineveh plain, where Christians have lived since Biblical times. Reports indicate 140,000 Christians have fled, many with little or no possessions, either to the Kurdish region or abroad.  

There have been other movements on the 2015 WWL. Turkey (41) and Mexico (38) re-enter the list, after having been dropped in recent years, while Azerbeijan (46) returns to the list after a year hiatus. And while three countries - Morocco, Bahrain and Niger - dropped out of the Top 50, this did not mean an improvement in circumstances for Christians in those countries just that circumstances had not worsened. There are other reasons for countries to move on the 2015 WWL. In the case of India, for example (rising from 28 to 21), the election of Narendra Modi of the Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to Prime Minister in May 2014 saw the atmosphere for Christians and other religious minorities take a turn for the worse. 

Hindu fundamentalists now attack Muslims and Christians with more impunity. Several states have also implemented anti-conversion laws which are used to accuse and attack Christians, adding to the existing pressure. This happened all over India, with increasing reports from the south. Islamic extremism, tribal antagonism, paranoia of a dictatorial leader, communist oppression, religious nationalism – whatever the reason, hundreds of thousands of Christians around the world have continued to be persecuted for their faith in the past 12 months. Across a spectrum of countries on the 2015 WWL, violence has forced many Christians to flee their homes, resulting in unprecedented Christian refugee movements and internal displacement. 


Despite an outcry from local and international leaders, the situation for many of them remains desperate. The Open Doors World Watch List is the only annual survey of religious liberty conditions of Christians around the world. It measures the degree of freedom a Christian has to live out their faith in five spheres of life – private, family, community, national and church life, plus a sixth sphere measuring the degree of violence. Each year, it ranks the 50 hardest states in which to practice Christianity, covering millions of Christians affected by persecution, defined as “any hostility experienced as a result of one’s identification with Christ.

Source: Open Doors

Top ]

THE GOOD NEWS OF CHRIST ADVANCES IN PAKISTAN DESPITE ALL THE BAD NEWS

The worst terrorist strike in the history of modern Pakistan on December 16, 2014, reinforced the country's image as a hotbed for the Pakistani Taliban and other Islamic terrorists. For the average Pakistani, however, life goes on as usual—as it does for indigenous missionaries offering the Bread of Life. The slaughter of 134 schoolchildren among the 150 people gunned down by Taliban militants at an army-run school in Peshawar shocked the world. Two months prior, six key Pakistani Taliban commanders announced their allegiance to Islamic State (ISIS). A rebel commander of the Baloch Liberation Front was quoted as saying that Pakistan's notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was both "activating" and financially supporting ISIS. 

While terrorist activity since 9/11 has driven many foreign missionaries from Pakistan, a visit to the country by Christian Aid Mission's South Asia director found local Christian workers dedicated to their Gospel tasks without interruption. In fact, the departure of many foreign missionaries due to the increased Islamist radicalization, she said, has led to indigenous missionaries learning to take leadership roles. "Again and again I heard that after 9/11 a lot of the missionaries left the country, but in a way they were somewhat relieved," she said. "They were almost thankful that finally they were in charge." The leader of one seminary put it this way: "Now the responsibility of leadership has come to us." 

Just as officials and teachers at the seminary have not let little or no pay keep them from following their calling, they are determined to contribute to the advance of the Gospel and the planting of churches in spite of various challenges. The terrorist threat and social opposition in the 96% Muslim country is the least of their concerns. A greater challenge is learning the administration and fund-raising they were never trained to carry out. "They're really good at going out, preaching the Gospel and sharing the Good News, but when it comes to doing the administrative part, they just don't have any training," the director said. "So they've had to learn and start from scratch. That's where the challenge is. Again and again I heard that." 

A church-planting organization needs to provide support for evangelists. The group has planted three churches in the administrative territory of Azad Kashmir. One of the group's primary activities is selling Bibles, rather than distributing them freely. This is done for legal reasons—buying a Bible for $5 and selling it for about $1.50, the organization cannot be accused of proselytizing or coercion. Pakistan is one of the few Islamic countries where evangelization is legal, but social pressures against spreading Christianity are intense. Conversations about faith take place naturally, however, and some ministries even organize open-air evangelistic events. Still, once Muslims convert to Christianity in Pakistan, they may stay "underground" for a long time. 

"Sometimes if they are the only Believer in the family, they may not come out so easily," the director said. "But when a whole family comes to faith, it's easier and they're all there in the church." Unlike in many countries, Gospel proclamation in Pakistan meets less resistance in rural areas than in urban ones, where some Islamic extremist groups are more active. In both cities and villages, people are going about their daily lives in spite of political and religious firestorms. "It's not as chaotic as it looks from outside, and that's where the ministries focus, such as a remote school in the middle of nowhere," the director said. "So the ministries are penetrating those remote areas that the Taliban is not interested in." 

Mercy ministries, groups caring for children, Bible correspondence courses, church planters and those reaching out to the persecuted are all pushing forward. "From the outside it seems like Pakistan has no hope because of the radicalism and its political instability, but when one gets a closer look, it is like any other country where there is opposition to the Gospel. The indigenous missions are committed with a God-given vision to move forward with their heavenly mandate," she said. "There are indigenous ministries that are not going anywhere else. Another September 11 can happen, but they're not going anywhere. They are bringing the Gospel to their own people, and they're determined."

Source: Christian Aid Mission

Top ]

MIGRANTS SAY FAITH WAS FACTOR IN THEIR FORCED FLIGHT TO EUROPE

Among the record numbers of migrants from Africa and Asia who are dying in European waters, many are fleeing war and poverty, but there also is a religious dimension: some of the migrants are Christians, unable to freely practice their faith in their home countries. At least 1,750 people have died in the Mediterranean Sea already this year, more than 20 times the number at this stage last year. The Mediterranean has become a “giant reflecting pool, exposing the unrelenting evil and despair that is loose in our world,” Thomas Albinson, President of the US-based International Association for Refugees, recently wrote. “Trace the steps of those on the boats, and you will find your way back to wars, failed states, persecution, oppression and hopelessness.” 


More than 5,800 were rescued from boats last week, whilst 900 landed on Italy’s shores. They were met by staff from GiM Italia (Generations In Mission), a Christian organisation which supports more than 6,000 refugees from more than 50 countries, who have survived perilous journeys over land and sea. “Many escaped from countries at war, others from countries where poverty is very great,” a spokesman said. “Many others fled because they are in danger for political reasons, and others just for being Christian. These Christians mainly ran away from Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Iran, Nigeria, Eritrea, Senegal, Mali, Niger, Somalia, Egypt and Libya.” GiM’s refugee centres in Mineo and Caltanissetta, in Sicily’s interior, are now “totally full.”  


Migrants are scattered throughout parks, railway stations and abandoned buildings. GiM hope to soon start a new base in Sicily’s eastern port city of Catania, which has become a “clearing house” for refugees, who, once they’ve undergone lengthy and uncertain asylum processes, can travel to other European nations. Catania’s international airport is also used to send back hundreds of migrants whose asylum requests are turned down. The spokesman said “New people arrive every day and every time we visit we hear new stories.” The new base would provide daytime shelter, a legal assistance centre, tea-room, multi-language library, language teaching, first medical assistance, support for pregnant women and those struggling with young children.

Source: World Watch Monitor

Top ]

ISIS CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR TEXAS CARTOON ATTACK

ISIS says it was behind the attack outside a contest in Texas featuring cartoons of Islam's prophet Mohammed. It is the first time the group claimed to have carried out an attack inside the United States. Meanwhile, the FBI is under increased scrutiny for failing to prevent the attack after it had closely monitored one of the suspects in the shooting. Federal agents had been monitoring 30-year-old Elton Simpson for possible terrorist ties for more than a decade. Simpson and his roommate were shot dead after opening fire on a security guard outside the event. In the past, FBI agents recorded Simpson talking about fighting "non-believers" for Allah and about plans to travel to Africa to link up with Islamist brothers in Somalia. 

Five years ago, he was arrested for attempting to join an al Qaeda group there. Years spent investigating Simpson for terrorism ties resulted in 3 years of probation, placement on the no-fly list, and $600 in fines and court fees. His attorney says he became increasingly agitated. "Some of the statements that he made were, 'If you die on the battlefield' then you get the wives and things like that. That's a belief of the Muslim faith," Kristina Sitton, Simpson's attorney, said in 2011. Simpson recently posted on Twitter his dismay with his country. Just before the shooting, he tweeted that he and a brother had pledged loyalty to ISIS. "May Allah accept us as jihadists," he wrote. The FBI was aware of his social media rants but he was not under 24-hour watch.

Source: CBN News

Top ]

UNIVERSITY BACKS DOWN ON PLANS FOR MUSLIM CALL TO PRAYER

Duke University has cancelled plans to use the school's famous chapel bell tower for a weekly, amplified Muslim call to prayer. The university was set to broadcast a weekly call to prayer but they reconsidered the plan. "Duke remains committed to fostering an inclusive, tolerant and welcoming campus for all of its students," Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, said. "However, it was clear that what was conceived as an effort to unify was not having the intended effect." Duke, was founded in the late 19th century by Methodists and Quakers and its divinity school has historically been connected to the United Methodist Church. The possibility of a call to prayer broadcast outraged some in the Christian community. 


Evangelist Franklin Graham took to Facebook to blast the school over the Muslim call to prayer. "As Christianity is being excluded from the public square and followers of Islam are raping, butchering, and beheading Christians, Jews, and anyone who doesn't submit to Sharia Islamic law, Duke is promoting this in the name of religious pluralism," Graham wrote. Under the cancelled plan, members of the school's Muslim Students Association would have recited the call lasting 3 minutes from the bell tower. Meanwhile, various Christian denominations hold prayer and worship services in the chapel. The school also allows Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists to hold services on campus. Graham later said the university made the right decision to cancel the prayer.

Source: CBN News

Top ]

U.S.A. SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS RELIGIOUS LIBERTY UNDER IMPORTANT FEDERAL LAW

In a rare demonstration of unanimity, all nine justices of the Supreme Court of the United States recently ruled in favour of religious liberty, strengthening a law that protects churches across the country. Holt v. Hobbs involved religious liberty protections for people in government custody. It was centred around an Arkansas prisoner who wished to grow a beard in accordance with his Muslim faith whilst in custody.  

The same law also creates special protection for churches in zoning and other regulation disputes with the government. Liberty Institute filed a court brief in support of this important law that protects the religious liberty of churches and ministries across the country, while ensuring that the incarcerated maintain their religious liberty. "This case has broad-sweeping application to churches across the country, giving ministries a powerful tool to fight governments seeking to restrict or ban churches and other ministries from the community," said Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of Liberty Institute.

Source: Breaking Christian News

Top ]

MAYOR OF BALTIMORE STRONGLY THANKS THE FAITH COMMUNITY FOR HELPING TO RESTORE PEACE

Although Baltimore was rocked by rioting after the Freddie Gray funeral, this week began with a faith rally at City Hall, which featured a peaceful gathering of prayer and singing. On her Facebook page, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake thanked pastors and others from the faith community for their help in the healing of the city. This was the mayor's post: “The past week has showcased Baltimore's resilience. A week ago, I watched, heartbroken, as fire consumed the partially built Mary Harvin Senior Centre. Today, I stand more inspired than ever by the promise to rebuild our city, stronger than before. I want to thank the Pastors, the faith community, and everyone associated with this project for their commitment to rebuilding our city.”.

Source: Intercessors Network

Top ]

Have you visited our Web site? Australian Prayer Network