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Talented Young Group Worships And Shares God’s Love Through Music

Lauren Sweeney sings at Liberty University

Lauren Sweeney sings at Liberty University

This past year, Lauren Sweeney, a Liberty University student with a heart for the persecuted connected with me. This sweet sister in Christ relayed her support for the work VOP is doing and felt it was a necessary ministry. Lauren shared that Christians needed to know what their brothers and sisters are going through around the world. She also expressed how they needed to gather together and pray for the persecuted.

Lauren was able to hear Naghmeh Abedini, Pastor Saeed’s wife speak and share Saeed’s story at Liberty in a convocation service. Lauren told me that it touched the hearts of so many students that day. And now Lauren continues do what she can to raise awareness of the crisis through social media.

I was encouraged hearing how our young people are concerned and will raise their VOICE for the persecuted. That they will cause hearts to care, stir others to action and most importantly—encourage prayer for our persecuted family.

I have prayed for Lauren. That the Lord will give her vision of the purposes He has for her, that she excels in her walk with the Lord, and that many will be touched by His Light that they see reflecting from her. I’m happy to say these prayers are being answered. Lauren is a special young lady, God’s girl. And He has given her a special talent as a worship leader, the gift of music and a beautiful voice!

Lauren met Kyle Smith at Liberty University in 2011. Both having hearts for worship and music, they began writing together almost immediately. Seeing others come to know the Lord through music, the songs began to come as we wrote together. And they realized they had something special together. 

Kyle and Lauren

Kyle and Lauren

They have been blessed by the opportunity to lead worship on Campus Band at Liberty University. On this team, they help lead worship for the student body in convocation in front of 10,000+ students (3 times a week), as well as leading the Campus Church Service at Thomas Road Baptist Church in front of 3,000+ students once a week.

The two recently got engaged and have plans to get married in 2015.

“We are very excited about a lifetime of ministry together and cannot wait to take another step down that road!”

The first song they wrote together, “You Hold Me” was featured on the latest Liberty Campus Band album.

“To even have the song on the album amazed us because it began just in a room with our voices and a piano, never thinking that anyone would ever hear it. We’ve had the opportunity to watch the Lord use that song in the last two years in ways we never imagined, and it only confirms in us that this is what we were created to do, to write songs for the body of Christ and lead others in worshiping Him.”

“With these positions, we’ve been able to witness all that God has been doing in the lives of so many students here on this campus.”

“We feel a calling to do this together. Through our relationship, we have prayed for many specific things about our ministry together, and feel that this is the next step for it!”

lauren-band

Their dream is to record an album of songs that God has laid on their hearts. And now they feel that God has finally brought the songs they’re supposed to share, and that He has brought the right people into their lives to be involved in this project. They‘ve grown a lot over the last few years. God has been preparing them to write and record their own music with hopes that it will help lead people to His throne.

Their biggest challenge— raising the funds for the project.

Raising money for an album is tough. It’s even tougher when you’re in college and planning for a wedding. We want to create something that speaks to people. We want something that creates an outlet for people to experience the life-changing love of our Savior. In order to do this we’re counting on our friends and loved one’s to help make it possible. God is providing us with opportunities to worship with people all along the east coast and we’d love to have a product that they can take home with them to share. More than anything, we covet your prayers for this project and our ministry. Prayer is powerful and we know that this can’t be successful without God’s provision.

They’ll be headed to Nashville, Tennessee to record about half of this project. The other half of the tracking will be done in Lynchburg, VA.

“Through our producers, we have access to some of the most talented musicians and the most reputable studios for tracking. We are so excited for the opportunity to work with some of these musicians. We want to strive for excellence. We want to glorify God with our efforts and we’re prepared to work tirelessly to create something that will be great. We would love to have your help!”

Their goal is to raise $7,500 which will cover the costs of the entire project. This will cover the needs to produce a 3 song EP. However, if they exceed their goal, they will be able to release more songs and add them to the EP.

“We have more songs that we want to share, but need the funds to make this happen!”

Voice of the Persecuted is happy to share in support of Lauren and Kyle’s mission to worship the Lord. Please consider helping this special couple with a God given talent to praise Him! May the Lord continue to bless and guide their path!

To learn more, support, or hear more music by Lauren’s band, follow the ‘Back This Project’ button below. And please feel free to SHARE this article in support!

By Lois Kanalos, Founder

back this project

 

Making an International Deal: Iran Should Stop Persecuting Religious Minorities

The most celebrated case of persecution today is Saeed Abedini, an American citizen born in Iran and sentenced to eight years in prison last year for “undermining national security” by the Iranian government.

A Muslim convert to Christianity, his “crime” in Tehran’s view apparently was aiding house churches.  He went to Iran in 2012 to set up an orphanage, with the government’s approval.  Since then he was abused and tortured while held at two of Iran’s worst prisons.

Unfortunately, Abedini represents far broader religious repression.  The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has routinely labeled Tehran as a Country as Particular Concern.  The Commission’s 2013 report concluded:  “The government of Iran continues to engage in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including prolonged detention, torture, and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused.”

Tehran’s brutal persecution has been getting worse.  The State Department reported that violations of religious liberty increased again 2012, as Tehran increasingly was “charging religious and ethnic minorities with moharebeh (enmity against God), ‘anti-Islamic propaganda,’ or vague national security crimes for their religious activities.”

Currently the regime appears to be most concerned about conversions.  Christians traditionally were minorities, especially Armenians and Assyrians, who speak a different language.  However, HRWF reported that charges against those arrested last year included “conversion from Islam to Christianity, encouraging the conversion to Christianity of other Muslims, and propaganda against the regime by promoting Christianity as missionaries.”

Iran is a theocratic state whose laws are to be based on “Islamic criteria.”  The constitution formally accords “full respect” to Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians, who are allowed to worship “within the limits of the law.”  Proselytizing and converting are barred, however.  Moreover, according to the State Department, Jews are “regularly vilified” and the government “regularly arrests members of the Zoroastrian and Christian communities for practicing their religion.”

Worse is the treatment of other groups, such as Baha’is and other Muslims, including Sufis, Sunnis, and non-conformist Shia.  All are considered to some degree to be apostates.  Explained State, “The government prohibits Baha’is from teaching and practicing their faith and subjects them to many forms of discrimination not faced by members of other religions groups.”  Sunnis face double jeopardy since many are ethnic minorities, such as Arabs and Kurds.

Government hostility encourages private discrimination as well.  Said State:  “The government’s campaign against non-Shias created an atmosphere of impunity allowing other elements of society to harass religious minorities.”

The U.S. government has little direct leverage, having already targeted Tehran with economic sanctions over its presumed nuclear ambitions.  However, Washington (and the Europeans) could indicate to Iran that a deal is more likely if it quiets Western skeptics.

In fact, public pressure works.  The UN’s Ahmed Shaheed reported last year that “At least a dozen lives were saved because of the intervention of international opinion.”  Encouraging Tehran to respect the freedom of conscience of its citizens might even more effectively come from the most fervent advocates of engagement, who are resisting proposals for new Western sanctions.

As I conclude my latest article in American Spectator online:  “Tehran should release Rev. Abedini, pardon imprisoned Baha’is, allow Sufis and Sunnis to worship, and more.  ‘The international community is watching,’ observed Dwight Bashir, deputy director of USCIRF.  Iran should act accordingly.”

Cato Institute

Lead Me To The Cross

Savior I come
Quiet my soul remember
Redemption’s hill
Where Your blood was spilled
For my ransom
Everything I once held dear
I count it all as lost

[Chorus:]
Lead me to the cross
Where Your love poured out
Bring me to my knees
Lord I lay me down
Rid me of myself
I belong to You
Lead me, lead me to the cross

You were as I
Tempted and trialed
Human
The word became flesh
Bore my sin and death
Now you’re risen

Everything I once held dear
I count it all as lost

[Chorus]

To your heart
To your heart
Lead me to your heart
Lead me to your heart

[Chorus] 


 

Persecuted Because of the Cross

Shining_Cross

(Assist News Service) – To those who believe that Jesus of Nazareth was a mere man, the Cross is a symbol of Christian foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18). ‘Jesus was executed,’ they scoff, ‘and it is ridiculous to suggest that a dead man would rise.’

To Muslims, who believe that Jesus was a mere prophet of Allah, the Cross is a symbol of Christian blasphemy. ‘Jesus was never crucified,’ they object, ‘and it is blasphemous to suggest that Allah would permit such a thing.’ (Qur’an, Sura 4:157-159)

To Satan, who knows exactly who Christ is, the Cross is a symbol of his defeat. ‘It must not be seen,’ he demands, ‘and it must not be heard, lest people come to understand what it means.’

To Christians, who believe that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah), the Cross is a symbol of everything we believe about sin, judgment, justice, redemption, salvation, hope . . . and most of all, love. ‘It is in the Cross that God shows his love for us,’ we say, ‘because while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:8)

On 4 November 2013, as part of Australia’s ‘Festival of Dangerous Ideas’, an episode of the ABC program ‘Q&A’ was broadcast from the Sydney Opera House. [video added below] Peter Hitchens, the lone conservative and Christian amongst a panel and audience of ‘progressives’, was laughed at, mocked and pilloried for an hour. Finally the panelists were asked: ‘Which so-called dangerous idea do you each think would have the greatest potential to change the world for the better if it were implemented?’

Peter Hitchens responded,

“The most dangerous idea in human history and philosophy remains the belief that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and rose from the dead and that is the most dangerous idea you will ever encounter.”

The panel and audience laughed and cheered until they realized that something must be wrong if they were agreeing with Peter Hitchens! At that point, confusion took over and Peter was asked to explain.

“Because,’”he said, “it alters the whole of human behaviour and all our responsibilities. It turns the universe from a meaningless chaos into a designed place in which there is justice and there is hope and, therefore, we all have a duty to discover the nature of that justice and work towards that hope. It alters us all. If we reject it, it alters us all as well. It is incredibly dangerous. It’s why so many people turn against it.”

To fallen humanity, the Cross represents a truly dangerous idea, a dangerous choice. For some the Cross represents a threat to their personal sovereignty, sexual freedom and status in the world. For those in hostile environments the Cross represents a threat to their family, liberty and even life. Across the world, including Kosovo, Egypt, Raqqa (Syria) and Zhejiang (China), crosses have been pulled down and smashed, sending a loud message to the Church and the local population that ‘Christianity is not welcome here’.

The Cross will always be a symbol of persecution at the hands of a hostile world that wants to be rid of Christ. But for those who understand and believe, the Cross will always be wondrous, a symbol of divine love, hope and life in all its fullness.
WE THANK YOU LORD
for your amazing love, which led you to the Cross for us.

WE PRAISE YOU LORD
for your perfection, which meant death could not hold you and now cannot hold any who are ‘in Christ’.

MAY WE never be ashamed of the Cross of Christ our Saviour.

MAY WE never be ashamed of those who are persecuted because of the Cross of Christ.

LORD GIVE US boldness and faith to exalt your Cross at all times
so that peoples and nations might see, hear, understand and believe.

AMEN

————————————————————-
To view this RLPB with all hyperlinks or to access RLPB and RLM archives, visit the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog.



CaptureElizabeth Kendal is an independent international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She is an Adjunct Research Fellow in the Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths at the Melbourne School of Theology, and Director of Advocacy for Canberra-based, Christian Faith & Freedom.Elizabeth Kendal is the author of Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today (Deror Books, Dec 2012) which applies a Biblical response to suffering and persecution to today’s realities.

Elizabeth Kendal’s blogs:
Religious Liberty Monitoring and Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin and Critical Prayer Requests 



Web-Stat hit counters

British Woman May Face Execution in Iran for Insulting Islam

British woman, Roya Nobakht may face execution for insulting Islam.

British woman, Roya Nobakht may face execution for insulting Islam.

The notes from Dr. Azam’s medical journal include a crushed toe, broken fingers, missing fingernails, broken ribs, a skull fracture, severe abdominal bruising, marks of flogging on her back and feet [and] extensive damage to her genitals.

Dutch authorities expressed shock and sadness over her execution and cut off diplomatic relations with Iran for approximately 20 days.

Roya Nobakht, 47, presently being detained as a political prisoner in Iran, may face execution for insulting Islam. She has lived in Stockport, England with her husband for the last six years and holds dual British-Iranian citizenship.

Her husband, Daryoush Taghipoor, has stated that his wife was arrested while visiting a friend at Iran’s Shiraz airport last October for comments she had made on a Facebook group calling the government of Iran “too Islamic.” According to a copy of her charge sheet seen by the UK’s Independent; she was transferred to Tehran and charged with “gathering and participation with intent to commit crimes against national security and insulting Islamic sanctities”– crimes punishable by death.

In an interview, Mr. Taghipoor told the Manchester Evening News that “his wife is not well at all…she has lost three stones [42 lbs]… and is scared that the government will kill her.” He also said that a confession had been extracted from his wife “under duress.” As is well documented, torture is systematically used by Iranian authorities to obtain confessions from political dissidents and even from some common prisoners.

Ms. Nobakht’s fears are not unfounded. Iran’s persecution of expatriates is nothing new. The first known case was that of Ms. Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian-Iranian photojournalist who died under torture in 2003 while in custody. Ms. Zahara Bahrami, a Dutch-Iranian, was hanged in 2011. Three Canadian-Iranians; Saeed Malekpour, Hossein Derakhshan and Hamid Ghassemi-Shall, along with American Amir Hekmati, were all arbitrarily arrested while visiting relatives in Iran on vague anti-government charges. With the exception of Mr. Ghassemi-Shall, who was recently released, each one presently languishes inside Iran as political prisoners under dire conditions.

Ms Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian-Iranian photojournalist who had left Iran in 1974, returned in 2003 to cover a story about Iran. She was soon arrested and detained in Evin prison on charges of espionage. As Iran does not recognize dual citizenships, Ms. Kazemi was not allowed representation by Canadian authorities. She later died in custody. The Iranian officials claimed she had died as a result of a stroke but refused to return her body to Canada. In 2005, however, Dr. Shahram Azam, a doctor with the Iranian security forces who had examined Ms. Kazemi’s half-dead body, fled Iran. He testified that the victim’s body showed extensive signs of torture administered over a few days. The notes from his medical journal include a crushed toe, broken fingers, missing finger nails, broken ribs, a skull fracture, severe abdominal bruising, marks of flogging on her back and feet, extensive damage to the genitals and peculiar deep scratches on her neck. She was 52 years old and the first victim of the Islamic regime’s war of terror on Iranians holding dual citizenship. Her body has never been returned to her son in Canada. After her murder, especially under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, diplomatic relations between Iran and Canada deteriorated significantly.

Ms Zahra Bahrami, 45, who held dual Dutch-Iranian citizenship, had travelled to Iran to visit her ailing daughter. She was arrested in 2009 for participating in anti-regime protests and taken to the dreaded Evin prison. According to eyewitnesses, Ms Bahrami was tortured so severely she could not sit or stand easily and was denied medical care for serious lung complications. On Jan 29, 2011, she was suddenly hanged at 5:00 a.m. without anyone’s knowledge. She was then hastily buried by the authorities in the absence of her children. Dutch authorities expressed shock and sadness over her execution and cut off diplomatic relations with Iran for approximately 20 days.

Mr. Amir Hekmati 31, an American born in Arizona to Iranian parents and who was visiting Iran for the first time, was arrested in 2011 and charged with “spying for the CIA.” He was tortured until he finally gave a televised confession. As a result he was sentenced to death but thanks to heavy international pressure, in 2014 his sentence was finally changed to 10 years in prison. Three Canadians — Mr. Saeed Malekpour, 39; Mr. Hamid Ghassemi-Shall, 45; and Mr. Hossein Derakhshan, 38 — were arrested while visiting relatives in Iran in 2008, on various charges. Malekpour was charged with designing software that was used in an “un-Islamic” way by third parties, whereas Ghassemi-Shall was accused of the customary espionage. Both were tortured while kept in solitary confinement for over a year and sentenced to death. Malekpour wrote from prison that his jaw had been broken while his interrogators were trying to extract his teeth with pliers, and that he had only confessed to crimes dictated to him by his interrogators under torture and threats to his family. Malekpour’s death sentence was eventually commuted to life in prison, while Mr. Ghassemi-Shall, was released in September 2013 — both due to successful campaigns by various international human rights organizations.

Derakhshan — nicknamed the “blogfather” — is best known for introducing blogging to Iran in 2001. He was sentenced for the contents of his blogs to 19.5 years in prison — the heaviest sentence ever handed down to a blogger.

The Islamic Republic of Iran does not recognize dual citizenships and considers all those who were born in Iran or to Iranian parents as Iranian citizens subject to its deadly Islamic penal code. One hundred and thirty-one offenses are punishable by death including theft, adultery, homosexuality, political dissidence, drug possession and blasphemy. It would be fair to conclude that travelling to Iran with any citizenship carries a risk. One enters a lawless and unaccountable country that lacks any degree of human rights, and where torture and hangings are an integral part of its government’s rule and survival.

By Shadi Paveh for Gatestone Institute

Shadi Paveh is a human rights activist for Iran who works with many international human rights organizations. She is also known for co-translating a key interview which exposed Iran’s regime dubious activities in Canada, as well as for translating and relaying many documents and letters from prisoners of conscience to the EU Parliament.

Atheist Activists Complain Clemson Football Program is ‘Entangled’ in Christianity

Clemson-football

Clemson University S.C. Football

Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed a complaint against the Clemson University’s football program claiming religious entanglement.

The complaint states the program (coach Dabo Swinney and team chaplain James Trapp) said prayers and held Bible studies for players.

In a letter sent to the University titled: Constitutional Violation in the Clemson Football Program

“We believe the practices of the football staff regarding religion are compliant with the Constitution and appropriately accommodate differing religious views,” the statement read. “Participation in religious activities is purely voluntary, and there are no repercussions for students who decline to do so. We are not aware of any complaints from current or former student-athletes about feeling pressured or forced to participate in religious activities.”

But officials with the university told reporters this week that Swinney and others are within their rights and that FFRF is “mistaken in its assessment.”

“We believe the practices of the football staff regarding religion are compliant with the Constitution and appropriately accommodate differing religious views,” read a statement issue to the Charlotte Observer. “Participation in religious activities is purely voluntary, and there are no repercussions for students who decline to do so. We are not aware of any complaints from current or former student-athletes about feeling pressured or forced to participate in religious activities.”

READ MORE

 

Forced conversion to Islam a serious threat to religious freedom in Pakistan

forced-conversion

Forced conversion to Islam of Christian and Hindu girls continues to rise in Pakistan. A recent report launched by the MSP (Movement for Solidarity and Peace) revealed that 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls, aged between 12 and 25, are forced to convert to Islam every year. It is estimated that Christian girls make up 70 per cent of this number, while Hindus make up the remainder.

The revelations are extremely alarming as minorities make up only five per cent of the country’s population where Muslims are the overwhelming majority. This is taking place against a backdrop where minorities are already feeling very insecure and vulnerable, placing them at unimaginable risk.

Christians are poor and 80 to 85 per cent of them live in the Punjab province, with 40 per cent of them living below the poverty line. I can see this number growing in the future, not just because the government has no interest but also because the Christian political and church leadership have no interest whatsoever either.

In villages the majority of poor Christians work with the landowners, while in urban areas poor Christian girls and women work as domestic servants where they are sexually abused, harassed, sometimes forced to convert to Islam, and are even killed on occasion.

I remember the case of 12-year-old Christian girl Shazia Bashir who was killed by her employer. I am not aware of anybody being punished for the crime.

Christian girls are the weakest and most vulnerable because their communities are poor, defenceless and marginalised, therefore they easily exposed to harassment and threats. Often they do not even have the courage to denounce the violence or lodge complaints about the treatment they suffer.

The findings in the new report do not come as a surprise, as a few years ago the HRCP (Human Rights Commission of Pakistan) made similar revelations. But unfortunately the government institutions keep denying these facts and have failed to implement any change.

These facts and figures have been taken from a major newspaper and NGOs working on this issue, and it is thought the actual number could be much higher as many cases of forced conversion go unreported because influential locals and religious leaders are often involved.

Even if they dare to report the matter to the police, such cases are hardly registered and if the case is registered the complainants are threatened to withdraw the case. If the case does somehow reach court, justice is hardly done and therefore many cases go unreported. In many cases even if the abducted person is produced, she gives a statement in favour of her abductor stating that she converted to Islam and married by her own free will.

This is because they are terrified, as throughout the proceedings they are in their abductor’s custody, instead of being with their parents, or in independent accommodation and a fear-free environment. Under duress and the threat of their parents and families being killed, young girls are forced to give statements saying that they converted of their own accord.

I have studied many cases and reached the conclusion that whenever the girls get the chance, they escape from their abductors, like the case of Nadia Naira who has returned to her parents after 10 years. There are several such examples.

The police are normally inactive and reluctant to register such cases, where Christian or non-Muslims girls are kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam and then married to their Muslim abductor.

Magistrates and lower courts have failed to implement the law, sometimes they are pressurised by the local religious and political leaders, but are mostly complicit. Even the Supreme Court has failed to uphold international norms of justice in non-Muslim cases and use the available selective procedures.

The adult age for Christian girls in Pakistan is 18, while under Islamic laws, there is no age limit for a Muslim. But courts sometimes override the non-Muslim personal law and decide the case under Muslim law, like in 2009 when two Christian sisters Saba Younis, aged 13, and her sister, Anila Younis, 10, were abducted.

CLAAS, a Christian NGO, was directly involved in this case, but at the end of the day, the judge decided their case under the Islamic law and sent Saba with her husband, while Anila returned to her family. CLAAS objected and called it a miscarriage of justice protesting that the decision did not meet the international criteria, but since it was a matter of Christian girls, no one cared.

I have understood from several cases that the practice of forced conversion is well organised and well established, and to seek immunity from the crime, the culprits obtain conversion certificates from local mosques and change their names too.

Sometimes counter FIRs (first information police reports) are registered to harass the girl’s family. The abducted girls are threatened and are forced to sign sometimes blank papers, and sometimes a statement that she has embraced Islam by her own free will, just to save their and their families’ lives.

Sometimes they are told that since they have become Muslim they cannot reconvert to Christianity as it would be considered apostasy. In such circumstances they have no choice but to accept the hand fate has dealt them, and suffer in silence in the custody of their abductors.

They are not allowed to see their parents and other relatives, and are kept under tight security – nothing short of modern day slavery and a serious violation of fundamental and human rights.

In such cases the victim may be subjected to sexual violence, rape, forced prostitution, human trafficking, sale or domestic abuse.

Pakistan is considered one of the toughest and most hostile countries for minorities. Religious extremism, hatred, and religious intolerance continues to grow and exacerbate the misery of young Christian girls.

Religious freedom should be recognised as a fundamental right as Pakistan is a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but it is hardly applied in practice.

Apart from the that, Pakistan has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and several other international treaties and instruments which explicitly talk about religious freedom and women rights, but Pakistan is a country where the value of human rights has no significance and when it comes to the matter of minorities nobody cares.

The human rights situation continue to deteriorate and the international community has raised its concern on several occasions, and the recent GSP-plus status granted to Pakistan was linked to the human rights situation improving, but Pakistan is well practised in the art of fooling the West.

Apart from international treaties, Pakistan’s own constitution includes several articles referring to religious freedom, protection of minorities, and equality before the law. Despite this, minorities are unfortunately rarely allowed to enjoy their rights and live under constant fear of their lives.

Minorities are demanding new legislation to stop this enduring situation, but the court has said that there is no need for new laws.

The government has also failed to address this problem so it means their misery will worsen in the coming years. Hindus and Christians have already started migrating to India and other countries because Pakistan’s laws have failed to protect their honour, and for these women honour and life are all they have.

Forcible conversion to Islam in Pakistan in the 21st century is an open challenge for everybody who believes in equality, justice, religious freedom and human rights. Minorities are losing faith in the government and courts. There is a loathsome continuation of dual discrimination towards women, as females and as members of minority communities. It is a serious issue of survival for minorities in Pakistan and the international community must pay attention to stop the continuous violation of the fundamental and human rights of minorities.

By Nasir Saeed, Pakistan Christian Post

Easter and the Persecuted Church: Time of Celebration, Danger

egypt-church-persecution

For most Christians, Easter is much more than Easter egg hunts and new Sunday clothing to wear to church. Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord. For the most part, Christians in the West flock to churches in safety.

But for Christians living in countries like Iraq, Nigeria and Algeria, Easter takes on additional implications. It remains a precious and holy day, but one that also carries extra risk and danger.

In many countries around the world, Christians are an embattled minority. In fact, Christians are the largest persecuted religious group in the world today with at least 100 million Christians living in countries or regions where they are pressured, oppressed, imprisoned or even killed because of their faith. In a recent global survey from the Pew Research Center, 74 percent of the world’s people live in countries with high levels of religious hostility.

Last Easter 80 Christians living in Nigeria were killed and many were injured in a series of attacks on predominantly Christian villages in Plateau and Kaduna states.

The attackers were heavily armed, and most of their victims were children, women and elderly people. Many villagers fled to the nearby hills, and some who returned later were murdered. Christian leaders reported the destruction of 234 homes, the burning of eight church buildings and the displacement of as many as 4,500 Christians. READ MORE

BY DR DAVID CURRY Guest Contributor, CP

Christians Killed in Egypt Reflect Growing Hatred in Segments of Society

egypt-coptic-christians

Coptic teacher in Minya Province, woman in Cairo latest victims of vitriol.

(Morning Star News) A Coptic Christian teacher in Egypt allegedly shot by the teenage brother of one of his students has died, human rights activists said yesterday.

Ashraf Alahm Atef Hanna, an English teacher at Marzouk Prep School in the village of Marzouk in Minya Province, succumbed to injuries from the shooting on Tuesday (April 8). He was 35.

In what some activists said was a sign of both endemic disrespect toward educators and the vitriol of some segments of Egyptian society toward Christians, Hanna was shot in the head on April 1 by the 16-year-old Muslim brother of one of his students. According to human rights activists and local media sources, the teacher caught one of his students smoking in class. When the teacher told the boy to stop smoking, the Muslim student cursed at the teacher and insulted him in front of class.

The teacher responded by striking the student, allowed under school guidelines, and the boy stormed out of the class in anger.

The student later returned to the school with his family, which area residents said has ties to local Islamic extremist groups. The group chased the teacher through the school, and after catching him, they beat him and shot him once in the head. He was taken immediately to a hospital, where he lay near death for a week.

Authorities arrested at least four members of the family, including Mohamed Naser Mustafa, the one alleged to have shot Hanna.

Mina Thabet, spokesman and founding member of The Maspero Youth Union, said that the near constant din of anti-Christian vitriol from Islamists that creates and reinforces hate toward the Copts is to blame for the killing.

“They have an ideology about creating the ‘other,’” he said. “That’s the problem. They hate everyone different from them. The hate speech is responsible for the majority of sectarian violence and the majority of killings in Egypt.”

Mary, the latest Christian martyr to be killed in Egypt

The most recent killing comes during a recent spate of seemingly random attacks against Copts in Egypt, including the shooting death of a 25-year-old Coptic woman, Mary Sameh George.

On March 28, in the Ain Shams section of Cairo, George was shot while on her way to take money to three people she knew from a ministry in which she was involved.

Contrary to multiple reports, George was not stabbed or strangled but had been shot in the chest at least once through the windshield of her car, according to her father, Sameh George. He examined her body and said there were no signs of stabbing or strangling.

She was driving near the Church of the Virgin Mary and the Archangel Michael in Ain Shams, where supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood were rioting. According to George, the mob spotted a cross in her car and a pair of cross earrings she was wearing and, along with the fact that she wasn’t wearing a veil, they discerned that she was a Christian.

The mob pulled her out of her car after she was dead or close to dying, he determined, and then set the vehicle on fire. They left her corpse in the street.

Eyewitness reports of George being stabbed and/or strangled were likely rooted in the chaotic scene and the fact that in the same general area on the same day she was shot, a female journalist and three other Muslims were killed.

No charges have been filed in the killings, and no confirmation of arrests has been released by the government.

George was a law school graduate who was working at a small private company. Her father said that, contrary to media reports, she was not engaged. She had recently told her father that she had no desire to get married because she wanted to dedicate all of her energy to serving God and helping Cairo’s many poor.

“She told me, ‘What good are other people getting out of it?’” Sameh George said. “She said she preferred to work with ministries.”

George said he was devastated by the killing and that his wife is utterly shattered. She is unable to speak to anyone about the loss of her daughter. Still, he said, his daughter’s death has taught a valuable if bitter lesson.

“From what happened to my daughter we learned that we have to be ready,” he said. “We all have to wake up. There is no guarantee when someone is going to die. So we have to start getting prepared now…That’s the thing that we all woke up to.”

On the day Hanna died, several gunmen opened fire on a Coptic-owned electric supply store in the Al-Matariyyah area of Cairo. Although unrelated to the shooting, the attack was widely believed to be part of an effort to incite attacks on Copts in southern Cairo. Two brothers suffered serious injuries, but despite their shop being gutted by bullet fire, they were not killed. No arrests were made in the killing.

On Monday (April 7) a Muslim tried to set fire to the Virgin Mary Church in Mansheet Nasr, on the outskirts of Cairo, by pouring gasoline on the one of the church buildings. Copts at the building turned him away, but he returned later with an unspecified weapon. Thabet of the Maspero group said three people were seriously injured and needed hospitalization.
 

Why Should We Care And What Should We Do For The Persecuted Church

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Lifting the persecuted up in prayer is the most important thing we can do for our suffering family in Christ. It is also the number one thing they ask us for.

The Bible tells us in Proverbs 31:8:

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,” 

So what does this passage mean? We who are able to speak must speak on their behalf. We must represent them before the world. What does it mean to speak up for the persecuted? To begin with, don’t remain silent. Lots of Christians are horrified and against the persecution of Christians, but you wouldn’t know it. They never comment on it, never mention it in conversation or speech. Many Christian leaders, including pastors, say little about our persecuted family; they too are silent. But that’s not right, we must speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. In counties of extreme persecution, their voices are silenced or ignored.

“for the rights of all who are destitute”

When one hears the word destitute, many imagine poverty. But this word also means deserted and abandoned, deprived of, devoid of, or lacking. Persecuted Christians certainly fit this description.

We must begin to talk about persecution with other people – informing those unaware and explaining how wrong it is. Don’t be afraid, don’t be intimidated. Yes, it’s a hard thing to hear and many may be uncomfortable with this topic. But we can’t remain silent or else many more will suffer. We aren’t ok with it. We want it stopped. We want laws in place that protect all people in their right to worship freely. And for those who wish to follow Christ, to do so without fear, as we do here in the West.

We need to speak up and speak clearly, loud enough to be heard. We need to speak with conviction, with feeling and passion. If you don’t know the horrors of persecution, then get informed. Learn how Christians are being affected and who is doing the persecuting and their reasoning for this abuse. You will then have conviction when you speak against it. It’s an emotional topic that gets us upset. It should get you upset too. So speak up and say, “This is wrong and it needs to be stopped.”

Too many are tempted to stick to ourselves and defend our own rights, but less inclined to stand up for the rights of others. This mindset imagines that everyone is responsible for taking care of their own business. And that’s normally the case. Most of the many challenges we face are easily handled on our own. But sometimes that normal procedure doesn’t work, sometimes we have to intervene on behalf of others because through oppression—they are silenced. This is the case for many Christians in the world. Millions do not have or are at risk of losing the freedoms we enjoy, but rarely consider.

Many are wrongfully living under the threat of persecution and even death. Can you imagine what that is like? Who will defend the rights of those abused, when they are not allowed to defend themselves or their words are irrelevant? Many times they are afraid to even file a police report due to further persecution and little protection from the authorities. Many times these authorities are the very ones doing the persecuting. The list goes on.

Remember the Good Samaritan who went out of his way to first care for the broken person laying on the side of the road, caring enough to help. As free Christians, we should do the same for our persecuted family, members of the Body of Christ. We are the Body, we are a family. When one suffers, we all suffer. When one part is lacking, we all are lacking. Imagine life without a limb or a family member. The loss will affect you for a lifetime.

We must make it a point to care about them, take action and do something to help them to endure and survive. As the early Christians did for each other, in love to ensure their survival. If we choose not to speak up and take action, our apathy is interpreted as we don’t care. Many who are being persecuted are wondering the same. Many ask, “When will they come to our aid?” Are there any caring people left?” Have they deserted us?” Have we deserted them?

When we remain silent, our government leaders figure that we don’t have strong feelings against the persecution of Christians, so they’ll take no action upholding laws and finding ways to stop it. If we don’t object and speak out against this atrocity, it’s taken by society that we accept it, it’s not much of a problem, or an event not truly taking place. Our apathy makes a statement. So we must speak out in objection. Have you been silent on the topic of the extreme, modern-day Christian persecution? If so, the hour is late… it’s NOW time to object!

It’s not enough to speak out once or twice. We have to keep on advocating against persecution and the violations of religious freedoms and human rights. When election time comes, we must remember those who are concerned for religious freedom and this very real and escalating problem. We need leaders in our nation who will do whatever they can to oppose persecution.

When this nation was founded, our leaders went to great lengths to ensure and protect our freedom of religion. Many use the phrase ‘separation of church and state’ as in the First Amendment. These words do not appear anywhere in the U.S. Constitution.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Quoting Dr. John Eastman, a distinguished law professor at Chapman University:

“The first line creates the most contention, as it involves two separate religious articles — the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses. It is the former that most atheist activists tend to focus on, and according to Eastman, their assessments are generally wrong-headed.

Rather than a decry waged against any inclusion of faith in the public square, the professor claims that this portion of the document speaks against a forced state-imposed faith.

“It tells us that we don’t want a national religion — a state-coerced national religion, a one-size-fits-all, everybody-has-to-join [system].”

State imposed faith is many times used to persecute today’s Christians. Look at what’s happening in Iran and Pakistan, or in nations where they are trying to establish ‘religious law’, such as Sharia. Many have been executed for converting to Christianity, or imprisoned as enemies of the state for following and sharing the love of Christ (See Pastor Saeed). And for others simply disagreeing that they should follow a man or prophet instead of Christ, may put them behind bars. One example is how the blasphemy law is used against Christians in Pakistan.

We need leaders who with the authority and ability will hold nations accountable that have signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and take actions against those who violate ARTICLE 2.

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

And also those who will call attention to the international community against these atrocities committed in any nation. We must not only listen to these political leaders, but look at their actions—they speak louder than smooth campaign speeches. As we have seen, many politicians will say one thing to get elected, but do the opposite once in office. It is your responsibility to know who you are voting for. As their constituent, they should be interested in your opinions.

Some have asked if it is Biblical to contact our elected officials  and ask them to stand for the rights of the persecuted. We say YES!  Earlier we mentioned Proverbs 13:8, now let’s look at the book of Esther (4:13-14).

When Mordecai became aware of a plot to have every Jew in Persia killed, he challenged Esther with these words.

“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Esther 4:13-14

Esther urged all of the Jews to fast and pray for deliverance. Then risking her own life, bravely Esther approached the king with a plan.

She invited Xerxes and Haman to a banquet where she revealed her Jewish heritage to the king, as well as Haman’s plot to have her and her people killed. In a rage, the king ordered Haman to be hung on the gallows—the very same gallows Haman had built for Mordecai.

Mordecai was promoted to Haman’s high position and Jews were granted protection throughout the land. As the people celebrated God’s tremendous deliverance, the festival of Purim was instituted.

So as a Jew, she went to the government authority and pled the case for her people and through her, they were saved.

One may say that when we read all of Chapter 4: – all of the Jewish people prayed in sackcloth and ashes – while only Queen Esther went unbidden into the king saying “… and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16)

In this Biblical example – only one person ‘took political action’ – and that with the very real possibility of death being the consequence for her illegal action! How many of us would be willing to face death if that was the very real possible consequence of our “Contacting your elected officials” aka ‘take political action’?

We appreciate these questions as one tries to discern their role in aiding our persecuted family.

Mordecai addresses the question to Esther, “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Though we may not be royalty, we believe this verse can relate to us who have been blessed so greatly in a nation with many freedoms! Esther had the ability to be in the company of the king (government authority) when others did not. With our freedoms here in the U.S., we too have the ability to address and be heard by our leaders. To make a difference in the lives of others who are desperately needing us to stand up and use our voice!

At this time, we are able to contact our officials without the threat of death. Not all in the world enjoy this same opportunity. We know in other nations, some have perished standing up for religious freedom and discrimination. We also know many who in standing up for Christians have been and are being threatened with the very real possibility of losing their life. We have recently been asked and agreed to aid a Christian facing this very issue. As Christians we are told to follow Christ. This means living in the way of his example. Lets look at another Bible passage, John 15:10-17.

“If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.”

Christ laid down his life for us because of his great love for us, we are his. The last command in this passage is that we “Love each other”. We did not choose him, he chose us. We are appointed to bear fruit that will last. We can ask the Father for anything in his name. Should we not ask for the faith to trust the outcome as we aid our family in Christ. Will the Father ignore this request? We were not made to be timid and weak. We were created to be strong and courageous in Christ.

So we pose this question:

WHO KNOWS that you have been placed in a country with great freedom, and in a position with ability to speak for those who can not speak—FOR A TIME SUCH AS THIS?

It is no coincidence that you are reading this, today. Is God awakening and calling you to a purpose for our family being persecuted? Is HE calling you to STAND UP and be their VOICE?

Please continue to lift up our persecuted family in prayer! May God bless and guide your path—always.

Lois Kanalos, Founder/Advocate

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