DALLAS (Christian Examiner) – Christian leaders are pushing back against a Buzzfeed article that questioned HGTV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines for attending a church that opposes same-sex marriage. The Gaines are the hosts of HGTV’s highest-rated program, Fixer Upper.
The Nov. 29 story quickly was labeled a “hit piece” by critics, who questioned why it was newsworthy that a famous couple’s church holds to traditional beliefs that have been affirmed by Christians for 2,000 years.
The story carried the headline: “Chip And Joanna Gaines’ Church Is Firmly Against Same-Sex Marriage” and said in a subhead: “whether the Fixer Upper couple agrees is unclear.” It has been read more than 500,000 times.
Glenn T. Stanton, director of family formation studies at Focus on the Family, said such accusations should be answered “bluntly.” READ MORE
Heirloom Love: Authentic Christianity for this Age of Persecution – Study of the 1st century Persecuted Church
As society becomes increasingly divisive in a world full of hatred and violence, has the modern-day, Western Church lost it’s flavor? Is something missing?
In the new book, Heirloom Love: Authentic Christianity for this Age of Persecution, Dominic Sputo compels us to take a deeper look into the legendary first-century Christian love that changed the world. Heirloom Love challenges Western Christians to truly examine our own hearts and the status of today’s church compared to that of our early church brethren.
HEIRLOOM LOVE is — the legendary first-century Christian love that changed the world — the early church’s response to Jesus’ new command to love one another — the love that Jesus said would convince the world that He is the Son of God and we are His true disciples.
The “pillars” of the church—John, James, Peter and Paul— all taught the New Command to include giving our utmost to care for suffering and persecuted fellow believers. Yet fast forward two thousand years, and Western Christianity has virtually forgotten our persecuted brothers and sisters who are suffering around the world.
We’ve lost the truth and love that shines in the darkness, and so we’ve lost our way. By accurately interpreting familiar but commonly misunderstood Scriptures,
HEIRLOOM LOVE RESURRECTS THE TRUTH THAT WESTERN CHRISTIANITY HAS FORGOTTEN.
- New Testament hospitality originally meant providing food and shelter to homeless Christians who were seeking refuge from persecution. Yet today it is commonly trivialized to mean having friends over for lunch after church.
- Paul initiated Sunday collections to provide aid to suffering and persecuted Christians in a foreign land. Tragically, today less than one-half of 1 percent of our Sunday collections is used to help persecuted Christians.
More than the latest persecution news, Heirloom Love opens the eyes and stirs the hearts of Western Christians to reclaim the love that will change the world.
HEIRLOOM LOVE IS AUTHENTIC CHRISTIANITY
This book will challenge your assumptions about love and bring a fresh perspective to many familiar New Testament teachings on the love that shines light into darkness.
Do you want to make a difference? Heirloom Love is about restoring the love that will change the world today.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” Hebrews 10:24
This Christmas, we in the West will openly observe and celebrate the birth of Christ and our faith without fear. But many brothers and sisters in the world lack the human rights that we in the West so often take for granted. They face constant threats of abuse and are persecuted simply because they are Christians. Knowing they could be killed for their faith, celebrations will be held in secret. No bells will be ringing as their songs of adoration and praise will only be heard in a whisper. In the midst of their persecutors, some will celebrate the birth of our Savior silently rejoicing within. Others will worship in tents, meager structures or outdoors in IDP/refugee camps thanking God that He has kept them alive. All are asking for our prayers and hoping the Body of Christ will not forget and desert them. What stirs in your heart at the knowledge of their circumstances? Sadly, still too many Christians in the West know nothing about them. They are unaware that Christian persecution has reached historic levels with approximately 100 million Christians around the world facing possible dire consequences for their faith.
At this special time of year, may we remember the persecuted and the sacrifices they make to follow Jesus. Pray that God will strengthen their faith and give them supernatural joy and peace. By the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, may our Lord bless them with endurance to overcome all things. Pray also for our hearts to be changed to have the agape love of 1st century Christians. Pray for the ability and means to aid our suffering brethren in need. May we too be a witness of faith, through the love we demonstrate, as we come to pray, serve and care for the persecuted.
When we care for persecuted Christians, we are really caring for the Lord Jesus Christ. — Dominic Sputo
Voice of the Persecuted is joining with Dominic Sputo in getting this timely new book into every Christian home and church across America.
In appreciation of your support, Voice of the Persecuted will send a Hardcover copy of Heirloom Love with any donation of $50 or more. To receive your free copy, be sure to include your email and shipping address when donating. Share your blessings and help shine the love of Christ on the persecuted, this Christmas. Your gifts are appreciated more than you could ever know.
For all our readers, we will be offering the hardcopy edition of Heirloom Love for only $9.99 (regularly 15.99). Please include $3.75 for shipping and handling. The author has agreed to donate all proceeds for Voice of the Persecuted’s relief mission project caring for the persecuted in North Nigeria. Secure your copy of this critical message for the Body of Christ, today!
If you are a church or study group leader please contact us to help you with the resources needed to use the message of Heirloom Love for your next bible study. Though the book has an excellent format for this purpose, an additional study workbook is going to print. You can reach us at email@example.com Please include ‘Heirloom Love Study’ in the subject line of your e-mail. We look forward to hearing from you and honored to help!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Take part and come along on the mission! You go with us to the nations through your gifts.
Food, clean water, shelter, clothing, medical assistance and basic needs. Bibles, emergency supplies, hygiene, education/training and Spiritual/emotional encouragement. These are main concerns when meeting the urgent and long term needs of those rejected and agonizing for Christ.
While all are affected, children, widows and the elderly are at the most risk. They make up a large number of those we wish to serve. Without our support and your gifts, many of these persecuted brothers and sisters have nothing. Please keep them in your prayers.
We want you to know that even in great hardship, they thank God and feel extremely blessed that He has kept His hand on them. They have been so encouraged and grateful for each one of you who have joined this mission through prayer and your support.
Together with your generous help, we can reach the goal to alleviate horrific suffering. In darkness and desperation, let us serve in love, with open arms and giving hands to provide light and hope.
HELP SAVE THE PERSECUTED
Every day, we thank God that He is working through you to care for His children and to further His Kingdom! As you greatly bless others, may God continue to bless you. Thank you so much for your support. We couldn’t do it without you!
You may also send your gift to:
2740 Third St
P.O. Box 122
Trenton, MI. 48183
Donations always desperately needed
(World Watch Monitor) Iranian and European human rights and religious rights organisations have urged the international community to use new opportunities for trade with Iran to hold the government there to account over its treatment of Christian converts.
Nineteen NGOs, including Middle East Concern, Forum 18, Impact Iran and Justice for Iran, issued a joint call for governments to “explore avenues beyond dialogue alone” to ensure that human rights violators are held accountable and that trade and diplomatic relations do not contribute to further abuses. They noted that converts from Islam to Christianity have been especially affected.
Opportunities for trade have opened up since a deal was reached in July 2015 between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. Under the terms of the deal, Iran agreed to curtail its nuclear activities in return for many of the economic sanctions against it being lifted.
The charities noted that the EU’s strategy for relations with Iran, published after the nuclear agreement was signed, “disappointingly includes very little mention of human rights”.
They wrote: “In the summer of 2016, Iranian authorities increased their persecution of Christians, honing in on converts from a Muslim-background,” and detailed what they described as “a pattern” of treatment by the Iranian authorities that included arrests, interrogations, detention, raids on churches and harassment by security agents.
They cited the case of four converts – including Youcef Nadarkhani, a church leader once sentenced to death for apostasy – arrested in May and charged with acting against national security, three of whom are also appealing their sentence of 80 lashes each for drinking Communion wine. The next hearing is scheduled for 14 December.
The NGOs also asserted that such actions contravene Iran’s Constitutional and international legal obligations, which include not taking action against someone solely on account of his or her beliefs, and urged Iran to comply with them.
They called on the UN Secretary General and the newly appointed Special Rapporteurs on freedom of religion and human rights in Iran to report extensively on violations of freedom of religion in Iran.
The full list of signatories is below:
Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation
All Human Rights for All in Iran
Association for Human rights of Azerbaijani People in Iran
Association of Human Rights in Kurdistan of Iran-Geneva
Baloch Activist Campaign
Center for Supporters of Human Rights
Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort
European Ahwazi Human Rights Organisation
Human Rights Activists in Iran
International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran
Iran Human Rights
Justice for Iran
Middle East Concern
Siamak Pourzand Foundation
United for Iran
- Pray for the release of Christians detained in Iran
- Pray that the authorities would act justly and stop discriminating against Christians
- Pray that Christians in Iran, especially church leaders and pastors, would continue to remain firm in their faith despite the pressures and persecution
- Pray for God’s protection over all Christians in Iran
(World Watch Monitor) The UN must urgently put in place measures to hold to account jihadists who have committed atrocities against minorities in Iraq and Syria, because existing conventions have become “obsolete”, the author of a book documenting recent violence against them has said.
Vienna-based legal counsel Ewelina Ochab, who authored ‘Never again: Legal responses to a broken promise in the Middle East’, accused the UN of breaking the pledges it made in the aftermath of World War II to prevent genocide from recurring.
Speaking at the book’s launch at the UN’s Palais des Nations in Geneva on 24 November, she argued that the conventions on genocide prevention had become “obsolete” because measures had not been taken to bring to justice members of the Islamic State (IS), whose attacks on Christians and other religious minorities amounted to “genocide”.
Ochab said the legal process against IS members could be carried out in one of three ways: by trying suspected perpetrators at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, by trying them at an “ad hoc” International Criminal Court set up specifically to deal with atrocities in Iraq and Syria, or by setting up a UN-backed court in Iraq, Syria or elsewhere in the Middle East. In the first two scenarios, she said national courts in Iraq and Syria should support the ICC’s work to prosecute all accomplices.
To introduce her work, Ochab held up a piece of a cross that she picked up in a destroyed church in the formerly IS-held town of Qaraqosh in northern Iraq, as well as a few pages of a Bible. Ochab’s book draws on testimonies collected by the Vienna-based charity ADF International. Never Again includes eyewitness accounts of IS atrocities, the international community’s response to recent genocides, and analysis of existing genocide legislation. She argues that the current legal safeguards have failed to protect vulnerable communities from ethnic, cultural, and religious destruction.
According to the last census before the US-led invasion of 2003, there were as many as 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. Ochab noted that today there are thought to be fewer than 250,000. Many factors are behind the exodus of Christians from Iraq, which the chaotic aftermath of the invasion accelerated. The rise of IS in 2014 drove many of the country’s remaining Christians to abandon their homeland. Those who remained, along with [Yazidis], who were not given the option to flee, have told of atrocities and soldiers liberating IS-held towns and villages around Mosul have found many churches burnt out and badly vandalised.
A spokesman for the charity said: “We published this book to demonstrate clearly that the Christians of the Middle East are living through a genocide and so that the UN Security Council recognises that and fights the impunity of Daesh [IS] members.”
Citing the executions and crucifixions to which Christians and other religious minorities were subjected during the two years in which Daesh controlled territory in Iraq, spokesman Andreas Thonhauser said: “The impunity of Daesh must stop.”
Only the United States, the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and Britain’s House of Commons have recognised the atrocities by IS against Christians and other religious minorities in Syria and Iraq such as Yezidis as genocide. Canada has recognised a genocide of Yezidis.
IS militants are known to come from Europe, Russia, Central Asia, China and North America, as well as North Africa and the Middle East. Some campaigners have called for them to be prosecuted by the countries in which they have citizenship.
Ochab said the jihadist violence seen in Iraq and Syria forms part of a larger push by Islamic extremists “to eliminate the Christian presence from the Middle East”.
After the Second World War, haunted by the atrocities committed by the Nazis, the international community vowed to never again allow such barbarity. However, Ochab argued that the atrocities experienced by peoples of the former Yugoslavia or Rwanda demonstrated that the promise was fragile. She said in such circumstances that it was necessary to “leave the silence” and “denounce what turns out to be genocide”.
LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – A court in Lahore has handed the death sentence to five Muslims for torturing and killing an impoverished Christian couple over allegations of burning the Koran, sources said.
Eight others charged in the attack were sentenced to two years in prison, sources said. Hundreds of villagers in Kot Radha Kishan, incited by Muslim leaders calling for violence via mosque loudspeakers, were involved in the Nov. 4, 2014 assault in which 26-year-old Shahzad Masih and his five-months pregnant wife, Shama, 24, were thrown into a burning brick kiln. [Read VOP Nov. 6 2014 report condemning the horrific attack]
Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) Judge Chaudhry Azam on Wednesday (Nov. 25) handed death sentences to Irfan Shakoor, Muhammad Hanif, Mehdi Khan, Riaz Kamboh and Hafiz Ishtiaq, along with a fine of 200,000 rupees (US$1,900) to each for inciting violence against the Christian couple and throwing them into the kiln. The judge ordered the two-year prison terms for Noorul Hasan, Muhammad Arsalan, Muhammad Haris, Hussain, Muhammad Munir, Muhammad Ramzan, Irfan and Hafiz Shahid.
Attorney Riaz Anjum, who represented the father of the deceased woman, told Morning Star News that although more than 50 people had been originally charged in the lynching, most of them had been acquitted after family members of Shahzad Masih recorded statements denying that they were present at the scene.
“Nonetheless, it is encouraging news for the Christian community in Pakistan,” Anjum said. “The families of the deceased people have suffered a lot of pressure, even though the state had become the complainant in the case to thwart any attempt to pressure the victims’ family for reaching a settlement with the powerful accused. But conviction of five people by the court is no small feat, and I hope this verdict would be seen as a stern warning against any such violence against minorities in the future.”
Masih and his wife worked as bonded laborers at the brick kiln when the throng descended on them after area Muslims accused them of committing blasphemy by burning Quranic pages.
The mob tore the clothes off them, struck them, broke their legs, dragged them behind a tractor and threw them into the burning furnace of a brick kiln – even though Shama was illiterate and could not have known even if koranic verses were among debris that she had burned. Under Pakistan’s widely condemned blasphemy statutes, intent must be shown for a conviction of desecrating the Koran.
On Nov. 2, 2014 Shama Masih was cleaning her quarters in Chak 59 village near Kot Radha Kishan, Karur District, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) southwest of Lahore, when she found amulets of her late father-in-law, who had used them in the practice of black magic. The amulets may have contained koranic verses, and a Muslim co-worker, Muhammad Irfan, noticed half-burnt papers and accused the family of desecrating the Koran, relatives said.
The couple is survived by their four children.
Attorney Anjum said that the convicts would now surely file appeals with the high court against their sentences, “but I am confident that the high court will uphold the trial court’s verdict.”
Commenting on the bail given to the lead suspect in the case, Yousuf Gujjar, Anjum said the brick kiln owner had managed to secure bail from the court after Shahzad Masih’s family members testified that he was not present at the kiln when the mob killed the Christian couple.
In addition, state’s witnesses, including police official Muhammad Ali, who had witnessed the entire crime and had named Gujjar as the main inciter of violence in the First Information Report (FIR), retracted their statements against the kiln owner when the trial began,sources said.
Punjab Province Minister for Human Rights Khalil Tahir Sindhu has stated that police found Gujjar and his son had instigated a local Muslim prayer leader to declare the couple guilty of blasphemy from the loudspeaker of his mosque. Morning Star News made repeated attempts to contact Sindhu to enquire why the police witnesses had retracted their original statements and whether the government had initiated an inquiry, but he remained inaccessible by phone.
Aneeqa Maria, an attorney with The Voice Society, which provided legal support to the deceased woman’s family, said 52 people had been named in the original FIR, while names of 88 others were included later after investigation.
“Shahzad and Shama could have lived that day if Yousuf Gujjar had allowed them to leave the kiln before violence began,” she said. “He told the couple they could not leave until they had paid back their loan, and thus he is equally responsible for their deaths.”
Still, Christian rights activists and socio-political workers lauded the court’s verdict. Prominent minority rights activist and chairman of the Pakistan Interfaith League (PIL) Sajid Ishaq said it was a difficult but just decision.
“Awarding death sentences to five persons and jail term of two years each to eight others is a big reassurance to the minority communities of Pakistan,” Ishaq told Morning Star News. “Today, the minority communities feel protected, and their confidence in the judiciary has gained a great deal of strength.”
On Nov. 3, 2014, Muslim neighbors of the couple accused Shama Masih of burning pages of Islam’s holy book, stoking religious tension in the area. Although police were informed about a possible attack on the Christian families resident at the kiln, the police only sent a mobile squad of five officers to monitor the situation.
Early the next day, a mob of several hundred Muslims gathered at the kiln after announcements were made overnight on village mosque loudspeakers calling for “death to the blasphemers.”
Shahzad Masih and his brothers pleaded with Gujjar to let them escape, but he refused to let them go until they paid their debt, sources said. Soon afterwards, the mob got hold of the Christian couple and subjected them to torture, beating them near death and later throwing their bodies, still believed to be alive, into the flames.
The incident caused an outrage in national and international media and civil society, prompting the Pakistani government to take the unprecedented step of becoming the complainant in the case. But sources have said the state later lost interest, allowing several of those directly involved to walk away free by manipulating gaps in the Pakistani legal system.
Voice of the Persecuted is helping to rescue from suffering by supporting Christians fleeing persecution in Pakistan We cannot continue the work without your generous support. Help us reach life saving goals by partnering with us in the mission.
Recommended: Read a Persecuted Christian’s message to the West for a true account of the reality of life for Christians in Pakistan HERE.
Christians in the countries of the GCC are virtually “servants, abominably treated. Their religion must be practiced in secret, with converts threatened with death.”
Interest in the state of Middle East Christians has largely focused on the quality of their lives in the Levant, Egypt, and Southern Sudan, predominantly Christian areas before the rise of Islam that still contain sizeable Christian minorities. By contrast, little attention has been paid to Christians in the Arabian Peninsula, which had no indigenous Christian presence in Islamic times.
However, the oil boom of the 1970s created a tremendous demand for foreign labor in the Persian Gulf rentier states. Unsurprisingly, the number of workers needed to drive the emerging economies of the Gulf states was bound to include significant numbers of Christians. There are now more than three and a half million expatriate Christians working in the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, mostly Catholics from the Philippines, India, and Pakistan. As their numbers increased, the question of how—or whether—to allow them to openly practice their faith became a significant issue.
A spate of attacks on Christian communities in Nigeria last weekend left 45 dead and several more injured.
The attacks took place in five villages in the Kauru Local Government Area, in the Middle Belt state of Kaduna – an area mostly populated by Christians, on Sunday 13 November.
Most of the victims were women, children and the elderly, who could not escape the gunfire of the attackers, believed to be Fulani herdsmen. One hundred and twenty houses, including eight house-churches, were burnt down.
A resident of Kitakum (one of the villages), Samuel Adamu, told World Watch Monitor the attackers came at around 7pm local time.
“They laid siege to the village before they started shooting sporadically and throwing explosives at our homes,” he said. “They were armed with guns, knives, machetes and explosives.
“They slaughtered [and] butchered women, children and old people who could not escape.”
Adamu accused the government of failing to stop the persistent attacks that have claimed hundreds of lives in southern Kaduna.
The attacks came a day after the Fulani herdsmen and indigenous communities in Kauru and neighbouring Local Government Areas resolved to live at peace with each other.
That peace-deal ceremony, held in Samaru Kataf, was attended by Kaduna Governor Nasir El -Rufai, who commended the communities and assured that his administration was determined to ensure security of lives and property.
In reaction to the 13 Nov. killings, the state government’s statement condemned the “barbaric” attacks, saying they would not derail ongoing efforts at peace-building in southern Kaduna.
The Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) is the main church organisation in Kaduna (950 churches, over 2 million members) and most of the victims were ECWA members. Its Chairman for Kaduna State, at a news conference (16 Nov.), blamed the ongoing violence on a quest for grazing reserves.
“We have come to the unfortunate conclusion that the announced intention of the Kaduna State Government – to re-create existing cattle grazing reserves in southern Kaduna – serves as a major motivation for the renewed ethno-religious violence and cleansing currently being visited on southern Kaduna communities,” said Rev. Zachariah Gado.
He also said last week’s donation by the Kaduna state governor for the reconstruction of churches destroyed during the attacks was a misplaced priority, saying that the money should have been given to security agencies.
“As perpetrators continue to evade consequences for their illegal and violent actions, impunity and lawlessness are becoming entrenched, to the detriment of the entire state,” he said. “Since the violent aftermath of the 2011 Presidential election, there have been increasing indications of the existence of a desperate, well-funded, organised and executed campaign not only to make life unbearable for the entire southern Kaduna territory through threats, intimidation and psychological warfare, but also to occupy the land through what can only be described as ethno-religious cleansing by Fulani herdsmen militia.”
Since March 2013, at least 180 have been killed and 10,000 displaced, while hundreds of properties, including dozens of churches, have been burnt down. Some 16 villages have been overrun by Fulani, who are now fully settled with their cattle and families, noted Gado.
He appealed to both the State and Federal governments to restore all communities taken over by herdsmen to the rightful owners, saying that failure to do so will only encourage further lawlessness.
Zachariah Gado also reiterated his calls for the establishment of a military base in southern Kaduna, to end the killings.
Timeline of recent attacks by Fulani Herdsmen: May-Nov 2016
45 killed, 120 houses, including eight house-churches, burnt down, as Fulani herdsmen laid siege to five villages (Kigam, Kitakum, Unguwan Magaji , Unguwan Rimi and Kizipi), all in Kauru Local Government Area, about 300km east of Kaduna.
Attacks on Misisi village (Kaninkon Chiefdom): seven killed, including the village head, 26 houses burnt down. Also, attacks on Pasakori (3km from Misisi): two killed and 16 houses burnt down.
Godogodo: over 300 militiamen laid siege to the town. The killings and arson continued into 16 October and left 30 dead, 27,819 displaced, 326 injured and 326 homes burnt down, including seven churches. Properties estimated to be worth thousands of dollars were looted and destroyed.
Godogodo: seven killed as Fulani militia attacked the town (where thousands forcibly displaced from surrounding communities have sought refuge). The next day, an attempted raid was repelled by local vigilantes and security forces.
Akwa: two killed, 20 buildings burnt down, including churches.
Golgofa: nine killed and the entire town razed to ashes.
Unguwar Anjo village (estimated population 3,500) burnt down. A pastor and a community leader killed among others, two churches, including lots of materials, destroyed.
Ninte: the entire village burnt down, including three churches, three vehicles and foodstuffs.
Unguwan Kafinta, Dangwa villages attacked: five killed and 298 properties destroyed.
KARAMLIS, Iraq – There were gasps, followed by tears at a small church in northern Iraq as a group of Christians returned to their parish Sunday to find that everything had been destroyed, including the statue of the Virgin Mary, which Islamic State (ISIS) militants had decapitated before they left.
A confessional had been turned into a closet, a tomb had been desecrated, red prayer benches were burned. As the Rev. Thabet Habib recited prayers at the St. Addai church, the sound of broken glass crunched beneath worshippers’ feet.
Keramlis, a Christian town on the Nineveh plains in northern Iraq, fell to ISIS in August 2014, two months after the extremist group took Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul and surrounding areas, sending most of its inhabitants fleeing. The town was retaken by Iraq forces three weeks ago as part of the push for Mosul, but most of its homes were destroyed in the process. READ MORE