Qom, arguably the most Islamic city in Iran, is a socially and religiously conflicted city where house churches are hunted down and conversion to Christianity is viewed as an action against national security.
Mohabat News reports Christianity has been growing at an exponential rate in the last couple of decades in Iran, causing the Islamic government a great deal of concern. In a most recent expression of their distress, one of the high profile Islamic seminary officials, Ayatollah Alavi Boroujerdi, stated “accurate reports indicate that the youth are becoming Christians in Qom and attending house churches”.
However, this is not a new development. Earlier reports had also shown a surprising rise in the number of Iranians turning away from Islam and converting to Christianity.
One of the most senior Islamic Shi’ite clerics who has repeatedly expressed his concern over the spread of Christianity among the youth in the country is Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi. He, as well as most of his colleagues blame the foreign influence for the conversion of young Iranians to Christianity. The question that comes up however, is that what could be the real cause for Iranian youths’ rejection of Islam and its principles, despite the serious risks involved with conversion to Christianity in an Islamic country such as Iran?
This high rate of conversion of Iranian youth to Christianity is in spite of rigorous Islamic indoctrination of the youth in their families and educational system. The Islamic government of Iran dedicates massive budgets to the support of Islamic organizations that promote Islam among the youth within and without Iran’s borders. Such efforts to attract Iranian youth is much more noticeable in Islamic cities such as Mashhad and Qom. Regardless of such efforts, Iranian youth seem to become increasingly distant from Islam, which is a cause of great concern for the Iranian Islamic government.
Last year, after Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi expressed his deepest concern over the popularity of Christianity in the suburbs of Mashhad, the city’s religious and political officials immediately sent a vast number of Islamic teachers and preachers to Mashhad’s suburbs in order to turn the youth away from Christianity. The next phase in dealing with this matter was to crack down on the youth who refused to turn back following the efforts of Islamic teachers and preachers. The Iranian law enforcement and intelligence ministry got involved and began waves of arrests and harassment of Christian converts, facing them with long term prison sentences and heavy bails for their temporary release.
Another Iranian Ayatollah, Wahid Khorasani expressed concerns over the spread of Christianity in the country. He said he had received reports about the exponential increase in popularity of Christianity amongst the youth in the Islamic city of Qom. He criticized government authorities “for their negligence in preparing counteracting strategies to stop the spread of Christianity. In his remarks eight years ago, he had encouraged the government authorities to develop a coherent strategy to eradicate Christianity in Iran.
Another Ayatollah, based in Tabriz, stated he had received reports that at one time, 600 residents of one of the cities in Khorasan province had converted to Christianity.
These harsh remarks years ago, led to a rigorous crackdown campaign against the Iranian Christian community, resulting in arrests, imprisonments and disbanding of a number of house church gatherings.
— Failure of Islamic Authorities’ Efforts to Stop the Spread of Christianity
The Iranian Islamic government implemented a two fold plan to stop the spread of Christianity in the country, and it has failed on both fronts.
The first front was the allocation of millions of dollars for Islamic propaganda across the country, which over the years has proven to be ineffective as Iranian youth seem to be distancing themselves from the Islamic lifestyle the Iranian government wishes to spread.
The second front, in which the Iranian government’s Islamic agenda has failed is their crackdown campaign on newly converted Christians in order to plant fear in those who are interested in learning more about Christianity and possibly becoming Christians themselves. This failure is obvious as Iranian Islamic authorities continue to express their concern over the rapid growth of Christianity in the country.
In recent years many Iranian Christian converts have been arrested. However, the rate of growth of house churches in the country has been exponential, despite a mass exodus of Iranian Christians.
In this regard, Ayatollah Jafar Sobhani, one of the high profile Iranian Islamic figures, wrote in a paper a few years ago, “There was a time when Islamic institutions in Qom were sufficient to counter the spread of Christianity in our city. However, today we do not have any Islamic institution in Qom that can stop Christian evangelism effectively”. In his remarks he also referred to the son of one of the Islamic clerics as having become a Christian.
In a report released seven years ago, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards identified 200 house churches in the Islamic city of Mashhad. Other reports indicate this number has grown significantly ever since. Mashhad is known as the Islamic capital of Iran and the Shi’ite Muslim world. Other cities having a record number of house churches in Iran include Rasht, Tehran and Karaj.
In Tehran there are many house churches that meet on a regular basis. One of Tehran’s Imams said in an interview, “today Christians present their gospel to our youth in the most appealing way. They gather in many neighbourhoods across the city, including Bani Hashem neighbourhood (in Tehran) where tens of homes have been turned into house churches which evangelize their neighbours”.
One of the visible effects of the Iranian government’s crackdown on Christians has been the closure of numerous churches, including the Central Assemblies of God (AOG) church and Janat Abad church in Tehran and the AOG church in Ahwaz. Additionally, Christian converts were banned from entering official churches and Farsi services were forced to cancel permanently across the country in all churches. Publication of anything related to Christianity or any material referring to Christianity was also restricted and books about Christianity already in the market were confiscated./ Farsi
Christian and Muslim leaders in Burkina Faso met last week to discuss interreligious dialogue amidst growing concerns about the spread of violent Islamic extremism in the country, reports Fides.
The landlocked West African nation, which borders Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo, Ghana and Ivory Coast, is majority-Muslim (around 60%), but also has significant numbers of Christians (over 20%, the vast majority of whom are Catholics) and followers of indigenous beliefs (15%), according to the latest census (2006).
On top of a rise in violent extremism, delegates of the Second General Assembly 2018 of the Episcopal Commission for Islamic-Christian Dialogue noted an increase in radicalisation and the use of religion to drive political agendas.
“We are called to live together,” Muslim leader Iman Boureima Drobo told delegates. “We must learn to do it. It is an obligation, otherwise it will be very difficult to be happy on this earth. It is here that Paradise and eternal life are prepared. If we are not in this state of spirit in this world, it will be very difficult to obtain what God has promised us after death.”
Last month the International Crisis Group warned of an “alarming escalation of jihadist violence”, as reports emerged about a group called ‘Islamic Security’, operating from Pouytenga, 150km east of the capital Ouagadougou. The Fédération des Associations Islamiques du Burkina described the group as “the non-armed service of the local Sunni movement”, whose members were guarding mosques and other religious sites during times of worship. The group is now believed to have been disbanded.
Burkina Faso has been the scene of several Islamist attacks, including one in January 2016 in which 29 people were killed, including a US missionary and six Christians on a humanitarian trip.
On the very same day, an Australian doctor and his wife were kidnapped in the town of Djibo, near the Mali border. Ken and Jocelyn Elliott, who are in their eighties, had worked in Burkina Faso since the 1970s. Jocelyn was released after a month, but her husband, who was declared a citizen of the West African nation by an official decree in November 2016, is still missing.
It is believed that he is being held outside of Burkina Faso. In July 2017, he appeared in a video produced by his kidnappers, along with several other Western kidnap hostages. On it, he said: “This video is to ask various governments, in particular the Australian government and Burkina government, to do what they can to help negotiate my release.” Addressing his family, he added: “I just want to say, again, I love you all and I appreciate all your prayers and all your cares. I look forward to one day being reunited.”
World Watch Monitor
(Voice of the Persecuted) American Pastor Andrew Brunson critically needs our prayers. Brunson has lived in Turkey for over 23 years and served as the pastor of Izmir Resurrection Church. He loves the Turkish people and along with his wife, raised 3 children in the country. But he’s been wrongfully accused and facing a 35 yr. prison term if he’s found guilty. 35 years would be a life sentence for the 50 yr. old pastor.
After what has been described as a historically long day of trial of nearly 13 hours, on April 16th, Pastor Brunson clearly answered questions and gave 6 hours of testimony in his defense. It was reported at one point during the trial he broke down in tears. His wife says it was a crushing blow for Andrew when he learned that he would be taken back to the harsh prison where he had lost 50 lbs. They had hoped Andrew would be released to go home under house arrest. His trial is scheduled to continue on May 7, 2018.
A prayer request was sent yesterday by his wife,
“PLEASE PRAY THAT HE BE MOVED BACK [to less harsh prison] UNTIL THE NEXT HEARING, AND PRAY FOR MUCH NEEDED GRACE. I SAW HIM TODAY AND HE IS NOT DOING WELL AT ALL. THIS IS A PRESSING NEED!”
Praise God, that prayer has been answer! Early this morning, we received news that Andrew has been moved to the Buca prison.
Brothers and Sisters,
The Apostle Peter, like Andrew Brunson, was kept in prison as the early church was fervently praying to God for him….Acts 12:5
Peter’s imprisonment by King Herod seemed like a pretty impossible situation for the first century church. After the martyrdom of James, Herod arrested Peter and had him bound with chains. He also ordered 4 squads of 4 soldiers each to guard Peter’s cell. Sixteen soldiers to watch one unarmed man.
The early church had no political leverage with the Roman or Jewish government. There were no advocacy groups that they could appeal to for Peter’s release. It was pactically a given fact that Peter would surely be executed just as James was.
But the early church had one powerful weapon at its disposal. A weapon that they consistently used to see miracles and signs and wonders go forth. A weapon that won much of the Western Mediterranean to the Lord Jesus Christ in the first century. That weapon was prayer.
The first century Christians realized the imprisonment of Peter was a spiritual battle. As such, they employed spiritual weapons that were powerful against Satan. The enemy who is spiritual can only be defeated by spiritual weapons.
Paul speaks of the weapons that are at our disposal in 1 Corinthians 10:3-4,
For although we live in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh, since the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are divinely powerful through God for the destruction of strongholds.
The first century Church realized they were in a spiritual war. Consequently, they employed their most powerful weapon to secure the release of Peter. As you read the story, you will see how Peter was released through an angel. When Peter was knocking at the door the praying saints could not believe that he had been released from prison. Though they were no doubt praying for it.
Today we are in that same spiritual battle regarding our brother Andrew Brunson. Advocates are saying that it would take an intervention of God to release Andrew Brunson. It seems likely that the Turkish Court will put this brother in prison and throw away the key. But we believe our God is still in the miracle-working business. We do believe that God hear our prayers. James writing in his letter says,
The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful and can accomplish much….James 5:16
The outcome of our brother’s trial is not in the hands of the Turkish government. The outcome is in the hands of God.
We, along with other global ministries have initiated an 24-hour Prayer Conference Call at this critical time for Pastor Brunson. We invite you to join with us the weekend of May 5th – May 6th to cry out the victory of Jesus Christ for Andrew Brunson, for God to be glorified and His will to be done in this trial and the life of Pastor Brunson. Please consider joining us as we pray for his forthcoming release. Call details below
We believe prayer works. Stay on the call 5 minutes, 5 hours, or as long as you feel led. Your prayers make a huge difference in the lives of our brother, Andrew and the persecuted around the world.
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:24
MARK YOUR CALENDARS!
Location: Any location from your phone
When: Begins May 5, 2018 – May 6, 2018
Length of call: 24 Hours (Note: You’re not required to commit to 24 hours. Come on the call and pray as your time allows.)
Time of the Call:
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Call number: 712.775.7035
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President Donald Trump
Pastor Andrew Brunson, a fine gentleman and Christian leader in the United States, is on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason. They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is. Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 18, 2018
Andrew Brunson, is standing trial on terrorism-related charges and Christianization. He faces up to 35 years in prison which could be considered as a life sentence for Pastor Brunson, who is now. 50 yr., denies all charges.
Brunson’s supporters say Turkey is using Brunson as a bargaining chip for Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living who in exile in Pennsylvania. Turkish officials claim Gulen is the mastermind of the 2016 coup attempt. The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has demanded that the Trump administration to extradite Fethullah Gulen in return for releasing Andrew Brunson. Erdogan has been quoted as saying, “You have a pastor too. You give us that one and we’ll work with our judiciary and give back yours.” The statement suggests Brunson would not be released until after he’s tried in court. A case which could linger on for years.
(Morning Star News) – A court in Omdurman, Sudan on Wednesday (April 11) charged four Christians who defended church property from a takeover by a Muslim business interest, sources said.
Azhari Tumbara, Muna Matta, George Adam and Kudi Abderhman last year tried to keep authorities from seizing Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) property in Khartoum. Judge Adam Babiker charged the Christians with causing physical harm to police and supporters of a Muslim businessman who tried to take control of church school property in April 2017, the Rev. Yahia Abdelrahim Nalu, SPEC moderator, told Morning Star News.
If found guilty under Article 142 of the Sudan Penal Code, the four Christians could be sentenced to a fine and a prison term of up to six months, said Attorney Adam Abu Anja, their legal counsel. Anja said he doubted they would receive the maximum sentence.
“I am confident – the charges are not that serious,” Anja told Morning Star News. “We have enough witnesses that, if they are convicted, they might be fined, that is all.”
A verdict could come at the next hearing on Monday (April 16).
On April 3, 2017, church elder Younan Abdullah died from injuries sustained in the raid by authorities and the Muslim business interest’s supporters on the school in Omdurman, across the Nile from Khartoum. Abdullah, an elder with Bahri Evangelical Church, died in a hospital after being stabbed while he and others were defending women at the Evangelical School of Sudan, SPEC sources told Morning Star News.
He is survived by his wife and two young children.
At the same hearing on Wednesday (April 11), the judge cleared five church leaders accused in the church takeover case, including Pastor Nalu.
“Five of us were freed for lack of evidence,” Pastor Nalu said.
Pastor Nalu, the Rev. Idriss Kartina, the Rev. Zachariah Ismael, elder Bolus Tutu and Salim Hassan were acquitted.
On Feb. 5 a court in Sudan fined seven church leaders who fought the takeover of the school in Omdurman for “objection to authorities,” a church leader said. The court fined SPEC elder Yohanna Tia 5,000 Sudanese Pounds (US$275).
Tia was one of 26 church leaders who appeared in court over a two-week span in the case. Seven church leaders were ordered to pay fines of 2,500 Sudanese pounds (US$137) each, and 19 were freed for lack of evidence, according to Pastor Nalu.
Two pastors – the Rev. Dawoud Fadul, SPEC moderator, and Pastor Kartina – were also fined 2,500 Sudanese pounds each. Church elders Adam George, Bolus Tutu and one identified only as Azhari were also fined, along with school director Ustaz Dauod Musa Namnam.
On Aug. 15, 2017, police raided Pastor Nalu’s home and another belonging to SPEC leader. They evicted the families of Pastor Nalu and the Rev. Sidiq Abdalla, a SPEC pastor who has two children, ages 8 and 10. Pastor Nalu has a 1-year-old boy.
The action was considered part of the government-aided bid by Muslim businessman Hisham Hamad Al-Neel to take over church property. Police told the pastors they were carrying out a court order.
Leadership of SPEC remains in the hands of government-appointed committee members even after a court ruled in November 2016 that the appointments were illegal, sources said.
The Evangelical School of Sudan is one of several SPEC schools throughout Sudan.
In its campaign to rid the country of Christianity, church leaders say, Sudan has designated at least 25 church buildings for destruction.
Harassment, arrests and persecution of Christians have intensified since the secession of South Sudan in July 2011. The Sudanese Minister of Guidance and Endowments announced in April 2013 that no new licenses would be granted for building new churches in Sudan, citing a decrease in the South Sudanese population.
Sudan since 2012 has expelled foreign Christians and bulldozed church buildings on the pretext that they belonged to South Sudanese. Besides raiding Christian bookstores and arresting Christians, authorities threatened to kill South Sudanese Christians who do not leave or cooperate with them in their effort to find other Christians.
Sudan fought a civil war with the south Sudanese from 1983 to 2005, and in June 2011, shortly before the secession of South Sudan the following month, the government began fighting a rebel group in the Nuba Mountains that has its roots in South Sudan.
Due to its treatment of Christians and other human rights violations, Sudan has been designated a Country of Particular Concern by the U.S. State Department since 1999, and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended the country remain on the list in its 2017 report.
Sudan ranked fourth on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians face most persecution.
UCN News shared with Voice of the Persecuted a report of a mysterious fire that damaged a Protestant church in a Pakistani town rocked by blasphemy protests two months ago.
Gospel of Jesus Mission Church is in a narrow street of a Christian basti (slum) in Shahdara town near Lahore, the capital of Punjab province.
The remains of burnt holy books, an offering bag and a chimta (music tongs) lay near the half-melted pulpit of the building, which has been under construction for more than three years.
Pastor Yousaf Aziz John filed a police complaint on April 15 at Shahdara police station, where a peace agreement between local clerics and Christian leaders was signed on Feb. 21 after an angry mob protested against Patras Masih, 18, who allegedly shared an anti-Islam photo on Facebook.
“We are a poor community and had been building the House of God with donations. We strongly believe that unknown miscreants have committed this evil. The losses amount to about 50,000 rupees (US$430). We demand an immediate remedy for the wounds of the whole Christian community,” Pastor John told ucanews.com.
Police sub-inspector Rana Amir visited the site on April 16 and recorded statements from the community.
“The forensics department collected samples the same night. A report will be released this week revealing the cause of the fire. A security plan has been chalked for the 14 churches of Shahdara registered with the police station, but no forces are appointed for unregistered ones,” he said.
Churches not registered with the Auqaf Department, which supervises important religious monuments and holy places, are deemed illegal by the government. In January, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province closed but later reopened six home-based churches in Abbottabad.
Police have warned that they will not take any responsibility for any mishaps at prayer gatherings in residential areas. Home-based churches are common in Christian ghettos and their surroundings. Youhanabad, the largest Christian settlement in Pakistan, has more than 100 unregistered churches usually comprising a single room or a hall.
Khalid Shahzad, a Catholic activist based in Shahdara, slammed police for filing the Shahdara case as an accidental fire.
“Only the sections regarding vandalism and loss of property have been nominated in the first information police report. They deliberately skipped the blasphemy clause 295 which deals with acts intended to insult religion or religious beliefs of others. This loophole will help in bail for the accused if arrested,” he said.
“The community was already living in fear after the recent blasphemy case in an adjoining village.” Read more
As I begin to write, it is about 9:45 p.m. in Turkey. The trial of Andrew Brunson has concluded at least for today. As of right now, no decision by the court regarding his innocence or guilt has been forthcoming.
This is simply one of those times in which many of us, as intercessors, have not been getting a clear answer from the Spirit as to the outcome for our dear brother, Andrew. Some are not even sure how they should pray for him. It’s as if God has us in a state of waiting on Him. Taking us through a lesson of learning to solely rely on and trust Him. So, we wait with expectation that He will answer and certainly do not want to walk in the light of our own understanding.
In this case, no news may be good news. However, dealing with the government of Turkey who can say. As I spoke with a sister earlier, she mentioned that a tactic of Islamic hard-line regimes is to play on the emotions of their victims. To wear down or break the ‘spirit’ so to speak. But we, as believers in Christ, will put ourselves before the Lord who holds all of history in his hands.
Our hearts are with Andrew who pleaded his innocence in the courtroom, today, and we cry out for his release. But we realize that God’s will is to bring about His glory and His glory alone.. Whatever the outcome of this case will be, we wait upon the will of God that will bring glory to his name.
I urge all who read this to please continue lifting our brother and his family up in prayer. Pray for his release and to soon be reunited with his family. Pray also for his physical and mental health. Let us pray that the will of God be done which will glorify Him.
Your brother in Christ,
Serving Jesus as Prayer Director of Voice of the Persecuted and Persecution Watch
(Update: The Turkish court has decided to keep Pastor Andrew in jail pending trial over alleged links to a group accused of orchestrating the failed 2016 military coup in Turkey. NTV reported the next hearing will be on May 7.)
Father, we give you praise with the knowledge that Your ways and plans are always perfect. You’re with us and will never forsake us. You care deeply for our dear brother Andrew, yet allowed him to go into captivity in this season. Though we may not fully understand, You are never wrong, so we give thanks and worship You. We pray for the leadership of Turkey and those in charge of this trial taking place in Izmir, a place once known as Smyrna. May their hearts be softened towards our brother and false accusations against him be brought into the light. We pray for the Gospel to go forth in Turkey. That understanding will come and the Truth of salvation in Christ be revealed to the Turkish people. Heavenly Father, whatever the outcome of this trial, we accept Your will. But if it pleases You to show our brother mercy, we ask You for his release. In Jesus Holy name, we pray.
Pakistan: We received information that two members of the Christian community were killed and between 5 to 9 others injured in a shooting incident near a church in Quetta. The incident occurred when worshipers were leaving the Sunday service at a church in Essa Nagri area of the provincial capital, DawnNews reported.
In a drive-by shooting, gunmen opened fire on the members of the Christian community and managed to flee the scene. Victims were rushed to a Quetta medical center, but two of the worshipers succumbed to their injuries. Screams and wailing was heard as the two bodies were brought in covered with white sheets at the Hospital.
A day after Easter Sunday, four members of a Christian family were also killed by gunmen while travelling on Quetta’s Shah Zaman road to celebrate with relatives. Later, the Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack. Officials confirmed the Christians were targeted for their faith.
In December, nine people were killed and 30 injured when suicide bombers attacked the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church on Quetta’s Zarghoon Road. At least two suicide attackers had struck the Bethel Memorial Church while Sunday service was ongoing. There were 400 worshipers inside the church when the assault started. The Islamic State also claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Islamic State (ISIS) has created a branch in Pakistan and Afghanistan by recruiting established militants.
Pakistan is experiencing a continuing rise of aggression and violent persecution against the Pakistani Christian community. The latest incident is the second attack deadly on Christians in the area, this month. Please pray believers in Pakistan.
VOP is on the ground in Thailand helping Christian asylum seekers who’ve fled persecution in Pakistan. Please Join hands with us to spread the love of Jesus. Keep us in your prayers as we try to raise the needed funds for the relief mission. If you feel led to help, please consider our mission and donate, today. Go with us to Thailand through your blessings to share with these dear brothers and sisters who have suffered so much. God bless you and your families.
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