Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” All over the world, Christians are experiencing more and more persecution. Let us never be caught singing a little louder, ignoring, or forgetting the suffering of our persecuted brothers and sisters.
Inspired by the true story of an elderly man who in his youth witnessed the horrors of the Jewish Holocaust from the pews of his Church, Sing a Little Louder provides a stunning message for the twenty-first century and a revelation of the genocides that continue to exist today.
(World Watch Monitor) As a high-level US delegation arrived in the Turkish capital [on 23 January], in an effort to resolve high-level tensions between the two NATO allies, discussions were slated to include what officials in Washington have termed the “wrongful detention” of US pastor Andrew Brunson for the past 15 months.
Led by Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Asian Affairs Jonathan Cohen, the bilateral meetings in Ankara are the first sessions of a Joint Coordination Committee recently established between Turkish and US diplomatic and justice officials.
With the visit coming right on the heels of the Turkish military’s “Operation Olive Branch”, launched over the past weekend in Syria’s Afrin province, the Turkish media stressed that the delegation included officials from the US Defense Ministry.
But according to a report in Hurriyet Daily News today, “The working group’s agenda includes a number of issues that have led to tension in bilateral relations in recent months, including the visa crisis and ongoing investigations of US consular staff.”
In Brunson’s case, the pastor of Izmir’s Resurrection Church was inexplicably detained some weeks after a failed 15 July, 2016 coup attempt against the Turkish government. After two months’ refusal to deport him, it became clear he had been caught up in Ankara’s massive crackdown to identify and punish the so-called Fethullah Gülen Terror Organisation (FETO) network accused of infiltrating Turkey’s armed forces and government and masterminding the coup.
In the ongoing state of emergency law ever since, 50,150 “suspected” judges, prosecutors, soldiers, academics, journalists, human rights activists and police officers have been jailed and held for months in pre-trial detention for supporting Gülen, an exiled Turkish Muslim cleric residing in the US.
Still no indictment
Fifteen months after Brunson was first detained and threatened with deportation on 7 October, 2016, Turkey’s judiciary still hasn’t issued any written indictment spelling out the allegations against him.
According to vague reports in Turkey’s pro-government media, his charges are based on “secret evidence” and a “secret witness” accusing Brunson of trying to overthrow the Turkish government.
He and his lawyer continue to be denied access to his confidential case file. In effect, he has experienced no substantive “due process” – an individual’s legal entitlement to notice of a charge and a hearing before an impartial court of law.
After six months in a crowded cell with 20 Turkish prisoners also accused of Gülen links, Brunson was moved to the maximum security Kiriklar Prison in Izmir, where he has shared a cell with two Turkish prisoners.
He is allowed to leave his cell once a week for a scheduled visit with his wife or a US consular officer.
According to two US representatives who visited him in October on behalf of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, “He is the only American, the only English speaker, and the only Christian in the prison. He lives in a world of physical isolation and psychological dislocation.”
During his incarceration, he has missed his daughter’s wedding, and then her university graduation.
In late September, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan publicly declared that his government was holding Brunson as a political hostage, demanding that the US extradite Gülen back to Turkey in a prisoner “swap” for the pastor. Turkey insists that the evidence it has sent to the US proves that the cleric planned and orchestrated the coup attempt.
President Erdoğan declared further on 11 January that “as long as I hold office”, Turkey will not extradite any jailed “suspects” to the United States until Washington hands over Gülen. If Erdoğan persists, he will effectively cancel a 1979 extradition treaty between the US and Turkey on criminal matters.
Arrested at the age of 48, Brunson had raised his family and ministered in Turkey for 23 years. On 3 January, he spent his 50th birthday in his cell.
“We would never have imagined this kind of a birthday,” a close family member said. “Andrew did what he set out to do: he thanked God for the life he has had.” see below
As indicated in his only photograph from his imprisonment, Brunson has lost more than 50 pounds (20kg), becoming a pale, slender version of himself.
Voice of the Persecuted (VOP) note:
Pastor Andrew’s wife has recently shared, “This past month the tears have been flowing with a series of disappointments, including missing our daughter’s university graduation. Having those disappointments hit around Christmas made it all the harder.”
On January 1, 2018, a note from Andrew was shared that had been written a few weeks prior.
I am deeply grateful to all who have prayed for me. This trial – time in prison – has stretched me far more than I ever would have imagined. I have been very weak, had many doubts, felt very alone. I know that God’s grace is sustaining me, even when I do not feel that grace, and I know that the prayers of God’s people are surrounding me and giving strength. One of my big fears has been that I will be forgotten in prison. Thank you for not forgetting! It is a great encouragement to know there are people praying for me – it reminds me that I am not alone, and that I need to stand firm, with my face pointed in God’s direction always. Thank you for standing with me in this most difficult time.
Many blessings to you
Responses poured in from that post to say that prayer is continuing. His wife expressed her extreme gratitude and said, “I will pass some of these messages on to Andrew”.
Below is the most recent message from Andrew shared only two days ago.
Dear praying friends,
Each day I pray the following: “Father God pour out on me, your son, the courage, strength, endurance, perseverance and steadfastness of Jesus, that I may run the race set before me and finish well, a bride resplendent, purified in the fires of faithful obedience, and worthy of Jesus, my Beloved and King of Glory.” I pray this over my family as well. I supposed it applies to all of us, especially in times of trial and testing. I feel like I am living in Isaiah 50:10 – hanging on in the dark. Thank you for standing with me – and for me – in prayer, and sharing in my imprisonment. It is a great encouragement when Norine tells me that prayer continues, even after this long time. Again, I thank you. May the Lord accomplish his purposes, do a deep and thorough work in me – and do it quickly!
Some have recently asked if they can send prayers and messages to Andrew in prison. We’re asking that you refrain from doing so at this time. If you would like to encourage the family and view the latest updates on Pastor Brunson, please visit this Facebook page. Your prayers may be shared with this dear pastor.
(Voice of the Persecuted) In faith, we know GOD has amazing plans for us for His Kingdom purposes. He’s on the move! Today, let’s us take a moment to pray for direction to follow His plans.
Father God, help us to have the discernment to know when You are calling to lead us for Your purpose. Give us faith to believe though it may seem impossible. Father, bless us with the patience to wait when things don’t seem to be moving fast enough for us. You are able and Your timing is perfect!
Almighty God, give us the courage to say “send me” and the strength and resolve to never give up. Abba Father, help us to trust completely in You. May Your will be done and may You be glorified and praised in all that we do. In the holy name of Jesus, Amen
God bless you, brothers and sisters
India (Morning Star News) – The body of a pastor in southern India was found hung from the thatched roof of his house early Saturday morning (Jan. 20), a week after he complained to police about opposition from Hindu extremists, sources said.
Congregation members said they found the body of pastor Gideon Periyaswamy of Maknayeem Church hanging from a rope in his one-room house beside the church building in Adayachery village, Kanchipuram District, but that his knees were bent stiff, as if others had placed him in the noose after his death. He was 43.
A convert from Hinduism 25 years ago, Pastor Periyaswamy was single and served as pastor in Adayachery for more than 12 years, his close friend, pastor Azariah Reuben, told Morning Star News.
“The local Hindus were not happy with growing Christianity,” Pastor Reuben said. “They had several times tried to stop the ministry.”
At pastors’ meetings and on other occasions, Pastor Periyaswamy spoke of Hindu hostilities to his church services and requested prayer, he said. Pastor Reuben said that Pastor Periyaswamy once remarked, “I have no problem – if needed, if the Lord permits it, I would die as martyr for Christ, but the ministry should not stop.”
A deputy superintendent of police identified only as Rajendiran told Morning Star News that a week before his death, Pastor Periyaswamy had filed a complaint with police “on some village people troubling him.”
“Our investigation was underway, and now we found him dead,” Rajendiran said.
A congregation member identified only as Indira said that the previous Sunday (Jan. 14), Hindu extremists were upset about a car sitting outside the area designated for church parking.
“They pelted stones at the car, and the pastor made an announcement requesting the church members to park their vehicles within the church premises only,” she said.
For the past six months, the local hard-line Hindus have harassed the pastor every Sunday, Indira said.
“When they see the pastor, they laugh, giggle and crack humiliating jokes at him,” she said. “They would always look for something to pick a fight over. But pastor told us, ‘We should be at peace with our neighbors – let’s not give them a reason to fight.”’
Last year local Hindu extremists kicked and beat him, Regina said. She and Indira found the pastor’s body.
“On Friday night [Jan. 19], our pastor visited the church families,” Regina said. “He told me and other sisters that there will be a fasting prayer on Saturday morning at 10 a.m., so please come early and clean the church hall.”
When they arrived on Saturday morning at 5 a.m. to clean the church building, they were surprised to find the pastor’s room bolted shut.
“We opened the door and were shocked to find Pastor Gideon Periyaswamy hanged,” Regina said. “A rope was fastened to the roof and tied to pastor’s neck, but his knees were slumped towards the ground. When the police came to unhang the pastor’s body, we saw a cut in his neck area. There was blood clotted.”
Police initially refused to file a complaint from congregation members, sources said. After church members and pastors from neighboring villages blocked a road in protest, his body was transported to Chengalpattu Government Hospital, where it has been placed in the hospital mortuary, Pastor Reuben told Morning Star News.
The Vanniyar community and other upper castes in Adayachery hate the lower caste of the pastor and his congregation, said pastor Immanuel Prabhakaran, who worked with the deceased leader of the church, which belongs to the Synod of Pentecostal Churches.
“They threatened the pastor, ‘How dare you set up a church in our locality? This area is of upper castes. Stop running church here. Stop inviting schedule castes to our area. You leave this village else we will make life difficult for you,’” Pastor Prabhakaran told Morning Star News.
Church members suspect Vanniyar and village leaders were behind the killing of the pastor.
“These people had cut the church’s water supply by disconnecting the pipeline,” said one church member.
Originally Pastor Periyaswamy had led the congregation as a house church, and before the current structure was built, they met in a shed. In 2016, area Hindu nationalists demolished the shed, church members told Morning Star News.
“We filed a complaint at Kalapakkam police station, but no action was taken,” one member said.
Pastor Periyaswamy’s cousin, Shiv Shankar, told Morning Star News that Pastor Periyaswamy was involved in many charity activities and led a simple life.
“We come from a Hindu family, and he was the first to convert to Christianity at the age of 18,” Shankar said. “He boldly professed his faith. I can never think my cousin would commit suicide. He was murdered.”
Two weeks ago, he invited all relatives to the church’s anniversary celebrations, he said.
“He was elated. My other cousin and her husband, Gideon’s sister and brother-in-law, gifted him a gold ring,” Shankar said. “He refused, but they forced him to accept. He did. Even that ring is missing.”
Nehemiah Christie, director of legislations and regulations for the Synod of Pentecostal Churches, urged police officials and government to conduct a fair investigation.
“There is urgent need for an autopsy in the presence of a judicial magistrate,” Christie told Morning Star News. “Pastor Gideon Periyaswamy’s death can’t be ruled out as suicide.”
The deputy inspector general of police of Kanchipuram Range, identified only as Thenmozhi, told Morning Star News that officers would carry out a fair investigation.
“There is no doubt in that – we will ensure a fair investigation,” Thenmozhi said. “If there is any troublemaker involved, we are looking at all angles regarding this. We ensure fair investigation. The post-mortem begins once the enquiry starts. Let the family and relatives come out with the facts they have; once we are given the witnesses statements and some supportive material, we will ensure post-mortem.”
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, the hostile tone of his National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), against non-Hindus has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians, religious rights advocates say.
India ranked 11th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians experience the most persecution, up from 15th the previous year, and ahead of Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Egypt.
(Agenzia Fides) – “In Eritrea, the regime has begun to persecute religious confessions and, in particular, the Catholic Church. The objective is clear: to try to prevent its influence on society: not by prohibiting worship, but social activities”. This is the alarm launched by Mussie Zerai, a priest of the eparchy of Asmara, for years a chaplain of the Eritreans in Europe and active in saving migrants in danger in the Mediterranean. Since 1995 – he explained to Fides – there has been a law in force in the country according to which the State wants to carry out all social activities. Therefore, the latter cannot be carried out by private or even by religious institutions. So far, the law has been applied in a bland manner and has not seriously affected the network of services offered by Christians and Muslims. In the last few months, however, there has been an acceleration.
Public officials have decreed the closure of five Catholic clinics in various cities. The minor seminary (which served both the diocese and the religious congregations) was closed in Asmara. Also several schools of the Orthodox Church and Muslim organizations had to close their doors. The closure of an Islamic institute, at the end of last October unleashed the harsh protests of the students.
“Beyond the economic damage to individual religious confessions – continues abba Mussie – those who pay a high price is the population who no longer has serious and efficient structures to turn to. In Xorona, for example, they closed the only dispensary in operation that was run by Catholics. In Dekemhare and Mendefera, the authorities have banned the activity of Catholic medical centres by stating that they were a duplication of state ones. In reality, public facilities do not work: they do not have medicines, they cannot operate because they do not have suitable equipment and often not even electricity”.
But what is the reaction of the population? “To rebel is not easy”, explains the priest. “The Muslim uprising was stopped with weapons. And there were many dead and wounded. Last month, seven thousand young call-ups joined and, together, called for a meeting with President Isayas Afeworki to denounce the harassment of their officers. The president received them and listened to them. At the end of the talks the boys were taken to a concentration camp near Nakfa and, as a punishment, were left outdoors, under the scorching sun, with very little food and water. Many fell ill. After the parents’ protests, the regime said that it will send them to the barracks to finish the naja. But under what conditions?”.
(Agenzia Fides) – “We are happy; to God be the glory”, said Sister Agatha Osarekhoe, Superior General of the Sisters of the Eucharistic Heart of Christ, announcing the release of the three sisters and three reverend sisters abducted on 13 November 2017 in the State of Edo, in southern Nigeria (see Fides 18/12/2017). “One was said to have been released on Saturday, 6 January while the others on Sunday 7. Now they are fine. They are receiving some medical check-up in a hospital”, she said.
The first to be released was Veronica Ajayi, around 6 pm on Saturday 6 January. The three sisters, Sister Roseline Isiocha, Sister Aloysius Ajayi, Sister Frances Udi, were released along with two others on Sunday, January 7 at noon.
On November 13, the six religious women had been forcibly taken by some armed men who had invaded their residence in Iguoriakhi. The criminals went away with six of them in a speed boat.
According to the local press, the kidnappers were said to have later demanded a ransom of N20 million (about $ 54.00). However, the Superior General stated that no ransom was paid: “No ransom was paid. We know that the Police did their best because they are aware. They had to do their work. The most important thing is that our sisters are free”.
The police commissioner, Johnson Kokumo, said that the sisters were rescued during an operation by policemen from the command. “Police operatives closed in on the daredevil kidnappers and they had no other option than to release the reverend sisters”.
On Sunday, December 17 after the Angelus Pope Francis had launched an appeal for the release of the religious with these words: “From the heart, I unite myself to the appeal of the Bishops of Nigeria for the liberation of the six Sisters of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, kidnapped roughly a month ago from the convent in Iguoriakhi”. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 9/1/2018)