(Voice of the Persecuted) Dear Intercessors, you are invited to join us on Thursday October 31 in a prayer call for the persecuted church. See the call number and details below.
Pray for Leah Sharibu and Alice, made slaves for life by Boko Haram
Population: 32 million, Christians 2.9 million
Christians in Malaysia and other minorities are hopeful that life under their new, more moderate government will improve. However, the Constitution still prohibits converting from Islam to other religions, and the courts still often favor Muslims over minority group members in legal matters such as divorce or child custody. In addition, women who convert are often threatened with rape or forced marriage. Roman Catholics and Methodists are often watched by authorities, but non-traditional Protestant groups active in testifying about their faith are targeted more.
08/24/2019 Malaysia (International Christian Concern) – The involvement of women from the Southeast Asian region in suicide bombing has become more alarming, according to Bukit Aman’s Special Branch Counter Terrorism Division principal assistant director Datuk Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay. The recent deadly suicide bombing attacks targeting churches in Jolo, Philippines, and Surabaya, Indonesia took more than 30 lives and injured 100 more. In both cases, wives of IS-linked militants became suicide bombers. For Surabaya, the children of militants also became human bombs.
08/31/2019 Malaysia (International Christian Concern) – Last April, Suhakam (Human Rights Commission) had conducted an 18-month inquiry into the cases of two missing persons – Pastor Raymond Koh and activist Amri Chet Mat. It released a critical report that found both men to be victims of enforced disappearances — a term that strongly suggests the involvement of state agents. Pastor Koh is still missing since February 13, 2017. He was allegedly abducted by state agents in broad daylight. His wife and daughter came to the Ministerial to Advance International Religious Freedom in DC last month to raise international awareness about Koh’s case.
- Pray for Christian children who are required to attend Islamic education courses required by state-run schools.
- Pray the new government will pursue those responsible for the abduction of three Christian workers abducted in 2016 and 2017. Pray the government will pave the way for an independent investigation of Pastor Koh’s disappearance and bring his abductors to justice.
- Lord Jesus, please guide those who follow you in secret to communities where they may have fellowship with one another.
- Pray that the Lord will provide for believers in Malaysia who find themselves without communities and homes.
- Pray to the Lord to comfort and strengthen Christians who are treated as inferior citizens in their daily lives, that they would know their worth and value is found in You.
- Pray that Christians will have courage and boldness to share their faith.
- Pray for Evangelical, Baptist, Pentecostal and other groups who face monitoring, intimidation and harassment.
- Pray for wisdom, courage and true servanthood for pastors as they seek to serve these believers who often face challenges.
- Pray they will have the necessary resources, Bibles and discipleship materials, to lead their congregations to full knowledge of God, filled with hope and endurance.
- Pray for NGOs to provide much needed spiritual support
- Pray to the Lord that that the internet is easily accessible and minister to both believers and non-believers.
- Pray that the Lord will continue to grow His church.
Andy – Prayer Moderator, Persecution Watch
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What is Persecution Watch?
Persecution Watch is a U.S. national prayer conference call ministry that prays specifically for the global Persecuted Church. For over a decade, Blaine Scogin has led this national network of believers who faithfully pray for the persecuted and the global harvest for the Kingdom of God. The group meets via a free call-in service every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday night at 9pm Eastern (please check your time zone). Blaine also serves as Prayer Director for Voice of the Persecuted.
On occasion, persecuted brothers and sisters have been invited on the call to share the trials they’re facing. The team serves to encourage them by washing their feet in Spirit led prayer. Time is often reserved for those on the call to ask questions. We believe this helps to gain a better understanding of the situation that persecuted Christians endure in their specific nations. Q&A also helps us to focus our prayers based on their current needs.
Persecution Watch also hosts callers who want to pray united from other nations. If your heart is perplexed by the sufferings of our persecuted brothers and sisters, you no longer need to pray alone. We welcome all who desire to pray for the persecuted church and consider it a joy to pray together with you. If you’re new to the call and can’t find your voice, listen in and pray silently or on mute. We are grateful and thank the Lord for bringing us all together to pray in agreement for our persecuted family in Christ.
Meet you on the call!
Voice of the Persecuted, in partnership with Persecution Watch, will host an open 12 hour prayer conference call to mobilize Christians to unite in prayer for those suffering for their faith in Christ during the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP2019 Persecuted but not abandoned). The call begins at 9 a.m. Eastern and will continue throughout the day until 9 p.m on Sunday, Nov. 3rd. The call is open to all with a desire to pray for those facing extreme hardships for their faith in Christ. Callers are not required to remain on the call for the full twelve offers, but encouraged to sacrifice some time to join the call and band together in prayer.
Godfrey Yogarajah, Executive Director of WEA RLC states,
“Millions of Christians around the world are persecuted for their faith daily. From Pakistan to Kazakhstan, Nigeria to North Korea, Christians…
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(Raymond Ibrahim) Hate for and Violence against Christians
Cameroon: Militant Muslims reportedly connected with the Nigerian based Islamic terror group, Boko Haram, “reached new heights” of depravity, according to a report: after devastating the Christian village of Kalagari in a raid, they kidnapped and fled with eight women. Some of the women were later released—but only after having their ears cut off (image here). The report adds that Boko Haram “has terrorised Christian communities in Nigeria for the last decade and has now splintered and spread its violent ideology into Cameroon, Niger and Chad.”
Nigeria: On August 29, Chuck Holton, a CBN News reporter, aired a segment on his visit with Christian refugees who had fled Boko Haram’s incursions into their villages. Among the stories of death and devastation, the following, spoken by a young man, stood out: “On 29 September 2014 was the day that they attacked my village. Around ten I had a call that they have killed my dad. They asked him to deny Christ and when he refused they cut off his right hand. Then he refused [again], they cut to the elbow. In which he refused, before they shot him in the forehead, the neck, and chest.” “Many of the 1,500 Christians living in this camp have similar stories,” adds Holton.
Indonesia: A Muslim preacher in a Christian majority region referred to the Christian cross as “an element of the devil,” prompting outrage among Christians and some moderates. Sheikh Abdul Somad made the comment during a videotaped sermon when he was asked why Muslims “felt a chill whenever they saw a crucifix.” “Because of Satan! Was his response: “There’s an evil jinn in every crucifix that wants to convert people into Christianity.” Christians and moderates condemned his words. Even so, “I can’t imagine the reaction if it had been another preacher of a different religion insulting an Islamic symbol,” observed one moderate. “There would have been a tsunami of protests, with the perpetrator severely punished.” Sheikh Somad responded by releasing another video; his excuse was that he was unaware that non-Muslims might hear his words: “The Quran reciting session was held in a closed mosque, not at a stadium, a football field, nor aired on television,” he explained. “It was for Muslims internally. I was answering a question about statues and the position of the Prophet Isa (Jesus) relative to Muslims.”
Burkina Faso: Although most mainstream media downplay the religious element in Muslim on Christian violence in Africa, attacks on the Christians of Burkina Faso have become so flagrantly based on religion that the Washington Post published a report on August 21 titled, “Islamist militants are targeting Christians in Burkina Faso.” Its author, Danielle Paquette, explained that “A spreading Islamist insurgency has transformed Burkina Faso from a peaceful country known for farming, a celebrated film festival and religious tolerance into a hotbed of extremism.” She noted that the jihadis have been checking people’s necks for Christian symbols, killing anyone wearing a crucifix or carrying any other Christian image. In a separate report discussing several deadly attacks on Christians and their churches, Bishop Dabiré said, “If this continues without anyone intervening, the result will be the elimination of the Christian presence in this area and — perhaps in the future —in the entire country.
Egypt: Authorities reinstated Sheikh Yasser Burhami, a notoriously “radical” cleric and hate preacher, to the pulpit (minbar) despite strong opposition. Burhami had previously issued numerous fatwas—edicts based on Islamic scriptures—that demand hate and hostility for non-Muslims, most specifically the nation’s largest and most visible minority, the Christian Copts, whom Burhami has referred to as “a criminal and infidel minority,” and has invoked “Allah’s curse” on them. He once went so far as to say that, although a Muslim man is permitted to marry Christian or Jewish women (ahl al-kitab), he must make sure he still hates them in his heart—and show them this hate—because they are infidels; otherwise he risks compromising his Islam. Burhami has also stated that churches—which he refers to as “places of polytheism (shirk) and houses of infidelity (kufr)”—must never be built in Egypt. He issued a separate fatwa forbidding Muslim taxi and bus drivers from transporting Christian clergymen to their churches, an act he depicted as being “more forbidden than taking someone to a liquor bar.” Burhami’s fatwas also include calling for the persecution of apostates, permitting Muslim husbands to abandon their wives to rape, permitting “marriage” to 12-year-old girls, and banning Mother’s Day. In a video, Dr. Naguib Ghobrial, a Coptic activist, politician, and head of the Egyptian Union for Human Rights Organization—which over the years has lodged 22 separate complaints against Burhami—repeatedly questioned Egypt’s leading religious authorities’ decision to reinstate the hate preaching sheikh:
Is what Burhami teaches truly what Islam teaches—is that why no one has done anything to him [in regards to the 22 complaints lodged against him]? Truly I’m shocked! Please answer Sheikh of Al Azhar; please answer Grand Mufti: are the things Burhami teaches what Islam teaches? Is this why none of you oppose him or joined us when we lodged complaints against him?… Why are you so silent? Amazing!
The Slaughter of Christians
Pakistan: “A ten year old Christian child who chose to work in a dangerous scrap factory so he could support his mother who had to fend for a family of two boys and a drug-addict husband, was raped and tortured before being killed by his Muslim employers,” according to a report (with photos). Badil, 10, worked at the men’s factory in order to support his impoverished mother, Sharifa Bibi:
I worked hard for many hours just for the sake of my two sons so that they would not have to suffer as I have suffered without education. My son Badil couldn’t bear to see the struggle of his mother and insisted on working to help the family—despite my insistence that he avoid work till he was older. Badil was such a responsible son. Daily before leaving for work he asked me what should bring in the evening from his wages. I insisted that he kept his money for himself, but he brought groceries like sugar, rice, flour, ghee daily.
Badil had to walk long distances and work for many hours a day to earn the equivalent of one dollar a day. Soon his employer began to cheat him on his wages. His mother insisted that he quit, but the boy persevered; at one point he took his younger brother, 9, with him to help. When the employers refused to pay his brother anything for his contribution, Badil finally decided to quit—which angered his Muslim employer. His younger brother recalls:
As Mr Akram heard this he ran to hit Badil but Badil ran from the shop and Akram gave chase. However, A friend of Akram was standing nearby on his motorcycle and told Akram to sit behind him, then both men chased Badil till they caught up with him. Akram then got off the motorcycle and dragged Badil back to the store. They took Badil inside the store which is full of scrap. For half an hour I was completely unaware of what was happening with Badil inside. Eventually both men came outside and pretended as if nothing had happened inside. I thought my brother had also left the store from another exit so I went to look for him. I searched vigorously for 15 minutes and then saw my mother [approaching to walk the boys home], so I rushed to her to tell her what had happened.
Sharifa and her younger son searched frantically for Badil and finally found him collapsed on the ground near their home. They rushed to him, thinking he was exhausted from the day’s work and subsequent thrashing, but quickly realized that he was barely breathing: “At this point the whole situation was too much to bear for Sharifa who began to scream and wail hysterically,” the report notes. Badil was taken to a hospital where, seven hours later, the boy was pronounced dead. His brother “has been traumatised following his brother’s death and hasn’t left his house since and often screams in terror thinking the men responsible will take him too.”
Cameroon: A Bible translator “was butchered to death on Sunday morning [August 25] during an overnight attack while his wife’s arm was cut off,” according to a report: “Bible translator Angus Abraham Fung was among seven people said to have been killed during an attack carried out by suspected Fulani herdsmen sometime during the early hours of Sunday morning in the town of Wum, according to Efi Tembon, who leads a ministry called Oasis Network for Community Transformation.” Fulani herdsmen are Muslim and the chief persecutors of Christian farmers in Nigeria. “They went into houses and pulled out the people,” Tembon explained: “They attacked in the night and nobody was expecting. They just went into the home, pulled them out and slaughtered them.” Fung’s wife, Eveline Fung, who had her arm hacked off was last reported as receiving a blood transfusion at a local hospital.
Attacks against Apostates and Evangelists
Iran: Authorities sentenced a 65-year-old woman, a Muslim convert to Christianity, to one year in prison, on the charge that she was “acting against national security” and engaging in “propaganda against the system.” According to the report, “The hearing was owing to her arrest shortly before Christmas when three agents from Iranian intelligence raided her home and took Mahrokh to intelligence offices where she endured ten days of intensive interrogation before she was released after submitting bail of 30 million Toman (US$2,500).” Friends of the woman said that “the judge was very rude and tried to humiliate Mahrokh after she disagreed with him.”
Separately, a Kurdish bookseller in Bokan, Western Azarbaijan province, was arrested for selling Bibles. According to the August 27 report, “Mostafa Rahimi was arrested on 11 June on charge of selling bible[s] in his bookstore, and he was released later on bail until the court issued his sentence. Hengaw Organization for Human Rights has learned that Rahimi is sentenced to 3 months and 1 day imprisonment. Later in mid-August he was arrested again, and he is currently at the central prison of Bokan.” Another report elaborates: “Iran’s government is officially Islamic, and authorities actively restrict access to Bibles and other Christian literature. Sharing one’s faith is categorized as a criminal offense, usually of the national security nature. The authorities often pressure Christians so extensively, routinely violating their human rights, that they are given no choice but to escape their country.”
Somaliland: An August 16 report shares the experiences a married Muslim woman, 32, underwent after her husband discovered a Bible in her possession.
“I told my husband that I found the Bible in Nairobi and wanted to read it,” the woman responded. “He just pronounced the word talaq [Arabic for divorce] to me. I knew that our marriage had just been rendered null and void because I joined Christianity, so without wasting time I left the homestead…. There and then he took our two daughters [ages 4 and 7] away from me and divorced me. He gave me a stern warning that I should not come close to the children, and that if I do, he will take the Bible to the Islamic court and I will be killed by stoning for becoming an apostate.”
Her former husband proceeded to expose the clandestine Christian to her Muslim family. “My brothers beat me mercilessly with sticks as well as denying me food,” she said. “I feared to report the case to the police or the local administration, because they will charge me with a criminal offense of apostasy in accordance with the sharia.” She has since relocated to an undisclosed location: “God has spared my life, and my fellow underground Christians in other regions of Somalia have received me and shared the little they have, but I am very traumatized.” According to the report,
Somalia’s constitution establishes Islam as the state religion and prohibits the propagation of any other religion, according to the U.S. State Department. It also requires that laws comply with sharia (Islamic law) principles, with no exceptions in application for non-Muslims. Somalia is ranked 3rd on Christian support group Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
Pakistan: After opening a summer education program for the youth, a Christian family was “terrorized” and forced to shut down on the accusation that they were clandestinely trying to convert Muslim children to Christianity. According to a family member: “We started a project for interfaith harmony and education teaching marginalized children from different faiths about a year ago. In June, we started a summer camp that provided a free program for children that have dropped out of school. The design of this program was to provide guidance for these children to become civilized and tolerant.” Two weeks into the summer program, a group of men, two of whom were armed, stormed into the academy, did violence to the property and harassed the children, and beat one of the instructors: “They threatened us with consequences if the academy was not shut down. They alleged that we were promoting Christianity and were doing Christian evangelism. For safety and security, we had no other choice but to obey the extremists and shutdown the academy…. I don’t want to lose my son or any family member. This terrorizing incident has already put us into trauma.”
In a separate incident in Pakistan, around 4 a.m. of August 2, seven Muslim men stormed into a parish house, where they tied up and savagely beat two young priests, Fr. Anthony Abraz and Fr. Shahid Boota, all while they “humiliated and abused them for preaching the Gospel in a Muslim-majority neighborhood.” The invaders also vandalized the building—including by breaking windows, bookshelves, and cupboards—and desecrated Christian objects, including Bibles, Christian literature, and icons. Afterwards, “We were told we will have to face consequences if this house is not vacated,” Fr. Abraz reported. “They said, ‘We don’t want a Christian center near the mosque.’”
Finally, increasing numbers of Christian girls continue to be targeted for kidnapping, rape, and/or forced conversion in Pakistan. According to one report,
In August, Yasmeen Ashraf, age 15, and Muqadas Tufail, age 14, were kidnapped and raped by three men in Kasur. The pair of Christian girls were taken when they were on their way to work as domestic workers. Also in August, another young Christian girl, named Kanwal, was kidnapped, raped, and forcefully converted to Islam by a group of Muslim men and a cleric in Lala Musa, located in the Gujart District. After reuniting her family, Kanwal shared that she had been beaten, sexually assaulted, and threatened with the deaths of her brothers if she refused to convert to Islam.
In the previous month of July, at least three similar cases occurred. “Oppression exists in different layers for Christian girls in Pakistan. They are suffering on the bases of gender, religion, and class. It has been documented that young Christian girls face higher levels of sexual harassment and are persecuted for their Christian faith,” Nabila Feroz Bhatti, a human rights defender in Lahore, said in response to the aforementioned incidents. Similarly, the Pontifical charity, Aid to the Church in Need, announced in August that it “is sounding the alarm on the plight of young Christian women, and even teenagers, in Pakistan who are forced to convert to Islam.” “Every year at least a thousand girls are kidnapped, raped, and forced to convert to Islam, even forced to marry their tormentors,” elaborated Tabassum Yousaf, a local Catholic lawyer.
Meanwhile, those who try to protect Christian girls are punished. On August 16, Maskeen Khan and two other Muslim men attacked the home of Bahadur Masih, a Christian. While holding a knife, Khan and his partners tried to rape Masih’s daughter, Rachel, but were prevented by the rudely awoken family that immediately and desperately responded. “Since the Christian family was defending themselves, Khan also got some injuries,” Ahsan Masih Sindhu, a local Christian political leader, reported. “The family handed Khan over to police and he got medical treatment. However, he later died in police custody.” Police arrested and charged four members of the family with murder, even though they were in their own home protecting their daughter from violent intruders. Other members of the family have gone into hiding due to threats from the dead would-be rapist’s relatives. “We are sad about the death of Khan, however, the Christian family did have the right to defend,” Sindhu explained. “The police must conduct a fair investigation into this incident.” Instead, police are denying the family the “right to defend” itself.
Attacks on Churches
Algeria: On August 6, police barged into a church during worship service, evacuated reluctant worshippers, and sealed the church building off. “I am deeply saddened by so much injustice – it breaks my heart,” Messaoud Takilt, the pastor said. “This is not surprising since other Christian places of worship have been closed and sealed as was the case today. But anyway, we will continue to celebrate our services outside while the Lord gives us grace for a final solution.” When police denied, with a veiled threat, his request to at least let the worship service conclude, “The assembly finally yielded and agreed to leave the premises, but with much pain. Some went out with eyes full of tears. ” Police proceeded to empty the premises of all furniture and sealed off every door before the distressed pastor (picture here). Responding to this latest church closure the World Evangelical Alliance issued a statement on August 12 calling on Algeria to cease closing and instead reopen churches. A portion follows:
We deeply regret that two additional churches were forcibly closed by administrative decisions, in May and in August 2019 in the city of Boudjima, northeast of Tizi-Ouzou in Kabylie Region. This brings the number of forcibly closed churches to 6, including one house church…. Many more churches are threatened with closure, amid denial of formal registration and recognition by authorities.
Indonesia: Muslim protestors compelled local authorities to revoke a permit for and cease construction of a Baptist church in Central Java. On August 1, residents went to the partially constructed church and padlocked its fence. A meeting was later held between the church, local residents, authorities, and others. Although the pastor displayed the governmentally issued permit to build a church, Muslim residents insisted that it was wrongly given, leading to a standstill in negotiations. In the previous month, July, two other churches were shut down in Indonesia following local protests.
Turkey: St. Theodoros Trion, an abandoned, historic church—the original Greek congregation of which was purged by the Ottoman Empire—was vandalized, including with genocidal slogans. According to the report,
The vandals sprayed hate speech across the church’s walls. The vandalism was largely a reference to the secularism that Ataturk, modern Turkey’s founder, had forced into the governmental structure…. Just a few years ago, the same church was targeted by Islamist vandals who wrote slogans such as “the priest is gone, he went to the mosque” — a reference to the country’s genocide and the forced conversions which occurred during this time. There are no Christians attending this church. All of the congregants were victims of the genocide. They faced death, deportation, and forced conversions. Those few who survived have since fled the country. The church currently stands as a historic monument to the Christianity that once was commonplace in the region.
Egypt: A Christian toddler was the latest, if inadvertent, victim of Egypt’s draconian restrictions on churches. According to an August 21 report, Youssed Ebid, a 4-year-old Christian boy (photo), was struck by a tractor while waiting outdoors for a bus to take him to church in another village. His own village is currently denied one, forcing its Christian residents to travel long distances to attend church. Many Christians in Egypt are in the same situation, and accidents during their long treks are not uncommon.
Raymond Ibrahim, author of the new book, Sword and Scimitar, Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute, a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and a Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
About this Series
The persecution of Christians in the Islamic world has become endemic. Accordingly, “Muslim Persecution of Christians” was developed in 2011 to collate some—by no means all—of the instances of persecution that occur or are reported each month. It serves two purposes:
1) To document that which the mainstream media does not: the habitual, if not chronic, persecution of Christians.
2) To show that such persecution is not “random,” but systematic and interrelated—that it is rooted in a worldview inspired by Islamic Sharia.
Accordingly, whatever the anecdote of persecution, it typically fits under a specific theme, including hatred for churches and other Christian symbols; apostasy, blasphemy, and proselytism laws that criminalize and sometimes punish with death those who “offend” Islam; sexual abuse of Christian women; forced conversions to Islam; theft and plunder in lieu of jizya (financial tribute expected from non-Muslims); overall expectations for Christians to behave like cowed dhimmis, or second-class, “tolerated” citizens; and simple violence and murder. Sometimes it is a combination thereof.
Because these accounts of persecution span different ethnicities, languages, and locales—from Morocco in the West, to Indonesia in the East—it should be clear that one thing alone binds them: Islam—whether the strict application of Islamic Sharia law, or the supremacist culture born of it.
Posted on Gatestone Institute
DAMASCUS/ANKARA (BosNewsLife)– Tens of thousands of panicked-stricken people, many of them Christians, are seen fleeing north-east Syria amid fears that a brief ceasefire will not end a deadly Turkish invasion. They escape a region where over 100 people, including some Christians, were reported killed in recent fighting between Turkish and Kurdish forces. Others were injured.
“Already one Christian home in a Christian neighborhood in the city of Qamishli has been shelled, with family members injured,” confirmed Christian aid group, Barnabas Fund.
“The mother is in a critical condition in hospital. Two other Christians in Qamishli have been killed and many wounded,” the group added.
Barnabas Fund said, “Christians are alarmed to note that the attacking forces include not only the Turkish army but also Syrian Islamist rebel factions whose extremist ideology makes them strongly anti-Christian.”
At least one Islamic rebel group, the Levant Front, seized Christian homes of those fleeing in the town of Tal Abyad, other Christian aid workers told BosNewsLife. It was not immediately clear how many houses had been taken over.
Barnabas Fund claimed that some of the Christian refugees were already displaced several times during Syria’s civil war. They “finally found stability in this region. Now they must run for their lives again,” the group explained in a statement to BosNewsLife.
As many as 100,000 people have already left their homes, according to the United Nations. The number of internally displaced persons could reach 300,000 in the area, warned Barnabas Fund citing local sources.
Turkey’s attacks, launched last week, target a part of Syria viewed as relatively secure in eight years of civil war. “But overnight it has become a battlefield,” Barnabas Fund complained.
The group noted that the region has strong Christian communities that are “often seen as a peace-keeping buffer between the Arabs and Kurds.”
Barnabas Fund said it is providing humanitarian aid such as food and shelter to Syrian Christians. Additionally, “We have also helped to support our brothers and sisters spiritually. That includes funding projects to strengthen church ministry and build them up in their faith through the years of unrelenting conflict, loss, and trauma,” it stressed. “As Christians, they suffered persecution for their faith in addition to all the normal suffering of the war.”
Christians have reasons to fear more violence. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey warned his troops would “crush the heads” of Kurdish fighters if they don’t withdraw from a planned safe zone area in northern Syria.
Turkey agreed on Thursday, October 17, to suspend an offensive for five days to allow Kurdish forces to withdraw from the region.
But both sides have accused the other of violating the ceasefire, which was negotiated by the United States. American forces appeared unwilling Monday, October 21, to be drawn into the conflict. Reporters saw hundreds of trucks carrying American troops crossing into Iraq in a long military convoy Monday.
U.S. President Donald Trump said last week that he would bring all American troops stationed in Syria “back home.” He rejected concerns that this could lead to the freeing of Islamic militants from prisons and more pressure on minority Christians and other vulnerable groups.
American troops fought the Islamic State terror group alongside the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Most of these forces will move to western Iraq, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said. But he suggested that some would remain temporarily in Syria to protect oil fields from Islamic State, despite President Trump’s call for a full withdrawal.
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– An Iranian court has sentenced a pastor and eight fellow members of the big evangelical Church of Iran movement to jail for leaving Islam.
Church leader Matthias Haghnejad and the other believers were each sentenced to five years imprisonment after a short hearing on September 23, trial observers confirmed to BosNewsLife.
Pastor Haghnejad was detained by the feared Islamic Revolutionary Guard following a church service in February this year, said advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which supports the Christians.
The other believers Shahrouz Eslamdoust, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Behnam Akhlaghi, Mehdi Khatibi, Mohammad Vafadar, Kamal Naamanian, Hossein Kadivar (Elisha) and Khalil Dehghanpour were reportedly taken into custody in the coastal city of Rasht in early 2019.
Confirmation about their sentences came days after jailed Church of Iran pastor, Yousef Nadarkhani, ended a three-week hunger strike, according to Christians familiar with his situation.
Nadarkhani, who is serving a ten-year prison term for church activities, began his action on September 23 to protest against his children being prohibited from continuing with their education.
He described his hunger strike in a letter to prison authorities as “the cry of a father, unjustly imprisoned.” The pastor stressed that the second-generation Christian children are increasingly penalized by educational authorities who do not recognize their faith.
It was not immediately clear whether Nadarkhani would be able to meet the other jailed Christians. Trial observers said the nine men faced a severe July hearing by Judge Mohammed Moghisheh, who activists claim “is notorious” for miscarriages of justice.
He allegedly attempted to coerce Pastor Haghnejad, Eslamdoust, Hosseinzadeh, Akhlaghi and Khatibi, into accepting a court-appointed legal representative.
The judge eventually suspended the proceedings, remanding them in custody on significantly increased bail terms when they refused to do so, reported CSW. “Judge Moghisheh subsequently resumed the trial of Mr. Vafadar, Mr. Naamanian, Mr. Kadivar (Elisha) and Mr. Dehghanpour, who were representing themselves…during which he asserted that the Bible was falsified and called the men’ apostates’,” the term used for leaving Islam, the group added.
During another hearing last month, the defendants’ lawyer was allowed to speak shortly, Christians said. “However, Judge Mogisheh is reported not to have responded to his statement. A source informed CSW that “it seemed as if the judge had already made his decision,” the group explained.
CSW claimed that the judge “allowed this process as a formality before pronouncing a pre-determined sentence.”
All nine Christians are appealing their sentences, but Pastor Haghnejad and those defended by a lawyer were already jailed, CSW said.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas told BosNewsLife that his group condemns “in the strongest terms,” the sentences handed to the Christians. “Once again, it is clear from the brevity of the trial and reported lack of interest of the presiding judge that due process was not observed. And the judge was not impartial,” he added.
“The charges against these Christians are excessive, completely unfounded and constitute a criminalization of a religion which the Iranian constitution purportedly recognizes,” Thomas said.
He confirmed that CSW called “for the immediate and unconditional release of these nine men,” and all who are behind bars “for their religion or belief in Iran.”
The detentions are part of a broader crackdown on devoted Christians in the Islamic nation, according to several church sources and activists. Apostasy and spreading Christianity often lead to long prison terms and possibly a death sentence in Iran.
Despite these difficulties, mission groups suggest there are at least an estimated 360,000 Christians in the country. They include many former Muslims who turned to Christianity, seeking freedom from strict Islamic rules. Iran’s government-led Statistical Center reports 117,700 Christians in this nation of just over 82 million people.
The U.S. State Department has classified the Islamic Republic as a “country of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 “for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”
Iranian authorities have denied wrongdoing but say they want to protect the country against dangerous outside influences.
By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
(Morning Star News) – Police broke up a congregational gathering of 6,000 worshipers in northern India on Tuesday (Oct. 15) after Hindu extremists leveled false charges of black magic, arms possession and forcible conversion against the pastor, sources said.
An administrative officer from Bahraich District, Uttar Pradesh, arrived with police in Pandeypurwa village, in Hardi police jurisdiction, announcing that the outdoor venue for the gathering had to be vacated by 8 a.m., said 23-year-old pastor Santosh Jaiswal.
“At least 6,000 were present for prayers, and within minutes the congregation scattered, and the police dismantled the stage and barricades,” Pastor Jaiswal told Morning Star News. “I have received information that I have been booked for insulting religious beliefs and for possessing arms, but I had never spoken about any religions. I don’t possess any weapons.”
The administrative officer, Surendranath Tripathy, and officer Shankar Prasad investigated allegations of forced conversion and found no evidence against Jaiswal, but police ordered him to stop the worship services, the pastor said. He relocated to the area to proclaim Christ among rural villagers on the border with Nepal less than seven months ago, he said.
Pastor Jaiswal said that officers Tripathy and Prasad accused him of performing black magic on Hindus.
“About a week before inspection, a Brahmin [high caste Hindu] journalist came to Sunday worship with cameras,” Pastor Jaiswal said. “He videotaped the congregation lifting up their hands and praying, and some groaning as they were held by evil spirits, and he also interviewed some people who experienced healing. Soon the local news media reported the prayers as black magic rituals, and that a Christian priest is promoting blind belief.”
The police officers parroted the same accusations, he said. Attempts to reach officers Tripathy and Prasad were unsuccessful.
“Some of the members from the congregation came to me and urged me to go into hiding, fearing my arrest,” Pastor Jaiswal said. “I wanted to face the police even if it would lead to my arrest, but I was moved to safety to a believer’s home.”
The First Information Report also names as defendants the pastor’s wife, Kajal Jaiswal, his sister Kunti Devi and a female believer. The open worship venue of about an acre belongs to his sister, who made it available for ministry, he said.
“People suffering from long-term illnesses and those captivated by evil spirits are relieved through prayers,” he said. “We share the gospel with them, and when they put their belief in Christ, they are healed. Only their faith heals them, it is not me. I am nobody to perform any miracles or magic tricks. When a person in pain requests for prayers, all I do is pray for them.”
He was working as a supervisor at a pub in Delhi when he first learned about Christ and developed a strong yearning to boldly proclaim his faith before as many people as possible, he said. He left his job and received training in Haryana state for two years, then returned to his native Pandeypurwa to minister among his own people, he said.
“In March, we were a home church of 12 believers,” Pastor Jaiswal said. “Soon the sick and people in need of prayers came to us. As we prayed, Lord gave them deliverance, and people also came from villages far away. When one receives healing, the entire village, curious to know about Christ, throngs to prayers.”
Within months, hundreds of people increased to thousands, he said.
“Now at least 6,000 people gather for prayers on Sundays as well as on weekdays,” he said.
Village President Ram Sufal Mishra is aware of the services in the village and has never opposed them, he added.
Tricked into Jail
In Lakhimpur Kheri District, Hindu extremists last month surrounded pastor Shibu P. Matthew’s house threatening to attack him for his faith, but when he called police, they arrested him.
Released on bail on Saturday (Oct. 12), Pastor Matthew had cancelled a church service in Musupur, six miles from his home, on Sept. 8 due to a warning of an impending Hindu extremist attack, but a mob of Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council, or VHP) members found his home in Jahanpur and demanded that he come out, he said.
“They were abusing me in filthy language that I convert Hindus to Christianity, and that India is a Hindu country and I should be strictly punished for going against the Indian nation,” Pastor Matthew, 52, told Morning Star News. “Youths from the church had come over, and we thought we could spend the time in singing and worship. Then we heard a loud knock on the door. It was the Hindutva [Hindu nationalist] activists. We did not open doors and locked ourselves inside the house.”
He called Phoolbehar police, who threatened to take the mob into custody and then told the pastor he would need to come to the police station since he had reported them.
“I supposed that I was being summoned to the police station to give a written complaint,” he said. “But it was not so. The Hindu militant leaders were furious, and they levied pressure on police to register cases against me. The police whom I believed had come to my help until a minute ago had now taken their side. They also started accusing me of forced conversions, and that I distribute foreign funds among innocent Hindus and attract them.”
Under pressure from the vice president of the VHP, Shivnarayan Paswan, and his counterparts from the Bajrang Dal, police filed a First Information Report against him that night and presented him before a judge, who sent him to Lakhimpur jail, Pastor Matthew said.
The Hindu extremist leaders persuaded police to confiscate the pastor’s phone, saying it could contain evidence of forced conversions and foreign donations, he said.
Hindu extremists are working in an increasingly organized manner, said the coordinator of legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) in Uttar Pradesh.
“They are mapping even the remotest areas where Christian prayers are held and are targeting one after the other,” said the coordinator, whose name is withheld for security reasons. “In the first phase, it is only threats and warnings through a known person or village council. If these threats are not taken seriously, the strongmen from the militant group [Bajrang Dal] are deployed; they even call the police to their support.”
Local media are also enlisted, spreading biased, sensationalist news that touches off Hindu nationalist sentiment and instigates Hindus against Christians, he said.
“Musapur is a hamlet and it is not well connected to road or transportation – they reached even there, and also shut down five churches in surrounding villages as well,” he said. “Once a church is shut down by the extremists, they set up their informers in that village to collect information if the churches have started functioning again,”
Since March, ADF-Uttar Pradesh has organized more than 70 trainings to advise church leaders on how to exercise their legal rights when under attack by police and Hindu extremists, he said.
“As many as 100 pastors attend each training camp, and they have been informed of their rights and strategies that can be adapted to deal with police and authorities at the time of the attack or arrests,” he said. “We are connected with victims from across the state via the toll-free helpline, 1-800-208-4545, and smaller teams have also been built in almost all the districts, working like a rapid action force to come to victims’ aid upon receiving information about attacks or arrests.”
Originally from Thiruvalla in southern India’s Kerala state, Pastor Matthew had moved with his family to Uttar Pradesh following a divine call after he underwent heart bypass surgery, he said.
“After the surgery, we sold off whatever was left in Kerala and moved to Uttar Pradesh, because God had put this zeal in my heart that we should minister among people who had never known or heard about Christ,” he said.
Police Seal Off Worship Venue
In Varanasi District, another pastor has moved to three villages in the past three years due to pressure from Hindu extremists to stop worship services.
Pastor Dasarath Pawar of Evangelical Churches of India told Morning Star News that the congregation has scattered since their latest move from Madhuban Lawn to New Colony.
“We only gathered in the evenings in Madhuban Lawn, and their accusations were that we are converting Hindus to Christians, and that they had warned me several times before but I had continued the prayers,” he said. “On Sept. 8, a batch of 25 strongmen of Hindu Yuva Vahini threatened us that the attack would be brutal if we don’t obey this time. The church property has been sealed by police, and they are not allowing us there.”
(Voice of the Persecuted) Leah Sharibu was taken captive on February 19, 2018 by the Islamist militia, Boko Haram. October 26th marks twenty months of Leah’s captivity and concerned citizens will gather in Washington DC, and across the globe, to pray for her safe release and call on governments to act on Leah’s behalf. To give all an opportunity to pray, Persecution Watch has scheduled a call-in event for those unable to attend a physical location. See details below
The Nigerian government was able to negotiate the release of her 104 classmates but because Leah refused to convert to Islam, she remains in captivity and the government has been less than forthcoming about securing her release. Although Nigerian leaders have made occasional pronouncements and assurances throughout her captivity, Leah remains a hostage and her family continues to wait and pray for her release. After false hope and unmet expectations, it is unknown what this Christian girl is having to endure solely for her Christian beliefs. Leah is not alone in her plight. Christians around the world are persecuted daily for their faith, facing threats of beating and death, and are often forced to flee their homes for fear of retribution.
Nadia Dybvik, Persecution Watch team moderator, who will be leading the call-in event shared,
“As a young girl in Italy, I was very shy, didn’t have many friends and often felt lonely and depressed. I remember looking up to the vast and beautiful sky dreaming that somewhere over the clouds was a mighty God in a mighty big mansion. I hoped for Him to look down and take me up with Him. I imagined it was a place of peace flowing with love. I wanted to go there and to be with this mighty God. That was so many years ago and I realize now that l genuinely didn’t know our mighty and loving God back then.
I am no longer that lonely, depressed, shy little girl. 36 years ago, I gave my life to Him and finally became a child of God. He has come into my heart and forgiven me for all the wrongs I have done.
“For God so loved the World that He gave HIs only son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
As I look at the picture of this young girl named Leah, my memory brings me back in time when I was her age and my heart cries. If I had known Him then would I stand firm or would I deny Him so that my life would be spared? I hear His Word, “If you deny me, I will deny you”
Oh, what a faith to have at such a young age. Leah knows the Lord as her Savior, and when she looks up in sky, she knows for sure the true Living God. What a mighty work the Lord is doing through this young girl, what a testimony to all. I’ve never met her but love her so dearly. She loves Jesus this I know. I pray that I too will demonstrate my faith in Christ as firmly under all circumstances.
After her kidnapping, at only 14 years old, she wrote a note to her family.
“I know it is not easy missing me…I am confident that one day I shall see your face, if not here then there at the bosom of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
As I read Leah’s note to her mom, I hear Him whispering a very familiar verse to me,
“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” Hebrews 13:3.
How can I not obey? I will remember and I will Pray! I’m asking, “Will you also pray for Leah and the many brothers and sisters in this world suffering for their faith in Christ?” I personally invite you to join the call-in event.
Thank you for standing with Leah and the persecuted church. I look forward to meeting and praying with you on the call!”
Saturday, October 26, 2019
1 p.m. EDT
12 p.m. CDT
11 a.m. MDT
10 a.m. PDT
International numbers and Mobile App links available (We encourage the use of the free mobile app)
MOBILE APP: Free Conference Call HD also provides a quick and easy way for you to dial into conference calls without having to remember the dial-in credentials. Save all of your conference call dial-in numbers and access codes using this free app. With the Free Conference Call HD you can instantly dial into a conference call via 3G/4G data network and or regular mobile carrier. Google Play link or App Store – iTunes
Available International IDOP Prayer Conference Call Connection
(Note: You may experience issues in your country. If you are unable to connect, try using the VoIP dialer available at this link. Dial a number from any of the countries listed at this link to connect to the conference call. In-app language support is available for select countries.
If you would like to host a vigil for Leah or find one near you, please visit pray4leah.org for more information.
Persecution Watch is a prayer call ministry dedicated to praying for the persecuted. The weekly Persecution Watch Prayer Call meets at 9 pm Eastern every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. For more info contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
A global prayer vigil will take place on October 26, 2019 for Leah Sharibu. For those unable to attend the D.C. vigil, information is provided on the Pray For Leah website to help you find or host a prayer vigil for Leah in your area.
Leah was abducted by the Boko Haram on February 19, 2018 with more than 100 of her classmates in Nigeria. She was the only Christian who was abducted and the only one who was not released because she refused to deny Christ. It is time to bring her home. Go to http://www.pray4leah.org to find a vigil near you. #Itstime #FreeLeah
Voice of the Persecuted is asking you to pray and to be a voice by spreading the word on social media, at your church, and in your community. Voice of the Persecuted will be at the vigil in Washington D.C.. If you’re attending, we hope to see you there!
We encourage you to also sign the petition urging the president of Nigeria to secure the release of Leah. SIGN HERE