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Indonesian Christian governor Ahok set for early release from prison

(World Watch Monitor) Jakarta’s former governor, known as “Ahok”, who was sentenced last year to two years in jail for blasphemy against Islam, is to be released from prison next month, four months ahead of schedule.

The ethnic Chinese Christian, whose real name is Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, was due to be released in May but has been granted early release, scheduled for 24 January, for good behaviour, according to Sri Puguh Budi Utami, Director General for Prison Affairs, as reported by AsiaNews.

Ahok had refused parole in July as he hoped for early release after serving almost two-thirds of his sentence.

Widespread condemnation

Ahok, the first Christian and ethnic Chinese to govern Indonesia’s capital since the 1960s, was charged with blasphemy in December 2016 after accusing his political opponents of using Quranic verses to dissuade Muslims from voting for him in his bid for re-election as Jakarta governor.

In April last year, one day after he lost the election to his Muslim contender, Anies Rasiyd Baswedan, prosecutors downgraded the blasphemy charges against him and recommended he serve no prison time if found guilty. They suggested two years’ probation with a possible one-year jail term if he committed a crime during that period. The judge, however, decided a harsher punishment was called for, telling the court: “Mr. Purnama was found to have legitimately and convincingly conducted a criminal act of blasphemy, and because of that we have imposed two years of imprisonment.”

His sentence received widespread condemnation globally as politicians, academics and rights groups expressed their concerns about the growing threat to religious pluralism in Indonesia.

During the trial, Ahok’s supporters clashed repeatedly with extremist Islamist groups and it was for this reason that the former governor initially decided not to appeal his sentence – “for the sake of our people and nation”.

Politics and fake news

However in February Ahok filed an appealafter a court found a communications professor from Jakarta, Buni Yani, guilty of hate speech for editing the viral video that formed the basis for the allegations against Ahok. But the Supreme Court rejected Ahok’s appeal.

Before Ahok’s trial, in November 2016, Catholic news agency UCAN reported that according to Syafi’i Ma’arif, the former chairman of Muhammadiyah, the second largest Islamic group in Indonesia, there was “no blasphemy” in Yani’s video, and the charges against the Christian governor had been fabricated for political purposes.

During his trial, Ahok told the court he had been the target of racist and religious attacks since he was elected to public office in 2005.

In March it was reported that Ahok may also have been a victim of a sophisticated anti-government campaign of “fake news” and malicious bots. An online jihadist network known as the Muslim Cyber Army (MCA) posted “inflammatory content and messages designed to amplify social and religious division, and push a hardline Islamist and anti-government line”, authorities said.

An Indonesian musician is currently facing a two-year prison sentence for allegedly committing hate speech against Ahok during his bid for re-election in 2017, as World Watch Monitor reported.

Earlier this year, Indonesia’s Human Rights Commission announced plans to publish guidelines to avoid sectarian clashes in the run-up to next year’s national elections as some hard-line Islamic leaders had called on Indonesians to vote only for Muslim candidates.

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Unimaginable Loss for Christians Displaced by Violence in Nigeria

The displaced Gado family lives in the open air in room destroyed by rains. (Morning Star News)

Displaced family lives in the open air in room destroyed by rains. (Morning Star News)

Nigeria (Morning Star News) – A grandmother whose 35-year-old son, 21-year-old daughter-in-law and 5-year-old granddaughter were shot dead by Muslim Fulani herdsmen is now homeless after she and other relatives fled the attack in August.

“We were taken in by a family in Jebbu Miango village, but unfortunately the room we were given has been destroyed as a result of torrential rains,” Talatu Gado told Morning Star News as tears ran down her cheeks. “You can see that we now sleep in the open.”

Members of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in Zanwra village, in Bassa county of Plateau state, Gado and her relatives were at their home in Angwan Kauna village when the herdsmen attacked on Aug. 3. Slain were her son, Emmanuel Gado, his sister-in-law Ladi Monday and the latter’s daughter, Mary Monday. A fourth relative, 7-year-old Gado Monday, was wounded by gunshot. Talatu told Morning Star News, 

“Prior to the herdsmen attack on us, they had while grazing their cattle around homes and farms threatened us severally. One of them once told me that a day would come that I will weep, that is if I’m still alive to cry. I never knew they’ll carry out their threat. Now my heart bleeds.” 
Photo: Morning Star News

The matriarch and her relatives have not been able to return to their village due to the threat of further attacks, she said.

On the day of the attack at about 6:30 p.m., her daughter-in-law and other women were cooking the evening meal when the herdsmen attacked their village, she said. Her granddaughter was taking a bath. She and her husband, Gado Andra, were seated as they waited for dinner. Suddenly they heard her son, 25-year-old Friday Gado, shouting outside the house that Fulani herdsmen were attacking the village from all sides.

“We all scattered in different directions, rushing out of the house through available exit points,” Talatu Gado said. “Other family members who were too scared to run out rushed into bedrooms to hide.”

The four family members who remained inside were shot, with the three dying and Gado Monday wounded.

“Those of us who were able to escape from the house survived the shooting, but we were displaced as we have been forced to flee the village,” she said. “Many in the community who also survived have fled to other areas. Some are living with relations in Miango town, while others are living in Internally Displaced People’s camps in the city of Jos.”

The Rev. Sunday Birih, pastor in charge of the ECWA congregation in Zanwra, told Morning Star News that Emmanuel Gado tried to rescue Mary, his niece, during the attack.

Emmanuel Lado was brother-in-law to Ladi Monday. Pastor Birih said she served as choir mistress and was a one-time leader of the Women’s Fellowship Group at Angwan Kauna.

Their story is repeated in the hundreds of thousands throughout Nigeria. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates violence in the country is responsible for more than 1.9 million people still internally displaced.

Previous Attack

Pastor Birih said the herdsmen had first attacked Zanwra and Angwan Kauna in late January. Killed were church members James Ninweh, 60, Monday Njweh, 49, and 50-year-old Saku Jerih, he said.

“It was during this first attack that my house was burnt down,” Pastor Birih said. “The herdsmen after this attack thought they had killed me and my family as they went round and proudly spread the news that the pastor and his family were burnt alive. But unknown to them, me and my family escaped during the attack before the house was burnt down.”

He credited Morning Star News’s coverage for the outpouring of support he received to rebuild his house after the attack. But the assaults displaced about half of the church’s former membership of about 400 worshippers, he said.

“When we returned after the attack in August, we set aside three days for fasting and prayers, and this has helped to ignite the revival fires in our hearts,” Pastor Birih said. “Other members are scattered in the town of Miango and in the city of Jos. Unfortunately, most houses of my members who survived these two attacks have been destroyed by rains because their owners have been displaced. Truly, my surviving members urgently need help to get back on their feet.”

Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population, while Muslims living primarily in the north and middle belt account for 45 percent.

Pastors in Nigeria Say Military Complicit in Attacks on Christians

Nigeria (Morning Star News) – Christian leaders meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, Nigeria this month delivered a sharp rebuke, saying the military is complicit in attacks on Christians.

With the governor of Plateau state in attendance, the Rev. Dacholom Datiri, president of the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN), delivered a report to Buhari at the presidential villa on Nov. 6 stating that 646 Christians in Plateau state alone were killed from March through October.

“The narrative has been that these people are killed by unknown gunmen, or suspected herdsmen, or that there have been farmer-herders clashes,” Datiri said in the report, obtained by Morning Star News. “All these are deceptive narratives deliberately framed to conceal the truth and continue to perpetrate the evil.”

The truth, he said, is that Muslim Fulani militias heavily armed with sophisticated guns, including AK47s, machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenades have attacked and killed Christians.

“After the attacks, it is the Fulani herders that settle and graze their cattle on the farms of the victims,” Datiri said in the report to the president. “The proficiency and mode of operation in all of these attacks, as testified by the surviving victims, leaves us in no doubt of the complicity of the military being used as hired mercenaries by the Fulani militias. On this, we are disappointed, and sadly so, that the government has not delivered on her constitutional responsibility of protecting lives and property.”

Datiri said the herdsmen in collaboration with Boko Haram jihadists and other Muslim militants in the areas of Barkin Ladi, Riyom, Bassa and Bokkos destroyed 30 church buildings and 4,436 Christian homes, sending 38,000 Christians into 10 camps for displaced persons from March through October.

“Are we to believe that the armed forces sent to keep peace go with the instructions to protect them?” Datiri said. “The implication is that they protect the aggressors and leave the victims mercilessly helpless.”

Datiri pointed out that as the figures pertain only to Plateau state, they do not include those killed by Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria.

For his part, Plateau Gov. Simon Lalong reportedly faulted Muslim and other community leaders for compounding the crisis of violence in the state by hiding criminals.

Buhari, a Fulani Muslim, responded to the Christian leaders by saying he did not doubt COCIN’s report on the atrocities committed against their communities.

“The communities (in Plateau) have lived long enough to know that there is nothing they can do without each other than to live together in harmony,” Buhari said. “As leaders, we must persuade the upcoming generation using every channel, particularly the educational institutions, to live together with our neighbors.”

Christian and Muslim leaders have to work harder to convince the upcoming generation that they must live together in the same country, Buhari said.

“It is not all Muslims that are against Christians, and neither are all Christians against Muslims,” he said. “In our security arrangement, the police is in the frontline in making sure that communities irrespective of ethnic or religious bias live together in peace.”

Church Under Siege

Datiri told Buhari the church in Plateau state has been under siege for 18 years, bringing the 3 million COCIN members of the 104-year-old church to their knees across central and northern Nigeria.

“We are here to tell you the truth with the hope that it will help you to make adjustments and take appropriate action,” he said. “We are aware that you might have received several false and misleading information regarding the perennial crises. It is our hope that you will oblige us to tell you our concerns and pains affecting us and make suggestions that will bring about positive impacts on your government.”

With about 65 percent of the population of Plateau state belonging to the COCIN, the church leaders have first-hand knowledge of the true facts on the ground, he said.

“Your excellency, in the last 18 years, COCIN as a denomination has suffered destruction of lives and property more than any church or any community,” Datiri said. “The devastation in terms of massacre of lives and destruction of property is unimaginable. Pastors and members in their thousands have been killed in cold blood, either shot dead or slaughtered like animals or burned to death. Houses and businesses have been burned or looted and farmlands have been destroyed.”

COCIN has also suffered in the northeastern states of Yobe, Borno (in Maiduguri, Gwoza and Chibok, for example) and Adamawa states, he said.

“And yet, despite the huge government intervention in that area, very little relief has come to COCIN and her members, if any,” he said. “We are aware that a lot of government intervention in terms of relief material has gone to the northeast. Unfortunately, our members in that zone have been left out of the distribution.”

In the Tafawa Balewa and Bogoro counties of Bauchi state, where more than 90 percent of the population belongs to the COCIN, thousands of lives have been lost and billions of naira in property destroyed, Datiri said.

“We have also suffered heavy losses in Taraba, Benue, Nasarawa, Kaduna states,” he said.

In Plateau state, where thousands of lives and billions of naira in property have also been lost, the devastation this year has been incredible, he said.

“Even on the day you visited Jos in March and launched the Peace Roadmap, your excellency, lives were being massacred in Bokkos and Bassa Local Government Areas,” Datiri said. “And in June, over 300 people (about 350) were massacred, slaughtered in cold blood over a period of three days in Barkin Ladi and Riyom Local Government Areas. Since then, almost on a daily basis, people are either ambushed and shot dead or attacked in their homes and killed in cold blood or killed on their farms.”

The COCIN leaders sought the meeting with Buhari to correct misinformation about the nature of the violence, he said. They urged Buhari to take urgent measures to end the carnage and to rehabilitate and resettle displaced Christians.

“We have a lot of our members in the IDP camps and others living with relatives in other communities,” Datiri said. “There is an urgent need for them to return back to their homes to continue their farming activities, which is their main source of livelihood. Their lands and homes need to be recovered and rebuilt.”

The Internally Displaced People are depressed and broken and need rehabilitation, he said.

“They need to be reassured that the government is concerned of their welfare. Economically, they need to be re-equipped with farming tools, fertilizers and seeds,” he said. “The church has always been the last hope for the poor, downtrodden, depressed and broken. It is the first place for rehabilitation. If the IDPs are resettled in their various communities, their usual meeting points are their churches, schools and hospitals established by the same church. The church buildings and institutions should be rebuilt.”

Finally, he called on the government to secure the release of kidnapped Christians, including Leah Sharibu, a high school Christian abducted along with more than 100 other girls from Dapchi in February but not released with the others because she refused to recant her faith.

“We call on the federal government to take every adequate measure in ensuring their safe release from their abductors,” Datiri said.

About 100 of 276 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram from the town of Chibok, in Borno state, in 2014 are still missing.

Boko Haram, whose name is loosely translated as, “Western education is a sin,” has fought for more than nine years to impose Islamic law on all of Nigeria, killing tens of thousands of people and displacing more than 2 million. Boko Haram militants reportedly warned parents of the returned Dapchi girls not to send their daughters back to school.

In 2015 the Nigerian military began taking back most of the territory Boko Haram had controlled, but many areas remain, and the terrorists are still mounting isolated attacks. Jubilee Campaign reports that, according to figures from the Stefanos Foundation, Boko Haram in 2017 took responsibility for attacks that claimed more than 650 lives.

Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population, while Muslims living primarily in the north and middle belt account for 45 percent.

Blasphemy death sentence appeal hearing postoned

(Voice of the Persecuted) The November 27, 2018 appeal hearing of Sawan Masih, a Pakistani Christian accused and sentenced to death for blasphemy, was postponed. Nasir Saeed, a spokesperson from CLAAS, Sawans’s defense counsel, told Voice of the Persecuted that they have yet to receive a rescheduled hearing date. It’s possible that the court avoided conducting the hearing deliberately because of the present situation in the country after Asia Bibi’s acquittal, he added. 

Sawan is at the center of a case that caused a mob of 3000 Muslim men to attack the Joseph Colony of Lahore, Pakistan in March of 2013. (View report and photos) After a local mosque announced the blasphemy charge over loudspeakers, the vigilantes stormed the Christian community where Masih lived. They burned or ransacked 180 Christian homes, 75 shops and at least two churches during the attack. Mob members threatened to burn the Christians alive if they tried to defend or hide in their homes. Hundreds of families were forced to flee for their lives as the angry mob destroyed their village. 

Masih was accused by his Muslim friend, Shahid Imran. A local bishop said the incident had more to do with personal enmity between the two men than blasphemy. He claimed the men got into a brawl after drinking late one night, and in the morning the Muslim man made up the blasphemy story as payback. Some claimed that Sawan was ‘winning’ their argument. They believe a Christian having the upper hand incensed Shahid Imran to falsely accuse Masih. Please keep praying for Masih and other victims of Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

Blasphemy: Christian death sentence appeal hearing on Nov. 27

Sawan Masih sentenced to death for blasphemy

PAKISTAN: Prayers are needed for Sawan Masih who has been on death row for blasphemy since 2014. Masih was accused by his Muslim friend, Shahid Imran, of making derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad in 2013. A case was registered against him under section 295-C of the Blasphemy Law which has a mandatory death penalty. Masih says the charge is false.

His case became internationally known when a large Muslim mob violently attacked Masih’s residential area, Joseph Colony, in Badami Bagh Lahore. The local mosque broadcasted the accusation via loudspeakers and a mob of more than 3,000 Muslims attacked Sawan’s home, looted and torched 180 Christian homes, 75 shops and at least two churches. Witnesses say the police stood and watched instead of stopping the attackers and protecting local Christians and their property.

Hundreds of families were displaced as the mob threatened to burn Christians alive in their homes unless they left. Sawan Masih was handed over to the police and has remained in custody ever since. See our March 2013 report and photos of the violent mob attack

Mob burns and destroys Christian neighborhood for blasphemy charge claimed to be false.

On March 27, 2014 the Lower Court sentenced Masih to death for committing blasphemy.  Soon after this verdict CLAAS filed an appeal against the conviction in the Lahore High Court, which is scheduled to be heard on Tuesday, November 27, 2018.

Sawan Masih’s wife and three children are very concerned and living in fear. CLAAS is providing free legal aid to Sawan Masih. Prayers have been requested and considered crucial for his safety and release.

Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS-UK said, “This is a very unfortunate situation as although Asia Bibi was acquitted on October 31 by the Pakistan Supreme Court, she is not allowed to leave Pakistan despite several western countries being willing to accept her and her family.”

He added, “This is because the leader of the Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan has threatened the government, saying if she leaves the country, there will be war. Unfortunately for the last several decades, Islamist groups in Pakistan have become more powerful than the state. Now the situation is that everyone, whether it is the prime minister or the chief justice of Pakistan, they have to proclaim publicly that they equally love the prophet and would sacrifice their life for the prophet.

A review petition and separately a petition to add her name in the exit control list (ECL) has been filed in the supreme court and keeping in view the present situation I don’t think the review petition will be heard very soon.”

Mr Saeed also said, “Pakistan’s President Dr Arif Alvi’s statement that the government will not amend the blasphemy law is not very encouraging as we all know the blasphemy law is often used by Muslims to settle personal grudges and scores against their rivals, and Christians are the main target.  He said the blasphemy law needs change to stop its continuous misuse and the international community needs to remind Pakistan of this regularly.”

HEARING UPDATE HERE

Islamic Cleric who led protest against Asia Bibi acquittal arrested

Police detained radical Islamic cleric and (TLP) chief, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who led protests that brought daily life to a halt following the Supreme Court acquittal of Asia Bibi. On Friday, authorities began a nationwide crackdown and arrested over 1000 leaders and supporters of the Islamist party. The cleric’s arrest ignited violent clashes with police and several people were injured. A majority of the arrests took place in the province of Punjab, headquarters of the extremist Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party. They alleged the crackdown against the party and its leadership was to prevent them from protesting the acquittal.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry dismissed those claims. He explained that Rizvi had been placed under “protective custody” because he refused to withdraw a fresh call for street protests on Sunday and turned down offers to organize the rally at a place proposed by the government. “It’s to safeguard public life, property and order and has to do nothing with Asia Bibi case.” The minister called for the public to remain “peaceful and calm and “the law shall take its course and it cannot be left to individuals.”

The charity Aid to the Church in Need stays in contact with Asia’s family. The charity spokesman, John Pontifex , relayed that the situation is constantly changing. In a recent conversation, the family told him that people were going door-to-door showing their pictures and asking if people had seen them.

Asia is currently in protective custody, pending an appeal lodged by the religious extremist TLP party against her acquittal.

Eisham Ashiq spoke publicly for the first time from a safe house in Pakistan since her mother was acquitted of blasphemy. Please keep Asia, her family, Christians in Pakistan and the nation in your prayers.

May we be in Thanksgiving, every day

Happy Thanksgiving

Inspiring Bible Verses for Thanksgiving

1 Thessalonians 5:18

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Philippians 4:6

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Psalm 107:1

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!

Psalm 7:17

I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.

Ephesians 5:20

Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

James 1:17

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Psalm 50:14

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High,

Colossians 3:15

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

Hebrews 13:15

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

Psalm 100:4

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!

Scripture Quotes on Being Thankful

2 Corinthians 2:14

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.

Psalm 116:12

What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me?

Lamentations 3:23

They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Colossians 4:2

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

Colossians 3:17

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Psalm 31:19

Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!

Psalm 103:2

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,

2 Corinthians 4:15

For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

What the Bible Says About Giving Thanks

Psalm 95:2

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

1 Chronicles 16:34

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!

Luke 6:38

Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

Psalm 69:30

I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving.

2 Corinthians 9:15

Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

1 Timothy 2:1

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

What is your favorite Bible verse for Thanksgiving? Share it in the comments below and encourage others in our community!

Crosswalk

To all our brothers and sisters, we thank God for you! May the Lord provide all your needs, strengthen, bless and keep you.

The Voice of the Persecuted (VOP) and Persecution Watch Teams

Two Iranian Christian converts arrested in Mashhad and Karaj

Informed sources reported to Mohabat News that “Behnam Ersali, a Christian convert living in Karaj, traveled to Mashhad and was arrested by security guards at a friend’s home on Friday, November 16, 2018 and taken unknown location.

Six plain-clothed security officers entered the house without a legal decree and arrested him along with the another person. The second was released a few hours later.

Behnam Ersali, was a former member of the Assemblies of God church in Tehran. Mohabat New also reported that several years ago Ersali had been fired from his job because of his Christian faith.

Davood Rasooli, known among the believers as “David”, was also arrested on Friday by two plain-clothes officers on in front of his home in Karaj. He too was transferred to an unknown location. Informed sources, quoted by the Christian convert’s family, say that the officers returned to the house two hours later with Rasooli.  They searched his home and confiscated some of his books and personal belongings.

MEC reported that Rasooli had planned to meet Ersali in Mashhad that same day. It’s believed that Iranian intelligence had intercepted their calls and learned of the arrangement.

Since the arrest of these two Christian converts there has been no contact with their family members. Mohabat news shared that no information is yet available on the cause of their detention or where they are kept. According to MEC, friends of Rasooli believe that he is in solitary confinement and undergoing interrogation in Rajai Shahr Prison.

Mohabat news shared that reports indicate Iran’s intelligent agencies have summoned and arrested a number of believers in the northern cities of the country. There are still no details on this issue, but it is said that some of them were released on their recognizance’s.

The Islamic Republic is under international pressures, and government officials are at an impasse, but they continue to harass religious and ethnic minorities without any understanding of their own conditions. It seems that there is a new wave of arrest and pressure against Christians.

The United Nations Human Rights Council has recently adopted a resolution indicating the increase in the number of executions, especially executions of criminals under the age of 18, violations of the right to freedom of expression and violations of the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, repression of protesters and journalists, torture and ill-treatment in prisons, detention and the condemnation of dual nationality and the violation of women’s rights in Iran, and that the human rights situation has become worse in Iran. However, Iran’s President, Hassan Rowhani, has claimed that he intends to improve the situation of religious and ethnic minorities./FARSI

Where Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were preserved in the midst of a blazing furnace fire in the presence of the Lord. A land where God saved Daniel when he sent his angel to shut the mouths of the lions. Today, this same land has one of the fastest growing number of Christians in the world—second only to China. Please keep our Iranian brothers and sisters in your prayers.

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