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Qamishli, Syria (Agenzia Fides) – The funeral of an Armenian Catholic priest, Hovsep Hanna Petoyan [also known as Father Hanna Bidu], and his father, Hanna Petoyan, took place this morning in Qamishli. The two were attacked and killed on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019 by unidentified gunmen as they traveled southbound from Hasaka province to Deir ez-Zor, in the north-east of Syria. Armenian Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo told Agenzia Fides Boutros Marayati,
“For us they are martyrs. And what happened to them is a confirmation that the war is not over here, as we had hoped”.
The funerals of the priest and his father were celebrated in the Armenian Catholic Church of St. Joseph, in the presence of priests, religious, and faithful of all the Christian communities present in the area. Father Antranig Ayvazian, Episcopal Vicar of the Armenian Catholic community of Upper Mesopotamia and northern Syria presided over the funeral liturgy.
Father Hovsep, 46, was married and a father of three children, ordained a priest 5 years ago, was the priest of the Armenian Catholic community of Qamishli, in the northeastern Syrian province of Hassake. Archbishop Marayati to Fides,
“In the city of Qamishli, many Christian refugees also fled from Deir ez-Zor, when that city was devastated by war. He also carried out his pastoral work among them, and for a long time he also followed the projects implemented with the help of international groups to rebuild the church and the houses of the Christians in Deir ez Zor, destroyed by the war. For this reason he went to Deir ez Zor every two weeks to check the progress of the work. He had already carried out six trips to that city so dear to the memory of the Armenians, where there is the shrine of the martyrs of the genocide, also devastated during the conflict”.
At the time of the ambush, the priest and his father were travelling together with an Armenian deacon – wounded during the assault – and another person. The two killers had their faces covered and fled after the ambush. The priest’s father died immediately. Father Hovsep, wounded in the chest, was brought to a clinic in Deir ez Zor and then transferred by ambulance to a hospital in Hassakè, where he arrived already lifeless.
The city of Deir ez Zor is controlled by the Syrian army, but in the area there are also Kurdish forces and US military still operating. In the sub-district of al-Busayrah, an area where the ambush occurred, armed groups affiliated to the self-styled Islamic State (Daesh) are also concentrated, who yesterday claimed responsibility for the gunning down of the Armenian Catholic Priest and his father (but stating, erroneously, to have eliminated “two priests”). “The car in which the priest was traveling there was the inscription of the Armenian Church”.
Syrian state TV SANA called the killing of the Armenian Catholic priest and his father “martyrdom”, while the Kurdish media presented the resurgence of bloody attacks attributable to Daesh as an indirect consequence of the Turkish military intervention in Syria, which forced Kurdish militias operating in the area to review their strategies and suspend military operations against jihadist cells still present in the north-east of Syria.
According to the Kurds of the Rojava Information Center, Daesh jihadists allegedly carried out 30 attacks in the first ten days of November, with a 300 percent increase from their activity levels compared to the period prior to the Turkish military initiative in Syrian territory.
A state-run Christian monthly “sinicized” biblical stories, where Jesus is shown wearing traditional Han attire and Mary is personified as an ancient Chinese woman.
Tian Feng (literally “Heavenly Wind”) is a monthly Christian magazine, published by the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China and the China Christian Council. It has always been a good indicator of the state of “official” Christianity in China. Read More
Source: Bitter Winter, launched in May 2018 as an online magazine on Religious liberty.
Nigeria (Morning Star News) – A decade after Boko Haram began a bloody campaign to impose sharia (Islamic law) on all of Nigeria, Christian leaders say some areas are still under the control of the terrorists.
This information has been continually confirmed by Voice of the Persecuted sources in Nigeria.
The Rev. Mohammed Abubakar Naga, chairman of the Borno state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), told Morning Star News that the terrorists are still active in the northeastern part of the country where the group originated and has displaced thousands of people, effectively closing many churches.
“Gwoza East, especially the hills, has been taken over by Boko Haram,” Pastor Naga said by phone. “The terrorists still attack Christian communities there. This is even with the presence of personnel of the Nigerian army in the area.”
After beginning a violent campaign to establish an Islamic caliphate in northern Nigeria 10 years ago, Boko Haram has killed an estimated 35,000 civilians, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The agency said 37 aid workers lost their lives in the course of serving those displaced by the attacks.
Two of the many pastors Boko Haram killed in northeast Nigeria’s Borno state include the Rev. Faye Pama Musa, then secretary of the CAN’s Borno state chapter, slain on May 14, 2013 after the terrorists followed him from his church building to his house and shot him to death; and Pentecostal pastor George Ojih, captured in 2009 and beheaded for refusing to recant his Christian faith.
Initially targeting government and police officials as part of its campaign against corruption, the insurgency that began in Maiduguri, Borno state increasingly struck Christian educational institutions, health facilities and worship sites, sometimes destroying entire Christian communities.
The CAN’s Naga, who has pastored Pentecostal Believers Covenant Church in Maiduguri for 35 years, said the Boko Haram uprising has been the greatest challenge to Christians in northern Nigeria. Christians were either killed or forced to flee to other parts of the country or to countries like Cameroon and Niger.
In the 2014, Boko Haram attacked congregations of prominent denominations such as the Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN), the Church of the Brethren (EYN), Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), and Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Pentecostal churches, Pastor Naga said.
Commonly referred to as Boko Haram, loosely translated as “[Western] education is forbidden,” the group is now officially part of the Islamic State as ISWAP, the Islamic State in West Africa Province.
In 2002, Mohammed Yusuf, a public servant with the Borno state government and an ardent Islamic student under the tutelage of Sheik Ja’afar Mahmud Adam in Maiduguri, broke ties with the Islamic cleric and founded his sect.
Based in Maiduguri, Yusuf’s teachings included opposition to Christianity and Western democracy, which he said had their roots in the Bible and Western political philosophy. He labeled them “haram,” or forbidden.
In 2009, shortly after Yusuf beheaded Pastor Ojih as an example to others of what happens to those who refuse to convert to Islam, he and other Boko Haram members were captured and extrajudicially killed.
Abubakar Shekau took over as leader after Yusuf’s death in July 2009. Increasingly sophisticated attacks followed, and in 2015 the group aligned with the Islamic State. Its suicide bombings and other attacks have displaced an estimated 2.3 million people from their homes, and in 2015 the Global Terrorism Index ranked it the deadliest terror group in the world.
Nigeria’s military has retaken most of the 20,000 square miles that Boko Haram had seized in Borno state, but the group continues to carry out kidnappings and guerrilla attacks. In April 2014 the group abducted 276 students from the Government Secondary Girls School in Chibok, Borno state, and on Feb. 19, 2018 kidnapped more than 100 high school girls in Dapchi, Yobe state.
About 100 of the 276 girls kidnapped from Chibok are still missing. Nearly all of the Dapchi girls were released on March 21, 2018 after the government negotiated their freedom, but Boko Haram retained Leah Sharibu, now 16, because she refused to renounce Christ.
Nigeria ranked 12th on Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution.
“Christian persecution ‘at near genocide levels,’” the title of a May 3 BBC report, cites a lengthy interim study ordered by British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and led by Rev. Philip Mounstephen, the Bishop of Truro.
According to the BBC report, one in three people around the world suffer from religious persecution, with Christians being “the most persecuted religious group”; “religion ‘is at risk of disappearing’ in some parts of the world”; and “In some regions, the level and nature of persecution is arguably coming close to meeting the international definition of genocide, according to that adopted by the UN.”
British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt is also quoted on why Western governments have been “asleep”—his word—concerning this growing epidemic: “I think there is a misplaced worry that it is somehow colonialist to talk about a religion [Christianity] that was associated with colonial powers rather than the countries that we marched into as colonisers. That has perhaps created an awkwardness in talking about this issue—the role of missionaries was always a controversial one and that has, I think, also led some people to shy away from this topic.”
Whatever the merits of such thinking, the fact is, many of the world’s most persecuted Christians have nothing whatsoever to do with colonialism or missionaries. For example, those most faced with the threat of genocide—including Syria’s and Iraq’s Assyrians and Egypt’s Copts—were Christian several centuries before the ancestors of Europe’s colonizers became Christian, let alone went missionizing.
The BBC report highlights “political correctness” as being especially responsible for the West’s indifference, and quotes Hunt again in this regard: “What we have forgotten in that atmosphere of political correctness is actually the Christians that are being persecuted are some of the poorest people on the planet.”
Although the BBC report has an entire heading titled and devoted to the impact of “political correctness,” ironically, it too succumbs to this contemporary Western malady. For while it did a fair job in highlighting the problem, it said nothing about its causes—not one word about who is persecuting Christians, or why.
For instance, it is well established that the overwhelming majority of Christian persecution occurs in Muslim majority nations. According to Open Doors’ World Watch List 2019, which surveys the 50 nations where Christians are most persecuted, “Islamic oppression continues to impact millions of Christians.” In seven of the absolute worst ten nations, “Islamic oppression” is the cause of persecution. “This means, for millions of Christians—particularly those who grew up Muslim or were born into Muslim families—openly following Jesus can have painful consequences,” including death.
Among the worst persecutors are those that rule according to Islamic law, or Sharia (which academics such as Georgetown University’s John Esposito insist is equitable and just). In Afghanistan (ranked #2), “Christianity is not permitted to exist,” says the WWL 2019, because it “is an Islamic state by constitution, which means government officials, ethnic group leaders, religious officials and citizens are hostile toward” Christians. Similarly, in Somalia, (#3), “The Christian community is small and under constant threat of attack. Sharia law and Islam are enshrined in the country’s constitution, and the persecution of Christians almost always involves violence.” In Iran (#9), “society is governed by Islamic law, which means the rights and professional possibilities for Christians are heavily restricted.”
Equally telling is that 38 of the 50 nations making the WWL 2019 are Muslim majority.
Perhaps the BBC succumbed to silence concerning the sources of Christian persecution—that is, succumbed to “the atmosphere of political correctness” which it ironically highlighted—because it did not rely on the WWL in its own report. The problem with this interpretation is that the study the BBC did rely on, the Bishop of Truro’s, is saturated with talk concerning the sources of Christian persecution. In this regard, the words “Islam” and “Islamist” appear 61 times; “Muslim” appears 56 times in this comprehensive review on persecuted Christians.
Here are a few of the more significant quotes from the Bishop of Truro’s report:
- “The persecution of Christians is perhaps at its most virulent in the region of the birthplace of Christianity—the Middle East & North Africa.”
- “In countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia the situation of Christians and other minorities has reached an alarming stage.”
- “The eradication of Christians and other minorities on pain of ‘the sword’ or other violent means was revealed to be the specific and stated objective of [Islamic] extremist groups in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, north-east Nigeria and the Philippines.”
- “[T]here is mass violence which regularly expresses itself through the bombing of churches, as has been the case in countries such as Egypt, Pakistan, and Indonesia.”
- “The single-greatest threat to Christians [in Nigeria] … came from Islamist militant group Boko Haram, with US intelligence reports in 2015 suggesting that 200,000 Christians were at risk of being killed… Those worst affected included Christian women and girls ‘abducted, and forced to convert, enter forced marriages, sexual abuse and torture.’”
- “An intent to erase all evidence of the Christian presence [in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, north-east Nigeria and the Philippines] was made plain by the removal of crosses, the destruction of Church buildings and other Church symbols. The killing and abduction of clergy represented a direct attack on the Church’s structure and leadership.”
- “Christianity now faces the possibility of being wiped-out in parts of the Middle East where its roots go back furthest. In Palestine, Christian numbers are below 1.5 percent; in Syria the Christian population has declined from 1.7 million in 2011 to below 450,000 and in Iraq, Christian numbers have slumped from 1.5 million before 2003 to below 120,000 today. Christianity is at risk of disappearing, representing a massive setback for plurality in the region.”
The BBC should be commended for (finally) reporting on this urgent issue—even if it is three years behind the times. As the Truro report correctly observes, “In 2016 various political bodies including the UK parliament, the European Parliament and the US House of Representatives, declared that ISIS atrocities against Christians and other religious minority groups such as Yazidis and Shi’a Muslims met the tests of genocide.”
Nigeria (Morning Star News) – Hundreds of family members and sympathizers on Saturday (April 27) attended a funeral in northeastern Nigeria for eight young Christians, six of them minors, who were killed when an off-duty security officer drove his vehicle into their Easter procession on April 21, sources said.
The officer, identified as Adamu Abubakar of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC), reportedly had angry words with leaders of the Christian procession that delayed him and a passenger, off-duty police officer Murtala Hassan, from proceeding at a junction in Gombe, capital of Gombe state.
The Christian leaders of the Boys and Girls Brigade, and international, interdenominational Christian youth organization, let the two Muslim men pass through, but a survivor told Nigerian news outlet The Daily Trust that the driver warned them he would return, made a U-turn, switched off his headlights and rammed the procession from behind.
“This incident, no doubt, is motivated by terrorist acts, as the driver deliberately crashed into the procession,” the chairman of the Gombe State Battalion Brigade of the Boys Brigade, Isaac Kwadang, told Morning Star News. “The driver of the vehicle is a Muslim and an official of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC), while his passenger is a Muslim police officer.”
Killed were Ruth Samson Samanja, 13; Keziah Amos Kwatam, 13; and Polina Yusuf Samanja, 11 of the Girls Brigade company in Gombe, Kwadang said. From the Boys Brigade, those killed were Sunday Samuel Gurnet, 19; Irimiya Amos Ibrahim, 14; Joseph Daniel, 21; Joseph Danjuma Paul Gavan, 15; and Jesse Markus Baka, 15, he said.
The vehicle assault also sent 12 Christians to the hospital for treatment of injuries, Kwadang said.
“Both the dead and injured Christian youths are members of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) and Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN) in Gombe,” he said. “Seven of the dead are from ECWA, while one is from COCIN.”
The two officers were also killed when crowds that survived the vehicle assault reportedly chased them down and mobbed them.
The killed and injured ECWA members were from congregations in Gombe and the Barunde, Tabra and Madaki areas of the town, while the slain victim from the COCIN was from the church at Y/Bogo, Kwadang said.
The incident occurred on Biu Road at Alheri Junction in Gombe, he said.
Chief Medical Director Shuaibu Muazu of the Gombe State Specialist Hospital told Morning Star News by phone that the hospital received eight corpses in its morgue.
Later the funeral service was held at the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Center in Gombe. Attending was the deputy governor of the state, Charles Iliya, and other government officials. The bodies were buried at the Christian cemetery in Gombe.
The Rev. Nicholas Okoh, primate of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), noted that the assault was directed at people celebrating the resurrection of Christ.
“It is unfortunate that such a thing should happen on Easter Day,” he said. “It also shows that our country has not arrived [at the point] that people tolerate others. People are marching, showing joy, showing happiness, and somebody decides to crush them and kill so many for no reason.”
Garba Shehu, spokesman for President Muhammadu Buhari, said in a press statement that the president was saddened by the killing of the youths.
“My heart is filled with the pain that the families of the victims were facing as they buried these promising youngsters,” he said. “The entire nation is with you as experience this sad, indescribable loss. May the Almighty God comfort you at this difficult time.”
Nigeria ranked 12th on Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution.
(Voice of the Persecuted) During a press conference, the Sri Lankan Health Minister, Rajitha Senaratne confirmed that the suicide bombers in the Easter attacks were carried out by Sri Lankan citizens associated with a local Jihadi terror group, National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), with the help of an international network. The death toll has risen to 290, with over 500 injured.
There are reports of more bombs found near the airport and bus station. Please continue to pray.
Special Report: Translators persecuted for translating the gospel
By Nena Podbury for American Bible Society—This week, we received heartbreaking news about an attack against Bible translators and we’re urging everyone to pray.
American Bible Society has been supporting a network of churches that are working on 25 Bible translation projects for unreached people groups in Central Asia and the Arabic Gulf region. Working in an undisclosed location in Northeast Africa, where the Christian church faces strong opposition, Christians risk their lives to translate God’s Word.
Last month, a terrorist group became aware of these translation efforts. Two weeks ago, this militant group burned the translation facility and killed five members of the lead translator’s family. The lead translator was also seriously injured. Another 49 translators were abducted and are still missing.
Despite this horrifying tragedy and the constant threat of extreme danger, this network of pastors plans to carry on its work.
They need our prayers. Let us cry out to God for these brave translators and for God’s Word to continue to shine light in the darkness.
- The missing translators. Pray for the safe release of the 49 translators who are missing.
- Translation work. Pray for these translation projects to be completed so that those 25 unreached people groups will have access to God’s Word in their native language. Pray for safety, wisdom, and courage for all translators.
- The lead translator. Pray that God will bring healing and comfort to this translator who lost members of his family.
(Voice of the Persecuted) Urgent prayers needed for Nigerian Christian teenager threatened to be executed today by Boko Haram. 15 year old Leah Sharibu was among over 100 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram insurgents from a school in Dapchi, Northern Nigeria on Feb. 19, 2018. It was a kidnapping that mirrored what happened in Chibok four years earlier when 276 girls were abducted from the school in Chibok, Borno State. A month after the Dapchi abduction on March 22 the militants released 104 of the schoolgirls, with the exception of Leah. The teenager was the only Christian in the group. Boko Haram members told Leah to renounce her Christian faith and become a Muslim or they would not let her go. The Muslim schoolgirls begged her to do it and go home with them, but she refused to deny her faith in Jesus and is still a captive of the Boko Haram. The Nigerian government has been bombarded with pleas, including those from the international community, to step up and secure Leah’s immediate release.
A month ago, Boko Haram militants killed one of three Red Cross workers being held as their captives. The militants gave a one month deadline to kill Leah and the two others unless the Nigerian government met the radical group’s demands for their release. Today marks that deadline!
We ask that you pray with us for young Leah and the Red Cross workers.
…for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Rom. 14:8-9
The Apostle Paul reminds us in 2 Cor. 5:8, we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.
Our brothers and sisters in the New Testament did not fear martyrdom. In fact, they considered the martyrs crown to be an honor and read in Revelation 20 that the martyrs will reign with Jesus in heaven.
Not to promote a cult of martyrdom, but to encourage that we need not fear what the enemy will do. Rejoice that Christ has conquered death and is victor over all. The persecuted church in Nigeria and around the world is not a “victimized” church but part of the global, persecuted church who is a “victorious” church because the bride of Christ follows a “victorious” Savior. The Son, who has conquered death, sits at the right hand of God the Father.
Only God knows what will happen to Leah Sharibu, this day, or in the days to follow. Pray for her release and let us also pray and rejoice that His good, acceptable and perfect will will be done to bring Him glory. For Leah Sharibu, our dear sister, belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ. Not jihadists or even the devil can snatch her out of the hand of Jesus.