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Nigeria (Morning Star News) – Islamic extremist terrorists who kidnapped 11 Christians in northeast Nigeria on Christmas Day have executed five of them, according to a video released by the Islamic State’s AMAQ News agency.
The 49-second video, dated Dec. 29, shows five armed members of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) lining up behind five men dressed in orange robes who are kneeling with their hands tied behind them. Ordered in the Hausa language to state their names, each of the kneeling men in turn is heard saying their name and adding, “I’m a Christian.”
Morning Star News heard the names spoken as Uka Joseph, Sunday, Wilson, Joshua Maidugu and Garba Yusuf.
Speaking in the Hausa language common throughout northern Nigeria, one of the ISWAP militants then says,
“This is a warning to Christians in all parts of the world and those in Nigeria. We have not forgotten what you did to our brethren in Zangon Kataf town and other parts of Nigeria. Use the heads of these five of your brethren to continue with your ungodly celebrations.”
The five Christians are then shot to death.
The executioner’s citing of Zangon-Kataf appears to refer to ethnic clashes in the area in Kaduna state in 1992 over a proposal to relocate a market away from land granted to the Hausa people, who are primarily Muslim. Clashes broke out between them and the indigenous, predominantly Christian Atyap people, resulting in 60 deaths in February 1992 and 400 more in May 1992, with Hausa youths killing many Christians of various tribes in retaliation.
On Christmas Eve ISWAP terrorists began an attack on Garkida, Adamawa state, that local residents assumed was launched by Boko Haram, the Islamic extremist group from which ISWAP broke off in 2016. Government and local sources said the Nigerian army repelled the attack, but as it continued into the wee hours of Christmas Day, the assailants were said to have killed six Christians and kidnapped 11 others.
Morning Star News received messages from area residents on Wednesday (Dec. 30) asserting that six Christians were killed in Friday’s (Dec. 25) attack on Garkida, and that the Christians martyred in the video were among the 11 kidnapped.
Moses Abarshi, a Christian leader in northern Nigeria, notified Morning Star News that a Christian had told him that his brother and four other Christians had been executed for their faith.
“Please let us keep the family in our thoughts and prayers in this trying time,” Abarshi said by text message. “May the blood of these martyrs keep speaking for the gospel. May the church not be frightened and discouraged, in Jesus name!”
In the attack on Garkida town, ISWAP burned down homes, looted shops and stores, set fire to a hospital and took food from homes, area Christians said.
On July 22 a video was released showing terrorists believed to be members of ISWAP executing five men, with one militant saying it was warning to “all those being used by infidels to convert Muslims to Christianity.”
The U.S. State Department on Dec. 7 designated Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.” Nigeria joined Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan on the list.
In a more recent category of non-state actors, the State Department also designated ISWAP, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Greater Sahara, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, and the Taliban as “Entities of Particular Concern.”
On Dec. 10 the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, issued a statement calling for investigation into crimes against humanity in Nigeria.
On Jan. 30 Christian Solidarity International (CSI) issued a genocide warning for Nigeria, calling on the Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council to take action. CSI issued the call in response to “a rising tide of violence directed against Nigerian Christians and others classified as ‘infidels’ by Islamist militants in the country’s north and middle belt regions.’”
Nigeria ranked 12th on Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution but second in the number of Christians killed for their faith, behind Pakistan.
Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Nigeria.
Special Report-Nuns arrested by Chinese Communist Party as Beijing turns up heat on Church in Hong Kong
Extracts from The Guardian article: Read the full report here. “In May, two Chinese nuns who work at the mission were arrested by mainland authorities during a visit home to Hebei province, according to three Catholic clerics with knowledge of the matter. The nuns, in their 40s, were detained for three weeks before being released into house arrest without being charged. They are forbidden to leave the mainland, according to one of the clerics. Meanwhile, Western diplomats say, Chinese security agents have stepped up surveillance of the mission in recent months.”
Fearless, Cardinal Zen calls for courage.
“We are at the bottom of the pit – there is no freedom of expression anymore,” the former Bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen, told Reuters in a written reply to questions. “All these things are normal in mainland China. We are becoming like any other city in China.”
With the exception of 88-year-old Cardinal Zen, all Church leaders, local priests and parishioners interviewed for this article declined to be named. “For any word you say,” Zen told Reuters, the authorities “can say you’re offending the National Security Law.”
India (Morning Star News) – The last thing pastor Shelton Vishwanathan recalled happening before he lost consciousness in a village in northeast India was Hindu extremists threatening to offer him as a sacrifice to their god as they belted his head.
“They punched my back and told me that they would offer me as a sacrifice to their deity as a punishment for distributing gospel tracts,” he told Morning Star News. “They struck severe blows on my head, so that I soon fainted.”
When the six radical Hindus first stopped him and told him to quit handing out tracts in Tiryani village, in Bihar state’s Sheohar District on Oct. 5, he had told them “Fine” and was about to go on his way when one of them seized the keys from his scooter, took away his phone and signaled the others to attack him, he said.
When he regained consciousness, he found himself locked in a dark room.
“I shouted for help, cried loud hoping someone would hear my cries and come to help me, but nobody could hear me,” Pastor Vishwanathan said. “I was lying down on the floor without food or water for the next few days. They did not give me anything to eat or drink.”
Seven days later, an elderly woman who lives nearby heard his cries and knocked on the door, he said.
“She told me that the door was bolted from outside and that she would open it for me on the condition that I would not tell anyone that she opened it,” said Pastor Vishwanathan, who leads a house church of 18 people. “She was very scared that if the assailants found out that she opened the door, she would also land in trouble.”
He explained what had happened and told her he would starve and die there if she did not open the door, the pastor said. She took him out of the room and later gave him food and water.
“Had she not helped, I would not be alive today,” he said. “I fully believe that it was God who sent her to help me.”
After returning to his home in Sheohar with strangers helping him to find his way by foot, he learned from neighbors that his family had searched for him throughout the district. Frightened, the family members sold some furniture in order to make it to his wife’s hometown in Nepal. Bihar state borders Nepal.
The assailants had taken his phone – which contained his in-laws’ phone number – and Pastor Vishwanathan had no money to make a phone call. Neighbors offered him food, some money and an old cell phone, but for weeks he could not reach his wife. With help from other Christians, eventually he was able to make contact and pay for his family to return home on Nov. 28.
Through the intervention of legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom India, senior pastors from Patna, capital of Bihar state, offered their assistance, suggesting he file charges against the attackers, he said.
“But I did not want to pursue a case against the assailants,” Pastor Vishwanathan said. “I had come under attack several times for leading a home church and sharing the gospel in villages but survived only because of God’s grace. Even in the past, the police warned me that there is a threat to my life. As the Navratri [Hindu festival] celebrations were in full swing, if I was found again the assailants might have really offered me as a sacrifice to the deity.”
Eight Hindu extremists in Sheohar District had attacked him on June 23, 2019, pushing him off his scooter and breaking his hand and foot as they beat him.
Violence against Christians in Bihar state has increased in the past two years, with attacks on house churches and pastors happening weekly, sources said. Many of those attacked choose not to call police, as officers are often complicit in Hindu extremist aggression.
Pastor Vishwanathan has had to vacate his home.
“The landlord of our rented home got to know that I was locked up in a room for a week, and he told me that he cannot risk the lives of others by letting me stay in the house knowing there is a threat to my life,” he said. “He issued an ultimatum to vacate the house.”
With financial help from Christian groups, he was able to find another rented house, he said. The assailants took his motor-scooter, and as he bought it used and has no vehicle documents, police have told him there is no way to find it.
The pastor hopes to continue distributing tracts.
“I am overjoyed to see the Lord’s hand in every situation over the past two months,” Pastor Vishwanathan. “My family who thought I must have been lost and died have returned to see me alive. We give thanks and praises to the Lord.”
(Bitter Winter) by Zhou Xiaolu — On October 8, over 40 officials from the Public Security Bureau and the Caotang town government in Xi’an, the capital of the northwestern province of Shaanxi, destroyed a Three-Self church after expelling congregation members attempting to stop the demolition. One believer, in his 70s, was carried away because he had fainted seeing that the venue was about to be destroyed. The church was razed to the ground within two hours, with all its effects buried in ruins. Congregation members cry as their church is being demolished.
“The government demanded to demolish the church supposedly because of engineering works needed to fix the erosion of a nearby river,” a congregation member said. “But the distance between the church and the river is quite long. Officials never discussed with us the plans for the demolition; they simply arranged personnel to do it. Such actions are too brutal, totally unreasonable.”
On September 16, over 100 police officers and Maanshan city government officials in the eastern province of Anhui demolished a Three-Self church without informing its over 200 congregation members. Hired workers cut off the water and electricity supply to the church and forcibly carried away an elderly couple in charge of the church’s upkeep. The two believers were taken to a local hotel, where they were guarded by seven designated personnel.
“Officials told us that the church would be relocated but never mentioned anything about demolishing it,” a congregation member said helplessly. “Church account books and electric devices were all buried in the ruins.”
A Three-Self venue in Pingyu county administered by Zhumadian city in the central province of Henan was demolished in August after staying closed for two years ago. According to a county resident, the official reason for the demolition was that the land was needed to build water conservancy facilities. But no other buildings, except for the church, were demolished.
Congregation members put up a tent near the church ruins, waiting to settle the forced demolition issue with local officials.
In July, the Yutai county government in Jining, a prefecture-level city in the eastern province of Shandong, demolished a Three-Self church venue attended by believers from several villages. Officials claimed that the church was too close to the village committee building and that “believing in Jesus meant going against the Communist Party.”
In February, the Xinglou town government in Pizhou, a county-level city in the eastern coastal province of Jiangsu, demolished a Seventh-day Adventist house church venue after months of attacks against it. The police arrested the church director and some congregation members in October last year “for holding illegal gatherings” and seized the building and all valuables inside.
“It felt more heartbreaking than having my home destroyed,” a church member recalled, still haunted by the traumatic experience of seeing the venue demolished.
Two more house church venues in Pizhou were demolished for refusing to join the official Three-Self Church.
Shanxi government desecrated the resting place of 20 missionaries, who worked and died in China nearly a century ago, and destroyed a house for visiting believers.
(Bitter Winter) by Zhang Feng — Protestant missionary Verner Wester and his six family members were buried nearly a century ago in the Swedish missionary cemetery in Xiezhou town, administered by the Yanhu district of Yuncheng, a prefecture-level city in the northern province of Shanxi. He was a member of the Swedish Mission in China (Svenska Missionen i Kina (SMK)), who lived in China from 1903 to 1930.
SMK missionaries established their first mission station in Yuncheng in 1888 and later expanded to other areas in Shanxi and adjoining provinces of Henan and Shaanxi. Through their charitable work building schools and hospitals, which residents could use for free, the missionaries played an important role in the areas’ development and led numerous locals to Christianity.
“Swedish missionaries bought a plot in Yuncheng’s Xiezhou town cemetery for themselves,” an elderly Christian from Yuncheng told Bitter Winter. “This meant that they devoted their hearts, souls, and entire lives to China.”
Earlier this year, the Church of Christ’s Family (基督家園教會), a local house church established in 2008, ordered to make gravestones for the 20 Swedish missionaries in the Xiezhou cemetery. The Church also established contacts and communicated with Verner Wester’s granddaughter Mick Lidbeck, who recounted her grandfather’s story in the book Min farfar i Kina (My Grandfather in China).
In a short time, the cemetery started attracting Christians who came to pay respects to the missionaries and pray. To accommodate them, the Church of Christ’s Family renovated an old four-room house near the cemetery and displayed a series of photographs depicting missionaries’ work in China. The move immediately drew the local government’s attention.
At six in the morning on September 12, the Yanhu district government dispatched over 100 special police and public security officers and personnel from various government institutions to block the street leading to the cemetery. Onlookers trying to take photos were threatened and told to leave immediately, as an aerial drone hovered above them, observing the scene.
About two hours later, three excavators were brought in to destroy the Swedish missionaries’ gravestones and the adjoining house as “illegal constructions.” To conceal the demolition, government-hired personnel planted vegetation atop the ruins overnight.
A government insider revealed that all villagers living near the cemetery were summoned to the local police station prior to the demolition, and their cellphones were confiscated to prevent information leaks. Heads of the Church of Christ’s Family and directors of several church venues were lured to neighborhood committees and put under control. Their cellphones were also confiscated. The Church of Christ’s Family was blacklisted and targeted for priority surveillance because of contacts with Verner Wester’s family in Sweden.
Ironically, or maybe intentionally, four months before the gravestones were destroyed, the Yanhu district government opened an exhibition of old photographs depicting Swedish missionaries’ activities in China for over ten decades. In an article dedicated to the show, Sweden is hailed as a world leader “in the fields of innovation, green development, and environmental protection.” “With the predestined relationship between Sweden and China, which was established by Yuncheng city and over 100 Swedish missionaries in China one hundred years ago,” the article states, “we will surely be able to complement each other’s strengths, integrate deeply, and promote the development of both countries.”
In reality, however, bulldozing the gravestones of those who built this “predestined relationship” speaks to the contrary. Which “strengths” is the CCP going to complement? Clearly, not democratic values, respect for human rights and religious liberties.
“The CCP portrays missionaries in a negative light, depicting them in films and novels as spies cooperating with imperialist countries to invade China,” a member of the Church of Christ’s Family commented. “Believers renovated the cemetery to show their positive influence, but the CCP can’t tolerate that the missionaries’ Christian spirit will spread across China. Missionaries’ gravestones can be demolished, but their spirit has been deeply rooted in our hearts and inspired generations of believers.”
More warnings coming out of China. (Bitter Winter) The story in John 8 is presented to Chinese students as one where the Savior waits for the Pharisees to leave, then stones the adulterer himself.
Every Christian knows the story. It is told in the Gospel of John, 8:3–11. “The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” Jesus at first ignored them, but then told the Pharisees, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Since they knew they were not without sin, “they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.” Jesus said to her, “‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’”
It is a powerful story about mercy and forgiveness. Jesus does not condone the sin, but forgives the sinner with his divine authority. Mercy and forgiveness, however, are unknown to the CCP. Perhaps in anticipation of the future promised “sinicization” of the sacred scriptures of all religions, a textbook published by published by the University of Electronic Science and Technology Press for teaching “professional ethics and law” in secondary vocational schools tells a different version of the story, as revealed by UCA News.
Here is how the textbook presents the story of the woman taken in adultery: “The crowd wanted to stone the woman to death as per their law. But Jesus said, ‘Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.’ Hearing this, they slipped away one by one. When the crowd disappeared, Jesus stoned the sinner to death saying, ‘I too am a sinner. But if the law could only be executed by men without blemish, the law would be dead.’”
Christians in China are protesting against a textbook making Jesus a sinner and a killer. Actually, however, the incident is subtler than that. It is not, or not mostly, about painting a negative image of Jesus. It is about the CCP itself. Many CCP bureaucrats, judges, and police officers are notoriously corrupted. Yet, the story teaches that they should be obeyed. If “sinners” would be prevented from “executing the law,” including administering the capital punishment with or without due process, “the law would be dead.”
As told to Chinese students, the story teaches that the law and the Party are good and pure, and transcend the impure human beings who happen to represent them.
Even if the officers are corrupted, their decision should be accepted—because, honest or corrupted, they represent the Party, and the Party’s law should never be questioned.
This is standard CCP theory, but totally distorts the meaning of Jesus’ teaching in John 8. Mobilizing Jesus for the CCP propaganda is blasphemous and offensive to Christians. Yet, we can expect more such distortions as religious scriptures are gradually “sinicized.”
CHINA — “According to several shop assistants, the venues’ managers were demanded to arrange spaces according to the Mao-era style. The site’s administration even provided all statues and portraits of Mao Zedong. All employees must swear allegiance to the CCP in front of the Mao Zedong statue every Monday morning.” Read more
Some state-run churches were allowed to reopen in China after a 5-month lockdown. But only after proving their loyalty to the Communist Party.
(Bitterwinter) The Lishiting Catholic Church in the Shunhe district of Kaifeng, a prefecture-level city in the central province of Henan, reopened on June 14, after staying closed for five months. “We solemnly raise the national flag here today after the epidemic, witnessing the fruits of all people working together under the leadership of Xi Jinping who directs the government and the Party,” a priest told a gathering of about 20 people, supervised by government officials.
The Gangxi Christian Church in the district was also reopened at 8 o’clock that same morning. “The church finally reopened after five months, 147 days, or 21 Sundays, but instead of singing hymns to praise God, the government required us to raise the national flag and sing the national anthem, praising Xi Jinping’s ‘victory in fighting the epidemic,’” a congregation member commented. “This is completely contrary to our belief.”
Some state-run places of worship were allowed to reopen in June, long after other public venues in China returned to normal after coronavirus restrictions have been lifted. But only those who commit to endorsing patriotism are permitted to open their doors to congregations.
The Two Chinese Christian Councils in Henan, Zhejiang, and other provinces demanded that on the relaunch day, churches must promote patriotism, raise the national flag, sing the country’s anthem, and tell believers “moving stories about China’s battle with the pandemic.”
At 7 a.m. on June 13, over 20 clergy members of the Quannan Church, the largest Christian church in Quanzhou city in the southeastern province of Fujian, held a flag-raising ceremony in its courtyard. An eye-catching slogan promoting the core socialist values was posted on the wall behind the flagpole. (see top photo, Quannan Christian Church)
That day, under the supervision of officials from the city’s United Front Work Department and Religious Affairs Bureau, the church pastor praised President Xi Jinping’s achievements in fighting the epidemic.
“We should love the socialist system and the Communist Party,” he said, going on to promote the “superiority of the socialist system” and criticizing the United States for its efforts battling the pandemic.
“The United Front Work Department and Religious Affairs Bureau demand to hold flag-raising ceremonies and promote patriotism,” a church member commented. “From now on, all churches have to do so, or they will be shut down, and their leaders dismissed.”
A preacher from Henan’s Zhumadian city told Bitter Winter that before his church reopened, he had to attend a conference organized by the local Two Chinese Christian Councils. Participants had to study Xi Jinping’s major speeches on preventing and controlling the coronavirus outbreak and listen to “heroic stories of fighting the epidemic.”
“The government demands to promote these things to congregations after churches reopen,” the preacher explained. “These texts are published in a booklet, over 100 pages long. Preachers must mainly talk about the state’s policies. Those who disobey will be arrested.”
A pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church thinks that the requirement to raise the national flag and promote patriotism on the day churches reopen is aimed at “disturbing the minds of believers to transform their ideologies and change the essence of their beliefs.” He is concerned that the CCP will further intensify its control over people of faith through patriotic education and indoctrination.
“Its ultimate goal is to make all people believe in communism only, to ‘sinicize’ Christianity,” the pastor added, calling on believers to “stand guard against the CCP’s vicious intentions, not to become prisoners of communism.”
“Three-Self churches should follow the path of house churches and hold meetings in secret, to avoid being controlled by the CCP and save their pure faith,” the pastor concluded.
VOP NOTE: In a repeat of history, the Chinese government has been implementing tactics to remove not only Christianity but all religion from society. Pressure is being put on Chinese citizens to pledge allegiance and have faith solely in President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party of China.
Threatening and intimidating Muslims, the CCP implemented forced rectifications of mosques in Hui-populated areas in Henan, Hebei, and Ningxia. According to an imam from Shangqiu city, five mosques were forcibly rectified in the city’s Minquan county in April, following the central government’s orders to “sinicize” over 1,000 mosques across the province. Mosques in Bodang township’s Zhaizhuang village and Huji township’s Zhangzhuang village were among the targeted places of worship. The imam added that officials threatened to arrest anyone who dared to protest or oppose the state’s policies.
“The state won’t allow temples to spring up all over the country,” a government employee from the southeastern province of Jiangxi told Bitter Winter. “Religion is certainly restricted in China. People can believe in nothing other than the Communist Party, which will resolutely crack down on anything not supported by it.”
The Chinese government is expanding the scope of crackdowns on religions by stifling businesses that produce religious items.
Quyang county, administered by the prefecture-level city of Baoding in the northern province of Hebei, is renowned across China for stone carving crafts. During the reign of the Western Han dynasty (206 BC-24 AD), Emperor Wu (157 BC-87 BC) named the area the “carving town.” Religious statues made in the county are sold all over China and also in Taiwan, but amid the CCP’s campaigns against people of faith, even those who make religion-related items are not spared.