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UCN News shared with Voice of the Persecuted a report of a mysterious fire that damaged a Protestant church in a Pakistani town rocked by blasphemy protests two months ago.
Gospel of Jesus Mission Church is in a narrow street of a Christian basti (slum) in Shahdara town near Lahore, the capital of Punjab province.
The remains of burnt holy books, an offering bag and a chimta (music tongs) lay near the half-melted pulpit of the building, which has been under construction for more than three years.
Pastor Yousaf Aziz John filed a police complaint on April 15 at Shahdara police station, where a peace agreement between local clerics and Christian leaders was signed on Feb. 21 after an angry mob protested against Patras Masih, 18, who allegedly shared an anti-Islam photo on Facebook.
“We are a poor community and had been building the House of God with donations. We strongly believe that unknown miscreants have committed this evil. The losses amount to about 50,000 rupees (US$430). We demand an immediate remedy for the wounds of the whole Christian community,” Pastor John told ucanews.com.
Police sub-inspector Rana Amir visited the site on April 16 and recorded statements from the community.
“The forensics department collected samples the same night. A report will be released this week revealing the cause of the fire. A security plan has been chalked for the 14 churches of Shahdara registered with the police station, but no forces are appointed for unregistered ones,” he said.
Churches not registered with the Auqaf Department, which supervises important religious monuments and holy places, are deemed illegal by the government. In January, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province closed but later reopened six home-based churches in Abbottabad.
Police have warned that they will not take any responsibility for any mishaps at prayer gatherings in residential areas. Home-based churches are common in Christian ghettos and their surroundings. Youhanabad, the largest Christian settlement in Pakistan, has more than 100 unregistered churches usually comprising a single room or a hall.
Khalid Shahzad, a Catholic activist based in Shahdara, slammed police for filing the Shahdara case as an accidental fire.
“Only the sections regarding vandalism and loss of property have been nominated in the first information police report. They deliberately skipped the blasphemy clause 295 which deals with acts intended to insult religion or religious beliefs of others. This loophole will help in bail for the accused if arrested,” he said.
“The community was already living in fear after the recent blasphemy case in an adjoining village.” Read more
As I begin to write, it is about 9:45 p.m. in Turkey. The trial of Andrew Brunson has concluded at least for today. As of right now, no decision by the court regarding his innocence or guilt has been forthcoming.
This is simply one of those times in which many of us, as intercessors, have not been getting a clear answer from the Spirit as to the outcome for our dear brother, Andrew. Some are not even sure how they should pray for him. It’s as if God has us in a state of waiting on Him. Taking us through a lesson of learning to solely rely on and trust Him. So, we wait with expectation that He will answer and certainly do not want to walk in the light of our own understanding.
In this case, no news may be good news. However, dealing with the government of Turkey who can say. As I spoke with a sister earlier, she mentioned that a tactic of Islamic hard-line regimes is to play on the emotions of their victims. To wear down or break the ‘spirit’ so to speak. But we, as believers in Christ, will put ourselves before the Lord who holds all of history in his hands.
Our hearts are with Andrew who pleaded his innocence in the courtroom, today, and we cry out for his release. But we realize that God’s will is to bring about His glory and His glory alone.. Whatever the outcome of this case will be, we wait upon the will of God that will bring glory to his name.
I urge all who read this to please continue lifting our brother and his family up in prayer. Pray for his release and to soon be reunited with his family. Pray also for his physical and mental health. Let us pray that the will of God be done which will glorify Him.
Your brother in Christ,
Serving Jesus as Prayer Director of Voice of the Persecuted and Persecution Watch
(Update: The Turkish court has decided to keep Pastor Andrew in jail pending trial over alleged links to a group accused of orchestrating the failed 2016 military coup in Turkey. NTV reported the next hearing will be on May 7.)
Father, we give you praise with the knowledge that Your ways and plans are always perfect. You’re with us and will never forsake us. You care deeply for our dear brother Andrew, yet allowed him to go into captivity in this season. Though we may not fully understand, You are never wrong, so we give thanks and worship You. We pray for the leadership of Turkey and those in charge of this trial taking place in Izmir, a place once known as Smyrna. May their hearts be softened towards our brother and false accusations against him be brought into the light. We pray for the Gospel to go forth in Turkey. That understanding will come and the Truth of salvation in Christ be revealed to the Turkish people. Heavenly Father, whatever the outcome of this trial, we accept Your will. But if it pleases You to show our brother mercy, we ask You for his release. In Jesus Holy name, we pray.
Mohabat News — Iranian Christian prisoner, Mr. Naser Navard-Goltapeh’s family have expressed their growing concern over his health as he is suffering from a severe case of gum infection which requires immediate medical attention.
One of his family members told Article 18 ministries in an interview, “if he does not receive immediate medical attention we are afraid he might lose all of his teeth.”
Mr. Navard-Goltapeh was admitted to the notorious Evin prison on January 20, 2018 to serve his 10 year sentence and is currently being held in ward 8 of the prison.
Mr. Navard-Goltapeh was arrested on June 24, 2016 in a private gathering with three believers from Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani believers arrested were identified as Eldar Gurbanov, Yusif Farhadov and Bahram Nasibov, members of the “Word of Life” church in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital. All those arrested were held in solitary confinement for two months as they went through intense interrogation. They were all eventually convicted in court for “illegal gathering and collusion against the Islamic regime through evangelism”.
All four Christians, including Naser Navard-Goltapeh, were temporarily released on a heavy bail (approx. 35,000 USD) after four months in jail. All three Azerbaijani Christians forfeited their bail and returned to their own country, Azerbaijan, immediately after their release.
Naser Navard-Goltapeh, however, stayed in Iran and waited to appear in court where he was found guilty in branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court.
Judge Mashallah Ahmadzadeh sentenced him to 10 years in prison for “Action against national security and establishing house churches”. The judge based his ruling on evidences produced by the Ministry of Intelligence. None of the referenced evidence was presented during the court session or given to Mr. Navard-Goltapeh’s attorney to review.
Mr. Navard-Goltapeh appealed the sentence. However, an appeals court upheld the 10 year term on November 12, 2017, making it final./ FARSI
Indonesian police believe they have uncovered a clandestine “fake news” operation designed to destabilise the government and corrupt the political process, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported today.
Authorities have made a series of arrests across Indonesia in recent weeks linked to an online jihadist network known as the Muslim Cyber Army (MCA).
Damar Juniarto, of the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network, said the MCA comprised groups or networks with links to opposition parties, the military, and an organisation of increasingly influential Islamists. Police have not revealed who is financing it.
The Guardian said one network it had identified “was created for the sole purpose of tweeting inflammatory content and messages designed to amplify social and religious division, and push a hardline Islamist and anti-government line”.
Digital strategist Shafiq Pontoh, from the data consultancy firm Provetic, told the Guardian: “The first victim in the polluted [digital] ecosystem was the governor election, Ahok,” adding of the controversial blasphemy conviction: “It was all because of fake news, bots, black campaigns, prejudice and racism.”
A bot is software that performs simple and repetitive tasks and is often used for malicious purposes such as posting defamatory content on social media platforms.
The Guardian reported that a cluster of bots in the Indonesia Twittersphere, used to pump out anti-Ahok material last year, stopped tweeting two days after the gubernatorial election.
Savic Ali, online director at Indonesia’s largest Islamic group, Nahdlatul Ulama, suggested the Muslim Cyber Army was not about the true values of Islam but “about power”.
Ahok, a Christian politician of Chinese descent, was sentenced to two years in prison last May following a string of protests organised by conservative Muslim groups while he campaigned for re-election.
He was convicted on the basis of a video in which he argued against use of the Quran for political purposes – comments for which he was later adjudged to have committed blasphemy. Six months later a communications professor from Jakarta, Buni Yani, was found guilty of tampering with the video on which Ahok appeared and which turned public opinion against him.
Meanwhile a spokesman for Indonesia’s Supreme Court has said the review of Ahok’s case may be fast-tracked because of the case’s high profile.
The spokesman, Agung Abdullah, suggested the court may consider speeding up the process of the case review, “because the case receives widespread public attention”, the Jakarta Post reported last week.
North Jakarta District Court’s head of public relations, Jootje Sampaleng, confirmed that the documents from Ahok’s ten-minute appeal hearing on 26 February had been signed and sent to the Supreme Court.
At least two gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire outside a Coptic church south of Cairo on Friday, killing at least nine people in the latest attack on the country’s Christian minority. Read more
In honor of the Feast Day of Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, 326 A.D., we are posting once again this commentary on the defender of faith against Arianism with an update on this year’s aggressive American Atheists’ attacks on Christmas.
The following article contains a section that originally appeared on the American Spectator in 2008, and is reproduced with permission.
It is Christmas, the holiday that dares not speak its name, that may alienate the American Atheists. But unlike the angry atheists, somehow hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens who are not Christians, and may or may not have their own exclusive holidays to celebrate, manage to slog through the Christmas season with their feelings unscathed and even enjoying Christmas festivities along with their Christian neighbors!
This year’s attack comes in the form of telling people to skip church and calling the birth of Christ “fake news.” They also go after President Trump, naturally.
“When people are brought down to being just equal after occupying a position of privilege in the country, when they’re made to be equal or just another one of the multitude of religions, I can understand how they think it’s an attack,” the uber-defensive Nick Fish, National Program Director for the American Atheists, told Newsweek. “But it’s not. It’s equality. The government not giving special treatment to you is not an assault on your rights.” Wow! I can’t wait to see the billboard going after Muslims for “fake news” and telling Sharia-pushers that they do not deserve special treatment.
Newsweek said, “The organization is wary of increasingly partisan divides in the government — like Trump’s vow to end the “War on Christmas” during his term — but Fish said it made the group ‘even more excited to sound off’ this year.” Because of course there were no partisan divides in Obama’s administration.
The militant atheist groups — the ones that are really mad at God — have been at it for a while now. Here are some examples:
Christmas 2013: The non-believers launched a 40′ x 40′ digital billboard in New York’s Time Square on Tuesday, December 3, 2013, according to their press release. “Who Needs Christ During Christmas?” the billboard demands. Next, a hand appears and draws an “X” through Christ and the billboard purports to answer its own arrogant question, “Nobody.” Then the display advises, “Celebrate the true meaning of Xmas” and offers its own reasons for the season: charity, family, fun, lights, food, hot chocolate, snow, Rockettes, Chinese food.
The American Atheists seem to believe, as some non-liturgical Christians do, that “Xmas” is taking the “Christ” out of Christmas! In reality, the X in “Xmas” comes from the Greek letter Chi, the first letter in the Greek word Χριστός, or Christ. It is combined with P, the Greek letter Rho, as a symbol of Christ both in artistic treasures such as the Book of Kells as well as in the gold glitter-covered Styrofoam Chrismon ornaments for Christmas trees.
But before the Atheists were on billboards urging people not to go to church on Christmas, saying “you hate it, it’s boring; you probably only go because you feel guilty or obligated” (obviously the American Atheists have never visited my church!), the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) and the American Humanist Association were peppering the skies with secular tidings.
In the Christmas season of 2010, the FFRF, more recently known for its atheists “out of the closet” campaign, littered the greater Albuquerque area with such pithy sayings as Imagine No Religion, Praise Darwin, Reason’s Greetings, and Yes, Virginia, There is No God.
Wow! Albuquerque gets hammered with heresy a lot! This year’s American Atheists’ billboard design about skipping church and fake news appeared in the Albuquerque and Dallas “markets.”
In 2009, the American Humanist Association (AHA) launched a National Godless Holiday Campaign. Ads that ran in five major American cities (but not Albuquerque!) declared, “No God? No Problem!” AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt explained, “Religion does not have a monopoly on morality–millions of people are good without believing in God.”
The AHA has also maligned Santa. In mid-November 2008, ads began appearing on Washington, D.C. area Metro buses and ran through December. The ads featured a strange Santa-garbed person with Rastafarian braids. They also included the admonition from the familiar Christmas song “Here Comes Santa Claus” to be “good for goodness’ sake.” The American Humanist Association spokesman, Fred Edwards, said that there were “an awful lot of agnostics, atheists, and other types of non-theists who feel a little alone during the holidays because of its association with traditional religion.”
AHA’s second reason to deck the halls and Metro buses with posters of apostasy was to declare that “humanists have always understood that you don’t need a god to be good.” According to Roy Speckhardt, executive director of AHA, “Morality doesn’t come from religion. It’s a set of values embraced by individuals and society based on empathy, fairness, and experience.”
Morality definitely does not come from “religion.” In fact, sometimes immorality, downright evil, comes from religion. It all depends upon the object of worship. The Swiss philosopher/poet Henri Frederic Amiel confirmed this when he said, “The test of every religious, political, or educational system is the man which it forms. If a system injures the intelligence it is bad. If it injures the character it is vicious. If it injures the conscience it is criminal.”
Mr. Speckhardt did not explain from where the empathy and fairness originate. What is the source of that sense of fairness, the sense of right and wrong? Does it just spring from nowhere? C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity gives a reasonable answer to this question. It begins with a brilliant exposition on “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe.” And Christian apologists such as Frank Turek follow in Lewis’ footsteps, debating regularly this moral conundrum, even with the likes of the late Christopher Hitchens.
So what would Santa think of AHA’s attempt to identify him with their Advent attack? Even the Santa portrayed in the lyrics of Gene Autry, who is not exactly remembered for his theological prowess, is said to “know that we are all God’s children.”
But would the real Santa Claus have a stronger reaction to AHA? (Yes, FFRF, there is a Santa Claus.) St. Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra, in 4th century Asia Minor, now Turkey. In addition to being remembered for his generosity and compassion to the poor and to children, Bishop Nicholas was the kind of “muscular Christian” that makes the folks at the National Council of Churches shudder. He was a staunch defender of Christian orthodoxy and would not be too pleased with the “Why believe in a god?” mentality.
During his tenure [as] bishop, he attended the first ecumenical council of the Church, which had been called to deal with the growing heresy of Arianism. Arianism, named after Arius, a North African priest who was its key proponent, denied the full deity of Jesus Christ and said that he was a created being. Nicholas struck a blow for orthodoxy, slapping Arius in the face after he spoke. My former colleague, Bart Gingerich, has written about this, as well.
Nicholas might well deal with the American Humanist Association in the same manner in which he dispatched poor Arius, but probably, being older and wiser, and “good, for goodness sake,” he would refrain from physical violence and just urge those who believe in God to assert their right to believe, and to flaunt their belief as publicly as AHA flaunts its unbelief. That’s good advice from St. Nick.
The 24 schools belonging to Foundations and bodies associated with Christian minorities in Turkey are experiencing a critical phase again. The beginning of the new school year saw the drop in the number of students enrolled, which could push some of those school institutes to close down. This is what Toros Alcan, president of the Armenian School Foundation Sur Hac Tibrevank and a representative of the Foundations of Minorities within the Turkish Foundations Assembly denounces. In some statements, from the Turkish press, Alcan pointed out the decisive factors behind the crisis of minority schools that legislation equates these school institutes to private ones, greatly reducing the forms of state support they can access. Alcan recalled that minority-based schools operate without profit, their rights are guaranteed in the Lausanne Treaty, and their status cannot be homologated to private schools.
In the last years of the Ottoman Empire, schools belonging to minority communities in the territory of today’s Turkey were 6437. Their number dropped dramatically to 138 in the early years following the foundation of the Turkish Republic when the nationalist politics of the Union and Progress Committee, aiming to build and impose the unique model of the “Turkish citizen”, began to inspire the policy of expulsion of minority groups. The nationalist mentality also saw minority schools as obstacles to such homologation process.
In recent years, namely between 2014 and 2015 (see Fides 4/11/2014), there was a significant increase in the number of schools belonging to the Foundations and institutions linked to Christian communities in Turkey and authorized to receive financial support by the State. In that school year, schools belonging to Foundations linked to various Christian communities had become 55. Of these, 36 belonged to the Armenian community, 18 to the Greek community, and a kindergarten belonged to the Syro-Orthodox community. Already a year later, the number of schools linked to Christian minorities had dropped dramatically, attesting to the current quota of 24 schools.
The difficulties caused the closure of schools especially linked to the small Greek Orthodox minority. Already then – reported local sources consulted by Agenzia Fides – Turkish lawyer Nurcan Kaya, Coordinator of the Minority Rights Group, underlined the urgency of defining a regulatory framework that specified the rights and duties of these schools, clarifying the state funding mechanisms and eliminating the obligation of Turkish citizenship for students (a clause that significantly reduces the number of potential pupils). (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 24/11/2017)
Back in 1925, the American Legion erected a memorial in Bladensburg, Md., to honor the memory of 49 men who perished during World War I.
The 40-foot tall memorial became known as the “Peace Cross.”
In 2014, the American Humanist Association — a group that believes in “being good without a god” — filed a lawsuit alleging the cross-shaped memorial is unconstitutional and demanding it be demolished, altered, or removed.
They alleged the cross carries “an inherently religious message and creates the unmistakable appearance of honoring only Christian servicemen.”
On Wednesday, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and ruled the historic memorial must be torn down — all because the Bladensburg Memorial is in the shape of a cross.
The Fourth Circuit said the memorial excessively entangles the government in religion because the cross is the “core symbol of Christianity” and “breaches” the wall separating church and state. read the ruling
Writing separately, Chief Judge Gregory wrote, “This Memorial stands in witness to the VALOR, ENDURANCE, COURAGE, and DEVOTION of the forty-nine residents of Prince George’s County, Maryland ‘who lost their lives in the Great War for the liberty of the world.’ I cannot agree that a monument so conceived and dedicated and that bears such witness violates the letter or spirit of the very Constitution these heroes died to defend.”
The American Legion could appeal directly to the Supreme Court. Read More