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Pastor in India Locked in Room and Left to Die

Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya, Buddhist site venerated by both Buddhists and Hindus in Bihar state, India. (Creative Commons, Ineb-2553)

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.”

 

Christian Mother of Four in India Was Persecuted before Her Death

Site where body of Bajjo Bai Mandavi was found in Kondagaon District, Chhattisgarh state, India. (Morning Star News)

(Morning Star News) – Tribal Hindus persecuted a widowed, Christian mother of four before her body was found severely mutilated in the wilderness near her village in Chhattisgarh, India, sources said.

The body of 40-year-old Bajjo Bai Mandavi was initially unrecognizable as it appeared to have been eaten by wild animals when it was found two miles into the wilderness near her native Kumud village, Kuye Mari, on May 29. She was last seen going into the wilderness of Kondagaon District to collect firewood on May 25.

The death threats, deprivation of water and shunning she had suffered at the hands of villagers who were upset that she left their blend of Hindu and traditional tribal rituals led family members and area Christian leaders to believe she was raped and killed before animals fed on her body, they said.

“There was no way to find out who the people were who raped my sister-in-law and then murdered her, so police and the authorities thought best to call it an attack by a wild animal,” a sobbing Bhajnath Mandavi, her brother-in-law, told Morning Star News.

Bhajnath Mandavi is the younger brother of Bhola Mandavi, who died of an illness four years ago, leaving Bajjo Bai Mandavi with children who are now 6, 8, 12 and 17.

Villagers had met four times to discuss action against her, area pastor Rupesh Kumar Salam told Morning Star News.

“She was threatened and asked to leave her faith and re-convert, but she boldly took a stand for her faith,” said Pastor Salam, who leads a church of about 120 people in nearby Kue Mari.

Bajjo Bai Mandavi had attended Sunday services there regularly with her children. In Kumud village, hers was one of just two Christian families among 21 other families.

The tribal Hindu families prohibited her from fetching water from the common village tap, forcing her to walk miles for it, Pastor Salam said.

“She bravely fought all the odds and refused to deny her faith even after she started to receive death threats from the Hindu extremist villagers,” Pastor Salam told Morning Star News. “Bajjo Bai became a Christian a little more than three years ago, and since then had faced severe opposition from the villagers.”

She regularly talked about the threats and shunning she and her children faced from the tribal Hindu villagers, he said.

“I always told her that we are praying for her and that everything will be fine – we could never imagine that she would face such brutality,” Pastor Salam said. “She was raped and then murdered by religious extremists for her Christian faith.”

Brother-in-law Mandavi said her own brother, who lives in her village, would not speak with her after she became a Christian three years ago.

“Nobody except one Christian family would speak to Bajjo Bai and her children,” he said.

An influential, tribal Hindu family in the village likely had a hand in the alleged rape and killing, said a source close to her family who requested anonymity.

“The villagers and all of us know who they are, but no action would be taken against them,” the source said. “They have a lot of money to enable them to keep themselves out of any trouble.”

If a homicide, it would be the third religiously motivated killing of a Christian in India within a few weeks. In Bari village, Jharkhand state, followers of tribal religion on June 7 abducted and killed Kande Munda. On the night of June 4 in Odisha state, followers of tribal religion abducted 16-year-old Sambaru Madkami for his faith before stabbing and stoning him to death.

In Uttar Pradesh state on May 28, villagers tried to kill pastor Dinesh Kumar in an ambush that left him unconscious.

Foul Play Dismissed

The remains of the semi-naked body were found in the wilderness by the driver of a passing tractor loaded with road construction material, Pastor Salam said.

The driver notified police, and Christians arrived at the site of the body with officers, he said.

The head of Kumud and four other area mountain villages, Gurcharan Bhandari, denied any foul play.

“She was probably killed by a wild animal,” Bhandari told Morning Star News.

Though he had not seen the police report, he said that it states that she was killed by a wild animal. Family members and church leaders also have not received a copy of the police report.

The village chief said an autopsy took place at the site where the body was discovered. Though neither he, victim family members or church leaders have received a copy of the autopsy report, Bhandari said it indicated that she was mauled to death by a wild animal.

The village chief said it was common for wild animals to attack humans in the wilderness but admitted that no such attack had ever taken place in the area where she was collecting firewood. He said the last attack took place three years ago in a far different part of the wilderness.

Bhandari said he suspects a bear might have killed her but could not explain why only her legs appeared to have been eaten.

Siya Yadav, who pastors a church in Keshkal 18 miles from Kumud, said he saw the body while driving his car after road construction forced him to a detour through the wilderness on May 28, but that he did not stop to look closer.

He visited the site later and said a wild animal possibly fed on the body after it lay in the wilderness for days.

“We could see that she died at one spot where the bundle of the sticks lay – there were evident marks that she was dragged by a wild animal to another spot and from there to the third spot,” Pastor Yadav told Morning Star News.

Search for Justice

Brother-in-law Bhajnath Mandavi said he is caring for the deceased’s two younger children. The 12-year-old child has been living with another relative 30 miles away for the past year, he said.

“I am still in shock. I do not know what the future of her four children will be,” said Mandavi, who was unable to attend his sister-in-law’s funeral due to coronavirus travel restrictions.

The oldest son, a contract laborer in Tamil Nadu state, was also forced to miss the funeral due to travel restrictions, he said.

“The eldest son could not come home even at his mother’s death,” Mandavi said.

Bajjo Bai Mandavi had supported her family as a daily-wage laborer. A senior pastor and Christian leader in the area said converts to Christianity in India’s rural areas increasingly face the threats and shunning she suffered.

“Social boycott is very real,” Pastor Son Singh told Morning Star News. “It is practiced even against high-ranking government officials when they accept Christ, so what can we say about this woman who was just a poor person and also a widow?”

Chhattisgarh Christian Forum President Arun Pannalal said Bajjo Bai Mandavi’s death exemplifies violence against Christians that is routinely dismissed.

“This is a crime against a minority community, and the authorities are not doing anything about it,” Pannalal told Morning Star News. “The Chhattisgarh Christian Forum will move to the High Court if this matter is not taken seriously.”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on April 28 urged the U.S. State Department to add India as a “Country of Particular Concern” to its list of nations with poor records of protecting religious freedom.

India is ranked 10th on the Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has worsened since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

Villagers Burn Home, Beat Wife of Former Muslim Sheikh in Eastern Uganda

Mbulakyaalo Badawuyi of eastern Uganda was beaten for refusing to renounce his faith, and his home was burned. (Morning Star News)

(Morning Star News) – A former sheikh (Muslim teacher) in eastern Uganda who secretly became a Christian on Christmas Day decided to tell his two wives about his new faith last month.

Marijan Olupot invited his pastor to his home in Obokora village, Obokorasub County, Kibuku District on the evening of May 14. He then revealed his Christian faith to his wives and called on the pastor to explain the gospel so that the church leader could lead his family to faith in Christ, Olupot told Morning Star News by phone.

One of his wives put her faith in Christ as Lord and Savior, and the other declined, he said.

Three weeks later, the wife who had declined left the household and told a Muslim leader of the family’s conversion to Christianity, including three children. The Muslim leader then told other Muslims that their sheikh had left Islam, Olupot said.

Muslim villagers on June 8 surrounded Olupot’s house at about 11:30 p.m. and set it ablaze, he said. Olupot, his wife and three children ages 10, 12 and 14 fled through a back door.

“Unfortunately as we were fleeing in the night, the attackers managed to get hold of my wife and beat her with sticks, injuring her left hand and back and the right leg, but thank God my Christian neighbors rescued her,” Olupot told Morning Star News. “As we were fleeing, I heard one of the Muslims, named Hamuza, calling out that the house should be completed destroyed.”

His wife was in stable condition after neighbors rushed her to Mbale Regional Referral Hospital, he said. He and his family have taken refuge in the home of another pastor while she continues to undergo treatment.

“We need prayers at this trying moment, as the Muslims are out to kill me,” Olupot told Morning Star News. “My other wife is scheming for my death.”

Olupot, who came to Christian faith after a business colleague told him about Christ, said the fire destroyed valuables and other belongings in his home worth about 10 million shillings (US$2,670).

Christian Beaten, House Burned

Also in Kibuku District, hard-line Muslim residents of Kasasira on May 25 beat a Christian convert and burned his home for refusing to renounce Christ, he said.

Mbulakyaalo Badawuyi, 27, of Kasasira West Cell, Kasasira West Ward said a group of area Muslims he knew knocked on his door at about 7 p.m., and he refused to open.

“They destroyed the door and made entry, but I escaped through the rear door,” Badawuyi told Morning Star News by phone. “They followed me and got hold of me and began beating me up. Neighbors came when I screamed for help.”

A neighbour took him to a nearby medical clinic, he said. As he was being treated, he said, the same Muslims – identified as Nabutono Saida, Kulemuzamiru, Kapesa Musitafa, Ganda Amisi and Mugooda Abudallah – returned to his house and set it on fire, he said.

Badawuyi said he came to faith on Aug. 4, 2019 after a dream about Christ when he fell asleep during night prayers with other sheikhs and Muslims at a mosque.

“I fell asleep and had a dream that Isa [Jesus] told me that I was in a wrong place, and that therefore I was to go and look for His shepherds who will teach me all His holy words, then after learning go and preach those words to others,” he said.

During the dream he heard people shouting “Hallelujah!” he said.

“In the dream I also repeated the same, and this made me shout in the mosque, ‘Hallelujah!’” Badawuyi told Morning Star News. “The sheikhs and other Muslims who heard me shouting were very astonished, and one came and asked me that why are you shouting that hallelujah? I answered him that I have seen Jesus. As he called others to come and hear, I jumped out and took off, and since it was night they couldn’t get me.”

He went to a pastor who prayed for him, and he put his faith in Christ, he said.

The attacks in Kibuku District were the latest of many instances of persecution of Christians in Uganda that Morning Star News has documented.

Uganda’s constitution and other laws provide for religious freedom, including the right to propagate one’s faith and convert from one faith to another. Muslims make up no more than 12 percent of Uganda’s population, with high concentrations in eastern areas of the country.

Christian Families Summoned, Beaten and Threatened with Death in Chhattisgarh, India

Animists forbid Christians to take body for Christian burial in Bastar District, Chhattisgarh, India. (Morning Star News)

India (Morning Star News) – Animists in central India last week told five Christian families they would lose their harvest lands unless they returned to their tribal religion and beat them when they refused, sources said.

When the families answered a summons to a meeting with Salhephal village leaders in Bastar District, Chhattisgarh state on Tuesday (May 5), they found the tribal elders estimating the value of their lands, pastor Sirisguda Ramdhar told Morning Star News. The Christians had forbidden a tribal animist leader, Dulla Poyami, to perform tribal worship on their land, he said.

“The village leaders told the Christians, ‘You are not partaking in our tribal rituals, and so we cannot allow you to profit from your agricultural lands,’” Pastor Ramdhar told Morning Star News.

The Christians told them the lands were registered in their names, and that they were working hard to earn their bread, he said. “We follow our faith but have never been a burden on this village or to our kinsmen – you cannot snatch away our lands,” they told the tribal elders, according to the pastor.

“Even before they spoke any word further, the elders stood up and stormed at Christians Madda Poyami and Badda Poyami,” he said.

They began beating the two Christians, and a mob of at least 60 people soon gathered around them and the Christian families, clamoring for them to renounce their faith in Christ, he said.

“When the Christians refused, they abused them in extremely vulgar language and started beating them,” Pastor Ramdhar said. “The mob was very furious and did not spare even the women. They stoned Madda Poyami, injuring him in his head and knee.”

Poyami was admitted to the government hospital in Jagdalpur for treatment. Christians Bodda Poyami, Raino Poyami, Sumani Poyami, Hande Poyame, Jagri Poyami and Besalbati Poyami were also injured in the mob attack, and some of them received medical treatment without being admitted to the hospital, Pastor Ramdhar said.

He said the tribal animists, who worship and sacrifice to various tribal gods based in nature, had threatened to expel the Christian families and seize their land for more than a year.

Son Singh Jhali, a lawyer allied with legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom India (ADF India), visited the injured at the hospital and helped them draft a complaint to be filed at the Kodenar police station.

“The medical proofs are important to support the complaint and enable the police officers to register cases against the assailants,” Jhali told Morning Star News.

Death Threat

Also on Tuesday (May 5) in Bastar District, residents of Naktoka village who follow a mix of tribal religion and Hinduism threatened to kill Christians if they tried to give a Christian burial for one of their dead in the community graveyard, Pastor Guptaram Kawasi said.

“A mob of more than 100 villagers opposed the burial of Bhima Kashyap in the graveyard allotted for villagers, accusing him of adopting foreign faith,” Pastor Kawasi told Morning Star News. “The Christian family was put under immense pressure to perform his last rites as per the Hindu and tribal traditions followed in the village.”

Villagers told the family they must undergo a reconversion ritual in order to perform last rites, he said.

“They threatened that they would kill everybody present at Kashyap’s home if they proceeded against the village’s customs,” Pastor Kawasi said.

On Wednesday (May 6), the Christians called ADF India’s Chhattisgarh Legal Aid Centre, and shortly thereafter the officer-in-charge of the Mardum police station arrived with the village revenue officer and his police force, he said.

“The revenue officer showed us the land for burial, and the funeral service was possible in the presence of police at around 4 p.m. the next day,” Pastor Kawasi said.

More Death Threats

Christians also were attacked recently in Dantewada District.

Nila Kunjam, 25, was at her home the morning of April 19 when three middle-aged villagers stormed in, area resident Sushil Kumar Kunjam said.

“It was around eight in the morning when we heard screams from Nila Kunjam’s home,” Kumar Kunjam told Morning Star News. “The assailants were shouting at her parents, ‘How dare you allow your daughter to partake in Christian prayers?’ Soon they drove her forcefully out of her home to a distance of about 50 meters as they beat her on her back, head and knees.”

A mob of at least 60 villagers gathered, accusing Kunjam of defiling her caste, he said.

“The mob kept looking on as the three assailants beat the 25-year-old Christian woman and vowed that they would kill her,” Kumar Kunjam told Morning Star News. “I followed the mob and started videotaping the brutality happening in front of my eyes, but they snatched away my phone and slapped me tightly on my cheeks.”

Nila Kunjam received severe blows on her back and knees and had to be admitted for hospital treatment, he said. Her family filed a complaint at Bacheli police station, but officers told them they couldn’t take any action until the government lifts a lockdown ordered to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, he told Morning Star News.

Other village Christians have also suffered. On Friday (May 8), two tribal leaders went to a pond where Christian women were bathing and washing clothes and threatened to kill them if they touched the water again, Kumar Kunjam said.

“As there is a severe water shortage, the common pond is the only source of water,” he said. “The common pond is for all the villagers, but they accuse Christians of defiling the pond.”

Also in Dantewada District, axe-wielding tribal animists in Jaram village on April 6 lingered outside a Christian family’s home at about 11 p.m., Pastor Anand Rao Nag said. Mangduram Kashyap, his wife Lalita Bai Kashyap and their children locked themselves inside fearing for their lives, Pastor Nag said.

They called Pastor Nag, who was unable to go to their home to help due to the coronavirus lockdown, he said. He maintained constant phone contact with them.

“The assailants kept watch outside to hack the Christians to death if they stepped out,” he said. “They told me that the village council had sent some persons into the village to enquire if any of the residents had converted to Christianity. The Kashyaps’ neighbors had informed the village elders that they go to church and pray inside their home.”

At around 6 a.m. the next morning (April 7), six of the villagers took the Kashyap family by force to a place in the village where a mob of around 200 villagers surrounded them, Pastor Nag said.

“Without uttering a word, the assailants started beating the Christian men and woman in Kashyap’s family, including their infant grandchild,” he told Morning Star News.

The village council told the family they would be brutally killed if they reported the attack to police and fined them 5,000 rupees (US$67) he said. They took the money by force along with the family’s goat and chickens.

“Mangduram Kashyap is undergoing treatment for his injured eye,” Pastor Nag said. “We request prayers for a speedy recovery.”

Villagers had also threatened the Kashyaps in 2012, telling them to renounce Christ, he said. The family complained to police, who took no action, he said.

Sacrifice to Tribal Deities

In Metapal village, also in Dantewada District, animists beat Christians who refused to comply with their demand to sacrifice their animals to tribal deities, sources said.

A mob of around 120 villagers led by tribal leaders showed up at Santuram Markam’s home on March 30 at around 4:30 p.m. and beat family members when they refused to renounce Christ, Markam said.

“The village council summoned us to a meeting demanding we bring a goat, pig, hen, coconut, incense sticks and cash of 5,000 rupees [US$66] as sacrificial offerings to the tribal deities,” Markam told Morning Star News.

When they refused to give in to their demands, the mob again barged into Markam’s home the next night (March 31) and started beating his aged parents, he said.

“I escaped from there and have run into the woods,” he told Morning Star News at that time, by telephone. “I will go back only after knowing about the situation there at home. I am very scared to back home now. They beat us yesterday, and they came again today. My Christian neighbor Raju Podiyami and his family also came under attack today.”

Superintendent of Police of Dantewada District Abhishek Pallava told Morning Star News that officers were exhausted from working extra hours due to the novel coronavirus and it was not possible to send a force there at midnight.

“I will try to make peace between the groups over the phone,” Pallava told Morning Star News at that time. “Nobody can reach there now. All the police force has been working day and nights because of coronavirus. It is a Naxalite [Maoist rebel] area, we cannot take risks by sending forces without any preparation.”

The animists on March 31 kidnapped Markam’s neighbor, Podiyami, from his home and locked him in a hut as they drank liquor throughout the night, area pastor Sushil Sangam said. After cutting through the thatched roof and escaping, Podiyami took his family of eight, injured from the previous day’s attacks, and sought refuge at Pastor Sangam’s church site in Tokapal village, Bastar District, the pastor said.

“But the residents of Tokapal, fearing the spread of coronavirus, had informed the police that some unknown persons had entered the village,” Pastor Sangam told Morning Star News.

The police took them to a government shelter, where they were quarantined – and there four of them contracted malaria, including Podiyami, according to Pastor Sangam.

The pastor said they are undergoing treatment in Tokapal and staying with him.

“We are taking care of them,” Pastor Sangam said. “They are very scared to go back to Metapal now.”

Had police taken action against the assailants, the Christians would not have been forced to step out of their village seeking refuge and ended up in a shelter where some contracted malaria, Pastor Sangam said.

“It is very difficult to get any help from the police at midnight, as it is a Naxalite belt, and the tribal extremist leaders are very well aware of this,” he told Morning Star News.

ADF India’s Jhali said that farmers are preparing the soil, which involves sacrificial offerings to tribal deities, with the village council collecting funds and animals to be offered.

“But Christians refuse to partake in this ritual,” Jhali said. “This has been the one main reason for the spike in violent attacks against Christians amid lockdown.”

Jhali said officers at the Katekalyan police station had registered a First Information Report against the assailants under sections of the Indian Penal Code for rioting, obscene acts, voluntarily causing hurt and criminal intimidation.

India is ranked 10th on Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has worsened since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

 

 

Former Muslim from Sudan Forced into Hiding

An ethnic Messiria (Misseriya Arab) elder at meeting on status of Abyei administrative area. (Wikipedia, Sudan Envoy)

Sudan (Morning Star News) – It was more than a year ago that Muslims in the disputed area between Sudan and South Sudan noticed that Ahmed Alnour was no longer reciting his Islamic prayers five times a day.

The tribesman of the ethnic Misseriya Arabs was helping support his wife and seven children in Sudan working as a scrap trader at the Ameth common market in Abyei, a 4,072-square mile special administrative area on the border formed from the peace agreement that ended civil war in Sudan in 2005.

Alnour would soon have to leave that work, forced to flee when area Muslims confirmed that he had become a Christian.

“I saw them and heard them saying, ‘We will kill you because you left Islam and became infidel,’” he said of their attempt to burn down his home the afternoon of April 1, 2019.

Neighbors were able to douse the flames and he escaped unharmed, but on April 8 the assailants returned at 1 a.m. as he slept. He awoke to find his house in flames.

Alnour told Morning Star News that before Christians arrived to rescue him, he heard one of the assailants say in Arabic, “Let us throw him back in the fire, since he has abandoned Islam.”

The Christians took him to a hospital for treatment the following morning. He had lost all his possessions in the fire, including 600,000 South Sudanese pounds equivalent to US$6,000, but he had not lost his faith in Christ, he said.

The 43-year-old father of seven children ages 4 to 24 had put his faith in Christ just a few months prior. Paralyzed from an illness for three months in Agok, Abyei area, he received a visit from two evangelists who prayed for him and told him of salvation in Christ.

Alnour said he felt a conviction in his heart, and that after placing his trust in Christ he was healed.

“I was able to get up and walk after three months of sickness,” he said.

He was baptized at a church last Christmas. In hiding since the attacks last year, he has obtained a job and temporary quarters from church friends at an undisclosed village in the Abyei area.

Risks are growing as Muslims are looking for him, he said. Fear of Muslims’ reactions in Sudan and lack of economic opportunity keep him from going home to his family, but someday he hopes to be able to return and tell them about Christ, he said.

“I want to tell my family about my new faith in Jesus, and I am sure they will believe with me,” Alnour said.

In light of advances in religious freedom since Omar al-Bashir was ousted as president of Sudan in April 2019, the U.S. State Department announced on Dec. 20 that Sudan had been removed from the list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) that engage in or tolerate “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom” and was upgraded to a watch list.

Sudan had been designated a CPC by the U.S. State Department since 1999.

Following the secession of South Sudan in 2011, Bashir had vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language. Church leaders said Sudanese authorities demolished or confiscated churches and limited Christian literature on the pretext that most Christians have left the country following South Sudan’s secession.

In April 2013 the then-Sudanese Minister of Guidance and Endowments announced that no new licenses would be granted for building new churches in Sudan, citing a decrease in the South Sudanese population. Sudan since 2012 has expelled foreign Christians and bulldozed church buildings. Besides raiding Christian bookstores and arresting Christians, authorities threatened to kill South Sudanese Christians who did not leave or cooperate with them in their effort to find other Christians.

After Bashir was deposed, military leaders initially formed a military council to rule the country, but further demonstrations led them to accept a transitional government of civilians and military figures, with a predominantly civilian government to be democratically elected in three years. Christians were expected to have greater voice under the new administration.

The new government that was sworn in on Sept. 8, 2019 led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, an economist, is tasked with governing during a transition period of 39 months. It faces the challenges of rooting out longstanding corruption and an Islamist “deep state” rooted in Bashir’s 30 years of power.

Sudan ranked 7th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

India: Christian Leader in Madhya Pradesh Run Over by Motorcycles

Church leader Isaac Paulose in hospital after attack in Sehore, Madhya Pradesh state, India. (Morning Star News)

(Morning Star News) – Violence against Christians in India hit a new level on Tuesday (March 3) when Hindu extremists ran their motorcycles over a key evangelical leader after beating him, sources said.

Armed with bamboo rods and a thick metal chain with a heavy lock on it, the 10 Hindu nationalists in Sehore, Madhya Pradesh state beat Isaac Paulose, 48, and then ran their five motorcycles over him, fracturing one of his ribs, said Uttar Kumar Deep, pastor of Grace Fellowship Church of CEA (Christian Evangelistic Assemblies), Sehore.

Paulose, an elder at the church and Madhya Pradesh coordinator of the New India Evangelistic Association, was attacked shortly after dropping his 5-year-old son off at school that morning, Pastor Deep said.

Paulose was in his car when a Hindu nationalist on a motorcycle stopped him and told him to get out, he said.

“Unaware of his intentions and without a slightest of suspision, Isaac stepped out,” Pastor Deep said. “Suddenly others joined the biker, and all of them began to beat Isaac with bamboo logs and a chain.”

Paulose’s wife, Elizabeth Isaac, said he was stopped no more than 300 meters from their home.

“The moment he stepped out of his car, the others joined in, and they began to beat him,” Isaac said. “Accusing him of ‘converting people,’ they beat him with bamboo logs and a thick metal chain with a lock attached to its end. They scorned and ridiculed him, daring him to continue to convert people.”

Hindu extremists routinely attack Christians for “conversion,” though conversion is legal in India, and also routinely raise false accusations against them of illegal “forcible conversion.” They frequently make no distinction between the two.

The assailants threatened to kill the pastor before leaving, Pastor Deep said.

“When he lay on the ground half-dead, they drove their bikes, five in number, one after another over him, injuring him further and breaking his rib,” Pastor Deep told Morning Star News. “They scorned and taunted him, asking him to call on the name of Jesus. They also threatened to kill him if he continues to ‘convert’ people.”

Paulose also sustained injuries in his head and legs and hand, dislocating three fingers, sources said.

The assailants fled only after passers-by noticed and came to Paulose’s aid, Pastor Deep said. He said Paulose did not recognize any of those who assaulted him.

Paulose was rushed to a local government hospital, and then later that same day transferred to Bhopal Fracture Hospital, 26 miles from Sehore, in order to receive appropriate treatment, sources said.

On Friday (March 6) he underwent two surgeries on his left hand, which sustained multiple fractures, his wife said.

“He has received two stitches at the back of his head, and one stitch on his forehead,” Isaac said. “One of his ribs is fractured, for which the doctors said that nothing can be done and that he will need to take a lot of rest for the rib to heal by itself.”

Hemant Lal, a Christian leader from Bhopal, said Paulose was honored to suffer in Christ’s name.

“Brother Isaac’s condition was very bad when he was brought to Bhopal,” Lal told Morning Star News. “I was amazed at his faith. He told me he was not scared, and that there will be difficulties in doing the Lord’s work, but that he was glad that he suffered for the name of Jesus.”

Peace and Strength

Sehore police registered a First Information Report (FIR) on Tuesday (March 3) against unidentified assailants under the Indian Penal Code for criminal intimidation, damage, wrongful restraint and voluntarily causing hurt.

On Thursday (March 5) they added a section pertaining to attempted murder, Pastor Deep said.

Pastor Deep said Paulose does not engage in forced conversion.

“Such incidents should not happen with us; we are peace-loving people,” Pastor Deep said. “We do not get violent, and accusing someone of [forced] conversion without any reason and proof is not a good thing.”

Thanking all who have prayed and continue to pray for them, Paulose’s wife said she was initially shaken but is now at peace.

“Initially, I was very troubled and in a state of shock after seeing Isaac in this condition, but later the Lord gave me peace and strength,” she told Morning Star News. “It is our privilege to suffer for the Lord, and we will continue to work for the Lord. I am sure that God will reward us.”

India is ranked 10th on Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has worsened since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

VOP Note: Please pray for this brother, his family and Christians in India.

Christian Family in Hiding after Hindu Extremist Mob Assaults Them in India

Hindu extremists severely attack retired pastor and his family in northern India. Photo: Morning Star News

(Morning Star News) – A retired pastor, his wife and their sons are in hiding from police after a Hindu extremist mob injured them in a gruesome assault in northern India, sources said.

Patram Mangala, retired Church of North India pastor now helping to run St. John School in Sohna, Gurugram District in Haryana state, sustained injuries to his nose when he was hit with a spade in the face, and his 28-year-old son Abhishek Mangala lost four front teeth and ruptured blood vessels in his eye in the Sept. 22 attack.

Pastor Mangala’s 65-year-old wife Sarla Mangala sustained an injury under her right eye apart from internal injuries to her body, and their son Raj Kumar Mangala, 40, sustained internal injuries in the attack, which appeared to be rooted in a recent court judgment against the Hindus in their attempt to erect a Hindu idol on the property, the retired pastor said.

The 68-year-old Pastor Mangala and his wife were cleaning their front yard in the early evening when a group of Hindu extremists with wooden sticks surrounded them and began to assault them, he said. Between 30 to 40 other people then joined in the assault.

Pastor Mangala’s sons ran to help their parents but were also attacked. The pastor said he could identify only some of the assailants, and that those who joined in had been notified earlier for a well-planned attack.

Abhishek Mangala lost teeth in assault by Hindu extremists in Sohna, Haryana state, India on Sept. 22, 2019. (Morning Star News)

“Two men, Anil Kumar and Danny, smashed a stone on Abhishek’s face, breaking four of his front teeth,” Pastor Mangala told Morning Star News. “His mouth was profusely bleeding, and his face was covered with blood. Abhishek’s lip tore, and his left eye blood vessels ruptured.”

Their home is part of the St. John’s school premises, and the assailants picked up a spade used for repair work on the institution in the attack, he said. They also struck them with rocks lying outside the gate, along with sticks.

“They began to hit me with their legs and fists and manhandled my wife by pushing her and hitting her,” he said. “They abused us using vulgar language and threatened to kill us. The attackers snatched the gold ring that I was wearing in my finger and snatched my son Abhishek’s cell phone as well.”

Besides the injury to his nose from the spade, Pastor Mangala sustained injuries to his thigh and other parts of his body, he said.

The family reported the assault to city police in writing on Sept. 24, but officers registered no complaint for nearly a week – in stark contrast to a false complaint registered against the Christians the day of the attack, he said.

“The culprits have been threatening us to kill us, and they have warned us that if we go to the police, they will kill us,” Pastor Mangala reported in his complaint, translated from Hindi. “In the future if I or my family members are attacked, these people named in the complaint should be held responsible. I request that strict action be taken against these hooligans and a First Information Report be registered and they be arrested. I pray that justice be given to me and my family.”

Local news media broadcast the Hindu extremists’ false charges as stated by a police official and the main accused in the pastor’s complaint, Anil Kumar. Officer-in-Charge Arvind Dahiya told Punjab Kesari News Channel that an FIR had been registered against Pastor Mangala, his wife and their two sons for “breaking the Hindu temple and illegally trying to take possession of the Hindu temple land under the Indian Penal Code.”

They were also charged with rioting, being armed with a deadly weapon, unlawful assembly, disobedience to an order lawfully promulgated by a public servant, injuring or defiling a place of worship with intent to insult the religion, voluntarily causing hurt and criminal intimidation, he said.

Kumar told media that the Christian family attacked him and the others.

Denying all allegations, Meenal Mangala, the daughter of Pastor Mangala, told Morning Star News that she felt helpless as she does not know who to contact for help.

“The allegations against us are false and fabricated,” she said. “We don’t know what to do. It is our property, and we have the papers to prove it. They forcefully wanted to worship their god on our land. Through court we stopped that and won the legal battle, but now they are spreading a false and fabricated story through media, and it is being telecasted on local TV.”

Meenal Mangala said the family has submitted a CD to the police containing footage from CCTV cameras installed at the school facing its front gate. The cameras captured the entire assault and show how the Hindu extremists beat the family, she said.

Fearing arrest, the Christian family has left their home and gone into hiding since being released from the hospital.

Only after Morning Star News spoke to Investigating Officer and Assistant Sub-Inspector Shish Ram asking why no action was taken on the complaint of trespassing and assault filed by the Christian family did officers register a case against the assailants on Friday (Sep. 27).

Ram said a case was registered against the Hindu assailants under First Information Report 608 for rioting, rioting armed with deadly weapon, unlawful assembly, disobedience to an order lawfully promulgated by a public servant, voluntarily causing hurt and criminal intimidation.

He said justice would be done, though no action has been taken yet.

The land on which the St. John’s School was built was purchased in Sarla Mangala’s name on Sept. 30, 1985, according to official records. She and Pastor Mangala were running the school and residence in 2015 when some Hindus trespassed and erected a Hindu idol and brought construction material onto the campus, Sarla Mangala charges in a lawsuit.

“On June 10, 2015, in the evening between 6-6:30, some anti-social elements came to our land and tried to enter forcefully,” Pastor Mangala said. “They threatened to kill my wife if she did not leave the property, hence we filed a complaint in the court claiming that the property is ours and that no construction should be done on that land. I approached the court against the trespassing four years ago and got a stay from the court. The court pronounced judgment in our favor two months ago.”

Tehmina Arora, director of legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom-India, said in a press statement earlier this year that India must enact laws to protect religious minorities from such attacks.

“Nobody should be persecuted because of their faith,” Arora said. “It is worrying to see these horrendous acts of mob violence continue. It is high time special laws are enacted to protect Christians and other religious minorities from being attacked and then imprisoned under false accusations.”

Mob attacks are not isolated incidents in India, added Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF-International.

“While the right to religious freedom is protected by the Indian constitution, we nonetheless see Christians face persecution and denial of their fundamental rights,” he said. “Sadly, the recent mob attacks are not isolated incidents but testify to what many Christians experience in India today. All people have the right to freely choose, and live out, their faith.”

India is ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has been worse each year since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

Photo: Retired pastor’s wife, Sarla Mangala and son, Abhishek Mangala

Converts, Pastors Threatened with Death; Gospel Meetings Banned in Town in Uganda

(Morning Star News) – Police have banned evangelistic events in a town in western Uganda following open-air preaching in which many Muslims put their faith in Christ, sources said.

Churches in Bwera, on Uganda’s western border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, held a joint evangelistic event amid the large Muslim population in Bwera beginning on May 20. The success of the event led not only to the ban but to church leaders receiving evangelistic , pastors said.

“Tomorrow we are coming to kill all of you during the open air crusade,” read one text message to a church leader a day after several Muslims put their faith in Christ on May 20.

Police halted the event, which was supposed to continue until May 26, on May 25.

On the first day, several former Muslims spoke at the open-air meeting, the church leaders said.

“Jesus changed my life when I acknowledged him as my Lord and being the Son of the most high God,” one former sheikh (Muslim teacher) testified.

This testimony touched many people, and large numbers showed up the following day, many of them putting their faith in Christ, church leaders said. In all, 35 Muslims put their faith in Christ.

Another former sheikh on the second day of the event used the Koran to argue for the uniqueness of Jesus. Offended Muslims began mobilizing, and more than 250 Muslims armed with long swords and clubs showed up at the event on May 25 in anticipation of attacking.

Muslim leaders reported what speakers were saying at the meeting to police, who summoned church leaders, pastors said. Hundreds of Muslims marched to Bwera police station led by several Islamist leaders issuing threats and calling for the meetings to be banned, organizers said.

“We cannot allow the Christians to use the Koran in their meetings or to allege that Jesus is the Son of God – this a serious blasphemy to Muslims,” said the head of the mosque in Bwera, Muzamiru Aramanzani, according to the pastors.

The demonstrating Muslims also threatened to kill all former Muslims who embraced Christianity in Bwera, the church leaders said.

“We cannot watch the Christians changing our faithful members to Christianity. If those who have joined Christianity will not return back to Islam, then we are going to treat them as infidels, hence deserving death according to the teaching of Islam,” said another sheikh, according to organizers.

Following the May 25 meeting, police later that day banned all open-air Christian meetings in Bwera, they said. The event had been scheduled to end on May 26.

The ban sent a chilling message to those who have become Christians, who said they are afraid to go to worship services or other Christian meetings.

“I am very afraid for my life,” said one former sheikh. “I have received threatening messages in my phone that the Muslims want my head.”

Organizing the event was the Anglican Church of Uganda, the Sound of Salvation Ministry and the Church of Uganda of Bwera Custom Church.

The churches hoped to complete the event by seeking the help of a large number of police and military personnel, but the Muslim’ threats to kill the church leaders if they continued invoking the Koran in their teaching led police to cut the campaign short, organizers said.

Church leaders in Bwera called on the international community to pray for protection and that converts remain firm in Christ.

The opposition marks the latest of many cases of persecution of Christians in Uganda that Morning Star News has documented.

Uganda’s constitution and other laws provide for religious freedom, including the right to propagate one’s faith and convert from one faith to another.

Muslims make up no more than 12 percent of Uganda’s population, but with high concentrations in eastern areas of the country.

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