Doggedly Defending Despite the Dangers

Bob Luntby Bob Lunt

A human rights and religious freedom defender working in South India recently shared his thoughts on the current climate in the country.

My experience has considerably worsened since Modi’s government came to power in 2014. The government relies heavily on the backing of Hindu fundamentalists, which has led to an increase in the threat to religious minorities, particularly Christians. In Tamil Nadu where I work, human rights defenders have faced extreme hostility. Some have been shot, raped and threatened by both government and non-government people. And now Modi has won a landslide victory in the 2019 elections.

I work to defend the rights of people of all faiths. Those who support Hindu supremacy in India argue that human rights defenders work against the country’s interests, but this simply isn’t true. I’m proud that my country has such a great constitution, which protects fundamental freedoms. India was among the first countries to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

This is why I find it so sad that, as human rights defenders, we now face the threat of violence on a daily basis. I hear noises outside my house at night, and banging on my windows. It’s tragic that in India, a country of such diverse cultures, languages, religions and beliefs, these things now happen to those of us who are trying to uphold the basic human right to practise one’s religion or belief of choice.

The government uses the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act to target human rights defenders. The law deals with people who are considered to be working against the state, and some human rights defenders have been accused of being members of terrorist organisations. A person can be detained without bail for six months under this law, which can be extended. We constantly live in fear that another of us could be the next person charged.

I’m also constantly harassed and monitored by the authorities. I give a speech somewhere or go to speak with victims of human rights abuses, and before I get home I’m called by the authorities asking how the trip went – a constant reminder that my every move is being watched. The support of the international community is really important. Training for human rights defenders, like CSW’s Defend the Defender project, is vital to our safety and work.

Source: Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW)

Women of faith and risk

Bob LuntBy Bob Lunt

Praise God that women are coming to faith in Jesus across the Muslim world. Yet for many the personal cost is horrifically high, as they are marginalized and persecuted both for their faith and their gender. Please pray for women like these:

  • - Aizah* faced violent rejection from her family when she chose to follow Jesus. Yet now she wants to help other women who suffer for their faith and gender. “We want to have a safe house for women expelled from home after their conversion”, she says.
  • - Aasma* became a secret believer four years ago but her Saudi family have since married her to a Muslim. She prays in secret but has few chances to meet with other Christians.
  • - Nava* started following Jesus after meeting him in a dream, like so many Iranians. She is now boldly sharing her faith with others. “I know I’m risking my safety. But it doesn’t stop me. I can say wholeheartedly I am ready to suffer for Him.”
  • - Mansuri was rejected by her Bangladeshi family and community after marrying a Christian and becoming a believer. But through her husband’s witness her family came to Christ. She now runs a Bible study group for women after attending an Open Doors Bible class.
  • - Joyce came to faith in China from a Muslim background and was imprisoned for that faith in 2017. Now released, it is too dangerous for her to connect with other believers.

Naomi* is a pastor’s wife from Indonesia, where there is rising religious intolerance. Besides some violent attacks on churches, Christians experience discrimination and verbal abuse. Most members of Naomi’s church are from a Muslim background and face oppression from their families. “People who are forced to leave home for accepting Jesus have to live in other church members’ houses”, she says. “Their relatives only want them back when their economic situation improves. Their children are frequently mocked and intimidated at school. But we stand strong.”

Open Doors has launched a campaign called See. Change. to restore hope, dignity and identity to women persecuted for their faith and gender. Across the Middle East and North Africa Open Doors’ partners are establishing leadership development programmes for women to help them share the Gospel. And in situations like Naomi’s, Open Doors runs projects to help people improve their economic circumstances.

Source: Open Doors

*Name changed

They want to wipe us out

Bob LuntBy Bob Lunt

In November, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) brought six men and women from Burma to meet politicians, journalists and Christian leaders in London and Brussels. These religious leaders and human rights defenders from three ethnic groups shared their stories of Burma’s crisis and pressed for urgent action.

“We see human rights violations by the state and the military as crimes against humanity”, said one. Another explained: “Rape, sexual violence, torture and arbitrary arrest are some of the abuses meted out. The military want to wipe ethnic people out.” The six asked the UK to ensure that justice, human rights and accountability are at the centre of its relationship with Burma.

The country was ruled for over 50 years by military regimes which committed grave violations of human rights. It has also endured over 60 years of civil war between the military and many of the ethnic nationalities who seek autonomy. Religion and ethnicity are intertwined, and Burma’s minorities have suffered severe violations of their human rights, including that of freedom of religion or belief.

At heart is the question of Burma’s identity. Does Burma wish to be a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society, or a Burman, Buddhist nation which at best tolerates non-Burmans and non-Buddhists, or at worst seeks to repress, restrict and drive them out? In 2011 the military broke a 17-year ceasefire with the mainly Kachin Christian armed resistance, unleashing a major new offensive. In 2012 a campaign against the mainly Muslim Rohingya escalated, resulting in horrific violence in Rakhine State. In 2013 anti-Muslim violence broke out in other places. And in 2016 and 2017, renewed brutality against the Rohingya claimed hundreds of lives. All this despite head of government Aung San Suu Kyi’s expressed desire to confront religious hatred.

The chair of the UN’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar said: “The military has systematically targeted civilians, and established a climate of impunity for its soldiers. I have never been confronted by crimes as horrendous and on such a scale.” His report concludes that senior generals must be investigated for genocide and war crimes.

The genocide against the Rohingya is well known. But non-Rohingya, Christians, and even Buddhists who try to counter militant Buddhist nationalism, face severe danger. Yet the risk the six people took in coming to Europe to share their stories shows the flame of hope still burns.
Source: CSW

Litmus Test of a Free Society

Bob LuntBy Bob Lunt

A collective moan rose among Open Doors supporters. The launch in Parliament of the World Watch List 2019 would clash with a key Brexit vote. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt wanted to speak – would he cancel? Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry was due to attend – would she come? Would anybody come?

But as ever, the event was in the Lord’s hands. A total of 98 parliamentarians came and five more sent representatives, including senior faces, and the voice of the persecuted church echoed around the corridors of Westminster. In his speech Jeremy Hunt said that freedom of religion is the ‘litmus test of a free society’. He thanked Open Doors supporters for ‘the fantastic work you are doing to highlight the fact that nearly a quarter of a billion Christians around the world are facing persecution for their beliefs’. He added that he had had a copy of God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew since he was ten. Emily Thornberry recorded a message sharing her serious concern that ‘for the fifth year running, persecution of Christians has increased’. It was encouraging to see senior support for the persecuted church from both sides of the political spectrum.

Henrietta Blyth, Open Doors’ CEO, shared how denying the right to freedom of religion or belief plays a ‘central and devastating role’ in global crises, and highlighted the rise of both India and China on this year’s list. And heartfelt pleas on behalf of persecuted Christians were brought by Open doors partners from Malaysia and Nigeria.

Parliament has upped the heat – not a week goes by when the Foreign Office isn’t asked a question about religious persecution. And not only has the Prime Minister appointed a Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief, but Jeremy Hunt announced an independent review into whether the UK is doing enough to support persecuted Christians worldwide. “I want [Christians] suffering this terrible persecution to think there are people who understand what they’re going through and are sincerely trying to do everything they can about it.” This review is led by Philip Mounstephen, Bishop of Truro and until recently head of Church Mission Society. Pray it will lead to real change that positively impacts the lives of persecuted Christians.

The World Watch List highlights the 50 countries where it’s hardest to be a Christian.

Source: Open Doors. Watch messages from Jeremy Hunt and Emily Thornberry at www.opendoorsuk.org

Expect a Miracle – Expect Growth

dvickersBy David Vickers

There is a sign in St. Mary’s Church which reads, “Expect a Miracle”. There is much written in the Bible about miracles. But why would God perform miracles today?

I have seen the result of miracles which have led to addition, multiplication and exponential growth in our Kingdom family.

A visit to a family one evening and I found a young man on the floor with a leg wound from a motor cycle accident. The would had become infected and his mother was doing her best to apply dressings. As a nurse, I showed her how to do this properly, told her not to disturb it as often as she was and I prayed for healing in the name of Jesus. When the dressing was removed a week later, there was no sign of there ever having been a wound. Halleluliah. The young man and his brother asked us how to pray to this Jesus. We told them and led them to Christ. This is addition.

A Kurdish refugee woman came to a church in desperation with advanced cancer of the breast. All treatment had failed. She was prayed for in Jesus’ name and was completely healed. She and her family gave their lives to Christ. They then brought friends and neighbours to hear about Jesus and their numbers multiplied.

I met a young man fourteen years ago and struck up a friendship with him. We used to meet in a café. He was a school teacher. One day he told me of a problem with his head master who had given him more classes than he could handle and in subjects he was not confident in. We prayed in the name of Jesus for a solution. Two days later, he came to meet me again. The head teacher had been replaced. The first act of the new head was to call my friend to his office and discuss and reduce his workload to an acceptable level. This miracle led my friend to give his life over to Christ. I discipled him to be a discipler. Over the years, he led many others into the Kingdom. He now leads a growing church movement of over 700. Disciples who disciple lead to exponential growth.

We may be used to bring just one person to Christ. God’s miracles to the rest, by addition, multiplication and exponential growth. All those of us who have a relationship with the miraculously risen Christ are, in turn, miracles. So, expect a miracle and expect to be used in God’s miraculous plans.

Forgiveness – it’s about Faith

Bob LuntBy Bob Lunt

Last May three churches in Surabaya, Indonesia, were hit in a co-ordinated bombing, all by members of the same family, adults and children. Thirteen people were killed and many injured in these brutal attacks. How do you respond?

The message from the priests, the pastor and the relatives of victims was the same: “We must love others; we forgive the attackers; we do not want revenge.”  The mother of two boys aged 8 and 12, who died as a result of their injuries at Santa Maria Catholic Church, said just two days after the bombing, “I have already forgiven the bombers. I don’t want to cry any more. I know that our Mother Mary also lost her son, Jesus. I forgive.” The priest commented, “For the Church, we must forgive – this is our doctrine. But for an individual, like this mother, the ability to forgive is about faith, not doctrine.”

He went on: “None of the victims ever asked, ‘Why has this happened to me?’ They just said ‘Okay, we forgive them, and we pray for the victims.’ There was no anger, no criticism of other religions, only forgiveness and prayer. It came from their heart. Our message: Keep doing good, don’t discriminate, and work for equality, solidarity and unity. Respect for God means respect for other persons.”  Santa Maria’s security guard is a Muslim who lost both legs and was blinded trying to stop the attack.

At the Pentecostal church attacked, the stories were similar, as were the messages of forgiveness. “We don’t understand why this happened, but we continue to teach about forgiveness and love. God’s plan is still good”, said the pastor.

 

That evening at Mass in the Catholic Cathedral of Jakarta, the capital, two young Muslim women arrived and began to hand out red and white roses (the colours of the Indonesian flag) to the congregation in a gesture of solidarity and peace. And in Surabaya itself Muslims came to the churches to express their condolences and help clear up the wreckage.

Much work is needed to help heal the wounds inflicted as Indonesia struggles against its growing culture of intolerance. But the churches of Surabaya, and the actions of their Muslim friends, offer hope that faith and forgiveness in Indonesia isn’t gone for good.

Source: Christian Solidarity Worldwide

“No one can force me to renounce my faith”

On 9 December, Chinese authorities arrested Pastor Wang Yi, his wife and more than 100 members of the Early Rain Covenant Church in the city of Chengdu. Pastor Wang’s home was raided and ransacked by police.  “It was a mess,” said an assistant deacon who was later released. “The police said our church is an illegal organization and we cannot attend any more gatherings.”

The raid may have been triggered by a 7,300-word manifesto titled “Meditations on the Religious War,” which Pastor Wang wrote and posted on social media. The Christians were reportedly detained on allegations of “inciting subversion of state power”. Pastor Wang Yi also released a letter in which he makes clear that he does not seek to overthrow the state but to worship freely. He writes: “Separate me from my wife and children, ruin my reputation, destroy my life and my family – the authorities are capable of doing all of these things. However, no one can force me to renounce my faith.” He condemns China’s Communist Party and urges Christians to perform acts of civil disobedience.

Pastor Yi criticized the government for forcing its citizens to engage in “Caesar worship” by treating President Xi Jinping like a god.  He wrote that such ideology “is morally incompatible with the Christian faith and all those who uphold freedom of the mind and thought.”

There has been no word from the pastor or the church members since their arrest. Foreseeing his possible arrest, Yi had written a letter titled “My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience” back in September with the instruction that it should be published by his church should he be detained for more than 48 hours.

Another who refused to renounce her faith is 14-year-old Leah Sharibu, kidnapped from her school in Nigeria a year ago by Boko Haram jihadists. She refused to convert in exchange for her freedom and the terrorist group has said that she and a kidnapped nurse, Alice, will remain slaves for the rest of their lives. Two midwives kidnapped with Alice, Muslim mother of two Saifura Husseini Ahmed and Hauwa Mohammed Liman, were executed last year by the group.

Barnabas Fund and CSW, leading aid agencies for the persecuted Church, urge us all to pray for our Chinese and Nigerian brothers and sisters.

 

Sources; Barnabas Fund, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, CBN News.

His plans are much better than ours

dvickersby David Vickers

I was recently in the Middle East for two months. In Lebanon I had plans to do a little work and to catch up with friends and organisations. God had other plans. I ended up being in the right place at the right time to take over a project I had set up in and around Sidon working with Syrian refugees. The project manager was leaving and I was there to take over until a new manager was recruited. I still managed to visit friends and churches briefly and saw the increase in Kurdish refugees coming into our family.

I went to Egypt with no set plans but had prayed for three key things – that I would get back in contact with a young man I met in May in Alexandria but had lost his contact details. On my first night in Alexandria, I went shopping in the market and turned round to someone shouting my name. It was Ehap, the man I wanted to see.

Secondly, I prayed that I would be able to be involved in an interfaith meeting with Christians and Muslims. I met a friend who runs such meetings and was invited to be with him a couple of days later. There were three sheikhs, three pastors with my friend Hany and me. We studied verses from Koran and Bible and discussed similarities and differences. The theme was the generosity of God. I took the opportunity to clarify what “grace” really means. I was asked to open and close in prayer. I also discovered that friends were having a similar meeting, on the same day, in Abbeydale Road in Sheffield.

Lastly, I prayed that I would find Christian fellowship in the western Sinai peninsula. On my first evening in Dahab (in Sinai on the Gulf of Aqaba) I went to a local shop and greeted the shop keeper. His name turned out to be Paracletus. His family is Christian. He told me of a church in a village a few miles away. On my last Sunday in Egypt, I went to a mass at this Orthodox church and was warmly welcomed by Pastor Matthew (who spoke fluent English). A local Christian hotel owner had converted half of his hotel into this church.

I learned that going somewhere with plans often leads to disappointment. But praying and listening to God direction allows him to work out His plans and is never disappointing.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord,
plans to prosper you and not to harm you, 
plans to give you hope and a future”.
Jeremiah 29:11

A New Year Prayer

BillyGrahamPhoto[1]A Prayer written by Revd. Billy Graham for the New Year (2008)

Our Father and our God, as we stand at the beginning of this new year we confess our need of Your presence and Your guidance as we face the future.

We each have our hopes and expectations for the year that is ahead of us—but You alone know what it holds for us, and only You can give us the strength and the wisdom we will need to meet its challenges. So help us to humbly put our hands into Your hand, and to trust You and to seek Your will for our lives during this coming year.
In the midst of life’s uncertainties in the days ahead, assure us of the certainty of Your unchanging love.
In the midst of life’s inevitable disappointments and heartaches, help us to turn to You for the stability and comfort we will need.
In the midst of life’s temptations and the pull of our stubborn self-will, help us not to lose our way but to have the courage to do what is right in Your sight, regardless of the cost.
And in the midst of our daily preoccupations and pursuits, open our eyes to the sorrows and injustices of our hurting world, and help us to respond with compassion and sacrifice to those who are friendless and in need. May our constant prayer be that of the ancient Psalmist: “Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end” (Psalm 119:33).
We pray for our nation and its leaders during these difficult times, and for all those who are seeking to bring peace and justice to our dangerous and 0 troubled world. We pray especially for Your protection on all those who serve in our armed forces, and we thank You for their commitment to defend our freedoms, even at the cost of their own lives. Be with their families also, and assure them of Your love and concern for them.
Bring our divided nation together, and give us a greater vision of what You would have us to be. Your Word reminds us that “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).
As we look back over this past year we thank You for Your goodness to us— far beyond what we have deserved. May we never presume on Your past goodness or forget all Your mercies to us, but may they instead lead us to repentance, and to a new commitment to make You the foundation and centre of our lives this year.
And so, our Father, we thank You for the promise and hope of this new year, and we look forward to it with expectancy and faith. This I ask in the name of our Lord and Saviour, who by His death and resurrection has given us hope both for this world and the world to come.
Amen

Rebuilding Places and People

Bob LuntBy Bob Lunt

In November, St Oswald’s church in Sheffield had a visit from Mike Simpson, head of Foundation for Relief & Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME, known as FreeMe!). One of its ministries is to restore hope for Christians in Northern Iraq, many of whom fled their homes in the Nineveh Plain, the ancient heartland of Christianity in Iraq, when ISIS came in 2014.

A trustee of FRRME recently travelled there in searing 40º heat to assess the needs of returning Christian families. He writes, “The places we visited are not far from Mosul, which is still strewn with explosives and the bodies of the dead. To the east we were shown cultural centres used by ISIS as headquarters, training centres and even prisons. The buildings are badly damaged and need restoration. Livelihoods have been destroyed, with many returnees unsure if they can afford to stay.

“Despite the hardships, there are opportunities. The ancient Mar Mattai Monastery has a natural spring on its land and a monk gave us costed plans for a bottling plant. It also has a quarry that can provide grey marble for local churches. Such untapped natural resources could create long-term jobs for the local community.

“In Teleskuf, north of Mosul, the local priest set up a small enterprise making and selling kubba (pasties). Businesses like this used to be the lifeblood of the Nineveh Plain and must be so again. FRRME will provide micro-loans for those wanting to set up small businesses, as well as investment for infrastructure such as deep water wells and solar power. And maybe tourism for the more intrepid traveller, with Iraq’s stunning scenery and historic sites.

“There is also much work to be done in healing physical and mental wounds; many returnees are victims of sectarian violence. In Alqosh, FRRME funded a trauma centre run by another priest, Father Aram, a
remarkable man committed to helping those who struggle to forgive their persecutors (in many cases their neighbours). Father Aram wants to rebuild people, as does a new ‘Child and Youth Empowerment Centre’ in Amman, Jordan, providing trauma counselling to Iraqi refugees in a partnership between FRRME and The Nazarene Church which has sheltered hundreds of Iraqi Christians fleeing their homeland.”

“Everything has gone from our life”, says one refugee.
“But God is steady; whenever we fall down, we see his hand upon us.”

Source: FRRME

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