North Korea, March 04, 2014: Australian missionary John Short, who was detained in North Korea for distributing Christian leaflets, has been released and deported to China, where he lives.
The 75-year-old was freed on Monday (3 March), two weeks after his arrest in Pyongyang. Upon his arrival at the airport in Beijing, he broke down in tears as he told reporters, “I’m really, really tired,” adding that he now “intends only to rest”. John’s wife, Karen, said that she was “amazingly thankful”.
North Korea said that it had released John “in consideration of his age” and “in light of the fact that he confessed his crimes and apologised”, describing the decision as “generous”.
John, who is based in Hong Kong, was required to sign a statement; confessions scripted by the authorities are a standard prerequisite for detained foreigners seeking release in North Korea.
In the document, he admitted not just the crime for which he was arrested last month – spreading Bible tracts at a Buddhist temple – but also an earlier offence:
I entered the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in August 2012 and personally carried a few Bible tracts and my own personal Bible. I was interested to see if I could possibly carry more on another occasion.
I committed the criminal act against the law of the DPRK by spreading my Bible tracts in Pyongyang underground station on the train.
Requesting forgiveness, John’s statement said, “I realise that my actions are an indelible hostile act against the independent right and law of the DPRK.”
He was required to agree “that the mass media of the USA and the western countries who say that the DPRK is the closed country and has no religious freedom is inaccurate and wrong”.
Although North Korea’s constitution does grant religious freedom, this does not exist in practice. All North Koreans are expected to follow Juche (self-reliance), an extreme cult of personality that venerates the ruling Kim family. Other belief systems, especially Christianity, are viewed as a threat to the regime’s authority. Foreign missionaries are thus treated with extreme suspicion.
John could have shared the same fate as other Christian missionaries held by North Korea. American-Korean Kenneth Bae was sentenced to 15 years hard labour in April for carrying out similar activities. And North Korea has refused to release South Korean Kim Jeong-wook, who was arrested in October, despite his confession and appeal for forgiveness. At a press conference on 27 February, the missionary admitted to spying and attempting to “create a network of house churches in North Korea”; Jeong-wook was also said to be carrying Bibles and other Christian materials.
- barnabas team
Qatar, March 06, 2014: The divide within ideological Islam is growing. This week saw Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and United Arab Emirates withdraw their ambassadors from Doha in protest at Qatar’s interference in their internal affairs.
Qatar is the epicentre of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in most other Gulf states as well as in Egypt. Saudi Arabia is the centre of Wahhabi-Salafist Islam. The Muslim Brotherhood wants to reconstruct society according to sharia, using Islam as a movement of political change. Wahhabi-Salafism wants Muslim societies to be fashioned according to the Islam of 1,400 years ago, under Muhammad and the “Rightly Guided Caliphs”, i.e. the first four leaders of the Islamic state after Muhammad. Qatar has described the other Gulf states, Egypt and others as dictatorships that must give way to a new political order. Saudi and Egypt believe that Qatar is destabilising Muslim societies in order to impose their own brand of ideological Islam.
This open confrontation has serious consequences for the House of Islam, for it will affect countries such as Turkey and those as far away as Malaysia and potentially countries in the West, where Muslim minorities are increasingly being radicalized. Which way will governments go such as those of the US and UK, which are allied with both Qatar and Saudi Arabia? Which side they will take? The US and UK governments are both assisting the Muslim Brotherhood in that they have allowed it to use their countries as bases of operation from which it is destabilising moderate Muslim countries.
This movement towards sharia embodied in political Islam is now reshaping countries such as Brunei, which is in the process of implementing in phases a new sharia penal code, many parts of which are applied to non-Muslims.
A Brunei government official has recently announced the following:
- Non-Muslims will be punished for committing zina (adultery) with a Muslim, for drinking alcohol in a public place, and for khalwat (close proximity) with a Muslim. The penalty is a fine of up to B$4,000 (£1,900) and/or one year in prison.
- For adultery between a married Muslim and a married non-Muslim, both parties can be punished by stoning to death if the offence is proven by confession or the testimony of four eye-witnesses.
- Any person who instigates any Muslim man or woman to divorce, or neglect duties towards a partner, can be fined up to B$4,000 (£1,900) and/or jailed for a year.
- Any Muslim parent who surrenders his child into the care of a non-Muslim can be fined up to B$20,000 (£9,400) and/or jailed for up to five years.
- Non-Muslims are banned from using 19 Islamic words, including “Allah”.
Other sources report further restrictions affecting non-Muslims, all punishable by a fine and/or prison sentence:
- Propagation of any religion other than Islam
- Persuading a Muslim or non-Muslim to change religion
- Teaching any non-Islamic religion to a child under the age of 18
- Printing, distributing, selling or having in one’s possession any Christian literature
It is also reported that criticising Islam or bringing it into contempt will be punished by a death sentence or 40 lashes and 30 years in prison.
It seems strange that a country the ruler of which has been awarded several prestigious honours at the hand of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom (including Honorary Knight Grand Cross of The Most Honourable Order of the Bath) and with which the UK has close ties, should make such a move. It is not so much a retrograde step as a huge leap backwards into the past, reviving attitudes and practices that should have been consigned to history. It puts paid to Muslim arguments of being a religion of tolerance and peace.
- dr. patrick sookhdeo
Sudan, February 25, 2014: A church was demolished and its land confiscated by the Sudanese authorities as part of an ongoing campaign to rid the strict Islamic country of its Christian presence.
The Church of Christ building in the Ombada area of Omdurman was bulldozed without prior notice on 17 February. Police and officials from the National Intelligence and Security Services, who oversaw the demolition work, said that the 300-member church was not wanted in a “Muslim area”.
Since the secession of the majority-Christian South Sudan in July 2011, the Sudanese authorities have destroyed numerous church buildings, clamped down on Christian activity and targeted individual Christians in various ways. Believers have been subjected to harassment, arrests and death threats; foreign Christians have been deported.
President Omar al-Bashir is carrying out his repeated promise to strengthen sharia law and make the country 100% Islamic and Arab following the split.
A brutal campaign of ethnic and religious cleansing in the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan state, which has one of the largest Christian populations in Sudan, is also part of this agenda. The Sudanese military has been attacking the territory since June 2011, claiming the lives of many civilians.
On 10 February, a 30-year-old Christian man was killed in the bombing of Damardago village. Two others Christians, including a 13-year-old girl, sustained burns and other injuries in the attack. Homes were hit by bombs dropped on Aberi and Heiban on 8 and 9 February respectively.
Intensifying bombing campaigns have been targeting civilians. According to Nuba Reports, 93 bombs were dropped on civilian areas in December, more than the combined total for October and November; the figure for January was at least 120. The total since April 2012 is nearly 1,500 bombs.
The Nuba people have previously been targeted by Khartoum; more than 500,000 of their number were killed in the 1990s. Many Nuba people allied with the South during the long and bloody civil war in which the North fought to Islamise and Arabise the South. But when South Sudan became an independent nation, South Kordofan remained part of Sudan, leaving it even more vulnerable to Khartoum’s aggression. In a non-binding referendum in October 2013, 99.9% of people in the Abyei area of South Kordofan voted to become part of South Sudan.
- morning star news
North Korea, February 25, 2014: The wife of an Australian missionary detained in North Korea for distributing Christian leaflets said he knew the risks but “does what he believes God wants him to do”.
John Short (75) was arrested in the capital, Pyongyang, on 16 February, the day after he arrived in the oppressive country. The Hong Kong-based missionary had gone there with Chinese Christian Wang Chong on a tour organised by a Chinese travel agency.
John’s wife Karen said:
He went [to North Korea] because it is such a dark and difficult place.
He carried little booklets he’s written himself, that he’s had people translate into the Korean language.
John was reported to security officials after he was spotted leaving a Christian leaflet at a Buddhist temple. His bags at the hotel were subsequently searched and further Korean-language Christian pamphlets found. It is illegal in North Korea to spread religious material.
[John] does not live in the realm of “what if I get caught” – otherwise he would never have done the things that he has been doing.
It was the 75-year-old’s second time in North Korea, and he has previously visited other countries that are hostile to Christian activity. He has been arrested three times for evangelising in China. John and Karen run the Christian Book Room publishing firm in Hong Kong, which translates Christian literature and other materials into foreign languages and distributes them across Asia.
John could now face a lengthy jail term. American-Korean Kenneth Bae was sentenced to 15 years hard labour in April for carrying out similar missionary work in North Korea.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said his government was doing all it could to secure John’s release, but the country does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea; its consular interests there are handled by the Swedish authorities. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade described John’s case as “different and difficult”.
Karen has asked for people to pray for her husband’s safe return.
John’s arrest came the day before the publication of a damming UN report on North Korea, which concluded that the regime of dictator Kim Jong-Un is committing crimes against humanity unparalleled in the contemporary world. The Commission of Inquiry, chaired by Australian Justice Michael Kirby, recommended that the abuses be referred to the International Criminal Court.
The crimes against humanity detailed in the report include extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and knowingly causing prolonged starvation. It also said that “there is an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”, concluding that the regime “considers the spread of Christianity a particularly severe threat”; people caught practising Christianity are severely punished.
- barnabas team
UK, February 27, 2014: In the wake of the sentencing yesterday of two British Muslims for the bloodthirsty and brutal murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby on the streets of London, it is worth noting that there are other Muslims taking a courageous stand against violence practised by Muslims. A particular example is Khaled Hroub, a scholar from Cambridge University.
Dr Hroub has addressed the issue of Islamic violence against non-Muslims and also the hollow defence offered by many Muslims to try to protect their religion. He goes so far as to call for the creation of a special Muslim fund to provide aid for the victims of Muslim violence.
Below are as series of quotations from an article by Dr Hroub in Al-Ayyam, the Palestinian Authority daily newspaper (30 September 2013).1 He is to be much applauded for his courage. Our hope and prayer must be that his example will influence the House of Islam and turn them away from violence to become – as they claim – a religion of peace.
“Where is moderate Islam, and where are moderate Muslims, in light of the actions of a criminal minority that affiliates itself with them and carries out shameful terror acts in the name of their religion? We have lost track of the terrorist acts carried out by groups that morphed into multiple other groups. Terrorist acts are carried out in the name of the religion and jihad, and with their actions the perpetrators are staining all those with ties to Arabs or Muslims.
“Defending ourselves verbally, and attempting to present theories on our religion’s tolerance, its [capacity for] coexistence, and its past – which is a legacy for the generations – will neither convince nor compensate any mother who has seen her children murdered in front of her by mujahideen bullets. They will also neither convince nor compensate any orphaned child, or any of the dozens of wounded, or any of the families of those murdered or tortured, or any of the [men or] women violated in the ‘heat of battle.’
“Words cannot contradict action, and we cannot put out the fires caused by the terrorism of these groups that are burning up the overall image of the Muslims with statements stressing that we are [actually] good. [Such statements] are meaningless [in the face of] the blood of the slaughtered innocents. [Such statements] are a naïve, even an impudent, attempt to alleviate the pain.”
“The Muslim majority, headed by the Arabs, as leaders and founders of the so-called ‘Islamic terror,’ must respond to Islamic terror in a concrete way, not just with words. This majority, the intellectuals and shapers of opinion, must toil day and night to come up with ways for presenting the other Islam – the moderate Islam – to the world, to people, and to the casualties of the acts of terror perpetrated by the radical groups.
“It is our duty to establish an Islamic Public Fund for Compensating Victims of Terror. Its main task would be to reach out to all those harmed by the criminal actions attributed to jihad and Islam, to provide them with moral and humanitarian support, to show solidarity with them, and to compensate them monetarily for their loss of life and property.”
- dr. patrick sookhdeo
Morocco: Christian’s conviction for evangelism quashed by appeal court
Mohamed El Baladi was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison and fined 5,000 dirhams (£400; US$600) in September.
On 6 February, an appeals court judge dismissed the case because of lack of evidence. Mohamed had been arrested, tried and sentenced within a week without any legal representation.
He was arrested after someone complained to the police about a conversation he had allegedly had with them about his faith. Evangelism among Muslims is illegal in Morocco.
Vietnam: Conviction of Christian lawyer upheld on appeal
Le Quoc Quan, who was sentenced in October to two and a half years in jail on trumped-up tax evasion charges, staged a hunger strike for 17 days before the hearing on Tuesday (18 February). He was protesting against the prison authorities’ refusal to allow him access to a Bible and legal texts to help him prepare for the appeal.
At the hearing, Le Quoc said that he was “the victim of a political conspiracy”. The tax evasion charges have been denounced by international human rights campaigners as politically motivated.
The Christian rights’ campaigner has been repeatedly detained by the Vietnamese authorities, who clamp down hard on dissenters against the Communist regime.
Kazakhstan: Christian broadcaster blocked from leaving country for U.S. conference
Bishop Maxim Maximov, head of Kazakhstan’s 60-plus New Life churches and founder of a Christian Russian-language TV channel, and his wife Larissa were removed from the plane they had boarded on 12 February to go to the National Religious Broadcasters’ event.
They were detained by border patrol officers for over an hour without any explanation. Bishop Maximov was summoned for questioning the following day by the Department of Internal Affairs.
The couple were able to make the journey on 14 February after being told that the restrictions were a “mistake” and had been lifted.
- barnabas team
On Feb. 10 Pew Research published a report, “Russians Return to Religion, but Not to Church.” It compared the results from three sets of data (1991, 1998 and 2008) taken from the International Social Survey Programme.
The results showed a dramatic shift, in that between 1991 and 2008, the share of Russian adults identifying as Orthodox Christian rose from 31% to 72%.
In the same time span the share of Russia’s population that does not identify with any religion dropped from 61% to 18%.
According to the report there was a modest increase in the numbers of those identifying with other religions, such as Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism.
Religious belief has also increased in the period 1991-2008, with the proportion of Russian adults who said they are somewhat religious rising from 11% to 54%. Those who say they believe in God went from 38% to 56%.
This last piece of data reveals the curious situation where while 72% identify as Orthodox Christians only 56% affirm they believe in God.
Church attendance remains very low. All three surveys show that the number of those who attend at least once a month went from 2% in 1991 to only 7% in 2008.
Breaking down the data into demographic groups the Pew report noted that religious belief is significantly higher among women compared to men, although there was not a large difference when it came to going to Church – 9% vs. 5%.
A majority of all age groups identified themselves as Orthodox Christians in 2008, but the percentage was higher in the older age brackets.
When it comes to the level of education the report said that there is no notable difference between those with less formal education and those who have a university degree.
While religious affiliation has undergone a notable change the heavy-handed tactics of the Russian government have not changed. The Kremlin’s increasing intolerance deserves greater attention than that given to the Winter Olympics, declared the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in a Feb. 5 press release.
The commission observed that there are overly broad laws that limit the freedom of religion and expression, which “clearly violate international standards.”
“These laws are part of the Putin government’s assault on freedom of religion and expression,” said USCIRF Chairman Robert P. George.
George singled out the anti-blasphemy laws, which he described as vaguely worded and also sweeping; they impose heavy fines and jail sentences for those who “are deemed to offend the feelings of others.”
“People must be free, to express their convictions peacefully without fear of punishment or discrimination, and everyone’s rights must be protected,” he declared.
The lack of religious freedom in Russia has been extensively document by the Forum 18 news service. The Christian inspired group – a Norwegian-Danish initiative – takes its name from article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
A Jan. 14 report examined the courses in religion and ethics offered in Russia’s schools, which were re-introduced in 2012, reversing a ban imposed after the Russian Revolution in 1917.
The main textbook, Forum 18 observed, is mostly even-handed. Its implementation is, however, another matter.
On visiting some of the Siberian regions it turned out that in the Khakassia Republic a Lutheran parent complained his daughter was offered only the Orthodox Culture module of the religion course and that the school’s head teacher proclaimed, “We live in an Orthodox country”.
Forum 18 previously published a two-part extract from a book by its Russian correspondent, Geraldine Fagan (“Believing in Russia – Religious Policy after Communism” Routledge, 2013).
Fagan observed that: “The Russian Orthodox Church asserts itself as the definitive expression of Russian nationhood. Alternative worldviews are marginalised.”
She took a somewhat different view from that expressed by USCIRF, saying that: “The erosion of religious freedom is not due to deliberate federal preference for the Russian Orthodox Church. Rather, it is the symptom of a disinterested Kremlin absenting itself from the religious policy sphere.”
As a result of this indifference at the top, junior officials have been left free “to pursue an Orthodox-centred religious policy in defiance of the federal standard, according to Fagan.
Nevertheless she did note that Russia’s political leaders are using national values, and the identification with the Russian Orthodox Church, as a way to protect political interests.
On Feb. 11 Elliott Abrams of USCIRF gave testimony before the United States House Foreign Affairs Committee on the subject of religious freedom regarding the persecution of Christians.
About Russia he said that religious freedom conditions have deteriorated over the past year and that there are “increasing signs of an official policy that favors the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church over other religious communities.”
It would seem that the level-playing field of a sports competition is far from existing in matters of religion in Russia.
The United States has a noble history of upholding and defending civil liberties, religious freedom in particular. It has put these values at the heart of its relations with other countries, challenging those who do not share them.
Presidents Roosevelt and Ford typified this in their dealings with the USSR during World War Two and the Cold War, putting religious liberty firmly on the table.
In 1941, President Roosevelt met with the Soviet Deputy Commissar for Foreign Affairs Maxim Litvinov and other key figures over the wording of a proposed Joint Declaration by the Allies. The document was a pledge by the Allied nations to work together, employing their full resources in the fight against Hitler. It outlined what they were fighting for:
Being convinced that complete victory over their enemies is essential to defend life, liberty, independence and religious freedom, and to preserve human rights and justice in their own lands as well as in other lands, and that they are now engaged in a common struggle against savage and brutal forces seeking to subjugate the world.
Roosevelt insisted that the reference to “religious freedom” be added to the document, despite initial Soviet objections.
Throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union wanted international recognition of its frontiers in Eastern Europe. It sought an agreement with the US and its Western European allies over this. Western nations, led by US President Ford, accepted, but only on the condition that the Soviet Union agreed to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. The result was the historic Helsinki Accords of 1975.
Both Roosevelt, a Democrat, and Ford, a Republican, knew that they had to work with the Soviets in the international arena but recognised the evil of their system. So they remained committed to American values of human rights, religious liberty and justice, and insisted on these as a condition of co-operation.
I wish this were the case with Obama’s America, where both Democrats and Republicans see the US’s relationships with countries that deny human rights as essential and without any pre-conditions. In disregarding religious liberty and the rights of minorities, the US has lost sight of what it has historically stood for.
The US is now tied economically, militarily and politically to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and yet the US fails to use these ties to call for improvements in respect for human rights and religious freedoms. The fact that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are not democratic, deny human rights and religious liberty, and support Islamist terrorists has appeared to be of little concern to American policy-makers.
However, there is recent encouragement in President Obama’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast on 6 February, which strongly affirmed the principle of religious freedom: . . . No society can truly succeed unless it guarantees the rights of all its peoples, including religious minorities, whether they’re Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan, or Baha’i in Iran, or Coptic Christians in Egypt. And in Syria, it means ensuring a place for all people – Alawites and Sunni, Shia and Christian. Going forward, we will keep standing for religious freedom around the world.
Even more encouragingly, he specifically affirmed the vital freedom to choose or change one’s faith:
Today, we profess the principles we know to be true. We believe that each of us is “wonderfully made” in the image of God. We, therefore, believe in the inherent dignity of every human being – dignity that no earthly power can take away. And central to that dignity is freedom of religion – the right of every person to practise their faith how they choose, to change their faith if they choose, or to practise no faith at all, and to do this free from persecution and fear.
SYRIAN DELEGATION TO THE US
Barnabas Aid and the Westminster Institute recently sponsored a delegation of senior Syrian Church leaders to visit Washington. It was the first time since the start of the civil war in March 2011 that such a visit had taken place.
The purpose of the delegation was to raise awareness of the deliberate targeting of Christians in Syria and also to try to persuade the US to stop its direct and implicit support for those who are persecuting our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Christians are being kidnapped, raped and killed by Islamic militants who are backed and armed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey – all of them key US allies.
The Syrian church leaders took their case to policymakers and officials at the State Department, Democrat and Republican members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well the US Commission on International Religious Freedom and the US Institute for Peace.
They called on the US to recognise a new “axis of evil”, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, using the phrase coined by former President George W. Bush in 2002 to describe Iran, Iraqand North Korea because of their support for terrorism.
Specifically, they urged the US to exert pressure on its allies to stop supporting and sending terrorist fighters to Syria. You would think that Washington would heed this call, especially given President Barack Obama’s claim in his State of the Union address on 28 January:
In Syria, we’ll support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks.
But whilst our delegation was received sympathetically by many departments within the US administration, there were two messages that stood out:
The requirement that President Bashar al-Assad must go
The impossibility of considering any ally of Iran in a remotely favourable light
With these demands portrayed as non-negotiable, the administration has concluded that it cannot help the Christians of Syria. The fact that al-Qaeda and other Islamists now dominate the Syrian opposition is considered comparatively unimportant. The general consensus of those we met was that Assad must go and then everything will sort itself out.
Perhaps the single worst experience of our visit was a meeting with influential Republican Senator John McCain, who spoke heatedly against Assad with no reference to the atrocities being committed by the rebels. When he asked me for my recommendations and I began to say that the situation was complex, he lost his temper, shouted and started to storm out of the room.
Senator McCain, like many of those we met, whether polite and sympathetic to us or not, sees the world in black-and-white terms of 100-per-cent-good versus 100-per-cent-evil. So in this case, because Assad, Iran and Lebanon-based Shiite militant group Hezbollah are evil, everyone who opposes them is good.
McCain’s first solution was to bomb Syria, but as this lacks the support of the American people, his next best solution was to arm the rebels.
US ARMING SYRIAN REBELS
Having previously provided only non-lethal aid to the so-called “moderate” rebels in Syria, the US has now started supplying them with weapons. A shipment, including guns, ammunition and anti-tank rockets, was approved in a secret vote in Congress, which also agreed to fund months of further deliveries.
President Obama had promised to provide arms to the rebels back in June, but this proposal was blocked by Congress, as members feared that US weapons could end up in the hands of al-Qaeda or other militant Islamists.
It is naïve to think that only “moderates” will be using U.S. weapons. The opposition in Syriacovers a spectrum, with the Free Syrian Army towards the more secular, liberal end, and al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), also referred to as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, at the radical Islamist end. The distinctions between the various groups in-between, such as the al-Nusrah Front, are extremely blurred. In any case, in this type of chaotic war situation, it is foolish to imagine that weapons will not pass from one group to another.
When asked if America will attack al-Qaeda in Syria, most of those we met said no, because America has no will to fight. It is holding out the vain hope that a small, secular wing of the rebels will defeat al-Qaeda, the al-Nusrah Front, ISIS and other Islamist groups – as well as the Syrian government forces!
Well-meaning Americans are effectively being used by the Islamists to defeat what it regards as the “greater evil” of Assad; they are in the absurd position of indirectly supporting the very people, i.e. al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups, who want to destroy the U.S. The position taken by the American Administration on Syria has in fact become a threat to the Republic.
In a recent video, Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of the most influential Islamic clerics in the world, sarcastically thanked the US for supporting the “freedom fighters” in Syria, adding, “Allah willing, your aid will increase.” He called for the US to intervene directly with a military strike against Assad, calling it “a stand for Allah”.
US IDENTITY CRISIS
The US is undergoing a major crisis. While it used to dictate the terms of agreements with rogue nations and totalitarian regimes, it is now indirectly strengthening them. The US is being perceived as a toothless tiger; it has power, but no influence.
Perhaps that is because it has forgotten what it stands for. America used to stand for justice, liberty and human rights. But it has become like Esau who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew. Perhaps all that some Americans have been thinking of recently is their own bowl of stew – self-interest, pleasure, materialism, luxury. Let us hope that President Obama’s National Prayer Breakfast speech will help restore the US to focusing on its traditional values, and putting this into practice with regard to Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
THE CHURCH AND POLITICS
Our delegation of Syrian Church leaders has faced fierce criticism for getting too involved in politics. But all they asked for was a political solution following the Geneva II process, rather than a military solution. They were erroneously reported to be pro-Assad and pro-Hezbollah because they highlighted the atrocities being committed against Christians by opposition forces. But they expressed opposition to all nations and groups engaged in violence in Syria. They went so far as to ask the US that no nation should be allowed to send in foreign fighters.
But the Christians of Syria face a potential genocide, and the US has indicated she will not intervene, but stand by and let it happen. How then can we be silent?
At a panel discussion that we participated in at the Heritage Foundation on 27 January, entitled, “Marked for Destruction: The Plight of Syria’s Christians”, the church leaders spoke of the atrocities that have been committed by rebel groups.
The Rev. Adib Awad, vice moderator of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, said:
We can accept being marked for destruction if it’s by our Lord. But we will not accept it if it is by terrorists, whether Saudis, or from Qatar or any other nation.
Some would say, “Why should clergymen and the Church be involved?”, but as members of our delegation argued, the Church must be prophetic, must stand for justice and righteousness. Sometimes taking such a stand can make a huge difference.
In the darkest days of the troubles in Northern Ireland, with British forces pitted against the IRA, clergy were at the heart of a grassroots movement from which a peace process was eventually able to emerge. In 1999, Presbyterian minister the Rev. Ken Newell and Catholic priest Father Gerry Reynolds, who brought people together in the cross-community Clonard-Fitzroy group, were awarded the Pax Christi International Peace Prize for their efforts.
We must believe today that the courage of my colleagues from Syria will one day bear fruit and that through their efforts, peace will come to Syria and ultimately Lebanon and the region. This would be a glorious day, not just for the beleaguered Christian communities, but also for the many good, decent Muslims in the region who yearn for peace and an end to religious extremism. Let us pray for the followers of Jesus Christ in Syria that they will exercise wisdom, courage and faithfulness.
When politicians and statesmen fail, it falls to the Church to stand in the gap.
- dr patrick sookhdeo
Russia, February 10, 2014: A gunman opened fire on worshippers at a Russian Orthodox cathedral on Sakhalin Island off Russia’s Pacific coast, killing a nun and a parishioner in an attack that rattled nerves across the vast Russian federation.
The gunman’s motives were unknown, and investigators at the scene said the suspect, who was in custody, would be subjected to a mental health evaluation, Rossiya-24 television said in its report from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the island republic’s capital.
Sakhalin Island is more than 6400 kilometres from the Black Sea resort of Sochi, where Russia is hosting the Winter Olympic Games amid intense security fears. Sochi is just west of the restive Caucasus Mountains region where Islamic separatists have been fighting Russian repression of their religion and culture and have vowed to disrupt the sporting event to embarrass the Kremlin.
The attack at Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk’s Cathedral of the Resurrection appeared unrelated to the Caucasus militants’ threats, but a statement from the Russian Investigative Committee said the suspect’s motives were still unknown. The 24-year-old man was employed as an armed security guard at the church, RIA Novosti reported.
Investigation of a Friday night hijacking attempt aboard a Turkish airliner flying from Kharkov, Ukraine, to Istanbul also appeared to be unrelated to the Olympics even though the suspect demanded to be flown to Sochi. The perpetrator was said by Turkish authorities to be motivated by the recent strife between Ukrainians over whether to forge closer ties with the European Union or continue the debt-ridden nation’s traditional economic integration with Russia.
News of the cathedral shooting drew extensive coverage in the atmosphere of intense vigilance that prevails across Russia during the Olympics, which run until February 23.
The nun, Lyudmila Pryashnikova, and an unidentified male parishioner were killed when they attempted to subdue the gunman after he began firing at random at icons and worshippers who were leaving a just-concluded service, Russia Today reported. Six others were injured. Stunned worshippers told journalists that the attack unleashed panic inside the church.
“The wounded have been taken to a hospital. Their wounds are to the legs. Their lives are not in danger,” Sakhalin Archbishop Tikhon told Russian television reporters outside the gates of the white-and-blue cathedral with gilded onion domes and belltower.
In Moscow, the head of the Orthodox Church said the victims would be honoured for their attempts to protect the church and its followers.
“They tried to prevent that person from defiling our sacred place. They died as heroes, as soldiers on the front line,” Patriarch Kirill said in a statement carried by Rossiya-24 television.
- los angeles times
IRAN: CHRISTIAN CONVERT JAILED FOR A YEAR ON EVANGELISM CHARGES
Hossein Saketi Aramsari, known as “Stephen” to his friends, had been arrested in Golestan province on 23 July. While awaiting his trial, he was held in solitary confinement for over three months.
Before receiving his final sentence, Hossein had been granted bail for conditional release, but for unknown reasons, the judicial authorities prevented his family from posting the required sum.
VIETNAM: TWO CHRISTIANS JAILED FOR DEFENDING RELIGIOUS FREEDOM RELEASED
Ngo Van Khoi (53) and Nguyen Van Hai (43) were set free on 22 December, enabling them to celebrate Christmas with their families.
The pair were arrested in June and subsequently jailed on spurious charges of “disturbing public order”.
Their case prompted a series of protests in Vietnam and attracted international media attention.
INDONESIA: FIVE CHURCHES FORCED TO STOP CONSTRUCTION WORK OVER LAST MONTH
In the most recent case, in Pasir Putih, the village leader said that the church lacked the required building permit, and the local police chief said that a church in the area would be a source of “social disorder”.
The local government intends to build houses on the church construction site.
It is extremely difficult for a church in Indonesia to obtain a building permit; the convoluted process can take up to ten years, and even if permission is granted, officials may still block projects under pressure from radical Islamic elements.
- barnabas team