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As a young boy struggling to find his way through the immense poverty, secrecy and war-time suffering that gripped his life in Northern Ireland, Ray Barnett dreamed of a life of adventure and travel like that of his hero: famed missionary-explorer David Livingstone.

As an adult, he has lived that life—leading a human-rights based ministry that has brought hope, healing and humanitarian aid to hundreds of thousands of people across the globe.

In this riveting memoir that spans eighty years, Ray takes readers on a rollercoaster journey through his childhood in the rough, working-class neighborhood of Killowen—a childhood marked by loss, abuse, severe learning disabilities, rejection, and the crushing discovery that the family who raised him was not his own.

Ray’s life makes a sudden U-turn when, at age 13, he turns his life over to God. Spurred by the scripture, “All things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23), Ray sets out to accomplish what seems like the impossible—from securing the release of Hezbollah-held hostages and imprisoned Christians, to launching the world-renowned African Children’s Choir, to unraveling the lifelong mystery surrounding his identity.

Only Believe is an inspiring testament of the miracles that can transpire when we put our faith in God and take action; believing if we do everything that’s in our power to do, God will take care of the rest.

Dozens killed in spate of violence in Nigeria’s Middle Belt

At least 32 people were killed last week, while president Buhari was still in the state. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Three more villages in Bassa Local Government Area (LGA), in Nigeria’s central Plateau State, have come under attack today, 14 March, as Fulani herdsmen continue their killing spree in the country’s volatile Middle Belt.

The violence has claimed some 57 lives over the last two weeks alone.

The assailants, identified as Fulani herdsmen, stormed the villages of Maifarin-Mota, Rafiki and Dung at about 6.30am, local sources told World Watch Monitor. They shot at random, causing panic among residents who, according to one World Watch Monitor contact, “are currently fleeing away right now, as I talk with you on phone”.

About 10 people are missing, and the situation is very tense. Many properties including one church and 20 houses were set on fire.

An army spokesman, Major Umar Adams, confirmed the attack, saying the military received a distress call from Rafiki and Dung, and sent men to the area. “I can’t give you an update until they return,” he added.

Some believe the attack was triggered by the arrest, yesterday, 13 March, of four Fulanis with AK-47s, who were taken to the police headquarters in Jos, the state capital, according to Moses Bot, who lives in the Maifarin-Mota neighbourhood of Rafiki.

Attack after attack

Meanwhile, at least 25 others were killed last night in an attack on Dundu village – in the Kwal District of the same Bassa LGA.

The assailants raided the community for several hours, a local source told World Watch Monitor. The 25 known victims were buried in a mass grave in the village, while the search goes on for those killed in the surrounding bush.

Last week (8-9 March), President Muhammadu Buhari visited Plateau to launch the state’s Roadmap to Peace, and to express the Federal Government’s commitment to support Plateau to achieve peace.

But while the president was still in the state, the Fulani attacked two of its LGAs – Bassa and Bokkos – killing at least 32 people.

The two attacks happened simultaneously on the first day of the president’s visit; one was on Miango village (Bassa), where five people were killed – Emmanuel Joseph, Christopher Joseph, Peace Joseph, Henry Audu and Illa Isa Peter.

On that same day, 8 March, six people were killed in Ganda village – in Daffo District, Bokkos.

Jerry Datim, a pastor with the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN), initially confirmed that six were killed and others wounded in the “unprovoked” attack, adding that some were still missing. He later said four more bodies were found in the nearby bush, bringing the death toll to ten, while more than 50 houses were burnt and several people injured and rushed to hospital.

On 9 March, on the second day of the president’s visit, the Fulani attacked again, killing four schoolchildren in their sleep in another Bassa village – called Laake, part of Kwall District.

That same day, the assailants also attacked other villages including Nghakudung, Morok, Hottom, and Wareng – all in Bokkos – killing another 13 people.

Anger and sorrow

Matawal Mangut, a resident of Ganda village who lost five relatives in the attack, lamented that his house was also burnt completely, so that “everything we ever worked for is completely gone”.

The 25 known victims were buried in a mass grave in Dantanko (Miango) on 13 March. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

An advocacy group in Bokkos has called on the Federal Government to end the cycle of violence. Addressing the press in Jos on Sunday, 11 March, Machan Makut, President of the Concerned People of Kulere, demanded more proactivity from government and security agents.

“The reason for the attacks is not farfetched,” he said. “It is to intimidate us out of our land, so that they [Fulani herdsmen] can take over and perpetrate jihad in Plateau State, but we will not allow it.

“We therefore call on the international community and bodies like the United Nations, ECOWAS [the Economic Community of West African States], African Union, and Human Rights Watch to demonstrate their might and passion for humanity by coming to the defence of the helpless and endangered people in Bokkos and other Plateau State communities undergoing similar torments.”

Previous attacks

In January, at least 75 people were killed in a string of attacks by Fulani herdsmen on the predominantly Christian community of Miango, also in Bassa.

In all, 14 villages were targeted, with 89 houses set on fire and vast swathes of farmland also destroyed by the assailants, who vowed to dislodge the natives.

Up to 3,000 villagers sought refuge with their relatives in neighbouring communities. Miango had previously sustained another deadly attack in October 2017, as World Watch Monitor reported.

Christian leaders have frequently accused President Buhari of not doing enough to deal with the Fulani violence. On 8 February, a delegation of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria expressed their concerns to President Buhari, saying the attacks were being carried out by “terrorists masquerading as herdsmen” and accused the government of being “incapable or unwilling” to protect citizens from them.

Roadmap to peace?

During his visit to Plateau, Buhari commended the state governor, Simon Lalong, for “his effort so far at achieving peace”.

“As I formally endorse and launch [of] the Plateau State Roadmap to Peace, let me express the Federal Government’s commitment to support and assist the Peace Building Agency in its effort to arrest the vicious cycle of violence and lay the foundation for sustainable peace.”

Attacks by Fulani Herdsmen have claimed at least 57 lives in Plateau State over the last two weeks alone. (Photo: World watch Monitor)

Attacks by Fulani Herdsmen have claimed at least 57 lives in Plateau State over the last two weeks alone. (Photo: World watch Monitor)
Hon. Sunday Abdu, President of the Irigwe Development Association, comprising local farmers, told World Watch Monitor by telephone that the ongoing violence was specifically targeting members of his community.

“In continuation [of] that avowed determination to eliminate the Irigwe race, the Fulani herdsmen have continually unleashed mayhem [on] communities: killing, maiming, burning, and destroying farmlands,” he said.

“Since January this year, we have continually picked [up] corpses of our loved ones – some burnt beyond recognition – after night attacks by Fulani herdsmen militia; some killed in their homes, some in their farms, and others on their way home from places of leisure or business.”

Abdu said “this ugly scenario, which has continued unhindered, has left in its wake sorrow, tears and despair in Irigwe land, thus leaving the people homeless and hopeless, as they leave in droves daily to seek refuge in Jos and its environs.

“We have cried to our security agencies to rise to the occasion, but it will interest you to know that some of the attacks occurred just a few meters from security checkpoints, but the soldiers would rather stay glued to these checkpoints, in spite of distress calls and offers of intelligence by our people.

“We have noted with dismay certain releases and comments on mainstream and social media by the Miyetti Allah group [comprising Fulani herds], and we have had cause to debunk some of them as outright lies to justify an orgy of killings by their militia.”

Abdu noted that: “Our situation and the seemingly lacklustre pro-activeness of the Federal Government in arresting the menace may have been compounded by the frequent claims by the Plateau State government that peace has returned to the state. This stance of government officials is indeed an insult on the innocence of rural dwellers, who have not known sleep in a long time, nor [been] able to carry out their farming activities.

“This propaganda was reiterated glaringly during the recent presidential visit, when Plateau State should have used the long-awaited visit to tell the president the true situation of things as they have been.

“Our leaders have sold us out by claiming that Plateau is at peace. What responsible government turns its back on its people as they face daily attacks? What do they want to achieve by taking such a wicked stance?”

Source: World Watch Monitor

Sentencing of Pastor Adds to Uptick in Persecution in Algeria

Rights advocates fear coordinated campaign against Christianity.

Imam Sidi el-Houari Mosque in Oran, Algeria. (Wikipedia)

In the latest of a rash of persecution incidents in Algeria, a judge on Thursday (March 8) sentenced a pastor to a fine and a suspended prison sentence under a law that prohibits causing Muslims to doubt their religion, sources said.

In Frenda, Tiaret Province, pastor Nordine B. was ordered to pay a fine of 100,000 dinars (US$868) and received a three-month suspended prison sentence, the pastor confirmed to Morning Star News in an email.

Prosecutors had sought a six-month prison sentence and a fine of 50,000 dinars (US$434), another Algerian pastor confirmed to Morning Star News in an email. His name is withheld for security reasons.
“The pastor of the church of Tiaret was convicted of proselytism,” the pastor said. “He will appeal, so the verdict is not final.”

Algerian News outlet Algerie Part last week reported a Christian leader as saying the charge against Pastor Nordine was ridiculous, as the only evidence police presented was the fact that he was carrying Christian books.

The charge was based on Algeria’s controversial Law 03/2006, commonly known as Law 06/03, according to Algerie Part. The prosecutor’s requested prison sentence and fine, like the judge’s actual prison sentence and fine, was less than that stipulated by the 2006 law, which calls for a prison term of two to five years and a fine of 500,000 to 1 million dinars (US$4,343 to US$8,687) for anyone who “incites, constrains, or utilizes means of seduction tending to convert a Muslim to another religion, or using for this purpose the institutions of education, health, social, cultural, or educational institutions, or other establishment, or financial advantage; or makes, stores or distributes printed documents or films or other audiovisual medium or means intended to undermine the faith of a Muslim.”

Christian leaders say the charge was unconstitutional, citing the Algerian constitution’s Article 42, which guarantees freedom of belief, opinion and worship.

“The situation for Christians here is very critical,” the unnamed pastor in Algeria told Morning Star News by email. “We ask, why this relentlessness of the authorities on us?”

Rash of Persecution

The case follows several instances of harassment of churches and Christians in the past three months that has raised concerns of a government campaign against Christianity, according to advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC).

In Oran Province in northwest Algeria, the unnamed church pastor told Morning Star News that three churches have been closed. On the pretext that they didn’t have state approval, police sealed shut a church in Oran city and a church in nearby El Ayaida on Feb. 27, he said, adding that another area church in Ain el-Turk was closed on Nov. 9.

“Officials gave us a period of three months to regularize our situation, but they did not respect this deadline,” the pastor told Morning Star News. “The same day I received the forms to file to register as an association, the police were ordered to seal the two places of worship in Oran city center and El Ayaida.”

Authorities later came to a site where members of the Oran city center church were worshipping and stopped the service, he said.

“We filed a letter of appeal at the level of provincial security services, and we informed them that the church registration file is ready,” he said. “It is expected that the judge will give the order for a general meeting, but so far there has been no response.”

A Christian-owned bookshop in Oran city also was forcibly closed in November, and police visited a church training center in Boudjemaa, in Kabylie Region, and stopped activities, MEC reported.

“The affected churches are all affiliated with the legally recognized Protestant Church of Algeria [l’Église Protestante d’Algérie, or EPA),” MEC reported. “EPA questions the motives behind the inspection visits and believes that the accusations leading to the church closures have been unfounded.”

The World Evangelical Alliance’s Religious Liberty Commission said in a press statement that Algerian authorities in November formed a committee from various agencies to inspect churches for compliance with safety regulations, but that it is also questioning whether churches have permits for religious activities.

“The committee has accordingly ordered several churches, two Bible schools, and a Christian-owned bookshop to close down,” the Feb. 26 statement read, adding that the restrictions have also led to an increase in arrests of Christians.

“We call on the government of Algeria to ensure that the religious freedom of Christians is safeguarded in accordance with international law,” said Godfrey Yogarajah, deputy secretary general of the WEA. “We also call on the government, in keeping with the country’s constitution, to take all steps necessary to guarantee the freedom of worship for all religious groups in the country.”

In December three Christians from Tizi Ouzou were arrested in Chlef, 200 kilometers (124 miles) northwest of Algiers, where they were to meet colleagues at a café, MEC reported.

“Police entered the café, found they were in possession of Christian literature, and took them to the police station, where they were investigated at length by the national gendarmerie,” MEC reported.

“A local newspaper known for its hostility to Christians described the incident as a ‘foiled evangelism attempt,’ falsely accusing the Christians of working under the cover of humanitarian activities and of alluring young Muslims to convert by means of financial and travel inducements.”

The three visitors were released but could face proselytism charges, MEC said. That same third week of December, two churches in Kabylie Region’s Bejaia Province received a visit from officials from the municipality, the ministry of religious affairs, the fire brigade, the national gendarmerie and the intelligence department, according to MEC.

The officials told church leaders the visits were inspections for safety regulations. The two buildings are used by eight congregations.

In the southern Algerian town of Ouargla, another church received an order from the provincial governor to cease all religious activities following a building inspection on Dec. 14, MEC reported.

Officials said the church lacked authorization to use the building for worship and failed to comply with safety requirements. They told church leaders to obtain permission from the ministry of religious affairs.

The officials said that worship activities at the church, which has been active for 10 years, can resume only three months after obtaining permission, according to MEC.

Algeria’s population of 35.4 million people is more than 97 percent Muslim and .28 percent Christian.

In December Algeria also deported a French Christian without explanation. Louis Martinez of the French Reformed Church had left Algeria on a trip and was returning on Dec. 13 when authorities stopped him at the Oran airport and deported him, according to MEC.

Martinez and his wife had lived in Algeria for several years and had just been issued a new residency permit valid for 10 years, according to MEC.

Manager of a private French-language school, Martinez was known as a close friend of a local church.

“The authorities gave no reason for his deportation,” MEC reported. “His wife was subsequently able to settle their family and business affairs in Algeria and has recently also left the country.

Algerian church leaders note that this deportation is consistent with a wider pattern of denial of visas for church visitors, which seems to be part of a policy whereby the Algerian authorities are restricting the ability of Algerian churches to partner with outside entities.”

Algeria ranked 42nd on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

Source: Morning Star News

Christian retreat centre forced to close down

By Tola Mbakwe

A retreat centre belonging to the Assemblies of God Churches (AoG) in Iran has been served an evacuation notice by police.

According to religious freedom charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the Sharon Retreat Centre was served with the evacuation notice on 7th March and its caretakers were given only three days remove all of their belongings and hand the centre over to the government.

The centre is located in Karaj and sits on 10,000 square metres of land and is worth $2,200,000.

The Council of AoG Churches in Iran acquired it in the early 1970s for use as a retreat for church ministers, for youth camps, and for other church functions.

This is not the first time retreat centre has been the subject of much scrutiny.

CSW said in 2005, the centre was raided by security agents during a Council Synod meeting, and all the clergy on the Council were arrested.

The church leaders were interrogated overnight in a detention centre near Karaj and forced to sign an agreement stating they would comply with the government’s demands to limit church activities.

The charity added that one article of this agreement stated that they would use the retreat centre only for Armenian and Assyrian church members with the prior permission of security officials.

Also in 2015, a Revolutionary Court issued a confiscation order for the property and Iran’s government has accused the centre of being funded by the CIA to “infiltrate and undermine the country through evangelistic activities”.

However, in reality, the AoG Church in Iran is not organisationally affiliated with the AoG denomination in the United States (US).

It was registered as a church and religious institution in 1973, and after the Islamic Revolution, its status as a registered religious institution was reinstated.

CSW said in a statement: “By attributing the AoG’s funding to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Iranian authorities sought to facilitate both the seizure of property… and the possible prosecution of church leaders on national security-related charges.”

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said he is deeply alarmed at the planned seizure of property from a religious community that is recognised under the Iranian constitution.

He added: “We urge the government of Iran, as a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenants on Human Rights, to fulfil its obligations and ensure freedom of religion or belief in its fullest sense for all of Iran’s religious minorities.

“We also call for interventions from key members of the international community to prevent this injustice from occurring, and to remind the Iranian government of its obligations under international law and its own constitution.”


Source: Premier

Central African Republic: church elder among six aid workers hacked to death

In August 2017, ten Red Cross workers were massacred in an attack attributed to ex-Séléka militants in the south-eastern town of Gambo. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

A church elder who worked for UNICEF was one of six people killed during a recent ambush by armed men in northern Central African Republic.

Gabriel Ole, 66, was an elder at a Baptist church (Eglise Baptiste Doumbia) in Bangui, the capital.

He was among of a group of six workers – including two officials from the Ministry of Education, and three members of a local group (Bangui Sans Frontieres) that works with UNICEF – travelling to the north-western town of Markounda, near the Chad border, on 25 February, when their car was ambushed.

Some of the victims were shot dead; others had their throats slit. Their car was also torched, local sources told World Watch Monitor.

Ole is survived by a wife and seven children.

“We strongly condemn this senseless act against aid workers who were there to improve the lives of the most vulnerable populations,” Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, said in a statement. “We offer our deepest condolences to the families and the colleagues of the victims.”

CAR’s Prime Minister, Simplice Matthieu Sarandji, honoured the victims during a visit to Markounda on Tuesday, 6 March.

“School is the key to developing a country,” he said. “Any attack against teachers is a crime against the education of our children.”

The Prime minister pledged that “justice will do its job” and this “cowardly criminal act” will not go unpunished.

According to UNICEF, the victims were on a mission to Markounda, where they were to start a training course for volunteer teachers. Over 7,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) have sought refuge in the town over the past three months.

Gabriel Ole, was an elder at a Baptist church in Bangui. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Gabriel Ole, was an elder at a Baptist church in Bangui. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
The assailants are believed to be members of Mouvement National de Libération de Centrafrique (MNLC), an outfit of Séléka rebels active in the region.

The region has been plagued by violence since December, after fighting erupted between rival armed groups for the control of natural resources.

The violence has claimed more than 100 lives, while 60,000 people have been internally displaced. More than 15,000 others have fled to neighbouring Chad, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in CAR.

The February attack is not the first targeting aid workers in the war-torn country. In August 2017, ten Red Cross workers were massacred in an attack attributed to ex-Séléka militants in the south-eastern town of Gambo.

The International NGO Safety Organisation (INSO) recorded more than 365 security incidents involving aid workers in the Central African Republic last year – more than in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq or Somalia – making the Central African Republic the most dangerous place in the world for humanitarian workers.

Insecurity reigns in the Central African Republic

The Central African Republic has been torn apart by a civil war ongoing since 2013. The violence reached an unprecedented level last year, affecting 14 out of 16 regions. An estimated 20% of the population is displaced either internally or externally.

Bangui has enjoyed relative calm but the situation there is also deteriorating. On 23 February, three people were killed and at least seven others wounded as clashes erupted between armed groups in PK5, the predominantly Muslim district and economic hub of the capital.

Three months earlier, four people were killed and 20 injured after a grenade attack at a peace concert in the same PK5 district. Three other people lost their lives the following day (12 November) in a reprisal attack.

The recent clashes in the capital are serious but represent an exception, according to Fr. Barwendé Médard Sané, director of the Catholic University Centre in the capital.

“Life is relatively normal in Bangui,” he told Catholic news agency Fides. “The situation of young people, who find it hard to complete their studies and find it difficult to find a job, is of particular concern. Many of them live on the street without doing anything all day.”

Source: World Watch Monitor

Mogadishu: Al-Shabab ‘orders closure of football pitches’

Somali militant group al-Shabab has reportedly ordered the closure of all privately-owned football pitches in three districts of the capital, Mogadishu.

More than 20 stadiums in Karaan, Yaqshid and Heliwaa districts are believed to have compiled with the order, the BBC’s Ferdinand Omondi reports.

The demand was reportedly made at a meeting between some of the stadium managers and al-Shabab leaders in Tora Torow, Lower Shabelle Region.

Neither the government nor the managers will confirm the existence of the order but sources in Somalia say no football is currently being played in the stadiums.

Mogadishu is controlled by the government of Somalia, but local people remain wary of the threat of al-Shabab, which is said to have many informants in the local population.

The militants are trying to impose an Islamic Caliphate in Somalia, rejecting any form of Western influence – and that includes sports and entertainment.

Despite this, the group has held sporting events in the past to seek the support of the residents in the areas that they control.

Source: BBC