• Books by Ray, republished 2016
  • Treehaven, South Africa: International Retreat and Training Centre
  • South African Students Undergoing Training at Treehaven
  • Ray Barnett, founder, Friends In The West
  • Prayers and practical help for those suffering through violence and war.

Killing of 6 aid workers in South Sudan an “appalling and pointless loss”: UN (Podcast)

The killing of six aid workers in an ambush in South Sudan on Saturday has been described by the head of the UN Mission there (UNMISS) as an “appalling and pointless loss of life,” that must be thoroughly investigated.

David Shearer, who is also UN Special Representative to the world’s youngest country, called on Sunday for an immediate and complete ceasefire between South Sudan’s warring parties.

An armed individual in the town of Pibor, in Jonglei state. Pibor has seen violent clashes and confrontations that have resulted in displacement as well as destruction of livelihood and property. (File photo) OCHA/Cecilia Attefor

Matthew Wells reports.

According to reports, the six staff belonged to a national non-governmental organization, whose vehicle was ambushed in a government-controlled area on the road between the capital Juba, and Pibor, on Saturday.

Their bodies were found by other members of the convoy who were travelling behind them.

UNMISS head, David Shearer, condemned the attack, and offered his condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of the dead.

“It is utterly reprehensible, not least because they were dedicated to helping the people of South Sudan. This happened in an area controlled by the South Sudan government. There should be no impunity when it comes to the killing of aid workers.”

Mr Shearer said the killings should not go unpunished and too many young men were being armed without training on all sides of the conflict, involving rival military forces along ethnic-lines, stretching back to 2013.

Around 80 aid workers have been killed since then.

In the past two months, there has been a sharp increase in attacks, according to UNMISS, “mirroring a rapid deterioration in the security and economic situation of the country.”

The UN Humanitarian Affairs Office (OCHA) said in a statement that Saturday’s fatalities represented the highest number of aid workers killed in a single incident since the conflict began.

Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Eugene Owusu, said such attacks not only put aid workers lives at risk but also “threaten the lives of thousands of South Sudanese who rely on our assistance for their survival.”

Matthew Wells, United Nations.

Duration: 1’32”



Christian Revival in Europe Spurred by Muslim Refugee Conversions

By Stoyan Zaimov , Christian Post Reporter

A Fuller Theological Seminary professor says Christianity could be on the rise again in Europe amid reports that Muslim refugees are converting to the faith.

“European churches have struggled for decades to share the Gospel with modern secular Europeans,” Matthew Kaemingk, a professor at the Fuller Theological Seminary in Seattle, Washington, said Monday in an article on Fox News. “They have found Muslim immigrants to be much more open to the message of Christianity.”

The reports come from several European countries that are accepting migrants, including Germany and Austria, which are seeing Muslim converts turning to various denominations, both Protestant and Roman Catholic.

Kaemingk, whose book Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear is set to be published this fall, believes that ordinary Europeans feel their material comforts replace

“Europeans are wealthy, comfortable, healthy, and powerful,” he said. “In short, they don’t think they need God.”

Earlier in March, the Austrian Catholic Church reported that its adult baptisms more than doubled in 2016, which it credited to the influx of migrants from Muslim-majority nations.

Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn said at the time of the news that it was a “great and moving day for the Church of Vienna.”

“That they want to follow Christ and live in his fellowship is also a call to us — which we have the happiness and privilege of growing up in faith from childhood, but may have forgotten how precious this is,” Schönborn said, according to Die Presse.

The migrants have had to undergo church baptisms behind closed doors, however, as Muslims converting to Christianity is a highly sensitive topic in Islam, and there are fears the new believers could be targeted even by their own family members.

Kaemingk told Fox News that Muslim newcomers to Europe face a “tremendous amount of societal pressure.”

“They experience racism, poverty, exclusion, discrimination, language and cultural barriers, and a deep sense of displacement,” the professor said.

“Their sense of homelessness is not only geographical, it is spiritual. Churches who offer these Muslims real and meaningful hospitality are seeing some surprising results.”

Even though many Muslims are converting to Christianity, Islam is also growing in Europe.

A Pew Research report published earlier this month said that by the year 2050, Muslims will comprise 10 percent of the European population, and by the end of the century Muslims will outnumber Christians worldwide.

Catholic and Orthodox leaders have also voiced “widespread concern for (the) future” of Europe, Catholic News Agency said.

The leaders from the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences met with 12 representatives of the Orthodox Churches in Europe in Paris back in February, where they jointly said, “[O]ur societies are turning to their spiritual resources, to draw out means of responding to the situation that Europe is experiencing, and to trace the path ahead for a future full of hope and greater confidence.”

The Christian leaders insisted that now more than ever, Europe needs “the breath of faith in Christ and the hope that it provides.”

“Christianity is a marker of identity that does not deny others their human rights, but seeks to cooperate with all for the realization of the common good,” the joint statement added.

Source: Christian Post



DISPLACED WOMAN BRINGS HOPE TO WIDOWS AND ORPHANS IN NIGERIA

A Nigerian woman who has twice been displaced by Boko Haram has started a small NGO to support widows and orphans with support from anti-persecution charity Open Doors.

Rebecca Phillip fled her home in Maiduguri, Northern Nigeria in 2009, and then had to flee her home village of Gavva in 2011, to escape Boko Haram violence. She says of the attacks in 2009, “I awoke one night and saw that the streets were brightly lit by the many churches that had been set ablaze. In the weeks that followed, we heard gun shots every night. It felt like war. The following morning I saw corpses on the streets.”

Her home in Gavva was attacked as Boko Haram were driven out of Maiduguri and began to attack more rural areas. Rebecca’s house in Gavva was destroyed along with all of her family’s possessions.

Rebecca and her family returned to Maiduguri. Although Maiduguri was safer than it had been, many international organisations were evacuating the area, and Maiduguri was effectively cut off from the outside world. Rebecca decided she needed to help those who were in even greater need than her. “We were all refugees at that time and we all needed help, but I saw that many widows needed more help than I did,” Rebecca says.

With financial support from a friend who lived abroad, Rebecca began distributing food and paying for medical care for some of the widows she knew. Her work soon grew, and Open Doors along with several other charities began to provide her with financial support too. Today, she has a team of volunteers who care for 2,000 widows, build simple housing and provide school fees for orphans. “Now with this aid, I can give more help to the widows and orphans,” she says.

One of the widows that Rebecca supports is Miriam James, a mother of four whose husband was murdered by Boko Haram. She fled her village with her children to escape the militants and came to Maiduguri with nothing. “It is only thanks to the support Rebecca gives that we are still surviving,” Miriam says. “I pray with my children every morning to ask God to help us. So far we have had something to eat most days. I can feed my children thanks to this help I receive.”

Rebecca says, “The stories of the widows are dreadful, each one of them. For example, the story of a woman who was kidnapped by Boko Haram. She had seen them killing her husband. She spent four days sitting next to his body, until some others came to help her bury the body. Then she had to live for one and a half years with Boko Haram and was abused in a small village. She had to do hard domestic work there.”

She continues: “Many women ended up in IDP (internally displaced people) camps, alone with their children. They own nothing and do not have any kind of job. Most of them do not have any form of education. That’s why I wanted to help. I felt the need to stand with these women who sometimes fought bitterly to survive.”

Nigeria is number 12 on the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List, the annual ranking of countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution. Christians in northern Nigeria have not only faced attack by Boko Haram, but also Hausa-Fulani herdsmen, a traditionally nomadic Islamic tribe. In 12 of the northern states, Sharia (Islamic law) has been implemented, and Christians in these states face discrimination and restrictions in accessing community resources, such as clean water, health clinics and higher education. Displaced Christians often also suffer discrimination when aid is being distributed.

Open Doors partners with the local church to strengthen and equip persecuted Christians in northern Nigeria through training, children’s education, community development projects, legal assistance, emergency relief and trauma counselling.

 

Source: Open Doors



Uganda at ‘breaking point’ from S Sudan refugee crisis

UN calls for urgent $250m as numbers of refugees fleeing violence and famine could surpass a million before mid-2017.

The United Nations has warned that Uganda is at a “breaking point” as almost 3,000 refugees pour into the country every day from South Sudan, fleeing violence and famine in the world’s youngest country.

Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, appealed to the international community on Thursday for assistance saying that with present rates of arrival, the numbers of refugees in Uganda would surpass a million before the middle of 2017.

“We are at a breaking point. Uganda cannot handle Africa’s largest refugee crisis alone,” Grandi told reporters in Kampala.

“The lack of international attention to the suffering of the South Sudanese people is failing some of the most vulnerable people in the world when they most desperately need our help.”

Ruhakana Rugunda, Uganda’s Prime Minister, said the surge in refugees had placed “enormous strain” on public services and infrastructure, with food and clean water running short.

“We continue to welcome our neighbours in their time of need but we urgently need the international community to assist as the situation is becoming increasingly critical,” Rugunda said.

The UN says it urgently needs more than $250m to support South Sudanese refugees in Uganda.

Last year, only 33 percent of the $649m needed for South Sudan was funded.

Since July 2016, some 572,000 new arrivals who have poured into Uganda in desperate need of safety, with 172,000 arriving there this year alone.

Babar Baloch, a spokesman for UNHCR, told Al Jazeera that the international community had “failed” Uganda as it dealt with “Africa’s largest refugee crisis.”

“Inside South Sudan there is insecurity, food shortages and gross human rights abuses. This is what has prompted these people to flee to Uganda and

Baloch said Uganda’s approach to dealing with refugees had been among the most progressive on the continent, with the government and host community displaying outstanding generosity towards people fleeing war and conflict.

Arriving refugees receive small plots of land in host communities to help support themselves.

“The government is open to welcoming refugees and the host nation is sharing land and resources with the South Sudanese,” Baloch said.

“But the world is failing the refugee hosts and the world’s most vulnerable refugees as well.”

At least 50,000 people have died in South Sudan’s civil war, which began in December 2013 as a result of a struggle for power between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar.

The pair signed a shaky peace deal a year ago, but fighting has continued.

An estimated 100,000 people are currently experiencing famine, and according to South Sudan’s government and UN agencies, another one million people are on the brink of starvation.

Source: Al Jazeera



Pray for Ebriham Firouzi (Iran)

Arrest and background Ebrahim Firouzi (31) has been in prison since March 2013 and is due for release in January 2020.

A former Muslim, he comes from Robat-Karim, 40 km southwest of Tehran. He has been arrested several times for his Christian activities, beginning in January 2011, when he was accused of evangelising, apostasy and association with foreign organisations.

Ebrahim was arrested again in March 2013, when security agents raided his office. He was held for 53 days in Evin prison in Tehran and interrogated for ten consecutive days. He was temporarily released on bail of property title deeds.

In July 2013, the Revolutionary Court in Robat-Karim sentenced him to one year in prison and two years’ internal exile in a remote town on the Pakistan border, on charges including propaganda against the Islamic regime, evangelism, contact with anti-Islamic agents abroad and running a Christian website.

In August 2013, while on a short leave from Rajai-Shahr prison in Karaj, 20 km west of Tehran, Ebrahim was arrested again, in a meeting in his friend’s office, and accused of spying for the Israeli Intelligence service, Mossad. He was held in Evin prison until October 2014, then transferred back to Rajai Shahr prison.

Ebrahim was due for release in January 2015, but instead was retried in March 2015, convicted of “actions against national security” and sentenced to an additional five years in prison. He is waiting for an appeal hearing.

Ebrahim went on hunger strike in June 2015 to protest against being held in a ward of dangerous criminals and to demand a transfer to a ward of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. He ended his hunger strike after five days when the authorities promised a partial improvement in his conditions.

Family In 2016, Ebrahim’s elderly mother, who is visually impaired, appealed to government officials to handle her son’s case fairly and to release him. Crying as she delivered her message to the authorities, she said that because of her disability she is unable to go from court to court to follow the case or to visit her son in prison. She and Ebrahim’s sister are struggling without the breadwinner at home.

Latest news Ebrahim’s health deteriorated in 2016, and it was reported that the authorities were withholding medical treatment. In 2015, it had been reported that he was suffering acute pain in the left side of his chest.

Source: Church in Chains



NIGERIA: CHRISTIANS DENIED ACCESS TO VITAL AID AS HUMANITARIAN CRISIS HITS SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA

With millions of people facing starvation and famine in sub-Saharan Africa, your support and prayers are enabling Open Doors to support displaced Christians who have faced discrimination in the distribution of vital aid.

Bishop William Naga was forced to flee his home in Gwoza, Nigeria, the city Boko Haram declared the capital of their ‘caliphate’ (Islamic State) in 2014. He explained, “The governor did his best when the Christians had to flee in 2014 and 2015. But when the care of the camps was handed over to other organisations, the discrimination started. They will give food to the refugees, but if you are a Christian they will not give you food. They will openly tell you that the relief is not for Christians.

Displaced Christians started to form their own, informal camps, when they no longer felt welcome in the main camps. John Gwamma, the chairman at an informal Christian camp confirmed, “We have started informal, purely Christian camps because Christians were being segregated in the formal camps. They had not been given food, or allowed to go to church. There is a term called ‘arne’, meaning pagan. Meaning, you are pagan and not a Muslim, and as long as you are not a Muslim, we don’t like you to stay together with us.”

After being denied access to essential supplies, many were left in dire circumstances – some were forced to eat leaves to survive. But Open Doors has been able to work through local churches to provide thousands of families in these informal camps with vital aid, including food and blankets.

Mary Charles, one displaced Christian who received this support, said, “We had to flee Boko Haram because they didn’t allow us to go to our farm. We had no drinking water and we didn’t have anything to eat. I thank God for this food aid and I thank the people who brought it. We now have food that we can give to our children.”

Nigeria is number 12 on the 2017 Open Doors World Watch List. Christians are in the minority in northern Nigeria, and have faced discrimination for years in the 12 northern states where Sharia (Islamic law) has been implemented; they are frequently denied access to community resources, such as clean water, health clinics and higher education. Christians have also faced violent persecution at the hands of Islamic fundamentalist groups Boko Haram and Hausa-Fulani herdsmen.

Alongside emergency food aid, Open Doors partners with the local church in Nigeria to provide training, scholarships for children, community development projects, legal assistance and trauma counselling.

Source: Open Doors