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    Prayers and practical help for those suffering through violence and war.

Monthly archives: December, 2016


As we approach a new year, our desire is for it to be peaceful and prosperous. We wish people of goodwill from across the world, a Happy New Year. However, our eyes are not closed to the reality that in today’s world things are not as we would like them to be. Yesterday’s post from Release International suggests that persecution of Christians will increase in 2017. There is much work to be done, therefore, even if we just spend our time picking up the pieces from the aftermath of a very violent year in 2016.

If we call ourselves ‘Christian’, then we’re already enlisted as agents of God’s love and peace. We don’t need to wait to be called to get involved in helping the needy and suffering, we have already been called to do that; we just need to pray for guidance with regard to ‘how’ we can best fulfil our calling, and ‘who’ we should partner with to be most effective.

Our organisation, Friends In The West, has a real desire to be part of God’s answer to the suffering in the world in 2017. We think especially of Christians who have been displaced and have lost their possessions and livelihoods. Many have lost family members and loved ones. In recent years, too many innocent people have lost their lives in conflict which was not of their making. Our desire is to come alongside people who have gone through horrendous suffering and now need to rebuild their lives. We can’t make the important decisions for them but we can stand with them in prayer and in practical ways, demonstrating that their God hasn’t forgotten them and still loves them in spite of what they’ve been through.

2017 is going to be a very ‘different’ year for me. My dear wife and companion of more than 50 years, passed into the presence of the Lord on 2nd September 2016, just a few weeks before my eightieth birthday. This has brought about unwanted change, as well as a grieving process which I’m still going through. However, I firmly believe that when we put God and His Kingdom first, all the other things fall into place.

God burdened my heart in the past when I founded Friends In The West and also The African Children’s Choir. I’m experiencing that same sense of calling to expand the work of Friends In The West in 2017 so that we can be instruments to bring God’s love to a world that’s in great need. To fulfil the vision I’m praying that God will send me people who can underpin the work in prayer and also those who are in a position to provide practical support. It would be a great encouragement to know that people share my concern for Christians who are suffering.

I can’t share everything publicly in relation to our vision and plans, but if you’ll drop me an email I can give more information to those who are interested. I’d love to know your story and maybe we can share it on our websites or interview you for a podcast or radio programme. Or if you have a question I’ll try my best to get back with a meaningful answer. I’d also love to send you my book “Where The Brave Dare Not Go”. Just request it and we’ll send a copy free of charge for just the cost of postage and packaging. You can contact me, Ray Barnett, through the contact form on this website or by email at ray@friendsinthewest.com. I look forward to hearing from you and in the meantime – A very happy New year.



Violent persecution of Christians is set to increase in 2017, warns Release International. The greatest area of concern is the Islamic world, where persecution is increasing from both the state and Islamic militants.

There are also worrying trends in India and China. In India, recorded attacks from Hindu militants have increased dramatically, and in China, pressure is building on unregistered churches, according to Release’s annual Persecution Trends report.

‘Around the world Christians face an increasing array of violent persecutors. These include the brutal Islamic State in the Middle East, heavily armed militants in Nigeria and Hindu extremists in India,’ warns Release Chief Executive Paul Robinson.

‘Our report on the likely trends of persecution in 2017 is a wake-up call to take our prayers and practical support for our persecuted family to a new level.’
Middle East

Conflict in Syria and Iraq continues to force tens of thousands, including Christians, to flee their homes. The historic churches, which have maintained a faithful witness for nearly 2,000 years, now face the loss of up to half their members. Some church leaders warn of a wholesale exodus of Christians from the lands of the Bible.

In 2017 the refugee crisis in the neighbouring regions is likely to continue. One focus will be Kurdistan in northern Iraq, which is now home to nearly two million internally displaced people.

Despite losing ground in both Syria and Iraq during 2016, Islamic State (IS) and its supporters look set to continue targeting Christian communities. Escaping Christians have described how IS has tortured, sexually abused and even crucified those who refuse to renounce their faith.


In Iran the state is likely to continue its clampdown on underground churches. The state is targeting Christian leaders who face arrest, imprisonment and torture.
To avoid jail terms Christians are being forced to pay hefty bail bonds. $10,000 or more is not uncommon.

‘Increasingly the figure can be over ten times that amount,’ adds Release’s partner, who says, ‘Persecution in Iran is increasing. The state identifies Christianity, particularly the house churches, as a threat to the Islamic Republic.’

Sporadic attacks against Christians by Islamist militants in Egypt are continuing, but in Nigeria, the scale of violent attacks is alarming, and largely unreported.


Since 2011, Islamist terror group Boko Haram have killed up to 15,000 people – including many Christians – in their armed rebellion against the Nigerian government. The conflict has driven more than two million people from their homes.

Both Boko Haram and Islamic State, to which it has pledged allegiance, are suffering military defeats. But Christian communities in north and central Nigeria continue to face widespread violence at the hands of heavily armed Fulani militants.

These herdsmen typically attack Christian villages at night. They fire shots in the air to drive people out of their homes. They then slaughter them with knives and seize their land. Nigerian church leaders say the police and the military are doing little to prevent it.

The weapons used, the suspected collusion of the authorities and the scale of such attacks suggest a concerted campaign to drive Christians out of the sharia states in northern Nigeria.


In Pakistan, Christian mother Asia Bibi remains on death row for a sixth year on a charge of blasphemy, which she denies. Politicians who have tried to defend her or repeal the law have been assassinated. To date, the Supreme Court has seems unable to find judges willing to consider her appeal. A hearing in October was postponed after 150 Muslim clerics issued a fatwa against the court.

A succession of bomb attacks by militants has resulted in the death or injury of hundreds of Pakistani Christians. The Easter 2016 bombing of a park in Lahore killed 75 and injured more than 300. Such attacks are likely to continue in 2017.

Meanwhile, Christians face widespread discrimination in the legal system and Pakistan’s blasphemy laws remain open to widespread abuse.

‘Christians in Pakistan are considered third-class citizens,’ says a Release partner. ‘In 2017 we will face more discrimination, forced conversions and forced marriages.’


In India, church leaders have charted a worrying increase in violent persecution from Hindu extremists.

The Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) recorded 134 attacks on Christians or churches in the first half of 2016 alone – close to the annual totals for both 2014 and 2015 combined. Release expects attacks on Christians will continue to rise in 2017.


And China’s policy of Sinicisation – to make the Church somehow more Chinese in character – looks set to bite down harder in the new year. The thinking behind it is that the Church is an unwelcome foreign import into China. The Government’s 2016 draft Regulations on Religious Affairs looks set to increase the pressure on unregistered churches in particular.

‘The restrictions are meant to hinder house churches and reduce contact with organisations outside of the government-controlled Chinese churches,’ says Release partner China Aid. ‘The [Communist] Party wants to take charge of religion,’ said one pastor. ‘The Government wants to control everything – even the smallest aspects.’

A worrying trend in China has been to charge Christians with offences related to espionage and state security – effectively treating them as enemies of the state who are colluding with foreign powers.

‘2017 looks set to be a harsh year for many Christians, under authoritarian regimes and at the hands of militants,’ says Paul Robinson of Release. ‘Our Christian family will need our prayers and our practical support.’

Through its international network of missions Release serves persecuted Christians in 30 countries around the world, by supporting pastors and Christian prisoners, and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles, and working for justice. Release is a member of the UK organisations Global Connections and the Evangelical Alliance.

Source: Release International

Freed Chibok girls not allowed home for Christmas, say families

Families of the Nigerian “Chibok girls” freed by Islamist group Boko Haram say they are being closely guarded and were not allowed home for Christmas.

Glory Dama, one of the released girls, presented a thank-you gift to state governor Kashim Shettima

Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls in April 2014, but freed 21 of them in October after negotiations with the Red Cross.

The freed girls have been in government custody since their release but were brought home to Chibok for Christmas.

But family members told the BBC that the girls were kept in a politician’s house and barred from going home.

They were also prevented from attending church services with their families.

The girls were take to the house of an assembly member in Chibok to be reunited with their parents but weren’t allowed to go to their own homes.

“I can’t believe my daughter has come this close to home but can’t come home,” said one father.

“There’s no point bringing them to Chibok only to be locked in another prison. They couldn’t even go to church on Christmas Day.”

Some of the 21 girls, pictured shortly after their release in October

The young women have been kept in a secret location in the capital Abuja for government debriefing

Another said a soldier had confiscated his phone when he tried to take a picture of his daughter.

He said: “I snapped picture of myself and my daughter but the security guys came and grabbed me by shoulder and snatched the phone from my hands and told me to delete all the picture I took.

“I told him I’m taking a picture with my daughter who was away for more than two years. He said to me that’s not his business, he deleted all the pictures including other pictures that were not taken there.”

One mother said: “I can’t believe my eyes that now my daughter cannot come home. How can I be happy when they don’t have freedom?”

The girls pictured in May 2014, shortly after their kidnapping

A statement from the office of state governor Kashim Shettima acknowledged that “armed soldiers… escorted the 21 girls to Chibok and remain their strict guards throughout the Christmas”.

Speaking earlier this week, one of the girls told Reuters news agency it was a “miracle” that she was home and she was looking forward to church on Christmas Day.

“I never knew that I would return (home),” she said simply. “I had given up hope of ever going home.”

Of the 276 students kidnapped, 197 are still reportedly missing, and negotiations for their release are under way.

Many of the Chibok girls were Christian, but were encouraged to convert to Islam and to marry their kidnappers during their time in captivity.

Ms Goni said some were whipped for refusing to marry, but otherwise they were well treated and fed until food supplies recently ran short.

Source: BBC News

Syrian refugees in Lebanon most vulnerable during winter (Podcast)


Syrian refugees in Lebanon are at their most vulnerable and need the most assistance during the winter months, according to a representative from the UN’s Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in the region.

Snowfall in the Bekaa Valley, the region in eastern Lebanon most affected by a massive winter storm which struck on 10 December 2013. Photo: UNHCR/A. McConnell

Many of them have settled in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, where the heavy rain and cold temperatures during winter, makes it difficult just to stay warm.

In 2015, a UNHCR survey found that 70 percent of refugee households are now living below the poverty line.

Priyanka Shankar has more.


Militia kill 34 in Congo; church leader makes appeal to Kabila

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.

Luke 2:10


By Aaron Ross | KINSHASA

Militias in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo killed at least 34 civilians over the weekend, the army and local activists said, and the violence stoked concerns over political instability.

Attacks have surged across the country in the past week alongside violent protests over President Joseph Kabila’s failure to step down at the end of his constitutional mandate on Tuesday.

While it is not clear that all the violence is related, analysts fear political instability over Kabila’s tenure is stoking localised conflicts by creating security vacuums.

An ethnic Nande militia killed at least 13 Hutu civilians on Sunday in the eastern town of Nyanzale with guns and machetes in an apparent revenge attack for the deaths of Nande civilians last week, local activist Innocent Gasigwa said.

“This must be the response for last time,” Gasigwa said, referring to an attack on Thursday by Nyatura, an ethnic Hutu militia, that killed at least 17 civilians in a nearby village. He said two militiamen were killed as well.

On Saturday, 21 civilians and four militiamen were killed on Saturday in attacks near the city of Beni, 300 km (185 miles) north of Nyanzale, local army spokesman Captain Mak Hazukay told Reuters.

Hundreds of civilians have died in raids near Beni since October 2014. The government blames the ADF, a Ugandan Islamist group, though analysts say others, including Congolese soldiers, are involved.

At least 40 people died last week in protests against Kabila’s refusal to step down at the end of his constitutional mandate last Tuesday. The government says he will remain in office until an election can be organised in 2018.

Local mediators from the Catholic church hope talks between Kabila’s ruling coalition and the main opposition bloc will produce a deal by Friday for Kabila to step down after an election in late 2017.

Catholic priests across Congo on Sunday read out a message from the church’s national head, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, saying: “The time is over when one tried to hold onto power with arms by killing one’s people, these young people who only seek out their right to live with a little more dignity.”

Source: Reuters