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Monthly archives: March, 2017

Police in Sudan Arrest Christians at School, Prevent Others from Leaving

Take-over of evangelical institution leads to obstruction accusations.

Evangelical School of Sudan in Omdurman. (Morning Star News)

JUBA, South Sudan (Morning Star News) – Police accused staff members of a Christian school in Sudan of obstructing the work of a Muslim-owned business trying to take it over, sources said.

Police in Omdurman, across from Khartoum on the Nile River, on Monday (March 27) arrested 12 staff members of a Christian school and the next day prevented others from leaving the campus, they said.

In an apparent attempt to help the Muslim investor take over the Evangelical School of Sudan, police first arrested two leaders of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) – the Rev. Idris Karntina and an elder identified only as Younan – at about 10 a.m. An hour later two police vans arrived at the school complex, and officers arrested 10 other Christians, including women, all SPEC members, church leaders said.

They were taken to Omdurman’s central division police station and released at about 8 p.m., accused of obstructing the work of Education Vision, which is trying to take over the school.

The institution is still functioning as a Christian school, but representatives of Education Vision are regularly disrupting classes, school personnel said.

The following morning, police along with National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) officers prevented Christian teachers, including the headmaster, to leave the school, which is owned by SPEC.

Teachers at the school together with other SPEC members held a prayer meeting inside, until they were allowed to leave that evening.

The Rev. Yahia Abdelrahim Nalu, SPEC moderator, was inside the school during the staff members’ confinement.

“We expect the arrests to continue,” Nalu said.

On March 16 about 20 policemen aboard a truck forcefully entered the school compound, arrested three Christian teachers including the headmaster, Daud Musa, and took them to Omdurman’s central division police station, sources said. Also arrested were Christian teachers Yahya Elias and elder Younan, all of the SPEC.

They were released on bail after eight hours, charged with obstructing the work of those attempting to take over the school.

The arrests came nearly a month after authorities arrested and held overnight four educators from the same school, including Musa, before releasing them on bail. They were accused of destroying a sign belonging to Education Vision. The Christians strongly denied the accusation.

The Evangelical School of Sudan is one of several SPEC schools throughout Sudan.

The leadership of the SPEC remains in the hands of government-appointed committee members even after a court ruled in November 2016 that the appointments were illegal, sources said.

That case is separate from an Aug. 31, 2015 ruling by the Administrative Court of Appeal saying the Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowments interfered with SPEC’s Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church by imposing committees on the church in order to enable Muslim investors to take it over.

Harassment, arrests and persecution of Christians have intensified since the secession of South Sudan in July 2011, when President Omar al-Bashir vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language.

The Sudanese Minister of Guidance and Endowments announced in April 2013 that no new licenses would be granted for building new churches in Sudan, citing a decrease in the South Sudanese population.

Due to its treatment of Christians and other human rights violations, Sudan has been designated a Country of Particular Concern by the U.S. State Department since 1999, and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended the country remain on the list in its 2016 report.

Sudan ranked fifth on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of countries where Christians face most persecution.

Source: Morning Star News



KENYA: STUDENT REMEMBERS GARISSA ATTACK AS SECOND ANNIVERSARY APPROACHES

Christian student, Margaret*, narrowly missed being killed by Islamist al-Shabaab militants when they stormed her university campus on 2 April 2015, killing 147 predominantly Christian students. As the second anniversary approaches, Margaret recalls the attack on Garissa University and shares how life has changed since.

THE ATTACK

Margaret woke at 4:50 that morning, intending to go to the 5am daily prayer meeting, but she was uncharacteristically delayed. Then she heard shots coming from the prayer room. Unsure of what was going on, she waited. Then the gunfire sounded again and panic set in. Little did she know at the time, but all 22 students who had made it to the meeting had just been killed. These Christians were the first al-Shabaab targeted that day.

Realising the campus was under attack, Margaret ran to her dormitory and hid under her bed alongside her roommates. By 10am, she sent her parents a text, “Pray for us. We are under attack.” Her parents tried to call back, but it was too risky to answer. Around her, she heard the sound of increasing gunshots mixed with phones ringing, unanswered.

Margaret heard the attackers call from the concourse: “You are asking who we are. We are al-Shabaab. We have come. Let us see who will win the game. We can see where you are hiding. Come out if you want to save your life!” Margaret and her companions decided to remain in hiding. They knew they made the right choice when they heard those who obeyed being killed.

But then the gunshots became closer. Margaret realised: “They are going door to door!” As each shot brought them nearer, she was unable to pray. She managed four words only: “Under your cover, Lord!”

RESCUED

Miraculously, under the Lord’s cover Margaret stayed; the attackers never got to her room. After what felt like an eternity, an intensive exchange of gunshots was followed by a deafening silence. Then a female police officer convinced them it was all over and safe to come out.

Margaret emerged from her hiding place after almost 14 hours to be confronted with a horrifying scene. People she knew and loved had been killed, including her closest friend, Aquila, with whom she enjoyed a chat the night before. “When I saw the body of another friend, Beatrice, I went a little mad,” she says.

Margaret and the other survivors made their way to the military barracks. There her family came to pick her up and take her home, where friends and well-wishers flooded her with love and care.

SUPPORT AND HEALING

Margaret received government-sponsored trauma counselling. Though it was a difficult process, she learned techniques that helped her get past the initial shock and begin healing.

She was also greatly encouraged by spiritual support from her pastor from Garissa and Frederick Gitonga (22), the former chairman of the Fellowship of Christian University Students, both of whom visited her. “I thought, wow, this is the love of Christ, that they came all the way from Garissa to visit me,” says Margaret.

“THOSE WHO PRAYED FOR US, I REALLY THANK GOD FOR YOU”

Though Margaret’s walk with God since the attack has been a struggle, she shares some of what she has learned on this difficult journey: “For a while I could not pray. But one Sunday I went to church early. No one else was there. I realised, this was the time to thank God. I prayed and prayed and prayed. The service started, but I did not even notice. I poured out what was in my heart. When I was done, I felt totally healed.

“I really thank God for where I am today. God has made it perfect in me. I learned that in every suffering you go through, God is still there. He still looks after you. He still watches over you. Whenever you say that you are down, God is with you… We need to learn. We press on, because life has to continue. It is all that I can see and say for now. I am healed, and I continue to be healed by God.

“Those who prayed for us, I really thank God for you. Really, God has worked! We have seen the fruits of it, for we survived. The terror was horrible, but God, through your prayers, has saved us. We really thank God for you.

“The prayers you pray for others are not in vain. Continue praying. Let it be your theme. Each and every day remember: you are fellow workers through your prayers. May God bless you!”

PERSECUTION IN KENYA

Kenya is number 18 on the Open Doors World Watch List 2017. For the third year in a row, violence against Christians increased last year. Though the majority of Kenyans are Christian, in the northeastern border and coastal regions where Islam is dominant, Christians are a target for radical Islamic groups. Somali-based al-Shabaab militants are infamous for crossing into Kenya and raiding towns or attacking buses.

Open Doors has been working in Kenya through local partners and churches since the early 2000s, offering support to churches in the volatile north eastern border and coastal regions. Open Doors assists in cross-cultural evangelism and discipleship training, economic empowerment, leadership training and trauma care training.

Source: Open Doors



Cost of rebuilding Christian villages destroyed by Islamic State could exceed £160 million

The extent of the damage caused by Islamic State fighters in and around Qaraqosh could cost as much as £160 million to repair, according to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Jaco Klamer/Aid to the Church in Need

The Catholic charity examined 12 Christian villages in the Nineveh Plains region of Iraq and discovered that almost 12,000 homes had suffered damage and almost 700 had been completely destroyed.

ACN’s Middle East Projects Coordinator Fr Andrzej Halemba said that the charity is working with local churches to draw up plans to enable Christians to return but added that it would not be possible without international financial aid.

He said that a number of Christians had already chosen to return to the area despite harsh winter weather and poor infrastructure.

Approximately 1,000 people have returned to the village of Telskuf which was under IS control from August 2014 until November 2016.

Only 66 houses were totally destroyed in the village meaning that most families have been able to return to their home. There is still no electricity there and water has to be bussed in.

As part of their research, ACN asked 1,500 displaced Christian families if they want to return to their villages; 87 per cent said that they might be willing to return.

Fr Halemba said the findings of the survey was good news and that people’s willingness to return shows that “hope is returning to Nineveh Plains.”

The charity continues to support 12,000 families in the region.

“These people also rely on the Church – they look to the Church as a sign of security and stability – and so ACN has to help religious Sisters and priests to go back with their flocks,” Fr Halemba said.

“ACN has to support these people in this decisive and historical moment for Christians in Iraq.”

Iraq’s special forces troops hold a flag of the Islamic State group during a parade to celebrate the fully liberation of the eastern side of Mosul, Iraq, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/ Khalid Mohammed)

An offensive to reclaim nearby Mosul from IS continues.

According to the UN, at least 307 people were killed between 17 February and 22 March in the fighting. A number of civilians have been used by IS as human shields.

Source: Premier



ISIS Abducts 197 Mosul Children to Be Used as Human Shields

According to the watchdog organization Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR), IS (also known as ISIS or ISIL) recently captured 197 children in western Mosul.

A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa June 29, 2014. The offshoot of al Qaeda which has captured swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria has declared itself an Islamic “Caliphate” and called on factions worldwide to pledge their allegiance, a statement posted on jihadist websites said on Sunday. The group, previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIS, has renamed itself “Islamic State” and proclaimed its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghadi as “Caliph” – the head of the state, the statement said.

The organization took to Twitter on Saturday to sound the alarm about IS’ abduction of the children, stating that they were taken near the al-Nouri Grand Mosque in west Mosul.

According to the Erbil-based BasNews.com, a source said that the militants intend to use the abducted children as human shields to stand in the way of the advancing coalition troops. IS has been known to use civilians as human shields in Iraq to make it difficult for advancing government troops.

But as the number of civilians who have been killed during the Mosul offensive continue to climb, it was announced on Saturday that Iraqi security forces have temporarily suspended operations to spare civilian lives.

Nearly 4,000 civilians have been killed in densely populated areas since the beginning of the campaign to liberate western Mosul.

Iraqi Brig. Gen. Thaer al-Mosawi told the Turkish Anadolu Agency last week that as many as 3,846 civilian deaths have occurred since the battle in Western Mosul began in mid-February. IOHR cited the same number in a graphic posted to Twitter.

“Those who have fled the combat areas are reporting high civilian casualties,” al-Mosawi explained.

Additionally, al-Mosawi said that over 22,000 Mosul residents have been injured in the conflict, while over 10,000 homes have been destroyed.

It was reported over the weekend that a United States-led air strike on an IS truck filled with explosives caused the deaths of dozens of civilians in Mosul on March 17.

The U.S. military acknowledged on Saturday that it conducted the reported March 17 airstrike in the Mosul suburb of Mosul al-Jadida.

Although reports suggest that the U.S.-led airstrike could have killed as many as 200 people, Col. Muntathar Al-Shamari, the head of the Iraqi Counterterrorism Unit in Mosul, told CNN that estimate is probably an exaggeration.

“When the [vehicle] was struck, it exploded, destroying one or two of the houses next to where families were hiding,” Shamari stated.

Regardless, the U.S. is investigating the reports, as the death toll from the strike still has yet to be confirmed.

According to New York Magazine, residents said that a building in which the basement was being used to shelter over 100 civilians collapsed as a result of the strike.

In addition to the deadly airstrike in Mosul, the U.S. military also reportedly conducted a strike against IS that killed over 30 civilians in Raqqa, Syria, last Tuesday. The U.S. acknowledged to having carried out as many as 19 airstrikes on IS buildings in Raqqa on that day.

Source: Christian Post



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”