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

Category: Friends In The West

One year after Marawi’s liberation from IS, thousands of Christians still displaced

A year ago this month, the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, declared victory over Islamic State-linked militants in a battle for the city of Marawi in the south of the country.

On 23 May 2017, militants belonging to the Maute group, an affiliate of Islamic State, had taken over Marawi. In the subsequent five months of fighting between the militants and government forces, 40 per cent of the city was destroyed and 98 per cent of the population displaced. Militants entered homes and set buildings on fire, including a cathedral and a Protestant-run college.

They also took over a dozen Christians hostage, including a Catholic priest, as Christians were a particular target for the extremists, according to Christian charity Open Doors International.

Marking the first anniversary of the liberation of the city, local Catholic and Muslim leaders said that the war brought the two communities closer because of the “mutual feeling of having gone through the same struggle”, Catholic news agency UCAN reported.

Even now, many Marawi residents have not yet returned home, as the heart of Marawi is dominated by rubble. Some homes and businesses on the outskirts appear to be intact, but bear the scars of war. Their gates and walls are punctured by bullet holes and are marked by crude army graffiti: “X” stands for “ISIS was present”. “XX” means the “presence of weapons or bombs”. The rebuilding of the city is estimated to cost at least US$ 1 billion.

Catholic priest Fr. Torres said that the Catholic prelature in Marawi is helping both Christian and Muslim communities with shelters and food.

“Even if the extremists try to ‘clean’ Marawi of Christians, Marawi will always have a Christian population,” he said.

According to Fr. Torres, around 75 Christian families live in temporary shelters around the city and the prelature is currently hosting over 35,000 Catholics.

The government aims to complete the rehabilitation of the city – which starts this month – by the fourth quarter of 2021. The first stage will include clearing of debris.

Source: World Watch Monitor

Evangelist arrested in Turkey just days after Andrew Brunson release

By Marcus Jones

A North American Christian has been arrested and ordered to leave Turkey just days after missionary Andrew Brunson was released.

David Byle, who is a joint US and Canadian citizen, was stopped at Ankara train station and taken to anti-terror police for interrogation.

He was detained overnight but released with an order to leave the country within 15 days.

The evangelist has served in Turkey for 18 years and has been threatened with deportation on a number of occasions due to his mission work.

He’s previously been arrested several times while conducting street evangelism.

While evangelism is legal in Turkey, police accused him of disturbing the peace and insulting Islam.

Following the detention of Andrew Brunson, Byle has been advised to legally contest the deportation order but also to leave within the fifteen days.

Thanking Christians for their prayers, he said: “We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support, not only from believers here in Turkey, but from literally all around the world.

“It means a lot to us and encourages us greatly to know we’re not alone, that we’re a part of such a great family, God’s family.”

Encouraging Christians to keep praying, religious freedom group Middle East Concern said: “Pray that David and his family will continue to be strengthened and encouraged during this ordeal and that David will have the wisdom and guidance to know how to proceed, including in discussions with his co-workers.

“Pray also that God will comfort the Christian community in Turkey, especially since this comes immediately after the trauma of Andrew Brunson’s detention and eventual release last Friday and that the Turkish state will stop its victimisation of expatriate Christian workers.”

Source: Premier

Andrew Brunson’s Release Reminds Us There’s Power in Prayer

(PHOTO: COURTESY OF MATT MILLER) Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd gives the president’s address on June 16, 2015, during the opening session of the SBC annual meeting at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio.

Frankly, I was not surprised when Pastor Andrew Brunson said that praying and knowing people were praying for him kept him sane and hopeful after being imprisoned in Turkey.

“When I was arrested, and it kept going on and on, and it seemed there was no way out … I lost a lot of hope,” Brunson said. “What helped me — I began to see that there was value in my suffering, especially as time went on. I saw that many people around the world began praying for me. And I began to see that God was involved in this.”

How could he know people all over the world — including myself — were praying for him? The Turkish authorities allowed Brunson’s wife Norine to visit him about once a week, for 30 minutes. The two of them would speak over the phone through a glass window, and in those precious moments they could share together, she made sure he knew people were praying for him.

“She would bring encouragement to me, and tell me that people were praying for me. And as I learned that I began to see that God was involved in this and that God was going to do something with my suffering that had value,” Brunson said.

If there has been one constant truth in Pastor Andrew Brunson’s tumultuous journey to freedom, it has been the power of prayer. In fact, when the Brunsons learned that they would be seeing the president of the United States their reaction was to pray they would have the opportunity to pray for him — and they did.

On live TV and in the presence of the secretary of state and cabinet members, Andrew Brunson — who 24 hours earlier had been sitting in a prison cell in Turkey — knelt down and prayed for President Trump in the Oval Office.

“Lord God, I ask that you pour out your Holy Spirit on President Trump. That you give him supernatural wisdom to accomplish all the plans you have for this country and for him,” Brunson said, before concluding, “May he be a great blessing to our country. In Jesus’ name, we bless you. Amen.”

As I watched Pastor Brunson pray over President Trump, it suddenly struck me that we were not only celebrating Brunson’s release; we were also celebrating the power of prayer. Behind the tense negotiations between the U.S. and Turkey, inside the Oval Office and even within the chambers of the Turkish court that finally freed Brunson, God was at work, using the president, vice president and countless men and women to orchestrate the miracle we witnessed this past weekend. Rep. Mark Meadows, who was one of Brunson’s greatest advocates, recognized this fact.

“You had dozens and dozens of advocates. You had one champion in the President of the United States. But he was the answer to millions of prayers that went up on your behalf and the behalf of your family,” Rep. Meadows said to Brunson and the crowd gathered in the Oval Office.

At a time when there are so many reasons to be worried or anxious, the reminder that God listens and responds to our prayers is encouraging news. He might not always answer them the way we want him to, but he will listen to us and will not leave or forsake us.

Pastor Brunson’s release is a great victory for international religious freedom and a testament of President Trump and his administration’s commitment to defending it. Religious freedom is a bipartisan issue we can all agree on. Every human being has the right to worship — or not worship — without the threat of abuse or persecution. Under President Trump, we have made great advances to protect this right at home and abroad, and for this I’m grateful

This past Saturday, exactly 1,183 miles away from the White House, sitting in our home in Springdale, Ark., my wife and I celebrated this great moment for religious freedom and Brunson’s return home. It is a good reminder to each of us in America and across the world, if God can set Andrew Brunson free from Turkish imprisonment, God can do anything in your life today. Never forget: all things are possible with God.

Ronnie Floyd is the senior pastor of Cross Church and president of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, which each year mobilizes millions of Americans to unified public prayer for the United States of America. Follow him on Twitter (@ronniefloyd), Instagram (@ronniefloyd) and Facebook.

Source: The Christian Post

Sudan: 13 Christians arrested in Darfur, another church told to hand over property

Sudanese Christians pray at a church in Khartoum on April 21, 2011 as the the diminished Christian community in the capital celebrates its last Easter in a united Sudan after many of its members have returned to the south. AFP PHOTO/ ASHRAF SHAZLY (Photo credit should read ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images)

Sudanese security officials arrested 13 Christians in the western region of Darfur on Saturday, 13 October.

The Christians were taken from a home they share in the city of Nyala, southwest Darfur, by officials belonging to the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) but it is not clear on what charges, a local source told World Watch Monitor. Three of them have since been released without an explanation, the source said.

Sudanese laws allow NISS to hold people in detention for up to four and a half months before they have to either charge or release them.

Meanwhile a church in Omdurman, near the capital Khartoum, has been told to hand over ownership of its properties to a state-appointed committee.

The government and the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) have been in a long-standing dispute over ownership of the denomination’s properties, after the Ministry of Religious Affairs set up a rival land and buildings committee and charged it with the administration of SCOC’s property.

“The Omdurman police summoned the church’s leader on Monday [8 October] and ordered him to hand over leadership of the congregation to a rival committee,” a local source told World Watch Monitor, adding: “They want the congregation to vacate their compound.”

The president of SCOC, Ayouba Telyan, who is a member of the church, was also summoned.

The SCOC represents about 220,000 of Sudan’s one million Christians, in over a thousand congregations.

This summons comes two weeks after the government lost its court case against the church body and handed back ownership of 19 churches to SCOC.

Several other denominations, like the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC), are also in conflict with the government over ownership of properties, and have faced fines and the closure and destruction of church buildings.

World Watch Monitor’s source said Sudanese Christians feel the surprise verdict of the court in favour of the SCOC, the handing back of property and also the recent clearing of a shipment of Bibles through customs after a six-year delay were merely “cosmetic” efforts to placate the US and the rest of the international community into normalising relations.

Sudan has pushed for the normalisation of bilateral relations and its removal from the US’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, but rights groups have called on Washington to “put the brakes on”, saying there has been little evidence of progress in the area of human rights.

A delegation from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom visited Khartoum and North Darfur in May and heard from stakeholders “that there is no religious freedom” in Sudan.

Source: World Watch Monitor

Indonesian city shuts down three churches without ‘permit’

A view of Jambi City. the Gentala Arasy Pedestrian Bridge. Photo credit: Indonesia Tourism

City administrators in the provincial capital of Jambi, Indonesia, shut down three churches on Thursday 27 September, claiming they did not have a permit to meet.

Officials met with members of the churches’ management and told them to either relocate the churches several kilometres away or merge the three churches into one.

A law introduced in 2006 requires applications for Christian places of worship to be supported by signatures from 60 local, non-Christian households, making it extremely hard for congregations to obtain church building permits.

Local officials have also been known to block churches, especially if they come under pressure from Islamists. According to official Indonesian government statistics, Muslims make up 95 per cent of the population in the province of Jambi.

It is not the first time churches in the province have encountered problems due to issues with permits. In January 2014, local authorities halted construction work on at least five church buildings.

Indonesian Muslims and Christians lived peaceably as equals until about a generation ago. But Christians now face increasing discrimination and violence. This can especially be seen in the semi-autonomous province of Aceh were local authorities have implemented sharia law. Under pressure from Islamist hardliners Indonesian officials destroyed twelve churches in Aceh province in 2015.

Source: Global Christian News