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Category: Friends In The West

How God is Healing the Wounds of War in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp

Lives are being redeemed inside the world’s largest refugee camp.

Hundreds of thousands of people from South Sudan have fled to the Bidi Bidi Refuge Settlement in Uganda to escape their country’s ongoing brutal civil war. Here victims and their victimizers find healing through faith in Christ.

“I can’t sleep unless I keep on praying,” Achol Kuol, a mother of five, told Religion News Service. “I always have nightmares. In my dreams I go back to my old village and I see how my friends were shot dead. They keep on calling me, ‘Achol! Achol! Achol!’ And I would wake up screaming.”

“Many refugees usually go to church because it’s the only likely place in the camp where they can get help to recover from the trauma,” Gabriel Mayen, a trauma counselor at Bidi Bidi said. “The church gives them new hope, which is important to refugees and any person who has experienced trauma.”

South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, broke out into a civil war between the government and opposition forces in 2013. Since then, millions have been displaced while others face severe violence and starvation.

Koul’s husband is one of the many who have been killed. She fled the violence with her children, but one died of hunger. She credits Jesus for saving her life.

“I passed through a difficult time,” she said. “God saved me from death, and I had to accept him. In God I find peace, and I don’t have nightmares … though the memories of the killings still haunt me.”

There are dozens of churches in the refugee camp, each one working to heal the wounds of war.

“The church has played a vital role in unifying the people of South Sudan who had hated each other,” Pastor John Deng of Christ Ministry Church said. “We are happy that people are living peaceful in the camp away from home.”

Deng is a refugee himself and was forced to flee the violence. During a recent church service, he told the refugees their only hope is Jesus.

“Our country is cursed,” he said, according to RNS. “The only hope we have is heaven. It’s written that shedding someone’s blood is the work of the devil and anybody who is killing people is doing the work of the devil. We need to kneel down and ask God for forgiveness if we want him to bring peace in our country.”

Source: CBN

US Congress Urges India’s Modi to Protect Christians, Condemn Attacks on Minorities

 Christians held protests and candlelit vigils in the wake of the attack on an elderly nun in West Bengal in India in March 2015. (PHOTO: REUTERS)

U.S. Congress members are calling on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hold his party accountable and oppose violent attacks on Christians and other minorities.

International Christian Concern shared on Friday with The Christian Post a previously unreleased copy of a bipartisan congressional letter sent to Modi, which pleads for the protection of the persecuted minorities.

“Our hope is to apply significant pressure on Prime Minister Modi regarding the persecution of Christians and religious minorities in India. We hope that this letter, alongside other efforts, will pressure the Indian government to move beyond the recognition of the fact that persecution of religious minorities in India exists, and take concrete steps to end the persecution of religious minorities,” ICC Advocacy Director Matias Perttula told CP.

“Prime Minister Modi must publicly condemn the attacks on religious minorities and implement proper legal procedures to hold the perpetrators of these crimes accountable. The bottom line is that India must take tangible steps to deal with the issue at hand.”

Christians are an increasing but heavily targeted minority group in India. Many attacks were reported this year, most often by Hindu hardliners in rural villages who have destroyed churches and assaulted entire groups of believers.

Just last week, a 9-year-old girl from a family in Punjab state that had recently converted to Christianity was gang-raped and murdered.

ICC worked with Congress members to author the letter, which is dated July 31. It was led by Congressman Dennis Ross (R-Florida) in the House of Representative and Senator James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) in the Senate.

The letter talks of India’s strong partnership with the U.S., and notes that back in February, Modi’s own government admitted that there has been an increase in religiously motivated violence against religious minorities, which goes against India’s Constitution.

“Our concern centers on the lack of justice and protections for religious minorities, and the impunity many perpetrators currently enjoy,” states the letter.

“Those afflicted by violent assaults and other forms of harassment should be provided with equal treatment by law enforcement officers, and perpetrators of these crimes need to be held accountable for their actions. Only then can meaningful progress be made in guaranteeing freedom of religion and belief.”

The letter recalls several of Modi’s political visits to the U.S., including an address he made to Congress on June 8, 2016, where he said:

“The idea that all citizens are created equal is a central pillar of the American Constitution. Our founding fathers too shared the same belief and sought individual liberty for every citizen of India.”

Christians, Sikhs, and Muslims, who combined make up 20 percent of the nation’s population, continue being deliberately attacked, U.S. lawmakers state in the letter.

They specifically express concern over the anti-forced conversion laws in India, arguing that such laws are often exploited in order to falsely accuse religious minorities.

Perttula said those laws, called the “Freedom of Religion Acts,” are “so poorly worded that most accusations against Christians are completely baseless. Christians can be accused of violating these laws based on a simple conversation they may have had about their faith with non-Christians.”

“These laws do nothing but embolden Hindu radicals to make essentially baseless accusations against Christians who will then suffer the consequences.”

Rolling back the anti-conversion laws is an “absolute priority,” he stressed.

“Prime Minister Modi must lead on this issue and stand up for the rights and freedoms of all Indian citizens,” he emphasized.

Perttula insisted that Modi’s BJP-led government can take a great deal of responsibility for attacks carried out by Hindu radicals, due to the nationalist message that it champions.

“The BJP also makes strong nationalist statements at their rallies, which embolden Hindu radicals to commit crimes similar to the one mentioned in the story above and enjoy near perfect impunity. The perpetrators are rarely brought to justice,” he noted, referring to the gang rape of the 9-year-old girl.

“The best thing that Prime Minister Modi and the BJP can do is publicly condemn these types of attacks and enforce the rule of law by bringing these perpetrators to justice. However, the BJP and Prime Minister Modi remain largely indifferent and serve as enablers for these types of crimes.”

The U.S. and other Western governments can play an important role by continuing to raise human rights issues with India and directing pressure at the Indian government to “implement real changes regarding these issues, Perttula added.

“The West should leverage its economic power in trade deals, its military power in defense arrangements, and apply public pressure in its rhetoric toward India,” he said.

“If the U.S. and the West care deeply about human rights as they claim, they must hold countries like India accountable. India is a democracy that claims to adhere to democratic values; it’s time they start putting human rights at the front of the agenda.”

The U.S. State Department recently held its first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, which was attended by delegates from over 80 countries.

One of the central documents pushed forward at last month’s ministerial was the Potomac Declaration, which calls on religious freedom to be defended everywhere in the world.

“Persons are equal based on their shared humanity. There should be no discrimination on account of a person’s religion or belief. Everyone is entitled to equal protection under the law regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof,” reads the text.

“Citizenship or the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms should not depend on religious identification or heritage.”

Source: The Christian Post

Christian in Pakistan Charged with ‘Blasphemy’ in Scheme Involving Islamist Party, Sources Say

Young man accused of defaming Muhammad by text message.

Sialkoti Gate (Brandreth Gate) in Gujranwala, Pakistan. (Wikimedia)

A member of an Islamic extremist party in Pakistan has charged a Christian with blasphemy as part of a scheme by the accused’s ex-girlfriend and her brother, sources said.

Farhan Aziz, 26, was arrested under Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy law in Muslim Town, Gujranwala District, Punjab Province, after the brother and sister allegedly misused the Christian’s phone to send text messages deemed defamatory to Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, according to Aziz’s brother, Amir Aziz.

He said that the Garjakh police in Gujranwala District, some 70 kilometers (43 miles) from Lahore, on Aug. 1 charged his brother with Section 295-C of the blasphemy law; a conviction would call for the death sentence. The charge was based on a complaint by Rafique Ahmed, a member of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik. The Islamist party was founded in honor of Mumtaz Qadri, who assassinated former Punjab governor and human rights advocate Salmaan Taseer.

The party has emerged as a mainstream political force, fielding almost as many candidates as established parties in July 25 general elections and surprisingly winning three provincial seats in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.

Farhan Aziz had been in a relationship with Farhat Rashee, a Christian known as Tina, for several years before his father urged him to break up with her two years ago, Amir Aziz told Morning Star News. Her brother Sajjad had converted to Islam, and Aziz’s father had objected to Rashee’s family.

“It has now been revealed to us that Tina and her brother Sajjad had been fleecing money from Farhan over the years,” Amir Aziz said. “When my brother demanded that they return his money, the duo conspired with Rafique Ahmed and got him implicated in a fake blasphemy case by using a SIM card and cell phone that he had given to Tina some months ago on her demand.”

Ahmed claimed that Farhan Aziz, whose family belongs to the Presbyterian Church, “used to send obscene text messages to Tina” and did not stop despite being warned against it, according the First Information Report (FIR No. 3556/18). The complainant accused Farhan Aziz of sending a blasphemous text message to her on Feb. 28 and another one on March 23.

“Farhan again sent a text disrespecting Islam’s prophet Muhammad on July 29,” Ahmed alleged in the FIR. He also accused Farhan Aziz of “throwing a phone on the roof of Tina’s house on Aug. 1, 2018, in the presence of her father Shamaoon and brother Sajjad …Upon inspecting the phone, it was revealed that the same device had been used to send the blasphemous text messages.”

Ahmed urged police to arrest Farhan for allegedly “hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims.”

‘Farhan Fell for Trap’

Amir Aziz denied that his brother sent blasphemous texts.

“It’s true that Farhan gave the phone to Tina after she conveyed a message to him that she wanted to talk to him but didn’t have a phone,” he said. “He fell for her trap, hoping that he would be able to talk her into returning the money.”

Malafide is evident in this case because Ahmed, who filed the FIR, is not even related to the matter, he said.

“We fear that the Islamist organizations have some underlying agenda, due to which they are supporting the real perpetrators of those blasphemous texts – Tina and Sajjad,” Amir Aziz said.

Phone Misuse ‘Possible’

Garjakh Police Inspector Jawad Anwar told Morning Star News the police are including Tina and her brother in the investigation.

“We will investigate the case on merit,” Anwar said. “It is quite possible that Farhan’s phone was misused by the brother-sister duo to send blasphemous texts to themselves.”
Anwar said police initially sent the case to the Federal Investigation Agency’s cybercrime unit, but agents there had returned the FIR, saying they deal only with issues involving social media, Internet and the like.

“In this case, text messages were sent from the phone,” he said.

Christian advocacy group leaders said the case appears to have been made hastily, as Aziz was also charged under two sections of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016, for which the FIA would be the investigating authority. In cases involving telephones and text messages, the police should have charged him under Section 25-D of the Telegraph Act, they said.

According to the Telegraph Act, any person who uses any telephone, public or private, to annoy or intimidate another person, or for obnoxious calls, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.

Investigator Anwar could not explain why police failed to file charges under the Telegraph Act.

“I have sought the opinion of the police legal department on how to proceed further in this case,” he said. “Till then, Farhan is being kept at a safe location for his security, as the situation is quite tense in the area after this incident was reported.”

Christians at Risk

About 25 Christian families have settled in the Muslim Town area where the accused and his family have their home.

Napolean Qayyum of the Pakistan Center for Law and Justice told Morning Star News the conflict has sparked religious tensions in the area.

“Christians there are skeptical about their security, since TLP has a huge following in the city, and it can gather thousands on one call,” he said. “The case against Farhan was also registered under pressure of the religious outfit, otherwise it is quite clear that the young man has been falsely implicated in the matter.”

Katherine Sapna of advocacy group Christians’ True Spirit echoed Qayyum’s concerns.

“Many men are now going to their workplaces fearing an attack on their houses,” she said, adding that her group would provide food rations to the affected Christians “till the situation normalizes.”
According to a recent report by Centre for Social Justice, 74 percent of all cases related to blasphemy in Pakistan take place in Punjab Province. The report asserts an “extraordinary increase” in the number of blasphemy cases in Punjab over the last three decades.

Recent studies by Amnesty International and other rights organizations have documented that Pakistan’s blasphemy law is widely abused to justify hate crimes based on religion, avenge personal vendettas and perpetrate economic injustice.

Source: Morning Star News

Khartoum Court Dismisses Case Against Sudan Church of Christ

International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that a criminal court based in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, has determined a case in favor of the Sudan Church of Christ (SCOC) due to lack of merit. Government representatives filed the lawsuit in 2016 after the Sudan Church of Christ declined to hand over its leadership and ownership to a state-sanctioned committee.

The leader of the SCOC, Reverend Ayoub Talian Tutu, confirmed the news to ICC and stated, “The case was to be heard on July 30, but we thank God that today on August 8, we got a fair hearing before the presiding judge who found inadequate evidence and unconvincing information as to why we should hand over the running of our church to a state body. He declared that the leaders of our denomination were legally elected.”

The regime led by Omar al Bashir has pushed for complete political, social, and religious Islamization. However, this would entirely transform Sudan into an Islamic state and diminish the remaining 20 percent of Christians who already are a minority group.

SCOC legal counsel Demas James shared with ICC, “The case was dismissed for lack of merit on the prosecutor’s side. The SCOC leadership was put in place through a rigorous process as per the church’s constitution, without contravening any law that could have amount(ed) to a criminal case. It was purely an administrative issue raised in a criminal court but we thank God that our legal submissions were sufficient to convince the court.”

One of the church leaders, Rev. Kuwa Shamal, expressed his gratitude for the case dismissal, “We are very happy because the burden of being taken to court is over. The Lord has done great things. The judge has granted us the freedom to continue with our church activities without external influence and directed us to report immediately if any one of the government agents comes closer to our offices and churches.”

Regardless of the many cases pending in different courts and the impending demolition of churches, persecuted Christians in Sudan have not given up hope.

“Our church is grateful to ICC for always praying for us and calling to check on us every week. Their concern about the welfare of the Church in Sudan incredibly overwhelms our heart. Although we do not trust the government about the court ruling, because of their tendency of reviving Christian cases, we hope that God will continue giving us victory even in case of an appeal.” Rev Shamal added.

The persecution of Christians in Sudan has risen with the government restricting evangelism and other outreach activities, prohibiting street preaching and crusades in Khartoum, and limiting pastors and evangelists going on missions in the country. The few underground missionaries in Sudan are always at risk of being attacked or killed if anyone learns that they are Christian ministers.

ICC’s Regional Manager for Africa, Nathan Johnson, stated, “We praise God for the outcome of this case in favor of our brothers and sisters who are part of the SCOC. We pray for the families that were directly affected and have experienced hostility in their country. We hope and pray for the protection of Christians in Sudan who continue to be targeted in numerous ways.”

Source: International Christian Concern

We’ll close one church every week, Indian Christians told

The remains of a church building in Kospundi village, following its demolition on 7 July (World Watch Monitor)

Christian villagers in a rural district of India’s Maharashtra state have been told that one church will be closed down every week because they have been “destroying” local tradition and culture by “luring” others to convert to Christianity.

Since June, over a dozen houses belonging to Christians have been attacked by local extremist groups across five villages within Gadchiroli district.

Christians in the villages of Halwar, Tekla, Bharagad, Kospundi and Alenga have also been told that if they pursue with Christianity, they will be cut off from local water supplies and will no longer have access to government-subsidised groceries.

The latest incident took place on Sunday, 5 August, in Kospundi, when a local Christian, Gallu Kowasi, was badly beaten by locals demanding he renounce his faith.

According to a trusted local source, the extremists are being “propelled” by the government in the name of a law on self-governing in tribal areas: the Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act of 1998.

Several Christians have received death threats or have been threatened with expulsion from their village, while new converts to Christianity face being ostracised from both their family and local community.

“If one person in the family is converted to Christianity, the rest of the family unites with the village and all of them immediately socially boycott that person,” World Watch Monitor’s source explained.

“The new Christian convert will be given no job in the village and no-one will come to help him with his work. The social boycott is just the start. Thereafter the new convert is threatened constantly to leave his faith; he can be easily attacked and his house attacked.”

Fifteen houses were vandalised in protest against the building of a church in Halwar village (World Watch Monitor)

Fifteen houses were vandalised in protest against the building of a church in Halwar village (World Watch Monitor)
Most of the attacks on Christian homes took place at the end of June in protest at the construction of a new church in Halwar village.

On 27 June, the church construction was forcibly brought to a halt by a mob and a public meeting was called, during which the Christians were told to renounce their faith or leave the village.

Following the meeting, 15 houses belonging to Christian families were attacked.

The Christians of Bharagad village filed a complaint with police, but the authorities took no action. Instead, the Christians later received letters warning them against making any further complaints.

After three Christian families in Koskundi village went to the police, a mob of around 100 people gathered round the police station, demanding the Christians be thrown out of the village.

Source: World Watch Monitor