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Pastor urges “strong wave of protest” after Assyrian Church in Iran shut down, cross removed

Iranian security agents stormed into a 100-year-old Assyrian church and tore the cross from its tower in a major city in the north-west of the country on 9 May.

They also changed the locks, installed monitoring equipment and “made it clear that no longer the Assyrian people are allowed to hold any worship service there,” wrote a pastor in a letter to the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches.

The pastor has called on Christians worldwide to send letters to Iranian embassies in a “strong wave of protest” after the evangelical church in Tabriz was raided by security agents and also by members of a state-owned “charitable” organisation that answers to the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei.

The Assyrian Evangelical Church in the Iranian city of Tabriz before and after government agents tore down the cross and shut it down

The church had been officially seized by a court order in 2011, but worshippers had been allowed to continue using the building.

The pastor said the persecution began last Christmas when government agents prevented local pastors in nearby cities and the capital, Tehran, from visiting Tabriz to hold worship services for the Assyrian evangelical community and some Armenian guests. 

The pastor urged that protest letters to the Iranian embassies should request “unconditional restoration of the Assyrian Evangelical Church of Tabriz … and giving permission to worship in Assyrian language freely.”

Historic Assyrian and Armenian Christian minorities who have their own languages, not spoken by the Muslim majority, are usually allowed to worship freely in those languages.

husband, wife and son recently appealed against long jail terms imposed for “acting against national security”. The couple had been holding worship services at home after their Assyrian church in Tehran was shut down by the authorities.

From Barnabas Fund contacts

Source: Barnabas Fund

Muslim Clerics Threaten Sudanese Christian in Egypt

Convert from Islam fled torture in Sudan.

JUBA, South Sudan (Morning Star News) – Days after Muslim leaders in Egypt came to his apartment to warn him to return to Islam, a Sudanese Christian in Cairo received a death threat by phone last week, he said.

The Nile River in Cairo, Egypt. (Wikipedia)

Having fled Sudan after authorities tortured and threatened to kill him if he refused to return to Islam, Al Hadi Izzalden Shareef Osman said he has had to change apartments once again in the face of fresh threats.

On May 27 he received a phone call from someone speaking in Sudanese Arabic threatening to kill him, he said.

“You are infidel and fuel for hell,” the called told him, according to Osman.

It was one of several threats he received in the past month. He recognized the voice as one of the Muslim clerics, both Sudanese and Egyptian, who knocked on his apartment door the previous week, Osman said.

Living in hiding after death threats began last year by radical Muslims monitoring his movements in Egypt, Osman said he was terrified when he opened the door to find the five Muslim clerics ordering him to renounce Christ and return to Islam or face consequences.

“They kept telling me to go mosque, but I refused,” Osman told Morning Star News. “I was afraid and had to relocate from the apartment to another location.”

In a country where at least 2 million Sudanese migrants, including thousands of refugees, already face racial discrimination and resentment from Egyptians embittered by a cracked economy, Osman said his life is in danger for having become a Christian.

The 40-year-old Osman applied for asylum on grounds of religious persecution with the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees when he arrived in Egypt, without success.

“There is no response from UNHCR, and they seem to be unwilling to protect me from this danger,” Osman said. “Egypt is no longer safe for me. I want to relocate elsewhere, I am tired of these threats.”

After unknown persons on Aug. 15, 2018 raided his apartment and seized his passport, he went into hiding, he said. Osman was not at home at the time of the theft and reported it to police.

He had left Khartoum in April 2014 after police from Sudan’s Criminal Investigation Department accused him of apostasy, punishable by death in Sudan. National police arrested him from the streets of Khartoum, covered his eyes with a cloth and took him into secret detention, where they tortured him for three weeks, he said.

Osman said he was suspended from the ceiling while agents poured cold water on him, leaving his left hand permanently damaged.

Ordered to report to their offices daily, Osman said he was repeatedly arrested and tortured in efforts to get him to return to Islam but refused, telling agents he would rather die as a Christian then live as a Muslim. He fled after he was threatened with death if he did not return to Islam, he said.

Osman had begun to examine the Koran in 2005, at the age of 27, after reading about Jesus in the Bible. After studying the Bible, he put his faith in Christ, and by 2007, his family and friends began abandoning him after noting he had stopped fasting during Ramadan and saying Islamic prayers, he said.

Osman worked odd jobs living with Sudanese friends, but when they discovered that he was a Christian, they ordered him to leave, he said. In December 2016, he was baptized in the Episcopal Church in Egypt.

Osman said Sudanese Muslims friends who first took him in told Egyptian Muslims that he had left Islam.

The tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees in Egypt live among the more than 2 million – possibly 4 million – Sudanese who have fled military and political conflict and economic woes in Sudan. The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants reports many migrants from Sudan are actually refugees but see little hope in applying for asylum.

Osman’s plight has deepened as Christians in Sudan are hopeful for a more sympathetic government following the April 11 ouster of strongman Omar al-Bashir as president. The military forced out Bashir, an Islamist and Arab supremacist in power for 30 years, following protests that began on Dec. 19.

Churches joined the opposition after Bashir’s departure and are hopeful for a civilian government that does away with sharia (Islamic law) as the legal framework.

Source: Morning Star News

UN heralds official day for victims of violence against religion or belief

The United Nations has designated 22 August as an International Day for Victims of Violence who are attacked because of their religion or belief and invited all countries, organisations and individuals to observe the day for the first time this year.

Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz recalled the targeting of Christians by Islamist suicide bombers in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, the extremist attack on Muslims in Christchurch, and other acts of violence as he introduced the draft resolution at the UN General Assembly on 28 May.

Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz [Image source: Sejm RP]

“The world has been experiencing an unprecedented rise of violence against religious communities and people belonging to religious minorities,” he said, adding that it was unacceptable.

He added that the new International Day would aim to honour the victims and survivors, who are often forgotten.

Czaputowicz also said that in some countries even practising religion at home is banned and that in others minorities are often targeted.

The resolution, co-sponsored by Brazil, Canada, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland and the United States, was adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly.

Source: Barnabas Fund

Lutheran student pastor deported amid protests

By Emily McFarlan Miller

Supporters of pastor Betty Rendón gather for a vigil outside the Kenosha Detention Center where she was being held on May 15, 2019, in Kenosha, Wis. Photo courtesy of Emaus ELCA

CHICAGO (RNS) — Despite prayer vigils, a letter-writing campaign from her church and her denomination and a petition for a stay of removal from her lawyers, a student pastor was deported this week in what the head of the mainline Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is calling “an egregious case once again of family separation.”

Betty Rendón, who fled with her family from Colombia during the country’s civil war, was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials on May 8 after her application for asylum was rejected more than a decade earlier.

Another, last-minute application to stop her deportation was denied Friday (May 24), the National Immigrant Justice Center confirmed.

Rendón and her husband, Carlos Hincapié, were transported to Louisiana over Memorial Day weekend before being put on a plane to Colombia on Tuesday morning, according to the center.

ICE could not immediately be reached for comment.

Rendón had been studying at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and commuting from the city to Racine, Wis., to work part time as a lay minister at Emaus ELCA Church. She had been working mostly with the Spanish speakers in the bilingual congregation — leading worship and performing baptisms and quinceañeras, according to the Rev. Marcy Wieties of Emaus.

Wieties said the student pastor was “most definitely” needed at the church and “very well loved.”

“There are a lot of people who are very hurt, very angry, feeling the loss,” she said.

Rendón and Carlos Hincapié’s daughter, Paula Hincapié, had been pulled over and taken into custody by ICE agents earlier this month as she was driving her 5-year-old daughter to school, according to a post on Emaus’ website. The agents then arrested her mother and father, as well as another relative who had been staying with them at the family home, nearby.

Paula Hincapié later was released, as she is protected from deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. However, because of her DACA status, she now cannot leave the U.S. to visit her parents. Her daughter is a U.S. citizen.

“They are separating our family,” Paula Hincapié said at a rally last week outside ICE’s Chicago field office, according to a press release by the National Immigrant Justice Center, which represented Rendón and Carlos Hincapié.

“Our family has always been together. I feel totally alone. My parents are my main support as a single mother.”

The National Immigrant Justice Center filed an application with ICE last week seeking to stop the deportations for Rendón and Carlos Hincapié, the center confirmed. More than 65 organizations submitted letters of support through Emaus, and Milwaukee-based Voces de La Frontera launched an online petition calling for the couple’s release, according to the center’s press release.

Prayer vigils were held Tuesday at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, at Emaus and in Louisiana, according to ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton.

In Chicago, Eaton said, “we sang hymns and we prayed and listened to Scripture and wept with this young woman and her little daughter who are now separated from their parents.”

Several of the city’s aldermen and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who recently lost a runoff election for mayor of Chicago, also attended the vigil, according to the bishop. They spoke about the need to fix an “incredibly broken immigration system in this country,” she said.

“You have a middle-aged religious worker who is preaching the gospel and somehow is considered a threat and deported immediately. So that’s really distressing,” Eaton said.

Rendón and her family had fled Colombia in 2004 when guerrillas threatened the school she directed there, according to accounts shared by the National Immigrant Justice Center and Emaus. Her application for asylum in the U.S. was rejected in 2008 because there was no police report documenting the attack, and she had exhausted her appeals.

Eaton said the ELCA, one of the five largest Protestant denominations in the U.S., is reaching out to the Lutheran Church in Colombia to see how it can connect with Rendón there.

“The people in the church in Colombia say they have not recovered from their civil war — that it’s still a dangerous place,” she said.

Meantime at Emaus, the church is accepting donations through its good Samaritan fund to help Rendón and her family, including her daughter and granddaughter left in the U.S. without a support system, Wieties said. It already has raised about $6,000, she said.

And that extends beyond helping Rendón and her family to helping all working through the U.S. immigration system, the pastor said.

“We’ve always traditionally been active in terms of advocacy — particularly at Emaus on the immigration issue because of who we are,” Wieties said. “But this has definitely brought it to a head.”

Source: Religion News Service

Pakistani pastor attacked by Muslim mob, family’s home seized: report

By Samuel Smith : CP Reporter

A Pakistani Ranger stands near the Pakistani flag and Indian flag (L) during a daily parade at the Pakistan-India joint check post at Wagah border, on the outskirts of Lahore February 26, 2010. Commentators in both India and Pakistan greeted on Friday the first official talks between their countries since the 2008 Mumbai attacks with a degree of cynicism even though no breakthrough had been expected. The two nations’ top diplomats met in a former princely palace in a heavily guarded New Delhi neighbourhood on Thursday and agreed to “remain in touch” to build trust. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza

A Pakistani pastor and his family were attacked in their home by a radical Muslim mob in response to his Gospel ministry and are now homeless, the Missionary News Network reports.

Pastor Aziz, a former church planter who is supported by FMI (formerly known as Forgotten Missionaries International) in the Balochistan province, was the target of an attack that took place on May 27 at his home.

The attack marked the third time this year that the pastor has suffered an ambush at the hands of radical Muslims angered by his growing ministry.

According to FMI executive international director Bruce Allen, 35 men beat him, his wife and college-age daughter after entering the family’s home.

Fortunately for the pastor and family, the attack was said to have occurred as a police officer was patrolling the area. The officer and his colleagues were able to rescue the Christian family from the attack. But the mob seized the family’s home and they are now homeless.

“Pastor Aziz, who himself had come out of a Muslim background, has been evangelizing and church planting in the province of Balochistan,” Allen was quoted as saying. He said the pastor was targeted in order to stop his ministry from growing.

Aziz is said to have planted three churches in Balochistan, a province that borders Iran and Afghanistan. Aziz also operates outpost ministries along the border with Iran.

“These Muslim militants want to see that stopped,” Allen asserted. “But we are very glad that he is alive and he is determined to continue his ministry, even though he now has no home.”

According to Allen, Aziz’s congregations and ministries are still operating and have not been impacted by the attack. Although Aziz has faced two similar attacks already this year, it was the first time he was targeted in his home.

According to Allen, the family has previously faced persecution for their faith in Christ.

Over a decade-and-a-half ago, Allen said, Aziz’s 5-year-old son was kidnapped because of the family’s faith in Christ. Unfortunately, the family has not seen him since the abduction.

“Aziz has considered that all of his belong[ings] are lost to him, but he fully understands he is not lost to God,” Allen said. “Even though he has been crying on the phone as he pours out his heart … Aziz’s spirits remain high.”

Pakistan ranks as the fifth worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2019 World Watch List. According to Open Doors, converts from Islam — such as Pastor Aziz — face the brunt of the persecution in Pakistan.

Despite persecution against Christians and other religious minorities being carried out by angry radicals, perpetrators are often not brought to justice by local authorities.

Additionally, Open Doors warns that radicals in Pakistan seem to be gaining political power since the “new ruling government must maintain good diplomatic relationships with some radical groups.”

Churches in Pakistan have been the subject of numerous attacks perpetrated by radicals, including the Lahore church attacks in 2015 and the Quetta church bombing in 2017.

“Christian churches more active in outreach and youth work face stronger persecution in society,” Open Doors USA noted in a fact sheet on Pakistan.

Last December, the U.S. State Department listed Pakistan as a “country of particular concern” because the government has either “engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

More recently, the Pakistani government has taken some positives steps.

Asia Bibi, a Catholic mother who was on death row for blasphemy charges, was acquitted by Pakistan’s Supreme Court last year. After months of delay, Bibi was allowed to leave Pakistan earlier this month to start a new life with her family in Canada.

Christians are not the only ones persecuted in Pakistan. Peaceful Ahmadiyya Muslims also face severe persecution. But in March, an 82-year-old Ahmadiyya Muslim prisoner of conscience Abdul Shakoor was released from prison in Pakistan after being held for three years on blasphemy charges.

Many Christians and Ahmadis flee persecution in Pakistan and seek refugee status in nations like Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Malaysia.

Source: The Christian Post