GOVERNMENTS URGED TO ADD SEVEN COUNTRIES TO WORST OFFENDERS LIST
The primary US government agency on global religious freedom has issued its annual report. It says “religious freedom abroad has been under serious and sustained assault” during the past year, and says America should add seven countries to its list of worst offenders. Those countries are: Central African Republic,Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria and Vietnam. Also, the report includes Western Europe among a list of places that deserve monitoring because of worrisome developments.
The report was written by an advisory council to Congress and the president. It covers 1 February, 2015 to 29 February 2016. It recommends that the president designate the seven countries as “countries of particular concern.” A year ago, the commission’s annual report made the same recommendation about the same seven countries, plus Tajikistan. The State Department accepted the recommendation to add Tajikistan on 14 April. What are ‘Countries of Particular Concern’? US law defines them as those whose violations of religious freedom are “particularly severe,” which means: “Systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom, including violations such as
(A) Torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment
(B) Prolonged detention without charges
(C) Causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction or clandestine detention of those persons
(D) Other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons.”
The president is required to maintain a list of “countries of particular concern,” considered the worst offenders of religious freedom, taking the commission’s annual report as counsel. The law directs the White House to “take action designed to encourage improvements in those countries,” the commission says. Those actions can range from nothing, to mutually negotiated treatments, to unilateral sanctions. The law requires the State Department to report on religious freedom in each country, as part of its annual assessment of human rights around the globe. The U.S. already had formally designated nine countries as “countries of particular concern”: Myanmar; China; Eritrea; Iran; North Korea; Saudi Arabia; Sudan; Turkmenistan; and Uzbekistan. Tajikistan’s recent addition brings the list to 10.
The 12-month period covered by the report was a year when the commission said a bad situation got worse. “By any measure, religious freedom abroad has been under serious and sustained assault since the release of our commission’s last Annual Report in 2015,” it begins. It contains documentation of restrictions upon Christians, Muslims, Jews and other religious minorities. Among the report’s examples of Christian persecution:
China: “Over the past year, the Chinese government has stepped up its persecution of religious groups deemed a threat to the state’s supremacy and maintenance of a ‘socialist society.’ Christian communities have borne a significant brunt of the oppression, with numerous churches bulldozed and crosses torn down.”
Pakistan: “More people are on death row or serving life sentences for blasphemy in Pakistan than in any other country in the world. Aggressive enforcement of these laws emboldens the Pakistani Taliban and individual vigilantes, triggering horrific violence against religious communities and individuals perceived as transgressors, most recently Christians and Muslim bystanders on Easter Sunday 2016 in Lahore.”
Nigeria: “Boko Haram continues to attack with impunity both Christians and many Muslims. From bombings at churches and mosques to mass kidnappings of children from schools, Boko Haram has cut a wide path of terror across vast swaths of Nigeria and in neighbouring countries, leaving thousands killed and millions displaced.”
The report includes “Western Europe” alongside 5 individual countries that the commission says should be monitored. The region was not included in the previous year’s report. In several Western European countries, according to the report, governments have banned the wearing of religious symbols, including crosses. Some have been monitoring religious groups they deem as “cults” or “sects,” including some evangelical Protestant groups. And Christians have found themselves answering charges of hate speech or avoiding public education by home-schooling their children. The inclusion of Western Europe is related to anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish sentiment that has been rising along with the number of refugees from the Middle East and Northern Africa.
In recent years, a slew of surveys and reports have claimed to show a decline in church attendance and Christianity as a whole in the United States. According to a recent Pew Research poll, Christian affiliation dropped 8%. Meanwhile, roughly 43% once active millennials have abandoned their local churches since going out on their own. While these reports paint a gloomy picture of the church, they only tell half the story. In reality, the church’s influence in culture isn’t diminishing so much as it is shifting. Both nationally and globally, the momentum of Christian growth is moving in new directions and these trends have tremendous implications for the future. These five, in particular, can’t be ignored.
1. From North to South
In 1980, more people claimed to be Christians in the southern hemisphere than the north for the first time in over 1,000 years. In the past 36 years, that momentum has only gained steam. Today, unprecedented church planting and evangelism movements are taking root across Africa, southern Asia, and South America that have led to revival and growth. These local churches are highly missional and active in their communities. Many of them are also small and nimble, able to reproduce in their cities. While church growth may be slowing in the United States and Europe, it’s an entirely different story in the global south.
2. From Big to Small
In the United States, new types of churches are taking root, reaching specific communities and demographics that will not attend a traditional brick-and-mortar church. These congregations are small enough to meet in homes or apartment complexes, often in neutral and nonthreatening locations, and multiply instead of growing numerically. This allows them to make a wider impact over a shorter period of time. Last year, Thom Rainer, President of LifeWay Christian Resources, even named this movement one of the top trends to watch in the coming years.
3. From Institutions to Movements
Additionally, more churches are transitioning towards a movement mindset over the traditional institutional mindset. As they become more missions-focused, they are shaking off deep organizational structures that sometimes hinder ministry. This is huge in reaching millennials, who are driving the growth of the “nones” demographic. Many even cite the institutionalization of the church as a driving factor in their decision to leave. But churches who focus more on leadership development, discipleship, evangelism, and social justice are bucking this trend and engaging the next generation.
4. From Local to Global
Increasingly, churches are investing themselves in international missions. Rather than focusing exclusively on their own communities, they are embracing short-term missions as a way to partner with movements around the globe while still faithfully serving their neighbours. In fact, e3 Partners has recently experienced a spike in the number of pastors looking for help in developing a comprehensive missions strategy that engages their church members in God’s work around the world.
ISRAEL AND HAMAS FORM UNHOLY ALLIANCE AGAINST ISIS
In a surprising move, Israel, Egypt and Hamas appear to be cooperating to keep the Islamic State (ISIS) under control in Sinai. While Egypt and Israel have a peace treaty, the increased activity of ISIS affiliate Wilayat Sinai has prompted greater coordination than the two countries have had in the decades since it was signed. Additionally, Israel has tightened its security along the Egyptian border, building a new barrier to keep out militants rumoured to be planning attacks in Israel. According to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, without the changes, by now “we would have been overflowed by thousands of ISIS fighters from Sinai.” Wilayat Sinai has grown bolder since taking responsibility for downing a Russian charter plane in October, an act which killed all 244 people on board.
The terror group has carried out ongoing attacks against Egyptian soldiers, overrunning military outposts and planting roadside bombs. Experts acknowledge the group’s efficacy. “They have genius strategists,” said Mohannad Sabry, an Egyptian journalist and author of a book on the Islamist insurgency in the Sinai. “If you study the map of their attacks, they obviously know what they are doing exactly, and it shows that they have a great deal of freedom of mobility.” Despite this, Egypt claims it is winning the war against ISIS in Sinai, a claim Egypt’s allies fear is suspect. There is no way of independently verifying the Egyptian claims because journalists are not allowed into the lawless Northern Sinai region.
Of particular concern is the possibility multinational peacekeeping forces could become a target. “Like anywhere, they could be considered a potential target,” said Lt. Col. Yaron Malka, the deputy commander of Israel’s Saqi Brigade that defends Israel’s border with Sinai. In fact, in a recent tweet, the ISIS affiliate took responsibility for destroying an American-made Egyptian M60 tank near Gora airport, used by peacekeepers as a base. Meanwhile, both Israel and Egypt have been wary of Hamas involvement in the conflict, suspecting militants from Sinai have been using Hamas smuggling tunnels to find refuge from Egypt in the Gaza Strip. Hamas denies the allegations, saying it has no sympathy for ISIS, which branded the ruling party in Gaza “infidels” in a video two years ago.
Pressure from Egypt has prompted Hamas, also considered a terrorist organization, to bring its own border under control, keeping ISIS militants out. According to one Hamas official, there are now more than 300 Hamas fighters deployed in three areas along the sea and two land border crossings with the Sinai. “The national security forces redeployed along the borders with Egypt, and it is part of the security plan to fully control the borders and the stability of it, as well as the security of our Egyptian brothers,” Eyad al-Bozom, a Hamas Interior Ministry spokesman, said in a statement. While dangerous times make for strange bedfellows, it is important to recall that at the end of the day, the Bible assures us it is all in God’s hands.
BRIDE PARALYSED AT HER OWN BACHELORETTE PARTY – BUT LOOK AT HER NOW
She was pushed in a pool and left quadriplegic, but that’s not the end of her story. Rachelle Chapman has become known worldwide as the “paralysed bride” after a pool accident at her bachelorette party rendered her a quadriplegic. “I didn’t blame her for hurting me, because we’ve all pushed somebody in a pool and I was very supportive of her,” said Rachelle. The first year I made sure that she was OK, even more than me.” Rachelle was able to move past the accident and even marry the man of her dreams despite the disability, but there was still one thing that Rachelle called “the missing piece” to the home she shared with her husband Chris. “We were happily wed for a long time, but then I felt that I really wanted a child with Chris,” she said.
And now, the couple is getting to celebrate a milestone that at one time seemed impossible: the one-year birthday of their baby girl! Through the help of a surrogate, Rachelle was able to live out the dream of motherhood so deeply ingrained in her heart. Even though Rachelle can’t walk, it has brought unspeakable joy to her heart to see her daughter take her first steps with the help of her wheelchair to prop her up. “She got a lot of practice holding on to the back of my chair. She would pull up and hold on to the wheel, and then walk to the back and hold on to the bar in the back,” she said. “My wheelchair was good practice for her. She would basically push my wheelchair. It was so cool she learned how to do that.”
Though she can’t physically care for her in all of the ways that she wishes, Rachelle has made the most of her limitations and revels in the unique ways she can show affection to her daughter. Kaylee has also figured out how to crawl out of her wheelchair-accessible crib onto her mama’s lap. “It’s really hard just to pick her up and pull her towards me, so this tactic works,” she said. “And she figured it out on her own. Knowing that I can’t reach out and pick her up like everyone else, she just crawled onto my lap on her own.” Rachelle has received a great deal of criticism from people who say she’s selfish for having a child as a quadriplegic, but she says that milestones like these make all of the harsh words worth it.
Rachelle says that people rarely question the capability of single parents, but for some reason, she’s been targeted with criticism despite the fact that she has a fully capable husband, on top of her own mother who helps with Kaylee as well. “I want people to realize, yeah, even though my fingers don’t work, I have found a way to manipulate my hands to do a lot of things,” Rachelle said. “I can hold Kaylee. I can feed Kaylee and I can play with her while Chris is washing bottles or whatever. We have a system that works for us.” “And beyond love, Kaylee has a house over her head and food in her tummy. She’s a happy, happy baby who doesn’t realize that I’m different. This is normal for her.”
“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Pakistan needs to heed this warning. The constitution guarantees freedom of religion. However, Pakistan’s history with colonialism and its clash of religious culture with India have left deep scars of resentment against minorities. School textbooks reveal the indoctrination of the young that are reminiscent of Hitler’s Germany when the German Aryan blood was exalted. Jews, Gypsies, and races deemed inferior were vilified. One group assesses religious freedom in other countries and how it affects diplomatic relations around the world. The report shows an escalation of antagonism towards Christians and other religious minorities since the last report five years ago.
“The report concludes, “The school system is intolerant of religious minorities….” Textbooks teach, “Christians learned tolerance and kind-heartedness from Muslims.” A public shaming of religious minority children begins at a very young age. In promoting patriotism, Pakistan denigrates Christianity, considered the product of colonialism. It is also intolerant of Hinduism, the main religion of its archenemy, India. Textbooks “promote a national Islamic identity at the expense of Hindu, Christian and Sikh children.” The nation of Pakistan climbed to number 6 on the 2016 Open Doors World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians in the world.
* for the Pakistan government to act positively upon its response to the international community report and make changes to textbooks that eliminates the bias against minority citizens
* for Christians to conduct their lives in such a way toward Muslim neighbours and other minorities that demonstrates the Biblical truth that “they will know you by your love.
* for God to divinely protect the hearts and minds of little children so that they will know that they are special and loved by Jesus Christ and that He loves everyone
BRITISH PRIME MINISTER PROPOSES A CRACKDOWN ON ISLAMIC EXTREMISM
British Prime Minister David Cameron has proposed a bill aimed at cracking down on Islamic extremism in Britain. Cameron has instructed his ministers to draw up proposals aimed at curbing Muslim extremists in the country. He plans to announce the Extremism Bill later this month. The measure would ban Islamic extremist groups from operating in Britain and would launch an investigation into Sharia courts. It would also extend rules for employers to ensure that radical Muslims are not employed or do not work with children and other vulnerable groups. “The prime minister has made clear this government’s commitment to countering extremism by tackling the root causes of it early on,” Cameron’s spokeswoman told journalists. Cameron says fighting extremism head on is “the struggle of our generation.”