Hours before Egypt’s Coptic Christians gathered for their traditional Christmas Eve services on January 6, masked gunmen killed two policemen guarding a church in Upper Egypt’s Minya city. The attack came amid the government’s tightened security precautions, initiated to protect all Christian churches during the Coptic Christmas holidays, celebrated according to the old Julian calendar on January 6 and 7. The policeman were shot down in front of St. Mark’s Catholic Coptic Church, near Al-Habashy square in central Minya. Minya’s local police force abandoned their guard duties after the early morning killings, to hold a protest at Minya University Hospital, where their colleagues’ bodies were taken.
According to the Orthodox Archbishop of Minya, the police returned to their duties that afternoon, to guard the large crowds attending the Christmas Eve celebrations in the city. In a joint statement issued by Orthodox, Catholic and evangelical churches, it was announced that Christmas celebrations would be restricted to religious services only, in respect to the families of the two policemen and the 20 Coptic Christians kidnapped in Libya. Significantly, President Sisi chose the evening of the Minya attack to become the first Egyptian President to attend a Christmas Eve mass in the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of St. Mark in Cairo. There he extended greetings to Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II and all of Egypt’s Coptic citizens.
“It was necessary to attend and wish you well,” he said in a short speech, greeted by rousing applause from the worshippers. “We are Egyptians, and we have to be only Egyptians. We will build our country together. We will truly accept and love each other.” Televised on state television, Presidental-Sisi’s symbolic visit, standing alongside the spiritual leader of Egypt’s 10 million or more Coptic citizens, contrasted with the reluctance of previous presidents to associate publicly with their Christian minorities. Many of Egypt’s outspoken Muslim clerics have for decades fostered sectarian mistrust, urging their followers to avoid extending Christmas or Easter greetings to their Christian neighbours and forbidding them to enter a church.
Despite President Sisi’s supportive stance toward the Coptic minority, his government has yet to address the judicial prejudices and restrictions that make them second-class citizens among Egypt’s 90% Muslim population. Christians continue to be subjected to criminal prosecution for alleged blasphemy against Islam, and legal procedures to build churches remain convoluted and often blocked by Muslim street protests. “All our churches in Egypt are under heavy police protection,” Fr. Rafic Greiche, spokesman for Egypt’s Coptic Catholic Church, said from Cairo the day after the Minya attack.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, although Minya police blamed the killings on the Muslim Brotherhood. Over the past 18 months, jihadist groups in Egypt have launched frequent attacks against Egyptian security forces, killing hundreds of police and soldiers in retaliation for the overthrow of former President Morsi. Coptic Christians and churches have also faced multiple attacks, with Christians being blamed by Islamists for their mass support of the anti-Morsi movement. A majority of the heavy reprisal attacks against Coptic Christians in August 2013, where dozens of churches and Coptic properties were destroyed, took place in Minya province, where sectarian violence has been endemic for several decades.
2015 marks 60 years since Open Doors began, established by Brother Andrew, a Dutch Christian who wanted to share the Bible with his persecuted brothers and sisters behind the Iron Curtain. What blessings God has given Open Doors since then! We now work in more than 60 countries and share God’s word in some of the most restricted nations on earth. One important part of our ministry over many recent years has been the annual Open Doors World Watch List. Since 2003, through research conducted by contacts and leaders in the field, Open Doors have ranked the Top 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
Although Open Doors supporters have been aware of the suffering faced by Christians for many decades, the past 12 months have seen a wave of persecution directed at Christian communities making international headlines. The Islamic State sweeping across Iraq and the civil war in Syria seeing scores killed and displacing hundreds of thousands of people, the April kidnapping of more than 250 girls from the predominately Christian village of Chibok in Nigeria, the imprisonment of Christian Meriam Ibrahimin Sudan, the brutal November murder of Christian couple Shama Bibi and Shehzad Masih in Pakistan – the list goes on and on. How does this persecution translate into the newly released World Watch List?
Sadly, despite these well publicised events, North Korea remains the world’s toughest country in which to be a Christian in 2015, for the 13th year in a row. Life continues to be extremely difficult for believers with many languishing in labour camps. Danger can come at any time; in the wake of the kidnapping and arrest of South Korean missionary Kim Jeong-Wook and his public ‘confession’ in February 2014, for example, dozens of people (presumably Christians) were caught and many tortured and murdered. The Top 10 countries where Christians face the most pressure and violence in 2015 are: North Korea (1), Somalia (2), Iraq (3), Syria (4), Afghanistan (5),Sudan (6), Iran (7), Pakistan (8), Eritrea (9) and Nigeria (10).
Islamic extremism is a main or contributing factor in 40 countries of the Top 50, but there are many other sources of persecution on the list. ‘Organised corruption’ is the main or contributing cause in 25 countries; ‘Dictatorial paranoia’ – where leaders seek to control religious expression- is the primary source of persecution in 13 countries. Many countries have more than one source of persecution, including ‘Tribal Antagonism’ or ‘Communist Oppression’. You can find out more about these sources of persecution atwww.worldwatchlist.org.au We hope you will join with us in praying for the hundreds of thousands of Christians around the world who have continued to be persecuted for their faith in the past 12 months.
* giving thanks that Christians still remain in all of these countries. We may not know their names or faces, but God knows each and every one of them.
* that a miraculous wave of peace will sweep over these nations and that all will come to know Jesus as the risen Lord.
* giving thanks for the Christian leaders and workers who remain in these nations or continue to serve them outside of their borders. Please pray their work will be blessed in this next year and they will know safety and provision.
We have received the following prayer points from Christian sources in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
1. The Taliban have started an offensive throughout the country as most of the foreign troops will be gone in coming months. Pray that this offensive would be stopped and that the Taliban movement would come to an end. Pray that God would bring confusion and disunity among them and that their funds, weapons and any other support would be cut off. Pray especially for the capital Kabul that has seen a lot of violence.
2. Pray that the Afghan Army and Police and the remaining foreign troops would stand their ground and be enabled to defeat the Taliban wherever they engage them.
3. For the safety of the Christian community, and for the Lord’s peace and strength for them. Since the recent killing of the South African family by Taliban suicide attackers, there is strong fear and insecurity among the like-minded foreigners and local believers especially in the capital. A number of foreigners have left already.
4. Pray that the unity between President Ghani and his Deputy Abdullah Abdullah will be strengthened and that they choose the right leaders for the different government ministries in the next few weeks.
5. Pray for a strong prayer movement to arise in this land with expats and local believers standing in the gap with great spiritual authority, faith and perseverance for their country.
The Taliban terrorist attack on the Peshawar military school late last year where 148, mostly children, were killed and the principal was lit on fire before an auditorium full of students has turned many people within Pakistan against the Taliban. As terrible as this incident has been, some positive things have come out of this. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said, “We vow to follow the terrorists to any place where they might try to hide.” The advisor on foreign affairs and national security said: “The attack is a gamechanger in terms of government approach to militants…This is a new threshold in our strategy of encountering terrorism. It is just like 9/11 changed US and the world forever, this 16/12 is kind of our mini 9/11.”
General Sharif, the head of the Army, said, “I vow to go after the beasts. Terror has hit the heart of the nation.” Sharif seems to have the government and the people behind him. Since this attack on the school military attacks have been stepped up along the border. In retaliation the Taliban now plan to capture Army officials’ children, and trade them for prisoners. Pray this will not happen. There have been many articles written and published condemning the Taliban in papers that normally supported the Taliban. People have taken to the streets urging the government do something. Pray that these positive developments will continue and for unity in the political realm against radical Islam and these terrorists.
Praise God for expressions of unity between Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. Pray that this attitude will continue. General Sharif visited Afghanistan and the two nations agreed to coordinate anti-terrorist operations, on both sides of the border. India expressed their sympathy about the school attack saying: “Peshawar’s blood bonds India and the Pakistan people. We will work with you to fight the Taliban.” Praise God that Christian Pakistanis who live under constant fear of the Taliban are raising aid and going to help families who were affected. It is an answer to prayer. Several years ago unity among the believers began to come after an incident similar to this. Pray this will continue and that the devil will not be able to bring division.
UP TO 2,000 FEARED KILLED IN DEADLIEST BOKO HARAM ATTACK IN NIGERIA
Reports of hundreds of bodies remaining strewn in the bush in Nigeria has prompted Amnesty International to suggest this latest assault, if true, as the “deadliest massacre” in the history of Boko Haram. “If reports that the town was largely razed to the ground and that hundreds of even as many as two thousand civilians were killed are true, this marks a disturbing and bloody escalation of Boko Haram’s ongoing onslaught against the civilian population,” said Daniel Eyre, Nigeria researcher for Amnesty International. Most of the victims are children, women and elderly who could not run fast enough when Islamic Terrorists Boko Haram drove into the town of Baga in Borno State, firing rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles.
There are conflicting reports of the total casualty figure as vested interests seek to make political capital, or limit the political fallout, from the incident. The Nigerian Army who would want to play down the attack admitted the massacre was Boko Haram’s deadliest in its five-year insurgency, but added that the reports of 2,000 dead “were not true”. It said “From all available evidence, the number of people who lost their lives during that attack has so far not exceeded about 150. This figure includes many of the terrorists who were bearing arms,” army spokesman Chris Olukolade said, adding that there were ongoing ground and air offensives to retake the town.
Local spokesman for the poorly armed civilians who are fighting the Boko Haram said the civilian fighters gave up on trying to count all the bodies. “No one could attend to the corpses and even the serious injured ones who may have died by now,” he said. Musa Alhaji Bukar, a senior official in Borno, told BBC that a fleeing resident reported to him that Baga, which had a population of about 10,000, was now “virtually non-existent” and “burnt down.” He said that Boko Haram killed more than 2,000 people. If the report is true, it would mean the group equalled its total kill count last year in this latest attack. More were said to have drowned in Lake Chad while attempting to swim to a nearby island.
According to Reuters, a local who fled the massacre detailed how Boko Haram was killing people. “I saw bodies in the street. Children and women, some were crying for help,” said Mohamed Bukar after fleeing to the state capital Maiduguri. Since 2009, Boko Haram has terrorized northern Nigeria, attacking police, schools, churches and civilians and bombing government buildings, resulting in over 9,000 dead. In 2014 alone, over 2,000 people have been killed, while more than 1.5 million people have been displaced from their homes under this terrorist onslaught which seems to be continuing to grow.
“CHARLIE” RALLIES CONTINUE AMID GLOBAL JIHAD THREAT
The White House announced it will hold a global “Summit on Countering Violent Extremism” next month, but it failed to mention anything about radical Islam, which was the motivation behind the Paris attacks. France has ordered 10,000 troops into the streets to protect the nation after the terror rampage in Paris. Fears are spreading that terrorists could unleash new attacks, not only in France but in other parts of the world as well. Just days after Muslim terrorists killed 17 people in Paris, ISIS is calling on jihadists in the West to strike again. In a message posted on Twitter, the terror group urges radical Muslims to “strike the soldiers… strike their police… security and intelligence members.”
U.S. Senator Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, calls it a war on civilization and says events like the Charlie Hebdo massacre could become weekly occurrences. “The thing that worries me the most right now is the buzz on social media. Whether it comes from a specific source like ISIS or whether it’s just on the chat rooms, the target is to just go out and kill law enforcement and other officials,” he said. Senator Diane Feinstein went further, stating she thinks terrorist sleeper cells are hiding in Europe and the U.S., waiting to be activated and carry out more attacks like the ones in France.
The new threat comes as more than a million people took to the streets in Paris, and millions more in other cities in a show of unity and defiance against terrorism. The rally cry “I Am Charlie” rang out, honouring those killed in the attacks on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, and a kosher grocery. French President Francois Hollande led world leaders, arm-in-arm.The crowd was massive – a size not seen since the liberation of Paris in WorldWar II. “We are not afraid” one demonstrator emphasised. “We have to be here to honour the memory of these innocent people”, another protestor said.
Music legend Andraé Crouch has passed away. The Grammy and Dove Award winner passed away on Thursday, January 8, 2015 at Northridge Hospital Medical Centre in the Los Angeles area. Andraé, 72, was hospitalized on January 3rd. Andraé’s accolades include 7 Grammy Awards, 6 GMA Dove Awards, an Academy Award nomination for “The Color Purple,” induction into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His songs were recorded by everyone from Elvis Presley to Paul Simon, and he also worked as a producer and arranger with many of music’s top artists.