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ANGRY NIGERIAN PARENTS SAY SCHOOL IGNORED RUMOURS OF EXPECTED VIOLENCE

One of the Nigerian girls to escape her Boko Haram kidnappers last month says the men they thought were soldiers threatened to shoot anyone who resisted. A father of a young woman, among the more than 270 girls snatched on April 14 from their school in Chibok village who are still missing, is paralysed with anxiety, and wonders why school officials insisted that the students stay overnight at the school to complete their exams, despite rumours of impending trouble. As condemnation of Boko Haram continues to pour in from around the world, evidence is beginning to emerge that the Nigerian government had ample warning that something bad was going to happen in Chibok. 

‘‘We were still awake” in the school dormitory late on April 14, said 17-year-old Joyce. Men on several vehicles arrived. “We thought they were military,” she said. “They ordered us to gather in one place, before setting fire to our buildings. Even our own personal belongings were not spared.’’ The men loaded Joyce and about 300 of her classmates onto the vehicles, threatening to shoot any who opposed them, she said. They drove off into the Sambisa forest. ‘‘They gave us drinks and we were asked to prepare food to eat,” Joyce said. At about 2 p.m. the next day, “as I pretended to go to the toilet, I managed to escape, along with two other classmates.” 

They reached the camp of some nomadic herders, at about 8PM, she said. The 3 girls spent the night at the camp, then reached their homes the following day, exhausted. In total, about 40 of the abducted girls managed to escape. One of those still unaccounted for is the 20-year-old daughter of a man who lives in a village near Chibok. ‘‘We mourn and pray day and night for the return of our daughters” the man said. Chibok is a predominantly Christian enclave in Muslim-majority Borno state, in north-east Nigeria. Christian communities in the northeast have been repeatedly attacked in recent months by Boko Haram that aims to impose its version of Islamic law across the country. Borno is its stronghold. 

Amnesty International has released a report claiming Nigerian government officials had at least 4 hours’ advance notice of the impending Boko Haram incursion into Chibok. The report claimed the government could not muster a response, because of “poor resources and a fear of the often better-equipped armed groups.” The father said rumours had been circulating that a Boko Haram attack could be coming at Chibok, where hundreds of girls, mostly Christian, were due to return to school to take exams. Some parents living in Chibok had time to bring their daughters from the school for the night. But others, living farther from the school, could not, he said.  

“How can you explain that the principal chose to keep students on school premises despite persistent rumours about Boko Haram’s attack?” he said. “How can none of the daughters of school staff families have been abducted?’’ The parents are not getting answers to their questions. They are however encouraged by the global outpouring of sympathy, and of anger toward Boko Haram and the Nigerian government’s inability to rescue the hostages. ‘‘We have realized that we are not alone in this difficult circumstance as many around the world support us,” said Rev. Samuel Dali, president of the Church of the Brethren, or EYN Church. Most of the affected families are members of EYN Church.

Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the abductions. In a 57-minute video, a man reputed to be Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau threatened to sell the teens or to marry them forcibly. These claims have reinforced the parents’ fears that their daughters will be forcibly married and taken into neighbouring Chad and Cameroon. Authorities in those countries have denied any presence of the kidnapped girls in their territories. Boko Haram is suspected of kidnapping between eight and 11 more girls on May 4, from two villages in Nigeria’s northeast. The mass kidnappings have prompted anger across Africa’s most populous nation. 

Hundreds of women marched in the capital calling on the government to do more to rescue the girls. Boko Haram attacks have claimed more than 1,500 lives since January, despite deployment of the army to the north-east region. On May 5, about 100 people were killed during a 5 hour terrorist attack in Gamboru. The upsurge of attacks cast a shadow on the World Economic Forum on Africa in Nigeria. In a speech to the forum, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said he welcomed the support of other countries. ‘‘Your support is a major blow on the terrorists, and by God’s grace, we will conquer them,” he said. ‘‘The kidnapping of the girls will be the beginning of the end of terrorism in Nigeria.’’   

The disappearance of the girls has generated headlines around the world.. Joining the campaign have been public figures such as American First Lady Michelle Obama and Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who survived a 2012 assassination attempt by the Taliban. Nigeria’s military ruler during a portion of the 1980s, retired Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, condemned Boko Haram’s “senseless violence” as he expressed his sympathy to the parents of kidnapped girls. ‘‘That horrific video posted on the Internet is a clear manifestation of the mindlessness of the bigots. It shows them for whom they are, such men cannot threaten nor should they be allowed to violate our sovereignty.

Gen. Buhari went on “It is clear from what they profess they are not followers of God. They do not mean well for the citizens of our country. I am a Muslim versed in the teaching of Christianity and I understand both religions teach peaceful co-existence of all humanity.’’  The Islamic Fiqh Academy, based in Saudi Arabia, said the kidnapping “contradicts all humanitarian principles and values and violates the Quran.” Former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, now a U.N. education envoy, announced in Abuja, an initiative aimed at providing security for around 500 schools in northern Nigeria. Meanwhile, the girls who escaped their kidnappers have been called back to school to compete their exams.

Source: World Watch Monitor

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AMERICANS DIVIDED ON THE IMPORTANCE OF CHURCH

What helps Americans grow in their faith? When Barna Group asked, people offered a variety of answers—prayer, family, friends, reading the Bible, but church did not even make the top-10. Church involvement was once a cornerstone of American life, but U.S. adults today are evenly divided on the importance of attending church. While 49% say it is “somewhat” or “very” important, the other 51% say it is “not too” or “not at all” important. The divide between the religiously active and those resistant to churchgoing impacts American culture, morality, politics and religion. Looking to future generations does not paint an optimistic picture for the importance of churchgoing.

Of all millennials (those under 30), only 20% believe it is important. More than 30% take an anti-church stance. In contrast 40% of those over 68  view church attendance as “very” important, compared to 24% who deem it “not at all” important. Boomers (49—67) and Gen Xers (30—48) fall in the middle of these opposites. Regular Church attendance has declined in recent years. Overall church attendance has dipped from 43% in 2004 to 36% today. But beyond a dip in attendance numbers, the nature of churchgoing is changing. Regular attenders used to be people who went to church more than twice a month. Now people who show up once a month are considered regular churchgoers.

The number of people who have not attended church at all in the past 6 months has surged in the last decade from 33% to nearly 40% of all Americans. More than half of Millennials and Gen Xers say they have not been to church in the last six months. Millennials who opt out of church cite three factors: 35% cite the church’s irrelevance and hypocrisy. 20% of unchurched Millennials say they feel God is missing in church, and 10% sense that those who have legitimate doubt are unwelcome. Adults who believe church is very important cite two reasons: to be closer to God (44%) and to learn about God (27%). 

Twenty two per cent say they go to church because the Bible teaches fellowship with other Believers whilst just 10% go to church because they are looking for community. Fewer than 20% of churchgoers feel close to God. While almost 65% of those who value church attendance go to learn more about God, only 6% say they learned something about God or Jesus the last time they attended.  Adults are increasingly dissatisfied with the Church’s attempt to meet their spiritual needs and are turning elsewhere. We are one of the most well-resourced Christian cultures in history. There are any number of Bible translations, gifted Bible teachers and all types of Christian TV, radio and short-term mission trips.

How could the early Church capture the imagination of the Roman empire while we, with all our resources and rigor, are slowly losing influence in our culture? The early Church leaders didn’t have the things we now consider essential for our faith. They didn’t have church buildings, vision statements or core values. They had no social media, radio broadcasts or celebrity pastors. They didn’t even have the completed New Testament. Christ-followers were often deeply misunderstood, persecuted and some gave their lives for their faith. Yet they loved and they served and they prayed—and slowly, over hundreds of years, they brought the empire to its knees. They did it through love.” 

Source: Barna Group

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PATTERN EMERGES IN EGYPT AS MUSLIMS ATTEND MOSQUE THEN MOVE OUT TO ATTACK CHRISTIANS

Dr. Ashraf Ramelah, president of Voice of the Copts, a human rights non-profit organization, says Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (MB) “may be officially designated a terrorist organization and lawfully hunted down, but it is still business as usual for the MB in Cairo. “Egypt’s national newspaper, Al Fagar, reported the most recent incident of MB hoodlums murdering Christians.” Recently the entrance to the Coptic Church in the Cairo suburb of Ein-Shams was filled with bloodshed when Muslims returning from noon prayer in the mosque headed to the church to cause trouble. “As a consequence, 18 people were rushed to hospitals in the Egyptian capitol. Five are now dead,” he said. 

“An eyewitness who contacted the Voice of the Copts said he saw unarmed citizens trying to prevent an attack upon the church by confronting a mob in the street armed with iron sticks, wooden clubs, swords, knives, and guns. Priest Yohanna Fouad contacted law enforcement and the fire department which responded promptly.” Ramelah said that 25 year-old Mary George was wearing a cross and not a head scarf. Witnesses say she was killed for that reason alone, a sign of her faith. Miada Ashraf, a 21 year-old journalist on the scene for Al Destor newspaper was killed by gunshot to the head. Miada had twice previously been kidnapped by the MB and released both times after mediation by authorities. 

Ashraf Ramelah stated that “spokespersons are joined by threatening sentiments” expressed in messages like this one sent to Voice of the Copts regarding Egypt’s status. “You people cannot stop this emerging flow of worldwide Islamists. If Muslim brotherhood is not enough we the Indian Islamists will come to Egypt and wipe out all the goons of the Military. You understand it. You better understand it.”  Copts are by far the largest Christian community in the Middle East. Ninety-five percent of Copts in Egypt are Orthodox and the remaining population is divided between Catholic and Protestant denominations. Copts living in Egypt represent between 15-20% of the total population of Egypt today.

Source: ASSIST News Service

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FIRST OPENLY GAY EPISCOPAL BISHOP ANNOUNCES HIS DIVORCE

Bishop Gene Robinson, whose 2003 election as the first openly gay Episcopal bishop rocked the Anglican Communion, has announced his divorce from his long-time partner and “husband”. Bishop Robinson “married” his long-time partner, Mark Andrew in a private civil union in 2008. In a statement Robinson said. “We ask for your prayers, that the love and care for each other that has characterized our relationship for a quarter century will continue in the difficult days ahead. It is a small comfort to me, as a gay rights and marriage equality advocate, to know that  gay and lesbian couples are subject to the same complications and hardships that afflict marriages between heterosexual couples.” 

Hundreds of parishes left the Episcopal Church, many in protest of his controversial consecration. Robinson, 66, is now a senior fellow at the Centre for American Progress in Washington, D.C. “My belief in marriage is undiminished by the reality of divorcing someone I have loved for a very long time, and will continue to love even as we separate,” Robinson said. Robinson went public with his sexual identity and divorce from his wife in 1986. He has since been open about the heavy toll he has faced under public scrutiny. Eight years ago, he underwent treatment for alcoholism. Critics say Robinson’s actions defied scriptural authority and thousands of years of Christian tradition 

His divorce could fuel the fire, said Douglas LeBlanc, an Episcopalian who reported on Robinson’s consecration when he was an editor at Christianity Today. “I’m sure there might be some conservatives who might say, ‘We told you so all along: if you depart from church teachings on homosexuality, you’re opening the door to all kinds of chaos,’” LeBlanc said. Robinson is no longer the only openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. Bishop Mary Glasspool was consecrated in Los Angeles in 2010. In the past decade, the Episcopal Church has followed the decline in other mainline Protestant denominations and lost 24 percent in average Sunday attendance over 10 years. 

Source: Religious News Service

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UNPRECEDENTED REVIVAL BREAKS OUT IN LAND ONCE HOSTILE TO CHRISTIANITY

Editor’s note:  This story is particularly encouraging to those of us in the Australian Prayer Network who together with CityHarvest International have been taking prayer teams now every year for more than 5 years to all the North African countries mentioned in this article. We give God all the Glory for what He is doing in these nations. 

A Christian revival is touching the northernmost reaches of Africa. In a region once hostile to the Gospel, now Muslims are following Jesus in record numbers. Said Tino Qahoush, a graduate of Regent University and filmmaker who has travelled to the Mideast: “What God is doing in North Africa, all the way from Mauritania to Libya is unprecedented in the history of missions. I have the privilege of recording testimonies and listening to firsthand stories of men and women, of all ages where they can be sitting in a room and see the appearance and the presence of God appear to them in reality, like a vision. 

Some of them tell stories of how they carry on a conversation with God—it’s not just a light that appears. From the shores of Casablanca in Morocco to Tripoli, Libya, experts say the growth of Christianity has been unprecedented. And now that growth is also evident in the North African nation of Algeria.  In fact, said Pastor Salah, pastor of one of the largest churches in Algeria, where every new Christian in his church comes from a Muslim background, “We never thought the Algerian church would grow so big.” Since Pastor Salah’s church opened, they have reportedly baptized an average of 150-160 new Believers per year.

Source: Christian Broadcasting Network

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PARENTS IN U.S.A. REVOLT AS CHILDREN ARE TOLD IT IS NOT GOOD TO PRAY

According to the Perez family, their 5-year-old daughter bowed her head over her food during lunch. A lunchroom monitor instructed her to stop, and when the young girl told the monitor, “But it’s good to pray,” she was told, “It is not good.” The Perez Family says this incident was the last straw and they have decided to remove their daughter from the public education system. “Mainly because of this incident, we have exercised our option as parents to teach our daughter at home,” said Marcos Perez. “We live in a very good school district, but we cannot, in good conscience, send our daughter to a school where her religious liberty has been compromised.”

Liberty Institute took fast action to help the Perez family by sending a demand letter to the school administrators at Carillon Elementary School in Oviedo, Florida, on behalf of the Perez family. The story has highlighted the fact that students can pray in school. “Of course, students can pray at school!” said Liberty Institute Senior Counsel Jeremy Dys. “As the Supreme Court held over half a century ago: Students do not ‘shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.’ In addition to violating the First Amendment, the school is in violation of Department of Education guidelines that specifically protect this type of prayer, and thus could jeopardize its federal funding.”

Source: The Blaze Newspaper

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