To mark the first anniversary of his government, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared the world is “optimistic about India and is enthusiastic about exploring the opportunities India has to offer.” Modi took office on 26th Mat 2014 after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won national parliamentary elections. In response to Modi’s comments, Rev Roger Gaikwad, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in India, a coalition of Orthodox and Protestant churches said “We have nothing to celebrate. Rather, we have reasons to be concerned. The first year of Prime Minister Modi’s rule does not augur well for the four years to come,” Gaikwad said. “The last year has been quite a challenge to the religious minorities.”
The BJP platform is built upon a vision of India as a Hindu nation. Modi made his optimistic claim against the backdrop of a poll that showed his government to have a 77% approval rating. He marked the first year of his rule by attending a rally in the birthplace of Deen Dayal Upadhyay, a formative figure in the Hindu nationalist movement. Christians and other religious minorities have reason to take a different view of the past year. In March a coalition of minority religious leaders documented more than 168 cases of violence against Christians and over 400 cases against Muslims. The future cannot be said to be very inviting,” said John Dayal, a spokesperson for the United Christian Forum.
“Modi came to power on a development agenda and claims to pursue it,” Dayal said. “But through his messaging has made himself contemporary leader of a community and not of a nation. That explains why he launched the anniversary celebrations in Mathura.” In a statement, Dayal wrote that BJP rule has prompted “a marked shift in public discourse.” “There has been a relentless foregrounding of communal identities, a ceaseless attempt to create a divide between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Hate statements by Union and state ministers, threats by Members of Parliament, state politicians, and cadres in saffron caps or Khaki shorts resonate through the landscape,” he wrote, referencing the colours popularly associated with the BJP and Hindu nationalism.
Ahead of the anniversary, an ecumenical delegation of 16 Christian leaders, including Catholic Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi, met in the Indian capital and called on Modi’s finance minister, Arun Jaitely, to take their concerns to the government. “The government is concerned about the bad name for the nation and negative impact of the reports on the attacks,” Rev. Savarimuthu Sankar, spokesperson Delhi Catholic Archdiocese, said. When church leaders drew Jaitely’s attention to “irresponsible and provocative statements” of some of the BJP leaders and ministers, Shankar quoted the minister as saying some of them are “partly uncontrollable.” “The minister assured us that the government will take prompt action in any attack,” Shankar said.
In Delhi alone, half a dozen Catholic churches have been the target of arson attacks and break-ins. Apart from the violence targeting religious minorities, government policies have hit the poor “hard,” said Gaikwad, of the National Council of Churches in India. “Allocations for healthcare and welfare programmes have been reduced. This is a matter of worry for the churches,” he said. The opposition Congress Party too blamed the Modi government for “neglect of social sectors.” “Agriculture, education, health and concerns of small traders who represent the backbone of the economy have all been sidelined,” said Kapil Sibal, senior Congress party leader. “Allocations on education and health have been drastically reduced.”
If you ask the general population which country is among the worst for its persecution of Christians, a lot of people answer, “China.” That may have been true of China 20 years ago, but some ministries are now saying, “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” Erik Burklin, President of China Partner, agrees. “‘Freedom’ is really a much better word for China. I know that sounds like the opposite of the spectrum when a lot of people think of China, but that really is true.” China Partner works with the registered church in China and says that, contrary to popular belief, “people are legally allowed to worship God.” That’s not to say that there’s no persecution. After all, China is the largest country in the world.
How the government responds to the local church varies from province to province. The reports from China Aid and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) bear witness to that. However, Burklin says today there are churches, both urban and rural, springing up in many places. Red crosses top many buildings. People have the freedom to attend church openly. Bibles are available. This is all good news. “Jesus Christ is building His church. He told Peter, ‘On this rock, I will build My ecclesia’ (the called out ones) of a local church. That’s exactly what we’re seeing in China. We just praise God for the increased freedom.”
Thousands are responding to the gospel. Reports of rapid growth in the Chinese church are not exaggerated. Burklin says that growth revealed another need. “We’re really excited about the new vision that God has put on our heart, and that is to help local churches reach the next generation. We want to be about training and equipping Christian leaders, especially the emerging Christian leaders, so that they can reach the younger generation and the next generation.” However, we can’t do that alone so we have formed partnerships with 22 other ministries working in China to train leaders and disciple new Christians” Burklin said.
In 2014, the ministry offered 13 training seminars in 11 cities; trained 1,245 lay pastors and church leaders and distributed 4,777 study books to support pastors. “What we’re doing is not just ‘our mission,’ but we’re a part of God’s mission, and that is to build His kingdom. So you see more of a sense of working together as a body of believers together for God’s glory and for His mission.” In 2015, things are just beginning to ramp up for a busy year. Burklin says, “Pray that we will have God’s wisdom in how to do that, in how to best equip our brothers and sisters in this new ministry venture.” We seek to make possible Training in China, Providing for China, Learning about China, and Building with China.
Ireland has become the first country to legalize same-sex marriage through popular vote by adding it to their constitution. The referendum saw 62.1% of Irish voters who actually voted say “yes” to changing the nation’s constitution to define marriage as a union between two people regardless of their sex. Voter turnout however was only 60.52% of those eligible to vote. In response to the vote, Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said Catholic leaders in Ireland needed urgently to find a new message and voice for reaching Ireland’s young. “It’s a social revolution… The Church needs to do a reality check right across the board,” Martin said.
Supporters said it’s about equality, while opponents argued same-sex marriage is not fair to children. “Children should have an equal right to a mother and a father where possible,” Keith Mills, who opposed same-sex marriage, said. “And the clause that we were asked to vote on in the referendum is that there is no distinction between the relationship that a man forms with a man and a man forms with a woman, and I’ve had both types of relationships, and I think there is a distinct difference,” he said. The Irish vote to allow same-sex marriage also brought a sharp response from the Vatican given that Ireland is a largely Catholic dominated country.
“Not a defeat for Christian principles. It was a defeat for humanity,” Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said. “I was very saddened by this result.” Parolin, Pope Francis’ most senior Vatican official, added that the referendum result showed the Church needed to improve the ways it preached the Christian message. “The Church must take account of this reality, but in the sense of reinforcing its commitment to evangelization,” he said. The comments by the Italian-born cardinal, a veteran Vatican diplomat, underlined the shock created by the vote. Pope Francis has shown no sign of easing his firm disapproval of gay marriage or shifting Church doctrine that homosexual acts are intrinsically sinful even if homosexuality itself is not.
The Islamic state is building a regional and global network to recruit from and attack other nations. Their strategy encompasses three geographical rings: Iraq, Syria and other nations like Jordan, Lebanon, Israel-Palestine; other parts of the Middle East and North Africa, extending over to Afghanistan and Pakistan; and the rest of the world, namely Europe, the USA and Asia. The Islamic State leaders and their increasing number of followers are being rigidly and uncompromisingly Islamic in the way they go about things. They are actually trying to emulate their prophet Muhammad in all they do. They are “authentic throwbacks to early Islam and are faithfully reproducing it’s norms of war”, including slavery, crucifixion and beheadings.
They hope to return to 7th century Islamic sharia law and eventually bring about the apocalypse. In this effort, they are committed to “purify the world” by killing large numbers of people whom they regard as infidels. ISIS is threatening an increasing number of countries in its bid to become a global movement and caliphate, it is essential therefore to mobilize focused prayer so their goal of world domination can be blunted and overthrown. Here are some basic prayer points we should be able to implement to counter the growing threat from radical Islam in which some see the dark clouds of World War III:
* that the radical Islamic movement of which ISIS is a standard bearer, will degenerate into factions, dividing from one another and even fighting against each other.
* that radical Islamic leaders and their followers will have revelations, dreams, and visions of Christ and make an abrupt turnabout like the great Apostle Paul did. He repented from persecuting and killing Christians to become the most dedicated and effective of missionaries, probably in all history.
* for the international community to put real teeth into what is now a paper coalition of 60 nations. May they recognize the urgency and commit every bit of funding and military force necessary to fight and defeat ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab and other radical groups across the world.
* for the U.S. government to fully commit and provide unwavering leadership in order to subdue and eliminate radical Islam and terrorism.
* for the cutting off of funding from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Muslim nations that are supporting ISIS and other terror groups.
* to aggressively and authoritatively bind the principalities and powers behind these Islamic radical groups in Jesus’ name so that the power and influence of the devil will be broken over them.
* that huge numbers of Muslims will become disillusioned with all the hate, violence, and death in Islam and come to faith in Jesus Christ.
Occupation by Islamic State has only made a difficult situation worse for Christian’s living in Syria. Last week the Syrian city of Palmyra fell to the military arm of Islamic State, forcing the retreat of Syrian troops. In the space of just five days Islamic State have enacted Sharia law, as with other areas under their control, carrying out 400 extra-judicial executions. Since the beginning of the civil war, 63 churches have been destroyed – with at least 40 attributed to the al-Assad regime, leaving no safe place for Christians to turn. Kidnappings are also frequent and as of February this year, more than 200 Christians are still being held by militant groups.
Open Doors has been made aware of a kidnapping by unknown masked men in front of a church in Aleppo. A prominent pastor at a church in the Homs district was pushed into a car in front of onlookers. No further information has come forward since the kidnapping, bringing further uncertainty and fear to the Christian community. Aleppo has been in a state of disarray since the beginning of the conflict four years ago, with different groups controlling different sections of the city. Recently, opposition fighters came very close to one of the Christian areas in Aleppo. Many of the Christians still living there don’t know what to do. It is a blessing, however, that some Christians have stayed and the message of the gospel still remains in Syria.
* for the pastor taken hostage, that God would keep him safe at this time, using him as a witness to his captors.
* for the people of Syria, that God would provide a road to peace in this country.
* for the church of Syria, that God would strengthen the Christians so the Gospel would not leave the country.
IRAQI ARCHBISHOPS DESPERATE PLEA TO BRITISH LAWMAKERS
Archbishop Bashar Warda from the Catholic Chaldean Church has pleaded with British lawmakers and clergy to implement “military action” to save Christians and other minority groups in Iraq. In an address to the British Parliament Archbishop Warda said that Iraq’s Christian population had fallen dramatically over the last decade from over 1.4 million who lived there during Saddam Hussein’s rule. “We don’t have much time left as Christians in this region,” the Archbishop said. “As a Christian, I find it hard to say, but I want military action.” The BBC reported that tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians and Yazidis fled their homes back in the summer, when ISIS militants warned both groups to either renounce their faith or face death.
Warda asked the British government to send its military to the area to take out ISIS, which has occupied the Christian villages of the Nineveh Plain. He begged British lawmakers “to focus on the need for military action.” “What we are seeing is worse for the world than what happened in Afghanistan, with more and more young people going to fight with ISIS” Warda said. “Military action is needed to get them out of our villages.” Although he described potential military action by the West as “an unfortunate solution,” he reiterated that it was necessary. The Archbishop told his British hosts that Iraqi Christians do not sit around bemoaning their fate. “Our people were hoping for their liberation but many have left the country,” Warda said.
GIRLS WHO ESCAPED BOKO HARAM TERRORISTS SHARE THEIR EXPERIENCE
It’s been more than a year since Islamic Boko Haram terrorists snatched more than 270 girls from a boarding school in Nigeria. Despite a worldwide outcry and military action, most of the girls are still missing. But some have managed to escape. “They told us that if we do not convert to Islam they will slit our throats. They asked the healthy ones to perform the Islamic rites while the sick ones, did not have to perform the rites,” 15-year-old Abigail John, who was held for more than four weeks, said. John was among three girls who recently escaped from Boko Haram. She had worried she would never see freedom again. “They told us, they had no intention of releasing us,” she said.
“They said we would be married off as soon as we got well. We never thought we would regain our freedom.” Twenty-year-old Dorcas Aiden was held captive for two weeks. She admitted that she denied her Christian faith and pretended to become Muslim, to stay alive. She said in captivity “they are teaching girls the Islamic religion, and then training them to fight. They showed us videos every day how they are killing people” she continued. if they catch ladies, they marry them, if they catch men, they kill them.” A local priest has been helping these girls. Gradually, they are able to open up, feel accepted and to feel that the world has not turned its back on them. At least 219 girls are still missing.