On 15 August 1945 the Korean peninsula was divided along the 38th parallel: Russia and Japan to temporarily administer the North, the U.S.A. to administer the South. This arbitrary division of Korea exactly 70 years ago has resulted in the very different halves of the peninsula we see today – one “god-less”, the other, one could say, “super-godly”. The legacy of the first Christian missionaries in the 1800s could not look more different in North and South Korea. In the North is a regime which routinely jails, tortures and executes people for their faith, while the South has some of the largest churches in the world and sends out more missionaries than anywhere except the U.S. But what of Korea before it was divided? The rich Christian history of the North is a surprising fact. In the early 20th Century Pyongyang came to be known as the “Jerusalem of the East”, with so many church crosses dotting the horizon.
Unlike today, the North was always more open and tolerant than the traditionally agricultural backwater of the South. With its position bordering the rest of the continent, it was the place for commercial and cultural exchange with China and Manchuria. The young American missionaries who came in the 1880s found success using a three-pronged approach of evangelism, education and medicine. They built churches, schools and hospitals and used the recently translated Korean Bible. Decades of missionary work culminated in the Great Pyongyang Revival of 1907, with emphasis on public prayers of confession, including repentance for hatred of the Japanese, who had been occupying the city since 1904. Mass conversion meant churches sprouted up everywhere.
However Japan’s formal rule from 1910-1945 was a traumatic time; Buddhist and Confucian traditions suffered, along with the Church. After the end of the Second World War and partitioning in 1945, the North began attacking the Church. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) was officially established in 1948 – and began to steadily persecute and eliminate Christianity from the national psyche under the leadership of Kim Il Sung. Many Christians at this time escaped and fled to South Korea. Following the Korean War (1950-53), any form of public Christian worship was banned and surviving Christians had to take their belief “underground”. North Korea is today atheistic and totalitarian, but missionary activity is still alive and well along the north-east Chinese border.
According to Andrei Lankov, a political scientist, the regime is “deadly afraid of Christianity”, fearing it could spread as it has in South Korea and become an alternative power source and ideology. Testimonial evidence points to the growth of underground “catacomb” churches with Christians ready to face torture, prison camps and execution. In South Korea today, about a third of the population is Christian. This phenomenal growth (from just 2% before the Korean War) can be explained partly by social and economic factors. The 1950s were dark days, following that war. There was a sense of national emergency to rebuild the country and the Protestant work ethic appeared to encourage hard work as a way towards achieving worldly success. Some also saw this as a sign of God’s blessing. The Church’s association with the U.S. appealed to Korea’s striving for modernity, but its growth was also authentically spiritual.
Prior to the war – under occupation and during times of persecution – many Christians had ascended the mountains around Seoul in the hours before dawn to pray and intercede for their country. They became known as Prayer Mountains and the practice continues to this day, but now at purpose-built retreat centres. Korean prayer is intense, often with many voices out loud, simultaneously. Many churches still have early morning prayer before the day begins, as well as overnight prayer on a Friday night. However, in the 1990s church growth began to slow. Some analysts point to complacency with rising living standards, and also to scandal and bickering in some of the larger churches, although the Koreans’ attitude of resilience and hard work, coupled with their desire for community, means the Church today remains very strong.
As U.S.-Iran influence advanced earlier this year, the Turkey-Arab alliance knew it had to up the ante if Syrian President Assad was to be removed before the lifting of sanctions further empowered Iran. The battle changed when al-Qaeda aligned Saudi-backed groups united to seize strategic Idlib. Now, with Turkey and the U.S. fighting IS in Aleppo, the Turkey-Saudi-Qatar-backed al-Qaeda-led Jaish al-Fatah rebel alliance is free to concentrate its forces and efforts in its push into Hama and Latakia. Recently Jaish al-Fatah seized control of the northern Sahl al-Ghab plain. Fierce fighting resulted in hundreds of the local population joining the ranks of loyalist forces to defend their villages from international jihadis. The Syrian army has the superior armour but the jihadists have U.S.-made anti-tank guided missiles.
A Jaish al-Fatah victory in the Sahl al-Ghab plain would isolate the Alawite stronghold of Latakia which hosts many thousands of Christian refugees from Aleppo and across the north. Meanwhile, Islamic State (IS) forces have moved into historic Palmyra, gradually taking control of the city. Located midway along the main road leading from Damascus to the Iraq border, Palmyra operates as a strategic gateway to the west of the country. The town of Qaryatayn is midway between Palmyra and Damascus and only 45km due east of the strategic M5 Highway which links Damascus to Homs. Whilst most of Qaryatayn’s Christian residents fled when IS seized Palmyra, the priests remained, hosting refugees in the monastery. In May IS forces kidnapped Jesuit priest Father Jacques Mourad and a deacon named Boutros from the Mar Elian Monastery in Qaryatayn. Their condition and whereabouts remain unknown.
IS suicide bombers recently breached Qaryatyn’s checkpoints, opening the way for IS fighters to invade and seize the town, abducting some 230 people. Local sources claim that IS militants kidnapped more than 150 Syrian Christian citizens and prevented the rest of the people from leaving the village without paying large sums of money.’ IS also seized the village of Hawwarin in a simultaneous attack. Hawwarin is an Assyrian village and the attack has displaced some 2000 Assyrian Christians. Just 15km west of Hawwarin is the town of Sadad. In November 2013 Sadad was attacked by ‘rebels’ who held the town’s 1500 families hostage for a week while they looted homes, desecrated churches and murdered some 45 civilians. Sadad’s 5000 residents are now fleeing towards Damascus (100km to the south) and Homs (60km to the north).
Diplomatic activity has become frantic. Whilst the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Turkey still insist that Assad must go, the U.S. is loath to create a power vacuum in Damascus, aware that genocide would ensue. Russia is negotiating to forge an anti-IS alliance which will include the Syrian government, thereby opening the door to a power-sharing arrangement. Meanwhile Iran has said it will be submitting its own peace plan to the United Nations. However, analysts note these negotiations are totally disconnected from the reality on the battlefield where Sunni jihadists now have the momentum. As long as the jihadists believe they can win, they are unlikely to agree to a deal, much less cede power. Meanwhile, intelligence analysts are warning that IS may be preparing to carry out a ‘mass-casualty terrorist attack’.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT THE LORD WILL:
* have mercy on the multitudes of Syrians whose lives are gravely imperilled by Islamic jihad, in particular the hundreds of thousands of Christians who will remain at risk of slaughter until the jihadis are defeated; may the Lord of Hosts intervene in the conflict to fight for his beloved and shield them, comfort them and provide their every need.
* guide and give divine wisdom to all Syria’s and the region’s Christian leaders as they represent the local Church, advocate on their behalf, advise outsiders and direct their own congregations; may the Holy Spirit’s presence and empowerment be palpable.
* frustrate the ways of the wicked and bring them to Him.
CHRISTIANS ON EDGE IN NEPAL AS CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS COULD MAKE CHRISTIANITY ILLEGAL
Nepali Christians fear that amendments to Nepal’s new constitution, likely to come into effect soon after 7 years of parliamentary discussions, could eventually render all Christian activity illegal. Attempting to convert someone to another religion is already prohibited in Nepal, but the proposed amendments would mean that anything perceived as “evangelistic” could be punishable by law. Article 31(3) states that “any act to convert another person from one religion to another, or any act or behaviour to undermine or jeopardize the religion of another (will be) punishable by law.” Christians fear this will pave the way for an “anti-conversion clause” to be written into the penal code, which could result in prison sentences or hefty fines for “offenders.” On paper the proposed amendments read the same for all religions, but no specification is given for what constitutes an “act to convert.”
In a country where 80% of the population is Hindu, the hammer is likely to fall hardest on minorities, including Christians, who comprise between 1.5 and 3% of the population. Christians are concerned that if the latest draft is passed, regular Christian activities—such as church services accessible to all, or even events to aid the disadvantaged—could be interpreted as “evangelistic,” and therefore punishable by law. Nepal’s first democratic election was held in 2008, after a civil war led by Maoist guerrillas overthrew the Hindu monarchy. Seven years later, Nepal is yet to complete its transition to a secular democracy by declaring its new constitution. Its Constituent Assembly has missed several deadlines for the announcement. The Church has never been recognized as an official religious institution within Nepal, and Nepali Christians complain they have suffered inequality and persecution for decades.
Christians had hoped that a new constitution would guarantee equal rights and religious freedom for all. “We have defined full religious freedom as every citizen having the freedom to choose the religion of their choice and be free to share their faith with fellow citizens. There are those within the Nepali government who are pushing for the country to throw off its “secular” tag, and revert to its position as the world’s only official Hindu nation. Chief among the protagonists are the MPs from the nationalist Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), which is growing in popularity and shares similarities with India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The party won power in 2014 after “an election campaign fuelled by unbridled hate against Muslims and Christians,” according to Christian activist John Dayal.
The influence of India’s BJP government is a “key factor” driving some of Nepal’s high-caste Hindu politicians to demand that Nepal be restored as a Hindu nation. “Many of Nepal’s parties and politicians listen to what New Delhi says” he says. There are others calling for the word “secular” to be replaced in the constitution by the words “religious freedom.” However a recent editorial in the Kathmandu Post notes that although “in theory the words ‘religious freedom’ sound positive, “in practice they could have damaging consequences. In Nepal, the majority religion is Hinduism, and almost all the powerful people belong to this religion. They have the capacity to push for demands that Hinduism enjoy special status in Nepal, and the clause that enshrines religious freedom in the constitution will enable them to do so. By contrast, members of minority religions have relatively little political and economic clout.”
ISLAMIC STATE SELLING SEX SLAVES – THE YOUNGER THE BETTER
Islamic State is circulating a slave price list for captured women and children a senior United Nations official says. The official, Zainab Bangura, said that on a recent trip to Iraq she was given a copy of an Islamic State pamphlet, which included the list, showing that captured children as young as one fetch the highest price. The bidders include the group’s own fighters and wealthy Middle Easterners. The list shows the group’s view of the value of those it captures. Mrs Bangura, who is the U.N. special envoy on sexual violence in conflict and was also in Jordan and Turkey, said she has verified that the document came from Islamic State and reflects real transactions. “The girls get peddled like barrels of petrol,” she said in an interview in New York. “One girl can be sold and bought by five or six different men. Sometimes these fighters sell the girls back to their families for thousands of dollars of ransom.”
Thousands of Yazidi Kurdish women and girls have been sold into sexual slavery and forced to marry Islamic State militants, according to Human Rights organisations, Yazidi activists and observers. For Islamic State fighters, the prices in Iraqi dinars for boys and girls aged one to nine are equal to about $US165 ($230), Mrs Bangura said. Prices for adolescent girls are $US124 and it’s less for women over 20. The militia’s leaders first take those they wish, after which rich outsiders from the region are permitted to bid thousands of dollars, Mrs Bangura said. Those remaining are then offered to the group’s fighters for the listed prices. Mrs Bangura, a Muslim and former foreign minister of Sierra Leone, said that Islamic State, which rules some 210,000 square kilometres across swaths of Iraq and Syria, is unlike other insurgent groups and challenges all known models of fighting them.
“It’s not an ordinary rebel group,” she said. This group is different. They have the combination of a conventional military and a well-run organised state.” Officials and scholars have struggled to understand Islamic State’s success despite breaking what are widely seen as rules for insurgents – to be sure to mingle with local populations, not take on established militaries or try to hold territory. The group has broken all those rules and draws thousands of foreign fighters despite its well-publicised savagery. Kerry Crawford, who teaches at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, U.S., said that publicising the violations is used to the group’s advantage by building internal ties and external fear. “If you and your group are doing something that is considered taboo, you’re doing it together forms a bond,” she said. “Sexual violence does really create fear within a population.”
Sexual abuse by soldiers has a long history including the so-called rape camps in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, she said. Islamic State has made a particular practice of enslaving communities it has conquered that are not Sunni Muslim – Yazidis and Christians, for example. It portrays such conquests as God’s work, drawing disaffected Muslims from around the world. Mrs Bangura said the international community and the U.N. have been taken aback by such practices because they do not resemble those of village militias in other countries. “They have a machinery, they have a program,” she said. “They have a manual on how you treat these women. They have a marriage bureau which organises all of these ‘marriages’ and the sale of women. They have a price list.”
Islamic State fighters have captured dozens of Christian families from a town in the Syrian province of Homs. ISIS jihadis have posted images on Facebook of militants posing with captured tanks after capturing the town of Qaryatain. The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the jihadist group had captured Qaryatain after heavy combat with the Syrian army. At least 230 people were kidnapped amid the fighting, including numerous Christians who were seeking refuge in a church. Among those seized were 45 women and 19 children, including 11 families, some of whom were on a militants’ wanted list, the monitor revealed. Many of the Christians in the town had sought safety in the town, having fled from the group’s advancement in the Northern Province of Aleppo earlier this year. The current location of the kidnapped Christians is unknown, and family members have been unable to make contact.
Diana Yaqco, a spokesman for A Demand for Action, said the main concern for the captured Christians was “sexual slavery, mass executions, and beheadings.” Benjamin Decker, analyst at the Tel Aviv-based geopolitical risk consultancy The Levantine Group, said. “The prospect of their release is very slim.” “I don’t think we are in a situation where they will be offering a ransom for their release,” he added. “This was a political intelligence operation to disrupt governance that was existing in the town before they entered.” Amnesty International said it was investigating the report, but called the abduction “very worrying”. “This does sound credible,” Amnesty Syria research Neil Sammonds said. “We know that Christians and ‘collaborators’ are a target of IS. They are at the highest risk either for some kind of summary justice or for Christians in particular, some kind of high ransom demand or exchange,” he added.
U.K. MP CALLS FOR ANTI-TERROR LAWS TO BE USED TO SILENCE SAME-SEX MARRIAGE DISSENTERSI
Calls by a U.K. Government MP for anti‐terrorism legislation to be used to silence believers in traditional marriage should serve as a warning to Australian parliamentarians about where this political agenda is heading overseas. Mark Spencer, Conservative MP for Sherwood, recently informed a constituent that controversial new Extremism Disruption Orders should be used to silence Christian teachers who say marriage is a heterosexual union. Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director Lyle Shelton said Mr Spencer’s remarks were disturbing and mirrored recent actions of Australian same‐sex marriage activists. ‘Mr Spencer’s comments demonstrate the intolerance to dissent of the same‐sex political agenda,’ Mr Shelton said. ‘Wanting to silence dissent is by using legislation drawn up for another purpose is itself extremely intolerant.”
Supporters of redefining marriage keep telling us that we should follow the lead of countries like the U.K. that have redefined marriage. The more Australians see of the consequences of redefining marriage overseas the less attractive the same‐sex marriage agenda becomes. ‘Recently the prominent same‐sex marriage lobbyist Rodney Croome called for people to complain to the Tasmanian Human Rights Commissioner because the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Hobart had dared to distribute a booklet outlining the church’s teachings on marriage in Catholic schools. This latest example of intolerance from the U.K. should cause Australian MPs considering a political debate on marriage to think twice about rushing into legislation that will take away freedoms from millions.