Islamists in some towns are again charging “submission” or “humiliation” tax according to human rights activists within the country. In several towns across Egypt, Muslim extremists and criminals have set up a cottage industry persecuting Christians for profit, the activists said. Extortionists using the threat of kidnapping, torture and murder are seizing money, land and other property from Christian’s throughout the southern part of the country but mainly in Minya and Assiut governorates. Criminals are now attacking Christians who own shops and things like that. Human rights activists say the attacks are both common and widespread. 

Almost weekly there are reports of kidnappings for ransom. “One month, we had 9 cases of kidnapping, and they all paid their ransom of between US$14,500 to $36,300 for each case,” said Ezat Ibrahim, a director of Al-Kalema Human Rights Organization. Most of the victims have been tortured. One was kidnapped, tied up, and had an automatic rifle placed next to his ear and fired off repeatedly. Besides the emotional damage he suffered, the shockwaves exiting the rifle combined with the muzzle blast shattered the Christian’s eardrums and burned his face. The man begged his family to gather the ransom money, and eventually they paid the kidnappers some US$7,250. 

Most of the attacks are happening in Minya, with another large share taking place in Assiut south of Cairo. In Manshat al-Mughlaqa, a heavily-armed group led by a criminal who goes by the name of Saddam Hussein collects the humiliation tax by threatening to kill Christians or their children. Many Copts have paid the “tax” with amounts ranging from US$3,630 to US$36,300. The ransom demands are enormous for the average Egyptian, with the amounts based on Muslims’ widespread perception that Copts are wealthy. Those unable to pay have to beg for money from family and neighbours, meaning just one kidnapping can financially drain an entire community. 

If victims of extortion fail to submit and happen to own land, their fields and livestock are burnt. Under attack for weeks, the Copts have asked police and military security several times for protection, but personnel have done nothing. It is rare for police or military security to intervene to protect Copts. Lack of initiative by police and the failure of the justice system to prosecute people attacking Christians contribute to the extortion and allow it to continue. There is a perception that Christians can be attacked with impunity and that no one is going to do anything to you them. No one is ever brought to justice in any violence against Christians.”   

In the weeks following the removal of then-President Mohamed Morsi, after the army cleared the streets, Islamists and criminal elements returned to Delga and villages across Minya Governorate to make money by attacking Christians, although in ways that were less of a threat to the national government than before. The extortion gangs actually started operating when Morsi was still president. Then the gangs usually forced Copts off land by “squatting” on their property and harassing and threatening them until they abandoned the lands or even their businesses, Ibrahim of Al-Kalema said. The Morsi regime did nothing to stop the seizures. 

But after Morsi was pushed out of power, the extortion gangs switched their approach to kidnapping and intimidation. Victims could be abducted in one village and held in another until the ransom was paid. Even if police did decide to get involved in stopping the extortion, they would be faced with a constantly moving target, Ibrahim said.  “Regardless of the cost, the Christian community, international interests and the Egyptian government all have to do something to stop the extortion and kidnappings. We have a long history of sectarian violence,” Ibrahim said. “But we are in the 21st century now. There has to be a stop to this.” 

Source: Morning Star News



Editors note:  Whilst long forgotten by the world’s media the Philippines continues to deal with the aftermath of last year’s major Typhoon that brought so much death and destruction to that nation. This report highlights the continuing problems that both the people and the relief agencies face to restore the lives of those affected by the typhoon, even now, several months after the actual event itself. 

As rehabilitation and development work continues in the Philippines, one threat grows daily. According to the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report, the Philippine archipelago is an established source for sex and labour trafficking victims. Typhoon Haiyan’s wrath is adding another layer of risk. “The spectre of human trafficking and protective initiatives to combat it must be a very high priority” said U.S. Congressman Chris Smith upon returning from a fact-finding visit to the Philippines. “The world’s response to the Typhoon must include serious and sustained efforts to combat potential disease epidemics and the cruelty of sex trafficking.” Smith said  

Philippines church leaders are ringing the same alarm bells. Director of ReachGlobal Mark Lewis says, “Of the 13 million people affected by the typhoon, about four-and-a-half million of those are kids. The UN says that about half of those are at-risk of exploitation and trafficking.”  Philippines church planter, Pastor Sam, visited affected areas with Lewis and helped him grasp the scope of Haiyan’s damage. “Families are facing the loss of housing and the loss of the livelihood for the family,” notes Lewis. He says there were “huge hits” on palm oil and coconut production, an income source for so many families, as well as bananas and mangoes. 

Fishing boats were wrecked by the typhoon, and poultry houses were completely destroyed. Rice fields were clogged with debris or contaminated with salt. This spells hopelessness for families. Around 80% of the people living in the devastated region depend on palm and coconut production for their livelihood. Lewis says the wide displacement of people and extensive destruction of school buildings weave despair into the next generation’s future. “The environment is exactly the kind where predatory behaviour can find root,” says Lewis. ReachGlobal are reducing the risk and weaving new strands of hope in the lives of at-risk families through development strategies.

Churches in the Philippines are developing response teams to deal with emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of Haiyan survivors. Those teams will also set up safe places for children to gather and learn, since most school buildings were destroyed. Teams armed with chainsaws are converting downed trees to lumber to build new homes. They’re “hoping this restores a measure of security so people have a safe place to live.” To meet spiritual needs, counsellors are being equipped to help people process emotional trauma through a Gospel lens. “Soon we’ll be helping to clear out rice fields and resourcing fishermen with the ability to repair boats,” states Lewis. 

These strategies are “going to be key to help the community recover and seek to address the effects that lead to their vulnerability.” Involving local believers in disaster relief efforts can often mean the difference between success and failure according to Pastor Sam. Ask the Lord to give local church leaders wisdom. “Pray that teams could be formed in the local churches that can provide a long-term, sustainable response for the benefit of the community,” Lewis requests. Pray that development strategies will be helpful to those response teams. “Pray against this predatory opportunity that’s there,” asks Lewis. Pray also “that God would protect kids.”

Source: Mission Network News



Nearly two dozen pro-life lawmakers took to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to condemn the Supreme Court’s controversial decision in Roe v. Wade on the 41st anniversary of the infamous ruling, which legalized abortion throughout America. Led by Rep. Chris Smith, 21 Republicans and a lone Democrat offered speeches commemorating the more than 55 million lives ended by abortion since 1973, urging Congress to pass stronger abortion laws and calling on the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. Smith said, “more than 55 million children have been killed by abortion—a death toll that equates with the entire population of England.” 

Rep. Trent Franks drew parallels between abortion, slavery, genocide and other large-scale atrocities in America and around the world. “I don’t know what happens when we finally wake up and see abortion for the tragic reality that it is,” Franks added. “I don’t know what changed our mind in all the other great genocides of the past, but it did happen, and that gives me great hope. Today in America we are finally considering the real question: Does abortion take the life of a child? We’re finally beginning to realize as a nation that it does. And we’re finally beginning to realize that the brutal killing of innocent unborn children liberates no one.”

Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, commented. “As a mother of five and a foster mother to 23 children, I weep and mourn for women who’ve been lied to, women who were forced into undergoing this very violent procedure that for many people, altered their life forever.” Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, told his colleagues that while gruesome images and testimony publicized during the murder trial and conviction of abortionist Kermit Gosnell recently highlighted the brutality of abortion, advances in medical technology such as 3D ultrasounds “are providing a window into the delicate beauty of human life in the womb.” 

Congressman Phil Roe said “As an obstetrician and gynaecologist, I have delivered close to 5,000 babies, and I strongly support the sanctity of life,” Roe said. “Using technology like 3D ultrasound has given us a window to the unborn as a living, breathing, feeling human being. I’ve looked through that window with my own eyes thousands of times. I’ve seen human development occur at its earliest stages of a baby’s life, all the way through to birth, which strengthens my conviction in the right to life.” “Life is a precious miracle from God that does begin at conception,” Roe said. “It’s our responsibility, and a privilege, as legislators, to protect those who don’t have a voice.”

Source: Intercessors for America



Pope Francis called for renewal of the Catholic Church and attacked unfettered capitalism as “a new tyranny”, urging global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality in the first major work he has authored as pontiff. Francis criticized the global economic system, attacking the “idolatry of money” and beseeching politicians to guarantee all citizens “dignified work, education and healthcare”. He also called on rich people to share their wealth. “The commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in safeguarding the value of human life. Today we must say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality that also kills,” Francis wrote. 

The Pope said renewal of the Church could not be put off and the entrenched hierarchy of the Vatican “also need to hear the call to renewal. I much prefer a Church which is bruised and hurting from meeting human need, rather than one that is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security,” he wrote. In July, Francis finished an encyclical begun by Pope Benedict called “The Joy of the Gospel”. The exhortation is presented in Francis’ simple preaching style, distinct from the more academic writings of former popes, and stresses the Church’s central mission of preaching “the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ”. 

In it, he reiterated that the Church cannot ordain women or accept abortion. The male-only priesthood, he said, “is not a question open to discussion” but women must have more influence in Church leadership. Economic inequality features as one of the issues Francis is most concerned about, and the pontiff calls for an overhaul of the financial system and warns that unequal distribution of wealth inevitably leads to violence. “As long as the problems of the poor are not resolved by rejecting the autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems” he wrote. 

He added: “I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society and the lives of the poor.” Since his election, Francis has set an example of austerity in the Church, living in a Vatican guest house rather than the ornate Apostolic Palace, travelling in a Ford Focus, and suspending a bishop who spent millions of euros on his luxurious residence. Francis expressed a desire to promote closer ties with other Christian churches and urged Islamic countries to guarantee their Christian minorities the same religious freedom as Muslims enjoy in the West. 

Source: Reuters



Every 10 years, researchers in Britain publish the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal). The first survey, Natsal-1, was conducted from 1990 to 1991. The second, Natsal-2, took place from 1999 to 2001. The third, taken from 2010 to 2012, has just been published. It shows significant increases in the reported prevalence of lesbian activity before age 16.  In Natsal-1, fewer than 4 per cent of British girls said they’d had any sexual experience or contact with a partner of the same sex. In Natsal-2, that number rose to nearly 10 per cent. Now it’s 16 per cent. 

The proportion of boys under 16 who report having had a same-sex experience is only about 7 per cent – half the rate among girls. In the later teen and young adult years between 16 and 24, 19 per cent of males and 17 per cent of females say they have had sex with a member of the same sex. This is not reflective of the number of people identifying as homosexual and lesbians but rather of the level of experimentation with different expressions of sexual activity by young people as they move through their teenage and young adult years.

In Natsal-3, only 4 per cent of women aged 65-74 say they had heterosexual intercourse before they turned 16. Among women aged 55-64, 10 per cent say they’d had sex by that age. From there, the rate rises steadily: 14 per cent of women aged 45-54, 18 per cent of those aged 35-44, 25 per cent of those aged 25-34, and 29 per cent of those aged 16-24. This appears to reflect a change in teen behaviour with more females having sex at a younger age in each generation.

However despite the increased level of same sex and heterosexual teen sex amongst younger generations, the frequency of sex overall seems to have declined. In Natsal-1, the median number of heterosexual intercourse episodes reported by men and women in the previous four weeks was 5. In Natsal-2, it was 4. Now it’s down to 3.  One interpretation of the statistics could be that whilst youth, particularly females, are flirting with sexual experimentation at ever younger ages the effect of that in later life maybe a lack of fulfilling sex and an increasing dissatisfaction with it.   

Source: The Lancet



An interesting study was recently done by German psychologists at Saarland University and the University of Mannheim, on the effects of prayer on those who pray. Some of the findings revealed that praying can help a person maintain self-control and resist temptation, as well as help alleviate depression and other benefits. In the study—published online in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology—the authors noted that “a brief period of personal prayer changes the self-control depletion effect…these results are consistent with and contribute to a growing body of work attesting to the beneficial effects of praying on self-control.” 

The 79 participants—41-Christian; 14-atheist; 10-agnostic and 14 of other religions—were given tests designed to measure their level of self-control when faced with temptation. The researchers found that those participants who prayed before the start of the test showed they maintained high levels of self-control to the end. In another study, the effect of a belief in God in relation to treatment for depression was researched. The results showed that those patients who had no, or only a slight belief in God were “twice as likely not to respond to treatment” than the patients who claimed to have a higher level of belief in God.

Source: Daily Mail