PAKISTAN: THE BITTER FRUITS OF A RADICALISED SOCIETY

Sawan Masih is a Christian resident of Lahore. For years he has wrapped up his day by sharing a drink with friend and neighbour Shahid Imran, a Muslim. They would sit together outside Shahid’s barber shop drinking locally brewed beer. Though their debates sometimes got heated, they would just sleep it off and start afresh the next day. On the evening of 7 March, the men had one of their drink-fuelled arguments. This time, however, a good night’s sleep failed to clear the slate. The next day, Shahid claimed Sawan had blasphemed during their spat. The rumour exploded and spread like wildfire. When Sawan heard what Shahid had done, he fled for his life.

Later that evening, Muslims marched from a nearby mosque to the Masihs’ home. Some ransacked the Masihs’ home, whilst others presented the police with two alleged witnesses who claimed to have heard Sawan’s blasphemy. A blasphemy charge was registered, primarily for the purpose of pacifying the mob. But registering a blasphemy complaint is hardly enough to douse a fire-storm of Islamic fury these days. With rumours circulating that worse was to come, the police advised the Christians to flee, which they did. The next day thousands of Muslims descended on the Christian colony with weapons and fuel to inflict collective punishment.

Sources said that the provincial government led by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had ordered police not to hinder the protesters and ‘let them vent their grief and anger’. With the colony vacated and the police immobilised, the Muslims went freely from door to door, plundering and ransacking. By 11:30am the community was ablaze. By the time the fire brigade turned up at 3pm, at least 160 homes, 18 shops and two churches — Assemblies of God and Roman Catholic — had been looted and burnt. According to the City Superintendent of Police, up to 7000 people took part in the attack. Police are saying they have Sawan in ‘protective custody’.

The Pakistan Human Rights Commission laments, ‘The attack is yet another shameful incident against a vulnerable community and further confirmation of the slide toward extremism in society, and apathy and inaction that has become the norm among the police.’ On 10th March Christians rallied in Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and Multan, expressing their fear, grief and anger over their deepening insecurity. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif told a private meeting in his home that the attack was in no way a service to Pakistan or Islam.  What he really needs to do is get that message accepted in the thousands of radical mosques and madrassas spread across Punjab.

Pakistan has a population of 185 million with Christians accounting for about 2.45%. Decades of Saudi-sponsored Islamisation and Sunni radicalisation are producing bitter fruits: local Muslims prepared to kill and destroy their Christian neighbours. Shi’ite Muslims (30%) and Hindus (1.5%) are also experiencing escalating systematic persecution. Pakistan is becoming increasingly intolerant and lawless as it lurches towards collapse and disintegration. When local civilians are prepared to eliminate their neighbours on ethnic, caste and/or religious grounds, then the environment is clearly genocidal. 

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT THE LORD WILL —

* intervene and secure justice for Sawan Masih, as well as security for his extended family and compensation for the Christian community destroyed.

* draw the wounded and traumatised into his embrace, comforting and healing their broken hearts and providing all their needs. Awaken those who have been turned into killers, bringing a profound conviction of sin upon all who would be willing killers of their own neighbours.

* bring a profound sense of shame on Pakistan, so pervasive it demands and enables deep, risky reform at the mosque and madrassa level; may this and a sense of failure and great danger prompt many to seek out a new and better way.

Source: by Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring

 

SYRIAN BISHOPS KIDNAPPED BY REBELS

Two prominent Syrian bishops, who had warned of the threat to religious tolerance and diversity from the two-year conflict in their country, have been kidnapped by armed rebels in the northern province of Aleppo according to state media. SANA news agency said the Syriac Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Archbishops of Aleppo, Yohanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi, were seized by “a terrorist group” in the village of Kfar Dael as they were “carrying out humanitarian work”.  A Syriac member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, Abdulahad Steifo, said the men had been kidnapped on the road to Aleppo from the rebel-held Bab al Hawa crossing with Turkey.

Several prominent Muslim clerics have been killed in Syria’s uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, but the two bishops are the most senior Church leaders caught up in the conflict which has killed more than 70,000 people. Christians make up less than 10% of the country’s 23 million people and, like other religious minorities, have been wary of the mainly Sunni Muslim uprising against Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam. Fears for their future have increased with the growing strength of Islamist rebels and a pledge of allegiance to al Qaeda by the hard-line Nusra Front rebels two weeks ago.

Bishop Ibrahim had gone to collect Bishop Yazigi from the rebel-held Bab al-Hawa crossing. The two men were driving to Aleppo when they were kidnapped, he added. Last September Bishop Ibrahim said that hundreds of Christian families had fled Aleppo as rebels and soldiers battled for control of the country’s biggest city. “In its modern history Aleppo has not seen such critical and painful times. Christians have been attacked and kidnapped and their relatives have paid big sums for their release,” Ibrahim said. In the city of Homs, which saw the heaviest bloodshed earlier this year several churches and Christian centres had been damaged in the fighting.

“Until a few months ago the idea of escaping had not crossed the minds of the Christians, but after the danger worsened it has become the main topic of conversation.” Neighbouring Iraq, where sectarian violence after the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein forced half the Christians to flee, offers frightening parallels for Syrian Christians, while the revival of Islamists in the 2011 Arab uprisings in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt also fills Syria’s Christians with foreboding. Writing in January, Yazigi said was important that the uprisings known as the “Arab Spring” should not jeopardise several centuries of religious diversity in the Middle East.

Source: Reuters

 

CHRISTIANS DOMINATE AMERICAN IDOL THIS SEASON

Season 12 of American Idol has its share of Christian contestants: Indeed eight of the top 10 are Christians.  Contestants Candice Glover, Lazaro Arbos, Janelle Arthur, Curtis Finch Jr., Amber Holcolm, Angie Miller, Devin Velez, and Burnell Taylor are all in it to win it. They’re also not ashamed to share their faith with the world while they’re at it. Angie Miller, who many expect to be crowned winner this year, often tweets about her faith. “Church isn’t the only time to worship and hear from or spend time with God. That should happen on an everyday basis,” she recently tweeted.

Miller became a fan favourite after performing an original worship song called, “You Set Me Free,” during the Hollywood auditions. Judges were blown away by the performance. Judge Mariah Carey later said the performance left her “clothed in goose bumps and bathed in tears.” Miller also performed a slowed down rendition of “Never Gone” by Season 11 American Idol contestant Colton Dixon. Dixon, who often spoke about his faith while on the show, released a Christian album called A Messenger in January. Chicago native Devin Velez is another standout performer. Several home videos of the 18-year-old singing worship songs are posted on YouTube.

Velez also tweets about his faith. On Thursday he tweeted, ” I just have to remember why I’m here, and that everything, is in HIS hands.” Finalist Curtis Finch Jr., a gospel singer and worship leader, received a standing ovation from the judges and the audience. Idol Judge Keith Urban was moved by the soul-stirring performance. “Good and light and godly and whole. You have so much hope in you and we need that. Thank you, Curtis,” Urban said. While these contestants are all striving to be the next big star, they appear to be grounded in something bigger than the show or their voices.

Source: CBN News

 

EGYPT FORMS FIRST EVER COUNCIL OF CHURCHES

Five different churches in Egypt including the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, the Evangelical (Presbyterian) Church, the Greek Orthodox Church and the Anglican Church have joined together to form the Egypt Council of Churches after one year of deliberations and meetings between the churches. The announcement was made in a press release by Bishop of the Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, and Primate of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, the Most Revd. Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis.  

The Bishop said, “It is so important that this council is born at this time while Egypt is going through a very challenging circumstance politically, socially and economically. It means a lot for the churches to face these challenges together with one heart and soul.” The launch of the council was hosted by His Holiness, Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church, known as the “Mother” church of Egypt. “The first goal of the Egypt Council of Churches is to enhance the bonds of love and the spirit of co-operation among the member churches,” explained the Primate. 

Bishop Mouneer said, “There are 15 different committees that will be active in the areas of faith and unity, youth, Sunday schools, community development and women among others.” The Primate acknowledged the importance of such collaboration among churches, “Each church in this council will enrich the others with its heritage,” and added, “It is important to affirm the principle of inter-dependance of each church.”

Source: Arabic Christian News Service

 

FRESH SANCTIONS HIT NORTH KOREA

A fresh set of sanctions agreed by the UN will impose further restrictions on North Korea and limit their ability to function in the international community. The new resolution instructs North Korea to cease all nuclear and missile testing. It will block financial transactions, impound cash, empower countries to inspect suspicious cargo, and expand a blacklist of items that North Korea cannot import. The sanctions place new constraints on North Korean diplomats, raising their risk of expulsion. But they do not allow countries to stop and inspect North Korean shipments on the high seas or force down aircraft suspected of moving contraband.

On the surface, Non-Government-Organisations such as Open Doors will not be directly affected by the sanctions. However, their work depends on Pyongyang’s response. North Korea may expel charity workers and the employees of NGOs from the country.  A member of the Open Doors field team said: “The situation is unclear. North Korea may not be allowed to receive any form of external assistance anymore, but since Open Doors does not have any ‘above ground’ projects, the immediate future our work should not be impacted by the new sanctions. We work in secret and will continue to do so.”

Please pray:

•  for every international leader directly involved, but especially for Kim Jong-Un and his government. Pray that they will act wisely and calmly in response to the crisis

•  that the borders will not be closed and that no further restrictions will not be imposed on the movement of people in and out of the country

•  for fresh energy for the Christian teams operating under ground in North Korea who are already under a lot of pressure, as they seek to minister to North Korean believers.

Source: Open Doors

 

CALL TO PRAYER FOR THE MALAYSIAN ELECTIONS

The National Prayer Network of Malaysia has asked the Australian Prayer Network to join them in praying for the upcoming elections in Malaysia which will be held on 5th May. They are praying 24/7 from now until the election date and have asked for specific cover from 2.00AM to 5.00AM Malaysian time each day, which is 4.00AM to 7.00AM in Sydney.  If you cannot pray during those hours please pray whenever you can. If you wish to register your commitment you can do so at www.24-7prayer.com/signup/c80076  Prayer leaders in Malaysia report a strong spiritual battle taking place around the election including the use of witchcraft prayers against the Church.

Hundreds of cases of election violence have been reported since campaigning got under way.  A total of 387 incidents were reported in the first three days of the two-week campaign and at least 15 people have been arrested over the violence police report.  These elections have been long-anticipated and there is speculation of the country’s first change of regime since independence from Britain in 1957. The vote pits a coalition dominated by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) which has ruled Malaysia for 56 years, against an opposition promising a more liberalised society.

Please pray:

*   that the Malaysian church will seek the face of God together earnestly and with perseverance, so that He will open the heavens, reveal His glory and pour His power upon Malaysia.

*   that God will continue to bless Malaysia with strong and steady growth of the national economy so that all citizens will be blessed. Pray for the equitable sharing of this wealth among all races.  Pray against the twin problems of badly formulated policies and prevalent corruption, both of which combine to adversely affect national economic growth. Pray that in the elections God will overrule to allow those who will be faithful to the mandate to rule for the good of the nation will come into power.  Pray specially against the work of unseen spiritual powers that seek to keep the nation under their control through evil of all kinds.

*   that the church, civil society and the people in general will defend the Federal Constitution so that fundamental liberties of all citizens, especially religious freedom, will be upheld.  Pray that the government will genuinely seek to uphold the principle of equal citizenship rights for all Malaysians, which have been forged against a diverse background of race, religion and culture. Pray against all efforts made at asserting ethnic and religious supremacy which, if unchecked, will destroy the foundations of the nation. Pray for the election of Politicians who are competent, genuine, and committed to integrity and justice.

Source: Malaysian Prayer Network

 

STUDY SHOWS THAT ABSTINENCE EDUCATION WORKS

A study which has just come to light shows that abstinence education is highly effective in reducing sexual activity among youth. It also showed programs promoting contraceptive use to be ineffective. The study followed students a full two years after completion of the abstinence class. One third of students showed a noteworthy decrease in sexual activity, compared with those who didn’t participate in the class. On the other hand condom-promoting programs didn’t affect youth behaviour at all. Students in these programs showed no reduction in sexual activity and no increase in contraceptive use.

“Finally, a study that proves what those of us who have been teaching abstinence have known for years. These programs help develop self-control and self-esteem, teaching kids they do not need to fall prey to the game of Russian Roulette with condoms,” said Leslee Unruh, President and Founder of the National Abstinence Clearing House. “Abstinence programs show kids there are too many great things riding on their future to risk it to STDs, pregnancy and broken hearts. Abstinence is a message our kids want to hear—this study shows you that many youth will make healthier choices and change their behaviour in response to this refreshing message,” Unruh said.

Source: Abstinence Clearing House