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DEATH TOLL IN ATTACKS ON NIGERIAN VILLAGES RISES TO 150

The death toll following a massacre across three villages in central Nigeria a week ago has risen beyond 150, according to the deputy Chairman of the Kaura Local Government Area in Southern Kaduna. Suspected Fulani herdsmen raided three mainly Christian villages Ugwar Sankwai, Ungwan Gata and Chenshyi (known also as Tekun) late on Friday night 14th March. 240 houses were set ablaze, alongside three churches, one ECWA (Evangelical Church Winning All) and two Anglican. The wife and three children of the pastor of the ECWA Church, Rev Likita Riku were killed, and burnt beyond recognition. The victims were buried in three different mass graves after inter-denominational prayers. 

Survivors are still highly traumatized. The affected villages, comprised of mainly farmers and small scale traders, were deserted. Dozens of those affected were sleeping in a primary school, some of them were with relatives in nearby areas. Meanwhile hundreds of relatives and sympathizers arrived to commiserate with survivors. The ECWA pastor was still in a state of total shock, unable to speak to other relatives and a number of church officials who came to try to support him. Surviving children, who were still crying, asked where their parents, brothers, sisters and friends were: many were hacked to death. 

Explaining how the killings occurred, a survivor, Emmanuel Tonak, said, “We were fast asleep when we heard gun shots and chanting of ‘Allahu akbar’ [God is great]. Suddenly we came out and saw them advancing and some houses in flames. They came around 11 pm. I escaped into the forest, when they came I started hearing cries and gun shots.” Government National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) workers also came to provide some relief:  notably food, mattresses, blankets and mosquito nets. NEMA has registered about 2,000 people displaced by the attack: its Zonal Coordinator Alhaji Musa Ilallah acknowledged that more may be needed, due to the scale of destruction. 

“Although the materials may not be sufficient, we urge the people to accept them and to try to embrace the spirit of forgiveness and love one another.”  Attacks carried out by Fulani herdsmen in central Nigeria have reached an unprecedented level this year. About 35 people were killed and a Catholic Church was attacked by Fulani armed men in several villages in February in Taraba State, on Nigeria’s eastern border. Some analysts point to the use of guerrilla warfare tactics, aimed at wiping out an entire community. Women and children were clearly attacked, and in some cases prominent families – such as community or religious leaders – were targeted. 

The Kaduna State Governor, Mukhtar Ramalan Yero, who was on his way to United States to address an audience on peace and security, cut short his trip to return to Nigeria. He vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice but he didn’t explain how. “We pray that God should expose the people that are causing this problem. We pray that God should touch their hearts to stop such dastardly acts or destroy their evil machinations. We must not despair under these brazen attacks. As a leader, I am not happy with such ugly situations because it is my responsibility to ensure security and safety for the entire people of the State.” The Secretary of the Kaduna State Chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Rev. Sunday Ibrahim, has condemned the massacre. 

“The killing is barbaric and unjustifiable. We condemn in the strongest terms these serial killings. We urge the government to rise up and protect us against those who are clearly operating from religious motives.” The national president of Southern Kaduna People’s Union (SOKAPU) Dr. Ephraim Goje has denounced a ‘jihad’ declared on Christians in Southern Kaduna. According to survivors, the attackers have vowed to come back. Despite heavy security reinforcements, the prospect of further violence seems high. 

Source: World Watch Monitor

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SYRIA: 2013 WAS A PIVOTAL YEAR

The war in Syria is integral to the Sunni-Shi’ite struggle for regional and Islamic supremacy. The Sunnis may have reigned supreme for well over a millennium, but the US-led war in Iraq which commenced in 2003 changed the balance of power, facilitating a Shi’ite ascendancy. Iraq’s move into the Iranian orbit completed the “Shi’ite Crescent”: the Iran-Iraq-Syria-Hezballah strategic alliance that enables Iranian influence to stretch all the way from Tehran to Israel’s northern border and the Mediterranean Sea. Subsequently, U.S. influence in the Middle East plummeted after the financial crisis of Aug-Sept 2008 — leaving U.S. -allied Sunni Arab dictators increasingly isolated and vulnerable. 

Initially a movement to protest corruption and poor living standards, the “Arab Spring” was quickly hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). The Obama administration’s decision to ditch its allies in favour of the MB — believing it would put them “on the right side of history” — brought joy to Tehran. For while Egypt’s Mubarak had been aligned with the Sunni axis of U.S.-backed monarchs and dictators that have signed peace treaties with Israel and host U.S. military bases — the Iranian axis comprises regimes that resist US hegemony and are belligerent towards Israel.  The Iranian regime was delighted by the rise of the MB, but talk of a restoration of Ottoman and Saudi hegemony gave them pause for concern. 

Though Syria is a Sunni Arab-majority state, it has been ruled by a coalition of minorities since WWII.  Alliances with Iran and Hezballah provide the vulnerable Assad regime with protection from Sunni aggression. Conversely, Iran and Hezballah see Syria as their most strategic asset; they were never going to let Syria fall. In June 2013, the situation in Syria pivoted dramatically when the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) — supported by fighters from Hezballah (Lebanon), Iraq and Iran — liberated the strategic city of Al-Qusayr near the border with Lebanon.  Whoever controls Al-Qusayr controls supply lines into Homs and the centre. 

The SAA had effectively changed the balance of power on the ground. In August 2013, Sarin gas was released in Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus, just as the SAA was making great and highly strategic gains against rebels and CIA-trained Arab units there. There is absolutely no doubt that the rebels released the Sarin gas with the aim of triggering a U.S.-NATO intervention on their behalf. However, as the Obama administration realised, U.S. air strikes on Syria would totally ruin President Obama much-heralded detente with new Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. So the U.S. backed off, abandoning the rebels to their fate. Rebel forces are now totally demoralised. 

In early October, the SAA broke through the rebel encirclement of Aleppo, opening the road between Damascus and the northern city, enabling supply and liberating Christian and loyalist areas long-besieged by Islamist forces. And so we enter 2014 with Iran ascendant once again. Without military support from the U.S, the rebels cannot achieve a military victory. Though fighting will subside, terrorism will continue for many years yet. As Assad consolidates his gains and secures his territory, al-Qaeda elements are changing tack and concentrating on carving out a base in the Kurd and Christian dominated lands of north-eastern Syria and in the hot-bed of Sunni resistance in western Iraq.

Source: Religious Liberty Monitoring

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U.N. DEFENDS REPORT CALLING ON CHURCH TO RENOUNCE MORAL TEACHINGS ON SEXUALITY

The U.N. committee that issued a recent report demanding that the Catholic Church change its teachings on abortion, homosexuality and extra-marital sex, has said that it was issued only after “objectively examining all relevant information.”  The statement from the U.N. comes following a detailed response from Fr. Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, who said the report was clearly “biased. The Committee’s comments,” Lombardi said, “seem to go beyond its powers and interfere in the very moral and doctrinal positions of the Catholic Church, giving indications involving moral evaluations of contraception, or abortion, or education in families, or the vision of human sexuality, in light of its own ideological vision of sexuality itself.”

The Church welcomes “serious and well-founded” criticisms of its procedures, but he said that the Church had been “harmed by unjustly critical” media reportage. While he denied that there is a conflict between the U.N. and the Vatican, “like any large organization” it is “no wonder that in the vast world of the U.N. different visions shall encounter and even collide with each other.” The Holy See, he said, “will take its positions and will give account of them, without trying to escape from a genuine dialogue, with openness to justified criticism – but the Holy See will do so with courage and determination, without timidity.”  

Lombardi said that examination of the report showed that the Committee had “not taken adequate account of the responses, both written and oral, given by the representatives of the Holy See. Those who have read and heard these answers do not find proportionate reflections of them in the document of the Committee, so as to suggest that it was already written, in large part, before the hearing.” In particular, he said, “the report’s lack of understanding of the specific nature of the Holy See seems serious.” He said that given that the Church’s positions “have been explained in detail” to the Committee “many times over the past twenty years, “one is entitled to amazement.” 

The report demanded that the Church drop all opposition to abortion, homosexual behaviour, sex for unmarried teenagers – the entirety of its moral teaching on sexuality. In so doing the Committee has attempted to “interfere in the very moral and doctrinal positions of the Catholic Church,” Lombardi said. Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, responded saying that the U.N. had failed to understand the nature of Catholic teaching. “The committee asked for acceptance of abortion but this is a contradiction with the principle of life in which we fundamentally believe.

Source: LifeSiteNews

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FACEBOOK TAKES THE PLACE OF THE BIBLE IN MOST AMERICANS’ LIVES

Facebook reading is more popular than the Bible in the U.S. and Canada. Facebook, which recently celebrated its 10th birthday, reports 757 million daily active users. About 19% of them are in the United States and Canada, which translates to about 143 million people logging on to read Facebook posts each and every day. According to a 2006 CBS News poll, 15% of U.S. adults read the Bible every day. Associated Press did some quick calculations to determine that these numbers mean about 40 million people in the U.S. and Canada read the Bible every day. And that was eight years ago. It is likely that the number of Bible-readers has declined rather than increased since then. 

Now Joyce Meyer has nearly 5 million Facebook followers, and Jesus Daily has a whopping 25 million! Clearly, God is using Facebook. For all the wonderful ministry happening on Facebook, though—including teaching videos and apps—it is no substitute for reading the Bible. After all, Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Somehow, even if Facebook were a part of mainstream Galilean culture, I don’t think Jesus would give up fellowship with the Father to check Facebook. It’s become a near addiction for some people. We in America have got our priorities out of line. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). But how many seek first the kingdom of Facebook on their smartphone each morning rather than seeking God?

Facebook can be a wonderful ministry tool, but for most people in America it’s merely a distraction. Of course, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is not to blame. If it wasn’t social media, people would find—and have historically found—something else to entertain them, whether it’s television, movies, radio or a seeker-friendly church that tickles their ears with feel-good messages that don’t produce change. 

America needs to turn back to the God of the Bible, not the god of social media. The Facebook statistics is just more proof positive that America is rapidly moving in the wrong direction. We need to put God and His Word back in the centre of our lives, even if that means missing out on the encouragement that ministries are offering on the platform. So let’s use Facebook as an evangelism tool by all means and let’s use social media to network with those of like-minded faith and equip believers for the work of the ministry. But let’s not allow it to become a substitute for personal fellowship with God and His Word.

Source: Charisma News

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TUNISIA GETS A NEW CONSTITUTION

Tunisia’s parliament has agreed on a new constitution, in a bid to end months of political deadlock and pave the way for elections later this year. The text guarantees freedom of worship but says Islam is the state religion. The majority of the members of the Tunisian constituent assembly are very keen to stress that this constitution is a consensus document that reflects the unity as well as the diversity of the country. Confronted with political stalemate and protests on the domestic front and the removal of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in Egypt last year, the governing Islamist Ennahdha party agreed to a number of concessions, including the removal of references to Islamic law. 

The final text states that Islam is the religion of the Tunisian state, but guarantees religious freedom. Article 45 puts a burden on the state to protect women against violence and ensure equal representation of men and women in elected institutions, a milestone in the Arab world. But whether this new constitution will indeed pave the way for more democracy, transparency and accountability will depend on whether the principles enshrined in the text will be respected by Tunisian politicians and be put into practice in the coming months and years. Ennahda, a moderate Islamist party, won the first democratic elections after long-time ruler Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was forced from power in 2011. 

But it has faced fierce opposition from secular groups, who accuse it of being too close to militant groups. It has also been unable to end an economic crisis, another factor in widespread street protests. Tunisia’s women’s rights groups had feared that they would lose some of their freedom if Islamist parties drafted the new constitution. Tunisian journalist Naveena Kottoor says rows over article 45 brought the drafting process to a halt for 36 hours. When it was finally agreed, both male and female parliamentarians spontaneously started singing the national anthem, she says.

Source: BBC News

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BAGHDAD CHRISTIANS IN DESPERATE NEED

Canon Andrew White, known as the ‘Vicar of Baghdad’, has asked for urgent prayer for the church in Iraq amid intense violence. With frequent bombings and shootings in cities such as Baghdad and Mosul, monthly death tolls have soared recently. January’s toll of 1,000 dead was the highest for almost six years. Canon Andrew who leads St George’s Church, reports that some of his young people have been among those killed. Christian friends are leaving and begging him to leave too. ‘Hundreds of our people have left the church because they have left the country,’ he says. ‘The hundreds left are those who cannot afford to leave, so the poverty and needs seem greater than ever. 

I honestly cannot tell you how terrible things are. We are in more than a desperate crisis. We need your prayers.’ But he remains resolute. ‘I will not leave my people here, however bad it is. I am not leaving, and neither is God.

Please pray:

* Asking God to protect and sustain Iraqi Christians amid the worsening violence. Thank God for the overcoming faith of Canon Andrew and ask God to protect him, give him wisdom and renew his strength.

* Please pray for an end to the bloodshed in Iraq and an end to the fighting, which is mainly between Sunni militants and the Shia-dominated government.

Source: Release International

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