POPE AND ORTHODOX PATRIARCH ADDRESS PLIGHT OF MIDDLE-EAST CHRISTIANS IN VISIT TO TURKEY
On his recent visit to Turkey Pope Francis called for an end to all forms of violent fundamentalism in the Middle East. In a joint statement with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Pope Francis said that constructive dialogue with Islam is necessary to address the challenges of warfare in the region, including the persecution of Iraqi and Syrian Christians. “We express our common concern for the current situation in the Middle East. We cannot resign ourselves to a Middle East without Christians, who have professed the name of Jesus there for two thousand years. Many of our brothers and sisters are being persecuted and have been forced violently from their homes.”
Vatican officials have implied that Francis was forced to be delicate when addressing Muslim-Christian fighting due to the diplomatic tensions between Turkey and the international coalition fighting Islamic State. He did not officially meet with any refugee groups on this trip as he has done on previous trips. Also in his three previous trips to Muslim countries, Francis reached out to Muslim leaders but also politely pushed them to do more to secure the rights of non-Muslim minorities. Patriarch Bartholomew was also tempered in his criticism of Islamic violence against Christians. According to church officials, he and Francis did so in order to prevent violent retribution against their respective constituencies in the Middle East.
In a visit to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the capital Ankara, Pope Francis said that grave persecution shows no signs of slowing for minorities in the Middle East, especially for Christians and Yazidis. Francis said, “Hundreds of thousands of persons have been forced to abandon their homes and countries in order to survive and remain faithful to their religious beliefs.” He also stressed equal freedoms and rights for all citizens of the Middle East, regardless of their religion: “We need dialogue. In order to achieve this, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian citizens should have the same rights according to the law. I appeal for greater international cooperation to resolve the conflicts which are causing bloodshed.
Approximately 1.5 million Syrians have fled to neighbouring Turkey since the outbreak of their civil war in 2011. Over 100,000 Christians were forced out of their acestral homes in northern Iraq this summer by ISIS. The extremist group has threatened Turkey by claiming control over large swathes of Iraq and Syria that border the country on the south. Thousands of Syrian and Iraqi Christian refugees are currently residing in Turkey. They await asylum in Europe, North America, or Australia. Francois Yakan, vicar of the Chaldean Catholic Church of Istanbul, has worked with over 55,000 refugees who have fled Iraq in recent years. He receives aid from the Turkish government and Caritas, the Catholic Relief Service.
In his small office he directs aid to the hundreds of Iraqi Christians in Istanbul. Yakan appreciated Francis’s emphasis on the Middle East refugee crisis and hopes his visit to Turkey will spur more aid from Western countries. “We are grateful for his trip. God willing, his visit to Turkey will have a positive effect and result in more help for immigrants and refugees,” he said. The Chaldean vicar runs a charity known as Kader that provides food and clothing to refugees and guides the legally recognized ones through their process of obtaining resettlement abroad. He also provides critical aid to Istanbul-based Iraqi Christians who live as illegal residents in Turkey.
The Turkish government allows fleeing Middle Easterners the right to aid at refugee camps. Hundreds of Iraqi Christians live in Istanbul’s Kurtulus neighbourhood, a working-class area where Greek and Armenian churches still exist. Most live in unheated apartments with barely enough money to pay for food or electricity. Men spend their day at coffee shops, playing cards or watching Iraqi football matches on television. Turkey’s authorities only consider Patriarch Bartholomew the leader of the nation’s tiny community of 3,000 Greek Orthodox Christians. They have denied his requests to reopen the Patriarch’s seminary on the island of Heybeliada which has been closed since 1971.
While Francis did not publicly call for the re-opening of the seminary, he offered “moral support to the patriarch’s challenges”. Mehmet Gormez, the leader of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, has denied any persecution of its religious minorities claiming that the Islamic country was an ancient land that provided for the freedom of religion for all people. But Gormez admitted that many Christian and Muslim refugees had fled the Middle East for reasons of war. Far too many who attempt to flee to Greece die when the boats they use to try and cross the Aegean sink. Gormez said religious leaders had a responsibility to help these refugees, beyond “presiding over the funeral ceremonies of the deceased.”
NIGERIAN CHRISTIANS ACCUSE GOVERNMENT OF NEGLECT AS TERRORISTS CONTINUE THEIR KILLING SPREE
Hundreds of Christians, displaced by the Islamist insurgency in Nigeria’s North, have been staging protests to express their anger over the government failure to protect them as fresh attacks have claimed scores of lives in the region. At least 78 people were killed recently when two suicide bombers attacked a market in the capital of Borno State in northern Nigeria. A day before, suspected Boko Haram militants disguised as traders attacked another town, near the Niger border, killing at least 48. The demonstrators, from the northern states of Nigeria and others, gathered at the headquarters of the Church of the Brethren (EYN) in Jos, the capital of Plateau state, in Nigeria’s centre.
One of the protesters, Hannatu Ishaku, had lost her husband and two sons in a raid on their hometown earlier this year. She said the morning following the raid, the villagers who had fled returned to the village to assess the extent of damage. That’s when she found the bodies of her husband and her two sons near a church building in the village. “Maybe they had taken refuge at the building when they fell into the hands of the attackers,” she said, sobbing. Hannatu is left with two daughters. Along with thousands of Christians, they have sought refuge in Jos. The protest attempted to draw attention to the plight of internally displaced people, and to what they consider to be neglect by the federal government.
The Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria North Central Zone, Daniel Kadzai, said Christians in the north have lost confidence in the government’s ability to deal with the crisis. ‘‘The Federal Government has toyed with the lives of the Christians in Northern Nigeria for political gain. “There is no explanation as to why the Federal troops run away from the towns prior to Boko Haram attacks without putting up any resistance Kadzai said. The Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (EYN), based mainly in the northern part of the country, is the worst affected by the insurgency. Information released during the protest shows that the church has suffered heavy losses and damages over the 5 years of Boko Haram insurgency.
Over 8,000 of their members have been killed, while more than 700,000, mostly women and Children have been displaced and are now scattered in other places. Some 270 churches have been razed completely by the insurgents. Other communities are also affected but data on their level of victimization are not available. Kadzai also blamed the slow response from the international community, despite the worldwide wave of solidarity raised by he April abduction of about 300 school girls by Boko Haram. ‘‘The international community has refused to notice the attack on Northern Nigerian Christians. Rather their attention and resources has been directed to Iraq, Syria, Gaza and Afghanistan’’.
The Christian group urged the United Nations to send peacekeeping troops ‘‘to secure the lives of the remaining traumatized people.’’ In recent weeks, the militants have hoisted their flag over more than 25 communities and have declared the establishment of a Caliphate. The Nigerian senate has yet to vote on President Goodluck Jonathan’s request for further extension of emergency rule, which came to an end recently. Nigeria is ranked fourth on the Global Terrorism Index for 2013, issued by the Institute for Economics and Peace. According to the index, more than 80% of the lives lost to terrorists occurred in five countries – Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria.
PERSECUTED FORMER MUSLIM PRAYED AS HE WAS HIT AND ‘DIDN’T FEEL A THING’
Ever since Leading The Way began broadcasting Christian programs to the Arab world through its satellite TV channel, something miraculous has been happening. Every week Muslims are contacting Leading The Way to find out how they can know more about Jesus. One Leading the Way member often ministering late into the night is Rahim. Every week he corresponds with viewers from the Middle East and North Africa, sharing the love of Christ with those hungry to know God’s truth. Some are Muslims who want to know more about the Christian faith, while others have made the decision to accept Jesus as Saviour and are in need of spiritual support as they face extreme persecution.
Rahim has faced violent persecution himself and can identify with those who turn to him for help. He was a devoted Muslim until the power of Christian radio helped him to find Christ. “I was raised in a very dedicated Muslim family, but I was empty inside,” said Rahim. He added: “One time when I was listening to my radio, someone was talking about God. Afterwards I saw this was Christian radio. This brought problems to me. For the first time I wanted more knowledge about Christianity. “I began to research the Qur’an and compare between Christianity and Islam, and at this time my perspective of Christianity began to change. I began to understand how the Bible is the Word of God, how Jesus died on the cross about my sin.
God is love. This phrase didn’t exist in Islam. There is no guarantee in Islam to have eternal life.” Rahim first experienced persecution when he made the decision to accept Jesus in His life. His family reacted with violence. “My father asked me, ‘Are you becoming Christian?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ It was very terrible, like someone injured his heart. My family didn’t accept that Jesus was my Saviour, because they are in darkness. My father and my brother beat me.” But as these attacks began, Rahim said that something miraculous took place: “As they were hitting me as hard as they could, I prayed for them, and I didn’t feel anything because Jesus was with me. “If you are in the umbrella of God, the refuge of God, He will protect you.
Now we have a peaceful relationship. They say they are seeing the Word of God on my life. At this time I began to read the Bible more and I requested to study theology. Now I’m doing my Masters in Bible counselling and serving the Lord full-time. “I work for Leading The Way and a lot of Arabic people contact me about faith. There are a lot of amazing stories from Saudi Arabia, from Mecca. I receive calls from Chad, New Zealand, Iraq, Jordan, Yemen, even Romania.” As part of this ministry, Rahim seeks to connect these new converts to local churches. Through Leading The Way, many are given practical help from bedding and food supplies to vital grants for urgent medical or travel needs to be reunited with family members.
Christians serving in Afghanistan have sent this report on the South African humanitarian workers recently killed in Kabul in a Taliban attack on their home. Please pray for the Christian humanitarian community at this time of loss, confusion and fear that they will be strong in the Lord and be able to continue their good work for Christ and the Afghan people. The report states “We would like to give you an update about what happened yesterday in Kabul. We received a phone call from our Country Director to pray for a South-African brother and his family and others in his house as they were under attack from the Taliban. We started praying right away and tried to get new information in between.
It soon became clear that Werner and his 18 year old son and 15 year old daughter were in the house with local believers. The wife Hannelie was not in the house at the time. A few hours later the news emerged that the father, son and daughter were killed by the Taliban. One of the Afghan believers was also killed but several others escaped. The Taliban immediately issued a statement saying this was a Christian missionary centre. They must have watched the house and found out that he did have meetings there with local believers. Werner and his family were there in Kabul for more than 10 years and are very dedicated and committed and mature Christians and they had a big impact on many Afghans.
The have been key people in the work in Afghanistan. They were very well known in the community and his wife is a doctor and helped many foreigners and local people. We are all shocked and grieving over this terrible attack against our dear brother and his family. This comes on top of the attack against the International Church building in April and the killing of three Christian foreign workers in the CURE clinic. Also there have been many attacks by Taliban recently in Kabul. There have been two separate bomb attacks by suicide bombers against foreigners. In one of them a guest house for foreigners was attacked. Also a British embassy official was killed.
The Police Chief of Kabul has quit amid rising militant violence. There have been at least nine attacks in the last two weeks. Also last week one of our most senior Afghan staff members who had been with us for 20 years suddenly died. He was in charge of all contact with government departments and has been a great help to us. He left a big gap behind that we cannot easily close. This attack shows again that the Taliban are watching Christian organisations and their activities and are furious if they find out that they share the Gospel. We have no protection except the Lord and the Taliban are ruthless and are willing to sacrifice their lives to kill others.” Thanks for your prayers for Afghanistan and His people serving there.
SIX NORTH CAROLINA MAGISTRATES QUIT AFTER STATE LEGALIZES SAME-SEX MARRIAGE
In the wake of a federal court decision legalizing same-sex “marriage” in North Carolina, at least six magistrates in the state have resigned rather than be forced to officiate such unions. All stepped down because they believe marriage is a union between one man and one woman. The decision wasn’t easy for Bill Stevenson, whose family depends on his $50,000 a year salary as their primary income. “I prayed about it; I asked for wisdom,” Stevenson said. “I believe we have rejected the primary authority of the Scriptures. In both the Old and New Testaments, homosexuality is not approved of by God, and since He doesn’t, I could not put the sanction of the state on a relationship that runs foul of Scripture,” Stevenson said.
Tommy Holland, a magistrate for 24 years, said “When the federal judges ruled that gay marriage in North Carolina was legal, and part of a magistrate’s job is to perform marriage ceremonies, I knew I couldn’t honour that law,” Holland said. “It’s against my belief. It’s against what the Bible says.” As for his future prospects? “God has always taken care of me,” Holland said. Gayle Myrick said. “Marrying gay couples was not a consideration to me at any cost.” “I believe marriage was ordained by God to be between a man and a woman,” she said. “For me to do what the state said I had to do, under penalty of law, I would have to go against my convictions, and I was not willing to do that. I want to honour what the Word of God says.”
EX-LESBIAN DEFIES CRITICS WHO SAY YOU CANNOT CHANGE
Christian “spoken-word poet” Jackie Hill-Perry used to be a lesbian, but after a radical encounter with God in 2008, the 25-year-old newlywed—who is pregnant with her first child—is now, in her words, “the embodiment of change.” The revelation of the rapper’s testimony, which says, “anything is possible with God,” is reaching multitudes through social media. As a result Hill-Perry is receiving support and praise, but also vicious condemnation. Hill-Perry said she was sexually abused by a family friend at the age of 5. The subsequent “gender confusion” she suffered resulted in her being a full-fledged lesbian by the age of 17.
Then one day, said Hill-Perry, “the Lord spoke to me. He said, ‘Your lesbian partner will be the death of you.’ In that moment, the wages of sin equal death finally clicked.” Speaking on radio, Hill-Perry noted, “I think we’ve made God very little if we believe that He cannot change people. If He can make a moon, stars and a galaxy that we have yet to fully comprehend, how can He not simply change my desires?” Hill-Perry reportedly lost her same-sex attraction over the course of the next few years and “gained an attraction” to her future husband and fellow Christian rapper, Preston Perry. As for what the future holds, the Christian rapper concluded, “The true church of Jesus Christ will stick to the Scriptures.”