Persecution News and Action Plan

“If one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
(1 Corinthians 12:26-27).

* CHINA MUST REMOVE RESTRAINTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing has formally informed Chinese authorities that human rights advocates and interfaith religious leaders are calling for the release of Li Guangqiang, the 38-year-old businessman who was arrested and could be executed for smuggling some 30,000 Bibles into China, according to a Free Church for China press release.
Harry Wu of the Laogai Research Foundation said, "These restraints against basic human freedom must be removed so that all people in China may live and worship in peace." He is urging President Bush - as Bush prepares to visit China - to join with him and other religious leaders in seeking an end to the extreme persecution.
Wu also is requesting that Bush "demonstrate support for the families of over 343 Falun Gong practitioners who have died from police torture ... especially the 'brutal and systematic violence against Falun Gong women.'" It was thought that following the National Religious Working Conference in Beijing last December, China would ease up in applying its "anti-cult" laws, but instead, persecution appears to be on the rise.

* MISSIONARY COUPLE SPOTTED IN PHILIPPINE VILLAGE
According to ASSIST News Service, the missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham have been spotted in a highly forested area in Maluso (Philippines) with Abu Sayyaf armed men on guard. The U.S. couple was abducted and is being held by the Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic fundamentalist group with links to al-Qa'ida.
A provincial officer told ASSIST News Service that he received information that the Abu Sayyaf is asking for $1 million ransom...and that the rebel group is willing to retain the couple even for a year. The Philippine government still insists it will not "give in" to the rebel demands and, in fact, will arrest anyone it finds "negotiating for the couple's release."
It has been said that Martin is losing weight and that Gracia has been forced to wear the head veil associated with Islam. It is now being feared by Christians that the couple might be forced into acceptingIslam. Other hostages have been so pressured, with the result that most of them did convert, and remained so, even after being freed.
In an interview that was aired on the television program, "48 Hours," Gracia said she and her husband "have sores in their mouths and on their legs" from poor nutrition and that she wakes up with chest pains.

* FATE OF CHINESE PASTOR UNKNOWN—BUT DOUBTFUL
(China—Mission Network News)-- Despite an appeal of his sentence, Mission Network News got word last week that evangelistic house church pastor Gong Shengliang's execution was suddenly moved up to January 27. Efforts to discover the truth of his whereabouts have resulted in no new information. We spoke with Bob Fu of the Committee to Investigate Persecution in China.
“I contacted some of his coworkers inside China and outside China who knew him very well, and his relatives. They have no access to Mr. Gong's prison. We just simply don't know whether he's still alive or been executed already. Voice of the Martyrs' Todd Nettleton says this overtly aggressive crackdown by the Chinese government will likely be met with equally bold believers. “Just pray that God will be close to them. They're not fazed by the persecution because they expected it. They knew it was coming when they came to Christ.”

* PEACE SOUGHT IN MYANMAR, BUT SITUATION STILL RISKY FOR CHRISTIANS
(India—Mission Network News)--Talk of peace is in the air between Myanmar and Nagaland. However, the atmosphere remains volatile. Gospel Revival Ministries Reverend Doctor Tsanso (SAHN-so) says their workers are careful not to draw unwanted attention. However, a recent episode showed him how unfriendly some are to the message of peace. "We were surrounded and then we were nearly killed. Later on, we came to know that these people had the intention to chop us into pieces and burn us into ashes. But, God prevented it, and none of those people put their hands on us."
Refugees fleeing Myanmar have poured over the borders into India. Dr. Tsanso says this is where practical action translates to the love of Christ. "The churches in Nagaland have come out with a relief committee. We are contributing rice and clothes for those refugees. Persecution is very severe over there because it is what is dominant in that area."

* PASTORS TARGETED FOR ASSASSINATIONS IN COLOMBIA
(Colombia)--We turn elsewhere to Colombia where there's word that the guerrilla rebels have been targeting pastors for assassinations. That issue will be on the table during peace talks this week in Havana, Cuba.
The government and rebels are looking for an accord that would include the protection of civilians. Book of Hope'sRob Hoskins. “The teen assassin is the latest 'secret weapon' of the drug trade and the rebel groups in Colombia. In Medellin, over five thousand teenagers have already committed murder for hire there.” Hoskins says their work has been directly impacted by this problem. He tells the story of 'Alex', whose goal in life was to assassinate a local pastor. However, God intervened six months ago. “One of the Books of Hope that we pass out in the schools reached Alex. Alex read the Book; he was so intrigued by it, he couldn't put it down. The story goes on: Alex found Christ; he was saved. The pastor's life was saved, and Alex now leads worship for that local church.”

* RELIGIOUS SYMBOLS NOT ALLOWED ON FAMILY-PAINTED TILES IN SCHOOL
Following the Columbine high school shootings in 1999, school officials said a tile project was started, but that the families "couldn't paint religious symbols, the names or initials of any of the slain students, the date of the attack, or other references to the shootings," as reported by Scripps Howard News Service report and Knox Studio.
Differences of opinion on why some tiles were not allowed to be used have resulted in a case coming up in the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals on Feb. 1. The families argue that "other religious-themed exhibits inside the school were allowed" including a poster, "God wept over Columbine this day, April 20, 1999."
The school officials say that considering the mental health issues facing the students and "that Columbine...be a school...rather than a memorial" was the basis for their stand. The families' lawyers contend that the school has allowed numerous religious and non-religious memorials to be set up, including a plaque, "In honor of those that lost their lives or those that had their lives changed forever on April 20."

* NIGERIAN CHURCHES THREATENED WITH DEMOLITION
(Nigeria—Mission Network News)--Voice of the Martyrs reports that authorities in Zamfara are threatening to demolish 14 churches. They claim that the state has too many Christian worship centers. The area has been prominent in promoting the Islamic Sharia law in Nigeria. Less than five percent of the population is Christian. believers are alarmed by what appears to be an attempt to remove Christianity from the state. Pray for the church in Nigeria, as it faces continued challenges by the push for Sharia law.

* PROPOSED REPATRIATION OF VIETNAMESE TRIBAL CHRISTIANS MAY BE FLAWED
by Alex Buchan
LONDON, January 28 (Compass) -- An agreement to repatriate to Vietnam nearly one thousand tribal Christians who fled persecution in 2001 is causing concern among international Vietnam watchers.
"These refugees are being pressured to go back with only the flimsiest of guarantees for their safety to an area where the government is still resolutely persecuting tribal Christians," one source said privately.
Hundreds of Vietnam's 500,000 tribal Christians in the Central Highlands fled to neighboring Cambodia after the authorities launched a vicious anti-Christian campaign in mid 2001 in response to February street protests over land rights and religious persecution.
The agreement announced January 22 between the governments of Vietnam, Cambodia, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will send 1,000 asylum seekers back to their homes within weeks. According to the UNHCR spokesperson, Jahanshah Assadi, it is a "voluntary program" and Hanoi has pledged not to punish or discriminate against the returning refugees.
However, others say the agreement is a "sell out" for three reasons. First, it is not a voluntary program as the UNHCR claims. There are concerns the refugees are being forcibly repatriated -- which is against UNHCR guidelines. UNHCR has admitted that it can only conduct follow-up visits to "some" of the Christians after their return and would not be able to ensure that all of them were being fairly treated.
Vietnamese authorities, shaken by the February 2001 protests, jailed scores of Christian leaders, some of whom received sentences ranging from six to 12 years. Many other Christians told of how they were forced by police to drink animal blood mixed with rice wine in an effort to make them reconvert to traditional animism.
When the Vietnamese government granted legal status to the major Protestant denomination, the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (ECVN) in April 2001, it became clear that they did not view the tribal Christians as part of the arrangement, even though at least two-thirds of ECVN members are from the tribal areas.
Vietnam watchers are calling on Western Christians to pressure their governments to clarify the status of these 1,000 asylum seekers who have a "well-founded fear of persecution" and to ensure that they will not be forced to return. Advocates are asking the United States to use trade agreements as leverage to stop the repatriation.

* AZERBAIJAN: TWO-WEEK PRISON FOR PENTECOSTAL
LEADERS (21 Jan). Amid growing pressure on Protestant congregations, two leaders of an unregistered Pentecostal church have been arrested and given fifteen-day prison terms, Protestant sources in the Azerbaijani capital Baku have told Keston News Service. The two - Yusuf Farkhadov and Kasym Kasymov - were detained in Sumgait, a town close to Baku, when police and National Security Ministry officers raided a prayer meeting last Friday (18 January) held in a private flat. "All they were doing was praying," one church member told Keston. The Azerbaijani authorities seem intent on closing down many Protestant churches, with the majority likely to lose their registration.
(24 Jan). The hearing in the case to liquidate the Love Baptist Church in the Azerbaijani capital Baku was postponed yesterday (23 January), the church's pastor Sary Mirzoyev told Keston News Service from Baku. The case was brought by the chairman of the State Committee for Relations with Religious Organisations, who alleges that the church has violated Azerbaijan’s law on religion and should be closed down. The Narimanov district court agreed to the defendant's request to postpone the hearing because of ill health. No date has yet been set for a new hearing, but it is likely to be in about ten days' time.

* KAZAKHSTAN: NEW RESTRICTIVE RELIGION LAW GOES TO UPPER HOUSE
(23 Jan-- Keston News Service). Kazakhstan’s proposed new religion law is likely to be approved by the upper house of the Kazakh parliament on 31 January, despite objections from religious groups, human rights activists and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Keston News Service has learned. It was approved by the lower house on 17 January, and also requires the signature of the president to become law. If adopted unamended it will allow unregistered religious groups to be banned, require all missionaries to be registered and deny legal registration to all religious organisations outside the framework of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan.
One of the justifications presented by Kazakh officials for the new, more restrictive religion law now being adopted is what officials claim is an increased danger to state security from religious organisations. However, Keston News Service found no evidence of any increased threat in the Chimkent region of southern Kazakhstan, which the government regards as a hotbed of religious fundamentalism. An official of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Kazakhstan, which sent the government a detailed critical commentary on the new draft law, told Keston that the OSCE does not believe the situation in Kazakhstan requires such controls to be imposed on religious groups.

* RUSSIA: LOCAL AUTHORITIES RESTRICT GOSPEL DRAMATISATION
(21 Jan—Keston News Service). The city administration in Novomoskovsk, Tula region, has prohibited the screening of the Jesus film – a dramatisation of Luke's Gospel - in municipal buildings, a local Presbyterian pastor, Roman Uglev, informed Keston News Service on 15 January. The decision revoked the permission earlier obtained by a coalition of five of Novomoskovsk's Protestant churches to show the film early this month, and came, according to Uglev, after pressure from a local Orthodox priest. The portrayal of Christ in the film goes against Orthodox teaching, another priest told Keston. Protestants in the city of Kirov have also reported to Keston that they have had screenings of the Jesus film restricted.

* RUSSIA: SALVATION ARMY VICTIMS OF UNETHICAL PRACTICE?
(21 Jan-- Keston News Service) The Salvation Army's serious predicament in Moscow appears to be due at least in part to its refusal to use the services of a particular law firm, Keston News Service has discovered. The state official responsible for registration of religious organisations in the Russian capital has recommended the use of the same law firm - of which he used to be president - in a further two known cases. When one of the religious organisations in question subsequently employed the services of the law firm, Keston has learned, its protracted legal difficulties were swiftly resolved.

* TURKMENISTAN: FURTHER BAPTIST FINES
(23 Jan Keston News Service). Six members of a Baptist congregation in the town of Khazar have been fined for holding "illegal services", Keston News Service has learned. They were summoned to the local administration on 9 January, and were informed that the instruction to fine them came from the political police, the KNB (former KGB). They were also told they should register their community, something they refuse to do for fear of state
control. The six have refused to pay the fines.

** TAKE ACTION **
USA—POP GROUPS
Start a “Pray for our Persecuted” Prayer Group for the Persecuted Church (POP Group). These independent groups meet once a month in churches, homes, coffee shops, libraries or any other place the choose, for the purpose of bringing news regarding persecuted Christians and praying about the news.
Begin gathering materials that help you learn more about the persecuted Church worldwide or religious persecution in general. Below are links to many websites dedicated to distributing news on this topic. Make copies of Persecution News to take with you. Many organizations below have free monthly newsletters either by email or ground mail. Ground mail newsletters often contain pictures of the featured persecuted Christians, which can make your prayers for them more personal and meaningful.
Take time to talk with fellow church or Bible study members — or with friends from other churches — who may also be investigating this issue or who have participated in the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP). Keep an eye out for human rights stories in newspapers and magazines. Keeping a simple scrapbook of these articles can help you organize prayer meetings and keep track of answered prayer.
Above all, begin praying during your own devotional times about the role you might play in helping others become more knowledgeable — and prayerfully responsible — concerning this issue.
Many successful POP Groups have been started and sustained by “ordinary people,” lay people who have discovered a vision to unite with the persecuted Church.
As you begin to organize a POP group, there are several steps to consider:
1. Meet together to discuss and pray about the goals and direction of the group.
2. Examine the spiritual gifts of the group members and the strengths each brings to the group and consider how these may be used to minister to the persecuted.
3. Get to know the ministries who work with persecuted Christians in the field. Again, many are listed below. Some of these groups not only distribute news, but provide health care, emergency care, legal representation, economic development for Christians denied jobs for their faith, and even coordinate travel and housing for displaced and deported Christians.
4. Develop your prayer life and learn to pray efficiently and with purpose. Foot of the Cross can email to you a guide to praying effectively. Just email us at lifewords@hotmail.com and ask for Effective Prayer.
POP Group meetings can be meaningful events in your spiritual life. Many groups pass around persecution news over dessert and fellowship. Others meet right after regular Bible studies. Some meet in Christian bookstores over coffee. Whatever you choose to do, remember that persecuted Christians all over the world are depending on your prayer to the Father on their behalf. When asked what Americans can do for them, most answer, “Pray for us.”


PERSECUTION NEWS is a non-regular periodic service of Foot of the Cross Publications. Articles are copied from various sources, including Newsweek, Keston News, Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter and website, Australian Broadcasting Corp, Compass Direct, Religious News Today and FridayFax and others as noted with each article. Persecution News is published for the sole purpose of disseminating information about persecution of Christians around the world, and subscriptions are free.