Mexico a ‘case study in government inaction’ as third priest killed this year

A third Mexican priest this year has been killed following a violent attack at his parish just outside Mexico City.

Luis Lopez Villa, 71, was killed by intruders at his San Isidro Labrador parish in Nezahualcóyotl on 5 July. An initial police report said his hands and feet were bound with tape and that he suffered two deep wounds – “one on the neck and one on the left side of the chest”, reports Fides.

“With great pain and dismay we inform of the death of our diocesan priest … who was killed by criminals,” said a statement from his diocese.

“The priest … was born on January 20, 1946 in Santiaguillo (Michoacan). He was ordained a priest in Amecameca, Mexico, on July 18, 1985. Everyone – priests and lay faithful in the diocese of Nezahualcóyotl – are shocked and saddened by this news. Let us pray for our authorities and let us have trust in them, so that they are able to clarify this crime. Let us pray for peace and justice in our communities.”

“Far from supporting the Catholic Church’s many social welfare projects, the state’s indifference is simply encouraging the activities of criminal groups. Must the violence against church leaders increase even more before attention is finally turned on the authorities’ avoidance of their duty to protect its citizens?”

Rossana Ramirez, Open Doors

Earlier this year, on 26 March, Father Felipe Carrillo Altamirano was killed in Nayarit state. Previously, in January, the Bishop of Saltillo in Coahuila state, José Raúl Vera López, went missing and was later found dead.

In June, the director of the Catholic Multimedia Centre in Mexico said violence against the clergy is “increasing” and that “nothing concrete has been done to stop it”.

Fr Omar Sotelo told Fides: “Our people, we know, are permanently exposed to crime, but especially now the priesthood is becoming a dangerous ministry. For the last seven years, Mexico has registered the highest number of priests murdered”.

Fides reported in June that in the past five years, 17 priests have been assassinated, two are still missing and two suffered attempted abduction.

‘State indifference’

Violence related to organised crime is “perhaps the most significant threat to Latin America’s Christians”, according to Dennis Petri from the Christian charity Open Doors.

Given that as many as 90% of Mexico’s population would identify as Christian, Petri told World Watch Monitor in April that “it’s important not to look so much at their identity as Christians, but more at their behaviour that results from their Christian convictions. Whenever a Christian starts to engage in social work – for example setting up a drug rehabilitation clinic or organising youth work, that is a direct threat to the activities and interests of organised crime because it takes the youth away from them, so it is a direct threat to their market”.

Christians are also targeted because of the perception that churches and their leaders have a lot of money, so congregations offer a ready source of cash – cartels can simply enter, lock the doors and ask the congregation to empty their pockets.

According to Voltaire Net, two drug cartels in particular, Los Zetas and Los Caballeros Templarios, are intimidating and extorting money from Catholic priests and attacking other religious leaders.

In June, a Catholic priest in Tijuana, on the US border, had a screwdriver rammed into the side of his head, as Televisa News reported, leaving him seriously injured.

“Mexico is a case study for attacks on Catholic priests and government inaction,” says Rossana Ramirez from Open Doors’ World Watch Research unit. “As concluded by Crisis Group in a report dated 15 June 2017, the government should end its policy of denial and eradicate corruption and alliances between criminals and various state officials, and end the deep political and economic disparity between the majority of the population and the national elite.

“Far from supporting the Catholic Church’s many social welfare projects, the state’s indifference is simply encouraging the activities of criminal groups. Must the violence against church leaders increase even more before attention is finally turned on the authorities’ avoidance of their duty to protect its citizens?”

Churches in Egypt Shut Down Summer Activities Amid Heightened Attacks Against Christians

Acting on the advice of Egypt’s security services, the country’s churches have cancelled conferences, tours and other events scheduled for this month amid threats of more attacks on the minority community.

“These measures have come after our community has experienced brutal attacks against innocent women, men and children across Egypt, and we pray will help to safeguard against future atrocities,” Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom said, noting that he has spoken to colleagues in Cairo and learned that “the current campaign of terror against Christians is escalating rapidly.”

He added, “This unfortunate step comes at a time when children, young people and families will be deprived of the conferences and trips that they so look forward to over the summer period and have grown accustomed to over decades. Saying that however, it is of course more important, while recognising their huge disappointment, to do our best to ensure their safety.”

At least 117 Coptic Orthodox Christians have been murdered across the country since December, according to the Coptic Orthodox Church in Europe.

“This campaign began with the bombing of St Peter’s Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo in December 2016, and followed by Palm Sunday church bombings in Tanta and Alexandria, an attack on pilgrims visiting a monastery in Minya, and targeted attacks on individuals across Egypt,” Bishop Angaelos notes.

Palm Sunday bombings killed 45 Christians.

Islamic State, also known as IS, ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, claimed responsibility for those attacks. IS also signaled while claiming responsibility that more attacks were coming: “The Crusaders and their apostate followers must be aware that the bill between us and them is very large, and they will be paying it like a river of blood from their sons, if God is willing.”

Among the 29 killed in the Minya attack on May 26 were also children, including a 2-year-old girl.

The Christians were traveling in two buses and a small truck in Minya, which is home to a sizeable Christian minority, when they were attacked. Masked gunmen stopped the vehicles on a road leading to the monastery and opened fire.

One of the survivors of the massacre said that IS extremists forced the women off the bus and ordered them to renounce their faith in Christ, but the Copts refused.

Sinai Province, the name of the local affiliate of IS in Egypt, is seeking to impose a hardline interpretation of Islam in the country.

The killing of Christians and efforts to instill terror in everyday life are part of the extremists’ mission to unravel the entire country, according to experts.

Mokhtar Awad, a research fellow in the program on extremism at George Washington University, told Reuters that IS wants to tear “at the fabric of society.”

“A confluence of factors has seen this escalation happen now,” Awad said. “They hope that this is the first step to basically unravel the country.”

“The developments reflect how Islamic State is expanding operations in the Arab world’s most populous country as the extremist group faces setbacks in Syria, Iraq and Libya, say analysts,” according to a Reuters report. “While the group has failed to capture territory in Egypt, it is trying to stoke sectarian tensions and social unrest. An examination of what’s happening in North Sinai, a region rarely accessible by reporters, shows the strategy is scoring some success.”

Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 92 million.

Immigrants Are Reshaping American Missions

Valentin Salamanca

The knocking roused Valentin Salamanca from bed around 4 a.m. He was not sleeping anyway. He feared they would come, and now they had.

Valentin walked a few steps from his bedroom and opened the front door to a man in a black ski mask holding an assault rifle, demanding he come with him. Though the man appeared alone, Valentin could hear other voices in the dark.

The 60-something pastor was overseeing a growing ministry in western El Salvador; he had planted 26 churches with a combined attendance of more than 900 worshipers. The congregation Valentin led personally, a Pentecostal group 130 strong, was finishing a new building and planning another to house a sponsorship program for around 75 local children.

In many ways, he was a victim of his own success, a pastor on the frontlines of a flourishing international partnership between a church of immigrants in the United States and an ambitious mission effort in El Salvador. It had been years in the making.

Valentin had met Jesus after he came to America in 1988 and eventually opened a church in downtown Los Angeles. He worked in construction until an injury took him out of commission. When he returned with his wife to El Salvador in 1995, their son, Mario, took over the Los Angeles church.

Valentin Salamanca

In El Salvador, Valentin planted a new church near the city of Santa Ana, setting his sights on the crowds of youth who were being drawn into the violent gangs overtaking his country. Mario and his US congregation began investing heavily in Valentin’s church, pioneers in what missiologists call “transnational ministry.”

By 2010, the father and son had a thriving if humble partnership. “We’re a single body,” Valentin said. The church in Los Angeles, a blue-collar body of immigrants where some tithe from scrap-metal earnings, wired a total of $20,000 for the new church and ministry building in El Salvador. Members also sponsored Salvadoran children for around $20 a month, donations that the church pooled and sent to Valentin to fund the afterschool program.

Valentin and Mario credited God with the ministry’s success—success the gangs had noticed. Valentin had received threats before. The pastors knew the risks of operating in El Salvador. But few ministries were reaching gang members, and the two felt God’s calling to do it.

The 2010 kidnapping lasted roughly seven hours. Blindfolded with a gun to his head, Valentin was led along footpaths snaking through coffee farms and up into the mountains. His captors released him on the side of a highway not far from his home, with orders to deliver $6,000 in 24 hours.

Valentin pawned some of his church’s worship equipment. When the clock ran out, he had only come up with $500 and, in what he can only credit to a miracle, the gang let him live. “Truly God saved me,” he said.

The incident—and another death threat two years later—would lead the pastors to rethink their entire approach to missions. Their experience also offers a glimpse into a growing movement among Latino immigrants in the United States that is redefining missions as it navigates perils at home and abroad.

Pastor Mario Salamanca’s Los Angeles–area church is reaching gang members in El Salvador through church planting and mercy ministries.

Image: Zachary Bako

Pastor Mario Salamanca’s Los Angeles–area church is reaching gang members in El Salvador through church planting and mercy ministries.

The economic and prayer engine powering Valentin’s ministry is an unmarked storefront where visitors enter through a back door in an industrial alley, the only door with a welcome mat.

Mario’s church, Ministerio a la Luz de la Palabra, is in East Compton, where the paint fades and weeds push unopposed through the sidewalks. The congregation leases, for a steal, a strip-mall theater that had all but burned to the ground before volunteers gutted it in 2008 and remade it into a house of worship.

Islamists in Pakistan Accuse Christian Minor of Blaspheming Islam’s Prophet

Shahzad Masih. (Morning Star News courtesy of family)

LAHOREPakistan (Morning Star News) – A member of an Islamic extremist group in Pakistan has accused a Christian minor of blasphemy after the boy had an argument with a Muslim, sources said.

Hina Shafaqat, mother of 17-year-old Shahzad Masih, told Morning Star News that her son had been wrongly implicated in the case by a Muslim colleague with whom he had a quarrel 10 days ago, and the family has not been able to locate him since his arrest.

Working as a sweeper at Shamim Riaz Hospital in Dinga town, Gujrat District, Punjab Province for the past nine months, Masih had an altercation with hospital pharmacy employee Ishtiaq Ahmed Jalali, she said. A senior medical officer at the hospital intervened and calmed the quarrel, but “Jalali nurtured a grudge against my son and has now plotted this case against him to settle the score,” she said.

“I’ve raised Shahzad as a devout Roman Catholic – I’ve never taught my children to hate people belonging to other faiths, which is why I am sure that my son is being wrongly accused of blasphemy,” she said. “The police arrested my son on Friday [July 14], and since then we have been trying to locate his whereabouts.”

Neither the Dinga police nor the Kharian police said they have him in their custody, she said.

“We have searched so many police stations but have failed to trace him,” she said, adding that police were torturing the family mentally by not disclosing her son’s location or revealing his well-being.

Masih, the oldest of five children, is the family breadwinner along with his father, a daily wage mason. Shahzad Masih went to school until grade four, after which his family could not afford to further education.

“We, and the family of my brother-in-law Rafaqat, had to relocate to a relative’s house on Friday [July 14] to avoid any backlash from the local Muslims, who are being instigated by an Islamist outfit,” she said.

More than 30 other Christian families also live in Mohalla Railway Station of Dinga town.

Dinga Police Station House Officer (SHO) Inspector Shahbaz Ahmad dodged questions about facts of the case, telling Morning Star News only, “The accused has committed blasphemy.”

The police official did note that a First Information Report (FIR No. 273/17) was registered against Masih under Section 295-C, which calls for death or life imprisonment to those found guilty of blaspheming against Muhammad, the prophet of Islam.

According to the FIR, complainant Nadeem Ahmed – president of the Dinga chapter of Islamist outfit Tehreek Tahafuz-e-Islam Pakistan – alleged that he was sitting in his electronic appliances shop when Ishtiaq Ahmed Jalali came and informed him that Masih had uttered derogatory remarks against Muhammad. Jalali is also a member of Tehreek Tahafuz-e-Islam Pakistan.

“Upon hearing this, we sent a boy to Shahzad Masih’s home and asked him to come to the Popular Mobile Shop for clearing the issue,” Ahmed alleged in the FIR. “When Masih came there, we asked him about the accusation, to which he again started abusing and cursing the Holy Prophet. Some people who had gathered at the shop by then also witnessed the blasphemy done by Masih.”

Ahmed alleged that the Christian boy “managed to escape from the shop.”

Inspector Ahmad declined to comment on why he thought Masih had committed blasphemy or if he had admitted to it.

“You know very well I cannot repeat the blasphemous words,” he said, avoiding questions as to what could have motivated the Christian to do such a thing. He also did not offer any plausible explanation as to how Masih was able to flee from the scene in the presence of a large number of upset Muslims.

“Talk to the SP, because we just registered the case and forwarded it to him for further action,” he said before putting down the phone.

Repeated attempts to reach Superintendent of Police (SP) Maaz Zafar failed as his telephone operator said that the senior official was busy and would return the call later. At this writing, however, Zafar had not contacted Morning Star News.

Attorneys Riaz Anjum and Kashif Naimat from the Pakistan Center for Law and Justice (PCLJ) told Morning Star News from Dinga that they had offered legal and financial assistance to Shahzad Masih’s family as he was one of the main providers of income for the family, and his arrest had badly degraded their finances.

“The case is clearly fabricated, because the FIR does not state any motive for Shahzad Masih’s alleged blasphemy,” Anjum said. “It’s very unfortunate that Pakistani police book people in blasphemy cases before even trying to ascertain the facts. Now the boy will be made to suffer in prison like so many other innocent people who have fallen victim to the harsh blasphemy laws.”

He said that their investigation had corroborated the account of the Christian family.

“It is true that Masih had a fight with a pharmacy worker over a week ago, and the matter was resolved by a doctor,” Anjum said. “Local sources told us that Jalali bore a grudge against Masih, and he had connived with the complainant, Nadeem Ahmad, to settle his personal score with the Christian boy.”

Pastor in Punjab State, India Shot Dead

Pastor shot dead outside Ludhiana church

HYDERABADIndia (Morning Star News) – A pastor in northern India’s Punjab state was shot dead in front of his church premises two months after Hindu extremists took offense at a gospel event celebrating his church’s 25th anniversary, sources said.

Pastor Sultan Masih of Temple of God, Ludhiana, was found shot dead at Peer Banda Mohalla in the Salem Tabri area of Ludhiana District on Saturday evening (July 15). He was 50.

Masih was talking by phone outside the church building when assailants on a motorbike shot him, CCTV footage recovered by the police shows. His son Anoop Masih, discovered him.

“Anoop Masih heard the noise of shooting and came out of his room on the first floor,” Raj Kamal Masih, youngest brother of Sultan Masih told Morning Star News. “Seeing his dad lying on the road, he screamed and alerted everyone in the church building.”

Pastor Vishnu Dev, a close friend of Pastor Masih, told Morning Star News that until recently there was no major opposition to the slain pastor, but that in May he “took a bold step” and led gospel meetings commemorating the 25th anniversary of his church’s founding. Pastor Balwinder Kumar, whom Pastor Masih mentored, said representatives of Hindu extremist umbrella group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) objected to the event.

“RSS activists arrived there and started accusing the pastor of forced conversions,” Pastor Kumar told Morning Star News. “They came to him to quarrel twice after the event, too.”

The extremists were videotaping him as they accused him of paying people to convert to Christianity, he said.

“The feud was not so very serious that he had to be killed like this,” Pastor Kumar said. “The RSS activists accused him that, ‘You Christians get paid for converting people. How much do you pay the converted?’ They were stiff and were not listening when Pastor Masih tried to explain it is not true.”

The RSS members created nuisance, but there was no fight, and they went away, he said.

Pastor Dev said the slain clergyman had told him he was facing growing opposition.

“He and his family are serving Christ for decades and they are at peace with everyone,” he said. “But four days before he was shot, I met him, and he told me, “Please pray for us, as we continue standing for Christ, many enemies are standing up against us. Please pray for us.”

Doctors at Dayanand Medical College, where Pastor Masih was taken after he was shot, reported that he received three bullets: one in his chest, one close to the neck and chest, and another on his cheek close to the ear.

Pastor Masih’s brother, Raj Kamal Masih, said the family was in shock.

“My brother was a peace loving man,” he said. “We don’t have any enmity towards anyone. Since over two decades my brother is serving Christ.”

Inspector of police, Amandeep Singh Brar told Morning Star News that an investigation is underway, and that the body has been sent for an autopsy.

“We have no clue regarding the attackers,” he said.

Catholic Bishops in the Philippines say no religious war in Phillipines

The Catholic Bishops in the Philippines, at the end of their episcopal Conference in Manila, have called for an end to the crisis in the southern city of Marawi (Mindanao), which, they say, “is not a conflict of religion”.

“We heard and read truly amazing stories of how the Muslims protected us and helped Christians avoid an almost certain death. Now Christians are helping thousands of Muslims who have fled from Marawi. These are indisputable signs that there is no religious war,” they said in a statement.

Agenzia Fides reports that “the Bishops, alongside Mindanao Islamic religious scholars and leaders, deplore the ‘violent extremist group of Maute in Marawi, who, swearing allegiance to Islam, contradicted the fundamental principles of Islam by abducting and killing innocent people’”.

No negotiations

The Catholic priest Teresito “Chito” Suganob (seen here in a video) is being held hostage by the Maute group.

The Bishops make no mention of members of their church who have been held hostage by the IS-affiliated group since it started besieging Marawi on 23 May. Among them is the Catholic priest Teresito “Chito” Suganob, who was captured together with a number of others when the militants invaded his cathedral in Marawi.

He has since then been seen alive and the Maute group have offered his release in exchange for the parents of their leader, Abdullah Maute.

Earlier the Catholic bishop in Marawi, Bishop Edwin de la Pena, made it clear that he will not negotiate for the release of his priest, Fr Suganob, as he dismissed the idea as “ridiculous”.

Speaking at a gathering of church members in the northern province of Pangasinan, Bishop Edwin de La Pena said “there is no way we can dialogue” with extremists and that “we can only dialogue with like-minded people”, the Catholic news agency UCAN reports.

His statement is in line with the position of the Philippines government, which has said that it does not want to deal with terrorists.

Inter-religious initiatives

However, speaking to Agenzia Fides, the Bishop is quoted as saying that he is hoping for negotiations to take place “with an inclusive approach, which is supported by civil society in Mindanao”. The Bishop-Ulama Conference, a group of Christian and Muslim leaders, suggested to the government to take “an inclusive approach to resolve the crisis, involving Islamic leaders and placing them in the forefront of negotiations”.

Fides also reports that in different parts of the Philippines interreligious initiatives have started. In Cebu, for example, an island north of Mindanao, “Muslim communities have invited people of different faiths to ‘respect and love each other’ to promote peace”.

Also, the Church and local Islamic leaders held an interreligious prayer meeting in the Basilica of the Holy Nine in Cebu city.

Meanwhile, in Quezon City, Manila, an estimated 800km north of Cebu Island, at least a thousand Muslims and Christians gathered to pray together in a show of unity at noon on 7 July.

Fatwa against violent extremism

In a surprise turn of events last week the Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group backed a fatwa – an Islamic legal ruling – against violent extremism issued by a senior Islamic religious leader in the troubled southern region of Mindanao.

Sheikh Abehuraira Abdulrahman Udasan, mufti of the influential Bangsamoro House of Opinion in Mindanao, warned of “an urgent need to fight violent extremism or radicalism, in compliance with the injunction of the Quran and the prophetic tradition”.

Islam arrived in the Philippines before Christianity, in the 13th and 14th centuries, and Catholicism arrived with the Spanish in the 1500s. Mindanao, where Marawi is located, remained largely Muslim and “its religious balance was tipped in favour of Christianity only due to resettlement programs started during the US colonial period in the early part of the 20th century, and accelerated after World War II”, according to a Reuters’ article.

The article describes how Muslims in the south of the island do not consider themselves Filipino and how they are deeply suspicious of US activities there, noting that “signs reading ‘US troops out’ are dotted around Marawi”.

‘Peaceful and prosperous’ Marawi

Marawi’s residents are fleeing a town that was once peaceful and prosperous.

In 1980 Marawi proclaimed itself an “Islamic City” and it is the only city in the country with that designation. Catholics account for around 1 per cent of its 180,000 population, but life in the city was until recently peaceful and prosperous, as Muslims and Christians lived together in harmony, according to Bishop Edwin de la Pena; it was a place where, in addition to Christian festivals such as Easter and Christmas, schools in the city got the entire month of Ramadan off, and where Father Suganob’s modest cathedral did not have a cross outside as “people here don’t want a large symbol”, the priest was quoted as saying.

Christians in Coastal Kenya Fearful after Slaughter of 13 Non-Muslims

Kenya's Coast Province. (TUBS, Wikipedia)

NAIROBIKenya (Morning Star News) – Al Shabaab militia over the weekend killed 13 non-Muslims, mostly Christians, in coastal Kenya, sources said.

Village Muslims in the Pandanguo settlement of Lamu County helped Islamic extremists from the Somalia-based Al Shabaab identify locations where the Christians resided, a survivor of the attack told Morning Star News from a hospital in Mpeketoni. Several of the victims were beheaded.

The assailants killed four non-Muslims in Kipini (sometimes called Kadundu) on Sunday (July 9), not far from the Boni forest, a reputed hiding place of Al Shabaab rebels battling the government in Somalia. Early Saturday morning in Jima they killed nine non-Muslims in attacks that began at around 11 p.m. the previous night, shooting some and hacking others to death with machetes, including beheadings, area sources said.

“The Christians were asked to recite the Islamic dogmas, which they could not, hence they were killed,” a source said. “We urged the government to investigate and bring to book these local Muslims who are harboring these Al Shabaab terrorists, because the Christians who were decapitated were farmers.”

Those who managed to flee and survived have had their crops damaged by wild animals and are still in great shock, the source added.

“The government has now beefed up security in the area, and we hope the victims who fled will soon return back, but they need some trauma counseling first,” he said.

Area Christians have now left their villages.

“We are now residing at the police station in Hindi for fear of possible attacks,” one area resident told Morning Star News.

Many area people are still missing or unaccounted for, and there are fears the casualty toll may increase.

Two other sources in Lamu County said Christians in the coastal region of Kenya are in serious crisis as they face food shortages after fleeing their farms.

Acting Interior Secretary Fred Matiang’i has imposed a three-month curfew in Lamu, Tana River, and Garissa counties in an effort to counter Al Shabaab’s attacks. The curfew began on Sunday (July 9) and is in effect until Oct. 9.

Rebels from Al Shabaab, which is allied with Al Qaeda, have launched several attacks in northeast Kenya since Kenyan forces led an African coalition into Somalia against the rebels in October 2011 in response to terrorist attacks on tourists and others on Kenya’s coast. Attacks on non-Muslims on Kenya’s coast have also continued.

Third Iranian convert given lengthy sentence alongside pastor

More details have emerged about the sentencing of four Iranian Christians earlier this week.

On Wednesday (5 July)*, World Watch Monitor reported that three Christians – a pastor and two converts to Christianity – had been given lengthy jail terms, but now it emerges that a fourth man, another convert, was also sentenced.

Kaviyan Fallah-Mohammadi was sentenced to 10 years in jail for “acting against national security by organising and conducting house-churches”, as was fellow convert Hadi Asgari. The third convert, Amin Afshar-Naderi, received an additional five-year sentence – so 15 years in all – for “insulting the sacred” (blasphemy).

Fallah-Mohammadi and Afshar-Naderi were first arrested alongside their pastor, Victor Bet-Tamraz, as they celebrated Christmas together in 2014. Bet-Tamraz, who led the Tehran Pentecostal Assyrian Church until its closure by Iran’s Interior Ministry in 2009, has also been sentenced to 10 years in prison. Of Assyrian descent, the pastor was found guilty of “conducting evangelism” and “illegal house-church activities”, among other charges. His convictions are believed to relate to actions before and after the closure of his church.

The defendants were not in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court when the sentences were read out on 4 July, but their lawyer was present and will appeal against the court’s decision this week. It is believed their appeal process could take anywhere between two months and two years.

The four have been required to pay differing amounts for bail, ranging from 100-300 million tomans (between $30,000-$90,000). Bet-Tamraz and Fallah-Mohammadi have posted bail, but Asgari and Afshar-Naderi remain in jail, where they have been since their arrest in August 2016while on a picnic in the Alborz mountains, north-east of Tehran. Three other Christians arrested at the picnic – including the pastor’s son, Ramil – were later released on bail after each paying between $30,000-$60,000.

Earlier this year, Asgari and Afshar-Naderi went on hunger strike to protest against being denied medical treatment, having reportedly suffered ill health. Middle East Concern reported that Asgari had faced “particularly intense pressure” during his interrogation.

Meanwhile, Bet-Tamraz’s wife, Shamiran Issavi, and their son, Ramil, await trial. Mrs Bet-Tamraz was last month charged with “participating in foreign seminars” and “acting against Iranian national security” as a church member. She was released a day later on bail equivalent to $30,000.

Ramil Bet-Tamraz has been charged with “acting against national security” and “organising and creating house churches” as well as charges relating to his father’s ministry.

Iraqi Pastor Miraculously Survives Car Bomb

Iraqi Pastor Miraculously Survives Car Bomb

An Iraqi pastor who miraculously survived a car bomb explosion credits God with saving him, and says that God still has work for him to do.

CBN News reports that Pastor Joseph sensed that something was amiss the morning of the car bomb explosion. He got into his car and started the vehicle as usual, but seconds later the vehicle erupted into flames as the bomb detonated.

“I was totally confused, and I couldn’t see anymore,” the pastor recalled from that horrific experience.

He also remembered a woman screaming, “This man is dying!”

And indeed, Pastor Joseph thought he was about the die, but God had other plans.

“Each part of my car was destroyed and damaged, except for my seat.” Pastor Joseph remembered. “I had no scratches. The car was in flames, but I wasn’t burned. I found pieces of glass in my hair and four parts of the bomb in the scarf I had around my neck. As if a scarf could stop a bomb. Nothing touched me, I lost not even a drop of blood.”

The pastor knows it was God who allowed him to survive, and he believes God did so because He still had work for him to do.

“God gave me additional time. He put his stamp on my ministry, He said ‘Go on.’ God encouraged me that day.”

Pastor Joseph has been encouraged to witness so many Muslims turning to Christ despite the threats they face.

“We have new blood, born again new believers,” he said. “We like to be like a Menorah,” he added. “We’re a small group, we trust in our God. He can use us. We see that everyone is seeking peace, love, and hope. We as a church are sharing about the ultimate source of these things. When they hear us talking about this, they listen.”

Preachers Acquitted of UK ‘Crime & Disorder Act’ Charges

(Editor’s George Duke’s Note- It is shocking that a nation that once loved God today has turned against him. I remember while having a street service in Bristol and Newport how we were attacked by British people who did not want us preaching in the streets. We do not know how much longer the gospel of Jesus Christ will be allowed to even be preached from the pulpit in the U.S.A. without someone attempting to sue or have us arrested . Truly we are living in perilous times.)

 

BRISTOL, U.K. — Two preachers who had been found guilty earlier this year of “intentionally alarming” the public with their open-air preaching have now been acquitted in a UK appeals court.

“We hope and pray that today’s ruling will be an encouragement to Christians across the nation to continue preaching the good news,” defendant Michael Overd said in a statement on Thursday.

As previously reported, Michael Overd and Michael Stockwell had been charged by British officials last July with violating the Crime and Disorder Act of 1998, in allegedly using “threatening or abusive words or behavior or disorderly behavior within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress.” The statute specifically hones in on offenses that are “religiously motivated.”
 

Overd and Stockwell, along with Adrian Clark and Don Karns, had been taking turns open air preaching outside of the Bristol shopping center on July 6, as well as engaging passersby in conversation and/or holding gospel signs.

Two of those involved in the evangelism effort, Stockwell and Karns, were American citizens visiting the country to share the gospel. The men allegedly preached on a variety of issues, and took questions from those who stopped to listen—questions that ranged from Islam, Buddhism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuality and other moral and religious issues. Police stated that some became offended by the men’s preaching and/or responses to the questions, as statements reportedly included remarks such as “Allah is the greatest deceiver—that’s in the Koran,” “David Cameron is no more a Christian than my dogs” and that false religion leads men to “the gates and the very depth of Hell.” An online video shows the moment the men were arrested.

“The purpose of mankind is to worship God and enjoy Him,” declared Overd, who was preaching at the time. “You need to obey God and obey His commands. I hated His commands once and I remember what that mind frame is—it is like banging your head against a brick wall.” Seconds later, Overd was approached by a police officer, who ordered him to leave the area. “Look, you are causing a disturbance now,” the officer stated. “You are not welcome.” “Go home! Go home!” a few men nearby chanted. The officer warned that if Overd did not stop preaching, he would be arrested. “For God so loved the world, guys, that He gave His only begotten…” Overd declared, advising that he was not going to leave. The officer consequently grabbed Overd by the arm while he was speaking and pulled him away. The crowd clapped and cheered enthusiastically. “There’s a line of freedom of speech,” the officer told Overd. “[I]t’s when you’re causing a disturbance, that is, aggravating people, anti-social behavior, which you were causing.” “How were we causing it?” Overd asked. “What did we say?” “People were getting angry. You were challenging [homosexuality]. You were challenging Muslims,” the officer replied. “But just saying what the Bible says,” Overd noted. “That’s fine,” the officer said. “Well, if it’s fine, why are you arresting me?” Overd asked. Stockwell, Karns and Clark were also arrested, but the charge against Karns was later dropped and the charge against Clark was dismissed last week at trial. In February, Justices Robert Stacey, Gerry McDermot and Josephine Ramsden declared Overd and Stockwell guilty of violating the Crime and Disorder Act, and fined them nearly $2,500 each. During the trial, prosecutor Ian Jackson argued before the court that preaching that Jesus is the only way to God “cannot be a truth” and that some passages of the Bible are not acceptable for 2016. “To say to someone that Jesus is the only God is not a matter of truth. To the extent that they are saying that the only way to God is through Jesus, that cannot be a truth,” he declared, according to a press release issued by the Christian Legal Centre. He contended that Stockwell and Overd had crossed the line by stating that those not following Christ are on the broad path to destruction. “[Stockwell preached that] people were on their way to Hell because of their failure to adopt the worldview of Christianity,” Jackson told the court. “If you are trying to come through Catholicism, through Jehovah Witness, through Mormonism, the Bible says you’re a thief and a liar, and a thief comes to steal and destroy. But Christ came that we may have life,” Stockwell had explained during the outreach. Jackson said that it was also wrong for the preachers to include homosexuals in a list of sinners that included drunkards and thieves, contending that doing so “must be considered to be abusive and is a criminal matter.” But attorney Michael Phillips of the Christian Legal Centre noted to the court that the men were simply citing 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which reads, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the Kingdom of God? Be not deceived: Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” The Daily Mail reported that Jackson “told the court some of the statements made by the preachers may have been in the King James Bible, translated in 1611, but that did not mean they were acceptable in 2016.” During this week’s appeal hearing, which lasted two days before the Bristol Crown Court, Standing Counsel Paul Diamond told those gathered that there is no right not to be exposed to ideas that one disagrees with and that passersby can simply continue walking if they do not wish to hear certain messages. Stockwell and Overd also shared with those present that their motivation is only to share the gospel. Judge Martin Picton, who was joined by two other appeals court judges, subsequently ruled that the prosecution could not sufficiently prove that the men were motivated by animus toward any people group. “We conclude Mr. Stockwell did no more than express his no doubt sincerely held religious beliefs as he was entitled to do,” he said, according to the Bristol Post. Stockwell and Overd expressed relief over their exoneration, as well as concern regarding the infringement of free speech rights in Britain. “Our motivation for public preaching is love. We want people to have access to the good news about Jesus Christ,” Stockwell said in a statement. “When we were convicted of public order offenses in February, I was shocked that God’s message of love is now considered by some to be hateful and dangerous.” “Freedom of speech is under increasing assault in this nation. People should be free to express their beliefs in public, without risk of harm, violence or other repercussions. That’s why today’s result is such a great victory,” he said.