CAR: Two priests among dozens massacred as Islamic militants raid church compound

n Central African Republic, violence reached another peak last Thursday as dozens were killed in the small town of Alindao, in the south-east of the country.

On 15 November, armed men believed to be members of a Séléka off-shoot known by its French acronym UPC (Unité pour la Paix en Centrafrique), a mainly Muslim and Fulani militia, stormed the cathedral and the nearby refugee camp hosting more than 26,000 people displaced following previous attacks in the town and its surrounding villages.

Last year, the same town suffered a bloodbath also attributed to UPC militants. According to Amnesty International, 130 people were massacred on 8 May 2017, though credible sources estimated the toll reached several hundred. The victims were Christian townspeople and villagers, perceived as supporting armed groups that oppose UPC’s rule.

The group moved to the area in 2014 when the Séléka coalition (which took power in March 2013) was disbanded. Since then UPC militants have committed numerous abuses against civilians, prompting reaction from local self-defence militias, often referred to as Anti-balaka (“Anti-machete”).

Last week’s massacre followed the same pattern and was said to have been triggered by clashes between militiamen, following the killing of a UPC fighter.

Early reports suggest that more 40 people lost their lives during the killing spree carried out by UPC militants but other sources estimated that as many as 100 people may have been killed.

Last year, the same town suffered a bloodbath also attributed to UPC militants. (Photo: Catholic Church in CAR)

Testimonies and pictures gathered by World Watch Monitor revealed the scale of the devastation as dozens of bodies littered the ground, mixed with the burned debris of tents and other belongings of the IDPs. Some of the victims were burned beyond recognition, while others had been shot or dismembered with machetes.

Juan Jose Aguirre Muños, Bishop of Bangassou, adjacent to that of Alindao, also gave chilling details of the attack.

“The men of [UPC general] Ali Darassa assaulted, looted and set fire to the displaced camp and killed women and children; they burned down the cathedral where they killed the two priests,” he told Fides agency, adding that “immediately after the UPC mercenaries allowed groups of young Muslims of the western part to enter the eastern part of Alindao and looted the bishop’s residence and burned the presbytery and the centre of Caritas”.

In a statement published on Friday 16 November, the Central African Episcopal Conference denounced the massacre, stating that the Catholic Church “has become the target of armed groups in Central Africa”.

Since the beginning of the year, five Catholic priests have lost their lives in various attacks attributed to ex-Séléka militants, as World Watch Monitor has reported.

In June, Fr. Firmin Gbagoua, 52, was fatally wounded when gunmen stormed the presbytery of St. Joseph’s Cathedral of Bambari, in the centre of the country.

A month earlier, on 1 May, Fr. Albert Tougoumalé Baba, 71, was killed when armed men from PK5, a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood of the capital Bangui, stormed the Parish of Our Lady Fatima during a Mass.

In March, the same Diocese of Bambari lost another cleric – Fr. Désiré Angbabata, parish priest of Séko, a village about 60km from Bambari. He was killed by UPC militants along with a dozen members of his church.

In January, Fr. Alain Blaise Bissialo from the Diocese of Bangassou was severely wounded and left for dead, but he survived his wounds.

In their statement the bishops asked the government and MINUSCA (the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic) to “coordinate their actions so that the perpetrators of these crimes and their instigators are arrested and brought to justice”.

Since the beginning of the year, five Catholic priests have lost their lives in various attacks attributed to ex-Séléka militants. (Catholic Church in CAR)

Cardinal Dieudonné Nzapalainga, the Archbishop of Bangui, is due to visit the affected area. He was away during the attack, alongside the two fellow leaders of CAR’s interfaith platform, as the three clerics collected the Eliasson Foundation Global Leadership Prize 2018 in recognition of their work to overcome religious and civil strife. Cardinal Nzapalainga, Pastor Nicolas Guérékoyame-Gbangou and Imam Omar Kobine collected their award at a ceremony on 15 November in Mexico City.

The government has also condemned the killing, and decreed three days of national mourning beginning yesterday, 22 November.

The UN also strongly condemned the spike in attacks against civilians in Alindao and elsewhere in the country.

“The world cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening in the CAR. We are back to square one!” said Najat Rochdi, Deputy Special Representative for MINUSCA, in a statement issued on 21 November. “These despicable attacks are taking a huge toll on the lives of innocent men, women, boys and girls. They have lost everything, including hope.”

UN blamed

According to local sources, Thursday’s massacre took place despite the presence of UN peacekeepers, believed to be from the Mauritanian contingent, at the Catholic compound. A Catholic priest told Fides that UN forces even withdrew to leave the refugees to their own devices.

“From what I have been told by my contacts, the Blue Helmets of MINUSCA did not defend the population from the rebels who committed the assault in Alindao. At the arrival of the guerrillas they went back to their base, leaving the population to their fate of death and destruction,” said Fr. Amos Boubas, a Central African priest studying in Rome.

This accusation was reiterated by Bishop Aguirre, who said that “as soon as the attack began, the Mauritanian Blue Helmets of MINUSCA withdrew to their base”.

According to the UN, some 2.9 million people are in need of assistance and protection in CAR. (Catholic Church in CAR)

In reaction to the Alindao killings, the president of the civil society groups in CAR, Christian Beninga, called on the government to deploy FACA (the army) in order to ensure security in the town. He also called on the UN to withdraw the Mauritanian contingent and replace it with a “non-Muslim and more professional one”.

It’s not the first time that UN troops have been accused of passivity or even partiality in massacres committed by armed groups in CAR, though the UN has always denied any wrongdoing.

On 5-6 August 2017, dozens of civilians were slaughtered in an attack by UPC militants in the south-eastern town of Gambo. Most of the victims were women and children, and many had their throats slit; others were burnt alive in their properties. Ten Red Cross workers were among those killed. The Moroccan UN troops, who were in the town during the violence, did nothing to prevent the killings or protect civilians, several local sources told World Watch Monitor.

A month later, on 1 September 2017, dozens of people were killed as armed men invaded the south-eastern town of Zemio, despite the presence of UN troops believed to be from Morocco. The assailants also looted and ransacked a number of properties, including the Catholic church compound, prompting some 15,000 people who had sought refuge there to flee to neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

On 2 September 2017, Fr. Louis Tongagnesi was hacked to death by armed men at his farm in Zambaguia village, near Zemio. According to local sources, the killing was carried out by UPC militants.

Later that month, on Friday 22 September, armed men attacked the north-western town of Bocaranga, forcing the vast majority of its 15,000 inhabitants, including women and children, to flee. The town was attacked and overran by armed groups, without any reaction from the MINUSCA troops, believed to be a contingent from Bangladesh.

Despite the presence of more than 12,000 peacekeepers, the situation in CAR is still precarious as three quarters of the territory is occupied by numerous armed groups, responsible for myriad human rights abuses.

According to the UN, some 2.9 million people are in need of assistance and protection in CAR. As of the end of October, over 338 incidents against humanitarian workers had been recorded, making CAR one of the most dangerous places on earth for humanitarian workers, said the UN.

Christian White magazine owners say they’ve been forced to close over same-sex marriage views

The Christian owners of a wedding magazine in Australia have made the decision to close it down after facing backlash for refusing to feature same-sex couples.

Luke and Carla Burrell, publishers of White magazine, said they had experienced a ‘a flood of judgement’ over their views on same-sex marriage, which became legal in Australia last year.

‘White Magazine has always been a secular publication, but as its publishers, we are Christian,’ they wrote in their ‘farewell’ statement.

‘We have no agenda but to love. We have no desire to create a social, political or legal war, which only divides people further and does more damage than good. To us, our faith is anchored in love without judgement. Recently we’ve experienced a flood of judgement.’

The couple claimed they were the victims of a targeted campaign by people who objected to their view and said advertisers had abandoned them to the point where the magazine was no longer economically viable.

They said couples who had featured in the magazine had been the subject of online abuse.

The Burrells were also critical of the lack of freedom of belief around the issue of same-sex marriage and said there should be space to ask questions.

‘Instead of allowing us the space to work through our thoughts and feelings, or being willing to engage in brave conversations to really hear each other’s stories, some have just blindly demanded that we pick a side. We’re not about sides, we’re about love, patience and kindness,’ they said.

The publication faced criticism earlier this year when a former contributor said they were not accepting photo shoots of gay weddings.

Photographer Lara Hotz, who is in a same-sex marriage, accused the magazine of working with members of the LGBT community while refusing to represent them, something she said she was ‘extremely hurt’ by.

‘It appears they are happy to take money, content and photographs from LGBTQI advertisers and contributors, but are yet to support and represent us in the same way as heterosexual couples are represented in the magazine,’ she said.

The Burrells went on in their statement to say that it was clear to them they would not be able to operate the magazine in the way they wanted to.

They concluded with a plea to society to allow different views.

‘We hope that one day soon our society can learn to accept people’s differences and different points of view and love each other no matter what. That’s where real positive change begins,’ they said.

Courtesy of Christian Today

Muslims in Kenya Give Christian Family One Day to Return to Islam

Malindi-Garsen road, Kenya. (Wikipedia, Andrea Albini)

NAIROBIKenya (Morning Star News) – After a family in southeast Kenya put their faith in Christ this month, Muslims gave them one day to return to Islam or be killed, the father said.

“We were given a day to either recant the Christian faith or face the sword, as well as lose all the privileges the Muslims had given to us,” Abdul Abuk-Bakr of Sera village, Garsen, told Morning Star News.

Abu-Bakr had suffered a serious illness for more than two months, visiting various hospitals without improving, when a pastor whose name and church are undisclosed visited him the evening of Nov. 3, Abu-Bakr said. The pastor prayed for Abu-Bakr in Jesus’ name, and the married father of two received instant healing.

The next day, Sunday (Nov. 4), his entire family decided to place their faith in Christ for salvation from sin. The pastor’s church joyfully received the family as new members – and word of their conversion spread like a bush fire, he said.

“It reached the mosque at Sera that I had converted to Christ, and that very day I received threatening messages that the Muslims were planning to kill all of us and take away both the rented house and the two acres of land on which we had planted food crops – maize and beans,” Abu-Bakr said.

Given a day to return to Islam, on Nov. 6 the family sought refuge at the church site.

During Friday prayers on Nov. 9, Muslim leaders at the Sera mosque announced the family’s punishment for leaving Islam, Abu-Bakr learned.

“The family of Abu-Bakr are now infidels and have become apostates, and they deserve to die,” a mosque leader said.

The family has since moved from one Christian home to another, and the couple have hidden their children in a place of refuge.

“Life for us is now very difficult – the Muslims are monitoring our movements,” Abu-Bakr told Morning Star News. “We have decided to take our two children, ages 4 and 5, to a good Samaritan’s home. Though they are missing our love at their tender age, their security is more important.”

He and his wife are concerned about how they will obtain schooling for their children, he said.

“We are at crossroads, not knowing what to do – no home, no food, life-threatening environment and children away from us,” he said. “At times we are missing peace. My wife has been having sleepless nights thinking about the children. We really need prayers to remain in the Christian faith and the peace that comes from God.”

Garsen, in Tana River County, is 54 miles (88 kilometers) from Lamu on Kenya’s coast, where Islamic extremists have killed several Christians.

Along with attacks on non-Muslims on Kenya’s coast, rebels from Somali Islamist extremist group 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.

Kenya ranked 32nd on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

US Missionary Killed by ‘World’s Most Isolated’ Tribe

US Missionary Killed by ‘World’s Most Isolated’ Tribe

A27-year-old American missionary was killed on a remote island off the coast of India, where he attempted to share the gospel with the most isolated tribe in the world.

All Nations, a Christian missions agency based in the US, confirmed that John Allen Chau traveled to North Sentinel Island after years of study and training to evangelize its small indigenous population, who remain almost entirely untouched by modern civilization.

According to news reports based on Chau’s journal entries, the Oral Roberts University graduate shouted, “My name is John, and I love you and Jesus loves you,” to Sentinelese tribesmen armed with bows and arrows. He fled to a fishing boat when they shot at him during his initial visit, with one arrow piercing his Bible.

The young missionary did not survive a follow-up trip on November 17.

“You guys might think I’m crazy in all this but I think it’s worth it to declare Jesus to these people,” the native of Washington state wrote the day before in a letter to his parents obtained by the Daily Mail. “Please do not be angry at them or at God if I get killed.”

Indian police have not retrieved the young missionary’s body and, since contact with the indigenous tribes in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago is prohibited, cannot prosecute his murderers.

The Sentinelese were known to refuse outside contact and attack anyone who stepped on their island.

Some have declared Chau a martyr and compared him to Jim Elliot, who was famously killed at age 28 while attempting to evangelize an isolated indigenous group in Ecuador.

“John was a gracious and sensitive ambassador of Jesus Christ who wanted others to know of God’s great love for them,” said Mary Ho, international executive leader of All Nations, which says it trains and supports 150 missionaries in 31 countries, including India.

“As we grieve for our friend, and pray for all those who mourn his death, we also know that he would want us to pray for those who may have been responsible for his death.”

This was Chau’s third visit to the Andaman and Nicobar island chain. Its police chief calledhis recent trip “misplaced adventure,” but his family and friends insist that he knowingly violated protocol to enter the dangerous territory for the sake of sharing the gospel.

According to All Nations, Chau joined their organization last year, after serving on mission in Iraq, Kurdistan, and South Africa. The agency described him as “a seasoned traveler who was well-versed in cross-cultural issues.”

His family posted a tribute on Instagram, saying they forgive those responsible for killing Chau and requesting that charges be dropped against the fishermen accused of endangering his life by helping transport him to North Sentinel Island.

The Joshua Project, a ministry dedicated to tracking unreached ethnic groups, reports that little is known about the Sentinelese due to their isolation and hostility, but asks supporters to “Pray that the Indian Government will allow Christians to earn the trust of the Sentinelese people, and that they will be permitted to live among them.”

Arrest of Converts Shows Close Surveillance of Christians in Iran, Advocate Says

Rajai-Shahr Prison in Karaj, outside Tehran. (Wikipedia)

Rajai-Shahr Prison in Karaj, outside Tehran. (Wikipedia)

JERUSALEM (Morning Star News) – Two Christian converts from Islam planning to meet in a northern city of Iran were detained on the same day, part of what rights advocates say could be part of a rash of arrests in the area.

Behnam Ersali and Davood Rasooli, both of Karaj, were arrested on Friday (Nov. 16) before they were scheduled to meet in Mashhad, according to advocacy organization Middle East Concern (MEC). It is believed that Iranian intelligence intercepted calls between the two men to learn of their plan to meet, according to MEC.

“It reveals how closely the Iranian authorities are closely monitoring the Christians,” said Rob Duncan, regional manager at MEC.

Ersali, a former member of the Assemblies of God church in Tehran, had traveled to Mashhad and was arrested at his friends’ home there. Six plain-clothes officers, including a woman, entered the home without legal permission. He was arrested along with another person who was later released, according to Mohabat News.

On the same day, Rasooli was arrested in front of his home in Karaj by two plain-clothes officers at 6 a.m. as he was preparing to leave for Mashhad, according to Mohabat news.

Both have been taken to unknown locations and have had no contact with their family or relatives, according to MEC.

“The fact that there has been no information and relatives haven’t been informed shows security agents are involved,” Duncan said.

After the officers took Rasooli away, agents returned to search his house and confiscate books and other belongings, according to MEC.

A friend believes Rasooli was taken to Rajai-Shahr Prison in Karaj, which has cells for interrogation and solitary confinement, Duncan said.

There are reports of several arrests of Christians in the northern cities of the country, according to Mohabat News, which added that some may have been released.

“This year there have not been too many arrests [in Iran], but Karaj has been one place in particular where many people have been arrested this year, and from a number of different groups as well,” Duncan said. “It seems like Karaj is a dangerous place for Christians at the present time.”

Authorities are likely trying to get information from the arrested Christians, which could lead to more arrests, Duncan said.

“It’s unfortunately very likely that we are going to have further news,” Duncan said.

Christians in Iran are often arrested and held for long periods without charge, advocates say. They are often pressured to recant their faith in order to be released immediately, Duncan said, while those who persist in their faith, along with leaders, may often be held longer.

Many have been charged with spurious, security-related charges such as “acting against national security” and sometimes handed prison sentences of 10 years or longer.

Most recently, Saheb Fadaei and Fatimeh Bakherti, both converts from Islam, were sentenced to more than a year in prison for “spreading propaganda against the regime,” a common charge used against Christians along with “acting against national security.” Fadaei was already serving a 10-year sentence.

The U.S. State Department has designated Iran as a Country of Particular Concern for severe religious freedom violations, and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recently recommended it remain on the list.

In Christian support organization Open Doors’ list of countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, Iran had a score of 85 out of 100 in the 2018 World Watch List, leaving it ranked 10th out of 50.

Christian removed from US uni group for upholding Biblical marriage

A Christian student who defended a biological definition of gender and traditional marriage at her university has been asked to leave the political group she represents on campus.

20-year-old Isabella Chow, a senator of the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC) Berkeley, was removed from the Student Action party, following her stance.

The controversy surrounded a resolution condemning the Trump administration for considering a legal definition of gender as biological.

‘Without compromising’

On Wednesday 7 November, Chow abstained from the vote explaining: “I cannot vote for these bills without compromising my values and my responsibility to the community who elected me to represent them”.

“I believe that God created male and female at the beginning of time, and designated sex for marriage between one man and one woman”.

She continued: “For me, to love another person does not mean that I silently concur when, at the bottom of my heart, I do not believe that your choices are right or the best for you as an individual”.

‘Disaffiliated’

The ASUC political party, Student Action, announced in a social media post on Wednesday night that it had ‘disaffiliated’ with Senator Chow following her remarks.

The group indicated that Chow’s pro-life views were also a factor in the decision.

A ‘horrible person’

Since the debate Chow has emphasised that she did not seek to communicate a ‘transphobic’ and ‘homophobic’ message.

She has received much opposition from students at California University who are opposed to the new Government proposals.

More than 1,000 students have signed a petition demanding that she resign from student government, whilst other students have taken to social media calling her a “horrible person” and a “mental imbecile”.

‘Ignored and misunderstood’

Chow has 28 staff and was elected with support from Christian students.

She says she feels “frustrated and sad that Berkeley students are forced to live in a bubble, and we have to protect ourselves from anything that a vocal population deems to be offensive”.

Despite opposition, she has made it clear that she does not plan to resign from her position on campus.

“Because if I do, there will be no one else to represent the voices that are ignored and misunderstood on campus.”

Tribal Leaders Join Hands with Hindu Extremists to Persecute Christians in Jharkhand, India

Hindu extremists and tribal animists team up to transform church building into Sarana religion complex in Ranchi District, Jharkhand state, India. (Morning Star News)

HYDERABADIndia (Morning Star News) – Five families in eastern India were at a worship service last month when they received a phone call telling them to return to their homes immediately.

The Christians rushed nearly four miles from their church in Lisiya village to their homes in Durula, West Singhbhum District in Jharkhand state, where they found the shanty of one of the families in ruins. Villagers under the influence of tribal movement Adivasi Ho Samaj had left the home of Sidiu Bari and his family in shambles.

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Members of the Adivasi Ho Samaj, which in turn had come under the influence of Hindu extremists to join forces against the spread of Christianity, persuaded villagers that they must drive the five Christian families out, area resident Subod Sinku told Morning Star News.

“They damaged Bari’s roof, threw away their clothes and utensils and took away a sum of 20,500 rupees [US$280],” Sinku said. “Even after all this, they were not done. There was lot of verbal abuse and verbal grilling that continued for at least a week after the [Oct. 18] incident.”

Threatened with expulsion from the village and with seizure of their farmland, three of the five families converted back to the tribal religion, Sarnaism, he said.

“Pastors and Christians from Lisiya and surrounding village churches tried to encourage them to continue in the Christian faith in these testing times,” Sinku said. “But we were only able to get Sidiu Bari to write a complaint and report the matter to a local police station.”

Police advised against filing a First Information Report (FIR), telling the Christians to try to settle the matter “amicably,” he said.

Another source said on condition of anonymity, “The situation in Jharkhand is turning worse since the Ho Samaj joined hands with the RSS [Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh], holding meetings to instigate the tribal population against their own brethren for choosing to follow Christ.”

Sinku, 25, said that in his home village of Deoghar District, his family has warned him that he will be thrown out of his parents’ home and will not receive his share of land if he continues in his Christian faith.

“Putting faith in Christ is a matter of heart, and gradually as a new convert from the Adivasi religion grows in fellowship with other Christians, one’s entire lifestyle gets transformed,” Sinku said. “You learn many things. You become particular about hygiene, your intake of food, dressing, and you are not afraid to move to the city for education and get a job. This is not how indigenous tribes live. And, they think that we can afford the clothes, food and education from the supposed amount we received because of conversion to Christianity. It is completely false.”

Church Building Converted

In Ranchi District on Oct. 20, Sarna members broke a lock and barged into a church building while Christians were away attending a burial service of a young female member at another site, area residents said.

In the absence of anyone at the church building in Garh Khatanga, Hindu and tribal religion extremists surrounded the structure. Outside elements had instigated the villagers, who joined the extremists in breaking a cross on the building and chanting slogans against Christianity, Pastor Amandeep Bodra told Morning Star News.

Church members heard about the attack but, occupied with comforting family members who had lost a child, they decided not to try to stop them and thus avoided a fight, the pastor said. The next day they reported it to police, who have taken no action, he said.

“The Sarna activists had removed the cross and had set up a signboard saying, ‘Sarna Bhavan[Sarna Complex],’ and the police tell us to compromise with them,” he said.

The church purchased land and constructed its building on it about six months ago, and no one objected, he said. The now 70-member church had begun meeting in 2014.

The tribal animists have put their own lock on the building, which they have not been using, and they do not let the church use it, the pastor said.

“If we also break open the land and claim it back, the situation will get worse,” he said. “Police will not wait long to book severe cases against us, and there will be physical violence against us.”

Church leaders told the village president that they are willing to forfeit the land and requested the official show them another plot for construction of a church building, Pastor Bodra said. They have not heard back from him and are worshipping in a congregation member’s home.

Livelihood Denied

In Surlu village, dozens of RSS members and tribal animists on Oct. 5 met to plan how to punish villagers for becoming Christians.

“The village president agreed to the propaganda put forth by them,” said area resident Nirmal Boraiburu. “Their plans were very harmful. They decided that Christians should not be allowed to go into the open fields to answer the call of nature. How can a human survive in such conditions?”

The Hindu extremists and Adivasis later told the Christians that they can farm their fields, but that they cannot pass through others’ fields to get to their own, Boraiburu said.

“Which means there will not be a path for us to walk to our field,” he said. “How can we plough or grow a crop when we can’t even enter the field? The entire village joined hands against us that nobody would give us work. But what prompted us to vacate the village was that some women made an announcement that now that these Adivasis have converted to Christians, they are no longer our tribe’s, and that Adivasi men are free to rape Christian women.”

The Christians have fled to Odisha state, Boraiburu said

“The pastor and believers here helped us build some huts to take shelter,” he said. “There in Surlu, women are usually alone at home after men go to work; it is not safe anymore. My two sisters are pursuing their studies, and dad works, in Chaibasa District. I left the property and everything in Surlu for their safety.”

As a handful of Christians among the majority Sarna adherents, they would have risked provoking the entire Adivasi community against them by reporting them to police, he said.

Christians Framed

Earlier in Bokaro District, Hindu extremists used an elderly, bed-ridden man to give a false police statement of forcible conversion against Christians, sources said.

The ordeal began when pastor Sikandar Ravidas received a phone call from a police inspector telling him to bring documents related to church construction, on the request of revenue authorities.

Pastor Ravidas went to the police station near Lal Mithiya village, along with his father, Mahabir Das, and Binod Ravidas. There the inspector insisted they go with him to Chandrapura police station, said the pastor’s uncle, Manoj Ravidas.

“We received a phone call after he was taken into custody in Chandrapura,” Manoj Ravidas said. “He called us saying to pick up the documents, as they are being sent to jail the next day. After reaching the police station, we learned that police wanted to frame Binod Ravidas, former president of Lal Mithiya, in a case.”

A village official who is a staunch supporter of the RSS and the Hindu extremist Bharatiya Janata Party used the elderly Mani Ravidas to give a false statement to police that Christians were involved in forced in conversions, Manoj Ravidas told Morning Star News.

“The complainant, Mani Ravidas, is a bed-ridden old man,” he said, adding that the official obtained his thumb prints to sign an FIR against Binod Ravidas. “He brought the pastor into picture to make the case stronger under the state’s anti-conversion laws.”

Eight Christians, including the pastor, Ajay Ravidas, Lakhi Devi, Hiralal Shaw, Motilal Shaw, Robert Edward, were booked on Sept. 26 under Section 298 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for wounding religious feelings, and under Section 4 of Jharkhand’s “Freedom of Religion Act” (anti-conversion law). Under the law, forcible conversion can be punished with up to four years of prison and a fine of 100,000 rupees (US$1,370).

“Pastor Ravidas’ wife and their 3-year-old are now under the protection of believers in Lal Mithiya village,” Manoj Ravidas said. “Even their own relatives can’t meet her or provide any sort of help as, the official might plot against them as well. He has a criminal history.”

Ajay Ravidas was taken into custody after he tried to report Hindu extremists chasing him on motorbikes, Manoj Ravidas said.

“He went to the police station to report against the bikers, but police arrested him instead,” Manoj Ravidas said. “He discovered in the police station that he also has been booked in the same FIR filed on Sept. 26.”

The initial judge and an additional district judge have rejected bail petitions.

“We are urging the church members to be united and strong, but they are very upset that the pastor has been in jail for more than 40 days now,” he said.

The coordinator of legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom-India’s Jharkhand unit, Sandeep Tigga, said it is sad that lower courts refuse to take cases booked under the anti-conversion law, so the file gets passed to appellate courts, where matters remain in litigation for so long.

“Christians avoid taking legal course of action in most cases as they fear revenge attacks from extremist groups,” Tigga added. “Most of the Christian youth are the first generation getting into education, and they don’t want court cases to be an impediment to their studies, and even if they take a courageous step to report, police advise them to settle with the help of a village council.”

ADF-India organizes sessions for pastors, youth leaders and Christians in Jharkhand to make them aware of their rights and provisions in the law, Tigga said. ADF undertakes legal advocacy for religious freedom in several countries.

The group notes in its campaign celebrating the 70th anniversary of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights that it is sadly ironic that Christians are persecuted in India, a country with a long tradition and legal framework of freedom of religion. Article 18 of the U.N. declaration asserts that believers have the freedom to practice their faith “in teaching, practice, worship and observance,” ADF notes in its campaign to obtain signatures supporting the Geneva Statement on Human Rights at www.ImHumanRight.org.

The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist BJP, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.

India ranked 11th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians experience the most persecution.

Church Leaders in Nigeria Not Giving Up on Rescue of Leah Sharibu

Parents in Chibok, Nigeria mourn the loss of girls kidnapped in 2014. (VOA)

Parents in Chibok, Nigeria mourn the loss of girls kidnapped in 2014. (VOA)

JOSNigeria (Morning Star News) – Following the announcement by Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram that it will keep a Christian high school girl as a slave, church leaders in Nigeria said they are not giving up on pressing for her rescue.

Leaders of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) have intensified discussions with government officials urging that they continue talks with Boko Haram to win the release of 15-year-old Leah Sharibu and other Christian girls and women being held captive by Boko Haram, an ECWA spokesman told Morning Star News.

“The leadership of ECWA has continued to mount pressure on the Nigerian government to continue with discussions with the Islamists who are holding Leah Sharibu captive,” the Rev. Romanus Ebenwokodi said. “We strongly believe that as long as Leah and others are still alive, it is possible to secure their release.”

Boko Haram, which seeks to impose sharia (Islamic law) throughout Nigeria, is also holding Christian UNICEF worker Alice Ngaddah as a slave. Kidnapped along with two other aid workers in March, Ngaddah is a member of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (EYN).

“The church and Leah’s parents believe that God can make it possible for Leah and others in captivity to regain their freedom if we don’t give up,” Ebenwokodi said. “The hope in Jesus Christ, which is the hope of glory, has kept Leah’s parents going and sustained the church on her knees. We shall continue to pray without ceasing until this faithful servant of Christ and others like her who are being held captive are released.”

Boko Haram last month killed an aid worker as an “apostate” from Islam and vowed to keep Leah and Ngaddah as slaves. Leah, kidnapped along with more than 100 schoolgirls from Dapchi, Yobe state in February but not released with the others because she refused to convert to Islam, will never be freed because Boko Haram’s Islamic law allows “infidels” to be kept as slaves, according to a statement by the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), commonly known as Boko Haram.

“Based on our doctrines, it is now lawful for us to do whatever we want to do with them,” the group said.

The group executed Hauwa Leman, an aid worker with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), as seen on the video.

Boko Haram has not made known its demands for the release of the hostages, but Nigerian newspaper The Herald, citing an unnamed diplomatic source, reported that the group has demanded 100 billion naira (US$275,000) for Leah.

Government officials fear Boko Harm will use the money to acquire upgraded weapons systems, according to the Herald source, who has been involved in negotiations for Leah’s release. Though the government says it is doing everything possible to secure her release, the source told the Herald that giving such a large amount to Boko Haram could hurt national security ahead of February 2019 general elections, as the terrorists would use the weapons on Nigerian citizens.

In September Boko Haram killed Saifura Ahmed, one of the three humanitarian workers abducted in March in Rann, Borno state.

In its statement, the Boko Haram group said, “Saifura and Hauwa were killed because they are considered as Murtads [apostates] by the group because they were once Muslims that have abandoned their Islam, the moment they chose to work with the Red Cross, and for us, there is no difference between Red Cross and UNICEF…If we see them, we will kill the apostates among them, men or women, and chose to kill or keep the infidels as slaves, men or women.”

Leah was the only Christian among more than 100 high school girls kidnapped from the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College, Dapchi, on Feb. 19. The other girls were released in March.

Government representatives and advocates within Nigeria, along with the international community have called for her release.

Boko Haram has kidnapped more than 1,000 children in Nigeria since 2013, according to CNN.

About 100 of 276 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram from the town of Chibok, in Borno state, in 2014 are still missing.

Boko Haram, whose name is loosely translated as, “Western education is a sin,” has fought for more than nine years to impose Islamic law on all of Nigeria, killing tens of thousands of people and displacing more than 2 million. Boko Haram militants reportedly warned parents of the returned Dapchi girls not to send their daughters back to school.

In 2015 the Nigerian military began taking back most of the territory Boko Haram had controlled, but many areas remain, and the terrorists are still mounting isolated attacks. Jubilee Campaign reports that, according to figures from the Stefanos Foundation, Boko Haram in 2017 took responsibility for attacks that claimed more than 650 lives.

Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population, while Muslims living primarily in the north and middle belt account for 45 percent.

Nigeria ranked 14th on Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution.

US Missionary Shot to Death in Front of His Wife, Son

An American missionary was shot to death this week in Cameroon while riding in the car with his wife and son.

Charles Wesco of Indiana was out to shop when two bullets struck him through the windshield, according to Dave Halyaman, assistant pastor at Believers Baptist Church in Warsaw, Indiana.

The bullets knocked Wesco unconscious, and doctors were unable to revive him at the hospital.

Believers Baptist Church “is grieving greatly the murder of Charles Wesco, but we are also trusting God that he has a purpose in all of this,” Halyaman says.

Halyaman says officials are unsure who shot the missionary. According to The Washington Post, the area is strife with violence.

Unrest broke out in that region in late 2016 over complaints that the Anglophone community was being marginalized by Cameroon’s central government, which is largely controlled by French speakers. The country is bilingual, but Francophones have historically held more governmental power than English speakers. Security forces stifled peaceful protests in the Anglophone regions, and an armed separatist movement emerged. Around 400 civilians have been killed in violence in the country’s two Anglophone regions. Tens of thousands have fled the country as refugees and others are now internally displaced.

According to the Indy Star:

Military spokesman Col. Didier Badjeck told the AP the military killed at least four suspects in Wesco’s death and arrested many others. He did not specify if the people detained were military personnel or separatists.

Cameroon’s military said last week after launching attacks on suspected separatist training grounds that “many have been killed.” The attacks happened the day after President Paul Biya was declared the winner of a seventh term.

The increased violence began after the government clamped down on demonstrations by English-speaking teachers and lawyers protesting what they called their marginalization by Cameroon’s French-speaking majority.

Armed factions emerged after the government crackdown and have been using violence to push for an independent state they call “Ambazonia.”

Wesco and his wife, Stephanie, had just moved to the African nation about two weeks ago.

“He was really wound up about everything. He was really excited about everything and well, he is a hard worker,” says Rebecca Wesco, Wesco’s mother.

Wesco’s brother. Tim, is a Republican representative for the state of Indiana.

Tim says, “He loved the Lord. He loved people. The Lord giveth. The Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

“My husband already prayed for his killer,” Rebecca says. “Charles would want us to do that, he would.”

In a prayer letter dated September/October, the family writes:

“We are humbled to be here representing Christ on your behalf, and we trust that you are upholding us before the Lord in prayer regularly! Your continued prayers are vital, if we are to be successful in bringing the gospel to this dark place!”

The Wescos’ testimony is available here.

Burma’s Beleaguered Baptists

Burma’s Beleaguered Baptists

They drove hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims from their homeland from 2016 to 2017. Now many of the same Burmese troops that purged southwest Myanmar have moved north to another beleaguered religious and ethnic minority: the Christian Kachin.

Thousands of Kachin have been driven out of more than 50 villages as of June 2018, adding to a tally of more than 400 villages, 300 churches, and 100 schools destroyed or damaged by soldiers since 2011, according to the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO).

Fleeing their homes and villages has not always offered the Kachin security. Myanmar’s armed forces, the Tatmadaw, have cut off humanitarian aid for scores of camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) in areas controlled by the KIO’s armed wing, the KIA. Meanwhile, Baptist and Catholic churches have stepped up to host many of the camps.

About 130,000 Kachin are displaced in Kachin state and bordering Shan state, fleeing to IDP camps since the Southeast Asian nation’s civil war rekindled after a 17-year ceasefire.

But while the Tatmadaw’s scorched-earth warfare against the Rohingya has been reported on regularly by global news outlets, awareness of similar human rights violations—rape, torture, and murder—against the Kachin has yet to become widespread. A United Nations investigation in March noted that there were “marked similarities” between the violence against the Rohingya and the Kachin.

The eyes of the world turned briefly to the ethnic group during a visit to Myanmar by Pope Francis last fall, where he was welcomed by more than 7,000 Kachin. But since then many feel that the global body of Christ has ignored them.

“The Tatmadaw has forced villagers from their homes …