Russian Rebels in Ukraine Shut Down Churches

Rebels in Ukraine’s Luhansk region are reportedly raiding Christian churches.

According to reports, the group, which controls Luhansk, has demanded that churches re-register as a religious organization, but the rebel group is denying approvals for those registrations.

Forum 18, a Norwegian human rights organization, says neither Baptist nor Seventh-day Adventist churches have been allowed to re-register.

There are also reports that Protestant churches have been raided in the past few months. In September, rebels raided a Baptist church in Brianka and the pastor of the church is facing possible punishment for allowing worship without registration.

In another instance, police officers shut down the morning worship service at Revival Baptist Church. Pastor Dmitry Sirbu is facing legal threats for allowing the worship gathering.

In August, armed men reportedly raided Grace Church of God Pentecostal Church in Alchevsk during the church’s worship. The group forced the church to lie on the floor while the men seized church computers.

Andrei Litsoev, head of the Religious Organizations and Spirituality Department of the Culture, Youth and Sport Ministry in Luhansk, hasn’t commented on why the churches are being denied registration.

According to The Christian Post, Catholic churches in the area are waiting to hear on their own applications for registration.

Luhansk authorities say churches need to re-register as part of the 2015 decree that bans mass gatherings and events under martial law.


                

CA church wins court dispute over property tax

Church offering

A California court has ruled in favor of a church that objected to a property tax.

Valley Baptist Church is thankful that Marin County Superior court is respecting the constitutional rights of churches not to be taxed by their government, says Pacific Justice Instituteattorney Brad Dacus.

“This is a very important case,” he says, “not just for this church and the churches in this particular town of San Rafael. This is a major win for churches across the country.”

San Rafael operated with a voter-approved local property tax designed to fund paramedic services, but PJI argued that the tax was not legal according to the California state constitution. Everyone supports ambulance service, he says, but taxes have to be levied in a way that is legal and constitutional.

Dacus, Brad (PJI)“What the government can tax, the government can control,” he warns. “Our founding fathers understood that. We understand that.”

If San Rafael had won the case, Dacus predicts that other cities and states would have created similar taxes on church properties.

In addition to ruling the tax unconstitutional, the Marin court ordered that $13,544 be refunded to Valley Baptist Church, which the church had to produce as a condition for filing the lawsuit.

“The church is going to get their money back,” Dacus says, “and that’s very important in that we would not have complete and full justice unless they received every penny that they were wrongfully taxed by the city of San Rafael.”


       

Ebenezer Indian Pentecostal Church Pastor Beaten, Kidnapped, Arrested – and Forced to Stop Evangelizing

Pastor Mathai Varghese at police station after beating, kidnapping in Rajasthan, India. (Morning Star News)

Pastor Mathai Varghese, still in clothes he wore when attacked, at church celebration service after his release from jail in Rajasthan, India. (Morning Star News)

NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) – When Pastor Mathai Varghese was beaten and abducted by Hindu extremists in Rajasthan state, India, police gave chase and arrested the kidnappers – as well as the pastor.

His car ruined and his body bloodied, he spent a night and the next day in jail with serious injuries unattended before being released on bail. That was just part of the price the 57-year-old pastor of Ebenezer Indian Pentecostal Church, in Suratgarh, paid for attending a house-warming party in a village where a mob of 100 Hindu extremists were waiting for him.

“I was not at fault, still I was beaten, arrested and charged,” Pastor Varghese told Morning Star News.

He and fellow Christian Kashmir Singh had gone to the village of Silvani to attend the house-warming of Rukma Devi Nayak, a widow who says she is more than 100 years old. Nayak has attended the pastor’s church for three years.

Pastor Varghese, his wife and three church members went to Nayak’s house in the pastor’s car on the morning of Sept. 4. While he and more than a dozen other Christians there had begun worshipping with songs followed by Scripture reading, they heard a knock at the door.

As soon as they opened the door, three men barged inside, ordered a woman who was praying to stop and demanded their pastor be handed over to them, he said. While the women in the worship objected, saying police should be called to settle any misunderstanding, the men threatened to beat all of them if the pastor were not handed over, Pastor Varghese said.

“Realizing that an agitated mob was waiting outside the house to attack them, the women were frightened and handed me to them,” Pastor Varghese said.

They dragged him and Singh outside, where about 100 Hindu extremists were waiting with wooden sticks and began to beat them, accusing them of converting people in their village. The pastor’s persistent explanation of the reason for their visit went unheeded, as his wife pleaded with the assailants to spare him.

“The extremists were aware of our visit, and they had pre-planned the attack,” Pastor Varghese said.

Someone from the village called the police, and the mob leader signaled the drivers of two, nine-seater Mahindra Bolero SUVs. Upon the arrival of the vehicles, the assailants pushed Pastor Varghese into one of them and boarded the vehicle from both sides, pressing against him.

“The mob tried to push Kashmir Singh into the second vehicle, but then they left him, saying that they have the ‘leader’ and that they can deal with Singh anytime later, as he is a local resident,” Pastor Varghese told Morning Star News.

With about seven men in his vehicle and another one full of attackers following, Pastor Varghese was taken away as they continued beating him. One of them hit him with his Kada, a cast-iron bracelet, breaking his nose bone. Blood began to flow from his nose.

“I pleaded with them to stop hitting me,” he said. “I questioned them, ‘Do you intend to kill me? I am already severely injured with blood oozing out of my nose.’”

Police who reached the village were re-directed to the road towards Suratgarh. They managed to stop the 16 kidnappers half a kilometer outside of Suratgarh and arrested them, along with Pastor Varghese.

“My whole body was hurting,” he said. “My nose was bleeding. The police asked me to wash my face and gave me a paper and asked me to write my complaint. I requested first aid many times, but the police took me to the trauma center only at 3:30 in the afternoon, only to discover that there was no doctor there.

He had a fractured nose bone, visible blood clots under both eyes, torn thumb ligaments and internal injuries causing severe body ache. An attendant at the clinic gave him a pain-killer injection, and he was brought back to the police station at about 5 p.m.

The pastor spent the next day (Sept. 5) in jail, until some pastors came and obtained bail for him through the influence of the village head at about 5 p.m. The assailants obtained bail the same day.

At a hospital, a CT scan and other tests confirmed the nose fracture and internal injuries.

He later learned that the mob had damaged his car and overturned it to set it on fire when one of the attackers warned that setting it ablaze would invite a police investigation. He was able to retrieve his vehicle from the police station only after many days.

“It will cost me at least 1 to 1.5 lakhs [$1,360 to $2,041] to get it repaired,” he said.

Fake News

Police registered a case against the 16 kidnappers – and against the pastor, under an Indian Penal Code (IPC) section “to prevent the commission of cognizable offenses.”

Pastor Varghese said that the assailants were not charged for abducting him and for assaulting him and Singh, who sustained several internal injuries on his hands, back, legs and had swelling on his chest.

Local newspapers described the attack as a tussle between Hindus and Christians arising from the Hindus trying to stop Pastor Varghese from forcefully trying to convert Nayak.

One newspaper quoted Assistant Sub-Inspector Hanuman Prasad Mina as saying that he tried to stop the two groups as they were hitting each other, and when they refused to obey, he had to arrest them.

Varghese roundly denied the reports, saying influential political operators forced police to make the false claims.

Head Constable Rajendra Kumar of Suratgarh Sadar Police Station told Morning Star News that charges will not be filed against the Hindu extremists or the pastor based on an agreement they were compelled to sign.

“Both the parties were made to sign a bond which stated that they would not indulge in any kind of fight and live in peace for six months, or else they would be arrested and charged,” he said.

Asked why the 16 Hindu extremists had not been charged with kidnapping, Kumar said police would not book them unless the pastor filed a written complaint against them. Pastor Varghese said he will not file a written complaint as he has forgiven them.

At the same time, police have ordered him not to evangelize or go on visitations for six months, the pastor’s wife said.

“He can conduct Sunday service and must stay within his campus,” she said. “If caught evangelizing, he would be put behind bars.”

Pastor Varghese has been ministering in Suratgarh since 1992, having left his home in Kerala state to minister in northern India in 1979. The Ebenezer Indian Pentecostal Church was established in 2010 and has a congregation of about 50-60 members.

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

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which undertakes legal advocacy for religious freedom, 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 Bharatiya Janata Party, 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.


     

Dozens of Christians Killed in Muslim Attack on Market in Kaduna State, Nigeria

Church building set on fire in assault that escalated, residents say.

Kaduna Gov. Nasir El-Rufai. (Wikipedia)

Kaduna Gov. Nasir El-Rufai. (Wikipedia

JOSNigeria (Morning Star News) – Muslims attacked a market in Kaduna state, in north-central Nigeria, on Thursday (Oct. 18), killing dozens of Christians and burning a church building, sources said.

Area residents said a Muslim at the market in Kasuwan Magani, 36 kilometers (22 miles) south of the city of Kaduna, began yelling “Thief!” in the late afternoon in a move calculated to cause pandemonium ahead of an attack on Christians and their homes and businesses.

“A Muslim raised a false alarm about a thief in the market, which caused stampede, and then other Muslims started chanting ‘Allahu Akbar [the jihadist slogan, God is Greater],’ attacking Christians, burning houses and shops belonging to Christians in the town,” area resident Kefas Mallam told Morning Star News.

The Rev. James Moore of the town’s Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), told Morning Star News that the assailants burned down one church building belonging to the Cherubim and Seraphim movement.

“There was an alert of a thief in the market,” he said. “When people heard ‘Thief! Thief!’ they were confused and started running. Unknown to the people, it was a strategy by the Muslim youth to attack the people. They went into killings, looting and burning.”

Moore, who is the area district secretary of the ECWA, said it was difficult to give a definitive casualty figure as the town was in complete lockdown following imposition of a 24-hour curfew the night of the attack. Kaduna Gov. Nasir El-Rufai visited the site in the Kajuru Local Government Area on Friday (Oct. 19) and said 55 people had been killed.

“According to what the police have briefed me so far, 55 corpses have been recovered; some burned beyond recognition,” he said.

Local press reported the violence began as an attack by young men attacking the market that escalated into a clash between “two youth groups of different religion.”

Gov. El-Rufai told reporters that the state government had imposed a curfew in the area and security agencies were restoring calm.

“It cannot continue, we are going to deal decisively with anyone involved in this,” he said. “This country belongs to all of us; this state belongs to all of us. No one is going to chase anyone away. So, you must learn to live with everyone in peace and justice.”

He added that the violence was “totally unacceptable,” and that anyone connected with or even observing the violence would be detained.

“I have charged the security agencies and the authorities here, local and traditional, to ensure that everyone connected with this, whether as a participant, instigator, or even watching while it is going on, is apprehended and prosecuted,” he said.

Area Muslims also attacked Christians on Feb. 26. Luke Waziri, a Christian community leader in Kasuwan Magani, told Morning Star News by phone that during the February attack, 12 Christians were killed.

“And 67 other Christians arrested after that incident are currently facing trial in a court in the city of Kaduna,” he added, lamenting that they were detained without cause by police under the direct control of a Muslim inspector general of police and a Muslim police commissioner.

“The sad thing is that the police are aware that Muslims in Kasuwan Magani have accumulated weapons with the intent to continually attack us, but they are unable to arrest these Muslims,” Waziri said.

Waziri, who is the national secretary of the Adara Development Association (ADA), a predominantly Christian ethnic group in Kaduna state, expressed sadness that while Christians had yet to overcome the trauma of the February attack, Muslims launched an assault on them again on Thursday (Oct. 18).

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.