Turkey Keeps American Pastor Behind Bars—At Least for Three More Months

Turkey Keeps American Pastor Behind Bars—At Least for Three More Months

After nearly two years in a Turkish prison, hopes for the release of American pastor Andrew Brunson have been deferred. A Turkish court ordered 50-year-old pastor to remain bars until at least his next hearing on October 12.

On Wednesday, the court heard testimony from members of Brunson’s church who made “vague, unsubstantiated accusations” against Brunson, reported World Watch Monitor. When the judge asked how Brunson would respond to the testimony of the prosecution’s witnesses, he said, “My faith teaches me to forgive, so I forgive those who testified against me.”

Bill Campbell, a North Carolina pastor whose church belongs to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the same denomination as Brunson’s church, was among several supporters of the pastor who attended the trial.

“As usual, there was much spurious testimony against Andrew,” Campbell told EPConnectionafter the trial. “Andrew’s testimony was absolutely powerful. He presented the gospel with confidence and defended himself with boldness.”

Notably, the court heard a defense witness for the first time, although the witness Brunson initially requested to testify was not permitted to do so.

Many of Brunson’s supporters had been cautiously optimistic about his release—Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and US President Donald Trump had been photographed smiling and fist-bumping each other at last week’s NATO summit in Brussels. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) had also met with Erdoğan in Ankara the last week of June, though the focus of the meeting was to discuss US sanctions.

On Twitter, Freedom House’s Nate Schenkkan called the Turkish court’s decision a “cruel, political decision, just like his imprisonment.”

“Case study in the absurdity of the present Turkish justice system,” tweeted the author of several books about freedom in Turkey. “Brunson is charged with being part of a conspiracy of evangelicals, Mormons, & Jehovah’s Witnesses embedded among American service personnel in Turkey who conspired to divide the Turkish state on behalf of the PKK and Gulen movement. It would be a farce if it weren’t so serious.”

“Keeping him in prison is a political decision,” he continued. “… Letting him out would have been a simple, cost-free way for the Turkish government to show it was concerned about the relationship with the United States. Holding him for at least 3 more months is a new low.”

Brunson’s imprisonment has attracted worldwide attention and prompted a massive advocacy campaign, state visits, and hundreds of thousands of petition signatures.

A Presbyterian preacher from North Carolina, Brunson ministered in the Muslim-majority nation straddling the border of Europe and the Middle East for more than 20 years. Then in October 2016, shortly after a failed coup in Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey’s capital, he was detained during a wave of imprisonments and dismissals purging approximately 150,000 officials, judges, teachers, and military personnel.

Held without charges and without bail for months, Brunson was eventually accused of abetting the Gülen movement—under the leadership of Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Islamic scholar and cleric in exile in the United States. Erdoğan has long opposed Gülen and blamed his followers for the overthrow attempt.

Brunson, pastor of Izmir Resurrection Church on Turkey’s west coast and founder of several other churches in the area, refuted the dubious charge. In a letter from March of this year, he wrote: “Let it be clear. I am in prison not for anything I have done wrong but because of who I am—a Christian pastor.

“I desperately miss my wife and children,” he continued. “Yet I believe this to be true: it is an honor to suffer for Jesus Christ, as many have before me. My deepest thanks for all those around the world who are standing with and praying for me.”

Brunson’s wife, Norine, who was initially detained with her husband but quickly released, has remained in Turkey to support him. But the circumstances of the case and the tight hold of the Erdoğan regime have made visits and outside contact difficult for all but a few chosen family members, US consular staff, and Brunson’s lawyer.

It was mere weeks before the start of his trial that an official indictment, based largely on the “secret testimony” of unnamed witnesses, formally charged Brunson with membership in Gülen’s Islamic movement, support of Kurdish independence, and “Christianization”—all disparate and somewhat clashing accusations.

After 18 months in prison conditions that his daughter, Jacqueline Furnari, says tested his psychological endurance and caused him to lose 50 pounds, the father of three had his first hearing on April 16. A second hearing occurred in May. A lack of resolution at the end of this latest hearing has discouraged many in Brunson’s community.

“I am deeply saddened by this morning’s ruling,” Jeff Jeremiah, EPC stated clerk, told EPConnection. “Thankfully, our Lord was not surprised and continues to be in control of the situation. Our disappointment today is matched by our resolve to continue to pray and advocate for Andrew and Norine.”

During the months of his detainment—trading spaces between overcrowded cells and solitary confinement—awareness and support built around calls for Brunson’s freedom.

Last February, 78 members of Congress sent a letter to Erdoğan seeking Brunson’s release. Earlier this month, 98 European parliamentarians sent a letter to Istanbul condemning Brunson’s “wrongful imprisonment” and calling for him to be allowed to return home.

He received a visit from his state senator, Thom Tillis; representatives of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom; and, in February, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Vice President Mike Pence and ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom Sam Brownback have also been vocal advocates for Brunson and have spoken out in support of his family.

Among those present at the case included US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga. The commission has previously condemned the charges against Brunson and called for his release.

On the one-year anniversary of his detainment, October 7, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church issued a call for a weekend of prayer and fasting on behalf of Brunson, a member of the denomination. And in the last three months, a petition from the American Center for Law and Justice—the organization helming the campaign for Brunson’s release—urging UN intervention gained more than 580,000 signatures.

The European Center for Law and Justice (ECLJ) has fought for Brunson in front of the United Nations Human Rights Council, condemning the evidence against him as based on “hearsay and conjecture.”

“Turkey has made it clear that this is a sham trial, and, as indicated by President Erdoğan’s multiple demands to swap Pastor Brunson for Fethullah Gülen, Pastor Brunson is undoubtedly a political prisoner being held as a bargaining chip for Turkey,” ECLJ stated.

Indeed, the Turkish president openly called for a swap with the United States. “You have one pastor [of ours] as well,” Erdoğan said last year. “The pastor we have [Brunson] is on trial. [Gülen] is not—he is living in Pennsylvania. Give him to us. You can easily give him to us. You can give him right away. Then we will try [Brunson] and give him to you.”

The bargaining and statecraft has hurt the United States’ relationship with Turkey, a NATO ally. Brunson’s story plays out at a time of increasing nationalism and persecution in Turkey.

Authorities in Algeria Seal Shut Another Church Building

Members of church in Riki, Algeria worship outside building. (Morning Star News)

TIZI-OUZOUAlgeria (Morning Star News) – Church leaders didn’t get an explanation for why the seventh worship building to be closed in Algeria since November was sealed last week, but they suspect lack of registration was the pretext.

It is virtually impossible to register a church in Algeria under current restrictions. Although three of the six churches previously closed were allowed to reopen last month, the shuttering on Wednesday (July 11) of the church building in the northeastern town of Riki was taken as a sign that harassment of Christian institutions that began in November is not over.

The church of about 60 people, which began meeting at its building in Riki, near Akbou in Bejaia Province, on Aug. 11, 2017, had not been able to affiliate with the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA) because the Ministry of Interior recently ordered the once-legally recognized association to freeze all new applications for membership, said Esaid Benamara, pastor of the Riki church.

After the church finished worship on July 7, a Saturday, the congregation was surprised when policemen in two vehicles arrived and asked Pastor Benamara to come to their office. They agreed to his offer to come the next day, and the pastor and his brother went to the office.

“Once there, they let us know that they had been ordered to close the premises of our church and the sealing of the entrance doors,” Pastor Benamara told Morning Star News. “We then asked that they give us the order in question, or at least a copy. ‘We’ll give it to you later,’ one of them told us.”

On July 10, the pastor received a phone call from the police (gendarmerie) asking him to go to their brigade post as soon as possible, and again he went with his brother. They waited there until 7 p.m., when the brigade chief showed up and asked them to leave and return with the building owner because the closure notification was sent to him, the pastor said.

They returned with the building owner the next day.

“They presented a statement to Mahdi Amara [the building owner], asking him to sign it, because the closing order was addressed to him in person,”Pastor Benamara said. “Then they told us that they would go later in the day to execute the order received from the wali [Bejaia provincial chief].”

Near noon on July 11, two vans from the gendarmerie brigade parked at the door of the church, he said.

“Three of the gendarmes entered the church and executed their order. They put the curtain and the front door under seal, which strictly forbids us to open the doors of the church once closed,” Pastor Benamara told Morning Star News. “After execution of the order of the wali of Bejaia to close the premises, the gendarmes left.”

The policemen told them they had sent a notification of closure to the building owner dated Feb. 24, “something we have never received,” the pastor said.

“That’s where we are,” he said. “Thus our church is closed, and our faithful can no longer meet.”

A 2007 executive decree requires all non-Muslim places of worship in Algeria to register with the state, according to the U.S. State Department. Pastor Benamara said the government freeze on new EPA members has kept it from registering.

Laws passed in 2012 required the EPA, which the government had given legal recognition to in 1974, to re-register, but officials have yet to give a response since the EPA applied for re-registration in 2013, leaving the umbrella association itself in legal limbo.

Christian leaders note that the Algerian constitution’s Article 42 guarantees freedom of belief, opinion and worship.

“This is injustice,” Pastor Benamara said. “The authorities who are supposed to respect and enforce the laws of the republic themselves do not respect them. Is it not true that Algerian law and international laws respect and demand respect for all religions as much as Islam? And also their practice? Why are they flouting these laws of the republic?”

On May 26 authorities ordered the closure of a church building in Ait-Mellikeche, also in Bejaia Province, and another church building in Maatkas, in Tizi-Ouzou Province. A church in a village in Azagher, like Riki near Akbou, was closed in March.

At the same time, all churches affiliated with the EPA have been visited by investigators and ordered to comply with requirements for non-Muslim places of worship or face closure.

Church buildings previously closed in Oran city, Ain Turk and El Ayaida, all in Oran Province about 250 miles west of Algiers, were allowed to reopen last month.

Christian Acquitted

Also last week, a court on July 8 dropped charges against a Christian fined 20,000 Algerian dinars (US$172) plus customs expenses for carrying Christian literature and some crucifix-shaped keychains into the country.

Idir Hamdad, a 29-year-old convert from Islam, had been sentenced by a judge at a court in Dar el Beida, on the outskirts of Algiers, who ruled he was guilty of importing unauthorized items without a license.

Notice of a six-month prison sentence and fine had been delivered to his home on March 4 stating that he had been convicted and sentenced en absentia on Sept. 28, 2017, but the prison sentence was withdrawn on May 3.

Algeria ranked 42nd on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

Arson Attacks Hit Churches in Tamil Nadu, India

HYDERABADIndia (Morning Star News) – Three church buildings were set ablaze in six weeks in the state in southern India with the most attacks against Christians this year, sources said.

In one case, a church building in southern India’s Tamil Nadu state was burned to ashes after Christians refused to donate to an annual Hindu festival, they said. Members of Kingdom of God church were on their way home after an evening service on June 11 in Seekanankuppam, Kanchipuram District when their building was torched.

Pastor Arul Ruben was leading Bible study in Paramankeni, a village two and a half miles away, when he received a call about the fire.

“I received the call around 8 p.m., immediately asked the local pastor in Paramankeni to continue the service and rushed to Seekanankuppam,” Pastor Ruben, 37, said. “In 20 minutes I was able to reach it, but by that time, nothing was left – the fire had spread all over.”

Area Christians and neighbors tried to help Pastor Ruben douse the fire, but eventually firemen had to be called in to put it out. The pastor reported the attack the next morning at the Koovathur police station. Losses were estimated at approximately 100,000 rupees (US$1,450), he said.

Hindus in nearby villages became furious last year when no one from the 25 Christian families attending the church contributed to the annual Hindu festival held each May, and none contributed this year, Pastor Ruben said.

“[Last year] they humiliated the Christians for their non-participation and issued threats that the church would be destroyed if any Christian refused to contribute to the Hindu temple for the annual celebration of their deity,” he said. “Even this year, they visited the Christian families and asked them to donate for the celebration, but nobody contributed. When the festival is over, just when we were glad for the peace and harmony around us, we get to see the church turn to ashes.”

Charred remains of Advent Christian Church building in In Thiruvannamalai, India. (Morning Star News)

Charred remains of Advent Christian Church building in Thiruvannamalai, India. (Morning Star News)

In addition, a Hindu cemetery is located about 300 meters away, said a church leader identified as Pastor Benjamin.

“Behind the church, the Hindu residents from nearby villages demanded that the church be closed down so a short-cut way can be paved for Hindus taking their deceased for cremation,” he said. “They even carried the dead via the church premises to the cemetery. They stopped after the area president intervened and warned them that it is not right, and that they must avoid entering the church premises and take the long route instead.”

Son of church founder Joshua Anthony, who established the fellowship in Seekanankuppam 23 years ago, Pastor Benjamin said the congregation has also seen “immense opposition” in the past five years because their building was located along a national highway, the East Coast Road (ECR), connecting the state capital, Chennai, and the former French colony of Puducherry.

“The area is in demand because of the ECR route, and random businessmen and real estate dealers constantly ask us to vacate,” the pastor said. “They told us the land can be of best advantage for commercial use.”

The site is also in demand as many tourists traveling to Pondicherry use the ECR route.

On top of these issues, a music academy in the same area wrongfully registered the church’s land in its name, he said.

“It was a long battle, and with the help of the area leaders we were able to get the piece of land registered in the church’s name,” he said.

Buildings in Flames

In Puducherry, Karaikal District, passers-by who saw the Bible Presbyterian Church building in flames on May 25 alerted neighbors and Pastor David Santosham.

“It has been nearly two months, and police could not find the culprits,” Pastor Santosham told Morning Star News. “I met the sub-inspector of police recently, and he told me that the investigation is underway. We are building the church again by the grace of God. Please pray for the construction work.”

A neighbor who is an active member of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has opposed the church’s services since 2012, he said.

“I submitted a petition to the National Commission for Minorities in 2012, but was attacked again in 2016 while repairing the roof,” Pastor Santosham said.

Burnt pages of Bible at church building gutted by fire in Tamil Nadu, India. (Morning Star News)

Burnt pages of Bible at church building gutted by fire in Tamil Nadu, India. (Morning Star News)

In Thiruvannamalai, an Advent Christian Church building on May 5 was set on fire by miscreants who ran away when neighbors spotted them, pastor Govrathnam Anbarasan told Morning Star News.

“That week, we conducted a VBS [Vacation Bible School] program for children in the church,” he said. “There was opposition from Hindu fundamentalists in Thiruvannamalai, but we continued the church services.”

Children rehearsing a skit to perform the next day had left for their homes by the time the arsonists jumped into the compound and set fire to the structure’s coconut-leaf roof, he said.

“As the roof was woven with coconut leaves, it is enough to ignite a small portion and the fire can spread all over easily in short time,” Pastor Anbarasan told Morning Star News. “I was visiting a believer’s family about three miles away to pray for their son.”

Police have taken no action since church leaders filed a First Information Report at Thiruvannamalai police station, he said.

“Since the past two months, we have been worshipping in open air under a tent,” he added. “A relief organization had come forward promising to help, but I received nothing from them. We don’t have enough means to rebuild the church, even if temporarily.”

Last year, a pastor’s home and church building was burned down after villagers belonging to Vanniyar, a caste-based Hindu-sect, put their faith in Christ. The church in Attipattu village, Cuddalore District, was strongly opposed by hard-line Hindus who label Christianity as a religion of lower castes.

Violent Trend

Nehemiah Christie, director of legislations and regulations of the Synod of Pentecostal Churches in Tamil Nadu, told Morning Star News that violent trends against Christians are increasing as elections grow closer.

“On one side, we see the Hindu extremists barging inside the churches and attacking pastors, and the other side is what goes on behind us – in remote areas, they are burning away churches, especially those with roofs of tar sheet or coconut leaves, so fire can be spread speedily and easily, and before anybody can notice the perpetrators, they escape from the spot.”

Tamil Nadu was previously known for upholding secularism and unity, Christie said.

“The brotherhood Tamilians share irrespective of their caste or religion is today under threat, with political figures attempting to spread hatred against Christian and Muslim minorities for their political agenda,” he said. “In every case of arson, the police conveniently register it as fire accident due to short circuit, and they refuse to register the suspects’ names. But in reality, it is targeted violence to create communal disharmony between the Hindus and Christians.”

Hindu nationalists seek to create fear in Christians, especially new converts, that there can be church fires at anytime, so that especially the illiterate in remote areas won’t dare enter a church service, he added.

According to the Pew Research Center’s study on global restrictions on religion, India in 2016 had the highest level of social hostilities involving religion of 55 countries with high or very high levels of government restrictions on religion, under BJP’s rule.

The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (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.

Islamist Violence against Christians in Uganda Injures Pastors, Stops Church Services

A stone knocked pastor Tom Palapande unconscious at a Muslim-Christian debate in eastern Uganda. (Morning Star News)
A stone knocked pastor Tom Palapande unconscious at a Muslim-Christian debate in eastern Uganda. (Morning Star News)

Threats by Muslims in Mazuba village, Namutumba District, stopped worship services in a half-constructed church building and led the pastor to send his children to another town, he said.NAIROBIKenya (Morning Star News) – In further anti-Christian hostilities in eastern Uganda, Muslims knocked a pastor unconscious at a debate and Islamist threats in another village put a halt to worship services.

“The church members are now living in great fear for their lives and have stopped attending church services,” pastor Maseruwa Budallah told Morning Star News.

The 55-year-old pastor had resettled his family in Mazuba five years ago after fleeing persecution by Muslims in Sironko village, 70 kilometers (43 miles) away. In April, Muslims in Mazuba noticed that some Muslims had become Christians and were attending his church, and Muslim schoolchildren learned from Christian children that the pastor had left Islam to become a Christian.

Word that he was a convert from Islam spread quickly, and Muslim schoolchildren began bullying the pastor’s eight children, Pastor Budallah said. As area Muslims threatened to kill his children, the pastor and his wife felt compelled to send them to a boarding school in another town.

At beginning of the year Pastor Budallah donated a part of his land for construction of a church building. After walls had been built, however, area Muslims learned that he was a convert from Islam and put a stop to construction, he said. Besides confronting the pastor – telling him to stop construction as well as discontinue worship services – they have sent him threatening messages, he said.

“We know your tricks, that your intention of building the church is for you to convert our members to Christianity,” they wrote in a letter on May 8. “If you continue building the church, then you are risking your life as well as the life of your church members.”

Pastor Budallah also received threatening messages from his relatives back in Sironko, he said.

“You have refused to come back home, and we hear that you have started building a church for infidels,” read one text message. “Know that Allah is going to deal with you soon, and you will not finish it nor pray in it.”

Debate Violence

In Butaleja District, also in eastern Uganda, a pastor was knocked unconscious when irate Muslims threw rocks at him and other church leaders during a debate on Christianity and Islam in Kuwait village, sources said.

A stone struck pastor Tom Palapande, 38, in the head during an open-air debate on June 21, part of a two-week evangelistic campaign. The first week featured only evangelistic events, and the second week included debates with area Muslims about Islamic and Christian scriptures, the Trinity and the Sonship of Jesus, among other topics.

The first three debates took place without incident, but in the fourth debate about Jesus as the Son of God, a sheikh found himself ill-prepared and left in the middle of the event, sources said. Embarrassed Muslims in the crowd responded by throwing stones at Pastor Palapande and shouting the jihadist chant, “Allah akbar,” they said.

“A big stone hit the pastor’s forehead, and the stones as well injured three other church leaders who were close to the pastor at the podium – Moses Balabye, Agrey Gibenya and Milton Magezi,” a church leader told Morning Star News.

Pastor Palapande said that he regained consciousness in a Kuwait clinic and was later transferred to a hospital in Mbale.

“This is not the first time when Muslims attacked us, especially when they lost debates in Nasenye, Nabiganda and Bumadanda,” Pastor Palapande told Morning Star News by phone. “I was beaten up, and it was falsely reported in a local newspaper as well as the local radio station that I am disrespecting the religion of Islam. This is a calculated move to tarnish my name.”

He appealed for the government of Uganda to protect him and to stop Muslims from assassinating his character.

“The perpetrators of this heinous crime must be found and punished to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.

Uganda’s constitution and other laws provide for religious freedom, including the right to propagate one’s faith and convert from one faith to another.

Muslims make up no more than 12 percent of Uganda’s population, with many concentrated in the eastern part of the country.

NO BIBLES PLEASE OR YOU GO TO JAIL?

 

A public school district in Illinois sent a “cease and desist” letter to an unnamed person who gave away Bibles to boys and girls on a public street owned by the district.

“This individual was warned that law enforcement would be called should he or any affiliated persons come onto the School District campus for the purpose of distributing Bibles to students,” an attorney for the La Harpe Community School District no. 347 wrote in a letter to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based group of atheists, agnostics and free-thinkers, had filed a complaint with the district over two issues regarding religion at La Harpe Elementary School.

The first involved flyers that Principal Lila McKeown had reported distributed to teachers at staff meetings.

The flyers referenced Christian holidays like Easter and Christmas and included Bible passages.

 

NO NO NO

“Easter is the celebration of God’s greatest gift – salvation through Jesus Christ,” one of the messages read. “Easter blessings! May you feel Christ’s Love in your Heart & be filled with his Peace & Joy this Easter Season.”

“Isaiah 9:6-7 (“For unto us is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,” read another message.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation accused the principal of using her position “to promote her personal religion to teachers and students.”

The school district said they have taken steps to eliminate Bible verses from future staff flyers.

“Principal McKeown will no longer be placing Bible verses in any staff communication or any other School District correspondence or communications in the future,” the district’s attorney wrote in a letter to FFRF.

The other issue involved unnamed individuals who gave away free Bibles to students on April 20. The out-of-town agitators accused the Gideon’s of being behind the Bible giveaway.

The Gideon’s, an international ministry that provides Bibles to school children, hotels and other areas, did not return calls seeing comment.

“La Harpe Elementary may not allow Bible distributions on school property,” the FFRF attorney wrote to the district. “It is unconstitutional for public school districts to permit Gideons to distribute Bibles as part of the public school day.”

The district explained that there’s a roadway that splits the grade school campus in half. Up until 2013 the city owned and maintained the road. And while the community still commonly views it as a city roadway it is in fact a school district roadway.

While the district cannot ascertain where the Bibles were distributed, the attorneys believe it happened on an area along the roadway.

“”Public schools have a constitutional obligation to protect the rights of conscience of young and impressionable students,” the FFRF wrote.

The district responded swiftly – vowing to call the police should anyone come onto the campus to distribute Bibles.

“This individual was clearly informed that North D Street is a part of the School District campus and cannot be used for Bible distribution activities,” the district’s attorney wrote.

So let that sink in for just a moment – a public school sent a cease and desist letter to someone who was giving children a copy of the Good Book. And they threatened to call the police.

That’s what a war on religious liberty looks like, America.

 

OK?

Church Booted from Building over Sign Criticizing Homosexuality

Church Booted from Building over Sign Criticizing Homosexuality

A small church in Indiana is being evicted from its building due to an outdoor sign that criticized homosexuality.

Remnant Fellowship Church in Auburn, Ind., posted a message on its sign that read: “LGBTQ is a hate crime against God. Repent.” WPTA-TV ran a story about the sign on June 27, focusing on the sign and the pushback by some in the community against it. On July 8, WPTA reported that the congregation had been booted from building by the landlord. A church member confirmed the news.

The pastor had told the television station that the sign was an attempt to “reach young people and steer them away from a lifestyle they believe is harmful to them.”

The controversy apparently began when one woman, Kristin Russell, was offended by the sign and changed it so it read, “Stay Open Minded.” She posted the picture of the new sign on Facebook, sparking the WPTA report.

“I kind of sat there for a little bit, what am I supposed to do about this?” Russell said. “I saw the message ‘stay open minded’ in the letters, so I thought, why don’t I just change it to that,” Russell said.

The church changed the sign back to the original message.

Now, the congregation is looking for a new home.

Readers on WPTA’s Facebook were split on the issue.

“Churches, I thought, were about love and forgiveness,” Gail Bailey Adams wrote.

Wrote Bleu Hefner, “Freedom of speech will end soon. Sad you can attack religious beliefs but if you’re for religious beliefs, well it’s fine to be attacked.”

Another person, Rose Marie, wrote, “So said … I hope you find another place real soon.”

Traumatized Widows in Kenya Face Ordeal of How to Press On

Kenya's Coast Province. (TUBS, Wikipedia)

NAIROBIKenya (Morning Star News) – One year after several Christian women lost their husbands to Islamic extremist attacks in coastal Kenya, they have few means of supporting their children.

Gone is the Non-Governmental Organization aid initially offered to them at a camp for internally displaced people. The women, each with three to seven children, left the camp in January after Kenyan officials told evacuees that it was safe to return to their homes.

“At the moment I am experiencing sleepless nights thinking of what my children are going to eat and how they will remain in school – I cannot afford the payment of the school fees,” a mother (name undisclosed for security reasons) of seven children told Morning Star News. “And some of the children are crying for Dad and wish he was around to provide for them.”

One of the widows, still traumatized from the attack by Al Shabaab militants in Lamu County that killed her husband in July 2017, is taking medication and receiving counseling in order to cope, a native Christian worker who requested anonymity told Morning Star News.

“Most of these women are traumatized and depressed,” the worker said. “Their lives are becoming unbearable, as all the family responsibilities fell on their shoulders after their husbands were killed.”

When knife-wielding Al Shabaab militants from Somalia attacked Jima and Pandanguo villages a year ago, the widows heard them say, “We have to get rid of the Christian men, and then subject their wives to Islam and make them dress like Muslim women,” said the worker, who receives support from several Christian donors but is associated with no aid organization.

Eight of the 10 women were widowed in the attacks last year; two others were widowed in June 2014 Al Shabaab assaults that began in Mpeketoni and reached areas near Pandanguo, killing at least 57 non-Muslims.

One widow, a mother of two, said she is afraid to return to the farm she and her husband worked in Pandanguo.

“My husband was brutally murdered by the Al Shabaab, and these memories are coming to my mind now and then, which has made me to be very forgetful,” she said.

Another widow who has five children said she is finding it difficult to pay rent.

“I have decided to rent a one bedroom house for my five children,” she said. “We are so crowded that it is becoming a health hazard for us.”

The widows have been surviving on minimal support from well-wishers, said the worker, who appealed for prayer, financial assistance and counseling for them.

“When such serious tragedies befall families, a few months’ help is not enough,” she said. “We need to visit these people and continually pray for them.”

Al Shabaab rebels 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 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

Two Pastors, Mother of Eight Shot to Death in Plateau State, Nigeria

Ruth Wujit, slain along with her pastor husband and another church leader in Miango, Nigeria. (Photo courtesy of ECWA)

JOSNigeria (Morning Star News) – Thousands of people attended the funeral yesterday of a pastor, his wife and another church leader, all killed by suspected Muslim Fulani herdsmen on June 27 in central Nigeria.

The three Christians were ambushed and shot to death as they returned to Miango, Plateau state, after visiting relatives in Baduru village, Kaduna state who had been attacked by Muslim Fulani herdsmen, the Rev. Ayuba Ahmadu, senior pastor of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in Miango, told Morning Star News.

The Rev. Micah Wujit, 46-year-old associate pastor of the ECWA congregation in Miango, and his wife Ruth Wujit, 35, leave behind eight children, Pastor Ahmadu said. Emmanuel Tingo, pastor of the church’s English-speaking congregation, leaves behind his wife and three children, he said.

Their corpses were found at about 11 a.m. June 28, he said. The two pastors were natives of Baduru village, Kaduna state.

Besides at least 218 people slain in predominantly Christian areas around Jos on June 23-25, seven other Christians were killed in villages around Miango in June, sources said. Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacked Kwall, Kpachudu and Hukken villages, said area resident Patience Moses.

On June 19 in Kwall village, in the Bassa Local Government Area (LGA), the secretary of the ECWA church in Kwall, Danjuma Edo, and his family members were slain in their home by Fulani herdsmen, she said. Killed were Edo, 40; Mary Danjuma, 34; Sibi Baba, 21; and Ayo Danjuma, 18.

“They were killed at about 11:30 p.m. on June 19 as they were sleeping,” Moses said. “On June 17 in Kpachudu village, a man named Sarki, 20, a member of ECWA church there, was ambushed and slaughtered at about 9 p.m. And on June 16, in Hukken village, two other Christians were killed by the herdsmen, a woman and her son.”

Godiya Abass and her 11-year-old son, Friday Emmanuel, were killed as they worked on their farm at about 10 a.m., Moses said.

The attacks in the three villages preceded the slaughters in predominantly Christian villages in the Barkin Ladi, Riyom and Bokkos LGAs in Plateau state.

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.

Mentally Disabled Pakistani Christian Beaten for Praying in Jail

Victim Allowed to Appear in Court Covered in Blood

 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that a mentally disabled Christian convicted of committing blasphemy was severely beaten in jail by his fellow prisoners for praying in front of them on June 22, 2018.

Yaqoob Bashir, age 25, was accused by a Muslim cleric, Talib Hussain, of burning pages of a booklet carrying Quranic verses in Mirpurkhas, located in Pakistan’s Sindh Province, on June 4, 2015. He was then arrested under Section 295 – B of Pakistan’s Penal Code, commonly referred to as blasphemy laws.

While speaking with ICC, Ranjha Masih, a local human rights defender, said, “Bashir was set to have a hearing in court on June 23 and before appearing, the young Christian wanted to pray at night. However, the prisoners with him did not allow him to pray in front of them. When Bashir continued, four of them got annoyed and beat him very badly. He sustained injuries to his face, eyes, chin, and head.

When Bashir appeared before the court on June 23, his shirt and face were covered in dried blood. This got the attention of the Justice Javaid Iqbal of the Session Court of Mirpurkhas. When asked, Bashir explained what happened the previous night. Justice Iqbal then issued orders for Bashir to be moved to a separate cell and for the other prisoners to appear before court to testify about the incident.

It is sad to hear that Christians are not secure even in police custody,” Bishop Samson Shukardin, Bishop of the Hyderabad Diocese, told ICC. “It is the duty of the state to ensure the protection of all citizens. If a young Christian is facing violence and torture in jail, then one can only imagine the new heights of persecution.

At this stage, I am worried for his life,” Bishop Shukardin continued. “Allowing an attack on a mentally disabled prisoner shows that the prison authorities are not sincerely trying to protect the citizens nor does the government have a clear policy to curb extremist movements.

ICC’s Regional Manager, William Stark, said, “ICC is deeply concerned for the safety of Yaqoob as he continues to fight for his freedom in Pakistan. It is very disturbing to see that prison authorities would allow fellow prisoners to attack and severely injure Yaqoob for merely exercising his religious freedom rights. ICC also applauds the actions of Justice Iqbal for quickly shifting Yaqoob to a safer cell and for confronting his assailants. Hopefully justice will be done on Yaqoob’s behalf.

How Muslim Mobs Attack Christian Churches in Egypt with Impunity

(Morning Star News) – Christians coerced into an out-of-court settlement following an Islamist attack on a church building in Egypt recently saw the usual outcome – a closed church – a practice that has long oppressed Christians, according to Middle East observers.

Members of an armed Muslim mob that attacked a church building in Meinin village, Beni Suef Governorate, in April were acquitted on May 22 of mobbing, fighting and possession of unlicensed firearms based on a “conciliation” settlement calling for the church site to close.

Nine Christians were arrested – with five held illegally for a month – and charged with failing to have a church building license in a country where officials are slow to approve licenses if at all, Middle East specialist Raymond Ibrahim noted on his website. The State Security Court handed the nine Christians and 11 Muslims one-year suspended sentences, essentially acquitting them based on the out-of-court settlement.

Coptic villagers told Watani newspaper that authorities had recently visited the site in preparation for legalizing the church building, prompting the attack.

Obtaining or constructing a church building in Egypt was nearly impossible before a 2016 Law for Building Churches, and the Meinin church of the Holy Virgin and Pope Kyrillos had applied for legalization under the law – which stipulates that no church that has submitted its application to officials shall be closed, according to Watani.

Muslim attacks on church buildings create the threat of sectarian conflict that then serves as the pretext for closing them, Ibrahim notes.

“Authorities tell Christian leaders things like, ‘Yes, we understand the situation and your innocence, but the only way to create calm in the village is for X [the offending Christian and extended family, all of whom may have been beaten] to leave the village – just for now, until things calm down,’” Ibrahim wrote in a previous article. “Or, ‘Yes, we understand you need a church, but as you can see, the situation is volatile right now, so, for the time being, maybe you can walk to the church in the next town six miles away – you know, until things die down.”

Should the Christians refuse and demand their rights as citizens against the assailants, authorities smile and say “Okay,” he states.

“Then they go through the village making arrests – except that most of those whom they arrest are Christian youths,” he writes. “Then they tell the Christian leaders, ‘Well, we’ve made the arrests. But just as you say so-and-so [Muslim] was involved, there are even more witnesses [Muslims] who insist your own [Christian] youths were the ones who began the violence. So, we can either arrest and prosecute them, or you can rethink our offer about having a reconciliation meeting.”

The dejected Christians see no alternative but to comply, or else their young men will go to prison and be tortured, Ibrahim notes.

Islamist assailants are further emboldened to attack the next church about to be legalized, he adds.

In the Beni Suef attack, five Coptic Christians illegally held without charge for a month were released on May 21. One of them, Farag Sehata, lost his job due to the detention, his brother told Watani. Sehata was unable to provide proof to his employers that he was in police custody because, not wanting to admit holding him illegally, officers refused to give it to him.

The Meinin village church had used its now-shuttered building for about 10 years, according to Watani. It is one of 3,370 churches that Samuel Tadros, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, said have applied for licenses. Earlier this year the government announced the legalization of 53 church buildings under the new law, all constructed before the 2016 church building law went into effect.

Delta Church Attack

Another church that applied for legalization under the new law was attacked by Muslims who feared it was about to be legalized, according to Watani.

Muslims at a mosque in Al-Shuqaf, near Housh Eissa in the west Delta governorate of Beheira, on May 26 reportedly used mosque microphones to call on villagers to attack the church.

“The mob also pelted the Coptic villagers’ houses with stones, damaged the priest’s car, and set on fire a motorbike that was parked in front of the church,” Watani reported. “Seven Copts suffered slight injuries. The Coptic villagers claim that the nine Copts who were arrested had been caught randomly in what has now become common practice by the police in order to pressure the Copts into ‘conciliation,’ so that no legal action would be taken against the Muslim culprits in exchange for setting free the Coptic detainees and ensuring a swift end to hostilities.”

With the intervention of local political and security officials, the Coptic Christians and Muslims forged an agreement allowing the church building to remain in use if charges were dropped against the assailants, according to Watani.

The church is among those that have applied for legalization under the 2016 law, which eases building and restoration restrictions for the first time in centuries.

Egypt was ranked 17th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.