BREAKING: Asia Bibi Reportedly Left Pakistan

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Multiple outlets are reporting that Asia Bibi has left Pakistan and landed safely in Canada. We are working to verify these news stories and will update when we have more information.

Asia is a Christian mother who served almost nine years on death row for blasphemy in Pakistan before being acquitted. Although she was released from prison last fall, she had been forced into isolation as she awaited being reunited with her family.

For now, thank you for your continued prayers for Asia Bibi and the millions of Christians following Jesus in Pakistan!

Life under ISIS: Raqqa’s Christians tell their story

The handful of Christians remaining in Raqqa tell me what life was like under ISIS – and how they still need help to survive.

The churches of Raqqa lie in ruins following the defeat of ISIS. But remarkably the city’s Christian community has survived.

Before the Syrian conflict began in 2011, Raqqa was home to hundreds of Christian families. Today there are a mere 30 or so individuals, almost all men.

It’s not just the churches that have been reduced to rubble. The rest of the city was largely destroyed in the operation to oust ISIS. In October 2017, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by Western air power, seized Raqqa from the militants. Although the fighting has ended, the atmosphere remains tense. The Kurdish-led SDF remains in charge, and reconstruction is slowly underway, though ISIS still operates underground.

Anyone who has followed the news over the last few years will be familiar with the crimes of ISIS. They include beheadings, crucifixions and the subjection of non-Muslim women to sexual slavery. Throughout this reign of terror, a small number of Christians remained in the city. They did their best to avoid incurring the wrath of ISIS.

Raqqa’s Christians tell me that, before ISIS took over, the city had been an ideal place to live. They had good relations with their Muslim neighbours. Unlike in other cities in Syria, such as Damascus and Aleppo, Christians did not live in separate neighbourhoods from Muslims, but were spread throughout the city and were fully integrated into the social fabric. They spoke Raqqa’s unique dialect of Arabic. Some of the Christian presence in Raqqa dates to the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1917, when Arab residents of the city protected Armenian Christians from the Ottoman government, and others moved from other parts of Syria as the city grew during the 20th century.

After ISIS took over, the Church of the Forty Martyrs – used by both the Armenian Catholic and the Syriac Orthodox communities – became an Islamic court and a centre for the hisbah, or morality police. Just around the corner, the Greek Catholic Bishara Church became a field hospital. Residents say that both churches were deliberately destroyed by ISIS. But an air strike also hit the Bishara Church, leveling it entirely.

An empty shell of cement and rebar is all that remains of the Church of the Forty Martyrs. It looks out on Harun al-Rashid park, a sad reminder of the city’s recent history.

When ISIS took over, Christians went from being equal citizens to lower than zero, as one Christian from Raqqa told me. (Everyone interviewed for this article – five Christians currently in Raqqa and two living elsewhere in Syria – asked that their names not be used, as the security situation remains uncertain.) When ISIS first seized power, about 100 Christians – mostly men whose families had fled elsewhere – remained. Over the next four years that number steadily decreased.

ISIS viewed the Christians as infidels and repeatedly tried to convert them to Islam. Their approach was strikingly different from that of the first Muslim rulers of Raqqa in around 640 AD. In one version of the conquest of Raqqa, told by the 9th century historian al-Baladhuri, an agreement was reached guaranteeing the safety of the Christian community’s members, churches and money, albeit with certain restrictions. These were, by today’s standards, fairly stringent and included the payment of a jizya tax (levied on non-Muslims) and a ban on displaying crosses or building new churches.

ISIS most certainly did not read this agreement – which might have theoretically bound them as Islamic rulers of Raqqa – when they destroyed the city’s churches. ISIS members would visit the homes of Christians and talk to them about Islam. They would also gather Christians for meetings every month or so and provide lectures by converts from Christianity. (One was French and one a former Coptic Christian, recalled one resident.) ISIS reinstated the jizya tax, which had long ceased to be imposed. The amount paid differed depending on the family’s economic situation.

Christians could not – and did not dare – celebrate feasts such as Easter and Christmas. One resident said people would sometimes discreetly pass by their Christian neighbours’ homes and wish them a happy holiday. But even this was not common as people wanted to avoid attracting attention.

So if you were a Christian from Raqqa, why stay? Most of the people I interviewed said that they knew ISIS’s rule would end soon. They were simply waiting for the storm to pass, and noted that if Christians left, then their homes and businesses were stolen by ISIS. Those who fled risked losing everything they had.

Christians who stayed, however, were allowed to leave for short visits to other areas. They had to present a request to an ISIS official who would approve a visit for a specific length of time. If they overstayed, their possessions would be confiscated.
One resident said he received a call while outside ISIS territory telling him not to bother coming back: the group had taken his house and he would not be able to go back to it, even though he had not exceeded his allotted time.

While the Christians of Raqqa were doing their best to keep their heads down and survive, an international military campaign was underway to defeat ISIS in both Syria and Iraq, as well as Libya and other countries where the group had established a presence. As the campaign to liberate Raqqa moved forward, air strikes intensified and became more unpredictable.

One resident said that for the first few years of ISIS’s rule, air strikes were generally directed at specific targets and were limited in scope. But as the Western-backed SDF approached, they became more frequent and less accurate. It was difficult to distinguish ISIS members from civilians, because the terrorists avoided large crowds, and because all residents were required to follow ISIS’s strict dress codes: beards and Islamic robes for men, full covering for women with no skin or hair showing.

As coalition forces approached, the Syriac Military Council, a Christian-led unit of the SDF, began using its networks within the community to identify how many Christian residents were left in the city and where they were located. As circumstances allowed, they were smuggled to safety. The Syriac Military Council saved many Muslim civilians too.

ISIS was keen to use civilians as human shields, so those working to rescue civilians would wait until coalition airplanes were flying overhead, which usually sent ISIS fighters into hiding to avoid getting hit by bombs. Civilians would then run to safety with the SDF.

Now, more than a year after ISIS’s defeat in the city, a handful of Christian residents have returned to Raqqa. Everyone I spoke to in the city said the security situation is good thanks to the efforts of the SDF. The main barrier to more Christians returning is the destruction of homes and businesses, not the remaining ISIS cells which have attempted to upset the improving security situation in the city.

Local Christians complain there has been no support for the community from inside Syria or abroad. They say that they have received little help from the respective churches which have congregants in the city or from international organisations which have worked to help Christian communities elsewhere rebuild in the wake of ISIS.

More than anything else, this prevents more Christians from returning to the city and rebuilding their lives alongside their Muslim neighbours. Will that support be forthcoming? Will the global Christian community help their brethren in Raqqa to rise from the rubble?

Samuel Sweeney is a former US congressional staffer and is now a writer and translator based in the Middle East. He has a master’s degree in Islamic-Christian Relations from l’Université Saint-Joseph in Beirut

New Phase of Sharia Law in Brunei

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Open Doors asks for your prayers as Brunei intensifies their requirements to obey Sharia Law—Islamic regulations that govern Muslim conduct. They are introducing what is called “penal law,” which their Sultan warns will dispense strict punishments.

The first phase of the Penal Code, implemented in 2014, mandated jail terms and fines for failure to attend Friday prayers, “indecent behavior,” and other offenses. Unfortunately, we have recently learned that a second phase of the Penal Code is planned to launch on April 3rd.

“Pending provisions in Brunei’s Penal Code would allow stoning and amputation as punishments – including for children, to name only their most heinous aspects,” said Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Brunei Researcher at Amnesty International.

This code could further endanger Christians in Brunei, as the country already considers it illegal to share Christ with others or to convert away from Islam.

Please pray for the people of Brunei, including Christians, who will be subjected to this law.

Pray for the church to be both wise and bold in living out their Christian faith. Ask God to be present with them and to give them discernment for how to minister to their communities despite these increasingly fearful conditions.

Pray for the Sultan, especially that he would come to know Christ—he has the power to reverse the Penal Code and return Brunei to its former position.

*Representative names and photos are sometimes used to protect identity.

Predominately Christian Town Under Attack in Syria

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According to International Christian Concern, the Jaysh al-Izza faction of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) recently carried out a second attack on Mhardeh—one of the largest Christian-majority towns in Syria. Sadly, the FSA had previously attacked the same town in September 2018, leaving at least 10 Christians killed and 20 wounded. The city has also been frequently targeted by al-Qaeda and their splinter groups.

Henriette Kats, Persecution Analyst at World Watch Research, comments, “Although in this last attack there were no reports of human loses, this news shows that peace is still far off, despite the fact that the levels of fighting in the Syrian civil war are currently not as high as they have been in the past. Fighting continues particularly in areas close to the frontline where government-held territory—like Mhardeh—borders on areas controlled by rebel militias. But according to Syrian Christians these attacks are not just about the strategic position of Mhardeh; they also suspect an anti-Christian element since neighboring Muslim-majority towns have not been attacked.”

Please pray for peace in Mhardeh and for the Christians there to be beacons of Christ’s love to their neighbors in the midst of persecution.

Pray the war in Syria comes to an end completely.

Pray Syrians’ hope is renewed and revived.

*Representative names and photos are sometimes used to protect identity.

ISIS Beheads 50 Yazidi Sex Slaves as Parting Gift

In a final act of depravity, fleeing ISIS beheaded 50 Yazidi sex slaves, dumping their heads into trash bins for coalition soldiers to find.

ISIS fighters were besieged in their last stronghold – a small area in Baghuz located in eastern Syria. One hundred ISIS jihadis were killed in the final battle in which British Special Forces (SAS) fired 600 mortar bombs and tens of thousands of machine-gun rounds against the terror group.

Speaking to The Mail on Sunday, a source said:

“In their hour of defeat, the jihadis’ cruelty knew no bounds. They conducted a cowardly slaughter of these desperately unfortunate women as a final act of depravity and left their severed heads behind for us to find. The motivation for such a sickening act is beyond comprehension for any remotely normal human being.

“None of the SAS troops who entered Baghuz will forget what they saw, which some soldiers likened to a scene from the film Apocalypse Now. Their only solace is that they have contributed to bringing Islamic State’s reign of terror to an end.”

Surviving ISIS fighters tried to escape by going underground to a system of tunnels they constructed under the town. However, SAS mortar teams and U.S.-French artillery units pounded the openings of the tunnels which were located by drones.

About 200 jihadis still hold an area of about one-fifth of a square mile outside Baghuz where intelligence sources say an equal number of civilian hostages are held. The terror group once controlled 34,000 square miles of territory between western Syria and eastern Iraq, which they called their “caliphate” and ruled over close to 8 million people according to brutal sharialaw.

In 2014, when ISIS roared into Iraq, close to 3,000 women, teenage girls and young boys were abducted by the group. The hostages were Yazidis, Christians, Turkomen and Shabak – all minority groups in Iraq. The women and girls were turned into sex slaves and the boys were recruited as the next generation of jihadis. During the takeover operations, ISIS simply slaughtered the men and teenage boys.

Read it here.

Christians living in a Muslim country ‘143 times more likely’ to be killed by a Muslim than vice versa

Read it here.

Terrorist attacks against Muslims in the Western world, like the one that took place in Christchurch, are extremely rare.
Friday’s carnage in two mosques in New Zealand, with the death toll currently at 50, is the first major event of its kind since the Quebec City mosque shooting over two years ago – which killed six persons, conservative writer Srdja Trifkovic states in Chronicles Magazine.
Nonetheless, this terrible incident will dominate the headlines infinitely more than any comparable carnage involving Christians, notably the 2017 Palm Sunday church bombings in Alexandria, which killed 45 people, and was all but ignored by the Western media and politicians.
If we put Friday’s killings in perspective, that perspective should include the fact that some 30 million Muslims reside in the Western world today, which makes the probability of any one of them falling victim to a deplorable attack in any given year roughly one in ten million.
261 persons have been killed and many more injured, in attacks by Muslims on non-Muslims, in less than four years, in only one country, France (pop. 66 million).
With 66 dead a year on average, Frenchmen are exactly ten times more likely to be murdered by a Muslim than a Muslim being killed by a non-Muslim terrorist anywhere in the Western world.
The score is incomparably worse if we look at the situation of Christians in the Muslim world. It is the most egregious example of human right violations in today’s world: according to “Open Doors”, at least 4,305 Christians known by name were murdered by Muslims because of their faith in 2018.
Aid to the Church in Need, in its latest “Religious Freedom Report”, warned that 300 million Christians, overwhelmingly in the majority-Muslim countries, were subjected to violence, making it “the most persecuted religion in the world.”
This makes the odds of a Christian in a majority-Muslim country being murdered by a Muslim – simply for being what he is – approximately one in 70,000.
Which means that a Christian living in a majority Muslim country is 143 times more likely to be killed by a Muslim for being a Christian than a Muslim is likely to be killed by a non-Muslim in a Western country for being what he is.
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The Advent of the One World Religion

Read it here.

A historic interfaith covenant was signed in the Middle East on Monday, and the mainstream media in the United States has been almost entirely silent about it.

Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb is considered to be the most important imam in Sunni Islam, and he arrived at the signing ceremony in Abu Dhabi with Pope Francis “hand-in-hand in a symbol of interfaith brotherhood”. But this wasn’t just a ceremony for Catholics and Muslims. According to a British news source, the signing of this covenant was done “in front of a global audience of religious leaders from Christianity, Islam, Judaism and other faiths”…

The pope and the grand imam of al-Azhar have signed a historic declaration of fraternity, calling for peace between nations, religions and races, in front of a global audience of religious leaders from Christianity, Islam, Judaism and other faiths.

Pope Francis, the leader of the world’s Catholics, and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the head of Sunni Islam’s most prestigious seat of learning, arrived at the ceremony in Abu Dhabi hand-in-hand in a symbol of interfaith brotherhood.

In other words, there was a concerted effort to make sure that all of the religions of the world were represented at this gathering.

According to the official Vatican website, a tremendous amount of preparation went in to the drafting of this document, and it encourages believers from all religions “to shake hands, embrace one another, kiss one another, and even pray” with one another…

The document, signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb, was prepared “with much reflection and prayer”, the Pope said. The one great danger at this moment, he continued, is “destruction, war, hatred between us.” “If we believers are not able to shake hands, embrace one another, kiss one another, and even pray, our faith will be defeated”, he said. The Pope explained that the document “is born of faith in God who is the Father of all and the Father of peace; it condemns all destruction, all terrorism, from the first terrorism in history, that of Cain.”

There is a lot of language about peace in this document, but it goes way beyond just advocating for peace.

Over and over again, the word “God” is used to simultaneously identify Allah and the God of Christianity.

Man Kidnapped for Being a Christian in Egypt

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Recently, Adeeb Yassa—a 55-year displaced Christian—was kidnapped for being a Christian in Egypt. The armed men stopped the bus and checked the ID-cards of each passenger. When they found out Adeeb was a Christian, because each person’s religion is listed on Egyptian ID cards, they forcibly took him off the bus and put him in a vehicle. No one has heard from him since.

The Muslim passengers on the bus were allowed to continue on their journeys. They informed Adeeb’s family of what they had witnessed.

Please pray that Adeeb would be filled with peace and cling to Christ.

Pray the kidnappers would release Adeeb without harming him.

Pray the kidnappers would come to know Christ.

*Representative names and photos are sometimes used to protect identity.

UPDATE: Supreme Court Rejects Appeal to Overturn Asia’s Acquittal

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Pakistan’s Supreme Court has upheld its decision to acquit Pakistani Christian mother Asia Bibi—clearing the way for the 47-year-old woman to now leave her home country where she spent eight years in a prison on death row.

On October 31, 2018, the Court overturned Asia’s 2010 blasphemy conviction and death sentence. Outraged by the acquittal, Islamic extremists filed a petition to challenge the court’s decision and staged violent protests, calling for her death.

“Based on merit, this hardliner’s petition is dismissed,” Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa said in court on Tuesday.

Asia—also known as Asia Noreen—was unable to leave Pakistan while an appeal request was pending. In November under protective custody, she left the women’s prison and was flown to Islamabad to an undisclosed location for her safety, authorities said.

She is now free to leave her home country.

Pray for Asia’s continued protection and safety, her family and others around her as she makes her way out of Pakistan and to her family.

Pray for Asia’s lawyer Saif-ul-Malook, who sought refuge in The Netherlands after the violence erupted in Pakistan in November, returned to Pakistan to defend Asia. Because he returned, he loses his asylum status. Pray for his protection.

Pray for peace in Pakistan. Ask God to intervene against plans for any violent protests and attacks on Christians and churches.

*Representative names and photos are sometimes used to protect identity.

Turkey Rejects Attempt to Investigate Dink Murder

01/24/2019 Turkey (International Christian Concern) – According to the Turkish Minute, a parliamentary motion to investigate the 2007 murder of Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian journalist, has been rejected. Dink was assassinated by an ultranationalist youth and the authorities have not revealed the murderer’s identity.

Prior to his death, Dink reported receiving a number of threats from ultranationalists for describing the killing of Armenians during the Ottoman Empire as a genocide. Dink himself was an Armenian. Human rights groups have repeatedly noted worrying irregularities in the subsequent murder investigation, including deleted or missing evidence and police officials misinforming the court.

While the Armenian Genocide predates the modern Republic of Turkey, it remains a highly sensitive topic within the country. Turkey is divided into several ethnic-religious identities. Culturally, to be considered truly Turkish then one must be Muslim. Armenians, in addition to having a different ethnicity, are Christian. Many Armenians continue to report regular harassment and discrimination in Turkish society.

Read it here.

Minnesota Is Still Prosecuting Ex-Muslim Christian Pastor for Sharing His Testimony in a Mall

Read it here.

Ramin Parsa, an ex-Muslim Christian pastor who was stabbed in Iran, imprisoned in Turkey, and then arrested in the Mall of America for sharing his testimony with interested Muslim women, faces a settlement conference in March and likely a trial in April. The state of Minnesota has continued to prosecute his case, even though the Mall of America was wrong to accuse him of trespassing in the first place.

In late August 2018, Parsa was visiting the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minn. Two Somali-American women spoke with him and asked him if he was still a Muslim. When he said he was not, they asked him to explain. At this point, another lady complained to mall security. Security took Parsa into custody, holding him handcuffed to a metal chair for four hours without water, and then turning him over to the police.

While the Mall of America seems the main culprit in Parsa’s story, the state of Minnesota has taken up the case. “Actually in my hearing documents, it says ‘state of Minnesota vs. Ramin Parsa.’ So the state is my oppressor,” the pastor told PJ Media on Thursday. He also shared a report from his lawyer detailing the results of a pre-trial hearing that took place on December 11.

Scripture of the Day

Psalms 25

2. O my God, I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me.
3. Yea, let none that wait on thee be ashamed: let them be ashamed which transgress without cause.
4. Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.
5. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.
6. Remember, O LORD, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses; for they have been ever of old.
7. Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness’ sake, O LORD.
8. Good and upright is the LORD: therefore will he teach sinners in the way.
9. The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way.
10. All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies.
11. For thy name’s sake, O LORD, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great.

Sign of WordPress Shadowbanning?

I left comments on a few articles of a young ladies blog and they show up for a few minutes then ~~Zap~~ they’re gone.

I thought I may have been restricted by the author but she clicks like on some of my posts.

So what gives #Wordpress?

Psalms 2:4. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.

Turkey’s Threats against Greece

Read it here.

  • The one issue on which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his opposition are in “complete agreement” is the “conviction that the Greek islands are occupied Turkish territory and must be reconquered.”

  • “So strong is this determination that the leaders of both parties have openly threatened to invade the Aegean.” – Uzay Bulut, Turkish journalist.

  • Ankara’s ongoing challenges to Greek land and sea sovereignty are additional reasons to keep it from enjoying full acceptance in Europe and the rest of the West.

    Turkey’s “persistent policy of violating international law and breaching international rules and regulations” was called out in a November 14 letter to UN Secretary General António Guterres by Polly Ioannou, the deputy permanent representative of Cyprus to the UN.

    Reproving Ankara for its repeated violations of Cypriot airspace and territorial waters, Ioannou wrote of Turkey’s policy:

    “[it] is a constant threat to international peace and security, has a negative impact on regional stability, jeopardises the safety of international civil aviation, creates difficulties for air traffic over Cyprus and prevents the creation of an enabling environment in which to conduct the Cyprus peace process.”

    The letter followed reports in August about Turkish violations of Greek airspace over the northeastern, central and southeastern parts of the Aegean Sea, and four instances of Turkey violating aviation norms by infringing on the Athens Flight Information Region (AFIR). Similar reports emerged in June of Turkey violating Greek AFIR by conducting unauthorized flights over the southern Aegean islets of Mavra, Levitha, Kinaros and Agathonisi.

    In April 2017, Turkish European Affairs Minister Omer Celik claimed in an interview that Agathonisi was Turkish territory. A day earlier, a different Turkish minister announced that Turkey “would not allow Greece to establish a status of ‘fait accompli’ in the ‘disputed’ regions in the Aegean Sea.” In December 2017, Greek Deputy Minister of Shipping Nektarios Santonirios reportedly “presented a plan to populate a number of uninhabited eastern Aegean islands to deter Turkish claims to the land.”

    According to a recent statement from Greece’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

    “Greek-Turkish disputes over the Aegean continental shelf date back to November 1973, when the Turkish Government Gazette published a decision to grant the Turkish national petroleum company permits to conduct research in the Greek continental shelf west of Greek islands in the Eastern Aegean.

    “Since then, the repeated Turkish attempts to violate Greece’s sovereign rights on the continental shelf have become a serious source of friction in the two countries’ bilateral relations, even bringing them close to war (1974, 1976, 1987).”

    This friction has only increased with the authoritarian rule of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, particularly since, as Uzay Bulut notes:

    There is one issue on which Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), are in complete agreement: The conviction that the Greek islands are occupied Turkish territory and must be reconquered. So strong is this determination that the leaders of both parties have openly threatened to invade the Aegean.

    The only conflict on this issue between the two parties is in competing to prove which is more powerful and patriotic, and which possesses the courage to carry out the threat against Greece. While the CHP is accusing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP party of enabling Greece to occupy Turkish lands, the AKP is attacking the CHP, Turkey’s founding party, for allowing Greece to take the islands through the 1924 Treaty of Lausanne, the 1932 Turkish-Italian Agreements, and the 1947 Paris Treaty, which recognized the islands of the Aegean as Greek territory.

    This has been Turkish policy despite the fact that both Greece and Turkey have been members of NATO since 1952. Greece became a member of the European Union in 1981 — a status that Turkey has spent decades failing to achieve, mainly due to its human-rights violations.