Persecution and Prayer Alert, Voice of the Martyrs
MALI (Africa): France Intervenes with Campaign Against Rebels
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Sources: Barnabas Aid, Compass Direct/World Watch
France has taken decisive action by launching a military campaign against Islamist rebels that aggressively seized control of northern Mali last year. More recently, the militants have been trying to advance further into the south, posing danger to the Christians who were forced to flee to this area. With links to al-Qaeda, the rebels are also imposing a harsh version of sharia law in the territory.
Their attempted progression into southern Mali has sparked alarm. Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced: “Obviously we are very concerned about the situation, and the development of essentially an entire terrorist region is of grave concern to everybody in the international community.” French foreign minister Laurent Fabius further explains that had France not intervened, there was a risk that the advance could result in “appalling consequences.”
The Islamist takeover of northern Mali has already had a devastating impact on the Church in the region. Christians have been driven from their homes, and all church buildings in Gao and Timbuktu were destroyed. Many of the believers affected by the attacks fled to Bamako, where they have been living in refugee camps. There is added concern that if the militants were to advance further south, these refugees would be left with absolutely no safe haven in their homeland.
Let’s uphold the estimated 330 Christian refugee families who are in need of food, shelter and medical care. May the Lord also minister His peace and comfort to these displaced believers, many of whom are anxious because they don’t know whether some of their family members are alive or dead. Ask that His protection shield the innocent victims who may, through circumstances, be caught in the crossfire and that there will soon be a positive resolution to the conflict.
COLOMBIA: Shooting of Evangelist’s Widow Leaves Children Orphaned
Sources: Compass Direct/World Watch Monitor
On January 7th, 2013, as a local pastor concluded an evening devotional in the home of widow Alicia Castilla, guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) forcefully entered and opened fire with pistols. Alicia was instantly killed in front of her three children and her elderly father. This tragedy follows the previous shooting of her husband, lay evangelist Nelson Ramos, who was murdered in January of 2011, also at the hands of the ELN.
Alicia’s late husband, Nelson, who had come to faith in Christ two years before his death, often shared the Gospel in Saravena, a border town near Colombia’s frontier with Venezuela. A few months after his conversion, the ELN issued its first expulsion order against him and his family. As done in the recent incident, assassins entered the family’s home and shot the evangelist as his wife and two small daughters helplessly watched.
Founded in 1964, the ELN is one of several illegal armed groups fighting for control of the rich petroleum resources along Colombia’s eastern-central border with Venezuela. These violent groups forcibly recruit children into their ranks, and persecute those who oppose them, namely the church. (For more about the country of Colombia and the challenges Christians face there, go to http://www.persecution.net/colombia.htm) Yet,. despite their belief that Christians are “brainwashed” by the Bible, “they also notice that when Christians fast and pray, the guerrillas’ violent plans…are oddly stopped!” states an Open Doors representative who oversees ministry in the Arauca area.
Please pray for the protection and healing of the surviving traumatized children: 18-year-old Hernán and his little sisters Rosmy and Jackeline, ages 9 and 6, who now face life without both parents. Also remember Alicia’s father who was present at the recent January shooting. May they all be surrounded by God’s love through caring family and friends, especially the members of the Christian community. We are reminded that God’s salvation is extended to anyone who willingly receives it, including the members of the ELN who clearly need His touch upon their lives.
CUBA: Government Harasses Christian Leaders and Their Families
Source: Christian Solidarity Worldwide
Threats have been made by government officials to destroy a church property due to its affiliation with the Apostolic Movement, a fast-growing unregistered network of protestant churches. Pastor Bernardo de Quesada, a national leader of the church group, has publicly denounced an order from the Provincial Ministry of Housing that he and his wife demolish an outdoor covered patio, used by the church for meetings. The order directly contradicts written permission for construction of the patio issued by another government agency, which added that “permission for this type of construction is not necessary.”
There have also been complaints that the Cuban government is targeting the family members of its leaders. In one particular case, the electricity has been cut off from the home of retired military officer Lieutenant Colonel Orlando Porfirio and his ill wife, in what they believe is an attempt to put pressure on their adult son who is a worship leader. The elderly couple have not had electricity supplied to their home since October 9, 2012, and have received no response to repeated written complaints to government officials.
Other affiliated churches have been subjected to repeated fines and had property confiscated or destroyed. A number of its leaders, including Pastor Omar Gude Perez, have been imprisoned for various lengths of time. (For more on Pastor Omar’s situation, see www.persecution.net/cu-2011-11-17.htm.)
Church leaders in the Cuban city of Santa Clara have condemned the Cuban government’s refusal to allow Trinidad First Baptist Church access to its bank accounts. The accounts for the historic local church, with funds amounting to approximately $27,000, were frozen by government officials in 2010. The majority of these funds were donated by churches abroad for essential repairs to the 105-year-old church, yet still remain inaccessible more than two years later.
Additional penalties applied to the church before the retirement of its former pastor included a prohibition on any foreigner travelling with a religious visa visiting the church, non-authorization of the purchase of a church van, and refusal to issue permission for the pastor to leave the country in order to attend religious conferences abroad.
Overall Increase of Persecution
There have been a total of 120 reported cases of religious freedom violations in 2012, up from a total of 30 in 2011, some of which involved entire churches and denominations and hundreds of people. One of the most severe cases involved the violent beating of Pentecostal pastor, Reutilio Columbie, early in the year. Pastor Reutilio suffered permanent brain damage as a result of the beating which he believes was orchestrated by local Communist Party officials. To date, there has been no governmental investigation into the beating carried out. (For other previous reports on events affecting Christians in Cuba, please check www.persecution.net/cuba.htm.)
May our all-powerful God mediate on behalf of Cuban believers by moving the hearts of political leader Raul Castro and his government officials in favour of granting them religious freedom. Pray that the church will arise from oppression becoming a tremendous influence on the entire nation and that great exploits would take place in their midst, including the divine healing of Pastor Reutilio.
IRAN (Update): Temporary Prison Release of Infirmed Christian Leader
Sources: Mohabat News, Middle East Concern
Rev. Vruir Avanessian was temporarily released from the Evin Prison in Tehran on the 10th of January after spending 15 days in custody. Despite serious health concerns, the 60-year-old pastor was subjected to ongoing interrogations while imprisoned. Fortunately, he was granted bail by posting property title deeds valued at 150 million toomans (approximately $60,000 CAD), but now must wait to receive a court summons for a hearing. So far, there have been no charges or reasons given for his arrest (and subsequent detention), but it’s likely due to his alleged contacts with Christian converts within Iran. To read about Iran’s political stance on Christianity, go to www.persecution.net/iran.htm.
Rev. Avanessian, an Armenian Iranian Christian, was arrested along with approximately 50 other believers who had gathered at a home in the northern part of Tehran to celebrate Christmas. The majority of these men and women had come from Muslim backgrounds and, as a result, were detained at the location for several hours by the secret police of the Ministry of Information. They were mandated to complete questionnaires requesting important contact information, social media and e-mail account IDs with accompanying passwords, and details on how they came to accept Christianity. After the completion of the questionnaires, their mobile phones were confiscated and they were notified that individual summons will be sent to each one for further questioning.
Added Note: At least 20 other believers are known to remain detained in Iran because of their Christian faith or activities. These include Pastor Farshid, Pastor Behnam (who is not receiving medical treatment for a serious health issue) and Pastor Saeed, a dual Iranian-American national held in Evin prison since September 26th, 2012. (For more regarding Pastor Saeed’s situation, check here.)
First of all, let’s thank the Lord for Rev. Avanessian’s release as we continue to plead for his vindication and healing. Ask that He strengthen the faith of all the previously mentioned Iranian believers, and that any charges made against them will be dropped. May their steadfast witness serve as a source of encouragement to others and be used for the extension of His Kingdom. And may all the officials involved love mercy, act justly, learn about Jesus and choose to follow Him.
The following brief music video clip will encourage you to remember our suffering spiritual family in Iran: www.persecution.tv/iran-letter.