Persecuted for Their Faith

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven – Matthew 5:10

I have been aware of how much the church has been persecuted in different parts of the world through emails from Voice of the Martyrs Canada.  I have read many heartbreaking stories but I will share two of them.  A Christian woman named Mariam was expelled from her home by her husband who had militant Muslim views because she refused to renounce her faith.  At the time Mariam was pregnant and due to give birth soon.  She had to be cared for by church members.  In 2012 when she became a Christian, her Muslim family provoked an attack, forcing her to live on the streets.  Mariam is from the Ivory Coast which has seen an increase in violence since November 2010.

In Pakistan a teen died after being set on fire.  He was approached by two men who asked him about his religion.  After Nauman told them that he was a Christian, they proceeded to beat him.  He tried to run away but they followed him and doused him with kerosene and set him on fire.  Unfortunately, his attackers wore masks so there is little hope that they will be caught.  And it doesn’t help that the authorities show little interest in further investigation.

I thought that what these people experienced in their countries was bad but Ivory Coast and Pakistan are not even part of Gospel for Asia’s list of the top 10 countries where Christians are persecuted.  Life for Christians in these countries is simply horrendous.  First up is North Korea.

North Korea is the worst persecutor of Christians in the world. Christians are tortured, imprisoned and murdered. Private, non-state-sanctioned religious activity is prohibited. Anyone discovered engaging in clandestine religious activity is subject to arrest, torture or even public execution – Voice of the Martyrs – North Korea.

Yang was a Christian woman who became a follower of Jesus while she was still living in North Korea. Watch her incredible story of pain and hope.

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” – John 16:33

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam is known for being one of the worst places when it comes to women’s rights and religious freedom.  According to VOM Canada, it is one of the most oppressive nations in the world for Christians.

Religious freedom is nonexistent, and leaving Islam is punishable by death. Non-Muslims are not permitted to become citizens of Saudi Arabia, and no places of worship other than mosques are permitted in the country. All non-Muslim religious rituals and materials are banned. Converts from Islam to Christianity are rare, and converts have been executed for the offense. Anyone who performs mission work or converts a Muslim faces jail, expulsion, lashing, torture or execution. Non-Muslim worship, even private worship for foreign Christians, is prohibited, and Saudi religious police have been known to raid homes where expatriate workers were worshiping – Voice of the Martyrs – Saudi Arabia.

In September 2014, a house church in the city of Khafji was raided and 28 people were arrested, including children. Bibles and musical instruments were also seized. The worshippers, mostly expatriate workers from South Asia, were held overnight and released the following day, apart from a leader of the group who was held for another night – Church in Chains.

Can you imagine receiving 200 lashes and two years in prison if you are from Saudi Arabia and 300 lashes and six years in prison if you are from another country?  In 2012, two men, one Lebanese and the other Saudi Arabian were charged with brainwashing a Saudi woman into becoming a Christian.  These charges were levelled against them by the woman’s family.  The woman, known as the “girl of Khobar” is living in Sweden where she has been granted asylum.  She wasn’t brainwashed, she chose to become a Christian (Church in Chains).  Watch as she and another Saudi share their testimonies.

“Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” – John 8:36

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan does not recognize any Afghan citizens as being Christians, nor are Afghan citizens legally permitted to convert to Christianity. Although there are no explicit laws that forbid proselytizing, many authorities and most of society view the practice as contrary to the beliefs of Islam. There is only one legally recognized church in Afghanistan and it is located within the diplomatic enclave, and not open to local nationals.  Muslims who change their faith to Christianity, are subject to societal and official pressure, which may lead to death penalty. However, there are cases in which a Muslim will adopt the Christian faith, secretly declaring his/her apostasy. In effect, they are practising Christians, but legally Muslims; thus, the statistics of Afghan Christians does not include Muslim apostates to Christianity – Wikipedia

I read that the growing number of Christians in Afghanistan is causing great concern among the Muslim leaders and they are calling on President Hamid Karzai to “limit the number of aid workers and Christian missionaries coming to Afghanistan” to keep Afghanis from converting to Christianity.”  Apparently this all started when a TV station in Kabul reported the conversion of several Afghans to Christianity and broadcasted photos of them praying and being baptized.  This sparked an outrage and a call to convict believers under the Sharia Law which decrees that anyone who leaves Islam and converts to another religion that person will be executed – Christian Headlines.  The Afghan Christians have no church building where they can go because the last one was destroyed two years ago.  They are completely underground now and are risking their lives to meet in homes.

This is my comfort in my affliction, For Your word has given me life – Psalm 119:50

The situation of religious freedom for Christians has seriously deteriorated under the influence of the establishment of the Islamic State in large parts of Iraq. In June 2014, a strict version of Islamic law was implemented in the area the militants of Islamic State hold. Christians were forced to convert, flee or pay a tax for religious minorities. As a result, many Christians fled. Moreover, the broader Iraqi society is turning more Islamic, with increased social control on women wearing a veil and observance of Ramadan. Christians most affected by persecution are converts from Islam. However, in areas held by radical Islamic groups all Christians are under great pressure – Open Doors USA

A family of four was forced to flee Iraq because of militants and a man for questioning the Quran.  Read their stories.

Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand’ – Isaiah 41:10

Last year a Somalian believer was dragged outside of her home and murdered by a group of armed men. Anyone who tried to rescue her was shot at.  Her parents witnessed this terrible tragedy.  If a Somali was discovered to be a follower of Jesus, that person was going to face certain death not only in Somalia but in neighbouring countries where they are forced to flee as refugees.  According to one VOM source, “In Somalia, they kill you if they just find a piece of literature” (VOM USA).  My thoughts are with this young woman’s family and I pray that they are leaning on Jesus and trusting Him to strengthen them each day.

And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; For You, LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You – Psalm 9:10

Maldives is one of the least evangelized countries in the world. The 0.2% figure for Christians refers to expatriate Christians. Citizens of the Maldives are automatically Muslim, and non-Muslims may not become citizens. The open practice of any religion other than Islam is forbidden. Maldivian believers are carefully watched. They suffer ostracism, mockery, incarceration and even torture. Christians cannot meet or read the Scriptures openly. Expatriate believers have been expelled, especially after sharing their faith – VOM Canada.

Citizens of the Maldives who convert to Christianity lose their citizenship and risk torture. Expulsions of Christians occurred several times in the last 10 years (Wikipedia).

In his presidential campaign the current President of Maldives, Abdulla Yameen promoted himself as a saviour of Islam. “Think for yourselves, do you want Islam in the Maldives or do you want to allow space for other religions in the Maldives,” he said in an election speech.  In his speech on Maldives Conversion to Islam Day, he told the citizens, “We should also be very vigilant of foreign influences attempting to weaken our religious faith” (The Diplomat).  Clearly, things for Christian believers in Maldives is not going to change any time soon.  Let’s lift them up in our prayers that they will remain strong and steadfast until the Lord returns.

But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you – 1 Peter 5:10

It has been said that Mali has always been a dangerous place for Christians.  Christians who have fled are afraid to return and those who return find their properties occupied by Muslims.  There is no normal church life for Malian Christians in the north and those living in the south feel threatened by the Islamic groups in the north (source:  Open Doors).  Read about a pastor who escaped a deadly plot in Mali.

For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the LORD is against those who do evil” – 1 Peter 3:12

Imagine risking your life to tell others about Jesus in a country where religious freedom is on the decline. Watch this compelling video of a Iranian woman named Padina who was about to commit suicide but God intervened.

“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” – John 8:12

Yemeni citizens are not allowed to convert to Christianity (or other religions). Converts from an Islamic background may face the death penalty if their new faith is discovered. Converts from Islam also encounter opposition from extremist groups, who threaten “apostates” with death if they do not revert to Islam. Proselytizing of Muslims is prohibited – VOM Canada

How frustrating it must be to have to hide your new faith or face possible death if it is discovered.  Please pray that your Yemeni brothers and sisters will be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:1).

Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart, All you who hope in the LORD – Psalm 31:24

I received a prisoner update of an Eritrean man named Mussie Eyob who has been in prison since 2011. He was arrested because of his faith and his desire to share the Gospel with others.  Mussie became a Christian in 2008.  Three years later, while he was living in Saudi Arabia, he went to a mosque where he spoke about Christianity.  He was arrested on February 12, 2011.  It is a capital offence to proselyte in Saudi Arabia.  Praise God, He intervened through the appeals from various human rights groups and individuals.  Mussie was deported to Eritrea.  You can read his story here and see how you can reach out to him and his family.

It is ironic that as the people of Eritrea celebrated 24 years of independence in March 2015, religious freedom for Christians is still a concern.   According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the greatest shortcomings in religious freedom are felt by minority groups such as evangelical Christians.  So once again, in 2015,  USCIRF holds to its position that Eritrea is to be designated as a “country of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act.

In the wake of their independence, Eritrean Christians had to flee to Ethiopia to escape their hardships where they continue to boldly share their faith.  “They are actually seeing many from (various) religious backgrounds — Muslim and Orthodox — enter into a personal relationship with Jesus” says Greg Musselman, a spokesman for The Voice of the Martyrs Canada.

“Today, you’ve got anywhere between 3,000 to 4,000 Christians there who are imprisoned in shipping containers or military camps because of their faith.”  Can you imagine dealing with torture, acts of cruelty, random arrests and detention without charges? Musselman believes that these practices are as a result of the government’s belief that evangelical Christianity is “western” and is linked with the CIA (ERITREA: Refugees Boldly Testify of Christian Faith; Source: Mission Network News).

It is encouraging to know that despite the ban on their religious activities, the imprisonments and persecutions, the Eritrean Christians are holding on.  They have this assurance that they are not alone and that they are fighting the good fight which will carry them through these fiery trials.

“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life – Revelation 2:10

If you are moved to pray for the Christians in these countries, find out how at this link.

“Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Hebrews 13:3

Sources:  Gospel for Asia; Voice of the Martyrs Canada; Open Doors; Church in Chains

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Women Driving in Saudi Arabia

I was watching the news on women driving in countries where they are not allowed to.   On Saturday, October 26, more than 60 women across Saudi Arabia got behind the wheel in protest of a driving ban.  It seems a bit unfair that I am a woman and can drive a car if I wanted to but choose not to.  I tried a few times to learn and then take the road test and failed each time. After failing the last time, I decided to throw the towel in and be content with taking pubic transportation.  The thing is though, if I changed my mind and decided that I wanted to drive again, I could.  There’s no law stopping me from taking driving lessons, passing the road test and buying my own car.  I bet the women in countries like Saudi Arabia would love to trade places with me.

Why aren’t women allowed to drive in certain countries?  Here are the commonly given reasons for this prohibition:

  1. Driving a car involves uncovering the face.
  2. Driving a car may lead women to go out of the house more often.
  3. Driving a car may lead women to have interaction with non-mahram males, for example at traffic accidents.
  4. Women driving cars may lead to overcrowding the streets and many young men may be deprived of the opportunity to drive.
  5. Driving would be the first step in an erosion of traditional values, such as gender segregation.

The most ridiculous reason I heard was from a prominent cleric who said said last month that medical studies show that driving a car harms a woman’s ovaries.

One wonders how women are supposed to get around if they aren’t allowed to drive cars and are discouraged from using public transit.  They have limited access to bus and train services and where it is allowed, they must use a separate entrance and sit in a back section reserved for women.  Some bus companies don’t allow them at all.  As an alternative, they take taxis but this can be very expensive and they may face sexual harassment from the male taxi drivers.  Women who have dared to drive in protest of the ban on Saudi women drivers have faced arrests, suspension from the jobs and their passports confiscated.  They got back their passports but were placed under surveillance and passed over for promotions.

Critics reject the ban on driving on the grounds that: (1) it is not supported by the Quran, (2) it causes violation of gender segregation customs, by needlessly forcing women to take taxis with male drivers, (3) it is an inordinate financial burden on families, causing the average woman to spend 30% of her income on taxis and (4) it impedes the education and employment of women, both of which tend to require commuting. In addition, male drivers are a frequent source of complaints of sexual harassment, and the public transport system is widely regarded as unreliable and dangerous.

There are no specific Saudi law which bans women from driving but still women are not issued licenses. And it doesn’t help their situation when there are powerful clerics who enforce the ban, warning that breaking it will spread “licentiousness.”

Let us continue to support the women of these countries.  Let us continue to raise our voices.  “King Abdullah, “You gave women the right to vote, why not give them the right to drive too?  It’s time to end the ban on driving for women.”

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women’s_rights_in_Saudi_Arabia;   http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/26/saudi-arabia-woman-driving-car-banhttp://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/saudi-arabia-warns-online-backers-women-drivers-20679673http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/10/26/saudi-arabia-women-begin-protest-against-driving-ban-despite-warning-from-officials/

Huma Abedin

Who is Huma Abedin?  She has been dubbed “The Good Wife”.  Why?  She is standing by her husband Anthony Weiner in spite of new revelations about his online communications with a twenty-something woman.  As we all know Anthony Weiner was involved in the Twitter Photo scandal in June 2011, bringing unwanted media attention on his wife.

On Tuesday, July 23, 2013, Huma spoke at a press conference making it clear that she was going to remain committed to her marriage and supportive of her husband who is currently running in the New York City mayoral race.

Huma was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan. When she was two years old, her family moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Both her parents were educators. Her father, Syed Zainul Abedin, was born in India in 1928, was an alumnus of Aligarh Muslim University, and later received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. He died in 1993. Her Pakistani mother, Saleha Mahmood Abedin, also received her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, and is currently an associate professor of sociology at Dar Al-Hekma College in Jeddah.  Huma returned to the United States to attend George Washington University.

Huma began working as an intern for the White House in 1996 and was assigned to Hillary Rodham Clinton and is currently a director working on the transition team of Mrs. Clinton. She served as traveling chief of staff and “body woman” for Clinton during Clinton’s campaign for the Democratic nomination in the 2008 presidential election.

In 2010 Huma was included in Time’s “40 under 40”, a list of a “new generation of civic leaders” and “rising stars of American politics”.  Clinton had high praises for her, stating in a speech, “I only have one daughter. But if I had a second daughter, it would [be] Huma.”

Huma is not a stranger to unwanted attention.  Her Muslim faith came under attack on June 13, 2012 when allegations about her were raised by Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Congressman Trent Franks (R-Arizona), Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Congressman Tom Rooney (R-Florida), and Congressman Lynn Westmoreland (R-Georgia) who sent a letter to the Deputy Inspector General of the Department of State, Harold W. Geisel, requesting an investigation into the influence of anyone associated with the Muslim Brotherhood on State Department policy, citing a study by the Center for Security Policy, a principal proponent of Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy theories, that said that Abedin “has three family members–her late father, her mother and her brother–connected to Muslim Brotherhood operatives and/or organizations”.

Republicans John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Ed Rollins defended Abedin against these allegations. John McCain stated, “These allegations about Huma and the report from which they are drawn are nothing less than an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable woman, a dedicated American and a loyal public servant… The letter and the report offer not one instance of an action, a decision or a public position that Huma has taken while at the State Department that would lend credence to the charge that she is promoting anti-American activities within our government… These attacks on Huma have no logic, no basis and no merit. And they need to stop now.”  Speaker of the House John Boehner was right when he said that these accusations about Huma were “pretty dangerous” because she and her family were place under police protection when they were threatened by a New Jersey man as result of this controversy.

Huma married Anthony on July 10, 2010.  A year later she was subjected to his social media scandal.  Prior to their marriage Anthony had revealed his online relationships to her.  According to Anthony, when Huma learned of the new revelations, she “was very unhappy, she was very disappointed, and she told me as much.  And she also told me that she loved me and we’re going to get through this.”

Notes to Women salutes this honorable woman, dedicated mother and loyal wife.  We wish her all the best and hope that Anthony will do whatever he needs to do to preserve his marriage.

 

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Source:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huma_Abedin