Tag Archives: persecution

Persecution of Christians in Yemen (from “Open Doors”)

YEMEN

Leader: President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi
Population: 27.2 million (a few thousand Christians)
Main Religion: Islam
Government: Republic
World Watch List Rank: 10
Source of Persecution: Islamic extremism

There is some religious freedom for foreigners here but evangelism is prohibited and Yemenis who leave Islam may face the death penalty. Muslim-background believers are forced to meet in secret. If their faith is discovered, they face severe persecution from authorities, family, and extremist groups who threaten ‘apostates’ with death if they do not recant. Insecurity caused by Islamist movements makes Yemen very unstable. Christians are believed to be under surveillance by extremists and expat Christians can be a specific target for these extremist groups.

PLEASE PRAY:

The number of local believers is estimated at just a few hundred. Ask the Lord to encourage them and increase their numbers
Several expat Christians have been kidnapped in recent years. Pray for protection for foreign Christian workers and NGOs
Al-Qaeda-linked groups are gaining more power. Pray that Yemen’s leaders will be able to restore peace to this deeply divided country.
PERSECUTION DYNAMICS

Yemen is very unstable and its situation has deteriorated since the Arab Spring riots of 2011. The country is balancing on the brink of civil war. In the chaos, Al Qaeda militants have seized the opportunity to spread to parts of Yemen where formerly the government maintained some sort of order. These developments have led to an increase in oppression of Christians.

Kidnappings of foreigners occur regularly, and Christians are believed to be under surveillance by extremists. Several expat Christians have been kidnapped, though it is hard to discern to what extent religious factors play a role. Migrant Christian fellowships have been raided and forced to stop meeting.

Muslim-background believers face strong family and societal pressure. Threats from family, society and extremist groups are very serious and indigenous Christians have been killed for their faith. Due to this risk, many believers have had to go into hiding or even flee the country. Female converts are under threat of forced marriage once their conversion is revealed.

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Christians in Iraq

 

As the last remaining Christian priest in the Baghdad suburb of Doura, Archdeacon Temathius Esha no longer just puts his trust in God’s all-seeing eye. Built into the wall of his vestry, amid pictures of Catholic saints, is a 16-screen CCTV monitor, keeping watch on every corner of his church in case of possible attack.
Along with the armed guard outside and concrete anti-blast walls, it makes St Shmoni’s feel more like a fortress than a house of worship. And after a decade in which Doura’s Iraqi Christian community has been robbed, kidnapped and murdered by Islamist extremists, it finds itself offering sanctuary to an ever-dwindling flock.
“Doura was once one of the biggest Christian communities in Iraq, with 30,000 families,” said Mr Esha, as he prepared for an afternoon congregation that barely filled two of the 22 rows of pews. “Now there are only 2,000 left. They feel they are strangers in their own land, and that makes them want to leave. The bleeding from migration is continuous.”
Today, St Shmoni is one of just two of Doura’s original seven churches still open, casualties of a period in which the area become one of the most notorious al-Qaeda strongholds in Baghdad. In the years that followed the US-led invasion of 2003, two churches were car bombed, while the others closed due to lack of numbers and the kidnapping for ransom of four of Mr Esha’s fellow priests, which has left just him and a local monk remaining.
Over the years, his own church has had an improvised explosive device and two car bombs planted outside it. All were fortunately discovered before they were detonated.
The picture in Doura is repeated across Iraq, and indeed the wider Middle East, where the onset of the Arab Spring has ended the protected status that the region’s secular strongmen gave to religious minorities. In Iraq, a Christian community that numbered more than a million in Saddam Hussein’s time is now thought to have shrunk to as few as 200,000.
Isaac Napoleon, a worshipper at the St Shmoni Church in Dora (JULIAN SIMMONDS)
Those unable to join Iraqi diasporas in Europe and America often fled to sister communities in neighbouring Syria, only to find themselves in similar peril thanks to al-Qaeda’s presence in the war against President Bashar al-Assad. In post-Mubarak Egypt, the Christians fear a similar reckoning, and only last month Pope Francis warned that the entire Church was in peril across the region, adding: “We will not resign ourselves to imagining a Middle East without Christians.”
Yet with al-Qaeda once again on the rise in Iraq – more than 6,000 people have been killed in 2013, the most in five years – Christian communities such as Doura are already contemplating that very scenario.
Now, though, a last-ditch effort to end the exodus is under way, courtesy of the diminutive form of Louis Sako, appointed as the new Patriarch of Baghdad earlier this year. Before moving to the Iraqi capital he had served in the northern city of Kirkuk, where he had mediated in many kidnapping cases.
At first glance, the 64-year-old cleric is living proof of the Christian adage “blessed are the meek”. He speaks with a soft voice, and, at only 5ft 5in, is dwarfed by the armed bodyguards who these days accompany him at all times.
But in his first public address in March, delivered at St Joseph’s church in central Baghdad, he broke with the Church’s long-standing convention that speaking out about the problems would only make them worse.
Instead, he gave his congregation a blunt but powerful message, rich in historical resonance.
Iraq was their country as much as anyone’s and if they left a 2,000-year-old culture would die for ever. “I know your fears,” he said. “But you have been here for 2,000 years and are at the origin of this country, together with the Muslims. Why is the little flock still afraid? Do not emigrate, whatever the pressures.”
Earlier this month, the Patriarch returned to St Joseph’s to ordain six new deacons for Baghdad, the first since the 2003 invasion. As a packed congregation sang a song entitled Peace for Iraq, the white-robed figures knelt before Mr Sako as he cut a lock of hair from each of them into a silver bowl, a traditional symbol of devotion.
The real symbolism of the ceremony, though, was to show that in recruiting new blood to its senior ranks, the Church was digging in for the long term.
The Christian flock that Mr Sako has dedicated himself to saving is mainly Chaldean, an Eastern-rite Catholic faith that is independent of Rome but recognises the Pope’s authority. For most of their time in Iraq, they and other Christian sects have co-existed peacefully with their Muslim neighbours. In Saddam’s time they specialised as medics, teachers and academics – professions that earned them the trust and respect of the Muslim people.
As such, the invasion of 2003 – portrayed by some as a “Crusade” by fellow Christians – led to little in the way of direct reprisals.
However, in the lawless years that followed, their prosperity made them targets for kidnappers and criminals, who sometimes felt less guilty preying on non-Muslims. Almost uniquely in Iraq, Christians have no tribal structure, depriving them of the blood ties under which other Iraqis bind together in times of trouble.
As such, they have never formed self-defence militias, despite the fact that post-war Iraq offers little reward to those who turn the other cheek.
“Christianity in the Middle East has always encouraged its people to rely on the protection of the law, not the tribe,” said Mr Sako in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph. “Right now, the law here in Iraq is very weak.”
As al-Qaeda’s presence in Iraq has grown, Christians have been targeted deliberately, with sporadic bombings of churches and killings of priests.
In 2010, al-Qaeda gunmen attacked an evening Mass at Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad, taking more than 100 hostages. By the time the security forces stormed the building two hours later, 58 were dead.
A sparsely attended service held at the church (JULIAN SIMMONDS)
The atrocity was condemned by senior Muslim clerics, but saw yet another huge spike in Christians leaving Iraq.
“A gunman poked his AK47 through the door and started shooting,” said Bassam George, 24, who survived the attack by hiding along with others in the church’s sacristy. “I spent the time just thinking, ‘How can I face the God?’ For a year afterwards, I had nightmares, and would drink a bottle of whisky every night just to sleep.”
Mr George has no plans to leave Iraq. He points out that all Iraqis have suffered religious violence: while about 1,000 Christians have died since 2003, at least 30,000 Muslims died in the sectarian civil war of 2006-07 alone.
None the less, the minority status of Christians has left them feeling acutely vulnerable – nowhere more so than in Doura, which sits on a palm-lined stretch of the Tigris as it winds south of Baghdad.
Christians first settled here in the 1960s to work at the nearby oil refinery, with a cluster of churches, monasteries and seminaries giving the area the nickname “The Vatican of Iraq”.
But during Saddam’s reign, Doura also became populated with Salafists – Sunni hardliners put there to defend the city’s southern flank in the event of an uprising in Iraq’s Shia-dominated south. Post-war, the Salafists declared the area to be a mini al-Qaeda caliphate, threatening Christian women for not wearing headscarves and extorting tithes for non-existent “protection” services.
“In Saddam’s time, Christians could worship freely, and as long as you avoided politics you could survive,” said Mr Esha. “But since the war we have been attacked, robbed, raped and forced out of both Doura and the country.
“Often just psychological pressure has been enough; people will drive past here and fire guns in the air, or leave bullets and threatening messages outside Christian homes. Sometimes Islamic extremism is used as an excuse, sometimes it’s just blackmail for criminal purposes.”
For most of the past five years, the situation seemed to be on the mend. In 2008, after the US troop “surge” that drove most al-Qaeda fighters out of Baghdad, hundreds of Christian families who had fled Doura began coming back. At St John’s Church – shut for months that year because of al-Qaeda threats – Muslims and Christians sang songs together that Christmas.
Now, violence is on the rise again. Only two weeks ago, eight corpses were dumped in Doura. The bodies are as yet unidentified, but the fact that they were blindfolded suggests that the sectarian death squads who took Iraq into its darkest days five years ago are back at work.
With that in mind, many of those gathered at Mr Esha’s church last week would make this Christmas their last in Iraq if they could.
“I will leave whenever I can,” said Isaac Napoleon, who has lost a brother and a son to terrorism. “Christians are finished here in Iraq.”

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December 15, 2013 · 12:07

Rowan

from The Guardian

Rowan Williams tells ‘persecuted’ western Christians to grow up

Former archbishop of Canterbury says UK and US Christians exaggerate ‘mild discomfort’, and gay friends may feel let down

 

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Charlotte Higgins, chief arts writer
The Guardian, Thursday 15 August 2013 18.52 BST

Former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams at the Edinburgh international book festival in Scotland. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian
Christians in Britain and the US who claim that they are persecuted should “grow up” and not exaggerate what amounts to feeling “mildly uncomfortable”, according to Rowan Williams, who last year stepped down as archbishop of Canterbury after an often turbulent decade.
“When you’ve had any contact with real persecuted minorities you learn to use the word very chastely,” he said. “Persecution is not being made to feel mildly uncomfortable. ‘For goodness sake, grow up,’ I want to say.”
True persecution was “systematic brutality and often murderous hostility that means that every morning you wonder if you and your children are going to live through the day”. He cited the experience of a woman he met in India “who had seen her husband butchered by a mob”.
Lord Williams’s years as archbishop of Canterbury were marked by turbulence over the church’s stance on the role of gay priests and bishops; gay marriage; and homophobia in the wider Anglican communion – with many members of the church expressing disappointment at a perceived hardening in its position on homosexuality.
Asked if he had let down gay and lesbian people, he said after a pause: “I know that a very great many of my gay and lesbian friends would say that I did. The best thing I can say is that is a question that I ask myself really rather a lot and I don’t quite know the answer.”
Sharing a platform at the Edinburgh international book festival with Julia Neuberger, president of the Liberal Judaism movement, Williams launched a withering critique of popular ideas about spirituality. “The last thing it is about is the placid hum of a well-conducted meditation,” he said.
He said the word “spiritual” in today’s society was frequently misused in two ways: either to mean “unworldly and useless, which is probably the sense in which it has been used about me”, or “meaning ‘I’m serious about my inner life, I want to cultivate my sensibility'”.
He added: “Speaking from the Christian tradition, the idea that being spiritual is just about having nice experiences is rather laughable. Most people who have written seriously about the life of the spirit in Christianity and Judaism spend a lot of their time telling you how absolutely bloody awful it is.” Neuberger said she found some uses of the word self-indulgent and offensive. Williams argued that true spirituality was not simply about fostering the inner life but was about the individual’s interaction with others.
“I’d like to think, at the very least, that spiritual care meant tending to every possible dimension of sense of the self and each other, that it was about filling out as fully as possible human experience,” he said.
Asked by Neuberger whether he felt organised religion encouraged the life of the spirit, he replied: “The answer is of course a good Anglican yes and no”. While it can pass on the shared values of tradition, it can also operate as simply “the most satisfying leisure activity possible. It can also be something that you use to bolster your individual corporate ego.”
Discussing the relationship between church and state, he said the established church was “an odd business, a very messy and complicated business” but that he was “bloody-minded” about the notion of disestablishment. “I am not in a hurry to see the church disestablished if the pressure is coming from what I regard as the wrong kind of secularism.”
On Prince Charles’s apparent desire to be known as “defender of faith” (as in all faiths) rather than “defender of the faith” (as in simply Anglicanism) on his accession to the throne, the two clerics disagreed.
Neuberger said she believed “defender of faith” was exactly right. Williams replied: “You’re wrong … defender of the faith is just one of those historic titles that is part of the stream of things; it means almost what you want it to mean.” Neuberger replied: “What’s important about what Prince Charles has said is that it assumes parity of esteem, which for my lot is quite important.”
Williams was asked whether the Church of England ran the risk of functioning merely as a well-meaning NGO.
Referring to the current archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s recent statements on wanting to compete with payday lender Wonga, he said: “If the church or some of its representatives make remarks on matters of public interest, it can trigger the question where does that come from?
“Can you trace back your attitude to, say, credit unions or the environment to something that is distinctive in the religious heritage? And that means pursuing the conversation a bit.
“The risk of being reduced to an NGO, another woolly, well-meaning liberal thinktank or ambulance service – that’s not a fate I would relish for my church,” he said.

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“Where Two or Three are Gathered…”

There is a beautiful story about the Thomas family, living in the Middle East for two years.  Mark and Susan Thomas were on assignment for Mobil Oil.  They found that the only drawback to living in the Middle East was the government restrictions on Christians gathering for worship or study together.

As Easter Sunday approached that first year, Mark and Sue decided to risk inviting some of their Christian friends to gather in a basement room in their home.  They soon found a number of other people who were willing to take the chance to gather for prayer and singing, in spite of the real risk they would face if discovered by the police.

The day arrived, and Mark and Sue’s friends began arriving sporadically, so as not to attract attention.  It was wonderful to be together, to listen to the story of that first Easter morning, and to sing “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today”, even without accompaniment.

And then came the sound of footsteps and pounding on the door of the room where they were gathered!  Suddenly two officers and a detachment of police with guns drawn burst into the room!  Quickly, the officers dispersed the group with warnings that if such a gathering occurred again, all present would be expelled from the country.  The Christians left, grateful that there had been at least some time to share their Easter faith, and that there had been no arrests.

Meanwhile, the two officers returned to the police station to file their report of the incident.  They quickly discovered that their recollections as to who was the leader of the group and how many persons were actually there differed greatly.  The senior officer insisted that Mark was the leader since the group met at his house, but the younger policeman insisted on the leader being a man who had stood in the shadows, who had a radiant look on his face.

Nor did the two officers agree on the total number of men and women involved in the incident.  The senior officer said he had counted a total of nine persons, but the younger officer was just as insistent that he had counted ten people in the room.  Unable to agree, the two policemen left the station, with the intention of completing their report the following day.

That night the younger officer was going over the day’s events in his mind when he fell asleep.  In his dreams, the man with the radiant countenance whom he remembered as the leader of the Christian group, spoke to him softly saying, “Where two or three gather in my name, there am I in their midst.

This shows us that there is nothing in this world is able to stop the power and truth of Easter.  No power in this world; no matter how many laws against Christianity; no matter how much persecution and hostility against Christians; none of this is able to stop Easter.

And it also shows us that the risen Christ is always present among the worshipping, gathered community of two or more Christians met in his name, and meeting in fellowship around his word

 

 

 

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