Iran: Trying to Stifle the Holy Spirit with Persecution

This story of Christian persecution has a twist.

Iranian government officials raided the Central Assemblies of God Church in Tehran May 21. They arrested the pastor, Rev Robert Aserian and seized his books, documents and equipment, including his computer.

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Rev Robert Aserian, Barnabas Aid Photo

The charge? Pastor Aserian had been conducting services in Farsi, which is the language that people speak in Iran.

This is akin to arresting someone in America for making speeches in English.

Why would they do this?

My guess is that the reason for trying to force the pastor and his church to conduct services in some other language than Farsi is precisely because people could understand Farsi. I think the Holy Spirit was working in that church and Iranian people were converting to Christianity. The fact that the church has discipleship classes on Saturdays for new Christians seems to indicate that there are a good number of converts.

The Assemblies of God Church in Iran began in 1955 with a single house church. Now there are congregations across the country. That sounds like people are converting, and they are doing it in significant numbers.

This has resulted in persecution of church members, especially the church leaders. For instance, Pastor Farhad Sabokrouh, who leads an Assemblies of God church in Ahwaz, Iran, along with his wife Shahaz Jeizan were recently sentence to one-year prison sentences. 

Iranian christian beaten for her faith

Iranian Christian, beaten by police. Photo by Barnabas Aid

Hundreds of Christian converts have been arrested and detained throughout Iran in the past few years. They have been subjected to intense interrogation and verbal and physical abuse. Some were prosecuted, while others have been forced to pay exorbitant sums for bail.

Several members of the Central Assemblies of God Church in Tehran have been killed, and, as a local source told Barnabas Aid:

The pressure has become unbearable. They constantly threaten the church leaders and their families with imprisonment, unexplained accidents, kidnapping and even with execution. We cannot go on like this.

The twist in this story is that it’s not about a shrinking population of Christians who are barely hanging on. It’s about a thriving and growing Christian ministry that is built on conversions. Will the Iranian government be able to stifle the Holy Spirit with persecution?

There are probably more of these stories than we know. These people need our prayers and any support we can give them.

Orthodox Bishops Kidnapped in Syria

Kidnapped Archbishop Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim

Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syrian Orthodox Church and Archbishop Paul Yagizi of the Greek Orthodox Church were kidnapped April 22 near Aleppo, Syria. Their driver was killed.

Kidnapped Archbishop Paul Yagizi

The archbishops were on a humanitarian mission to try to secure the release of hostages who had been kidnapped previously.

A Vatican spokesman said that Pope Francis is following this situation closely and with “intense prayer.” The Vatican Press Director, Fr Federico Lombardi, said:

The assault on the archbishops “and the killing of their driver, while carrying out a humanitarian mission, is a dramatic confirmation of the tragic situation faced by the people of Syria and its Christian communities.”

Pope Francis, he said, is praying that, “with the commitment of all, the Syrian people will finally discover effective answers to the humanitarian tragedy and see on the horizon real hopes for peace and reconciliation.”

On April 17, Greek Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregory III Laham said that 2 million Syrians have been forced to leave their homes and over 1,000 Christians have been killed and 20 churches destroyed in Syria’s conflict. 

Christians make up between 5 and 10 percent of Syria’s population.

As often happens in these situations, there is confusion about who is responsible for the kidnapping. According to an article in the Gaurdian:

The Syrian opposition coalition has accused the Assad regime of being behind the abduction of Bishops Yazigi and Ibrahim.

In a statement it said all kidnappings, particularly those against the clergy, were a blow to its attempts to build a new Syrian society based on freedom from tyranny.

It said there were indications that government was to blame for abductions after Bishop Ibrahim’s interview with the BBC when he stated that the fate of Christians in Syria was not linked to the survival of the Assad regime.

“Initial investigations conducted by the Syrian Coalition regarding the kidnapping and killing of Father Ibrahim’s bodyguard implicate the Assad regime in this crime. The Assad regime was angered by Father Ibrahim’s latest statement, in which he stated that the survival of Christians in Syria is not linked to the survival of the regime. The Free Syrian Army categorically denies any responsibility for this kidnapping.”

The statement urged Syrians to work with the Free Syrian Army to try to secure their release.

Deacon Greg Kandra has more details here

Stations of the Cross in Honor of Persecuted Middle Eastern Christians

In solidarity with the persecuted Christians in the Middle East, this is Wa Habibi, sung to the Stations of Cross in Arabic by Fairouz.

 

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Christian Persecution and Blood Red Shoes

Pope Francis is the Pope. If he decides to go for all the pomp his office allows ….

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That’s fine with me.

Because he’s the Pope.

If on the other hand, he decides to wear sandals and walk rather than ride – or some black-shoed something in between the two extremes — that, too, would be ok with me.

Because he’s the pope.

It appears that most Catholics are like me: Over the moon about our new papa. But, you can’t please everyone. Human beings are too contrary for that to ever happen in this world. In their displeasure with our Holy Father, some of these displeased ones have fixated on one thing: The color of his shoes.

The red of the red shoes refers to the blood of the martyrs they tell us.

I’ve been thinking about this for days, largely because I don’t understand why we need to see red shoes to think about the blood of the martyrs. The blood of people dying for Christ is not an ancient artifact from a long ago history that has passed. The blood of the martyrs is soaking into the ground in a hundred places around the world as I type this.

This is the blood of the marytrs:

Nigeria

 

BurntNigerianChristians

India

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North Korea

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I have interviewed survivors of Christian persecution in Uganda and Nigeria. They are different from us. Their faith has been through the fire and this fire burned away the impurities of trivial concerns.

One of the many things about these people that impressed me is their gentleness; that, and their absolute faith in heaven. I never heard anything from them about the people who persecuted them being damned to hell. The harshest thing I heard was from an Anglican bishop who called them “ignorant.” Their focus is on Jesus. It is not on the ones who attacked them. They see past the persecution to heaven and the gift of eternal life.

More than once when I asked them how they got through it, they said two words: The cross.

They are different from you and me, these people who have been purified by the fires of persecution for the name of Jesus. I never asked any of them about red shoes. But if I had, I imagine that the response would have been incomprehension.

What Jesus Told Us

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Christian Persecution: From the Dali Lama to Great Britain, Six Quick Takes

This week’s six quick takes include examples of the increasing hostility toward Christians and Christianity worldwide.

They range from government punishment of Christian business owners for practicing their faith in Great Britain, to the rise of government harassments and arrests of Christian religious leaders in Eastern Europe. Also included are remarks by the Dali Lama that seem to blame the victims of violence for their own persecution. He specifically pointed to the martyrdom of a Christian missionary in India in which the missionary and his two children were burnt alive as his example.

Please pray for an end to Christian persecution.

1. Open Doors has released is annual World Watch List.  This list details the persecution of Christians around the globe. You can read it here.

2. Great Britain: Christian Bed and Breakfast Punished for ‘Discriminating’ Against Gays   In a victory for the gay agenda, the Christian owners of a Cornish bed and breakfast lost their appeal against last year’s ruling that their policy of restricting double rooms to married couples discriminated against a gay couple.

But, while upholding that ruling, the Court of Appeal warned that a new intolerance should not take root against Christians because of their beliefs about sexual ethics. (Read more here.)

3. Eastern Europe: Persecution on the Rise for Christians in Eastern Europe  Citizens of the former Soviet Union are facing growing restrictions on their religious freedom. On Wednesday a panel of experts in Washington reported that governments are closing more churches, fining and arresting their religious leaders, and destroying church literature.

“Twenty years ago when the Soviet Union fell apart, collapsed, when the Berlin Wall fell, everybody was sort of excited about all the future possibilities. Twenty years later we are again talking about freedom. What happened?” Victor Ham, vice president for the Billy Graham Evangelical Association Crusades, said.

The situation might not be a return to the Soviet era, but the signs spell trouble.

“Churches are being torched, crosses are being burned. There’s a lot of anti-Semitism, a lot of negative things appearing in the press about different organizations. So there’s some reason for concern,” Lauren Homer, with Homer International Law Group, said.

The atmosphere is thick with intolerance in these countries. Individual pastors are reluctant to speak out against abuses and restrictions. (Read more here.)

Note: Taiwan is a separate country from China.

4. China: Christian Persecution in China Rises Over 40 Percent in 2012  ChinaAid, a Texas-based Christian non-profit organization that monitors religious freedom in China, said in its 2012 annual report on Monday that the Chinese government continues its uptick of persecution against Christians in the country for the seventh consecutive year.

The report examines 132 persecution cases involving 4,919 people, finding that persecution incidences rose 41.9 percent from 2011. Additionally, the number of people sentenced in cases relating to religious persecution jumped 125 percent in 2012 compared to 2011, according to the group’s finding.

Read more at http://global.christianpost.com/news/christian-persecution-in-china-rises-over-40-percent-in-2012-chinaaid-reports-89542/#bq7CyE4Zal8lCCcf.99

5. North Korea: Most Difficult Place on Earth to be a Christian  For the eleventh year running, this is the most difficult place on earth to be a Christian. One of the remaining Communist states, it is vehemently opposed to religion of any kind. Christians are classified as hostile and face arrest, detention, torture, even public execution. There is a system of labor camps including the renowned prison No. 15, which reportedly houses 6,000 persecuted Christians alone. Despite the severe oppression, there is a growing underground church movement of an estimated 400,000 Christians. (Read more here.)

6. Dalai Lama’s Statements Against Conversion May Increase Christian Persecution  Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, said he was against conversions and changing from one religion to another. His position is likely to be seen as support for the policies of the radical Hindu groups and the anti-conversion laws that exist in some Indian states.

During recent speech, he touched on the issue of conversions. “I do not like conversions,” he said, because they have a negative impact [on society]. “The two parties, that of the converted and the community abandoned by him, begin to fight.”

As an example of the negative influence produced by conversions, he cited the violence against the Australian missionary Graham Staines, burnt alive in his car with his two sons, and the violence and destruction still ongoing in Orissa and Karnataka.

This is not the first time that the Dalai Lama has spoken against conversions. Last November, at Christ University in Bangalore, he repeated a similar concept: on the one hand, he spoke of religious freedom and on the other of the need to avoid conversions: “Any religion – he said – should be limited to service-oriented interventions, such as providing people education and health care, not indulging in conversions.”

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, who personally knows the Dalai Lama, comments to AsiaNews that the freedom to change religion is a fundamental human right and can not be obscured for any convenience. (Read more here.)

 

Christians in Asia are Targets of a Huge Increase in Violent Persecution

 

Vatican Insider La Stampa  MARCO TOSATTI ROME

“Gospel for Asia”, an organisation which aims to spread the Gospel’s message in Asia and deals with the Christian situation, has confirmed that in the last ten years the persecution of various denominations that follow the evangelical message has increased in a ratio of 10:40. In India alone there has been a “400% increase” in the number of assaults against Christians. This result was reached by taking into account all countries that had at least heard the announcement of the Gospel.

The President of “Gospel for Asia”, K P Yohannan said people who had not experienced persecution first hand “cannot fully understand what it means to receive threats against your life, to have your house destroyed, your own rights violated and your loved ones taken away from you and imprisoned; and all this because of your faith in Jesus Christ. In the fourteen countries in which we are present, persecution has become the norm, especially for those who are directly involved in missionary work.”

The Christians which the “Gospel for Asia” report refers to have had their homes destroyed or have been put behind bars, with all sorts of accusations being made against them, including “forced conversions”. Forced conversions are the main instrument used by Hindu nationalists to prevent the spread of Christianity. Many have been killed for believing in Christ and others have been forced to live a clandestine life.

K P Yohannan added: “The rise in this kind of persecution should not surprise us when it is witnessed in parts of the world that are hostile towards the Gospel. “Jesus sent his disciples out like sheep among the wolves. Historically and from a biblical point of view, persecution is only part of what it means to serve God.” (Read more here.)

Congressional hearing examines violence against Christians in Nigeria :: Catholic News Agency (CNA)

Congressional hearing examines violence against Christians in Nigeria :: Catholic News Agency (CNA).

Christians are currently being subjected to what amounts to genocide in several areas in the world. The persecution in Nigeria is one terrible example.

Unfortunately, hate speech directed at Christians and Christianity has become ubiquitous on the internet.

It is past time for those of us who follow Christ to say “enough.”


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