Algerian Christian Sentenced for ‘Proselytism’

More than half of country’s Protestant churches ordered to close.

by Peter Lamprecht

ISTANBUL, April 10 (Compass Direct News) – An Algerian Christian was handed a two-year suspended sentence for “proselytism” yesterday amid an ongoing government crackdown on 26 of Algeria’s 50 Protestant congregations, a church leader said.

A court in Tiaret, 150 miles southwest of Algiers, delivered the written verdict yesterday after convicting the Christian on April 2, said Mustapha Krim, president of the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA). Prosecution of “proselytism” violates Article 18 of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which affirms the inherent right to publicly manifest one’s faith.

The Christian, who requested anonymity, plans to appeal the two-year suspended sentence and a 100,000 (US$1,540) dinar fine, Krim said. Because it is suspended, the man will not have to serve his jail term unless he commits a repeat offense.

According to Krim, authorities brought charges against the man after he reluctantly gave a Bible to an undercover police officer who posed as someone interested in Christianity and insisted that he needed one.

Police have detained several other Christians in past weeks, apparently part of an effort to implement stringent regulations put in place two years ago to govern non-Muslim places of worship.

In addition to restricting church buildings and worship locations, the 2006 religion law also bans attempts to “shake the faith of a Muslim.”

“If you take this law to the extreme, it means that carrying more than one Bible is illegal,” said one long-time resident of Algeria who requested anonymity.

On March 29 police detained a Christian woman for 24 hours when they discovered she was carrying six books about Christianity during a routine check on the outskirts of Tiaret. Christian sources reported that she is scheduled to appear before a judge on May 7.

Two Christian men traveling by public bus from Tizi Ouzou to Bjaia on the evening of March 21 also were detained by police after they were found with 11 Bibles. The men were held for 24 hours and then released.

Acclerated Church Closures

Authorities in Algeria have accelerated church closures, with half of the country’s Protestant congregations now ordered to cease all activity, Christian support organization Open Doors reported today.

The Holland-based organization reported that 26 congregations have now been give orders to close. At least 16 belong to the EPA, which counts 32 members, while another 10 are from approximately 20 small independent house groups that exist around the country.

During an interview on national television on March 30, Religious Affairs Minister Bu’Abdallah Ghoulamullah claimed to be closing churches for not functioning “according to the law.” He said that the churches would be allowed to reopen after conforming to government regulations.

But several congregations report that they have decided to reopen their doors after multiple attempts to meet official regulations have failed to produce government approval.

“We have done everything, and we are conformed to what the religious minister said, and the provincial governor,” said one member of the Full Gospel church in south Tizi-Ouzou. “The result is nothing for the moment.”

The congregation has continued meetings despite an order to close their doors last month, prompting a visit from local police during their weekly meeting last Friday (April 4).

Seven policemen and a policewoman approached the church pastor at the end of the service at 1 p.m. to deliver written notice for the Christians to cease all activity. The officers apologized for interrupting the individual prayer that the pastor and other elders were carrying out for members of the 400 Christians in attendance but re-ordered the church to close down.

The head pastor immediately went to the local police station and explained why the congregation had decided to continue meeting. Police noted the explanation and again told the pastor to cease all activity before letting him go.

Other churches have faced similar difficulties in obtaining government approval for their activities.

“There was another church who went 11 times to the provincial governor and each time he sent them to get this paper or that paper, and so on,” a member of the Full Gospel church said.

In an April 1 statement, Krim responded to accusations by Algeria’s religious affairs minister that their congregations were not real churches, “only houses and garages disguised as churches and not in accordance with the law.”

“The honorable minister had forgotten to mention that our historic places of worship have been confiscated in order to transform them into mosques, into pharmacies, into museums and even into trade union headquarters,” Krim wrote.

Krim called on authorities to return church properties confiscated by the government after large numbers of Christians left the country when it gained independence in 1962.

Krim’s predecessor, former EPA president and 74-year-old U.S. citizen Hugh Johnson, left Algeria on March 26 after he was ordered to leave the previous month. His appeal remains before an Algerian court.

Courtesy of ChristianNewsToday.com

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Attacks on Bible School in Sri Lanka Continue

Provincial Council member assaults security guard at college after leading protest.

by Krishni De Alwis

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, A Provincial Council member brandishing a gun assaulted a security guard at a Bible college in Lunuwila, Puttlam district two weeks after an attack on 10 of the institution’s students seriously injured two of them.

A Wennappuwa Provincial Council Member identified in published reports as Winton Appuhamy appeared at the college gate at midnight on March 15, threatened an unarmed security guard and assaulted him. A hearing that was scheduled earlier that day regarding the March 2 attack by masked men on students of the Believers’ Church Bible College was postponed after Appuhamy led a protest with villagers and some Buddhist monks accusing the school of harboring Liberation Tiger of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) terrorists.

After beating the security guard that night, the public official left, threatening to return and rape female students resident at the college. When arrested by the police, he claimed that he had acted out of patriotic concern.

In the March 2 attack, a group of masked men had beaten the Bible college students as they walked from the Lunuwila railway station to the school, injuring nine of them.

A few minutes before the attack, Appuhamy had met the students and asked where they were heading. They replied that they were on their way to the Bible college. Shortly after they were assaulted, this same Provincial Council member came to the gate of the Bible college, shouting and threatening that he would not allow it to continue for more than a week.

The Bible school has operated in Lunuwila since 2002.

In the attack on the students, “There were about 10 men on motorbikes who assaulted them, kicking and beating them with fists and rods,” said Rev. Lal Vanderwall, Diocesan Overseer of the Believers’ Church.

More attackers arrived in a van and dragged one of the students into the vehicle, where a person wearing heavy boots kicked and beat him. A student escaped and ran to the Bible college to get help. One of the assailants followed him on a motorbike and assaulted the security guard, though the guard was able to close the gate to prevent the attacker from entering the premises.

“The injured students were rushed to the Lunuwila hospital for treatment,” said Rev. Vanderwall. “Nine were treated for injuries; two were badly injured. One student required extensive treatment at the Marawila Hospital as he suffered severe blows to his stomach.”

Two of the attackers were identified in a complaint to the Koswatte Police the same day, March 2. Police made initial inquiries and referred the matter to the local Mediation Board.

The day before the hearing, leaflets appeared in the village urging villagers to join a protest campaign and pressuring authorities to close the Bible college. The leaflets contained false, inflammatory allegations claiming that the Bible college was a bunker harboring LTTE terrorists.

The day of the hearing, Provincial Council Member Appuhamy led a protest against the Bible college, together with villagers and a few Buddhist monks. The protesters carried placards calling the school an LTTE terrorist center.

Police provided protection to the Bible college and the students who were trapped within school walls.

The protesters hung placards on the fence of the college and dispersed. Observers said the presence of media at the protest suggested the demonstration was well planned and carried out with the intent of defaming the school.

Intensified fighting between government troops and the LTTE, bombings of civilian targets, abductions, killings and other atrocities have deepened the mistrust between the country’s majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil ethnic communities.

The divide is exacerbated daily by politicians and media using the conflict for their own ambitions, as well as by ordinary citizens taking the law into their own hands in acts of misguided patriotism. Anti-Christian elements also strategically exploit the conflict to provoke and justify violence against Christians.

Pastors, Families Threatened

Pastor Wasantha Bandara, 28, who serves a small congregation of H.B.I. Ministries in Udugama village in the Galle district (Southern Province), and his family experienced the cruel reality of this phenomenon on March 2.

“For over two hours, a crowd of more than 200 villagers including Buddhist clergy and temple officials surrounded our home and threatened us to leave the village or face death,” Pastor Bandara said.

Referring to the ethnic identity of the pastor’s 24-year-old wife, who is Tamil, and the minority Tamil congregation he ministers to, the mob suggested that if he did not comply, there could be accusations of complicity in terrorist activities against him and the church.

“It is too dangerous for them to stay on,” said a senior pastor of the church. “This is not the first threat they received.” In February, he said, three men walked in to the church Sunday school armed with clubs and threatened Pastor Bandara.

The pastor, his wife, their 11-month-old baby, 3-year-old son and the wife’s grandmother, who lived in the house, have been evacuated to a safe location.

A few hours later, many miles away in the remote, northern district of Mulaitivu, a pastor who goes by a single name, Suganthan, and his family experienced a terrifying brush with death.

Pastor Suganthan, his wife, their child and two others were asleep inside his church, Zion Mount Prayer House, during the early morning hours of March 3 when the building was set on fire.

Woken by the noise and heat of the flames, the family escaped the fire.

Godfrey Yogarajah, general secretary of the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka, said all citizens of the country have a right to live without fear of being attacked or harassed because of their religious beliefs or ethnicity.

“It is our hope and prayer that justice will prevail, and Christians in this country will be free to worship and practice their faith unhindered by violent elements,” he said.

Courtesy of Christian News Today

Christ-based Leader Shuns Political Compromise Calls Religious-Politicos’ Obsession, A False Doctrine of the Contemporary Church

Flower Mound, Texas, In a day when ministry leaders readily align with political organizations and endorse candidates there is one who represents those who refrain.

Dr. Steven B. DavidSon calls political-obsessions one of the false doctrines of the contemporary Church. “Sure, there is civil responsibility. We must pay taxes, pray for our governing officials, and vote if a person desires. However, there is no ‘best-in-class’ political party concerning the Christian movement. Politics by its very nature is deceitful, biased, and unforgiving. It’s questionable when a Christian candidate or platform is suggested in the midst of such a process; and the effort to leave persons with a sense of guilt or confusion if they vote otherwise is despicable. Issues of prayer in public places, homosexuality, racism, poverty, abortion or sacrificing children have been with us throughout Biblical history.”

DavidSon continues, “No doubt, the nation is in a downward path in every way. It is not simply because of the obvious often suggested by these leaders. Those who say they represent the ministry of Jesus Christ are using political strategies for the change they seek including their broadcasts and pulpits. This is as devastating as the things they decry, and clearly a bastardization of the Great Commission.”

When asked why he is so passionate about his view, he is clear. “We have thousands of persons contacting our ministry. If you assess believers as we do, you will find they are suffering from ministry malnutrition. Marital difficulty, mood disorders, parenting conflict, teen insolence, addictions and similar activity dominate the typical believer. This does not include persons who do not know our Lord. And yet precious time and resources are expended on political demagoguery under the disguise of Christian service.”

DavidSon shares how believers can identify when they are subject to a politically-compromised ministry. “When a person attends a worship service, turns-on a ‘Christian’ broadcast and is constantly bombarded with political innuendo, political endorsements, and ‘demonization’ of governing officials for the purpose of manipulating a person’s vote, the person is witnessing a false-doctrine of the contemporary Church. Living within immoral cultures and suffering persecution, it is an absolute stretch to find Jesus or any early Church representative involved in similar activities. Jesus is our message, and His life is our methodology. It simply does not take a major study to determine acceptable limits; and it does not matter how popular the personality or ministry is, politically obsessive activity is heretical.”

Answering typical arguments referring to the founding fathers and civil rights movement as religious-political pioneers, DavidSon retorts with a Christ-based view. “First, it is a different contemporary dispensation. Additionally, we are thankful for the founding fathers and civil rights efforts of the 1960s but—as shocking as it may seem–these are not the standard-bearers of the Christian faith. There is only one name, Jesus!”

DavidSon also takes exception to those who use the term social gospel. “It sounds relevant and caring, but there is no ‘social’ gospel in Christ, Jesus with the principal objective of social change. Christianity is about universal-cosmic change. The ultimate objective is a new heaven and new earth. Clearly, Christianity is being used as a diversion for some of these persons’ preeminent love. It is their national, political, racial or religious idolatry. As the Apostle Paul warned, ‘if they come with any other Gospel than this, count them accursed.’” Galatians 1:1-10.

Warren’s challenge to pastors: ‘What has God put in your hands?’

by Michelle A Vu, US Correspondent
Posted: Friday, April 11, 2008, 7:26 (BST)

'What has God put in your hands?'

Best-selling author of ‘The Purpose Driven Life’ Pastor Rick Warren speaks at the 19th annual National Conference on Preaching in Woodbridge, Va., on Tuesday, April 8, 2008.
(Christian Today)

Internationally revered Pastor Rick Warren slipped into the conference hall unnoticed Tuesday night, comfortably mingling with the hundreds of pastors gathered at the 19th annual National Conference on Preaching, before stepping on stage to deliver a sermon that reminded the audience why Warren is one of the most popular pastors in the world.

In his sermon entitled “Growing Spiritually,” Warren recounted the runaway success of his book The Purpose Driven Life – the best-selling book in history behind the Bible – to the audience gathered at Woodbridge, Virginia, in the US. The sermon was based on the story in Exodus 4 about the scene where God tells Moses to throw his staff on the ground and it transforms into a snake.

“That question, ‘What is in your hand?’ is one of the most important questions in life. What is in your hand?” Warren asked his audience, citing God’s question to Moses in Exodus 4:2.

God tells Moses to throw the staff in his hand on the ground and “something that was dead comes alive”, Warren emphasised. The pastor of Saddleback Church in southern California then made two points: God never does miracles to show off and God never asks questions that he does not already know the answer. God asks questions for our benefit, said Warren.

He went on to explain the significance of the staff which represented Moses’ identity as a shepherd; symbolised his income because wealth was tied to livestock back in those days; and symbolised his influence – Moses used the staff to pull or push his sheep.

“‘Lay it down and it will come alive, but Moses every time you pick it up it’s going to die,’” said Warren. “That simple little experience was the turning point in the history of the world.”

After that scene in the Bible, it was never again referred to as Moses’ staff but always called the Rod of God. The Rod of God was used to part the Red Sea, to turn the Nile River into blood, to perform miracles in front of pharaoh and to make water come out of a rock.

“It was just a simple stick. There was nothing magical about it, but once Moses surrendered it to God, it became the Rod of God,” Warren noted. “Pastors, what is in your hands?” the speaker challenged.

Courtesy of Christian Today

Homeschooling Ban Put on Hold

CBN News Reporter

By Charlene Israel

March 30, 2008

CBNNews.com – A California state court will reconsider its ruling that could outlaw homeschooling — raising hopes in the homeschooling community that the justices will reverse their action.Last month the court ruled that parents who educate their children at home could be criminally liable under California law. The justices ruled that parents “do not have a constitutional right to home school their children.”

 

The court argued that only credentialed teachers could educate children. The family at the center of the case home schooled their eight children, but did not hold a teaching certifcation.Many pro-family groups viewed the ruling as troublesome because California’s public schools have some of the more liberal laws in the nation regarding teaching about sexuality and homosexuality.

They feared the court’s published opinion would force thousands of families to stop homeschooling.

Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund were among those who asked the court to reconsider the ruling.

“Another look at this case will help ensure that the fundamental rights of parents are fully protected,” they argued.

Michael Farris of The Homeschool Legal Defense Fund Association also called the court’s decision to rehear the case a “great first step.”

“We are very glad that this case will be reheard and that this opinion has been vacated, but there is no guarantee as to what the ultimate outcome will be,” he said.

He added that this case remains the association’s top priority. The court will hear the case in June.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzeneggar said he will intervene if the ruling is not overturned.

Sources: CBN News, The Associated Press

Courtesy of CBN.com

Gorbachev Admits He’s A Christian

Nearly 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union’s atheist empire, Mikhail Gorbachev has admitted he is a Christian, reports the Daily Telegraph. On a visit to Italy the last president of the Communist state prayed at the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi, and later told priests the saint had played a fundamental role in his life. “St. Francis is, for me, the alter Christus, the other Christ,” said Gorbachev.

Gorbachev always professed atheism as Soviet leader, although Ronald Reagan is said to have suspected that his Cold War adversary was a “closet believer.” Gorbachev’s parents baptized him in the Russian Orthodox church and his wife’s parents were killed during World War II for owning religious icons.

Courtesy of newser.com

Christians Consecrate First Church in Qatar

March 17, 2008

DOHA, Qatar – Thousands of worshipers have attended the consecration of Qatar’s first Christian church, ending decades of underground worship in the Sunni Muslim Persian Gulf nation.Cardinal Ivan Dias presented the new Roman Catholic parish of Our Lady of the Rosary with a chalice offered by Pope Benedict. Saturday’s five-hour Mass was conducted in English with prayers in Arabic, Hindi and the Tagalog language of the Philippines.

Some 3,000 worshipers filled the church, and 7,000 more gathered outside.

The church’s exterior features no Christian symbols that would offend local Muslims.

Nearby, five more churches are under construction for other Christian denominations in oil-rich Qatar, where more than 70 percent of the population is comprised of expatriate workers.

Courtesy of AP News