It was a cold morning this mid-Spring morning. Wind blowing strongly in harsh gusts – far too cold for Spring this wind chill factor. Still, good away from it – soaking up amazing rays from a blazing sun if cold wind blasts allow.
What a start for this day away from work. Two days now cold. Why is it this wind blows so cold in Spring? Could warm days front again this Spring? No cold days can long stay in the midst of Spring I maintain. Still, as cold as it is today, warmth will again proclaim.
My story – Cold as it is.
Court revokes decree prohibiting Christian activities of HKBP Filadelfia.
JAKARTA, Indonesia, September 15 (CDN) — A court in West Java Province has revoked a local decree that forbade Christian activities of a church in Bekasi and has ordered officials to allow the Christians to establish a place of worship.
After months of conflict and legal battles, the State Administrative Court in Bandung on Sept. 3 revoked the Dec. 31, 2009 decree prohibiting Christian activities of Batak Christian Protestant Filadelfia Church (Huria Kristen Batak Protestant, or HKBP Filadelfia) in Jejalan village, Bekasi. The church had argued that the decree, along with the closure of their worship building on Jan. 12, resulted from pressure by Islamist groups that did not represent the wishes of the area residents.
The Rev. Palti Panjaitan of HKBP Filadelfia said he was happy that the church at last had found fair authorities who based their decisions on the rule of law, “unlike the regent of Bekasi, who often has been unjust in making a decision by tending to side with a small group of people.”
Since 2008 HKBP Filadelfia has sought permission for a place of worship from Bekasi Regent H. Sa’duddin, who declined to grant it under pressure from a small group of Islamists called the Forum Islamic Ummah Jejalen Raya Bekasi, according to church leaders. The group succeeded in pressuring the Bekasi district to seal the church’s temporary worship place on Jan. 12.
As a result, the church had been holding services on a strip of roadside land in front of the temporary site, using umbrellas to protect them from the intense heat of the sun and from sudden rainstorms.
The judges, identified only as Setiobudi, Irna, and Susilowati, ruled that the regent of Bekasi should issue a permit for the church to establish a place of worship.
“This point is important because if the regent of Bekasi does what the judge said, then we will build our church and no longer serve in the hot sun and the rains that sometimes come unexpectedly,” Pastor Panjaitan said.
He said the church will give notice to the area residents, government officials and security forces to accept the decision of the administrative court.
The regent was given 14 days to appeal, and a member of the church legal team, Parasian Hutasoit, said that the regent has no legal grounds to reject the judges’ decision.
“The decree of the regent of Bekasi is contrary to the constitution of 1945, which is the constitutional foundation of the Republic of Indonesia,” Hutasoit said. “The decree had violated Article 28 of the constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion. Also, it was contrary to Article 29, which guarantees freedom of worship and Law No. 39, 1999, concerning human rights.”
HKBP Filadelfia is now able to worship in the building that was sealed by the regent in January, he said.
Regent Sa’duddin had ruled that the church needed to find a new place to construct its prospective permanent church building because local residents had rejected it – even though the church had secured approval from local residents when it submitted its application for a permit in 2008.
The local government never acted on the application, and Islamist organizations organized protests to pressure government officials to deny approval. The church on March 30 filed suit against Sa’duddin for unilaterally closing their building under construction.
Hutasoit said church leaders would try to approach the regent to discuss the matter further.
“We need not hurry to do that, because all that happens is God’s plan,” he said.
If efforts prove unsuccessful, then the church leaders will proceed to enforce the judges’ ruling through legal means, he said.
Report from Compass Direct News
Muslim landowner offers to remove chains from 11-year-old boy if he converts to Islam.
WAZIRABAD, Pakistan, June 21 (CDN) — An 11-year-old Christian boy here is growing weak and ill from malnutrition from working in slave-like conditions for a Muslim landowner who kidnapped him and is forcing him to work off his family’s debts, his mother told Compass.
Katherine Bibi said landowner Ashraf Cheema of Dhonikay village, Wazirabad, has offered her son better conditions and possibly cancellation of the debt if he will convert to Islam.
“He is frequently invited to convert to Islam by Ashraf Cheema, and in return he is promised that he will be freed from the iron chains and his work will be eased and he will be served better meals,” she said. “Cheema has said, ‘The debt of your father and brother might also be forgiven if you convert.’”
Young Danish Masih works without break from 4 a.m. to 11 p.m., often in iron chains, on half a loaf of bread per day, according to Dawood Masih of the National Commission of Justice and Peace (NCJP).
“Due to the lack of sleep and immense physical and mental pressure, he is becoming weaker and ill,” Dawood Masih said. “And he is doing this bonded labor without any kind of leave, including sick leave, for the last one-and-a-half years, in place of his father Riaz Masih and elder brother Adnan Kashif.”
The boy’s father and older brother had been working for Cheema to pay off a debt of 142,000 rupees (US$1,640), but their employer was neither paying their monthly wages nor deducting the amounts from their debt, said Emmanuel Berkat Gill of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA). Riaz Masih’s monthly wage was 3,000 rupees (US$35), and Adnan Kashif earned 2,500 rupees (US$29) per month.
Cheema also extorted land worth 35,000 rupees (US$404) from the boy’s older brother, again without deducting the amount from their debt, and ransacked the family’s house in Ali Naggar village, stealing Katherine Bibi’s dowry worth 200,000 rupees (US$2,308), she and Gill said.
“Being a rich, powerful and influential Muslim landowner, Cheema did all of this and also had the cruelty to not deduct the amount from the debt,” Gill said.
Suffering under Cheema in this way, the family decided to flee to Islamabad, 165 miles (102 miles) away, Katherine Bibi said. About 18 months ago, however, the peaceful life they had begun anew was shattered when Cheema abducted their youngest son, also known as Mithu, and took him to his farmhouse at Dhonikay village near Ali Naggar in Wazirabad.
“After all these cruelties, Ashraf Cheema owes us some amount, rather than us owing him,” an inconsolable Katherine Bibi told Compass by telephone.
She has gone to court to recover her son – both her husband and older son do not risk provoking Cheema by attaching their names to the case – and on June 10 District and Sessions Judge Chaudhary Muhammad Ilyas sent a bailiff to Cheema’s farm to secure the return of the 11-year-old.
“But the bailiff returned unsuccessfully without Mithu, as Ashraf Cheema, being an influential and rich landowner, was told beforehand about the raid by an anonymous insider, and he hid the child,” Katherine Bibi said.
She said that since the bailiff failed to recover her son, Cheema has hurled threats at her and her husband, saying, “After this raid by the bailiff, you will neither be able to get back your son, nor will you be granted a cancellation for your debt.”
After joint efforts by Gill of APMA and Dawood Masih of the NCJP, however, Cheema agreed that if Riaz Masih would work in place of his son, he would release the child, Gill said. When Gill, Dawood Masih and Riaz Masih went to Cheema’s farmhouse, however, the landowner went back on his word and refused to hand over the boy.
Contacted by Compass, Cheema said that no such boy works at his farm or fields, and that “someone must have misled you.”
Besides the court recognition of the abduction, however, Gill and other credible sources assert that Danish Masih works from dawn to dusk under a sizzling summer sun without any break or meal.
At press time local Christian leaders had petitioned the deputy superintendent police of Wazirabad to recover Danish Masih.
Representative for HKBP congregation in West Java tells court sealing was illegal.
JAKARTA, Indonesia, June 18 (CDN) — In a hearing in its lawsuit against a local government, a representative for a church that Bekasi, West Java officials summarily closed earlier this year told an administrative court that the action was unconstitutional.
The Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP) Filadelfia church had filed a lawsuit on March 30 against the local government for its Jan. 12 sealing of the building under construction. Regent H. Sa’adudin on April 12 issued a decree to cease worship and other activities.
At a court hearing on June 2, the coordinator of the litigation team, Thomas Tampubolon, explained that the regent’s decree of Dec. 31, 2009 to seal the building conflicted with Indonesia’s 1945 constitution. He said the decree violated Article 28 of the constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion.
“It also violates Article 29, which guarantees freedom of worship, and Law No. 39 (1999) concerning human rights,” Tampubolon said as he read the suit to an administrative court.
Tampubolon said that the decree also violated 2006 Joint Ministerial Decree No. 9 regarding the role of regional administrators in maintaining harmony between religious groups and in the construction of houses of worship.
Lastly, he said that the regent’s decree violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Indonesia ratified in 2005. The legal team requested that the Bandung Administrative Court issue an injunction staying the decree of the Bekasi regent.
Additionally, the team requested that the regent’s order be rescinded and that he be ordered to process the building permit request and to grant permission to construct a house of worship in accordance with current regulations.
Deddy Rohendi, a member of the regency defense team, replied that Tampubolon’s claims were false, and he requested that the court dismiss the suit.
“The regent’s decree was legal,” Rohendi said.
As the judges are considering the HKBP Filadelfia’s case, they are expected to travel to the village to interview citizens about the church building.
A member of the legal team who is also a member of the church, Parasian Hutasoit, said that the Filadelfia congregation was very upset with the Department of Religion and the Interfaith Harmony Forum because neither had acted upon the request for permission to build which was submitted on April 2, 2008.
“Our application has not been acted upon, and suddenly our church is sealed without clear reason,” he said.
Hutasoit said he regretted that the church had been forced to resort to court action. He added that he hopes the suit will force the government to show more care regarding the problem of places of worship and ensure the rights of groups such as HKBP Filadelfia that have obtained the required signatures of local people.
Prior to the hearing, Muslim opponents harassed the church’s Sunday worship, demonstrating against it on May 30, as they have on past occasions.
The group of women and children said they were from the Islamic Communications Forum of Jejalan Raya village. They gathered at 8 a.m. in order to hinder church members from worshipping in the area in front of the sealed building.
The Rev. Palti Panjaitan explained that the demonstration lasted about 15 minutes, ceasing after a community leader from Jejalan Raya village told the demonstrators they were causing a disturbance. Worship for the church is normally from 9 to 11 a.m.
“Only the building committee and the church leaders had come,” said Panjaitan.
He recounted that on May 27 the church learned a mob was going to demonstrate the next day and notified police.
“Apparently the demonstrators thought that because Friday was a holiday, we would have services,” Panjaitan said. “Actually, we did not have anything.”
He wished that the police would be more proactive about demonstrations. “As for the demonstrators, what more do they want? We have been forced to worship under the sky, on newspapers, in front of our sealed church, and they still demonstrate against us,” Panjaitan concluded.
On Jan. 3, a mob unrolled mats and sat in front of the church. “They wanted to keep us from worshipping,” Panjaitan said.
The Filadelfia Church was founded in April 2000 by Batak families in four village divisions in the North Bekasi area. They held Sunday worship in different homes on a rotating basis.
Citizens from the Islamic Communications Forum of Jejalan Raya village were disturbed by these house services. After the house services were banned, the congregation searched for a piece of land on which to build.
On June 15, 2007, HKBP Filadelfia was able to purchase land from a woman identified only as Sumiati. The Christians told her that they wished to build a church on the property, and Sumiati and her heirs signed affidavits stating that they agreed to this use. The Bekasi government issued the deed on Sept. 26, 2007.
After the purchase, the church began collecting signatures of local citizens in order to satisfy the requirements of 2006 Joint Ministerial Decrees No. 8 and No. 9 requiring at least 90 Christians and at least 60 non-Christians agreeing to construct a church building.
The church quickly obtained the required signatures, and on April 2, 2008 the head of Jejalan Raya village issued a letter recommending that the congregation be given a building permit. The letter was addressed to the Regent of Bekasi with copies to the Department of Religion, the Interfaith Harmony Forum and the District Officer of Tambun Utara (a sub-district of Bekasi).
Since then, nothing has been done. No building permit has been issued. Since Jan. 12 the Bekasi Regency Government has sealed the temporary building the church had been using. As a result, the congregation has been holding services in front of the building fence in the open air.
Umbrellas protect them from the tropical sun, where temperatures often reach 33 degrees Celsius (92 degrees Fahrenheit), and occasional rainstorms hit.
Muslims said to fear that freedom to legally change religion would wreak societal havoc.
CAIRO, Egypt, May 12 (Compass Direct News) – In the dilapidated office here of three lawyers representing one of Egypt’s “most wanted” Christian converts, the mood was hopeful in spite of a barrage of death threats against them and their client.
At a court hearing on May 2, a judge agreed to a request by the convert from Islam to join the two cases he has opened to change his ID card to reflect his new faith. The court set June 13 as the date to rule on the case of Maher Ahmad El-Mo’otahssem Bellah El-Gohary’s – who is in hiding from outraged Islamists – and lawyer Nabil Ghobreyal said he was hopeful that progress thus far will lead to a favorable ruling.
At the same time, El-Gohary’s lawyers termed potentially “catastrophic” for Egyptian human rights a report sent to the judge by the State Council, a consultative body of Egypt’s Administrative Court. Expressing outrage at El-Gohary’s “audacity” to request a change in the religious designation on his ID, the report claims the case is a threat to societal order and violates sharia (Islamic law).
“This [report] is bombarding freedom of religion in Egypt,” said lawyer Said Faiz. “They are insisting that the path to Islam is a one-way street. The entire report is based on sharia.”
The report is counterproductive for Egypt’s aspirations for improved human rights, they said. In the eyes of the international community it is self-condemned, the lawyers said, because it is not based on Egypt’s civil law, nor does it uphold the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights that Egypt has signed.
The report stated that those who leave Islam will be subject to death, described El-Gohary as an “apostate” and called all Christians “infidels.”
“During the hearing, they [Islamic lawyers] were saying that Christians are infidels and that Christ was a Muslim, so we said, ‘OK, bring us the papers that show Jesus embraced Islam,’” Faiz said, to a round of laughter from his colleagues.
Ghobreyal, adding that the report says El-Gohary’s case threatens public order, noted wryly, “In Egypt we have freedom of religion, but these freedoms can’t go against Islam.”
The trio of young lawyers working on El-Gohary’s case, who formed an organization called Nuri Shams (Sunlight) to support Christian converts’ rights, said they have received innumerable threats over the phone and on the Internet, and sometimes even from their colleagues.
To date no Christian convert in Egypt has obtained a baptismal certificate, which amounts to official proof of conversion.
Churches fear that issuing such certificates would create a severe backlash. As a result, converts cannot apply for a change of religion on their ID, but El-Gohary was able to travel abroad to get a baptismal certificate from a well-established church. In April a Coptic Cairo-based priest recognized this certificate and issued him a letter of acceptance, or “conversion certificate,” welcoming him to the Coptic Orthodox community.
El-Gohary’s baptismal certificate caused a fury among the nation’s Islamic lobby, as it led to the first official church recognition of a convert. A number of fatwas (religious edicts) have since been issued against El-Gohary and Father Matthias Nasr Manqarious, the priest who helped him.
“The converts have no chance to travel, to leave, to get asylum, so we have to help them to get documents for their new religion,” Fr. Manqarious told Compass by telephone. “So I decided to help Maher El-Gohary and others like him. They can’t live as Christians in broad daylight.”
For several months El-Gohary has been in hiding, relying on others to meet his basic needs. When Compass spoke with him by phone earlier this month, he said he lives in fear for his life and worries about his 14-year-old daughter’s safety.
“I’m hiding. Someone brings me my food and water. I haven’t gone out in a week,” said El-Gohary. “Many Muslims and sheikhs … say if anyone sees Maher Gohary, he must kill him. My life is very difficult.”
His original case, filed in August of last year, included an attempt to change the religious affiliation on his teenage daughter’s ID, but he later dropped it after further legal consultation. El-Gohary said that when radical Muslims recognize his daughter on the streets, they warn her that they will kill her father when they find him.
“She’s afraid for me,” he said.
His church acceptance letter has re-kindled discussion of a bill proposed by parliamentary members affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, a hard-line Islamist opposition movement, which would make apostasy punishable by death, said El-Gohary’s lawyers. Human rights experts, however, say that such a bill does not stand a chance in the Egyptian Parliament and is primarily a smokescreen to induce fear in Egypt’s Christian converts from Islam.
Some Hope from Baha’is
Sources said the fact that the judge asked for a baptismal certificate and filed the letter of acceptance in the case represents progress in the ongoing struggle of Egyptian converts, who are not recognized in their own country.
Now that El-Gohary’s lawyers have produced the acceptance letter, the judge in the case finds himself in a bind, said Hassan Ismail, general secretary of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organizations.
“The judge is in a paradox with the document he asked for,” Ismail said. “It is difficult to accept it, and yet it is difficult having this document among those of the case.”
Ismail, who has worked for years defending the rights of both Baha’is and converts, said it is hard to predict what the judge will decide in June. Even with all the required documents and “proof” of El-Gohary’s conversion, he said, the judge may still deny his right to change religions.
“For us human rights activists, these decisions are political, not legal,” he said. “These sorts of documents put the government into a corner, and we are working hard to get them in order to push the government to make different decisions.”
At the age of 16 all Egyptians are required to obtain an ID that states their religion as Muslim, Christian or Jewish. These cards are necessary for virtually every aspect of life, from banking, to education and medical treatment.
Baha’is, who do not fall under the rubric of any of Islam’s “heavenly religions,” were forced to lie about their religion or not obtain cards until March, when in a historical decision Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court upheld a lower court’s 2008 ruling that all Egyptians have a right to obtain official documents, such as ID cards and birth certificates, without stating their religion.
The gains of Baha’is have been a gauge of sorts for the Christian convert community, even though in reality they are not granted the freedom to change their stated religion or leave it blank on their cards and the official registry.
“I’m very optimistic about the cases of minorities and converts in Egypt,” said Ismail. “I believe that the case of Baha’is was an indicator for converts … If we were able to push their case, then we can defend the rights of converts.”
The human rights activist said that although discrimination against converts who are seen as apostates from Islam is greater than that against those raised in other religions, ultimately converts will be able to gain legal ground. El-Gohary’s case, he said, will play an important role.
“After years of fighting, the Baha’is have rights,” he said. “I think converts will succeed even if it takes years. Many are expecting to see Maher’s case [succeed], because it’s well documented.”
Attorney Ghobreyal said that El-Gohary’s case is on solid legal footing based on Article 46 of the Egyptian Civil Code, which grants religious freedom to the country’s citizens.
In his mind it is irrational that the government gave rights to the Baha’is, who fall outside of the three heavenly religions, while not granting the same rights to Christian converts. His only explanation is that a governmental green light to people to leave Islam could wreak havoc.
Not only is there fear of the Muslim front reacting violently to such a decision, but “they’re afraid that if they allow it, then all Muslims will become Christians,” said Ghobreyal. “They know there are many converts, and they will all officially become Christians.”
The lawyer said there are rumors circulating that there are a few million converts eagerly awaiting the results of El-Gohary’s case. Egypt’s last census in 2006 did not factor in religion, so figures of the Coptic population are based on estimates. These range from 6 to 15 percent of the country’s 80-million population. It is not possible to estimate the number of converts, most of whom live in secrecy.
“Ten years ago, you never heard about a convert, but now you hear that someone is going to the court to ask to become a Christian,” said Ghobreyal.
The first convert to file for a change on his ID card, Mohammed Ahmed Hegazy, said he was pleased with the progress of El-Gohary’s case and hoped that more converts would take the risk of joining their cause.
“I think that every case added to the convert case will be a help,” said Hegazy.
An outspoken critic of the refusal of Egypt’s established churches to openly baptize converts, Hegazy said that in El-Gohary’s case publicity and criticism pushed the church to take a step in the right direction in producing the conversion certificate.
“But this is not a big step, and there are many more that need to be taken and have not been,” he said. “Just to be clear, the [Egyptian] church has not given a baptism certificate, it has given an acceptance letter, and the church has declared they are not going to give a baptism paper … but we can’t deny that the step that the priest took to give the certificate was audacious.”
Hegazy, who lost his case in January 2008 and is waiting for an appeal date, was never able to get a baptism certificate, nor can he travel since he does not have a passport. If he returns to his hometown to apply for one, he risks losing his life.
He said he still hopes any of Egypt’s churches will help him by baptizing him and giving him a certificate in time for his appeal or for a new case he plans to open soon. Hegazy said that although his case is not as public as it used to be, he still faces danger when he leaves his house.
Although he is also in hiding and fears for his life, El-Gohary said he hopes his case opens the way for other converts to experience freedom.
“I hope this for all of those who want to live in the light and the sun; there are many families,” he said of Egypt’s converts. “I want to live in peace as a Christian. I hope my country gives me the freedom to worship my God and gives me my human rights.”
Egypt is a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council, an inter-governmental body made up of 47 states responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe. On April 18, 2007, in its written statement applying for a seat to the Human Rights Council, the representative of Egypt to the U.N. stated that if elected it would emphasize promoting cultural and religious tolerance, among other human rights.
Report from Compass Direct News
Defectors’ descriptions add to evidence of strong but severely persecuted church.
DUBLIN, April 24 (Compass Direct News) – Eom Myong-Heui of North Korea was a loyal communist in the Workers’ Party of Korea before she became a Christian under the influence of her business partner – a missionary who was later arrested and tortured into revealing that Eom was a believer.
Authorities placed Eom into a detention center in her hometown of Moosan and tortured her into denying her faith – but her incarceration continued under appalling conditions. Officials eventually released her due to her previous national loyalty. Now an assistant pastor at a church in Seoul, South Korea after a harrowing escape from her home country, Eom relates a journey that is part of a growing body of evidence of a strong – and severely persecuted – church in North Korea.
“A lot of people ask me if there really are people in North Korea who believe in Christ,” she said. “Do you really think that the missionaries who were there and all the believers who meet underground are all dead?”
Even as the North Korean government this month allowed two high-profile, U.S. Christian bands to perform at a music festival in Pyongyang, the fear of punishment authorities have instilled in North Korean Christians keeps most of them from publicly revealing their faith. As many as 400,000 Christians are estimated to worship secretly in the country, and Suzanne Scholte, head of an association of some 60 groups campaigning for change in the country called the North Korean Freedom Coalition (NKFC), estimates that more than 200,000 North Koreans are held in political prison camps for various perceived “disloyalties” to the regime, including adherence to Christianity.
Christian support group Open Doors estimates that of the 200,000 people incarcerated in political prison camps, at least 40,000 are Christians. Under North Korea’s policy of juche, or self-reliance, citizens may worship only President Kim Jong Il and his late father, former ruler Kim Il Sung.
Jung Eun Hye, one of several North Korean refugees expected to speak about conditions in the country at events in Washington, D.C. next week, said that freedom of religion is stipulated in North Korea’s constitution, but that “Christians have to risk their lives to have a secret service away from the oppression of the government.”
Jung, who faced severe persecution after authorities caught his father and aunt with Bibles in their possession, said he did not know that any churches existed in Pyongyang until he escaped from North Korea. While a handful of government churches do exist in the capital, Jung is one of many refugees who believe that these churches exist only to “deceive the outside world.”
“Here is my question,” said Jung. “If North Korea has freedom of religion, why does the government arrest, kill or imprison Christians in camps from which they never return?”
Testimony from various sources confirms that the government actively seeks out Christian groups and meeting points and imprisons Christians solely because of their faith. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) last year reported refugees saying that Christianity remained a key factor in the interrogation of people repatriated from China to North Korea. Border guards reserved the harshest punishment for those who admitted having any contact with Chinese or South Korean Christians.
“There is no freedom of belief or religion,” one refugee stated. “[We are taught] that if one is involved in religion, one cannot survive.”
Former police and security officers interviewed for USCIRF’s report admitted that their superiors had instructed them to play the role of Christians and infiltrate “underground” prayer meetings in order to incriminate, arrest, imprison and sometimes execute believers in North Korea.
‘Abyss of Death’
A delegation of North Korean refugees recently described their experiences ahead of events on Capitol Hill from Sunday (April 26) through Saturday (May 2) as part of North Korea Freedom Week.
Kim Young Soon, a refugee who spent nine years in a prison camp, said North Korean ruler Kim “is pushing the people into the abyss of death. In such a society, no one can trust anyone.”
Authorities sent Kim Young Soon and her family to prison camp No. 15, otherwise known as Yodok, after she made a seemingly innocent comment about the regime.
“Every mountain and field in Yodok was covered with dead bodies because of malnutrition and hunger,” Kim said. She described waking at 3:30 a.m. to run six kilometers (nearly four miles) to her assigned workplace and surviving on a diet of unripe, salted corn. Her parents and two of her sons died during their incarceration; border guards shot her third son when she fled with him to China shortly after their release.
Former prisoner Jung Gwangil said prison guards sadistically controlled inmates through collective punishment.
“If I did something wrong, all the members of the group I belonged to were punished,” he said. “When guards withheld food or switched off heaters in the middle of winter, fellow prisoners would sometimes beat the responsible inmate to death.”
Another former prisoner, Kim Tae Jin, described being left naked in a freezing cell and forced to sit on quicklime in the rain, resulting in severe burns to her skin.
“Even now, there are people who cut their own fingers off to avoid hard labor, who disguise themselves as madmen, or who lose their arms from beatings because they believe in a God who supposedly doesn’t exist,” she added.
While she was in prison, she said, a fellow inmate known only as Park formed a small “fellowship” of seven Christians. Prison guards eventually caught Park, beat him severely and asked him, “Who told you about the existence of God?”
“Do we have to be told about the existence of the sun to know that it’s there?” Park replied. “We learn its existence by feeling its warmth.”
In such conditions, the journey to faith is perilous for North Koreans – or nothing short of miraculous in the case of Eom, an assistant pastor at Seoul’s New Pyongyang Full Gospel Church (a fellowship for North Korean Defectors associated with Yoido Full Gospel Church).
She was extremely loyal to the regime until she made contact with a South Korean-Chinese Christian businessman.
“It’s very hard to live in North Korea, so if you don’t secretly do business, you can’t survive,” Eom said in sharing her story with members of another large church in Seoul, South Korea. “So for a few days I just kept being polite and agreeing with whatever he said about God, even though I knew he was wrong … but then God started to change my heart.”
Eventually the missionary gave her a small New Testament.
“I enjoyed it,” she said. “The teaching to love your enemy, give him food if he’s hungry, give him water if he’s thirsty. I also took to heart the words about loving each other.”
Eom asked a superior why North Korea didn’t have a religion other than worship of the Kim family.
“His eyes got big and he told me that religion was poison,” she said, “and that if I tried to learn about Christianity I would automatically become a traitor.”
As a teacher, Eom knew what happened to children of traitors and immediately began to worry about her two daughters. When police arrested the missionary and someone warned her that she could be next, Eom packed a small bag and assured her youngest daughter that she would return in three days.
“At the time,” she told the Seoul congregation, “I didn’t realize that this trip would bar me from ever entering the country again.”
Detained by police, she said, she could not understand why the authorities were so concerned about whether she was a Christian instead of asking about her business activities. After her release and unable to rescue her daughters, she escaped to China, where she was arrested twice and told, “If we arrest you again, we will kill you.”
From China Eom made a dangerous journey via Myanmar to Thailand, where she spent six months in a detention center before being granted asylum in South Korea in 2002.
“This is a most critical time for the North Korea human rights movement,” said Scholte, head of the NKFC and president of the Defense Forum Foundation. “We either advance these issues now with the opportunity that comes from a new administration and a new Congress, or we see another decade of death and despair for those whose great misfortune was to be born under the Kim Jong Il dictatorship.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Six months after attack, Muslim assailants still at large; weary congregation faces heat, rain.
GARISSA, Kenya, March 5 (Compass Direct News) – Six months after a gang of Muslim youths ruined a church building in this town in northern Kenya, Christians still worshipping in the sweltering heat of the open air say they feel disillusioned that officials have done nothing to punish the culprits or restore their structure.
On a sunny afternoon last Sept. 14, when angry Muslim youths threw more than 400 members of the Redeemed Gospel Church out of their church building, the Christians hoped they would be able to return to the ruins of their former structure. That hope is quickly giving way to anger, hopelessness and despair.
“After six months in the open, the church feels tired and cheated,” said pastor David Matolo. “We are fed up with the empty promises from the government administration.”
He said the church, which began worshipping in Garissa in early 2001 with only a dozen members, is fast shrinking.
“Our church membership has decreased, which is of great concern to me,” he told Compass. “The church thinks that the government has decided to buy time – almost every month I do book appointments with the relevant authorities, who on several occasions have given us a deaf ear.”
Since the attack, church members have been meeting at the town show grounds. Just a few miles from the Somali border, the site has few trees to protect the congregation from the scorching sun, with temperatures ranging from 92 to 104 degrees F (30 to 40 degrees C).
Asked why he thought government officials were reluctant to grant the church a permanent place of worship as promised, an irritated Matolo did not hesitate to reply.
“The administration has decided, ‘kutesa [inflict pain on us],’ always making promises that never come to pass,” he said. “At times the provincial commissioner deliberately decides not to take my phone calls. I have had a painful experience.”
Matolo said he has asked the administration either to allow the church to build a new structure on land lying idle near a police training college or to let them return to their original site. “We are ready for any eventuality,” he said. “We feel that the administration is not concerned about our spiritual welfare.”
Asked about the pastor’s complaints, provincial police officer Stephen Chelimo told Compass, “The issue at the moment is not within my docket, but wholly rests upon the provincial commissioner.”
But Provincial Commissioner Stephen Maingi said the onus rested on the district commissioner. “Let the district commissioner sort this issue with the pastor,” Maingi said.
District Commissioner Onyango Ogango, in turn, indicated the church itself was the source of problems.
“If the church is allowed to return to their original site, we will expect a fight to erupt with the Muslims,” Ogango said. “Earlier on, the church began very well during its initial stage of inception with controlled worship, but later it turned out to hold noisy prayers and loud songs.”
Further questioned about these allegations, however, Ogango said he would call the pastor to discuss a resolution. Even so, Matolo said previous contact with the district commissioner did not leave him with high expectations.
“Our district commissioner seemed to have no feelings for our predicament,” he said. “The faces of the congregation members speak a lot.”
A glance at the worshippers confirmed his appraisal. They looked weary and anxious, with impending April rains expected to add to the indignity of their situation. Matolo said his congregation feels that soon it will be difficult to worship at all.
Even a temporary home did not appear to be forthcoming. The pastor said their request for a site near the provincial commissioner’s residence was dismissed on the grounds that it would create a security concern.
Radical Islamic Influence
Tensions between Christians and the Muslim-majority population in the semi-desert town of 20,000 people began in June 2007, when Muslims built a mosque too close to the church building – only three meters separated the two structures.
Matolo said pleas to District Commissioner Ogango did nothing to reverse the encroachment of Muslim worshippers.
Land issues alone have not been responsible for tensions in the area. The Rev. Ibrahim Kamwaro, chairman of the Pastors’ Fellowship in Garissa, said Matolo had offended Muslims when he preached to a lame Muslim man. Muslims were said to be upset that the pastor persuaded the disabled man to stop going to the mosque and instead join his church.
Matolo’s alleged promise to the disabled man of a better life offended area Muslims, Rev. Kamwaro said.
Christians feel increasingly hunted and haunted as the spread of Islamic extremism is fast gaining ground in this town, located about 400 kilometers (249 miles) from Nairobi, the capital. In neighboring Somalia, newly elected President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed on Feb. 28 offered the introduction of sharia (Islamic law) in exchange for a truce with a rebel extremist group said to have ties to al Qaeda, al Shabaab; the rebels said they would keep fighting. Many fear that Muslim youths in this lawless part of Kenya will be tempted to adopt the radical, uncompromising posture of the fighters.
To date, the gang of more than 50 Muslim youths who attacked worshippers and brought their church to ruins have not been apprehended. Members of the congregation feel justice is increasingly elusive.
In Garissa, Muslims restrict churches in other ways. Christians are not allowed to pray, sing or use musical instruments in rented homes owned by Muslims. No teaching of Christian Religious Education in schools is allowed; only Islamic Religious Knowledge is taught.
Garissa has more than 15 Christian denominations, including the East Africa Pentecostal Church, the Redeemed Gospel Church, the Anglican Church, Deliverance Church, Full Gospel Churches of Kenya and the African Inland Church.
Report from Compass Direct News
In 1986, two brothers, Moshe and Yuval Lufan, found something beyond all expectations, reports Brian Nixon, special to ASSIST News Service.
According to Pastor Skip Heitzig, who has recently finished filming a documentary on the find, the brothers felt that they would discover something wonderful on that day.
And wonderful it was.
Tucked away in the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, the brothers unearthed a 1st century boat, now named the “Jesus Boat.”
Heitzig explained to me in a recent interview that in 1986 there was a tremendous drought in Israel. This allowed the brothers access to deeper regions of the lake.
One of the brothers stumbled upon some wood, and after a little digging, determined that the wood was actually a boat. According to the brothers, a double rainbow revealed itself in the sky after the find.
The brothers retreated to the Kibbutz Ginasar to get help. The Antiquity Authorities were brought in. After a long, 12-day archeological excavation (the boat was kept in a preserving environment and sailed across the Galilee river), the “Jesus Boat” was put in a 7-year chemical bath (a wax paraffin, Heitzig explained) before it could be displayed in the open air.
Since the time of its unearthing, the boat has been officially dated to the 1st century. Almost 27 feet long, and over 7 feet wide, the boat was dated based upon the nails used and the construction of the hull.
Most scholars agree that the era during which the boat was built falls somewhere between 100 B.C and 100 A.D.
Archeologists state that the “Jesus Boat” is the first near-complete boat ever to be found in the Sea of Galilee, and is therefore a considerable discovery.
Though some have attempted to draw conclusions that Jesus (or His disciples) may have used the boat, the reality is that know one knows. Chances are the boat served its purpose for fishing and trade, and then when it got old; it was allowed to submerge in the lake.
Though scientists can’t determine if this exact boat was one Jesus would have sailed on, it can be said that it is representative of the boats the people of His day would have used.
Since the boat’s discovery, the Pope came to view the vessel- hoping it needed a home in the Vatican. The President came to see it, as did many other men of science and politics. For the past few years, the “Jesus Boat” has generated great interest across the world.
In as much as Heitzig finds the boat a fascinating and important archeological discovery, he also sees the boat as a picture of more than an ancient sailing craft. In the boat, Heitzig finds a parallel to the nation the boat was discovered in.
For Heitzig, the boat is a picture of Israel: a nation that was considered dead and submerged. But through His wonderful providence, God brought Israel forth in 1948. He reemerged it as a bud for a new generation, and established Israel as a nation.
In the soon to be released documentary, The Jesus Boat, Heitzig, as host, takes viewers on a journey through the discovery, preservation, and display of the boat (the boat can be seen in the Yigal Alon Museum in Kibbutz Ginasar), though Heitzig makes it a point to draw a strong parallel to the rebirth of the Nation of Israel.
According to Heitzig, “The Jesus Boat was way more than a documentary about an ancient boat. It’s really a testimony to the faithfulness of God. Through the film, we paralleled the story of a lost boat and a lost nation- Israel- both of which were “resurrected” after 2,000 years. It tells of a boat that wouldn’t stay buried in a land that couldn’t stay buried!”
“Just like the boat was buried under the shores for 2,000 years, the land of Israel was submerged – virtually not a nation – a dispersed people group. Yet against all odds, Israel re-emerged in 1948. As the prophet Ezekiel predicted, there was a re-gathering of Jews from the four corners of the world into that ancient piece of real estate. It would seem as impossible as dried bones, bleached and parched under the Middle Eastern sun, coming to life again.” (See Ezekiel 36-37).
“And yet it happened – 1948, the re-establishment of the nation. And why? Because God made promises to Abraham: ‘I’ll bless you, I’ll make you a great nation, your name will be great, I’ll bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.’”(See Genesis 12:1-3).
Report from the Christian Telegraph