COLOMBIA: LEFTIST GUERRILLAS THREATEN, KILL CHRISTIANS


Pastors are issued warnings in north; evangelists murdered in southwest.

LOS ANGELES, March 18 (Compass Direct News) – Having been sentenced to die by leftist rebels for holding Christian worship services in 2006, a pastor in Colombia’s northern department of Arauca took seriously the death threats that guerrillas issued on Friday (March 13), according to Christian support organization Open Doors.

The rebels from the National Liberation Army (ELN) phoned a pastor of Ebenezer Church in Saravena at 5:30 a.m., telling him to meet them at a site on the Arauca River at 7 a.m. When the pastor, who requested anonymity, arrived at the landing, the guerrillas took him by canoe to the other side of the river – into Venezuela – then drove him to a guerrilla camp some 40 minutes away.

For the next three hours, the rebels warned him that area pastors have three options: cooperate with the revolutionary cause of the guerrillas, leave or die.

They warned him that pastors must not preach to ELN guerrillas – the Christian message of peace contradicts their military objectives – and could not support Christian political candidates without their permission.

“We do not want pastors and those attending their churches to participate in politics,” they told the pastor. “We do not want evangelicals in politics, because you do not support our ideals. We have nothing in common with evangelicals.”

The guerrillas said the ELN does not object to pastors preaching within church walls, but that the congregation must not talk of politics, war or peace. Before letting him go, they told him that the ELN will show no compassion on church members if they continue to disobey those directives.

Such threats were not new to the pastor. In 2006, Open Doors sources said, he and his family had to leave behind the church he pastored in Fortul village and much of their belongings after guerrillas threatened to kill him for preaching and leading Christian services in both a home and a worship building.

ELN forces took control of the area in 2007 and quickly declared Christian worship illegal; by January 2008, the guerrillas had closed seven churches and prohibited preaching of Christ in rural areas.

According to the U.S. Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report 2008, the Human Rights Unit of Colombia’s Prosecutor General’s Office is investigating killings in past years of 14 clergy members believed to have been targeted because they were outspoken critics of terrorist organizations. The Presidential Program for Human Rights reported that nearly all killings of priests by terrorist groups could be attributed to leftist guerrillas, particularly the FARC.

“Catholic and Protestant church leaders noted that killings of religious leaders in rural communities were generally underreported because of the communities’ isolation and fear of retribution,” the state department report notes. “Religious leaders generally chose not to seek government protection because of their pacifist beliefs and fear of retribution from terrorist groups.”

A human rights organization affiliated with the Mennonite church, Justicia, Paz y Acción No-violenta (Justapaz), asserted that guerrillas, former paramilitaries, and new criminal groups equally committed violence against evangelical church leaders, according to the state department report.

Leftist rebels opposed to Christian peace teachings continue to issue threats of violence against pastors and Christian leaders in various parts of Arauca department. On Feb. 28, ELN guerrillas took the pastor of another church to a guerrilla camp in Venezuela. Upset that pastors were taking advantage of the presence of the Colombian army to defy the guerrillas – publicly preaching Christ and using their pulpits for preaching peace – the rebels accused Christians of not helping with social projects.

“Preach inside churches, but do not let them die – worry how to save those that are with you,” one guerrilla told the pastor, who requested anonymity. “We will have to take drastic measures with pastors so they obey again.”

The pastor first had contact with rebels 12 years ago, when Marxist members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) held him for several days.

In Puerto Jordán, a municipality of Arauquita, last Dec. 9 presumed leftist rebels gave 40-year-old pastor Rodolfo Almeida eight days to leave. Open Doors reported that a young man came to his house at 8:30 at night and asked for his wife. Surprised that stranger would ask for her at that hour, Almeida asked why he wanted to see her. The young man then told him that he had eight days to leave town or his life would be threatened.

The stranger refused to tell Almeida what organization he was with. He only reminded him that he had been warned. The pastor had received similar threats from ELN rebels in 2007, and by the end of 2008 he and his wife decided to leave with their three children. Almeida had served for more than two years as co-pastor of Ebenezer Church in Arauquita.

Two unnamed Christian mayors in Arauca have also come under threat from the guerrillas, and on Feb. 15 a councilman was killed. Since they took office in January 2008, the mayors of Arauquita and Saravena have been attacked by ELN rebels several times, according to Open Doors. They have drawn the ire of the guerrillas because they cannot be bought as their predecessors were, and they refuse to engage in the rebels’ illegal activities.

“In our lives we have lost the privileges of an ordinary person,” the mayor of Arauquita told Open Doors. “Now we are military targets. God brought me here, but sometimes I have wished not to continue, because being a Christian in a context like this where we live has a very high price.”

Last year, he added, guerrillas killed seven Christians in Arauca department. “Some of them were public officials, others were leaders or simply people recognized by their testimony as believers in Christ,” he said.

Open Doors reported that Councilman Francisco Delgadillo, a Christian who had received threats from the ELN guerrillas, was killed as he returned to his home on Feb. 15.

 

FARC Territory

Across the river, Venezuela serves as a safe haven for the ELN, which the U.S. Department of State has designated as a terrorist group. With the approval of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, the guerrilla forces use the country as a base from which to move into Colombia’s oil-rich Arauca department.

Although the ELN has been at odds with the Marxist FARC, in Arauca the two rebel groups co-exist without conflict; from their bases in Venezuela, according to Open Doors, the two groups amicably share paths and roads.

FARC guerrillas control the southwestern department of Huila, where last November four Christians were killed. Open Doors reported that all four belonged to the Alianza Cristiana church of Santana Ramos. Farley Cortés was killed on Nov. 5 in Plumeros village, Hermes Coronado Granado was killed on Nov. 8 in Santana Ramos, and 10 days later a married couple, Dora Lilia Saavedra and Ferney Ledezma, were also killed there.

Guerrillas seized Saavedra, 40, and the 35-year-old Ledezma from the school where Saavedra taught on Nov. 18, bound them on the floor of an old house and shot them several times. The FARC guerrillas had taken their three children, ages 3, 5 and 12, along with them and made them wait at a nearby house within hearing of the shots. The couple, married for five years, were known for proclaiming Christ in the village that borders the farm they owned.

Their pastor, Hernan Camacho, has moved with his family out of the area after receiving death threats.

The FARC accuses the families of Camacho, his brothers and Saavedra of refusing to follow its ideology, Pastor Camacho told Open Doors. “[The guerrillas] say that we, the evangelical ones, are their worst enemy because we teach the people not to take up weapons,” he said. “They accuse us of lulling the minds not to claim our rights against the government … the guerrillas say that it is our fault that the people prefer to continue with the church and not to join them.”

Motives for the killings are still under investigation, but Open Doors reported that Huila is in a zone historically known for systematic persecution of the church by guerrillas. In July 2007, pastor Jael Cruz García, 27, and another pastor, 63-year-old Humberto Méndez Montoya, were murdered in the village of La Legiosa in northern Huila. In 2002, two other pastors, Abelardo Londoño and Yesid Ruíz, were shot and killed in the same area.

Having lost three key leaders last year and been pushed out of most major urban centers by government forces, the FARC has embarked on a terror campaign to make its presence known in cities, according to The Christian Science Monitor. In the Huila capital of Neiva, on March 6 a bomb explosion damaged a hardware store and nearby businesses, according to the newspaper, and on Jan. 16 suspected FARC rebels were responsible for a car explosion at a shopping mall.

Report from Compass Direct News

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CHINA: OFFICIALS REACH OUT TO HOUSE CHURCHES; RAIDS, ARRESTS CONTINUE


TSPM offers Bibles and “assistance,” but rights groups say efforts fall short.

DUBLIN, December 9 (Compass Direct News) – In recent months Chinese officials have attempted to build bridges with the Protestant house church movement even as police raided more unregistered congregations, arrested Christian leaders and forced at least 400 college students to swear they would stop attending such worship services.

With rights groups saying more effort is needed to address rights abuses and secure full religious freedom for Chinese Christians, two research institutes – one from the government – organized an unprecedented symposium on Nov. 21-22 that concluded with an agreement for house church leaders to begin a dialogue with government officials.

A delegation of six house church leaders from Beijing, Henan and Wenzhou provinces attended the seminar, entitled, “Christianity and Social Harmony: A Seminar on the Issue of Chinese House Churches,” along with scholars and experts from universities and independent research facilities. Members of the Minorities Development Research Institute, a branch of the China State Council’s Research and Development Centre, and the Beijing Pacific Solutions Social Science Research Institute co-hosted it.

In a report summarizing the forum, Beijing house church representative Liu Tong Su said that China’s religious institutions and regulations were clearly outdated and inadequate to meet the needs of the church.

At the conclusion of the meeting, house church delegates agreed to dialogue with the government, Liu said, though he insisted, “Only God can control the spirituality of faith. No worldly authorities have the right to control a man’s spirit.”

The government has been entrusted by God with the authority to maintain external public order, Liu added.

“If the government can limit its governing territory to areas of maintaining public order in external conduct, then according to the teachings of the Bible, the house church will definitely obey those in authority within the boundary that God has set,” he said.

Experts presented reports on the rapid development of house church networks, including the number of Christians, geographical distribution, cultural and ethnic make-up and connection with foreign Christians, according to the Gospel Herald.

A month earlier, the chairman of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) – responsible along with the China Christian Council (CCC) for overseeing China’s Protestant churches – told a gathering of 200 Hong Kong church leaders of his desire to assist Chinese house churches and provide them with Bibles, according to Ecumenical News International (ENI).

At the Oct. 22 conference entitled, “Chinese Church – New Leaders, New Challenges,” TSPM Chairman Fu Xianwei declared, “For those house churches without registration, we will try our best to be with them, to recognize them and to help them, so long as they have an orthodox faith, don’t stray from the truth and don’t follow heretics.”

Fu and 11 other members of the newly-elected leadership team of the CCC/TSPM also said they were willing to provide house churches with Bibles, ENI reported.

Bible distribution is largely the responsibility of Amity Press, China’s only official Bible printing company, which recently announced its intention to place more Bibles in the hands of rural Christians. Daniel Willis, CEO of the Bible Society in New South Wales (NSW), Australia, launched an appeal on Nov. 12 to support Amity in this goal.

Speaking at the launch, Willis asserted, “Smuggling Bibles into China places Chinese Christians at risk, and now with the new Amity Press operational in Nanjing, smuggling is a waste of resources.”

Amity opened a new multimillion dollar printing facility in May with a capacity to print 12 million Bibles per year. Most of those Bibles are printed in foreign languages for export outside China.

“China is experiencing a great freedom of worship,” Willis added. “With this wonderful change the church is spreading rapidly … Each Chinese Christian would like to experience the joy … that owning their own Bible brings – but unfortunately for many, obtaining a Bible is difficult and often out of their reach financially.”

The China Aid Association (CAA) issued a statement on Nov. 20 that Amity did not produce enough Bibles to meet the vast needs of the church in China or to replace lost or worn copies. It also pointed out that distribution was still strictly limited to government-approved channels.

Earlier this year, the Rev. Dr. Chow Lien-Hwa, vice-chairman of the board of Amity Press, stated in an interview with the NSW Bible Society that Amity was printing 3 million Bibles per year for mainland China. Chow also outlined a plan to allow Bible distribution through a chain of government bookshops and claimed that house church Christians could buy Bibles from TSPM churches without having to provide personal identity information.

Pastors from both house churches and official TSPM congregations have reported to Compass a shortage of Bibles and other Christian materials in Beijing, the northwest, the northeast, and the southwest. Church growth in tribal areas also has created an urgent need for Bibles in minority languages.

 

Raids, Arrests Continue

Rights groups pointed to recent raids and arrests, however, as confirmation that Chinese authorities still restrict freedom of worship for local house church Christians.

Police raided a house church gathering in Tai Kang county, Henan province on Dec. 3 and arrested all 50 Christians, CAA reported on Thursday (Dec. 4). Public Security Bureau officers also raided another gathering of 50 house church believers in Xiji town, Zaozhuang city, Shandong province on Dec. 2, arresting 20 Christian leaders and demanding a fine of 2,500 yuan (US$365) per person to secure their release.

CAA also confirmed that police carried out multiple raids on house church gatherings in Beijing and in areas near college campuses in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, from late September to early November, detaining leaders of the Local Church house church network. Four leaders in Zhejiang were sentenced to labor camp for 12 to 18 months.

Officers also arrested at least 400 Christian college students. After intense questioning, police forced each student to write a statement of repentance agreeing to forsake such gatherings.

Commenting on reports of persecution in China, Chow of Amity Press claimed victims were not true Chinese citizens, but Chinese with foreign citizenship who had entered China to carry out illegal activities.

“When we go to another country we must be law-abiding citizens of that country,” Chow insisted. “The law, whether you like it or not, says you can only preach in the churches, you cannot go on the street.”

Some house churches are actively seeking registration with authorities to avoid arrests and inconveniences, ENI reported in October. Such groups, however, prefer to register outside the CCC/TSPM structure, disagreeing that different Protestant beliefs can be reconciled under the TSPM as a self-described “post-denominational” umbrella organization.

House church members also object to the TSPM’s interference in congregational practices, according toe the U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report 2008. The report notes that many unregistered evangelical Protestant groups refuse to register with TSPM due to theological differences, fear of adverse consequences if they reveal names and addresses of church leaders or members, or fear that it will control sermon content.

 

Released from Prison

Responding to international pressure, officials on Dec. 2 released house church pastor Zhu Baoguo of Henan province, citing medical reasons. Authorities had raided a house church gathering on Oct. 12, arresting Zhu and four other leaders, before sentencing Zhu on Oct. 30 to one year in labor camp, CAA reported.

Officials also released house church pastor Wang Weiliang from prison on Nov. 25 for medical reasons, according to CAA. Authorities sentenced Wang to three years in prison in December 2006 for protesting the July 2006 destruction of Dangshanwan Christian church in Xiaoshan, Zhejiang province. Seven other believers were arrested at the time; authorities have released all but one, who remains in detention in Hangzhou.

 

A Breakthrough for China’s House Churches?

At last month’s symposium on Chinese house churches, officials from government research organs, scholars from government think-tanks and universities, independent researchers and an unprecedented delegation of six house church leaders from Beijing, Henan and Wenzhou attended.

At the groundbreaking conference, sponsored by the Minorities Development Research Institute of the China State Council’s Research and Development Center and the Beijing Pacific Solutions Social Science Research Institute and entitled, “Christianity and Social Harmony: A Seminar on the Issue of the Chinese House Churches,” participants discussed every aspect of the house church movement in China.

Statistics were a key issue, with most agreeing that the number of house church members was vast and rapidly increasing. Estimates ranged from 50 million to 100 million members of Protestant house churches, as compared with approximately 20 million members of registered Protestant churches.

Delegates were surprisingly bold in their discussion and criticism of China’s religious policy, and several put forward practical plans for the abolition of institutions such as the State Administration for Religious Affairs (formerly the Religious Affairs Bureau) and the Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement.

They also called for serious and ongoing discussions between the government and house churches, and Christian leaders called for the lifting of a ban on house churches and a review of restrictions on church registration and appointment of pastors.

Many participants agreed that the democratic management of house churches in accordance with the rule of law was a logical step to bring religious policies into line with China’s open-door economic policies.

While certain sectors of leadership may welcome these suggestions, others entrenched in the atheist system of the Communist Party were expected to balk at such reforms.  

Report from Compass Direct News

HEAVY PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS IN INDIA SPREADS NATIONALLY


There seems to be no end in sight to the heavy persecution against Christians in India. Recent attacks have taken place in Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Maharashtra — clear indication that the violence is spreading further than just Orissa, reports MNN.

Two weeks ago, Gospel for Asia missionary Raju was assaulted in Uttar Pradesh on his way home from a visit with fellow Christians. Extremists severely beat Raju, kicking him repeatedly until he lost consciousness. Raju was unconscious for five hours afterward and unable to speak for longer. He is now recovering from a broken hand and many facial injuries.

Of course, the reason for Raju’s victimization was not that he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Raju’s church has been blessed by the Lord and has grown to over 150 members. Many Hindu extremists are not happy with Raju’s dedication to his ministry, and they clearly found a way to show it.

Other GFA missionaries have also served as prey for extremists. In Delhi, Vikram, who leads a church of 80 other believers, was recently warned by death threats to put an end to his worship services. College Bible students in Maharashtra have been arrested and threatened for handing out tracts as well, accused of forcing Christianity on passers-by.

Although this violence had been seemingly confined to the state of Orissa in past weeks, now it is making headway throughout the rest of the country.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

INDIA: CHRISTIANS ATTACKED IN KARNATAKA, INDIA


State authorities seal three churches, order 13 others to get ‘worship license.’

NEW DELHI, September 10 (Compass Direct News) – As tensions continued in the eastern state of Orissa, Hindu nationalist groups intensified attacks on churches and Christian institutions in the southern state of Karnataka.

Hindu extremists launched attacks on churches and leveled false charges of “forcible” conversions against Christian workers as the Karnataka government, ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), prepared to close down churches.

Sajan K. George of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) told Compass that a mob of more than 200 people attacked the Mission Action Prayer Fellowship church in Bada village of Davangere district on Sunday (September 7), accusing the Christians of “forcible” conversions.

The attack took place during the worship service. Besides assaulting believers and the pastor, the mob burned the Bibles, musical instruments and furniture in front of the church. They also vandalized the church building.

Media accompanied the mob, and local TV channels telecast the attack, George added.

The Hindu daily reported that the incident occurred despite a government ban on the gathering of four or more people within a 200-meter radius of three other prayer halls in K.T.J. Nagar police station limits in Davangere town, “which have been under attack since mid-August.”

The police arrested 10 people for instigating the attack.

The daily also reported that extremists of a Hindu nationalist group, the Hindu Jagarana Vedike, carried out a procession the following day (September 9) demanding the immediate release of those arrested. The newspaper quoted the extremists as rationalizing their attack on the pretense of the alleged forcible conversions.

“Had the authorities been alert and not given room for forcible conversions, such incidents would not have happened,” one Hindu nationalist told the newspaper.

The state convener of the Hindu group, Jagadish Karanth, complained that missionaries from seven countries, including the United States, France and Germany, had been funding churches and pastors in Davangere to motivate people of other faiths to join their fold. He said he had documents to prove that a pastor had written to a Christian missionary saying he had converted 6,000 Hindus into Christians within just two years.

 

Bogus Worship License Requirement

George of the GCIC said the commissioner of Davangere City had issued notices to demolish three churches – Eternal Life Church, Divine Healing Ministry church and Jesus Prayer Hall – in the city, claiming that their buildings were illegal. The three churches have been sealed.

The order was issued because these churches were facing allegations of fraudulent conversions by the Hindu extremist Hindu Jagarana Vedike, according to The Indian Express newspaper, adding that the Davangere deputy commissioner labeled the churches “unauthorized.”

A representative of the Christian Legal Association (CLA) told Compass that the Davangere deputy commissioner had also sent notices dated Aug. 30 to 13 other churches asking them to obtain a “license” for holding worship services.

“This is a violation of the religious freedom enshrined in the Indian Constitution,” said the CLA source. “There is neither any such requirement anywhere in the country, nor is there any provision for such license in any government authority.”

The CLA representative also said Hindu extremists were going from village to village in Davangere to identify Christian houses.

“The extremists demand that some identity cards be shown to prove their religious affiliation,” said the representative. “Such a data can be extremely dangerous. We fear the Hindu groups may be planning organized attacks.”

Besides the collection of data by extremist groups, district authorities are also surveying churches.

On Sept. 8, The Hindu quoted Deputy Commissioner K. Amar Narayan as saying that he had instructed the police to conduct an area-wide survey of churches and prayer halls to check how many of them were “authorized.”

Asked if the survey would also be conducted on places of worship of other religious faiths, Narayan said that it would be “exclusively” on churches because of the present controversy surrounding them. He said the survey would be completed in two or three days.

 

Bogus Conversion Charges

Christians have been at the receiving end of a spate of “communally tinged” incidents in recent weeks in Karnataka, mainly in Davangere district, The Indian Express newspaper said on Monday (September 8).

The newspaper quoted Davangere Superintendent of Police Sandeep Patil as saying that there had been allegations of forced conversions in the district for the last 12 months. Patil added that the police had identified 75 churches across villages in the district where security was enhanced.

Some police officers of the district told the newspaper that there was “nothing new” about allegations of “forced” conversions. “Maybe because the BJP is in power they are getting highlighted,” an assistant commissioner of police said.

The Indian Express also suggested that the recent spate of attacks was triggered by the state education ministry’s show-cause notices to over 2,000 Christian schools for staying shut on Aug. 29 to protest the violence against Christians in Orissa.

All Christian schools in the country remained closed on Aug. 29 to show solidarity with victims of anti-Christian violence in Orissa that started after a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) leader, Laxmanananda Saraswati, and four of his disciples were killed on August 23 in Kandhamal district. The VHP blamed local Christians for the assassination, though Maoists or extreme Marxists claimed responsibility for it. More than 56 people have been killed and hundreds of houses and churches burned in the violence.

The newspaper also pointed out that over the past two successive Sundays, police cases had been registered in Karnataka’s capital Bangalore against nearly 25 people, leading to the arrest of as many as 12, including a U.S. citizen, on charges of “promoting enmity between different religious groups” and “insulting religious feelings.”

Local police officers at Frazer Town and Ulsoor police stations, where cases had been registered, told the newspaper they had received complaints from members of Hindu groups alleging forcible conversions and use of inducements against the arrested persons.

 

Bogus ‘Communal Harmony’

The Hindu newspaper reported that Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, who completed 100 days in office yesterday (Sept. 9), said that “all efforts would be made to maintain communal harmony.”

What communal harmony is for the chief minister, however, was clear when he told The Hindu, “The rule of law will prevail. Nobody has the right to indulge in forcible conversions, and inducement to pave the way for conversions is banned. However, I will direct the district officials and district in-charge ministers to ensure that such activities are kept under check.”

Yeddyurappa also claimed that there has been no communal clash in the state “for long,” and “we will maintain this record.”

“I call upon the people to refrain from paying heed to rumors which are aimed at fomenting trouble and tarnishing the image of the government,” he added.

According to a 2001 Census, Christians form less than 2 percent of the total population of 52.8 million in Karnataka.  

Report from Compass Direct News