Today's BP Ledger
EDITOR'S NOTE: BP Ledger carries items for reader information each week from various Southern Baptist-related entities, and news releases of interest from other sources. The items are published as received.
Today's BP Ledger contains items from:
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (2 items)
Institute for Religion and Democracy
Morning Star News (2 items)
Huckabee urges support for the College at Southwestern
By Keith Collier
FORT WORTH, Texas (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) –- Former Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee spoke to a crowded banquet room at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Oct. 4, asking them to invest in the future of America by supporting the College at Southwestern's Legacy Scholarship.
"The reason that the College at Southwestern is an incredibly important part of America's future is because there just aren't too many places in all of this country that are truly equipping young people beyond the 'what' and deep into the 'why,' said Huckabee, host of the hit show "Huckabee" on Fox News.
"One of the reasons I'm excited to be here tonight and so grateful for Dr. [Paige] Patterson's vision for the College at Southwestern from the beginning is because he still believes that training students not in just what to think but how to think is the greatest kind of education that a student will ever have."
Huckabee, who received the distinguished alumnus award from Southwestern in 2012, explained that America needs institutions that do not treat students as computer hard drives into which they can simply pour information but rather treat them like computer processors, "who take the data and actually process it and do something significant with it."
"The College at Southwestern is not training students to be data drives but rather to be processors, to take the greatest truth of the world of all time, … the gospel of Jesus Christ, to translate it and then transmit it. That is a powerful tool in our world today."
Huckabee lamented that the reason the world is in such a mess is because people disregard God's way and merely "make it up as they go."
"An education changes that but not just any education. It has to be an education that grounds us in the Word of God," Huckabee said.
"Imagine a student coming out of the College at Southwestern not only knowing what the truth is but being able to defend it, and most importantly, being able to lovingly share it.
"This campus is still dedicated to the belief that the Bible is the Word of the living God—inerrant, infallible, trustworthy—with no apologies. And this campus is still dedicated to putting the fire of missions and evangelism into every student who walks onto these grounds."
During his introduction, Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson surprised Huckabee with gift from his time as a student at Southwestern. Patterson presented Huckabee with a graded paper, in which he received a 98, on the topic of Jesus and personal evangelism.
Prior to Huckabee's presentation, Sarah Jo Thomas, a senior in the College at Southwestern, shared how she left a fully scholarshiped nursing program to prepare for ministry at Southwestern.
"When I see someone like Sarah Jo, who comes and so eloquently is able to say her convictions to serve God, … I'm reminded that God must still be somewhat hopeful about our future or else He wouldn't be calling people that young to be out there serving.
"And wouldn't it be magnificent if there were not only people being called but that there was a school where they could be thoroughly equipped and prepared for what God has called them to do? … Preparing people for the kind of life that will change the world is what the College at Southwestern is committed to doing."
Keith Collier is director of news and information for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas (www.swbts.edu/campusnews).
Southwestern celebrates 20-year partnership with Ark. state convention
By Michelle Tyer
FORT WORTH, Texas (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) -– Throughout its history, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has broadened its geographical reach and influence by opening extension campuses in other areas, starting with Houston in 1975, and today includes classes as far away as Germany.
But this semester the seminary celebrates the 20th anniversary of partnering with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) to bring seminary education to students at the Little Rock extension.
"We began in 1992, with the partnership between the state convention and Southwestern growing out of the desire to allow students who were already in ministry in Arkansas to begin or continue their theological education through Southwestern Seminary," Dean of Extensions Deron Biles says.
Extension classes meet at the state convention's facilities, and several ABSC staff have even taught courses.
"It makes for not only a great relationship between Southwestern and the state convention but also makes a great relationship between local churches and the state convention and the seminary," Biles says.
Because of the close relationship with the state convention, the Little Rock extension has been one of the most consistent extensions with regard to student enrollment. This semester the extension has about 25 students.
Tim Deahl has been integrally involved in the partnership, serving as an adjunct professor for the extension, local church pastor, executive support for ABSC, and liaison between the main campus and extension. Deahl, who earned his Master of Divinity from Southwestern, says most extension students are already involved in areas of ministry as opposed to preparing for ministry. About half of their numbers are involved in youth or young adult ministry, while the others serve in pastoral or music ministries.
This past semester, five students graduated from the extension, one of their larger numbers for one graduating class, Biles says. One student from the Little Rock extension received the C.W. Brister Pastoral Ministry Award, given to graduates in the school of theology and in the field of pastoral ministry.
"That was exciting to see not just the recognition of our extension but to see how our extension work is impacting the churches in Arkansas," Biles says.
Students are asked to complete at least one year at Southwestern's main campus to complement their studies at the extension. Deahl says some students actually started their education at the main campus but then finished their degree at Little Rock after being called to ministry in the area. Others finished at the main campus but then returned to the Little Rock extension to teach classes there.
In the future, Biles and Deahl both say online education will likely increase and may impact the further growth of enrollment in a positive way for those who cannot attend class in person.
"It's a new day with online education," Biles says. "I see online education strengthening the work of our extension centers. This now becomes an opportunity for students to continue ministering where they are, and they now have new options to continue or even complete their degree and continue to serve in the place God has called them and led them.
"This is, I think, an opportunity for us to see the potential of reaching students that we might never had reached, who now have not only exposure to Southwestern through the extension but opportunities to study with our elected faculty on campus," Biles says. "And I think it opens doors to the opportunities for new students for our extensions."
Deahl says the enrollment at the extension had dropped slightly for a time, but now it is again picking back up, and he looks forward to even further growth.
Classes at the extension meet just one day a week, and because of donations, a meal is now provided for students. The extension also provides a fully equipped library and other resources.
Biles and Deahl both look forward to the continuing partnership between Southwestern and the ABSC, as they train students to preach the Word and reach the world.
Michelle Tyer is a newswriter for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas (www.swbts.edu/campusnews).
Cheatham to retire after 40-plus years at Campbellsville
By Drew Tucker, communications assistant, and Joan C. McKinney, news and publications coordinator
CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. -- Campbellsville University's Dr. Frank Cheatham, senior vice president for academic affairs and professor of math and computer science, is retiring after 40 ½ years of service. The announcement was made on Monday, Jan. 6 in a meeting of the entire faculty in CU's Winters Dining Hall.
Cheatham will work the rest of the 2014 calendar year and will officially retire Dec. 31, 2014. There will be a yearlong national search for his successor.
"The very first decision I made after becoming president in August of 1999, was to ask Dr. Cheatham to accept the vice presidency for the academic area," Dr. Michael V. Carter, president of Campbellsville University, said.
"He accepted and has worked at my side in this role as well as the role of trusted advisor on every major decision of my presidency. His love for Campbellsville University and Christian higher education has been and is evident," Carter said.
Cheatham, who will be 71 on Feb. 3, has been a leader at CU since his days as a student having graduated in 1965 and beginning his teaching career at CU in 1973.
Cheatham grew up on a large farm where he chose to commute to Campbellsville University, then Campbellsville College, every day while attending the farm. He graduated from Taylor County High School in 1961.
"One of the first things my parents valued highly was an education," he said. "I had a strong influence in my life for continuing my education and getting a master's."
Following his graduation from CU, he received a master of science in 1968 from Tennessee Technological University and received his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Kentucky in 1972.
He received a second master's degree, a master of science in computer science education, in 1984 from the University of Evansville.
Cheatham was awarded the first "Teaching Excellence and Campus Leadership Award" sponsored by The Sears-Roebuck Foundation in 1989 on campus.
He is also the recipient of the Campbellsville University "Teaching Excellence and Campus Leadership Award" given by the university's Board of Advisors.
In 1992 he was awarded the Campbellsville/Taylor County Chamber of Commerce "Educator of the Year Award." He received it again in 2000.
Cheatham became a Distinguished Alumnus at CU in 2002.
In addition to teaching at Campbellsville University, Cheatham has also taught at Western Kentucky University, Campbell College in North Carolina, Taylor County High School and teaching assistantships at UK and Tennessee Tech.
At CU, Cheatham has served on numerous committees and as faculty representative on several administrative positions. He was also faculty chairman and vice chairman and faculty representative to the CU Board of Trustees for two terms.
Cheatham was also on the presidential search committee that selected Carter, and also on the committee that chose Dr. Kenneth W. Winters as the ninth president of the university.
Cheatham led the discussion on getting the Internet at CU in 1994.
He has served as faculty advisor for Sigma Zeta, the science and math honor society, and has attended many national Sigma Zeta conventions. He also served as national president of Sigma Zeta.
Cheatham has been president of and on the board of directors of the Consortium for Computing in Small Colleges. He has also served as conference chair of the Southeastern Small College Computing Conference.
He is on the board of directors at Taylor Regional Hospital and was a member of the board of directors at the International Association of Baptist Colleges and Schools.
He has been involved in the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) for many years. Campbellsville University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award certificates, associate, baccalaureate, and master's degrees. Contact the Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097 or call 404-679-4500 for questions about the status of Campbellsville University.
He has served as chair of CU's self-study and implementation committee. He has also served on 15 visiting committees of several SACS colleges and universities in North and South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia and Texas.
Cheatham has presented several papers and has had several articles published.
He is the son of Gladys Cheatham of Merrimac, Ky. and the late Jeff Cheatham. He is one of nine children, five of whom eventually became teachers. His brother, Don, is instructor in education and computer information systems at CU.
Cheatham and his wife, Shirley Hardin Cheatham, have one daughter, Tammy, and a grandson, Drew, who is a junior at CU. They belong to Campbellsville Baptist Church.
IRD's Top Church News Stories of 2013
WASHINGTON (Institute for Religion and Democracy) -- A popular new Pope, church disputes and threats to religious freedom made news throughout 2013. Following are the top church news stories, as selected by the Institute for Religion and Democracy, for the year:
New Pope: Both the almost unprecedented retirement of a Pope and the enthusiasm surrounding a young new pontiff was the biggest church story of the year. Conservatives and liberals each spun Pope Francis' comments on homosexuals, proselytization, economics and abortion, but it is clear that he has everyone's attention.
Methodist Same-Sex Disobedience: United Methodist Pastor Frank Schaefer was tried and convicted of violating the denomination's ban on same-sex marriage. The Pennsylvania pastor's defrocking comes amidst a campaign by church liberals to defy the governing majority in the General Conference. Retired UMC Bishop Mel Talbert is also facing likely charges after conducting a same-sex wedding in Alabama.
Catholics Score Legal Victories on HHS Mandate: Catholic bishops continued their opposition to contraception and abortifacient coverage mandates in Obamacare, finding success in several legal challenges to the healthcare law.
Boy Scouts Admit Gays: The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) came under pressure from corporate sponsors and activist organizations to change an existing policy barring openly homosexual members. Most Boy Scout troops in the U.S. are hosted by churches, many of whom, such as the National Catholic Committee on Scouting and the Sothern Baptist Convention, weighed in against the change.
Global Persecution of Christians: A wave of Christians fled the conflict in Syria where thousands of others have been persecuted and killed. In northern Nigeria, a death toll from Islamist group Boko Haram reached over 2,000 Christians killed. Coptic Christians joined in celebrating the end of Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt, while witnessing churches burned in retaliatory attacks. World leaders are speaking out about the persecution of Christians as never before.
Obamacare Aftershocks Hit Clergy: Pension boards of some oldline Protestant denominations sought protection from the very health care law their own denominational lobby offices worked to pass. Revelations that some church employees may lose health care coverage due to provisions in Obamacare sparked support for a legislative fix.
Global Anglican Future Conference: Traditionalist Anglicans made clear that the weight of Global Anglicanism is shifting away from old colonial roots in the Church of England. Gathering in Nairobi as a nod to the Global South, GAFCON participants declared their movement an "instrument of communion" on the same level as the decennial Lambeth Conference. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby acknowledged as much indirectly by jetting in for a meeting with GAFCON leaders just before the conference began.
Religious Calls for Gun Restrictions Continue to Struggle: Shootings in a Connecticut school produced clergy calls to curtail gun violence with new firearms restrictions. National Cathedral Dean Gary R. Hall was among the most vocal, proclaiming "I believe the gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby" and opening with prayer a Senate press conference on gun legislation. Gun control advocates pointed to a handful of state legislative victories, but federal legislation stalled.
Evangelical Left: From popular blogger Rachel Held Evan's declaration that the Bible does not offer women a guideline for Christian living to liberal speakers like now Sen. Cory Booker appearing at Evangelical conferences, 2013 was a big year for the Evangelical Left. But the Evangelical Left's spotlight remains focused on Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, the "prayer-and-profanity" laden Lutheran priest, whose all-embracing theology is attracting phenomenal attention, especially among young Evangelicals.
Morning Star News' Top 10 persecution stories of 2013
(Morning Star News) -- In Nigeria, terrorists weren't the only ones terrorizing Christians.
Last year Egypt saw its greatest level of attacks on Christians; more Christians were killed in Syria's civil war than anywhere else; and an Islamist rebel take-over in the Central African Republic brought new atrocities to the historically unstable country. But where political instability and civil war were not contributing factors, the greatest targeting of Christians primarily for their faith took place in Nigeria (even if oppression overall was worse in North Korea and Saudi Arabia). The stories have become so repetitive that they risk becoming at once routine and unbearable; on the ground, however, Nigerian Christians refuse to give in to the trauma. Their faith shines, even in the face of new causes for fear in 2013: The line blurred between terrorist groups and attacking tribal herdsmen, and government soldiers stationed to protect Christians sometimes killed them.
1 –- Christians Terrorized in Nigeria
Monthly, if not weekly, Islamic extremist violence in Nigeria quietly took the lives of at least 700 Christians in villages throughout the central and northern parts of the country in 2013.
Relying on dubious second-hand sources, most Nigerian and international media misrepresented the killings as the result of ethnic/cattle disputes or, when tribal and property tensions were present, downplayed the fundamental religious motives. In the attacks by ethnic Fulani, Muslim herdsmen on Christians asleep in their homes in central and northern Nigeria, first-hand accounts by survivors to Morning Star News indicated the assailants were not always the usual suspects: sometimes they were dressed in military camouflage rather than their tribal dress; their weapons were more sophisticated and more numerous than in previous years; some wore bullet-proof vests; they were not identified as local people; and they included foreign mercenaries from surrounding countries. Tens of thousands of villagers were displaced as children, women and senior citizens were slaughtered in their beds for their faith.
"From all indications, the terrorism witnesses in the country is purely in pursuit of jihad," the Rev. Yiman Orkwar, archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Makurdi in Benue state, told Morning Star News. "In Benue state, Fulani terrorists in collaboration with Boko Haram and other foreign mercenaries are causing wanton destruction of lives and property."
Boko Haram, a Nigerian rebel group that includes mercenaries from Chad, Niger and Cameroon, seeks to impose a strict version of sharia (Islamic law) throughout Nigeria, and the terrorist organization has ties to Al Qaeda. Christian leaders fear they are inciting and supporting Muslim herdsmen in a bid to Islamicize traditionally Christian areas.
Suspected terrorists from Boko Haram set off four bombs that hit two churches in Kano city on July 29, killing at least 45 people, sources said. Christians were meeting at Christ Salvation Pentecostal Church when one explosion hit, and 39 bodies were recovered in the area, Christian leaders said. Christians were also meeting at St. Stephen's Anglican Church as another bomb went off, and an explosion apparently targeting Peniel Baptist Church did not affect the structure.
Prosecutions were rare, reports of slow-arriving security forces were frequent, and at times the Special Task Force assigned to protect against attacks, or other soldiers, appeared to be the killers.
2 –- Syria's Civil War Leaves Christians Vulnerable to Atrocities
Fighting between President Bashar al-Assad's forces and the Syrian National Coalition, which includes a substantial faction of Islamic terrorist groups, led to atrocities against civilians. For many Christians Assad's government was the lesser of two evils, and jihadist rebels targeted Christians not only for their faith but for their presumed allegiance to the government; more than 2,000 Christians killed for their faith. The rebels' main fighting force, Jahdat al-Nusra, is an extremist group with an ideology similar to that of Al Qaeda.
The Oct. 21 Islamist rebel siege of the predominantly Christian town of Sadad, 160 kilometers (95 miles) north of Damascus, left 45 civilians dead, including several women and children; many were thrown into mass graves. Archbishop Alnemeh, Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan of Homs and Hama, said other civilians were threatened and terrorized, with 30 wounded and 10 missing, and 1,500 families were held hostage as human shields for a week. Before Syrian government forces retook Sadad by Oct. 31, about 2,500 families had fled.
Rebel militias reportedly murdered Catholic Syrian priest François Murad on June 23. Islamic extremists abducted the Rev. Michael Kayal, 27, of the Armenian Catholic Church in Aleppo, as he rode a bus in February. Greek Orthodox priest Maher Mahfouz was also kidnapped. The Rev. Paolo Dall'Oglio was reported missing on July 29. Dall'Oglio's disappearance came three months after the kidnapping of the Greek Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox archbishops of Aleppo. Paul Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church and Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church were kidnapped near the village of Kafr Dael on April 22 while returning from the Turkish border on a humanitarian relief trip.
Initially kidnappings of Christians in Syria were largely aimed at seeking ransom. But as Al Qaeda-linked groups established themselves in areas with sizable Christian populations, they began targeting Christians, threatening that they must convert to Islam or face rape, torture, murder and other aggression. Swedish journalist Nuri Kino told Morning Star News that kidnappings, rapes and forcible conversions to Islam were common.
During the 12-month period ending Oct. 31, according to Christian support organization Open Doors, 2,123 Christians were reported to have been killed for their faith in Syria.
3 -– Morsi Rule in Egypt, and His Ouster, Result in Attacks on Christians
Even before the deposing of Muslim Brotherhood-backed Mohamed Morsi as president of Egypt triggered widespread attacks against Christians, Islamic extremist violence against Coptic Christians reached a shocking a new high during his tenure.
Attacks in 2013 were more brazen as well as more frequent than in previous years, according to rights groups. More than 200 Muslim rioters attacked Coptic Christians attending a funeral service on April 7 at St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo for four Copts killed two days earlier in an anti-Christian rampage. A Morning Star News reporter inside the cathedral compound observed firearms, flash-bang grenades, tear gas, stones, fire bombs and other improvised weapons used against Christians as police did nothing to stop the attack. Police also fired tear gas grenades into the compound. Almost three dozen Coptic Christians suffered injuries, and one was thought to have been killed; Mahrous Hanna Ibrahim reportedly died from gunshot wounds. The cathedral compound is the headquarters of the Coptic Orthodox Church, site of the Coptic pope's home and a unifying symbol for Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians alike.
Some 30 million people began demonstrations against Morsi on June 30, but Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers singled out Christians to blame for his forced removal from power on July 3, and attacks began. Four Coptic Christians were killed near Luxor on July 5 in Al Dabaya, including 42-year-old Emil Naseem Saroufeem, a supporter of the opposition movement, and 20 homes were destroyed. By July 8, dozens of homes and businesses were burned to the ground, a handful of church buildings were attacked, and one church guest-house was destroyed, human rights activists said. On July 6 in Arish in Northern Sinai, masked gunmen shot and killed the Rev. Mina Aboud Sharubim, a Coptic priest.
On Aug. 6, a Coptic Christian girl walking home from a Bible class at her church was shot and killed in Cairo by an unidentified gunman. Rights groups said 10-year-old Jessica Boulous was killed while walking from church through a market to her home with her Sunday school teacher.
After Egyptian police cleared two pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo on Aug. 14-15 in confrontations that quickly escalated into gunfire, violence erupted throughout Egypt that reportedly resulted in attacks on 44 church buildings and scores of Christian institutions, businesses and homes. At least two Coptic Christians were killed. The attacks were scattered across the country, from The Church of Mar-Girgis, which was attacked in Arish in the northeast Sinai Peninsula, to churches in Giza outside of Cairo, to churches and religious facilities in Upper Egypt. Most of the attacks happened in Minya Governorate, with the city of Assiut following close behind.
On Oct. 20, a drive-by, machine-gun attack on Coptic Christians filing into the Church of the Holy Virgin and the Archangel Michael in Giza, in the Al-Warraq area of greater Cairo, for a wedding killed four people, including the mother of the groom, 62-year-old Camilia Helmy Attyia. Also killed were Mariam Ashraf Mesiha, 8; Mariam Nabil Fahmy Azer, 12; and Samir Fahmy Azer, 46. Hours after the two assailants on a motorcycle sprayed the waiting crowd outside the church building with bullets, the couple was married very late that night, dressed in mourning black, the brother of the groom told Morning Star News. Three people attended the ceremony.
In the course of the year, at least 83 Christians in Egypt were killed for their faith, according to the World Watch List of Christian support organization Open Doors.
4 -– Unprecedented Church Bombing in Pakistan
Suspected Islamic extremists detonated explosives outside a venerable 19th century church building in a suicide bombing on Sept. 22 as more than 300 parishioners were eating on the front lawn after Sunday worship, killing more Christians in a single attack than any in the modern history of Pakistan. The number of people killed in the blasts at All Saints Church in Peshawar, capital of Pakistani Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province bordering Afghanistan, remained inconclusive, with figures ranging from 85 to 127. Some 170 people were reportedly wounded. An Islamic terrorist group called Jundullah claimed responsibility for the attack, vowing to kill more non-Muslims on Pakistani territory, but it is not usually active in the area and questions remain about the actual perpetrators.
With Islamic extremist groups increasingly active in the country and a widespread rash of "blasphemy" cases concocted against Christians, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom had warned that risk to Pakistan's minorities had reached crisis levels. Pakistan is nearly 96 percent Muslim, according to Operation World, with Christians making up 2.45 percent of the population.
5 -– Somalia Violence Seeps into Kenya
Somali Islamic extremist rebel group Al Shabaab took the lives of at least five Christians in Somalia in 2013, including the widow of a Christian slain for his faith in December 2012, leaving the couple's five children orphaned. The Islamic extremist rebels pulled 42-year-old Fartun Omar from a bus and shot her to death on April 13 in Buulodbarde, 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Beledweyne, sources said. Al Shabaab had been searching for her for several months, knowing she was a secret Christian like her late husband, Mursal Isse Siad. The oldest of their five children was 15 at the time of her death.
Al Shabaab came under the control of a faction that emphasizes international terrorist strikes, and some of its attacks occurred in Kenya. The rebel group, which has joined with Al Qaeda, attacked the upscale Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya on Sept. 21, killing at least 67 people, with dozens still unaccounted for. The assailants killed those they could identify as non-Muslims.
More Al Shabaab militants have been driven out of Somalia by Kenyan-led African Union forces, and other connections to Al Shabaab have resulted in violence in Kenya. Responding to the shooting death on Oct. 3 of hard-line sheikh Ibrahim Omar and three others, Muslim youths from the Masjid Musa Mosque shouting "Allahu Akbar [God is Greater]" set fire to the Salvation Army Church building the following afternoon in the Majengo area on the outskirts of the coastal city of Mombasa. Omar was a student of sheikh Aboud Rogo, also mysteriously killed in his vehicle on the same road in August 2012, who had been accused of aiding in recruitment and funding for Al Shabaab.
Muslim leaders accused police of killing hard-line imam Omar as part of a campaign against Islamists following authorities' much-criticized handling of the assault on the Westgate mall. At the Musa Mosque, some 200 meters from the burned Salvation Army Church building, Omar regularly "issued incendiary sermons against non-Muslims," The Standard newspaper reported. According to Kenya's National Intelligence Service, the imam had invited jihadists from Somalia to bomb targets in Nairobi and Mombasa in retaliation for the killing of Rogo.
On Oct. 19, pastor Charles Matole of Vikwantani Redeemed Gospel Church in Mombasa, Kenya was shot to death as he studied the Bible in his church building before worship services the next day. The pastor had told his wife and others that he had received threatening text messages and that his life was in danger. On Oct. 20, another pastor was killed in Kilifi, 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Mombasa. Ebrahim Kidata of East African Pentecostal Church appeared to have been strangled and left in some bushes, authorities said. The murders come on the heels of rioting in Mombasa by Muslims enraged at the killing of sheikh Omar and the three others; a church leader in Mombasa said Muslims have accused churches of being "quiet" about the murders of Omar and his predecessor.
In Mrima village near the coastal town of Likoni, Mombasa District, assailants on a motorbike threw an explosive device into a church compound in southeastern Kenya on June 9, injuring 15 people. Two pastors were among the wounded from the explosion at an evangelistic service of Earthquake Miracle Ministries Church. Both legs of Assistant Pastor Collins Maseno were broken in the blast, and Senior Pastor Dominic Osano sustained serious injuries to his hand and the back of his neck. A 10-year-old boy, Dominic Maseno, was reportedly among the injured.
Al Shabaab, which has been designated a terrorist organization by several Western governments, seeks to impose a strict version of sharia (Islamic law) on Somalia. Kenya is nearly 83 percent Christian and 8.32 percent Muslim, according to Operation World.
6 -– Sudan Steps Up 'Religious Cleansing'
Sudan stepped up its campaign to rid the country of Christianity last year -- expelling foreign Christians, bulldozing church buildings on the pretext that they belonged to South Sudanese, arresting church leaders and bombing predominantly Christian civilians in South Kordofan. Many foreign Christians left or were deported.
Besides raiding Christian bookstores and arresting Christians, authorities threatened to kill South Sudanese Christians who do not leave or cooperate with them in their effort to find other Christians. Harassment, arrests and persecution of Christians intensified since the secession of South Sudan in July 2011, when President Omar al-Bashir vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language. In a report issued in April, Christian Solidarity Worldwide noted an increase in arrests, detentions and deportations of Christians since December 2012. The organization also reported that systematic targeting of Nuba and other ethnic groups suggests the resurgence of an official policy of "Islamization and Arabization."
Since April 2012 Sudan has dropped 1,338 bombs on civilians in South Kordofan state, according to online news portal Nuba Reports, run by aid worker Ryan Boyette, who remained in South Kordofan after his Christian humanitarian organization was forced to evacuate when military conflict escalated in 2011. The Nuba people in Sudan's South Kordofan state believe the government's goal of quashing rebels is also meant to rid the area of non-Arabs and Christianity.
Thousands of civilians have reportedly taken refuge in Nuba Mountain caves in South Kordofan, which borders South Sudan.
The Nuba people have longstanding complaints against Khartoum – including neglect, oppression and forced conversions to Islam in a 1990s jihad – but as Sudanese citizens on the northern side of the border, they were never given the option of secession in the 2005 peace pact between northern and southern Sudan.
7 -– Egyptians Slain in Libya
Islamic extremists killed three Egyptian Christians for their faith. Repeated electrical shock torture of an Egyptian Christian accused of "proselytizing" in Libya likely exacerbated his heart ailment, leading to his death in custody, according to sources close to the deceased. Ezzat Hakim Atallah died on March 10 in a Tripoli jail while in the custody of an Islamic militia group known as the Preventative Security Unit. He was 45.
Atallah was arrested without being formally charged in Benghazi on Feb. 13 as Preventative Security was rounding up expatriate Christians and accusing them of spreading Christianity to Muslims. The group is an internal police force formed during the Libyan Revolution by regional rebel leaders. Libyan authorities told his family he collapsed in jail and that he died of high blood pressure. The embassy of Egypt, a country where a majority believes those who leave Islam should receive the death penalty, has claimed he likely died of "natural causes." Besides wife, Ragaa Abdallah, Atallah is survived by a 15-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter.
One Protestant clergy member who works directly with Christians in Libya said the climate toward Christians in the country has changed dramatically over the past few years. "Now in Libya they don't like Christians, they don't tolerate them," he said. "They know there are many Muslims that are becoming Christians. And because of it, all Christian workers are in danger."
On a rural road in Derna District in northeastern Libya on Wednesday (Sept. 25), Muslims robbed two Egyptian Christians living in Libya, then tied up and shot them to death after the two Copts refused their demand to convert to Islam, relatives said. After the Muslims surrounded Waleed Saad Shaker, 25, and Nash'at Shenouda Ishaq, 27, and robbed and beat them, they demanded that Shaker and Ishaq recite the shahada, the declaration of conversion to Islam. When the two Orthodox Coptic Christians refused, the Muslims tied them up and shot them, relatives said.
Later that day, a shepherd found Shaker and Ishaq in the desert, and they were taken to Derna Hospital. Shaker was dead upon arrival at the hospital, according to a member of Ishaq's family who requested anonymity. Gamel Saleem, a cousin of Shaker who saw his body, said the skull had been beaten in. Shaker's death certificate identifies injuries to his head as the cause of death.
Ishaq initially survived the attack, and before he died he was able to give details about the assault to a relative, also resident in Libya. Escorting the body back to Upper Egypt for burial, the relative relayed the details to Ishaq's family and the Shaker family.
Ishaq is survived by a wife and two children, ages 6 and 3.
8 –- Islamist Take-over in Central African Republic Brings Atrocities
Islamist rebels took control of the Christian-majority Central African Republic (CAR) in March through a coalition of 25,000 fighters called Seleka, consisting primarily of foreign mercenaries from Chad and Sudan. Seleka attacked priests, pastors, nuns, church buildings and other Christian institutions unprovoked. The leader of CAR's Evangelical Alliance, the Rev. Nicolas Guerekoyame, who is part of the National Transitional Council, joined other Christian leaders lamenting persecution of Christians, complaining of "massive and unprecedented violations of human rights in the form of large-scale looting … killings and murders, threats and intimidation, abductions, torture and summary executions, rape of women including nuns, desecration of churches and religious institutions and violence against servants of God."
Self-proclaimed President Michel Djotodia on Sept. 13 announced the "dissolution" of Seleka in a bid to excuse himself from inability to control them; he said they would be treated as "bandits," though they have continued to kill and pillage without opposition from state security forces that Djotodia said would be responsible for law enforcement. Godfrey Yogarajah, executive director of the World Evangelical Alliance's Religious Liberty Commission, on Aug. 15 called for an immediate end to the breakdown of law and order, saying in a press statement that the assaults "highlight the targeting of Christians." Muslims account for less than 14 per cent of CAR's population of about 4.5 million people, according to Operation World.
9 –- Christian Dies in Custody in Vietnam
Vietnamese officials insisted on calling the death of a Christian in police custody a suicide, though family members presented strong evidence that he was killed. Hoang Van Ngai, also identified by his Hmong name of Vam Ngaij Vaj, died on March 17 in custody in Gia Nghia, Dak Nong Province in Vietnam's Central Highlands after police arrested him, his brother and their wives without any charges.
Ngai, a 38-year-old father of four who was a lay church leader, had angered some government officials by finding ways for the Bui Tre Church to keeping functioning, as the officials had forbidden it to meet from 2000 to 2003; he refused to pay expected bribes and otherwise "strongly resisted their abuse of power," his brother Hoang Van Pa stated in a report to government officials and church leaders.
Vietnamese officials have tried to suppress information contained in Pa's report, which states that on March 18 officers at the Gia Nghia police station explained to family members and friends that he had purposely electrocuted himself by sticking his hand in an electrical socket.
Family members pointed out that more than 300 witnesses who viewed Ngai's body concurred with Pa's report that it had "many bruises and contusions on his throat, back, and head, and deep cuts on his body and his skull smashed." Family members further assert that Ngai, a building contractor, merchant and farmer whose four children range in age from 7 to 15, had no reason to commit suicide. Before his incarceration, Ngai was an exceptionally strong and healthy man.
10 -– U.S.-Iranian Pastor's Prison Sentence Upheld
Iran on Aug. 26 upheld the eight-year prison sentence of pastor Saeed Abedini, convicted of threatening "national security" by practicing Christianity, in spite of international calls for his release. Various countries' quiet diplomatic efforts accompanied the international protest. The Tehran Court of Appeals upheld the sentence following three months of Iranian courts issuing harsh sentences for several other Christians.
Abedini's wife, Naghmeh, had spoken before the United Nations Human Rights Council on June 5, calling on world leaders to demand his release. Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, said in a statement that the ACLJ will continue to explore options for pressuring the Iranian regime to release the 33-year-old resident of Boise, Idaho (see www.SaveSaeed.org).
Abedini was sentenced on Jan. 27 for threatening "national security," a catch-all phrase often used by Iranian courts to imprison converts from Islam for various sorts of evangelistic activities.
In late April he was put into solitary confinement for several weeks following a "peaceful, silent protest" in an outside courtyard with other prisoners over the lack of medical care and threats against visiting family members. Abedini suffers severe internal bleeding from beatings.
He was accused of planting house churches from 2000 to 2005. Although there is no law against house churches, the government termed his involvement a threat to "national security," even though he had ceased such work after agreeing in 2009 to limit his ministry to humanitarian work. Abedini has traveled back and forth between the United States and Iran since becoming a U.S. citizen in 2010. He has made over nine humanitarian trips to Iran since 2009 and planned to establish an orphanage on his most recent trip when he was arrested. He was working with his family's non-profit organization, whose Farsi name translates to "Morning Star," which works to house and educate orphans.
Abedini's family members assert that the charge for his original arrest – that he was working with illegal church groups – is not only unjust but false. No criminal law in Iran penalizes private religious gatherings in a person's home, regardless of whether they are affiliated with a church, they say.
Moreover, Naghmeh Abedini has said that the house church he was working with before 2005 was legal at the time because it was sponsored by a legally recognized church.
In March, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called for his release, as did U.S. State Department officials at the United Nations. Organizations that have publicly called for his release include the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, which raised Abedini's case at the U.N. Human Rights Council. The European Union also demanded at the United Nations that Iran release him.
Pastors in Indonesia struggle with church closures
A quiet Christmas for two congregations
WEST JAVA, Indonesia (Morning Star News) –- Two days before Christmas, the Rev. Titus, a pastor in Cimahi, West Java who goes by a single name, was initially too upset to discuss the events that led to the closure of his church.
The usually jovial and open pastor of Isa Almasih Church (Gereja Isa Almasih, or GIA) on Kalasan Street said he had become suspicious of all people, including the reporter who came from Jakarta to meet him.
"The Bandung policemen always phone me," he told Morning Star News. "I am afraid of my own shadow."
The Cimahi municipal government sealed the church building, located in a housing subdivision, on Dec. 13 with a sign hanging on the gateway stating, "This building is for a residence and may not be used for worship services or similar activities."
Church officials had long ago applied for a permit, with the application delayed in bureaucracy without explanation, as commonly happens to Christian attempts in Indonesia. The building had been used for worship for decades, though, without any objection from the surrounding community.
The 2,000 square-meter building has sufficient parking and is enclosed in such a way that congregational praise is not loud to those outside the building. The lot is on a back corner of the subdivision, so it does not interfere with traffic.
Pastor Titus said opposition did not begin until Dec. 1. A mob of 200 Muslims gathered and demanded that use of a residence for worship cease.
On Dec. 8, a crowd of about 500 Muslims arrived, asserting that only a church building could be used as a place of worship; before the week was over, the local government had sealed the property.
Pastor Titus's frustration has been such that he has been tempted to lash out, he said.
"Sometimes I thought that I wanted to go against the current of Cristian faith – to react violently," he said.
Instead, the married father of two children has intensified his work by ministering to the church diffused; the congregation of more than 200 has spread into several cell groups. At the same time, Pastor Titus has not surrendered to pressure to sign a statement promising to refrain from using the building as a place of worship because, he said, freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Indonesian Constitution.
He said he was frustrated because the government is inconsistent in following the guarantees; rather, it bows to pressure from those who act against the constitution. He said he maintains hope that the church building will receive a permit and that the seal will be removed quickly.
In Bandung, West Java, the Karo Batak Protestant Church (GBKP) was also quiet the nights leading up to Christmas.
Normally church buildings are full of animated life on nights preceding Christmas. The building on the major thoroughfare of Holis Street was empty, however, the night of Dec. 23, when a team of Islamic radicals and police checking church buildings visited the site.
There were no youth activities or worship services preceding Christmas. There was no Christmas tree in the large, open room. There were no Christmas decorations – only a few lights were on. The only sign of life was five young people rehearsing songs in one meeting room.
Pastor Sura Purba Saputra of the west Bandung GKBP congregation told Morning Star News that worship services had stopped after Jan. 27, when 1,000 Muslims from the hard-line Islamic Reformist Movement known as GARIS protested against it. Civil Service Police accompanied the mob, forbidding church services in the building for lack of a worship permit.
Since then, the two-story building accommodating 300 people has not been used for Sunday worship. Pastor Saputra, who earned his degree from Abdi Sabda Seminary in Medan, North Sumatra, said the building was not officially sealed because he refused to sign the closure notice. The father of two said he did sign a letter, however, with the Civil Service Police agreeing to stop worship services in the building.
The GKBP synod had purchased the property in 1992, built a home for the pastor on it and used space next to the house for worship for several years before constructing a sanctuary. Previously, the church put up a tent every Sunday.
Local residents had no opposition, and the church had good relations with them, church leaders said.
"The church even gave aid to the local people," said Pastor Saputra, who began serving the congregation in 2009.
While they worked on obtaining a permit, the church began constructing a permanent building in January 2011. The building was finished and dedicated on Aug. 26, 2012.
Scarcely five months after the building was finally finished, however, a mob of 1,000 demonstrated against its presence. It had been used for worship only 16 times. The mob from GARIS and the Civil Service Police forced Pastor Saputra to sign the letter agreeing not to hold worship services in the building.
Since then, the congregation has had to move Sunday services to another GKBP building on Lombok Street in Bandung. That building, however, can only be used for funerals, Bible studies, and choir practice. They did manage to hold a children's Christmas program in their facility on Holis Street.
Pastor Saputra said they are continuing to work on obtaining a permit but are still a few signatures short. Indonesia's 2006 joint ministerial decree requires signatures of approval from 90 members of the congregation and 60 local households of a different faith, but Saputra said areas resident otherwise willing to sign have declined to do so due to threats from Islamic leaders.
The local block captain has said that he has been threatened by hard-line Muslim organizations; if he signs, his house will be burned.