Forum 18, 14th November 2023
On 17 October, Minsk City Court ordered the liquidation of New Life Full Gospel Church. The Minsk City Executive Committee had called in court for its liquidation because local courts had found some of the Church’s online materials “extremist”. They also claimed that the Church had conducted activity not set out in its statute. The Church has appealed to the Supreme Court against the liquidation decision, which does not go into force until the appeal is heard. No date has yet been set for the appeal hearing.
Courts have banned a range of religious materials as “extremist,” even though they do not call for violations of the human rights of others.
New Life Church continues its meetings for worship online or in borrowed churches. The regime ousted the Church from its own place of worship in February 2021 and bulldozed the building in June 2023.
All the legal and government authorities have refused to explain to Forum 18 why they had sought in court the liquidation of New Life Church.
New Life Church was founded in Minsk in 1992, gaining state registration in December of that year. The Church is a member of the Full Gospel Union and has been led since its foundation by Pastor Vyacheslav Goncharenko.
One New Life Church member suspected that the reason for the sudden eviction was that New Life recorded and on 21 November 2020 posted on its YouTube channel a video by church members protesting the regime’s violence against protestors objecting to election fraud.
A United Vision for Northern Iraq (excerpts)
Steadfast Global, 28th November 2023
Our work to help Christians in the Kurdistan region of Iraq commenced within weeks of the fall of Mosul to Islamic State in June 2014. The flood of refugees into this region was almost without precedent and UNHCR camps were quickly erected to try and cope with the influx of humanity. While these camps became the new home for the Yazidi people group, Shia Muslims and a small number of Christians, our distinct call was to assist the large Christian refugee community which had sought shelter across a number of Christian villages in and around the city of Dohuk.
Working with trusted Kurdistan based partners, we commenced our relief effort sending funds to provide food, clothing, shelter, medicines, and fuel. This developed into meeting a pressing need for sanitation to help in the villages which were now bursting at the seams, and the facilitation of medical clinics for the refugees, with volunteers from the UK and beyond working alongside local healthcare professionals.
To this end we have launched projectRECYCLE, an initiative by Steadfast Global and Northern Iraq based partners, Zalal Life Society, a Christian ministry holding official registration in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, to provide a common-sense housing solution for Christian families who have been displaced from their homes in Mosul and the disputed Nineveh Plain villages into the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
Steadfast Global and Zalal Life Society encourage all those sympathetic to the crisis to embrace this project as a viable common-sense and cost-effective solution to stem the haemorrhage of Christians out of Northern Iraq and specifically, the Kurdistan region.
Voice of the Martyrs, 28th November 2023
On Feb. 13, 2017, a group of men on motorbikes and in SUVs abducted Pastor Raymond Koh. His wife, Susanna, and their children have not heard from him since, though Susanna has continued to seek information from the police and Malaysia’s justice system. Susanna filed a legal case requesting new inquiries into her husband’s disappearance, which she believes was connected to a 2011 confrontation with the Islamic religious police.
The judge hearing the case visited the scene of the abduction on Nov. 6 and 7 to learn more about the situation. Pray this investigation will reveal the truth of what happened, that justice will be done for Pastor Raymond Koh, and that developments will bring fresh encouragement to Susanna and the Koh family.
Malaysia has three major ethnicities: Malay (60 percent), Chinese (30 percent) and native tribes. The Malays are the most powerful group in the country, and being Muslim is considered an important part of their identity. Most Christians are from the tribal and Chinese people groups, and most churches experience relative freedom if they do not evangelize the Malays.
The government punishes Christian converts and strictly opposes outreach and evangelism among the Malay people. Christians have difficulty acquiring building permits for new churches. Many churches work in other languages but not in Malay. No Malay churches meet openly. Christian converts who are caught are confined to so-called re-education camps using torture and propaganda to force them to return to Islam. Many indigenous people have come to Christ in eastern Malaysia.
Things have been going more smoothly for Fraser as he finalised manuals he needed for providing training for a Seminary in Pretoria this week. He arrived there safely, and the training got off to a good start. Pray the week will be beneficial for all, for the rest of his time there, especially delivering training on one part of the system for the first time and for safe travel home on Saturday.
He and the editor are working hard to produce the next issue of the NetACT journal by mid-December. The British Library recently suffered a massive cyber-attack, and is still not available for other libraries to access its catalogue records online – a problem for several colleges Fraser supports which rely on the British Library to get good catalogue records for their books.
Thank God for the desire of Drakenstein inmates to draw closer to the Lord and have the courage to change, even if foregoing the “privileges” of criminal behaviour inside. The Lord really is behind it all.
Dawn needs strength to do everything whilst Fraser is away and wisdom for us as we talk to those God puts in our paths. Though Dawn got a puncture on the way home from the airport, it was just outside Wellington and close to someone who was able to help and change the tyre.
The Boland office of Dawn’s local area seems less provided for in finance and personnel than Cape Town and especially Pollsmoor, though we have many prisons here. Since 2020, more staff and volunteers have left than have been recruited. A Pollsmoor stalwart (ex-gangster, a man who connects with the inmates) wants to move his family to Wellington to help here – an answer to prayer for a backup for Dawn in Drakenstein? The fields are ready but there are so few workers.
Church in Chains, November 23rd, 2023
On 20 November the case of ten Christians, now detained for two years and seven months, finally went to trial.
They were accused of “illegal business operation” because they bought Bibles from the officially recognised Three-Self Church and resold them to fellow Christians at a lower price. Several are elderly and some struggle with illnesses, making their suffering in detention even greater.
Wang Honglan (68) has served in the church for decades since becoming a Christian at the age of 24. Imprisoned for a total of 5 years because of her faith, she was subjected to re-education through labour for one year. Her church has held a prayer session at 6am every morning for thirty years, regardless of the weather.
The prosecution is recommending a sentence of 10 to 15 years for the main defendants.
A defence lawyer commented, “We are all beneficiaries of the Holy Bible. Perhaps many Holy Bibles were subsidised by the defendants. They have paid a price for this, and the lawyers urge everyone not to forget them.”
One of the defence lawyers, Fang Xiangui, criticised the court’s intentional scheduling of the trial to coincide with his engagements in another city. His request that the trial be rescheduled was rejected, thereby infringing upon the defence rights of the lawyer.
During the investigation, it was reported that none of the Christians on trial shouted or lost control and that all demonstrated intentional obedience – the lawyer said they were exemplary Christians.
Joshua Project, November 28th, 2023
Nanak was the founder of Sikhism. This Hindu storekeeper (1469-1539) had a life-changing spiritual experience, which incited him to travel for years seeking spiritual truths. A wealthy admirer funded a village for Guru Nanak and his followers after they settled in Punjab. Some followers remained as permanent residents of the village; many more made periodic visits to obtain Nanak’s blessing. They listened to the teachings expressed there in numerous devotional hymns intended for communal singing, many of which still survive.
Upon his death, Nanak chose a disciple to be his spiritual successor and leader of the emerging Sikh community: Nanakshahi. Unlike the Hindu community from which Nanak originated, Sikhs know that only one supreme God reigns. They believe in God’s gift of salvation through disciplined meditation on his name. This meditative focus ought to be sufficient without idols, texts, structures or routine religious duty, focusing instead on inward prayer. Because Guru Nanak didn’t promote Jesus, his followers do not either.
There has been an economic downturn in tin mining, the main industry among the Bangka. This presents an opportunity for Christ followers to minister to the Bangka by helping them build new businesses and explore new industries.
Intercessors could pray for the Nanakshahi community from afar and have contact with them by praying for their needs in person that Jesus would reveal his nature and his salvation to the Nanakshahi community during their meditation and through other supernatural encounters.
The Daniel Centre is now stable with 6 positive residents and little drug issue. 3 social work students have been doing their practicum there and have been having good interaction with the residents.
Contractual negotiations have started for renting their Cluj depot as they wait for the completion certificate on their rebuilding project. The Blythswood chairman David Laing has now visited Montenegro and has given his blessing for their support to the Roma church there.
Balazs has just returned from a 3-day workshop in Chișinău, Moldova with Blythswood’s Richard from Belfast, 2 Christian Aid staff and representatives of their 3 Ukrainian partners – the Heritage Foundation in Odessa, Light of Reformation in Ternopil and Serve Now in Irpin, to discuss their ongoing aid to that country. Some of the partners’ workers have miraculously escaped relatively unhurt from having their van bombed by a Russian drone.
Blythswood have now taken on Olga, a Ukrainian living in Cluj with her husband, to be responsible for their Ukrainian work. She will make quarterly visits to the Ukraine but not initially with Balazs and Jeremy Ross for the filming of the next Shoebox appeal as it will clash with her daughter’s singing in the church choir.
Balazs leaves soon for a sponsored walk with a friend in the Annapurna range of the Himalaya in Nepal.
There is no current update on Adi’s afterschool work with the children in TK1, TK2 and TK3.
Open Doors, November 9th, 2023 (excerpts)
In the Muslim-majority Southern Philippines, Christians can face persecution and opposition. An undercover community of Christians are sharing stories from the Bible to disciple and encourage the next generation of the church.
Ten-year-old Wahid has already learned a powerful truth – words that he can cling to in the difficult times ahead. Where Wahid lives in the Southern Philippines, choosing to follow Jesus can be very dangerous. While a lot of the country’s population is Christian, his region is mostly Muslim – and anybody who decides to leave Islam for another faith can face death threats and being disowned by their family and community.
But Wahid is finding a valuable new community – a group of Christians sharing stories from the Bible. Wahid and other young secret believers come with their parents to this undercover group, led by Open Doors local partners, and together find comfort and inspiration as they read the Bible together.
The group meets twice a month, sharing stories about the heroes of faith and how God takes care of His children. Each time someone tells a story, they learn how to disciple others, ensuring that everyone learns these important lessons.
The secret meetings wouldn’t be possible without the support of the parents who want to see their children grow in their new faith. “Even though there’s danger,” a local leader says, “the parents support their kids, showing how faith can help families stick together, cope and overcome tough times.”
Updates on the persecuted Church
Barnabas Fund, November 8th, 2023
Hyacinth Alia – a church leader and Governor of Benue State, Nigeria – condemned a violent attack on three Benue villages on 17 October in which nine people were killed. He also called on security forces to act against the armed militants. Around 45,000 Nigerian believers have been killed in anti-Christian violence since 2009. Ask for the Lord’s intervention to bring peace for our brothers and sisters, and for all people.
At least 26 people were killed on 24 October in a Christian area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Extremists attacked residents in the town of Oicha with machetes. An estimated 5,500 have lost their lives in anti-Christian violence in DRC since October 2017. Pray for an end to this terrible violence.
The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention issued a “red flag” warning on 1 November highlighting the risk of an Azerbaijani invasion of Christian-majority Armenia. Armenia is currently hosting nearly 120,000 thousand refugees who have fled the Armenian Christian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh since a 19 September Azerbaijani attack. Ask the Lord to protect His people from further attack and to provide for those who have been forced to flee their homes.
Church in Chains, November 3rd, 2023 (excerpts)
In May 2023 we rejoiced at the news from Iran that Sara Ahmadi and her husband Homayoun Zhaveh had been acquitted and released from Evin prison following a ruling at the appeal court in Tehran.
Sara and Homayoun are converts from Islam who were sentenced to 8 and 2 years respectively for their house-church activities – Sara for leadership and Homayoun for membership. The 9 months they spent in prison were especially difficult as Homayoun suffers from advanced Parkinson’s and was held in a separate section to Sara.
On 24 October, Open Doors published a message sent from Sara via Iranian Christian advocacy organisation Article 18, in which she describes how God brought calm to her soul and testifies to how her prison experience deepened her faith:
“As we were sent to prison, one thing calmed my soul in this stormy and noisy moment and propelled me towards peace and joy. In one moment, the Spirit of God reminded us of everything that He taught us since before our arrest in 2019 until that very moment.
As soon as I remembered all of this, I wiped my tears from my face and told Homayoun not to worry, that God was with us and that we would be acquitted and released soon. I said we would only have to be there for a while and must do God’s will among the people we were sent to be in their midst, and that Jesus was alive and would fulfil His promise to us even in the valley of the shadow of death.”