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117 Witnesses Detail North Korea’s Persecution of Christians

Kim Haeun/Korea Future Initiative

Two North Korean families prayed silently on the prison floor—making certain to keep their eyes open. Another detainee, a veteran of Kim Jong-il’s gulag system, asked them if they were afraid.

“No,” one of the mothers replied. “Jesus looks over us.”

The detainee began to cry, knowing the fate that awaited them. The next day, they were sent to Chongjin Susong political prison camp, and have not been heard from since.

But elsewhere in Onsong County’s pre-trial detention center, however, a different Christian prisoner closed his eyes. After confessing he was at prayer, his fellow detainees collectively assaulted him—afraid he would bring trouble on them all.

These are just some of the harrowing stories told in a 2020 report on religious persecution in North Korea. Groundbreaking in its scope, it is drawn from the testimony of 117 defectors, cross-referenced with known data.

Produced by the Korea Future Initiative (KFI), Persecuting Faith reveals 273 documented victims—76 of whom are still in the North Korean penal system. It names 54 individual perpetrators, including 34 with identifying information.

KFI hopes the information will inform future Global Magnitsky sanctions, applied against individual human rights violators by the United States and other Western nations.

Drawn from experiences stretching from 1990 to 2019, KFI’s report lists scores of violations. These include 36 instances of punishment meted out to family members, 36 instances of torture, and 20 executions. Women and girls represent 60 percent of the victims.

And Christians are disproportionately imprisoned—by far.

Open Doors, which has ranked North Korea No. 1 in its World Watch List for 19 straight years, estimates there are 300,000 Christians in the population of 25 million. Tens of thousands of these occupy the gulag. Of KFI’s 273 victims, Christians total nearly…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on December 21, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Current Events

Sudan Drops Death Penalty for Apostasy, Alcohol Ban for Christians

Coptic church and bell towers in Kosti, Sudan.

In one of a wide-ranging series of legislative reforms, apostates from Islam no longer face the death penalty in Sudan.

“We [will] drop all the laws violating the human rights in Sudan,” Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari said Sunday during an interview on state television.

“We are keen to demolish any kind of discrimination that was enacted by the old regime, and to move toward equality of citizenship and a democratic transformation.”

In April 2019, following weeks of massive revolutionary demonstrations, Christians joined in cheering the military overthrow of longtime President Omar al-Bashir.

In his place was installed a joint military-civilian Sovereign Council slated to govern until 2022, with rotating leadership.

Importantly, current head General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan endorsed the new revision. The move followed renewed protests demanding the government accelerate the pace of reforms.

A few days prior, Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok, a civilian, replaced several cabinet ministers, fired the police chief, and criminalized female genital mutilation (FGM).

A UN-backed survey in 2014 estimated 87 percent of Sudanese women between the ages of 15 and 49 have been subjected to the procedure. The Miscellaneous Amendments Act—approved in April but only now publicized—also freed Sudanese women from…

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on July 13, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Current Events

Lebanon Prayer: Agricultural Jihad

God,

In times of crisis, luxury gives way to need. Give the Lebanese their daily bread.

But how?

The nation has long eaten its imports – up to 85 percent of all consumption. Even considered staples come from abroad.

May Lebanon thank you for years of plenty.

And now?

May Lebanon seek you in times of want.

Amid the political wrangling, a Shiite party proposed an agricultural jihad. In bitter rebuke of former financial policy, they urged an economic shift.

To the East, but also to the Earth.

But others refuse a turn in geography, asking instead for return of deposits. The life savings of many is frozen in banks.

And others remind that in mountainous Lebanon, only 12 percent of land is arable. Can rooftops and balconies be a true option?

Meanwhile, those who toil in the plains warn of a farming revolt. In this time of harvest, will they sell precious wheat to the state? God, there is so much distrust.

Replace it with equity.

It is good to grow food. You formed man in a garden.

Yet from our sin there is sweat. With our labor there are thorns.

In our gluttony dwells injustice.

God, there is honor in finance—wisdom in the creation of wealth. You have made us stewards of creation, necessitating many roles. Let each Lebanese serve you and his nation, with the gifts you have given.

But in this time of crisis, give grace to the grower. May he who scatters seed find good ground.

And for those in other sectors, give consensus. Guide Lebanon’s leaders to best policy.

If you feed the birds of the air, feed also the people.

And with daily bread, prompt daily gratitude. Call forth daily repentance. Inspire daily forgiveness.

Deliver Lebanon from evil.

Amen.


Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.

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Current Events

Hagia Sophia Converted Back to Mosque by Turkey’s President

As Christians feared and many expected, the Hagia Sophia is now—again—a mosque.

The Turkish Council of State ruled today that the original 1934 decision to convert the sixth-century Byzantine basilica into a museum was illegal.

When Ottoman sultan Mehmet II conquered then-Constantinople, he placed the iconic church in a waqf—an Islamic endowment administering personal property, usually designated for religious purpose. The original stipulations opened the building for Islamic prayers, and sharia law keeps waqf designations in perpetuity.

Shortly after the decision, President Recep Erdogan signed—and tweeted—a decree handing the building to Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate.

In a televised address to the nation, Erdogan said the first prayers inside the Hagia Sophia would be held on July 24, and he urged respect for the decision.

“I underline that we will open Hagia Sophia to worship as a mosque by preserving its character of humanity’s common cultural heritage,” he said, adding: “It is Turkey’s sovereign right to decide for which purpose Hagia Sophia will be used.”

Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, considered the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, warned in late June that the building’s conversion into a mosque “will turn millions of Christians across the world against Islam.”

Greek Orthodox Archbishop Ieronymos II earlier stated that Erdogan “would not dare.”

And UNESCO reminded Turkey of its international obligations, as the Hagia Sophia is registered as a World Heritage site.

“A state must make sure that no modification undermines the outstanding universal value of a site listed on its territory,” the UN body stated.

In response to the Turkish decision, the Russian Orthodox Church expressed regret, stating it could lead to “greater divisions.”

The foreign minister of Cyprus called it a “flagrant violation” against “a universal symbol of the Orthodox faith.”

And in Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki, protesters gathered outside a church that is modeled on the Hagia Sophia and bears the same name. They chanted, “We’ll light candles in Hagia Sophia!” and held Greek flags and Byzantine banners.

During his address, Erdogan rejected the idea that the decision ends the Hagia Sophia’s status as a structure that brings faiths together. “Like all of our other mosques, the doors of Hagia Sophia will be…

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on July 10, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Current Events

Lebanon Prayer: Where to Turn?

God,

Lebanon has many ills; where should its help come from?

International lenders hold promise of debt relief, if only Lebanon will help itself—and reform.

Western nations hold promise of investment, if only Lebanon will help itself—and reform.

A Sunni political power hints Lebanon could help itself—if he returns.

A Shiite political power hints Lebanon could help itself—if it turns East.

The US ambassador says Lebanon is all but unable to help itself—obstructed by a terrorist group.

The power she accuses of terrorism agrees—but obstructed by America.

An Arab nation offers to help with fuel—no agreement has yet been signed.

A Persian nation offers to help with fuel—no agreement has yet been signed.

God, there is little agreement on anything.

It is not wrong. Different citizens hold different visions. But in crisis, it is not helpful.

It is not best.

Where each vision is winsome, God, let consensus come between them.

Facilitate repayment of debt. Hold the currency steady. Let the economy thrive.

Reform what is necessary. Promote the right leadership.

Give Lebanon many friends. Free it from its many chains.

Unify the people on what this all entails. Let every solution come from within.

Lebanon has many hills—places of refuge, places of prayer. God, let the nation look to you.

Amen.


Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.

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Current Events

Will International Religious Freedom Survive the Trump Administration?

On June 2, as protests over the death of George Floyd raged across the United States, President Donald Trump elevated the stature of religious freedom within the State Department.

“Religious freedom for all people worldwide is a foreign policy priority,” read the executive order (EO) he signed, “and the United States will respect and vigorously promote this freedom.”

It received almost no media attention.

The provisions—long called for by many advocates of international religious freedom (IRF)—could overhaul a US foreign policy that has historically sidelined support for America’s “first freedom.”

That is, if the order survives a potential Joe Biden administration.

It is common for a new president to reverse EOs issued by their predecessor. In his eight years in office, President Obama issued 30 to amend or rescind Bush-era policies. In his first year in office, Trump issued 17 directed at Obama-era policies.

While IRF has typically enjoyed bipartisan support, current political polarization leaves few sacred cows.

Trump signed the EO after a visit to the Pope John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, DC. It was previously scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of the Polish-born pope’s 1979 return to his home nation, which set off a political and spiritual revolution that defied the Soviet Union and eventually ended the Cold War.

However, Washington’s Catholic archbishop called it “baffling and reprehensible” the facility would allow itself to be manipulated one day after Trump lifted a Bible in front of St. John’s Anglican Church across from the White House in the wake of the aggressive dispersal of protesters opposing police brutality and racial injustice.

The president’s gesture risked corroborating critics who argue that Trump’s religious freedom policies are a nod only to evangelical Christians concerned for fellow believers.

But while the Bible photo op divided evangelicals, should Trump’s IRF credentials definitively tilt the scale come elections in November?

“President Trump’s executive order will make the commitment to international religious freedom more robust,” said former congressman Frank Wolf, arguing the Trump administration has been markedly stronger on the issue than those of either party.

“If you care about religious freedom…

This article was first published at Christianity Today on June 30, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Current Events

Israel Orders Christian TV Channel to Stop Broadcasting

Israeli regulators on Sunday announced they ordered a US-based evangelical broadcaster taken off the air, saying the channel hid its missionary agenda when it applied for a license.

In his decision, Asher Biton, chairman of the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council, said he had informed GOD TV on Thursday last week that it had seven days to stop broadcasting its new Shelanu channel.

“The channel appeals to Jews with Christian content,” he wrote. “Its original request,” he said, stated that it was a “station targeting the Christian population.”

The decision was first reported by the Haaretz daily.

And today, Shelanu announced that its satellite provider, HOT, has dropped the channel altogether—likely due to Israeli pressure.

“In a free and democratic society such as Israel, we would have received approval for our new license, and if not, we would have won in court,” stated Ron Cantor, Shelanu’s Israeli spokesman, in a press release. “The only thing that could have stopped our channel from being aired was if HOT broke our relationship.”

If there is no public apology and clarification, Shelanu plans to sue Biton.

The channel said its existing license “stated unequivocally” that it would broadcast its content in Hebrew to the Israeli public. Most Christians in the Holy Land speak Arabic.

“Therefore it is not at all clear what was wrong beyond political considerations,” it said.

According to a copy of its original application and approval, obtained by CT, Shelanu identified itself as “a Christian religion channel broadcasting Christian content … for the audience of Israeli viewers … [in] Hebrew and English.”

Nowhere did the channel state…

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on June 30, 2020. Please click here for the full text.

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Current Events

Can Hagia Sophia Become a Mosque? Turkish Court Will Soon Decide

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After 85 years as a museum, the Hagia Sophia is poised to once again become a mosque. Might it also again become a church?

A Turkish court is scheduled to rule on July 2 if the iconic Byzantine basilica can be opened for Muslim worship.

Built in 537 by Emperor Justinian, in 1453 the Ottoman sultan Mehmet II converted the Hagia Sophia into a mosque. Five centuries later, the secularizing founder of modern Turkey, Kamal Ataturk, turned it into a museum.

UNESCO designated the Hagia Sophia as a World Heritage Site in 1985.

President Recep Erdogan has long stated his desire that the building would welcome prayer. In March, he led guests in silent Quranic recitation on the 567th anniversary of the conquest of Constantinople, dedicating the prayer to Mehmet II.

Last week, Erdogan found an unlikely supporter.

“I believe that believers’ praying suits better the spirit of the temple than curious tourists running around to take pictures,” tweeted Armenian Patriarch Sahak II, resident in Istanbul. “The site is large enough to allocate a space for Christians, [so that] the world…

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on June 29, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Current Events

Do Catholics Care about Persecuted Christians?

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For the first time, American legislation in defense of international religious freedom has reached into the Chinese Politburo.

Last week, President Donald Trump signed into law a bill to authorize sanctions against any officials in China’s top political body responsible for ongoing persecution against the country’s Muslim Uighur minority.

Passed by Congress with only one “no” vote, the action follows on the heels of this month’s release of the State Department’s 2019 Report on International Religious Freedom (IRF).

During the report’s public release, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lauded the United States’s commitment.

“America is not a perfect nation by any means, we always strive towards that more perfect union, trying to improve,” he said.

“[But] there is no other nation that cares so deeply about religious freedom.”

Such commitment was marked this week by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Each day from June 22–29 highlights an issue of concern, whether domestic or international.

Yesterday (June 24) the focus was on China.

Last summer, the government-affiliated Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association—representing about half of China’s estimated 12 million Catholics—condemned US criticism after the State Department’s second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom advocated for the 800,000 to 2 million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities who have been arbitrarily detained in internment camps.

But one month later, the Chinese government permitted the first consecration of a Vatican-ordained bishop—a result of Pope Francis signing a controversial 2018 deal with Chinese authorities in an attempt to unite Rome with the underground Catholic church.

The US bipartisan consensus evident in the Uighur law reflects Pompeo’s assertion. First amendment rights guarantee freedom for all religions, and Americans generally desire for such liberty to extend worldwide.

But is there particular concern over Christian persecution? And is religious liberty eroding at home?

Two new polls suggest declining Catholic attention abroad, while the faithful grow more worried about the US. Aid to the Church in Need–USA (ACN–USA), an international papal agency that supports suffering and persecuted Christians in more than 140 countries, surveyed 1,000 US Catholics…

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on June 25, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Current Events

The Middle East Needs America to Reconcile

Lebanese Voices:

This post was submitted by Rev. Joseph Kassab, president of the Supreme Council of the Evangelical Community in Syria and Lebanon

Current demonstrations in the United States have exposed a rift in society, very similar to the gaps found in the Middle East. In both regions, governments have failed to guide their pluralistic societies toward harmony, peace, and reconciliation.

In the United States, these rifts take on the forms of black and white, rich and poor, and between non-integrated ethnicities. Economic prosperity and the high standard of living has papered over them for a long time, but only postponed the explosion.

As for the Middle East, underdevelopment and a deteriorating economy intensifies the contradictions, making them more violent. Our weak governments do not have the capacity as modern states to regulate conflict. In addition to rich and poor, our rifts occur as Shiite and Sunni, Christian and Muslim, along with various ethnicities that feel robbed of their homelands, with less sense of belonging to their country of residence.

At the grassroots level, the situations are substantially similar. But surprisingly, the similarity is beginning to extend to the level of leadership.

Three weeks ago, President Trump visited a church and lifted the Bible in an iconic photo op. Whether it was to appease his evangelical supporters or contain ongoing demonstrations and violence, he also hinted at involving the army in the restoration of calm.

Middle Eastern leaders often act similarly in their times of crisis.

When Saddam Hussein’s regime was threatened, he added the Islamic phrase “God is Great” to the national flag. He employed the army and chemical weapons against the Kurds, when they attempted to revolt against him. Religion and violence are the magic used to contain the anger.

Since government is responsible to guard national security, I believe it has the right to use the army if vitally necessary. But conversely, the United States should have the integrity to understand and permit this right when protests erupt and threaten the stability of other nations.

But it cannot be acceptable in any pluralistic country, and especially for the United States, to use religion as a weapon to solve its problems. It is the tool of ISIS, in their pursuit of “Islamic peace.”

The world recognizes America as a superpower, looking for it to lead the world by example. Many Americans are angry, whether demonstrating in the streets, or frustrated in their homes. Lifting the Bible is not the solution—living the Bible is.

These protests have much to teach us in the Middle East, where many governments rule by majority mindset. It can be difficult for God’s vision of justice and equality to result in full benefits of citizenship for underprivileged minorities. 

But when we witness massive crowds of white citizens protesting for the rights of blacks, it inspires us to believe that the American dream is still alive. The whole world is watching, some wishing the nation to fail. Others, like us, will find hope the US transcends its differences, and reconciles.

For our sake, then, America must be as great a democracy in times of trouble, as it is in times of peace. The Middle East also needs to breathe.

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Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: BBC, Insurance

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Much of life depends on trust. Trust is based on credibility. Credibility comes from faithfulness.

Speaking truth or demonstrating care, guard this deposit in Egypt.

The BBC published a report on widespread torture and forced disappearances. The authorities balked, saying sources are biased – and perhaps the BBC itself.

Later, a ‘disappeared’ woman appeared on TV, denying BBC’s claims. Egypt demanded an apology, suspended cooperation, and threatened to prosecute.

God, you know. Good journalism is crucial, but it is based largely on trust.

Let not the news manipulate it. Let not the government discredit it.

Where trust is abused, expose. Where mistakes are made, correct.

Further transparency, strengthen accountability.

Judge, truthful God, in this world and the next.

The government launched a program offering social insurance to temporary workers. Without regular hire or injury compensation, the certificates give guaranteed payment in case of disruption.

It appears to be a boon to the poor, an additional benefit for employers to issue. But it is also a tool for financial inclusion, strengthening banking and market analysis.

God, you know. Good insurance is crucial, but it is based largely on trust.

Let not the poor be manipulated. Let not the elite be discredited.

Where there is genuine need, assist. Where there is worthy method, employ.

Further compassion, strengthen economy.

Bless, caring God, in this world and the next.

Too many trust too few. Too many are undeserving.

But God, make—or keep—faithful the many in Egypt. Keep—or make—credible her word.

In trusting you, may she prove trustworthy.

Amen.

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Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Aya, Easter

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Easter passed peacefully, but not Egypt. Though there were no troubles on the holiday, others sandwiched.

A few days earlier Copts praying in a village were pelted with stones, as police looked on. A few days later terrorism struck at St. Catherine’s Monastery in the southern Sinai, as police responded.

One officer died, a few others were injured.

God, protect the nation. Protect her churches. Protect her people. Protect her police.

The disturbing fact in the latest incident was the reach of ISIS to the south. Cells have perpetrated terrorism in various places on the mainland, but it was believed the group had no presence save northern Sinai.

So hem them in, God, and squeeze. Aid the security forces. Grant bravery, justice, and fidelity to law.

It was law also that settled justice for Aya Hegazi, a dual Egyptian-American citizen. After three brave years in pretrial detention, the court ruled against charges filed. She and her husbanded had opened a children’s center, and were accused of exploitation.

President Trump claimed intervention, and flew her home before meeting at the White House.

God, protect the judiciary. Protect its independence. Protect civil society. Protect its people.

If Aya was innocent, how many others? In a congested legal system give all their day in court, in fidelity to the constitution. As Egypt responds to the pressures against her, help her hold to the right and the true.

So steady her institutions, God, and strengthen. Aid the social entrepreneurs. Grant creativity, license, and fidelity to law.

Whether religion, state, or society, give stability and peace. Too many make trouble. Root out, vindicate.

Amen.

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Current Events

Churches of the United Arab Emirates

Back in May I traveled to the Gulf – Persian or Arabian as per your geopolitical preference – to research the growth of Christianity among the extensive migrant population. What I learned became an article for Christianity Today: Why Christianity is Surging in the Heart of Islam.

The excerpt provided in my earlier post ended with a hook:

In Bahrain and Kuwait, Muslims can enter church compounds. In Qatar, guards allow only foreigners. Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti (the nation’s highest official of religious law) has called for all churches in the peninsula to be destroyed.

Surprising to many observers is how many of these churches there are.

Hopefully you clicked to read on. If not, the answer is that the Gulf region hosts more than 40 physical church buildings in 17 cities. Many of these host multiple congregations. All operate publicly with permission of national governments.

Alongside them are house churches, most of which operate in a legal limbo outside of formal permission but generally with the awareness of authorities who watch everything closely.

My article makes clear that religious freedom in these nations is not complete, certainly not along Western conceptions. But the existence of these buildings is remarkable in its own right. They are a concession to foreign workers, certainly. One leading church leader told me that Islam, at best, only ‘tolerates’ non-Muslims.

But let us not dismiss tolerance. Many of these buildings are not tucked away into foreign-only enclaves, eyesores to be hidden from embarrassed Muslims. No, they are downtown, in residential neighborhoods, near commercial centers … and massive. At least they are in the United Arab Emirates.

Please enjoy the pictures.

St. Andrew's Anglican Church, Abu Dhabi
St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Abu Dhabi

St. Anthony's Coptic Orthodox Church, Abu Dhabi
St. Anthony’s Coptic Orthodox Church, Abu Dhabi

The Evangelical Church of Abu Dhabi
The Evangelical Church of Abu Dhabi

Service at the Evangelical Church of Abu Dhabi
Service at the Evangelical Church of Abu Dhabi

List of Churches within the Evangelical Church of Abu Dhabi
List of Churches within the Evangelical Church of Abu Dhabi

Bibles for Sale at the Evangelical Church of Abu Dhabi
Bibles for Sale at the Evangelical Church of Abu Dhabi

Anglican Christ Church, Dubai
Anglican Christ Church, Dubai

Dubai Evangelical Church Centre
Dubai Evangelical Church Centre

Worship Hall inside Dubai Evangelical Church Centre
Worship Hall inside Dubai Evangelical Church Centre

Indian Mar Thoma Church, Dubai
Indian Mar Thoma Church, Dubai

Mar Ignatius Syrian Orthodox Church, Dubai
Mar Ignatius Syrian Orthodox Church, Dubai

The Dubai churches pictured above are in compound just for foreign worship. But it is right down the street from the famed Ibn Battuta mall. In the distance you can see the Evangelical Church, in the foreground is a Sikh Temple.
The Dubai churches pictured above are in compound just for foreign worship. But it is right down the street from the famed Ibn Battuta mall. In the distance you can see the Evangelical Church, in the foreground is a Sikh Temple.

Not all churches are in buildings. In the Gloria Hotel in Dubai is the Fellowship of the Emirates, featured in the article as an example of Christian worship that is welcome but exists in legal limbo.
Not all churches are in buildings. Inside the Gloria Hotel in Dubai is the Fellowship of the Emirates, featured in the article as an example of Christian gathering that is welcome but exists in legal limbo.

Jim Burgess, pastor of the Fellowship of the Emirates, inside the not-yet-set-up church hall.
Jim Burgess, pastor of the Fellowship of the Emirates, inside the not-yet-set-up church hall.

The article describes how the presence of all these churches is connected to the medical missions of 100 years earlier. This is Oasis Hospital in al-Ain, the tribal home of the royal family. The modern building to the right is the new hospital the royal family paid for to expand Oasis' service.
The article describes how the presence of all these churches is connected to the medical missions of 100 years earlier. This is Oasis Hospital in al-Ain, the tribal home of the royal family. The modern building to the right is the new hospital the royal family paid for to expand Oasis’ service.

Upon entering the hospital, the visitor first sees the words of Jesus from John 4:13, in English and Arabic.
Upon entering the hospital, the visitor first sees the words of Jesus from John 4:13, in English and Arabic.

Also prominently available and in every patient room is a Gospel of Luke and a copy of the Jesus Film.
Also prominently available and in every patient room is a Gospel of Luke and a copy of the Jesus Film.

The Evangelical Church of al-Ain, hosted on hospital grounds.
The Evangelical Church of al-Ain, hosted on hospital grounds.

Service at the Evangelical Church of al-Ain
Service at the Evangelical Church of al-Ain

List of Churches within the Evangelical Church of al-Ain
List of Churches within the Evangelical Church of al-Ain

The Bible Society of the Gulf, in the Evangelical Church of al-Ain. The Bible Society legally distributes over 40,000 Bibles per year throughout the Gulf, whether in small depots like this or in centers within larger Protestant and Catholic churches.
The Bible Society of the Gulf, in the Evangelical Church of al-Ain. The Bible Society legally distributes over 40,000 Bibles per year throughout the Gulf, whether in small depots like this or in centers within larger Protestant and Catholic churches.

If the images are striking, far from what you may have imagined about the Muslim lands of the Arabian Peninsula, click here to read the article again with new eyes.

One Christian leader compared the church in the Gulf to a potted plant that is being removed and planted in the ground.

Their consensus voice conveys two wishes: For the Christian, pray – and come – that it might flourish. For all, be thankful for regional leadership that is far more tolerant than you might think.

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Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Corruption and Economy

Flag Cross QuranGod,

Will Egypt be serious? Can it be? Is tackling corruption really part of the agenda?

Cries of corruption are a time-tested way to taint an opponent. Given its assumed pervasiveness they may even be true. But as the minister of agriculture falls, as does – ironically – an anti-corruption activist, help the government tackle this issue at its roots, and not just trim the low-hanging branches.

Give them both a fair hearing, God. Them, and all others.

A former Mubarak-era businessman and politician, accused of widespread corruption, is trying to return to parliament. Subject to multiple trials and jail over the past four years, the legal tussle has been intense. Decide his case rightly, God, and all like him.

Give mercy to the repentant. Give candidacy to the legal. Above all, give discernment to the electorate. Keep corruption far from the coming parliament.

For beyond politics, corruption spoils the economy. The government is feverishly working to stimulate investment, cautiously working to enact reform.

The rich and powerful can tolerate corruption; perhaps they even benefit. But its costs are felt most harshly where economic revival is most needed. For the poor and middle class, it is hard to play on an uneven field.

But real growth is dependent upon them. Studies show the Egyptian economy is woefully top heavy. Corruption trickles down far more efficiently than capital.

God, how to even begin? Give officials wisdom and uprightness. Give functionaries a living wage and a tender conscience. Give the system transparency.

Give Egypt the people and will to make it happen. May it both accompany and spur a cultural change. And beyond accusation, may it bring healing. There are degrees of guilt, God. Let justice be blind, but also be nuanced.

Cleanse the nation, God. May prosperity come, to all.

Amen.

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Current Events

Do Egyptians Support ISIS? How about the Brotherhood?

Estimates say the number of Egyptian recruits in ISIS equal 8,000, perhaps 20-30 percent of their fighting force. A report indicates ISIS is in direct communication with Sinai-based terrorist groups to train in creating cells to attack security personnel.

But while some say the ISIS mentality is present among Egyptians, especially in Upper Egypt, there has been little quantifiable data to go by.

A recent poll published by the New Republic, relying on surveying efforts by the Fikra Forum, finds only three percent of Egyptians have a favorable opinion of ISIS. By contrast, and also noteworthy, 35 percent support the Muslim Brotherhood.

A few observations: First, three percent of 90 million people is still a very large number. How might you feel if your neighbor was one of the 2.7 million?

Second, the Egyptian government purports a link between groups like ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood. Whether or not this is true operationally, on the ground there is a huge contrast. The great majority of Brotherhood supporters do not find common cause with the jihadis of Syria and Iraq.

Third, the common Western assertion is that Egypt following the coup is a polarized society divided against itself, while the common Egyptian assertion is that the country is united against the Muslim Brotherhood. This finding, if correct, undermines both claims.

If a full one-third of society rejects the political system, the claimed unity is an illusion that ignores or purposefully downplays a palpable frustration. On the other hand, if only one-third of an electorate opposes the majority political view, evidence is lent to the argument that Egypt was and still is greatly behind the June 30 revolution and the danger posed by Brotherhood leadership.

Of course, even here caution is needed. Some may have supported the removal of Morsi but still see the Muslim Brotherhood as an essentially good organization, serving society. And others may hold strong objections to the ideology of the Brotherhood yet believe they are still treated unfairly. The polling data released is not specific enough to nuance beyond the larger percentages.

But the percentages are significant even so. Egypt is mostly against the Brotherhood, and almost entirely against ISIS. The troubles lie in the many real people covered over by a minority statistic.

Important note: H.A. Hellyer, who has extensive experience in following Egyptian survey organizations and urges caution about their general reliability, does not recognize the Fikra Forum as a polling center.

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Current Events Lapido Media Middle East Published Articles

The Egyptian-Canadian Surgeon Going Home to Serve the Poor

Dr. Sherif Hanna
Dr. Sherif Hanna

From my new article in Lapido Media:

A new collaboration – in an old mission hospital – will train Egyptian surgeons to serve in rural settings.

Sixty per cent of Egyptian doctors work abroad – but a unique collaboration will fight this trend.

Incredibly perhaps, Egyptian Christian Dr Hanna Sherif is relocating from an élite life in Toronto, Canada to the small village of Menouf in the Nile Delta for the next five years, in defiance of a US State Department warning of ‘risks of travel’.

An acclaimed liver surgeon and academic, Sherif is returning to his country of birth after a forty three year absence to run a new in-country surgical training programme…

Here is a brief excerpt about what he will do, and the motivation thereof:

Harpur’s resident trainees will benefit from 10-15 visiting surgeons each year, and will spend six months of their programme in large hospitals in Kenya, Cameroon, and South Africa.

In exchange the residents will work at least one year in the handful of PAACS-accredited Christian hospitals in Egypt for every year they are financially supported.

Rural hospitals, including old mission hospitals, are often not well equipped and generally pay low salaries, said Hanna. As such they fail to attract well-trained surgeons.

In addition, Dr Amr al-Shoury, a leading figure in the ongoing partial doctors’ strike in Egypt, the government system pays abysmally poor wages to medical professionals.

He told Ahram Online this drives 60 per cent of doctors abroad.

Thompson believes maintaining the standards of care for the poor under these circumstances in the least attractive districts requires a special commitment.

‘Christian hospitals will go out of business if they cannot hire well-trained specialists that are committed to their values,’ said Thompson. ‘Ours is to honour and glorify Christ in his command to care for the sick.’

Please click here to read the full article at Lapido Media.

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Current Events

Egyptian Writer May Face Jail for Defaming Religion

From Ahram Online, telling a story that is not unusual:

Saber says those who filed the lawsuit took his words out of context, adding that he did not defame religion in his short stories.

“In my stories, the characters are wondering where God is in the face of all the grievances and evils that they face. It’s like they’re asking him to interfere; this is not in contempt of religion, it is merely posing a question,” Saber explained.

Here is an angle, though, what while also not unusual, is less known by many:

According to a statement made by a coalition of Egyptian right human rights organisations, the prosecutors undertaking the investigation consulted the church in Beni Suef as well as Al-Azhar to seek out their opinion as to whether the accusations were correct.

The church told the prosecution that the content of Saber’s literary work contradicted divine religions, ridiculed the divine, and invented stories that stray from noble and sophisticated literature.

Al-Azhar affirmed the church’s stance, stating that the work destroys intellectual values and tears apart the fabric of Egyptian society.

The church in Egypt is a very conservative institution that is not shy to seek the power of the state as a defense against encroachment on religious values. I do not know anything about the content of the book, if it targets Islam, Christianity, or religion in general. The author’s name also does not infer his religious background.

But the church would do well to review its own literature. Habbakuk the prophet does little but rail against God’s apparent inaction in the face of injustice:

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.

And his answer is simply to trust God, even when he does not ‘deliver’:

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

It is unfortunate when religious leaders ‘protect’ their flock from the very same doubts and questions that fill their scriptures. But this, also, is not an unusual story.

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Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Community Policing

Flag Cross Quran

God,

In the darkest days of the revolution, the police disappeared from the streets and neighborhoods across Egypt banded together to protect their properties. As criminals fled prisons, this spontaneous action contained the chaos and rallied the nation in support of Tahrir Square. Though many died, your grace was present, and Egypt avoided the fate of many of its neighbors. In less than three weeks, the revolution won.

Today, that opinion is deeply in question by many, even as circumstances tenuously repeat. In the two years that followed security was not restored, crime continued unabated, and political struggles began dripping into political violence. With police under attack and accused of attacking, many went on strike.

There are too many agendas at play to sort, God, but here is the recent development. The public prosecutor reminded the nation the penal code allows for citizens to make arrests under certain conditions, and Islamist groups responded by saying they would organize citizens to defend state institutions and curb crime.

God, bless the people of Egypt who will stand against crime and vandalism. Bless the Islamist leaders in their role of community organizers. Bless the prosecutor general, who reminded the people of their share in keeping the peace.

But God, so much seems wrong and manipulated. If this is a result of the media tarnishing good citizenship, then expose their discrediting campaign. May the people of Egypt take the reins of their nation, and steer it to the right path. As normal people act, God, multiply their effectiveness.

Yes, God, the police appear negligent, and fix this problem first and foremost. Wherever the will is lacking – officers or rank and file – strengthen their hand to police firmly and justly. Protect citizens, property, and institutions alike, through all official channels.

But has crime exploded exponentially in the last week? Is Egypt about to be burned to the ground? Or are Islamists flexing their muscles and seeking legitimacy as a power on the streets? Believing the conspiracy – not without evidence – that the police are against them, are they laying the groundwork for a parallel force?

This, even, amid accusations and denials they seek to infiltrate the Ministry of Interior, and amid ‘sources’ in the military harshly warning against the paragraph above.

God, may it not be. Egypt is in deep need of reform and an Islamist government presides over every institution. Grant the president wisdom to make hard and honest choices. Grant him thick skin to withstand the relentless criticism he faces no matter which way he chooses. Grant him advisors who will accurately represent the reality on the ground. Without these, God, he is lost.

May Egypt neither be lost with him, nor dependent upon him for her salvation. But protect him and use him, God, in service of the nation.

But in the end, strengthen each and every Egyptian community. In security and prosperity, grow this nation anew.

Amen.

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Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: A New Mufti

Flag Cross Quran

God,

The new realities of Egypt, buttressed by its new constitution, place religion front and center in politics and policy. This means a new and developed importance to all her religious leaders.

The newest of these is the mufti, elected for the first time by the council of senior scholars in the Azhar. The Azhar, of course, holds prominence among all sheikhs, first in history, now in law. The institution must be consulted on all matters which touch the Islamic sharia.

But the mufti also is influential. He heads Dar al-Ifta’, responsible for issuing hundreds of religious rulings each day, as Muslims inquire. These range from the mundane to the controversial; in the past, even the presidential.

As could be anticipated, God, the position was contested. A prominent Muslim Brother was a nominee, a less well-known Brother finished second. Not much is known widely about the winner, though he is suspected to be generally non-political. He may not be able to remain so much longer.

Give him wisdom, God. But give even greater wisdom to Egypt. Do you desire those who speak in your name to influence and possibly determine the path of the state? Will this bring the best scholars forward, or corrupt those who dare advance?

In light of his appointment, bless him and all others who serve you through their religious traditions. Political or otherwise, they help shape the worldview and ethics of many in Egypt.

For the pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church, guide his stewardship of Egypt’s Christians. Give him wisdom to spiritually guide his community amid the many challenges Egypt faces. Give him discernment for when his guidance must also be political – or if it should never be. May he be a man of peace and unity; bless him especially among his family of bishops. Help them to encourage their flock toward humility, grace, and love.

For Egyptian Christian priests and pastors of other denominations, encourage them in their particulars while remaining organic with the whole. May they honor and respect the Orthodox, even as they present alternatives. May their interactions mutually benefit the spirituality of all communities.

For the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar, the Grand Mufti, and local imams within their oversight, grant them understanding of the changing nature of Egypt. May they lead their faithful in piety and prayer. May they study their sources to encourage right conduct toward state and society. May they present a vision of Islam that corresponds with your desire. Bless them and aid them in enriching the fabric of Muslim and interreligious relations.

For the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi sheikhs that have emerged politically, honor their insistence that values of religion belong in the public square. Guide them in their interactions with those who define this differently, that consensus and respect might result. Bless their efforts to encourage Egyptians to be upright, faithful, and God-fearing. May they nurture a renaissance that blesses all.

God, may all the above know your will for themselves and their communities. Endow Egypt with the virtue of faith; spare her the vice of fanaticism.

Help Egyptians to know the difference, to know you, and to know what you require of them – in this world and the next.

Amen.

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Current Events

Egyptian Jeans under the Patronage of the Muslim Brotherhood

From Ahram Online, discussing Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZ) with Israel:

On 9 December, 2004, a report that was published on the Muslim Brotherhood’s website Ikhwan Online titled: “Muslim Brotherhood MPs: QIZ threatens Egypt’s security”, said the Brotherhood parliament bloc warned against the risks of the QIZ agreement that was then due to be signed within days.

The site reported that according to MP questionings and interpellations, “the agreement is a serious threat to national security because it is the first economic and industrial agreement with the Zionist enemy.”

At the time, Brotherhood parliamentarian Hamdi Hassan, said in an interpellation, that the agreement “achieved all that the enemy has sought for decades: controlling the region economically through interfering in the Egyptian economy after it controlled it politically in the wake of the Camp David agreement.”Hassan concluded by saying “you cannot make peace, promises or QIZ with Zionists”.

Earlier the article gives the detail:

On 9 September 2012, in an interview with economic news agency Bloomberg, Qandil [Egyptian prime minister, appointed by Morsi] said that Egypt will meet its commitment to the agreement which opens up the US market for Egyptian products if they have a 10.5 per cent Israeli component of added value (which Morsi’s Egypt wants to reduce to eight per cent).

Qandil also said that “a lot of people  are making good business out of that:  we want to make sure we do the right thing for them to flourish.”

Earlier Ahram Online reported the program was not only continuing, but expanding to new governorates. The current articles provides many figures to describe the economic impact is limited.

I have no idea if these Qualified Industrial Zones are a good idea or not. If one desires normalization with Israel, which it seems most Egyptians do not, the idea of integrating business opportunities seems like a good way to begin.

But with this current expansion, was previous MB opposition principled or rabble-rousing? Is their current support principled or kowtowing to US demands? Politics, politics, with religion added to stir the pot.

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