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Terrorist Attack on Congolese Church Prompts Plea for Christian Advocacy

Image: Zanem Nety Zaidi / Xinhua / Getty Images
The aftermath of an ADF terrorist attack at a Pentecostal church in Kasindi, DRC

Congolese Christians are calling out for help.

In the latest attack on civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a terrorist bombing killed 14 people and wounded 63 others during a baptism service at a Pentecostal church in Kasindi. Located in the mountainous North Kivu province bordering Uganda, the northeast region has already been under an official “state of siege,” similar to a state of emergency, since 2021.

“The Eastern Congo has become a theater of violent extremism,” said Eale Bosela, regional director for the Association for Christian Theological Education in Africa. “People are being massacred like animals.”

The bomb attack was blamed on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an affiliate of the Islamic State Central African Province, which claimed responsibility. Originally formed in 1995 as a mix of jihadist and insurgent rebels, it is one of over 120 armed groups in North Kivu.

Many Congolese were confused—and troubled.

“How can such a situation happen,” stated Kiza Kivua, a 50-year-old farmer who lost his brother in the attack, “when Kasindi is full of soldiers?”

With an estimated 500 or more fighters, the ADF was once motivated primarily by its opposition to Yoweri Museveni, president of Uganda since 1986. Pushed across the border, the militant group now has a majority Congolese membership with many foreign recruits.

A Kenyan national was arrested by the DRC for the church bombing.

“Like so many other groups, the ADF has found refuge in the region,” said Scott Morgan, chair of the Africa Working Group of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable. “But now they have taken on the mantra of attacking Christians.”

They are not the only ones. Other militant groups…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on January 18, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christmas Epiphanies from the Ruins of Ukraine

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In advance of Putin’s unilateral declaration of a 36-hour truce over Orthodox Christmas today, Ukrainian seminary leaders shared their reflections on the impact of ten months of unabated conflict.

“War is exhausting—but this exhaustion does not happen overnight,” wrote Roman Soloviy, director of the Eastern European Institute of Theology. “Nevertheless, our mission continues.”

Reviewing his own emotional response since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Soloviy cited the impossible choices forced upon his nation: Save your family or your neighbors? Flee the country or stay and help?

He could not read, listen to music, or watch movies for many months.

The stress only surged as reports proliferated about atrocities, complicated by the frustration that Ukrainian churches could not help everyone. Decisions needed to be made in darkness, while seeking to balance one’s own psychological health.

A Kherson seminary, Tavriski Christian Institute (TCI), was occupied by Russian forces in March and liberated in November. President Valentin Siniy recounted the grim chronology:

January: Talks about the war. Doubts about invasion.
February: Team. Responsibility. Daily Zoom calls to pray.
March: Massacre. Inhumanity. Generosity: flour, sugar, potatoes, seeds.
April–May: Russians want to reconcile, without repentance. Families separated.
June–July: Marriages. Fragility of life. Losses. Divorces.
August: TCI shelled. Books trashed. Valuables looted. Vandalism.
September: New location. Big enrollment.
October: Infrastructure destroyed. Nation freezing. Unity. Mutual assistance.
November: Liberation. Joy. First trip home. Ruined city.

For his December entry, Siniy wrote: “Christmas is the coming of God into a mean world to mean people. We pray that the Lord will show us how and where to serve.”

Oleksandr Geychenko, meanwhile, chose a different theme for the holiday. Yet it fit perfectly with Siniy’s October observations.

“This year’s Christmas for me is closely associated with the metaphor of light,” wrote the president of Odessa Theological Seminary. “Perhaps, this is my reaction to the uncertain power supply.”

Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) first suggested the holiday truce, while 1,000 US-based faith leaders called for Ukraine to honor it. Nonetheless there has been exchange of shelling along the front lines, and many Ukrainians dismissed Putin’s initiative as a cynical ploy to buy time for his retreating troops. (Foreign analysts instead saw a PR bid for Russian Christian backing.)

But despite the battlefield losses, last month Russia specifically targeted Ukraine’s electrical grid, repeatedly plunging cities and civilians into darkness and cold.

Geychenko had taken his electricity for granted. Now, he sees a spiritual connection. “The light that comes from Jesus not only shines into human darkness,” he wrote, “it also…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on January 7, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.

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Afghan Christians Are Very Online

Image: Courtesy of SAT-7

Since the fall of Afghanistan in August 2021, it has been nearly impossible for Afghan Christians to find fellowship.

Not that it was easy before.

“There was no local church where I could explore my questions about God,” said Parwin Hosseini, now living in Turkey. “But once I found answers abroad, I accepted Jesus.”

Her last name has been changed for security reasons, to protect her visa status.

A university graduate from Mazar-i-Sharif, Hosseini left her home country in 2019 and, unlike most local Afghans, is not a refugee. She fled her uncle’s arrangement of her marriage to a man nearly twice her age and obtained residency pursuing a master’s degree in economics. In Istanbul, a Turkish pastor gave her a Bible in Dari, her native language, and introduced her to an Afghan church when she moved to Ankara.

She had heard of the Good Book before. Today, she facilitates its study.

“I want to help evangelize women,” said Hosseini, coordinator for the nascent Afghan Bible College (ABC), “and then equip them for ministry.”

Begun in 2020 by a Korean missionary in Turkey, ABC is an online college with some in-person training. With ten affiliated lecturers, including three with PhDs, it aims to prepare leaders for the next generation of Afghan Christians—estimated to number up to 12,000 before last year’s takeover of their homeland by the Taliban.

No one knows how many remain in Afghanistan—but 12 are ABC students.

Many other Christians joined the national exodus sparked by the US military’s sudden withdrawal. Of the nations welcoming displaced Afghans, southern neighbor Pakistan tops the list, hosting more than 1.5 million Afghan refugees and asylum seekers (and 8 of ABC’s students). Neighboring Iran to the west and Germany follow (with 3 students each), while Turkey hosts 140,000 displaced Afghans (and 20 students). Out of ABC’s 50 students spanning five nations, Hosseini gets to be a mentor to its 15 women. And with the Taliban’s late-December suspension of college education for female students, her cadre is…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on January 4, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.

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Armenian Christians Endure Christmas Blockade in Artsakh

Image: Photo by Davit Ghahramanyan / AFP / Getty Images

There are no oranges in Artsakh for Christmas.

Celebrated on January 6 according to the local Orthodox calendar, holiday festivities will be curtailed this year in the disputed Caucasus enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Demonstrations by reported environmental activists from Azerbaijan have closed the one road connecting the mountainous territory to Armenia, and Russian peacekeeping forces have failed to intervene.

Over 100,000 Armenians depend on daily imports of 400 tons of food and medicine to the enclave they call Artsakh. With the blockade of the Lachin corridor now in its third week, local officials are warning of a humanitarian disaster as they implement price controls and ration remaining goods.

But the Christmas tree is lit in the central square of the capital, Stepanakert.

“People will carry on with the traditions as best they can,” said Aren Deyirmenjian, country representative for the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA). “But we will reflect the love of a God who stays by your side, even when all goes wrong.”

During a 44-day war with 6,500 casualties in 2020, Azerbaijan recaptured three-quarters of its internationally recognized sovereign territory, before Russia engineered a ceasefire. The indigenous Armenian inhabitants controlled the enclave for the previous 30 years, claiming the right of self-determination in an unrecognized 1991 independence referendum.

Following its defeat two years ago, Armenia pursued peace treaties with neighboring Azerbaijan and Turkey, which had backed their Turkic kin with decisive drone technology. But these were interrupted by further clashes, in which Azerbaijan seized further territory in Nagorno-Karabakh and even along Armenia’s border.

And beginning December 12, Azerbaijani activists set up camp to protest alleged illegal gold and copper mining, exported through Lachin back to Armenia. Terms of the armistice left Russian peacekeepers in charge of the road, with no Azerbaijani oversight.

“We can stay here for months,” stated one demonstrator.

Local residents have reported shortages, with no fruit in Artsakh’s markets—part of the traditional Christmas Eve feast alongside fish, rice pilaf, and raisins. More critically, hospital patients lack essential medicines, with only a handful allowed transfer to facilities in Armenia proper. Gas supplies were cut for three days in the winter cold. And about 1,000 residents were stranded in the border town of Goris—including 18 members of a children’s choir which had performed in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan.

Azerbaijan has denied it is imposing a blockade. Officials have said that anyone will be allowed travel through the Lachin corridor, upon prior permission and submission to local inspection. If none pass through, they blame the Russians and Armenians.

So far, only the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has gained access to Nagorno-Karabakh. Deyirmenjian said the Armenian social affairs ministry contacted the AMAA to participate in the ICRC 10-ton aid delivery, adding 220 pounds of infant formula to the first effort, and 1,100 pounds of rice alongside two tons of sugar in the second.

Upon arrival, the AMAA center in Stepanakert, located near the only Armenian Evangelical church in the enclave, coordinated distribution in the neighborhood, including its 125 members.

So far, local morale is high.

“Our office manger told me: ‘We are happy we are on this side of the blockade,’” Deyirmenjian said. “It gave me chills.” Garegin Hambardzumyan concurs. A priest in the Armenian Apostolic church, he heads the Oriental Orthodox denomination’s Department for the Preservation of Cultural and Spiritual Values of Artsakh. Generations of Armenians have lived in the rugged, mountainous land for a thousand years, he said. They will not be…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on January 4, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.

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Will Ukraine’s Threatened Ban on Russia-Linked Churches Violate Religious Freedom?

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Ukraine, a bastion of religious freedom, is moving to possibly outlaw a church.

President Volodymyr Zelensky began the month by endorsing a draft law to “make it impossible” for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), canonically linked to Moscow, to operate. His December 1 decree followed raids on several monasteries under the UOC’s jurisdiction.

Security services searched over 350 buildings and investigated 850 people.

“We will ensure complete independence for our state. In particular, spiritual independence,” stated Zelensky. “We will never allow anyone to build an empire inside the Ukrainian soul.”

The reaction from Russia was swift—but also illustrated the issue.

“The current Ukrainian authorities have openly become enemies of Christ and the Orthodox faith,” stated Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, however, was more specific, accusing Ukraine of “waging a war on the Russian Orthodox Church” (ROC).

His comment prompted a UOC spokesman to assert his church is not Russian.

The raids—centered on the 11th-century Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra complex, known as the Monastery of the Caves—uncovered large amounts of cash, “dubious” Russian citizens, and leaflets calling on people to join the Russian army, according to Ukrainian authorities. Other material cited as evidence included prayer texts of ROC patriarch Kirill and a video of hymn singing that celebrated Russia’s “awakening.”

Kirill has publicly blessed Russia’s invasion of its neighboring nation, even promising forgiveness of sin to soldiers who die in the war. Security services also described finding UOC priests in possession of literature denying Ukraine’s right to exist and contacting Russian intelligence agents.

Sanctions were announced on at least 10 UOC members, including the governor of Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, a UNESCO heritage site. Another, the archbishop of the Kirovohrad diocese, was accused of subversive activities.

Zelensky stated the government would examine the Lavra’s jurisdiction.

Since then, sanctions have followed on seven additional members, while the UOC stated that local authorities have issued over 70 orders to ban its activities.

In 2019, the newer Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) was formed from a merger of two breakaway jurisdictions from the ROC, after which it was declared an autocephalous (independent) body by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople.

The new church was rejected by Moscow and accepted by Greece and other national churches, while some in the Orthodox world stayed neutral. The UOC, meanwhile, continued under the leadership of the Moscow patriarchate.

Russia’s invasion in February 2022, however, placed the UOC in a bind. Although it is the largest church in Ukraine with about 12,000 parishes, polls indicate it now receives the support of only 4 percent of the population. As a further sign of its decline in favor, only 13 percent of Ukrainian citizens of Russian ethnicity support the church.

In May, Metropolitan Onufriy, head of the UOC, declared its parishes were no longer subordinate to the ROC, though he maintained Eucharistic communion with Moscow. By then, 387 parishes had already transferred allegiance to the OCU.

Onufriy has consistently spoken out against the war, and last month he deposed three top bishops, two of whom fled to Russia. And following the raids he declared support to UOC chaplains in the Ukrainian army, while the Holy Synod—speaking from the Lavra—reiterated that the church “consistently stands for the preservation of the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

After the draft law’s disclosure this month, Ukraine dismissed Elena Bogdan, state official for ethnopolitics and freedom of conscience, reportedly for her opposition to banning the UOC. She had previously confirmed Onufriy’s statement that the church was no longer governed by the ROC.

Zelensky’s decree tasked her office with the determination of UOC’s continuing ties with the Moscow Patriarchate. “Increasingly as the war grinds on and winter advances, the weaponization of religion will continue,” said Catherine Wanner, professor of history, anthropology, and religious studies at Penn State University. “All of these dynamics conspire to clamp down on…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on December 21, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.

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Muslims Love Russian Christmas. Eurasia’s Evangelicals Do Too.

Image: VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO / AFP / Getty Images

Kris Kringle should be in Kyrgyzstan.

If he is efficient, that is. The Central Asian nation, according to a 2007 study by Swedish consultants, is the geographic center best situated for his annual toy delivery campaign.

Regional evangelicals welcome his advent.

With Kyrgyzstan’s snowfall and freezing temperatures from November to April, Old Saint Nick would feel right at home in the mountainous peaks that raise the country’s average elevation to 9,000 feet. But whatever the religion of his army of elves, Father Christmas would have to adjust to Islamic customs in the valleys below.

Quick to seize on the marketing opportunity, the 90 percent Muslim-majority nation declared 2008 as “The Year of Santa Claus.”

There was eventual pushback—though seemingly confused in terms of the calendar. Frustrated with the non-Islamic revelry, in 2012 the Kyrgyz Muslims’ Religious Administration (KMRA) issued a fatwa forbidding New Year’s celebrations.

Not Christmas. Not even Xmas. The birth of Jesus reamins an official holiday.

But it is observed on January 7, not December 25. Nearly half of the nation’s 7 percent Christian population is Russian Orthodox and follows the Eastern almanac. And since Kyrgyzstan’s independence in 1991, the government has honored its primary religious minority with few Muslim objections.

New Year’s Day celebrations on January 1, however, are a holdover from the Soviet era. The atheistic communists banned Christmas in 1917 but in 1935 reconstituted it as a secular holiday, celebrated one week earlier. No baby Jesus, but no Santa Claus either.

The Russians instead promoted a vague ethereal figure named Ded Moroz, which translates as “Grandfather Frost.” And they kept the trappings of tree decorations, gift giving, and family gatherings. With Islam suppressed as well as Christianity, over time the Muslim peoples of the USSR adjusted to the imposed culture.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Islamic authorities in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—as well as Azerbaijan on the western bank of the Caspian Sea—largely left New Year’s alone. Nominal Muslims shared in the festivities, including the sharia-forbidden consumption of alcohol.

It was Santa Claus that offended the KMRA—or rather, the modern, globalized excess of consumerism. Declaring the holiday un-Islamic, the administration asked the faithful to avoid celebrations altogether and instead give to the poor the substantial sums they would have spent on frivolities.

The fatwa found resonance, but not enough to dent the market.

“January 7 is the religious holiday, but the ‘real’ celebrations of Christmas come from the West,” said Ruslan Zagidulin, a lecturer in missiology at United Theological Seminary in the capital city of Bishkek. “But these have nothing to do with Jesus.”

Not that such celebrations are unwelcome. While there is no set custom for the meal, many families welcome the New Year with the national dish beshmarbek, a noodle soup with meat. Others enjoy boiled mutton or horse meat, served in dishes with sour cream or yogurt.

Following a speech by the president, fireworks go off in Bishkek’s Ala-Too Square—and on countless balconies across the country. Children await the visit of Ayaz Ata, the Kyrgyz name for Ded Moroz, and his beautiful granddaughter Snegurochka, known as Kar Kiz, meaning “Snow Maiden.” But where the Soviets merged religious heritage into a secular New Year’s celebration, freedom…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on December 20, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.

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Ukraine Celebrates Christmas Twice. Now Its Orthodox Christians Can Too.

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Thanks to Russia, Ukrainian Orthodox Christians may now partake in a Christmas feast on December 25.

The joyous, 12-dish celebration has been their timeless practice—on January 7, according to Eastern tradition. But this year, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) has permitted its clergy to conduct religious services on the same date as Western tradition, granting a one-day exemption to the 40-day Nativity Fast.

Beginning after the feast day of St. Philip, observed by Ukrainian Orthodox on November 28, the faithful abstain from alcohol and most meat products until the first star appears on Christmas Eve, January 6. But with millions of refugees in Europe witnessing the revelry of fellow Christians in the West, the OCU decided to permit Ukrainians everywhere to decide parish by parish which date they would honor.

Liturgical reform has long been on the agenda, but war was the spark.

“For most bishops of the church, the calendar is not a dogmatic issue of faith,” said Archbishop Fedir, head of the youth department of the OCU. “Especially after the full-scale aggression of Russia, there is a desire to become part of the Western family of churches.”

Ukraine had already established December 25 as an additional official Christmas holiday in 2017, joining Belarus, Eritrea, Lebanon, and Moldova as nations that formally celebrate the birth of Christ twice.

But altering the calendar disrupts the entire church cycle. Saints’ days, sermons, and gospel readings are all impacted, with scholars engaged in response. The Holy Synod decision tasks priests with gauging the sentiment of parishioners and bishops with conducting follow-up research. Many believers love their traditions, Fedir said, and the hierarchy is wise to proceed cautiously.

The archbishop is responsible for the diocese of Poltava, 220 miles southeast of Kyiv, where one newly established congregation of young people has decided to switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar altogether, with his blessing. With blanket permission granted, he does not yet have a tally of how many parishes will join them—nor does the OCU’s Holy Synod.

But within her circle of Ukrainian friends, Nadiyka Gerbish finds none opposed.

“I expected it to happen, and wanted it to happen long ago,” said the author of A Ukrainian Christmas, updated and rereleased last month. “They want a solid line between them and the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC).” Gerbish, a member of Hosanna Evangelical Church in Zbarazh, a small town 250 miles west of Kyiv, condemned the support ROC patriarch Kirill has given to the invasion. And religiously, she sees the decision as part of a long-standing battle over…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on December 20, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.

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Finding Common Ground in a Big Fish

Image: Tim Peacock

Twenty miles south of Beirut is a sandy beach called Jiyeh. It’s a rare interlude in Lebanon’s rocky coastline, and if you were out in the Mediterranean, crying for deliverance as currents swirled about you, waves and breakers sweeping over you, this is where you’d want God to command a fish to vomit you onto dry land.

And this is, in fact, the spot where ancient legend says that the Hebrew prophet Jonah was delivered safely to shore.

Jonah has long been honored here. Mosaics found in the ruins of a 1,500-year-old Byzantine church show the prophet who tried to run away from his mission to Nineveh getting turned around by a large fish. And today there is a Muslim mosque on the site with a shrine to Jonah.

The Hebrew story of the reluctant prophet is beloved not only by Christians but also by those who hold the Qur’an to be the final revelation of God. And chiseled on the shrine is the verse that he prayed from the belly of the fish, which Muhammad urged Muslims to recite when in trouble.

“The most common prayer of Muslims during times of crisis is the prayer of Jonah,” Emad Botros, professor of Old Testament at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, told CT. “We share a heritage with Muslims. And what is better to share than stories?”

Botros is one of a few scholars turning to Jonah as a site of common interest connecting Christians and Muslims. He has written a book, Jonah: Bible Commentaries from Muslim Contexts, the second volume in a series on reading the Bible in the context of Islam. He thinks the story of the prophet—along with other shared stories—can help start a conversation across the faiths.

“The prophets of old were the heroes of Muhammad,” Botros said. “Knowing his reflections helps us communicate our biblical stories more effectively.” The Qur’an’s account of Jonah—which Muslims believe was divinely revealed through the archangel Gabriel—is different from the version in the Hebrew Bible. In the Muslim version, the city he’s going to is…

This article was originally published in the December print edition of Christianity Today. Please click here to read the full text.

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US Commission ‘Outraged’ By Omitted Offenders of Religious Freedom

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The United States has expanded its list of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom.

Two new nations—Cuba and Nicaragua—were added on Friday to the State Department’s list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC). Two others—Vietnam and the Central African Republic (CAR)—were added to its Special Watch List (SWL). And one new organization was added to its list of Entities of Particular Concern (EPC): Russia’s mercenary Wagner group, due to its cited offenses in CAR.

“Around the world, governments and non-state actors harass, threaten, jail, and even kill individuals on account of their beliefs,” stated Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State. “The United States will not stand by in the face of these abuses.”

His own watchdog, however, is unconvinced.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) tweeted its “outrage” over the non-inclusion of Nigeria and India. It is “inexplicable,” the independent bipartisan organization continued, given the State Department’s own reporting.

In June, Blinken released the US government’s annual Report on International Religious Freedom. Mandated by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), the report chronicles violations in every nation of the world, whether by governmental or societal actors, measuring also the local legal frameworks.

The sections on Nigeria and India were particularly lengthy.

“They each clearly meet the legal standards for designation,” stated Nury Turkel, USCIRF chair. “USCIRF is tremendously disappointed that the Secretary of State did not … recognize the severity of the religious freedom violations.” This past year, USCIRF issued…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on December 5, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.

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Ukraine’s Prison Fellowship Extended to Russian POWs

Image: Courtesy of Prison Fellowship Ukraine

Vyacheslav Kogut was so angry he could spit.

The Russian invasion once again drew him out of his normal ministry as executive director of Prison Fellowship Ukraine (PFU) and into relief work. The military counterattack had just liberated another village on the eastern front, where several civilians had been shot.

The source of his ire, however, was his summons back to prison.

“We have Russian prisoners of war who need clothing,” informed the warden.

“I’ll bring them skirts and dresses,” Kogut shot back, grumbling.

Internally seething at having to leave his injured compatriots, he then remembered his Bible: If your enemy is hungry, feed him—as well as, I needed clothes, and you clothed me.

He went into the storehouse that collected goods for displaced Ukrainians and took the best of its donated items. Security guards at the prison were amazed at the quality. And in addition to the regular food and supplies they offer to Russian POWs in ongoing weekly visits, his team now adds candy and sweets.

“It is a way to show many people, besides these prisoners, that God is love,” said Kogut. “And when they go back to Russia, they can never again return with guns and hatred.”

Affiliated with the international network of the Chuck Colson–founded ministry, PFU began work in Ukraine in 2002. The nation is home to a prison population of 48,000 in 85 still-surviving jails, and Kogut says his team ministers in all of them.

It was not always so. Despite its ecumenical approach from the beginning, PFU’s evangelical orientation worried some prison officials. But consistent ministry to inmates and guards alike won favor, as did the scope of entertainment options presented.

Soccer teams visited from Brazil, Eurovision stars put on performances, and—dearer to the hearts of the prisoners—summer camps were held to care for their children.

And in 2008, PFU began teaching courses on chaplaincy, receiving certificates from the central government to enter any prison in Ukraine. Within two years, Kogut said, the prejudice was overcome.

“Our mission is dependent on unity,” said Constantin Panteley, PFU secretary and a priest in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. “We only bring misunderstanding about Christianity if we are divided.”

Many prisons now have separate chapels for Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant services. But inmates often are a product of Soviet irreligion and have only nominal attachment to a denomination. Panteley has seen many converted, who then choose their favored service.

“We will win this war because of our unity of differences,” he said, drawing contrast to the persecution meted out to non-Orthodox in occupied areas of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. “Unlike Russia, we appreciate freedom.”

For instance, a priest may serve as a substitute if a Pentecostal pastor is not available to minister to an inmate. Even clergy from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which did not cut ties with Moscow until May this year, have stepped in when needed. Their cooperation survived the damage from the 2014 Russian-backed separatist movement in Donbas and the annexation of Crimea.

The strife, however, severed 20 percent of Ukraine’s prisons from the central government. But even in the contested region, PFU maintained connections with prisoners. Some hid cell phones to continue counseling. Sympathetic local citizens secretly delivered Bibles.

It all came to a halt with the Russian invasion. “The war resulted in a severe breakdown of the supply chain for food and medicine into prisons,” said James Ackerman, president of Prison Fellowship USA. “And as you might imagine, prisons…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on November 14, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.

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Wiser than Solomon: Can Evangelicals Lead the Middle East Toward Creation Care?

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“Wisdom,” said Jesus, “is proved right by all her children” (Luke 7:35). But sometimes it takes generations to judge, as demonstrated by a new research study that threatens to tarnish the reputation of a legendary biblical paragon.

According to archaeologists at Tel Aviv University, King Solomon disregarded the environment.

Today, his spiritual descendants largely follow in his footsteps.

“We have so many working in evangelism, church planting, and leadership development,” said Michael El Daba, the Lausanne Movement’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). “Almost no one is working in creation care.”

Evangelicals are not alone. According to a 2021 report by the Institute for Economics and Peace, the MENA region demonstrated the least concern for climate change, including 10 of the 20 lowest-scoring nations. Only 18 percent of those surveyed in Egypt, for example, recognized it as a “very serious threat”—even as it exacerbates food insecurity.

Arab Barometer, a regional pollster, found that 68 percent of Egyptians reported running out of food before being able to get more. In half of the other MENA countries surveyed, majorities stated the same. And in 9 out of 10, majorities worried it might happen to them.

Temperatures in the region are rising twice as fast as the rest of the world, according to a study published last June in the Reviews of Geophysics. At current rates, Egypt will be nine degrees hotter by the end of the century. Iraq has already increased three degrees in the last 30 years.

Some of the damage is self-induced. The study identifies MENA as a “dominant emitter” of greenhouse gases, overtaking Europe and India. Resource extraction—as necessary as the hydrocarbons are for national economies and modern society—comes with a cost.

Just as it did with King Solomon’s mines.

Although his mines are not specifically mentioned in the Bible, copper is known to have been extracted from the Timna Valley, north of the Gulf of Aqaba in ancient Edom, a region conquered by his father David. Solomon used the minerals in the construction of the temple.

Over 4,000 acacia trees and 185,000 white broom bushes were cut down to smelt the copper, according to charcoal evidence located by the Tel Aviv researchers and published in the Scientific Reports journal. Their removal “irreversibly affected” the soil’s ability to retain moisture, sparking the desertification that continues today.

Some researchers question the association with Solomon, but contemporary abuses ensure the region grows only drier. To the north, the Jordan River’s historic discharge of 1.3 billion cubic meters of water into the Dead Sea has been reduced to as low as 20 million, according to a 2013 UN study.

A joint Israeli-Jordanian project to lessen pumping in favor of desalination aims to increase flow by up to 40 million cubic meters, but the region suffers everywhere. According to the World Resources Institute, MENA is home to 12 of the 17 most water-stressed nations in the world—and again, some of the harm is self-inflicted.

According to the World Bank, only 18 percent of wastewater in the region is reused.

“Preserving water is fundamental,” said Georges El Copti, pastor of St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Amman, Jordan. “We are part of creation, and we have to care for it.”

Copti was interviewed last month as part of the Middle East Council of Churches’ effort to promote the international “Season of Creation,” sponsored in part by the Lausanne/World Evangelical Alliance Creation Care Network (LWCCN). He spoke not only of the importance of raising awareness but also about the rainwater harvesting project at his church.

Collecting even the minimal yearly rainfall in the desert kingdom can supply 30 percent of a household’s annual water need, stated the Jordanian Ministry for Water and Irrigation. Copti’s efforts are contributing to his congregation becoming an “Eco church,” a recognition awarded by A Rocha International, an evangelical environmental organization active in 20 countries.

Since its beginning in the United Kingdom, A Rocha has led thousands of churches to commit to embedding creation care into their preaching, worship, and facility management. Spinoffs are developing in France, Ghana, New Zealand, and Switzerland—though not yet in the Middle East.

“Matter reveals God,” said Dave Bookless, director of theology at A Rocha International. “If we destroy nature, we are ruining opportunities for evangelism.”

Bookless, also a creation care catalyst for LWCCN, spoke last month in Jordan, concluding a 12-region tour to promote the Lausanne Congress conviction, ratified in 2010, that “creation care is a gospel issue within the Lordship of Christ.” The message has been…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on November 14, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.

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Pope Francis in Bahrain: A Royal Reminder of Religious ‘Freedom of Choice’

Image: Loredana Mantello / Getty Images

After greeting Pope Francis last week with a red carpet, a 21-gun salute, and a contingent of horses to accompany his humble vehicle, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa highlighted one document to characterize his realm:

The 2017 Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration.

“[Bahrain is] a cradle of mutual coexistence between followers of different faiths,” he said, “where everyone enjoys, under our protection after that of God Almighty, the freedom to perform their rituals and establish their places of worship, in an atmosphere of familiarity, harmony, and mutual understanding.”

With Bahraini flags flying side by side with the Vatican banner, Francis was profuse in his praise. Enduring severe knee pain, he noted the country’s centuries-old “Tree of Life,” a 32-foot acacia that somehow survives in the Arabian desert.

Bahrain honors its roots.

“One thing stands out in the history of this land: It has always been a place of encounter between different peoples,” said Francis. “This is in fact the life-giving water from which, today too, Bahrain’s roots continue to be nourished.”

In the island nation the size of New York City, flanked on either side by Iran and Saudi Arabia, from November 3–6 the pope visited its 160,000 Catholic migrants—primarily from the Philippines and India—living among a population of 1.5 million, evenly divided between foreign workers and citizens.

From 111 nationalities, 30,000 gathered this past Saturday at the national stadium for Mass.

Bahrain is a Sunni Muslim monarchy ruling over a narrow majority of Shiites. Christians comprise 10–14 percent of the population, with up to 1,000 Christian citizens originally from Iraq, Palestine, and Jordan who were present at the time of independence. Alongside a 200-year-old Hindu temple, a renovated synagogue hosts prayer for Bahrain’s few dozen Jewish citizens.

But beside pastoral responsibilities, Francis came prepared to preach.

At the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence, his message was a near homily on the 2017 declaration. Addressing over 200 religious leaders from the Gulf, he urged their leadership and introspection. “It is not enough to grant permits and recognize freedom of worship,” Francis said. “It is necessary to…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on November 11, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.

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Africa Christianity Today Published Articles

Ethiopia-Tigray Peace Agreement Contains Biblical Mandate

Image: Phill Magakoe / AFP / Getty Images

The Ethiopian war in Tigray is over.

On November 2, federal forces and rebel authorities agreed on a “cessation of hostilities,” ending a conflict believed to have killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions. All sides committed abuses, as documented by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and other international observers.

“No one has been clean in this war,” said Desta Heliso, a visiting lecturer at the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology. “As Christians, we have to feel sorry about this.”

The peace agreement, however, provides for a biblical mandate.

Most negotiations concerned military realities. The two-year conflict in the Horn of Africa nation’s northernmost region—home to 7 million of Ethiopia’s 120 million people—vacillated in advantage between the two sides and between hostilities and humanitarian truce.

The United Nations stated 5.2 million Tigrayans need assistance.

But as federal forces pressed deeper into Tigray, peace talks sponsored by the African Union (AU) in South Africa concluded with an agreement for complete disarmament of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) within 30 days. National troops may enter the regional capital of Mekele; assume control of all borders, highways, and airports; and expedite humanitarian aid.

Both sides agree to cease defamation campaigns, and the central government will ensure restoration of communication, transportation networks, and banking services.

But long-term peace may depend on the outcome of a minor clause included among the 15 measures. The federal government agrees to conduct a “comprehensive transitional justice policy” consistent with the AU framework.

Ethiopia will be the first experiment in implementation.

“The possibility for reconciliation is there,” said Heliso, who was formerly vice president of the Kale Heywet Church, one of Ethiopia’s largest evangelical denominations. “But some claims for justice will have to be given up for peace, painful as it might be.”

That may not be necessary. Adopted in 2019, the African Union’s 2019 Transitional Justice Policy (AUTJP) goes beyond criminal accountability—while ensuring impartial investigation—to set up measurable standards for…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on November 11, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Europe Published Articles Religious Freedom

Interview: The Growing British Concern for Religious Freedom for All

Image: Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

The American government has long committed itself to supporting religious freedom worldwide.

In 1998, the International Religious Freedom Act obliged the State Department to compile an annual report and designate offending nations as Countries of Particular Concern. It established an ambassador-at-large, created an independent bipartisan commission, and placed a special advisor on the National Security Council.

What about the British? Three years ago, the UK government asked itself the same question.

The answer was delivered by Philip Mounstephen, the Anglican bishop of Truro, within the province of Canterbury. The UK’s foreign secretary tasked him specifically to study persecution of Christians, and the 22 recommendations of the Truro Report were accepted in full by the government.

That does not mean they were all implemented.

This past summer, an independent review found good progress, with five points suffering “constraints” and only three with “no substantial action.” As it was released, London hosted the third in-person ministerial which gathered governments and civil society around the cause, following two ministerials hosted in Washington and an online-only one hosted by Poland amid the pandemic. (The UK event used the European nomenclature of “freedom of religion or belief” (FORB) instead of the Americans’ “international religious freedom” (IRF).)

Last month, Mounstephen visited Lebanon to deliver a lecture entitled “Why Our Religious Freedom Matters.” Hosted by the Middle East Council of Churches, the Bible Society, and Saint Joseph University, he presented an outline of Truro Report findings, broadened to include the persecuted of all religious traditions.

CT spoke with the bishop about his government’s commitment to the cause, whether Americans help or hurt, and how to overcome the younger generation’s rejection of Christian advocacy as an expression of white privilege and neo-colonialism:

CT: Our readers know that within the Anglican church there is a spectrum of evangelical and mainline faith, to use the American terms. How do you fit in?

Mounstephen: One of my roles is to be a pastor to the whole of the diocese. I can’t pick and choose and have favorites. But in British terms, I would be defined as an “open evangelical.” I believe in the authority of Scripture, in the finished and all-sufficient work of Christ on the cross, and the glorious grace of God that brings life to the dead.

And you have lived it out in your institutional service.

I was chief executive of Church Mission Society, which was an amazing opportunity to go to some of the most out-of-the-way parts of the world and see the people of God ministering with such love and care and commitment to people often very much on the margins. That was such a huge privilege.

You are a bishop, but you also have a role in global advocacy.

Yes. And I had no expectation when I took it on that it would be so. Before I officially started, I was called by the bishop of Canterbury who asked if I would undertake this work at the request of the then-foreign secretary to review how the UK Foreign Office responded—or not—to the question of the persecution of Christians.

Our team had a strong sense of the wind of the Holy Spirit leading us on. And to my great surprise, the government accepted the recommendations in full, repeatedly affirming it in documents since. It is often referred to in the House of Commons and Lords, holding the government to account for implementation.

I feel this is something God has laid on my heart to do, absolutely convinced that it is one of the major big-ticket items in the world that we must address—for the good of all humanity.

How does your advocacy continue since the publishing of the report?

I thought I would do it for six months, set it aside, and the report would gather dust on some government shelf. But I was very aware that there was no forum for civil society organizations to meet, of which there are many in the UK. So we set up the UK Freedom of Religion or Belief Forum, which I chaired for its first year of operation. It now gathers about 90 different groups, modeled on the International Religious Freedom Roundtable that has been meeting in the US for a long time.

The UK hosted the Ministerial Summit on FORB this summer, and I was involved in that. Today I am here in Lebanon because I want to continue to advocate internationally, and I am due to go to Greece to meet with members of the foreign ministry and the Orthodox church.

Because I am the bishop of Truro, and the report is known as “the Truro report,” it has a currency that is associated with me. So this is a responsibility, and I want to push forward and advocate as best I can.

And because we have this strange system in the UK, in which the 26 most senior Church of England bishops sit in the House of Lords, I will probably take my seat in a year or so, depending on turnover. This will also be a continuing platform for advocacy.

Without making your parishioners jealous, how much time can you give to the issue?

[Laughed] I have to say, people have been very supportive and encouraging. Part of my agenda for the diocese is that I want us to have more of an international perspective. Cornwall is in the far southwest of the British Isles, and it can be quite isolated, including in mentality. Helping the church in Cornwall look outwards with a generous heart to the rest of the world is intrinsic to my calling as Bishop of Truro as well.

Your report mentions the lack of interest Western politicians give to the issue. How has society changed in the three years since?

There is a formula: The bigger the country, the less internationally aware it is. By this standard the most globally aware nation would be Luxembourg. The kind of domestic political issues we have faced in the UK since the European Union referendum has tended to turn the country inwards, and I would say in an unhealthy manner.

There has been a real struggle for the UK to think about what its post-imperial role is in the world. There has been a sense that because we interfered uninvited in the past, we shouldn’t do so again now. That is understandable, but it sounds like washing your hands of responsibility—not in the least because some of the problems the world faces are still the legacy of colonial involvement.

The West has economic power that it can use for good or ill. Isolation is not a good look for any country, and international responsibility lies on the shoulders of every state.

In the younger generation, attuned to this sentiment, how do you promote FORB? I think this is a problem, and particularly in the European context this understanding of Christianity as an expression of white privilege is quite prevalent. But Christian faith these days is a phenomenon of…

This article was originally published by Christianity Today, on November 12, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.

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Africa Christianity Today Published Articles

The Forest Underground: How an Australian Missionary Regrew the African Sahel

Image: Silas Koch / World Vision

After 18 grueling months fighting desertification in Niger, Tony Rinaudo was near despair. As manager of a small reforestation project for SIM in 1983, he knew few of the 6,000 trees the missions agency had planted yearly since 1977 had survived the arid Sahel climate.

Locals called him the “crazy white farmer,” not wishing to waste valuable agricultural land on more failed efforts. But, trudging on, he loaded another batch of saplings into his pickup truck, struggling to fulfill his childhood prayer.

Years earlier in the threatened Ovens Valley of southeast Australia, Rinaudo lamented the bulldozing of hilly bushland and the killing of fish by drift from insecticides sprayed on tobacco plants—while children elsewhere went to bed hungry.

“God,” he cried out, “use me somehow, somewhere, to make a difference.”

Soon thereafter he stumbled upon I Planted Trees by Richard St. Barbe Baker. One line impressed itself upon Rinaudo, becoming his eventual life work.

“When the forests go, the waters go, the fish and game go, herds and flocks go, fertility departs,” he read from the 19th-century English botanist’s book. (The quote is attributed elsewhere to Scottish science journalist Robert Chambers). “Then the age-old phantoms appear stealthily, one after another—Flood, Drought, Fire, Famine, Pestilence.”

In 1981, Rinaudo settled in Maradi, 400 miles east of Niger’s capital, Niamey. The West African nation’s economic center, on its southern border with Nigeria, hosted SIM’s agricultural project, a hospital, and a local Bible school. Present since 1924, the mission—together with Catholics—established Niger’s largest concentration of Christians, though they numbered less than 1 percent of the population overall.

French colonialists and later international development projects contributed to environmental degradation through large-scale farming, clearing trees to maximize yield. Local farmers felled them further—out of poverty and hunger—to sell the wood, while women would walk miles to find kindling for their cooking fires.

As Rinaudo stopped to deflate his tires to traverse the sandy landscape for his delivery, he sighed and once again called out to God.

“Forgive us for destroying the gift of creation,” he prayed. “Show us what to do, open our eyes.”

Looking up, he spied a bush. On any other desert trek, Rinaudo recounted to CT, he would have passed by similar-looking shrubs soon to be consumed by wandering goats. But this time…

This article was originally published by Christianity Today, on November 10, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Christians Say Sayfo Martyrs Should Get Genocide Status

Image: Delil Souleiman / Getty

In the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, evangelicals laid down their lives for their Lord. Living in Nusaybin, once home to the ancient theological school of Nisibis, they were among the firstfruits of the Sayfo (“sword”) martyrs.

Overall, modern estimates posit half a million deaths of Syriac-Aramean Christians at the hands of Turkish and Kurdish soldiers, concurrent with the Armenian genocide that claimed 1.5 million lives. Today this Christian community, still speaking the language of Jesus, seeks its own recognition.

In June 1915, the Muslim-majority city—now located on Turkey’s southeastern border with Syria—had about 100 Syrian Orthodox families, and an equal number belonging to other Christian sects. The Protestants were rounded up with Armenians and Chaldeans, marched to the front of town, and shot dead.

The Orthodox families were promised peace by the local leader, but 30 men fled and sought refuge in the rugged mountains. A monk, trusting authorities, led soldiers to their hideout seeking to reassure the frightened band.

According to reports, along the way they turned on the monk, demanding he convert to Islam. Upon his refusal, they cut off his hands, then feet, then head. Returning to Nusaybin, the soldiers assembled the remaining Christians, leading them out of town. In joyful procession the believers sang hymns of encouragement: Soon we will be with our Lord Jesus Christ.

Refusing conversion, one by one they were shot, and then dumped in a well.

In 1919, then-Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Aphrem Barsaum filed a report to the prime minister of Britain, after the Allied powers displaced the Ottomans. Similar massacres had been repeated in 335 other villages in the archbishop’s jurisdiction, killing 90,313 Christians and destroying 162 churches. Collecting other reports, delegates to the Paris Peace Conference following World War II tallied 250,000 deaths.

“It is unjust when they speak only of the Armenian Genocide,” said Archbishop Joseph Bali, secretary to Syriac Orthodox patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II. “We also need to be vocal about our people.” Fueled by a substantial diaspora, the Armenian tragedy has been recognized…

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on October 21, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Evangelical Creation Care Expert Shares Lessons Learned from Global Tour

Image: Illustration by Mallory Rentsch / Source Images: WikiMedia Commons / Getty / Unsplash

If the world is at stake, stewardship of creation must be global. And with an evangelical passion akin to world missions, Ed Brown is preaching ecology to the nations.

One region at a time.

Following initial consultations in Jamaica in 2012, Brown became the Lausanne Movement’s catalyst for creation care and helped build out the Lausanne/World Evangelical Alliance Creation Care Network (LWCCN). The goal was to amplify a conviction forged two years earlier in Cape Town, South Africa, at the third Lausanne Congress: Creation care is a gospel issue within the Lordship of Christ.

Since then, LWCCN has conducted conferences in 12 regions drawing delegates from over 120 nations. Concluding earlier this month in Jordan for the Middle East and North Africa, Brown and his colleagues addressed local issues for a region experts warn is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world.

And the UN is cued in. Its 27th climate change conference, COP27, begins November 6 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, with COP28 scheduled next year in the United Arab Emirates’s Abu Dhabi.

Brown served previously as chief operating officer for the evangelical Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies, and today is a fellow at the Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He founded Care of Creation, Inc. in 2005, and is author of Our Father’s World: Mobilizing the Church to Care for Creation.

In Amman, he spoke with CT about the challenge of politics, the response of missionaries, and the drastic impact environmental changes will soon have on ministry to one’s neighbors.

Reflecting on your many meetings, did the message of creation care resonate with the international evangelical community?

Much more so than in the US. We found people hungry and eager to have us come. People in these countries live closer to nature, without the protections from nature that exist in the West. They are much more aware of climate change happening. You can’t hide from it.

We’ve seen this with the floods in Pakistan, and with Hurricane Ian it is coming home to America. But this has been true for people in the Philippines for decades. The weather is changing, and our message is that creation is groaning in a biblical sense.

What is it that they were hungry for, or lacking?

Everywhere we go, the Spirit has been speaking to people about caring for God’s creation. With a conference like this, people are discovering each other. I may be the only one in my church, they realize, but I’m not the only one in [my] country—and now we can communicate with each other.

There is also a thought that individuals and church leaders sensed that something wasn’t right, without knowing the biblical foundation about how the Bible speaks to the issue.

Can you give an example about how we have missed this message in Scripture? The central passage I use is…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on October 19, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Europe Published Articles

Christian Radio Reacts to Ukraine Restrictions on Russian Language

Image: Courtesy of NLR

A new language law in Ukraine has complicated ministry to Russian-speaking citizens. Comparing restrictions to the Soviet era, one Christian broadcaster is relocating to Budapest, Hungary.

“I don’t want our staff busted on the air for reading the Bible in Russian,” said Dan Johnson, president of Christian Radio for Russia, which operates New Life Radio (NLR) from Odessa on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast. “We were expecting bombs to wreck our radio operations, but it turned out to be this law.”

Last month, Russian missiles landed one mile from their studio.

But earlier in July, President Volodymyr Zelensky signed into law a near-complete ban on Russian music on radio and television. Passed by parliament with a two-thirds majority, it exempts pre-independence classical artists like Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich as well as modern composers who have condemned the war.

About 65 percent of NLR airtime is music. Though local Christian anthems have inspired many during the war, Johnson said most contemporary worship songs are in Russian, even those originating from Ukraine.

A 2021 national survey identified 22 percent of the Ukrainian population as native Russian speakers, with 36 percent speaking the language primarily at home. Concentrated in the eastern Donbas and southern regions where Russian troops have prioritized attack, there are fears that Moscow is preparing to annex certain occupied areas.

Johnson has fled restrictions before. He moved to Russia in 1991 and by 1996 began radio ministry in Magadan, a featured city in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. Kicked out in 2006, he continued ongoing satellite-based radio work in Moscow, broadcasting throughout the former Soviet Union. But as the campaign against both free press and evangelical ministry tightened, in 2019 he relocated again.

Odessa promised an atmosphere of freedom—until now.

“There isn’t a government in the world that can stop the gospel,” Johnson said. “We will pivot and move on as always.”

NLR rents its studios and broadcasts by satellite and online, simplifying operations. Budapest was chosen because of its sizable Russian Christian population, Johnson said, which welcomed the ministry.

In the meanwhile, NLR continues to produce content in Russian, encrypting the signal to broadcast from outside the country. This should satisfy the law, he said, while also raising funds to build a Ukrainian language–only network in Odessa. In time, as a to-be Ukrainian broadcaster, he hopes to secure an FM license, alongside satellite and internet radio.

“I hope the authorities will leave us alone,” he said.

Sergey Rakhuba of Mission Eurasia called NLR collateral damage.

“I believe in freedom of speech,” he said, “but this is a state of war.” A native Russian speaker himself, an aspect of Rakhuba’s ministry has witnessed increased scrutiny…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on August 30, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Europe Published Articles

Prayer in Ukraine After Six Months of War

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Sukovska Baptist Church was heavily damaged by a nearby missile strike in June in Druzhkivka, Ukraine, and has since conducted its Sunday services in a tent.

The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) called for prayer.

“On this day of independence, we want to declare our dependence on God,” it stated on behalf of Ukraine, “the One who can bring true peace to the hearts of each individual person, each family, and even entire peoples.”

Joined by the affiliated European Evangelical Alliance, the WEA petition specified prayers to end the suffering, to spare the world from further repercussions, to strengthen the church’s response, and to marshal peace not through weapons, but through prayer.

Ukraine must defend itself, the WEA clarified; but Christians have a deeper hope.

“Throughout history, God has changed hopeless and dire situations in surprising ways,” stated the petition. “Let us also pray for healing and for reconciliation, and that Russia and Ukraine could live in peace as independent, sovereign nations.”

An accompanying guide for parents offers similar prayers for children.

It will not be easy. An Orthodox priest who performed last rites for the 116 people found in a mass grave in Bucha reflected on his spiritual calling.

“Saying the word forgive isn’t difficult,” Father Andriy told The Associated Press. “But to say it from your heart—for now, that’s not possible.”

As a followup to its March survey of the wartime prayers of Ukraine’s evangelicals, Christianity Today asked a sampling of Christian leaders to explain how the ongoing war has changed how they pray and what they pray for, how they understand unanswered prayers in difficult times, and how fellow Christians around the world can best pray for them now:

Denys Kondyuk, head of the missiology department at Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary, Kyiv:

My prayers were more scheduled and structured before the invasion. Now they are dominated by requests for health and life, for obvious reasons. And I have seen God answer through many stories of deliverance from very dangerous situations; but of course, there are still many that suffer and die.

The prayer for the war to end is still unanswered.

Ukrainians have focused on verses that emphasize God’s justice, especially those which emphasize there is not much we can expect from people. Others, meanwhile, have found hope in the scriptures that promise our suffering is temporal, awaiting the kingdom of God.

Please pray that God guides us to serve where it is needed, and to be bold in what we do. And ultimately, for the victory of Ukraine—bringing justice to those who suffered and died.

Yuriy Kulakevych, foreign affairs director of the Ukrainian Pentecostal Church, Kyiv: We are all called to grow in Christ, which includes our prayer life. As pastor of God’s Peace Pentecostal Church in Kyiv, I am encouraging our people to…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on August 24, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Egypt Church Fire Kills 41, Sparks Blame of Building Law’s Legacy

Image: Tarek Wajeh / picture alliance / Getty Image

As Egypt reels from the tragic church fire that killed 41 worshipers on Sunday, many search for where to put the blame.

“God forgive the fire department,” said Ishak Henin, a deacon at Abu Seifein Coptic Orthodox Church in Imbaba, a dense urban neighborhood of Cairo. “If they had come earlier, they could have saved more people.”

Egyptian authorities stated they arrived almost immediately after the 9 a.m. fire was first reported. Eyewitness testimony varied; some stated 15 minutes, others over two hours.

Abu Seifein means “the father of two swords” and is the Arabic moniker for second-century martyr Saint Mercurius, whose icon reflects his military origins.

But the word church may give the wrong impression to overseas audiences, as the sanctuary was located between ground floor shops and towering residences. Illegally repurposed in 2007 from one of many tightly packed apartment complexes, the now-charred chapel traced back to an era when Egyptian Christians were unable to obtain permits to build new houses of worship.

The law was changed in 2016, and a Coptic legal expert stated Abu Seifein was officially licensed in 2019. Since the latest batch in April, the slow-moving process has now legalized 2,401 churches and affiliated service centers.

Yet many remain in their original condition, below safety codes, and according to the law full legality can only come once all regulations are satisfied.

Abu Seifein’s four-story building housed two daycare facilities, and 18 children died in the blaze. Around 100 people were present at worship that morning; authorities stated most deaths—which included the local priest—were caused by smoke inhalation and the resulting stampede.

One family lost a set of five-year-old triplets, their mother, and grandmother.

The head of Egypt’s evangelical community was “deeply pained,” and offered condolences to Pope Tawadros, patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church. “We pray that God will give comfort and patience to the people,” stated Andrea Zaki, “and…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on August 18, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.