September News from around the World

AZERBAIJAN: Censorship Goes against Constitution
Azerbaijan’s State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations has denied that the required approval of all religious literature is censorship. Censorship, according to the leader of an Azeri religious community, violates the country’s constitution. A committee official stated that government “merely checks” to see what books are “not appropriate” for distribution. Human rights activists and religious communities expressed frustration over the highly restrictive system, which includes postal censorship and police confiscation of banned books (including the Bible). (Forum 18 News)

BRAZIL: Potential for Greatest Mission Movement Ever
Tim Moody of the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE) reported that the beginnings of a youth mission movement are happening in one of the world’s largest cities: Sao Paulo, Brazil. An ABWE youth ministry called PEPE has led to a mission movement in Brazil that empowers students to evangelize in their own country. Moody noted that training and sending out native missionaries is cost effective, and native missionaries are more effective in communicating the gospel overall. With the possibility of establishing the movement’s base in Sao Paulo, Moody said Brazil has the potential to become one of the greatest mission-sending countries in history. (Mission Network News)

CENTRAL ASIA: Restrictions Heavy in Post-Soviet Countries
Immediately after the collapse of communism, mission work was largely unhindered by governments in Central Asia. However, in the mid 1990s those governments began to institute heavy-handed tactics to control the resurgence of religion. One of the most difficult issues facing post-Soviet Christians is the registration of churches, which makes a church legal but also gives authorities greater control of its activities. Uzbekistan requires all church members to disclose their names and addresses, making it potentially very easy for police to find and persecute converts from Islam. In Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan anti-Christian persecution is particularly intense, with currently no legally registered churches. (Barnabas Fund)

CHINA: House Churches Forced Not to Meet during Olympics
Chinese house church pastors were forced to sign a document saying they would not participate in religious services during the Olympics. China Aid Association (CAA) reported the document specified that house churches refrain from organizing and joining “illegal” gatherings and receiving donations, sermons, and preaching from foreign religious groups. According to CAA, the document also prohibits house churches from meeting in their communities for more than three months surrounding the Olympics. Violators would be subject to disciplinary action by the Chinese government. (China Aid Association)

CHINA: Well-known “Bicycle” Pastor Arrested
Pastor Zhang “Bike” Mingxuan, known for evangelizing across China on a bicycle, was arrested just two days before the opening of the Olympic Games. He was taken by authorities while delivering medicine to his ailing wife, who was also arrested as was another pastor. Mingxuan was the inspiration for a recent partnership between Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) and China Aid Association to create the Olympic Prayer Band. VOM also learned that Chinese authorities have launched an investigation of the project which distributed more than 800,000 prayer bands to house church members in China. (Voice of the Martyrs)

CHINA: Universities Add Christian Studies to Curriculum
More than forty Chinese universities now have Departments of Christian Studies or Religious Studies. Chinese students and religion scholars are thankful to their government for the permission to establish such programs. Further, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a federally-funded entity, includes a Department of Christian Studies in its religious division. With the growing popularity of Christian studies programs, China’s universities are eager for Western scholars to teach in their religion departments. (Christian Studies International)

ECUADOR: Spanish Edition of HIV Devotional Debuts
The only Christian HIV/AIDS devotional has been translated into Spanish by Professor Galen Yorba-Gray of Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California. The original English version, entitled In His Shadow, was written by the professor’s wife, Joan, who is HIV-positive. In His Shadow is now in its second printing and being translated into several other languages. Distributing copies of the devotional, the Yorba-Gray family recently visited Quito and Guayaquil, Ecuador, on a mission trip for He Intends Victory, an evangelical Christian HIV/AIDS ministry operating in twenty countries worldwide. According to Joan Yorba-Gray, Ecuador has a growing HIV infection rate of 17.3 per 100 thousand people. (ASSIST News)

ETHIOPIA: Attacks on Christians Increasing
In a recent example of increased violence against Christians in Ethiopia, two Christian men were stoned by a mob of Islamic extremists on 19 July 2008 in the city of Jijiga. Although one man suffered a severe concussion, both men survived the attack. According to International Christian Concern (ICC), Jijiga, a city on the border with Somalia, is the capital city of Somali Regional State, where the majority of residents are ethnic Somalis and most are Muslim. ICC reported that Christians have been attacked in the past in Jijiga, noting that the Ethiopian Full Gospel Church was bombed for a second time in August 2007. (International Christian Concern)

GEORGIA/RUSSIA: Churches Damaged while Assisting Locals
In August, three evangelical churches in the South Ossetia capital city of Chinvali were damaged during the conflict between Georgia and Russia. According to Russian Ministries, the churches were offering physical and spiritual help to refugees pouring out of South Ossetia into North Ossetia and other Russian provinces. South Ossetia, which borders Russia, is predominantly made up of Russians, and although the province is governmentally autonomous, many South Ossetians want to split from Georgia and unite with the Russian province of North Ossetia. (Russian Ministries)

INDIA: Gospel for Asia Missionary and Students Attacked
Four men, one a Gospel for Asia (GFA) missionary and the others GFA Bible college students, were brutally beaten by a large mob in Karnataka, India, in July 2008. The three students and their leader were on a field internship when a mob of approximately seven hundred people attacked them. The attackers were said to be extremists with active support from local officials. The victims were then taken into custody and held without bail for allegedly forcing people to convert to Christianity and “offending the sentiments of the people.” (Gospel for Asia)

IRAN: Risking Death for Conversion
Frustrated by the lack of social liberties since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iranians are being driven away from the state religion, which accounts for ninety-eight percent of the country’s sixty-six million people. There are no statistics on how many have converted to Christianity in recent years, but the advent of satellite television has reportedly spurred growth in Christianity. Currently, Iranian law does not mandate death for “apostasy”; however, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has introduced legislation that, if passed, would impose execution. Regardless, “apostates” do suffer beatings and death from vigilantes leveling their own judgment. There is no penalty for a Muslim who kills an “apostate “according to Islamic Shariah law. (SFGate)

JAPAN: Poor Nations Discussed at G8 Summit
The G8 Summit (July 2008) concluded with aid agencies hopeful that rich nations will increase funding. Director of the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee’s (CRWRC) U.S. office Andy Ryskamp reported President George W. Bush made a strong opening statement stressing the importance of reaching out to Africa while taking into account environmental concerns, which were the primary focus of the summit. Ryskamp said increased funding is essential to reducing the number of people who are living on less than $2 USD per day. CRWRC receives government funding for its programs which offer physical help with an optional Bible study. (Mission Network News)

KAZAKHSTAN: Churches Continue to Face Closures
In a recent example of government attempts to control religious minorities and close their places of worship, the fire department of the Kazakh city of Semey closed a local church, claiming the newly constructed facility did not meet safety requirements. Forum 18 News Service reported that the church had been under construction for four years, but was only charged by the fire department after building completion. Church members say all necessary building permits are on record, including the permit from the fire department. However, court authorities are ignoring the documents. A highly restrictive religion law which will prevent small religious communities from owning property is currently in process in Kazakh parliament. (ASSIST News)

MIDDLE EAST/NORTH AFRICA: SAT-7 PARS Connecting Viewers to God’s Word
Satellite television is offering programs to millions of people in the Middle East and North Africa who have no church to attend or Bible to read. SAT-7 PARS, in particular, offers programming in Farsi twenty hours a day and features teaching programs, children’s dramas, and chatrooms on its website. Especially popular with young adult Christians, the chatrooms serve as an important source of discussion, community, and encouragement. (SAT-7)

NEPAL: New Government Brings Hope to Christians
Nepal has a new government after two hundred years as the world’s only Hindu monarchy. Over the course of those years, Christians have suffered beatings, threats, exclusion, and imprisonment. A Maoist leader in Nepal has initiated meetings with the country’s Christian leaders and indicated that the Maoists would guarantee religious freedom. Gospel for Asia regional leader Narayan Sharma expressed hope that “Nepal will change continuously from past history to new reality…from darkness to the light of the Gospel.” (Mission Network News)

NORTH KOREA: Franklin Graham Makes Historic Visit
Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, made a historic visit to North Korea in July and August 2008, meeting with high-level government officials, visiting relief projects, and preaching at a newly-constructed church in the capitol of Pyongyang. This is Graham’s second visit to the country, but his family has a long history with North Korea, going back to 1934 when Ruth Bell Graham attended mission school in Pyongyang. In the past year, Samaritan’s Purse has been involved in two breakthrough projects in North Korea, responding to last year’s floods and distributing food provided by the U.S. government. (Samaritan’s Purse)

SAUDI ARABIA: Deportation Ordered for Fifteen Christians
On 5 August 2008, two weeks after King Abdullah called for reconciliation between Muslims and Christians, fifteen Christians were ordered to be deported from Saudi Arabia. The Christians were raided in a house where they were holding a prayer meeting in April 2008. International Christian Concern reported that police initially accused the Christians of preaching the Bible and singing, but then later changed the charge to holding a “dance party” and collecting money supporting terrorism. According to International Christian concern, the individuals, who are immigrants, were interrogated, held incommunicado, and forced to sign police statements written in Arabic, which they did not understand. (International Christian Concern)

SIERRA LEONE: Bible Society Project Targets Youth
Children under fourteen make up more than forty percent of Sierra Leone’s population, and the Bible Society is making the spiritual needs of these children a top priority in their project entitled “Penetrating Youth Culture.” Bible Society workbooks and flipcharts have been successful in teaching children scripture in communities torn by civil war. With the support of other Christian organizations, the Bible Society also organized a one-day children’s camp in the southeast part of the country, providing some four hundred children with stories and comics introducing biblical messages. (Bible Society)

SOUTH ASIA: Affordable Tools Needed to Spread God’s Word
People in South Asia need an affordable biblical resource for pastors who have little access to libraries and other educational institutions. In response, John Stott Ministries-Langham Partnership International has partnered with other organizations to support the development of the South Asia Bible Commentary (SABC), a publication to be available by 2012 in English, then later in Hindi, Nepali, and Sinhalese. The SABC will serve as a much-needed tool for grassroots level pastors and evangelists who have little or no formal theological education. Thirty thousand copies of the SABC are expected to sell in the first year. (John Stott Ministries)

SUDAN: People Uniquely Ready to Hear the Gospel
While Sudan remains a nation in conflict, the southern region has shown promising church growth. E3 Partners Sudan (E3) has started a Bible school to train pastors and leaders, giving them doctrinal training and encouragement to plant new churches. E3 strategic coordinator Mike Congrove says that North Americans on short-term mission trips are also part of the effort. He explained that North Americans are effective in Sudan because Sudanese culture respects visitors and welcomes what they have to say. Congrove further added that while improvements are seen in areas of Sudan, people are traumatized after years of war and are ready to hear the hope of the gospel. (Mission Network News)

UNITED STATES: Renowned African Children’s Choir Thrilled at Passage of AIDS Bill
The African Children’s Choir performed for President and Mrs. George W. Bush during a July 2008 ceremony celebrating the signing of H.R. 5501—the Global AIDS Initiative Renewal Bill. As the initiative affects many African children, it was a cause important to the renowned choir and its founder, Ray Barnett, who formed the choir following the aftermath of Idi Amin’s brutal rule over Uganda. The legislation approves several billion USD in spending on malaria and tuberculosis, the leading cause of death among those infected with AIDS. The current $15 billion USD act, which would have expired in September, has brought life-saving, anti-viral medications to approximately 1.7 million people and supporting care to nearly seven million people. (African Children’s Choir)

UNITED STATES: No Cost Audio Bible Distribution a Reality
Faith Comes By Hearing (FCBH) has just made it possible to send the Bible around the world at no cost. Bloggers, webmasters, and social network users will now be able to spread the gospel in audio using sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Digg, and Reddit. FCBH has developed an Audio Bible widget which can be placed on websites, blogs, or social networking profiles, allowing visitors to sample any of nearly three hundred Audio New Testaments in FCBH’s collection. Users can then select and download a free Audio Bible. (Faith Comes By Hearing)

UNITED STATES: Thrift Centers Help Spread the Gospel
Amidst economic downswing and reports of recession, Bible for Missions Thrift Centers across the United States are raising millions of dollars to extend God’s message of hope to thousands of people without Bibles. The thrift centers are a volunteer-based effort comprised of thirteen stores that sell used clothing and other donated goods. Profits from sales help to fund Bible League ministry worldwide. Last year, the thrift centers provided nearly $1.5 million USD toward Bibles and training in ten countries; this year’s funds are expected to exceed that. Each center adopts a specific country where Bible League has ministry. Currently, those countries include Bulgaria, China, Haiti, and Kenya, among others. (Bible League)