(Image of "Kermalak" host courtesy SAT-7)
Syria (MNN) -- Pressure is increasing for whoever is holding the Syrian bishops to release them.
Last week, two Christian Syrian bishops were kidnapped on their way to Aleppo--Syria's largest city--after a humanitarian trip to Turkey.
The abducted individuals are Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim, who is also a SAT-7 Board member.
So far, no group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. However, there are a number of news reports speculating about a connection with Chechen fighters. The group is reportedly allied with Nusra Front, which was merged with al Qaeda in Iraq, according to the U.S. State Department.
However, a SAT-7 Syrian co-worker was quick to note that misinformation about the kidnappers has been fast and furious since the bishops disappeared. He added that the Chechen connection was made because the bishops were traveling through an area where Chechen fighters were rumored to be.
At this point, SAT-7, a Christian satellite television ministry to the Middle East and North Africa, is taking their cues on this developing story directly from the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese of Aleppo.
The SAT-7 programming team is gearing the program called "Kermalak," (which means "Just For You, Syria") toward the issue, allowing believers to call in, ask questions, share concerns, and pray.
Christians account for around 5% of Syria's population. They have become increasingly vulnerable to attack and abductions in the lawlessness that has engulfed much of the country since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad erupted two years ago.
Aside from prayer, there's an online petition to the White House, created last week. So far, it has nearly 3000 signatures. Click here to see the petition.
Boko Haram's victims: Nigerian churches (Courtesy Compass Direct News)
Nigeria (MNN) -- Nigeria is fast becoming one of the deadliest places in the world to be a Christian.
According to a statistic noted by Christian Today, nearly 70% of the Christians who were killed globally were murdered in Nigeria. Open Doors and the Voice of the Martyrs report that over 900 Christians were killed in Nigeria in 2012 for their faith. This year has been another bloody year. Boko Haram--translated loosely in Hausa as "Western education is sin"--so far has claimed the lives of 128 Christians.
Over the past three years, Boko Haram has terrorized Christians by bombing churches and murdering Christians in their own homes. The Boko Haram insurgency is estimated to have cost more than 3,000 lives since 2009, including deaths caused by the security forces.
An April 19 attack in Borno State is a perfect example of the lawlessness. Authorities say Boko Haram extremists attacked Baga, a small village in the North. By the time the bloodbath was over, the Red Cross said there were 187 dead--the worst death toll in a single event throughout the Islamist insurgency.
Nigeria's federal government is attempting to offer Boko Haram a total amnesty deal in exchange for peace in northern Nigeria. However, spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA Todd Nettleton asks, "What's the real issue for Boko Haram?"
They've made a mission out of reshaping the country into a Muslim nation under Sharia law. Nettleton warns, "If that's what they really want, amnesty is not going to work." Besides, he adds, it sends a mixed message to the terror group's victims. "The believers look on this with quite a bit of trepidation. For one thing, they simply don't trust Boko Haram. The other question is: who can speak on behalf of Boko Haram to make those decisions and make those choices?"
Boko Haram is a fragmented group without a single head. The fragmentation showed clearly under the alleged "cease fire" earlier in the year which ended when Boko Haram continued its attacks on schools, churches, government offices, and law enforcers. Nettleton says aside from not knowing who speaks for the group, there are threats from within the group itself against other members. "The self-proclaimed leader of Boko Haram has already threatened to kill anyone who accepted an offer of amnesty in the name of Boko Haram."
The appointed amnesty committee is being tasked with the seemingly impossible. "President Goodluck Jonathan has said within three months he wants this committee to have opened some dialogue with Boko Haram's leaders. He said as he appointed them, ‘This is a really hard job. We hope you can make some progress.'"
In fact, President Jonathon's charge seemed to acknowledge the monumental task before the 26-member committee. "We're looking for you to perform magic by making a way to peace with Boko Haram." Nettleton says it's an almost impossible imagining: "the mechanics of actually working out some kind of an agreement and then having all the different factions within Boko Haram accept that agreement and follow through with it. "
Oddly, both the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and Boko Haram rejected the idea. CAN expressed its opposition to a proposal to grant amnesty to the terrorists and suggested that any political approach had to involve both parties to a conflict.
However, one church leader asked, "Can a man clap with one hand?" describing skepticism that Boko Haram would honor any agreement. They also noted that past leaders seemingly open to a political solution have been assassinated. Boko Haram, meanwhile, responded by saying it has done nothing it needs amnesty for.
This all adds up to an ominous rumble. A disquieting movement has begun between the Christian and Muslim youth in the South. One group, claiming they would be acting to "protect" Christians, has already issued a May 31 deadline. Once that passes, they say a campaign of mosque bombings and other acts of violence will target the Muslim communities. Whether or not it will spark an answering volatility in the North is unknown.
Nettleton says in the meantime, the uncertainty does have an impact on Gospel work. "Obviously, that affects people going to church, it affects people gathering together. But then, when you step beyond that and you step to actual outreach and actually even encouraging Muslims to consider following Christ, you really put a target on your chest."
The solution? Prayer. "Even in these situations, there are great things that God can do and is doing. That can be our prayer in this, that we will see the Kingdom advance in Northern Nigeria regardless of amnesty or no amnesty."
When David was little, Redeeming Children's Destinies rescued him from living on the dangerous streets. Now, as an adult, David is helping children like little Rebecca. (Image courtesy of Christian Aid)
West Africa (MNN) -- Homeless kids are falling prey to Marabouts in West Africa.
Over a million children wander the streets of one Muslim-majority nation, trying desperately to fend for themselves. Recognizing their vulnerability, Marabouts, or Muslim witchdoctors, collect these kids and force them into a life of slavery.
Christian Aid Mission, your link to indigenous missions, says the kids are forced to beg for money during the day. In the evening, these children are forced to study the Quran.
Oppression and suffering is written all over these kids in the forms of physical abuse and malnourishment.
Redeeming Children's Destinies, Christian Aid's ministry partner in the country, is rescuing hundreds of children from this fate and providing loving care in Jesus' name.
Redeeming Children's Destinies also operates the country's first Christian school, which opened in 2011 and welcomed nearly 300 children. The spiritual and academic progress of the kids attending the school, especially that of boarding students living at the school's dormitory, has prompted the ministry to expand.
The ministry's leader has found land in the capital city to build a dormitory that would house 60 boys. In the future, he hopes to increase the building's capacity by adding two more floors.
You can help Christian Aid's partners reach more street kids by clicking here.
Pray that more children would be rescued from the dangerous streets of this country. Pray that as kids hear about Christ, they would believe in Him for salvation.
Kazakhstan (MNN) -- There's an interesting back-and-forth battle in Kazakhstan.
Forum 18 News says early last week, the country's president claimed Kazakhstan respects religious freedom. But within 48 hours, there were heavy fines against Protestant Christians who celebrated Easter Sunday.
According to Forum 18, the raid brought one elderly member under enough stress to trigger a heart attack. This person told Forum 18 that police "have decided to use fear to separate us from God, something they can never achieve. They cannot ban me from my Christian faith."
By the end of the week, says Joel Griffith of Slavic Gospel Association, a new law was in the works.
"Reportedly, it introduces a new maximum penalty for those who share their faith, or witness," Griffith explains.
"If that actually comes into law, that really is of great concern."
Under the proposed law--alluded to in a separate Forum 18 article--those who share the Gospel openly could be imprisoned for up to four months.
"It does certainly seem that some storm clouds are on the horizon," says Griffith. "Even if there isn't an official code that's been voted on by Parliament right now…, the [Agency of Religious Affairs] seems to be taking quite a bit of authority on itself and trying to put pressure on religious groups."
In the scope of Central Asian history, Kazakhstan's current state of affairs is nothing out of the ordinary. Griffith says it reminds him of their days under Soviet rule.
"Officially, they had freedom of worship and freedom of religion in their constitution," he says. "But in practice, they didn't have it. People were arrested; people were sent to the gulag."
At this time of great persecution, SGA began a prayer movement for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
"We prayed and prayed and prayed about that, and miraculously in the late 1980s the Berlin Wall came down," Griffith recalls. "And then in 1991, the entire Soviet Union broke apart, and each of those 15 nations became independent."
Griffith says the Gospel enjoyed great freedom as Kazakhstan took its first steps of independence.
"But we've seen backtracking on that in recent years," says Griffith. "This is just certainly more evidence of that."
As was the case in Kazakhstan's Soviet days, Griffith says the most important thing to do is pray.
"The Lord answered prayers during that time, and the door was opened for the Gospel there like never before," he states. "Well, now we're beginning to see the doors close again. The most important ministry we can do for them is intercessory prayer."
You can also support Kazakh ministries financially through SGA by clicking here.
(Photo courtesy of NTM)
Brazil (MNN) -- What happens when missionaries go home on leave? Work usually stops until they get back, right?
New Tribes Mission found a way around this in Brazil.
Using a computer program called VSee, New Tribes missionary Barry Spor in Wisconsin can create Bible lessons in the Guanano language with a co-worker in Brazil.
"It's as though he's sitting at my side, or I'm sitting at his side," Spor says.
VSee is a computer video call program that's similar to Skype, but it allows for file sharing. Spor and his cohort are able to talk about the lesson and make changes that they can both see. Using this technology, Spor can continue his field work, even though he's on leave.
Why work from home?
"We are church planters, which is not just seeing people come to Christ: we want to see the baby grow up to be a mature adult that can handle life in a responsible way. So spiritually, that's what we're looking for," Spor explains.
Barry and his wife, Denise, work with New Tribes to plant churches among the Guanano people in Brazil. A Guanano man named Gustavo recently came alongside Barry to help develop Bible lessons in his heart language.
Gustavo says his understanding of Bible truths grows as he works on Bible lessons from Romans, and as he helps Barry translate lessons from the book of Ephesians.
He notes an interesting comparison.
"When we make new trails in the dense undergrowth of the jungle, we move quickly, just breaking branches as we go so we can find our way back. Someone trying to follow that path of broken branches can get lost pretty easily," states Gustavo. "When I heard Romans teaching for the first time, it was like making a broken-branch trail in the jungle.
"But since working on these Bible lessons, and carefully thinking about expressing God's truth in my language, I feel like we are clearing a wide and straight path through the jungle. Anyone who desires to come after us can easily follow."
Pray that the Bible lessons Barry and Gustavo are working on will help others grow as Christ-followers.
To learn more about New Tribes, or the work Spor and his wife do in Brazil, click here to view their blog.
As Barry is encouraged by this new program, he sees a growing need for someone to be in Brazil physically. He says, “We need people willing to be career missionaries: willing to give their lives, not just for short term, but for life.”
Ask God to instill passion in the lives of many to become career missionaries.