Nigerian Christians Begin Three-Day Fast after Schoolgirls Kidnapped

Christians began a three-day prayer and fasting period after Islamist Boko Haram militants kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria and desperate parents joined the search in a remote forest.

The girls were abducted last week while at school in the Chibok area of Borno State. Initial reports said about 200 were kidnapped, but government officials lowered the figure to 130. On Monday (April 21), school officials said 234 were abducted and 40 girls had managed to escape.

“We know no religion (that) prescribes abduction or infliction of pain as a way of devotion,” said the Rev. Titus Pona, an official with the Christian Association of Nigeria. “We are calling on them to sheathe their arms and pursue their case in dialogue with the government.”

Boko Haram translates to “Western education is forbidden,” in the Hausa language. For five years, the insurgents have unleashed violence in northern Nigeria, but the girls’ abduction is viewed as the most terrifying so far.

More than 1,500 people have been killed in the insurgency so far this year, compared with an estimated 3,600 between 2010 and 2013, according to The Associated Press.

“This violence continues because the militants have support from powerful people in Nigerian society,” said the Rev. John Bakeni, a Roman Catholic priest in Borno.

Nigeria’s top Muslim leader, the sultan of Sokoto, Al-Haji Sa’ad Abubakar III, condemned the abduction.

“We sympathize with the victims and their teachers and families,” he said in a statement. “We call on the authorities to put all the needed efforts to free these innocent girls and get them continue with their studies.”

Boy Sings Gospel Song until Kidnapper Lets Him Go

Nine-year-old Willie Myrick might have saved his own life by singing a gospel song.

According to Charisma News, Myrick was kidnapped from his Atlanta driveway earlier in the month by an unknown man. The kidnapper then dropped him off unharmed after driving around for hours. Myrick says he continued to sing “Every Praise” by Hezekiah Walker until the kidnapper grew tired of cursing and telling him to shut up.

Inspired by the story, Walker, a Grammy Award-winning artist, visited Myrick at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church last week.

In an interview with local media, the singer said he was emotional after hearing the story. “[Y]ou never know who you’re going to touch,” Walker said. Upon hearing the story, Walker made the decision to fly from New York City to Atlanta to meet Willie.

“I just wanted to hug him and tell him I love him,” Walker said.

Christian Pakistani Killed for Not Converting to Islam

A 22-year-old Christian man was murdered in Pakistan April 16 for not converting to Islam. Only known as Haroon, the United Kingdom-based Center for Legal Aid and Settlement claims he recently started work at an Islamic center in Lahore as a sweeper, where he was mocked for his Christian faith by a Muslim co-worker.

Umer Farooq, a security guard at the center, promised Haroon a life of luxury and marriage to a rich Muslim woman if he would embrace Islam. Witnesses claim Haroon did not care about such things and refused to convert to Islam stating he was a follower of Jesus Christ.

Allegedly Farooq became angered and opened fire on Haroon, killing him instantly with a single gunshot to the head. CLAAS reports Farooq claims Haroon had attempted suicide.

“The situation endures because of the government inactions,” said Nasir Saeed, director of the Center for Legal Aid and Settlement in the UK (CLAAS). “If people involved in such crimes are brought to justice, then it can act as a deterrent, but instead they are being encouraged by local religious leaders, Imams and Madrasahs.”

Saeed believes such crimes are on the rise because of a growing intolerance and hate towards religious minorities.

“The government must ban religious discussion and forcing non-Muslims to convert to Islam must be considered a crime, otherwise minorities have no future in Pakistan,” said Saeed. “It is equally dangerous for the government as with the growing violation of human rights, Pakistan could be deprived of the benefits it is receiving from the international community, including Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) status.”

While police have been slow to file charges, Saeed says Farooq must be found guilty of murder and punished accordingly so such atrocities will cease.

China on course to become ‘world’s most Christian nation’ within 15 years

The number of Christians in Communist China is growing so steadily that it by 2030 it could have more churchgoers than America

image

It is said to be China’s biggest church and on Easter Sunday thousands of worshippers will flock to this Asian mega-temple to pledge their allegiance – not to the Communist Party, but to the Cross.

The 5,000-capacity Liushi church, which boasts more than twice as many seats as Westminster Abbey and a 206ft crucifix that can be seen for miles around, opened last year with one theologian declaring it a “miracle that such a small town was able to build such a grand church”.

The £8 million building is also one of the most visible symbols of Communist China’s breakneck conversion as it evolves into one of the largest Christian congregations on earth.

“It is a wonderful thing to be a follower of Jesus Christ. It gives us great confidence,” beamed Jin Hongxin, a 40-year-old visitor who was admiring the golden cross above Liushi’s altar in the lead up to Holy Week.

“If everyone in China believed in Jesus then we would have no more need for police stations. There would be no more bad people and therefore no more crime,” she added.

Related Articles

Christians form human shield around church in ‘China’s Jerusalem’ after demolition threat 

04 Apr 2014

David Cameron says Christians should be ‘more evangelical’ 

16 Apr 2014

Officially, the People’s Republic of China is an atheist country but that is changing fast as many of its 1.3 billion citizens seek meaning and spiritual comfort that neither communism nor capitalism seem to have supplied.

Christian congregations in particular have skyrocketed since churches began reopening when Chairman Mao’s death in 1976 signalled the end of the Cultural Revolution.

Less than four decades later, some believe China is now poised to become not just the world’s number one economy but also its most numerous Christian nation.

“By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon,” said Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule.

“It is going to be less than a generation. Not many people are prepared for this dramatic change.”

China’s Protestant community, which had just one million members in 1949, has already overtaken those of countries more commonly associated with an evangelical boom. In 2010 there were more than 58 million Protestants in China compared to 40 million in Brazil and 36 million in South Africa, according to the Pew Research Centre’s Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Prof Yang, a leading expert on religion in China, believes that number will swell to around 160 million by 2025. That would likely put China ahead even of the United States, which had around 159 million Protestants in 2010 but whose congregations are in decline.

By 2030, China’s total Christian population, including Catholics, would exceed 247 million, placing it above Mexico, Brazil and the United States as the largest Christian congregation in the world, he predicted.

“Mao thought he could eliminate religion. He thought he had accomplished this,” Prof Yang said. “It’s ironic – they didn’t. They actually failed completely.”

Like many Chinese churches, the church in the town of Liushi, 200 miles south of Shanghai in Zhejiang province, has had a turbulent history.

It was founded in 1886 after William Edward Soothill, a Yorkshire-born missionary and future Oxford University professor, began evangelising local communities.

But by the late 1950s, as the region was engulfed by Mao’s violent anti-Christian campaigns, it was forced to close.

Liushi remained shut throughout the decade of the Cultural Revolution that began in 1966, as places of worship were destroyed across the country.

Since it reopened in 1978 its congregation has gone from strength to strength as part of China’s officially sanctioned Christian church – along with thousands of others that have accepted Communist Party oversight in return for being allowed to worship.

Today it has 2,600 regular churchgoers and holds up to 70 baptisms each year, according to Shi Xiaoli, its 27-year-old preacher. The parish’s revival reached a crescendo last year with the opening of its new 1,500ft mega-church, reputedly the biggest in mainland China.

“Our old church was small and hard to find,” said Ms Shi. “There wasn’t room in the old building for all the followers, especially at Christmas and at Easter. The new one is big and eye-catching.”

The Liushi church is not alone. From Yunnan province in China’s balmy southwest to Liaoning in its industrial northeast, congregations are booming and more Chinese are thought to attend Sunday services each week than do Christians across the whole of Europe.

A recent study found that online searches for the words “Christian Congregation” and “Jesus” far outnumbered those for “The Communist Party” and “Xi Jinping”, China’s president.

Among China’s Protestants are also many millions who worship at illegal underground “house churches”, which hold unsupervised services – often in people’s homes – in an attempt to evade the prying eyes of the Communist Party.

Such churches are mostly behind China’s embryonic missionary movement – a reversal of roles after the country was for centuries the target of foreign missionaries. Now it is starting to send its own missionaries abroad, notably into North Korea, in search of souls.

“We want to help and it is easier for us than for British, South Korean or American missionaries,” said one underground church leader in north China who asked not to be named.

The new spread of Christianity has the Communist Party scratching its head.

“The child suddenly grew up and the parents don’t know how to deal with the adult,” the preacher, who is from China’s illegal house-church movement, said.

Some officials argue that religious groups can provide social services the government cannot, while simultaneously helping reverse a growing moral crisis in a land where cash, not Communism, has now become king.

They appear to agree with David Cameron, the British prime minister, who said last week that Christianity could help boost Britain’s “spiritual, physical and moral” state.

Ms Shi, Liushi’s preacher, who is careful to describe her church as “patriotic”, said: “We have two motivations: one is our gospel mission and the other is serving society. Christianity can also play a role in maintaining peace and stability in society. Without God, people can do as they please.”

Yet others within China’s leadership worry about how the religious landscape might shape its political future, and its possible impact on the Communist Party’s grip on power, despite the clause in the country’s 1982 constitution that guarantees citizens the right to engage in “normal religious activities”.

As a result, a close watch is still kept on churchgoers, and preachers are routinely monitored to ensure their sermons do not diverge from what the Party considers acceptable.

In Liushi church a closed circuit television camera hangs from the ceiling, directly in front of the lectern.

“They want the pastor to preach in a Communist way. They want to train people to practice in a Communist way,” said the house-church preacher, who said state churches often shunned potentially subversive sections of the Bible. The Old Testament book in which the exiled Daniel refuses to obey orders to worship the king rather than his own god is seen as “very dangerous”, the preacher added.

Such fears may not be entirely unwarranted. Christians’ growing power was on show earlier this month when thousands flocked to defend a church in Wenzhou, a city known as the “Jerusalem of the East”, after government threats to demolish it. Faced with the congregation’s very public show of resistance, officials appear to have backed away from their plans, negotiating a compromise with church leaders.

“They do not trust the church, but they have to tolerate or accept it because the growth is there,” said the church leader. “The number of Christians is growing – they cannot fight it. They do not want the 70 million Christians to be their enemy.”

The underground leader church leader said many government officials viewed religion as “a sickness” that needed curing, and Prof Yang agreed there was a potential threat.

The Communist Party was “still not sure if Christianity would become an opposition political force” and feared it could be used by “Western forces to overthrow the Communist political system”, he said.

Churches were likely to face an increasingly “intense” struggle over coming decade as the Communist Party sought to stifle Christianity’s rise, he predicted.

“There are people in the government who are trying to control the church. I think they are making the last attempt to do that.”

Jews Ordered to ‘Register’ in East Ukraine

Jewish people in eastern Ukraine are being told they need to “register” with the separatist forces USA Today reports. Jews coming from a synagogue in Donetsk said that pro-Russian militants gave them pamphlets informing of the required registration.

Each Jew is allegedly to provide the pro-Russian forces with a list of property they own and pay a fee. The leaflets say the penalty for not cooperating is losing all possessions, citizenship, and deportation.

The government buildings in the city of Donetsk have been taken over by the pro-Russian forces, which call themselves an “anti-terrorist” group.

The pamphlets are marked with Denis Pushilin’s name, but the chairman of “Donetsk’s temporary government” denied his association with them.

Jews in eastern Ukraine feel a connection between these demands and the Nazi occupation of Ukraine in World War II. Jewish Donetsk resident Olga Reznikova said, “The text reminds of the fascists in 1941.”

Anti-Defamation League director of international affairs Michael Salberg fears that the distributed leaflets will serve as propaganda to turn people against the Jewish community. He says the message is “we’re going to exert our power over you.”

“Jews are the default scapegoat throughout history for despots to send a message to the general public: Don’t step out of line,” Salberg said.

Hobby Lobby President Launches Bible Curriculum in OK Public School

Hobby Lobby President Steve Green is making headlines again, but this time the news does not involve the birth control debate.

Green is set to launch a new high school curriculum centered around the Bible, emphasizing the historical elements and impact the book has had in society. The first high school to offer the class as an elective is Mustang High School in Mustang, Oklahoma, a stone’s throw away from Hobby Lobby’s headquarters in Oklahoma City.

The 2014-2015 school year will serve as a testing period for the new curriculum. Jerry Pattengale, head of Green Scholars Initiative, said that they hope to grow the program to 100 high schools by September 2016, and continue to expand from there.

Pattengale reports that the project will cost millions of dollars to implement, but the Bible class is not intended to make a profit.

Religion News reports that teaching Bible classes does not goes against the separation of church and state. The Supreme Court ruled against school-sanctioned prayer in 1963, but allowed a loophole for studying the Bible. The case reads, “Nothing that we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible…when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.”

The Oklahoma ACLU intends to examine the curriculum “to ensure no students…have their right of religious liberty compromised.”

Easter 2014: Best Christian movies to watch this Easter Sunday

After gathering with family and friends this Sunday for church services, fellowship, and dinner, why not watch a movie that celebrates the life and love of Christ? Here are some of the best films to watch this Easter.

image

“The Gospel of John” is a three-hour epic film that comes straight from the book of John’s Good News Translation (GNT). The film depicts Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, in an inspiring and reverent way.

“Christians will come away with an even greater appreciation for their Savior and the love that prompted his mission on earth,” Christian blogger Mary Fairchild wrote of the film.

Though it strays quite far from biblical text, “The Greatest Story Ever Told” is a family-friendly, entertaining film. The star-studded cast includes John Wayne, Charlton Heston, Sidney Poitier, and Shelly Winters. The 1965 epic is over three hours in length and illustrates Jesus’ entire life—from birth through the resurrection.

A popular film shown during Easter and Passover is “The Ten Commandments.” The Academy Award-winning picture takes great liberties in the life of Moses and the events leading up to the Israelites exodus from Egypt, but it is a visually-stunning, dramatic film. “The Ten Commandments” was considered so culturally-significant that it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

image

“Jesus”  has been called the “most watched movie of all time,” and “Campus Crusade for Christ credits it with saving 176 million souls,” according to the New York Times. The film is primarily based on the Gospel of Luke, and depicts Jesus’ birth, crucifixion, and resurrection. An edited version was made for younger audiences and called “The Story of Jesus for Children.”

“The Greatest Adventures of the Bible: The Easter Story” is one video in the children’s “Greatest Adventures.” The animated films follow three children who travel back in time to witness biblical events. The “Easter Story” is the last episode in the series, and young viewers will learn the story of Jesus– from the Garden of Gethsemane through His ascension.