Pastor Andrew Brunson asks the question: “Are we more afraid of persecution than the consequences of not obeying God?”

Matthew 10:28 “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Important Takeaways:

  • I understand fear. In prison I was separated from my loved ones by force.
  • Jesus repeatedly warned His disciples that they would encounter persecution and hardship, and He repeatedly admonished them not to fear… I think Jesus’ emphasis is not so much “do not feel fear” but rather “do not act out of fear.” The danger is that the person who surrenders to fear may compromise his faith, fall away and even deny Jesus.
  • First, we need to nurture a straight-up fear of God as judge.
  • We rightly emphasize the love of God, but we don’t like to talk about hell and judgment. Yet Jesus talked about it quite a bit, and He did this because there are terrible consequences to denying Him, to compromising our faith. Jesus said it very clearly and bluntly: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
  • Second, we need to nurture a right perspective-—to develop eternal eyes… For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
  • Third, we need to nurture a desire for Heaven… “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12).

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Pastor Andrew Brunson: Majority are not ready for persecution

1 Peter 4:12-14 “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”

Important Takeaways:

  • Brunson: ‘The Majority Of Believers Are Not Ready For The Pressures Of Persecution, And This Is Very Dangerous’
  • I thought of myself as a relatively tough missionary—we had faced threats before; I had even been shot at once. But I was not prepared for what I experienced in prison. It was much more difficult than I imagined it would be, and I almost didn’t make it through. Persecution almost knocked me out.
  • Many Christians do not think this can happen in the United States, but it can. Followers of Jesus throughout history and in countries around the world have experienced persecution. In fact, our experience of very little persecution up to now is the exception.
  • What Will Drive Persecution?
    • I think two wedge issues will drive persecution. First, the exclusivity of Jesus in salvation—that Jesus is the only way to God. Second, that Jesus demands obedience from His followers in a number of areas that are hotly contested in our culture, such as sexual morality, gender identity, marriage, family, life and Biblical justice. Those who are faithful to Jesus in upholding Gospel exclusivity and obedience to Christ are going to be labeled as evil people, and those who persecute us will justify themselves by saying that we are a people of hate, that we carry a message of hate.
  • Here’s how we can start to prepare to stand under pressure:
    • We need to talk about persecution, be aware of it and plan for it. If we don’t talk about it, then when that dark wave hits, it is going to shock many people, and that places them in danger of being knocked out.
    • First, read the New Testament with a different eye. It’s full of exhortations to prepare and also examples of people living victoriously under persecution.
    • Read the Gospels with a focus on what Jesus says about persecution, how He Himself deals with persecution and how He prepares His disciples.
    • Second, begin to pray now that you and your loved ones will have enough faith and strength to stand. This is what Jesus urged His disciples to do.
    • Third, learn from persecuted Christians, those who have gone before and endured faithfully.
  • The Hard Truth
    • The hard truth is that God allows His children to suffer persecution, and it can be more difficult than we think.
    • Because this can be a discouraging subject, we need to keep before us the truth of the supremacy of Jesus, the image of Jesus as the Lion. He will not be defeated.

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Pandemic Becomes Tool to Persecute Christians

Matthew 5:10-12 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Important Takeaways:

  • The Ignored Pandemic: 360 Million Christians Persecuted Worldwide
  • “When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, they tried to appear moderate—but there’s no sign that Christianity will be anything other than a death sentence.” — World Watch List-2022.
  • “The persecution of Christians in India has intensified, as Hindu extremists aim to cleanse the country of their presence and influence. The extremists disregard Indian Christians and other religious minorities as true Indians, and think the country should be purified of non-Hindus…..” — World Watch List-2022.
  • In Qatar, “Violence against Christians rose sharply ….” — World Watch List-2022.
  • “The COVID-19 pandemic has offered a new weapon to persecutors. In some areas, Christians have been deliberately overlooked in the local distribution of government aid and have even been accused of spreading the virus.” — World Watch List-2022.
  • In the Central African Republic, which was “hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic … Christians were denied government aid and told to convert to Islam if they wanted to eat.”
  • In short, the persecution of Christians, which was already horrific, has increased by nearly 70% over the last five years, with no signs of abating.

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Afghanistan after middle east blunder is now worst persecutor of Christians

John 16:2 Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God

Important Takeaways:

  • Afghanistan Now Tops Open Doors’ World Watch Persecution List: ‘Tracking Christians, Killing Christians’
  • One in seven Christians worldwide faces persecution for their faith in Jesus. That’s about 360 million people.
  • For 20-years, North Korea has topped the list. But this year, there’s been a seismic shift as Afghanistan has taken its place as the world’s worst persecutor.
  • “It’s the number one perpetrator of violence and pressure and discrimination against Christians in the world. North Korea hasn’t gotten better, Afghanistan’s gotten worse — the violence, the tracking of Christians, the killing of Christians, this is, unfortunately, I’m afraid, what we can expect from Afghanistan in the future,” Curry said

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Rohingya community leader shot dead in Bangladesh refugee camp

By Ruma Paul and Poppy McPherson

(Reuters) – Gunmen shot and killed a prominent Rohingya Muslim leader in a refugee camp in southern Bangladesh on Wednesday, a United Nations spokesperson and a local police official said, following months of worsening violence in the world’s largest refugee settlement.

Mohib Ullah, who was in his late 40s, led one of the largest of several community groups to emerge since more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar after a military crackdown in August 2017.

Invited to the White House and to speak to the United Nations Human Rights Council, he was one of the most high-profile advocates for the Rohingya, a Muslim minority that has faced persecution for generations.

Rafiqul Islam, a deputy police superintendent in the nearby town of Cox’s Bazar, told Reuters by phone that Mohib Ullah had been shot dead but had no additional details.

A spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said the agency was “deeply saddened” by the killing of Mohib Ullah. “We are in continuous contact with law enforcement authorities in charge of maintaining peace and security in the camps,” the spokesperson said.

Mohib Ullah’s group, the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, made its name documenting atrocities the Rohingya suffered during the Myanmar crackdown, which the U.N. has said was carried out with genocidal intent.

At the Bangladesh refugee camps, Mohib Ullah went from hut to hut to build a tally of killings, rape and arson that was shared with international investigators.

His organization worked to give refugees more of a voice inside the camps and internationally. Speaking to the U.N. Human Rights Council, he said the Rohingya wanted more of a say over their own future.

But his high profile made him a target of hardliners and he received death threats, he told Reuters in 2019. “If I die, I’m fine. I will give my life,” he said at the time.

The sprawling camps in Bangladesh have become increasingly violent, residents say, with armed men vying for power, kidnapping critics, and warning women against breaking conservative Islamic norms.

Aung Kyaw Moe, a Rohingya civil society activist and an adviser to Myanmar’s National Unity Government, the parallel civilian government established after February’s coup, said Mohib Ullah’s death was a “big loss for the Rohingya community.”

“He was always aware there is a threat, but he thinks that despite the threat if he is not doing the work he is doing, no one else would,” he said.

(Reporting by Ruma Paul and Poppy McPherson, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Western nations race to complete Afghan evacuation as deadline looms

(Reuters) – Western nations rushed to evacuate people from Afghanistan on Wednesday as the Aug. 31 deadline for the withdrawal of foreign troops drew closer and fears grew that many could be left behind to an uncertain fate under the country’s new Taliban rulers.

In one of the biggest such airlifts ever, the United States and its allies have evacuated more than 70,000 people, including their citizens, NATO personnel and Afghans at risk, since Aug. 14, the day before the Taliban swept into the capital Kabul to bring to an end the 20-year foreign military presence.

U.S. President Joe Biden said U.S. troops in Afghanistan faced mounting danger, while aid agencies warned of an impending humanitarian crisis for those left behind.

Biden has spurned calls from allies to extend the deadline, set under an agreement struck by the previous administration of Donald Trump with the hardline Islamist group last year. But he said on Tuesday the deadline could be met.

“The sooner we can finish, the better,” Biden said. “Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops.”

Two U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was growing concern about the risk of suicide bombings by Islamic State at the airport.

British foreign minister Dominic Raab said the deadline for evacuating people was up to the last minute of the month.

France said it would push on with evacuations as long as possible but it was likely to end these operations in the coming hours or days.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany would try to help Afghans who worked with its soldiers and aid organizations and wished to leave Afghanistan after the deadline expires.

“The end of the air bridge in a few days must not mean the end of efforts to protect Afghan helpers and help those Afghans who have been left in a bigger emergency with the takeover of the Taliban,” she told the German parliament.

Tens of thousands of Afghans fearing persecution have thronged Kabul’s airport since the Taliban takeover, the lucky ones securing seats on flights.

On Wednesday, many people milled about outside the airport – where soldiers from the United States, Britain and other nations were trying to maintain order amid the dust and heat – hoping to get out.

They carried bags and suitcases stuffed with possessions, and waved documents at soldiers in the hope of gaining entry. One man, standing knee-deep in a flooded ditch, passed a child to a man above.

“I learned from an email from London that the Americans are taking people out, that’s why I’ve come so I can go abroad,” said one man, Aizaz Ullah.

While the focus is now on those trying to flee, the risk of starvation, disease and persecution is rising for the rest of the population, aid agencies say.

“There’s a perfect storm coming because of several years of drought, conflict, economic deterioration, compounded by COVID,” David Beasley, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program, told Reuters in Doha, saying that about 14 million people were threatened with starvation.

The U.N. human rights chief said she had received credible reports of serious violations by the Taliban, including “summary executions” of civilians and Afghan security forces who had surrendered. The Taliban have said they will investigate reports of atrocities.

The Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule was marked by harsh sharia law, with many political rights and basic freedoms curtailed and women severely oppressed. Afghanistan was also a hub for anti-Western militants, and Washington, London and others fear it might become so again.

LAND ROUTES

The Taliban said all foreign evacuations must be completed by Aug. 31. It has asked the United States to stop urging talented Afghans to leave while also trying to persuade people at the airport to go home, saying they had nothing to fear.

“Foreign troops should withdraw by the deadline. It will pave the way for resumption of civilian flights,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said on Twitter.

“People with legal documents can travel through commercial flights after Aug. 31.”

The Dutch government said it was all but certain that many people eligible for asylum would not be taken out in time.

Dutch troops had managed to get more than 100 people to Kabul airport, Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag said, but hundreds of others risked being left behind.

The U.S.-backed government collapsed as the United States and its allies withdrew troops two decades after they ousted the Taliban in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States by al Qaeda, whose leaders had found safe haven in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

The Taliban were also switching focus from their military victory to how to run a country in crisis. They have appointed veteran figures to the posts of finance minister and defense minister since wresting control of all government offices, the presidential palace and parliament, two Taliban members said.

Afghanistan’s Pajhwok news agency said Gul Agha had been named as finance minister and Sadr Ibrahim acting interior minister. Former Guantanamo detainee Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir was named acting defense minister, Al Jazeera news channel reported, citing a Taliban source.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Lincoln Feast, Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Angus MacSwan, Giles Elgood and Nick Macfie)

White House, on Tiananmen anniversary, urges China to respect human rights

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House, in a statement on the 31st anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown, urged Beijing on Thursday to respect human rights, fulfill its commitments on Hong Kong and end persecution of ethnic and religious minorities.

“The Chinese Communist Party’s slaughter of unarmed Chinese civilians was a tragedy that will not be forgotten,” the White House said.

It urged the Chinese government to fulfill its commitments under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Sino-British Joint Declaration governing Hong Kong’s status, and to “uphold the rights and freedoms guaranteed to all Chinese citizens under China’s constitution, and to end the systematic persecution of millions of ethnic and religious minorities.”

The anniversary of China’s bloody 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy activists coincides with widespread protests across the United States against racism and police brutality touched off by the killing of a black man while in custody of white Minneapolis police officers.

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to militarize the response to the mass demonstrations, saying he could deploy the military in states that fail to crack down on the sometimes violent protests.

“The American people stand together with all Chinese citizens in their pursuit of fundamental rights, including the right to accountable and representative governance and freedom of speech, assembly, and religious belief,” the White House said.

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Hungary’s new Holocaust museum divides Jews, faces ‘whitewash’ accusations

FILE PHOTO: The new Holocaust museum called the House of Fates is pictured in Budapest, Hungary, October 15, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

By Krisztina Than

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – A planned new Holocaust museum in Budapest has divided Hungary’s Jewish community and triggered international concerns that it will downplay the wartime role of Hungarians in the persecution and deportation of Jews.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s right-wing government plans to open the museum next year to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the deportati7on of Hungarian Jews to death camps in German-occupied Poland. More than half a million Hungarian Jews were among six million Jews killed in Europe during the Holocaust.

In a Sept. 7 decree, the government granted ownership of the new museum, called the House of Fates, to the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation (EMIH), one of the three registered Jewish groups in Hungary.

The permanent exhibition, to be set up by the EMIH with government help and housed in a former railway station, will be based on the concept of historian Maria Schmidt, who is an ally of Orban and owns a pro-government weekly.

It will use personal histories to explore the 1938-48 period in Hungary, with particular focus on children, and will also feature temporary exhibitions and education programs.

But the project, first announced in 2014, has drawn criticism from Israel’s Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center.

“The museum concept clearly avoids addressing the role and responsibility of… Hungarian leaders of that era for the plight of the nation’s Jews, and their eventual abandonment to the hands of Nazi Germany,” Robert Rozett, Director of the Yad Vashem Libraries, said in a statement last month.

It also seeks to gloss over the role of ordinary Hungarian citizens, he said. “It is implied that Hungary was actually a nation of rescuers. This is a grave falsification of history.”

BLOODY HISTORY

The head of EMIH, Rabbi Slomo Koves, said the museum remained open to suggestions from others, including Yad Vashem, adding that only about half of the concept was so far ready.

Koves said he wanted to give young visitors “an emotional relation to the story” along with all relevant context.

Hungary began ostracizing and discriminating against Jews under its right-wing ruler Miklos Horthy long before World War Two when it was an ally of Nazi Germany. In 1944 the Germans invaded Hungary to stop it switching sides and in just eight weeks, with the collaboration of the authorities, some 437,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to the Auschwitz death camp.

Tens of thousands of others were herded into ghettos in Budapest and killed, mostly by Hungarians.

The World Jewish Congress has suggested that Hungary put the museum under the supervision of an international body such as Yad Vashem, the U.S. Holocaust Museum and the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (MAZSIHISZ).

The chairman of MAZSIHISZ, Andras Heisler, echoed that call, adding: “We’ve received much support from the government but this… dividing of the Jewish community affects us very negatively.”

Orban told parliament this month the opening of the museum could wait until the disputes surrounding it “die down”.

Budapest already has a Holocaust Memorial Center in a former synagogue that was opened in 2004.

Orban has repeatedly declared a policy of zero tolerance on anti-Semitism but has also risked angering Jews with remarks about “ethnic homogeneity” apparently aimed at right-wing voters and has been accused of trying to whitewash Hungary’s past.

In 2014 Orban’s government erected a monument to victims of the Nazi occupation that critics said depicted Hungarians only as passive victims, absolving them of guilt. But Orban has also spoken of “the very many Hungarians who chose evil over good”.

Gergely Gulyas, Orban’s cabinet chief, said the government would bear responsibility for the content of the new museum.

“We bow our heads before the victims of the Holocaust who became victims because the Hungarian state was unable to protect its own citizens and collaborated in the deportations,” he said.

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

Myanmar not ready for return of Rohingya Muslims, says UNHCR

FILE PHOTO: A Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton/File Photo

By Serajul Quadir

DHAKA (Reuters) – The U.N. refugee agency called a Myanmar minister’s visit to Bangladesh to meet Muslim Rohingya refugees a confidence-building measure, but said conditions in Myanmar were not ready for their return.

Myanmar Social Welfare Minister Win Myat Aye, who heads rehabilitation efforts in Myanmar’s troubled western Rakhine state, told about 50 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh on Wednesday that getting the repatriation process moving was top priority.

But the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Thursday Myanmar was not prepared.

“Conditions in Myanmar are not yet conducive for the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of refugees,” it said in a statement, adding that the responsibility remains with the government to create such conditions.

According to U.N. officials, nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh from Rakhine to escape a military crackdown since August, amid reports of murder, rape and arson by Myanmar troops and Buddhist vigilantes which the United Nations has likened to “ethnic cleansing”.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar rejects the charge, saying its security forces launched a legitimate counter-insurgency operation on Aug. 25 in response to Rohingya militant attacks.

The refugees are living in cramped camps in the port of Cox’s Bazar and Bangladesh is keen for them to return home soon, especially with the oncoming monsoons expected to cause major devastation at the camps.

The UNHCR called on Myanmar to provide the agency unhindered access in Rakhine to assess the situation and monitor the return and reintegration of refugees if and when they voluntarily return.

Acknowledging the mistrust and fear of the Rohingya of Myanmar, Win Myat Aye told the group of refugees on Wednesday to set aside the past and to prepare to go back, promising new villages would be built with hospitals and schools.

But some refugees have said they are worried about going back, fearing persecution.

(Reporting by Serajul Quadir; Writing by Euan Rocha; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Gunman kills seven outside Coptic church in Cairo suburb: ministry

People look at the Mar Mina Church after a blast, in Helwan district on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt December 29, 2017.

CAIRO (Reuters) – A gunman opened fire on worshipers and Egyptian security forces stationed outside a Coptic church in a Cairo suburb on Friday and killed at least seven people before he was wounded and arrested, the Interior Ministry said.

Earlier reports by security sources and state media said at least two attackers were involved, and that one was shot dead and another fled the scene. The Interior Ministry did not explain the reason for the different accounts.

It said the attacker had first fired at a shop 4 km (3 miles) away, killing two people, before proceeding to the Mar Mina church in the southern suburb of Helwan, where he opened fire and tried to throw an explosive device.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Islamist militants have claimed several attacks on Egypt’s large Christian minority in recent years, including two bombings on Palm Sunday in April and a blast at Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral in December 2016 that killed 28 people.

Nine were killed in total, including one policeman at the church, the ministry said. Several security sources and local media earlier reported three policemen had been killed.

People stand behind police tape cordon at the site of attack on a church in the Helwan district south of Cairo, Egypt December 29, 2017.

People stand behind police tape cordon at the site of attack on a church in the Helwan district south of Cairo, Egypt December 29, 2017. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

The ministry said forces had “immediately dealt with the (attacker) and arrested him after he was wounded.” It added,

“Legal measures have been taken,” without elaborating.

The general prosecutor said in a statement that an investigation has been launched into the incident.

“The shooting began at 10:30 a.m. and carried on for more than 15 minutes … there was more than one attacker,” Mohammed Hussein Abdelhadi, who lives close to the church, told Reuters.

A witness who did not want to give his name said a policeman was killed while he was closing the church gate to stop the gunman getting in.

The church was being guarded by police in the run-up to Orthodox Christmas celebrations next week.

The Health Ministry said in an earlier statement that nine people had been killed on Friday in addition to the gunman, and five wounded, including two women in serious condition.

People are seen outside the Mar Mina Church after a blast, in Helwan district on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt after a blast December 29, 2017.

People are seen outside the Mar Mina Church after a blast, in Helwan district on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt after a blast December 29, 2017. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Police have stepped up security measures around churches ahead of Coptic Christmas celebrations on Jan. 7, deploying officers outside Christian places of worship and setting up metal detectors at some of the bigger churches.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi offered his condolences to the families and ordered security forces to increase safety measures at sensitive sites, his office said in a statement.

(Reporting by Ahmed Mohamed Hassan and Amr Abdallah; writing by John Davison; editing by Mark Heinrich)