PERSECUTION International Christian Concern | January 2013
IN THIS ISSUE:
PASTOR PALTI PANJAITAN An unlikely leader. page 3
THE WIVES OF VIETNAMâ€™S PASTORS Pressed down but not destroyed. page 5
YOUR DOLLARS AT WORK:
As violence increases in Nigeria, Christians need our help more than ever. Read how your donations have helped to rebuild whole communities. page 7
Children rescued from Islamic training centers pose with Special Blessings gifts from ICC donors.
Your Bridge to the Persecuted Church
A NOTE FROM THE PRESIDENT Iron, till it be thoroughly heated is incapable of being wrought; so God sees good to cast some men into the furnace of affliction, and then beats them on His anvil into what frame He pleases. Anne Bradstreet (puritan Christian)
In the fire is where Daniel met the living God. The only thing he lost was what bound him—his ropes. Last July, Adija* was incredibly excited about the life she had found in Christ only a few months earlier. After living under a lie for her whole life, she had found Christ. He was living inside her and she had changed so much. Unfortunately, her husband was a fundamentalist Somali Muslim and began to suspect something was amiss. He began to monitor her movements and soon discovered the truth: his Muslim wife had become a Christian. For a fundamentalist Muslim, this is not acceptable. Muhammad declared that apostates should be killed, so her husband planned to kill her and escape their home in Kenya for Somalia, where he would not be prosecuted. On July 2, he doused her with kerosone, set her ablaze, and then left for Somalia. She stumbled around, screaming in flames before collapsing. The next thing she knew, she woke up in a hospital in horrible pain. As you will see (page 15), she is horribly disfigured. Because of our network on the ground, and our incredible Regional Managers, Adija came to our attention. We are now trying to repair the damage that Satan and her husband dealt to her. We are working with doctors trying to reduce her scarring and relieve her pain to the best of the doctors’ ability. *name changed for security
Jeff King, President International Christian Concern
Adija’s external appearance and physcial life will never be the same. Yet, because of your devotion to the persecuted, her life is going to be dramatically improved. Persecuted Christians never stop telling us how amazed they are that Christians from the other side of the world care about their pain and suffering, and will sacrifice to make their lives better. On Adija’s behalf, I’d like to thank you for providing the funds to heal her, and for building and bandaging Christ’s persecuted Church. This work we do in partnership is a holy work, and wholly worthy of your touch, time, and treasure. As you provide funds for ministry to the persecuted, please know that ICC will use your gifts ethically, efficiently, and effectively.
SOUTHEAST ASIA ASIA
PASTOR PALTI PANJAITAN: An Unlikely Leader
The last thing Pastor Palti Panjaitan ever expected to do was lead one of Indonesia’s most heavily persecuted churches. From confronting enraged mobs of radical Muslims to having his fellow pastors beaten and stabbed, Pastor Palti has courageously faced more excruciating challenges over the past five years than most pastors face in a lifetime. But as a young man entering Bible school over 15 years ago, Pastor Palti was anything but ready to even lead Sunday school, let alone a congregation of several hundred. In a recent sit-down interview Pastor Palti, he told ICC “It was actually an accident – I never wanted to be a pastor.” Born into a Christian family of the Batak tribe of North Sumatra, young Palti was something of a trouble-maker. His parents, a high-school teacher and a housewife, refused to pay for any type of college except Bible school. “My parents actually forced me to go to Bible college to shape me up; I was very mischievous.”
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Palti didn’t even think he could get into Bible college. During the admissions interview, when asked what his favorite sermon was, Palti had to make up one about Solomon because it was the only Bible story he could remember from children’s church. When asked what he had been praying for recently, he told the interviewers he had been praying he would be able to answer all of their questions. Yet somehow the future pastor was one of the first ten students accepted that year. After his third year, surprised that he hadn’t yet been kicked out, Pastor Palti says he started to believe that God really did have a plan for his life. Little by little his life began to change. Reflecting back on that time over a decade later, Pastor Palti says, “God is using people regardless of if they feel ready.” PASTORING THROUGH PERSECUTION After graduation Pastor Palti spent three years in ministry before his denomination sent him to pastor the HKBP Filadelfia church in Bekasi, Indonesia. This was in 2007, and at the time the church had already been pushed out of
three different locations by radical Islamic groups since its founding. This was not highly unusual, especially in the hotbed of Islamic radicalism that is Bekasi (a city just outside Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta). Soon, however, HKBP Filadelfia would be pushed into the international spotlight as it became a focal point in Islamists efforts to drive out Christian churches from the city. In 2007, the congregation finally purchased its own property and applied for a license to build a church. In Indonesia these licenses are expensive and notoroiously difficult to obtain. Miraculously the Filadelfia church did eventually obtain one, though it would take more than three years. In the meantime, the church started holding services on their vacant property. In December of 2009, an angry mob showed up during their
WE FEEL LIKE WE ARE FIGHTING A GIANT, AND WE CAN’T FIGHT IT ALONE. -PALTI PANJAITAN, INDONESIAN PASTOR
Christmas service. No one was hurt, but the mob kept coming back and in January the military was called in to protect the church. The local government subsequently caved to pressure from radical Islamic groups and sealed off the church property, effectively telling them to leave the area once again.
They read, “Jesus is a dog” and “Kill the Christians.” Soon, an angry mob was regularly showing up during services. By January of 2012, they had hung loudspeakers up and were blasting the Christians with loud music and obscenities. The Christians continued to worship, even though their ears were splitting and they couldn’t hear themselves. Pastor Palti continued to preach, though the congregation couldn’t hear his sermon. In March of 2012, the mob started to block all of the routes to the church property. When the church members tried to get through, they were jostled and forced back. So each Sunday the church would simply meet as close to the property as they could get, and each Sunday the mob pushed them further and further back. Eventually they ended up on the steps of Pastor Palti’s home. By May the mob had grown to more than 1,000 and had started hurling stones, dirt, eggs and frogs into the congregation. After one service, Pastor Palti can remember seeing his seven-year-old daughter covered in rotten eggs. That month Filadelfia made international news when the mob went so far as to hurl bags of human urine at the congregation. The church members finally decided to move their services to outside the presidential palace in an act of protest. Despite a Supreme Court ruling in their favor, the local government in Bekasi continues to refuse to grant the church a building permit. “We feel like we are fighting a giant, and we can’t fight it alone.”
In a country praised around the world for its religious tolerance, the Filadelfia church had just been forced out of its location by rioting mobs for the fourth time in ten years. That’s when the congregation, and Pastor Palti, decided they were going to take a stand. For the next two years, from January of 2010 to January of 2012, the church would assemble on the street outside of its sealed property and attempt to hold a service. In September of 2010, a fellow pastor in Palti’s denomination in the same city would be stabbed by radicals on his way to service. The next two years proved to be very challenging for the church. WORSHIPPING DESPITE OPPRESSION “The [Muslims] would cover the ground where we planned to sit with animal and human feces, and animal carcasses. We started to come early to clean up the street beforehand and the congregation got used to holding their noses during the service” Pastor Palti told ICC. With a smile, he says eventually the congregation got so used to it they even started to laugh at their predicament. But more was to come. Muslim groups starting hanging signs near the property.
Pastor Palti at an outdoor service.
Pastor Palti was supposed to be rotated to another church a year ago, but he says his denomination doesn’t want to replace him when Filadelfia is facing so much persecution. It’s easy to see why. The man who started ministry as a reluctant Bible school student has now calmly led his congregation through five years of turmoil. The peace he has demonstrated in front of raging mobs is palpable during the interview. It is truly a peace which transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:7). You can help today! 800-ICC-5441
SOUTHEAST ASIA ASIA
THE wives OF VIETNAM’S pastors: PRESSED DOWN BUT NOT DESTROYED
Like any mother raising her children alone, Mrs. Nguyen* sometimes worries about how she will provide for her four kids. The two older ones, at 20 and 17, have just come down with malaria and she’s concerned that the two younger ones might get sick too. Unlike most mothers, Mrs. Nguyen is raising her children alone because her husband, the pastor of a small church in rural Vietnam, was literally dragged away by police nearly five years ago for refusing to renounce his faith in Jesus Christ. On that fateful day back in 2007, Mrs. Nguyen knew something was wrong when her husband got a call to report to the local police precinct. Police had been paying him visits for a while and had recently ramped up the pressure on Mr. Nguyen* to give up his preaching and convert back to a mixture of ancestor worship and Buddhism. Mr. Nguyen had steadfastly refused, but decided today it would be better to report to the police when called than refuse and risk making them even angrier. Little did he know it would be almost a whole year before he would see his family again. Accompanied by his then 15-year-old daughter, Mr. Nguyen never made it to the police precinct that day. Halfway there
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the police found him and again pressured him to give up Christ. Mr. Nguyen responded, “Until I die I will never quit my faith.” Police then informed Mr. Nguyen he was under arrest, promptly tied a rope around his hands, attached it to the back of a motorcycle, and drove off. Watching helplessly as her dad crashed to the ground over and over again behind the motorcycle, Mr. Nguyen’s daughter burst into tears of pain. The tears didn’t stop, even after she ran all the way home and breathlessly relayed the news to her mother. A few hours later the police showed up and searched the home. When Mrs. Nguyen asked why they had taken her husband away, and so violently, they simply lied to her face and told her that they had no idea what she was talking about. Mrs. Nguyen is not alone in her experience. Although much younger and with only one child, Mrs. Dang* has also lost her husband to imprisonment, and for the same reason. During the joint interview with ICC she looks compassionately at Mrs. Nguyen, perhaps understanding her plight better than anyone. In 2010, police arrested her husband as well and sentenced him to four years in prison. With her parents deceased, Mrs. Dang said “I was left feeling like an orphan and wondering how I would take care of my son.” *Names changed for security
EVEN THOUGH WE ARE IN A VERY SORROWFUL SITUATION, WE WILL BELIEVE [IN CHRIST] UNTIL WE DIE. -MRS. DANG,
WIFE OF IMPRISONED VIETNAMESE PASTOR
LIFE UNDER THE “ANTENNAE” Tragically, Mrs. Nguyen and Mrs. Dang’s stories are not isolated incidents in Vietnam. One well-connected pastor informed ICC earlier this year that he was aware of at least 60 families where the husband/father was imprisoned for refusing to give up the faith. Vietnam’s economy has been booming, but religious freedom remains tightly controlled by a Communist party suspicious of Christianity’s links to the West. The worst areas for believers are in the Central Highlands and the Northwest Mountainous Region, where Christianity has been spreading rapidly among the ethnic Hmong tribes over the last 30 years. This has made Communist leaders very uneasy, and their response has been to crack down on Christians while claiming to embrace religious freedom to the outside world. Pastors on the government’s black list regularly face questioning and are often accused of colluding with Western governments. Their phones are tapped, their e-mails read through, and their movements monitored closely by the “antennae,” an informal nickname for the secret police. They report that in general things are better than they were ten years ago, especially in the cities where foreign businessmen and tourists are common. But they also say that Vietnam has gotten much better at covering up the very harsh and repressive conditions under which many rural Christians live. RESOLUTE IN PRISON The Nguyen family would be briefly reunited at Mr. Nguyen’s show trial an entire year after his arrest. He was quickly convicted of activities against the Communist state and summarily sentenced to six years in prison. Since then, Mrs. Nguyen hasn’t stopped praying for him, especially as bits and pieces of horrifying news from prison have emerged. Both Mrs. Nguyen and Mrs. Dang have learned
Mrs. Nguyen and Mrs. Dang meet with ICC in a van.
that their husbands have been tortured repeatedly during imprisonment in attempts to have them sign documents pleading guilty to political conspiracy. Mr. Nguyen was recently strung up by his hands and beaten relentlessly with electric rods. In the past he has also been forced to carry large rocks around the prison yard until he collapses from exhaustion. Guards would then kick and punch him for this “infraction” before returning Mr. Nguyen to his cell.
A Vietnamese widow
Yet both Mr. Nguyen and Mr. Dang* remain astonishingly resolute in their faith and have kept preaching the gospel even while in chains. Managing to get a message out to his wife, Mr. Nguyen told her “Even if I die in prison you and the children must never stop believing in Jesus.” The two men’s stories converged recently when they were moved into the same cell; miraculously the guards allowed them to start a prison fellowship. They are now allowed to gather for worship once a week and Mr. Nguyen reports about 50 other prisoners attend. This has brought hope to Mrs. Nguyen and Mrs. Dang, who are both eagerly awaiting their husbands’ release in the next couple of years. When asked how these events have influenced her faith, Mrs. Nguyen responded, “Even though we are in a very sorrowful situation, we will believe [in Christ] until we die.”
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“I personally want to write to show my profound gratitude to ICC for the gesture done to me and others. A bag of fertilizer was given to me to alleviate my suffering in many ways. In fact, this shows me that I am not alone; there are Christian brethren elsewhere that are ready to share in my sufferings. The one bag you gave me really made me to have a sense of belonging. Really I am more courageous than before. More so it is as you gave me bags of grain. Thank you ICC. May the good Lord continue to bless you all the more. Thanks.” -Nigerian Christian
FERTILIZER FOR FARMERS IN NORTHERN NIGERIA Community Rebuilding The election of President Goodluck Jonathan produced more change than many expected—in particular, the suffering of Nigerian Christians. Muslim violence broke out in response to the newly elected Christian president. Caught in the heart of the violent protest were the Christians of Northern Nigeria. The Muslim-dominated region served as the backdrop for the ethno-religious slaughter that sparked in the spring of 2011. The angry mobs went from town to town in violent protest; destroying churches, homes, and families. Many have lost homes, churches, fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters. Homes have been burned in what has been nothing more than the flare of hate. Needless to say, the Christians of Nigeria are walking on a tightrope. As the news continues
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to come in from the systematic violence in Nigeria, ICC has worked hard to support the Christians affected. After learning specifically of a group of farmers in Soba, Nigeria, whose crops were set ablaze, ICC has worked to fulfill their need. With your help, ICC was able to provide fertilizer for 44 farmers and their families. The fertilizer will allow the farmers to re-develop their land that was scorched during the attacks. With this humble gift, the farmers will be able to begin to rebuild what has been lost and continue to support themselves and their families. The assistance to these farmers is another way your dollars have enabled us to be a voice for the voiceless and defend the rights of the oppressed. Because of your help we can continue to labor for brothers and sisters in Nigeria!
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