AG pastor beaten, jailed in India

On Sunday morning, September 26, Assemblies of God of India pastor Shivanda Siddi had his service interrupted as several religious radicals invaded his church, beat him in front of his congregation and then he was arrested by local police.

According to the Global Council of Indian Christians, the attackers were members of the radical group Bajarang Dal. The men entered Pastor Siddi’s church, Gnanodaya AG Church in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, during the service. They argued with the pastor, then took Bibles away from members and proceeded to beat the pastor for about 30 minutes before they called the police and had the pastor arrested after falsely accusing him.

Siddi, five women and two young girls were taken to the police station in Yellapur where, according to GCIC, the pastor was beaten again by the religious radicals in front of police officials.

Later that evening, through the intervention of GCIC, the women and children were released. However, the pastor was subsequently sent to Sirsi jail.

Dr. Sajan George, spokesperson for GCIC, told AG News that on Wednesday, September 29, GCIC was able to get the pastor released on bail, with the help of an attorney. “The radicals tried to attack the GCIC coordinators,” George stated.

“Although I’m deeply pleased that GCIC was able to secure the release of Pastor Siddi,” says Omar Beiler, AG World Missions regional director for Eurasia, “this kind of incident is not isolated or restricted to India. Persecution is a very real experience for many Christians around the world. I believe our prayers for the suffering Church can make the difference between life and death for many of our brothers and sisters in Christ who experience – at the very least – daily threats .”

Christians pray in shuttered church in Indonesia

JAKARTA, Indonesia—Dozens of Christians held prayers inside their boarded-up church near Indonesia’s capital Sunday, saying they had as much right as anyone to worship in the world’s most populous Muslim country.They were surrounded by hundreds of police and unarmed security guards.

Using bullhorns, local officials reminded members of the Batak Christian Protestant Church they were banned from the site following an attack on two church leaders by suspected Islamic hard-liners.

“We just want to carry out our obligations as Christians, but authorities are treating us like terrorists,” said Advent Tambunan, a member of the congregation in the industrial city of Bekasi.

“There’s no justice for us in this country.”

Indonesia, a secular country of 237 million people, has more Muslims than any other in the world. Though the country has a long history of religious tolerance, a small extremist fringe has become more vocal—and violent—in recent years.

Ten people were arrested after last week’s attacks, which left one churchgoer hospitalized with a stab wound. Among them was the local leader of the hard-line Islamic Defender’s Front, which has led calls for the Christians to leave.

In recent months, the hard-liners have thrown shoes and water bottles at the church members, interrupted sermons with chants of “Infidels!” and dumped piles of feces on the land.

Local officials had seven empty buses on standby outside the Batak Christian’s shuttered church Sunday, ready to transport them to an alternate site of worship provided by the government.

But members of the congregation, numbering about 100, refused to budge.

After lengthy negotiations, they were allowed to carry out Sunday services, with the agreement that they would talk later this week about ways to help defuse religious tensions in the neighborhood.



Christian School in Kashmir Attacked Over Reported Quran Desecrations

Hundreds of Muslims in the divided region of Kashmir took to the streets Monday night in violent protest over the reported desecration of Qurans in the United States.

Over a dozen people have reportedly died in the clash that ensued between police and protesters, and a Christian private school was set ablaze in the volatile Himalayan region.

While violence and protests in Kashmir have been ongoing since June, Monday’s protests shifted from India’s rule over the disputed region to anti-Quran actions in the United States, where footage was taken of demonstrators tearing out pages from Islams’s sacred text over the weekend.

Over 8 in 10 Worldwide See Religion as Important

More than eight in ten adults in the world say religion is an important part of their daily lives, according to Gallup surveys conducted last year in 114 countries.

And, as past surveys have found, there remains a strong correlation between a country’s socioeconomic status and the religiosity of its residents.

In the world’s poorest countries – those with average per-capita incomes of $2,000 or less – the median proportion who say religion is important in their daily lives is 95 percent, reported Gallup on Tuesday.

In contrast, the median for the richest countries – those with average per-capita incomes over $25,000 – is 47 percent.

“Social scientists have put forth numerous possible explanations for the relationship between the religiosity of a population and its average income level,” noted Gallup editor Steve Crabtree.

“One theory is that religion plays a more functional role in the world’s poorest countries, helping many residents cope with a daily struggle to provide for themselves and their families. A previous Gallup analysis supports this idea,” he added.

In Gallup’s 2009 analysis of surveys conducted in 143 countries in the three years prior, the organization found that a relationship between religiosity and emotional well-being is stronger among those in poor countries than among those in the developed world.

In its latest report, Gallup said religion was found to be important for 95 percent of people in countries with $2,000 or less per-capita income. And for countries with per-capita income over $2,000 but less than $5,000, 92 percent of people said religion is an important part of their daily life.

After $5,000, the figures dip more, with 82 percent deeming religion as important in countries within the $5,001-12,500 group. For $12,501-25,000, 70 percent said the same. And for countries with per-capita income over $25,001, only 47 percent said religion is an important part of their daily life.

As in past surveys, however, the United States is among the rich countries that buck the trend. According to Gallup’s latest survey, 65 percent of Americans say religion is important in their daily lives. Other high-income countries more likely to stress the importance of religion include Italy, Greece, Singapore, and countries in the Persian Gulf.

The top six countries with the highest percentage of people placing importance on religion were found to be Bangladesh, Niger, Yemen, Indonesia, Malawi, and Sri Lanka – with at least 99 percent in each reporting religion as important in their daily lives.

The six countries with the lowest percentages were Estonia (16 percent), Sweden (17 percent), Denmark (19 percent), Japan (24 percent), and Hong Kong (24 percent).

Results of Gallup’s surveys are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews conducted in 2009 with approximately 1,000 adults in each country.

At Least 150 Women Raped in Weekend Raid in Congo

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo — A mob of Rwandan rebels gang-raped at least 150 women last month during a weekend raid on a community of villages in eastern Congo, United Nations and other humanitarian officials said Sunday.

The United Nations blamed the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or F.D.L.R., for the attack. The F.D.L.R. is an ethnic Hutu rebel group that has been terrorizing the hills of eastern Congo for years, preying on villages in a quest for the natural resources beneath them.

The raided villages are near the mining center of Walikale, known to be a rebel stronghold, and are “very insecure,” said Stefania Trassari, a spokeswoman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “Rape is something we get quite often.”

But she and other United Nations and humanitarian officials said that this attack was unusual because of the large number of victims and the fact that they were raped by more than one attacker simultaneously.

On the evening of July 30, armed men entered the village of Ruvungi, in North Kivu Province.

“They told the population that they were just there for food and rest and that they shouldn’t worry,” said Will F. Cragin, the International Medical Corps’ program coordinator for North Kivu, who visited the village a week after their arrival.

“Then after dark another group came,” said Mr. Cragin, referring to between 200 and 400 armed men who witnesses described as spending days and nights looting Ruvungi and nearby villages.

“They began to systematically rape the population,” he said, adding, “Most women were raped by two to six men at a time.”

The attackers often took the victims into the bush or into their homes, raping them “in front of their children and their families,” Mr. Cragin said. “If a car passed, they would hide.”

The rebels left on Aug. 3, he said, the same day the chief of the area traveled through the villages and reported horrific cases of sexual violence. “We thought at first he was exaggerating,” Mr. Cragin said, “but then we saw the scale of the attacks.”

Miel Hendrickson, a regional director for the International Medical Corps, which has been documenting the rape cases, said, “We had heard first 24 rapes, then 56, then 78, then 96, then 156.”

“The numbers keep rising,” she said. The United Nations maintains a military base approximately 20 miles from the villages, but United Nations officials said they did not know if the peacekeepers there were aware of the attack as it occurred. A United Nations military spokesman, Madnoje Mounoubai, said information was still being gathered.

The F.D.L.R., which began as a gathering of fugitives of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, has grown into a resilient and savage killing machine and an economic engine in the region.

NY man finds prayer balloon sent from Pittsburgh

An upstate New York man says his family has been praying for a Pittsburgh boy after finding a note attached to a balloon that says the child needs a new heart.

Chris Kormanyos is building a home in Messena, N.Y., near the Canadian border and about 400 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

He says a green balloon drifted down onto his driveway Saturday. A note attached read, “We love Zach, we want your prayers to bring him a new heart. Please send a prayer to Zach in Pittsburgh. Pass it on.”

Nothing about the boy is known, other than his first name.

Kormanyos told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he and his family have prayed for the boy.

‘Forget the pizza parties,’ Teens tell churches

“Bye-bye church. We’re busy.” That’s the message teens are giving churches today.

Only about one in four teens now participate in church youth groups, considered the hallmark of involvement; numbers have been flat since 1999. Other measures of religiosity — prayer, Bible reading and going to church — lag as well, according to Barna Group, a Ventura, Calif., evangelical research company. This all has churches canceling their summer teen camps and youth pastors looking worriedly toward the fall, when school-year youth groups kick in.

“Talking to God may be losing out to Facebook,” says Barna president David Kinnaman.

“Sweet 16 is not a sweet spot for churches. It’s the age teens typically drop out,” says Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, which found the turning point in a study of church dropouts. “A decade ago teens were coming to church youth group to play, coming for the entertainment, coming for the pizza. They’re not even coming for the pizza anymore. They say, ‘We don’t see the church as relevant, as meeting our needs or where we need to be today.’ ”

“I blame the parents,”who didn’t grow up in a church culture, says Jeremy Johnston, executive pastor at First Family Church in Overland Park, Kan.

His megachurch would routinely take 600 teens to summer church camp, he says, “and many would be forever changed by that experience. But this summer we don’t even have a camp.

“Remember, 80% of kids don’t have cars. Their parents could be lazy or the opposite — overstressed and overcommitted. If parents don’t go to church, kids don’t, either.”

Don’t forget the overcommitted teens themselves, the recession and growing competition from summer mission trips, says Rick Gage of Go-Tell Youth Camps, based in Duluth, Ga.

Registration fell 22% in 2009 but stabilized this summer with 2,000 middle- and high-school teens at five camps in four states. Attendance peaked in the late 1990s at 5,000 teens, Gage says.

Chris Palmer, youth pastor at Ironbridge Baptist Church in Chester, Va., says its youth group enrollment slid from 125 teens in 2008 to 35 last winter.

He pulled participation back up to 70 this year by letting teens know “real church, centered on Jesus Christ, is hard work,” Palmer says. “This involves the Marine Corps of Christianity. Once we communicate that, we see kids say, ‘Hey, I want to be involved in something that’s a little radical and exciting.’ ”

Rainer agrees. He says teens today want Scripture, they “don’t want superficiality. We need to tell them that if you are part of church life, you are part of something bigger. The church needs you, too.”

But first, they have to find the kids.

Sam Atkeson of Falls Church, Va., left his Episcopal church youth group not long after leaving middle school.

“I started to question if it was something I always wanted to do or if I just went because my friends did,” says Atkeson, now 18. “It just wasn’t really something I wanted to continue to do. My beliefs changed. I wouldn’t consider myself a Christian anymore.”

Judge rejects demand to censor Christian prayer

A federal judge in New York has rejected a demand from the Americans United for Separation of Church and State that a town board be ordered to change its invocation procedures so that the statements from volunteers on a rotating basis would be more “ecumenical” and “inclusive.”

The decision from U.S. District Judge Charles Siragusa said officials in Greece, N.Y., did not violate the Constitution’s Establishment Clause with their tradition of opening meetings with an invocation from local clergy members.

Two plaintiffs represented by the Americans United organization had wanted a court order that the town instruct those who deliver prayers to be “inclusive and ecumenical.”

“The court finds that the policy requested by plaintiffs would … impose a state-created orthodoxy,” the judge said. “The court has also considered the identities of the prayer-givers and the process that the town employed in inviting clergy to deliver prayers, and finds that these factors did not have the purpose or effect of proselytizing or advancing any one, or disparaging any other, faith or belief, within the meaning of the Establishment Clause.”

A federal judge in New York has rejected a demand from the Americans United for Separation of Church and State that a town board be ordered to change its invocation procedures so that the statements from volunteers on a rotating basis would be more “ecumenical” and “inclusive.”

The decision from U.S. District Judge Charles Siragusa said officials in Greece, N.Y., did not violate the Constitution’s Establishment Clause with their tradition of opening meetings with an invocation from local clergy members.

Two plaintiffs represented by the Americans United organization had wanted a court order that the town instruct those who deliver prayers to be “inclusive and ecumenical.”

“The court finds that the policy requested by plaintiffs would … impose a state-created orthodoxy,” the judge said. “The court has also considered the identities of the prayer-givers and the process that the town employed in inviting clergy to deliver prayers, and finds that these factors did not have the purpose or effect of proselytizing or advancing any one, or disparaging any other, faith or belief, within the meaning of the Establishment Clause.”

It was a rare victory for prayer over the general rulings in recent years that often have restricted, limited or censored prayers that are offered at the openings of various government meetings, such as town and county boards and commissions.

Hard times for Christian aid groups in Afghanistan

Days after the murder of ten international medical aid workers in Afghanistan, Christian-affiliated humanitarian groups continue to walk a tightrope reaching the weakest of humanity.

Another reminder of the difficult balancing took place on Monday, when World Vision was forced to shut down operations in south central Somalia, after their aid workers were accused of spreading Christianity.

Local members of an Islamic insurgency group, Al-Shabaab, disarmed guards protecting World Vision property and for a time occupied the offices.

The excuse of stopping outsiders from proselytizing is also being used by the Taliban while claiming responsibility for the murders last Thursday of ten volunteers from the International Assistance Mission, a non-profit Christian organization.

They had been providing eye care for Afghans when the medics were ambushed in the remote Badakhshan province.

Officials heading their mission, as well as the families of the slain workers, deny they were trying to preach.

Such agencies work around the world under self-imposed or international aid agreements that forbid them from pushing religion.

But a spokesman for the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief in Kabul told the Christian Science Monitor Monday they fear new risks for such groups.

While World Vision is also a Christian-based organization, their Canada president Dave Toycen told QMI Agency they have specific policies against proselytizing.

Whether in Somalia, where they have been for 18 years, or in Afghanistan, where they set up an office in 2001, Toycen says their work is not political or intended to convert.

“(We’re) there to show that someone cares,” he explained.

“To express humanitarian concerns.”

World Vision’s mission continues in Afghanistan, but has been suspended in Somalia, where locals have staffed their offices.

“The message is we’re not wanted,” Toycen added.At least one Canadian agency, Food for the Hungry, is reevaluating early-stage plans to return to the embattled country. The Christian based group left Afghanistan in 2003, and has been sending supplies such as medical equipment — another container leaves next week — into the country through the military and other NGOs.

For Indonesian Christians, Gatherings Bring Tension



Sitting in the shade of a tree in an empty lot, the congregants raised their hymn books and, in response, the police, lined up in a ragged cordon, raised their riot shields. Sunday service was starting for the local Batak Christian Protestant Church and, for the third time in three weeks, the local authorities prepared for a clash.

Across the barricade, enraged young Muslim men in white skullcaps surged forward as the first song in praise of Jesus Christ chimed out. Using their own speakers, they tried to drown out the hymn with their own Arabic chant, “la ilaha ilallah” — there is no god but Allah.

Scenes such as this have become an increasingly frequent sign of religious tension across the Indonesian capital and its urban sprawl, home to more than 20 million people.

In recent months, there has been a surge in forcible church closures, attacks on prayer meetings and violent protests by Islamist vigilante groups against perceived plots to “Christianize” Muslim neighborhoods.

The standoff on Sunday in Bekasi, an ethnically mixed city of factories, slums and private housing estates on the edge of Jakarta, illustrates what many fear is a crisis that has been willfully ignored by thegovernment and could boil up into violent religious conflict.

For Luspida Simanjuntak, the Christian congregation’s leader, the problem is simple: Her flock of 1,500 has no church, and no one here will let her build one. In Indonesia, houses of worship can be built only with permission from the surrounding community. This is a measure that critics say contributes to a tyranny of the majority and forces minorities to hold services in private homes, hotels, shopping malls and streets.

“We’ve been worshipping for 15 years, more or less, moving from house to house because every time we try to build a church, we’re faced with mobs who won’t let us build,” Mrs. Simanjuntak said.