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From our Archives: It Happened on Christmas Day

From our Archives: It Happened on Christmas Day

It was early in 1964 that a document was brought out of Russia. This document, signed by 120 Russian Christians, was dated February, 1964.

It tells a sad story of what happened on Christmas Day in 1963 in the city of Barnaul in Russia, a holiday, celebrated in memory of the birthday of our Saviour Jesus Christ. People cele­brate by going to church, attending worship service, and of course their holiday dinner held in a festive mood.

However, in Russia, on Christmas Day four Christians sat in the People’s Court in the city of Barnaul. They faced a stern judge who sentenced them under Statute 227 of the Soviet criminal code. Under this statute, the leader of an underground church group, Pastor Subbo­tion, was sentenced to five years in prison.

A lay Christian named Nicolai Khmara was sentenced to three years. His brother Wasili Khmara received three years. His sister Ludmila received a two-year suspended sentence.

The families were in the court room. Many of their Christian friends were there, as were the wife of Nicolai Khmara and her four children. Nicolai was in the best of health, radiant and cheerful. Perhaps his family felt three years wasn’t too long, that time would pass speedily and their daddy would soon be back with them. Little did they know that this would be the last time they would see him alive.

Two weeks later, the wife of Nicolai Khmara was notified by the Barnaul prison authorities that her hus­band was dead. With some friends she came to the prison and received the body of her husband. They took the body home, placed it in a pine box, a coffin, in the living room.

The four Khmara children, the eldest 13, and the youngest just one month, were there. The older children looked at their daddy, but could barely recognise him as his body was purple and blue. He had been beaten. There were marks on his wrists from chains and hand­cuffs. He had been burned as though hot steel objects had been applied to the side of his stomach, and the bottom of his feet. Obviously, he had been brutally beaten to death. His mouth was stuffed with rags. On removing the rags, she found that his tongue had been cut out, no doubt because his jailers did not want to hear his Christian testimony.

Yes, Nicolai Khmara died a horrible death. Yet, what was the terrible deed he had committed? What was the terrible crime for which he had to pay with his life? Nicolai and his three friends had met secretly in the nearby village of Kulunda in the true fashion of an underground church
in Russia.

Several times they had applied to the authorities for permission to worship, but their requests were denied, because the hall where they wanted to meet didn’t have the sanitary and other facilities the officials demanded.

Many Christians came to pay their last respects during the four days Nicolai Khmara’s body lay in the simple coffin in the family living room. It was a solemn and mournful funeral procession.

The body was carried on the shoulders of friends to the cemetery. The funeral procession wound through the streets of the city of Barnaul.

by Paul Voronaeff

Christmas in Jordan

Christmas in Jordan

Christmas Day is an official public holiday in Jordan and, although Christians make up less than 10% of the population, the majority of homes and businesses are adorned with Christmas decorations.

Christians in Jordan celebrate the birth of Jesus as the Son of God, while the Muslim majority participates in the commercialism of Christmas – decorations, photos with Santa and gift giving.

Whilst the constitution allows for this apparent freedom of religion in Jordan, the state religion is Islam and some laws appear to contradict the constitution and place restrictions on Christians. Those born into Christian families are allowed to worship openly and are not required to wear Muslim clothing. However, evangelism and conversions are met with retaliation by Muslim neighbours, friends and family members. In some cases, the government secret police will become involved and typically side with the Muslims.

Christian converts from Islam face greater problems; they struggle to keep jobs and sometimes their children are taken away. Tribal authorities often discipline those considered guilty of religious infractions. Jordanian Christians are constantly aware that the government could be monitoring their activities through technology or informants. When Christians are imprisoned in Jordan for apostasy, it is rarely made known to the public.

In recent years, Christian ministry among Jordanian Christians has been largely focused on serving refugees. There is a significant number of Christian refugees from Iraq and Syria in Jordan, as it is one of the few Middle Eastern countries where it is relatively safe for Christians.

VOM works in partnership with a local mission responding to the needs of Christian refugees in Jordan. Our partner reports that refugees in the Middle East, including Jordan, are still living in less than ideal conditions. The coldest months are December and January and most of the refugees don’t have resources to buy blankets and appropriate heating systems to warm up their houses.

Christmas for a refugee in Jordan can be lonely and sometimes without much joy. Many can’t share the happiness of this time with their family because they are separated. Family members may be in other Middle Eastern regions as refugees or have received visas and immigrated to other countries.

Our mission partner provides encouragement to these families, through distributing food baskets and gifts for children. They host a Christmas event in the church where families come together in a big hall to celebrate the birth of Jesus and to enjoy fellowship and a communal meal.

Our Christmas Care project will ensure many of the refugee children in Jordan will receive a gift this Christmas, including a children’s Bible.

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Where The Front Line Begins

Where The Front Line Begins

When it comes to sharing the Gospel in hostile and restricted nations, front line workers must use wisdom and creativity. In Laos, travelling evangelists distribute VOM-provided radios to people in remote villages so they can listen to Christian broadcasts from a neighbouring country — and the villagers respond.

“Since we have received 2,000 radios, there are more people writing letters to us, especially from those we have never known before,” a VOM partner reported. “And there are more phone calls about people accepting Jesus through listening to the programs.”

In a single three-month period last year, 253 people professed faith in Christ. During the same period, front line workers baptised about 180 people and established three new house churches among the Khmu people. Virtually no spiritual leadership is available to these new believers, so they rely on the weekly radio program and visits from front line workers for encouragement and spiritual food. Visiting evangelists baptise new converts, explain difficult spiritual concepts and teach God’s Word.

In communist Laos, new believers face harsh persecution.

Front line workers are often the first to respond when believers are persecuted.

  • Pray for wisdom, clarity and understanding for Christians preparing radio broadcasts for people from differing languages and cultural backgrounds
  • Ask God to prepare more mature Christians who will commit to travel and disciple new believers in remote areas
  • Pray for front line workers to have energy, faithfulness and strength as they depend on God in their demanding roles
  • Pray for the provision of Bibles and clear, sound teaching so that converts can quickly become established and grounded in their faith
INDONESIA: Trial of Christian Governor at a Crossroads

INDONESIA: Trial of Christian Governor at a Crossroads

An Indonesian court will decide next week whether to push forward with a controversial blasphemy trial of Jakarta’s Christian governor, who is accused of insulting the Koran, a judge told a hearing on Tuesday.

Several hundred Muslim protesters stood outside the Jakarta court, calling for the jailing of Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese politician, known by his nickname Ahok.

A rival group of his supporters unveiled a banner with a map of Indonesia calling for unity and saying “Ahok is a blessing”.

A prosecution lawyer said the charges against the governor were legal and the trial should continue, dismissing a claim by the defence that naming Purnama a suspect had violated his human rights and breached procedures.”The defendant under the prosecutors’ charges has violated articles 156 and 156a … but there was no violation of procedures,” said Ali Murkatono, referring to the codes of the blasphemy law, which can carry a jail term of up to five years.

Some have stated that this trial represents religious tolerance on a larger scale in Indonesia, and the decision from this trial could have strong repercussions in the direction Indonesia takes. Already, some ethnic and religious minorities are under tensions as acts of violence or discrimination against them have increased since the trial began.

Source: International Christian Concern

 Prayer Points

  • Ask God to give Governor Purnama wisdom and gracious responses throughout proceedings as a testimony to the Indonesian authorities and public.
  • Pray that Governor Purnama’s example will embolden other Indonesian Christians to lift the name of the Lord high and to honour Him in everything.
  • Pray that God will use this case to bring positive change to Indonesia’s laws, allowing Christians greater freedom to practise their faith.
PAKISTAN: Father of Kidnapped Girl Shot

PAKISTAN: Father of Kidnapped Girl Shot

Gulzar Masih, the father of a deaf and dumb girl who was kidnapped from her home in Sialkot, Punjab, is in a critical condition after being shot by his daughter’s kidnapper, Ghulam Hussain.

Gulzar’s daughter, Asima, was kidnapped five months ago by the family’s neighbour Ghulam Hussain, before escaping back to her family. However, local police failed to register the father’s complaint. Instead, they have told him to return his daughter to her kidnapper – something he refuses to do.

A court has allowed Asima to stay with her Christian parents. Despite this, Muslim clerics and police are still putting pressure on the family, telling them that Asima has supposedly “embraced Islam” – and because of this they say she can’t live with her Christian parents.

Ghulam had been threatening Asima and Gulzar with death if she wasn’t returned to him. Despite this, the local police still haven’t acted. Ghulam is well connected with both high-level police officers and politicians in the region. Even a court ruling instructing police to register the case hasn’t been acted on.

Asima has been moved to a safe place for the time being, unable to see her critically ill father. She is also at risk, as clerics claim that she has reconverted to Christianity and can be considered an apostate – for which they demand death.

Source: CLAAS

 Prayer Points

  • Please intercede for Gulzar; may the Lord grant him complete healing. Ask the Lord to protect him, Asima and the rest of the family.
  • Commit to the Lord all those who have authority in the region; may they speak out and act justly so those responsible will be brought to justice.
  • Pray the Lord will minister to Asima, to comfort and strengthen her in her faith and help her to overcome her suffering.