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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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CHINA: Pastor Yang Hua Sentenced

CHINA: Pastor Yang Hua Sentenced

After secretly trying Yang Hua for “divulging state secrets,” a judge sentenced the pastor of Living Stone Church on 5 January to two years and six months in prison. Pastor Yang, also known by his legal name, Li Guoshi, has been held since 9 December 2015.

While incarcerated, prosecutors tortured Yang and threatened his family to force a false confession. Yang subsequently requested that the prosecutors be banned from the case and his lawyers sued members of the prosecution. However, the court still allowed the prosecutors to continue with the case. They eventually provided forged evidence that implicated Yang.

Pastor Yang co-founded Living Stone, also known as Huoshi Church, with Pastor Su Tianfu. Chinese officials reportedly forced Pastor Su to “take a trip” in recent weeks. The details of his trip and his current condition are unknown. The church has grown from its original 20 members in 2009 to more than 700 today.

Pastor Yang was originally taken into custody after he tried to prevent officials from confiscating a church hard drive. He received two consecutive, five-day administrative detention sentences for “the crime of obstructing justice” and “gathering a crowd to disturb public order.” When his wife, Wang Hongwu, came to pick him up on 20 December 2015, she saw four men put a black hood on his head and throw him into an unmarked van. Wang later learned her husband was being transferred to a criminal detention facility, having been charged with “illegally possessing state secrets” About a month later, Yang was charged with “divulging state secrets,” but given no trial date.

 Source: The Voice of the Martyrs USA

 Prayer Points

  • Ask the Lord to give Yang courage during this time of suffering and uncertainly. Pray he will take great strength from the knowledge that the Lord walks with him and his family during this difficult time.
  • Pray for Yang’s church, may they be spurred on by his example and continue to serve the Lord as they live out their faith.
  • Pray the Holy Spirit may use Yang as a witness for the Gospel.
SUDAN: Pastor Released from Prison

SUDAN: Pastor Released from Prison

Christians in Sudan are thankful that Rev Kuwa Shamal Abazmam Kurri, the head of the mission office of the Sudan Church of Christ, was released from prison on Monday 2 January.

He is one of four men detained since December 2015 in Khartoum who have been on trial on several charges.

The trial will continue for the three remaining defendants:  Rev Hassan Abduraheem Kodi Taour; Abdulmonem Abdumawla Issa Abdumawla; and Petr Jasek (a Czech national).

At a court hearing on 2 January the judge freed Rev Kuwa due to lack of evidence against him, but ruled that the trial will continue against the other three men. Petr Jasek will be tried for charges which include waging war against the state, violating restrictions in military areas, spreading rumours to defame the state, espionage, and inciting strife between communities. The two other defendants will only be tried for the last two of these charges.

The punishment for some of the charges could include the death penalty or life imprisonment.

The next court hearing is due to take place on 9 January, when the lawyers for the three defendants will present their case.

Source: Middle East Concern

Prayer Points

  • Praise God for the release of Rev Kuwa. Ask the Lord to help him overcome all he has suffered. Pray the Lord will lead and protect him in this new season of ministry.
  • Pray the three defendants will know the Lord’s strength and comfort during their ordeal.
  • Ask the Lord to grant wisdom to the legal representatives defending these men; pray for a fair judicial process, and that the three men will be acquitted soon.