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An incident in which a Sri Lankan Christian school boy was severely beaten by a Buddhist monk when he professed his faith in the classroom highlights the ongoing need for Christian youngsters living in contexts of persecution to be educated in Christian schools.
Barnabas supports Christian schooling for over 7,700 Christian youngsters
Amila Tharanga Thilakaratne (14) was left bleeding from the ear after the assault at his school in Kandy district. Only Buddhism is taught in the school and Amila is the only non-Buddhist in his class. He and his older brother Gashan, who attends the same school, are discriminated against because of their Christian faith.
On 11 June, a Buddhist monk came to Amila’s class to teach the children about Buddhism. The monk forced him to sit at the front and recite the names of the Buddha’s parents. When Amila replied that he was a Christian, the monk said that he should nevertheless learn Buddhist teachings before severely assaulting the school boy. He received no medical treatment and was warned by the monk and another teacher not to tell anyone about the assault.
Amila was too afraid to tell his parents about the incident so went straight to bed after school. But when he began to vomit later that evening, his father asked what had happened and Amila revealed all.
Mr Thilakaratne took his son to hospital the next morning and, despite being threatened with further violence by the monk if he reported the incident to the authorities, filed a complaint with the police. An investigation is yet to be initiated and Mr Thilakaratne fears that no action will be taken against the monk. He is also concerned that Amila may be expelled from the school for reporting the matter.
Many Christian children like Amila, who live in places where Christians are a despised minority, face hostility, injustice and even violence on account of their faith at state schools. The majority religion may be strongly promoted and the Christian youngsters are often put under pressure to convert. They are sometimes deliberately failed in exams, destroying their employment prospects and keeping them trapped in poverty. Christian parents are often too poor to send their children to privately-run Christian schools. Sometimes they are too poor to send them to any school at all.
Barnabas Fund is helping by supporting Christian schools and education projects in eight countries including parts of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Over 7,700 persecuted Christian children are therefore able to receive a good education in a nurturing Christian environment where they are encouraged in their faith.
On average it costs just £18 (US$29) per month to support a child in school. Sponsors who give regularly will receive a card with a photo and personal information about one Christian child and a twice-yearly newsletter about the project.
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, said:
Sadly what happened to Amila is all too typical of the persecution Christian youngsters experience at school. These vulnerable little brothers and sisters need particular protection and support as they grow up to become their country’s next generation of believers and church leaders. It is a great privilege for Barnabas Fund to be able to give them the best possible start in their young Christian lives.
If you would like to help a Christian child learn in a supportive Christian environment, please send your donation to the Christian Schooling for Christian Children Fund project ( 00-794).using our secure server.
If you would like to sponsor a Christian child, please set up a regular payment to our School-Place Sponsorship Fund project (00-514).
If you prefer to telephone, dial: 0800 587 4006 from within the UK or +44 1672 565031 from outside the UK. For a one-off donation please quote project reference Christian Schooling for Christian Children Fund project (00-794); to sponsor a child, quote project reference School-Place Sponsorship Fund project (00-514).
If you prefer to send a cheque by post: Click this link for the address of our regional office. Please quote project referenceChristian Schooling for Christian Children Fund project ( 00-794).
For a quick donation of £3.00 by SMS (see terms and conditions here) text Barnabas/794 to 70007 (Please note: This facility is presently only available to UK supporters).
A church in the capital of Sudan was bulldozed by the authorities as the government pushes forward its plans for a strengthened Islamic state following the country’s split from the South.
The Church of Saint John was flattened without warning
The Episcopal Parish Church of Saint John was demolished without warning by the local authority’s Ministry of Planning and Housing, flanked by police, on the morning of 18 June.
A number of Christian women who were present pleaded with the authorities to allow them to rescue items of church property from the building; they were permitted to retrieve only a few chairs at the end by which time almost everything had been destroyed.
Two girls and a boy were arrested for taking photos of the incident; they were released later that day.
The reasons given by the authorities for the demolition were that the church had no legal documents or status, and that it belonged to Southerners, who they said should no longer be in the country following the independence of South Sudan.
The Bishop of Khartoum, the Rt. Revd. Ezekiel Kondo, challenged both of these reasons saying that the government had refused to grant St John’s legal status for the last 25 years – despite several requests from the church – and that it does not, as part of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, whose bishop is Sudanese, belong to Southerners.
The authorities do not respect the right of non-Muslims in Sudan… It seems that the policy of Islamic state is being implemented when the president said if South Sudanese vote for secession, there will be but one religion, one language and one culture.
The church demolition was denounced by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), who said in a joint statement that it was the latest in a series of “calculated attacks” on minority communities and Christians in particular.
On 21 April, a church and Bible School compound in Khartoum was destroyed in a fire. Two days later, security forces occupied the premises of the Sudan Council of Churches and Sudan Aid in Nyala, Dafur, and confiscated property.
The WCC and AACC warned that Christian converts from a Muslim background in Sudan were being targeted and having their property – and even their spouses – taken from them.
We express our fears that all these events may not be isolated but rather calculated attacks on Sudanese civilians who are not of the Muslim faith, and their property in Khartoum, and in particular Christians.
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has repeatedly stated his intention to strengthen sharia law in Sudan, which is 98% Muslim, after the South seceded.
People of Southern origin, who are mainly Christian and mainly African, remaining in the North after the split were stripped of their citizenship and given a deadline to leave Sudan.
It is estimated that 260,000 people remain stranded without the resources to relocate to South Sudan. Many are living in makeshift shelters on the outskirts of Khartoum in an ever perilous situation.
A Christian organisation is taking the South African government to court over new rules that allow food packaging to carry the halal certification mark and other religious signs, without regulation.
A seven-year-old boy who was taken from his Christian parents by Swedish social services over a home schooling row is to be reunited with them after three years.
The FBI has conducted more than 100 investigations into suspected Islamic extremists within the military, a dozen of which are considered serious cases.
Two British Muslims from a mosque near Heathrow airport have been killed fighting beside Islamist militants in Yemen.
A Muslim couple from Manchester are standing trial accused of planning to attack Jewish neighbourhoods after becoming radicalised by al-Qaeda propaganda on the internet.
A former “most wanted” terrorist who made the explosives to blow up several Indonesian churches as part of a major anti-Christian attack in 2000 has been jailed for 20 years.
Umar Patek was sentenced last Thursday (21 June), having been found guilty of six charges including murder, bomb-making and terrorism offences in relation to two incidents.
The first was coordinated attacks on several churches in Jakarta on Christmas Eve in 2000, part of a major assault on 25 churches in eleven cities by militants from Islamist group Jemaah Islamiyah; around 19 people, mostly Christians attending services, were killed.
Patek was also convicted of making explosives that were used in the Bali bombings that killed 202 people, mostly foreigners, in 2002; the 45-year-old was found guilty of mixing the 700kg bomb that blew up two nightclubs on the Indonesian island.
The court heard how he had first used his bomb-making skills in 2000 when Imam Samudra, mastermind of the Bali bombings, asked him to make explosives for the church attacks. Samudra later asked Patek to help kill foreigners in Bali by making the explosives for that atrocity.
Eddy Setiono, who is serving a life sentence for terror offences, told the court that he drove a car to several churches on Christmas Eve 2000 while Patek "set up" bombs, which were disguised as gifts, in the back seat. The bombs were delivered to churches and ministers.
Christians in Indonesia suffered a merciless Islamic onslaught between 1999 and 2002 that claimed more than 6,000 lives.
Patek was once the most-wanted terror suspect in Indonesia; he spent nearly a decade on the run before being discovered in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad several months before Osama bin Laden was killed in the same town.
The Indonesian was the last key suspect to be tried in relation to the Bali bombings; the others have either been executed, killed in police raids or are now serving life sentences.
Prosecutors had asked the court to lock up Patek for life but he was given a more lenient sentence because he was said to have cooperated with the police, and also made a public apology to the victims’ families, Christians and the government.
Egypt’s Christians are facing a turbulent future following the election of an Islamist president, amid a power struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military.
The country’s electoral commission announced on Sunday (24 June) that the Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi had won the poll by 51.73% of the vote. Fearful that a Muslim Brotherhood victory would lead to the establishment of an Islamist state, many Egyptian Christians had voted for the former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, for which they have faced harassment and hostility.
The announcement of the result was delayed by several days while hundreds of allegations of electoral fraud were investigated. Some were upheld, but the chairman of the electoral commission dismissed what he said had been the two most serious complaints of electoral violations; one was that Christians had been prevented from voting in a village in Minya, the other that over one million ballot papers were marked in favour of one candidate before they reached the polling station. The chairman said that neither of the alleged incidents could be verified.
In his victory address, Mr Morsi declared himself a “president for all Egyptians” and called for a strengthening of “our national unity”. As he establishes a government, he has promised that the prime minister will be a non-Islamist and that his ministers will represent a cross-section of society. He also said that he will preserve all international treaties, which would presumably include the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
While these comments may seem to offer hope that Mr Morsi will be an inclusive president, upholding the rights of all citizens, they fly in the face of promises he made on the campaign trail to uncompromisingly apply sharia if elected.
He said, “We will not accept any alternative to sharia… The Quran is our constitution and it will always be so.”
In an indication of how Mr Morsi’s victory is being heralded in the region, Iran’s foreign ministry congratulated Egyptians, saying that the country was “in its final stages of the Islamic Awakening and a new era of change in the Middle East.”
It remains to be seen how much power Mr Morsi will actually have to implement his and the Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda. Islamists had looked set to wield considerable influence in post-revolution Egypt with a majority in parliament and control of the panel tasked with writing the country’s new constitution.
But the latter was suspended in April, and last week’s military coup, which saw the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) dissolve parliament, assume legislative control and give itself a constitutional veto, saw the Islamists’ power unravel.
There has been speculation that the Muslim Brotherhood and the army have struck some kind of power-sharing deal in return for SCAF accepting Morsi’s presidential win. But it remains unclear if they are in collusion with each other or on a collision course; some commentators have been predicting massive violence.
Either scenario could prove lethal for the country’s Christians. Since the revolution, they have suffered a marked increase in violence at the hands of Islamists and, far from offering them protection, the military actually perpetrated one of the worst acts of brutality against them since that tumultuous event. Military vehicles charged at Christians who were protesting peacefully in Cairo last October in a massacre that left at least 25 people dead.
Two members of the Lao security force were discharged from their posts when they became Christians, as the church continues to grow despite Communist repression.
Khamsorn and Tonglai, who served as members of the security force in Alowmai village, Phin district, Savannakhet province, made the decision to accept Christ at the end of May. Their family members subsequently became Christians also.
The Communist government of Laos is deeply suspicious of Christianity
The chief of Alowmai village reported the matter to the sub-district police chief, who said that Khamsorn and Tonglai’s acceptance of the Christian faith did not disqualify them from serving in the country’s security force.
Dissatisfied with this, the village chief reported it to the Phin district military commander, who is in charge of all the village security forces in the district.
On 14 June, the commander discharged Khamsorn and Tonglai from active duty in the security force, confiscating their firearms.
Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom said:
Their dismissal from security service came as a consequence of their decision to accept the Christian faith. Although Khamsorn and Tonglai have faithfully served to protect the Lao nation and the people who reside in their village, they are now punished and dishonoured due to their religious affiliation.
Laos’ Communist authorities are deeply suspicious of Christianity, which they regard as a Western import and a threat to national unity, and therefore seek to suppress it.
The government interferes in church activities, and Christians suffer discrimination, threats, harassment and sometimes even imprisonment; in some areas they are threatened with expulsion from their villages, lose their livestock or land, or are denied access to education and medical care.
The population of Laos is only around three per cent but the churches are growing rapidly, despite all the difficulties they face.
One Lao Evangelical Church pastor oversees 2,000 people in 25 unofficial house churches, which have been growing by 10-15% per year.