Iranian Christian Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison Freed

Mostafa Bordbar, 27, has been released after just three months.

An Iranian Christian sentenced to 10 years in prison has been released after three months.

Mostafa Bordbar, 27, was released Nov. 3 from Tehran’s Evin Prison after charges of participating in an “anti-security organization” and “gathering with intent to commit crimes against Iranian national security” were overturned.

Bordbar was arrested in December last year during Christmas celebrations with friends and sentenced in July. The Oct. 30 appeals court hearing cleared him of all charges.

Iran has come under increasing pressure from the international community to improve its human rights record, including its number of political prisoners or other prisoners of conscience, such as the more than 40 Christians behind bars.

In September, two Christians were released, a decision welcomed internationally. Mitra Rahmati and Maryam Jalili were nearing the end of their sentences, and were released just ahead of new President Hassan Rouhani’s first address to the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, took to Twitter on Sept. 18 to hail the release of prisoners from Iran’s jails. “But it’s far from enough,” she wrote. “Those missing or unjustly detained, including Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, and Bob Levinson, must be returned home.”

Hekmati is awaiting retrial in Iran on espionage charges. Levinson was kidnapped in Iran in 2007 and is believed to remain in government custody. Meanwhile, Abedini, an Iranian-born U.S. citizen and pastor serving eight years in prison for his missionary work, has written to Rouhani asking for justice and freedom.

At least 300 Christians have been arrested in the past three years in Iran, with the most common charges being actions against public security and propaganda against the regime. Many of these Christians were arrested while taking part in “house churches,” small meetings of Christians who gather to worship and pray together.

“In bringing about these charges against Christians, both the government and the judiciary have made an error of law and fact because Christian gatherings either at homes or churches are mainly formed for Christians to worship together and to read and study the Bible, not to change the regime, and they do not have a goal of any political activity. So these are wrong judgments,” human rights lawyer Attieh Fard told the United Nations Human Rights Council last month.

Fard urged Rouhani to make good on his promises to the U.N. in New York by releasing the 42 Christians known to be in jail and the 45 awaiting trial.

Bordbar’s victory in court comes one week after another four Iranian Christians lost their own appeals, having been convicted of similar charges.

c. 2013 World Watch Monitor

Publication date: November 5, 2013

North Korean Christians Pray for ‘Free’ Christians to ‘Realize God is All You Need’ – Angela Lu

One of the first things Eric Foley, the co-founder of Seoul USA, learned about the North Korean underground church is that it is not a group to be pitied. About 10 years ago Foley asked a member of the underground church how he could pray for them. He recalls the North Korean’s response, “You, pray for us? We pray for you … because South Korean and American churches believe challenges in the Christian faith are solved by money, freedom, and politics. It’s only when all you have is God do you realize God is all you need.”

Foley estimates about 100,000 Christians live in North Korea, with about a third of them in concentration camps. Unlike the Chinese underground church, North Korean Christians can’t risk gathering together because spies are everywhere. Instead, they worship in their own household or in the common areas, like while walking down the road out of earshot.

As North Korea fell under Communist rule after World War II, Christians realized they would soon face intense persecution. Some escaped to South Korea, where they could worship freely, but those who stayed chose four foundational pillars of Christianity they could pass on to future generations: theology through the Apostle’s Creed, prayer through the Lord’s Prayer, ethics through the Ten Commandments, and worship through the Lord’s supper. At least one of these elements is present in each of the North Korean underground churches.

To learn more about the Bible, Christians who are able to leave the country on work trips meet with missionaries and memorize Scripture to share with others. Physical copies of the Bible are rare for poor households, as government officials regularly check their homes. If officials find a Bible, the government will send the family to concentration camps or kill them. Seoul USA has been able to send Bibles over to North Korea using balloons — 50,000 Bibles dropped into the country this past year. The group also produces short-wave radio programs with North Korean defectors reading the Bible, as about 20 percent of North Koreans illegally own radios.

The government deems Christianity a threat because North Korea’s Juche ideology, which mixes Marxism with worship of the “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung and his family, is partially copied from Christianity. Kim, who attended church until eighth grade, took Christian concepts like the trinity, church services, and hymns and made it all about himself. If people found out about Christ, they’d see Kim and his lineage as the frauds they are.

With a zero-tolerance policy for Christianity, Christians are careful who they tell about their faith. They don’t reveal their belief to their spouses until years after marriage, and they can’t tell their children until they turn 15, as teachers are trained to extract such information from students.

Foley found that children of Christian families don’t even realize they’re sitting in an underground church meeting. One man said every week his grandfather would gather the family together and give them the same 10 pieces of advice. Later he realized his grandfather was passing down the Ten Commandments.

Foley has also met defectors who “know Bible stories told differently or some Christian songs. North Korean Christians are very careful to pass on the treasure and for their family members to guard it and only over time realize what it is.”

Members of the church have told Foley they see concentration camps as just another mission field — North Korean officials have had to separate Christians from other prisoners because they keep sharing the gospel. Faced with such danger, North Korean defectors are often disappointed with what they see in the South Korean church.

“They are sad to see the faith is very different from their own,” Foley said. “The North Korean faith life is built upon this idea of being faithful to carry out what God has given you to do even in the face of impossible opposition.”

While many South Korean and U.S. groups want to help North Korean Christians escape the country, defectors often have a hard to readjusting to their new homes: 16 percent of them end up committing suicide. Seoul USA sees its role as discipling the church in North Korea by providing resources like the radio and Bibles, as well as starting Underground University to train North Korean defectors to become missionaries to their own people.

So as churches gather for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP) on Nov. 3 (Nov. 10 for some churches and organizations), Foley hopes Western churches realize they have much to learn from their North Korean brethren.

“IDOP too often becomes pray for the poor persecuted Christian. We want to challenge that idea: Freedom in Christ is something you can have even in the darkest corner of the world.”

c. 2013 WORLD News Service. 

Publication date: November 4, 2013

Abortion Pill Kills U.K. Mother – Daniel James Devine

Mifepristone and misoprostol, a set of abortion drugs, are intended to end a life. In very rare cases, they end two.

A 31-year-old U.K. woman was one of the adult casualties in 2010. This July the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecologydescribed how the woman developed an infection and died following a medication abortion. Monty Patterson, who tracks such deaths on the website Abortion Pill Risks and wrote about the case on Thursday, said it had not been previously reported in news media.

According to Abortion Pill Risks, 22 women have died since 2001 from complications following RU-486 abortions, including hemorrhaging, toxic shock, and the rupture of ectopic pregnancies.

The U.K. woman took the first abortion drug in the RU-486 regimen, mifepristone, orally at an abortion center, according to Patterson’s report. At home two days later, she took two doses of misoprostol, which initiates contractions to expel the baby.

One month afterward, she arrived at a hospital with vaginal bleeding and abdominal pain. In less than 24 hours, she began complaining of leg cramps. Soon her thighs began to swell and bruise, and she became drowsy and confused: She was suffering from sepsis, a state of blood poisoning caused by microorganisms. Within 28 hours of arriving at the hospital, she died.

Doctors later determined she had suffered from an infection of Clostridium septicum, bacteria that can cause gas gangrene and affected wounded soldiers in World Wars I and II. The bacteria likely entered through the cervix, dilated by the drug, and infected the site on the uterus where the baby had been attached.

“I think in this day and age, very few women actually expect to die when they decide to have a baby; and fewer still when they decide for a termination of pregnancy,” said Dr. Cheen Leen Khoo, the lead author of the case report, in an email to Patterson.

Twelve of the women who have died following medication abortions died from various bacterial infections. The U.K. woman is the first reported to have died from Clostridium septicum. Most of the deaths occurred after the women took misoprostol vaginally, a method of administration often practiced in the United States and elsewhere. The FDA has only approved the drug for oral administration when used for abortions, but not all abortion providers follow the agency’s guidelines.

Patterson’s daughter Holly died in 2003 after developing an infection following a medication abortion. She was just 18.

c. 2013 WORLD News Service. 

Publication date: October 14, 2013

Abortion Clinics Closing at Record Rate By Tom Strode

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For Abby Johnson, the closing of a single Planned Parenthood center demonstrated her dramatic reversal from abortion clinic director to leading pro-life advocate.

But for pro-lifers throughout the United States, it marked another exhibit in a hopeful trend — abortion centers are shutting down at an unprecedented rate. The total so far this year is 44, according to a pro-life organization that tracks clinic operations.

None was more telling for Johnson than the mid-July closing of the Planned Parenthood center in Bryan, Texas. It came less than four years after Johnson, burdened by her involvement with abortion, walked out of that clinic as its director and into the offices of the Coalition for Life.

“Knowing that the former abortion clinic I once ran is now closing is the biggest personal victory of my life,” Johnson said in a written statement after the announcement of the shutdown. “From running that facility, to then advocating for its closure, and now celebrating that dream … it shows that my life has indeed come full circle.”

Since her celebrated conversion from Planned Parenthood director, Johnson has started a ministry to help workers leave the abortion industry. She has pledged, as she said in July, to “fight until every abortion clinic in this country has shut its doors.”

This year, 42 clinics that provided surgical abortions have shut their doors, and two that offered chemical abortions by drugs also have closed, according to Operation Rescue, which monitors closings and health and safety violations by clinics nationwide. That number far surpasses the 25 surgical clinics shutdown last year and the 30 in 2011, by Operation Rescue’s count. While others estimate a smaller number of closings, the pattern is clear.

Some of the shutdowns have been of major clinics. For instance, Virginia’s No. 1 abortion provider closed, The Washington Post reported in July. NOVA Women’s Healthcare in Fairfax, Va., shut down after state and local governments enacted regulations the abortion provider appeared unable to meet. The northern Virginia clinic performed 3,066 abortions in 2012 and 3,567 in 2011.

The reasons given for the upswing in closings are varied even among pro-lifers. They include:

  • the increasing state regulation and oversight of clinics
  • a growth in pro-life opinion and activity
  • a decline in the abortion rate

In some cases, clinics have shut down when abortion doctors retired or were no longer licensed.

State legislatures enacted 69 pro-life laws this year, according to a report released Sept. 5 by Americans United for Life. In all, 48 states considered about 360 such proposals in 2013, AUL reported.

The legislative action this year continued a recent trend in states: 70 “life-affirming measures” became law in 2011 and 38 in 2012, according to AUL.

Some measures have targeted making the procedure and clinics safer for women, and have helped escalate the number of clinic shutdowns. This year, states such as Alabama, North Carolina and Texas passed varied laws either requiring abortion clinics to meet the same health and safety standards as outpatient surgical centers, or authorizing the state to enforce such requirements. Also, in 2013, North Dakota and Wisconsin joined Alabama and Texas in mandating abortion doctors have admitting privileges at local hospitals.

While pro-lifers assert the laws are for the protection of women, abortion rights advocates argue their purpose is to stop abortion. Regardless, the result appears to be abortion clinics are being held accountable in ways they have not been previously.

“Considering the growing body of medical evidence confirming the health risks of abortion for women, abortion cannot be left in the hands of an unmonitored, unregulated and uncaring industry feeding off fear and federal subsidies,” AUL president Charmaine Yoest said in a written statement.

The Guttmacher Institute, a research organization affiliated with the abortion rights movement, charged in June such laws “are a solution in search of a problem, a cynical ploy to advance an agenda that seeks to make it more and more difficult for women to obtain an abortion, with the ultimate goal of eliminating U.S. women’s access to safe and legal abortion.”

The increased state government oversight of clinics is a response to pro-lifers spotlighting abuses by abortion providers, and to the scandals uncovered in recent years, said Cheryl Sullenger, Operation Rescue’s senior policy advisor. Her research has produced disciplinary action against various abortion doctors.

Foremost among the scandals was that of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell and his Philadelphia clinic. The regulatory failures in Pennsylvania appear to have made an impression on officials in other states.

Gosnell received three consecutive life sentences in May for the first-degree murder of three born-alive babies. Those children were only three of hundreds at least six months into gestation who were killed outside the womb after induced delivery at a clinic criticized for its unsanitary and unsafe conditions.

A 2011 grand jury report criticized the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Department of State for failing to oversee the clinic properly. Gosnell’s clinic had not been inspected since 1993 despite many complaints, according to the report.

While the actions of state legislatures and agencies appear to have contributed to clinic shutdowns, the growing activism of pro-lifers also has been an important ingredient, said the national director of 40 Days for Life.

“I believe the increase in closures is due to record numbers of Christians praying for an end to abortion, and getting actively involved in pro-life efforts where they live — recognizing that change is not going to come from politicians in Washington, D.C., anytime soon,” David Bereit wrote in a statement for Baptist Press.

Since 2007, 40 Days has conducted its semi-annual campaigns of peaceful prayer vigils outside abortion clinics in more than 500 cities nationally and internationally. More than 575,000 people have participated, and 40 Days reports 39 clinics have closed permanently after their campaigns.

Both Bereit and Sullenger believe even more clinic closures are in the offing.

“The momentum is shifting dramatically in the pro-life direction, and as even more people answer the call to ‘speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves’ and ‘rescue those being led to the slaughter,'” Bereit said, citing verses in Proverbs 31 and 24, respectively, “I believe we will see many more abortion centers closing in the near future.”

Sullenger said in a written statement, “We do anticipate an increase in the number of abortion clinics as new laws are enacted and inspections increase. Enforcement of laws on the books has always been the key. We simply have never found an abortion clinic that complies with the law on all points.

“Couple that with a downward trend in abortion numbers and increased pro-life sentiment, [and] the abortion industry is in financial trouble,” she said before adding a caveat. “However, an influx of money from the government via [the 2010 health-care reform law] and private sources could artificially keep some clinics open.”

Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

c. 2013 Baptist Press. 

Publication date: September 19, 2013

Michael W. Smith Reflects on Friendship with Billy Graham

This November, Grammy Award-winning Christian artist Michael W. Smith and his wife, Debbie, will invite non-Christian friends into their home outside Nashville, Tenn.

“Maybe we should have invited these people into our home a long time ago,” Smith said.

So why now?

This year, Smith’s longtime friend, Billy Graham, is leading a national, in-home Crusade through a movement called My Hope America. More than 165,000 people around the country — including Smith — will invite friends into their homes this fall to share the Gospel through an interactive video and short testimonies. Smith has a list of friends he is praying for.

“I’m really excited about it,” he said. “This is history, big time, in the making. … I think it’ll be a huge success.”

Smith has 22 albums, 10 books and multiple awards. He has traveled around the world and performed for national leaders. But even at that, and even living in the Bible Belt, he says, “I have a lot of friends who aren’t believers.” The singer/songwriter sees My Hope as “an opportunity to really jump out of the box … and get out of my comfort zone.”

In honor of the national outreach, Smith is one of 11 artists contributing to a My Hope CD, which will also point people to Christ. He wrote a song called “Take Me Home,” inspired by Mr. Graham’s longing for heaven. The song is a conversation Mr. Graham might have with Jesus when he…

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