Friday, March 26, 2004

Zanzibar: Church attacked as Islamist zeal and anger rises.

Date: Friday 26 March 2004
Subj: Zanzibar: Church attacked as Islamist zeal and anger rises.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous island territory of Tanzania. Zanzibar is almost exclusively Muslim with only very tiny Hindu and Christian minorities. The island is governed by secular political parties, and generally has been peaceful.

However, the presence of Wahhabi missionaries and jihad recruiters, combined with Muslim anger over the War on Terror and the tensions in the Middle East, has led to an increase in Islamist zeal amongst some younger Zanzibari Muslims. Moderate Zanzibari Muslim leaders, Tanzania officials and foreign diplomats have all expressed concerns about rising Islamist extremism in Zanzibar.

A series of six bomb blasts this month gives rise to fears that radicalised Muslim Zanzibari youths are rising up against Zanzibar's secular government, their moderate Muslim leaders, anything Western, and the Church. Police are worried that the Islamists might be backed by some disgruntled opposition and anti-Western politicians, and that there may also be links to foreign terror groups.

UAMSHO

On Friday 5 March, the Islamist group Jumuia ya Uamsho na Mihadhara (Revival and Propagation Organisation) held an illegal demonstration in the streets of Zanzibar. They were demonstrating against the government's ban on their demonstrations. The ban against the group (known simply as Uamsho) is in response to security concerns. In previous rallies and demonstrations, Uamsho has distributed Afghan jihad-training videos and literature, and advocated the killing of secular politicians who refuse to impose Sharia Law.

When Uamsho militants took to the streets after Friday prayers there was a confrontation with the police sent to enforce the ban. The militants threw stones at the riot police and burnt car tyres, forcing the police to fire tear gas canisters into the crowd to disperse the rioters. Several roads had to be closed and unconfirmed reports tell of scores of people being injured. Order was not restored until later that evening.

According to one correspondent, "The demonstrators carried placards reading Mbona Maaskofu hamuwakatazi?, (why don't you ban demonstrations organised by Christian bishops) and mnatuonea Waislam (You're harassing us Moslems?)." (Link 1)

Apart from expressing their grievances, the demonstrators were also protesting against the increasing Western influence on the island, coming primarily through tourism, and the government's appointment of Harith bin Khelef as Mufti. Not only was Khelef was not Uamsho's choice, but Uamsho objects to the principle that the government should appoint the Mufi. They believe the Mufti should be elected.

Thirty-two people were arrested for staging an illegal demonstration and the subsequent riot.

ANGER ESCALATES - CHURCH ATTACKED

Early on Wednesday 10 March, a Roman Catholic Church in central Zanzibar was set ablaze in an act of arson that has been described by police official Hamad Issa as "a deliberate act aimed at inciting religious hostilities in (Zanzibar) ... it's an act of religious intolerance". It has been reported that the arsonists broke into the church and ignited cloth sacks that had been soaked in gasoline. (Link 2)

One week later, on Wednesday 17 March, a petrol bomb destroyed a school bus belonging to the Catholic Church while it was parked in the school grounds. The following day five senior members of Uamsho were detained as suspects in the church attacks.

POLITICAL GRIEVENCE and ANTI-WESTERN SENTIMENT

On Friday evening 19 March, the home of Zanzibar's Mufti and top Islamic leader, Harith bin Khelef (who was appointed by the government), was attacked with explosives. Three suspects have been detained but no details have been released.

On Saturday evening 20 March, a grenade lobbed over the fence of the home of Zubeir Ali Maulid, a cabinet minister in the Zanzibar government.

Also on Saturday 20 March, a grenade was thrown into a restaurant filled with foreign guests. It landed on the dinner table of a British diplomat but fortunately it failed to go off. An American diplomat and about 25-30 foreigners were also dining there at the time. Bomb experts from the Tanzania People's Defence Force (TPDF) removed and dealt with the explosive that proved to be quite substantial and would certainly have resulted in fatalities.

A number of electric transformers were also bombed on the weekend and TPDF bomb experts defused yet another bomb placed inside a bar in Zanzibar's capital city, Stone Town (also known as Zanzibar Town).

There were no casualties in any of the attacks. Police suspect Uamsho to be responsible for the weekend explosions.

RADICALISATION

Chris Tomlinson, a reporter with Associated Press, reports from Pemba in the Zanzibar archipelago that "tabligh," or missionaries from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Pakistan, "go from mosque to mosque spouting sermons of hate -- sometimes scripted by radical groups in Saudi Arabia.

"After speaking at religious services, the "tabligh," or missionaries, begin recruiting young men, sometimes offering a chance to join Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida."

Tomilson quotes Ali Abdallah Amani, the Pemba representative of Zanzibar's top Muslim leader, as saying, "They do it in a very, very, very secret way, but they do it. Sometimes they are Arabs, sometimes they are people working for them. There are some [charitable] agencies that sometimes use a native of the village [to recruit] because the others would be caught by the police."

According to Tomilson, the tabligh teach, "There is an army of Muslims and they are fighting an army of non-Muslims who are trying to destroy Islam." This is a direct quote from one tabligh named Zahor Issa Omar. Omar is from the island of Pemba in the Zanzibar archipelago. Tomilson reports that Omar trained at a Wahhabi Islamic school in Raiwind, Pakistan, but "declined to discuss al-Qaida or whether he has been to Afghanistan or received military training. He said he now helps spread the fundamentalists' ideology in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, urging Muslims to become more devout and to join the struggle against non-Muslims."

Wahhabi "charities" allegedly pay the tabligh a high salary. A Western diplomat told Tomilson that Saudi institutions not only finance extremist tabligh, but also provide suggested texts for their sermons. (Link 4)

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Zanzibar erupts, 6 March 2004
By Correspondent Mwinyi Sadallah, Zanzibar
http://www.ippmedia.com/ipp/guardian/2004/03/06/6643.html

2) 'Act of religious intolerance', 11 March 2004 - SA
http://www.news24.com/News24/Africa/News/0,,2-11-1447_1496860,00.html

3) Zanzibar leaders attacked, 21 March 2004 - SA
http://www.news24.com/News24/Africa/News/0,,2-11-1447_1501485,00.html

4) 'Missionaries' recruit fighters
By Chris Tomlinson
The Associated Press, 22 Feb 2004
http://www.sltrib.com/2004/Feb/02222004/nation_w/141222.asp

(if you are interested)
TANZANIA: Police probing protestors' link to opposition party
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
9 March 2004, Dar Es Salaam
http://www.irinnews.org/print.asp?ReportID=39925

Friday, March 12, 2004

Sri Lanka: 146 places of worship closed in last 4 months.

Date: Friday 12 March 2004
Subj: Sri Lanka: 146 places of worship closed in last 4 months.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

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Goodwill Ambassador of WEA expresses great concern over Sri Lanka.
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The religious situation in Sri Lanka has been deteriorating for several years. However, a momentum seems to be gathering and heading towards serious confrontation between the Buddhist religious establishment, the Sri Lankan government, the NGOs and the Church. Buddhist monks, through their recently formed Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) party, are now contesting the 4 April elections. (Link 1)

Monks are protesting and campaigning against "the NGO mafia" and targeting groups such as World Vision. Churches and Christian workers are being harassed and violently attacked on an almost daily basis.

World Evangelical Alliance Goodwill Ambassador Johan Candelin, Finland, has recently concluded a one-week official visit to Sri Lanka and is deeply concerned about the ongoing attacks in the island. "The big question is this," says Candelin, "is this just the tip of the iceberg or the iceberg itself? One hundred and forty-six places of worship have been closed down over the last four months, and as such, the world should really take a closer look at the growing trend of nationalistic Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Another very disturbing factor is that no one has been condemned for any of the attacks. That sends a signal that you can do this without any
onsequences."

Johan Candelin, who is also the International Director of WEA RLC, confirmed, "WEA will monitor Sri Lanka in its annual Report to the United Nations."

WEA RLC INTERVIEW WITH JOHAN CANDELIN

Q) How bad is the situation in Sri Lanka for Christians?

JC) The situation is very bad. There are the direct attacks by mobs with firebombs etc., but there is also an anti-Christian campaign going on in the media and this incites the local threats. So mentally and spiritually the suffering is enormous. December 2003 alone saw about 40 attacks, and then we need to remember that it is estimated that not even half of the attacks are reported. Just think of the children in a family who see their home attacked and burnt down!
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Q) To what extent is the present religious violence against Christians related to the peace process? (The proposed peace deal would give Tamils autonomy in the north and power-sharing in the national government. Sri Lanka timeline - link 2)

JC) It seems to me that the Singhalese national identity is rather weak (and the Tamil, rather strong), leaving many Singhalese people feeling threatened. This campaign seems to be a reaction to that feeling of insecurity. On one front people say, "The Tamils are getting the north," and, "the Norwegian peace facilitators have a secret agenda." On the other side many say that there is an American agenda to use the Evangelical churches to destroy the Buddhist heritage in the south. The Evangelical population is, however, only about 1%, so there is not really much logic in this. But of course logic and feelings seldom go hand in hand. It is also interesting to see that almost all attacks are in the South!
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Q) What has led to the present severe deterioration? To what extent are advertising, media and political figures feeding the deterioration?

JC) For years there seems to have been going on behind the scene a very well organized campaign against, and clear strategy to contain, greater Christian influence. Part of this strategy has been that the attacks will not be made inside the big cities and against the "old churches". Rather, when the gospel is shared for the first time in a Buddhist village then the attacks begin.

Newspapers, books and banderols are used for the hate and disinformation campaign. On one burnt church wall I saw a great banderol claiming "the Church is no more". Of course the claim that the Christians had killed the beloved Buddhist leader Venerable Soma in December 2003 was the trigger for a number of attacks. Ven. Soma died in Moscow of a heart attack and three non-Christian doctors made it clear that he had died a natural death but that did not stop the campaign.
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Q) Elections are approaching on 4 April. Does the newly formed party of Buddhist monks, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), pose any real threat in terms of their ability to polarise society, heighten Buddhist nationalist zeal, stoke sectarian and ethnic tension, or grab the balance of power?

JC) Yes, it has been a long time since Buddhist leaders last ran for Parliament. If some of them are elected it will have a very bad effect on religious freedom. One bad effect would be that they would have a national, democratic platform for their anti-Christian message. Another bad effect would be that as monks, they would affect other Buddhists in other parties. Their JHU party might even hold the balance of power enabling them to be the party that decides whether the present government or the present opposition gets the majority in the new Parliament. In that case they would have much more influence than they really should. A third bad effect would be that they would surely try to introduce an anti-conversion law after the Indian model. And many other MPs would hesitate to vote against that fearing it might look like they are defending the Christians against Buddhism.
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Q) What is the mood amongst Sri Lankan Christians?

JC) The mood is good but of course they are very concerned. There are two good things:
1) The Evangelical Alliance does a great job in coordinating and helping the suffering churches. 2) Since the attacks on Catholic churches the Catholic Church now clearly also is defending total religious freedom for all Christians. That solidarity strengthens the Christian voice.
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Q) What does the future hold for Sri Lanka's Christians?

JC) Worst scenario: Breakdown of the peace process and a stronger influence of violent nationalistic Buddhism. It needs to be said, however, that most Buddhists are not violent and do not support attacks.

Best scenario: Peace, better protection of the Christian minority, effective rule of law and the opening of constructive talks between Evangelicals and Buddhist. Both are afraid of the other group now.

END

Links

1) JHU monks want to rebuild Dhamma kingdom
By P. Wijetunge and L.B. Senaratne. 3 March 2004
http://www.dailymirror.lk/2004/03/03/front/1.asp
ALSO BBC: 2 March 2004
Monks to contest Sri Lanka poll
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/south_asia/3524583.stm
Buddhist monks' election bid
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/south_asia/3523125.stm

2) BBC Timeline: Sri Lanka
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/country_profiles/1166237.stm

EXCELLENT ARTICLE:

Anti-Christian 'nationalism' creates debilitating fissures in Lankan society
COLOMBO DIARY. PK Balachanddran.
Colombo, 2 February 2004

No right thinking person will dispute that a revival of the extremely rich Sinhala-Buddhist culture will rekindle in Sri Lankans a sense of pride in their country at a time when this is wearing thin. But what Sri Lanka is witnessing today is not the revival of pristine Buddhism. It is an aggressive and violent communalism of the Hindutva variety. Such a movement will be self-defeating if its main objective is to unify and strengthen Sri Lanka, a country already in tatters for a variety of reasons. ...

Full article:
http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/181_557452,00410008.htm
(article contains interview with Godfrey Yogarajah, General
Secretary of the Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka.)

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

India: re-election, re-conversion, re-engaging, re-courting.

Date: Tuesday 9 March 2004
Subj: India: re-election, re-conversion, re-engaging, re-courting.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


Please excuse the fact that the quotes in this posting contain as many spelling variations as there are sources!

BJP: SEEKING RE-ELECTION

The BJP has been working hard to present a fresh "shining" image as a minority-friendly, inclusive, tolerant, non-sectarian party. On 14 January 2004 the BBC published an article entitled, "India's New-look Governing Party" where it alleged that the BJP had been "quietly re-inventing itself". The BBC claimed that the BJP had "moved on a long way, shedding its old image and ideology". In fact the BBC specifically mentioned three issues the BJP has supposedly
"put aside" or "shelved": 1) the temple at Ayodhya; 2) the issue of a single uniform civil code; 3) the end to special status for Kashmir. According to the BBC, the BJP is focusing on "the issue of
development".

Behind the scenes however, the BJP is re-converting tribals, re-engaging with Hindu hardliner Dilip Singh Judeo, and re-courting the Hindu nationalist Sangh parivar by promising to adopt the RSS line on Ayodhya, a uniform civil code, abrogation of Article 370 (gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir) and more, in exchange for their support.

The annual all-India general council meeting of the RSS will be held in Jaipur from 12 to 14 March. Strategy for effective coordination between the Sangh parivar bodies and the BJP will be discussed. The full details of that meeting will probably not be made public. However, the degree to which the Sangh parivar supports the BJP's re-election campaign will certainly indicate the degree to which the BJP has promised to activate Hindutva ideology.

RE-CONVERSIONS IN ORISSA: OPERATION GHAR VAPSI

On 4 March 2004, The Telegraph (Calcutta, India) reported, "No money changed hands. No secret camera recorded the ceremony. Only batik-printed orange-hued saris, yellow-coloured shawls and red towels marked the rite of passage of 212 Christian tribals in Jharsuguda district who reconverted to Hinduism this morning."

According to the Telegraph article, it was Hindu hardliner Dilip Singh Judeo who "purified" the more than 100 men, 70 women and 30 children from 53 tribal families, by washing their feet with water from the Ganga to "usher" them into Hinduism.

The ceremony - shuddhikriya havan - at a Hindu temple in Jharsuguda, western Orissa, took two hours. Apart from having their feet washed and receiving saris, shawls imprinted with "Ram", and towels, the converting tribals were also given a meal of rice, dal and vegetables.

The Telegraph reports, "The ceremony, under Operation Ghar Vapsi, was organised by Sangh parivar organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Rushikul Seva Trust, Bharat Vikash Parishad, Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram and the Adivasi Suraksha Samiti."

The Telegraph quotes Dilip Sangh Judeo as saying, "The Christians are alluring the tribals. We oppose them. ... This is their homecoming." The Telegraph comments that Judeo "started his political career with mass reconversion programmes". The Telegraph also quotes a local VHP activist as saying, "So far, 10,000 tribals in the state have been reconverted under the Ghar Vapsi programme." (Link 1)

According to the BBC, "The [reconversion] ceremony was part of the VHP's plan to reconvert 400,000 tribal Christians back to Hinduism.

"Local VHP activist Ashok Sakunia told the BBC that thousands of Hindus were being lured into Christianity by monetary benefits, so they felt compelled to respond.

"The VHP has been joined by fellow Hindu pressure groups Banabasi Kalyan Ashram and Bajarang Dal in an attempt to bring back Christian converts to Hinduism." (Link 2)

According to The Telegraph, "VHP activist Subrat Tripathy, a key person behind today's [4 March] programme, said the district adminis tration had been informed, as the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act mandates."

However, according to the BBC, "Jharsuguda district collector Jyoti Prakash Das said no official permission had been given for the mass conversion, and that he had not been informed of the plans under the provisions of Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967."

RE-ENGAGING DILIP SINGH JUDEO

On 27 February 2003, a WEA RLC News & Analysis posting drew attention to the elevation of Dilip Singh Judeo in the 28 January 2003 BJP cabinet reshuffle. The Hindustan Times (29 Jan 2003) reported that Judeo (Judev) "is wedded to the cause of bringing people back into the Hindu fold", that he "is famed for leading the Ghar Vaapasi (return home) movement" (that actively seeks the return of Christian converts to Hinduism) and that he "vowed to 're-convert' some 300,000 Christians" during 2003. Judeo also sponsored the defence of Dara Singh, the prime accused in the gruesome killings in 1999 of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons in Orissa. Judeo pronounced Singh innocent, and accused Staines of unethical conversions.

After his promotion to BJP cabinet minister, Judeo was caught on film accepting bribes. The BJP maintained and still maintains Judeo's innocence, alleging that he had been framed. They did, however, accept Judeo's resignation in November 2003. On 21 December 2003 the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) registered a case against Judeo under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Regardless of the investigation, Judeo has stated that he is keen to stand as a candidate in any Chhattisgarh seat, and he is confident of a win. The BJP in Orissa state is also keen to have Judeo stand and has recommended to the BJP central government that Judeo be brought back on board.

On 4 March 2004 NDTV reported, "Former BJP leader from Chattisgarh, Dilip Singh Judeo who was sidelined in the party after the cash-on-camera scam, is likely to be rehabilitated by the party. The first signs that Judeo may be given a Lok Sabha ticket came from the BJP state unit. State party in-charge, Lakhiram Aggarwal admitted that the state unit had recommended to the centre that Judeo be allowed to contest from Mahasamund or Jangir in central Chattisgarh. It is a move that also has the backing of Chief Minister Raman Singh." (Link 3)

The BJP is apparently assessing the risks of re-embracing a popular politician who is presently under investigation for corruption. The BJP's decision on what to do regarding Judeo might reveal the degree to which Operation Ghar Vapsi may be an integral part of a new BJP era. Judeo may be extremely popular, yet as Praful Bidwai, a journalist with the Hindustan Times reports (4 March), "Judeo isn't just another corrupt politician; he's a firebrand Christian-hating fanatic."

RE-COURTING THE SANGH PARIVAR

Hindustan Times reports (5 March 2004), "Keen to enlist Sangh parivar cadres for campaigning in the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP has agreed to include the RSS' pet issues in its 'Vision Document'." This decision took place on Friday 5 March during a 90-miinute meeting between BJP and RSS senior leaders, at the home of PM Vajpayee.

RSS senior leaders reportedly "told the BJP leaders that if they wanted the support of the Sangh cadres, the party must reaffirm its commitment to the Hindu cause by including its chief issues in the document".

The BJP has agreed that Law Minister Arun Jaitley, who is drafting the BJP Vision Document, will "hold discussions with leaders of various Sangh-affiliated organisations like the VHP, Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS)", and then "graft" the RSS and Sangh parivar issues into the BJP Vision Document. (Link 4)

ELECTION DATES

Chief election commissioner TS Krishnamurthy has announced India's election dates. The voting will take place over three weeks and occur in four rounds: 20 April, 26 April, 5 May and 10 May. Counting will take place on 13 May. Electronic polling should mean speedy counting, and as such, it is expected that the results will be known the same day.

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Judeo reconverts tribals
By Debabrata Mohanty, 4 March 2004
http://www.telegraphindia.com/1040305/asp/nation/story_2969536.asp

2) Christians convert back to Hinduism
BBC 4 March 2004
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/south_asia/3534071.stm

3) BJP mulls LS ticket for 'tainted' Judeo.
NDTV, 4 March 2004
http://www.ndtv.com

4) RSS cadre power brings temple back in BJP vision
New Delhi, 5 March 2004
http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/181_600417,001300740000.htm

Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Afghanistan: dying for lack of freedom


Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin - No. 261 - Wed 03 Mar 2004


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AFGHANISTAN: DYING FOR LACK OF FREEDOM
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Religious liberty is not only about human rights (freedom for people to believe and practise their belief), it is equally about mission. Lack of religious freedom brings suffering and persecution to the Church, and suppresses the gospel of salvation, withholding the bread of life (Jesus) from those who are spiritually hungry and dying without hope. When we pray for religious liberty we are to pray with a compassionate heart for our suffering brothers and sisters, and with a yearning mission heart for the lost.

Afghanistan has only ever had one official church building. It was built in 1970 and destroyed in 1973 after Islamists complained about the growing numbers of converts. When the order was given for the missionaries to be expelled and the church bulldozed, the German businessman, Hans Mohr, who had purchased building materials for the church, uttered what turned out to be a prophetic word to the mayor of Kabul. Mohr warned, 'If your government touches that house of God, God will overthrow your government.'

On 17 July 1973, the government's bulldozers razed the church. That very night, General Mohammed Daoud orchestrated a successful coup. He overthrew the Afghan monarchy, established a republic and pronounced himself president and prime minister of a one-party state. Since that day, Afghanistan has spiralled downwards. Opium production is really all that is booming and much of that funds international terrorism.

Afghanistan is plagued with violence, unrest and despair. It is a land of warlords, hunger, suffering, oppression, addiction, destruction and grief. Afghanistan is also a land that is cursed with drought, locusts and other natural disasters. Afghanistan and its people greatly need the Biblical God and the personal and national transformation that can only come from HIM. However, central to Afghanistan's new constitution (signed into law on 26 Jan 2004) is the provision that 'no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam'. That is a polite way of saying that Afghanistan is still under Islamic law. So regardless of all the positive suggestions in the new constitution, in reality there is still no freedom of religion.

The level of despair in Afghanistan today is tragic. Of 56 people who committed suicide in Herat, western Afghanistan, in recent months, 52 were women, and most self-immolated. Of course many more have died than are recorded, and many others failed in their suicide attempt. Trauma-induced mental illness is widespread across the nation (estimated at 30% in Kandahar), even amongst children, and there are acutely insufficient resources to deal with the
problem. There are some 26 million people living in Afghanistan - born into suffering. Because there is no religious freedom, most will never hear the name of Jesus.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:
  • God, in his great mercy, will reveal himself to Afghanis - to President Hamid Karzai, diplomats, intellectuals and professionals as they travel, meet people, read, and use computers; and to others through radio, witness and supernatural means.
'I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, 'Here am I, here am I.'' (Isaiah 65:1 NIV)
  • suffering will lead to openness and eventually to a great harvest - God can redeem every situation. (Genesis 45:4-8)
  • religious freedom will become a reality in Afghanistan ('nothing is impossible with God.' Luke 1:37) so that Christians can live in peace, many Afghanis can be saved, and the land can be healed.