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ASSIST News Service (ANS) - PO Box 609, Lake Forest, CA 92609-0609 USA 
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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Southern California church asked to 'Pray for the Persecuted' and also become 'Ambassadors for Peace'
ANS Founder, Dan Wooding, and Garry Ansdell, senior pastor of Hosanna Christian Fellowship, make these pleas during a special prayer service

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

BELLFLOWER, CA(ANS) -- Veteran journalist Dan Wooding, founder of the ASSIST News Service, and Garry Ansdell, senior pastor of Hosanna Christian Fellowship, Bellflower, California, joined forces on Sunday morning (November 13, 2011) to challenge Christians to get involved in helping persecuted Christians.

Garry Ansdell with Dan Wooding with a copy of From Tabloid to Truth, Wooding's autobiography

Wooding, 70, was speaking at the Bellflower church on the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP) and began by saying, "Welcome to the biggest prayer meeting in the history of the world. Today, we join with millions of Christians around the world who are praying for the persecuted church."

He continued, "As we pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world on this day, I would like you to think about what it will be like for our brothers and sisters living in restricted countries as they secretly gather to worship our Lord Jesus Christ, not knowing if they will be arrested for their activities. For some, the very act of gathering in their home to pray, study the Bible and quietly singing worship hymns and choruses, could mean imprisonment and worse, if they are discovered by the authorities."

Wooding reminded the congregation that hundreds of millions of Christians today suffer serious discrimination, imprisonment, torture, kidnappings, and even death, because of their commitment to Jesus Christ.

Hosanna Christian Fellowship

He said, "And this morning, I want you to meet some of these courageous believers, such as Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old Pakistani Christian mother of five who is on death row in her country for not denying her Savior."

Wooding went on to detail the shocking story of Bibi, who is appealing her death sentence and has had several death threats on her life and is in solitary confinement.

"Her story began when in June 2009, Asia, a farm hand from the village of Ittan Wali in Sheikhupura District, was asked to fetch water. She complied, but some of her Muslim fellow workers refused to drink the water as they considered Christians to be 'unclean.' Apparently some arguments ensued. There had already been a disagreement between Asia and a neighbor about some property damage. Later some coworkers complained to a cleric that Asia made derogatory comments about Prophet Muhammad. Apparently she told them that Jesus was still alive, but Mohammad was dead," said Wooding.

Asia Bibi

Wooding continued, "A mob came to her house, beating her and members of her family before she was rescued by the police. However, the police initiated an investigation about her remarks, resulting in her arrest and prosecution under Section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code. She spent more than a year in jail. In November 2010 Muhammed Naveed Iqbal, judge at the court of Sheikhupura, Punjab, sentenced her to death by hanging. Additionally, a fine of an equivalent of $1,100 was imposed."

Wooding said Bibi's husband, Aashiq Fauji Masih, 51, plans to appeal the verdict, which has to be upheld by the Lahore High Court."

He added, "As if that wasn't enough, there have since been two assassinations of Pakistani leaders who had leapt to her defense."

The first took place on Jan. 4 2011, at Kohsar Market of Islamabad, when the Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, was assassinated by a member of his security team, Malik Mumtaz Hussein Qadri. The killing was a result of his defense of Asia and opposition to the country's blasphemy law. Taseer was outspoken in his criticism of the law and the verdict in the Asia Bibi case.

Wooding said, "The next day, thousands turned up for Governor Salman Taseer's funeral in Lahore in spite of warnings by the Taliban and some clerics. Thousands of Muslims also rallied in support of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan after the murder."

He added, "Then Pakistan's Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian member of Pakistan's cabinet, was also assassinated, on March 2 2011, reportedly also for his position on blasphemy laws. He was shot dead by gunmen who ambushed his car near his residence in Islamabad."

Yousef Nadarkhani

Wooding then spoke about Iranian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani who has twice refused to recant his Christian faith during two court hearings held in Rasht, Gilan Province on September 25-26 2011.

Nadarkhani was tried and found guilty of apostasy (abandoning Islam) in Sept. 2010 by the court of appeals in Rasht. The verdict was delivered verbally in court, while written confirmation of the death sentence was received nearly two months later.

Wooding said, "At the appeal in June 2011, the Supreme Court of Iran upheld Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani's sentence, but asked the court in Rasht, which issued the initial sentence, to re-examine whether or not he had been a practicing Muslim adult prior to converting to Christianity. The written verdict of the Supreme Court's decision included provision for annulment of the death sentence if Pastor Nadarkhani recanted his faith."

Wooding continued, "Following investigation, the court in Rasht has ruled that Pastor Nadarkhani was not a practicing Muslim adult before becoming a Christian. However, the court has decided that he remains guilty of apostasy because he has Muslim ancestry."

He then said that Nadarkhani's lawyer, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, has made it clear to the court that the repeated demand for recanting is against both Iranian law and the constitution. The court's response was that the verdict of the Supreme Court must be applied, regardless of the illegality of the demand.

Wooding said, "The death sentence for apostasy is not codified in the Iranian Penal Code. However, using a loophole in Iran's constitution, the judges in Rasht based their original verdict on fatwas by Ayatollahs Khomeini, the 'father' of Iran's revolution in 1979, Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, and of Makarem Shirazi, currently the most influential religious leader in Iran. I ask you to pray for this courageous pastor and his family, that God will intervene in his case and he will be freed."

Wooding also featured stories about persecution in Egypt and also in the land of his birth, Nigeria, where he said, "Christians are being systemically slaughtered by a fanatical group called Boko Haram, who are pledged to turn the country into an Islamic state. Just days ago, 63 people, including many Christians, were murdered by this group."

He continued, "As of 2011 it is thought to be responsible for increasingly violent and sophisticated attacks, with at least 327 people killed in 2011 through November 6 according to the Associated Press. Boko Haram use the bomb attacks in Nigeria as a strategy of tension. Its aim is to create tension and division in Nigeria."

Wooding said, "Many of us think of persecution as a modern-day tragedy, but the truth is that persecution has been a reality for the body of Christ since the days of the apostles. Hebrews 13:3 states, 'Remember...those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.' We read in the book of Acts how Paul and Silas were thrown in prison because of their faith. Throughout his life, Paul was repeatedly locked behind bars, but his captors could never silence his preaching. Today's suffering church is just like that."

Wooding concluded, "There are some 100 million of our brothers and sisters in more than 60 countries that risk their very lives to live for Jesus Christ in their land. And they are crying out for OUR HELP. They need our prayer and also our support in practical ways."

Wooding encouraged the congregation to not just pray for suffering Christian brothers and sisters on this special day, but on every day of the year."

He emphasized, "We should all 'pray without ceasing.'"

The co-founders of Ambassdors for Peace, Garry Ansdell and Ameal Haddad

Before Wooding spoke, Pastor Ansdell shared about his group, Ambassadors for Peace (www.am4peace.com), which he co-founded with Ameal Haddad, another Bellflower pastor.

He urged the congregation to go to his website and sign a "Religious Freedom Resolution" which he said is an issue, "Whose time has come."

Both Ansdell and Haddad have visited many countries in the Middle East, including Egypt, Syria, Bahrain and Morocco, to share this resolution with both Muslim, Jewish, and Christian leaders. It has been signed by many of them.

He explained the resolution like this:

* It is motivated by the existence of religious hate crimes.

* The resolution puts in writing a declaration assented to by leaders from all walks of religious beliefs.

* The resolution puts the public statements into a form that can hold us all accountable for our words.

* The religious community of the world can no longer allow the politicization of our God given right to believe and live in peace. Therefore, it will foster religious tolerance, the right to faith, freedom of speech, and freedom from reprisal or persecution.

* We therefore hold all religious and political leaders to their words of peace.

* We agree that the answer to religious disagreements is dialogue and/or debate without violence, or violent responses.

* This resolution does not seek to be political nor ecumenical. It does not intend to convert or compare nor interpret religions. It is not racially or nationally oriented.

The resolution continues:

* We understand that there are extremes in every religion. We therefore agree that violence of any kind to exercise a religious point or to cause conversion is unacceptable.

* Representatives from religions throughout the world that are connected by our common humanity and personal belief in their creator, hereby resolve to honor, respect, and acknowledge every individual's right to their faith in the creator.

* Therefore, we resolve that the inalienable rights of all individuals shall be respected.

* We believe that each religion lived out by individuals or an organization has the right to peacefully present its view of theology, people, and the hereafter.

* All national and religious entities have the right to proclaim their religious beliefs and to debate them in any open forum without violence.

* We recognize the individual's right to believe in the religion of their choice.

* Men and women everywhere have the God given right to convert or not to convert to any religion without harm from any other religion or national politics.

* We agree that no opposing religion or nation has the right to interfere in the religious service of another.

* The individual has the right to debate the facts about his or her religion without fear of reprisal.

* Every individual has the right to hear and to be heard. A citizen of the world has the right to know the facts about their religious beliefs and have access to their holy books.

* Every person no matter what religion, race, or nationality has the right to live at peace with their neighbor no matter what their faith.

* Each individual from any religion has the right to listen to another individual.

* No one has the right to interfere or disrupt a religious service.

Every seeker has the right to enter a religious service for their own exploration of knowledge. They all want others to know what they know.

* We, therefore, assert that all people have a divine right to share what they know and to live at peace with the results.

During the service, a moving video was shown called "Shatter the Silence. It was written by Welsh-born singer, Kevin Gould, and produced with guitar great Phil Keaggy.

To view and download the video, please go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fHhL2GIkIzw


Jeremy Reynalds is Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, a freelance writer and also the founder and CEO of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter,http://www.joyjunction.org He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. His newest book is "Homeless in the City."


Additional details on "Homeless in the City" are available at http://www.homelessinthecity.com. Reynalds lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For more information contact: Jeremy Reynalds atjeremyreynalds@comcast.net.


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