release

Bijaya Kumar Sanaseth, second Christian released on bail out of the 7 wrongly convicted of killing a Hindu extremist leader, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati in India [#BijayaKumarSanaseth #SwamiLaxmananandaSaraswati #ChristianNews]

When Bijaya Kumar Sanaseth went to jail for a murder in India that he did not commit more than 10 and a half years ago, his mother was still alive and his oldest child was 9 years old.

“I have not seen my children grow.”
– Bijaya Kumar Sanaseth, the second Christian to be released on bail of the 7 wrongly convicted of killing a Hindu extremist leader said between sobs.

“My six children were very young with my youngest child, a girl, being 1-year-old, and my oldest, a boy, was 9 years old. Today the youngest is 12 and my oldest is 20. Nobody can give me back the years that I have lost.”
– Bijaya Kumar Sanaseth

Bijaya Kumar Sanaseth and the 6 other Christians were convicted in September 2013 of the murder of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, whose death on Aug. 23, 2008 touched off anti-Christian attacks that killed 120 people, destroyed nearly 6,000 homes and displaced 55,000 Christians.

Now 47, Bijaya Kumar Sanaseth was released on bail on July 27, 2019, 2 months and 6 days after fellow convict Gornath Chalanseth was bailed out on May 21, 2019.

“I faced a lot of hardships in jail – I thank God for this freedom. I trusted God would bring me out one day.”
– Bijaya Kumar Sanaseth

Because the Supreme Court issued the release on bail, he does not have to return unless the high court itself so orders.

Second Wrongly Convicted Christian Released in Kandhamal, India Case Counts Cost:
Fight continues for five others falsely accused
Morning Star News

Incarceration by Iranian regime of a woman who converted to Christianity prompted US Vice President Mike Pence to urge clerical regime in Tehran to free persecuted woman [#MikePence #Tehran #Iran]

The incarceration by Iranian regime of a woman who converted to Christianity prompted US Vice President Mike Pence to urge the clerical regime in Tehran to free the persecuted woman.

“I am appalled to hear reports that Iran’s despotic rulers have punished yet another Christian woman for exercising her freedom to worship.”

“Iran must free Mahrokh Kanbari today. Whether Sunni, Sufi, Baha’i, Jewish or Christian, America will stand up for people of faith in Iran like Mahrokh and Pastor [Victor] Bet-Tamraz, whose persecutions are an affront to religious freedom.”

– US Vice President Mike Pence tweeted to his 7.7 million followers.

US Vice President Pence demands Iran release Christian sentenced to prison
The Jerusalem Post

Until this week, Rebecca Sharibu had never set foot outside of her village in northern Nigeria. Helpless and heartbroken, she boarded a plane for the very first time and traveled 9,000 miles to the United States on a desperate mission to secure the freedom of her young daughter.

Leah Sharibu, 16, was kidnapped in February 2018 in a raid at her school by Boko Haram—a deadly Nigerian terror group with ties to ISIS. In all, the group abducted 110 girls.

One month later, the Nigerian government negotiated the release of every hostage with one exception: Leah, who was 14 years old at the time she was taken captive.

Boko Haram would not let her go unless she renounced her Christian faith and converted to Islam. Leah refused and was declared a “slave for life” by her captors.

“She chose faith over freedom when it would have been so easy to cave.”
– Dede Laugesen, executive director of Save the Persecuted Christians, a grassroots group that raises awareness of worldwide Christian persecution.

Rebecca endured 6 long months without any word about the wellbeing of her daughter, unaware whether she was dead or alive. In August 2018, Boko Haram released a photo of Leah clad in a hijab along with a recording in which Leah can be heard pleading for her freedom.

“Immediately [when] I saw it, I just started crying and weeping. On a daily basis, I am pained. I weep. I don’t feel good, but I have no choice.”
– Rebecca recounting the first time she saw Leah’s photograph.

Rebecca is not alone.

Tears flow throughout the west African nation. About 2,000 Nigerians died last year in ongoing disputes portrayed by the media as a clash between farmers and herdsmen.

“We’re here to let the world know what’s happening, because they keep this narrative of herder-farmer conflict. It’s not that way at all.”
– Alheri Magaji, whose father was arrested and detained for 100 days. A village elder, he was removed from power during a Fulani militant raid.

Magaji equates what’s happening to a deadly religious campaign with the goal of eradicating Christians.

“A bill was just passed by the National House of Assembly saying that preachers are going to be regulated and their licenses renewed every year. We believe Kaduna State is a testing ground for what plans they have in Nigeria as a whole.”
– Alheri Magaji

Magaji and others like Mercy Maisamari represent a younger generation of Nigerian Christians unafraid to speak out, even though it comes with great risk to their own lives now that Fulani Muslims have run the local, state, and federal government apparatus.

Save the Persecuted Christians and the International Committee on Nigeria organized a delegation of Nigerians to travel to Washington, D.C. to share their stories with leaders at the White House and Capitol Hill.

“Someone has to say what is really happening. If God says it’s you, then you can’t run away from the responsibility of being the one to talk.”
– Mercy Maisamari, who was kidnapped by Fulani militants and held hostage for 10 days.

“This really is a jihad that is raging in Nigeria and we are ramping up to a genocide.”
– Dede Laugesen

Leah has celebrated 2 birthdays while in captivity. Her brave stand is encouraging others like Gloria Puldu, who runs the eponymous Leah Foundation – a group dedicated to secure freedom for Leah and other girls like her.

Puldu’s vocal advocacy in the U.S. has caught the attention of Nigerian officials, who visited the local office of the foundation and informed staff they would like question her when she returns.

“As a Christian I’m not afraid. I want to stand for my faith, on behalf of my people.”
– Gloria Puldu

Tony Perkins of The Family Research Council has chosen Leah Sharibu as the cause he will personally champion as the newly-elected chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Still, it is perhaps the biggest understatement to suggest the courage of Leah affects no one more than her own mother – who’s lifeless face reflects a pain no parent should ever bear.

“She did an amazing thing by refusing to renounce Christ, and I’m very proud of what she has done. I’m not sure if I was even in her position at 14 years old that I would have even done what she has done.”
– Rebecca Sharibu

Pain and prayer now fuel Rebecca’s passion, prompting the boldness to ask for help from any and all who will listen.

“I have come to plead with your government—to plead with Pres. Donald Trump. My son’s name is Donald. So Donald Trump I need him to help me have my daughter released. Leah needs to be home like the other girls who are back with their families.”
– Rebecca Sharibu

Christian Teen’s Contagious Courageous Stand, a ‘Hostage for Life’ for Refusing to Deny Jesus:
CBN News

When police took Gornath Chalanseth from his home in eastern India early on the morning of Dec. 13, 2008, he assumed they only wanted to question him over minor political activity in his capacity as a member of the local village council.

Except for two brief releases on bail, he would spend the next nearly 10 and a half years in jail for the murder of a Hindu leader that Hindu nationalists falsely accused him and six other Christians of committing.

At the police station that December day in 2008, the officers put Chalanseth in a police van and drove off. When he did not return after a few days, his family asked after him. They were told that the had been taken to the jungle along with Christian suspects Bijay Kumar Sanseth, Bhaskar Sunamajhi, and Budhadeb Nayak.

Later they heard that he and six other Christians had been charged with the murder of Laxmanananda Saraswati. The Hindu leader’s Aug. 23, 2008 murder by a mob of 30 to 40 assailants with automatic weapons and locally-made revolvers led to a misguided backlash in the following months – India’s largest anti-Christian violence. More than 100 people were killed, around 300 church buildings were destroyed, close to 6,000 homes were demolished and at least 55,000 Christians were displaced from their homes.

Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda claimed responsibility of the murder that occurred in the attack on Saraswati’s ashram in Jalespeta, Tumudibandha, Kandhamal District, Odisha (then Orissa) state, and the state government corroborated his confession. But Hindu extremists who blamed Christians marched Saraswati’s body in a 160-kilometer (100 miles) route along predominantly Christian areas calculated to provoke violence. An estimated 75 percent of the anti-Christian aggression that followed took place along the procession route.

Chalanseth and the six other Christians – Sanseth, Nayak, Bhaskar Sunamajhi, Durjo Sunamajhi, Sanatan Badamajhi and Munda Badamajhi – were convicted of murder, criminal conspiracy, unlawful assembly and rioting by Additional District and Sessions Judge Rajendra Kumar Tosh on Sept. 30, 2013. Two prior judges presiding over the trial were transferred before Tosh heard the case and delivered the verdict.

Ten years, five months and six days after he was taken into custody, Chalanseth walked out of prison on May 21, again released on bail. This time, however, because the Supreme Court issued the release on bail, he does not have to return unless the high court itself so orders.

India’s Supreme Court granted Challanseth bail after two earlier applications were rejected by other courts; the Odisha High Court rejected the last one in December 2018.

“There were two grounds on which the Supreme Court has granted bail, one being the number of years [10] he has spent in jail, and the second is the nature of evidence against him, which was slim, shifty and weak” according to attorney Rebecca Mammen John.

John appeared along with lawyers from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to help procure bail for Chalanseth.

Supreme Court Justice Ajay Manikrao Khanwilkar and Justice Ajay Rastogi gave the orders for Chalanseth’s bail on May 9, 2019.

Chalanseth, 46, was greeted by family members with the exception of his 90-year-old father, Bachan Chalanseth, who could not make the journey due to health concerns. The family traveled almost six hours from Kotagarh to receive him. Media outlets captured the tearful reunion as nearly two dozen members of his family embraced him.

Chalanseth has said that although he is happy to be released, he is concerned about the six others who are also innocent and remain in jail. There is hope that his release could set a precedent for the others.

Release of Imprisoned Christian Offers Hope for Justice for Wrongfully Convicted in India
Morning Star News

Phil Heller announced as new lead pastor of Crossroads Christian Church, one of Tri-State’s largest congregations with campuses in Newburgh and on Evansville’s West Side in Indiana [#PhilHeller #Crossroads #Indiana]

Phil Heller has been announced as the new lead pastor of Crossroads Christian Church, one of the Tri-State’s largest congregations with campuses in Newburgh and on Evansville’s West Side in Indiana.

Heller’s hire was recommended by the search team to Crossroads Christian Church elders. Elders unanimously accepted the recommendation.

Heller was on the staff of Crossroads from 1996 to 2002 as student ministries pastor and high school pastor.

He was executive pastor for 13 years at White River Christian Church in Noblesville, Indiana, where he was responsible for providing direction for executing the church’s vision, mission and strategy and developing leadership among the staff and congregation, according to a release from Crossroads.

Heller has a bachelor’s in specialized ministries from Kentucky Christian University and is near to completing his masters in Organizational Leadership from Indiana Wesleyan University.

“I am excited about rejoining the tri-state community. And I look forward to pursuing the collective vision among Evansville area church leaders to see the Tri-State be a place where everyone flourishes.”
– Phil Heller

Crossroads Christian Church announces new lead pastor
Evansville Courier & Press