Dear Friends and Partners,
We hope you had a very peaceful and joyful Christmas, and we take this opportunity to wish you a Happy New Year from the entire OFWI team and to thank you for your on-going concern for the persecuted church and your faithful support for the work that we do. We would also like to take the time to share a few of the highlights of this memorable year.
2013 was a busy and eventful year. In fact, Rev. El Shafie has just returned from a mission to Bangladesh where he led a delegation, including two Canadian members of parliament as observers, to address concerns over minority rights. The country is facing elections early in January 2014 and has experienced significant pre-election violence perpetrated by Islamic extremists. In the midst of this tense atmosphere, the OFWI delegation met with politicians and local human rights advocates to address the status of minorities, primarily Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians. The team also met with victims of human rights abuses from different religious backgrounds and expressed their solidarity with their struggles during a visit that helped build a foundation for further work in Bangladesh.
In February, Rev. El Shafie led another delegation, including five members of parliament as observers, to India. The delegation met with parliamentarians, officials, religious leaders, local human rights advocates, and officials with the UN refugee agency. The purpose of the meetings was to discuss concerns about Hindu extremists within India and to explore ways that India can be of assistance to those fleeing persecution in the surrounding nations, particularly large numbers of Afghan refugees seeking safety in India.
Rev. El Shafie made two missions to the Middle East this year, one of which was to Israel where he was invited to speak at a conference on combatting antisemitism organized by the Israeli Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The other was to deal with issues arising from the so-called “Arab Spring” which took place in 2011 and has left religious minorities in the Middle East fearful for their future as Islamic extremists move to take advantage of the situation to strengthen their influence and solidify their positions.
For the first time, Rev. El Shafie spoke twice this year at the United Nations. The first occasion was a conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York organized by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, also to explore the impact of the so-called “Arab Spring” on minorities in the Middle East and on Israel. In November, the United Nations Human Rights Council held its sixth annual Forum on Minority Rights in Geneva and Rev. El Shafie was invited to speak on a panel addressing the “Protection of the existence of and prevention of violence against religious minorities”. Rev. El Shafie’s presentations at both events were well-received and provided important opportunities to bring the sufferings of minorities before some of the people whose decisions may affect, for better or worse, the environment in which minorities around the world seek their rights.
In May, Rev. El Shafie was invited once again to testify before the United States Congress about the situation in Syria. To date over 100,000 people, including large numbers of civilians, have been killed in the violence that has taken place in the last two years in the aftermath of the so-called “Arab Spring”. Much of our attention has been on this country in 2013 as the ancient Christian minority, whose roots in the region of modern-day Syria go back to the earliest days of Christianity, faces unprecedented threats to its continued presence in the country. Together with their Muslim neighbours, Christians have found themselves caught in the general violence between the government and rebels, but they also face the additional hardship of being actively targeted by Islamic extremists who are gaining influence among the rebels.
In addition to the situation in Syria, we have continued to monitor developments around the world and informed you about events in Egypt, Pakistan, and Iraq. In Egypt, the military responded to the demands of the people, including about 30 million who demonstrated peacefully and signed petitions to make their views known, by deposing the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated president, Mohammed Morsi, who had been elected to replace President Mubarak. Despite measures taken by Morsi to consolidate power and attacks by his supporters against Christian communities and property that make Mubarak’s repressive regime pale in comparison, many western leaders have issued statements in support of Morsi. While the situation facing minorities under the current military leadership and on-going attacks by extremists continues to be cause for concern, there is some hope and we will continue to monitor this situation.
In the meantime, in Pakistan a mob of 3,000 Muslim extremists attacked a Christian neighbourhood in Lahore in March, destroying around 160 homes and a church and sending many local Christians fleeing for safety and leaving all their possessions behind. Also, only a few days ago we told you about attacks that took place on Christmas Day. In Iraq, at least 38 people were killed in two separate attacks on the Christian community of Baghdad, while other attacks took place in Nigeria, Egypt, and Pakistan. We are watching the situation with great concern as the Christmas season, which is a favourite time for extremist attacks in many at-risk countries, continues until Orthodox Christmas, observed on January 7th.
We have been involved in many other events and operations, some public and others sensitive and confidential, that we could not undertake without the support of our volunteers and partners. As a result, we would like to take this opportunity to give special thanks to our OFWI team, those partners and volunteers who work anonymously behind the scenes, sacrificing their time, sleep, effort, finances, and even lives, to ensure that the work moves forward.
We are blessed and humbled to be granted the opportunities to speak to those in positions of power and authority on behalf of the persecuted Christians and other people of minority religions who have no voice. This year has been full of challenges, hope, and victory, but as we look forward to 2014 the only thing we are sure of is that there will be no shortage of events calling for our urgent intervention. More than this, however, we are secure in the knowledge that as we stand with the persecuted and the oppressed, we are fulfilling the will and call of God on our lives and He will stand with us to accomplish the mission.
Finally, the OFWI family would like to thank all of you for being partners in our work in 2013. Without your active participation, prayers, and moral and financial support none of what we do would be possible. As always, we undertake our work by faith, knowing that it is the call of the Lord and that it must be done, making great sacrifices and trusting that He will provide even when the work requires tremendous resources. The burden is heavy and we cannot carry it on our own – we need you to lend your shoulders and share the load. Please take this opportunity to prayerfully consider making a special year-end donation to OFWI to help us pay for some of our on-going operations or committing to support our work on a monthly basis in the coming year (OFWI’s address and banking information are included below).
As we look forward to the New Year and all the challenges that lie ahead, we trust that you will also continue to support our work both in prayer and by taking action with us on behalf of the persecuted church. Please continue to pray throughout 2014 for the Christians in Egypt and around the world that they would experience the love and presence of Christ and be able to rejoice in the midst of their suffering. Pray that they would stay strong and courageous in the face of great evil and that their response to their enemies would help their persecutors experience and receive the joy, love, and peace of Christ.
Once again, we hope that you had a lovely Christmas and wish you a very happy, peaceful, and prosperous New Year 2014!
Remember that the persecuted Christians are dying every day, but they are still smiling. They are in a very deep dark night, but they have the candle of the Lord. The enemy can have a very strong weapon and a very strong army, but we have the Lord Almighty.
"They can kill the dreamer, but they cannot kill the dream" in the Lord’s name.
Be with God and may God be with you.
One Free World International El Shafie Ministries