By Eric Leijenaar, BosNewsLife Senior Special Correspondent
AMMAN/AMSTERDAM (BosNewsLife) -- Jordan has closed down an evangelical church after expelling many devoted Christians from the country, an influential mission group said Thursday, February 7.
Arab World Ministries (AWM) told BosNewsLife and its partner news Website www.manna-vandaag.nl that Jordanian authorities sealed off an evangelical church in the port city of Aqaba, leaving a note saying, "The church should be closed and the furniture removed, within 24 hours."
It comes just months after another church was closed by officials in the Jordan Valley, a low-lying strip which cleaves down the western border of the country, AWM said in a statement from the Netherlands, where one of its global headquarters are located.
The group suggested there was a link between the closures of churches and complaints made by Coptic denominations in Jordan, who allegedly view evangelical churches as a threat.
"Evangelical churches in Jordan are increasingly under pressure. Several weeks ago, a pastor was requested to end his training programs for mission work and the stop sending out missionaries to other Arabic nations," AWM added.
Last year, Jordan authorities reportedly refused to extend the residence permits of 27 foreign Christian families, apparently because some of them worked with local churches or received Christian education.
Some of those expelled said they were questioned by Jordanian secret service officials over their alleged involvement in evangelism among Muslims. "They said I was a threat
for the security of Jordan and that I destabilize the society," said Finish pastor Hannu Lahtinen, who was forced to leave Jordan last month, in published remarks. Earlier mission group Christian Aid Mission (CAM) confirmed to BosNewsLife that Christian missionaries, including several Egyptians, have been expelled.
"Some believers have received letters from Islamic radicals demanding they quit their Christian ministries and resign from their jobs. If they refuse, they risk being arrested. Several have been handcuffed and escorted to a plane or boat. They are typically deported without money or a chance to say goodbye to their families," added CAM.
The Jordanian government has denied that Christians are deported from the country because of their involvement in evangelism. A spokesman said only "a few" foreigners were expelled after they allegedly violated Jordanian law by not stating the real reason for wanting a residence permit.
However local churches fear these are no isolated incidents, BosNewsLife learned. They fear Jordan will become less tolerant to non-Islamic religions. Jordanian tourist officials have told a BosNewsLife team that they encourage foreign Christians to come to Jordan for visiting Biblical sites, but they did not address the issue of evangelism.
Tensions have reportedly increased amid a flood of Iraqis fleeing their country. An estimated 750,000 Iraqi refugees fled to in Jordan, including thousands of Christians. An additional one million Iraqis have fled to Syria. Some 95 percent of Jordan's population is Muslim. (With some reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos).
Copyright 2008 BosNewsLife. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without our prior written consent.