Monday, March 18, 2019

RLPB 494. Somalia: bleeding into Kenya

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 494 | 19 Mar 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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SOMALIA: BLEEDING INTO KENYA
-- by Elizabeth Kendal

Lawless Somalia - Aug 2017
click on map to enlarge
Somalia is a failed state and one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a Christian. The population is 99.8 percent Muslim and the Christian charity, Open Doors, has placed it third on its World Watch List 2019, describing the persecution as 'extreme'. Whilst Islamic State (IS) does have a presence in Somalia, the main terror group operating there is al-Qaeda-affiliate, al-Shabaab [see RLPB 411 (21 June 2017)].  Both groups hunt down and execute Somali converts to Christianity, often with the assistance and support of thoroughly radicalised local Muslims who view Christianity as the religion of the colonisers (Italy and Britain) -- a religion that has no place in an independent Somalia. In September 2008 Mansuur Mohammed (25) became the first ethnic Somali convert to be martyred for Jesus Christ by al-Shabaab in Somalia. Since then, dozens have been martyred. There are 25 entries for Somalia in the RLPB archive and almost every entry tells the story of yet another ethnic Somali Christian martyr.  They have names like: Abdishakur, Abdikhani, Farhan Haji, Juma Nuradin, Hassan, (Ms) Asha, (Ms) Fatima Sultan, Abdullah, Ali, Hussein, Sheik Mohammed, Maaddey, Osman, Abdikarim and (Ms) Sofia Osman who survived despite being flogged almost to death. These are names in the Lamb's Book of Life! Christians tend to flee Somalia. However, despite its small mustard seed-like size, Somalia's buried/planted, 'underground church' has taken root and is growing. Meanwhile, al-Shabaab is recruiting both across Somalia and in Kenya, allegedly tempting disgruntled and unemployed youths with the offer of a 'hefty' salary.  

Civil war (commenced 1991) has resulted in a whole generation of Somalis being lost to displacement and famine. The Somali Diaspora (overseas communities) is estimated at being more than one million. Those with means fled to the US and EU; those without means crossed the border into Ethiopia or Kenya. At its peak the Dadaab refugee camp, in eastern Kenya's Somali-dominated Garissa County, housed around 500,000 displaced Somalis. While more than 100,000 have accepted assistance for voluntary repatriation in the past two years, Somalia is still anything but stable. At least in the refugee camps Somalis have access to Kenyan and international aid workers and teachers, many of whom are Christian. Likewise, the city of Garissa is home to many courageous, mostly Kenyan Christians who work tirelessly and sacrificially to minister to 'harassed and helpless' ethnic Somalis in a place of freedom (Matthew 9:35-38).

Kenya map showing
Garissa County and city.
That said, even inside Kenya, Christians ministering to Somalis must be 'wise as serpents and innocent as doves' (Matthew 10:16), for the work is incredibly dangerous. After all, most Somalis who flee to Kenya bring their fundamentalist Islam and hatred of Christianity with them. Like a shield encapsulating the heart, it requires a breakthrough of the Holy Spirit to breach and finally shatter it. Fortunately, the Spirit of God is there with grace and in power, both in war-wracked Somalia and in Kenya's Somali-dominated eastern regions. Al-Shabaab has repeatedly targeted Kenyan Christians in Garissa County, especially teachers whom it assassinates because they might influence ethnic Somali youths as they receive an education in Kenya they could not receive at home [see RLPB 411 (21 June 2017)]. The worst single attack occurred on 2 April 2015, when al-Shabaab attacked Garissa University College, slaughtering 148 Christian students and wounding a further 79 [see RLPB 304 (8 April 2015)]. Despite all the obstacles, an ethnic Somali Church has taken root inside Kenya and is growing. Though it might have freedom in Kenya, that does not mean it is safe.

Pastor Abdul (30) is an ethnic Somali living in Garissa. He is married and the father of three children, aged 8, 5 and 3. He is also a pastor who cares for a fellowship of about 30 Somali converts. Because it is too dangerous to meet openly or all together, he meets with the believers in small groups in various places regularly for worship, prayer and Bible study. Recently his secret work was discovered by Somali Muslims who had grown suspicious. On Friday evening 8 March, Pastor Abdul was walking home from a prayer meeting when the Muslims confronted him. They told him they knew of his 'evil plans' to lead Somali Muslims into Christianity. They then beat him severely with wooden clubs. Neighbours found Abdul unconscious and lying in a pool of blood and rushed him to hospital. He has a broken thigh bone and numerous deep bruises, causing severe pain all over his body, but especially his legs, waist and back.  'I'm almost unable to bear the pain,' he told Morning Star News, adding, 'My family is in great fear, and Christians have re-located us to another place. Our prayer for now is to get a safe place for my family. My life and that of my family is at stake.'


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL 

* mercifully intervene in Somalia to bring peace and freedom; may al-Shabaab's financial backers be exposed; may all financial backing cease; may all lines of supply be severed; may al-Shabaab's life-source dry up. 'Break the arm (mechanism of action; source of power) of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none.' (Psalm 10:15 ESV).

* lovingly bless, sustain and protect the vulnerable, underground Somali Church and all who serve her, both inside war-wracked Somalia and in eastern Kenya's Garissa County.

* faithfully walk with Pastor Abdul, his wife and their children, to guide, deliver and comfort them as they make decisions about their future; may the Lord protect and provide for his flock in Garissa.

* graciously raise up and send out more labourers into his harvest field of 'harassed and helpless' ethnic Somalis. We pray especially that the Church in Kenya might be seized with the urgency of this mission. 'For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power' (1 Corinthians 4:20 ESV).

We might ask, 'Is it easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a Somali Muslim to enter the kingdom of God?' But Jesus answers, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'  (Matthew 19:23-26)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
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SOMALI CHURCH BEING ATTACKED

Somalia is one of the world's most dangerous places to be a Christian. Al-Shabaab hunts down and executes Christian converts. Somali Muslims maintain that Christianity has no place in Somalia. Civil war and famine have forced hundreds of thousands of Somalis to flee into Kenya, where they have access to Kenyan and international aid workers and teachers, many of whom are Christian. A small and vulnerable ethnic Somali Church is taking root both inside war-wracked Somalia and in eastern Kenya's Somali-dominated Garissa County. Kenya might offer freedom and opportunity, but the work among Somalis is still incredibly dangerous. On 8 March Pastor Abdul (Somali, aged 30, married, father of three) was severely beaten in Garissa by Somali Muslims. Though relocated, his family fear for their lives. Please pray for the Somali Church.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

RLPB 493. Iraq: from Nation to Decimation to Elimination

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 493 | Wed 13 Mar 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)

IRAQ: FROM NATION TO DECIMATION TO ELIMINATION
-- the plight of Iraq's indigenous and Christian Assyrian nation
-- by Elizabeth Kendal

Islamic State (IS/ISIS) is making a come-back in Iraq. Military analyst David Kilcullen remarks that with its resurgence, IS is 'giving new meaning to its motto "Remaining and ¬Expanding".' While IS attacks are presently small scale and low intensity -- comprising mostly bombings, raids, assassinations and sectarian executions -- they are increasing in frequency and sophistication. According to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), IS maintains some 30,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria, of whom up to 17,000 are in Iraq, including 1,000 who have crossed over from Syria in the past six months.  ISW reports that IS is re-establishing zones of support, lines of supply and the means to generate revenue (mostly through drugs and extortion). As long as Baghdad remains enmeshed in political power struggles between parties that are proxies of either Iran or America, IS will exploit the paralysis to re-establish itself across Iraq.

In January the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Nechirvan Barzani, ominously warned, 'We have concerns about the return of IS ... to Nineveh [Province, northern Iraq].' On 20 February the Iraqi Army's Chief of Staff Othman al-Ghanimi told reporters at a press conference near Mosul that Iraqi security forces had detained 24 IS militants. The group, which had escaped Syria and was headed for Mosul, included four IS leaders. Later that day, Iraqi security and intelligence forces intercepted a car near Badush, 25km north-west of Mosul, killing the five IS fighters inside, each of whom was reportedly wearing an explosive vest. On 28 February IS successfully carried out a car-bomb attack in Mosul, killing one civilian and wounding 13. On the same day, a car-bomb exploded near Mosul University, killing two and wounding 24. On Friday 8 March a car-bomb in Mosul killed two (including a child) and wounded 10. It must be noted that, whilst violence has escalated, not all recent bombings have been claimed by IS.

The return of IS is not the only threat facing Nineveh's already decimated indigenous and Christian Assyrian remnant. In August 2014, as IS advanced east from Mosul towards oil-rich Kirkuk, the jihadists overran and ethnically cleansed the Nineveh Plain, displacing around 130,000 Assyrian Christians, along with other non-Sunni minorities, including the Shabak. Possibly with Persian roots, the Shabak follow a syncretistic form of Shia Islam. Today, it seems that Baghdad and Tehran are using the Shabak as a proxy as they struggle against the Kurds for control over Nineveh's 'Disputed Territories', which includes the Assyrian heartland. If there is one thing the Kurds, the Shabaks, Baghdad and Tehran all agree on, it is their desire to eliminate the Christian presence and even erase millennia of Assyrian and Christian history.

Cross over Bartella
click here for Video (by Rudaw, 11 Feb 2019)

Ground zero in this existential struggle is the Assyrian town of Bartella, 21km due east of Mosul. Prior to August 2014, Bartella had been policed by the mostly Christian, Assyrian Ninewa Protection Unit (NPU). Today, security in the area is controlled by Iraq's mostly-Shia, Popular Mobilisation Force (PMF), also known as 'Hashd'. In Bartella, the Hashd are mostly Shabak. Of the 3,800 Christian families to have fled Bartella in 2014, less than one third have returned. In Bartella they face not just devastation, but disturbing levels of harassment, intimidation and threat. Christian leaders are convinced that the Shabak are working to drive them away, prevent their return and replace them with Shabak Shi'ites. To this end they have the backing of Baghdad and Tehran. Regional authorities are establishing new settlements in Bartella with the aim of repopulating the town. One project under way in an area traditionally occupied by Assyrian Christians is named 'Sultan City'. The project involves seizing agricultural land owned by Assyrians and converting it into a residential area with hundreds of new homes. The project was first outlined in 2013, but had to be postponed due to the ISIS occupation.  This situation is being repeated, albeit to a lesser extent, in the nearby Assyrian towns of Karamles and Qaraqosh/Bakhdida.

Interview with Father Behnam Benoka
As Father Behnem Benoka notes: IS are Sunnis and the Shabak are Shi'ite, 'but all are Muslims. Everybody hates the Church, everybody hates Christians and wants them out of their historical places.'

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL 

* intervene in Iraq to the benefit of his Church and the long-suffering, severely persecuted Assyrian remnant (see, Isaiah 19:23-25):
-- may historic Assyrian/Christian towns be officially recognised and protected,
-- may the campaign to alter the demography of the Nineveh Plain be stopped, and
-- may the indigenous Assyrians be granted the right to govern and police themselves.

* bless and sustain Iraq's pastors, priests, nuns and other Christian workers as they risk their lives and struggle against overwhelming odds to rebuild and maintain the Christian presence in Iraq; may spiritual unity blossom across ethnic and denominational lines.

The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.” (Isaiah 19:25 NIV)

* bless and sustain his precious Church across Mesopotamia (Syria-Iraq / the Fertile Crescent); may the Lord bring physical, emotional and spiritual healing to all who have been profoundly shattered, fundamentally distracted and spiritually challenged by violence, displacement and betrayal.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
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IRAQ: FROM NATION TO DECIMATION TO ELIMINATION

Some 17,000 Islamic State (IS/ISIS) fighters are believed to be consolidating in Iraq, where IS attacks are increasing in frequency and sophistication. But their return is not the only threat facing Iraq's remnant Christians, most of whom belong to the long-persecuted Assyrian nation, whose historic heartland is in northern Iraq's Nineveh Plain. Baghdad and Tehran are currently struggling against the Kurds for control of the north's 'Disputed Territories', which includes the Assyrian heartland. To that end, Baghdad and Tehran are apparently using the Shabak -- a distinct ethnic group who are nominally Shi'ite -- as their proxy against the Kurds in Nineveh. The Shabak are working to seize Assyrian lands, drive the Christians out, prevent their return and replace them with Shabak, seemingly with Baghdad's approval. Please pray for Iraq's Christians.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com