Tuesday, June 19, 2018

RLPB 460 Turkey: Christian vulnerability escalates yet again

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 460 | Wed 20 Jun 2018

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)


TURKEY: CHRISTIAN VULNERABILITY ESCALATES YET AGAIN
by Elizabeth Kendal

On Sunday 24 June Turkish citizens at home and abroad will vote to elect both a president and a parliament. Originally scheduled for 3 November 2019, rumour has it that the polls were brought forward so voting could take place before the looming economic crisis takes hold. Concerning the parliamentary elections: Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) has entered an alliance with the Islamo-fascist, far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP); together they expect to win a majority. Furthermore, with MHP support, Erdogan is confident he will win the presidential race in the first round. That said, a look at the opinion polls reveals a very tight race. Indeed, on 13 June neither Erdogan nor the AKP-MHP coalition had a majority.

Erdogan aspires to be a great Islamic leader, reminiscent of an Ottoman Sultan or Caliph. For Erdogan and his supporters, losing power is unthinkable. It is already being mooted that if Erdogan wins the presidency (as is anticipated) but the AKP-MHP fails to secure a majority in parliament, then Erdogan may simply demand fresh parliamentary polls. One academic recently stated on air that if Erdogan or the AKP loses power, then Turks will 'take to the streets in the name of Allah', adding that he had a weapons cache buried in Istanbul's Belgrad Forest ready for such a time. Criticised for threatening civil war, the academic backed down, saying the only thing he actually had buried in the forest was his ‘anger’ [over the July 2016 coup attempt]. His back-flip has done nothing to ease people's fears that an Erdogan or AKP loss would be countered with violence.

Afrin's Church of the Good Shepherd:
emptied, shuttered and tagged with
graffiti naming the jihadist groups
that now claim it. (source)
For insight into Erdogan's ambition, one only needs to consider his actions in northern Syria. Afrin, in Aleppo Governorate, fell to Turkish forces on 18 March. Hundreds of civilians were killed in what has been described as some of the worst fighting of the war [see RLPB 447 (20 March)]. Since then, Turkish troops and their Free Syrian Army allies have ethnically cleansed Afrin of over 200,000 Sunni Muslim Kurds, about 35,000 Yezidi Kurds and some 3,000 Christians (Kurds, Assyrians and Armenians). Erdogan has repopulated Afrin with Syrian Arabs, including tens of thousands of jihadists and their families, many of whom were recently evacuated from Eastern Ghouta (the former al-Qaeda stronghold, east of Damascus). Indeed, on 20 April Al-Monitor commented that the areas of northern Syria under Turkish control 'have become jihadi reserves'. Afrin's Church of the Good Shepherd has been looted, desecrated and occupied by jihadists. Sharia law is being enforced. [Full on-the-ground report by Free Burma Rangers (13 June).]

Kurz meets Erdogan (undated).
Observe the body language.
click on image to enlarge (source)
For insight into the threat Erdogan poses to ethnic-religious minorities, one only needs to consider his words. On 2 June 2016 the German parliament passed a resolution to recognise the Armenian Genocide. Erdogan responded by blasting the German MPs as 'the long arm of the separatist terrorists in this country [Turkey] in Germany'. In referring to Turkey's Armenians as 'separatist terrorists', Erdogan was resurrecting the anti-Armenian propaganda of the Young Turk movement -- propaganda used to fuel and enable the Armenian Genocide of 1915 [see Religious Liberty Monitoring (RLM), 24 April 2018.] On Friday 8 June 2018 the Austrian Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, announced his government's decision to close seven foreign-funded mosques: six belonging to the Arab Religious Community which were said to be promoting hardline Salafi/Wahhabi Islam as well as a hardline Turkish nationalist mosque in the capital, Vienna, said to be linked to the MHP's fascist youth wing, the Grey Wolves. The Turkish mosque is funded by Cologne-based ATIB, a branch of the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs. The move could result in the deportation of up to 60 ATIB imams. Erdogan responded by warning Chancellor Kurz that his 'amateurish attitude' would cost him a lot, and ominously raising the spectre of a war between 'the cross and the crescent' for which Kurz would be responsible. [For more detail see RLM, 20 June 2018.]

Whilst Sultan Erdogan might dream of breaching the 'Gates of Vienna' and leading a jihad or an anti-Christian Islamic intifada in Europe, the Christians most vulnerable to Islamo-Turkish retaliation are in reality those at hand: i.e. Turkey's own Christians. In recent years government-sponsored anti-Christian and anti-ethnic- religious minority hate speech has escalated to extreme levels. It is not only pervasive in the media, but also in the school curriculum. Turkey is a tinderbox! Its Christians are exceedingly vulnerable! Unfinished business ever looms. Consequently, we must remain vigilant and ever prayerful.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* sustain, preserve and richly bless his precious Church in Turkey comprising (among others) remnant Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians as well as convert Kurds and Turks; may the Church grow in unity, faith and grace to be a light that overcomes darkness and a voice of hope that counters despair. 'I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it' (Promise of Jesus, Matthew 16:18 ESV).

* intervene in Turkey to produce awakening and effect change beyond anything we could ever imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21). May every evil scheme of the devil and wicked plot of 'man' be foiled; and may the Lord our God preserve and strengthen those who would 'turn back the battle at the gate' (from Isaiah 28:5-6).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIAN VULNERABLITY ESCALATES AGAIN IN TURKEY

On Sunday 24 June Turkish citizens at home and abroad will vote to elect a president and a parliament. There is every sign that these elections will bring neither stability to the nation nor security to Turkey's persecuted ethnic-religious minorities. In recent years, government-sanctioned anti-Christian and anti-ethnic-religious minority hate speech has soared to extreme levels. Erdogan has even referred to Turkish Armenians as 'terrorist separatists', thereby resurrecting the anti-Armenian, anti-Christian propaganda that fuelled the Armenian Genocide of 1915. A week ago he ominously warned that Austria shutting foreign-funded hardline mosques in Vienna could trigger a war between 'cross and crescent' for which Austria's Chancellor Kruz would (supposedly) be responsible. Turkey is a tinderbox. Its Christians are exceedingly vulnerable. Unfinished business ever looms. Consequently, we must remain vigilant and ever prayerful. 

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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

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

RLPB 459. Prisoners and Captives: Remember Them

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 459 | Wed 13 Jun 2018

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)


PRISONERS AND CAPTIVES: REMEMBER THEM
by Elizabeth Kendal

Ashiq Masih, husband of
death-row prisoner Asia Bibi,
appeals for attention to her plight.
RLPB 436 (13 Dec 2017).  
Prisons in the West are dangerous places because they are full of violent criminals. Fortunately, apart from the occasional miscarriage of justice or irregular abuse of power, citizens are not usually incarcerated for their beliefs or peaceful activity. Meanwhile, in prisons all across the non-Western world Christian prisoners of conscience are threatened, not merely by criminals, but by unsanitary conditions, infectious diseases, untreated illness and extreme mistreatment -- including torture -- at the hands of the authorities. These human rights abuses are enabled by a worldview that diminishes and even negates the Christian's value both as a citizen and as a human being.

Leah Sharibu (15),
 captive of Boko Haram.
RLPB 448 (28 March) 
While thousands of Christians are prisoners of the state, thousands more are 'captives' held by non-state actors -- mainly jihadists. Some captives are girls abducted as slaves and brides. Others are missionaries who were following the model of Jesus, selflessly serving others far from home when they were captured. In such cases the captive's life only has value as long as their bodies can be exploited or the prospect of ransom remains alive.

Compounding the hardship and physical suffering is the crushing heartbreak of separation from family and friends; many have no Christian fellowship and are denied access to the Bible. How vulnerable must these believers be (especially young, new believers) to the devil's fiery darts as he seeks to crush their spirit with doubts about God's presence, faithfulness, goodness and love. Nothing but the shield of faith will do (Ephesians 6:16) ... and this is where we come in. Christian prisoners and captives might grow exhausted and confused, but we will be there, fighting for them. 

Gao Zhisheng, disappeared (again).
Serious concerns for his life.
RLPB 436 (13 Dec 2017)
If a montage of images of today's Christian prisoners and captives were to be assembled, it would form a snapshot of our increasingly global Church. It would be evidence not merely of persecution, but of faith; expressing both the reality of Matthew 10 and John 15:18 - 16:4, and the promise of Genesis 12:3b and Habakkuk 2:14. For today’s prisoners and captives comprise men and women, young and old, Pakistani, Chinese, Indonesian, Nigerian, American, Indian, Colombian, European, Central Asian, Australian, Vietnamese, Iranian, Eritrean, Laotian, Burkinabe, North Korean and more. They are high profile human rights lawyers like Gao Zhisheng (China), humble labourers like Asia Bibi (Pakistan), students like Leah Sharibu (15, a captive of Boko Haram, Nigeria) and foreign nationals like Rev. Andrew Brunson (an American pastor imprisoned in Turkey), Sister Gloria Cecilia Narvaez (a Colombian missionary nun taken captive in Mali) and Dr Ken Elliot (an 83 year-old Australian missionary doctor taken captive in Burkina Faso). There are far too many to name; but praise God, he knows and loves each one and in faithfulness, never ever leaves them (Matthew 28:20).

Jeff Woodke, speaking in the US (l)
and serving in Niger (r).
Background: RLPB 413 (5 July 2017)
We thank God for the confirmation on 4 June that Jeff Woodke -- an American missionary taken captive in Niger -- is alive and being held captive in the Malian desert. We thank God for the 7 June release into exile of Vietnamese human rights lawyer Nguyen van Dai. We lament with believers whose appeals have been rejected, including Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani (Iran) who returns to prison after his 10-year sentence was upheld on 2 May; and Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton (Vietnam) whose 12-year sentence was upheld on 4 June. We lament over the catechist Mathieu Sawadogo, and his wife Alizeta. Jihadists abducted the couple from their home in Soum Province, northern Burkina Faso, at 4 a.m. on 20 May; presumably they have been taken into the Malian desert.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* the Spirit of God will powerfully sustain all Christians who are this day prisoners of hostile regimes, or captives of non-state actors. [Captors might be able to control the environment but they cannot control the Spirit of God!] May prisoners and captives find their strength renewed and spirits lifted as if on eagles' wings (Isaiah 40:31); may the Lord intervene for them to provide ministering angels at every turn.  Imagine yourself 'in their shoes' – and pray! 'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them ...' (Hebrews 13:3 ESV)

* the God of justice and righteousness will intervene to deliver justice for his people. 'But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.' (Amos 5:24 ESV).

* our Lord Jesus Christ will subvert all evil and redeem all suffering so that ultimately all things will 'work together for good' (Romans 8:28) and to the glory of his holy name.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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REMEMBER PRISONERS AND CAPTIVES

Thousands of Christians are in prison for their faith, while others are held captive by jihadists. Men and women, who are Pakistani, Chinese, Indonesian, American, Indian, Nigeria, Colombian, European, Central Asian, Australian, Vietnamese, Iranian, Eritrean, Laotian, Burkinabe, North Korean and more. They include human rights lawyers like Gao Zhisheng (China), humble labourers like Asia Bibi (Pakistan) and foreign nationals like Andrew Brunson (an American pastor imprisoned in Turkey), Sister Gloria Narvaez (a Colombian missionary taken captive in Mali) and Dr Ken Elliot (an Australian missionary doctor taken captive in Burkina Faso). Christian prisoners and captives suffer physically, emotionally and spiritually, and are often exhausted and confused. Imagine yourself in their shoes -- and pray! 'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them ...' (Hebrews 13:3 ESV). 

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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