Tuesday, December 10, 2019

RLPB 532. Advent in China: 'The Battle of the Century has begun'.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 532 | 11 Dec 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)

'Advent' is derived from the Latin word adventus, which is a translation of the Greek word parousia which means 'coming'.

ADVENT IN CHINA: 'THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY HAS BEGUN.'
(an extended RLPB)
by Elizabeth Kendal

A major persecution is looming over China. Of the following we can be certain: (1) while it will be different, it will be just as insidious as that of Mao's Cultural Revolution; (2) it will not last, for when the time is right, when all is in place, then the God of history will say, 'Thank-you Xi, your work here is done. The time has come for you to give account!' Then, like Nebuchadnezzer before him, Xi Jinping and the regime he leads will crumble to dust and be blown away (Daniel 2). [Note: cracks are already evident.] Then, the Chinese people and the Chinese Church will be free.

During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) Chairman Mao Zedong identified 'five black categories': landlords, rich farmers/peasants, counter-revolutionaries, evil influences and Rightists. Deemed 'enemies' of the communist revolution, members of these 'five black categories' had to be neutralised – i.e., persecuted, re-educated and, if necessary, eliminated - for the revolution to succeed.

After the Tiananmen Square massacre (June 1989), the fall of the Berlin Wall (November 1989), the collapse of Communism across Eastern Europe and the disintegration of the Soviet Union (1990-1991), the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) knew it needed a new narrative to legitimise its rule and unite the people. Courtesy of the CCP's Patriotic Education Campaign, a new narrative has been taught in schools and universities across the nation since the early 1990s. In what is essentially a 'radical reinterpretation of China's history', the Marxist narrative of class struggle has been replaced with an ultra-nationalist narrative of national struggle. [Silent Invasion, by Clive Hamilton, Hardie Grant Books, Melbourne, Australia; London, UK, 2018.] The new narrative is two-fold, covering: (1) National Humiliation: Beginning with the Opium Wars (1839), China suffered 100 years of humiliation at the hands of hostile, imperialistic, foreign [i.e. Western] forces; (2) National Rejuvenation: Since the founding of the People's Republic (1949) the Communist Party has been leading China on a 100-year marathon to restore the nation to global supremacy. Hostile foreign forces [i.e., the West] are the problem/enemy, for which the CCP is the solution/saviour. To be patriotic, to love China, is to love the CCP.

On 31 July 2012 an overseas edition of the People's Daily (the official mouthpiece of the Central Committee of the CCP) identified 'five new black categories': human rights lawyers, underground religious practitioners, dissidents, commentators who influence opinions via the internet and disadvantaged social groups. According to the CCP, members of these 'five new black categories' are in 'collusion' with 'hostile, foreign [i.e. Western] forces' with the aim of ending Communist Party rule. The CCP's response has been to establish a 'labyrinthine, all-weather, 24-hour quasi-police-state apparatus to keep even ordinary citizens under control'. [The Fight for China's Future, by Willy Wo-Lap Lam, Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon UK; New York, NY, USA. 2020, page 7.]

Christian homes and churches forced
to remove cross and enshrine Xi.
In July 2012 heir-apparent Xi Jinping was a leading figure in the CCP's nine-man Politburo Standing Committee and vice-president of the People's Republic of China (PRC). On 15 Nov 2012 Xi was elected to the post of General Secretary of the CCP and on 14 March 2013 was elected as President of the PRC. Persecution of the 'five new black categories' started almost immediately. Xi has departed from the more pragmatic religious policies of Jang Zemin (1989-2002) and Hu Jintao (2002-2012). Acutely aware of Christianity's contribution to economic development and modernisation, Jang and Hu insisted that 'materialists and non-materialists can co-operate and co-exist politically', provided the churches cut ties with 'imperialists' (i.e., anyone in the West), flush out 'Judases' (anyone who might betray the CCP) and stay out of politics [Lam, p135]. Under Xi, the days of 'co-operation' are over; the choice is submission or elimination. Xi has also departed from the collective leadership practices of his post-Mao predecessors and centralised power in himself. In March 2018 the Party-controlled National People's Congress passed constitutional amendments which included the removal of presidential term limits. Xi, the 'Chairman of Everything', is now 'Emperor for Life'.

Christ is building his Church 
The 'problem' Xi and the CCP face today is that Church growth is essentially out of control. Senior Chinese officials admit (privately) that there are at least 70 million Christian converts in China, 80 percent of whom live in rural areas. One academic believes that number could reach 160 million by 2025. Research undertaken over 2013-2014 revealed that in rural provinces north of the Yangtze River, 10 to 15 percent of the population is Christian and that in some villages 95 percent are Christian. Furthermore, at least 70 percent of these Christians worship in unregistered, 'underground' house-churches [Lam, p140]. Lam writes: 'Among Chinese officials who are nervously watching the proliferation of Christians - and actively preparing to quell the influence of Western religion - are senior cadres in charge of state security and propaganda.' According to Lam, the CCP is paranoid about Christianity's 'three excesses': (1) the excessive speed of its growth, (2) its excessive numbers and (3) the excessive enthusiasm of its members [Lam, p153].

In the name of 'stability maintenance', the CCP is cracking down on the Church's influence, networks and international connections. Not only has the CCP enlisted well over a million vigilante and volunteer informants - spies who penetrate deep into 'black category' groups - it has installed more than 200 million surveillance cameras across the country. These cameras, which are fitted with the world's most advanced facial recognition software, collect data on every individual for the purpose of establishing a 'social credit' system to be used by the regime to reward loyalty and punish dissent. The system is supposed to be fully operational by 2020. Already, non-compliant Christians and other members of the 'five new black categories' - in particular, writers and human rights lawyers (of whom around one quarter are Christian) - are finding they cannot travel because their negative social credit prevents them from purchasing a train ticket! The days are coming when whole Christian families will find themselves unable to access not merely transport, but schools, hospitals, bank loans and jobs. Further to this, new directives were issued in November (2019) to intensify the 'patriotic education' intended to indoctrinate Chinese youth - as well as Chinese society as a whole - with loyalty to the ruling Party.

'Chinese Christians Return
to the Catacombs',

Epoch Times, 16 Oct 2019
(photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images) 
Meanwhile, President Xi is demanding that Chinese Christianity be 'sinicizised', i.e., forced to serve the interests of the CCP. 'According to Christian scholar Guo Baoshen, "the purpose of 'Sinicization of Christianity' is to render Christianity into a Communist and socialist [vehicle] so that it will become an obedient tool of the Communist Party".' [Lam, p146.] As Lam rightly observes, 'The battle of the century has begun.' [Lam, p166].

The years ahead are going to be exceedingly difficult and the Chinese Church will need our prayers. Of course, the battle of the ages has already been fought and won by Christ on the cross. There is only one king of whom it can be said 'his kingdom will never end', and that is the Lord Jesus Christ, whose first coming we celebrate and whose second coming we anticipate (Isaiah 9:1-7; Revelation 1:4-8).


PLEASE PRAY THAT THE GOD OF HISTORY WILL

* continue his great work in China as he brings all things together for his glory, according to his purpose and in fulfilment of his promise (Gen 12:3; Isaiah 9:1-7; Romans 8:28).

* preserve, sustain and bless the Church in China, protecting her from disunity and providing all her needs. 'I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' (Jesus, in Matthew 16:18 ESV)

* comfort, encourage and sustain China's imprisoned pastors and Christian human rights lawyers; may they know the Lord's presence and sustaining grace in a powerful and palpable way.

Gao Zhisheng
'There are bigger spaces, after all, than what we can see,' writes Christian human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng concerning time spent in solitary confinement. 'For anyone of faith, infinite light and freedom await us when we close our eyes.' [From Unwavering Convictions (published 2017, p139).]

(A survivor of multiple abductions, incarcerations and torture, Gao has been 'disappeared' since Aug-Sept 2017. Please pray.)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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ADVENT IN CHINA: 'THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY HAS BEGUN.'

A major persecution is looming over China. Of two things we can be certain: (1) while it will be different, it will be just as insidious as that of Mao's Cultural Revolution; (2) it will not last, for when the time is right the God of history will intervene and his Church will be set free. In 2012 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) included 'underground' churches and human rights lawyers (one quarter of whom are Christians) in a list of 'five new black categories', i.e. enemies of the state. When Xi Jinping took the reins of the Communist Party (November 2012) and People's Republic (March 2013), persecution of the 'black categories' escalated markedly; worse is coming. An extraordinary spiritual battle has commenced. The Chinese Church needs our prayers.

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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, December 3, 2019

RLPB 531. Advent in Algeria: Persecution, Protests and Promise

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 531 | 04 Dec 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)

'Advent' is derived from the Latin word adventus, which is a translation of the Greek word parousia which means 'coming'.

ADVENT IN ALGERIA: PERSECUTION, PROTESTS AND PROMISE
plus Urgent Update on Burkina Faso
By Elizabeth Kendal

'Something is happening,' writes researcher David Garrison, 'something unprecedented. A wind [the Holy Spirit] is blowing through the House of Islam.' [A Wind in the House of Islam, by David Garrison (WIGTake Resources, Monument, CO, USA, 2014) p18.] Indeed, as Garrison notes, more Muslims have chosen to follow Christ in the past two to three decades than in all previous 1400 years of Muslim-Christian interaction. God is doing something new!

 Algeria's Kabylie region 
In no Arab country is this more evident than in the North African state of Algeria, which is 70 percent Arab, 23 percent Berber, 97 percent Muslim and 0.3 percent Christian. [Note: the Church is growing 7.5 percent annually, some 6-7 times the annual population growth rate.] The Algerian Church comprises primarily converts from Islam; in particular, Berber converts from the Kabylie region. Most growth occurred during the horrific years of civil war (Dec 1991 to Feb 2002) as the government and the jihadists filled the land with blood and terror. Disillusioned by the violence inflicted on them in the name of Islam (both sides claiming Allah's mandate), many Algerians were seeking answers just as Arab-language radio and satellite Gospel ministries were becoming established. Today, the Christian community - Catholic and Protestant - is estimated to comprise more than 300,000 believers. The Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA: l’Église Protestante d’Algérie) was founded in 1972. Today, it represents 46 affiliated Protestant congregations/churches but is facing a new wave of repression.

In February 2006 the Algerian government passed President Bouteflika's Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation, which saw more than 10,000 Islamic jihadists imprisoned during Algeria's civil war granted amnesty in exchange for peace. Weeks later, in March 2006, the government enacted Presidential Order 06/03 which 'fixed the conditions and rules for the exercise of religious worship other than Muslim'. Not only did Ordinance 06/03 increase the penalties for 'proselytising', it mandated that all churches had to be registered to be legal. Presumably one of the jihadists' conditions for peace was that the government act to halt the growth of Christianity. [For more details see Religious Liberty Monitoring, 24 March 2006].

Pastor Salah Challah, the President of
the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA) and
senior pastor of the Full Gospel Church of Tizi Ouzou,
leads prayer on the staircase outside the locked church.
(SAT-7, 4 Nov 2019)
Over the past two years the ruling National Liberation Front - which has held power since independence (1962) - has escalated its persecution of Protestant Christianity, eager to demonstrate its Islamic credentials ahead of elections originally slated for April 2019. Since November 2017 the government has closed around 15 Protestant churches; eight since May 2019. In August Algeria's Minister of Interior issued an order instructing regional governors and security heads to escalate their investigations into Protestant Christianity which it deemed subversive [see RLPB 521 (25 Sep 2019)]. The largest church to be closed to date is the 1200-member Full Gospel Church of Tizi Ouzou, which was sealed shut on 15 October [see Morning Star News: Algeria]. The government has also halted live television broadcasts of the weekly services by Christian broadcaster SAT-7. [SAT-7 video item on the situation in Algeria.] Groups to have criticised the church closures include Human Rights Watch (HWR, 24 Oct) and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF, 30 Oct).

Algerian woman raises a placard, 'No to the military regime,'
at protest in Algiers, Friday 10 May 2019. (AFP)
The cry of the 'Arab Spring' was a cry for 'dignity' (as distinct from 'democracy'). [After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East includes a chapter on the Arab Spring, one of the most misunderstood movements of our era.] Unemployed, hungry, vulnerable and helpless - Arab citizens are sick and tired of the systemic corruption of their arrogant military-backed ruling elites. Unfortunately for them, their movement was hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood which in turn was crushed as national armies regained control. However, the longing for dignity remains. Indeed, this yearning for dignity is at the root of protests shaking the Middle East today from Algiers to Tehran. In Algeria, protests erupted on 22 February after the ruling party announced that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika - who is 82 and disabled by stroke - would run for a fifth term. Every Friday since, the streets have filled with protesters. By April the military had switched sides, opting to sacrifice the president (i.e., 'the tip of the iceberg') while keeping the deep state in place. By 2 April Bouteflika was gone. Refusing to be fooled, Algeria's protesters continued to insist that the entire military regime apparatus be dismantled.

Civil rights lawyer and head of the
'Union for Change and Progress' party Zoubida Assoul
brandishes a 'No to the Vote' placard at protest in Algiers,
Friday 22 November 2019 (AFP Photo/RYAD KRAMDI)
The elections - originally slated for 18 April - were rescheduled for 4 July, and then postponed to 12 December. On 2 November the election authority announced the names of the approved candidates; all five are affiliated with the ruling establishment that the protesters insist must be dismantled. Consequently, the protesters - who have been as peaceful as they have been persistent - have vowed to continue their weekly protests and not participate in elections while the military regime remains in power. As Robert Zaretsky notes in Foreign Affairs (26 Nov): 'The election risks ending as an exercise in absurdity: nearly all Algerian political and civil organisations have refused to endorse the five official candidates and have called upon Algerians to refrain from voting. The failure of this election will, paradoxically, mark the success of the country's democratic aspirations.'

 '[They] can seal our churches but not our hearts.'
  Come Lord Jesus! (SAT-7, 4 Nov 2019)
Of course, the dignity the people yearn for - a dignity rooted in equity, justice and respect - is a dignity that can only be realised through observance of God's law and acceptance of God grace. Islam cannot deliver it; neither can secular humanism. And so we pray: 'Come Lord Jesus!' May the Lord continue to build his Church in Algeria as the Holy Spirit continues to blow through the House of Islam.

PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* pour out his Holy Spirit on Algeria's growing Church, so that wisdom, courage, grace and unity will abound despite escalating repression and social turmoil; may the Lord give all pastors, evangelists and Christian leaders great wisdom as they navigate these difficult days. 'My grace is sufficient for you ...' (the promise of 2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

* bless Algerian families with awakening, insight and revelation so that they come to know, love and follow Jesus Christ. (Genesis 12:3)

* bless and supply the needs of Arab-language Gospel ministry, multiplying and magnifying its witness. 'And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (the promised of Philippians 4:19 ESV).

* redeem the turmoil in Algerian society to bring about awakening this Advent season as Christians, churches and various Gospel ministries testify to the birth of the Saviour, Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:1-14).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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ADVENT IN ALGERIA: PERSECUTION, PROTESTS AND PROMISE

Algerians were supposed to go to the polls in April, but protests erupted after the ruling military-backed regime announced that President Bouteflika (82 and disabled by stroke) would run for a fifth term. Bouteflika resigned, but the protests continued with the protesters insisting the entire corrupt military regime (in power since 1962) be dismantled. Though scheduled to go ahead on 12 December, the polls will be boycotted by people demanding systemic change. The regime has spent the last two years escalating its persecution of Protestant Christianity, presumably to establish its Islamic credentials and appease the Islamists ahead of the elections. Not to be deterred, the Spirit of God is on the move, 'blowing through the House of Islam' and building his Algerian Church. Please pray for Algeria and her Church.

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URGENT UPDATE: CHURCH MASSACRE IN EASTERN BURKINA FASO

On Sunday 1 December unidentified gunmen stormed a Protestant church worship service in the village of Hantoukoura near the border with Niger in Burkina Faso's volatile Eastern region. They targeted the men, killing 14 of the 15 men present in a congregation of 80 mostly women and children. Most of eastern Burkina Faso has fallen under the control of armed Islamic groups; as in Central African Republic, they fight each other for control of mineral resources, in particular, gold. Schools are closed; in some places armed groups enforce strict Islamic observance. Churches in the north were targeted in the months after Easter, but this is the first attack to target the Church in Eastern Province. Please pray for the Church in Burkina Faso.

[For more on the crisis looming over Burkina Faso, see Religious Liberty Monitoring, 23 May 2019.]

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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