Tuesday, December 17, 2019

RLPB 533. Advent Amidst Terror

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 533 | 18 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)

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NOTE: This will be the last Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) for 2019. Unless there is a crisis requiring an urgent call to prayer, the next RLPB will be the January Update on 29 January 2020.

Please continue to watch and pray over the Christmas - New Year period. When watching, listening to or reading the news, think of how local Christians might be impacted by events, and pray for them.
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'Advent' is derived from the Latin word adventus, which is a translation of the Greek word parousia which means 'coming'.

ADVENT AMIDST TERROR
by Elizabeth Kendal

Britain's Christmas markets surrounded by ring of steel 
(Daily Mail, 21 Nov 2019)
The risk of Islamic terror attack is elevated over Christmas as terrorists seek not merely to kill for political gain, but to make a statement about their intention to eliminate Christianity. Across the United Kingdom (UK), undercover SAS officers will be stationed at Christmas markets and other crowded places. The situation will be much the same in Germany, in France, in Belgium and across much of Western Europe and Scandinavia. Europe might have the most potential targets, but Christians in jihadist hot-spots still face the greatest risk.

INDONESIA: On Tuesday 17 December Indonesia's National Police spokesman Argo Yuwono told media that more than 192,000 police and military personnel will be deployed nationwide ahead of Christmas to guard against potential terror attacks. He said, 'Based on intelligence data, there are potential risks ... so we're taking preventative measures but we are also ready to take proactive action.' On 5 December police from the Densus 88 counter-terrorism squad raided a house in the Sentani district of Jayapura, the capital of PAPUA Province, arresting an alleged terrorist and seizing a cache of homemade explosives. While police denied that eight terrorist suspects with ties to the Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) had also been arrested, Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) director, Sidney Jones, confirmed, 'The recent arrests are linked to members of JAD cells in Bekasi [West Java] and Lampung … .' Terrorism experts have cautioned Papuan authorities to remain vigilant. [Background: RLPB 523 (9 Oct 2019)]. Please pray.

AFRICA'S TERROR AXIS: In March this year, Kurdish-led anti-IS forces captured Islamic State's last stronghold of Baghouz in eastern Syria. As jihadists have left Syria, either to return home or find fresh fields in which to sow misery and death, jihadist terror has escalated across Africa's terror axis.

(1) SOMALIA-KENYA-ETHIOPIA

In northern Somalia's Puntland, Islamic State in Somalia (ISS) is training fighters and recruiting Ethiopians with Amharic-language propaganda that specifically targets churches and Christians [see RLPB 520 (18 Sep 2019)]. Meanwhile, in southern Somalia, al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab continues to inflict terror both inside Somalia and across the border in Kenya where Christians are its primary target.

KENYA: On Friday 6 December at 5pm al-Shabaab militants flagged down a bus in eastern Kenya's Wajir County. The bus - en-route from Nairobi to the north-eastern city of Mandera - was carrying 56 passengers. After ordering the passengers off the bus, the terrorists separated them into two groups: 'locals' (ethnic Somali Muslims) and 'non-locals' (Kenyan Christians). The 'locals' were ordered back onto the bus while the eleven 'non-locals' were executed. The dead included eight Kenyan police officers returning from leave in Nairobi, two teachers and a medical doctor. The teachers and doctor are known to have been active members of evangelical churches. The bus driver and conductor have been arrested, suspected of being al-Shabaab sympathisers who colluded with the terrorists in the planning and execution of the attack. The militants escaped back to neighbouring Somalia. Please pray for all Christians living and serving in eastern Kenya.

(2) NIGERIA - CAMEROON

Voice of America reports (12 Dec): 'Authorities in Cameroon say Boko Haram terrorists have been launching daily attacks on villages along the Nigerian border, killing at least 30 people and injuring scores in the past few months.' Christian aid group Barnabas Fund (BF) reports that in mid-November, Boko Haram militants conducted a raid in Tourou district, in Cameroon's Far North region, in which they hacked to death a 12-year-old Christian schoolboy who resisted their attempt to abduct him as a 'child soldier'. BF also reports that seven people were killed and 21 children and young adults were kidnapped when Boko Haram rampaged through mainly Christian villages in the Far North region in early December. After each attack, the militants escape back to their base in neighbouring Nigeria. [Background: RLPB 518 (4 Sep 2019).] Please pray.

(3) BURKINA FASO – MALI - NIGER

Violent events linked to ISGS between Jan 2018 - May 2019.
Africa Centre for Strategic Studies (10 June 2019)
On Sunday 1 December terrorists stormed a worship service in eastern BURKINA FASO (BF), near the border with Niger. They killed 14 of the 15 men present, leaving the women and children traumatised and destitute [see 'Urgent Update on Burkina Faso' in RLPB 531 (4 Dec 2019)]. In recent weeks, pastors in BF's East region have been threatened. Despite this, Bible colleges in the region still want to proceed with graduation ceremonies and churches still want to celebrate Christmas. Please Pray! 

I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. (Psalm 18:1-3 ESV)

NIGER: On 10 December well-armed terrorists from Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) - also known as Islamic State in West Africa (an off-shoot of Boko Haram) - launched the most deadly and sophisticated attack on a military base ever seen in Niger. Suicide car-bombers opened the way for militants armed with mortars and riding motorbikes to briefly over-run the Inates base in remote south-western Niger near the border with Mali. At least 71 Nigerien soldiers were killed and 30 remain unaccounted for. ISGS claims to have killed 100 soldiers, wounded dozens more, while capturing weapons, ammunition and 16 vehicles.

Despite being majority Muslim, Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali are states with secular government and religious freedom - states where the Church has long been respected for its service which benefits all the people. Today, the tri-border region has become a key focal point for ISGS. Analysts fear that as terror escalates, Niger's overstretched military might opt to withdraw from this remote region to concentrate its forces around the more densely populated cities. This is precisely what has happened in Burkina Faso and Mali. Crisis Group explains, 'The zone is at risk of becoming a no-man's land under the custodianship of a rural [ISGS-infiltrated and backed] jihadist insurgency, with residents more or less held hostage.' The implications for churches, Bible colleges and long-established missions through the wider region are huge. Please pray!


Fulani (courtesy Samaritan's Purse)
ACROSS AFRICA, tribes and peoples with grievances - be they real, imagined or exaggerated - are embracing jihadists who come promising to empower, enrich, rescue and save, while actually harbouring intentions to exploit and enslave. Instead of securing liberty, equity and dignity, the aggrieved peoples are oppressed, abused and sacrificed as cannon-fodder and human shields. It would be better for them if they were to embrace the One who came preaching good news, offering life and liberty, and proclaiming the year of the Lord's favour (Luke 4:16-21). They need the Lord Jesus Christ. Please pray!

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ADVENT PRAYER

Dear God our Father

Please help us to fully comprehend and embrace what you have done through your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ whose birth the angels announced as 'good news of great joy that will be for all the people' (Luke 2:1-21). Empower us by your Holy Spirit to live in the light of this truth, energised with hope, conscious that because of Jesus a new day has dawned. Father, open our eyes, unblock our ears, put life in our legs. May we never grow tired of serving in the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Father, we lift before you the Christians of Mesopotamia and the wider Middle East, as they celebrate Christmas in exile, or in hollowed-out churches ravaged by war, and amidst great insecurity. We lift before you the Christians of Sri Lanka, Burkina Faso and Nigeria, indeed all believers who this Christmas will be missing loved ones killed in terror attacks, Islamic jihad and communal violence in the course of 2019. We lift before you Christians in prison in Iran, Pakistan, China, Eritrea and North Korea; as well as those held captive by jihadists in the Malian desert and Northern Nigeria. We lift before you the multitudes of believers across the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia who will celebrate Christmas despite crippling poverty (caused by discrimination) and violent persecution (encouraged by impunity). Oh Father, bless them and keep them safe. May reviving power from the life-giving and ever-present Holy Spirit flood their hearts with joy, hope and peace as they remember, embrace and celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.

In the name of Jesus,

AMEN

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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 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