Tuesday, March 24, 2020

RLPB 542. March 2020 Update, incl. Pakistan, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Finland, Nigeria, Turkey

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 542 | Wed 25 Mar 2020
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)

By Elizabeth Kendal

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing many Christians in the free world to experience - possibly for the first time in their lives - what many persecuted Christians in the non-free world experience every day of their lives: the menacing reality and uncomfortable closeness of suffering and death. The difference is that Christians in the free world who test positive for COVID-19 will have a supportive state doing everything it can to help them. On the other hand, Christians in the non-free world who are persecuted for their faith rarely receive any support from their state. Despised as infidels, rejected as untouchables, condemned as state enemies, they are routinely denied medical care, even when their lives depend on it. Furthermore, threatened Christian communities now face the prospect that hostile state and non-state actors will exploit security vacuums opened up by COVID-19 to advance their own agendas. As Christians in the free world (like myself) gain insight into what it is like to live under the shadow of suffering and death, may it help us to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters with genuine empathy and unifying, sanctifying love.

'A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another' (John 13:34-35 ESV).

MARCH 2020 UPDATE - during this period we prayed concerning

* PAKISTAN [RLPB 539 (3 March)], where Christians continue to suffer crippling discrimination and severe persecution. Christian couple Shafqat Emmanuel Masih and his wife, Shagufta Kausar, were imprisoned for blasphemy in 2013 and sentenced to death in 2014. The couple was found guilty of sending a blasphemous text to an Islamic cleric, though they both are illiterate, and their confession was extracted under torture. After six years in jail, the couple - who have four young children - will finally have their appeal heard in the Lahore High Court on Wednesday 8 April. Please pray.


Huma Younus
Huma Younus (14) of Karachi, Sindh, was abducted in October 2019, transported some 600 km north into Punjab, forcibly Islamised and married against her will to her Muslim abductor. In a desperate effort to get their daughter back, Huma's parents filed a petition with Sindh High Court seeking annulment of the marriage under the Child Marriage Restraint Act which forbids marriage under the age of 18 years. To their horror, the judge ignored the law of the land and on 3 February ruled the marriage valid on the basis of Islamic Sharia law. The case was adjourned until 4 March. On 4 March, as the case was adjourned yet again, the court ordered investigation officer, Akhtar Hussain to present Huma to the court at its next hearing on Sunday 29 March so that a medical examination can be conducted to determine her age. The family suspects that police are colluding with the abductors to circumvent justice. Please pray.

* SUDAN [RLPB 540 (11 March)], after a failed assassination attempt on new Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok exposed the simmering resistance to his government's ground-breaking reforms. The amount of hostility simmering below the surface cannot be underestimated.


On 11 March Sudan's new Minister of Religious Affairs, Nasr al-Din Mufreh, signed an order abolishing the committees imposed on churches under former president Omar al-Bashir. 'All government-appointed committees are abolished as of today [11 March],' he announced. Sources told Morning Star News that, while further legal action will be needed to regain control over church properties lost under committees imposed on churches by the old regime, this is a good step forward on the path to restoration. On Friday 20 March Nasr al-Din Mufreh also confirmed that his ministry has formed a committee that will work with the relevant authorities to investigate reports of multiple attacks on the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) in Jabarona, on the outskirts of Khartoum. He said the government would take all necessary measures to protect the church and arrest all those found responsible, reaffirming his government's keenness to ensure and protect religious freedomsPraise God! May the Lord protect and bless all the brave Sudanese who are working to bring peace, justice, racial-religious equity and religious liberty to Sudan. Please pray.

* IRAQ [RLPB 541 (18 March)], where tit-for-tat missile strikes between US troops and Iranian proxies were raising fears that Iraq could become a battlefield for a US-Iran proxy war. Conflict would raise the threat level for Northern Iraq's Assyrian Christians, because conflict would provide cover under which the genocide of the Assyrians could be completed. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic could also provide cover for a genocide to take place. One person's crisis can be another's opportunity; and Kurds (Sunnis) and Shabaks (Shi'ites, proxies of Baghdad and Tehran) will no doubt be eager to exploit any opportunity to complete their land grabbing in the Nineveh Plains (the Assyrian homeland for millennia). Please pray.


On 17 March the newly formed Usbat al-Thayireen (League of the Revolutionaries) released a video in which it threatened US troops in Iraq. Having already claimed responsibility for the deadly 13 March attack on the US base in Taji, the League threatened to strike again, boasting it possessed 'long range weapons'. Everything indicates that the group is aligned with Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The IRGC routinely creates front groups with new names when undertaking sensitive operations. That way, the front group can perpetrate terror, claim responsibility and issue threats, while the IRGC and its other proxy militias maintain plausible deniability. Iran may be poised to up the ante in Iraq convinced that the COVID-19 crisis presents it with an opportunity to advance its own agenda at reduced risk. Please pray for Iraq's gravely imperilled Christians.

'Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen' (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)

FOR MORE on the subject of how the COVID-19 pandemic might impact the persecuted Church, please see: 'The COVID-19 Pandemic and the Persecuted Church,' Religious Liberty Monitoring (25 March 2020).

MARCH 2020 ROUND-UP - also this month


Alliance Defending Freedom 
In June 2019, after the board of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC) of Finland announced its official partnership with the LGBT event 'Pride 2019', evangelical church member Päivi Räsänen took to social media to question her church's decision. Her query - 'How can the church's doctrinal foundation, the Bible, be compatible with the lifting up of shame and sin as a subject of pride?' - would probably have gone unremarked except that Räsänen is a Member of Parliament and a former Minister of the Interior. To Räsänen's dismay, the police launched an investigation against her. On 4 November 2019 the Prosecutor-General announced that police would also investigate a pamphlet she had written in 2004 explaining the ELC's teaching on human sexuality. Then, on 5 March 2020, Räsänen was informed that the Prosecutor-General had opened two more investigations: one about comments she made on a TV show in 2018 in which she was asked about her personal beliefs; the other concerning comments she made during a radio interview on 20 December 2019. For her promotion of Biblical morality and wisdom, Räsänen stands accused of 'inciting hatred on the basis of sexuality' - a hate speech crime in Finland. This is a huge case for freedom of religious expression in Finland. Please pray.


The Iranian regime has granted temporary release to some 85,000 prisoners to curb the spread of COVID-19 through the prison system. About 10,000 of those prisoners will be pardoned and will not be required to return to prison. Those granted temporary release include 'security-related' (political) prisoners serving sentences of less than five years. In its persecution of Christians, the regime usually starts with intimidation (raids, fines and threats). If further deterrence is required, the regime will progress to short-term imprisonments. Repeat offenders - committed pastors and evangelists who refuse to be silenced and refuse to retreat underground - face long prison terms (10 years and more) on security-related offences. It is highly unlikely that Christian prisoners who remain incarcerated will receive treatment if they get infected with COVID-19. Please pray.


In answer to the prayers of many, Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi - imprisoned for her faith in the notorious Qarchak Prison - was released on bail on 26 February, pending a court hearing scheduled for 2 March. On 3 March Middle East Concern reported that Mary's hearing was postponed, apparently due to the spread of Coronavirus. Taking to social media, Mary thanked all those who have been praying for her: 'I am grateful for all of you dear friends who have been concerned and followed my situation with concern.' Please pray.



Bishop Idris Ado Zubairu
with his wife Saratu
On 10 March gunmen laid siege to the Christian community of Gidan Mato in Bari, Kano State, where the Anglican Cathedral and Bishop's Court are situated. They looted the church properties and much of the town. The Bishop of Bari Diocese, the Rt Reverend Idris Ado Zubairu, was visiting neighbouring Plateau State at the time. The bishop's wife, Mrs Saratu Zubairu, and a diocesan secretary identified as Deborah were abducted. A large ransom was demanded. On Friday 20 March the Primate of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), The Most Rev. Nicholas D Okoh announced that both women had been freed. Kidnapping for ransom is out of control across Nigeria. Christians in the volatile Middle Belt and Islamic North are especially vulnerable. Please pray.

Sadiya with her mother
In early January Fulani raiders abducted Sadiya Amos (15) from her home in northern Kaduna. Muslims then dragged her father, Amos Chindo, before a Sharia court and accused him of refusing to let his daughter convert to Islam. As Mr Amos reminded the court, his daughter is a minor and he is Christian, therefore not accountable to the Sharia court. The trial was adjourned until 14 January, at which time the judge announced that Sadiya was now a Muslim and married to her abductor. Despite all their efforts, the Hausa Christian Foundation (HACFO) was unable to secure Sadiya's release; there was nothing left to do but pray. On 12 March HACFO announced: 'While praying to God for open doors to speed up her freedom, the Power of our God went ahead and completed the work all to His glory.' As it turned out, the Fulani charged with guarding Sadiya had fallen asleep without locking the door, enabling her to escape and return to her parents. Praise God!

But as HACFO laments, the abduction of Christian girls for forced Islamisation is endemic in Northern Nigeria. HACFO regards it as 'another form of jihad'. HACFO thanked God for his divine intervention while exhorting believers to persevere in prayer because there are so many 'other Christian girls in Islamic captivity', including Leah Sharibu. 'This fight is becoming intense and the damages are overwhelming,' it said. 'May God have mercy on Nigeria and bring his perfect will to pass in Jesus' Name. Amen.' Please pray.


Şimoni (65) and Hourmouz (71) Diril 
Hourmouz (71) and Simoni (65) Diril were the only Assyrians living in the Assyrian village of Mehr in Turkey's south-eastern province of Sırnak. While the Turkish government wanted Mehr abandoned, it was the Dirils' intention and hope that Mehr might yet again be home to a thriving Assyrian community. When their son - Istanbul-based Assyrian priest Remzi Diril - visited Mehr on 12 January, his parents were nowhere to be found. An eyewitness claims to have seen the Dirils being led away from their home on 11 January [see: RLPB 534 (29 Jan)]. On Friday 20 March the body of Mrs Simoni Diril was found in a river not far from Mehr. Mr Hourmouz Diril remains missing. Please pray.

Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. (Isaiah 40:10 ESV)


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 17, 2020

RLPB 541. Iraq: Christians facing increased risk

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 541 | 18 Mar 2020
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)

by Elizabeth Kendal

click here for video and transcripts.
testimony of Reine Hanna,
Assyrian Policy Institute.
Today, fewer than 200,000 Assyrians (the indigenous people of Mesopotamia) remain in Iraq; most are displaced and destitute [see: RLPB 507, Christian Crisis in Mesopotamia (19 Jun 2019) and RLPB 493, Decimation to Elimination (13 Mar 2019)]. On 26 September 2019 the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) held a hearing entitled Religious Minorities' Fight to Remain in Iraq. As USCIRF Vice-Chair Gayle Manchin noted in her appeal for international support, Christian 'communities are now questioning whether there is any genuine hope of returning to safety and security in their homeland'.

As ISIS was driven from the Nineveh Plains - the Assyrian heartland for millennia - the security vacuum was filled by armed Kurds (Sunni Muslims) and Shabaks (Shi'ite Muslims, backed by Baghdad and Tehran) who rapidly colonised what is now known as the 'disputed territories'. Today, Baghdeda/Qaraqosh - the largest Christian town in the Nineveh Plains - is completely surrounded by Iran-backed Shi'ite militias. Bartella, the second-largest town - previously 95 percent Christian - is now majority Shabak. Furthermore, while Shabaks control the local government, Shabak militias control 'security' and operate checkpoints. Christians are abused as second-class citizens while their businesses face extortion, boycotts and criminality committed with impunity.

Imam Khomeini school, Bartella
One Assyrian shopkeeper in Bartella told America Magazine (27 Feb 2020), 'Frankly speaking, if they [the Shabak] had the chance, they'd take everything from us. If they have the chance to attack, they'd do more damage than ISIS did.' This raises the question: What could provide the Kurds and the Shabak with that 'chance to attack'? Answer: total chaos! The Kurds and Shabak could complete the Assyrian genocide if provided the cover of total chaos. Today, as Iraq faces political paralysis from the largest anti-government protests in its history and the horrific prospect of becoming a battlefield for a US-Iran proxy war, the ultimate, but not inevitable, Christian crisis (genocide) looms larger than ever.

by Elizabeth Kendal
All three imperial nations surrounding Mesopotamia - Iran, Turkey and the Arabs - desire the elimination of 'the Fertile Crescent of Minorities' which has for 100 years served as a buffer zone limiting Persian, Turkish and Sunni Arab regional aspirations. If the West were truly interested in regional security, it would not support any of these imperial powers. Rather, it would support the consolidation of Mesopotamia as a safe place for ethnic and religious minorities. Russia (with its long history of Christian-Muslim relations) understands this; the West (which lacks experience and historical understanding) seems not to! If Iraq dissolves into chaos, the Sunni Kurds and Shi'ite Shabaks would have the cover they require to complete the genocide of the Assyrian people in Iraq.

While this looks inevitable, there are, however, two unknowns. (1) It is unknown how the COVID-19 pandemic will influence events: it could increase the likelihood of war (as failing tyrants employ conflict as distraction) or it could induce restraint. (2) It is also unknown how God might yet intervene, in answer to the prayers of many, to redeem all suffering and 'turn back the battle at the gate' (from Isaiah 28:5-6).


* intervene in the fragile, volatile and threatened nation of Iraq to bless, protect, sustain and preserve his precious Church; may all Christians living in Iraq - be they indigenous Assyrians or Muslim converts - draw ever closer to the Lord; may they trust him with their future and grow in grace and faith every day.

* thwart every evil plot to steal Assyrian land and even eliminate the Assyrian presence; may such an evil plan never come to pass and may the Lord intervene, in answer to prayer, to 'turn back the battle at the gate' (from Isaiah 28:5-6)

* redeem these days of serious hardship, political upheaval, geopolitical tensions, military threat and deep uncertainty to draw many hearts towards peace, and to prepare many hearts to receive the Gospel. 'For nothing will be impossible with God' (angel to Mary, Luke 1:37 ESV).

* reveal the plight of the four aid workers abducted in Baghdad on 20 January; no ransom demands have been made, and the whereabouts of the three French nationals and one Iraqi, who were serving with the French Christian charity SOS Chretiens d'Orient (SOS Christians of the Middle East), remain unknown to all but the Lord.


Today, fewer than 200,000 indigenous Christian Assyrians remain in Iraq, their future uncertain. While ISIS was being driven from the Assyrian heartland, Kurds and Shabaks were flooding in, exploiting the security vacuum. Throughout Northern Iraq's Nineveh Plains, Assyrian towns have been colonised and taken over either by Kurds (Sunnis) or by Shabaks (Shi'ites, supported by Baghdad and Tehran). Consequently, historic Assyrian towns are no longer safe for Assyrians. Meanwhile, Iraq is growing increasingly volatile. Late last year, Baghdad was rocked by the largest anti-government protests in Iraq's history. Tensions are soaring, especially now it also appears that Iraq could become the battleground for a US-Iran proxy war. Should that eventuate, the Kurds and Shabaks would doubtless move to complete the genocide of the Assyrian people under the cover of chaos. Please pray.


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