Tuesday, September 18, 2018

RLPB 473. Syria: Christians imperilled as Battle for Idlib looms

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 473 | Wed 19 Sep 2018

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SYRIA: CHRISTIANS IMPERILLED AS BATTLE FOR IDLIB LOOMS
by Elizabeth Kendal

click on map to enlarge
source: DW
Bordering Turkey, Idlib Governorate has been an al-Qaeda stronghold since March 2015 when Idlib city fell to Jaysh el-Fatah, an alliance of some 1500 fighters from al-Qaeda's Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham (the Syrian Taliban) and five other groups including the US-backed Free Syrian Army [see RLPB 307 (29 April 2015)]. The looming battle to liberate Idlib is destined to be the largest battle of the Syrian war. It will be an asymmetric battle, meaning the 'rebels' -- though possessing many sophisticated weapons, including armed drones and high-powered US-made anti-tank weapons -- will be forced to rely on Psychological Operations (operations that target our hearts and minds). To that end it is unsurprising to learn that while the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has opened humanitarian corridors to facilitate the escape from Idlib of Syrian civilians and even Syrian fighters prepared to lay down their weapons, the terrorists (many of whom are foreign transnational jihadists) are preventing people from leaving, eager to retain them as human shields.

As the final showdown looms, the US, the UK and France are preparing to launch military strikes. According to US officials who are establishing the narrative, Assad [is so stupid that he] has approved the use of chlorine gas, the very thing that would trigger coordinated military strikes from the US, UK and France. Actually, the US has stated any escalation of the conflict will trigger massive retaliatory strikes. Of course we have seen all this before [see Religious Liberty Monitoring (RLM), label: Syria]. Frantic talks are underway to see if a major conflagration and humanitarian catastrophe can be averted. On Monday 17 September Russia brokered a deal with the jihadists' patron, Turkey, to establish a 15-20km wide demilitarised jihadist/terrorist-free zone in Idlib. Now all Turkey's President Erdogan needs to do is separate all the 'good' and reasonable 'rebels' from the bad transnational jihadists/ terrorists who must then agree to retreat north. Al-Qaeda's emir in Idlib, Abu Mohammad al-Julani (Golani), has vowed to continue fighting Assad. Refusing to surrender, his group -- now known as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham-- is instead promising 'many military surprises'. Mainstream Western media repeatedly lament that the fate of Idlib is in the hands of outsiders. But as Syrians rightly note, Idlib's fate is in the hands of Idlib's 'rebels', jihadists and terrorists; the ball is in their court.

If conflict does escalate, Christians will again be gravely imperilled, just as they were during the liberation of Aleppo [RLPB 382 (12 Nov 2016) and RLPB 373 (31 Aug 2016)] and the liberation of Eastern Ghouta [RLPB 438 (17 Jan 2018)]. For the 'rebels' will target them with retaliatory strikes.

Funeral, Mhardeh, 8 Sept 2018
Greek Orthodox Church of St. George,
see World Watch Monitor
Located in the north of Hama Governorate, less than 10km from the border with Idlib, is Mhardeh, Syria's largest Christian city. Despite being on the front-line of conflict, Mhardeh's Christians have resisted all 'rebel' efforts to drive them out. The city has been repeatedly shelled and besieged; around 100 residents have been killed and more than 150 wounded in the past seven years. Backed by the SAA, the Mhardeh Defence Force comprises some 200 locals -- former tradesmen, teachers, pharmacists among others -- along with some 1000 other volunteers who can be called upon if needed. To keep the city habitable, the local city council has facilitated the prompt rebuilding of homes. It is a tight-knit Christian community where those who have wealth share with those who do not. At 6:30pm on Friday 7 September rebel mortar shells struck busy Mhardeh killing 10 and wounding more than 20, two of whom died later in hospital. Five of the dead were children. One man, who was wounded, lost his mother, wife and three children. On Saturday 8 September Mhardeh's Christians postponed a wedding and, instead, buried their dead.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* intervene with power and grace to ensure Syria remains secular and safe for Christians and other religious minorities; may the transnational jihadists and proxy militias serving fundamentalist Islam and foreign powers be defeated; may foreign powers refrain from illegal actions; may the war soon come to an end and may peace and prosperity return to Syria. 

* redeem all suffering; may the trauma of war serve only to open eyes and soften hearts so that many will receive the saving gospel and transforming wisdom of Jesus Christ. 

* comfort Mhardeh's grieving, traumatised and deeply anxious Christians; may the Lord shield them, encourage them and supply all their needs; may the Lord give 'strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate' (Isaiah 28:5-6 ESV).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIANS IN SYRIA IMPERILLED AS BATTLE FOR IDLIB LOOMS

Bordering Turkey, Idlib has been an al-Qaeda stronghold since March 2015. The battle to liberate Idlib is destined to be the largest battle of the Syrian war. On 17 September Russia brokered a deal with the jihadist's patron, Turkey, to establish a 15-20 km wide demilitarised terrorist-free zone in Idlib. The Syrian government has opened humanitarian corridors to facilitate the escape of civilians. However, displaced Syrians report that their relatives in Idlib are being held against their will as human shields. Al-Qaeda's emir in Idlib has already vowed to fight, promising surprises. If conflict escalates, the jihadists will target Christians in retaliation. On 7 September 10 people (including five children) were killed when rebel mortars struck Syria's largest Christian city, Mhardeh, in northern Hama. Please pray for Syria and its 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

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

RLPB 472. Nigeria: Christian Crisis in North & Middle Belt

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 472 | Wed 12 Sep 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)


NIGERIA: CHRISTIAN CRISIS IN NORTH & MIDDLE BELT
by Elizabeth Kendal

BEHEADED IN NUMAN LGA, ADAMAWA

Dorcas Chrisanthus
Charles and Dorcas Chrisanthus have a farm in Bare ward in predominantly Christian Numan Local Government Area (LGA) of Nigeria's eastern Adamawa State, an area known for its Christian resistance to Fulani-Muslim dominance in the state. [See World Watch Monitor (WWM), Nigeria, June 2018)] On 29 August terror struck the Chrisanthus' farm; Dorcas clung tightly to the couple's four-month-old son as her husband was butchered before her eyes. According to Dorcas: 'His attackers, led by our Fulani neighbours, repeatedly stabbed him on the back and on his stomach before beheading my husband in our farm and made (sic) away with his head.' The next day, as Dorcas and three other eye witnesses registered their complaints with the State Criminal Investigation Department, locals discovered that the killers were receiving medical aid at a local hospital. Dorcas insists that the police were shielding them. Some arrests have since been made. Charles Chrisanthus (a Christian) was the Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Adamawa State, which stands in opposition to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the party of President Muhammadu Buhari (a Fulani Muslim).

BURNED ALIVE IN BARKIN LADI LGA, PLATEAU

In the last week of August, Fulani militants attacked a string of villages in Barkin Ladi LGA, Plateau State. According to World Watch Monitor, more than 14 people were killed, 95 houses were burnt down and 225 farm crops awaiting harvest were destroyed. The militants invaded Abonong Village on the evening of 28 August, shooting and creating panic. They invaded the home of Rev Adamu Wurim Gyang (50), located on the church premises. Rev. Gyang locked himself in a room with his three boys, while his wife, Jummai, locked herself in a toilet. Jummai was shot and killed, while the pastor and his boys were burnt alive. The family's eldest son, Adamu (27) was at university in Jos when the attack took place; his life will never be the same.

When the military eventually arrived, they immediately started arresting distraught local youths who had taken to the streets to protest the insecurity. When a local woman objected, insisting the soldiers focus on arresting Fulani militants, the soldiers shot her dead. World Watch Monitor's 7 September report includes YouTube footage of a trembling and distressed Rev Ezekiel Dachomo pleading for international help to end the killings. Standing over the body of the dead woman, he asks, 'Who are these army men?'  He laments that 'an Islamic agenda is taking over the nation', and ultimately breaks down and sobs inconsolably. The killings in Barkin Ladi LGA have continued into September, with gunmen killing five at Gana-Ropp Village on 4 September and another three, including a pastor, at Nding village on 6 September.

Rev. Ezekiel Dachomo (World Watch Monitor)

CONTEXT: AN ORGANISED ISLAMIC ADVANCE

The context for the assassination in Adamawa is the organised Islamic advance into Nunman LGA. This in turn exists within the wider context of the organised Islamic advance through Nigeria's Middle Belt [see RLPB 431 (8 Nov 2017)]. This latest violence comes as the ruling APC is reeling from a string of defections as MPs disillusioned by President Buhari's unwillingness to tackle the Fulani violence wracking the North and Middle Belt switch from the APC to the PDP. President Buhari insists that reports of an 'Islamic agenda' are nothing but 'negative propaganda being instigated by outsiders', which he said 'find narrative in the church' despite them being 'without any credible fact'. Instead, Buhari blames the violence -- which he diminishes as mere 'misunderstandings' -- on climate change, political mischief and hostile media. Meanwhile the Christian Crisis in Nigeria's North and Middle Belt continues as one of the worst crises for Christians in the world today.

[A more detailed report will be posted to Religious Liberty Monitoring.]

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* intervene in Nigeria so that multitudes will be awakened to the true nature of the evil that is advancing and leading the nation headlong into conflict, poverty, repression, death and despair; may the nation give a collective 'No!' to jihad and the 'Islamic agenda' and a collective 'Yes!' to life and liberty; may the battle be turned back at the gate (Isaiah 28:5-6).

* protect, sustain and bless his persecuted and existentially imperilled Church across Nigeria's North and Middle Belt; may he supply all their needs (spiritual and physical); may the free and prosperous Church in the South rise to the occasion in recognition that the Body of Christ -- their own flesh and blood -- is weeping, bleeding, hungry, displaced, traumatised and dying.

'Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter -- when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?' (Isaiah 58:6-7 NIV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIAN CRISIS IN NIGERIA'S NORTH & MIDDLE BELT

A growing number of Nigerian civic, political and religious leaders are convinced that an Islamic agenda is being advanced. Not only is President Muhammadu Buhari (a Fulani Muslim) unwilling to tackle the escalating Fulani violence ravaging the North and Middle Belt, he is even unwilling to recognise it. Consequently, the killings -- which amount to ethnic cleansing -- continue unabated and with impunity. The security forces, dominated by Fulani Muslims, are not neutral. Nigerian Christians feel vulnerable and abandoned. On 28 August the Christian stronghold of Nunman LGA in Adamawa State was rocked by a gruesome Fulani-led political assassination (beheading). Meanwhile, massacres continue in Plateau State: victims include a pastor burnt alive with three of his sons, after his wife was shot dead. Please pray for Nigeria and its suffering 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