Tuesday, September 9, 2014

RLPB 277. Lebanon: conflict looms, Christians threatened

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 277 | Wed 10 Sep 2014

LEBANON: CONFLICT LOOMS, CHRISTIANS THREATENED
By Elizabeth Kendal

Lebanon hosts more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees. Though most are Sunnis (many of whom support the rebel cause) quite a number are Christians. On 5 June 2013 the situation in Syria pivoted dramatically when the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), supported by fighters from Hezballah (Lebanon), Iraq and Iran, liberated the strategic city of Al-Qusayr near the border with Lebanon, changing the balance of power on the ground.
North Lebanon (click to enlarge)
 source (whole map)
Subsequently, thousands of rebel fighters retreated into Lebanon where they have become isolated, cut off from the main theatres of jihad. Most have settled into camps for Syrian refugees and at least 1,500 fighters moved into the refugee camps on the barren plains of Arsal just 40km south-west of Al-Qusayr, off the main highway in the hills overlooking the Bekaa Valley. Up to 25,000 Christians live in the Bekaa Valley villages of al-Qaa, al-Fakha and Ras Baalbek. A group calling itself the Ahrar al-Sunnah Brigade -- which has reportedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) 'caliph' Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi -- has been threatening to attack churches and Christians, even threatening to 'purge the Islamic emirate of Bekaa'. Tensions are soaring and the fear is palpable.

On 2 August 2014, clashes broke out in Arsal between Lebanese security personnel and fighters from al-Nusra and IS after police arrested al-Nusra commander Emad Jumaa. [While IS and al-Nusra (which is allied to the Free Syrian Army) are fighting each other in northern Syria, they are allies (for the moment) in Lebanon.] A truce was brokered on 7 August, but not before some 20 Lebanese soldiers had been killed and 42 Lebanese security personnel -- 22 from the army and 20 from the Internal Security Forces -- had been taken hostage. Under the terms of the truce, the jihadists lost their ground, having to retreat out of Arsal into the barren lands beyond, but retained their captives. They remain inside Lebanon as Syria will not permit them back on Syrian soil. Hezballah has laid siege to the area.

In early September the rebels issued their first demand, insisting the Lebanese government release some 400 Islamists being held in Lebanese prisons. To show they were serious they beheaded a soldier -- a Sunni named Ali al-Sayed -- and threatened to behead another should the government fail to comply. Shi'ite clans made it clear that if any Shi'ite were harmed they would retaliate against Syrian refugees. On 4 September the Lebanese government rejected the terrorists' demand so on 6 September the jihadists beheaded another soldier -- Abbas Medlej, a Shi'ite -- while threatening to behead more Shi'ites should Hezballah or its backers harm any Syrian refugee. [Presumably though, al-Nusra and IS would only care only about Sunni refugees.]  Shi'ite clans have retaliated by issuing Syrian refugees with written ultimatums to leave Lebanon.

Mar Elias Church
In recent days churches in the northern port city of Tripoli have been marked with Arabic graffiti. Messages have included, 'The Islamic State will break the cross,' and 'We came to slaughter you, you worshippers of the cross.' The Lebanese army has deployed extra forces to the area.

Hezballah regards the recent clash in Arsal as the beginning of a new conflict, predicting that the Bekaa Valley and the Sunni stronghold of Tripoli are likely to be the next battle grounds of IS. Christians are taking up arms to defend themselves. A Christian youth explained why he joined the local protection committee: 'What has happened in Mosul has been a message to all Christians of the East that the world will not protect them and that they need to rely on themselves to defend their existence.' Umm Milad fled Mosul (in Nineveh, Iraq) in June after ISIS marked her home with a  (an Arabic 'n' for 'Nasrani' / Christian) and ordered the family out. Now Umm, her husband and children are refugees. She weeps as she collects aid from a Chaldean church in Beirut. 'We are scared,' she says. 'We don't want to go back.'

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT --

* Christians in Lebanon -- whether they are armed or not -- will inquire of the Lord, look to him and put their trust first and foremost in him -- not in armies or militias or weapons or 'the world' or themselves. [This was the call of the prophet Isaiah when Judea was existentially threatened. See: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today.]

* the Lord of grace and peace will grant Lebanon's leaders great wisdom as they seek to tackle the refugee crisis, particularly the threat to national security caused by displaced jihadis.

* our heavenly Father will protect, guide and provide for the thousands of Christian refugees from Syria and Iraq now caught up in Lebanon's refugee crisis.

Regarding the fact that the enemies of Christ and Israel, i.e. al-Nusra, IS and Hezballah (and their state sponsors) are coming face to face in the region, read 2 Chronicles 20:1-30, where by grace, through faith, the Lord had his enemies destroy one another (v23).

Pray for great faith to arise, ' . . . for the battle is not yours but God's (v15).'


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CONFLICT LOOMS IN LEBANON; CHRISTIANS THREATENED

In June 2013 the Syrian Arab Army liberated the strategic town of Al-Qusayr, changing the balance of power on the ground. Thousands of jihadis subsequently retreated into the mostly Sunni Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon. Tensions are soaring now as these displaced jihadis launch attacks inside Lebanon. Christians and churches have been threatened in the Sunni stronghold of Tripoli and in the Bekaa Valley. On 6 September Sunni jihadists beheaded a Shi'ite from the Lebanese security forces, causing sectarian tensions to erupt. A new conflict is looming. Lebanese Shi'ites are demanding that Syrian refugees leave Lebanon. This crisis could hit Christian refugees from Syria and Iraq hard -- where can they go? Please pray for Lebanon, for the Lebanese Church and for the Christian refugees caught up in this crisis.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

RLPB 276. India: persecution, poverty and inequity

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 276 | Wed 03 Sep 2014

INDIA: PERSECUTION, POVERTY AND INEQUITY
By Elizabeth Kendal

RLPB 270 (23 July 2014) reported that, on the advice of Hindu nationalist (Hindutva) agitators from the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), more than 50 villages in Chhattisgarh's Bastar region had used Section 129 (G) of the Chhattisgarh Panchayat Raj Act to ban all non-Hindu religious practice. This denial of religious liberty has resulted in a sharp rise in persecution, with Christians being assaulted, denied access to food rations and water, and even driven from their villages. John Dayal of the All India Christian Council (AICC) reported on 22 August that, despite concerted advocacy, there has been no response from either the state or federal government. Furthermore, Dayal says that the threat of purging Christians from villages has spread from Chhattisgarh to Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. If impunity persists, then so will this trend.

Further to this, Hindu nationalists are ramping up their conversion or 'ghar wapsi' (homecoming) campaigns, especially in Uttar Pradesh ahead of by-elections to be held on 13 September. This is nothing other than religious conversion for political gain. On 26 August seventy-two former-Valmikis re-converted to Hinduism after being Christians since 1995. [Valmikis are Dalits ('Untouchables') who venerate the Sanskrit poet Valmiki.] A purification ceremony was held for them inside a Seventh Day Adventist church in Asroi, in Aligarh district. [Aligarh city is just 140 km south-east of New Delhi.] Hindu nationalists had seized the church the night before, removing its cross and installing a portrait of the Hindu deity Shiva. While the re-conversion ceremony naturally upset local Christians, the seizure of the church and its conversion into a Hindu temple sent tensions soaring. To ease tensions, the district administration stepped in and removed the Shiva poster to 'a safe place', and the church's belongings -- i.e. 'a cupboard, Christmas-lights and a single copy of the Bible' -- 'to a locker'. By 30 August eleven Hindu fundamentalists from various Hindutva groups had been arrested on charges of desecrating a Christian church.

When Hindus attempted to seize a church in the village of Hasayan in neighbouring Hathras district on 28 August, police stepped in to prevent it. Unable to seize the church (belonging to the Church of North India [CNI]) the Hindus conducted the ghar wapsi in a private residence, restoring 15 Christians to the Hindu fold. A local Hindu nationalist leader, Rajeshwar Singh, said the Dharam Jagran Vivad (DJV) was planning to hold a major ghar wapsi event on Christmas Day. 'It will be a big event,' he said, 'targeting almost 1000 Christians.' Another DJV member, Khem Chandra, commented that while the church building 'belongs to the missionaries ... the ground on which it stands belongs to Hindustan. We will not compromise on our dharti (earth).' The DJV intends to erect a temple on the site.

Whilst many re-conversions are forced, even violent, many are not. In India, when a Dalit converts to Christianity they lose their Scheduled Caste (SC) status, along with the government benefits and affirmative action the SC status affords.
photo: July 2010 rally 
Consequently, many Dalit Christians (and Muslims) are condemned to crippling poverty. For though the government no longer views the Christians as Dalits, everyone else does because caste is deeply ingrained in India's Hindu culture. Accordingly the systematic discrimination continues but without the government compensation. If the convert fails to grow in faith as a disciple of Jesus Christ, or if they feel the Church has let them down -- maybe by abandoning them to their poverty -- the economic benefits of re-conversion can be very alluring. 

India is the second-largest missionary-sending nation in the world (second only to US) with some 83,000 missionaries (according to Operation World), most of them working cross-culturally within India. However, India is an enormous mission field with immense needs. If converts are to grow and endure, they will need strong faith, literacy and vocational skills equally in great measure. Of course, India needs to end its systemic discrimination -- something Dalit Christians have been fighting for in the Supreme Court for nearly a decade now. Sadly, equity is even more remote now the BJP is in power for, as a Hindutva party, the BJP is ideologically committed to religious apartheid. So 'Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.' (Matthew 9:38 NIV)

'Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?' (James 2:15-16 NIV)

PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL --

* raise up and powerfully equip Christian strategists who will know how to help India's seriously disadvantaged Dalit Christians.

* awaken and sharpen the consciences of all those (local and international) who have influence in India such as diplomats, ambassadors, politicians, journalists, educators and celebrities, as well as those who are leaders in business and industry; may they speak out against inequity and speak up for the voiceless poor and needy (Proverbs 31:8-9); may he magnify their voices and bring cultural change to India.

* challenge the 21st Century Church about its market-mindset that pursues measurable 'results' for the purpose of attracting donors; may she  instead appreciate the more important long-term daily 'plod' of simple obedience and faithful service that moves beyond conversions to fostering discipleship and facilitating endurance.

* send out more workers throughout the enormous and needy mission field that is India.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
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PERSECUTION, POVERTY AND INEQUITY IN INDIA

On 26 August seventy-two Dalit ('Untouchable') Christians in Uttar Pradesh were re-converted to Hinduism inside an SDA church in Asroi that had been seized and turned into a Hindu Temple. The police have stepped in to ease sectarian tensions. On 28 August police prevented Hindu nationalists seizing a church in nearby Hasayan. The ceremony of re-conversion of 15 Christians into Hinduism then had to take place in a private home. The government gives the Dalits benefits and affirmative action to alleviate their poverty, but when they convert to Christianity the benefits stop. Discrimination against them as Dalits continues, only without the benefits. The missionaries of Hindutva are exploiting this to lure desperately poor Dalit Christians back into the Hindu fold. Please pray for India and for the Indian Church.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).