Tuesday, March 24, 2015

RLPB 302, March Update, Incl. India, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Mexico, Nigeria, Syria

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 302 | Wed 25 Mar 2015

By Elizabeth Kendal

"Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:2 ESV)

MARCH 2015 UPDATE -- During March we prayed concerning ...

* INDIA (RLPB 299), where Hindu nationalism is turning India into a tinderbox of sectarian tension.

MOTIVATED BY HATE AND IMPUNITY

click on map to enlarge
Early on Saturday 14 March a group of around eight men broke into the Convent of Jesus and Mary School at Ranaghat, Nadia District, in the Indian state of West Bengal. Because the attackers reportedly fled into Bangladesh -- and may indeed be Bangladeshis -- the federal Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is handling the investigation. Christian leaders told Morning Star News they are convinced the attack was not random and that convent was targeted precisely because it is a Christian institution.

The attackers held a pistol to the guard's head, tied him up and entered the convent at 2:30am. They can be identified as their faces were caught on CCTV security cameras. After disconnecting the phone lines they proceeded to loot the school of US$19,255. Instead of leaving with the loot, the attackers proceeded upstairs into the nun's quarters where they demanded to see the most senior sister, whom they gagged and violently pack-raped for over an hour. They then proceeded to ransack the offices systematically and desecrate the chapel. The 72-year-old nun who was raped was taken to hospital in a serious condition. On 20 March she was flown out to an unknown location. 'My heart is broken,' said the nun, who also said she forgave her attackers. This was a robbery and a hate crime. Knowing that Christians can be attacked with impunity doubtless also contributed to the target selection. Pray for an end to impunity. Pray for the Church in India.

* IRAN (RLPB 300), where ascendant Iran's strategic power is acting as a cover for the state's systematic persecution of Christians.

UPDATE / CORRECTION: Middle East Concern reports that the charges leading to Behnam Irani's six-year sentence in remote Zabol were dropped on appeal on 15 December 2014. Behnam Irani remains in Ghezal Hesar Prison in Karaj and is due for release in 2017. Praise God for courageous, faithful, principled lawyers like Moshkani Farahani; may the Lord have mercy on him and bless him. Pray for Behnam Irani and the other Christian prisoners; may the Lord sustain and bless them.

* PAKISTAN (RLPB 301), after suicide bombers from the Pakistani Taliban targeted two churches in Youhanabad, the largest Christian colony in Lahore.

UPDATE: ADDING FUEL TO THE FIRE
As noted in RLPB 301, in the wake of the twin bombings youths from Youhanabad violently lynched two Muslim youths they believed had been involved in the terror attacks. It was a terrible and deeply unfortunate turn of events, triggered (but not justified) by the extreme level of insecurity that all Christians (devout and nominal) have to live with on a daily basis. Such insecurity can drive people paranoid with anxiety. Instead of focusing on the trigger (the bombings and insecurity), Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan called for 'tolerance' and focused on the lynchings, describing them as 'the worst form of terrorism'. He minimised the bombings by saying such incidents occur all over the world, while noting, 'A similar incident occurred right in the heart of Paris where a synagogue was attacked. But the minority Jews did not react violently in the French capital.' Thus Pakistani Christians are worse than the Jews, a statement that anti-Semitic Islamic jihadist forces would doubtless interpret as justification or even as incitement. Social media subsequently ran hot with anti-Christian hatred. Pray for the traumatised and exceedingly vulnerable Church in Pakistan.

MARCH 2015 ROUND-UP -- also this month ...

* IRAQ: DISEASE HITS DISPLACED CHRISTIANS 
source AINA

In August 2014  IS (formerly ISIS) overran Qaraqosh and other Assyrian towns in the Nineveh Plains, displacing well over 130,000 Christians. Some 70,000 displaced Assyrians now live in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. In Ankawa, an Assyrian district in Erbil, a Christian businessman opened his building site up to displaced Christians. Now 420 families comprising some 1,800 displaced Christians live in the unfinished shopping mall. Everything is in short supply and life is difficult. The Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) reports that chicken pox, lice and scabies have broken out now in the complex. Like other displaced Christians (such as those in Sudan) these believers were driven from their homes precisely because they are Christians. May the Lord sustain and provide for all displaced believers.

* LIBYA: ASIAN AND EUROPEAN MEDICAL STAFF UNABLE TO LEAVE
On 16 March at least 30 IS gunmen abducted some 20 foreign medical workers from the Ibn Sina Hospital in IS-controlled Sirte. The hospital had come under attack and the medical workers, who were in the process of evacuating, were seized as they attempted to board a bus for Tripoli. The medical workers -- reportedly from the Philippines, Ukraine, India and Serbia -- appear to be the last foreign medical workers in Sirte. They were all released unharmed after they agreed to stay in Sirte and treat wounded IS jihadists. Pray for all Christians in Libya.

* MEXICO: PROTESTANTS UNDER PRESSURE
Protestants in Mexico can face serious pressure from often-syncretistic Roman Catholics who view Protestantism as non-traditional, foreign, divisive and problematic. Pressure can include denial of services and even expulsion from their village. One group of Protestants expelled from Buenavista Bahuitz village in Chiapas State in 2012 received assurances from the government on 1 December 2014 that their rights would be protected. Yet when they returned to Buenavista Bahuitz in January they were denied access and are now displaced again and living in the Jesus is the Way Church in Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of Chiapas. Furthermore, Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that on 12 March Casto Hernandez Hernandez and his cousin Juan Placido Hernandez, both Protestant Christians in Hidalgo State, were arbitrarily imprisoned in appalling conditions for 30 hours and then expelled from their community, along with their families, after refusing to renounce their religious beliefs. Despite religious freedom being a constitutional right, state authorities rarely intervene. Pray for the Catholic Church to intervene in defence of religious freedom. Pray for Mexico's Protestant Christians.

* NIGERIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION ON SATURDAY 28 MARCH 
Nigeria's presidential election will be held on Saturday 28 March. Whilst there are 14 candidates, it is really a 'two-horse race' too close to call. If a second round of voting were to be needed, it would be held within seven days of the result being announced.  President Jonathan's bid for re-election is controversial, as he (a Christian from the south-south / Niger Delta) effectively inherited the presidency during the Muslim north's turn to hold power and many believe he should not be running. A win by Muhammadu Buhari could see the ruling PDP lose power for the first time since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999.  If Jonathan wins, northern Muslims will be angry. If Buhari wins, the militants in the Niger Delta will be angry. Whatever happens, the result will doubtless be challenged and there is a high probability of violence. Boko Haram has been driven out of all but three Local Government Areas (LGAs), but not primarily by the Nigerian Army, as most of the 'heavy lifting' has reportedly been done by mercenaries and the regional military coalition [see RLPB 296 (10 Feb 2015)]. Any insecurity in the north-east could put the election result in doubt. Please pray for the Church in Nigeria.

* SYRIA: BATTLES RAGE IN WEST

While Western politicians and the media remain firmly focused on IS and its threat to Iraq, al-Qaeda's Jabhat al-Nusra is still fighting in western Syria, destroying cultural heritage and targeting minorities. Jabhat al-Nusra and IS do not differ in their treatment of 'infidels', they differ only in their treatment of Muslims. The Syrian government is engaged in fierce battles in Aleppo and Idlib Provinces [both border Turkey] where jihadists have razed archaeological sites, smashed Byzantine cemeteries, blown up churches, looted antiquities and are targeting the Assyrian/Syriac and Armenian communities. The well-armed rebels are shelling government-held areas of Aleppo and have launched an offensive to seize Idlib. Existentially threatened Christian communities are especially concerned that neo-Ottoman Turkey is training and arming the jihadists and are dismayed that the West is also. The situation for Christians in Syria is just as threatening as the situation for Christians in Iraq. Please pray.

* SYRIA: CAPTIVES IN THE NORTH-EAST 
Well over 200 Assyrian Christians seized by IS from their villages on the Khabour River in Hasseka in February, remain in captivity. [See RLPB 298, (24 Feb 2105)] Please pray.

"It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes." (Psalm 118:8-9 ESV)

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


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Pakistani Taliban Targets the Church

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 301 | Wed 18 Mar 2015

PAKISTANI TALIBAN TARGETS THE CHURCH
-- and this could be just the beginning. 
By Elizabeth Kendal

Christians comprise less than two percent of Pakistan's population of 180 million. For security, most choose to live in Christian communities or 'colonies'. With some 100,000 Christians, Youhanabad is the largest such 'colony' in Lahore, the capital of Punjab Province. Tensions have escalated in Youhanabad over recent years as local residents have grown concerned that Pashtuns -- a Muslim people from the north-west tribal areas (the Taliban heartland) -- have been moving into the area.

At 11:20 am on Sunday 15 March Rev. Irshad Ashknaz was serving the Lord's Supper to a large congregation in Christ Church (Protestant) Youhanabad when the service was interrupted by gunfire and a huge explosion. Outside, three young Muslim men had approached the church entrance: two firing guns from one side as a bomber approached from the opposite side. One volunteer security guard was shot dead and another was critically wounded before a third, Obaid Sardar Khokhar (32), overpowered the bomber. As Obaid dragged him away from the church entrance the suicide bomber detonated his vest. Minutes later three more young Muslim men approached the entrance of St John's Catholic Church, about 500m away, where Rev. Francis Gulzar was leading Mass for a large Catholic congregation. The attackers followed the same modus operandi: gunmen fired from one side as a suicide bomber attempted to scale the church's boundary wall from the other side. Volunteer security guard Akash Bashir (16) rushed at the suicide bomber and grabbed his legs. Unable to get over the wall, the suicide bomber detonated his vest.

The police posted to guard the churches were busy watching cricket, leaving the churches' own volunteer guards to tackle the bombers. Had it not been for the selfless courage of Akash and Obaid (a husband and father, whose pregnant wife was shot dead in the attack), the suicide bombers would have entered the churches and then multitudes more would have died. As it was, 15 people died that day. The explosions were huge and the bombs so packed with shrapnel that more than 70 were wounded, 20 'critically'. Obaid and Akash will be remembered and celebrated as martyrs who laid down their lives for their brethren.

Traumatised by the attacks and infuriated by the lack of security, hundreds of hysterical young men of Youhanabad took to the streets. Two young men accused of being involved in the attacks were snatched from police custody and violently lynched. Police were manhandled, as were Christian lawmakers who had come to show support and call for calm.  Christian protests and smaller Muslim counter-protests erupted in numerous locations. On Monday 16 March, as police used water cannon to put down riots, two more bomb victims succumbed to their injuries, bringing the death toll to 17.  One was Khushi Masih (55), who had suffered critical head injuries. His family, including his eight children, had kept vigil in the corridor outside the ward reading the Bible and praying for a miracle, but it was not to be. With so many critically wounded the death toll is expected to rise.

Pakistan's Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction claimed responsibility for the attacks. It reportedly split from the Taliban in the summer of 2014, pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State (IS). However, the Pakistan government subsequently escalated its unofficial war against the Taliban in response to the Peshawar school bombing which claimed some 150 lives, mostly children. Suspects are being rounded up and those found guilty of terrorism offences are being sentenced to death by hanging with immediate effect. As strife intensified, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar announced it was rejoining the Taliban insurgency, declaring on 12 March: 'We warn the followers and defenders of the infidel democratic system of Pakistan that in any situation we will not let the conspiracies of the (infidel) Pak Army . . . succeed.' When claiming responsibility for the Youhanabad church bombings, Jamaat-ur-Ahrar added: 'We promise that until an Islamic system is put into place in Pakistan such attacks will continue. If Pakistan's rulers think they can stop us, they should try to do so.' This is pure terrorism aimed at forcing the Pakistan government to capitulate to the Taliban. Doubtless the IS call in DABIQ issue 7 (February 2015) for Muslims to kill Christians played a part in the selection of the targets. These bombings could be just the beginning.

Monday 16 March; the funerals begin.

PRAY THAT YAHWEH SABAOTH (THE LORD OF HOSTS) WILL:

* set a watch over the Church in Pakistan; may the hosts of heaven stand guard over every Christian community and surround every gathered assembly. 'Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.' (Elisha; from 2 Kings 6:15-19 ESV)

* frustrate the devices of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success (Job 5:12); may the way of the wicked be brought to ruin (Psalm 146:9). 'Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by safely.' (Psalm 141:10 ESV)

PRAY THAT THE GOD OF ALL GRACE WILL:

* pour out his Spirit in great abundance on the Christians of Pakistan so they know the love, peace and comfort of Jesus Christ; may they know that supernatural power that enables the persecuted to retain hope and show amazing grace (see Romans 12:14-21).

*open the eyes of Pakistani Muslims, many of whom are confused God-seekers, and may Christ-haters and those who plot evil be convicted of their sin. May the Lord Almighty turn back the battle in Pakistan.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE  
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PAKISTANI TALIBAN TARGETS THE CHURCH

On Sunday 15 March Taliban militants targeted two churches -- one Protestant, one Catholic -- in Youhanabad, the largest Christian community in Lahore, capital of Punjab Province. The churches' own volunteer guards tackled the bombers, giving their lives in the process of saving multitudes. As it is, 17 are dead and more than 70 wounded; 20 critically. The Islamic State-aligned Taliban offshoot, Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, claimed responsibility, saying the bombings were in response to the government's crackdown on Taliban militants in the north-west. Doubtless IS's call in February for Muslims to kill Christians influenced Jamaat-ur-Ahrar's choice of targets. As the struggle between the government and the Taliban intensifies, more terror attacks can be expected. Please pray that Yahweh Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts, will guard and shield his precious Church in Pakistan.

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