Tuesday, July 10, 2018

RLPB 463. India: A Dangerous Place for Christians

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 463 | Wed 11 Jul 2018

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INDIA: A DANGEROUS PLACE FOR CHRISTIANS
by Elizabeth Kendal

Click on map to enlarge.
Note: while 'other' mostly
represents Christians, in Punjab
  the 'other' are overwhelmingly Sikh.
map courtesy Stratfor 2016
The Hindu concepts of caste (racism by other means) and karma (a spiritual principle which teaches that a person's lot in life is determined by actions in their past life and is therefore a form of justice) have long ensured India remains one of the world's most cruel and inequitable societies. Whilst India's poor and downtrodden see egalitarian Christianity as liberating and uplifting, its wealthy high caste Hindus view Christianity as a threat to their power and privilege. Today, the rise of Hindu nationalism -- which exploits religion for political gain and establishes religious apartheid -- has turned India into one of the most dangerous places in the world for Christians, most of whom are poor and downtrodden.

Not only are Hindu nationalists recruiting more and more Hindus (including police and other officials) into Hindu nationalist activism and vigilantism, but they are also exploiting tensions over religious conversions to bring tribal animists on-side and incite them against tribal Christians. Eight states have enacted laws that prohibit the procurement of conversions through force, coercion, allurement or fraud. Hostile elements wield these laws as weapons against witnessing Christians. As anti-Christian hostility has risen, violent persecution with impunity has become the order of the day.

CHURCH ATTACKS: On Monday 2 July a mob of some 20 armed militants belonging to the Yuva Vahini (HYV), a Hindu nationalist youth militia, attacked Yeshu Darbar Church in Pratapgarh District, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where Christians comprise a mere 0.3 percent of the population. A prayer meeting -- which included women and children -- was underway at the time. In what must have been a terrifying ordeal, eight believers sustained wounds that required medical treatment. Church furniture, sound systems, motorbikes, hymn books and Bibles were among the property damaged. A First Issue Report was registered against the attackers.

EXPULSIONS: On Tuesday 5 June ten Christian families were expelled from their homes in Pahli Village, Latehar District, in the north-east state of Jharkhand, where Christians comprise 6 percent of the population. They had been summoned to a village meeting in which Hindu nationalists ordered them to renounce their faith or face exile. When they refused to renounce Christ, the believers were beaten and driven from the village. They cannot return home as the local authorities are unwilling or unable to help them. These families are now homeless and living in fear of the Hindu nationalists. Violence against Christians has escalated in Jharkhand since anti-conversion legislation was enacted in September 2017 [see RLPB 418 (9 Aug 2017)].  According to the local pastor, Rajdev Toppo, it has become 'increasingly difficult to serve as a pastor in Latehar. 'On a daily basis, I am threatened and ridiculed for teaching Christians the word of God.' He also confirmed that the 'local government has not been helpful'.

FALSE ACCUSATIONS: ANTI-CONVERSION LAW AS WEAPON
(From left) Evang. Sahiram Nayak,
Pastor Vijender Singh and
Pastor Kasiram Meghwal.
(Morning Star News)
(1) On Tuesday 22 May Evangelist Sahiram Nayak (34), Pastor Vijender Singh (32) and Pastor Kasiram Meghwal (46), quietly distributed Christian literature and New Testaments among families of village 16 BD in the Khajuwala area of Bikaner District, in the north-western state of Rajasthan, where Christians comprise 0.4 percent of the population.  Afterwards, Kaku Singh invited the believers to his home in nearby village 14 BD, telling them that his wife was suffering from cancer. After sharing the Gospel and praying over Singh's wife, the believers were about to leave when they were attacked by an 80-strong Hindu mob. Though complicit in the plot, Kaku Singh called the police to prevent the Christians from being killed. Kaku Singh and another man then falsely accused the believers of trying to forcibly convert them; which resulted in the believers being arrested.

No sooner had they been released on bail when fresh allegations were laid. The Hindus falsely accused the believers of visiting them on Sunday 20 May at which time they allegedly offered large sums of money in the hope of alluring them to convert. Consequently, the three believers were immediately re-arrested.  Pastor Singh told Morning Star News, 'We wept before the Lord, but we never abandoned our faith.' The men were released on bail on 29 May, but not before they had witnessed to inmates, including murderers. On Sunday 27 May they even held a worship service inside the prison.  The evangelists faced court on 5 and 30 June. Their trial continues, even though all three believers can prove they did not visit the Khajuwala area that day. [For more details, see Morning Star News.]

16 evangelists arrested and jailed
in Jharkhand
(World Watch Monitor)
(2) On Saturday 7 July 16 members of a group of 25 young volunteer evangelists from Friends Missionary Prayer Band (FMPB) were arrested in Jharkhand's Dumka District. The group, which had entered the district on Thursday 5 July, had been detained by angry locals and held overnight before being taken away by police on Friday. The seven members released on Saturday were women and minors. According to the complainants, the evangelists had invaded with loudspeakers and disparaged the religion of local animists -- including saying Satan resides in their temples -- all in an effort to force people to convert to Christianity. FMPB denies this, saying all their volunteer evangelists are trained in proper procedures. According to FMPB, all the group did was lead an open service of prayer and worship in the home of the sole believing family in Phulpahari Village, and this was enough to enrage villagers. The 16 evangelists arrested have been imprisoned in Dumka Central Jail. [For more details see World Watch Monitor.]

For more disturbing and inspiring stories of persecution, courage, endurance and suffering in the Indian Church, see Morning Star News: India.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* the Holy Spirit will guide India's mission-focused Church in strategies for effective witness, enabling them to be blameless -- 'wise as serpents and as innocent as doves' -- as they share the Good News of Jesus Christ in needy communities.

* the Holy Spirit will give India's courageous evangelists peace of heart, presence of mind and words to say as they encounter hostility and as they testify before police, judges and local officials.  (See Matthew 10:16-33)

'Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.' (Jesus, in Matthew 5:11,12 ESV)

* the Spirit of God would stir up indignation in the 'international community' so that the racism inherent in the Hindu caste system and the religious apartheid inherent in Hindu nationalism, will no longer be tolerated by governments and businesses that wield influence ... for nothing will change while impunity reigns.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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INDIA IS A DANGEROUS PLACE FOR CHRISTIANS 

Hindu nationalism -- which exploits religion for political gain and establishes religious apartheid -- makes India one of the most dangerous places in the world for Christians. Because India's Christians are mostly poor and downtrodden, they are particularly vulnerable. Fuelled by Hindu nationalist ideologues and legitimised by repressive anti-conversion laws, anti-Christian hostility has escalated to the point that violent persecution with impunity has become the order of the day. Many Indian Christians face violence and exile. Worship and prayer meetings -- be they in official buildings or private homes -- are routinely attacked. Pastors and evangelists -- men, women and youths -- are routinely beaten, falsely accused and arrested for witnessing, worshiping or even praying. Impunity is a problem domestically and internationally; the global silence is deafening. Please pray for change.

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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, July 3, 2018

RLPB 462. Ethiopia-Eritrea: leaders have 'opened the door of peace'

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 462 | Wed 04 Jul 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)


ETHIOPIA-ERITREA: LEADERS HAVE 'OPENED THE DOOR OF PEACE'
Update on the Ethiopia-Eritrea peace initiative.
For background see RLPB 461 (27 June 2018).
by Elizabeth Kendal

On 5 June Ethiopia's new Prime Minister, Dr Abiy Ahmed (41) -- a Protestant Christian convert from Islam -- announced that Ethiopia was ready to abide by the Algiers Agreement (2000), accept the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission ruling (2002) and withdraw from disputed territories pursuant to peace. The move is meeting with some resistance, for powerful people on both sides of the border profit from the 'no war no peace' status quo. Ethiopia's powerful Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) -- which dominates the military -- is opposed to relinquishing territory. Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki (since 1993) is treading cautiously, for he has long used the 'Ethiopian threat' as a pretext to justify his dictatorship. Not only would peace transform the economies of Eritrea and Ethiopia, it would help stabilise the Horn of Africa as Ethiopia-Eritrea proxy wars would also end, including their proxy war in Somalia, the consequences of which bleed into Kenya. Most critically, peace could transform the human rights situation in Eritrea by removing Afwerki's pretext for Indefinite National (military) Service, his suspension of the constitution, and the extension of his cruel, repressive totalitarian rule. Eritrea is currently one of the world's most dangerous places for Christians, ranked sixth on the Open Doors World Watch List. [For more details, see Ethiopia-Eritrea: Reforms and Resistance, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 26 June 2018]

Ethiopia's PM Abiy (l) greets
Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh (r).
Behind them, with garland (c),
is Yemane Gebreab.
On Tuesday 26 June an Eritrean delegation led by Foreign Minister Osman Saleh and presidential adviser Yemane Gebreab arrived in Addis Ababa for an official three-day visit. It was the first high- level meeting between the states since diplomatic relations were broken off in 1998. The Eritrean delegation was greeted at the airport by Ethiopian Prime Minister, Dr Abiy Ahmed. After being warmly welcomed and adorned with garlands of flowers, the delegation was driven through city streets lined with both Ethiopian and Eritrea flags and banners declaring 'welcome' in both Amharic (Ethiopia's main language) and Tigrinya (one of Eritrea's official languages).

That evening, at a reception at the National Palace in Addis Ababa, PM Abiy said in a speech, 'We have tried war and found it useless. Our desire is to love rather than hate. What we miss is to hug our brothers in Asmara [the Eritrean capital]. If we are in love then the other things are minor... Our intention is not to pass hate and war to the next generation. ... We also hope that our Eritrean brothers are thinking this way. And it looks like they are.' PM Abiy also announced that, after a 20-year hiatus, Ethiopian Airlines will soon recommence flights to Eritrea, saying he wanted Ethiopians and Eritreans to be able to visit one another as soon as possible, a move that will enable family reunions.

Eritrean and Ethiopian flags
fly side-by-side
Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh responded, saying, 'Today is a day of joy because two identical peoples and two generations have been separated throughout that period. But through struggles, we have opened the door of peace.' He was right to say 'we have opened the door ...' for, as groundbreaking as this visit was, it is just the beginning; there is a long way to go yet on a path littered with obstacles. Martin Plaut, an expert on the Horn of Africa region, would like to see the African Union involved '... because they were one of the observers, the guarantors, of the Algiers peace agreement and they really have a responsibility to try and make sure that this initiative works'.

On 29 June, Ethiopia’s state broadcaster Fana BC reported that Ethiopian Foreign Minister, Dr Workneh Gebeyehu, said the meeting had created a fertile ground to restore peace, and that the leaders of the two states -- Ethiopia's PM Abiy and Eritrea's President Afwerki -- will meet 'soon' at a time and location yet to be determined. For the sake of Eritrea's long-suffering and severely persecuted Church, intercessors must commit to praying through the entire peace process, 'for we are not ignorant of [Satan's] designs' (2 Corinthians 2:11).


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* Ethiopian Prime Minister, Dr Abiy Ahmed; may the Lord protect him and his family from all harm and may the Holy Spirit keep him humble and dependent on God for guidance, insight, discernment, wisdom and strength.  A prayer for PM Abiy -- Psalm 146

* Eritrean President Isaiah Afwerki (who is rumoured to have serious liver disease); may our sovereign God either use or remove Isaias Afwerki so that he will not be an obstacle on the path to peace and liberty.

* Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh and presidential adviser Yemane Gebreab, along with the other members of the Eritrean delegation that recently visited Addis Ababa; may the Spirit of God infuse their hearts with an infectious hunger for peace and their minds with an infectious vision of a future in line with the will of God.

* the long-suffering, severely persecuted Eritrean Church; may our gracious Lord and Saviour sustain, protect and encourage the Church -- especially the prisoners -- as they 'wait for the Lord' a little while longer. 

'Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.' (Romans 12:12 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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LEADERS IN ETHIOPIA & ERITREA HAVE OPENED THE DOOR TO PEACE

Eritrea is one of the world's most dangerous places for Christians; thousands have suffered imprisonment. Its brutal dictator, Isaias Afwerki has long used the pretext of 'the Ethiopian threat' to legitimise his cruel, despotic, totalitarian rule. On 5 June Ethiopia's Prime Minister, Dr Abiy Ahmed (41) -- a Protestant Christian convert from Islam -- offered to accept the border ruling of 2002 pursuant to peace. Aware that peace with Ethiopia would de-legitimise his dictatorship, Afwerki is treading cautiously. On 26 June an Eritrean delegation arrived in Ethiopia for the first high-level meeting in 20 years. It appears to have been extremely positive. It has since been confirmed that PM Abiy and President Afwerki will meet 'soon'. For the sake of the long-suffering, severely persecuted Eritrean Church, please pray!

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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