Tuesday, December 17, 2013

RLPB 241. Praying for the persecuted church with the hope and joy of Christmas

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 241 | Wed 18 Dec 2013

PRAYING FOR THE PERSECUTED CHURCH WITH THE HOPE AND JOY OF CHRISTMAS
By Elizabeth Kendal

It is Christmas, and we want to celebrate. We want to marvel at the incarnation, and in awe and wonder contemplate what it means: what it says about God's love and what he values; what it says about God's means and how he works. This is a time for joy, not lament! We want to sing 'Joy to the World' with joy in our hearts! So how do we pray for the persecuted over Christmas?

We know that multitudes of Christians will be suffering severe persecution and great hardship this Christmas. In Syria, those who have survived the year's deadly violence now have to survive another freezing winter without access to heating or medications. In such conditions, escaping pneumonia can be just as difficult as escaping jihadis, bullets or shrapnel (which is becoming more difficult as the al-Nusrah Front is now systematically targeting Christian villages).

In Central African Republic (CAR), Christians displaced by Seleka terror may have found refuge in church compounds or jungles, but they are dying of malaria for want of nets and medications.

In mid-November the Government of Sudan escalated its genocidal campaign against the predominantly Christian non-Arab Africans of the Nuba Mountains with a vow to 'eliminate rebel groups' by 'the end of next summer'. Because of insecurity some 165,000 Nuba children will not receive their polio vaccinations.

In Iran, Eritrea, Pakistan, Nigeria, Indonesia and Egypt Christians wonder what terror might await them on Christmas Day -- a police raid, a bombing, a massacre, a pogrom? Will those in prison receive extra aggression? Will all those who go to church come home again? Will all family members still be alive at the end of the day?  

We know that many Christians hold grave fears for what awaits them in 2014. In India, the results of four provincial State elections held in November-December have been announced. The Hindu nationalist BJP retained power in Madhya Pradesh, picking up 22 seats to win 165 of 230 seats. In Chhattisgarh, the BJP won with 49 of 90 seats. In Delhi the BJP picked up 9 seats to win 32 of 70 seats while the AAP, the new, anti-corruption party won 28 seats, giving Delhi a hung parliament. In Rajasthan, the BJP picked up a massive 84 seats to win 162 of 199 seats (updating RLPB 239, 4 December.) The results bode ill for India's Christians.

Many Christians in the Philippines hold grave fears too, as the government of President Aquino lurches closer to a peace deal with the separatist, jihadist Moro Islamic Liberation Front. If achieved, the deal will establish a MILF-ruled sub-state on Mindanao which will trigger conflict with dissenting groups. Three of four annexes have now been signed and the parties want the final annex on 'normalisation' (which will deal with rebel disarmament) signed by the end of January 2014. Will MILF jihadists be absorbed into the police force?

Christians in Iraq are deeply concerned about the escalating sectarian violence tearing their country apart. Some have only returned to northern Iraq this year, having been forced out of their refuges in Syria. The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS: 'al-Sham' Syria) is carving out a base across the north of both states; their fight is set to escalate in 2014.

What might 2014 hold for Afghanistan?
What might 2014 hold for North Korea?

With unprecedented levels of persecution and trauma afflicting the Church, how can we pray for persecuted and threatened Christians at Christmas while still maintaining our Christmas hope and joy?

Isaiah foretold of the coming of Christ, adding that he will be called 'Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.' (See Isaiah 9:1-7) 


THEREFORE WE PRAY:

Dear Sovereign Lord,
We rejoice in Jesus Christ: the child who was born, the son who was given.
We rejoice that the burden of governance is upon his shoulders.
Because he reigns, we can lift up to him all who suffer and are persecuted on account of his name.
May Christ the Wonderful Counsellor give wisdom and guidance to all who seek him.
May Christ the Mighty God (el-gibbor: literally the warrior God) defend and fight for his people.
May Christ the Everlasting Father comfort and care for his precious children.
And may Christ the Prince of Peace establish and uphold his Kingdom -- overcoming all opposition -- as he zealously spreads justice and righteousness throughout the world.
For the sake of his Church and for the glory of his name,
AMEN

(Prayer based on Isaiah 9:6-7)

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SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE

Instead of a summary, please publish the prayer for use in church services, small groups and individual devotions over the Christmas period.

This is the final RLPB for 2013. The next weekly RLPB will be issued on 8 January 2014.

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

RLPB 240. Egypt and CAR: church exceedingly vulnerable

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 240 | Wed 11 Dec 2013

EGYPT and CAR: CHURCH EXCEEDINGLY VULNERABLE
-- with Christmas approaching

By Elizabeth Kendal

EGYPT: POGROMS & CLASHES IN UPPER EGYPT

El Minya is a sparsely populated region of upper (southern) Egypt. Whilst it has Egypt's highest concentration of Christians, it is also a Muslim Brotherhood stronghold and home to some of Egypt's most militant Islamic sects. Violence broke out on 28 November in two villages. In Nazlet El-Badraman a pogrom erupted in response to a false rumour that alleged a relationship between a Muslim woman and a Christian man. One person was killed and some 18 wounded (four critically), including a 14-year-old girl whose arms were both broken when she was hurled from a building (photo). About 20 homes were burnt.

Nearby, residents of the predominantly Coptic village of Nazlet Ebeid and the predominantly Muslim village of El-Hawarta clashed after Muslims in El-Hawarta shot at a local Christian man for erecting a fence around his own land. Four were killed and dozens wounded. Egyptian security forces made up to 20 arrests (including Copts) and held a 'reconciliation session'. Introduced in 2007 (during the Mubarak era) as a concession to ascendant Islamists, reconciliation sessions conform to Sharia (Islamic Law) which does not permit non-Muslims to testify against Muslims in court. Justice is irrelevant and persecutors are guaranteed impunity. Ministry of Interior spokesperson Hany Abdel Latif told Egyptian media that the clashes are not considered 'sectarian'. Consequently, anyone claiming they are sectarian could be accused of fomenting sectarianism.

Christian journalist Bishoy Armia Boulous (31, formerly known as Mohammed Hegazy) went to El-Badraman to talk to Christian victims. It has been suggested that Bishoy was freelancing in the hope that he could present a report to a satellite channel. Egyptian security forces arrested Bishoy in El-Badraman on 5 December. Accused of spreading sectarianism Bishoy was remanded in custody for 15 days of interrogation and investigation.  In 2007 Mohammed Hegazy became the first Muslim-born Egyptian to sue the Interior Ministry for his right to change his religion from Islam to Christianity. The court ruled in line with Sharia which criminalises the rejection of Islam. Death threats forced Hegazy to change his name and go into hiding; his wife and two children now live overseas. Egyptian authorities accuse Bishoy of spreading 'inaccurate images of oppression' against Copts in Egypt. It is feared he is being beaten and tortured.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR): A SPIRITUAL BATTLE

As French troops started arriving in CAR on 2 December, ex-Seleka fighters began retreating to the bush. In the early hours of 5 December -- the day the UN Security Council would vote to give French and African Union forces their mandate -- 'Christian' militias launched attacks against ex-Seleka rebels and Muslim communities in the capital, Bangui. Ex-Seleka (Muslim) fighters retaliated, going house-to-house through Christian districts, killing anyone whom they assumed to be part of a 'Christian' militia. Before long, some 400 lay dead. Doubtless the 'Christian' fighters had hoped to change the military and political realities on the ground before French troops came and cemented the totally unacceptable status quo. While the Seleka coalition was officially disbanded some months ago, the Sudan-backed rebel leader Michel Djotodia has proclaimed himself president and incorporated his fighters into the CAR army. France has made it clear that French troops will be there to maintain order, not fight terrorism, which is why French and ex-Seleka (Muslim) forces (now legitimised as the CAR army) are both patrolling the streets of Bangui. However, tensions are growing between the French troops and ex-Seleka rebels over who should be in control. On 9 Dec, two French soldiers were shot and killed while attempting to disarm ex-Seleka fighters.

Regional peacekeepers guarded church services on Sunday 8 December. St Paul's Church set up loudspeakers along the Ubangui River and broadcast the service to the overflowing crowd as women sold papaya and dried fish to the hundreds of displaced people camping there. 'We are asking Christians to pursue peace and forgiveness, to not seek vengeance or commit reprisal attacks,' said Bangui Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga.

CAR's population is 76 percent Christian. (Compare: Australia 69 percent; France 61 percent; United Kingdom 59 percent.)  According to the 2010 edition of Operation World, solid foundations have been formed for national level mission, and 'national missionaries and agencies are on the increase' as interest and energy grows for indigenous-led mission to unreached groups. Now, however, local and foreign Islamic rebels, armed and backed by resource-hungry Sudan and Iran, have seized control. Behind the facade, this is primarily a spiritual battle!

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT --

* the Spirit of God will move powerfully amongst all those who call themselves 'Christian' in Egypt and in CAR; may their hearts be drawn to the Lord, so they will take refuge in him and have wisdom, insight, courage and faith from him, so they will know what the Lord requires and be empowered to do it.

'The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. But with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries, and will pursue his enemies into darkness.' (Nahum 1:7,8 ESV)

* the Lord of hosts will 'flood' into Egypt and into CAR, to reverse fortunes, defend his faithful ones, gather his lost ones, and repel his enemies.

* in the midst of strife and insecurity, God will use the witness of the true Church in Egypt and CAR to bring awakening not only to extended 'Christian' communities, but beyond them; may the 'fire' of the troubles melt away all resistance to the gospel. 'He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.' (Psalm 126:6 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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UPPER EGYPT & CAR: CHURCH EXCEEDINGLY VULNERABLE


Christians in El-Minya governorate, Upper Egypt, have been subjected again to violent Islamic pogroms. It seems that Muslim Brotherhood supporters are looking for any excuse to attack the Christians in their midst. For the Christians there is no security while for Muslims there is endless impunity. It does not bode well! In Central African Republic (CAR), sectarian violence escalated ahead of the French military peacekeeping deployment as 'Christian' militias sought to change the realities of the situation by attacking Muslims before the French could stop them. Muslim rebels retaliated by attacking Christians. Before long 400 lay dead. In Egypt and in CAR, churches could well be very vulnerable over Christmas. Please pray that God will intervene in Egypt and in CAR, and protect and uphold his Church.

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

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

RLPB 239. India: terror and impunity in hostile Rajasthan

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 239 | Wed 04 Dec 2013

INDIA: TERROR AND IMPUNITY IN HOSTILE RAJASTHAN
plus UPDATE on CAR and the LRA
By Elizabeth Kendal

Hindu zeal is no doubt soaring in the desert state of Rajasthan. There is a general election looming (April-May 2014), as well as State Assembly elections just held on Sunday 1 December. [Votes will be counted on 8 December.]  Whilst Rajasthan is presently ruled by the Congress Party, there is a strong sense that the people are hankering for change. Around 74 percent of those eligible cast their vote. Rabid Hindu nationalist and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) presidential candidate Nahendra Modi -- who is proving to be extremely popular with youths -- campaigned in Rajasthan through mid-November. Many analysts are predicting that the BJP could ride back into power in Rajasthan on the back of the 'Modi wave'. India's population is around 80 percent Hindu and officially 2.3 percent Christian, though unofficially from 4 percent to 9 percent. However, in Rajasthan  Hindus comprise 89 percent of the population while Christians make up only some 0.1 percent to 0.4 percent. According to Operation World 7th Edition (2010) there has been significant church growth in the south of Rajasthan since the turn of the century. In 2008, when the BJP ruled Rajasthan, the Assembly passed a draconian, highly controversial anti-conversion bill designed to 'check rampant religious conversion'.

Harish Gemethi lives in Gamdi village, Dungarpur District, in the deep south of Rajasthan. In 2003 Harish and 45 others put their faith in Jesus after witnessing the miraculous healing of Harish's older brother. Anti-Christian sentiment is strong in the area and the believers know what it is to 'carry a cross'. Harish told Morning Star News that during the last 10 years certain local Hindus have repeatedly threatened to harm or even kill his family. The most recent death threat came in early November.

Harish and his wife have a seven-year-old son, Anugrag Gemethi (pictured right in Sunday School at the Believers Church in Gamdi.  Photo courtesy Morning Star News.)  At 10am on Sunday 17 November, Anugrag (nicknamed Anmol) waved goodbye to his parents and skipped off to Sunday School. After the Sunday service, Anugrag had lunch at the home of Christian friends in the neighbouring village of Tadi Obri, after which he headed home. Anugrag's friends waved him goodbye as he crossed the little bridge that joins their two villages, but Anugrag did not arrive home. By dinner time his parents had become anxious and phone calls and searches yielded nothing. The next morning, Harish went to the police station and filed a missing person's report. At 4:30pm, family and friends found Anugrag's mutilated body in a pond. Local police were called but took two-and-a-half hours to arrive.

Anugrag had either been brutally tortured to death, or killed and sadistically mutilated. There is little doubt that Anugrag's death was designed to terrorise and traumatise not only his parents, but all local Christians. Despite having been burnt, dismembered and disfigured to the point he was unrecognisable, the police autopsy reported that Anugrag died from drowning and that apart from animal bites, the body was 'normal'. [For details see Morning Star News.] Clearly the police do not want to intervene.

Harish told Morning Star News: 'I have repeatedly mentioned the names of these people who constantly threatened to take my life and my family in connection to my son's death to the police, but sadly they are not paying heed to my suggestions.' The Christian community is deeply concerned by the reluctance of the police to act. If Hindu nationalists find they can torture, kill and terrorise local Christians with impunity, then security will evaporate.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT --

* the God who miraculously healed Harish Gemethi's brother in 2003 -- resulting in significant church growth in Gamdi and Tadi Obri villages -- will now do a miraculous work in the hearts of Gamdi's and Tadi Obri's persecuted Christians, comforting them in their grief, healing their trauma, calming their fears, sustaining their faith and filling their hearts with amazing grace that will then spill out into their communities.

* God will open the eyes of many Hindus in Gamdi and Tadi Obri, so they see clearly the demonic nature of this evil and profoundly reject it; may the hearts of many Hindus be softened and opened to receive the gospel. May the killers lose their sanction and the police be forced to act.

* the God of all grace will continue to build his Church in India.

'But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!' (Amos 5:24 NIV)

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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TERROR AND IMPUNITY IN HOSTILE RAJASTHAN, INDIA

Rajasthan, India, is hostile territory for Christians, who comprise less than half a percent of the state's population. Over the past decade the Church has seen significant growth in the south. Local Hindu resistance to church growth has resulted in toxic anti-Christian Hindu nationalist propaganda, creating a dangerous environment. In mid-November hostile Hindus kidnapped a young believer Anugrag Gemethi (7) on his way home from church. They brutally killed him, mutilating his body to send a message to local Christians who have long lived with intimidation and death threats. The police do not want to intervene. However, if the killers are treated with impunity, then security will evaporate as Hindu nationalist zeal is again on the rise. Please pray for India and its Church. 

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UPDATE on CAR and LRA  (upates to RLPB 238)

France has agreed to deploy 1000 troops to Central African Republic (CAR), not to fight Seleka but to act as 'policemen' to help bring order for the civilian population. This may help stem the sectarian violence and assist reconciliation. However, if international Islamic militants remain in CAR the threat will remain. Pray that God will open the door for peace and reconciliation, and close the door on Seleka (Revelation 3:7). Meanwhile, on 28 Nov, the Ugandan Army ambushed an LRA group in CAR, using intelligence supplied by US Special Forces. Amongst those killed was Kony's chief planner and number 4 in the LRA hierarchy, Col. Samuel Kangul. Pray that God will open the door for LRA defectors and close the door on the the LRA. Please persevere in prayer to turn back the battle.

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

RLPB 238. November Update, Incl. Central African Republic (CAR), the LRA, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan-Refugees, Somalia and Syria

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 238 | Wed 27 Nov 2013

By Elizabeth Kendal

' . . . These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.'
(Revelation 3:7 NIV)

NOVEMBER 2013 UPDATE -- During November we prayed concerning . . . 

* ERITREA (RLPB 235), where persecution continues with more mass imprisonments and deaths in custody; and from where refugees are fleeing at the rate of some 3000 a month.

* BURMA (RLPB 236), where the regime continues to wage war against the Christian Kachin, despite peace talks.

* CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR) (RLPB 237), where sectarian violence is escalating, leading observers to warn of the possibility of genocide.

CAR UPDATE (1): MAY GOD OPEN THE WAY FOR PEACE AND RECONCILIATION.
Writing in The Guardian (23 November) David Smith tells of Muslim rebels slitting the throat of a four-year-old child, razing whole villages, bludgeoning a young mother to death before leaving her crying toddler on the side of the road, throwing one young man to the crocodiles and torturing others. A Christian father whose sons were tortured told Smith: 'The Seleka are criminals. In the beginning, the relations between Christians and Muslims were good here but the Muslims followed the Seleka and now things have changed. The Christians feel betrayed by the Muslims and are starting to feel vengeance in their hearts. This is a very big challenge for the Church.' This challenge must be an issue for prayer. CAR needs peace -- but there will be no lasting peace without truth, justice and reconciliation. May God grace CAR with godly peacemakers.

CAR UPDATE (2): MAY GOD CLOSE THE DOOR ON SUDAN AND IRAN.
According to terrorism analyst Yossef Bodansky, Iran is funnelling weapons into CAR via Sudan as part of a plot by those two states to dominate Central and West Africa and exploit its resources. [See: Central African Republic (CAR): Violence linked to Sudan and Iran. Religious Liberty Monitoring (RLM), 20 Nov 2013.] News of Sudan and Iran involvement in CAR bodes ill for CAR's Christians. Anyone seeking to intervene in CAR will face, not a band of disparate rebels, but jihadist forces backed by Khartoum and Tehran -- desperate regimes fighting to secure the minerals and resources necessary for regime survival. (Pray Psalm 10)

CAR UPDATE (3): MAY GOD CLOSE THE DOOR ON KONY AND THE LRA.
Reports are circulating that the spirit-medium Joseph Kony, the head of the infamous Ugandan terror group the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), is on the verge of surrendering. These reports are without substance. To the contrary, like CAR's self-appointed president Michel Djotodia, Joseph Kony and the LRA are backed by Sudan. According to terrorism analyst Yossef Bodansky, Sudan intends to use the LRA as a proxy to destabilise CAR, South Sudan and Uganda so that Sudan's (and Iran's) interests in the region might be advanced (see above RLM link). UN special envoy Abou Moussa is deeply concerned that Djotodia has sent food, medicines and other supplies to LRA camps in CAR, supposedly in advance of an LRA surrender. Moussa advocates heightening pressure on Kony who is reportedly seriously ill. While many analysts presume Djotodia is being duped, it is not improbable that Djotodia is actually bolstering the LRA for use as a proxy to terrorise and kill Christians, destabilising CAR in pursuit of his own interests, as well as those of Islam, Sudan and Iran. Uganda's New Vision reports that while LRA attacks have recently been reported in South Sudan and Central African Republic, and while Kony is still widely feared, 'defections have increased while the number of attacks is down'. PLEASE PRAY for mass defections of LRA 'soldiers', who are almost all kidnapped children, and for God to close the door on Joseph Kony.


NOVEMBER 2013 ROUND-UP -- also this month . . .

* EGYPT: MAY GOD CLOSE THE DOOR ON ISLAMIC CRIMINALITY

Morning Star News (MSN) reports that three months after the Egyptian Army liberated Delga from militant Muslims, Islamists and criminals are terrorising Christians there and across Upper Egypt. As was noted in RLPB 228 (17 Sep 2013) and the Religious Liberty Monitoring post of 18 September, the Egyptian Army's attack on Islamists in Delga (a Muslim Brotherhood stronghold) was a crackdown on Islamist dissent and it had nothing to do with protecting Christians. The Egyptian military serves its own interests! Today Muslim criminals are extorting and persecuting Christians, demanding jizya (protection money sanctioned by the Qur'an in Sura 9:29). The police and military are not concerned that Islamists are kidnapping Christians, torturing them and demanding massive ransoms. Islamic criminals are discovering they are free to extort and persecute Christians with impunity -- as long as they do not challenge military rule. Christians are facing the return of dhimmitude, their status of being without rights under Islam. Egypt's Christians need our prayers.

* IRAN: MAY GOD OPEN THE WAY TO THE TRANSFORMATION OF IRAN

On 3 November US citizen Pastor Saeed Abedini, whose wife and two young children are resident in the US, was transferred from Evin prison to Rajai Shahr Prison. Rajai Shahr houses Iran's most violent criminals and is a place where prisoners are routinely murdered by other prisoners. In mid-November, prison officials told Abedini's father that Saeed was not permitted any personal possessions, including blankets or prescription medications. At least 40 Iranian citizens are presently incarcerated because of their faith in Jesus or their Christian activities. One is the critically ill Pastor Behnam Irani (43), who also is married with two young children. On 22 November MSN reported the story of a young convert named Armin Davoodi. As a Muslim, Armin had repeatedly dreamed of a shepherd pointing him to the light. Eventually he shared this with a young female convert who explained his dream and introduced him to Jesus. Armin's witness led to imprisonment, torture and beatings. Though his parents paid a lot of money to have him released from prison, when he continued with his faith and witness, ultimately a relative betrayed him. Armin is now in hiding, where he reportedly continues to dream of the shepherd pointing to the light. Pray for Iran's suffering yet growing church.

* PAKISTANI REFUGEES: THE CASE OF RABEEL
 (Update to RLPB 226.)
MAY GOD OPEN DOORS FOR REFUGEES SEEKING SECURITY AND HEALING


As a high achieving university student from a high profile devout Christian family in Lahore, Rabeel (21) was targeted for forced conversion. In August 2012 Rabeel was betrayed by a Muslim friend who gave him into the hands of militants from Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). They raped and tortured Rabeel over the course of three days before dumping him. They then pursued and threatened the whole family. Since fleeing Pakistan in January 2013, his family has been languishing in a refugee camp, waiting for the UNHCR to assess their claim. As time drags on it becomes increasingly difficult to sustain their finances. Pray that the UNHCR will deal with their claim before closing for the Christmas break. Pray for Christian refugees who, due to systematic discrimination and persecution, often do not have the documentation the UNHCR requires. May the LORD of justice and mercy intervene, be their advocate, and open the doors.

* SOMALIA: MAY GOD CLOSE THE DOOR ON AL-SHABAAB

Morning Star News (MSN) reported on 14 November that on 20 October gunmen carried out their threat to kill Abdikhani Hassan whom they accused of 'spreading wrong religion'. Hassan (35), a pharmacist in Dharkenley District, Mogadishu, was married with two young children. Al-Shabaab is suspected of being responsible. Pray that God will redeem the blood and suffering of Somalia's Christian martyrs. May hearts be softened and opened to receive the gospel.

* SYRIA: MAY GOD CLOSE THE DOOR ON ISLAMIC EXPANSION

Sadad is a Christian village in a desert region of Syria some 100km north-east of Damascus. A coalition of rebel forces invaded and occupied the town on 21 October, seizing control in an orgy of  violence that can only be understood in the context of intensive religious hatred. Survivors told Human Rights Watch that the jihadists would not permit Christians to flee. Some 2,500 families managed to escape before the militants used the remaining 1,500 families as human shields and hostages. Jihadists even held individual Christians as human shields while fighting. According to the Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan of Homs and Hama, Mor Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh, in addition to the 46 residents killed, 30 were injured and 10 are missing. Numerous mutilated bodies were dumped in wells. He says the whole village was completely looted and even the ancient manuscripts have gone from the churches. The Syrian Arab Army liberated the village on 28 October. The rebel operation -- in which a battalion of the Free Syria Army joined forces with al-Qaeda-linked groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) -- was labelled: the 'Battle of God’s Doors Do Not Shut'. Indeed, God's open doors do not shut, but God does shut doors (Revelation 3:7) Pray that God will shut the door on all Islamic jihadists.

* SYRIA: MAY GOD CLOSE THE DOOR ON AL-QAEDA

Stratfor Intelligence reported on 23 November that al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels had seized the al-Omar oil field, the largest in eastern Syria. According to Stratfor, this would cut off Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's access to almost all local crude reserves and put nearly all of Syria's usable reserves in the hands of the al-Nusra Front and other Islamist units. Please bring this critical situation to the Lord our God, 'who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens' (Revelation 3:7 ESV).

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

RLPB 237. Central African Republic (CAR): Genocide Looms

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 237 | Wed 20 Nov 2013

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR): GENOCIDE LOOMS
By Elizabeth Kendal

Central African Republic (CAR) is French-speaking and its population is around 76 percent Christian (mostly Protestant). On Sunday 24 March 2013, Seleka -- a coalition of local and foreign Arabic-speaking Islamic militias -- seized control of the capital, Bangui, in an orgy of violence and looting. But Seleka does not rape, loot and kill indiscriminately. Rather, Seleka attacks Christians and spares Muslims, causing traditional community trust to evaporate, and creating a sectarian tinderbox.

Rebel commander and self-appointed president Michel Djotodia, a former CAR diplomat who was radicalised in Sudan, admits that he does not know who all the fighters are because some are escaped criminals and most do not follow his orders. 'It is hard for me to control them,' says Djotodia, who maintains strong ties to Khartoum, Sudan.

After months of terror, an organised armed response is emerging out of the mostly Christian communities of northern CAR. Most villages have long had defence militias that protect residents from bandits. Known as anti-balaka (literally anti-machete) these groups, now large and angry, are out to avenge Seleka crimes. Armed with home-made weapons and adorned with colourful fetishes ('juju' i.e. occult charms), these anti-balaka militias have begun attacking not just Seleka, but local Muslims. Seleka might be responsible for turning CAR into a sectarian tinderbox, but by attacking local Muslims -- just because they are Muslims -- the anti-balaka militias are lighting the fire.

North of Bangui, in the Ouham prefecture, some 170,000 people have been displaced. Peter Bouckaert, the emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, spent early November travelling the region with photographer Marcus Bleasdale. Bouckaert writes: 'In the early morning of 6 September, anti-balaka forces working with military elements loyal to [ousted president] BozizĂ© carried out a series of brutal surprise and near-simultaneous attacks on Seleka bases and Muslim communities in several villages around Bossangoa, killing dozens. Muslim males, regardless of age, faced death.' The BBC reports that on 9 September, Moustapha Mohamed's father, a village chief in nearby Bouce, was killed by a 'Christian' militia that was attacking local Muslims. Mohamed praises his Christian neighbours who alerted many Muslims that armed groups were coming after them. However, later the same day, Muslims organised reprisal attacks against Christians. By the time the violence had finished, at least 14 were dead (including three Muslims) and some 485 homes had been burnt. Aukin Nountabaye, a priest in the Bouca diocese, narrowly escaped when Muslims stormed his church. He fled Bouca, walking for four days to reach Bangui. 

Bouckaert writes (early November) that it is possible to drive for hours around Bossangoa, Ouham's capital, without seeing anybody, on roads that are littered with bundles of belongings dropped by those fleeing for their lives. In the bush the displaced people are stalked by infection and malaria, enemies just as merciless as Seleka. 'Those who have made it to Bossangoa,' writes Bouckaert, 'live in desperate conditions: Every structure and inch of space around the town's Catholic church -- its seminary, guest house, school, library, storage rooms, soccer pitch, and the surrounding fields -- have been taken over by displaced people, all Christians.' On 25 October the UNHCR put the number sheltering in the Catholic Mission at 37,000. A further 2,700 are sheltering in the hospital and 728 Muslims are holed-up in a local school. Around 1000  ethnic Fula (Muslim) have been occupying the airstrip without access to shelter, clean water, food and sanitation. (Bouckaert's harrowing report and Bleasdale's photo essay)

UNICEF goodwill ambassador, Mia Farrow, recently returned from a week-long visit to CAR warning, 'The seeds are present for a genocide.' Bouckaert said similarly, 'The anti-balaka's attacks have triggered brutal reprisals by Seleka fighters against Christian communities. This heinous cycle of inter-religious violence only continues to intensify, threatening to explode into an all-out war between Christians and Muslims.' UN Secretary-General's Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, on 1 November warned that, if there is no intervention, '. . . this will end with Christian communities, Muslim communities killing each other . . . I will not exclude the possibility of a genocide occurring.'

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* refine his Church, preserving the faithful and supplying their needs; may the Church grow in faith, solidarity, grace and numbers as people seek the Lord for peace and the healing of their land.

'Some trust in chariots and some in horses [i.e. military might], but we trust in the name of the LORD our God' (Psalm 20:7 ESV)

* intervene to end the dangerous cycle of sectarian violence; may  he raise up and empower peace-makers able to influence the anti-balaka militias to focus on defence and refrain from attacking local Muslims.

'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.' (Matthew 5:9 ESV)

In Psalm 10:14a we are told that the Lord sees and notes 'mischief and vexation', not as a mere observer, but for a purpose: 'that you may take it into your hands' (ESV), or 'to requite it with thy hand' (KJV). So . . .

* 'Break the arm [means of action, supply lines and the like] of the wicked and evildoer [local and international fighters and inciters]; call his wickedness to account till you find none.' (Psalm 10:15 ESV)


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GENOCIDE LOOMS IN CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR)


Seleka, a coalition of local and foreign Islamic militias, seized control of Central African Republic (population 70 percent Christian) in March. By attacking Christians and sparing Muslims, they have turned CAR into a sectarian tinderbox. 'Christian' militias are responding, targeting not just Seleka bases, but local Muslims, who respond by carrying out reprisals against Christians. Peter Bouckaert (Human Rights Watch) warns: 'This heinous cycle of inter-religious violence only continues to intensify, threatening to explode into an all-out war between Christians and Muslims.' UNICEF goodwill ambassador, Mia Farrow (who recently returned from CAR), the UN Secretary-General's Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, and other investigators warn that genocide is a real possibility.  Please pray for the Church in CAR. May God intervene!

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

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

RLPB 236. Burma (Myanmar): constitution is obstacle to peace

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 236 | Wed 13 Nov 2013

BURMA (Myanmar): CONSTITUTION IS OBSTACLE TO PEACE
By Elizabeth Kendal

Adoniram and Ann Judson arrived in Burma as pioneer missionaries in 1813. Adoniram Judson endured grief upon grief, severe hardship, dangers, persecutions and imprisonment to translate the Bible into the Burmese language and led many to Christ. At that time, Burma was a feudal society, dominated by ethnic Burmese (Bama) Buddhists who treated the other mostly animist ethnic nations amongst them as serfs or slaves. In 1885 the British annexed Burma into British-administered India, introducing democracy and capitalism and improving the situation for the ethnic minorities. Burma gained independence in 1948 but the promise of autonomy for ethnic nations was never honoured. Ever since, the ethnic nations have been resisting a return to the old order of brutal Burmese-Buddhist domination complete with exploitation, repression, crippling discrimination and violent persecution. The Burmese-Buddhist regime views this resistance as grounds for war.

On 2 September 2013, 200 soldiers of the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces) raided Nhka Ga village in Kachin State, killing two men and torturing ten others, including the Rev Ram Me. One man, bound and severely tortured, was forced to watch his 29-year-old wife being raped in front of him. On 2 October Tatmadaw soldiers attacked two villages in the south of Kachin State. Around 1000 villagers fled as mortars rained down on their homes. Hundreds of Kachin civilians sought refuge in a local church where soldiers held them hostage for three days while their homes were looted. The stress of captivity proved fatal for one 76-year-old woman. On 30 October a pack of Tatmadaw soldiers -- including a captain and a lieutenant-colonel -- gang-raped a 15-year-old Kachin girl over the course of the day before handing her back to her parents (see: Free Burma Rangers). Officially, the junta is fighting the Kachin Army because it has resisted calls to disarm and dissolve. In truth, the regime covets the Kachins' resource-rich lands and is prepared to ethnically cleanse the Kachin to get it. (See RLPB 132, Nov 2011)

On Monday 4 November, 107 representatives and witnesses from Burma's various ethnic rebel armies came together in Myitkyina, the capital of the northern Kachin State, for two days of talks aimed at brokering a multilateral peace agreement. A joint statement was issued on Tuesday 5 November, announcing that an agreement had been made in principle to sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement and to establish a framework for political dialogue. Whilst the next meeting is scheduled for December, Lt-Gen Myint Soe has already conceded that a nationwide ceasefire will probably not eventuate, as the regime envisages a peace that is in accordance with the 2008 constitution and this is not the peace the ethnic nations are seeking.

The 2008 constitution was written under military rule and serves military interests by ensuring the heavily invested Burmese-Buddhist military remains in control. The 2008 constitution stands as an obstacle to peace because it mandates the centralisation of government and military against the interests and wishes of the long-marginalised and severely persecuted ethnic-religious minorities. It even contains 'exception clauses' that give the military the legal right to deprive people of fundamental human rights and even orchestrate a military coup if the military deems it necessary for the purpose of  safeguarding the constitution. On Saturday 6 October 2013 the regime issued a statement -- or possibly a threat -- warning that the state and the people will be in 'serious danger and face consequences beyond expectation' if the 2008 constitution is scrapped.  

Many observers believe the military engages in talks only so it can consolidate its forward positions, and the regime only sponsors talks so it can gain legitimacy and foreign investment. The reality is there will never be peace in Burma until the Burmese-Buddhist regime respects the rights of the ethnic nations to have autonomy in their lands where they seek to preserve their language and culture and practise their faith freely in peace and security. Most of Burma's Christians belong to ethnic nations: the Kachin, Chin, Lisu and Lahu are overwhelming Christian and the Karen (the largest ethnic nation after the Burmese) is around 40 percent Christian.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* intervene to direct all political dialogue, both what takes place in public and what happens secretly; may God's will be done in spite of the schemes of 'men'.  'There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD' (Proverbs 21:30 NIV).

* embolden world leaders of conscience to 'Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.' (Proverbs 31:8-9 NIV).

* bless his faithful people, providing them with protection, comfort, advocates and all their basic daily needs; may peace and security be realised.

ALSO:
PLEASE CONTINUE TO COVER PAKISTAN IN PRAYER
There has been a massive escalation in threats against Christian institutions since the1 Nov drone assassination of Hakeemullah Mehsud (head of the Pakistani Taliban). Pray that the Lord of hosts will defend his church; that God will be their shield and fortress.
'whoever stirs up strife with you shall fall because of you. 
. . . no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed . . . '

(Isaiah 54:15b, 17a ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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THE CONSTITUTION OBSTRUCTS PEACE IN BURMA
(Myanmar)

Representatives from Burma's various ethnic rebel armies came together in Myitkyina, Kachin State, on 4 November for two days of talks aimed at brokering a multilateral peace agreement with the regime. The parties have agreed in principle to sign a nationwide cease-fire and to establish a framework for political dialogue. The main obstacle to peace will be the 2008 constitution written by the military to serve the military's interests. It mandates centralisation while the long-marginalised and persecuted ethnic nations are seeking autonomy in a confederation. The Burmese army continues to wage war and commit gross human rights abuses and violence against the Christian Kachin as punishment for their resistance to Burmese-Buddhist exploitation. Talks will resume in December. Please pray for believers and that God will bring peace to Burma.

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

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

RLPB 235. Eritrea: persecution fills prisons, fuels refugee crisis

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 235 | Wed 06 Nov 2013

ERITREA: PERSECUTION FILLS PRISONS, FUELS REFUGEE CRISIS
Plus -- tensions high in Egypt and Pakistan
By Elizabeth Kendal

In 2001 the Eritrean government cancelled elections, arrested political opponents and closed down independent media. Determined to eliminate anything that could threaten national cohesion, the regime extended the repression in May 2002 to 'foreign' and 'non-traditional' religious groups. That meant all except the state-sanctioned Muslim, Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Lutheran denominations were banned. Since then, many thousands of mostly evangelical Christians have suffered severely at the hands of a regime known for its human rights abuses, appalling prison conditions and widespread use of torture. Even teenagers are not spared and must complete military service in military training camps before they can graduate from school. Separated from their parents, religious persecution in these camps is systematic and severe. (See RLPB 221, Eritrea: systematic persecution of Protestant youths, 30 July 2013).

World Watch Monitor reports that during the week of 14 October, Wehazit Berhane Debesai, an Eritrean Christian woman in her 30s, died in custody after a year of harsh imprisonment. Wehazit died of pneumonia after being denied medical treatment because she refused to deny her faith. On 28 October Eritrean security forces raided a prayer meeting in Maitemenai, a suburb north of the capital Asmara. They arrested between 70 Christians (as reported by Open Doors) and 185 Christians (according to Release International). Where they are is not yet confirmed. The total number of Eritrean believers currently incarcerated for their faith is estimated at 1500.

On 24 October the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Sheila B Keetharuth, raised the issue of Eritrea's human rights in the UN General Assembly. She noted that serious human rights abuses are behind the flight of up to 3000 Eritreans each month. 'The current human rights picture is desperately bleak,' she told journalists. 'People feel trapped in a long hopeless situation.' Later, several NGOs jointly hosted  a side meeting on Eritrea at which five Eritrean victims gave their personal testimonies. Elsa Chyrum, Director of Human Rights Concern Eritrea, noted: 'Although the human rights situation is extremely alarming in Eritrea, this is the first time that it has been brought to the attention of the General Assembly by the UN-appointed Special Rapporteur. It is clear the recent Lampedusa tragedy which resulted in the loss of over 350 lives, the vast majority of whom were Eritreans, has had an impact on the consciences of many state governments, leading to questions being asked relating to the root causes of those who were fleeing.' Indeed, not only were most of the refugees involved in the Lampedusa tragedy Eritreans, but according to Father Mussie Zerai, Chairman of the Habeshia Agency which works on behalf of these migrants, the majority of those Eritreans were Christians.

According to a recently published report from the Feinstein International Center, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA, those fleeing Eritrea usually employ people smugglers to take them north through Sudan to Libya before they embark on the dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean to the EU. Alternatively they may go north through eastern Sudan and Egypt to Israel, or south into Ethiopia, South Sudan and beyond. The route through eastern Sudan is especially high risk. Increasingly Bedouin traffickers are kidnapping Eritrean refugees straight out of Sudanese refugee camps. The Eritreans are then taken to concrete bunker torture chambers in the Sinai (Egypt) where they are tortured while money is extorted from their relatives via mobile phone. A Catholic nun who serves the Eritrean community in Israel says they recently heard that 'with God's help, 150 people escaped from the torture camps, as a result of the chaotic situation prevailing in the Sinai following the attacks by the Egyptian army. But the escapees have disappeared; we do not know what has happened to them.'

The trafficking of Eritrean refugees has become an extremely lucrative business. As noted in RLPB 205 -- Egypt: evil thrives in lawless Sinai (10 April 2013) -- the corruption trail stretches right back to Eritrea where the regime is busy not only creating refugees but in profiting from their misery.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* break the arm (the mechanism of action) of the wicked (Psalm 10:15) who profit from misery. Lord, eliminate the demand by destroying the Bedouin trafficking rings and Sinai torture chambers. Lord, eliminate the corruption by heaping consequences on those who profit from human suffering. Lord, eliminate the supply by bringing radical change to Eritrea so that the flow of refugees might cease at its source. 

* break the arm of the wicked who inflict violence and torture on the Lord's beloved. Lord, convict them of sin, soften their hearts, restrain or remove them.

Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer;
    call his wickedness to account till you find none.
(Psalm 10:15 ESV)

* protect, sustain and comfort his suffering people, providing them with all their needs.

* bring revival to Catholic, Orthodox and Lutheran state-sanctioned churches, so that disunity will dissolve and believers will love, care for and cover one another; may the Lord so work in the Eritrean Church that she is refined as pure silver for future ministry and for the glory of God.


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ERITREAN PERSECUTION FILLS PRISONS, FUELS REFUGEE CRISIS


Up to 3000 Eritreans flee persecution every month. Their extreme danger was shown by the recent Lampedusa tragedy. The vast majority of over 350 lives lost were Eritreans, most of whom were Christians. Those fleeing for asylum via Israel risk falling into the hands of Bedouin traffickers in eastern Sudan. These victims of the Bedouin are tortured so as to extort money from their relatives. Despite the risks, the situation in Eritrea is so horrendous that the flow continues. Some 1500 Christians are currently incarcerated in Eritrea purely because of their faith. On 14 October another young Christian died in captivity. On 28 October a prayer meeting was raided and over 70 believers were arrested. Please pray for God to intervene in Eritrea.

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Also, TENSIONS ARE HIGH IN:

* Egypt, where the trial of Mohamed Morsi has began. Minutes into the first session (3 November) the trial was adjourned to 8 January 2014, due to courtroom chaos. Pray that God will surround his people and protect Christian churches, schools, hospitals and other property from reprisal attacks by Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

* Pakistan, after the 1 November drone assassination of Hakeemullah Mehsud, the emir of the al Qaeda-linked Tehreek-e-Taliban.  Pray that God will surround his people and protect Christian churches, schools, hospitals and other property from Taliban reprisal attacks.

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

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

RLPB 234. October Update, Incl. India, Iran, Syria, Brunei, Egypt, IDOP

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 234 | Wed 30 Oct 2013

Supporting International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2013: Sunday 3 Nov
See: Critical Prayer Requests (CPR)

By Elizabeth Kendal

OCTOBER 2013 UPDATE -- During Oct we prayed concerning . . . 

* INDIA (RLPB 230), where the Hindu nationalist BJP has appointed Hindutva ideologue Nahendra Modi as its presidential candidate for the April-May 2014 elections.

see also: The Modi Operandi of Nahendra Modi (Religous Liberty Monitoring, 2 Oct 2013)

UPDATE: Indian political analyst R Jagannathan writes (17 October 2013), 'By all indications, the 2014 election is the BJP's to lose. Thanks to the Narendra Modi effect and the Congress's continued dalliance with desperate political and economic moves, the momentum is clearly in the BJP's favour . . . [and] the momentum is just beginning to build.' Jagannathan expects the BJP will 'comfortably notch up its highest tally ever . . . [and for] the seat tally for 2014 between Congress and BJP to be exactly reversed – with the BJP crossing 200 and the Congress falling to the low 100-plus levels.' [272 seats are required for a majority.] Hindutva is supposed to replace racial apartheid (i.e. the caste system) with religious apartheid (Hindu supremacy). In reality, India under the BJP would doubtless suffer a mixture of both, as caste is so deeply ingrained. The rise of political Hindutva is a very serious threat to Indian Christians.

* SYRIA, IRAN and the SHI'ITE CRESCENT (RLPB 231)

Saudi Arabia's plan to advance Sunni Arab interests by getting its ally, the USA, to shatter the Shi'ite Crescent has come unstuck. Sensing that Syria is becoming a hot-bed of Salafi jihadism, the US is seeking rapprochement with Iran, the only force in the region strong enough to tackle the jihadist threat. Without US backing, the Saudi regime's survival is tenuous. All its oil is in its Shi'ite-dominated Eastern Province, where Shi'ites have long suffered crippling discrimination and persecution. If Iran finds it can expand its influence with impunity, the Wahhabi-inspired, hate-mongering Saudi regime could find its days are numbered. It is urgent that Iran's belligerent, anti-Semitic clerical regime be removed and that Iran return to being a modern state, an ally of Israel and a friend of the West. May God hasten Iran's Christian awakening. Continue to pray for the region's gravely imperilled Christians.

PRAISE GOD that earlier this month the Syrian Arab Army broke through the rebel encirclement of Aleppo and supplies are making their way into areas long-besieged.

* KAZAKHSTAN and CENTRAL ASIA (RLBP 232), where religious repression is escalating.

* THE BIG PICTURE (RLPB 233; for IDOP 2013)


OCTOBER 2013 ROUND-UP -- also this month . . .

* BRUNEI: TO ENACT SHARIA CRIMINAL LAW

Commencing April 2014, Brunei will enact Sharia criminal law, including amputation, lashing, stoning and execution. The Sultan signed the bill on 22 October. As reported by the Jakarta Post, 'Hudud crimes cover areas including theft, illicit sexual relations, making unproven accusations of illicit sex, causing physical hurt, drinking intoxicants, apostasy, and acts contrary to Islamic belief.' The laws supposedly will apply only to Brunei's Muslims (about 65 percent of the population). However, wherever Hudud laws are enforced, Christians especially become extremely vulnerable to rape and other violent crimes. If they report rape they risk being punished for making 'false' claims as they will not be able to get four adult male Muslim eye witnesses required to corroborate their claim. The Sharia criminal penalty of death for apostasy will remove any pretence of religious liberty, making witness and conversion even more dangerous than it is already. Pray for the Church in Brunei.

* EGYPT: CHRISTIANS GUNNED DOWN AT A WEDDING

In suburban Cairo on 20 October, as families were gathering for the wedding of two young Christians, two men on a motorcycle drove up to the entrance of the church and sprayed the crowd outside with automatic rifle fire. At least four Christians were killed, including two young children, while 17 people were wounded, many critically. Also two children have been reported missing. The couple went ahead with their wedding later that evening, dressed in mourning black. Pray for Egypt's threatened Christians.

INTERNATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER (IDOP)
FOR THE PERSECUTED CHURCH (3 November)


PRAY FOR AWAKENINGS


In Egypt, Pakistan, Northern Nigeria and elsewhere where Christians are being murdered by Muslims, reports are emerging about local Muslims polarising. Some who have been radicalised are becoming more militant, while others who are appalled are increasingly demonstrating solidarity with Christians. The long-prayed-for awakening is under way, albeit at great cost in Christian lives. Likewise, many Muslims who have lived under extreme repression and with shocking violence in states such as Iran and Afghanistan are turning to Christ, mostly where they have taken refuge. In the 'free' world, the growth of ethnic churches consisting of Muslim converts is a definite and observable trend. Please keep praying for awakenings -- amongst all persecutors -- and that God will sustain his Persecuted Church.

'Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.'  (1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV)

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

RLPB 233. Participating in Big Picture issues

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 233 | Wed 23 Oct 2013

Supporting International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2013: Sunday 3 Nov
See: Critical Prayer Requests (CPR)

PARTICIPATING IN 'BIG PICTURE' ISSUES
-- a reflection, for Bible study and/or contemplation
by Elizabeth Kendal

Isaiah 2-4 is a self-contained 'tract'. In fact most commentators believe Isaiah probably published it as such before incorporating it into the 'preface' (chapters 1-5) of his book. Bracketed by promises of what will be (2:2-4 and 4:2-6), this 'tract' presents a confronting picture of the present reality. Having rejected God, Judah had become the opposite of what she was supposed to be (Isaiah 2:6-9). Instead of being a light to the world, she had become worldly and faithless. But the promises of God will stand! For God will 'shake' the earth and all humanity's idols will fail and be rejected and God alone, the only true Saviour, will be exalted (Isaiah 2:10-21 cf Hebrews 12:26-29). Then the nations will turn to the exalted Lord (Isaiah 2:2-3; Psalm 22:27; Habakkuk 2:14) and spiritual transformation will culminate in social transformation marked by peace (Isaiah 2:3-4).

But how? Is God literally going to 'shake' the earth? Will false idols literally fall down and drop, as through a sieve, into oblivion? Does the Church just have to 'hang on'? Or does the Church have a role to play in this cosmic reversal of fortunes?

The Church is in the midst of a spiritual battle whether she wants to be or not. This spiritual battle (akin to mopping up operations) is not a sideshow; it is integral to God's plan of redemption. Those who choose to sidestep this issue are not missing an optional element -- they are missing the Big Picture! God is at work and the Church -- a people cleansed by the blood of Christ, then filled with the Spirit of God; freed from slavery to sin and death and empowered to live as witnesses to truth -- is the primary instrument of his working! While the decisive battle was won on the cross and victory is assured, a spiritual counter- offensive will continue until all Christ's enemies are under his feet (1 Corimthians 15:25 cf Romans 16:20) and the Lord alone is exalted (Isaiah 2). Those with eyes to see will recognise that this process is occurring throughout the world as the Church keeps growing while false saviours keep failing.

God's enemies work overtly (through outward confrontation) and covertly (through inner struggle). Every believer who experiences overt persecution also experiences varying degrees of inner struggle. Even the 'valiant man' of Lamentations 3 (probably the prophet Jeremiah) confessed that his endurance had perished as had his hope in the Lord (Lamentations 3:18). The only way he could regain hope was to energise faith by remembering truth (Lamentations 3:21-24). All persecuted believers need our prayers in this, that the devil might have no victory over them (see John 14:26; 16:13-15). We will not know how many believers were sustained, enlightened and energised through our prayers until we reach glory and hear stories of how the Lord 'lifted my head' (Psalm 3:3) in answer to 'the prayers of many' (2 Corinthians 1:11).

Intercessory prayer for the persecuted Church is not an optional extra for special 'prayer warriors' or spiritually-minded human rights activists. It is an integral element of the spiritual battle that ensues from God's redemptive work. As such, it should be an integral element of Church life and worship. Though God uses many often surprising instruments and means as he answers our prayers, one thing remains constant: God always delivers by grace through faith. Despite rumours that prayer is passive, prayer is faith in action and pivotal to the course of any and every battle.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT --


* God will awaken and revive his Church, filling her with a selfless love for the Body and a driving desire to see the Lord exalted and glorified; may the Church of the 21st century go down in history as a Church that turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6) through a renewed commitment to faith-energised strategic prayer.

* the Holy Spirit will work powerfully in the world's darkest, most inaccessible corners -- in prisons, labour camps, caves, safe houses and war zones -- to protect, comfort and sustain his imperilled children; may the devil have no victory over them! 'And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.' (Romans 8:28 ESV)

* as the world slips deeper into chaos and failure, that God will awaken peoples and nations to the abject failure of their idols and to the truth of God's word, the wisdom of his ways and the wonder of his grace.

Please visit Critical Prayer Requests (CPR) to support the persecuted church through prayer.


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PARTICIPATING IN 'BIG PICTURE' ISSUES


The Church is in the midst of a spiritual battle. While the decisive battle was won on the cross and victory is assured, a spiritual counter-offensive will continue until all Christ's enemies are under his feet and the Lord alone is exalted. Those who choose to sidestep this issue are not missing an optional element -- they are missing the Big Picture! God is at work and the Church is the instrument of his working. As such, intercessory prayer for the persecuted Church -- in prisons, labour camps, caves, safe houses and war zones -- is an integral element of the spiritual battle. Therefore it should be an integral element of Church life and worship. Prayer is not passive; prayer is faith in action. Visit http://CriticalPrayerRequests.blogspot.com  

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

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

RLPB 232. Kazakhstan; and Central Asia's complex reality

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 232 | Wed 16 Oct 2013

Supporting International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2013: Sunday 3 Nov
See: Critical Prayer Requests (CPR)

KAZAKHSTAN; plus CENTRAL ASIA'S COMPLEX REALITY
By Elizabeth Kendal

Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev (aged 67 in October), a convert from Islam and pastor of Grace Church (Presbyterian) in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, was arrested in May 2013 after the mother of a church member accused him of making her adult daughter mentally ill. Charged with 'intentional inflicting of serious harm to health' -- essentially for praying for the sick -- Pastor Kashkumbayev was detained and sent for psychiatric assessment (see RLPB 223, 14 Aug 2013). Despite an international outcry, Pastor Kashkumbayev's detention in the Almaty City Psychological-Psychiatric Assessment Centre was twice extended. Other prisoners of conscience recently treated this way include the atheist blogger and anti-corruption campaigner Aleksandr Kharlamov (63), charged with 'inciting religious hatred' for criticising religion, and Zinaida Mukhortova (56), a lawyer deemed delusional after she filed complaints against a regional governor.

Forum 18, closely monitoring the case, reports that Pastor Kashkumbayev was transferred back to Almaty's Investigation Prison in September. Then after being released to house arrest on 8 October, he was immediately re-arrested on charges of 'extremism'. If deemed guilty, the pastor will face seven years in prison. 'Expert analysis' of the activities of Grace Church has labelled books found at the church 'extremist' and in breach of the law against inciting religious hatred and social discord. The authorities regard evangelical witness to be just as much a threat to peace and social cohesion as jihadist or revolutionary Islam because it creates problems they would rather not have. For the authorities, it is easier to deal with the problem of unwanted minority Protestants than with the problem of majority religious intolerance.

If the troublesome, witnessing Christian is a foreigner, the usual action is deportation. Vyacheslav (Victor) Lim (37) was deported in August 2013 on the grounds he had attracted eight administrative offences in eight years: traffic infringements, late payment of tax, failing to report travel, insufficient fire safety and the like. All fines were paid immediately, even those Lim disputed. Lim was accused of conducting 'illegal missionary activity' because he had been leading a local congregation of the Grace Protestant Church (Baptist) in Borovoe, north of Astana. He had been a legal resident for eight years with a residence permit valid to 2020; his wife and two children who left Kazakhstan with him were all Kazakh citizens. Kazakh human rights activist, Yevgeny Zhovtis, considers Lim was deported for his religious activities. He described it as a 'typical religious case' and a 'misuse of justice'. Russian Orthodox priest Fr Sofrony (Pyotr Yevtikheyev) was deported from Almaty Region around the same time for reasons of 'national security'. A Russian citizen, Fr Sofrony had been a legal resident since 1991. He was the priest at St Sergy's Church in the village of Tuymebayev. He also ran an orphanage there that cared for around 110 children and an aged care facility that was home to some 120 elderly people.

THE COMPLEX REALITY OF CENTRAL ASIA

Central Asia (MAP) has real and serious problems. Soviet-imposed borders continue to be a major cause of ethnic tensions and peace is tenuous. Islamic jihadist and revolutionary groups agitating for an Islamic state pose a real and serious threat. Poor governance marked by widespread corruption, human rights abuses and indifference to suffering has turned many Muslims against the government and towards groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir which present Islam as the solution. Whilst the laws against 'extremism' and 'inciting religious hatred' were designed to target the Islamic threat, they are routinely abused to intimidate disgruntled Muslims and persecute witnessing Protestants. That the West is seen to be siding with jihadists further complicates the states' relationship with Protestants. Protestants in Uzbekistan have long suffered harassment, repression, arrests and the confiscation of property. Also as noted by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL, 4 October), the government in Kyrgyzstan has recently proposed tightening the administrative punishment (i.e. no trial necessary) for 'illegal missionary activity' and 'religious propaganda'. The proposed law would ban collecting tithes, the propagation of religion in educational facilities and religious conversions.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* intervene on behalf of Pastor Kashkumbayev and end the persecution of him and Grace Church; may the Lord have mercy on this family and this fellowship of believers; may justice be done.

* intervene for Pastor Lim and provide him and his family with everything they need, particularly a secure place of refuge and a divine appointment where they can witness to the Lord's goodness. 

* intervene in Kyrgyzstan to stop the highly repressive, punitive and retrograde amendments to the religion law; may the Holy Spirit infiltrate any debate about religious liberty and use it to open eyes, minds and hearts.

* raise up righteous, wise leaders in Central Asia who will address the real and serious issues of ethnic tension, Islamic jihadist and revolutionary movements, corruption, poverty and hardship while upholding religious liberty and confronting religious intolerance.  (1 Timothy 2:1-6)

* empower great and effectual Christian ministry and witness in Central Asia; may the Holy Spirit bring transforming revival to Central Asia. 'Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!' (Psalm 126:5 ESV)

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KAZAKHSTAN AND CENTRAL ASIA'S COMPLEX REALITY


Pastor Kashkumbayev (66) of Grace Church in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, was arrested in May 2013 for allegedly harming health, ostensibly by praying for the sick. He spent months detained in a psychiatric facility before being returned to prison in mid-September. On 8 October Kashkumbayev was released to house arrest only to be re-arrested immediately on charges of 'extremism'. If deemed guilty he faces seven years in prison alongside Islamic 'extremists'. Islamic jihadist and revolutionary movements are a real and serious threat in Central Asia.  Anti-terror and anti-incitement laws intended to target the Islamic threat are being abused to intimidate the desperate masses and persecute 'troublesome', witnessing Protestants. Kyrgyzstan is proposing a law to ban missionary activity, religious educational facilities and religious conversion.  Please pray for the Church in Central Asia.

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

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

RLPB 231. Syria, Iran and the Shi'ite Crescent

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 231| Wed 09 Oct 2013

Supporting International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2013: Sunday 3 Nov
See: Critical Prayer Requests (CPR)

SYRIA, IRAN AND THE SHI'ITE CRESCENT
By Elizabeth Kendal

The war in Syria is complex and multi-faceted. For the region's religious minorities and all other pro-Assad Syrians it is all about surviving in a state that is secular and free. For the Muslim Brotherhood and other fundamentalist Sunnis, it is all about the restoration of Sunni power (as it was pre-World War 1). For Turkey's President Erdogan ('the Sultan'), it is about expanding Turkey's sphere of influence (as in Ottoman times). For Iran and Hezballah, it is about maintaining a strategic alliance: the Shi'ite crescent, which is essentially an arch of Iranian influence. For the USA, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, it is all about weakening grand-nemesis Iran by taking a massive piece out of the Shi'ite crescent. For the Arabs, it is also about restoring Syria to the Arab axis. For Russia, it is about a strategic alliance, Orthodox Christians and not empowering al-Qaeda and other jihadis. For al-Qaeda, it is about controlling territory and establishing bases. Furthermore, the war in Syria is also about which axis -- the US-Arab-Turkey axis or the Russia-Persia axis -- will control the flow of natural gas from the Persian Gulf to Europe via Syria. [US-Arab axis control would require regime change in Syria.] Indeed, the key element virtually in all of this is Arab, Sunni Syria's strategic alliance with Persian, Shi'ite Iran.

The dilemma is this: while Assad is good for Christians, other religious minorities and non-fundamentalist Muslims, Iran -- indeed the whole Shi'ite crescent -- is openly hostile and belligerent towards Israel and the West. In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood and Sunni Arab monarchies are just as anti-Semitic and anti-West as is the Iranian regime -- they are just more duplicitous and more pragmatic. The 'election' of Rouhani indicates that Iran is now opting for strategic duplicity too.

Iran is a highly strategic nation, historically, geographically, linguistically and culturally. The Islamic Revolution of 1979 has brought nothing but suffering and shame to Iranians, especially for those who do not believe hard-line repressive Islam is compatible with their culture. Despair is evident in statistics, with the birth-rate below replacement, having plunged from 8.1 at the time of the revolution to 1.6 today. According to the UN's official statistics, around 2.2 percent of all adult Iranians are addicted to illicit drugs. This is the highest incidence of drug addiction in the world, and the real figure is doubtless much higher. Iran's suicide rate is also constantly climbing -- this, in a nation once lauded for its poets, cinematographers, artists and philosophers; a nation once allied to Israel and friendly with the West. Another vital statistic that is on the rise is the number of Iranians who are leaving Islam and embracing Christianity, both inside Iran and throughout the Iranian diaspora. The Lord is definitely doing something new -- a new exodus, a transformation (Isaiah 43:16-21).

Meanwhile, converts in Iran are imprisoned on charges of threatening national security. Despised as traitors, they are treated harshly. One such prisoner desperately needing prayer is Maryam Naghash Zargaran (35) (link includes photo). On 9 March 2013, after years of intimidation and harassment, Maryam was sentenced to four years imprisonment in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison. Several years ago, Maryam had heart surgery and the stress of recent years has exacerbated her condition. Now in prison, she has suffered a heart attack. Maryam was transferred to hospital on 29 September and is said to be in a critical condition.

Back in Syria, the rebel and opposition forces are fracturing due to infighting. Whilst many Syrian rebels are defecting from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to the al-Qaeda-linked al Nusra Front, many others are defecting from the FSA to the government side, horrified at the prospect of Syria being over-run by international jihadis. Stratfor Intelligence reports that on Monday 7 October the Syrian Arab Army managed to break through the rebel siege of Aleppo to secure the at-risk, rebel-encircled, Safira defence factories, Syria's largest chemical weapons facility. The main road between Aleppo and Hama is now open and under government control.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT --

* the Lord of Hosts will intervene to liberate Syria from those seeking to eliminate Christianity, impose Sharia Law and establish bases for terrorist operations and imperialistic Islamic jihad.

* God will supply all the needs of Syria's imperilled Christians and they will be sustained, comforted and encouraged; that the siege of Aleppo, which has brought so much suffering to so many Christians, will be over.

* the Lord of Hosts will intervene to liberate Iran from the cleric-led regime that persecutes the Church and suppresses the hope-restoring, life-transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ.

* the Holy Spirit will sustain, comfort and encourage all Iran's imperilled believers, especially Christian prisoners; may God bring peace, rest and healing to Maryam Naghash Zargaran. 'But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory and the lifter of my head.' (Psalm 3:3 ESV)

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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SYRIA, IRAN AND THE SHI'ITE CRESCENT


The war in Syria is complex and multi-faceted and a key element is Syria's strategic alliance with Iran, the arch-nemesis of Israel, the US and the Sunni Arabs. Iran is a highly strategic nation, historically, geographically, linguistically and culturally. The Islamic Revolution there has created widespread despair. Whilst drug addiction and childlessness are soaring, so too is the number of Iranian converts to Christianity. God is at work. Meanwhile, in Syria the rebels are fracturing, with some defecting to al-Qaeda and others to the government, horrified at the prospect of Syria being over-run by foreign jihadis. The Syrian Army has broken through the rebel siege of Aleppo and opened the main road into Hama. May God deliver Syria and Iran from evil and build his Church.

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

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

RLPB 230. India: BJP pursues votes in Uttar Pradesh

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 230 | Wed 02 Oct 2013

Supporting International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2013: Sunday 3 November
See Critical Prayer Requests

INDIA: BJP PURSUES VOTES IN UTTAR PRADESH
By Elizabeth Kendal

Though 74 percent Hindu, India is officially a secular nation. High-caste Hindus are challenging this and are determined to preserve the power and privilege guaranteed them through the systematic racism of the Hindu 'caste' system. They are striving to secure majority power at the federal level so they can change the constitution and declare India a Hindu State. Traditionally they have created fear-mongering by demonising Muslims and Christians as threats to national security. They aim to dragnet the Hindu vote by offering Hindu nationalism as the solution to the existential dangers within -- separatism and terrorism -- and without -- cultural invasion. They persuade traditionally-animist, indigenous tribal Indians to convert to Hinduism and join the 'Hindu mainstream' to help fight the enemy. India's 172.5 million, often reactionary Muslims (the largest Muslim minority in the world), are being wooed today for their vote and Christians alone are being demonised. During its two terms (10 years) in power, the Congress Party led United Progressive Alliance government has done nothing at all to counter Hindu nationalist propaganda. Consequently, sectarianism and violent persecution has escalated on its watch.

On 13 September a Hindu nationalist mob in the south-western state of Karnataka ambushed Sannamma (50), a Christian woman. After beating her to the ground and kicking her, they dragged her to a nearby Hindu temple where they poured water over her, forcibly applied a red dot to her forehead and tried to coerce her to convert back to Hinduism. Under great duress, Sannamma (a believer for eight years) signed a document stating that she and her husband, Shidda Naik (members of The Glorious Church), would not spread the Christian message. In an attack that lasted six hours they then dragged her out of the temple and marched her around the village, slapping and abusing her continuously. Eventually her sister-in-law rescued her. Though hospitalised with internal injuries, Sannamma told Morning Star News, 'What I am suffering is nothing compared to what my Lord Jesus has suffered. I will love him forever for giving me a new life.' Appalling attacks like this are commonplace in India, occurring on a daily basis. If anyone is ever charged, it is usually the Christian.

India's next federal election will be held during April-May 2014. In mid-September the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) anointed Gujarat Chief Minister Nahendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate. To shift attention away from his image as a sectarian figure and rabid Hindu nationalist, Modi is exploiting Gujarat's massive development and marketing himself as India's most successful pro-business administrator -- an economic 'saviour' who will lift all Indians out of poverty. At a BJP rally in Gujarat on 17 September some 40,000 Muslims were persuaded to join the party. At a rally in New Delhi on Sunday 29 September the charismatic Modi spoke to a crowd of more than 200,000 who responded to his lofty promises with 'frenzied' excitement. It was, writes Sanjay Singh, 'a public rally, the likes of which it had not seen in many decades.'

From 1 October to mid-November Modi will be campaigning in Uttar Pradesh, India's strategic heartland and the home of Hinduism. Nine mega-rallies are being planned. The population of this northern state is 80.6 percent Hindu, 18.5 percent Muslim and around 0.1 percent Christian. It is India's most populous state, accounting for a massive 80 parliamentary seats. Writing in The Australian (18 September) Amanda Hodge expresses the prevailing view: 'After the Congress Party-led government's disastrous second term -- five years marred by corruption on a grand scale, parliamentary paralysis and sharp economic decline -- the BJP should sail into power.'


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* protect, bless and sustain his precious Church in the face of militant Hindu nationalism, praying especially for Christians in Uttar Pradesh as Nahendra Modi campaigns there over the next six weeks. 'Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings' (Psalm 17:8 ESV)

* expose lies and malicious intentions, so that Indians are not seduced by offers of economic advancement to vote for a party that will perpetuate the systematic racism of caste and enslave them as second class citizens. 'The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.' (John 1:5 ESV)

* raise up honourable leaders who will lead India with integrity and wisdom, doing what God calls leaders to do: 'Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.' (Proverbs 31:8,9 NIV)

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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IN INDIA, BJP PURSUES VOTES IN UTTAR PRADESH


Despite holding power for 10 years, the Congress Party led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has done absolutely nothing to counter the Hindu nationalist propaganda driving the violent persecution of Christians in India. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has anointed Gujarat Chief Minister Nahendra Modi to be its prime ministerial candidate in the April-May 2014 federal general elections. A high-caste hard-line Hindu supremacist, Modi is campaigning on a pro-development platform, capitalising on Gujarat's massive development and on the Congress Party government's failures. Many analysts believe the BJP is well on track to win the 2014 elections. For the next six weeks, Modi will lead rallies in Uttar Pradesh (UP). Pray that Indians will not be deceived. Please pray for Christians in UP as Hindu nationalist zeal flourishes.

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