Tuesday, March 26, 2013

RLPB 203. EASTER: unity essential for survival and witness

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 203 | Tue 26 Mar 2013

EASTER: UNITY ESSENTIAL FOR SURVIVAL AND WITNESS
By Elizabeth Kendal

Spiritual unity is not the same as unification. Believers will always interpret Scripture differently, observe different traditions and prefer different styles. Spiritual unity rises out of the recognition that all who are in Christ are one flock with Christ as Shepherd, one body with Christ as Head, one people filled with one Spirit and one family with God as Father.

Whilst spiritual unity may develop as a fruit of persecution, this is not automatically the case. If there has been a history of competition, conflict or suspicion between fellowships or denominations, then divisions may actually widen during persecution as groups long hostile towards each other compete for favoured status or limited resources in a desperate, fear-based struggle for survival.

Furthermore, an escalation in persecution may even serve to widen the divide between persecuted and free Christians. Paul experienced this during his second imprisonment in Rome when the churches of Asia deserted him (2 Timothy 1:15,16). The scene is repeated today, both locally and globally. Locally, free Christians might not want to risk their own security through association with the persecuted who may be regarded as criminals or targets. Globally, free Christians might not want to be burdened and challenged by the knowledge of Christian suffering. Onesiphorus should be our model, for he was 'not ashamed' of Paul's chains.

On the night he was betrayed, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane: 'I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.' (From John 17:20-26 ESV.) Yet as we have seen, despite spiritual unity being a spiritual reality (we are one) it is not automatically practised and persecution does not automatically produce it. The default position of human nature is self-interest and self-preservation. Unless we commit to following truly the model of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, then our innate disposition towards self-interest and self-preservation will always work to short-circuit our best intentions, leaving the Church divided against itself (Mark 3:24).

Today, from the Middle East west across North Africa; north through Syria into Iraq and Iran; and east through to Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Church is facing a trial unlike anything that has been seen in our lifetime. The stage is being set for regional ethnic and sectarian blood-letting. It is shaping up to be a multi-dimensional conflagration from which local Christian minorities will struggle to survive.  Meanwhile, a variety of anti-Christian ideological and totalitarian forces are flexing their muscles across Asia and making deep inroads into Africa and the West. We need to understand the times (Luke 12:54-56) and align with the will of the Father, the work of Christ and the movement of the Holy Spirit. We must practise the spiritual unity Christ prayed for in the garden some 2000 years ago, that the Church might fulfil her role as a sign to the world that the Gospel is true.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT --

* the Holy Spirit will move powerfully through the hearts of all persecuted believers this Easter, to awaken those who are anxious and frightened to the spiritual unity they have with their Christian neighbours because of their union in Christ.

* believers will stand firm in faith together, the dross of fear, suspicion and self-interest burnt away, encouraging and assisting each other with selfless courage and generosity across ethnic and denominational lines.

* the Holy Spirit will move powerfully through the hearts of all free and prosperous believers this Easter, that God's love may flow through their hearts, filling them with brotherly love, selfless courage and unreserved generosity so they will seek out and assist the persecuted, across ethnic and denominational lines.

* the sacrificial love of God (as demonstrated through the cross)  and the life-giving power of God (as demonstrated through the resurrection) will be displayed in and modelled by the Church as she rises supernaturally above self to give of self sacrificially and generously. 


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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EASTER: UNITY ESSENTIAL FOR SURVIVAL AND WITNESS


On the night he was betrayed, Jesus prayed for us -- the Church. Though the cross was before him, Jesus was moved to pray that we would be one -- united in him in a spiritual unity that would vindicate the Gospel (John 17:20-16). As persecution escalates and darkness spreads, it is imperative that Christians forget past hostilities, forego competitiveness, reject self-interest and practise true spiritual unity in love and obedience. This is necessary both for survival and for witness. Just as Jesus Christ demonstrated sacrificial love on the cross and supernatural power in the resurrection, may the Church supernaturally rise above self to give of self sacrificially and generously. This Easter let us pray as Christ prayed: that we who are one in him, actually will practise that unity.

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

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

RLPB 202. China: new leadership and promised reform

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 202 | Wed 20 Mar 2013

CHINA: NEW LEADERSHIP AND PROMISED REFORM
By Elizabeth Kendal

The first session of the 12th National People's Congress (NPC), held in the Great Hall of the People in the heart of Beijing, concluded on Sunday 17 March and, with it, the once-a-decade transfer of power. Named as Communist Party general secretary in November 2012, Xi Jinping has been installed as president of the People's Republic of China and chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC). Communist Party deputy leader Li Keqiang has been installed as Premier. In his address to the Congress, President Xi spoke much of the 'Chinese dream'. Promising to deliver national rejuvenation, he called on China's 1.37 billion citizens to 'unite as one, and gather into an invincible force with wisdom and power'. He said the Chinese dream must be realised in the Chinese way through a fostering of the Chinese spirit. What this actually means remains to be seen, although Xi seems to have established that unity or conformity of thought and purpose be the means if not the goal. Steve Tsang, an expert in Chinese politics at Britain's University of Nottingham, believes that Xi's over-riding priority is 'whatever it takes to keep the show on, the party in power and (make) China more powerful and influential'. (AAP 18 March)

CNN Interactive: China's New Leaders.

On 7 January 2013 Meng Jianzhu, China's most senior law enforcement official, hinted on CCTV's Sina Weibo that China may abolish the controversial system of 're-education through labour' established by Mao in the 1950s. However, the posting was quickly deleted and replaced with one saying that the system would be 'reformed' (as distinct from abolished). 'Re-education through labour' is a system of 'administrative discipline': no charges or trial are necessary. Anybody local police consider a problem -- whistle-blowers, protesters, political or religious dissidents -- they may sentence to up to three years of 're-education through labour'. Modelled on the Soviet gulag, China's network of labour camps is known as the 'laogai'.  Conditions are appalling, with prisoners working long hours in unsafe conditions, subject to cruel, brutal and inhumane treatment (see: NTDTV video report). Whilst the government maintains that 190,000 prisoners are detained in some 320 prison labour camps, expert and laogai survivor Harry Wu has documented the existence of nearly 1000 camps housing up to five million prisoners. (AAP and http://www.laogai.org)

Generally the labour camps have both a prison name and an industry name. For example: Huasham Prison is also Huashan Farm; Hegang Prison is also Qingshishan Stone Quarry; Qingyuan Prison is Shanhe Sulphur Iron Mine; Yingde Prison is Yingde Tea Farm; Quanzhou Prison is Quanzhou Shenghua Knit Clothing Factory; and so on (laogai handbook). Indeed the laogai gives 'Made in China' a whole new meaning.   Considering that laogai slave-labour forms an integral part of the Chinese economy, abolition of the laogai is unlikely while the Communists are in power. Consequently, most analysts believe any reforms will be purely cosmetic and that problematic dissidents may instead 'disappear' into secret prisons while the laogai will be reserved for certified criminals, of which there will be many more. Reforms might mean that house-church Christians, whose meetings and ministries are illegal, will have to be charged, tried in the courts and incarcerated as criminals rather than just thrown into the laogai on administrative sentences for 're-education through labour'. What impact this has on persecution remains to be seen.

Corrupt local officials have long used the system to silence those who dare speak out against corruption, repression, cruelty and injustice. Increasingly, however, corruption, repression, cruelty and injustice are being exposed -- and as knowledge spreads, discontent rises. Sensing this, Beijing's new leaders will be keen to pacify the masses by convincing them that their concerns are being addressed, even if they are not! Zhong Weiguang, a researcher based in Germany believes, 'The form and name of re-education through labour might be removed, because it doesn't look good. But their goals, their control, monitoring, intimidation, and persecution of the people under the dictatorial rule of the Party will be the same.'

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT THE LORD WILL --

* make himself known to China's new leadership team -- especially President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang -- so that even if they reject him, it will not be because they have not heard the truth or seen the living God in action.

* shine his light on the Chinese legal system, especially the corruption and injustice of the 're-education through labour' system of administrative discipline, and the cruel and inhumane state-run slave-labour in the laogai; may it reach into the darkest corners and deepest shadows behind China's facade of progress and development.  'The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.' (John 1:5 ESV)

* continue to bless and build his Church in China, in numbers as well as in grace, knowledge and fortitude, preparing her for the day when she is free to witness openly across the whole nation and the wider region. 'Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.' (Psalm 17:8 ESV)

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHINA: NEW LEADERSHIP AND PROMISED REFORM


Over 16-17 March Communist Party chief Xi Jinping was installed as President of the People's Republic of China, and Communist Party deputy leader Li Keqiang became Premier. For consideration in 2013 is reform of the 're-education through labour' system. Established by Mao in the 1950s, it is designed to silence 'counter-revolutionaries' while exploiting them as slave-labourers. This 'laoagi', China's network of labour camps, is modelled on the Soviet gulag. Local authorities have long used this system of detention without trial to silence anybody who dares protest corruption or injustice. House-church Christians are routinely incarcerated there. Whilst genuine reform is unlikely, the attention it will get could expose the reality of injustice and lack of liberty in China. Please pray for China, its leaders and the Church.

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UPDATE: KANO, NORTHERN NIGERIA

In the evening of 23 February Christians were mingling after a funeral in Kaduna when they were attacked by some 10 black-clad gunmen. Speaking a Fulani (Muslim) dialect and firing sophisticated weapons, they terrorised the believers for three hours before police arrived. Five Christians from five different churches were killed. Eleven of the wounded were hospitalised, some with critical injuries. Then on 18 March at least 20 people were killed and more than 50 wounded when terrorists struck a bus station in Kano's Sabongari district. Sabongari is home to a large population of Christians from the south and the targeted bus station primarily services southerners heading south. Suicide bombers reportedly rammed their explosive-laden car into one bus creating a massive explosion and inferno which spread quickly to another four buses, setting off improvised explosive devices previously planted. The death toll is expected to rise. It is the second time this bus station has been attacked. Boko Haram is suspected. Please pray for the Church in Nigeria.

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

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

RLPB 201. Pakistan: the bitter fruits of a radical society

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 201 | Wed 13 Mar 2013

PAKISTAN: THE BITTER FRUITS OF A RADICALISED SOCIETY
By Elizabeth Kendal

Sawan Masih (26) is a sanitation worker and Christian resident of Joseph Colony in Badami Bagh, Lahore. For some years now he has wrapped up his day by sharing a drink with his friend and neighbour Shahid Imran, a Muslim. They would sit together outside Shahid's barber shop drinking locally brewed hooch. Though their debates sometimes got heated, they would just sleep it off and start afresh the next day. On the evening of 7 March, the men had one of their drink-fuelled arguments. This time, however, a good night's sleep failed to clear the slate. The next day, Shahid claimed Sawan had blasphemed during their spat. Like a spark casually flicked in an incendiary tinderbox, the rumour exploded and spread like wildfire. As soon as Sawan heard what Shahid had done, he fled for his life. Later that evening, inflamed Muslims marched from a nearby mosque to the Masihs' home. To pacify the mob, the police took Sawan's father Chaman Masih into custody. While local Muslims ransacked the Masihs' home, members of the Sunni Tehreek-i-Taliban presented the police with two alleged witnesses who claimed to have heard Sawan's blasphemy. A blasphemy charge was registered, again primarily for the purpose of pacifying the mob. But registering a blasphemy complaint is hardly enough to douse a fire-storm of Islamic fury these days. With rumours circulating that worse was to come, the police advised the Christian community to flee, which they did.

The next day, Saturday 9 March, thousands of Muslims, mostly from the ethnic Pakhtun community, descended on the Christian colony with weapons and fuel to inflict collective punishment. Sources told Morning Star News that the provincial government led by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had ordered police not to hinder the protesters and 'let them vent their grief and anger'. With the colony vacated and the police immobilised, the Muslims went freely from door to door, plundering and ransacking. By 11:30am Joseph Colony was ablaze. By the time the fire brigade turned up at 3pm, at least 160 homes, 18 shops and two churches -- Assemblies of God and Roman Catholic -- had been looted and burnt. According to the City Superintendent of Police, up to 7000 people took part in the attack. Police are saying they have Sawan in 'protective custody'. Knowing what lies ahead, Sawan's mother, Zahida, is distraught. 'I want my son back,' she wails, 'please bring my son back.'

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan laments, 'The attack is yet another shameful incident against a vulnerable community and further confirmation of the slide toward extremism in society on the one hand and, on the other hand, the apathy and inaction that has become the norm among the police.' On Sunday 10 March Christians rallied in Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and Multan, expressing their fear, grief and anger over their deepening insecurity. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif told a private meeting in his home that the attack was in no way a service to Pakistan or Islam.  What he really needs to do is get that message accepted in the thousands of hyper-radical mosques and madrassas spread across Punjab. Pakistan has a population of 185 million with Christians accounting for about 2.45 percent (Operation World 2010). Decades of Saudi-sponsored Islamisation, Sunni radicalisation and impunity are producing bitter fruits: local Muslims prepared to kill and destroy their Christian neighbours. Shi'ite Muslims (30 percent, mostly ethnic Hazara) and Hindus (1.5 percent) are also experiencing escalating systematic persecution. Pakistan is becoming increasingly intolerant and lawless as it lurches towards collapse and disintegration. When local civilians are prepared to eliminate their neighbours on ethnic, caste and/or religious grounds, then the environment is clearly genocidal.  (TIME photo gallery)

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT THE LORD WILL --

* intervene and secure justice for Sawan Masih, as well as security for his extended family and compensation for the  Christian community of Joseph Colony.

* draw the wounded and traumatised into his embrace, comforting and healing their broken hearts and providing all their needs. 'The Lord is my shepherd . . . He restores my soul. . . You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies . . .' (Psalm 23:1a,3a,5a ESV). THANK YOU Father that nobody was killed.

* awaken those who have been turned into killers, bringing a profound conviction of sin upon all who would be willing killers of their own neighbours.

* bring a profound sense of shame on Pakistan, so pervasive it demands and enables deep, risky reform at the mosque and madrassa level; may this and a sense of failure and great danger prompt many to seek out a new and better way.

SEE ALSO: Deepening divide leaves Pakistan staring into the abyss
Pakistan's Supreme Court admits a blasphemy petition against Sherry Rehman, Pakistan's Ambassador to the USA.
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 7 March 2013.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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THE BITTER FRUITS OF PAKISTAN'S RADICALISED SOCIETY


On 7 March Sawan (26), a Christian, and his Muslim friend and neighbour, Shahid, argued as they sat drinking after work, in Joseph Colony, Lahore. The next day Shahid claimed Sawan had blasphemed during their spat. The rumour spread like wildfire. Sawan fled for his life. The police took Sawan's father into custody and registered a blasphemy complaint against Sawan hoping that would appease the agitated crowd. However, sensing otherwise, the police advised the Christians to flee their homes. The next day some 7000 local Muslims descended on the Christian colony, pillaging and burning. At least 160 homes, 18 shops and two churches were looted and burnt while the police watched on. Intolerance, violence and insecurity: the bitter fruits of a radicalised society. Please pray for Pakistan and its Christian minority.

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UPDATE

LIBYA - EGYPTIAN CHRISTIAN DIES IN CUSTODY
(Updating RLPBs 198 -199)

Ezzat Hakim Atalla Abdel-Malak, one of five Egyptian Christians arrested in Benghazi last month on charges of proselytising, has died in custody. According to the authorities, Ezzat died of natural causes on Sunday 10 March. Middle East Concern reports that while Ezzat did receive some clearly insufficient treatment for severe chest pains, the extensive bruising all over his body indicates that he had been physically abused. Please pray for Ezzat's widow and two teenage children, and for the remaining prisoners -- especially the four Egyptians whose situation is particularly precarious. May God intervene on their behalf.

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

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

RLPB 200. Sudan: Islamic belligerence and soaring persecution

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 200 | Wed 06 Mar 2013

SUDAN: ISLAMIC BELLIGERENCE AND SOARING PERSECUTION
By Elizabeth Kendal

Islamists -- a powerful force in Sudan -- hold President Gen. Omar el-Bashir responsible for the loss of southern Sudan. Of course he is responsible, for he systematically marginalised, cheated, persecuted and fought the predominantly Christian non-Arabs of southern Sudan while trying to impose Islam on them until all they wanted was separation. Eventually on 9 July 2011 South Sudan became an independent nation. Khartoum's hardline Islamists believe secession should never have been an option, not merely because southern Sudan is resource-rich, but because Islamists do not believe Allah's land should ever be forfeit -- especially not at the behest of the US! In the latter part of 2012, Arab Spring-inspired protests erupted in Khartoum only to be hijacked by Islamists who attacked Western embassies. Rumours abounded that a coup was imminent. Whilst some of the discontent in Khartoum is due to economic hardship and repression, the Islamist discontent pertains to the growing belief that el-Bashir has failed the State by not being Islamic enough! A key opposition figure, Hassan al-Turabi, has asserted that el-Bashir's regime should not even be regarded as Islamic! Factions inside the regime are leveraging this discontent to increase their power, leaving el-Bashir under pressure to prove his Islamist credentials. This is the context for the campaign of systematic persecution that began in late 2012 (see RLPBs 198 and 199, and for more details RLM 6 March 2013).

On 14 February doctors in Khartoum cross-amputated a man's right hand and left foot under orders from the government as a punishment for robbery. Canada responded by condemning the deteriorating human rights situation in Sudan, noting also the targeting of civil society organisations, particularly those which are owned and run by Christians. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird called on Khartoum 'to respect the rights of Sudan's people, to cease its intimidation of civil society and political opponents, and to end indiscriminate bombardments of civilians'.

Ulf Laessing reports (Reuters 27 Feb) Sudanese Christians are growing anxious that the day is coming when they will not be able to practise their faith at all. Laessing visited one of several demolished churches: the Africa Inland church which stood in a slum suburb of Khartoum. He reports on the mid-February raid by security agents on the library of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, founded by missionaries in central Khartoum more than a hundred years ago. 'They took hundreds of books,' a church source told him, 'and the entire archive, not just religious literature.' Laessing notes that numerous church-affiliated institutions have been closed and foreign Christians deported. (In addition, on Monday 4 March, the regime closed the Aslan English Teaching Centre, accusing it of engaging in 'suspicious activities'.) According to Laessing, 'Despair and anxiety is palpable in many of Khartoum's churches, most of which date back to the British colonial era which ended in 1955.' He attended Sunday worship in a small room beside the demolished church. He listened as Pastor Said tried to encourage what remains of his flock -- 11 adults and four children. 'The government destroyed our church,' he said, 'but we don't have to be afraid. God will always protect us. Hallelujah!'

On 28 January 2013 the 54 member states of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (UNECOSOC) showed how little they care about Sudanese citizens. First they elected Sudan as one of four Vice-Presidents, then they nominated the racist, genocidal, rogue state to chair UNECOSOC's proceedings on humanitarian affairs. The US and Canada lobbied strongly against the nomination on the grounds that Khartoum is currently blockading humanitarian aid from its own people, creating famine and a humanitarian crisis in Blue Nile and South Kordofan where conflict has left some 700,000 people displaced and from where more than 200,000 have fled. France and Australia did not oppose Sudan's nomination! Thankfully, however, they did not object to further consultations and eventually Sudan agreed to cede the humanitarian segment to Pakistan. It is good and right that Pastor Said is exhorting his flock to 'rest'/trust in Almighty God -- he is faithful while 'all other ground is sinking sand'.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* the Lord of Hosts will protect his people as a shepherd guides and protects his flock, while providing all their needs. 'The Lord is my shepherd . . .' and he provides, restores, leads, guides, comforts, accompanies, sustains, vindicates and blesses. (Psalm 23)

* the Holy Spirit will encourage believers, fanning their faith into flame, drawing them near into prayer and dispelling their fears and enabling 'rest'. 'A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.' (Isaiah 42:3 ESV)

* our Sovereign, Almighty and glorious God -- who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think . . . (Ephesians 3:20 ESV) -- will intervene in Sudan to establish righteousness and 'bring forth justice' for the sake of the Church and all the peoples of Sudan who are in need of the gospel.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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PERSECUTION SOARING IN SUDAN


Islamist discontent is rising, forcing Sudan's President Omar el-Bashir to prove his Islamist credentials. As churches are demolished, property is seized, Coptic priests are detained and foreign Christians are deported, despair is setting in and Sudanese Christians are wondering if the day is coming when they will no longer be able to practise their faith at all. Meanwhile the 54 member states of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (UNECOSOC) showed how little they care about Sudanese citizens when they elected Sudan as a Vice-President and nominated it to chair proceedings on humanitarian affairs. The US and Canada protested, forcing Sudan to cede the humanitarian post reluctantly to Pakistan. Only God can be trusted! Please pray for the Church in Sudan.
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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)