Tuesday, September 24, 2013

RLPB 229. Sept Update, Incl. Pakistan, Refugees, Central African Republic, Kazakhstan, Laos, Morocco

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 229 | Wed 25 Sep 2013

By Elizabeth Kendal

PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN: 'LET TEARS STREAM DOWN' (Lamentations 2:18)

On Sunday 22 September, as some 600 worshippers were mingling at the close of the service, two Islamic militants armed with automatic rifles and grenades stormed All Saint's Church, Peshawar. After slaughtering many, they detonated their explosive vests, triggering two huge explosions that blasted shrapnel through the believers. The death toll, presently 89, continues to rise; more than 150 were wounded, many critically. The internet images are shocking and deeply moving.

Two different wings of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have claimed responsibility. A spokesman from TTP Jundullah claimed: 'They [Christians] are the enemies of Islam, therefore we target them. We will continue our attacks on non-Muslims on Pakistani land.' Later a spokesman from Junood ul-Hifsa claimed the attack was in response to US drone strikes. This was the most deadly terrorist attack on Pakistan's Christian community in modern history.

CONTEXT: The church massacre comes as the government is reportedly trying to broker peace with the Taliban. The Taliban opposes peace with the government on principle. Meanwhile, senior military figures see peace, which will involve a military withdrawal and the release of militant prisoners, as akin to surrender. It has also been mooted that the peace talks are a farce, designed to demonstrate the futility of peace talks. It is quite possible that Peshawar's Christians may have been sacrificed  -- the attack was permitted -- to legitimise military action and requests for military aid. Pray for the Lord of Hosts to encircle his Church.

In a short BBC news video a grieving father stands over the coffin of his 11-year-old daughter talking with the BBC reporter, who tells us, 'somehow he manages to talk of forgiveness'.

'My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, "My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD." . . . But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mecies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him."' (Lamentations 3:17,18,21-24 ESV)

Indeed, our hope must be in him.

[Six Bible Studies on the book of Lamentations can be found on Elizabeth Kendal's website.]

SEPTEMBER 2013 UPDATE -- During September we prayed concerning . . . 

* REFUGEES & PAKISTAN (RLPB 226), when prayer was requested for Rabeel, a Christian university student from Punjab, Pakistan, who had been betrayed by a trusted Muslim friend into the hands of Lashkar e-Toiba militants who tortured him mercilessly for three days. The family fled in January 2013 and has since been languishing in a refugee camp. Like most persecuted Christians, they have not been able to get police reports or medical reports to substantiate their case. [We thank God for the ministry of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) and pray God's blessing upon them.] We also prayed for all persecuted Christians who struggle to get asylum for the same reasons. Christian Faith and Freedom (in Australia, where Rabeel's family has relatives) is lobbying to have this case expedited so Rabeel can receive the medical care he urgently requires. Please pray that God will expedite this case.

[Rabeel's relatives in Australia also had five relatives wounded in the Peshawar church bombing; one critically. In this global age, the pain of persecution is felt right around the world.]

* CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (RLPB 227), where a humanitarian crisis has been unfolding in this French-speaking predominantly Christian nation since its fall to Arabic-speaking Islamic militants in March 2013.

UPDATE: CAR's Evangelical Alliance has expressed concern that sectarian Muslim-Christian violence could increase. On 8 September pro-Bozize (deposed president) gunmen attacked and killed Muslim civilians in Bossangoa, northern CAR. Seleka, the ruling Islamic rebel coalition, then despatched troops who retaliated by attacking Christians, causing many casualties. This clash left some 100 dead, more injured and over 4500 displaced. Two unexploded grenades were subsequently found in Bossangoa's Catholic Cathedral. The president of the Alliance of Evangelical Churches in CAR, Pastor Nicolas Guerékoyamé, has appealed to all communities of the CAR 'not to yield to the temptation of interfaith divide'. Human Rights Watch has released a new report on CAR: 'I Can Still Smell the Dead', (18 September 2013). Pray for peace in CAR, as well as for justice and liberty.

* EGYPT (RLPB 228), where a cycle of violence is emerging: the Muslim Brotherhood militants attack the military government; the military cracks down with deadly force; Muslim Brotherhood supporters react against Coptic Christians. [For a more detailed report see Religious Liberty Monitoring (18 Sept 2013).] Pray for the Church in Egypt.


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

* KAZAKHSTAN (updating RLPB 223).  Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbaev of Astana's Grace Church (Presbyterian) was arrested on 17 May on charges of 'harming health' (essentially for praying over the sick). He was subsequently removed to the Almaty City Psychological-Psychiatric Assessment Centre with his detention extended until 17 September (RLPB 225). According to Forum 18, Pastor Kashkumbayev was transferred in early September, presumably back to Almaty's Investigation Prison, with his detention extended again to 17 October. Pastor Kashkumbaev's family and his congregation remain extremely anxious as nobody has any information as to his actual whereabouts or condition. Pray for Pastor Kashkumbaev and for the Church in Kazakhstan.

* LAOS: FAMILIES EXPELLED FROM VILLAGE OVER CHRISTIAN FAITH

Laotians who practise Asian traditional religion believe Christians anger the ancestral spirits, while the Laos government regards Christianity as a foreign religion that threatens social cohesion and national security and as such must be eliminated. On 30 August, village officials in Nongdaeng village, Borikhamsai Province summoned 11 Christian families (50 individuals) to recant their faith and return to traditional religion. The families all refused and on Sunday 1 Sept, they bravely worshipped together as usual, as is their constitutional right. This group has grown from 3 families to 11 families in six months, despite persecution. On 21 Sept, village officials in Huay village, Savannakhet province ruled that village Christians must renounce their faith or face expulsion. These Christians too have rejected the order and are claiming their constitutional right. Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) is urging the Laos government to respect the constitution and punish officials who illegally issue Christians with eviction orders. Pray for the Church in Laos, and that God will bless the HRWLRF's advocacy. [Constitution of the Lao People's Democratic Republic]

* MOROCCO: EVANGELIST IMPRISONED FOR HIS WITNESS

On 3 September a court in Taounate, northern Morocco, found Mohamed El Baladi (33), a Christian for seven years, guilty of 'proselytising' and sentenced him to 30 months in prison. Morning Star News reports that Mohamed had been arrested only one week earlier and had not had time even to find legal representation. Under interrogation, Mohamed gave up names of other converts from Islam who are in no doubt Mohamed was tortured. His friends have since found a lawyer, Aababou Aderrazzak, who has launched an appeal and is pressing to have the appeal heard in Fez where it will be more difficult for local authorities to dominate and influence proceedings. Please PRAY about this. Since 2011 the government has been dominated by the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) which controls not only higher education and foreign affairs, but justice. Pray that God will overrule.

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

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

RLPB 228. Egypt: settling into a deadly cycle

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 228 | Wed 18 Sep 2013

EGYPT: SETTLING INTO A DEADLY CYCLE
By Elizabeth Kendal

When the military ousted the government of President Morsi on 3 July, it triggered an explosion of violence against Copts (the Christian, indigenous people of Egypt) as Muslim Brotherhood (MB) elites and supporters blamed them for the coup (see RLPB 218, 10 July 2013). The situation then settled somewhat as the MB prepared to challenge the military head on. Two 'sit-ins' in Cairo drew thousands of MB supporters to camp in the streets for six weeks. On 14 August, the military moved in and dispersed the protesters, massacring over 900 Egyptians in four days and triggering another explosion of Islamic violence against Coptic Christians -- the worst anti-Christian violence Egypt has seen in contemporary times. A state of emergency was declared. (See RLPB 224, 21 Aug 2013.)

Whilst violence was recorded across the state [See Egypt: Mass Attacks on Churches, Human Rights Watch (22 Aug 2013)], Minya province in Upper Egypt was hardest hit and Delga, the town closest to the main highway, bore the brunt of the violence. [Delga / Delgia, mentioned in RLPB 218, is home to 20,000 Christians.] Samir Lamei Sakr, a prominent Christian lawyer, told The Guardian: 'As soon as the crackdown in Cairo started [14 August], all the loudspeakers at the main mosques in Delga issued calls for jihad.' Christian properties were marked. Sakr's home was attacked and he was hit with 13 shotgun pellets. Worse still, his cousin was killed by Islamists who then tied his body to a tractor and dragged it around the town. Bishop Macarius told The Guardian that though they called for help, 'no one answered. Not the police, not the army, not the fire service'. Even churches within sight of the provincial police headquarters were burnt. More than 100 forcibly displaced Christian families fled Delga with nothing and have nothing to return to.

On 5 September Egypt's Interior Minister narrowly escaped a serious assassination attempt in Cairo. On 12 September the state of emergency was extended by two months. On Monday 16 September heavily armed Egyptian troops stormed into Delga, arresting 56 and liberating the town from two months of Islamist control. According to Stratfor Intelligence (16 September), the military could have liberated Delga from as early as 22 August, but instead spread 'exaggerated rumours about the persecution of Copts to justify operations'. But as was flagged in RLPB 224, it is more probable that the military chose to exploit the very severe persecution (as distinct from exaggerate it), 'rather than prevent it, to legitimise military violence, military rule and requests for military aid'.

Though Christians are understandably relieved, Egyptian human rights lawyer, Ahmed Salah, believes the crackdown is less about protecting Christians and more about exploiting the state of emergency to take revenge on those who have attacked police and stolen their weapons. Officials from the Interior Ministry confirmed that the military action had nothing to do with protecting Christians. The New York Times (16 September) reports: 'Interior ministry officials said the [military] expedition was an attempt to capture a single fugitive Islamist, and it may depart soon. The overwhelming force, they said, was merely for self-protection [as] the surrounding province of Minya is still considered a bastion of Islamist support for Mr. Morsi.'

The violence in Egypt is settling into a deadly cycle: (1) The MB challenges the military (resisting the coup); (2) the military responds with force; (3) MB supporters react with violence against Coptic Christians (whom they blame for the coup). Then the cycle starts again. The military cares nothing for Christians and, with money coming from Saudi Arabia, it has no interest in protecting Christians but only in protecting itself and crushing the MB. The military would kill Christians without a second thought if it felt it were in its interests to do so, as it did in Maspero, October 2011. With the MB recruiting jihadis in Algeria and beyond, it can only be anticipated that terrorism against the State and genocidal violence against the Coptic Church will increase. Egypt's Christians need our prayers. 

For more details: see Religious Liberty Monitoring 19 Sept 2013

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT --

* God, 'the hope of all the ends of the earth', will intervene in Egypt and 'still . . . the tumult of the peoples' (from Psalm 65).

* the Holy Spirit will move powerfully amongst Egyptian Christians, enabling them to stand firm in faith (Isaiah 7:9b) with confidence and assurance (Hebrews 10:35-39), so they might live radically counter-cultural lives, loving their enemies and praying for those who persecute them (Luke 6:27-36); not fearing what people fear, but honouring the Lord in all circumstances and knowing his presence according to his promise (Isaiah 8:11-15).

* the Holy Spirit will bring awakening to Egyptian Muslims, convicting multitudes of 'sin and righteousness and judgement' (from John 16:7-11); as Egypt is 'shaken' may Islam be brought down and the Lord exalted (Isaiah 2:7-21 and Hebrews 12:26-29).


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EGYPT SETTLING INTO A DEADLY CYCLE


The violence in Egypt is settling into a deadly cycle: (1) The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) challenges the military; (2) the military responds with force; (3) MB supporters react with violence against Coptic Christians (whom they blame for the coup). Then the cycle starts again. The military is exploiting sectarian violence for its own ends and cares nothing for Christians. With money coming from Saudi Arabia, it has no interest in protecting Christians but only in protecting itself. The military would kill Christians readily if it felt it were in its interests to do so. With the MB recruiting jihadis in Algeria and beyond, it has to be  anticipated that terrorism against the State and genocidal violence against the Coptic Church will increase. Egypt and its Christians need our prayers. 

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

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

RLPB 227. Persecution at unprecedented levels

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 227 | Wed 11 Sep 2013

PERSECUTION AT UNPRECEDENTED LEVELS
and intercessory prayer is integral to the spiritual battle.
By Elizabeth Kendal

The Body of Christ is suffering so much violence and trauma these days that when it comes to choosing a focus for prayer, it is difficult to know where to start. For example on 30 August eleven  Laos families (50 people) were expelled from their village and sent out into the bush for refusing to renounce Christ.  On 1 September nine Catholics -- seven members of one family, including children -- were massacred by Fulani Muslim gunmen in Nigeria's Kaduna State. On 4 September jihadists killed eight Syrian soldiers before seizing control of the Aramaic-speaking, Christian village of Maaloula in western Syria. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR) is one situation the world is ignoring which requires persistent, enduring prayer.

On 6 September the UN expressed alarm at the continuing violence in CAR, a French-speaking predominantly Christian state that has been seized by a coalition of local and foreign Arabic-speaking Islamic rebels. UN investigators report that whole villages have been burnt and abandoned. Massive displacement has resulted in widespread hunger and soaring rates of malaria -- a serious humanitarian crisis unfolding. Rebel leader and self-proclaimed president Michel Djotodia cannot pay the Islamic militants who brought him to power, so he is content to let them fend for themselves, leaving them free to rape, kill and loot with impunity. Whilst Muslim villages are being spared, the Church is being targeted with all the religious hatred that the militants can muster. Pastor Gerald Bomana, the leader of an evangelical church in Bangui, was in his church office when it was thoroughly looted by a band of rebels. He was shocked and saddened to see his own neighbour amongst the looters. On 27 August between 5000 and 6000 civilians fled violence and sought refuge at the Bangui M'Poko International Airport which was being protected by 400 French troops. However, the French troops told them that protecting civilians was not part of their mandate. Eventually the displaced and traumatised civilians were 'evacuated' so that flights could resume.

Two other situations where known believers are being targeted require immediate, urgent prayer.

AFGHANISTAN - INDIA: In RLPB 221(30 July) prayer was requested for Afghan converts, in particular the Afghan Christian refugees in the growing Afghan Church in New Delhi, India. As reports emerge about the growth of Christianity among Afghans, Afghan MPs are issuing fresh calls for Islamic laws mandating death for apostates to be implemented. When MP Nazir Ahmad Hanafi recently raised the issue in the Afghan Parliament, parliamentary speaker Abdul Rauf Rahimi ordered the country's national security services to take serious steps to stop the spread of Christianity. Furthermore,   lawmaker Abdul Sattar Khawasi demanded that the Afghan government pressure the Indian authorities to provide a list of Afghans who have converted to Christianity there. We must pray for Pastor Obaid S Christ, the pastor of the 250-strong protestant Afghan Church in New Delhi. Not only is it reported he has received threats from the Afghan Embassy in New Delhi, but over ten consecutive nights around the end of August, Afghan media broadcast images of the pastor, calling for him to be killed.

SOMALIA: On 9 September Morning Star News reported on the martyrdom of Christian wife and mother Fatuma Isak Elmi (35).  It also reported the kidnapping of 13-year-old Mustaf Hassan who has already lost two Christian relatives to al-Shabaab. Last year Mustaf's parents, Hassan Mohammed and Farhio Omar, were threatened  because they were Christians. While they went into hiding, so Mustaf could continue his schooling he went to live with a Muslim relative in Marka District. On 3 September Mustaf was kidnapped by al-Shabaab while walking home from school. There has been no ransom demand, leading observers to suspect that al-Shabaab is trying to draw Mustaf's parents out of hiding.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT --

* our ever-present faithful God will comfort the hearts of persecuted and threatened believers everywhere, sustaining their faith and drawing them into prayer.

* Christians in Central African Republic (CAR) will know that while they are being persecuted they are not being abandoned (2 Cor 4:9) -- not by God nor by the Church; may the Lord of Hosts intervene in CAR. 'When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. This I know, that God is for me.' (Psalm 56:3,9c ESV)

* God will preserve, sustain and build his Afghan Church, protecting Afghan believers, including those who are refugees,  and providing all their needs. May our sovereign faithful God be a shield and strong fortress to Pastor Obaid in New Delhi and that all plots against him will fail. 'The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.' (Proverbs 18:10 ESV)

* God, who is both a compassionate Father and consuming fire, will intervene on behalf of Mustaf Hassan and his parents, Hassan Mohammed and Farhio Omar, and that this faithful family will be reunited; may those who seek to destroy the Church find themselves destroyed. (Isaiah 40:10-11)

'I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' (Matthew 16:18 ESV)

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PERSECUTION AT UNPRECEDENTED LEVELS


The Body of Christ today is suffering a degree of persecution not seen previously in our lifetime. In Central African Republic a serious humanitarian crisis is unfolding as the predominantly Christian population suffers terror at the hands of Islamic rebels. Afghan converts risk death not only in Afghanistan but also in India because the Afghan media is inciting violence against them, particularly Pastor Obaid. In Somalia, al-Shabaab routinely kills Somali converts. Mustaf (13), who has already lost two Christian relatives to al-Shabaab, was recently kidnapped by militants seeking to draw his Christian parents out of hiding. Jesus promised: 'I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' (Matthew 16:18) Intercessory prayer is integral to the spiritual battle. Please pray.

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

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

RLPB 226. Christian refugees and the case of Rabeel from Pakistan

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 226 | Wed 04 Sep 2013

CHRISTIAN REFUGEES AND THE CASE OF RABEEL FROM PAKISTAN

-- plus UPDATE on SYRIA

By Elizabeth Kendal

All genuine rescue operations are discriminatory, with the weakest and most vulnerable being rescued first. A refugee policy that is 'non-discriminatory' is a policy that has been corrupted with populist politics and political correctness. Non-discriminatory refugee policies actually compound the discrimination already being suffered by the weakest, most vulnerable, marginalised and persecuted peoples in the world. Imagine if a non-discriminatory policy were imposed on a rescue service: the strong would jostle for position while the weak would die waiting. No civilised state would accept such a scenario. Yet this is exactly what a non-discriminatory refugee policy produces.

Rabeel (21) is the eldest of five children of Christian parents. A bright, dedicated scholar and strong Christian, he was studying Veterinary Medicine at Jhang University in Lahore, Pakistan, when on 26 August 2012, he travelled to Lahore to submit his application for a renewal of his Merit Scholarship. He travelled with his trusted friend, fellow student Hammad-ul-Rahman, a Muslim. When her son did not return or contact home after two days, Rabeel's mother grew concerned.

As a Pakistani Christian, Rabeel was no stranger to persecution. However, as is commonly the case, the persecution escalated dramatically at university where, as a high achiever, he was under constant pressure to convert to Islam. Unbeknown to Rabeel, Hammad -- who had been a friend since High School days -- secretly had become actively involved with the Islamic terror group, Lashkar-e-Taiba. Instead of travelling to Lahore with Rabeel, Hammad handed him over to Lashkar-e-Taiba. Rabeel was in the terror group's custody for three days, during which time he was plied with drugs, beaten, electrocuted and pack-raped as the militants sought to convert him to Islam and use him in a terror attack against the West. On 29 August 2012 Gujranwala District Police Station informed Rabeel's parents that they had Rabeel in custody and that if the family did not collect him soon they would be sending him to a psychiatric facility as he was clearly out of his mind. Rabeel's family rushed to his aid.

After three local hospitals refused to treat him because he was a Christian and marked by Lashkar-e-Taiba, the family sought help from an expensive private hospital in Lahore. In its Intensive Care Unit, Rabeel slowly improved. Though he was discharged on 9 September 2012, Rabeel was still severely traumatised and his behaviour grew increasingly erratic. Eventually he stopped eating and began self-harming. By 18 October Rabeel was admitted to a public hospital. On 22 October two jeeps arrived at the hospital and a mob of Lashkar-e-Taiba militants stormed in, accompanied by police. Rabeel, his family and the hospital staff were threatened with death if they dared file charges or issue medical reports. Rabeel had to leave the hospital and the family went into hiding.  With the militants hunting them and using Rabeel's mobile SIM card to make threatening calls, the family fled abroad. They have been languishing in a refugee camp for some 10 months now with relatives in Australia providing aid. They are going through the official UNHCR channels and waiting. However, Rabeel is fading and is not eating.  If this family is not rescued soon, then Rabeel may well die waiting.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* intervene and in grace and power expedite the rescue of this Christian family who have lost everything due to violent persecution.

* bring healing to Rabeel's body and mind and comfort and strength to the whole family.

* intervene on behalf of all Christian refugees whose lives are imminently imperilled but who struggle to make claims because they lack medical records and police reports (because as persecuted Christians they simply cannot get them).

'You have taken up my cause, O Lord; you have redeemed my life. You have seen the wrong done to me, O Lord; judge my cause.' (Lamentations 3:58-59 ESV)

* change the thinking of Western policy makers, so that they will recognise that, in these days of escalating sectarianism, Islamic radicalisation, religious persecution and impunity, persecuted religious minorities require priority consideration.


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CHRISTIAN REFUGEE FROM PAKISTAN NEEDS URGENT PRAYER


As a strong Christian, high achieving university student in Lahore, Rabeel (21) faced constant pressure to convert to Islam. As he resisted, persecution escalated. Eventually, a trusted Muslim friend betrayed Rabeel to the terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba. Over three days, Rabeel was plied with drugs, beaten, electrocuted and pack-raped as the militants sought to convert him to Islam and use him in a terror attack against the West. When his family found him, Rabeel was horribly wounded and severely traumatised. As a Christian marked by Lashkar-e-Taiba, it proved not only difficult to get medical treatment but impossible to get medical reports and police support. Forced to flee, this family of seven has been languishing in a refugee camp for the past 10 months; Rabeel is fading. Please pray.

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UPDATE ON SYRIA

The only reason there are Christians surviving in Syria today is because they are being protected by the Syrian Arab Army in government-held areas. Because the rebels have surrounded and blockaded these areas, Western Christian aid groups have spent the last year or so funnelling in aid to help them survive. If the US attacks Syria, the protection provided by the Syrian Army will be greatly reduced, at least for a time. This could well open the floodgates for rebel invasions of Christian areas. On 3 September, the Deputy UN Envoy to Syria, Mokhtar Lamani, commented that sectarianism is now so serious that the risk of genocide is real. Please pray for God's intervention.

For prayer requests from a Syrian pastor: see here.

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