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)