Tuesday, February 25, 2014

RLPB 249. February Update, Incl. Nigeria, Aceh (Indonesia), Iran, Zanzibar (Tanzania), Ukraine, Vietnam

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 249 | Wed 26 Feb 2014

By Elizabeth Kendal

May God arise, may his enemies be scattered; may his foes flee before him. Summon your power, God; show us your strength, our God, as you have done before. (Psalm 68:1,28 NIV)

FEBRUARY 2014 UPDATE -- During February we prayed concerning . . . 

* NIGERIA (RLPB 246), where the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group Boko Haram (which regularly targets the Church) is waging a jihad against the Nigerian government with the aim of making Nigeria an Islamic state and northern Fulani Muslims (backed by Boko Haram and rogue military units) are waging a jihad to colonise and extend control deeper into the Christian-dominated south. 

UPDATE: In mid February, Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, warned that Boko Haram is better armed and more motivated than the Nigerian military. The government wrote off the governor's comment as 'civilian perception' and insisted it was winning the war against Boko Haram,

However, the killings continue and indeed have escalated, especially in Borno State where some 500 people have been killed in recent weeks. On the night of 15 February Boko Haram militants shouting 'Allahu Akbar [God is greater]' targeted the mostly Christian village of Izghe in Borno. The jihadis gathered the men of the village together and then turned on them. At least half the 106 men or more who were killed were Christian. The jihadis also looted and destroyed homes and shops. A week later Izghe was raided again and this time the militants burnt it to the ground. On Tuesday 25 February Boko Haram militants raided the boarding house at the Federal Government College in Buni Yadi in neighbouring Yobe State at 2 am and massacred at least 59 teenage boys. The militants also assembled the female students, ordering them to abandon their education and get married.

On 19 February Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a video statement, claiming responsibility for the killings and threatening more, saying, 'The reason why I will kill you is you are infidels. You follow democracy. Whoever follows democracy is an infidel.' Shekau also threatened to attack the oil-rich Niger Delta. 

* BURMA (RLPB 247), where the war between the autonomy-seeking Christian Kachin and the resources-craving Burman-Buddhist regime in Naypyidaw rages on.

* NORTH KOREA (RLPB 248), where Christians continue to suffer extreme persecution for refusing to bow to the cult of Kim.

FEBRUARY 2014 ROUND-UP -- also this month . . .

* ACEH, INDONESIA: SHARIA FOR EVERYONE

Aceh's provincial administration and legislative council have approved a new by-law that will force everyone in Aceh to abide by Sharia (Islamic) Law. The Qanun Jinayat (the by-law governing behaviour) will apply to the territory of Aceh as distinct from applying to Muslim individuals. Muslims and non-Muslims, local population and visitors, will all have to observe Sharia, following Islamic codes of dress and behaviour. Christians who violate Sharia will be tried under Islamic law and punished accordingly (usually  lashing). Councillor Abdulah Saleh said it was important to have one law for all so that Muslims did not feel they were being treated unfairly. Clearly Saleh fears that Christian liberty could cause fitna (strife or temptation for Muslims) and accordingly Christian liberty must end so that everyone suffers equally.


* ERITREAN REFUGEES IN SINAI: ALERT

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released a new report: 'Egypt/Sudan: Traffickers Who Torture', HRW 11 Feb 2014. [Many if not most Eritrean refugees are Christians fleeing from persecution in Eritrea seeking religious freedom in Israel or in Europe.]


* IRAN: PASTOR IRANI RETURNED TO PRISON AFTER SURGERY

Sentenced to five years in jail on charges of 'crimes against national security', Pastor Behnam Irani (40 - photo) has since come close to death due to internal injuries caused by routine beatings and severe stress. There has been much prayer for his life. We thank God that on 22 February Pastor Irani finally received surgery to treat his internal injuries and painful bleeding stomach ulcers. He was returned to Ghezal Hesar Prison on 25 February. Please pray for Behnam Irani, his wife, children and congregation. Please pray for Iran's Christian prisoners and that God will continue to build his Church in Iran.

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


* TANZANIA: CHURCHES TARGETED IN ZANZIBAR

On Sunday 23 February a home-made bomb reportedly containing a mixture of ball bearings and chemicals exploded at an Evangelistic Assemblies of God Tanzania (EAGT) Church in Zanzibar. The explosion shook the building just as worship was concluding and there were no casualties. The next day a bomb was remotely detonated outside Christ Church Anglican Cathedral in Stone Town, Zanzibar, about 1 pm. Minutes later, another bomb exploded at a nearby seafront restaurant popular with tourists. The attacks may or may not be connected to the news on 19 February that British police will now join the hunt for the attackers who doused two teenage British girls (both Jews) in acid while on a gap-year in Zanzibar in August 2013. The girls had been working in a local Catholic nursery school and were volunteering at a local charity.


* UKRAINE: JEWS THREATENED IN KIEV

Conservative Rabbi Reuven Stamov comments that, whilst anti-Semitism is not an official policy of the protest movement nor of the new government in Kiev, anti-Semitism is indeed flourishing as anti-Semitic elements exploit the chaos and advance their ideology.  Some Jews in Kiev have been threatened and some have received letters telling them to leave; many are afraid. Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman, a Chabad rabbi in Ukraine, has advised his congregation to leave Kiev and the country, if possible. Representatives of Ukrainian Jewry report that they feel a general sense of unease. This is fuelled mostly by the prominent presence of the far-right, neo-Nazi Svoboda Party, as well as scattered sightings of swastikas spray-painted on walls and the emergence of anti-Semitic vigilante groups. Nevertheless, Jews in Ukraine plan to celebrate Purim on 15-16 March. [Purim celebrates the deliverance of the Jews in Persia at the time of Esther.] Despite the insecurity and volatility, the Ukrainian Church must speak out against anti-Semitism. Please pray for Ukraine.


* VIETNAM: CHRISTIAN LAWYER-BLOGGER JAILED

One of Vietnam's most prominent Catholic dissidents and human rights lawyers lost his court appeal on 18 February and will be jailed for 30 months for alleged tax evasion. In 2006-07, Le Quoc Quan (43) spent five months in Washington, DC, as a Fellow of the National Endowment for Democracy. He was first arrested in March 2007, four days after returning to Vietnam, for alleged subversion. He was subsequently disbarred. Quan was arrested again in December 2012 after the BBC published an article he wrote criticising the Communist Party's place in Vietnam's constitution. Quan was sentenced in October 2013 and on 18 February lost his appeal. On 2 February he began a hunger strike to protest the fact that he is not being permitted access to his religious books or to a priest for confession and communion. Outside the court, Quan's supporters sang hymns and prayed. Catholics held prayer vigils for Quan the following Sunday across Hanoi. Please pray for the Church in Vietnam.

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

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

RLPB 248. North Korea: tenuous situation requires wise handling

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 248 | Wed 19 Feb 2014

NORTH KOREA: TENUOUS SITUATION NEEDS WISE HANDLING
By Elizabeth Kendal

On 21 March 2013 the United Nations Human Rights Council passed Resolution A/HRC/RES/22/13 which established the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The Resolution gave the Commission a 12-month mandate to investigate systematic and widespread human rights abuses in North Korea. North Korean Ambassador So Se Pyong denounced the Resolution as 'an instrument that serves the political purposes of the hostile forces in their attempt to discredit the image of the DPRK', adding, 'those human rights abuses mentioned in the resolution do not exist in our country.'

The Commission of Inquiry's report was released on 17 February. It documents 'a wide array of crimes against humanity' and details 'unspeakable atrocities' and concludes: 'The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.' As noted in the report: 'The State considers the spread of Christianity a particularly serious threat, since it challenges ideologically the official personality cult and provides a platform for social and political organisation and interaction outside the realm of the State. Apart from the few organised State-controlled churches, Christians are prohibited from practising their religion and are persecuted. People caught practising Christianity are subject to severe punishments . . .  .' (Article 31)

The report also remarked on what is without a doubt the key dynamic of North Korea today: 'Strengthening market forces and advancements in information technology have allowed greater access to information from outside the country as information and media from the Republic of Korea and China increasingly enter the country. The State’s monopoly on information is therefore being challenged by the increasing flow of outside information into the country and the ensuing curiosity of the people for "truths" other than those provided by State propaganda. Authorities seek to preserve their monopoly on information by carrying out regular crackdowns and enforcing harsh punishments.' (Article 30)

Groomed to rule, Kim Jong-un assumed power after his father ('Dear Leader' Kim Jong-il) died in December 2011. At his father's funeral, Kim Jong-un accompanied his father's casket along with the 'Gang of Seven' -- an inner circle of elites tasked with guiding and mentoring the young ruler. By the end of 2013, four of the seven had been purged and one demoted. Kim Jong-un is consolidating power and establishing a new order that he hopes will have a better chance of holding on to power through the challenging times ahead. According to analysts, '. . . the upper ranks of North Korean leadership are now sprinkled with people who hold a known interest in [economic] reform.'

Kim, who did his secondary schooling in Switzerland, and his younger clique know that the information seeping in will generate anger and dissent as North Korea's impoverished masses become aware of their plight relative to the outside world. So in a race against time the regime is implementing agricultural and economic reforms designed to raise the living standards of ordinary Koreans. The regime is also easing the way for foreign investment and undertaking major infrastructure projects -- highways, theme parks and resorts -- designed to make North Korea more attractive to North Koreans as well as to Chinese tourists. It is a delicate balancing act, for Kim knows that while things have to change, change is incredibly risky.

For details see -- North Korea: Belligerance vs 'Smart Policy',
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 20 Feb 2014

It is commendable that the UN report is shining a spotlight on the horrific situation inside North Korea. However, the situation needs to be handled with great care and wisdom rather than belligerently. For example, if too much pressure is applied or if 'hostile forces' use the report to fan the flames of revolution for their own political, economic and geo-strategic ends, then repression could escalate to unprecedented levels or the state descend into a widespread bloodbath. Neither would benefit the Church in North Korea. Realistically, the report can only be used as leverage to get prisoners released and rights improved if the regime is assured it will not be threatened. When faced with such an unpalatable truth, it is essential to keep focused on North Korea's long-suffering Church which so desperately needs deliverance and freedom.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* hear the prayers and cries of his people and bring deliverance and freedom to his long-suffering Church in North Korea. (Isaiah 59:14-19)

'Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.' (1 Peter 5:7 NIV)

LORD, IN YOUR MERCY: give wisdom to fools and patience to hot heads;  repentance to persecutors and grace to victims; so that your Church might be spared further calamity and delivered from her adversity to rise as light to overcome darkness.

'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'
(Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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NORTH KOREA NEEDS WISE HANDLING


The UN's Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK [North Korea] released its report on 17 February. It documents a wide array of 'crimes against humanity', details 'unspeakable atrocities' and concludes: 'The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.' Tens of thousands of Christians struggle to survive in labour camps where they endure starvation, hard labour and unparalleled systematic cruelty. This report will expose the horrific situation inside North Korea. However, the risk is it could be unhelpfully politicised, causing repression to escalate or the country to descend into a bloodbath. Neither would benefit the Church in North Korea. Please pray for North Korea and its 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, February 11, 2014

RLPB 247. Burma: continued ethnic cleansing of Christian Kachin

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 247 | Wed 12 Feb 2014

BURMA (Myanmar): CONTINUED ETHNIC CLEANSING OF CHRISTIAN KACHIN

By Elizabeth Kendal

The Burmese Army (the Tatmadaw) is continuing its campaign of ethnic cleansing in resource-rich Kachin State. The Christian Kachin have long resisted the Burman Buddhist regime's brutal dictatorship. While the Kachin want autonomy so they can freely maintain their culture, the Burman Buddhist elite and military want complete control of Kachin land so they can exploit its resources. The situation in Burma is reminiscent of that in Sudan, where the Islamist-Arab regime in Khartoum is doing the same in the resource-rich, mostly Christian, African south. Similar situations exist in Papua, Indonesia and in Vietnam's Central Highlands. In each case, the resistance of the predominantly Christian ethnic peoples is met with extreme military violence and ethnic cleansing motivated by greed and fuelled by state-sanctioned racial and religious hatred. (See Religious Liberty Monitoring: Burma)

On the morning of 30 January, Burma Army troops attacked Nam Gau Village of Mansi township in south Kachin State. More than 2000 people had already fled attacks in the area in November-December 2013 and now the remnant has also fled. The Burma Army took 20 villagers captive and thoroughly looted the village. Later that day soldiers of the Kachin Army led some villagers back to help them gather what remained of their belongings. At that point the Burma Army returned and a fierce fire-fight ensued.  The next day Burma Army reinforcements arrived and the fighting escalated with the Burma Army attacking nearby Nam San Village also, firing heavy mortar rounds on civilian homes. Whilst ultimately the Kachin Army was driven out, it moved on to attack the Burma Army base, forcing the Burma Army to abandon the villages to defend their base. Other Kachin soldiers helped the local people collect what remained of their belongings. When the Free Burma Rangers relief teams conducted a medical clinic for those displaced in nearby Nam Lim Pa on 30 January, they found three bodies with clear evidence of torture. The ethnic cleansing continues.

Despite propaganda to the contrary, the situation faced by the Kachin is actually worse than ever. In the past, when Burma was aligned with China, the West would attack the junta by exposing human rights abuses and championing the rights of the persecuted ethnic nations. However, when Burma re-aligned and sought rapprochement with the West, everything changed. All the West can see now is an opportunity to make great economic and geo-strategic gains in Burma. Nevertheless, before Western politicians could engage with Burma, Burma's image problem had to be dealt with. In reality, Burma's political 'reforms' are cosmetic and 'peace talks' are a stalling tactic. The government is essentially powerless, a mere front for the military which still calls the shots. The reforms really are all about image.

In an act of extreme betrayal, the 'international community' is allowing the regime in Naypyidaw to control all distribution of international aid. Therefore the Kachin Army fights to defend the Christian Kachin from Burma Army aggression and expansion but the regime controls the aid. Like the regime in Sudan, the regime here uses this tactic to infiltrate deep into hostile territory where it then sets up offices and distribution centres and consolidates its presence. Thus the war-ravaged Christian Kachin are forced to choose between holding their ground and starving, or opening the door to the regime. As a retired US Army Special Forces officer, Tim Heinemann, notes: 'This is effectively international support for Burman-led counter-insurgency operations.' (Asia Times, 23 January 2014).  It seems the West is prepared to ignore gross human rights abuses and war crimes to get access to Burma's vast and untapped resources, markets and cheap labour. Once their champion, now the West wants the ethnic nations to submit and co-operate. In July 2013 the British government even approved arms export licences to Burma worth over US$5 million.

[International Day of Prayer for Burma: 9 March 2014
See http://www.freeburmarangers.org ]

Excellent article: 
Far From Home and Fearing for Their Lives, Burma’s Kachin Celebrate a Grim Christmas
Around 100,000 people currently inhabit ramshackle displacement camps in freezing northernmost Burma, victims of a two-and-a-half-year struggle between ethnic rebels and central government
By Charlie Campbell, 24 Dec 2013 TIME


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* preserve, sustain and raise up godly leaders amongst the severely persecuted Christian Kachin; may these leaders be blessed with great and effective power from the Holy Spirit to comfort and encourage their traumatised, war-ravaged peoples so that they do not fall into despair and lose hope in the LORD; may their faith shine brightly in Burma's darkness.

'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 mercies 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 and 21-24 ESV)

* intervene in Burma to defend and sustain his people, shielding them from harm and providing their needs while exposing and fighting their enemies. (See Isaiah 40:10-11 and 59:14-19)

'Woe to him who builds his house by unjust gain . . .' (Habakkuk 2:9 NIV)(v9-14)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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BURMA: CONTINUED ETHNIC CLEANSING OF CHRISTIAN KACHIN


Behind a smokescreen of political 'reform', the Burmese Army is continuing its campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kachin State. The Christian Kachin have long resisted the Burman Buddhist regime's brutal dictatorship. Whilst the Kachin seek autonomy so they can freely maintain their culture, the regime wants full control so it can exploit the Kachin's resource-rich lands. The extreme military violence meted out against the Kachin is motivated by greed and fuelled by State-sanctioned racial and religious hatred. Fighting rages in south Kachin State where the Burma Army is attacking village after village, employing heavy artillery, rape and torture, kidnapping villagers and looting. The Kachin are traumatised, the regime controls the aid supplies and the West appears to have abandoned them for economic gain. Please pray for Burma and its 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, February 4, 2014

RLPB 246. Nigeria: one week's jihad in the north

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 246 | Wed 05 Feb 2014

NIGERIA: ONE WEEK'S JIHAD IN THE NORTH

By Elizabeth Kendal

Boko Haram is waging a jihad to Islamise Nigeria. Their jihad is supported by Al-Qaeda which is seeking to gain strategic depth in sub-Saharan Africa. Their base is in Borno State, in the far north-east of Nigeria. Meanwhile, Fulani Muslims are waging a jihad to colonise and extend control deeper into the Christian-dominated south. Their jihad is supported by Boko Haram and rogue Muslim elements within the security forces who see the advance of the Fulani as furthering their own goals. Their front-line is the Middle Belt, in particular the states of Kaduna and Plateau. This is classic Islamic jihad: strife/war/terror to expand the territory over which Islam rules.

ADAMAWA STATE (north-east Nigeria, bordering northern Cameroon)

Sunday 26 January 2014: unknown gunmen attacked St Paul's Roman Catholic Church in Chakawa village in Madagali Local Government Area (LGA). They stormed the church, locked the doors behind them, threw improvised explosives (IEDs) and opened fire on the worshippers. Moses Yohanna told reporters that several believers had their throats slit. 'My brother was slaughtered like a ram,' he said. At least 45 Christians were killed in the attack. Rahilla Ibrahim, who is pregnant, lost her husband and child and her home was burnt. According to a local Muslim, the militants set up a road block in a nearby area where they killed many Christians, before attacking Chakawa. Nigerian media report that a new tactic of Boko Haram appears to be attacking highways, including the use of 'snap road blocks'.

Friday 31 January: unknown gunmen attacked the EYN Church [Ekklesiyar Yan'uwa a Nigeria / the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria] at Sabon Gari Gemadai in Madagali LGA around 8:30pm when a prayer vigil was being held. The attackers opened fire on the worshippers, killing the pastor and ten members of the congregation. Two church members are reported to be missing.

BORNO STATE (far north-east)

Sunday 26 January: Boko Haram militants in 26 vehicles, including two armoured personnel carriers and six vans painted in army colours, attacked the weekly farmers' market in Kawuri Village in Konduga LGA. They torched over 300 homes and opened fire on the local population. Dozens have been hospitalised and 85 are dead. Some were shot and some were burned. Others were killed later by IEDs planted throughout the area. In total more than 4000 people were affected, with over 2000 becoming internally displaced.

Friday 31 January: seven people were killed and three others seriously injured when their bus ran over an IED on the Gwoza-Madagali road near Kuthra village.

KADUNA STATE (Middle Belt)

Friday 31 January: a mob of around 20 Fulani herdsmen (Muslims) invaded Manchok town in Kaura LGA, southern (Christian-dominated) Kaduna about 1 am. They set fire to at least one home and massacred a Christian family of seven, six of them slaughtered 'silently' as they slept in their beds. Traumatised and distraught relatives then launched a reprisal attack on a nearby Fulani settlement. Tensions are soaring. Though stationed in the area, security forces arrived at the scene only hours later, once the killers had long gone. At the funeral, Manchok Gaiya, the Catechist of St Francis Catholic Church, queried how such an attack could go unchallenged in an area that boasts a high concentration of security officers.

As Christian Solidarity notes: 'Kaura LGA borders Plateau State and is in relatively close proximity to Riyom, Bokkos and Birkin Ladi LGAs, where night attacks on non-Muslim villages have occurred regularly since 2010.'  'And how many cities have We destroyed, and Our punishment came to them at night or while they were sleeping at noon.' (Quran, Sura 7:4)

Despite jihad, Christian mission is strong and Muslims are turning to the Lord in unprecedented numbers. This is ultimately a spiritual battle.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* give the Nigerian government the clarity, conviction and courage to deny the Islamists their goals and preserve Nigeria as a united, secular state into the future.

* intervene to protect his people, confound the enemy and empower all Christian witness.

May those who seek to turn back the battle, find their wisdom and strength in the LORD of hosts. 'In that day the LORD of hosts will be . . . strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate.' (Isaiah 28:5-6 ESV)

* stir up deep compassion and righteous indignation in the free and prosperous southern Christians to take up the cause of the profoundly suffering church in the north in a new, fresh and revitalised way, such that prayer and mission flow out on an unprecedented scale.

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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NIGERIAN JIHAD


Christians in Nigeria's north-east continue to suffer at the hands of the al-Qaeda-linked Boko Haram which is waging a jihad to Islamise Nigeria. Meanwhile, Christians in the volatile Middle Belt -- Nigeria's ethnic-religious fault-line -- continue to suffer at the hands of Fulani Muslims who, with the support of Boko Haram and rogue security forces, conduct night raids to slaughter Christians while they sleep. Whole communities are being terrorised off their lands. Christians in Northern Nigeria are repressed, persecuted and traumatised. They are being killed while at worship in their churches. Despite this, mission is strong and Muslims are turning to the Lord in unprecedented numbers. Please pray for Nigeria and its Church in this spiritual battle.

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