Wednesday, June 25, 2014

RLPB 266. June Update, Incl. Laos, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sudan, Vietnam

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 266 | Wed 25 Jun 2014

By Elizabeth Kendal

'... Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.' (Zechariah 4:6 ESV)

JUNE 2014 UPDATE -- During June we prayed concerning ...

* LAOS (RLPB 263), where persecution continues to bring great suffering to Laos' small but growing Christian community.

UPDATE: NOT EVEN IN DEATH
In recent months, Mrs Chan and her eight children (four who are married) became the fifth family in Savannakhet Province's Saisomboon village to embrace the Christian faith. When Mrs Chan died on 22 June, the family sought permission to give her a Christian burial. The authorities would only grant permission if the family renounced its faith in Christ. So the family held a private ceremony, while waiting for permission to bury Mrs Chan on the family property. The next day, 24 June, the village police and military arrested Mrs. Kaithong, the leader of Saisomboon village church and Mr. Puphet (leader of Donpalai village church), Mr. Muk (leader of Huey village church), Mr. Hasadee (leader of Bunthalay village church,) and Mr. Tiang (a believer), all of whom were present at the ceremony. The village chief then led Buddhist monks and Mrs Chan's Buddhist relatives into Mrs Chan's house. They conducted a Buddhist ceremony and took Mrs Chan's body away to the village cemetery. The five believers arrested are being detained at Bouthong sub-district police station with their hands cuffed and their feet in stocks. [See Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (Advocacy Alert No. 04/2014)]

* SCOTLAND (RLPB 264), where a law has been passed mandating that all Scottish children under 18 be appointed a guardian who will monitor their development and report any concerns to the authorities.

UPDATE: Opposition to the 'named person' -- dubbed 'legalised spying' -- is growing. At the very least, a real debate has begun, along with a real struggle. Continue to pray for a great awakening in Scotland.

* UPPER MESOPOTAMIA (RLPB 265)
UPDATE IRAQ
On 12 June, just days after seizing control of Iraq's Nineveh Province, ISIS distributed leaflets calling on families to 'offer their unmarried women so that they can fulfil their duty of jihad by sex to their brotherly mujahideen. Failure to comply with this mandate will result in enforcing the laws of Sharia upon them.' According to the fatwa (religious edict), the women, whether they were virgins or not, will be 'cleansed' through sex jihad.

The Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) reports (23 June) that according to a member of the Iraq High Commission for Human Rights, Dr Sallama Al Khafaji, ISIS members recently entered the home of an Assyrian family in Mosul and demanded jizya (protection money). When the Assyrian family said they did not have the money, three ISIS members raped the mother and daughter in front of the husband and father, who was so traumatised that he committed suicide.

ISIS now controls all the crossings on the Iraq-Syria border. ISIS has also encircled the Haditha dam on the Euphrates River north-west of Baghdad. Haditha Dam makes the largest hydroelectric contribution to Iraq's power system. Meanwhile, in the absence of government engineers, the hastily and poorly constructed ever-fragile Mosul Dam upstream of Mosul on the Tigris River, is more  vulnerable than ever. Collapse of the dam (naturally or otherwise) would be absolutely catastrophic and the death toll would be horrendous.

THREAT TO JORDAN 
On 22 June ISIS militants took control of the Turaibil crossing on the Jordanian border. Whilst the Hashemite Kingdom does have a formidable military and US backing, the regime also faces formidable opposition from Bedouin tribes, the Muslim Brotherhood, and a restive Palestinian demographic majority. Throughout 2012 American and Saudi Arabian elements trained takfiri (anti-Shi'ite) militants (including Jordanians) in Jordanian camps and sent them into Syria to fight Assad. Now the takfiris are back with ISIS via Iraq. ISIS has posted a video on YouTube threatening to 'slaughter' the 'tyrant', King Abdullah, and there is concern that ISIS might have considerable support inside Jordan which has been a 'ticking time bomb' for a long time. Jordan's 145,000 Christians comprise 2.23 percent of the population. They are mostly Eastern Orthodox (Greek, Syrian and Armenian) and Catholic as well as several Protestant denominations.

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

* EGYPT: FIVE YEARS' JAIL FOR CHRISTIAN FREELANCE JOURNALIST 

In 2007 convert Muhammad Hegazy launched a landmark case against the Egyptian government, suing for his right to change his religion. In compliance with Sharia (Islamic) Law, the court ruled against him. Muhammad, who is now known as Bishoy Boulous, was arrested on 5 December 2013 while freelance-reporting on the anti-Christian pogroms in Upper Egypt. The government accused him of spreading 'inaccurate images of oppression' [see RLPB 240 (10 Dec 2013)]. Middle East Concern updates his situation: 'Bishoy Boulous was sentenced on 18 June 2014 to five years' imprisonment for inciting sectarian strife and disturbing public order under Article 176 of the Penal Code. Official publication of the judgment is expected in approximately one month, after which the appeal process can begin, though Boulous' legal team believes an appeal is unlikely to be accepted.'  It appears it is now considered criminal to portray Egypt in a bad light. This will make things extremely difficult for Egypt's human rights and religious liberty advocates.

* INDIA: CHOOSE FAITH OR FOOD

In India's northern state of Chhattisgarh, 52 Christian families in Sirisguda, Bastar town, Jagdalpur, are being denied food rations purely due to their faith. On 16 June around 100 of the Christians approached the food inspector in Jagdalpur, only to be savagely attacked by a Hindu mob. Ten of the Christians required hospitalisation. Some had broken bones and one was in a coma for two days. The village head is proposing that non-Hindus should lose their lands. One Christian told Morning Star News, 'They may kill us, but we are not going to leave  Jesus who loves us.'

* INDONESIA: CHURCHES ATTACKED IN YOGYAKARTA

On 29 May Islamic militants attacked a prayer meeting in the home of Julius Felicianus (52) attended by members of the St Francis Agung Banteng Church. Dressed in robes and armed with knives, the attackers claimed to be loyal to the cleric Jafar Umar Thalib, the former commander of Laskar Jihad. Six of the believers, including women and a child (8) who was electrocuted, had to be taken to hospital. Julius Felicianus's own neighbours were amongst the attackers. They have threatened to return if Christian worship ever takes place in that house again. On Sunday 1 June a Protestant church was attacked in the same area. Fortunately the service had been short and the congregation had already left. The attackers had to content themselves with stoning the property and smashing all the stain-glass windows. Police were present but did not intervene. This was the third time the El Shaddai Pentecostal Church had been attacked since construction began in 2012, before the local authorities sealed the building. Each time the believers have re-opened the church for worship they have faced violence. The fellowship has existed since 1990. The Islamic Jihad Front (FJI), one of the groups involved in the attack, claims to be fighting against 'Christianisation'. 

* PAKISTAN: ASIA BIBI MARKS FIVE YEARS IN PRISON

On 19 June Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in November 2010, marked five years in prison, away from her husband and five children. On 27 May her appeal to the High Court in Lahore was delayed for the fifth time and no new hearing date was set. It is clear no judge wants to hear this case. For the judge it will be a lose-lose situation: if the judge upholds the death sentence he will attract widespread international condemnation, but if the death sentence is overturned, Pakistan's radicalised Islamic fundamentalists will riot. Asia's life is gravely imperilled. Reportedly one cleric has offered to reward anyone who kills her.

* PAKISTAN: CHRISTIAN MP ASSASSINATED IN QUETTA
On 14 June Handery Masih, MP for Balochistan, was killed outside  his home in Quetta, shot in the head and neck by his own bodyguard. Mr Masih has been described as a committed Christian who was known as an advocate for the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan, in particular, those who are persecuted for their faith. The motive for the killing is not yet known. Local Christians are distraught.

*SUDAN: MERIAM, FAIZA AND COMPULSION IN RELIGION
Meriam Ibrahim, a Christian woman who had been sentenced to death for apostasy, as well as to 100 lashes for adultery [see RLPB 261 (21 May)], walked out of prison on Monday 23 June, into a seriously dangerous environment. Merian's conviction was overturned after an appeal brought by the Commission for the Defence of Women. The family was placed in a safe-house. Along with Islamists across Sudan, Meriam's brother has repeatedly called for her execution.  Dani Wani, Meriam's husband, has long feared for the lives of his family. 'I am scared for all our lives,' Wani told CNN on 1 June, 'me, my wife and my children -- if we have to remain inside Sudan, even a day after her release.' On Tuesday 24 June, the family was preparing to leave the country when they were stopped at Khartoum airport by more than 40 members of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). Fundamentalist Muslims were not happy to see Meriam acquitted. At the time of writing, Meriam is being held in a security building at the airport while US officials are getting her papers in order.

Meanwhile, Faiza Abdalla (37), a Christian woman arrested on 2 April in similar circumstances, [see RLPB 262 (22 May 2014)] remains in prison accused of adultery (for marrying a South Sudanese Christian) and apostasy (because of her Muslim name). Some years ago, Faiza's husband fled to South Sudan to escape persecution; today South Sudan is wracked with civil war and famine. Alone, without connections, Faiza is at risk of being forgotten and abandoned by the West, which should care as much about her plight as about Meriam's. Faiza's parents, who converted from Islam before she was born, are also at risk.

* VIETNAM: MENNONITES PERSECUTED

Morning Star News (MSN) reports that at 11pm on 9 June, police woke the students of a Mennonite Bible School in southern Vietnam's Binh Duong Province demanding to conduct an 'administrative search'. What followed was a night of violence. According to MSN, more than 300 plain-clothed police and 'citizens' subsequently smashed fences and swarmed into the property. The 76 Christians present were kicked, beaten, hauled away in trucks and detained overnight. In the morning, 20 of the students had injuries requiring medical attention. The process was repeated over the next three nights. MSN believes this is nothing other than a campaign of intimidation against a church group whose leader, Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang, is an outspoken advocate for religious freedom. Even since the initial assault, raids and persecution have continued: the electricity and water have been cut, and phones and motorbikes have been confiscated. Fifty-two students and leaders, including the Rev Quang, were summonsed to appear before officials for interrogation. On 12 June the Mennonite leaders sent the authorities a 'petition of accusation', protesting the abuse. According to MSN, a nearby Catholic church has agreed to provide safe haven for Mennonite victims of persecution if needed. What a wonderful example of risky 'cross-sharing'. May the Lord protect and preserve them all.

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

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

RLPB 265. Upper Mesopotamia: Christians at the mercy of ISIS

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 265 | Wed 18 Jun 2014

UPPER MESOPOTAMIA: CHRISTIANS AT THE MERCY OF ISIS
By Elizabeth Kendal -- plus breaking news.

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham/Syria (ISIS) formally split from Al-Qaeda earlier this year over long-disputed matters of principle and strategy. (1) Regarding principle: Al-Qaeda's more seasoned leaders -- the 'old guard' -- are prepared to co-operate with Iran / Shi'ites in pursuit of higher goals. The 'young-guns' of ISIS are not. Rather, ISIS is sticking uncompromisingly to the Saudi Wahhabi / Salafi creed which is vehemently anti-Shia. (2) Regarding strategy: Al-Qaeda's more seasoned leaders have learned that fighters must treat local Muslims gently and win their hearts and minds if they are to avoid generating local resistance. On the other hand, ISIS regards that as compromising and soft. Rather, ISIS is enforcing strict Sharia codes and enacting cruel Sharia punishments, including public lashings, amputations and executions, even crucifixions. It is not that al-Qaeda is 'more moderate' than ISIS, it is just more rational. Al-Qaeda still wants to annihilate Israel, establish a Caliphate and take jihad to the West. Al-Qaeda is well aware that division and intra-Muslim conflict will weaken the global jihad movement.

See: ISIS takes the war back to Iraq
Elizabeth Kendal, for Religious Liberty Monitoring, 11 June 2014

ISIS has ruled Syria's Raqqa Province, plus territory along the Euphrates River and Iraq's restive Sunni Anbar Province since February. The border between Syria and Iraq (pencilled in by Sykes and Picot in 1916) now exists only in theory. Last week, Iraqi security services (mostly Shi'ites) melted away as ISIS advanced through Northern Iraq's Nineveh Province. In a blitzkrieg, ISIS captured its capital, Mosul (Iraq's second largest city), along with its airports, banks (holding an estimated $500 million), armouries (stocked with US-made materiel) and more. The immediate goal of ISIS is to restore Sunni power in Baghdad. Shi'ite militias (including Iranians) are defending the Shia heartland and Shia holy places. Kurdish peshmerger forces are defending the Kurdish heartland and oil-rich Kirkuk. While launching terror attacks and incursions, ISIS will consolidate its rule over the Sunni-dominated but ethnically and religious diverse region of Upper Mesopotamia (Arabic: al-Jazira). Spanning north-east Syria and north-west Iraq, Upper Mesopotamia is the ancient Christian heartland.
World Watch Monitor (WWM) has confirmed (10 June) that some 1000 Christian families fled Mosul last week as ISIS invaded. Displaced Christians have fled to Christian churches, monasteries and schools. Many thousands of Iraqis from across Nineveh Province have fled into Erbil, the Kurdish capital. One Christian couple from Mosul who  found refuge for themselves and their young children in a church in Erbil told WWM (12 June) that they had been eating dinner, having already made plans to leave, when two homes around them burst into flames after being hit by rocket fire. The family fled carrying nothing but their papers. The Archbishop of Mosul, Amel Nona, told WWM (13 June) that in the 11 years following the 2003 US-led invasion, Christians in Mosul had declined from 35,000 to 3,000. Now 'all the faithful have fled the city'. There are reports that ISIS has taken an unconfirmed number of Christians hostages. With such a vast area to defend, ISIS will doubtless secure its bases with human shields.

In Nineveh, as in Raqqa, Syria [See RLPB 250, 4 March 2014], ISIS is enforcing strict Sharia codes. Christians in Mosul had been paying jizya (protection money) to al-Qaeda for years. In 2008, the then archbishop of Mosul, Paulos Rahho, was killed for refusing to pay jizya. Now ISIS has released a 'Contract of the City' laying down the rules and penalties. Theft will be punished with amputation. Those who are corrupt face the penalties of Sura 5:33 i.e. death, crucifixion, cross amputation or exile. If police, soldiers and other government workers fail to repent they will be killed as apostates. All shrines and graves will be destroyed. Women should not leave their homes unless absolutely necessary, and if they do, must wear the niqab, the full black covering with a slit for the eyes. Such conditions make it unlikely that the displaced Christians will ever return to their homes. Upper Mesopotamia's Christians are caught in 'the eye of the storm'. Though they do not have their own army, they do have Yahweh Sabaoth, the Lord of Heaven's Hosts.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* 'frustrate the way of the wicked' (Psalm 146). May the Lord's enemies continue to divide and weaken. 'Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while [God's people] pass by safely.' (Psalm 141:10 ESV)

* aid, protect and provide for the thousands of displaced Christian families, along with those who give them shelter.

* graciously open the eyes and hearts of all those Muslim families who are sheltering with Christian families in Christian churches, monasteries and schools across Nineveh; may Muslims, who essentially view God as a 'strongman' in the sky too transcendent to love or relate to humanity, be transformed by what they witness and experience of Christians finding and sharing grace through faith, assured of God's ear and his heart. May no Muslim be left unchanged.

Jesus said, 'For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.' (John 9:39 ESV)

* awaken the suffering-averse Church in the West, to see and respond to the suffering Church, before the Western Church's light is taken away.

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
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CHRISTIANS AT THE MERCY OF ISIS IN UPPER MESOPOTAMIA

Last week, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham/Syria (ISIS), which controls Raqqa (in Syria) and Anbar (in Iraq), advanced through Iraq's northern Nineveh Province, capturing Mosul city in a blitzkrieg. Since the US-led invasion in 2003, the growth of al-Qaeda elements in Mosul has seen the Christian population decline from 35,000 to 3,000. Now, says Archbishop of Mosul, Amel Nona, 'all the faithful have fled the city'. The whole province is affected. Whilst many Christian families have fled to local Christian churches, monasteries and schools, others have fled to the Kurdish capital of Erbil, which is being protected by Kurdish peshmerger forces. In Nineveh, as in Raqqa, ISIS is enforcing strict Sharia codes and enacting cruel Sharia punishments. The security and humanitarian situation is dire. Please pray.

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ALSO: Breaking News

* EGYPT: CHRISTIAN TEACHER FOUND GUILTY OF BLASPHEMY
An Egyptian court has sentenced a Christian woman, school teacher Demyana Abd al-Nour (25) -- to six-months' jail after finding her guilty of blasphemy. When Islamic activist parents who had targeted Demyana falsely accused her of blasphemy in April 2013, Demyana fled the country. The court ruling guarantees she will now spend her life in exile and at risk. The ruling bodes ill for Christians in Egypt
.
* KENYA: AL-SHABAAB MASSACRES SOME 50 CHRISTIAN MEN.
On Sunday evening 15 June, al-Shabaab jihadists flying the black flag and shouting Allahu Akbar (Allah is greater) invaded Kenya's coastal town of Mpeketoni, possibly with the aid of local political figures. They torched cars and properties, and killed some 50 local men who identified themselves as Christian.  'They came to our house at around 8 pm and asked us in Swahili whether we were Muslims,' said resident Anne Gathigi (38). 'My husband told them we were Christians and they shot him in the head and chest.' According to Morning Star News, every church in the mostly Christian town has been affected. Al-Shabaab claimed the massacre was to avenge Kenya's military involvement in Somalia, and declared Kenya a 'war zone'.

* SYRIA: KESSAB LIBERATED 
Kessab, an Armenian town near the border with Turkey that had been seized by jihadists and ethnically cleansed in March [RLPB 253, 26 March 2014], was liberated by pro-government forces on 15 June.
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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

RLPB 264. Scotland: fighting a flawed law

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 264 | Wed 11 Jun 2014

The Government of Sudan continues to wage war against its non-Arab, non-Muslim people, with the aim of annihilating the predominantly Christian Nuba peoples of oil-rich South Kordofan. In Nigeria, Boko Haram is waging a full-scale terrorist insurgency in the north-east, targeting Christian towns and enclaves, abducting and massacring dozens of civilians almost daily. In Syria, the Battle for Aleppo continues, with Armenian neighbourhoods -- in particular Nor Kyugh -- suffering endless rocket-fire from rebels, who are mostly international jihadists and Turks. In BREAKING NEWS, the ISIS has seized control in Mosul, the capital of Nineveh Province, Northern Iraq. Dozens are dead, at least 70 women have been abducted, some thousand Christian families have fled and the monasteries are filling up with refugees. [See Religious Liberty Monitoring for details.] With such serious conflicts raging like fire -- consuming churches and whole Christian peoples -- it can be easy to overlook or miss new threats rising like smoke signals on the horizon. While we must always be in prayer for Christians in lands where persecution is 'hot', we must also be alert so that, by God's grace, we might prevent new fires from spreading or even breaking out.

SCOTLAND: FIGHTING A FLAWED LAW
By Elizabeth Kendal

A law has been passed in Scotland that raises the prospect of a coming persecution. The Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill includes a mandate that the state appoint a 'Named Person' or state guardian for every single Scottish child under 18. It was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 19 February 2014 (103 for, with 15 abstentions) and it received Royal Assent on 27 March 2014. The scheme should be fully implemented by August 2016. With the aim of 'early intervention', each child will be monitored by a Named Person who will intervene (i.e. report to the authorities) if they have 'concerns' about the child's 'well-being'. For pre-school children, the Named Person could be a healthcare worker; for school-age children, the Named Person could be a school teacher. Named Persons will be obliged to report incidents as trivial as a missed doctor's appointment. Opponents of the scheme regard this as 'a monstrous invasion' of private family life that threatens to bring suspicion and mistrust into a whole range of relationships. It appears to be quite sinister, as home-schooler Alison Preuss points out, 'Under the guise of GIRFEC -- "Getting it right for every child" -- the government is getting information recorded on every citizen.'

The Christian Institute (CI) is preparing a legal challenge, receiving advice from Aidan O’Neill, a senior human rights lawyer and one of the UK's most eminent QCs. CI has promised to 'drag' the Scottish government through the courts 'in defence of family life against state intrusion'. O'Neil maintains that The Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill represents an 'unjustified interference' into private and family life while failing to provide proper protection against 'arbitrary and oppressive powers'. CI will argue that the legislation breaches the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), specifically Article 8 which guarantees a 'right to respect private and family life'.  A 'No to Named Persons' campaign (NO2NP) was officially launched on Monday 9 June, at a conference in Edinburgh organised by leading academic Dr Stuart Waiton. Waiton, a sociology professor at Abertay University, laments that the government 'appears to be blind' to the law's dangers.

It can be imagined readily how this law could become a weapon in the hands of anti-Christian elements, of state guardians with agendas and of all manner of social engineers. This law will turn state employees into informants to enforce state ideology and conservative Christian parents will be powerless to prevent it. The law is wide open for abuse. Is a child's 'well-being' threatened by home-schooling; or by parents who are seeking less invasive medical treatment; or by devout parents who teach that Jesus is the only Saviour or that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman? Are children's 'well-being' at stake if they are set curfews, denied their 'sexual rights', and taken to church when they'd rather play football? There are many who would say emphatically 'yes'. The Christian Institute has so far raised £30,000 to fund the court action. Whilst currently it may not look like a religious liberty issue, the way is open for it to become one.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* bless the Christian Institute and provide all its needs as it challenges this flawed law in the courts; may the law be repealed or amended before it does serious damage or is used as a model elsewhere.

* redeem this crisis and use this campaign for the awakening of many; may he use the NO2NP campaign not only to expose the flaws in the law, but to highlight the responsibilities and preciousness of family life as God intended.

Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
-- that the mountains might quake at your presence ... Isaiah 64:1 ESV

* revive and empower the Church in Scotland -- indeed across the UK -- to be the light and salt it is called to be for the benefit of all. [Jesus] put another parable before them, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.' (Matthew 13:13-32 ESV)

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
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FIGHTING A FLAWED LAW IN SCOTLAND

A law has been passed in Scotland mandating that Scottish children under 18 be appointed a 'Named Person' or state guardian charged with monitoring their 'well-being'. Opponents of The Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill are describing it as 'a monstrous invasion' of private family life. The 'unjustified interference' comes without proper protection against 'arbitrary and oppressive powers'. A leading QC advises that the law breaches the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 8). A campaign -- No to Named Persons (NO2NP) [http://no2np.org/] -- was launched on 9 June. The Christian Institute is preparing a legal challenge. The law is wide open for abuse by social engineers and anti-Christian elements. Whilst currently this may not look like a religious liberty issue, it could become one quite readily.

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

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

RLPB 263. Laos: high cost of faith -- plus update on Nth Korea

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 263 | Wed 4 Jun 2014

LAOS: HIGH COST OF FAITH
-- also update on North Korea
By Elizabeth Kendal

The Communist regime in Laos has long been committed to 'eliminating Christianity' which it regards as a 'foreign' religion linked to its enemies. [The Lao Hmong aided US troops against communist forces during the Second Indochina / Vietnam War, in which the US bombed Laos heavily. After the war, a massive crackdown on the Hmong saw most Christians flee Laos for the US.] For decades, severe, targeted and systematic persecution of the Hmong continued and has included even the use of chemical weapons (see RLM Oct 2003). While the situation has improved, Christianity is still regarded as a problem and a threat by both the government and local people. Christians are still being imprisoned for their faith -- often constrained in shackles or stocks -- and torture is endemic. The most common forms of persecution involve high-level pressure to abandon their faith, with sanctions commonly including forced eviction, denial of service and social exclusion. Despite all this, and due to the amazing witness of local believers, the Church continues to grow. In fact stories like this from 2012 are not uncommon: 'Another Christian was expelled from a village in Bolikhamsay Province (east of Vientiane) for "having made 300 villagers embrace the Christian faith" (UCA, 21 May 2014).' Yet, as Operation World 2010 notes: 'The remarkable growth of the church is still dwarfed by the size of the task remaining.' Only 3.4 percent of Laotians are Christians and the cost of faith can be high.

Many Laotian villagers follow traditional religions that involve continuously appeasing ancestral spirits so as to avert disasters such as storms and crop failures. Consequently, Christians who refuse to engage in traditional religion are viewed as a threat to village prosperity. Village chiefs are enlisted to evict Christians from the village. Content to see the Christians persecuted, government authorities do not defend the rights of Christians but rather will exploit any opportunity to arrest them. Washington think-tank Freedom House ranks Laos as the least free country in South-East Asia and second only to North Korea in East Asia. According to one rights group that monitors Laos, dozens of Christians remain behind bars for practising their faith. Persecution is most intensive in the fertile highlands of Savannakhet Province.
LAOS - Radio Free Asia

On 11 May 23 Christians were detained in Paksong Village in Songkhone district, Savannakhet Province after being arrested for meeting in what authorities said was an 'unauthorised' location. Twelve were released after signing documents agreeing not to meet there again but eleven remain in prison. It seems the former village chief had given the Christians permission to meet but the new village chief had not.

On 20 May the chief of Saisomboon village in Atsaphangthong district of Savannakhet Province deemed that by becoming Christians, three female students had forfeited their right to an education. Noi (15), Net (15) and Nut (14) have been told they will not be permitted to sit their exams. Local Christian leader, Mrs Kaithong, has since appealed the case to the Atsaphangthong district education chief, who is negotiating with the school's director.

On Sunday 25 May police raided the home of Pastor Phupet in Donpalai village, Atsaphangthong district, where some 80 believers had gathered for worship. After abusing and intimidating the believers, the police confiscated 53 Bibles. This police raid occurred without the consent of the village chief.

On 29 May Lao police, under the order of the Loynam village chief, seized a Christian man, Sort (40), from his home in Nong district, Savannakhet Province. Sort was tied to a pole and publicly mocked and berated for refusing to recant his faith. About one year ago, Sort, along with his wife and two children, became the first family to embrace the Christian faith in the whole sub-district of Nathorn. The police had been trying to coerce Sort to renounce his faith since 15 May, when they threatened to confiscate all his property. At that time, Sort told them, 'I've embraced the Christian faith over a year and I have not broken any law!' Even after they confiscated Sort's savings, he still refused to recant. So on 29 May, after publicly humiliating Sort, they arrested him for refusing to renounce his faith in Jesus Christ. Sort is now being held in the Nong district prison.

[See: Human Rights Watch Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF)]

~~~~

HIGH COST OF FAITH IN NORTH KOREA
[Updating RLPB 251 (11 March)]
On Friday 30 May a court in Pyongyang sentenced South Korean Baptist missionary Kim Jung-wook (50) to a life of hard labour. Kim had been found guilty in February on charges of espionage, anti-government agitation, and setting up an underground religious institution. Reportedly the North Korean defence attorney requested that the court commute the death sentence demanded by prosecutors on the grounds that Kim 'sincerely repented of his crimes and apologised for them'. The severity of Kim Jung-wook's sentence puts Pyongyang in a strong bargaining position with South Korea and it should discourage internal dissent also. As one high-ranking defector told DailyNK (2 June), Kim Jong-un 'is showing that he is going to eradicate any element capable of changing the people's consciousness and preserve systemic integrity'. In April 2013 Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae was sentenced to 15 years' hard labour on similar charges. When North Korean Christians are found practising Christianity they are executed and their extended families are sent to the gulag.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT --

* all Christians suffering in Laotian prisons will know the comforting presence of Jesus Christ who promised 'behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age' (Matthew 28:20b ESV); may God restrain their captors and open their eyes to recognise righteousness and their hearts to receive the Gospel.

* Noi, Net, Nut and other Christian students will not be denied an education because of their faith in Christ; may God bless and work through the advocacy and witness of Christian leader Mrs Kaithong. 'Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us ...' (Ephesians 3:20 ESV)

* God will bless Pastor Phupet and his 80-strong house church in Donpalai village; may he supply more Bibles and continue to build his Church there. [Aid groups including Open Doors, Voice of the Martyrs, Bible League etc raise funds to facilitate provision of Bibles.]

* God will pour out his Holy Spirit (Joel 2:25-32) in generous abundance on Laos' capital city, Vientiane, so that, just as in Beijing (China), Christians might be found at every level of society, ready for when God brings freedom to their land.
[NB: 4 June is the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, an event that led many Beijing professionals and elites to abandon communism and embrace the Gospel. Today Beijing has Christians at every level of society.]

PLEASE ALSO PRAY FOR --
South Korean Baptist missionary Kim Jung-wook, Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae and  the tens of thousands of North Korean Christians incarcerated for their faith in North Korea; may God preserve them and end this wicked regime's reign of terror.

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
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HIGH COST OF FAITH IN LAOS & NORTH KOREA

Despite some improvement in recent years, persecution continues to bring great suffering to Laos' small but growing Christian community. The Communist government views Christianity as a 'foreign' religion linked to its enemies (mainly the US). Local residents who practise Buddhism and traditional religions view Christians as a threat to social order. Persecution commonly involves forced eviction, denial of service and social exclusion. Furthermore, Christians who continue to witness and refuse to recant their faith in Jesus Christ are arrested and imprisoned in shocking conditions where torture is routine. Please pray for the Church in Laos. Pray also for the Church in North Korea where on 30 May, South Korean Baptist missionary Kim Jung-wook was sentenced for life with hard labour, and where tens of thousands of Christians are incarcerated.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)