Wednesday, October 29, 2014

RLPB 284. October Update, Incl. Iran, Nigeria, Sudan, Syria, The West - UK, USA and Australia

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 284 | Wed 29 Oct 2014

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Supporting International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2014: Sunday 2 or 9 November
See: Critical Prayer Requests (CPR) 
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By Elizabeth Kendal

October 2014 UPDATE -- During October we prayed concerning ...

* KOREA (RLPB 281), where moves appear to be afoot to improve North-South relations for the sake of growing the North Korean economy.  It is a delicate and fraught situation. Please pray for the severely repressed and persecuted Church in North Korea. Pray also that talks will proceed and the North will not use the recent leaflet launch by South Korean activists as a pretext for pulling out.

* MALAYSIA (RLPB 282), where Islamisation is advancing as political figures exploit Islam for political gain. A recent ruling risks establishing the precedent that a breach of the law may be deemed justified if it is done in defence of Islam.

* INDONESIA (RLPB 282), where President Joko Widodo and Jakarta governor Basuki (Ahok) Pernama (a Christian) are facing great pressure as they seek to usher in reforms.

* DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (DRC -- RLPB 283), where a Ugandan Islamic militia backed by Sudan is terrorising predominantly Christian communities in the north-east.

'And [Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart ... "And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"' (Luke 18:1,7,8 ESV)

Will we have faith to pray and not lose heart?

* October 2014 ROUND-UP -- also this month ...

* IRAN: PASTORS TREATED HARSHLY 

Earlier this year the regime transferred two Christian pastors, Saeed Abedini (34, a US citizen) and Fashid Farthi (35), to Rajaei-Shahri prison, a maximum security prison housing Iran's most violent criminals. Abedini's wife and children are in the US, while Farthi's wife and children have since been forced to flee Iran for Canada. On 19 October pastors Behnam Irani and Matthias Haghnejad, along with Deacon Silas Rabbani were each given six-year sentences for 'crimes against national security' and 'creating a network to overthrow the system'.  The three -- all leaders in the Church of Iran -- will serve their terms in extremely remote locations, making it exceedingly difficult for their families, friends and lawyers to visit and monitor their health and treatment. All three will appeal.

Pastor Behnam Irani
Pastor Behnam Irani (arrested in Dec 2006 and again in April 2010) had already received a six-year sentence in January 2011, so he is now not due for release until 2023. Irani will be transferred to a prison in the remote eastern city of Zabol (1500km from Tehran) on Iran's border with Afghanistan, a lawless and exceedingly dangerous region, with all types of criminals and traffickers. Pastor Haghnejad (arrested in July) and Deacon Rabbani (arrested in May) will be transferred to a prison in Minab, a remote southern city on the Strait of Hormuz (1370km from Tehran). The regime is doubtless hoping these five pastors will all die horrible deaths (to instil fear into other pastors), but not at the hands of the regime -- thereby shielding the regime from blame and censure. Pray that the Lord of Hosts will be with these pastors in all his grace and glory. It is estimated that at least 49 Christians are currently in prison in Iran for their faith. God is moving amongst Persians and a fierce spiritual battle is under way.

'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.' (Hebrews 13:3 ESV)

* NIGERIA: CHRISTIAN GIRLS TARGETED

On 17 October Nigeria's military declared it had brokered a cease-fire with Boko Haram. However, at least 70 girls have been kidnapped by Boko Haram since then (up to 27 October). According to a 27 Oct 2014 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), Boko Haram is targeting Christian villages and Christian girls. Of the 30 victims interviewed by HRW, 29 were Christian. In one video testimony a girl says the jihadists separated the Muslim girls from the Christian girls and then released the Muslims. The girls report being threatened with whipping, beating or death unless they convert to Islam, stop attending school and wear the hijab. One girl said they put a noose around her neck and threaten to hang her unless she renounced her faith. The girls were subjected to forced marriage and sexual abuse, including rape; they were used as slaves and forced to witness brutal killings. May the Lord of Hosts intervene in Nigeria. See Isaiah 59:15b-19.

* SUDAN: AERIAL BOMBARDMENT OF NUBA MOUNTAINS CONTINUES

On Friday 10 October the Islamic government of Sudan dropped four bombs on the Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS) complex in Al Atmor, near the Tabolo area in South Kordofan state. Rev Youhana Yaqoub told Morning Star News (14 October), 'The bombs have completely destroyed our church compound in Tabolo. A family living at the church compound miraculously escaped the attack, although their whole house and property were destroyed.'  On 16 October the regime bombed a busy market in Heiban in the Nuba Mountains, killing seven (including five children) and wounding dozens. According to retired Catholic Bishop Marcam Gassis, there has been a noticeable increase in bombing raids. He said, 'All the indicators are that a new cycle of violence and bombardment is commencing.'
Samaritan's Purse
The constant aerial bombardment is part of a campaign of ethnic-religious cleansing which has forced hundreds of thousands of predominantly Christian Africans to flee to remote caves and to camps in South Sudan; famine is an ever-looming threat. Pray for the Church in the Nuba Mountains, and for Christian aid groups who risk their lives to deliver food and medical aid.

* SYRIA: THE BATTLE FOR IDLIB

Idlib Province in Syria's north-west lies between the provinces of Aleppo and the coastal Alawite stronghold of Latakia and borders Turkey. The province is now largely under the control of al-Qaeda's al-Nusra Front and al-Nusra's ally the Free Syrian Army. When ISIS captured the Christian village of Knayeh just 8km from the Turkish border in 2013, churches and monasteries were looted and forced to remove crosses. When ISIS withdrew in February 2014 to consolidate in Raqqa, al-Nusra took control, so the approximately 300 remnant Christians have been under extreme pressure for some time. On 5 October rebels abducted Franciscan Father Hanna Jallouf (62) along with 20 other Christians from the St Joseph convent. Though the believers had all been released by 13 October, the rebels are accusing the Christians of 'collaborating' with the Assad regime and they are threatening to try the Christians before a Sharia (Islamic) court. On Sunday 26 October rebels infiltrated Idlib city (the provincial capital) and stormed government headquarters where they executed at least 70 Syrian officials, most of whom were beheaded. Whilst the Army did regain control of the city, the rebels still control most of the province where they are targeting Christians and other minorities. Pray for the Church in Syria.

* THE WEST: CHRISTIANS FACING SANCTIONS
   -- a consequence of Culture Change 
 
UNITED KINGDOM: Trinity Christian School has been told it could face closure if it fails to uphold 'British values'. The school was told that to comply with new regulations it should 'actively' promote other faiths, for example, by inviting Muslim imams to lead assembly. The school must also observe the principles of the Equality Act 2010 by not promoting a 'particular lifestyle' or stating that 'certain lifestyles are wrong'. The school, which aims to 'provide each pupil with a Biblical understanding', has received an 'advice note' from Ofsted (school inspectors) confirming that it 'does not meet the new requirements' and accordingly could face closure.

UNITED STATES of AMERICA: In May the City of Houston enacted the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), a non-discrimination bill which amongst other things allows men to use ladies' restrooms and vice versa. A coalition of some 400 churches opposed to the 'bathroom bill' collected 50,000 signatures, three times the number required for a referendum. In August the city threw out the petition. Opponents of the bill then moved to file a lawsuit. In mid-October the city's attorneys responded by issuing subpoenas against five pastors, requesting they hand over any sermons and communications dealing with sexuality and gender identity to the city's mayor, Annise Parker (a lesbian). Though not part of the lawsuit, the five pastors are vocal leaders in the coalition of churches opposing the bill. The pastors have vowed to ignore the subpoenas, leaving them liable to fines and even jail. Lawyers from the Alliance for Defending Freedom have filed a motion to try and quash the subpoenas. After an outcry, the wording of the subpoenas was softened and the word 'sermons' was replaced with 'speeches'. Houston's city mayor and city attorney still maintain that if pastors talk politics in their sermons that speech is 'not protected'. (video interview) (pastors press conference)

AUSTRALIA: The Victorian state Labor Party has confirmed that, should it win the state election on 29 November, it will rewrite equal opportunity laws removing religious exemptions so that religious institutions -- including Christian schools -- will not be permitted to hire only those who uphold their beliefs and values. They may even be obliged to promote and display 'diversity' regarding religion and sexual orientation. The Labor Party had attempted to introduce these measures in 2010. When it was voted out of office the Liberal Party scrapped the measures as it had promised.  (Public opinion polls currently indicate Labor will win.) (Labor platform; see pages 69,70)

'But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness ...' (Matthew 6:33 ESV)

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

RLPB 283. Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): Islamic rebels slaughter villagers

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 283 | Wed 22 Oct 2014

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Supporting International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2014: Sunday 2 or 9 November
See: Critical Prayer Requests (CPR) 
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DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (DRC): ISLAMIC REBELS SLAUGHTER VILLAGERS
By Elizabeth Kendal

Bordering South Sudan, Uganda and Rwanda, the heavily forested, mineral-rich, north-east region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has long been wracked with insecurity. Numerous armed groups including the Lord's Resistance Army, the M23 militia, the Mai Mai, and most recently the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) have inflicted immense suffering on the predominantly Christian communities that dot the region. For the Congolese Army, it is a perpetual war zone.

On Thursday evening 16 October ADF fighters armed with machetes and other blades attacked the Ngadi and Kadowu neighbourhoods on the northern outskirts of Beni City in North Kivu Province, which borders Uganda. Twenty-six local residents were killed and dozens wounded in a rampage of appalling violence. Earlier, on 10 October ADF rebels attacked nearby Oicha, killing nine people including small children. On Friday evening 17 October ADF fighters attacked the town of Eringeti, about 55km north-east of Beni City. Using machetes, axes and hoes, they slaughtered four men, ten women and eight children, bringing the toll from ten days of extreme violence to at least 80 dead, with hundreds wounded and more than 50 women raped.  On Saturday night 18 October unidentified bandits compounded the insecurity when they raided a jail in Butembo, south of Beni, releasing some 370 prisoners. Local people have begun organising their own defence militias, fearing that the Congolese Army is incapable of keeping them secure. By Sunday 19 October the exodus had begun with people fleeing the area.

The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) is a Ugandan militia that formed in 1989 aiming to  overthrow the Ugandan government of President Yoweri Museveni and replace it with Islamic rule. It is the product of a merger between the Islamic fundamentalist proselytising Tabliq sect and remnant fighters from the (Islamic) National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU). Reportedly the ADF also includes several former commanders from Idi Amin's army. The ADF's founder and leader, designated terrorist Jamil Mukulu (68), was a Catholic and outspoken critic of Islam until Muslim scholars won him over and he converted to Islam. Mukulu spent the early 1990s in Khartoum, Sudan, where he became close to Osama bin Laden and several leading Sudanese Islamists in the ruling regime. The ADF became operational in 1995, committing several terrorist attacks before the Ugandan Army drove it out of the country and into the DRC in 2002.

Mukulu laid low for the next decade, focusing on recruitment, indoctrination, illegal gold mining and timber smuggling. The ADF receives support from the Islamic regime in Khartoum which sponsors proxies to destabilise the predominantly Christian states neighbouring and allied to South Sudan, i.e. Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, DRC and Central African Republic. Since 2002 the ADF is said to have killed around 3000 Congolese and kidnapped over 900, including some 600 Congolese women and girls. Women who have escaped report being kept in a hole in the ground and only taken out to be used for sex. Sources report that in the Oicha region, north of Beni, many priests and doctors have been kidnapped with those refusing to convert to Islam beheaded.

The ADF resurfaced as a fighting force in 2012 and reportedly has developed ties with the Somali terror group al-Shabaab. Ex-ADF fighters report that Mukulu has been sending trained jihadists to Somalia since November 2011. Mukulu was implicated in the September 2013 Westgate shopping mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya, amidst claims that he is seeking to establish himself as an al-Qaeda leader in east Africa. Since January 2014 the ADF has been under severe pressure as the Congolese Army has gained ground, capturing some of its main bases. It seems the ADF is retaliating by escalating its terrorism against civilians. DRC is 92 percent Christian and Uganda is 85 percent Christian. This is a spiritual battle, and 'we are not ignorant of [Satan's] designs'. (2 Cor 2:10-11 ESV)

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* thwart Sudan's plans to destabilise the region, thwart the ADF's plans to terrorise and Islamise Christian peoples and thwart Jamil Mukulu's terrorist ambitions.  'The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.' (Psalm 33:10 ESV)

* draw the people of terror-stricken North Kivu province into prayer, may their prayers be answered and may the Church in north-east DRC grow in faith.

* impress his grief on all the churches across DRC and Uganda, so those in the troubled border region are not left to face this trial alone; may believers unite in prayer, calling on the LORD for peace and security in DRC and the wider region. 'Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD ...' (Psalm 33:12a ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
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ISLAMIC REBELS SLAUGHTER VILLAGERS IN CONGO

In 2002 the Ugandan military drove Ugandan Islamic rebels out of the country and into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which, like Uganda, is predominantly Christian.  Since then the (Islamic) Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) has killed and kidnapped many hundreds of Congolese civilians with support from the Islamic regime in Khartoum, Sudan. Recently the ADF has forged links with the Somali terror group al-Shabaab and has escalated terrorism in its stronghold in DRC's North-Kivu Province bordering Uganda. Recently the Congolese Army has been making gains against the ADF, capturing several bases. The ADF is retaliating -- at least 80 civilians have been killed, hundreds wounded and some 50 women raped by ADF fighters in the Beni region in the past two weeks. Please pray for the Church in DRC.

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


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

RLPB 282. Malaysia & Indonesia. In Malaysia 'defending Islam' guarantees impunity. Plus: Update on the battle for Indonesia.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 282 | Wed 15 Oct 2014

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Supporting International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2014: Sunday 2 or 9 Nov.  See: Critical Prayer Requests (CPR) 
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MALAYSIA: 'DEFENDING ISLAM' GUARANTEES IMPUNITY
Also: The battle for Indonesia (Update)

By Elizabeth Kendal

Little inflames Malaysia's Muslim fundamentalists more than the fact that Malaysian Christians use the word 'Allah', even though it is just the Malay word for God, adopted from Arabic centuries ago. The issue has gained traction in recent decades as Malaysian Muslims have radicalised, as Malaysia has gradually Islamised and, most critically, as Muslim politicians in this democracy have exploited the issue for political gain.
A seven-year legal battle over the use of the word 'Allah' culminated in June 2014 when Malaysia's highest court dismissed an attempt by Christians to have the October 2013 ban overturned. Therefore it is now official: Christians are banned from using the word 'Allah'; it belongs to Islam. As Sudanese-born British writer Nesrine Malik remarks, 'The ban is less about religion than about putting minorities in their place, subordinating their status to that of Muslims.' Indeed, it is little more than an act of religious bullying. The other issue that inflames Malaysia's Muslims is the usual Muslim grievance about Muslims leaving Islam for Christianity. The language issue plays into this, as it is used as grounds to ban Malay-language Bibles.

Perkasa's Ibrahim Ali
Tensions rose in January 2013 after it was revealed that Malaysian Christians had been distributing Bibles outside a secondary school in Penang. At the time, the word 'Allah' was not restricted, so the Bibles were legal, as was the evangelism. Despite this, the president of the Malay Supremacist organisation Perkasa, Ibrahim Ali, commented on the matter at a press conference, saying: 'Muslims must unite to protect their religion. They must seize those Bibles, including the Malay editions, which contained the term Allah and other Arabic religious terms, and burn them. This is the way to show our anger against disrespect to our sensitivity.'  A police investigation was launched to see if Ibrahim Ali had breached the Sedition Act or the Penal Code, in particular Section 298 which criminalises uttering words with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings, or Section 505 which criminalises uttering statements that could cause public mischief.

On 8 October 2014 the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department responsible for law, Nancy Shukri, confirmed that the police and the Attorney General's office had concluded that Ibrahim Ali would not be charged with anything because -- and this is where it gets dangerously convoluted -- 'he only meant to defend the sanctity of Islam'. The Christian Federation of Malaysia was quick to point out the problem with this ruling, warning that in viewing threats to burn the Bible as acts in defence of Islam, the government was giving 'free rein to other extremists to do likewise, not just to Christians but to any other religious community that is not Muslim'. By no logic, it said, could 'a call to violent action, [such as] desecration of a sacred text, be considered defensive'. The ruling establishes a dangerous precedent: defending the 'sanctity of Islam' guarantees impunity.

UPDATING The Battle for Indonesia (Updating RLPBs 268 & 271 of July 2014)

On Monday 20 October Joko Widodo (known as 'Jokowi') will be inaugurated as President of Indonesia. The election of this 'new breed' outsider has caused the 'old guard' political elite to go quite apoplectic. The 'old guard', who rose to power during the Suharto dictatorship, is not used to seeing its monopoly on power challenged. With the inauguration looming, the attacks on Jokowi and on Indonesian democracy have begun in earnest. Exploiting their majority in parliament, the 'old guard', led by Prabowo Subianto (who lost to Jokowi in the presidential election), has already passed a law returning Indonesia to indirect elections for mayors and governors. This way the political elite, not the citizens, will elect Indonesia's mayors and governors. Direct elections were introduced only in 2005, and Jokowi is the first 'new breed' politician to gain office via that process.  Now the 'old guard' has said, 'Enough!' Indonesians are outraged by this attack on their democracy. The opposition has called for the inauguration to be delayed as they launch a corruption inquiry against Jokowi. The 'old guard' will do everything it can to restrain and ultimately remove Jokowi, and to ensure that no 'new breed' politician challenges its monopoly on power again.

Meanwhile, several hundred members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) marched on Jakarta's City Hall on 24 September. They were protesting against the incoming 'infidel' and 'devil' mayor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (known as 'Ahok'), the ethnic Chinese Christian directly elected as deputy mayor of Jakarta under Jokowi. While that protest was generally peaceful, but the FPI returned on 3 October and rioted, leaving 16 police officers wounded. The FPI insists that Sharia Law does not permit a Christian to rule over Muslims [e.g. Qur'an, Sura 4:141 'God will not let the unbelievers triumph over the faithful']. Ahok said he was not surprised by the FPI protest and vowed not to be intimidated by their intolerance. 'They are only a small group who have yet to accept me,' he said. 'Everyone else has.'


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* roll back Malaysia's rising tide of Islamisation; may he raise up voices to say 'No!' to injustice and intolerance, while opening eyes, ears, hearts and minds to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in which there is hope not only for individuals, but for nations.

'He [the Lord Jesus Christ] will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.' (Isaiah 42:4 ESV)

* bless the Church in Malaysia with divine wisdom as she navigates the language issue that essentially renders all Malay-language Bibles illegal; may Jehovah-jireh (the Lord our provider) provide the Malaysian Church with all her needs.

* bless, protect and preserve Jokowi (president of Indonesia) and Ahok (governor of Jakarta);
  * may Jokowi survive politically as president to press through reforms -- to ease suffering in Papua and to rein in Islamic intolerance across the archipelago; may God use Jokowi for his purposes.
  * may Ahok (a Christian) survive; may no violent hand be permitted to touch him and may God use Ahok for his purpose and for his glory.

'[The Lord] is my steadfast love and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me.' (Psalm 144:2 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
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TROUBLES STIR IN SOUTH-EAST ASIA

Two rulings in Malaysia have serious implications for the Church. In June 2014 the Supreme Court dismissed the Christians' appeal against the ban on Christians using the word 'Allah' (the Malaysian word for God). This ruling effectively makes all Malay language Bibles illegal. On 8 October the government confirmed that the head of a Malay-supremacists organisation who called for Malay language Bibles to be burned would not be charged because he was only defending the 'sanctity of Islam'. This ruling establishes a dangerous precedent of impunity. Please pray for the Church in Malaysia. In Indonesia, Jokowi (new reformist president of Indonesia) and Ahok (new Christian governor of Jakarta) are facing intensive opposition from the Suharto-era political establishment and from Islamists. Please pray for Indonesia 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, October 7, 2014

RLPB 281. KOREA: North and South to resume talks

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 281 | Wed 08 Oct 2014

KOREA: NORTH AND SOUTH TO RESUME TALKS
By Elizabeth Kendal

As was noted in RLPB 260 (14 May 2014), peace on the Korean Peninsula would facilitate improvements in living standards for North Koreans who are increasingly aware of the discrepancies between life in the North and life in the South. Back in May, when the two Koreas were trading insults and hurling belligerent rhetoric at each other, the North was escalating its crackdown on citizens found in possession of banned mobile phones and illicit materials such as magazines and DVDs from South Korea. The regime is aware that the situation is unsustainable because the trend towards openness is unstoppable. Hoping to relieve pressure from the inside, the regime is striving to improve conditions and perceptions. In the meantime, to avoid precipitating its own destruction, the regime is escalating repressive measures to ensure there is restraint on citizen anger. As noted in RLPB 248 (18 Feb 2014) this is a delicate situation that requires wise, strategic handling.

Hwang Pyong So
On Saturday 4 October a top-level delegation from North Korea paid South Korea a surprise visit, giving just 24 hours' notice. The 11-member delegation was led by none other than Kim Jong-Un's deputy, Hwang Pyong So. Appearing in full military uniform, Hwang is the director of the Korean People's Army and vice-chairman of the National Defense Commission which is led by Kim. Accompanying him were Kim Yang Gon, the secretary of the central committee of the Korean Workers' Party and head of the United Front Department (which deals with issues pertaining to South Korea, including unification) and another Kim confidante, Choe Ryong Hae. They were accompanied by security agents from Kim's own 'Escort Command'; dressed in dark suits with the mandatory dark sunglasses and earpieces, they were an impressive sight. The North Korean leaders came under the auspices of attending the closing ceremony of the Asian Games in Incheon, where the North won 36 medals, including 11 gold. However, they also had an amicable lunch with their South Korean counterparts, including South Korea's unification minister, Ryoo Kihl-jae, President Park's national security advisor, Kim Kwan-jin, and South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won.

North Korea expert Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University, Seoul, remarked, 'It's a big deal, it's really a big deal, because it's completely unprecedented. ... Within my memory ... there was never ever such a high-level visit. Never! Essentially it provided a direct line to Kim Jong Un.' Another North Korea expert Mr John Delury, of Yonsei University in Seoul, agreed, saying, 'If you are [President] Park Geun Hye, and you want a credible channel to the leadership in Pyongyang, then this is your dream team.'

Whilst North Korean television screened footage of the North Korean delegation attending the Asian Games it reported nothing about the talks. It seems the North may have been creating propaganda for domestic consumption while seeking to initiate talks on having President Park's May 24 Measures lifted. [The May 24 Measures are onerous sanctions imposed on North Korea in May 2010 after a North Korean submarine torpedoed and sank a South Korean ship, killing 46 South Korean sailors.]

The regime is getting desperate, with the North clearly keen to end its isolation. On 27 September North Korean foreign minister, Ri Su Yong, addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the first time a North Korean official had visited a UN meeting in 15 years. He told the Assembly that reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula is 'more precious' to Pyongyang 'than at any time' as the North tries to boost its economy. 'The tense situation of the Korean Peninsula does not help us,' he said. 'On the contrary, it presents a serious obstacle in our effort for economic development and improved people's living standards.' The North is seeking reunification of the Korean peninsula through a 'confederation formula whereby two systems co-exist in a country'. After South Korea's President Park criticised North Korea's human rights record, the regime responded by asserting that before peace could be achieved it would be 'necessary to decisively eliminate such hordes of traitors as Park'.

It seems the South might be willing to lift the May 24 Measures under set preconditions: that the North ceases its slanderous remarks against the South, apologises for past provocations and takes significant steps toward de-nuclearisation. However, in his UN address, Ri Su Yong reiterated the regime's refusal to abandon its nuclear weapons program which it insists is necessary to deter South Korean and US 'hostility'. South Korea's Unification Minister, Ryoo Kihl-Jae, has played down talk of a sudden rapprochement, warning, 'It's not good to be overly optimistic about inter-Korean relations.' North Korea expert Bruce Klingner agrees, adding that the Korean landscape is littered with shattered hopes. More talks are being organised and are expected to be held in late October or early November.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT --

* the Lord will continue to build and sustain his repressed and imperilled Church in North Korea; may the Holy Spirit move powerfully amongst the people: healing, saving and establishing believers at every level of society in readiness for the day of his deliverance.

* the Spirit of God will intervene powerfully in the hearts and minds of all involved, so that the next round of talks will be profitable in advancing the goal of easing the suffering of North Koreans, especially North Korean Christians who have so much to offer this desperately needy nation.

* Yahweh Sabaoth -- the Lord of Hosts -- will burst or break through his enemies (2 Samuel 5:20), bind the 'strong man' (Satan, in Matthew 12:29) and bring peace to the Korean Peninsula so that praises will yet again ring out from Pyongyang.

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
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NORTH AND SOUTH KOREA TO RESUME TALKS

On Saturday 4 October a top-level delegation from North Korea visited South Korea and had lunch with their South Korean counterparts. The visit has been described by experts as 'unprecedented'. Further talks are being organised for late October or early November. The North Korean regime knows its situation is unsustainable as the trend towards openness is unstoppable. While seeking to improve conditions in the North, the regime is also escalating repression to restrain citizen anger. The visit provided propaganda for domestic consumption in the North, while also opening the way for talks aimed at getting South Korean sanctions eased. Whilst the obstacles appear insurmountable, the Lord is King and is in control. Please pray he will break through, bind the 'strong man', transform North Korea and sustain 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).

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

RLPB 280. Laos & Hong Kong: totalitarianism brings suffering

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 280 | Wed 01 Oct 2014

LAOS AND HONG KONG: TOTALITARIANISM BRINGS SUFFERING
By Elizabeth Kendal

* LAOS: MORE CHRISTIANS ARRESTED

On Sunday 21 September authorities in Boukham Village, Atsaphangthong District in Laos' Savannakhet Province informed Christians that they would no longer be permitted to gather for worship, despite having been meeting weekly for the past 3 - 4 years. Despite the warning, the believers gathered the following Sunday 28 September in the home of Pastor Sompong Supatto and worshipped the Lord together as usual. When worship was over and the believers were preparing to have lunch together, the chief of Boukham Village, along with village security officials and police, raided the gathering, arresting Pastor Sompong Supatto and six other Christians. Prison conditions in Laos are appalling and the health of prisoners deteriorates quickly. As is commonly the case with Christian leaders, Pastor Supatto is being kept with his hands cuffed and his feet in stocks. For more background on Laos and details on a string of recent cases (all in Savannakhet Province), see RLPB 263 (4 June 2014) and RLPB 266 (25 June).

Being totalitarian, with no authority higher than itself, Communist Party rule not only leads to persecution of Christians, but to repression of any form of dissent. In 2011 there were only 60,000 Facebook users in Laos; today there are over half-a-million and the regime sees this as a threat. To make it even easier to arrest people who oppose and criticise the Communist Party, Laos' dictators issued a decree on 16 Sept 2014 criminalising the spreading of 'false' criticism of the regime via the internet. Now Laotians who criticise the regime, even just on social media, risk being arrested for 'cybercrime'.

* HONG KONG: RESISTING BEIJING'S ENCROACHMENT

Hong Kong has been struggling for democracy and autonomy since 30 June 1997, when Britain ceded the region back to China. The Sino-British Joint Declaration, ratified in May 1985, promised clearly that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region would have 'a high degree of autonomy' and be 'vested with executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication'. From the day it regained sovereignty, however, Beijing has been encroaching on Hong Kong's freedoms. [For background, see 'Tracking freedom in Hong Kong' RLM 19 September 2002.] Hong Kong's Basic Law (effectively the Constitution of Hong Kong) became law on 1 July 1997. According to Article 158 of the Basic Law, the National People's Congress in Beijing has the final word on all matters pertaining to constitutional issues and interpretation of the Basic Law. However, the reality is Hong Kong's pro-democracy advocates and the Communist Party (CCP) in Beijing interpret 'universal suffrage' quite differently, with Beijing interpreting universal suffrage as 'everyone may vote for the candidates we offer'.

The current 'Occupy Central' protests in central Hong Kong are being supported by many churches. This is unsurprising, as Christians understand full well that if autonomy is chipped away by an encroaching CCP it will eventually impact religious liberty. Occupy Central co-founder Reverend Chu Yiu-ming (70, a Baptist pastor) told South China Morning Post, 'I am really afraid of being sent to jail ...  I am really afraid of the Communist Party. But I am ready to conquer and pay the price [for democracy]. If we bow to fate, we will lose everything.' Whilst Hong Kong's riot police have backed off, the situation remains unresolved and dangerous considering Beijing's attitude has hardened under Xi Jinping. Xi, a smooth-talking self-declared reformer, has warned that China will heed the lesson of the Soviet Communist Party, which he says collapsed due to the weakness of its leaders. Faced with troubles in Xinjiang and Taiwan, the CCP, which is escalating repression on the mainland (see RLPB 275), knows it cannot afford to let the Hong Kong protests succeed.

The protest leaders must be careful not to let their worthy protest turn into an attempt at 'mob-ocracy' (rule by mob). The purpose of a protest is to get attention; to make a point: Tiananmen Square was a good example. Mobocracy, on the other hand, is a 'dirty tactic' whereby protesters paralyse or choke a city while making demands; it is really a form of violence. In much of the world today, it is the new way of doing politics. Yet it risks (even begs for) a heavy-handed response from those who need to keep the city functioning. When that happens, events can spiral quickly out of control. Perhaps it is time for this very worthy protest to evolve into something less provocative, less confrontational and less dangerous -- although just as determined and principled.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* protect, preserve and bless the Church in Laos, especially those now imprisoned for their faith, especially praying for those leaders who are detained in handcuffs and leg stocks; may they know the promised presence of their loving heavenly Father. 'And behold, I [Jesus] am with you always, to the end of the age.' (Matthew 28:20b ESV)

'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.' (Hebrews 13:3 ESV)

* intervene in Laos to end repression and open the door for the Gospel to spread freely through this desperately needy land.

* move powerfully amongst those who are leading the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong, to give them wisdom to know when and how to evolve this protest into something sustainable, safe and effective. May the Church lead the way through prayer.

* intervene in China, in answer to the prayers of many, to end repression and open the door for the Gospel to spread freely through this spiritually hungry land.

Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. (Psalm 37:5 ESV)
'Be still, and know that I am God ...' (Psalm 46:10a ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
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LAOS AND HONG KONG: TOTALITARIANISM BRINGS SUFFERING

On Sunday 28 September police raided the home of Pastor Sompong Supatto, arresting him and six other believers. The church had been warned against gathering for worship. Like other Christian leaders currently in prison for their faith, Pastor Sompong Supatto is being detained in hand cuffs and leg stocks. Please pray for Laos' persecuted Church. Meanwhile, the protests in Hong Kong risk degenerating into 'mobocracy'. To choke the city while making demands is really a form of violence. It might be a popular way of doing politics these days but it is not democratic. The protest leaders need to evolve this worthy protest into a movement that is less risky, less confrontational and more sustainable. The issue is Beijing's legal right to interpret Hong Kong's Basic Law. 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).