Monday, April 27, 2015

RLPB 307. April Update, Incl. Syria, Genocide, India, Iraqi Kurdistan, Egypt, Libya, Nigeria, UK

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 307 | Wed 29 Apr 2015

By Elizabeth Kendal

Wondrously show your steadfast love, O Saviour of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand. (Psalm 17:7 ESV)

APRIL 2015 UPDATE -- During April we prayed concerning . . .

rebel fighters burn Syrian flag in Idlib
* SYRIA (RLPBs 303 and 305), where strategic Idlib has fallen to Jaysh el Fatah, an alliance of al-Qaeda affiliated jihadist groups armed with US-made anti-tank missiles; where IS is demanding $100,000 ransom for each of the more than 250 Assyrians taken captive in Hasekah; where the Armenian and Assyrian districts of Aleppo have been shelled by al-Nusra (al-Qaeda); and where both al-Nusra and IS are threatening Damascus. In the light of all this, Father Elias Hanout (38) appeals, 'If the West wants Syria to remain a country for Christian people, then help us to stay here; stop arming terrorists.'

UPDATE: On 22 April rebels in Syria launched what Stratfor Global Intelligence describes as 'one of the largest and most ambitious operations of the Syrian civil war'. The operation, labelled 'The Battle of Victory', brings together as many as 12,000 mostly international fighters -- including Chechens, Moroccans, Turkmen and Britons -- from more than 40 jihadist groups, including al-Qaeda's al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and the US-backed Free Syrian Army. The jihadists' main aim is to sever the Syrian Arab Army supply line running east-west [between Latakia and Aleppo] through the al-Ghab Plain in the region of Jisr al-Shughour, Idlib Province (marked on map).

click on map to enlarge
On Saturday 25 April the jihadists -- who are entering Idlib via Turkey (the leading sponsor of both al-Nusra and Islamic State) -- captured strategic Jisr al-Shughour. On Sunday 26 April Syrian government forces commenced bombardment of rebel targets across Idlib. Heavy fighting is taking place in the al-Ghab Plain. Doubtless al-Qaeda has its sights set on the Alawite heartland of Latakia, now also home to many thousands of displaced Armenian and Assyrian Christians. The anti-Assad regime-change coalition (the US, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar) refers to Latakia as a 'regime stronghold', ignoring the fact that it is a safe-haven for ethnic and religious minorities. That the Arabs and Turks are willing to sacrifice many thousands of Alawite and Christian lives is unsurprising. That the West is willing to do so, is beyond comprehension.

* KENYA (RLPB 304), where home-grown terrorists -- mostly ethnic Somali Kenyan nationals -- are targeting Christians and threatening national security. This is a problem not only for Kenyans, but for over 500,000 Somali refugees now facing forced removal back to Somalia, especially the secret Christians amongst them. Please pray.

* GENOCIDE: THEN AND NOW (RLPB 306), commemorating the Centenary of the Armenian Genocide -- a horror in which 1.5 million Armenian, 500,000 Greek and 750,000 Assyrian Christians were murdered, deported and starved as part of a wide-scale campaign of ethnic-religious cleansing amidst the chaos of WWI and the unravelling of the Ottoman Empire. It is a history that is repeating itself, not just with regard to the killing and expulsion of Christians, but with regard to the shameful stony silence of the West.

UPDATE: REFLECTING ON THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE

(1)  GERMAN PRESIDENT ACCEPTS GUILT
German President Joachim Gauck
Speaking in the Berlin Cathedral, at an ecumenical service commemorating the centenary of the Armenian Genocide, German President Joachim Gauck ignored Turkish pressure and used the word 'genocide' to describe the killings. Moreover the Protestant pastor and former East German dissident also acknowledged German guilt. 'In this case,' he said, 'we Germans must come to terms with the past regarding our shared responsibility, possibly shared guilt, for the genocide against the Armenians.' He conceded Germany colluded with the Ottoman Empire 'in planning and, in part, carrying out the deportations'. His concession is affirmed by historian Bat Ye'or, who has published the eye-witness account of intelligence agent Absalom Feiberg who wrote in 1915: 'It has been more than proved (of their own admission!) that it was the Germans who "organised" the control and "correction" of the Armenians. ... Now the Turks have promised that only 500,000 of the 2,500,000 Armenians living in the empire will be left at the end of the war. ... They are on their way to keeping their word.' [See footnote.]

So how is it that Germany can accept responsibility for the Holocaust and for the Armenian Genocide, yet Turkey remains resistant? Answer: Christianity produces a guilt culture in which sin and shame are dealt with through acceptance of guilt, confession and repentance which opens the way to reconciliation through gracious forgiveness. Islam, on the other hand, being supremacist, produces an honour-shame culture in which sin and shame are viewed as something to be swept away -- be that through honour killing or the rewriting of history. That the nations may be healed, please pray that the Gospel of Jesus Christ will take root in Turks, Kurds, Arabs and Muslims everywhere.

(2) 'WHAT KIND OF GOD ...?'
Yerevan - WWM 24 April 2015
World Watch Monitor (WWM) reported on a historic and immensely significant event to take place in Yerevan, Armenia, during the Centenary commemorations. A group of some 20 Turkish Protestants (former Muslims) travelled to Yerevan to 'share the pain' of the Armenians and seek forgiveness for 'the crimes of our forefathers'. The visit, organised in co-operation with Armenian evangelicals, was deeply moving and most significant. Armenians who met the Turkish Protestants -- whether at the memorial or in Yerevan's streets and cafes -- expressed amazement that Turks could even be Christians. Initially sceptical, their hearts soon softened. A Kurdish pastor who went to Yerevan was moved by the depth of pain and trauma he saw amongst the Armenians. 'It was a bold step,' said one Armenian evangelical who felt it was particularly significant because it had been initiated by the Turks. 'Until now,' another confessed, 'we forgave with our mouths, but not with our hearts.' Yet another commented, 'When we Armenians saw that the Turks felt pain for what their grandfathers did, we understood that we must forgive them.' When WWM asked one Turkish pastor what the reconciliation effort had really accomplished he replied: 'We want our fellow citizens, Turks and Armenians alike, to ask us: "What kind of God can bring two enemies together like this?"' [See: 'Overcoming a Century of Pain,' by Barbara Baker, www.worldwatchmonitor.org 24 April 2015.]

APRIL 2015 ROUND-UP -- also this month ...

* INDIA: DANGEROUS HINDUTVA RHETORIC
On 12 April Sadhvi Deva Thakur, a leader with the Hindu Mahasabha (a Hindu nationalist political party), stoked controversy by saying that the government should impose 'emergency measures' forcing Muslims and Christians to undergo sterilisation to restrict their growing populations. Insisting Hinduism was under threat, she also recommended that Hindu idols be placed in all mosques and churches. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) has appealed for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's intervention, maintaining that Sadhvi Deva Thakur should be charged with sedition as her statements are a direct assault on India's secular constitution and pose a threat to communal harmony. On 20 April, just days after a church was vandalised in Agra, Hindu Mahasabha stated that it is not illegal to attack churches, adding that it would actually give awards and protection to Hindu youths who attack churches. Pray for the Church in India.

* IRAQI KURDISTAN: ANKAWA INFILTRATED
Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for the 18 April car bomb outside the American consulate in Ankawa, the largely Assyrian district on the northern outskirts of Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. More than eight people were wounded and two Turkish nationals (ethnic Kurds) were killed. No consulate staff were killed or wounded. Just four days earlier authorities arrested four Turkish construction workers accused of having links to IS. Whilst the attack was a failure, it is deeply concerning that IS could infiltrate what is regarded as Iraq's safest city. Most of the 70,000 displaced Assyrians in Erbil are sheltering in Ankawa. 'We hope this refuge remains solid and strong and safe,' said Fr. Behnam Benoka in Ankawa. 'This is what we hope because we have nowhere else to go.' Please pray.

'As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore.' (Psalm 125:2 ESV)

EGYPT: MOCKING ISLAMIC STATE EQUALS MOCKING ISLAM
World Watch Monitor (WWM) reports that in February a Coptic school teacher named Gad Younan (42) filmed on his phone a group of Coptic youths mockingly imitating Islamic State fighters. Subsequently, his phone was lost and found by Muslims who watched the footage and filed a complaint with police. On 7 April Younan was arrested and charged with 'contempt of religion' proving that -- unlike many Western politicians -- masses of Muslims really do see IS as representing the religion of Islam. Over the next three days, Muslims rioted in Younan's village, pelting Coptic homes and businesses with bricks while chanting Islamic slogans. For the Copts it was three days of sheer terror. On 9 April the parents of four of the Coptic youths in the video handed their sons over to the police in the hope it would appease the Muslims, while Coptic priest Rev. Azer Tawadros (65) appealed to the government for help. Security forces arrived on 12 April and restored order. A 'reconciliation' meeting was held on 17 April in which it was affirmed that Islam is a religion of 'tolerance and forgiveness'. So that peace might be restored, the Christians agreed to expel Gad Younan from the village. Younan and the four youths remain in police custody as a court considers their cases. Christian security under Islam is tenuous indeed. Pray for Egypt's long-suffering, persecuted Christians.


* LIBYA: IS EXECUTES 28 ETHIOPIAN CHRISTIANS
On Sunday 19 April Islamic State (IS) released another video message to 'the Nation of the Cross' showing the execution of 28 ' followers of the hostile Ethiopian Church'. Sixteen of the Ethiopians were lined up in the bush in Wilayet Fezzan (southern Libya), forced to their knees and then shot through the head. The other twelve were marched onto a beach in Wilayet Barqa (eastern Libya), lined up along the shore, forced to their knees and then simultaneously beheaded.
Daily Mail reports: '[The video] starts with what it called a "history of Christian-Muslim relations", which includes scenes of militants destroying churches, graves and icons. A masked fighter in black then brandishes a pistol as he vows to kill Christians if they do not convert.' The IS spokesman makes it clear that 'Christians everywhere' need to know that IS is expanding and only those Christians who submit to the dhimma pact and pay the jizya (protection money) will live. Otherwise 'The men will be killed and the children will be enslaved, and their wealth will be taken as booty. This is the judgment of Allah and His Messenger.'

* NIGERIA: ELECTION RESULT
On 28 March Muhammadu Buhari won Nigeria's presidential election by 3.1 million votes. When Buhari lost the presidential race in April 2011, he claimed that the polls (deemed free and fair) had been rigged and the presidency stolen from him. His claim triggered three days of Muslim rioting across the north in which more than 800 people were killed and over 65,000 displaced. Praise God, President Goodluck Jonathan stayed true to his Christian profession and conceded defeat with grace and dignity while appealing for calm in the national interest. 'Nobody's ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian,' he said. 'The unity, stability and progress of our dear country is more important than anything else.' This was the only scenario that could have avoided violence. Please persist in prayer for Nigeria for although Buhari boasts of being a 'born-again democrat', he has proved himself previously to be a dedicated Islamist.

* UK: ON THE BRINK OF CULTURAL COLLAPSE?

(1) NO SHARING FAITH WITH COLLEAGUES
RLPB 294 (27 Jan 2015) appealed for prayer regarding the case of Victoria Wasteney (38), a senior occupational therapist who had been suspended for sharing her faith with a Muslim nurse with whom she had become friends. Deeming the disciplinary action offensive and unfair, Wasteney appealed. On 8 April the Employment Appeals Tribunal ruled against Miss Wasteney, affirming that it was inappropriate for her to pray with her colleague and invite her to church. The judgement found the hospital had not acted with any prejudice or religious discrimination. The ruling sets a sad precedent.

(2) ELECTIONS: 7 MAY
The UK elections scheduled for 7 May are expected to be the closest in UK history. Polls indicate that neither the Tories nor Labour will win outright, meaning whoever wins more seats must form a coalition, giving minor parties the balance of power. Meanwhile, a Muslim group with links to fundamentalists maintains it will influence the outcome of up to 30 seats, making it the 'kingmaker'. Muslim Engagement and Development (Mend), which has released a Muslim Manifesto for the UK, boasts of being in talks with Tory, Labour and Lib Dem leaders. For its part, Labour has already pledged to have 'Islamophobia' (code for criticism of Islam) deemed a hate crime. Pray for revival in the UK.

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Footnote: Bat Ye'or, 'The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam', Fairleigh Dickenson University Press, 1996. p439
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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).