Tuesday, July 28, 2015

RLPB 320. July Update, Incl. Prisoners in China, Sudan, Iran and Pakistan; America, Nepal, UK-Northern Ireland

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 320 | Wed 29 Jul 2015

By Elizabeth Kendal

JULY 2015 UPDATE -- During July we prayed concerning ... 

* ISRAEL (RLPB 316), where anti-Christian sentiment is on the rise amongst Jewish ultra-nationalists and radicalised Muslims. Furthermore, Islamic State (IS), which had threatened to kill Christians in Jerusalem during Ramadan, is escalating attacks in Sinai (Egypt) and threatening to storm Gaza.

UPDATE: Praise God, Israeli security will always make it difficult to carry out attacks on Christians in Jerusalem, especially in the Old City. The biggest threat is to Christians in outlying areas and especially Gaza, where there is no Israeli security. Continue to pray for the Church in Israel.

* RAMADAN (RLPB 317), in particular for Christians at risk of Ramadan violence, and for Muslims seeking God on the Night of Power. Thank God for his mercy and grace.

* CHINA (RLPB 318), where the ruling Communist Party is consolidating its power, tightening religious restrictions, cracking down on dissent and intimidating human rights lawyers.

* PRISONERS (RLPB 319), remembering especially the Christians and religious freedom advocates incarcerated in China and Laos. 'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you are also in the body.' (Hebrews 13:3 ESV).

UPDATE ON PRISONERS:

CHINA -- Updating two cases from RLPB 288 (25 Nov 2014).
The trial began on Tuesday 28 July of Korean-American missionary Peter Hahn (74), who was arrested in November last year. Hahn ran a not-for-profit school in Tunmen, near China's border with North Korea. According to his lawyer, three of the four charges have been dropped, doubtless due to absence of evidence. However, Hahn still faces up to two years in prison if found guilty of counterfeiting receipts. Of the Canadian missionaries arrested in August 2014, Kevin Garratt (53) remains in prison while Julia Garratt has been released on bail. The Garratts, who have lived in China since 1984, ran a popular coffee shop in Dandong and provided humanitarian aid to North Korean refugees. In late July 2014 Canada accused 'a Chinese state-sponsored actor' of hacking into Canada's National Research Council in pursuit of valuable scientific and trade secrets. A week later, China accused the Garratts (Canadians) of 'stealing state secrets'. Pray for this faithful Christian family.

SUDAN -- Updating RLPB 314 (17 Jun 2015).
In a positive development on the trial of pastors Michael Yat (49) and Peter Yen Reith (36), Middle East Concern reports that international interest was demonstrated by observers from a number of foreign embassies attending the 14 July hearing in which the defence laid out its case. A verdict is expected on 5 August.

IRAN -- Updating RLPB 314 (17 June 2015).
On 4 July Pastor Farshid Fathi (36) received official notification that he will be released on 10 December 2015, two years early. Whilst the news has surprised many, Russian media reports that Patriarch Kirill of Moscow had written to Iran's President Rouhani in April, requesting mercy for Fathi, essentially as a goodwill gesture. What doubtless worked in Fathi's favour was the fact that his wife and children are settled in Canada, meaning he will most certainly leave Iran upon release. Whilst Fathi's release would be but a token and would not represent any change of policy, please pray that the early release will go ahead as promised, and that God will continue to sustain and protect him.

God has been intervening for Iranian believers, inside Iran and in the diaspora, in ways so sensitive they cannot be reported. Please continue to pray for Persian Christians wherever they are in the world. Pray especially for Pastor Saeed Abedini (35), one of three US-citizens imprisoned in Iran.  The US-Iran nuclear deal was brokered without reference to human rights, making Abedini's situation more delicate now than ever, as he is no longer needed as a 'bargaining chip'. Please pray.

PAKISTAN -- ASIA BIBI WINS RIGHT TO APPEAL
Asia Bibi

Arrested in June 2009, on death row since November 2010, fifty year-old wife and mother of five Aasiya Noreen (also known as 'Asia Bibi'), has won the right to appeal her sentence. A Christian from Punjab Province, Asia had fetched water for Muslim women who then refused to drink it because it had been carried by a 'kaffir' (an unclean person, an infidel). Five days later a Muslim cleric accused her of blasphemy. In October 2014 the Lahore High Court upheld the sentence of death by hanging. Now, however, Pakistan's Supreme Court has temporarily stayed her execution pending a full review of her case. Attorney Saif-ul-Malook told Morning Star News that he had a strong case and was confident that Asia would be acquitted.  All records pertaining to the case will now be reviewed by the judges. No date has been set for the appeal hearing.

It is actually quite remarkable that Asia is still alive -- the two politicians who supported her were assassinated, and Muslim clerics have offered to reward anyone who kills her. Prison beatings, appalling conditions and severe stress have all taken their toll. Asia is now so frail she can barely walk and is in constant pain with intestinal bleeding. Despite all her trials, Asia's faith has remained strong. If she is acquitted, Asia and her whole family will need to be whisked away from the court in armoured vehicles and flown out of the country under state protection -- otherwise she will be killed within minutes. Pray she lives to enjoy freedom.

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

* AMERICA (USA): SUPREME COURT RULING
At the end of June the US Supreme Court (which is not a legislature) ruled that in the interests of human rights, same-sex couples must be allowed to marry. In the US as in the UK and elsewhere, it is precisely because same-sex marriage is being framed as a fundamental human right (which it is not), as distinct from an ideological or social issue, that resistance is unacceptable. The implications for religious freedom are very significant.

* NEPAL: NEW CONSTITUTION BY MID-AUGUST

Nepalese Christians
Seven years after the abolition of Nepal's Hindu monarchy, Nepalese are about to get a new constitution.  The draft constitution was put on the government website on 9 July and citizens were invited to contribute comments. Sunday 19 and Monday 20 July were declared public holidays, just to make sure all Nepalese could participate in the public consultations and offer feedback. Ethnic groups have rioted because the issue of federalism has been deferred. Maoists and Dalits are protesting about continued entrenched gender and ethnic discrimination, systemic in Hindu culture.  Hindu nationalists have rioted, demanding that Nepal be declared a Hindu State. Meanwhile, Christians (and Nepal's Maoists, who seek equality not atheism) have expressed alarm that the draft constitution rejects religious liberty in terms that will make it 'illegal' to change religion, evangelise, or even explain one's religion. Nepal's Constituent Assembly has already suggested that as a result of the public consultations the term 'secularism' might need to be dropped from the constitution.

* UK - NORTHERN IRELAND: PASTOR ON TRIAL
In May 2014 James McConnell (78), the pastor of an evangelical mega-church in northern Belfast, responded to the news that Sudanese convert Meriam Ibrahim had been sentenced to death for apostasy, by preaching: 'Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell.' As analyst Soeren Kern notes, 'McConnell's comments about Islam comprised less than ten minutes of a 35-minute sermon that focused on Christian theology.' However, the sermon, which was streamed live over the internet, grossly offended Dr Raied Al-Wazzan of the Belfast Islamic Centre. Al-Wazzan complained to police and Pastor McConnell was charged with violating the Communications Act 2003. McConnell faces up to six months in prison if found guilty of electronically sending a message deemed 'grossly offensive'. [In January, Dr Raied Al-Wazzan (the main prosecution witness) provoked controversy himself when he went public with his support for Islamic State (IS) and praised its governance in Mosul, Iraq.] The first hearing of the McConnell case is set for 6 August.

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

RLPB 319. China & Laos: 'Remember those in prison . . .'

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 319 | Wed 22 Jul 2015

CHINA & LAOS: 'REMEMBER THOSE IN PRISON ...'
By Elizabeth Kendal

China and Laos are at once very alike and very different. Politically, both are Communist Party ruled and totalitarian. Geographically and economically, China is a seemingly untouchable rising giant while landlocked Laos is one of the poorest and neediest countries in the world. In China, Christians exist in significant numbers (at least 7.8 percent of the population) and at every level of society. Aided by numerous Chinese Christians in the West, China's persecuted Christians will never be 'invisible' or 'voiceless'. On the other hand, Christians in Laos comprise only 3.4 percent of the population and most are tribal. Consequently, persecuted Christians in Laos are amongst the most 'invisible' and 'voiceless' of all persecuted Christians.

The CCP versus the Cross
9 June 2015
source: China Aid
For decades now, Western politicians have subscribed to the belief that poor human rights are a consequence of poverty and backwardness. To this end, the West has focused almost exclusively on economic development in the belief that human rights will follow naturally. This is essentially a theological error. Human rights abuses arise not from without (poverty and backwardness) but from within: from sin (especially greed and megalomania); from the belief that human life is of little value; and from the arrogance that rejects God and boasts, 'You [God] will not call to account' (Psalm 10). Economic development has not brought rights in China, it is not bringing rights in Vietnam and it will not bring rights to Laos. As requested by the Lao Movement for Human Rights (November 2014), 'International donors should make their future aid commitments to Laos contingent upon the government's tangible progress in addressing key human rights issues.' Above all, the Church should pray.

CHINA: As the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) wields its new National Security Law [see RLPB 318 (15 July)] the number of human rights lawyers and Christian leaders in prison will escalate. As noted in RLPB 275 (25 Aug 2014) when the CCP released Christian human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng on 7 August 2014, it was telling human rights lawyers, 'Not only are we prepared to torture and destroy you, but we are so confident of impunity that we no longer need to hide it.' Of the more than 230 prominent human rights lawyers harassed and detained over the past 10 days, 13 are being held incommunicado and six have 'disappeared'. As Human Rights Watch cautions, the risk of torture is high. Some have already 'confessed' to being members of a 'criminal gang'. 

Zhang Kai
Pastor Zhang Shaojie (RLPB 275), church leader Ms Yang Rongli and Uyghur house church leader Alimujiang Yimiti are amongst numerous pastors and Christian leaders currently detained in China. They have been arrested for protesting the illegal acquisition of church land, for appealing about being labelled a 'cult', or for resisting the forced removal of crosses. On 14 July, amidst the massive nation-wide crackdown on human rights lawyers, a group of Christian human rights lawyers, led by attorney Zhang Kai, announced the formation of the 'Lawyers for Protection of the Cross' group.  According to China Aid, these lawyers have declared their willingness to pay any price for their beliefs.

LAOS:  Several church leaders are currently languishing in appalling conditions in Laotian prisons.  Amongst them are pastors (Mrs) Kaithong, Puphet, Muk and Hasadee, as well as lay-leader Tiang [RLPB 298 (25 Feb 2015)].  These church leaders had prayed with a terminally ill Christian lady who later died. The authorities then arrested the Christians and charged them with her murder. Subsequently the church leaders were found guilty of practising medicine without a licence. This ruling that equates prayer with medicine will have profound implications for the Church in Laos. After their lawyer filed an appeal in March, the prisoners' families were threatened with their loved-ones' prison time being extended. Torture is routine in Laos prisons and prisoners are routinely held in stocks

'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them ...' (Hebrews 13:3a ESV)

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR

* Christians and human rights lawyers imprisoned in China, where risk of torture is high; may they look to the Lord for absolutely everything they need and may God restrain violent hands and pierce hardened consciences.

* the courageous Christian human rights lawyers of the 'Lawyers for Protection of the Cross' group, especially for Zhang Kai, its leader; may their courageous efforts not be in vain and may God bless everything they do as they put their liberty and their bodies on the line in defence of the Cross. 

* Christians imprisoned in truly appalling conditions in Laos where torture is endemic; may they look to the Lord for absolutely everything they need and may God restrain violent hands and pierce hardened consciences.

* God the sovereign king to intervene in seemingly untouchable China and desperately needy Laos; may the Lord Jesus Christ continue to build his Church and may the Holy Spirit sustain, comfort, encourage and strengthen his vulnerable, threatened and persecuted people.

~ ~ ~ ~

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN WHOLE ARTICLE
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REMEMBER THOSE IN PRISON IN CHINA & LAOS

China and Laos are very alike and very different. Whilst both are totalitarian and Communist Party ruled, China is a seemingly untouchable rising giant and landlocked Laos is one of the poorest and neediest countries worldwide. Not only are numerous Christian leaders and human rights lawyers already incarcerated in China, that number is about to rise markedly as the Chinese Communist Party asserts its authority in a nationwide crackdown. Furthermore, the risk of torture is higher now than it has been for some time. Meanwhile in landlocked Laos, persecuted Lao Christians are amongst the most 'invisible' and 'voiceless' persecuted people in the world. Several Lao Christian leaders are currently languishing in appalling prisons where torture is routine.  Please pray for China and Laos and for Christians imprisoned there. (Hebrews 13:3)

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

RLPB 318. CHINA: Legitimising Persecution

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 318 | Wed 15 Jul 2015

CHINA: LEGITIMISING PERSECUTION
By Elizabeth Kendal

On 1 July 2015 the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People's Congress (a de facto legislative body) passed a new National Security Law (154 votes for; 1 abstention). The text is purposely vague to allow the broadest possible interpretation. The Australian Financial Review described it as "a dense 6,900 characters of party-speak, with little in the way of detail (not even any specific punishments), but plenty of obligations such as to 'defend the fundamental interests of the people' and take 'all measures necessary' to protect the country." Critically, the National Security Law obliges citizens to report any perceived threat.

President Xi Jinping (SCMP)
The law is one of five new laws (most still in draft form) covering national security, anti-espionage, counter terrorism, cyber security and foreign NGOs. Altogether they will enable President Xi Jinping and the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to exercise full control over the security sector. Dr Eva Pils, a China law expert at King's College, University of London, believes the national security law "manifests a neo-totalitarian ambition to reach into every sector of society". Maya Wang, a China researcher for Human Rights Watch, expressed concern that the law "includes elements that define criticism of the government as a form of subversion". As prominent Chinese lawyer Teng Biao, who has been imprisoned in China for human rights activism but is now a fellow at Harvard Law School, explains, "For the Communist Party, the rule of law means using legislation as a tool of control."

CONTEXT: Originally the CCP got its legitimacy through its ideology. But Maoism failed, and since the 1980s the CCP has been getting its legitimacy from its ability to generate prosperity. After assuming the presidency, President Xi moved quickly to eliminate his political opposition, which he did through an anti-corruption campaign.
As the economy now takes a downturn, he is moving to further protect himself and the ruling CCP while establishing that the government's legitimacy comes from its ability to guarantee harmony, stability and national security. It must be noted, however, that the CCP regards 'national security' as synonymous with total CCP control.

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY:  As China Aid rightly notes, the National Security Law [text] will impact religious liberty.  Article 27 of the new law provides guidelines for "religious belief and regular religious activities", warning that the government will punish all who exploit religion to "conduct illegal and criminal activities that endanger national security". It also mandates that all religious activity be "normal" (i.e. CCP compliant), adding that any group the CCP deems a "cult" will be shut down and punished. The law also confirms that the State "opposes foreign influences' interference with domestic religious affairs". Furthermore, Article 11 extends the law to 'compatriots from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan", meaning Christians from those regions could be arrested if they travel into mainland China if the CCP deems they have breached the law. The very day the law was passed (1 July) Hong Kong Pastor Wu Xiaohe was summoned by the Religious Affairs Bureau in Futian District, Shanshen, China, where he received a notice demanding he cease advertising his training courses to mainland Chinese Christians.
Cross removed on 18 June 2015
(report: CAA)
Doubtless the National Security Law will be used to legitimise persecution and repression. Unfortunately, persecuted Christians might have difficulties finding human rights lawyers to defend them.

Over the weekend of 11-12 July Chinese police launched a massive crackdown on human rights lawyers across 19 regions. As of Monday 13 July, 114 lawyers, law firm staff and human rights activists had been detained, arrested, held incommunicado, summonsed or had their freedom temporarily restricted. By Tuesday evening the number had risen to 159. The China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (CHRLCG) is closely monitoring the situation. In an article entitled "Uncovering the dark story of 'rights defence'", the CCP described the crackdown as a nationwide operation "to smash a major criminal gang". According to the South China Morning Post, it seems the lawyers all have some connection to the Beijing Fengrui law firm, which the CCP accuses of "colluding with petitioners to disturb social order and to reach their goals with ulterior motives". Some of those detained or harassed had merely signed a protest letter condemning the criminal detention of the Beijing Fengrui law firm's director, along with his assistant and four lawyers. The CCP accuses the firm of masterminding many plots in the name of "rights defence, justice and public interest".  According to the Financial Times, "All of the lawyers and activists involved have taken on cases involving free speech, human rights or abuse of state power. Some had taken on religious cases, including the demolition of Christian house churches or defending followers of the banned Falun Gong sect."


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL

* grace China's Christians, churches and other Christian institutions with divine wisdom and insight, so they might navigate and respond to the evolving legal situation.

'Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.' (Psalm 119:105 ESV) 'Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.' (Psalm 143:8b ESV)

* fortify China's Christians, churches and other Christian institutions with faith for endurance as persecution and repression escalate.

* bless China's courageous human rights lawyers who risk their life and liberty to defend the rights of the oppressed, persecuted and downtrodden; may those who are not Christians seek and find God through their trials; may those who are Christians trust in the Lord.

* continue his wonderful work in China, building and sanctifying his Church; may the Lord redeem all hardship and suffering to increase faith and grace in believers, and to forge unity and co-operation amongst the churches.

PLEASE ALSO CONTINUE TO PRAY through Ramadan for Christians at risk of Ramadan violence. [See RLPB 317 (8 July)]


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN WHOLE ARTICLE
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LEGITIMISING PERSECUTION IN CHINA

On 1 July 2015 the Chinese government passed a new National Security Law. The text is purposely vague to allow the broadest interpretation. Religious liberty will be impacted. According to Article 27, the State will not allow religion to be exploited for 'illegal and criminal activities that endanger national security', i.e. any activity not approved by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Groups deemed to be 'cults' will be banned and punished and the State will reject all foreign 'interference' with domestic religious affairs. Over the weekend 11-12 July 114 human rights lawyers and activists were either detained or harassed and intimidated. As President Xi and the CCP consolidate their power, they will doubtless use this law to legitimise escalating repression and persecution. Please pray for China 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).

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

RLPB 317. RAMADAN: a time of jihad and of seeking

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 317 | Wed 08 Jul 2015

RAMADAN: A TIME OF JIHAD AND OF SEEKING
By Elizabeth Kendal

The last ten days of Ramadan (7-17 July this year) have special significance and are regarded as the most blessed days of the blessed month of Ramadan. They are days of particular striving and of Qur'an recitation, which fuel Islamic zeal. Unsurprisingly, the last days of Ramadan can be particularly violent as jihadists expend their pent-up frustration and whipped-up zeal in jihad for the sake of Allah. We must pray for all Christians at risk of Ramadan violence, especially those in:

* ISRAEL, where fliers purportedly from ISIS have appeared in Jerusalem, telling Christians they have until the end of Ramadan to leave, otherwise they will be slaughtered [see RLPB 316 (1 July)].
 There have already been several seemingly 'lone wolf' Ramadan terror attacks against Jewish Israelis (civilians and soldiers), mostly close to the Old City.

Furthermore, ISIS has upped-the-ante in its war against Hamas, issuing a video message from Syria entitled 'A Message to our People in Jerusalem'.  In it ISIS warns Hamas they will be overrun: 'The rule of sharia [Islamic law] will be implemented in Gaza, in spite of you. We swear that what is happening in the Levant today, and in particular the Yarmouk camp [where ISIS invaded, crushed Hamas and beheaded its leaders] will happen in Gaza.'

Last week ISIS fired three Grad rockets into Israel from Sinai (Egypt) and killed more than 60 Egyptian soldiers in co-ordinated attacks on 15 army and police posts close to the Israeli border (see map), raising fears that this could be the start of an ISIS offensive towards Gaza.

The danger facing Christians in Israel -- particularly in Jerusalem and Gaza -- cannot be underestimated.

* NIGERIA, where Boko Haram is escalating its jihad. 
St Michael's, Jos.
Full report: Morning Star News.
On Sunday 5 July a suicide bomber entered the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) building in the Jigawa district of Potiskum Local Government Area, Yobe State. He detonated his explosives at around 10 am as the congregation was gathering for worship. Five parishioners died at the scene while another died later in hospital. Amongst the dead were the pastor and a parishioner and her two children. Many more were seriously wounded. That night, two churches were also bombed in Jos, Plateau State. Over the same weekend 32 church buildings were destroyed in Borno State.

* SOMALIA & KENYA, where al-Shabaab has vowed to spend this year's 'Ramadan offensive' killing 'un-believers'.

SOMALIA: Just prior to Ramadan, al-Shabaab ambushed an Ethiopian convoy in southern Somalia's Bay Province (north-west of Mogadishu), slaughtering more than 60 Ethiopian soldiers. Ethiopia sent reinforcements which al-Shabaab attacked with a wave of suicide bombers. The al-Shabaab spokesman boasted, 'This military feat against the foot soldiers of the Western crusaders serves as another poignant reminder to the disbelieving armies that the cost of invading Muslim lands is indeed bloody.' On 26 June al-Shabaab over-ran an African Union military base in Lego, 100 km north-west of Mogadishu, slaughtering more than 60 Burundian soldiers. About 30 June an Ethiopian military commander surrendered to al-Shabaab militants in Kansahdhere, Bay Province, promising to convert to Islam. As elsewhere, competition between ISIS and al-Shabaab (an al-Qaeda affiliate) is forcing the jihadists to be constantly escalating their attacks.

KENYA: On 7 July at 1 am, al-Shabaab militants attacked a compound housing quarry workers in north-eastern Kenya's Mandera County. Despite security being on the scene in minutes, at least 14 were killed and 11 injured. According to the al-Shabaab spokesman, Tuesday's attack, which was part of al-Shabaab's 'Ramadan offensive' against Kenya, had killed more than a dozen 'Kenyan Christians'.
[UPDATE: report from Morning Star News]

* SYRIA, where jihadist offensives threaten hundreds of thousands of Christians with genocide.

ALEPPO (north): On 2 July al-Qaeda's al-Nusra Front announced they had formed a new alliance -- Ansar al Sharia -- for the purpose of capturing Aleppo. Another coalition named 'Fatah Halab' (Conquest of Aleppo), cobbled together by regime-changers Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, is also fighting in Aleppo [see RLPB 315 (24 June)] while ISIS is waiting in the wings. Fierce fighting occurred on 3 July after al-Nusra sent suicide bombers into Jamiyat al Zahra, a neighbourhood that is home to some of the government's most important military assets in the area. Government and allied forces are having success repelling the jihadists.

DERA'A (south):  Launched on 24 June the 'Battle of Southern Storm' is supposed to culminate in a march on Damascus (Libya-style). The US-backed supposedly 'moderate' rebels in the south have recently been joined by fighters from al-Nusra and other hard-line jihadist brigades. As normally happens, these hard-liners will eventually absorb / devour the US-armed 'moderates'.
Fr Dhiya Aziz

IDLIB (north): On Saturday 4 July jihadists, presumed to be from al-Nusra Front, kidnapped Franciscan priest Father Dhiya Aziz, the parish priest in the mostly Christian village of Yacoubiyeh in Idlib. His whereabouts are unknown.

UPDATE: Middle East Concern reports that Fr Dhiya was released unharmed on 9 July. [ The MEC report includes the news that four Christians have been abducted in Baghdad, Iraq.]

HASAKAH (north-east): Lest we forget, 207 Assyrian Christians (including 87 women and 37 children) remain in ISIS captivity at this highly volatile time.

SEEKING AFTER GOD

On Monday 13 July Muslims around the world will participate in a night of prayer and seeking after God. Tradition has it that on the night of the 26th day of Ramadan in AD 610, Muhammad, whilst in seclusion, reputedly received his first divine revelation.

According to the Qur'an, the night of the 26th of Ramadan -- known as the 'Night of Power' (or Night of Decree) -- is 'better than a thousand months' (Sura 97:1-5), for it is believed to be a night of special power and favour when prayers are especially effectual. Concerning the Night of Power, Muhammad is recorded as having said, 'Whoever established prayers on the night of Qadr (Night of Power) out of sincere faith and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven' (Bukhari vol 3, book 31, no. 125).  Consequently, many Muslims will spend the night of the 26th of Ramadan in fervent prayer, seeking after God, hoping for forgiveness of sins and anticipating divine revelation. Pray for Muslims this week, this Sunday and especially on Monday night 13 July, that those who seek God might find him. 'Seek and you will find'. (Matthew 7:7 ESV).


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT JESUS CHRIST,

* our Lord and Saviour, will protect and provide for persecuted and vulnerable Christians at risk of Ramadan violence and Islamic jihad.

'Wondrously show your steadfast love, O Saviour of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand. Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who do me violence, my deadly enemies who surround me.' (Psalm 17:7-9 ESV)

* who is King of kings and Lord of lords, 'will come with vengeance and with the recompense of God' to deliver and vindicate his people (Isaiah 35:4 ESV); may Muslims come to fear the Lord.

'So they shall fear the name of the LORD from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun; for he will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of the LORD drives.' (Isaiah 59:19 ESV)

* the 'light of the world' will shine his light into the hearts and minds of Muslims as they seek God's favour, forgiveness and revelation on the Night of Power (13 July); may they receive the 'light of life' and walk in darkness no longer (John 8:12).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN WHOLE ARTICLE
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RAMADAN -- A TIME OF JIHAD AND OF SEEKING

The last ten days of Ramadan (7-17 July) are days of particular striving, Qur'an recitation and soaring Islamic zeal. Jihadists will expend their pent-up frustration and zeal in jihad for the sake of Allah. Christians are at risk of Ramadan violence and jihad. Pray particularly for Christians in Israel, where ISIS has threatened to kill Christians who have not fled by the end of Ramadan; in Nigeria, where Boko Haram is escalating attacks; in Somalia and Kenya, where al-Shabaab has vowed to kill 'disbelievers' during Ramadan; and in Syria, where jihadist offensives on multiple fronts put Christians at risk of genocide. Monday 13 July is the 26th of Ramadan. On that 'Night of Power' Muslims will seek divine favour and revelation. Please pray that Muslims seeking God will find him.
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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

RLPB 316. ISRAEL: ISIS threatens Christians in Jerusalem

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 316 | Wed 01 Jul 2015

ISRAEL: ISIS THREATENS CHRISTIANS IN JERUSALEM

By Elizabeth Kendal

THREAT: In the last week of June Arabic fliers appeared in Jerusalem, purportedly issued by the ISIS-aligned Egyptian (Sinai-based) group Ansar al-Bayt al-Maqdis (Supporters of Jerusalem/Al-Aqsa). The fliers, which accuse Christians of 'collaborating with Zionists' and 'encouraging Muslims to leave their religion', give Christians until the end of Ramadan to flee the city -- otherwise they will be killed. 'ISIS soldiers will work to kill these people so this country is clean of them and ... will clean [purify] this country and the Muslim Quarter from these Christians during this holy Ramadan. ... So we tell our Christians and the non-believers: Go away now or you will be killed when the Eid [al Fitr festival ending Ramadan on Saturday 18 July] is near. And you will be slaughtered like the sheep. One month is enough for them to go away.' The fliers also ask that like-minded Muslims provide the group with the addresses of Christians.

CONTEXT: A serious ideological and power struggle is currently under way between ISIS (which is vehemently anti-Shi'ite) and Hamas which, like al-Qaeda and numerous other Sunni 'resistance' groups, is prepared to co-operate with Iran (leader of the Shi'ite dominated Axis of Resistance). On 1 April ISIS seized control of Yarmouk (a Palestinian area of Damascus, Syria), beheaded Hamas leaders and crushed the Hamas leadership. Hamas threatened revenge and on 6 April arrested a Salafist cleric in Gaza believed to have ties with ISIS. Then on 3 May, as tensions escalated, Hamas forces bulldozed Gaza's 'Mosque Almtahabin', which is controlled by the ISIS-aligned Ansar al-Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM), arresting seven of its leaders. ISIS/ABM responded by bombing Hamas' headquarters in Gaza and accusing Hamas of working for the Israelis.

Some observers are dismissing the ISIS/ABM leaflets as a prank aimed at intimidation, noting that Ansar al-Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM) is small and ISIS has minimal presence in Israel. Making no reference to ISIS/ABM or Christians, Palestinian authorities merely denounced any effort to hurt 'the unity of the Palestinian people'. While commentators debate the significance of the threat, ISIS/ABM has nearly three weeks to incite and organise the already radicalised Muslim youths. Set as it is in the context of the Hamas v ISIS struggle for the affection of Palestinian Arab Muslims, the threat must be taken seriously. Since ISIS has killed Coptic Christians to attract militant Egyptian Muslims and killed Ethiopian Christians to attract militant Somali Muslims, then ISIS may well facilitate the killing of Arab Christians to attract militant Palestinian Arab Muslims. This Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin ministry is taking this threat very seriously indeed.

Billboard outside the Church of the Annunciation,
Nazareth (pre Jan 2014)

quotes Qur'an, Sura 3:85, labeling Christians as 'losers'.
[note the ISIS flag - photo 2013]
Before the ISIS/ABM threat even emerged, Rami Fellemon, a Palestinian Christian and director of Jerusalem Evangelistic Outreach headquartered in East Jerusalem, had told Morning Star News (MSN) that Muslim-Christian relations were breaking down and being replaced with 'a definite us versus them mentality from Islamic extremists'. This trend is being observed not only in the Palestinian-administered Territories, but in Israeli towns such as the mostly Muslim town of Nazareth where a billboard right outside the Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation quotes Surah 4:171  threateningly warning Christians against saying God has a son.

New billboard
On 1 May 2015 an imam at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque, Sheikh Issam Ameera, posted a video sermon on-line entitled 'The Islamic State is the keeper of religion and state', in which he incites Muslims to fight Jews and Christians. After a minor disagreement three days later, up to 80 Muslim youths rioted against Christians in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, pelting rocks at Christians' homes and attacking an Ethiopian monastery. According to MSN, whilst Muslim elders are trying to keep the peace, the youths grow more radical by the day.

With Hamas firing rockets from the south and Hezbollah building up its arsenal (estimated at over 100,000 rockets) to the north, religious tensions and anxieties are rising across Israel. Consequently, Christians are suffering attacks not only from radicalised Muslims and ISIS-sympathisers, but from Jewish ultra-nationalists as well.
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MSN reports: 'Before dawn on Thursday (June 18) someone set fire to the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, a Roman Catholic church run by Benedictine monks on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in Tabgha village.' The property was extensively damaged and many books lost in what police have labelled a 'religiously motivated arson attack'. Hebrew graffiti on a nearby wall read: 'Idol worshippers will be eliminated.' Sixteen Jewish youths were taken in for questioning over the incident which left an 80-year-old monk and a young German volunteer worker with injuries requiring hospitalisation. Local Christians are feeling apprehensive and insecure.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a swift investigation into what he called an 'outrageous arson attack' that amounted to 'an attack on us all'. He affirmed, 'Freedom of worship in Israel is one of our core values and is guaranteed under the law. We will bring to justice those responsible for this crime. Hate and intolerance have no place in our society.' Dealing with the ISIS threat to Jerusalem's Christians could prove challenging. Any threat to Christians in Gaza, where there is no Israeli security presence, would be even more so.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL

* guide and assist the Israeli government and security forces, that they will protect Christians from Jewish ultra-nationalists and the far more dangerous ISIS-incited and organised militant Muslims.

* guide, assist, deliver and protect Christians in Jerusalem's Muslim Quarter, as well as in East Jerusalem and across the whole city, throughout the Palestinian-administered Territories and other Muslim-dominated regions, and in volatile towns such as Nazareth and Bethlehem.

* insert himself deep into Gaza, where there is no Israeli security presence; may Christians not be left at the mercy of Hamas, but may the Spirit of God guide and assist Christians who, in the event of an eruption of anti-Christian violence, will require hiding places and escape routes.

'God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way. ... There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved ...' (excerpts from Psalm 46 ESV)

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN WHOLE ARTICLE
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ISIS THREATENS CHRISTIANS IN JERUSALEM

Arabic leaflets have appeared in Jerusalem, purportedly issued by an ISIS-aligned group, telling Christians they must flee Jerusalem by the end of Ramadan [18 July] -- otherwise they will be slaughtered. The threat comes as ISIS and Hamas engage in a struggle for the allegiance of Palestinian Muslims. Religious tensions are rising across Israel and Christians are being attacked by Jewish ultra-nationalists and radicalised Muslims, leaving some wondering if Christians have a future in Israel. The Israeli government has condemned the violence against Christians as 'an attack on us all' and affirmed Israel's commitment to religious liberty and rule of law. The ISIS threat against Christians could prove a serious challenge, especially if it extends to Gaza, with no Israeli security presence. Please pray for Israel and its Christians.

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