Tuesday, December 20, 2016

RLPB 389. Christmas Prayer

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 389 | Wed 21 Dec 2016

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CHRISTMAS PRAYER
by Elizabeth Kendal

Nobody should worry that remembering the persecuted over this busy and joyful Christmas - New Year season might cause joy to be subsumed in sorrow or anxiety. It is with a spirit of brotherly and sisterly love that we remember and lift up the persecuted at this time, confident that such prayers will bring comfort and encouragement to our brethren and will please the Lord who is 'Father' to us all.

CHRISTMAS PRAYER

Almighty God and gracious Father -- in you alone do we trust. For you alone are worthy, being supreme in power, authority, wisdom and understanding, glorious in majesty and perfect in love.  

The whole Body of Christ rejoices in your incarnation, that selfless act of unsurpassed humility through which you came and dwelt among us -- to live the life we could not live and die the death we should have died -- to redeem us for yourself. For this, the greatest gift born of the greatest love, we thank you. 

Grant us, Lord, in your mercy and grace, a fresh outpouring of your Holy Spirit to embolden us in our witness, work in us righteousness, encourage us on our path to the cross, sustain us in our trials, empower our testimony and bind us together. 

May those who are persecuted be palpably aware of the Spirit's eternal presence, Christ's sustaining love, and the Father's unsurpassed power and resolute faithfulness. Lord, we beseech you: fight for them, shield them, carry them and deliver them. To this end, we offer ourselves as your servants. 

And may all who see this recognise that Jesus Christ is Lord.

AMEN

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NEWS & UPDATES

NEWS: This will be the last Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) for 2016. While an urgent prayer alert or request will be issued should the need arise, the next formal RLPB will be the January Update on 25 January 2017.

UPDATES: Please do not be daunted by this non-exhaustive list. Feel free to just pick one nation, one situation or one person either from this list or beyond it and pray through this Christmas season as you feel led. Seek the Lord in this, and trust him to have everything and everyone covered.

NOTE: the high risk season includes Advent, Roman Catholic and Protestant Christmas (24-25 December), New Year, Greek Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christmas (6-7 January).

Last week we prayed concerning the 11 December Advent massacre in Cairo's St Peter and St Paul church, noting the elevated terror threat over the Christmas - New Year season. The terror threat is extreme in Egypt, Syria (particularly in western Aleppo and Damascus), Pakistan and Nigeria and high in Kenya, Indonesia and Europe. [See: RLPB 388 (14 Dec).] The updates below confirm this assessment.

EGYPT: The SITE Intelligence Group has provided a more accurate translation of the claim of Islamic State (IS) of responsibility for the Cairo church bombing. 'Let all the disbelievers and apostates in Egypt and everywhere know that our war on polytheism is ongoing, and that the State of the Caliphate -- with permission from Allah the Almighty -- will continue to spill their blood and grill their bodies, so that there is no sedition and the religion is all for Allah.' Because Islam views Trinitarian Christianity as polytheism, we can be sure that IS will be at war against Christianity until 'the religion is all for Allah'.

SYRIA: On Friday 16 December Islamic militants strapped an explosive belt to an 8-year-old girl and sent her into a police station in the Al-Midan neighbourhood of Damascus, before detonating the explosives remotely. The girl was the only fatality. The terror threat in Syria is extreme.

GERMANY: On 16 December police arrested a 12-year-old boy accused of twice attempting to detonate a home-made, nail-filled, Improvised Explosive Device in his home town of Ludwigshafen, western Germany. On 30 November the boy, who was born in Germany to Muslim Iraqi immigrant parents, tried to bomb a Christmas market. Then on 2 December he left a bomb outside a high-rise complex comprising City Hall and a shopping mall. Fortunately, both bombs failed to detonate. However, on the evening of 19 December, 12 died and some 50 were wounded when a  presumed Islamic terrorist drove a 7-tonne truck at high speed into one of Berlin's largest Christmas night-markets, the Breitscheidplatz Christmas market, beside the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Kaiser Wilhelm ruled Germany from 1888 to 1918. An ardent Islamophile (lover of Islam), he maintained close ties to the Ottoman Sultan / Caliph and believed Germany's future lay in a strategic alliance with Islam.
Death and terror in the shadow of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church,
Berlin, 19 Dec 2016.  image source

This year Germany, France, Belgium, England and much of Europe will celebrate Christmas under unprecedented security. For more information on the threat to Europe see:
Christmas Shoppers in Jihadist Crosshairs,
by George Igler, Gatestone Institute, 18 December 2016


INDONESIA: The blasphemy trial of Jakarta's ethnic Chinese Christian Governor Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama [RLPB 383 (9 Nov)] commenced on 13 December. Ethnic and religious tensions are soaring. On 14 December the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued a fatwa (religious ruling) forbidding Muslims from participating in Christmas festivities, particularly the wearing of Christmas-themed accessories. The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) has been out in force, visiting shopping malls and spreading the word as police watch on, refusing to intervene.

Link includes video
The police also failed to intervene on 6 December to stop the Ahlus Sunnah Defenders (PAS) from forcing the closure of a Carol Service in Bandung, West Java, even though all permit requirements to hold the service had been fulfilled. Without police support, pastor Stephen Tong had little choice but to comply, so the congregation closed with one hymn and a prayer and went home.

RUSSIA: It was indeed an oversight to have left Russia off the list of places where churches face an elevated terror threat over Christmas - New Year. [It was included last year, RLPB 228 (1 Dec 2015).] On 19 December Andrei Karlov (62), a career diplomat and Russia's Ambassador to Turkey, was assassinated while speaking at an art exhibition in Ankara. The assassin (now dead) was a policeman. After shooting the Ambassador he shouted 'Allahu akbar' and (in Arabic), 'We are the descendants of those who supported the Prophet Muhammad, for jihad,' and (in Turkish), 'Don't forget Aleppo, don't forget Syria!' This appalling assassination is a reminder of how much Sunni fundamentalist anger is directed at Russia.

PRISONERS: A significant number of Christians will spend the Christmas season as prisoners, many in truly appalling conditions, none more so than the many thousands of believers detained in North Korea and Eritrea. Some Christians have been in prison for years, such as Asia Bibi in Pakistan, and others in Iran and Laos. Some are more recent prisoners, like those we have been praying for this year in Algeria, China, Iran, Sudan and Vietnam. They are Christian lawyers who defend human rights and religious freedom. They are Christian aid workers who serve the poor and needy. They are pastors devoted to feeding and leading Christ's flock. They are missionaries who risk their lives to 'make disciples of all nations ...' (Matthew 28:19-20a).  They are converts who have chosen to follow Jesus -- no turning back. They are faithful, courageous believers and we are not to be ashamed of their chains (1Timothy 1:15-18).

Norine Brunson overlooks the
Harmandanli Detention Centre
World Watch Monitor
The newest prisoner is Rev. Andrew Brunson, the American Protestant pastor of the Dirilis (Resurrection) Church in Izmir, TURKEY. Brunson (48) and his wife Norine were arrested on 7 October, deemed a threat to national security. Norine was subsequently released, but Brunson was transferred to the Harmandanli Detention Centre where he is being held incommunicado. He faced court on 9 December accused of 'terrorism' and links with the Gulen Movement. The Erdogan government blames the Gulen Movement for July's failed coup attempt and maintains that the US was complicit. Fethullah Gulen has lived in self-imposed exile in the USA since 1999. Turkey is demanding his extradition (so maybe they wanted a bargaining chip). The Brunsons, who have three children studying in the US, have lived in Turkey for the past 23 years. Andrew Brunson's situation is dire.

'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).

MISTREATED: Not to be forgotten are captives such as Dr Ken Elliot and Beatrice Stockly [RLPB 341 (27 Jan)] and Father Tom Uzhunnalil [RLPB 368 (27 July)] hostages of Islamic militants in Mali and Yemen respectively. Nor must we forget those forced into hiding in North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and other places where an expression of faith will cost believers their lives. Also not to be overlooked are the millions of believers who are now displaced, homeless, destitute and grieving -- across Mesopotamia (Syria-Iraq), Burma, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Sudan, South Sudan and elsewhere.

BE ENCOURAGED: For the God of creation, incarnation, resurrection and redemption -- 'nothing will be impossible'. (Luke 1:26-38)

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Elizabeth Kendal is international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com