Tuesday, May 24, 2016

RLPB 358. May Update, Inc. Turkey, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, D.R.Congo, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Vietnam.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 358 | Wed 25 May 2016
By Elizabeth Kendal

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)

WELCOME to the intercessors who have joined the list during the past month.

MAY 2016 ROUND-UP -- this month we prayed concerning ...

TURKEY (RLPB 355), where the neo-Ottoman, Islamist, AKP government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has seized six churches in the mostly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir.

SUNDAY 29 MAY-- PRAY FOR THE CHURCH IN TURKEY

In NATO-member Turkey, 29 May is celebrated annually as 'Conquest Day' in commemoration of the day in 1453 when the Byzantine [Eastern Christian] capital, Constantinople, fell to invading Ottoman Turks. This year, 29 May falls on a Sunday and will mark the 563rd anniversary of that historical catastrophe. Today, as Turkey's belligerent, neo-Ottoman president (Erdogan) increases his powers, blackmails Europe, wages war with impunity and dreams of a pan-Turkic empire, Turkey's remnant Church -- with its long historical memory -- is growing nervous. So, as Islamist Turks celebrate the Ottoman 'conquest' of Constantinople, the Church should celebrate Christ's conquest at Calvary. May God pour his Holy Spirit into Turkey so that this land, where churches are being appropriated and converted into stables, mosques or piles of rubble, will see the Lord at work, building his Church!

'I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' (Matthew 16:18 ESV)

CHINA (RLPB 356), where imprisoned Christian lawyer Yang Maodong (also known by his pen-name, Guo Feixiong) risks losing the fight, not only for justice, righteousness, religious freedom and truth, but for his life.

Yang Maodong
UPDATE: ABUSED LAWYER ON HUNGER STRIKE

On 20 May Dr Yang Maoping (sister of imprisoned Christian lawyer Yang Maodong), confirmed to Radio Free Asia that her brother has been on a hunger strike since 9 May. According to the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, Yang Maodong commenced his hunger strike after being subjected to a forced rectal cavity search which prison guards filmed and are threatening to post online. His supporters are deeply concerned as Yang, whose mood is understandably very low, is vowing to hunger strike indefinitely. Yang's wife, Zhang Qing, has written an open letter to President Xi Jinping, protesting the unlawful and degrading treatment meted out to her husband. Pray for God to comfort, sustain, protect and deliver Yang Maodong.

PAKISTAN (RLPB 357), where hostile Muslims continue to wield a flawed, infamous blasphemy law as a weapon against vulnerable Christians. On 6 May police stepped in to prevent a Muslim riot in Chak 44. However, the Christians were still suffering under a boycott that left them without food, water or work.

UPDATE: According to 'Christians in Pakistan', a local community leader Naseer Ahmed Saleem, who serves as the Vice Chairman of Union Council of Chak 44, has intervened on behalf of the Christians, urging all the landlords of the village to let the Christians resume working in their fields. Leading by example, he invited the Christians to till his land and work on wages for him. This is a clear and direct answer to our prayers. Please continue to pray. For prayer points, see RLPB 357 (18 May).

MAY ROUND-UP -- also this month ...

* BANGLADESH: A LINGERING THREAT

On Friday 20 May a homeopathic doctor, Sanaur Rahman, was riding a motorcycle with a friend in Kushtia when they were ambushed by three men wielding machetes. Mr Rahman was killed. Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility, saying Mr Rahman was killed for 'promoting Christianity'. In fact Rahman was not Christian, but followed the mystical practice of Baul music and promoted Baul philosophy. Despite the misunderstanding, the claim of responsibility reveals yet again how serious Bangladesh's Islamists are about silencing Christian witness. Pray for the Church in Bangladesh.

* BURMA: MILITARY BRUTALITY WITH IMPUNITY

Praise God that an investigation has finally been launched into the 19 January 2015 gang rape and murder of two Kachin missionaries: Maran Lu Ra (20) and Tangbau Hkawn Nan Tsin (21). [See RLPB 347 (8 March 2016).] Four senior army officers from the 503rd Light Infantry Regiment, including key suspect Major Aung Phyo Myint, will be questioned by police. Granted only a limited right to observe, the Kachin Baptist Convention's legal team will not be permitted to interview the soldiers. There are concerns that the police are colluding with the military to get local, civilian scapegoats. The Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) asks for prayer that the truth will come out.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday 18 May, Tatmadaw (Burmese Army) helicopters attacked civilians in predominantly Christian Kachin State. According to Rein Mao of the KBC, 'This wasn't a normal military engagement between the KIA and the Burma Army.' The helicopters, he said, were 'shooting everywhere'. Lt-Col Naw Bu, a spokesperson for the Kachin Independence Army concurs: 'They didn't shoot at KIA outposts,' he said. 'They only attacked civilians.' Pray for Burma's ethnic minority Christians.

* D.R.CONGO: A BIGGER, STRONGER 'MONSTER'

The Church in north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to suffer militia violence and insecurity. [For background see RLPB 238 (22 Oct 2014).] World Watch Monitor (WWM) reports that on the night of 3 May, militants belonging to Muslim Defense International (MDI, formerly known as Allied Democratic Forces) attacked a village in North Kivu killing as many as 34 civilians, slashing them with machetes in their beds. Thousands have fled.  On 6 May, up to 15 were slaughtered in another MDI attack, this time further north in the province of Ituri. According to WWM, the attack took place just 300 metres away from a Congolese army base and 500 metres from a UN army base. Despite its close proximity and regardless of the fact that locals had alerted soldiers to 'suspicious movements', the Congolese army failed to intervene to stop the massacre.

This aligns with reports recently published by the Congo Research Group (CRG) and IRIN (formerly the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks), both of which indicate that the situation is more complex than the 'narrative of an Islamist menace'. The Congolese military (FARDC) is believed to be deeply implicated, with potential links to smuggling rackets. In other words, the 'monster' is much bigger and much stronger than first appears. The Christians of north-east DRC need our prayers.

* IRAN: AUTHORITIES STEP UP HARASSMENT 

On 13 May Iranian security officers raided some ten homes of prominent Christians in Rasht. Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani and his wife Tina were arrested along with Yasser Mossayebzadeh. Whilst the Nadarkhanis were later released, Yasser was not. Saheb Fadaie and Mohammedreza Omidi were also arrested on 13 May when they obeyed a summons and reported to the security offices. The homes of these Christians have been raided, their phones, computers, Bibles and other Christian literature were confiscated. Like Yousef Nadarkhani, Yasser, Saheb and Mohammedreza have all been imprisoned before. The three detained men have reportedly been offered bail equivalent to US$33,000 each.  As Middle East Concern rightly notes, 'These arrests are part of a larger systematic action on the part of Iranian authorities to harass Christian communities and put pressure on active Christians to leave Iran.' As the revival rolls on, the authorities grow more desperate. As the storm intensifies, pray the Church in Iran will cling to the rock. (Matthew 7:24-27)

'And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.' (Matthew 7:25 ESV)

* SUDAN: MASSACRE IN HEIBAN 


Nuba Reports (screenshot)
On 1 May two Sudanese Air Force MiG fighter jets attacked residential areas within the Heiban locality in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan. Six children aged between 4 and 12 were killed, three from one family. The Government of Sudan has been relocating mujahideen to the Nuba Mountains and escalating fighting ahead of the rainy season. The GoS wants to ensure that when the rains do come and the roads are closed, the Nuba will have nothing to eat. As the Government of Sudan's genocidal jihad against the Christian Nuba enters its sixth year, one can only wonder why this genocide attracts so little attention in the West. Pray for the Nuba. Pray Psalm 46. 'God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble ...' 

[For background see: 'SUDAN: Massacre in Heiban as Nuba Genocide enters its Sixth Year,'  by Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 23 May 2016.]

* SYRIA: TERRORISTS HIT LONG-SAFE HEARTLAND

Nearly 150 people were killed on Monday 23 May when a string of suicide bombings rocked the coastal towns of Jableh and Tartus in Syria's long-safe Latakia Province. Latakia is the heartland of the Alawite minority and a safe-haven to hundreds of thousands of refugees (Muslims and Christians) who have fled Islamic violence across the north. While Islamic State has claimed responsibility, al-Nusra and its allied jihadist militias (many of which are US trained and armed) are the more probable culprits. Since the cessation of hostilities was declared on 27 February, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have redoubled their support for 'rebel'/jihadist forces, with the tacit approval of the US. Now in possession of surface to air missiles, the 'rebels'/jihadists have brought down three Syrian jets in the space of a month. The Battle for Aleppo is fierce, with government-held western Aleppo suffering heavy rebel shelling. For the Christian remnant in Aleppo, the situation now is worse than ever. Sources report that more than 200 Christians have been killed in Aleppo in recent weeks. The only thing hurting the Church more than the violence is the exodus of Christians. May the Lord have mercy on Syria.

* VIETNAM: FAMILY OF IMPRISONED PASTOR PERSECUTED


Mrs Tran Thi Hong after
a police beating on 14 April 2016.
Vietnam Human Rights Defenders
Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh (45), a missionary pastor in Gia Lai Province in Vietnam's Central Highlands, suffers both physical and psychological abuse in a Vietnamese prison because of his 'illegal' (Lutheran) faith and religious liberty advocacy. Arrested numerous times since 2003, he was eventually sentenced in July 2012 to 11 years in prison for 'undermining national unity'. As if this were not enough, his wife Tran Thi Hong suffers endless persecution which she laments is becoming 'intolerable'. Police interrogated Tran Thi Hong on 11, 12 and 13 May. Violence is routine and part of the process. On 13 May, as Mrs Hong was being beaten, her 18-year-old son tried to intervene to save her, only to be grabbed and violently choked by police who then had him bound and arrested. He was released later that day. In Vietnam (as in China), state violence against and repression of Christians is escalating in line with Communist Party confidence that nobody can or will do anything about it. Pray for Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, his wife Tran Thi Hong and their children. Please pray for all Vietnam's imprisoned and threatened pastors and human rights lawyers.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat.

Her second book, ‘After Saturday Comes Sunday’: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, is being published by Wipf and Stock (Eugene, OR, USA), due for release in the coming months.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

RLPB 357. Pakistan: blasphemy law used a weapon

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 357 | Wed 18 May 2016

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)


PAKISTAN: BLASPHEMY LAW USED AS A WEAPON
By Elizabeth Kendal

Once again, members of a small and vulnerable Christian community suffer terror and loss as radicalised Muslims wield the weapon of Pakistan's infamous blasphemy law against them. A simple, unsubstantiated accusation is all it takes for the accused to be rendered as good as dead and his or her property forfeited. Furthermore, the trend today is for collective punishment. A fatwa from a fiery cleric or some incitement from the local mosque is all it takes for the Muslim community to be fuelled with so much Islamic zeal and murderous outrage that they are prepared to burn their Christian neighbours. The only reason Christians rarely die in Pakistan's 'blasphemy pogroms' is because the process has become so routine and predictable that Christians know to flee at the first hint of trouble.

Located in Punjub's Mandi Bahauddin District (about 160km south of Islamabad), Chak (Village) 44 is home to some 2500 Muslims and 300 poor 'untouchable' Christians (45 families) who serve the Muslims as labourers. Saint Anthony Catholic Church is the only church in the village and Imran Masih (28) was the only Christian in his workplace. Although accounts vary, it seems that on 19 April, Imran -- a janitor at the local health clinic -- left his mobile phone unattended while he worked. When he returned to collect his phone, he found it in the hands of a pharmacist named Bilal who was showing others video footage he deemed 'blasphemous'. Though Imran denied any knowledge of the material, he was beaten and locked in a cupboard and his phone was smashed. Fortunately, Imran had a second phone which he used to call for help. The Catholic Church Committee came to his rescue, explaining to the senior doctor that, as Imran was illiterate and unable to speak English, it was unlikely the YouTube content was something he had downloaded. The doctor agreed, Imran was released and the matter seemed to be resolved -- except that Imran's accuser was not satisfied. Bilal sought advice from a fundamentalist cleric in nearby Sargodha, who declared Imran a blasphemer who must be killed. As soon as Imran was informed, he fled for his life.

The Christians of Chak 44 tried to appease the Muslims by offering their apologies, only to have the Muslims present their conditions for 'peace': hand over the blasphemer so he can be burned alive in front of the church. After prayers on Friday 29 April, local Muslim clerics announced over the mosque loudspeakers that Muslims were to boycott the Christians of Chak 44 until they delivered Imran the 'blasphemer' to them. A local businessman offered to pay a large financial reward to anyone who could produce the culprit -- dead or alive. Fearing for their lives and without access to food, water or work (due to the boycott), most of the Christians of Chak 44 felt they had little choice but to leave their homes and seek refuge elsewhere. Only the frail, lame and those with absolutely nowhere else to go remained.

Christians seek assistance from CLAAS
(Centre for Legal Aid
Assistance & Settlement)
Incited by mosque leaders, Muslims gathered after prayers on Friday 6 May for a pogrom to torch the homes of Christians. Fortunately, the police arrived in time to disperse the large, agitated mob. Rumours abound that the remaining Christians have been ordered to deliver Imran to the Muslims, convert to Islam, or leave the village. Tensions are soaring; the situation is volatile. According to some reports, Imran may have been targeted for being in a relationship with a female Muslim co-worker, something impermissible in Islam. Convinced the blasphemy accusation is false, local police have refused to register a case against Imran Masih. Police told Morning Star News they would investigate the matter of the boycott.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL

* intervene to keep Imran Masih, his family, and the Christians of Chak 44 safe. 'The name of the LORD is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.' (Proverbs 18:10 NIV)

'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 17:8-9 ESV)

* intervene in the hearts and minds of the Muslims of Chak 44, so they will be convicted of sin, leading to repentance and enabling true reconciliation. 'For nothing will be impossible with God.' (Luke 1:37 ESV)

* awaken and embolden Pakistan's liberal, secular, 'moderate' Muslims so they will rise up against such shameful, uncivilised behaviour; may those who dare to enrage the Islamists by courageously promoting religious liberty, Christian security, equity, justice and peace receive all the help and support they need.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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BLASPHEMY LAW IN PAKISTAN USED TO ATTACK CHRISTIANS

On 19 April Imran Masih (28), an illiterate Christian janitor living in Chak (Village) 44 in Punjab's Mandi Bahauddin District, was accused of blasphemy. Though Imran has fled, the Muslims of Chak 44 are demanding that the Christians deliver him up so they can burn him alive. Otherwise, the Christians must convert to Islam or leave the village. The local mosques have organised a boycott of the village's 45 Christian families, leaving them without food, water or work. Convinced the blasphemy accusation is false, the police have refused to register a case against Imran. On 6 May they prevented an organised mob from burning the Christians' homes. Tensions are soaring; the situation is volatile. Please pray for Imran. Pray for Pakistan and may its Christians know liberty, security and justice.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat.

Elizabeth Kendal’s new book, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, is presently being published by Wipf and Stock (Eugene, OR, USA) and will be available shortly.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

RLPB 356. China:Lawyer Yang Maodong in Critical Need

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 356 | Wed 11 May 2016

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)

CHINA: LAWYER YANG MAODONG IN CRITICAL NEED
By Elizabeth Kendal

'He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?' (Micah 6:8 ESV)

Yang Maodong (right)
with Gao Zhisheng (left)
in Beijing, 2006.
Yang Maodong, also known by his pen-name Guo Feixiong, is a Christian human rights lawyer in China. Like his close friend and colleague, Gao Zhisheng (another of China's Christian human rights lawyers), Yang is compelled by his commitment to Jesus Christ and his firm belief in Biblical truth and Gospel principles, to fight (as a lawyer) for righteousness, mercy, liberty and justice. Like Gao (52), Yang (49) believes the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) should not only honour the constitution and uphold the law, but respect the dignity of the human beings under its care. Both Gao and Yang have suffered imprisonment and torture for their human rights advocacy. Yang was arrested in September 2006 and sentenced to five years in jail, whilst Gao was arrested in December 2006 and sentenced to three years. Subsequently, Gao wrote a full account of the torture he endured, while Yang simply described his own treatment as 'beyond people's imagination'. The families of both men have asylum in the US.

In April 2010 Gao was 'disappeared' into the 'black jail' system. In December 2011 the CCP reported that Gao had been returned to prison for a further three years. Released in August 2014 [see RLPB 275 (25 Aug 2014)], the frail but recovering Gao is presently under house arrest in his late mother's 'cave dwelling' in Shaanxi Province and is denied access to much-needed medical and dental care.

Yang's wife and daughter
in Washington, Oct 2013
Released in September 2011, Yang was rearrested in August 2013.
On 27 November 2015 the trial court in Guangzhou found him guilty of 'gathering crowds to disturb social order' and 'picking quarrels and provoking troubles', and sentenced him to six years in Yangchun prison in Guangdong Province. Pre-empting the verdict, Yang prepared a statement: 'Hidden deep inside the law, is the voice of essence and dignity. "You ... have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness",' he said, referencing Jesus' condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:23. [Click here for Yang's statement.]

When Gao Zhisheng heard that Yang Maodong (Guo Feixiong) had been returned to prison, he was so distressed he was unable to sleep. On 28 November 2015 he released a statement on the situation: 'This morning in prayer I thanked God for providing China with Guo Feixiong in our time, for strengthening him and giving him the power to strike terror into the evil forces, for making him an intimate friend of mine, and for having him become a peaceful, rational, and unique force for changing China.' The CCP responded by cancelling Gao's phone service. [Click here for Gao's statement].

As a torture survivor, Yang's health has been delicate for some years. When Yang's sister, Dr Yang Maoping (54), visited him in prison on 26 April 2016, she found him to be in a critical state -- deteriorating and fearful. His mouth and throat were bleeding, he had bloody stools, and he was pale, thin and unsteady on his feet. Yang's lawyers visited him on Friday 6 May, but the visit was cut short when guards took him away after only two minutes. The lawyers' request to have Yang transferred to hospital was ignored. Yang Maodong is being held in inhumane conditions and denied access to medical treatment. His sister, a practising physician, is convinced his condition is critical and that, without appropriate medical care, he will die.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL

* intervene on behalf of Yang Maodong and all other Christian human rights advocates and pastors presently suffering inhumane and even life-threatening punishment in Chinese prisons simply because their Biblical convictions lead them to challenge CCP policy. May evil be restrained; may they receive the medical care they urgently need and may '... justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.' (Amos 5:24 ESV)

* pour out his Holy Spirit abundantly on Yang Maodong and all who suffer for righteousness' sake; may they have deep abiding supernatural peace. May the eternal presence of the Lord Jesus Christ be palpable. 'For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.' (From Romans 8:31-39 ESV)

* awaken dulled consciences, so that those who deny medical aid to the ill and those who order and commit torture and abuse will repent 'in dust and ashes'.

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN WHOLE ARTICLE
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DESPERATE SITUATION OF CHRISTIAN LAWYER IN CHINA

Yang Maodong (49) is a Christian human rights lawyer and religious liberty advocate in China. Yang was first arrested in 2006, tortured and sentenced to five years in prison. Released in 2011, Yang was rearrested in 2013 and sentenced in November 2015 to another six years in prison. As a survivor of torture, Yang's health is precarious. When Yang's sister, a medical doctor, visited him on 26 April she found him in a critical, deteriorating and fearful state. When Yang's lawyers visited him on 6 May, he was dragged away after only two minutes. Requests for medical care are being denied. He is bleeding internally and his sister is convinced that, without appropriate medical care, he will die. Please pray for Yang Maodong, for China and its Christian prisoners.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat.

Elizabeth Kendal’s new book, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, is presently being published by Wipf and Stock (Eugene, OR, USA) and will be available shortly. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

RLPB 355. Turkey: Church seizures reflect Ottoman policy

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 355 | Wed 04 May 2016

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)


TURKEY: CHURCH SEIZURES REFLECT OTTOMAN POLICY
By Elizabeth Kendal

Aware that the neo-Ottoman Islamist AKP government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan is unwilling to accept any outcome in Syria other than regime change, many analysts expect Turkey will move to escalate the Syrian war. Meanwhile, in Turkey it is already escalating its military campaign against the Kurds and its covert campaign against its remnant Armenian and Assyrian Christian communities. In a sense the Genocide never really ended, as Christians are still being driven out -- albeit quietly -- primarily by means of deprivations and threats. 'In some ways,' wrote political scientist Dr Elizabeth H Prodromou and historian Dr Alexandros K Kyrou (2013), 'Ankara's policies against Turkey's Christian citizens have added a modern veneer and sophisticated brutality to Ottoman norms and practices. ... In the words of an anonymous Church hierarch in Turkey fearful for the life of his flock, Christians in Turkey are an endangered species.'

As reported in last week's RLPB 354 (April Update), the mostly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir (majority Christian just 100 years ago) has been heavily shelled -- no area more so than the historic, World Heritage listed Sur district on Diyarbakir's eastern fringe. After ordering residents out of Sur district, the government then seized 6300 plots of land, including six churches: the Assyrian Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary (built in the 3rd Century), the Mar Petyun Chaldean Catholic Church, the Surp (Saint) Sarkis Chaldean Catholic Church, an Armenian Catholic church, the Diyarbakir Protestant Church and the largest Armenian church in the Middle East -- the magnificent, recently renovated and hugely significant Surp Giragos Armenian Apostolic Church.

Surp Giragos Armenian Apostolic Church, Diyarbakir (Nov 2014)
These churches are now the property of the Turkish state, which has no interest in their survival. Christians are deeply concerned that the government may be planning to raze Sur district and rebuild it entirely. Unlike mosques, which are all state owned and run, these churches were the private property of their foundations, maintained and staffed through the donations of the faithful.  Furthermore, they are an integral part of Turkey's cultural heritage -- lest people forget that Anatolia, once part of the Byzantine Empire, was a land of Greek, Armenian and Assyrian Christians.

Though a remnant survived the Genocide of 1915-1923, the pressure has never subsided. Few of the Greek, Armenian and Assyrian churches seized during the Genocide have been returned. Rejecting the pleas of Christians, the government prefers to use these historic churches and cultural treasures as warehouses, sports centres, stables for animals or squats for drug users. Occasionally the government sells them to investors and developers over the internet. And so the state-sponsored cultural destruction continues, quietly.

This is the context in which many Muslims in Turkey are calling for Istanbul's (Constantinople's) famous 6th Century Byzantine Cathedral -- the magnificent Hagia Sophia (Church of Holy Wisdom) -- to be opened as a mosque [see RLPB 315 (24 June 2015)]. Pressure has been mounting since June 2012 when Iznik's Hagia Sophia (formerly the Hagia Sofia of Nicaea) was converted into a mosque and December 2012 when a Turkish court ruled that Trabzon's Hagia Sophia should be opened for Muslim worship. Since May 2013, when Muslims celebrated the 560th anniversary of the conquest of Constantinople, calls to 'complete the conquest' through the removal of all churches have become even more shrill. On 9 April 2015, as Eastern Christians prepared to celebrate Easter, Istanbul's Hagia Sophia hosted the first Qur'an recitation under its roof in 85 years. Today, as the government seizes control of six more churches, there are reasons to be concerned about the future of Christianity in NATO-member, and aspiring EU-member, Turkey.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL

* grace Turkey's Christians (including some 2,000 Greeks and 80,000 Armenians and Assyrians) with holy wisdom in abundance as they seek to navigate the difficult and dangerous days ahead.
'My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word! Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Redeem me from man's oppression, that I may keep your precepts.' (Psalm 119:28,105,134 ESV)

* provide for, guide and bless advocate Ali Elbeyo─člu, the lawyer for the Surp Giragos Armenian Church Foundation, as he appeals to the Council of State for a stay of execution and annulment of the expropriation of the hugely significant Surp Giragos Armenian Apostolic Church. 'For the Lord loves justice; he will not forsake his saints.' (Psalm 37:28 ESV)

* awaken Western leaders to start caring truly about the plight of Middle Eastern Christians and really listening to them in the realisation that their plight pre-figures our own; may West and East stand in solidarity against re-energised, belligerent Islam.

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHURCH SEIZURES IN TURKEY REFLECT OTTOMAN POLICY

Turkey has escalated its military campaign against the Kurds and its covert campaign against its remnant Greek, Armenian and Assyrian Christian communities. Few churches seized during the Genocide of 1915-1923 were ever returned and in March 2016 the government seized six churches in Diyarbakir, south-eastern Turkey. They include a 1700-year-old Assyrian Orthodox Church, Armenian and Assyrian Catholic Churches, the Diyarbakir Protestant Church and the largest Armenian church in the Middle East: the magnificent, recently renovated and highly significant Surp Giragos Armenian Apostolic Church. Calls to open Istanbul's magnificent Hagia Sophia (Church of Holy Wisdom) as a mosque grow louder by the day. Deprivations and state-sponsored cultural destruction are fuelling Christian migration. Concern for the future of Christianity in Turkey is valid. Please pray for Turkey and its Church.
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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks toChristians Today (Deror Books, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat.

Elizabeth Kendal’s new book, After Saturday ComesSunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, is presently being published by Wipf and Stock (Eugene, OR, USA) and will be available shortly.