Tuesday, December 12, 2017

RLPB 436. Christian Prisoners: Christmas in Captivity

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 436 | Wed 13 Dec 2017

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) 

CHRISTIAN PRISONERS: CHRISTMAS IN CAPTIVITY
-- with special focus on Asia Bibi and Gao Zhisheng

by Elizabeth Kendal

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

In Lamentations chapter 3 'the man who has seen affliction' (probably the prophet Jeremiah) tells of his appalling suffering at the hands of 'the rod of his [Yahweh's] fury', i.e., the Babylonians. Having already endured the hardship and hunger associated with the siege of Jerusalem, he now suffers the violence associated with an enemy invasion. He is a captive, chained and enslaved; his bones and teeth broken. It is a truly horrible image. Furthermore, the chapter provides insight into the spiritual and emotional struggle taking place within the victim's soul. 'Filled with bitterness' and 'bereft of peace', all he can do to survive is constantly recall truth which in turn inspires hope.

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." The Lord is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him." (Lamentations 3:21-24 ESV)

For most Christians, Christmas is a season of immense joy. However, for Christians separated from loved ones and fellow believers due to incarceration or captivity, it can be particularly painful.  Christians are incarcerated Christians are incarcerated in Algeria, Burma, China, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Vietnam and possibly elsewhere. Christians are also being held captive by Islamic jihadists in Mali. In some cases, these believers have infuriated religious dictators with their persistent Gospel witness. In other cases they have threatened corrupt regimes with their persistent truth-speaking.  Meanwhile, some Christian prisoners are simply pawns in a domestic power struggle or a geopolitical game. Whatever the cause of their captivity, we cannot overestimate the ferocity of the spiritual and emotional struggle taking place within these prisoners' souls. Traumatised, isolated and condemned to harsh and often dehumanising conditions designed to break the spirit, Christian prisoners need our prayers!

'The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.' (John 1:5 ESV)

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* PAKISTAN: ASIA BIBI, CHRISTIAN PRISONER IN CRISIS


 Ashiq Masih, holds a photo
of his wife, Asia Bibi
The November showdown between the Pakistan government and the hardline Islamists of the Tehreek-e-Labaik political party [see RLPB 434 (29 Nov)] could well have a devastating impact on Asia Bibi's appeal. Asia Bibi was imprisoned in June 2009 after being accused of blasphemy and was sentenced to death by hanging in November 2010. Her appeal is currently pending in the Supreme Court. However, to end the siege of Islamabad, the government acquiesced to numerous Islamist demands, including: that there would be no difficulty in registering blasphemy cases; that no leniency would be given to those convicted by the courts of blasphemy; and that Asia Bibi (also known as, 'Noreen') will not be allowed to leave Pakistan and that her execution will be expedited. Asia's lead counsel, Attorney Saiful Malook (a Muslim), is risking his life to defend her. Malook prosecuted the case against Malik Mumtaz Qadri, the security guard who assassinated Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer in January 2011 over his support for Asia Bibi. Tehreek-e-Labaik formed in the wake of   Qadri's February 2016 execution and Malook has been on an Islamist kill-list ever since. The Supreme Court must decide and the government must uphold that decision. May Asia Bibi not be sacrificed on the altar of appeasement.

Recommended:
Government of Pakistan Bows to Islamists on 'Blasphemy' Suspects, Critics Say
Last chance for saving Aasiya Noreen (Asia Bibi) put in jeopardy.
Morning Star News, by MSN's Pakistan Correspondent, 4 December 2017
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* CHINA: GAO ZHISHENG, CHRISTIAN PRISONER IN CRISIS


China's Solzhenitsyn: Gao Zhisheng
Since his first abduction in August 2006, devout Christian human rights lawyer and religious liberty advocate, Gao Zhisheng, has suffered savage cruelty and dehumanising treatment at the hands of the systemically corrupt and criminal Chinese Communist machine. For refusing to be silenced, Gao has now been returned to 'hell'. [See: RLPB 432, Christian Advocate Confined in 'Infinite Darkness' (15 Nov).] While in prison in 2012, God graced Gao with a vision of the collapse of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Gao was totally convinced the collapse would occur in 2017. Whether he projected that date onto the vision himself or simply misinterpreted an element of it is uncertain. Maybe when the CCP does collapse (which it will) we will see with hindsight that 2017 -- with its escalating Big Brother-like repression, and the 19th CCP National Congress which saw Xi elevated to the heights of Mao -- marked the beginning of the end, as distinct from the end itself. That said, Gao Zhisheng must be incredibly confused and conflicted right now. Doubtless he is experiencing relentless and ferocious spiritual attack. In his book, 'Unwavering Convictions', Gao provides an insight into how he survived three years in darkened solitary confinement in Shaya Prison,  Xinjiang Province (2011-2014): 'For anyone of faith, infinite light and freedom await us when we close our eyes.' Gao will need all the faith, light, truth and hope the Spirit of God can give him if he is to survive this captivity.

Recommended:
Unwavering Convictions
Carolina Academic Press, January 2017.

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PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* the Lord to meet, personally and powerfully, with every Christian who is separated from loved ones and the fellowship of believers due to imprisonment or captivity this Christmas season. 'And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.' (Matthew 28:20b ESV)

* the Holy Spirit to flood the memory of every Christian captive with the hope-inspiring Biblical truths they will need to get through their trials; may the Holy Spirit help them remember and meditate on truth and trust their Shepherd King who leads his people, though his footprints are not seen (Psalm 77).

* God to intervene on behalf of Asia Bibi. May the Supreme Court and government of Pakistan be empowered and emboldened to secure justice for this family; may God sustain and protect Asia Bibi, her family and her advocate, Saiful Malook.

* God to intervene on behalf of Gao Zhisheng; may Gao's words be read widely to great effect; may none of his work have been in vain. May God sustain and protect Gao Zhisheng; may the devil and his proxies have no victory over him.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIAN PRISONERS IN CAPTIVITY AT CHRISTMAS

For most Christians, Christmas is a season of immense joy.  For Christians separated from loved ones and fellow believers due to incarceration or captivity, it can be particularly painful.  Christians are incarcerated in Algeria, Burma, China, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Vietnam and possibly elsewhere. Christians are also being held captive by Islamic jihadists in Mali. Some are pastors and evangelists and some are 'prophetic voices' of righteousness, whilst others are simply pawns in a much larger game. Whatever the cause of their incarceration or captivity, we cannot overestimate the ferocity of the spiritual and emotional struggle taking place within these prisoners' souls. Traumatised, isolated and condemned to harsh and often dehumanising conditions designed to break the spirit, Christian prisoners need our prayers!

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Elizabeth Kendal is an 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

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

RLPB 435. Philippines: Battle for Mindanao far from over.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 435 | Wed 06 Dec 2017

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)

PHILIPPINES: BATTLE FOR MINDANAO FAR FROM OVER
-- plus, Risk of Advent and Christmas Terror 

by Elizabeth Kendal

In a military offensive on 16 October the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) killed Isnilon Hapilon (former leader of Abu Sayyaf and Islamic State's 'emir' for Southeast Asia) and Omarkhayam Maute, leader of the pro-ISIS Maute group and the last of the Maute brothers to be killed. Commenting on the killings, Singapore-based terrorism expert Kumar Ramakrishna warned (16 October): 'Just because the Marawi siege is coming to an end does not mean the threat is over. ISIS-linked militants there will regroup ... and lay low for a while, while rebuilding their strength.' Recent reports from Mindanao indicate that this is precisely what is happening.

Mindanao: displace children,
fed by local evangelical church (Oct 2017)
Whilst the Battle for Marawi is now over, the conflict has left Marawi City uninhabitable. The city is mostly rubble, all the banks have been emptied and every house and business has been looted and destroyed. Eager to exploit the situation, Islamic State recruiters target displaced Muslims and Islamist sympathisers who are furious about the destruction of Marawi, which they blame on the AFP (rather than on the jihadists whose plot to seize Marawi for their Caliphate started the conflict). Sources report that ISIS is actively recruiting across Mindanao, including in Western Mindanao State University (WMSU) in Zamboanga. Recruits receive a 'sign-up purse' (one-off payment) with the promise of further payments and benefits if they join a battlefront. Rommel Banlaoi from the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research warns that cashed-up 'sleeper cells are everywhere'.

Ominously, Banlaoi also warns that Islamic State is encouraging the Philippines' four main pro-Islamic State groups -- the Bangsamoro ¬Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the Abu Sayyaf Group, Khilafah Islamiyah Mindanao and Ansarul Khilafah Philippines -- to unify. Lt-General Carlito Galvez Jr, commander of the Western Mindanao Command, warns that Cotabato City (around 60 percent Muslim and 35 percent Christian) in Mindanao's Maguindanao Province 'could be the next Marawi'. 

Philippines
click on map to enlarge
Furthermore, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is exploiting the situation for political gain. During the conflict, MILF (which seeks to rule an autonomous Islamic sub-state Mindanao) took up arms against IS-linked BIFF, which split from MILF in 2010. Though it was doubtless little more than a power struggle, it afforded MILF the opportunity to present itself to Mindanao's Muslims and to the Philippine government as a rescuing counterforce to the ultra-hardline transnational ISIS, and the best hope for peace. MILF maintains that peace on Mindanao can be secured only through the creation of an autonomous Islamic sub-state, with local Muslim (MILF) rulers and Islamic Sharia Law. Not only would MILF defend this Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, it maintains that Muslims living there would no longer have any reason to sympathise with transnational groups like ISIS which threaten the central government. President Duterte (a 'Catholic') does not need convincing -- he is eager to see the potentially unconstitutional Bangsamoro Basic Law passed and enacted by March 2018.  Pressure is mounting and Christians in western Mindanao are exceedingly anxious about the future. While the predominantly Christian cities of Zamboanga and Davao would not be forced to join the Bangsamoro political entity, thousands of Christian villages throughout western Mindanao will be offered a plebiscite, which (I fear) could trigger ethnic-religious cleansing.

An analysis of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, see:
Philippines: Bangsamoro Basic Law Looms over Mindanao
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 11 Dec 2017

Vandalised chapel, Shariff Aguak
images
On 9 November vandals broke into a Catholic chapel in a village in Shariff Aguak town in Maguindanao Province. The intruders gathered the Catholic icons onto the central table, dowsed them in gasoline and burnt them. No group has claimed responsibility and residents suspect that jihadists (possibly from BIFF) are attempting to generate religious conflict between the town's Muslims and minority Christians.  Late on Sunday 3 December some 30 BIFF fighters attacked a village in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, killing two and wounding seven (including four pre-schoolers) in homes adjacent to a military base. The Battle for Marawi is over, but the Battle for Mindanao most certainly is not.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* the Lord to protect, bless, fortify and sanctify Mindanao's Christian minority; may the Church grow in prayerfulness, faith and grace, that God will be glorified in Mindanao.

* the Holy Spirit to energise, empower, sustain and bless all those who minister to Mindanao's multitudes of harassed and helpless Muslims and displaced persons; may the Lord provide all their needs and send out more workers into that harvest field. (Matthew 9:35-38)

* the Almighty Creator God -- for whom 'nothing will be impossible' (Luke 1:37) -- to intervene in the political process so that conditions in the south will be improved as constitutional freedoms are retained.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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PHILIPPINES: BATTLE FOR MINDANAO FAR FROM OVER

With the battle for Marawi City over, ISIS and its affiliates are recruiting and regrouping across western Mindanao. They target displaced Muslims and Islamist sympathisers who are furious about the destruction of Marawi, which they blame on the Philippine military. Senior intelligence officials warn that cashed-up 'sleeper-cells are everywhere' and that Cotabato City 'could be the next Marawi'. Exploiting the situation for political gain, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is insisting that peace in Mindanao is only possible with the establishment of an autonomous Islamic sub-state. President Duterte agrees and is eager to have the potentially unconstitutional law enacted by March 2018. With continuing Islamic guerrilla war and the prospect of MILF rule, there is much to concern Mindanao's Christian minority. Please pray for the Philippines and its Christians.

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RISK OF ADVENT & CHRISTMAS TERROR

Islamic State (IS) and its affiliates are taking a battering from the Philippine military in Mindanao, the Egyptian military in Sinai, the Nigerian military in northeast Nigeria and from Russia and the West in Syria. Consequently, we should assume that IS will seek to inflict pain and send a symbolic message to these governments by bombing a Philippine, Egyptian, Nigerian, Russian or Western Cathedral over Christmas. Failing that (should security prove too tight) IS will doubtless seek out softer targets, such as Christmas or New Year festivities. May the Lord be powerfully present, working in and through his Church. May the Lord watch over and protect his precious children (Psalm 121:7) and 'frustrate the ways of the wicked' (Psalm 146:9 ESV).

THREATS TO THE WEST:  Using posters and videos, IS has issued Christmas threats against London, New York, a Mormon Temple in San Diegothe Vatican and Europe's Christmas markets. Melbourne, Australia, is on alert, after a major terror plot targeting St Paul's Cathedral was averted last Christmas and one plot for a New Year's Eve massacre has been foiled so far this season.

May the message of Christmas ring out loud and clear: 'The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.' John 1:5 ESV

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Elizabeth Kendal is an 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).


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

RLPB 434. November Update, Incl. Nigeria, Burma, India, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 434 | Wed 29 Nov 2017

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)

by Elizabeth Kendal

NOVEMBER 2017 UPDATE -- this month we prayed concerning ...

Shot in the face while fleeing her
burning home, Lisa Bono lost five
members of her family in the attack.
(courtesy: Stephanos Foundation)
* NIGERIA (RLPB 431), where, after another spat of Fulani violence, a coalition of 25 ethnic nationalities in Plateau State had demanded the State Assembly initiate a bill against open grazing. On 8 November, Jubilee Campaign published a report by Stephanos Foundation which included photos and interviews with survivors of the 16 October attack in Bassa Local Government Area (LGA).

UPDATE: On Tuesday evening 7 November gunmen ambushed and opened fire on Christians in Rim village in Riyom LGA, Plateau State, as they returned home from a nearby market. According to a local eye-witness, whilst some of the gunmen were clearly herdsmen, others were dressed in military fatigues. Eleven Christians were killed and four wounded. In communications with Morning Star News the president of the Church of Christ In Nations (COCIN), Rev Dacholom Datiri, confirmed that nine of the dead were members of the COCIN church. Others were members of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA). Chairman of Riyom LGA, Emmanuel Jugul, was outraged by the attack, telling World Watch Monitor that most of the residents of Mahanga and Gweba have been displaced, adding, 'Fulanis are saying that they have captured the place.'

BENUE: On 14 November World Watch Research released a report on Fulani violence in Benue State. The report, sponsored by Open Doors International and Voice of the Martyrs Canada, catalogues the crimes committed against Christians by Hausa-Fulani herdsmen between January 2014 and August 2017. With more than 4,200 killed, more than 3,000 injured, more than 30 churches destroyed and some 100,000 people displaced, the report concludes that the violence amounts to ethnic cleansing. Benue enacted anti-open grazing laws on 1 November. The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) has protested and appealed for federal government intervention. In response, Benue lawmakers have appealed directly to President Buhari, requesting he support the Anti-Open Grazing Law to put an end to the 'carnage and massive destruction' being caused by 'heartless terrorists operating under the cover of Fulani herdsmen'.

PRAY for Nigeria and for the suffering Church in the North. Pray especially for a movement of the Holy Spirit amongst the Fulani and that all Nigerians will ultimately be 'one in Christ Jesus' (Galatians 3:25-28)

* CHINA (RLPB 432), where it was reported Christian human rights lawyer and religious liberty advocate Gao Zhisheng -- missing since 13 August -- had finally been located. According to local sources, state security services are holding Gao in a secret prison in Shaanxi Province, in solitary confinement and in total darkness. Gao Zhisheng is one of many Christians currently being punished for criticising the repressive and violent policies of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). What makes his case so significant is that Gao is recognised and respected internationally. Gao is thus a test case: if Gao is not safe then no Chinese human rights or religious liberty advocate is safe. 

* BURMA (RLPB 433), where ethnic Kachin pastor Dumdaw Nawng Lat (67) of the Mong Ko Kachin Baptist Church and his nephew, youth pastor Langjaw Gam Seng (35), have been sentenced to prison as punishment for exposing the Burmese military's destruction of Mong Ko town. The Kachin Baptist Convention is preparing to appeal.

Displaced Kachin children in a camp
run by the Kachin Baptist Convention.
The Kachin are a Christian people.
UPDATE on KACHIN IDPs: According to a report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (September 2017), almost 100,000 ethnic Kachin are currently displaced: more than 89,000 in 146 camps throughout Kachin State and more than 9,400 in 33 camps in neighbouring northern Shan State [where Mong Ko is located].

PRAY for Burma (Myanmar) and for her suffering Church. Pray especially for a movement of the Holy Spirit amongst the ethnic Burman Buddhist majority and that all Burmese will ultimately be 'one in Christ Jesus' (Galatians 3:25-28)


NOVEMBER 2017 ROUND-UP -- also this month ...

* INDIA: DECEMBER ELECTIONS IN GUJARAT

Archbishop Macwan
Elections for a new State Assembly will be held in Gujarat on Saturday 9 and Thursday 14 December, with the result to be announced on Monday 18 December. Though the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has governed Gujarat since 1989, polls indicate that the Congress Party is closing in and that it will be a tight race.

On 21 November the Archbishop of Gandhinagar, Rev Thomas Macwan (65) issued a letter to the state's Catholics exhorting them to pray. 'Not a single day goes without an attack on our churches, faithful or institutions,' he wrote. 'Pray ... we may have such people elected in the Gujarat State Assembly who will remain faithful to our Indian Constitution and respect every human being without any sort of discrimination.' Hindu nationalists then accused the Archbishop of seeking to 'generate fear' and 'divide people on the basis of caste and creed', and demanded 'immediate action'. On 25 November, the Election Commission issued the Archbishop with a notice asking him to explain why his letter should not be viewed as a violation of the Model Code of Conduct. The Archbishop reiterated that he was merely calling his people to pray for 'humane leaders faithful to the Constitution'. Hindu nationalist zeal will surely escalate in the lead-up to the polls.  Pray for India, for her longsuffering persecuted Church and for the elections in Gujarat.

See also: Gujarat bishop’s plea to save India from nationalist forces is an act of citizenship we must support
By Shiv Visvanathan, Scroll.in 27 Nov 2017

* IRAQ: ASSYRIANS VULNERABLE AS POWERS CLASH
[Update to RLPB 424: Assyrians request prayer as Kurds 'play with fire' (19 Sept).]

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani's 25 September referendum on Kurdish independence backfired spectacularly. After brokering a deal with Kurdish opposition leader Jalal Talabani, Baghdad -- with support from Iran (and no resistance from Talibani forces) -- seized oil-rich Kirkuk from Barzani's forces in a blitzkrieg. On 1 November Barzani stepped down from the presidency. Tensions are high across the 'disputed areas', including the Nineveh Plains, as Kurdish and Iraqi forces, backed by Shi'ite militias (many led by Iranians), fight for control of territory. On 24 October clashes in the Assyrian town of Teleskuf forced hundreds of recently returned Assyrian Christians to flee their town yet again. 

The first stage of the Battle for Mesopotamia involved the crushing of the minorities by proxy forces. The next stage, developing now, will see the powers clash as they seek to establish their presence on the ground. The biggest winner in the Kurdish fiasco has been Iran, which has consolidated its military control in Kirkuk and its presence in Northern Iraq. Long-time religious liberty advocate Nina Shea reports that 'Iran is aggressively establishing schools and mosques and libraries and other structures within the main Christian towns'. For the Assyrian remnant, their very survival as a people is at stake. Pray for the Assyrians; may God intervene to help them.

* IRAN: PERSIAN CONVERT TO STAY IN JAIL
[Update to RLPB 414: Massive Jail Terms for Many Believers (12 July).]

In May, Persian convert Naser Navard Gol-Tapeh and three Azerbaijanis were sentenced to ten years in jail for 'missionary activities' and 'conducting activities against national security'. Whilst the Azerbaijanis were permitted to return home after posting bail, Naser Navard Gol-Tapeh (an Iranian national) was sent to prison. On 12 November an Iranian court upheld all four 10-year sentences; Naser Navard Gol-Tapeh will remain in prison. Pray for Naser and for all Iran's Christian prisoners.

* PAKISTAN: THE BATTLE FOR PAKISTAN ESCALATES


Young Barelvi Muslims
(normally regarded as moderate)
protesting 'blasphemy' - Nov 2017.
(courtesy: World Watch Monitor)
On 25 November the government of Pakistan capitulated to Islamic fundamentalists whose 'sit-in' had paralysed Islamabad for 20 days. Claiming anti-blasphemy indignation as a pretext, the 'sit-in' -- which attracted some 2000 Muslims daily -- was led by Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the leader of the Tehreek-e-Labaik, an Islamist political party which advocates for a pure Islamic State governed by Islamic Sharia Law. Whilst the issues are far too complex to explain in a paragraph, it is enough to say that Rizvi has been playing the religion card for political gain, to raise Tehreek-e-Labaik's profile ahead of Pakistan's 2018 general elections. Having forced the government to capitulate to their primary demand -- the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid, whom they mischievously accused of blasphemy -- Rizvi and Tehreek-e-Labaik have emerged from the 'sit-in' victorious and greatly empowered. In this context it must be noted that other demands had included the immediate execution of Asia Bibi. Pray for the Church in Pakistan.

Recommended:

Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy protests showcase minorities’ plight
By Asif Aqeel, World Watch Monitor, 27 Nov 2017

Shadows from history hang over Pakistan’s present and future
By M.K. Bhadrakumar, Asia Times, 27 Nov 2017

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Elizabeth Kendal is an 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 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

RLPB 433. Burma (Myanmar): Pastors' Appeal Imminent

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 433 | Wed 22 Nov 2017

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)

BURMA (MYANMAR): PASTORS' APPEAL IMMINENT
by Elizabeth Kendal 

click on map to enlarge
Burma's human rights issues revolve around the unchecked power of a politically active military which is, at its core, ethnic Burmese and Buddhist supremacist. When the policies of the central government clash with the aspirations of Burma's ethnic peoples, the military enforces government policy with the extreme violence one would expect of soldiers consumed with ethno-religious hatred and confident of impunity. This is precisely why Burma's non-Burmese, non-Buddhist peoples refuse to disarm and for this they are deemed insurgents and enemies of the state.

On 20 November 2016 clashes erupted between the Northern Alliance (a coalition of four ethnic armed groups) and the Burmese military in Mong Ko town, Mu Se District, on the Burma-China border in northern Shan State. Burma Air Force fighter jets targeted churches, schools and homes until the Northern Alliance withdrew on 4 Dec 2016. Then the Burma Army moved in, torching properties and farmlands. Despite Mong Ko being closed off and subjected to a news blackout, ethnic Kachin pastor Dumdaw Nawng Lat (67) of the Mong Ko Kachin Baptist Church, and his nephew, youth pastor Langjaw Gam Seng (35) -- both of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) -- courageously helped journalists gain access to the town so they could document the destruction. When the reports and photos subsequently hit the press, the Burmese military determined to punish the pastors in a way that would deter any other would-be human rights advocates.

Mong Ko after air strikes
Ethnic Armed Groups Withdraw from Mong Ko to Protect Civilians
The Irrawaddy, 5 Dec 2016.

Burma Army Bomb Roman Catholic Church in Mong Ko
Burma News International, 15 December 2016.


On 24 December 2016 the Burmese military ambushed and abducted Nawng Lat and Gam Seng [RLPB 391 (25 Jan 2017)]. The pastors spent the next three weeks illegally and secretly detained in Kalaya 123 military base in Nampaka township, northern Shan State, being repeatedly interrogated. After an international outcry over the pastors' disappearance, the military confessed on 19 January that it was indeed holding the two men whom they accused of recruiting and spying for the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). The KBC demanded the military hand the pastors over to police, which it did. However, it also handed over their 'confessions' signed under severe duress. The police then charged the pastors with 'unlawful association' with the KIA. Major Kyaw Zin Tun of Brigade 99 acted as plaintiff and filed the complaints at the Muse Township Court. Further to this, Muse police chief and captain Aye Myint charged the pastors with possession of unlicenced motorcycles. The case was initially investigated in Muse township court before being transferred 174km south to Lashio, a four-and-half-hours drive away. In June, Nawng Lat's wife told Morning Star News that conditions were bad and her husband's health was deteriorating [RLPB 412 (27 June)].

Dumdaw Nawng Lat & Langjaw Gam Seng
On Friday 27 October Nawng Lat and Gam Seng appeared in Lashio District Court in northern Shan State to hear the verdict. The pastors were found guilty of all charges and convicted under the oft-exploited Unlawful Associations Act section 17(1) and the Export and Import Law section 8. The court was tightly controlled,with journalists banned from taking photos of the accused outside the court. Pastor Dumdaw Nawng Lat (who is also the chairman of the KBC) was sentenced to four years and three months imprisonment: two years with hard labour for unlawful association, two years for criminal defamation under Penal Code section 500 for having 'defamed' the Burmese military in an interview, and three months under the Export Import Law. Youth Pastor Langjaw Gam Seng was sentenced to two years and three months imprisonment: two years with hard labour for unlawful association and three months under section 8 of the Export Import Law. The only evidence presented against the pastors were their 'confessions' signed under severe duress while in military detention.  Human Rights Watch has called for the verdicts to be quashed and for the two pastors to be released immediately. As David Baulk, Myanmar Human Rights Specialist with Fortify Rights noted: 'Today's verdict is another reminder that in Myanmar, human rights defenders have a choice: silence or a sentence.' Reverend Hkalam Samson, general secretary of the KBC, said the KBC will appeal the verdict.


PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* intervene for Pastor Dumdaw Nawng Lat and Youth Pastor Langjaw Gam Seng, to protect them from violence, illness, despair and spiritual attack. 'But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.' (Psalm 3:3 ESV)

* intervene in the appeal process, to provide guidance, wisdom and clarity to the defence, as well as courage to the judge, so that justice will prevail.

* amplify the voice of the Kachin Baptist Convention, so it might be heard, heeded and acted on by intercessors, politicians, lawyers and media -- indeed anyone who could influence policy in Burma. [Remember: intercessory prayer is advocacy to the Highest Authority!]

* bless, protect and sustain Burma's Christians, most of whom belong to persecuted ethnic minorities. May the Lord Jesus Christ continue to build his Church in Burma, and may the Holy Spirit enable a breakthrough with the Burmese-Buddhist majority.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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PASTORS' APPEAL IMMINENT IN BURMA (MYANMAR)

On 27 October, ethnic Kachin pastor Dumdaw Nawng Lat (67) and his nephew youth pastor Langjaw Gam Seng (35) -- both members of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) -- were sentenced to two years' prison with hard labour for 'unlawful association' with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), plus three months for possessing unregistered motorcycles. Nawng Lat received an extra two years for 'defaming' the Burmese military. Accused of recruiting and spying for the KIA, all they had done was help reporters gain access to Mong Ko town so they could document the destruction wrought by the Burmese military. The only evidence presented against the pastors were their 'confessions' signed under severe duress whilst in military detention. The KBC will appeal the verdict. Please pray for these pastors, for Burma and its Christians.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an 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

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

RLPB 432. China: Christian advocate confined in an 'infinite darkness' -- the plight of Gao Zhisheng

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 432 | Wed 15 NOV 2017

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: CHRISTIAN ADVOCATE CONFINED IN AN 'INFINITE DARKNESS'
-- the plight of Gao Zhisheng
by Elizabeth Kendal

In 2001, the Chinese Ministry of Justice officially recognised committed Christian human rights attorney, Gao Zhisheng, as 'one of China's top ten lawyers'. Eventually, however, Gao's ardent defence of the oppressed and persecuted, as well as open letters protesting Chinese Communist Party (CCP) policy and practice, saw him fall foul of the system. Stripped of his lawyer's licence, Gao was first imprisoned in 2006. Since then he has been in and out of prison, forcibly 'disappeared', beaten and brutally tortured, held for extended times in solitary confinement, isolated and denied access to medical care -- all because he refuses to be silenced. In 2009, Gao's wife and children escaped to the US. Content in the knowledge that his family is safe, Gao has steadfastly refused to leave China; for he is convinced that God has called him to 'bear his cross' inside China.

When Gao Zhisheng emerged from three years secret detention in August 2014, the internationally acclaimed human rights lawyer and religious liberty advocate was a shadow of his former self; indeed many surmised he'd been 'utterly destroyed' [see RLPB 275, August Update (Aug 2014)] Clearly the CCP was sending a message: 'This is what happens when you criticise the CCP.' Doubtless the CCP assumed it had broken Gao and terrorised all rights advocates into silence. Doubtless China's rulers were 'testing the waters' to see how much violent repression the 'international community' would allow them. [Plenty, so it seems!]

Gao's daughter, Grace Geng in
Hong Kong with her father’s book, June 2016.
(Photo: Kin Cheung, Associated Press)
Subsequently placed under house arrest, isolated and denied access to medical care, Gao could have withered and died; but he did not. Like Samson, he recovered and re-focused. After years of secret detention, Gao threw his energy into secret writing. Defying serious health issues and intensive supervision, he was able to write both a memoir and a 40-page human rights report while working on a new constitution. Smuggled out of the country at great risk, Gao's secret writings have since been published [see below]. Furthermore, Gao also communicated secretly. In an interview with the Chinese language New York-based New Tang Dynasty Television on 7 August, he criticised the CCP for its suffocating repression and brutal tyranny. Then, on 13 August, Gao 'disappeared'. [See RLPB 421, August Update, (Aug 2017).]

On 3 November China Aid Association (CAA) revealed that Gao had escaped from his government minders with the assistance of two friends who had been desperate to get him medical care. Though they managed to evade the authorities for 23 days, the large contingent of officers deployed to find him eventually succeeded. Gao was quickly 'disappeared' into secret detention while his friends -- Shao Zhongguo and Li Fawang -- were both arrested. Whilst Shao has not been seen since, Li (a diabetic) has been released, albeit not before suffering a bout of cruel punishment.

On 12 November Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that the Gao Zhisheng Lawyers' Concern Group had managed to locate Gao. According to the group, Gao is being held in a secret prison in Shaanxi Province in solitary confinement, in total darkness and denied access to medical care. In a smuggled sound-bite delivered to RFA, Gao said the conditions are even worse than those he experienced in Shaya Prison, Xinjiang (2011-2014). He said he feels like he is confined in an 'infinite darkness'. His supporters fear for his life.

As long-time religious liberty expert and advocate, Benedict Rogers, wrote recently in the Hong Kong Free Press (11 Novembers): 'Gao's work is a challenge to us all. It deserves to be read in the corridors of power. He has acted with extraordinary courage and is paying a very high price for his conscience. It is time for the rest of the world to rediscover its conscience, stand up to China and, at a minimum, demand Gao's release.'

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Gao Zhisheng’s memoir was published in Taiwan in Chinese in June 2016, and in the US in English in January 2017. 

An English translation of his 40-page report, ‘2016 Human Rights Report for China,’ was published in October 2017. Briefing and summary & Full Text 
--------------------

PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* intervene to ensure Gao's writings are not only spread and read far and wide, but that they will have the desired impact; may they facilitate change in China.

* intervene to facilitate the release of Gao Zhishang and all China's abused and incarcerated human rights defenders.

MAY OUR MERCIFUL GOD pour out his Holy Spirit abundantly to comfort and sustain our brother Gao Zhisheng:

* may he rest in the assurance that nothing that separate him from the love of Christ Jesus who is all the while interceding on his behalf. READ and pray Romans 8:31-39 

* may his cell become a sanctuary, i.e. miqdas (Hebrew) a place where God dwells (from Isaiah 8: 11-15).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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IN CHINA, CHRISTIAN ADVOCATE CONFINED IN AN 'INFINITE DARKNESS'

When Gao Zhisheng, committed Christian human rights attorney and religious liberty advocate, emerged from three years' secret detention in August 2014, many surmised he was 'utterly destroyed'. Confined to house arrest and denied access to medical care, Gao (who has survived appalling torture) could have withered and died, but he did not -- he recovered. Despite intensive supervision, Gao wrote both a memoir and a 40-page report on human rights in China. These secret writings were smuggled out and have since been published. On 13 August Gao 'disappeared'. Recently Gao's supporters discovered that he is being held in a secret prison in Shaanxi Province, in solitary confinement, in total darkness and denied access to medical care. They fear for his life. Please pray for Gao and for China and its Church.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an 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

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

RLPB 431. Nigeria: Fulani used as proxies for Islamic jihad

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 431 | Wed 08 Nov 2017

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)

International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2017: Sunday 5 or 12 November


NIGERIA:  FULANI USED AS PROXIES FOR ISLAMIC JIHAD 
by Elizabeth Kendal

Plateau State (postcode map)
click on map to enlarge
In the early hours of Monday 16 October, ethnic Fulani Muslim cattle herders dressed in military fatigues stormed the mostly Christian, ethnic Irigwe village of Nkyie Doghwro in Bassa Local Government Area (LGA), in the north of Plateau State. Knowing that an attack was imminent, the villagers had requested extra security from the Special Task Force soldiers based nearby. The soldiers disarmed the residents and gathered them into in a schoolroom where they were to sleep under the protection of military personnel from Operation Safe Haven. However, when the Fulani invaded, the soldiers withdrew, leaving the residents defenceless. Christians have accused the military of complicity in the massacre which claimed 29 lives [graphic image] and emptied the village. The military denies this, claiming the soldiers were simply overwhelmed (an equally disturbing, though highly unlikely, proposition).

The Muslim Fulani attack at night, killing and displacing the mostly Christian indigenous residents. The emptied villages are subsequently occupied by Fulani Muslim settlers from the north. During the first two weeks of October, Christian villages in Plateau were attacked on an almost daily basis. [See recent reports from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), World Watch Monitor (WWM) and Morning Star News (MSN).]

Church elder, Dauda Samuel Kadiya (38)
only narrowly escaped when Fulani attacked
his village at 11pm on 13 October. (MSN) 
In Bassa LGA alone, over the course of five weeks, numerous attacks targeting two indigenous Irigwe communities, left 72 villagers dead, 23 injured, 489 houses burnt and 13,726 mostly Christian Irigwe displaced out of a population of 80,000. The attacks continued despite a government imposed curfew. On 19 October the Nigerian Air Force announced it had deployed troops, fighter aircraft and attack helicopters to Jos, Plateau State, to join the military efforts in curtailing the violence, in particular to 'prevent reprisals from the natives'.

In the face of escalating violence in Plateau, a coalition of 25 ethnic nationalities has given the Plateau State House of Assembly two weeks to initiate a bill against open grazing and six months for it to be passed into law. Such a law would mandate that cattle be raised in ranches and banned from grazing on the gardens and crops of indigenes. Other states with Anti-Open Grazing laws are Middle Belt states Benue (law enacted 1 November) and Taraba (law to be enacted in January 2018).  Whilst Anti-Open Grazing laws could go a long way towards curtailing the crisis, Fulani violence is about more than feeding livestock.

While the Bible mandates Christians spread the Good News that God reconciles sinners to himself through Jesus Christ, Islam mandates Muslims expand the territory under Allah's rule (i.e., under Islamic Sharia Law -- a political mandate). Forced out by the ever-encroaching desert, the traditionally nomadic Fulani cattle herders migrate south in search of food and water for their livestock. These Fulani are then exploited by jihadists and other Islamists -- including those in the military and in the government -- who use them as proxies in an Islamic jihad to expand Muslim territory at the expense of Christians. This is why they routinely attack with high-powered automatic weapons, and wear bullet-proof vests and military fatigues. It is also why they are virtually never caught and never brought to book. Many suspect they also are supported by Islamists at the highest levels of government. Banning open grazing would actually eliminate one of the Islamisation strategies.

Whilst the most recent violence has occurred in Plateau, Fulani expansion is certainly not limited to Plateau. Speaking at a forum on 30 October, former head of state General Abdulsalami Abubakar released some grim statistics. In 2016, Fulani cattle herders killed 2,500 and displaced 62,000 mostly Christian indigenes in Plateau, Kaduna, Nasarawa and Benue alone. Human rights advocates and Christian leaders have criticised President Muhammadu Buhari (a Fulani Muslim from the north) for his silence over the crisis. They also question why, on 16 October, the United Nations rewarded the Buhari government by re-electing it to the UN Human Rights Council.


PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* richly bless all Christian evangelistic ministry to Fulani Muslims, pouring out the Holy Spirit in abundance and with great power. '... they will do these things [i.e. persecute you] because they have not known the Father, nor me.' (John 16:1-4a ESV)

* bless and protect all Fulani Christian converts committed to evangelising their own people, not only in the interests of the Fulani, but also in the interests of peace. As converts, their lives are gravely imperilled. May the Lord guide them, bless them and be their shield. 'But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.' (Psalm 3:3 ESV)

* bless and supply the Bible Colleges that are training Fulani converts and other evangelists to work amongst Nigeria's Muslims. Fulani are coming to faith in Christ! May the Lord continue to build his Church in Northern Nigeria.

* intervene in Nigeria's political processes to enable the progress of Anti-Open Grazing laws where they are needed; may he also enable the traditionally nomadic Fulani to embrace the concept of ranches and remove all obstacles to their establishment. 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.' (Matthew 19:26 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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FULANI IN NIGERIA USED AS PROXIES FOR ISLAMIC JIHAD 

Attacks by ethnic Fulani Muslim cattle herders on mostly Christian, indigenous villages in Nigeria's volatile Middle Belt have escalated markedly. During the first two weeks of October, attacks in Plateau State occurred almost daily, despite a government-imposed curfew and the presence of Nigerian troops. In Bassa Local Government Area alone, 72 villagers were killed and 23 injured, 489 houses were burnt and 13,726 mostly Christian Irigwe were displaced, from a population of 80,000. Emptied villages were subsequently occupied by Fulani Muslim settlers from the north. Whilst the traditionally nomadic Fulani are genuinely seeking food and water for their cattle, they are being armed and used as proxies by jihadists and other Islamists in a jihad to expand Muslim territory at the expense of Christians. Please pray for Nigeria and its Christians.

------------------------------------------------------

Elizabeth Kendal is an 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

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

RLPB 430. Russia: continuing deterioration of religious freedom

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 430 | Wed 01 Nov 2017

International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
Sunday 5 or 12 November, 2017
See: Critical Prayer Requests (CPR) for states where Christians are persecuted and/or religious liberty is threatened.
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RUSSIA: CONTINUING DETERIORATION OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
by Anneta Vyssotskaia

For centuries Russia was known as a country persecuting people who chose to believe differently from what was prescribed by the ruling authorities. Being officially a Christian country for over 1000 years, for centuries it persecuted Old-believers who refused to accept the reforms introduced by the Russian Orthodox Church. Some Protestant confessions (like Baptists), spreading quickly during spiritual revival, were considered 'dangerous sects' and were severely persecuted by the State in the 19th Century. The leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church co-operated with the authorities in persecuting the sects.

After the Russian Revolution in 1917, atheism was propagated at all levels, all religions were persecuted and many church leaders died as martyrs or spent decades in prison and labour camps. After the collapse of the communist ideology and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, there was a short period of religious freedom and a big spiritual revival all across its former republics. Many people accepted Christ and were added to his Church. Even during that period of religious freedom, the new Protestant Churches experienced a lot of pressure and restrictions on their activities, especially evangelism and mission work. In 1997, a law on religion brought more restrictions and its preamble recognised the 'special contribution' of Russian Orthodoxy. Since then,  religious freedom gradually worsened.

In July 2016, the so-called Yarovaya Law, a package of counter-terrorism measures, was signed into law by President Putin. These counter-terrorism measures include prohibition of any mission activity outside church premises or other sites designated for religious purposes. Missionary activity is defined as: 'The activity of a religious association, aimed at disseminating information about its beliefs among people who are not participants (members, followers) in that religious association, with the purpose of involving these people as participants (members, followers). It is carried out directly by religious associations or by citizens and/or legal entities authorised by them, publicly, with the help of the media, the internet or other lawful means." (Forum 18, 8 July, 2016). Put simply, it bans any evangelism and missionary work and directly affects about three million Protestant Christians in Russia as well as believers of other religions.

In August 2017, Forum 18 published a list of 193 cases of  'anti-missionary' punishment of individuals and religious communities since the Yarovaya Law came into force. The list includes Jehovah Witnesses, Muslims, Krishnaites and others. However, Protestant believers and churches are the majority of the list. The authorities seem to make the most active churches and their leaders the targets of persecution in their 'anti-missionary' attacks. A good example is the Evangelical Christian Church of Jesus Christ in Nizhny Tagil, which has had numerous raids and four cases opened against it under the Yarovaya Law.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFCALLY FOR:

* changes in Russian legislation for religious freedom.

* the Russian Orthodox Church to accept the right of freedom of belief for Russian people and not see other Christian denominations as a threat.

* courage, wisdom and unity among other Christian Church leaders as they are targeted with persecution for the Gospel.

* the teachings of Christ to continue spreading in Russia and change the country and people's lives for God's glory.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CONTINUING DETERIORATION OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN RUSSIA

Although Russia was officially Christian for over 1000 years, some Protestant groups were considered 'dangerous sects' and were severely persecuted by the State in the 19th Century. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, atheism was propagated, all religions were persecuted and many church leaders were martyred or spent decades in labour camps. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, there was a short period of religious freedom and a spiritual revival across its former republics. Many people accepted Christ. However, Protestant Churches experienced  restrictions on their outreach. In 1997, further restrictions resulted in religious freedom worsening. A package of Kremlin counter-terrorism measures enacted in July 2016 included prohibition of any outreach activity outside church premises. This particularly affects three million Protestant Christians. Please pray for Russia and its Church.

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Anneta Vyssotskaia, a Russian who is a religious liberty expert on Russia and Central Asia, is a guest contributor to the RLPB ministry. She is filling for Elizabeth Kendal who is currently on leave.



Wednesday, October 25, 2017

RLPB 429. Uzbekistan: Christians persecuted and churches tightly controlled

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 429 | Wed 25 Oct 2017

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International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
Sunday 5 or 12 November, 2017
See: Critical Prayer Requests
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by Anneta Vyssotskaia

UZBEKISTAN: CHRISTIANS PERSECUTED SEVERELY AND CHURCHES TIGHTLY CONTROLLED

Uzbekistan is a country located in the central part of Central Asia with an ancient history and a rich culture -- the famous Great Silk Road goes through its territory. Uzbekistan was once a republic of the Soviet Union, but in 1991 it declared its independence. During the Soviet period, atheism was part of the state policy and all religions were severely persecuted. Islam quickly became the dominant religion (93%) in Uzbekistan, while Christians only make up to 5% of the population. Russian Orthodox Christians make up about 4% and their number is constantly decreasing with the emigration of the Russian population. Protestant Christians are less than 1% and are represented by various evangelical churches. The number of the Uzbek Christians from a Muslim background is unknown but is constantly growing.

For many years Uzbekistan has been the country where Christians experience the severest persecution compared with other Central Asian countries. It is ranked 16th in the World Watch List 2017 of 50 countries where Christians experience persecution for their faith. The most persecuted group are Christians with a Muslim background as they are considered traitors bringing shame on  their Muslim families. All forms of pressure are used to make them turn back to Islam, from persuasion to home detention and beatings. Christian women from Muslim background are especially vulnerable as they are expected to submit totally to their parents and husbands. They are persecuted severely by their family if their Christian faith becomes known. Persecution is worst in rural areas. Christians with a Muslim background usually worship in house churches, often changing meeting places because of the danger of police raids. Sometimes they have to meet just one to one.

Registered churches and especially their leaders also experience a lot of pressure and are under unceasing state control. Churches can be infiltrated by spies and church services are kept under surveillance. Police raids on believers' homes, confiscation of literature and digital devices, detention, interrogation and fines are commonplace. Christian education is restricted. There is only one registered Protestant seminary in Uzbekistan, located in the capital city, Tashkent, with a very small number of students. Christians can lose their jobs or businesses can be closed if their faith becomes known. There are reports of police torture when Christians are detained and interrogated.

Following the death of the former President Islam Karimov in September 2016, Shavkat Mirziyoyev became the new President. There were expectations that the new President might bring more religious freedom. The government tries to give the impression of a positive change. In June 2017 there was an official presentation of the Uzbek translation of the Bible, attended by representatives of the Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Churches. At a high level meeting of the Central Asia-UN Dialogue in Asghabat in June 2017, Uzbekistan's Minister of Foreign Affairs said: 'In Uzbekistan the concept of religious tolerance has grown into the atmosphere of religious harmony and openness. In other words, our unity is in diversity.' Unfortunately, in reality no religious tolerance and harmony is observable and the situation with persecution remains very much the same.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* God will enable all Christians to stay strong and continue spreading the Gospel.

* Christians with a Muslim background will be protected and strengthened by the Lord.

* the State authorities will show more real tolerance and human rights will prevail.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIANS SEVERELY PRESECUTED AND CHURCHES TIGHTLY CONTROLLED IN UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan, formerly a republic of the Soviet Union, is in the middle of Central Asia. During the Soviet era, atheism was state policy and religion was severely persecuted. Islam is 93% of the population and Christians just 5%. Compared with other Central Asian countries, Uzbekistan is  where Christians are most severely persecuted. Those suffering most are Christians from a Muslim background. Churches are infiltrated by spies and police raid believers' homes.  There is only one small Protestant seminary in Uzbekistan. Christians can lose their livelihood if their faith becomes known. The new government tries to give the impression of positive change, claiming there is an atmosphere of religious harmony and openness. Unfortunately, in reality this is not observable and persecution remains much the same. Please pray for Uzbekistan and its Christians.

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Anneta Vyssotskaia, a Russian who is a religious liberty expert on Russia and Central Asia, is the guest contributor to the RLPB ministry with this and the next bulletin, filling for Elizabeth Kendal while she is on leave.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

RLPB 428 Tajikistan: Christians Severely Persecuted

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 428 | Wed 18 Oct 2017

by Anneta Vyssotskaia

TAJIKISTAN: CHRISTIANS PERSECUTED SEVERELY

Tajikistan is a country in Central Asia bordering Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China. Tajikistan was part of the Soviet Union and became an independent country after the dissolution of the USSR in 1992. Tajikistan suffered a five-year civil war which resulted in many deaths and had a devastating effect on the country's life and economy. It is officially the poorest country in Central Asia and one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Its population approaches nine million and is predominantly Muslim (about 98%).

The Christian churches are a tiny minority and face a lot of pressure from the government and Muslim society. The law prohibits children and young people under 18 participating in religious activities in both churches and mosques. The greatest pressure is on the Christians with Muslim background who experience persecution at all levels -- from their family members, the Muslim community and state officials. The pressure is especially strong in rural areas. The persecution can take different forms, from verbal to physical abuse, beatings, abduction, home detention, discrimination, losing jobs and in other ways. The number of Christian churches remains small and there are many secret believers. It is illegal to meet for worship without state registration, but it is also extremely difficult and practically impossible to get state registration. For that reason, many Tajik Christians meet secretly in house churches, facing the risk of police raids, detention, interrogation and fines.

President Emomali Rahmon was bestowed the official title, 'The Founder of Peace and National Unity, Leader of the Nation'. During his 25 years' rule, the religious freedom situation in Tajikistan has worsened significantly. Since 2016, human rights in general are also considerably worse, with many arrests and imprisonment of members of the opposition parties, including top officials.

Christian churches also have been experiencing increasing pressure in 2017. In the capital city, Dushanbe, two kindergartens were closed because of the Christians employed and a Christian book being found. In March, a registered church in Konibodom was raided, believers interrogated, threatened and beaten and the church was closed. In June, a non-registered Baptist church in Dushanbe was raided, books confiscated, believers videotaped, interrogated and their details taken. Demolition of the church building was threatened. Other non-registered churches were raided, books confiscated, church leaders threatened and fined.

In April, Bakhrom Kholmatov (42), the pastor of a registered Sunmin church in Khudzhand, was arrested, accused of inciting religious hatred and sentenced to three years' imprisonment. The accusations were based on Christian hymn books found in the church with songs like 'God's army is marching' and 'Our fight is not against flesh and blood', as well as the 'More Than a Carpenter' book by Josh McDowell. The judges considered they were all 'extremist material'.


PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL WORK FOR:

* all the Christians in Tajikistan, especially Muslim background Christians, to stand strong in their faith as they are interrogated and threatened.

* the restraint of the authorities, for human rights, the rule of law and cessation of attacks on and destruction of churches and their facilities.

* Pastor Bakhrom Kholmatov, his family and his church to be comforted and strengthened by the Holy Spirit.

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International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
Sunday 5 or 12 November, 2017

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SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIANS PERSECUTED SEVERELY IN TAJIKISTAN

Tajikistan (formerly in the USSR) borders Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China.  The poorest country in Central Asia and internationally one of the most corrupt countries, its nine million people are 98% Muslim. The Christian churches are a tiny minority and suffer great intimidation from the government and Muslim society, especially Christians with a Muslim background. There are many secret believers, meeting in house churches. Worshipping without state registration is illegal, risking police raids. The pastor of a registered church, Bakhrom Kholmatov, was arrested for 'inciting religious hatred' and jailed for three years. During Tajikistan's President's 25 years' rule, religious persecution has worsened significantly, as well as human rights in Tajikistan now being considerably worse. Members of opposition parties are frequently arrested. Please pray for Tajikistan and its Christians.

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Anneta Vyssotskaia is a religious liberty expert on Russia and Central Asia. She is the guest contributor to the RLPB ministry with this and the next two bulletins while Elizabeth Kendal is on leave.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

RLPB 427. Mali: jihadists attack churches in Mopti

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 427 | Wed 11 Oct 2017

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)

by Elizabeth Kendal

International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2017: Sunday 5 or 12 November.
See Critical Prayer Requests (CPR) for places where Christians are persecuted and/or where religious liberty is threatened.
See also www.ElizabethKendal.com.

PRAYER FOR THE PERSECUTED IS INTEGRAL TO WORSHIP

God is at work, sanctifying the Church and knitting us together as ONE. He is answering prayers, fulfilling promises and redeeming even suffering itself. Through it all he is 'making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth' (Ephesians 3:9-10 ESV). For the believer or church with faith, intercessory prayer for the suffering persecuted Church is not an optional add-on. Rather, intercessory prayer for the suffering persecuted Church is as integral to worship as it is to this great work of God to unite all things in Christ.

SPECIAL PRAYER REQUEST: CRISIS PUBLISHING INITIATIVE

Intercessory prayer for the suffering persecuted Church would not be possible without the information that comes to us from dedicated Christian reporters, researchers, authors and publishers. Not only do they provide the suffering Church with a voice, they provide the global Church with information rarely found in mainstream media. Many report from the 'front-lines' or even from 'behind enemy lines' at great personal risk in the hope that their stories will be received by religious liberty advocates, analysts, activists, journalists, authors and intercessors the world over. To aid and develop this work, the inaugural Crisis Publishing Initiative conference will be held in Sopron, Hungary, from 15 to 18 October. Nearly 100 Christian writers from some 24 countries (East, West, Africa, Asia and the Middle East) have registered to attend in order to learn from and network with other Christian writers and publishers.

Elizabeth Kendal will be presenting one workshop on 'Global Trends in Persecution' and another (shared with author Mindy Belz) on 'Understanding the Middle East'. On Tuesday 17 October Elizabeth will present the plenary address: 'A Voice for the Suffering Church'.  For the full list of speakers and topics, see Crisis Publishing Initiative 

Please pray for God's gracious and generous blessing on this conference and all who attend. May the suffering Church never be without a voice or without support. 'I do not ask for these [disciples] only , but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one ...'  (emphasis mine) (Jesus' High Priestly Prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. John 17).

Anneta V., a religious liberty expert on Russia and Central Asia, will be the guest contributor to the RLPB ministry over the next three weeks.

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MALI: JIHADISTS ATTACK CHURCHES IN MOPTI  


MALI: click on map to enlarge
In early 2012, in the wake of Libya's 'Arab Spring', bands of ethnic Tuareg militants and Islamic jihadists swept into Mali's vast desert north. After first exploiting and then devouring the Tuareg separatist insurgency, the al-Qaeda-linked jihadists seized control of the Arab-Berber north. Though Malian and French forces did eventually regain control of the territory, the jihadists have remained entrenched in the northern regions known to the Tuareg as 'Azawad'. Though located in Mali's more populous and fertile African south, Mopti region borders the north, making it a 'front-line' region where jihadists routinely wage hit-and-run attacks on security personnel. Not only has violence escalated markedly in recent months, a new phenomenon has arisen: the jihadists are targeting churches. 

Monsignor Edmond Dembele, secretary-general of the Malian bishops' conference, reports that in late September and early October at least three churches in the diocese of Mopti received 'visits' from jihadists. In Dobara, jihadists smashed their way into the church from which they removed crosses and furnishings which they piled up outside and burned. In Bodwal, jihadists drove worshipping Catholics out of their church, warning them that if they ever return to ring the bells or pray, they will be killed. Christians comprise a mere 2.6 percent of Mali's population and Mgr Dembele is deeply concerned about the lack of security. 'What worries us,' he said, 'is that these groups had not targeted Christians up till now. The situation has changed in the last few months and for this reason we have raised the alarm.'

church in northern Mali
(source: Aid to the Church in Need)
The attacks on churches in Mopti region is doubtless connected to a developing crisis. Islamic jihadist attacks on Malian troops, UN peacekeepers and French forces have more than doubled since June. Most of the attacks have been claimed by the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims [Jama'a Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM)], a coalition of the region's most powerful al-Qaeda affiliates. This is the same group that released a video on 1 July entitled 'The Correct Equation', in which it puts forth the Islamic doctrine of retaliation (essentially an eye for an eye) [see RLPB 413 (5 July)]. JNIM also used the video to provide proof that they were holding six Western hostages, most of them Christians whom JNIM had accused of working to convert Muslims to Christianity. [The South African hostage, Stephen McGown (who converted to Islam), was released in August.] The video's release was timed to coincide with the launch in Bamako, the Malian capital, of a 5000-strong multinational force to tackle JNIM. The multinational force is expected to be fully operational by the end of October. Jihadist violence is destined to escalate in line with the promise of 'The Correct Equation'. The Battle for Mali looms. The situation facing Mali's churches and JNIM's Christian hostages is dire.


PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* protect and preserve his precious Church in Mali; may the Lord himself provide security for the churches in Mopti region which is especially vulnerable to jihadist terror.

* sustain, comfort and deliver JNIM's Christian hostages; may the Lord Almighty both rescue and repay. (See Isaiah 40:10; 59:14-19; and Matthew 10:29-30) [For names see RLPB 413 (5 July) - only minus McGown].

* insert himself into the looming Battle for Mali; may he come like a 'pent-up flood' or 'rushing stream' (Isaiah 59:19) and fight with those who fight against evil.

* pour his Spirit afresh into Mali's Churches so believers will (1) commit to prayer and (2) step out in faith and with boldness to share the Good News with Muslims; and may the Spirit also be powerfully at work in Mali's harvest fields.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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IN MALI, JIHADISTS ATTACK CHURCHES IN MOPTI  

In 2012, in the wake of the 'Arab Spring', al-Qaeda-linked Islamic jihadists invaded and seized control of Mali's vast desert north. Though Malian and French Forces did eventually regain control, the jihadists have remained entrenched. Though located in Mali's more populous and fertile African south, Mopti region borders the north, making it vulnerable to jihadist infiltration. While the jihadists generally attack security personnel, recently they have started targeting churches. Mgr Dembele knows of three churches in Mopti diocese that have been attacked, and where property was destroyed and believers threatened with death. Since June, the terror group JNIM has more than doubled its attacks. JNIM is holding five Christian missionaries hostage. The Battle for Mali looms. Tensions are high; the situation is dire. Please pray for Mali and its Church.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an 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