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

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

RLPB 426. Papua (eastern Indonesia): a desperate and risky plea

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 426 | Wed 04 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

IDOP 2017: Sunday 5 or 12 November.

Ideally, intercessory prayer for the persecuted Church should be an integral part of every church's weekly worship. Yet still today, many believers (particularly in the West) have scant awareness of the problem of persecution. This is mostly because they get their news from mainstream media which neither understands nor has much interest in the persecution of Christians.

International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church provides churches and believers around the world with an opportunity to join together in prayer for the persecuted. Churches will observe IDOP on either Sunday 5 or 12 November, while small groups and prayer groups will meet during the week. For some this will be eye-opening and the start of something new. For others it will be an opportunity to re-commit to an aspect of worship that, while challenging, is also life-changing.

IDOP is a movement for our times; for in these days of escalating persecution amidst unprecedented openness and connectedness, God is doing something quite new: knitting together an increasingly global Church. This is exciting and totally unprecedented in the history of the Church.

With one month to go, now is the time to start preparing for IDOP.

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PAPUA (EASTERN INDONESIA): A DESPERATE AND RISKY PLEA

Papua baptism
(courtesy World Team)
The indigenous peoples of Papua (formerly Irian Jaya) -- the eastern-most province of Indonesia -- are ethnically Melanesian and overwhelmingly Christian. Indonesia invaded the former Dutch colony in 1962. Then in 1969, the UN, the UK and the USA rubber stamped the sham 'Act of Free Choice' (known by the indigenous Papuans as the 'Act of No Choice'!) which transferred sovereignty of resource-rich 'West Irian' to Indonesia. Today, after decades of mass migration of Javanese Muslims, Papua has been thoroughly 'Javanised' and Islamised. It has also been thoroughly militarised. What is more, because Indonesian security forces are now heavily invested in the region, they have an economic interest in remaining there. Gross and systematic human rights abuses are endemic, including arbitrary arrest, torture, rape, and the trafficking of Papuan children who are taken to Java for forced Islamisation. The province is closed to reporters and indigenous Papuans are banned from talking to outsiders.

On Tuesday 26 September exiled Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda presented a petition to the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation in New York, where the UN General Assembly was in session. The petition -- said to contain some 1.8 million signatures of West Papuans in Indonesia -- demands an internationally supervised free vote on independence, along with the appointment of a UN representative to investigate reports of human rights abuses by the Indonesian security forces. Defying Jakarta's ban, Papuans conducted the petition in secret, signing at great personal risk, smuggling it throughout the region and ultimately out of the country. According to Benny Wenda, 57 people were arrested and a further 54 tortured between April and June as the petition was being circulated.

As a prelude to the petition's arrival, Prime Ministers Manasseh Sogavare of Solomon Islands and Charlot Salwai of Vanuatu addressed the UN General Assembly on 24 September. They accused the UN of 'turning a deaf ear' to human rights abuses in Papua, called for an official investigation and  insisted the UN support the Papuans' legal right to self-determination.

Benny Wenda with petition
According to Benny Wenda, the UN's Special Committee on Decolonisation officially acknowledged acceptance and receipt of the petition. Not only does the Indonesian government reject this, it is disputing the veracity of the petition, deeming it a 'hoax' and a 'political stunt'. Meanwhile the committee's chair, Rafael Ramirez (Venezuela), claims not to have received the petition at all. Rejecting reports of the petition as fake news, Ramirez clarified: 'West Papua is not on the agenda ... Indonesia is a very good friend of ours.' West Papua specialist from the University of Sydney, Dr Jason MacLeod, has examined the petition and believes it is both genuine and a fair and accurate representation of the will of the indigenous Papuans 'who genuinely feel that they are facing a slow- motion genocide'.

Of course the Indonesian government and Indonesian military will never willingly relinquish control of resource-rich Papua. Indeed, the Indonesian military will be furious. The Indonesian government is currently building the Trans-Papua Highway so it can open up the Central Highlands to 'development'. Unless they get strong international support, the indigenous Melanesian Christians of Papua could see their situation get a lot worse yet.

PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* draw all Papuans to prayer; may they put their faith in God -- not in 'man' and not in 'the world'. And may the living God, who hears and answers prayer, intervene on their behalf. 'Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think ...' (from Ephesians 3:20 ESV)

* fill Papuan Church and community leaders with wisdom and understanding so they will lead the people well in line with the will and purposes of the Lord.

* restrain evil and angry hands bent on retaliation; may he protect and preserve his precious people. Lord have mercy!

Pray for the Church in Papua, using Psalm 27


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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A DESPERATE AND RISKY PLEA FROM PAPUA (EASTERN INDONESIA)

The indigenous Papuans are ethnically Melanesian and overwhelmingly Christian. Indonesia invaded in 1962 and in 1969 the UN transferred sovereignty to Indonesia. Papua has since been 'Javanised', Islamised and thoroughly militarised. Papuans suffer from gross and systematic human rights abuses; indeed, they are facing 'a slow-motion genocide'. On 26 September exiled Papuan independence leader, Benny Wenda, presented a petition to the United Nations in New York. Containing some 1.8 million Papuan signatures, the petition appealing for self-determination had been conducted in secret over several months and smuggled out of Indonesia. While Wenda insists the UN acknowledged receipt of the petition, Jakarta rejects this and has deemed the petition a 'hoax'. Meanwhile, the chair of the relevant UN committee denies ever receiving it. Please pray for the Church in Papua.

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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

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

RLPB 425. September Update, Incl. Nigeria, Iraq, CAR, Egypt, Kenya, Pakistan, Philippines, Turkey.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 425 | Wed 27 Sep 2017

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)
 
'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.' (Matthew 5:9 ESV)

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

* NIGERIA (RLPB 422), where a coalition of Northern Muslim youth groups issued a chilling ultimatum in Kaduna on June 6. The 'Kaduna Declaration' gave the Igbo (the mostly Christian Africans indigenous to Nigeria's south-east) a deadline of 1 October (Nigerian Independence Day) to leave the North, after which time they would be forcibly ejected. Subsequently, anti-Igbo hate speech has proliferated across the north, sending ethnic-religious tensions soaring.

See also: ‘The Kaduna Declaration: Nigeria in the Shadow of Biafra’
Religious Liberty Monitoring 6 July 2017.

UPDATE: In early September the government of President Muhammadu Buhari launched Operation Python Dance 2 and sent military forces into Umuhia, the capital of Abia state, to arrest IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu. [IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) advocates for the independence of Biafra/Eastern Nigeria. It is not a militant group and does not have an armed wing.] On 12 September tanks and other armoured vehicles descended on Kanu's home, triggering protests from horrified IPOB supporters. Clashes ensued, resulting in numerous deaths. Video footage posted to social media showed Nigerian soldiers beating, torturing and killing unarmed Igbo. This in turn triggered ethnic-religious skirmishes in other cities in neighbouring states as Igbo sought revenge.

JOS: On 14 September the cycle of violence escalated further as Hausa-Fulani Muslims attacked Igbo traders in Jos, capital of the volatile Middle Belt state of Plateau. At least three Igbo were killed (including two known Christians) and several injured before the police managed to calm the situation. Security was strengthened at churches on Sunday 17 September to prevent further attacks.

SOKOTO: On 17 September a mob of some hundreds of Muslim youths attacked Igbo traders in Sokoto, the capital of Sokoto State in Nigeria's far north-west. The Igbo fled for their lives as their properties were looted and torched.

Catholic Archbishop of Abuja,
John Onaiyekan
BLAME THE VICTIM: The government subsequently proscribed IPOB as a terrorist organisation, rendering anyone who participates in the group's activities liable to a jail term of 20 years. Catholic Cardinal John Onaiyekan slammed the move noting: 'The title of terrorists should not just be thrown at anybody. And there is a danger that if we continue this way, it may become more and more difficult for us to arrive at a peaceful solution.' He wondered why IPOB had been deemed terrorists while the Fulani herdsmen 'who are armed, lethal, murderous, vicious and have been killing people in our communities' were not. Operation Python Dance 2 -- which one commentator has likened to 'killing a fly with a sledgehammer' -- is ongoing in five south-eastern states.

The situation in Nigeria is absolutely dire. The stage has been set for a serious ethno-religious crisis. Please pray! May the Lord protect and preserve his precious people.

* NORTH KOREA (RLPB 423), as the leaders of North Korea and the USA continue to ramp up the war rhetoric. Please pray for God to intervene to the benefit of his beloved Korean/Chosun people -- in  particular, his long-suffering persecuted remnant Church in the North.

* IRAQ (RLPB 424), ahead of the highly controversial 25 September Kurdish referendum on independence.

For a more detailed analysis see: Assyrians at risk as Kurds ‘play with fire’
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 19 Sept 2017.

UPDATE: ASSYRIANS IMPERILLED AS CRISIS LOOMS

The Kurds came out in force on 25 September to vote overwhelmingly for Kurdish independence. Tensions are soaring, both inside Iraq and across the region. Baghdad is threatening to ban flights into Iraqi Kurdistan, while Turkey and Iran are threatening sanctions and border closures -- all moves designed to starve and strangle Iraqi Kurdistan into submission. Furthermore, the referendum has inflamed Kurdish independence zeal, but the result is not binding and the masses will not get what they voted for. President Massoud Barzani of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) may well have started something he will have no chance of controlling. Caught in the middle of this new crisis is Iraq's already traumatised and largely displaced, remnant Assyrian Christian nation. Please pray!


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

* AFGHANISTAN: As noted in RLPB 424 an unnamed Finnish aid worker abducted from a Kabul guesthouse on 20 May [RLPB 409 (31 May)] was released on 14 September. No further details are available and no-one has claimed responsibility for her abduction. We praise God for this mercy and continue to pray for the gravely imperilled, 'underground' Afghan Church. Pray also for the Afghan diaspora (in your own country and across the world), amongst whom the Afghan Church is growing.

* CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR) ABANDONED TO CHAOS AND KILLINGS 

On 1 September dozens of Islamic militants from Sudan invaded Zemio town in CAR's south-east. They looted and ransacked the Catholic Church compound, forcing the 15,000 people sheltering there to flee across the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo. The attack was allegedly perpetrated in the presence of UN troops believed to be from Morocco. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) laments that Zemio has become a 'ghost town' of looted shops and burnt houses. The population has dropped from 21,000 to under 1,000, the only people left being 'those who could not run away -- the elderly and the disabled'.

On 2 September, at a farm in Zambaguia village on the outskirts of Zemio, Father Louis Tongagnesi was hacked to death by Islamic militants believed to be from the Fulani-dominated and ironically named Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC).

Tortured: Father Robert Wieczorek
On 3 September Father Robert Wieczorek, a Polish missionary who has been serving in CAR for more than 20 years, was kidnapped by Islamic militants who attacked his parish in the north-western town of Ndim. He was tortured but released alive. Wounded and having lost a lot of blood, he was hospitalised for treatment. The female mayor of Ndim was also kidnapped, tortured and released. The attack has been attributed to the Patriotic Movement for the Central African Republic (MPC), although they deny it. Pray for the Church in CAR.

* EGYPT: CRITICISM OF MUSLIMS NOT ALLOWED 

On 26 May (Ascension Day) 28 Coptic Christians were massacred and some 23 wounded in Minya Governorate when their bus was ambushed by Islamic jihadists while en route to the Monastery of St Samuel the Confessor [RLPB 409 (31 May)]. In the wake of the terror, Bassem Abdel-Malak Fahim (25), a Copt from the village of Ezbat El-Sheikh Nageim, Minya Governorate, expressed his frustration on Facebook. Bassem accused Islamic leaders of inciting the killings and criticised the Egyptian government for failing to crack down on Islamic militants within Egypt's borders. He later deleted the post, but not before it had been shared by his friend Younan Samuel (25). On 6 September some Muslims in his village discovered the post. Feigning 'offence' they shared the post widely and incited Muslim rage against the Copts. Tensions soared. On 7 September Bassem and his father visited local Islamic leaders to whom they apologised and explained that no offence was intended. Tensions eased. However, late on 14 September, after security officials withdrew, a mob formed and attacked the Christians, hurling bricks, smashing windows, looting homes and destroying property. Security forces returned and restored calm; however, Bassem and Younan are now facing charges of inciting sectarian strife and insulting Islamic leaders. It is so much easier to blame the victim. The result however is gross injustice and deadly dangerous impunity. Please pray.

EGYPT: BRING BACK OUR COPTIC GIRLS

World Watch Monitor (WWM) has published a really significant article on one of the most serious issues confronting Egypt's Copts. Entitled, 'Egypt: ex-kidnapper admits "they get paid for every Coptic Christian girl they bring in" ' (published 14 September 2017), the article is built around an interview with an Egyptian former Muslim and former trafficker. His personal testimony gives credence to the oft-repeated claim that Salafi Muslims across the region are running a highly organised and well funded campaign to traffic Coptic Christian girls. While the crime is shameful, so too is the international silence that shrouds it, coming from the West's tacit surrender to the Islamic paradigm that criticism of Muslims is not allowed. 

* KENYA: MORE CHRISTIANS SLAUGHTERED

At around 3am on 6 September some 30 heavily armed Islamic al-Shabaab militants entered Bobo village in Lamu County, accompanied by a number of local Kiswahili speakers. Dressed in military gear and armed with AK-47 rifles, they surrounded the homes of known Christians before calling them out by name. Sources explained to Morning Star News that the militants had previously abducted men from Bobo area and forced them to reveal the names of Christians. Hillary Njuguna, one of the Christians abducted, was killed. Upon hearing their names, three Christians -- Guchu Peter, Jared Maiko and Jospeh Kinuthia -- emerged, only to be seized by militants who then slit their throats. [According to Coast Regional Police Chief Larry Kieng the men were shot and then decapitated.] Terrified families fled into the bush. On Wednesday morning locals burned tyres on the roads to protest the lack of security. Please Pray.

* PAKISTAN: CHRISTIANS KILLED AND FALSELY ACCUSED

Killed: Sharoon Masih (Twitter)
On 30 August Sharoon Masih (17) was on his second day at high school in Vehari, Punjab, when he was beaten and killed by Raza Ahmed, a well-built Muslim student with a reputation for fighting and bullying. A classmate who attempted to intervene was also beaten. The teacher, Nazeer Ahmed (who had slapped and abused Sharoon in front of the class) was absent from the classroom at the time of the fatal assault. The family is absolutely convinced their son was targeted simply for being a Christian. 

On 14 September Nadeem James, a young Christian father of two, was sentenced to death for blasphemy. The court found Nadeem guilty of sending a blasphemous poem using the WhatsApp instant messaging service, despite him being uneducated and illiterate. Nadeem was arrested in July 2016 in Gujrat District on the complaint of former friend, Yasir Bashir, who is suspected of sending the poem to himself using Nadeem's phone. Nadeem's brother, Shahbaz James told Morning Star News that the police only charged Nadeem because Islamic leaders had threatened to protest if they did not. Similarly, security concerns meant the trial had to be held inside the jail. The family has been forced to flee their home. The judgement will be appealed. Pray for the Church in Pakistan.

* PHILIPPINES: ARMY ADVANCES YET THREAT OF JIHAD LINGERS  

As noted in RLPB 424, Philippine soldiers have regained control of the Bato mosque, one of the last jihadist strongholds in Marawi city, rescuing hostages Father Suganob (51) and Mr  Acopio (29) in the process. Since then, three more hostages have been rescued. Some 40 hostages are still being held by some 60 to 80 jihadists, ten of whom are foreigners. Captain Arnel Carandang comments the jihadists are well trained, well directed and well armed with high-powered weapons, night vision goggles, the latest sniper scopes and surveillance drones. Not only has he seen many foreigners amongst the dead jihadis, but 'We have been hearing in their transmissions some English speaking terrorists.' The military expects the operation to be over by the end of October. Please pray.

HOSTAGES: According to Father Suganob, the hostages are a mix of local Christians and tribal people. To its credit, the Philippine army is doing everything in its power to protect and preserve the lives of the hostages. However, transmission intercepts indicate that the jihadists will not surrender, but are planning for a bloody final stand involving suicide bombings. The situation of the hostages is dire. Please pray! May the Lord of Hosts deploy his angels to rescue the remaining hostages.

ALSO: The military and police are closely monitoring Bayang town on the south side of Lake Lanao (opposite Marawi), after black-clad armed men stormed into the area on Wednesday 20 September and fired on a military detachment there. A fire-fight ensued and all is now calm. Pray for the Philippines! May all Filipinos come to enjoy peace, justice, fairness, security and liberty.

* TURKEY: A NATO MEMBER THAT PRACTISES WHAT IT PREACHES

Children in Turkey started their new school year on 18 September with a new curriculum. There is less science, less Ataturk (Turkey's secularist founding father) and more Islam, including jihad. 
Defined as 'religious war' by the dictionary of the Institute of Turkish Language, 'jihad' will be taught as an Islamic value and integral element of Islamic law. One teachers' union expressed fears the new curriculum would encourage a 'religious and nationalist' mindset.

Inside Surp Giragos
Armenian Weekly 
It should be unsurprising, therefore, that photos secretly taken inside Diyarbakir's Surp Giragos Armenian Apostolic Church 18 months after the government seized it reveal an empty desecrated shell. First built in the 1600s, Surp Giragos had been closed in the 1960s but then renovated with the support of the Armenian diaspora and the Sur municipality before a grand reopening in 2011. The church -- the largest Armenian cathedral in the Middle East -- was seized in March 2016 by a government that has no interest in its survival [see: RLPB 355 (4 May 2016)]. Pray for the Church in Turkey.

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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, September 19, 2017

RLPB 424. Iraq: Assyrians request prayer as Kurds 'play with fire'

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 424 | Wed 20 Sep 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)

IRAQ: ASSYRIANS REQUEST PRAYER AS KURDS 'PLAY WITH FIRE'
plus Update -- Afghanistan: Finnish aid worker released
        Update -- Philippines: Father Suganob rescued

by Elizabeth Kendal

Assyrians return to Qaraqosh
Palm Sunday 2017
Report and images: Open Doors
Assyrians are the indigenous people of Northern Iraq and a Christian nation. Between June and August 2014, ISIS drove more than 130,000 Assyrians from their homes in Mosul and the Nineveh Plains. Traumatised and destitute, most found refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan, primarily in Dohuk (to the north) and Erbil, the Kurdish capital (to the east). This year, a coalition led by the Iraqi Army and aided by Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs: mostly Iranian-led Shi'ite militias), US-backed Kurdish peshmerger forces and Assyrian units have succeeded in liberating Mosul and much of the Nineveh Plains. As Assyrians tentatively trickle back into their towns and villages, they do so with the hope that the Nineveh Plains might one day be an autonomous entity within the state of Iraq. The last thing they want is to fall victim to a Kurdish land grab, or to find themselves caught in the middle of another war.

Unless there is a miracle, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) will hold a referendum on independence on Monday 25 September. Though the anticipated 'Yes' vote will not trigger an automatic declaration of independence, it is expected to lead to official negotiations. Analysts suspect that KRG President Massoud Barzani's goal is not independence, but leverage to aid negotiations over revenue sharing (more money), further devolution of power (more power) and the demarcation of Iraqi Kurdistan's borders (more land). However, as Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi commented on 16 September, the Kurds are 'playing with fire'.

The Nineveh Plains region
(Assyrian heartland)
is marked with a Cross. 
Talk of Kurdish independence has sent tensions soaring inside Iraq and across the region. Eager to expand its borders, the KRG aims to include 'disputed territories' in the referendum, including oil-rich Kirkuk and the Nineveh Plains. Despite pressure from Kurd and pro-Kurd authorities, most Assyrians oppose the referendum and do not want their lands included. Fearing Shi'ite power, Nineveh's Sunni Arabs support Kurdish independence and do want to be included. In a move destined to destabilise the whole region, oil-rich Kirkuk (controlled by Baghdad until Kurdish forces seized it in the chaos of August 2014) will participate. The Iraqi Government, Iran and the Shi'ite militias oppose the referendum, the break-up of Iraq and Kurdish annexation of Kirkuk. Meanwhile, Turkey, Iran and Syria oppose the referendum as it could embolden their own restive Kurdish minorities. The pro-Kurdish US is opposed to the referendum as it will weaken Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to the benefit of Iran ahead of the April 2018 general elections. Many Kurds too are opposed to the referendum because they sense this is simply not the right time for such a provocative move.

Aware that the referendum could trigger a new conflict, Turkey, Iran, the US and the UN have been lobbying KRG President Massoud Barzani to cancel or postpone the referendum indefinitely, to no avail. On Sunday 17 September the KRG's High Referendum Council, headed by Barzani, voted to reject the US-backed alternative and press ahead with the 25 September referendum as planned.

Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako has issued an urgent appeal, calling on Erbil and Baghdad to 'resume dialogue with courage'.  He laments that 'some have already started beating the war drums', noting, 'If there were a new military conflict, the consequences would be disastrous for everyone, and minorities would always be the ones to pay a high price ...' He said, 'Everyone should be aware of the seriousness of the situation and hurry to support national reconciliation and peace before it is too late.'

[A more detailed version of this report can be found on Religious Liberty Monitoring (20 Sept).]


MAY OUR ALMIGHTY AND MERCIFUL GOD:

* intervene in Iraq for the benefit of his precious long-suffering people; may peace reign and the highly controversial and provocative referendum on Kurdish independence be indefinitely postponed; may 'courageous dialogue' be the order of the day.

'Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.' (From Jeremiah's prayer in Jeremiah 32:16-25 ESV)

* surround and watch over his imperilled Church; may all God's children be secure. 'Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.' (Psalm 17:8 ESV)

* guard and preserve the Assyrian and Christian heartland of the Nineveh Plains for the Assyrian people.  'In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance." ' (Promise in Isaiah 19:24-25 ESV)

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

Update -- Afghanistan: The unnamed Finnish aid worker taken hostage in Kabul in May [see RLPB 409 (31 May)] was released on 14 September.

Father Teresito 'Chito' Suganob
alive and free (photo: Ted Aljibe/AFP)
Update -- Philippines: Late on 16 September Philippine soldiers overran Marawi's Bato mosque, clearing its many tunnels and secret chambers and rescuing two hostages: Father Teresito 'Chito' Suganob (51) and a male school teacher surnamed Acopio (29).  The jihadists still hold around 40 mostly Christian hostages [see RLPB 421 (30 Aug)]. Please continue to pray.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
-------------------------------------------------------
ASSYRIANS IN IRAQ REQUEST PRAYER AS KURDS 'PLAY WITH FIRE'

Between June and August 2014, some 130,000 Assyrian Christians were driven from their homes in Mosul and the Nineveh Plains by ISIS. Most found refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan. Now as their lands are liberated, Assyrians are trickling back into their towns and villages. However, talk of Kurdish independence has sent tensions soaring. Christians fear the Kurds will seize the Assyrian heartland of the Nineveh Plains. The Iraqi Government, Turkey, Iran and essentially all Shi'ites have vowed to stop the Kurds annexing oil-rich Kirkuk. Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako's urgent appeal is for 'courageous dialogue'. Lamenting that 'some have already started beating the war drums', he appeals for peace, noting war would be 'disastrous', especially for minorities who, as usual, would 'pay a high price'. Please pray for Iraq 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

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

RLPB 423. North Korea: Talks the Only Option

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 423 | Wed 13 Sep 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)


NORTH KOREA: TALKS THE ONLY OPTION
plus China Update: Gao Zhisheng
plus Yemen Update: Father Tom Uzhunnalil

by Elizabeth Kendal

As noted in RLPB 403 (19 April), 'North Korea will not willingly disarm, but will retain its weapons program for the purpose of deterrence.' After all, the regime saw what happened in 2003 to Iraq's Saddam Hussein (who did not have a nuclear deterrent), and in 2011 to Libya's Muammar Gaddafi (who had relinquished all his nuclear weapons). In both cases, the West facilitated regime change, ensuring these former allies fell into the hands of their enemies: Saddam was executed by Shi'ite forces, whilst Gaddafi was brutalised to death by al-Qaeda-linked jihadists. Both countries were essentially destroyed. Russian President Vladimir Putin said as much last week. While he condemned North Korea's nuclear provocations, President Putin rejected the idea that UN sanctions were a solution. 'Sanctions of any kind,' he said, 'are useless and ineffective in this case ... [The North Koreans] will eat grass, but they will not abandon this [nuclear] program unless they feel safe.'

Sanctions will not work, but neither can there be a military solution for as the US Defense Department and everyone in the region knows, the cost to South Korea -- in lives and infrastructure -- would be absolutely catastrophic. Though war is not an option, on Sunday 10 September US Senator John McCain called for Washington to ratchet up the pressure by stepping up its presence in the region to 'make sure that Kim Jong-un knows that if he acts in an aggressive fashion, the price will be extinction.' Such language would surely cause considerable distress to millions of Christians around the world who don't want to see North Korea's long-suffering remnant Church obliterated in US 'fire and fury'.   

North Korea in the dark
(Satellite image) click on map to enlarge
If sanctions are not the solution and war is out of the question, what are we left with? It leaves us with the possibility of returning to six-party talks (North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the USA). Ultimately, what the Kim regime wants is a bi-lateral treaty with the USA: one that recognises North Korea as a nuclear power, taking regime change off the table. North Korea also wants to be recognised as a sovereign independent state, taking reunification off the table (at least for the foreseeable future). Some analysts insist the crisis (most of which is theatre and posturing) is approaching its 'end game' and that resolution and dialogue, not war, will be the outcome. That said, the situation remains incredibly volatile -- an angry or accidental slip could jeopardise everything.

photos by Eric Lafforgue
Should a resolution be reached, South Korea, China and Russia (i.e. North Korea's neighbours) are ready to invest in such a way as to facilitate North Korea's economic development. This is critical, for North Korea cannot truly open up to the world until it has radically improved the living standards of its people. Hence the endless balancing act: when risk is perceived to be high, repression and belligerence are extreme; however, when risk is perceived to be low, engagement and reform inch tentatively forward. There really is no alternative to returning to the days of inching forward. South Korea's new President Moon Jae-in, who has a grandmother alive in the North, is eager to re-establish dialogue and co-operation, as are Russia and China. However, the Kim regime will not negotiate until the US concedes that North Korea is indeed a nuclear power (hence the endless missile tests). Even if talks resume, treaties are signed and normalisation occurs, it will be many years before North Korea can truly open up to the outside world without risking collapse. What is more important though is that conditions inside North Korea improve, including the issue of religious freedom for the long-suffering North Korean Church.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO:

* preserve, protect, bless and strengthen the long-suffering North Korean Church – both the Church in the labour camps and the Church deep 'underground'.

* intervene in the Korean crisis creatively, according to his wisdom, to fulfil his good purposes, that ultimately North Korea's faithful remnant Church might be liberated to worship freely, to be salt and light and yeast in society, and to bring healing to the North.

'Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.' From Psalm 24

---------------------------------------
Further reading on North Korea:
by Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring
North Korea: Belligerence vs 'Smart Policy' (19 Feb 2014)
North Korea: Positive Changes (24 Aug 2007)
 -----------------------------------------

CHINA UPDATE: It has been confirmed that Christian human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who had been reported 'missing' [RLPB 421 (30 Aug)], is in police custody in Beijing. Analysts expect he will remain in custody until after the week-long Chinese Communist Party's 19th Congress, which commences on 18 October.
Father Tom in Oman
(Deccan Herald)

YEMEN UPDATE: Father Tom Uzhunnalil, kidnapped by jihadists in Yemen in March 2016 [see RLPB 386 (27 July 2016)], was released from captivity on 12 September, after the Indian and Omani governments secured his release. He is currently in Rome, where he will spend a few days before returning to his home in Kerala, India. Praise God for this mercy.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
-------------------------------------------------------
TALKS WITH NORTH KOREA ARE THE ONLY OPTION

North Korea will not abandon its nuclear weapons program. Sanctions will not work and a military solution is untenable as the impact on South Korea would be catastrophic. The only option is dialogue. However, the Kim regime will not negotiate until the US concedes that North Korea is a nuclear power. The regime maintains that nuclear deterrence is essential if North Korea is to be spared US-backed regime change. Many analysts believe the crisis is approaching its 'end game' and that dialogue, not war, will be the outcome. Whilst it would be many years before North Korea could open up to the outside world without risking collapse, the situation inside North Korea could improve considerably over time. Please pray for North Korea and its long-suffering Church in the labour camps and 'underground'.

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

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, September 5, 2017

RLPB 422. Nigeria: Muslim Youths 'Beat Drums of War'

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 422 | Wed 06 Sep 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)

BACKGROUND: Initially, the British colonialists who arrived in Nigeria in the late 19th and early 20th centuries favoured the northern Hausa and Fulani Muslims, describing them as fair-skinned, fine featured, organised and civilised. Like the northern Muslims, the British viewed the southern Yoruba (in the West) and Igbo (in the East) as black savages, fit for little more than slavery. However, whereas the northern Hausa and Fulani Muslims resisted all things British, the southern Yoruba and Igbo embraced British education and Christianity. At independence (1960) more than a million educated and mostly Christian Igbos were living in the Muslim north, dominating administration and business. Needless to say, the Hausa-Fulani Muslims were not impressed.  After the 29 July 1966 Hausa-led military coup, a campaign of ethnic cleansing targeting the Igbo was unleashed across the North in which some 30,000 Igbo were killed and a further 1.3 million were forced to flee. It was not the first anti-Igbo pogrom to hit the North, but it was the worst, leaving the Igbo convinced they had no future in a Hausa-Fulani dominated Nigeria.

On 30 May 1967 the Military Governor of Eastern Nigeria, Lt-Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu announced that the region formerly known as Eastern Nigeria would from now on be known as the independent, sovereign Republic of Biafra. Considering oil had been discovered in Eastern Nigeria's Niger Delta in 1956, it is unsurprising the rest of Nigeria did not approve the secession. The resulting Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) -- also known as the Biafra War -- claimed the lives of some 100,000 mostly Muslim Nigerian military personnel and between 500,000 and two million mostly Christian Igbo civilians, most of whom perished from starvation during the Nigerian military junta's blockade of Biafra.

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

NIGERIA: MUSLIM YOUTHS 'BEAT DRUMS OF WAR'
by Elizabeth Kendal

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970), also known as the Biafra War. This was a war in which Nigeria's mostly northern Muslim Hausa-Fulani-dominated military junta crushed a separatist rebellion by the mostly Christian Igbo of Eastern Nigeria. Frustrated and marginalised by the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, pro-secessionist Igbo groups have again been escalating their secessionist rhetoric. In response, a coalition of Northern Muslim youth groups held a press conference in Kaduna on 6 June in which their spokesman, AbdulAziz Suleiman, issued a chilling ultimatum: Igbos would have until 1 October to leave the North, after which time they will be forcibly ejected. As all Nigerians know, this threat has a precedent because in 1966 an ethnic cleansing campaign targeting Igbo in the North left 30,000 Igbo dead, more than 1.3 million Igbo displaced and millions more convinced they had no future in a Hausa-Fulani dominated Nigeria. As the Anglican Archbishop of Jos, the Most Rev Benjamin Kwashi told Global Christian News (15 June 2017), 'Nobody, who is watching history, thinks this is a joke.'

For more information see:
'The Kaduna Declaration: Nigeria in the shadow of Biafra'
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 6 July 2017.

Since the 6 June 'Kaduna Declaration' anti-Igbo hate speech has proliferated across Northern Nigeria, spreading like wildfire on social media. Of particular concern is the emergence of hate songs, some of which call for the Igbo to be killed, others of which call for the break-up of Nigeria with the Igbo cut adrift in a reduced, oil-less 'Biafra'. One song which has become extremely popular vilifies the Igbo, blaming them for everything from drugs to terrorism. It includes the following chorus (which is repeated eight times): 'Igbos are a curse to Nigeria, whose existence and birth as a people in Nigeria is useless, that abortion is greater than the birth of the bast**ds.' 

Though the federal government vowed to arrest those responsible for the Kaduna Declaration, no arrests have been made, allegedly on the grounds that it could jeopardise Nigeria's fragile security, i.e., it could trigger widespread Muslim rioting. Nigerian leaders, including President Buhari, have expressed concern over the growing amount of hate speech, noting that the same phenomenon occurred in Rwanda before the 1994 genocide there. At a press briefing in the capital Abuja on 24 August, the spokesperson for the coalition of northern Muslim youth groups, AbdulAziz Suleiman, 'suspended' the group's 6 June quit notice and affirmed the unity of Nigeria while continuing to vilify the Igbo. On Sunday 3 September Nigeria's top Muslim spiritual leader, Sa'ad Abubakar condemned the Kaduna Declaration, openly declaring his opposition to it.

Yet, despite all efforts to calm the situation, Muslim youths across the North continue to 'beat the drums of war' and insist all Igbo must leave before 1 October. A group of UN experts has expressed 'grave concern' about the possibility of ethnic bloodshed, 'especially considering the previous history of such violence'. Few doubt that a crisis is looming and that efforts to defuse it have been half-hearted at best.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO:

* intervene in Nigeria to calm the brewing storm; may the whole Nigerian Church unite in prayer -- nationwide, across denominational and ethnic lines -- to petition the Lord for peace and mercy.

'By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth ... who by his strength ... stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples, so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.' (From Psalm 65:5-8 ESV)

* grace Nigeria's political, religious, civic and youth leaders with wisdom to know what to do and the courage to do it. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

* guide and protect his vulnerable Church in the Muslim-dominated North in the face of escalating anti-Igbo hostility. (Isaiah 40:10-11)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
-------------------------------------------------------
NIGERIA: MUSLIM YOUTHS 'BEAT DRUMS OF WAR'

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Biafra War (1967-1970), a war in which Nigeria's Muslim-dominated military junta crushed the separatist aspirations of the predominantly Christian Igbo. Whilst the Igbo are indigenous to the south-east, they live and work all over Nigeria, excelling in business and administration. On 6 June a coalition of Northern Muslim youth groups warned all Igbo in the North to leave before 1 October or be evicted forcibly. The threat has a precedent -- in 1966 an ethnic cleansing campaign targeting Igbo in the North left some 30,000 Igbo dead and more than 1.3 million displaced. Tensions are soaring once again. Anti-Igbo hate speech is proliferating across the Muslim North. Many fear a crisis is imminent. Please pray for peace in Nigeria and for 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, August 30, 2017

RLPB 421. August Update; incl. Vietnam, India, CAR, Philippines, China, Eritrea, Kenya, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, Turkey

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 421 | Wed 30 Aug 2017

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)

'Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence . . . From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.' (from Isaiah 64:1-4 ESV)

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

* VIETNAM (RLPB 417), where long-persecuted Protestant pastor and religious freedom advocate, Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, had been released from prison on the condition that he and his religious freedom advocate wife Tran Thi Hong leave the county; and where internationally acclaimed human rights attorney and Protestant Christian Nguyen Van Dai (48) had been charged with 'carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People's administration' under Article 79 of Vietnam's Penal Code.

UPDATE: Radio Free Asia reports that four members of an online democracy advocacy group, known as Brotherhood for Democracy (founded in 2013), were arrested on 30 July. The four have all served time in prison before, and all are connected to human rights advocate Nguyen Van Dai. Like Nguyen Van Dai, the four men -- one of whom is 'missing' -- have been charged with 'carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People's administration' and could face anything from 12 years in prison to the death penalty if convicted. One of those arrested and charged is Protestant Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton (45).

* INDIA (RLPB 418), where Christians suffer escalating discrimination and violent persecution in line with the rise of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism with religious apartheid) and where the northern state of Jharkhand was considering enacting an anti-conversion law. The law had been approved by the cabinet of the Chief Minister on 1 August but had yet to come before the Legislative Assembly.

UPDATE: ANTI-CONVERSION LAW PASSED IN JHARKHAND
Jharkhand's 'Religious Freedom Bill 2017' was both introduced to and passed by the Legislative Assembly on 12 August. Under this law, anyone judged to have 'forced' another person to change their religion could face three years' imprisonment and fines of Rs 50,000 (US $800), or four years' imprisonment and a Rs 100,000 fine if the person converted is a minor, a woman or a member of the less-educated classes, such as Dalits. Furthermore, any conversion will require permission from the Hindu nationalist-dominated state government. While the law does not actually ban conversion, it hands anti-Christian forces a weapon with which they can persecute and prosecute Christians while reining in conversions. [Further analysis is available on Religious Liberty Monitoring (RLM) (2 Sept 2017).]

* CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR) (RLPB 419), where Islamic militants, who are reportedly now 'more heavily armed than ever', continue to spread terror despite the presence of UN 'peacekeepers'.

UPDATE: Complaints continue to surface against the UN peacekeepers, in particular the Moroccans. According to Catholic priest Father Jean-Alain Zembi, rector of Zemio on the nation's border with Congo, UN peacekeepers have been abandoning civilians. Going further, others accuse the UN peacekeepers of 'complicity' in the terror. The supreme question of who is funding these 'heavily armed' Islamic militants remains unanswered. According to Catholic priest, Father Desire Kpangou, the attackers wore turbans and spoke neither French nor the local language, Sango, suggesting they had come from nearby Sudan. [For more on Sudan's involvement in CAR see RLM Nov 2013.] In a desperate plea for international assistance to disarm the militants, Father Kpangou declared, 'If you [the UN] don't come soon to disarm these people, we [the priests] will have to organise confessions and a final Mass and viaticum [final administration of the sacraments of Holy Communion before death] and prepare ourselves and the rest of the displaced people here for the worst.' May God intervene in CAR.

* PHILIPPINES (RLPB 420), where some 50 to 60 local and foreign Islamic militants were holding 46 civilians hostage in Marawi's Grand Mosque as the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) closed in.

INSIDE 3 | AlHayat Media Center
http://ou7zytv3h2yaosqq.tor2net.xyz/35246
(copy and paste into browser)
UPDATE: On 20 August Islamic State's Al-Hayat Media Centre released a graphic and typically slick and powerful video entitled 'Inside 3'. In line with the Islamic State (IS) strategy of promoting an image of Islamic success, the almost seven-minute ¬English-language production includes scenes of young jihadis firing their weapons, desecrating a church and stepping around the bodies of dead AFP soldiers. The narrator boasts: 'After all [the government's] efforts [to subjugate Islam] it would be the religion of the Cross that would be torn down and broken.' And later: 'After soldiers of the Taghut (infidel government) were left ¬embarrassed and demoralised, [President] Duterte ran to his masters, the defenders of the Cross -- America, along with their regional guard dog Australia and begged them for help.' In reality, it is IS that is begging for help, pleading with Muslims across South-east Asia to come to Marawi and die fighting for Allah.

UPDATE ON HOSTAGES: On the morning of 24 August the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) seized control of Marawi's Grand Mosque. While it is a hugely symbolic victory, the militants had already fled and no hostages were found. Gun battles continue. On Sunday 27 August jihadist sympathiser Cayamora Maute (64), father of the notorious Marawi-based Maute brothers (who have led this rebellion) -- died in a government hospital. Arrested on 6 June, Cayamora Maute had diabetes, hepatitis and hypertension; police rushed him into hospital when his blood pressure shot up. The fact that he died in police custody could complicate the situation for the hostages. Please pray.

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

* CHINA: GAO ZHISHENG 'DISAPPEARED'


Gao Zhisheng (source)
in 2005 (left) and 2017 (right)
Internationally acclaimed human rights lawyer and devout Christian Gao Zhisheng ran afoul of China's communist regime as soon as he started advocating religious freedom and defending the persecuted. First arrested in 2006, Gao has spent many years in China's secret 'black jails' where he was tortured and forced to endure long periods of solitary confinement. After many threats, Gao's wife and children fled to the USA in 2009. Released from prison in 2014 in an appalling state [see RLPB 275 (27 Aug 2014)], Gao has since been under house arrest in his mother's cave house in Shaanxi Province, denied access to dental or medical care. When Gao's wife, Geng He, phoned him early on the morning of Sunday 13 August, nobody answered. When Gao's brother subsequently went to check on him, nobody was there. The Wall Street Journal has surmised that Gao may have been detained because he recently gave an interview to a Hong Kong magazine, or because the regime might be rounding up dissidents ahead of the 19th Party Congress due to be held this Fall. ChinaAid is urging the relevant authorities in China 'to help locate Gao's whereabouts' and asking the international community 'to pray for Gao's safety and freedom'.

* ERITREA: ANOTHER CHRISTIAN DIES IN CUSTODY

Fikadu Debesay had been arrested along with her husband on 17 May, during raids targeting evangelical Christians in the town of Adi Quala [RLPB 409 (31 May)]. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that the Christian mother of three died in Metkel Abiet, a desert camp in Eritrea's Northern Red Sea Region. A relative at the 10 August burial told Morning Star News that Fikadu's body showed signs of torture. Fikadu's traumatised children are amongst the more than 50 children currently without one or both parents because of these raids. The number of Christians detained in desert camps and military facilities since May has risen to 210. In July, 16 teenage Christian girls were arrested while doing their compulsory national service and sent to the Metkel Abiet camp. When family members tried to visit, they too were incarcerated. During the first week of August, a further 23 Christians were rounded up in the capital city, Asmara. Prison conditions are appalling and torture is routine. May God intervene in Eritrea.

* KENYA: SHAHADA OR DEATH IN LAMU COUNTY

On  Friday evening 18 August, al-Shabaab militants killed four Christian men in Kasala Kairu, Lamu County, on Kenya's coast near the border with Somalia. First the militants seized Changawa Muthemba (40s) from his home and dragged him to the home of his brother-in-law, Joseph Kasena (42), an elder in the local church. They then dragged Joseph and his guest, neighbour Kadenge Katana (17), out of the house. When Changawa, Joseph and Kadenge refused to recite the Shahaada (the Islamic statement of faith) the militants tied them up and hacked them to death with machetes. Joseph's wife, Caroline (late 30s), witnessed everything and is 'severely traumatised'. The militants then went to the home of Joseph's mentally challenged older brother, Charo (late 40s), and murdered him. It is well known that the al-Shabaab has established camps in Kenya's Boni Forest which borders Somalia. Furthermore, al-Shabaab militants and their sympathisers are reportedly 'deeply embedded' in the local communities of wider Lamu and Tana Counties where they 'move around freely' while the police do nothing. On 8 July Kenya's Standard reported: 'Last week, 150 Al-Shabaab gunmen prayed at a local mosque [in Lamu county] before launching an attack on the police station, dispensary and school.' This appalling situation requires urgent attention from the Kenyan government. Please pray.

* MALAYSIA: ISLAMISATION FOR POLITICAL GAIN

On 4 August the Malaysia Islamic Development Department (Jakim) established a special national-level committee called the Shariah Courts Empowerment Committee (JKMMS), tasked with 'empowering the shariah judicial system in line with the position of Islam in the Federal Constitution'. Then on 7 August the Malaysian government withdrew the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2016, claiming a new version was required. The new version removes Article 88(A) which had protected children from forced conversion to Islam upon the conversion of one parent. The government has also banned more books promoting moderate Islam, on the grounds that they are 'likely to be prejudicial to public order' and 'likely to alarm public opinion'. In early August, when images went viral showing members of an atheist club enjoying fellowship, the government vowed to 'hunt down' atheists and warned anyone caught propagating godlessness could face prosecution. Analysts surmise that UMNO (the ruling United Malays Nationalist Organisation party) and its leader, Prime Minister Najib Razak, are advancing Islamisation ahead of the August 2018 elections to shore up Muslim votes. Pray for the Church in Malaysia.

* NEPAL: A FURTHER BLOW TO RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

In September 2015, Nepali lawmakers passed a new constitution [RLPB 329 (30 Sep 2015)] which defined Nepal as a 'secular' state, while appeasing Hindu nationalists with the inclusion of anti-conversion measures [for details see: RLPB 321 (5 Aug 2015)]. On 8 August 2017 the Nepali parliament passed a bill criminalising religious conversion and the 'hurting of religious sentiment'. Clause 158 of section 9 bans the hurting of religious sentiment and is similar to Pakistan's blasphemy law. Clause 160 in section 9 severely restricts religious conversion and is similar to the anti-conversion laws in force in India. Christians fear it will foster intolerance and provide anti-Christian forces with a weapon to use against them. The law now awaits the approval of Nepal's President Bidhya Devi Bhandari. Tehmina Arora, an expert in human rights law, writes, 'The fundamental right to religious freedom includes the practice and sharing of a belief. The president should veto this new bill and allow her citizens to enjoy basic human rights'. Pray for the Church in Nepal.

* PAKISTAN: ANOTHER CHRISTIAN YOUTH ACCUSED 

Asif Masih (16), an illiterate and mildly mentally challenged Christian youth, worked as a scavenger in Gujranwala District, Punjab Province, scavenging through garbage for salvageable items that could be cleaned up, repaired and reused. On 12 August a rival scavenger named Muhammad Nawaz decided to remove Asif from the scene, so he accused him of having burnt a Quran. Before long a crowd had gathered and Asif was being beaten so savagely that when the police finally arrived he 'confessed' to the crime to save his own life. Asif is now in prison, accused of blasphemy.

* SUDAN: CHURCH UNDER PRESSURE

The Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) in Omdurman (across the Nile River from the capital, Khartoum) continues to face extreme pressure from the Islamic Government of Sudan (GoS). Morning Star News reports that, on Wednesday 23 August, seven SCOC leaders were jailed and interrogated for six hours before being charged with refusing to comply with an order to turn over leadership of their congregation to a government-appointed committee. Among those detained was Rev Kwa Shamaal, head of missions at the SCOC, who was only released from prison in January this year [for background see RLPB 372 (24 Aug 2016)]. The harassment and persecution is all part of the expressed intent of GoS to rid Sudan of Christianity [see RLM March 2013].

* SYRIA: SEVEN CHRISTIAN FAMILIES RESCUED FROM RAQQA


Matay Hanna (left) an MFS fighter,
inspects a map of Raqqa showing
the churches destroyed by IS.
(MEE/Wladimir van Wilgenburg)
Some 95 percent of Raqqa's Christian families managed to flee as the city fell to rebel forces in March 2013. However, when ISIS took control in January 2014, those who remained were trapped. On Tuesday 8 August two Armenian and five Assyrian Christian families were rescued from Raqqa by Christian fighters from the 200-strong Syriac Military Council (MFS; established in 2013), which is fighting with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Sawsan Karabidian (45), who was rescued with six members of her family, said, 'They [ISIS] forced us to wear the headscarf and allowed us to reveal our faces to distinguish us from Muslims. We had to hide our faces to avoid insults. We were forced to pay tribute [jizya/protection money] by hand and we were humiliated and insulted; what a homeland that makes you pay an additional tax because you are different.' MSF fighter Matay Hanna told reporters, 'Some say we are Christians and we must love everyone. But if we do that there will be no Christians left in the Middle East. We are Christians and should defend our people. We don't need another genocide against us; it's enough. ... We must defend ourselves.' The MFS fighters hope Christians will return to Raqqa. 'We will fix the church, or build a new church,' Hanna said. 'We will finish this mission, and let the people go back to their homes.' Pray for the Christians of Mesopotamia (Syria-Iraq).

* TURKEY: US PASTOR CHARGED WITH SPYING AND INSURGENCY 


Rev Andrew Brunson
World Watch Monitor
American Presbyterian Pastor Andrew Brunson was arrested in October 2016 [RLPB 389 (21 Dec 2016)] in the wake of July's alleged coup attempt which the Erdogan regime blamed on the US [see RLPB 367 (20 July 2016)]. Pastor Brunson and his wife, Norine, ministered in Izmir's Dirilis (Resurrection) Church and had lived in Turkey for 23 years. Jailed without charge, Brunson was eventually accused of being a member of a terrorist organisation. Now, World Watch Monitor reports that on 24 August 2017 the state-run Anadolu news agency confirmed that Brunson will now face charges of spying and insurgency with prosecutors demanding he receive four consecutive life sentences in prison. Pastor Ihsan Ozbek, who leads Turkey's Association of Protestant Churches, denounced the charges as 'absurd'. It has long been suspected that Turkey will seek to exploit Brunson to broker a prisoner swap with the US. Please pray.

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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