Tuesday, March 28, 2017

RLPB 400. March Update. Incl. Egypt, Syria, Eritrea, India, Assyrians in Iraq; Nigeria, Prisoners in Iran and China; Somalia, West Africa

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 400 | Wed 29 Mar 2017

by Elizabeth Kendal

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

* EGYPT (RLPB 396), after 'Islamic State in Egypt' threatened Coptic Christians in North Sinai and called for IS sympathisers to report the whereabouts of Copts. Seven Copts were murdered in a matter of weeks, triggering an exodus of Copts from the Sinai.

UPDATE: According to the spokesman for the Coptic Orthodox Church, Rev Boulos Halim, an estimated 310 Coptic families were uprooted during the crisis in late February and early March; other sources report higher figures. Whilst around 200 families have settled in Ismailia (on the Suez Canal), other families are settling in Port Said, Asyut, Minya, Sharqia, Gharbia and Cairo. Kasr al-Dobara Evangelical Church in Ismailia has registered the displaced Copts to ensure they receive ongoing assistance. Many believe they will never be able to return to their homes. Despite this being 'the largest wave of collective displacement in Egypt since the June 1967 war' (Al-Monitor, 20 March) the international response continues to be one of stone cold silence. Pray for Egypt and its Church.

* XINJIANG, CHINA (RLPB 397), where a massive security crackdown is under way. Though focused primarily on Islamic jihadists and separatists, the Communist Party is keen to consolidate its control over all of society. Consequently, the Church in Xinjiang -- especially the house church movement -- is experiencing increased repression and persecution.

* EGYPT (RLPB 398), where Coptic Christian girls are disappearing into the hands of Islamic trafficking gangs and sexual slavery at the rate of one girl every two days.

* DAMASCUS, SYRIA (RLPB 399), where a new al-Qaeda-led jihadist coalition known as Hay'at Tahrir al Sham (HTS: 'Assembly for the Liberation of Syria') is threatening security in the capital.

UPDATE: On Tuesday 21 March, HTS fighters staged a car bombing in the Abassiyin area of north-eastern Jobar district. Just 2km from the walls of the Old City, it is the same district HTS invaded on 15 March. As would be expected, the Syrian Army's response has been ferocious. Despite having been driven back, HTS still boasts its ability to strike terror. With HTS threatening Damascus and Hezbollah threatening Israel (from southern Syria), the situation is growing increasingly complicated. Pray for Syria and its imperilled, remnant Church.


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

* ERITREA: IMPRISONED AND ABUSED TO DEATH
click on map to enlarge
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports that two Protestant Christian women who had been detained in Wi'a military camp died in Massawa Hospital on 17 March, five days after being admitted. Imprisoned for their faith, the women had commenced a hunger strike in protest at their treatment. CSW has learned that the women's bodies showed clear evidence of violent sexual abuse. When the women died the authorities confiscated their medical records, doubtless to eliminate evidence of human rights abuses. CSW has also learned that a significant number of Christians were arrested on Christmas Eve and forcibly marched barefoot to an unknown location. Eritrea is one of the most violently repressive and abusive totalitarian states in the world. Christianity has been under sustained and targeted attack since 2002. Pray Psalm 10 for Eritrea; pray the LORD will intervene.

* INDIA: IMPUNITY EMBOLDENS ATTACKERS

On 17 March Assemblies of God pastor Ajay Kumar and Bible college student Assaryav were lured into a trap in Begusarai, Bihar state and then bashed by Hindu militants. Not only did police not intervene, they subsequently arrested the two Christians on charges of 'forcible conversions'. Kumar and Assaryav remained in custody until after midnight when they were released on bail, charged with 'deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India' under sections 295/295-A of the Indian Penal Code. A minority comprised mostly of the poor and marginalised, the Indian Church has little voice or influence inside India. The situation is extremely serious.

'I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.' (Psalm 121:1-2 ESV)

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath (c),
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (r).
UTTAR PRADESH ELECTIONS (update to RLPB 394): The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has secured a landslide win in Uttar Pradesh. Opting to ride to power on the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who campaigned on a platform of economic development, the BJP did not even name a candidate for Chief Minister. Only when it had won a majority -- securing 225 of the 403 seats -- did the BJP name hard-line Hindu cleric Yogi Adityanath (44) [click here for profile] as the new Chief Minister. A New York Times editorial described this as 'a shocking rebuke to religious minorities', adding that 'nothing stands in the [BJP's] way of realising its long-held dream of transforming a secular republic into a Hindu state'. Pray for India and its Church.

* IRAQ: DISPLACED ASSYRIANS NEED ONGOING AID

Sources have told World Watch Monitor that the supplies sustaining displaced Assyrian Christians in northern Iraq could run out 'within weeks'. However, they do note that the UN agencies which have long ignored the Assyrians have changed their outlook since US President Donald Trump threatened to reduce US funding to the UN, and are now pledging more assistance. Without ongoing aid, the remnant Assyrians -- whose numbers have fallen from 1.4 million in 1987 to around 200,000 today (most of whom are displaced and destitute) -- 'could disappear within the next six to 12 months'. They are indeed 'a threatened people on the verge of extinction, the victims of horrific genocide'.  Pray that the Lord will supply all their needs, realising that while God does work miracles, more often than not he works through his Church, through us, his  'human instruments'. [See www.ElizabethKendal.com/Action ]

* NIGERIA: CHRISTIANS KILLED AS FULANI EXPAND SOUTH

Christians continue to be killed and driven from their homes and farms by southward migrating Fulani Muslims who appear to be guaranteed impunity. Morning Star News reports that on 11 March suspected Muslim Fulani herdsmen killed at least six Christians in Tombo-Mbalagh, Benue state, bringing the total number of Christians killed in rural areas of Benue so far this year to 29. In neighbouring Nasarawa state, more than 200 have been killed and 500 wounded since the start of this year, while homes and farms have been destroyed. Two Christians (including a village chief) were killed and hundreds displaced when Fulani attacked a local congregation of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in Oshugu village on Sunday 19 March. Commenting on the constant state of insecurity one survivor lamented, 'no one is doing anything about it'. Pray for God to intervene in Nigeria.
 
* PRISONERS ALERT: IRAN AND CHINA

Iranian Christian convert, Maryam Naghash Zargaran, is again in urgent need of medical care [RLPB 372 (24 Aug 2016)]. Maryam, an evangelist who has been incarcerated in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison since March 2013, suffers with Atrial Septal Defect, a congenital heart defect also known as 'hole in the heart'. Due for release in July 2017, Maryam is struggling with serious depression and weight loss, along with other symptoms consistent with a deteriorating heart condition. Please pray.

Pastor Yang Hua
See: China Aid Association
ALSO in urgent need of medical care is Yang Hua, pastor of the 700-member, Protestant Living Stone Church in China's Guizhou Province. Arrested in January 2016, Yang -- who had been resisting pressure to register the church with the Communist-controlled Three Self Patriotic Movement -- was sentenced on 26 December to two-and-a-half years in prison for allegedly 'divulging state secrets'. Today Yang Hua's legs are so severely inflamed that he is at risk of paralysis. Without treatment his condition could require amputation. He has been given pain killers, but not the prescribed penicillin or specialist care. Denial of medical care is in reality a form of torture. Please pray. 

'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.' (Hebrews 13:3 ESV)

* SOMALIA: MORE CHRISTIANS ASSASSINATED 

Morning Star News reports that one night in February, armed militants from al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab broke into the home of a Christian convert family in Afgoi, in Somalia's Lower Shebelle Region. Shouting 'Allahu Akbar' they shot converts Suleiman Abdiwahab (38), his wife Faduma Osman (35) and their son Ahmed Suleiman (11). Neighbours rushed in to find Suleiman critically wounded with bullet wounds to his chest; his wife and son dead. Three other children aged 13, 9 and 7 managed to escape. The neighbours took Suleiman to hospital; the family has since been relocated. May God bring healing to this grieving and traumatised family and protect and preserve his imperilled Church in Somalia.

* WEST AFRICA: JIHADIST COALITION FORMED
Just as it has done in Syria, al-Qaeda is advancing its strategic policy of jihadist unity in West Africa. On 2 March four jihadist entities -- Ansar Dine, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) Sahara branch, Al Murabitoon and the ethnic Fulani 'Katibat Macina' -- announced they had merged to form Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims). The Mali-based coalition is loyal to al-Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri and AQIM head Abdelmalek Droukdel. This is bad news for the Church and all Christian people-groups across West Africa. It further raises the stakes in volatile IVORY COAST which was recently rocked by mutinies in the former rebel capital of Bouake and at a Special Forces base in Adiake just 90km east of the port city of Andijan. [See Ivory Coast: Troubles Far From Over, by Elizabeth Kendal, 9 March 2017.] May God protect and preserve the Church in West Africa.

'Put not your trust in princes ... Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God ... The Lord loves the righteous ... but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.' (From Psalm 146)

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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