Tuesday, April 25, 2017

RLPB 404. April Update, Incl. Turkey, Indonesia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Uganda

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 404 | Wed 26 Apr 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

'I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me' (Jesus, in John 10:14 ESV)

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

* TURKEY (RLPB 401), where President Erdogan has narrowly won a referendum that grants the president sweeping executive powers.

UPDATE: Though it would have proved enormously popular with his supporter base, President Erdogan did not play the Hagia Sophia card at all. Fortunately, Erdogan also happens to be constrained by Russia, which would not tolerate the Hagia Sophia being turned into a mosque. On the contrary, Russia has repeatedly requested the cathedral be returned to the Orthodox Church, even offering to contribute funds and expertise towards its full restoration. This year Ramadan commences on 27 May, which in Turkey will be followed two days later by Conquest Day when Muslim Turks celebrate the fall of Constantinople to Ottoman forces on 29 May 1453. Hagia Sophia remains a live issue. Its conversion into a mosque would be far more than symbolic with profound implications for all Turkey's Christians. Please pray.

* INDONESIA (RLPB 401), where Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama has lost his bid to continue as Governor of Jakarta.

ELECTION UPDATE: Ahok (a popular and respected ethnic-Chinese Christian) had been the clear front-runner before Islamists started propagating the view that Sura 5:51 of the Qur'an teaches that Muslims must not elect non-Muslims as leaders. When Ahok made light of this, he was charged with blasphemy. This, plus several massive Islamist rallies, left Jakartans feeling intimidated and nervous. The new Governor of Jakarta is Anies Baswedan; the Islamists' choice. Ahok conceded with grace: 'Destiny is in God's hands,' he said. 'God gives power and God also takes it away.'

TRIAL UPDATE: On 20 April Chief prosecutor Ali Mukartono proposed that if Ahok is found guilty of blasphemy he should only be sentenced to two years' probation and a one-year suspended sentence. Testifying in court on 25 April, Ahok hit out at those who he claimed had propagated lies for political gain. He criticised the blasphemy law as unclear, dubious and open to exploitation.
The verdict is expected in early May.

* EGYPT (RLPB 402), where Islamic State has launched a campaign of violence against the Coptic Church. Forty-five died and many dozens were wounded on 9 April when suicide bombers struck a Coptic church in Tanta city and the Coptic Cathedral in Alexandria, where the Coptic Pope was addressing the believers. On 18 April Islamic militants failed in an attempt to breach the security at the iconic 6th Century World Heritage listed St Catherine's Monastery in South Sinai [RLPB 403].

Gamal Gabriel (16)
Found with his throat slit on 13 April
UPDATE: A Coptic youth was found brutally slain in Quai village, Beni Suef Governorate, Upper Egypt, on Holy Thursday (13 April). It is widely believed the killing was perpetrated to 'cast terror into the hearts' (Sura 8:12) of the Copts ahead of Easter.  Allam Bashay Gabriel told World Watch Monitor that he found his son, Gamal (16), with his throat slit and lying in a pool of blood. He could not think of any reason why anyone would want to kill his son. Noting, however, that the method of killing indicated it was an Islamic ritual slaying, Mr. Gabriel believes his son was killed purely because of his faith in Jesus. Also on 13 April, three homes belonging to Copts were torched while other Copts were intimidated and their homes stoned in Kom El-Loufy, Minya Governorate. It seems the Muslims were angry that the Christians had gathered for prayer. Though there is no church in Kom El-Loufy, the 1500 Copts who live there do have permission to gather for prayer. Nobody was arrested and all other gatherings planned for Easter were cancelled because of insecurity. Pray for the Church in Egypt.

* SYRIA (RLPB 402), where Christians living, worshipping and ministering freely in government-held areas watched nervously as the US launched cruise missiles at a Syrian air-base east of Damascus. As Syria's Christians are well aware, the jihadists are close and ready to pounce should the opportunity present itself.

* NORTH KOREA (RLPB 403), where a long-suffering Church watches on nervously as belligerent rhetoric escalates and geopolitical tensions soar. North Korean's long-suffering Christians yearn to be liberated, not annihilated.

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

* KAZAKHSTAN: FINED FOR MEETING OVER EASTER


In the Central Asian state of Kazakhstan, unregistered religious activity is illegal and registration is difficult to get. A local organisation requires 50 adult male members in order to achieve registration, something virtually impossible in regional and remote areas, especially for non-Orthodox denominations. The law gives police the authority to fine groups and individuals without going through the courts. The churches raided on Easter Sunday were Baptist house churches -- one in Temirtau in the central Karaganda Region and another in Taraz in the southern Jambyl Region. The raids culminated in four Baptist leaders receiving hefty fines. Meanwhile, other Protestants had temporary bans placed on their worship and an Indian Protestant was deported. According to Forum 18, the raids are part of a 'new wave' of repression. Pray for the Church in Kazakhstan.

* NIGERIA: EASTER MASSACRE IN KADUNA

On the evening of Holy Saturday, 15 April, gunmen believed to be Fulani herdsmen attacked Asso village in Jema'a Local Government Area, in Kaduna State's Christian-dominated south. Shooting sporadically as they made their way through the village, the gunmen burst into a church where believers had gathered for an Easter vigil. At least 12 believers were killed and many more wounded. Though Governor Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai extended his condolences and claimed to have ramped up security, many Christians suspect he may actually be complicit.  Pray for the Church in Nigeria.

* UGANDA: PASTOR TERRORISED IN EASTERN REGION

Christopher James Kalaja pastors the Agape Sanctuary International Church in Nakabale Village, Kaliro District, in Uganda's Muslim-dominated Eastern Region. Morning Star News has learned that on 27 March, a band of nine Muslims invaded Kalaja's property and, to shouts of 'Allah Akbar' (Allah is greater), hacked down the trees on his farm and tore down the church on his land. Kalaja, a married father of six, fled for his life. Though he reported the case to police, they launched an investigation only after he filed a legal case in the Budaka District Court. Kalaja has been leading the congregation of some 80 members for ten years and has been witnessing to Muslims for decades. Long the target of serious persecution, Kalaja believes the Muslims, who have already killed his mother and his livestock, are trying to drive him from the region. Uganda's radical, run-away and corruption-riddled decentralisation has left Christians in majority-Muslim districts exceedingly vulnerable to violent persecution. [An article on this is being prepared for Religious Liberty Monitoring.]

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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, April 18, 2017

RLPB 403. North Korea: Uncertainly looms over long-suffering Church

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 403 | Wed 19 Apr 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: UNCERTAINTY LOOMS OVER LONG-SUFFERING CHURCH
plus news alert -- EGYPT: Sinai monastery attacked
by Elizabeth Kendal

The Korean Revival of 1907 (also known as the Korean Pentecost) stands in history as one of the great transformative revivals of the 20th Century. Geopolitically, it was a tense time. Aware that a spirit of fear and negativity pervaded the annual winter (January) Pyengyang Bible Class, its organisers bathed the event in prayer.

Pengyang Bible Class, January 1907
On the evening of Monday 8 January 1907, the Holy Spirit descended in power on the gathering of some 1500 Korean Bible teachers, pastors and missionaries. The result was an out-pouring of prayer, marked by a deep sorrow over sin. The next day it continued: the Class was gripped by a spirit of repentance which culminated in confession, forgiveness and reconciliation. Over time the movement spread to the point that the Korean capital, Pyengyang (Pyongyang) became known as 'The Jerusalem of the East'. But, in the mystery of God, the Korean Church would not be permitted to remain on the spiritual mountaintop for long.

Located as it is between China and Japan, Korea had long been the site of proxy wars as her powerful, imperialist neighbours fought for control over the peninsula. On 22 August 1910 imperialist Shinto nationalist Japan annexed Korea, ushering in a 35-year period of intensive religious persecution. In 1919 (in the wake of World War 1) Korean Christians led a movement for independence. But the hoped-for Western support did not eventuate. Instead, they were imprisoned and the persecution intensified. One consequence of this terrible period was that Christianity became associated with Korean nationalism and the profile of the Church was raised.

During the course of World War 2 the Korean Peninsula came to be divided along the 38th parallel, with the north under Soviet occupation and the south occupied by America. On 25 June 1950 the communist north invaded the south, triggering the Korean War. Though a ceasefire was declared in 1953, the war was merely frozen, not ended. After the border closed, an estimated 2,300 churches with about 300,000 members disappeared from the north. Under the rule of the Kim family, Christianity is prohibited with the threat of death for the believer and labour camp for the extended family. Thus the Christians of North Korea have known little else but intensive suffering for over 100 years. Despite the persecution, the Church has survived and is believed to number between 300,000 and 500,000. Those who are not struggling to endure horrendous prison labour camps, survive as secret believers. God alone sustains them, and one day they will emerge as Korea's light, salt and healing.

 Pyongyang, military parade, 15 April 2017
Today, geopolitical tensions are approaching boiling point. North Korea is convinced the US-led West would not have removed Saddam Hussein in 2003 if Iraq actually had weapons of mass destruction; and that the US-led West would not have removed Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 had he not given up Libya's weapons of mass destruction. So North Korea will not willingly disarm, but will retain its weapons program for the purpose of deterrence. It remains to be seen how the Kim regime responds to a real existential threat. It is difficult to know how to pray, for though we want to see the situation change, we do not want to see Korea's long-suffering Church engulfed in apocalyptic fire. All we can do is give the situation to God, plead for his mercy and ask that he interpose himself into the Korean crisis for the well-being of his Church and the glory of his name.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO

* intervene in the Korean crisis creatively, according to his wisdom, to fulfil his good purposes, that ultimately the Church in North Korea might be liberated to be a blessing to the whole Korean Peninsula and a witness to the watching world.

'Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfils his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!' (Psalm 57:1-3 ESV)

* pour out his Holy Spirit in power upon his beloved Korean Church, that she might erupt yet again in Spirit-led prayer that the Korean Peninsula might once again be transformed.

'Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!' (Psalm 57:5 and 11 ESV) 'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.' (Zechariah 4:6 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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UNCERTAINTY LOOMS OVER LONG-SUFFERING CHURCH IN NORTH KOREA

North Korea will not willingly disarm as its weapons are a deterrent against foreign intervention. Tensions are reaching boiling point. Despite more than 100 years of severe persecution -- under Japanese occupation, Soviet occupation and the Kim family -- the Church is believed to number between 300,000 and 500,000. Christianity is prohibited with the threat of death for the believer and labour camp for the extended family. God alone sustains believers struggling to survive in labour camps or as secret believers. One day they will emerge as Korea's light, salt and healing. While we want to see the situation change, we do not want Korea's long-suffering Church engulfed in apocalyptic fire. Please pray that God will intervene for the well-being of the Korean Church and of the whole Korean Peninsula.

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EGYPT: Sinai Monastery Attacked

St Catherine's Monastery, South Sinai
A policeman was killed and four more were wounded on Tuesday 18 April, when Islamic militants attacked a security checkpoint outside St Catherine's monastery in Egypt's South Sinai. The world heritage listed 6th Century monastery is popular with pilgrims and tourists and is said to stand at the site of the biblical Mt Sinai. Islamic State has claimed responsibility. Please pray for Egypt 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, April 11, 2017

RLPB 402. Egypt and Syria: Massacre and the Threat of Massacre

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 402 | Wed 12 Apr 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)


EGYPT AND SYRIA: MASSACRE AND THE THREAT OF MASSACRE
-- plus Easter Prayer
by Elizabeth Kendal

This RLPB will not be the 'short Easter devotion' promised last week. Rather we must press on with intercession in view of the events of the past week, which indicate that the Christian crisis in the Middle East is moving to a whole new level.

EGYPT: PALM SUNDAY DOUBLE MASSACRE


Mar Girgis, Tanta, Palm Sunday, 9 April 2017
Soon after 9am on Sunday 9 April, as the believers were enjoying Palm Sunday celebrations, a suicide bomber entered Mar Girgis (St George) Church in the Nile Delta city of Tanta. Launching himself towards the front of the church, he detonated himself beside the altar. At least 27 worshippers were killed and a further 78 others wounded. A few hours later in coastal Alexandria, a suicide bomber approached St Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral. Unable to gain entrance to the church, he blew himself up outside, killing 18 civilians and four police officers. The head of the Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, had just finishing addressing the congregation, but was not hurt. By Sunday afternoon, Islamic State in Egypt had claimed both attacks.

That evening, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi announced on television that he would impose a three-month nationwide state of emergency, establish a Supreme Anti-Terrorism Council and fast-track amendments to the criminal code to expedite the trials of terror suspects. On 10 April the Egyptian parliament approved the measures.

The situation for Copts in Egypt is extremely complex. Churches are a soft target for Islamic militants aiming to trigger sectarian conflict to destabilise or extract concessions from the state. Meanwhile, many Muslims in authority view Christians as pawns, expendable in the pursuit of Western military aid and support. In other words, both the jihadists and the authorities stand to gain from bombing the churches. Furthermore, after receiving intelligence on 10 April that an IS attack was imminent, Israel closed the border crossing between Taba in Egypt's South Sinai Province and Eilat in southern Israel, on the north shore of the Gulf of Aqaba. As Islamic State's Caliphate collapses in Mosul, many of IS's Egyptian fighters are returning home. Islamic State in Egypt is growing and, with Muslim Brotherhood support, is escalating its campaign. The Christian crisis in Egypt is moving to a whole new level.

Photo galleries: Al-Ahram and BBC 
Of course this violence leaves many nominal or cultural Muslims shaken, repulsed and disillusioned -- indeed many will reject Islam because of it. An evangelical pastor in the Middle East told Jennifer Breedon (an analyst with the Clarion Project): 'Today ISIS is the evangelizer… I am merely a baptizer of their converts to Christianity.' While the pastor's comment is understandable, it would be more accurate to say that ISIS is the hammer smashing Islam's illusions, while in demonstrating divine amazing grace, Egypt's Christians are the evangelisers.

PLEASE PRAY FOR Egypt's grieving, traumatised and anxious Christians. May God comfort them, supply all their needs and redeem all their suffering. May the Lord pour his Holy Spirit on them that they will continue to demonstrate divine amazing grace (see Luke 6:27-31), evangelising Egypt (and the world) in the process.


SYRIA: US REVERSAL RAISES THREAT OF MASSACRE 

On the night of Thursday 6 April, US President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike on Syria's Shayrat Airbase. Located about 40 km east of the city of Homs, Shayrat is the principal base from where Syrian and Russian forces have been fighting Islamic State in eastern Syria. While the impact of the 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles appears to have been minimal, the action -- which was surely illegal -- further complicates an already complicated situation. The missile strike was ordered on the basis of 'intelligence' (primarily heart-rending images of children in the village of Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib) provided by Turkey and Saudi-backed, al-Qaeda-led 'rebels'. [Idlib fell to a coalition of Turkey and Saudi-backed al-Qaeda-led transnational jihadists in March 2015 (see RLPBs 303, 305 and 307 of April 2015)].

Without any independent investigation, the West deemed Assad guilty of launching a chemical attack on civilians, despite the obvious fact that the Syrian government -- which was making great gains militarily and politically -- had nothing to gain from such a provocation and everything to lose. On the contrary, the mostly foreign 'rebels' -- who care little about Syria or Syrians and are on the back foot militarily -- had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Meanwhile, according to Homs governor Talal al-Barazi, 14 Syrians were killed in the US attack on the Shayrat airbase, nine of whom were civilians, including women and children.

It should not be forgotten that NATO-member Turkey and US-allied Saudi Arabia and Qatar started the Syrian war when they chose to exploit 'Arab Spring' unrest in Syria to pursue regime change in Damascus. The Turkey-Arab Sunni Axis' aim is to restore Sunni hegemony (as was the situation before WW1) and install a Sunni regime in Damascus more amenable to Sunni interests. If the US does not step back, the consequences for Christians will be disastrous.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that Hezbollah is known to be stockpiling weapons in southern Syria in preparation for a new war with Israel which may well be launched from Syrian territory. In the early hours of 17 March Israeli air-force jets entered Syrian airspace and fired rockets into a convoy understood to be transporting Iranian weapons to Hezbollah's T-4 military base at Palmyra, drawing fire from Syrian air defences in the process. This evolving situation is causing a dilemma for Russia, which is allied to Iran and Syria, and to Israel with whom it has pledged co-operation. For Israel the security situation is becoming critical, as the threat posed by Iran-Hezbollah is greater than the threat posed by Islamic State.

Bishop Moussa enjoys Palm Sunday parade
outside the Church of Saint Elias in Damascus.  9 April 2017
Source: image gallery - Christians celebrate Palm Sunday
The fact we cannot ignore is that if the Syrian government falls jihadists will fill the vacuum, triggering a new exodus and genocide. Western policy is spinning so fast it is dizzying. The only solution I (Elizabeth Kendal) could propose would be an alliance comprising Russia, the Alawites, Israel and the West, committed to keeping the bulk of Mesopotamia (i.e. 'the Fertile Crescent of minorities') free from Islamic rule and free from Turkish, Arab or Persian domination. 'With God, all things are possible' (Matthew 19:26; see also, Luke 1:37).

PLEASE PRAY FOR Syria's grieving, traumatised and deeply anxious Christians; may God comfort them, supply all their needs and redeem all their suffering. May the Lord intervene in Syria in the interests of the Church, in the interests of Syria.


EASTER PRAYER

Dear God our Father,
We lift before you the imperilled Christians of the Middle East, along with persecuted and suffering believers everywhere. 
They suffer betrayal, injustice, violence and killing -- just as you did.
They struggle with fear, panic, terror and confusion -- just as did your disciples.
Though we join in lamentations we find hope in the Cross which reminds us that no matter how deep the darkness, you are there, alive and active, subverting evil and redeeming it for good in fulfilment of promise.
Father, 
Add our tears to the tears of the bereaved and oppressed, and to the blood of the martyrs: that suffering might be redeemed, that hearts might be softened and the 'soil' prepared to receive the Gospel of grace. 
Pour out your Spirit afresh upon the Church, that we might with boldness step out in faith and with grace and great generosity of spirit to be cross-bearers (Luke 14:27) and burden-sharers (Galatians 6:2) that the world might believe (John 17:20-23).
Lord have mercy on us for the sake of the Lamb, Jesus Christ the King of kings and Lord of lords.
AMEN

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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, April 5, 2017

RLPB 401. Turkey and Indonesia: Islamic zeal to soar over Easter

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 401 | Wed 05 Apr 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)


TURKEY AND INDONESIA: ISLAMIC ZEAL TO SOAR OVER EASTER 
by Elizabeth Kendal

This RLPB is a little longer than usual as it covers two situations over which we must watch and pray from now, through Easter and beyond. [Next week's RLPB will simply consist of a short Easter devotion.] Whilst some might consider this bulletin alarmist, it arises out of a deep, evidence and experienced-based conviction that the situations in both Turkey and Jakarta are potentially explosive with serious implications for the church. So the call is to watch and pray.

TURKEY: CONSTITUTIONAL REFERENDUM, SUNDAY 16 APRIL 

Turkey will hold a constitutional referendum on Easter (Resurrection) Sunday 16 April. If passed, the position of prime minister will be abolished and the president will gain sweeping executive powers, including the right to veto legislation, dissolve parliament, appoint 12 of the 15 justices of the Constitutional Court and run for three 5-year terms, all while enjoying the guarantee of life-long immunity from prosecution. Pre-polling indicates that the vote will be extremely close. Though youths are overwhelmingly pro-'yes', they are expressing also a reluctance to vote. It is to be expected, therefore, that President Erdogan will play the ultra-nationalist ethnic and religious cards relentlessly. Of all the issues that could be exploited for political gain, surely none is as powerful or as sensitive as the issue of Hagia Sophia.

6th Century mosaic inside Hagia Sophia
Emperor Justinian (l) with his offering of Hagia Sophia
Emperor Constantine (r) with his offering of the city (Constantinople).

Istanbul's Hagia Sophia (Church of Holy Wisdom) was built by Roman Emperor Justinian in the 6th Century after the original church, founded by Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century, was destroyed by fire in 532. Dedicated on 27 December 537, Justinian's Hagia Sophia remains an architectural masterpiece, its dome still unsurpassed. Long the greatest church in the world's greatest city (Constantinople), Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman Islamic conquest of 1453. In November 1934, having already abolished the Caliphate, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk announced that Hagia Sophia would be converted into a Museum, its doors first opening to tourists on 1 February 1935.

The Islamist campaign to restore Hagia Sophia as a fully operational mosque has gathered momentum under Erdogan, who yearns to be Caliph, the leader of Muslims. During Ramadan 2016 (6 June to 5 July), Qur'an recitations were performed at Hagia Sophia for the first time in 81 years. In October, Turkey's powerful ministry of religious affairs (Diyanet) installed Onder Soy as Hagia Sophia's first imam in 81 years, although at this stage Soy's primary responsibility is to oversee the Hunkar Kasri site next door, a former sultan's 'mini palace'. The appointment is purely political.

President Erdogan, 3 April, Rize.
source 
This year Ramadan will extend from Friday 26 May to 24 June, meaning Conquest Day (29 May) -- when Turks celebrate the day Constantinople fell to Ottoman forces -- will be celebrated during Ramadan. If ever there were a time to announce or even just promise the conversion of Hagia Sofia into an operational mosque surely it would be now, ahead of the constitutional referendum, maybe even on Friday 14 April (Good Friday). Would the promise of President Erdogan leading prayers in Hagia Sofia on the first day of Ramadan -- Friday 26 May, ahead of Conquest Day on 29 May -- entice Turkey's radicalised youths to the polls? If Erdogan takes the path of ethno-religious 'populism', trampling Christian sensitivities in the process, the result would doubtless be an explosion of ethnic (Turkish) and religious (traditional Sunni Islamic) nationalism and supremacism. This would certainly bode ill for the Church in Turkey. Please watch and pray.


INDONESIA: JAKARTANS TO ELECT A GOVERNOR ON WEDNESDAY 19 APRIL
Megawati (c), flanked by
Ahok (l), running mate Hidayat (r)

Jakarta's gubernatorial run-off election on Wednesday 19 April will be the most hotly contested poll in the city's short democratic history. [For background see RLPB 395 (22 Feb 2017).] The race pits the incumbent ethnic Chinese Christian Governor of Jakarta, Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama, against Anies Baswedan who has the support of the Islamists.  Former president and current Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) chairwoman, Megawati Soekarnoputri, is imploring women to vote for Ahok. First round loser Agus Yudhoyono is refusing to endorse either candidate, telling his supporters they are free to choose for themselves. Consequently, Ahok stands a good chance of winning.

Unsurprisingly, hard-line Islamist groups are increasing the pressure, ramping up the rhetoric and the volume, posting hate banners around the city and threatening Muslims. On 31 March [313] they held another rally in the city, which, despite being denounced by Indonesia's largest organisations,  Nadhlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, still attracted an estimated 200,000.

313 rally.  Image: Jakarta Post
More images: Pacific Press
Islamists have also formed a mass movement called Tamasya AlMaidah (Al-Maidah Tour). They claim it has attracted more than 100,000 members to date, although they say they are aiming for one million. They plan to post 100 Tamasya AlMaidah activists -- men dressed in all white, women in all black -- at 1000 polling stations they maintain are at risk of election fraud or tampering. Aiming to post 'observers' to all 13,032 polling stations, Tamasya AlMaidah says it will bring in Islamists from across the country. Many Jakartans fear the stage is being set for voter intimidation and violent clashes.

Meanwhile Ahok's blasphemy trial continues, with analysts surmising that he may well be acquitted on the grounds that, as a man long-friendly to Muslims, he never intended to blaspheme or offend. (Intention is a critical element of Article 156A of the Criminal Code as it pertains to blasphemy.) [For more background see: ‘Ahok’s Blasphemy’, by Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 29 Nov 2016.]  The trial is expected to conclude in May. Meanwhile, Jakarta is polarising and tensions are running high. If Islamic hard-liners do not get what they want, we might see an explosion of 'Islamic resistance'.  Please watch and pray.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT

* no matter what happens in the coming weeks, Turkey and Jakarta will remain peaceful and the Church safe.

May the 'God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth ... who by his strength ... stills the roaring of the seas', interpose himself into the politically-charged situations in Turkey and Jakarta, and 'still ... the tumult of the peoples' (from Psalm 65:5-8 ESV).

* the Lord of Glory will redeem the situations in Turkey and Jakarta so they will ultimately work for the good of the Church. 'And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.' (Romans 8:28 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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TURKEY AND INDONESIA: ISLAMIC ZEAL TO SOAR OVER EASTER 

Turkey will hold a constitutional referendum on Easter Sunday, 16 April. If passed, it will increase the power of the president significantly, ironically reducing democracy by means of democracy. As the day approaches, President Erdogan will doubtless play the 'populist' ethnic (Turkish), religious (Sunni Islamic) card relentlessly. An explosion of Turkish-Islamic supremacy would bode ill for the Church in Turkey. Likewise, Jakarta will hold its gubernatorial run-off poll on Wednesday 19 April. The race pits the incumbent governor, ethnic Chinese Christian 'Ahok', against 'Anies', who is favoured by Islamists. Meanwhile, Ahok's blasphemy trial is expected to continue into May. Tensions are soaring. Please watch and pray for Turkey and Indonesia and that, no matter what happens in the coming weeks, they will remain peaceful and the Church safe.

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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