Tuesday, June 27, 2017

RLPB 412. June Update, incl. Pakistan, Iraq, Burma, China, Eritrea, Egypt, India, Philippines, Syria, Vietnam

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 412 | Wed 28 Jun 2017

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by Elizabeth Kendal

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

PAKISTAN (RLPB 410), where impoverished 'untouchable' Christians are helpless to resist exploitation and abuse; and from where Christians with means are fleeing in ever increasing numbers.

UPDATE (1): DEATH OF 'UNTOUCHABLE' TRIGGERS LEGAL BATTLE
On 1 June 'untouchable' Christian sanitation worker Irfan Masih (28) died at a hospital in Umerkot City, Sindh Province, after doctors refused to treat a man they looked upon as not merely physically but ritually 'unclean'. Distraught Christians protested. The following day, Masih's father went to the police and registered a complaint against Civil Hospital Medical Superintendent Jam Kunbhar and others, accusing them of criminal negligence and manslaughter. When Kunbhar was arrested, angry hospital workers protested. Investigators agree that while the hospital did not cause Masih's death, it does bear some responsibility. Morning Star News reports that, in an effort to pressure the family into dropping the complaint, the hospital has registered a complaint against the Christians. Fortunately the police have not acted, deeming the complaint 'frivolous'. Pray for justice in Pakistan.

UPDATE (2): ISLAMISTS WINNING THE BLASPHEMY BATTLE
On 13 April, Pakistani Members of Parliament vowed to insert safeguards into the blasphemy law to prevent its misuse [RLPB 405 (3 May)]. Yet, on 10 June a court in Punjab sentenced Shia Muslim Taimoor Raza (30) to death after finding him guilty of using social media to 'disseminate' material the court deemed blasphemous. It is the first time anyone has been sentenced to death for a social media post. On 15 June police arrested Christian shop-owner Ashfaq Masih (28) after an observer overheard him explaining to a customer that Christians believe Jesus was the final prophet. The observer reported the 'blasphemy' to police, who then came and arrested Masih.  It appears the Islamic fundamentalists, who have been calling for swifter and harsher penalties from the courts, are winning the blasphemy battle. Please pray.

KENYA (RLPB 411), where Somalia-based al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab is escalating its terror inside Kenya and inciting Kenyan Muslims against the Church in the hope it might extract concessions ahead of Kenya's 8 August General Elections.


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

* IRAQ: ABDUCTED CHILD FOUND AND RESTORED


Christina Abada (5), with mother, Ayda in rear; 9 June.  (WWM)

In early August 2014 Christina Ebada (then aged 3) was literally dragged from her mother's arms by ISIS fighters as her family fled the Assyrian city of Qaraqosh [RLPB 275 (27 Aug 2014)]. The harrowing story, as told by her distraught mother, was one of the most painful to emerge from the ethnic cleansing of Qaraqosh. Now World Watch Monitor (WWM) reports that Christina has been found and reunited with her family. According to Kurdish media, 'The family's efforts to track her through Arab friends were rewarded on Friday (June 8), when they got a call telling them Christina had been found in Hayy al-Tanak, a poor neighbourhood of Mosul.' Iraqi Security Forces retrieved her and returned her to her family the following day. Healthy, well dressed and wearing gold earrings, it appears Christina had been kept by a family who treated her well. To the Lord Jesus, and all the believers who have prayed for the family over the years, Christina's mother, Ayda, says, 'Thank-you.' We too say, 'Thank you Lord Jesus.'

* BURMA (MYANMAR): IMPRISONED PASTOR DETERIORATES


Kachin pastors Nawng and Hseng
Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) pastors Dom Dawng Nawng (65) and La Jaw Gam Hseng (35) were abducted by Burmese military personnel on 24 December 2016, after they helped reporters document destruction caused by Burmese military aggression [RLPB 391 (29 Jan 2017)]. On 24 January the military handed the pastors over to police who accused them of spying and charged them with 'illegal association' [RLPB 392 (1 Feb 2017)]. In a recent conversation with Morning Star News, Khon Peng, wife of Pastor Nawng, revealed that her husband is discouraged and his health is deteriorating. Nawng was transferred from Muse, 174km south to Lashio in April and the four-and-a-half hour road trip makes visiting difficult. Peng said her husband -- who shares a cell with some 40 other prisoners -- 'suffers from asthma' and 'has diarrhoea often'.  Attorney U Brang Di confirmed to Morning Star News: 'He lacks nutrition. As he is old, it makes it worse. He seems very weak.' The two pastors faced court for the first time on 3 May. Please pray.

* CHINA (1): IMPRISONED PASTOR PUNISHED FOR APPEAL

Pastor Zhang Shaojie (2014)
Communist Party-approved 'Three-Self' pastor Zhang Shaojie of Nanle County Christian Church, Henan Province, was arrested in November 2013 along with 23 other church members after they accused the Communist Party of attempting to seize church land. In July 2014 Zhang was sentenced to 12 years' jail; an appeal in August 2014 failed [RLPB 275 (27 Aug 2014)]. According to China Aid Association (CAA) Zhang recently launched a fresh attempt to appeal his sentence, igniting the wrath of prison officials. His daughter, US-based Esther Zhang, told CAA that her father is now being punished with 'strict supervision'. Newly released inmates have told her that her father is being subjected to sleep deprivation and starvation and that he is depressed and 'barely alive'. Please pray.

CHINA (2): CATHOLIC BISHOP 'DISAPPEARED' IN WENZHOU
On 26 June the Holy See expressed its 'grave concern' over the disappearance of Msgr Pierre Shao Zhumin (54), Bishop of Wenzhou, in the coastal province of Zhejiang. The bishop disappeared on 18 May after being invited to attend an interview at the local office of Religious Affairs. Rumour has it that he is being detained in a police residence in Wenzhou, but nobody has been able to contact him. Fearing this Vatican-approved yet unregistered bishop could be facing pressure to submit to unreasonable Communist Party demands, the Catholic Church in Wenzhou has appealed for prayer.

* ERITREA: ARRESTS CONTINUE  


click on map to enlage
As reported in RLPB 409 (31 May), Eritrean authorities arrested nearly 100 Christians during May. It has now been confirmed that a further 22 arrests occurred at the end of May and the beginning of June. Seventeen Christian men were arrested in the Godaif neighbourhood of the capital, Asmara, on 28 May, while a further five Christians were arrested from their homes in Dongolo on 6 June. While Eritreans (including many Christians) are fleeing at the rate of 5000 per month, it is a high-risk endeavour. While many drown in the Mediterranean Sea, others fall prey to human traffickers who sell them to terrorists in the Sinai or Libya who torture them for ransom. If ransom is not forthcoming, their organs are harvested. Furthermore, Eritreans are increasingly being refused asylum in Europe and Israel. May God intervene in Eritrea.

* EGYPT: COPTIC WOMEN 'DISAPPEAR' 

Suzan Ashraf Rawy (22) disappeared on 5 June as she walked from her home in the Cairo suburb of Al Khosous to her job at the nearby Virgin and Pope Kyrillos Coptic Orthodox Church. Local Copts believe Suzan has been abducted by a Muslim gang, making it the third such abduction since 30 May when a Muslim man was accidentally shot dead by a Coptic man. While the abductions are believed to be 'retaliatory', the Coptic shooter was arrested, is in police custody and has been charged with manslaughter. With three local women 'disappeared' in three weeks, local Coptic women are now too afraid to leave their homes. Please pray.

* INDIA: NO FREEDOM OF RELIGION IN MADHYA PRADESH

On 21 May police detained 72 tribal children and the eight adults supervising them as they travelled to Nagpur for a church-run Vocational Summer School (VSS). Next day, police detained 11 tribal children and the two adults accompanying them as they travelled to the same VSS. The adults were charged with kidnapping and forcible conversions. However, the case collapsed when parents of the children produced documents to show that they were already Christians. Despite this, six of the Christian leaders remain in detention. On 13 June police detained Sister Beena Joseph of the Carmelite Sisters of St Teresa congregation, along with the four young tribal women travelling with her to a church-run education centre in Bhopal. The women were interrogated and held for some 12 hours before being released at midnight. Emboldened by the rise of PM Modi (nationally and internationally) Hindu nationalist groups are stepping up efforts to ensure nobody violates the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, which makes conversion from Hinduism a punishable offence unless done with the permission of local government (Hindu nationalist) officials. Pray for the Church in India.

* PHILIPPINES: CAPTIVES ALIVE; TERROR SPREADS

On 23 May the IS-aligned Maute Group stormed Marawi, burned the Catholic Cathedral and took its priest and some 15 believers hostage [RLPB 409 (31 May)]. A month later, the battle between the Philippine military and this band of well-trained, battle-hardened, mostly foreign Islamic jihadists rages on. The jihadists reportedly still hold between 10 and 20 percent of the city, along with thousands of civilians who are being kept as human shields. Catholic priest, Father Chito Sugarnob was seen alive on Sunday 25 June, when militants met with Muslim leaders to propose a prisoner swap. The jihadists offered to exchange the priest for Abdullah Maute's terror-sponsoring parents. President Duterte declined the offer and reiterated the government's policy 'not to negotiate with terrorists'.

Meanwhile, on 21 June some 300 militants from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) -- which, like Maute, has pledged allegiance to Islamic State -- attacked Pigkawayan, a farming town in North Cotabato, 160km south of Marawi City. They ransacked the Catholic church and took civilians hostage in the local school. However, the Philippine military prevailed and the rebels were forced to retreat. Security has been increased across the region. Please pray.

* SYRIA: REMEMBER SYRIA'S CHRISTIANS

In mid-June Russia launched air-strikes at a gathering of IS commanders on the outskirts of Raqqa after receiving intelligence that Islamic State’s founder and leader, Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi would be present. The fact that IS has not produced any evidence to suggest al-Baghdadi is alive gives weight to Russia's claims that al-Baghdadi has indeed been killed. Unfortunately, instead of working with Russia as President Trump promised to do during his election campaign, it seems he may be preparing to launch devastating missile strikes against the Syrian government. Should this happen, the consequences for Syria's beleaguered Christian community would be dire. The only place Syrian Christians can live securely and with full religious freedom is inside government controlled areas. Please remember Syria's Christians and pray.

[For more analysis on the situation in the Middle East, watch the Religious Liberty Monitoring blog.]

* VIETNAM: IMPRISONED PASTOR PUNISHED FOR TALKING


Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh
and Tran Thi Hong (USCIRF)

link includes video report
Central Highlands Protestant Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh (45) was arrested in April 2011 because of his Christian witness and advocacy. In July 2012 he was sentenced to 11 years in prison. Not only does Pastor Chinh suffer violent persecution in prison, but his wife, Tran Thi Hong, also suffers violent persecution because of her religious liberty advocacy [see RLPB 359 (1 June 2016)]. On 25 May 2017 a delegation from the US Consulate visited Pastor Chinh in prison. Despite having been warned in advance not to say anything negative against the state of Vietnam, Pastor Chinh told the US delegation about the tortures, threats and mistreatment he has endured in prison. These include regular beatings, having shards of glass mixed in with his food, being held in stocks and having to endure long periods in solitary confinement. Now he is being punished for talking and his wife fears for his health and safety. 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

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

RLPB 411. Kenya: Al-Shabaab incites against Church

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 411 | Wed 21 Jun 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)


KENYA: AL-SHABAAB INCITES AGAINST CHURCH
by Elizabeth Kendal

Somalia-based al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab is inflaming religious tension and escalating its terror attacks inside Kenya, doubtless in an effort to extract concessions ahead of Kenya's 8 August General Elections and possibly even make Kenya's involvement in Somalia an election issue.

On 18 May al-Shabaab released a video featuring Senior Private Alfred Danyi Kilasi, a Kenyan soldier captured in Somalia in January 2016.  Under duress, Kilasi criticises the Kenyan government and appeals to the Kenyan people to 'find a solution for this dilemma'.

click here for video
Then al-Shabaab released another video on 22 May, this time showing al-Shabaab commander and spokesman Sheikh Ali Mahmoud Rage addressing al-Shabaab fighters at a graduation ceremony. Rage describes the graduates as 'muhajireen' (emigrants) who have travelled from 'faraway lands' and endured al-Shabaab's 'intense training sessions' so they might combat 'the enemies of Allah'. Noting that many of the fighters come from Kenya, he exhorts the graduates: 'You have to be the army that will conquer Kenya.' Lamenting the plight of Muslims in East Africa in general and Kenya in particular, Rage devotes most of his 10-minute address to inciting hostility against the Church. He rails against the alleged crimes of Christians and the victimisation and imprisonment of Muslims. He laments that 'Kenyan crusaders' now occupy 'Muslim lands' and that Christians have 'erected churches in the place of mosques' so that in many places the Islamic call to prayer 'has been replaced by the chiming of church bells'.

Since the videos were released, al-Shabaab has markedly escalated its terror attacks inside Kenya, specifically in the Muslim-dominated eastern provinces bordering Somalia. Dozens of people have been killed in ambushes and by improvised explosive devices (IEDs), including four aid workers, a woman with a child, and more than 20 security personnel.

Widow of Elly Oloo Ojiema (left)
(photo, Barack Oduor, 16 June)
On 31 May some 70 al-Shabaab jihadists invaded the town of Fafi in Garissa Province. It seems their objectives were to destroy the Safaricom telecommunication mast and to kill or kidnap the Christian teachers from the local school. Christian school teacher Elly Oloo Ojiema was shot and killed in the school compound, while Christian teacher Joseph Kamau was taken captive. Despite much shooting into the air, no locals were targeted. Only when a Muslim teacher sprang courageously to Kamau's defence was that Muslim taken captive as punishment for siding with an infidel. Morning Star News reports that Ojiema was a member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, while Kamau belongs to the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA). After they destroyed the Safaricom mast, the militants retreated back into Somalia, laying IEDs on the roads as they went. It is deeply concerning that numerous Safaricom masts have been destroyed in the eastern border provinces, disabling communications over a wide area. 

On top of all this, an investigation published by the BBC at the end of May reveals that al-Shabaab has been abducting Kenyan women (both Muslims and Christians) from the Kenyan coast. These young women are then trafficked into Somalia where they used as ‘wives’ and sex slaves. The BBC interviewed more than 20 escapees – including Faith, Sarah and Elizabeth – for their BBC Magazine feature and 30-min documentary, ‘The Sex Slaves of al-Shabab’.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO

* comfort the young widow, extended family and friends of Christian teacher Elly Oloo Ojiema; may their faith remain strong through this storm.

* comfort, protect and deliver Christian captive Joseph Kamau; may evil hands be restrained; and may God's amazing grace -- as reflected by Kamau -- be received by his Muslim colleague who risked his life to defy the jihadists. May God redeem this terrible situation for his glory.

* intervene to protect and preserve Kenyan security personnel, and shield and sanctify the Kenya Church -- especially those Christians and fellowships located in hostile Muslim-dominated areas.

'Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by safely.' (Psalm 141:10 ESV)

 * interpose his strong arm against al-Shabaab (Isaiah 40:10-11), to liberate those being held captive to Islamic jihadists (for propaganda or sex), as well as those being held captive to Islamic jihadist ideology which demands that they kill and be killed (Quran Sura 9:111).

'The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.' (Jesus, from John 10:1-10 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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AL-SHABAAB INCITES AGAINST THE CHURCH IN KENYA

Somalia-based al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab is fuelling religious tension and escalating terror inside Kenya as it seeks to extract concessions ahead of Kenya's 8 August General Elections. In a 10-minute video released on 22 May, an al-Shabaab commander exhorts his fighters to 'conquer Kenya'. He rails against Kenyan Christians, decries their alleged persecution of Muslims and laments that they are occupying 'Muslim lands'. This and an earlier video seem designed to incite hostility against the Church. Al-Shabaab has also escalated its terror attacks inside Kenya, specifically in the Muslim-dominated eastern regions bordering Somalia; dozens have been killed, hundreds of mines have been laid and numerous telecommunication masts have been destroyed. On 31 May a Christian teacher was murdered and another kidnapped in an al-Shabaab raid. Please pray for Kenya 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, June 13, 2017

RLPB 410. Pakistan: Who Cares About Pakistani Christians?

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 410 | Wed 14 Jun 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)


PAKISTAN: WHO CARES ABOUT PAKISTANI CHRISTIANS? 
by Elizabeth Kendal

Many Pakistani Christians are 'untouchables' or choorahs -- so low on the social scale they are beneath the caste system. Despite their 'untouchablity' having its origins in Hindu India, the tradition continues in Pakistan. As choorahs, these Christians are condemned to a life of either street sweeping or sanitation work [youtube]. Indeed, whilst Christians comprise a mere 2.3 percent of Pakistanis, virtually all Pakistani street sweepers and sanitation workers are Christians. Whenever a city's sewerage lines are blocked, officials don't call in unionised plumbers with expensive machinery; rather they call up the 'untouchable' sanitation workers who must plunge into manholes and unblock the sewerage manually. Despite the fact that this routinely releases deadly poisonous gases, the workers are not provided any protection, presumably because as infidel choorahs, these Christians are deemed valueless and disposable.

On 1 June Christian sanitation worker Irfan Masih (unmarried, aged 28) was at a job in Umerkot City, Sindh Province, when a fellow worker, Yaqoob, lost consciousness in a sewer because of poisonous gas. Irfan jumped in to rescue him, but as Yaqoob was being lifted out the rope failed, causing Yaqoob to fall back into the manhole on top of Irfan, who then also lost consciousness.  A third worker, Shaukat, jumped in to help but also lost consciousness. At that point the other workers called the men's families who came to the rescue.

Irfan Masih's mother, Arshad Bibi
grieves the loss of her son (BBC)
The families raced their unconscious loved ones to the hospital only to have three doctors refuse to treat the both physically and ritually 'unclean' chooras. The families washed the men while a fourth doctor stepped in to help, but it was too late for Irfan. While the other two workers were raced to another hospital, Irfan was pronounced dead. This was not an isolated incident, for Christians -- especially choorahs -- are routinely refused medical treatment in Pakistan. Whilst it is shameful yet unsurprising that a virtually failed Islamic state would refuse aid to Christian choorahs, it is shameful and shocking that, as Morning Star News reports, some Christians will not touch them either.

The fact is, though, no amount of status will protect a Pakistani Christian from persecution. Indeed, intolerance and insecurity are escalating by the day as the state reaps the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7) of three-and-a-half decades of Saudi-funded 'Wahhabisation' and state sponsorship of regional terrorism. Today, Pakistan's Islamic fundamentalists are simply out of control -- they dictate to the state which stands powerless and paralysed before them, unable to change anything even if it wanted to. Anyone who agitates for reform is assassinated. Christians with means are fleeing in ever increasing numbers. Sadly, many never find the life of liberty and security they crave.

Family of Ijaz Masih, in Thailand (ICV)
A report to the British Parliament in February 2016 found that of some 11,500 Pakistanis seeking asylum in Thailand, the majority are Christian. Many are locked up in appalling conditions; all are struggling unimaginably. Compounding their troubles is the fact that, like persecuted Christian asylum seekers the world over, they are provided with Muslim translators whose only desire is to hinder and not help them. 

Pakistani Christian Ijaz Masih (35) fled Pakistan in 2013. He travelled to Thailand with his wife and three children to seek asylum on the grounds of religious persecution. World Watch Monitor reports that, on 26 May 2017, Ijaz Masih died of a heart attack in Thailand after being refused treatment. International Christian Voice (ICV) founder Peter Bhatti condemned the blatant disregard shown by Thai officials and the UNHCR (UN High Commission for Refugees).

So who cares about Pakistani Christians? We know that God cares and we should realise by now that, by and large, 'the world' does not. The Church -- local and global -- must step up as "God's human instruments" to imitate Christ in love and obedience and as a service to God who is Father to us all.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO

* fire up the local churches in Pakistan and the global Church in the world, so Christians will stand as one, imitating Christ, demonstrating sacrificial love and standing in courageous solidarity with Pakistan's suffering believers.

'For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.' (Galatians 3:26b-29 ESV)

* come to the aid of Pakistani Christian asylum seekers stranded in Thailand and across South-east Asia.

* intervene in Pakistan so that what seems inevitable (victory for intolerant fundamentalist Islam) will not come to pass; may God send 'the rod of [his] anger' (Isaiah 10:5) against those who would shatter and scatter his precious Church.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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PAKISTANI CHRISTIANS NEED OUR PRAYERS

Many Pakistani Christians are 'untouchables'. Viewed as valueless and disposable, they are  condemned to work as street sweepers and in sanitation, often in dangerous situations. On 1 June Christian untouchable Irfan Masih (28) died, having being denied medical care after a workplace accident. Not only untouchables are treated like this; medical care is routinely denied to Christians in Pakistan, no matter their status. As persecution and insecurity escalate, Christians flee in ever greater numbers. Unfortunately, most never find the liberty and security they crave. Many thousands of Pakistani Christians are struggling to survive in centres across SE Asia. On 26 May Pakistani Christian asylum seeker Ijaz Masih (35, married, father of 3) died of a heart attack in Thailand after being denied medical treatment. Pakistan and its Christians need our prayers.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com