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