Tuesday, December 12, 2017

RLPB 436. Christian Prisoners: Christmas in Captivity

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 436 | Wed 13 Dec 2017

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CHRISTIAN PRISONERS: CHRISTMAS IN CAPTIVITY
-- with special focus on Asia Bibi and Gao Zhisheng

by Elizabeth Kendal

'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them ...' (Hebrews 13:3a ESV).

In Lamentations chapter 3 'the man who has seen affliction' (probably the prophet Jeremiah) tells of his appalling suffering at the hands of 'the rod of his [Yahweh's] fury', i.e., the Babylonians. Having already endured the hardship and hunger associated with the siege of Jerusalem, he now suffers the violence associated with an enemy invasion. He is a captive, chained and enslaved; his bones and teeth broken. It is a truly horrible image. Furthermore, the chapter provides insight into the spiritual and emotional struggle taking place within the victim's soul. 'Filled with bitterness' and 'bereft of peace', all he can do to survive is constantly recall truth which in turn inspires hope.

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." The Lord is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him." (Lamentations 3:21-24 ESV)

For most Christians, Christmas is a season of immense joy. However, for Christians separated from loved ones and fellow believers due to incarceration or captivity, it can be particularly painful.  Christians are incarcerated in Algeria, Burma, China, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Vietnam and possibly elsewhere. Christians are also being held captive by Islamic jihadists in Mali. In some cases, these believers have infuriated religious dictators with their persistent Gospel witness. In other cases they have threatened corrupt regimes with their persistent truth-speaking.  Meanwhile, some Christian prisoners are simply pawns in a domestic power struggle or a geopolitical game. Whatever the cause of their captivity, we cannot overestimate the ferocity of the spiritual and emotional struggle taking place within these prisoners' souls. Traumatised, isolated and condemned to harsh and often dehumanising conditions designed to break the spirit, Christian prisoners need our prayers!

'The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.' (John 1:5 ESV)

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* PAKISTAN: ASIA BIBI, CHRISTIAN PRISONER IN CRISIS


 Ashiq Masih, holds a photo
of his wife, Asia Bibi
The November showdown between the Pakistan government and the hardline Islamists of the Tehreek-e-Labaik political party [see RLPB 434 (29 Nov)] could well have a devastating impact on Asia Bibi's appeal. Asia Bibi was imprisoned in June 2009 after being accused of blasphemy and was sentenced to death by hanging in November 2010. Her appeal is currently pending in the Supreme Court. However, to end the siege of Islamabad, the government acquiesced to numerous Islamist demands, including: that there would be no difficulty in registering blasphemy cases; that no leniency would be given to those convicted by the courts of blasphemy; and that Asia Bibi (also known as, 'Noreen') will not be allowed to leave Pakistan and that her execution will be expedited. Asia's lead counsel, Attorney Saiful Malook (a Muslim), is risking his life to defend her. Malook prosecuted the case against Malik Mumtaz Qadri, the security guard who assassinated Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer in January 2011 over his support for Asia Bibi. Tehreek-e-Labaik formed in the wake of   Qadri's February 2016 execution and Malook has been on an Islamist kill-list ever since. The Supreme Court must decide and the government must uphold that decision. May Asia Bibi not be sacrificed on the altar of appeasement.

Recommended:
Government of Pakistan Bows to Islamists on 'Blasphemy' Suspects, Critics Say
Last chance for saving Aasiya Noreen (Asia Bibi) put in jeopardy.
Morning Star News, by MSN's Pakistan Correspondent, 4 December 2017
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* CHINA: GAO ZHISHENG, CHRISTIAN PRISONER IN CRISIS


China's Solzhenitsyn: Gao Zhisheng
Since his first abduction in August 2006, devout Christian human rights lawyer and religious liberty advocate, Gao Zhisheng, has suffered savage cruelty and dehumanising treatment at the hands of the systemically corrupt and criminal Chinese Communist machine. For refusing to be silenced, Gao has now been returned to 'hell'. [See: RLPB 432, Christian Advocate Confined in 'Infinite Darkness' (15 Nov).] While in prison in 2012, God graced Gao with a vision of the collapse of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Gao was totally convinced the collapse would occur in 2017. Whether he projected that date onto the vision himself or simply misinterpreted an element of it is uncertain. Maybe when the CCP does collapse (which it will) we will see with hindsight that 2017 -- with its escalating Big Brother-like repression, and the 19th CCP National Congress which saw Xi elevated to the heights of Mao -- marked the beginning of the end, as distinct from the end itself. That said, Gao Zhisheng must be incredibly confused and conflicted right now. Doubtless he is experiencing relentless and ferocious spiritual attack. In his book, 'Unwavering Convictions', Gao provides an insight into how he survived three years in darkened solitary confinement in Shaya Prison,  Xinjiang Province (2011-2014): 'For anyone of faith, infinite light and freedom await us when we close our eyes.' Gao will need all the faith, light, truth and hope the Spirit of God can give him if he is to survive this captivity.

Recommended:
Unwavering Convictions
Carolina Academic Press, January 2017.

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PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* the Lord to meet, personally and powerfully, with every Christian who is separated from loved ones and the fellowship of believers due to imprisonment or captivity this Christmas season. 'And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.' (Matthew 28:20b ESV)

* the Holy Spirit to flood the memory of every Christian captive with the hope-inspiring Biblical truths they will need to get through their trials; may the Holy Spirit help them remember and meditate on truth and trust their Shepherd King who leads his people, though his footprints are not seen (Psalm 77).

* God to intervene on behalf of Asia Bibi. May the Supreme Court and government of Pakistan be empowered and emboldened to secure justice for this family; may God sustain and protect Asia Bibi, her family and her advocate, Saiful Malook.

* God to intervene on behalf of Gao Zhisheng; may Gao's words be read widely to great effect; may none of his work have been in vain. May God sustain and protect Gao Zhisheng; may the devil and his proxies have no victory over him.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIAN PRISONERS IN CAPTIVITY AT CHRISTMAS

For most Christians, Christmas is a season of immense joy.  For Christians separated from loved ones and fellow believers due to incarceration or captivity, it can be particularly painful.  Christians are incarcerated in Algeria, Burma, China, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Vietnam and possibly elsewhere. Christians are also being held captive by Islamic jihadists in Mali. Some are pastors and evangelists and some are 'prophetic voices' of righteousness, whilst others are simply pawns in a much larger game. Whatever the cause of their incarceration or captivity, we cannot overestimate the ferocity of the spiritual and emotional struggle taking place within these prisoners' souls. Traumatised, isolated and condemned to harsh and often dehumanising conditions designed to break the spirit, Christian prisoners 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