Monday, March 20, 2017

RLPB 399. Syria: Jihadists Threaten Damascus

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 399 | Tues 21 Mar 2017

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SYRIA: JIHADISTS THREATEN DAMASCUS
by Elizabeth Kendal

A NEW COALITION FORMS: In late January Jabhat Fath al Sham (JFS -- formerly Al Nusrah Front) and four other jihadist groups announced the creation of Hay'at Tahrir al Sham (HTS), the 'Assembly for the Liberation of Syria'. The new coalition is headed by Aleppo-born Abu Jaber, a seasoned jihadist and former emir of Ahrar al Sham (aka the Syrian Taliban). Jaber issued a rallying cry on 9 February, claiming great gains and stressing the urgency of defeating the Shi'ites who, he warned, seek to 'enslave the region'. HTS is known to be training a new type of weapon: suicide bombers known as 'inghimasi'. As highly skilled, well-trained guerrilla fighters armed with automatic weapons and grenades, the 'nghimasi will fight their way through to a target. On 25 February an inghimasi penetrated security at the Military Security and National Security branch in Homs and fought his way into the office of General Hassan Daabul, the head of military intelligence for the city of Homs, where he detonated his vest. As medics and security personnel rushed to the scene, improvised bombs planted around the site claimed more casualties. More than 40 were killed and 50 wounded in what was a highly sophisticated assault.

Bombings of 15 March 2017
BOMBS IN DAMASCUS: On 11 March at least 40 mostly Iraqi Shia pilgrims were killed and 120 wounded in a twin bombing near the Bab al-Saghir cemetery in Damascus; HTS claimed responsibility. On 15 March at least 30 died when one suicide bomber detonated himself inside a restaurant in the Al-Rabweh area and an inghimasi dressed in full military uniform launched an attack on the Palace of Justice in central Damascus, timed to kill as many lawyers and judges as possible. In a broadcast on 18 March HTS chief Abu Jaber boasted of having a plan that should succeed, adding, 'We will escalate our attacks in coming days.' The next day, Sunday 19 March, HTS jihadists launched a surprise military attack on the densely populated area of Al-Abbasiyeen near Jobar, just 2km east of the Old City, having entered the area through tunnels. Long an oasis of relative normality, central Damascus came under heavy rebel shelling. Syrian forces responded with air strikes, shelling and sniper fire which eventually drove the jihadists back. This is the closest the jihadists have come to the city centre and their 'success' will doubtless attract more fighters.

Archbishop Samir Nassar
In recent years the population of Damascus has swelled from less than two million to well over four million as Syrians, including hundreds of thousands of Christians, have sought sanctuary inside the city’s security cordon. On 1 March the Maronite Archbishop of Damascus, Archbishop Samir Nassar, released a statement entitled 'A Very Bitter Lent'. He describes 'an apocalyptic scene', and laments the shattering of families, the ruination of children, the decimation of parishes and the struggle for survival. Noting that only the Church can 'lead the way towards Christ Resurrected', he exhorts the faithful not to give up, but to heed the words of Christ the 'Light of the world', who says, 'Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest' (Matthew 11:28). With jihadists now threatening the capital, Lent in Damascus may prove even more bitter than the Archbishop had imagined.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO

* rise up against those who seek to erase liberty and annihilate the Church. 'Break the arm [mechanism of action] of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none.' (Psalm 10:15 ESV)

* protect, preserve and sanctify his precious Church, the light and future hope of Syria.

* draw his beloved faithful children close to him in prayer and worship, so they might know that precious 'rest' that comes from Christ alone; may the Church find hope in 'Christ Resurrected'.

'But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.' (Psalm 3:3 ESV)

* redeem all suffering for the saving of many lives; 'that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord' (Isaiah 37:20 ESV).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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JIHADISTS IN SYRIA THREATEN DAMASCUS

A new al-Qaeda-led jihadist coalition, Hay'at Tahrir al Sham (HTS), recently perpetrated several devastating attacks deep inside Damascus. On 19 March HTS launched a massive military assault just 2km from the walls of the Old City, having entered the area through tunnels. Whilst they were eventually driven back, it is the closest the jihadists have come to the city centre. In recent years the population of Damascus has swelled from less than 2 million to well over 4 million as Syrians, including hundreds of thousands of Christians, have sought sanctuary inside the city's security cordon. The Maronite Archbishop of Damascus, Samir Nassar, writes of 'a very bitter Lent', while proclaiming 'Christ Resurrected' and encouraging the faithful not to give up. Please pray for Syria 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, March 14, 2017

RLPB 398. Egypt: Bring Back Our Girls

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 398 | Wed 15 Mar 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: 'BRING BACK OUR GIRLS' 
by Elizabeth Kendal

Hanan Girgis (18)
World Watch Monitor
On the night of 26 January the Girgis brothers went out to irrigate crops. However, one brother, Rezeiky, remained at home to watch over his wife, elderly mother and sister Hanan (18) who was engaged to be married. At about 10:30pm a Muslim neighbour came to the house and told Rezeiky that a thief had been seen lurking around their livestock shed. Believing he had been duly warned, Rezeiky bedded down in the shed to protect the family's livestock and equipment while the women slept soundly in the house.

When the Girgis brothers returned home at around 3am they found the front door open and Hanan missing. Whilst one slipper was found by the door, her clothes, jewellery and Identity Card were still in her room. For two days the family searched for Hanan to no avail. Suspecting their Muslim neighbour had lured Rezeiky to the shed purposely so the women would be alone and Hanan could be abducted, the family accused Mohamed Ahmed Nubi Soliman (27), a criminal and cousin of the neighbour, of abducting their daughter. Although Soliman admitted to the police that he was indeed involved, he was not arrested.

The Civil Status Authority at Esna Police Station told the family that national security services had issued Hanan a new Identity Card. The family then headed off to the national security headquarters in Luxor, only to have officers there deny having any knowledge of Hanan's whereabouts. Frustrated and desperate, the family then staged a peaceful protest outside the security offices. The police responded violently, leaving the 23-year-old Girgis brother with a broken leg. The family's lawyer, Barsoum Wahba, has accused the police of 'complicity and apathy'. 

The worst thing about this horror story is that it is not unusual. Every year, hundreds of Coptic girls are either kidnapped or seduced by fundamentalist Muslims, before being violently raped, terrorised, forcibly converted and married off to Islamists. Essentially these girls are being trafficked into Islam and sexually enslaved. Because the organised Islamisation rings operate with the tacit consent and overt co-operation of Islamic clerics, law enforcement officers, local government officials and prosecutors, most of these girls never see their families again.

The situation has deteriorated markedly in recent years. Not only are the Muslim masses more radicalised, but during the years of 'Arab Spring' insecurity (from January 2011 through to the ouster of Morsi in July 2013) many thousands of Islamists -- including at least 500 members of the terrorist group Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya -- either escaped or were released from Egyptian prisons. Ebram Louis, the founder of the Egyptian Association of Victims of Abduction and Enforced Disappearances (AVAFD), commented in June 2014: 'Before the revolution five or six girls would disappear each month. Now the average is 15.' That is one girl every two days! Of some 550 disappearances AVAFD investigated between 2011 and 2014, only ten girls were recovered.

The only difference between what happens in Egypt (and Pakistan) at the hands of local Muslims, and in Iraq at the hands of ISIS, or in Nigeria at the hands of Boko Haram, is that in Egypt (as in Pakistan) the sexual enslavement is quietly unspectacular and occurs one girl at a time. To Islamists, Christian girls are legitimate booty and halal (permissible).  Meanwhile, the thousands of parents of these girls are weeping and lamenting, crying 'bring back our girls'. It is difficult to imagine a scenario more challenging to one's faith.

Two thousand years ago King Herod tried to thwart God's purpose, causing weeping and lamentation in Egypt (Matthew 2:16-18). Today, as Islam does likewise, know it will fail just as dismally. 'Among those who know me I mention Rahab [Egypt] ...' (from Psalm 87) and 'Blessed be Egypt my people ...' (from Isaiah 19:16-25). And so we pray...


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO

* intervene in mercy and with power for the Girgis family and all Coptic and Christian families suffering the devastating effects of Islamic human trafficking and sex slavery. Please, dear Lord our Redeemer, bring back their girls.

* pour his Spirit into the hearts of all who are victims of, or threatened by, Islamic trafficking and sex slavery; although their faith be tested in the hottest of fires, may their eyes be fixed on Jesus and their entreaties directed to him. 'For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.' (1 Peter 3:12 ESV)

* put into the heart of Egypt's President al-Sisi a burning desire to crack down on this evil trade which brings nothing but suffering and disgrace to Egypt. 'On that night the king could not sleep ...' (from Esther 5:9 to 6:11 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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COPTIC CHRISTIAN GIRLS ABDUCTED IN EGYPT

Every year, hundreds of Coptic Christian girls are kidnapped by fundamentalist Muslims and then violently raped, terrorised, forcibly converted and married to Islamists. From January 2011 to the ouster of President Morsi in July 2013 (the 'Arab Spring'), thousands of Islamists, including many hundreds of terrorists, either escaped or were released from prison. As a result, Egypt has seen a marked escalation in the number of Coptic girls being trafficked into Islam and sex slavery. It has risen from 5 a month before January 2011 to 15 a month by 2014 -- one girl every two days! Because the Islamisation rings operate with the support of Islamic clerics, local police, government officials and prosecutors, most of these girls never see their families again. 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, March 7, 2017

RLPB 397. China: Massive Crackdown in Xinjiang

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 397 | Wed 08 Mar 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)


CHINA: MASSIVE CRACKDOWN IN XINJIANG
by Elizabeth Kendal

click on map to enlarge
Authorities in China's volatile north-western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have banned all Christian activities not linked to state-approved churches and launched a region-wide crackdown under the guise of 'anti-terrorism'. Churches have been targeted in the capital Urumqi and across Xinjiang. China Aid reports that at least 80 believers have been arrested and interrogated; some have even been sentenced to 15-day administrative detention and fined. Most of those arrested belong to the Fangcheng Fellowship, one of China's largest house church networks. A resident of Shayar county in Aksu prefecture told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that churches in the cities of Aksu and Korla have stopped meeting altogether and that local believers have been warned not to meet privately for worship. 'We don't dare gather for worship now,' the church member said. 'The police are saying it's part of terrorism prevention in Xinjiang, and that they won't allow gatherings of even a few people. . . The police want our church to join the Three-Self Patriotic Association.' [Churches in the Communist Party controlled TSPA are subject to unreasonable restrictions.]

The regional government in Urumqi has published a list of banned activities which, according to those who spoke to RFA, is so detailed and specific that it could only have been drawn up with the aid of government infiltrators. 'Unauthorised editing, translation, publication, printing, reproduction, production, distribution, sale and dissemination of religious publications and audiovisual products' is prohibited. 'Missionary activities ... under the guise of business, tourism, lectures, overseas study, cultural exchange or donations to disaster relief or to fund studies or alleviate poverty and sickness' are also prohibited.

Alimujiang Yimiti (CAA)
The deteriorating situation will not help long-time prisoner, convert from Islam and Kashgar house church leader Alimujiang Yimiti (44). A believer since 1995, Alimujiang was accused in 2007 of witnessing to Muslims. Arrested in 2008, he was sentenced in a secret trial in 2009 to imprisonment for 15 years, charged with ‘unlawfully providing state secrets to overseas organizations’. Alimujiang, his wife Gulineur and their two young children need our prayers.

There is absolutely no doubt that Islamic terror represents a serious and growing threat to China. The threat has escalated in recent years as Uyghur jihadists have moved from Pakistan's tribal regions to Syria, where they have been fighting mostly with al-Qaeda affiliates in Aleppo and Idlib, but also with Islamic State. Keen to counter the threat, Beijing has increased its support for and engagement with Damascus. Syrian-trained Uyghurs are also committing terror attacks further afield, e.g. at the Chinese embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (30 August 2016) and at a nightclub in Istanbul, Turkey (31 December 2016). Released on 5 March, Issue 20 of the al-Qaeda-linked Turkistan Islamic Party's Arabic language magazine, Islamic Turkistan, urges jihadis worldwide to attack Chinese targets in their countries.

10,000 troops rally in Urumqi (SCMP
On 27 February Islamic State released a sophisticated and bloody, half-hour propaganda video featuring Uyghurs in and from 'East Turkistan' (Xinjiang). The video, in which Uyghur militants vow to plant their flag in China and shed rivers of blood, was released as the Chinese government staged its fourth massive military parade in the capital Urumqi. For its part, Beijing has vowed to use 'thunderous force' against Uyghur terrorists throughout the region. Large detachments of soldiers have been deployed to Aksu, Hotan and Kashgar in the Uyghur heartland.

CPEC into Kashgar, Xinjiang
Security in Xinjiang is no small issue for China, especially as it forges ahead with its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). CPEC is a 3000 km, $46 billion initiative to create a network of roads, rail and pipelines linking Kashgar, Xinjiang, to the deep-water port of Gwadar, Pakistan. China will not tolerate unrest in Xinjiang and will crack down hard to ensure everyone and everything is subject to its power.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* grant great wisdom to all Xinjiang's Christian leaders, so they will know what to do and how to respond at this tense and critical time. 'If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.' (James 1:5 ESV)

* bless Alimujiang Yimiti, his wife Gulineur and their two young children; may he preserve, protect and provide for them all. 'The Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.' (2 Thessalonians 3:3 ESV)

* awaken the authorities in Beijing and in Xinjiang to the fact that Christians are not the enemy and indeed that the Church is deeply patriotic -- always praying for China, eager to bless China.

* break the emotional, spiritual and material connections that exist between Xinjiang's Uyghur separatist and transnational jihadists who are looking for a door into China; may China's Uyghurs find peace, dignity, joy and liberty in Jesus Christ.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHINA: MASSIVE CRACKDOWN IN XINJIANG

Beijing has launched a massive anti-terror drive in its volatile north-western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which borders Pakistan, Afghanistan and east Central Asia. It comes as the threat of Islamic terror escalates markedly following threats from al-Qaeda-linked Uyghurs (who have called for attacks on Chinese interests) and Uyghurs with Islamic State (who have threatened rivers of blood). Caught up in the crackdown are Christian groups not linked to state-approved churches. More than 80 believers have been arrested and interrogated. Some have also been detained for 15 days and fined. House church fellowships have either stopped meeting or have gone deep underground. Pray that the authorities will realise that, whilst the Islamic terror threat is real, Christians are not the enemy. Please pray for China and its Church in Xinjiang.

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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