Tuesday, October 30, 2018

RLPB 479. Oct Update. Incl. Burma, Nigeria, Pakistan, North Korea, Sudan (Darfur), Algeria, India, Kenya, Vietnam,

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 479 | Wed 31 Oct 2018

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)

----------------------------------------------------
International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2018: Sunday 4 or 11 November
See: Critical Prayer Requests (CPR) for states where Christians are persecuted and/or where religious liberty is threatened.
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NOTICE: There will be a two-week break in the RLPB ministry as Elizabeth Kendal will be speaking at a conference in Nairobi, Kenya. The Strategic Prayer Network of MANI (Movement for African National Initiatives) will be holding its 2018 conference from Tuesday 6 to Saturday 10 November. The conference -- the theme of which is 'The Convergence of Prayer & Missions' -- will include a special focus on persecution. Please pray for this conference, that all who attend will have safe travel and be greatly encouraged. The next RLPB will be published on Wednesday 21 November. Until then, the material in this RLPB and on the Critical Prayer Requests (CPR) website will provide intercessors more than enough to go on with.

-- Elizabeth Kendal

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OCTOBER 2018 UPDATE -- this month we prayed concerning ...

* BURMA (MYANMAR) (RLPB 475; updated in RLPB 476), where the China-backed United Wa State Army (UWSA) has been destroying crosses, closing and demolishing churches and arresting and interrogating pastors as it moves to exert control over religion in north-east Burma's  unrecognised but de facto independent Wa State.

UPDATE BURMA: On 16 October Catholic media reported that the UWSA had expelled two Salesian priests, three nuns from the Missionary Society of St Paul and three lay teachers from the Wa hills. Furthermore, local believers are now prohibited from reading the Bible and praying together, even in private homes. In a letter dated 22 October, Lahu Baptist leaders called on the UWSA to release the 41 Bible students who had been arrested and forcibly recruited into the UWSA. They also asked that their churches be re-opened and their property returned. According to this later report, a total of 19 Catholics have been expelled, along with twelve pastors from the Lahu Baptist Convention. The Wa region is home to many ethnic groups, with Christians comprising around 30 percent of the estimated 450,000 Wa population. Pray for the Church in Burma's Wa region.

* RLPB 476 of 1000. To commemorate the milestone of 1000 religious liberty prayer bulletins, this RLPB comprised a short article dedicated to those who bear the burden of persecution for Christ's sake as well as those who help bear that burden (see Galatians 6:2) by means of intercessory prayer (i.e. 'advocacy to the highest authority'). RLPB 476 also included updates on Burma; on the Nigerian Christian captive Leah Sharibu (15) whom Boko Haram had threatened to execute; on North Korea; and on Pakistani Christian death-row prisoner Asia Bibi whose Supreme Court appeal had finally been heard.

Dr Ken Elliot
As the RLPB ministry commemorated the publication of the 1000th religious liberty prayer bulletin, Australian missionary doctor Ken Elliot (84) suffered through his 1000th day in captivity. Dr Elliott and his wife, Jocelyn, had run a 120-bed charitable medical clinic in Djibo, northern Burkina Faso, for over 40 years before they were abducted on 15 January 2016. While Mrs Elliot was subsequently released, Dr Elliot remains captive to a group associated with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). He is being held in the Malian desert along with several other foreigners, most of whom are aid workers and Christian. Pray that the Lord will sustain, comfort, encourage and deliver Dr Elliott and his fellow captives.

UPDATE NIGERIA: CHRISTIAN CAPTIVES DEEMED SLAVES

As updated in RLPB 477 (17 Oct), after executing two Muslim aid workers as apostates (for working with the Red Cross), Boko Haram has now officially deemed Christian schoolgirl Leah Sharibu (15) and Christian nurse Alice Loksha Ngaddah (24, mother of two small children) to be their slaves. In its statement, Boko Haram elaborated: 'Based on our [Islamic] doctrines, it is now lawful for us to do whatever we want to do with them.' Pray for Nigeria and in particular for Leah and Alice; may the Lord protect, sustain and deliver them.

UPDATE NORTH KOREA: PRAY THE DOORS WILL OPEN

When North Korean leader Kim Jong-un indicated that he would welcome the Pope if he were to visit North Korea, South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed to extend an invitation. On 19 October Thae Yong Ho -- the highest level diplomat ever to defect from North Korea -- released a video via Daily NK entitled 'Hoping for a brave decision from the Pope'.  Thae's insights are both fascinating and encouraging. Not only does Thae reveal that North Korean diplomats have been engaged in high level 'under-the-table negotiations' with the Vatican since the late 1980s, he also reports that, whilst Pyongyang's churches are definitely fake – existing purely for propaganda purposes, the fake believers dispatched to attend them have mostly become believers. Following that line, Thae believes that while any welcome extended to the Pope would be similarly fake, his visit could however open the door for love, faith and hope to enter North Korea. Pray that God would intervene in North Korea so that its 'gates' and 'ancient doors' might finally be opened 'that the King of glory [the Lord Almighty] may come in' (Psalm 24).

UPDATE PAKISTAN: ASIA BIBI STILL WAITING

Always good at talking, the United Nations has issued a lot of statements this past month, but not a single statement on the situation facing Asia Bibi. Fortunately not everyone is maintaining silence. On Sunday evening 21 October Australian MP Michael Sukkar (LNP, Deakin) highlighted the plight of Asia Bibi as he called on the Australian government to cease foreign aid to Pakistan while that country is persecuting Christians and other minority groups. Meanwhile, Asia and her family waits. On 19 October World Watch Monitor released an informative report which highlights some of the gross inconsistencies in the case and includes a video interview with the family. Pray for God to intervene in Pakistan, for the country's vulnerable minority Christians and especially at this time for Asia Bibi.

* THE CHRISTIAN CRISIS IN IRAQ & SYRIA (RLPB 477), where the Assyrian nation [the indigenous Christian nation of Mesopotamia (Syria-Iraq)] is in a struggle for its very survival. Pray for the Church in the Middle East, in particular for the Assyrians of Mesopotamia for whom the Christian Crisis is most severe.

* SUDAN (RLPB 478), where the Islamist Arab nationalist regime in Khartoum continues its campaign to fully Islamise and Arabise all areas under its control.

UPDATE SUDAN: CHURCH IN SOUTH DARFUR DRIVEN UNDERGROUND

Middle East Concern (MEC) has now confirmed that Tajadin Idris Yousef, the leader of the group of 13 Sudanese Christians arrested in the city of Nyala, South Darfur, on 10 October, will be charged with apostasy. Of the 13 arrested, three believers from the Nuba Mountains were released when it became clear they were all from a Christian background; the rest were detained as apostates (converts from Islam). All but one were released ten days later after they had recanted their faith under torture and paid a fine for 'disturbing the peace'. In their hearts they are still believers. Despite beatings and torture, Tajadin Idris Yousef refused to recant, hence the charge of apostasy. He was released on 22 October pending a court hearing. The Church has since gone 'underground'. Pray for the Church in South Darfur. Pray for the believers who under torture recanted with their lips (but not their hearts); may they know the Lord's grace, comfort, healing and restoration (Psalm 23:3a); may the devil have no victory over them and may no division permeate the Church.  Pray for Tajadin Idris Yousef; may the Lord sustain, embolden and deliver him.

'Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues,  and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.  For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.' (Matthew 10:17-20 ESV)


OCTOBER 2018 ROUND-UP -- also this month …

* ALGERIA: FIVE TO FACE COURT ON 6 NOVEMBER


Church closed! (MEC)
Five Algerian Christians -- including three from one family -- will face court on Tuesday 6 November accused of 'inciting a Muslim to change his religion' and 'performing religious worship in an unauthorised place'. The complaint was brought by a woman whose husband had converted from Islam to Christianity. In Algeria it is illegal to 'incite a Muslim to change his religion'.  The believers are all from Bechloul town in Bouira Province, 100km south-east of the capital, Algiers. Christians continue to face pressure in Algeria. On 16 October police officers closed and sealed the doors of the Protestant church in Azaghar, a village near Akbou, about 180km south-east of Algiers. The church, which is a member of the legally recognised Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA), has been active for more than five years and has about 300 congregants. As the 2019 presidential poll looms, Islam may well be exploited for political gain. Pray for God to intervene in Algeria.

* INDIA: HINDUTVA ESCALATES IN THE SOUTH

For many decades now, Hindu nationalists have concentrated their activities in the northern tribal belt. Yet Hindutva (militant Hindu nationalism) is escalating in the south. Sources report: 'The southern states of Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala saw at least 60 cases of persecution of Christians in the first nine months of 2018, compared with 36 such attacks in the first nine months of 2017.' Christian leaders in south India told Morning Star News (MSN) that the escalation of persecution can be attributed to the increased activism of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) volunteers who incite local Hindus to attack Christians. Furthermore, police are increasingly implicated. On 6 October a police inspector with close ties to the RSS led five police officers in a violent raid on a house church in Aralvaimozhi, Kanyakumari District, Tamil Nadu State. This is but one of many attacks. Christian leaders told MSN that the police are misusing their power to persecute Christians and that 'it is all happening under the supervision of RSS and BJP supporters in the local government'. Pray for the Church in India.

* KENYA: CHRISTIAN TEACHERS TARGETED IN NORTH-EAST

At around 1am on the night of 10 October at least 20 militants -- believed to be affiliated with al-Shabaab – targeted non-local teachers at the Arabia Boys Secondary School in Mandera County, close to the dangerously porous Kenya-Somali border. After overwhelming the four security guards, the militants threw an explosive device into the house where the school's four non-local teachers were sleeping, setting it on fire. Philip Okumu (26) and Daniel Wekesa (39) -- both Christians -- were shot and killed as they fled the flames. The school's other two non-local teachers, Elijah Nderitu and Kelvin Lomusi, managed to escape alive. The militants were clearly working from excellent intelligence; they knew exactly where the Christian teachers would be found. It is not the first time al-Shabaab has targeted Christian teachers in this predominantly Muslim region [see RLPB 411 (21 June 2017)].  Pray for the Lord to protect and bless all Christians working in Muslim-majority eastern Kenya.

* NIGERIA: SLAUGHTER IN JOS 


Blessing Kogi (23),
with bullet wounds
to her neck and shoulder.
(WWM)
On the evening of 27 September gunmen -- some in military uniforms, others in all black -- went on a killing spree in the quiet, residential neighbourhood of Rukuba Road, in the south-western outskirts of Jos, the capital of Plateau State. In total, 15 people were killed. Blessing Kogi (23) lost ten members of her family that night and World Watch Monitor (WWM) names them all in its report.  Twelve members of the family had gathered for a meal when the militants burst in, shooting wildly. Blessing and one cousin survived with injuries. Her father arrived home from work to find most of his family dead. According to Blessing, 'The people wearing black clothes spoke Hausa and Fulani, while the others wearing army uniforms spoke correct English.' What's more, as the gunmen were leaving she heard one of the men in army uniform say, 'We have finished our work; they should come and pay us our money.' Blessing requests prayers for her father, whom she described as a broken man. Questions are being asked as to how gunmen can commit such carnage in a suburb of a state capital and within walking distance of a military barracks. Pray for Nigeria; may the Lord intervene in grace and mercy so the Islamisation and terror will end.

* NIGERIA: CHAOS IN KADUNA

Pandemonium erupted in a market in Kasuwan Magani in the Kajuru Local Government Area of Kaduna on 18 October after a Muslim cried 'thief' to deliberately trigger a riot. The cry quickly changed to 'Allahu Akbar' as Muslims attacked homes and businesses belonging to Christians (mostly ethnic Igbo); one church was also torched. A total of 55 people were confirmed dead, many burned beyond recognition. A later skirmish claimed another 27 lives. On 19 October the revered tribal leader of a majority-Christian area in southern Kaduna came to visit the site of the violence only to be kidnapped; his security detachment was killed. Despite ransom being paid, Raphael Maiwada Galadima, a Catholic, was executed; his body was found on 26 October. The violence has sent ethnic-religious tensions soaring. The Nigerian Air Force has deployed combat helicopters, surveillance aircraft and a detachment of Special Forces to the area to restore order. While commercial activities are slowly resuming, most Igbo businesses remain closed. Pray for Nigeria; may the Lord intervene to save this country from civil war.

* PAKISTAN:  LIFE IN PRISON FOR BLASPHEMY

As Christian death-row blasphemy prisoner Asia Bibi awaits the ruling of the Supreme Court (which heard her appeal on 8 October) harsh and manifestly unjust sentences continue to be handed down to those accused of blasphemy. In June 2015 Yaqoob Bashir, a 25-year-old mentally disabled Pakistani Christian, was accused of burning a booklet that allegedly contained verses of the Quran. On 28 September 2018 the district court in Mirpur Khas, Sindh Province, deemed Bashir guilty of blasphemy and sentenced him to life in prison. His lawyer will appeal, but, as in Asia Bibi's case, the appeal process can take many years during which time the prisoner's survival is not guaranteed. Pray for a breakthrough in Pakistan, and may the Lord protect, sustain, comfort and encourage his Church.

* VIETNAM: IMPRISONED PASTOR'S HEALTH DETERIORATES


Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton after a
beating in February 2017.
 Protestant pastor Nguyen Trung Ton (46) was arrested in July 2017 for his pro-democracy and religious liberty advocacy. At that time, Ton was carrying severe leg injuries acquired during a vicious beating in February 2017 [see RLPB 448 (28 March)]. On 5 April 2018 Ton and five other members of the Brotherhood for Democracy group were tried in a Hanoi Court and charged with 'carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People's administration' [RLPB 450 (11 April)]. Ton was sentenced to 12 years in prison. The February 2017 beating left Ton with a torn ligament and crushed leg muscles. Confined to prison and without medical care, Ton's legs have never healed. On 23 October Ton's wife, Nguyen Thi Lanh, told Radio Free Asia that her husband's health is deteriorating. 'Prison authorities have not allowed me to send him any medication, and now he can't walk and is very ill,' she said. On 7 June 2018 two of the Brotherhood for Democracy prisoners -- leader Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant (Ms) Le Thu Ha -- were released from prison and exiled to Germany [RLPB 459 (13 June)]. Pray that God will intervene for Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton.

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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 23, 2018

RLPB 478. Sudan: Reign of Terror

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 478 | Wed 24 Oct 2018

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) 

----------------------------------------------------
International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2018: Sunday 4 or 11 November
See: Critical Prayer Requests (CPR) for states where Christians are persecuted and/or where religious liberty is threatened.
-----------------------------------------------------

SUDAN: REIGN OF TERROR
by Elizabeth Kendal

Sudan's ruling National Congress Party (NCP) is the successor party to the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated National Islamic Front (NIF). It was as a Brigadier and head of the NIF's military arm that Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir first seized power in a military coup in 1989. The NCP is Islamist and Arab nationalist. Resistance is fierce because, while the capital, Khartoum, is dominated by Islamist Arab supremacists, Sudan's periphery is populated by non-Arabs, many of whom are also not Muslim. They face political marginalisation, crippling discrimination and some of the most violent racial and religious persecution of our era. Populations that resist the NCP-led Government of Sudan (GoS) agenda are punished with aerial bombardment followed by highly destructive scorched earth warfare along with mass rape and mass slaughter at the hands of GoS-backed janjaweed (Arab for 'devils on horseback'). [See travel warning.] In 2013 the GoS re-branded the janjaweed as Rapid Support Forces and incorporated them into the Sudan Armed Forces.
 
No longer on horseback. In 2013 the janjaweed were re-branded as
Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and incorporated into the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF)
under the direction of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS).
RSF are deployed to fight armed 'rebels' (i.e. to crush resistance) throughout Sudan.
See HRW 2015 (image: Reuters)

The GoS maintains a humanitarian embargo on all rebel-held areas. By preventing food and medical aid from reaching war-ravaged communities, the GoS ensures Darfur and the resource-rich regions of South Kordofan (which includes the mostly Christian, rebel-held Nuba Mountains) and Blue Nile remain permanently on the brink of famine. [Throughout its near-30-year rule, the NCP has repeatedly engineered famine and used starvation as a Weapon of Mass Destruction.] Sudan expert Eric Reeves reported on 19 October:  'Authoritative reports from the ground in both Blue Nile and South Kordofan make clear that despite a [GoS] commitment to lift the humanitarian embargo on the Two Areas, nothing has changed. Innocent civilians continue to suffer and die because of the Khartoum regime's barbaric seven-year denial of relief assistance to rebel-controlled areas.'


click on map to enlarge
APOSTASY IN DARFUR: On the afternoon of Wednesday 10 October officers from Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) arrested 13 Christians who had gathered for fellowship in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur State. Ten of the believers were from Darfur and three from South Kordofan; they belong to four different house churches; all are converts from Islam. Three of the believers were released shortly after, without explanation. The NISS, which is notoriously hard-line Islamist, has authority to detain 'suspects' for up to four-and-half months without charges. Sources told Morning Star News (MSN) that the authorities were targeting converts from Islam in Darfur who were routinely detained, threatened and tortured to recant.

Eleven days later, on Sunday 21 October, all but one of the remaining Christians were released. Darfuri church leader and evangelist, Tajaldin Idriss Yousif, was released on Monday 22 October. A source told MSN: 'All of them were said to be tortured by NISS and are in bad shape. One of them is said to be in a critical condition owing to torture. He is said to have been vomiting and bleeding. He was rushed to a hospital, but he was not attended to by the physicians in that hospital.' Sources report that authorities have threatened to charge Tajaldin Idriss Yousif with the capital crime of apostasy, as well as with public disturbance and crimes against the state.

Since the 2011 secession of South Sudan, the NCP-led GoS has redoubled its efforts to fully Arabise and Islamise Sudan.  It is no wonder that Sudan is now ranked fourth on the Open Doors World Watch List of countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* the Holy Spirit will move powerfully within the converts who were recently arrested, threatened and tortured in South Darfur; may they be assured of the Father's unfailing love, comforted in their Saviour's eternal embrace, and encouraged by the prayers of the wider Church.

* the Lord will comfort, encourage and lead the Church in Darfur; may believers not be crippled by fear; may they not be discouraged or confused; rather, may they grow in faith with spiritual wisdom to know how to navigate their challenging environment. 

* Jehovah Jireh, the Lord our Provider, will open the way for humanitarian aid to reach all those in need, especially the Christians of the Nuba Mountains who are suffering their second genocide in a generation.

* the Almighty Sovereign God, will intervene in Sudan to bring down Sudan's President Omar el-Bashir and end his government's reign of terror.

Prayer for Sudan: Psalm 10 
'Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted' (Psalm 10:12 ESV).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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REIGN OF TERROR IN SUDAN

Sudan's ruling National Congress Party (NCP) is Islamist and Arab nationalist. Non-Arabs and non-Muslims suffer political marginalisation, crippling discrimination and dictatorial repression. Those who resist the government's agenda suffer some of the worst racial and religious military violence of our era. Since the 2011 secession of South Sudan, the Government of Sudan has redoubled its efforts to Arabise and Islamise Sudan, which is now ranked fourth on the Open Doors World Watch List of countries where Christians face persecution. On 10 October Sudanese security forces arrested 13 believers -- all converts from Islam -- who had gathered for fellowship in Nyala, South Darfur. Whilst all had been released by 22 October, most had been threatened and severely tortured; one is in a critical condition. Pray for Sudan and its Christians.

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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 16, 2018

RLPB 477. Assyrian Crisis in Iraq and Syria

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 477 | Wed 17 Oct 2018

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)

----------------------------------------------------
International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2018: Sunday 4 or 11 November.
See: Critical Prayer Requests (CPR) for states where Christians are persecuted and/or where religious liberty is threatened.
-----------------------------------------------------

ASSYRIAN CRISIS IN IRAQ AND SYRIA
-- plus update from Nigeria
by Elizabeth Kendal

As noted in RLPB 470 (29 Aug 2018), the Assyrian nation [the indigenous Christian nation of Mesopotamia (Syria-Iraq)] is in a struggle for its survival. While jihadist activity remains a problem, of greater concern is the less overt but more insidious threat posed by Kurdish nationalism. While there is no chance of a Kurdish state materialising any time soon, that is not stopping Kurdish nationalists from making every effort to change realities on the ground through 'divide and rule' (sowing division among the Assyrians), colonisation (occupying the lands of displaced Assyrians) and hegemony (dominance/control over Assyrians). Making things easy for the Kurds is the sad and shameful fact that their backers in the US-led West care little for the region's remnant Christians and, consequently, seem happy to turn a blind eye.

ASSYRIAN CRISIS IN NINEVEH, IRAQ
Ft Toma visits Iraq: Interview (Oct 2018)
Los Angeles-based Father Athanasis Toma, an Archbishop in the ancient Assyrian Church of the East, recently returned from a visit to Iraq. He warns of a deteriorating situation in which Assyrians face immense challenges including: gross insecurity, systematic discrimination, political marginalisation and land seizures. According to Fr Toma, Assyrian villages lack basic amenities, and most humanitarian aid organisations have left. Many youths and young families have lost hope and are looking to emigrate. Reports have emerged of Kurdish authorities blocking roads from the Kurdish provincial capitals of Dohuk and Erbil into the Nineveh Plains. This not only prevents displaced Assyrians from returning to their homes and lands, it also prevents Assyrians in the Nineveh Plains from gaining access to medical care or other services in Dohuk and Erbil, forcing them to make hard decisions. Many are convinced that a systematic, quiet yet aggressive campaign of immense pressure is being applied to drive Assyrians from their ancestral lands precisely so Kurds might colonise and eventually annex the Nineveh Plains into a future Kurdish state.

Asked if he thought Assyrians and Christians had any future in Iraq, Fr Toma replied: 'If we are not united and if conditions continue as they are, I believe we will diminish and soon not many will be left. Our lands, language, history and traditions will be all gone.'

ASSYRIAN CRISIS IN HASAKAH, SYRIA

Christians in Qamishli protest closure
of church-run school (28 Aug).
Syria's north-east province of Hasakah is under the self-declared rule of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian wing of the Turkish Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). While the situation in Hasakah is relatively calm, Kurdish hegemony is deepening. The PYD is insisting that all schools in areas under its control teach the Kurdish curriculum which is aimed at facilitating a Kurdish nationalist agenda. This is unacceptable (even offensive) to Armenians and Assyrians. Because the Kurdish curriculum is not accredited in Syria, many Kurdish and Arab Muslims choose to send their children to the Assyrian church-run schools. These schools, which have existed since 1935, teach the Syrian curriculum which is recognised internationally and allows freedom for the teaching of religion, culture and language.

On 7 August the PYD forcibly closed two Assyrian church-run schools that were refusing to teach the Kurdish curriculum [RLPB 470 (29 Aug)]. On 28 August, amidst protests, the PYD forcibly closed an Assyrian church-run school in Qamishli (on the border with Turkey). The next day the PYD issued a statement, in English, accusing the church-run schools of spreading 'lies' and serving the 'Syrian regime'. On 22 September Isa Rashid, who directs the church-run schools in Qamishli, was beaten outside his home just days after a meeting with Kurdish officials in which he refused to implement the PYD's curriculum; Rashid had to be hospitalised.

Assyrian writer Souleman Yusph
On Sunday 30 September at 9pm, a convoy of three vans arrived at the Qamishli home of Assyrian journalist Souleman Yusph (61). At least ten pro-PYD Assyrian policemen then seized Yusph and took him away. The next day the PYD issued a statement in which it denounced citizens who 'overstepped' their right to free speech in order to spread 'lies' that 'undermine democracy'. As far as Monsignor Jacques Behnan Hindo is concerned, Yusph was 'arrested for telling the truth'. Mgr Hindo notes that Syrian Kurds are not the problem; rather it is Turkish and Iraqi Kurds who want to occupy the area. Yusph was released on 4 October after he had been threatened and intimidated into silence.

Concerning the situation in Syria, Juliana Taimoorazy, the Founder and President of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council says: 'If the US continues to fail the Christians of the Middle East with [its] policies, I guarantee, in the next 20 to 30 years, it will be empty of Assyrians, the indigenous people of Iraq. If this policy of backing the Kurds blindly, blindly continues, we will not have any choice but to leave the land.'


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* heal, comfort and encourage Assyrians who have been beaten, intimidated, threatened and terrorised not only by jihadists but by US-allied Kurdish nationalists. Lord, draw them close, give them peace and bolster their faith. 'Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest' (Matthew 11:28 ESV).

* intervene in this world for the benefit of the Assyrian nation -- raise up allies, mobilise support, facilitate provision of aid, magnify voices, sharpen consciences and stir up prayer.

* protect, sustain, unify, bless and encourage the Assyrians of Iraq and Syria, as he fulfils all his promises to their great nation, to 'Assyria, the work of my hands' (Isaiah 19: 23-25).


UPDATE FROM NIGERIA: DEADLINE ARRIVES

On 16 October, one month after it executed midwife Saifure Hussaini Ahmed Khorsa [RLPB 474 (26 Sep)] Boko Haram executed Hauwa Mohammed Liman, the other Muslim midwife it was holding. Khorsa (25) and Liman (24) were executed as murtads, apostates/traitors to Islam (for working for the Red Cross). In its statement Boko Haram said, 'If we see them [aid workers] we will kill the apostates among them, men or women, and choose to kill or keep the infidels as slaves, men or women. ... From today [Christian schoolgirl Leah Sharibu (15) and Christian nurse Alice Loksha Ngaddah (24, mother of two small children)] 'are now our slaves. Based on our doctrines, it is now lawful for us to do whatever we want to do with them.' Please pray.

'Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows' (Jesus, in Matthew 10:29-31 ESV).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
-------------------------------------------------------
ASSYRIAN CRISIS IN IRAQ AND SYRIA

Assyrians are Christians and the indigenous nation of Mesopotamia (Syria-Iraq). While jihadist activity remains a problem, the threat posed by Kurdish nationalism is growing. The Assyrian remnant in northern Iraq's Nineveh Plains is struggling to rebuild amidst gross insecurity, systematic discrimination, political marginalisation and land seizures. Meanwhile, the Assyrian remnant in north-east Syria's Hasakah Province is struggling to retain its autonomy and culture as Kurdish authorities move to control the education sector. In both Iraq and Syria, Assyrian educators, writers and political figures who resist or criticise the Kurdish authorities are beaten, arrested and intimidated into silence. Kurdish nationalists aim to drive Assyrians from their ancestral lands so Kurds might colonise and eventually annex these lands into a future Kurdish state. Please pray for the Assyrian nation (Isaiah 19: 23-25).

-------------------------------------------------------

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 9, 2018

RLPB 476 of 1000. Prayer for the Persecuted; plus updates on Burma, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 476 | Wed 10 Oct 2018

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)

----------------------------------------------
International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2018: Sunday 4 or 11 November.
----------------------------------------------

RLPB 1000: PRAYER FOR THE PERSECUTED CHURCH
-- plus four urgent updates on Burma, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan

by Elizabeth Kendal

The Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin exists to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer for the persecuted Church. Initially a ministry of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) Religious Liberty Commission (RLC), it commenced operations as an independent ministry in April 2009. Prior to that date, 524 Religious Liberty Prayer (RLP) bulletins were published under the banner of WEA. Consequently, today's Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 476 is the 1000th religious liberty prayer bulletin, the culmination of (roughly) 20 years of service to the Church of Jesus Christ.

Today's RLPB is dedicated to all those believers who suffer and struggle due to the heavy burden of persecution, along with all those believers who, in love, willingly bear or share that burden (Galatians 6:2) as they faithfully engage in the serious business of intercessory prayer for the persecuted Church.

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LOVE, UNITY AND PRAYER FOR THE PERSECUTED CHURCH

On 25 November 1975 delegates gathered in Nairobi, Kenya, for the 5th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) were confronted with the following headline in their Assembly newsletter: 'Two Russians appeal for WCC action on behalf of Persecuted Christians.' What followed was an open letter in which suspended and persecuted Russian Orthodox priest Father Gleb Yakunin (39) and layman Lev Regelson (36) lamented WCC silence in the face of violent Soviet persecution and implored the authoritative body to speak out on behalf of 'Christians who are victims of persecution anywhere in the world'. The letter was less a denunciation of Soviet persecution than it was a denunciation of WCC silence.

Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour,
demolished on Stalin's order,
5 December 1939.
The letter sent shockwaves through the Assembly and left the delegates profoundly divided. Many were deeply moved, even distressed, and eager to discuss how the WCC might respond for the benefit of their suffering brothers and sisters. Others, however, were irritated; being more interested in protecting the WCC's political channels, they moved into damage control. Having put their faith in politics, they were determined to pursue the path of 'quiet diplomacy' even if it required a betrayal of the persecuted. Even when the Soviet regime subsequently arrested and tried Yakunin and Regelson and condemned Father Gleb Yakunin to the Siberian gulag, the WCC remained silent. Naive and arrogant, the WCC failed to realise that the Soviets had played them into silence. Shallow and mistaken, the WCC's policy-makers thought that as long as the end they had in sight was honourable, then they could betray Christ's Church and still retain Christ's blessing. No! In God's economy, means matter. As Jesus explains, 'whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me'; and 'whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me' (from Matthew 25:31-46 NIV).

'We are aware,' wrote Yakunin and Regelson in 1975, 'that many Christians are deeply concerned about the suffering of their brethren and wish to help them with all their hearts, but often they do not know how to proceed.' They had hoped the WCC would 'initiate an international movement for the defence of the persecuted' and that Christians from all over the world would be invited 'to join in prayer for the suffering church'.

Unfortunately, the WCC of the 1970-80s was politically compromised and not up to the task. Fortunately, however, God was already raising up others who would speak out on behalf of persecuted Christians and rally believers to pray. Over the decades, as persecution has escalated and spread, God has been on the move. The number of organisations now committed to reporting on, publishing about, advocating on behalf of, delivering aid to, and facilitating prayer for the persecuted Church has grown exponentially. The number of individual believers, small groups and even whole churches now committed to praying faithfully for their persecuted brothers and sisters has grown phenomenally -- though we still have a long, long way to go.

God's work in this area is mysteriously circular: first he draws us to the Cross where he pours his love into our hearts so that we long to help our persecuted brothers and sisters. Then, as we do so, our love for our brethren just continues to grow in warmth, depth and breadth as we come to realise that they are our family and see the crucified Christ in them.

Aware of this, Yakunin and Regelson wrote in 1975 'that only at the foot of the Cross of Golgotha a passion of love may be born that can truly overcome the strife between individual denominations and their alienations and prepare Christian hearts for genuine unity'. They believed the Church's 'most imperative task' was to 'restore in the whole Christian community all over the world the spirit of the first Christians who revered the confessors of the faith; such a respect must be the most important ecumenical act and then the hearts' warmth could melt away any denominational alienation.'

Prayer for the persecuted church generates love and unity in the Body of Christ in a way that little else can. Indeed, it seems God is knitting our increasingly global Church together using chords of love forged in the flames of persecution.

All who commit to the ministry of intercessory prayer for the persecuted Church will doubtless testify that this ministry is life-changing. It turns our focus outwards and displaces our burdens, replacing them with love and purpose. And if that were not enough, not only does this ministry change lives, it saves lives and even has the potential to change the world.

'I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.' (John 17:20-21 ESV, from Jesus' High Priestly Prayer).

Elizabeth Kendal
10 October 2018
On the occasion of the publication of the 1000th religious liberty prayer bulletin.

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* BURMA (MYANMAR): UPDATE to RLPB 475 (3 Oct 2018)

In September the China-backed United Wa State Army (UWSA, an ethnic rebel army in Burma's north-east) detained hundreds of Christians, including more than 40 ethnic Wa Bible students. It also closed 52 churches, demolished at least three and removed crosses and Christian symbols from the Wa region. Radio Free Asia reports (5 Oct): around 100 ethnic Wa Christians were released on 5 October after they signed a document saying that they would pray only at home and not in churches. According to Rev Dr Lazarus, general secretary of the Lahu Baptist Convention, seven ethnic Wa pastors who refused to sign remain in UWSA custody. The ethnic Wa Bible students have been forcibly conscripted into the UWSA. The UWSA continues to hold more than 130 ethnic Lahu Christians, including 92 pastors who are undergoing interrogation to determine whether they are humanitarian workers or 'extremists' (evangelists). The persecution -- which has a distinctly Chinese flavour -- is aimed at bringing all religious activity under UWSA control and eliminating foreign missionaries. Pray for the Church in Burma.

* NIGERIA: UPDATE to RLPB 474 (September update)

As reported in RLPB 474, on 17 September the Islamic terror group Boko Haram executed a female aid worker to send a 'message of blood' to the government of President Muhammadu Buhari. The message gave the government a deadline of one month to deliver ransom, otherwise the remaining two female aid workers and the Christian schoolgirl Leah Sharibu (15) would be executed. On 29 September Leah's mother, Rebecca, appeared on Nigerian television pleading with the government to secure the release of her daughter, who had refused to convert to Islam to secure her own freedom. Leah's father, Nathan, has also spoken of the family's trauma. The deadline is one week from today. Please pray.

* NORTH KOREA: UPDATE to RLPB 474 (September update)

During the recent 18-20 September Inter-Korean Summit in Pyongyang, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un told South Korean President Moon Jae-in that he would 'ardently welcome the Pope if he visits Pyongyang'. Of course, the fact that Pope Francis recently handed Beijing the right to select China's Catholic bishops [see RLPB 474 (September Update)] undoubtedly makes him a little more attractive to a dictator who may want to retain control over religion. President Moon, a practising Catholic, is due to meet with Pope Francis on 18 October, at which point he will deliver an official invitation from Kim. As is now being widely reported in mainstream media, Pyongyang was once a centre of dynamic Christianity, earning it the title 'The Jerusalem of the East'. The parents of North Korea's 'Eternal President' Kim Il-sung were devout Christians; his grandfather was a Christian pastor. This history will prove hugely significant, especially if North Koreans ever do decide that they want to see a restoration of 'the years the locusts have eaten' (Joel 2:25). Please pray!

* PAKISTAN: ASIA BIBI WAITS . . .
Calls to 'Hang Aasia', 8 Oct 2018

On Monday 8 October Pakistan's Supreme Court in the capital Islamabad finally heard the long-delayed appeal of death-row inmate and Christian woman Asia Bibi. In June 2009 Asia fetched water for her fellow labourers who then refused to drink it because, as an infidel, Asia was unclean. Words were exchanged after which the Muslims accused Asia of blasphemy. In November 2010 the court found Asia guilty and sentenced her to death by hanging. The Supreme Court hearing on 8 October was her final chance for an acquittal. Her lawyer, the courageous Saif-ul-Malook, is supremely confident. The court has reserved its ruling, which might not be known for days or even weeks. Fundamentalist Muslims are threatening to riot if she is not hanged. The Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) political party is insisting the authorities not reverse the blasphemy verdict, warning, 'If there is any attempt to hand her [Bibi] over to a foreign country, there will be terrible consequences.' Prime Minister Imran Khan came to power vowing to uphold the blasphemy law. Tensions are soaring; these are very dangerous days, not only for Asia Bibi, her family and her lawyer, but for the whole Christian community. 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, October 2, 2018

RLPB 475. Burma: Persecution with a Chinese Flavour

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 475 | Wed 03 Oct 2018

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)

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International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2018: Sunday 4 or 11 November.
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BURMA: PERSECUTION WITH A CHINESE FLAVOUR
-- As Burma reels from Western sanctions, Beijing moves in for the kill. 
by Elizabeth Kendal

collage of images showing of church demolitions in Wa region.
The Irrawaddy 20 Sept 2018

Last week's RLPB 474 (September Update) noted that at least 12 churches had been destroyed or closed in Shan State's Wa region 'as of September 20'. Fresh reports reveal a level of persecution that is truly alarming. Pastor Lazaru -- a spokesman for the region's ethnic Lahu Baptist community -- told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that the United Wa State Army (UWSA) has detained 92 pastors and 'forcibly recruited 41 male and female students who were taking bible studies classes in various churches'. He also confirmed that '52 churches in the Mongpauk area have been shut down, and three have been destroyed'. Morning Star News (MSN) adds that rebel soldiers have 'removed all Christian symbols such as crosses' and closed several religious schools. According to AsiaNews, a Catholic mission run by Salesian missionary nuns has been closed and the nuns, who provided education and health care in Mong Mau (Mong Mao / Mong Maw), have been expelled. Sources report that the detained Christians have had their heads shaved and are being held in the UWSA stronghold of Mong Maw. According to Pastor Lazaru, areas under UWSA control are now closed. 'We have about 400 followers,' he said, 'and we'll pray for the quick release of our brethren who have been taken away.'

In an insightful article entitled Why China Fears Myanmar's Christians, Burma-expert Bertil Lintner reports that the United Wa State Party (UWSP) issued a statement on 9 September in Chinese, instructing all of its military officers and administrators to 'find out what the [Christian] missionaries are doing and what are their intentions'. The assumption is that Christians are a problem and missionaries pose a threat. According to The Irrawaddy, a UWSA statement issued in the Wa language on 13 September said that all churches built after 1992 would be destroyed, adding, 'We will not allow the building of new churches here anymore. Nor will we allow [Christian] organisations to accept new members.' It seems that all pastors and teachers are now under investigation, the number of churches eventually permitted to function will be limited and all Christian activity will be monitored. Only ethnic Wa will be allowed to train as religious leaders and they will be under the authority of the UWSP government. 

The UWSA has its roots in the China-backed Communist Party of Burma which went to war against the central government in 1968. Today, with an estimated 40,000 personnel, the UWSA is the largest of all Burma's ethnic rebel armies. The UWSA has full authority in the unrecognised, self-governing and self-declared autonomous 'Wa State'. The Burmese government has no presence in the region, which is very Chinese. Persecution inflicted by the Burmese military generally consists of bombing, military violence, rape, murder and ethnic cleansing. The persecution in Wa region however, consists of church closures and demolitions, cross removals, mass detentions and moves to bring all religious activity under UWSA control. It is persecution with a distinctly Chinese flavour.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) wants peace to reign in all regions of Burma where it has 'interests', particularly in resource-rich Kachin State (where it wants to dam the Irrawaddy River) and along the route of the proposed China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC). [The CMEC will cross the Burmese border at Muse in Shan State before travelling south-west to the strategic deep water port of Kyaukpyu in western Rakhine state on the Indian Ocean.] Analysts surmise that the CCP is arming and supporting the UWSA precisely so it might leverage favours from Naypyidaw, Burma's capital.

Also:
WATCHING KACHIN STATE


The CCP is increasing pressure on the Burmese government to recommence the Myitsone Dam project in Kachin State. The project would see vast tracts of arable Kachin land flooded, with 90 percent of hydroelectricity generated going directly to China. In an important article entitled, China is Conflicted in Myanmar's Wars, Bertil Lintner notes that Chinese weapons are flowing through to all members of the rebel seven-party alliance except the Kachin. An August 2018 report by Fortify Rights found that Chinese authorities are behind the blocking of humanitarian aid to over 100,000 displaced Christian Kachin. As Burma reels from Western sanctions, Beijing moves in for the kill. As noted in RLPB 453 (2 May), 'Nothing will stop the ethnic cleansing now.'


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* intervene to reverse the situation in Burma; may greed and evil not prevail. 'For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.' (Psalm 22:28 ESV)

* protect, comfort and encourage the 92 pastors and 41 students detained by the Wa army in Wa region; may the Holy Spirit give them words to speak (Matthew 10:19) and grace to shine (Philippians 2:15); may they all be released and restored to their families very soon.

* protect and preserve his precious people, abandoned by the world; may they know that the Lord is for them (Psalm 56:9) and has promised to never leave them (Matthew 28:20).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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PERSECUTION WITH A CHINESE FLAVOUR IN BURMA

The United Wa State Army (UWSA) has its roots in the China-backed Communist Party of Burma. With some 40,000 fighters, it is the largest of Burma's ethnic armies. The UWSA rules over the unrecognised, self-governing, self-declared autonomous 'Wa State'. Analysts surmise that China is supporting the UWSA to leverage favours from Naypyidaw, Burma's capital. The Burmese government has no presence in the very Chinese Wa region. Even the persecution -- including church closures and demolitions, cross removals, mass detentions and moves to bring all religious activity under UWSA control -- has a Chinese flavour. China regards Christianity as a threat. In recent weeks the UWSA has detained 92 Christian pastors along with 41 male and female Bible students and closed more than 50 churches. Please pray for Burma and its Christians.

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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