Tuesday, February 19, 2019

RLPB 490. North Korea-United States Summit: Hanoi 27-28 February; (plus Nigeria elections update)

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 490 | Wed 20 Feb 2019

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NORTH KOREA- UNITED STATES SUMMIT: HANOI 27-28 FEBRUARY
-- plus Nigeria Elections Update 

-- by Elizabeth Kendal

NORTH KOREA- UNITED STATES SUMMIT: HANOI 27-28 FEBRUARY

Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, will host the second North Korea-US Summit on Wednesday 27 and Thursday 28 February. The choice of Hanoi is really significant for, like North Korea, North Vietnam has fought a war against the US. Like Korea, Vietnam suffered immensely and was left ravaged by the Cold War conflict. However, unlike Pyongyang (the capital of North Korea), Hanoi is now an ally of the US, 'a major cog in the global trading network', and one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Millions of Vietnamese have been lifted out of poverty, despite Vietnam remaining a repressive one-party state. North Korean and United States officials landed in Hanoi on Saturday 16 February to prepare for the summit. Kim Jong-un will arrive on Monday 25 February for bilateral discussions with Vietnamese officials. A key focus of the NK-US (Kim-Trump) Summit will doubtless be Washington's fixation on complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation (CVID) -- a deal-breaker, if ever there was one -- as a prerequisite to sanctions relief.  Pyongyang will continue to press for step-by-step, synchronised confidence-building measures -- a plan supported by neighbours South Korea, China and Russia, and possibly by President Trump himself. [See RLPB 471 (5 Sept 2018)]

Journalists, analysts, diplomats and politicians who say 'nothing has changed -- we've seen it all before,' are wrong. Today's situation is entirely different, giving reason for hope [see RLPB 446 (14 Mar 2018)]. Because virtually all reporting on North Korea is negative (much of it out-dated) few people are aware of how much the situation has changed in recent years. They are unaware that while Kim Jong-un has retained the programs and revolutionary language of his ancestors, he has tweaked the details somewhat. It used to be the case that the central government took all (100 percent) of a farming co-operative's produce before distributing a fixed ration. By providing no incentive to work hard or innovate, the system contributed to famine. In 2012, just months after assuming control, Kim tweaked the system. Since then, the government takes a set quota and the farming co-operative (now defined in such a way that it could be a family) is free to keep and trade everything it produces above that fixed quota. [See Religious Liberty Monitoring, 'Belligerence vs Smart Policy', (19 Feb 2014).] It does appear that every effort is being made to pursue economic reform and raise the standard of living as a prerequisite to increased openness.

On 12 February a delegation of some 250 South Koreans travelled to North Korea's Mount Geumgang (Mount Kumgang) tourist precinct for two days of civilian engagement with North Korean counterparts. The total number of delegates was around 400, with representatives from a wide range of fields, including religion, economy, agriculture, the environment, academia, peace, labour rights, women's rights, youth, art and culture. The aim is to establish co-operative projects, joint symposiums and student exchanges.

Early morning departure for North Korea (12 Feb). (photo: Yonhap)
While about a dozen South Korean journalists were included in the delegation,
US sanctions meant laptops and cameras could not be taken over the border. 

And that is not the only engagement that is happening. On Tuesday 19 February the Australian Broadcasting Corporation broadcast a short documentary ['Out of Breath' (29 minutes)] on its Foreign Correspondent program, showing how American, South Korean and North Korean doctors are cooperating in a project run by the Eugene Bell Foundation (a Christian charity) to treat multi-drug resistant Tuberculosis (MDRTB) in North Korea. Dr Stephen Linton is convinced that most people have an image of North Korea that is both wrong and unhelpful. 'What you think you know is not what you will find,' he says. It is a very moving program and shows what is already possible.

There can be little doubt that an intensive and furious spiritual battle is underway over North Korea, and over its integration into East Asia (the spiritual powerhouse of the future!).

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO 

* sustain and richly bless the long-suffering and severely persecuted remnant Church in North Korea.

* interpose himself in the North Korea-United States Summit in Hanoi (27-28 February) and influence proceedings for the benefit of the Church, the nation and the world.

* intervene creatively in the Korean Peninsula, according to his perfect wisdom, in line with his boundless grace, to bring peace, transformation and liberty, to the glory of his name.

May religious freedom be realised. May the Church's days of suffering soon be over. May the Church be free to serve North Korea's 'harassed and helpless' (Matthew 9:35-38) and bring Gospel light to those in darkness.



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Update: NIGERIA ELECTIONS
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Five hours before the polls were to open on 16 February, Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced that the polls would be postponed by one week. The presidential and national assembly elections will now be held on Saturday 23 February, and the governorship and state assembly elections on 9 March. INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, told a news conference: 'Following a careful review of the implementation of its logistics and operational plan, and the determination to conduct free, fair, and credible elections, the commission came to the conclusion that proceeding with the elections as scheduled is no longer feasible.'

Detailed report by ICG (19 Feb)
While the presidential candidates are blaming each other for the delay and crying 'conspiracy', the INEC chairman's claim seems reasonable considering that in the past week two electoral offices (complete with many thousands of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) were burned to the ground and a shipping container load of PVC readers was destroyed just days before those machines were to be distributed to polling booths [see RLPB 489 (13 Feb)]. Some election observers have expressed doubts however, that the INEC will be able to do all that needs to be done before the 23 February polls, including auditing ballot boxes.

With tensions soaring, the postponement could have been enough to trigger communal violence. Nigerians, however, heeded calls to remain calm; surely this is an answer to prayer. It is of great concern that President Buhari has declared that anybody who tries to interfere with the election would do so 'at the expense of his life'. The opposition has objected, slamming Buhari's rhetoric as 'a licence to kill'. It seems highly likely that when the results are announced, the loser will immediately cry foul. If Buhari cries foul, Muslims will surely riot. If Atiku cries foul, that too could trigger Muslim riots! The situation facing vulnerable Christian communities and ethnic Igbo throughout the North and Middle Belt is very serious indeed. In praying for peace we are praying for a miracle. The peace to date is nothing short of miraculous.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO INTERVENE

* so that Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission will be able to do all the work it must for free and fair elections.

* so that peace will hold, no matter the result; may the Lord's hand of protection be over his precious and faithful people.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
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 NORTH KOREA-US SUMMIT in HANOI 27-28 FEBRUARY
-- plus NIGERIA'S POSTPONED ELECTIONS.

A second North Korea-US (Kim-Trump) Summit will be held in Vietnam on 27-28 February. Washington continues to insist that complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation be a prerequisite to sanctions relief. Meanwhile, Pyongyang continues to press for step-by-step, synchronised confidence-building measures -- a plan supported by its neighbours South Korea, China and Russia, and possibly by President Trump. The goal must be peace and trust; only then will the situation improve significantly. Economic reform is underway, as is cross-border engagement with South Korea -- including religious engagement -- and co-operation with foreign Christian charities. We must keep praying that our sovereign God will intervene with a miracle: to bring peace, openness and liberty to North Korea and its Christians. Also, may peace, unity and righteousness prevail in Nigeria following the 23 February and 9 March elections.

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For research purposes, all Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletins are archived at Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin.

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, February 12, 2019

RLPB 489. Praying Through Nigeria's General Elections (cont.)

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 489 | Wed 13 Feb 2019

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)


PRAYING THROUGH NIGERIA'S GENERAL ELECTIONS
            -- continued from last week's RLPB 488 (6 Feb)
 -- Elizabeth Kendal

As Nigeria's General Elections loom, one cannot help but feel a dreaded sense of déjà vu. Tensions soared and conflict loomed back in March 2015 as Muhammadu Buhari (a Fulani Muslim from the north) ran for the presidency against the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan (a Christian from the south). Feeding off and fuelling the northern Muslim desire for a northern Muslim president, Buhari warned that violence would erupt and blood would flow if he were denied the presidency. [See RLPB 295 (4 Feb 2015)] Christian fear escalated, especially through the Muslim-dominated North and volatile Middle Belt. As it turned out, Buhari won the 2015 presidential poll, in large part due to the influence of his running mate, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who, as a senior pastor in one of Nigeria's largest Pentecostal denominations, influenced many Christians to vote for Buhari. When the results were announced, outgoing president Goodluck Jonathon conceded defeat with grace and dignity and appealed for calm in the national interest. [See RLPB 307 (29 April 2015)

April 2011.
Muslims riot after Buhari loss.
The fear that hung over the 2015 presidential poll was not unfounded. Previously, in April 2011, when Muhammadu Buhari lost the presidential poll to Goodluck Jonathon, Buhari immediately cried foul and claimed the polls (deemed free and fair) had been rigged against him. With that false claim Buhari triggered the worst outbreak of electoral violence in Nigeria's history. For three days Muslims rioted across the north, burning, looting and killing; it was a rampage of terror that cost the lives of more than 800 mostly Christian Nigerians.

For four years now, President Buhari's Fulani-dominated administration has favoured the Fulani at every turn. In early 2017, as the nation marked the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the Biafra War, ethnic Igbo pro-secessionist groups in Nigeria's south-east escalated their activity in protest of the deepening marginalisation the Igbo were experiencing under the Buhari government. Fulani Muslim youths in the north responded by threatening to ethnically cleanse the 'ungrateful and uncultured' Igbo (a mostly Christian people indigenous to the south-east) from the north. [See Religious Liberty Monitoring (RLM), 'The Kaduna Declaration;Nigeria in the Shadow of Biafra' (6 July 2017).] While northern Muslim leaders did ultimately manage to pacify the northern Muslim youths and prevent bloodshed, ethnic and religious tensions have remained high. Many Igbo are convinced they simply cannot live in a nation dominated by Fulani and so continue to agitate for secession; some have called for a boycott of the 16 February polls.

Consequently, it was very strategic of Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate for the opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP), to choose an Igbo man as his running mate. Peter Obi (57) served as Anambra State governor until 2014 and has been a leading figure in Nigerian politics ever since. A devout Catholic with a reputation for careful economic management, Obi is married with two children; his elder sister is a nun and his younger brother is a priest. No Igbo has been either president or vice-president since Alex Ekwueme was deputy to Shehu Shagari, who was ousted in December 1983 in a military coup led by then-general Muhammadu Buhari. Furthermore, Atiku's fourth wife, Barrister Dr Jennifer Atiku, a US-educated lawyer and Ibgo woman, is campaigning for her husband across the south-east. The Igbo will not boycott this presidential poll; rather, they will come out en masse to oust Buhari.

Election monitors are arriving in preparation for the big day. Meanwhile, two offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) have been burnt to the ground in the space of a week -- one in Plateau (North Central / Middle Belt) and one in Abia (South East), resulting in the loss of thousands of permanent voters' cards (PVCs) and hundreds of ballot boxes. Further to this, a shipping container full of PVC readers and other electoral materials has been burned in Anambra (South East).  Foreign diplomats in Nigeria report they have never known such a flood of hate-speech, doctored photographs, falsehoods and accusations. Tensions are soaring and the threat of serious, widespread violence is very real. In a superb article by Jeremy Weber, with photography by Gary Chapman (Christianity Today, Nov 2018), the General Secretary of Nigeria's five million-strong Evangelical Church Winning All denomination, Yunusa Nmadu, gives voice to the widely held fear that Nigeria is teetering on the edge of civil war. 'We are on the precipice,' he warns. 'I am not a prophet of doom, but it looks like we are very close to it.'

As noted in last week's RLPB 488 (6 Feb), Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) 'came to power in 2015 promising to tackle corruption, improve security and revive the economy. Instead, corruption has flourished, security has deteriorated to crisis levels and consequently the economy has stagnated. The result is widespread disillusionment, displacement and despair.' Indeed, Buhari's presidency is widely acknowledged to have been a total disaster. Any progress that was made was made in his absence, during his 'medical leave', when VP Osinbajo, a graduate of the London School of Economics, stepped in as Acting President. Consequently, when Nigerians go to the polls on Saturday 16 February, it is difficult to imagine that a majority would want to give Buhari another four years in office. It is also difficult to imagine that Buhari, should he lose the election, would concede defeat with grace and dignity and appeal for calm in the national interest; that would be a miracle! If Buhari loses (as is probable) it is more likely violence will erupt as it did in 2011, only this time it could well be much worse as there are far more firearms available now. In the event of violence, much will depend on the course that the demoralised Nigerian military ultimately takes.

Benue family, displaced by Fulani violence.
(Photo: Gary Chapman, Christianity Today, Nov 2018)


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT

* God, in grace and mercy, will intervene in Nigeria for the benefit of the Church and Nigeria's 'harassed and helpless' masses (Matthew 9:36): may the elections be free and fair, and may the results come with the miracle of peace. 'For nothing will be impossible with God' (Luke 1:37 ESV).

* the Spirit of God will awaken Nigerians to the reality that ultimately the remedy for corruption is not more law or more police, but the cleansing and transformation of the human heart -- something Islam does not offer, but the Lord Jesus Christ does. Pray for awakening throughout Nigeria.

* Jesus Christ, Yahweh Sabaoth (the Lord of hosts), will protect, preserve, sustain, encourage, bless and continue to build his Church in Nigeria; may the forces of darkness arrayed against her be frustrated as God fulfils his purpose for her to be a praying, missionary Church into the future.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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PRAYING FOR NIGERIA'S GENERAL ELECTIONS

Tensions are soaring ahead of Nigeria's General Elections slated for Saturday 16 February. The threat of serious, widespread violence is very real. Two election offices have already been burnt and hate-speech, doctored images and falsehoods are everywhere. Buhari's presidency is widely acknowledged to have been a total disaster. Consequently it is difficult to imagine that a majority will want to give him the second four-year term he craves. It is also difficult to image that Buhari would ever concede defeat and appeal for calm; that would be a miracle! If Buhari loses (as is probable), then violence likely will erupt as it did when he lost to Goodluck Jonathon in April 2011, only this time the toll could be much higher. Please pray for Nigeria and for her long-suffering 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 

Monday, February 4, 2019

RLPB 488. PRAYING THROUGH NIGERIA'S GENERAL ELECTIONS

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 488 | Wed 06 Feb 2019

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)


PRAYING THROUGH NIGERIA'S GENERAL ELECTIONS
-- Elizabeth Kendal

On Saturday 16 February Nigerians will head to the polls to elect a President and National Assembly. They will head to the polls again on 2 March to elect State Governors and State Assemblies. Those in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) will elect a FCT Council. According to Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigeria has 84 million registered voters, of whom 42.9 million (51.1 percent) are 'youths' (aged 18-35years). While numerous political groups will seek to challenge the major parties, it will remain essentially a two-horse race. The general election will pit the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and its presidential candidate, the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari (76), against the opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar (72). 

Muhammadu Buhari (a retired Major General and former military dictator) and the APC came to power in 2015 promising to tackle corruption, improve security and revive the economy. Instead, corruption has flourished, security has deteriorated to crisis levels and consequently the economy has stagnated. The result is widespread disillusionment, displacement and despair. Despite this record of abject failure, and though during his first term in office Buhari spent a total of 170 days absent on 'medical vacation' in London (including a 104 day stretch in 2017), President Buhari is campaigning for a second four-year term.

Muhammadu Buhari & Atiku Abubakar
Threatening to bring down the Buhari presidency and the APC government, however, is the issue of corruption. In keeping with his election promise of 2015, President Buhari  established an anti-corruption commission. The commission has uncovered massive fraud in military procurement. Essentially, government funds are secured on the basis of fake contracts for provisions and equipment which is never delivered -- everything from food and ammunition to firearms, helicopters and Alpha jets, totalling as much as US$15 billion. This goes some way to explaining why Fulani violence has spiralled out of control, Boko Haram is resurgent [see last week's RLPB 487 (30 Jan)], and army troops -- sick and tired of being thrown to the wolves without adequate rotation, food, ammunition, equipment or intelligence -- are demoralised, traumatised and on the verge of open revolt. Enormous efforts are being undertaken to suppress the commission's findings. As the elections approach, the level of panic among senior government and military officials rises.

On Friday 25 January President Buhari took the unprecedented and unconstitutional step of unilaterally dismissing Nigeria's seasoned Chief Justice, Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen (a southerner), citing corruption allegations. He then swore in, as Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad who, like Buhari, hails from the north. If the election result is challenged, it will be the job of the Chief Justice of Nigeria to decide the matter. At an emergency meeting in Abuja on Monday 28 January the Nigerian Bar Association agreed to boycott the courts on 29-30 January to protest about what it described as a 'coup against the Nigerian judiciary'.

Both sides are digging in and furiously accusing the other of plotting to rig the elections and orchestrate violence. Both sides appear to be setting the stage so that, should they not be happy with the election result, they can cry 'fraud' and unleash chaos. If violence does erupt it will most certainly run along ethnic-religious lines, especially endangering Christian minorities in the north and Middle Belt. What the military will do remains to be seen.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO

* intervene in Nigeria to end corruption and forge national unity in the interests of security, justice, peace, liberty and the spread of the Gospel.

* awaken Nigerians to the dangers of hate speech and to the plots of those who would profit from violence without any care for human life; as bloodshed and darkness threaten, may Nigerians choose life and peace.

* raise up Nigerian leaders of integrity -- in government, in the military, in civil society and in the Church -- leaders who will serve the interests of the nation and all its peoples, rather than just themselves. 'Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach [disgrace, shame] to any people' (Proverbs 14:34).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
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PRAYING THROUGH NIGERIA'S GENERAL ELECTIONS 

On 16 February Nigerians will vote to elect a President and National Assembly. It is essentially a two-horse race, pitting the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and its presidential candidate, the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari (76), against the opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar (72).  Buhari and the APC came to power in 2015 promising to tackle corruption, improve security and revive the economy. Instead, corruption has flourished, security has deteriorated and the economy has stagnated. The result is widespread disillusionment, displacement and despair. Both sides are digging in, accusing the other of plotting to rig the elections and orchestrate violence. If violence does erupt, it will doubtless unfold along ethnic-religious lines, endangering Christian minorities in the north and Middle Belt. 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, January 29, 2019

RLPB 487. Dec 2018 & Jan 2019 Update, incl. Philippines, Bulgaria, Egypt, Indonesia, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 487 | Wed 30 JAN 2019

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)

- Elizabeth Kendal

DECEMBER 2018 & JANUARY 2019 UPDATE – during this period we prayed concerning

* AUSTRALIA (5 Dec, RLPB 482) where religious freedom hangs in the balance.

* CHINA (12 Dec, RLPB 483) where the Chinese Communist Party’s hi-tech and suffocating supervision of society and brutal crackdown on religion and dissent continues apace.

* CHINA & IRAN (19 Dec, RLPB 484) where, just as in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, rulers – like Herod before them – reject Christ and instead choose violence. Just as Herod’s efforts to eliminate Christ were in vain, so too will be the efforts of China’s President Xi Jingping and the Chinese Communist Party and Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei and the Shi’ite revolutionary regime. And just as Christ was crucified in Jerusalem only to rise to life again, so too will the light of Christ overcome opposition and rise in China and in Iran, to bring light and blessing not only to those lands but far beyond. Indeed – it has already begun! Which is precisely why the spiritual battle is so intense. Pray for the Church in China and Iran. 

* UGANDA (16 Jan, RLPB 485) where massive decentralisation has resulted in Uganda now being comprised of roughly 130 self-governing districts. Despite living in a predominantly Christian country where religious freedom is guaranteed in the constitution, Christians living in Muslim-dominated self-governing districts in Eastern Region are being forced to live as dhimmis (second-class citizens, subjugated under Islam) and persecuted with impunity. It is absolutely urgent that the supremacy of the constitution be established and the law of the land upheld before persecution becomes ethnic cleansing, killings become massacres, and  Uganda loses control of Eastern Region all together. Pray for Uganda: for her government and her Church (especially for Christian solidarity in this matter of persecution). 

* PHILIPPINES (23 Jan, RLPB 486) where a plebiscite had been held to determine the peoples’ willingness (or not) to adopt the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL; also known as the Bangsamoro Organic Law). If passed, the BBL/BOL would establish an autonomous Islamic sub-state in Western Mindanao. Championed widely (but not by this ministry) as the harbinger of peace, the BBL/BOL emerged out of peace talks between the Government of Philippines (GoP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

UPDATES: 

1) BBL PASSES

On Friday 25 January, the Philippines’ election commission ratified the results of the plebiscite: 87 percent of voters in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) voted ‘YES’, indicating they approve the BBL/BOL. The ARMM will now be replaced by the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) complete with greatly expanded, essentially state-like powers.  In Sulu Province (long an Abu Sayyaf stronghold) a majority voted ‘NO’, but as Sulu is part of the ARMM it cannot opt out of the BARMM now a majority of the ARMM has voted ‘YES’. Sulu Governor Abdusakur ‘Toto’ Tan II (whose family has long held power over the region) has challenged the constitutionality of the BBL in the Supreme Court, which is yet to rule on the matter!  In two cities not in the ARMM – Isabela and Cotabato – residents were asked to decide if they wanted their city included in the BARMM. In Cotabato, 59.9 percent voted ‘YES’; while in Isabela 54.1 percent voted ‘NO’.

On Wednesday 6 February a plebiscite will be held in Lanao del Norte Province and seven towns in North Cotabato Province to see if residents would like their region or town to be included in the BARMM. [Live Updates via Rappler]

2) CHURCH BOMBED IN JOLO

On Sunday 27 January terror struck Jolo city, the capital of Sulu Province. At 8:15 am, a suicide bomber detonated his vest inside the inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, targeting Catholics. Around 45 seconds later, a second bomb left in the utility box of a motorcycle exploded in the car park, targeting security personnel and first responders. On Monday afternoon officials put the toll at 20 dead and 97 wounded. [Earlier reports put the death toll at 27.] Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility, boasting their fighters had bombed a ‘Christian temple’, during  a ‘gathering of the Crusaders to perform their polytheist rituals’. While the role of IS remains unclear, one assailant –identified through CCTV footage – was known to authorities as a member of the Adjang-Adjang Group. Adjang-Adjang, which means ‘Soldiers of the Martyrs’, is a subgroup of the IS affiliated Abu Sayyaf Group. It is made up of youths orphaned by the conflict; most are drug addicts and delinquents. Though small in number, they are feared throughout the city. This is the first major attack ever perpetrated by the group. Pray for the Church in southern Philippines.

Inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel,
Jolo, Sunday 27 January.

JANUARY 2019 ROUND-UP – also this month

* BULGARIA: RELIGION DENOMINATIONS ACT PASSED

Bulgaria’s re-drafted Religion Denominations Act was passed by parliament on 21 December. Two months of weekly street protests by Bulgarian Christians had served to highlight the problematic and highly repressive nature of the original draft amendments and attract the attention of European rights advocates and intercessors worldwide. Praise God . . . virtually all of the provisions that the churches had protested against were dropped from the final draft. The new and greatly improved Religion Denominations Act became effective on 1 January. [For more details click HERE.]

* EGYPT: BEHIND THE FACADE, NO CHANGE.

Minya Governorate, in Upper (south) Egypt, is home to Egypt’s largest population of Copts (indigenous Egyptians, as distinct from Arabs). Despite being home to some 1000 Copts (who are Christian) the village of Manshiyet Zaafarana has only one designated place where Christians are permitted to gather for prayer and worship. Known as Mar Girgis (St Georges) Church, Coptic Christians gathered there in number on Christmas Eve (6 January) for the traditional midnight Mass. Angered by the activity, Muslims subsequently stormed the building only to be evicted by police. On Friday 11 January at 1:30pm – i.e. straight after Friday noon prayers – a mob of some 1000 angry (doubtless incited) Muslims converged on the church. They shouted ‘leave, leave’, along with Islamic chants such as, ‘No other God other than Allah’, and demanded that the church be closed. Unable to pacify the mob, the police agreed to their demands. After evicting the two priests and few believers who were inside, the police shuttered the building as the Muslim mob cheered and gloated.

Muslim descend on Mar Girgis church after Friday prayers, 11 January.

This is increasingly how business is done in Egypt: the government opens churches, issues religious freedom decrees and establishes commissions to tackle sectarian conflict while Muslims, aware of their power and confident of impunity, know they only need to riot to get their way. As long as persecution with impunity is the order of the day, then all government pretense is meaningless. Lack of enforcement renders the law worthless. Pray for the Church in Egypt.


* INDONESIA: AHOK OUT; ELECTIONS ON 

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama – formerly known as ‘Ahok’, now preferring to be known as BTP – walked free from prison on 24 January. The long-popular former Governor of Jakarta fell prey to a politically motivated blasphemy accusation while running for governor in November 2016. Sentenced to two years prison in May 2017, Ahok/BTP was released four months early, reportedly for good behaviour but more probably because President Joko Widodo wanted him out before the April elections. It seems Widodo might also have wanted Islamic terror leader Abu Bakar Ba’asyir released from prison and moved to house arrest before the elections. That, however, is looking less likely now that Ba’asyir has refused to pledge loyalty to the Unitary State of Indonesia and the Pancasila state ideology, insisting instead that he only answers to Allah. Clearly rattled by the jailing of Ahok/BTP, Widodo is desperate to bolster his Islamic credentials. [See RLPB 469 (22 Aug 2018), Indonesia: ‘sword’ of weaponised Islam revealed.] Pray for the Church in Indonesia.

* MALI: DARKNESS DESCENDS ON CAPTIVES 

In the days just prior to Christmas, Al Qaeda’s branch in Mali and West Africa, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM, or the ‘Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims’) released a new 10-minute video. According to the English-speaking jihadist, JNIM – which is holding a number of foreign Christians hostage – will no longer release regular videos providing proof-of-life and demanding ransom. The Malian desert is going dark! No reason was given for the change in procedure.  In the video, the JNIM spokesman discussed the cases of Sophie Petronin (French), Iulian Ghergut (Romanian), Dr. Ken Elliott (Australian), Beatrice Stockly (Swiss), and Sister Gloria Navarez (Columbian). This is an ominous development and will be exceedingly difficult for the families involved. Please pray for these captives, as well as for Jeff Woodke (American) and Joerg Lange (German) who are also being held captive somewhere in the Malian desert.

[For background see:
RLPB 413 (5 July 2017) and RLPB 445 (7 March 2018)]

‘Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you’ (from Psalm 139, ESV).

* NIGERIA: A CALL TO PRAYER

The crisis in north-east Nigeria is one of the most neglected crises in the world today. The Nigerian presidential election – slated for 16 February 2019 – will likely bring the situation to a head. As reported by Defense & Foreign Affairs (Special Analysis, 28 Dec 2018) ‘Islamist groups – loosely referred to as Boko Haram (BH) – continue to gain dominance in north-eastern Nigeria’. On 25 December BH ambushed Nigerian soldiers and police near Baga, 198km north-east of Maiduguri, in Borno State, killing fourteen. On 27 Dec, BH overran two military bases belonging to the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF) in Baga forcing troops to withdraw and thousands of civilians to flee (mostly into Cameroon). The militants carried off gun trucks, ammunition and multiple rocket-launchers. BH is also known to be using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV: i.e. drones). On 13 January 2019, BH targeted a military base near the town of Magumeri in Borno (50km north-west of Maiduguri) forcing thousands of civilians to flee. On 14 Jan, BH overran and seized control of Rann (174km east of Maiduguri) a makeshift town for displaced persons which was controlled by the military. The army has retreated and thousands of civilians have fled into Cameroon.

Led by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the Nigerian Church held a National Day of Prayers on 10 January. The focus was on the release of captives, including Leah Sharibu and the remaining Chibok girls, and that the February elections might be free, fair, credible and peaceful.

 Muhammadu Buhari versus Atiku Abubakar

To say Nigeria is in crisis would be an understatement. The 16 February presidential election – which will force many issues to the surface – will be a primary focus of RLPB ministry in coming weeks. Please Pray.

* PAKISTAN: ASIA BIBI IS FREE; PAKISTAN IS NOT

On Tuesday 29 January, the Supreme Court of Pakistan upheld its acquittal of Christian woman, Asia Bibi, dismissing as without merit a petition to have the ruling reviewed. Under guard at a secret location since her acquittal last October, Asia Bibi is now free to leave Pakistan. Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Malook who returned to Pakistan for the hearing, said, ‘The verdict is a way forward, and it is positive. The judges raised pertinent legal questions, focusing on law and evidence, expressing displeasure over the perjury that was committed by the complainant against Asia and other witnesses.’  Radical anti-blasphemy party Tehreek-e-Labbaik said on Monday it would not accept any decision in favour of Ms Bibi’s release and asked its followers to prepare for more mass protests.  Pray for the Church in Pakistan.

* SUDAN: A CALL TO PRAYER

Protests erupted in Khartoum on 19 December after the government trebled the price of bread. The economic situation has been deteriorating for years, especially since the secession of South Sudan. Now anger has escalated to breaking point. True to form, the Government of Sudan (GoS) is responding with violence. Over the past month, more than 40 protesters have been killed, well over 300 wounded and more than 800 arrested. While protests are nothing new, what makes these protests unprecedented is their size and longevity, as well as the diversity of those protesting. Either the crackdown will get much worse and more deadly or the protests could force the GoS to accept radical change. Of course change rarely comes quickly; the protests that brought change to Ethiopia lasted one whole year. If a similar change was to occur in Sudan it could result in regional parties and peoples being empowered through a more representative government, thus reviving the late Dr John Garang’s vision of a ‘New Sudan’ built on inclusive government and freedom (albeit without South Sudan). President Omar al-Bashir is hunting for international support. Please pray that God will intervene in Sudan for the benefit of its ‘harassed and helpless’ un-free masses and its suffering 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, January 22, 2019

RLPB 486. Philippines: Sharia Descends

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 486 | Wed 23 Jan 2019

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)


PHILIPPINES: SHARIA DESCENDS
By Elizabeth Kendal

Police with ballot boxes, Cotabato City,
21 January 2019.
photo: AFP/Noel Celis
On Monday 21 January some 2.8 million eligible voters in the 'core territory' of the proposed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) participated in a plebiscite. They were asked if they are willing to adopt the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). Residents in the cities of Isabela and Cotabato were asked if they were willing to have their city included in the BARMM. The result should be available after four or five days. If a majority in each region votes 'yes' -- as is expected -- then the BARMM will be established and another plebiscite will be held on 6 February in which residents of Lanao del Norte Province and seven towns in North Cotabato Province will be asked if they would like their region or town to be included in the BARMM.

Whilst pre-polling indicates that a 'yes' vote is almost certain, polling will be tight in regions with larger Christian minorities, in particular the cities of Isabela (64 percent Muslim) and Cotabato (76 percent Muslim). On 18 January Isabela City officials and Church leaders who strongly oppose their city's inclusion in the BARMM expressed their objections to a rally of thousands of concerned Isabelenos. On 21 January Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi -- who opposes Cotabato City's inclusion in the BARMM -- complained that members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) were engaging in voter intimidation and fraud. [Live Updates (Rappler): votes are in for Cotabato City: 59.5 percent vote 'yes'.]

By this coming weekend, the BARMM will almost certainly have replaced the ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao) in line with the Bangsamoro Basic Law (also known as Bangsamoro Organic Law and Republic Act No. 11054). A three-year transition period will follow, during which time the BARMM will be governed by a MILF-dominated Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte. If all goes to plan, polls to elect an 80-seat parliament will then be held in 2022. Actually, the future is anything but certain.

click on map to enlarge
After some 50 years of Islamic separatist insurgency, MILF's ability to govern remains to be seen. Will MILF be able to create jobs, deliver services and manage the budget?  In a recent survey conducted across Mindanao, only 30 percent of respondents believe MILF is capable of governing the BARMM (with 19 percent confident MILF is definitely capable). Meanwhile, 38 percent believe MILF is not capable (with 28 percent insisting MILF is definitely not capable!).

Critically, victory for the 'yes' vote will trigger the decommissioning process through which MILF's 30,000 to 40,000 armed fighters are to surrender their weapons. We might wonder, however, how many decommissioned MILF jihadists will find work in policing and security -- putting down one weapon in exchange for another without any change in ideology at all? Many MILF fighters are full-time jihadists who have known nothing but war. Whilst some will surrender their weapons and enter the mainstream of society, many might find it easier to join other groups offering salaries to combatants: i.e., the Islamic State-aligned Abu Sayyaf Group, Maute Group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). Rejecting autonomy, these groups will fight on striving for their dream of an independent Islamic State/Caliphate -- something that MILF understands better than most, having previously rejected autonomy in preference for war!

Then there is the matter of inclusion. Though two seats in the 80-seat parliament (to be elected in 2022) will be reserved for Christians, this will be totally meaningless if a majority has no intention of respecting their rights. As many Christian leaders and voices are keen to point out, MILF has promised to respect religious freedom. However, the fact remains that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL/BOL) will impose Islamic Sharia Law on all the BARMM's Muslim residents. Consequently, Islamic zeal and repression will escalate, with serious repercussions for Christian ministry, witness, freedom and security. Furthermore, the BBL/BOL provides for future plebiscites, thereby enabling perpetual territorial expansion of what is most certainly an Islamic 'state in all but name'.

For a more detailed analysis of the BBL, see:
Bangsamoro Basic Law Looms Over Mindanao 
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, December 2017.
See also RLPB 466 (1 Aug 2018).


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO

* comfort all those Christians in Mindanao who are feeling anxious, even afraid, for the future; may the Holy Spirit draw the Church ever deeper into prayer; may greater faith, love, unity, urgency and co-operation be the result ... to the glory of God the Father.

'... that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me ...' (from Jesus' High Priestly Prayer, John 17:23 ESV).

* bless the churches of Mindanao as they seek to maintain a faithful witness among the Muslim majority; may they have divine wisdom, grace and courage as they navigate an increasingly challenging environment (Matthew 10:16).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
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SHARIA LAW DESCENDS IN THE PHILIPPINES

On 21 January some 2.8 million voters in western Mindanao participated in a plebiscite organised to facilitate the establishment of an Islamic sub-state in southern Philippines. Once the 'yes' victory is confirmed, a three-year transition period will follow. During that time a Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)-dominated council will govern the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and facilitate the decommissioning of tens of thousands of MILF fighters. If all goes to plan, polls to elect an 80-seat parliament will then be held in 2022. The Bangsamoro Basic Law will impose Islamic Sharia Law on all of the BARMM's Muslim residents. Consequently, Islamic zeal and repression will escalate, with serious repercussions for Christian ministry, witness, freedom and security. Please pray for the Philippine Church, especially for Mindanao's minority 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, January 15, 2019

RLPB 485. Uganda: Minority Christians Under Pressure

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 485 | Wed 16 Jan 2019

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)


UGANDA: MINORITY CHRISTIANS UNDER PRESSURE
by Elizabeth Kendal

According to Uganda's 2014 census, Christians make up 84.5 percent of the population and Muslims 13.7 percent. On 24 December, the Washington Times (WT) published an article with the following headline: 'Ugandan Christians live in fear of minority Muslims on quest for conversions'.  However, the WT headline is misleading, for the pressure and persecution described in the article is taking place in Uganda's Eastern Region where Uganda's Muslims are concentrated and where Christians are a minority. The WT article retells the story of 12-year-old Emmanuel Nyaiti (see Morning Star News (MSN), October 2018) who was walking home through predominantly Muslim Kaderuna Sub-County, Budaka District, at around 9 pm when he was ambushed by four Muslims eager to force him to convert to Islam. For resisting, Nyaiti was beaten, strangled and left for dead. Nyaiti's father, Kauta Yokosofat -- a member of Kiryolo Church of Uganda -- had previously been warned that if he did not convert to Islam his family would be forced to leave the village. When Nyaiti did not arrive home, his father gathered some neighbours and set out in search. He eventually found his son unconscious and half-dead in a cassava plantation. The attack sent shock-waves through the vulnerable, minority Christian community.

Today, unprecedented numbers of Ugandan Muslims are rejecting Islam and embracing life in Jesus Christ. Eager to retain their influence and eliminate 'fitna' (the strife that comes from doubting Islam), local imams are leading efforts to crush Christian witness in Eastern Region (e.g. see MSN 30 Nov). Deborah Gimbo of Budaka Town, Budaka District, meets for prayer with two other Christian women three evenings a week. On the afternoon of 20 December, four Muslims burst into her home as she was praying alone. They warned her to stop praying aloud in Jesus' name. When Gimbo refused, the intruders beat her with sticks until neighbours came to the rescue and took the battered and bleeding woman to hospital. Gimbo, who was discharged two days later, told MSN that 'a local sheikh (teacher) had instructed the assailants that people who pray in Jesus' name should be fought and pressured until they accept only worship of Allah, or else be killed.' Previously, on 10 October, Muslims in neighbouring Kibuku District tore down a church building established by Pastor Mustafa Waseke for his congregation of converts from Islam. Pastor Waseke told MSN that the Muslims, led by an imam, razed the building while shouting, 'Allah Akbar  [Allah is the greatest], away with this church and Pastor Mustafa Waseke. No more prayers in this place, or else you will all lose your lives.' A secret believer has since informed Waseke that Muslims are plotting to kill him and his family. Pastor Waseke told MSN, 'I am at a crossroads of not knowing what to do. My church members are scattered like sheep without a shepherd ... Please pray for us.'

Muhamud Gusolo of Masaba village, Sironko District, Eastern Region, abandoned Islam and put his faith in Christ in late 2017. In October 2018 he started hosting evening Bible study and worship in his home, meeting with other former Muslims. First, his father denounced, disowned and disinherited him. Then, on 7 December, a Muslim mob, led by a mosque leader, destroyed his banana plantation. With his livelihood destroyed and his life in danger, Gusolo decided to leave the village; his wife, however, was too afraid to join him. Having lost his home, wife and six children; his parents, inheritance and livelihood; Gusolo (28) appealed to the local authorities for help. 'This,' he says, 'this has fallen on deaf ears.' 

Uganda is a majority Christian country with a secular constitution that guarantees religious freedom. However, Uganda is also Africa's most decentralised country and its roughly 130 districts are largely self-governing. If the central government does not enforce the law nationwide and insist that all districts abide by the constitution, then Uganda will eventually end up like Nigeria where Muslim-majority regions observe Sharia law in defiance of the constitution to the detriment of national unity, human rights in general and Christian liberty and security in particular.

For a full analysis of the religious liberty situation in Uganda see:
'Uganda Analysis: escalating persecution of Christians in Eastern Region linked to Islamisation, decentralisation and impunity', by Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, May 2017.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO

* bless the persecuted and threatened Church in Uganda's Muslim-dominated Eastern Region; may the believers have divine wisdom and grace as they navigate a deteriorating situation; may the Lord be their fortress and deliverer, comforter and provider. 'But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.' (Psalm 3:3)

* give President Yoweri Museveni and Uganda's central government the conviction and courage to resist the Islamisation of the Eastern Region and insist that the supremacy of the constitution be recognised uniformly across all Uganda's districts.

* awaken Uganda's majority Christians to the plight of their suffering brothers and sisters in Muslim-dominated Eastern Region; may their hearts break as they see through Christ's eyes and realise the pain in the heart of God; may they fall to their knees as one for the sake of their persecuted brethren and for sake of their country.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
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UGANDA: MINORITY CHRISTIANS UNDER PRESSURE

Uganda is a predominantly Christian country with a secular constitution that guarantees religious freedom. It is also Africa's most decentralised country with some 130 districts that are largely self-governing. In Muslim-dominated Eastern Region, minority Christians are persecuted with impunity. In October, Emmanuel Nyaiti (12) was beaten, strangled and left for dead after he refused to convert to Islam; and the church building established by Pastor Mustafa Waseke for his congregation of converts was razed by a Muslim mob. In December, after losing his home, wife, children, livelihood, parents and inheritance, convert Muhamud Gusolo (28) appealed to local authorities -- but to no avail; and Deborah Gimbo was hospitalised after being violent attacked in her home for praying with other women in Jesus' name. May God intervene for Eastern Region's minority 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