Tuesday, April 16, 2019

RLPB 498. Easter Reflection: A Redemptive Response to Persecution


Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 498 | Wed 17 Apr 2019

RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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)


Easter Reflection: A Redemptive Response to Persecution 
-- by Elizabeth Kendal

In every war there is a pivotal, decisive battle which, while not ending the war, does determine its outcome. Whilst most people 'on the ground' -- soldiers and civilians -- will have no idea that the strategic dynamic has actually shifted, those in charge know exactly what has happened. Cognisant of the truth and with nothing to lose, the commanders of the losing side will unleash a response that is desperate, ferocious and punitive -- a response aimed largely at maximising their enemy's pain.

In the great cosmic drama of which we are a part, the pivotal, decisive battle was fought and won by the Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross; his victory evidenced by his resurrection. Despite this, the enemies of Christ resist their end and fight more violently than ever. However, no matter how challenging the Church's present reality might be, the outcome is assured, for 'all the promises of God find their "Yes" in [Christ]' (2 Corinthians 1:20). It is precisely because the promised Saviour/Redeemer fulfilled the task for which he was sent, that God's promise to Abraham -- that through his descendant 'all the families of the earth shall be blessed' (Genesis 12:1-3) -- is coming to pass.

Church in action: Nepal
For 2000 years, the Kingdom of God has been growing and spreading throughout the whole earth bringing blessing to the nations and families of the world (Matthew 13:31,32). It would be folly to think that such growth would go unchallenged. By the end of the 14th Century, the early Church that had grown and spread across the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, had been reduced to a persecuted, subjugated remnant. During the past 200 years -- but especially the past 50-60 years -- the Church has grown phenomenally throughout Asia, Africa and South America. Today, God is doing a new work through which unprecedented numbers of Muslims are coming to faith in Jesus Christ. Unsurprisingly, this growth is not going unchallenged either.

Now it is true that God does intervene with miracles. Indeed, amazing stories are often told of people coming to faith through dreams and visions and miraculous healings and provisions. However, it is mostly the case that God works through his servants and ambassadors, through us, his Church. We are commanded to 'go and make disciples' (Matthew 28:16-20). The lost hear the Gospel of grace and the Church grows as believers obediently 'scatter the seed' (Matthew 13:1-23). The harassed and helpless find abundant and eternal life when the Church reaches out with sacrificial love. Generally, when the Church steps out in obedience and faith, God steps in with amazing grace.

From Jerusalem to 'the ends of the earth' (Acts 1:8)
An increasingly global Church. Map shows Percentage Christians

Though the decisive battle was fought and won by Christ on the Cross, the forces of evil continue to fight, resisting their end with 'the energy of despair'. Using every weapon in their arsenal, they fight with desperation and furious hatred. They fight covertly: exploiting weakness and tempting believers into sin, or even just diverting them from their divine calling. The forces of evil also fight overtly: unleashing repression, facilitating crippling discrimination and inciting violent persecution. Persecution is the devil's response to Kingdom growth, not the other way around! Which begs the question: has God provided the Church with a means to respond to persecution, a means that is redemptive, a means that might actually facilitate Kingdom growth, subverting Satan's plot and turning it on its head?

Life post-ISIS
Qaraqosh, Nineveh Plains,
Northern Iraq (Oct 2016)
The first thing the Church must do is remember that Jesus Christ fought and won the pivotal, decisive battle on the Cross. Consequently, the outcome is already certain. The Church must realise that precisely because persecution is a response to Kingdom growth, it is not a signal that it is time to disengage or retreat. On the contrary, persecution signals the exact opposite! Persecution signals that it is time to get involved, time to step out in obedience and faith to 'sow seed' and support those sowers doing dangerous work on the front-line and behind enemy lines. To support the persecuted Church is to support God's mission in hostile territory. Thanks to the unprecedented openness and connectedness of today's world, today's Church can know of persecution and respond rapidly for the saving of many lives.

Now it is true that God does intervene with miracles, and amazing stories emerge daily of miraculous deliverance, provision and intervention. Generally, however, as it is with salvation, so it is with survival -- God mostly chooses to work through us, his Church. The persecuted Church in the Middle East or Africa or Asia, or anywhere you wish to name, will survive and grow as we speak out (Proverbs 31:8,9), as we give generously (James 2:15,16) and as we commit to faithful, intercessory prayer (Ephesians 6:12-18) [see: www.ElizabethKendal.com/Action ].

Gethsemane: a still from Mel Gibson's
'The Passion of the Christ'
Furthermore, as we love and support our brothers and sisters across ethnic and denominational lines, Christ's High Priestly prayer in the garden is answered: 'Father ... I pray ... that they may all be one just as you, Father, are in me, and I am in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me ... that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me' (from John 17:20-26 ESV). We might think we can't make a difference; but that is a lie of the devil. Practical sacrificial love for the persecuted Church is actually one of the most subversive, redemptive, sanctifying and missional things we can do.

EASTER PRAYER

Merciful Father, we pray for churches that are essentially dead because they have failed to feed on your Word, failed to exercise their faith and failed to pass on the truth to the next generation. May the power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead revive your Church.

Compassionate Father, we pray for churches that have retreated behind locked doors and locked lips for fear of persecution. May the Holy Spirit who gives wisdom and guidance (Matthew 10:16-20) give your Church power and courage to act (Acts 2).

Gracious Father, we pray for churches that have neglected or even resisted your command to love the Body of Christ (Galatians 6:2), even when it is poor, needy and despised, bleeding, imprisoned and struggling to survive. May the love of Jesus Christ be shed abroad in our hearts (Romans 5:5) ... that we might be one, that the world might believe (John 17:20-26).

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

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, April 9, 2019

RLPB 497. Indonesia: Polarisation, Islamisation and Bloodshed

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 497 | Wed 10 Apr 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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)


INDONESIA: POLARISATION, ISLAMISATION AND BLOODSHED
-- by Elizabeth Kendal

Indonesians will go to the polls on Wednesday 17 April to elect a president and vice-president, as well as a weak 136-seat Senate and a powerful 575-seat House of Representatives. They will also elect their provincial legislatures and local councils. Polling indicates that the incumbent President Joko Widodo (also known as Jokowi) will be returned as president with the conservative Islamic cleric Ma'ruf Amin, former Chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU, Indonesia's largest Islamic organisation), as his Vice-President [see RLPB 469 (22 Aug 2018)]. However, the gap between Joko Widodo and his perpetual rival, former Suharto-era military commander, Prabowo Subianto, has narrowed. Subianto and his running mate, the billionaire businessman Sandiaga Uno, have pitched their message not only to the poor who feel left behind by Jokowi's pro-development and pro-foreign investment policies, but to the more hard-line and intolerant, fundamentalist Islamists. Pundits expect the race to be not only close, but profoundly polarising.

Jakarta-based Amanda Hodge is the South-East Asia correspondent for The Australian. She comments that the differences between the two presidential candidates was on display in the two political rallies held on Sunday 7 April. In the morning, Subianto delivered an 'angry sermon against corruption and foreign plunderers to a sea of Islamic white'. Meanwhile, 'Jokowi's afternoon carnival celebrated a vast diversity of ethnicities, races and religions.' Hodge comments, 'Now, as in 2014 when the two men first faced off, many of Indonesia's ethnic and religious minorities fear under Prabowo a slide back into the authoritarianism of the Suharto era and a rise in Islamic chauvinism.' Even former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY, who is backing Subianto) has expressed fears 'that this nation will indeed be divided into two opposing sides who will forever be in conflict with each other'. Considering polarisation is but the inevitable consequence of Islamisation (see After Saturday Comes Sunday, page 62), SBY's fears are not only reasonable, they are probably profoundly understated.

Subianto rally Sunday 7 April; crowd estimated at 'perhaps 150,000'.
photo: James Massola

Of great significance for the Indonesian Church will be the election of provincial and local legislatures. This is because some of the most repressive and discriminatory, Sharia-based policies exist as provincial and district bylaws. In 2008 the head of the Constitutional Court called for Sharia bylaws to be scrapped on the grounds that they are unconstitutional and a threat to 'our national integrity'. Despite this, Sharia bylaws have only increased as more and more district legislators are coming from Islamist parties.

PAPUA BLOODSHED

Since its launch in December 2018, a military crackdown in the central highlands region of Indonesia's eastern Papua Province has forced some 32,000 mostly Christian indigenous Melanesian Papuans to flee their homes. Many are struggling to survive in the jungle where at least nine women have given birth. In the Mbua district, two school children were shot dead by Indonesian security forces (TNI). Across the Nduga region, the TNI has damaged or destroyed at least 34 schools and churches; it has also seized the SION GKI Mapenduma church for use as a military base. Reports and photos have emerged showing victims with deep burns. Canisters have been found which lend support to local claims that the TNI has been dropping explosive devices containing white phosphorous from helicopters. Naturally the TNI denies this. In fact, the TNI is denying there has been any destruction at all, claiming it is all a 'hoax'.

Papua. Click on map to enlarge
Benny Wenda, Chairman of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua has urged all Papuans in Indonesia to boycott the upcoming national elections. 'We respect Indonesia's right to hold elections in its own territory, but we will oppose the elections of the coloniser when they are forced upon us. We have tried participating in the elections of the colonial master before -- but we are still killed, tortured and discriminated against every day.' Tensions are escalating. These are watershed days for Papua.

For more detail see Religious Liberty Monitoring:
Indonesia: from Pancasila to Islamisation (11 April)
and
Papua: the Christian Crisis in Eastern Indonesia (14 April)

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL

* awaken Indonesians to the dangers of intolerant fundamentalist Islam; may they be awakened as to what they will lose in the way of diversity, culture and harmony if they continue down this path of polarising Islamisation.

* lead Indonesians to vote for candidates who respect the traditional Indonesian values of 'unity in diversity' (Bhinneka Tunggal Ika) and 'pancasila' (which emphasises religious pluralism, social justice, civility, unity and democracy).

* bless his precious Church with wisdom, insight and grace in the face of escalating hostility and Islamic nationalism.

* intervene to effect a breakthrough regarding the situation in Papua; may human rights be addressed; may the mostly Muslim and Javanese Indonesian military be forced to withdraw; may the mostly Christian indigenous Melanesian Papuans be entitled to have a say on their future. May the Lord raise up friends among the nations and prayers throughout the Body of Christ.

'Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.' (Jesus, in John 16:16-24 (specifically verse 23).

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
-------------------------------------------------------------
POLARISATION, ISLAMISATION AND VIOLENCE IN INDONESIA

Indonesians will go to the polls on Wednesday 17 April to elect a president and vice-president, a Senate and House of Representatives, as well as provincial legislatures and local councils. After decades of Islamisation, this election might be the most polarising yet with Islamic conservatism emerging as pivotal. Please pray that God will lead Indonesians to vote for candidates who respect the traditional Indonesian values of 'unity in diversity' and 'pancasila',which emphasises religious pluralism, social justice, civility, unity and democracy. Since December, some 32,000 mostly Christian indigenous Melanesians in the central highlands Nduga region of Indonesia's eastern Papua Province have been driven from their homes by Javanese-Muslim military violence. Demanding the end of Indonesian occupation, indigenous Papuans are preparing to boycott the elections. Tensions are soaring. Please pray.

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

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, April 2, 2019

RLPB 496. India: needs a breakthrough against Hindutva

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 496 | Wed 03 Apr 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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)


INDIA: NEEDS A BREAKTHROUGH AGAINST HINDUTVA
-- by Elizabeth Kendal

India's 2019 general election -- in which some 900 million eligible voters will elect the 17th Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) -- will be conducted in seven phases from 11 April to 19 May. The Lok Sabha has 543 elected seats, and the party or coalition that holds a 272-seat majority selects the prime minister. Votes will be collated and the results announced on 23 May.

As a polytheistic religion, Hinduism has never been especially hostile to Christianity, seeing Jesus as just another god among many. Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) on the other hand, is more political than religious. In seeking to unite Indians as Hindus it presents Christianity as foreign and a threat to national security and social cohesion. Wherever Hindu nationalism advances, communalism and violent persecution of Christians escalates.

Indian PM Narenda Modi
The 2014 general election saw the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) win a simple majority of seats in its own right, something extremely rare in India's multi-party system where coalitions are the norm. Furthermore, the BJP managed to 'break out of the Hindu heartland and secure votes from all quarters -- geographic and socio-economic'. The popularity of BJP chief Narendra Modi was only part of the equation. The BJP's economic pitch to improve the lot of poor Muslims and Christians was also surprisingly effective. But mostly, the BJP's success was the culmination of decades of momentum generated by the near century-long, largely unchallenged, strategic advance of Hindutva ideology and forces. [See: 'Hindutva!' Religious Liberty Monitoring, 23 July 2014.] Indeed, Hindutva's advance has been so successful that the historically secular Indian National Congress party increasingly feels obliged to play the religion card too. The current campaign has seen Congress figureheads go to extraordinary lengths to present themselves as devout practising Hindus in the hope of reclaiming some Hindu votes.

As prime minister, Narendra Modi has advanced Hindutva by putting Hindutva ideologues in positions of influence in politics, education (including universities), research institutes, state-owned businesses and banks, as well as through the police, the army and the judiciary. Meanwhile, Hindutva is making headway through the tribal belt and even through north-east India by means of the Ekal Vidyalaya school network. Ekal Vidyalaya schools offer five years of free education and are affiliated with the Hindu nationalist Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and its parent body the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). It is unsurprising therefore that they have been criticised for stoking communalism and spreading hatred, especially towards Christians. It is also unsurprising that they are targeting areas where Christianity has either long been established or is growing. Hindutva forces are also exploiting the issue of illegal mass immigration of Bengali Muslims to stoke a dangerous fire of Hindu nationalism in the northeastern state of Assam, a fire which threatens to burn Christians as much as Muslims.

concentration of Christians based on 2011 census
India's southern Tamil Nadu state has long been a hub for Christian missionary training and sending. But in recent months a new trend has emerged: escalating Hindu nationalist violence against Christians. In addition to the incidents reported by Morning Star News [see RLPB 495 (27 March)], Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that, on Tuesday 19 March, a mob of Hindu Munnani (Hindu Front) and Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) activists attacked a prayer meeting being held in a private home. The believers were abused and assaulted before being dragged down the stairs and out onto the street where their Bibles and tracts were burned. On Sunday 24 March Pastor Allen Gobi was about to commence a prayer service in his Family of Jesus church (a member of the Synod of Pentecostal Churches) when the police arrived, shut down the service and escorted Pastor Gobi to the police station. There he was forced to sign a document acknowledging that he did not have permission to hold meetings on the premises. Local sources told CSW that the Hindu Munnani (Hindu Front) had submitted a petition to the police to take action against the church and that the complicity of state actors in disrupting prayer meetings is now a common pattern across the state. We must pray for a breakthrough against Hindu Nationalism.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT

* God will raise up voices of integrity and influence that will repudiate Hindu nationalism's highly seductive narrative and present Indians with a better way.

* Jesus Christ will continue to build his Church in India, a Church which is growing, especially among the nation's poor and long-oppressed Dalits (untouchables) and despite escalating persecution.

* the Holy Spirit will provide the Church with 'wisdom and understanding' for a strategy to reach the powerful and prosperous, highly resistant Brahmin caste (priestly caste, the highest caste in the Hindu world, and consequently the most resistant to egalitarian Christianity). '... may [you] be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding ...' (from Colossians 1:9-12). May the LORD effect a breakthrough.

* God himself will fight for India (Exodus 14:14) for the sake of his threatened, persecuted Church and for the sake of India's many millions who desperately need to hear the Gospel. 


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
-------------------------------------------------------------
INDIA NEEDS A BREAKTHROUGH AGAINST HINDU NATIONALISM

India's 2019 general election will take place in seven phases from 11 April to 19 May. The new parliament will be announced on 23 May. The Hindu nationalist BJP has ruled with a simple majority for the past five years. Its electoral success is the culmination of decades of strategic advance by highly organised Hindu nationalist forces. Hindu nationalism exploits religion for political gain. It seeks to unite Indians as Hindus and is deeply hostile to Christianity, which it demonises as a threat to national security and social cohesion. Wherever Hindu nationalism advances, communalism and violent persecution of Christians escalates. Hindu nationalism is even making headway in areas where Christianity has long been established and/or growing. Please pray for the Church in India and for a breakthrough against Hindu nationalism.

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

Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

RLPB 495. March Update. Incl. Algeria, Burma, China, India, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Pakistan

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 495 | Wed 27 Mar 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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

MARCH 2019 UPDATE -- during this period we prayed concerning

* ETHIOPIA (RLPB 492), where political elements determined to resist PM Abiy Ahmed's reforms are suspected of being behind the ethnic and sectarian violence that has escalated markedly over the past six months. Religious violence included the 9 March torching of at least ten churches in a majority-Muslim region of southern Ethiopia. Please pray that God will complete the good work that he has begun in the nation of Ethiopia.

* IRAQ (RLPB 493), where Sunni transnational Islamic State is making a comeback and Sunni Kurds are competing with Shi'ite Shabaks (Baghdad's and Tehran's proxy against the Kurds) for control of Assyrian lands. Betrayed and abandoned, the indigenous Christian Assyrian nation is in a struggle for survival. Please pray for the Assyrian remnant in northern Iraq's Nineveh Province; may the Lord intervene to revive, sustain and deliver justice.

* SOMALIA (RLPB 494), where a Church has taken root and is growing despite severe persecution. Even in Kenya where there is freedom, Christian ministry among ethnic Somalis is exceedingly dangerous. Please pray that God in his grace will bring peace and freedom to Somalia.

* UPDATE ON NIGERIAN ELECTIONS

On 27 February Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced that President Muhammadu Buhari (APC) had won the presidential election. Crying foul, but rejecting violence, his main opponent, Atiku Abubakar (PDP) rejected the result. According to the PDP's parallel tabulation, Atiku won the poll by more than two million votes. Ignoring warnings that his actions could trigger violence, Atiku is challenging the election result in the Supreme Court. Former president Olusegun Obasanjo has defended Atiku's right to seek legal redress, noting that, if Buhari were permitted to seek redress over past losses (as he did in 2003, 2007 and 2011), then Atiku should be entitled to do likewise, as should any Nigerian who feels they have been denied justice. According to Obasanjo, those warning the case will trigger violence are simply those looking for an excuse to unleash violence. It is unlikely that the Supreme Court (overseen by Buhari's new Chief Justice [see RLPB 488 (6 Feb)]) will issue a ruling before Buhari is inaugurated on 29 May. Despite the seeming peace, the situation across Nigeria remains tense. Please pray.

Best Summary:
Atiku Appeals Buhari’s Election Victory in Nigeria, 
by John Campbell, Council of Foreign Relations, 19 March 2019.


MARCH 2019 ROUND-UP -- also this month

* ALGERIA: WATERSHED DAYS

The mass protests that erupted in Algeria on Friday 22 February have continued through March. On 11 March the regime conceded and, in line with the peoples' demands, announced that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (82 and incapacitated from a stroke) would not contest a fifth term. However, the protesters are demanding not merely a new president, but a new regime -- a new system! For many years now, Algerian security forces have partnered with the US to keep al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Jund al-Khalifa (Islamic State's franchise in Algeria) in check. A number of analysts have expressed concern that escalating unrest 'is likely to spawn profound security challenges ... [in particular] by providing additional space for Algeria's militant groups to recover and expand' (Stratfor, 12 March).

On 9 and 10 March al-Qaeda social media channels publicised a speech by Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi, a high-ranking AQIM official. In his speech, entitled 'Algeria … Getting Out from the Dark Tunnel', Al-Anabi agrees with the protesters' assessment of the government as corrupt and repressive. He then proposes a solution: Islamic governance with Sharia law and a real Muslim leader (as distinct from one who is 'loyal to the Jews and the Christians'). To that end he exhorts Algerians to 'unite' as Muslims and 'sons of Islam' and join AQIM's 'resistance'. According to al-Anabi, 'victory' under Allah is close at hand, as the 'signs have appeared' all across the country. These are watershed days for Algeria. For the sake of Algeria's young, persecuted but growing Church, please pray. May God protect his precious Church and may the devil have no victory here.

* BURMA (MYANMAR): THE TRAFFICKING OF KACHIN WOMEN 

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released a report on the trafficking of Kachin women, a crisis directly linked to the Burmese government's war against the Christian Kachin. Some 100,000 Kachin are displaced and struggling to survive in camps pressed up against the Chinese border. Because the Burmese government has blocked aid deliveries into 'rebel' (i.e. Kachin)-controlled areas, the situation in the camps is increasingly desperate.

Marip Lu, a Christian Kachin
victim of trafficking.
 TIME magazine 21 March 2019
Many Kachin women cross the border to take up jobs in China only to find that the recruiters were actually traffickers. Other women are trafficked by people known to them. After being drugged, they are taken across the border and sold to Chinese brokers. The price paid to the trafficker depends on the quality of the woman being sold: her youth, beauty, skills etc. After being sold to Chinese families as 'brides' for their sons, the trafficked Kachin women are locked away and raped daily until they are pregnant. Once a baby is delivered the 'brides' are often sent away or allowed to escape. HRW reports: 'Most ethnic Kachin are Christian, and many are deeply religious.' Consequently, HRW notes, 'there is a lot of stigma', and the women feel a lot of shame for what has happened to them. Please pray that God will intervene for the Christian Kachin of northern Burma. Pray for delivery of aid. Pray that the Kachin will be granted autonomy to maintain their Christian culture as they desire.

* CHINA: PERSECUTION WITH IMPUNITY

Jiang Tianyong (2017)
JIANG TIANYONG: Human rights lawyer and Protestant Christian Jiang Tianyong (48) walked free in early March having spent two years in prison for 'incitement to subvert state power'. A thorn in the side of the Communist regime, Jiang had been assisting persecuted human rights lawyers, including Gao Zhisheng (who remains 'disappeared') and many of those arrested in the July 2015 crackdown. In 2014 Jiang's wife and daughter left for the US where they received political asylum while Jiang remained in China to continue the struggle for justice and liberty. Today, despite being 'free', Jiang is being kept under surveillance around the clock by officers who prevent him from speaking to anyone. He is denied a mobile phone and visitors. Jiang wants to be reunited with his daughter and his wife, Jin Bianling, who wants him to travel to the US for medical treatment for injuries and ailments acquired in prison. These include a spinal injury, memory loss, eye inflammation and high blood pressure. Jiang has threatened to protest if he is not permitted to be reunited with his family. Please pray for this Christian family, persecuted for promoting righteousness and pursuing justice.

Liu, after interrogation
(see Morning Star News)
EARLY RAIN CHURCH: In 2018 the Communist Party escalated its persecution of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu city, Sichuan Province. Ultimately, on 9 December, the authorities swooped and arrested around 100 leading members [RLPB 483 (12 Dec)], dozens of whom remain in detention. On 19 March China Aid Association (CAA) reported that several church members had recently 'disappeared', usually right after receiving a visit from the government officials. Furthermore, Chengdu authorities have driven some Christians out of their homes and pressured landlords to cancel leases. One couple -- Liu and his wife Xing -- were visiting Christian friends on 2 March when police from Chengdu Shuyuan Police Station came and took them away for interrogation. Liu and Xing were 'personally humiliated, abused, and violently beaten by seven to eight police officers' through the night in Taisheng Road Police Station before being escorted back home. Please pray for the Church in China.

* INDIA: PERSECUTION WITH IMPUNITY IN TAMIL NADU

Indians will go to the polls in seven phases between 11 April and 19 May to elect a new Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament). The results will be announced on 23 May. Consequently, Hindu nationalist forces are in full campaign mode. Morning Star News reports unprecedented targeting of churches in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. In one case, area leaders from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led a mob of Hindu villagers in a Sunday evening attack on a house church prayer meeting led by Pastor Raju and attended by 20 women whom the Hindu mob humiliated, abused, threatened and terrorised. In another case, Arjun Sampath, the founder of the Hindu Nationalist Party (Hindu Makkal Katchi), went door-to-door with a female police officer admonishing Christians and ordering them to cease their activities. 'They told me that there should not be any Christian prayers in the area,' said Pastor Vetri. In yet another case, a Hindu mob burnt a Christian meeting place, forcing the believers to meet in the hall. Under pressure, the landlord informed them they would have to vacate. According to Pastor Joseph, the congregation had been receiving threats for many months, but the police were simply not interested. Please pray for the Church in India, especially as the election approaches.

* KAZAKHSTAN: BAPTISTS UNDER PRESSURE

In Kazakhstan, all churches must be registered to be legal. The requirement for a local body to have at least 50 adult members can be difficult for Protestant communities, especially in rural areas. As in China, the restrictions imposed on registered churches make registration unpalatable for many. Churches belonging to the Council of Churches Baptists do not apply for registration on principle, maintaining that religious freedom is a fundamental human right. This brings them into conflict with the authorities, but no more than any of the restrictions would even if they did register. Forum 18 reports that on 3 March, Anti-Terrorism Police in the southern city of Taraz raided another Baptist church's Sunday morning meeting for worship, the third such raid on a Council of Churches Baptist community since 10 February. In total, five Baptists have been fined the equivalent of either one month's or two month's salary. While Kazakhstan's religion laws are designed to target genuinely problematic Islamic jihadist and revolutionary movements, they are eagerly applied to peaceful Protestants in Kazak/Muslim-majority areas with the goal of preserving 'social harmony'. Please pray for the Church in Kazakhstan.

* PAKISTAN: TRAFFICKING OF CHRISTIAN GIRLS

Sadaf Masih is a 13-year-old Christian girl from Bahawalpur, Punjab Province. On 6 February she joined the ranks of hundreds of girls to be abducted by Muslims and trafficked across religious lines in Pakistan. Indeed, it is widely accepted that at least 1000 minority girls are trafficked in Pakistan every year. The three Muslim men who abducted Sadaf are described as 'influential'. When Sadaf's family confronted the men they promised to return her. Instead, they sent the family a marriage certificate showing Sadif's age as 18, her religion as Muslim and her status as married. Despite death threats, the family has registered a case with the police, who are reluctant to get involved.

Christian girl Sadif Masih (13) (left) and video footage of the forced marriage of
two abducted Hindu sisters aged 13 and 15.

On 20 March two Hindu sisters aged 13 and 15 were abducted by 'influential' Muslim men in Ghotki District, Sindh Province. When video footage appeared online showing the girls being forcibly married to Muslim men against their will, the Hindu community erupted. Only then did police agree to register an official complaint. The incident triggered a 'mini-spat' between Pakistan and its nuclear-armed Hindu-majority neighbour, India. By 25 March seven men had been arrested. While the girls might be free they are not home yet; instead they are being held in a government shelter as the authorities investigate whether they were actually abducted and forcibly converted. As for Sadaf Masih (13), who will speak up for her? Unfortunately, she does not have a nuclear-armed neighbour on her side. But she does have the Church and she does have the Lord! Please pray.

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


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, March 18, 2019

RLPB 494. Somalia: bleeding into Kenya

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 494 | 19 Mar 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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)


SOMALIA: BLEEDING INTO KENYA
-- by Elizabeth Kendal

Lawless Somalia - Aug 2017
click on map to enlarge
Somalia is a failed state and one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a Christian. The population is 99.8 percent Muslim and the Christian charity, Open Doors, has placed it third on its World Watch List 2019, describing the persecution as 'extreme'. Whilst Islamic State (IS) does have a presence in Somalia, the main terror group operating there is al-Qaeda-affiliate, al-Shabaab [see RLPB 411 (21 June 2017)].  Both groups hunt down and execute Somali converts to Christianity, often with the assistance and support of thoroughly radicalised local Muslims who view Christianity as the religion of the colonisers (Italy and Britain) -- a religion that has no place in an independent Somalia. In September 2008 Mansuur Mohammed (25) became the first ethnic Somali convert to be martyred for Jesus Christ by al-Shabaab in Somalia. Since then, dozens have been martyred. There are 25 entries for Somalia in the RLPB archive and almost every entry tells the story of yet another ethnic Somali Christian martyr.  They have names like: Abdishakur, Abdikhani, Farhan Haji, Juma Nuradin, Hassan, (Ms) Asha, (Ms) Fatima Sultan, Abdullah, Ali, Hussein, Sheik Mohammed, Maaddey, Osman, Abdikarim and (Ms) Sofia Osman who survived despite being flogged almost to death. These are names in the Lamb's Book of Life! Christians tend to flee Somalia. However, despite its small mustard seed-like size, Somalia's buried/planted, 'underground church' has taken root and is growing. Meanwhile, al-Shabaab is recruiting both across Somalia and in Kenya, allegedly tempting disgruntled and unemployed youths with the offer of a 'hefty' salary.  

Civil war (commenced 1991) has resulted in a whole generation of Somalis being lost to displacement and famine. The Somali Diaspora (overseas communities) is estimated at being more than one million. Those with means fled to the US and EU; those without means crossed the border into Ethiopia or Kenya. At its peak the Dadaab refugee camp, in eastern Kenya's Somali-dominated Garissa County, housed around 500,000 displaced Somalis. While more than 100,000 have accepted assistance for voluntary repatriation in the past two years, Somalia is still anything but stable. At least in the refugee camps Somalis have access to Kenyan and international aid workers and teachers, many of whom are Christian. Likewise, the city of Garissa is home to many courageous, mostly Kenyan Christians who work tirelessly and sacrificially to minister to 'harassed and helpless' ethnic Somalis in a place of freedom (Matthew 9:35-38).

Kenya map showing
Garissa County and city.
That said, even inside Kenya, Christians ministering to Somalis must be 'wise as serpents and innocent as doves' (Matthew 10:16), for the work is incredibly dangerous. After all, most Somalis who flee to Kenya bring their fundamentalist Islam and hatred of Christianity with them. Like a shield encapsulating the heart, it requires a breakthrough of the Holy Spirit to breach and finally shatter it. Fortunately, the Spirit of God is there with grace and in power, both in war-wracked Somalia and in Kenya's Somali-dominated eastern regions. Al-Shabaab has repeatedly targeted Kenyan Christians in Garissa County, especially teachers whom it assassinates because they might influence ethnic Somali youths as they receive an education in Kenya they could not receive at home [see RLPB 411 (21 June 2017)]. The worst single attack occurred on 2 April 2015, when al-Shabaab attacked Garissa University College, slaughtering 148 Christian students and wounding a further 79 [see RLPB 304 (8 April 2015)]. Despite all the obstacles, an ethnic Somali Church has taken root inside Kenya and is growing. Though it might have freedom in Kenya, that does not mean it is safe.

Pastor Abdul (30) is an ethnic Somali living in Garissa. He is married and the father of three children, aged 8, 5 and 3. He is also a pastor who cares for a fellowship of about 30 Somali converts. Because it is too dangerous to meet openly or all together, he meets with the believers in small groups in various places regularly for worship, prayer and Bible study. Recently his secret work was discovered by Somali Muslims who had grown suspicious. On Friday evening 8 March, Pastor Abdul was walking home from a prayer meeting when the Muslims confronted him. They told him they knew of his 'evil plans' to lead Somali Muslims into Christianity. They then beat him severely with wooden clubs. Neighbours found Abdul unconscious and lying in a pool of blood and rushed him to hospital. He has a broken thigh bone and numerous deep bruises, causing severe pain all over his body, but especially his legs, waist and back.  'I'm almost unable to bear the pain,' he told Morning Star News, adding, 'My family is in great fear, and Christians have re-located us to another place. Our prayer for now is to get a safe place for my family. My life and that of my family is at stake.'


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL 

* mercifully intervene in Somalia to bring peace and freedom; may al-Shabaab's financial backers be exposed; may all financial backing cease; may all lines of supply be severed; may al-Shabaab's life-source dry up. 'Break the arm (mechanism of action; source of power) of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none.' (Psalm 10:15 ESV).

* lovingly bless, sustain and protect the vulnerable, underground Somali Church and all who serve her, both inside war-wracked Somalia and in eastern Kenya's Garissa County.

* faithfully walk with Pastor Abdul, his wife and their children, to guide, deliver and comfort them as they make decisions about their future; may the Lord protect and provide for his flock in Garissa.

* graciously raise up and send out more labourers into his harvest field of 'harassed and helpless' ethnic Somalis. We pray especially that the Church in Kenya might be seized with the urgency of this mission. 'For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power' (1 Corinthians 4:20 ESV).

We might ask, 'Is it easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a Somali Muslim to enter the kingdom of God?' But Jesus answers, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'  (Matthew 19:23-26)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
-------------------------------------------------------------
SOMALI CHURCH BEING ATTACKED

Somalia is one of the world's most dangerous places to be a Christian. Al-Shabaab hunts down and executes Christian converts. Somali Muslims maintain that Christianity has no place in Somalia. Civil war and famine have forced hundreds of thousands of Somalis to flee into Kenya, where they have access to Kenyan and international aid workers and teachers, many of whom are Christian. A small and vulnerable ethnic Somali Church is taking root both inside war-wracked Somalia and in eastern Kenya's Somali-dominated Garissa County. Kenya might offer freedom and opportunity, but the work among Somalis is still incredibly dangerous. On 8 March Pastor Abdul (Somali, aged 30, married, father of three) was severely beaten in Garissa by Somali Muslims. Though relocated, his family fear for their lives. Please pray for the Somali Church.

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

Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

RLPB 493. Iraq: from Nation to Decimation to Elimination

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 493 | Wed 13 Mar 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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)

IRAQ: FROM NATION TO DECIMATION TO ELIMINATION
-- the plight of Iraq's indigenous and Christian Assyrian nation
-- by Elizabeth Kendal

Islamic State (IS/ISIS) is making a come-back in Iraq. Military analyst David Kilcullen remarks that with its resurgence, IS is 'giving new meaning to its motto "Remaining and ¬Expanding".' While IS attacks are presently small scale and low intensity -- comprising mostly bombings, raids, assassinations and sectarian executions -- they are increasing in frequency and sophistication. According to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), IS maintains some 30,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria, of whom up to 17,000 are in Iraq, including 1,000 who have crossed over from Syria in the past six months.  ISW reports that IS is re-establishing zones of support, lines of supply and the means to generate revenue (mostly through drugs and extortion). As long as Baghdad remains enmeshed in political power struggles between parties that are proxies of either Iran or America, IS will exploit the paralysis to re-establish itself across Iraq.

In January the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Nechirvan Barzani, ominously warned, 'We have concerns about the return of IS ... to Nineveh [Province, northern Iraq].' On 20 February the Iraqi Army's Chief of Staff Othman al-Ghanimi told reporters at a press conference near Mosul that Iraqi security forces had detained 24 IS militants. The group, which had escaped Syria and was headed for Mosul, included four IS leaders. Later that day, Iraqi security and intelligence forces intercepted a car near Badush, 25km north-west of Mosul, killing the five IS fighters inside, each of whom was reportedly wearing an explosive vest. On 28 February IS successfully carried out a car-bomb attack in Mosul, killing one civilian and wounding 13. On the same day, a car-bomb exploded near Mosul University, killing two and wounding 24. On Friday 8 March a car-bomb in Mosul killed two (including a child) and wounded 10. It must be noted that, whilst violence has escalated, not all recent bombings have been claimed by IS.

The return of IS is not the only threat facing Nineveh's already decimated indigenous and Christian Assyrian remnant. In August 2014, as IS advanced east from Mosul towards oil-rich Kirkuk, the jihadists overran and ethnically cleansed the Nineveh Plain, displacing around 130,000 Assyrian Christians, along with other non-Sunni minorities, including the Shabak. Possibly with Persian roots, the Shabak follow a syncretistic form of Shia Islam. Today, it seems that Baghdad and Tehran are using the Shabak as a proxy as they struggle against the Kurds for control over Nineveh's 'Disputed Territories', which includes the Assyrian heartland. If there is one thing the Kurds, the Shabaks, Baghdad and Tehran all agree on, it is their desire to eliminate the Christian presence and even erase millennia of Assyrian and Christian history.

Cross over Bartella
click here for Video (by Rudaw, 11 Feb 2019)

Ground zero in this existential struggle is the Assyrian town of Bartella, 21km due east of Mosul. Prior to August 2014, Bartella had been policed by the mostly Christian, Assyrian Ninewa Protection Unit (NPU). Today, security in the area is controlled by Iraq's mostly-Shia, Popular Mobilisation Force (PMF), also known as 'Hashd'. In Bartella, the Hashd are mostly Shabak. Of the 3,800 Christian families to have fled Bartella in 2014, less than one third have returned. In Bartella they face not just devastation, but disturbing levels of harassment, intimidation and threat. Christian leaders are convinced that the Shabak are working to drive them away, prevent their return and replace them with Shabak Shi'ites. To this end they have the backing of Baghdad and Tehran. Regional authorities are establishing new settlements in Bartella with the aim of repopulating the town. One project under way in an area traditionally occupied by Assyrian Christians is named 'Sultan City'. The project involves seizing agricultural land owned by Assyrians and converting it into a residential area with hundreds of new homes. The project was first outlined in 2013, but had to be postponed due to the ISIS occupation.  This situation is being repeated, albeit to a lesser extent, in the nearby Assyrian towns of Karamles and Qaraqosh/Bakhdida.

Interview with Father Behnam Benoka
As Father Behnem Benoka notes: IS are Sunnis and the Shabak are Shi'ite, 'but all are Muslims. Everybody hates the Church, everybody hates Christians and wants them out of their historical places.'

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL 

* intervene in Iraq to the benefit of his Church and the long-suffering, severely persecuted Assyrian remnant (see, Isaiah 19:23-25):
-- may historic Assyrian/Christian towns be officially recognised and protected,
-- may the campaign to alter the demography of the Nineveh Plain be stopped, and
-- may the indigenous Assyrians be granted the right to govern and police themselves.

* bless and sustain Iraq's pastors, priests, nuns and other Christian workers as they risk their lives and struggle against overwhelming odds to rebuild and maintain the Christian presence in Iraq; may spiritual unity blossom across ethnic and denominational lines.

The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.” (Isaiah 19:25 NIV)

* bless and sustain his precious Church across Mesopotamia (Syria-Iraq / the Fertile Crescent); may the Lord bring physical, emotional and spiritual healing to all who have been profoundly shattered, fundamentally distracted and spiritually challenged by violence, displacement and betrayal.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
-------------------------------------------------------------
IRAQ: FROM NATION TO DECIMATION TO ELIMINATION

Some 17,000 Islamic State (IS/ISIS) fighters are believed to be consolidating in Iraq, where IS attacks are increasing in frequency and sophistication. But their return is not the only threat facing Iraq's remnant Christians, most of whom belong to the long-persecuted Assyrian nation, whose historic heartland is in northern Iraq's Nineveh Plain. Baghdad and Tehran are currently struggling against the Kurds for control of the north's 'Disputed Territories', which includes the Assyrian heartland. To that end, Baghdad and Tehran are apparently using the Shabak -- a distinct ethnic group who are nominally Shi'ite -- as their proxy against the Kurds in Nineveh. The Shabak are working to seize Assyrian lands, drive the Christians out, prevent their return and replace them with Shabak, seemingly with Baghdad's approval. Please pray for Iraq's Christians.

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

Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

RLPB 492. Ethiopia: Communal Violence Threatens Progress

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 492 | Wed 6 Mar 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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)


ETHIOPIA: COMMUNAL VIOLENCE THREATENS PROGRESS
-- Elizabeth Kendal

Ethiopia: an ethic-federation
click on map to enlarge
Originating in the Abyssinian regions of the north, Ethiopia expanded over centuries to become a mighty empire. Today it is home to 109 million citizens from 87 ethnic groups. As a long-repressed, ethno-federation, the great and immediate danger facing Ethiopia today is ethnic fragmentation and communal conflict. New-found liberties bring risks, as does the threat of backlash from those who have lost power through the reforms of new Prime Minster Dr Abiy Ahmed (41). [For full background see: Reforms and Resistance, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 25 June 2018.] This is the context in which communal violence has escalated. Ethiopia now has more than 2.4 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), 1.4 million of whom were displaced by communal violence in the first six months of 2018 -- the highest level of internal displacement in 2018 anywhere the world! While most of the violence is inter-ethnic -- with ethnic minorities coming under attack -- there is a real risk that religious violence could become more widespread, especially in areas where ethnic incitement has failed. Critically, it is generally the case that when minorities (ethnic or religious) are attacked, the local police do not intervene.
 
On 4 February two mosques were torched in Esta woreda (district), South Gondar zone of Amhara region. North of Addis Ababa, South Gondar zone is roughly 96.5 percent Ethiopian Orthodox and 3.5 percent Muslim. Muslims decorating a venue for a wedding had found a Christian image among their shredded papers. Eager to avoid any misunderstanding, they met with Christian leaders and resolved the matter peacefully. It was later that afternoon that the two mosques were burned. The Sheik is convinced that people with political motives incited the unprecedented attack, hoping to trigger sectarian unrest. On 10 February a mosque was torched in Endabet Jara Gedo woreda of Southern Gondar. Local residents joined together to put the fire out before the building was engulfed.

Remains of Kale Hiwot Galeto church,
Alaba Kulito (photo: Steadfast Global).
More images VOMCanada.
Meanwhile, on 9 February, at least 10 churches were burnt in Alaba Kulito town in Alaba zone of Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Region. South of Addis Ababa, Alaba zone is 93.9 percent Muslim, 4.6 percent Ethiopian Orthodox and 1.2 percent Protestant. It seems the Muslim youths who led the attack had been fed a false report that a mosque in a nearby village had been burnt. The attack appeared highly organised, leading many to suspect it was incited in the mosque and carefully orchestrated to ensure there would be no deaths and no damage to Muslim property. While Kale Hiwot Galeto church's building was razed to the ground, most other properties had their furniture and bibles removed and burnt in the street. There were no fatalities, but two church workers required hospitalisation. Alaba Kulito's churches are attended by some 9,000 Christians, most of whom have migrated into the town from the surrounding rural areas in search of work. Tensions are high.

A Call for Unity: Ethiopians celebrate 123-year anniversary
of the Battle of Adwa (2 March).
On Saturday 2 March Ethiopians celebrated the 123-year anniversary of the Battle of Adwa. In 1896, at least 73,000 Ethiopians from every tribe and tongue united to defeat a 20,000-strong well-armed Italian army eager to expand Italy's fledgling 19th century colonial empire. With its victory, Ethiopia secured its independence. It was 'the first victory of black people against Western invaders'.  Eager to foster a stronger sense of national unity and shared fortunes, PM Abiy has revived the event. Promoted under the motto, 'Adwa, the stamp of our unity', PM Abiy encouraged Ethiopians, especially youths, to join together to defeat current challenges.

In 1974, Protestant Christianity comprised 5 percent of the population. In the 2007 census, it comprised 18.6 percent. Most growth has occurred this century, and many new Protestants are (like PM Abiy Ahmed) converts from Islam. There is also a growing renewal movement within the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. This work of the Spirit is gravely imperilled by the current threat. A fierce spiritual battle for Ethiopia is under way. 


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL 

* raise up strong leadership in Christian communities; leaders who can guide impressionable and vulnerable youths to reject incitement and grow in grace.

* bless and protect vulnerable Christian minorities in hostile regions; may incitement against them come to nought; may grace abound as those who bear the cross 'shine like stars in the universe' (from Philippians 2:12-18)

* complete the good work that he has begun in the nation of Ethiopia; may no plan of God's be thwarted. May the Lord bless PM Abiy Ahmed and keep him safe and humble with 'eyes fixed on Jesus' (Hebrews 12:2).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
-------------------------------------------------------------
COMMUNAL VIOLENCE THREATENS PROGRESS IN ETHIOPIA

The great reform work being done by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed could be undone if escalating communal violence cannot be contained. More than 2.4 million Ethiopians are now displaced because of communal violence, much of which is believed to be incited by political elements opposed to PM Abiy's reforms. In early February, three mosques were burnt in a majority Christian region in the north, while at least ten churches were burnt in a majority Muslim region in the south. As in the more numerous cases of pure ethnic violence, majorities are attacking minorities and local police are not intervening. In each case of religious violence, it was incited by a false report and then carefully organised. Please pray that God will complete the good work he has begun in Ethiopia.

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

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 26, 2019

RLPB 491. February Update, incl. Burma (Myanmar), Cuba, Iran, Nigeria, Papua (Eastern Indonesia), Russia and Sudan.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 491 | Wed 27 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)

-- Elizabeth Kendal

Psalm 77: 'I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord ... (vv1, 2a). Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples (vv13, 14). Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron' (vv19, 20).


FEBRUARY 2019 UPDATE -- during this period we prayed concerning

* NIGERIA (RLPB 488, RLPB 489 and RLPB 490), specifically that the elections would be free, fair and peaceful.

UPDATE: On the evening of 26 February, the BBC reported that the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) had secured 'a commanding lead'. Though foreign independent electoral observers had reported that the voting was generally free and fair, Atiku Abubakar's People's Democratic Party (PDP) urged Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) not to permit any announcements until all alleged irregularities had been investigated. The plea was rejected and on the morning of 27 Feb, the INEC declared Muhammadu Buhari the winner of the 2019 presidential election. [Updates: https://www.legit.ng/ ] The situation is fluid and volatile. Please pray.

* THE NORTH KOREA-US SUMMIT (RLPB 490) which will take place in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Wednesday 27 and Thursday 28 February. Please pray that the Lord our God will lead the way to freedom.


FEBRUARY 2019 ROUND-UP -- also this month

* BURMA (MYANMAR): A HOPEFUL BUT RISKY MOVE 

The biggest obstacle to peace in Burma is the 2008 Constitution. Written under military rule, it serves military interests by ensuring the heavily invested Burmese-Buddhist military (the Tatmadaw) remains in control. It also enshrines centralised government against the aspirations of Burma's long-repressed, persecuted and brutalised ethnic nations to which most of Burma's Christians belong. In October 2013, as the Tatmadaw's war against the Christian Kachin escalated, the army issued a statement warning of 'serious danger' and 'consequences beyond expectation' if the 2008 constitution is ever scrapped [see RLPB 236 (13 Nov 2013)].

On 19 February Burma's parliament approved the creation of a 45-member joint committee tasked with writing a bill to amend the 2008 constitution. As would be expected, the military and its proxy in parliament -- the Union Solidarity and Development Party -- strongly oppose the move. According to a report in the Irrawaddy, the proposed 168 amendments deal mostly with issues about reducing the power of the military and of the president, and the decentralisation of state power to grant more autonomy to the ethnic nations. The committee must submit its report by 17 July. It is a bold and hopeful but incredibly risky move. If Burma could amend the constitution to the benefit of its Christian peoples, without bloodshed, it would be nothing short of miraculous! Please pray.


* CUBA: CHURCHES CONFIRMED AS COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARY

Cubans went to the polls on Sunday 24 February to vote in a referendum on the new constitution which, despite introducing modest reforms, enshrines socialism, further weakens religious freedom, and removes the definition of marriage thereby paving the way for same-sex marriage. Individual churches and pastors came under serious pressure to instruct their congregations to vote 'YES'. Instead, displaying unprecedented unity, Cuban churches led a strong campaign opposing changes to the definition of marriage. It was a very courageous move, especially as 'NO' voters were being vilified in the state-controlled media as counter-revolutionaries and enemies of the state. It was announced on Monday 25 February that 86.85 percent of Cubans had voted 'YES', thus ratifying the new constitution. More than 700,000 people voted 'NO'. It is yet to be seen if the vilification of 'NO' voters will result in increased repression and persecution of Christians. Regardless, a door has been opened so the battle for marriage and family might begin. Please pray for the Church in Cuba.

[NOTE: Though deeply patriotic and certainly not an enemy of the state, the repressed Cuban Church knows it is a counter-revolutionary Church. To the contrary, much of the free Western Church seems not to even realise that a cultural revolution has taken place – a revolution which will inevitably lead to the loss of religious liberty. Please pray for awakening and revival in the Church in the free West!]


* IRAN: SUFFERING FOR CHRIST

Pastor Victor bet-Tamraz (left)
and wife, Shamiram Khabizeh
On 6 January 2018 Assyrian Christian Shamiram Isavi Khabizeh, wife of imprisoned pastor Victor bet-Tamraz, was sentenced to five years in prison on charges pertaining to national security. Her appeal against that verdict and sentence was heard on 19 February. Middle East Concern reports that the judge appeared confused as to whether her case was to be combined with the other cases including that of her husband, her son and a number of Christian converts associated with their now-underground ministry. Another court hearing will be scheduled. Please pray for this persecuted family, and for all Iran's imprisoned and persecuted believers.


* NIGERIA:  CHURCH IN PAIN

Rev. Jata'u with his wife.
NORTH-WEST: Originally from southern Kaduna, Rev Anthony Jata'u, of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, was driving through Zamfara State on 7 February en route to a new posting in Katsina State (north-west Nigeria),  when his car was attacked by gunmen. Travelling with him were his wife, three children and two sisters-in-law. Jata'u's body was recovered by the side of the road two days later. The kidnappers have contacted Jata'u's family and church, demanding a ransom for his wife, children and sisters-in-law. It is unknown at this stage if Jata'u was accidentally killed in an act of banditry, or executed when it was discovered he was a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Whatever the case may be, this family and church need our prayers. Please pray.

NORTH-EAST: On 19 February Nigerian Christians commemorated with prayers the one-year anniversary of the abduction of Leah Sharibu (15). Leah was one of 110 girls abducted from their school in Dapchi, Yobe Sate, by Boko Haram, on 19 February 2018. Five girls died during the violent abduction and Boko Haram returned 104 Muslim girls to Dapchi on 21 March 2018. Leah Sharibu was 'held back' because she 'refused to co-operate' and convert to Islam [see RLPB 448 (28 March 2018)]. In October 2018, after executing two Muslim aid workers as apostates (for working with the Red Cross), Boko Haram officially deemed their two Christian captives -- Christian schoolgirl Leah Sharibu (15) and Christian nurse Alice Loksha Ngaddah (24, mother of two small children) -- to be their slaves [see RLPB 479 (31 Oct 2018)]. Meanwhile, 112 of the 276 mostly Christian 276 girls abducted by Boko Haram from their school in Chibok in April 2014 remain unaccounted forPlease pray. 


 * PAPUA (EASTERN INDONESIA): UN EXPERTS CALL FOR INVESTIGATION

In early February footage emerged online showing Indonesian police using an enormous snake to terrorise a young, handcuffed, indigenous Papuan man they had arrested for allegedly stealing a mobile phone. Javanese Muslim officers routinely film and share abuses against the Melanesian, mostly Christian Papuans. (In fact we have seen worse than this before!) Driven by racial and religious hatred, they are emboldened by a culture of impunity.  On 19 February, two weeks after the snake-torture footage went viral, UN human rights experts demanded an independent investigation into the 'cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of indigenous Papuans' by Indonesian police and military in West Papua and Papua Provinces (formerly known as Irian Jaya). If the UN does launch an investigation, it will coincide with mounting pressure for the UN to address Papua's historic grievances, in particular the controversial 1969 UN-backed Act of Free Choice (known disparagingly as the Act of No Choice) [see RLPB 426 (4 Oct 2017)].  Unless there is change, one of the great missionary stories of the 20th Century will end in tragedy: the slow-motion genocide of a Christian people. Please pray.


* RUSSIA: JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES TORTURED IN SURGUT
-- bad laws pave way for abuses

In April 2017 Russia's Supreme Court inexplicably upheld a request by the Justice Ministry to ban the Jehovah's Witnesses (JW) sect as an 'extremist organisation'. One month later, Danish citizen and JW member Dennis Christensen became the first JW to be detained following the ban. On 6 February 2019 a court in the city of Oryol -- 360km south of Moscow -- sentenced Christensen to six years in prison for violating the ban. A spokesperson for the JWs confirmed to Newsweek that at least 121 members face criminal charges in Russia. Of those, 23 remain in pre-trial detention and 27 are under house arrest. Hundreds of members of the 175,000-strong sect have fled the country, most to Finland. 

In December 2018, at a meeting with the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, President Putin described the extremism charges against JWs as 'nonsense'. 'Jehovah's Witnesses are Christians too,' he said. 'I don't quite understand why they are persecuted. So this should be looked into. This must be done.' President Putin said he would speak to Supreme Court Chair, Vyacheslav Lebedev, to see if restrictions on the organisation could be lessened. Since the sentencing of Dennis Christensen, however, Putin's representatives have reportedly distanced themselves from those efforts.

Map showing location of Surgut
(click on map to enlarge) 
On 15 February police in Surgut -- a city in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug (administrative district) of western Siberia, almost 3,000km east of Moscow -- raided the homes of JWs. At least seven of those detained for questioning were tortured.  The victims allege that when the legal representative left the room, officers from the Investigative Committee put a bag over the victims' heads, sealed it with tape, tied their hands behind their backs, and beat them. The victims also claimed to have been stripped naked, doused with water, and shocked with stun guns. The torture allegedly went on for around two hours. As Human Rights Watch noted, 'It's shocking that in post-Soviet Russia authorities are putting people through the ordeal of a criminal investigation and prison for nothing more than peacefully practising their faith.'

While many evangelicals are reluctant to defend the heterodox JWs, others realise that injustice, religious persecution and torture are simply wrong. Furthermore, if bad laws are permitted to stand and a culture of impunity is permitted to develop, then religious persecution may eventually expand to target Protestants and other believers as well. After first denying that any torture had taken place, Investigative Committee official Oleg Menshikh told Interfax on 22 February that due to the 'agitation that has arisen after publication of this information in the media', the Committee had decided to launch an investigation into the torture allegations. Please pray that abuses will be investigated, that abusers will be punished, that bad laws will be repealed and that full religious freedom will be restored.


* SUDAN: STATE OF EMERGENCY DECLARED

Islamist tyrant: Omar al-Bashir
Rocked by more than two months of relentless protests, Sudan's Islamist president Omar al-Bashir on Friday 22 February declared a nationwide, year-long state of emergency. Led by doctors and others from the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) -- an outlawed umbrella group of unions -- the protesters continue to take to the streets to call for al-Bashir's resignation. As revealed in a BBC Africa investigation [link includes short film], al-Bashir is now deploying squads comprising armed police, soldiers, security/intelligence and plain-clothed thugs to round up opposition and 'cleanse' the streets. More than 50 protesters have been killed and scores wounded while more than a thousand have been arrested. This might be Khartoum's worst crisis in decades but, unless God intervenes, the National Islamic Front / National Congress Party regime -- and possibly even al-Bashir himself -- will probably survive. After all, this regime has long deployed lethal force against its citizens with impunity. Even today, not one foreign government has backed the protesters' call for al-Bashir to step down. Yet without significant pressure, this brutal Islamist dictator -- this tyrant whose racial and religious hatreds and mass-murdering regime have resulted in the breakup and impoverishment of Sudan -- will not go. Remember the long-suffering Church in Sudan and please pray.

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

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