Tuesday, December 10, 2019

RLPB 532. Advent in China: 'The Battle of the Century has begun'.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 532 | 11 Dec 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)

'Advent' is derived from the Latin word adventus, which is a translation of the Greek word parousia which means 'coming'.

ADVENT IN CHINA: 'THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY HAS BEGUN.'
(an extended RLPB)
by Elizabeth Kendal

A major persecution is looming over China. Of the following we can be certain: (1) while it will be different, it will be just as insidious as that of Mao's Cultural Revolution; (2) it will not last, for when the time is right, when all is in place, then the God of history will say, 'Thank-you Xi, your work here is done. The time has come for you to give account!' Then, like Nebuchadnezzer before him, Xi Jinping and the regime he leads will crumble to dust and be blown away (Daniel 2). [Note: cracks are already evident.] Then, the Chinese people and the Chinese Church will be free.

During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) Chairman Mao Zedong identified 'five black categories': landlords, rich farmers/peasants, counter-revolutionaries, evil influences and Rightists. Deemed 'enemies' of the communist revolution, members of these 'five black categories' had to be neutralised – i.e., persecuted, re-educated and, if necessary, eliminated - for the revolution to succeed.

After the Tiananmen Square massacre (June 1989), the fall of the Berlin Wall (November 1989), the collapse of Communism across Eastern Europe and the disintegration of the Soviet Union (1990-1991), the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) knew it needed a new narrative to legitimise its rule and unite the people. Courtesy of the CCP's Patriotic Education Campaign, a new narrative has been taught in schools and universities across the nation since the early 1990s. In what is essentially a 'radical reinterpretation of China's history', the Marxist narrative of class struggle has been replaced with an ultra-nationalist narrative of national struggle. [Silent Invasion, by Clive Hamilton, Hardie Grant Books, Melbourne, Australia; London, UK, 2018.] The new narrative is two-fold, covering: (1) National Humiliation: Beginning with the Opium Wars (1839), China suffered 100 years of humiliation at the hands of hostile, imperialistic, foreign [i.e. Western] forces; (2) National Rejuvenation: Since the founding of the People's Republic (1949) the Communist Party has been leading China on a 100-year marathon to restore the nation to global supremacy. Hostile foreign forces [i.e., the West] are the problem/enemy, for which the CCP is the solution/saviour. To be patriotic, to love China, is to love the CCP.

On 31 July 2012 an overseas edition of the People's Daily (the official mouthpiece of the Central Committee of the CCP) identified 'five new black categories': human rights lawyers, underground religious practitioners, dissidents, commentators who influence opinions via the internet and disadvantaged social groups. According to the CCP, members of these 'five new black categories' are in 'collusion' with 'hostile, foreign [i.e. Western] forces' with the aim of ending Communist Party rule. The CCP's response has been to establish a 'labyrinthine, all-weather, 24-hour quasi-police-state apparatus to keep even ordinary citizens under control'. [The Fight for China's Future, by Willy Wo-Lap Lam, Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon UK; New York, NY, USA. 2020, page 7.]

Christian homes and churches forced
to remove cross and enshrine Xi.
In July 2012 heir-apparent Xi Jinping was a leading figure in the CCP's nine-man Politburo Standing Committee and vice-president of the People's Republic of China (PRC). On 15 Nov 2012 Xi was elected to the post of General Secretary of the CCP and on 14 March 2013 was elected as President of the PRC. Persecution of the 'five new black categories' started almost immediately. Xi has departed from the more pragmatic religious policies of Jang Zemin (1989-2002) and Hu Jintao (2002-2012). Acutely aware of Christianity's contribution to economic development and modernisation, Jang and Hu insisted that 'materialists and non-materialists can co-operate and co-exist politically', provided the churches cut ties with 'imperialists' (i.e., anyone in the West), flush out 'Judases' (anyone who might betray the CCP) and stay out of politics [Lam, p135]. Under Xi, the days of 'co-operation' are over; the choice is submission or elimination. Xi has also departed from the collective leadership practices of his post-Mao predecessors and centralised power in himself. In March 2018 the Party-controlled National People's Congress passed constitutional amendments which included the removal of presidential term limits. Xi, the 'Chairman of Everything', is now 'Emperor for Life'.

Christ is building his Church 
The 'problem' Xi and the CCP face today is that Church growth is essentially out of control. Senior Chinese officials admit (privately) that there are at least 70 million Christian converts in China, 80 percent of whom live in rural areas. One academic believes that number could reach 160 million by 2025. Research undertaken over 2013-2014 revealed that in rural provinces north of the Yangtze River, 10 to 15 percent of the population is Christian and that in some villages 95 percent are Christian. Furthermore, at least 70 percent of these Christians worship in unregistered, 'underground' house-churches [Lam, p140]. Lam writes: 'Among Chinese officials who are nervously watching the proliferation of Christians - and actively preparing to quell the influence of Western religion - are senior cadres in charge of state security and propaganda.' According to Lam, the CCP is paranoid about Christianity's 'three excesses': (1) the excessive speed of its growth, (2) its excessive numbers and (3) the excessive enthusiasm of its members [Lam, p153].

In the name of 'stability maintenance', the CCP is cracking down on the Church's influence, networks and international connections. Not only has the CCP enlisted well over a million vigilante and volunteer informants - spies who penetrate deep into 'black category' groups - it has installed more than 200 million surveillance cameras across the country. These cameras, which are fitted with the world's most advanced facial recognition software, collect data on every individual for the purpose of establishing a 'social credit' system to be used by the regime to reward loyalty and punish dissent. The system is supposed to be fully operational by 2020. Already, non-compliant Christians and other members of the 'five new black categories' - in particular, writers and human rights lawyers (of whom around one quarter are Christian) - are finding they cannot travel because their negative social credit prevents them from purchasing a train ticket! The days are coming when whole Christian families will find themselves unable to access not merely transport, but schools, hospitals, bank loans and jobs. Further to this, new directives were issued in November (2019) to intensify the 'patriotic education' intended to indoctrinate Chinese youth - as well as Chinese society as a whole - with loyalty to the ruling Party.

'Chinese Christians Return
to the Catacombs',

Epoch Times, 16 Oct 2019
(photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images) 
Meanwhile, President Xi is demanding that Chinese Christianity be 'sinicizised', i.e., forced to serve the interests of the CCP. 'According to Christian scholar Guo Baoshen, "the purpose of 'Sinicization of Christianity' is to render Christianity into a Communist and socialist [vehicle] so that it will become an obedient tool of the Communist Party".' [Lam, p146.] As Lam rightly observes, 'The battle of the century has begun.' [Lam, p166].

The years ahead are going to be exceedingly difficult and the Chinese Church will need our prayers. Of course, the battle of the ages has already been fought and won by Christ on the cross. There is only one king of whom it can be said 'his kingdom will never end', and that is the Lord Jesus Christ, whose first coming we celebrate and whose second coming we anticipate (Isaiah 9:1-7; Revelation 1:4-8).


PLEASE PRAY THAT THE GOD OF HISTORY WILL

* continue his great work in China as he brings all things together for his glory, according to his purpose and in fulfilment of his promise (Gen 12:3; Isaiah 9:1-7; Romans 8:28).

* preserve, sustain and bless the Church in China, protecting her from disunity and providing all her needs. 'I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' (Jesus, in Matthew 16:18 ESV)

* comfort, encourage and sustain China's imprisoned pastors and Christian human rights lawyers; may they know the Lord's presence and sustaining grace in a powerful and palpable way.

Gao Zhisheng
'There are bigger spaces, after all, than what we can see,' writes Christian human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng concerning time spent in solitary confinement. 'For anyone of faith, infinite light and freedom await us when we close our eyes.' [From Unwavering Convictions (published 2017, p139).]

(A survivor of multiple abductions, incarcerations and torture, Gao has been 'disappeared' since Aug-Sept 2017. Please pray.)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
------------------------------------------------------------
ADVENT IN CHINA: 'THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY HAS BEGUN.'

A major persecution is looming over China. Of two things we can be certain: (1) while it will be different, it will be just as insidious as that of Mao's Cultural Revolution; (2) it will not last, for when the time is right the God of history will intervene and his Church will be set free. In 2012 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) included 'underground' churches and human rights lawyers (one quarter of whom are Christians) in a list of 'five new black categories', i.e. enemies of the state. When Xi Jinping took the reins of the Communist Party (November 2012) and People's Republic (March 2013), persecution of the 'black categories' escalated markedly; worse is coming. An extraordinary spiritual battle has commenced. The Chinese Church needs our prayers.

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

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

See www.ElizabethKendal.com

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

RLPB 531. Advent in Algeria: Persecution, Protests and Promise

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 531 | 04 Dec 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)

'Advent' is derived from the Latin word adventus, which is a translation of the Greek word parousia which means 'coming'.

ADVENT IN ALGERIA: PERSECUTION, PROTESTS AND PROMISE
plus Urgent Update on Burkina Faso
By Elizabeth Kendal

'Something is happening,' writes researcher David Garrison, 'something unprecedented. A wind [the Holy Spirit] is blowing through the House of Islam.' [A Wind in the House of Islam, by David Garrison (WIGTake Resources, Monument, CO, USA, 2014) p18.] Indeed, as Garrison notes, more Muslims have chosen to follow Christ in the past two to three decades than in all previous 1400 years of Muslim-Christian interaction. God is doing something new!

 Algeria's Kabylie region 
In no Arab country is this more evident than in the North African state of Algeria, which is 70 percent Arab, 23 percent Berber, 97 percent Muslim and 0.3 percent Christian. [Note: the Church is growing 7.5 percent annually, some 6-7 times the annual population growth rate.] The Algerian Church comprises primarily converts from Islam; in particular, Berber converts from the Kabylie region. Most growth occurred during the horrific years of civil war (Dec 1991 to Feb 2002) as the government and the jihadists filled the land with blood and terror. Disillusioned by the violence inflicted on them in the name of Islam (both sides claiming Allah's mandate), many Algerians were seeking answers just as Arab-language radio and satellite Gospel ministries were becoming established. Today, the Christian community - Catholic and Protestant - is estimated to comprise more than 300,000 believers. The Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA: l’Église Protestante d’Algérie) was founded in 1972. Today, it represents 46 affiliated Protestant congregations/churches but is facing a new wave of repression.

In February 2006 the Algerian government passed President Bouteflika's Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation, which saw more than 10,000 Islamic jihadists imprisoned during Algeria's civil war granted amnesty in exchange for peace. Weeks later, in March 2006, the government enacted Presidential Order 06/03 which 'fixed the conditions and rules for the exercise of religious worship other than Muslim'. Not only did Ordinance 06/03 increase the penalties for 'proselytising', it mandated that all churches had to be registered to be legal. Presumably one of the jihadists' conditions for peace was that the government act to halt the growth of Christianity. [For more details see Religious Liberty Monitoring, 24 March 2006].

Pastor Salah Challah, the President of
the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA) and
senior pastor of the Full Gospel Church of Tizi Ouzou,
leads prayer on the staircase outside the locked church.
(SAT-7, 4 Nov 2019)
Over the past two years the ruling National Liberation Front - which has held power since independence (1962) - has escalated its persecution of Protestant Christianity, eager to demonstrate its Islamic credentials ahead of elections originally slated for April 2019. Since November 2017 the government has closed around 15 Protestant churches; eight since May 2019. In August Algeria's Minister of Interior issued an order instructing regional governors and security heads to escalate their investigations into Protestant Christianity which it deemed subversive [see RLPB 521 (25 Sep 2019)]. The largest church to be closed to date is the 1200-member Full Gospel Church of Tizi Ouzou, which was sealed shut on 15 October [see Morning Star News: Algeria]. The government has also halted live television broadcasts of the weekly services by Christian broadcaster SAT-7. [SAT-7 video item on the situation in Algeria.] Groups to have criticised the church closures include Human Rights Watch (HWR, 24 Oct) and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF, 30 Oct).

Algerian woman raises a placard, 'No to the military regime,'
at protest in Algiers, Friday 10 May 2019. (AFP)
The cry of the 'Arab Spring' was a cry for 'dignity' (as distinct from 'democracy'). [After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East includes a chapter on the Arab Spring, one of the most misunderstood movements of our era.] Unemployed, hungry, vulnerable and helpless - Arab citizens are sick and tired of the systemic corruption of their arrogant military-backed ruling elites. Unfortunately for them, their movement was hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood which in turn was crushed as national armies regained control. However, the longing for dignity remains. Indeed, this yearning for dignity is at the root of protests shaking the Middle East today from Algiers to Tehran. In Algeria, protests erupted on 22 February after the ruling party announced that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika - who is 82 and disabled by stroke - would run for a fifth term. Every Friday since, the streets have filled with protesters. By April the military had switched sides, opting to sacrifice the president (i.e., 'the tip of the iceberg') while keeping the deep state in place. By 2 April Bouteflika was gone. Refusing to be fooled, Algeria's protesters continued to insist that the entire military regime apparatus be dismantled.

Civil rights lawyer and head of the
'Union for Change and Progress' party Zoubida Assoul
brandishes a 'No to the Vote' placard at protest in Algiers,
Friday 22 November 2019 (AFP Photo/RYAD KRAMDI)
The elections - originally slated for 18 April - were rescheduled for 4 July, and then postponed to 12 December. On 2 November the election authority announced the names of the approved candidates; all five are affiliated with the ruling establishment that the protesters insist must be dismantled. Consequently, the protesters - who have been as peaceful as they have been persistent - have vowed to continue their weekly protests and not participate in elections while the military regime remains in power. As Robert Zaretsky notes in Foreign Affairs (26 Nov): 'The election risks ending as an exercise in absurdity: nearly all Algerian political and civil organisations have refused to endorse the five official candidates and have called upon Algerians to refrain from voting. The failure of this election will, paradoxically, mark the success of the country's democratic aspirations.'

 '[They] can seal our churches but not our hearts.'
  Come Lord Jesus! (SAT-7, 4 Nov 2019)
Of course, the dignity the people yearn for - a dignity rooted in equity, justice and respect - is a dignity that can only be realised through observance of God's law and acceptance of God grace. Islam cannot deliver it; neither can secular humanism. And so we pray: 'Come Lord Jesus!' May the Lord continue to build his Church in Algeria as the Holy Spirit continues to blow through the House of Islam.

PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* pour out his Holy Spirit on Algeria's growing Church, so that wisdom, courage, grace and unity will abound despite escalating repression and social turmoil; may the Lord give all pastors, evangelists and Christian leaders great wisdom as they navigate these difficult days. 'My grace is sufficient for you ...' (the promise of 2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

* bless Algerian families with awakening, insight and revelation so that they come to know, love and follow Jesus Christ. (Genesis 12:3)

* bless and supply the needs of Arab-language Gospel ministry, multiplying and magnifying its witness. 'And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (the promised of Philippians 4:19 ESV).

* redeem the turmoil in Algerian society to bring about awakening this Advent season as Christians, churches and various Gospel ministries testify to the birth of the Saviour, Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:1-14).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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ADVENT IN ALGERIA: PERSECUTION, PROTESTS AND PROMISE

Algerians were supposed to go to the polls in April, but protests erupted after the ruling military-backed regime announced that President Bouteflika (82 and disabled by stroke) would run for a fifth term. Bouteflika resigned, but the protests continued with the protesters insisting the entire corrupt military regime (in power since 1962) be dismantled. Though scheduled to go ahead on 12 December, the polls will be boycotted by people demanding systemic change. The regime has spent the last two years escalating its persecution of Protestant Christianity, presumably to establish its Islamic credentials and appease the Islamists ahead of the elections. Not to be deterred, the Spirit of God is on the move, 'blowing through the House of Islam' and building his Algerian Church. Please pray for Algeria and her Church.

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URGENT UPDATE: CHURCH MASSACRE IN EASTERN BURKINA FASO

On Sunday 1 December unidentified gunmen stormed a Protestant church worship service in the village of Hantoukoura near the border with Niger in Burkina Faso's volatile Eastern region. They targeted the men, killing 14 of the 15 men present in a congregation of 80 mostly women and children. Most of eastern Burkina Faso has fallen under the control of armed Islamic groups; as in Central African Republic, they fight each other for control of mineral resources, in particular, gold. Schools are closed; in some places armed groups enforce strict Islamic observance. Churches in the north were targeted in the months after Easter, but this is the first attack to target the Church in Eastern Province. Please pray for the Church in Burkina Faso.

[For more on the crisis looming over Burkina Faso, see Religious Liberty Monitoring, 23 May 2019.]

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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, November 26, 2019

RLPB 530. November Update incl. Sri Lanka, Central African Republic (CAR), Syria, China, Cuba, Indonesia and the Papuan provinces, the Philippines

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 530 | Wed 27 Nov 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)

by Elizabeth Kendal

NOVEMBER 2019 UPDATE -- during this period we prayed concerning

* SRI LANKA [RLPB 527 (06 Nov)], ahead of a pivotal presidential poll. As noted, the failure of the Yahapalnaya ('good governance') coalition and the trauma of the horrific Easter terror attacks (which were enabled by the breakdown in government) had combined to set the stage for a return to the politics of the divisive and controversial Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist Rajapaksa clan.

UPDATE: REVIVAL OF SINHALESE BUDDHIST NATIONALISM

As anticipated, Gotabaya Rajapaksa (70) won the presidential poll, securing 52.25 percent of the vote compared with Sajth Premadasa's 41.99 percent. [Click here for poll results.] Virtually all Sinhalese voted for Rajapaksa while virtually all Tamils and Muslims voted for Premadasa. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe subsequently resigned his post, clearing the way for the new president to form a new government. On 21 November President G Rajapaksa appointed his brother, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa (74), as Prime Minister and Minister for Defence and Finance. He appointed his eldest brother, Chamal Rajapaksa (77), as Minister for Trade and Food Security. President Rajapaksa has vowed to call a parliamentary election 'at the earliest opportunity' which, according to the constitution, would be March 2020. So we watch ('keep alert') and pray for the Church in Sri Lanka (Ephesians 6:18) as she faces the reality of a Sinhalese Buddhist Nationalist revival.

* CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR) [RLPB 527 (13 Nov)], where some 80 percent of the country remains under the control of armed groups. The militants are fighting for diamonds and gold, as distinct from any ideological commitment to Sharia/Islamic Law. That said, they are still Muslims with an Islamic worldview. Furthermore, some two-thirds of these militants are foreigners. They have little regard for Central Africans who get in their way, especially non-Muslim Central Africans. The whole nation is groaning, the Church is suffering and the future of CAR truly is in the balance.

UPDATE: EX-SÉLÉKA MILITANTS EXPELLED FROM BASE

Locals in the BAAL camp, or 'Gboulo' area, of Bangui have long been pressing the CAR government to act against ex-Séléka militants who have established a military base in the area. The militants survive on crime, including drug trafficking, prostitution, robbery and extortion. They are extremely violent and local women are routinely raped. On the evening of Tuesday 19 November CAR's Armed Forces (FACA) stormed the area. The militants resisted; a firefight ensued. Eventually the FACA was successful: six ex-Séléka militants were killed, ten were wounded, some 60 were arrested and the rest were expelled from the city. Please continue to pray that all foreign fighters in CAR illegally will be expelled so that peace may return. Please pray for the Church in CAR as she seeks to be God's ambassador and agent of peace and redemption by way of repentance and reconciliation. May God redeem all this suffering to awaken the people and build his Church.

* SYRIA [RLPB 529 (20 Nov)], where Turkey and its jihadist proxies were pressing in on the Assyrian Khabur River town of Tel Tamer, while an Islamic State (IS) resurgence was stirring in Dir ez-Zor. We noted with urgency that the system currently detaining tens of thousands of individuals associated with IS in north-eastern Syria is at breaking point. 

UPDATE: CHRISTIAN CRISIS ON THE KHABUR RIVER

Turkey continues to contravene its agreement with Russia and advance beyond the agreed 'safe zone'. Free Burma Rangers was present in Ain Issa when that town came under attack this past week. Like the mostly-Assyrian town of Tel Tamer (in rural al-Hasakah), Ain Issa (in rural Raqqa) straddles the M4 Highway at a major crossroad and transport hub. To summarise: Syria and Turkey are fighting for control of Syria's M4 Highway. The situation in Tel Tamer is especially critical for Christians. Around 20,000 Assyrians lived in 35 Assyrian villages along the Khabur River before being forced to flee Islamic State in February 2015. Today, the remnant is fleeing the Turkish invasion. Once ethnically cleansed, the land around the Khabur River (the largest tributary flowing from southern Turkey into the Euphrates) will be open to colonisation by Arabs backed by Turkey. Khabur River resident Ms Simon (56) laments, 'We fear that the last of our Assyrian people will be pushed into exile.' Indeed, we are watching genocide. Please pray.

Remnant Assyrian Christian Sarkoun Selio (50) walks in the ruins of the
Assyrian Church of the Virgin Mary in the village of Tal Nasri south of Tel Tamer.
Church was destroyed by Islamic State (IS).
(Photo: Delil Souleiman / AFP, 15 Nov 2019)

NOVEMBER 2019 ROUND-UP -- also this month

* CHINA: FORCING THE CHURCH BACK UNDERGROUND

Wheat Bookstore is an online Christian bookstore. Officials arrested its owner-manager, Zhang Xiaomai, on 1 September, seizing records of those who had ordered Christian books from the store. The business has sold more than 20,000 items to more than 10,000 customers. More than 800 of those items have been classified as illegal publications. On 29 October police received orders to track down all those who had purchased Bibles and other Christian literature from Wheat Bookstore. According to China Aid Association (CAA), raids were conducted in November in which books were confiscated; many of those who were questioned are now being monitored. Separately, CAA also reports that Chinese authorities recently demolished a church in Nanjing. According to CAA, the church hosted worship services for some 1000 Christians in the area. Believers who were inside the church when the authorities arrived, were dragged out into the night protesting and weeping. It is President Xi's intention that the Chinese Church be 'sinicised', which in reality means being made subservient to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Churches that resist will be eliminated. Please Pray.

* CUBA: INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST PERSECUTED -- AGAIN.

Ricardo Fernández Izaguirre
At 1pm on Tuesday 12 November, having received a verbal police summons, Christian investigative journalist and religious liberty advocate, Ricardo Fernández Izaguirre, presented himself at the Camagüey police station. There he was immediately detained in a small windowless cell while officers informed his wife and colleagues that he was under investigation. The police confiscated Mr Izaguirre's glasses and kept his cell continuously lit with a bright light. Furthermore, while his cell was extremely hot the interrogation room where he was repeatedly threatened was air-conditioned and extremely cold. Together with the stress, these impositions caused Mr Izaguirre to suffer 'a severe headache'. After 29 hours in detention, Mr Izaguirre was released. This is not the first time he has been persecuted for exposing religious liberty violations [see RLPB 511 (17 July)]. It seems the Cuban government may be endeavouring to fabricate a criminal case against him, in order to silence him. It also prevented Cuban evangelicals from attending the World Evangelical Alliance General Assembly in Jakarta, held from 7 to 13 November. Repression is escalating. Please pray.

* INDONESIA: PAPUANS SHUDDER AS PRABOWO APPOINTED

On Sunday 20 October Joko Widodo was sworn into office for his second and final five-year term as president of Indonesia. Then, on Wednesday 23 October, he appointed Prabowo Subianto (68) to the post of Minister of Defence. A long-time political rival, Prabowo Subianto ran against Widodo in the 2019 presidential race, wooing and mobilising Islamists in the process [RLPB 497 (10 April)]. Prabowo is a controversial figure. During the era of military rule under President Suharto (1978 - 1998), Prabowo married Suharto's daughter and went on to become a Lt-General and chief of the feared Kopassus (Special Forces). Prabowo Subianto stands accused of human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings in Jakarta, East Timor and the Papuan provinces. Dishonourably discharged from the military, he went on to establish Gerindra (a political party). President Widodo is determined to push through his economic agenda. To that end he has pragmatically assembled a cabinet of rivals for the purpose of securing support. As researcher Evan Laksmana notes, 'This is a classical balancing strategy.'

President Joko Widodo (centre right),
accompanied by his wife Iriana Widodo,
greets new defence minister Prabowo Subianto
after the cabinet swearing-in ceremony.
(Photo: Adi Weda/EPA, 23 Oct 2019)
On Monday 11 November, in his first meeting with the House of Representatives, Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto outlined his vision of 'total people's defence', explaining that 'every citizen of Indonesia has the right and duty to defend the country'. Unsurprisingly his vision aligns perfectly with the recently passed PSDN Bill 2019 on National Defence [see RLM, 8 Oct 2019]. Prabowo proposed that, in the event of war, 'all the people would become part of the national defence'. Defence would comprise a 'main component' (the TNI / Indonesian military), a militarily trained 'reserve component' and a 'support component' which would involve all sectors of society. According to Prabowo, creating this 'total people's defence' will require the participation of ministries outside the Defence Ministry, such as the Education and Culture Ministry.

Prabowo's appointment has caused alarm in the restive Papuan provinces, as has the concept of a 'total people's defence'. There is little doubt that President Widodo is determined to press ahead with his unwelcome and controversial development projects in the Papuan provinces -- projects that bypass demands for dialogue and accountability on human rights; projects like the Trans-Papuan Highway [see RLM, 14 April 2019]. To that end, maybe Prabowo is just the Defence Minister President Widodo believes he needs. Please pray for the Lord's mercy on the mostly Christian indigenous Melanesians of the Papuan provinces.

* PHILIPPINES: NATIONAL COUNCIL OF CHURCHES 'RED-TAGGED'

List of front organisations of local
Communist Terrorist Groups.
NCCP named top right (number 10).
source: Rappler, 6 Nov 2019 
(click on image to enlarge)
On 5 November, in a Congressional hearing on the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the AFP Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence named 18 groups as 'front organisations of local Communist Terrorist Groups'. This process, commonly known as 'red-tagging', is a strategy used by State agents to legitimise the persecution of individuals and groups critical of the Duterte regime. Many of the groups named are humanitarian aid groups, such as Oxfam in the Philippines. [Click here for statement from Oxfam.]

[Click here for statement from NCCP.]
Included in the list is the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), which describes itself as 'an ecumenical fellowship of non-Roman Catholic denominations in the Philippines working for unity in faith and order'. To their credit, many Christian groups have bravely stepped forward to stand in solidarity with the NCCP. Still, the 'red-tagging' has serious consequences, including putting the lives of NCCP staff, workers, members and families at risk. It is absolutely urgent that the red-tagging be repealed. 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, November 19, 2019

Syria: High Cost of Maintaining the Christian Presence

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 529 | 20 Nov 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)


SYRIA: HIGH COST OF MAINTAINING THE CHRISTIAN PRESENCE
by Elizabeth Kendal

TURKISH AGGRESSION: On 9 October Turkey launched its 'Operation Peace Spring'. As Turkey rained terror from the air, shelling Syrian border towns from Kobani to Qamishli, its jihadist proxies committed atrocities on the ground [RLPB 524 (16 Oct)]. Despite extreme risk, many of the region's Christians have chosen not to flee, but to remain precisely so they might 'maintain the presence of Jesus' [RLPB 525 (22 Oct)]. In clear violation of its deal with Russia [see RLPB 526 (30 Oct)], Turkey and its jihadist proxies continue to press towards the Assyrian town of Tel Tamer.

click on map to enlarge

Straddling the M4 Highway, Tel Tamer is one of 35 Assyrian Christian villages along a 40km stretch of the Khabour River established in the wake of the Armenian Genocide (1915). Islamic State (IS) attacked the community in February 2015, shooting residents and burning churches, displacing some 3000 Assyrians [RLPB 298 (25 Feb 2015)] while taking 253 captive. A little over seven months later, ISIS released a video showing six of the men (five from Tel Tamer). All were dressed in orange jumpsuits and introduced as 'Nasrani Asuri', i.e., Christian Assyrian. Three were then summarily executed, leaving the other three to renew the ransom demand [RLPB 331 (14 Oct 2015)]. Only after the Caliphate was dismantled did an Assyrian remnant trickle nervously back to the Khabour River, where they are protected by an Assyrian militia known as the Syriac Military Council. On the outskirts of Tel Tamer, Turkey and Syria are engaged in a fierce conflict for the future of this front-line town. By 14 November Tel Tamer hospital had received 644 wounded and 170 dead -- mostly civilians (including children), many with chemical burns. The Assyrian remnant on the Khabour River fears what might happen should Turkey break through the Syrian defences. Please pray.

ISLAMIC STATE TERROR: In August 2018 the Pentagon estimated that IS retained some 30,000 fighters across Iraq and Syria and was establishing support zones and preparing for a future insurgency. Exploiting the insecurity, IS has begun to re-assert itself. On the afternoon of Monday 11 November at least two vehicle-borne improvised explosive devises were detonated in the city of Qamishli. A car bomb exploded outside a hotel where World News Group journalist Mindy Belz, author of 'They Say We Are Infidels', was seated in the lobby; she was not harmed. Moments later, a motorcycle bomb detonated outside the Chaldean Catholic Church, one of eleven churches in the city. The bombs killed at least six civilians and wounded more than twenty. Nobody has claimed responsibility.

Martyr: Rev Hovsep Bedoyan (43)
Rev Hovsep Bedoyan (43) oversees Qamishli's Armenian Catholic parish of Saint Joseph. He was not in the city at the time as he was driving to Deir ez-Zor (260km south of Qamishli) where he was supervising reconstruction work on the Church of the Martyrs, a church built by survivors of the Armenian Genocide but destroyed by IS in 2014. Travelling with Rev Hovsep Bedoyan were his father Abraham Bedoyan, church deacon Fadi Sano from Hasakah and a church layman. The vehicle was ambushed by armed militants on the outskirts of Deir ez-Zor. Abraham Bedoyan was killed instantly and Rev Hovsep succumbed to his wounds shortly after. Deacon Fadi Sano was wounded and rescued alive, while the layman survived uninjured. Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility. Rev Hovsep Bedoyan was wearing his priestly attire and the car was clearly marked 'Armenian Catholic Church'. There is little doubt the priest was targeted for his efforts to re-establish the Christian presence in Deir ez-Zor. 'I beg you to pray for us and for our people,' pleads Rev Boutros Marayati, the Armenian Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo, 'because at present we are living through extremely difficult times.'

Lingering ominously, like the darkest of storm clouds, is the fact that the system currently keeping tens of thousands of individuals associated with IS detained in north-eastern Syria is at breaking point. The detainees include some 13,500 foreign women and children in three makeshift camps and around 2,000 male foreign fighters who are held in a separate prison network. Some 1,450 of these male fighters hold Western passports. It is absolutely urgent that an international solution be found and enacted before the system breaks down completely.


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* intervene to protect, preserve, rescue and sustain his precious Church in north-east Syria; may all who seek her demise be frustrated; and may all who seek to help her know the strength and blessing of her God.

* bless every Christian, every church and every aid group that has chosen to remain in Syria's north-eastern war zone precisely so they might minister to and serve the harassed and helpless; may the Lord comfort them in their distress and supply their every need; may our Lord the Redeemer build his Church.

'Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually! Remember the wondrous works that he has done ...' (Psalm 105:4,5a ESV)

* move in power to end Turkish aggression and prevent an Islamic State resurgence; may the Lord defuse the potentially explosive threat posed by tens of thousands of Islamic State-associated detainees -- fighters and their families, locals and foreigners. The system is at breaking point; Lord have mercy!

'Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.' (Ephesians 3:20,21 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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SYRIA: HIGH COST OF MAINTAINING THE CHRISTIAN PRESENCE

Contrary to its deal with Russia, Turkey and its jihadist proxies continue to press towards the Assyrian town of Tel Tamer. Exploiting insecurity, Islamic State is re-asserting itself. On 11 November at least two bombs were detonated in Qamishli; one outside a church. At least six civilians were killed and more than 20 wounded. Rev Hovsep Bedoyan (43), an Armenian Catholic priest in Qamishli, was driving his father and two church members to Deir ez-Zor where he was overseeing the reconstruction of a church built by survivors of the Armenian Genocide but destroyed by IS in 2014. Hovsep and his father were killed when their vehicle was ambushed by armed militants. Nobody doubts Rev Hovsep Bedoyan was assassinated for his efforts to re-establish the Christian presence in Deir ez-Zor. 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, November 12, 2019

RLPB 528. Central African Republic: 'Lord have mercy"

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 528 | 13 Nov 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)


CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: 'LORD HAVE MERCY'
by Elizabeth Kendal

MAP source: February 2019
Click on map to enlarge

In 2012, a coalition of very well-funded and well-armed local and regional Muslim militias known as Séléka (coalition/alliance) overran Central African Republic (CAR: a French-speaking, predominantly Christian nation). On 24 March 2013 they captured the capital, Bangui, and all hell broke loose [see RLPB 210 (15 May 2013)]. Today, after more than six years of war, more than 600,000 people remain exiled in poorly funded refugee camps across the region, while some 580,000 remain internally displaced within CAR. Roughly 2.9 million of CAR's 4.9 million estimated population require humanitarian assistance, with some 1.3 million suffering 'acute' food insecurity [USAID fact-sheet (30 September)]. Whilst Bangui and much of the south-west has been liberated and the Séléka coalition has collapsed, 80 percent of the state remains under the control of 14 Muslim militias whose fighters are mostly foreigners from Sudan, Chad, Cameroon and Niger, and who are backed by regional and international powerbrokers.

Bishop Nestor-Désiré Nongo-Aziagbia of Bossangoa (59).
Interview: 30 August 2018
Bishop Nestor-Désiré Nongo-Aziagbia of Bossangoa is president of CAR's Catholic bishops' conference. He recently noted, quite correctly, that the conflict in CAR is first and foremost a conflict over resources, in particular the country's rich diamond and gold deposits. As he explains, the Muslim militias comprise 'rebels who are here to exploit, not to convert'. While that is true, it does not mean that religious freedom and Christian security are not gravely imperilled. The militants might be in CAR for personal gain, but they come with an Islamic worldview which discounts Christians as infidels who, though not obliged to convert to Islam, must submit to its rule. Consequently, the crisis in CAR is economic, political, geostrategic and religious. In CAR today, inordinate wealth and extreme violence are being used to secure authority and influence. CAR's future hangs in the balance.

A peace agreement signed in Khartoum in February between the CAR government and 14 armed rebel groups is hugely controversial, ineffective and fragile. Despite receiving 13 ministerial positions and the right to monitor security in the areas they control, the militias are complaining that they have not received enough. (Among other things, they wanted the post of Prime Minster!) Meanwhile, CAR's traumatised and suffering citizens -- who must live with injustice and insecurity -- are complaining that the militias have actually received far too much. Nobody is happy! In violation of the Khartoum Agreement, CAR's rebel movements have continued to purchase weapons, including AK-type assault rifles and grenade launchers, ammunition and vehicles from and through Sudan [UN report, published 14 Dec 2018]. The main suppliers include Sudan's Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which is under the command of General Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, commonly known as 'Hemeti'.

Hemeti (c) casts an ominous shadow over the entire region.
source: MEE/AFP/Illustrated by Mohamad Elaasar,
28 August 2019
Once a mere camel-herder in Western Darfur, Hemeti rose to become the leader of a pro-Khartoum Darfurian militia sponsored by President Omar al-Bashir to eliminate Darfurian opposition through genocide. Hemeti's militia was later re-packaged and legitimised as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The RSF effectively served as President al-Bashir's personal paramilitary, with General Hemeti as al-Bashir's personal 'protector'. No longer janjaweed (devils on horseback), Hemeti's RSF comprises at least 40,000 seasoned fighters, most of whom have gained experience in Yemen and Libya. In 2017, Hemeti seized control of Western Darfur's Jebel Amer gold mine; today he is one of Sudan's richest men, his wealth and gold safely stashed offshore, mostly in United Arab Emirates. In April 2019 President al-Bashir was ousted in a military coup and Hemeti became deputy leader of Sudan's Transitional Military Council (TMC). At this point Hemeti undoubtedly had more power than anyone in Sudan. However, on 21 August the TMC was superseded by the half-military, half-civilian Sovereign Council (SC) which is tasked with facilitating Sudan's democratic transition [RLPB 516 (21 Aug)]. Though Hemeti is a member of the SC, the Forces for Freedom and Change want the military ultimately removed from power. Hemeti is doubtless positioning himself to ensure his sources of revenue remain, from gold theft to arms trafficking and fighters for hire -- whatever the future holds. His links to CAR's Muslim rebels run deep; indeed, Hemeti casts an ominous shadow over the whole region. Christians around the world need to get on their knees and plead: 'Lord have mercy on Central African Republic.'


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* intervene in power and righteous indignation to deliver Central African Republic from deadly peril.

For we [Paul and Timothy] were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. (2 Corinthians 1:8b-11 ESV)

* disrupt and sever the supply lines that keep CAR's foreign Muslim fighters paid and armed; may all foreign fighters in CAR illegally be forced to retreat. Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted (plea from Psalm 10).

* comfort and sustain his precious Central African Church; may he grant her leaders a double portion of amazing grace and of divine wisdom as they seek to guide the Church, minister as peacemakers, facilitate reconciliation, generate hope and point people to Christ.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: CHURCH TRAUMATISED AND SUFFERING

In 2012, a coalition of local and regional Muslim militias known as Séléka overran Central African Republic (CAR: a French-speaking, predominantly Christian nation). In March 2013 Séléka captured the capital, Bangui, and all hell broke loose. While Bangui and much of the south-west has been liberated and the Séléka coalition has collapsed, 80 percent of the state remains under the control of 14 Muslim militias whose fighters are predominately foreigners. Whilst the militants are in CAR for diamonds and gold, they come with an Islamic worldview which discounts Christians as infidels. CAR's Church is traumatised and suffering enormously. Weapons are flooding in from Sudan. CAR's future hangs in the balance. Christians worldwide need to plead: 'Lord have mercy on Central African Republic and its Church.'

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

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

See www.ElizabethKendal.com

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

RLPB 527. Sri Lanka: Pivotal Elections; Troubling Times.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 527 | 06 Nov 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)


SRI LANKA: PIVOTAL ELECTIONS; TROUBLING TIMES
by Elizabeth Kendal

Sri Lankans will go to the polls on Saturday 16 November to elect a new president and in 2020 to elect a new parliament. The outcome of the presidential poll will have profound implications for the 2020 parliamentary poll. Though there are 35 presidential candidates, it really is a 'two-horse race' between the ruling United National Party (UNP) candidate, Sajith Premadasa [manifesto], and war-time Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa [manifesto], the candidate for Mahinda Rajapaksa's Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP, English = Sri Lankan People's Front, formed in 2016). Sri Lanka is 70 percent Sinhalese-speaking and 30 percent Tamil-speaking. Overall, Christians -- who are Sinhalese and Tamil -- comprise a little over 8 percent of the total population. On Resurrection Sunday 21 April 2019, Islamic terrorists staged a string of near-simultaneous bombings at three churches and three hotels popular with foreign tourists [see RLPB 500 (1 May)]. The bombings -- which claimed 253 lives -- left the Church and the nation deeply rattled. They also served to re-energise the forces of intolerant Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism.

The name 'Rajapaksa' is virtually synonymous with Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism. Mahinda Rajapaksa came to fame during his first term as president (2005-2010) when he, along with his brother, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, crushed the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), ending years of civil war. Both Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapaksa stand accused of war crimes. During Mahinda Rajapaksa's second term as president (2010-2015), corruption, nepotism, human rights abuses and violent Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism all escalated markedly. During this time, President Rajapaksa amended the constitution to remove presidential term limits. He thought Sri Lankans would not object -- but they did! In January 2015, Mirthripala Sirisena won the presidency, pledging to end corruption, nepotism and human rights abuses. Then, in parliamentary polls in August 2015, Sri Lankans elected a coalition cobbled together to break the power of the Rajapaksa clan. The coalition, known as Yahapalnaya ('good governance'), won only narrowly -- securing 51.3 percent of the vote -- and never delivered. Hoping to hamstring the ambitious and authoritarian Rajapaksas, the government amended the constitution to restore presidential term limits and limit presidential powers. Fatally strained, the coalition -- only ever a 'marriage of convenience' -- unravelled in October-November 2018. This is the main reason why, in early 2019, intelligence warning of a terror attack over Easter went unheeded. Sri Lankans feel disillusioned, insecure and angry -- a misery compounded by economic downturn as tourist avoid the island.

Strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa (l) plots his return.
Not talking: PM Wickremesinghe (c) and President Sirisena (r) . . .
 'Yahapalnaya' (good governance)?
Photo by Shehan Gunasekara, http://www.ft.lk/  1 Jan 2019.  

The failure of Yahapalnaya and the trauma of the Easter bombings have combined to set the stage for a Rajapaksa revival. While Gotabaya Rajapaksa is running for president, Mahinda Rajapaksa is eyeing the now more powerful post of Prime Minister, a presidential appointment. The Rajapaksas are running a 'populist' campaign based on Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism and national security. Recognising Sinhalese Christians -- most of whom live on the west coast, north of Colombo -- as a separate constituency, they are promising them security. Meanwhile, the UNP's Sajith Premadasa is campaigning on a platform of development, while promising to rein in corruption, drug-trafficking and 'religious extremism'.

click on map to enlarge

Historically, in the absence of a Tamil boycott, Sri Lanka's ethnic and religious minorities have voted UNP. However, it seems the Easter terror attacks have left Christians so desperate for security that most are indicating they will switch from UNP and vote for Gotobaya Rajapaksa, despite the Rajapaksas' overt support for the militant Buddhist nationalists who have brought them so much grief in the past. Tamils and Muslims fear Gotabaya Rajapaksa and will never vote for him. Consequently, the minorities have been split and, quite possibly, the Christians will be split between those on the Buddhist-dominated west coast and those on the Muslim-dominated east coast. Furthermore, the nation is split vertically, between the pro-Sajith Premadasa (UNP) Tamil north and east, and the pro-Rajapaksa Sinhalese south and west. Both candidates are working hard to secure the votes of the Sinhalese Buddhist majority, while offering the minorities promises that are mostly undeliverable. Neither candidate is willing to condemn militant Buddhist nationalist violence.

No matter who wins the elections, Christians will probably face escalating persecution, especially in the strongly Buddhist nationalist south as well as in the rapidly Islamising Muslim-majority towns on east coast. If Christians vote Rajapaksa they will probably attract the wrath of other minorities (Tamil and Muslim). If they vote UNP they will certainly attract the wrath of the Rajapaksas. These are troubling times for the Church in Sri Lanka.


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* bless and sustain Sri Lanka's churches and Christians; may the Lord shield them from deadly and destructive violence and provide all their needs.

* intervene in Sri Lanka so that hearts and minds will be open to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

* move in the hearts of those with power and influence in Sri Lanka, to promote unity over division, peace over conflict, and equity, justice and freedom over self-interest.

'First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour,  who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.' (1 Timothy 2:1-4 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
------------------------------------------------------------
PIVOTAL ELECTIONS AND TROUBLING TIMES IN SRI LANKA

On Saturday 16 November Sri Lankans will go to the polls to elect a new president. Sri Lanka is 70 percent Sinhalese-speaking and 30 percent Tamil-speaking. Christians -- Sinhalese and Tamil -- comprise a little over 8 percent of the total population. The current coalition government's failure and the trauma of the Easter terror attacks have combined to set the stage for a revival of intolerant Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism. Both leading presidential candidates are campaigning to secure the votes of the Sinhalese Buddhist majority while offering the minorities promises that are mostly undeliverable. Neither candidate is willing to condemn militant Buddhist nationalist violence. No matter who wins the elections, Christians will probably face escalating persecution, especially in the strongly Buddhist nationalist south and on the increasingly Islamic east coast. 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, October 29, 2019

RLPB 526. October Update, incl. Papua (Indonesia), Syria, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 526 | Wed 30 Oct 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)
http://rlprayerbulletin.blogspot.com

by Elizabeth Kendal

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INTERNATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2019: Sunday 3 or 10 November.

For prayer material and other resources see: Critical Prayer Requests (CPR) for states where Christians are persecuted and/or where religious liberty is threatened.
See also, the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog, and, to understand the 'Global Trends in Persecution', see www.ElizabethKendal.com.

'A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.' (Jesus, John 13:34-35 ESV)

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

OCTOBER 2019 UPDATE -- during this period we prayed concerning

* HIMACHAL PRADESH, NORTH INDIA (RLPB 522), after an anti-conversion law passed in 2006 was repealed and replaced with one which is broader in its scope and more severe in its punishments. Now, anyone who 'abets or conspires such conversion' -- i.e. one the Hindu nationalist government deems illegitimate -- risks one to five years in prison. While the Church in this beautiful Himalayan state is growing, it still only comprises 0.2 percent of the population. Clearly, this law has nothing to do with religious conversion or social cohesion. On the contrary, this law is nothing but a political ploy to please the Hindu majority so as to dragnet the Hindu vote. Please pray.

'About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. [...] So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church' (Acts 12:1-3a,5 ESV).

* PAPUAN PROVINCES (INDONESIA), after riots in Wamena left 33 dead and thousands displaced. Most of the casualties were non-natives -- i.e. Muslim settlers [RLPB 522] -- raising the spectre of Islamic retaliation. The question of who incited the Papuan highlanders (all outsiders) to invade Wamena and attack settlers has not been answered. As anticipated, it did not take long before Islamic groups in Java were openly recruiting for a 'Papua Jihad' [RLPB 523], allegedly to 'maintain the integrity of the NKRI [Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia]'. Please pray.

UPDATE: Victor Mambor and Syofiardi Bachyul are investigative journalists with the Jakarta Post. They spent a week in Wamena from 3-10 October in an effort to get to the bottom of what happened there. They report (28 Oct) that on 23 September, hundreds of armed highlanders came into Wamena ostensibly to attend an anti-racism rally organised by school children. However, 'the protest turned violent after a young man, later identified as Kelion Tabuni, a sophomore at the Manado State University in North Sulawesi, was allegedly shot [dead] by security personnel'. Mambor and Bachyul allege that this killing triggered the rioting, a detail the Indonesian authorities have been concealing. 'The government has never spoken about security forces opening fire at protesters. They have, however, pointed fingers at the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), a self-determination activist group that has close affiliations to the pro-independence movement.' Governor Lukas told the journalists that he believed the riot had been planned, but not by locals. 'This happened by design,' he said. 'But we don't know by whom, and it is difficult to prove.' Please pray that God would intervene to bring peace and justice to the Papuan Provinces.

* NORTHERN SYRIA, where Turkey and its jihadist proxies have unleashed chaos and imperilled Christians [RLPB 524]. Despite extreme danger and hardship, many Christians are choosing to remain in the war zone precisely so they might minister, witness and 'maintain the presence of Jesus' [RLPB 525].

[NOTE: Islamic State and al-Qaeda are essentially brothers; they share the same DNA. If Saudi Arabia is their mother, then Turkey is their father. They also desire the same goal -- an Islamic Caliphate in the Middle East -- and differ only with respect to strategy. The 'young guns' of Islamic State (IS) preach 'Caliphate Now' and maintain that success is contingent on their implementation of strict Sharia and cultivation of 'pure' Islam (including a total rejection of Shi'ites) -- all of which pleases Allah. On the other hand, the seasoned 'old guard' of al-Qaeda are fighting a 'long war', convinced that success will only be possible when the US abandons the Middle East. (Note, they have not yet factored in other giants of the dar al harb (house of war): Russia, China or India). Al-Qaeda is pragmatic; it co-operates with Shi'ite Iran as a 'resistance' force and is reserving strict Sharia for later, precisely so it might engage local Muslims as allies. If there is one thing IS and al-Qaeda agree on, it is that Christians must either convert to Islam, submit to Islam as dhimmis (second-class citizens without any legal rights), or leave (otherwise they will be killed).]

SYRIA UPDATES

(1) TURKEY-JIHADIST WAR CRIMES IN TEL ABYAD

Photos and video footage continue to emerge showing Turkey-backed Islamic jihadists chanting jihadist slogans, committing war crimes and posing with the mutilated corpses of 'infidels' and 'pigs'. Middle East Forum reports: 'A photo from October 20 shows elements of Jabha al-Shamiya in Tel Abyad, along with members of other groups such as Liwa al-Salam, Faylaq al-Majd of the "Third Legion" painting graffiti on houses belonging to Armenians and Syriac Christians, claiming them for themselves, similar to what ISIS did in Mosul in July 2014. On October 21 a video of a group calling itself Jaish Islam, calls on its members to treat Christians as second-class citizens [dhimmis] ... and to make them pay special taxes [jizya] in accordance with discriminatory religious laws [Quran, Sura 9:29].' Furthermore, Mindy Belz reports for World News Group that 'doctors at Al-Sha'ab Hospital in Hasakah report potentially 20 civilian and military victims with "burns of unknown origin" after a Turkish warplane bombed a civilian convoy'. Photos have been widely disseminated and at least two experts have assessed the burns to have been caused by chemical weapons, most probably white phosphorus. Please pray.

(2) RUSSIA-TURKEY DEAL

 On Tuesday 22 October Russia and Turkey forged an agreement. Turkey would observe a six-day ceasefire during which time Russia would facilitate the withdrawal of Kurdish troops to 32km from the Syria-Turkey border. While it sounds very much like the failed US-Turkey deal, there is a major difference. The US -- which was in Syria illegally and with very few troops -- was actually in the process of withdrawing. Consequently, a Kurdish withdrawal would have created a security vacuum allowing Turkey to turn the entire 'safe zone' into a killing field and war zone. The Russia-Turkey deal is different, precisely because Russian military police and Syrian border guards are replacing the Kurdish YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to prevent a Turkey-jihadist invasion and occupation. The SDF has approved the deal and is redeploying south so as to prevent bloodshed. Damascus has welcomed the SDF withdrawal, noting that it removed 'the main pretext for flagrant Turkish aggression on (Syrian) territory'.

American aid worker David Eubank prays with a soldier
of the Syrian Arab Army, critically wounded fighting a
Turkish forces and their jihadist proxies near Tel Tamer, 27 Oct.
see Free Burma Ranges (FBR) field report 29 Oct 2019.
To seal the deal, Turkey agreed to respect 'Syria's territorial integrity' and 'political unity', while Russia agreed to recognise that Turkey has a 'legitimate security concern' (concerning the Kurdish nationalist YPG/PKK) and to not challenge Turkey over the gains it has already made between Tel Abyad and Ras al Ayn [see RLPB 525 (22 Oct)]. Turkey and Russia have agreed to patrol the 'safe zone' together; Syrian troops now control the border between Ras al Ayn and Qamishli. True to form, belligerent, neo-Ottoman Turkey has not honoured the ceasefire. Christian aid group 'Free Burma Rangers' has released video footage showing Turkish forces and their jihadist proxies fighting and shelling near Tel Tamer right through the ceasefire period.

I (Elizabeth Kendal) agree totally with Amb. W. Robert Pearson, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey, who said on 23 October, 'sooner or later, the Russians are going to say to the Turks, "please leave Syria," and it will happen'. Indeed, ultimately Russia and Syria will not tolerate the presence of Turkish troops or their jihadists proxies on Syrian soil. It will happen – after all, Turkey is dependent on Russia for more than half its energy requirements. Until north Syria is secure, please pray for the gravely imperilled Christians of northern Syria. May the Lord be their shield and their provider; may the Lord bless all those who help them.

'Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfils his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!' (Psalm 57:1-3 ESV)

OCTOBER 2019 ROUND-UP -- also this month

* ETHIOPIA: THE BATTLE FOR ETHIOPIA HAS BEGUN.

Jawar Mohammed greets supports outside
 his home in Addis Ababa. (AFP)
As noted in RLPB 520 (18 Sep), Oromo activist Jawar Mohammed (33) returned to Ethiopia from USA in August 2018. While in the US, Mr Jawar (now a US citizen) used his Oromia Media Network and social media to lead the Qeerroo protest movement that ultimately forced Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn from office in February 2018. His resignation paved the way for the appointment of Dr Abiy Ahmed, a Christian who earlier this month was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2019. Jawar's Islamic and 'Oromia First' ideology is diametrically opposed to PM Abiy's vision of a united Ethiopia. Many suspect Jawar of being behind much of the ethnic unrest that has erupted across Ethiopia. On 22 October PM Abiy gave a speech in parliament in which he criticised people who come to Ethiopia and instigate strife; many saw it as a veiled criticism of Mr Jawar. That night, when police tried to remove Jawar's government security detail, Jawar took to Facebook to accuse the government of plotting to kill him. Before long, hundreds of Jawar's supporters were outside his house calling for the downfall of the Abiy government.

On 23 October, with PM Abiy in Russia for business, Jawar Mohammad's supporters protested in four cities: Addis Ababa, Adama, Harar and Ambo. Two days of ethnic-religious violence ensued, in which 67 people were killed and more than 200 wounded, including a reporter with VOA Amharic service who was beaten unconscious by a huge mob of Qeerroo youths. Churches, as well as homes and businesses belonging to non-ethnic Oromos and Christians, were attacked and burned. Displaced Christians sought sanctuary in their churches. In Bale Robe, six Christians died when a grenade was thrown into the Tsadiku Gebrekristos Church. In Dodola, dozens were wounded when a grenade was thrown at the Kidane Mehre Church. Later, one of the ambulances transporting the injured to hospital was ambushed and three Amhara Christians were dragged out and killed. Ultimately, troops had to be deployed across Oromia region to restore order.

Man in red cap addresses an enormous crowd
of Oromo activists, sparking fears of ethnic cleansing. 
On 26 October video footage went viral showing an unidentified man delivering an inflammatory speech to a huge crowd in the town of Bale Robe. He called for Oromos to boycott 'dorzes' or 'neftegnas' -- i.e. outsiders (non-Oromos) -- and to do no business with them whatsoever. He said anyone who opposes Jawar Mohammed is an enemy of the people of Bale. The footage has triggered fears of ethnic cleansing. Upon his return to Ethiopia, PM Abiy expressed sadness over the violence, which he rightly assessed is aimed at derailing Ethiopia from its path. Ethiopians will go to the polls to elect a new parliament in May 2020. The Battle for Ethiopia has begun. Please pray.

* INDONESIA: IMPORTANT BLASPHEMY TRIAL COMMENCES

On 30 June Suzethe Margaret (52) -- a married Catholic mother of four -- stormed into a mosque in Bogor, a Jakarta suburb, furiously protesting that the imam had converted her husband to Islam so he could take a second wife. But, as her husband explained, it is all untrue: he remains a Catholic and is not taking another wife. He had, however, been away on business at the time and Suzethe -- a certified schizophrenic -- had not taken her medication for at least ten days. Unfortunately for Suzethe, she entered the mosque carrying her small dog. Because Islam deems dogs unclean, Suzethe has been charged with blasphemy for desecrating a place of worship.

According to Article 44 of Indonesia's criminal code, a person who commits a criminal act by reason of a mental health condition cannot be held criminally liable. Regardless, due mostly to public pressure, Suzethe Margaret's trial commenced this month in a closed court. The procedure is being monitored by the American Bar Association and the Clooney Foundation. Indonesia's most powerful Islamic body -- the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), which is chaired by Ma'ruf Amin, Indonesia's new Vice President -- has demanded Ms Margaret serve the maximum five-year term for blasphemy. University of NSW professor Melissa Crouch insists: 'This case should be seen as a crisis point in Indonesia in terms of the misuse and abuse of the blasphemy law.' Please pray.

* IRAN: EBRAHIM FIROUZI SURVIVES RAJAEI SHAHR


Ebrahim Firouzi
Ebrahim Firouzi was arrested in August 2013 and sentenced to one year in prison for Christian evangelism and propaganda against the Islamic Republic. Initially incarcerated in Evin Prison (which houses political prisoners) he was subsequently transferred to the notorious Rajaei Shahr prison in Karaj, a maximum-security prison housing the state's most violent criminals and terrorists. When his one-year term was complete, he was retried and sentenced to an additional five years for national security offences. During his incarceration he struggled with depression. Middle East Concern reports that Ebrahim was released in good health on 26 October. He must now serve a further two years in internal exile in Sarbaz, a remote town some 1,600km south-east of Tehran with a population of a little over one thousand, most of whom are ethnic Baluch and speak the Baluchi language. May the Lord bless Ebrahim Firouzi and grant him peace. Please pray for Iran's imprisoned and persecuted believers.

NIGERIA: ENDEMIC INSECURITY; CHRISTIANS IN CRISIS

On Thursday 3 October Fulani gunmen kidnapped six teenage girls and two staff members from a Christian-run high school in southern Kaduna's Chikun County. The kidnappers have contacted school officials with their demands for ransom. At 4 am on Monday 7 October, Fulani gunmen attacked Chikun County again, this time abducting four members of Godiya Baptist Church in Ungwan Barau village; another member of the church was killed. Meanwhile in neighbouring Plateau State, 13 Christians have been murdered in less than a month, including Bartholomew David (23), a member of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), who on 5 October was dragged from his car and shot. At a recent funeral for slain Christians, the Rev Joshua Bari, chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria in the area, expressed his dismay at the government's inaction and pleaded for attention to the crisis. For more details see Morning Star News: Nigeria. 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