Tuesday, December 17, 2019

RLPB 533. Advent Amidst Terror

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 533 | 18 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)

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NOTE: This will be the last Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) for 2019. Unless there is a crisis requiring an urgent call to prayer, the next RLPB will be the January Update on 29 January 2020.

Please continue to watch and pray over the Christmas - New Year period. When watching, listening to or reading the news, think of how local Christians might be impacted by events, and pray for them.
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'Advent' is derived from the Latin word adventus, which is a translation of the Greek word parousia which means 'coming'.

ADVENT AMIDST TERROR
by Elizabeth Kendal

Britain's Christmas markets surrounded by ring of steel 
(Daily Mail, 21 Nov 2019)
The risk of Islamic terror attack is elevated over Christmas as terrorists seek not merely to kill for political gain, but to make a statement about their intention to eliminate Christianity. Across the United Kingdom (UK), undercover SAS officers will be stationed at Christmas markets and other crowded places. The situation will be much the same in Germany, in France, in Belgium and across much of Western Europe and Scandinavia. Europe might have the most potential targets, but Christians in jihadist hot-spots still face the greatest risk.

INDONESIA: On Tuesday 17 December Indonesia's National Police spokesman Argo Yuwono told media that more than 192,000 police and military personnel will be deployed nationwide ahead of Christmas to guard against potential terror attacks. He said, 'Based on intelligence data, there are potential risks ... so we're taking preventative measures but we are also ready to take proactive action.' On 5 December police from the Densus 88 counter-terrorism squad raided a house in the Sentani district of Jayapura, the capital of PAPUA Province, arresting an alleged terrorist and seizing a cache of homemade explosives. While police denied that eight terrorist suspects with ties to the Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) had also been arrested, Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) director, Sidney Jones, confirmed, 'The recent arrests are linked to members of JAD cells in Bekasi [West Java] and Lampung … .' Terrorism experts have cautioned Papuan authorities to remain vigilant. [Background: RLPB 523 (9 Oct 2019)]. Please pray.

AFRICA'S TERROR AXIS: In March this year, Kurdish-led anti-IS forces captured Islamic State's last stronghold of Baghouz in eastern Syria. As jihadists have left Syria, either to return home or find fresh fields in which to sow misery and death, jihadist terror has escalated across Africa's terror axis.

(1) SOMALIA-KENYA-ETHIOPIA

In northern Somalia's Puntland, Islamic State in Somalia (ISS) is training fighters and recruiting Ethiopians with Amharic-language propaganda that specifically targets churches and Christians [see RLPB 520 (18 Sep 2019)]. Meanwhile, in southern Somalia, al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab continues to inflict terror both inside Somalia and across the border in Kenya where Christians are its primary target.

KENYA: On Friday 6 December at 5pm al-Shabaab militants flagged down a bus in eastern Kenya's Wajir County. The bus - en-route from Nairobi to the north-eastern city of Mandera - was carrying 56 passengers. After ordering the passengers off the bus, the terrorists separated them into two groups: 'locals' (ethnic Somali Muslims) and 'non-locals' (Kenyan Christians). The 'locals' were ordered back onto the bus while the eleven 'non-locals' were executed. The dead included eight Kenyan police officers returning from leave in Nairobi, two teachers and a medical doctor. The teachers and doctor are known to have been active members of evangelical churches. The bus driver and conductor have been arrested, suspected of being al-Shabaab sympathisers who colluded with the terrorists in the planning and execution of the attack. The militants escaped back to neighbouring Somalia. Please pray for all Christians living and serving in eastern Kenya.

(2) NIGERIA - CAMEROON

Voice of America reports (12 Dec): 'Authorities in Cameroon say Boko Haram terrorists have been launching daily attacks on villages along the Nigerian border, killing at least 30 people and injuring scores in the past few months.' Christian aid group Barnabas Fund (BF) reports that in mid-November, Boko Haram militants conducted a raid in Tourou district, in Cameroon's Far North region, in which they hacked to death a 12-year-old Christian schoolboy who resisted their attempt to abduct him as a 'child soldier'. BF also reports that seven people were killed and 21 children and young adults were kidnapped when Boko Haram rampaged through mainly Christian villages in the Far North region in early December. After each attack, the militants escape back to their base in neighbouring Nigeria. [Background: RLPB 518 (4 Sep 2019).] Please pray.

(3) BURKINA FASO – MALI - NIGER

Violent events linked to ISGS between Jan 2018 - May 2019.
Africa Centre for Strategic Studies (10 June 2019)
On Sunday 1 December terrorists stormed a worship service in eastern BURKINA FASO (BF), near the border with Niger. They killed 14 of the 15 men present, leaving the women and children traumatised and destitute [see 'Urgent Update on Burkina Faso' in RLPB 531 (4 Dec 2019)]. In recent weeks, pastors in BF's East region have been threatened. Despite this, Bible colleges in the region still want to proceed with graduation ceremonies and churches still want to celebrate Christmas. Please Pray! 

I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. (Psalm 18:1-3 ESV)

NIGER: On 10 December well-armed terrorists from Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) - also known as Islamic State in West Africa (an off-shoot of Boko Haram) - launched the most deadly and sophisticated attack on a military base ever seen in Niger. Suicide car-bombers opened the way for militants armed with mortars and riding motorbikes to briefly over-run the Inates base in remote south-western Niger near the border with Mali. At least 71 Nigerien soldiers were killed and 30 remain unaccounted for. ISGS claims to have killed 100 soldiers, wounded dozens more, while capturing weapons, ammunition and 16 vehicles.

Despite being majority Muslim, Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali are states with secular government and religious freedom - states where the Church has long been respected for its service which benefits all the people. Today, the tri-border region has become a key focal point for ISGS. Analysts fear that as terror escalates, Niger's overstretched military might opt to withdraw from this remote region to concentrate its forces around the more densely populated cities. This is precisely what has happened in Burkina Faso and Mali. Crisis Group explains, 'The zone is at risk of becoming a no-man's land under the custodianship of a rural [ISGS-infiltrated and backed] jihadist insurgency, with residents more or less held hostage.' The implications for churches, Bible colleges and long-established missions through the wider region are huge. Please pray!


Fulani (courtesy Samaritan's Purse)
ACROSS AFRICA, tribes and peoples with grievances - be they real, imagined or exaggerated - are embracing jihadists who come promising to empower, enrich, rescue and save, while actually harbouring intentions to exploit and enslave. Instead of securing liberty, equity and dignity, the aggrieved peoples are oppressed, abused and sacrificed as cannon-fodder and human shields. It would be better for them if they were to embrace the One who came preaching good news, offering life and liberty, and proclaiming the year of the Lord's favour (Luke 4:16-21). They need the Lord Jesus Christ. Please pray!

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ADVENT PRAYER

Dear God our Father

Please help us to fully comprehend and embrace what you have done through your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ whose birth the angels announced as 'good news of great joy that will be for all the people' (Luke 2:1-21). Empower us by your Holy Spirit to live in the light of this truth, energised with hope, conscious that because of Jesus a new day has dawned. Father, open our eyes, unblock our ears, put life in our legs. May we never grow tired of serving in the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Father, we lift before you the Christians of Mesopotamia and the wider Middle East, as they celebrate Christmas in exile, or in hollowed-out churches ravaged by war, and amidst great insecurity. We lift before you the Christians of Sri Lanka, Burkina Faso and Nigeria, indeed all believers who this Christmas will be missing loved ones killed in terror attacks, Islamic jihad and communal violence in the course of 2019. We lift before you Christians in prison in Iran, Pakistan, China, Eritrea and North Korea; as well as those held captive by jihadists in the Malian desert and Northern Nigeria. We lift before you the multitudes of believers across the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia who will celebrate Christmas despite crippling poverty (caused by discrimination) and violent persecution (encouraged by impunity). Oh Father, bless them and keep them safe. May reviving power from the life-giving and ever-present Holy Spirit flood their hearts with joy, hope and peace as they remember, embrace and celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.

In the name of Jesus,

AMEN

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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 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
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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.

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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 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
------------------------------------------------------------
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.

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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 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.'

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

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