Wednesday, August 28, 2019

RLPB 517. August Update, incl. Algeria, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, Papua (Indonesia)

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 517 | Wed 28 Aug 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

AUGUST 2019 UPDATE -- during this period we prayed concerning

* HONG KONG, CHINA (RLPB 514), where protesters fear a crackdown but hope for a breakthrough. We prayed for the authorities to have wisdom, for the protesters to be peaceful and for a breakthrough leading to a resolution, noting the strategic role Hong Kong has long played in supporting and resourcing the Church in mainland China. Please continue to pray for Hong Kong.

'For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.' (Ephesians 6:12 ESV)

* CHINA (RLPB 515), in particular for the severely persecuted Christian human rights lawyer and religious liberty advocate Gao Zhisheng, now missing for two years. Persecution and repression are escalating at an alarming rate and will only get worse in the coming years as the Social Credit System [see RLPB 415 (19 July 2017)] becomes fully operational. Please pray for the Church in China.

* SUDAN (RLPB 516), after the signing of a Constitutional Charter supposed to facilitate democratic transition. The Charter is ground-breaking in that it is not based on Islamic Sharia law and enshrines equality of all Sudan's ethnically and religiously diverse peoples. However, it fails to address the issues facing the non-Arab peoples of the conflict-ridden periphery, including the Christians of South Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains. Sudan's Islamists (who dominate a 'Deep State' 30 years in the making) have rejected the Charter as un-Islamic. Of course, it is very possible that one of the signatories -- the Transitional Military Council (TMC) -- might have no intention of honouring the Charter and might even view the signing as a mere stalling tactic ahead of further violence. Also, over everything, foreign powers cast their shadow: in particular, Saudi Arabia and UAE (which back the TMC) versus Iran-aligned Turkey and Qatar (which back the Islamists). Sudan's current peace and security remains tenuous. Please continue to pray for Sudan.

AUGUST 2019 ROUND-UP -- also this month

* ALGERIA: SPIRITUAL STRUGGLE IN KABYLIE REGION

On 6 August officers of the National Gendarmerie sealed shut the church in Lekhmis Village, Boudjima, upon the orders of the governor of Tizi Ouzou Province. The church had been given three day to remove all contents form the building before it was sealed. According to Middle East Concern, the church commenced meeting in 2003, joined Algeria's official Protestant Alliance (EPA) in 2006 and today has around 100 members. Before the police left, Pastor Messaoud Takilt told them, 'Know that we will continue to celebrate our worship outside, whether under the sun or in the rain.'

Church in Ighzer Amokrane,
Monday, 26 Aug 2019.
(Morning Star News) 
On Monday 26 August, when a brigade of gendarmerie sought to execute an order to seal shut yet another Protestant church in Tizi Ouzou Province, they were shocked to meet with resistance. Inside the 300 member Church of the Prince of Peace in Ighzer Amokrane, were some 200 Christians and evangelical leaders from 33 churches who had gathered for prayer. Pastor Salah Chalah, who is president of the Protestant alliance (EPA), told the police he would not comply with the closure order or order those present to disperse. After examining the closure order, the EPA's attorney, Wahab Chiter, deemed it invalid on the grounds that it carried the signature of the provincial chief who is not empowered to sign such an order which, to be valid must be issued by a court. After telephoning his superior, the police chief departed, taking his officers with him. The struggle is not over; indeed, it is just beginning. Please pray.

* CUBA: REGIME ESCALATES PERSECUTION OF EVANGELICALS

Rev Alayn Toledano Valiente of Emanuel Church in Santiago de Cuba (in Cuba's south-east) is a leader in Cuba's Apostolic Movement and a founding member of Cuba's recently formed Alliance of Evangelical Churches. He was one of several evangelical pastors prevented from travelling to the US for a conference in July [RLPB 511 (17 July)]. On 8 August Pastor Valiente was interrogated by police at the station for almost three hours. He was told that if his church went ahead with the women's event scheduled for 8-10 August then Valiente would be arrested and charged with disobedience. Despite the threats, the church's 'Deborah 2019' conference went ahead as planned.

Deborah 2019, at Emanuel Church, Santiago de Cuba.

On 22 August police warned Pastor Valiente that if the youth event that evening went ahead without permission then he would be arrested and charged with disobedience. Not only did Valiente refuse to sign a pre-arrest warrant, the youth event went ahead as planned. On 23 August Pastor Valiente was questioned by police in the station over the legality of the church's meeting place. Several years ago, the authorities demolished the church's building and allowed the neighbours to appropriate the land. Consequently, the church now meets in an improvised shelter on a parishioner's land. Police have threatened the landowners with the confiscation of their property. Pastor Valiente and his family have suffered much persecution stretching over two decades, including eviction from their home and violent beatings. 'I ask above all for your prayers,' he wrote on Facebook, 'God covers our lives'. Please pray.

On 9 August evangelical Christian journalist Yoé Suárez was detained by State Security Police in Guantanamo City in Cuba's south-east, where he had scheduled a series of interviews with various persecuted Christians. Suárez was detained, questioned and intimidated for several hours before being released with a warning. Persecution has escalated markedly since the regime deemed evangelicals 'counter-revolutionaries' [see RLPB 491 (26 Feb)]. Please pray.

* ERITREA: REGIME ESCALATES PERSECUTION OF DISSIDENT CHURCH

In May more than 170 Protestant Christians were arrested in three raids across Asmara; 50 were subsequently released. In early June the government seized control of 22 medical clinics belonging to the Catholic Church [see RLPB 505 (26 June)]. Now, Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that, on 13 June, five Orthodox priests from the Debre-Bizen Monastery in the country's Northern Red Sea Region were arrested for protesting government interference in Church affairs. On 23 August World Watch Monitor reported that 150 Christians have been arrested since 23 June.

On 23 June Eritrean security officials arrested 70 members of the Faith Mission Church of Christ in Keren. The believers -- including 35 women (some pregnant) and 10 children -- were taken to Ashufera prison, a vast system of underground tunnels and cells where conditions are extremely harsh. Authorities also closed the church-run school. The Faith Mission Church of Christ was the last church still open in the majority-Muslim city 90 km north-west of Asmara. The government clampdown has sent other Christians in Keren into hiding. Please pray.

On 18 August Eritrean security officials detained 80 Christians from Godaif, on the southern outskirts of Asmara where they are being held at the police station. On 16 August six Christian government employees from Keren, Eritrea's second city, were taken to a court in Asmara where the judge told them to renounce their faith. All six responded by saying they would 'not negotiate their faith' and would 'continue following Jesus'. The judge has not yet delivered his decision. Please pray.

* IRAN: PRAYING FOR JUSTICE (Amos 5:24)

On Tuesday 3 September there will be an appeal hearing at which the sentences given to six Iranian Christian believers will reviewed. According to Middle East Concern, the hearing will combine three long-standing and related cases. The first case involves Assyrian Pastor Victor bet Tamraz and Persian Christian converts Amin Nader Afshari and Kavian Fallah Mohammadi, who were arrested in December 2014 and sentenced to 10 and 15-year jail terms in July 2017 [RLPB 414 (12 July 2017)]. The second case also involves Amin Nader Afshari (re-arrested in 2016) [RLPB 373 (31 Aug 2016)] along with two others. The third case involves Pastor Victor's wife, Shamiram Issavi Khabizeh who was sentenced to five years in prison in January 2018 [RLPB 491 (27 Feb 2019)]. Please pray that the Lord will direct Judge Ahmad Zargar and that the believers will know God's supernatural peace.

* NIGERIA: LAND OF SPREADING TERROR

KADUNA: TERROR IN THE MIDDLE BELT

On Sunday 4 August Pastor Jeremiah Omolewa of Living Faith Church had finished leading three services and was travelling with his wife on the outskirts of Kaduna when Muslim Fulani herdsmen shot at his car. Pastor Omolewa was killed and his wife was kidnapped but released four days later after ransom was paid. On 8 August some 20 armed Fulani herdsmen attacked a Roman Catholic parish in Kasuwan Magani Town, south of Kaduna City. The Rev Joseph Kato Kwassau escaped but a security guard was killed. At 1am on 14 August, Fulani herdsmen kidnapped Emmanuel Nom and his 60-year-old father, Pastor Elisha Noma of Nagarta Baptist Church in Makiri, Kaduna State. Emmanuel was subsequently released with the demand that he raise the ransom for his father.

On 8 August Rev Joseph Hayab, chairman of the Kaduna State Chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), spoke in Kaduna concerning the crisis. According to Pastor Hayab, more than 500 Christians have been kidnapped in Kaduna State in the past four years. 'Pastors and church members are being kidnapped, and huge sums of money are being demanded, and nothing has been done by the Nigeria government to halt the situation. As I speak to you, a daughter of a Baptist pastor in the area of Kasuwan Magani is under the captivity of the herdsmen. So we are really concerned that Christians and their pastors in Kaduna State are no longer safe.' According to Hayab, one 'Reverend Father' was killed even after ransom was paid. On Monday 26 August Hayab reported that two people who had gone to deliver ransom for two children of a Kaduna-based bishop were now also being held hostage by the gunmen who still refuse to release the children. Please pray.


click on map to enlarge
ENUGU: TERROR IN THE SOUTH EAST

On 1 August Fulani herdsmen ambushed the car of a Catholic priest, the Rev Paul Offu, as he drove along Ihe-Agbudu Road in Awgu Town, south of Enugu City. They dragged him out of his car and shot him dead before kidnapping his passenger, a parishioner named Kenneth Igwe. Police found Igwe's corpse four days later. On 15 August Fulani herdsmen shot at another Catholic priest, the Rev Chimezie Ani, as he was driving near the Catholic university in Amorji-Nike, north of Enugu City. His windscreen shattered, Ani sped off in reverse gear, only narrowly managing to escape unhurt. According to Ani, Fulani herdsmen have been attacking Christian commuters along that highway 'for some time now'. NOTE: this is not the Muslim north or the mixed, volatile Middle Belt. This is Enugu in Nigeria's 'South East' zone, i.e. the Ibo heartland. If the Fulani want to trigger another civil war/jihad, then this would be the place to do it. Please pray.

* PAPUA (INDONESIA): 'ENOUGH' OF RACIAL-RELIGIOUS HATRED

Every 15 August, Papuans (mostly Christian Melanesians) hold demonstrations to protest the controversial and unjust New York Agreement signed on 15 August 1962. Every 17 August, Indonesians (in particular, the mostly Javanese Muslims) celebrate Indonesia's Independence Day. And every year there are clashes. This year, however, after footage went viral showing Indonesian soldiers using excessive force while police and radicals aligned with various nationalist and Islamist militia groups yelled racist abuse and threats at Papuan students in Surabaya, East Java, Papuans decided they'd had enough. Papuans have since rallied in 30 cities across Indonesia, including in Jakarta, to protest racial-religious violence and abuse.

On Monday 19 August thousands of Papuans protested in West Papua's capital, Manokwari (where the local parliament was torched) and Sorong (where 250 inmates escaped after the jail was torched), as well as in Papua's capital, Jayapura. Clashes have been reported in Fakfak, a Papuan regency known to harbour Indonesian nationalist and Islamist militias. The Indonesian government has deployed an additional 1200 troops to the region and on 22 August shut down Papua's internet. On Monday 26 August some 5000 Papuans took to the streets of Deiyai, a highlands town some 500km south-west of Jayapura, carrying four banned Morning Star flags. Papuans are calling for a new, fair and just referendum on Independence. As Indonesian Papuan expert Darmawan Triwibowo told Jakarta Post, 'There's a human rights issue behind the desire ...' Indeed, Papuans have had enough of genocidal, racial-religious hatred. Please pray.

For a more detailed version of this item on Papua, see:
'Papuans have had enough of racial-religious hatred and persecution,'
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 27 Aug 2019.

NOTE: This RLPB ministry has been warning for some time [see RLPB 426 (4 Oct 2017)] that the mood in Papua is changing and the situation is likely to get much worse yet. [See also 'Papua: The Christian Crisis in Eastern Indonesia' (RLM, 14 April 2019).] 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, August 20, 2019

RLPB 516. Sudan: Divine help need if 'New Sudan' is to be realised

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 516 | 21 Aug 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)


SUDAN: DIVINE HELP NEEDED IF 'NEW SUDAN' IS TO BE REALISED
by Elizabeth Kendal

Holding aloft the Constitutional Charter and representing the
 Transitional Military Council (TMC), General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemeti),
with representative for the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC),
school teacher Ahmed Rabie (far right).
Khartoum, 17 Aug 2019.

On Sunday 4 August representatives from Sudan's ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) signed a Constitutional Charter (CC) which, theoretically, should pave the way for democratic transition. The agreement was celebrated on Saturday 17 August at a ceremony in Khartoum, in the presence of international representatives and observers. Authority will now be transferred to an 11-member Sovereign Council (SC) comprised of six civilians and five generals. The FFC will appoint a cabinet of technocrats and have a two-thirds share of an appointed 300-seat parliament. Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, who chaired the TMC, will lead the SC for 21 months, after which the SC will be led by a civilian who will oversee a full transition to democratic rule in 2022. [For background on the situation in Sudan see RLPB 502, 'New Sudan' in sight but not yet in hand (15 May 2019).]

Click here for Draft Constitutional Charter for the 2019 Transitional Period

The CC was signed under immense pressure. The 'June 3 Massacre' -- in which Hemeti's Rapid Support Forces (RSF) attacked peaceful protesters in Khartoum, killing more than 120 -- had sent tensions soaring and almost derailed talks [see RLPB 505(5 Jun 2019), under the subheading 'Update on Sudan'.] Then, on 29 July, the RSF attacked peaceful protesters in El-Obeid, killing four children and an activist. As talks faltered, the African Union and Ethiopia stepped up efforts to 'seal the deal' lest Islamist counter-revolutionary forces exploit the fractures, fill the power vacuum and return Sudan to civil war.

The Constitutional Charter (CC) does indeed present us with what Sudan expert Eric Reeves describes as a 'ghostly outline of what a free and just Sudan -- at peace with itself -- might look like'. However, as Reeves explains, the obstacles are enormous. The FFC is itself profoundly divided, with many groups critical that far too much power remains in the hands of a systemically corrupt and historically untrustworthy hybrid military, comprising not only the Islamist-dominated Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), but Hemeti's ill-disciplined RSF (formerly known as Janjaweed). Divisions run deep and the FFC is struggling to agree on who should be appointed to the SC.

click on map to enlarge
Unsurprisingly, the Islamist-dominated, former ruling National Congress Party of ousted president Omar el-Bashir has rejected the CC outright on the grounds that it is not based on Islamic Sharia Law. Critically, the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) -- a coalition of armed groups from Blue Nile, South Kordofan (including Nuba Mountains) and Darfur -- has rejected the CC on the grounds that its primary concern -- peace -- has been sidelined for the sake of expediency. As a member of the FFC, the SRF had insisted that peace and democratisation be linked, on the grounds that a truly representative democracy is only possible if there is peace. On 25 July representatives of the FFC and the SRF met in Addis Ababa and forged an Agreement; but as pressure mounted the Agreement was shelved. The SRF fears the return of an urban-dominated, Khartoum-centric, elitist government that marginalises or ignores the concerns of the persecuted African tribes of the periphery (Muslim and Christian).

Other obstacles include the fact that an entrenched Islamist 'deep state' 30 years in the making will need to be dismantled and a systemically corrupt and Islamist-dominated security sector will need to be overhauled and reformed. Is there anyone who believes the Islamists, the SAF, the NISS or the RSF will willingly relinquish their massive wealth-generating power and privilege? Reeves reminds us that 'the al-Bashir regime abided by not one of the agreements it signed during its long tenure' (emphasis mine). Indeed, agreements were only ever stalling tactics and cover for further human rights violations. Doubtless Hemeti and the TMC regard the CC as nothing but a piece of paper that legitimises their power while allowing them to stall until the spotlight fades. These are watershed days for Sudan, for a people yearning to be liberated from captivity. May the Lord our deliverer (Psalm 18:2-3) hear their cry and lead them 'through the sea' to freedom (Psalm 77).


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD

* who answered our prayers for the removal of the racist, Islamist tyrant Omar el-Bashir, will now 'rebuke' all other 'roaring' powers that seek to 'loot' and 'plunder' Sudan and repress and unleash 'terror' on its peoples; may they be 'chased away like chaff on the mountains before the wind' (Isaiah 17:12-14).

* will grant all Sudan's Christian community and church leaders great courage and enduring hope, as well as 'spiritual wisdom and understanding' (Colossians 1:9), so they might lead their people and influence their nation according to the will of him who promised: 'by you [Abraham] all the families of the earth shall be blessed' (Genesis 12:3).

* will intervene to keep the spotlight on Sudan; may the cultural and religious rights of all Christians be respected and protected in line with Articles 47, 55 and 65 of the Constitutional Charter; may the religious freedom defined in Article 55 -- which includes the right to choose -- become a reality; may the humanitarian blockade of Nuba Mountains be lifted in line with Article 64 which enshrines the right of 'all citizens' to health care and emergency services; and may the 'international community' hold Sudan's rulers to account.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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DIVINE HELP NEEDED IF 'NEW SUDAN' IS TO BE REALISED

On 4 August Sudan's Transitional Military Council and the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) signed a Constitutional Charter (CC), paving the way for democratic transition. The obstacles, however, are enormous. The CC was finalised and signed under great external pressure as talks were faltering; consequently, peace is tenuous. Sudan's Islamists reject the Charter outright because it is not based on Sharia Law. The Sudan Revolutionary Front -- representing the persecuted African tribes of Blue Nile, South Kordofan (including Nuba Mountains) and Darfur -- rejects it as it does not adequately address their concerns regarding peace. In short: the FFC is fractured, the Islamic 'deep state' is entrenched and the systemically corrupt military is not trustworthy. Christians are yearning for a 'New Sudan'; divine help is needed. 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, August 13, 2019

RLPB 515. China: Gao Zhisheng missing for two years

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 515 | 14 Aug 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)


CHINA: GAO ZHISHENG MISSING FOR TWO YEARS

by Elizabeth Kendal

On 13 August 2017 Gao Zhisheng, Christian human rights lawyer and religious liberty advocate, was reported missing [see RLPB 421 (30 Aug 2017)]. It was not the first time Gao had disappeared. Indeed, as Benedict Rogers noted on the first anniversary of Gao's disappearance, 'Gao's personal history reads like a glossary of human rights violations: torture, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance.' On this the second anniversary, we lift him up before our good and loving God, with faith anchored in the promise: 'And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age' (Jesus, in Matthew 28:20).

Gao Zhisheng, a 'top ten lawyer'.
In 2001, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) named Gao 'one of the nation's top ten lawyers' in recognition of his extensive pro bono legal work in defence of the poor. However, when Gao began challenging CCP policy through his defence of persecuted Falun Gong practitioners and house church Christians, he quickly became one of the nation's most persecuted lawyers. Gao was abducted and intimidated in secret detention in November 2004, in December 2006, and again in September 2007 when he was held for 50 days and tortured so severely that he tried to kill himself. He was abducted again in February 2009 and detained for 13 months, during which time his wife and two young children escaped to the USA. A month after his release, Gao was apprehended again in April 2010 and detained for 18 months, after which, in December 2011, he was sentenced to serve three years as a 'criminal who endangers national security' in the remote and infamously harsh Shaya Prison, Xinjiang.

Gao (2017) after a
decade of intense
CCP persecution
When Gao was released in August 2014 he was 'a shadow of his former self' [RLPB 275 (27 Aug 2014)]. He had lost 22kg and was suffering from malnutrition, a condition that had already caused half his teeth to fall out. He looked in a mirror but did not recognise himself, describing the sight as 'a record of hell in a face'. He struggled to walk and string a sentence together, let alone cope with the pain caused by his remaining teeth. Confined to house arrest in his mother's cave-house in the northern province of Shaanxi, Gao was isolated, surveilled and denied medical and dental care. Then, just when the Communist Party were thinking they had crushed him, Gao not only rallied, he wrote a detailed report on CCP repression and persecution, and a memoir -- Unwavering Convictions -- which was smuggled out and published, both in Chinese (June 2016) and in English (January 2017).

On 13 August 2017 a distressed and desperate Gao escaped house arrest. It took the authorities three weeks to track him down. On 5 September 2017 his family finally learned that Gao had been apprehended and taken to Beijing. On 11 November 2017 a 'security maintenance' officer told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that Gao was being held by state security police in Jia County and that he was 'fine'. The very next day RFA reported that the Gao Zhisheng Lawyers' Concern Group had located Gao in a secret prison in Shaanxi Province. According to this group, Gao was being held in solitary confinement, in total darkness and denied access to medical care [see RLPB 432 (15 Nov 2017)].

A secret prison -- officially known as 'Residential Surveillance in a Designated Location' (RSDL) -- is 'a place where the law does not exist -- a black hole'. An exiled Chinese lawyer has described it as 'a system for prolonged, pre-trial detention outside a formal, legal location'. In RSDL, officials have freedom to apply 'more severe, more terrible coercive measures than normal criminal detention ... [consequently] torture has become rampant under RSDL' [Amnesty International Urgent Action appeal for Gao Zhisheng: 16 April 2019]. It is not difficult to understand why the people of Hong Kong are so desperate to resist Beijing's expanding reach [see last's week's RLPB 514 (7 Aug)].

Gao’s daughter, Grace Geng in
Hong Kong with her father’s book,
June 2016. 

(Photo: Kin Cheung, Associated Press)
In his memoir, Unwavering Convictions, Gao writes: 'These torture sessions over the years actually gave me a wonderful gift, which is my faith in God. I was not a believer previously. Although handling the case of Pastor Cai Zhuohua [September 2004 to November 2005] had given me access to the Bible, it did not move me at the time. But once the Beijing authorities started persecuting me, I came to know God and became part of the brotherhood of Christians. I am especially grateful to brother Fan Yafeng [a 'renowned Christian and legal scholar'] for helping me come to know and receive God. This greatly enhanced the quality of my life as well as my psychological strength in these difficult years' (p21). 'For anyone of faith, infinite light and freedom awaits us when we close our eyes' (p139).


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL

* minister to and intervene for Gao Zhisheng (55); may Gao know with full assurance that his Heavenly Father's 'everlasting arms' are underneath him (Deut 33:27), his Good Shepherd Saviour walks with him (Psalm 23) and the Spirit who indwells him will sustain him (John 14:15-17).

* minister to and intervene for all China's persecuted and incarcerated Christian pastors, evangelists and church members, as well as other peaceful religious people; may he also minister to and intervene for all the persecuted and incarcerated human rights advocates and activists who risk life and liberty in pursuit of justice, truth, righteousness and religious freedom.

* continue to build, equip and sustain his Church in China in preparation for the day when he, the Almighty God, will intervene and the Chinese Communist Party will be 'cast out' and 'cut down' (Ezekiel 31) and 'called to account' (Psalm 10) and China's Church will be free.

Until that day, please pray for the Church in China: may the Sovereign Lord be her strength; may he make her feet like the feet of a deer and enable her to go on the heights. AMEN. (Adapted from Habakkuk 3:19).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHINA: GAO ZHISHENG MISSING FOR TWO YEARS

Gao Zhisheng (55), renowned Christian human rights lawyer, went missing on 13 August 2017. Desperate for dental care, he escaped house arrest. After three weeks, Gao was apprehended and 'disappeared' into 'Residential Surveillance in a Designated Location' -- a place of pre-trial detention where rule of law is non-existent and torture is rampant. Once a highly regarded lawyer, everything changed in 2004 when Gao started defending persecuted Falun Gong practitioners and house church Christians. Refusing to be silent, Gao has suffered numerous abductions, torture and extended times of solitary confinement. However, when the Communist Party thought they had crushed him, he wrote a memoir -- Unwavering Convictions -- which was smuggled out and published. His condition and whereabouts are hidden from us, but not from the Lord. 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, August 6, 2019

RLPB 514. Hong Kong (China): Crackdown or Breakthrough; praying for a miracle

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 514 | 07 Aug 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)


HONG KONG (CHINA): CRACKDOWN OR BREAKTHROUGH
Praying for a Miracle (an extended RLPB)
by Elizabeth Kendal

Home to 850,000 Christians (12.4 percent of the population (OMF)), some 1,500 churches and 35 Bible Colleges, Hong Kong has long been 'a vital nerve centre for [Christian] media' (Operation World 2010) and 'the springboard for evangelising on the mainland' (TIME magazine, March 2018). Indeed, the Hong Kong Church has long maintained that its primary role, in God's great purpose, is to support the mainland Church and its massive missions movement. 'Hong Kong,' writes TIME magazine's Laignee Barron, 'with its greater freedoms and religious liberties, has played a vital role in oxygenating the growth of Christianity on the mainland.' It does this, Barron explains, by maintaining 'a vital lifeline, supplying everything from monetary support, to Bibles, to blacklisted Christian literature, to training and assistance founding new churches. The gospel is smuggled over the border in every format imaginable: broadcast on pirate radio waves and disseminated through USB flash drives. "They need our help," says Hong Kong's retired Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen, "because we are in the freer world and they are not".' This is but a snapshot of what is at stake as Hong Kong teeters on the precipice, faced with the prospect of a violent descent into non-freedom.

As noted in a hugely informative and important piece by Russell Hsiao for The Jamestown Foundation (31 July), the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) began strategically (and subversively) to extend its influence deep into Hong Kong well before the 1997 retrocession (when Britain ceded Hong Kong back to China). However, that process has accelerated markedly under President Xi Jinping, whose goal it is to complete the CCP's '100-year marathon' to end humiliation and 'restore' China to global dominance as the ruler of 'all under heaven' (tian xia). To this end Xi is fuelling the hostile, anti-foreign Chinese nationalism forged by the CCP in the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 4 June 1989. By this means, Xi also hopes to perpetuate CCP power and privilege into the future. As the CCP's influence has increased, Hong Kong's cherished liberties and safeguards have diminished. The ill-considered extradition law was simply 'the last straw'. With that, the people lost all confidence in their government and subsequently in their police as well. The situation is now critical and, as noted in last week's RLPB 513 (31 July) under the sub-heading 'Poking the Dragon', 'It is urgent that this crisis be resolved.' Prayer was requested that God would open the door for the Church to take her place as peacemaker, to mediate between the protesters and the Hong Kong government.

'Sing Hallelujah to the Lord'
The unlikely anthem of the Hong Kong Protests.
Reuters, 19 June 2019
British human rights activist and author Benedict Rogers is the East Asia Team Leader at Christian Solidarity Worldwide; he is also the co-founder and chair of Hong Kong Watch. Writing in the Union of Catholic Asian (UCA) News (2 August), Rogers condemned the governments in Hong Kong and Beijing for their 'dangerous' refusal to engage with the protesters. He likens the protests to a David versus Goliath battle and laments: 'There is a massive, unprecedented failure of governance in Hong Kong. All of this heightened tension could easily have been avoided. Hong Kong people are pragmatists, not radicals. Even the young demonstrators who stormed the Legislative Council last month protected books and antiques as they made their protest against the establishment. It would not take much to calm the situation, yet the intransigence of the Hong Kong and Beijing authorities is staggering -- and dangerous.'

As far as Rogers is concerned, there are only two ways to end the impasse: 'One is, God forbid, a Tiananmen-style crackdown, which we are already beginning to see in embryo with the police's widespread use of teargas, batons, beatings, shotgun triggers pulled, and Triad gangsters mobilised.' As Rogers warns, a PLA crackdown would result in the death not only of hundreds of Hong Kong people, but of Hong Kong itself. Some analysts doubt Beijing would be willing to risk such an outcome, considering how critical Hong Kong is to the Chinese economy. Others are not so sure, considering how loath Beijing is to give any ground to any protesters anywhere, lest it encourage protests elsewhere. The alternative,' writes Rogers, 'which is equally hard to imagine but absolutely necessary, is for the Beijing and Hong Kong governments to recognise that the only end to these protests is for some degree of democratic reform to be introduced.' Rogers is certain that if the people in Hong Kong can be persuaded that real democratic reforms will be forthcoming and their human rights and liberties safeguarded, 'then maybe there is hope for a breakthrough.' Failing that, Rogers fears that 'Hong Kong is heading for bloodshed, turmoil and tragedy on a scale it has not yet seen'.

video: SCMP 31 July 2019
SEE ALSO:
20,000 riot police in all-day drill, Shenzhen, Tues 6 Aug,
Asia Times, 6 Aug (includes video)
On 31 July the Chinese military issued a warning by releasing video footage of PLA troops conducting anti-riot drills (left). On Sunday 4 August China's official news agency Xinhua confirmed: 'The central government will not sit idly by and let this situation continue.'

Hong Kong's Church leaders have appealed to the Hong Kong government, urging it to take the initiative and resolve the crisis by withdrawing the extradition bill, launching an independent inquiry into police responses and commencing mediation. The Anglican Bishop of Hong Kong, Paul Kwong, has written to parishioners urging them to resist violence in all its forms, instructing them instead to 'rebuild Hong Kong through the grace of the cross, making her a "Pearl of the Orient" that can shine the glory of Christ and the radiance of humanity.' Leaders of The Vine church, an English-language church in the Wan Chai district of Hong Kong, have expressed deep concern over the escalating levels of stress and anxiety in society, noting that the crisis has driven at least five people to suicide. In its appeal for 'concerted prayer', The Vine church published a prayer for use by the citizens of Hong Kong. I have amended it slightly for international use. Please pray ...

Lord God,

We cry out to You for Hong Kong in its time of need. Please help those in authority to be humble and wise in their decision-making. Help those who are demonstrating to be peaceful and considerate. Please restrain all anger and frustration from creating violence and harm. We need Your intervention to bring about a resolution to this present situation of unrest.

Bring comfort to those who are anxious, fearful and confused by what they see happening around them. Lord, we ask that You listen to their cries for justice. Lord, without You this situation seems to be hopeless, so we ask for Your wisdom to prevail where human wisdom fails and political expediency takes precedence.

Show Your mighty arm of justice and righteousness in Hong Kong and bring about a peaceful outcome to rebuild that broken city.

In Jesus' name,

Amen.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore ... keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints (from Ephesians 6:12-18 ESV).

And [David] said, "The Lord has broken through my enemies before me like a breaking flood." Therefore the name of that place is called Baal-perazim [the Lord of breaking through] (From 2 Samuel 5:17-25 ESV).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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HONG KONG (CHINA): CRACKDOWN OR BREAKTHROUGH

Praying for A Miracle -- Home to some 850,000 Christians (12.4 percent of the population), some 1,500 churches and 35 Bible Colleges, Hong Kong has long been a hub for Christian media and mission, providing vital support to the mainland Church and its massive missions movement. Beijing began expanding its influence in Hong Kong well before 1997, but the process has accelerated markedly under President Xi Jinping. For the Hong Kong people concerned about the erosion of freedoms, the ill-conceived extradition bill was the 'last straw'. Now at a crossroad, Hong Kong is headed for a crackdown or a breakthrough. Beijing has warned that Chinese troops will restore order if the Hong Kong authorities cannot. This would be catastrophic for the Church in Hong Kong and in mainland China. 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