Tuesday, October 29, 2019

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

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 526 | Wed 30 Oct 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)
http://rlprayerbulletin.blogspot.com

by Elizabeth Kendal

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

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

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

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OCTOBER 2019 UPDATE -- during this period we prayed concerning

* HIMACHAL PRADESH, NORTH INDIA (RLPB 522), after an anti-conversion law passed in 2006 was repealed and replaced with one which is broader in its scope and more severe in its punishments.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

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

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

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

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

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

SYRIA UPDATES

(1) TURKEY-JIHADIST WAR CRIMES IN TEL ABYAD

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

(2) RUSSIA-TURKEY DEAL

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

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

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

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

OCTOBER 2019 ROUND-UP -- also this month

* ETHIOPIA: THE BATTLE FOR ETHIOPIA HAS BEGUN.

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

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

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

* INDONESIA: IMPORTANT BLASPHEMY TRIAL COMMENCES

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

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

* IRAN: EBRAHIM FIROUZI SURVIVES RAJAEI SHAHR


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

NIGERIA: ENDEMIC INSECURITY; CHRISTIANS IN CRISIS

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

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

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

See www.ElizabethKendal.com

Monday, October 21, 2019

RLPB 525. Syria's Christians Ministering in War Zone

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 525 | 22 Oct 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)


SYRIA'S CHRISTIANS MINISTERING IN WAR ZONE
-- updating RLPB 524 (16 Oct 2019)
by Elizabeth Kendal

On 17 October US Vice President Mike Pence brokered a deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: Turkey would pause its campaign for 120 hours during which time the US would facilitate the withdrawal of Kurdish YPG forces from the proposed 'safe zone'. It was a strange deal in which unconditional surrender was forced on the Kurds and Syrian territory was ceded to Turkey. 'We got what we wanted' boasted Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu following the meeting with Pence. But as Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid al-Moallem, correctly noted when he spoke to the UN General Assembly on 28 September, neither Turkey nor America -- both of which are in Syria illegally -- have any right to carve up and dish out Syrian territory as if it were their own.

Since then, Turkey has pressed ahead with (as distinct from 'paused') its incursion into the strategic border town of Ras el-Ain. Turkey's plan is to capture Ras el-Ain along with Ain Issa and Tal Abiad, so it might establish a bulwark midway, thereby splitting and isolating Kurdish forces. With the Americans gone, the Syrian government -- with the support of Russia and the approval of the Kurds -- will move to secure the border and drive out Turkey-backed jihadists without risking US casualties.

Turkey's proposed 'safe zone' is 444km long and 32km deep
(deep enough to take in the M4 Highway).
click on map to enlarge

Last week's RLPB quoted an Assyrian priest in Dohuk, Northern Iraq, who was anticipating a flood of refugees from Syria. The flood has not eventuated, primarily because Kurdish forces have closed the border on the Syrian side to prevent people leaving; they do not want to give anyone the opportunity to alter the demographics of north-east Syria.

In the midst of gross insecurity and an unfolding humanitarian crisis, many Christians are opting to remain in the war zone rather than flee to Aleppo or Damascus. They are choosing to remain precisely so they can, through their churches, assist and minister to those in need. Jayson Casper writes in Christianity Today (18 October) that the Alliance Church of Qamishli held a meeting in which it was agreed that only eight families would leave, the rest would remain to minister, witness and 'maintain the presence of Jesus'. The Presbyterian Church of Aleppo has three sister churches in the war zone; while members are staying to help and minister, they have no funding. While some Christian aid groups will also remain, Syria's local churches will bravely and sacrificially carry out the bulk of the aid work. This has also been the case in northern Iraq.

Braving insecurity to minister, witness
and 'maintain the presence of Jesus'.
Christianity Today (18 Oct). Image: Open Doors USA. 

This is an issue for serious prayer. Sociologist Rodney Stark has written on the way in which the early Church's response to plague and other disease epidemics helped change the religious demography of the Roman Empire. Instead of fleeing, locking themselves away or discarding the ill, the persecuted Christians demonstrated sacrificial love following the model of Christ. Not only did Christians nurse one another, thereby increasing their survival rate, they also ministered to their neighbours in an act of powerful witness. The Christian response was unnatural, counter-cultural and high-risk, but because it was love-driven, hope-filled and communal it played an enormous role in Christianity's growth throughout the Roman Empire. In fact, Stark opines that 'had classical society not been disrupted and demoralised by these catastrophes, Christianity might never have become so dominant a faith'. [The Rise of Christianity, by Rodney Stark.]


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* intervene to protect, preserve, rescue and sustain his precious Church in Syria and across Mesopotamia; may all who seek her demise be frustrated; may their plots come to naught.

* bless every church and every Christian aid group that has chosen to remain in Syria's northern war zone precisely so they might minister to and serve those who are too frail or poor to flee; may the Lord supply their every need.

* bless every church and Christian aid group that is this day ministering to Syria's multitudes of needy civilians -- all those displaced and impoverished due to war; may the Lord supply their every need.

-- and we pray specifically for protection; for finances and material supplies and of course for Christian volunteers with wisdom, discernment, courage, energy and amazing grace.

-- and we pray the same for the remnant Church in northern Iraq. May the Lord bless the ministry and witness of his suffering Church right across Mesopotamia.

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


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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SYRIA'S CHRISTIANS MINISTERING IN WAR ZONE

On 17 October the US and Turkey agreed that Turkey would pause its campaign for 120 hours while Kurdish forces withdrew from the 'safe zone'. This was strange: unconditional surrender being forced on the Kurds and Syrian territory being ceded to Turkey. Neither the US nor Turkey -- both in Syria illegally -- have any right to divide up Syrian territory. With the Americans gone, the Syrian government -- with the support of Russia and the approval of the Kurds -- will move to secure the border and drive out Turkey-backed jihadists. Until the situation stabilises, everyone in the war zone is gravely imperilled. Despite insecurity and hardship, many Christians are choosing to remain, precisely so that, through their churches, they can minister to those in need. 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, October 15, 2019

RLPB 524. SYRIA: Chaos Unleashed; Christians Imperilled

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 524 | 16 Oct 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)


SYRIA: CHAOS UNLEASHED; CHRISTIANS IMPERILED
-- an extended RLPB
by Elizabeth Kendal

BACKGROUND: In July 2012 the Syrian government withdrew its armed forces from the north-east so it might concentrate its war effort in the west, in particular, the north-south Damascus-Aleppo corridor. As explained in After Saturday Comes Sunday, 'the Syrian Kurds exploited the opportunity afforded them by the SAA [Syrian Arab Army] withdrawal to carve out an autonomous region in the north-east. President Assad made no effort to rein in the Syrian Kurds, not simply because he was focused on securing the west, but because he knew that Kurdish empowerment would threaten and distract nemesis Turkey which was hosting rebel bases, arming and training rebel fighters and facilitating their entrance into Syria to fight the Syrian government.' (Excerpt from After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016, p 151.) In short: Damascus permitted Kurdish empowerment as a bulwark against belligerent Turkey -- no surprise there. However, when the US (Obama administration) decided in 2014 to use the Kurds as proxies against the Islamic State (IS) -- thereby further empowering the Kurds -- Turkey was furious. Turkey -- which has facilitated the entry into Syria of thousands of transnational Islamic jihadists from its side of the border -- was never going to tolerate the presence of PKK-linked Kurdish nationalist militants on the Syrian side of the border, on the grounds that it would pose a threat to Turkey's national security.

NOTE: the Kurd-Arab-Christian Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is dominated by the YPG which, as the Syrian arm of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), is Kurdish nationalist and anything but democratic [see RLPB 477, Assyrian Crisis in Iraq and Syria, 17 Oct 2018].

Turkey has been talking about invading northern Syria for well over 18 months. When the mostly Kurdish city of Afrin, about 45km north-west of Aleppo, fell to Turkish forces and their jihadist allies in March 2018 it was quickly ethnically-religiously cleansed of all Kurds and Christians in Turkey's 'Operation Olive Branch'. At that time, Turkey's President Erdogan expressed his intention to extend his control 'all the way to the Iraq border' [see RLPB 447 (21 March 2018)]. Erdogan then set his sights on Manbij, 90km north-east of Aleppo. In order to stop the Turkish advance, the US brokered the 'Manbij Roadmap', in which the US agreed to facilitate the removal of all YPG elements from the strategic city of Manbij. The deal, however, was never implemented. Now, 18 months down the track, the Battle for Manbij -- stage one in the war for northern Syria -- is about to commence.

Syria, December 2018 (circled: Afrin and Manbij)
click on map to enlarge.
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CHAOS UNLEASHED

On Saturday 5 October Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened that, since the US has not fulfilled its promise to remove Kurdish YPG 'terrorists' from Manbij, Turkey will take matters into its own hands and launch a unilateral invasion east of the Euphrates 'as soon as today or tomorrow'. On Sunday 6 October US President Donald Trump issued a statement clarifying that the US 'will not support or be involved in the [Turkish] operation', adding that, if Turkey invades northern Syria, it will then be 'responsible for all ISIS fighters captured over the past two years'.

Turkey's threat set up a scenario in which US troops would find themselves positioned in between their anti-IS proxies (PKK-linked Kurds) and their belligerent NATO ally (terror-sponsor Turkey). On Monday 7 October President Trump ordered the withdrawal of the roughly 50 US troops stationed in observation posts on the Syrian border. In the coming weeks around 1,000 US troops will be withdrawn from Syria, leaving some 150 US soldiers stationed in the southern base of Al Tanf near the borders with Jordan and Iraq. According to reports, some residual US troops have also been positioned south of Manbij. President Trump made it clear that if Turkey behaves badly, the US will respond with crippling sanctions. On Wednesday 9 October Turkish troops crossed into Syria, launching 'Operation Peace Spring'.

click on map to enlarge
Turkey has been shelling border towns -- from Kobani to Qamishli -- knocking out infrastructure, killing and wounding while displacing hundreds of thousands of residents. Images have emerged showing Turkish-backed Islamic militants executing civilians, including journalists and Kurdish female politician Hevrin Khalaf (35). Responding to the carnage, US President Donald Trump ended talks on a US-Turkey trade deal he valued at US$100 billion and re-imposed tariffs of 50 percent on Turkish steel.

By Monday 14 October Russia had brokered a deal between the Kurds and the Syrian government which immediately deployed the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) north to 'confront the Turkish aggression'. After more than seven years, the Syrian government is back in the north-east. Images have emerged of Kurds and others welcoming the SAA troops. By Monday night (14 October) the SAA was in Manbij to support the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in a battle against the Turkey-backed jihadists amassing around the city in preparation for war. Russian troops are patrolling the territory separating the Turkish-backed militants from the SAA-backed Kurdish troops. Turkey's moves will drive a wedge between Ankara and Moscow and possibly shatter the Ankara-Moscow-Tehran axis. Denouncing Turkey's invasion as 'unacceptable', Russia has opened 'real time' negotiations between Ankara and Damascus. As one analyst observes: 'Turkey stands in splendid isolation' and will soon be 'joining Saudi Arabia as a fallen angel in the Beltway'.

CHRISTIANS IMPERILLED


Syriac soldiers with the SDF
pray before deployment.
"Our duty is to protect our land."
According to Bassam Ishak, president of the Syriac National Council of Syria, Turkey's shelling of border towns is putting the lives of some 40,000 to 50,000 Christians at risk. Christians have already been killed in Ras el-Ain and Qamishli. As Ishak rightly notes, this is pure ethnic cleansing as Turkey's plan in setting up its 'safe zone' is to replace the Kurdish and Assyrian population with some two million Syrian Arab refugees currently resident in Turkey. According to Dale Gavlac (15 October), 'Christians and other religious minorities said they feel particularly vulnerable as Turkish artillery targeted a predominantly Christian neighbourhood in Qamishli, the largest city in north-eastern Syria.'  The Turkish bombing has already created a humanitarian crisis; in particular, the A'louk water station is now out of service, leaving some 400,000 residents without water.

With no choice but to confront the Turkish invasion, SDF fighters are abandoning their posts at key prisons and camps housing some 12,000 IS fighters, some 4,000 IS women and over 8,000 children. Amidst Turkish bombardment, prisoners attacked guards at the Ain Issa camp (55km north of Ar-Raqqah), enabling 785 relatives of IS jihadists to escape.

Christians in Syria's far north are today imperilled not only from an aggressive Turkish military and its jihadist proxies, but also from a resurgent IS (itself a Turkey-Saudi creation). Thousands of Christians are again on the move. Emanuel Youkhana, a priest of the Assyrian Church of the East who administers Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq in Dohuk, told Catholic News Service that he is expecting a new wave of refugees as Assyrians flee east from Syria's Hasakah Province to Iraqi Kurdistan.

PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* intervene to protect, preserve and sustain his precious Church in Syria and across Mesopotamia; may all who seek her demise be frustrated; may their plots come to naught.

'Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.' (Psalm 57:1-2 ESV)

'But my eyes are toward you, O God, my Lord; in you I seek refuge; leave me not defenseless! Keep me from the trap that they have laid for me and from the snares of evildoers! Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by safely.' (Psalm 141:8-10 ESV)

* intervene to rescue his people, provide all their needs and 'work [all things] together for good for those who are called according to his purpose' (Romans 8:28 ESV).

'The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry. The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the broken-hearted and saves the crushed in spirit.' (Psalm 34:15-18 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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SYRIA: CHAOS UNLEASHED; CHRISTIANS IMPERILLED

America's belligerent NATO ally, terror-sponsor Turkey, has essentially declared war against America's anti-Islamic State proxy (PKK-linked Kurds). The US might have withdrawn, but the Syrian government has returned. On 14 October Russia brokered a deal between the Kurds and the Syrian government which immediately deployed troops to 'confront Turkish aggression'. Denouncing the Turkish invasion as 'unacceptable', Russia has deployed troops in between the Turkey-backed jihadists and the Syria-backed Kurds on the front-line in Manbij. Meanwhile, Turkey's bombing of Syrian border towns has created a humanitarian crisis and is threatening the lives of some 40,000 to 50,000 Christians. It has also allowed nearly 800 Islamic State fighters to escape from a camp north of ar-Raqqah. Assyrian Christians are again on the move, this time heading east to Iraqi Kurdistan. 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, October 8, 2019

Indonesia's Papuan Provinces: Looming Nationalist Jihad

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 523 | 09 Oct 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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INDONESIA'S PAPUAN PROVINCES: LOOMING NATIONALIST JIHAD
by Elizabeth Kendal

BACKGROUND: The current crisis engulfing the Papuans began on 15-17 August with a racist incident in Surabaya, East Java. Sick of racial-religious hatred and persecution, Papuans protested across Indonesia [RLPB 517 (28 Aug)]. In response, the Indonesian government deployed thousands of extra troops, mostly Javanese Muslims, to the mainly Melanesian Christian Papuan provinces [RLPB 519 (10 Sep)]. Since then, violence has escalated, with the worst violence seen for years occurring in Wamena on Monday 23 September [RLPB 521 (25 Sep)]. Most of the 33 people who died in the Wamena riots were Muslim migrants. Local native Papuans risked their lives saving non-natives from the marauding highlanders they described as 'outsiders', who were 'not recognised'. The question of who instigated the violence remains unanswered. It is not unreasonable to suggest that the Indonesian military may have provoked the violence with the aim of triggering a conflict, thereby establishing a pretext for a full-scale military crackdown [Update on Papua RLPB 522 (2 Oct)].

UPDATE: Of the 33 fatalities in Wamena on 23 September, only 4 were native Papuan. The settlers, who died at the hands of the invading Papuan highlanders, died either in fires or from bladed weapons. Meanwhile, locals have provided the names of 65 native Papuans treated for bullet wounds, having been shot by Indonesian security personnel. Numerous groups, including Human Rights Watch, are calling for a full and independent investigation into the Wamena riots and for independent monitors to be admitted. Meanwhile, as expected, several Java-based jihadist groups are calling for jihad in the Papuan provinces.

PAPUAN PROVINCES: LOOMING NATIONALIST JIHAD

recruiting for Papua jihad

Islam Jihad Front (FJI) and Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) have both begun raising funds and enlisting recruits for jihad in the Papuan provinces. A banner at an FJI recruitment post reads: 'Islamic Jihad Front opens registration for Islamic paramilitary groups throughout Indonesia to send Islamic holy war fighters/militias [jihad qital] to Wamena, Papua, to defend Muslim brothers in Papua who were [being] slaughtered by the warring infidels [kafir harby] and to maintain the integrity of the NKRI [Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia] from the OPM [Organisasi Papua Merdeka / Free Papua Movement] separatist hordes.'

According to Indonesian human rights researcher, Andreas Harsono (7 Oct), several 'aggressive', Islamist groups already have a foothold in the Papuan provinces. 'We have one in Sorong; we are also seeing Laskar Jihad, a militant Muslim group, setting up a base in Keerom; also in Wamena ...' Previously, on 5 September, Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu informed members of the House of Representatives, 'There is a group affiliated with the Islamic State [operating] in Papua that has called for a jihad there.' National Police spokesman Brig.-Gen. Dedi Prasetyo confirmed Ryamizard's statement and identified the IS-affiliated group as Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) -- the group believed to be responsible for a string of terror attacks in and around Surabya, including suicide-bombings at three churches on Sunday 13 May 2018.

Critically, on 26 September, the Indonesian parliament quietly passed a controversial law on Management of National Resources (PSDN) for National Defence. Chapter 4, Article 27 makes it legal for the Indonesian military to mobilise civilian forces for national defence. Consequently, the Papua jihad will be fought under the banner of Indonesian unity and nationalism with Islamic jihadist and merah putih (red and white, ultra-nationalist) militias fighting ostensibly -- and more importantly, legally -- to 'maintain the integrity of the NKRI' (the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia). No longer proxies, the militias -- which will be known as 'Reserve Components' and 'Supporting Components' -- will now fight alongside and in open co-operation with the Indonesian military. This will all be totally legal as long as the fight is against 'separatists' -- as distinct from predominantly Christian (infidel/kafir) indigenous Papuans ('monkeys'). [For more detail see Indonesia: Mobilizing  Civilian Militias for National Defense, Religious Liberty Monitoring (9 Oct 2019).]  Of course, defending the unity of Indonesia is a very Islamic cause, for as far as Islam is concerned, all Indonesia -- including the Papuan provinces -- is part of the dar al-Islam (House of Islam). As one activist ominously warns, 'The possibility that all this could turn into a widespread, government-supported, ethnic cleansing in the guise of a religious war is now very real.'


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* pour out an abundance of grace, courage and wisdom on all Indonesian, especially Papuan, Christian leaders -- those in civic administration and those in the Church; may they raise a prophetic voice against injustice, greed and violence; may they lead God's people wisely and may all efforts at peacemaking be blessed.

* shield, sustain and preserve his faithful Church in the Papuan provinces; may humanitarian aid be delivered; may international observers be admitted; may security be restored and may faith and freedom be respected.

* intervene for his betrayed and abandoned people, in what is first and foremost a spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:12) of David and Goliath proportions.

'May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble! May the name of the God of Jacob protect you! May he send you help from the sanctuary and give you support from Zion! ... Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.' (Excerpts, Psalm 20 ESV, a Psalm of David, and a prayer for the Papuan provinces)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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LOOMING NATIONALIST JIHAD IN INDONESIA'S PAPUAN PROVINCES

Several Java-based Islamic organisations -- including the Islam Jihad Front and Islamic Defenders Front -- are openly recruiting fighters for a jihad in Indonesia's Papuan provinces. Several other groups -- including Laskar Jihad and the Islamic-State affiliate Jamaah Ansharut Daulah -- already have bases in the region. On 26 September the Indonesian parliament passed a controversial law that gives the military permission to mobilise civilian forces for national defence. Consequently, instead of functioning as proxies of the Indonesian military, Islamic jihadi and merah putih (red and white, ultra-nationalist) militias will now be able to fight openly and legally in co-operation with the Indonesian military to defend the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia from 'separatists', by which they mean the ethnic Melanesian and mostly Christian indigenous Papuans. 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, October 1, 2019

RLPB 522. India: the Battle for Himachal Pradesh

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 522 | 02 Oct 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)


INDIA: THE BATTLE FOR HIMACHAL PRADESH
-- plus an update on PAPUA
by Elizabeth Kendal

Switzerland? No, this is 
Shimla,in India's Himachal Pradesh.

Perched high in the Himalayan mountains, bordering Tibet and Kashmir, is the north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh (HP). Its capital, Shimla, once served as the summer capital of British India. Behind the spectacular scenic beauty -- which gives witness to God's 'eternal power and divine nature' (Romans 1:18-23) -- dark spiritual forces have staked a claim. Known as Devbhumi -- the land of the gods -- HP is a centre of Hindu pilgrimage. Indeed, this land in which every mountain is named after a god is full of idols and idolatry. HP is also home to more than 100,000 Tibetan Buddhist refugees who, like high-caste Hindus, are immensely resistant to spiritual breakthrough. That said, Indian missionaries working in HP have been planting churches, establishing ministries and witnessing real growth. However, in a state that is 95 percent Hindu and only 0.2 percent Christian, a state in which only 15 of 115 people groups have congregations of believers, there is clearly much work to do -- work that is becoming ever more costly.

click on map to enlarge
In December 2006 the HP state legislature -- dominated at the time by the supposedly secular Indian National Congress (INC) -- passed the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill 2006, making HP the first Congress-led state to enact an anti-conversion law. In August 2012 the HP High Court struck down portions of the Bill judged to be in violation of the constitution. On 30 August 2019 the HP legislature -- now dominated by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) -- unanimously (i.e., with Congress support) passed the HP Freedom of Religion Bill 2019 [full text - pdf]. Introduced by Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, the 2019 Bill replaces the 2006 Bill, broadening its scope, restoring unconstitutional provisions previously struck down by the High Court and increasing its punishments.

The 2019 law mandates that, 'no person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religion to another by use of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, inducement or by fraudulent means or by marriage; nor shall any person abet or conspire such conversion.' However, 'if a person re-converts to his parent religion it shall not be deemed a conversion under this Act.' Furthermore, any person wanting to convert must first give one month's notice to the district magistrate, stating that they are converting of their own free will. Likewise, a priest intending to perform a conversion ceremony/event will also need to give a month's notice in advance. 'Inducement' is defined in the Bill as the 'offer of any temptation in the form of any gift or gratification or material benefit, either in cash or kind or employment, free education in a reputed school run by any religious body, easy money, better lifestyle, divine pleasure or otherwise.' So presumably all claims of 'free will' will be challenged! Anyone who 'abets or conspires such conversion' faces a prison term of one to five years. If the convert is a woman, a minor or a Dalit (the lowest group in India's Hindu caste system, formerly known as 'untouchables'), then the jail term will be between two and seven years. Offences committed under the Act are non-bailable. The HP government insists that the Bill is needed to preserve a 'peaceful atmosphere' and check 'forced religious conversions' which are allegedly 'on the rise' in the state.

Members of the Hindu nationalist
Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)
chant 'Christian missionary go back'
outside a prayer meeting in
Sunder Nagar District, 14 Sept 2019.
As the president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) Sajan K George laments, anti-conversion laws only serve to introduce suspicion and hostility into communities that had previously co-existed in peace. Indeed, on 14 September a group of around 150 Hindu nationalist activists managed to shut down a prayer meeting taking place in a private guest house in HP's Sunder Nagar District. The activists protested, chanting anti-Christians slogans including 'Christian missionary go back'. As police attempted to calm the situation a government official arrived and insisted the Christians produce a document proving they had permission for the 'event'. Although organiser Amar Singh explained that the 'event' was just an ordinary prayer meeting comprising scripture readings and prayers and that no conversions were taking place, it was in vain. Because the Christians could not produce any such document, the 'event' was shut down. Christian witness in HP is about to become very costly.

Himachal Pradesh: 'the heights of the mountains are his' (from Psalm 95)


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* awaken Indians to the repressive and unreasonable nature of anti-conversion laws; may they be awakened to the fact that the freedoms being lost are their own freedoms; instead of rejecting peaceful co-existence and freedom, may they reject intolerant communalism and those who fuel it.

'For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but ... against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore ...' pray! (from Ephesians 6:12-18 ESV)

* graciously pour out his Holy Spirit in Himachal Pradesh to break through the darkness that prevents Indians from seeing and embracing the God of Creation who holds in his hand 'the depths of the earth' and 'the heights of the mountains'; may their love for the mountains translate into worship of him who made them. (Psalm 95).

* comfort, encourage, sustain and preserve the Church in Himachal Pradesh: may all Christian pastors, evangelists, lay-workers and faithful believers be graced with divine wisdom to navigate the increasingly difficult path before them; may they have boldness and faith to continue the mission of proclaiming truth, life and light in a land in the grip of untruth, idolatry and darkness.

'In [Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.' (from John 1:1-5 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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THE BATTLE FOR HIMACHAL PRADESH (in INDIA)
'the heights of the mountains are his' (from Psalm 95)

Perched in the Himalayan mountains is the north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh (HP), also known as Devbhumi (the land of the gods) and its capital, Shimla. Behind the scenic beauty lurks a reality of deep spiritual darkness. Whilst Indian missionaries have done amazing work bringing truth, life and light into HP, there remains much work to do – HP is still only 0.2 percent Christian. On 30 August HP's Hindu nationalist-led state government, backed by the supposedly secular Congress, unanimously passed a shockingly repressive anti-conversion law that will fuel persecution and drive Christian witness underground. On 15 September Hindu nationalists shut down a prayer meeting in a private guest house. A new era of escalating persecution is just beginning. Please pray for India and its Christians.

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PAPUA: Update to RLPB 521 (25 Sep) and RLPB 519 (10 Sep)

Native Papuans helping non-natives,
Wamena, 23 Sept 2019
The death toll from the Monday 23 September riots in Wamena has risen to 33. Most of the dead were non-natives; nine were migrants from West Sumatra. More than 80 shops owned by migrant workers from West Sumatra were burnt. Reports have emerged of native Papuans rescuing, assisting, escorting and guarding non-natives, as rioters -- described as 'outsiders' who were 'not recognised' -- wreaked havoc, primarily targeting non-natives. A mass exodus is now underway, with non-natives fearing more violence, and native Papuans fearing 'reprisals'. Almost all schools and most shops in Wamena remain closed. More than 6,700 residents taking refuge in evacuation sites in Wamena are urgently in need of humanitarian aid. The Air Force has already evacuated some 2,670 residents, while a further 10,000 are waiting to be airlifted out. Meanwhile, security forces reportedly are 'sweeping' their way towards Wamena.

Native Papuans helping non-natives,
Wamena, 23 Sept 2019
President Joko Widodo has expressed willingess to dialogue with Papuan leaders. However, Papuan Church leaders suspect that Indonesian forces are working hard to transform a 'vertical conflict' (Indonesian government v Papuans) into a 'horizontal conflict' pitting native Papuans against migrants. The result could be an influx of the jihadist and merah putih (red and white / Indonesian nationalist) militias which have long served as proxies of Indonesian security forces. This scenario is reminiscent of the conflict that wracked eastern Indonesia's Maluku islands through 1999-2001, which the security forces used to bring down reformist president Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur). Please watch and pray.

'For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also... Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!' (from Psalm 95).

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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