Tuesday, July 14, 2020

RLPB 558. Ethiopia: Slaughter in Oromia

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 558 | Wed 15 Jul 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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ETHIOPIA: SLAUGHTER IN OROMIA
plus brief update on Turkey and Hagia Sophia
By Elizabeth Kendal

Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali
On Monday evening 29 June popular Ethiopian singer and champion of Oromo interests, Hachalu Hundessa (36), was assassinated in the capital, Addis Ababa. Hundessa's protest songs became anthems for millions of ethnic Oromo during the years of anti-government protests, which commenced in December 2015 and culminated in February 2018 in the resignation of Prime Minister (PM) Hailemariam Desalegn. A month later, the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (a four-party coalition) elected Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali (41) as Ethiopia's first ethnic Oromo Prime Minister. With an ethnic Oromo Muslim father and an ethnic Amhara Ethiopian Orthodox Christian mother, Dr Abiy is a convert to evangelical Protestant Christianity. A former soldier, he holds a PhD (2017) in conflict resolution. PM Abiy's reforms have been breathtaking and his brokering of peace with Eritrea earned him a well-deserved Nobel Peace Prize (2019). Like PM Abiy, Hachalu Hundessa was an ethnic Oromo Christian (Ethiopian Orthodox). While Hachalu supported PM Abiy's vision of a united Ethiopia and was critical of militant Oromo ethnic nationalism, some of his song lyrics were unhelpfully xenophobic.

Hachalu's assassination has triggered some of the worst ethnic-religious violence seen in Ethiopia in recent times. The violence appears to have been organised with the intent to destabilise the nation and derail PM Abiy's reform agenda. Though widely reported as 'ethnic clashes', the reality is that gangs of Oromo nationalists specifically targeted ethnic Amhara Ethiopian Orthodox Christians living in some 40 districts of Oromia region. According to Archbishop Habune Henok whose diocese is in Oromia's West Arsi zone, the pogroms began at 4am the next morning (30 June) and the dead, wounded and displaced are all ethnic Amhara Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. The killings were savage, with victims being clubbed, hacked and stoned to death. The official toll to date is 239 dead with some 300 wounded, many critically. More than 3360 Amhara Christians are now displaced and sheltering in churches. Along with businesses, 493 homes belonging to Amhara Christians were torched. The military was deployed and some 4700 arrests made, 1600 in Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia's ethnic regions
(click on map to enlarge)
In Addis Ababa, violence erupted over Hachalu's body, with Oromo nationalists demanding he be buried in the capital, while his family, with the support of the government, insisted he be buried in his birthplace of Ambo, 100km west of Addis. Security personnel were forced to intervene when a group of Oromo nationalists - a group which included Jawar Mohammed (an Oromo nationalist leader and fundamentalist Muslim) - attempted to intercept and snatch the body. A policeman was shot and Jawar Mohammed (34) – who, despite having citizenship issues, wants to contest the next election in opposition to Dr Abiy [see RLPB 526 (30 Oct 2019)] - was arrested. Jawar Mohammed's appearance in court is bound to be explosive. Furthermore, on Friday 10 July Ethiopia's Attorney General told a press conference in the capital that two of three suspects were in custody and that the shooter has confessed that Hachalu's assassination was commissioned by the Oromo Liberation Front (Shane Group), a militant faction of the Oromo Liberation Front.

What is at stake is the future of Ethiopia itself. This is a battle between the vision of a strong and united, multi-ethnic, multi-religious Ethiopia versus the dream of ethnic nationalists to rule themselves in independent states. Three decades of ethnic federalism has hardened ethnic identities, resulting in ethnic nationalism and separatism. These movements tend to be led by ambitious politicians (often self-centred megalomaniacs) whose aim it is to ride to power on the back of victim-hood narratives. It must be stated that Jawar Mohammed's Oromo ethnic nationalism is also fuelled by his Islamic worldview, which is no doubt why many Oromo Christians (like Hachalu Hundessa) tend not to support it. In a country like Ethiopia where people have moved around, lived together and intermarried for centuries, ethnic nationalism establishes ethnic minorities; minorities at risk of discrimination, subjugation, slaughter and ethnic cleansing as is being demonstrated so tragically in Oromia.

For a more detailed report see:
Slaughter in Oromia: The Battle for Ethiopia Heats Up
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 15 July 2020


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* intervene to bring peace to Ethiopia, in particular at this time to Oromia region; may 'steadfast love, justice, and righteousness' prevail. 'For in these things I delight, declares the Lord' (from Jeremiah 9:23-24).

* comfort those who are grieving; heal those who are wounded; provide food, water, shelter and medical aid to those who are displaced, and impart wisdom, grace, energy and authority to those who seek to lead according to the will and purpose of the Lord.

* awaken Ethiopia's Oromo nationalists to the fact that separatism can only bring massive bloodshed; may God prick their consciences and fill their hearts with horror; may the Spirit of God draw multitudes of ethnic Oromo away from ethnic nationalism and towards Prime Minister Abiy's vision of a strong, prosperous, reconciled and united Ethiopia. Lord have mercy!

* complete the good work he has begun in Ethiopia; may all evil plots be thwarted; and may the Lord bless our brother PM Abiy with security, wisdom, insight, discernment and strength, all while keeping him humble with 'eyes fixed on Jesus' (Hebrews 12:2).
8
Prayer for Ethiopia: Psalm 140

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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SLAUGHTER IN ETHIOPIA

The assassination in Addis Ababa of a popular ethnic Oromo singer has triggered an explosion of ethnic-religious violence. The violence appears organised, designed to destabilise the nation and derail the reforms of Prime Minister Abiy (a Protestant Christian). Commencing at 4am on 30 June, gangs of Oromo nationalists specifically targeted ethnic Amhara Ethiopian Orthodox Christians living in some 40 districts of Oromia region. Victims were clubbed, hacked and stoned to death. The toll to date is 239 dead with some 300 wounded, many critically. Some 3360 Amhara Christians are displaced and sheltering in churches. Along with businesses, 493 homes belonging to Amhara Christians were torched. Some 4700 arrests have been made, including that of Oromo nationalist leader Jawar Mohammed (a fundamentalist Muslim). The situation is explosive. Please pray.

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UPDATE: TURKEY - THE FATE OF HAGIA SOPHIA
For background and prayer points see:
RLPB 552, Erdogan Stokes the Fire of Islamic Zeal, 3 June 2020.

On Friday 10 July Turkey's Council of State ruled that the government decree of 1934, which saw the Church of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) turned into a museum, had been unlawful. President Erdogan immediately signed a presidential decree handing control of the 'Hagia Sophia Mosque' to Turkey's religious affairs directorate, Diyanet. The World Heritage listed Byzantine Cathedral will open for Muslim prayers commencing Friday 24 July. While some opine that Erdogan's move is designed to erase Turkey's Christian heritage, it really is more about Erdogan's Islamist fantasy of supplanting Christianity and replacing it with Islam - a fantasy that extends well beyond Turkey! For Erdogan, this is all about Islamic conquest which, as he explains in his public address on Hagia Sophia, is a benevolent act! The implications for Turkey's Christian remnant - most of whom are Armenian, Assyrian and Greek descendants of genocide survivors - as well as her Turkish and Kurdish converts from Islam, are obvious. 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, July 7, 2020

RLPB 557. Iran: Christians Exposed and Vulnerable

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 557 | Wed 08 Jul 2020
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) 

IRAN: CHRISTIANS EXPOSED AND VULNERABLE
By Elizabeth Kendal

Sam Khosravi (36) and his wife Maryam Falahi (35),
Sam’s brother Sasan (35) and his wife Marjan Falahi (33),
Sam and Sasan’s mother Khatoon Fatolahzadeh (61),
 Pooriya Peyma (27) and his wife Fatemeh Talebi (27),
 and Habib Heydari (38).
A year ago, on 1 July 2019, Iranian authorities arrested eight Christian converts in the south-eastern Persian Gulf city of Bushehr (pictured right). Khatoon Fatolahzadeh was subsequently released because of her age. [For full details of the arrests, see RLPB 510 (10 July 2019).] In April 2020 the seven believers were convicted of 'propaganda against the state' (Article 500 of the penal code). On 21 June the revolutionary court in Bushehr handed the four men custodial sentences of up to one year in prison each, long enough to guarantee a criminal record. Upon release, brothers Sam and Sasan Khosravi will also face work restrictions and two years internal exile. The three women - Fatemeh Talebi, and sisters Maryam and Marjan Falahi - were fined. Maryam, who is a nurse, was also given a lifetime ban on working for any national institution, including the hospital where she has worked for the past 20 years. They are all expected to appeal.

On Tuesday evening 30 June police raided a house-church in western Tehran's Yaftabad district. All 30 believers present were taken to Intelligence headquarters where an officer read a list of names from an arrest warrant. Having been cited for arrest, six believers - Armenian-Iranian Christian Joseph Shahbazian and five Christian converts named Reza, Salar, Sonya and elderly sisters Mina and Maryam - were handcuffed, blindfolded, and taken away. Phones were confiscated, homes were searched and, according to eyewitnesses, some of the believers, along with some of their non-Christian family members, were beaten. Agents then went to the homes of three other Christian converts whose names were on the arrest warrant. Two men - Farhad and Arash - were arrested, as was Mrs Maliheh Nazari (46) who is married with two sons. Early on Wednesday morning 1 July, Christian converts Sohrab, Ebrahim and Yasser were arrested in the city of Malayer (400km south-west of Tehran). Most devastatingly, London-based Article 18 reports (3 July): 'It is believed that the raids were co-ordinated with the help of an informant, who had infiltrated the group within the past few months and gained their trust. This individual is reported to have accompanied the intelligence agents in their raid on the Tehran house-church, and to have even stood next to the judge as he later read out his bail demands.'

As outlined in RLPB 536 (12 Feb 2020), between November 2019 and January 2020, dozens of Iranian cities erupted in anti-regime protests, unprecedented in this post-Islamic Revolution era. Aware it was losing its grip on the masses, Iran's ruling Guardian Council then engineered February's parliamentary elections to ensure that Principlists/Conservatives (hard-liners) would dominate the new parliament [for results see RLPB 538 (26 Feb)]. NOTE: Principlists/Conservatives differ from Centrists/Reformists, primarily on economic policy. The Principlists seek a self-reliant and quasi-socialist Iran, while the Reformists advocate economic openness and foreign investment. While the Reformists are eager to take infidel money, the Principlists are determined to prevent ideological contagion. Critically, as the 2017 presidential election demonstrated, a majority of Iranians - being more Persian than Islamist - favour the idea of economic openness and engagement with the West [RLPB 408 (24 May 2017)]. Most are deeply disillusioned with the Islamic regime which has long stifled Persian culture and brought nothing but conflict, poverty, and despair.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (81) 
As RLPB warned in February 2020, 'persecution of Christians will escalate under a Principlist-dominated regime'. It is in this context that the parliament, in May, passed amendments to Articles 499 and 500 of the Islamic Penal Code. Those found guilty of 'deviant psychological manipulation' or 'propaganda contrary to Islam', whether in the 'real or virtual sphere', can now be labelled as 'sects' and punished with imprisonment, flogging, fines, or even the death penalty. For at least a decade now, Iran has avoided using religious language in its persecution of Christians, as it attracts criticism of Iran's human rights. Instead, Iran has been charging Christians with non-religious national security offences. The introduction of religious language into laws pertaining to national security, which will see Christians charged as being members of a 'sect', is a display of Principlist resistance that is very threatening indeed. It indicates that a supremely confident Principlist-dominated government no longer seeks or requires the approval of the West. The threat posed by this trend cannot be overstated.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT

* the ever-present Holy Spirit of God will refresh, sustain, comfort and encourage every Christian in Iran, especially those who are appealing fines and prison sentences, serving prison sentences, languishing in internal exile, enduring persecution or struggling with fear, anxiety and confusion. We pray acknowledging that many are young, and many are fragile and vulnerable new believers. Lord have mercy!

* the risen, victorious Lamb of God, who is 'Lord of lords and King of kings', will fulfil his glorious purposes in Iran; may God our loving Father redeem all suffering and bring about the victory of light over darkness (John 1:1-5).

'They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful'. (Rev 17:14 ESV)

'And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light'. (Genesis 1:3 ESV)

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIANS EXPOSED AND VULNERABLE IN IRAN

On 21 June seven Christian converts arrested in July 2019 - four men and three women (aged between 27 and 38) - received their sentences; all will appeal. On Tuesday evening 30 June, Iranian intelligence officers raided a house-church in a western suburb of Tehran. Of the 30 members taken into custody, six were arrested, handcuffed, blindfolded and taken away because their names were among 12 names on an arrest warrant. Six other believers whose names were also on the arrest warrant were subsequently targeted; three were arrested in Tehran that evening, and three were arrested the next morning in Malayer, 400km southwest of Tehran. Most critically, it is believed that the raids were co-ordinated with the help of an informant, who had infiltrated the group and gained their trust. 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).


Wednesday, July 1, 2020

RLPB 556. Syria and Lebanon: Church in Need

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 556 | Wed 01 Jul 2020
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 AND LEBANON: CHURCH IN NEED
By Elizabeth Kendal

SYRIA: CAESAR'S INHUMANITY

On 17 June the US government enacted its Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act which mandates that any foreign entity (state, business or individual) found to be conducting business with the Syrian government or entering into contracts related to reconstruction in government-held areas (which is where most Christians live) will face US sanctions [see RLPB 554 (17 June)]. Lamenting the move as 'inhuman' and 'diabolical', Maronite Archbishop Joseph Tobji of Aleppo echoed RLPB's assessment, that the Caesar Act is designed 'to increase the suffering of the population to fuel popular discontent and thus produce regime change' [RLPB 555 (24 June)]. It is, as RLPB noted, siege warfare by other means. As Ziad Ghisn (a Syrian journalist who specialises in economics reporting) explains: 'Whenever sanctions have been enforced, whether by a unilateral decision or by the Security Council, it has always been the people who have paid the biggest price – indeed, they are often the sole victim.'

'Syria sanctions indirectly hit children's cancer treatment' 
(Reuters, 16 March 2017)
Ghisn's post on the London School of Economics' blog (April 2020) focuses on the devastating impact that years of Western sanctions have had on Syria's once thriving health sector. Syria's pharmaceutical industry too was once one of Syria's most successful, private sector-led industries. While it might be correct to say that Western sanctions do not directly target the health sector, this is a deception. In truth, Western sanctions have crippled Syria's health sector and pharmaceuticals industry by preventing access to raw materials for pharmaceuticals, medicine-enclosing and packaging materials (such as vials and ampules), hospital equipment, laboratory reagents and even repairs and spare parts for life-saving machines. Along with maternal and infant deaths, deaths from entirely treatable conditions have skyrocketed. In February 2019, Archbishop Tobji of Aleppo lamented that, while the bombs and terror had mostly ceased, the‘war of economics’ was hitting Syrians hard. The siege established by the Caesar Act ensures that the humanitarian crisis in government-held areas is set to escalate.

The human rights pretext for the Caesar Act comes from the more than 50,000 images, allegedly smuggled out of Syria by a defector code-named 'Caesar', purporting to show the bodies of Syrian civilians tortured to death in Assad's prisons. On this ground, the US declares, 'Assad must go!' However, in December 2015, Human Rights Watch released a report titled 'If the Dead Could Speak', in which HRW concluded that these photos are simply unverified photos of dead people, nearly half of whom are Syrian soldiers and victims of rebel car bombs and other violence. So the pretext, too, is a deception! The US is acting on behalf of its human rights-abusing allies, Turkey and Saudi Arabia (who simply want to dominate Syria so they might run pipelines through its territory), and to spite Russia (which backed Assad) and China (which views Syria as integral to its Belt & Road Initiative). May the Lord have mercy on the Syrian people!

LEBANON: SECTARIAN TENSIONS IGNITE

'Lebanon on Precipice of Second Civil War'
(Reuters, 27 Nov 2019)
Nationwide protests against Lebanon's political leaders erupted in October 2019, triggered by an unprecedented economic crisis which has since been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. On 6 June protests descended into sectarian violence as calls rang out for Hezbollah to disarm. As veteran Middle East correspondent Dale Gavlak reports, 'That demand ignited violent rage from supporters of the powerful Shi'ite paramilitary group backed by Iran ...'

Shi'ite agitators aligned with Hezbollah and its ally, Amal, deliberately provoked sectarian conflict. Shi'ite agitators on 'around 200 motorbikes' stormed Ain el-Remmaneh - a poor Christian suburb southeast of Beirut close to the so-called Green Line which divides the city into Muslim and Christian sectors. Ain el-Remmaneh - a hot-spot for Muslim-Christian violence during the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) - is the birthplace of Samir Geagea, who leads the Christian party 'Lebanese Forces' and is an outspoken critic of Hezbollah. Clashes ensued and a tense stand-off persisted throughout the day. The Shi'ite agitators also provoked the Sunnis by chanting Shia sectarian slogans against Aisha, Muhammad's third and youngest wife who waged war against the fourth Caliph, Ali (Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law), a Shia. Sunnis regard this as akin to blasphemy!

President Michel Aoun labelled the unrest an 'alarm bell' and called a meeting for national unity, which most key stakeholders boycotted. Protesters hit the streets again on 11, 12, 13, 18, 25 and 30 June to protest the cost of living, which is soaring as the value of the Lebanese pound continues to plummet. Analysts agree that Lebanon is facing the biggest threat to its stability since the end of the country's civil war. The risk is that the unrest could turn sectarian, something a besieged Hezbollah might assess is in its interests.

PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* provide the Church in Syria with her every need, in particular with all the food, water, shelter, medicines and educational resources she requires, not only for herself and her own survival but also for her numerous and varied humanitarian and outreach ministries (see Matthew 6:31-33).

* intervene in Lebanon to subvert all plots to trigger sectarian conflict; may peace reign and those who plot evil fall into their own traps (see Psalm 7:14-16).

* provide Lebanon's Christian leaders - political, civic and religious - with all the wisdom, discernment, courage and grace they will need to lead their people through the storms that lie ahead.

* move by his Spirit in Syria and Lebanon to redeem all suffering, all grief and all anxiety and use it to draw those who are lost towards the Saviour, as well as those who are believers into a deeper relationship with their Saviour. May the Lord bring revival and spiritual unity to the churches of Syria and Lebanon.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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SYRIA AND LEBANON - CHURCH IN NEED

In Syria's government-held areas (where most Christians live), military conflict may be over but a 'war of economics' continues to claim the lives of Syrian civilians, who now die because of Western sanctions. Whilst not directly targeting Syria's health sector, Western sanctions have crippled it by preventing access to raw materials for pharmaceuticals and medical equipment for life-saving treatments. The US Caesar Act sanctions, enacted on 17 June, will escalate this humanitarian crisis enormously. Meanwhile, in neighbouring Lebanon, anti-government protests launched in October last year risk turning sectarian. On 6 June pro-Hezbollah Shi'ite agitators on some 200 motorbikes stormed a Christian area, triggering clashes. Shi'ite agitators also provoked Sunnis with highly offensive sectarian slogans, triggering more clashes. Lebanon's peace is exceedingly fragile! Please pray for the Church in Syria and Lebanon.

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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).


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

RLPB 555. June Update. Incl. Turkey, Syria, Hong Kong, Iraq, North Korea, Pakistan

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 555| Wed 24 Jun 2020
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) 
 
JUNE 2020 UPDATE
By Elizabeth Kendal

In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.  Psalm 18:6 (ESV)

JUNE 2020 UPDATE - during this period we prayed concerning

* TURKEY [RLPB 552 (3 June)], after a 'Conquest Day' spectacular in which neo-Ottoman and Islamist Turks celebrated the 567th anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of the Byzantine capital, Constantinople; a conquest which saw the city ransacked, the churches looted and the citizens raped, slaughtered and enslaved. This is how the now UNESCO world-heritage listed Greek Orthodox cathedral, the Church of Hagia Sophia (Church of Holy Wisdom), became the booty of imperialist Ottoman Islamic forces.

UPDATE: COUNCIL OF STATE TO RULE ON 2 JULY

Turkey's Council of State will rule on the status of Hagia Sophia on Thursday 2 July. In a poll run by pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak, 73.3 percent of 2,414 respondents answered 'Yes' to the question of whether Hagia Sophia should be converted into a functioning mosque. Bolstered by the poll, President Erdogan expects the Council of State will rule that the cabinet decree of 1934 - which saw Hagia Sophia converted from a mosque to a museum - be annulled. Expectation is high that Hagia Sophia will at least be open to Muslim prayers, even if it must retain its status as a museum (for now). Hagia Sophia's conversion to that of a functioning mosque would signify a great leap forward in the Turkish Islamist long march to reverse Ataturk's secularising reforms. The issue of Hagia Sophia's status serves as a barometer with which we can measure imperialist and supremacist, ethnic (Turkish) and religious (Islamic) pressure, now clearly rising in Turkey. The trend bodes ill for Turkey's remnant Greek, Assyrian and Armenian Christians (the descendants of genocide survivors), as well as for Turkey's growing cohort of Christian converts from Islam. Please pray for the Church in Turkey.

* INDONESIA [RLPB 553 (10 June)], after Indonesia's Communications and Information Ministry had a local language Bible app removed from the Google Play Store at the behest of the governor of West Sumatra. This further consolidates the terrible precedent already established in West Java (where local officials have even defied the Supreme Court) that governors are free to enforce Islamic norms depriving citizens of their liberty, contrary to the spirit of Pancasila and the religious freedom provisions guaranteed in Indonesia's constitution. Please pray.

* SYRIA [RLPB 554 (17 June)], after the US government's 'Caesar Act' came into force, essentially placing long-sanctioned, war-ravaged Syria in a state of economic siege.

UPDATE: 'A DIABOLICAL ACT'

Archbishop Joseph Tobji of Aleppo
Maronite Archbishop Joseph Tobji (49) of Aleppo recently spoke to the Vatican's Fides news agency concerning the US Caesar Act, which elevates sanctions against Syria to the level of an economic siege. The Archbishop told Fides that the US claim that the sanctions are 'targeted' is a lie 'that not even a child would believe'. The Archbishop insists the sanctions are designed 'to increase the suffering of the population to fuel popular discontent and thus produce regime-change. But,' he adds, 'this way of acting is criminal. Putting an entire people in distress at a time like this, where there is also the spectre of the pandemic around the world, is inhuman.' Archbishop Tobji laments that the US government is willing to go to any lengths to pursue its goals, 'even to sacrificing millions of people, poor people and families'. He condemns this as 'a diabolical act'. [More on this next month.] Please pray for the Church in Syria. [See: RLPB 554 (17 June) for prayer points.]

JUNE 2020 ROUND-UP - also this month

* HONG KONG, CHINA: AUTONOMOUS NO MORE

On 22 May China's Premier Li Keqiang announced that the National People's Congress would write national security legislation into Hong Kong (HK) law, bypassing HK's legislative council [see RLPB 551 (26 May 2020)]. A three-day legislative session was held in Beijing over 18-20 June, in which senior Chinese lawmakers reviewed the draft legislation for the first time. Another three-day session will commence on 28 June, during which many believe the new national security law will be passed in time for the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule on 1 July. According to reports, Beijing will set up a dedicated central government office in Hong Kong to manage national-security affairs; provisions in the new national-security law will supersede existing Hong Kong legislation; and China's legislature will be empowered to issue judicial interpretations on the law, meaning Beijing will have the final say over how the law will be implemented. As RLPB has warned repeatedly, the impact this will have on the Church in HK - and indeed on the Chinese Church long served by the Church in a free and autonomous HK - will be devastating. Please pray: may the Lord grant divine wisdom to the Church in China.

* IRAQ: TURKEY BOMBS NORTHERN BORDER REGIONS

In August 2014, ISIS ethnically cleansed Northern Iraq's Nineveh Plains of its indigenous Assyrian Christian inhabitants. While some 70,000 Assyrians fled east to Erbil, some 60,000 headed north to Dohuk Governorate, historically an Assyrian region. On 20 and 21 June, Turkish jets bombed the area around Dohuk's Zakho district. Close to the Turkish border, Zakho is home to almost 200,000 mostly Kurdish and Assyrian civilians. While NATO-member Turkey claims to be fighting 'PKK terrorists', anxious Christians are preparing to flee yet again. On 20 June bombs fell close to the Christian village of Bersev, home to some 300 minority families. Civilian casualties and property damage have been reported. Please pray for Iraq's betrayed, abandoned and gravely imperilled indigenous Assyrian Christians.

* NORTH KOREA: HOPES FADE AS TENSIONS SOAR

On 16 June the Kim regime in Pyongyang blew up the inter-Korean liaison office at Kaesong, North Korea. The next day it announced that it would deploy troops to the demilitarised zone (DMZ), particularly to the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the Mount Kumgang Resort. Located in the currently defunct Kaesong Industrial Zone, the inter-Korean liaison office was opened in 2018 as a venue in which officials from the two Koreas could meet and work through the details of various projects aimed at reducing tensions and facilitating rapprochement. The sensational demolition sends a clear message: co-operation is over. Pyongyang claims to be retaliating against North Korean defectors and activists in the South who regularly launch balloons carrying anti-regime leaflets and other 'unauthorised materials' into the North. However, the reality is more complex. In January, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, NK closed its only active border, its border with China. The border closure has served to compound the difficulties caused by US sanctions; the result is a serious shortage of food and medicines throughout the state. The Kim regime is frustrated and growing increasingly desperate. On Thursday 25 June, the Koreas will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. Activists on both sides of the border are preparing to launch propaganda leaflets (hopefully that will be all that is launched!). Tensions are soaring. Please pray.

Once the centre of Korean Christianity [CBN video], Pyongyang under the Soviet-appointed Kim Il-sung sank to become one of the world's most severe human rights abusers and persecutors of Christians. 'There can be little doubt that an intensive and furious spiritual battle is underway over North Korea, and over its integration into East Asia (the spiritual powerhouse of the future!)' [RLPB 490 (20 Feb 2019)]. Please pray that the unprecedented steps taken in 2018 and 2019 will not have been in vain. Please pray that this extraordinary opportunity for positive change will not be lost. Please pray for the long-suffering, severely persecuted Church in North Korea ... may the Lord deliver her.

Background: (in chronological order)
North Korea: Reasons for Hope (RLM, 13 March 2018)
RLPB 446, A Step in the Right Direction (14 March 2018) 
RLPB 458, US-NK Summit (Singapore) (6 June 2018)
RLPB 471, A Stalemate in need of a breakthrough (5 Sept 2018) 
RLPB 490, US-NK Summit (Hanoi) (20 Feb 2019)

* PAKISTAN (1): WAITING FOR JUSTICE

Imran Masih 
(Aid to the Church in Need)
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pakistan's courts face a massive backlog of cases. Unfortunately, appeals against blasphemy convictions are not on the court's priority list. Having spent six years on death row, Shafqat Emmanuel Masih (who is paralysed) and his wife, Shagufta Kausar (who worked as a caretaker in a Christian school), were due to have their appeal heard by the Lahore Court of Appeal on 8 April [RLPB 539 (4 March)]. The Christian couple from Gojra, Punjab, were tortured and sentenced to death in 2014 for allegedly sending blasphemous text messages to an Islamic cleric, despite being illiterate. Their appeal has been delayed without a new date being announced. Please pray. Christian grocer, Imran Masih of Faisalabad, received a life sentence for blasphemy in July 2009. He was cleaning out his shop and burning off the rubbish when he was accused of burning pages that allegedly contained Arabic-language verses from the Quran. According to his lawyer Khalil Tahir Sandhu, Imran's appeal has been postponed almost 70 times over the course of nearly eleven years. Imran Masih's next hearing date at Lahore High Court has been set for Monday 6 July. Please pray.

PAKISTAN (2): THE LAW AS A WEAPON

Anwar Masih of Lahore was arrested on 2 June for insulting the Prophet Muhammad. In a case that may be the first of its kind in Pakistan, the complainants are the man's wife and daughter. It is alleged that Anwar's wife, Kausar Parveen, and daughter, Samreen, ran a beauty parlour in Lahore and that Kausar had an illicit affair with Akash Maqsood, a Muslim. She also secretly married him, converted to Islam and become pregnant with his child. When Anwar discovered the deception, he was understandably shocked and furious. In his anger he railed against his unfaithful wife and against Islam. The daughter filmed the outburst on her phone and presented it as evidence. The Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement UK is a Christian charity dedicated to helping persecuted Christians in Pakistan. Its director Nasir Saeed explains: 'This is another example of the misuse of the blasphemy law where a daughter gets rid of her father and a wife her husband, simply because he cannot accept what they have done. Masih will have to wait years and years to prove himself innocent and has no future.' Please pray.

Shagufta (l) and Shafqat (r)
[NOTE: In the case of Shafqat Emmanuel Masih and Shagufta Kausar (pictured right), it seems likely that a 'Christian' neighbour with whom the couple had a dispute may have framed them for the capital crime of blasphemy so as to punish or get rid of them. Lord have mercy!]

* IN BRIEF

* Violent persecution against Christians continues without relief across Hindu Nationalist India. See https://morningstarnews.org (South/Central Asia / India). Please pray.

* Islamic jihad in the form of farm invasions, ethnic cleansing, abductions and terror continue without relief throughout the north and volatile Middle Belt of President Muhammadu Buhari's Nigeria. Visit https://silentslaughternigeria.com and check the incident tracker; and https://morningstarnews.org (Sub-Saharan Africa / Nigeria). Please pray.

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

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

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


Tuesday, June 16, 2020

RLPB 554. Syria: Damascus Under Siege

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 554 | Wed 17 Jun 2020
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: DAMASCUS UNDER SIEGE
-- Christian Crisis Looms in Syria
By Elizabeth Kendal

Control map Dec 2019
As a tactic, siege has been used repeatedly during the Syrian crisis, by both sides. From the outside, a village, town or district is surrounded and its supply-lines severed. On the inside, hardship, fear and anger mount as besieged locals watch their food, water and medical supplies run dry. The aim of a siege is to create a pressure-cooker environment so horrendous that it will ultimately culminate in a coup, a revolt or a surrender. The USA's Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act which takes effect today - 17 June - places Damascus in a state of economic siege. The Act mandates that any foreign entity found to be conducting business with the Syrian government or 'entering into contracts related to reconstruction' in areas controlled by the Syrian, Russian or Iranian governments will face US sanctions. Thus, the Act will not apply to business and reconstruction in the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES), nor in Idlib - a jihadist sanctuary under the protection of Turkey - nor in the eastern oil fields of Deir ez Zor which are controlled by Islamic jihadists under US protection.

Christmas in Damascus, Dec 2018
As in 2011, regime change efforts will doubtless fail for Syria's ethnic and religious minorities (including Assyrians and Armenians, Alawites and Christians), as well as her large cohort of largely secular, cosmopolitan, anti-Muslim Brotherhood (MB) Sunni Muslims who do not want to risk an Islamist takeover! While it is highly probable that the Syrian government will survive the sanctions, the same cannot be said for Syria's Christians, most of whom (including those displaced by war) live in areas controlled by the Syrian government, where they are both safe and free. Will the Hungarian government be sanctioned if it continues to assist persecuted Christians with reconstruction through its 'Hungary Helps' program? Will aid groups such as the Assyrian Aid Society, Open Doors, or Aid to the Church in Need, or Assyrians and Armenians in Syria's diaspora community, face sanctions for helping decimated and devastated Christian communities rebuild? Christians will suffer as their economic situation deteriorates to catastrophic. They will suffer as efforts at reconstruction grind to a halt. Also, most seriously, they will suffer unspeakably if the Syrian Army, now deprived of funds, is forced to pull back, leaving front-line Christian communities in the north and east vulnerable to genocide at the hands of Turkish military and Islamic jihadist forces.

In its own words, the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act has been enacted 'to halt the wholesale slaughter of the Syrian people, encourage a negotiated political settlement, and hold Syrian human rights abusers accountable for their crimes'. But by targeting the Syrian government alone, the Act perpetuates the false narrative that the Syrian conflict was a war between the evil President Assad and 'the [victimised] Syrian people'. On the contrary, the truth is that under the cover of 'Arab Spring' protests (which were led in Syria by the banned MB), neo-Ottoman, pro-MB, NATO-member Turkey, pro-MB Qatar and Wahhabist, US-allied Saudi Arabia moved to effect regime change in Damascus in pursuit of their dream to run oil and gas pipelines from Qatar to Turkey via Syria. A YouGov poll commissioned by Qatar in December 2011 showed that, while a majority of regional Arabs (Saudi, Qatari, Yemeni, Jordanian, Palestinian etc) supported regime-change in Damascus, 55 percent of Syrians did not! Furthermore, through 2012, as multitudes of well-armed foreign jihadists flooded into Syria across Turkish, Iraqi and Jordanian borders, Syrian support for the Syrian government grew exponentially.

From the outset, Syrian Christians had pleaded with the West not to support the up-ending of the secular order (as happened in Iraq) and not to arm Muslim 'rebels'. Alas, their cries and warnings were rejected. Had Russia not intervened in September 2015, al-Qaeda (based in Idlib) would have seized Latakia (the Alawite heartland in the north) and Islamic State (advancing from the Syrian desert) would have seized Damascus (the Syrian capital), at which point Syria would have descended into genocidal hell. The Western narrative is a false narrative. [See After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, Elizabeth Kendal, (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016)].

'No to sanctions on the Syrian people'
The Caesar Act is supposedly motivated by a desire to see an end to impunity for human rights abusers. Yet the region's most repressive, vile and anti-Christian human rights abusers - NATO-member Turkey and US-allied Saudi Arabia - are not under scrutiny. Turkey, which stands accused of ethnic cleansing in northern Syria, is not even mentioned in the Act. Essentially, what Damascus' enemies (Turkey-Qatar-Saudi Arabia) have failed to achieve militarily (regime-change in Damascus), the US hopes to achieve by economic means, although Washington is doubtless motivated more by a desire to humiliate Russia (which backed Assad) and obstruct China (which sees Syria as an important node in its Belt and Road Initiative) than by any human rights issues it has with Assad.

Recommended: Charles Camosy interviews Robert Chelhod -- a Syrian living in Aleppo -- on the matter of sanctions. Crux Now, 2 May 2020


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* not allow Syria to collapse into chaos; may war-weary Syrians not be forced into further suffering and deeper poverty; may religious freedom be protected and may any scheme that would imperil Syria's Church be re-thought.

* provide Syria's suffering Church with her every need:
'As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.' (Psalm 103:13,14 ESV)

- may Jehovah Jireh (God our provider) supply the Syrian Church with all the food, water and medicines she requires, not only for herself but also for her numerous compassionate and outreach ministries;

- may our compassionate Heavenly Father help Christians seeking to rebuild their homes, districts, villages, churches, seminaries, schools and health clinics;

- most critically, may Yahweh Sabaoth (the Lord of hosts; the commander of heaven's angelic forces) protect Syrian Christians from the genocidal plots of Turkey and its jihadist proxies, as well as from a resurgent Islamic State.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
------------------------------------------------------------
CHRISTIAN CRISIS LOOMS IN SYRIA

The USA's Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act came into effect on 17 June. The Act essentially places Damascus in a state of economic siege. Any foreign entity (state, business or individual) found to be conducting business with the Syrian government or 'entering into contracts related to reconstruction' in areas controlled by the Syrian, Russian or Iranian governments will face US sanctions. Almost all Syria's Christians, including those displaced by war, live in areas controlled by the Syrian government, where they are both safe and free. The sanctions mean that hardship will escalate to catastrophic levels, reconstruction will grind to a halt and, most critically, if the Syrian Army is forced to pull back, security for Christian front-line communities in the north and east will deteriorate markedly. Please pray.

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

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

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


Tuesday, June 9, 2020

RLPB 553. Indonesia: 'No' to Minang Bible in West Sumatra

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 553 | Wed 10 Jun 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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

INDONESIA: 'NO' TO MINANG BIBLE IN WEST SUMATRA
By Elizabeth Kendal

On 28 May West Sumatra governor Irwan Prayitno - backed by the West Sumatra office of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI, Indonesia's top body of Islamic clerics) - sent a letter to Communication and Information Minister Johnny G. Plate, formally requesting that the ministry remove a local language Bible app - 'Kitab Suci Injil Minangkabau' [The Bible in Minangkabau language] - from the Google Play Store. Irwan also advocated vigilance to prevent similar apps from emerging in the future. According to Irwan, 'the Minang [short for Minangkabau] people object to and are troubled by the app ... [which] contradicts Minangkabau culture with its philosophy of Adat Basandi Syarak, Syarak Basandi Kitabullah [culture is based on sharia, sharia is based on the Quran]'. According to West Sumatra Provincial Government spokesman, Zardi Syahrir, the decision to remove the local language Bible app has nothing to do with religion. Rather, the decision was made to protect the culture of Western Sumatra which, he said, is 'Islam-leaning'. As of Wednesday 3 June, the application has been removed from the Google Play Store.

The Minangkabau are the dominant ethnic group in West Sumatra Province and Bahasa Minangkabau is officially recognised as the local language in the province. The Joshua Project puts the Minangkabau population at 6.815 million - 99.72 percent Muslim and 0.26 percent Christian. About half of Indonesia's Minangkabau live in the highlands of West Sumatra; the rest are scattered throughout the nation. According to Indonesia's National Statistics Agency (BPS), the small minority of Minangkabau Christians live mostly in the Mentawai Islands. Traders and artists, particularly famous for their cuisine, the Minangkabau are the fourth largest ethnic group in Indonesia.

The move to deprive the Minang of the Gospel in their mother-tongue has triggered a fierce debate both inside West Sumatra and across Indonesia. A senior journalist in West Sumatra,Syofiardi Bachyul, wrote on his Facebook account that Islam does not own the Minang language, noting that Buddhism was in Sumatra well before Islam. On the other hand, MUI secretary-general, Anwar Abbas, echoed the statement of the West Sumatra governor, Irwan Prayitno, telling the Jakarta Post that the Minangkabau people were guided by Islam, not by the Bible. 'Hopefully,' he said, 'there will not be a Bible [published] in Minangkabau language.' Anwar clearly believes the lie, 'to be Minangkabau is to be Muslim', without regard for reality or liberty.

Meanwhile, the deputy head of the Agency for Pancasila Ideology Education, Hariyono, pointed out that the governor's move contradicts 'Pancasila', Indonesia's foundational philosophy which does leave space for religious freedom, a right also guaranteed in the constitution. As far as Hariyono is concerned, holy books can be translated into any language and 'every individual is given the freedom to observe their beliefs as long as they do not cause disruption in the public.' Halili Hasan, a researcher from the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, believes that, far from posing a threat, the local language Bible app is helpful for advancing tolerance. He is particularly concerned that the governor's request could set a 'bad precedent'. 'What is dangerous,' he says, 'is the perspective of local political elites and intolerant groups [in West Sumatra] which, for me, are not representative enough for the Minangkabau people and its inclusive culture.' As fundamentalist Islam has taken root and spread throughout West Sumatra, Christian persecution has escalated. In recent years Minang Christians have experienced difficulties establishing churches or even celebrating Christmas at home. This is no doubt why Religious Affairs Ministry's director-general for Christian Community Guidance, Thomas Pentury, is primarily concerned that issue of the Bible app not be 'blown up'.

The Communications and Information Ministry should have rejected the West Sumatra governor's request outright on the grounds that it goes against the spirit of Pancasila and violates the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom. If this action is permitted to stand - if the governor is permitted to withhold the Minangkabau language Bible app from the people - it will set a very dangerous precedent indeed. Let the religious freedom debate begin!


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* redeem the situation in West Sumatra to arouse curiosity and draw many more Muslims to the life-transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ.

'Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.' (Proverbs 19:21 ESV)

* stir up the religious liberty debate in West Sumatra and across Indonesia while raising up, energising and empowering voices of liberty for the sake of all Indonesians.

* intervene decisively so the decision to remove the Minang language Bible app will be overturned and the app restored to the Google Play Store so that anyone wishing to avail themselves of it will be free to do so.

[Alternative resources in Bahasa Minangkabau:
'Faith Comes by Hearing' https://find.bible/bibles/MINLAI


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
------------------------------------------------------------
'NO' TO MINANG BIBLE IN INDONESIA

Indonesia is home to some 6.8 million Minangkabau. They are the fourth largest ethnic group in Indonesia and the dominant ethnic group in West Sumatra. They are 99.72 percent Muslim and 0.26 percent Christian. On 3 June Indonesia's Communication and Information Minister removed a Bible app - 'Kitab Suci Injil Minangkabau' [The Bible in Minangkabau language] - from the Google Play Store at the request of West Sumatra governor, Irwan Prayitno. Backed by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI, Indonesia's top body of Islamic clerics), Irwan insisted that the Bible app is offensive to the Minangkabau, whose culture is based on Sharia and the Quran, not the Bible. The action sets a very dangerous precedent and has triggered a fierce debate on religious freedom both in West Sumatra and across Indonesia. Please pray.

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

RLPB 552. Turkey: Erdogan Stokes the Fire of Islamic Zeal


Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 552 | Wed 03 Jun 2020
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) 

TURKEY: ERDOGAN STOKES THE FIRE OF ISLAMIC ZEAL
By Elizabeth Kendal

As noted in last week's RLPB 551 (27 May), Turkey's President Erdogan has been stoking the fire of Islamic zeal, putting the country's mostly Greek, Armenian and Assyrian remnant Christians - whom he vilifies as enemies - in a perilous position. At the time of writing (26-27 May), the regime was hinting that Islamic prayers and a Quran recitation might possibly be performed inside the UNESCO world heritage-listed Church of Hagia Sophia (Greek: Holy Wisdom) on Friday 29 May, i.e., 'Conquest Day', the day Muslim Turks celebrate the Ottoman conquest of the Byzantine capital, Constantinople, which fell to Muslim forces on 29 May 1453. Sure enough, on Friday 29 May 2020, Islamic prayers were performed, and Quranic verses were recited inside the Hagia Sophia as a central element of the Turkish government's Conquest Day Fiesta. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the service had to proceed without an audience. However, the event was broadcast live on all the president's television, YouTube and social media channels.

More images: TRT World
In recent years, Conquest Day has grown in significance. Now an all-day spectacular, complete with re-enactments and fireworks, Conquest Day is not a 'Remembrance Day' in which war and death are lamented. On the contrary, Turkey's Conquest Day is a day which glorifies and celebrates Islamic imperial expansion and military aggression (Islamic jihad); conquest and occupation; the seizure of 'booty' and the slaughter, enslavement and subjugation of infidels (Christians) in a demonstration of Muslim supremacy. The seriousness of this trend cannot be overstated!

Christian advocacy groups In Defense of Christians (IDC), the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC) have all called on UNESCO to respond to Turkey's continued threat to violate Hagia Sophia's status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and convert the museum into a mosque. As ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian explains, 'Erdogan's move to change the status of Hagia Sophia - the signature Christian landmark in Constantinople - both reflects and reinforces Turkey's century-long drive to erase the vast cultural and religious heritage of Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians and other now-exiled indigenous Christian nations across the territory of modern-day Turkey.'

Quran recitation in Hagia Sophia,
Conquest Day, 29 May 2020.
YouTube excerpt
The passage which was read in the Church of Hagia Sophia - Sura (chapter) 48, 'Al Fath' ('The Victory') https://quran.com/48 - opens with the words: 'Indeed, We have given you, [O Muhammad], a clear conquest', that Allah might forgive your sins and bless you. Muslims who had refused to fight are condemned and denied any portion of the spoils. Unbelievers, it warns, will be judged with fire while Muslims will receive rich booty from Allah, their victory a sign to all believers that Allah is for them. The sura concludes (v29): 'Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; and those with him are forceful against the disbelievers . . .' According to this verse, the Torah (Jewish scriptures) recognises Muslims as people of prayer, while the Gospel (Christian scriptures) recognises them as 'a plant which produces its offshoots and strengthens them so they grow firm and stand upon their stalks, delighting the sowers'; and that by this means Allah may enrage (make jealous) the disbelievers. It then closes with the promise of 'forgiveness and a great reward'.

The danger posed by the incitement inherent in the text - especially when backed by the power of symbolism as the text is read inside the conquered Church of Hagia Sophia - cannot be overstated! Even if Erdogan does not deliver - and Hagia Sophia remains a museum - he will have stoked the fire of Islamic zeal among his neo-Ottoman Islamist supporter base so much that we should anticipate an escalation in persecution; even more so if Christians (local and/or foreign) are blamed for government inaction.

PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* protect, sustain, preserve and richly bless his precious Church in Turkey comprising (among others) remnant Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians as well as convert Arabs, Kurds and Turks; may the Church grow in unity, faith and grace to be a light that overcomes darkness and a voice of hope that counters despair.

* fill Turkey's Christian pastors and leaders (civic and religious) with 'the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so [they might] walk [and lead] in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him ... being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy ...' (from Colossians 1:9-14 ESV).

* intervene in Turkey and, in grace and mercy, by the power of his Holy Spirit, produce awakening and transformation beyond anything we could ever imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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ERDOGAN STOKES THE FIRE OF ISLAMIC ZEAL IN TURKEY

Turkey's President Erdogan continues to inflame Islamic zeal, putting at risk the country's mostly Greek, Armenian and Assyrian remnant Christians, whom he vilifies as enemies. Annually, on 29 May, Muslim Turks celebrate the Ottoman conquest of the Byzantine Christian capital, Constantinople (which fell to Muslim forces on 29 May 1453). In recent years, 'Conquest Day' has grown to be an all-day spectacular. This year the government, playing to its neo-Ottoman Islamist base, allowed Islamic prayers and a Quran recitation to be performed inside the UNESCO world heritage-listed Church of Hagia Sophia (Greek: Holy Wisdom). The danger posed by the incitement inherent in the text (https://quran.com/48), especially when backed by the symbolism of the event and the president's inflammatory provocations, cannot be overstated. Please pray for the Church in Turkey.

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

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).

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

RLPB 551. May Update, incl. Hong Kong (China), Nigeria, Papuan Provinces (Indonesia), Turkey

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 551| Wed 27 May 2020
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)

MAY 2020 UPDATE
By Elizabeth Kendal

'... have no fear of [those who persecute you], for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.' (Matthew 10:26 ESV)

MAY 2020 UPDATE - during this period we prayed concerning:

* CHINA [RLPB 548 (6 May)], where the law which deems all unregistered religious activity illegal is now being mercilessly enforced. The crackdown will force hundreds of thousands of unregistered house-churches deep underground and put numerous resistant pastors in prison. Please pray.

* CHINA [RLPB 549 (13 May)], where even registered - i.e., legal - Chinese Communist Party-approved churches are facing ever more restrictions, obligations and closures as the CCP seeks to curtail the growth of Christianity by drastically reducing both the visibility and availability of churches. Please pray.

UPDATE: HONG KONG

BACKGROUND: Article 23 of the Hong Kong's Basic Law stipulates that the Hong Kong (HK) Special Administrative Region 'shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People's Government ...'. (emphasis mine). The HK government tried to enact such a law in 2003 but backed down in the face of massive protests. Xia Baolon is a protege of President Xi, a CCP heavyweight and the head of China's cabinet-level office that oversees HK affairs [RLPB 538 (26 Feb)]. In late April Xia met with HK Chief Executive Carrie Lam to pressure her to introduce national security legislation as stipulated by Article 23. By 21 May, Beijing had run out of patience.

Radio Free Asia (24 May 2020)

HONG KONG LOSES ITS LIBERTY


On Friday 22 May China's Premier Li Keqiang announced that the National People's Congress currently meeting in Beijing would write national security legislation into Hong Kong law, bypassing - 'and thus fatally neutering' - HK's legislative council. This, as Benedict Rogers of Hong Kong Watch notes, 'effectively ends "one country, two systems" in Hong Kong.' The decision will be passed (rubber stamped) by a vote of the Congress on Thursday 28 May. As noted in RLPB 514 (7 Aug 2019), Hong Kong - home to 850,000 Christians (12.4 percent of the population), some 1,500 churches and 35 Bible Colleges - has long been 'a vital nerve centre for [Christian] media' and 'the springboard for evangelising on the mainland'. HK's loss of freedom will be a massive blow to the Church in China. Please pray.

* INDONESIA [RLPB 550 (20 May)], as Islamic State-aligned terror groups Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) and the Poso-based Mujahidin Indonesia Timur (MIT) escalate their terrorist rhetoric and activity. The escalation is a direct response to Islamic State incitement. Having labelled the COVID-19 pandemic Allah's vengeance on Islam's enemies, IS is inciting its followers to exploit the crisis to launch terror attacks on 'infidels' (Christians) and 'apostates' (Muslims who depart from 'true [IS-approved] Islam'). Please continue to pray.

MAY 2020 ROUND-UP - also this month:

NIGERIA: SECURITY FALLS APART
click on image
to enlarge.

Violent attacks on Christian individuals and communities continue apace, without respite. While there are more than can be listed, I will mention just one. At around midnight on 11 May, Fulani Muslim militants raided the predominantly Baptist community of Gona Rogo Village, Kajuru Local Government Area, southern Kaduna State. They broke into the home of Jonathan Yakubu (36), killing him, his wife Sheba and three of his seven children: daughters Patience (15), Revelation (9) and Rejoice (6). Jonathan's other wife, along with children Isaiah (13), Ziporah (10) and two infants, survived with machete cuts and bullet wounds. (Source: Peace & Social Justice research team, Silent Slaughter Campaign.) In total, 17 Christians were killed in the midnight attack on Gona Rogo; homes were burned and cattle stolen. This is terrorism in pursuit of ethnic-religious cleansing. For more on Nigeria, visit https://silentslaughternigeria.com and check the incident tracker and https://morningstarnews.org (Sub-Saharan Africa/Nigeria). Please pray.

* PAPUAN PROVINCES (INDONESIA): RISK OF MORE VIOLENCE

On Friday afternoon 22 May two health workers affiliated with the local COVID-19 task force were shot as they travelled through the remote and mountainous Wandai district in Papua's Central Highlands' Intan Jaya Regency. While Amalek Bagau (30) survived and has been hospitalised in a critical condition, Eniko Somou (39) died from his wounds. The Indonesian military (TNI) immediately blamed Papuan separatist militants (OPM) and launched a manhunt. However, the OPM denies responsibility and insists the two men were shot by TNI and National Police personnel. The shooting comes just five weeks after TNI soldiers allegedly shot dead two young Papuan men in Mimika Regency. Eden Armando Bebari (19) and Ronny Wandik (21) were shot dead while out fishing, having apparently been mistaken for members of an armed separatist group. For the sake of Papua's imperilled Church, please pray that violence will not escalate; please pray that the mostly Javanese Muslim Indonesian military will be withdrawn from the mostly Melanesian Christian Papuan Provinces.

* TURKEY: ERDOGAN STOKES THE FIRE OF ISLAMIC ZEAL

Spouting inflammatory Islamic triumphalist rhetoric, Turkey's President Erdoğan is, once again, stoking the fire of Islamic zeal. During a coronavirus briefing on 4 May, Erdoğan insisted: 'We do not allow terrorist leftovers of the sword in our country to attempt to carry out [terrorist] activities. Their number has decreased a lot but they still exist.' Turkish journalist, Uzay Bulut explains: 'Leftover of the sword' is a commonly used insult in Turkey that often refers to Christians who survived the Ottoman Empire's 1915 genocide of Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians. In a national address on 12 May, President Erdoğan vowed to continue the fight against terrorism and foreign enemies, including the 'Armenian and Greek lobbies' which he labelled 'evil forces' targeting Turkey. This is dangerous rhetoric, rooted in racial-religious hatred and bordering on incitement. Please pray.

In early May, Turkey's Religious and Foundation Employees' Union (Diyanet Bir-Sen) publicly called for the first Friday prayer after the coronavirus pandemic to be performed in Istanbul's world heritage listed Hagia Sophia, the Church of Holy Wisdom, built by the Emperor Justinian in AD 537. On 10 May President Erdoğan's communication chief, Fahrettin Altun, published a tweet implying that Turkey's Muslims would soon have what they long for: Hagia Sophia  as a functioning mosque (it is currently a museum). On 15 May Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate announced that mosques will re-open on 12 June. Three days later, on 18 May, President Erdoğan announced that mosques meeting certain conditions would partly reopen to worship with Friday prayer on 29 May: i.e., on Conquest Day, the day Muslim Turks celebrate the Ottoman conquest of the Byzantine capital, Constantinople, which fell to Ottoman Muslim forces on 29 May 1453. The conversion of Hagia Sophia would indicate that the days of Kemalist secularism are over and that Ottoman Islam is back!

Uploaded to YouTube on 23 March 2020
source: MEMRI (23 March)

President Erdoğan routinely stokes Islamic zeal during Ramadan, before elections and in the lead-up to Conquest Day. This year his efforts have acquired a new level of urgency as he seeks out ways to perpetuate his popularity and consolidate his position amidst the economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation is deeply concerning. Please pray for the Church in Turkey.


But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favour as with a shield. (Psalm 5:11-12 ESV)

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

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