Tuesday, February 18, 2020

RLPB 537. Burkina Faso: Terror in Yagha

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 537 | 19 Feb 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)


BURKINA FASO: TERROR IN YAGHA
plus: update from Iran
by Elizabeth Kendal

location of Pansi village,
in Yagha Province, Sahel Region.
 On Sunday 16 February a group of around 20 'armed terrorists' attacked a Protestant church in the north-eastern village of Pansi, close to the border with Niger in Yagha Province in Burkina Faso's volatile northern Sahel Region. The terrorists rode into Pansi on motorbikes and targeted the church, opening fire on believers as the worship service was underway. It was a massacre; at least 10 were killed and 18 wounded. The pastor was among 14 church members who the terrorists abducted and subsequently murdered, bringing the death toll to 24. The militants set fire to the church and forced three abducted youths to help carry looted supplies. Victims were transported to the hospital in the regional capital, Dori, some 180km (110 miles) north-west of Pansi, in neighbouring Seno Province. Seeking safety, traumatised villagers fled to the provincial capital, Sebba, adding to the ever-growing numbers of internally displaced persons.

Pastor Tindano Omar
A week earlier, on Monday evening 10 February, Islamic militants murdered Lankoande Babilibile, a church deacon in Sebba. According to Barnabas Fund, the terrorists then stole Babilibile's car and used it to abduct Pastor Tindano Omar, whom they seized from his Sebba home along with his son, two daughters and two nephews. The bodies of Pastor Omar, his son and two nephews were found on 13 February; his two daughters had been released unharmed. Pastor Tindano Omar is survived by three other children who attend university in another region.

Terror is escalating at an alarming rate in Burkina Faso (BF). In 2018, dozens of troops were killed by roadside bombs and in ambushes that mostly targeted security forces. Since early 2019, however, the militants increasingly have targeted civilians. According to Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, which collects and analyses conflict information, more than 1,300 civilians - Christians and Muslims - were killed in targeted attacks in 2019. That is more than five times the number of civilians killed in 2018. Furthermore, around half a million people were displaced in 2019, over thirteen times as many as were displaced in 2018. This brings the total number of displaced persons to an estimated 760,000. The gross insecurity has forced the closure of around 95 healthcare centres and some 2,000 schools - mostly in the lawless east. More than 1.2 million Burkinabes are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

Unsurprisingly, demonstrations and riots have erupted across the country - especially in the capital Ouagadougou – protesting about escalating hardship and the government's failure to guarantee security. Religious Liberty Monitoring (RLM) is not alone is suspecting that the escalating insecurity and civil unrest is directly linked to the presidential and parliamentary elections and constitutional referendum scheduled for November 2020 [see: RLM, May 2019 and UN Global Dispatches, Jan 2020]. Many suspect that opposition elements - in particular the affiliates and party of exiled former president Blaise Compaoré (the Congress for Democracy and Progress), and indeed Blaise Compaoré himself - are fuelling the insecurity for political gain. It is a familiar scenario: opposition elements fuel conflict which they then blame on the government while proffering themselves as potential saviours. If this is what is happening, then violence is destined to escalate.

Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED)
from dashboard, Burkina Faso

According to Operation World (2010), BF is 52 percent Muslim, 26 percent ethno-religionist, and 21 percent Christian (mostly Catholic). Despite being majority Muslim, BF has a long tradition of peaceful co-existence and religious freedom; it also has a democratically elected Christian president: Roch Marc Christian Kaboré.  The Battle for Burkina Faso has begun!


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* comfort those who mourn, grieve and tremble; heal those who are wounded in body, mind and/or spirit; and provide the needs of all who look to him in faith or even just in desperation.

* be a shield, defender, strong tower and refuge (Psalm 18:2), and guiding good shepherd (Psalm 23; Isaiah 40:11) to his Church.

* be an awakening and revealing light to Muslims and others who are struggling in darkness (John 8:12); and a consuming fire to those who would bring bloodshed, suffering, repression and evil to Burkina Faso (Isaiah 40:10; 59:14-19).

* hear our prayers and grace the government of Burkina Faso - and especially President Kaboré - with all the wisdom and insight, conviction and courage, as well as the international support and assistance they need to turn back the battle (Isaiah 28:5-6) in Burkina Faso, so that peace will be restored and liberty preserved.

'Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me. The Lord will fulfil his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.' (Psalm 138:7-8 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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TERROR IN BURKINA FASO

On Sunday 16 February around 20 armed terrorists attacked a Protestant church in Burkina Faso's northern Yagha Province, killing at least 24 and wounding 18. They torched the church and kidnapped three youths, whom they forced to carry looted supplies. On Monday 10 February terrorists murdered a church deacon in the provincial capital, Sebba, and stole his car. They then abducted Pastor Tindano Omar along with his son, two daughters and two nephews. The bodies of the men were found on 13 February; the daughters were unharmed. More than 1300 civilians were killed in Islamic terrorist violence in 2019, more than five times that of 2018. Elections are due in November 2020. Many suspect that opposition elements are fuelling the violence for political gain, meaning terror will escalate. Please pray.

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UPDATE from IRAN 

Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammedi (21)
Updating last week's RLPB 536 (12 Feb). The condition and whereabouts of Christian convert Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi (21), arrested in early January, are now known. Mary was severely beaten upon her arrest and horribly mistreated during interrogations. She is now incarcerated in Qarchak Prison. Located in a desert just south of Tehran, and with only 600 beds for over 2000 prisoners, Qarchak is regarded as the worst prison in Iran for women. It is one of two Iranian prisons sanctioned by the US for 'gross human rights violations'. Though her family has raised the bail (30 million tomans, equivalent to a year's wages) the court has not yet agreed to release her. 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, February 11, 2020

RLPB 536. Iran: as the Lord shakes the nation.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 536 | 12 Feb 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: AS THE LORD SHAKES THE NATION
by Elizabeth Kendal

Source: National Council of Resistance for Iran (NCR-Iran)
 (more images and updates on site).

On 15 November the Iranian regime announced an increase in the price of fuel, triggering massive protests. By 16 November the initially peaceful protests had spread to over 50 cities and descended into violent riots. Cries of 'death to the dictator', 'clerics get lost' and 'Shah of Iran, return to Iran' filled the air. Banks, offices and Islamic centres were sacked and burned; anti-American billboards and posters of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei were torched. The protest had morphed into an open revolt against the regime. After shutting down the internet, the regime moved to extinguish the protests. Regime forces (including foreign fighters) shot at protesters from rooftops, helicopters and close range, fuelling a rapid escalation in violence. To mask the death toll, regime forces gathered up bodies and trucked them away. Amnesty International put the toll at over 300; Iranian opposition put the toll at 'at least 631'; while Reuters put the death toll at more than 1,500 with some 4,000 wounded. Around 12,000 protesters were arrested; they are being beaten, tortured and forced into televised 'confessions'. The most serious anti-regime violence in the history of the Islamic Republic was mercilessly crushed; at least on the surface.

Ismaeil Maghrebinejad (65)
On 8 January a Civil Court in Shiraz found Christian convert Ismaeil Maghrebinejad (65) guilty of 'insulting Islamic sacred beliefs' and sentenced him to three years in prison. Ismaeil's 'crime' was that he forwarded a message sent to his phone that was deemed insulting to Iran's ruling clerics. Arrested in January 2019, Ismaeil was initially charged with 'propaganda against the state' and 'insulting the sacred Iranian establishment'. At a hearing in October, the charge of apostasy (leaving Islam) was added and his bail increased. In November the charge of apostasy was dropped, presumably because apostasy charges attract international outrage and sanction, something the regime needs to avoid. Advocates suspect that the disproportionate sentence - three years jail for forwarding a text message - reflects the regime's profound hostility towards Christian converts. Middle East Concern (MEC) reports, 'Ismaeil is appealing the sentence, but still faces two other charges: "propaganda against the Islamic Republic" and "membership of a group hostile to the regime".'

Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi (21)
Source: Article 18
On 11 January the regime gave up lying and finally admitted that it was responsible for the 8 January shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752, killing all 176 passengers, including 82 Iranians. Angry protests erupted; anti-regime slogans rang out yet again. Five days of protests ensued until, on 16 January, a massive contingent of anti-riot police was deployed, forcing protesters to back down. Amidst the protests, Christian convert Fatemeh Mohammadi (21) - also known as Mary - was arrested near Tehran's Azadi Square. While Fatemeh was doubtless arrested as a protester, her record as an open and active Christian will complicate her plight. She might be only 21 years old but, as MEC reports, Fatemeh has been arrested and imprisoned before. In November 2017 Fatemeh was arrested at a house church, tried and sentenced to six months in Evin Prison, having been found guilty of 'membership in evangelical groups', 'engaging in Christian activities' and 'acting against national security through propagating against the regime'. Since then, Fatemeh has endured numerous incidents of harassment and intimidation. On 29 September 2018 she was summoned to the offices of the Intelligence services where she was harshly interrogated. In December 2019 Azad University suspended her education without reason. Iranian Christians have requested prayer for Fatemeh, whose condition and whereabouts remain unknown.

Iran is boiling; anger is high, trust is low. The regime is cracking down hard and tightening its grip. Parliamentary polls will go ahead on 21 February. In vetting the candidates, Iran's ruling Guardian Council has performed an extraordinary purge of 'Reformists' (those who advocate more economic openness). Included in the purge are 90 sitting members of the current Reformist-dominated parliament. [For background on the current parliament see: RLPB 408, 'The People Want Change', (24 May 2017)]. So, while the regime might offer voters 1700 approved candidates, the overwhelming majority will hail from just one faction: the 'Principlists'/Conservatives (hard-liners). In 158 of the 290 seats there will be no competition at all. Consequently, motivation to vote is low, for the election result is already a done deal; hard-liners will dominate the new parliament. Reformists are divided, with some calling for an 'unofficial boycott' and for President Rouhani (a 'Reformist') to resign. The idea is to let the hard-liners take full control so they can bear the responsibility and shoulder the blame. [Currently the Principlists blame the dominant Reformists for everything, even though Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and the Guardian Council have the final say on everything.] Persecution of Christians will escalate under a Principlist-dominated regime. However, 'we struggle not against flesh and blood ...' (Ephesians 6:12).

Despite the risks - which are considerable [see 2019 joint report] - more Iranians are choosing to follow Jesus every day; God is doing something new, palpable and very exciting. As God works out his purposes, the Iranian Church will need our prayers: for endurance, wisdom, grace, courage and provision of needs.

Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi (21) protests her groundless suspension
from Azad Univerity on the eve of exams.
source: Article 18


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* continue to 'shake' (Haggai 2:6,7) the nation of Iran to bring down all that is wicked and false so that 'the Lord alone will be exalted' (Isaiah 2).

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5 ESV)
May the light of Christ shine ever brighter as the facade of Islam falls away.

*continue to build his Church inside Iran; may the Spirit of God move powerfully in the nation to awaken Persians to the limits and failings of Islam, and to draw them to the God of the Bible, for 'his way is perfect' and his 'word ... proves true' (Psalm 18:30) while his 'burden is light' (Matthew 11:28-30).

* comfort, encourage, protect and sustain all Iranian Christians currently in prison because of their faith; we especially pray for Fatemeh Mohammadi (also known as Mary) - a courageous Christian woman only 21 years old, arrested in early January, whose condition and whereabouts remain unknown; may the Lord intervene to defend and deliver her. (Luke12:6-7)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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IRAN: AS THE LORD SHAKES THE NATION

Last November Iran experienced the most violent anti-regime protests in the Islamic Republic's history. Some 1,500 protesters were shot dead by regime forces, 4,000 wounded and 12,000 arrested. The regime is cracking down and tightening its grip. Whilst parliamentary polls will go ahead on 21 February, the ruling clerics have purged the 'Reformist' candidates from the lists. 'Principlists' (hard-liners) will dominate the next parliament, meaning persecution of Christians is destined to escalate. On 8 January Christian convert Ismaeil Maghrebinejad (65) was sentenced to three years' jail for forwarding a text message deemed insulting to the ruling clerics. Also in early January, Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi (21), a Christian convert, was arrested amidst protests. In 2017 Fatemeh spent six months in prison for her faith. Her condition and whereabouts are unknown. Please pray.

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

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

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

See www.ElizabethKendal.com

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

RLPB 535. Papuan Provinces, Indonesia: Christian Crisis in Nduga

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 535 | 05 Feb 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)


PAPUAN PROVINCES, INDONESIA: CHRISTIAN CRISIS IN NDUGA
by Elizabeth Kendal

The Christian crisis in Indonesia's Papuan Provinces is not caused by a lack of religious freedom. Rather, it has its roots in the racial (Javanese) and religious (Islamic) supremacism which undergirds Indonesian government policy and military action there. Indonesia's government and military elites make a lot of money exploiting the region's resources - timber, copper, gold, gas and oil; the military (TNI) also makes lots of money providing security to mining firms. The indigenous people are viewed at best as a problem to be fixed, and at worst as 'infidels', 'blacks' and 'monkeys' to be subjugated and if necessary eliminated! The Indonesian government hides the situation behind a Jungle Curtain of secrecy. Furthermore, because friendship with Indonesia affords economic and geo-strategic benefit, the supposedly human rights-defending West turns a blind eye.

Map showing Nduga and Wamena.
click on map to enlarge.
Perched in virtually inaccessible territory, Nduga Regency in Papua's Central Highlands was cut off from the outside world until missionaries in aeroplanes arrived well into the 20th century. Remote and isolated, Nduga has remained staunchly resistant to Indonesian rule. It can be a dangerous place, not just for the TNI (who are viewed as predators), but for Papuans from other regions (who are viewed with suspicion). Welcome is reserved for the Church, which has blessed the Ndugans with education, health care, grace and new life in Jesus Christ. In December 2018 Papuan rebels abducted and executed nineteen Indonesian labourers in Nduga. The labourers had been working on the hugely controversial Trans Papua Highway which President Widodo believes will solve all Papua's problems by facilitating economic development. The Papuans, however, especially the Ndugans, view it as invasive, destructive and simply a means of facilitating further Javanese Muslim colonisation and Islamisation. The Indonesian government's response to the killings was swift, brutal and wildly disproportionate. Under the pretext of hunting rebels, the TNI 'swept' through Nduga, destroying homes and gardens, schools and churches, and displacing some 45,000 Papuans. 

Months went by but the TNI operations never ended. Unable to return home and denied access to humanitarian aid, the displaced Papuans started to die. By July 2019 the death toll amongst displaced Ndugans in the camps of Wamena was 139 [RLPB 513 (31 July 2019)].  On 21 January 2020 the Executive Director of Amnesty International, Usman Hamid, reported that the death toll amongst displaced Ndugans - from untreated illness, infected wounds (including bullet wounds) and starvation - had risen to 263. As the death toll rises, President Widodo is facing pressure from Members of Parliament, Human Rights organisations and Church groups - including the Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI) - to pull the TNI out of Nduga, launch a humanitarian response, and commence serious dialogue.

On 24 December Nduga's Deputy regent, Wenius Nimiangge, resigned his post citing deep disappointment with the government in Jakarta. For a year, Wenius had been lobbying the central government to withdraw Indonesian military and police from Nduga so that displaced Ndugans could return to their homes. Wenius, however, was left to lament: 'We are not respected. The central government has never responded to our request.' The last straw for Wenius came on 20 December when his driver and close aide, Hendrek Lokbere, was shot dead by Indonesian forces. Lokbere had been travelling in Yosema village, in Nduga Regency's Kenyam District, assisting local officials with preparations for Christmas celebrations. According to Wenius, the area was peaceful and Lokbere was simply shot dead in the middle of the road. Veronica Koman (Indonesian human rights lawyer in exile) posted images of Lokbere's 24 December funeral to her twitter account. Meanwhile, Indonesia's Co-ordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, Mahfud M.D., scoffed at Wenius' resignation, suggesting it was nothing more than a 'political manoeuvre' based on a fabricated story about a fatal shooting that could not be verified.

If the final fate of the Papuans is dhimmitude (total subjugation under Islam, without rights) or genocide, it will only be partly due to the racial and religious supremacism of the colonial power. International indifference and Western 'interests' and priorities (money and power being valued more highly than people, even co-religionists) will also have played their part.

Ndugan internally displaced children in Wamena
 pray for their safety and family.
Image: Febriana Firdaus/Voice of Papua

PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR GOD WILL INTERVENE TO:

* effect the withdrawal of the mostly Javanese Muslim Indonesian military from Nduga Regency, so that tens of thousands of displaced indigenous Melanesian Christians can return to their lands and homes.

* enable the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian aid - food and medicines - to arrest the trend of Papuan deaths from disease, infection and starvation.

* facilitate a visit by the UN Human Rights Office (which is seeking access and has been promised access) so that the Jungle Curtain of secrecy might be pulled back and the truth about Indonesia's abuses in the Papuan Provinces exposed.

* awaken and sharpen the conscience of all who call themselves Christian - indeed all who profess to care about human rights - so that the plight of Papua's indigenous Melanesian Christians may no longer be met with indifference, but countered with action ... including persistent intercessory prayer.

The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit (James 5:16b-18 ESV).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIAN CRISIS IN PAPUAN PROVINCES, INDONESIA

In December 2018 Papuan rebels abducted and executed nineteen Indonesian labourers working on the controversial Trans Papuan Highway in Nduga Regency in Papua's Central Highlands. The Indonesian government's response was swift, brutal and wildly disproportionate. Under the pretext of hunting rebels, the mostly Javanese Muslim Indonesian military (TNI) 'swept' through the Nduga Regency, destroying homes and gardens, schools and churches, and displacing some 45,000 indigenous Melanesian Christians. Today, because the TNI operations persist and because displaced Ndugans are denied access to humanitarian aid, 263 displaced Ndugans have died of sickness, infection and starvation. Human rights abuses, including murder, are committed with impunity, driven by the racial (Javanese) and religious (Islamic) supremacy of the colonial power (Indonesia). The indigenous Melanesian Christians of Indonesia's eastern Papuan Provinces desperately need our prayers.

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

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

See www.ElizabethKendal.com
  

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

RLPB 534. Jan 2020 update, incl. Nigeria, China, Assyrians in Iraq-Turkey-Syria; plus India and Kenya.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 534 | Wed 29 Jan 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)

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

As the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) returns from a month-long summer (Australian) break, there can be little doubt that events in January portend a year of escalating crisis for Christians in many parts of the world.

In rounding up events since Christmas, this RLPB will prioritise three of the most critical situations: the violent Christian crisis in Nigeria's North and Middle Belt; the imminent Christian crisis threatening the Church in China; and the enduring Christian crisis facing the increasingly vulnerable Assyrians in Mesopotamia. Following that are brief updates highlighting the Christian crisis in India and in eastern Kenya.

Next week's RLPB 535 will see a return to normal format: four paragraphs covering one situation, complete with prayer points and a 130-word bulletin summary.

- Elizabeth Kendal

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

JANUARY 2020 - ROUND-UP

'Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity! Behold, is it not from the Lord of hosts that peoples labour merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing? For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.' (Habakkuk 2:12-14 ESV)


* MOST VIOLENT: THE CHRISTIAN CRISIS IN NIGERIA

NOTE: The spiralling violence in Nigeria is directly linked to deep-rooted, high-level systemic corruption - in the government and the military - in which violence is exploited and perpetuated for financial gain [see Nigeria's Fraudulent Election: Will Things Fall Apart? Religious Liberty Monitoring, May 2019]. Systemic corruption is also the reason Nigeria now has more people living in poverty than any other country in the world. Nigeria is at risk of implosion and of disintegration; the risk of civil war is real. Please pray.

On Christmas Eve, 24 December, Boko Haram militants raided a Christian village near Chibok in Borno State. They looted and burnt property, killed seven residents and abducted a teenage girl.

ISWAP beheads 11 Christians, Christmas Day 2019.
On Christmas Day, 25 December, Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) videoed the execution of eleven Christian hostages dressed in orange jumpsuits and lined up in a row. The ISWAP video opens with these words: 'This message is to the Christians in the world. Those who you see in front of us are Christians, and we will shed their blood as revenge for the dignified sheikhs [Islamic State head Abu bakr al-Baghdadi and his proposed successor Abul-Hasan Al-Muhaji].' The scene and text are reminiscent of Islamic State's 2015 mass executions of Christians in Libya -- first Copts  [RLPB 297 (17 Feb 2015)] and Ethiopians [RLPB 307 (29 April 2015)].

On 26 December Martha Bulus, a member of St Augustine Catholic Church in Maiduguri, was driving with her two bridesmaids from Gwoza in Borno state to her hometown in neighbouring Adamawa, where she was to be married on New Year's Eve. After ambushing their vehicle on the outskirts of Gwoza, Boko Haram militants seized and beheaded the three Christian women. According to the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), eight other Christians were killed and two Christian women were kidnapped at the same spot on the same day. Banditry - especially kidnap for ransom - is out of control in Nigeria.

In a week of violence commencing on 6 January, Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacked ten predominantly Christian villages in southern Kaduna state. They destroyed property, crops and farmlands, killing at least 35 residents and kidnapping 58 others, including a mother with her 6-months-old baby. The Fulani are demanding ransom payments.

On the evening of 8 January unidentified armed bandits attacked the Good Shepherd Major Seminary in Kakau, southern Kaduna State. They kidnapped four young seminarians for whom they are demanding ransom.

On 9 January ISWAP abducted Ropvil Daciya Dalep, a member of the Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN), as he travelled from his home in Plateau State to the University of Maiduguri in Borno. Two weeks later, ISWAP released video footage showing the young man dressed in an orange jumpsuit being executed by a child-jihadist estimated to be around 8 years of age. In the video the child warns other Christians: 'We won't stop until we take revenge for all the blood that was spilled.'

On 11 January Fulani herdsmen attempted to raid cattle from a group of Christian cattle herders in Plateau State. After being chased away, the Fulani launched an attack fully armed on the Christian cattle herders' predominantly Christian village, allegedly stating that no 'infidel' has the right to own cattle. Thirteen young Christian men (nine of them married) were killed in the attack as they tried to protect their community.

On 20 January armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen on motorbikes attacked the village square of a predominantly Christian village in southern Kaduna State wounding many and killing two Christian girls: Bridget (18) and Pricilla (19).

The Rev. Lawan Andimi appears
in ISWAP video, 5 Jan 2020.
On 20 January ISWAP militants executed the Rev Lawan Andimi (58). The father of eight served as the district chairman of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (EYN) and was chairman of the local chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Adamawa State. He had been kidnapped on 2 January. On 5 January ISWAP released a video in which Lawan Andimi pleads with church leaders and the state governor to intervene on his behalf, all the while affirming his trust in the Lord, come what may. In a statement following the slaying, CAN lamented the worrying trend of escalating violence amidst gross insecurity, adding: 'Just last Sunday, a clergyman, Rev Denis Bagauri, was murdered by unknown gunmen in his residence at Mayo Belwa of Adamawa State.' CAN also questioned whether the 'Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari is not colluding with the insurgents to exterminate Christians in Nigeria ...' On 24 January CAN held a press conference [youtube], demanding answers from President Buhari. Please pray.

And the killings continue: see Morning Star News/Nigeria


* MOST THREATENED: THE CHURCH IN CHINA


Pastor Wang Yi at home with his wife, Jiang Rong. 
On 30 December a court in China sentenced Pastor Wang Yi of Chengdu's Early Rain Covenant Church to 9 years in prison on charges of 'inciting to subvert state power' and 'illegal business operations'. [For background see: RLPB 484 (19 Dec 2018) and Wang Yi in World Magazine (Dec 2018)]. As World Magazine's June Cheng notes, 'This is the longest prison sentence given to a house church pastor in a decade.' Please pray.

On 30 December the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) announced that new Administrative Measures for Religious Groups [full text], promulgated in November, will come into force on 1 February. The new Administrative Measures provide in-depth instructions on how the revised Religious Affairs Regulations will be implemented. The Administrative Measures are designed to eliminate all unregistered house churches, which will be forced to choose between becoming part of the CCP system in service to the CCP, or going underground, thus risking legal prosecution and severe penalties if caught. The Administrative Measures mandate that all religious activities must be registered with, as well as guided, supervised and managed by, the Religious Affairs Department, which is now under the control of the CCP's United Front Work Department. The Chinese Church is standing on the threshold of a major persecution. As noted in RLPB 532 (11 Dec 2019), 'the battle of the century has begun'. Please pray.


* MOST VULNERABLE: ASSYRIAN REMNANT IN MESOPOTAMIA
Mesopotamia: the land between the two rivers (the Tigris and the Euphrates).
We pray in confidence, remembering that God has already had the last word: Isaiah 19:16-25

* IRAQ: FUTURE UNCERTAIN FOR CHRISTIAN REMNANT

On 3 January Qasem Soleimani, a Major-General in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and commander of its Quds Force (which handles extraterritorial operations), was assassinated at Baghdad airport in a US drone strike. Killed alongside Soleimani were Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of the Iran-backed Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) and eight of their key aides or bodyguards (five IRGC and three PMF). While the assassination did eliminate a significant sponsor of international terrorism and will hamstring the ambitions of the revolutionary clerical (Shi'ite) regime in Tehran, the unintended adverse consequences ('blowback') for Iraq's remnant indigenous Assyrians, a Christian nation, could be catastrophic.

First, there is the risk that Iraq could become a battleground for a proxy US-Iran war - a war the displaced and immensely vulnerable Assyrian remnant would struggle to survive. Then there is the risk that the Iran-backed PMF militias that have taken up residence in the Nineveh Plains (the Assyrian homeland) since fighting Islamic State there, will shift their emphasis from grabbing Assyrian lands to totally eliminating the Assyrian presence. The risk is they will view the Christian Assyrians as being pro-US and therefor deserving of the ultimate punishment. Finally, there is the risk that, because those leading the fight against Islamic State have been eliminated, the Islamic State revival will accelerate, raising the spectre of a return to sectarian war (Sunni v Shia) in Iraq - a war which could complete the Christian genocide in Iraq. Please pray.


Eager to trample the cross!
Meanwhile in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan (which is hosting thousands of displaced Assyrians), sources report that, at a store in the 'Mega Mall', Kurds are buying shoes with a crucifix embossed on the sole, indicating their desire to trample the cross. The shoes - which are produced by a Turkish company called FLO, located in Gaziantep, in southeastern Turkey - are reportedly also being sold over the counter in Turkey. It might sound trivial, but it is not - especially not to a vulnerable remnant of genocide survivors. Please pray.

Also, in Baghdad, four aid workers with the French Christian charity SOS Chretiens d'Orient (SOS Christians of the Middle East) - three French nationals and one Iraqi - have been missing since Monday 20 January. No ransom demands have been made and grave fears are held for their safety. Please pray.


* SOUTH-EAST TURKEY

NOTE: Turkish authorities have long vilified Christians as enemies of the state; an accusation which, in the early 20th Century, culminated in genocide. Today, through media and education, Turkish authorities continue to vilify Christians as enemies of the state, particularly by falsely accusing them of being in league with the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). It is nothing but anti-Christian propaganda designed to legitimise and justify the persecution of Christians. The situation is extremely serious. Please pray.

(1) CHRISTIAN PRIEST CHARGED WITH AIDING TERRORISTS

Father Aho and the restored Mor Yakub monastery.
On the evening of 9 January Turkish police raided the 1500-year-old Mor Yakub (Saint Jacob) monastery in Nusaybin in Turkey's south-eastern Mardin Province. They then raided homes in the mostly Assyrian villages of Eskihisar, Üçköy and Üçyol, arresting 12 people, including the monastery's caretaker-priest, Father Sefer Bilecen (known as Father Aho) whom they charged with 'aiding and abetting a terrorist organisation'. The charge stems from claims that Father Aho gave food and drink to PKK fighters when they came to the monastery requesting/demanding it. Two other Assyrians were arrested with the priest: Joseph Yar, the Üçköy village head, and Musa Tastekin from Dibek village. All except Father Aho were released on probation after questioning. Father Aho - who worked in tourism before undertaking theological studies in the UK and returning to restore life to the long-abandoned Mor Yakub monastery - was released on bail on 14 January; he is currently awaiting trial. Please pray.

(2) LAST CHRISTIANS DISAPPEAR

Şimoni (65) and Hourmouz (71) Diril; disappeared 11 Jan2020 
Father Adday Remzi Diril is an Assyrian Chaldean Catholic priest in Istanbul; he is well known for his devoted, selfless service to more than 7000 Iraqi Christian refugees displaced throughout Turkey. On 11 January his parents, Hourmouz (71) and Şimoni (65) Diril, disappeared from the Assyrian village of Meer (or Mehr; also known as Kovankaya) in Turkey's south-eastern province of Sırnak. The village had been evacuated in 1989 and again in 1994 due to civil war (Turkish government v PKK). The Dirils returned some five years ago to re-occupy and start the rebuilding process. Since then they have resisted all government pressure to abandon the village. On 12 January Father Diril visited his parent's home only to find it empty. A witness reported seeing the couple being led away. Their whereabouts remain unknown. Please pray.

* NORTH-EAST SYRIA

 In 2015 the Christians of Syria's Khabur River valley - many of whom are descendants of survivors of the genocide of 1915 - were forced to flee Islamic State. Today, just as a remnant finds courage to return, re-occupy and rebuild, they are being forced to flee Turkish aggression. This time, however, as Germany's Deutsche Welle reports (18 January), their homes are being occupied by Muslims. As in Iraq's Nineveh Plains, this time the Assyrians are being not displaced but replaced that the genocide might be complete. Please pray.


ALSO IN JANUARY:

For the LORD loves justice; he will not forsake his saints. They are preserved forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off. (Psalm 37:28 ESV)

* INDIA: PERSECUTION WITH IMPUNITY

On Sunday 5 January Pastor Jai Singh was leading worship in a house church in Bichpari Village, in Haryana State's Sonipat District (which is only about 50km north of central New Delhi) when a mob of up to 300 Hindu nationalist militants surrounded the property. Militants seized Pastor Singh and took him away; first to a school where groups of six militants beat him in turns, then to a Hindu Temple where they forced him to sit before idols. Eventually the Hindus stripped Pastor Singh of his Kameez (traditional tunic) and dropped him - naked, bruised and bloodied - at Gohana police station, where eventually he was charged with luring people to convert to Christianity. The pastor faced a judge on 6 January and was remanded to judicial custody. Alliance Defending Freedom-India filed a petition for bail which saw him released on 7 January. An undisclosed Christian organisation has enabled him to receive treatment from a hospital in Delhi. Numerous believers, including children, were verbally abused and violently assaulted during the horrific, traumatising attack. Police have not taken any action against the attackers.

Pastor Singh told Morning Star News (MSN): 'Now I'm in a very bad state. I can't sit or stand or lie down straight on my back for five minutes. The marks of beatings are still all over my body. My legs feel very heavy and stiff, so that I can't even stand on my feet.' Pastor Singh's son, Kumar, told MSN that Hindu extremism has increased in the area as the number of people putting their faith in Christ has grown. Persecution with impunity is now commonplace in India. Please pray.


* KENYA: AL-SHABAAB KILLS 'INFIDEL' TEACHERS IN GARISSA

At around 2:30am on 13 January, al-Shabaab militants from Somalia stormed a residence at the primary boarding school in Kamuthe, Garissa County. They ordered the teachers out of their rooms and then separated the locals (Somali Muslims) from the non-locals (Kenyan Christians). A teacher who managed to escape told Morning Star News: 'One of the attackers said, "We cannot allow infidels to teach our children," and there and then fired at three teachers as I managed to escape through the window.' According to this teacher, the militants knew where the teachers were sleeping. 'The attack [was] well planned,' he said, before surmising that the militants must have conspired with local Muslims. A local pastor confirmed that four new teachers had recently arrived in Garissa and had been attending his church. He believes the local community had been 'monitoring the Christian faith of these teachers'. Please pray.

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RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer ... For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12 ESV)

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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