Tuesday, December 22, 2020

RLPB 581. Devotion: Pressing Through the 'Bitter' (Rev 10:9-10)

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 581 | Wed 23 Dec 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to “Follow by email” on the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog. ‘For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds’ (2 Corinthians 10:4 ESV). 


DEVOTION: PRESSING THROUGH THE 'BITTER' (Rev 10:9-10)
- a prayer for those who intercede for Christ's persecuted Church
by Elizabeth Kendal

Without a doubt, the message of the Gospel (Good News) is sweet: 'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.' (John 3:16,17 ESV). So too is the promise that this salvation will extend to the ends of the earth (e.g., Genesis 6:3Psalm 22:25-31, Isaiah 54:1-3, Habakkuk 2:14, Acts 1:8), reaching many tribes, peoples, nations, languages, and kings (Revelation chapters 5 and 10). Yet often it is the case that we joyfully ingest this gloriously sweet Gospel, only to find it makes our stomach 'bitter': 'If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you ... Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God' (from John 15:18-16:4). Yes, the sweetness of salvation is commonly followed by the bitterness of persecution. After all, both are integral to the cosmic spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:12) - a battle which Christ has already won (Colossians 2:13-15) and in which we are now 'mopping up' as Satan continues (to quote Jacques Ellul) 'to resist his demise with the energy of despair'.

As Christians, we pray for God to send more workers into his harvest field (Matthew 9:37,38) and to bless all ministry and witness with effectual Holy Spirit power (1 Corinthians 4:20). We press through times of waiting as the soil (mission field) is weeded (to remove falsehoods), fed (with the blood of martyrs) and watered (with the tears of intercessors) that it might receive the Gospel seed and yield a blessed harvest (Matthew 13). In love, we press on through frustration, spurred on by faith-fuelled hope rooted in the promises of God. 'I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' (Jesus, in Matthew 16:18). 'Behold, all of [my adversaries] will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up' (the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 50:4-9). So, no matter the circumstances, we just press on and pray for our missionaries, along with all who witness for Christ: may the Lord sustain them to just keep nibbling (like the moth) as he (the Lord) keeps building! [See: 'Prayer Fuel from the Servant Songs of Isaiah' http://www.elizabethkendal.com/ (tab: Devotions).]

No matter how sweet it is for us to hear stories of amazing conversions, we must always remember that, for many new believers, life is bitter. Indeed, conversion is where their battle begins! Rescued from the doomed kingdom of darkness, they are now free to live for God in the kingdom of light, except that they live behind enemy lines where the cost of discipleship is high. Maybe they live in North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Tibet, Afghanistan or Somalia where the church has been forced deep underground. Maybe they live on a spiritual front line where the battle is raging, such as in Egypt, Mesopotamia (Syria-Iraq) or the Caucuses (Armenia, Artsakh, Azerbaijan) where the world's most ancient Christian peoples are under sustained attack. Maybe they live in a village in Northern Nigeria, India's northern tribal belt, or a city anywhere in Iran where Satan is desperately fighting a losing battle to keep his disillusioned captives in! Or maybe they live in a household deeply hostile to Christianity; a household long captive to Islam, Eastern religion, or atheism and scientific materialism; a household into which our gracious Lord Jesus is reaching. Any believer who is truly engaged in the advance of God's kingdom will find themselves continuously see-sawing between the sweetness of kingdom growth (which lifts us high and into the light) and the bitterness of persecution (which takes us into the darkness and drives us low).

Every day, faithful intercessors put on their armour and willingly enter that darkness precisely so they might pray for - that is, engage in spiritual battle on behalf of - Christ's imperilled, persecuted, wounded Church. They enter that darkness voluntarily, precisely so they might see, listen to, understand, lift up and support their suffering brothers and sisters - God's precious children, Church and bride - in their time of need. Filled as it is with greed, hatred, megalomania, war, lies, repression, persecution, and terrible suffering, that darkness is not a nice place. That said, Christ is there! Indeed, the darkness is where the Redeemer, Jesus the 'true light' who brings 'grace and truth' (John 1:1-18) does his greatest work. Furthermore, Jesus invites us, even implores us, to come and join him in his great redemptive work, a work that includes caring for and supporting his embattled persecuted Church (Hebrews 13:3). The only way to endure such a task, the only way to press on through the bitter, is to keep one's eyes fixed on Jesus who has come and secured victory and trust that 'all the promises of God [will indeed] find their Yes in him' (2 Corinthians 1:20a ESV).

'Christian's Combat with Apollyon'.
From 'The Pilgrim's Progress' by John Bunyan, first published 1678.
Illustration by H. C. Selous and M. Paolo Priolo.


MY PRAYER FOR THOSE PRESSING THROUGH THE BITTER
I have prayed this for you.
I ask that you each might pray it for all our fellow intercessors.

Dear Father,

I bring before you all those faithful intercessors who willingly enter the darkness and press through the bitter precisely so they might intercede for and fight on behalf of your persecuted Church, which risks so much to live, minister, witness and shine there.

Driven by a deep love for your Church, a zeal for justice and a yearning desire to see 'your kingdom come, and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven', they voluntarily subject themselves to the worst of news comprising all the ugliest aspects of fallen humanity. For the sake of your Church, and so they might intercede, they resist the seductive lure of 'blissful ignorance' and ingest news of repression, incarceration, abuse, assault, rape, abduction, torture, murder, massacre, genocide, abandonment and seemingly endless injustice. It is a critical and strategic ministry; but it can bring intercessors low and make their stomachs bitter.

Father, it is with this in mind that I pray for every intercessor: may the Holy Spirit be so powerfully at work within each one that love, and faith-fuelled hope rooted in the promises of God, will always prove greater than any despair or hopelessness Satan - 'the father of lies' (John 8:44) - might wish to fire into their hearts (Ephesians 6:16).

May prayer for the persecuted continue to grow as God knits together his increasingly global Church using chords of love forged in the flames of persecution, in answer to the prayer of our Lord which he prayed in the garden: that we might be one, that the world might believe (John 17:20-23).

AMEN

'But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness' (Lamentations 3:21-23 ESV)

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The Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) will break for four weeks through the Australian summer and resume on Wednesday 27 January 2021 with the January Update.

Please keep watch on the news and continue in prayer for the Lord's imperilled and suffering Church. That said, know that you cannot rely on mainstream news media. Being mostly neo-Marxist in orientation, mainstream news media has no interest in the persecution of Christians. Consequently, it is imperative that we connect with and support Christian news media. Fortunately, today there is plenty to choose from, including agencies like Morning Star News which focus specifically on news of the persecuted Church. We can also connect with Christian agencies that provide aid to and advocate for the persecuted Church. Not only are they a great source of news, but they also provide avenues through which you can give. If you simply do not know whom or what to pray for, just ask the Lord to guide you. Trust and obey; the Lord has it covered.

'The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace'. (Numbers 6:24-26 ESV).

Elizabeth Kendal

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

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

See www.ElizabethKendal.com

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

RLPB 580. The Fog of 2020, and SYRIA: Loving Syria's Christians.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 580 | Wed 16 DEC 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to “Follow by email” on the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog.  ‘For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds’ (2 Corinthians 10:4 ESV). 

(1) THE FOG OF 2020
(2) SYRIA: LOVING SYRIA'S CHRISTIANS
By Elizabeth Kendal


THE FOG OF 2020

In winter, it often happens that as water vapour rises from the earth it cools and condenses into water droplets leaving valleys covered in a blanket of fog, which greatly reduces visibility. Co-opting that imagery, the term 'fog of war' refers to the chaos and confusion that commonly envelopes conflict zones, greatly diminishing clarity. Similarly, we could say the year 2020 has been blanketed in a 'fog' created by the (mainly Western) world's reactionary panic (as distinct from reasoned response) and blind obsession with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the all-consuming drama of the US Presidential Election. Indeed, mainstream media has had little time for much else! Two regimes have exploited the 'fog of 2020' to advance their nefarious agendas: China's ruling Communist Party (CCP) under President Xi Jinping, and Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Exploiting the fog of 2020, China accelerated its campaign of Sinicisation - that is, its brutal campaign of political and religious repression, re-education and cultural genocide - designed to force all its citizens into a monolithic 'united front'. Armed with millions of surveillance cameras loaded with world-leading facial recognition software, a gulag of brand-new re-education facilities and a People's Armed Police (PAP) force comprising more than one million soldiers tasked with crushing internal dissent and enforcing compliance, the ruling Communist Party's advances have been breathtaking. It leaves in its wake a trail of demolished churches, monasteries, mosques and temples; imprisoned pastors, imams, monks and human rights advocates; a de-Christianised skyline and a persecuted Church increasingly anxious about its future.

Also exploiting the fog of 2020, Turkey has advanced its neo-Ottoman imperial ambitions by inserting itself into, or increasing its aggression in, Libya, Northern Syria, the Eastern Mediterranean (including Cyprus), and the South Caucuses (specifically the war/jihad against Armenians in Artsakh). Armed with tens of thousands of Syrian jihadists and cutting-edge drones (in particular the Turkish-made, tank-eliminating, Bayraktar TB2), Turkey's advances have been breath-taking. It leaves in its wake a trail of dead and displaced Libyans, Kurds, Assyrians and Armenians, along with a multitude of increasingly anxious Greek-speaking Christians.

Please pray: that the 'fog' will lift, that clarity will be restored, that the world will care (unlikely), and that the Church will rise in solidarity to speak-up (Proverbs 31:8-9), to give (James 2:15-16), and to pray for the persecuted Church (Ephesians 6:12-18). [See http://www.elizabethkendal.com/action/ ]


SYRIA: LOVING SYRIA'S CHRISTIANS

click on map to enlarge

1) TURKEY IN SYRIA: TARGETING TEL TAMER
UPDATE to RLPB 564, Syria: Turkey Weaponises Water, 26 Aug 2020.

Led by the Kurdish YPG (which Turkey deems a terrorist organisation), the anti-Islamist Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) incorporates Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian and some Armenian militias. After years of fighting Islamic State in Hasakah, the SDF is now fighting to resist Turkish occupation. In late October, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to launch another military operation against the SDF in northern Syria. Today, with Turkey eager to change realities on the ground before a new administration can be set up in Washington, it appears that operation might be imminent.

Analysts surmise that Turkey may be planning to expand on two fronts: (1) in northern Aleppo Governorate, where it would seize the Kurdish border town of Kobani before possibly advancing as far south-west as Manbij; and (2) in northeast Hasakah Governorate, where Tel Tamer - an Assyrian town situated at the head of a string of some 30 Assyrian towns along the Khabur River - is already under sustained attack. Of Turkey's more than 800 ceasefire violations this year - violations which include armed conflict, shelling, drone strikes, looting and property destruction - more than 138 have targeted Tel Tamer alone. According to reports, the recent increase in violence corresponds directly with the return to Syria from Azerbaijan of Islamic militants recruited by Turkey for jihad against Artsakh's Armenians [see RLPB 575, 'Genocide Postponed? 11 Nov 2020]. Their task now, so it seems, will be jihad against Kurds and remnant Assyrian and Armenian Christians. Please pray.

2) US SANCTIONS: POVERTY AND HUNGER FOR CHRISTMAS
UPDATE to RLPB 554 Syria: Damascus Under Siege, 17 June 2020

The US administration's Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act essentially places all government-controlled areas of Syria in a state of economic siege. This happens to be most of the country and where most Christians live with religious freedom and security. (Note: areas controlled by Turkey-backed and US-shielded jihadists are exempt.) As with any siege, the Caesar Act is designed to escalate suffering as in a pressure-cooker in pursuit of regime-change. The Maronite Archbishop Joseph Tobji (49) of Aleppo has labelled it 'a diabolical Act' [see RLPB 555, 'A Diabolical Act', 24 June 2020]. Of course, sanctions rarely impact ruling regimes; on the contrary, it is the people who suffer. The Caesar Act's sanctions have halted reconstruction and devastated whole sectors, including small business and agriculture. Most concerning, Syria's once thriving health sector and pharmaceuticals industry have been totally crippled, leaving Syrians without medicines and treatments [see RLPB 556, 'Caesar's Inhumanity', 1 July 2020)].

Caesar's inhumanity

Warning of a 'hunger pandemic', the Nobel Prize-winning World Food Program reports that in the first 6 months of 2020, around 1.4 million Syrians did not know where their next meal would come from, a shocking figure which has now climbed to 9.3 million. With more than 90 percent of Syrians now living below the poverty line, smuggling, drugs and crime are on the increase as citizens grow increasingly desperate. Bread is being rationed and the price for smuggled goods is exorbitant.

As noted in RLPB 556 (1 July), the Caesar Report - which forms the pretext for the Caesar Act - was commissioned by the pro-Muslim Brotherhood (MB) ruling family of Qatar, who are sworn enemies of the Alawite anti-MB Assad and integral to the regime-change alliance. The report is fraudulent (Human Rights Watch has debunked its claims) and the Act is entirely political and entirely punitive. Furthermore, it does nothing to advance US interests.

Christmas is normally a huge national event in Syria, one in which Christians, Alawites and liberal Sunnis all participate together. This year, however, Syrians will be sharing poverty and hunger for Christmas. In particular, hundreds of thousands of Syrian Christians will celebrate the incarnation of our Lord without food, medicines or heating - not due to war, but due primarily to US sanctions. If the situation does not change, many Syrian Christians will not survive 2021. Golda Meir - Israel's Prime Minister from March 1969 to June 1974, reportedly once said: 'Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.' We must pray for the day to come when American politicians will love Syria's Christians more than they hate Presidents Assad and Putin.


PLEASE PRAY THAT GOD OUR GRACIOUS FATHER WILL:

 * intervene to defend and protect Christians in northern Syria, whose lives and homelands are gravely imperilled because of Turkey and its jihadist proxies; may the LORD in his mercy 'frustrate the devices of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success' (Job 5:12).

'As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause, who does great things and unsearchable, marvellous things without number ... So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts her mouth [from Job 5:8-16 ESV].

* intervene to have the Caesar sanctions lifted so that Syria's Christians might be able to stay, rebuild, flourish and bless their nation.

Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield (Psalm 33:18-20 ESV). 


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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THREAT, POVERTY AND HUNGER IN SYRIA FOR CHRISTMAS

Turkey and its jihadist proxies may soon launch another military operation in northern Syria. Already under sustained attack is the Assyrian town of Tel Tamer. Please pray! Meanwhile, due to the US administration's Caesar Act sanctions (enacted June 2020), government-controlled Syria (i.e. most of the country where most Christians live) is in a state of economic siege. Reconstruction is halted and whole sectors are crippled, including business, agriculture, health and pharmaceuticals. Before the sanctions, the World Food Program estimated that some 1.4 million Syrians were food insecure; that number has now risen to 9.3 million! Christmas is normally a huge national event in Syria. This year, however, Syrian Christians will celebrate the Incarnation without food, medicines, and heating; not due to war, but due primarily to US sanctions. 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, December 8, 2020

RLPB 579. India: Beat, Boycott, Banish

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 579 | Wed 09 Dec 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to “Follow by email” on the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog‘For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds’ (2 Corinthians 10:4 ESV). 


INDIA: BEAT, BOYCOTT, BANISH
Also updates on Nigeria and Pakistan
By Elizabeth Kendal

Map showing distribution of
Scheduled Tribes.
(click on map to enlarge) 

On 24 November, in the north Indian tribal-belt state of Chhattisgarh, up to 100 Christians gathered in Singavaram Village, Sukma District, to organise festivities for the Advent season and to celebrate the dedication of a child. Rather that travel home late at night, those who had travelled in from surrounding villages spent the night in Singavaram Village, either in the home of the host, Madvi Muka (50), or in the large meeting tent beside his home. At around 1 am, a mob of around 50 angry tribal animists arrived on the scene armed with bamboo sticks, iron rods, bows and arrows and iron sickles. They attacked the believers as they slept, burned Bibles, ransacked the house, destroyed food supplies, vandalised at least ten motorcycles and attempted to rape a young Christian woman who, because she screamed loudly, they instead beat her 'black and blue', leaving her with internal injuries. Pastor Musaki Kosa, who leads the church that meets in Madvi Muka's home and attended the dedication, was among those who escaped by fleeing into the bush. Some Christians ran to a nearby Central Reserve Police Force camp, but the soldiers there refused to help.

Tribal Christian,
Madvi Muka.

The attack continued until dawn; only then did police attend the scene. Ambulances were called to take 21 (or possibly 27) Christians to hospital. Despite suffering deep lacerations and broken bones, many did not receive appropriate medical care. Host Madvi Muka (pictured) was taken to hospital in a critical condition, bleeding and struggling to breathe because of broken ribs from being severely beaten and shot with arrows. His son, Laxman Mandavi (21), told Morning Star News (MSN) that his father had been receiving threats for some time. Despite this, and the attackers' own claims that they were fighting to prevent religious conversions, the police insist that the motive for the attack was not religious. Instead, the police reported the incident as a 'common brawl' with no serious injuries. Afterwards, the villagers threatened to kill the Christians if they dared to lodge a complaint with the police. With that death threat hanging over their necks, many Christians opted to flee. According to MSN, 'About 25 Christians have taken refuge in Pastor Kosa's house in another town, including the injured and their families,' and only four Christian families remain in the village.

Later that day (25 Nov), the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum (CCF) reported the incident on its Facebook page. The next day police arrived at the CCF office and took CCF President Arun Pannalal into custody. At around 10:30pm, after having held Mr Pannalal for over five hours, the police ordered him to apologise on Facebook for writing a false account. To force his hand, the police threatened him, warning that if he did not comply, they would charge him with a non-bailable offence and incarcerate him. [Report in Times of India.] According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), some 15 families in Singavaram Village embraced Christianity in 2008 and they have never had any trouble - until recently. The believers are certain that outsiders have been inciting the locals against them. No doubt it is the case, as Arun Pannalal (CCF) asserts, that 'Hindu, right-wing, fundamentalist organisations are behind this'.

Also complicit is the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In 2019 the BJP reversed its declining fortunes and secured re-election with an increased majority by way of a covert social media campaign. The classic divide-and-rule strategy involved creating a 'customised enemy for every group' and then positing the BJP as the solution. Individuals and groups were then 'micro-targeted' through Facebook and WhatsApp [see RLPB 506 'Christian Crisis in North India (12 June 2019)]. Long allies in the perpetual struggle against the racist, discriminatory and repressive Hindu caste system, the tribal non-Hindus are now indeed split, with the animists having joined the Hindu nationalists in their struggle against Christians over religious conversions. While the BJP wins, everyone else loses as communities once strong and harmonious are torn asunder only to remain impoverished. Furthermore, as a house divided against itself, the tribals are only weakened when Christians are beaten, boycotted and banished. The tribal belt is a tinderbox; in many regions the tension is pre-genocidal

Followers of traditional tribal religion attack Sattar Singh Markam, a Christian resident of Bargaon, Gariaband District, Chhattisgarh state, India. (Morning Star News, 8 Dec 2020)

[For more stories of Christian faithfulness amidst beatings, boycotts and banishments, see Morning Star News: India.]

PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR MERCIFUL GOD WILL

* watch over, look after and provide for his mostly poor and persecuted Indian Church; may those who have been beaten and wounded be healed and comforted; may those who are suffering under economic and social boycotts find relief and provision; may those who have been banished from their homes and lands find security and liberty elsewhere; may every threatened and persecuted believer be acutely aware of God's eternal presence, sustaining grace, Fatherly love, and generous spirit.

* pour out his Holy Spirit into North India's tribal belt, to awaken tribal animists to the fact that they are being exploited by political forces whose intention it is to divide and weaken them; may they remember the blessings their Christian neighbours have brought them; may they yearn for the peace and solidarity they once had; may their hearts be prepared and opened to receive the Gospel of grace; may Satan's plot be turned on its head.

* intervene in power so there might be a breakthrough against the spiritual powers and forces of darkness (Ephesians 6:12) currently holding around one billion Indians captive.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth' (1 Timothy 2:1-4 ESV).

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIANS IN INDIA FACE BEATINGS, BOYCOTTS AND BANISHMENT

India's ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) employs divide-and-rule strategies to retain power and weaken its opposition. It sows seeds of hatred into mixed communities to shatter solidarity and win over the majority. Vilified as existential enemies, minority Christians are always the victims. Consequently, persecution is skyrocketing under BJP rule. North India's tribal belt is a tinderbox, with tensions in some regions being pre-genocidal. In the early hours of 25 November, a mob of some 50 local tribal animists attacked tribal Christians as they slept. The Christians had gathered from several villages to plan for Advent and dedicate a child. By dawn, dozens had been beaten, shot with arrows and hacked with machetes. Perpetrators are guaranteed impunity. Most Christians have now fled the area. Such violence is common. Please pray.

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UPDATE: NIGERIA
Update to RLPBs 561 through 564, August 2020, on the Christian Crisis in Nigeria.

Boko Haram continues to wage a campaign of terror in Nigeria's north-east. On 29 November Abubakar Shekau's faction murdered 76 farmers working in a rice field in Jere, not far from the Borno capital, Maiduguri. The farmers were rounded up and tied up before having their throats slit. Many were totally decapitated in what was Nigeria's worst terrorist massacre of civilians this year.

On 17 November militant Fulani targeted the home of Christian community leader Haruna Kuye in Gidan Zaki Village in Zangon Kataf County, southern Kaduna. Haruna Kuye and his teenage son, Destiny Kuye, were shot dead as they slept in their beds while Kuye's wife and daughter survived with machete and gunshot wounds. On the night of 28-29 November, militant Fulani attacked Christian villages in Jema'a County, southern Kaduna, killing seven, wounding four and abducting two children. On 5 December Nigerian media reported that two suspects have been arrested over the Zangon Kataf attack, and Rebecca and Clement Andrew - the two children abducted in Jema'a County - have been recovered. That said, high level corruption is the primary reason why Nigeria's security forces are so ineffective.

Nigeria is fast becoming a failed state. Across the North and Middle Belt, Christian communities are awash with trauma as terrorism, persecution and ethnic cleansing continue unabated. [See new report: Nigeria's Silent Slaughter (online e-book) at https://iconhelp.org/silent-slaughter/ ] Please pray.

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UPDATE: PAKISTAN
Update to RLPB 577, 'Pakistan's Real Pandemic' (25 November).

Farah Shaheen (12),
recovered.
Farah Shaheen (12) - the Christian minor girl abducted from her home in Punjab Province on 25 June, forcibly converted to Islam and married to her Muslim abductor - has been recovered. On 5 December, under pressure from a court and the Punjab Province government, police raided her abductor's home and found Farah shackled in a room. Injuries to her ankles indicate that she had spent most of her time there in shackles. 'I'm grateful to the government and the court for ensuring my daughter's recovery, and I hope they will also punish the men who did this cruelty', Farah's father, Asif Masih, told Morning Star News. Police presented Farah before a judge who ordered that she be placed in a shelter home, ignoring her father's pleas that he be permitted to take her home. 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, December 1, 2020

RLPB 578. Indonesia and Egypt: Tensions Rise Ahead of Christmas

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 578 | Wed 02 Dec 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to “Follow by email” on the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog‘For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds’ (2 Corinthians 10:4 ESV).


INDONESIA AND EGYPT: TENSIONS RISE AHEAD OF CHRISTMAS
- in two countries with a history of Christmas terror.
Also updates on Papua and Uganda
By Elizabeth Kendal

BACKGROUND: Recent events in France, where President Emmanuel Macron dared to defend free speech, reason and dialogue after a teacher was beheaded in the street by a militant Islamist supposedly for 'blasphemy', has sent Islamic indignation and anti-blasphemy sentiment soaring throughout much of the Muslim world.

Indonesia and Egypt are two Muslim majority states with significant Christian minorities (comprising at least ten percent) who are in the main ethnically distinct from the Javanese and Arab majority. Both states struggle to contain sizeable Islamist movements, accelerating grassroots Islamisation, violent Islamic insurgencies and simmering sectarian tensions. Terrorists in both states routinely target churches, especially during Easter, Advent and Christmas (25 December for Catholics and Protestants and 7 January for the Orthodox). Due to recent events and elevated risk, this RLPB will focus on Indonesia and Egypt. However, Christians throughout the Muslim world - and indeed anywhere there are significant Muslim minorities (in particular Western Europe) - may well face increased risk throughout this Christmas season.

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INDONESIA: SALVATION ARMY WORKERS RITUALLY SLAUGHTERED

Salvation Army commander for Palu, Erik A. Kape consoles widows of the MIT attack during a funeral ceremony in Sigi, Central Sulawesi, Saturday 28 Nov.
(source: Jakarta Globe


On Friday 27 November at least ten Islamic militants armed with firearms and machetes attacked a Salvation Army mission outpost in the jungle-clad village of Lemban Tongoa, 90km south-east of the provincial capital, Palu, in Central Sulawesi's Sigi Regency. Four men from one family - Yasa, Pinu, Naka, and Pedi, all Salvation Army church workers - were killed in what can only be described as a savage Islamic terrorist attack. One victim was decapitated, another almost decapitated, while two had their throats slit before being burned to death. Six homes - including those of the victims - and the Salvation Army church were torched. Yasa's son, Ulin, escaped and reported the attack to the authorities. Some 150 families (around 750 men, women and children) have since fled the area.

Map of Indonesia
showing Sigi Regency, Central Sulawesi.

Preliminary investigations, including interviews with eyewitnesses, led police to conclude that the Islamic State affiliated, Sulawesi-based terror outfit East Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT) was responsible. Despite this and the fact that the victims were all servants of Jesus Christ, Indonesian military, police and government officials insist that 'the event had nothing to do with SARA [suku, agama, ras, antargolongan; or ethnicity, religion, race, intergroup relations]'. This narrative is being perpetuated through numerous Muslim media outlets. Terrified of provoking Jakarta's re-energised Islamists [see RLPB 577, 'Blasphemy and Threats' (25 Nov)], Indonesian President Joko Widodo retreated into paralytic silence. It took until Monday 30 November for Widodo to finally respond to social outrage and condemn - without making any reference to religion - the 'terrorism' perpetrated against 'four brothers'. 

Indonesian officials may or may not be correct in their assessment that MIT's motive was primarily that of sending a message to the police: 'We're still here!' Regardless, they obviously chose their victims carefully. MIT chose to target a Church mission outpost. MIT chose to ritually slaughter servants of Jesus Christ. While it is not known whether MIT was inspired to act on the basis of Rizieq Shihab's incendiary words of 15 November in which the controversial firebrand preacher warned the Indonesian government to act against 'blasphemers', or else 'don't blame the Muslims when a head is found on the streets' [see RLPB 577 (25 Nov)]; in reality, that is irrelevant. For MIT didn't need Shihab's incitement when it chose to 'cast terror into the hearts of disbelievers' and 'strike their necks' as commanded in the Quran, Sura 8:12 (https://quran.com/8/12 ). Remember, Islam deems as blasphemy absolutely anything that indicates irreverence towards the Quran or Muhammad.

While MIT comprises only around a dozen core members, it is known to have attracted many thousands of sympathisers, locally and in high places [see RLPB 550, Terror Threat Rising (20 May)]. This is doubtless why Operation Tinombala - a joint military-police operation established in January 2016 to capture and/or eliminate members of MIT - has been so spectacularly ineffective. Choosing his words carefully, Central Sulawesi Christian leader, Rinaldy Damanik responded to the Lemban Tongoa slayings by urging security forces to root out the remnants of MIT: 'We believe that there are still many military and police members who are sincere, professional, and capable of cracking down on the group, but perhaps the policies of their superiors are problematic.'

EGYPT: ANTI-BLASPHEMY RIOTS IN UPPER EGYPT

Muslim rioters attacks Copts 
in al-Barsha, 25 Nov.
YouTube footage

Riots erupted in Upper (southern) Egypt's Minya Governorate on 25 November, after rumors spread that Girgis Sameeh (22), a poor and uneducated, barely literate Coptic youth, had posted a message to his Facebook account that Muslims deemed insulting to Islam (i.e. blasphemous). In the man's hometown of al-Barsha, hundreds of Muslims attacked the homes of Copts with stones and Molotov cocktails. Coptic businesses were looted, ransacked and torched; Mrs Estolia Faragallah (80) was hospitalised for facial burns suffered when a fireball struck her home. Rioting Muslims also beleaguered the church of Abou Sefin, where the congregation was celebrating the beginning of the Coptic fast which runs through Advent from 25 November to 6 January. A minibus belonging to the church was torched in what must have been a truly terrifying ordeal.

Girgis Sameeh's brother told Watani he could not believe Girgis would insult Islam's Prophet or do anything to hurt Muslim feelings: 'We have always lived peacefully by their side, and we work with and for them. How can my brother ever do such a stupid thing? That's not how he was taught to behave.' Indeed, when the mob attempted to ransack the family's home, their Muslim neighbours came to their defence and shielded them. Police eventually intervened to restore order, arresting both Muslims (Arabs) and Copts (the indigenous people of Egypt, most of whom are Coptic Orthodox Christian).

On the evening of 29 November, a-Barsha's angry Muslims had grown tired of being restrained by the presence of security forces in the village, so they took to the surrounding countryside to burn sheds and huts holding cattle feed on the Copts' agricultural lands. Muslims are also boycotting Christian businesses. General Osama Al Qadi, Governor of the Minya Province, has called for tolerance while making clear that measures will be taken against 'anyone who offends others'. It is a measure that does nothing to help Christians, who follow a suffering Saviour and are taught to turn the other cheek and love their enemies, yet hands a weapon to Muslims who take offence so very easily and are taught the very opposite. On 28 November the Vice Chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, Tony Perkins, tweeted: 'The Egyptian government must stop the horrific mob violence against Copts in al-Barsha, Minya, and bring the actual perpetrators to justice, instead of blaming victims & allowing mob rule to supplant rule of law.'

PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* be a shield and fortress for his besieged and threatened people; we pray especially for the Church in Indonesia and Egypt where Islamic zeal and indignation are currently soaring, but also for Christians throughout the Muslim world; may Advent and Christmas pass without incident so that joy might prevail and the message of peace be heard.

* grace the families of the Salvation Army workers slain in Central Sulawesi with an abundance of supernatural comfort and peace; may the Lord provide all their needs, and supply the region with new Gospel workers; may evil have no victory there.

'Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain' (from 1 Corinthians 15:50-58 ESV).

* raise up leaders and advocates in Indonesia and Egypt - in government, in security and especially at the local level - who will have the courage and conviction to uphold religious liberty, defend Christian security, and demand justice when Christians are persecuted. 'Ask, and it will be given to you ...' (promise, from Matthew 7:7-8).

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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INDONESIA AND EGYPT: TENSIONS RISE AHEAD OF CHRISTMAS

Anti-blasphemy sentiment is currently soaring throughout much of the Muslim world and tensions in Indonesia and Egypt are running particularly high. In Indonesia, only weeks after a famous firebrand anti-blasphemy campaigning cleric returned from Saudi Arabia to lead a 'moral (anti-blasphemy) revolution', four Salvation Army servants of Christ were ritually slaughtered - their throats slit, one completely beheaded - in Central Sulawesi. In Minya, Upper Egypt, Muslims rioted - stoning, looting and burning Christian homes, businesses and farms - after rumours spread that a Coptic youth had posted a message to his Facebook account deemed insulting to Islam. Churches in Indonesia and Egypt are routinely targeted in terror attacks, especially over Easter and Christmas (25 December in the Catholic and Protestant West/Indonesia and 7 January in the Orthodox East/Egypt). Tensions are escalating. Please pray.

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UPDATE ON THE PAPUAN PROVINCES

On Friday 20 November five Papuans were shot by unidentified assailants in two separate incidents in Puncak Regency. About 11 am, high school students Manus and Atanius, both aged 17, were shot while walking home for the holidays. Atanius died at the scene while Manus managed to make it home despite having been shot three times. According to Manus, the two boys came across a large group of men, all dressed in black Indonesian paramilitary uniforms, who asked them to pose for photographs. The boys were given weapons, photographed, and then shot at. About an hour later three other Papuan civilians - three males aged 34, 19 and 13 walking together - were shot dead in the surrounding area. They had decided to take a shortcut across the mountain, only to be shot dead on Mount Limbaga. The perpetrators have not been identified.

Benny Wenda and the
Papuan Morning Star flag.

On 1 December every year, Papuans risk military violence and imprisonment when they unfurl Papua's Morning Star flag to commemorate the anniversary of Papua's declaration of independence from Dutch colonial rule. It was short-lived independence, followed as it was by Indonesian military invasion, occupation and annexation. This year, Papuan leaders boldly declared a provisional 'government-in-waiting', laid out a new provisional constitution, and nominated exiled leader Benny Wenda as their interim president. They are demanding a referendum on secession from Indonesia.

Many Papuans sincerely believe that the UN and Western powers will come to their aid and support their right to self-determination. They seem unaware of the way the UN and Western powers rejected the right of Armenians to self-determination in Artsakh, a region they have inhabited for millennia. The Papuans seem unaware of how the UN and Western powers closed their eyes, blocked their ears, and shut their mouths through October and November as Armenians (Orthodox Christians) were yet again slaughtered and driven from their ancestral lands by 'Turks' and their Syrian Arab proxies. The situation in Indonesia's Papuan Provinces is coming to a head; tensions are soaring; a clash is looming; a Christian crisis may be imminent. Please pray.

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

UPDATE ON UGANDA

In last week's RLPB 577 (25 Nov), prayer was requested for the family of Pastor David Omara (64) who was murdered in Aduku, Northern Uganda, on 31 October because of his Christian witness. It may well have been an anti-blasphemy attack for just before he was killed, Pastor Omara had been comparing Christianity and Islam. Since then, Morning Star News has reported more slayings.

On Saturday 21 November Pastor Wilson Niwamanya was travelling home from the Congolese border, where he had been witnessing, to his home in Kabale in Uganda's deep south-west. As part of his Gospel ministry Pastor Niwamanya routinely talked with Muslims about the problems inherent in Islam. He was travelling with his son Simon Peter (12) and a church worker when they were ambushed by four Islamic militants. The church worker (who escaped) heard the militants say, 'This man must die for disrespecting our religion.' Simon Peter was killed with a sword through his stomach while his father succumbed to his injuries three days later. Pastor Niwamanya had been receiving threats for some time; he had been warned that if he continued to discredit Islam he would pay for it with his life.

On Monday 23 November the relatives of Emmanuel Hamuzah (38; a former Islamic skeikh/teacher, who converted to Christianity two years ago) descended on his home demanding he renounce Christ and return to Islam. When he refused they beat him and murdered his son, Ibrahim Mohammad (6). 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, November 24, 2020

RLPB 577. November Update, incl. Pakistan, Artsakh, Ethiopia, Cyprus, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Ivory Coast, Uganda.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 577| Wed 25 Nov 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to “Follow by email” on the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog. http://rlprayerbulletin.blogspot.com  ‘For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds’ (2 Corinthians 10:4 ESV).

NOVEMBER 2020 UPDATE
By Elizabeth Kendal

NOVEMBER 2020 UPDATE - during this period we prayed concerning

* PAKISTAN [RLPB 574 (4 Nov)], where once again a Pakistani High Court had validated the 'marriage' of an abducted Christian minor girl to her Muslim abductor, despite child marriage being illegal in Pakistan. However, this time social media lit up and a flood of public indignation shamed the court into action. On 2 November the Sindh High Court ordered that police recover Arzoo Raja (13) and arrest her abductor, Ali Azhar (44).

UPDATE ON PAKISTAN'S 'REAL PANDEMIC'

On 9 November, having determined that Arzoo Raja was indeed underage, the Sindh High Court reversed its decision and invalidated the marriage. However, the issue of forced conversion was not addressed; neither was that of whether Ali Azhar had committed statutory rape. Instead, Mr Azhar has been charged with marrying an underage child in violation of the child marriage act; a bailable offence with a maximum punishment of three years or a fine of 100,000 rupees (US$630) or both. By her own choice, Arzoo was returned to the women's shelter where she had been living while her case was being determined. On Monday 23 November, the court ruled that Arzoo should remain in the government-run shelter until she turns 18. The family's attorney, Jibran Nasir, maintains Arzoo has been well-groomed and brainwashed. Karachi-based rights activist Qayyum Bahadur believes Arzoo is deeply traumatised and that she remains at risk. Please pray.

In court Mr Azhar's lawyer had argued that the marriage was legitimate because Islamic Sharia Law permits marriage to girls who have attained puberty and that Sharia should take precedence. However, this time that argument did not prevail. In February 2020 the Sindh High Court legitimised the forced marriage of Christian minor girl Huma Younus (then aged 14) to her Muslim abductor, Abdul Jabbar, on the grounds that Sharia permits marriage to girls who have attained puberty. And so Huma, now 15 and pregnant, remains his captive. Surely that ruling must now be challenged! Please pray.

Reports have emerged concerning the abduction and forced marriage of Christian minor girl Farah Shaheen (12). According to her father (a poor labourer), Farah was abducted from the family home in Ahmedabad, Faisalabad division, Punjab Province in June. She was then forcibly converted to Islam and married to her Muslim abductor, Khizar Ahmad Ali (45). The police have been both unsympathetic and unhelpful. Commenting on the crime, the group Justice for Pakistani Minorities calls it Pakistan's 'real pandemic'. Please pray.

Churches are preparing to petition the Supreme Court that it might 'give a clear direction to the government, law enforcement agencies and the subordinate judiciary to take concrete steps on this crucial issue'. Let us pray in solidarity with the Church in Pakistan, 'for laws that defend our daughters'. Please pray.

Arzoo Raja (13), Huma Younus (14), Farah Shaheen (12)


RECOMMENDED:

Abduction, Conversion and Child Marriage of Religious Minority Girls in Pakistan. Report by Jubilee Campaign, 19 Nov 2020

* ARTSAKH [RLPB 575 (11 Nov)], where a Russia-brokered ceasefire has stopped the killing (for now). However, the threat of Armenian genocide still hangs over Artsakh.

UPDATE ON THE CHRISTIAN CRISIS IN ARTSAKH

The Christian crisis in Artsakh is anything but over; numerous issues need to be addressed. First, there is the threat of cultural erasure. The territory seized by and handed to Azerbaijan is rich in Armenian cultural heritage, including hundreds of Armenian churches, monasteries and khachkars (intricately carved Armenian crosses/headstones), many dating back to the 13th Century and earlier. Most analysts anticipate that Azerbaijan will move quickly to erase as much Armenian heritage as it can get away with, just as it has done in Nakhichevan. Secondly, there is the issue of Israel's support for a genocidal regime against an existentially threatened nation of genocide survivors. This round of conflict was won with drones, in particular cutting-edge Israeli-made drones and loitering munitions. Shushi fell to Turkey-backed Azeri and jihadi forces because an Israeli LORA (super accurate LOng RAnge missile) blew out the bridge into Shushi, leaving Armenian forces cut off and trapped. No wonder Azeris in Baku celebrated with Israeli flags! Some serious prayer and advocacy is needed on this front! Thirdly, despite being sidelined by the Russia-brokered deal, the Turkish parliament has passed a resolution to send Turkish troops to Azerbaijan, supposedly to 'monitor the ceasefire' with drones. Russia insists the Turks must be confined to the joint monitoring centre in Baku. But who is to say the drones will not be used less for 'monitoring' and more for reconnaissance ahead of a 'final solution'? Please pray.

Armenians say farewell to Dadivank Monastery
(Caucasian Knot, 21 Nov 2020)
MORE images:
Left Behind? Churches, Monasteries Due For Handover To Azerbaijan.
RFE/RL photo gallery 14 Nov 2020


* ETHIOPIA [RLPB 576 (18 Nov)], where a battle (both spiritual and physical) for Ethiopia is underway. Opposition forces - particularly the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF, which dominated, terrorised and exploited Ethiopia from 1991 to 2018) - are threatening to destabilise not merely the nation, but the entire Horn of Africa. It is imperative that the battle currently raging in Tigray between Ethiopia's reformist government and the TPLF end quickly and that the Ethiopian National Defence Force prevails. The battle for Mekelle (the capital of Tigray) looms. Please pray that God will deliver the TPLF's human shields and facilitate civilian flight to safety. May God intervene to deliver justice, liberty, security and peace. Not only would destabilisation be catastrophic for Ethiopia's Christians (who comprise around 63 percent of the population); the chaos would be a gift for the region's Islamic jihadists who are already primed and ready to pounce. Please pray.

NOVEMBER 2020 ROUND-UP - also this month

* CYPRUS: OTTOMAN STORM AHEAD

As noted in RLPB 573 (28 Oct), 'the status quo is over!' Not only has neo-Ottoman Turkey been building up its troops in Turkey-occupied northern Cyprus, it has also managed, through massive interference, to engineer an electoral coup which saw pro-unification premier Mustafa Akinci (vilified in Turkish media as a 'Greek lover') replaced with neo-Ottoman hardliner Ersin Tatar (recognised widely as an Erdogan lover). Greek Cypriots are alarmed, as are many Turkish Cypriots, especially youths born and raised on Cyprus who see themselves as Cypriots as distinct from Turks. When Turkey's President Erdogan visited northern Cyprus on 15 November, he was met with protests from Turkish Cypriots who do not want to see the island partitioned and northern Cyprus annexed into Turkey, something many analysts believe is on the cards. After all, Turkey's Foreign Ministry insists that Cyprus is 'an extension of the Anatolian Peninsula'. At Erdogan's instigation, Ersin Tatar will soon visit Azerbaijan. 'After 28 years, the Azerbaijanis are beginning to return to their native lands,' Erdogan told Turkish Cypriots on 15 November. 'As long as we are united, we can overcome any problems and obstacles. May Allah have mercy upon our martyrs, thanks to whom we are able to live in these glorious days.' The situation on Cyprus - long a hub for Christian mission into the Middle East - warrants close attention and ardent prayer. Please pray.

* EGYPT: 'BLASPHEMY' AND ABDUCTION


In recent weeks, Egyptian authorities arrested numerous citizens accused of 'blasphemy', including several Christians. On 11 November, police arrested Christian teacher Youssef Hany and a female Muslim student over comments they had made on Facebook deemed to have defamed Islam. Both were charged with insulting a 'heavenly religion' and released on bail. Social media subsequently lit up with threats to kill the blasphemer (Hany). Also on 11 November Coptic Christians Ayman Rida Hanna and Mounir Masaad Hanna were referred to the criminal court, accused of mocking Islam and insulting religion. The men had been arrested in June 2019 after they appeared in a video discussing prayer in Islam and held in pre-trial detention ever since. Furthermore, on the evening of 8 November, Nabil Habashy Salameh (61), was abducted near his home in Bir al-Abd, North Sinai Province, a region long-plagued with terrorism and largely 'cleansed' of Christians [see RLPB 396 (1 March 2017)]. A Coptic Christian businessman, Mr Salameh, is responsible for building the only church in Bir al-Abd. Mr Salameh was snatched off a busy street by three gunmen who forced him into a stolen get-away car and sped away firing shots into the air. The family holds grave fears for his life. Please pray.

* INDONESIA: 'BLASPHEMY' AND THREATS

In 2016, as leader of Indonesia's Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), Rizieq Shihab (55) led the 212 (2 December) anti-blasphemy protests against Jakarta's former ethnic-Chinese Christian governor Basuki Tjahaha 'Ahok' Purnama [see: RLPB 383 (9 Nov 2016)]. In April 2017 Shihab fled pornography charges in Indonesia after he was found sex-texting with a woman not his wife; the charges were subsequently dropped. 

The return of Rizieq Shihab (10 Nov)

On 10 November, after three years in self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia, the firebrand Islamist anti-blasphemy campaigner returned to Indonesia to launch a 'moral revolution'. Many thousands of white-clad Islamists filled the airport and lined the highway to ensure Shihab received a rapturous hero's welcome. The Indonesian government has been rocked by the cleric's obvious popularity. The 212 anti-blasphemy movement might have fragmented in Shihab's absence, but the cleric has announced a 212 reunion for 2 December 2020. Tensions are soaring.

On Sunday 15 November a 40-second video clip was uploaded to FPI's YouTube channel. It shows Rizieq Shihab demanding the Indonesian government act swiftly against anyone accused of blasphemy. 'To the government, especially the police, let us tell you: If you don't want what happened in France, where someone who insulted the Prophet was beheaded, then we implore you to [follow up on] reports on blasphemers. If [the police] fail to process [accusations of blasphemy], then don't blame the Muslims when a head is found on the streets.' The trend bodes ill for Indonesian Christians. Please pray.

* IRAN: JAIL AND INTIMIDATION

On 17 November, Article 18 reported that four more Christians had received prison sentences in Iran. 'Mehdi Akbari, Fatemeh Sharifi and Simin Soheilinia were given 10 years, and Mehdi Roohparvar five, all under the same charge of "acting against national security by forming a house-church".' Article 18 can verify that 'Mehdi A and Mehdi R are both now serving their sentences in Ward 4 of Tehran's Evin Prison. ... It is therefore assumed that Fatemeh and Simin are in the women's ward of the prison ...' Little is known about their case. Article 18 also reports that on 11 November intelligence agents raided 12 Christian homes in Fardis, on the western outskirts of Tehran. Nobody was arrested, but phones, laptops, Bibles and everything that had anything to do with Christianity were confiscated. Please pray for the Church in Iran.

* IVORY COAST: CHRISTIAN CRISIS LOOMS

Deeply divided Ivory Coast went to the polls on 31 October [see RLPB 572, 'Election Peril' (20 October)]. Violence erupted before the election after the incumbent Alassane Outtara (a northern Muslim backed by colonial power France) announced he would run for a third term, violating the constitution, which sets a two-term limit. Leading opposition candidates (non-Muslim southerners) called for a boycott. On 9 November the same Constitutional Council that approved Outtara's unconstitutional candidacy confirmed his victory, having secured 94 percent of the vote. Opposition supporters took to the streets, only to be attacked with stones, machetes and firearms. Amnesty International reports 55 deaths and 282 injuries between 31 October and 10 November. At least 20,000 southerners have been displaced, with some 8000 fleeing into neighbouring states, particularly Liberia and Ghana. Numerous leading political opposition figures have been arrested, including presidential candidate Pascal Affi N'Guessan who has been charged with 'attack and conspiracy against the state authority, murder and acts of terrorism'. President of Laurent Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front party, N'Guessan served as Prime Minister under President Gbagbo (a Christian) from 2000-2003; his whereabouts are unknown. Once a hub for Christian missions into West and North Africa, Ivory Coast is again on the brink of an ethno-religious civil war and full-blown Christian crisis. Please pray.

* UGANDA: PASTOR MURDERED FOR HIS MINISTRY

map: location circled.
Mourners at burial of slain pastor David Omara.
Wednesday 4 Nov. (Morning Star News)

On Saturday 31 October a mob of fundamentalist Muslims ambushed and murdered Pastor David Omara (64) of Christian Church Center, presumably to end his Gospel ministry. Well known as a radio preacher, Pastor Omara had just finished a radio broadcast, in which he compared Christianity and Islam, when he received a phone call supposedly from an appreciative inquirer requesting a meeting. Pastor Omara and his son, Simon Okut, left the studio in Aduku (24km east of Apac), Kwania District, Northern Uganda Region, at around 9pm. Simon Okut told Morning Star News: 'As we arrived at the said [meeting] place, there came out of the bush six people dressed in Islamic attire, and they started strangling and beating my father with blunt objects.' Upon learning the news of her husband's death, Pastor Omara's wife wailed, fainted with shock and had to be admitted to hospital. The couple have eight children aged 30, 26, 22, 20, 18, 15, 13 and 10. Concerning Omara's ministry, a colleague remarked, 'He worked tirelessly for the kingdom of God to the day he breathed his last breath.' 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, November 17, 2020

RLPB 576. Ethiopia: Collapse Would Trigger Christian Crisis

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 576 | Wed 18 Nov 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to “Follow by email” on the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog‘For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds’ (2 Corinthians 10:4 ESV). 

ETHIOPIA: COLLAPSE WOULD TRIGGER CHRISTIAN CRISIS
By Elizabeth Kendal

BACKGROUND: THE BATTLE FOR ETHIOPIA

Ethiopian children (source: Compassion)

God is forever at work in this world; and forever his work is both old and new. It is old in that his message has never changed: 'repent and be reconciled to God', yet new in that the message is constantly being heard in new and exciting ways and in new and exciting places as the Spirit of God sweeps like waters through a land, or blows like wind through a people. It is clear today that God is doing a new and unprecedented work among the world's Muslims. One of the first countries to experience this was Ethiopia - an empire comprising both Semitic and Cushite peoples. In 1910, Shaikh Zekaryas (an Amharic Muslim) converted to Christianity, took the name Niwaiye Kristos ('Property of Christ') and was baptised along with 3000 of his disciples. Blessed with freedom, thousands more Muslims subsequently followed. Today, according to reports, the Spirit of God is moving again in Ethiopia (see Operation World 2010). Unsurprisingly, resistance is mounting. [See: Reforms and Resistance, Religious Liberty Monitoring (25 June 2018).] Disgruntled forces both inside and outside the country are plotting to unleash mayhem, bring down the government and fragment the state. Indeed, a major battle has begun! '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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ETHIOPIA: COLLAPSE WOULD TRIGGER CHRISTIAN CRISIS

On 29 October the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) released a report by its Senior Study Group on Peace and Security in the Red Sea Arena. Its warnings with regard to the situation in Ethiopia should drive us to our kneels. The report notes that political transitions in Sudan and Ethiopia have 'set the region on a transformative new trajectory toward reform and stability'. However, it warns that state failure 'would send a tidal wave of instability across Africa and the Middle East' (page 4). On page 10 we read: 'Given their populations of approximately 45 million and 105 million, Sudan and Ethiopia are respectively more than two times and six times the size of prewar Syria. Fragmentation of either country would be the largest state collapse in modern history, likely leading to mass inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflict; a dangerous vulnerability to exploitation by extremists; an acceleration of illicit trafficking, including of arms; as well as a humanitarian and security crisis at the crossroads of Africa and the Middle East on a scale that would overshadow the existing conflicts in South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen.' 

Political map of Ethiopia
(click on map to enlarge)
Within days of the USIP report's publication, the 32-month-long Cold War between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray Peoples' Liberation Front (TPLF) had turned hot in Tigray. [Explanation in English by Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed.] As noted in last week's RLPB 575 (11 Nov) 'Update on Ethiopia', with the government now focused on fighting the TPLF (as distinct from 'Tigraens') in Tigray, 'the security situation elsewhere in Ethiopia could deteriorate quickly and markedly'. Consequently, it is imperative that the government's 'law enforcement operation' against the TPLF be both successful and rapid. To that end, it is imperative that the new government in Khartoum (Sudan) not follow the course of its predecessor - President Omar al-Bashir, who supported the TPLF - but support the Ethiopian government's vision for a strong and united Ethiopia, as much for its own sake as for Ethiopia's. If Khartoum backs Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), as does Asmara (Eritrea), then the TPLF will be besieged, lacking support and supply.

On 9 November there was a military operation by the Ethiopian Defence Forces (EDF) and Amhara Special Force against the Tigray Special Police and militia at a place called Lugdi, in which the government forces prevailed. In retaliation, that night the TPLF sent forces into Mycadra - a nearby market town - where they led a quiet (no gunfire) massacre of non-Tigraens. When government forces entered the town the following day they were met with scenes of bloodshed, slaughter and the bodies of as many as 500 non-Tigraens (mostly day-labourers) hacked to death with knives and machetes. [See report by Amnesty International (12 Nov).] Dr Abrham Amare, a surgery resident at Bahir Dar University, Amhara, reports that the dead are almost all Amharan. He laments: 'Everyone has killed his neighbour. Wife killed her husband' (who was brought to the hospital but could not be saved). On 14 November the TLPF claimed responsibility for rocket strikes on Asmara (the capital of Eritrea), Bahir Dar (the capital of Amhara State) and historic Gondar, and threatened more. According to reports, TPLF troops have retreated from southern Tigray's Raya and Alamata towns. Headed for Mekele (Tigray's capital) they were taking with them some 10,000 hostages, mostly youths (probably pro-government) they had rounded up and detained before fighting commenced.

Meanwhile, on 14 November, gunmen in the western Benishangul-Gumuz region (an ethnically mixed region bordering Sudan's Blue Nile State) slaughtered at least 34 people in an attack on a passenger bus. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said there were reports of 'similar' attacks, particularly in Wubgish, Yamp and Kido districts, and of people fleeing the violence. According to unconfirmed reports, the victims of the bus attack were mainly ethnic Oromo and Sinasha, while the attackers were 'anti-peace' agents backed by the TPLF'. Also, on 14 November, the government announced it had arrested 14 al-Shabaab and Islamic State (IS) terrorists who were on a mission to attack targets in the capital, Addis Ababa, and other parts of the country. Ethiopian security and intelligence forces had been tracking the terrorists, who had hoped to exploit the current insecurity to commit a terror attack in Addis.

PLEASE PRAY: MAY OUR SOVEREIGN, ALMIGHTY AND MERCIFUL GOD

* intervene in Ethiopia to thwart all evil plots designed to unleash mayhem, bring down the government, and fragment the state; may God's good plans for Ethiopia prevail. (Psalm 146)

* intervene for Ethiopia to provide the reformist government with all the international support it needs to advance reforms and tackle resistance; may the government have wisdom to know how to move forward in a way that pleases the Lord and advances HIS good purposes.

* raise up peacemakers in the Church who can lead, heal and unify the people (Matthew 5:9), and open doors for humanitarian aid to be delivered; may God prove himself faithful to those trusting him for food, water, medical aid, shelter and protection.

* redeem this crisis to draw ever more Ethiopians to Christ and the Ethiopian Church ever closer to Jesus who 'always lives to make intercession for them' (Hebrews 7:25). May all Satan's plans be turned upside-down.

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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COLLAPSE IN ETHIOPIA WOULD TRIGGER CHRISTIAN CRISIS

The Spirit of God is active in Ethiopia. Furthermore, Ethiopia's new government is enacting major reforms that will benefit not only the state, but the whole region. However, resistance is mounting (Ephesians 6:12). Disgruntled internal and external forces are at work to unleash mayhem, bring down the government and fragment the state. This would be catastrophic for Ethiopia, but especially for Ethiopian Christians. State collapse would trigger massive ethnic-religious cleansing while a security vacuum would open the door for criminals and militant Islamists. Today, the government is fighting oppositional forces in Tigray State; massacres of ethnic minorities are increasing, and al-Shabaab and Islamic State terrorists have been arrested in Addis Ababa. The risk of state collapse and the crisis this would create for Ethiopian Christians cannot be overstated. 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