Wednesday, April 29, 2020

RLPB 547. April Update, incl. Mozambique, Nigeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Niger, Uganda

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 547 | Wed 29 Apr 2020
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APRIL 2020 UPDATE
By Elizabeth Kendal

The Easter devotions - Prayer Fuel from the Servant Songs of Isaiah - are now available as one PDF on www.ElizabethKendal.com. Originally written for Easter, these short reflections focus on the promises linked to the person and work of God's Servant - the Lord Jesus Christ - to address the hope-deficit plaguing contemporary Christianity.

It is all too common today for Christians to have hope in 'heaven' (usually imagined as a future home beyond the clouds) but no hope at all for this divinely crafted and greatly loved world (κόσμον, kosmos, John 3:16) in which we live. In this thinking, the Church becomes something like a 'waiting room' into which the saved retreat. Yet the Word of God is clear concerning the spiritual struggle in which we find ourselves: the decisive, pivotal battle has been won! Because of the victory of God's good and faithful Servant, salvation will reach to the ends of the earth, just as God planned from the very beginning. How will this happen? God is working patiently and mostly unspectacularly through the Church: through Christian doctors, nurses, teachers, parents, tradespeople, police, politicians, artists, lawyers, scientists and others, increasingly of 'every tribe and language and people and nation' (Revelation 5). We are God's human instruments in his spectacular plan of redemption. God has ordained it, Christ has secured it and the Spirit is working with us, in us and through us, to bring it to pass. Far from being a 'waiting room', the Church is to be a power-house, energising and equipping saints for the task.

We need a revival of Biblically grounded, theologically rigorous, faith and hope - the hope that inspired the authors of our great creeds and confessions; the hope that inspired the Puritans to transform culture; the hope that inspired pioneer missionaries to 'expect great things from God [and] attempt great things for God' (William Carey, May 1792; title of a sermon based on Isaiah 54:1-4). Only then will we have confidence to pray for what God has promised in the Servant Songs of Isaiah.

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

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RAMADAN: 24 April - 23 May
RLPB recommends: 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World
https://www.30daysprayer.com/
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APRIL 2020 UPDATE - during this period we prayed concerning

MOZAMBIQUE [RLPB 543 (1 April)], where Islamic State is exploiting local grievances to gain a foothold amongst Muslim youths in Cabo Delgado. Consequently, the insurgency is developing into a more sophisticated terror campaign and the Church in Mozambique - and especially in Cabo Delgado - is growing increasingly anxious.

UPDATE: On 7 April Islamic insurgents slaughtered 52 young men in the village of Xitaxi in Muidumbe District, Cabo Delgado. According to reports (which only emerged on 21 April) the 52 youths - who were mostly shot or beheaded - were killed for refusing to be recruited into the jihadist ranks. The massacre - the worst since the insurgency began - was an act of retaliation designed to send a very clear and loud message. Local grievances and injustice must be addressed. May God give the Church in Mozambique wisdom, insight and a voice that is heard, that she might shine as a truth-speaker and peace-maker. Please pray. [A full analysis on Mozambique will be available shortly.]

SRI LANKA [RLPB 544 (8 April)], remembering the Easter 2019 terror attacks that claimed more than 250 lives, some 180 of whom were killed in church as they celebrated the resurrection. This Easter, at a time of coronavirus lockdown, the focus for many was 'forgiveness'. We also prayed concerning the re-emergence of dangerous Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism which is being peddled for political gain. According to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the two greatest 'threats facing the Sinhalese Buddhist nation' are: (1) illicit drugs and (2) religious conversions. The Church in Sri Lanka needs our prayers. Please pray.


click on map to enlarge
ASSYRIA [RLPB 545 (15 April)], the indigenous Christian nation whose homelands are centred in and around the Nineveh Plains (in northern Iraq). Assyrians are facing threats on many fronts, particularly from a resurgent Islamic State, as well as from Kurds (Sunnis) and Shabaks (Shi'ites, backed by Baghdad and Tehran) who are devouring and colonising Assyrian lands, threatening not only Assyria's heritage, but its future. It truly is a Christian crisis. Please pray.

In 701 BC, the army of superpower Assyria flooded Immanuel's land (Judah) right up 'to the neck' (the gates of Jerusalem), just as Isaiah warned it would (Isaiah 8:5-8 and chapter 36). Only then did Hezekiah, king of Judah, repent of his pride and independence and humbly put his trust in the Lord. As soon as King Hezekiah prayed, God answered, just as Isaiah promised he would (Isaiah 30:15-19 and chapter 37). Today, the situation is reversed. No longer a superpower, no longer Judah's overlord, the long-persecuted Assyrians are but the remnant of a Christian nation whose enemies are closing in against them. Just as in 701 BC, defeat appears imminent and inevitable ... and would be, except that God is free and sovereign. May the Assyrians (along with the global Church) cry out to the Lord, just as did King Hezekiah, that the battle may again be turned back at the gate.

'In that day the Lord of hosts will be a crown of glory, and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of his people, and a spirit of justice to him who sits in judgement, and strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate' (Isaiah 28:5,6 ESV).

NIGERIA [RLPB 546 (22 April)], for an end to the 'silent slaughter' which is ravaging Nigeria's North and Middle Belt and which, like that in Iraq, is nothing less than an existential Christian crisis.

UPDATE (for a full list of horrors, visit 'Silent Slaughter' and check the Incident Tracker).

(1) DELTA: on Saturday morning 18 April armed Fulani herdsmen kidnapped Rev Anthony Oyi, a priest of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, along with his wife and children and a member of his parish. The family had been working on their farm at Issele-Mkpitime Village, Aniocha North Local Government Area (LGA). All were reportedly released the next day, after the priest's family paid a ransom.

(2) KADUNA: On Sunday evening 19 April Fulani herdsmen attacked Angwan Magaji Kamaru village, which is near Kamaru in Kauru LGA in Kaduna's south-east, close to the border with Plateau, only 30km west of Jos. Sources told Morning Star News that the violence continued for two-and-a-half hours, without resistance from police or other security personnel. Four residents were killed, 38 homes were razed and some 87 families have been affected. The dead included two members of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), Hannatu Joseph (70) and Sunday David (45); and two Catholics, Jummai Sajeh (75) and Sarah Sunday (40).

On the Silent Slaughter of Irigwe
The dead were all Irigwe, a people group with a population of around 82,000. Famed for their dancing, the Irigwe farm a region covering south-eastern Kaduna and western Plateau (in particular, Bassa and Barakin Ladi LGAs). The Irigwe have been hit exceptionally hard by the Fulani jihad. The Honourable Sunday Adbu is President General of the Irigwe Development Association. In a video on the 'Silent Slaughter' website he tells how the Irigwe have suffered 66 Fulani attacks resulting in 327 lives lost, 186 widows, 744 orphans, 169 with incapacitating injuries (e.g. amputations and brain injuries) and 14,968 displaced (data to July 2019). Along with churches and homes, farmlands and storage facilities have also been looted, destroyed and burnt, leaving the people unable to feed themselves. 'We desire assistance,' he says. Please pray.

'I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth' (Psalm 121:1,2 ESV).


APRIL 2020 ROUND-UP - also this month

* EGYPT: EASTER TERROR PLOT FOILED

On Tuesday evening 14 April Egyptian security forces raided a 10-storey apartment block in the El-Amiriya neighbourhood, eastern Cairo, to neutralise a terror cell ensconced there. A shoot-out ensued, in which all seven terrorists were killed. Police also raided a warehouse in El-Matariya neighbourhood, where weapons (including six automatic rifles), ammunition and explosives had been stored. El-Amiriya neighbourhood is known to have a significant population of Christians and several churches. In a statement, the Ministry of Interior confirmed that the terrorists had been part of a cell preparing to attack Coptic Christians during Holy Week and Easter Sunday (19 April). One National Security Agency (NSA) officer died in the operation and a NSA officer and two policemen were wounded. Please pray for Egypt and her threatened, long-persecuted Church.

* IRAN: UPDATE ON PRISONERS


Aylar Bakhteri (l) and Amin Khaki (c) Mahrokh Ghanbari (r) 
That Iran's prisons are massively over-crowded should be no surprise considering that imprisonment is routinely used as a means of intimidating and persecuting political and religious dissidents. Concerned that COVID-19 could spread uncontrollably through these unhygienic and obscenely over-crowded prisons, in mid-March the regime released nearly 100,000 low-risk prisoners serving short prison terms - mostly on furlough. We praise and thank God that in the first two weeks of April, Ms Rokhsare (Mahrokh) Ghanbari (62) and Pastor Amin Khaki (36), both from Karaj; along with Fatemeh (Aylar) Bakhteri (35) from Rasht, were informed that they would not be required to return to prison to complete their sentences.

Meanwhile, having been released on bail on 26 February, Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi [see RLPB 536 (11 Feb)] faced court on 14 April. Though Mary had been charged with 'disturbing public order', the judge reportedly focused his questions on the matter of Mary's Christian faith. [See Matthew 10:16-20]. On 21 April Mary was notified that she had been given a suspended sentence of three months and one day in prison and 10 lashes. Despite lamenting the injustice of being given any sentence at all for a crime she had not committed, Mary will not appeal the sentence. Under different circumstances, her sentence may well have been far more severe. Please pray for Iran's persecuted and imprisoned believers.

* IRAQ: CHRISTIAN AID WORKERS RELEASED

On 20 January three French nationals and one Iraqi who had been serving with the French Christian charity SOS Chretiens d'Orient (SOS Christians of the Middle East) disappeared in Baghdad. Based in Erbil, the aid workers had travelled south to Baghdad to renew their visas and observe a project being supported by the charity to build a school in Baghdad's Christian quarter. No ransom demand was made and grave fears were held for their safety [RLPB 534 (29 Jan)]. On 27 March SOS Chretiens d'Orient announced on Twitter that the four aid workers had been released and thanked supporters for an 'incredible movement of prayers and solidarity'. A statement from the French presidency thanked Iraqi authorities for their co-operation. Whether a ransom was paid, or a politico-military deal was brokered, remains unknown. Praise and thank God that these aid workers have been freed, safe and well. Please pray for Iraq's imperilled Church.

* NIGER: ISLAMISTS EXPLOIT COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS


click on map to enlarge
Tensions escalated in Niger in the month leading up to Ramadan as some urban Muslims protested the government's ban on mass prayer gatherings. Weekly altercations after Friday prayers culminated on Friday 17 April in riots across numerous neighbourhoods around the capital Niamey. The protests, which appeared orchestrated, continued into Sunday 19 April and resulted in significant property damage. Over 100 protesters were subsequently arrested, of whom 10 remain detained. Another 166 were arrested after another eruption of violence on Monday 20 April. Nigerien authorities, influential traditional chiefs and the Niger Islamic Council have all issued calls for restraint. With one voice they are reminding Muslims that they do not need to attend mosque to pray; instead they should demonstrate 'resilience', pray at home and focus on 'protecting themselves and others'. International Crisis Group reports that in the remote north-west where jihadists hold sway, locals have been ordered not to obey the government; imams and chiefs who support the government have been forced to flee. Meanwhile in the south-east, audio messages attributed to Boko Haram leader Aboubacar Shekau are circulating, urging Muslims to resist any restrictions. Clearly fundamentalist elements are exploiting the COVID-19 crisis to whip up anti-government sentiment during Ramadan.

Despite being 98 percent Muslim, Niger boasts secular governance and a high degree of religious freedom. Comprising a mere 0.33 percent, Christians are vulnerable, despite the government's determination to protect them. Please pray that peace will reign through Ramadan and that those who would seek to exploit the COVID-19 crisis for their own nefarious ends might gain no traction at all. Please pray for President Mahamadou Issoufou and for the Church in Niger.

* UGANDA: PERSECUTION WITH IMPUNITY IN EASTERN REGION


Uganda map, showing
Bugiri district,
Eastern Region.
(click on map to enlarge)
On 7 April Lydia Nabirye, the 23-year-old daughter of a Church of God evangelist, was travelling home through Bugiri District in majority Muslim Eastern Region, when a group of fundamentalist Muslims ambushed, strangled and savagely beat her, all the while threatening to kill her. Hearing the ruckus, neighbours called the police, upon whose arrival the assailants fled. A source told Morning Star News (MSN) that when he saw Nabirye on 14 April she was 'still in pain from multiple injuries - head, right eye and left hand injuries.' The Muslims were furious because Nabirye had shared her faith with a young Muslim woman who had since become a Christian. Then, when the new convert was forced to flee persecution, Nabirye's family gave her sanctuary. The family now has seven Muslim converts sheltering in their home. Nabirye's father, Paul Kaikiya, has been threatened repeatedly; he is deeply concerned about the possibility of an attack on the family home. The source told MSN, 'The family needs prayers at this difficult moment, especially for the security and the safety of the Muslim-background believers.' Please pray.

The MSN report (20 April) also includes the moving story of the January 2020 conversion of Sylvia Shamimu Nabafa (27) and the painful persecution she has subsequently suffered. At the time when Sylvia gave her life to Jesus, she was five months pregnant, meaning her baby must be due any day now. 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