Tuesday, May 26, 2020

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

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 551| Wed 27 May 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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

MAY 2020 UPDATE
By Elizabeth Kendal

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

MAY 2020 UPDATE - during this period we prayed concerning:

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

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

UPDATE: HONG KONG

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

Radio Free Asia (24 May 2020)

HONG KONG LOSES ITS LIBERTY


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

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

MAY 2020 ROUND-UP - also this month:

NIGERIA: SECURITY FALLS APART
click on image
to enlarge.

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

* PAPUAN PROVINCES (INDONESIA): RISK OF MORE VIOLENCE

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

* TURKEY: ERDOGAN STOKES THE FIRE OF ISLAMIC ZEAL

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

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

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

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


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

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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, May 19, 2020

RLPB 550. Indonesia: Terror Threat Rising (esp. for Java, Poso and Chinese community)

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 550 | Wed 20 May 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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

INDONESIA: TERROR THREAT RISING
- particularly for Java, Poso (in Central Sulawesi) and Indonesia's Chinese community
By Elizabeth Kendal


Unlike al-Qaeda - which peddles a narrative of victimhood - Islamic State peddles a positive and apocalyptic narrative: the End Times are upon us so reach out and grasp the success that Allah has promised! Through its weekly newsletter, Al-Naba (The Dispatch), Islamic State (IS) has been exhorting its supporters to see the COVID-19 as Allah's vengeance on Islam's enemies, in particular China (which persecutes Uyghur Muslims), Shi'ite Iran, the 'crusader' West and Russia. Consequently, IS is exhorting its fighters to exploit this opportunity Allah has afforded them and attack infidels and apostates in their moment of crisis. Despite being decimated and in disarray, IS-affiliated (or even just inspired) jihadists have responded to the call and escalated their terrorism, primarily in Iraq where the group was born and is resurgent.

In Indonesia, IS-aligned jihadist groups - Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) and Mujahidin Indonesia Timur (MIT) - have escalated their terrorist rhetoric and activity. It is true that these groups are small; indeed, one researcher recently described Central Sulawesi's Poso-based MIT as 'a small but stubbornly resistant group of ragtag terrorists ... hiding out in the hills'. It is also true that Indonesia's counter-terrorism force, Densus 88, has been very effective in keeping these groups contained. However, even one 'ragtag terrorist' can do incredible damage if he manages to slip through the net. On Sunday 13 May 2018 one family belonging to JAD bombed three churches in Surabaya, East Java, killing 13 and wounding 43.

MIT leader Ali Kalora, Poso, April 2020
On 8 April 2020, Poso-based MIT jihadists abducted Daeng Topo from his farm in Central Sulawesi. They later released an IS-inspired video in which Topo was condemned as a police informant and beheaded. On 15 April two MIT jihadists - one bearing a decrepit firearm - attacked a police officer outside a bank in Poso attempting to seize his service weapon. A scuffle ensued and the police officer was shot in the chest (non-fatally), after which police chased down and killed the two jihadists (one of whom had supposedly been 'de-radicalised' in an Indonesian prison). On 19 April MIT released another IS-inspired video, in which local farmer Ambo Ajeng, known affectionately as Papa Angga, was accused of being a police informant and shot through the head at point blank range. The funeral for the two MIT jihadists killed on 15 April was live-streamed on Facebook. Researchers at Melbourne University report that the footage reveals 'a surprisingly deep reservoir of local support for MIT'. Hundreds of MIT supporters, young and old, lined the streets, chanting IS slogans, waving black IS flags and saluting the dead MIT jihadists as heroes. The footage has reportedly 'energised' IS supporters across the archipelago. Around 20 percent of Central Sulawesi residents are Christian; most are Protestant and live in the Poso Regency, which is around 56 percent Christian.

Bigger and more sophisticated than MIT, Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) is an Indonesia-wide network of some two dozen Indonesian militant groups that have pledged allegiance to Islamic State. On 13 April 2020 anti-terror forces raided a house in Muna, an island in south-east Sulawesi, where five JAD terrorists were holed up. One attacked the officers and was shot dead; the remaining four, who hailed from Central Java and South Sulawesi, were arrested. Police confiscated bladed weapons, long-range firearms and bomb-making equipment. On 26 and 27 April counter-terrorism raids targeted JAD cells at each end of Java. Three JAD suspects were arrested in the raid in Sidoarjo, a suburb of Surabaya, East Java. Three more JAD suspects - one of whom is a former air force serviceman - were arrested in the raid in Serang, the capital of Banten Province, west of Jakarta. Police also netted 2,300 rounds of ammunition (of the type used in assault rifles and in the service weapons used by the Indonesian military and police), along with a camouflaged sniper rifle (of the sort used by Kostrad [Army Strategic Command]) and several automatic pistols. It is reportedly 'the most Indonesian militants are known to have had in their possession in almost two decades'.

Rooted as it is in IS's COVID-19 narrative, JAD's rhetoric is profoundly anti-China. The risk is that this could translate into attacks on Chinese-owned businesses and Indonesia's Chinese community, more than 40 percent of whom are Christian.


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* intervene to sever the supply lines that enable fighters and weapons to flow between Indonesia and the southern Philippines; may any 'leakage' of weapons from Indonesia's security forces also be stopped. 'Break the arm [the mechanism of action] of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none.' (Psalm 10:15 ESV)

* facilitate the capture of Poso-based MIT terrorist leader Ali Kalora, along with anyone who is plotting evil against Indonesian civilians and particularly against the Lord's people.

* protect Indonesia's churches, Christians and Chinese community from Islamic State-inspired terrorism as Indonesia struggles to contain the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.

* comfort and encourage the Church in Central Sulawesi, where memories of brutal Islamic jihad are still raw; may the church's message of peace and fellowship be embraced widely. 'Blessed are the peacemakers ...' (Matthew 5:9).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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TERROR THREAT RISING IN INDONESIA

With Islamic State (IS) urging its followers to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to attack infidels and apostates, Indonesia's IS-aligned jihadists have escalated their terrorist rhetoric and activity. While these groups are small and Indonesian forces have been very effective in containing them, only one bomber needs to slip through the net to cause horrendous damage. Over the last month, Indonesian counter-terrorism forces have made numerous arrests and confiscated large quantities of weapons and ammunition from IS-aligned jihadist cells plotting terror. The threat level is raised, especially in Java - from Banten in the west to Surabaya in the east - as well as in Central Sulawesi, specifically in and around the majority Christian Poso Regency. The threat level is especially high for Indonesia's Chinese community, which is some 40 percent Christian. Please pray.

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RAMADAN: 24 April - Saturday 23 May (Eid al-Fitr)
RLPB recommends: 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World
https://www.30daysprayer.com/
------------------------------------------------------------

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, May 12, 2020

RLPB 549. China: Government Wants Fewer Churches

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 549 | Wed 13 May 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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

By Elizabeth Kendal

INTRODUCTION
HONG KONG: WIPING OUT THE MIDDLE GROUND

On 18 April Hong Kong authorities arrested 15 of the region's most high profile senior pro-democracy leaders 'on suspicion of organising, publicising or taking part in several unauthorised assemblies'. In recent years, the Hong Kong democracy movement has split. On one side there is the old guard of pan-democrats who have long worked with Beijing to advance peacefully the 'One Country, Two Systems' agreement. Beijing had long been happy to work with these pro-democracy leaders, but as veteran journalist and commentator Lee Yee explains, 'Following the rise of Xi Jinping in late 2012 ... all of that changed.' Under Xi, Beijing started exercising more and more control over Hong Kong. In 2016 a new youth-led movement emerged advocating 'localism' (a separate identity for Hong Kong). It seems this faction has also now split between those who steadfastly reject violence and those who believe violence may be necessary to force change. Seasoned with realism, the old-guard pan-democrats have persistently sought to establish an acceptable middle ground. Yet this is the group Beijing targeted in the 18 April sweep. Today, Beijing is boasting of having nabbed 'Hong Kong independence gang leaders'. But, as Lee explains, in arresting men and women who 'have consistently been the most mild advocates of democratic norms in the territory', the Communist authorities 'have, in effect, wiped out what remained a middle ground. Now the only choices open to Hong Kong people are: align yourself with a totalitarian regime or rise up to resist and oppose it. There simply is no Third Way.'

See: The End of the Third Way, by Lee Yee, 21 April 2020.

Reading Lee Yee's analysis of Beijing's actions in Hong Kong makes one wonder if the same policy might one day be rolled out across the mainland with regards to China's churches; or indeed if it has already begun!

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CHINA: GOVERNMENT WANTS FEWER CHURCHES
- state-sanctioned churches being closed, merged and re-purposed

Inside the TSPM's Chongyi Church, Hangzhou (2015)
Under President Xi, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) repression and persecution of CCP-approved churches has commenced and is escalating rapidly. For the Protestant, state-sanctioned (i.e. legal) Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), the persecution commenced with the forced removal of TSPM pastors who criticised the regime's acts of aggression, in particular the CCP's campaign against the Cross in Zhejiang [see RLPB 255, The CCP and the Cross over Zhejiang (9 April 2014)]. The Zhejiang campaign led to the arrest (on false embezzlement charges) and on-going persecution of  Pastor Joseph Gu (Gu Yuese), pastor of one of the largest TSPM churches in the country: Chongyi Church in Zhejiang's capital, Hangzhou (pictured) [see RLPB 343, A New Cultural Revolution is Upon Us (10 Feb 2016)]. In the years since then, TSPM churches across the country have faced increasing levels of CCP interference and harassment; many have been forced to remove crosses and Bible texts and replace them with images of President Xi and pro-CCP slogans.

Having registered with the Chinese government (i.e. the CCP), TSPM member churches are obliged to operate under its oversight and submit to its restrictive rules, most salient of which is to never criticise the CCP. As in all denominations, pastors in TSPM churches are diverse: from faithless CCP stooges eager to advance themselves at any cost, through to evangelicals who submit through gritted teeth so the gospel might be preached in an open, accessible and essentially protected TSPM property. To varying degrees, most are just trying to find the middle ground in an exceedingly complex, difficult and fluid environment. If the CCP wipes out the middle ground, Christians will be left with two stark choices: total absorption into CCP structures, or high-risk secret meetings in illegal 'underground' fellowships amidst Cultural Revolution-style violent persecution. There will be no Third Way.

TSPM church in Nie village:
cross and words “Christian Church” removed;
repurposed as “Integrated Cultural Service Center
of Nie village, Yangmiao town,
Gaoxin district, Jiaozuo city.”
(Bitter Winter 4 Jan 2020)
Bitter Winter reports (2 May 2020) that, at a conference in Fujian Province in September 2019, directors of TSPM churches were informed that, in order to stem the rapid growth of Christianity, Beijing had decided to reduce the number of places of worship. Over 200 of Fujian's TSPM meeting venues were selected to be closed, merged and re-purposed. In the firing line are secondary venues affiliated with large TSPM churches. Despite being affiliated with the registered parent TSPM church, these venues are being deemed unregistered and illegal. TSPM churches that are deemed too close to other TSPM churches are similarly being shut down and merged with other TSPM churches. Redundant church properties are confiscated, 'de-Christianised' and 'repurposed' for use by the CCP.

Bitter Winter also reported (4 Jan 2020) that a major take-over of some 150 churches took place across two cities in the central province of Henan in September 2019 and that TSPM churches did not escape. In Jiaozuo, a prefecture-level city in northern Henan, three TSPM churches were forcibly acquired and re-purposed. Pastors who resisted were threatened with re-education; most acquiesce out of fear. Bitter Winter reports concerning one TSPM church forcibly acquired in Jiabu village, Wuzhi County, north-west Henan: 'After the church was emptied, government employees put up a signboard that read "Joy Charity Institute of Group 3, Jiabu, Dafeng town, Wuzhi County" on the church's eastern gate. On its western gate, they put up another signboard that read: "Dafeng Town CCP Committee Base-Level Party School".' My thoughts (E.Kendal) on this: at least they got the signs right! For just as the sun rises in the east every dawn, joy and charity will rise over China. Likewise, just as the sun sets in the west every dusk, so too will the sun set on the CCP ... by the grace of God, in answer to the prayers of many (2 Corinthians 1:11). Until that 'day' comes, the Church in China needs our prayers.


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* fill the Chinese Church, especially her pastors and leaders, 'with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so [they might] walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy' (from Colossians 1:9-12 ESV). May the Church receive all the wisdom she will need to navigate the increasingly treacherous path ahead.

* protect, sustain, supply and encourage Chinese believers who are this day in prison or facing increased persecution and hardship simply because of their faithfulness (Luke 12:4-7).

'Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant [Jesus]? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God' (Isaiah 50:10 ESV).

* grant the Church (in China and the world) patience and persistence in prayer, along with endurance and faithfulness in glorious hope as the Lord works out his eternal purposes concerning President Xi Jinping, the nation of China, and the Chinese Church that will one day be free!

'Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity! ... For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea' (from Habakkuk 2:12-14 ESV, emphasis mine).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHINA'S GOVERNMENT WANTS FEWER CHURCHES

Under President Xi, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) repression and persecution of legal, CCP-approved churches has escalated. For the Protestant, Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) it started with the removal of pastors who criticised CCP policies. Since then, the CCP interference and harassment has only escalated. Multitudes of TSPM churches have been forced to remove crosses and Bible texts and replace them with pictures of Xi and pro-CCP slogans. In mid-2019, Beijing determined that, to stem the rapid growth of Christianity, it had to reduce the number of churches. Multitudes of TSPM churches are now being closed, merged and re-purposed. As the CCP wipes out the middle ground, Christians will have to choose between total absorption into CCP structures, or illegal, high-risk secret meetings amidst Cultural Revolution-style persecution. Please pray.

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RAMADAN: 24 April – 23 May
RLPB recommends: 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World
https://www.30daysprayer.com/
------------------------------------------------------------

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, May 5, 2020

RLPB 548. China: unregistered worship is illegal

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 548 | Wed 06 May 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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


CHINA: UNREGISTERED WORSHIP 
IILLEGAL
and this is what implementation looks like.
By Elizabeth Kendal


On Sunday 3 May a group of believers was worshipping together in a home in Xiamen, south-east China, when suddenly dozens of state security police and officials from Xiamen's Religious Affairs Bureau kicked in the door, breaking its lock. Despite not having a warrant, the officers violently wrestled and pinned believers to the ground; one woman suffered two broken ribs while others sustained bruises to their arms and legs. The officers collected personal details and ID numbers of everyone present. Nine members of the unregistered Xingguang Church were taken away for questioning, after which they were released. The church has steadfastly refused to join the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) approved and controlled Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), 'Chinese Christians also report that police raided several other unregistered churches in Xiamen on Sunday [3 May], sometimes using violence.'

Statements made by believers who were present during the raid indicate they thought their meeting was perfectly legal, primarily because it was taking place in a private residence. In reality, however, the group has fallen foul of China's new 'Administrative Measures for Religious Groups' [text], which came into force on 1 February 2020 [see RLPB 534 (29 Jan 2020)]. Article 3 of the Administrative Measures states very clearly: 'Without the examination and approval of the religious affairs department of the people's government, or without registration with the civil affairs department of the people's government, activities shall not be carried out in the name of religious groups.' In other words, if the group had been meeting to play chess, cards or Mahjong; or to discuss art, sport or business, then yes, it would have been perfectly legal. When it comes to religion however, the rules are different. What we are witnessing is the implementation of Chinese law. This is the new reality for the Church in China.

As CSW notes, 'Leaders who refuse to register their churches can face arrest.' On 2 April state security police arrested Pastor Zhao Huaiguo of Bethel Church in Hunan Province, accusing him of 'inciting subversion of state power', a serious charge which is often used against human rights defenders and other dissidents. Having already raided the family home on 14 March, the police returned on 15 April and confiscated large quantities of church materials. Bethel Church has also steadfastly refused to register with the state-sanctioned TSPM, an act which would require they submit to the CCP's highly restrictive and repressive rules and surrender to CCP direction and oversight. Zhao's wife, Zhang Xinghong, told Radio Free Asia that the authorities have vowed to fast-track her husband's case. Pastor Zhao's condition and whereabouts remain unknown.

On 26 March June Cheng of WORLD magazine published an image on her twitter account of Pastor Wang Yi. Wang, the pastor of Chengdu's Early Rain Covenant Church, was arrested on 9 December 2018 and sentenced on 30 Dec 2019 to nine years in prison for 'inciting subversion of state power' and 'illegal business operations' [RLPB 534 (29 Jan 2020)]. The image, taken secretly in March, was leaked by an unnamed source and posted to Facebook by Wang's appointed lawyer. It shows a much thinner Wang in a cell wearing handcuffs. Meanwhile, Early Rain Covenant Church continues to face harassment, including a government order that it cease online worship services.

Pastor Wang Yi at home before his arrest (left),
and in prison in March 2020.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* the Holy Spirit will draw China's pastors into their Heavenly Father's presence where they might ask for and receive (Matthew 7:7-11) the light and wisdom they will need to navigate the dark and challenging path ahead.

'Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant [Jesus]? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God' (Isaiah 50:10 ESV).

* the ever-present and irrepressible Holy Spirit will sustain, comfort, protect and encourage China's imprisoned pastors, evangelists, human rights advocates (in particular the faithful Christian human rights lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, disappeared since August 2017), and other humble, faithful believers. May the Lord Jesus Christ 'sustain with a word him who is weary' (Isaiah 50:4).

* the Almighty Sovereign God, ruler of heaven and earth, will intervene in China so the Church will be free to worship, free to train believers and free to 'send out labourers into [the Lord's] harvest' (Matthew 9:35-38), even 'to the ends of the earth' (from Isaiah 49:1-7).

Today we pray especially for:
Pastor Zhao Huaiguo of Bethel Church (in Cili county, Hunan)
Pastor Wang Yi of Early Rain Covenant Church (in Chengdu, Sichuan)
and also for the fellowships they lead ... Lord have mercy.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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UNREGISTERED WORSHIP IS ILLEGAL IN CHINA

On Sunday 3 May police and officials raided a worship service in a private home in Xiamen, south-east China. New measures in force since 1 February mandate that religious groups must register with the government (Chinese Communist Party) and all religious activities must be approved by the religious affairs department. The Xingguang Church is unregistered and their worship was not approved, making it illegal. The raid was violent, leaving believers shaken and bruised. One woman suffered two broken ribs and nine believers were taken away and questioned. Meanwhile, in south-central Hunan Province, Pastor Zhao Huaiguo of Bethel Church - which also refuses to register - was arrested on 2 April and charged with 'inciting subversion of state power'. Pastor Zhao's condition and whereabouts remain unknown; his trial is pending. Please pray.

------------------------------------------------------------
RAMADAN 24 April – 23 May
RLPB recommends: 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World
https://www.30daysprayer.com/
------------------------------------------------------------

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