Tuesday, August 25, 2020

RLPB 564. August Update, incl. Nigeria, Algeria, Iran, Mozambique, Pakistan, Syria, Turkey.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 564| Wed 26 Aug 2020
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By Elizabeth Kendal

AUGUST 2020 UPDATE - during this period we prayed concerning

* NIGERIA [RLPB 561 (5 Aug)], specifically the Christian Crisis in Kaduna.

UPDATE: despite appeals, publicity and curfews, Fulani attacks on southern Kaduna's Christian villages continue unabated. Eleven Christians - including a 16-year-old girl, a 48-year-old father of nine children, and a pastor, Rev. Adalchi Usman (39, a father of two) from the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) - perished in attacks on Zangon Kataf and Kajuru LGAs between 16-18 August. In an address to the 15th Synod, the Bishop of Egba (Anglican Diocese), the Rev. Emmanuel Adekunle, urged the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency in Southern Kaduna. He also urged President Buhari to consider replacing security service chiefs. On Saturday 22 August Nigeria's Catholic Church commenced a season of 40 Days of Prayer for Nigeria, timed to conclude on 30 September 2020, the eve of Nigeria's Independence Day. Nigerians are starting to realise that the Christian crisis in Kaduna is but a prelude to what awaits Nigeria if insecurity and impunity are not addressed.

* NIGERIA [RLPB 562 (12 Aug)], where insecurity is enabling terrorist expansion.

UPDATE: On 2 August, as part of a resettlement program, Nigerian troops escorted hundreds of long-displaced residents back to their homes and lands in Kukawa, a village in the Lake Chad basin area of Borno State. At 4 pm on Tuesday 18 August 22 trucks full of armed militants stormed into Kukawa, taking the soldiers tasked with guarding the village by surprise. A fierce, 30 minute firefight ensued, in which the terrorists prevailed. They then abducted 'hundreds' of residents. While no group has claimed responsibility, both Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Boko Haram's Bakura faction are active in the area.

* NIGERIA [RLPB 563 (19 Aug)], a hugely significant country in every sense - including spiritually - but which is existentially imperilled, primarily because of systemic corruption, which includes elites at the highest levels of government and military, prolonging conflict to profit from it.

In describing his experience of the Great Awakening in Northampton, Massachusetts (USA) - which took place between April 1734 and May 1736 - Jonathan Edwards comments, 'Satan seemed to be unusually restrained.' Then, when the Holy Spirit did ultimately withdraw, 'Satan seemed more on the loose...' However, the revival's effects were profound and enduring. Edwards wrote, 'We remain a reformed people, and God has evidently made us a new people.' [Jonathan Edwards, The Surprising Work of God (Whitaker House, New Kensington, PA, USA, 1997) 148-155.]

Please pray that Satan might be 'unusually restrained' so that Nigerians might be awakened, reformed and renewed, for the sake of the Church and the glory of God. Amen.

'No one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house' (Mark 3:27 ESV).

AUGUST 2020 ROUND-UP - also this month

* ALGERIA: COURT RULING THREATENS CHURCHES

In March 2006 the Algerian government enacted Presidential Order 06/03 which mandates that all non-Muslim worship be regulated by the government. Faced with escalating anti-regime sentiment, the government has ramped up anti-Christian persecution, doubtless to secure the support of Islamists. The government has closed 15 Protestant churches since November 2017, eight since May 2019 [RLPB 531 (4 Dec 2019)]. On 15 October 2019 the governor of Tizi Ouzou Province closed the 500-member Source of Light church in Makouda. The church appealed, claiming the governor is not authorised to sign closure orders. However, an administrative court has just recognised the governor's authority to close the church under Order 06/03. Middle East Concern reports (17 Aug): 'Ten of the closed churches, five in the province of Tizi Ouzou and five in Bejaia, have filed similar cases with the administrative courts. Christians in Algeria are concerned this verdict might be a precedent for similar action by municipal authorities against other churches.' Please pray.

* IRAN: CHURCH IN THE STORM

In July 2017 an Iranian court sentenced Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz (an Assyrian) to 10 years in prison, charged with 'conducting evangelism', 'illegal house church activities' and 'acting against national security' [RLPB 414 (12 July 2017)]. On 6 January 2018 Victor's wife, Shamiram Isavi, was sentenced to five years in prison, charged with 'acting against national security by organising home churches, attending Christian seminars abroad and training Christian leaders in Iran for the purpose of espionage' [RLPB 440 (31 Jan 2018)]. On 19 July 2020 Pastor Victor (65) was informed that his appeal had been rejected. On 11 August Shamiram (64) was informed that her appeal had been rejected and that she had until 16 August to present herself at Evin Prison. On 15 August the couple successfully fled the country. They are reportedly 'safe and well' and will continue their legal battle from abroad. The three young converts sentenced alongside Pastor Victor - Kavian (10 yrs) , Amin (15 yrs) and Hadi (10 yrs) - have also been informed that their appeals have been rejected.

From left: Victor Bet-Tamraz, Shamiram Issavi,
Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi, Amin Afshar-Naderi, and Hadi Asgari.

Joseph Shahbazian and Malihe Nazari  
Joseph Shahbazian (56, an Armenian) was arrested in a raid on a Tehran house church on 30 June [RLPB 557 (8 July 2020)]. On Tuesday 18 August, after seven weeks in prison on unknown charges, Joseph was finally permitted a visit from his wife and son. Of the 35 Christians arrested that night, only Joseph and Malihe Nazari, a 46-year-old woman convert (a Persian), remain detained. Malihe is believed to have been transferred to the notorious Qarchak women's prison, long known as the most dangerous prison in Iran for women. At three billion tomans (US$150,000), the bail set for these prisoners is more than twice the previous highest bail set for any Christian. Please pray for the Church in Iran.

'God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform;
      He plants his footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm'.
(1st verse of William Cowper's poem, 'Light Shining Out of Darkness', written 1773.)

* MOZAMBIQUE: ISLAMIC STATE SEIZES PORT

On 11 August well-trained fighters armed with sophisticated weapons attacked Mocimboa da Praia in Mozambique's northern-most province of Cabo Delgado. Lacking ammunition, the military was ultimately forced to flee. Islamic State affiliate Al-Sunna wa Jama'a (ASWJ) is now in full control of the strategic port city. Locals lament that 'ISIS was more organised and better equipped than the army'. The Catholic Charity, Aid to the Church in Need, has warned that this incident could prove to be the prelude to an Islamist takeover of the north of the country. The roots of the insurgency are complex and need to be addressed. Yet the government seems more interested in shutting out, vilifying and even silencing those who dare challenge its handling of the crisis, including journalists and local Christian leaders. Government troops have returned to the region and a battle for control of Mocimboa da Praia appears imminent. Please pray.

Background:
Kendal, 'Mozambique: A Crisis in the Making', RLM 13 May 2020.

* PAKISTAN: NO CHRISTIAN GIRL IS SAFE

Maira Shahbaz  
According to her birth certificate, Maira Shahbaz was only 13 in October 2019 when she was married to Mr Mohamad Nakash - the already married, reputedly wealthy Muslim businessman who had abducted her six months earlier. On 30 July the Faisalabad District and Sessions Court ruled that Maira be removed from Mr Nakash's house and placed in a women and girl's refuge, pending further investigations. The family was relieved, as reports had emerged that Maira was being groomed for the sex-industry. However, on 4 August, Lahore's High Court overturned that ruling, insisting that as Maira was now a Muslim, she must be returned to her 'husband'. It was a cruel shock for Maira, her family and her attorney, all of whom were distraught; they had expected to see Nakash charged and imprisoned. 'If the courts of this country start validating underage marriages of girls belonging to the minority communities, it will encourage people from the majority faith to target them with even more impunity,' said Lala Robin Daniel, a human rights activist based in Faisalabad. 'With this ruling, no Christian girl in Pakistan is safe.' Please pray.

[NOTE: In Islam, girls may be married once they have attained puberty, and religious identity is inherited from the father. Consequently, the offspring of raped, captive Christian girls are automatically deemed Muslim. The Islamic clerics who issue fake conversion and marriage certificates, along with the police and judges who ignore or endorse the practice, are complicit in what is nothing other than human trafficking across religious lines. Especially widespread in Egypt and Pakistan, the practice is obscenely evil.]

* SYRIA: TURKEY WEAPONISES WATER

Turkish troops invaded northern Syria in March 2018. With them came some 25,000 battle-hardened Islamic jihadists who insisted there will be 'no room for Christians' [RLPB 447 (21 March 2018)]. By June 2018 over 200,000 Sunni Muslim Kurds, about 35,000 Yezidi Kurds and some 3,000 Christians (Kurds, Assyrians and Armenians) had been 'cleansed' out of Afrin, a city in the north of Aleppo Governorate [RLPB 460 (20 June 2018)]. By October 2019 Turkey was shelling border towns and cities in Syria's Hasakah Governorate [RLPB 525 (22 Oct 2019)], while Turkish troops and their jihadist proxies advanced on the ground [RLPB 526 (30 Oct 2019)]. Contiguous with Iraq's northern Nineveh Province, Syria's north-eastern Hasakah Governorate is home to tens of thousands of mostly Assyrian and Armenian Christians. On 13 August, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis and scorching summer heat, Turkey and its jihadist proxies cut off the supply of water from the Alok pumping station near Ras al-Ain, Hasakah Governorate, depriving some 800,000 residents of potable water. Not for the first time, Turkey is 'weaponising water'. In a 21 August letter to the UN Secretary General, Syrian Church leader Ignatius Aphrem II called it 'an in-humane act' and 'a crime against humanity'. Please pray.

* TURKEY: MORE NEO-OTTOMAN ISLAMIC TRIUMPHALISM
-- Chora Monastery Converted to a Mosque

On Friday 24 August President Erdogan announced that the Church of the Holy Saviour / Chora Monastery in Istanbul's Edirnekap─▒ neighbourhood, would be converted into a functioning mosque after a court ruled that its conversion into a museum in 1945 had been unlawful. Built in the 4th Century, reconstructed by Emperor Justinian and renovated over the centuries, the monastery contains some of the oldest and most exquisite Greek Orthodox iconography known to exist. [Video (10:30 mins): Chora Museum- Istanbul Guide.] Yet again, 'The pleas and exhortations of the international community are ignored.' The conversions of World Heritage listed Hagia Sophia (Byzantine Cathedral) and Chora Monastery come four years after Turkish authorities confiscated Surp Giragos - the freshly renovated Armenian Cathedral in Diyarbakir - and left it to looters in a crime that was met with near-total silence from the 'international community' [RLPB 355 (4 May 2016)]. This is neo-Ottoman Islamic triumphalism, and it bodes ill for Turkey's Christian remnant. Please pray.

Surp Giragos Armenian Apostolic Church, Diyarbakir;
(left) Nov 2014 and (right) Feb 2018
(click on collage to enlarge)

'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' (Habakkuk 2:12,14 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