Tuesday, December 21, 2021

RLPB 629. Faith: the secret of positive, enduring, hope-fuelled prayer.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 629 | Wed 22 Dec 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

View archives at: Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB). The RLPB is sponsored by Christian Faith and Freedom Inc. 

This is the final RLPB for 2021. It includes (1) a reflection on the relationship between faith and hope; (2) a 130-word item for use in bulletins or prayers; (3) updates on Ethiopia (the TPLF retreats to Tigray), Haiti (all hostages safe and free) and Indonesia (a new blasphemy case).

The RLPB will return on 26 January with the January 2022 Update.
Thank you for your continued faithfulness.

FAITH: THE SECRET OF POSITIVE, ENDURING, HOPE-FUELLED PRAYER.
by Elizabeth Kendal

Amos 9:13
as paraphrased in The Message
 

One of my favourite historical sermons to read or listen to is Charles H. Spurgeon's January 1860 Revival Sermon on Amos 9:13. 'Behold, the days are coming,' declares the Lord, 'when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it' (ESV). 'Originally,' notes Spurgeon, 'the land of Canaan was very fertile; it was a land that flowed with milk and honey... "A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil, and honey" [from Deut 8:7-10].' So, he laments, 'It is somewhat surprising to find that now [1860] the land [then under Turkish/Ottoman rule] is barren, that its valleys are parched, and that the miserable inhabitants gather miserable harvests from the arid soil. Yet the promise still stands true, that one day... Palestine shall be as rich and fruitful as ever it was.' Difficult as this was to believe in 1860, Spurgeon was certain that our sovereign God would prove faithful. Today we stand on the other side of the temporal fulfilment of that promise; a restored Israel has indeed, 'made the desert bloom'.

As Spurgeon explains, it is normal for the promises of God to have temporal and spiritual, as well as imminent and eschatological, application. As for the spiritual application of Amos 9:13 - that is, the promise of spiritual revival - Spurgeon was certain he was witnessing the early days of something extraordinary. Revivals in Britain and Great Awakenings in America had given birth to the era of Protestant missions. Compelled by William Carey's May 1792 sermon on Isaiah 54:2-3 ['Enlarge the place of your tent . . .'], Protestants were stepping out in faith to 'expect great things from God [and] attempt great things for God!' Based on the promise of Amos 9:13, Spurgeon likewise exhorted believers to anticipate a harvest and 'exert' themselves for God.

Much has changed since Spurgeon's day! Then, most Christians lived in the Judeo-Christian West, and persecution was limited largely to the indigenous Christian peoples of the Ottoman Empire. By the year 2000, after some 200 years of Protestant missions (initially from the West, but now [since the 1960s] increasingly indigenous), most Christians live in the Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto, traditional or atheistic non-Western world. Multitudes exist as counter-cultural religious minorities in states with appalling human rights records and little to no religious liberty, amidst escalating intolerance. The reason persecution has grown to be a global phenomenon is because Christianity has grown to be a global faith! God is fulfilling his promises!

While praying for the persecuted week after week can prove challenging, we have God's assurance given not only through the prophets but also through the angels on that first Christmas Day; the promise of 'good news of great joy which will be for all people'; the promise of 'a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord'; the promise that inspired the angels to sing: 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!' (see Luke 2:1-20 NKJV). Filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah prophesied the same saying, 'because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.' (Luke 1:79 ESV)

Peace on earth? Are they kidding? Should I have hope for peace on earth? The word translated 'peace' here in Luke 1:79 and 2:24 is εἰρήνης (eirēnē). It can refer to either a temporal state of national tranquilly, absent rage and war; of harmony between individuals; of a state of security with prosperity; OR of a spiritual state resulting from peace with God or assurance of salvation, or even the eternal peace the believer inherits upon death [Strong's G1515]. Can we who know of the horrible persecution occurring in this world, and of the wars being waged against God's peoples, really hope for temporal peace on earth, a world not dominated by war or persecution? I can barely imagine such a thing!

In 1860, Spurgeon would have struggled to imagine the Israel that we know today. But he believed God's promise! He also believed the temporal fulfilment would prefigure the spiritual fulfilment: that of a great spiritual harvest. Dare we image a future in which churches in China and Iran are freely sending out missionaries all over the world? Dare we believe that the day may be coming when instead of Islam pressing southwards through Africa, a spiritual harvest might be reaped in Sudan, across the Sahel, and throughout West and North Africa as the Holy Spirit sweeps north unleashing revival among the Hausa, the Fulani and the Arabs? Dare we imagine a mostly Christian India or Japan or Afghanistan? Dare we trust God to be faithful to his word? 'I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it' (Jesus, in Matthew 16:18 ESV).

Almighty God our Heavenly Father,
Please merciful God, increase our faith so that we will never tire of interceding for and supporting your persecuted Church as she serves you on the front line of an increasingly intense spiritual battle.

See Prayer: 'I believe, help my unbelief', from Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (by Elizabeth Kendal, Deror Books, Melbourne Australia, 2012). 

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REMEMBER THE PERSECUTED THIS CHRISTMAS

For many Christians, Christmas is increasingly a time of elevated risk. This is certainly the case where fundamentalist Islam is empowered (e.g. Indonesia, Pakistan, Turkey); where Islamic jihadists are active (e.g. Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Mozambique); where Hindu or Buddhist nationalism is ascendant (e.g. India, Nepal, Sri-Lanka, Burma/Myanmar); where terrorism is escalating (e.g. Burkina Faso and the wider Sahel; Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa); and where hostile totalitarian regimes hold power (e.g. China, Vietnam, Iran). Meanwhile, in the world's churchless dark corners - Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Afghanistan, Tibet, Somalia - secret Christians will acknowledge Christmas quietly with trusted contacts over safe channels. For them and the many Christians currently in prison, there will be no singing, no gathering and no celebration - except in the heart. Please remember to pray for the persecuted.

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UPDATES

ETHIOPIA: TPLF RETREATS TO TIGRAY AND APPEALS FOR CEASEFIRE
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Praise God who has turned back the battle in answer to prayer!

The head of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), Debretsion Gebremichael, has written to the United Nations explaining that he has ordered all units of the Tigray Defence Force outside of the borders of Tigray to withdraw to Tigray. As the TPLF retreats it leaves in its wake 'a trail of abuse', including a multitude of displaced and massacred civilians, looted aid warehouses and vandalised empty hospitals. But this conflict was always about much more than TPLF ambitions. Foreign elements want to weaken, divide, and rule Ethiopia (by proxy [the TPLF]) so they can dominate the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea Region. But as RLPB has pointed out repeatedly from the outset, the collapse of Ethiopia would trigger a Christian crisis of monumental proportions. Please continue to pray that God will fulfil all his purposes for Ethiopia.

'The Lord will fulfil his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands' (Psalm 138:8 ESV).

HAITI: ALL 17 HOSTAGES FREE
-- 
'Praise God for answered prayers'

Praising God for safe return.
Christian Aid Ministries, 20 Dec 2021

Founded in 1981, Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries (CAM) describes itself as 'a foreign-aid outlet for Amish and Mennonite and other conservative Anabaptist groups and individuals to minister to physical and spiritual needs around the world.' On 9 October a criminal gang seized 16 American and one Canadian CAM missionaries/supporters in Haiti, where they had been visiting a CAM-run orphanage. The gang demanded one million US dollars ransom per captive and threatened to kill them if it was not forthcoming [see RLPB 621 (27 Oct)]. Two missionaries were released on 21 November and three more were released two weeks later. Then, on the night of 15 December, the remaining 12 hostages made a daring night-time escape, walking for hours in the dark over rugged terrain until the dawn when they approached someone who phoned for help. On 20 December, under a banner declaring, 'Praise God for answered prayers', CAM General Director David Troyer gave a press conference, rich in gracious thankfulness, announcing the safe return of all 17 hostages. Praise God and continue to pray that Haiti will be delivered of its spiritual darkness.

INDONESIA: ANOTHER BLASPHEMY CASE

Joseph Suryadi, charged with blasphemy.

Over the course of five years, Herry Wirawan, the principal of a girls-only Islamic boarding school in Bandung, West Java, raped at least 12 of the young girls under his charge. Of the 12 known victims (all minors), nine have given birth and two are in an advanced stage of pregnancy. The case against Wirawan (36) is being heard in the Bandung District Court. Since around 10 December, when news of the case became public, public outrage has exploded. Then, on 14 December, Indonesian police arrested Joseph Suryadi (39), a Christian from Tangerang (a city near Jakarta) and charged him with blasphemy. Joseph stands accused of uploading a caricature of Islam's prophet Muhammad with a young, veiled girl (representing his prepubescent child-wife Aisha), along with a message noting that, just like Herry Wirawan, Muhammad too had a penchant for young girls. The post quickly attracted more than 7000 complaints. Suryadi denies uploading the message, insisting it happened while his phone was missing. If found guilty, Suryadi faces five years in a very hostile prison simply for giving public expression to one of Islam's most enduring stains: that Muhammad (aged 53) married Aisha when she was six years old and consummated the marriage when she was nine. Please pray.

[Indonesia's Criminal Code, Article 156 (a) reads: 'By a maximum imprisonment of five years shall be punished any person who deliberately in public gives expression to feelings or commits an act. (a) which principally have the character of being at enmity with, abusing or staining a religion, adhered to in Indonesia.']

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Research at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom Inc (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 14, 2021

RLPB 628. Nigeria: A Christmas of joy, hope, fear and lamentation

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 628 | Wed 15 Dec 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

View archives at Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB). The RLPB is sponsored by Christian Faith and Freedom Inc. 

The last RLPB for 2021, comprising a short reflection and a prayer, will be published next Wednesday, 22 December. This week's RLPB includes an update on Indonesia: the trial of Muhammad Kece.

NIGERIA: A CHRISTMAS OF JOY, HOPE, FEAR AND LAMENTATION
by Elizabeth Kendal

RANSOMED
Emmanuel Baptist Church members.
Channels TV, 4 Dec 2021.

On Friday 3 December Muslim Fulani 'bandits' operating in southern Kaduna released the remaining 61 of 66 Christians abducted during a worship service on Sunday 31 October at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Kakau Daji, Chikun LGA, on the outskirts of Kaduna City. Released alongside the 61 church members were nine other hostages. After being collected by the military, the former captives underwent extensive medical checks before being handed over to state officials. The 61 church members were reunited with their families on Saturday 4 December at Albarka Baptist Church in Kaduna City. As is normally the case in these near-daily abductions, an unspecified amount of ransom was paid. Consequently, the Muslim Fulani bandits are growing richer and stronger by the day, while the traumatised and constantly depleting Christian community is being bled dry.

MURDERED
Reverend Dauda Batura,
ECWA, Kaduna.

On Thursday 9 December Muslim Fulani bandits executed the Reverend Dauda Batura. Pastor of the First Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in Narayi, Igabi LGA, on the southern outskirts of Kaduna City, Pastor Batura had been kidnapped by armed Fulani herdsmen on 8 November while working on his farm in Ungwan Kanti Village, in neighbouring Chikun LGA. Immediately the bandits began negotiating with Pastor Batura's wife, Haddasa, demanding N10million ransom. After she had raised a portion of the ransom the bandits demanded she deliver it to them. On 18 November, when Haddasa delivered the ransom, the bandits took her captive as well, before releasing her on 6 December with the demand that she raise the rest of the ransom. On 9 December the bandits informed the church that they had killed Pastor Batura. Haddasa Batura told church leaders that her husband preached Christ to his captors and prayed for their repentance, infuriating them and likely contributing to their decision to kill him.

On Saturday 11 December Fulani bandits staged simultaneous attacks on a string of predominantly Christian districts in Chikun LGA on the southern outskirts of Kaduna City. At around 1am, some 30 militants wearing military uniforms and wielding heavy weapons entered Sabo GRA [Government Reserved Area; an exclusive (more affluent) residential area] where they attempted to abduct a pregnant woman and her son. When the military intervened, the bandits started firing their weapons indiscriminately. Though soldiers managed to rescue the pair, the pregnant woman sustained bullet wounds to her leg. As the bandits fled they set fire to residents' homes. In a simultaneous attack on nearby Oil Village, bandits abducted a woman, her four children, a policeman, his wife and their child. The captives have been taken to an unknown location. The Christian villages of Unguwar Gimbiya and Unguwar Dodo were also attacked. Unguwar Gimbiya has been attacked numerous times, including a 1am raid on Friday 3 December in which two residents were killed - including a church elder who was brutally murdered - and 50 were abducted.

In August 2020, RLPB 562 titled 'Insecurity Enables Terrorist Expansion', quoted terrorism analyst Jacob Zenn who warned: 'if [terrorist/jihadist] groups [i.e. Boko Haram, Ansaru, or Islamic State] get a foothold among the Fulani in the Northwest, then nothing "will prevent their continued expansion until northern Nigeria becomes overwhelmed".' Since that RLPB was published, Boko Haram has set up base in the Rijana Forest in southern Kaduna's predominantly Christian Chikun LGA [RLPB 623 (10 Nov)]. Boko Haram also runs a mini-Caliphate in Niger State's east where it controls some 500 communities across eight wards of Shiroro LGA, which is contiguous with Kaduna's Chikun LGA and a mere two hours' drive from the nation's capital, Abuja [RLPB 618 (6 Oct)]. Straddling the Kaduna-Zamfara state border, the Rugu Forest has become sanctuary for Fulani bandits, who mostly serve as proxies for Boko Haram and other jihadist groups. Terrorist-bandits have threatened to attack any churches in Zamfara that dare to remain open [RLPB 627 (8 Dec)]. Less that 18months after Jacob Zenn's report was published, it seems Nigeria's north-west is well on its way to being 'overwhelmed'. 

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari

All the while, the government of President Muhammadu Buhari (a Fulani from Katsina in Nigeria's north-west, and long-time pro-Sharia Islamist), has made no effort to improve security. Predatory migration and banditry in the service of Islamic jihad is not limited to the north-west. In the Middle Belt state of Plateau, militant Fulani herdsmen have ethnically cleansed and occupied some 102 formerly Christian communities in the past 20 years. Furthermore, as reported in RLPB 623 (10 Nov), Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), which is based in Nigeria's far north-east, has reportedly sourced military uniforms and weapons and is preparing to launch major terror attacks during the Christmas season.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* intervene in corrupt and lawless Nigeria to execute justice for the oppressed, facilitate a liberating awakening of the masses and bring the way of the wicked to ruin (Psalm 146). May every wicked plot being advanced against Nigeria's Church fail and may the LORD continue to build his Church among the Fulani and Hausa Muslims of Nigeria's volatile North and Middle Belt (Matthew 16:18).

* pour his deep peace in the hearts of all those Nigerian Christians who will spend Christmas battling fear and sorrow because they are either in captivity (as hostages or slaves), or because, though at home or in camps, they are grieving the absence of loved ones who have been taken captive, displaced or killed.

* protect, sustain and bless his faithful ones this Christmas as they rejoice in Christ with hope rooted in promise. May the prosperous churches of the south rise up in prayer and protest to demand security in the north for the sake of their long persecuted and gravely imperilled Christian brothers and sisters, so many of whom are displaced, traumatised, and missing.

'Their heart cried to the Lord…let tears stream down like a torrent day and night! Give yourself no rest, your eyes no respite!  Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the night watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children…' (from Lamentations 2:18,19 ESV).

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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A CHRISTMAS OF JOY, HOPE, FEAR AND LAMENTATION IN NIGERIA

Across Nigeria's mostly Muslim north, Christians head into Christmas missing loved ones now captive, displaced or killed; their joy and hope in Christ is tempered with fear and lamentation. In the east of Niger State, Boko Haram has seized control of some 500 communities and is operating a mini-Caliphate. In neighbouring Kaduna State, where Boko Haram has established its military base, endless raids by Muslim 'bandits' on Christian schools, churches, towns and villages have paralysed and traumatised whole communities. North of Kaduna, churches in Zamfara State have been warned: close or face attacks. East of Kaduna, in Plateau State, Muslim Fulani have taken over some 102 Christian communities in the past 20 years. Based in Nigeria's far north-east, Islamic State is preparing to unleash terror during the Christmas season. Please pray.

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UPDATE

INDONESIA: THE TRIAL OF MUHAMMAD KECE
Update to RLPB 619, 'Convert Apologist Accused of Blasphemy, Assaulted in Prison' (13 Oct).

Christian apologist, Muhammad Kece.

The trial of Muhammad Kece commenced on 25 November, only to be immediately postponed as the defendant (Kece) was unwell. The trial resumed in the Ciamis District Court on 2 December under tight security. A doctor deemed Kece fit to stand trial despite his blood glucose levels being twice the acceptable human limit. Clearly unwell, Kece fell asleep repeatedly as the 385-page indictment file was read, earning him rebukes from the panel of judges. A former Muslim cleric turned Christian apologist, Kece stands accused of using his Christian apologetics YouTube channel to violate laws on (1) Information and Electronic Transactions (ITE), (2) hate speech in relation to SARA (ethnicity, religion, race and other) and (3) blasphemy. There is little doubt that Muhammad Kece's life is in danger. Doubtless plenty of powerful people would stop at nothing to keep this intelligent, articulate, and courageous Muslim convert and skilled Christian apologist from testifying in open court. Please pray.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Research at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom Inc (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