Tuesday, March 2, 2021

RLPB 587. Burma (Myanmar): Christians Imperilled.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 587 | Wed 03 Mar 2021
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). 


BURMA (MYANMAR): CHRISTIANS IMPERILLED
Also update on Ibrahim Firouzi, Iran.
By Elizabeth Kendal

Kachin villagers and internally-displaced people
in church in Myitkyina, Kachin State, May 2018
source WSJ, Photo: Ye Aung Thu

As Christian charity Open Doors rightly notes, the military takeover in Burma (Myanmar) will greatly 'exaggerate existing vulnerabilities for Myanmar's Christian minority'. Christians comprise around six percent of the population; most are Protestant, mainly Baptist (1.7 million, mainly ethnic Karen, Kachin and Chin, the legacy of pioneer missionary Adoniram Judson) - along with some 750,000 Catholics. 

While the crackdown against anti-coup protesters in the major ethnic-Burman and Buddhist cities of Yangon (Rangoon) and Mandalay is being widely reported by mainstream media, the situation throughout the periphery - in Burma's ethnic minority states (where most of the country's Christians live) - remains, as ever, dark. It is in these ethnic minority states that the military (Tatmadaw) has long committed its worst crimes - bombing, burning and strafing villages; killing, torturing and raping civilians; plundering, exploiting, trafficking and abusing - all with impunity. The inhumane barbarity with which the Tatmadaw commits these crimes against civilians is the product of its covetous greed and its Burman-Buddhist ethnic-religious supremacism.

Sister Nu Thawng (more images)

Anti-coup protesters in the heavily militarised northern and predominantly Christian Kachin State have reportedly been beaten, shot with rubber bullets and arrested. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is deeply concerned that troops have invaded towns and severed transport routes, making it even more difficult to get aid to some 100,000 displaced Kachin. Burma expert Benedict Rogers commented on 1 March that among the many images to haunt him, that of SFX (St Francis Xavier) Sister Nu Thawng in Myitkyina, Kachin State, tearfully kneeling before police begging them not to shoot the protesters, stood out the most.

In Karen State (around 30 percent Christian) some 5000 Christians are currently displaced in the jungle due to the Tatmadaw destroying at least 23 villages over the past two months. In a report published on 7 February, David Eubank, founder of the Free Burma Rangers, commented that the Karen feel that 'their own lives haven't changed: they were attacked before the coup and they are being attacked now after the coup'. Karen News reports (mid-February) that the Burmese Army has blocked access to humanitarian aid.

The ousted government has formed the 'Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw [Assembly of the Union: i.e., parliament]' (CRPH). Significantly, as Benedict Rogers writes, the CRPH has appointed Dr Sasa, an inspirational, highly regarded ethnic Chin and Christian, as its special envoy to the United Nations. 'Suddenly,' writes Rogers, '[Dr Sasa] has been catapulted into national prominence. As Rogers rightly notes, this is 'both exciting and dangerous'.

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For a post with more political detail and context, see:
Military Coup Leaves Burma’s Christian Peoples Gravely Imperilled
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 3 March 2021
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PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL

* intervene in Burma (Myanmar) to redeem this crisis for his glory; may the Tatmadaw (Burmese military) be restrained and its power limited; may Burma's peoples unite around their desire for peace, justice, liberty and respect.

* embolden his Church to 'utter what is precious' and thus 'be as [the Lord's] mouth' in the midst of this crisis (from Jeremiah 15:15-21). May the Lord - who breaks through enemies like a breaking flood (2 Samuel 5:17-21) - open the way for the Church to receive all the humanitarian aid she requires; may many fearful, confused and needy people find Jesus in the midst of this storm (see Matthew 14:22-33).

* accompany and protect our brother Dr Sasa, and fill him with wisdom, discernment and courage as he represents Burma's (Myanmar's) elected government and citizens on the international stage.

'God loves importunate [persistent] prayer so much that He will not give us much blessing without it.' (Adoniram Judson, 1788-1850; pioneer missionary to Burma).

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIANS IMPERILLED IN BURMA (MYANMAR)

The crackdown against anti-coup protesters in the mostly Burman-Buddhist cities of Yangon (Rangoon) and Mandalay is being widely reported by mainstream media. However, the situation in Burma's ethnic minority states - where most of the country's Christians live - remains dark. Yet it is in these ethnic minority states that the Tatmadaw (Burmese military) has long committed its worst crimes - bombing and burning villages; killing, torturing and raping civilians - with impunity. The barbarity with which the Tatmadaw commits these crimes is the product of its covetous greed and its Burman-Buddhist ethnic-religious supremacism. The coup leaves Burma's long-persecuted Karen, Kachin and Chin Christians gravely imperilled. Meanwhile, the ousted government has appointed Dr Sasa - an ethnic Chin and Christian - as its special envoy to the United Nations. May the Lord preserve him. Please pray.

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UPDATE ON IRAN: Ebrahim Firouzi (34) was released from prison on Saturday 27 February, after bail of 50 million tomans (around $1,650) was posted for him. While he is pleased to be out of prison, the new and very serious charges of 'insulting the sacred' (blasphemy) and 'propaganda against the Islamic Republic in favour of hostile groups' have not been dropped. This is far from over. 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, February 23, 2021

RLPB 586. February Update, Incl. India, Iran, China, Australia, Israel (West Bank), Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 586| Wed 24 Feb 2021
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). 

FEBRUARY 2021 UPDATE - during this period we prayed concerning:

* INDIA, MADHYA PRADESH (MP) [RLPB 583 (3 Feb)], after a new, more draconian anti-conversion law was enacted in the Hindu nationalist-ruled state, unleashing a storm of persecution. One pastor told International Christian Concern, 'It was like a cyclone hit our state.' We prayed specifically regarding the threat of Hindu nationalist violence against Christians in Jhabua District and a petition that had been filed challenging the law's constitutionality.

UPDATE (1): LEGAL CHALLENGE

On Friday 19 February the Supreme Court threw out a petition challenging the validity of Madhya Pradesh's controversial anti-conversion ordinance. The plea argued that the law infringed a person's right to privacy and freedom of choice, leading to violations of fundamental rights under Articles 14, 19(1)(a) and 21 of the Constitution. Instead, the judge directed the petitioner to 'approach the Madhya Pradesh High Court', adding, 'We would like to have the views of the high court.' Please pray.

UPDATE (2): STORM RAGES IN FAR WEST

There is no update on the situation in Jhabua District, in MP's far west. However, a pastor in Ratlam District - which borders Jhabua District to the north - told International Christian Concern (12 Feb): 'We are experiencing a dangerous situation. We are not allowed to have fellowship, worship, or share our faith. We read in the news that this is part of making India a Hindu nation by 2021. I have not led any worship service for my congregation for the last four weeks. There are 30 other pastors in the area where I serve, and none of them are conducting worship for their congregations as well. We read in the newspapers that pastors are being charged under this new law for conducting worship. These pastors are repeatedly denied bail. Pastors from other districts in Madhya Pradesh, whom I know quite well, are also being violently attacked,' the pastor continued. 'They are being victimised for merely conducting worship services. It feels like we have lost our freedom to worship and assemble as Christians.'

Meanwhile, on Sunday 7 February, police in Alirajpur Distict - which borders Jhabua District to the south - filed charges against a Christian priest and two women in two different cases for 'targeting and converting' family members of a vulnerable tribal group. Pastor Dilip Ransingh Vasuniya fled the region after a Christian convert's brother registered a complaint against him. The two women were arrested and jailed after a convert's son registered a complaint against them. Earlier that day, a mob of some 100 Hindu nationalists stormed a church in Jambukheda village, Udaigarh Township, Alirajpur District. They destroyed property and then besieged the Udaigarh police station demanding the authorities intervene to prevent conversions. Around two dozen men and women present at the church - including the church's pastor and other leaders - were taken to the police station and charged under the new anti-conversion law. Please pray.

left: Hindu nationalists protest conversions outside Udaigarh police station (7 Feb).
right: District Map of Madhya Pradesh (click here for full sized interactive map).

* IRAN [RLPB 584 (10 Feb)], where Christians are deemed 'enemies of the state'.

UPDATE EBRAHIM FIROUZI

When exiled convert Ebrahim Firouzi (34) presented himself to the prosecutor as requested, he was arrested and jailed in Chabahar prison. To protest his treatment, Ebrahim commenced a hunger strike, vowing not to eat again until the charges were dropped. Ebrahim ended his hunger strike three days later after receiving a visit from two intelligence agents who assured him his case would be 'dealt with' and he would be released by 20 February. On 22 February, with Ebrahim still in prison, the Council of United Iranian Churches (Hamgaam) published a statement demanding Ebrahim Firouzi be released 'immediately and unconditionally' and that the regime 'stop persecuting him'. Please pray.

* CHINA [RLPB 585 (17 Feb)] where new 'Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy' - approved and published in January and set to come into force on 1 May 2021 - herald the arrival of a new era of intense repression and severe persecution. To operate legally, anyone who engages in 'religious teaching activities' will require a 'clergy card' showing they are registered in the national database of Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-authorised clergy.

COMMENT: Christian clergy in China have long had to decide whether or not they can work within the official CCP-approved Church. Those who had decided they could, will now have to decide whether or not they are prepared to work for the CCP, doing its bidding, as its agents. The new 'Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy' will unleash a period of severe persecution in which many Christian teachers and evangelists will be imprisoned, and much of the Church will be driven underground. However, as is commonly the case with persecution, it will also sort the sheep from the goats - and the CCP can keep the goats! Our Sovereign God has a plan for the Chinese Church and HE is preparing her for his 'great commission'. But as this painful sorting of church leaders takes place, the Church in China will need our prayers.

FEBRUARY 2021 ROUND-UP - also this month

* AUSTRALIA: 'ANTI-CONVERSION' BILL PASSES IN VICTORIA.

On 4 February the Victorian State government's 'Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practises Prohibition Bill' passed in the Upper House, 27 votes to 9, without amendments. The Bill received Royal Assent on 16 February and will come into force in 12 months. Once the Bill is enacted, anyone found trying to suppress or change another person's sexuality or gender identity will face a fine of up to $10,000 and/or a prison term of up to 10 years if it can be proved beyond reasonable doubt that their actions caused 'serious injury' (defined as life threatening or prolonged physical or mental harm). During the debate, a member of the Council asked Victoria's Attorney General (AG) if the government planned to 'educate' and 'upskill' religious groups and practitioners. The AG confirmed that 'VEOHRC [Victoria Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission] will be providing education, materials and advice to religious organisations ...' 

For a full report see:
Victoria's 'Anti-Conversion' Law Passes in Upper House 
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 21 Feb 2021.

COMMENT: In the decades to come, many victims of the 'enlightened' West's 'progressive' (neo-Marxist) ideology will realise they have been fed a barrage of lies. For in truth, moral integrity does matter, and God's way is good - for individuals, for families, for communities, for cultures and indeed, good for the whole of creation. Confused, disillusioned, even physically mutilated, yet still unfulfilled, many will hunger for truth, healing, and refuge. Churches that opt to take the easy road today - drifting comfortably in the current of idolatrous, hedonistic popular culture - will ultimately find themselves on the wrong side of history. However, churches that opt to stand firm through trial - preaching truth, following Jesus (the 'friend of sinners' (Matt. 9:9-13) and preparing for that day when the tide turns and disillusionment floods in - will ultimately reap their reward. Please pray.

'If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.' (Isaiah 7:9b ESV)

* CHINA: STORM BREWS IN HEBEI PROVINCE

Hebei Province
(Click on map to enlarge)

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports (19 Feb) that a rumour spreading through the north-eastern province of Hebei (which surrounds Beijing) that the January 2021 coronavirus outbreak in Hebei Province originated in an 'underground' church has triggered 'a storm of online hostility towards Christians'. The outbreak of the fast-spreading variant put 28 million people into lockdown and forced the authorities to build a 3000-ward isolation centre. According to CSW, many online comments made reference to the Boxer Rebellion, claimed Christians were 'arrogant' and criticised the government for failing to contain 'underground' churches which, they insist, only exist to make money. Some online commentators called for 'such churches to be completely disbanded'. As CSW notes, online speech is closely monitored and strictly controlled in China. Consequently, the fact that the inflammatory rumour and aggressive anti-Christian speech was allowed to continue uncensored for several days leaves some to suspect that the authorities might be seeking grounds to justify a more severe crackdown on Christianity. Deeply alarmed, many Christians in Hebei believe a 'harsh storm against them is steadily brewing'. Please pray.

* IRAN: PRESIDENT SIGNS LAW TO FACILITATE PERSECUTION

On 18 February Iranian president Hassan Rouhani signed into law two controversial amendments to Iran's Penal Code. The new law will enter into force 15 days after its publication in the Official Gazette. The amendments affect Articles 499 and 500, the articles most commonly used in the prosecution of converts. Previously, Article 500 set a sentence of three months to one year for anyone found guilty of 'propaganda against the order of the Islamic Republic of Iran or propaganda for the benefit of groups or institutions against the order'. The amended Article 500 provides for up to five years' imprisonment for 'any deviant educational or proselytising activity' by members of so-called 'sects' that 'contradicts or interferes with the sacred law of Islam' through 'mind-control methods and psychological indoctrination' or 'making false claims or lying in religious and Islamic spheres, such as claiming divinity'. As human rights lawyer Hossein Ahmadiniaz laments, 'The law should protect citizens ... But in Iran the law has become a tool to justify the government's violent treatment of converts and other unrecognised minorities.'

* ISRAEL, WEST BANK: CHRISTIAN DOCTOR BRUTALISED

Dr Salamah Qumsieh (53, a Christian) heads the Obstetrics and Gynaecology (Ob/Gyn) Department in Bethlehem's Holy Family Hospital. Located in the West Bank, Bethlehem is administered by the Palestinian Authority. On 12 February Dr Salamah was attacked in broad daylight in one of Bethlehem's main streets by a militant Islamist named Khader Odeh, who tried to crush the doctor's head and sever his hands (link includes image taken at the scene). Surgeons spent ten hours reconnecting veins and tendons in both hands while simultaneously dealing with a neck injury (link includes images taken in hospital). Though his hands were saved, the injuries ensure Dr Salamah will never again be able to practise medicine. Please pray.

This is the second time Khader Odeh has attempted to kill the Christian doctor. A member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Khader Odeh has reportedly 'been terrorising the Christians in the Bethlehem area for more than four years'. He operates with impunity, protected by the Palestinian security apparatus. He also 'leads a big gang of bullies from Aida Camp and sends them for operations against Christian targets'.

Since leaving hospital Dr. Salameh has reportedly been threatened with death should he escalate the situation any further. Similarly, an activist from East Jerusalem who reported the attack was subsequently kidnapped by Palestinian police and forced to sign a written pledge not to criticise the Palestinian Authority on social media forums again. Paralysed by fear, Bethlehem's Christian leaders maintain the silence of the dhimmi - that is, a Christian who is subjugated under Islam but 'protected' in exchange for loyalty. Meanwhile, counter-terrorism analyst Samir A Zedan reports, the fear in Bethlehem's Christian community is palpable. Please pray.

Healing hands. from left: Dr Salameh Qumsieh (Dec 2015).
centre and right: in the street, in the hospital, 12 February 2021.

* NIGERIA: AT RISK OF BECOMING A FAILED STATE

With poverty and insecurity perpetually increasing, Nigeria is 'at risk of becoming a failed state'. Kidnappings, terrorism and ethnic cleansing continue apace. [See Morning Star News (Nigeria) and Silent Slaughter's Incidence Tracker for reports.]

LEAH SHARIBU, THREE YEARS A CAPTIVE

On 19 February 2018 Islamic jihadists from Boko Haram swept into Dapchi town, Yobe State, northern Nigeria, and kidnapped 110 girls, mostly Muslim, from Dapchi's Government Girls' Science and Technical College. On 21 March the jihadists returned 104 girls to their families. Five girls had died, and one, Leah Sharibu (15) was retained as a prisoner because she 'refused to cooperate' and convert to Islam [RLPB 448 (28 March 2018)]. Today, three years later, Leah is alive but remains in captivity. Please pray for Leah Sharibu and her family.

Recommended:
'Dapchi Students Abduction: Leah Sharibu Still in Captivity 3 Years After'
Youtube, AITlive (2.52mins video news report), 20 Feb 2021.

* PAKISTAN: MORE BLASPHEMY CASES

Nurse Tabeeta Nazir Gill,
(28 Jan 2021).

Police in Karachi have charged a Christian nurse with blasphemy, despite concluding there was no evidence against her. On 28 January hospital staff slapped, beat and locked Tabeeta Nazir Gill (42) in a room (link includes video) after a colleague accused her of blasphemy. Investigating police concluded that the accusation was false and based on a personal vendetta arising from an incident in which Tabeeta had to remind a Muslim colleague that hospital protocol prohibits nurses from taking money from patients. Regardless, the police relented after the complainant, Saba Wasi, called on Muslim leaders who then mobilised a mob to besiege the police station. Tabeeta Nazir Gill and her family have since gone into hiding. Please pray.

On 13 February Muslims accused friends Haroon Ayub Masih and Salamat Mansha Masih (both aged around 26) of blasphemy after finding them reading the Bible together in Lahore's Model Town Park. After requesting Christian literature and then accepting the gift of a book, the Muslims also accused the two Christian men of proselytism. The Muslim then called upon Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a far-right Islamist political party, whose leaders then pressured police to register a case against the two Christians. Please pray.

* SUDAN: WILL CHRISTIAN SECURITY PROVE TO BE A MIRAGE?

On 19 February Sudanese intelligence officers seized Mr Osama Saeed Kodi, chairman of the Christian Youth Union in Gezira State (also spelt Al Jazirah). Handcuffed and blindfolded, Mr Kodi was taken away, held incommunicado, severely beaten, interrogated and threatened. Mr Kodi has been actively involved in assisting the Sudanese Church of Christ, following an arson attack that destroyed its building in Tamboul (135 km south-east of Khartoum) in Gezira State on 3 January. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports, 'On 18 February, the day before his arrest, Mr Kodi had met with Sudan's General Prosecutor during his visit to the state, and a press conference on the plight of the church was scheduled to take place on the day he was detained.' Security officers threatened Mr Kodi with death should he continue to advocate on behalf of the church. The beating has left Mr Kodi with painful injuries to his chest and right leg. When the church in Tamoul was torched on 3 January, it became the ninth church to be struck by arson since January 2019. Compounding the crisis, Muslim leaders are refusing to allow the churches to be rebuilt. Impunity is only adding fuel to the fire. Morning Star News reports (17 Feb), 'Christians in Sudan are concerned that persecution is continuing under a transitional government that has promoted religious liberty.' 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