Tuesday, January 1, 2013

RLPB 191. From Christmas to New Year: persecution calls for faith

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 191 | Wed 02 Jan 2013


By Elizabeth Kendal 

Before Christmas we prayed for God's divine hand to be over several regions where gathered Christians risked terrorism and mob violence. While Christmas was not without incident, we can thank God that the violence was minimal and that the heightened security was effective.


NIGERIA: Despite increased security, gunmen (presumed Boko Haram) managed to attack two churches in the north-east: one in Yobe and one in Borno. In each case, the pastor and five worshippers were killed: a total of 12 believers slain in worship. Pray for the bereaved and for the traumatised congregations. 'Weep with those who weep' (Romans 12:15b ESV). Pray for God to intervene in Nigeria.

INDONESIA: Security in Indonesia was high, with police protection provided to 38,499 registered churches throughout the religious 'hot-spots'. While there were no casualties, rioting Muslims were able to prevent members of the Filadelfia Batak Christian Protestant Church gaining access to their land in Bekasi, West Java, where the local authorities refuse to allow them to build. More than 380 police did little to uphold religious freedom and stop the Muslims from hurling rotten eggs and bags of sewerage at the believers. However, the police did convince the Christians eventually to abandon Christmas celebrations and return to their homes.


SUDAN: KHARTOUM. Just days before Christmas, the racist and Arabist-Islamist regime in Khartoum arrested two Coptic priests for baptising an Arab convert from Islam. A group calling itself Al-Qaeda in the Nilien States has threatened violence against Copts in Sudan unless the woman convert is 'returned', claiming she has been 'kidnapped'.

SUDAN: SOUTH KORDOFAN. Christian villages in South Kordofan spent Christmas Day under aerial bombardment, with at least eleven fatalities. A Nuba Christian leader told Morning Star News, 'We are surprised why the international community is so silent about the killing in South Kordofan.'

LIBYA: MISRATA. After Christmas, on Saturday 29 December two Egyptians were killed and others wounded when a bomb exploded in Mar Girgis (St George) Coptic church in the town of Dafniya in Misrata Province just as believers were emerging from evening mass. Reports indicate that a home-made bomb or grenade may have been thrown into the church.

TANZANIA: ZANZIBAR. A few months ago the Islamist separatist group Uamsho issued a death threat against all Zanzibar's Christian pastors. On Christmas Day, militants (presumed to be Uamsho) ambushed and shot Rev. Ambrose Mkenda through the face as he arrived at his home in Tomondo on the outskirts of Zanzibar city. He is now fighting for his life in intensive care in Dar-es-Salaam.

IRAN: RASHT. Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani (35) was released from death-row in September after spending nearly three years in prison on charges of apostasy. On Christmas Day he was taken back into custody when authorities maliciously decided that the remaining 45 days of his 3-year sentence for evangelising should be spent in prison rather than on probation. This is nothing but pure harassment, doubtless aimed at driving the family from Iran and also sending a message to all Iranian Christians that the regime can and will persecute them with impunity. This includes those presently in prison, one of whom is US citizen Pastor Saeed Abedini. Two more Christians, Behzad Taalipasand and Mohammadreza (Johann) Omidi, were arrested in Rasht on 31 Dec.

IRAN: TEHRAN. Middle East Concern reports that regime authorities raided a Christmas celebration in Tehran on 27 December. Some 50 believers, mostly converts from Islam, were interrogated and forced to provide numerous personal details including computer passwords and social media accounts. They also had to state how they came to convert from Islam to Christianity. Phones were confiscated and the believers were advised that they would be summonsed individually when investigations were complete. Pastor Vruir Avanessian, an ethnic Armenian, was taken into custody. His home was subsequently raided by security agents, causing great distress to his wife and children. Pastor Avanessian, who has chronic kidney disease, has been incarcerated in Evin Prison.

PAKISTAN: ISLAMABAD. At noon on Christmas Day, riotous Muslims attacked believers as they emerged from various churches in Iqbal Town, Islamabad. While no fatalities were recorded, numerous believers received bullet wounds and various blunt force injuries. Christians of Iqbal town spent the rest of Christmas Day under siege until Mr Basharat Khokhar, a human rights activist, came to their aid. Muslim clerics had issued a fatwa banning any Muslim participation in Christmas celebrations 'because it is against the concept of monotheism in Islam'.

SPEAKING OF CHRISTMAS FATWAS -- A number of Islamic clerics in free (non-sharia) states also issued fatwas banning Muslims from participating in Christmas in any way. In Indonesia a fatwa from the Ulema Council was over-ridden by the government. In Australia a fatwa from Lakemba Mosque was withdrawn after an outcry. Muslim clerics will doubtless learn from this and be better prepared to make their fatwas stand in 2013. Failing to comprehend the Christian doctrine of the One God as a Trinity, Islam regards Trinitarian Christianity as both polytheism and blasphemy. (See Qur'an Sura 5:72-75)

PERSECUTION CALLS FOR FAITH. As we prepare to face another year of advancing enemies and escalating persecution with soaring casualty rates and death tolls, may 2013 also be a year of advancing faith and increasing prayer. A mighty flood of persecution is upon us and we cannot turn back the battle in our own strength. Persecution calls for faith! And so we stand firm, exalt the Lord and pray! '. . . blessed are all those who wait for him.' (Isaiah 30:18)


* bring comfort and healing to those who start this new year filled with grief, trauma and anxiety. May the Lord comfort and encourage their hearts and provide all their material, emotional and spiritual needs.

'For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.' (Romans 8:38-39)

* fan our fragile, flickering faith into flame and fill our hearts with his love, that we as followers of Jesus Christ might stand as one body, firm in faith against the flood, that the devil might have no victory over us; may the Church of Jesus Christ entrust her security to Christ alone who lives and loves, sees and hears, answers prayers and intervenes with grace in response to faith.


Having endured State and vigilante terrorism, war and violent persecution, multitudes of Christians will enter 2013 filled with grief, trauma and anxiety. Over Christmas, Christians were violently attacked in Nigeria, Zanzibar and Pakistan; bombed in Sudan and Libya; arrested in Iran and abused in Indonesia. This was the tip of the iceberg. Furthermore, 2013 holds no promise of relief. Rather, the situation is set to escalate further with Christians in South Kordofan (Sudan) and right across the Middle East at risk of genocide. A mighty flood of persecution is coming upon the Church and we cannot turn back the battle in our own strength. Yet Christ is building his Church! And he lives and loves, sees and hears, answers prayer and intervenes with grace in response to faith.

Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
'Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today' (Deror Books, Dec. 2012)