Wednesday, August 26, 2015

RLPB 324. August Update, Incl. Nepal, Syria, Burma, China, Egypt, Northern Ireland (UK), Pakistan

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 324 | Wed 26 Aug 2015

By Elizabeth Kendal

AUGUST 2015 UPDATE -- During August we prayed concerning ... 

* NEPAL (RLPB 321), where religious freedom is under threat as the new constitution looks set to ban religious conversion.

UPDATE: The final draft has been tabled in the Constituent Assembly and a meeting of the House scheduled for 8 am on Wednesday 26 August. Whilst Christians are pleased that Christianity will now be recognised as a religion in Nepal, they are deeply concerned about the proposed anti-conversion provisions. The Catholic Church in Nepal numbers less than 10,000 in a population of 30 million, but Protestantism has grown significantly in the past decade of freedom, now accounting for well over one million. Tensions are high; the Church is on edge.

* SYRIA (RLPB 322), where Islamic jihadists are advancing, putting Christians, other minorities and loyalists at extreme risk. The Turkey/Saudi/Qatar-backed al-Qaeda-led Jaish al-Fatah is pressing south into loyalist north-west Hama bordering Latakia. Meanwhile, Islamic State (IS) is pressing west through the Homs Governorate. It has over-run Palmyra, Qaryatyn and the Assyrian village of Hawwarin as it advances towards the M5 Highway, forcing thousands more Christians from their homes and taking another 150 Christians captive.

Mar Elian monastery, Qaryatyn.
For photos of demolition,
click here
UPDATE:  On Thursday 20 August IS demolished the Assyrian fifth-century Mar Elian monastery in Qaryatyn which had become home to many displaced Assyrians. and from where IS had previously kidnapped Jesuit priest Father Jacques Mourad and a deacon named Boutros [See RLPB 322]. On Friday 21 August IS conducted a mortar attack on the city of Marea in Aleppo Governorate, northern Syria. At least half the 50 shells fired were laced with mustard gas and dozens of affected civilians were hospitalised. Russia is continuing to talk to Arab leaders in the hope of brokering a peace that will leave the Syrian government in place to avoid a power vacuum such as opened up in Iraq with the removal of Saddam Hussein. Meetings are presently taking place behind Russia's MAKS-2015 aerospace show. Though the Arabs do not care about the plight facing Alawites, Christians and other minorities, they are concerned about the adverse repercussions of jihadist empowerment ('blowback'). Christians in Syria are gravely imperilled. Lord have mercy.

* UGANDA (RLPB 323), where persecution -- particularly of converts from Islam -- is on the rise in Easter Province. The persecution is extreme and the government needs to act.

AUGUST 2015 ROUND-UP -- also this month ...


On Friday 21 August Burma's parliament passed a controversial law designed to stop people leaving Buddhism. [For details see RLPB 267 (2 July 2014).] In short, anyone wanting to convert would have to apply to a board for a certificate of conversion, risking a two-year jail sentence in the process. Created to 'protect' the majority religion, Burma's Religious Conversion Law mirrors anti-conversion laws now common across Asia. The Buddhist Women's Special Marriage bill was passed in July. Denied freedom to convert, Buddhist women will now be constrained by law to marry a Buddhist man. Non-Buddhist men will have to convert to Buddhism to marry a Buddhist woman. A non-Buddhist man who marries a Buddhist woman contrary to the law is liable to 10 years in prison. Created primarily to counter Islam, the inter-faith marriage law is nothing other than a Buddhist version of Islamic marriage law. Please pray that President Thein Sein will refuse to sign these bills into law. No matter what he does, the spark has been lit and the Church will have difficult days ahead.

Between 1200 and 1500 crosses have been forcibly removed from churches across Zhejiang since January 2014. Christians wanting to protect the cross have been beaten and pastors arrested, charged and jailed. In late July Christians in China's eastern Zhejiang Province launched a peaceful protest against the local Communist Party's campaign of clearing crosses from the Zhejiang skyline. Christian groups made thousands of wooden crosses painted red to be displayed by Christians. Undeterred, Chinese officials confirmed on 11 August that the cross removals will continue. For Christians in Zhejiang this is very distressing. For some it brings back memories of Mao's Cultural Revolution.


Medhat Ishak (35), a Christian from Ebid Village, Minya Governorate, Upper Egypt, was arrested on 7 August while handing out Bibles outside a shopping mall. According to Morning Star News, Ishak was arrested by mall security guards, who turned him over to national police, who accused him of evangelism. The next day a judge amended the charge to 'defamation of a revealed religion' and ordered him to be held for 15 days. On 24 August his detention was extended for another 15 days. Ishak's attorney, Rafik Rafaat, expressed concern that the judge might keep extending the detention until the case fades from public awareness, at which time he could hand down a one- to five-year prison sentence. Harassment and jailing of Christians for witness and 'blasphemy' has increased in recent years. In July three Coptic youths were charged with evangelism for handing out notes on the love of God. They were released on bail and their case is yet to come to court.

It just so happens that repressing Christians is one of the best ways to appease belligerent Muslims.


James McConnell (78), pastor of an evangelical mega-church in northern Belfast, appeared at Laganside Magistrates Court in Belfast on 6 August, to face charges of offending Muslims in a sermon he delivered in May 2014 which was broadcast on-line. [See RLPB 320 (28 July)] More than 1,000 people turned out to support the pastor who is strenuously contesting the case. As the pastor's attorney told the court: 'He [McConnell] did not incite hatred or encourage violence against Muslims.  He simply expressed his view about another religion, not in a personalised manner but in an entirely generalised way. He believes freedom of speech ... should mean he has every right to criticise Islam and other religions, just as Islamic clerics have the right to criticise him and Christian clerics.' The case was adjourned to 3 September.

From left: Aftab Gill, Latif Masih
and Shafqat Gill (UCA)
Organising a conference for 15 August, Pastor Aftab Gill of the Biblical Church of God (Protestant) in Gujrat, Punjab, printed posters and leaflets honouring the church's founder, his late father, Fazal Masih, whom Gill described using the Urdu word 'rasool'. A local Muslim named Umar Butt protested on the grounds that the word 'rasool' (which means prophet) cannot be applied to anyone beyond Muhammad, the last prophet according to Islam. Accompanied by a local Islamic jurist and a TV reporter, Butt registered a complaint at the local police station. Subsequently, Pastor Gill, Latif Masih and Shafqat Gill voluntarily presented themselves to police. Though they offered an apology and asked for forgiveness, they were arrested and charged with blasphemy, along with the unnamed Muslim owner of the printing press. Rioting Muslims prepared to burn Christians alive and set their houses and church on fire and only the timely intervention of the police brought the situation under control. Some 100 or more families live in the area, many of whom have now fled.

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

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

RLPB 323. Uganda: persecution on the rise in Eastern Province

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 323 | Wed 19 Aug 2015

By Elizabeth Kendal

Uganda's population is approximately 85 percent Christian and 11 percent Muslim, with full religious freedom. Most of Uganda's Muslims live in the Eastern Region where persecution of Christians is escalating [map with districts]. Two factors would drive this trend. First, Islamic radicalisation is a global trend, but the degree of intolerance manifesting as violence depends largely on what is being taught in local mosques. If local mosques have been infiltrated with hard-line Wahhabi/Salafi imams, often Saudi-funded, then persecution is guaranteed to escalate. Secondly, Uganda is one of five African states contributing to the fight against al-Shabaab through the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Al-Shabaab has been threatening retaliation on Uganda for years, but has increased its rhetoric in recent months as Uganda has increased its involvement in Somalia. Recent AMISOM advances in 'Operation Jubba Corridor', which has dislodged al-Shabaab from its strongholds in Southern Somalia, were largely enabled by Uganda's provision of transport and attack helicopters. AMISOM forces have rarely had air cover. With these helicopters being based in Somalia, air cover and air transport will now be more available. All this would agitate fundamentalist Muslims in Uganda's Eastern Region, inflaming Islamic zeal and stoking a desire for revenge.
all the attacks reported
by MSN (2015) occurred
inside the red triangle.

It is most critical that the Ugandan government combat the escalating persecution because appeasement and impunity will only open the door to further escalation. The following attacks, reported by Morning Star News (MSN), all occurred in Eastern Region and are simply the most recent in a string of similar attacks. [See MSN: Uganda]

On 11 August Issa Kasoon (a Muslim) beat and strangled his wife Jafalan Kadondi, in Nsinze village, Namutumba District, leaving her for dead. However, she survived and is receiving specialist care for throat injuries. Relatives joined Kasoon in beating Kadondi and the couple's two sons, Ismael (16) and Ibrahim (18) whose arm was broken when struck with a blunt object. The reason for the attack: Kasoon had discovered that his family had converted to Christianity.

Once an Islamic teacher (sheikh), Hassan Muwanguzi is now an evangelist for Jesus Christ. He has suffered intensive persecution since turning to Christ in his early 20s in 2003. His family disowned him, his wife left him, he has been forced to fight false charges levelled against him, he is routinely beaten and in 2012 his house was burned down. Despite all this, Muwanguzi has opened a Christian school in Kibuku District. In March 2014 Muwanguzi survived an attempted poisoning at the hands of Muslim relatives. On 16 June 2014 a group of Muslims attempted to kill him, and when they could not, they murdered his daughter Grace (12) instead. On 29 June 2015 Muwanguzi (who is remarried and has three surviving children) foiled another assassination plot. Then on 2 July armed Muslims broke into his home late at night but fortunately Muwanguzi was away at a prayer meeting. Seeing Muwanguzi's home being thoroughly looted, neighbours tried to intervene, at which point the intruders brandished knives and vowed to have Muwanguzi's head (literally) because he had become an enemy of Islam.

On 17 June 2015, in Nabuli village, Kibuku District, Namumbeiza Swabura, a mother of eleven including a 5-month-old baby, died after being poisoned by her sister-in-law. Swabura and her husband Mugoya Muhammad, a former sheikh, had been receiving death threats since becoming Christians in August 2014. The couple's pastor, James Kalaja of New Hope Church in Nabuli, told MSN that Nabuli village has many Muslims hostile to Christians. Kalaja is no stranger to suffering: Muslims gang-raped his 17-year-old daughter after he ignored their demands to cease his Christian ministry. Kalaja subsequently moved his family to a safer village and only travels into the village now to lead Sunday worship. His daughter is profoundly traumatised. Meanwhile, widower Muhammad, now a single father of eleven, continues to receive death threats on his mobile phone.


* 'the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction' (2 Corinthians 1:3,4 ESV) will lift up and sustain those who have suffered so terribly and lost so much because of their faith in, love of and service for the Lord Jesus Christ. Pray for all Ugandan Christians presently suffering for their faith: especially for Jafalan Kadondi and her sons Ismael and Ibrahim; for Hassan Muwanguzi and his family; for widower Mugoya Muhammad and his eleven children; for the Kalaja family ministering in Nabuli.

* the Lord of Hosts will guide and protect his people and frustrate the ways of the wicked. (See Psalm 146.) May persecutors who seek to harm believers come to know conviction of sin, especially those who have beaten and killed members of their own family.

* the government in Kampala will move to rein in Islamic radicalisation, intolerance and escalating persecution; may the government of President Yoweri Museveni resist the path of appeasement and act to preserve freedom and security.

* local police will uphold the law, arrest the persecutors and prosecute their crimes; may there be no impunity for violent Islamic persecution in Uganda.


Uganda's Muslims (11 percent of the population) live mostly in the Eastern Region where persecution of Christians is escalating. Radicalisation, Muslim anger over Uganda's involvement in Somalia, and impunity are all factors. Converts from Islam and those in Christian ministry are persecuted the worst. Mugoya Muhammad, a Christian former Islamic teacher (sheikh), was widowed in June when his wife was murdered by relatives because of her faith. He is left raising their 11 children. Another former sheikh, Hassan Muwanguzi, has suffered immensely since turning to Christ in 2003. Muslims murdered his daughter in 2014 and are still after his 'head' -- literally. Muslims gang-raped Pastor Kalaja's daughter (17) after he refused to cease ministry. On 11 August convert Jafalan Kadondi and her two sons barely survived an attack by Muslim relatives. Please pray.


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

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

RLPB 322. SYRIA: appealing for the Lord's intervention

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 322 | Wed 12 Aug 2015

By Elizabeth Kendal

As US-Iran rapprochement advanced apace in the early months of this year, the Turkey-Arab regime-change alliance knew it had to up the ante if Assad was to be removed before the lifting of sanctions further empowered Iran. The battle changed as al-Qaeda aligned Saudi-backed groups united to seize strategic Idlib. Now, with Turkey and the US fighting IS in Aleppo, the Turkey-Saudi-Qatar-backed al-Qaeda-led Jaish al-Fatah rebel alliance is free to concentrate its forces and efforts in its push into Hama and Latakia Governorates. On 10 August Jaish al-Fatah seized control of the northern Sahl al-Ghab plain. Fierce fighting is under way and hundreds of the local population have joined the ranks of loyalist forces to defend their villages from international jihadis. The Syrian army might have superior armour but the jihadists have US-made anti-tank guided missiles. A Jaish al-Fatah victory in the Sahl al-Ghab plain would isolate the Alawite stronghold of Latakia. Home to many Christians, Latakia is also hosting many thousands of Christian refugees from Aleppo and across the north.
click on map to enlarge

Meanwhile, Islamic State (IS) forces moved into historic Palmyra on 12 May, gradually expanding to seize the city. Located midway along the main road leading from Damascus through the east to the Iraq border, Palmyra operates as a strategic gateway to the west of the country. The town of Qaryatayn is midway between Palmyra and Damascus and only 45km due east of the strategic M5 Highway which links Damascus to Homs. Whilst most of Qaryatayn's Christian residents fled when IS seized Palmyra, the priests remained, hosting refugees in the monastery. On 21 May IS forces kidnapped Jesuit priest Father Jacques Mourad and a deacon named Boutros from the Mar Elian Monastery in Qaryatayn. [See RLPB 311 (27 May).] Their condition and whereabouts remain unknown.

On Thursday 6 August IS suicide bombers breached Qaryatyn's checkpoints, opening the way for IS fighters to invade, seize the town  and abduct some 230 persons. Al-Monitor reports, 'Local sources told As-Safir that IS militants kidnapped more than 150 Syrian Christian citizens from the Khoury, Rahil, Tahan, Malghouj, Kumkum and Satah families, and prevented the rest of the people from leaving the village without paying large sums of money per person.' A commentator for the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said those abducted were wanted by IS for 'collaborating with the regime'. He said their names were on a list already prepared by the militants before they occupied the town. As Middle East Concern notes, this has serious implications for those taken; their lives are definitely in danger.

IS also seized the village of Hawwarin in a simultaneous attack. Situated about 15km west of Qaryatyn, Hawwarin is an Assyrian village and the attack has displaced some 2000 Assyrian Christians. Just 15km west of Hawwarin is the town of Sadad. In November 2013 Sadad was attacked by 'rebels' who held the town's 1500 families hostage for a week while they looted homes, desecrated churches and murdered some 45 civilians. Not waiting for IS, Sadad's 5000 residents are now fleeing towards Damascus (100km to the south) and Homs (60km to the north).

Diplomatic activity has become frantic. Whilst the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey still insist that Assad must go, the US is loathe to create a power vacuum in Damascus, aware no doubt that genocide would ensue. Russia is leading negotiations to forge an anti-IS alliance which will include the Syrian government (protecting the minorities), thereby opening the door to a power-sharing arrangement. Meanwhile Iran has said it will be submitting its own peace plan to the United Nations. However, as analysts note these negotiations are totally disconnected from the reality on the battlefield where Sunni jihadists now have the momentum. As long as the jihadists believe they can win, they are unlikely to agree to a deal, much less cede power.

Meanwhile, analysts in the intelligence community are warning that IS may be preparing to carry out a 'mass-casualty terrorist attack'. While analysts are focused on the prospect of a mass-casualty attack on the West, we need to consider that IS is already holding more than 300 Christians in captivity.

'My eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns; my bile is poured out on the ground because of the destruction of the daughter of my people ...' (Lamentations 2:11a,b ESV)

'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 ...' (Lamentations 2:19 a,b ESV)


* have mercy on the multitudes of Syrians whose lives are gravely imperilled by Islamic jihad, in particular the hundreds of thousands of Christians who will remain at risk of slaughter until the jihadis are defeated; may the Lord of Hosts intervene in the conflict to fight for his beloved and shield them, comfort them and provide their every need.

* guide and give divine wisdom to all Syria's and the region's Christian leaders as they represent the local Church, advocate on their behalf, advise outsiders and direct their own congregations; may the Holy Spirit's presence and empowerment be palpable.

* frustrate the ways of the wicked and bring them to ruin (Psalm 146:9). 'Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by safely.' (Psalm 141:10 ESV)


Having seized Idlib in the north, the Turkey-Saudi-Qatar-backed, al-Qaeda-led Jaish al-Fatah alliance is now pressing south into Hama. Fierce fighting rages as Islamic jihadists with US-made weapons fight the Syrian Army and loyalist forces comprised largely of local people desperate to defend their villages. Having seized Palmyra in the east, Islamic State (IS) is now pressing west towards the M5 Highway linking Damascus with Homs and the north. These are critical days. On 6 August IS abducted some 150 Christians from Qaryatayn, west of Palmyra. Thousands have been displaced from the Assyrian village of Hawwarin and the nearby town of Sadad. Intelligence indicates IS  (which holds over 300 Christians in captivity) may be planning a 'mass casualty terrorist attack'. Please pray for peace in Syria and for its Church.


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

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

RLPB 321. Nepal's Constitution: religious liberty at risk

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 321 | Wed 05 Aug 2015

By Elizabeth Kendal

BACKGROUND: Until quite recently Nepal was the world's only Hindu kingdom. Things changed in February 2005 when King Gyanendra seized absolute power in a bloodless coup, sending anti-monarchy sentiment soaring. By November 2005 Nepal's previously disparate opposition parties had united in a 'Seven Party Alliance' (SPA) to oppose totalitarian royal rule. By April 2006 Kathmandu was paralysed, crippled by mass demonstrations. King Gyanendra was forced to step down. The Maoists then declared a ceasefire and on 18 May 2006 Nepal's new SPA parliament publicly declared that Nepal would no longer be a Hindu kingdom but a secular democratic republic. In historic polls on 10 April 2008 Nepalis elected a Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting the new secular constitution, something Hindu nationalists vehemently opposed. In May 2012 the Assembly dissolved after failing to meet its fourth and final deadline for a new constitution. What followed was years of procrastination and Hindu nationalist agitation. Propelled into action by the devastating April 2015 earthquake, Nepal's parliament agreed on 8 June to move forward on the constitution. [For background see Religious Liberty Monitoring, label: Nepal]

CONSTITUTION 2015: Nepalese hopes that a new constitution will be finalised by mid-August 2015 are under a cloud as protesters continue to express their displeasure over the draft. The main concern for Christians is the loss of religious liberty. Though Article 31 enshrines the right to profess and practise one's own religion, it also enshrines anti-conversion legislation. Clause 3 of Article 31 reads: 'In exercising the right entrusted by this article, any act which may be contrary to public health, public decency or morality or incitement to breach public peace or act to convert another person from one religion to another or any act or behaviour to undermine or jeopardise the religion of each other is not allowed and such act shall be punishable by law.' Nepal advocacy officer for Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Martin Dore, rightly observes, 'That would make it "illegal" to change religion, evangelise, or even explain one's religion.' Lokmani Dhakal, one of the four Christians in Nepal's 601-member Constituent Assembly, is left asking, 'Without freedom to speak about one's faith, what is the meaning of religious freedom?'

Christians are also concerned that, after public consultations, the term 'secular' has been dropped.  As  C.B. Gahatraj, General Secretary of the National Federation of Christians, explains, Nepalese Christians want to see secularism institutionalised in the constitution, with Christianity recognised to protect Nepali Christians from discrimination and persecution. However, it now seems likely that Nepal will be declared a Hindu state with 'religious freedom' -- but not the religious freedom described in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Not only is conversion being portrayed as an abuse or 'misuse' of religious freedom, it seems that Hindu nationalists have convinced Nepalis that secularism would result in mass conversions, to the detriment of Nepali culture. As the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Rt Rev Dr Angus Morrison, observes, 'The growing threat to religious freedom around the world is, I believe, one of the most pressing issues of our time.' His appeal 'on behalf of our partners and friends in Nepal' is that this matter be raised with the government of Nepal, to 'help ensure that, in its proper sense, freedom of religion for all people in Nepal is enshrined in the country's new constitution'.

In an excellent opinion piece entitled 'Religious Tolerance' (Kathmandu Post, 29 July 2015), Nepalese Christian David Kainee goes right to the heart of the matter. 'The current debate over secularism is taking place partly due to the resurgence of some political leaders who are exploiting the religious sentiments of the people to purge their tainted images in a bid to bounce back into politics. These leaders are inciting hatred against religious minorities which is polluting the environment of religious tolerance for which Nepal is known all over the world. The concept of secularism holds that the government or other entities should exist separately from religion and religious beliefs. But it is sad to say that secularism has been wrongly interpreted in Nepal. If the constitution of Nepal enshrines secularism, it does not mean that every Hindu will be converted into Christians or Muslims -- it is only a movement towards the separation of religion and government. Secularism will not weaken nationalism. ... For peace and prosperity, we need to defeat the forces of religious extremism in the country, otherwise Nepal is sure to take the path of communal politics like in the Gulf and Middle Eastern countries where hundreds of people are being killed in religious violence every day. Let's close the chapter of giving a political colour to religion which is polarising Nepali society -- instead plant the seed of tolerance and unity which is my fervent prayer for our country Nepal.'

Let us join our Nepali brothers and sisters in fervent prayer for their country.

Gospel for Asia


* intervene in Nepal, to preserve religious liberty; may our great redeeming God redeem this divisive debate on secularism and religious freedom and use it to open eyes, hearts and minds to the dangers posed by communalism, the risks inherent in rolling back liberty and the blessings to be gained from freedom.

* grant influential Nepalese Christians divine wisdom and authority as they seek to influence the debate, advocate for religious freedom and counter Hindu nationalist propaganda.

* grant Nepalese Christians, evangelists, church workers and church leaders divine wisdom as they navigate the path ahead; may God continue to build his Church in Nepal.

'Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it will be opened to you.' (Matthew 7:7 ESV)


Once the world's only Hindu kingdom, Nepal was declared a secular, democratic republic in May 2006. However, attempts to produce a secular constitution have so far failed and a new constitution  finalised by mid-August 2015 seems unlikely as Nepalis protest their displeasure about the draft. Christians are deeply concerned that the draft, though it affirms the right to profess and practise one's own religion, criminalises evangelism and conversion. Hindu nationalists have run a highly successful propaganda campaign convincing Nepalis that 'secularism' will lead to mass conversions to the detriment of Nepalese culture. Now ambitious politicians are exploiting the rise in Hindu zeal, promoting and protecting Hinduism in pursuit of political gain. This is a pivotal time for Nepal. Please pray for Nepal and its Church.


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