Wednesday, September 30, 2015

RLPB 329. Sept. Update, Incl. China, Syria, Europe, India, Laos, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sudan, Tanzania

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 329 | Wed 30 Sep 2015

By Elizabeth Kendal

SEPTEMBER 2015 UPDATE -- During September we prayed concerning ... 

* CHINA (RLPB 325), after Christian attorney Zhang Kai (37) was taken by Chinese security officials and 'disappeared' into secret detention.

Gao Zhisheng
(Photo: China Aid Association)
UPDATE: On Thursday 24 September China Aid Association reported that internationally acclaimed Christian attorney Gao Zhisheng (51) -- who has been under house arrest since his release from secret detention in August 2014 -- had been taken away by Chinese security officials just one day after talking to Associated Press [article and video]. Fortunately, China Aid was able to report the next day that Gao had been returned to his home detention. No further details are known and the situation is unclear. One can only assume he has been cautioned. Grave concerns are held for Gao Zhisheng (51) and Zhang Kai (37) and for religious freedom in China. Please pray.

* THE CHRISTIAN CRISIS IN THE MIDDLE EAST (RLPB 326). At the time of writing, the  massive surge in migration into Europe was forcing a spotlight on the Syrian crisis.

UPDATE ON SYRIA CRISIS: After noting the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Syria, the Prayer Bulletin commented that if ethnic-religious minorities are to survive, 'the West might need to swallow its pride and talk to Assad and to Russia'. For its part, Russia was attempting to assemble an anti-ISIS coalition that would include the Syrian government. But with the US, the Arabs and Turkey all insisting, 'Assad must go!' Russian efforts were in vain. Increasingly though, many in the West were coming to realise that should the Syrian government fall, ISIS is poised to take power. By mid- September, Russia was on the ground in Syria, importing materiel -- including fighter jets, attack helicopters, tanks and missiles -- and establishing a base for forwards operations. This has forced the US to negotiate. Presidents Putin and Obama still hold to opposing views. Putin maintains that the Syrian war developed due to the West's support of radical Islamic elements committed to illegal regime change. Obama maintains that the war is Assad's fault because he used violence to put down supposedly 'peaceful pro-democracy' protests (as did, we must note, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Turkey and Egypt). The West still harbours ideas of 'good rebels', something Christian leaders have decried as 'naive' and pure 'fantasy'. Please continue to pray for the Church in Syria. 

UPDATE ON EUROPE'S MIGRANT CRISIS: Concerning the migrant influx, the Prayer Bulletin noted, 'This will most certainly end badly.' Reports are emerging that German and Swedish local governments have begun passing laws giving authorities the right to acquire vacant properties, such as holiday homes, caravans, resorts and offices, for the housing of migrants. In one German town, 150 students were given 24 hours to evacuate their school so migrants could be housed there. There are also reports of local governments evicting residents from state housing so migrants can be housed in state-owned complexes. There are also reports of landlords evicting tenants because they can earn considerably more from the government by housing migrants. Reports are also emerging of clashes, rapes, weapons and criminality and of local fear and anger at the sky-rocketing financial and social costs. Christians are called to be generous and hospitable, but governments have a mandate and duty to safeguard national security. By confusing the two, Europeans are creating a catastrophe. Pray for the Church in Europe.

* VIETNAM (RLPB 327), where the ruling communist party persecutes Degar Christians on ethnic-religious grounds, and CAMBODIA, which rejects Degar asylum seekers at Vietnam's request.

* SAUDI ARABIA & THE UN HRC (RLPB 328). We prayed for believers in Saudi Arabia, and in particular for Saudi Christians who are gravely imperilled no matter where they are in the world. We noted that the UN Human Rights Council has appointed Saudi Arabia -- one of the world's worst human rights abusers -- as Chair of the Consultative Group that appoints the experts who investigate and report on human rights all around the world. We prayed that Christians will realise their hope must be in God alone.

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

On 4 September some 30 members of the Anugrah (Grace) Church met for prayer in Hututag Village, in the north-east state of Jharkhand. After a while, four Hindu women came and abused the Christians. Later, two men came and threatened the two pastors. Eventually a mob of some 15 militant Hindu nationalists arrived, armed with guns, axes, spades and clubs. Aware the militants were after their pastor, the believers forced him into the roof. When the militants could not find the pastor, they beat the Christians. Six were hospitalised with multiple broken bones and serious flesh and head wounds caused by shovels and axes. Other believers suffered cuts and bruising. 'Since April of this year we have been pressured to choose between Christ and our lives,' Pastor Bharti told Morning Star News. He said the Hindus want the Christians out. Unfortunately the village head is a Hindu nationalist who supports the militants. This sort of extreme violence with impunity is becoming increasingly common across India. Pray for the Church in India.

On 2 September a Christian leader, Mr Bounthung, and a fellow Christian Mr Neuy, accepted an invitation to spend time in fellowship and prayer with believers in Nong-hang Village, Khammouane Province. The group was enjoying a meal together when police stormed in and arrested the visitors, who have since been charged with spreading the Christian religion. Prison conditions in Laos are amongst the worst in the world. On the night of 8 September a prison guard named Wansi, along with four accomplices, entered the home of Pastor Singkeaw Wongkongpheng in Na-ang Village, Luang Prabang Province. When they grabbed his wife, Pastor Singkeaw asked the men if they were after money. They replied that they had come to kill the pastor on the orders of the secret police. The prison guard stabbed Pastor Singkeaw three times in the back before the pastor's son managed to chase the assailants out of the house. Pastor Singkeaw did not survive. He leaves behind a wife, six children and a church of 58 members. Pastor Singkeaw had been ignoring threats for years, insisting that Christ must be preached. Pray for his family and for the church in Na-ang Village. Please pray for Laos.  

On Sunday 13 September Nepali lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to pass Nepal's new constitution. While Christians are concerned about the retention of anti-conversion measures, Hindu nationalists are furious about the retention of the word 'secular' because they had been demanding Nepal be declared a Hindu state. [For background see RLPB 321, Nepal's Constitution: Religious Liberty at Risk (5 Aug 2015).]

Nepalese Hindu nationalists
protest 'secular' constitution
If the retention of anti-conversion measures was intended to appease the Hindu nationalists, then so far it has failed. On Monday 14 September small bombs exploded in two churches in the far-eastern Jhapa District: Jyoti Church in Damak-10 and Emmanuel Church in Khajurgachi. Fortunately nobody was injured although the properties were damaged. Bombs were discovered in two other churches. One was successfully defused but the other was removed to a police station where it exploded, wounding three policemen, one critically. Pamphlets promoting 'Hindu Morcha Nepal' were found in all four sites. Three suspects have been arrested, although the suspected ringleader, Madhav Bhandari, remains at large. Hindu Morcha Nepal, a coalition of six Hindu nationalist groups, has said it intends to make Nepal 'a Christian-free Hindu nation.' It has warned Nepalese Christians either to return to Hinduism or leave Nepal.  Pray for the Church in Nepal.

In May, a Pakistani Taliban splinter group aligned to Islamic State (IS) ambushed a bus in Karachi which was headed for a Shi'ite community centre. The militants from 'Khorasan Province Islamic State,' killed 43 people on the bus and vowed to 'attack Ismailis, Shiites and Christians' in coming days. On 22 September Gatestone Institute reported the Pakistani government and military have warned Christians that a terrorist attack on a Christian school or church might be imminent. Most at risk are Christian institutions in the north-west Province of Khyber Paktunkhwa. Priests, nuns and pastors have been warned not to venture far from their churches and not to agree to any outside meetings unless they know the party well. Pray for the Church in Pakistan.

Fierce debate continues over the proposal to create an Islamic sub-state in Mindanao, Southern Philippines. Meanwhile, terrorists from the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group are suspected of being responsible for bombing a passenger bus in the predominantly Christian city of Zamboanga on 18 September. A 14-year-old girl was killed in the attack and 33 others wounded, almost all Christians. Zamboanga Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco and a congressman representing the city, Celso Lobregat, are resisting efforts to have Zamboanga incorporated into any Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)-run Islamic sub-state.  President Benigno Aquino III wants 'peace' as his legacy but appeasing Islamic terrorists never works. Pray for the Church in Mindanao, Southern Philippines.

Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church has suffered persistent persecution ever since the break-up of Sudan.  In November 2014 government contractors demolished part of the church property, causing great distress to church members. Subsequently, two South Sudanese pastors who supported the church were arrested and jailed: Rev Yat Michael (49) in December 2014 and Rev Peter Yein Reith (36) in January 2015. The men were charged with serious national security offences which could have attracted the death penalty. On 5 August the two pastors were acquitted of the serious charges and released. Initially they were not permitted to travel, but by 19 August the men were home in South Sudan with their families. Now Morning Star News reports that on 31 August Sudan's Administrative Court of Appeal ruled that the Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowments had illegally interfered with the church by imposing on it a committee to facilitate a Muslim takeover of the property. This ruling is significant on many levels -- praise God.

On the night of 22 September three churches were torched in Bukoba Municipality, in Tanzania's far north-west Kagera Region. The Pentecostal Assemblies of God (PAG) church in Buyekera Ward, and the Living Water International (LWI) and the Evangelical Assemblies of God (EAG) churches in Kibeta Ward were totally destroyed. Weeks earlier unknown people broke into a Roman Catholic Church in Kagondo Ward in Bukoba Municipality and burned numerous items including vestments, benches and Bibles. Tanzania Daily News reports, 'Within a spell of four weeks, unknown people have set on fire seven churches.' This is not the first time churches in Bukoba Municipality have been targeted in arson attacks. On 26 September Tanzania Daily News reported that seven suspects were 'helping police with investigations'. Morning Star News reports that pastors in the area have been receiving threats from radicalised Muslims who are demanding there be fewer churches in the area.


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

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

RLPB 328. The UN, Saudi Arabia & International Human Rights

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 328 | Wed 23 Sep 2015

By Elizabeth Kendal

According to the website of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), 'The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe.' To monitor international human rights, the UNHRC appoints special rapporteurs and independent experts to investigate for and report to the UNHRC in Geneva. Appointments are made at the recommendation of the Consultative Group, comprising five Permanent Representatives (ambassadors). This week the organisation known as Human Rights Watch exposed something the UNHRC had tried to keep quiet: in May, ahead of the UNHRC's June 2015 session, Faisal Trad, Saudi Arabia's ambassador in Geneva, was appointed as Chair of the Consultative Group, possibly in a back-room deal. What this means is that about 77 'experts', to be reporting on countries such as Sudan or on issues such as religious liberty or 'Islamophobia' (for example), will have to be approved by Saudi Arabia.

The UNHRC was created in 2006 to replace the 53-member UN Commission on Human Rights which had collapsed in moral confusion. Recent events indicate that the UNHRC might now be on the brink of collapse. This was entirely predictable because the UN can be likened to a modern-day 'Tower of Babel' -- a worldly attempt to forge peace and cohesion independent of God (Gen 11:1-9) -- cursed from the beginning. While it is imperative that Christians speak into the UN, we should never put our faith in it.

Saudi Arabia is one of the world's worst human rights abusers. It is a place where 'insulting Islam' on a blog can earn you 10 years in jail and 1000 lashes, as is the case with Raif Badawi (31). It is a place where beheading is commonplace, not only of criminals, but of poor (often foreign) scapegoats who are tortured and denied due legal process. In January footage hit the web of a Burmese woman being held by police and beheaded with a sword on the side of a road in broad daylight in front of traffic and pedestrians. In May, when Saudi Arabia was being appointed as Chair of the UNHRC's Consultative Group, it had already beheaded some 85 prisoners so far this year and was advertising for more executioners. At least two political dissidents are on death row.  Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr (53) was arrested in Eastern Province in 2011 in the wake of 'Arab Spring' protests. Charged with 'waging war against God,' he was sentenced in October 2014 to death by beheading followed by the public crucifixion of his decapitated body. He remains on death row as his execution could trigger chaos. Joining Sheik al-Nimr on death row is his nephew, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr (21). Ali was arrested in 2012 (aged 17) for protesting the kingdom's treatment of its Shi'ite minority. Ali too has been sentenced to death by beheading followed by the public crucifixion of his decapitated body.  In truth, the only thing that differentiates the Islamic state of Saudi Arabia from the 'Islamic State' (ISIS) is a few decades of realpolitik (politics determined by ‘interests’ not morals).

The constitution defines Saudi citizens as Muslims and apostasy (leaving Islam) is a capital offence. Apostates are rarely executed by the state as the family usually kills them first, as was the case with 'Rania', whose family cut out her tongue and then burned her to death. Almost all the Christians in Saudi Arabia are expatriate workers. While Westerners and professionals working in the oil industry are housed in gated estates and have access to a chapel in their embassy, poor African and Asian labourers get no such luxuries. Their passports are confiscated on arrival and they are used and abused as slaves. No visible or audible expression of Christianity is allowed and house churches are banned. Contrary to the regime's claim that Saudi Christianity does not exist, it does -- and not only in the diaspora. Jesus Christ is at work in Saudi Arabia, reaching Saudi citizens through satellite TV, radio, dreams and visions and sometimes even through personal witness. It was through the witness of a Lebanese Christian named Henna Sarkees (51) that a Saudi woman (28) working in the same firm came to embrace Jesus as Saviour. Sarkees helped the convert flee, but was himself arrested and sentenced to six years in prison with 300 lashes for the crime of 'evangelism'. Not only is Saudi Arabia one the most dangerous places on earth to be a Christian, Saudi Christians are at risk anywhere in the world as Saudi authorities like to track down converts in the diaspora. It will even use Interpol to find them. 


* the Lord will protect Saudi Arabia's vulnerable Asian and African Christian expatriate workers, especially as they risk life and liberty to meet for fellowship and worship; may the Christian expatriate community grow in grace and numbers.

* the Lord will protect and sustain Saudi Christians and all Arab Christians throughout the entire Arabian Peninsula, blessing them, keeping them safe and providing them with everything they need.

* the controversy over the UNHRC's shameful appointment of Saudi Arabia as Chair of the Consultative Group will pave the way for an exposure of human rights and religious freedom in Saudi Arabia.

* this controversy will serve to remind Christians that our hope must be in the Lord alone.
[For a prayer on this, see "Prayer: Moving into the City of God" from Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (see below) pages 177-8; or here. ]


The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has appointed Saudi Arabia as the Chair of the 5-member Consultative Group which is tasked with finding candidates to fill human rights posts around the world, investigating for and reporting back to the UNHRC in Geneva. Thus these 'experts' who report on countries such as Sudan, or on issues such as religious liberty or 'Islamophobia' (for example), will have been approved by Saudi Arabia. Yet Saudi Arabia is one of the world's worst human rights abusers. There is absolutely no religious freedom; public expression of Christianity is forbidden; house churches are banned; apostates are killed. May this episode expose the situation in Saudi Arabia and the shortcomings of the UN. Please pray for the Church in Saudi Arabia.


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

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

RLPB 327. Vietnam & Cambodia: No sanctuary for Degar Christians

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 327 | Wed 16 Sep 2015

By Elizabeth Kendal

When France ruled as the colonial power in Vietnam (1895-1954) it referred to Vietnam's indigenous hills tribes as 'Montagnards', i.e. mountaineers. At that time, some three million Montagnards, belonging to numerous tribes, lived in Vietnam's Central Highlands region. While the hill tribes refer to themselves collectively as 'Degar' (sons of the mountains), the Vietnamese refer to them as 'moi' (savages).

Long persecuted by the Vietnamese who covet their lands, the anti-Communist Degar fought alongside the Americans during the Vietnam War at the cost of some 200,000 Degar lives. When the Americans withdrew in 1975 and the Communists won the war, the Degar were left to face the repercussions. After decades of systematic political and religious repression and violent persecution, only a few hundred thousand predominantly Christian Degar remain. Forged in suffering, Degar Christianity is deeply infused with nationalist aspirations and a desire for justice and liberty -- all traits the paranoid and controlling Communist regime in Hanoi regards as subversive. The persecution is relentless and fuelled by racial and religious hatred.

Vietnamese state-run media vilify Degar Christianity as 'reactionary', a ‘tool of hostile forces’ and a threat to social cohesion and national security. They even claim it is not Christian at all, but 'ta dao' (evil way) religion. Persecution includes old-school communist tactics such as campaigns of extreme violence and public shaming in kangaroo courts to force Christians to renounce their faith. Refusal to renounce faith can result in imprisonment where beatings and torture are routine. A Human Rights Watch report from March 2011 entitled, 'Montagnard Christians: A Case Study in Religious Repression', contains several pages of citations from state-run media in which communist authorities boast of persuading Christian families to repent of their reactionary ways and renounce their faith. For example, 'Bao Gia Lai reports [July 2010] that 97 households in the villages of Tok and Roh, Chu Se district, "voluntarily abandon 'Dega Protestantism'" and 'Bao Gia Lai [Oct 2010]: In Chu Drang-Nay Droh commune, some 567 households related to Dega Protestantism have committed to "renouncing" the religion.'

A Degar/Montagnard woman sits
at the door of a 'house church'
in Kret Krot village,
Central Highlands, Vietnam.
(Human Rights Watch)
Now a new HRW report published in June 2015 entitled 'Persecuting "Evil Way" Religion: Abuses Against Montagnards in Vietnam', confirms that the campaign of violence, torture and forced renunciations of faith continues to this day.

In October 2014 Vietnamese state-run media reported that 1758 people in Gia Lai, Dak Lak and Kon Tum Provinces had been identified as participating in 'evil way' religion in 10 districts, adding that 39 leaders were in hiding while participants continue to gather for prayers in private homes. At the same time the Cambodia Daily was reporting that Degar Christians were fleeing into Cambodia's north-eastern Ratanakkiri Province, seeking asylum in Cambodia and claiming to be fleeing increased religious and political persecution. In early May 2015 the Cambodian government deployed a further 1000 troops to the border to prevent persecuted Degar Christians from crossing into Cambodia. Because Vietnam does not want the international embarrassment of being labelled a human rights abuser, it has long requested Cambodia not recognise Degar Christians as refugees. Instead it wants them rejected as illegal migrants and repatriated. Cambodia complies to protect its close relationship with the regime in Hanoi. The West, meanwhile, ignores it all to protect its economic and geo-strategic interests in the region.

On Friday 11 September the Cambodian government gave the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) three months to repatriate some 200 Degar asylum seekers now living in Phnom Penh, adding that if the UNHCR cannot 'repatriate those illegal Montagnards within three months' then 'we will implement our immigration law and do it ourselves'. Cambodia suggested the UNHCR could alternatively 'find a third country for them to resettle'. Vietnam has indicated that it is 'ready to receive' the Montagnards and has assured the UNHCR that 'it will not discriminate against or punish them'. But as noted by the deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, Phil Robertson, Vietnam's assurances cannot be trusted, for Degar believers have been lured back before only to be arrested and tortured on arrival. Head of the Jesuit Refugee Service, Denise Coghlan, is appealing for the UNHCR to protect the refugees and demand that Cambodia register their cases. As she notes, many of the refugees have already 'suffered imprisonment, beatings [in Vietnam]. Many have been asked with force to sign that they will not practise their religion.' Phil Robertson (HRW) lambasted the Cambodian government, saying, 'It's outrageous that Cambodia thinks it can just force the Montagnards back into harm's way in Vietnam and no one will do anything about it.' But in reality, the persecution of Degar Christians in Vietnam and the repatriation of Degar Christian refugees from Cambodia continues year after year precisely because nobody ever does anything about it.

'Our people have lost all hope because no one cares for us any more,' lamented the president of the US-based Degar Foundation, Kok Ksor, in December 2014. 'Even the US government doesn't do anything  for us. Everyone wants to ignore us because our people are so few and our land so small. Everyone wants to help Vietnam -- and we are in the way -- because everyone wants to stop China's expansion. No one wants to say that Vietnam does anything bad,' he said.


* Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen will protect the Degar Christian refugees and that this crisis will shine a spotlight on one of Vietnam's darkest secrets.

* Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang will be forced to end the repression and violent persecution of Vietnam's indigenous Degar Christians and that this crisis will shine a spotlight on Vietnam's critical decline in religious freedom.

* our gracious Lord will intervene for his precious Degar Church; may Degar Christians know his presence, comfort, provision and protection.

* the Lord intervene for religious freedom in Vietnam.

'But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.' (Amos 5:24 ESV)


The Degar (Montagnards) are collectively the indigenous tribal people of Vietnam. Today a remnant still survives in the Central Highlands, although systematic repression and violent persecution at the hands of the Communist regime in Hanoi is threatening their very existence. Hanoi deems Degar Christianity a 'reactionary' and 'evil' religion. Those refusing to renounce their faith can expect prison and torture. Many have fled into Cambodia, which rejects them as illegal migrants and repatriates them at Vietnam's request. On 11 September the Cambodian government gave the UN refugee agency in Phnom Penh three months to repatriate some 200 Degar Christians or Cambodian security forces will do it themselves. Pray that this crisis will shine a spot-light on one of Vietnam's darkest secrets. Please pray for the Degar Christians and Vietnam and Cambodia.


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

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

RLPB 326. Christian Crisis in the Middle East

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 326 | Wed 09 Sep 2015

By Elizabeth Kendal

In any conflict, explains Australian author Denis Dragovic, the wealthy are the first to flee. Then, as life becomes intolerable, the middle class flee across borders into camps where they wait in hope that the fighting will end and they will be able to return to their homes and businesses. When the fighting doesn't end, they seek alternatives, including the services of people smugglers. 'In the case of Syria ... ,' says Dragovic, 'we are now in that last phase.' Lacking resources, the poor have little choice but to stay and watch their children grow up traumatised, brutalised and without stable education. When peace comes, says Dragovic, the fighters are rewarded with top jobs while the traumatised poor have little to offer, making reconstruction virtually impossible. At this point the protagonists -- neo-Ottoman Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, al-Qaeda and ISIS -- will doubtless fight to fill the void.

Like many analysts, Dragovic maintains that a more sustainable solution is to 'better resource the front-line countries, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, while putting pressure on Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states to accept asylum applications'.

[Despite fuelling the conflict, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab states have taken in ZERO Syrian (Arab Sunni Muslim) refugees.]

political cartoon by Carlos Latuff
A Europe struggling with demographic decline might hope to benefit from an influx of skilled migrants. However, the mass inflow of an alien culture brings with it huge risks. Parallel societies will consolidate and racial-religious tensions will escalate. This will most certainly end badly. Muslims (generally) are aware of Muhammad's alleged prophesy that Islam would first conquer Constantinople, the capital of eastern/Byzantine Europe, (which it did in 1453) and then Rome (the capital of western/Latin Europe). Islamic fundamentalist ideologues and militants are certainly aware of it and doubtless are deliberately hastening it.

Australia has promised to take more refugees, specifically family groups belonging to 'persecuted minorities in camps'. On one hand, it is very exciting to hear it finally acknowledged that Christians are facing an existential threat. Muslim, human rights and Opposition groups are rejecting the policy as 'discriminatory', which is untenable as Arab Muslims are clearly not facing elimination. The policy is needs-based. On the other hand, the Australian and UK commitment to only take refugees from camps is problematic, for, as Lord Carey recently pointed out, the Christians are generally not in the camps. This has long been the case -- the camps are simply too dangerous for religious minorities. Consequently Christians seek refuge in monasteries, churches and Christian schools. From there, most either share rental properties or are billeted out to local Christian families. Thus the local church carries the burden, not the UN. The global Church needs to share this load and send aid to the churches that are caring for refugees, but only through recognised Christian agencies.

Whilst multitudes of Christian youths and families are understandably desperate to leave the Middle East, their pastors and priests are understandably desperate for them to stay. 'The almost communal wave of youth emigration, especially in Syria, but also in Lebanon and Iraq breaks my heart, wounding me deeply and dealing me a deadly blow,' laments Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III. 'Given this tsunami of emigration ... what future is left for the Church? What will become of our homeland? What will become of our parishes and institutions?' he asks as he appeals to Christians to stay. Many Christian leaders believe the temptation to flee must be resisted, as the Christian exodus only serves to facilitate the Islamic agenda of a total religious cleansing of the Middle East. But Christians will only stay if they are secure.

In Syria, Christians are only secure in the 20 percent of the country still under government control. Instead of taking directions from regional powers Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran -- all state sponsors of terror -- the West should prioritise protecting minorities and working in their interests, so that Christians might be safe in Christianity's historic heartland. To do that, the West might need to swallow its pride and talk to Assad and to Russia. Ever since the Crimean War (in the 1850s) the Islamic powers of the Middle East have exploited their geo-strategic position and played the West off against the East to advance their own ends. Ever since the Crimean War the West has backed Muslims at the expense of persecuted Christians. Surely the time has come for the West to be astute, identify the real enemy and put an end to this ruse, for the sake of imperilled Christians.

The Christian crisis in the Middle East is existential. Of course Christian families should be rescued, but the greatest need of all is for a safe haven in the Middle East where Christians can preserve their heritage and culture and worship freely while educating their children in liberty and security. Around the time of World War One, as the Ottoman Empire unravelled, Assyrians sought to establish an independent free Assyria. [This story is now being told through the film, 'A Man Before his Time: The Unsung Story of Freydun Atouraya.'] More recently the appeal has been for an autonomous region in the ancient Assyrian homeland of the Nineveh Plain. Each appeal has triggered a massacre and today most Western politicians dismiss the prospect of an autonomous Assyrian province in northern Iraq as impossible. But the Assyrian hope lives on, fuelled by faith and rooted in the promise of God as found in Isaiah 19:23-25. As God is faithful, it will come to pass! And in that day, the Lord of hosts will say, 'Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance' (v25 ESV).


* the Lord of Hosts will intervene on behalf of each imperilled believer in the Middle East -- may those requiring rescue be rescued and those who want to stay in their homeland have sanctuary.

* God will intervene personally on behalf of each monastery and church sheltering and caring for Christian refugees; may the Lord raise all the necessary funds and give a voice to the voiceless.

* the Lord Almighty will secure justice and liberty for his precious people and the Lord of Hosts be their defence.

* the Holy Spirit will flood the hearts of all pastors, priests and Christian religious workers across the Middle East that they will know his love, grace and comfort; may their faith remain strong and their hope not fade; may the Lord bless them for their faithful service.

* our faithful God will intervene to establish 'the work of [his] hands' -- an autonomous Assyrian province in northern Iraq. And may all the glory go to him.


A mass migration is under way as Syrians stream into Europe via Turkey. This is lessening Syria's prospects for reconstruction and is devastating its Church. Whilst multitudes of Christian youths and families are understandably desperate to leave the Middle East, their pastors and priests are understandably desperate for them to stay -- something they will not do without security. While some Christian families do need to be rescued, it is critical that a safe haven be established in the historic Christian heartland. Assyrians have sought this since World War One. Though most Western politicians dismiss this as impossible, the Assyrian hope lives on, fuelled by faith and rooted in the promise of God as found in Isaiah 19:23-25. May Christ intervene for his people and build his Church.


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

Her second book, 'After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East,' will be published by Resource Publications (an imprint of Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA) in early-mid 2016.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

RLPB 325. China: Attorney Zhang Kai 'Disappeared'.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 325 | Wed 02 Sep 2015

By Elizabeth Kendal

In January 2014 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) secretary in the southern coastal province Zhejiang, Xia Baolong, suddenly noticed Zhejiang's many 'conspicuous' churches and crosses. [RLPB 255 (9 April 2014)] To 'rectify the problem', a campaign was launched to de-Christianise the skyline under the guise of a safety and beautification project. By August 2015 between 1200 - 1500 churches had been impacted [RLPB 324 (26 Aug 2015)], several pastors had been arrested and numerous believers had been wounded in scuffles with police. In April 2015, as the campaign lurched into its second year and casualties were mounting, prominent Beijing-based Christian lawyer Zhang Kai (37) wrote on his blog: 'Seeking justice, promoting reconciliation and advancing rule of law are an historic mission, called for by God, that Christian lawyers must answer and cannot shirk. Confronted with cases of oppression of Christian belief, more Christian lawyers are willing to withstand the pressure and walk alongside those who suffer.'

In early July CCP authorities launched a massive crackdown against human rights lawyers and activists. [RLPB 318 (15 July 2015).] Within days, some 230 prominent human rights lawyers and activists had been detained and harassed, some were being held incommunicado and others had 'disappeared'. Amongst the lawyers were some who have defended religious cases, including the churches under attack in Zhejiang. By this time, Zhang was residing in Xialing Church, Wenzhou, advising churches and formulating a legal strategy. On 10 July state security police took him away, interrogated him through the night and warned him not to get involved. An officer sought to remind Zhang that he did not have any powerful connections. 'You're wrong,' he replied. 'I have God as my backer.'

On 14 July -- as the CCP was rounding up prominent human rights lawyers -- Zhang Kai announced the formation of 'Lawyers for Protection of the Cross', a group of some 30 Christian lawyers from across the country who would be taking on the Zhejiang church cases. [RLPB 319 (22 July 2015).] By this stage, Zhang was providing pro bono legal advice to more than 100 Protestant churches facing the removal of their crosses and the detention of pastors, lay preachers and church members.

Zhang Kai (centre) on 25 Aug.
Source: RadioFreeAsia

On Tuesday 25 August Chinese security forces conducted simultaneous night raids in Wenzhou in which they seized Zhang Kai, his assistant Liu Peng and several Wenzhou pastors. Yang Xinquan, the director of Beijing Xinqiao Law Firm and Zhang Kai's employer, has posted a full report of Zhang's activities. Yang also confirms that nobody has been informed of Zhang's condition or whereabouts -- not even his family. He believes the government is sending a message that this is what happens to lawyers who work against the CCP. Local people report that at least eleven pastors and preachers have been detained in Wenzhou in the past week. On 25 August Pastor Yan Xiaojie forwarded prayer requests regarding the situation in Zhenjiang on the Chinese messaging service WeChat. The next day he was arrested and given an eight-day administrative sentence (no formal charges required). The authorities accused him of 'disturbing the public order' by spreading 'fiction' and attacking the government.

Previously, on 8 August, Zhang had shared his thinking with his friends on WeChat: 'I've made up my mind,' he said, 'the most they can do is jail me. But if I stay silent, I'll regret it my whole life.' Unfortunately we know from the experience of another prominent, internationally acclaimed Christian human rights lawyer, Gao Zhisheng (51), that jail is not 'the most they can do'. When the CCP released Gao in August 2014 he was a totally broken man -- pale, skeletal, limping, his teeth and hair falling out, unable to string a sentence together because of years of torture, starvation and solitary confinement. The message from the CCP: 'This is what happens to lawyers who work against the CCP.' [RLPB 275 (27 Aug 2014)]

Yang Xinquan (Zhang's employer) is assembling a legal team for Zhang Kai's defence. Citing information from police and Christians in Wenzhou, Yang said Zhang reportedly has been charged with endangering state security and assembling a crowd to disrupt social order, leading to an order being issued that could see Zhang spend six months in secretive detention. Grave concerns are held for his safety.


* wherever Zhang Kai is, God's promised presence will be palpable, the Holy Spirit's counsel will be comforting, and Christ's love will be all-consuming. 'And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.' (Jesus in Matthew 28:20b ESV)

The Steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 'The Lord is my portion', says my soul, 'therefore I will trust in him.' (Lamentations 3:22-24 ESV)

* the sovereign Lord will take up Zhang Kai's cause (Lamentations 3:58).

* God will sustain, protect and bless all the human rights lawyers and pastors presently jailed, 'disappeared' and under threat in China.

* the God of the Cross will redeem this evil and turn it to good. May the Lord open eyes, that more and more Chinese might reject the dangerous, amoral vacuity of atheistic consumerism. May the Lord open hearts, that more and more Chinese might find wisdom, goodness and truth in Jesus Christ.


On 25 August Chinese police conducted night raids in Wenzhou (also known as 'China's Jerusalem') in which several pastors were seized along with prominent Christian attorney Zhang Kai and his assistant Liu Peng. In July, as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was rounding up human rights lawyers, Zhang announced the formation of a group of some 30 Christian lawyers who would defend churches under attack in the southern coastal province of Zhejiang. He called the group 'Lawyers for Protection of the Cross'. Citing information from police and Christians in Wenzhou, Zhang's employer Yang Xinquan said Zhang reportedly has been charged with national security offences. This could see Zhang spend six months in secretive detention. Grave concerns are held for his safety. Please pray for China, its believers and Christian lawyers.


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