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).