Tuesday, February 23, 2016

RLPB 345. February Update, Incl. Mexico, China, Sudan and South Sudan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Syria

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 345 | Wed 24 Feb 2016

By Elizabeth Kendal

'Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.' (Matthew 10:29-31 ESV)

FURTHER UPDATES added (26 Feb 2016) 
-- Mexico, China, and Egypt.

FEBRUARY 2016 ROUND-UP -- this month we prayed concerning ...

Fuente de fe, Alabanza y Poder
Zinacantan, Chiapas, 15 Feb 2016
* MEXICO (RLPB 342), where Protestant Christians -- especially those in rural and indigenous communities -- face persecution at the hands of Roman Catholic (particularly syncretistic animist-Catholic) majorities. Pope Francis was due to visit Mexico from 12-17 February.

UPDATE: On 15 February, the day before Pope Francis was to visit the southern province of Chiapas, a Protestant church was looted and torched in Zinacantan, a city in the central Chiapas highlands. The pastor, Ciro Díaz Mendez, has filed a complaint. Considering Chiapas has long been a persecution hot-spot, it is disappointing that the pontiff did not have anything to say about religious freedom, religious tolerance and the Catholic persecution of Protestants.

FURTHER UPDATE: Praise God, Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that, two years after having their water and electricity cut as punishment for refusing to participate in Catholic ceremonies, 27 Protestant families in the village of Unión Juárez, Chiapas, have finally had their services restored. [Full story: CSW.]

* CHINA (RLPB 343), where President Xi, a committed Maoist, is consolidating power around himself as 'the core', and insisting Chinese culture -- including arts, media and religion -- be brought into the service of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Pastors in two of China's largest TSPM (CCP-approved) churches have been arrested, purportedly for corruption, but in reality for criticising the CCP policy of removing crosses and church demolitions in Zhejiang.

(1) ESTABLISHING CONTROL OVER THE CHURCH: In the same way that Christian lawyer and defender of the cross, Zhang Kai, and his legal assistant Liu Peng, were doubtless coerced to write the letters in which they dismiss their lawyers [RLPB 341 (27 Jan)], Pastor 'Joseph' Gu Yuese, pastor of Hangzhou's Chongyi Church was doubtless coerced to write the letter in which he exhorts the members of Chongyi Church not to protest or make inquiries, but to support their new CCP-appointed pastor. Pray for the Church in China!

Zhang Kai. [report: Epoch Times]
FURTHER UPDATE: China state media reports that Christian lawyer and defender of the cross, Zhang Kai [see RLPB 325 (2 Sept 2015)] has appeared on Chinese state television 'confessing' to his 'crimes'. 'I’ve broken the law,' he said, 'disturbed social order, endangered state security, and violated the ethics of the legal profession. I am deeply remorseful for my actions. . . I also warn those so-called human rights lawyers to take me as a warning and not collude with foreigners, take money from foreign organisations, or be engaged in activities that break the law or harm national security and interests. . .'  The CCP maintains that Zhang Kai has been carrying out a political agenda on the order of foreign forces. It took six months of secret, 'black jail' detention, doubtless replete with cruel and inhumane treatment, but the CCP now has Zhang's coerced 'confession'. We await the sentence. Zhang Kai's friends feel certain he has been tortured. Pray for China. May the Lord intervene for Zhang Kai.

(2) CONSOLIDATING POWER IN XI: On 19 February the CCP's flagship newspaper, The People's Daily, carried an editorial exhorting news reporters and editors to be 'disseminators of the Party's policies and propositions.' 'Marxist political parties have always regarded the work of guiding public opinion as a sharp weapon in revolution,' it said, adding that guiding public opinion is at the very forefront of the ideological battle, which calls for a common ideological ground for pursuing the Chinese dream. No doubt President Xi is preparing the political ground ahead of the 2017 Communist Party Congress. Some analysts have surmised that Xi might be planning to follow Mao and rule for life. Pray for the Church in China!

* SUDAN (RLPB 344), where the Government of Sudan (GoS) is preparing for a major military offensive against the African Christians of the Nuba Mountains.

click on map to enlarge
The Government of Sudan (GoS) has resumed aerial bombardment of the Nuba Mountains. Arnu Ngutulu Lodi, spokesman for the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), reports that Sabat, Tujur, and Lumbry in Dalami County were targeted with seven bombs on Saturday 13 February, nine bombs on Sunday 14 February and 18 bombs on Tuesday 16 February. Two schoolgirls, Alnaya Abdalla Altaj (12) and Aisha Abdalla Altaj (14), were wounded, as was Samir Saeed (46). On Monday 15 February the GoS bombed the Alabu area in Umdorain County, killing Jibril Tia, and wounding several others. Army and militia forces are massing in the north-east, the south-west (where the oil fields are), the state capital Kadugli and Talodi. Just as in January-February  2012, it appears the GoS are preparing to drive the Nuba out of the Nuba Mountains into the Kauda valley, which leads to Yida, in Unity State, South Sudan. The plan would be to encircle and slaughter them north of Talodi. May the God of the breakthrough (2 Samuel 5:20) fight for his people.

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) reports that 1,787 starving Nuba refugees have arrived in Yida, Unity State, South Sudan, since the beginning of the year, including 609 during the first two weeks of February. Home to 70,166 registered Nuba refugees, the large sprawling informal Yida refugee camp includes markets, businesses, schools, farms and even an airstrip. Indeed the Nuba in Yida are largely self-reliant. However, the UN and South Sudan's Refugee Affairs Commission are calling now for the camp to be closed in June 2016 and the refugees to be moved to another camp where they will be confined and provided for by the UNHCR. New arrivals in Yida now receive UNHCR rations only if they relocate to Ajuong Thok camp, which the Nuba claim is not as secure as the Yida camp. Not only is Ajuong Thok closer to a Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) garrison, it is located in territory controlled by South Sudan's rebels led by Riek Machar, a long-time ally of Khartoum. Reports emerged in late 2014, exposing Khartoum's plan to starve the Nuba and empty their refugee camps. [For full details see RLPB 286 (12 Nov 2014).]  Pray for the Nuba refugees in South Sudan.

'In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.' (Psalm 10:2 ESV)

FEBRUARY ROUND-UP -- also this month ...

On Sunday 21 February Islamic militants murdered a Hindu priest in the far north of Bangladesh, slitting his throat in the Deviganj temple near Panchagar. Three Islamic militants have been arrested. In claiming responsibility, Islamic State boasted that the 'soldiers of the Caliphate liquidated the priest' in a temple belonging to 'infidel Hindus'. This killing stands as a stark reminder of the threat facing churches and Christian pastors in Bangladesh. May God protect and preserve the Church in Bangladesh.

In February 2015 ISIS released a video showing the beheading of 20 Copts and one Ghanaian on a Libyan beach. Days later, a Coptic teacher filmed some students mocking the pseudo piety of IS -- a piety that enables them to lift their hands in prayer to Allah one minute and then take a knife to a bound man's throat the next. Unfortunately the teacher lost his phone and the footage ended up being shared on social media. The teacher, Gad Younan (42), has since been sentenced to three years jail for insulting Islam, although he has been released pending an appeal.

The four Coptic teenage boys in the 30-second video have been charged with insulting Islam by misrepresenting Islamic prayer. They will face court on Thursday 25 February to hear the verdict. Pray for the Church in Egypt.

FURTHER UPDATE: On Thursday 25 February, an Egyptian court  sentenced three teenage Coptic boys to five years in prison for the crime of 'contempt of Islam' and 'inciting sectarian strife'. The fourth and youngest teen has been sentenced to an indefinite periodt in a youth detention centre. Defence lawyer Maher Naguib described the verdict as 'unbelievable', and vowed to appeal. The boys have already been forced out of their village in  Minya, Upper Egypt. The verdict has left the boys and their families distraught and 'terrified'. Pray for Egypt's threatened Christians.

* EGYPT: UPDATE ON SAT 7 [RLPB 331 (14 Oct 2015)]. On 17 February SAT-7 Egypt Director Farid Samir received official confirmation that the case against him had been closed and all charges had been dropped. Middle East Concern reports that cameras and other equipment confiscated by the authorities in the October raid have been returned to SAT-7. The charges were proven false and SAT-7's registration and licences are all in good order. Praise God for justice.

* SYRIA: UPDATE ON ASSYRIAN CAPTIVES [RLPB 331 (14 Oct 2015)]. On Monday 22 February IS released another 43 Assyrian captives. The Assyrian International News Agency reports: 'According to the Assyrian Church of the East, there are no more Assyrians from Khabur being held by IS. However, IS is still holding 179 Assyrians it captured in the town of Qaryatain on August 6, 2015.' Praise God for the safe return of the 43 captives and pray for the remaining captive Assyrians. Pray for the Assyrian nation, a Christian refugee nation driven from its homeland. May God protect, preserve and restore the Assyrians.

The Syrian government made great advances in 2014. Then in early 2015 Turkey and Saudi Arabia escalated their support of the Islamist opposition. This changed the balance and by September 2015, al-Qaeda-aligned forces were pressing into Latakia (the Alawite heart) and IS was poised to cut the M5 Highway, severing Damascus from the rest of the country. Either would have been fatal and IS was poised to fill the vacuum in Damascus [see RLPB 322 (12 Aug 2015)]. It was at this point that Russia entered the fray, at Syria's invitation, to defend its own interests and help fight for the preservation of a secular, pluralist Syria. This puts Russia at odds (ultimately) with both the Sunni Axis and with Iran. Unnerved by Iran's Shi'ite sectarianism, the Syrian government is leaning increasingly on Russia. Meanwhile, with total disregard for Syria's Christians and other minorities, the West is backing the Turkey-Arab Sunni Axis, which seeks regime change in Damascus so it can install a Sunni dictator more amenable to Sunni interests.

The primary objective of the loyalist offensive in the north has been to close the Turkish border through which jihadists flow in and IS oil flows out. Syrian forces are now very close to severing the critical rebel supply-line that runs from Turkey to Aleppo. With the balance shifting again, Turkey has escalated its calls for a no-fly zone and, along with Saudi Arabia, is appealing for Western support for an invasion. Saudi Arabia has deployed fighter aircraft to Turkey's Incirlik air base, (purportedly to fight Islamic State) and is calling for the rebels to be supplied with surface-to-air missiles for use against loyalist aircraft. Any foreign invasion would be illegal and explosive. Meanwhile, the West -- which competes with Russia for markets -- is ramping up its 'Russiaphobia' to new heights. Reports even claim that Germany's migrant crisis is part of Putin's grand conspiracy to destroy Angela Merkel and all Europe with her. In truth, the migrant crisis is the result of a regime change operation gone wrong, followed by a catastrophic open-door migration policy.

The Syrian government is all that stands between Syria's imperilled minorities and genocidal jihad. Pray for God's mercy and grace and power to be manifest in Syria, for the sake of his people, our brothers and sisters in Christ.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks toChristians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012), which presents a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat.

Her second book, ‘After Saturday Comes Sunday’: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, is being published by Wipf and Stock (Eugene, OR, USA), and will be released in the coming months.