Wednesday, July 5, 2017

RLPB 413. Mali & Philippines: Captives in Crisis

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 413 | Wed 5 Jul 2017

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)

by Elizabeth Kendal

MALI: On Sunday 2 July at a meeting in Malian capital, Bamako, French President Emmanuel Macron promised strong support for a new multinational military force to combat terrorism in West Africa. The 5,000-strong force, comprised of troops from Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad, will operate in the western Sahel region along with 12,000 United Nations peacekeepers in Mali and an existing French force of 5,000. Along with military support, France will supply 70 tactical vehicles, communications and operational and protective equipment. The European Union has pledged about €50 million ($57 million) in support of this force, which is expected to be operational by September.

The day before the Bamako meeting, the Mali-based al-Qaeda affiliate Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM) released a disturbing video. Entitled, 'The Correct Equation' it opens with a clip of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri explaining: 'Security is a shared fate. If we are secured, then you may be secured. And if we are safe, then you may gain safety. And if we are struck or killed then inevitably, by the will of Allah, you will be struck or killed. This is the correct equation.' Quoting the Qur'an [Sura 47:4] and Islamic theologians, the English-speaking narrator explains that Islam not only permits but mandates the taking of non-combatants as captives, 'until the war lays down its burdens' (i.e. until war ends). Ultimately the video closes with a clip of Osama bin Laden essentially reiterating the correct equation.

This is the context in which proof of life is provided of six Western captives: three men, Stephen McGowan (South Africa), Dr Ken Elliot (Australia) [RLPB 341 (27 Jan 2016)] and Mr Iulian Ghergut (Romania); and three women, Beatrice Stockly (Switzerland) [RLPB 341 (27 Jan 2016)], Sophie Petronin (France) and Gloria Cecilia Narváez (Colombia). As if to justify its harsh treatment of the women, JNIM specifically accuses them of being 'Christian preachers' and 'missionaries [trying to] convert Muslims to Christianity'. No mention is made of captive Malian soldiers or of Jeffery Woodke who was captured by jihadists in Niger in October last year [RLPB 396 (1 March 2017)]. The English-speaking narrator warns that, with negotiations failing, the fate of each captive lies squarely with their families and governments. Clearly these captives need to be rescued, delivered or redeemed before the new multinational anti-terror force commences operations in September.

'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 10:29-30 ESV)

top: I. Ghergut and G. Navaraez
centre:  S. McGowan and Dr K. Elliot
bottom: B. Stockly and S. Petronin
UPDATE: Stephen McGowan -- who had been kidnapped from a hotel in Timbuktu in 2011 -- was released on 29 July 2017. During his time in captivity he converted from Catholicism to Islam. The charity Gift of the Givers negotiated his release.

PHILIPPINES: On 23 May conflict erupted in Marawi, southern Philippines, between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Islamic jihadists belonging to the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Maute Group, both of which have pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS). Catholic priest Father Chito Suganob and some 15 Catholics who were meeting in the Cathedral (nuns and lay-persons) were amongst the many hundreds of Marawi locals taken captive by the jihadists who have been using them as human shields [RLPB 409 (31 May)]. Some 400,000 civilians have been displaced. Father Suganob was seen alive on Sunday 25 June when militant leaders met with Muslim leaders in an effort to broker a prisoner swap. Refusing to be swayed, the Philippine government reiterated its policy of not negotiating with terrorists. [RLPB 412 (28 June)].

Whilst the Philippines is no stranger to Islamic jihad, this time it is different. Far from being local Islamists fighting for autonomy or even independence, these jihadists are mostly foreigners, eager to fight to the death for an IS wilayet (province). More than 330 jihadists have been killed, along with at least 39 civilians and 84 AFP soldiers; many believe the death toll is much higher. Unable to be collected, the bodies that litter the streets are being eaten by dogs, vermin and flies; many fear an outbreak of disease is inevitable. Soldiers and escapees report that captives are being used as porters and sex-slaves -- with some forcibly 'married' to fighters -- and that Christians have been forcibly converted to Islam. The ring-leader, Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Hapilon, is believed to be hiding in a mosque inside the jihadist's ever-shrinking territory. The situation for the captives could not be more serious.


* that he may intervene in the hostage crises currently unfolding deep in the Malian desert and in the city of Marawi, southern Philippines; may the Lord Almighty both rescue and repay. (See Isaiah 59:14-19; also Isaiah 40:10)

'Some trust in chariots and some in horses [i.e. in military hardware], but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.' (Psalm 20:7 ESV)

* that the Holy Spirit may flood and guard the hearts and minds of believing captives with 'the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding' (Philippians 4:7);  may each one be palpably aware of Christ's eternal, faithful and sustaining presence.

'Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? ... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.'  (From Romans 8:31-39 ESV)


The day before the French president stood in Bamako, Mali, pledging to support a new regional multinational anti-terror force, a Mali-based al-Qaeda affiliate released a disturbing video. It provided proof of life of six Western hostages (mostly missionaries), while explaining that 'if we are struck ... you will be struck.' Clearly these captives need to be freed before the new multinational anti-terror force commences operations in September.  Meanwhile, reports have emerged in the Philippines that the civilians being held captive by IS-inspired jihadists in Marawi are being used not only as human shields, but as porters and sex-slaves, with Christians being forcibly converted to Islam. The rebels' demands have been rejected and their territory is shrinking. The situation for the captives is most serious.  Please pray (Psalm 20:7).


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).