Tuesday, July 27, 2021

RLPB 608. July Update, incl. Nigeria, China, the Sahel, Burma (Myanmar), Cuba, France, Pakistan, Uzbekistan.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 608 | Wed 30 Jul 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

To subscribe (free) or view archives, visit the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog.  The RLPB is sponsored by Christian Faith and Freedom Inc. https://cfaithfreedom.org/ 

JULY 2021 UPDATE
By Elizabeth Kendal

DURING THIS PERIOD, WE PRAYED CONCERNING:

* NIGERIA [RLPB 605 (7 July)], after Fulani bandits abducted 121 boarding students during the night from Kaduna's Bethel Baptist High School on 5 July.

BBC video report on kidnappings in Nigeria:
‘Children for Ransom’, 25 June 2021 (8 minutes). 

UPDATES:

Mercy Joy is reunited with her father.
Channels TV, 25 July 2021

1) ABDUCTIONS:  A few children were released because they were sickly or because ransom was paid. Three boys who escaped on the night of 20 July were subsequently picked up by police and reunited with their parents after undergoing a medical examination. In the early hours of Sunday 25 July, 28 students were collected from the Tsoho Gaya Forest in Chikun Local Government Area, after being released during the night. The Nigerian Baptist Convention has confirmed that 87 schoolchildren aged between 10 and 19 years are still with the bandits. While the government and the Church refuse to pay ransoms, the distraught families had pooled resources in the hope of collectively redeeming the children. Video footage from Nigeria's Channels TV shows clearly traumatised children - some wounded - being reunited with their parents, followed by scenes of parents in deep distress as they realise their nightmare is not yet over. Please pray.

Prayer for Nigeria: Psalm 56, excerpts, When I am afraid, I put my trust in you (v3). You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? (v8) This I know, that God is for me (v9c).

Destruction in Zangon-Kataf
(image: courtesty PSJ)

2) ZERO SECURITY: As reported by Morning Star News, for the whole week, from 8 to 14 July, Fulani herdsmen attacked Christian communities in southern Kaduna state unimpeded. They targeted villages throughout Zangon-Kataf LGA, killing at least 33 Christians and burning 215 homes and four churches. The jihadists swept through this very same area 12 months ago [see RLPB 561, Christian Crisis in Kaduna, 5 Aug 2020]. This campaign of terror is designed to effect ethnic cleansing. According to the International Organisation for Peace Building and Social Justice (PSJ, 14 July), '108 Southern Kaduna communities have been displaced and taken over by [Fulani herdsmen] since 2019'. The main reason why there is zero security is that military-influenced 1999 constitution centralises the police force and prohibits states from establishing their own police force [see RLPB 596 (5 May 2021)]. Please pray for the Christians in Nigeria's North and Middle Belt and for constitutional reform. 

3) TAKING JIHAD TO A WHOLE NEW LEVEL: On Sunday 18 July, in an incident that has sent shock-waves through Nigerian security, jihadists in the north-western state of Zamfara, shot down a Nigerian Air Force Alpha jet above the Zamfara-Kaduna state border. The pilot ejected safely. This is the first confirmed case of an armed gang downing a Nigerian jet. Boko Haram has claimed responsibility. This takes the jihad to a whole new level.

* CHINA [RLPB 606 (14 July)], where Taiyuan's Xuncheng Reformed Church, a church planted by Chendu's Early Rain Covenant Church, is experiencing escalating persecution. Officials ordered the church to be closed in November 2020, and detained its pastor, An Yankui, for 15 days during January 2021. On 7 July, Pastor An's friend and co-worker Zhao Wikai (35) was summoned and then detained on the very serious charge of 'illegal holding of materials promoting terrorism and extremism'.

UPDATES

1) DETAINED: On 20 July Zhao Wikai's wife Li Xin received a notification of his official arrest on charges of 'unlawfully possessing items that advocate terrorism or extremism'. Those who know Zhao describe the charges as 'beyond imagination'. Christian Solidarity Worldwide also reports that Elder Zhang Chunlei of Ren'ai [Love] Reformed Church, Guiyang - arrested 16 March [see RLPB 593 (14 April)] - may well face similarly serious charges to Mr Zhao. Please pray.

Always smiling, Brother Chen...
(l) witnessing with his mother; (r) after detention.

2) 'CLERGY': Update to RLPB 585, 'CCP Moves to Fully Subjugate the Church,' 17 Feb 2021. The Administrative Measures for Clergy, which came into force on 1 May, require citizens involved in religious work to secure a Clergy Card proving they have CCP permission to conduct their ministry. As RLPB 585 noted: 'One evangelist destined to fall foul of the new Administrative Measures is Brother Chen Wensheng of Hunan Province. Before he met the Lord Jesus, Chen spent ten years crippled by and enslaved to his drug addiction. His testimony is one of transformation, healing, liberty and redemption, all thanks to the Lord's amazing grace.' A fearless evangelist, Brother Chen was arrested on 19 June 2021 and 'disappeared' into Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL: see RLPB 593, 'Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location,' 12 April). Chen was interrogated and warned not to continue his street preaching, before being released on 7 July. Chen is not going to stop witnessing, meaning the arrests will continue with ever increasing pressure. Please pray for Brother Chen, and for the Church in China.

* THE SAHEL [RLPB 606 (21 July)] where French troops are being withdrawn at a time when jihadists are: (1) escalating activity to record levels; (2) enforcing Sharia law and implementing Sharia penalties in territories they control; and (3) actively working to expand south into Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo and Benin. Christians in the Sahel - especially those in the Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger tri-border region - are imminently imperilled.

UPDATE: Despite being majority Muslim, the Sahelian states have a proud tradition of religious freedom and social cohesion. Christian mission - comprising churches, schools, medical clinics, aid centres and development projects - has a respected presence there. That could change if Islamic powers fill the vacuum left by France and the West. A report entitled 'Turkey in the Sahel', just released by Crisis Group (27 July), provides details of Turkey's expanded presence and influence in the Sahel where it is building mosques, schools and hospitals, and presenting itself as 'an alternative security partner'. Please pray.

JULY 2021 ROUND-UP - also this month:

* BURMA (MYANMAR): CHRISTIAN CRISIS COMPOUNDED BY COVID

According to a local Christian correspondent inside Burma, the junta is restricting oxygen supplies, giving it only to people who hold a letter of approval from a hospital owned and run by the junta. The claim is supported by a report in Asia Times entitled 'Everyone is Dying', by Associate Professor Mary P Callahan (17 July). Reporting from Thailand, Callahan confirms that, instead of tackling the health crisis, the military junta is using COVID-19 as a weapon. 'Most horrifically,' she writes, 'there is no oxygen left in the country, or rather, there is oxygen, but only the military gets it.' She warns: 'One very reputable public health specialist expects that the population will be decimated by at least 10-15 million by the time COVID is done with Myanmar.'  The Irrawaddy reports (27 July) that the junta is even  seizing oxygen imported by charities.  According to the local Christian source: 'More than 200 Christian ministers across the nation have gone to be with the Lord... The people of Myanmar and believers in Myanmar desperately need God's healing touch and protection from this deadly COVID-19 disease. Kindly continue to uphold us in your prayer.' Please pray.

* CUBA: ARE WE ALL COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARIES NOW?

Protests erupted across Cuba on 11 July. Though triggered by despair over a lack of food and medicines amidst the COVID crisis, they evolved quickly into angry demonstrations of unprecedented scale against the ruling Communist regime. Among the hundreds of citizens arrested on 11 July were Berean Baptist pastors Yarian Sierra Madrigal and Yéremi Blanco Ramírez, both tutors at the William Carey Biblical Seminary in Matanzas. The pastors were detained incommunicado and in appalling conditions before being released on 24 July. During that time, Pastor Madrigal's wife and young son were forcibly evicted from their rented home; the family is currently sheltering in a church. Meanwhile, another pastor, Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo, remains detained, incommunicado, in a State Security facility in Santiago de Cuba. His 17-year-old son arrested with him has since been released unharmed but deeply shaken.

In February 2019 Cuban Christians overwhelmingly voted against constitutional amendments set to strengthen socialism, restrict religious liberty and pave the way for same-sex marriage. For championing this minority view, the Church was vilified, labelled 'counter-revolutionary' and subjected to increased persecution [RLPB 491 (27 Feb 2019)]. On 7 July 2021 - just four days before the protests erupted - Cuban Christians held a nationwide and interdenominational day of prayer and fasting for Cuba. Today this 'extremely vibrant Church' is standing with the protesters who are all counter-revolutionaries now! May God redeem this crisis to raise the profile of the Church in Cuba and open may hearts to receive the Gospel. Please pray.

* FRANCE: ISLAMIC TERROR BRINGS END TO LAÏCITÉ.

Islamic violence has claimed over 200 lives and wounded close to 1000 in France in recent years. Consequently, on Friday 23 July, the French Parliament passed a bill designed to help the state counter the influence of inherently political fundamentalist Islam. The Law Reinforcing Respect for the Principles of the Republic will allegedly protect laïcité, which traditionally has been understood as state neutrality with regards to religion (or separation of Church and state) but increasingly is understood by many as the elimination of religion from the public sphere. The law empowers the state to interfere extensively in the practice of religion if it finds that a group is inciting violence or hatred, a charge open to interpretation and abuse. Concerns abound that hostile anti-Christian groups will take up the law as a weapon against the Church. Furthermore, the law requires that parents who home-school their children obtain authorisation from the government to ensure that children are taught France's secular values (many of which are contrary to Biblical values). An office of laïcité has been established to track the implementation of the law. Protestant leaders told Christianity Today (April 2021) that the Church will continue her Gospel witness and the fight for liberty without fear or weakness. 'The Lord is with us,' confirms Erwan Cloarec (Evangelical Baptists), 'and he invites us to faith, trust and prayer.' Please pray for the Church in France.

* PAKISTAN: SUPREME COURT SETBACK

Christian child, Nayab Gill (13) before her
abduction and forced marriage to Muslim.

On 14 July Supreme Court Justice Mushir Alam rejected an appeal by Bishop Azad Marshall, Moderator Bishop of the Church of Pakistan and president of the National Council of Churches in Pakistan (NCCP). Filed by renowned human rights lawyer Saif Ul Malook on behalf of Marshall, the appeal called for a constitutional petition to protect Christian girls from forced conversion and forced marriage. It also asked the court to recognise the difference between Pakistani penal laws and Islamic Sharia law, as the latter is one of the major causes behind the exploitation of Christian girls. The petition was filed under Article 184(3) of the Constitution of Pakistan, which allows the Supreme Court to have jurisdiction over matters of public importance with reference to the enforcement of any of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of Pakistan. Justice Alam rejected the petition on the grounds that it did not address an individual case or grievance. But as Bishop Marshall explained to Morning Star News (MSN, 20 July), 'The matter is not restricted to an individual case. Rather, it relates to the entire Christian population in Pakistan and the violation of their fundamental rights.'

While Bishop Marshal was extremely disappointed to have his appeal rejected, he was encouraged by the court's promise 'that it will take this issue up if we bring a specific case before it'. He told MSN that he will file an appeal in the Supreme Court against the Lahore High Court's 1 July decision to ignore official birth records and send the Christian child Nayab Gill (13, abducted in May) to live with her Muslim abductor, Saddam Hayat (30), a married father of four. In making his ruling the Lahore High Court judge cited Islamic Sharia Law which says a girl who has had a menstrual cycle is of marriageable age. Please pray for Nayab Gill, and that Bishop Marshall's new Supreme Court petition will be heard.

* UZBEKISTAN: NEW RELIGION LAW COMES INTO FORCE
Update to RLPB 565, 'Religion Law Under Review', 2 Sep 2020

On 5 July Uzbekistan's President Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed Uzbekistan's new Religion Law. The law was made public and came into force on 6 July. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom laments: 'Uzbekistan's new Religion Law fails to address the most serious restrictions on religious freedom in the country... [but] retains Uzbekistan's most severe limitations on freedom of religion or belief from previous laws, including restrictions on education, literature, and sharing of religious beliefs.' In a detailed analysis, Forum 18 (5 July) also laments the law's numerous failings, including its ban on all exercise of freedom of religion and belief without state permission, its ban on teaching about religion without state permission, its ban on sharing beliefs and its compulsory prior state censorship of all printed and electronic religious materials. Meanwhile, Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency praised the new law which it claimed, 'expands religious freedom in the country'. Islamist, neo-Ottoman Turkey - which is expanding its influence into and through Central Asia - was particularly pleased to see many anti-Islamist measures revoked. Please pray for the Church in Uzbekistan.

----------------------------------------

Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom Inc. (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).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

RLPB 607. The Sahel: Africa's Afghanistan? Christians Imperilled.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 607 | Wed 21 Jul 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

To subscribe (free) or view archives, visit the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog.  The RLPB is sponsored by Christian Faith and Freedom Inc. 

THE SAHEL: AFRICA'S AFGHANISTAN? CHRISTIANS IMPERILLED.
- PLUS Pressing South: from the Sahel to the Gulf of Guinea
by Elizabeth Kendal

In 2013, French troops entered the Sahel to counter Islamic jihadists who, in 2012, had seized control of Northern Mali in a blitzkrieg. Since 2014, some 5100 French troops have served alongside soldiers from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger in what has been known as Operation Barkhane. French policy was to hold off the jihadis while African states developed the capacity to defend their own territories. Operation Barkhane has been hugely unpopular in France, where citizens have questioned why French money should be spent and French lives lost (albeit very few) defending France's former colonies in Africa. Making matters worse, with troop numbers insufficient for the task, Operation Barkhane has not been successful. Instead, jihadists groups have both proliferated and grown stronger, while impoverished Sahelian armies remain ill-equipped and hopelessly overstretched.

At a press conference on 10 June, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that Operation Barkhane will officially end in the first quarter of 2022; an orderly withdrawal has already begun. Some 2000 French troops will join Task Force Takuba, a recently established European Union force that will advise and assist African forces in their counter-terror operations. Troops will arrive home just in time for the French presidential election, scheduled for 10 April 2022. It comes at a time when jihadists are: (1) escalating activity to record levels; (2) enforcing Sharia law and implementing Sharia penalties in territories they control; and (3) actively working to expand south towards the Gulf of Guinea. Christians in the Sahel - especially those in the Liptako-Gourma [Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger tri-border] region - are imminently imperilled.

Like Mali and Niger, Burkina Faso is majority Muslim (52 percent Muslim and 21 percent Christian), with a proud tradition of religious freedom and social cohesion. Today, jihadist violence is escalating markedly, specifically in the Liptako-Gourma / tri-border region. The situation is particularly severe in Burkina Faso, which has suffered seven major attacks in quick succession since the beginning of April. On Friday night 4 June, jihadist gunmen on motorbikes killed 13 civilians and a soldier in Tadaryat, a village in Sahel Region's Yagha Province which borders Niger in north-eastern Burkina Faso. Hours later, at around 2am on 5 June, the jihadists attacked Solhan Village, around 150 km further south. In a shocking explosion of violence, the jihadists - including 'young people aged 12 to 14' - massacred at least 160 civilians, including 20 children, leaving 40 wounded. They stole motorbikes and cattle and torched homes and a market. It was the worst massacre in Burkina Faso's six-year battle against Islamic jihadists. No group has claimed responsibility, although analysts suspect Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) is to blame. 

Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN, 11 June), Bishop Laurent Dabiré of Dori (the capital of Burkina Faso's northern Sahel Region) described Solhan as 'a vibrant Christian community'. The Bishop said: 'Just like everyone else in Burkina who is being targeted by terrorism, the Christians were overcome by fear. However, as Christians, they have more reason to fear a forced imposition of Islam. Their religious freedom and even their lives are at stake.' Solhan Village had recently established a Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland (VDP) corps, an anti-jihadist civilian defence militia that co-operates with the government to protect communities. Jihadists have long held vast swathes of gold-rich eastern Burkina Faso, leading some to surmise the massacre was a case of jihadists punishing Solhan for its VDP while reasserting their supremacy over the region. Whilst they have long demanded Muslims submit to fundamentalist Islam, there are concerns that jihadists in eastern Burkina Faso are widening their scope to include Christians. A regional Bible school has been targeted, its library burned and its staff and students threatened. Please pray. 

PRESSING SOUTH: From the Sahel to the Gulf of Guinea

click on map to enlarge

In February, France's head of foreign intelligence warned that terrorists based in the Sahel are actively working on expanding into the countries of the Gulf of Guinea - specifically Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo and Benin, all of which border Burkina Faso. For supply and income, jihadists partner with organised crime to conduct illicit trade in weapons, drugs, gold, cattle, fuel etc. Consequently, the jihadists are eager to secure their supply lines and smuggling routes, many of which transit through Gulf of Guinea states. Ivory Coast has seen a 'stark increase' in terror attacks this year, with nine attacks since 29 March (up from one in 2020), predominantly in the northern districts of Savanes and Zanzan. Jihadist violence has also begun to spill over into northern Benin, where five jihadist cells are known to have a presence on the border. Responding to the escalating threat, Togo and Ghana have increased security along their northern borders. 

Ghanaian Fulani jihadist,
Abu Dujana.

On 21 June a suicide bomber named Abu Dujana, from al-Qaeda affiliate Jama'at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM: Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims), attacked a French reconnaissance mission near the central Malian town of Gossi, wounding six soldiers and four civilians. In his martyrdom video, Abu Dujana - a Fulani reportedly from Tamale, the capital of Ghana's Northern Region - urged his Fulani kinsmen to rise up and fight those who fight them.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* draw the churches of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger into prayer, that religious freedom and social cohesion might be not merely preserved but promoted, respected and treasured; may the Lord redeem this crisis to amplify the Gospel message, magnify Christian witness, and open many hearts to receive Jesus Christ, the hope of nations (see Matthew 12:14-21).

'It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.' (Psalm 118:8 ESV)

* intervene to thwart every wicked plot of Islamic jihadists based in the Sahel. May supply lines be severed and smuggling routes compromised; in the name of the Lord we cut them off. May criminals who partner with terrorists be caught, arrested and permanently put out of business; in the name of the Lord we cut them off. May terrorists find themselves besieged, denied access to everything they need to survive, commit terror and advance jihad; in the name of the Lord we cut them off. (Prayer based on Psalm 118:10-13 ESV).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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THE SAHEL: AFRICA'S AFGHANISTAN? CHRISTIANS IMPERILLED.

France's Operation Barkhane, tasked with fighting terrorism in the Sahel, will come to an end in early 2022, just ahead of France's presidential election. Troops are already being withdrawn. It comes as jihadists in the Sahel are: (1) escalating their activity; (2) enacting Sharia laws and penalties in territories they control; and (3) actively working to expand south into Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo and Benin. On the night of 4-5 June, Islamic jihadists - many of whom were mere children - massacred at least 160 civilians in Solhan Village, Yagha Region, north-eastern Burkina Faso. Separately, jihadists in eastern Burkina Faso have targeted a Bible school, burning its library and threatening its staff. Christians in the Sahel - especially those in the Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger tri-border region - are imminently imperilled. Please pray.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom Inc. (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).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

RLPB 606. China: Xuncheng Reformed Church in the Fire

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 606 | Wed 14 July 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

To subscribe (free) or view archives, visit the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog. The RLPB is sponsored by Christian Faith and Freedom Inc. 

CHINA: XUNCHENG REFORMED CHURCH IN THE FIRE
plus update on Ethiopia
by Elizabeth Kendal

Road from Chengdu to Taiyuan.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) appears to be ramping up its persecution of Xuncheng Reformed Church, a church planted in Taiyuan (the capital of China's northern Shanxi Province), by Early Rain Covenant Church (ERCC), located in Chengdu (the capital of China's southwestern Sichuan province). Long-time friends, Xuncheng Reformed Church Pastor An Yankui and his co-worker Zhao Wikai (35), studied theology together in a seminary in Chengdu, founded by ERCC's Pastor Wang Yi (48). In May 2018 Wang Yi openly spearheaded Christian resistance against CCP repression [see RLPB 483 (12 Dec 2018)]. On 1 September 2018, Pastor An became one of 198 pastors to sign Pastor Wang Yi's 'Public Joint Statement'. Arrested and jailed in December 2018, Pastor Wang Yi is currently in failing health; observers fear that the CPP is engineering Wang's 'medical deterioration' [see RLPB 604 (30 June)]. Like Chengdu's ERCC - and possibly due to its close relationship with ERCC, and Pastor An's signature on the 'Public Joint Statement' - Xuncheng Reformed Church is experiencing escalating persecution. This is what happens when you resist the CCP; you get thrown into the fiery furnace.

On Sunday 15 November 2020 officials raided Xuncheng RC during worship [video]. They detained Pastor An Yankui, his wife Yao Congya and five other members, and issued the church with a disbandment notice. At the police station, the detained believers were handcuffed, forced into prison clothes and locked in a cell. They were eventually released at 9:30pm after hours of interrogation. Pastor An and Yao have two children. Then, on 30 December, at around 10:45 pm, 'approximately three dozen security agents' raided Pastor An Yankui's home Bible study. They confiscated the church's choir robes and Christian books, and detained Pastor An and five female church members, leading them away in handcuffs. While the women were released later that evening, Pastor An was forced to serve a 15-day administrative detention (i.e., one in which no charge or trial is required). He was released on 16 January.

Pastor An Yankui: (left) at home with family; (centre) during police raid on church (15 Nov 2020); and (right) upon his release from administrative detention (16 Jan 2021).

Pastor An's long-time friend and ministry co-worker Zhao Wikai and his wife Li Xin have three young children. To give their children a Christian education and protect them from atheistic, CCP indoctrination, Zhao and Li home-school their children. Like unregistered worship, home-schooling is officially illegal in China. It is also illegal to teach religion to minors (defined in Chinese law as those under the age of 18). At 7am on 17 May, some 20 police stormed Zhao's home, seized him and took him away. Despite not having a warrant, they confiscated computer equipment and numerous books, without making an inventory of property taken. At around noon, when they had finished raiding and searching the house, the police took Li to the station. Whilst Li was released later that evening, Zhao was forced to serve a 15-day administrative detention, ostensibly for 'proselytising' his own children. On 20 May, when Li, Pastor An and Zhao's lawyer, Deng Qinggao, tried to visit him in the Lishi Detention Centre, they were denied access on the grounds that the case was 'classified' and involved 'national security concerns'. Zhao was released 15 days later. Despite being arrested for 'proselytism', Zhao's interrogators seemed mostly interested in the church. 

Zhao Wikai (35) with family.

At 8am on 7 July Zhao was summoned again. China Aid Association reports that later in the day, despite not receiving a formal detention notice, the family heard that Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials had criminally detained Zhao on the charge of 'illegal holding of materials promoting terrorism and extremism'.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* sustain Brother Zhao Wikai along with his wife Li Xin and their three young children; may the Holy Spirit fill their hearts with courage, faith and peace; may all those who have contact with Zhao - officials, prison guards, interrogators, fellow prisoners - be restrained and receptive to the Spirit's work, aware that the Lord is with him (Daniel 3).

* grace Pastor An Yankui with courage, faith, peace, discernment and great wisdom as he seeks to guide Xuncheng Reformed Church through these difficult and challenging, faith-testing times (Daniel 3); may the believers stand firm as they 'with unveiled face' (2 Corinthians 3:18) continue to reflect the image of Christ.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places ... (from Ephesians 6:10-18 ESV).

* comfort, encourage, preserve, fortify and continue to build his Church in China ahead of the day when she will be free to impact the world in ways we can barely imagine.

A prayer for the Church in China: Ephesians 3:14-21.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
----------------------------------------
CHINA: XUNCHENG REFORMED CHURCH IN THE FIRE

The Chinese Communist Party is escalating its persecution of Taiyuan's Xuncheng Reformed Church. The church has a close relationship with Chengdu's Early Rain Covenant Church and its now imprisoned Pastor Wang Yi. On 15 November 2020 officials raided Xuncheng RC during worship and ordered it closed. On 30 December they raided Pastor An Yankui's home Bible study; Pastor An served 15 days administrative detention. On 17 May the authorities targeted Pastor An's friend and ministry co-worker, Zhao Wikai (35) and his wife Li Xin, on the grounds that they were illegally home-schooling their three young children; Zhao served 15 days administrative detention. On 7 July Zhao was summoned again. The family has been told that Zhao has been criminally detained on the charge of 'illegal holding of materials promoting terrorism and extremism'. Please pray.

-----------------------------------------

UPDATE on ETHIOPIA

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's Prosperity Party has won the 21 June elections, securing 410 of 436 seats in the federal parliament where elections were held. No voting occurred in Tigray on account of conflict, and Oromo opposition parties boycotted the polls. Polling delayed due to insecurity will be held in September. Polling will be re-run in 10 constituencies. The election was peaceful despite concerns it might be chaotic or marred by violence [see analysis by Gregory Copley, President, International Strategic Studies Association, from Addis Ababa (24 June).] While PM Abiy now has a mandate to advance reforms, opposition will remain fierce.

The Battle for Ethiopia pits the Ethiopian government's vision of a strong, united and prosperous Ethiopia against ethno-nationalists who - with backing from Egypt and the Sudanese military - would tear Ethiopia apart. Whilst ethno-nationalism might empower some – e.g., the TPLF and Oromo ethno-nationalist including Islamist Jawar Mohammed - it would trigger civil war, ethnic cleansing, gross insecurity, regional instability and a Christian crisis of monumental proportions.

New analysis:
Ethiopia's Future Hangs in the Balance
by Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 11 July 2021. 

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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).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com 

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

RLPB 605. Nigeria: Terror Strikes Kaduna (Again)

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 605 | Wed 07 Jul 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

To subscribe (free) or view archives, visit the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog. The RLPB is sponsored by Christian Faith and Freedom Inc

NIGERIA: TERROR STRIKES KADUNA (AGAIN)
Plus update on Ethiopia
by Elizabeth Kendal

Bethel Baptist High School, 5 July 2021.
(Image: Kehinde Gbenga / AFP) 

Located on the south-eastern outskirts of Kaduna city in the Maraban Rido community, Chikun Local Government Area, Bethel Baptist High School caters for some 180 students, around 165 of whom are boarders. It was established in 1991 by Kaduna's Bethel Baptist Church, a member of the Nigerian Baptist Convention. In the early hours of Monday morning 5 July, a large contingent of armed Fulani bandits breached the walls and overpowered security. Whilst up to 25 students managed to escape, the rest were taken captive and carried off into the bush. On Tuesday 6 July, the bandits informed the school that they had 121 students in their custody, and all were in 'good condition'. Their whereabouts remain unknown. As the news broke, parents rushed to the school where they wailed and prayed for the return of their children. It was the fourth mass school kidnapping in Kaduna State since December 2020. Shortly afterwards, bandits also attempted a mass kidnapping at the nearby Faith Academy, a secondary school belonging to the Living Faith Church Worldwide. The bandits managed to breach the perimeter fence, only to be repelled by soldiers.

A distraught parent
prays at the site, 5 July.
(Image: Vincent Bodam
for Morning Star News.)

The Kaduna State Government immediately ordered the closure of 13 schools it identified as 'vulnerable', including Bethel Baptist High School, Faith Academy, Deeper Life Academy, ECWA (Evangelical Church Winning All) Secondary School, St Peter's Minor Seminary, Goodnews Secondary School, St Augustine and Adventist College. Faith Academy's school management plans to relocate some students to an undisclosed location where they can 'continue with the preparation for their exams'.

Previously, in the early hours of Sunday 4 July, Fulani bandits attacked a Divisional Police Headquarters in the Saye area of Zaria Town, 80km north of Kaduna. A firefight ensued, but it seems this was only a distraction, for close by, in a simultaneous attack, bandits raided the staff quarters of the National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Training Centre, Zaria Town. The bandits broke in, firing indiscriminately, before escaping with eight hostages, comprised of staff - including a nurse with her infant child - and a security guard. It was the third time the training hospital had been attacked.

Twelve months ago, terrorism analyst Jacob Zenn warned that if jihadist groups get a foothold among the Fulani in the North West, then nothing 'will prevent their continued expansion until northern Nigeria becomes overwhelmed' [see RLPB 562, Insecurity Enables Terrorist Expansion (12 Aug 2020)]. 

Infographic by Daily Trust.
(click on image to enlarge)

Now, Nigeria's Daily Trust reports (28 June) that Boko Haram, Ansaru and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) 'are competing with one another in a mass membership drive among the ranks of bandits terrorising most of the North West and part of North Central states ... Locals, security sources and experts who spoke with our reporter said the push is already yielding fruits for the insurgent groups with some prominent bandits declaring allegiance to the terrorist groups or consenting to a close working relationship; sharing intelligence and logistics support among themselves. States worst hit by the intractable rural banditry are: Niger, Kaduna, Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto and Kebbi. The states share boundaries and are easily navigated through large swathes of unmanned forests ... For a long time, security sources said Boko Haram, ISWAP and Ansaru have been [active in the region] with the aim of benefiting from the chaos created by bandits, especially in the worst-hit states.' A recently published ISWAP propaganda video shows ex-Boko Haram fighters pledging allegiance to ISWAP, whose spokesman vows to 'not relent in our effort to fight the kuffar' (unbelievers: i.e. all non-Muslims plus any Muslim who disagrees with the jihadists).

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* intervene in Northern Nigeria and rescue, alive and well, the children of Bethel Baptist High School, along with all other captives being held by jihadists in Northern Nigeria. Lord, we lift our hands to you for the lives of our children (see Lamentations 2:18-19 ESV).

* protect his Church both physically and spiritually. May our God the Almighty be a shield and fortress to his people; may he sustain them in their suffering and provide their every need. By the power of the Holy Spirit, may Nigeria's persecuted and long-suffering Church have grace to keep on loving their Muslim neighbours, bearing witness to the God of all grace, Nigeria's only hope.

* awaken Nigerian elites to the need for constitutional reform as a means to tackle gross insecurity; may the police force be de-centralised and may the prohibition on state and local police forces be removed, so state governments can provide security to citizens under their jurisdiction.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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NIGERIA: 
TERROR IN KADUNA

In the early hours of Monday 5 July, armed Fulani bandits attacked Bethel Baptist High School on the south-eastern outskirts of Kaduna. Of the school's 165 boarders, up to 25 managed to escape, whilst at least 140 were taken captive and carried off into the bush. Shortly afterwards, bandits attacked the nearby Faith Academy, only this time they were repelled by soldiers. Just 24 hours earlier, bandits had attacked a training hospital in Zaria, 80km north of Kaduna, taking eight hostages, including an infant. The Kaduna state government has deemed 13 schools 'vulnerable' and ordered them to be closed; more than half are Christian schools. Terrorism analysts suspect Islamic jihadist groups are recruiting or co-opting Fulani bandits to advance their aims. Please pray.

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UPDATE on ETHIOPIA

Details are emerging of the events of 28 June which saw the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) - the Marxist organisation that dominated, terrorised and robbed Ethiopia for three decades - regain control of Mekelle (the Tigray capital). The TPLF's boast that it had routed the far superior Ethiopian military, is nothing but a lie. As it turns out, on 28 June, the Ethiopian government announced a unilateral ceasefire and withdrew Tigray's interim administration from Mekelle, paving the way for the TLPF to retake Mekelle essentially uncontested. The TPLF rejected the ceasefire and vowed to continue fighting until all government troops are driven from Tigray and all territorial losses are reversed (which is not going to happen). After being paraded through the streets, some 6000 captured Ethiopian troops were imprisoned in Tigray.

According to Gregory Copley (Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, 2 July) it seems Prime Minister Abiy 'gave in to immense pressure from the US government, which had threatened to propose - through the UN Security Council - an armed intervention in Ethiopia to stop an "humanitarian crisis” in the region ... What is significant,' Copley adds, 'is that there has been no independent verification of the claims of Ethiopian and Eritrean government atrocities against the Tigrean people.' [NOTE: The TPLF has long enjoyed a privileged relationship with the US government, which is just as capable as any 'Great Power' of unprincipled pragmatism in pursuit of interests.]

As Stratfor (geopolitical intelligence) notes (1 July), the TPLF victory in Tigray 'risks triggering more conflict elsewhere in the country, placing both Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's political future and his economic reform plans in peril ... The conflict in Ethiopia will likely worsen over the coming months'.

A detailed analysis will be posted on the Religious Liberty Monitoring blog in coming days.

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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).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com 

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

RLPB 604. June Update: Incl. Algeria, Azerbaijan, China, Eritrea, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Mexico, Pakistan.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 604 | Wed 30 JUNE 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

To subscribe (free) or view archives, visit the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog. The RLPB is sponsored by Christian Faith and Freedom Inc. 


JUNE 2021 UPDATE

By Elizabeth Kendal 

DURING THIS PERIOD, WE PRAYED CONCERNING:

* AFGHANISTAN [RLPB 600 (2 June)] and its imperilled Church, as the West withdraws, Islamic State plots, and the Taliban (still closely aligned to al-Qaeda) advances. Please continue to pray: may the Lord preserve and continue to build his Church in Afghanistan.

* PAKISTAN [RLPB 601 (9 June)] after the Lahore High Court accepted the appeal of Christians Shafqat Emmanuel (49) and his wife Shagufta Kausar (52) and acquitted them of the charge of blasphemy citing a lack of evidence. Aware that the acquittal would trigger Islamic rage, prayer was requested for safety – for Shafqat and Shagufta, and their lawyer Saif ul-Malook. 

UPDATE: KILL THE BLASPHEMERS AND GO TO PARADISE!

On 15 June, Morning Star News reported that Islamic extremists had started a campaign calling for Shafqat and Shagufta to be killed when they are eventually released from prison. Included in the incitement is the promise that whoever kills Shafqat or Shagufta or their attorney Saif ul-Malook, will be assured of paradise. ‘The social media are being flooded with hate posts against us and the two judges who ordered the couple’s release,’ Malook said. ‘The lives of all of us involved in the case are at great peril.’ Malook told the BBC that he considered the current threats against him the ‘most dangerous’ he had ever received. He also criticised the government for not providing him with adequate security; ‘Not even a clerk from the Pakistani government has contacted me,’ he said. Clearly, Malook and the judges need to be granted security. Meanwhile, Shafqat, Shagufta and their family need to be granted asylum, for as long as they are in Pakistan, their lives are gravely imperilled. Please pray.

* BURMA [RLPB 602 (16 June)] as the junta – which has long been at war with the Karen and Kachin – expands its war to the Chin and Karenni. Military aggression saw some 42,000 Chin and 103,500 Karenni displaced in June. As the Tatmadaw (Burmese military) advances, it leaves in its wake a trail of devastation, including destroyed property (including homes, clinics and churches) and torched and ruined food stocks. With the junta also blockading food and medical aid, it is a Christian crisis of monumental proportions. Please pray.

* PAPUA (INDONESIA) [RLPB 603 (23 June)], as the indigenous ethnic Melanesian, predominately Christian Papuans face Islamic terror at the hands of jihadists, and state terror at the hands of the Indonesian military. Please pray.


JUNE 2021 ROUND-UP - also this month:

ALGERIA: CHURCH FACES DIFFICULT DAYS

ELECTIONS: On 12 June, around 23 percent of eligible voters participated in Algeria’s parliamentary elections. It was the lowest voter turnout in at least 20 years for legislative elections; the previous lowest turnout being 40 percent 2017. Supporters of the ‘Hirak’ pro-democracy protest movement boycotted the polls, as did the traditional opposition parties, and virtually the whole indigenous (non-Arab) Berber-dominated Kabylie region. The ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) secured the most seats, winning 98 of 407 seats (down from 164 in 2017, and 208 in 2012). Having failed to secure a majority, the FLN will need to form a coalition with at least three minor parties in order to govern. Meanwhile, the Islamist Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) party secured 65 of 407 seats (up from 33 in 2017). The ‘old guard’ (in power since 1962) might have managed to retain its grip on power, but disillusionment is soaring. Consequently, it is highly likely that repression will escalate, especially in Kabylie region. A desire to appease Islamists could also fuel an escalation in repression and persecution of Christians, many (or most) of whom live in the Kabylie region. Please pray.   

PERSECUTION: THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES
Update to RLPB 588, ‘Fragile State; Intense Spiritual Struggle’, 10 March 2021. 

Pastor Rachid Seighir

On Sunday 6 June, Pastor Rachid Seighir of Oratoire Church in the coastal city of Oran, and Nouh Hamimi, the salesman who managed Pastor Seighir’s Christian bookshop in Oran, were sentenced on appeal to one-year in prison (suspended) and a fine of 200,000 dinars (US$1,494). They had previously been sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of 500,000 dinars (US$3,745). Their crime: ‘distributing publications or any other propaganda undermining the faith of a Muslim’; a charge many Christians would be guilty of! Refusing to submit to injustice and persecution, Pastor Rachid will appeal all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. Just days earlier, on Wednesday 2 June, the administrative court of Oran issued an implementation order to close Pastor Rachid’s Oratoire Church, along with two other churches, one in El-Ayaid (35 km east of Oran) and one in Ain-Turk (35 km west of Oran). This brings the number of churches shuttered in Algeria to 16. Everything indicates that the persecution is coming from the highest levels of government. Please pray for the Church in Algeria.

‘Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Ephesians 6:10-12 NIV). 

AZERBAIJAN: RELIGION LAW AMENDMENTS APPROVED
Update to RLPB 595, ‘Escalating Repression’, 27 April. 

 Pan-Turk presidents:
Erdogan (Turkey) (l) 
 Aliyev (Azerbaijan) (r)
On 16 June, President Ilham Aliyev signed into law Religion Law amendments that will make it even more difficult (if not impossible) to conduct Christian ministry legally in Azerbaijan. For the first time in Azerbaijan’s short history, non-Islamic religious communities will be required to get permission from a State Committee to appoint individuals as religious leaders. The first test will come soon, for the Russian Orthodox Diocese is due to name a new Archbishop to replace Archbishop Aleksandr (Ishchein), who died on 10 June. Many of the amendments simply add to the Church’s burden. For example, as in the original law, local religious communities still require 50 adult citizens as founders. However, an amendment adds that these founders must live in one administrative district. Then, before a religious group can register a ‘religious centre’ (i.e., headquarters), the group must have at least five registered communities, located in at least five different towns, making it highly unlikely that any group other than the Russian Orthodox will be able to establish a ‘religious centre’. Furthermore, once registered, a ‘religious centre’ may only operate one religious school. It seems the increasingly Turkic-nationalist and Islamist government is determined to drive non-Turks and non-Muslims from Azerbaijan. Full report: www.forum18.org (17 June). Please pray for the Church in Azerbaijan; specifically for grace, wisdom, solidarity and creativity.  

CHINA: CHENGDU CHURCH ENDURES FIERCE PERSECUTION
-- the persecution of Early Rain Covenant Church (ERCC) Chengdu, Sichuan. 

Pastor Wang Yi (ERCC)
left: at home pre-Dec 2018,
right: in prison March 2020
June 2021: health deteriorating

PASTOR WANG YI of ERCC, Chengdu, was arrested in December 2018 and sentenced in December 2019 to nine years in prison for ‘inciting subversion of state power’ and ‘illegal business operations’. A photo taken secretly in March 2020 and leaked to Wang’s appointed lawyer showed a thin and pale Wang, handcuffed in a cell [RLPB 548 (2 May 2020)]. China Aid Association (CAA) reports, ‘It looks as if Pastor Wang Yi is being treated very badly in prison right now… kept in solitary confinement in [Chengdu’s] Jintang Prison, with two other prisoners guarding him.’ It appears that the authorities are preventing family members and lawyers from visiting, withholding medical treatment, and feeding him ‘mouldy rice’. CAA founder Bob Fu suspects the authorities are engineering Wang’s ‘medical deterioration’. Please pray.

Pastor Wu Wuqing

PASTOR WU WUQING of ERCC, Chengdu, has been repeatedly arrested and persecuted since the authorities shuttered the church in December 2018; he lives under 24-hour surveillance. On 4 June, Chinese officials forcibly detained Pastor Wu, his wife Xiong Meifang, and their two children, in their apartment, chaining their door and posting a security guard in the hallway. The family is not permitted to leave, and visitors are not permitted to enter. Church members have only been permitted to deliver supplies of food and water to the door. It seems the authorities are working to either subjugate Pastor Wu or drive him away from Chengdu. CAA anticipates that Pastor Wu’s imprisonment will end after Thursday 1 July – i.e. after the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. The persecution, however, will only get worse. Please pray.

ERITREA: GOVERNMENT SEIZES CATHOLIC SCHOOLS

In June 2019, the repressive government of President Isaias Afwerki (who has ruled Eritrea since 1993) seized control of 22 medical clinics belonging to the Catholic Church [RLPB 508 (26 June 2019)]. In September 2019, the government seized control of seven mostly Catholic secondary schools. On 21 June 2021, Catholic media reported, ‘procedures have begun for the confiscation or, alternatively, the closure of our remaining educational institutions, from pre-schools to intermediate primary schools, scattered throughout the Country’. Some of the schools being seized were built by Italian missionaries more than 70 years ago. The government seizure of Church-owned and run schools and health clinics is a terrible blow to the Church, which stands to lose assets and influence. Critically, it is also a terrible blow to Eritrea’s poor and needy who have long benefited from these services. Please pray for God to intervene in Eritrea.

ETHIOPIA: THE BATTLE CONTINUES

PM Abiy campaigns in Jimma,
southwestern Oromia,
16 June (image: Reuters).

ELECTIONS: On 21 June, Ethiopians living in non-conflict zones voted to elect a new parliament in what PM Abiy noted was the country’s ‘first attempt at a free and fair election’. Due to insecurity, elections were not held in around one-fifth of the country’s 547 constituencies, including all 38 seats in Tigray and 64 others across Ethiopia. Most of the delayed polling is scheduled for 6 September, although no date has been set for voting in Tigray. The turnout was high, and the election was peaceful; results are yet to be announced. Then, on Monday 28 June, a re-grouped and re-armed Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF) force stormed the Tigray capital, Mekelle. Surprised and overwhelmed, government forces were forced to retreat as TPLF forces took control of the city. Along with the military, Tigray’s interim administration – which has suffered a string of assassinations – is also on the run. A unilateral ceasefire has been declared so that humanitarian needs can be addressed. 

The Battle for Ethiopia pits the government’s vision of a strong, prosperous, and united Ethiopia against ethno-nationalists who would tear Ethiopia apart for personal (political and economic) gain. Leading the ethno-nationalist cause is the Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front (TLPF, which dominated, terrorised and robbed Ethiopia for three decades) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Not only are these groups working together, but they receive support in the form of arms, funding and training from Egypt and the Sudanese military. During the Cold War, the US backed the Marxist TPLF against the Soviet-backed Derg; and ties remain strong. The US administration also backs Egypt against Ethiopia because it needs Egypt to mediate in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and because Egypt buys a lot of US weapons (whereas Orthodox Ethiopia buys from its long-time ally, Orthodox Russia). Citing the war in Tigray, the US has imposed sanctions on Ethiopia (one of the poorest countries in the world). If Ethiopia were to collapse it would trigger a Christian crisis of monumental proportions. Please pray for Ethiopia.

INDIA: REPRESSION TO ESCALATE IN GUJARAT 

On 1 June, a law came into effect in India’s north-western state of Gujarat which Christians fear will erode the Christian character of church-own schools, and eventually bring them under the control of the Hindu nationalist state government. The Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education (Amendment) Act stipulates that the appointment of teachers and principals in church-owned school will now be undertaken by a Central Recruitment Committee rather than by the schools themselves. On 7 June, Gujarat’s religious minorities jointly filed a petition in the state’s High Court challenging the new law. Church leaders suspect that if the Gujarat state government succeeds in taking control of Church-run schools, then other BJP-ruled states will follow suit. In April, Gujarat amended its 17-year-old anti-conversion law to define sponsorship of a child’s education as an attempt at religious conversion, a crime that can be punished with up to 10 years in jail. Please pray.

IRAN: CHURCH FACES DIFFICULT DAYS

ELECTION: On 18 June, 48.8 percent of eligible voters participated in Iran’s presidential election. It was the lowest voter turnout ever for an Iranian presidential election, below the previous low of 51 percent in 1989. The entire process had been engineered to ensure that Ibrahim Raisi would be elected. As was expected, Raisi won with 62 percent of votes. Second place went to informal votes (mostly blank), with the other candidates lagging far behind. In 1988, Raisi served as deputy prosecutor of the Revolutionary Court which oversaw the execution of more than 30,000 dissidents over a four-month period. Journalist and author Amir Taheri incisively explains, ‘Raisi’s victory is the victory of a coterie that cares neither for Iran nor for revolution as long as it can advance its position of power and protect its ill-gained assets.’ And as Taheri explains, now that coterie has their man in the presidency, they will have no-one to blame but themselves if the domestic situation deteriorates and disillusionment skyrockets. Christians might be anxious, but they know that God is at work in their nation. INcontext International quotes a ministry leader in Iran: ‘The new Iranian president will [undoubtedly] start cracking down and arresting Christians. It’s going to be a dark time in Iran, but God will move even more powerfully.’ Please pray.

‘The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord’ (Proverbs 16:33 ESV) ‘who works all things according to the counsel of his will’ (from Ephesians 1:11 ESV).

 Milad, Amin and Alireza

PERSECUTION: On 21 June, three members of the ‘Church of Iran’ (a non-Trinitarian Branhamite sect) faced court in the 4th Chamber of the Revolutionary Court of Karaj. [As the late Nabeel Queshi explains, the Trinity can be an especially difficult hurdle for Muslims, who are taught from birth that Allah is ‘one and indivisible’ (https://quran.com/112) and that belief in a Trinity is polytheism.] Milad Goudarzi, Amin Khaki, and Alireza Nourmohammadi – all converts from Islam – are the first known examples of Christians being charged – and now convicted – under the newly amended Article 500 [see RLPB 586, ‘President Signs Law to Facilitate Persecution’ (24 Feb)]. They were denied a lawyer. The men were informed of the verdicts on 26 June: each will serve five years in prison and pay a fine of 40 million tomans (US$1,800) for ‘engaging in propaganda that educates in a deviant way contrary to the holy religion of Islam’, a charge most Christians would be guilty of! They will appeal. Please pray for the Church in Iran.

MEXICO: COUNTER-REFORMATION CONTINUES IN CHIAPAS 

Pastor Alejandro Jiménez and his sons – five families comprising 30 people – were expelled from the indigenous community in Mitzitón, San Cristóbal de las Casas, in Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas on 10 January 2021. The Catholics accused them of establishing a Protestant church and refusing to participate in Catholic festivals. Since then, Alejandro and his family have been living in the Alas de Águila [Eagles Wings] refuge house in San Cristóbal de las Casas. On 17 June, Pastor Alejandro returned to Mitzitón to visit his ailing mother. When the Catholics learned that he had arrived, they proceeded to arrest him and transfer him to the town centre, where he was imprisoned for an hour. The Catholics then proceeded to destroy and burn five houses belonging to Pastor Alejandro and his sons. Since 1982, Catholics in Mitzitón have staged five attacks in which 180 houses of evangelicals have been destroyed. The 180 families have all relocated and established churches elsewhere. The anti-Protestant persecution is driven by superstitious fear and jealousy, and fuelled by impunity. Please pray. 

PAKISTAN: GOVERNMENT SEIZES CHURCH SCHOOL

Church of Pakistan (Anglican) Bishop
Humphrey Peters of Peshawar (centre)
at Peshawar Press Club, 11 June.
 

Founded by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in 1853, Edwardes College in Peshawar is the oldest missionary education institution in Pakistan’s north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. It has been managed by the Church for 180 years. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government took over the college in 2019 through an administrative action validated by the provincial High Court. On 3 June 2021, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Khyber Pakhtunkhawa government. On 11 June, Protestants took to the streets in protest. ‘The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party has committed a hate crime against the church,’ Church of Pakistan (Anglican) Bishop Humphrey Peters of Peshawar told a press conference. The bishop called for the college to be returned to the Church and denounced its nationalisation as ‘a violation of the constitutional rights of the weak religious minorities’. As rights activist Zeeshan Yaqub of Peshawar explained to Fides, ‘the Christian community in Pakistan is making great efforts in the fields of education, health and other humanitarian services, which benefit the entire population, people of all religions. We ask for the protection of the rights of minorities, as provided for by the Constitution of Pakistan, even in their properties.’ Pray for the Church in Pakistan.

NO JUSTICE YET FOR PASTOR ZAFAR BHATTI
Update to RLPB 568, ‘'Blasphemy', a sword over the neck’, 23 Sep 2020. 

Pastor Zafar Bhatti
Pastor Zafar Bhatti has been in Rawalpindi’s Adiala Central Jail since July 2012 when an Islamic cleric accused him of sending blasphemous text messages; a charge the pastor strongly denies. In May 2017, a court deemed Pastor Zafar guilty, but instead of sentencing him to death (as is mandatory for blasphemy) the judge sentenced him to life imprisonment because there was ‘no concrete evidence’ against him. As is common in Pakistan, his appeals have been repeatedly adjourned. In September 2020, Pastor Zafar (then 56) suffered a heart attack in his cell. Though treated and stabilised, his health is clearly fragile. On Tuesday 22 June, an additional sessions judge in Rawalpindi District upheld Bhatti’s life sentence despite there still being no evidence against him. His lawyers will now appeal to the High Court. Please pray.

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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).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com