Tuesday, December 21, 2021

RLPB 629. Faith: the secret of positive, enduring, hope-fuelled prayer.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 629 | Wed 22 Dec 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

View archives at: Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB). The RLPB is sponsored by Christian Faith and Freedom Inc. 

This is the final RLPB for 2021. It includes (1) a reflection on the relationship between faith and hope; (2) a 130-word item for use in bulletins or prayers; (3) updates on Ethiopia (the TPLF retreats to Tigray), Haiti (all hostages safe and free) and Indonesia (a new blasphemy case).

The RLPB will return on 26 January with the January 2022 Update.
Thank you for your continued faithfulness.

FAITH: THE SECRET OF POSITIVE, ENDURING, HOPE-FUELLED PRAYER.
by Elizabeth Kendal

Amos 9:13
as paraphrased in The Message
 

One of my favourite historical sermons to read or listen to is Charles H. Spurgeon's January 1860 Revival Sermon on Amos 9:13. 'Behold, the days are coming,' declares the Lord, 'when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it' (ESV). 'Originally,' notes Spurgeon, 'the land of Canaan was very fertile; it was a land that flowed with milk and honey... "A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil, and honey" [from Deut 8:7-10].' So, he laments, 'It is somewhat surprising to find that now [1860] the land [then under Turkish/Ottoman rule] is barren, that its valleys are parched, and that the miserable inhabitants gather miserable harvests from the arid soil. Yet the promise still stands true, that one day... Palestine shall be as rich and fruitful as ever it was.' Difficult as this was to believe in 1860, Spurgeon was certain that our sovereign God would prove faithful. Today we stand on the other side of the temporal fulfilment of that promise; a restored Israel has indeed, 'made the desert bloom'.

As Spurgeon explains, it is normal for the promises of God to have temporal and spiritual, as well as imminent and eschatological, application. As for the spiritual application of Amos 9:13 - that is, the promise of spiritual revival - Spurgeon was certain he was witnessing the early days of something extraordinary. Revivals in Britain and Great Awakenings in America had given birth to the era of Protestant missions. Compelled by William Carey's May 1792 sermon on Isaiah 54:2-3 ['Enlarge the place of your tent . . .'], Protestants were stepping out in faith to 'expect great things from God [and] attempt great things for God!' Based on the promise of Amos 9:13, Spurgeon likewise exhorted believers to anticipate a harvest and 'exert' themselves for God.

Much has changed since Spurgeon's day! Then, most Christians lived in the Judeo-Christian West, and persecution was limited largely to the indigenous Christian peoples of the Ottoman Empire. By the year 2000, after some 200 years of Protestant missions (initially from the West, but now [since the 1960s] increasingly indigenous), most Christians live in the Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto, traditional or atheistic non-Western world. Multitudes exist as counter-cultural religious minorities in states with appalling human rights records and little to no religious liberty, amidst escalating intolerance. The reason persecution has grown to be a global phenomenon is because Christianity has grown to be a global faith! God is fulfilling his promises!

While praying for the persecuted week after week can prove challenging, we have God's assurance given not only through the prophets but also through the angels on that first Christmas Day; the promise of 'good news of great joy which will be for all people'; the promise of 'a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord'; the promise that inspired the angels to sing: 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!' (see Luke 2:1-20 NKJV). Filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah prophesied the same saying, 'because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.' (Luke 1:79 ESV)

Peace on earth? Are they kidding? Should I have hope for peace on earth? The word translated 'peace' here in Luke 1:79 and 2:24 is εἰρήνης (eirēnē). It can refer to either a temporal state of national tranquilly, absent rage and war; of harmony between individuals; of a state of security with prosperity; OR of a spiritual state resulting from peace with God or assurance of salvation, or even the eternal peace the believer inherits upon death [Strong's G1515]. Can we who know of the horrible persecution occurring in this world, and of the wars being waged against God's peoples, really hope for temporal peace on earth, a world not dominated by war or persecution? I can barely imagine such a thing!

In 1860, Spurgeon would have struggled to imagine the Israel that we know today. But he believed God's promise! He also believed the temporal fulfilment would prefigure the spiritual fulfilment: that of a great spiritual harvest. Dare we image a future in which churches in China and Iran are freely sending out missionaries all over the world? Dare we believe that the day may be coming when instead of Islam pressing southwards through Africa, a spiritual harvest might be reaped in Sudan, across the Sahel, and throughout West and North Africa as the Holy Spirit sweeps north unleashing revival among the Hausa, the Fulani and the Arabs? Dare we imagine a mostly Christian India or Japan or Afghanistan? Dare we trust God to be faithful to his word? 'I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it' (Jesus, in Matthew 16:18 ESV).

Almighty God our Heavenly Father,
Please merciful God, increase our faith so that we will never tire of interceding for and supporting your persecuted Church as she serves you on the front line of an increasingly intense spiritual battle.

See Prayer: 'I believe, help my unbelief', from Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (by Elizabeth Kendal, Deror Books, Melbourne Australia, 2012). 

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REMEMBER THE PERSECUTED THIS CHRISTMAS

For many Christians, Christmas is increasingly a time of elevated risk. This is certainly the case where fundamentalist Islam is empowered (e.g. Indonesia, Pakistan, Turkey); where Islamic jihadists are active (e.g. Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Mozambique); where Hindu or Buddhist nationalism is ascendant (e.g. India, Nepal, Sri-Lanka, Burma/Myanmar); where terrorism is escalating (e.g. Burkina Faso and the wider Sahel; Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa); and where hostile totalitarian regimes hold power (e.g. China, Vietnam, Iran). Meanwhile, in the world's churchless dark corners - Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Afghanistan, Tibet, Somalia - secret Christians will acknowledge Christmas quietly with trusted contacts over safe channels. For them and the many Christians currently in prison, there will be no singing, no gathering and no celebration - except in the heart. Please remember to pray for the persecuted.

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UPDATES

ETHIOPIA: TPLF RETREATS TO TIGRAY AND APPEALS FOR CEASEFIRE
-- 
Praise God who has turned back the battle in answer to prayer!

The head of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), Debretsion Gebremichael, has written to the United Nations explaining that he has ordered all units of the Tigray Defence Force outside of the borders of Tigray to withdraw to Tigray. As the TPLF retreats it leaves in its wake 'a trail of abuse', including a multitude of displaced and massacred civilians, looted aid warehouses and vandalised empty hospitals. But this conflict was always about much more than TPLF ambitions. Foreign elements want to weaken, divide, and rule Ethiopia (by proxy [the TPLF]) so they can dominate the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea Region. But as RLPB has pointed out repeatedly from the outset, the collapse of Ethiopia would trigger a Christian crisis of monumental proportions. Please continue to pray that God will fulfil all his purposes for Ethiopia.

'The Lord will fulfil his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands' (Psalm 138:8 ESV).

HAITI: ALL 17 HOSTAGES FREE
-- 
'Praise God for answered prayers'

Praising God for safe return.
Christian Aid Ministries, 20 Dec 2021

Founded in 1981, Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries (CAM) describes itself as 'a foreign-aid outlet for Amish and Mennonite and other conservative Anabaptist groups and individuals to minister to physical and spiritual needs around the world.' On 9 October a criminal gang seized 16 American and one Canadian CAM missionaries/supporters in Haiti, where they had been visiting a CAM-run orphanage. The gang demanded one million US dollars ransom per captive and threatened to kill them if it was not forthcoming [see RLPB 621 (27 Oct)]. Two missionaries were released on 21 November and three more were released two weeks later. Then, on the night of 15 December, the remaining 12 hostages made a daring night-time escape, walking for hours in the dark over rugged terrain until the dawn when they approached someone who phoned for help. On 20 December, under a banner declaring, 'Praise God for answered prayers', CAM General Director David Troyer gave a press conference, rich in gracious thankfulness, announcing the safe return of all 17 hostages. Praise God and continue to pray that Haiti will be delivered of its spiritual darkness.

INDONESIA: ANOTHER BLASPHEMY CASE

Joseph Suryadi, charged with blasphemy.

Over the course of five years, Herry Wirawan, the principal of a girls-only Islamic boarding school in Bandung, West Java, raped at least 12 of the young girls under his charge. Of the 12 known victims (all minors), nine have given birth and two are in an advanced stage of pregnancy. The case against Wirawan (36) is being heard in the Bandung District Court. Since around 10 December, when news of the case became public, public outrage has exploded. Then, on 14 December, Indonesian police arrested Joseph Suryadi (39), a Christian from Tangerang (a city near Jakarta) and charged him with blasphemy. Joseph stands accused of uploading a caricature of Islam's prophet Muhammad with a young, veiled girl (representing his prepubescent child-wife Aisha), along with a message noting that, just like Herry Wirawan, Muhammad too had a penchant for young girls. The post quickly attracted more than 7000 complaints. Suryadi denies uploading the message, insisting it happened while his phone was missing. If found guilty, Suryadi faces five years in a very hostile prison simply for giving public expression to one of Islam's most enduring stains: that Muhammad (aged 53) married Aisha when she was six years old and consummated the marriage when she was nine. Please pray.

[Indonesia's Criminal Code, Article 156 (a) reads: 'By a maximum imprisonment of five years shall be punished any person who deliberately in public gives expression to feelings or commits an act. (a) which principally have the character of being at enmity with, abusing or staining a religion, adhered to in Indonesia.']

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Research 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, December 14, 2021

RLPB 628. Nigeria: A Christmas of joy, hope, fear and lamentation

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 628 | Wed 15 Dec 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

View archives at Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB). The RLPB is sponsored by Christian Faith and Freedom Inc. 

The last RLPB for 2021, comprising a short reflection and a prayer, will be published next Wednesday, 22 December. This week's RLPB includes an update on Indonesia: the trial of Muhammad Kece.

NIGERIA: A CHRISTMAS OF JOY, HOPE, FEAR AND LAMENTATION
by Elizabeth Kendal

RANSOMED
Emmanuel Baptist Church members.
Channels TV, 4 Dec 2021.

On Friday 3 December Muslim Fulani 'bandits' operating in southern Kaduna released the remaining 61 of 66 Christians abducted during a worship service on Sunday 31 October at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Kakau Daji, Chikun LGA, on the outskirts of Kaduna City. Released alongside the 61 church members were nine other hostages. After being collected by the military, the former captives underwent extensive medical checks before being handed over to state officials. The 61 church members were reunited with their families on Saturday 4 December at Albarka Baptist Church in Kaduna City. As is normally the case in these near-daily abductions, an unspecified amount of ransom was paid. Consequently, the Muslim Fulani bandits are growing richer and stronger by the day, while the traumatised and constantly depleting Christian community is being bled dry.

MURDERED
Reverend Dauda Batura,
ECWA, Kaduna.

On Thursday 9 December Muslim Fulani bandits executed the Reverend Dauda Batura. Pastor of the First Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in Narayi, Igabi LGA, on the southern outskirts of Kaduna City, Pastor Batura had been kidnapped by armed Fulani herdsmen on 8 November while working on his farm in Ungwan Kanti Village, in neighbouring Chikun LGA. Immediately the bandits began negotiating with Pastor Batura's wife, Haddasa, demanding N10million ransom. After she had raised a portion of the ransom the bandits demanded she deliver it to them. On 18 November, when Haddasa delivered the ransom, the bandits took her captive as well, before releasing her on 6 December with the demand that she raise the rest of the ransom. On 9 December the bandits informed the church that they had killed Pastor Batura. Haddasa Batura told church leaders that her husband preached Christ to his captors and prayed for their repentance, infuriating them and likely contributing to their decision to kill him.

On Saturday 11 December Fulani bandits staged simultaneous attacks on a string of predominantly Christian districts in Chikun LGA on the southern outskirts of Kaduna City. At around 1am, some 30 militants wearing military uniforms and wielding heavy weapons entered Sabo GRA [Government Reserved Area; an exclusive (more affluent) residential area] where they attempted to abduct a pregnant woman and her son. When the military intervened, the bandits started firing their weapons indiscriminately. Though soldiers managed to rescue the pair, the pregnant woman sustained bullet wounds to her leg. As the bandits fled they set fire to residents' homes. In a simultaneous attack on nearby Oil Village, bandits abducted a woman, her four children, a policeman, his wife and their child. The captives have been taken to an unknown location. The Christian villages of Unguwar Gimbiya and Unguwar Dodo were also attacked. Unguwar Gimbiya has been attacked numerous times, including a 1am raid on Friday 3 December in which two residents were killed - including a church elder who was brutally murdered - and 50 were abducted.

In August 2020, RLPB 562 titled 'Insecurity Enables Terrorist Expansion', quoted terrorism analyst Jacob Zenn who warned: 'if [terrorist/jihadist] groups [i.e. Boko Haram, Ansaru, or Islamic State] get a foothold among the Fulani in the Northwest, then nothing "will prevent their continued expansion until northern Nigeria becomes overwhelmed".' Since that RLPB was published, Boko Haram has set up base in the Rijana Forest in southern Kaduna's predominantly Christian Chikun LGA [RLPB 623 (10 Nov)]. Boko Haram also runs a mini-Caliphate in Niger State's east where it controls some 500 communities across eight wards of Shiroro LGA, which is contiguous with Kaduna's Chikun LGA and a mere two hours' drive from the nation's capital, Abuja [RLPB 618 (6 Oct)]. Straddling the Kaduna-Zamfara state border, the Rugu Forest has become sanctuary for Fulani bandits, who mostly serve as proxies for Boko Haram and other jihadist groups. Terrorist-bandits have threatened to attack any churches in Zamfara that dare to remain open [RLPB 627 (8 Dec)]. Less that 18months after Jacob Zenn's report was published, it seems Nigeria's north-west is well on its way to being 'overwhelmed'. 

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari

All the while, the government of President Muhammadu Buhari (a Fulani from Katsina in Nigeria's north-west, and long-time pro-Sharia Islamist), has made no effort to improve security. Predatory migration and banditry in the service of Islamic jihad is not limited to the north-west. In the Middle Belt state of Plateau, militant Fulani herdsmen have ethnically cleansed and occupied some 102 formerly Christian communities in the past 20 years. Furthermore, as reported in RLPB 623 (10 Nov), Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), which is based in Nigeria's far north-east, has reportedly sourced military uniforms and weapons and is preparing to launch major terror attacks during the Christmas season.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* intervene in corrupt and lawless Nigeria to execute justice for the oppressed, facilitate a liberating awakening of the masses and bring the way of the wicked to ruin (Psalm 146). May every wicked plot being advanced against Nigeria's Church fail and may the LORD continue to build his Church among the Fulani and Hausa Muslims of Nigeria's volatile North and Middle Belt (Matthew 16:18).

* pour his deep peace in the hearts of all those Nigerian Christians who will spend Christmas battling fear and sorrow because they are either in captivity (as hostages or slaves), or because, though at home or in camps, they are grieving the absence of loved ones who have been taken captive, displaced or killed.

* protect, sustain and bless his faithful ones this Christmas as they rejoice in Christ with hope rooted in promise. May the prosperous churches of the south rise up in prayer and protest to demand security in the north for the sake of their long persecuted and gravely imperilled Christian brothers and sisters, so many of whom are displaced, traumatised, and missing.

'Their heart cried to the Lord…let tears stream down like a torrent day and night! Give yourself no rest, your eyes no respite!  Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the night watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children…' (from Lamentations 2:18,19 ESV).

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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A CHRISTMAS OF JOY, HOPE, FEAR AND LAMENTATION IN NIGERIA

Across Nigeria's mostly Muslim north, Christians head into Christmas missing loved ones now captive, displaced or killed; their joy and hope in Christ is tempered with fear and lamentation. In the east of Niger State, Boko Haram has seized control of some 500 communities and is operating a mini-Caliphate. In neighbouring Kaduna State, where Boko Haram has established its military base, endless raids by Muslim 'bandits' on Christian schools, churches, towns and villages have paralysed and traumatised whole communities. North of Kaduna, churches in Zamfara State have been warned: close or face attacks. East of Kaduna, in Plateau State, Muslim Fulani have taken over some 102 Christian communities in the past 20 years. Based in Nigeria's far north-east, Islamic State is preparing to unleash terror during the Christmas season. Please pray.

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UPDATE

INDONESIA: THE TRIAL OF MUHAMMAD KECE
Update to RLPB 619, 'Convert Apologist Accused of Blasphemy, Assaulted in Prison' (13 Oct).

Christian apologist, Muhammad Kece.

The trial of Muhammad Kece commenced on 25 November, only to be immediately postponed as the defendant (Kece) was unwell. The trial resumed in the Ciamis District Court on 2 December under tight security. A doctor deemed Kece fit to stand trial despite his blood glucose levels being twice the acceptable human limit. Clearly unwell, Kece fell asleep repeatedly as the 385-page indictment file was read, earning him rebukes from the panel of judges. A former Muslim cleric turned Christian apologist, Kece stands accused of using his Christian apologetics YouTube channel to violate laws on (1) Information and Electronic Transactions (ITE), (2) hate speech in relation to SARA (ethnicity, religion, race and other) and (3) blasphemy. There is little doubt that Muhammad Kece's life is in danger. Doubtless plenty of powerful people would stop at nothing to keep this intelligent, articulate, and courageous Muslim convert and skilled Christian apologist from testifying in open court. Please pray.

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

Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Research 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, December 7, 2021

RLPB 627. Ethiopia: Battle turned back; Terror unleashed

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 627 | Wed 08 Dec 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

The Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) is sponsored by Christian Faith and Freedom Inc

The last RLPB for 2021 will be published on Wednesday 22 December, comprising a short reflection and a prayer. In the lead up to the Christmas break, this and next week's RLPB will include other issues requiring prayer over the holiday season. 

This week's RLPB on Ethiopia includes items on China, India, Nigeria, and Ukraine.

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

ETHIOPIA: BATTLE TURNED BACK; TERROR UNLEASHED
- forced into retreat, the TPLF retaliates by massacring civilians.
by Elizabeth Kendal

The Battle for Ethiopia: PM Abiy (right)

Prime Minister Abiy has certainly made some errors of judgement during this war with the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). The first was to buckle under US pressure in June 2021 and declare a unilateral ceasefire in, and withdrawal from, Tigray. After this, the TPLF re-occupied Mekelle, rejected the ceasefire, and went on the offensive. PM Abiy's second error was that he 'succumbed to the advice of his ethnic Oromo political power base to refuse military assistance to the Amhara and Afar regions' (Copley, 24 Nov). However, on 23 November, PM Abiy (a former soldier, having served as a colonel in intelligence and communications) left his office and joined his troops - the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) - on the battlefield ahead of a 'massive offensive across all the war fronts'. But would it be too late? On 24 November, as rebels advanced on Addis Ababa, RLPB issued an urgent prayer request, 'that Baal-perazim - the Lord of the breakthrough (2 Samuel 5:17-20) - might intervene to "turn back the battle at the gate" (from Isaiah 28:5-6)'.

By the end of November, reports were leaking out that there indeed had been a breakthrough: the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) was paralysed, having lost numerous high-level commanders, while the Tigray Defence Force (TDF/TPLF) was in retreat, having suffered massive losses on the battlefield. By 28 November ENDF and Afar Special Forces had liberated Chifra, in Afar Region, a regional border town on a main road to the Port of Djibouti. On 1 December the government announced that ENDF and Amhara forces had recaptured Shewa Robit, 220km north-east of Addis Ababa on the A2 highway. On 2 December ENDF and Amhara forces liberated the historic and culturally significant town of Lalibela. On 2 December, 150 WFP trucks arrived in Mekelle with enough supplies to feed 3.7 million people for several months. On 6 December the government announced that ENDF and Amhara forces had recaptured the strategic towns of Dessie and Kombolcha (captured by TPLF a month earlier [RLPB 622 (3 Nov)].

PM Abiy has appealed for the TPLF to surrender. Meanwhile, the TPLF is denying it is retreating, claiming rather it is merely making 'territorial adjustments … according to our plan'. However, just as it did in Mycadre in November 2020 [RLPB 576 (18 Nov 2020)], the TPLF is responding to military defeats by unleashing terror: destroying and looting infrastructure and massacring civilians. In mid-November Djibouti announced that it will not allow the US to launch an attack on Ethiopia from its territory. However, the Sudanese military is engaged in clashes on Ethiopia's north-western border, presenting Ethiopia's enemies with an opportunity to open a second front in the north-west. Please pray it will not be so! PM Abiy has declared that the war will continue until the TPLF no longer poses 'a threat to the peace and security of the country'. Please pray that for the sake of Ethiopia and her precious Church, the Lord will bring peace and bring it soon.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* intervene in Ethiopia, and for Ethiopians; that the nation might be blessed to be a blessing to others. May God protect our brother Prime Minister Abiy and grant him wisdom and strength as he seeks to lead the people into a new era of unity, peace and prosperity.

* thwart all evil plots designed to divide the peoples and fragment the state to the detriment of everyone in Ethiopia and throughout the wider region; may God's good plans for Ethiopia prevail.

* redeem this crisis to draw Ethiopians to their knees in prayer, for there they will find the one in whom all hope and healing resides: the Lord Jesus Christ.

For [Christ] himself is our peace, who has made us both one [i.e. both Jew and Gentile; this tribe and the other] and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man [the Church] in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Ephesians 2:14-16 ESV

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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ETHIOPIA: BATTLE TURNED BACK; TERROR UNLEASHED 

On 23 November, with rebels a mere 120km from the capital Addis Ababa, Prime Minister Abiy left his office and joined the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) on the battlefield. Aware that the collapse of Ethiopia would trigger a Christian crisis of monumental proportions, urgent prayer was requested. By 28 November, ENDF and Afar Special Forces had liberated Chifra in Afar Region. The ENDF and Amhara forces then proceeded to recapture town after town along the A2 Highway, starting with Shewa Robit. The historic and culturally significant town of Lalibela has been liberated, as have the strategic towns of Dessie and Kombolcha. God has indeed turned back the battle! However, the TPLF is responding to military defeats by unleashing terror: destroying and looting infrastructure and massacring civilians. Please pray for Ethiopia.

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

OTHER MATTERS FOR PRAYER:

* CHINA: PASTOR AN YANKUI ARRESTED YET AGAIN.

Pastor An Yankui with family.

On Sunday 21 November officers in Shanxi Province detained Pastor An Yankui of Xuncheng Reformed Church (XRC), along with his young and recently married co-worker, Zhang Chenghao. On 24 November Yao Congya (wife of An Yankui) and Guo Juan (wife of Zhang Chenghao) received detention notices from authorities explaining that their husbands have been criminally detained for 'illegally crossing the national border'. The charge relates to travel undertaken in January 2020 when a group of XRC members travelled to Malaysia to attend a Christian conference. In July 2021 five other members of XRC were arrested on the same charge [RLPB 610 (11 Aug 2021)]. All those arrested in relation to the trip entered Malaysia legally carrying legal Chinese passports. XRC is being persecuted because it has openly criticised, and is resolutely resisting, the Chinese Communist Party's religious repression [see: RLPB 606 (14 July 2021)]. Please pray.

* INDIA: KARNATAKA ANTI-CONVERSION BILL LOOMS

Christians protest in Bangalore,
4 December 2021. more images

Karnataka's anti-conversion bill will be tabled in the state legislature when sitting resumes on Monday 13 December. As Church in Chains explains (2 Dec), 'Anti-conversion laws are intended to prevent Hindus converting to other religions but lead to increased violence against Christians because extremists use them as a licence to carry out attacks, accusing Christians of forcibly converting Hindus.' A recently released fact-finding report by three Indian human rights organisations ranked Karnataka third among states with the highest number of attacks on Christians, surpassed only by Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. On 13 October Karnataka's ruling BJP state government ordered an investigation into the issue of alleged forced conversions [see RLPB 621 (27 Oct)]. Initial inquiries conducted in Chitradurga district found no evidence of forced conversion; all Christians questioned confirmed that they had converted of their own free will and that their lives were much better since having done so. Consequently the investigation was dropped. On Saturday 4 December Christians held a silent protest outside the Karnataka Legislative Assembly in Bengaluru (Bangalore), requesting the state defend religious liberty. Please pray.

* NIGERIA: CHRISTIAN CRISIS IN KADUNA (updates)

On 5 July 'bandits' abducted 121 children from Bethel Baptist High School. In RLPB 625 (24 Nov) prayer was requested for the four students still in captivity. On 26 November Nigerian media announced that one of those last four students had been released. The released student - who happens to be the head boy at the school - was let go on health grounds upon payment of ransom. A born leader, this boy kept his senior position secret from the captors and vowed to remain with the students until the end. Despite his intention to be the last student released, the boy's health deteriorated such that he had to be let go. The Reverend John Hayab said the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) will honour the student for the leadership he displayed in the face of danger. Please pray for the remaining three captives. Meanwhile, the 'bandits' holding the remaining 61 members of Emmanuel Baptist Church (abducted on 31 October) have demanded 99 million Nigerian Naira as ransom for their release. Please pray.

* NIGERIA: CHURCHES THREATENED IN ZAMFARA

Zamfara State, north-west Nigeria.

On Tuesday 30 November Zamfara State police commissioner, Ayuba Elkanah, addressed a press conference in the capital Gusau. He told reporters that a threatening letter had been dropped into police command headquarters in which unknown persons demanded that Zamfara's churches be closed, otherwise they will be attacked. The Commissioner of Police has invited the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the state to discuss security measures; he has also established a special squad to patrol and protect worshippers, especially on Sundays, and launched an investigation to identify and arrest those responsible for the threat. CAN has directed all churches not to hold church activities beyond 5pm for the next three months. In October 1999, Zamfara State, in Nigeria's north-west, became the first northern state to enact Sharia Law. The population is overwhelmingly Hausa-Fulani and Muslim. Straddling the Zamfara-Kaduna state border, the Rugu Forest has become a sanctuary for terrorists and 'bandits'. The threat has rattled the Christian community and could trigger an exodus. Please pray.

* UKRAINE: ZELEKSKY POKES THE BEAR
- triggering crisis, presenting opportunity, and further aggravating religious and ethnic tensions

As tensions soar yet again on the Ukraine-Russia border it is worth noting that this potential crisis did not start in late March / early April 2021 when Russia deployed tens of thousands of additional troops to the border, allegedly for military exercises. Rather, it began a week earlier when Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenksy issued a presidential decree establishing that retaking Crimea from Russia is now Kiev's official policy. Dated 24 March 2021, the 'Decree of the President of Ukraine No. 117/2021' outlines the Ukrainian government's 'strategy for de-occupation and reintegration of the temporarily occupied territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol'.

Faced with what was essentially a declaration of war, Russia responded with a show of military strength designed to deter Ukrainian adventurism. Zelenksy responded by donning military fatigues for photos in the trenches, a performance he repeated in early December. This is nothing but theatre from a president facing domestic pressure. Zelensky (an anti-establishment candidate, and former TV comedic actor) was and is performing for the votes of disgruntled Ukrainian ultra-nationalists who have accused him of being 'soft on Russia'.

If theatre was all it was, then we could expect it to blow over. However, while for Zelensky this is theatre, there are others for whom this is opportunity - a crisis not to be wasted! Since April, weapons have flooded into Ukraine making arms suppliers (especially Turkey and the US) a lot of money. Although Russia is unlikely to invade Ukraine - for it would have nothing to gain and a lot to lose - the West is exploiting the 'crisis' as an opportunity to menace and sanction Russia.

Please pray for discernment, courage, peace and healing, because East vs West geo-political tensions are already having a profound and detrimental impact on religious liberty and Christian security in the region.

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

Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Research 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 

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

RLPB 626. Vietnam: Great Suffering Amidst Deepening Darkness

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 626 | Wed 01 Dec 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Subscribe (free) or view archives at: Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog.  The RLPB is sponsored by Christian Faith and Freedom Inc

VIETNAM: GREAT SUFFERING AMIDST DEEPENING DARKNESS
by Elizabeth Kendal

click on map to enlarge

Christians comprise 9.43 percent of the population of Vietnam (Catholics, 7.7 percent; Protestants, 1.3 percent; plus Independents). Since the 1990s, conversions to Protestant Christianity have escalated markedly among the ethnic minorities of the Central Highlands as communities have gained access to Gospel radio and scriptures in their own languages. Despite their minority status, Vietnamese Christians are massively over-represented among the country's pro-democracy and human rights advocates and activists. Unfortunately, religious freedom is but a mirage: it appears in the Constitution but is eviscerated by law. The Communist regime justifies its persecution by falsely accusing Christians of crimes against national security: e.g. 'undermining the unity policy' (penal code Article 116) and spreading anti-state propaganda [i.e. negative/critical reporting] (penal code Article 117). Vietnam's revised national security laws (enacted January 2018) and its new Cyber Security Law (enacted January 2019) have made getting information out of Vietnam a very risky business, especially as Vietnam develops into a heavily militarised surveillance state.

PRISONERS: The Vietnam Human Rights Network's 2020-2021 report lists 288 prisoners of conscience. Among them is Protestant pastor and religious liberty advocate Nguyen Trung Ton (50). Ton was arrested at his home in Thanh Hóa, north Vietnam, on 30 July 2017 and charged with 'carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People's administration'. On 5 April 2018 a Hanoi Court sentenced Ton to 12 years in prison [RLPB 450 (11 April 2018)]. Before his arrest, Ton was abducted and severely beaten with police batons, leaving him with serious leg injuries [RLPB 479 (31 Oct 2018)]. Denied medical care, Ton's legs have never healed, leaving him barely able to walk. Also on the list is music teacher Nguyen Nang Tinh (45). Tinh was arrested at his home in Nghe An, north Vietnam, on 29 May 2019 [RLPB 509 (3 July 2019)]. On 15 November 2019 a lower court in Nghe An sentenced Tinh to 11 years in prison and five years house arrest for 'conducting propaganda against the state', ostensibly for Facebook posts deemed 'anti-state'. Authorities have repeatedly refused Tinh (a devout Catholic) access to a priest. In March 2021 Tinh's wife raised concerns about his deteriorating health - specifically joint pain, decaying teeth and kidney stones. 

The Central Highlands provinces of Dak Lak, Gia Lai and Phu Yen have long been a hot-bed of repressive and violent persecution of ethnic minority Christians. Hmong and Montagnard/Dagar Protestants are routinely, and without justification, treated as subversives and separatists. Persecution includes intimidation, harassment, threats, violence and Cultural Revolution-style kangaroo courts where believers are publicly shamed and pressured to 'confess their crimes' and renounce their faith. The Campaign to Abolish Torture in Vietnam lists 79 'Montagnard Prisoners of Conscience Serving Prison Sentences and House Arrest Amounting to Eight or More Years'. All are Christians - Catholics and Protestants. Most are pastors, priests and religious liberty advocates. Some have been tortured and many are suffering failing health. Almost all have been charged with 'undermining the unity policy' (penal code Article 116). Of particular concern is the prisoner Y Yich. A Montagnard Protestant from Gia Lai, Pastor Y Yich was arrested in 2013 and sentenced to 12 years in prison plus three to five years' probation for 'spreading Dega [Montagnard] Protestantism, using the internet to communicate with Montagnard pastors and "FULRO reactionaries" [i.e. Montagnard Protestants] in the US and meeting with other former prisoners of conscience' (under penal code Article 116). Previously imprisoned from 2006-2011, Pastor Y Yich is in poor health due to torture in detention, high blood pressure, rheumatism and stomach inflammation.

Reverends Loan and Tan 

In May 2021, just as Vietnam's devastating fourth wave of COVID-19 was taking hold, a couple who attended a meeting of the Revival Ekklesia Mission (REM) in Ho Chi Minh City, tested positive for COVID-19. Though the meeting comprised a mere 11 believers (everyone else was participating on-line) and the church had been meticulous in its adherence to health orders, the government seized the opportunity to attack Protestant Christianity. In an appalling case of malicious scapegoating, the REM church was blamed for the outbreak and criminally charged with the crime of 'spreading dangerous infectious diseases in humans' (penal code Article 240). REM's leaders have been publicly blamed and shamed on state-run media and social media. On 14 October police in Go Vap District questioned REM's pastors - the Reverend Vo Xuan Loan and her husband, the Reverend Phuong Van Tan - after 11 other REM members were also interrogated. Aware the regime will be loath to back down and lose face over the issue, Christians are hoping for a face-saving solution, such as the church being fined for an administrative COVID-19 rule infraction rather than a criminal conviction.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* continue to build his Church in Vietnam; as repression intensifies and the darkness deepens, may many Vietnamese awaken to the moral depravity of atheism, the deadness and insufficiency of false religion, and the sufficiency of the living Christ to transform and renew.

* intervene for the dozens of Christians cruelly incarcerated in horrific conditions simply for leading unregistered house churches, speaking out against injustice and corruption, and/or promoting righteousness, liberty, and human rights. Lord in your mercy, encourage, sustain, and deliver them! (Psalm 146)

Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:3 ESV)

* encourage and bless Pastors Loan and Tan, of Ho Chi Minh City's Revival Ekklesia Mission, and fill them with peace. We pray also for their attorney, Dang Dinh Manh, that the Lord will equip him and use him, that justice may prevail.

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:5b-7 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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GREAT SUFFERING AMIDST DEEPENING DARKNESS IN VIETNAM

In Vietnam, religious freedom exists in theory but not in practice. The Communist regime views un-registered house churches and ethnic minority Christians as threats to the nation's unity and security. The regime targets these Christians - Catholics and Protestants - with intimidation, vilification, harassment, police brutality and Cultural Revolution-style 'kangaroo-courts' where they are publicly shamed and forced to 'confess their crimes' and renounce their faith. Dozens of Christian pastors, priests and religious liberty advocates are serving long prison terms having been falsely accused of 'misusing religion' to violate national security laws. Some have been tortured; many are in failing health. Vietnam's revised national security laws (enacted January 2018) along with its new Cyber Security Law (enacted January 2019) have made getting information out of Vietnam a very risky business. Please pray.

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

Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Research 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, November 23, 2021

RLPB 625. November Update, incl. Algeria, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Burma (Myanmar), North Koreans, Togo and Burkina Faso, Sudan, Uganda.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 625 | Wed 24 Nov 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

View archives at Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog.  The RLPB is sponsored by Christian Faith and Freedom Inc. 

By Elizabeth Kendal

DIARY

Pastor Salah Chalah, June 2021.
Evangelical Focus, 14 July 2021

5 December: An Algerian pastor and two members of his congregation will face court on 5 December charged with 'calling for the disobedience of laws by a clergyman', 'practising non-Muslim rites without permission' and 'calling to organise an unarmed assembly' (a demonstration). Pastor Salah participated in a peaceful demonstration in October 2019 in front of municipal offices in Tizi Ouzou to protest the forcible sealing of his church [See RLPB 531 (3 Dec 2019)]. He also led protests in June 2021 after three more churches were sealed. If deemed guilty, the maximum penalty is a fine plus 5 years in prison. Please pray.

19 December: Chile's potentially explosive presidential runoff will be a contest between two anti-establishment politicians from opposite ends of the political spectrum: the right-wing conservative lawmaker Jose Antonio Kast (55) and left-wing former student protest leader Gabriel Boric (35). Kast is regarded the front-runner as most centrists are ideologically much closer to Kast than to Boric. Please pray for peace: that, no matter the outcome, there will be no resumption of violent protests and church burnings [RLPB 621 (27 Oct)].

24-25 December: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for Catholic and Protestant Christians; a time of joyous celebration and, for many, elevated risk of terror attack. Please pray.

NOVEMBER 2021 UPDATE

DURING THIS PERIOD, WE PRAYED CONCERNING:

* ETHIOPIA [RLPB 622 (3 Nov)], as rebels belonging to the US-trained, Marxist, separatist Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) and the ethno-nationalist Oromo Liberation Army (OLA, formerly OLF-Shane) advanced towards the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, killing, looting and displacing hundreds of thousands as they went. By the end of October, the TPLF had seized control of the strategic towns of Dessie and Kombolcha (where it summarily executed over 100 youths) while the OLA had seized control of Kemise, 53km south of Kombolcha and just 325km north of Addis Ababa. What needs to be understood is that Ethiopia's TPLF is no different to Sudan's al-Bashir regime: human rights abusers par-excellence, ousted by popular uprisings, yet deeply invested at every level, supported by a well-entrenched deep state and totally unwilling to accept their demise. Ethiopia's Future Hangs in the Balance (RLM 11 July).

UPDATE: URGENT PRAYER REQUIRED

By 20 November the TPLF-OLA had captured Shewa Robit, a highly strategic town only 200 km from Addis Ababa. Reportedly, the rebels freed over 3,000 hardened criminals from Shewa Robit prison and are marching them to Debre Berhan, the new frontline, 120km from Addis. Some reports suggest that the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) has collapsed and Debre Berhan is surrounded. Others report fierce fighting on the road between Shewa Robit and Debre Sina, 60km north of Debre Berhan. On Monday 22 November Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (45) announced: 'Starting tomorrow, I will mobilise to the front to lead the defence forces.' On Tuesday 23 November the US Department of State warned of the possibility of a terrorist attack in Ethiopia. The breakup/Balkanisation of Ethiopia would result in a Christian crisis of monumental proportions. Parts of the country would be devoured by Ethiopia's salivating, irredentist, politically troubled neighbours, Islamic jihadists would flood in, and ethno-religious genocidal aggression would be unleashed on the Christian Amhara. Please pray that Baal-perazim - the Lord of the breakthrough (2 Samuel 5:17-20) - might intervene to 'turn back the battle at the gate' (from Isaiah 28:5-6).

And [David] said, 'The Lord has broken through my enemies before me like a breaking flood.' Therefore the name of that place is called Baal-perazim' [the Lord who breaks through] (from 2 Samuel 5:17-20).

* NIGERIA [RLPB 623 (10 Nov)], where the Christian crisis in central, Middle Belt state of Kaduna continues and shows no signs of abating.

UPDATE: A CHRISTIAN CRISIS OF NO PARTICULAR CONCERN

Of the 121 children taken captive from Bethel Baptist High School in the early hours of 5 July, four remain in captivity. Of the 66 believers abducted from Emmanuel Baptist Church on Sunday 31 October, five were shot (two killed and three critically wounded) on 6 November. It appears that one of those wounded has died, while the other two have been discharged from hospital. The 'bandits' have threatened to starve the captives to death unless food is supplied. Community representatives have been delivering food supplies and are negotiating with the kidnappers. Please pray.

Meanwhile, contrary to the recommendation of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, the US Department of State has removed Nigeria from its list of 'Countries of Particular Concern' (CPC) with regards to religious freedom. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the new CPC list on Wednesday 17 November, the day before he departed on a tour of Africa. On Thursday 18 November Mr Blinken met with Nigerian President Buhari in Abuja, where he 'reaffirmed with President Buhari the strong partnership between the United States and Nigeria, which is founded upon shared democratic ideals and a spirit of transparency and co-operation'. In a speech delivered in Abuja on Friday 19 November, Mr Blinken referred to Nigeria as a global leader, 'deserving of a prominent seat wherever the most consequential issues are discussed'. He vowed an overhaul of the US approach to Africa that will treat the continent as a 'major geopolitical power' and that will boost development 'with no political strings attached'. Mortified by the inexplicable back-flip, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has requested an explanation. Please pray for the Church in Nigeria.

Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation...Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God... (Psalm 146:3,5 ESV).

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes (Psalm 118:8-9 ESV).

* IRAN [RLPB 624 (17 Nov)], where peaceful Christians - particularly those who are Persian converts from Islam - continue to be repressed, persecuted and jailed by the Islamic regime.

'I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it' (Jesus, Matthew 16:18 ESV).

NOVEMBER 2021 ROUND-UP - also this month:

* BURMA: OPERATION ANAWRAHTA UNDERWAY
Update to RLPB 621, Operation Anawrahta Looms, 27 Oct 2021

Background:
The goal of Operation Anawrahta is to crush the ethnic Burman 'People's Defence Forces' (PDFs) that have proliferated throughout the Burman heartland, along with those who support, train, supply and shelter them: in this case, the overwhelmingly Christian ethnic Chin.

CHRISTIAN TOWN TORCHED IN CHIN STATE

Thantlang burns, 29 October.

On 29 October the Tatmadaw (Burmese military) returned to Chin State's predominantly Christian Thantlang Township. Virtually all the town's some 10,000 residents fled after troops first attacked the town on 18-19 September [see RLPB 617 (29 Sept)]. The only residents still living in the town were 20 orphan children who, along with their teachers, remained in the orphanage. The Chinland Defence Force was monitoring the situation when a Chin soldier shot and killed a Burmese soldier who was caught looting stores. The Tatmadaw responded with a barrage of artillery: the Church on the Rock, the Presbyterian church and a building attached to the Thantlang Baptist Church - the town's largest congregation - all caught fire in the shelling. Burmese troops then moved in and set fire to some 200 homes, ensuring the town residents would have nothing to return to.

MILITARY VIOLENCE UNLEASHED ON CHRISTIAN CHIN

On Thursday night 11 November Burmese troops raided and looted at least five homes in Tedim Township, 200km north of Thantlang Township. In one home, three soldiers repeatedly gang-raped a 27-year-old mother of three, including a four-week-old infant. They beat her husband around the head and forced him at gunpoint to squat in the toilet while his wife was repeatedly raped. The family has been evacuated to safety. Devout Christians, the Chin are collectively distraught that such a crime should be inflicted on a Chin family. In another home, soldiers tied up a pregnant woman and beat her husband in front of her. Such atrocities, committed with impunity, have long been the Tatmadaw's trademark. Please pray.

PRAYER FOR BURMA

Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted. Break the arm [mechanism of action] of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none. O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more. (Psalm 10:12,15,17,18 ESV)

* NORTH KOREAN REFUGEES IN CHINA
Update to RLPB 612, China Arrests North Korean Wives, 25 Aug 2021

As noted in RLPB 612, 'Many Chinese and Korean Christians chose to live and work [on the China side of the China-North Korea (NK) border] precisely so they might help and witness to NK refugees.' According to Radio Free Asia (15 Nov), China is preparing to repatriate 1170 North Korean refugees. The refugees, who are already in Chinese custody, include an unknown number of NK wives and at least two children. Some of these NK refugees will doubtless have become Christians in China. Once back in NK, they will be incarcerated, severely mistreated and possibly even executed. Please pray that God would intervene in grace and mercy to redeem North Korea. Please pray that NK refugees who have settled in China will not be repatriated. Please pray that if any Christian is repatriated, the Lord will sustain them and bless their testimony with effective power.

SAHEL: TERROR ATTACKS IN TOGO AND BURKINA FASO
Update to RLPB 607, Africa's Afghanistan? Christians Imperilled, 21 July 2021)

Regional map,
showing the location
of Togo's Kpendjal Prefecture.
Click on map to enlarge.

Background: As France is withdrawing from the Sahel, jihadist groups are preparing to fill the security void, consolidate and even expand south into the countries of the Gulf of Guinea: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo and Benin, all of which border Burkina Faso.

On the night of 9 November, Togo suffered its first jihadist terror attack on its territory. The jihadists - reportedly members of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for Supporters of Muslims and Islam (JNIM) - are believed to have crossed from southern Burkina Faso into northern Togo's Kpendjal Prefecture where they attacked a security post. While the Togo military prevailed without casualties, the nation is now on alert for future border clashes and terror attacks as jihadists seek to expand towards the Gulf of Guinea. On 14 November JNIM militants attacked a security post in northern Burkina Faso's Inata town, a gold mining centre in the Sahel region, close to the border with Mali, killing four civilians and at least 49 military police officers, essentially wiping out the Burkinabe base. The Burkina military is being forced to focus on the crisis in the Liptako tri-border (Mali-Niger-Burkina Faso) region, leaving the southern border largely unprotected. 

According to Father Etienne Tandamba, a priest in the diocese of Fada N’Gourma, in eastern Burkina Faso, 120 km due north of the Togo border:  'The security situation in the country is worsening day by day, armed groups are advancing . . . they are subordinating the population to their will... Kidnappings and confiscations are the order of the day... Schools remain closed, as do some chapels, and the state of the city administration is precarious.' The Sahel and Gulf of Guinea states have mixed populations and a tradition of communal harmony, religious freedom and respect for Christian mission. Please pray. 

* SUDAN: HOPES FOR RELIGIOUS REFORMS DASHED
Update to RLPB 621, Hopes of 'New Sudan' Crushed in Military Coup, 27 Oct 2021.

In 2013 the racist and Islamist regime of President Omar al-Bashir, seized administrative control of the Sudanese Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) in Khartoum, ordering the Ministry of Guidance and Endowments, which regulates religious affairs in Sudan, to appoint a committee to administer the church's affairs. This occurred in the context of escalating Islamic belligerence and persecution in the wake of the secession of South Sudan [see RLPB 200 (6 March 2013)]. In 2015 the Supreme Court ruled the move illegal and ordered the illegally-constituted committees be dismissed and administrative control be returned to the churches. The regime ignored the order.

Following the April 2019 ouster of the al-Bashir regime, SPEC filed a case before the administrative court against the Ministry of Guidance and Religious Affairs and the illegitimate committee, seeking the implementation of the supreme court's 2015 decision. In July 2021 the Ministry of Guidance and Religious Affairs agreed to implement the decision, although an administrative court review was required before any action could be authorised. But, on 25 October, the Sudanese military staged a military coup and ousted the civilian members of Sudan's transitional government. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports (18 Nov): 'On 15 November an administrative court judge decided to dismiss the case to return power to the legitimate church committee as the one with the legal authority to act on behalf of the church, rejecting both the [July 2021] agreement and the 2015 Supreme Court decision. The judge failed to give any reasoning for the decision, indicating that the action was political.' The decision may indicate that the religious reforms of recent years are about to be rolled back. Please pray.

* UGANDA: TERROR COMES TO KAMPALA
Update to RLPB 616, D.R.Congo (DRC): Jihad and Conversion, 22 Sept 2021.

Background: Before 2017, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) was just a criminal militia whose origins were in Uganda and whose base was in north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In 2017 its Ugandan leader, Musa Baluku, forged connections with Islamic State (IS). In 2019 the ADF pledged allegiance to IS and became the DRC chapter of IS-Central Africa Province (ISCAP). Since then, ADF violence has escalated markedly. As noted in the more detailed RLM post of 21 September, it seems 'Islamic State is working to consolidate and expand in the remote north-east border regions of DRC. If successful it may well move to expand further, not only into Uganda, but possibly, in the future, into South Sudan and the wider "Christian" region.'

On 23 October Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) claimed responsibility for two minor, low casualty terror attacks in central Uganda: one targeting a pork eatery and one targeting a passenger bus. Then, on Tuesday 16 November, ISCAP suicide bombers perpetrated a far more sophisticated twin terror attack in the heart of Kampala. At around 10am, a suicide bomber detonated himself outside Kampala's Central Police Station. Minutes later, two suicide bombers on motorbikes detonated themselves outside the entrance to the Parliament. Police foiled a third attack, shooting the potential suicide bomber. In all, five people were killed and 33 hospitalised with injuries (21 of whom are police officers). Security has been heightened and President Museveni has warned the public to 'maintain vigilance of checking people at entry points to bus parks, hotels, churches, mosques, markets'. Please pray that God will protect Uganda's churches this Christmas season, not only from ISCAP terrorists, but also from the radicalised fundamentalist Muslims who are escalating their persecution of minority Christians - especially converts from Islam - in Uganda's Eastern Region [see Morning Star News / Uganda].

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The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. . . For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulders, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this (the promise of Isaiah 9:2,6,7 ESV).

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

Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Research 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, November 16, 2021

RLPB 624. Iran: Christians repressed, persecuted and jailed

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 624 | Wed 17 Nov 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Subscribe (free) or view archives at: Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog.  The RLPB is sponsored by Christian Faith and Freedom Inc. 

IRAN: CHRISTIANS REPRESSED, PERSECUTED AND JAILED
- Persian prisoners write letter; groups launch petition over right to Persian worship.
by Elizabeth Kendal

Amin Khaki with his wife Laleh
 and son Ateen (5) outside the
Civil and Revolutionary Court of Fardis,
before his transfer to Ghezel Hesar prison.
10 November 2021

In November 2020 Iranian Intelligence agents raided the homes of Persian converts, Amin Khaki, Milad Goodarzi and Alireza Nourmohammadi, in Fardis, west of Tehran, confiscating phones, laptops and everything relating to Christianity. In May 2021 the three converts became the first Iranian Christians to be charged and convicted under the penal code's newly amended Article 500, when they were fined and handed the maximum sentence of five years in prison for 'engaging in propaganda that educates in a deviant way contrary to the holy religion of Islam'. In August the fine was removed and the sentences reduced to three years on appeal. Article 18 reports (8 Nov): 'The three men, who have all spent time in prison before because of their Christian faith and activities, have until Wednesday, 10 November, to hand themselves in to the prison authorities in Karaj.'

In June 2020 brothers Sam and Sasan Khosravi and Habib Heydari were among seven Iranian Christians from Bushehr, on Iran's south coast, to be sentenced for 'propaganda against the Islamic Republic by promoting Christianity'. While the men were handed custodial sentences, the women were fined and banned from work. Sam, Sasan and Habib were sentenced to serve one year in prison, after which the Khosravi brothers must also serve two years in internal exile. In January 2021 an appeals court upheld their custodial sentences on the grounds that the men are indeed guilty of 'organisation of house-churches and promotion of Christianity, which are clear examples of propaganda against the state' [see RLPB 584 (10 Feb 2021)]. At that time, Sam and his wife Maryam were also fighting to retain custody of their special needs daughter Lydia (2), whom they adopted from an orphanage as an infant. Because Lydia was 'born Muslim' and Sam and Maryam are Christian, the court deemed them unfit to raise her [see RLPB 571 (14 Oct 2020)]. Their struggle continues. Sasan and Habib began their prison terms on 8 February but were furloughed in March, doubtless due to the stress COVID-19 was inflicting on the prison system. On 11 November Sasan and Habib returned to Bushehr Central Prison to complete their sentences.

Zaman (Saheb) Fadaie (40)
with his wife Marjan and daughter Martha (15),
during a 15-day leave from prison in September 2021.

Meanwhile, Zaman (Saheb) Fadaie (40) - imprisoned since July 2018 - was recently informed that he has been denied parole for a second time. Saheb - whose 10-year sentence was reduced to six years on appeal - was surprised because he had not even applied for parole. Incarcerated in Tehran's Evin Prison, Saheb has consistently refused to apply for conditional release because, as Article 18 explains, he cannot accept the conditions of release; specifically the condition that he have no further involvement with a house-church. The conditions for those charged under the amended Article 500 are even worse, including no contact with 'sect' members in the 'real or virtual sphere' (i.e. in person or on-line; so as to prevent 'mind control' and 'psychological indoctrination'). Saheb Fadaie is one of three Persian Christians currently serving long prison sentences for their membership of a house church who have written a joint letter and recorded video statements, asking the authorities where they should worship once they are released. For, while Armenian and Assyrian Christians are permitted to meet for Christian worship, they are not permitted worship in the Persian/Farsi language or welcome Persian converts into their fellowship. Consequently, Persian converts have no choice but to meet in secret house-churches which the regime has banned as 'sects' and 'enemy groups'.

In support of the prisoners, several Christian advocacy groups have co-authored an open letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet. Dated 9 November 2021, the letter requests the High Commissioner seek answers from the Iranian regime to the question of 'where Persian-speaking Christians can gather to worship freely without risking harassment and imprisonment on excessive charges.' As the letter explains: 'In 2020 alone, there were at least 115 known separate instances of the authorities targeting Christians for the peaceful exercise of their religious belief in which a total of 237 individuals were targeted, and combined prison sentences of 147 years (1,760 months) were handed down. So far in 2021, at least 53 Christians have been arrested, and many more await imminent court hearings. At present, at least 17 Christians targeted on account of the peaceful practice of their religious belief are serving sentences of between two to 10 years. Two more are in state-ordered internal exile, having already spent years in prison.' That number no doubt includes Morteza Mashhoudkari, Ayoub PourRezazade and Ahmad Sarparast, three Persian converts arrested in Rasht at around 10pm on the night of Sunday 5 September - two from a prayer group and one from their home. Their whereabouts remain unknown.

You can read the full text of the letter and sign the petition HERE:  https://articleeighteen.com/news/9587/


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* comfort and sustain Iranian believers - men and women - who are imprisoned, exiled or awaiting trial simply for exercising their Christian faith through prayer, worship and witness; may their Almighty Father protect them; may Christ the Good Shepherd lead them and supply their needs; and may the ever-present Holy Spirit draw them into prayer and fill them with 'the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding' so as to guard their hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (from Philippians 4:3-7). 'But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head' (Psalm 3:3 ESV).

'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body' (Hebrews 13:3 ESV).

* 'carry' Sam, Maryam and Lydia safely into a secure and settled future where they can live as a family to the glory of God. 'Behold, the Lord God comes with might... He will tend his flock like a shepherd... he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young' (from Isaiah 40:10-11 ESV).

* continue to build his Church in Iran (Matthew 16:18); in this, we pray especially for Christ's rapidly growing Church of Persian converts; may their testimony of liberation, transformation, salvation and redemption ensure Christ's light will shine ever brighter until Iran's darkness is no more.

* break through and demolish every stronghold in and over the nation of Iran: having loosened Islam's spiritual grip over the people, may God now break Islam's political grip over the nation - for the glory of Christ, AMEN!

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIANS REPRESSED, PERSECUTED AND JAILED IN IRAN

In May, Persian converts, Amin Khaki, Milad Goodarzi and Alireza Nourmohammadi, were sentenced to five years in prison for 'engaging in propaganda that educates in a deviant way contrary to the holy religion of Islam'. The sentences were reduced to three years on appeal. The men entered prison on 10 November. In June 2020, brothers Sam and Sasan Khosravi and Habib Heydari were among seven Iranian Christians sentenced for 'propaganda against the Islamic Republic by promoting Christianity'. Furloughed from prison after a month (due to COVID-19) Sasan and Habib recommenced their prison terms on 11 November. Meanwhile, Sam and Maryam continue the struggle to retain custody of their adopted daughter, Lydia (2), after the court deemed them (as Christians) 'unfit' to raise her. Please pray for the Church in Iran.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Research 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