Tuesday, March 30, 2021

RLPB 591. March 2021 Update, Incl. Burma (Myanmar), Algeria, Armenia-Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 591 | Wed 31 Mar 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to “Follow by email” on the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog. ‘For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds’ (2 Corinthians 10:4 ESV). 

EASTER: DEEP TRAUMA; GREAT EXPECTATION

The Easter season provides the perfect paradigm for strategic intercessory prayer for the persecuted Church. Intercessors bury themselves in the suffering of God's people precisely so they might fight for them in prayer. However, though our prayers involve lament and more often than not tears, we do not pray as those who have no hope! Precisely because God has promised, Christ has risen and the Holy Spirit has come, we can be assured that the horror of persecution and the agony of what seems like divine silence, will ultimately be overtaken by joy and praise as God's purposes unfold and his promises are fulfilled. In Jesus Christ all the promises of God are 'Yes'; which is why we can say 'Amen' (so be it) (2 Corinthians 1:20) to prayers prayed in hopeful anticipation and then watch for the answer with great expectation.

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly (NIV) / watch (ESV) / keep watch (Hebrew: sapa) (Psalm 5:3).

DIARY

Western Easter (Catholic and Protestant): Friday 2 to Sunday 4 April.

Ramadan (Muslim month of fasting): 12/13 April to 12 May.

Eastern Easter (Orthodox): Friday 30 April to Sunday 2 May.

Please pray!

All four devotions from Easter 2020: Prayer Fuel from the Servant Songs of Isaiah (pdf)

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MARCH 2021 UPDATE
By Elizabeth Kendal

DURING THIS PERIOD, WE PRAYED CONCERNING:

click on map to enlarge.

* BURMA (MYANMAR), where Christians are imperilled [RLPB 587 (3 March)] now the Tatmadaw (Burmese military) - which has raped, killed, displaced, plundered and terrorised Christians for decades - has seized power in a military coup and where a 'Christian Crisis Looms' [RLPB 590 (24 March)] as the front-line moves outwards, from the Burman-dominated centre to the ethnic minority periphery. In the east, the Karen (including Karenni) are around 40 percent Christian, while in the north and west the Kachin and Chin are predominantly Christian. Burma's Christians are mostly Baptist, the legacy of American Baptist pioneer missionary Adoniram Judson (1788-1850).

BURMA UPDATE

ON THE GROUND: At 6am on Thursday 25 March, anti-coup protesters were preparing sandbags in Hpa-an (the capital of Burma's eastern Karen/Kayin State) when security forces swept in and cleared the streets using stun grenades, rubber bullets and live ammunition. Two young male Karen were shot and seriously wounded. Military violence was also unleashed in Taunggyi (the capital of Shan State, also in the east) and in Mawlamyine (the capital of Mon State, in the southeast). On Sunday 28 March more than 100 people were killed as the Tatmadaw moved to put down protests in several cities across the country, including Hpakant, the jade-mining hub in Kachin State (in the north). An ethnic Chin woman, Ah Khu (38) - a leader of civil society group 'Women for Justice' - was killed in the north-western Sagaing Region.

In scenes reminiscent of Omar al-Bashir's 
war in Sudan's Nuba Mountains,
Karen civilians are sheltering in 
 caves to escape aerial bombardment.
photo: Free Burma Rangers 

FROM THE SKY: On Saturday morning 27 March, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) seized control of a hilltop outpost formerly held by the Tatmadaw, killing 10 and capturing eight Burmese soldiers in the process. That afternoon, Karen villagers in Papun District noticed Burmese military aircraft encircling overhead. The first reprisal came at between 8:20 and 8:30pm when four bombs were dropped on the Day Pu No village area, just seven miles from the border with Thailand. This was followed by a second bombardment between 1am and 2am. Free Burma Rangers reports that three villagers were killed and six wounded, and that more than 2500 have fled their homes and are now hiding in the jungle. A civilian was also killed by an artillery shell in a punitive attack against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Hpakant, Kachin State, after KIA troops seized control of several strategic outposts. Ongoing aerial bombardment in Karen State has forced more than 12,000 people to flee their homes and hide in the jungle. Please pray.

* ALGERIA [RLPB 588 (10 March)], a fragile state within which rages an intense spiritual battle. On 21 January poultry farmer Hamid (43) - a Christian convert, married with four young children - was tried for blasphemy because of a cartoon he naively re-posted some three years earlier. For this, Hamid was handed the maximum punishment of five years in prison. On 27 February Pastor Rachid Seighir and Nouh Hamimi were convicted in absentia of 'proselytising'. Both were fined and sentenced to two years in prison.

UPDATE: On 22 March an appeals court in Oran upheld Hamid's five-year sentence. His lawyer, Farid Khemisti had expected the sentence would be greatly reduced. 'I expected at the worst, six months in prison,' he said. Khemisti is weighing-up whether to appeal to a court of cassation or to the supreme court. He is convinced Hamid only received the maximum penalty because he is a convert to Christianity. Please pray. Meanwhile, Pastor Rachid Seighir and Nouh Hamimi (who managed Pastor Seighir's Christian bookshop in Oran) will have their appeals heard on Sunday 18 April. Please pray.

* ETHIOPIA [RLPB 589 (17 March)], where massacres of Orthodox Christian ethnic Amhara - seemingly with the complicity of Oromo ethnic-nationalists inside the Oromia regional government, police and security forces - continue unabated in Oromia Region. Tensions will continue to escalate as parliamentary elections, scheduled for 5 June, approach. Please pray.


MARCH 2021 ROUND-UP - also this month:

* ARMENIA-AZERBAIJAN: NEW WAR LOOMS

War looms over Syunik

Azerbaijan held massive military drills from 15 to 18 March with the stated aim of preparing Azeri troops to wage war in mountainous wooded areas. In response, Armenia staged its own military drills from 16 to 20 March. The escalation comes a mere month after Turkey and Azerbaijan held massive joint military exercises near the city of Kars in eastern Anatolia, close to the border with Armenia. During that time, Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev accused Armenia of 'obstructing the creation of the Zankezur corridor', adding, 'they will not succeed; we will force them'. Aliyev also claimed that 'Zankezur' - the Azeri name for Armenia's southernmost province of Syunik - is 'a historic territory of Azerbaijan'. Aliyev's claim has raised alarm in Armenia. Furthermore, the Russia-brokered agreement signed on 9 November 2020 makes no mention of a 'corridor' through Syunik. [The term 'corridor' implies a degree of sovereignty.] It states only that Armenia will guarantee the safety of transport and the unimpeded movement of Azeri citizens between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. Armenians suspect Aliyev is looking for a pretext to go to war over Syunik. Please pray.

NOTE: Back in 2012, Stratfor Worldview explained (while using the Azeri name for the Armenian province!) the strategic importance of 'Zangezur' (i.e. Syunik): 'Whoever controls the Zangezur Corridor can project power into the Turkish sphere of influence in Anatolia, the Russian sphere of influence in the intra-Caucasus and directly into the Persian core territories... Although Turkey, Russia and Iran have not paid much attention to the Zangezur Corridor in recent years, they are certain to revisit the Zangezur issue in time.' Armenians fear that time may have arrived.

* INDONESIA: CHURCH BOMBED IN MAKASSAR, SOUTH SULAWESI

On Sunday 28 March, a newly married young couple rode their motorbike to the entrance gates of  Makassar’s Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral. When the church security guard declined to let them through, they detonated their explosives, killing themselves and wounding at least 20 church officials and members, many critically. According to Cathedral pastor, Wilhelmus Tulak, it was 10:30am, the Palm Sunday worship service had just finished, and people were mingling outside when the explosion occurred. Police arrive to find shrapnel and body parts strewn across the church compound and street. President Widodo immediately instructed the police to increase security at churches over the Easter season. Police suspect the bombers were members of Islamic State-aligned Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD). Please pray.

CONCERNING CHURCH SECURITY

Western Christians sometimes complain about all the various rosters they are required to be on in order to keep their church running smoothly: morning tea, welcoming, cleaning, lawn mowing, maintenance, technical etc. Before ever complaining again, we should all give a thought to Christians in Indonesia, Egypt, Pakistan, Iraq, Nigeria and elsewhere, who must contemplate having their name on the security roster that will require them to stand guard at the gate. The guard does not have to bake or sweep or put on a smile or push a mower through wet grass. He does however need to be prepared to tackle a suicide bomber or gunman to the ground, and in doing so, courageously and selflessly give his life that his Christian brothers and sisters might live. Please pray that God would foil every evil plot to bring terror and grief to churches this Easter. May God bless and protect every father, husband and son serving on a church security roster this Easter season.

* IRAN: COUPLE SUMMONED TO PRISON

Homayoun Zhaveh (62) with wife, Sara Ahmadi (42).
Christian converts Homayoun Zhaveh (62) and his wife Sara Ahmadi (42) have been summoned to begin their prison sentences for belonging to a house church. The couple were first arrested in June 2019. They were imprisoned initially in Sari, near Amol on the Caspian Sea coast, where they were holidaying with friends, and then in Evin Prison in Tehran. Homayoun was released after a month, but because Sara is alleged to have a leadership role, she was held for 67 days (includes 33 days in solitary confinement) during which time she was subjected to severe psychological abuse. In November 2020 Homayoun was sentenced to two years' prison for house church membership, while Sara was sentenced to 11 years due to her alleged leadership role. On 30 December Sara's prison term was reduced to eight years in prison on appeal. The couple received the summons on 19 March and were given just days to report to the prison. Grave concerns are held for Homayoun's health, for he suffers from advanced Parkinson's disease which, apart from anything else, will render him exceedingly vulnerable to COVID-19 in prison. Expressing dismay and indignation that a house church could be construed as an 'illegal organisation', their lawyer has requested a retrial. Please pray.

* KAZAKHSTAN: CHURCH AT RISK

Christian charity Open Doors (OD) reported on 15 March that Kazakh authorities with the Astana city police have charged the 400-member Shanyrak Church with insulting the feelings of Muslims, after individual members allegedly made negative comments about the Muslim community. As the pastor notes: 'This is a very serious charge with difficult, big consequences ... Our goal is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ without blaming or judging others. Today, we were called by the police and city hall. It is not yet clear [when] it will all end. The worst possible scenario is that the church will be closed, and several people may be jailed. Now a lawyer is helping us in this process.' Please pray.

For a very helpful and truly beautiful short video (4:33 mins) see: ‘Prayercast Video: KAZAKHSTAN’ (Aug 2017). 

* SRI LANKA: ANTI-CONVERSION LAW LOOMS

On Monday 22 March Sri Lanka's multi-faith International Religious Freedom Round-table sent a letter to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, urging him to abandon the planned introduction of anti-conversion legislation. Signed by 36 religious dignitaries, the letter affirms the fundamental human right of freedom of conscience on matters of faith and religion, while denouncing unethical conversion through force and violence. It also points out that anti-conversion laws are notoriously ambiguous, giving emboldened intolerant elements a weapon they can use against religious minorities for doing nothing other than worshipping together, sharing their faith, or performing charitable works. According to the Ministry of Buddhasasana, Religious, and Cultural Affairs, which is drafting the legislation, complaints are on the rise, especially against 'Born Again Christians'. The Church has grounds to be alarmed. In February 2020 PM Mahinda Rajapaksa signalled his intention to revisit the issue of anti-conversion legislation when he identified the conversion of 'traditional Buddhist families to other religions' as one of the greatest 'threats facing the Sinhala Buddhist Nation' [see RLPB 544, 'Easter Devotion and Prayer for Sri Lanka,' (8 April 2020)]. 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 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

RLPB 590. Burma (Myanmar): Christian Crisis Looms

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 590 | Wed 24 Mar 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to “Follow by email” on the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog. ‘For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds’ (2 Corinthians 10:4 ESV). 


BURMA (MYANMAR): CHRISTIAN CRISIS LOOMS

as front-line moves outwards, from Burman-dominated centre to ethnic minority periphery.
By Elizabeth Kendal

click on map to enlarge

Burma is hurtling towards a very risky, high-stakes, civil war. The junta is digging in and the toll of civilians killed, injured and arrested is soaring. Despite this, a defiant population steadfastly refuses to surrender to military rule. These are days of great danger and opportunity for Burma's long-persecuted ethnic Chin, Kachin and Karen who comprise most of Burma's nearly nine percent Christian minority.

On Saturday 13 March the appointed acting head of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw / Union Parliament (CRPH; a parallel government of elected MPs), Mahn Win Khaing Than, delivered a speech on Facebook in which he called for Burma's long-persecuted ethnic groups to join the 'revolution' to 'form a federal democracy' and 'end the dictatorship for good'. Few ethnic Burman have ever cared about the plight of Burma's ethnic-religious minorities as they suffered for decades under the Tatmadaw's (Burmese military's) jackboot. Yet, as Aljazeera notes, 'Public opinion appears to be changing. Apologies to ethnic minorities have proliferated on social media, while calls are growing for the establishment of a federal army to protect the people and overthrow the military regime.' While suspicions remain, 'In a sense,' as Burma expert Benedict Rogers notes, 'the coup is a leveller. Whether you are Burman or Rohingya, Karen or Kachin, you face the same enemy now.'

Two of the most powerful ethnic armed organisations (EAOs) - the mostly Christian and Christian-led Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and Kachin Independence Army (KIA) - have supported the pro-democracy protesters from the outset. Whilst stating their preference for 'peaceful negotiation', they have vowed to protect 'all the people of our country'. Not only are these EAOs stepping in to protect protesters, but ethnic states are providing sanctuary to imperilled activists - including members of the CRPH - and facilitating their escape into safe havens in Mizoram, India (via Chin State in the west) and in Thailand (via Karen and Karenni States in the east; renamed by the junta as Kayin and Kayah State respectively). Currently more than 1000 people - strike leaders, government officials and police deserters - are sheltering on the Thai border under the protection of the Karen National Union (KNU).

Karen Villagers on the Run 
Free Burma Rangers, 17 Feb 2021

In retaliation for the KNU's support for the resistance, the Tatmadaw has been shelling villages in Karen State. In recent weeks, some 8000 ethnic Karen have been driven from their homes, forced into the jungle without food, medical aid or shelter. Meanwhile, armed confrontations erupted on 11 March between the Tatmadaw and the KIA in resource-rich Kachin State (in the north, bordering China) as the junta moves to secure its economic assets, in particular its jade mines in Hpakant and amber mines in Tanai. Conflict has also erupted in N'Jang Yang (Injangyang; a township on the northern outskirts of the capital Myitkyina) and at the site of the suspended Myitsone Dam, a China-junta project which would dam the Irrawaddy to produce hydro-electric power for sale to China. Driven from their homes and farms, displaced Kachin civilians are taking refuge in churches, monasteries and church-run camps. A humanitarian crisis looms.

An ethnic Chin woman named Lianzuali (34)
 lies dead after soldiers raid the 6th floor office of charity
We Love Yangon, Sunday 21 March 2021.

A day after Mahn Win Khaing Than's Facebook speech, the worst violence seen so far erupted in Hlaing Tharyar (Hlaingthaya), a large and densely populated industrial township on the western edge of Yangon. Two Chinese-owned garment factories were torched with Chinese staff trapped inside. China responded, insisting the junta take 'effective measures' to restore order and threatening that 'China might be forced into taking more drastic action to protect its interests'. Between 14 and 18 March, at least 74 people were killed (40 on Sunday 14th alone) and multitudes wounded, many seriously, while a total of 32 Chinese-invested factories were vandalised or torched. Martial law has been declared; thousands have fled. The attacks on Chinese citizens and interests raises the stakes considerably, for it gives non-interfering China grounds to intervene in defence of its own citizens. Many are deeply suspicious, questioning how anyone could have torched a Chinese-invested factory when they are so heavily guarded. Many suspect a 'false flag', i.e., that Burmese soldiers may have torched the factories to draw China into the fray.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* YAHWEH SABAOTH (the Lord of Hosts, the commander of Heaven's angelic armies) will protect, preserve, sustain, vindicate and glorify his precious Church in Burma.

* JEHOVAH JIREH (God our provider) will provide the Church's needs (such as food, medicines, shelter, security) and fill every Christian leader with 'the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so [they might] walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy ...' (excerpt from Colossians 1:9-14 ESV)

* GOD OUR REDEEMER will intervene to break the chains of military and spiritual oppression and pave the way for Burma to establish itself as a free, open and democratic federation ... for the sake of the Church and all Burma's 'harassed and helpless... sheep without a shepherd' (Matthew 9: 35-37).

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
------------------------------------------
CHRISTIAN CRISIS LOOMS IN BURMA (MYANMAR)

Most of Burma's nine percent Christian minority hail from the long-persecuted Chin, Kachin and Karen ethnic minorities. From the outset, Kachin and Karen ethnic armies have been protecting protesters and providing sanctuary to Burman resistance leaders and elected MPs and facilitating their escape to India (via Chin State) and Thailand (via Karen State). The Burmese military is retaliating by shelling Karen villages, driving some 8000 Karen into the jungle. Furthermore, the Burmese military has opened a front in resource-rich Kachin State to protect its economic interests there. Thousands of displaced Kachin are now sheltering in churches, monasteries and church-run camps. A humanitarian crisis looms. Not only is the front-line moving outwards from the Burman-dominated centre to the ethnic minority periphery, but China is threatening 'drastic action to protect its interests'. Please pray.

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

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, March 16, 2021

RLPB 589. Ethiopia: Pivotal Elections; Church Massacre.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 589 | Wed 17 Mar 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to “Follow by email” on the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog.  ‘For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds’ (2 Corinthians 10:4 ESV). 

ETHIOPIA: PIVOTAL ELECTIONS; CHURCH MASSACRE
plus Update Burma (Myanmar)
By Elizabeth Kendal

PM Dr Abiy Ahmed

Ethiopians will go to the polls on 5 June. It is no exaggeration to say that the future of Ethiopia hangs in the balance. Two diametrically opposed visions are in play: Prime Minister Dr Abiy's vision of a strong, united, multi-ethnic, multi-religious Ethiopia versus the dream of ethno-nationalists who would dismantle Ethiopia along ethnic lines. The leading proponents of ethno-nationalism are the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF; a Marxist body) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF; officially secular but dominated by Muslims, many of whom are radical Islamists). NOTE: the TPLF and OLF are organisations; they do not represent all Tigreans nor all Oromo. Many (if not most) Tigreans and Oromo are committed Ethiopians. After all, a strong, united, prosperous Ethiopia would not merely be a blessing to all Ethiopians, but to Africans across the whole Horn and Red Sea region. On the other hand, whilst ethno-nationalism might empower some, it would trigger widespread ethnic cleansing of minorities and gross insecurity nationwide. Those most at risk are the mostly Orthodox Christian ethnic Amhara, multitudes of whom have long lived as ethnic minorities outside of Amhara State [see RLPB 576, 'Collapse Would Trigger Christian Crisis' (18 Nov 2020)].

click on map to enlarge

In his 2018 book Sovereignty, strategic analyst Gregory Copley contends that by the second decade of the 21st Century, due primarily to the rise of the electronic age, Information Dominance (ID) was becoming 'the primary war-fighting strategic weapon of aspirant powers'. And just as ID has become an essential element of warfare, so too has ID become an essential element of politics. To that end (information/perception dominance), the TPLF-funded Tigray Media House (based in Washington, DC) and Jawar Mohammed's Oromia Media Network (based in Saint Paul, Minnesota) have been pumping out press releases designed to legitimise and advance their ethno-nationalist agenda in the US and internationally. Not only are the TPLF and OLF cooperating with each other to advance their shared ethno-nationalist agenda, but hostile foreign powers that stand to gain from a destabilised Ethiopia - e.g. Egypt [see RLPB 560 (29 July 2020)], the Sudanese military/deep state, al-Qaeda, Islamic State [see RLPB 520 (18 Sep 2019)] - are supporting the TPLF and OLF to that end, exploiting the crisis for their own gain. The situation is truly diabolical.

NEW ATTACKS: Since 6 March at least 42 people - mostly Amhara Christians - have been slaughtered in various kebeles (districts) in Horo Guduru Welega zone, in the west of Oromia Regional State. In one attack, dozens of Amhara Christians were gathered at their Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church on Saturday 6 March, to welcome in the season of Lent, when gunmen stormed the church and shot the pastor dead. Twenty-eight Christians, of whom 21 were women (some holding babies), were then taken into the Gerji forest and slaughtered. The Oromia regional government and Police Commission have blamed the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), specifically the militant faction known as 'Shane group'. However, in a statement to media the OLA strongly denied any involvement: 'We would like to reiterate that our forces are absolutely not responsible,' it said. 'We once again suggest you reach out to the residents of Horo Guduru and ask them who Faqadaa Abdiisaa is and who sent him and his militia into Horo Guduru.' Whoever is responsible, it seems they had received intelligence alerting them to the fact that security forces were vacating the area; for as soon as the security forces left, the militants swept in for the kill. Many suspect that OLF sympathisers within the Oromia regional government, police and security forces are complicit in the Oromo ethno-nationalist violence targeting Amhara Christians across the region.

images and victim list (from Amhara Awareness)


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 grace our brother Prime Minister Abiy with wisdom and strength as he seeks to lead the people into a whole new era of covenanted unity, peace and prosperity.

May it be that God has given Dr Abiy the role of PM, 'for such a time as this' (Esther 4:14).

* protect, rescue, comfort and sustain Ethiopian Christians displaced by and/or caught up in the crisis in Tigray and the insecurity in Oromia; by the power of the Holy Spirit may they demonstrate grace in the midst of terror, hope in the midst of insecurity and, in the midst of uncertainty, trust in God; may all suffering be redeemed for the glory of God.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
------------------------------------------
PIVOTAL ELECTIONS & CHURCH MASSACRE IN ETHIOPIA

Ethiopians will go to the polls on 5 June. The polls will pit those striving for a strong, united, multi-ethnic, multi-religious Ethiopia versus ethno-nationalists (particularly those of the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Oromo Liberation Front) who would dismantle Ethiopia along ethnic lines. Incited by their power-hungry leaders, militant ethno-nationalists are already killing ethnic minorities, most of whom are ethnic Amhara Christians. On 6 March, gunmen stormed a church in western Oromia State and killed the 29 ethnic Amhara Orthodox Christians who had gathered to welcome in the season of Lent. The killings began in early 2018 after Prime Minister Abiy - a committed Ethiopian and Protestant Christian - enacted reforms to end TPLF hegemony and ethno-nationism. This is a battle for the very soul and future of Ethiopia. Please pray.

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UPDATE BURMA (Myanmar)

Dr Sasa

As noted in RLPB 587 (3 March), the ousted government (CRPH) has appointed Dr Sasa - an inspirational, highly regarded ethnic Chin and Christian - as its special envoy to the United Nations. On Tuesday 16 March the junta officially charged Dr Sasa with treason. Writing from a secure location overseas, Dr Sasa responded: 'Today, I am proud to have been charged with treason by the military junta - because treason against the junta means that I am standing with the people of Myanmar, giving my life for their freedom, for federal democracy and for justice. In my life, I have witnessed the torture, forced labour, intimidation, rape and killing of my people by the same military Generals who today have accused me of high treason. These military Generals are the ones who today are ordering the army to kill unarmed civilians on streets across the country. [. . .] It is the Generals, the military junta who are the ones who should be charged with high treason and crimes against humanity, with ethnic cleansing and genocide. Every day we are collecting evidence of their crimes and we will not rest until we bring them to justice. . .' Please pray for our brother Dr Sasa: for safety, for wisdom and that God might use him for his divine purpose.

To read Dr Sasa's statement in its entirety, see:
https://www.facebook.com/DrSasa22222/ 

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

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, March 9, 2021

RLPB 588. Algeria: Fragile State; Intense Spiritual Struggle

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 588 | Wed 10 Mar 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to “Follow by email” on the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog. ‘For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds’ (2 Corinthians 10:4 ESV). 

ALGERIA: FRAGILE STATE: INTENSE SPIRITUAL STRUGGLE
by Elizabeth Kendal

click on map to enlarge

On 27 February officials in Oran - a coastal city some 420km west of Algiers - paid a visit to the Oratoire (place of worship) church. They came bearing a notice informing Pastor Rachid Seighir and Nouh Hamimi (a salesman in Seighir's Christian bookstore) that they had both been fined 500,000 Algerian dinars (almost three times the average monthly salary in Algeria) and sentenced to two years in prison for 'agitating the faith of Muslims' in violation of Presidential Order 06-03 (March 2006) which 'fixes the conditions and rules for the exercise of religious worship other than Muslim'. Article 11.2 of Order 06-03 prescribes a criminal penalty of a fine and between two and five years in prison upon anyone who 'makes, stores, or distributes printed documents or audio-visual productions ... [intended] to shake the faith of a Muslim'. As nobody was at the church, the officials simply slipped the notification under the door.

This is merely the latest round in a long-running struggle that commenced in 2008 when Pastor Seighir was charged with the same offence only to be acquitted on appeal. In 2017 officials raided Pastor Seighir's Christian bookstore, seizing literature and property. Subsequently, the governor (wali) of Oran Province ordered the bookstore be closed. Pastor Seighir appealed and, in April 2018, the court overruled, deeming the governor's closure order invalid. Regardless, the governor kept the bookshop closed. In May 2019, after another appeal, the court ordered the bookstore be unsealed and permitted to reopen. Yet again, the governor refused to comply. In October 2019 the Administrative Court not only ordered the bookstore be unsealed and re-opened, it also ordered that compensation be paid to the owner. Despite repeated court orders, the governor has never yielded to the court. Consequently, the bookshop has been sealed shut for four years. Furthermore, Pastor Seighir continues the struggle to obtain registration for his church as required by Order 06-03. It is not enough that Oratoire is affiliated with the Protestant Church of Algeria umbrella body (l'Eglise Protestante d'Algerie or EPA), an organisation founded in 1974 and officially recognised in 2011. According to Order 06-03, each church building must obtain its own registration; something no church has been granted since the law came into force.

 Pastor Rachid Seighir, and Oratoire church, Oran, Algeria. 

BLASPHEMY: Hamid (34) is a poultry farmer in El-Ayaida, 34km east of Oran city in Oran Province. Married with four children, (ages 6, 4 and 3 years, and an infant aged 4 months), Hamid has known Jesus since 2001. In 2018, Hamid shared a caricature of Muhammad on his Facebook account. On 20 January 2021 police took Hamid into custody and questioned him over the 2018 Facebook post. After viewing a screenshot of the post, supplied by Algeria's cyber-crime unit, the prosecutor recommended that Hamid be charged with insulting Islam's prophet. In the trial which took place the very next day, the court found Hamid guilty and sentenced him to the maximum punishment: five years in prison. Pastor Seighir attended the trial and is certain that in posting the image, Hamid had merely acted naively, without malice. 'It is a tragedy for us and for his family,' he lamented. Hamid will appeal the sentence. Middle East Concern also reports that two Christians converts from the Kabylie area were also recently convicted of blasphemy. They received fines and prison sentences of six months and three years respectively.

ELECTIONS -- slated for June 2021

POLITICS: Protests erupted on 22 February 2019 ahead of pivotal presidential election scheduled for April. Within weeks, the military had switched sides, opting to sacrifice the incapacitated four-term President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (82) while keeping the deep state in place. The election was postponed. Still not satisfied, Hirak (movement) protests continued each week, beyond the sham election in December 2019, until March 2020 when COVID-19 put everything on pause [see RLPB 531, Algeria: Persecution, Protests and Promise (4 Dec 2019)]. Despite all President Tebboune's efforts at appeasement, protests resumed on 22 February 2021 as Algerians continue to demand systemic structural change.

Persecution - mostly in the form of shuttering churches - escalated markedly in the years leading up to the pivotal April 2019 elections as the regime persisted with its two-pronged strategy: feign reform to win favour and legitimacy at the UN and throughout the West, while playing the Islam card and repressing Christianity to win favour and legitimacy among the Muslim majority at home. However, it is a game the regime no longer needs to play. For like the UN, the West is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Not only is Algeria integral to the Chinese Communist Party's Belt & Road Initiative, but Chinese investment is integral to the Algerian regime's 'New Algeria' dream. Fortunately, as Jayson Casper reports for Christianity Today (CT, 22 February), Algeria's Protestant leaders know where to place their faith. As Salah Chalah, president of the EPA, told CT: 'We love our country and we regularly pray for its prosperity... I would like to ask all Christians in the world to continue to pray for us.'

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* intervene on behalf of Pastor Rachid Seighir, salesman Nouh Hamimi and poultry farmer Hamid as they appeal the charges and sentences handed to them: may their families be sustained; may their lawyers have wisdom; may the appeals court rule fairly and may all charges be dropped. May God redeem this stressful situation to the benefit of his Church and to the glory of Christ.

* turn the heart of Messaoud Djari, the Governor (wali) of Oran Province since August 2020, that he will lean towards tolerance and acceptance and cease the persecution of Oran's Oratoire church and Christian bookstore.

The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will. (Proverbs 21:1 ESV)

* mercifully intervene in Algeria, a fragile state harbouring deep spiritual conflict; may he turn the heart of President Abdelmadjid Tebboune that he will lean towards tolerance and openness; may Presidential Order 06-03 be amended or repealed so that the Gospel of Peace may be freely shared throughout the land, from the coast to the mountains to the deserts and beyond.

Please pray that the Lord Jesus Christ will continue to build his Church in Algeria (Matthew 16:18).

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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ALGERIA: FRAGILE STATE; INTENSE SPIRITUAL STRUGGLE

Algeria's Presidential Order 06-03 [March 2006] regulates 'religious worship other than Muslim'. It mandates that buildings used for non-Muslim worship must be registered with the authorities. To date, not a single church has been granted registration. Article 11.2 of Order 06-03 criminalises the making, storing or distribution of any material intended to 'shake the faith of a Muslim'. On 27 February authorities in Oran notified Pastor Rachid Seighir of Oratoire (place of worship) church, and Nouh Hamimi, a salesman in Seighir's Christian bookstore, that they had been fined and sentenced to two years' jail for breaching Article 11.2 of Order 06-03. Weeks earlier a convert named Hamid (34, married with 4 young children) was charged with blasphemy and sentenced to five years' jail over a Facebook post from 2018. 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 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

RLPB 587. Burma (Myanmar): Christians Imperilled.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 587 | Wed 03 Mar 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to “Follow by email” on the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog‘For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds’ (2 Corinthians 10:4 ESV). 


BURMA (MYANMAR): CHRISTIANS IMPERILLED
Also update on Ibrahim Firouzi, Iran.
By Elizabeth Kendal

Kachin villagers and internally-displaced people
in church in Myitkyina, Kachin State, May 2018
source WSJ, Photo: Ye Aung Thu

As Christian charity Open Doors rightly notes, the military takeover in Burma (Myanmar) will greatly 'exaggerate existing vulnerabilities for Myanmar's Christian minority'. Christians comprise around six percent of the population; most are Protestant, mainly Baptist (1.7 million, mainly ethnic Karen, Kachin and Chin, the legacy of pioneer missionary Adoniram Judson) - along with some 750,000 Catholics. 

While the crackdown against anti-coup protesters in the major ethnic-Burman and Buddhist cities of Yangon (Rangoon) and Mandalay is being widely reported by mainstream media, the situation throughout the periphery - in Burma's ethnic minority states (where most of the country's Christians live) - remains, as ever, dark. It is in these ethnic minority states that the military (Tatmadaw) has long committed its worst crimes - bombing, burning and strafing villages; killing, torturing and raping civilians; plundering, exploiting, trafficking and abusing - all with impunity. The inhumane barbarity with which the Tatmadaw commits these crimes against civilians is the product of its covetous greed and its Burman-Buddhist ethnic-religious supremacism.

Sister Nu Thawng (more images)

Anti-coup protesters in the heavily militarised northern and predominantly Christian Kachin State have reportedly been beaten, shot with rubber bullets and arrested. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is deeply concerned that troops have invaded towns and severed transport routes, making it even more difficult to get aid to some 100,000 displaced Kachin. Burma expert Benedict Rogers commented on 1 March that among the many images to haunt him, that of SFX (St Francis Xavier) Sister Nu Thawng in Myitkyina, Kachin State, tearfully kneeling before police begging them not to shoot the protesters, stood out the most.

In Karen State (around 30 percent Christian) some 5000 Christians are currently displaced in the jungle due to the Tatmadaw destroying at least 23 villages over the past two months. In a report published on 7 February, David Eubank, founder of the Free Burma Rangers, commented that the Karen feel that 'their own lives haven't changed: they were attacked before the coup and they are being attacked now after the coup'. Karen News reports (mid-February) that the Burmese Army has blocked access to humanitarian aid.

The ousted government has formed the 'Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw [Assembly of the Union: i.e., parliament]' (CRPH). Significantly, as Benedict Rogers writes, the CRPH has appointed Dr Sasa, an inspirational, highly regarded ethnic Chin and Christian, as its special envoy to the United Nations. 'Suddenly,' writes Rogers, '[Dr Sasa] has been catapulted into national prominence. As Rogers rightly notes, this is 'both exciting and dangerous'.

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For a post with more political detail and context, see:
Military Coup Leaves Burma’s Christian Peoples Gravely Imperilled
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 3 March 2021
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PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL

* intervene in Burma (Myanmar) to redeem this crisis for his glory; may the Tatmadaw (Burmese military) be restrained and its power limited; may Burma's peoples unite around their desire for peace, justice, liberty and respect.

* embolden his Church to 'utter what is precious' and thus 'be as [the Lord's] mouth' in the midst of this crisis (from Jeremiah 15:15-21). May the Lord - who breaks through enemies like a breaking flood (2 Samuel 5:17-21) - open the way for the Church to receive all the humanitarian aid she requires; may many fearful, confused and needy people find Jesus in the midst of this storm (see Matthew 14:22-33).

* accompany and protect our brother Dr Sasa, and fill him with wisdom, discernment and courage as he represents Burma's (Myanmar's) elected government and citizens on the international stage.

'God loves importunate [persistent] prayer so much that He will not give us much blessing without it.' (Adoniram Judson, 1788-1850; pioneer missionary to Burma).

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIANS IMPERILLED IN BURMA (MYANMAR)

The crackdown against anti-coup protesters in the mostly Burman-Buddhist cities of Yangon (Rangoon) and Mandalay is being widely reported by mainstream media. However, the situation in Burma's ethnic minority states - where most of the country's Christians live - remains dark. Yet it is in these ethnic minority states that the Tatmadaw (Burmese military) has long committed its worst crimes - bombing and burning villages; killing, torturing and raping civilians - with impunity. The barbarity with which the Tatmadaw commits these crimes is the product of its covetous greed and its Burman-Buddhist ethnic-religious supremacism. The coup leaves Burma's long-persecuted Karen, Kachin and Chin Christians gravely imperilled. Meanwhile, the ousted government has appointed Dr Sasa - an ethnic Chin and Christian - as its special envoy to the United Nations. May the Lord preserve him. Please pray.

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UPDATE ON IRAN: Ebrahim Firouzi (34) was released from prison on Saturday 27 February, after bail of 50 million tomans (around $1,650) was posted for him. While he is pleased to be out of prison, the new and very serious charges of 'insulting the sacred' (blasphemy) and 'propaganda against the Islamic Republic in favour of hostile groups' have not been dropped. This is far from over. 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