Tuesday, April 13, 2021

RLPB 593. China: Intense Suffering Descends on Church

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 593 | Wed 14 Apr 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). 

CHINA: INTENSE SUFFERING DESCENDS ON CHURCH
By Elizabeth Kendal

On the morning of 16 March some twenty Christians gathered in a rented room in Yuli Plaza, Guiyang City, the capital of Guizhou Province, to begin a three-day retreat. Most were members of Guiyang's Ren'ai [Love] Reformed Church (RRC). At 9 am, as Brother Chen Jianguo led the people in prayer, a contingent of police, security officials, administrators and others burst into the room to break up what they claimed was 'an illegal rally'. The Christians co-operated as the police proceeded to interrogate the believers, record their IDs and examine their phones. At around 1pm, most of the Christians from Guiyang were given permission to leave, while Brother Chen and nine other believers were detained and transported to a police station.

Elder Zhang Chunlei
of Ren'ai [Love] Reformed Church,
Guiyang.

RRC elder Zhang Chunlei and several other church members went to the police station to negotiate on behalf of the detained believers. With his companions outside, Elder Zhang entered the station where he declared his intent to remain until all those detained at the retreat were released. At 11 pm, police handcuffed Elder Zhang, Brother Chen, Li Jinzhi and Li Lin, and transferred them to another police station where they were charged with 'illegally hosting events under the name of an organisation'. Brother Chen, Li Jinzhi and Li Lin each received a three-day administrative detention and were released on 20 March. Elder Zhang, on the other hand, was sentenced to a 14-day administrative detention. [Note that an 'administrative detention' does not require a trial.] Security officials also raided the homes of several church members, confiscating computers and other items.

Pastor Wang Yi
of Early Rain Covenant Church,
Chengdu.
left: at home pre-Dec 2018
right: in prison March 2020

A small house church of less than 100 members, Guiyang Ren'ai Reformed Church has steadfastly refused to join the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-approved Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). In August 2018 Elder Zhang was among the first of several hundred pastors to sign a petition written by Pastor Wang Yi of Chengdu Early Rain Covenant Church (ERCC). The petition (or 'joint statement') was essentially an appeal for religious liberty in protest of the CCP's new Religious Affairs Regulations (enacted 1 February 2018) which unleashed a whole new era of increased repression and persecution [see RLPB 483, 'The CCP's War on Religion Heats Up' (12 Dec 2018)]. In September 2018, just weeks after the petition was published, the CCP officially banned Ren'ai Reformed Church. Since then, the CCP has confiscated the church's equipment and the believers have struggled to find a place where they can meet without being raided by police. Arrested in December 2018, Pastor Wang Yi was sentenced on 30 December 2019 to nine years in prison for 'inciting subversion of state power and illegal business operations' [RLPB 534 (29 Jan 2020)].  

On 28 March, after 12 days in administrative detention, Elder Zhang Chunlei was placed in criminal detention as a 'fraud suspect'. China Aid Association reports that many Chinese pastors - including Pastor Wang Yi and Elder Zhang Chunlei - have covenanted that, if any of them were imprisoned, they would pray together at 5 pm every day. [Note for those who would care to join them, see: https://www.thetimezoneconverter.com/ ] Before he prayed and was arrested, Brother Chen had opened the retreat by reading from the Apostle Paul's letter to the church in Philippi, specifically Philippians 1:12-18. 'I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ ... [no matter the circumstances] Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.' Please pray.

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On 1 April Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported: 'Authorities in China are detaining Christians in secretive, mobile "transformation" facilities to make them renounce their faith.' [Note: The facilities are described as 'mobile' because they can be set up anywhere - such as in basements and other 'black'/secret sites - and relocated at any time.] RFA interviewed several believers who claimed to have been 'disappeared' for months, even years. They testified of having been beaten, abused and threatened, while kept in isolation, often in darkness, until they 'broke' and agreed to sign a confession and/or make a public apology. Many were so deeply traumatised by their treatment they resorted to self-harm and even attempted suicide.

Everything Belongs to Caesar Here
Radio Free Asia (5 April 2021)

What RFA is describing is undoubtedly 'Residential Surveillance at a Designation Location' (RSDL) - the CCP's euphemism for enforced disappearance, complete with punishment, coercion and interrogation, outside the judicial system. According to a book entitled, 'The People's Republic of the Disappeared: Stories from inside China's system for enforced disappearances' edited by Michael Caster (2017), RSDL has been the CCP's preferred method of dealing with dissidents since the 'Jasmine Revolution' of 2011. Revised in 2012, China's Criminal Procedure Law grants China's secret police the legal right to 'disappear' whomever they wish and treat them however they wish, for as long as they wish, without oversight and with total impunity. According to RFA, this method is increasingly being used, not merely against anti-CCP political activists, but against non-compliant Christian believers.

Gao Zhisheng

Internationally acclaimed human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng - a convert to Protestant Christianity, torture survivor and doubtless China's most severely persecuted Christian - has been 'disappeared' for more than three years now, with no notification of his status and no known criminal procedures against him [see: RLPB 432 (15 Nov 2017)]. In May 2020 Gao's sister succeeded on her third attempt at committing suicide. Driven deep into abject despair by the CCP's suffocating oppression and cruel treatment of her family, she drowned herself in a river. Doubtless the CCP wasted no time in informing Gao of his sister's death. On Tuesday 20 April Gao Zhisheng will turn 57, suffering and alone but for the eternal presence of the Spirit of God.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* protect, comfort, encourage and sustain

- Elder Zhang Chunlei, his family, and the believers at Guiyang's Ren'ai Reformed Church;

- Pastor Wang Yi, his family, and the believers at Chengdu's Early Rain Covenant Church; and

- lawyer Gao Zhisheng, along with his surviving extended family.

'I am with you always, to the end of the age' (promise of Matthew 28:20).

* protect, comfort, encourage and sustain every faithful Christian believer currently detained in a Chinese prison or 'disappeared' in a secret facility that the Chinese Communist Party thinks God cannot access, and in the custody of cruel men who think their evil is not seen (Hebrews 4:13). May every Christian prisoner know the closeness of their Saviour (Psalm 139:7-12) and may God intervene in justice and grace to vindicate his suffering servants and free the Chinese Church (Habakkuk 2:12-14).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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INTENSE SUFFERING DESCENDS ON CHURCH IN CHINA

On 16 March police in Guiyang City broke up a retreat run by Ren'ai [Love] Reformed Church (RRC), deeming it 'an illegal rally'. Three believers served three days in administrative detention, but RRC's Elder Zhang Chunlei has been placed in criminal detention as a 'fraud suspect'. Fears abound that Elder Zhang might share the fate of Pastor Wang Yi, of Chengdu's Early Rain Covenant Church, who in December 2019, was jailed for nine years for 'illegal business operations'. Imprisonment is not the only option. For a decade now, the Chinese Communist Party's preferred method of dealing with dissidents has been to 'disappear' them into secret sites where torture is rife. According to Radio Free Asia, this method is increasingly being used against non-compliant Christians, 'to make them renounce their faith'. 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, April 6, 2021

RLPB 592. RAMADAN casts a dark shadow

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 592 | Wed 07 Apr 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). 

DIARY

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

    Orthodox Easter: Palm Sunday, 25 April;
                                Good Friday, 30 April;
                                 Resurrection Sunday, 2 May.


RAMADAN CASTS A DARK SHADOW
- analysts anticipate military offensives in Iraq, Syria, and Armenia.
by Elizabeth Kendal

RAMADAN: In pre-Islamic times, Ramadan was about more than fasting during daylight hours. It was also a month of peace in which the pagan Arabs would take a rest from fighting and raiding. So established was this tradition that, during Ramadan, caravans would transport their wares unarmed. Not only did Muhammad Islamise Ramadan, he also exploited it to acquire much-needed booty for his struggling Muslim community. For not only was Muhammad a 'prophet', ruler and judge; he was also a warlord who raided unarmed caravans, reportedly with Allah's permission, for the benefit of Islam. Consequently, Ramadan became a time not only for prayer and fasting, but a time for Islamic advance by violent means. That said, many, if not most, Muslims around the world today are simple traditionalists and/or genuine God-seekers, opposed to such violence. Muslim from birth, they remain ignorant of Islam's texts. Forbidden from criticising or rejecting the religion upon threat of death, they remain captives of Islam's elites. Despite this, the Spirit of God is moving powerfully within Muslim communities around the world in our day! So please continue to pray this Ramadan, for the Church in Muslim lands, and for Muslims under Islam's yoke. https://www.30daysprayer.com/

'... they will do these things [hate, persecute and kill you (John 15:18 to 16:4)] because they have not known the Father, nor me' [John 16:3].


As the Iraqi government liberated
Nineveh Province in 2016-2017,
the first thing Christians did was
restore their church crosses. 
(World Watch Monitor, Nov 2016)

IRAQ: Pope Francis visited Iraq from 5 to 8 March. Along with meeting political and religious leaders, Pope Francis participated in interfaith worship in the city of Ur, the birthplace of Abraham, where he prayed on behalf of Iraq's 'Jews, Christians, and Muslims', thanking God 'for having given us Abraham, a distinguished son of this noble and beloved country, to be our common father in faith' (a highly contentious assertion). He also asked 'the God of our father Abraham' to 'Open our hearts to mutual forgiveness' (as if Muslims need to forgive Christians who must be equally guilty of morally equivalent evil). Christians are not the only ones profoundly divided over the Pope's words and deeds. While many Muslims would have embraced his message of peaceful co-existence, Islamic State has interpreted the Pope's interfaith initiative as a 'crusade' to 'remove the shariah of Allah from this land and to establish polytheistic religion in its place'. IS responded to the sight of Pope Francis 'lifting his profane cross over the ruins of Mosul', by promising fresh attacks on Iraqi churches, warning that jihadists 'will remove their crosses very soon' as they did 'the first time [in 2014], with Allah's permission'. Please pray for Iraq's long-suffering, enduring, but gravely imperilled, remnant Church.

REPORT: ISW (9 March 2021)

SYRIA: The Institute for the Study of War reports (9 March): 'Islamic State has established a stable territorial base in the mountainous regions of the Central Syrian Desert and has begun to overtake pro-Assad regime forces in the area.' Not only has IS been successfully defending its territory, it has also been launching attacks north into Aleppo Governorate, where it is seeking to re-establish smuggling routes into Turkey; west into Hama Governorate, where it is threatening the critical, Damascus-Aleppo M5 Highway; southwest through Homs Governorate, attacking energy infrastructure to within 30km of Damascus and threatening (again) the mostly Christian town of Al-Qaryatayn; and east into Deir ez-Zor, where it is challenging the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (including Assyrian and Armenian fighters) with eyes fixed on the Euphrates River. Iraq is fortifying its border. Suffering immense hardship due to the ravages of war and brutal US sanctions, the Church in Syria now also faces the threat of an Islamic State offensive. Please pray.

ARMENIA: Analysts suspect Turkey and Azerbaijan are preparing to launch a military offensive to seize control of territory in Armenia's southern Syunik Province [see RLPB 591 (31 March 2021)]. Many anticipate that Azerbaijan and Ukraine (both allies and strategic partners of Turkey) will launch simultaneous provocations to trigger simultaneous conflicts, both of which will draw in Russia. Analysts suspect that Turkey might be seeking to force Russia to fight on two fronts primarily so it might extract concessions, specifically on Syunik (which Turks refer to as Zangezur). Turkey, which was excluded from the 9 Nov 2020 Russia-brokered ceasefire Agreement for Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh [see RLPB 575, 'Genocide Postponed?' (11 Nov 2020)], is not content with safe transit through Syunik (as mandated by the Agreement). Rather, Turkey wants a 'Zangezur Corridor' over which Azerbaijan will have sovereignty. Geo-strategically the creation of a 'Zangezur Corridor' would be a huge gain for Azerbaijan and neo-Ottoman Turkey, especially if it is incorporated into China's Belt & Road Initiative. On the other hand, it would be an existential catastrophe for Armenia, which would lose its southern border with Iran. It would also require the killing and ethnic-cleansing of yet more Armenians and the loss of yet more ancient Christian heritage. Ramadan would be the perfect time to rally local and international jihadis to the neo-Ottoman Islamist cause. The dark clouds of Turk aggression hang over the Armenians yet again. Please watch and pray.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* God will watch over and defend his persecuted and threatened Church this Ramadan.

- May the Iraqi government secure Iraq's churches in the wake of direct threats from Islamic State; may the government's words of support for the Christian community be proved true by its actions;

- May all anti-Islamic State forces operating in Syria - i.e. Syrian government forces, the Kurdish-led SDF, Russia, Iran and the US - co-operate to end the scourge of IS in Syria once and for all;

- And may Yahweh Sabaoth (the Lord of Hosts; the commander of Heaven's angelic forces) oversee the preservation of Iraq's remnant Christians and Syria's suffering Church; may the Lord protect, sustain and build them up, as bearers of the Gospel, the hope of Mesopotamia (Syria-Iraq).

* intervene in the South Caucasus to enable a breakthrough that will preserve the territorial integrity of Armenia; and because politics, weapons and alliances do fail, may the Church exalt, glorify and place her trust in Yahweh Sabaoth, that the battle might be turned back at the gate (Isaiah 28:5-6).

* the Holy Spirit will move with transforming power this Ramadan, graciously revealing Christ to Muslims, in answer to the prayers of many.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
-----------------------------------------
RAMADAN CASTS A DARK SHADOW

In pre-Islamic times, Ramadan was a month of fasting and peace. Breaking with tradition, Muhammad exploited Ramadan. He raided unarmed caravans, reportedly with Allah's permission, to acquire booty for his struggling Muslim community. Consequently, Ramadan became a time not only for prayer and fasting, but also for Islamic advance through violence. This year Ramadan dates from 12/13 April to 13 May. In Iraq, Islamic State has directly threatened Iraq's churches, promising attacks to 'remove their crosses' as in 2014. In Syria, a resurgent Islamic State is poised to launch a Ramadan offensive from its bases in the mountains of the Central Syrian Desert. Meanwhile, analysts suspect that Azerbaijan and neo-Ottoman Turkey are preparing to launch a military campaign to seize control of territory in Armenia's southern Syunik Province. 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