Tuesday, August 24, 2021

RLPB 612. August Update, incl. North Koreans, Afghanistan, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Cuba, India, Mozambique, Nigeria, Pakistan.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 612 | Wed 25 Aug 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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

AUGUST 2021 UPDATE
By Elizabeth Kendal

DURING THIS PERIOD, WE PRAYED CONCERNING:

* NORTH KOREA [RLPB 609 (4 Aug)]. after North Korea's Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un, and South Korea's President Moon Jae-in agreed to restore communications and take steps to recover trust and improve ties. The rapprochement comes as North Korea faces its most severe humanitarian crisis in decades. We also prayed concerning 'Advocacy for North Koreans Detained in China', after China repatriated some 50 North Korean escapees, each of whom will face severe punishment.

UPDATE: CHINA ARRESTS NORTH KOREAN WIVES

Radio Free Asia reports (RFA, 20 Aug) that Chinese police have started arresting North Korean wives of Chinese men in Liaoning and Jilin, two provinces in north-eastern China which border North Korea (NK). NKs have been escaping into China for decades and many NK women have married Chinese men - some by force (up to 80 percent, having fallen prey to sex-traffickers) and some by choice, be that pragmatism or true love. One Chinese citizen in Tonghua City (90km north of the NK border in Jilin Province) told RFA about the arrest of a NK woman who arrived in Tonghua 10 years ago, who was married to and had a child with a Chinese man. This 'kind-hearted' woman had spent many years helping and serving 'everyone in the neighbourhood, not only [NK] refugees'. Locals in Tonghua are so upset about this woman's arrest - which has left the couple's nine-year-old child distraught - that they have petitioned the police for her release. While no further details are known about this woman, we do know the border provinces are rich in Christian presence. Many Chinese and Korean Christians chose to live and work there precisely so they might help and witness to NK refugees. It seems the NKs - even those with Chinese husbands and children - now risk being arrested, separated from their families, charged with human trafficking and repatriated to North Korea. Please pray.

REALITY CHECK: If the West cannot find a way to work with NK's other neighbours - South Korea and Russia - to draw and lead NK in a different direction, then Communist Party-ruled China will simply devour it. Please pray!

* CHINA [RLPB 610 (11 Aug)] where two courageous and influential unregistered house churches in Taiyuan (the capital of Shanxi Province) are experiencing severe and escalating persecution. Please continue to pray for Xuncheng Reformed Church and the Golden Lampstand house-church network as they navigate the increasingly treacherous path ahead and deal with the arrests of senior church leaders.

* ETHIOPIA [RLPB 611 (18 Aug)] after the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) - now going by the name, Tigray Defense Force (TDF) - rejected the government's unilateral ceasefire (forced on it by the US Biden administration) and advanced their war beyond Tigray. The TPLF has since killed hundreds and displaced hundreds of thousands in neighbouring Afar and Amhara Regions. It has also disrupted the delivery of, and stolen (for its soldiers), humanitarian aid. The TPLF has forcibly recruited hundreds of child soldiers, making a lot of enemies in the process! Critically it has brokered an alliance with the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA or OLF-Shane, the group responsible for numerous massacres of Amhara Christians throughout Oromia including hundreds of forcibly recruited child soldiers). These two groups - both enemies of Ethiopia - could neither survive nor advance their genocidal campaign without the foreign support they receive from Egypt, the Sudanese military and Washington. Now the ceasefire is over, the TPLF-OLA will move to escalate their anti-government propaganda. Indeed, this has already begun! Please pray.

Ethiopia is a phenomenally strategic country, both geo-politically (for the Horn of Africa and the greater Middle East) and spiritually (with its dynamic Church and great missionary-sending vision). Ethiopia's collapse would trigger a Christian crisis of monumental proportions. This is first and foremost a spiritual battle. The future of Ethiopia hangs in the balance. Please pray.

AUGUST 2021 ROUND-UP - also this month:

* AFGHANISTAN: CHRISTIANS IMPERILLED
[update to RLPB 600 (2 June 2021)].

Taliban, August 2021. (Photo: Rahmat Gul/AP)

Global Catalytic Ministries - an organisation which supports underground churches in Islamic countries - has released a video in which an Afghan Christian pleads for Christians around the world not to abandon the Church in Afghanistan. Clearly fearful and distraught, our brother laments: 'All of our work over the past 20 years has been lost overnight,' adding that he feels like the 'whole world has abandoned us.' International Christian Concern (ICC) estimates the Christian population at between 10,000 and 12,000. An Afghan Christian leader told ICC that while he does not think any Christians have been executed yet, it is simply just a matter of time, especially as some believers have already received threatening phone calls warning, 'We are coming for you.' As he explained: 'It will be done mafia style. The Taliban will never take responsibility for the killings.'

Another Afghan Church leader - who estimates the Christian community at 5,000 to 8,000 - warned CBN that the Taliban will move to 'eliminate the Christian population'. Christians will now either hide or flee. That said, they have long been 'sheep among wolves', and as Andrew Boyd of Release International UK reminds us, 'they are used to being an underground church; they are used to working under the most intense pressure and persecution'. Christian aid and advocacy groups which serve the persecuted Church are raising funds and doing all they can to help and support gravely imperilled Afghan believers. God calls us to action: so 'speak up', 'give generously', and pray, pray, pray!

* THE SAHEL: AFRICA'S AFGHANISTAN?
[update to RLPB 607 (21 July 2021)].

Sahelian jihadists

As noted in RLPB 607, French troops will pull out of Mali in the first quarter of 2022, ahead of France's presidential election. On 10 August, as the Taliban closed in on Kabul, Iyad Ag Ghali - leader of al-Qaeda affiliate JNIM - paid tribute to the 'Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan on the occasion of the withdrawal of the American invading forces and their allies.' After the Taliban captured Kabul, a headline in the Malian daily Le Soir de Bamako asked: 'Should we brace for the same scenario as in Kabul?' The mostly Muslim Sahel is a religious fault-line region. Until now it has been spared the Islamic radicalisation common across North Africa. Today, the Sahel's many churches and mission-run facilities and its tradition of religious tolerance and openness are all imminently imperilled.

(1) MALI: TERROR ESCALATES
Mali: a secular state with religious freedom; 87 percent Muslim, 2.6 percent Christian.

On Sunday evening 8 August jihadists attacked several villages in the Gao region 'shooting at anything that moved'. Along with killing at least 51 people, the jihadists also looted and burned homes and stole herds of livestock. On 19 August jihadists ambushed a military convoy in central Mali, killing 15 soldiers. According to Mohamed Dicko, a 24-year-old medical student in the capital Bamako, it is only thanks to French and UN forces that 'the major cities in the north are still under state control. Without the presence of the French army,' he said, 'a town like Gao can fall in less than half an hour.' Some in Mali are calling for the government to negotiate with the terrorists to find a political solution. But like the Taliban, JNIM would surely accept nothing less than total submission to Islam. Mali is in trouble! Please pray.

(2) BURKINA FASO: TERROR ESCALATES
Burkina Faso: secular state with religious freedom; 52 percent Muslim, 21 percent Christian.

On 18 August jihadists in northern Burkina Faso attacked a civilian convoy as it was being escorted by military police on the road between Gorgadji and Arbinda. The attack left 80 people dead, including 59 civilians, 15 soldiers and six members of the Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland (VDP) corps, an anti-jihadist civilian defence militia that co-operates with the government to protect communities. A further 19 people were wounded and 58 jihadists were also killed. It was the third major attack on Burkinabe soldiers in the past two weeks. On 4 August jihadists killed 11 civilians, 15 soldiers and four volunteer militia members in attacks on northern villages near the border with Niger. On 8 August jihadists killed 12 soldiers in an attack on the Toeni commune near the border with Mali. Burkina Faso is in trouble! Please pray.

(3) NIGER: TERROR ESCALATES
Niger: a secular state with religious freedom; 97 percent Muslim, 0.33 percent Christian.

On 16 August Islamic jihadists attacked the commune of Banibangou, which is close to the Malian border in the Tillabery region of south-west Niger, killing 37 civilians, including 14 children. In March jihadists killed 137 in co-ordinated raids in neighbouring Tahoua region and in January over 100 people were killed in Tillabery, the same region as the 6 August attack. In June they attacked Fantio and Dolbel in Tillabery, killing seven (including two Christians) and burning the Catholic parish, the third parish to be abandoned due to escalating insecurity. Please pray.

* CUBA: PASTOR IMPERILLED
[update to RLPB 608 (July Update 2021).]

JAILED: Pastor Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo,
pictured with his wife Maridilegnis Carballo.
 

Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that Cuban Protestant Pastor Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo, who was detained on 11 July during peaceful protests, has been transferred to the Boniato Maximum Security Prison outside the city of Santiago de Cuba. He was held incommunicado until 7 August when his wife was finally permitted to speak with him. According to CSW, Boniato Maximum Security Prison is notorious for its appalling conditions, violence and cruelty. It is also usually a prison where convicted criminals already serving sentences are sent, but Pastor Rosales Fajardo has not yet been tried or sentenced. Presumably he is being sent there for deterrent punishment. Please pray. Meanwhile, on 17 August the Cuban government published a new law that effectively criminalises all dissent. Presented as a cybersecurity law, Legal Decree 35 criminalises on-line criticism of the government as well as incitement to 'public disturbances' (i.e. peaceful protests). Please pray.

* INDIA: DIVIDE AND RULE IN BASTAR, CHHATTISGARH.

On 3 August Hindu nationalist leaders held an anti-Christian rally in Jagdalpur, the capital of Chhattisgarh state's volatile Bastar District. According to International Christian Concern, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders who spoke at the rally perpetuated lies and incited violence against the Christian community. Amit Sahu, President of the Chhattisgarh BJP, told the crowd: 'Let us drag people from the church and stop conversions at any cost and make Bastar District a conversion-free zone.' Roop Singh Mandavi, another leader of the BJP, said: 'We will frighten Christians who are involved in conversion work in the region. We will not allow the missionary work to be carried on in Bastar and will protect the Hindu religion by stopping the conversions.' Though Christians were relieved that fewer than 500 people turned out to the well-publicised, high-profile event, they are anticipating a fresh wave of Christian persecution.

Nov 2018: Congress takes Chhattisgarh from BJP.
election results by Times of India

Bastar district (like Chhattisgarh in general), is a hotbed of Maoist/Naxalite insurgency. The Maoism of Nepal and India's tribal belt is less about communist ideology and more a protest against the crippling systemic discrimination, marginalisation and racism of the Hindu caste system. Many tribals who are labelled 'Naxals' are not Naxals/Maoists at all, but have common cause with Dalits and Christians. In November 2018 the BJP lost power in Chhattisgarh. Doubtless what the BJP is doing now is pursuing the policy of divide and rule which worked to reverse its fortunes in federal elections in 2019. Thus the BJP is 'creating a customised enemy for every group' [see RLPB 506, Christian Crisis in North India, 12 June 2019]. It is conniving to split the tribals and turn them against each other over the issue of conversions, thereby turning the problematic Maoists against the Christians and to have them see the BJP as saviour, rather than the racist, self-interested devil it actually is. 

'Though they plan evil against you, though they devise mischief, they will not succeed' (Psalm 21:11). '… the way of the wicked he brings to ruin' (Psalm 146:9c). Please pray.

* MOZAMBIQUE: HEALING, HOPE AND OPPORTUNITY.

On 11 August 2020 militants belonging to Islamic State affiliate ASWJ seized control of the strategic port city of Mocimboa da Praia in Mozambique's northern-most province of Cabo Delgado [see RLPB 564, 'Islamic State Seizes Port' (26 Aug 2020)]. A battle for the city did not eventuate, and ASWJ was able to establish the port city as its headquarters. On 23 June 2021 the 16-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) approved the deployment of troops to Mozambique to help combat the Islamic insurgency. Rwanda sent 1000 troops, who immediately went on the offensive. By 8 August Rwandan and Mozambiquan troops had recaptured Mocimboa da Praia. While many jihadists were killed, many more fled into the bush and north towards Tanzania. On 9 August SADC officially launched its counter-terrorism operation in Mozambique. On 12 August the governor of Cabo Delgado Province declared the city of Mocimboa da Praia safe for civilians to return. Soldiers from various SADC nations - including 1495 troops from South Africa - will continue the fight against the jihadists.

According to INcontext's contacts in Mozambique, the situation on the ground is dire, leaving many in the mostly Muslim north questioning God. 'As the SADC forces liberate towns and villages, they will potentially open the way for Christian NGOs to reach these communities and provide them with much-needed physical and spiritual support. This enables the Body of Christ to be a physical representation of the love of God the moment their communities have been freed of the physical representation of evil.' An earlier article in Christianity Today (3 August) told of pastors who, despite losing much, had chosen to remain in the traumatised region to serve among their fellow survivors: 'In nearby villages and makeshift camps set up throughout the region, these faith leaders are partnering with a handful of ministries, missionaries and Christian humanitarian organisations to distribute food, supplies and farming kits, as well as pray with people, preach the gospel and hand out thousands of solar-powered audio Bibles to all who ask. In the midst of an unthinkable crisis, they report that thousands are coming to faith in Christ.' Praise and thank God and pray that security will be restored, evil will be defeated, lies will be exposed, and the Gospel will take root in Cabo Delgado.

* NIGERIA: BANDITS EXTORT THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY

On 5 July Fulani bandits abducted 121 boarding students from Kaduna's Bethel Baptist High School [RLPB 605 (7 July)]. On Sunday 25 July 28 students were released upon payment of ransom. Having pooled resources in the hope of collectively redeeming the children, parents of children not released were left distraught [RLPB 608 (30 July)]. On Saturday night 21 August, a further 15 students were released upon payment of ransom; 65 students remain in captivity. The Sharia-ruled, Muslim-majority North is a turbulent ocean of insecurity and suffering. According to the PSJ Data Team, at least 3186 persons were killed, 2963 abducted and 161 injured across Nigeria in the first six months of 2021. The violence is concentrated in the North and most of the killings occurred in Christian communities. Please pray.

* PAKISTAN: SHAFQAT AND SHAGUFTA FIND SANCTUARY 

Despite having been acquitted of blasphemy, Christians Shafqat Emmanuel (49) and his wife Shagufta Kausar (52) could not stay in Pakistan. So we prayed: 'may a place of refuge be made available overseas' [see RLPB 601, Acquitted but still imperilled, 9 June]. Praise and thank God that this faithful couple have arrived safely in Europe where they have been granted asylum in a country not named for security purposes. Shafqat told ADF International, 'We are so relieved to be free. The last eight years have been incredibly hard, but we are so happy to be reunited with our children. Hopefully, the blasphemy laws in Pakistan will soon be abolished so others won't suffer the same fate as Shagufta and me.' Praise and thank God for answered prayer; and for his sustaining grace and mercy shown to Shafqat and Shagufta. Please pray that Pakistan's blasphemy law will indeed be abolished. Please pray for the Church in Pakistan.

Free and safe in Europe: Shafqat and Shagufta, August 2021

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

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

See www.ElizabethKendal.com 

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

RLPB 611. Ethiopia: TPLF-OLA Move to Escalate War

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 611 | Wed 18 Aug 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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

ETHIOPIA: TPLF-OLA MOVE TO ESCALATE WAR
- praying to avert a Christian Crisis
by Elizabeth Kendal

BACKGROUND

In the 1980s, at the height of the Cold War, the US backed the Afghan mujahideen in a proxy war against the Soviets who, in 1979, had been invited into Afghanistan to help Afghanistan's Communist government put down an Islamic insurgency [see RLPB 600 (2 June)]. Similarly, the US backed the Marxist, ethnic nationalist and separatist Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) in its war against the Marxist, Soviet-backed, Amhara-dominated Derg (military junta). In 1989, as Soviet power unravelled, the Soviets withdrew their forces from Afghanistan handing victory to the mujahideen. In 1991, as the Soviet Union disintegrated, Moscow's numerous Cold War partners - including Ethiopia's Derg - lost their main source of foreign support, handing victory to their enemies. Unfortunately for Ethiopia, the regime which replaced the Derg - the US-backed TPLF-dominated Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front - was no better than the regime it replaced. The TPLF spent the three decades in power enlarging Tigray (at Amhara's expense), enriching itself (at the nation's expense) and silencing dissent through incarceration, torture and terror.

Driven from power by more than two years of paralysing anti-government protests (December 2015 to February 2018) - led by the Oromo youth movement Qeeroo - the TPLF retreated to Tigray to plot its revenge. Since then, the TPLF has been actively and vengefully fomenting rebellion, inducing chaos, and supporting separatism and terrorism. The TPLF's 3 November 2020 midnight attack on a military camp of the Northern Command in Tigray, where it slaughtered ethnic Amhara soldiers 'in their pyjamas', was nothing short of a declaration of war against the Ethiopian government [See RLPB 576, Collapse Would Trigger Christian Crisis, 18 Nov 2020]. In May, PM Abiy declared the TPLF and the Oromo Liberation Army (also known as OLF-Shane) as terrorist groups. Then, on 28 June, under immense and threatening pressure from the US Biden administration, PM Abiy declared a unilateral ceasefire in Tigray, enabling the TPLF to regain control of the Tigray capital Mekelle.

In the 1980s, during the Cold War, the US backed the Afghan mujahideen and the TPLF as proxies against the Soviets. Today, the US backs its old friends in the TPLF in support of its ally in the Middle East, Egypt. This decision - which makes zero sense geo-strategically - could precipitate a Christian crisis of monumental proportions.

This background is important because the TPLF, flush with billions of dollars of stolen funds, has been waging a major, professional, information-warfare campaign against the Abiy Government, the most popular and promising government Ethiopia has had in generations. It is pure propaganda and an inversion of the truth - and Western media has swallowed it whole.

For a more detailed analysis see:
'Ethiopia's Future Hangs in the Balance,'
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 11 July 2021. 

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

ETHIOPIA: TPLF-OLA MOVE TO ESCALATE WAR
- praying to avert a Christian Crisis

On 28 June, after more than seven months of brutal war, Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed yielded to US pressure and declared a unilateral ceasefire in Tigray, enabling the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) to regain control of the Tigray capital Mekelle. However, the TPLF did not want peace. In fact, despite its origins as an ethnic-nationalist separatist organisation, the TPLF did not even want Tigray. Instead, having started the war, the TPLF rejected the ceasefire, consolidated, and in violation of the terms of the ceasefire, advanced beyond the borders of Tigray. 

Bet Medhane Alem rock church, Lalibela.
 
In mid-July, TPLF forces - now going by the name, Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) - invaded Afar Region in a failed attempt to capture the highway that links Addis Ababa to ports on the Red Sea. They also invaded Amhara Region and on 5 August seized control of the historic city of Lalibela - a UNESCO heritage site, famed for its ancient rock-hewn churches. More than 300,000 civilians have been displaced in Afar and Amhara Regions and hundreds killed. Delivery of aid has been disrupted and it has been confirmed that the TPLF is forcibly recruiting children as soldiers. On Tuesday 10 August PM Abiy called for 'all capable Ethiopians who are of age to join the Defence Forces, Special Forces and militias' to halt the advance of 'the treasonous and terrorist TPLF organisation and the machinations of foreign hands once and for all'. The Abiy government's unilateral ceasefire is officially over.

On Wednesday 11 August the Oromo Liberation Army (also known as OLF-Shane; the group responsible for numerous massacres of Amhara Christians throughout Oromia Region) announced it had forged a military alliance with the TPLF. The groups will share battlefield information and fight in parallel to overthrow the government militarily. Whilst the TPLF has been using OLF-Shane as a proxy in Oromia for the past two years, the relationship is now formal. The groups also claim to be working on a political alliance. Meanwhile, the TPLF's boast that it is making great gains on the battlefield, is nothing but a lie. The TPLF may have had momentum in July, but according to Gregory Copley, President of the International Strategic Studies Association, 'The tide of war on the ground has already moved in favour of the Ethiopian government...' (6 August). What this means is that the TPLF will require more rebellion and more foreign assistance if it is to achieve its goal. As such, we can expect the TPLF and OLA will move to ramp up the propaganda so they might pave the way for their allies - in particular, the US Biden administration - to join their battle against the most popular and promising government Ethiopia has had in generations.

Is the World’s Next Missions Movement in Ethiopia?
By Jack Bryan, Christianity Today, 21 June 2019
 

US-allied Egypt, the Sudanese military (which is a front for Sudan's Islamist deep state) and jihadists everywhere want Ethiopia weakened and even destroyed. The collapse of Ethiopia would precipitate a Christian crisis of monumental proportions and herald the decline of another of the world's most rich and ancient Christian cultures. But make no mistake; the Ethiopian Church is not just historic! On the contrary, having been refined through suffering and revived through prayer, the Ethiopian Church is alive and dynamic with great missionary vision and energy. Muslims are coming to Christ; elites with great influence (such as the Prime Minister) are coming to Christ. Churches are being planted and missionaries are being sent throughout Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa and the Middle East, as well as into the Sahel and among the Fulani, and into Asia, Europe and the Americas. Please pray: 'For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.' (Ephesians 6:12 ESV)


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 unity, peace and prosperity; and may the Lord keep PM Abiy, his wife and children, safe from attacks that would threaten their lives.

* thwart all evil plots designed to foment rebellion, unleash chaos, destroy security, perpetuate lies, bring down the government 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 many more Ethiopians to Christ and to further refine and revive Ethiopia's ancient and mission-focused Church.

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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REBELS MOVE TO ESCALATE WAR IN ETHIOPIA

On 28 June Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed declared a unilateral ceasefire in Tigray. But, having started the war, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) rejected the ceasefire, consolidated and invaded neighbouring Afar and Amhara Regions, displacing some 300,000 civilians, killing hundreds, and disrupting the delivery of humanitarian aid. The ceasefire is over, and experts insist the momentum is now with government forces. Doubtless the TPLF will respond to military loses by ramping up its propaganda against the Abiy government, so as to help its foreign allies legitimise an intervention. On 11 August the Oromo Liberation Army (also known as OLF-Shane, the group responsible for numerous massacres of Amhara Christians) announced it had forged an alliance with the TPLF to escalate the war together. 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, August 10, 2021

RLPB 610. China, Shanxi: Churches Targeted for Persecution

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 610 | Wed 11 Aug 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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

CHINA, SHANXI: CHURCHES TARGETED FOR PERSECUTION
CCP demands 'united front'; all who resist will be persecuted.
by Elizabeth Kendal


Xuncheng Reformed Church is an unregistered church in the Shanxi Province capital, Taiyuan. Possibly due to its close connections with Chengdu's Early Rain Covenant Church and its imprisoned Pastor Wang Yi, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has Xuncheng RC in its sights, targeted for persecution. On Sunday 15 November 2020 police raided the church and ordered it to be shut. On 30 December police arrested Pastor An Yankui in his home as he led a group Bible study. Pastor An subsequently spent 15 days in administrative detention. On 7 July Pastor An's long-time friend and ministry co-worker Zhao Wikai (35; married with three young children) was arrested and charged with 'unlawfully possessing items that advocate terrorism or extremism' [see: RLPB 606 (14 July 2021)].

On 28 July police arrested five more Christians from Xuncheng RC. According to Pastor An, the arrests came after a church member from Fenyang City named Zhang Ligong was arrested on 13 July and held for 15 days in administrative detention. When Zhang was released, the church co-workers who went to collect him were arrested on the spot while three other co-workers were arrested at their homes. According to Pastor An, all five had flown to Malaysia in January last year to attend the 'KL2020 Gospel and Culture' Christian conference, hosted by the prominent Chinese Indonesian pastor Stephen Tong and featuring speakers such as Pastors Tim Keller and DA Carson. Many anticipate that trumped up charges will be levelled against the five arrested church members as the CCP ramps up the persecution. Please pray.

With some 50,000 members, Shanxi's unregistered Golden Lampstand house church network has long been in the CCP's sights, targeted for persecution. On Saturday 7 August police in Shanxi's southern Linfen county arrested nine church members - including Pastors Wang Xiaoguang and Yang Rongli (Wang's wife) - and detained them in the capital, Taiyuan. Pastors Wang and Yang have previously been jailed for their religious activities; they were sentenced in November 2009 [RLPB 035 (16 Dec 2009)] to three years and seven years respectively after they sought to petition the government over a violent raid which left around 100 church members wounded (some seriously) and the church's meeting place - a Christian-owned factory in Linfen city's Fushan County - looted and demolished [RLPB 031 (18 Nov 2009)]. Despite persistent severe persecution, the church has steadfastly refused to register and thereby submit itself to CCP oversight. On 9 January 2018, three weeks before the CCP's new Religious Affairs Regulations came into effect, police armed with dynamite and bulldozers demolished Golden Lampstand's new central worship facility in Linfen. The facility had been high on the CCP's hit-list for years.

left: Pastor Yang Rongli upon her release from 7-years in prison, October 2016.
 right: demolition of Golden Lampstand Church, Linfen, January 2018.

Along with Pastors Wang Xiaoguang and Yang Rongli, an unknown number of church members were taken to their local police stations for questioning. A church member told Radio Free Asia (9 August): 'They detained Wang Xiaoguang and eight other people. It was probably because they were carrying out a house church baptism ... We won't change our beliefs, nor will we join the [CCP-approved] Three-Self Patriotic Association.' Please pray.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* bless Xuncheng Reformed Church and supply all their needs; may Christ our Good Shepherd guide Pastor An Yankui and all the church's leaders as they lead Christ's flock through challenging and testing times; may the ever-present Holy Spirit physically, emotionally and spiritually sustain Zhao Wikai and the five new prisoners as they endure interrogation, isolation and separation from loved ones amidst great uncertainty.

* bless and encourage all those involved in the long-persecuted Golden Lampstand house church network; may long-suffering Pastors Wang Xiaoguang and Yang Rongli rest assured that nothing 'will be able to separate [them] from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord' (from Romans 8:35-39). May the God of all comfort sustain them in every way.

* comfort, encourage, preserve, guide, fortify and continue to build his Church in China ahead of the day when she will be free to impact the world in ways we can barely imagine (Ephesians 3:14-21).

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
------------------------------------------
CHINA, SHANXI: CHURCHES TARGETED FOR PERSECUTION

Two churches in Shanxi Province are facing severe persecution. In November 2020 Xuncheng Reformed Church was ordered to close. In January its Pastor An Yankui spent 15 days in detention. On 7 July An's co-worker Zhao Wikai (35) was jailed for 'terrorism' offences. On 28 July police arrested five members who had travelled to Malaysia in January 2020 to attend a Christian conference. With some 50,000 members, the Golden Lampstand house church network has long been in the CCP's sights. In September 2009 the church's meeting place was demolished. In November 2009 its Pastors Wang Xiaoguang and Yang Rongli (Wang's wife) were jailed for three and seven years respectively. In January 2018 the church's new central meeting place was demolished. On 7 August Pastors Wang and Yang were arrested again. 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, August 3, 2021

RLPB 609. North Korea: Desperate for a Breakthrough

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 609 | Wed 04 Aug 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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

NORTH KOREA: DESPERATE FOR A BREAKTHROUGH
plus, advocacy for North Koreans detained in China
by Elizabeth Kendal

Kim and Moon step forward together.
Inter-Korean Summit, April 2018

On 16 June 2020 the North Korean (NK) regime blew up the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong, unilaterally severing cross-border communications with the South. The action came after activists in South Korea (SK) resumed sending anti-regime propaganda leaflets north across the border in violation of an agreement - brokered during the historic April 2018 Inter-Korean Summit - to end the propaganda war. As the inter-Korean liaison office went up in smoke, so too did more than two years of delicate, hope-filled rapprochement [see RLPB 555, 'Hopes Fade as Tensions Soar', 24 June 2020]. Now, 13 months on, cross-border communications have been restored. The phone call which took place between North Korea's Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un, and South Korea's President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday 27 July - the 68th anniversary of the 27 July 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War - was their first in more than a year. Kim and Moon had been exchanging personal letters since April; it was in those communications that the two leaders agreed to take steps to recover trust and improve ties.

The rapprochement comes as North Korea faces its most severe crisis in decades. In January 2020, acutely aware that its totally inadequate health sector would collapse if COVID-19 were to take hold, North Korea sealed its border with China, ending cross-border trade and crippling domestic markets. Today, North Koreans are dying; not from COVID-19, but from famine and other diseases (such as tuberculosis) as their stockpiles of food and medicines run out. NK's Kim regime is acutely aware that SK's pro-engagement President Moon Jae-in - for whom rapprochement with the North is deeply personal [see RLPB 446 (14 March 2018)] - will end his single five-year term as president in March 2022. So, for the Kim regime, if rapprochement is to be advanced and assistance received, time is of the essence.

North and South together; 
PyeongChang Winter Olympics, February 2018.
 

As hardship has escalated, so too has discontent, especially among the young who have lived better than their parents (and therefore have greater expectations), and are increasingly aware of life outside NK. As Daily NK reports (31 May): 'Recent surveys among defectors show a high percentage of them consumed foreign media while living in North Korea. According to a 2019 survey conducted by Unification Media Group, 91% of respondents said they had consumed South Korean and other foreign content while still living in North Korea. This is despite 75% of them having also witnessed someone being punished for engaging in this same behaviour.' Indeed, black market radios, computers and mobile phones have been creeping into the blacked-out state for years; while American, South Korean and Christian content has long been smuggled in on contraband memory sticks. In February 2018 NK youths had watched as NK athletes marched with SK athletes under the unification flag in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. They watched in hope as their new-generation leader Kim Jong-un met with Presidents Moon and then Trump in April and June of 2018, only to have their hopes dashed in February 2019 when the Hanoi summit [RLPB 490 (20 Feb 2019)] ended in failure.

In December 2020, in an effort to counter ideological contamination and contain unrest, the regime enacted the 'Law on the Elimination of Reactionary Thought and Culture'. On 28 July Daily NK reported that the prison population had grown by some 20,000 since March 2020 as North Koreans fell foul of COVID restrictions and the law against reactionary thought. Due to COVID restrictions, relatives are banned from delivering food to the prisons; consequently, prisoners are starving. In early July Kim ordered that the military's storehouses be opened, and the grain sold at a discounted price to the masses through government run stores. A high-ranking major-general in charge of logistics openly criticised the order as 'unrealistic' - for as it turns out, military storehouses have been largely empty since the days of Kim's father. In a desperate effort to deflect from his own failings, Kim had the official executed for 'sectarianism'. Amidst escalating purges, punishments and hunger the military is reportedly boiling with discontent.

In his treatise Rebuilding Russia (Harvill, 1990), Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn lamented the 'spiritual catastrophe of 1917' and what it produced: a society built on lies. He called for deep systemic reform that would give Russians back their country and revitalise traditional [Christian] values. 'Time has finally run out for communism,' he wrote. 'But its concrete edifice has not yet crumbled. May we not be crushed beneath its rubble instead of gaining liberty.' 

There can be little doubt that time is running out for the North Korean regime. While the West is full of 'hawks' - supposedly fuelled with righteous indignation - who would love to bomb Pyongyang flat or somehow accelerate the regime's collapse, we need to remember that North Korea happens to be filled with North Koreans, victims of 'spiritual catastrophe', struggling to survive in a society built on lies. And while most North Koreans have no memory or even knowledge of the great Pyongyang Revival of 1907 [see: 1907 Revival, a 10-min film with archival footage] which transformed the Korean Peninsula and saw Pyongyang labelled 'the Jerusalem of the East', God remembers! For 68 years a remnant Church, fortified by martyrs, has endured prayerfully in prisons, labour camps, and underground. For 68 years, Koreans in the South and around the world have prayed with tears for their captive brethren. A furious spiritual battle is underway for North Korea. Please pray!

'O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy'. (Habakkuk 3:2 ESV)


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* protect, sustain and richly bless North Korea's long-suffering and severely persecuted remnant Church.

* send the Holy Spirit to revive and transform North Korea yet again; may desperate North Koreans be drawn into prayer, to seek mercy from a God they do not know, a God whom they will find is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness (from Exodus 34:1-9). 'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.' (from Zechariah 4:6 ESV)

* bind and restrain all evil forces who seek to sow chaos and sustain repression where God seeks to sow peace and deliver liberty. '[Jesus Christ] has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.' (1 Peter 3:22 ESV)

Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle! (Psalm 24:7,8 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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NORTH KOREA - DESPERATE FOR A BREAKTHROUGH

On 16 June 2020 the North Korean regime severed communications with the South. Now, however, cross-border communication has been restored. On 27 July, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in spoke by phone. The leaders, who had been exchanging letters since April, are eager to recover trust and improve ties. The rapprochement comes as NK faces its most severe crisis in decades. In January 2020, NK sealed its border with China to prevent the entrance of COVID-19. Today, NKs are dying; not of COVID, but of starvation and other diseases as their stores of food and medicines run out. Society is breaking down, prisons are filling up, and officials who criticise regime policy are being purged and executed. Please pray for NK and her remnant Church.

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ADVOCACY FOR NORTH KOREANS DETAINED IN CHINA

On 14 July China repatriated some 50 North Korean escapees, comprising citizens and defecting soldiers, including an air force officer. They had been held in detention centres in Shenyang and Tumen, China, for as long as two years. Advocates fear they will face incarceration and severe punishment including the death penalty. With hundreds of other North Korean escapees similarly imperilled, the UK's All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea appealed to UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, requesting he speak with Chinese and South Korean ambassadors in London with the goal of having North Korean refugees sent to South Korea which will automatically receive them under its 'one Korea' policy. Please pray that God will bless this advocacy; and may it be replicated around the world.

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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