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
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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