Tuesday, November 24, 2015

RLPB 337. November update. Incl. India, Australia, Bangladesh, Burma, Nigeria, Russia in Syria.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 337 | Wed 25 Nov 2015

By Elizabeth Kendal

NOVEMBER 2015 UPDATE -- During November we prayed concerning ...

* INDIA (RLPB 334), where violent persecution continues to escalate because of Hindutva (intolerant Hindu nationalism). During the winter sitting of the parliament, Hindu nationalist MPs of both the upper and lower houses plan to introduce a private member's bill banning conversions.

UPDATE: The parliament will sit from 26 November to 23 December, commencing with a two-day discussion on the constitution, to commemorate its adoption on 26 November 1949. The opposition has vowed to raise the issue of 'intolerance' -- an issue the government is dismissing as an illusion created by the opposition for political purposes. With Indian actors and writers increasingly speaking out against intolerance, pray that the plight of Christians will not be overlooked or disregarded.

* CHINA (RLPB 335), where repression is escalating as President Xi exhorts the ruling Communist Party to 'attain the goal of Communism', expecting artists, writers and the Church to serve the Party,  advance its goals and be consistent with Marxist-Leninist thinking.

* IRAN (RLBP 336), where Christians continue to be imprisoned for their faith as the clerical regime continues to intensify pressure on the Church.

* IRAQ (RLPB 336), where a new National Identity Card law allows the forced Islamisation of Christian children in the event that either parent converts to Islam or marries a Muslim. By this means, Islam will strive (through yet more discriminatory laws) to take Christian children captive into a system they will never be free to leave. Pray against this wickedness. May the Lord protect Iraq's Christian children.

NOVEMBER 2015 ROUND-UP -- also this month ...


click here for pdf
The Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference is to go before Tasmania's Anti-Discrimination Commission charged with violating Tasmania's anti-discrimination law which criminalises speech that could reasonably be anticipated to offend, humiliate, insult or ridicule another person on the basis of several categories, including sexual orientation. The complaint was made by transgender Greens Party candidate, Martine Delaney, who claimed to feel 'offended and humiliated' by Tasmanian Archbishop Julius Porteous' booklet, 'Don't Mess With Marriage' [see blog for link]. Written in defence of traditional marriage and the rights of children, the booklet/pastoral letter was distributed to parents and teachers in Catholic schools as a means of explaining the Catholic Church's position on marriage and family. It is gracious, sensitive, beautifully written and thoroughly inoffensive. Despite this, Tasmania's Anti-Discrimination commissioner, Robin Banks, ruled on 13 November that the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference has a case to answer. This is a test case for anti-discrimination law in Australia.


Italian Catholic priest Father Piero Parolari (64) has lived in Bangladesh for 25 years, the past 12 of which have been spent in the north-west district of Dinajpur where he works as a doctor in a hospital run by Christian missionaries. On 18 November, when Fr Piero was cycling down to the St Vincent Hospital after morning prayers at the Suihari Catholic Mission, he was shot several times at close range by three men on a motorbike, who then savagely beat him before leaving him for dead. Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility. Fr Piero survived and is recovering in hospital [photos]. Pray for the Church in Bangladesh.

Despite having won Burma's 8 November polls in a landslide, Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) will face major hurdles. The deeply flawed 2008 constitution was written under military rule and serves military interests.  It centralises government and contains 'exception clauses' that give the military the legal right to orchestrate a military coup if the military deems it necessary for the purpose of safeguarding the constitution [see RLPB 236 (13 Nov 2013)]. After independence, Burmese military units throughout the country were required to raise a significant amount of their own revenue to pay salaries and equip themselves. Today, two military-run conglomerates continue to dominate much of Burma's economy. The conflict in Kachin State continues because the Kachin -- a devoutly Christian people -- want greater autonomy with cultural and religious freedom, while the military wants to exploit Kachin lands, which are rich in jade, timber and water for hydro-electricity. The extreme violence meted out by the Burmese Buddhist military to the Christian Kachin is driven not merely by greed, but by toxic racial and religious hatred.

On 15 October (just prior to the elections) the government of President Thein Sein and eight armed groups signed a so-called Nationwide Cease-fire Agreement (NCA), binding those groups to abide by the 2008 constitution. The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) was one of seven groups that refused to sign. After the elections the Kachin observed a massive build-up of Burmese forces around the outskirts of Mohnyin town in south Kachin State. Ground offensives began on 14 November. On Monday 16 November KIA positions were attacked by fighter jets, helicopter gunships and ground artillery. La Nan, who is a local religious leader and Mohnyin resident, told The Irrawaddy that some 300 villagers had fled their homes and were temporarily sheltering in his church. The Rev Lama Yaw of the Kachin Baptist Convention visited areas near Mohnyin and told Morning Star News that Christians in the state capital, Myitkyina, are praying for villagers living near Mohnyin. 'As soon as we heard civilians fled for safety, we held prayer and prayed to God to protect them,' he said. 'We are weak, and what we can do is keep praying and relying on God. We believe that God is capable to protect our people.' Please join in prayer with the Kachin as they pray for peace in Burma. May God shield Mohnyin, home to many displaced Kachin.

Prayer for displaced ethnic Kachin at the Kachin Baptist Convention’s
office in Myitkyina. Morning Star News


Earlier this year, Boko Haram was consolidating its caliphate in north-eastern Nigeria, launching raids into northern Cameroon [RLPB 296 (11 Feb)] and inciting pogroms in southern Niger [RLPB 293 (21 Jan)].  In February the governments of Nigeria, Benin, Niger, Chad and Cameroon agreed to assemble an 8700-strong regional force to destroy the group. In June Nigeria's new President Muhammadu Buhari moved the military command centre from the capital Abuja, to Borno, the centre of the war zone [RLPB 315 (24 June)]. The regional force commenced operations on 30 July. In retreat and under pressure, Boko Haram has escalated its use of suicide bombers, virtually all of whom are young girls. As noted in RLPB 333 (27 Oct), Boko Haram has used 50 girls for this purpose so far this year and it is fair to assume that they were mostly (if not exclusively) captive Christians. At least seven more girls were used as suicide bombers in November, six in attacks on Fotokol, in northern Cameroon on 9 and 21 November, and one in a displaced persons' camp in Maiduguri, Borno, on 22 November. While some captives have been rescued, many hundreds more remain in captivity and many have already been sold into sexual slavery to regional jihadists. Pray for God to intervene in Nigeria and set the captives free. (Psalm 146)


Russia entered the conflict in Syria primarily to defend its own strategic interests (in particular its port in Tartus) and fight terrorists (of particular concern are the more than 2000 Russian/'Chechens'). It is in Russia's interests on both counts to preserve the Syrian government, a long-time ally. As Russia has noted, Syria is already providing 'boots on the ground' in the fight against IS and al-Qaeda (just as the Shi'ite-dominated, Iran-aligned, Iraqi army does in Iraq -- with US-support). The Russian intervention has infuriated the US-Turkey-Arab regime-change coalition which is still insisting 'Assad must go', even though IS is poised to fill any power vacuum. That prospect does not bother Turkey, for if the Islamic State of Saudi Arabia is IS's mother -- having nurtured the newborn Islamic State (IS) into being -- then Turkey is IS's father, manager and business partner. US Vice President Joe Biden was absolutely right when he told students at Harvard University in October 2014, 'The biggest problem is our allies.' As Biden went on to explain, Turkey (in particular) has facilitated the flow of thousands of fighters and millions of dollars into the jihad in Syria. Turkey's border is not called the 'jihadi highway' for nothing. Turkey is also a leading purchaser of IS oil.

On Tuesday 24 November Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet that it claimed had briefly violated Turkish airspace. For the second time in two months, NATO-member Turkey is pressing for a NATO intervention against Russia in Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin was absolutely right when on 25 November he called the Turkish military 'accomplices of terrorists' and asked, 'Do they want to make NATO serve ISIS?' If NATO intervenes it could facilitate the fall of the Syrian government; a genocide of Alawites, Christians and other minorities, and Syria's descent into a Libya-style chaos. This is precisely what some people and governments actually want. Please pray for God to intervene in Syria, a centre for Christianity for 2000 years, where 'the disciples [followers of Jesus] were first called Christians' (Acts 11:26 ESV).

Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).

Her second book, ‘After Saturday Comes Sunday’: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, will be published by Wipf and Stock (Eugene, OR, USA) in early 2016.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

RLPB 336. Iran and Iraq: pressure mounts on Christians

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 336 | Wed 18 Nov 2015

plus - an update on Syria
By Elizabeth Kendal


Maryam Naghash-Zargaran
Iranian authorities first started harassing Maryam Naghash Zargaran (37) in February 2011, angered by her conversion to Christianity and her active involvement in Iran's house church movement. In early 2013 Maryam (also known as Nasim) was charged with 'Propaganda against the Islamic regime' and imprisoned for 19 days before being released on bail. In July 2013 the court pronounced Maryam guilty of waging an 'anti-security agenda to spread Christianity in Iran in order to pervert Iranian society from the way of truth [i.e. Islam]' and sentenced her to four years in Evin prison. Maryam suffers from a congenital heart condition and had surgery nine years ago for Atrial septal defect (ASD) [commonly known as ‘a hole in the heart’].  Maryam's health has deteriorated significantly in prison. On 29 September 2013 she had to be hospitalised for urgent heart treatment. In late October 2015 she was granted medical leave again, but within days was ordered back to prison, mid-treatment. Maryam needs our prayers.

Middle East Concern (MEC) reports that on 1 November security agents raided a house church in Varamin, south-east of Tehran, and arrested at least thirteen of those present. The following day another Christian connected with the house church was arrested at his home in Tehran. MEC reports: 'Many of those arrested were formerly members of Emmanuel Protestant Church in Tehran, which was forced to stop its Farsi-language services in 2012, resulting in the formation of several informal house churches.' The condition and whereabouts of those arrested remains unknown. Family and friends are requesting prayer.


The Iraqi parliament has moved to Islamise Iraq further with a new National Card law. According to Article 26.2 of the National Card law, '... children shall follow the religion of the converted parent to Islam.' In other words, if a Christian father decides to convert to Islam -- say, to get a job or a second (Muslim) wife -- then his children will be registered automatically as Muslims. Likewise, if a Christian mother -- maybe a widow or divorcee -- marries a Muslim man, then her children will automatically be registered as Muslims. Considering that Islamic law regards apostasy (leaving Islam) as a capital offence and obliges Muslim women to marry Muslim men, this move is significant. Christian children are at risk of losing their religious freedom purely because of a parent's  decision. Christian and other religious minority MPs proposed the following amendment: 'Minors will keep their current religion until the completion of 18 years of age, when they have the right to choose their religion.' But this was rejected and on 27 October the law was passed in the Iraqi parliament by a vote of 137 to 51. After the vote, religious minority MPs walked out of the chamber in protest.

Christians protest in Arbil
source: Evangelical Focus.
Sign reads:
I am Iraqi
I am Christian.
On 6 November Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako met with Iraqi President Fouad Masoum who acknowledged that elements of the National Card law do conflict with the Iraqi Constitution and said he would try to seek a realistic solution. However, Article 2 of the Iraqi Constitution states: 'Islam is the official religion of the State and is a foundation source of legislation' and 'no law may be enacted that contradicts the established provisions of Islam ...' Because Iraq's laws must not contradict Islam -- which defines religious freedom very differently from how the West defines it -- and because Iraq is now more closely aligned to ascendant Iran than to the declining West, the prospects for a correction seem slight. Chaldean Bishop Rabban Al-Qas of Amadiyah and Zakho, a diocese in Iraqi Kurdistan, predicts that the new law will further accelerate the exodus of Christians. 'We are facing a genocide,' he said, 'in a country that knows only death and liberticidal laws.'


* the presence of God's eternal and omnipresent Spirit will be palpable inside Iranian prisons -- both to the believers and through the believers; may the Lord our Shepherd guide Iran's at-risk illegal house churches and the Lord of Hosts protect them.

* Jehovah Rapha -- 'the Lord who heals you' (Exodus 15:26) -- will watch over, protect and preserve the lives of his precious, cross-bearing children in Iran and Iraq as they endure war, imprisonment, harsh conditions, displacement and separation from family and church friends because of the name of Jesus. Please pray especially at this time for Maryam Naghash Zargaran -- may the Lord uphold her.

* our sovereign God will intervene to protect and preserve Iraq's remnant Christians, especially vulnerable Christian children; may all wicked efforts to steal Christian children for Islam come to nothing. 'Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.' (Matthew 19:14 ESV)

'Fear not, for I [the Lord] am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish.' (Isaiah 41:10,11 ESV)

UPDATE SYRIA: In August, IS forces captured the mostly-Christian town of Qaryatyn and the nearby Assyrian village of Hawwarin, both midway between Palmyra and the strategic Damascus-Homs M5 HWY. Though Christians fled, some one hundred Christian families remain captive in Qaryatyn. [See RLPB 322 (12 Aug) and RLPB 331 (13 Oct).] Stratfor Global Intelligence reports that Syrian government forces have re-taken several villages close to the eastern side of the M5. They are now preparing to defend Sadad (a Christian centre, now largely evacuated), and, with Russian air support, advance on on Qaryatyn and Hawwarin. May God be a shield around the remnant and captive Christians, and may their towns and villages be liberated.

~ ~ ~ ~


Pressure is mounting on Christians in Iran and Iraq as Iran ascends and Western influence declines.  In Iran, Farsi-speaking ethnic Persians face imprisonment if they convert to Christianity or participate in Farsi-language witness, or worship in secret house churches. Convert Maryam Naghash Zargaran (37) with a heart condition is part way through a four-year sentence. She urgently needs prayer. Since 1 November 14 members have been detained when officials raided a house church in Tehran Province. Meanwhile, the Iraqi parliament has passed a National Card law mandating that, if a Christian parent converts to Islam or marries a Muslim, their children will be registered automatically as Muslims and subjected to Sharia provisions. Christian children are thus at risk of forced Islamisation. Please pray for Iran and Iraq and their Christians.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).