Tuesday, November 25, 2014

RLPB 288. November Update, incl. Sudan, Australia, Bangladesh, China, Kenya, Nigeria.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 288 | Wed 26 Nov 2014
By Elizabeth Kendal

'And [Saul] said, "Who are you, Lord?" And he said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." '  (Acts 9:5 ESV)

NOVEMBER 2014 UPDATE -- During November we prayed concerning ...

* INDIA (RLPB 285), where sectarian tensions in Chhattisgarh's southern Bastar district are rising as Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) ideologues incite Hindus to persecute Christians.

* SUDAN (RLPB 286), where leaked documents have exposed the Arab-Islamic regime's plans to 'end the rebellion' in South Kordofan this dry season. Plans include destroying all crops and denying all aid to create a deadly famine. This is the regime's second attempted genocide of the predominantly Christian Nuba in a generation.

UPDATE SUDAN --

NUBA MOUNTAINS:  'EXTERMINATION BY DESIGN'
Fighting is raging in Dalami, in the northern regions of the Nuba Mountains, South Kordofan, and reliable sources have warned that a chemical weapons attack could be imminent. At great personal risk, researchers entered the besieged Nuba Mountains in August to assess the humanitarian situation. The report entitled 'Life Under Siege ...' was published on 20 November by 'Enough Project'. It details high levels of displacement, insecurity and malnutrition, along with extremely poor food security.
An accompanying policy brief, entitled 'Extermination by Design ...', published the same day, concludes with the following assessment: 'When considered together, the Sudan government's targeted attacks on humanitarian installations, its refusal to allow any aid workers into rebel-held areas, its aerial bombing of civilian settlements, its efforts to prevent harvesting of crops, and some of its other war tactics in the region all add up to extermination by design.'  Enough Project maintains this should be recognised as 'a crime against humanity'. Pray for the Church in South Kordofan.

KHARTOUM: CHURCH PROPERTIES DEMOLISHED 
On 17 and 18 November, authorities partially demolished the Bahri Evangelical Church in North Khartoum along with homes on the church compound, including the home of pastor Hafiz Fasaha. It also included a property belonging to the Nile Theological College which was rented to a Christian doctor who has lost everything in the demolition. Leaders from the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church-affiliated congregation immediately filed a complaint but were told they would have to wait until 4 December for it to be heard. When the bulldozers returned on 19 and 20 November they were met by hundreds of church members who formed a human barrier in an attempt to prevent any further demolition. Five church leaders were arrested for refusing to surrender the property to the regime. Though the church has documents proving ownership, a Muslim businessman has a court order entitling him to develop the land. Pray for the Church in Sudan.

* LAOS (RLPB 287), where Christians face great hostility at the village level. The persecution Christians suffer is endorsed and perpetuated by the authorities.

NOVEMBER 2014 ROUND-UP -- also this month ...

* AUSTRALIA: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AT RISK IN VICTORIA
Victorians elect a state government on Saturday 29 November. A Labor victory would herald radical changes. Trumpeting 'Equality', the Labor platform includes the promise to remove religious exemptions from the Equal Opportunity Act (2010) so that religious organisations will no longer be permitted to employ only those who share their beliefs and values. A Labor victory would see Christians in Victoria faced with the same escalating persecution that Christians are experiencing in the UK and parts of the US where 'Equality' or 'Equal Opportunity' (pro-LGBTI 'rights') legislation is fuelling intolerance of traditional conservative Christianity. Indeed, cultural and moral relativism are increasingly being viewed as the bench-mark of Western, democratic values. Pray for revival in the West. Pray for the Victorian elections and for the Church in Victoria, Australia.

* BANGLADESH: PASTORS CHARGED 
On 9 November two pastors from the Faith Bible Church of God, both converts from Islam, were sharing their faith in a meeting in Nabinagar village in the northern district of Lalmonirhat when a mob of at least 100 Muslims attacked the gathering. The police arrived and took the pastors and the 41 people at the meeting into custody. By 10 pm all but the two pastors had been released. Although Bangladesh is officially secular with a constitution that guarantees religious freedom, the two pastors were arrested and denied bail. Eventually they were released on appeal on 17 November. They are now awaiting trial on charges of hurting religious sentiments and inducing Muslims to convert. The charges were filed by local Muslim clerics. If found guilty, the pastors could face two years in jail. A hearing is scheduled for 12 December. Every ruling creates a precedent. Please pray.

* CHINA: CRACKING DOWN AT NORTH KOREAN BORDER
On 18 November Chinese authorities arrested Peter Han (73) (left) a Korean-American Christian who, along with his wife Eunice (65), has lived in Tumen, China, since 1997, running a network of aid projects along the China-North Korea border. Born in North Korea, Mr Han had escaped as a child, lived in the US and then returned to help North Koreans. The Hans' finances have been frozen and their vehicles confiscated. Two of Peter Han's colleagues have been detained also. Now in Seoul, Eunice Han said the Chinese authorities appear to be cracking down on aid workers in the border area. According to reports, some 1000 South Korean missionaries have been driven out and churches closed.
Peter Han's arrest follows the 4 August arrest of a Canadian Christian couple, Kevin and Julie Garratt (right) who have lived in Dandong, China, since 1984, running a prayer and training centre as well as a coffee shop. According to reports, Mr Garrett (53) -- a former pastor -- and his wife are being kept isolated, without access to family or a lawyer.

* KENYA: TENSIONS BOILING
Tensions are boiling in Kenya as the government clamps down on Islamic militants and as al-Shabaab responds by slaughtering Christians. Clashes erupted in the coastal city of Mombasa on Friday 21 November as Muslims rioted in response to the government crackdown on Islamic militancy which has led to the closure of five mosques in the Mombasa area and the arrest of over 150 Muslims. The mosques -- which were being used to store weapons, bomb-making equipment and literature on jihad -- are now crime scenes. Early on Saturday 22 November some 100 al-Shabaab militants captured a bus in Kenya's far north-east. After separating the Kenyans from the Somalis, the militants then executed 28 'non-believers' (including 19 Christians) who could not recite the shahada (the Islamic profession of faith). Al-Shabaab has claimed the bus attack was retaliation for the mosque closures.

* NIGERIA: TERROR CONTINUES
Boko Haram continues to expand its Caliphate in Northern Nigeria. In a new tactic, Boko Haram militants are regularly refraining from using guns to avoid alerting the military. Instead, they attack quietly, cutting throats and drowning unsuspecting locals as they work. On Sunday 22 November a female suicide bomber blew herself up in Bauchi, killing 10 and wounding more than 60. A suicide bombing on Tuesday 25 November in Maiduguri, Borno, that has killed some 78 people, was carried out by two teenage girls.   This use of teenage girls as suicide bombers is a source of great distress for families whose daughters (mostly Christians) have been kidnapped by Boko Haram.

'Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart "Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you."' (Isaiah 35:3-4 ESV)

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


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

RLPB 287. Laos: Christians purged and arrested

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 287 | Wed 19 Nov 2014

LAOS: CHRISTIANS PURGED AND ARRESTED
By Elizabeth Kendal

Laos is a one-party state ruled by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. There is are no free media, dissidents are jailed and prisoners are tortured. Whilst the government protects the Buddhism of the ethnic Lao and permits the traditional animism and spiritism of the ethnic minorities, it is hostile towards Christianity which it regards as foreign. Because ethnic Hmong allied with the 'Christian' US against the Communists during the Second Indochina war (the Vietnam War), the regime is especially hostile towards Hmong Christians. When the war ended in 1975 persecution or retribution was so intense that thousands of Hmong -- including nearly all Hmong church leaders -- fled en masse to the US. The regime subsequently expressed a desire to eliminate Christianity. The situation has since improved and the Laos Constitution of 1991 provides for freedom of belief, speech and assembly (Articles 30 and 31) and Ministerial Decree 92 'protects legitimate religious activities'. Yet the hostility towards Christianity remains. Christians comprise just 3.4 percent of the population but are growing at a rate of nearly 6 percent per annum. However, for them religious freedom is little more than a mirage. The Church's needs are enormous, especially as over 90 percent of Laos' 147 ethnic groups are as yet 'unreached' (Operation World 2010).

The traditional animism commonly practised in ethnic minority and tribal areas require the spirits to be constantly appeased through sacrifice and ritual. If the spirits are offended then trouble will come, such as hail or drought, death or disease. Consequently animist villagers feel greatly threatened when members of the village reject animism for Jesus Christ. Fearing angry spirits and seeking to avoid disaster, the animist villagers will demand the Christians renounce their faith and return to appeasing the spirits. When Christians refuse to do so they are usually driven out of their homes, off their lands and expelled from the village. At other times angry villagers will complain to the local authorities who will arrest the Christians for 'disturbing the peace'.

Some of the displaced Christians (RFA)
On 13 November, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that six Hmong families (comprising 25 individuals) were forced to leave Ko Hai village in Khamkeut district in Laos' central Bolikhamsai Province recently after they refused to renounce their Christian faith and revert to animism. When the local authorities first tried to force the families to renounce their faith in July, they seized two of their men and detained them for over a month. That failed and on 27 August two of the families were expelled. Then on 18 September the other four families were driven out. Though the displaced believers have all found refuge in another village, they have lost everything and no longer have the means to support themselves or to resettle. Destitute, they desperately want to return to their homes and farms. The governor of Khamkeut district told RFA he was unaware of the forced evictions and promised to investigate.

click on map to enlarge
On 2 November seven other ethnic Hmong, including a 14-year-old boy, were arrested in Laos' north-western Luang Namtha Province after they converted from animism to Christianity. Five were released after they renounced their faith, while the two who refused were transferred to the provincial prison. Security officials in Luang Namtha told RFA that the seven were not arrested over religion but were merely taken in for questioning because they were 'disturbing the social peace'. Conditions in Lao prisons are appalling -- squalid and inhumane conditions are the norm, and torture is routine. Several Christian leaders remain imprisoned in the southern province of Savannakhet.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* move the conscience of Khamkeut district's governor, Thongsam, to recognise injustice and work to set things right. 'The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.' (Proverbs 21:1 ESV) May the displaced Christians be permitted to return to their homes and farms, may they prove to be a blessing to the village and may the Holy Spirit move through Ko Hai village and Khamkeut district.

* be a powerful sustaining presence -- a sanctuary -- to all those Christians imprisoned in harsh conditions in Laos for their faith; may the Holy Spirit fill them to overflowing so that those who abuse them cannot help but be deeply challenged by their enduring faith and their amazing grace.

Remember, the Lord 'is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us' (Ephesians 3:20 ESV).

* provide the struggling yet growing Lao Church with all it needs for the enormous task it faces; may he provide pastors, evangelists, linguists, literature, media, labourers, comforters, supporters and especially an abundance of divine wisdom with which to navigate the social, religious and political situation especially at the village level. 'The Lord is my shepherd . . .' (Psalm 23)

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SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
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LAOS: CHRISTIANS PURGED AND ARRESTED

The animism practised by Laos' ethnic minorities require constant appeasement of spirits. When villagers become Christians and stop participating in sacrifice and rituals, animists consider this a serious threat. Fearful and angry, animist villagers drive Christians from their homes and farms, expelling them from their village and leaving them destitute. Six ethnic Hmong families (25 individuals) recently driven out of their village in central Laos are desperate to return. Please pray as the district governor, Thongsam, has agreed to investigate. Also seven ethnic Hmong were arrested in Laos' far north-west on 2 November after they became Christians. Five were released after renouncing their faith, while the two who refused to recant were imprisoned. Lao prisons are squalid and torture is routine. Please pray for Laos and its Church.

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