Tuesday, August 23, 2016

RLPB 372. Algeria, Iran, Sudan: 'Remember those in prison . . .'

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 372 | Wed 24 Aug 2016

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ALGERIA, IRAN, SUDAN: 'REMEMBER THOSE IN PRISON'
by Elizabeth Kendal

'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them'  (Hebrews 13:3a ESV)

ALGERIA: FIVE YEARS FOR 'BLASPHEMY'

Slimane Bouhafs
source: Middle East Concern
In a ruling that has shocked Algerian churches and human rights groups, a judge has sentenced a Christian from Algeria's mountainous, north-eastern, largely Berber (non-Arab) Kabyle region to five years in prison and a large fine after deeming him guilty of blasphemy. Authorities arrested Slimane Bouhafs (49) on 31 July over a social media post in which he claimed that the light of Jesus was overcoming the 'lie' of Islam and its prophet in the Kabyle region. On 7 August Bouhafs faced court in the eastern town of Setif, 300km east of the capital, Algiers. Though his family and an Algerian secular human rights organisation appointed lawyers for him, the court claimed that Bouhafs had decided to defend himself. In sentencing Bouhafs, the judge chose to deliver the maximum penalty. The Eglise Protestante d'Algerie (Protestant Church of Algeria) will appeal against the verdict.

IRAN: PRISON AS A TOOL OF PERSECUTION AND REPRESSION 

On 24 June Iranian security agents arrested three Azerbaijani Christians attending an engagement party in Tehran. Eldar Gurbanov (48), Yusif Farhadov (51), and Bahram Nasibov (37) -- all from 'Word of Life' Church in Baku, Azerbaijan -- were amongst a group of some ten arrested. Most of the group were later released. Also detained was Naser Navard Gol-Tapeh (45), an Iranian Christian convert from a Muslim background whose plight and whereabouts remain unknown. No charges have been filed and the men, who are being held separately in a prison somewhere in Tehran, have not been allowed access to lawyers or consular officials. There are fears the men were 'set up and caught in a trap'. Back in Azerbaijan, the families of the three men are growing increasingly anxious. Meanwhile, the National Council of Resistance Iran (NCRI) reports that, on 12 August, intelligence officers raided a house church in Isfahan, central Iran, arresting eleven Christian men and women, of whom ten have been identified: they are Amin Ahanin, Mohammad Alyasi, Fatemeh Amini, Edmund Khachaturian, Mohammad Malek Khatai, Mohsen Khoobyari, Arash Qodsi, Hamed Sepidkar, Samaneh Shahbazi-Far and Maryam Zonubi. No further information is available.

Maryam, 29 May 2016
source: ICHRI
UPDATE to RLPB 368 (27 July): Christian prisoner Maryam Naghash-Zargaran (36) has ended her hunger strike, possibly due to family pressure. Despairing and gravely ill, Maryam is not due for release until July 2017. May the Lord carry Maryam through this trial. 'He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart ...' (Isaiah 40:11 NIV)

SUDAN: CHRISTIANS CHARGED WITH CAPITAL CRIMES

Revs Kwa and Hassan
source: Middle East Concern
The trial of the Rev Kwa Shamaal and the Rev Hassan Abdelrahim Tawor --  two Nuba pastors and leaders in the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) -- commenced in Khartoum North on 21 August. [For background see RLPB 360 (7 June).] On trial with the two pastors are Darfuri graduate and Christian convert (Muslim background believer) Abdulmonem Abdumawla Issa Abdumawla, and Czech missionary and film-maker Petr Jasek (52). The men are accused of engaging in criminal activities designed to tarnish the image of Sudan's government, specifically of fabricating 'false' stories of Christian persecution and Nuba genocide. They also stand accused of conducting 'intelligence activities and providing material support for [Nuba] rebels in South Kordofan'. Amongst the various charges, those of waging war against the state (Article 51 of the Sudanese Criminal Code) and espionage (Article 53) carry the death penalty as the maximum sentence.

As the grim hearing was under way, some 100 Christians from several denominations gathered together outside the court house and demonstrated their solidarity with the accused by singing hymns in the Nuba language. The next hearing is scheduled for Monday 29 August.

Click here for video: source CSW

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL 

* minister to all Christians who are this day suffering in prison for their faith, witness or advocacy; may they be profoundly aware of the comforting and sustaining presence of the Lord. 'You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.' (Psalm 139:5 ESV)

* redeem all this suffering and use it for his divine purpose and glory. May God take that which is intended for evil and use it for good to awaken many and save lives. May Christ continue to sanctify and build his Church in Algeria, Iran and Sudan. 'For nothing will be impossible with God.' (Luke 1:37 ESV)

* intervene in Algeria, Iran and Sudan to bring an end to the repression and injustice that inhibits the spread of the gospel. (1 Timothy 2:2-4)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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'REMEMBER THOSE IN PRISON' IN ALGERIA, IRAN & SUDAN

On 7 August an Algerian judge sentenced Slimane Bouhafs to five years imprisonment for blaspheming in a social media post claiming that the light of Jesus was overcoming the 'lie' of Islam. In Iran, where many Christians are imprisoned, three Azerbaijanis and an Iranian convert were arrested at an engagement party in Tehran on 24 June and 11 believers were arrested in a raid on a house church on 12 August. In Sudan, two Nuba pastors, a Darfuri convert and a Czech film-maker are on trial, accused of tarnishing the government's image with 'false' stories of Christian persecution and Nuba genocide. The charges include waging war against the state and espionage, which carry the death penalty. 'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them ...' (Hebrews 13:3)

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of 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). 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

RLPB 371. Syria (2): In Aleppo, churches serve as enemies threaten

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 371 | Wed 17 Aug 2016

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)


SYRIA (2): IN ALEPPO, CHURCHES SERVE AS ENEMIES THREATEN
by Elizabeth Kendal

President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Peter Maurer, has said concerning the Battle for Aleppo: 'This is beyond doubt, one of the most devastating urban conflicts in modern times.' Around 250,000 people remain trapped in Aleppo's rebel-held east. Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu describes them as 'hostages', unable to flee because the rebels have mined the humanitarian corridors and manned them with snipers. Meanwhile, more than a million citizens -- including some 40,000 mostly Assyrian and Armenian Christians -- remain in Aleppo's government-held west.

Having broken through the government siege of rebel-held eastern Aleppo [see RLPB 370 (10 Aug)], the al-Qaeda-led Jaysh al-Fatah will doubtless exploit its success to attract more jihadists into its camp, including many displaced Islamic State (IS) fighters. These al-Qaeda-led jihadists (95 percent of whom are foreign: including Chechens, Uzbeks, Saudis, Chinese Uyhgurs etc) are now engaged in a full-scale offensive aimed at capturing western Aleppo. Having failed to breach the government's lines using remote-controlled vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, we can expect that suicide bombers will be next. Meanwhile, they are endlessly shelling civilian districts. A humanitarian crisis is deepening in western Aleppo, although the Western media seem to have little interest in the plight of loyalist Syrians. Electricity is limited and, due to recent fighting, the flow of water and the main supply line have been cut, meaning water, food, fuel and medicines are scarce. Furthermore, unlike the Syrian nationalist Alawite-dominated military, the Iranian, Lebanese and Iraqi Shi'ite militias pouring into Aleppo are purely sectarian and interested only in geostrategic outcomes.

Churches bring light to dark Aleppo
Source: Barnabas Fund 
Despite the dire situation, western Aleppo's churches continue to serve and minister. The deputy director of the public assistance department at Aleppo's Orthodox Sunday schools, Samir Samaan, reports that Aleppo's Saint Elias Cathedral is caring for some 4000 newly displaced families -- half of them Muslim, half of them Christian.

Fr. Ziad Hilal
Source: ACN
Similarly, Jesuit priest Fr Ziad Hilal said the churches are working to feed those left in Aleppo, regardless of their religion. 'We have a big kitchen, this kitchen was sponsored by ACN [Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need] and other associations, and a lot of people come -- we give about 7500 meals every day. It is a lot, and the team is a Muslim and Christian team, and a lot of the people who benefit from these meals are Muslims. [So] on one side things are dark, things are sad -- on the other hand we see the activities of the Church there and how the people, especially the Christian associations, are helping. These provide a sign of hope. Our mission is important there.'  Father Ibrahim describes it as 'a miracle', noting that all the while, Christians in Aleppo are fasting and praying that 'the will for peace' will prevail 'over the will for war'.

Meanwhile, Russia is working on the diplomatic front to leverage co-operation from Turkey. Facing economic and political challenges at home, Turkey's President Erdogan may well decide that clamping down on the Turkish border (often referred to as the jihadi highway) might be worthwhile in exchange for Russia ending sanctions and resurrecting Turkstream, a new gas pipeline from Russia to Turkey. If Russia can bring about a shift in Turkish policy, it would be a game-changer, for the jihadists in northern Syria simply could not survive without Turkish support. Meanwhile, Russia and the USA are also moving closer to an agreement on co-operating to end the Battle for Aleppo. The US will however have difficulty convincing their US-backed 'good rebel' proxies to disengage from the successful al-Qaeda-linked jihadists. In reality, that is unlikely to happen, leaving the US in a compromised position, having to choose between protecting their 'rebel' proxies or the Christians those 'rebels' intend to slaughter. Meanwhile, the imperilled Christians of western Aleppo cling to hope -- ministering and witnessing, fasting and praying -- as the enemy threatens at the gate.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT 

* Yahweh Sabaoth -- the Lord of hosts -- will intervene in Aleppo, to 'preserve all who love him' (Psalm 145:20 ESV) and 'frustrate the way of the wicked' (Psalm 146:9 NIV).

* the Spirit of God will subvert the 'rebellion' so that the 'will for peace' will indeed prevail over 'the will for war'.

* Jehovah jireh, the Lord our provider, will keep Aleppo's churches well supplied with all the funds, resources and workers they need to continue serving and ministering as lights in the darkness.

'You are the light of the world ... let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.' (Matthew 5:14-16 ESV)

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'How can I help?' See http://www.elizabethkendal.com/action/  

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SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHURCHES SERVE, AS ENEMIES THREATEN IN ALEPPO, SYRIA

An al-Qaeda-led jihadist coalition has launched a campaign to capture the government-held western Aleppo, home to over a million loyalists, including some 40,000 Christians. The humanitarian situation is deteriorating: electricity is limited, and the main water supply line has been cut, so that water, food, fuel and medicines are all scarce. Despite this dire situation, churches in government-held western Aleppo continue to serve, taking in thousands of newly displaced Muslim and Christian families and distributing thousands of meals daily across the city. Meanwhile, Russia is working to leverage co-operation from Turkey. If successful, this will be a game-changer, as the jihadists in northern Syria could not survive without Turkish support. Syrian Christians are praying that 'the will for peace' prevails over 'the will for war'. Please pray for Syria and its churches.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of 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