Tuesday, April 18, 2017

RLPB 403. North Korea: Uncertainly looms over long-suffering Church

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 403 | Wed 19 Apr 2017

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NORTH KOREA: UNCERTAINTY LOOMS OVER LONG-SUFFERING CHURCH
plus news alert -- EGYPT: Sinai monastery attacked
by Elizabeth Kendal

The Korean Revival of 1907 (also known as the Korean Pentecost) stands in history as one of the great transformative revivals of the 20th Century. Geopolitically, it was a tense time. Aware that a spirit of fear and negativity pervaded the annual winter (January) Pyengyang Bible Class, its organisers bathed the event in prayer.

Pengyang Bible Class, January 1907
On the evening of Monday 8 January 1907, the Holy Spirit descended in power on the gathering of some 1500 Korean Bible teachers, pastors and missionaries. The result was an out-pouring of prayer, marked by a deep sorrow over sin. The next day it continued: the Class was gripped by a spirit of repentance which culminated in confession, forgiveness and reconciliation. Over time the movement spread to the point that the Korean capital, Pyengyang (Pyongyang) became known as 'The Jerusalem of the East'. But, in the mystery of God, the Korean Church would not be permitted to remain on the spiritual mountaintop for long.

Located as it is between China and Japan, Korea had long been the site of proxy wars as her powerful, imperialist neighbours fought for control over the peninsula. On 22 August 1910 imperialist Shinto nationalist Japan annexed Korea, ushering in a 35-year period of intensive religious persecution. In 1919 (in the wake of World War 1) Korean Christians led a movement for independence. But the hoped-for Western support did not eventuate. Instead, they were imprisoned and the persecution intensified. One consequence of this terrible period was that Christianity became associated with Korean nationalism and the profile of the Church was raised.

During the course of World War 2 the Korean Peninsula came to be divided along the 38th parallel, with the north under Soviet occupation and the south occupied by America. On 25 June 1950 the communist north invaded the south, triggering the Korean War. Though a ceasefire was declared in 1953, the war was merely frozen, not ended. After the border closed, an estimated 2,300 churches with about 300,000 members disappeared from the north. Under the rule of the Kim family, Christianity is prohibited with the threat of death for the believer and labour camp for the extended family. Thus the Christians of North Korea have known little else but intensive suffering for over 100 years. Despite the persecution, the Church has survived and is believed to number between 300,000 and 500,000. Those who are not struggling to endure horrendous prison labour camps, survive as secret believers. God alone sustains them, and one day they will emerge as Korea's light, salt and healing.

 Pyongyang, military parade, 15 April 2017
Today, geopolitical tensions are approaching boiling point. North Korea is convinced the US-led West would not have removed Saddam Hussein in 2003 if Iraq actually had weapons of mass destruction; and that the US-led West would not have removed Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 had he not given up Libya's weapons of mass destruction. So North Korea will not willingly disarm, but will retain its weapons program for the purpose of deterrence. It remains to be seen how the Kim regime responds to a real existential threat. It is difficult to know how to pray, for though we want to see the situation change, we do not want to see Korea's long-suffering Church engulfed in apocalyptic fire. All we can do is give the situation to God, plead for his mercy and ask that he interpose himself into the Korean crisis for the well-being of his Church and the glory of his name.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO

* intervene in the Korean crisis creatively, according to his wisdom, to fulfil his good purposes, that ultimately the Church in North Korea might be liberated to be a blessing to the whole Korean Peninsula and a witness to the watching world.

'Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfils his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!' (Psalm 57:1-3 ESV)

* pour out his Holy Spirit in power upon his beloved Korean Church, that she might erupt yet again in Spirit-led prayer that the Korean Peninsula might once again be transformed.

'Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!' (Psalm 57:5 and 11 ESV) 'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.' (Zechariah 4:6 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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UNCERTAINTY LOOMS OVER LONG-SUFFERING CHURCH IN NORTH KOREA

North Korea will not willingly disarm as its weapons are a deterrent against foreign intervention. Tensions are reaching boiling point. Despite more than 100 years of severe persecution -- under Japanese occupation, Soviet occupation and the Kim family -- the Church is believed to number between 300,000 and 500,000. Christianity is prohibited with the threat of death for the believer and labour camp for the extended family. God alone sustains believers struggling to survive in labour camps or as secret believers. One day they will emerge as Korea's light, salt and healing. While we want to see the situation change, we do not want Korea's long-suffering Church engulfed in apocalyptic fire. Please pray that God will intervene for the well-being of the Korean Church and of the whole Korean Peninsula.

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EGYPT: Sinai Monastery Attacked

St Catherine's Monastery, South Sinai
A policeman was killed and four more were wounded on Tuesday 18 April, when Islamic militants attacked a security checkpoint outside St Catherine's monastery in Egypt's South Sinai. The world heritage listed 6th Century monastery is popular with pilgrims and tourists and is said to stand at the site of the biblical Mt Sinai. Islamic State has claimed responsibility. Please pray for Egypt and its Church.

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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, April 11, 2017

RLPB 402. Egypt and Syria: Massacre and the Threat of Massacre

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 402 | Wed 12 Apr 2017

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)


EGYPT AND SYRIA: MASSACRE AND THE THREAT OF MASSACRE
-- plus Easter Prayer
by Elizabeth Kendal

This RLPB will not be the 'short Easter devotion' promised last week. Rather we must press on with intercession in view of the events of the past week, which indicate that the Christian crisis in the Middle East is moving to a whole new level.

EGYPT: PALM SUNDAY DOUBLE MASSACRE


Mar Girgis, Tanta, Palm Sunday, 9 April 2017
Soon after 9am on Sunday 9 April, as the believers were enjoying Palm Sunday celebrations, a suicide bomber entered Mar Girgis (St George) Church in the Nile Delta city of Tanta. Launching himself towards the front of the church, he detonated himself beside the altar. At least 27 worshippers were killed and a further 78 others wounded. A few hours later in coastal Alexandria, a suicide bomber approached St Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral. Unable to gain entrance to the church, he blew himself up outside, killing 18 civilians and four police officers. The head of the Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, had just finishing addressing the congregation, but was not hurt. By Sunday afternoon, Islamic State in Egypt had claimed both attacks.

That evening, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi announced on television that he would impose a three-month nationwide state of emergency, establish a Supreme Anti-Terrorism Council and fast-track amendments to the criminal code to expedite the trials of terror suspects. On 10 April the Egyptian parliament approved the measures.

The situation for Copts in Egypt is extremely complex. Churches are a soft target for Islamic militants aiming to trigger sectarian conflict to destabilise or extract concessions from the state. Meanwhile, many Muslims in authority view Christians as pawns, expendable in the pursuit of Western military aid and support. In other words, both the jihadists and the authorities stand to gain from bombing the churches. Furthermore, after receiving intelligence on 10 April that an IS attack was imminent, Israel closed the border crossing between Taba in Egypt's South Sinai Province and Eilat in southern Israel, on the north shore of the Gulf of Aqaba. As Islamic State's Caliphate collapses in Mosul, many of IS's Egyptian fighters are returning home. Islamic State in Egypt is growing and, with Muslim Brotherhood support, is escalating its campaign. The Christian crisis in Egypt is moving to a whole new level.

Photo galleries: Al-Ahram and BBC 
Of course this violence leaves many nominal or cultural Muslims shaken, repulsed and disillusioned -- indeed many will reject Islam because of it. An evangelical pastor in the Middle East told Jennifer Breedon (an analyst with the Clarion Project): 'Today ISIS is the evangelizer… I am merely a baptizer of their converts to Christianity.' While the pastor's comment is understandable, it would be more accurate to say that ISIS is the hammer smashing Islam's illusions, while in demonstrating divine amazing grace, Egypt's Christians are the evangelisers.

PLEASE PRAY FOR Egypt's grieving, traumatised and anxious Christians. May God comfort them, supply all their needs and redeem all their suffering. May the Lord pour his Holy Spirit on them that they will continue to demonstrate divine amazing grace (see Luke 6:27-31), evangelising Egypt (and the world) in the process.


SYRIA: US REVERSAL RAISES THREAT OF MASSACRE 

On the night of Thursday 6 April, US President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike on Syria's Shayrat Airbase. Located about 40 km east of the city of Homs, Shayrat is the principal base from where Syrian and Russian forces have been fighting Islamic State in eastern Syria. While the impact of the 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles appears to have been minimal, the action -- which was surely illegal -- further complicates an already complicated situation. The missile strike was ordered on the basis of 'intelligence' (primarily heart-rending images of children in the village of Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib) provided by Turkey and Saudi-backed, al-Qaeda-led 'rebels'. [Idlib fell to a coalition of Turkey and Saudi-backed al-Qaeda-led transnational jihadists in March 2015 (see RLPBs 303, 305 and 307 of April 2015)].

Without any independent investigation, the West deemed Assad guilty of launching a chemical attack on civilians, despite the obvious fact that the Syrian government -- which was making great gains militarily and politically -- had nothing to gain from such a provocation and everything to lose. On the contrary, the mostly foreign 'rebels' -- who care little about Syria or Syrians and are on the back foot militarily -- had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Meanwhile, according to Homs governor Talal al-Barazi, 14 Syrians were killed in the US attack on the Shayrat airbase, nine of whom were civilians, including women and children.

It should not be forgotten that NATO-member Turkey and US-allied Saudi Arabia and Qatar started the Syrian war when they chose to exploit 'Arab Spring' unrest in Syria to pursue regime change in Damascus. The Turkey-Arab Sunni Axis' aim is to restore Sunni hegemony (as was the situation before WW1) and install a Sunni regime in Damascus more amenable to Sunni interests. If the US does not step back, the consequences for Christians will be disastrous.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that Hezbollah is known to be stockpiling weapons in southern Syria in preparation for a new war with Israel which may well be launched from Syrian territory. In the early hours of 17 March Israeli air-force jets entered Syrian airspace and fired rockets into a convoy understood to be transporting Iranian weapons to Hezbollah's T-4 military base at Palmyra, drawing fire from Syrian air defences in the process. This evolving situation is causing a dilemma for Russia, which is allied to Iran and Syria, and to Israel with whom it has pledged co-operation. For Israel the security situation is becoming critical, as the threat posed by Iran-Hezbollah is greater than the threat posed by Islamic State.

Bishop Moussa enjoys Palm Sunday parade
outside the Church of Saint Elias in Damascus.  9 April 2017
Source: image gallery - Christians celebrate Palm Sunday
The fact we cannot ignore is that if the Syrian government falls jihadists will fill the vacuum, triggering a new exodus and genocide. Western policy is spinning so fast it is dizzying. The only solution I (Elizabeth Kendal) could propose would be an alliance comprising Russia, the Alawites, Israel and the West, committed to keeping the bulk of Mesopotamia (i.e. 'the Fertile Crescent of minorities') free from Islamic rule and free from Turkish, Arab or Persian domination. 'With God, all things are possible' (Matthew 19:26; see also, Luke 1:37).

PLEASE PRAY FOR Syria's grieving, traumatised and deeply anxious Christians; may God comfort them, supply all their needs and redeem all their suffering. May the Lord intervene in Syria in the interests of the Church, in the interests of Syria.


EASTER PRAYER

Dear God our Father,
We lift before you the imperilled Christians of the Middle East, along with persecuted and suffering believers everywhere. 
They suffer betrayal, injustice, violence and killing -- just as you did.
They struggle with fear, panic, terror and confusion -- just as did your disciples.
Though we join in lamentations we find hope in the Cross which reminds us that no matter how deep the darkness, you are there, alive and active, subverting evil and redeeming it for good in fulfilment of promise.
Father, 
Add our tears to the tears of the bereaved and oppressed, and to the blood of the martyrs: that suffering might be redeemed, that hearts might be softened and the 'soil' prepared to receive the Gospel of grace. 
Pour out your Spirit afresh upon the Church, that we might with boldness step out in faith and with grace and great generosity of spirit to be cross-bearers (Luke 14:27) and burden-sharers (Galatians 6:2) that the world might believe (John 17:20-23).
Lord have mercy on us for the sake of the Lamb, Jesus Christ the King of kings and Lord of lords.
AMEN

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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