Wednesday, July 30, 2014

RLPB 271. July Update, Incl. Indonesia, Sudan, India, Central African Republic (CAR), China, Iraq, Macedonia

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 271 | Wed 30 Jul 2014

By Elizabeth Kendal

'Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear ...' (Isaiah 59:1 ESV)

JULY 2014 UPDATE -- During July we prayed concerning ...

* BURMA (Myanmar) (RLPB 267), where an anti-conversion law is being drafted that could put those seeking to change their religion, as well as those spreading non-Buddhist religion, at risk of imprisonment.

* INDONESIA (RLPB 268), where reformist leaders have historically faced serious resistance from powerful forces, specifically Islamic fundamentalists and military elites whose interests lie in preserving the status quo.

UPDATE: A NEW ERA APPROACHES
A NEW PRESIDENT FOR INDONESIA (population 245 million)
A NEW GOVERNOR FOR JAKARTA (population 9.8 million)
In October Joko Widodo (Jokowi) will be inaugurated as President of Indonesia. Born into a Christian family, Jokowi may prove to be more sensitive than previous presidents to issues of religious freedom and minority rights. Whilst Jokowi is a Muslim, he converted to Islam in pursuit of a woman, not from an ideological conviction. As Governor of Jakarta, Jokowi's deputy was Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok), a Chinese-Indonesian Christian. Together they were known as team 'Jokohok', and their willingness to tackle Jakarta's systemic problems made them extremely popular. Ahok will now ascend to the position of Governor of Jakarta, something the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) have opposed from the beginning and are vowing to resist. According to Jakarta City Council regulations, the Governor of Jakarta is also chief patron or chairman of eight Islamic bodies. Pray for Indonesia, and that God will use Jokowi and Ahok for his purpose. May God frustrate the schemes of the wicked (Psalm 146:9).

* SUDAN & SOUTH SUDAN (RLPB 269), where, because of Islamisation and persecution in Sudan and civil conflict and famine in South Sudan, the Church's suffering seems never-ending.

UPDATE: MERIAM IBRAHIM AND FAMILY SAFE AND FREE
'In answer to the prayers of many' (2 Corinthians 1:11), Meriam Ibrahim is now safe and free. Meriam, along with her husband Daniel and their two children Martin and Maya flew into Rome on Thursday 24 July, in an Italian government plane, accompanied by Italy's vice minister for foreign affairs, Lapo Pistelli. They were greeted at the airport by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. The family subsequently enjoyed a private audience with Pope Francis, who thanked Meriam for her 'courageous witness to perseverance in the faith', in the face of possible death. The family will soon fly to the US where they start a new life close to Daniel's extended family. Sudan may now be less willing to have apostasy dealt with through the courts, preferring instead to leave Sharia implementation in the hands of vigilantes. What will not change is the fact that Islam demands death for apostasy. Please remember Faiza Abdalla (37) who is facing the same fate that Meriam had faced: lashes for adultery and death for apostasy, only without her husband, who fled from persecution to South Sudan some time ago [see RLPB 266 (June update)].

* INDIA (RLPB 270), where more than 50 rural villages in the northern state of Chhattisgarh, have followed the advice of Hindu nationalists to ban all non-Hindu religious practice by exploiting a law that facilitates rural self-governance. Christians are being attacked and denied food rations and water. As every level of government in Chhattisgarh is Hindu nationalist, the situation appears hopeless. Pray that God will intervene for these faithful believers and that this will not create a precedent that will spread around the nation. Pray for India, and that Western nations might care as much about Indian lives as they do about making money using cheap Indian labour.

UPDATE: HINDUTVA versus CHRISTIANITY
VHP leader Suresh Yadav blames the Christians, accusing the Christian families in Sirisguda (the first village to ban Christianity) of instigating the unrest by refusing to give donations to the Hindu temple. Yadav says he cannot understand why tribals are still converting to Christianity when there is such a strong VHP and RSS presence in the area; he accuses the Christian missionaries of deception. BJP Rajya Sabha (Upper House) member Ranvijay Singh Judeo says he will resume the Ghar Wapsi (lit. homecoming) campaign soon, to 'return' Christian tribals to the Hindu fold. (source: Outlook India magazine, 28 July 2014) [For background on Hindu nationalism, see Hindutva! Religious Liberty Monitoring, 23 July 2014.]

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

* CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: PEACE BUT NO PEACE

On Wednesday 23 July, at the end of a three-day regional summit in Brazzaville, Congo, leaders representing Seleka and Anti-Balaka forces signed a cease-fire. In reality, the deal is next to meaningless. Not only is it unenforceable, but each side is profoundly splintered and the representatives at the talks did not represent all the factions. Critically, the sides did not manage to agree on a disarmament process. The talks were nearly derailed when the Seleka representative Mohamed Dhaffane demanded the partition of CAR. Only after serious pressure did Dhaffane back down, drop the demand and sign the cease-fire. The next day however, Seleka military chief Maj-Gen Joseph Zoundeiko denounced the deal saying his forces would ignore the cease-fire and continue to fight for CAR's partition. Pray for the Church in CAR.

* CHINA: MORE CHURCHES TARGETED IN WENZHOU

In their continuing efforts to de-Christianise the Zhejiang skyline, officials have removed more crosses from the tops of churches. Early Monday 28 July a crane arrived at Longgang Huai En Church in the city of Wenzhou and removed the cross.
UCAnews (28 July 2014)
Since the campaign started in January 2014, at least 130 churches have been impacted, mostly through the removal of their crosses, but some through the demolition of their entire property. On 21 July thousands of Christians rallied to prevent the demolition of Kau Yan church in Wenzhou. Police beat their way through the protesters, leaving dozens wounded and many requiring hospitalisation (photo). The protest was successful (for the time being) as the demolition crew ultimately did withdraw. Pray for China, and for the Church in Wenzhou.

* IRAQ: MOSUL NOW EMPTY OF CHRISTIANS

Formerly home to the highest concentration of Christians in Iraq, Mosul, the provincial capital of Nineveh, the ancient historic homeland of the Assyrian nation, is now devoid of Christians.
AINA - timeline Mosul
As the last Christians left, ISIS marked their homes with a large red Arabic letter 'n' for 'Nasrani' (the Arabic word for Christian), indicating that their homes were to be forfeit to the Islamic State. The fleeing Christians were met at checkpoints by ISIS militants who took their phones, passports, cash and jewellery -- everything but the clothes on their backs. Most of the displaced Christians are now in Kurdistan, being cared for by local churches. The time has surely come for the West to share this burden of care. Western churches should start giving sacrificially to organisations that can get aid to displaced believers and the churches that care for them. Above all, PRAY.

Meanwhile back in Mosul, ISIS is busy destroying the city's cultural heritage. On 4 July ISIS fighters dug up what is purported to be the tomb of Jonah. They also torched 11 of the more than 35 churches and monasteries scattered throughout the city, and demolished statues of literary and historic figures. Three Sunni clerics who tried to resist ISIS were executed. On 24 July ISIS militants returned to the Prophet Younis [Jonah] Mosque, and used explosives to complete the demolition. Muslims who protested the bombing were arrested and summarily flogged. A pastor from Northern Iraq has reported (with photographic evidence) that eight young men were publicly beheaded last week after noon prayers; they had been accused of being apostate converts to Christianity. The eight heads were then suspended from an overhead powerline. 'Please pray for us,' he said.

Genocide In Iraq Floor Speech by Rep. Frank Wolf Jul 22, 2014
(Video 4.42 mins); and again:
Wolf Speaks Out Again About Fate Of Christians In Iraq Jul 24, 2014

* MACEDONIA: PROTESTS AND PLANS FOR AN 'ALBANIAN CALIPHATE'

Predominantly Eastern Orthodox Macedonia is 25 percent ethnic Albanian and 33 percent Muslim. Tensions soared in Macedonia through July after a Skopje court issued its judgment against seven ethnic Albanian Islamists charged with murdering five Macedonians in April 2012. The Islamists, all advocates of a Greater Albania, were charged with killing four young 'Christian fisherman' at Smilkovci Lake on Good Friday 2012, before killing a witness. When  they were arrested in 2012 'about 1,500 radical Islamists' protested in Skopje, demanding their release, calling for a Greater Albania and chanting Islamist slogans including 'Allahu Akbar' and 'Death to Christians'.
Skopje, 4 July 2014

On 30 June 2014 the court sentenced six of the ethnic Albanian Islamists to life in prison. The following Friday (4 July) some 2000 Muslims, many carrying Albanian and Saudi flags, clashed with police in Skopje with 20 police injured. A planned counter-demonstration by ethnic Macedonians failed to materialise. Ethnic Albanian Muslims demonstrated again the next Friday 11 July, chanting 'UCK' (Ushtria Clirimtare Kombetare / National Liberation Army). [The UCK is the Albanian guerrilla force that fought the Macedonia Armed Forces in 2001.] The situation in Macedonia is volatile. Albanian security expert Ilir Kulla estimates that thousands of ethnic Albanian Muslims from across the Balkans have received military training with al-Qaeda in Syria. Furthermore, they are returning with plans for an 'Albanian Caliphate'. Pray for the Church in Macedonia.

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

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

RLPB 270. India: a test for India in Chhattisgarh

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 270 | Wed 23 Jul 2014

INDIA: A TEST FOR INDIA IN CHHATTISGARH
By Elizabeth Kendal

Located in north India's tribal belt, the Indian State of Chhattisgarh has long been a focus of Hindu nationalists' determined effort to secure the allegiance of tribal Indians. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) is the 'cultural wing' of the Sangh Parivar, the Hindu nationalist umbrella body.  Along with organising Hindu festivals and facilitating the 'safronisation' of Indian media and education, the VHP also conducts Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) missionary work amongst the tribals. This missionary work includes the 'ghar vapsi' (home-coming) campaigns in which thousands of tribal Christians are coerced and even forced to convert to Hinduism.

[For background on Hindutva, see Religious Liberty Monitoring: 'Hindutva!' (23 July 2014).]

In early May Hindus in Sirisguda village in Chhattisgarh's Bastar region complained to the VHP that Christians had refused to donate money to the annual Hindu festival and had used 'derogatory language against the Hindu deities and customs'. The VHP pointed the Sirisguda Hindus to Section 129 (G) of the Chhattisgarh Panchayat Raj Act which facilitates rural self government by empowering 'gram sabhas' (village assemblies) to issue rulings for local implementation. Subsequently the Sirisguda gram sabha issued a ruling banning all non-Hindu religious practice in the village. Since then, more than 50 villages in Chhattisgarh's Bastar region have followed suit and used the Act to ban non-Hindu practice. Even though the rulings are contrary to the Indian Constitution, the VHP has said it will lobby the Chief Minister Raman Singh and Governor Balramji Dass Tandon (both of whom are Hindu nationalists) to ensure the bans are imposed.

Effectively these gram sabha rulings legitimise communal hostility towards Christians; consequently serious persecution is escalating. There have been numerous reports of Christians being violently attacked, refused access to amenities (particularly water) and denied food rations. Sonuru Mandavi's family converted to Christianity in 2002. She told India's The Hindu that the Christians in her village have been unable to collect rations for over two months and when they tried to collect them they were physically attacked. The only alternative is to pay full price in retail stores, something these Christians cannot afford due to the systematic discrimination they have long suffered.

Economic interests might also play a role. Multi-national mining corporations have interests in mineral-rich Bastar and a community at war with itself cannot make a united stand against them or the [often corrupt] government bodies with which the corporations deal. Christian leaders are concerned that tribal Christians are being bullied out of their homes and off their lands by Hindu elites and petty criminals who have conspired to seize their property so they can claim the compensation when the multi-nationals acquire the land.

Denouncing the bans as 'illegal and unconstitutional', the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum (CCF) has called on the governor to intervene and uphold the law. Meanwhile, the Bastar district president of the VHP, Suresh Yadav,  insists that district administration must implement the gram sabha rulings, 'otherwise we will protest'. However, CCF president Arun Pannalal has denounced the bans as a blatant violation of fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution of India. 'This Act is ultra vires (beyond the powers) of the constitution of India, and the state government should scrap it,' he said, adding: 'We will go to court if the state government does not act on this issue.'

Numerous Christian leaders and religious liberty advocates are warning that if these ruling are allowed to stand and if impunity persists, then a new wave of Hindutva inspired, VHP incited, violent anti-Christian pogroms may be imminent. 

The danger is that the government will re-interpret the religious liberty provisions in the Constitution, so as to kill the spirit of the Constitution while retaining its words (thereby avoiding the need for a referendum). How this crisis is resolved will say much about the future direction, not only of Chhattisgarh, but of India under Hindu nationalist BJP rule.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* intervene in Chhattisgarh's Bastar region to protect and provide for poor tribal Christians who are being persecuted for their faith.

* sharpen the consciences of local Hindus, so they will resist the pressure to persecute their Christian neighbours.

* raise up voices for liberty, justice and harmony across India; may he magnify those voices, in the media, in the judiciary, in politics, in education, as they defend the spirit of the Indian Constitution and defend religious freedom.

* raise up voices outside India that will speak out for genuine religious freedom, security and justice inside India; may he magnify those voices,  in media, international politics, diplomacy, advocacy and in the Church worldwide, as they speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

'Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. ... Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God.' (Psalm 146:3,5 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
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A TEST FOR INDIA IN CHHATTISGARH

Since mid-May over 50 villages in Chhattisgarh's Bastar region have followed the advice of the Hindu nationalist VHP and used the Chhattisgarh Panchayat Raj Act to ban all non-Hindu religious practice. As Christian leaders note, these rulings are contrary to the Indian Constitution. Despite this, the VHP has said it will lobby the authorities to ensure the bans are imposed. Persecution has escalated, with numerous reports of violence and social boycotts whereby Christians are being denied access to water and food rations. The Chhattisgarh Christian Forum has requested that the Panchayat Raj Act (which facilitates rural self-government) be scrapped and is threatening to take the authorities to court if they do not act. They fear that persecution could escalate into anti-Christian pogroms. Please pray for India 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)