Tuesday, January 16, 2018

RLPB 438. Burma and Syria: Christians imperilled

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 438 | Wed 17 Jan 2018

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WELCOME TO RLPB 2018: GIVE THANKS; KEEP ALERT 
also BURMA AND SYRIA: CHRISTIANS IMPERILLED
by Elizabeth Kendal

GIVE THANKS: After praying specifically that God would 'protect churches from attack this Christmas season' [RLPB 437 (18 Dec 2017)] we now give thanks that Christians were able to celebrate without a major terror incident this Christmas, despite numerous threats. Whilst Islamic militants did attack two churches -- one in Quetta, Pakistan (17 December) and one in Helwan, Egypt (29 December) -- the bombers were immobilised before they could enter the sanctuary, ensuring the death toll was a mere fraction of what the terrorists had intended. While we weep with those who weep and pray for those who suffer, we also thank the Lord our shield (Psalm 28:7) for his faithfulness, grace and mercy.

'But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill.' (Psalm 3:3-4 ESV)

'I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.' (Psalm 116:1-2 ESV)

KEEP ALERT: Persecution is set to escalate virtually everywhere during 2018, for the days when the West could and would influence international religious policy are over. Now that it cannot and will not, persecution with impunity is set to become the order of the day.

BBC interviews ChinaAid President Bob Fu, 9 Jan 2018

The Chinese Communist Party's new Religious Affairs Regulations might not come into effect until 1 February, but church demolitions have already begun. CCP authorities demolished a Catholic church in the city of Xian in Shaanxi Province on 27 December and on 9 January used explosives to raze the long-persecuted Golden Lampstand Church, a mega-church in the city of Linfen in neighbouring Shanxi Province. Pakistan will hold general elections in July in which blasphemy is expected to be a central issue and hardline Islamists are expected to make significant gains. Persecution will continue to escalate across India, especially now the once-secular Congress Party is competing with the BJP to see which can be the more Hindu Nationalist [see RLPB 437 (18 Dec)]. The Islamic Revolutionary regime in Iran continues to punish witnessing believers with harsh prison terms. On 28 December the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz sentenced Eskandar Rezaei and Pastor Soroush Saraei to eight years in prison for 'action against the National Security', proselytism and forming house fellowships.

Meanwhile, the Christian Crisis in the Middle East is anything but over. Copts continue to be targeted in Egypt, and the Battle for Mesopotamia is approaching its next stage. Now that the proxies have cleared the theatre, the regional powers will move in to consolidate their gains -- in particular Turkey in north-west Syria and Iran in south-west Syria and northern Iraq. There will be no relief for Christians. Furthermore, the looming war between Israel and the anti-Israel 'Axis of Resistance' forces (Hezbollah, the Syrian government and Iran) in Syria's south-west is inching closer by the day. The Syrian government might be a friend to Christians but it is an enemy to Israel, complicating matters enormously.     

'... Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. ... To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints'. (From Ephesians 6:10-20 ESV)

BURMA (Myanmar): KACHIN IMPERILLED IN NORTH

Kachin woman weeps as she prays
outside St Mary's Cathedral, Yangon,
during the Pope's visit, 30 Nov 2017
From: 'Myanmar's Other Atrocity',
Asia Times online 27 Dec 2017
Eager to control Kachin State's amber and jade mining regions, the Burmese military has launched a winter (dry season) offensive against the indigenous, Christian Kachin.  Since late November, heavy aerial bombardment and long-range shelling in Kachin State and neighbouring northern Shan State has forced some 1200 more Kachin to seek refuge in church-run camps and monasteries. The shelling continued right through Christmas, with a barrage of artillery striking a village near Laiza on Christmas Eve, leaving two Kachin seriously wounded. Compounding the suffering of the traumatised and displaced, the Burmese government continues to block all humanitarian aid to areas under 'rebel' control. The regime's aggression is motivated by greed, fuelled by ethnic-religious hatred and prolonged by silence and geopolitics -- much like the conflicts in Sudan's Nuba Mts and Indonesia's West Papua.

SYRIA: CHRISTIANS IMPERILLED IN DAMASCUS OLD CITY


Government brokers evacuation
of medical emergencies

from Eastern Ghouta, 26 Dec 2017
Christians in Damascus celebrated Christmas 2017 openly and exuberantly, with public Christmas trees, lights and festivities. Unfortunately, the peace was short-lived. On 8 and 9 January dozens of mortar shells, fired from the 'rebel' enclave of Eastern Ghouta, struck the Old City's majority-Christian districts. Mortar shells struck the Latin Church of the Conversion of St Paul in Bab Touma and exploded in the courtyard of the Greek-Melkite Catholic Patriarchate on Straight Street in the district of Haret Al Zeitoun. The Maronite cathedral was badly damaged and many homes were struck; reports of casualties vary. As was the case in the Battle for Aleppo, tensions will escalate, casualties will accumulate, and propaganda will proliferate as the government fights to liberate Eastern Ghouta from al-Qaeda-linked 'rebels'.

Maronite Archbishop,
Samir Nassar
On 8 January at 1:20pm the Maronite Archbishop of Damascus, Archbishop Samir Nassar's afternoon siesta was interrupted by the need to use the bathroom. While he was in the bathroom a mortar crashed through into his bedroom and exploded on his bed. 'A few seconds at the sink saved my life,' he said, adding that his priests cried with joy when they saw him emerge from the rubble unharmed. The nuns at the Sisters of Jesus and Mary Convent had a similar experience. 'Providence watches over his poor servant,' said the Archbishop. After observing that 'like 12 million Syrian refugees' he is now 'exiled' and homeless, the Archbishop thanked the Lord 'for this new beginning', and confirmed, 'My life belongs to you.'

LET US PRAY:

Thank you Father that in your amazing grace, you have opened the way for us to enter your courts with our requests. We give thanks for your love, patience, faithfulness and mercy. We thank, praise and honour you, Sovereign King of all Creation, for answered prayer.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* continue his work in the hearts of believers, to infuse in us his love for his suffering and persecuted Church, that the Church might 'be one' -- not just in theory, but in practice -- 'that the world might believe' (from John 1:20-26).

* intervene on behalf of the suffering and persecuted Christian Kachin in Burma's north. May the aerial bombardments and shellings cease; may the government open the way for humanitarian aid to reach the displaced and may international support be forthcoming.

* protect and bless the Church in Syria as the conflict between Damascus and the Islamists holding Eastern Ghouta heats up; may God gift the Church with divine wisdom, clarity and courage as the situation grows more complicated.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIANS IMPERILLED IN BURMA AND SYRIA

Aiming for full control of Kachin State's amber and jade mining regions, the Burmese military has launched a winter offensive against the Christian Kachin in Burma's north. The Burmese-Buddhist regime's war against the Christian Kachin is motivated by greed, fuelled by ethnic-religious hatred and prolonged by silence and geopolitics. Meanwhile, conflict is escalating between the Syrian government in Damascus and the al-Qaeda-linked jihadists in the 'rebel' enclave of Eastern Ghouta. On 8 and 9 January Christian homes and churches in the historic Old City of Damascus were struck by 'rebel' mortar fire. Amidst the destruction were miracles of deliverance. Syria's Christians will require much wisdom, grace and divine protection as their situation grows more complicated through 2018.  Please pray for Burma and Syria and for their embattled Christians.

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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

Monday, December 18, 2017

RLPB 437. Christmas devotion, notices and updates: India, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 437 | Tue 19 Dec 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) 

CHRISTMAS DEVOTION, NOTICES & UPDATES
by Elizabeth Kendal

CHRISTMAS DEVOTION: THE GOD WHO IS WITH US

Unlike all the gods humanity has ever made, YAHWEH -- the true and living Almighty Creator and redeeming Holy God of the Bible -- is with us. That first Christmas, the Son, Jesus, Immanuel, came to us clothed in mortal flesh. Today the Holy Spirit lives within all whom the Son has redeemed. God is with us not only on the mountain top, where the sun is shining and all is well. He is with us in the valley, where the shadows linger, evil lurks and life is uncertain. When we pray for the persecuted we pray to a God who is present in the prison cell, in the war zone, in the displacement camp and amidst all the suffering and evil in this world. God the eternal spirit sees and cares. He speaks, sometimes in a still small voice and sometimes with a roar. He sends his angels to defend and to minister and he intervenes with miracles to ensure the inevitable does not come to pass. While occasionally these miracles are spectacular, most are inconspicuous: the persecutor has a change of heart or health, the gun jams, the detonator fails, the weather changes, the sufferer rallies and quite inexplicably the battle is turned back at the gate.

And so we pray:

* that YAHWEH Sabaoth (the Lord of Hosts, the commander of heaven's angelic forces) will protect churches from attack this Christmas season. The high risk season includes Advent, Roman Catholic and Protestant Christmas (24,25 December), New Year, Greek Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christmas (6,7 January).

* that God will comfort and encourage every Christian spending this Christmas either in prison or in the custody of Islamic militants [see RLPB 436 (13 Dec)] on account of the name of Jesus. May they experience God's closeness and everlasting love; may they be fully aware that they are in God's 'sanctuary' (i.e., dwelling place, Hebrew: miqdas. Isaiah 8:11-14a).

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NOTICES:

This will be the last Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) for 2017. Whilst an urgent prayer alert will be issued should the need arise, the next scheduled RLPB will be issued on Wednesday 17 January 2018.

If you have not already done so, please take some time to familiarise yourself with the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog/website. The site contains a searchable archive dating back to April 2009. Furthermore, at the very bottom of the webpage is a keyword search that searches both the RLPB and Religious Liberty Monitoring (News & Analysis) sites combined.

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UPDATES: 

* INDIA: CONGRESS LOSES MORE THAN GUJARAT
                 -- persecution escalates as darkness sets in.


Rahul Gandhi campaigning in Gujarat
Counting in the Gujarat elections took place on Monday 18 December. Congress picked up 19 seats, 15 in the BJP stronghold of rural Saurashtra. However, despite losing 16 seats (13 in Saurashtra region), the BJP ultimately won 99 of 182 seats to retain power and its majority. It was an acrimonious campaign, resulting in Congress not only losing the poll, but all integrity. During the course of the campaign, Rahul Gandhi (47) was elected to the role of Congress Party president. For decades, Congress -- traditionally a secular party -- has timidly allowed the Hindutva narrative to advance unchallenged. Now, however, it appears to have embraced it. In Gujarat, Congress not only mimicked the BJP, it did everything in its power to avoid being labelled 'pro-minority'. Whilst Congress has been leaning this way for some time, it now seems to have officially fallen into the Hindu nationalist pit. This does not bode well for India's Christians.

Christians plead for mercy (4 Dec)
Morning Star News
On 4 December, in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, seven Indian Christians (six men and a woman) accepted an invitation to pray over a seriously ill man whose relative had previously been healed through prayer. A Hindu relative heard of it and rallied a mob of some 20 RSS Hindutva militants to attack the family and the visiting believers violently. Police arrived, arrested the believers and charged them with 'deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings' under Section 295-A of the Indian Penal Code. The six Christian men were remanded in judicial custody for 14 days; bail was refused. On Monday 11 December, also in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, seven Christians were arrested for handing out Bibles. Accused of insulting Hindu deities and procuring 'forced conversions', they were remanded in custody for 14 days. Also on 11 December, this time in Madhya Pradesh, 30 Christians were arrested while singing Christmas carols; eight priests who came to help were also arrested. Accused of procuring 'forced conversions', seven believers were remanded in custody for 14 days. This is the tip of the iceberg [see: Evangelical Fellowship of India, Persecution Watch, November 2017]!

* MEXICO: MORE NON-CATHOLICS FORCIBLY EXPELLED

Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that, on 4 December, officials in Tuxpan de Bolanos, an indigenous Huichol community in the north of Jalisco State, forcibly expelled 64 non-Catholics. The group, comprising 22 Protestants (including 15 children) and 42 Jehovah's Witnesses, were dragged from their homes, loaded into trucks and driven into the mountains where they were dumped and abandoned. To deter them from returning, officials also destroyed their homes. The Emanuel Regional Baptist Convention, which oversees Baptist churches in the area, rescued the victims. While the 42 Jehovah's Witnesses are currently in the municipal auditorium in Bolanos, the twenty-two Baptists are sheltering in Puente de Camotlan Church in neighbouring Nayarit State. This is not the first time Protestants have been forcibly exiled from Tuxpan de Bolanos. In January 2016, 28 Baptists (including 10 children) were forcibly trucked into the mountains and abandoned [RLPB 342 (2 Feb 2016)]. May justice and righteousness roll down like a river in Mexico (see Amos 5:21-24).

* NIGERIA:  CONFLICT SPREADS SOUTH TO CROSS RIVER STATE


click on map to enlarge
Benue State's Anti-Open Grazing legislation went into force on 1 November. Since then, scores of Fulani Muslims have migrated further south with their cattle into the mostly-Christian Cross River State. On the evening of Tuesday 5 December, locals in Mbiabong Ito, Odukpani Local Government Area (LGA), Cross River, noticed that Fulani herdsmen had invaded their farms with a large herd of cattle. Desperate to save their crops, the farmers tried to chase them away. However, the well-armed Fulani opened fire, triggering a violent clash. After four Fulani were reportedly killed, the herdsmen withdrew, later returning with uniformed soldiers. While helping the Fulani gather their cattle, the soldiers fired at villagers forcing some 200 families to flee Mbiabong Ito. According to SBM Intelligence (a partner to Stratfor), the pastoralist conflict is both expanding and deepening. 'The lack of national leadership on this issue is unfortunate', especially as it results in communities increasingly taking matters into their own hands. 'If nothing is done urgently, it is going to get worse.' Indeed, tensions are escalating, and the conflict will play out along religious lines.

* PAKISTAN: CHURCH TARGETED IN TERROR ATTACK 

On Sunday morning 17 December, four Islamic terrorists attacked the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's Baluchistan Province. More than 200 Christians were participating in the 'Sunday School Christmas Program' when gunfire erupted outside. Two gunmen had shot dead church gatekeeper George Masih, paving the way for two bombers to invade. Security guards stationed around the perimeter and on the church roof returned fire, killing one bomber, wounding the other and forcing the two gunmen to flee. Unable to make it inside the church, the wounded bomber detonated his explosive vest outside.

Bethel Methodist Memorial Church, 
Quetta. Sunday 17 December.

At least nine Christians were killed in the blast and more than 50 suffered wounds either from bullets or from shards of wood and glass propelled by the explosion. Pastor Saimon Bashir Masih told Morning Star News that, had either of the two bombers managed to enter the church, the death toll 'would have been colossal'. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack. While we lament and 'weep with those who weep' (Romans 12:15), we thank God that the full extent of evil was not realised.

LATEST:  Pakistan: mourners bury 11 killed in Quetta church suicide attack, as 50 injured, World Watch Monitor, 19 Dec 2017

'The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.' John 1:5 ESV

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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