Wednesday, December 23, 2009

036. Christ dwells with his faithful

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 036 | Wed 23 Dec 2009

CHRIST DWELLS WITH HIS FAITHFUL, WHEREVER THEY ARE

The incarnation reminds us that Christ is content to take up residence in places where men and women normally would prefer not to be found. The Redeemer came not as a mighty armoured warrior or majestic bejewelled king. Rather he came as a fragile infant, the son of humble folk. He was not born in a stone and cedar palace in Jerusalem, surrounded by elites. Rather he was born in a dirty little stable in Bethlehem surrounded by animals. The humility of Christ is such that no home is too humble and no slum too dirty for Jesus Christ to grace it with his presence. No prison cell is too oppressive and no state too hostile for Christ to make his dwelling there. He dwells with his faithful -- in his faithful, by his Spirit -- wherever they are.

'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!' sang the angels (Luke 2:14). May every faithful believer experiencing hardship and persecution on account of Christ be comforted by the incarnation this Christmas. And may they -- as 'those with whom he is pleased' -- be filled with the divine peace that the angels heralded that first Christmas Day.

The Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) ministry team will pray that you -- all Christ's faithful intercessors in every nation -- will be refreshed and invigorated with joy, praise, boldness and great hope this Christmas as you celebrate the birth that changed the world.
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The next RLPB (037) will be issued on Wed 6 Jan 2010.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

035. Trends in religious liberty call for prayer

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 035 | Wed 16 Dec 2009

This longer end-of-year RLPB on the trends in religious liberty should provide intercessors with plenty to think and pray about over Christmas-New Year and beyond.

TRENDS IN RELIGIOUS LIBERTY CALL FOR PRAYER

During the decade 1998-2008 America used its power and prosperity as leverage to influence religious liberty globally. This was through its International Freedom from Religious Persecution (IFRP) Act of 1998 that tied international religious liberty to US foreign policy. Religious liberty abusers could face sanctions (subject to political expediency) whilst those who made advances in religious liberty were rewarded. For a decade, dictators restrained their most belligerent anti-Christian elements and inclinations for the sake of US economic relations. Meanwhile, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIFR) -- the independent religious freedom monitoring body created by the Act -- was phenomenal in raising awareness of religious persecution. A negative consequence of this US advocacy was that the Church (particularly the Protestant Church) increasingly placed its faith and hope in political power.

Two events in late 2008 proved pivotal regarding religious liberty, with the trend that religious liberty is now in decline the world over. In August 2008, Georgia moved to impose its sovereignty over its rebel province of South Ossetia. When Russia responded to 'protect Russian citizens', the US support Georgia was expecting never came and US impotency -- a consequence of being bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan -- was exposed for all the world to see. Weeks later the US credit bubble burst, triggering a financial crisis with global ramifications. The two things the US had been using as leverage for international religious liberty -- military and economic power -- withered, virtually overnight.

We no longer live in a Cold War world or a world dominated by one super-power. States are shuffling into power blocs and today the world's most repressive and rights-abusing states ignore the US (which had used its power to moderate behaviour) and look to Russia along with three of the world's worst human rights abusers: China, Iran and Saudi Arabia. As it seeks to recover from 70 years of brutal Communist repression followed by a decade of chaotic plundering, Russia has begun reviving its historic Orthodox Christian culture. Long an advocate for Middle Eastern and Balkan Christians repressed and threatened by Islam, Russia may yet emerge again to be a defender of Eastern Christians. The extent to which Protestants benefit will depend on the success of US/NATO - Russia detente.

As we head into 2010, China is emerging as a serious problem. The West's inverted political theory -- that economic reform leads to human rights reform, rather than the reverse -- has finally been discredited. China emerged from the IFRP Act decade prosperous and with its 'loagai' unscathed. (The loagai is a vast network of more than 900 Mao-era re-education and reform-through-labour camps. These state-owned enterprises exploit prisoners -- including prisoners of conscience -- as unpaid labour and are integral to the Chinese economy.) Persecution escalated through 2008 and 2009 and all evidence indicates that it will continue to escalate. In October Uyghur Christian Alimjan Yimit (36) was sentenced to 15 years in prison on the false charge of 'providing state secrets to overseas organisations' (see RLP 474, Xinjiang, China: Persecuted for the sake of 'harmony'.17 April 08). On 25 November house church leader Yang Rongli of the Linfen Church in Shanxi Province was sentenced to seven years in prison while four other Linfen Church pastors were sentenced to some four years each. They had been kidnapped en route to Beijing where they planned to petition the government over the razing of their meeting place (see RLPB 031, China Ascendant -- Persecution Intensifying. 18 Nov 09).

Meanwhile the situation for Christians in the Muslim world is deteriorating rapidly. Middle Eastern regimes that had restrained (even if just in token measures) anti-Christian Islamic zealots to bolster their religious liberty credentials with the US now have no motivation to do so. In fact some regimes are themselves so threatened by Islamic fundamentalism that they find it more politically expedient to bolster their Islamic credentials. They appease fundamentalists by tolerating or even supporting their implementation of Sharia Law and by subjugating and eliminating 'infidel' Christians.

Despite 'secularism' and 'democracy', persecution is escalating and intensifying across India, fuelled by impunity. Persecution is also emerging as an issue in the West, where churches are finally discovering what living in a post-Christian culture is going to entail. Not only is there more godlessness, more hopelessness, more violence, more authoritarianism, more corruption, more perversion and more hostility to Christianity, there is less restraint in law or culture to protect believers from the hatred of the world (John 15:19).

These are the trends in religious liberty as we head into 2010. What we need now is a new trend to emerge in Christian churches towards radical faith that embraces intercessory prayer for the persecuted church as integral to Christian life and worship. As the world trend is for persecution to escalate, may the Church trend be for a return to faith and hope in Jesus Christ, for the Church's power lies not in the world but in our faithful God. 'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah 4:6 ESV)'

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD, IN HIS MERCY, WILL:

* awaken the Church to the truth that sanctuary and salvation are found in God alone.

* revive the Church so that intercessions will fill the heavens and blessing and Holy Spirit power will rain down to sustain, deliver, sanctify and build up the Church amidst challenging trends.

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TRENDS IN RELIGIOUS LIBERTY CALL FOR PRAYER

Worldwide trends indicate persecution will escalate as religious liberty continues to decline. So to meet this challenge we pray that another trend will develop: that churches across the world will come to see engagement with and intercessory prayer for the persecuted church as integral to Christian life and worship. As the world trend is for persecution to escalate, may the Church trend be for brotherly love, spiritual unity, radical faith and intercessory prayer to escalate for the sake of the Kingdom and glory of God. 'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah 4:6 ESV)'

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

034. Eritrea: severe persecution needs God's intervention

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 034 | Wed 09 Dec 2009

ERITREA: SEVERE PERSECUTION NEEDS GOD'S INTERVENTION

Eritrea is a highly repressive totalitarian state with an estimated 20,000 political prisoners. In September 2001 President Isaias Afewerki launched a campaign of severe repression. He banned foreign journalists, closed independent media and arrested and 'disappeared' hundreds of critics, including journalists and politicians. The repressive and violent political situation has generated a refugee crisis. Some 66,000 largely forgotten Eritreans are stuck in refugee camps in eastern Sudan and according to the UN High Commission for Refugees they continue to arrive at the rate of 1,800 a month.

Eritrea is half Muslim (mostly Sunni) and half Christian (mostly Oriental Orthodox). In May 2002 the regime banned all religion except state-approved Islam, Eritrean (Oriental) Orthodox, Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism. The banned mission churches, independent fellowships and Protestants account for some 20,000 believers. In January 2006, the regime forcefully took over the administration of the Eritrean Orthodox Church (EOC) and arrested those who protested. There is a renewal movement inside the EOC known as 'Medhane Alem' and dozens of its leaders also have been arrested, accused of heresy. Because Eritrea has absolutely no freedom of expression and no independent media, information on the persecuted church can only be leaked out at great personal risk.

Today some 3,000 Eritrean Christians are imprisoned for their faith. Some are in underground and solitary cells whilst some are in 'secret' prisons for the 'disappeared'. However, most are herded into unventilated shipping containers in the desert where dysentery and infectious diseases go untreated. Torture is routine. Several Christians have died while refusing to renounce their faith, with three so far this year. Most recently, Open Doors reported that Yemane Kahasay Andom (43) died at Mitire Military Confinement Centre on 23 July. Andom was a member of the Ethiopian Baptist Kale-Hiwot Church (literally 'breath of life') linked with SIM. For 18 months he steadfastly refused to sign the 'recantation form'. Weakened by continual torture and weeks of solitary confinement in an underground cell, Andom died of malaria.

On 5 December Eritrean authorities arrested 30 mostly elderly Christian women who were praying together in a house in the capital, Asmara. According to International Christian Concern, most of the detainees are members of Faith Mission Church, an evangelical church with a Methodist background. It had been active in evangelism and development activities in Eritrea for over five decades until 2002 when it was forced to go underground.

After years of advocacy, Eritrea has finally been scrutinised at the UN, partly for its appalling human rights record, but mostly for its criminality and support of regional instability. Not only is Eritrea providing arms to the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab in Somalia, but according to reports Eritrea is the conduit for Iran supplying Yemen's Shi'ite al-Houthi rebels with weapons and Lebanese Hezballah militants. The UN Security Council is reviewing draft plans for punitive measures against Eritrea, including an arms embargo, travel bans and freezing the assets of all Eritrea's political and military leaders. May God intervene in Eritrea to bring down this wicked regime, for the sake of the refugees, the oppressed and regional security, as well as for the sake of his faithful, severely persecuted Church.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* God will intervene in Eritrea to bring the repression, wickedness and cruelty of the regime of President Isaias Afewerki to an end.

* God will so redeem the suffering of Eritrea's persecuted Church that its persecution will serve 'to advance the gospel' (Philippians 1:12); may the persecutors know that the Christians' 'imprisonment is for Christ' (v13).

* the rest of the Eritrean Church will grow in faith and boldness (v14) as they witness the faith and boldness of those persecuted; may revival, unity and sanctification emerge as fruits of this persecution.

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ERITREAN REGIME MAINTAINS SEVERE PERSECUTION

Eritrean Christians have been suffering severely since May 2002 when President Isaias Afewerki's totalitarian regime launched a campaign of persecution. Initially Eritrea's 20,000 Protestants were targeted. Then the regime seized control of the large Eritrean Orthodox Church in 2006, arresting anyone who protested. Today some 3,000 Eritrean Christians are imprisoned in the most appalling conditions in underground cells, 'secret prisons' and shipping containers in the desert. Torture is routine and several Christians have died while refusing to sign the 'recantation form'. Eritrea's support for regional terrorists and rebels and, to a lesser extent, its human rights abuses have brought it -- finally -- to the attention of the UN, which is now drafting punitive measures against the regime. Please pray that God will intervene to deliver his Church and redeem its suffering.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 033 | Wed 02 Dec 2009

RUSSIA: JIHAD, TERROR, TENSIONS AND OPPORTUNITIES

Back in December 2001, al-Qaeda deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri identified Afghanistan and Chechnya as key to the jihadist cause. Regarding Chechnya, he noted that control of the North Caucasus would give al-Qaeda's Sunni jihadists a 'mujahid Islamic belt' from the Mediterranean through Turkey and the pan-Turkic regions of the Black and Caspian Seas into Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as Xingjiang in western China.

Terrorism has surged across the North Caucasus this year, particularly in Ingushetia (see RLPB 030, 11 Nov 2009), doubtless being energised by the Taliban - al-Qaeda ascendency in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In May 2009 Dokka Abu Usman, the self-proclaimed 'Emir of Mujahideen of Caucasus Emirate', declared, 'This year will be our offensive year.' In August the pro-jihadist Kavkaz Centre published a letter from the 'Riyad-us-Saliheen Martyrs Battalion' citing the 'Mujahideen of Caucasus Emirate' decision at the start of the year to launch an 'economic war' involving 'industrial sabotage' inside Russia. Accordingly 'Riyad-us-Saliheen' was claiming responsibility for the 17 August 2009 'martyrdom operation in Nazran' against the Interior Ministry as well as a 'major subversive action in Russia, disabling the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydro-electric dam' the same day. The dam breach which flooded the machine room, killing 75 RusHydro workers and shutting down Russia's largest hydro-electric power station, was an accident due to ageing Soviet infrastructure, according to Moscow. However, the jihadists claimed to have sabotaged the dam using an anti-tank mine.

Russia has suffered numerous terrorist attacks on infrastructure this year. In late November, terrorists perpetrated a series of attacks on infrastructure in the North Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkaria (KB), including bombing an electricity substation. A plot to blow up KB's Aushiger Hydropower Plant fortunately was foiled as it would have inundated the villages of Aushiger, Urvan and possibly others (Eurasia Daily Monitor 19 Nov 09). On the night of 27 November terrorists sabotaged the busy railway line between Moscow and St Petersburg, derailing the luxury Nevsky Express, killing at least 26 and wounding around 100. The main suspect, Pavel Kosolapov, is a former Russian soldier who converted to Islam in the 1990s and joined the mujahideen. On 30 November an explosion in Dagestan tore apart the railway line between Baku (Azerbaijan) and the Siberian town of Tyumen (Russia). The on-coming train fortunately just skidded for 150 metres and nobody was hurt.

As reported in last week's RLPB 032, Russian Orthodox priest Rev Daniil Sysoyev (34) -- a courageous missionary to Muslims and well known public critic of Islam -- was assassinated in his church on 19 November. Religious tensions are rising. Some 23 million Muslims make up 16 percent of Russia's 144 million population, although only around one-third of them (7-8 million) are observant. However, with swelling Muslim immigration they are projected to be a majority by 2050. When the USSR broke up in 1991 the Russian Federation's borders dissolved, opening the region up to infiltration by Islamic fundamentalists and jihadists, including veterans of the Afghan jihad. Before then, Russia's Muslims were mostly secular and Russianised. Though the Islamic jihad is causing pain and religious tension, it is also causing widespread disillusionment amongst Muslims. On 1 November 2005 Interfax reported that whilst some 2000-5000 ethnic Russians had converted to Islam, about 2 million Russian Muslims had converted to Christianity. According to the report, the Muslims who convert to Christianity are mostly disillusioned with Islam and attracted to Russia's Orthodox Christian culture. According to Roman Silantyev of Russia's Inter-Religious Council, this process is 'accelerated due to extremist activities'. Silantyev notes the Beslan terror attack (September 2004) caused the Muslim population of North Osettia to decrease by at least 30 percent and to halve in Beslan itself. 'As even Muslim sources confirm,' Silantyev stated, 'after each terrorist action, thousands and maybe even dozens of thousands of ethnic Muslims adopt baptism.'

Map: Muslims of Russia

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* be a refuge and sanctuary for his people as terrorism escalates across the North Caucasus and into the Russian heartland; may multitudes focus their eyes on Jesus Christ and grow in faith and maturity (James 1:2-4).

* work mightily by his Spirit in the Russian Church for widespread reformation and revival, resulting in glowing holiness ('shining as lights', Philippians 2:15), courageous faith and spiritual unity.

* raise up and send out more workers for his Russian harvest. (Luke 10:2)

* turn the tide in Russia so that as the ethnic Muslim population grows so too will the rate at which Russian Muslims turn to Christ; may terrorism be an opportunity for witness rather than causing tension.

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JIHAD, TERROR, TENSIONS AND OPPORTUNITIES IN RUSSIA

With the Taliban - al-Qaeda ascendancy in Afghanistan-Pakistan, terrorism has recently escalated across the region. On 27 November 2009 the bombing of the Moscow - St Petersburg railway line, which derailed the Nevsky Express and killed dozens, brought terrorism back right into the Russian heartland. Before the USSR collapsed most of Russia's ethnic Muslims were secular and Russianised. But as the borders dissolved in 1991, jihadist fundamentalist Islam flooded in. However, ethnic Muslims are now reportedly converting to Christianity at a phenomenal rate, mostly due to their disillusionment with Islam and their preference for Russia's Orthodox Christian culture. As religious tensions rise because of increased terrorism, please pray for reformation and revival in the Church, that religious liberty will be preserved and that many more Muslims will turn to Christ.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

032. November Update; incl.Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, Russia, Somalia

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 032 | Wed 25 Nov 2009

NOVEMBER 2009 UPDATE -- During the month we prayed concerning . . .

INDIA, where impunity is fuelling the rise of violent persecution.

NORTH CAUCASUS, where the mujahideen of the self-declared 'Caucasus Emirates' are escalating their jihadist violence. The local remnant church is very vulnerable.

CHINA, where repression and religious persecution are escalating in line with the ruling Communist Party's sense of ascendancy.


NOVEMBER 2009 ROUND-UP -- Also this month . . .

* IDOP (International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church).
Hundreds of thousands of congregations around the world prayed in solidarity for the persecuted church on 8 & 15 November. Please pray that cross-bearing and burden-sharing might come to be recognised as integral to Christian life and worship (as opposed to being distasteful, optional and/or occasional) for the benefit of the whole body of Christ and the glory of God.


* IRAN: MARYAM & MARZIEH RELEASED -- PRAISE GOD!

Maryam (27) and Marzieh (30) walked free from Tehran's Evin Prison on 18 November. Imprisoned on 5 March and subsequently charged with apostasy (leaving Islam), they were released without explanation and without bail. Whilst they still have to face court they told Elam Ministries, 'Words are not enough to express our gratitude to the Lord and to his people who have prayed and worked for our release.' However, as known and unapologetic apostates, their lives will be at risk from Islamic vigilantes keen to carry out the Sharia provision of death to apostates. Furthermore, state-sponsored vigilantism is not uncommon in Islamic states that want to enforce Sharia but dare not to for geo-political reasons. Please continue to pray for Maryam and Marzieh as their liberty and security remains imperilled.


* EGYPT: VIOLENCE AGAINST CHRISTIANS INCREASING

On 18 November a 12-year-old Muslim girl in the Upper Egyptian town of Farshoot reported that she had been raped by an unknown man in a black jacket. Police arrested Girgis Baroumi (21), a Copt, on suspicion. On 21 November a massive Islamic pogrom erupted with widespread seizing, looting and torching of Coptic property, homes and businesses in Farshoot, spreading to several neighbouring villages. According to AINA, a mob ambushed Coptic priest Rev Benjamin Noshi and assaulted him, fracturing his skull. Police reportedly did little to protect Copts or Coptic property. Local Coptic leaders doubt the rape allegation, but add that even if true it does not justify collective punishment by vigilante mobs. The matter must be dealt with lawfully. The security situation for Copts, Egypt's indigenous Christians, is extremely serious and deteriorating fast.


* LEBANON: THE RISE AND RISE OF HEZBALLAH

In May 2008 Hezballah, an Iranian proxy Shi'ite terrorist organisation, demonstrated its power by seizing control of Beirut (Sunni) and Mt Lebanon (Druze). The Sunni-dominated 'March 14' alliance won the June 2009 elections but agreed to form a government of national unity to appease Hezballah. After five months of political deadlock, Prime Minister Sa'd Al-Hariri has submitted to Hezballah's demands. Though Hezballah lost the elections, it has now gained the right to veto parliament and control the foreign affairs, health, communications, energy and industry portfolios. Less than 60 years after Lebanon was established as an independent Christian-majority secular Arab democracy to showcase Muslim-Christian co-existence, the future for religious liberty is bleak.


* RUSSIA: COURAGEOUS MISSIONARY PRIEST MARTYRED IN CHURCH

A masked intruder entered the Church of St Thomas in southern Moscow on the evening of 19 November and assassinated Russian Orthodox priest Rev Daniil Sysoyev (34, married with three children) after asking for him by name. Choirmaster Vladimir Strelbinsky was shot and is in hospital, seriously wounded. Father Daniil was an experienced theologian and specialist on Islam who had been actively engaged in missionary work amongst Russia's Muslims for at least eight years. He also regularly debated Islam's representatives in public and had received many death threats. Interfax reports: 'He began receiving threats four years ago after holding a public debate with Vyacheslav Polosin, the former Orthodox priest who converted to Islam.' When he wrote a book in 2007 condemning Islam's treatment of women, the co-chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia, Nafigulla Ashirov, called him a 'Russian Salman Rushdie'.

Father Daniil had reportedly baptised some 80 Muslims, among them Tatars, Uzbeks, Chechens and Dagestanis. He recently told journalists that other priests were unwilling to follow his lead because 'they are afraid of revenge from the Muslim world'. Whilst Islamic militants are suspect, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, warned against any hasty accusations until the killer has been identified. Father Daniil had other enemies, including radical cultic pagans and pro-Stalin ultra-nationalists. The funeral service was held in Yasenevo, south-west of Moscow, in the church where Daniil's father, Alexy Sysoyev, is a priest. Praise God for Rev Daniil Sysoyev's courageous witness. Please pray for his family and congregation, as well as choirmaster Vladimir Strelbinsky. Pray that God will raise up and send out more workers into his Russian harvest (Luke 10:2).


'When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory" . . . Therefore . . . be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:54,58 ESV)'


* SOMALIA: ANOTHER CHRISTIAN MARTYRED

Compass Direct reports that the body of Mumin Abdikarim Yusuf (23), a Christian convert from Islam, was discovered on 14 November. He had been executed by al-Shabaab after a boy (15) to whom he had been witnessing reported him to the terrorists. Before shooting him in the head and dumping his body on a Mogadishu street, the Islamic militants had obviously tortured Mumin severely. Presumably al-Shabaab were after information about other Christians. Al-Shabaab have since charged Mumin's Muslim parents of failing to report his conversion and they have been ordered to face a Sharia court. Mumin's parents say he had kept his conversion secret, even from them. Please pray for the Church in Somalia.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

031. China Ascendant -- Persecution Intensifying

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 031 | Wed 18 Nov 2009

CHINA ASCENDANT -- PERSECUTION INTENSIFYING

As US President Obama visited China this week, Chinese church leaders hoped he would raise the issue of religious persecution with their government, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). However, the US is desperate for Chinese co-operation on climate change, global economics, trade and nuclear proliferation. Therefore the US was not going to risk offending China by criticising its human rights, especially when the UN's Human Rights Council has already affirmed China's human rights as 'on track'. Furthermore, when it comes to quid pro quo politics, human rights are the usual currency and totalitarian regimes know well how to extract maximum price. Emboldened by its sense of ascendancy, the Chinese government will no doubt increasingly oppose anything it deems threatening. Repression and persecution are likely to intensify.

At around 3 am on 13 September, a 400-strong mob in police uniforms invaded the 'Good News Cloth Shoes Factory', meeting place of the Linfen Christian Church in Linfen City, Fushan, in the north China Shanxi Province. Bulldozers were used to demolish structures on the site as the pack -- armed with bricks, bats, bars, pikes and shovels -- beat church members sleeping there. The devastation was total. Everything of any value was 'confiscated' (looted). Around 100 believers were injured. Several who were bleeding heavily were treated in the hospital emergency department and those who were unconscious were admitted. By noon, thousands of church members had gathered at the site. Shocked and filled with indignation and grief, they prayed to God for justice (see http://shanxifushan.ning.com/ ). According to Compass Direct about 5,000 of the 50,000-member Linfen House Church network had worshipped there weekly. China Aid Association (CAA) reports that some '30 daughter churches in nearby townships' are also prohibited from gathering for worship. According to CAA, the destruction of the Linfen church was authorised not by local authorities but by the central government in Beijing.

Then on Friday 25 September, nine Fushan Church leaders, including Pastor Yang Rongli, were kidnapped by Shanxi authorities while en route to Beijing where they had hoped to petition the central government for justice. Pastor Yang has been charged with illegal activities because for years the church she leads has 'sent missionaries, appointed pastors, set up fellowship sites, and organised large conferences [. . .] and besieged government officials with requests'. According to the authorities these 'illegal' activities 'disturbed the social order and are very harmful to social stability'. The church also 'illegally shared the gospel with the young . . . which violated the Constitution, Education Law and Regulations on Religious Affairs'.

What unsettles the government is the growth in unregistered fellowships (i.e. those not under CCP control). No longer are they just small groups shut away in apartments. Increasingly they are very large, public and active fellowships. In preparation for President Obama's visit, large unregistered fellowships in Shanghai and Beijing were targeted. On Sunday 2 November, Shanghai's 2000-member Wanbang Missionary Church was ordered to close down. When the believers continued to meet, the persecution grew more intensive. The church's communications were cut and every member was interrogated, fingerprinted and forced to promise not to gather on Sunday 15 November, the day President Obama arrived in Shanghai. Seven Shanghai pastors have been declared criminals. In Beijing, government intervention led to the Shouwang congregation losing its place of worship in Huajie Plaza. Undeterred, about 800 members gathered on 1 November and worshipped together in a park in the snow for 2 hours! (See http://www.chinaaid.org ) This unsettled the authorities so much the government provided the Shouwang congregation with a university auditorium for worship on 15 November -- but placed its preachers under house arrest.

The Exodus was a divine work of God in fulfilment of a promise, which occurred at God's appointed time and was enabled through his divine provision. May the Chinese Church, in her longing for freedom, never lose the vision of her deliverance coming in God's way and time.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* God will bless the efforts of all those who are faithfully promoting religious freedom in China, especially courageous Chinese nationals -- pastors, lawyers, writers and others -- who risk being beaten, imprisoned and 'disappeared' for their efforts. 'The king's heart is a stream in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.' (Proverbs 21:1 ESV)

* the Church will resist all temptation to secure God's blessings through 'the flesh' (Galatians 4:23) and will stay prayerful, obedient and faithful amidst trial, for the glory of God.

* all Christian pastors and religious liberty advocates suffering 'reform through labour' in over 900 state-run slave labour camps (laogai) will know the sustaining grace of Christ (2 Corinthians 12:9); may God provide them and their families with spiritual comfort and strength, and all their earthly needs.

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PERSECUTION INTENSIFYING IN ASCENDANT CHINA

Not only has US President Obama's visit to China thrown the spotlight on the authoritarian state's human rights record, it has also highlighted the degree to which China is ascendant. As the US desperately needs Chinese co-operation on climate change, trade, global economics and nuclear proliferation, it will not risk irritating Chinese leaders by criticising China's human rights record. Christian leaders who had been hoping for progress on religious freedom have been disappointed. Large unregistered churches (i.e. not controlled by the Communist Party) in Shanghai and Beijing were targeted with repressive measures leading up to President Obama's visits there. China has the upper hand -- and knows it. Persecution is thus likely to escalate as the regime does whatever it takes to ensure its survival in the face of rising social disaffection. Please pray.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

030. Nth Caucasus (Sth Russia): church struggles amidst terror

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 030 | Wed 11 Nov 2009

NORTH CAUCASUS (southern Russia): CHURCH STRUGGLES AMIDST TERROR

The Caucasus Mountains stretch from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea. Running along the ridge is the western edge of Russia's southern border. To the south lie Azerbaijan and Iran on the Caspian Sea, as well as Georgia and Turkey on the Black Sea. The Russian republics north of the border are known as the North Caucasus. From east to west they are Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia and Adygea and have been part of the Russian Empire for more than 200 years. Historically they have been populated by various non-Slavic secular and 'folk'-Muslims, including Turkic, Indo-Iranian, Ingush, Chechens and Circassians.

The break up of the Soviet Union in 1991 was orchestrated by megalomaniacs promoting ethnic separatism for personal gain (i.e. by men wanting to be presidents). The Republic of Chechnya was fiercely contested. Whilst Chechnya failed to gain independence, it did gain the attention of the international Islamic jihadist movement which recognised it as an opportunity not to be missed! By 1998-99, al-Qaeda-linked jihadists had totally hijacked the separatist struggle, a common jihadi strategy. They aim to establish an Islamic state of high geo-strategic significance stretching from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea, through Abkhazia, an ethnically cleansed, Abkhaz Muslim, self-declared independent province in Georgia. The jihadists, many of them foreigners, not only dragged the Chechens and Dagestanis into a new war; they also set about Arabising and Islamising the Muslim population, most Slavs having already largely fled the earlier ethnic conflict. The locals were divided: whilst some were recruited to the fundamentalist jihadists' trans-national cause, anti-Wahhabist nationalists and others resisted and turned to Moscow for help. President Ramzan Kadyrov's heavy hand in Chechnya has forced the terrorists, now fighting under the black flag of the 'Caucasus Emirate', to shift the focus of their jihad from Chechnya to neighbouring Ingushetia.

In May 2009, Dokka Abu Usman, the 'Emir of Mujahideen of Caucasus Emirate', declared, 'This year will be our offensive year.' In just the northern summer of 2009 there were 462 violent incidents recorded in the North Caucasus compared with some 265 in the whole of 2008. A week does not go by in Ingushetia without civilians being killed and maimed in terror attacks and assassinations. On 17 August a popular Islamic preacher named Said Abu Saad al-Buryati drove his bomb-laden car into the police headquarters in Nazran, capital of Ingushetia, killing 25 and wounding up to 260. Said al-Buryati had a Christian mother and came from the Buddhist autonomous region of Buryat in eastern Siberia. He converted to Islam as a teenager and was later radicalised for jihad at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt. He said he was in Ingushetia to kill 'apostates and infidels . . . who oppose Islam'.

Complicating the situation, the North Caucasus Moscow-backed administrations are not only riddled with corruption, their security forces are not too careful about how they deal with jihadists. This approach -- akin to tackling a cancer wishfully and wildly with a hammer rather than specifically and surgically with a scalpel -- is only adding to the pain, fear and anger already permeating the impoverished population. Furthermore, these Muslims belong to a warrior culture with a tradition of blood-feud. Their suffering at the hands of local authorities makes them ripe for picking by jihadist recruiters.

Amidst this escalating terror and threat is a church that needs our prayers. The remnant Russian Orthodox Church is ethnic and closely associated with Moscow and the Russian army. The Protestants are mostly Baptist and some Pentecostals. Protestant fellowships are missional, despite the risks, and ethnically mixed: mostly Russian, but also Caucasians, including some converts from Islam. In some places, particularly in Chechnya, jihadists have totally eliminated the Christian presence. There are few Protestants in North Ossetia, the only 'Christian' province in the North Caucasus, where the trauma of the Beslan terror attack in September 2004 still runs deep. The churches of the North Caucasus are generally very small, highly vulnerable, greatly at risk, and heavily burdened in a dark region too dangerous for foreign missionaries.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* bring revival to the Russian Orthodox Church so that she will truly be an instrument of light, grace and hope in the midst of darkness, hatred and trauma.

* empower, embolden, encourage and protect all who courageously preach the Good News in the North Caucasus, that their gospel message will be blessed with effectual saving power. 'Lord . . . enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus. (Acts 4:29,30)'

* reveal himself to Russian Muslims across the nation and abroad, for Russia's hope is Christ. (Experts project that if trends continue Russia will be majority Muslim by 2050, and Russia's largely conscript Army will be majority Muslim by 2015.)

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CHURCH STRUGGLES AMIDST TERROR IN RUSSIA'S NORTH CAUCASUS

Struggling amidst all the terror and trauma of the Islamic jihad and the counter-insurgency in Russia's North Caucasus region (between the Caspian and Black Seas) is a church that is highly vulnerable and heavily burdened. As the jihad intensifies, the future of the North Caucasus, including its tenuous grip on religious freedom, is in the balance. The jihadists are al-Qaeda-linked, foreign-backed Wahhabists who include many foreigners. Fighting under the black flag of the 'Caucasus Emirate', they have escalated their war dramatically through the northern summer of 2009. In Ingushetia a week does not go by without civilians being killed and maimed in terrorist attacks. Unfortunately the counter-insurgency is just as indiscriminately bloody. Please pray for the churches of the North Caucasus.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

029. India: Hindutva plus impunity equals persecution

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 029 | Wed 04 Nov 2009

INDIA: HINDUTVA PLUS IMPUNITY EQUALS PERSECUTION

Hindutva (Hindu nationalism), actually has little to do with religion and everything to do with establishing a political system -- a Hindu State -- that will guarantee Aryan (race) and Brahmin (caste) superiority, supremacy and privilege. This will protect and preserve the immoral, racist, human-rights-abusing caste system. The violent militant and communal persecution that continues to plague India is fuelled by the unchecked propagation of this toxic, dangerous ideology of Hindutva and because justice is routinely perverted by politicians, police, investigators and judges with Hindutva sympathies. Unless these two root causes -- ideology and injustice / impunity -- are addressed, then the situation in India will continue to deteriorate. Furthermore, according to a 29 October report from Compass Direct (CD), a new generation of angry, more militant Hindutva groups is emerging, frustrated by the democratic process.

Hindutva persecution takes three main forms: severe discrimination and physical violence that arises from sheer racial-religious-political hatred; forced and coerced 'reconversions' to Hinduism; and exploitation of anti-conversion laws. The latter two (and communal pogroms) occur mostly in states run by the BJP (Hindu nationalists), while the discrimination and violence (ambushes, invasions, beatings, stabbings, burnings, tortures and killings) occur nationally. According to CD, a reported 800 tribal Christians were 'reconverted' to Hinduism in a 'purification ceremony' in Maharashtra state on 26 October. The ceremony was led by Hindutva cleric, Swami Narendra Maharaj, who is known to be behind much of the anti-Christian violence occurring in Maharashtra's tribal regions. Maharaj hoped to reconvert 6,000 tribal Christians that day and aims to reconvert 100,000. For many, 'reconversion' is the only way to escape crippling discrimination and violent persecution. Meanwhile, Indian Christian pastors and evangelists are routinely being dragged into police stations and before courts on false accusations of 'forced conversions'. In India the anti-conversion law is used much like the anti-blasphemy law in Pakistan: as an instrument of persecution, where just one accusation will bring immense trouble to the falsely accused. (Note: 'reconversion' to Hinduism is permitted as Hindu nationalism regards Hinduism as the 'natural' religion of every Indian.)

The lack of justice (impunity) has three main consequences: it legitimises and bolsters the protagonists; it devalues and demoralises the victims; and it destabilises the State (Proverbs 29:4a). During the August-September 2008 pogrom in Orissa, most of Kandhamal's Christians fled into the forest. However, some fled to the home of the tribal elder, Sidheswar Pradhan, a respected Hindu peacemaker and defender of Christians. When Sidheswar Pradhan spoke up for the Christians and condemned the Hindu violence, the rampaging Hindus repeatedly stabbed him and set fire to his home, leaving him to be burned alive. Despite the testimony of eye-witnesses to the murder, the accused have been convicted and sentenced to three years' labour merely for 'destroying evidence'. Moreover, these accused murderers remain free on bail while they appeal the sentence. Hindu human rights activist Dhirendra Panda Hindu decried the ruling saying, 'Justice has been derailed. Some of those who carried out the investigation are linked to the Sangh Parivar [Hindu nationalists]' (AsiaNews 2 Nov 09).


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* for the sake of his Church, make Hindutva and the Hindu caste system problem issues for the Indian Government (rather than private cultural issues that concern the world but don't affect India's elite powerbrokers).

* for the sake of his Church, stir up the government to rebuild community, tolerance, liberty and harmony in India and to liberate the oppressed and persecuted.

'I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward,' says the LORD Almighty. (Isaiah 45:13 NIV)

* overturn the devil's schemes, so that this period of persecution will be for the Church's sanctification; may she be drawn into deeper faith and closer fellowship. (James 1:2-4)

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INDIA: HINDUTVA PLUS IMPUNITY EQUALS PERSECUTION

Violent persecution continues to plague India. It is fuelled by the unchecked propagation of Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) ideology and by the impunity of persecutors. Not only are Christians suffering escalating violence -- beatings, stabbings, burnings, killings, pogroms -- but Christian pastors and evangelists are now routinely being dragged before the police and courts falsely accused of 'forced conversions'. This accusation is wielded as an instrument of persecution, much like an accusation of blasphemy in Pakistan. Meanwhile, Hindutva clerics continue their campaigns to 'reconvert' tribal Christians to Hinduism. Hindutva is not about religion but politics. It is about the establishment of a Hindu State that will perpetuate the Hindu caste system, although Hindutva militants are increasingly rejecting the political process. Please pray for India.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

028. October Update; incl. LRA, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Maldives

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 028 | Wed 28 Oct 2009

OCTOBER 2009 UPDATE -- During the month we prayed concerning . . .

THE LRA (The Lord's Resistance Army), a guerrilla force made up of hard-core fighters and kidnapped, terrorised children. The LRA is led by spirit medium Joseph Kony who claims to be guided by the Holy Spirit even though his spiritism is occultic and obscenely violent. The racist, Islamic dictatorship in Khartoum supports and supplies the LRA to be its proxy militia to attack its opposition in Darfur, Christian Southern Sudan, Uganda, Congo and Central African Republic.

* UPDATE: On 21 October a band of LRA soldiers attacked a camp for displaced Darfuris in Western Bahr al-Ghazal, Southern Sudan. They killed five (including three Southern Sudanese police), wounded many and abducted dozens. Southern Sudanese forces (SPLA) have since managed to rescue 46 Darfuri abductees. The LRA continues to terrorise the region and Kony keeps eluding all efforts to capture or kill him. Kony has been out-manoeuvring the armies of Africa for more than 20 years. According to Lt- Gen. Nhail Deng Nttial, the Minister for SPLA Affairs in the Government of Southern Sudan, 'the LRA seems to be expanding the scope of its murderous activities with alarming rapidity'. Pray that the Sovereign Lord will intervene.


PAKISTAN, where Christians are more vulnerable than ever due to the war between the government and the al-Qaeda-Taliban alliance. Punjabi Islamists seeking to inflame Islamic zeal and recruit jihadis are increasingly targeting Christian communities.

* UPDATE: On 17 October the government launched an offensive against al-Qaeda-Taliban bases in Waziristan (a tribal agency on the AfPak border, north-west Pakistan). The jihadists responded by escalating their terrorist attacks against 'soft targets' like schools. From 2004 to 2008, the military has made four attempts to regain control of Waziristan, but has failed on each occasion, surrendering with 'peace deals' that involve compensation and ceding territory which have significantly advanced al-Qaeda-Taliban power. One thing that can be guaranteed is that the military offensive will result in a large displacement of highly trained jihadists, with many finding sanctuary in militant cells across the nation.

International Christian Concern reported on 16 October that pastors, churches and Christian institutions in Sargodha, Punjab, have received letters from Taliban affiliates warning that, if they do not convert to Islam or submit to Islamic rule and pay jizya (protection money/tax), they would be killed, their property and homes would be burnt to ashes and their women would be treated as sex slaves. And they themselves 'would be responsible for this' said the letter.


UNITED KINGDOM, where Islamisation in advancing and religious freedom -- at least for Christians -- is fading fast.


OCTOBER 2009 ROUND-UP -- Also this month . . .

* IRAN: TWO CHRISTIAN WOMEN versus APOSTAPHOBIC REGIME

Maryam Rustampoor (27) and Marzieh Amirizadeh Esmaeilabad (30) have been incarcerated in Tehran's Evin prison since their March 2009 arrest. Despite severe hardship and failing health, the two Christian women are boldly refusing to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ and return to Islam. On 7 October they were acquitted of the charge of 'anti-state activity' but the serious charges of 'propagation of Christianity' and 'apostasy' remain. Evin Prison is notorious for its shocking conditions and brutality. In totalitarian states like Iran, political prisoners (which includes religious prisoners) are considered to be the worst of all, lower and more dangerous than the worst common criminals. As such, they face the harshest treatment. These women need our prayers. Pray for the Church in Iran.


* IRAQ: 'CHRISTIANS HAVE IT HARD' IN BAGHDAD

St George's Anglican Church stands somewhat as a symbol of Christianity in Baghdad: targeted, struck repeatedly, surviving, still standing but only just -- a remnant defying the odds for the sake of the city. On Sunday 25 October, two massive explosions ripped through three government buildings in Baghdad, killing more than 150 and wounding over 600. St George's Church also was heavily damaged and is now virtually ruined. The massive bomb went off at 10.30am but the service was scheduled for the afternoon when the regular congregation of some 500 Iraqi Christians would have been worshipping. 'Christians do have it hard,' the pastor Canon Andrew White said, adding that last year 93 members of his church were killed, including 11 of the 13 converts he baptised.


* MALDIVES: DEMOCRACY BUT NO RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

Maldives successfully transformed into a democracy in November 2008. Mohamed Nasheed (42) -- a former prisoner of conscience and torture victim known as a reformist -- was sworn in as President after winning a second round of polling. However, to secure victory, Nasheed's coalition formed a political alliance with the Islamic fundamentalist Adhaalath party. Adhaalath now controls the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. On 7 October Maldivian authorities deported a South African, Robert Willeman, who had been found with Dhivehi language Christian material: six video CDs, six books, 17 leaflets and one Bible. Despite democracy, Maldives is still not free.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

027. UK: Religious liberty fading fast

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 027 | Wed 21 Oct 2009

UNITED KINGDOM: RELIGIOUS LIBERTY FADING FAST
By Elizabeth Kendal

In London, England, in the 1370s, John Wycliffe suffered intensive persecution for daring to protest for biblical truth. In 1415 John Hus was burnt at the stake in Prague, Bohemia, for doing the same. On 31 October 1517 a German monk named Martin Luther risked martyrdom and worse -- the Inquisition -- when he launched his protest for biblical truth: salvation by grace through faith, not merited by works. He sought reform but got division, and the Protestant Church was born. Religious liberty and the revival of biblical theology brought many positive consequences to the societies that embraced it. As a result, 31 October has traditionally been remembered as Reformation Day. But as Protestant prosperity grew, so too did the rot of pride and arrogance. Before long, Protestant societies were not only forgetting God and the truths that gave liberty to their positive energies and made them great, but 'in pride and arrogance of heart' (Isaiah 9:9b) were rejecting God and his word as irrelevant.

British MP William Wilberforce (1759-1833), though remembered primarily as an abolitionist, was passionate about Britain's need for spiritual reformation as it was in a state of advanced decay. Not only had the nation largely forgotten God but its church had mostly returned to a works-based theology, believing that people merited salvation because they were 'good' -- not that people were good because they were saved by grace through faith. (See William Wilberforce, A Practical View of Christianity, chapter 3.)

The awakening and spiritual reform that Wilberforce launched turned the tide in the UK. But today nearly 500 years on from Luther and some 250 years on from Wilberforce, the UK is in trouble again and is desperately in need of a fresh awakening. Moreover religious liberty is fading fast.

All Nations Church in Kennington, South London, was recently ordered not to use its sound system for its sermons or music so as to avoid offending its (Muslim) neighbours. A Christian office worker from South London, Denise Haye (25), was recently sacked for expressing her disapproval of homosexuality. A Christian nurse from Exeter, Shirley Chaplin (54), was recently threatened with disciplinary action after she refused to remove the cross from her necklace that she had worn without a complaint throughout 30 years of nursing. A Deputy Registrar with Islington Borough Council, Theresa Davies (59), was demoted because she refused to preside over same-sex civil partnership ceremonies. A Christian nurse with 40 years' experience, Anand Rao (71), was sacked after he suggested to a training seminar that distressed palliative care patients could try going to church. A Christian community nurse and professional foster mother (with 80 children's-worth of experience) was recently struck off the register for failing to prevent a 16-year-old Muslim girl converting to Christianity. A Christian homelessness prevention officer with 18 years' experience, Duke Amachree (53), was sacked by Wandsworth Council for sharing his faith with a client who had lost hope. Revd Noble Samuel of Heston United Reformed Church, West London, who debates Muslims on his TV Gospel program, was hijacked in his car by three Urdu-speaking assailants who grabbed him by the hair, ripped off his cross and threatened to break his legs if he continued broadcasting. These cases (all in 2009) are just the tip of the iceberg. If the Equality Bill that is now making its way through parliament passes (as expected), then persecution will increase dramatically.

(For the above cases see http://www.christianlegalcentre.com http://www.ccfon.org
http://www.christian.org.uk )

While Christians are being silenced, Islamisation is advancing, with Islamic fundamentalists appeased at every turn by short-sighted politicians who lack political courage and hanker after political gain. While Christians are fined, sacked and sued for expressing their faith, Anjem Choudary's Islam4UK is free to run its Islamic Roadshows all across the country . Independent think-tank Civitas recently reported that Britain already has some 85 Sharia Courts operating openly, advising illegal actions and transgressing human rights with impunity. Not content with this, some 5000 supporters of Islam4UK are expected to join a 'March for Sharia' from the House of Commons to Trafalgar Square on 31 October, which coincidentally is Reformation Day.

(An example of Islam4UK's Islamic Roadshow in action {Birmingham, June 2009} )

As long as the various anti-Christian lobby groups can silence Christians and shut down debate through anti-defamation, anti-vilification and anti-discrimination laws along with threats of violence, they will be on a winning trajectory with little resistance -- that is, until violent conflict erupts. Violent 'race' clashes are already on the increase, mostly in response to protests against Islamisation. The UK is in trouble.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* God will greatly bless those Christians who are courageously defending gospel truths and values in the UK's courts and streets, that they will have abundant grace, wisdom and boldness from the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 10:16-20,38,39)

* as Muslims 'March for Sharia' on 31 October -- Reformation Day -- British Christians will remember the courage of Martin Luther and be motivated by the heritage they have in Wycliffe, Ridley, Wilberforce, Carey and others.

* revival will come to the UK Church so that the nation's Christians will step out boldly with gospel truths and values, being prepared to suffer and, in Wilberforce's words, 'be wholly indebted' to the God of grace for everything.

He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. (v29 of Isaiah 40:28-31 ESV)

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RELIGIOUS LIBERTY FADING FAST IN THE UK

Amidst decline in the UK there is a great need for spiritual reformation. Yet religious liberty is fading fast, meaning the Church must be prepared to suffer if she is to speak into this situation at all. While Christians are being routinely fined, sacked and sued for expressing their faith (see http://www.ccfon.org ), numerous anti-Christian lobby groups are free to advance theirs (e.g. see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwjvVgvclDQ ). Immorality and Islamisation are advancing rapidly. If the Equality Bill now before the parliament passes (as expected) then repression and persecution will escalate further (see http://www.christian.org.uk ). Please pray for the Church in the UK.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

026. Pakistan: Taliban insurgency escalates

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 026 | Wed 14 Oct 2009

PAKISTAN: TALIBAN INSURGENCY ESCALATES
By Elizabeth Kendal

An alliance of al-Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban forces declared war on the government of Pakistan in July 2007. By April 2009 only the Margala Hills lay between the jihadists and Islamabad (see RLPB 002, 29 April 09). Pakistani troops spent the northern summer driving the jihadists back. But the jihadists were not defeated -- they merely staged a tactical withdrawal and melted into the civilian population, awaiting the opportunity to launch rearguard actions (see RLPB 006, 27 May 09). On 5 August 2009 Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a US missile strike. No sooner had Hakimullah Mehsud been appointed as the new Taliban chief than he publicly vowed not only to avenge Baitullah's death, but to severely punish Pakistani authorities for their attacks on al-Qaeda-Taliban sanctuaries in the tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan (North West Frontier Province).

Pakistan has just suffered four highly significant terrorist attacks in the space of seven days. On 5 October a suicide bomber wearing the uniform of the Frontier Constabulary walked into the UN's World Food Programme office in the heart of Islamabad and blew himself up, killing five and wounding four. Then on 9 October a car bomb exploded in the busy Khyber Bazaar in Peshawar, the NWFP capital, killing 49 and wounding more than 100. The car's doors had been fitted not merely with over 100kg of explosive, but with a great quantity of machine gun ammunition to maximise casualties. On 10 October suicide jihadists wearing Pakistani Army camouflage uniforms infiltrated Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, just outside Islamabad. Grenades were thrown, guns were fired, people were killed and hostages were taken before Pakistani elite troops contained the militants and took control. The sole surviving militant, a senior Taliban commander and terror-mastermind named Muhammad Aqeel alias Dr Usman, is now in custody. Dr Usman, who had been arrested previously for his involvement in the September 2008 Marriott bombing, served in the Pakistani Army Medical Corps until 2006 when he deserted to the jihadists. The fourth attack was on 12 October when a suicide jihadist drove a massive car bomb into a military convoy in Shangla, NWFP, killing 41 including six security personnel.

Security officials report that the militants who attacked the army headquarters appeared to have links to Punjab, the province where anti-Christian violence is rampant (see recent RLPBs 012, 016, 023). For decades now -- while all the focus has been on NWFP, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the AfPak border -- Islamic fundamentalist Salafi madrassas have been proliferating across Punjab. For years politicians have been pleased to use Punjab's main fundamentalist organisations as vote banks, making quid pro quo deals for political gain. These groups were created by the security services in the 1980s to facilitate the Islamisation process but now they are aligning themselves with the Pakistani Taliban of Hakimullah Mehsud. Any government effort to root out fundamentalist Islam in Punjab could trigger a massive eruption, further splitting the military and shredding the social fabric.

God is sovereign and there is no doubt he is at work in and through all this, including whatever is to come. But Pakistan's 3.6 million Christians need our prayers that they will find sanctuary amidst this storm.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* the Holy Spirit of God to uplift and shield all Pakistani Christians so they may be firm in their faith, not afraid, with eyes fixed on Jesus; may they find sanctuary in their sovereign Lord (Isaiah 8:12-14).

* God to bless the witness of Pakistan's Christians as they seek to display grace, love, peace and faith in the midst of severe trial; may God be pleased to use their witness for his glory and for saving many lives.

'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, who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever . . . The way of the wicked he brings to ruin.' (Excerpts from Psalm 146 ESV)

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PAKISTANI TALIBAN INSURGENCY ESCALATES

Since declaring war on the Pakistan government in July 2007, the Pakistani Taliban has made great gains. After Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a US missile strike on 5 August 2009, the new Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud vowed revenge. Four recent major terrorist attacks within the period of a week killed around 100 and wounded many more. As this war intensifies, it is becoming apparent that Punjabi fundamentalists and rogue military pose a serious threat to Pakistani security. The more the Taliban insurgency escalates the more vulnerable Pakistan's 3.6 million Christians become amidst the turmoil. The situation is critical. Please pray that God will draw Pakistan's Christians close to him and use their witness for his glory.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

025. LRA terrorises central Africa

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 025 | Wed 07 Oct 2009

THE LORD'S RESISTANCE ARMY (LRA) TERRORISES
-- Southern Sudan, northern Congo, eastern Central African Republic (CAR), Uganda.
By Elizabeth Kendal

In 1986 a Catholic self-proclaimed 'prophetess' named Alice Lakwena founded an ethnic Acholi militia in northern Uganda in response to what she believed was the voice of the Holy Spirit ordering her to overthrow the Government of Uganda (GoU). By 1987 Lakwena's 'Holy Spirit Movement' was finished: Lakwena had fled (she died in Kenya in 2007) and some 5000 of her soldiers lay dead. Under the leadership of Joseph Kony, a spirit-medium and former Catholic altar-boy, the survivors regrouped, forming the 'Lord's Resistance Army' (LRA). Lacking popular support, the LRA keeps its ranks filled by abducting children whom they terrorise into submission, indoctrinate and send out to kill and be killed. Around 90 percent of all LRA soldiers are believed to have been abducted as children. This is one reason why the GoU has been reluctant to attack the LRA with lethal force.

Whilst claiming to be the Lord's army led by the Holy Spirit, the LRA is deeply occultic. It receives support and supplies from the Islamic regime in Khartoum, Sudan. Khartoum uses the LRA as a proxy militia against African Christian, animist and even Muslim (Darfur) communities that reject Khartoum's Arab Islamic imperialism. As is common in occultism, LRA soldiers routinely collect their victims' genitals, livers, hearts and the like for use as occult charms (juju) in cannibalistic blood rituals. According to testimonies from defectors and rescued children, Kony routinely enters a trance to become possessed by a spirit -- claimed to be the Holy Spirit. If Kony talks while possessed, by repute whatever he says comes exactly true. The spirit reportedly alerts Kony to military movements, instructs him whom to kill and is always hungry for more human blood.

The LRA was decimated by a rash of defections starting mid-2003 and by Operation Lightning Thunder in 2008, a joint exercise in DR Congo by the armies of South Sudan, Uganda and DR Congo. However, a revived and re-supplied LRA is now terrorising the border regions of Southern Sudan, northern Congo and eastern CAR. Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala of Tombura-Yambio in remote Southern Sudan recently appealed through Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) for international attention and intervention (ACN 29 Sep 09). In early September a large band of LRA soldiers stormed into a church in his diocese, desecrated the building and abducted 17 youths. Three escaped, one was later found dead and mutilated and 13 remain in LRA custody. According to Bishop Hiiboro, 12 people were subsequently abducted from a village near Nzara, and six people ambushed in the forest outside Nzara were killed after being nailed to pieces of wood fastened to the ground. Those who discovered the bodies likened it to a grotesque crucifixion scene. After a spate of similarly horrendous attacks in August, some 20,000 Christians of all denominations across Western Equatoria State, South Sudan, walked more than two miles barefoot in sackcloth and ashes in prayer and silent protest. On 6 October, Uganda's Daily Monitor quoted Congolese officials reporting that some 3000 LRA soldiers, wearing new uniforms and carrying new weapons, have crossed from CAR into northern Congo and are now advancing towards Sudan. Father Benoit Kilalegu reported from Congo that the LRA attacked Digba on 25 September, killing 22 people with machetes.

Whilst the LRA is actually little more than a rag-tag band of guerrillas, under Kony's command they have been out-witting and out-running the official armies of Uganda, Southern Sudan, CAR and DR Congo (separately and combined) for some 20 years. There is more to the LRA than mere human evil. In its wake lie millions of mostly Christian traumatised victims in a region where virtually all services, provision of shelter, humanitarian aid, healthcare, education, care of orphans and rehabilitation of victims is provided by the Church.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* 'Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him (1 Peter 3:22 ESV)' will intervene in this conflict as a bulwark against demonic forces, thus enabling the defeat of Joseph Kony, who is the LRA personified.

* supply-lines between the LRA and Khartoum will be severed (Psalm 146:9c). 'Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.' (Psalm 20:7 ESV)

* God will bless all the churches and Christian communities across the region that are carrying heavy loads of both grief and ministry on account of LRA terror; may God supply all their needs of both provision and healing.

* God will bless central and east Africa with a widespread awakening and revival that would rid the region of occultism and syncretism, promoting justice and righteousness so that the devil will no longer have a foothold there.

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THE LORD'S RESISTANCE ARMY (LRA) TERRORISES

The LRA is an occultic Ugandan guerrilla force. It blasphemously claims to be of the Lord and led by the Holy Spirit. It is supported from the Arab Islamic regime in Khartoum, Sudan, which uses the LRA as a proxy force against mostly African Christians who reject Khartoum's Arab Islamic imperialism. The LRA engages in occultic, cannibalistic blood rituals. Joseph Kony, its leader, routinely becomes possessed by a spirit (claiming it is the Holy Spirit) who reveals things to him, gives him orders and is always hungry for more human blood. The LRA, which abducts children for forced conscription as child soldiers and 'wives', is presently terrorising the predominately Christian peoples of Southern Sudan, northern Congo and eastern Central African Republic. Please pray for the Lord's merciful, powerful and decisive intervention.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

024. September Update; incl. Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 024 | Wed 30 Sep 2009

SEPTEMBER 2009 UPDATE -- During the month we prayed concerning . . .

UZBEKISTAN, where 'foreign and non-traditional' Christian fellowships (i.e. not Russian Orthodox) are afflicted with the same security provisions designed to repress 'foreign and non-traditional' Islamic groups: Wahhabi fundamentalists and jihadists, and Hizb-ut-Tahrir Islamic revolutionaries. Even though the government knows the evangelical minority are peaceful, another reason they are targeted is because their very existence causes social tension with the Muslim and Russian Orthodox majority, a tension the government would like eliminated. Donam Protestant Church, a registered (and therefore legal) church in Tashkent pastored by Vladimir Tyo, is being attacked by the government. Also Pentecostal pastor Dmitry Shestakov remains incarcerated in the third year of his four-year prison sentence for illegal religious activities.

LAOS, where ethnic minority Christians are being specifically targeted for persecution by an increasingly paranoid and insecure government whose hatred and brutality is no longer being restrained. The registered Boukham Church is experiencing serious persecution under the supervision of the local police chief, Thao Somphet. Church elder Thao Oun is in prison (where torture is routine) and being threatened with death. New believer Thao Aom was expelled from his village because he refused to renounce Christ throughout three hours of police 'interrogation'. Please pray for the Church in Laos.

PAKISTAN, where decades of Islamic radicalisation, primarily through the free education provided by hundreds of thousands of fundamentalist Islamic madrassas, has prepared large swathes of the Muslim population for exploitation by the Islamic fundamentalists. They are now specifically targeting Christian communities so as to inflame Islamic zeal in the general Muslim grassroots. Islamic clerics have incited four large-scale violent pogroms against Christian communities in Punjab in the past three months -- with impunity. Also, on 14 September a Christian boy named Fanish Masih (19) was tortured to death in a Pakistani prison. He had been falsely accused of blasphemy, but the real reason for his imprisonment was his romance with a local Muslim girl. Fear and anxiety is rising in the Christian community. Please pray for them.


SEPTEMBER 2009 ROUND-UP -- also this month . . .

* LEBANON: HEZBALLAH'S STRENGTH GROWS

Though the Saudi and US-backed, Sunni-dominated, pro-West March 14 Alliance won Lebanon's June 2009 elections with 70 seats to 58, the Syria and Iran-backed, Shia-dominated, Hezballah-led opposition actually won the popular vote with 55 percent of the ballot. Moreover, Hezballah is still the strongest military force in the state. In such circumstances it is not entirely surprising to find the minorities allying themselves to Hezballah in the hope that when fighting breaks out they will be on the winning team. Some 70 percent of Lebanese Christians (including many evangelicals) are allied to Hezballah in what must certainly be a 'covenant of death' (Isaiah 28:14-22). Now Walid Jumblat, leader of the Druze-led Progressive Socialist Party, has deserted the March 14 Alliance and, while feigning neutrality, is aligning himself with Hezballah and Iran for security's sake. He regards the Maronite Catholic commitment to the 'March 14' liberal ideals as 'suicidal'. Lebanon's Daily Star reports (28 Sep 09) that over 70,000 Christians have fled Lebanon since mid-2006. Pray for the church in Lebanon.


* MOROCCO: A NEW MOVEMENT SEEKS RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

A new group has emerged called the Alternative Movement for the Defense of Individual Liberties (MALI). It has declared its intention to defend 'all freedoms . . . including freedom of worship' (MoroccoBoard.com 24 Sep 09). MALI's founder, Ms Zineb El-Rhazoui (a journalist) appealed through the group's Facebook site for supporters to join her in an act of civil disobedience on 13 September. With Article 222 of the Moroccan Penal Code criminalising public eating during Ramadan, the group planned to hold a public picnic during fasting hours in the woods outside the town of Mohammedia. However, on 13 September a large contingent of police besieged the Mohammedia railway station and recorded the details of the religious dissidents. Outraged Islamic clerics have demanded their punishment and MALI's leaders have received death threats. Reportedly the 'Moroccan blogosphere' is now abuzz with debates about 'freedom of conscience in a Muslim society' (LATimes 21 Sep). The Moroccan Association of Human Rights is very concerned about Ms Zineb El-Rhazoui, who has 'been disappeared' since 17 September. Pray for religious liberty in Morocco. Pray for King Mohammed VI (46), a visionary Arab leader and force for modernity, democracy and liberty.


* NORTH KOREA: NEW UNIVERSITY OPENS

The first privately funded university in North Korea, the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) , was officially opened on 16 September after a two-year delay and will eventually have 2000 undergraduate students. PUST is being built mostly with donations from international religious groups and South Korean individuals as well as with $1 million from the South Korean Ministry of Unification. Its founder, American entrepreneur Dr James Kim, refutes suggestions he 'paid-off' Kim Jong Il to get permission for the project. As a faithful Christian Dr Kim gives all the glory to God, while rejoicing that he (Dr Kim) has 'unlimited credit at the Bank of Heaven' (Daily NK, 16 Sep 09). Dr Kim, who spent 40 days in a North Korean prison cell in 1998, acknowledges the project is totally dependent on the grace of God as it is constantly being held hostage to geo-political agendas and whims. Pray for this miracle to continue; that God will frustrate the way of the wicked (Psalm 146:9c); and that PUST will achieve 'immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine' (Ephesians 3:20 NIV).

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

023. Pakistan: Islamic fundamentalists target Christians

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 023 | Wed 23 Sep 2009

PAKISTAN: ISLAMIC FUNDAMENTALISTS TARGET CHRISTIANS
By Elizabeth Kendal

Christians in Pakistan are suffering escalating and intensifying persecution. Writing in Pakistan's 'Daily Times' (21 September), commentator Syed Mansoor Hussain said he believed recent attacks on Christian communities are part of a new strategy by Islamic fundamentalist organisations. The Taliban has lost a lot of grassroots support through its widespread killing and repression of Muslims. So now the fundamentalists are inciting their militants to launch Islamic campaigns specifically targeting Christians. This fires up Islamic zeal and keeps the radicalised followers engaged whilst not threatening or offending the general Muslim population. And as Hussain notes, while Islamic apologists 'keep repeating the mantra that Islam is a tolerant religion', too many politicians, police and lawyers are either too intimidated by, or too supportive of, the militants to bring them to justice. So the killings in Islam's name continue with impunity. (See Syed Mansoor Hussain: Looking for justice)

Hussain wrote this piece because of yet another attack against a Christian community in Pakistan's Punjab Province -- the fourth in ten weeks. On 30 June, the Christian community of Bahmani Wala Village was attacked (see RLPB 012, 8 July). Christian communities were then attacked in Korian on 26 July and in Gojra on 1 August (see RLPB 016, 5 Aug). They were all incited by Islamic clerics using false accusations of blasphemy or Qur'an desecration. The cost to the Christian communities has been immense and horrific.

Then on Friday 11 September hundreds of Muslims rioted in Jatheki village near Sialkot city in Punjab Province, responding to incitement from their local mosques. A Muslim woman discovered that her daughter, Hina Asghar, was romantically involved with their neighbour, a Christian boy named Fanish Masih (19). Enraged, she told her imam that Fanish had desecrated Hina's Qur'an. During Friday prayers, the imam called upon Muslims to punish the Christians. In the ensuing pogrom against the Christian community, many members were stripped and severely beaten. The local Protestant Calvary Church was torched and the police stood by as the senior pastor was mercilessly bashed.

Police arrested Fanish the next day. On Sunday 13 September some 600 Muslim women demonstrated in Sialkot to refute the notion that a Muslim woman could ever fall in love with a Christian man. (Note: the Qur'an does not permit Muslims to have friendships with Jews, Christians or any other unbelievers -- e.g. Sura 5:51). On 14 September Fanish was relocated to a prison in Sialkot city where the next day the prison superintendent reported that Masih had 'committed suicide'. Though Fanish Masih is alleged to have hanged himself, his broken ribs and the signs of torture all over his body led Christians to charge that he was murdered. Thousands turned out for the funeral. Clashes erupted when mourners sought to take Fanish's body home to Jatheki village, the police responding with batons, tear gas and live ammunition, wounding three. Around 100 Christians were arrested. Whilst the official autopsy results have not yet been released, the two Christian doctors who observed it have publicly stated they believe Fanish was tortured to death.

Religious freedom advocates are lobbying for the repeal of the Blasphemy Law. Whilst that would be right and just, its repeal will not save Pakistani Christians from deadly Islamic hatred. In fact, it has usually been the case that repealing Islamic laws leads to massacres as hate-filled Islamic fundamentalists will kill Christians rather than yield anything to them.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* draw all Pakistani Christians into his holy presence (i.e. sanctuary -- Isaiah 8:13,14a) where they will receive comfort, peace and divine strength (Isaiah 40:27-31). 'When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.' (Psalm 56:3 ESV)

* frustrate the way of the wicked (Psalm 146:9) and rescue his children from the hands of their persecutors (Psalm 31:15).

* bring a spirit of shame on Pakistan about the way their vulnerable Christian minority is being treated and many Muslims will take a moral stand against the lawlessness and violence.

* bring a spirit of enlightenment to Pakistan so that, despite widespread radicalisation, many Muslims will grasp that Islam is clearly not the 'tolerant religion' its apologists proclaim.

* inspire many disillusioned Muslims to turn to Jesus Christ; may it be as was said of the Apostle Paul, 'He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.' (Galatians 1:23 ESV)

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PAKISTANI ISLAMIC FUNDAMENTALISTS TARGET CHRISTIANS

In the fourth anti-Christian pogrom in Punjab Province in 10 weeks, Muslims rioted against the Christian community in Jatheki town on 11 September. Once again it was incited by Islamic clerics using a false accusation of Qur'an desecration. However, the real reason was a Muslim woman's anger that her daughter was romantically involved with a Christian neighbour, Fanish Masih (19). After the rioting Muslims had beaten many Christians and torched the local Protestant Calvary Church, the police arrested Fanish. On 15 September it was reported that Fanish had 'committed suicide' in prison. However, Fanish's ribs were broken and there were signs of torture all over his body. The two Christian doctors who observed the official autopsy have stated they believe Fanish was tortured to death. Please pray for Pakistan's besieged Christians.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

022. Laos: persecution of 'imported religion'

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 022 | Wed 16 Sep 2009

LAOS: PERSECUTION OF 'IMPORTED RELIGION'
By Elizabeth Kendal

Since around 1950 Laos has been torn between pro- and anti-Communist forces. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, ethnic minorities in both Vietnam and Laos sided with US troops in the fight against Communist forces across Indo-China. After the Communist victory, some two-thirds of Laos' Christian population fled the country. Since 1975 Laos has been ruled by the communist Lao People's Revolutionary Party. During the early 1990s Laos moved towards a
more market-based economy, necessitating greater openness and global engagement. However, by 1996 it was applying the brakes, fearing that the regime's hold on power was being threatened. Increased openness had led to a rise in social unrest, with Laotians protesting government repression and corruption. Human rights abuses soared as the authorities cracked down, reining in dissent.

In October 1998, the US Government passed its International Freedom from Religious Persecution (IFRP) Act that tied religious freedom to foreign policy. At that time, religious persecution in Laos was severe and torture routine. However, as a desperately poor country without wealthy powerful friends, Laos could not ignore the US IFRP Act. So the regime began tentatively reforming its religious policy to avoid sanctions and secure trade agreements. By 2005 the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) was able to drop Laos from its Watch List. However, the situation has swung back again. Laos now has strong ties to other developing but totalitarian states including the ascendant, economic powerhouse, China. Furthermore the financial situation in America has greatly diluted its leverage, which was the power behind the IFRP Act. Over the past year, persecution has escalated so much that in May 2009 the USCIRF returned Laos to its Watch List.(See Annual Report of the USCIRF May 2009: LAOS.)

USCIRF reports that over 500 Christians around the country were pressured to renounce their faith in July 2008 alone. Christians are threatened with eviction from their villages, confiscation of livestock, denial of government identity cards, denial of education and the withholding of food from prisoners. Ethnic minority Protestants are being specifically targeted. The Communist regime abhors Protestant Christianity as an 'American import' that threatens the communist political system. Government suspicion and hostility is only heightened because it is being embraced with such joy and dedicated commitment by the ethnic minorities who have long struggled against communist repression.

The Boukham Church has endured sustained persecution over the past year. Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) reports that on 3 September 2009 Lao officials arrested church elder Thao Oun, taking him from his home in Lainsai village at gunpoint. He was then detained, interrogated and terrorised for over five hours. HRWLRF writes: 'Thao Oon was charged with bringing destruction to the Lao nation and government due to his embracing of the Christian faith.' The police chief demanded that Thao Oun denounce Christianity or face eviction from his village. He also threatened Thao Oun that if word of his arrest and interrogation got out to the international community he would be put to death, adding that he wished for the death of all believers in Boukham Church. HRWLRF has gone public with the report believing that shining a global spotlight on Thao Oun's case is actually the only way now to guarantee his safety. Furthermore, the authorities are pressuring the church by denying schooling to ten of its children and denying believing families access to water, medical care and the protection of the law. Then on 5 September, the authorities arrested Thao Aom, 'a new believer of 10 months'. After three hours of police 'interrogation' Thao Aom was still refusing to renounce his faith and so was evicted from his village. On Sunday 6 September, authorities surrounded the Boukham Church and stopped believers entering for worship. (See HRWLRF Advocacy Alert No. 04/2009. 9 September 2009.)


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* stir up and then bless international prayer and advocacy for Thao Oun and the Boukham Church; may police illegal abuse of authority be reined in, and may the church be encouraged, strengthened and built up as a result of God's merciful intervention.

* stir up a sense of injustice and indignation within the Lao Buddhist majority (who are spared persecution for pragmatic reasons); may voices for peace, liberty and justice arise from the most surprising places. (This would create far more pressure than anything external!)

* bless the persecuted and imprisoned Laotian believers with everything they need at this time, in particular water, health and security; may the ever-present Holy Spirit comfort and sustain them as they wait upon the Lord for justice.

[Elijah said to the woman:] For thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.' [. . .] The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah. (1 Kings 17:14-16 ESV)

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PERSECUTION OF 'IMPORTED RELIGION' IN LAOS

Laos' Communist authorities abhor Protestant Christianity as an 'American import' that threatens the communist political system. Government suspicion and hostility is only heightened because it is being embraced with such joy and dedicated commitment by the ethnic minorities who have long struggled against communist repression. Human Rights Watch for Laos Religious Freedom is reporting severe persecution against Boukham Church. Elder Thao Oun was arrested at gunpoint on 3 September and has been threatened with death. The authorities are pressuring the believers to renounce their faith by denying them schooling for children and access to water, medical care and police protection. They also arrested a new believer named Thao Aom, and evicted him from his village when he refused to renounce Christ after three hours of 'interrogation'. Please pray for the Church and people of Laos.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

021. Sudan: Christians' future bleak as war looms

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 021 | Wed 09 Sep 2009

SUDAN: CHRISTIANS' FUTURE BLEAK AS WAR LOOMS
By Elizabeth Kendal

In July 2002, with a very powerful and angry post-9/11 USA breathing down its neck, Sudan's ruling National Islamic Front (NIF) somewhat reluctantly signed the historic Machakos Protocol, putting Sudan on the path towards a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The regime's Islamic backers were strongly opposed to peace on anyone's terms other than their own -- and they were demanding the full Islamisation of all of Sudan. The 31 Dec 2004 signing of the CPA was extremely important because Khartoum had been investing its new found oil wealth on logistical development. Elevated dual-purpose roads together with sophisticated weaponry and security -- mostly Chinese -- were means for a military victory. The CPA provided hope for the predominantly Christian African Southerners who had spent decades fighting Arabisation and Islamisation.

The CPA gives the Southerners a 2011 referendum on secession, which was essential to bring them to the negotiation table. However, it was always known that the North would never just let the South secede as most of Sudan's oil reserves are in the south. This was one reason why Southern leader Dr John Garang advocated a united, equitable, secular and democratic 'New Sudan' -- something to benefit all Sudanese. Garang planned to unite the opposition and win the CPA-mandated national elections in mid-2009. Then (theoretically), Sudan's new, more representative government could work at making unity more attractive than secession, averting war.

But the elections, now postponed until April 2010, have been irretrievably compromised. The most important element of the process is the national census, as the census results will determine the proportional representation in the national assembly. But the census was shamelessly rigged and its results have been clearly revealed as fraudulent. The regime's aim is to secure (albeit fraudulently) an absolute majority in the new assembly so they can re-write
the terms of the CPA and scuttle the Southern Self-Determination Referendum (SSDR). With the elections ruined and the SSDR under threat, Southern leader Pagan Amum has warned that the South might be forced to declare independence unilaterally, something the Islamist-regime in Khartoum has described as a 'red-line'. There is much concern that Sudan is heading towards a war that would lead to disintegration, chaos and a humanitarian catastrophe of unprecedented scale.

Meanwhile, Khartoum is believed to be behind the massive escalation of violence in the south. Some 2000 people have died and over 250,000 displaced across southern Sudan since January -- more than in Darfur! Moreover, the belligerents are using sophisticated, high-powered weapons and are targeting women and children, developments that are unprecedented in inter-tribal violence. Notoriously, the Arab-Islamist regime in Khartoum is earning massive funds exporting agricultural produce to Arab states while most non-Arab Sudanese are starving and dependent on foreign aid.

Our Christian brethren whom we prayed for through years of Islamic jihad and a tortured peace process are facing a seriously bleak future as war looms. Last week, Christians in Western Equatoria, South Sudan, held three days of prayer and fasting for an end to LRA terror (see RPLB 019). Hundreds of believers took part in a 20km walk for peace led by Bishop Edward Hiiboro Kussula of the Catholic diocese of Tombura-Yambio and Bishop Peter Munde of the Episcopal Church of Sudan.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* intervene to bring an end to LRA leader Joseph Kony and the Khartoum-sponsored LRA terror he commands.

* frustrate all Khartoum's efforts to destabilise the South with LRA and inter-tribal conflict; may supply lines be severed and communications confused.

* awaken Southern tribesmen to Khartoum's divide-and-conquer strategy and to
resist manipulation and exploitation, with hearts inclined toward peace.

* provide the churches of Southern Sudan with everything they need to care for
their communities, both physically and spiritually.

* expose Khartoum's duplicity and wickedness in their starving of African Sudan, in arming belligerents and rigging the census.

Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted. . . . Strengthen their hearts and do justice, . . . so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more. (Psalm 10:12,17,18 excerpts ESV)

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CHRISTIANS' FUTURE BLEAK AS WAR LOOMS IN SUDAN

National elections hopefully would have provided Sudan with representative government, making unity attractive and averting war. But the Arab Islamist regime in Khartoum has rigged the national census, irretrievably compromising the elections scheduled for April 2010. The regime aims to secure -- fraudulently -- the majority in the national assembly so they can re-write the 2004 Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the mostly Christian African South and scuttle the Southern Self-Determination Referendum (SSDR). With the elections ruined and the SSDR jeopardised, the South has threatened to declare independence unilaterally. Meanwhile, Khartoum is believed to be behind the massive escalation of violence in the south, where more have died this year than in Darfur! Moreover Khartoum is exporting food to Arab states while letting its own non-Arab citizens starve. Please pray for God's intervention in Sudan.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

020. Uzbekistan: imprisonment after church service raided

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 020 | Tue 01 Sep 2009

UZBEKISTAN: IMPRISONMENT AFTER CHURCH SERVICE RAIDED

(By Anneta Vyssotskaia)

As Uzbekistan authorities are preparing for the celebration of Independence Day and the 220th anniversary of the capital city Tashkent on 1 September, they want to ensure everything is 'in proper order'. The city is checked for homeless people, street kids and people without local registration, who are temporarily removed from the city. Hundreds of policemen are mopping up in search of 'unwanted elements' as part of a preventative anti-terror operation 'Tozalash-Antiterror'. The families of political prisoners and religious groups are under special surveillance. Although this control never stops, it increases significantly before various important events.

Possibly as part of this pre-festive clean-up, some 20 anti-terror police raided the registered Donam Protestant church in Tashkent on 23 August during the regular Sunday service, claiming it was an 'unauthorised' religious meeting. Threatened by the police officers the church members, including pregnant women, children, elderly and sick people were not allowed to leave the church grounds for several hours. They were forced to give their names and addresses, which created confusion and panic. A few hours later, the church pastor, Vladimir Tyo, and several other church members were arrested and Christian literature and videos were confiscated. Although the church leaders presented all the necessary documents proving the church's registered status this fact was ignored by the police. The next day the court sentenced the pastor and three other church workers to 15 days' imprisonment as well as destruction of the confiscated materials. Although police raids on churches are common in Uzbekistan, this was the first case of a raid on a registered church during worship and the arrest of its leaders -- an unprecedented violation of human rights. Twenty-eight church members signed a letter of protest about the unlawful actions of the authorities to Uzbekistan's Interior Minister, the Tashkent Justice Department and President Islam Karimov.

Uzbekistan is tenth on the Open Doors World Watch List of countries that are the worst persecutors of Christians. Earlier this year a deacon of a registered Baptist church in Tashkent, Pavel Nenno, was sentenced to 15 days' imprisonment for his ministry to street kids -- he gave food and taught Bible to them. Pentecostal pastor Dmitry Shestakov is serving his third year of a four-year imprisonment sentence for illegal religious activities. The authorities give amnesty twice a year when hundreds of criminals are released from prison: before Independence Day and Constitution Day. Shestakov's friends asked for amnesty for him in 2007 but their request was refused. Numerous Christians in Uzbekistan are sentenced to pay huge fines for being God's witnesses, worshipping God together or having Christian literature. Christians in Uzbekistan live under constant threat of persecution.

As fire melts pieces of gold together so persecution brings churches to greater unity. Living under persecution, the Christians in Uzbekistan receive many important lessons from the Lord and are growing in faith and God's discipline. The church leaders regularly come together for prayer and fasting. The churches are also learning about their rights and how to stand up for them together, which results in the growth of unity.

Read more about the raid on the Donam church on http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1341 .

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY:

* that God will change the attitude of the Uzbekistan Government to Protestant churches so it will stop seeing Christians as enemies and persecuting them.

* for all the Christians in Uzbekistan to be bold and courageous despite persecution and to continue being faithful witnesses of Christ to the community.

* for those who are in prison, especially for Pastor Dmitry Shestakov and believers from the Donam church, along with their families and churches.

* that God will turn the situation in the Donam church for his glory and the church members will not be fearful of this situation but feel blessed to be persecuted for Christ.

'Many are those who are my vigorous enemies; those who hate me without reason are numerous. Those who repay my good with evil slander me when I pursue what is good. O Lord, do not forsake me; be not far from me, O my God. Come quickly to help me, O Lord my Saviour. (Psalm 38:19-22, NIV)

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IMPRISONMENT AFTER CHURCH SERVICE RAIDED IN UZBEKISTAN

On 23 August some 20 anti-terror police officers raided the registered Donam Protestant church in Tashkent during their regular Sunday service, claiming it was 'unauthorised'. The church members were threatened and not allowed to leave for several hours and forced to give their names and addresses. The pastor and three church workers were sentenced to 15 days' imprisonment and confiscated Christian literature was destroyed. The church members wrote a letter of protest to Uzbekistan's Interior Minister, the Tashkent Justice Department and President Islam Karimov. The pastor of another church, Dmitry Shestakov, is serving the third year of a four-year imprisonment for illegal religious activities. Please pray for Christians in Uzbekistan who live under constant threat of persecution. Persecution results in more unity amongst Christian churches as they learn to stand together in fellowship.