Wednesday, May 27, 2009

006. April Update; incl. Egypt, India, Iran, Nepal.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 006 | Wed 27 May 2009

[There was no April Update because only one bulletin in this new RLPB series had been issued that month. However, in this last week in May we are updating all five RLPBs.]

Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you are also in the body. (Hebrews 13:3 ESV)

IN APRIL WE PRAYED FOR --

IRAN, where Christians Maryam Rostampour (27) and Marzieh Esmaeilabad (30) remain incarcerated in Evin Prison for their faith. They are not pawns in a game of international geopolitics as was Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi. Their situation is far more serious. Please help them through prayer (2 Corinthians 1:11).

PAKISTAN, where a war is raging between the Pakistan Army and al-Qaeda-Taliban forces in Swat Valley.

* UPDATE: SITUATION REMAINS CRITICAL After weeks of fierce fighting the Pakistan Army has advanced into the Swat capital, Mingora. Hundreds of Mingora's poor Christian families remain trapped in the war zone, unable to flee due to conflict and the exploitative cost of bus transport out of Swat. Meanwhile, Christians who have escaped are reportedly facing social ostracism, threats and abuse in the relief camps. In Mingora, resistance has actually been less than expected, leading some analysts to conclude that the Taliban may have already conducted a tactical withdrawal. Multitudes of Taliban are believed to have melted into the population -- including the mobile refugee population -- from where they will doubtless conduct rearguard actions. On Friday 22 May a massive 50kg car bomb exploded in the busy Khyber Bazaar in North West Frontier Province's strategic capital city of Peshawar, killing 10 and injuring more than 75. Pray for the Church in Pakistan.

DURING MAY WE PRAYED FOR --

EGYPT, where Cairo's garbage collectors (Arabic: 'zabaleen') -- all indigenous Coptic Christians socially crippled by systematic religious discrimination -- are facing increased hardship as a result of a government campaign to cull all Egypt's pigs. Islam deems pigs 'unclean' and so pigs are kept and eaten only by Christians, particularly the zabaleen whose pigs consume the organic waste. Egypt's Copts regard the cull as yet another example of persecution.

* UPDATE: PIG CULL CONTINUES TO IMPACT CAIRO'S COPTS The pig cull continues with the authorities estimating it could take six months to complete. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) protested the cruelty to the animals after footage emerged on Youtube showing pigs and piglets being beaten, kicked and stabbed to death, as well as doused with acid and buried alive. While the cruelty being meted out to the pigs is deplorable, the extreme hardship being forced on Cairo's Coptic Christian communities is more so. People for the ethical treatment of people should be outraged. Pray for Egypt's Christian Copts.

CHRISTIANS TRAPPED AND DISPLACED BY WAR. The Church's responsibility to pray and care for the wounded, endangered and traumatised body of Christ will continue as long as conflict and persecution continue. 'Is this not the fast that I choose [says the Lord] . . . to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?' (Isaiah 58:7 ESV)

INDIA, with a special RLPB on the results of the Indian elections. We praise God for another five years in which to challenge the wicked, dangerous and deceitful ideology of Hindutva. We pray it will not be wasted.

* UPDATE: KANDHAMAL STILL SAFFRON STAINED Please pray for Christians in the remote, violence-wracked Hindutva stronghold of Kandhamal district, Orissa State. In the State Assembly poll (held at the same time as the Federal poll) Kandhamal district was won by the BJP, even though the BJP candidate is in prison for his part in the anti-Christian pogrom of September-October 2008. This indicates that Kandhamal's displaced and vulnerable Christians are surrounded by a majority of highly radicalised, unrepentant Hindus who still strongly support the Hindutva agenda. Pray that the newly elected, professedly secular, centrist BJD government in Orissa will exercise its clear state-wide mandate to disempower Hindutva, ending the shameful and destructive communalism it engenders and the impunity it has long enjoyed. Pray that justice will flow (Amos 5:24).


ALSO IN MAY
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* EGYPT: A BOMBING, A STABBING AND GROSS INJUSTICE

On 2 May, Coptic Christian Girgis Yousry (21) was ambushed by three Muslims and stabbed repeatedly as he left the church of Saint Mary in Minya, Upper Egypt, where violence against the Coptic Christian community is common and impunity is standard. When Compass Direct published their report on 22 May, Yousry was still in hospital recovering from severe injuries. On Saturday 9 May at around 9 pm, a crude homemade bomb left under a parked car exploded outside Saint Mary Church in Cairo's Zeitoun district. No-one was injured and only the car was damaged. However, Egypt's Copts revere St Mary Church in Zeitoun as sacred, believing that Mary appeared there repeatedly throughout 1968. As such, the bomb targeted the heart of Coptic Christians who are routinely persecuted in Egypt.

Meanwhile, Coptic priest Rev Mattaos Wahba remains in prison, charged with conducting a marriage with forged papers, despite the woman's recent testimony that the priest was totally unaware that her papers were forged. The woman had been born into Islam but, as a convert to Christianity, wanted to marry a Christian. As conversion is illegal and women legally identified as 'Muslim' can only legally marry Muslim men, she had new identity papers forged that identified her as Christian. In another case, after a short spell of freedom, Coptic Christian brothers Refaat and Ibrahim Fawzy Abdo have been returned to a remote detention camp. They have been tortured and falsely accused of murder. When militant Muslim raiders attacked the Abu Fana Monastery in June 2008, one was shot dead, but by 'friendly fire'. The monastery kept no arms. Pray for Egypt's sorely persecuted Christians.


* IRANIAN CHRISTIAN EXPATRIATE PRESSURED FROM IRAN

John (Reza) Vashahi is an Iranian-British convert to Christianity who runs the jesusforarabs blogspot from UK. Ever since John founded the Iranian Minorities Human Rights Organisation (IMHRO) in Britain in 2008, his Muslim family still in Iran has been subject to pressure from Iranian authorities. On 14 May, Iranian Revolutionary Guards arrested John's Muslim father, confiscating his computer and books. Mr Vashahi senior (62) was interrogated and imprisoned for six days in an effort to both silence John and make sure none of the family follows in his 'apostasy'. Pray for the Church in Iran and amongst the Iranian diaspora.


* NEPALI CHRISTIANS KILLED IN KATHMANDU CATHEDRAL BOMBING

On Saturday morning 23 May 09, in Lalitpur (Kathmandu Valley), a bomb exploded in the Cathedral of the Assumption where some 400 people had gathered for worship. Celeste Joseph (15) died instantly whilst Deepa Patrik (30) died later in hospital. Fourteen others were wounded, three seriously. The bomb, detonated by a timer, was left in the centre of the Cathedral in the handbag of a woman who exited supposedly 'to go to the toilet'. Leaflets belonging to the Nepal Defence Army, a Hindu nationalist group that has threatened the Church previously (see RLP 490, 6 Aug 08) were found in the cathedral. Later that day Nepal's parliament met to elect a new Prime Minister. Newly-elected PM Madhav Kumar Nepal condemned the attack as 'highly deplorable' and promised 'the guilty will be brought to book'. Please pray for Nepal.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

005. India: Congress win is no grounds for complacency

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 005 | Wed 20 May 2009

A special Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin on the results of the India Lok Saba (Federal Parliament) elections, which includes comment on the Orissa State Assembly poll.

INDIA: CONGRESS WIN IS NO GROUNDS FOR COMPLACENCY

Christians around the world rejoiced with their Indian brethren on 16 May when learning that the Congress-led United People's Alliance (UPA) of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had been re-elected to rule Federally for another five years. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) undid their four years of Hindutva activism, through destructive communal violence in Orissa, reckless handling of the 26 November 2008 Mumbai terror attack and a very poor election campaign. While the BJP collected almost the same percentage of the vote as in the 2004 elections (dropping from 22.1 to 21.4 percent), Congress's percentage increased markedly (from 26.5 to 38 percent). The UPA now holds 262 of the Assembly's 542 seats -- only eleven short of a majority -- while the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) holds 159. In 2004 the UPA and NDA held 218 and 181 seats respectively.

The NDA had been gaining ground on the UPA in recent years to the point that in July 2008 the UPA government only narrowly survived a no-confidence vote moved against it by the BJP. Since its creation in 1980, the BJP has risen to become the second largest political party in India. The BJP's recent drubbing does not mean that Hindu nationalism is dead. The BJP ran a poor campaign. They proposed the elderly Hindutva ideologue LK Advani (82) as next Prime Minister when 70 percent of India is under 35. They publicly stood by controversial BJP candidate Varun Gandhi after he was arrested and charged over a virulent anti-Muslim speech. While Congress' Rahul Gandhi (38) exuded youth, positivity and national unity, the BJP's Narendra Modi exuded the opposite. Furthermore, opinion polls and several state polls clearly showed that the BJP lost significant ground after responding to the Mumbai terror attack with belligerent rhetoric and blame. It appears many voters were appalled that the BJP would seek to profit politically from the national tragedy and they were unsettled by the BJP's belligerent rhetoric when the UPA was successfully dealing with Pakistan and keeping war at bay through firm negotiations.

Congress appears to have collected the swinging votes as well as many votes that would normally have gone to minor and regional parties. It appears that flexible voters decided that in these days of regional insecurity and escalating terror, stable government was more important than anything else. But the BJP lost seats also. In the 'king-maker' state of Madhya Pradesh the BJP's representation dropped from 25 to 16 seats, with votes going instead to Congress. A similar trend was observed in Maharashtra of which Mumbai is the capital. It is supremely significant that the BJP failed to win a single federal seat in the violence-wracked Hindutva stronghold of Orissa (See . Clearly the majority of Orissa's Hindus have decided to eschew such shameful and destructive violence.

The situation in Orissa State is further relieved with the State Assembly poll (conducted alongside the Lok Saba poll) likewise leaving the BJP routed with only eight seats. Orissa will now be governed by the professed secular Biju Janata Dal (BJD) with 108 seats and an absolute majority. (A BJD - BJP coalition ruptured in March 2009.)

When the BJP lost power in the May 2004 Lok Saba election, the defeat shocked the Hindu nationalists into escalating their efforts to spread Hindutva for political gain. There is every reason to believe the same will be true this time with Hindu nationalists refining their strategies and redoubling their efforts to convert more youths. They will doubtless seek to groom younger, more suave, intelligent and modern Hindutva role models as well as elevating the status and living standards of converts.

By the grace and mercy of our prayer-hearing God, there is now another five-year opportunity for tackling Hindutva. The last five years of Congress-led UPA rule were marked by escalating anti-Christian rhetoric and violence with impunity and were a total waste in tackling Hindutva. We must pray that, rather than being complacent, the UPA will actively address Hindutva: exposing its violence and moral evil, its destructive communalism and its threat to India's development. Thouigh Hindu nationalism is being preached to tribals, it is of no benefit to them -- in fact the communalism and violence it triggers only causes grief, shame and destruction. Hindu nationalism is for the benefit of upper caste Hindus. The tribals are being deceived. With exposure Hindutva should implode.

PRAISE GOD FOR:

* his merciful and gracious providence, through which -- in answer to the prayers of many -- he has frustrated the ways of the wicked (Psalm 146) and brought hope to his persecuted people.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO:

* continue frustrating the ways of the wicked, for the sake of his Church in India.

* raise up Indian voices to expose the wickedness, lies and dangers of Hindutva so that the next five years are not wasted; may UPA politicians and supporters not be complacent.

* empower Christians that they too will reject complacency and resist self-sufficiency, being alert to dangers and active in advancing righteousness; may there prevail a culture of humble dependence on the Lord -- NOT politicians -- and prayer be the norm for all churches.

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

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INDIA'S CONGRESS WIN NO GROUNDS FOR COMPLACENCY

The Congress-led United People's Alliance of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has defeated the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and been re-elected to Federal rule for another five years. Furthermore, in the violence-wracked Hindutva stronghold of Orissa State, the BJP was totally routed in both the Federal poll and the simultaneous State Assembly poll! Reasons why the BJP lost and the Congress Party picked up so many new seats included the BJP's poor election campaign, their reckless response to the Mumbai terror attack, and the shame and destruction resulting from the violence in Orissa. Now Hindutva ideology must be exposed as morally wicked, dangerous and deceitful. Praise God for his merciful providence through the elections and pray for progress against Hindutva in India.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

004. Christians: trapped and displaced by war

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 004 | Wed 13 May 2009

CHRISTIANS: TRAPPED AND DISPLACED BY WAR

Warfare between a weaker force and stronger force is described as 'asymmetric'. To compensate, the militarily inferior, weaker forces generally rely heavily on Psychological Operations (PsyOps) including terrorism, the use of human shields and propaganda. These tactics are especially effective in influencing the policies of democracies, especially when sensationalist journalism and popularist politics are more highly valued than discerning research and uncovering truth. It is very difficult to defeat a militarily weaker force so immoral as to use human shields because the cost of the stronger force's military victory is usually deemed unacceptable.

North Vietnamese communists, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Balkan Islamists all used PsyOps to their advantage. Al-Qaeda (and its affiliates), the Taliban, Hezballah, Hamas, MILF (Moro jihadists, South Philippines) and LTTE (Tamil Tigers, Sri Lanka) all wage war this way. These conflicts always involve high civilian casualty rates and refugee crises. Amongst the victims are numerous Christians. In fact, in places where there are Christians they will generally be the terrorist's pragmatic choice for human shields as they are not only despised and considered expendable, but their deaths can be exploited as propaganda to the 'Christian' West. In some places, whole Christian communities have been eliminated through death and displacement.

At this time, the largest Christian refugee population is Iraqi. When American troops withdraw and the sectarian war resumes (the Shi'ites are presently showing restraint), the need will be even greater than it is now. Elsewhere, some half-a-million Pakistanis have fled their homes in Swat, Buner, Shangla and Lower Dir districts of North West Frontier Province as Pakistani forces pound Taliban positions. 'Minorities Concern of Pakistan' reports that some 60 Christian families reached Rasalpur (near Peshawar) on 9 May.

As they are religious minorities, the disempowered and marginalised Christian refugees often struggle to be able to access the aid and support offered by local and international aid agencies. Christian groups such as Open Doors, Voice of the Martyrs, Baroness Cox's 'HART' (Humanitarian Aid and Relief Trust), the World Evangelical Alliance, Barnabas Fund and many others work sacrificially and amidst danger to get aid and relief directly into the hands of traumatised and displaced Christians, as well as to the local churches that struggle to care for them. All that is needed is for free churches to embrace a spirit of generosity in obedience to the word and in brotherly love for our own brethren, our own 'flesh'. For the Church has a special responsibility to tend the wounded body of Christ.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* Christian individuals and communities that are presently trapped in war zones -- may the Lord be their fortress and deliverer, the rock in whom they take refuge; may he be their shield and stronghold and may every trapped believer look to him and know his salvation. (Psalm 18:1-19).

* Christians who are displaced -- may the Lord provide their every need and protect and restore them according to his generous and tender mercy. (Psalm 23)

* the Spirit of God to stir up a spirit of generosity in the churches so that Christian refugees will not be left without food or shelter simply because of lack of funds. (Matthew 6:3,4; Matthew 25:31-40; Philippians 4:15-20)

True fasting: 'Is this not the fast that I choose . . . to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?' (Isaiah 58:7 ESV)

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CHRISTIANS TRAPPED AND DISPLACED BY WAR

As violence escalates in Iraq and conflict rages against the Taliban in Pakistan as well as against the LTTE in Sri Lanka, many Christians are amongst the multitudes of civilians trapped in war zones or being used as human shields. These trapped Christians are in great need of divine protection and deliverance. Many other Christians have become displaced and homeless. They urgently require aid and shelter. Yet, as they are religious minorities, the disempowered and marginalised Christians often struggle to be able to access local and international aid. Pray that the Christian aid organisations specialising in delivering aid directly to Christians will have all the funds, supplies and volunteers they need to tend the wounded body of Christ.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

003. Egypt: pig cull inflames religious tensions

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 003 | Wed 06 May 2009

EGYPT: PIG CULL INFLAMES RELIGIOUS TENSIONS

Although Egypt has no recorded cases of 'Swine Flu' (influenza A [H1N1]), Egyptian authorities have begun to cull all of Egypt's estimated 300,000 pigs. The cull was initially launched as 'Swine Flu' prevention, but after the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN condemned it as 'totally unnecessary', Egyptian authorities said the cull was actually part of a general health measure. Health Ministry spokesman Abdelrahman Shahine explained (AFP 3 May): 'The authorities took advantage of the situation to resolve the question of disorderly pig rearing in Egypt.' Pig owners have been promised what is a totally inadequate compensation. However, some are reporting they have lost their sties and entire herds and received nothing in return. Faced with the loss of their livelihood, pig owners have rioted against the police who have been responding with force.

This issue has a strong religious element. Egypt's pigs belong almost exclusively to Egypt's indigenous Coptic Christian community. According to Islam, pigs are 'unclean' so observant Muslims do not eat or touch pigs. Christians, however, being under no such restriction, are free to enjoy pork, bacon, ham and suchlike in their diet. The Islamic social order renders Jews and Christians as 'dhimmis': subjugated, second-class citizens. Hence Egypt's indigenous Copts, who remained Christian after the Islamic conquest, are crippled by dhimmitude's systematic religious discrimination (a condition very similar to that of 'untouchability'). Most of Cairo's Copts live in slums and work as garbage collectors (Arabic: 'zabaleen'). Their pigs consume the organic waste and are slaughtered for meat. Egyptian human rights lawyer Nadia Tawfiq told Compass Direct the pig slaughter was doubtless a form of attack on Christians. Whether it is the case or not, the Copts view the pig cull as an act of aggressive forced Islamisation. Religious tensions are soaring.

According to the Qur'an (which also associates Jews with pigs), on the Day of Resurrection Jesus will bear witness against those who say Christ was crucified (Sura 4:156-159). The nature of this judgment is expanded in the Hadith -- the sayings of Muhammad -- which says that when Jesus (Isa) returns he will destroy all crosses, kill all pigs, and abolish the jizya/protection 'tax' (Sahih Bukhari Volume 3, Book 43, Number 656). Thus, according to Muhammad, Jesus will remove the 'heresy' of Christians, the food of Christians, and the protection of Christians. According to the Islam Web Fatwa Centre it is always absolutely impermissible to domesticate or benefit from pigs in any way. Some Islamic scholars say killing pigs is merely permissible but others regard it as a Muslim obligation (Wajib).

Associated Press (AP) reports that pigs are banned entirely in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Libya. According to Voice of the Copts, Egypt's Parliament has been debating a plan to eliminate pigs from Egypt for the past three years. The decision to cull was passed on 28 April 2009 only hours after the Muslim Brotherhood -- controlling the largest opposition bloc in the parliament -- declared 'swine flu' to be 'more serious than the hydrogen bomb' (Deutsche Presse Agentur, 30 April). Sheikh al-Sayed Askar told a Muslim Brotherhood-sponsored symposium on the virus: 'It is God's grace in his Islamic Sharia to permit all that is good for us and to ban what is bad. . . . eventually time proves the truth of God's words to us.'

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* God to give all Egypt's Coptic and Christian leaders great wisdom and authority in leading a threatened, persecuted and fearful people.

* a spirit of calm to descend on Cairo's Copts; may all Egypt's persecuted Christians be drawn, not to anger or despair, but to prayer as cross-bearing disciples of Jesus Christ.

* God to intervene on behalf of his people in answer to the prayers of many (2 Corinthians 1:11); may advocates rise up and the Egyptian authorities relent.

'Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.' (Proverbs 31:8,9 ESV)

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EGYPTIAN PIG CULL INFLAMES RELIGIOUS TENSIONS

Islam deems pigs unclean so observant Muslims do not touch or eat pigs. Many Islamic states ban pigs altogether and Islamic scholars differ only on whether killing pigs is permissible or obligatory. Egypt's pigs are kept by Egypt's Coptic Christian community. Due to Islamic systematic religious discrimination, most of Cairo's Copts live in slums and work as garbage collectors. Their pigs consume the organic waste and are slaughtered for meat. For three years the Egyptian parliament has been debating eliminating pigs, and the outbreak of 'Swine Flu' in North America has provided an opportunity. A cull has begun which will cripple the livelihoods of numerous Coptic Christian families who regard it as forced Islamisation. Tensions are rising. Please pray for Egypt's persecuted Christians.