Wednesday, June 24, 2009

010. Iran: how best to pray

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 010 | Wed 24 Jun 2009

IRAN: HOW BEST TO PRAY

In 1989 the father of the Iranian Revolution, Grand Ayatollah Khomeini, died without a successor. His rightful and designated successor, Grand Ayatollah Hussain Ali Montazeri, had been sidelined in 1988 for protesting corruption and human rights abuses. At that time Khamenei was President, Mousavi was Prime Minister and Rafsanjani was Speaker of the Parliament. They were secure because they had not protested the purges and massacres! Possibly because Rafsanjani thought Khamenei could be easily controlled, Rafsanjani convinced the Assembly of Experts to appoint Khamenei as Supreme Leader even though he was not qualified for the role. However, after Rafsanjani became president the two men started to clash. Rafsanjani's power base was the business class, so he supported business, the elite and economic growth. Khamenei's power base was 'the masses', so he supported the clerics, the poor and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Khamenei and the IRGC brought Ahmadinejad to power in 2005 specifically because he would serve their interests. With Ahmadinejad in power, the IRGC have been able to extend their control over much of the Iranian economy and pursue their own and Khamenei's regional ambitions.

So, at the heart of the present troubles is a power struggle between the Khamenei-IRGC-Ahmadinejad camp versus the Rafsanjani-Mousavi camp. Both camps are in the conservative block and all those involved are Islamists -- none of them are counter-revolutionaries. The Ahmadinejad camp is ideologically driven and committed to exporting Revolution, spending billions of petro-dollars through the IRGC on foreign adventures in Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon and beyond to establish regional hegemony. The Mousavi camp on the other hand, though equally Islamist, wants less belligerence and good international relations so it can focus on domestic issues and the economy. The largely young, urban intellectuals who have been protesting in the streets of Tehran are simply embarrassed by and frustrated with the present regime and are desperate for change. One analyst described Mousavi as merely a 'balloon' that had been 'inflated' by those determined to express their anger against Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

Independent analysts both inside and outside Iran believe that election fraud has taken place. However, this does not mean that Ahmadinejad would not have won the election anyway as he is enormously popular and is virtually worshipped by masses of rural poor who greatly appreciate his generous handouts. It is widely believed Khamenei and the IRGC wanted not only to guarantee Ahmadinejad's election but to provide him with a powerful mandate. The ruling regime had every intention of retaining power. As opposition started to mount even before the election, a senior official from the IRGC, Yadollah Javani, warned that the Revolutionary Guards would crush any attempt at a 'Velvet Revolution'.

Khamenei and Ahmadinejad control the guns and have the support of a clear majority of the 86-member Assembly of Experts (AoE). When Rafsanjani (who heads the AoE) recently approached the AoE -- possibly in an attempt to de-legitimise Khamenei -- his daughter and four other relatives were arrested. The Khamenei-Ahmadinejad-IRGC camp will retain power for the time being. Meanwhile, discontent, desperation and disillusionment are mounting.

PLEASE PRAY FOR IRAN THAT:

* the hunger of Iranians for openness and answers will grow as many of them start to question what has gone wrong there and as they search for a better way; may many find answers in Jesus Christ. (Generally the protesters still hope for a pure Islamic State. They believe that Islam is the solution and that the present regime has merely diverged.)

* God will wonderfully protect and preserve his besieged Church as persecution will doubtless escalate when the regime moves with rage and force to repress or even purge those who oppose it or are perceived to be a threat.

* the Holy Spirit will breathe supernatural courage into the Iranian Church, so believers will witness with courage, conviction and authority; may every word of witness be blessed with every believer a prophetic voice and a light shining in the darkness.

'For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.' (John 3:17 ESV)

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NOTE: After the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing on 4 June 1989, large numbers of Chinese elite (including Communist officials) rejected Communism and in a few short years the Chinese Church became truly representative of Chinese society. Christianity is now just as much a faith of the urban elite -- doctors, lawyers, artists, scholars and the like -- as it is a faith of the rural poor. Even amongst non-Christians, Communism is largely discredited and rejected and openness and liberty are sought.

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HOW BEST TO PRAY FOR IRAN

Most of China's Christian intellectuals -- i.e. emerging leaders -- came to Christ after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Christianity is now as much a faith of China's urban elite as of China's rural poor. Even amongst non-Christians, Communism is now largely discredited and rejected and openness and liberty are keenly sought. We pray that the present struggles in Iran might stimulate a hunger for openness and liberty. May many who are seeking solutions find them in Jesus Christ. May God protect and preserve his Church through purges and persecutions and the light of every believer shine brightly in the darkness. We ask our redeeming God to redeem all Iranian suffering and use it for his glory: that grace may be demonstrated; that the nation may be transformed; that many may be saved. Amen.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

009. Vientam: greater destruction as persecution escalates

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 009 | Wed 17 Jun 2009

VIETNAM: GREATER DESTRUCTION AS PERSECUTION ESCALATES

Vietnam introduced a series of economic reforms in the 1990s. Subsequently diplomatic relations were established with the US in May 1995. Vietnam's goals were to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and have the US grant Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status. However, as a prerequisite to this Vietnam had to improve its religious liberty. So Vietnam presented a better image and in May 2006 it joined the WTO and in December 2006 the US granted it PNTR status. But strategists who believed that economic reforms (even those made purely in pursuit of wealth) would lead to political and human rights reform have been proved wrong, as have all who thought Vietnam's promises of religious reforms were genuine. The Communists are demolishing confiscated church properties at an escalating rate (see RLP 496, 17 September 2008) and persecution is on the increase.

CATHOLICS: The government has recently demolished two Catholic properties in the far south -- the monastery of The Sisters of St Paul of Chartres in Vinh Long, and the monastery of the Congregation of the Brothers of the Holy Family in Long Xuyen. A Catholic school teacher, Miss Nguyen Thi Bich Hanh (28), was recently fired for encouraging children to use the Internet. According to state-run media (1 June), Miss Nguyen is accused of 'taking advantage of her teaching position to disseminate counter revolution thoughts . . . .' AsiaNews reports (12 June) that authorities in the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak recently ordered Dominican priest Fr Peter Nguyen Van Phuong to cease ministry as 'there is no need for religion'. Also, Fr Peter Tran Dinh Lai in Nghe An Province, who is 'well liked by his 2,500 parishioners', has been warned that his life is in danger since he refused to obey government directives to stop his parishioners attending the prayer vigils. On 6 June Redemptorist Fr Joseph Le Quang Uy was held at the airport, interrogated and his computer seized.

PROTESTANTS: Vietnam's Central Highlands are home to around one million indigenous ethnic Degars (also known as Montagnards, Yards or Moi). More than half are Protestant and some 200,000 are Catholic. Vietnam's persecution of the Degars is severe with many believing it constitutes ethnic cleansing. The authorities want to exploit Degar lands, so they use intensive ethnic and religious persecution to drive them away. On 11 March the authorities demolished the historic Degar Church in Buon Ma Thuot, capital of Dak Lak Province. As the first church established for the Degar people, it was especially precious to them as the site from where Christianity spread across the region. On 1 May more than 86,000 Degars from 375 villages and five provinces in the central highlands stayed home to mourn the loss of their church and to pray for the nation.

The fate of Degar woman Puih H'Bat -- a house church leader arrested on 11 April 2008 for refusing to register with the state-sanctioned Evangelical Church of Viet Nam -- is still unknown. She has four children (aged 7-19) and her husband is a refugee in the USA. The authorities' secrecy over her whereabouts causes great concern as torture and fierce brutality against Degar believers is commonplace, with several having been tortured to death in recent years.

On 13 June 2009 the authorities arrested Le Cong Dinh (41). He is one of Vietnam's most respected lawyers and has represented a number of pro-liberty and pro-democracy advocates including religious liberty advocate Nguyen van Dai. Like Dai, Le Cong Dinh is to be charged under Article 88 of the Criminal Code for 'colluding with domestic and foreign reactionaries to sabotage the Vietnamese State'. According to State media, Le's crimes include the charge that he 'took advantage of his work as a defence lawyer for a number of reactionary elements like Nguyen Van Dai . . . turning their trials into "forums" against the State'.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* all Vietnam's imprisoned Christians -- church leaders (such as Puih H'Bat in the Central Highlands), lawyers (such as the evangelical religious liberty advocate Nguyen van Dai in Hanoi) and many other faithful believers both Catholic and Protestant -- that they will be sustained physically, emotionally and spiritually by the Spirit of the Lord; for justice and that God will encourage and provide for their families.

* the Spirit of God to awaken Vietnamese society to the deception, oppression, brutality and injustice of the Communist system; may this actually point many to Christ (just as in China).

'He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.' (Luke 4:18b NIV) Christ is the hope of Vietnam -- and we are Christ's ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20).

* the Church in Vietnam, that God will continue to build and sanctify her for his glory and in preparation for a future with freedom.

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PERSECUTION ESCALATES IN VIETNAM

Across all Vietnam persecution against both Catholics and Protestants is escalating. Communist authorities have recently demolished two Catholic monasteries in the south and an historic Protestant church in the Central Highlands. In the north Catholics continue to be harassed in Hanoi where the evangelical religious liberty advocate Nguyen van Dai also remains incarcerated. Indigenous Degar house church leader Puih H'Bat, a mother of four whose husband is a refugee in the USA, was arrested in April 2008 and her fate is still unknown. This is of grave concern as Vietnamese ethnic and religious hatred of Degars is intensive and several have been tortured to death. Vietnam seeks to present an international facade of religious freedom but the reality is entirely different. Please pray.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

008. Concerning elections in Indonesia, India, Lebanon and Iran

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 008 | Wed 10 Jun 2009

VIGILANT INTERCESSION AND A PROVIDENT GOD
-- concerning elections in Indonesia, India, Lebanon and Iran.

So far this year we have prayed about three significant elections: Indonesia, where Islamists were poised to take the balance of power; India, where analysts predicted that the Hindu nationalists would come out in front; and Lebanon, where analysts and domestic opinion polls indicated that the Hezballah, leading its March 8 Alliance, would win the mandate it was seeking. In each of these elections, the results predicted would have seriously undermined religious liberty and risked the security of Christians. Therefore we prayed.

Whilst the Indonesian elections did give the Islamist coalition considerable influence in President Yudhoyono's ruling coalition, Yudhoyono surprised everyone in mid-May when he marginalised the Islamists by choosing Bank Indonesia governor Boediono to be his running-mate in the July presidential election. A struggle continues -- more on this at a later date. As noted in RLPB 005 (21 May 2009) India's Congress-led United Progressive Alliance collected a swath of swinging voters and romped home, even routing the Hindu nationalists in some of their former strongholds, particularly the prayer-soaked state of Orissa. God frustrated the ways of the wicked magnificently, providing India with another five-year window of opportunity to advance liberty and combat Hindutva. And in Lebanon, so many Christians (and Sunnis) deserted the Hezballah-led opposition out of fear of Hezballah that the scales tipped in favour of the more moderate March 14 Alliance. Now Hezballah cannot choose which ministries it will control or claim to have a mandate to rule Lebanon or fight Israel, which it has been claiming for some time. We must pause -- 'selah' -- to acknowledge God's provident hand and to thank him for his mercy. May the Lord alone be exalted!

LEBANON'S ELECTION RESULTS

Lebanon's surprising election result retains the status quo. Before the elections the Sunni-Druze-Christian March 14 Alliance, backed by the Arab states and America, held 70 of the parliament's 128 seats, while the Hezballah-led Shi'ite-Christian 'March 8' opposition backed by Iran and Syria held 58. Though opinion polls and analysis had placed the 'March 8' forces on a winning trajectory, the March 14 Alliance maintained its majority, holding 71 seats to the 'March 8' opposition's 57. Hezballah's ally, the predominantly-Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), failed to deliver Hezballah the mandate it was seeking. In some majority-Christian districts, FPM candidates only held their seats thanks to Shi'ite votes. Despite being the election's biggest loser, the FPM is still the largest Christian bloc in the parliament. Lebanon's Christians remain deeply divided.

The 'Unity Government' established under the 21 May 2008 Doha Declaration which was formulated after Hezballah's 7 March 2008 blitzkrieg takeover of Beirut, will doubtless continue. So too will the Doha Declaration's concession that Hezballah have the right to veto the democratically elected government's decisions as long as it has the support of one-third of the assembly, a foregone conclusion as the Hezballah-led opposition controls well over that. Hezballah will continue to operate as a state within a state: monitoring Beirut airport, running a separate telecommunications network, building up its weapons caches and fortification, and preaching 'resistance!' to free people in a sovereign state. In essence, little has changed domestically: Hezballah will continue to dictate the terms, for while it might not have a mandate, it will have the right of veto and the strongest fighting force in the state. Furthermore, it will still have the support of Iran, the ascendant power in the region.

Once a cosmopolitan majority-Christian state, Lebanon's trajectory is clear. The election result has not changed that -- it has only applied the brakes. What Lebanon needs is for the direction to be reversed. So we pray for Lebanon, that Christianity will be revived, but not through a return of the Christian diaspora. Rather may the Lebanese Church -- particularly in Lebanon -- experience profound spiritual renewal and revival, leading to the conversion of many Lebanese and regional Muslims. For peace is essentially a fruit of a spiritually transformed people. (Isaiah 2:2-4)

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY:

* thanking God for his mercy and restraint, for while he is warning (roaring like a lion -- Amos 3:4a,8a) he is giving nations more time to repent, and so we pray for revival in the Church leading to the drawing in of many peoples and transformation of society. (Isaiah 2:2-4)

* for God to bring the eyes of all Lebanese Christians to focus on Christ their Saviour, for he is central and key to their spiritual revival, their wisdom, unity, hope and witness.

'A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.' (John 13:34,35 ESV)

* for IRAN, that our sovereign God will use the Friday 12 June presidential elections to further the cause of openness and liberty.

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PRAYING FOR LEBANON AFTER THE ELECTIONS

Contrary to all opinion polls and analysis, the Hezballah-led 'March 8' opposition failed to gain a mandate. Enough Christians (and Sunnis) voted instead to deliver victory to the more moderate governing March 14 Alliance. Hezballah cannot now choose what ministries it will control in a 'Unity Government' or claim a mandate to rule Lebanon or fight Israel. However, it will still dictate terms as it controls the strongest fighting force in Lebanon and will doubtless retain its veto power over decisions of the government. Hezballah will also retain the support of Iran. While we thank God the brakes have been applied, we pray for a change in direction. Christians remain deeply divided. May the churches experience revival leading to unity and for this to lead many Muslims to Christ.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

007. Lebanon: pivotal elections spotlight Christians

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 007 | Wed 03 Jun 2009

LEBANON: PIVOTAL ELECTIONS SPOTLIGHT CHRISTIANS

Lebanon will go to the polls on Sunday 7 June 09 for general elections that have both domestic and regional significance. There are 128 seats in the parliament and whilst Lebanon has a 'unity government', two main political coalitions dominate the electoral scene. The parliamentary majority is presently held by the 'March 14 Alliance' which comprises primarily Saad Hariri's (Sunni) Future Movement, Walid Jumblatt's (majority Druze) Progressive Socialist Party and various Christian groups including the Lebanese Forces and the Phalangists. It holds 70 seats and is backed by the US and the Egypt-Saudi-Jordan nexus. The opposition 'March 8 Alliance' comprises primarily Hassan Nasrallah's (Shi'a) Hezballah, Nabih Berri's (Shi'a) Amal party and the (predominantly Christian) Free Patriotic Movement of General Michel Aoun. It holds 58 seats and is backed by Iran, Syria and their allies.

The election results will reveal the degree to which revolutionary Shi'ite Iran is exerting influence in the region. Whilst it will be a close contest, opinion polls have the Hezballah-led March 8 Alliance in front. In the event of an election victory, Hezballah will doubtless opt for a 'unity government' so it can exercise its mandate to control Lebanon without the full burden of government or risk to Western aid. (This would hopefully prevent a Gaza-style descent into civil war and chaotic destitution.)

The Lebanese Parliament's 128 seats are based on geographic ridings that follow religious representation. Whilst at least 115 Shiite, Sunni, and Druze seats are already a foregone conclusion, Christians are deeply divided and therefore their vote is genuinely contested. Though many analysts believe this situation empowers the Christians, this author believes the Christians have been weakened by their fractures, swallowed up by alliances (despite perks) and endangered. Instead of standing as a united force to be reckoned with, the Christian community is torn between two diametrically opposing hostile forces.

The outcome of the election essentially rests with the Christian swing vote. Whilst such a situation might be empowering in the West, in a volatile, religious fault-line region on the verge of intra-Muslim (Sunni v Shi'ite) and Hezballah v Israel conflict, it is a daunting prospect: Christians will be held responsible for the result. To curtail election-related violence, Lebanese authorities will deploy 50,000 Lebanese soldiers and Interior Security Forces Units ahead of the elections 'especially in the regions populated with a Christian majority' (1). The potential for intra-Christian conflict -- which has a long history in Lebanon -- is very real.

Around 70 percent of Lebanon's Christians support Gen. Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) which signed a controversial Memorandum of Understanding allying itself to Hezballah in February 2006. On Saturday 30 May, the FPM held an election rally in the contested Christian Metn district. About an hour before the rally started, FPM security realised the Shi'ite youths the FPM had bussed up from Beirut's southern suburbs were chanting violent Islamist sectarian slogans. To avoid risking the Christian swing vote, they put the Shi'ite youths back onto the buses and sent them home (2). Some Christians are alarmed by the establishment of Hezballah outposts in the staunchly Christian heartland north of Beirut (3).

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* the eyes of every Lebanese follower of Jesus Christ to be fixed by faith on Christ their Saviour, rock and refuge; may Lebanese Christians put their faith in him -- not any man or party -- during these days of uncertainty and strife.

* God to preserve and build his Church in Lebanon, sanctifying her for her own sake, for Lebanon's sake, and for the glory of God; may faithfulness, humility, spiritual authority and blessed unity in the gospel of Jesus Christ be forged in this furnace of trial.

* Lebanon's descent from Mediterranean beauty to Middle Eastern maelstrom to be the catalyst for a nation-wide awakening.

'Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.' (Habakkuk 1:5 ESV) 'A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth. "O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy." ' (Habakkuk 3:1,2)

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ELECTIONS IN LEBANON SPOTLIGHT CHRISTIANS

Lebanon's pivotal elections on Sunday 7 June will reveal how much influence revolutionary Shi'ite Iran is exerting in the region. Parliamentary seats are based on geographic ridings that follow religious representation. Whilst the Shi'ite, Sunni and Druze seats are a foregone conclusion, the Christians are divided between the Sunni-led, US and Saudi-backed ruling 'March 14 Alliance' and the Shi'ite Hezballah-led, Syria and Iran-backed 'March 8 Alliance'. The majority of Christians support the Free Patriotic Movement which is allied to Hezballah. The elections could trigger violence, including intra-Christian conflict. Lebanese security forces are being deployed, especially to majority Christian areas. Whilst opinion polls have the March 8 Alliance in front, it will be a close contest. Please pray for the Church in Lebanon.

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Footnotes

(1) Sharp schism between Lebanese Christians ahead of parliamentary elections.
1 June 2009
http://www.alsumaria.tv/en/World-News/2-32579-Sharp-schism-between-Lebanese-Christians-ahead-of-parliamentary-elections.html

(2) Balancing act for Lebanon's opposition. By Mitchell Prothero. 31 May 2009.
http://www.thenational.ae/article/20090601/FOREIGN/705319829/1133

(3) Rival Lebanese Christian factions now hold political cards in Levant
By Anthony Elghossain. 11 May 2009.
http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=1&categ_id=2&article_id=101802