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.