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.