Wednesday, January 27, 2010

040. January Update; Incl. Algeria, Indonesia, Nigeria, Vietnam

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 040 | Wed 27 Jan 2010

JANUARY 2010 UPDATE -- During the month we prayed concerning . . .

YEMEN, where the security of Christians (most of whom are expatriate and refugees) and Yemeni Jews is threatened by sectarian conflict (Sunni v Shi'ite Muslims).


MALAYSIA, where nine churches suffered arson attacks after a High Court ruled that Malaysian Christians may continue using the Arabic word 'Allah' for God.

* UPDATE: Two more churches have been attacked since, as has the office of the lawyers who represented the Catholic newspaper, Herald Malaysia, in the 'Allah' case. Last year the Home Ministry seized eight CDs belonging to a Christian woman from Sarawak because they used the word 'Allah' in their teachings of Christianity. The woman, Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, is challenging the seizure. The case will be heard on 15 March.


EGYPT, where Muslim thugs fired an automatic weapon into a crowd of Coptic Christians as they emerged from St John's Church in Nag Hammadi, killing six youths. Whilst the government has arrested and charged the culprits, reportedly around 100 Coptic youths have also been arrested, possibly with the aim of corrupting the trial. It has also prevented human rights, democracy and religious liberty advocates from visiting Nag Hammadi.

* UPDATE: The government is claiming the massacre at Nag Hammadi was not religiously motivated but that it was a criminal attempt or even a foreign conspiracy to discredit and destabilise the government. The government's aim is to depict itself as the intended victim (not the Coptic Christian community) while portraying politically inspired terrorism as the culprit (not Islam-inspired violence). Thus the government would save face and be relieved of having to deal with the problems of Islamic intolerance and impunity along with escalating persecution of Christians. If the problems are not dealt with, persecution will continue to grow. Egypt's Christians greatly need our prayers.


JANUARY 2010 ROUND-UP -- Also this month . . .

* ALGERIA: 'LIGHT' UNDER ATTACK IN TIZI OUZOU
'. . . a faintly burning wick he will not quench . . .' (Isaiah 42:3b ESV)

In November 2009 Algerian authorities notified the 300-strong 'Tafat' ('Light' in Kabyle) Fellowship in Tizi Ouzou (100km east of Algiers) it would have to close. Though the fellowship is affiliated with the Protestant Church of Algeria and so legal, they meet in a residential property and not a dedicated religious site, thus violating the 2006 religion law. On 26 December 2009 members of the Tafat church were prevented from attending their Christmas worship service by a large group of Muslims blocking the road. The mob ordered the believers home and ransacked the church, destroying books, musical instruments, furniture and ripping the cross from the wall. Then on 9 January the Muslims returned and torched the church. Whilst Pastor Mustapha Krireche is relieved the attacks have not been more serious, he is frustrated by the authorities' continued unwillingness to extend protection.

As in Egypt, the government claims that because Islam is (supposedly) inherently tolerant and peaceful, the violence must be due to other factors: political opponents out to discredit or destabilise the government; foreign conspiracies; or Christian evangelism that provokes justifiable negative responses.


* INDONESIA: CHURCHES BURN IN NORTH SUMATRA

On Friday 22 January a mob of some 1000 Muslims burnt down two unlicensed Protestant churches and a pastor's home in Sibuhuan village, North Sumatra. Though the churches have operated there since 1982, local authorities had ordered they be dismantled. Reports indicate Christians are having increasing difficulty in getting licences for churches. Islamic intolerance is escalating and violence is becoming more frequent. Though over 270 Christians have reportedly fled Sibuhuan, the authorities say the situation is 'under control'. According to The Jakarta Post (27 January) nobody has been arrested because the police do 'not want to take action that might trigger more problems'. Police Chief Subandriya told the paper: 'Our job is to ensure this case does not develop into a serious racial or religious conflict.' Pray that Indonesia's constitutional religious liberty will be respected and upheld.


* NIGERIA: ETHNIC-RELIGIOUS CONFLICT RETURNS TO JOS

Jos, the capital of Plateau State, is an ethnic-religious 'fault-line' city in Nigeria's volatile middle belt. Ethnic-religious conflict erupts periodically, usually over Islamisation or migration, issues that are frequently related. Instead of dealing with the issues, politicians routinely exploit them for political gain. Disputes between 'indigenes' (generally Christians) and 'immigrants' (generally Muslims) always risk developing into warfare with ethnic-religious gangs targeting each other's communities and symbols in defence of their tribe. With tribal identity and religious affiliation inseparable, churches are prime targets. However, any attack on an Islamic symbol risks a declaration of jihad echoing across the country. Last week's violence in Jos claimed around 500 lives and left some 17,000 people displaced. Details are still emerging. Several churches were reportedly destroyed. News of a massacre of Muslims in Kuru Jantar could cause immense trouble for Jos's Christian community. 'Blessed are the peace-makers.' (Matthew 5:9a)


* VIETNAM: UNDER SIEGE IN DONG CHIEM

Ever since the parish of Dong Chiem was established over 100 years ago on the southern outskirts of Hanoi, it has owned the land at the top of the hill. Since 1944 the hilltop site has been a cemetery, marked by a large cross. However, the Communist authorities reject the concept of private property and maintain that all land belongs to the State. On 6 January Vietnamese police blew up the cross. Five local Catholics who erected a new bamboo cross on the site were arrested. Police then sealed off the area with roadblocks while state-run media went to work disseminating anti-Catholic Communist propaganda. A group of Catholic university students managed to scale the back rockface undetected and planted dozens of small crosses there. More troops were sent in. When freelance journalist JB Nguyen Huu Vinh tried to get photos on 11 January he was seized and bashed by police. On 20 January, Redemptorist brother Anthony Nguyen Van Tang (36) when trying to visit the parish was also seized by police and savagely beaten, leaving him unconscious and bloodied. On Sunday 24 January thousands of Vietnamese Catholics attended prayer vigils outside St Joseph's Cathedral in Hanoi and the Redemptorist Monastery in Ho Chi Minh City.

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* ELSEWHERE: more converts to Christianity have been imprisoned in Iran; more Christians have become the victims of targeted killings in Iraq and Somalia; and more churches have been attacked in Karnataka, India. The Body of Christ is suffering.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

039. Egypt: what sort of justice?

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 039 | Wed 20 Jan 2010

EGYPT: WHAT SORT OF JUSTICE?

Ever since 2007 the Egyptian government has been appeasing Islamic fundamentalists by implementing the Sharia provision that prohibits Christians from testifying against their Muslim persecutors. This heralds a return to the highly vulnerable state of dhimmitude (see http://www.dhimmitude.org/ ). No longer equal before the law, Coptic victims of persecution are denied justice and forced instead into 'reconciliation sessions' where they must drop all charges in exchange for 'peace'. When Coptic Orthodox Church leaders started refusing to participate, police began arresting innocent Copts to use as 'bargaining chips'. The impunity is fuelling the dramatic escalation in violent persecution of Christians.

As reported in last week's RLPB 038 (13 Jan 2010), six Christians were killed and at least nine wounded late on Wednesday 6 January when Muslim thugs sprayed automatic weapon fire into a crowd of Coptic Christians emerging from St John's Church in Nag Hammadi, Upper Egypt. A Muslim security guard was also killed. (This was the most deadly attack against Egypt's indigenous Coptic Christian community since the Ramadan massacre of some 20 Copts in Al-Kosheh between 31 December 1999 and 2 January 2000.) The three Muslim suspects arrested on 8 January 2010 have since been charged with premeditated murder aimed at harming national interests. The government denies that the attack was sectarian in nature. They will face an emergency state security court in Qena, 50km south of Nag Hammadi, on 13 February. (Emergency courts handle terrorism cases.)

However, police have also unleashed a campaign of intimidation against local Copts and their supporters. According to the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), ever since 8 January police have been carrying out random arrests of Coptic Christians in Nag Hammadi and neighbouring Bahgoura. AINA reports: 'Anwar Samuel, a head teacher from Nag Hammadi, told Freecopts that State Security came to their home at four o'clock in the morning looking for his nephew Mohareb, who happened to be in Kuwait. "Instead they arrested my three other nephews, Fadi, Tanios and Wael Milad Samuel, and took them away in their pyjamas." He said they have been subjected to electric shocks.' In some cases, police tricked Coptic youths into going with them by telling them that Bishop Kyrollos wanted them to do so for their safety. 'Habib Tanios was arrested on charges of firing on people who burnt his home in Bahgoura, although he has no rifle.' According to AINA, more than 100 Coptic youths have been arrested. Question: Are the security forces extracting false testimonies that can be used to derail the prosecution (as happened in Al-Kosheh in 1998 )?

A week later (15 January) a group of some 30 religious liberty advocates (politicians and bloggers, Muslims and Christians) travelled by rail to Nag Hammadi to express condolences and support to the Coptic community. Though they had obtained permission, they were met at Nag Hammadi station by a large contingent of police who arrested them as soon as they alighted. Forced to endure a night in detention, they were threatened with charges of illegally demonstrating. The next day, after some of the women received hospital treatment for dehydration and fatigue, they were forcibly returned to Cairo. Question: Why is the government so determined to keep human rights advocates away from the local Copts?

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* God will expose the ugly reality of militant Islamic intolerance and pierce the conscience of Muslims across Egypt so they might reject impunity and demand equality and justice for all citizens; may they even call in question their religion.

* the Holy Spirit will comfort, encourage and sustain Egypt's oppressed and persecuted Christians through these increasingly dark days of 'woe' (Isaiah 3:9,11). 'Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds. (3:10 ESV)'

* God will use these trials to draw all Egypt's persecuted Christians even closer to himself to experience his divine presence, peace and protection in answer to their prayers.

* their faith will be in God alone (not domestic or international politics) and Christ will be the object of their hope.

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EGYPT: WHAT SORT OF JUSTICE?

Egyptian authorities are keeping cases of Muslim violence against Christians from the courts by forcing Christian victims to drop all charges in 'reconciliation sessions' in exchange for 'peace'. When Coptic Orthodox Church leaders started refusing to participate, police began arresting innocent Copts to use as 'bargaining chips'. On 8 January, three Muslims were arrested over the 6 January Nag Hammadi church massacre and on 13 February will be tried for 'premeditated murder aimed at harming national interests'. However, the police have arrested over 100 local Copts as part of a campaign of intimidation. Also religious freedom advocates have been barred access to the Nag Hammadi Copts. Are the authorities seeking to cover up the crime and scuttle the prosecution? Please pray for God's intervention in Egypt on behalf of his people.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

038. Egypt & Malaysia: persecution takes a step up

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 038 | Wed 13 Jan 2010

EGYPT & MALAYSIA: PERSECUTION TAKES A STEP UP

Islamic fundamentalism that advances Muslim supremacy through implementation of Sharia Law is on the rise worldwide. Most at risk are the Christian minorities of the Muslim world, from the Arab heartland to Asian periphery.

EGYPT: MASSACRE AT NAG HAMMADI

On 18 November 2009, a Coptic youth was arrested in Upper Egypt on suspicion of raping a 12-year-old Muslim girl in Farshoot, near Nag Hammadi, Upper Egypt (455km south of Cairo) despite her being unable to identify her attacker. A subsequent Islamic pogrom on 21 Nov 2009 forced many Copts to flee (see RLPB 032, 25 Nov 2009). In the days leading up to the Coptic Christmas, death threats were sent to local Copts, including the Coptic bishop at St John's Church in Nag Hammadi, threatening to avenge the alleged rape. Though Bishop Kirilos informed the police, they did not boost security at the church. Then late on 6 January six Christian Copts and one Muslim security guard were killed when a drive-by shooter sprayed machine gun fire into the crowd of Copts emerging from the Christmas midnight mass. Nine other Christians were wounded, three critically. Two days of rioting followed in which some 40 people, Muslims and Christians, were arrested. On 8 January arsonists set fire to 11 shops, two motorcycles and eight houses belonging to Copts in Bahgoura, near Nag Hammadi. Three local Muslims have been detained for 15 days pending an investigation into the shooting.

The Nag Hammadi church massacre is the most serious attack targeting Christian Copts in years. Government officials told Reuters newsagency that the violence was not sectarian and was just an isolated incident. The situation in Egypt is serious and deteriorating rapidly. It must be asked why would the government rather cover up the truth than deal with it?

MALAYSIA: CHURCHES ATTACKED

Judge Lau Bee Lan delivered a High Court ruling on 31 December 2009 permitting the Catholic Herald to use the word 'Allah' for God in the Malay section of its multilingual weekly. Malays have been using the Arabic word 'Allah' for God ever since the arrival of Islam. When Christian missionaries subsequently translated the Bible into Malay they opted to keep the familiar word. In the Arab world the word 'Allah' is used by both Muslims and Christians without contention. As Judge Lau Bee Lan noted, it is not an Islamic word but an Arabic word that pre-dates Islam. However, Malay Muslims who claim that the word belongs to Islam alone have been protesting with unprecedented violence, targeting churches. The first attacks occurred on Friday 8 January 2010, after fundamentalist imams had used Friday prayers to stir up anger in the Muslim community. More attacks occurred on Sunday 10 January. The nine churches targeted were denominationally diverse and geographically widespread. Whilst most attacks caused minimal damage, the ground floor of the three-storey AOG Metro Tabernacle in Kuala Lumpur was completely gutted.

The slogans being used indicate that the protests are driven by apostaphobia (Islamic fear of apostasy). Whilst Muslims say that we worship the same God, Islam explains away the vast differences in our theology by alleging the wide-scale corruption of Jewish and Christian texts, despite all the evidence to the contrary. However, Malaysian imams are afraid that if Malay Muslims look to the Bible as an alternative source on 'Allah', then they will convert to Christianity. If the government does not nip this Islamic violence in the bud -- through justice, not appeasement -- then more serious attacks are guaranteed.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* God will give great wisdom and authority to Coptic and Malaysian Christian leaders, so they might lead their people into God's sanctuary (Isaiah 8:14) and not be tempted to place their faith in men and human institutions that cannot save. (In Egypt especially, even if the government did respond with justice, it might only trigger a backlash -- these Christians need divine intervention.)

* God will intervene to frustrate the schemes of the wicked, foiling their plots and delivering the saints from evil. Psalm 146; Psalm 18:1-19.

* the Holy Spirit will bring comfort and counsel to Egyptian and Malaysian Christians.

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EGYPT & MALAYSIA: PERSECUTION TAKES A STEP UP

Six Coptic Christians were killed and nine wounded on 6 January when a drive-by shooter targeted a crowd of Copts emerging from midnight mass in St John's Church in Nag Hammadi, Upper Egypt. Riots ensued and Copts' homes and property were torched. This massacre is the most serious violence to target Egypt's indigenous Christian Copts for years. On 8 January Malaysian imams used Friday prayers to fire up Muslim indignation after the High Court ruled that the Catholic 'Herald' may use the word 'Allah' for God in the Malay-language section of its multilingual weekly. Eight churches have since been hit with Molotov cocktails. Whilst most damage was minor, the ground floor of the three-storey AOG Metro Tabernacle in Kuala Lumpur was totally gutted. Please pray for God's intervention. Psalm 18:3.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

037. Yemen: Christians vulnerable in a failing state

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 037 | Wed 06 Jan 2010

INTERCESSORS: PARTICIPANTS IN WORLD EVENTS

When I watch football, I do so as a spectator. When my son (a footballer) watches football, he does so as a participant, always looking to learn things he can apply to his own game. One of the most valuable habits prayer leaders and intercessors can develop is to watch, hear and read the news not as spectators, but as participants. We should be looking to learn things we can apply to our intercession. The world's stereotyping of intercessors as passive simpletons without 'real' options is a lie of the devil built on misconceptions. While the faithless noisily rush around the horizontal plain of their two-dimensional world, intercessors quietly engage by faith in a three-dimensional world whose height attains the heavens and whose depth reaches into a spiritual realm of unimaginable proportions. Our eternally faithful Sovereign God rules over all this and has given Jesus Christ 'as head over all things to the church' (Ephesians 1:22 ESV).

In terms of religious liberty and Christian security, 2010 promises to be an even more challenging year than 2009. Increasingly, states once known for persecution are becoming notorious for sectarian mob violence and ethnic-religious cleansing. States that once courted the world from behind a fa├žade of modernity and prosperity are revealing the darkness of their hearts with impunity. States busily excavating their Christian foundations with a view to cultural renovation are increasingly adopting repressive authoritarian measures to maintain order in the wake of moral erosion and cultural collapse. So may our 'New Year's resolution' for 2010 be that we commit to being intercessors who are participants in and not mere spectators of world events.

YEMEN: CHRISTIANS VULNERABLE IN A FAILING STATE

Yemen has been a unified state only since 1990. Before that, North Yemen (on the Red Sea) was 60 percent Shi'ite and ruled by a conservative Shi'ite Imamate, while South Yemen (on the Gulf of Aden) was 99 percent Sunni and Communist. In 1962, Ali Abdallah Saleh, a northern socialist and nominal Sunni, seized power in North Yemen in a military coup. He was elected president of North Yemen in 1978 and retains power as president of the unitary Republic of Yemen, which today is on the verge of collapse. The Shi'ites, a 30 percent minority in the unitary state, are marginalised by the Sunnis, while the oil-rich south is marginalised by the ruling north. The Shi'ites want to restore the Imamate, while the south wants to secede. Since at least 2005, President Saleh has been using al Qaeda jihadists (fundamentalist Sunnis) in his fight against the al Houthi rebels (Shi'ites) in the north and more secular (formerly Soviet-backed Communist) secessionists in the south. The conflict also has regional dimensions: Saudi Arabia is fighting advancing Iran-backed al Houthi Shi'ite rebels, while Somalis have joined the Sunnis and Lebanese Hezballah have joined the Shi'ites.

Underneath this crumbling structure are vulnerable Jewish and Christian minorities amidst a population of 24 million. In 1949-50 Israel rescued 45,000 of Yemen's Jews from genocide through Operation Magic Carpet. A further 32,000 Jews have left Yemen since then and now less than 400 remain. As sectarian conflict escalated in the north in January 2007, the Shi'ite rebels forced the 45 remaining Jews in al Haid, Sa'ada, from their homes under threat of death. Most Christians in Yemen (est. 9000 in Operation World 2000) are expatriate workers or Ethiopian refugees. They are a source of light and hope for Yemen, one of the world's poorest and least evangelised nations.. Participate! Intercede for the Church in Yemen.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT, BY HIS WORD AND HOLY SPIRIT, GOD

* will draw all Christians in Yemen into prayer and supply all their needs, increasing their faith and courage; may their lives witness to the faithfulness and supremacy of Jesus Christ.

* will awaken many Muslims in Yemen (local Arabs and foreign jihadists) to the truth that it is Jesus Christ who is the light of God.

For the 'true light, which enlightens' has come into the world. And to all who receive him, who believe in his name, he gives the right to become children of God (See John 1:9-13).

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CHRISTIANS IN YEMEN VULNERABLE IN A FAILING STATE

Yemen's President Saleh (a corrupt, brutal, nominal Sunni dictator) is fighting against Shi'ite rebels in the north and a secessionist movement in the south. His favourite tool in both conflicts has long been al Qaeda and other Salafi jihadists. The vulnerable Jewish and Christian minorities in Yemen face escalating insecurity as the state teeters on the brink of collapse. Conversion from Islam is unacceptable, and most Christians in Yemen are expatriate workers or Ethiopian refugees whose witness to the gospel of grace is invaluable. Yemen is one of the poorest and least evangelised nations in the world. Please pray that in the midst of chaos, destruction and disillusionment God will protect, sustain and build his Church in Yemen.