Wednesday, February 24, 2010

044. February Update; Incl. China, Hong Kong, Iraq, LRA, Uzbekistan,

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 044 | Wed 24 Feb 2010

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

IRAN, where 14 Christians are presently in prison on account of their faith.

INDIA, where persecution is relentless as Hindu militants advance their ideology, agenda and terror with impunity.

NORTH KOREA, where some 70,000 Christians are believed to be struggling to survive in concentration labour camps while as many as 40,000 live imperilled lives of severe hardship as secret, underground Christians. Pray that North Koreans who managed to escape over the frozen Tumen River during the winter will be found by missionaries and rescued in more ways than one.

'There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty. The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.' (Deuteronomy 33:26,27 ESV)


FEBRUARY 2010 ROUND-UP -- also this month . . .

* CHINA -- HONG KONG: CHURCH LOSES APPEAL

In 2004 the Hong Kong government enacted the Education (Amendment) Bill 2002, requiring schools receiving public funding to separate the school's management committee (SMC) from the school's sponsoring body (SB). The sponsoring body is not permitted to hold more than a 60 percent stake in the management committee. Churches will thus have reduced decision-making power in their own schools. On 3 February the Catholic Church lost its second legal challenge against the law. The Methodist and Anglican Churches have stated that they would rather give up their operating rights than set up such management committees. Also, it looks as though the government is planning to resurrect the anti-subversion law that was shelved in 2003 after mass protests. The security law would see groups that are banned in Beijing being automatically banned in Hong Kong. Religious, pro-democracy and human rights groups would be threatened.


* EGYPT: ANOTHER COPT MURDERED

On 9 February Malak Saad (25), a Coptic carpenter living in Teta in Menoufia Province, died after being shot by a Muslim policeman outside a Coptic meeting hall. The policeman was guarding the hall that police had recently seized after local Muslims spread a rumour that the Copts were planning to convert it into a church. After the shooting, the police sealed the village so that no reporters, rights advocates or independent investigators could get access. According to Saad's cousin, an eye witness, the policeman approached Saad and had words with him before taking out his gun and shooting him through the chest at close range. The Interior Ministry claims the Copt was killed accidentally when the policeman's gun inadvertently discharged as it was being cleaned.


* IRAQ: ENDLESS TERROR IN NINEVEH

Iraq's indigenous Assyrian and Chaldean Christians are being killed or else driven from their homeland. Five Christians were assassinated in Mosul, the capital of Nineveh Province, Northern Iraq, in the week 14-20 February. On Sunday 14 February Chaldean Rayan Salem Elias was killed by armed militants outside his own home. On Monday Fatukhi Munir was killed outside his shop by drive-by shooters. On Tuesday militants shot two Assyrian Christian university students, killing Zia Toma (21) and wounding Ramsin Shmael (22). On Wednesday militants kidnapped and then killed Assyrian Christian student Wissam George (20). On Saturday police found the body of Syrian Orthodox Adnan al-Dahan (57) who had been kidnapped for ransom a week earlier. Please pray for our traumatised, threatened fellow-believers in Iraq.


* LRA RAIDS CHURCH IN CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

Some 40 armed militants of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) stormed a Catholic Church in Central African Republic's southern city of Rafai on the evening of Friday 19 February. The militants ransacked the church and used machetes and clubs to attack those present, killing two and severely wounding 14. The militants then fled with 30 captives. The army is in pursuit. It was the third LRA attack in the region in less than two weeks. The leader of the LRA, Joseph Kony, a former Catholic, is a spirit medium. Whilst the LRA's roots are in northern Uganda, it receives backing from the Islamic regime in Khartoum, Sudan, which uses it as a proxy against the Christian peoples of South Sudan and their Christian allies. Pray for God to intervene.


* UZBEKISTAN: PERSECUTION INTENSIFIES

The Uzbekistan government's primary goal is the status quo: peace and regime stability at any cost. Jihadist and revolutionary Islamic groups pose a serious threat to national security. To address this threat, the government represses all 'non-traditional' (new) and 'foreign' religious groups, a policy that ensures Protestant Christians get caught up in the same net as prospective Islamic terrorists. As both the Russian Orthodox and Muslim populations are hostile to Protestants, the government can maintain peace and score points by targeting Protestants. Repression, harassment, intimidation and persecution are escalating. In scenes reminiscent of the mid-late 1990s, foreign missionaries are being deported, fellowships are being raided and worshippers are being beaten. Several Baptist pastors and leaders have recently been charged with criminal offences such as drug possession and tax evasion. Please pray for the Church in Uzbekistan.

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'So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven . . .' (Matthew 10:32a ESV)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

043. North Korea: world's worst persecutor.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 043 | Wed 17 Feb 2010

NORTH KOREA: WORLD'S WORST PERSECUTOR

Tuesday 16 February was North Korean president 'Dear Leader' Kim Jong-il's birthday. As very little news makes it out of the 'Hermit Kingdom' to 'trigger' a prayer bulletin, we will take this opportunity to focus on the unsurpassed suffering in North Korea. The isolated state follows an ideology known as 'juche' which is essentially Stalinism mixed with the cultic, idolatrous adulation of the 'Eternal (but dead) Leader' Kim il-Sung and his son, the ruling 'Dear Leader' Kim Jong-il.

Like his father before him, Kim Jong-il has perfected the art of maintaining power. According to a recent report in the Guardian (4 February) up to 40 percent of the State's income is derived from illegal activities such as drug-trafficking, sales of weapons and missile technology, and the production of counterfeit US dollar bills. Much of that income is spent buying the loyalty of party officials and the military. Meanwhile the masses are kept isolated, ignorant, brainwashed, impoverished, dependent, starving, weak and terrorised. So any effort to stir up a popular uprising would be doomed, as those with power have too much to lose and those with everything to gain are powerless.

The State runs a gulag of concentration camps / penal labour colonies. Built according to the Stalinist model and housing some 200,000 prisoners, they rival anything the Soviets or the Nazis ever ran. Christianity is a political crime because it recognises an authority greater than Kim and advocates the worship of Someone other than Kim. Merely possessing a Bible risks public execution. Open Doors estimates that as many as 70,000 Christians may be incarcerated. To ensure that the contaminant of a political criminal is totally expunged, their whole family to three generations will also be incarcerated. Many don't survive more than a few years as prisoners are worked, tortured and starved to death. Prisoners, including family units, are even used as guinea pigs in chemical weapons testing. (For a 2004 BBC documentary on North Korea, Access to Evil, see http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7096673757347175289# )

In 2002 famine, the result of regime mismanagement, led to the spontaneous rise of markets. Whilst illegal, the markets flourished because of corruption. By 2004, the regime had given up trying to control the markets and so it announced it would be moving to a market economy. However, it didn't take them long to realise that the openness and independence that came with market activity could undo decades of myth-making and propaganda. By 2006 the regime was clamping down and re-Stalinising the State, closing markets, shutting down communications and forcing people back into totally unprofitable mines and industries solely for the purpose of control and indoctrination. By 2008 North Korea had returned to deep isolation. Starvation loomed in 2009 and markets sprang up again. So this time they changed the currency. North Korea expert Kim Young Hwan told Daily NK (20 January) that he sees the re-denomination as the regime's attempt to 'deal a blow to people's thinking', lest they think they can act spontaneously, solve their own problems, and not be dependent on Kim Jong-il.

Kim Jong-il is presented to the North Koreans as a divine, Messiah-like figure. Whilst he was actually born in the former Soviet Union in 1941 during his father's exile there, the myth is that he was born in 1942 in a log cabin on the top of North Korea's highest mountain, Mt Paektu, under a double rainbow and a bright star. There is (supposedly) nothing this 1.57m (5ft 3in) god-man cannot do. Though Western media frequently portray Kim as a crazy, vain, spoilt playboy (which he is) he is also an exceptionally cruel, master manipulator who knows exactly what he needs to do to stay in power and is prepared to do it.

When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 the Soviet regime was spread wafer-thin, while the people had been enlightened, strengthened and emboldened through glastnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). In the end, the Wall fell because, due to prayer -- not just circumstances, the Soviets knew it was over and the guns fell silent (no massacre). Pyongyang 2010 is the opposite: the regime is concentrated, fortified and confident, while the people are physically weak and without options or hope. But despite the apparent hopelessness of the situation, there can be no doubt that divine power is capable of anything the divine imagination determines. 'What is impossible with men is possible with God.' (Jesus in Luke 18:27 ESV.)

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* God's unrestrained mercy will spill over North Korea, frustrating the wicked (Psalm 146:9b) and delivering the oppressed. (Psalm 40:11-13)

* Jesus Christ will build (Matthew 16:18) sustain (1 Corinthians 1:8) and perfect (Hebrews 12:2) his Church in North Korea.

On behalf of the Church in North Korea we pray: 'So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the LORD.' (Isaiah 37:20) -- the prayer of Hezekiah king of Judah, right before the Lord, in answer to his prayer, defended and saved Jerusalem (v33-37).

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NORTH KOREA - WORLD'S WORST PERSECUTOR

In North Korea, Christianity is a political crime because it recognises an authority greater than the 'Dear Leader' Kim Jong-il and advocates the worship of Someone other than him. Merely possessing a Bible risks public execution. Open Doors estimates as many as 70,000 Christians may be incarcerated as political criminals in the State's concentration camps / penal labour colonies. Many don't survive more than a few years. Those who are not killed usually starve. Whilst the Western media normally portray Kim Jong-il as a crazy, spoilt playboy (which he is) he is also an exceptionally cruel, master manipulator who knows exactly how to stay in power and will do whatever it takes. Whilst the situation looks hopeless, 'nothing will be impossible with God' (Luke 1:37 ESV). So please pray.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

042. India: anti-Christian violence soars in Karnataka.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 042 | Wed 10 Feb 2010

INDIA: ANTI-CHRISTIAN VIOLENCE SOARS IN KARNATAKA

Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) recorded 72 attacks on Christians in India's southern state of Karnataka in 2009, the most of any Indian state. According to Compass Direct (CD), this year's record is 'keeping pace'. CD quotes Dr Babu Joseph, spokesperson for the Catholic Bishop's Conference of India (CBCI), as confirming that Christians in Karnataka are being attacked 'at rapid regularity' and 'with near impunity', and that it is 'a serious matter of concern for the Christian community' (CD 4 February). Justice Michael F Saldanha, a retired judge of the Karnataka High Court told CD that Brahmins from Udupi district and Mangalore city have played a leading role in Karnataka's Hindutva movement. This is unsurprising, as Hindu nationalism is driven primarily by Brahmins desperate to preserve caste privilege. As those at the very top of the Hindu caste system, powerful Brahmins have the most to lose from any spread of Christian egalitarianism. So they are compelled to fight Christianity -- unless of course, the Holy Spirit transforms and humbles their hearts.

CD reports that on 4 February unidentified assailants broke into St Mathias Church in Mandya district and destroyed church property. On 1 February Hindu extremists in Thagacur village, Kodagu district, dragged 11 Christians out of their homes before having them arrested on charges of seeking to procure 'false' and 'fraudulent' conversions. According to the GCIC, these poor tribal Christians, all members of the Beraka Gospel Church in Suntikupa village, were then tortured by police into 'confessing'. CD notes that many Indian police 'erroneously believe that laws against fraudulent conversion apply to any kind of proclamation of faith'. As such, the police were unashamed to confirm to CD that the Christians had been arrested for 'inviting local Hindus for prayer meetings to convert them', as if such activity were illegal in India.

On 28 January arsonists torched the Jesus Loves Holy Temple Church in Molakalmuru town, Chitradurga district. On 25 January Hindu extremists attacked two Catholic churches in Mysore and Uttara Kannada districts. On 24 January Hindu militants belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsavak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist paramilitary connected with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), invaded the worship service at Indian Evangelical Mission. Shouting 'Jai Shri Ram!' (Praise Lord Ram!), they snatched and burned Bibles, prayer books and song books. They assaulted the service leader, an evangelist named H Raju, accusing him of forcefully converting Hindus. Raju was dragged from the church and forced to kneel and pray in the street while the militants took photographs. According to International Christian Concern (ICC) the extremists also threatened other local Christians. Christian leaders lodged a complaint with the police who subsequently arrested three suspects. On 17 January Hindu militants in Ullal, Mangalore Taluka, bashed Baswamma Sangappa (44) after it was reported to them that she was a convert to Christianity. Attending police also beat Sangappa before arresting her. She was released after a local MP intervened on her behalf. No-one has been charged with her assault.

On 1 February the Justice BK Somashekar Commission of Inquiry released a 500-page interim report on its investigations into Karnataka's church attacks of August-September 2008. The report implicates Hindu nationalist organisations, so Karnataka's ruling Hindu nationalist BJP State Government is crying foul. They are accusing the Justice Somashekar Commission of waging a political 'conspiracy' to discredit and destabilise the government. BJP head, Mr KS Eshwharappa, accused Somashekar of pushing the Federal Congress agenda: ignoring conversions, suppressing Hindus and appeasing minorities, thereby sidelining majority rule. In other words in Eshwharappa's 'democracy', fundamental human rights are only what the majority determine them to be. The Justice Somashekar Commission's possibly explosive final report is due to be released on 31 March.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* Jesus Christ will continue building his Church in Karnataka. (The Justice Somashekar Commission reports 'massive conversions to Christianity by circumstances' but 'not by compulsion'!) May Christ include many Brahmin 'living stones' in his 'spiritual house' (1 Peter 2:4,5).

* the Holy Spirit will encourage and strengthen the hearts of vulnerable and persecuted Christians to trust Jesus Christ through these dark days (Isaiah 35:3,4).

* God will break the ties that bind Hindus to destructive darkness (greed, selfishness, pride, spiritual forces) and open their hearts to hear the gospel and receive Christ (Acts 16:14).

'Poison and nectar, pain and bliss,
In the world's cup commingled are;
But oh! than nectar sweeter far
The sweetness of Thy presence is!'
-- Narayan Vaman Tilak (1861-1919, a Brahmin convert to Christianity)

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INDIA: ANTI-CHRISTIAN VIOLENCE SOARS IN KARNATAKA

There were 72 attacks against Christians recorded in India's southern state of Karnataka in 2009, more than in any other Indian state. It looks like 2010 will be just as violent. As one local Christian leader notes, Christians in Karnataka are being attacked 'at rapid regularity' and 'with near impunity', and it is 'a serious matter of concern for the Christian community'. Hindu nationalism is driven by high caste Hindus desperate and determined to perpetuate caste privilege. Church property is being attacked, vandalised and burned. Christians too are being threatened and violently persecuted for their faith. Virtually any act of witness or worship can lead to a charge of seeking to procure 'forcible' conversions. Yet God is at work. Please pray for the Church in Karnataka and in all India.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

041. Iran: Christians imprisoned amidst mounting repression.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 041 | Wed 03 Feb 2010

IRAN: CHRISTIANS IMPRISONED AMIDST MOUNTING REPRESSION

Iran's troubles run deep. First, Iran is more than a Shi'ite theocracy: it is a totalitarian police state whose ruling regime is protected by concentric rings of loyal guardians who have both the power and the motivation to eradicate any degree of opposition. The Iranian army protects the State from external enemies, while the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, a trained army that defends the Islamic revolution, protects the regime from internal enemies. Additionally, the Basij volunteer vigilante militia has several million members who defend the regime internally in exchange for privileges such as stipends and university places.

Secondly, the dissent in Iran is not primarily about freedom and democracy -- at least not as the West knows it -- it is primarily about economics and life-style. Khamenei and Ahmadinejad espouse an ideological and socialist system that appeals to the mass majority. The opposition Rafsanjani and Mousavi espouse a pragmatic and capitalist system that appeals to the minority educated urban elite. The opposition's primary complaint is that President Ahmadinejad's overt belligerence isolates Iran and has a negative impact on the economy.

In Iran, as in China, access to the outside world has created disillusionment and restlessness amongst the educated middle-class. In China the regime is lessening middle-class dissent by implementing policies that advance middle-class prosperity. In Iran the regime is drowning out middle-class dissent by implementing socialist policies and subsidising services for the impoverished masses. However, the financial downturn is now threatening to make things difficult for both the Chinese and Iranian regimes. Just as rising unemployment threatens to destabilise China's pacified middle-class, the Iranian regime's inability to continue funding subsidies threatens to destabilise Iran's pacified impoverished masses. Both governments are pre-empting unrest in their supporter base by cracking down hard on any potential source of opposition and any possible threat, including the church.

Compass Direct (CD) reports that after several waves of arrests commencing 24 December 2009, there are now at least 14 Iranian Christians in prison for their faith. Of the 15 believers arrested during a Christmas gathering, the three still in Tehran's Evin Prison are Maryam Jalili, Mitra Zahmati and Farzan Matin. Only days later Jalili's sister, Mobina Jalili, and another Christian were arrested in Isfahan. Their condition and whereabouts are unknown. In Shiraz, south-west Iran, the seven Christians detained since 11 January are Parviz Khaladj, Mehdi Furutan, Roxana Furouyi, Behrouz Sadegh-Khanjani, Abdol Reza Ali Haghnejad, Iman Farzad and one identified only as Mahyar. Six of them have been told they will be charged with apostasy. CD adds: 'Another Christian in the northern city of Rasht, Davoot Nejatsabet, also has been arrested. And Yousef Nadarkhani, who was arrested last year on 13 October in Rasht, remains in prison.'

It is virtually impossible for detained Christians to get legal representation. It is either denied them or simply unavailable as most of Iran's human rights lawyers have either fled the country or been imprisoned. Those remaining are simply overburdened and regard Christian cases as lower priority and greater risk. Regardless, apostasy is a criminal offence in Iran and the judge may issue a death sentence if he so chooses. Every Iranian Muslim knows that to become a Christian involves breaking the law and risking your life. Yet in the midst of this, God is at work. Iranian Christians need our prayers.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* draw the Iranian Church into a deep, dependent faith; may their hope be in their sovereign, faithful Lord alone, for only in HIM will they find sanctuary (Isaiah 8:14a), salvation (Isaiah 30:15b) and strength (Isaiah 30:15c).

* answer their prayers, increase their faith, empower and bless their witness, and build the Iranian Church. ' . . . I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' (Matthew 16:18 ESV)

* by his Holy Spirit, equip Iran's imprisoned believers with his words so they may bear witness before their captors, inquisitors and fellow prisoners; may God be glorified as they experience the Spirit's comfort and empowerment. (Matthew 10:16-22)

* redeem the suffering of the Iranian church and use it for good; may many Muslims come to faith in Jesus Christ through the testimony of his suffering Church.

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CHRISTIANS IMPRISONED IN IRAN AMIDST MOUNTING REPRESSION

Iran is more than a Shi'ite theocracy, it is a totalitarian police state whose ruling regime is protected by an army of Revolutionary Guards and several million Basij militiamen (state-sanctioned Islamic vigilantes). The political struggles in Iran have nothing to do with religious freedom and everything to do with money and life-style. The opposition -- as conservative and Islamist as the ruling regime -- objects to President Ahmadinejad's overt belligerence because of its negative economic impact. Whilst subsidies may pacify the impoverished masses, the more pragmatic urban elite want change. What the Iranian Church wants, however, is religious liberty -- something that is anathema to Islam. At least 14 Christians have been imprisoned cruelly since 24 December 2009. Most are converts from Islam and face the criminal charge of apostasy. Please pray.