Tuesday, March 30, 2010

049. Easter 2010: Perspective is everything

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 049 | Tue 30 Mar 2010

EASTER 2010: PERSPECTIVE IS EVERYTHING
By Elizabeth Kendal

The darkness and coldness of the night are deepest just before dawn. How dark and cold Good Friday must have seemed to Jesus' followers, to those who had put their hope in him. And in the afternoon, when actual darkness shrouded the land, how terrifying that darkness must have been. Yet all was not as it seemed -- and this is one of the profound lessons to take away from the suffering and terror of Good Friday.

Perspective is everything. Jesus' followers, family and friends saw Christ's crucifixion as an appalling injustice. Their loved one, their hope, was hanging on a cross, crucified for a crime -- blasphemy -- he did not commit, purely to appease hatred. The Jews who earlier had shouted 'Crucify him! Crucify him!' saw Christ's crucifixion as thoroughly deserved. The Romans saw Christ's crucifixion as the end of a trouble-maker. Meanwhile, God in heaven saw a Lamb being slain in the name of everlasting love. He saw the penalty of sin being paid to enable reconciliation between God and man. He saw people from every tribe, language, people and nation (Revelation 5:9) being redeemed, brought out from under that shroud of death that covers all peoples (Isaiah 25:7) and given access to God's Most Holy Place (Hebrews 10:19). Dear struggling prayer warrior, dear persecuted believer -- trust in God, things are not always as they appear and the dawn is just around the corner.

This wonderful and mysterious truth gives us confidence to know we can trust God and follow Christ in attitude, amidst suffering and through the veil.

Trusting that our sovereign, provident and faithful God is always at work, we can follow Christ by adopting his attitude. 'Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus', who humbled himself, taking the nature of a servant, and was obedient even to the point of death -- 'even death on a cross' (Philippians 2:5-8 NIV).

Trusting that our sovereign, provident and faithful God is always at work, we can follow Christ by modelling his faith. It was only after Christ Jesus endured the cross in humility and faith, that 'God exalted him to the highest place' (Philippians 2:9-11 NIV). Jesus did not doubt that God would be faithful. He did not fear being rejected by the Father and left in hell. He entered the darkness with absolute faith that God the Father, who is faithful by nature, would be true to his promise, and that he would emerge victorious at the dawn of the third day.

Trusting that our sovereign, provident and faithful God is always at work, we can follow Christ through the veil. Christ went through the veil and into the Most Holy Place for us. Our souls are now anchored there through our union with him (Hebrews 6:19,20). While one day we will live there with him and see him face to face, even now we enter through the veil by faith whenever we make intercessions for ourselves and for others. How greatly this great mystery is misunderstood! How greatly this great privilege is neglected! Dear believers -- enter through the veil into the courts of the Lord and do business with God in the confidence that Christ opened the way for you.

Why is there so much pride and arrogance? Why is faith so shaky? Why is there so little prayer? May Easter be an encouragement: things are not always as they appear and the dawn is just around the corner. Jesus Christ has shown us the way. May we follow HIM.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

048. March Update; Incl. India, Morocco, Pakistan.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 048 | Wed 24 Mar 2010

MARCH 2010 UPDATE -- During March we prayed concerning . . .

BURMA (Myanmar), where ethnic-religious minorities suffer Buddhist imperialism and horrific human rights abuses at the hands of the junta. (The largest ethnic minority, the Karen, are 40 percent Christian, while the Kachin and Chin are both around 90 percent Christian.) Tensions are escalating.


NIGERIA, where some 500 predominantly Christian ethnic Berom residents of Jos South were massacred by Hausa and Fulani Muslims in the early hours of Sunday 7 March.

* UPDATE: Early on Wednesday 17 March, ethnic Fulani Muslims laid siege to two more ethnic Berom villages in Jos South. Once again villagers were burned in their beds or shot and hacked to death as they fled. This second massacre left 12 dead. In a demonstration of extreme hatred, the mouths of some of the victims were mutilated. While the security forces were absent during the 7 March massacre, survivors of the 17 March massacre are claiming that several of the attackers were actually dressed in military fatigues. The ethnic-religious fault-line city of Jos is a tinderbox. (For more information see Religious Liberty Monitoring)


UZBEKISTAN, where a Baptist church member Tohar Haydarov (27) has been sentenced to 10 years in prison on what local Baptists and neighbours believe to be false drugs charges. Christians in Uzbekistan are experiencing escalating persecution. They are being heavily fined, removed from their posts and threatened with prison, accused of all manner of religious offences. Meanwhile, state-run media are busy inciting hatred of Protestant Christians.


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

* INDIA: HATE AND VIOLENCE IN KARNATAKA

The Evangelical Fellowship of India reports that on 15 March police in India's southern state of Karnataka arrested Pastor M S Valsalan (55) of Bethesda Assembly of God Church after Hindutva (Hindu nationalists) elements lodged a complaint against him, accusing him of 'forceful conversions'. Paster Valsalan was detained in Mangalore's central jail. Further details concerning bail and a trial date are as yet unknown. Then on 17 March, Christians attending a funeral at St Thomas Church in Gijahalli were shocked when some 150 Hindu militants stormed the compound shouting, 'Jai Shri Ram [Victory to Lord Ram].' The militants then ripped the coffin apart and stole the body of the deceased Christian who had been a member of St Thomas Church for 50 years. They threw the body into a tractor and dumped it outside the village. The Hindu militants said they did not want the bodies of Christians contaminating their soil.

Jesus also bore reproach and suffered 'outside the gate' (Hebrews 13:11-14). He understands, so we can draw near to him, and find mercy, grace and help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).


* MOROCCO: UNPRECEDENTED CRACKDOWN ON FOREIGN CHRISTIANS

In an unprecedented move, Morocco -- formerly known for its religious tolerance -- has expelled up to 70 Christian aid workers they accuse of proselytising. Some of those deported had been working in Morocco for ten to twenty years with the acceptance of the authorities. This crackdown against Christians (or anyone for that matter) seen to be threatening the faith of Muslims could well be aimed at appeasing Islamic fundamentalists agitated by government reforms. (For more information see http://elizabethkendal.blogspot.com/ )


* PAKISTAN: VIOLENT HATE CRIMES AGAINST CHRISTIANS

(1) When a group of six Muslims in Khanewal district, southern Punjab Province, grew envious and resentful of local Christian Rasheed Masih (36) because his potato business was more successful than theirs, they first tried to convert him to Islam. Compass Direct reports that for six months the Muslims tried, with insults and threats, to get Rasheed Masih and his brother Munir Asi to become one of them. Eventually on 9 March, when it was clear the Christians would not convert, Rasool (a radical Muslim) in collusion with the other five lured Rasheed to his farmhouse under the pretence of wanting to purchase potatoes. Once there, Rasheed was ambushed and then tortured and struck repeatedly with an axe over several hours. When Asi and two other Christians came looking for him, the Muslims sped away with the fatally wounded Rasheed, who died before he could be found.

(2) Arshed Masih (38), his wife Martha and their three children aged 7-12 are a Christian family who have been living in the servant quarters of Sheikh Mohammad Sultan's estate in Rawalpindi since 2005. BosNewsLife reports that Arshed (a driver) and Martha (a maid) recently fell out of favour with their wealthy employer because they refuse to convert to Islam. When Arshad offered to resign, Sultan threatened to kill the family if they ever tried to leave. On Friday 19 March a group of Islamic fundamentalists (including local police) set fire to Arshed and raped Martha in front of their two younger children. Arshed has burns to 80 percent of his body and is not expected to survive.

Not so long ago Muslims would have used a false blasphemy charge to remove or punish Christians they resented. (In Pakistan, anyone accused of blaspheming Islam can be immediately imprisoned.) Increasingly now it is 'convert or die!' The situation in Pakistan is deteriorating rapidly.

'He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!' (Rev 22:20 ESV)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

047. Uzbekistan: pastor jailed for 10 years; persecution escalates.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 047 | Wed 17 Mar 2010

UZBEKISTAN: PASTOR JAILED FOR 10 YEARS; PERSECUTION ESCALATES

On 18 January Uzbek police arrested Baptist pastor Tohar Haydarov (27), took him to a local police station and allegedly pressured him to renounce his faith. When he refused, they reportedly planted drugs in his pocket. The police took Haydarov's keys, searched his home and reportedly found more drugs. Pastor Haydarov was subsequently detained for three days during which it is believed he was beaten and forced to sign papers. Baptists were not permitted to testify at Haydarov's trial on 4 March. On 5 March Haydarov's father (who lived with Haydarov) was found dead in their home. According to the official report, he died as a result of accidental electrocution. On 9 March Guliston City Criminal Court sentenced Pastor Tohar Haydarov to 10 years in prison on charges of drugs possession and trafficking. Not only are local Baptists adamant that Haydarov is 'a man with a pure conscience and an honest Christian', but several of Haydarov's neighbours have issued written statements testifying to his good character.

Those who have followed religious liberty in Uzbekistan for more than a decade will recognise this scenario with a profound sense of déjà vu. In 1997 after a surge of Wahhabist activity and terrorism in the volatile Fergana Valley, Uzbek authorities instigated a crackdown on 'non-traditional' and 'foreign' religious movements. In May 1998 the parliament passed a number of repressive laws on religion, complete with harsh penalties. The provision that a group must have 100 adult members before it can be registered (i.e. legalised) put registration out of the reach of most Protestant fellowships. And that was only the start of their problems.

In July1998 Protestant pastor Sergei Brazgin was fined for illegal missionary activity. In February 1999 he was charged with illegal religious activity and sentenced to two years in prison. In March 1999 Uzbek authorities arrested Pastor Rashid Turibayev (22) of the unregistered Karakalpak Full Gospel Christian Church along with two of his associates, Farkhad Yangibayev and Yasif Tarashev. To justify the arrests, the police planted narcotics on them. All three were convicted of drug charges, with Turibayev being sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labour, while his associates were sentenced to 10 years each. In May 1999 Pastor Na'il Asanov (27) was arrested. Like Turibayev, he had been seeking registration for his church. Asanov was beaten and drugs were planted on him. The regional court in Bukhara sentenced him to five years' imprisonment on charges of possessing drugs and spreading extremist ideas. On 24 June 1999 Pastor Ibrahim Yusupov of an unregistered Tashkent Christian church was sentenced to one year in prison for proselytising.

Then on 20 August 1999 President Karimov pardoned Brazgin, Turibayev, Yangibayev, Tarashev, Asanov and Yusupov and ordered their release. So what changed? The US was about to issue its first International Religious Freedom Report under the US International Freedom from Religious Persecution (IFRP) Act of October 1998 which ties US foreign policy to religious freedom. After talks with US officials, Uzbekistan (which is 83 percent Muslim) released its religious prisoners to avoid US sanctions. Whilst harassment continued, religious liberty did improve. Then in May 2005 the US hastily chastised and sanctioned Uzbekistan after it put down a violent attempted Islamist coup in Andijan in the Fergana Valley. With the US no longer considered an ally, persecution of Protestants (considered to be lackeys of the West) began to escalate. Persecution has escalated further since the global financial crisis of August 2008, an event which has largely stripped the US IFRP Act of its economic leverage.

Endemic systematic corruption threatens the state by fuelling the mass disaffection which is driving impoverished and abused Muslims into the arms of dangerous Islamists. As Uzbekistan struggles against jihadist and revolutionary Islam, it seems to be quite pleased that the global financial collapse of August 2008 has largely destroyed the US economic leverage that powered the IFRP Act, and Muslim-appeasing persecution of 'provocative' Protestants can resume with impunity.

'About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.' (Acts 12:1-3a ESV)

WE SPECIFICALLY PRAY THAT GOD WILL --

* intervene in Uzbekistan to defend his fledgling harassed, persecuted and besieged Church, frustrating the schemes of the wicked (Psalm 146:9) and building his Church, just as he has promised (Matthew 16:18).

* bless and multiply every 'provocative' word and deed of gospel witness so that nothing said or done for the Lord's glory will have been in vain. 'Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.' (1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV)

* bless and protect Pastor Tohar Haydarov (27), now sentenced to ten years prison for a crime he did not commit; and Pastor Dmitry Shestakov (40) of the Full Gospel Church in Andijan, who was sentenced to four years prison in March 2007 for his religious activity. May they be used for God's glory, being assured of Christ's everlasting love and eternal presence (Matthew 28:20) and knowing his sustaining and all-sufficient grace (Isaiah 40:29-31; 2 Corinthians 12:9).

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UZBEKISTAN JAILS PASTOR FOR 10 YEARS

Baptist pastor Tohar Haydarov (27) received a ten-year jail sentence on 9 March for possessing drugs that police reportedly planted on him. Nobody who knows Haydarov doubts the charges are bogus and he is being persecuted for his witness. Back in 1999 several Protestant pastors seeking to register their churches were given long prison sentences after police reportedly 'found' drugs in their possession. Then later in 1999 Uzbekistan released these religious prisoners to avoid being sanctioned under the US International Freedom from Religious Persecution (IFRP) Act of October 1998. However, the global financial crisis has now largely destroyed the US economic leverage that powered the IFRP Act. Therefore renewed persecution is escalating against 'provocative' Protestants caught amidst Uzbekistan's struggle with jihadist and revolutionary Islam. Please pray.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

046. Jos, Nigeria: explosive situation needs defusing.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 046 | Wed 10 Mar 2010

JOS, NIGERIA: EXPLOSIVE SITUATION NEEDS DEFUSING

Around 2:30am on Sunday 7 March 2010 a large contingent of armed, mostly Fulani Muslims slipped into three predominantly Christian ethnic Berom villages on the southern outskirts of Jos, the capital of Plateau State in Nigeria's volatile central belt. They poured gasoline over the roofs of homes before setting them on fire to shouts of 'Allah Akbar'. As residents woke and fled their burning homes, they were shot and butchered by the waiting Muslim hoards supposedly to avenge the Muslim victims of the January 2010 clash (see RLPB 040, 27 Jan 2010). Those least able to flee -- the infirm, the elderly, children, mothers caring for children -- were most vulnerable. Around 500 predominantly Christian ethnic Berom were massacred in what can only be described as a premeditated blood-bath. According to reports, local Muslims were absent, having been forewarned of the impending attack. Plateau State Commissioner for Information, Mr Gregory Yenlong, described the attack on the Berom villages as ethnic cleansing (Vanguard, 7 March).

Fulani tribesmen had previously launched a series of 'reprisal' attacks on Berom villages and farms in mid-February. At that time, while the authorities pleaded with the Fulani to end the cycle of violence, they also deployed troops to secure the region and enforce a curfew. The Fulani, however, believed that more Berom blood had to be extracted. Now the region's traumatised Christian-Berom survivors, many carrying horrendous injuries, are wondering where the troops were when they were needed. At a funeral on Monday 8 March, some 30 Berom youths attacked a Muslim journalist, beating him to the ground, kicking and stoning him and breaking his nose. A local official who tried to rescue him was also injured before the police intervened to restore order. The police also prevented Berom youths from staging a protest as they feared it would only escalate the crisis. Will and restraint are needed to prevent the cycle of violence from spiralling out of control.

Nigeria -- which is basically a third world state -- has one of the fastest population growth rates in the world (double the world average) along with a rapid rate of urbanisation. Corruption, megalomania, poor governance, tribalism, intolerance, unemployment and lawlessness are all massive problems. The situation in Jos is extremely serious as several strategic trends have merged to form a highly explosive mix.

For several decades now, drought and the lure of a better lifestyle have been accelerating the southward migration of the predominantly cattle-herding Hausa and Fulani Muslims of the Sahel into sub-Saharan regions populated by settled predominantly Christian tribes. The 'indigenes' (Christian tribes) find themselves competing with 'settlers' (Muslim tribes) for land, resources, jobs and political power. In Jos many 'settlers' found jobs in tin mines which have now closed. Social tensions are exacerbated by cultural differences, many stemming from religion. In particular, the revival of fundamentalist, political, pro-Sharia, pro-jihad Islam, with its doctrine of Muslim supremacy, has added fuel to the fire.

Jos's predicament is not unique. Rather it is common (to varying degrees) to the cities, towns and arable farmlands of Africa's ethnic-religious fault-line that runs from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, through northern Liberia, central Ivory Coast, central Nigeria and Southern Sudan.

WE SPECIFICALLY PRAY THAT GOD WILL --

* intervene directly to stop the cycle of violence, making everyone fully aware of where it could lead.

* prick consciences that a deep conviction of sin will engulf all who have committed or been complicit in communal violence through word, deed or negligence.

* raise up wise, strong leaders who, with his help, will address issues of governance in Nigeria, for the advancement of peace and the benefit of all peoples.

O God of our salvation, the hope of all the earth -- you who by your own strength created and sustains this world and 'stills . . . the tumult of the peoples' -- please answer us with awesome deeds in righteousness, so that all who dwell in the earth might be in awe of your signs. (A prayer based on Psalm 65:5-8.)

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EXPLOSIVE SITUATION IN JOS, NIGERIA, NEEDS DEFUSING

Around 2:30am on Sunday 7 March 2010, hoards of armed, mostly Fulani Muslims slipped in and massacred some 500 mainly Christian ethnic Berom residents in three villages on the southern outskirts of Jos, the capital of Nigeria's volatile Plateau State. Whole families were ambushed, shot and hacked to death as they fled their burning homes. The tensions between the Muslims and Christians arise from competition between the 'indigenes' (Christian tribes) and 'settlers' (Muslim tribes who have come in from the north) for land, resources, jobs and political power. If not ended now the cycle of violence could quickly spiral totally out of control. The revival of fundamentalist Islam with its doctrine of Muslim supremacy has added fuel to the fire. Nigeria needs a miracle of God's grace. Please pray.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

045. Burma (Myanmar): praying for God's intervention.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 045 | Wed 03 Mar 2010

BURMA (MYANMAR): PRAYING FOR GOD'S INTERVENTION

Burma's ruling military junta violently represses dissent and relentlessly persecutes citizens on three grounds: ethnicity, religion and politics. The ethnic Burman majority (60 percent) are virtually all Buddhist. However, many of the ethnic minority peoples who live in the hills around Burma's periphery are Christian, whilst the Rohingya are Muslim. The junta ruthlessly promotes ethnic (Burman) and religious (Buddhist) supremacy and nationalism. Political opposition is not tolerated, not even from Burman Buddhists.

The largest ethnic minority, the Karen of south-eastern Burma, are 40 percent Christian. On Christmas Eve 1948, Burmese militiamen threw grenades into a church in Palaw, Mergui district, killing 80 Karen Christians. The Karen have been fighting a guerrilla war against the regime ever since. They simply want autonomy so they can preserve their Karen culture in peace and freedom. Historically the Karen had been united in this struggle. However, in recent years the regime has managed to exploit the religious divide to create the proxy Democratic Karen Buddhist Army that persecutes and kills Karen Christians for gain. The Burmese army uses Karen Christians as porters. However, conversion to Buddhism will win slave porters not only release, but a stipend and education for their children.

In the 1980s the Burmese military stepped up its aggression against Karen village chiefs. As the traditionally male chiefs were tortured and killed, women increasingly had to take on this role. On 24 February 2010 the Karen Women's Organization (KWO) released a report, 'Walking Amongst Sharp Knives'. It is based on interviews with 95 Karen women from 2005 to 2009 on their experience of being village heads and being targeted for systematic abuse by Burmese Army troops. They describe many forms of state-sponsored terror, including gang-rapes, tortures and beheadings. One testimony reports that Burmese troops took Karen women from the fields and crucified them before eventually cutting their throats.

The ethnic Chin of western Burma are estimated to be about 90 percent Christian. Christianity is integral to their culture and traditionally the Chin have erected large crosses on hilltops and roadsides as an expression of their faith. Since the early 1990s the junta has been systematically destroying crosses and forcing the Chin to build Buddhist pagodas in their place. According to the Christian Solidarity Worldwide publication, 'Carrying the Cross', virtually every town and major village in Chin state now has a Buddhist pagoda. Many churches have been destroyed and the building of new churches is prohibited. Burmese troops have abducted, tortured and killed Chin pastors and evangelists. Since around 1992 Burmese troops have been importing very strong, highly addictive alcohol into Chin state which they then sell cheaply to Chin youths. All Christian activity is tightly restricted and Chin-language Bibles must be smuggled in at great personal risk.

The Kachin of northern Burma are also estimated to be about 90 percent Christian. They launched a war for independence in 1961 after the regime declared Buddhism to be Burma's official state religion. A ceasefire agreement was signed in 1994. Despite this, the junta forces the Kachin also to build Buddhist pagodas. The junta's demand that the Kachin army either disarm or merge with the Burmese army is causing tension to escalate dangerously, especially as persecution intensifies in the lead up to the 2010 (sham) elections. The Kachin, who are still seeking basic cultural and human rights, are preparing for a war they do not want and (in their own strength) cannot win.

[Sunday 14 March is Global Day of Prayer for Burma]

WE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* draw near all Burma's Christians and strengthen them with supernatural faith that realises Christ's divine eternal love and presence.

* protect his children from the evil schemes and violent actions of wicked men. 'In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.' (Psalm 10:2 ESV)

* intervene in Burma for the sake of his Church and for the glory of his name.

'Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted. [. . .] O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.' (Psalm 10:12,17,18 ESV)

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PRAYING FOR GOD'S INTERVENTION IN BURMA (MYANMAR)

Whilst Burma's ethnic Burman majority (60 percent) are virtually all Buddhist, many of the ethnic minorities are Christians. The junta ruthlessly promotes ethnic (Burman) and religious (Buddhist) supremacy and nationalism. In western Burma, the Chin (90 percent Christian) face constant repression and religious persecution at the hands of the military junta. In the north, the Kachin (90 percent Christian) are preparing for a war they do not want and (in their own strength) cannot win. In the south-east, Burma's largest ethnic minority, the Karen (40 percent Christian), are still fighting for autonomy for the preservation of their cultural and human rights. Please pray for God's intervention in Burma.