Wednesday, May 26, 2010

057. May Update; incl. Iran, Laos, Morocco, Nigeria, Uzbekistan, Vietnam

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 057 | Wed 26 May 2010

MAY 2010 UPDATE -- During May we prayed concerning . . .

IRAQ, where the indigenous Assyrian-Chaldean Christian population is besieged by escalating Muslim fundamentalism (that marginalises, discriminates against and persecutes) and Islamic terrorism (that kills). We prayed about the 2 May terrorist attack which targeted a convoy of buses transporting Christian students to Mosul University.

* UPDATE: Two students died in the 2 May attack while around 70 were injured, with 50 requiring hospitalisation. The most seriously injured have been transferred to hospitals in Turkey. Subsequently some 1000 Christian students dropped out of classes due to insecurity. On 7 May, lecturers and Muslim students at Mosul University staged a sit-in to protest the deadly attack. One Muslim student activist said the protest will only end when Christian students can return to their classes in security. This is an awakening of conscience. Pray for the Holy Spirit to bring religious awakening to the University of Mosul.

INDONESIA, where the politically driven, unconstitutional enactment of Shari'a requirements by local authorities in West Java is causing persecution to escalate, including the phenomenon of illegal forced church closures. Militant Islamists realise that the state law has no value and the reality on the ground is that Islam rules.

ERITREA, where some 3000 Christians of all ages are imprisoned for their faith in the most cruel and inhumane conditions where torture is rife. Pray for God's direct intervention for the sake of his Church. (Ephesians 1:19-23)

'God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church.' (Ephesians 1:22 NLT.)


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

* IRAN: PRAISE GOD FOR MARYAM AND MARZIEH

Iranian believers Maryam Rostampour (28) and Marzieh Amirizadeh (31) were arrested on 5 March 2009 and imprisoned in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison on charges of apostasy (leaving Islam). When they told the Islamic judge who presided over the Revolutionary Court they would never renounce their faith in Jesus Christ, they were returned to prison to 'think it over'. As the months passed their health deteriorated but their faith and their faithfulness did not. On 22 May 2010, after being acquitted on all charges, Maryam and Marzieh fled Iran after being warned by judicial authorities 'that any future Christian activity in Iran will be seriously dealt with'. While they are now safe, they have escaped Iran with little more than their lives. Leaving behind families, friends and belongings, they will now start a new life with the freedom many of us take for granted. The women attribute their endurance through trial to God who 'kept and used us' and 'has chosen us. All the glory goes to him.'


* LAOS: EXPELLED CHRISTIANS SUFFERING

Forty-eight Laotian Christians were expelled at gunpoint from Katin village, Saravan Province, on 18 January 2010 for refusing to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ. The district head has said that he will not tolerate the existence of Christianity in areas under his control. After the Christians were driven out, their homes, papers, farms and livestock were acquired by others. Locals have been warned not to have any contact with the expelled Christians who have since made temporary shelters in the jungle several kilometres from the village. Due to prolonged lack of adequate food and clean water, one believer has since died and two have been hospitalised. The others are wracked by diarrhoea, dehydration, eye and skin infections, fainting and weakness. Pray that God will intervene for these and other persecuted Laotian Christians, providing all their needs and delivering comfort and justice.


* MOROCCO: SECOND WAVE OF DEPORTATIONS

Twenty-six more foreign Christians have been expelled from Morocco, bringing the total to 105 since early March. In violation of Moroccan law, the expelled foreign Christians have had no right of appeal and often no opportunity to inform their family or pack a bag. Reportedly Muslim hardliners inside the government -- specifically in the Ministry of Interior -- are pressuring the king to demonstrate his Islamic credentials. A media campaign has been unleashed to demonise Christians and turn the masses against them. Compass Direct News reports that some 7000 Muslim leaders signed a document describing the work of Christians within Morocco as 'moral rape' and 'religious terrorism'. At least two Moroccan Christians have been beaten in recent days, while others have reportedly been interrogated and harassed. This is a turning point for Morocco. However, according to one deported European Christian, 'it is massively backfiring', as many Moroccan Muslims impacted by the deportations are shaken by the injustice, persecution and repression being waged in the name of Islam against peaceful, servant-Christians. Pray for religious awakening in Morocco.


* NIGERIA: CHURCHES DEMOLISHED IN KANO

Three Protestant churches and a pastor's home were demolished in Kano State in Northern Nigeria after a local Shari'a court consented to their destruction. On 15 May a Baptist church in Banaka, Takai Local Government Area (LGA), was destroyed. Then on 19 May, a mob of around 100 Muslim youths destroyed two church buildings and a pastor's residence all belonging to the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in Kwasam, Kiru LGA. While no lives were lost, death threats have driven the local ECWA pastor into hiding. The mob's ringleaders were reportedly Muslim converts from the Christian community. Pray for God's Holy Spirit to bring conviction of sin leading to repentance and faith. May Kano hear a new testimony: of grace and sacrifice conquering hatred and destruction.


* UZBEKISTAN: MEMBERS OF REGISTERED CHURCH FINED AND IMPRISONED

On Sunday 16 May Tashkent City Church of Christ, which has been legally registered since 1999 and is one of the largest and most active churches in the Uzbek capital, was raided by five government agencies: the police, the National Security Service (NSS, secret police), the Tax Inspectorate, the Fire Brigade and the Sanitary-Epidemiological Service. The police arrived without a warrant, confiscated cash, literature and property, and filmed everyone who was present, including the children. They acquired the passport details and car number-plates of the 500 adults present as well as the names and addresses of the children. The police then officially closed and sealed the church while the Fire Brigade cut off the electricity. Eight members were arrested and tried in the Mirzo-Ulugbek district criminal court of Tashkent on 17 May. On 18 May, three members, including the assistant pastor, Artur Avanesyan, were sentenced to 15 days administrative detention, while five others were issued heavy fines. The government views Protestant Christianity as a threat to social harmony.


* VIETNAM: VCP CRUELTY IN CENTRAL HIGHLANDS

The story of K'pa Lot exemplifies Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) cruelty to the Degar/ Montagnard Christians indigenous to the Central Highlands. K'pa Lot was arrested on 20 May 2007 for publicly expressing his faith and refusing to worship in a VCP-built 'official' church. In prison he was kept isolated and was always relocated just prior to prison visits by human rights monitors such as the Red Cross. On 9 March 2010, K'pa Lot was released from prison and hospitalised so he could die in hospital rather than in state custody. He was so swollen from beatings and torture that his own family did not immediately recognise him. After K'pa Lot (31) died from internal bleeding on 11 March 2010, his widow, H'Nguen, leaked this information to international religious liberty advocates. On 3 May, H'Nguen and her two children, H'Danh and Y-Ly, were forced into the Nhan Hoa Police Station, where H'Nguen was ordered to sign her children over to government custody. H'Nguen resisted for six hours and was eventually permitted to leave with her children. K'pa Lot died for his beliefs. Now his widow and children are at risk for leaking that information. Such cruelty is not uncommon in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Pray for the Church in Vietnam.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

056. Eritrea: more arrests; relentless persecution

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 056 | Wed 19 May 2010

ERITREA: MORE ARRESTS; RELENTLESS PERSECUTION

Christianity came to Ethiopia-Eritrea in the early 4th Century, brought into the court of King Ezana by two Syrian merchants, Frumentius and Aedesius. Today Eritrea is around 50 percent Christian, with more than 90 percent of all Eritrean Christians belonging to the Eritrean Orthodox Church (EOC). In recent decades a Biblical revival movement known as 'Medhane Alam' (lit. Saviour of the World) has grown within the EOC. While some priests and churches have been accommodating, even open, others have resisted, some aggressively, forcing those seeking a more evangelical Christianity to leave the EOC for Protestant fellowships. The exodus has caused great angst in the hierarchy of the EOC.

Following a second war with Ethiopia (1998-2000), the government cracked down hard in 2001 on anything it viewed as a potential threat to national unity. They cancelled elections, closed down all independent media, rounded up and imprisoned their political opponents and repressed all civil opposition. In May 2002, reportedly at the behest of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the government also cracked down on 'foreign' and 'non-traditional' religion, banning all churches other than the state-sanctioned Muslim, Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Mekane Yesus (Evangelical Lutheran) denominations.

If the EOC thought it could support a cruel, totalitarian regime's religious repression and then trust that regime to protect it, then it was naive indeed. By 2005 the regime was repressing the EOC, sending its priests into military service, and removing and detaining 'dissident' priests who objected to the persecution of Medhane Alam. When EOC Patriarch Abune Antonios protested the attacks on his own church, he was removed from office (defrocked). He was placed under house arrest in January 2006 and replaced with a government political appointee, Mr Yoftahe Dimetros. Today the EOC -- its priests, properties, funds and historic manuscripts -- is under the control of the regime.

Eritrea is now one of the most repressive, human-rights-abusing states in the world. The repression has created a refugee crisis, and many of them are Christians. The Army has orders to shoot to kill anyone who tries to flee across the border. An estimated 3000 Christians, mostly Protestants, are in prison for their faith. Some are in military prisons and some have been 'disappeared' into the State's network of secret underground prisons. Prison conditions are inhumane and torture is routine. A number of Christians have died in custody and many others have been crippled and scarred for life. Eritrean authorities arrested eleven more Christians on 9 May. International Christian Concern reports that Pastor Mesfin, Pastor Tekie and Mr Isaac and his four children were arrested, as well as four women while conducting a prayer meeting in a private home in the capital, Asmara. They are all members of Faith Church of Christ which has existed in Eritrea since 1950 but was banned in 2002.

Eritrea's President Isayas Afewerki denies there is any religious persecution in Eritrea. Because there is no free media, Eritrean Christians have to risk their life and liberty to leak information of their plight to the outside world.

WE PRAY THAT OUR SOVEREIGN GOD WILL:

* protect his besieged and threatened Church, hiding it in the shadow of his wings (Psalm 17:8) 'Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.' (Psalm 57:1 ESV)

* use this time of trial to bring repentance and revival to the once hostile Eritrean Orthodox and Catholic Churches and unity to the body of Christ in Eritrea. 'By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.' (John 13:35 ESV)

* bring down the Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki, a dictator who thinks 'There is no God' (Psalm 10:4), and 'I shall not be moved' (v6). Lift up your hand Lord (v12) and call him to account (v13).

'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 10:17,18 ESV).

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RELENTLESS PERSECUTION IN ERITREA

The totalitarian regime of Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki banned all religious groups -- mainly Protestant -- other than the state-sanctioned Muslim, Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Mekane Yesus (Evangelical Lutheran) denominations in May 2002. Then the Eritrean Orthodox Church was attacked during 2005 and by January 2006 was entirely under the control of the regime. Today around 3000 mostly Protestant Christians are in prison for their faith. Prison conditions are inhumane and torture is routine. Some believers have died in custody whilst many have been crippled and scarred for life. The regime denies there is any religious persecution in Eritrea. Eritrea has no free media and information on the plight of the Church is leaked out at great personal risk. Please pray for the Church in Eritrea. (Psalm 10)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

055. Indonesia: govt. ignores aggressive church closure.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 055 | Wed 12 May 2010

INDONESIA: GOVT IGNORES AGGRESSIVE CHURCH CLOSURES

According to Indonesia's 2000 census, 10 percent of Indonesians are Christian. However, Indonesian Christian leaders say that figure is too small. Operation World (2000) puts the figure at 16 percent. According to a recent TIME magazine article entitled: 'Christianity's Surge in Indonesia' (26 April 2010), Indonesia is experiencing a 'religious revolution'. There are more Islamic headscarves (signifying growth in fundamentalist political Islam) and there are more churches. Furthermore, as TIME notes, the growth in Christianity is coming from conversions as distinct from births, with nominal Muslims, disillusioned by violent terrorism and the spread of repressive Sharia Law, questioning and rejecting Islam.

In Jakarta in late July 2005, Muslim clerics at the 7th Congress of the Majlis Ulama Indonesia (MUI) complained that Christianity was making 'worrying inroads' and that Christian preachers were converting Muslims at 'an alarming rate', while the 'phenomenon' of church construction was 'most disturbing'. The clerics issued an 11-point fatwa (religious edict) denouncing 'religious teachings influenced by pluralism, liberalism and secularism' as being 'against Islam'. Hostility against churches escalated as militant groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front and the Anti-Apostasy Alliance rose up to 'defend Islam' against Christian expansion.

In 2006 the government revised Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB) No 1, 1969, requiring churches to have a minimum of 90 members and signatures signifying approval from at least 60 local residents before authorities could grant a permit for a place of worship. To prevent fraud, photocopies of identity cards must accompany signatures. Subsequently, Islamic fundamentalists began inciting whole communities against Christians and intimidating Muslims so they would be too afraid to give their signatures. The Wahid Institute reported 93 instances of community intolerance against churches in 2009. In the absence of any government action to counter the abuses, destruction and mob violence, the 'phenomenon' of church closures continues to this day.

The 600-member Indonesian Christian Church (GKI) in Bogor municipality, West Java, having collected the required signatures, obtained its permit for a place of worship in July 2006. In 2008, with the church half-built, the municipality revoked the permit citing complaints from 'locals'. The congregation filed a lawsuit against the mayor's decision to the Bandung Administrative Court and won. The municipality then submitted an appeal to the Supreme Court, which they lost as the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the church. Islamic fundamentalists, organised under the banner 'Indonesian Muslims Communication Forum' (Forkami), then accused the church of submitting forged signatures in its application. On 10 April 2010, the Bogor Public Order Agency appeased the Islamists and in defiance of the Supreme Court closed the church and sealed off its entrance. Now, despite vulnerability and risk, the congregation meets on the street in front of the church.

This process has become common in Indonesia, especially in the predominantly Muslim, fundamentalist stronghold of West Java. To counter accusations of religious discrimination or persecution, officials frequently claim that religion is not the issue and that permits for Christian churches are being rejected for reasons of noise, traffic or safety. Even though the 500-member Filadelfia Huria Kristen Batak Protestan Church (HKBP) in Jejalan village, Bekasi, West Java (on the eastern outskirts of Jakarta), has obtained the required signatures, authorities are not issuing a permit due to Islamist pressure. After the authorities sealed the church shut on 12 January 2010, the members started holding worship services on the roadside. Even though the church property adjoins vacant fields on a quiet, largely unused road, on 12 April Bekasi officials ordered the church halt all worship activities, citing interference with 'community activities'.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* confound all his enemies by continuing to build his Church in Indonesia.

* bless all Christian testimony in the courts, in the media and on the streets, using it to enlighten many to gospel truths and Christian graces.

* use Islamic fundamentalist repression and persecution of Christians to enlighten many Muslims to the intolerant, repressive and imperialistic nature of fundamentalist Islam.

* protect those believers who are worshipping the Lord in the open air, blessing their courageous witness so that repressive action might produce the exact opposite of what was intended.

'And there arose a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria . . . .' (from Acts 8:1 ESV.)
'So it was not you who sent me here, but God.' (Joseph to his brothers, Genesis 45:8a ESV.)

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INDONESIAN GOVT IGNORES AGGRESSION AGAINST CHURCHES

In July 2005 Indonesia's conservative Islamic clerics decried the 'inroads' of Christianity at the expense of Islam. Attacks against churches then escalated. In 2006 the government changed the ministerial decree regulating permits for places of worship so that now churches must have at least 90 members, as well as signatures signifying approval from at least 60 local residents. Not only does this decree seriously impact small fellowships in predominately Muslim areas (most notably in West Java), it gives Islamic fundamentalists and militants a reason to incite fear and hatred as they strive to stop churches being established. Despite incitement, mob violence and legal violations, the government has stayed inert, refusing to uphold laws, rulings and rights in the face of fundamentalist aggression. Please pray: 'Thy will be done!'

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

054. Iraq: Christians Under Siege

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 054 | Wed 05 May 2010

IRAQ: CHRISTIANS UNDER SIEGE

Iraq's last official census (1987) counted 1.4 million indigenous Assyrian and Chaldean Christians. As Islamic zeal and Arab nationalism rose in the wake of Gulf War 1 (1991), Christians with means emigrated. By the time of the March 2003 US invasion, the Christian population of Iraq was estimated at between 1.2 million and 800,000. Today, after seven years of war, sectarian conflict and ethnic-religious cleansing, a remnant of some 400,000 Christians remains. The Shi'ite south has been virtually 'cleansed' of Christians and few remain in the Sunni-dominated centre. Christians now live mostly in the north: in the historic Assyrian homeland of the Nineveh Plains, a fault-line region between the Arabs (who invaded up from Arabia in the 7th Century) and the Kurds (who invaded down from Turkey in the 14th Century). Terrorism targeting Mosul's churches and Christians has escalated ever since the US 'surge' forced al-Qaeda elements out of the central provinces of Anbar, Baghdad and Diyala to relocate north. Christian families continue to flee Mosul in large numbers. Those still there report being intimidated and harassed with threatening phone calls and letters. Many Christian women have taken to wearing the hijab to hide their Christian identity.

Christians are so endangered in Northern Iraq that Christian students must travel to university in convoys with Iraqi military escorts. On Sunday morning 2 May two bombs ripped through a convoy of buses transporting Christian college students from the mainly Christian town of Hamdaniya, 40km east of Mosul in the Nineveh Plains region of Northern Iraq, to the University of Mosul. According to reports, once the first buses had passed through the Kokjali checkpoint (manned by US, Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers) a car bomb parked on the shoulder of the highway exploded in their path, followed moments later by a roadside bomb. A local shopkeeper was killed and more than 100 people were wounded (17 critically) including some 70 of the targeted Christian college students.

Jamil Salahuddin Jamil (25), a geography major on the first bus, told reporters one of his classmates lost her leg in the attack and two others were blinded. 'We were going for our education and they presented us with bombs,' he said. 'I still do not know what they want from Christians.' Of course Jamil knows exactly what the Islamic terrorists and the Muslim fundamentalists who support them want from Christians: he just can't bear to contemplate it let alone verbalise it. What they want is Christians to be driven out of Iraq and those remaining to be 'utterly subdued' (Qur'an, Sura 9:29).

Despite the desperate pleas of church leaders, Iraqi Christian refugees are reluctant to return. Speaking in Damascus, Syria, Christian refugee Toma Georgees told CNS (23 April 2010): 'It's . . . impossible to turn back to Iraq. Our problem is not with the Iraqi government. Our problem is with Iraqi people . . . who want to kill us, who want to kill all the Christians.' In the early 1950s Iraq's more than 120,000-strong ancient Jewish community -- which dated back to the Babylonian captivity and had come to comprise the elite of Baghdad -- was eradicated. Now it appears it is the turn of the indigenous Assyrian and Chaldean Christians.

When it erupts -- as it eventually will -- the battle for fault-line Nineveh and oil-rich Kirkuk will engulf northern Iraq and draw in regional players. Meanwhile the dark smoke of sectarianism is rising again out of the volcano that is Baghdad. When ethnic and sectarian conflict resumes -- as it eventually will -- the Christians will lose the state protection they presently have. The future of Iraq is bleak indeed.

WE PRAY THAT OUR SOVEREIGN AND MERCIFUL GOD WILL:

* assist Christian families fleeing for refuge and protect those staying. 'Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock . . . .' (Psalm 77:19,20a ESV.)

Lead and protect your people again, O Lord our Saviour (Psalm 17:7), Good Shepherd (Psalm 23) and Rock (Psalm 18). 'Show the wonder of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes.' (Psalm 17:7 NIV.)

* open up places of refuge for Iraq's Assyrian-Chaldean Christians who have lost so much, including homeland and loved ones; may he mend their broken hearts, heal their pain and in his grace grant them peace, hope, friendships and bright futures amongst God's people in other lands.

* open the eyes and minds of many Iraqi Muslims to recognise the superiority of the Gospel and then open their hearts to receive it. 'For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.' (Ephesians 2:8,9 ESV.)

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CHRISTIANS IN IRAQ UNDER SIEGE

Iraq's more than 120,000-strong ancient Jewish community was eradicated in the early 1950s. Now it appears Iraq's indigenous Assyrian-Chaldean Christians may suffer the same fate. After seven years of insecurity and ethnic-religious cleansing, few Christians remain in the south and the centre. Iraq's remnant Assyrian-Chaldean Christians live mostly in the historic Assyrian homeland: the Nineveh Plains of Northern Iraq. Even there Christians are under siege and so endangered that Christian students must travel to university in convoys under Iraqi military escort. On 2 May two bombs ripped through the buses transporting Christian students to the University of Mosul. Around 70 were wounded, some critically. Islamic terrorists and the Muslim fundamentalists supporting them aim to drive Christians from Iraq. Please pray for Iraq and its Christians.