Wednesday, December 29, 2010

088. Nigeria: Jos and Maiduguri see Christmas terror

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 088 | Wed 29 Dec 2010

NIGERIA: JOS AND MAIDUGURI SEE CHRISTMAS TERROR

By Elizabeth Kendal

Islamic militants sent a loud and clear message on Christmas Eve when they unleashed terror on Christians celebrating Christmas in Jos and Maiduguri. Jos, the capital of Plateau State in Nigeria's 'Middle Belt', sits atop Africa's increasingly volatile ethnic-religious fault-line (see Religious Liberty Monitoring: Why is Jos such a tinderbox ). Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State (north-east Nigeria), is the base of the al-Qaeda-linked Boko Haram (see RLPB 079, 27 Oct 2010: 'Nigeria: al-Qaeda supports Boko Haram expansion').

On Christmas Eve bombs exploded virtually simultaneously at 7.35pm in two Christian neighbourhoods in Jos, hitting shopping precincts, bars and the Sacred Heart Catholic Church. The terror attack left 38 dead and over 100 wounded, 74 of whom were hospitalised. A previously unknown jihadist group, Jama'atu ahlus-Sunnah Lidda'awati wal Jihad, has claimed responsibility. Jos subsequently erupted into cyclic retaliatory sectarian violence. Special Task Force (STF) soldiers patrolling the Nassarawa Gwom area of Jos averted disaster when they interrupted a group of militants planting bombs outside the First Baptist Church. By late Sunday evening dozens more were dead and wounded, taking the death toll to around 80 with about 120 hospitalised. Some 20 houses were burnt and two mosques and a church vandalised.

Also on Christmas Eve two churches were attacked almost simultaneously in Maiduguri by militants belonging to the al-Qaeda-linked Boko Haram Islamist sect. According to Rev. Haskanda Jessu, three militants armed with guns and petrol bombs attacked his Sinimari Church of Christ in Nigeria, riddling the walls with bullet holes and killing the security guard. About the same time some 30 jihadists descended on Victory Baptist Church on the other side of the city in Alamderi. Shouting 'Allahu Akbar', they dragged out and executed Rev. Bulus Marwa (37) and shot dead Christopher Balami (50), Philip Luka (22), Paul Mathew (21) and Yohanna Adamu (26). Twenty-five other worshippers were wounded as the jihadists razed the church to the ground.

PLEASE PRAY that God will draw the Nigerian Church (north and south) to him in humble, dependent prayer for comfort, peace, justice, security and efficacy in advocacy and mission. May he hear and answer their prayers and increase their faith. 'He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you.' (Isaiah 30:19b ESV)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

087. Christmas Devotion

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 087 | Wed 22 Dec 2010

By Elizabeth Kendal

CHRISTMAS: NOT BY MIGHT

Interposed as the smallest of beings (an infant);
he was born in a most humble abode (a stable);
laid in a most unbecoming crib (an animal's feed trough);
in a most insignificant little town (Bethlehem);
observed by the meekest of witnesses (shepherds).

Yet Jesus Christ was heralded by angels (a glorious host of them),
visited by wise men (from afar),
and his presence truly terrified the king (Herod).

Truths stand in tension:
He is Servant, yet he is Sovereign;
He is humble, yet he is holy;
The Lamb of God is the Lion of Judah.

It should come as no surprise therefore,
that prayer and promise,
not power and politics;
divine covenant and compassion,
not human conspiracy and connivance;
'returning and rest . . . in quietness and in trust' (Isaiah 30:15),
not arrogant independence and fearful travail,
are God's appointed means for deliverance.

When we contemplate the meekness of the infant Christ-child this Christmas,
may we who know the awesomeness of what Jesus Christ achieved (2 Timothy 1:10),
and the sovereign majesty which he attained (Philippians 2:9-11; 1 Peter 3:22),
find our faith enlightened, encouraged, emboldened.

For truly, it is not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the LORD (Zechariah 4:6b)
that we shall see deliverance.

By faith . . . by faith . . . by faith . . . by faith . . . (Hebrews 11).

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The Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin ministry hopes this short devotion will serve to enlarge the faith of intercessors this Christmas. For genuine intercession -- i.e. advocacy in the courts of Heaven before the Highest Authority in the universe -- is first and foremost an act of radical faith. For the sake of the Body of Christ, may our faith be enlarged that our prayers might be also.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

086. Persecution Trends in 2010

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 086 | Wed 15 Dec 2010

By Elizabeth Kendal

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY TRENDS IN 2010

'In whom do you now trust?' (Isaiah 36:5b ESV)

Religious liberty is in decline globally. Consequently persecution of Christians and repression of Christian humanitarianism and proclamation are on the increase globally.

In the non-West, persecution of Christians continued to escalate through 2010. The draining wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, combined with the 'global financial collapse' of August 2008, have left America without the economic leverage to convince leaders of non-free states to rein in persecution. This comes at a time when intolerant, fundamentalist Islam is in revival and intolerant, religious nationalism is emerging as a dominant political force in the world. Meanwhile, Iran is ascendant in the Middle East and exerting influence across the Muslim world. Likewise, China is ascendant in Asia and exerting influence in Africa and other places where it has established a presence. To counter domestic tensions, both Iran and China are escalating persecution against anything that could threaten 'harmony', i.e. the political status quo. As persecution escalates neither the US nor the EU (European Union) nor the UN nor any NGO (non-government organisation) can do anything about it.

Not only is the West increasingly powerless to help the persecuted in the non-West, but due to 'culture change', the West itself is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity. The more the West 'evolves' from a Judeo-Christian to a post-Christian culture, the more it becomes just like other non-Judeo-Christian cultures: intolerant, authoritarian, repressive and hostile towards Christ. For many decades now the West has been forgetting God (Deuteronomy 8:11-20) and in pride and arrogance has been pursuing independence and self-sufficiency. Across much of the West, once dominant Christian values have become minority values increasingly deemed to be in violation of human rights. As the West lurches towards 'culture collapse', Western leaders are similarly becoming increasingly desperate for 'harmony' at any price. Consequently, belligerent forces are being appeased while Christians are starting to lose their jobs, their places at university, their right to free speech and witness, and even their right to serve in a humanitarian and charitable capacity. Unless there is widespread revival -- for this is a spiritual issue before it is a political one -- the situation will only get worse.

Over recent decades persecuted Christians and their advocates have increasingly invested their hopes, trust and faith in governments and NGOs, especially in the US and the UN. Persecuted Christians and their advocates should be starting to realise that politics, the projects of men, powerful alliances and military might are all failing to bring security. As the devil mockingly asks, 'In whom do you now trust?' let us pray that the crisis serves to awaken and revive the Church. Might we like King Hezekiah remember our gracious, faithful LORD and turn to HIM (Isaiah 36,37).

PRAYER

Gracious Lord,

We ask you to bless your Church with a great awakening of faith.
May imminently imperilled Christians in Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Egypt put their faith in you alone.
May increasingly subjugated and threatened Christians throughout the Muslim world -- including Indonesia (especially Papua and West Java), Malaysia, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Iran, the North Caucasus -- put their faith in you alone.
May repressed and persecuted believers throughout Asia -- including China, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, India, Maldives and Sri Lanka -- put their faith in you alone.
May Western Christians experiencing the consequences of 'culture change' put their faith in you alone.
May those who advocate for religious liberty, for the persecuted and for justice and righteousness put their faith in you alone.
May those who work to raise awareness and relieve suffering put their faith in you alone.
For 'without faith it is impossible to please' the Lord (Hebrews 11:6)
We ask this so that 'all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the LORD' (Isaiah 37:20b).

AMEN.

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SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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RELIGIOUS LIBERTY TRENDS IN 2010

As religious liberty declines globally, persecution and repression are growing. The situation for Christians in the non-West deteriorated in 2010 as US influence declined and Iranian and Chinese influence rose. Christians in Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt, Indonesia, North Korea and elsewhere are imperilled and neither the US nor the UN can do anything about it. In the West, Christians are facing increased hostility due to 'culture change'. Persecuted Christians and their advocates should be realising that politics, powerful alliances and military might are failing to bring security. The devil mockingly asks, 'In whom do you now trust?' (Isaiah 36:5b). Revival is the only answer -- let us pray that the crisis serves to awaken the Church. Our gracious God alone is sovereign, faithful and worthy of trust.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

085. Ivory Coast: on the brink of war

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 085 | Wed 08 Dec 2010

IVORY COAST: ON THE BRINK OF WAR


Like Sudan and Nigeria, Ivory Coast is divided by a volatile ethnic-religious fault-line. Whilst the less-developed North has long been predominantly Muslim, the South -- Ivory Coast's economic and political engine -- has historically been predominantly Christian and African Traditional Religion (ATR). Decades of mass immigration (1960-1993) from the neighbouring Muslim states of Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea might have been great for the economy, but they have tipped the demographic balance so that Ivory Coast -- officially about one-third Muslim -- is actually majority Muslim.

The civil war that erupted in September 2002 was portrayed by the international media as a crisis of democracy and human rights caused by Southern xenophobia and Islamophobia. In reality, Ivory Coast's crisis is the consequence of decades of mass Muslim immigration coupled with political ambition and an internationally-sponsored Islamic agenda. The civil war was fought essentially between those who want all Ivory Coast's Muslim immigrants naturalised -- giving Ivory Coast a Muslim majority overnight -- and those who do not. Though he denies it, former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara, a Northern Muslim, was doubtless behind the September 2002 failed coup that triggered the war. Ouattara and his party, the Rally of the Republicans (RDR), have been playing the race and religion cards for political gain. Ouattara's intent has been to have all the Muslim immigrants naturalised (over 4 million: estimated to comprise between 30 and 40 percent of the total population) so that he (their champion) can dragnet the Muslim vote. Ouattara has long had his eye on the presidency.

The civil war left Ivory Coast totally polarised, split between a virtually ethnic-religiously cleansed, rebel-controlled Muslim North and a government-controlled predominantly Christian, non-Muslim South. Since the war the North has been in serious decline with AIDS, poverty and lawlessness increasing exponentially. In November 2004 Ivory Coast's Christian president, Laurent Gbagbo, launched surprise airstrikes against rebel positions in the North in an attempt to reunify the country. However, former colonial power France (which backs the rebels for economic gain) intervened, razing all IC's airforce planes, destroying runways and sending tanks against the Presidential Palace, around which loyalists formed a human shield.

The West had insisted that Ivory Coast could be reconciled, reunified and essentially saved by means of democratic elections, such is their faith in 'democracy' and the inherent goodness of man. In reality, the divisions are so profound and the stakes are so high that, unless genuine reconciliation occurred first, elections could only trigger conflict. Elections were held on 28 November 2010, with both Gbagbo and Ouattara claiming victory. The US, European Union and African Union have recognised Ouattara as the winner and called for Gbagbo to respect democracy and step down. Russia meanwhile is blocking a UN statement that would recognise Ouatarra, saying that this is not the UN's role. Ivory Coast's non-Muslims are traumatised, fearing that their homeland -- once the most prosperous 'Christian' nation in West Africa, home to the region's largest cathedral, home-base to most of West Africa's regional Christian ministries -- is about to come under Muslim political domination.

(COMMENT: Ivory Coast's crisis -- the consequence of decades of Muslim mass immigration -- is a foretaste of what several states in democratic Europe may be facing in a generation or two.)

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO:

* give Ivory Coast's Christian leaders -- pastors and politicians -- great spiritual wisdom and authority.

* bring revival to the Church in Ivory Coast so believers will be compelled to go out with the gospel in boldness, empowered by the Holy Spirit, so that Ivory Coast might be spiritually transformed. For only then will the peoples 'beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks . . .' (Isaiah 2:4 ESV)

* intervene in the tense climate by interposing a spirit of restraint, compelling the people to seek a negotiated solution as a means of averting another destructive civil war -- a war that would certainly attract international jihadists.

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SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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IVORY COAST ON THE BRINK OF WAR

Ivory Coast held elections on 28 November 2010 and both the incumbent Christian president Laurent Gbagbo and his Muslim opponent Alassane Ouattara are claiming victory. The US, European Union and African Union have recognised Ouattara as the winner and Gbagbo is being called upon to 'respect democracy' and step down. The stakes are extremely high. Decades of Muslim mass immigration has tipped the demographic balance so that Ivory Coast -- officially around one third Muslim -- is now actually majority Muslim with immigrants from Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea comprising up to 40 percent of the population. Ivory Coast's non-Muslims are traumatised, fearing that their homeland -- once a strategic Christian centre -- is about to come under the political domination of Muslims. War threatens. Please pray for the Church in Ivory Coast.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

084. Sudan: referendum soon and war looms

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 084 | Wed 01 Dec 2010

SUDAN: REFERENDUM SOON AND WAR LOOMS

-- a necessarily longer informative posting

Voter registration commenced on 15 November for Sudan's Southern Self-Determination Referendum (SSDR) to be held on 9 January 2011. In this referendum Southerners, who are black African and mostly Christian, will vote either to remain part of a united Sudan or to secede and become an independent state. The SSDR is mandated in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed by North and South on 9 January 2005. However, it was always the vision of Dr John Garang -- leader of the South Sudan-based Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) -- that free and fair elections (also mandated in the CPA) would oust the repressive and abusive Arab-Islamist regime in Khartoum and give Sudan's long-suffering, marginalised peoples a voice in a truly representative democracy that could make unity attractive. This, however, was always going to be the most difficult path, and after Dr Garang's untimely death, support for unity waned, exacerbated by the regime's belligerence and reluctance to implement the CPA. Ultimately unity has not been made attractive and sources estimate that more than 90 percent of Southerners will vote for secession, even though this could trigger a return to war according to most analysts.

After several postponements, elections were held in April 2010. While the regime worked to ensure that the elections would be irredeemably compromised, the SPLM managed to unite most opposition parties in an alliance called the 'National Consensus' whose presidential candidate, Yasir Arman, would pose a significant threat to President Omar el-Bashir. An Arab from the north, Yasir Arman has long been an SPLM/A member/fighter. He was also a close friend and aide to Dr John Garang. However, in the weeks prior to the elections, the SPLM leadership abandoned the 'National Consensus' and brokered a deal with the National Congress Party (NCP; formerly the National Islamic Front) of President Omar el-Bashir. The SPLM leadership agreed to withdraw their presidential candidate, Yasir Arman, and support the presidency of Omar el-Bashir in exchange for guarantees of a peaceful referendum. They did this though el-Bashir -- a pro-Sharia, pro-jihad, pro-Arab Islamic hardliner -- has proved to be a liar, a traitor and an absolute master at 'divide and conquer'.

Numerous Christian groups are calling for prayer for a peaceful referendum, but that is only the start of what is required. Even if the referendum is held, it is virtually certain the NCP will reject the results and refuse to recognise an independent South Sudan. Eighty percent of Sudan's oil reserves are in the South and the oil pipelines run through the North to Port Sudan on the Red Sea. All efforts to establish post-referendum wealth-sharing arrangements have failed and no Western state can offer the North anything that would approach compensation for loss of oil revenue. Lacking leverage, the US is merely offering to reward Sudan if it co-operates by removing it from its list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. Meanwhile, Sudan's allies -- particularly Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran -- are all opposed to secession and are warning that the referendum may trigger war. Iran is ratcheting up its anti-Western, anti-Zionist, anti-'interference' rhetoric, saying that while Western-'Zionist' states would not tolerate secessionist referenda in their own countries, they have no qualms about destabilising and dividing states such as Sudan (Iran's PressTV 7 November).

Southerners living in the North are imminently imperilled. The NCP has stated that if South Sudan votes to secede, Southerners in the North may lose their citizenship rights, jobs, benefits, access to markets, hospitals and the like. The National Assembly speaker said that Southerners in the North will be 'second class citizens'. Some Islamic Councils have reportedly issued fatwas against Southerners living in the North. It seems increasingly that a vote for secession may trigger an outbreak of ethnic-religious cleansing in the North and a massive humanitarian and refugee crisis.

Both sides have been arming for war for some time and reports are emerging of the recent build up of troops in the North-South border regions. On 24 November government-controlled Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) helicopter gunships attacked SPLA positions at Kiirabem, in North Bahr al-Ghazal, South Sudan, wounding four SPLA soldiers and two civilians and displacing thousands. (The SAF denies this.) Furthermore, NCP MP Dr Mohammad Mandour Al-Mahdi has accused the SPLM of aiding rebels in Darfur. (The SPLM denies this.) Al-Mahdi is provocatively calling this 'a declaration of war against the north of the country'. He has also accused the SPLM of obstructing the registration process by terrorising Southerners, so preparing the way for the results to be rejected.

Sudan is in this diabolical situation primarily because years of diplomatic and international pressure to get the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed have been followed by years of abject neglect, appeasement and loss of leverage. When the CPA was signed in January 2005 the regional hegemon (power / influence / leader) was Sudan's nemesis, the USA. Today the regional hegemon is Sudan's close ally, Iran. The Southern leadership's decision to abandon the 'National Consensus', destroying opposition unity and forfeiting the moral high ground in order to invest their hopes in the liar-traitor el-Bashir, was (in the opinion of this writer) a massive strategic blunder and failure of faith. While the Southern leadership was brokering a 'covenant with death' (Isaiah 28:15-19), el-Bashir was busy shattering the opposition ahead of a profound betrayal. The Church in Sudan desperately needs our prayers.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO:

* be known and experienced in the midst of his Church that the faithful may have security in the midst of the storm.

* draw his people close, delivering and preserving them, empowering their faith and witness, and giving them his profound peace that passes understanding. 'You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.' (Isaiah 26:3 ESV)

* intervene for justice and righteousness, watching over the helpless and bringing the way of the wicked to ruin (Psalm 146:9); may YHWH Sabaoth (the 'Lord of Hosts' / the commander of heaven's armies) interpose himself and his forces into this situation for the sake of the Church in Sudan, and for the sake of Sudan, a nation in desperate need of the gospel (Jonah 4:11).

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SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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SUDAN REFERENDUM SOON AND WAR LOOMS

War looms over Sudan as Southern Sudanese prepare to vote on 9 Jan 2011 in a referendum on independence. Years of neglect and failure to implement the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement make unity unattractive to the mostly African-Christian Southerners who will almost certainly vote to secede. However, 80 percent of Sudan's oil lies in the South and Sudan's neighbouring allies oppose Southern secession. The Arab-Islamist regime in the North is highly likely to reject a referendum result that recognises an independent South Sudan. Government forces recently bombed Southern army positions in Kiirabem, displacing thousands of people. Northern MPs are accusing the Southern leadership of supporting Darfur rebels which they assert is akin to declaring war against the North. Please pray for the long-suffering Church in Sudan.