Wednesday, April 27, 2011

105. April Update; incl. Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Somalia, Vietnam

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 105 | Wed 27 Apr 2011

By Elizabeth Kendal

'Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me . . . When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.' For, 'This I know, that God is for me.' Psalm 56:1a,3,9c ESV)

APRIL 2011 UPDATE -- During April we prayed for . . .

IVORY COAST, where race and religion cards have been played for gain: to benefit Alassane Ouattara (who seeks to rule), Islam (which seeks to dominate) and the West (which seeks to exploit). This is especially true of colonialist France. Thanks to France's 'humanitarian' (read: military) intervention in support of the weaker side (the aggressor), the losers will actually be Ivory Coast's native Christian tribes, peace, justice, prosperity and religious freedom.

* UPDATE: According to most Western media, Ivory Coast's conflict is supposedly over, 'normalcy' is returning and 'democracy' has prevailed (albeit through fraud and the barrel of a gun). The situation for Christians remains dire. Pro-Ouattara ethnic-Muslim militias have been running house-to-house 'cleansing' operations in pro-Gbagbo ethnic-Christian regions. Churches and mission stations in the south and west have filled to overflowing with ethnic-Christian refugees. Some 27,000 refugees remained holed up in the Catholic mission in Duekoue where pro-Ouattara militias massacred around 800 civilians over 28-29 March. Children are dying of treatable diseases; it is too dangerous to venture out to bury the bodies; women with shaved heads as a sign of grief are everywhere. Around 2400 refugees have been trapped for weeks in Abidjan's St Paul's Cathedral without sufficient food, water or medicines. According to Father Augustin Obrou, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Abidjan, 'other local churches have a similar number of refugees'. There are also some 5000 refugees in the Cathedral of St Pierre in the southern port city of San Pedro. Since Gbagbo was captured on 11 April, an estimated six thousand pro-Gbagbo ethnic-Christian refugees have fled Abidjan on foot for the Liberian border. (See Religious Liberty Monitoring (Ivory Coast) for more details.)

CHINA, where, after being denied a meeting place, members of Beijing's 1000-strong Shouwang Church decided to meet in an open-air public space, knowing the government would react negatively. On Sunday 17 April the believers arrived to find police waiting to take them away for questioning

* UPDATE: On Easter Sunday, 24 April, 36 members of the Shouwang Church were arrested as they met for worship in the open air plaza. Very few members could attend as many were either under house arrest or ordered to work. As of Tuesday 26 April, 16 remained in custody. Senior Pastor Jin Tianming is confined to informal house arrest. The size of the church is a real issue for the Communist Party. According to China's Global Times, when the Shouwang Church pressures the government for religious freedom, it is engaging not in religion but in 'politics' (apparently unacceptable), echoing 'the political pressure exerted by the West on China' (i.e. echoing 'foreign interference'). The recent crackdown on Christians comes at a time when tensions in Beijing are extremely high. Artists, journalists, lawyers and human rights advocates are all facing increased repression. Arrested, internationally acclaimed Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has reportedly succumbed and confessed to economic crimes after being subjected to two days of torture.

NIGERIA, where Northern Muslims rioted after the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan (a Southern Christian) won the Presidential election, securing almost double the votes of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (a Northern Muslim). The pogroms left around 500 dead and some 60 churches razed. The worst violence occurred in the states of Kaduna and Bauchi.

* UPDATE: Nigerians returned to the polls on Tuesday 26 April to elect their State Governors and State Assemblies. Kaduna and Bauchi will go to the polls on Thursday 28th under tight security. Jonathan has threatened to impose emergency rule in Kaduna and Bauchi if violence erupts again. On Monday 25 April at least three people were killed and 14 seriously injured in Maiduguri, Borno state, when four bombs constructed by al Qaeda affiliate Boko Haram exploded around the city.


APRIL 2011 ROUND-UP -- also this month . . .

* ALGERIA: CHRISTIAN CHARGED WITH PROSELYTISATION

Dernieres Nouvelles d'Algerie (DNA) reports that Krimo Siaghi, an Algerian Christian, was arrested on 14 April by security services in Oran, west of Algiers. According to reports, Krimo simply started a discussion with some neighbours on the subject of Christianity. He was answering their questions when they turned against him, accused him of proselytising (illegal in Algeria) and reported him to the police. The police then searched Krimo's house, confiscating books, CDs and computer equipment. Some neighbours have denounced the arrest and questioned it when the constitution is supposed to guarantee religious freedom. The president of the Protestant Church Algeria (EPA), Mustapha Krim, said the EPA will appoint a lawyer to defend Krimo and challenge the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Interior Ministry.

* EGYPT: MUSLIMS DEMAND RELOCATION OF CHURCHES

Hundreds of fundamentalist Muslims rallied outside St John the Beloved Church in the village of Kamadeer in Samalout, Minya province, on 5 April demanding that the church be relocated out of the village. The Copts, the indigenous Egyptians who make up the vast majority of Egypt's Christian minority, refused. However, at a 'reconciliation' meeting on 7 April, the Copts were forced to agree to the relocation of their church, which would now also be smaller and devoid of Christian symbols, e.g. no dome, cross or bell. The military governor and the head of Minya security approved the deal. Similar cases were recorded in late March at St Mary's Church in the Bashtil district of Imbaba, Giza, and at St George's Church in Beni Ahmad, 7km south of Minya. Then on 18 April one Christian Copt was killed, an elderly woman was thrown off her second floor balcony and ten Copts were hospitalised when Muslims rioted. They burnt and looted Coptic homes, shops, businesses, fields and livestock in the town of Abu Qurqas El Balad, in Minya Governorate, 260km south of Cairo.

* IRAQ: FATWA & EASTER BOMBING

On 11 April 2011 this fatwa (religious edict) by Sheikh Al-Khatib Al-Baghdadi appeared on the jihadi website Minbar Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad: 'It Is Permissible to Spill the Blood of the Iraqi Christians and a Duty to Wage Jihad against Them.' On Easter Sunday, 24 April, a roadside bomb exploded outside Sacred Heart Church in Baghdad's central Karrada district, injuring seven. Raymond Ibrahim, associate director of the Middle East Forum, reports: 'According to the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization, over 700 Christians, including bishops and priests, have been killed and 61 churches have been bombed' since Operation Iraqi Freedom started in March 2003. Out of a pre-war community of some 1.4 million Assyrians and Chaldeans a remnant of only some 400,000 remain. They are Iraq's indigenous peoples who make up the vast majority of Iraq's Christian minority.

* SOMALIA: YET ANOTHER MARTYR

Compass Direct News reports that on 18 April, two militants from the al Qaeda-linked 'al-Shabaab' seized Hassan Adawe Adan (21) from his home in Shalambod, Lower Shabele. They dragged him away and after 10 minutes executed him for apostasy. Local Christians believe someone had informed al-Shabaab of Adan's conversion to Christianity. As is required by Islam, he doubtless would have been given the opportunity to recant and be spared. Clearly he refused for he was shot dead to cries of 'Allahu Akbar' (God is greater). And so young Hassan Adawe Adan joins the growing community of courageous Somali Christian martyrs.

* VIETNAM: COMMUNISTS BETRAY CHURCH -- AGAIN

When an interchurch committee approached the ruling Vietnam Communist Party (VCP) requesting permission to hold an Easter event, the authorities gave oral consent, promising that written permission would be forthcoming. However, on 15 April, after immense effort and expense, Christians from across Vietnam arrived at the government-approved venue, Hanoi's Dien Kinh My Dinh Sports Complex, only to be denied access and turned away. Whilst written permission was later issued for Saturday 16 April, the attached conditions and expectations were such that church leaders were compelled to issue an indefinite postponement. For many years it has been standard procedure for the VCP to make promises to the Church -- to appease the Church and avoid pressure -- and then break those promises when it is too late for anyone to do anything about it.

Human Rights Watch has just released a highly significant report entitled 'Montagnard Christians in Vietnam. A Case Study in Religious Repression'. According to the report, special 'Central Highlands Security' units and centrally-directed 'Mobile Intervention Police' have been dispatched to the highlands to root out Degar Protestants. According to the report there have been numerous house-church closures, thousands of coerced renunciations of faith and hundreds of imprisonments. Police brutality is rife, as is torture that sometimes results in death.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

104. Easter Reflection. (plus Nigeria)

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 104 | Wed 20 April 2011

EASTER REFLECTION
- By Elizabeth Kendal

When contemplating persecution, consider him. (Hebrews 12:3)

Consider Him.

Does persecution bite;
does fear consume your night?
Consider him.
Does tribulation strain;
does mocking sore inflame?
Consider him.
Consider him who crown of thorns did humbly wear; [1]
Despised, rejected, spat on, was stripped bare; [2]
Unrecognised, object of scorn, Unfair! [3]
Consider him.

Can those who hate you strike;
take jobs, possessions, life?
Consider him.
Can government forsake;
injustice overtake?
Consider him.
Consider him who bore the blows and took the lash; [4]
Falsely accused, betrayed, abused in purple sash; [5]
At Golgotha, nailed to a cross, with Satan clashed; [6]
Consider him.

Does righteousness take fright;
does hope fade out of sight?
Consider him.
Does fear grip heart and head;
strike hands and knees like lead?
Consider him.
Consider him who with his gaze on heaven's home, [7]
Endured the cross, despised the shame for promised throne; [8]
Consumed with love, propelled by faith alone; [9]
Consider him.

When evil seems supreme,
and rest seems like a dream;
Consider him.
When enemies grow bold,
when shrouds seem to enfold;
Consider him.
Consider him whose violent death bruised serpent's head; [10]
Who third day, shroud removed, rose from the dead; [11]
Arisen, King of Love victorious, as he said; [12]
Consider him!

". . .let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary of fainthearted." (Hebrews 12:1c-3 ESV)

[1] Mark 15:16-20
[2] Isaiah 53:3; Matt 27:28-30, Psalm 22:18
[3] John 1:11; Luke 22:63-65; Psalm 22:6; Isaiah 53:9

[4] Matt 26:67; Matt 27:26
[5] Matt 26:59-60; Luke 22:47-48; John 19:2, 5
[6] John 19:16-18; Matt 27:39-44; Heb 13:12

[7-9] Hebrews 12:2

[10] Gen 3:15; Col 2:13-15; Rev 5:6-14
[11] John 20; Isaiah 25:7-8
[12] Matthew 12:40; 16:21; 17:22-23; & John 2:18-22

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NIGERIA: MUSLIMS PROTEST ELECTION RESULTS

Nigeria's Middle Belt state of Kaduna is under curfew after Muslims launched a violent and destructive anti-Christian pogrom in response the news that Goodluck Jonathan (a Southern Christian) had overwhelmingly won the presidential race. Jonathan secured more than 22.6 million votes; almost double that of his nearest rival Muhammadu Buhari (a Northern Muslim). While the elections have been widely lauded and transparent, free and fair, Buhari has rejected the results, claiming gross irregularities. Muslims also rioted in the northern states of Sokoto, Gombe, Yobe, Niger, Bauchi, Katsina, Jigawa, Nasarawa, Borno, Taraba and Adamawa. In Maiduguri, the capital of Borno Sate, it took the military and police over four hours to reign in rampaging Buhari supporters. The re-scheduled gubernatorial elections will be held on 26 April. Tensions will be especially high in the religious fault-line cities of Kaduna and Jos. Please pray.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

103. China: Beijing church seeks right to worship freely. (plus Ivory Coast)

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 103 | Wed 13 Apr 2011

CHINA: BEIJING CHURCH SEEKS RIGHT TO WORSHIP FREELY
(plus Ivory Coast)
By Elizabeth Kendal

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) insists on controlling all aspects of society, including religion. Christians are free to meet and worship, but only under the auspices of the CCP registering authority and only within the confines of a CCP-registered facility. For a church to be registered with the CCP-controlled 'Three Self Patriotic Movement' or the 'Catholic Patriotic Association', the church must accept a CCP-appointed pastor and submit to CCP restrictions that severely curtail religious freedom. Whilst around 37.5 million Chinese believers worship in CCP-registered Protestant and Catholic churches (classified as 'normal' by the CCP), some 66 million worship in unregistered churches (classified as 'abnormal' and fanatical). Every time these believers gather they risk police brutality and legal recrimination of up to 15 days in administrative police detention. Their sentence may also include up to three years in China's Mao-era 'gulag' (Chinese 'laogai'): a network of some 1000 state-run 're-education through [slave] labour' camps. This sentence may be without charge or trial because 're-education' is regarded as a preventative measure. Conditions are brutal. These labour camps are not merely prisons, but farms and factories where the CCP produces everything from tea to textiles, chemicals, concrete to Christmas decorations. They are a critical element of the Chinese economy.

Most unregistered fellowships choose to operate as 'cell churches': numerous small 'underground' or 'house' fellowships under one banner. However, Beijing's 1000-strong Shouwang (watchtower) Church has elected to follow the 'city on a hill' model (Matthew 5:14-16) and be visible. Its membership is almost all young professionals, most of whom have worked or studied overseas. 'Most members are well educated,' says China Aid Association's Bob Fu, 'and they include China's top religious scholars and even former government officials.' While the Shouwang Church would actually be content to register with the authorities, they cannot accept the CCP's terms. The church's visibility, combined with its significance, presents the regime with a challenging dilemma.

In 2008 the authorities forced the church out of its rented premises. So in 2009 the church purchased a full floor of office space in the Daheng New Epoch Technology building in Beijing's Haidian district. Though they paid 27.5 million renminbi (US$4.2 million) for the property, under pressure from the authorities the owner would not hand over the keys. For more than a year now the church has been leasing a restaurant. Now this landlord, under pressure from the authorities, will not renew the lease. With no other landowners willing to lease to the church, they made plans to start meeting in the open air at the third-floor outdoor meeting area adjacent to their property in Haidian district, commencing Sunday 10 April. During his final sermon at the restaurant, Rev. Jin Tianming warned parishioners they would likely meet resistance.

When 10 April dawned, Jin Tianming and more than 20 other senior church leaders found themselves under house arrest or being whisked off to police stations. As members of the Shouwang Church arrived for worship they were met by hundreds of police. Some 170 believers were forced onto buses and taken away to be questioned and photographed. Because the Christians had arrived with hymn sheets most spent their time in detention singing hymns. All but three of those detained have been released: Pastor Li Xiaobai, his wife and one other woman believer. In a vain attempt to contain the news, the authorities took down the church's website. Though many members are now under tight surveillance, the church remains committed to meeting in the open until officials grant them legal, written permission to worship in an approved location. For updates, watch China Aid Association.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* God to bless the sacrificial courage of the Shouwang Church as they risk their bodies and liberty to pursue the simple right of churches to gather for worship.

* every Chinese believer serving time in the laogai slave labour camps, that the ever-present Holy Spirit may restore their souls, encourage their hearts and heal their bodies; may God meet all their needs, along with those of their families and churches. 'Remember those who are in prison, as if you were in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you are also in the body.' (Hebrews 13:3 ESV)

* President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and the Director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, Mr Wang Zuo'an, that the Lord might open their hearts to receive the gospel (Acts 16:14).

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SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHINA CHURCH SEEKS RIGHT TO WORSHIP FREELY

Christians in China are free to meet, but only under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) registering authority in CCP-registered premises. Whilst some 37 million Christians worship in official CCP-registered churches, some 66 million do not. Churches remain unofficial generally because CCP conditions for registration severely curtail religious freedom. Christians who meet in 'abnormal, fanatical' (i.e. unregistered) churches risk police brutality and up to 15 days in detention or up to three years in the 'laogai': some 1000 CCP 're-education through [slave] labour' camps. Authorities have hounded Beijing's 1000-strong Shouwang Church from various premises since 2008 and the church is now battling to meet even in the open until officials grant them their right to worship in an approved location. Please pray for the Church in China.

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IVORY COAST UPDATE: FRANCE GETS REGIME CHANGE

-- securing not only a win for the French treasury but for Islam

On Monday 11 April Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo surrendered to French and northern Muslim rebel forces at his residence in Abidjan. These rebel forces could never have seized control of the predominantly Christian south without French military assistance. Despite Alassane Ouattara's public appeal for restraint, there is a high risk that pro-Ouattara forces might seek to eliminate as many Gbagbo supporters (southerners, Christians) as possible. The Church in Ivory Coast desperately needs our prayers. For background see Religious Liberty Monitoring.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

102. Ivory Coast: Islamic and Western interests meet

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 102 | Wed 06 Apr 2011

IVORY COAST: ISLAMIC AND WESTERN 'INTERESTS' MEET

By Elizabeth Kendal

Ivory Coast (IC) is a nation on an ethnic-religious fault-line with a predominantly agrarian Muslim north and a predominantly urbanised, industrial and administrative Christian and animist south. Presidential aspirant Alassane Ouattara is an ambitious former Prime Minister and Northern Muslim who plays the race and religion cards for political gain. This has fuelled tensions and aggravated divisions during economically stressful times as IC has been struggling under the weight of decades of mass Muslim immigration. Ouattara has long sought the naturalisation of all immigrants which would mean an immediate Muslim majority in IC. Those who object to that outcome are labelled 'Islamophobic', 'racist' and 'xenophobic'. Ouattara has the backing of Islamic states precisely because he is a Muslim prepared to play the Muslim-as-victim card for political gain.

Ivory Coast (IC) went to the polls on 31 October 2010 even though the northern rebels, in violation of all agreements, had not disarmed. In IC, as in most democracies, an electoral commission manages the mechanics of an election whilst a constitutional council or court investigates complaints before proclaiming the final result. On 2 December IC's Electoral Commission -- dominated by Ouattara supporters by a margin of 20-2 -- illegally pre-empted the Constitutional Council's decision and broadcast via French TV from Ouattara's headquarters that Ouattara had won the election. When the Constitutional Council, which had been investigating irregularities, announced on 3 December that Gbagbo was the winner, a political stalemate ensued.

Fortunately for Ouattara, numerous foreign powers covet access to IC's immense agricultural (coffee, cocoa) and mineral (diamonds, oil) wealth. Because he is prepared to sell out IC's sovereignty and wealth in exchange for power, Ouattara has the backing of these resource-hungry foreign powers, especially neo-colonialist France. Bolstered by the support of the 'international community', Ouattara has moved to take power by force.

As noted in last week's RLPB, IC as a former French colony is obliged to hand over 85 percent of all its foreign currency reserves to the French treasury. This poverty-perpetuating neo-colonialism is exactly what President Laurent Gbagbo, a staunch nationalist, has been fighting against. This is why France is so keen for regime change in IC that it has sent attack helicopters against the Presidential Palace and Ivorian military barracks (in the name of 'humanitarianism'!) ignoring the fact that these facilities not only house whole families but also abut residential areas.

While UN and French helicopters were attacking Ivorian positions in Abidjan, northern militias allied to Alassane Ouattara were pressing south. As this RLPB was being prepared, UN peacekeepers were guarding tens of thousands of civilians seeking refuge in a church in Duekoue, the southern town where some 800 were recently killed during an attack by northern militias. Virtually all state institutions, including the army, are loyal to President Gbagbo -- as is at least half the registered population -- so Abidjan will not submit willingly. The rebels would never be able to win or retain power without Western support. Fortunately for them, Islamic and Western 'interests' meet once again. Their goal: the removal of a secular (in this case Christian) staunchly nationalist president and replacing him with an ambitious, exploitable puppet who will advance not IC's interests but his own.

In 1913 William Wade Harris of Liberia crossed into Ivory Coast preaching the power of Christ over spirits. Dressed in white and carrying a cross, a Bible and a bowl, he baptised thousands and according to E Isichei (1995) 'permanently rewrote the religious geography of the Ivory Coast'. But permanence can never be assumed. Good must be treasured and preserved. What Harris achieved, greed and mass Muslim immigration have undone. Once the most free and prosperous country in all West Africa, IC may never recover. Religious liberty and Christian security, once 'guaranteed', will be tenuous now.

(Expanded blog version.)

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO:

* shield his Church and deliver her from evil that she might continue to shine no matter how dark the situation becomes; may faith increase as those who trust the Lord find their refuge in him. 'You have set up a banner for those who fear you, that they may flee to it from the bow.' (Psalm 60:4 ESV)

* bring a spirit of peace to Abidjan, that there might be a willingness to find a political solution to this political problem; may religious liberty and Christian security be preserved.

* awaken the West to the destruction, suffering and death that greed and neo-colonialism produce; might a voice be raised against it, in the name of justice and righteousness.

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SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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ISLAMIC AND WESTERN 'INTERESTS' UNDO IVORY COAST'S RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

In 1913 WW Harris of Liberia crossed into Ivory Coast (IC) preaching the power of Christ, to whom many thousands turned. But what Harris achieved, greed and mass Muslim immigration have undone. IC is a religious fault-line nation, with a mainly Muslim north and a mainly Christian south. Supporters of the northern Muslim presidential candidate Ouattara illegally proclaimed his 'victory' on 2 December 2010, pre-empting the Constitutional Council's official decision on 3 December that Gbagbo had won. Today, Outtara's militias are advancing south, backed by Western forces coveting IC's agricultural and mineral wealth. Islamic and Western interests and especially neo-colonialist France need an ambitious puppet in the Presidential Palace, not a staunch nationalist like Gbagbo. IC's religious liberty and Christian security will be tenuous now. Please pray.