Tuesday, February 28, 2012

RLPB 148. Feb. Update; Incl. Burma, Sudan, Syria, Kashmir, Iran, Nigeria, Somalia

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 148 | Wed 29 Feb 2012
By Elizabeth Kendal

"Commit your way to the LORD; trust him, and he will act." (Psalm 37:5 ESV)

FEBRUARY 2012 UPDATE -- During February we prayed concerning . . .

EGYPT (RLPB 144), where Christians, especially indigenous Copts, are facing increasing levels of insecurity as Islam rises and dhimmitude (religious apartheid) returns.

BURMA (RLPB 145), where up to 60,000 displaced Christian Kachin are struggling to survive without aid. [Reminder: Burma Day of Prayer -- Saturday 17 March 2012. Resources.]

UPDATE: God answers prayer! On 24 February an agreement was reached between the UN and Burmese government officials that should allow aid to reach some 45,000 displaced Kachin presently sheltering in camps and churches in areas controlled by the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO). Please persist in prayer for there is no word yet on when the UN aid convoy will depart. Meanwhile, the situation remains dire for some 20,000 displaced Kachin stranded at the China-Burma border.

SUDAN (RLPB 145 & 147), where genocide by the Arab-supremacist, Islamist regime in Khartoum against the predominantly Christian African Nuba of the 'new south', is well under way.

UPDATE: New York Times correspondent Nicholas Kristoff slipped into South Kordofan in late February. He describes the situation as a 'mass atrocity . . . a government starving its people, massacring them, raping them, and bombing them . . .'.

ESCAPE ROUTE OPENED: Since early February we have been praying for God to open the escape route south (see RLPB 145, which uses Exodus 14 as our precedent for prayer). On Sunday 26 February a newly-formed rebel alliance of groups from South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur, the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF; also known as the Kauda Alliance), won their first ever military victory over Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) troops. The SRF liberated Taruje and the strategic SAF garrison at Jau, close to the South Sudan border. According to a spokesman from the Sudan People's Liberation Movement - North (SPLM-N), as well as killing 130 SAF troops, the SRF seized three tanks, some 200 vehicles, hundreds of weapons and dozens of heavy artillery and opened a 'completely clear and safe' route for refugees. Predictably President Omar al-Bashir is blaming South Sudan (which was not involved) and threatening a military response. Tensions are soaring. Please continue to pray. The way has been opened. Now the refugees need to escape and the LORD needs to frustrate any SAF pursuit. Please continue to pray that the LORD will fight for the Nuba (Exodus 14:14) so that all Sudan will know that God is the LORD (Exodus 14:18).

MIDDLE EAST (RLPB 146), where Christians are increasingly persecuted and vulnerable in the wake of the so-called 'Arab Spring'.

SYRIA (RLPB 147), where Christians presently suffering the depradations of war fear outright slaughter if the Assad regime falls.

UPDATE: Syrian sources have told Barnabas Fund that Sunni jihadists are invading and pillaging house after house and that around 70 homes belonging to Christians in Homs have been thus affected. Forced to live in the crossfire, without electricity and with supplies of water, food and medicines declining, Christians are saying they would flee if only there were the opportunity. Two martyrdom brigades of Islamists have formed in Homs this past month: the Al Baraa Ibn Malik Martyrdom Brigade and the Al Nusrah Front to Protect the Levant. The Catholic Archbishop of Damascus, Maronite Samir Nassar, says the situation in the country is spiralling out of control, with Syria becoming an arena of international conflict over competing political, military and economic interests.

FEBRUARY 2012 ROUND-UP -- also this month . . .

INDIAN-ADMINISTERED KASHMIR: CHRISTIANS FORCED TO REVERT TO ISLAM
(Further updating RLPBs 142 & 143) Kashmiri Christians are now being pressured violently to revert to Islam by Islamic fundamentalists committed to ending 'apostasy'. The persecution has forced several local Christian ministries to close and is driving churches underground. Many Christians are fleeing. One madrassa (Islamic school) has boasted it is presently working on 115 Kashmiri Christian converts after having already reverted around 150 converts over recent months. Slanderous, sensational disinformation is proliferating. (See: Kashmiri Christians forced to revert to Islam, by Elizabeth Kendal for Religious Liberty Monitoring (14 Feb 2012)) After undertaking a 10-day investigative trip, the Catholic Christian Secular Forum (CSF) has prepared the report 'Religious Liberty and Persecution in Kashmir' which they will present to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh shortly. CSF is calling on the Indian government to 'put an end to the persecution carried out in the state under the garb of Sharia law'.

IRAN: REPRESSION AND PERSECUTION ESCALATING
According to Iranian sources, a lower court has signed execution orders for Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani (34), making his execution imminent. The government is denying the claim. Arrested in 2009 and sentenced to death for apostasy in 2010, Youcef (married with two young sons) has refused to renounce Christ, even in exchange for his freedom. Other Christian leaders arrested during February include Ms Giti Hakimpour (78) a leader at St Luke's Church in Esfahan and Mr Hekmat Salimi, pastor of the official Church of St Paul in Esfahan. According to Middle East Concern, government officials issued orders on 10 February to Emmanuel Protestant Church and St Peter's Evangelical Church to end their Friday Farsi-language worship services. They were the last two official churches in Tehran offering services on Fridays in the local language.

NIGERIA: BOKO HARAM TARGETS CHURCH
Whilst the situation is dire, we can thank God that though the two most recent church bombings were designed to cause maximum carnage, to a large degree they were frustrated. The bomb that exploded outside Christ Embassy Church in Suleija on Sunday 19 February was massive, yet no worshippers were killed. One member returning from inside the church to his car noticed a bag placed between his car and the next. Finding it contained a huge bomb he called security. All the worshippers were gathered inside the church while bomb disposal police were called. Around 25 minutes later the powerful bomb exploded, killing five people, mainly spectators across the road. Had the bomb exploded while worshippers were leaving after the service the result would have been devastating. Similarly, in Jos on Sunday 26 February a suicide bomber had planned to ram his bomb-laden car into the front of Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) church to cause total carnage and maximum casualties. However, as he smashed through the church's security gates a tyre blew out, stopping the car, and the gas cylinder needed to maximise the blast fell out of the boot. Whilst three worshippers were killed -- a woman who was struck by the car and a father and son killed by shrapnel inside the church -- the toll would have been ten-fold had the bombing gone to plan.

On 22 February jihadists in Maiduguri murdered a believer, Shetu Haruna Malgwi (79), who was mother of a local pastor. They slit her throat, placed a Bible under her feet and left a note written in Arabic on her chest. The note, believed to be for her son, said, 'We will get you soon.' Strong as Boko Haram is now it is affiliated with al Qaeda, God is still stronger. Please pray for the church in Nigeria. 'The LORD . . . frustrates the ways of the wicked (Psalm 146:9 NIV).

SOMALIA: ANOTHER SOMALI CHRISTIAN MARTYRED
Compass Direct News (CDN) recently reported that on 2 January militants belonging to al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab beheaded yet another Somali believer. He was Zakaria Hussein Omar (26) who worked for a Christian humanitarian organisation recently banned by al-Shabaab. According to CDN, Omar converted to Christianity seven years ago while living in Ethiopia. He returned to Somalia in 2008 and married in 2010. 'For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears . . .' (Lamentations 1:16a ESV) May the 'God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction' (from 2 Corinthians 1:3,4) bring comfort to the besieged and traumatised church in Somalia.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

RLPB 147. Sudan & Syria: millions of Christians facing death

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 147 | Wed 22 Feb 2012

SUDAN & SYRIA: MILLIONS OF CHRISTIANS FACING DEATH
By Elizabeth Kendal

SUDAN: NUBA NEED BREAKTHROUGH IN FOOD & SECURITY

As reported in RLPB 145, the UN estimates that some half-million displaced predominantly Christian African (non-Arab) Nuba will face famine conditions by March. Not content to decimate the Nuba by means of famine -- something the Arab-supremacist, Islamist regime in Khartoum achieved in the early 1990s -- nor to allow their escape into South Sudan, Khartoum appears to be preparing to completely annihilate the Nuba. Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) soldiers are killing Nuba at manned checkpoints. Furthermore SAF tanks and artillery are blocking the refugees' southward escape route through the Kauda Valley while helicopter gunships and Antonovs (used as bombers) arrive at recently renovated airstrips (see Satellite Sentilel Project).

The regime has warned that any attempt to cross the southern border with aid for the Nuba would be regarded as a hostile act, i.e. an excuse for war against South Sudan. Urged on by Christian and Jewish anti-genocide groups, the US administration has intensified efforts to pursue a breakthrough in Sudan, even offering to write-off Khartoum's debts, estimated at $2.4 billion. Yet Khartoum remains intransigent, maintaining the Nuba are 'rebels' -- enemies of the state -- being assisted by foreign aid groups.

On Sunday 19 February the Government of Sudan (GoS) agreed to involve international organisations in an operation to assess humanitarian needs in South Kordofan. Khartoum also advised it was considering a proposal put forward by the Arab League. Sudan's Minister of Social Welfare and Security, Amira Al-Fadail, reiterated the GoS position that all aid must be distributed through Sudanese facilities. Of course this has happened before in the early 1990s when the GoS, after engineering famine in the Nuba Mountains, herded the displaced and starving Nuba into 'Peace [concentration] Camps'. Receiving food there was conditional on converting to Islam. Forced thus to choose between Islam and starvation, hundreds of thousands of Nuba chose starvation. To allow repetition of such a situation would be absolutely unacceptable. However, with famine closing in, Sudan analyst Eric Reeves is warning of 'a looming catastrophe that will make Syria, in terms of total casualties, look like a gang war in the park'.

SYRIA: CHRISTIANS NEED BREAKTHROUGH FOR POLITICAL SOLUTION

The NATO-US-Saudi-Gulf Arab alliance and al Qaeda both want the same thing in Syria: regime change to install a Sunni Islamist regime more favourable to their interests. According to former Central Intelligence Agency officer Philip Giraldi, unmarked NATO planes are transporting weapons from Libya to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) base at Iskenderum, on Turkey's border with Syria. Meanwhile, Western Special Forces trainers are there on the ground training the Syrian rebel jihadists [echoes of Afghanistan?]. Furthermore, US military and intelligence drones are operating over Syria, reportedly gathering evidence to 'make a case for an international response', but doubtless also monitoring Syrian troop movements for the FSA.

On 11 February al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri publicly exhorted 'honourable' Muslims across the region to join the jihad in Syria. Subsequently, a group calling itself the Al Baraa Ibn Malik Martyrdom Brigade announced its formation in the Syrian town of Homs and vowed to start employing suicide bombers against Syrian security forces.

British author and a former UK foreign correspondent John Bradley recently cautioned that Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi forces, with funding from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, have totally hijacked the popular revolts. Bradley maintains that the conflict in Syria is now principally a US-Saudi-Gulf Arab alliance war aimed at countering ascendant Iran. He claims that what will come after Assad will be much worse: ' . . . the minority Alawites and Christians and Jews and moderate Sunnis in Syria will fight to the death because they know much better than us that the opposition, the civilian opposition is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and the insurgents [are] now infiltrated by Salafi jihadis.' As Bradley notes, for all its faults Assad's has been a secular regime that has protected minorities. Russia is brokering talks. The 2 million-plus Christians in Syria (including over 300,000 Assyrian refugees from Iraq) are in desperate need of a political breakthrough. For, as Bradley notes, the alternative is 'a civil war in Syria that will be so bloody and murderous that it will make what took place in Libya look like a high school prom'.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* send his Holy Spirit into these war zones in a powerful and palpable way, bringing awakening, repentance and spiritual revival to multitudes.

* hear the cries of his imperilled people and be quick to answer with demonstrations of power, love and justice; may escape and deliverance be enabled and may there be provision of food, shelter, security and hope.

* erect a bulwark against those who devise evil against God's Kingdom and cruelty against his precious children. (See Psalm 140.)

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MILLIONS OF CHRISTIANS FACING DEATH IN SUDAN & SYRIA

In Sudan, some half-million predominantly Christian Nuba, displaced by ethnic cleansing in South Kordofan, face impending famine. After destroying their lands, the Arab-supremacist, Islamist regime in Khartoum has closed off not only their escape routes, but all access to humanitarian aid. Satellite images show the government is also concentrating troops in South Kordofan preparing for a military onslaught. Unless there is a breakthrough, the genocide of the Nuba is imminent. Meanwhile in Syria, some two million Christians (including over 300,000 Assyrian refugees from Iraq) face the prospect of a brutal and deadly civil war if the Assad regime falls -- a secular regime that protected minorities. The NATO-US-Saudi-Gulf Arab alliance and al Qaeda are actively backing its destruction. Please pray for breakthroughs in Sudan and Syria.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

RLPB 146. Middle Eastern Christians face bleak future

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 146 | Wed 15 Feb 2012

MIDDLE EASTERN CHRISTIANS FACE BLEAK FUTURE
By Elizabeth Kendal

The 'Arab Spring' opened the door for long-repressed Sunni Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi forces to rise up and seize power locally and challenge the balance of power regionally. Faced with escalating persecution and decreasing security, Christians are increasingly opting for flight. The alternative is to exist as dhimmis: subjugated second-class citizens forced to live with crippling inequality and profound insecurity under Islamic domination. In Egypt, Iraq and Syria -- homes to the region's largest and most ancient Christian communities -- the security situation is critical. Furthermore, the conflict in Syria has the potential to inflame sectarian tensions in neighbouring volatile Lebanon, which is also home to several large and ancient Christian communities.

Egypt, which once gave refuge to the Christ-child, is today a tinderbox where anti-Christian hostility is rising to incendiary levels. Not only do those who violently persecute and terrorise Christians do so with absolute impunity, but Islamic ad hoc 'courts' and 'reconciliation sessions' then compound that persecution. The victims are denied compensation, expelled from their homes and dispossessed, or they are charged with offending Islam or threatening social cohesion. In Iraq, where the Assyrian Church of the East -- the world's first Christian denomination -- was established, Christians are today the victims of violent Islamic jihad and ethnic cleansing. Over recent years the Christian population of Iraq has halved. In Syria, where followers of Jesus were first called 'Christians', radical Sunni Arab fundamentalists are fighting for control of Syria and the regional balance of power. Not only is the Syrian Church imperilled, but so too are the Assyrian-Chaldean Christian refugees who fled the genocide in Iraq for refuge in Syria.

Persecution is escalating in Iran. On Wednesday 8 February, plain-clothed security officers raided a house church gathered for prayer and worship in the southern city of Shiraz, arresting all ten believers present. One of those arrested, the convert Mojtaba Hosseini, had been arrested previously in May 2008 when aged only 21. Iranian sources think the authorities have had Mojtaba under surveillance for some time. The whereabouts of these believers are unknown. Several other believers incarcerated over Christmas remain in prison. Regarded as traitors, spies and sources of 'fitna' (anything that could threaten the faith of a Muslim), all Iran's Christian prisoners are subjected to harsh conditions and cruel treatment.

Western powers pursuing economic and geo-strategic gain seem to regard the Christians of the Middle East as inconvenient peoples who may be sacrificed for greater ends such as oil and power. Needless to say, God does not see his imperilled children that way. Indeed, he suffers with them. 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me. . . . Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' (From Matthew 25:40,45 ESV) The Church must stand up for the Middle East's imperilled Christians.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* use this catastrophe to draw all Christians closer to him and to each other; as conflict and terror abound, may the LORD deliver to that 'faintly burning wick' -- the besieged Church -- fresh oxygen not only for life, strength and hope, but for revival. (Isaiah 42:3)

* intervene on behalf of his precious people (Isaiah 59:14-19) that they might see and know his hand of wise guidance and arm of loving provision and protection. (Isaiah 40:10,11)

PRAY ALSO for the NUBA of SUDAN, half a million of whom will soon be dying en masse as the Government of Sudan's engineered famine explodes as a 'weapon of mass destruction' to effect the genocide of these non-Muslim, non-Arab, predominantly Christian peoples. [See prayer requests in RLPB 145 ]


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MIDDLE EASTERN CHRISTIANS FACE BLEAK FUTURE

The so-called 'Arab Spring' opened the door for long-repressed Islamist forces to rise up and seize power locally and challenge the balance of power regionally. In Egypt, Iraq and Syria -- homes to some of the region's largest and most ancient Christian communities -- persecution is escalating and the threat of genocide is real. Furthermore, the conflict in Syria has the potential to inflame sectarian tensions in neighbouring Lebanon, which is also home to several large and ancient Christian communities. Whilst poor socio-economic conditions and escalating discrimination and persecution have been driving Christians to emigrate from the Middle East for decades, the deteriorating security situation is giving rise to effectively a Christian exodus. There is much fear. Please pray for the Church in the Middle East.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

RLPB 145. Sudan & Burma: Christian refugees in peril

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 145 | Wed 08 Feb 2012

SUDAN & BURMA: CHRISTIAN REFUGEES IN PERIL
By Elizabeth Kendal

SUDAN: NUBA GENOCIDE LOOMS

When Khartoum began ethnic cleansing South Kordofan in June 2011, there were an estimated one million non-Arab, non-Muslim, predominantly Christian Nuba in the state. Today more than half that number have been either killed or displaced. To maximise casualties, the Arabist-Islamist regime of Sudan president Omar el-Bashir (an indicted war criminal) closed the region off to humanitarian aid so as to engineer famine. Now the UN estimates that by March up to 500,000 Nuba will be dying en masse due to famine.

A coalition of Christian, Jewish and interfaith anti-genocide groups are urging the American government to intensify its efforts to convince Khartoum to open a corridor for the delivery of humanitarian aid. Aware this might fail, they are also urging the US administration to consider delivering aid without Khartoum's consent, an act they acknowledge would be fraught with risk. Khartoum insists it will never let aid organisations reward 'rebels'. Furthermore, without citing any evidence, it has accused the aid organisations of arming rebels. Khartoum would surely view any unsanctioned incursion as a hostile and provocative act and doubtless declare it to be a trigger for war. The situation is extremely delicate.

Grave fears are held for some 200,000 starving Nuba refugees slowly making their way south through the Kauda Valley, headed for the Yida refugee camp in South Sudan which is already home to about 24,000 Nuba refugees. Digital Globe images made public by Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) show that the Government of Sudan has moved Sudan Armed Forces' tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and artillery into the southern end of the valley, creating a fortified 'choke-point' which is preventing refugees from escaping south. SSP images also reveal that the runway at nearby Talodi has recently been extended to handle Antonovs (used as bombers). Satellite images also show new elevated roads being built into the Nuba Mountains, capable of bearing heavy military vehicles in all weather conditions. Images also reveal that helicopter gunships have arrived at the renovated airbase in the capital, Kadugli. Observers believe the regime will want to complete any military offensive and genocide before the onset of the rainy season due in around 8 weeks.

BURMA: KACHIN SITUATION IS DIRE

Behind the regime's smokescreen of token reforms-of-convenience, Burma's ethnic-religious minorities are suffering more than ever. Zetty Brake of Burma Campaign Australia told Radio Australia on 6 February that the situation for these minorities is actually getting worse: conflict is increasing as are human rights abuses, whilst some 60,000 displaced Christian Kachin are still without humanitarian aid. Similarly, the UN estimates that about 55,000 Kachin IDPs (internally displaced persons) in two dozen IDP camps are struggling to survive without basic aid. People are dying of preventable illnesses caused by cold weather and unsanitary conditions. Most of the children suffer diarrhoea and stomach parasites due to dirty drinking water. There is fear that diseases will spread. Women are suffering miscarriages at an increased rate. The situation is dire. Ben Rogers of Christian Solidarity Worldwide recently returned from the Burma-China border saying he heard some of the worst stories of human rights violations that he had ever heard in his almost 15 years of involvement in Burma. Please pray for the Christian Kachin. Also, the Burma Day of Prayer on Saturday 17 March 2012 is a date for church calendars. See here for resources.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT --

* the God who saved Israel from Pharaoh's army by enabling their escape through the supposedly impenetrable Red Sea, will save the Nuba from el-Bashir's genocidal schemes. 'The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.' (Moses, to the trapped and imminently imperilled Israelites on the shore of the Red Sea, Exodus 14:14 NIV)

* the LORD of creation, who fed 5000 men and all the women and children present from five loaves and two fish, might magnify all efforts and multiply all provision so that the displaced Nuba and Kachin will not starve. (Matthew 14:15-21) 'I am with you always . . .' (Jesus' promise from Matthew 28:20)

* Jesus Christ our LORD, who himself lived as a refugee in Egypt, might speak with empathy into the hearts of all his displaced children in Sudan, South Sudan and Burma, drawing them to him for healing, provision and empowerment. (Isaiah 40:27-31)

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CHRISTIAN REFUGEES IMPERILLED IN SUDAN & BURMA

The UN estimates 500,000 mostly Christian Nuba fleeing ethnic-religious cleansing in South Kordofan, Sudan, will be dying en masse from famine by March. Furthermore, some 200,000 Nuba are trapped in the Kauda Valley, unable to cross into South Sudan because their escape route is blocked by Sudan Armed Forces. Further to having engineered famine, the Arabist-Islamist regime in Khartoum appears to be preparing for a military offensive. It is extending runways, building roads and bringing in bombers, helicopter gunships, tanks and other military hardware. In Burma, an estimated 55,000 Christian Kachin refugees, driven from their homes by Burmese forces during seven months of war, remain without aid. Children are dying and women are miscarrying -- the situation is dire. These are God's children and our brothers and sisters. Please pray.