Tuesday, July 24, 2012

RLPB 169. July Update. Incl. Kenya, Syria, Aceh (Indonesia), India, Iran

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 169 | Wed 25 Jul 2012
By Elizabeth Kendal

'Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children . . .' (from Lamentations 2:19 ESV)

JULY 2012 UPDATE -- During July we prayed concerning . . . 

* KENYA (RLPB 166), where Islamic militants had attacked two churches in Garissa, eastern Kenya (80km from the Somali border), killing 17 worshippers and wounding over 60.

UPDATE: Stratfor Global Intelligence reports that the Somali-based terror group al Shabaab has threatened to carry out attacks in Kenya during Ramadan. On 20 July, the first day of Ramadan, the Nairobi Provincial Police chief urged the public to remain vigilant. Security has been intensified.

* SYRIA (RLPB 167), where the region's largest and oldest Christian communities -- remnants of indigenous communities that have survived Arab and Ottoman Islamic imperialism -- are now struggling to survive amidst civil war, regional sectarian conflict and international Islamic jihad.

UPDATE: Some of Syria's most senior Christian officials were recently assassinated by rebel forces. They included Defence Minister Gen. Dawoud Rajha, killed in the 18 July suicide bombing at security headquarters, possibly perpetrated by a bodyguard. Brig-Gen. Nabil Zougheib also was assassinated along with his wife and son at their home in a Christian neighbourhood of Damascus on 21 July.

Jesuit priest Father Dall'Oglio, who has spent time in Qusayr negotiating with rebel leaders for the release of Christian hostages, describes the rebels as Syrian men wearing long beards and Afghan-style traditional dress. He wrote they are not representative of the majority of Sunnis and are totally out of control (Wall Street Journal, 22 July).  The terror is causing massive displacement. Fides reports that jihadists ambushed and massacred an entire Christian family on 23 July in the Damascus suburb of Bab Touma.

Syria has become a magnet for international terrorist organisations, including al-Qaeda in Iraq, the al-Nusrah Front, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, the al-Baraa Ibn Malik Martyrdom Brigade, the Omar Farouq Brigade and others. German intelligence estimates that in the first six months of 2012 'around 90' terror attacks were committed inside Syria 'by organisations that are close to al-Qaeda or jihadist groups'. Many of these are 'false flag' operations where the jihadists massacre unsympathetic civilians and then present them to the media as victims of government forces. One German MP has slammed this tactic as 'massacre-marketing'. Whilst the German government acknowledges receiving these reports, it explains that their content remains classified 'by reason of national interest' (i.e. along with France, the UK and the USA, the German government is supporting the rebels, terrorists, and jihadists).

Tragically, the sectarian nature of the conflict has inflamed Islamic zeal and radicalised many previously tolerant Sunnis. Christian refugees in Lebanon told Sam Dagher (Wall Street Journal, 22 July) they fear that Christians will have no place in Syria if Assad leaves power. 'They say the conflict has uncovered the true feelings their former neighbours had kept hidden for years. "We ate from the same plate," said one of the displaced Christians. "And then they stabbed us in the back." '

Further to this, thousands of Iraqis who fled al-Qaeda terror and sectarian war in 2005-06 for sanctuary in Syria are now fleeing back to Iraq. However, emboldened by advances in Syria, al-Qaeda has launched a new offensive in IRAQ named 'Breaking Down the Walls'.  On Monday 23 July, at least 28 attacks on 19 Iraqi cities left 111 dead and more than 230 wounded.

* NIGERIA (RLPB 168), where Fulani Muslims, Boko Haram terrorists and rogue elements within the military are co-operating in the escalating terror being inflicted upon Christians in the north.


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

* ACEH, INDONESIA: CHURCHES ATTACKED (updating RLPB 159)
On 30 April local officials in Aceh's Singkil regency yielded to Islamist pressure and ordered the closure and demolition of at least 20 mostly Protestant 'undung-undungs' (prayer chapels and places of worship). Seeking redress, most have not complied with the demolition order. Frustrated by this lack of action and emboldened by the government's appeasement policies, Islamists have begun attacking the chapels. On Sunday 17 June some 300 Islamists invaded a store in Kuta Alam sub-district where some 60 Christians had gathered for worship. Whilst the ground floor was thoroughly ransacked, police arrived in time to prevent the attackers from reaching the besieged Christians on the third floor. No arrests were made but the Christians were taken in for questioning. According to the Jakarta Globe, this was yet 'another' attack on a 'storefront church'. Then on 18 July an Islamist mob launched a dawn attack on the Pakpak Dairi Christian Protestant Church (Gkppd) house of prayer in Singkil, dowsing the interior with petrol and setting it on fire. Furniture and musical instruments were destroyed but prompt intervention by local Christians saved the building from complete destruction.

* INDIA: HINDU NATIONALISM INCITES VIOLENCE

On 24 June the Indigenous People's Forum (IPF) in Imphal, Manipur (north-east India), conducted a one-day workshop entitled 'Lure and Proselytization and Constitutional Interpretation of Freedom of Religion'. The IPF is recommending that the Manipur state government enact the Manipur Freedom of Religion bill (Anti Conversion Act). There is little doubt that Hindu nationalist forces are behind the IPF's call. Hindutva forces want to ensure that the traditionally non-Hindu indigenous tribals do not become Christian while they are busy working to convince the tribals that they are actually Hindus. If the law is enacted it will rob all Manipur citizens of their religious freedom, cause Hindutva militancy to escalate and further entrench the racist Hindu caste system to the benefit of the Hindutva-promoting upper castes. Pray that the bill will be rejected.

The Evangelical Fellowship of India reports that on 6 July, in Ramagundahally village in Karnataka (south-west India), Hindu extremists forcefully entered a house church, accusing the Christians of forceful conversion. The Hindus tore up Bibles and savagely beat the believers before calling the police, who came and took Pastor Mounesh away for questioning. When Pastor Mounesh was released in the early hours of the following morning, the Hindutva forces were enraged. Returning later that day they bashed Pastor Mounesh and the believers praying with him. Four believers beaten unconscious required hospitalisation. Such violence is commonplace in states where Hindu nationalism holds sway.

* IRAN: TWO MORE IMPRISONED PASTORS NEED PRAYER

Protestant pastor Farshid Fathi Malayeri (33, married with two children) was one of many Christians arrested during the sweep of 26 December 2010. Tried in January 2012 for crimes against national security, a Revolutionary Court in Evin Prison in Tehran sentenced him to six years in prison on 5 March 2012. On 3 July, an Iranian court upheld both the verdict and six-year prison sentence. Farshid will serve the remainder of his sentence in section 350 of Evin Prison. He has already spent some 100 days in solitary confinement.

Protestant pastor Benham Irani (41, married with two children) is imprisoned in Karaj's notorious Ghezel Hesar Prison. Arrested in April 2010 for his Christian ministry, Pastor Irani was convicted in January 2011of crimes against national security and sentenced to one year in prison. That term was later extended to five years because of a previous conviction. The verdict denounced him as an apostate, a label that marks him out as one who may be killed. Due to frequent severe beatings from guards and inmates, Pastor Irani now has great difficulty walking and seeing. He has bleeding ulcers and other intestinal problems. Pastor Irani lost consciousness around 14 July due to declining health, a consequence of the harsh treatment he has endured. Though he has been transferred to the prison hospital, advocates fear he may not survive.

'If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.' (John 15:18,21 ESV)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

RLPB 168. Nigeria: terror in Plateau state

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 168 | Wed 18 Jul 2012

NIGERIA: TERROR IN PLATEAU STATE
By Elizabeth Kendal

Numbering around 30 million, the Fulani (also known as Fulbe) are the largest nomadic tribe in the world, with around half living in northern Nigeria. Like the traditionally nomadic Tuareg who are mostly based in northern Mali, the Fulani are spread over the Sahel, occupying a large area mostly south and east of the Tuareg zone. Just like the Tuareg, the Fulani have been impacted negatively by desertification and modernisation. As the desert has migrated south, so too have the Fulani. Traditionally nomadic cattle herders, they either urbanise or seek out new lands to graze their cattle. This brings them into conflict with the 'indigenes': settled, agrarian, mostly Christian tribes. Over recent decades, resurgent Islamic fundamentalist political ideology has been added to the volatile mix, paving the way for Islamists and jihadists to hijack local issues strategically for their own ends.

On Saturday morning 7 July some 100 ethnic Fulani (Muslim) herdsmen launched attacks on nine ethnic Berom (Christian) villages in Riyom and Barkin Ladi Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Plateau State. Sources told Channels TV that around one hundred attackers stormed the villages commando-style, dressed in black attire with bullet-proof vests and sophisticated weapons. Sixty-three people were killed, dozens wounded and more than 60 homes were burned. The next day Christians and sympathetic Muslims, along with several political dignitaries, gathered in Matse village for a mass burial. During the funeral procession Fulani gunmen swept in firing indiscriminately, aided in their attack by uniformed soldiers. Whilst at least 22 mourners were killed, Nigerian security forces were able to repel the assailants, killing at least 16 of them and capturing one. A further 50 bodies were discovered later in Matse in the home of a Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) pastor. It appears that the victims had been killed the previous day after they fled to the COCIN church for refuge. The pastor took them in but when the Fulani got word of it they surrounded the house and set it on fire.

Whilst the al-Qaeda-linked terror group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the weekend's attacks, the violence does not bear the hallmarks of Boko Haram. Rather, it bears all the hallmarks of a Fulani raid. These raids have become all too common around the Plateau's ethnic-religious fault-line. It has long been suspected that partisan rogue elements within the Nigerian military are assisting both the Fulani in their raids and Boko Haram in their terror and that Boko Haram is inciting belligerent Fulani to kill Christians and is probably also participating in the attacks. Boko Haram terror receives attention because Boko Haram is demanding that Sharia Law be enacted across the nation. Because the Fulani's terror raids have local aims -- ethnic cleansing and colonisation -- they receive little attention. Consequently the Fulani -- now with help from Boko Haram and rogue military -- are inching south, village by village, terrorising, killing and displacing many thousands of Christians in the process.

On Saturday 14 July the Nigerian military ordered that residents be temporarily relocated out of five Fulani-dominated villages in Barkin Ladi and Riyom LGAs where terrorist elements are believed to be hiding out. A further five villages are on stand-by. Fulani leaders initially encouraged the Fulani to defy the military order and stay put even though a military sweep was imminent. However, on the Monday a deal was brokered that enabled a peaceful relocation of thousands of Fulani into temporary camps. It remains a very difficult and tense situation.

Christians of the Plateau are living in a state of fear, a state of siege. Bombed in their churches, slaughtered in their homes, they are not even safe in their beds at night. There is more to this than meets the eye: as Christ builds his Church, the spiritual battle intensifies. This trauma has its origins -- and its victory -- in heavenly realms!

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* draw Christian individuals, families, churches and communities ever closer to him -- the LORD of hosts -- for only in him is there comfort, restoration, encouragement, wisdom, justice and 'strength to turn back the battle at the gate'. (See Isaiah 28:5,6.)

* work through Nigerian political, civic and religious leadership to address practical issues of governance and security for the sake of his Church and the spread of the Gospel.

* bind the forces of evil in heavenly realms that seek to exploit human sinfulness to erect bulwarks against the gospel and send the Holy Spirit with quickening power to open eyes, minds and hearts across Nigeria, that Jesus will be exalted and troubled communities might be transformed.

'Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.' (Matthew 18:18 ESV.)

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
----------------------------------------------------------------------
TERROR IN PLATEAU STATE, NIGERIA

On Saturday 7 July some 100 Fulani (Muslim) herdsmen launched attacks on nine Berom (Christian) villages in Riyom and Barkin Ladi Local Government Areas of Plateau State. Wearing bullet-proof vests and armed with sophisticated weapons, they killed 63 people, wounded dozens and torched more than 60 homes. The next day they attacked the funeral, killing another 22. A further 50 bodies were  found later in the burnt-out home of a local pastor who had sheltered fleeing Christians. Boko Haram claimed responsibility but the terror bears all the hallmarks of a Fulani raid aimed at ethnic cleansing and colonisation. Boko Haram incites and participates in the killings, with rogue elements in the military aiding both Boko Haram and the Fulani. Christians are not safe anywhere. Please pray.

Ramadan (Muslim month of fasting) commences on 20 July.
Please visit http://www.30-days.net/ and pray for Muslims through Ramadan.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

RLPB 167. Syria: Christians' plight lost under mountain of propaganda

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 167 | Wed 11 Jul 2012

SYRIA: CHRISTIANS' PLIGHT LOST UNDER MOUNTAIN OF PROPAGANDA
By Elizabeth Kendal

Without a doubt, the greatest lie being told about the Syrian conflict is that it is being waged by President Assad against 'the Syrian people'. This is pure propaganda. In December 2011, the Qatar Foundation conducted a major poll inside Syria to assess the level of support for Assad. (This was before al-Qaeda and other international Salafi jihadists started flooding in, making the crisis worse.) As an advocate of regime change in Syria, Qatar was embarrassed by the results and so buried them. When eventually leaked, the results revealed that 55 percent of Syrians supported President Assad and 68 percent of Syrians disapproved of Arab League sanctions. This makes perfect sense, considering that religious minorities make up 25 percent of Syria's population (Christians are 10 percent) and at least one-third of all Sunni Muslims would be nominal or secular urbanites who likewise do not want to live in an Islamic State. So the main division in Syria is not between Assad and the rest, but between Sunni fundamentalists (including foreign Salafi jihadists) and the rest, i.e. the majority of Syrians.

This is asymmetric warfare: a battle between two unequal forces. The jihadists who quickly hijacked the original protest movement are no match for the Syrian military. Consequently this battle would have been over long ago except that forces keen to counter the Iranian-Shi'ite ascendancy by means of regime change in Syria are arming, training and funding the jihadists. These forces are the US - Saudi Arabia - Gulf Arab axis plus neo-Ottoman Turkey. As noted by Robert D Kaplan and Kamran Bokhari (Stratfor Intelligence), Assad's removal will doubtless hasten Syria's (and Lebanon's) slide into chaos, not slow it. Despite what the US - Saudi - Gulf Arab axis says, this is exactly what it intends with the aim of crippling or at least tying up Iran's allies -- the Syrian Army and Hezballah -- ahead of a military strike on Iran. The US seems to have no long-term perspective and nobody seems to care about the plight of millions of Middle Eastern Christians.

Propaganda is critical in asymmetric warfare. The weaker force (the jihadists) cannot win on their own and need to have a power stronger than the other side intervene on their behalf. To secure a 'humanitarian intervention', the weaker force will inflate and falsify civilian casualty figures, and even create civilian casualties through the use of human shields and 'false flag' operations. ['False flag' operations are those in which the terrorists are disguised as elements of the other side.] The Houla massacre has since been proved to be a 'false flag' operation, committed by Free Syrian Army forces claiming to be pro-government 'thugs'. The dead families were pro-government, mostly non-Sunni, civilians. US-NATO will not intervene militarily as they did when they bombed Belgrade in 1999 and Tripoli in 2011 -- two cities full of civilians -- unless they can make an intervention palatable to voters back home. Hence the US administration's peddling of jihadist propaganda! But the US must find another way to contain or engage Iran, for their present strategy necessitates the totally unacceptable sacrifice of millions of Middle Eastern Christians.

According to church sources inside Syria, Christians are increasingly being targeted and driven out of their homes and districts. Some 138,000 Christians have fled Homs, where Christians have been terrorised and churches have been looted and occupied by rebel forces. At least 9,000 Christians fled the neighbouring western city of Qusayr after the leaders of a rebel faction issued an ultimatum that was repeated from mosque minarets. In areas under rebel control, intolerant, hard-line Sunni fundamentalism is making Muslim-Christian coexistence impossible. For the jihadists, neutrality is not an option, and Christians (and Muslims) refusing to support the jihad are being tortured, expelled and murdered. In a fatwa, Sunni cleric Adnan Arour warned Syrian loyalists: 'We will chop you up and feed you to the dogs.'

For more, see Religious Liberty Monitoring blog
The Syria Crisis: cutting through the propaganda (11 July 2012)

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* redeem this crisis to build up the Church both in numbers -- as people come to faith -- and in faithfulness -- as believers learn to look to and trust the LORD of hosts.
'In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.' (from Isaiah 30:15 ESV)

* stretch out his arm to guide Christians fleeing jihad and terror, leading them where to go, shielding them under his hand, providing all their needs and fending off those who would  harm them.

* turn the hearts of US-NATO leaders who are supporting the jihadists; may they turn from this strategy -- give up on it, find another way -- and put human life before economic and geo-strategic gain; may they become a force for peace, not death.
'The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.' (Proverbs 21:1 ESV)

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
----------------------------------------------------------------------
CHRISTIANS' PLIGHT IN SYRIA LOST UNDER MOUNTAIN OF PROPAGANDA

Syria's Christians are being targeted and forced from their homes. Terror has driven some 138,000 Christians out of Homs and at least 9,000 Christians out of the neighbouring western city of Qusayr where an ultimatum was announced from mosque minarets. For the jihadists, neutrality is not an option: Christians (and Muslims) refusing to support the jihad are being tortured, expelled and murdered. In a fatwa, Sunni cleric Adnan Arour warned Syrian loyalists: 'We will chop you up and feed you to the dogs.' The plight of Christians is being buried under a mountain of propaganda from the jihadists and the US - Saudi - Gulf Arab axis, which is seeking to hurt Iran through regime change in Syria. Please pray for Christians in Syria, including thousands of Assyrian-Chaldean refugees from Iraq.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

RLPB 166. Kenya: church bombings and al-Shabaab

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 166 | Wed 04 Jul 2012

KENYA: CHURCH BOMBINGS AND AL-SHABAAB
By Elizabeth Kendal

Kenyan-assisted military operations to rout al-Shabaab in Somalia are being blessed with success. Gradually, order and security are being restored to large tracts of Somalia. Facing immense pressure, many al-Shabaab militants are shedding their uniforms, ditching their weapons and fleeing south into eastern Kenya where they disappear into the refugee population, sheltered by sympathetic Islamists who have fled war and famine. Just 80km west of the Somalia border and with as many as 500,000 Somali refugees, Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp has become a major security problem for Kenya.  Aid workers have been kidnapped and held hostage in Somalia, mines and grenades have been used to kill Kenyan soldiers, and several refugee leaders have been executed. Many aid organisations no longer let their foreign workers serve in Dadaab because it is simply too dangerous.

Kenya recently experienced its worst terror attack since the 28 November 2002 bombing of the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel in Mombasa when18 died. National police spokesman Eric Kiraithe declared that this most recent attack 'is the worst in terms of the numbers killed, the manner of execution, the anger behind it and the anguish it has aroused as well as the national impact it has had' (Reuters 2 July).

On Sunday 1 July seven militants launched simultaneous attacks on two churches in the eastern town of Garissa (about 90km south-west of Dadaab) at 10:15am. The congregations were at prayer when the militants threw grenades and started shooting. Five militants attacked the Africa Inland Church, killing 17 people (10 instantly) and wounding some 60, including many women and children. The church's two security guards were amongst the dead. The other two militants attacked the Catholic Church just 3km away, leaving three believers wounded.

As Al Jazeera notes (includes 2.24min film), Garissa serves as a military base for Kenyan troops fighting al-Shabaab in Somalia. Whilst the pro-Shabaab Twitter site Al-Kataib boasted of a 'successful operation in Garissa', al-Shabaab has not actually claimed responsibility. This leads many to believe that Dadaab-based al-Shabaab-sympathisers might be to blame, inspired by Boko Haram's attacks on churches in northern Nigeria.

On Monday 2 July Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga told an audience in Garissa that al-Shabaab was acting 'in desperation . . . reacting to the progress made by our forces in Somalia'. He made it clear that Kenya would not be surrendering to terrorists and would continue the fight against al-Shabaab. PM Odinga's assessment is accurate, for al-Shabaab is indeed desperate. Their principal state sponsor, Eritrea, has run out of funds since the fall of Mubarak (Egypt) and Gaddafi (Libya), benefactors keen to help fund belligerence against Ethiopia. The al-Shabaab stronghold of Kismayo, the last major city al-Shabaab controls, is presently surrounded by Kenyan forces that aim to have control of the southern port city by August. As al-Shabaab's remnant transitions from a jihadist force into a terrorist network, war will diminish but terrorism will doubtless escalate and Kenya will be targeted.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* bring healing, comfort and peace to the grieving and traumatised survivors of the 1 July terror attacks in Garissa.

* be an impassable defence, protecting his threatened people, the churches of Kenya. 'As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore.' (Psalm 125:2 ESV)

* lead and empower Somali and Kenyan forces to bring al-Shabaab jihad, repression and terror to a decisive end.

* redeem this suffering and use it to awaken Muslims to the deficiencies of Islam, so that the hearts of Somali and Kenyan Muslims might be made receptive to the Gospel.

* remove all terrorists from the Dadaab refugee camp and turn the hearts of their sympathisers (Proverbs 21:1), so that humanitarian aid and Gospel ministry can resume for the benefit of hundreds of thousands of desperately needy Somalis; may they soon be able to return to secure homes, with food in their stomachs and the gospel seed planted in their hearts.

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
----------------------------------------------------------------------
KENYA: CHURCH BOMBINGS AND AL-SHABAAB


On Sunday morning 1 July, seven militants launched simultaneous attacks on two churches in Garissa in Kenya's east. The congregations were at prayer when militants threw grenades and started shooting. Seventeen people died and some 60 were wounded in the main attack at the Africa Inland Church, while three believers were wounded at the nearby Catholic Church. Garissa serves as a military base for Kenyan troops fighting al-Shabaab in Somalia and is just 90km west of the Dadaab refugee camp, home to some 500,000 desperately needy Somali refugees. Infiltrated by Islamic militants fleeing military operations in Somalia, Dadaab has become a major security problem for Kenya. Please pray for believers in Kenya; also for God's intervention to end al-Shabaab and for the spread of the Gospel amongst Somali and Kenyan Muslims.