Tuesday, February 26, 2013

RLPB 199. February Update; Incl. Libya, Sudan, Tanzania, Bangladesh, Egypt, Kenya, UK

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 199 | Wed 27 Feb 2013

By Elizabeth Kendal

'For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.". . .' (Isaiah 30:15 ESV)

FEBRUARY 2013 UPDATE -- During February we prayed concerning . . . 

* SYRIA (RLPB 196), where a relentless war of attrition drags on.  Murder, kidnapping and criminality are rife. Christians besieged in their homes are struggling without heating, medical aid, food and water. The condition and whereabouts remain unknown of two priests, Fr Michel Kayyal (Armenian Catholic) and Fr Maher Mahfouz (Greek Orthodox), who were kidnapped by rebels on 9 February while travelling from Aleppo to Damascus. Please continue to pray that denominations long wary of each other will stand as one in Christ and care for one another.

* NORTH KOREA (RLPB 197), where nuclear belligerence is used to neutralise all threats and distract from all human rights abuses. Some 200,000 citizens are incarcerated in the State gulag, including tens of thousands of Christians.

* LIBYA, SUDAN & TANZANIA (RLPB 198)

LIBYA, where Christian expatriates, including several Egyptians, a Swedish-American, a South African and a South Korean, were arrested in Benghazi, the capital of Cyrenaica. They stand accused of proselytising, a criminal offence that carries a maximum penalty of death.

UPDATE: The primary target of the persecution seems to be an Egyptian Christian businessman named Sherif, who runs a bookshop in Benghazi and whose stock includes Christian books intended for sale to the many expatriate Arabic speaking Christians living and working there. According to Middle East Concern (MEC), the other Christians, who are language teachers and businessmen, appear to have been targeted due to their relationship with Sherif. MEC reports that Sherif, arrested on 10 February, has been 'physically mistreated repeatedly' in custody. This is unsurprising, as the Libyan authorities would be well aware that, unlike Western authorities, the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt is not going to rise up in defence of an Egyptian Christian 'proselytiser'. Consequently the situation for the Egyptians is particularly serious. Tensions are high in Cyrenaica, the birthplace of the Libyan revolution. Cyrenaicans who had been fighting for the restoration of the 1951 federalist constitution feel betrayed by the US and NATO's restoration of centralised government in Tripoli. The situation has empowered the jihadists. According to Fides, all Catholic orders (except one group of nuns) have left Cyrenaica because of death threats.

SUDAN, where two Coptic priests had been arrested for baptising an Arab woman (an apostate) amidst a dramatic escalation in persecution.

UPDATE: According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW, 20 February), at least 55 Christians are being held by the Sudanese government despite no charges having been laid. Arabic-language media reports (Arabic) that a systematic persecution is under way in which schools and colleges owned and run by Christians are being closed and foreign Christians are being deported. Muslim clerics are lobbying the regime for laws to be enacted to address the problem of 'Christianisation'. Sudan's pro-government media are calling for 'missionaries' involved in 'Christianisation' to be punished according Sudanese Criminal Law. Article 125 provides a penalty of up to six months in prison, or a fine, or up to 40 lashes to those found guilty of offending religious sentiment. Pray for the Church in Sudan.

TANZANIA, where a Protestant pastor was beheaded during a violent Muslim pogrom in Geita on 11 February, and a Catholic priest was assassinated on church grounds before Mass on Zanzibar on 17 February.

UPDATE:
TANZANIA: PERSECUTION, INJUSTICE, APPEASEMENT AND IMPUNITY

Only two days after Fr Mushi was assassinated on Zanzibar, three men attacked the security guard at the Evangelical Church of Siloam in Kianga, Zanzibar, before setting fire to the building. This was the second time the church had been attacked. Furthermore, as reported in Religious Liberty Monitoring (RLM, 19 Feb 2013) Protestant pastor Isaya Rutta and two church members have been charged with inciting the killing of Pastor Mathayo Kachili by daring to prepare meat on church grounds, bypassing the Muslim halal butchers! Nobody has been arrested for beheading Pastor Kachili (43, married with 11 children). That a totally unjustifiable, uncivilised and deadly Islamic pogrom should be followed by 'blame-the-victim' injustice is shocking! Appeasement and impunity will guarantee escalation. These are critical days for Tanzania.


FEBRUARY 2013 ROUND-UP -- also this month . . .

* BANGLADESH: TRAFFICKERS TARGETING POOR CHRISTIANS

In a crime that is becoming increasingly common in Bangladesh, traffickers approach poor, tribal Christians offering to take their children to Christian boarding schools in Dhaka. The parents pay around 15,000 taka (about USD183) believing their children are going to receive a Christian education. The trafficker then sells the children to an Islamic madrassa. There they are given Muslim names and Islamised before being sold (usually abroad) either as slaves or potential suicide bombers. According to Fides (5 Oct 2012), the practice targets mainly the children of ethnic Tripura, and is common especially in the mountainous area of 'Chittagong Hill Tracts'. On 3 February, 19 children aged between 5 and 12 were unwittingly placed into the care of a trafficker named Binoy. On this occasion, however, some of the children became suspicious and escaped, raising the alarm. Their parents contacted local youths studying at Dhaka University who intercepted Binoy's bus and rescued the children. A further 55 children have been rescued out of madrassas in Dhaka so far this year. Sources believe at least 200 children are in need of rescue. Pray that God will facilitate this. May the criminals be caught and punished; and may God supply all the needs of Bangladesh's Christian poor, including education.

* EGYPT: CHRISTIANS INCREASINGLY VULNERABLE

In September 2012, two boys, Nabil Naji Rizq (10) and Mina Nadi Faraj (9), were accused of defiling pages of a Qur'an. The boys -- both illiterate -- claim they found the pages in garbage where they were playing. After a week of detention and questioning in a juvenile facility, they were charged under Article 160 of the penal code which criminalises damage to or violation of religious 'buildings, symbols or other objects'. Middle East Concern reports that on 4 February the court ruled that the boys be permitted to return to their families, but they were not acquitted. 'Legally, this means they are considered guilty but are too young to face punishment.' Consequently these boys remain convicted and at risk of reprisals. Accusations of blasphemy are increasing in Egypt.  Also, AINA reports that on Friday 15 February, Muslims in the village of Sarsena, 103km south-west of Cairo, responded to Salafi incitement by stoning and setting fire to the Church of St George.  The dome and the cross were destroyed. Parts of the interior were demolished and icons were defaced and destroyed. Father Domadios was being stoned when a Muslim family drove up and rescued him in their car. There have also been reports of jihadist groups threatening Christians with death if they do not convert to Islam.

* KENYA: ELECTIONS 4 MARCH

Kenya is about to have its first elections under its new constitution which was passed in an August 2010 referendum. [To help understand the issues and the risks, see 'KENYA's churches oppose draft Constitution over concerns about abortion, 'Balkanisation' and Kadhi (Islamic) courts.' (RLM, 16 June 2010).] In short, the new constitution enshrined Kadhi (Islamic) courts and divided Kenya into 47 self-governing ethnic counties (majimbo). The Islamic Courts have inflamed Muslim-Christian tensions, whilst majimbo is a recipe for 'negative ethnicity' (ethnic hatred / bias) and polarisation. The only people to benefit from majimbo are the ethnic political elite. Politicians who opposed the introduction of Islamic Courts and the division of the land along ethnic lines were accused of 'scaremongering' and charged with 'hate speech'. Kenya, which is 82 percent 'Christian' and supposedly secular, goes to the polls on 4 March. The last time Kenya went to the polls (2007) over 1000 people died in ethnic violence. Far more power is at stake this time, with governors being elected in 47 ethnic counties. Pray for the Church in Kenya.

* UK: PUBLIC SERVANTS HAVE NO RIGHT TO OPT OUT
(updating RLPB 195, 29 Jan 2013)

The UK's Equalities and Human Rights Commission has deemed religious liberty a 'qualified right' which 'the state can interfere with' in some circumstances. The equality regulator has ruled that whilst employees working in the public sector -- specifically marriage registrars, teachers and chaplains -- should be free to express their views on marriage without being disciplined, they are not free to 'opt out' of duties because of religious beliefs. That means religious beliefs -- currently just Christian beliefs -- will not be accommodated. A survey has revealed that whilst 74,000 British teachers (17 percent of all teachers) said they would teach 'the importance' of same-sex marriage (as required) but would not be happy about it, a further 40,000 teachers said they will refuse to teach on 'the importance' of same-sex marriage despite knowing they may face disciplinary action or dismissal. Pray for Christians in the UK; may they be 'Not Ashamed' despite the cost.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

RLPB 198. Libya & Sudan: Christians facing death for their witness

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 198 | Wed 20 Feb 2013

LIBYA & SUDAN: CHRISTIANS FACING DEATH FOR THEIR WITNESS
        -- also, vigilant prayer requested for Tanzania.

By Elizabeth Kendal

Islam is a totalitarian, all-encompassing system of life. Blasphemy (criticism) and apostasy (rejection) are punishable by death for not only are blasphemers and apostates regarded as enemies and traitors to Islam, they are also a source of fitna. Fitna is anything that could test or challenge the faith of Muslims and so cause 'chaos'. Rather than encouraging and equipping its adherents to face, endure and overcome fitna, Islam mandates that fitna be eliminated (Qur'an Sura 8:39). Nothing challenges Muslims to doubt Islam's superiority more than the presence of reasoned, joyful, thriving non-Muslims -- especially apostates. This is why Sharia Law requires Christians to be subjugated and humiliated. This is why Muslim-majority states have long prohibited Christian witness amongst Muslims. This is why in Islamic states apostates may be murdered with impunity (Qur'an Sura 2:190-191).  Jesus said, 'And they will do these things [persecute you] because they have not known the Father, nor me.' (John 16:3 ESV.) Therefore if persecution is to cease it is imperative that Muslims come to know the triune God of the Bible.

LIBYA: FOUR FOREIGN CHRISTIANS ARRESTED

On 12 February four foreigners -- a Swedish-American, Egyptian, South African and South Korean -- were arrested in Benghazi, the capital of Cyrenaica, Libya. They were arrested by Preventative Security, an intelligence unit of the defence ministry, at a publishing house where they were found with 45,000 books about Christianity. The authorities believe that some 25,000 books had already been distributed. As The Guardian reports (17 February), the new, post-'Arab Spring' Libya has retained 'a law from the Muammar Gaddafi era that makes proselytising a criminal offence potentially punishable by death'. 'Proselytising is forbidden in Libya,' explained security official Hussein Bin Hmeid. 'We are a 100 percent Muslim country and this kind of action affects our national security.' [In other words, providing information risks unleashing 'chaos'.] The Christians will face court in the coming days and their prospects are grim. When addressing crowds in Benghazi on 17 February, the president of the General National Congress, Mohammed El Magariaf, promised that the new Constitution would enshrine Islamic Sharia Law as the principal source of legislation. Furthermore, Salafi groups -- who have bulldozed Sufi mosques, destroyed war cemeteries, bombed Red Cross offices, fired shots at a Greek Orthodox church and bombed a Coptic church killing two Egyptian Christians -- will doubtless demand these 'enemies' receive the maximum penalty (death), to make an example of them.

SUDAN: TWO COPTIC PRIESTS ARRESTED

In December 2012 a significant Arab woman fled the country after converting to Christianity. The Islamist regime responded by arresting two Coptic priests who stand accused of baptising her, as well as the six Coptic women they claim were involved in her conversion. Then the regime arrested the Coptic Bishop of Khartoum, Bishop Anba Elia, demanding that he apologise for the 'isolated incident' (as if no other Muslim had ever converted). He refused. Eventually and doubtless under duress, the Coptic bishop of Omdurman issued the apology to secure Bishop Elia's release, preserve 'relations between Muslims and Copts' and 'maintain the security and integrity of the state' (Report in Arabic). The two Coptic priests remain in detention, their condition and whereabouts unknown. Being local citizens, they are without consular access and deportation is not an option, hence their situation is more serious. Furthermore, a little-known group calling itself Al-Qaeda in the Nilien States sent a statement to Sudanese journalists  threatening violence against Copts unless the woman who fled from Sudan is returned, maintaining she has been 'kidnapped' by Christians. This incident comes at a time when Khartoum is escalating persecution (report in Arabic), having promised to incorporate Sharia Law into a new, fully Islamised constitution.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT THE LORD WILL --

* fill these prisoners -- the four foreigners in Libya and the two Coptic priests in Sudan -- with spiritual, emotional and physical strength that they might know the powerful sustaining presence and love of Christ amidst this severe trial.

* thwart any wicked plots against his Church: plots by terrorists, totalitarian regimes or intolerant neighbours. 'Break the arm [the means] of the wicked and evildoer . . .' (Psalm 10:15a ESV)

* redeem this suffering to awaken many to the reality of the repressiveness of Islam and of their own 'captivity'. 'Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.' (1 Corinthians 15:58 NKJV)

With this in mind, especially pray for those Libyans who have already received scriptures: 'For the word of God is living and active . . .' (Hebrews 4:12); For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes . . .' (Romans 1:16)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIANS IN LIBYA & SUDAN FACING DEATH FOR THEIR WITNESS


Four foreign Christians have been arrested at a publishing house in Benghazi, Libya. They were found with 45,000 books on Christianity. Some 25,000 books are believed to have been distributed already. Their situation looks grim, with the new regime promising to incorporate Sharia Law in the new constitution and belligerent Salafi Islamists perpetrating all manner of religious violence with impunity. In Libya the maximum penalty for evangelising Muslims is death. Also, in Sudan two Coptic priests have been imprisoned for their role in baptising a female Arab Muslim convert to Christianity. Their condition and whereabouts are unknown. Because they are local citizens and not foreigners, their plight is particularly serious. Please pray that the Lord will sustain and bless these prisoners and redeem their suffering.

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URGENT UPDATE -- VIGILANT PRAYER NEEDED

TANZANIA: ASSASSINATIONS AND THREATS

As Fr Evarist Mushi was parking his car at the Catholic church in Zanzibar on Sunday 17 February he was ambushed by three men on a motorbike and murdered. This assassination comes after the Christmas Day shooting of Fr Ambrose Mkenda (RLPB 191) who is still in hospital. On 11 February Protestant Pastor Mathayo Kachili was beheaded in the north-western region of Geita, on the Tanzanian mainland (see Religious Liberty Monitoring for details and context). Claiming responsibility for assassinating Fr Mushi, a group calling itself 'Muslim Renewal' has vowed to make this Easter season 'one of disaster'.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
"Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today"
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

RLPB 197. North Korea: exposing the terrors of the gulag

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 197 | Wed 13 Feb 2013

NORTH KOREA: EXPOSING THE TERRORS OF THE GULAG

By Elizabeth Kendal

In North Korea loyalty to and worship of the ruling Kim family is mandatory, as is acquiescence to the doctrine of juche (self-reliance). The official website of North Korea (DPRK) states: 'The Juche idea is based on the philosophical principle that man is the master of everything and decides everything. It is the man-centred world outlook and also a political philosophy to materialise the independence of the popular masses . . .' Consequently, being a Christian is a serious political crime in North Korea. Some 200,000 'criminals' are incarcerated in the secretive State's gulag, including tens of thousands of Christians. Possession of a Bible is punishable by public execution (see here for a reported case). To eliminate disloyal family lines, the regime's policy dictates that three generations of any dissident be incarcerated in concentration labour camps where starvation and gross cruelty ensure the death rate is kept high. It is almost beyond belief that this horrific reality could have endured for more than 60 years. Refugee survivors such as Soon Ok Lee have testified that Christian prisoners are treated even more harshly than other political prisoners (Soon Ok Lee's testimony.) As survivors' testimonies become available, the terrors of the North Korean gulag are exposed.

On Tuesday 19 February refugee survivors Shin Dong-Hyuk and Kang Chol-Hwan will headline the 5th annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy. The event is organised by a coalition of some 20 non-government organisations (NGOs) headed by UN Watch. We must pray that their testimonies are widely reported and effective in raising awareness of this horror. When Kang addressed the Oslo Freedom Forum in 2010, he described conditions in the camps as 'similar to that of Hitler's Auschwitz'.

Shin Dong-Hyuk's testimony is unique as he is the only known surviving escapee from a North Korean 'total control zone' camp. Three generations of Shin's family had been incarcerated after the Korean War as punishment for his grandfather's and uncle's defections. Shin was born and raised in Camp 14. When he was about 22 Shin met a new prisoner, Park, who had been on the outside and even in China. Until then, Shin had been totally unaware that an alternative reality even existed. One day the starving pair decided to escape. Park died in the attempt, but Shin eventually found his way to China and subsequently to South Korea. His testimony of life in Camp 14 is absolutely shocking. He says perpetual starvation drives prisoners to hunt rats and insects for food. He recalls the public execution of his mother and brother, along with the torture meted out to him when he was 13. The transcript and video of Shin's testimony, 'Three Generations of Punishment', is available on the CBS News and Geneva Summit websites.

When three generations of Kang Chol-hwan's family were incarcerated in 1977, he was only 9. Kang survived 10 years in Camp 15 at Yodok. His testimony is remarkably similar to Shin's, except that Kang was released in 1987 after his 'disloyal' grandparents died. Kang subsequently fled to China after being alerted that security police were coming to arrest him for listening to foreign radio broadcasts. Today Kang lives in South Korea, where he works as a journalist and human rights advocate. He became a Christian in South Korea, and in 2005, when US President GW Bush read his biography -- The Aquariums of Pyongyang -- and invited him to Washington, Kang saw the incredible exposure that meeting gave his cause as an answer to his prayers. Eight years later Kang is still praying and raising awareness at every opportunity.

North Korea has the fourth largest army in the world and is the most militarised nation on the planet. Military personnel are privileged -- they get food and heating! The regime does not care about anyone else -- they can all starve! North Korea wants re-unification, but only on its terms -- the regime desires the day when the North will devour the South. The only thing keeping North Korea from swallowing up South Korea is the US, which is why North Korea wants American forces out of South Korea.  On Tuesday 12 February North Korea conducted another nuclear test, the dual purpose of which is deterrence and maintenance. 'Without this threat,' writes Sohn Gwang Joo, Director of Daily NK, 'there would be no other way for Pyongyang to obtain Washington's attention. A North Korea without nuclear weapons is just a regime burdened by economic woes, inflicting human rights abuses on its people, suffering defections and battling with bottom-up marketisation. Only with nuclear weapons are they able to maintain their regime, hidden away from the world. This is how they keep their people in chains: through military tension.'

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT THE LORD WILL:

* bless Shin and Kang and use their testimonies to awaken multitudes to the reality of North Korea; may international fascination with the entertaining yet criminal Kims be replaced with a commitment to ending the appalling suffering of multitudes.  

* draw his Church into prayer for North Korea -- and then answer her prayer, giving a spirit of  wisdom to those making decisions and strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate (see  Isaiah 28:5,6).

* infiltrate North Korea in a new and surprising way, bringing peace and liberty to his 'Chosun' (ethnic Korean) people.  'The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof . . . Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.' (Psalm 24:1a,9 ESV)

* use Shin and Kang's testimonies to soften the hearts of South Koreans that they might have the love and sacrificial generosity required to heal North Korea after its more than 60 years of captivity.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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EXPOSING THE TERRORS OF THE NORTH KOREA GULAG


It is a serious political crime to be a Christian in North Korea. Three generations of a criminal's family are incarcerated in the gulag where starvation and gross cruelty ensure the death rate remains high. Possession of a Bible is a capital offence. It is almost unbelievable that this horrific reality could have lasted more than 60 years. Today, up to 200,000 Koreans are incarcerated, including tens of thousands of Christians. As testimonies of refugees become known, the terrors of the gulag are exposed. On 19 February Shin Dong-Hyuk and Kang Chol-Hwan, two refugees who have survived the gulag, will headline the fifth annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy. Please pray God will use these testimonies and bring peace and liberty to his 'Chosun' (ethnic Korean) people.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
"Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today"
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

RLPB 196. SYRIA: descending into 'hell'

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 196 | Wed 06 Feb 2013

SYRIA: DESCENDING INTO 'HELL'

By Elizabeth Kendal

Historically one of the safest, most hospitable places for Christians in the Middle East, Syria is descending into 'hell'. Hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis, the 'Arab Spring' has morphed into a Sunni Ascendency in which intolerant, totalitarian, fundamentalist Islam is rising to subjugate all moderate, secular and pluralist elements, while terrorists seek to eliminate them.

George Shalhoub (63) is the founder and pastor of St Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church in Livonia, a western suburb of Detroit, Michigan, USA. He grew up in the Christian quarter of Hama, Syria, and told the Detroit Free Press that it was 'an idyllic life'. He notes that the Christians were safe whilst surrounded by Muslims. 'We played in their mosques, and they played in the courtyard of our church. We were safe. We visited each other, and were part of each other's lives. I never once felt discriminated against by the Muslims. It was the happiest time of my life.' Today, however, there is only sectarian strife and bloodshed.  Rev Joseph Antypasc (65), pastor at St George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Troy (about 30km north of Detroit), adds that before the uprising, Syria was 'extremely secular . . . You had equal opportunity, rights for women . . . separation of church and state.' Today, however, Islamic jihadists are destroying churches and driving Christians out through intimidation -- including death threats -- and forced Islamisation. Antypasc's testimony confirms other reports that Islamists are setting up Emirs (Muslim rulers) and enacting Sharia law in areas they control. 'Our country (the US) is fighting against al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but in Syria, we're supporting them,' Antipasc observes. 'That's bewildering to me.'

In December 2012 the West recognised the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) while proscribing al-Qaeda in Iraq's al-Nusrah Front as a terrorist organisation. The SNC denounced this, maintaining that al-Nusrah is an ally, a label 29 Syrian opposition groups rose to support. Now Turkey (a US ally) is using al-Nusrah as a proxy to fight the Kurds (another US ally). Recently al-Nusrah banded with nine other jihadist groups in the Syrian province of Deir al Zour and formed a Mujahideen Shura Council, the aim of which is to integrate jihadist groups under a central command. On 21 January 2013 Stratfor Intelligence reported that eleven Syrian opposition groups had declared the formation of the 'Unified Syrian Islamic Front'.  Whilst the al-Nusrah Front has refused to join, the groups will co-ordinate in the field. Furthermore, 'The two sides will establish a joint Sharia court that is called "Sharia Society Court in the City of Aleppo".' So the West is supporting the 'good' jihadists which are openly and unashamedly allied to the 'bad' jihadists (al-Qaeda)! When has this strategy ever worked?

Fides reports that kidnappings for ransom and intimidation are becoming endemic, especially in the Kurdish and Assyrian/Syriac-dominated north-east, south of Kurdish-dominated eastern Turkey and west of Assyrian-homeland Nineveh Province, northern Iraq. Fides reported on 4 February that in recent weeks 'there were fifty kidnappings, and almost half against Christians' in the city of Al-Hasakah, Syria (about 120km due west of Mosul, Iraq).

A Protestant pastor writes from Aleppo: 'The people of Aleppo are living without fuel for heating homes, no gas for cooking, no water, no electricity, no medicines, no doctors, no bread, and the prices of the daily necessities are five times more.' He tells of people begging for heating fuel, crying for bread and medicines and trying in vain to sell their possessions in order to buy basic necessities. He reports that extreme stress is leaving new mothers unable to produce milk for their babies, while families who have become homeless are literally starving and freezing. No longer moved by bombs and bullets, acquiring food is their only thought. Clearly aid is desperately needed. 'Our Shelter and Refuge is our LORD (Psalm 91),' he writes. 'HE is keeping us . . . HE is our HOPE.'  The pastor says that while most church activities are 'frozen', he 'thanks God that every Sunday morning, 75-85 people are coming to church for Worship Service'. They are risking their lives to walk there, just so they can pray together 'for the Prince of Peace to change people's hearts and minds, [so that] human beings [will] live peacefully with God and with each other'.

[An expanded version of this prayer bulletin will be available on Religious Liberty Monitoring shortly.]

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT --

* the Holy Spirit will awaken Syrian believers and churches to the critical need for spiritual unity and Christian solidarity amidst suffering; may the fear that fuels self-interest and suspicion be decisively, supernaturally countered by an infusion of brotherly love and radical faith in our Sovereign Lord. 

* God our Father will draw his people into prayer and then answer their prayers, energising their faith and providing their needs according to his promise: 'Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things [basic necessities] will be added to you' (from Matthew 6:25-34). 'Ask, and it will be given to you . . . [For] how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!' (from Matthew 7:7-11 ESV).

* the Prince of Peace -- the risen Lord Jesus Christ -- will awaken people to the folly and hopelessness of their ways; may people's hearts and minds be drawn to peace and reconciliation with God and with each other, so that peace and life might return to Syria, outwitting the one who seeks 'only to steal and kill and destroy' (John 10:10 ESV).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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SYRIA -- DESCENDING INTO 'HELL'


Historically one of the most hospitable places for Christians in the Middle East, Syria is descending into 'hell'. Hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis, the 'Arab Spring' has morphed into a Sunni Ascendency in which intolerant, fundamentalist Islam is subjugating and eliminating moderate and pluralist elements. The West is allied to the 'good' jihadists who are in turn allied to the 'bad' jihadists (al-Qaeda). Co-existence is being replaced with sectarian bloodletting. Secularism is being replaced with Islamisation. Jihadists are kidnapping, terrorising and killing Christians and destroying churches. Like most civilians caught in this civil war, Christians are suffering extreme hardship without medicines, doctors, heating, food and water. A Protestant pastor reports from Aleppo that starvation is now a greater concern than bombs. Please pray for the Church in Syria.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
"Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today"
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)