Tuesday, December 16, 2014

RLPB 291. Towards 2015: Jesus Christ, Eternal King

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 291 | Wed 17 Dec 2014

It has long been my practice to break only between Christmas and New Year. This year, however, I will be taking a much-needed extended break to refresh and to devote myself to finishing a second book. The next Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin will be a January Update on 28 January 2015. Anybody requiring prayer requests for church bulletins or intercessions should refer to the Critical Prayer Requests (CPR) site. If there is a need to inform intercessors of a critical situation requiring urgent prayer, an alert will be issued.

Of course, as intercessors we should cultivate the habit of reading or watching the news with our 'religious liberty' and 'persecuted church' radar switched on, always considering what the implications of the news might be for the Gospel and for the Church and praying accordingly. For example: though unsensational and therefore under-reported, the following news grabbed my attention and inspired prayer.

source: ABC (12 Dec)
On Saturday 13 December, North Korea's deaf football team played a 'friendly' match against Australia's deaf football team in Sydney's Olympic Park. As Hannah Belcher reported for SBS news: '[The Korean] Church group World Milal Australia organised the event with the help of Deaf Football Australia, with parishioners hosting the players in their own Sydney homes.' [SBS news clip with video.] This contact was undoubtedly a miracle in answer to the prayers of many. Why do we persevere in prayer for North Korea and for so many other seemingly hopeless causes? We pray because we believe they are not hopeless, for Jesus Christ is the Eternal King and 'of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end ...' (Isaiah 9:7).

May all intercessors have a blessed, joyous and hope-inspiring Christmas.

~ ~ ~ ~

TOWARDS 2015: JESUS CHRIST, ETERNAL KING

A devotional by Elizabeth Kendal

In 735 BC, as Judah's neighbours conspired against her, God asked Judah's King Ahaz to be 'firm in faith' (Isaiah 7:1-9) and trust God to be faithful to his promise [the Davidic covenant of 2 Samuel 7:8-17]. He even offered to give Ahaz a sign to help him have faith to believe. Unfortunately Ahaz rejected the Lord's offer; he did not want to walk by faith for he had other plans. Disgusted, the prophet Isaiah then revealed that the Lord himself would give a sign: 'Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.' (Isaiah 7:14) Subsequently, Isaiah forewarned his disciples that Ahaz's faithless choice would lead to disaster: the Assyrian invasion (prophesied in Isaiah 8, fulfilled in 701 BC). 'But,' he added, 'there will be no gloom ... For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end ...' (Excerpts from Isaiah 9:1-7 ESV)

Whilst Ahaz's son, Hezekiah, was an interim fulfilment of this prophecy, he merely prefigured Jesus Christ, for the ultimate fulfilment is Immanuel (which means, 'God with us'). A godly king who revived Judah's worship of Yahweh, Hezekiah temporarily succumbed to pride before returning to the Lord at the critical moment. As prophesied, the Assyrian army overflowed its banks and flooded the land of Judah, sweeping away all those earthly instruments in which the Lord's people had vainly put their hopes. With the fall of Jerusalem imminent and inevitable, the godly King Hezekiah humbled himself and stood firm in faith. Donning the sackcloth of mourning, he entered the Lord's temple and prayed. His prayer achieved what his works could not as God intervened and the battle was turned back at the gate (Isaiah 36-37).  The remnant was spared by grace through faith.

Jesus Christ, the king born of David's line, is the ultimate fulfilment. Like Hezekiah, Jesus has interposed himself between a just and righteous God and a people in need of salvation. Unlike Hezekiah, Jesus is perfect and eternal. Whilst the spiritual battle has already been turned back -- for Christ's victory on the cross has ensured the outcome -- local battles will continue 'until he has put all his enemies under his feet' (from 1 Corinthians 15:24-28).  Though the 'mopping up' is messy, painful and difficult; despite episodes of chaos, darkness and seeming hopelessness; the promise remains: 'Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end ... .' (Isaiah 9:7) So we will resist despair and refuse to give up. We will press on in faith with witness and intercession believing that 'the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea' (Isaiah 11:9).  As the angel told Mary, 'Nothing will be impossible for God.' (Luke 1:37) May we believe, as Mary believed, that God will fulfil his word (Luke 1:45).

Lord God our Father and Eternal King, 
we commit ourselves to another year in your service, 
to intercede in confident faith for your precious, persecuted Church. 
                  AMEN

[For complete study on a Biblical response to persecution and threat, based on Isaiah 1-39, see: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today, by Elizabeth Kendal (Deror Books, Dec 2012)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS 
---------------------------------------------
NORTH KOREA: NOT HOPELESS

On Saturday 13 December North Korea's deaf football team played a 'friendly' match against Australia's deaf football team in Sydney's Olympic Park. Furthermore '[The Korean] Church group World Milal Australia organised the event with the help of Deaf Football Australia, with parishioners hosting the players in their Sydney homes.' This contact was undoubtedly a miracle in answer to the prayers of many. May we persevere in prayer for many seemingly hopeless causes because we believe they are not hopeless, for Jesus Christ is the Eternal King and 'Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end ... .' (Isaiah 9:7) Lord, we commit ourselves to another year in your service, to intercede in confident faith for your precious, persecuted Church. Amen.

------------------------------------------------------------

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

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

RLPB 290. Towards 2015: the world has changed.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 290 | Wed 10 Dec 2014

TOWARDS 2015: THE WORLD HAS CHANGED
-- and the Church must rise to meet the challenge.
By Elizabeth Kendal

* DISPLACED & TRAUMATISED
As we head into 2015, hundreds of thousands of Christians are struggling to survive as refugees or IDPs (internally displaced peoples).
source
Driven from their historic homeland in Upper Mesopotamia, hundreds of thousands of Assyrian Christians are struggling in camps and shared accommodation across Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. Having lost everything, they are dependent on Christian aid groups and local churches for their day-to-day survival. Around 150,000 Assyrian IDPs are in Iraqi Kurdistan (and some in Baghdad) being sheltered in churches, schools, shopping centres and by local believers. Arriving with only the clothes on their backs, they too are dependent on the generosity of others. In Sudan, many thousands of Christians have been driven from their homes in South Kordofan state by the genocidal regime in Khartoum. Tens of thousands have fled to camps in South Sudan. Tens of thousands seek shelter in caves and trenches in the Nuba Mountains awaiting Khartoum's threatened Final Solution. The number of Christians displaced by Islamic militants in Nigeria, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo is quite enormous. Of course their needs are beyond the material, for these refugees and IDPs have been traumatised by war, with most having lost loved ones. Understandably, their faith is sorely tested.

As we head into 2015, will we commit to living simply and supporting a Christian aid group so our brothers and sisters might simply live? As we head into 2015, will we commit to pray for the displaced?

* CAPTIVE & ENSLAVED
As we head into 2015, people are slowly becoming aware that slavery is alive and flourishing in the 21st Century and growing at an alarming rate. The victims are commonly from poor and marginalised communities; many are persecuted Christians. Today thousands of Christians exist as bonded labourers in Pakistan and as trapped labourers in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf.
source
Today thousands of Christian suffer as sex slaves to Islamic jihadists in Northern Nigeria, Cameroon and 'Islamic State', and as chattel slaves of Sudanese and Gulf Arabs. Christians fleeing persecution in the Horn of Africa are snatched from camps and trafficked into the Sinai where they are tortured to extort ransom payments. Committed Christian abolitionists and anti-trafficking activists are getting busier, rescuing captives and redeeming slaves with full knowledge that nothing will change until the culture changes through spiritual transformation.

As we head into 2015, will we commit to supporting the spread of the Gospel, for the witness of the Word and the Spirit? As we head into 2015, will we commit to pray for the captives?

'IN RETURNING and in rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.' Isaiah 30:15 has long been a favourite verse for many. It is easy to see why -- it is a beautiful verse, almost poetic. Yes, it rolls off the tongue so easily. Yet one look at the context and the verse becomes much more challenging. God spoke these words to his people at a time when they faced invasion, conquest, destruction, displacement, massacre and captivity. As their powerful enemy bore down on them, the Lord's people looked everywhere for help -- except to the Lord. Meanwhile, they did everything in their strength (busy, busy, busy) -- except pray (Isaiah 22:8b-11). As the storm clouds loomed the Lord God said: 'In returning and in rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.' But they were 'unwilling', preferring to do things their way (v16). So the Lord waited (refrained from acting), for the promised salvation would only come by grace through faith, which is the Lord's paradigm. No wonder the passage concludes: 'blessed are those who wait for [trust in] him' (v18). [Isaiah 30:15-18]

As we head into 2015, will we commit to serious faith-building so we might reach out in faith to seek grace from the Lord?

'Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord ...' (from Exodus 14:10-14).

* THE WORLD HAS CHANGED
We have entered an age where mission and persecution must be seen as inseparable; where the needs of the Body are so enormous they simply must be shared globally; where faith-building is imperative for the purpose of survival; and where worship must have room for indignation, lament and the very serious business of intercessory prayer.

As we head into 2015, will we commit to this?


DEAR FATHER WE PRAY
that we might have an insight into your heart, which grieves over the suffering Body of Christ. May the Holy Spirit work in us, that we might weep with those who weep while serving the persecuted as comforters and advocates. May the Holy Spirit change us that we will give of our time, our funds, our energy and our possessions willingly for the benefit of believers in desperate need (Acts 2:42-47). Please Lord, fan our flickering faith into flame, that we might truly believe that Jesus Christ is 'able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us' (Ephesians 3:20).  May 2015 be a year of awakening, transformation and sanctification, for the sake of those who suffer for Christ, and for the glory of God. 
Amen.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS 
-------------------------------------------------------------
TOWARDS 2015

Heading into 2015, we need to accept that the world has changed. The number of Christians displaced by war, threatened by terrorism, destroyed by violent persecution, crushed by crippling discrimination and even held captive as slaves is growing at an alarming rate. We have entered an age where mission and persecution must be seen as inseparable; where the needs of the Body are so enormous they simply must be shared globally; where faith-building is imperative for the purpose of survival; and where worship must have room for indignation, lament and the very serious business of intercessory prayer. As we head into 2015, will we commit to this? Pray for the persecuted, and for the Lord to revive his Church. For salvation comes from the Lord, by grace through faith.

------------------------------------------------------------

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


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

RLPB 289. Towards 2015: India, Nigeria and the UK

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 289 | Wed 03 Dec 2014

TOWARDS 2015: INDIA, NIGERIA and the UK
By Elizabeth Kendal

* INDIA: CATHEDRAL TORCHED IN NATIONAL CAPITAL

India's April-May elections saw Hindu nationalists win majority control of the federal parliament. With anti-Christian Hindutva ideology legitimised and entrenched, it was inevitable that persecution would escalate.
source
In the early hours of Monday 1 December fire-fighters were called to St Sebastian's Catholic Cathedral (built 2001) in Dilshad Garden in the Indian capital, New Delhi. It appears that kerosene was used to fuel the blaze which completely gutted the entire interior. [See NDTV news clip.] 'There has been absolute desecration,' lamented Fr Stanley Kozhichira, the media director of the Delhi archdiocese, 'it's like standing on a funeral pyre.' That evening some 3000 local people attended a candlelight vigil. Church leaders are pressing the government for compensation and an independent inquiry. Parish priest, Fr Anthony Francis, appealed for Indians to preserve the fabric of society. 'A level of intolerance is developing,' he said, 'and this is only getting worse.' Should the government fail to act against intolerance in the national capital, it will signal a green light to escalate violence everywhere.

PLEASE PRAY that our merciful and gracious Lord will move in the hearts of Indians so they will reject violence, demand justice, pursue peace and recognise truth. May the Lord preserve, revive, sanctify and build his Church in India. '... casting all your cares on him, because he cares for you.' (1 Peter 5:7 ESV) May the Lord intervene to turn back the battle.

* NIGERIA: FALLING APART

Boko Haram is escalating its attacks in an effort to expand its Caliphate across north-east Nigeria. The situation is not helped by divisions and corruption in the Nigerian military, with some soldiers aiding jihadists and others perpetrating war crimes. In fact the terror being perpetrated by the military and its civilian Joint Task Force (JTF) is so extreme that a coalition of nine civil society groups has filed a suit in a Federal High Court in Abuja seeking an order to compel the President to launch an investigation. Nigeria recently ended co-operation with the US after the US refused to provide attack helicopters, citing the military's horrendous human rights record. With Boko Haram spreading into Cameroon, a coalition force is being assembled comprised of 3500 soldiers from Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Benin and Chad; it is expected to be operational within weeks. The situation is also not helped by oppositional political forces having sponsored and fuelled the destabilisation of Nigeria with the aim of discrediting President Goodluck Jonathan ahead of the February 2015 elections. [See RLPB 279, September Update]. Furthermore, the OPEC oil-price war -- which is aimed primarily at forcing Russia to reverse its policy on Syria -- is hitting Nigeria hard, further elevating the risk of widespread unrest. With sectarian tensions soaring and the economy in meltdown, the 14 Feb 2015 presidential poll could be explosive.

PLEASE PRAY that our merciful and gracious Lord will protect and preserve the church in the north while reviving, sanctifying and energising the church in the south. May the Holy Spirit visit Nigeria in a powerful way, so that the Church will arise to turn back the battle. May God redeem all suffering so that what was meant for evil might turn out for good. May the Lord continue to build his Church in Nigeria, especially across the north where Muslims are turning to Christ in unprecedented numbers.  'In all these things [suffering and persecution] we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.' (From Romans 8:31-39 ESV)

* UNITED KINGDOM: DEFINING 'BRITISH VALUES'

In March 2014 a scandal broke in Birmingham, UK, when it was revealed that Islamic fundamentalists had conspired to take control of a number of public schools in the city through an operation called 'Trojan Horse'.  The aim was to work with Salafi (fundamentalist) parents to have Muslim governors installed who would then oust the non-Muslim staff and Islamise the curriculum. By the time the scandal broke, four head teachers had already been ousted. Birmingham Council has confessed that while it knew what was happening, it did not act for fear of being branded racist or Islamophobic. In response, the British government has formulated new guidelines for schools. But as Christians were quick to point out, the language is so ambiguous that the new rules could actually be used as a tool to enforce ideology and political correctness -- which is exactly what is happening.

According to the new rules which came into force on 29 September, British schools must 'actively promote the fundamental British values' of democracy, rule of law, liberty and tolerance. Schools must 'encourage respect for other people, paying particular regard to the protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010'.  Christian and Jewish schools that had previously been recognised for their academic excellence, even classified as 'outstanding', are now failing inspections and being downgraded and threatened with closure.  A number of MPs have spoken out against what they regard as 'state-enforced orthodoxy'. The Christian Institute is preparing a legal challenge, maintaining the new regulations are 'flawed and unlawful'. Should the court rule that cultural and moral relativism are integral to 'British values' it would be a watershed moment for the British Church. [Relativism rejects the concept of absolute truth.] The reality that Culture Change has left the Church as a counter-cultural force facing massive resistance would be finally official.

PLEASE PRAY that our merciful and gracious Lord will revive, energise and sanctify the British Church so that she will rise to turn back the battle. Pray for the Christian Institute's legal challenge -- may the Lord work everything for his good purpose. Pray for a Great Awakening in the UK.

I know not what may soon betide,
Or how my wants shall be supplied,
But Jesus knows, and will provide. (John Newton, 1725-1807)

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS 
-------------------------------------------------------------
TOWARDS 2015: INDIA, NIGERIA & THE UK

Three countries undergoing radical change as 2015 looms are India, Nigeria and the UK. Hindu nationalists now control India's federal parliament, allowing them to further entrench their anti-Christian Hindutva ideology. On 1 December St Sebastian's Catholic Cathedral in the national capital New Delhi was torched in an arson attack. Northern Nigerians are reeling as Islamic jihad escalates across the north-east. With sectarian tensions soaring, the economy is in meltdown and, with general elections scheduled for February 2015, Nigeria is ripe for implosion. British culture is increasingly anti-Christian with Christian schools in the firing line. A battle to define 'British values' has begun and could prove to be a watershed moment for the Church. Please pray for the Church in India, Nigeria and the UK. May the Lord be 'strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate' (from Isaiah 28:5-6 ESV).

------------------------------------------------------------

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

RLPB 288. November Update, incl. Sudan, Australia, Bangladesh, China, Kenya, Nigeria.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 288 | Wed 26 Nov 2014
By Elizabeth Kendal

'And [Saul] said, "Who are you, Lord?" And he said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." '  (Acts 9:5 ESV)

NOVEMBER 2014 UPDATE -- During November we prayed concerning ...

* INDIA (RLPB 285), where sectarian tensions in Chhattisgarh's southern Bastar district are rising as Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) ideologues incite Hindus to persecute Christians.

* SUDAN (RLPB 286), where leaked documents have exposed the Arab-Islamic regime's plans to 'end the rebellion' in South Kordofan this dry season. Plans include destroying all crops and denying all aid to create a deadly famine. This is the regime's second attempted genocide of the predominantly Christian Nuba in a generation.

UPDATE SUDAN --

NUBA MOUNTAINS:  'EXTERMINATION BY DESIGN'
Fighting is raging in Dalami, in the northern regions of the Nuba Mountains, South Kordofan, and reliable sources have warned that a chemical weapons attack could be imminent. At great personal risk, researchers entered the besieged Nuba Mountains in August to assess the humanitarian situation. The report entitled 'Life Under Siege ...' was published on 20 November by 'Enough Project'. It details high levels of displacement, insecurity and malnutrition, along with extremely poor food security.
An accompanying policy brief, entitled 'Extermination by Design ...', published the same day, concludes with the following assessment: 'When considered together, the Sudan government's targeted attacks on humanitarian installations, its refusal to allow any aid workers into rebel-held areas, its aerial bombing of civilian settlements, its efforts to prevent harvesting of crops, and some of its other war tactics in the region all add up to extermination by design.'  Enough Project maintains this should be recognised as 'a crime against humanity'. Pray for the Church in South Kordofan.

KHARTOUM: CHURCH PROPERTIES DEMOLISHED 
On 17 and 18 November, authorities partially demolished the Bahri Evangelical Church in North Khartoum along with homes on the church compound, including the home of pastor Hafiz Fasaha. It also included a property belonging to the Nile Theological College which was rented to a Christian doctor who has lost everything in the demolition. Leaders from the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church-affiliated congregation immediately filed a complaint but were told they would have to wait until 4 December for it to be heard. When the bulldozers returned on 19 and 20 November they were met by hundreds of church members who formed a human barrier in an attempt to prevent any further demolition. Five church leaders were arrested for refusing to surrender the property to the regime. Though the church has documents proving ownership, a Muslim businessman has a court order entitling him to develop the land. Pray for the Church in Sudan.

* LAOS (RLPB 287), where Christians face great hostility at the village level. The persecution Christians suffer is endorsed and perpetuated by the authorities.

NOVEMBER 2014 ROUND-UP -- also this month ...

* AUSTRALIA: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AT RISK IN VICTORIA
Victorians elect a state government on Saturday 29 November. A Labor victory would herald radical changes. Trumpeting 'Equality', the Labor platform includes the promise to remove religious exemptions from the Equal Opportunity Act (2010) so that religious organisations will no longer be permitted to employ only those who share their beliefs and values. A Labor victory would see Christians in Victoria faced with the same escalating persecution that Christians are experiencing in the UK and parts of the US where 'Equality' or 'Equal Opportunity' (pro-LGBTI 'rights') legislation is fuelling intolerance of traditional conservative Christianity. Indeed, cultural and moral relativism are increasingly being viewed as the bench-mark of Western, democratic values. Pray for revival in the West. Pray for the Victorian elections and for the Church in Victoria, Australia.

* BANGLADESH: PASTORS CHARGED 
On 9 November two pastors from the Faith Bible Church of God, both converts from Islam, were sharing their faith in a meeting in Nabinagar village in the northern district of Lalmonirhat when a mob of at least 100 Muslims attacked the gathering. The police arrived and took the pastors and the 41 people at the meeting into custody. By 10 pm all but the two pastors had been released. Although Bangladesh is officially secular with a constitution that guarantees religious freedom, the two pastors were arrested and denied bail. Eventually they were released on appeal on 17 November. They are now awaiting trial on charges of hurting religious sentiments and inducing Muslims to convert. The charges were filed by local Muslim clerics. If found guilty, the pastors could face two years in jail. A hearing is scheduled for 12 December. Every ruling creates a precedent. Please pray.

* CHINA: CRACKING DOWN AT NORTH KOREAN BORDER
On 18 November Chinese authorities arrested Peter Han (73) (left) a Korean-American Christian who, along with his wife Eunice (65), has lived in Tumen, China, since 1997, running a network of aid projects along the China-North Korea border. Born in North Korea, Mr Han had escaped as a child, lived in the US and then returned to help North Koreans. The Hans' finances have been frozen and their vehicles confiscated. Two of Peter Han's colleagues have been detained also. Now in Seoul, Eunice Han said the Chinese authorities appear to be cracking down on aid workers in the border area. According to reports, some 1000 South Korean missionaries have been driven out and churches closed.
Peter Han's arrest follows the 4 August arrest of a Canadian Christian couple, Kevin and Julie Garratt (right) who have lived in Dandong, China, since 1984, running a prayer and training centre as well as a coffee shop. According to reports, Mr Garrett (53) -- a former pastor -- and his wife are being kept isolated, without access to family or a lawyer.

* KENYA: TENSIONS BOILING
Tensions are boiling in Kenya as the government clamps down on Islamic militants and as al-Shabaab responds by slaughtering Christians. Clashes erupted in the coastal city of Mombasa on Friday 21 November as Muslims rioted in response to the government crackdown on Islamic militancy which has led to the closure of five mosques in the Mombasa area and the arrest of over 150 Muslims. The mosques -- which were being used to store weapons, bomb-making equipment and literature on jihad -- are now crime scenes. Early on Saturday 22 November some 100 al-Shabaab militants captured a bus in Kenya's far north-east. After separating the Kenyans from the Somalis, the militants then executed 28 'non-believers' (including 19 Christians) who could not recite the shahada (the Islamic profession of faith). Al-Shabaab has claimed the bus attack was retaliation for the mosque closures.

* NIGERIA: TERROR CONTINUES
Boko Haram continues to expand its Caliphate in Northern Nigeria. In a new tactic, Boko Haram militants are regularly refraining from using guns to avoid alerting the military. Instead, they attack quietly, cutting throats and drowning unsuspecting locals as they work. On Sunday 22 November a female suicide bomber blew herself up in Bauchi, killing 10 and wounding more than 60. A suicide bombing on Tuesday 25 November in Maiduguri, Borno, that has killed some 78 people, was carried out by two teenage girls.   This use of teenage girls as suicide bombers is a source of great distress for families whose daughters (mostly Christians) have been kidnapped by Boko Haram.

'Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart "Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you."' (Isaiah 35:3-4 ESV)

-------------------------------------------------------

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


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

RLPB 287. Laos: Christians purged and arrested

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 287 | Wed 19 Nov 2014

LAOS: CHRISTIANS PURGED AND ARRESTED
By Elizabeth Kendal

Laos is a one-party state ruled by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. There is are no free media, dissidents are jailed and prisoners are tortured. Whilst the government protects the Buddhism of the ethnic Lao and permits the traditional animism and spiritism of the ethnic minorities, it is hostile towards Christianity which it regards as foreign. Because ethnic Hmong allied with the 'Christian' US against the Communists during the Second Indochina war (the Vietnam War), the regime is especially hostile towards Hmong Christians. When the war ended in 1975 persecution or retribution was so intense that thousands of Hmong -- including nearly all Hmong church leaders -- fled en masse to the US. The regime subsequently expressed a desire to eliminate Christianity. The situation has since improved and the Laos Constitution of 1991 provides for freedom of belief, speech and assembly (Articles 30 and 31) and Ministerial Decree 92 'protects legitimate religious activities'. Yet the hostility towards Christianity remains. Christians comprise just 3.4 percent of the population but are growing at a rate of nearly 6 percent per annum. However, for them religious freedom is little more than a mirage. The Church's needs are enormous, especially as over 90 percent of Laos' 147 ethnic groups are as yet 'unreached' (Operation World 2010).

The traditional animism commonly practised in ethnic minority and tribal areas require the spirits to be constantly appeased through sacrifice and ritual. If the spirits are offended then trouble will come, such as hail or drought, death or disease. Consequently animist villagers feel greatly threatened when members of the village reject animism for Jesus Christ. Fearing angry spirits and seeking to avoid disaster, the animist villagers will demand the Christians renounce their faith and return to appeasing the spirits. When Christians refuse to do so they are usually driven out of their homes, off their lands and expelled from the village. At other times angry villagers will complain to the local authorities who will arrest the Christians for 'disturbing the peace'.

Some of the displaced Christians (RFA)
On 13 November, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that six Hmong families (comprising 25 individuals) were forced to leave Ko Hai village in Khamkeut district in Laos' central Bolikhamsai Province recently after they refused to renounce their Christian faith and revert to animism. When the local authorities first tried to force the families to renounce their faith in July, they seized two of their men and detained them for over a month. That failed and on 27 August two of the families were expelled. Then on 18 September the other four families were driven out. Though the displaced believers have all found refuge in another village, they have lost everything and no longer have the means to support themselves or to resettle. Destitute, they desperately want to return to their homes and farms. The governor of Khamkeut district told RFA he was unaware of the forced evictions and promised to investigate.

click on map to enlarge
On 2 November seven other ethnic Hmong, including a 14-year-old boy, were arrested in Laos' north-western Luang Namtha Province after they converted from animism to Christianity. Five were released after they renounced their faith, while the two who refused were transferred to the provincial prison. Security officials in Luang Namtha told RFA that the seven were not arrested over religion but were merely taken in for questioning because they were 'disturbing the social peace'. Conditions in Lao prisons are appalling -- squalid and inhumane conditions are the norm, and torture is routine. Several Christian leaders remain imprisoned in the southern province of Savannakhet.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* move the conscience of Khamkeut district's governor, Thongsam, to recognise injustice and work to set things right. '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) May the displaced Christians be permitted to return to their homes and farms, may they prove to be a blessing to the village and may the Holy Spirit move through Ko Hai village and Khamkeut district.

* be a powerful sustaining presence -- a sanctuary -- to all those Christians imprisoned in harsh conditions in Laos for their faith; may the Holy Spirit fill them to overflowing so that those who abuse them cannot help but be deeply challenged by their enduring faith and their amazing grace.

Remember, the Lord 'is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us' (Ephesians 3:20 ESV).

* provide the struggling yet growing Lao Church with all it needs for the enormous task it faces; may he provide pastors, evangelists, linguists, literature, media, labourers, comforters, supporters and especially an abundance of divine wisdom with which to navigate the social, religious and political situation especially at the village level. 'The Lord is my shepherd . . .' (Psalm 23)

~ ~ ~ ~

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
-------------------------------------------------------------
LAOS: CHRISTIANS PURGED AND ARRESTED

The animism practised by Laos' ethnic minorities require constant appeasement of spirits. When villagers become Christians and stop participating in sacrifice and rituals, animists consider this a serious threat. Fearful and angry, animist villagers drive Christians from their homes and farms, expelling them from their village and leaving them destitute. Six ethnic Hmong families (25 individuals) recently driven out of their village in central Laos are desperate to return. Please pray as the district governor, Thongsam, has agreed to investigate. Also seven ethnic Hmong were arrested in Laos' far north-west on 2 November after they became Christians. Five were released after renouncing their faith, while the two who refused to recant were imprisoned. Lao prisons are squalid and torture is routine. Please pray for Laos and its Church.

------------------------------------------------------------

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


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

RLPB 286. Sudan Exposed: 'Starve them', 'empty the camps'

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 286 | Wed 12 Nov 2014


SUDAN EXPOSED: 'STARVE THEM', 'EMPTY THE CAMPS'
By Elizabeth Kendal

On 31 August Sudan's most senior military and security officials met in the National Defense College, Khartoum, for a Military and Security Committee Meeting to discuss the 'Management of Military Activities'. In what can be described only as a major security breach, the minutes of that meeting were subsequently leaked to long-time Sudan researcher, expert and advocate, Eric Reeves. The document has now been fully translated and verified as authentic.

The 13 officials, most of whom are generals, spent considerable time discussing how they might manipulate the 2015 national elections to give themselves 'another five years of legitimacy'. They also discussed international relations, describing Iran as 'our biggest ally in the region', and a 'strategic partner'. [for a case study see: RLM 20 Nov 2013]. The minutes confirm that Sudan is supporting numerous Islamic jihadist movements,  including the al-Houthi (Shi'ites) in Yemen, Hamas in Gaza, and Libya Dawn in Tripoli (Libya). Defence Minister Abdel Rahim Mohammed Hussein even boasts that nobody has a data-base of jihadist groups as extensive as Sudan's. Regarding Khartoum's co-operation on counter-terrorism with the Obama administration (USA), the Defence Minister confirmed: 'We release only limited information to the Americans according to the request and the price is the armed movements file.' This statement gives rise to concerns that the Obama administration might be selling out opposition movements that are merely resisting Islamisation, racial-religious hatred and genocide.

Amnesty International report (June 2014)
Critically, the officials lament that, in the wake of military successes by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army - North (SPLM/A-N), crop cultivation has gone ahead in large areas of South Kordofan, where the Nuba Mountains are located. Director General of the Intelligence and Security, General Siddiq Amer, insisted that this year's healthy sorghum crop be destroyed. 'We must not allow them to harvest these crops,' he said. 'We must starve them,' so they will desert the SPLM/A-N and be open to recruitment by the Government of Sudan (GoS).

This is exactly what the GoS did in the Nuba Genocide of the early 1990s, when they bombed and starved the people to the brink of death before offering them food and shelter in 'Peace Camps', but only on conversion to Islam, complete with name change, indoctrination and often military recruitment as well. Hundreds of thousands of Nuba chose to starve rather than convert, in what must surely be the most difficult call any parent could make.

click on map to enlarge
 Concerning South Sudan, the minutes are clear: Khartoum has been interfering in and prolonging South Sudan's civil war by arming and backing the forces of the sacked Vice President Riek Machar. The plan is for South Sudan to adopt a federal system as approved by President Kirr and announced by IGAD on 22 October, with Riek Machar ruling over the oil-rich 'Greater Upper Nile' region, comprising Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity states. It is Khartoum's intention that Greater Upper Nile will secede from South Sudan and be annexed by Sudan, thereby restoring all the oil fields to Khartoum without Khartoum having to fire a shot. To that end, Chief of Joint Operations, Lt Gen. Imadadiin Adawi, proposed that Riek Machar be commissioned and equipped to 'clean [ethnically cleanse] the whole Greater Upper Nile area'.

Samaritan's Purse, Yida Camp
Furthermore, Director of Military Intelligence and Security, Lt Gen. Siddiig Aamir, proposed that regime forces 'infiltrate and empty the refugee camps' in South Sudan's oil-rich Unity and Upper Nile States on the false premise that the Government of South Sudan is arming and supporting the SPLA-N. [Yida Camp in Unity State is run by Samaritan's Purse and is home to many thousands of mostly Christian refugees from the Nuba Mountains.] According to Aamir, the aim is that, once separated from their food and shelter, the traumatised, desperate refugees then could be recruited (doubtless with food and shelter) to fight against the SPLA-N. This is the same GoS signature strategy to be employed in South Kordofan.

PLEASE PRAY (from Psalm 10):

'Arise, O Lord; O God lift up your hand' ... 

* to 'break the arm [strength/power] of the wicked and evil doer' (v15a): may the regime's supply-lines be broken; may fake partnerships and toxic alliances that hurt your people be broken; may weapons, equipment, planes and runways to be used against your people be broken; may channels of funding be broken; may lines of communication be broken -- may the power of this wicked regime be decisively broken once and for all.

* to block the schemes of haughty, wicked men who will spare no effort and no human being to seize power and riches for themselves; Lord, call their wickedness into account (v15b); may none of what is planned come to pass.

* to defend the helpless and afflicted: shield their bodies, preserve their crops, protect their camps, guard their hearts, hear their prayers and build your Church.

Sadly, all of this was predictable [see: Turn Back the Battle -- chapter 9, Christian Security: not in a 'covenant with death']. May the LORD have mercy on the long-suffering but faithful Church in South Kordofan and South Sudan as Christians suffer the consequences of the bad and faithless political decisions of their leaders.

~ ~ ~ ~

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
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SUDAN EXPOSED

Due to a serious security breach, minutes of a 31 August meeting of Sudan's most senior defence and intelligence personnel have been leaked. Now verified as authentic, they expose the belligerent and genocidal nature of the regime in Khartoum. The regime's support for various Islamic jihadist groups is confirmed and Iran is lauded as 'our biggest ally in the region'.  Critically, the officials discuss the need to destroy crops growing in South Kordofan so as to starve the Nuba people into submission. They also discuss plans to 'infiltrate and empty the [refugee] camps' in South Sudan so the regime  might then recruit the refugees as fighters. Yida Camp in Unity State is run by Samaritan's Purse and is home to many thousands of displaced, mostly Christian Nuba. Please pray.

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

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

RLPB 285. Chhattisgarh, India: Bastar ready to explode

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 285 | Wed 05 Nov 2014

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Supporting International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2014: Sunday 9 November
See: Critical Prayer Requests (CPR)
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CHHATTISGARH, INDIA: BASTAR READY TO EXPLODE
plus updates: Houston, USA; Pakistan
By Elizabeth Kendal

The Indian state of Chhattisgarh in north India's tribal belt has long been a hot-bed of hindutva (Hindu nationalist) activism.  Thousands of Christians -- often under duress -- have been 'returned to the Hindu fold' in ghar wapsi (home-coming) 're-conversion' events.  When India's desperately impoverished and disadvantaged Dalits ('untouchables') convert to Christianity they lose their scheduled caste status along with the benefits that affords. Hence the economic benefits of 're-conversion' can be very alluring. [See RLPB 276 (2 Sept 2014) for background.] On 10 October the Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment in Narendra Modi's BJP-led government, Thawar Chand Gehlot, confirmed that Dalits who convert to Christianity are no longer considered Dalits and therefore no longer have rights to Dalit 'reservations': affirmative action, reserved jobs and places in education.

Since early May hindutva activists have been encouraging Hindus in Chhattisgarh's southern Bastar district to use the Chhattisgarh Panchayat Raj Act to issue rulings banning Christianity. (This Act facilitates rural self-government by empowering village assemblies.) By the end of July some 50 villages across Bastar district had used the Act to ban non-Hindu religious practice. Persecution has soared and Christians are being intimidated, abused, assaulted and even denied access to food rations and water -- all with impunity. [See RLPB 270 (22 July 2014) for background.] In September Christian organisations in Chhattisgarh filed a petition in the Bilaspur High Court contesting the constitutionality of the bans.

On 9 October Dinesh Kashyap, an MP from the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), visited Madota village. While there he conducted a ghar wapsi ceremony in which he washed the feet of 35 'neo-Christians' (presumably converts) and announced their return to the Hindu fold. 
Madota church. (Scroll.in) 
Kashyap stirred up the local Hindus and left them fuming over conversions. They have since directed their hostility towards the Madota church and the regular prayer meetings being held there.

Persecution with impunity is prevalent across Bastar. Morning Star News reports that on Sunday 19 October a group of around 30 Hindus besieged a Christian worship service in Madota. Most of the Hindus remained outside chanting anti-Christian slogans while five militants entered the church and beat the Christians, including women and children. Local Hindus subsequently forbade the Christians from using the water pump near the church. Also on Sunday 19 October some 25 Hindus staged a similar attack on a church in Farasgaon. The next day a Christian named Laxman was beaten unconscious in Tokapal area by his three Hindu brothers and was unconscious for 24 hours. Other Christians and churches have been threatened.

In a purported effort to ease communal tensions, local officials in Madota invited Christians to attend a mediation meeting on Saturday morning 25 October. The Christians were told that the sub-divisional magistrate, deputy superintendent of police and town inspector would be there to discuss the district administration’s response to the Christian petition in the Bilaspur High Court. Though the Christians attended, nobody else did. The Christians waited at the meeting place all day. In the evening a truck carrying some 50 Hindu militants arrived. Wearing saffron bands and armed with swords, sticks and axes, they violently attacked the defenceless Christians, accusing them of 'forcible conversions'. Fifteen Christians were wounded, with 12 requiring hospitalisation for serious injuries. Some Christians are so afraid they have gone into hiding. Bastar officials refuse to admit that religion had anything to do with the attack. Chhattisgarh Christian Forum (CCF) president Arun Pannalal believes that the manner in which the attack was orchestrated raises suspicions that local officials were complicit with the attackers. 

This is an extremely dangerous situation. Chhattisgarh -- indeed the whole tribal belt -- is a tinderbox of anti-Christian radical Hindu nationalist communalism due to decades of unchecked hindutva activism.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT --

* the petition in the Bilaspur High Court will be successful; may religious freedom be upheld and  impunity end.

* God will supply the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum and all other Christian organisations aiding Chhattisgarh's persecuted and imperilled believers with everything they need: wisdom, insight, courage, strength, faith, personnel and funds.

'For nothing will be impossible with God.' (Luke 1:37 ESV)

* God will intervene in this hostile and exceedingly dangerous, incendiary environment, calming the situation and removing those who would like to light the fire and fan the flames.

* India's Christians will draw ever closer to Christ and grow in faith as they experience his presence. 'Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.' (Psalm 57:1 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
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TENSIONS ERUPT IN INDIA'S BASTAR DISTRICT

Tensions are erupting in Chhattisgarh's southern Bastar district as violent persecution with impunity becomes prevalent. At least 50 villages have banned all non-Hindu religious practice. In many places Christians are being denied food rations and access to water. Churches are being attacked and Christians assaulted without the authorities intervening, which guarantees that the situation will escalate. Officials in Madota invited Christians to meet with them for mediation on 25 October. The Christians attended but nobody else did. Then in the evening a truck arrived with 50 Hindu militants who attacked the defenceless Christians with knives, swords and axes.  Fifteen believers were wounded and 12 required hospitalisation for serious injuries. Many Christians have fled. Impunity is almost inevitable. Please pray for the Church in India.

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UPDATE to RLPB 284: HOUSTON, USA

Houston City has withdrawn the subpoena on sermons/speeches and other communications issued to five pastors involved in opposing the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). After some 'civil discourse' with Houston pastors, Houston Mayor Annise Parker said she had not intended to trigger a conflict over religious liberty. The mayor's office had been bombarded with responses and over one thousand Bibles that were sent to the office will now be donated to other causes that have requested them. While the subpoenas have been withdrawn, the struggle over the HERO continues.

UPDATE: PAKISTAN - breaking news

On 4 November a young Christian couple, Shahbaz Maseeh (32) and his pregnant wife Shama Bibi (28) -- both bonded labourers (slaves) -- were savagely murdered by a large mob of angry Muslims in the town of Kot Radha Kishan, Punjab Province. Local mosques had broadcast the claim that the couple had desecrated Qur'anic texts. According to some reports the couple were beaten to death and then burned. Other reports say they were alive when thrown into the kiln. Police are reportedly investigating and have increased security around Christian neighbourhoods.  The couple had reportedly been under extreme pressure and were not being paid. When they applied to leave they were told that as bonded labourers they would have to pay to redeem themselves. But it was much more than they could afford, so they were planning to flee with their four young children. Pray for the Church in Pakistan.

Report from World Watch Monitor

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


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

RLPB 284. October Update, Incl. Iran, Nigeria, Sudan, Syria, The West - UK, USA and Australia

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 284 | Wed 29 Oct 2014

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Supporting International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2014: Sunday 2 or 9 November
See: Critical Prayer Requests (CPR) 
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By Elizabeth Kendal

October 2014 UPDATE -- During October we prayed concerning ...

* KOREA (RLPB 281), where moves appear to be afoot to improve North-South relations for the sake of growing the North Korean economy.  It is a delicate and fraught situation. Please pray for the severely repressed and persecuted Church in North Korea. Pray also that talks will proceed and the North will not use the recent leaflet launch by South Korean activists as a pretext for pulling out.

* MALAYSIA (RLPB 282), where Islamisation is advancing as political figures exploit Islam for political gain. A recent ruling risks establishing the precedent that a breach of the law may be deemed justified if it is done in defence of Islam.

* INDONESIA (RLPB 282), where President Joko Widodo and Jakarta governor Basuki (Ahok) Pernama (a Christian) are facing great pressure as they seek to usher in reforms.

* DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (DRC -- RLPB 283), where a Ugandan Islamic militia backed by Sudan is terrorising predominantly Christian communities in the north-east.

'And [Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart ... "And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"' (Luke 18:1,7,8 ESV)

Will we have faith to pray and not lose heart?

* October 2014 ROUND-UP -- also this month ...

* IRAN: PASTORS TREATED HARSHLY 

Earlier this year the regime transferred two Christian pastors, Saeed Abedini (34, a US citizen) and Fashid Farthi (35), to Rajaei-Shahri prison, a maximum security prison housing Iran's most violent criminals. Abedini's wife and children are in the US, while Farthi's wife and children have since been forced to flee Iran for Canada. On 19 October pastors Behnam Irani and Matthias Haghnejad, along with Deacon Silas Rabbani were each given six-year sentences for 'crimes against national security' and 'creating a network to overthrow the system'.  The three -- all leaders in the Church of Iran -- will serve their terms in extremely remote locations, making it exceedingly difficult for their families, friends and lawyers to visit and monitor their health and treatment. All three will appeal.

Pastor Behnam Irani
Pastor Behnam Irani (arrested in Dec 2006 and again in April 2010) had already received a six-year sentence in January 2011, so he is now not due for release until 2023. Irani will be transferred to a prison in the remote eastern city of Zabol (1500km from Tehran) on Iran's border with Afghanistan, a lawless and exceedingly dangerous region, with all types of criminals and traffickers. Pastor Haghnejad (arrested in July) and Deacon Rabbani (arrested in May) will be transferred to a prison in Minab, a remote southern city on the Strait of Hormuz (1370km from Tehran). The regime is doubtless hoping these five pastors will all die horrible deaths (to instil fear into other pastors), but not at the hands of the regime -- thereby shielding the regime from blame and censure. Pray that the Lord of Hosts will be with these pastors in all his grace and glory. It is estimated that at least 49 Christians are currently in prison in Iran for their faith. God is moving amongst Persians and a fierce spiritual battle is under way.

'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.' (Hebrews 13:3 ESV)

* NIGERIA: CHRISTIAN GIRLS TARGETED

On 17 October Nigeria's military declared it had brokered a cease-fire with Boko Haram. However, at least 70 girls have been kidnapped by Boko Haram since then (up to 27 October). According to a 27 Oct 2014 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), Boko Haram is targeting Christian villages and Christian girls. Of the 30 victims interviewed by HRW, 29 were Christian. In one video testimony a girl says the jihadists separated the Muslim girls from the Christian girls and then released the Muslims. The girls report being threatened with whipping, beating or death unless they convert to Islam, stop attending school and wear the hijab. One girl said they put a noose around her neck and threaten to hang her unless she renounced her faith. The girls were subjected to forced marriage and sexual abuse, including rape; they were used as slaves and forced to witness brutal killings. May the Lord of Hosts intervene in Nigeria. See Isaiah 59:15b-19.

* SUDAN: AERIAL BOMBARDMENT OF NUBA MOUNTAINS CONTINUES

On Friday 10 October the Islamic government of Sudan dropped four bombs on the Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS) complex in Al Atmor, near the Tabolo area in South Kordofan state. Rev Youhana Yaqoub told Morning Star News (14 October), 'The bombs have completely destroyed our church compound in Tabolo. A family living at the church compound miraculously escaped the attack, although their whole house and property were destroyed.'  On 16 October the regime bombed a busy market in Heiban in the Nuba Mountains, killing seven (including five children) and wounding dozens. According to retired Catholic Bishop Marcam Gassis, there has been a noticeable increase in bombing raids. He said, 'All the indicators are that a new cycle of violence and bombardment is commencing.'
Samaritan's Purse
The constant aerial bombardment is part of a campaign of ethnic-religious cleansing which has forced hundreds of thousands of predominantly Christian Africans to flee to remote caves and to camps in South Sudan; famine is an ever-looming threat. Pray for the Church in the Nuba Mountains, and for Christian aid groups who risk their lives to deliver food and medical aid.

* SYRIA: THE BATTLE FOR IDLIB

Idlib Province in Syria's north-west lies between the provinces of Aleppo and the coastal Alawite stronghold of Latakia and borders Turkey. The province is now largely under the control of al-Qaeda's al-Nusra Front and al-Nusra's ally the Free Syrian Army. When ISIS captured the Christian village of Knayeh just 8km from the Turkish border in 2013, churches and monasteries were looted and forced to remove crosses. When ISIS withdrew in February 2014 to consolidate in Raqqa, al-Nusra took control, so the approximately 300 remnant Christians have been under extreme pressure for some time. On 5 October rebels abducted Franciscan Father Hanna Jallouf (62) along with 20 other Christians from the St Joseph convent. Though the believers had all been released by 13 October, the rebels are accusing the Christians of 'collaborating' with the Assad regime and they are threatening to try the Christians before a Sharia (Islamic) court. On Sunday 26 October rebels infiltrated Idlib city (the provincial capital) and stormed government headquarters where they executed at least 70 Syrian officials, most of whom were beheaded. Whilst the Army did regain control of the city, the rebels still control most of the province where they are targeting Christians and other minorities. Pray for the Church in Syria.

* THE WEST: CHRISTIANS FACING SANCTIONS
   -- a consequence of Culture Change 
 
UNITED KINGDOM: Trinity Christian School has been told it could face closure if it fails to uphold 'British values'. The school was told that to comply with new regulations it should 'actively' promote other faiths, for example, by inviting Muslim imams to lead assembly. The school must also observe the principles of the Equality Act 2010 by not promoting a 'particular lifestyle' or stating that 'certain lifestyles are wrong'. The school, which aims to 'provide each pupil with a Biblical understanding', has received an 'advice note' from Ofsted (school inspectors) confirming that it 'does not meet the new requirements' and accordingly could face closure.

UNITED STATES of AMERICA: In May the City of Houston enacted the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), a non-discrimination bill which amongst other things allows men to use ladies' restrooms and vice versa. A coalition of some 400 churches opposed to the 'bathroom bill' collected 50,000 signatures, three times the number required for a referendum. In August the city threw out the petition. Opponents of the bill then moved to file a lawsuit. In mid-October the city's attorneys responded by issuing subpoenas against five pastors, requesting they hand over any sermons and communications dealing with sexuality and gender identity to the city's mayor, Annise Parker (a lesbian). Though not part of the lawsuit, the five pastors are vocal leaders in the coalition of churches opposing the bill. The pastors have vowed to ignore the subpoenas, leaving them liable to fines and even jail. Lawyers from the Alliance for Defending Freedom have filed a motion to try and quash the subpoenas. After an outcry, the wording of the subpoenas was softened and the word 'sermons' was replaced with 'speeches'. Houston's city mayor and city attorney still maintain that if pastors talk politics in their sermons that speech is 'not protected'. (video interview) (pastors press conference)

AUSTRALIA: The Victorian state Labor Party has confirmed that, should it win the state election on 29 November, it will rewrite equal opportunity laws removing religious exemptions so that religious institutions -- including Christian schools -- will not be permitted to hire only those who uphold their beliefs and values. They may even be obliged to promote and display 'diversity' regarding religion and sexual orientation. The Labor Party had attempted to introduce these measures in 2010. When it was voted out of office the Liberal Party scrapped the measures as it had promised.  (Public opinion polls currently indicate Labor will win.) (Labor platform; see pages 69,70)

'But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness ...' (Matthew 6:33 ESV)

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

RLPB 283. Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): Islamic rebels slaughter villagers

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 283 | Wed 22 Oct 2014

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Supporting International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2014: Sunday 2 or 9 November
See: Critical Prayer Requests (CPR) 
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DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (DRC): ISLAMIC REBELS SLAUGHTER VILLAGERS
By Elizabeth Kendal

Bordering South Sudan, Uganda and Rwanda, the heavily forested, mineral-rich, north-east region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has long been wracked with insecurity. Numerous armed groups including the Lord's Resistance Army, the M23 militia, the Mai Mai, and most recently the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) have inflicted immense suffering on the predominantly Christian communities that dot the region. For the Congolese Army, it is a perpetual war zone.

On Thursday evening 16 October ADF fighters armed with machetes and other blades attacked the Ngadi and Kadowu neighbourhoods on the northern outskirts of Beni City in North Kivu Province, which borders Uganda. Twenty-six local residents were killed and dozens wounded in a rampage of appalling violence. Earlier, on 10 October ADF rebels attacked nearby Oicha, killing nine people including small children. On Friday evening 17 October ADF fighters attacked the town of Eringeti, about 55km north-east of Beni City. Using machetes, axes and hoes, they slaughtered four men, ten women and eight children, bringing the toll from ten days of extreme violence to at least 80 dead, with hundreds wounded and more than 50 women raped.  On Saturday night 18 October unidentified bandits compounded the insecurity when they raided a jail in Butembo, south of Beni, releasing some 370 prisoners. Local people have begun organising their own defence militias, fearing that the Congolese Army is incapable of keeping them secure. By Sunday 19 October the exodus had begun with people fleeing the area.

The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) is a Ugandan militia that formed in 1989 aiming to  overthrow the Ugandan government of President Yoweri Museveni and replace it with Islamic rule. It is the product of a merger between the Islamic fundamentalist proselytising Tabliq sect and remnant fighters from the (Islamic) National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU). Reportedly the ADF also includes several former commanders from Idi Amin's army. The ADF's founder and leader, designated terrorist Jamil Mukulu (68), was a Catholic and outspoken critic of Islam until Muslim scholars won him over and he converted to Islam. Mukulu spent the early 1990s in Khartoum, Sudan, where he became close to Osama bin Laden and several leading Sudanese Islamists in the ruling regime. The ADF became operational in 1995, committing several terrorist attacks before the Ugandan Army drove it out of the country and into the DRC in 2002.

Mukulu laid low for the next decade, focusing on recruitment, indoctrination, illegal gold mining and timber smuggling. The ADF receives support from the Islamic regime in Khartoum which sponsors proxies to destabilise the predominantly Christian states neighbouring and allied to South Sudan, i.e. Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, DRC and Central African Republic. Since 2002 the ADF is said to have killed around 3000 Congolese and kidnapped over 900, including some 600 Congolese women and girls. Women who have escaped report being kept in a hole in the ground and only taken out to be used for sex. Sources report that in the Oicha region, north of Beni, many priests and doctors have been kidnapped with those refusing to convert to Islam beheaded.

The ADF resurfaced as a fighting force in 2012 and reportedly has developed ties with the Somali terror group al-Shabaab. Ex-ADF fighters report that Mukulu has been sending trained jihadists to Somalia since November 2011. Mukulu was implicated in the September 2013 Westgate shopping mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya, amidst claims that he is seeking to establish himself as an al-Qaeda leader in east Africa. Since January 2014 the ADF has been under severe pressure as the Congolese Army has gained ground, capturing some of its main bases. It seems the ADF is retaliating by escalating its terrorism against civilians. DRC is 92 percent Christian and Uganda is 85 percent Christian. This is a spiritual battle, and 'we are not ignorant of [Satan's] designs'. (2 Cor 2:10-11 ESV)

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* thwart Sudan's plans to destabilise the region, thwart the ADF's plans to terrorise and Islamise Christian peoples and thwart Jamil Mukulu's terrorist ambitions.  'The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.' (Psalm 33:10 ESV)

* draw the people of terror-stricken North Kivu province into prayer, may their prayers be answered and may the Church in north-east DRC grow in faith.

* impress his grief on all the churches across DRC and Uganda, so those in the troubled border region are not left to face this trial alone; may believers unite in prayer, calling on the LORD for peace and security in DRC and the wider region. 'Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD ...' (Psalm 33:12a ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
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ISLAMIC REBELS SLAUGHTER VILLAGERS IN CONGO

In 2002 the Ugandan military drove Ugandan Islamic rebels out of the country and into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which, like Uganda, is predominantly Christian.  Since then the (Islamic) Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) has killed and kidnapped many hundreds of Congolese civilians with support from the Islamic regime in Khartoum, Sudan. Recently the ADF has forged links with the Somali terror group al-Shabaab and has escalated terrorism in its stronghold in DRC's North-Kivu Province bordering Uganda. Recently the Congolese Army has been making gains against the ADF, capturing several bases. The ADF is retaliating -- at least 80 civilians have been killed, hundreds wounded and some 50 women raped by ADF fighters in the Beni region in the past two weeks. Please pray for the Church in DRC.

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


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

RLPB 282. Malaysia & Indonesia. In Malaysia 'defending Islam' guarantees impunity. Plus: Update on the battle for Indonesia.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 282 | Wed 15 Oct 2014

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Supporting International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2014: Sunday 2 or 9 Nov.  See: Critical Prayer Requests (CPR) 
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MALAYSIA: 'DEFENDING ISLAM' GUARANTEES IMPUNITY
Also: The battle for Indonesia (Update)

By Elizabeth Kendal

Little inflames Malaysia's Muslim fundamentalists more than the fact that Malaysian Christians use the word 'Allah', even though it is just the Malay word for God, adopted from Arabic centuries ago. The issue has gained traction in recent decades as Malaysian Muslims have radicalised, as Malaysia has gradually Islamised and, most critically, as Muslim politicians in this democracy have exploited the issue for political gain.
A seven-year legal battle over the use of the word 'Allah' culminated in June 2014 when Malaysia's highest court dismissed an attempt by Christians to have the October 2013 ban overturned. Therefore it is now official: Christians are banned from using the word 'Allah'; it belongs to Islam. As Sudanese-born British writer Nesrine Malik remarks, 'The ban is less about religion than about putting minorities in their place, subordinating their status to that of Muslims.' Indeed, it is little more than an act of religious bullying. The other issue that inflames Malaysia's Muslims is the usual Muslim grievance about Muslims leaving Islam for Christianity. The language issue plays into this, as it is used as grounds to ban Malay-language Bibles.

Perkasa's Ibrahim Ali
Tensions rose in January 2013 after it was revealed that Malaysian Christians had been distributing Bibles outside a secondary school in Penang. At the time, the word 'Allah' was not restricted, so the Bibles were legal, as was the evangelism. Despite this, the president of the Malay Supremacist organisation Perkasa, Ibrahim Ali, commented on the matter at a press conference, saying: 'Muslims must unite to protect their religion. They must seize those Bibles, including the Malay editions, which contained the term Allah and other Arabic religious terms, and burn them. This is the way to show our anger against disrespect to our sensitivity.'  A police investigation was launched to see if Ibrahim Ali had breached the Sedition Act or the Penal Code, in particular Section 298 which criminalises uttering words with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings, or Section 505 which criminalises uttering statements that could cause public mischief.

On 8 October 2014 the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department responsible for law, Nancy Shukri, confirmed that the police and the Attorney General's office had concluded that Ibrahim Ali would not be charged with anything because -- and this is where it gets dangerously convoluted -- 'he only meant to defend the sanctity of Islam'. The Christian Federation of Malaysia was quick to point out the problem with this ruling, warning that in viewing threats to burn the Bible as acts in defence of Islam, the government was giving 'free rein to other extremists to do likewise, not just to Christians but to any other religious community that is not Muslim'. By no logic, it said, could 'a call to violent action, [such as] desecration of a sacred text, be considered defensive'. The ruling establishes a dangerous precedent: defending the 'sanctity of Islam' guarantees impunity.

UPDATING The Battle for Indonesia (Updating RLPBs 268 & 271 of July 2014)

On Monday 20 October Joko Widodo (known as 'Jokowi') will be inaugurated as President of Indonesia. The election of this 'new breed' outsider has caused the 'old guard' political elite to go quite apoplectic. The 'old guard', who rose to power during the Suharto dictatorship, is not used to seeing its monopoly on power challenged. With the inauguration looming, the attacks on Jokowi and on Indonesian democracy have begun in earnest. Exploiting their majority in parliament, the 'old guard', led by Prabowo Subianto (who lost to Jokowi in the presidential election), has already passed a law returning Indonesia to indirect elections for mayors and governors. This way the political elite, not the citizens, will elect Indonesia's mayors and governors. Direct elections were introduced only in 2005, and Jokowi is the first 'new breed' politician to gain office via that process.  Now the 'old guard' has said, 'Enough!' Indonesians are outraged by this attack on their democracy. The opposition has called for the inauguration to be delayed as they launch a corruption inquiry against Jokowi. The 'old guard' will do everything it can to restrain and ultimately remove Jokowi, and to ensure that no 'new breed' politician challenges its monopoly on power again.

Meanwhile, several hundred members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) marched on Jakarta's City Hall on 24 September. They were protesting against the incoming 'infidel' and 'devil' mayor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (known as 'Ahok'), the ethnic Chinese Christian directly elected as deputy mayor of Jakarta under Jokowi. While that protest was generally peaceful, but the FPI returned on 3 October and rioted, leaving 16 police officers wounded. The FPI insists that Sharia Law does not permit a Christian to rule over Muslims [e.g. Qur'an, Sura 4:141 'God will not let the unbelievers triumph over the faithful']. Ahok said he was not surprised by the FPI protest and vowed not to be intimidated by their intolerance. 'They are only a small group who have yet to accept me,' he said. 'Everyone else has.'


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* roll back Malaysia's rising tide of Islamisation; may he raise up voices to say 'No!' to injustice and intolerance, while opening eyes, ears, hearts and minds to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in which there is hope not only for individuals, but for nations.

'He [the Lord Jesus Christ] will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.' (Isaiah 42:4 ESV)

* bless the Church in Malaysia with divine wisdom as she navigates the language issue that essentially renders all Malay-language Bibles illegal; may Jehovah-jireh (the Lord our provider) provide the Malaysian Church with all her needs.

* bless, protect and preserve Jokowi (president of Indonesia) and Ahok (governor of Jakarta);
  * may Jokowi survive politically as president to press through reforms -- to ease suffering in Papua and to rein in Islamic intolerance across the archipelago; may God use Jokowi for his purposes.
  * may Ahok (a Christian) survive; may no violent hand be permitted to touch him and may God use Ahok for his purpose and for his glory.

'[The Lord] is my steadfast love and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me.' (Psalm 144:2 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
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TROUBLES STIR IN SOUTH-EAST ASIA

Two rulings in Malaysia have serious implications for the Church. In June 2014 the Supreme Court dismissed the Christians' appeal against the ban on Christians using the word 'Allah' (the Malaysian word for God). This ruling effectively makes all Malay language Bibles illegal. On 8 October the government confirmed that the head of a Malay-supremacists organisation who called for Malay language Bibles to be burned would not be charged because he was only defending the 'sanctity of Islam'. This ruling establishes a dangerous precedent of impunity. Please pray for the Church in Malaysia. In Indonesia, Jokowi (new reformist president of Indonesia) and Ahok (new Christian governor of Jakarta) are facing intensive opposition from the Suharto-era political establishment and from Islamists. Please pray for Indonesia and its Church.

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