Tuesday, July 18, 2017

RLPB 415. China: 'Big Brother' Invades Church

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 415 | Wed 19 Jul 2017

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)

CHINA: 'BIG BROTHER' INVADES CHURCH
by Elizabeth Kendal

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) continues to use Zhejiang Province (China's Christian heartland and President Xi Jinping's former stamping ground) as a test site for its repressive religious policies. This is particularly true of Wenzhou City, long known as 'China's Jerusalem' because of its thriving Christianity. [See Religious Liberty Monitoring (Oct 2016)]. In late March authorities in Zhejiang ordered that all churches be fitted with surveillance cameras. Amidst stiff resistance, tensions are mounting, as are the concerns of China's Christians. As the West continues to kowtow -- even in the wake of the death in custody of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo -- it signals to all that President Xi is indeed the most powerful and untouchable leader in the world today.

A government official installs cameras at a Wenzhou church.
World Magazine (Photo: Robert Katz)
In Ningbo, a city with a significant population of Christians, surveillance cameras are already everywhere, including in the churches. In Wenzhou, however, resistance continues. At many churches cameras have been installed by force. Not only has this resulted in property damage, but church members resisting the forced installation have been wounded in scuffles or taken away by police. In Rui'an, a county-level city on the southern outskirts of Wenzhou, the 600-member Tuanqian Village Church was by early June the only church in the area still resisting the imposition of surveillance cameras. However, once the authorities cut the church's access to power and water, members started to doubt if they could resist much longer. It seems this has been the pattern in Rui'an. Unable to resist the installation, churches across Wenzhou are finding other ways to resist; for example, by disconnecting internal cameras or redirecting them (e.g. from the offertory box to the ceiling). Authorities have also installed surveillance cameras close to the Inner Mongolia home of Zhang Kai, the Christian human rights lawyer arrested in Wenzhou in August 2015 and imprisoned for providing the churches with legal advice [RLPB 325 (2 Sep 2015)]. Not only is he being closely monitored, he is being harassed, intimidated and threatened.

Despite the CCP's claims that the cameras will be used to enhance security, not everyone is convinced. In November 2015 the CCP released a draft of its 13th Five-Year Plan (2016 to 2020). It includes a plan to 'Improve the Social Credibility System' (chapter 71) [Full Text - pdf]. With the alleged aim of 'increasing integrity', the CCP will develop and implement 'a unified system of credit rating codes nationwide'. Data will be collected from which social credits may be earned through good behaviour, and lost through bad behaviour (such as traffic violations, over-spending, infidelity, spurious internet browsing, etc). Credit-rich enterprises and individuals will be rewarded, while the credit-poor will find themselves blacklisted, unable to travel, attend university or get jobs. It is not hard to imagine how this might impact the Chinese Church.

An electronic sign in Shenzhen, China, shows the faces
of people caught jaywalking by surveillance cameras.
Wall Street Journal (includes video).
[Article also in Straitstimes]
Much of the data collected will come from the myriad of surveillance cameras currently being rolled out nationwide supposedly to 'maintain national security' and 'prevent acts of terrorism'. Armed with sophisticated facial recognition software, these cameras are already being used not merely to catch criminals but to influence behaviour. For example, in many cities they are being used to name-and-shame jaywalkers, in real time. As the Wall Street Journal notes, 'China has access to immense amounts of data: photos uploaded by the country's more than 700 million internet users and a centralised image database of citizens, all of whom must have a government-issued photo ID by age 16.' Furthermore, 'This year [2017] China set up a government-funded laboratory to push the development of facial recognition and other forms of artificial intelligence. China hopes to become a leading innovator in those technologies.'

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT

* God will grace his precious Church with all the wisdom, faith and grace it will need to traverse the difficult days ahead.

* the Spirit of God will awaken the Chinese people to the moral failings and inherent dangers of atheistic totalitarianism; may government over-reach give rise to spiritual revival.

* our Lord Jesus Christ will continue to build his Church in China, even as the Father continues to work out his eternal purpose to unite all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10). 'Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.' (Proverbs 19:21 ESV)

'Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.' (Habakkuk 1:5 ESV).

'Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.' (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHINA: 'BIG BROTHER' INVADES CHURCH 

In March, authorities in Zhejiang Province ordered all churches to be fitted with surveillance cameras. In Wenzhou, church property has been damaged and parishioners injured and arrested as cameras have been installed by force. Unable to resist the installations, some churches are disconnecting or redirecting cameras. The government claims the cameras are for security, but most are not convinced. China's 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) includes a plan to implement a 'social credit system' based largely on data collected from the myriad of surveillance cameras currently being rolled out nationwide. As every Chinese citizen over 16 has a government-issued photo ID card, these cameras, armed with sophisticated facial recognition software, will enable the government to reward its 'friends' and punish its 'enemies'. Please pray for China and the Chinese Church.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

RLPB 414. Iran: massive jail terms for many believers

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 414 | Wed 12 Jul 2017

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)


IRAN: MASSIVE JAIL TERMS FOR MANY BELIEVERS
by Elizabeth Kendal

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

BACKGROUND: For background to this Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB), please see RLPB 408 (24 May 2017). This warned that the 19 May re-election of President Rouhani (against the express wishes of Ayatollah Khamenei and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps), as well as US President Trump’s hostile 21 May speech in Riyadh could trigger an escalation in persecution against the Church as Iran's 'real powers' (and that does not include the president) strike back. Indeed, escalating tensions -- both domestic and international (including the voluminous 'regime change' rhetoric emanating from the West) -- may well explain the massive jail terms levelled against many believers in recent weeks.

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

On 12 June three Azerbaijanis and an Iranian national learnt that Judge Ahmedzadeh had sentenced them to ten years in jail for 'missionary activities' and 'conducting activities against national security'. The four had been arrested at a wedding in Tehran on 24 June 2016. However, last November the Azerbaijanis -- Yusif Farhadov, Eldar Gurbanov and Bahram Nasibov -- were permitted to return home after posting bail [RLPB 386 (30 Nov 2016)]; they will not be imprisoned unless they return to Iran. Meanwhile, the Iranian national, Persian convert Nasser Navard-Goltape, will bear the brunt of this punishment.

Bahram Nasibov, Eldar Gurbanov, Yusif Farhadov and Naser Navard Gol-Tapeh.
World Watch Monitor

On 3 and 4 July Judge Ahmadzadeh handed 10-year jail terms to Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz (an Assyrian) and three Persian converts associated with his ministry. Though the authorities closed Pastor Bet-Tamraz's Tehran Pentecostal Assyrian Church in 2009, believers continued to meet in house fellowships. Pastor Bet-Tamraz and Persian converts Kaviyan Fallah-Mohammadi and Amin Afshar-Naderi had been arrested along with other believers at a Christmas celebration on 24 December 2014. The other convert sentenced, Hadi Asgari, had been arrested with other believers, including Pastor Victor's son, Ramiel, at a picnic in Firuzkuh in August 2016. [Amin Afshar-Naderi, who was arrested with Pastor Victor in December 2014, was bailed in February 2015 and re-arrested at that same August 2016 picnic.] Pastor Victor and the three Persian converts were deemed guilty of 'conducting evangelism', 'illegal house church activities' and 'acting against national security'. Amin Afshar-Naderi's sentence was extended by five years after he was also deemed guilty of 'insulting the sacred' (i.e. blasphemy). Bet-Tamraz and Fallah-Mohammadi have posted bail, but Hadi Asgari and Amin Afshar-Naderi remain incarcerated, with their bail terms substantially increased to about US$80,000. Condemned to 15 years in prison, Amin has commenced a hunger strike.

Victor Bet-Tamraz, Amin Afshar-Naderi, Kaviyan Fallah-Mohammadi, and Hadi Asgari
World Watch Monitor

Pastor Victor's son, Ramiel (arrested at the August 2016 picnic), has been charged with 'organising and creating house churches' and 'action against national security'. Furthermore, in June 2017 Pastor Victor's wife, Shamiram, was summoned from her home to a court at Evin Prison where she was charged with 'participating in foreign seminars' and 'acting against Iranian national security'. Both Ramiel and Shamiram have been released on bail and are awaiting trial.

On 6 July four members of the Church of Iran in Rasht -- Mohammadreza Omidi, Yasser Mossayebzadeh, Saheb Fadaie and Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani -- learnt that Judge Ahmadzadeh had sentenced them to ten years in prison for propagating house churches and promoting 'Zionist Christianity'. The men had been arrested on 13 May 2016 in a series of raids. [Pastor Nadarkhani will be well-known to intercessors who upheld him through his previous incarceration: see RLPB 176 (12 Sept 2012).]  During the 14 June hearing hard-liner Judge Abolghasem Salavati entered the court room and interrupted proceedings, scoffing that 'Christians make foolish claims'. Salavati is notorious for issuing harsh sentences that include physical punishments (like lashings) to high profile dissidents. In 2012 Salavasti imprisoned Nadarkhani's lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, who was condemned to nine years in prison, a fine and a flogging (converted to a fine) for his alleged crimes against the state. Analysts suspect that Salvasti's presence in the court was intended to pressure Judge Ahmadzadeh into issuing severe penalties. Significantly, Mohammadreza Omidi and Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani will have to serve two years of their sentence in internal exile, far away from their families: Omidi in Borazjan (more than 1100km due south of Rasht) and Nadarkhani in Nik Shahr (some 2000km south-east of Rasht).

Saheb Fadaie, Youcef Nadarkhani, Yasser Mossayebzadeh and Mohammad Reza Omidi.
World Watch Monitor


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR 

* all Iranian Christians currently imprisoned or suffering persecution because of their faith and witness; may they have a palpable awareness of the love of the Father, the presence of the Saviour, and the counsel of the Spirit.

* the growing yet vulnerable Iranian Church; may the Lord give believers -- especially their pastors and leaders -- all the wisdom, grace and strength they will need to travel this increasingly difficult and dangerous road.

* God to intervene in the nation of Iran; may those who rage 'against the Lord and against his Anointed' repent, for Iran belongs to Jesus (Psalm 2).

'Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.' (Habakkuk 1:5 ESV).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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MASSIVE JAIL TERMS FOR MANY BELIEVERS IN IRAN

On 12 June three Azerbaijanis and an Iranian, arrested at a wedding in June 2016, received ten year prison terms for 'activities against national security'. On 4 July Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz and three Persian converts received ten year prison terms for 'activities against national security'. They had been arrested at a Christmas celebration in 2014 and a picnic in August 2016. Pastor Victor's wife, Shamiram, and their son, Ramiel, have also been charged and are awaiting trial. On 6 July four members of the Church of Iran in Rasht received ten year prison terms for propagating house churches and promoting 'Zionist Christianity'. Two of those sentenced, including Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, will spend two years in internal exile far away from their families. Please pray for these Christians and for Iran.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

RLPB 413. Mali & Philippines: Captives in Crisis

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 413 | Wed 5 Jul 2017

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)

MALI & PHILIPPINES: CAPTIVES IN CRISIS
by Elizabeth Kendal

MALI: On Sunday 2 July at a meeting in Malian capital, Bamako, French President Emmanuel Macron promised strong support for a new multinational military force to combat terrorism in West Africa. The 5,000-strong force, comprised of troops from Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad, will operate in the western Sahel region along with 12,000 United Nations peacekeepers in Mali and an existing French force of 5,000. Along with military support, France will supply 70 tactical vehicles, communications and operational and protective equipment. The European Union has pledged about €50 million ($57 million) in support of this force, which is expected to be operational by September.

The day before the Bamako meeting, the Mali-based al-Qaeda affiliate Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM) released a disturbing video. Entitled, 'The Correct Equation' it opens with a clip of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri explaining: 'Security is a shared fate. If we are secured, then you may be secured. And if we are safe, then you may gain safety. And if we are struck or killed then inevitably, by the will of Allah, you will be struck or killed. This is the correct equation.' Quoting the Qur'an [Sura 47:4 https://quran.com/47/4] and Islamic theologians, the English-speaking narrator explains that Islam not only permits but mandates the taking of non-combatants as captives, 'until the war lays down its burdens' (i.e. until war ends). Ultimately the video closes with a clip of Osama bin Laden essentially reiterating the correct equation.

This is the context in which proof of life is provided of six Western captives: three men, Stephen McGowan (South Africa), Dr Ken Elliot (Australia) [RLPB 341 (27 Jan 2016)] and Iulian Ghergut (Romania); and three women, Beatrice Stockly (Switzerland) [RLPB 341 (27 Jan 2016)], Sophie Petronin (France) and Gloria Cecilia Narváez (Colombia). As if to justify its harsh treatment of the women, JNIM specifically accuses them of being 'Christian preachers' and 'missionaries [trying to] convert Muslims to Christianity'. No mention is made of captive Malian soldiers or of Jeffery Woodke who was captured by jihadists in Niger in October last year [RLPB 396 (1 March 2017)]. The English-speaking narrator warns that, with negotiations failing, the fate of each captive lies squarely with their families and governments. Clearly these captives need to be rescued, delivered or redeemed before the new multinational anti-terror force commences operations in September.

captives: Ghergut and Navaraez,
McGowan and Dr Elliot,
Stockly and Petronin. Link to video:
http://sitemultimedia.org/video/SITE_Ezza_Correct_Equation.mp4

'Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.' (Matthew 10:29-30 ESV)

PHILIPPINES: On 23 May conflict erupted in Marawi, southern Philippines, between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Islamic jihadists belonging to the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Maute Group, both of which have pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS). Catholic priest Father Chito Suganob and some 15 Catholics who were meeting in the Cathedral (nuns and lay-persons) were amongst the many hundreds of Marawi locals taken captive by the jihadists who have been using them as human shields [RLPB 409 (31 May)]. Some 400,000 civilians have been displaced.

displaced families -
photo courtesy of a local pastor
Father Suganob was seen alive on Sunday 25 June when militant leaders met with Muslim leaders in an effort to broker a prisoner swap. Refusing to be swayed, the Philippine government reiterated its policy of not negotiating with terrorists. [RLPB 412 (28 June)].

Whilst the Philippines is no stranger to Islamic jihad, this time it is different. Far from being local Islamists fighting for autonomy or even independence, these jihadists are mostly foreigners, eager to fight to the death - to kill and be killed (Sura 9:111) - for an IS wilayet (province). More than 330 jihadists have been killed, along with at least 39 civilians and 84 AFP soldiers; many believe the death toll is much higher. Unable to be collected, the bodies that litter the streets are being eaten by dogs, vermin and flies; many fear an outbreak of disease is inevitable. Soldiers and escapees report that captives are being used as porters and sex-slaves -- with some forcibly 'married' to fighters -- and that Christians have been forcibly converted to Islam. The ring-leader, Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Hapilon, is believed to be hiding in a mosque inside the jihadist's ever-shrinking territory. The situation for the captives could not be more serious.

PLEASE, LOOK TO THE LORD, AND PRAY:

* that he may intervene in the hostage crises currently unfolding deep in the Malian desert and in the city of Marawi, southern Philippines; may the Lord Almighty both rescue and repay. (See Isaiah 59:14-19; also Isaiah 40:10)

'Some trust in chariots and some in horses [i.e. in military hardware], but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.' (Psalm 20:7 ESV)

* that the Holy Spirit may flood and guard the hearts and minds of believing captives with 'the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding' (Philippians 4:7);  may each one be palpably aware of Christ's eternal, faithful and sustaining presence.

'Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? ... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.'  (From Romans 8:31-39 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CAPTIVES IN CRISIS IN MALI & PHILIPPINES

The day before the French president stood in Bamako, Mali, pledging to support a new regional multinational anti-terror force, a Mali-based al-Qaeda affiliate released a disturbing video. It provided proof of life of six Western hostages (mostly missionaries), while explaining that 'if we are struck ... you will be struck.' Clearly these captives need to be freed before the new multinational anti-terror force commences operations in September.  Meanwhile, reports have emerged in the Philippines that the civilians being held captive by IS-inspired jihadists in Marawi are being used not only as human shields, but as porters and sex-slaves, with Christians being forcibly converted to Islam. The rebels' demands have been rejected and their territory is shrinking. The situation for the captives is most serious.  Please pray (Psalm 20:7).

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

RLPB 412. June Update, incl. Pakistan, Iraq, Burma, China, Eritrea, Egypt, India, Philippines, Syria, Vietnam

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 412 | Wed 28 Jun 2017

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)


by Elizabeth Kendal

JUNE 2017 UPDATE -- this month we prayed concerning ...

PAKISTAN (RLPB 410), where impoverished 'untouchable' Christians are helpless to resist exploitation and abuse; and from where Christians with means are fleeing in ever increasing numbers.

UPDATE (1): DEATH OF 'UNTOUCHABLE' TRIGGERS LEGAL BATTLE
On 1 June 'untouchable' Christian sanitation worker Irfan Masih (28) died at a hospital in Umerkot City, Sindh Province, after doctors refused to treat a man they looked upon as not merely physically but ritually 'unclean'. Distraught Christians protested. The following day, Masih's father went to the police and registered a complaint against Civil Hospital Medical Superintendent Jam Kunbhar and others, accusing them of criminal negligence and manslaughter. When Kunbhar was arrested, angry hospital workers protested. Investigators agree that while the hospital did not cause Masih's death, it does bear some responsibility. Morning Star News reports that, in an effort to pressure the family into dropping the complaint, the hospital has registered a complaint against the Christians. Fortunately the police have not acted, deeming the complaint 'frivolous'. Pray for justice in Pakistan.

UPDATE (2): ISLAMISTS WINNING THE BLASPHEMY BATTLE
On 13 April, Pakistani Members of Parliament vowed to insert safeguards into the blasphemy law to prevent its misuse [RLPB 405 (3 May)]. Yet, on 10 June a court in Punjab sentenced Shia Muslim Taimoor Raza (30) to death after finding him guilty of using social media to 'disseminate' material the court deemed blasphemous. It is the first time anyone has been sentenced to death for a social media post. On 15 June police arrested Christian shop-owner Ashfaq Masih (28) after an observer overheard him explaining to a customer that Christians believe Jesus was the final prophet. The observer reported the 'blasphemy' to police, who then came and arrested Masih.  It appears the Islamic fundamentalists, who have been calling for swifter and harsher penalties from the courts, are winning the blasphemy battle. Please pray.

KENYA (RLPB 411), where Somalia-based al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab is escalating its terror inside Kenya and inciting Kenyan Muslims against the Church in the hope it might extract concessions ahead of Kenya's 8 August General Elections.


JUNE 2017 ROUND-UP -- also this month ...

* IRAQ: ABDUCTED CHILD FOUND AND RESTORED


Christina Abada (5), with mother, Ayda in rear; 9 June.  (WWM)

In early August 2014 Christina Ebada (then aged 3) was literally dragged from her mother's arms by ISIS fighters as her family fled the Assyrian city of Qaraqosh [RLPB 275 (27 Aug 2014)]. The harrowing story, as told by her distraught mother, was one of the most painful to emerge from the ethnic cleansing of Qaraqosh. Now World Watch Monitor (WWM) reports that Christina has been found and reunited with her family. According to Kurdish media, 'The family's efforts to track her through Arab friends were rewarded on Friday (June 8), when they got a call telling them Christina had been found in Hayy al-Tanak, a poor neighbourhood of Mosul.' Iraqi Security Forces retrieved her and returned her to her family the following day. Healthy, well dressed and wearing gold earrings, it appears Christina had been kept by a family who treated her well. To the Lord Jesus, and all the believers who have prayed for the family over the years, Christina's mother, Ayda, says, 'Thank-you.' We too say, 'Thank you Lord Jesus.'

* BURMA (MYANMAR): IMPRISONED PASTOR DETERIORATES


Kachin pastors Nawng and Hseng
Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) pastors Dom Dawng Nawng (65) and La Jaw Gam Hseng (35) were abducted by Burmese military personnel on 24 December 2016, after they helped reporters document destruction caused by Burmese military aggression [RLPB 391 (29 Jan 2017)]. On 24 January the military handed the pastors over to police who accused them of spying and charged them with 'illegal association' [RLPB 392 (1 Feb 2017)]. In a recent conversation with Morning Star News, Khon Peng, wife of Pastor Nawng, revealed that her husband is discouraged and his health is deteriorating. Nawng was transferred from Muse, 174km south to Lashio in April and the four-and-a-half hour road trip makes visiting difficult. Peng said her husband -- who shares a cell with some 40 other prisoners -- 'suffers from asthma' and 'has diarrhoea often'.  Attorney U Brang Di confirmed to Morning Star News: 'He lacks nutrition. As he is old, it makes it worse. He seems very weak.' The two pastors faced court for the first time on 3 May. Please pray.

* CHINA (1): IMPRISONED PASTOR PUNISHED FOR APPEAL

Pastor Zhang Shaojie (2014)
Communist Party-approved 'Three-Self' pastor Zhang Shaojie of Nanle County Christian Church, Henan Province, was arrested in November 2013 along with 23 other church members after they accused the Communist Party of attempting to seize church land. In July 2014 Zhang was sentenced to 12 years' jail; an appeal in August 2014 failed [RLPB 275 (27 Aug 2014)]. According to China Aid Association (CAA) Zhang recently launched a fresh attempt to appeal his sentence, igniting the wrath of prison officials. His daughter, US-based Esther Zhang, told CAA that her father is now being punished with 'strict supervision'. Newly released inmates have told her that her father is being subjected to sleep deprivation and starvation and that he is depressed and 'barely alive'. Please pray.

CHINA (2): CATHOLIC BISHOP 'DISAPPEARED' IN WENZHOU
On 26 June the Holy See expressed its 'grave concern' over the disappearance of Msgr Pierre Shao Zhumin (54), Bishop of Wenzhou, in the coastal province of Zhejiang. The bishop disappeared on 18 May after being invited to attend an interview at the local office of Religious Affairs. Rumour has it that he is being detained in a police residence in Wenzhou, but nobody has been able to contact him. Fearing this Vatican-approved yet unregistered bishop could be facing pressure to submit to unreasonable Communist Party demands, the Catholic Church in Wenzhou has appealed for prayer.

* ERITREA: ARRESTS CONTINUE  


click on map to enlage
As reported in RLPB 409 (31 May), Eritrean authorities arrested nearly 100 Christians during May. It has now been confirmed that a further 22 arrests occurred at the end of May and the beginning of June. Seventeen Christian men were arrested in the Godaif neighbourhood of the capital, Asmara, on 28 May, while a further five Christians were arrested from their homes in Dongolo on 6 June. While Eritreans (including many Christians) are fleeing at the rate of 5000 per month, it is a high-risk endeavour. While many drown in the Mediterranean Sea, others fall prey to human traffickers who sell them to terrorists in the Sinai or Libya who torture them for ransom. If ransom is not forthcoming, their organs are harvested. Furthermore, Eritreans are increasingly being refused asylum in Europe and Israel. May God intervene in Eritrea.

* EGYPT: COPTIC WOMEN 'DISAPPEAR' 

Suzan Ashraf Rawy (22) disappeared on 5 June as she walked from her home in the Cairo suburb of Al Khosous to her job at the nearby Virgin and Pope Kyrillos Coptic Orthodox Church. Local Copts believe Suzan has been abducted by a Muslim gang, making it the third such abduction since 30 May when a Muslim man was accidentally shot dead by a Coptic man. While the abductions are believed to be 'retaliatory', the Coptic shooter was arrested, is in police custody and has been charged with manslaughter. With three local women 'disappeared' in three weeks, local Coptic women are now too afraid to leave their homes. Please pray.

* INDIA: NO FREEDOM OF RELIGION IN MADHYA PRADESH

On 21 May police detained 72 tribal children and the eight adults supervising them as they travelled to Nagpur for a church-run Vocational Summer School (VSS). Next day, police detained 11 tribal children and the two adults accompanying them as they travelled to the same VSS. The adults were charged with kidnapping and forcible conversions. However, the case collapsed when parents of the children produced documents to show that they were already Christians. Despite this, six of the Christian leaders remain in detention. On 13 June police detained Sister Beena Joseph of the Carmelite Sisters of St Teresa congregation, along with the four young tribal women travelling with her to a church-run education centre in Bhopal. The women were interrogated and held for some 12 hours before being released at midnight. Emboldened by the rise of PM Modi (nationally and internationally) Hindu nationalist groups are stepping up efforts to ensure nobody violates the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, which makes conversion from Hinduism a punishable offence unless done with the permission of local government (Hindu nationalist) officials. Pray for the Church in India.

* PHILIPPINES: CAPTIVES ALIVE; TERROR SPREADS

On 23 May the IS-aligned Maute Group stormed Marawi, burned the Catholic Cathedral and took its priest and some 15 believers hostage [RLPB 409 (31 May)]. A month later, the battle between the Philippine military and this band of well-trained, battle-hardened, mostly foreign Islamic jihadists rages on. The jihadists reportedly still hold between 10 and 20 percent of the city, along with thousands of civilians who are being kept as human shields. Catholic priest, Father Chito Sugarnob was seen alive on Sunday 25 June, when militants met with Muslim leaders to propose a prisoner swap. The jihadists offered to exchange the priest for Abdullah Maute's terror-sponsoring parents. President Duterte declined the offer and reiterated the government's policy 'not to negotiate with terrorists'.

Meanwhile, on 21 June some 300 militants from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) -- which, like Maute, has pledged allegiance to Islamic State -- attacked Pigkawayan, a farming town in North Cotabato, 160km south of Marawi City. They ransacked the Catholic church and took civilians hostage in the local school. However, the Philippine military prevailed and the rebels were forced to retreat. Security has been increased across the region. Please pray.

* SYRIA: REMEMBER SYRIA'S CHRISTIANS

In mid-June Russia launched air-strikes at a gathering of IS commanders on the outskirts of Raqqa after receiving intelligence that Islamic State’s founder and leader, Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi would be present. The fact that IS has not produced any evidence to suggest al-Baghdadi is alive gives weight to Russia's claims that al-Baghdadi has indeed been killed. Unfortunately, instead of working with Russia as President Trump promised to do during his election campaign, it seems he may be preparing to launch devastating missile strikes against the Syrian government. Should this happen, the consequences for Syria's beleaguered Christian community would be dire. The only place Syrian Christians can live securely and with full religious freedom is inside government controlled areas. Please remember Syria's Christians and pray.

[For more analysis on the situation in the Middle East, watch the Religious Liberty Monitoring blog.]

* VIETNAM: IMPRISONED PASTOR PUNISHED FOR TALKING


Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh
and Tran Thi Hong (USCIRF)

link includes video report
Central Highlands Protestant Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh (45) was arrested in April 2011 because of his Christian witness and advocacy. In July 2012 he was sentenced to 11 years in prison. Not only does Pastor Chinh suffer violent persecution in prison, but his wife, Tran Thi Hong, also suffers violent persecution because of her religious liberty advocacy [see RLPB 359 (1 June 2016)]. On 25 May 2017 a delegation from the US Consulate visited Pastor Chinh in prison. Despite having been warned in advance not to say anything negative against the state of Vietnam, Pastor Chinh told the US delegation about the tortures, threats and mistreatment he has endured in prison. These include regular beatings, having shards of glass mixed in with his food, being held in stocks and having to endure long periods in solitary confinement. Now he is being punished for talking and his wife fears for his health and safety. Please pray.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

RLPB 411. Kenya: Al-Shabaab incites against Church

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 411 | Wed 21 Jun 2017

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)


KENYA: AL-SHABAAB INCITES AGAINST CHURCH
by Elizabeth Kendal

Somalia-based al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab is inflaming religious tension and escalating its terror attacks inside Kenya, doubtless in an effort to extract concessions ahead of Kenya's 8 August General Elections and possibly even make Kenya's involvement in Somalia an election issue.

On 18 May al-Shabaab released a video featuring Senior Private Alfred Danyi Kilasi, a Kenyan soldier captured in Somalia in January 2016.  Under duress, Kilasi criticises the Kenyan government and appeals to the Kenyan people to 'find a solution for this dilemma'.

click here for video
Then al-Shabaab released another video on 22 May, this time showing al-Shabaab commander and spokesman Sheikh Ali Mahmoud Rage addressing al-Shabaab fighters at a graduation ceremony. Rage describes the graduates as 'muhajireen' (emigrants) who have travelled from 'faraway lands' and endured al-Shabaab's 'intense training sessions' so they might combat 'the enemies of Allah'. Noting that many of the fighters come from Kenya, he exhorts the graduates: 'You have to be the army that will conquer Kenya.' Lamenting the plight of Muslims in East Africa in general and Kenya in particular, Rage devotes most of his 10-minute address to inciting hostility against the Church. He rails against the alleged crimes of Christians and the victimisation and imprisonment of Muslims. He laments that 'Kenyan crusaders' now occupy 'Muslim lands' and that Christians have 'erected churches in the place of mosques' so that in many places the Islamic call to prayer 'has been replaced by the chiming of church bells'.

Since the videos were released, al-Shabaab has markedly escalated its terror attacks inside Kenya, specifically in the Muslim-dominated eastern provinces bordering Somalia. Dozens of people have been killed in ambushes and by improvised explosive devices (IEDs), including four aid workers, a woman with a child, and more than 20 security personnel.

Widow of Elly Oloo Ojiema (left)
(photo, Barack Oduor, 16 June)
On 31 May some 70 al-Shabaab jihadists invaded the town of Fafi in Garissa Province. It seems their objectives were to destroy the Safaricom telecommunication mast and to kill or kidnap the Christian teachers from the local school. Christian school teacher Elly Oloo Ojiema was shot and killed in the school compound, while Christian teacher Joseph Kamau was taken captive. Despite much shooting into the air, no locals were targeted. Only when a Muslim teacher sprang courageously to Kamau's defence was that Muslim taken captive as punishment for siding with an infidel. Morning Star News reports that Ojiema was a member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, while Kamau belongs to the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA). After they destroyed the Safaricom mast, the militants retreated back into Somalia, laying IEDs on the roads as they went. It is deeply concerning that numerous Safaricom masts have been destroyed in the eastern border provinces, disabling communications over a wide area. 

On top of all this, an investigation published by the BBC at the end of May reveals that al-Shabaab has been abducting Kenyan women (both Muslims and Christians) from the Kenyan coast. These young women are then trafficked into Somalia where they used as ‘wives’ and sex slaves. The BBC interviewed more than 20 escapees – including Faith, Sarah and Elizabeth – for their BBC Magazine feature and 30-min documentary, ‘The Sex Slaves of al-Shabab’.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO

* comfort the young widow, extended family and friends of Christian teacher Elly Oloo Ojiema; may their faith remain strong through this storm.

* comfort, protect and deliver Christian captive Joseph Kamau; may evil hands be restrained; and may God's amazing grace -- as reflected by Kamau -- be received by his Muslim colleague who risked his life to defy the jihadists. May God redeem this terrible situation for his glory.

* intervene to protect and preserve Kenyan security personnel, and shield and sanctify the Kenya Church -- especially those Christians and fellowships located in hostile Muslim-dominated areas.

'Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by safely.' (Psalm 141:10 ESV)

 * interpose his strong arm against al-Shabaab (Isaiah 40:10-11), to liberate those being held captive to Islamic jihadists (for propaganda or sex), as well as those being held captive to Islamic jihadist ideology which demands that they kill and be killed (Quran Sura 9:111).

'The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.' (Jesus, from John 10:1-10 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
-------------------------------------------------------
AL-SHABAAB INCITES AGAINST THE CHURCH IN KENYA

Somalia-based al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab is fuelling religious tension and escalating terror inside Kenya as it seeks to extract concessions ahead of Kenya's 8 August General Elections. In a 10-minute video released on 22 May, an al-Shabaab commander exhorts his fighters to 'conquer Kenya'. He rails against Kenyan Christians, decries their alleged persecution of Muslims and laments that they are occupying 'Muslim lands'. This and an earlier video seem designed to incite hostility against the Church. Al-Shabaab has also escalated its terror attacks inside Kenya, specifically in the Muslim-dominated eastern regions bordering Somalia; dozens have been killed, hundreds of mines have been laid and numerous telecommunication masts have been destroyed. On 31 May a Christian teacher was murdered and another kidnapped in an al-Shabaab raid. Please pray for Kenya and its Church.

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

Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

RLPB 410. Pakistan: Who Cares About Pakistani Christians?

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 410 | Wed 14 Jun 2017

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)


PAKISTAN: WHO CARES ABOUT PAKISTANI CHRISTIANS? 
by Elizabeth Kendal

Many Pakistani Christians are 'untouchables' or choorahs -- so low on the social scale they are beneath the caste system. Despite their 'untouchablity' having its origins in Hindu India, the tradition continues in Pakistan. As choorahs, these Christians are condemned to a life of either street sweeping or sanitation work [youtube]. Indeed, whilst Christians comprise a mere 2.3 percent of Pakistanis, virtually all Pakistani street sweepers and sanitation workers are Christians. Whenever a city's sewerage lines are blocked, officials don't call in unionised plumbers with expensive machinery; rather they call up the 'untouchable' sanitation workers who must plunge into manholes and unblock the sewerage manually. Despite the fact that this routinely releases deadly poisonous gases, the workers are not provided any protection, presumably because as infidel choorahs, these Christians are deemed valueless and disposable.

On 1 June Christian sanitation worker Irfan Masih (unmarried, aged 28) was at a job in Umerkot City, Sindh Province, when a fellow worker, Yaqoob, lost consciousness in a sewer because of poisonous gas. Irfan jumped in to rescue him, but as Yaqoob was being lifted out the rope failed, causing Yaqoob to fall back into the manhole on top of Irfan, who then also lost consciousness.  A third worker, Shaukat, jumped in to help but also lost consciousness. At that point the other workers called the men's families who came to the rescue.

Irfan Masih's mother, Arshad Bibi
grieves the loss of her son (BBC)
The families raced their unconscious loved ones to the hospital only to have three doctors refuse to treat the both physically and ritually 'unclean' chooras. The families washed the men while a fourth doctor stepped in to help, but it was too late for Irfan. While the other two workers were raced to another hospital, Irfan was pronounced dead. This was not an isolated incident, for Christians -- especially choorahs -- are routinely refused medical treatment in Pakistan. Whilst it is shameful yet unsurprising that a virtually failed Islamic state would refuse aid to Christian choorahs, it is shameful and shocking that, as Morning Star News reports, some Christians will not touch them either.

The fact is, though, no amount of status will protect a Pakistani Christian from persecution. Indeed, intolerance and insecurity are escalating by the day as the state reaps the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7) of three-and-a-half decades of Saudi-funded 'Wahhabisation' and state sponsorship of regional terrorism. Today, Pakistan's Islamic fundamentalists are simply out of control -- they dictate to the state which stands powerless and paralysed before them, unable to change anything even if it wanted to. Anyone who agitates for reform is assassinated. Christians with means are fleeing in ever increasing numbers. Sadly, many never find the life of liberty and security they crave.

Family of Ijaz Masih, in Thailand (ICV)
A report to the British Parliament in February 2016 found that of some 11,500 Pakistanis seeking asylum in Thailand, the majority are Christian. Many are locked up in appalling conditions; all are struggling unimaginably. Compounding their troubles is the fact that, like persecuted Christian asylum seekers the world over, they are provided with Muslim translators whose only desire is to hinder and not help them. 

Pakistani Christian Ijaz Masih (35) fled Pakistan in 2013. He travelled to Thailand with his wife and three children to seek asylum on the grounds of religious persecution. World Watch Monitor reports that, on 26 May 2017, Ijaz Masih died of a heart attack in Thailand after being refused treatment. International Christian Voice (ICV) founder Peter Bhatti condemned the blatant disregard shown by Thai officials and the UNHCR (UN High Commission for Refugees).

So who cares about Pakistani Christians? We know that God cares and we should realise by now that, by and large, 'the world' does not. The Church -- local and global -- must step up as "God's human instruments" to imitate Christ in love and obedience and as a service to God who is Father to us all.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO

* fire up the local churches in Pakistan and the global Church in the world, so Christians will stand as one, imitating Christ, demonstrating sacrificial love and standing in courageous solidarity with Pakistan's suffering believers.

'For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.' (Galatians 3:26b-29 ESV)

* come to the aid of Pakistani Christian asylum seekers stranded in Thailand and across South-east Asia.

* intervene in Pakistan so that what seems inevitable (victory for intolerant fundamentalist Islam) will not come to pass; may God send 'the rod of [his] anger' (Isaiah 10:5) against those who would shatter and scatter his precious Church.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
-------------------------------------------------------
PAKISTANI CHRISTIANS NEED OUR PRAYERS

Many Pakistani Christians are 'untouchables'. Viewed as valueless and disposable, they are  condemned to work as street sweepers and in sanitation, often in dangerous situations. On 1 June Christian untouchable Irfan Masih (28) died, having being denied medical care after a workplace accident. Not only untouchables are treated like this; medical care is routinely denied to Christians in Pakistan, no matter their status. As persecution and insecurity escalate, Christians flee in ever greater numbers. Unfortunately, most never find the liberty and security they crave. Many thousands of Pakistani Christians are struggling to survive in centres across SE Asia. On 26 May Pakistani Christian asylum seeker Ijaz Masih (35, married, father of 3) died of a heart attack in Thailand after being denied medical treatment. Pakistan and its Christians need our prayers.

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

Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

RLPB 409. May Update, Incl. Pakistan, CAR, Iran, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Egypt, Iraq, Philippines, Sudan, UK

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 409 | Wed 31 May 2017

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)

by Elizabeth Kendal

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

Please Note: A Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin will not be issued next week (7 June) as Elizabeth Kendal will be unavailable to prepare it. Churches and small groups needing an item for their newsletter or intercessory prayers should consider using another of the situations detailed below -- an urgent item this week and a less time-sensitive item next week. May the Lord bless you as you serve him and his precious Church in prayer.

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

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. (Psalm 56:3 ESV)

MAY 2017 UPDATE -- this month we prayed concerning ...

* PAKISTAN (RLPB 405), where the brutal lynching of Muslim university student Mashal Khan -- on campus in broad daylight -- had reignited the debate around the infamous blasphemy law.

UPDATES
PAKISTAN: LAW REFORM STALLS WHILE ISLAMISATION PROGRESSES
Ever since Marshal Khan was accused of blasphemy and lynched, his sisters have been receiving death threats. On 4 May some 500 Muslims in the town of Hub, in Balochistan Province, rioted after police refused to hand over a Hindu man whom they accused of blasphemy; a ten-year-old boy was killed in the melee. Meanwhile, Nabeel Masih -- the 16-year-old Christian boy arrested in September for 'liking' and 'sharing' a Facebook post which supposedly 'defamed and disrespected' the Kaaba in Mecca -- has again been refused bail. Despite doing little or nothing to address the blasphemy law, the Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs has amended the 'Respect for Ramadan' law, unanimously approving ten-fold increases in the maximum fines for fast-breakers, as well as prison terms of up to three months. Eateries are not even permitted to provide food during Ramadan's daylight hours. Rights advocates fear the law will hurt non-Muslims and fuel vigilantism. Ramadan commenced on 27 May and will continue until 25 June. Pray for the Church in Pakistan.

Jacqueline Sultan
PAKISTAN: CHRISTIAN LAWYER THREATENED WITH DEATH
Jacqueline Sultan is a high court advocate and a member of the Karachi Bar Council. She is also a human rights activist and the chairperson of the Global Human Rights Association Alliance. A Christian, she defends people charged with blasphemy and helps victims of forced conversion and marriage. In mid-May, a letter was delivered to her chambers in which she was threatened with death if she did not stop her work. The Karachi Bar Association is taking the threat very seriously and has demanded the state investigate and provide Sultan with extra security. Please pray for Jacqueline Sultan; may the Lord of hosts provide all her needs.

* NIGERIA (RLPB 406), where 82 'Chibok girls' had been released (ransomed) from Musab al-Barnawi's Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). Hundreds of girls, mostly Christians, are still captives of ISWAP and Boko Haram.

* CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR -- RLPB 407), where the de facto partition of the state -- with Christians in the south and Muslims dominating the north -- had brought a degree of peace. However, Islamic militias are fighting each other now for control of roads, grazing land, water and diamond mines. This strife is evolving along ethnic lines. Furthermore, native, non-Muslim 'anti-balaka' militias have allied with non-Fulani Islamic militias against the Muslim Fulani. In retaliation, the Fulani are escalating their attacks on Christians.

UPDATE: CHURCH FACES CRISIS AS VIOLENCE ESCALATES
On 15 May at least 20 were killed, more than 40 wounded and some 20,000 displaced as rebels clashed in Bria, the capital of central Haute-Kotto Province. UN personnel have confirmed that an aid warehouse was pillaged, saying: 'There's fighting taking place but we don't know who's fighting whom.' World Watch Monitor reports that Baptist pastor Ange-Apoléon Ngakolada (36) was among the dead in Alindao; he leaves behind a wife and eight children. It seems Muslims unhappy with his church exploited the chaos of 6-7 May and murdered him in his own home. CAR needs assistance, as it simply does not have enough troops to contain the escalating crisis.

IRAN (RLPB 408), where, faced with a choice between the conservative but pragmatic Rouhani and the ultra-conservative hard-liner Raisi, moderate Iranians came out en masse on 19 May to vote for Rouhani despite Raisi being the regime's preferred candidate.

UPDATE: EMERGING THREAT
As is commonly the case in politics today, the election's loser (in this case Ebrahim Raisi) has moved straight from campaign mode into conflict mode, launching a campaign designed to fire-up supporters, undermine the result and discredit and de-legitimise the winner (in this case, Hassan Rouhani). Raisi has accused Rouhani of electoral fraud and called for an official investigation, even though the Guardian Council has approved the result. Hard-liners have vowed to fight Rouhani and press their ultra-conservative agenda. If the situation arises where Raisi incites Islamic revolutionary rage, and/or President Rouhani feels pressured to appease hard-liners, Iran's Christians will suffer as a consequence. Please continue to pray for Iran, and for Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz and Amin Nader Afshar as their trial continues in Tehran.

MAY 2017 ROUND-UP -- also this month ...

* AFGHANISTAN: AID WORKER KILLED, ANOTHER KIDNAPPED

On 20 May militants broke into a Kabul guest-house run by Swedish-based charity, Operation Mercy. A German woman who had been working in Afghanistan for 13 years was killed, as was her Afghan guard, who was beheaded. A Finnish woman was kidnapped. Both women (who have not been named) were aid workers with Operation Mercy. As yet, no group has claimed responsibility. Please pray for the captive Finnish aid worker, and for the families and colleagues of the deceased. May the Lord have mercy.

* ERITREA: NEARLY 100 CHRISTIANS ARRESTED IN MAY

World Watch Monitor reports that on 9 May ten Christians were arrested at a home in Ginda, north-east of Asmara, having been betrayed by neighbours. On 17 May more than 35 Christians were arrested from their own homes in Adi Quala, after a compulsory survey exposed them as evangelicals. On 21 May 49 Christians were arrested at a post-wedding celebration outside the capital, Asmara. The totalitarian regime of President Isaias Afewerki is one of the world's worst persecutors. Since May 2002 thousands of Christians have suffered incarceration, hundreds have been severely tortured and at least 28 have died in custody due to mistreatment. Christians attempting to flee routinely fall prey to human traffickers. Eritrean Orthodox Patriarch Abune Antonios (89) has been confined to house-arrest for more than ten years; he had protested the persecution of 'Medhane Alem', a thriving revival movement which exists within the Eritrean Orthodox Church.

* EYGPT: SHAHADA OR DEATH IN THE DESERT 

On Ascension Day (26 May) a convoy of Coptic Christians en route to the Monastery of St Samuel the Confessor was stopped on the desert road some 220km south of Cairo by a group of around 10 men dressed in military fatigues and armed with automatic weapons. Claiming to be security officers, the gunmen ordered the Copts out of their vehicles. After separating the men from the women and children, the gunmen demanded the men recite the shahada (Islamic statement of faith). When the men refused, the militants opened fire, but were forced to flee when they noticed cars in the distance. Twenty-eight Christians are confirmed dead (including two children) and 23 wounded. Islamic State has claimed responsibility. The Copts are grieving and their grief spans the world. One Coptic Christian living in western Sydney, Australia, lost 12 members of his extended family in the massacre. Pray for Egypt.

Copts grieve (26 May) New York Times
photo: Amr Nabil/Associated Press

* IRAQ: CONVERT, BE KILLED, OR PAY JIZYA

Undated footage emerged in early May showing the head of Iraq's Shi'ite Endowment Fund, Alaa Abd al-Sahib al-Musawi teaching that 'the people of the book must be fought ... to compel their conversion to Islam. Either they convert to Islam, or else they are killed, or they pay the jizya.' [Jizya, as mandated in the Qur'an Sura 9:29, is a form of extortion wherein 'the people of the book' agree to pay for their right to life.] Iraq's Christians, most of whom are Assyrian (the indigenous people of Mesopotamia), were horrified. A group of 180 Christian families filed a lawsuit against Musawi, accusing him of hate speech. Musawi rejected the charge, claiming he was teaching on historic matters that are supposedly irrelevant today. He claimed the video was leaked by parties resistant to Muslim-Christian coexistence -- by which he doubtless meant the Assyrian Christians lobbying for a 'safe haven' or autonomous province in their historic homeland of the Nineveh Plains. By accusing the Assyrians of resisting what he calls 'Muslim-Christian co-existence', the cleric has knowingly created an extremely dangerous situation.

* PHILIPPINES: SHAHADA OR DEATH IN MINDANAO 

On 23 May, Philippine forces attempted to apprehend Abu Sayyaf chief Isnilon Hapilon from his hideout in the 99.6 percent Muslim city of Marawi, Mindanao. When Abu Sayyaf called for reinforcements, some 100 Islamic jihadists from an ISIS-inspired group known as 'Maute' stormed the city. They attacked St Mary's Cathedral, kidnapping 15 believers, including the priest Father Chito Suganob, some nuns, and several lay persons who were praying in the church. The Cathedral, a Protestant College and numerous other properties were torched. A truck transporting nine Christian labourers was ambushed at a militant checkpoint. After being pulled from the truck, the men were bound and ordered to recite the shahada (Islamic statement of faith). When they could not, they were executed. The militants have occupied half of the city using their Christian captives as human shields and are engaged in fierce battles with the Philippine military. The Maute group has escalated its activities over recent months as it seeks recognition from ISIS. President Duterte has declared martial law across Mindanao. The Church is pleading for the release of the Christian hostages.

Father Chito Suganob appears in a 5-min jihadist propaganda video, (30 May)
requesting the president end military operations. 

* SUDAN: PRISONERS FREED; CHURCHES DEMOLISHED

On 11 May Christian prisoners the Reverends Hassan Abdelrahim Kodi and Abdelmoneim Abdelmoula were released and reunited with their families. Incarcerated since December 2015, both men were released with a presidential pardon. Their co-accused, Rev Kuwa Shamal and Mr Petr Jasek, were released in January and February respectively. Despite this mercy, the Government of Sudan’s campaign against the Church continues, with 27 churches designated for demolition. Of these, two Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) buildings were demolished in May: one in Algadisia (established in 1983) on 17 May, and one in Soba Al Aradi (established in 1989) on 7 May. The demolition in Soba Al Aradi was particularly significant, for in 2011 Soba Al Aradi had 13 churches and today it has none. Pray for the Church in Sudan.

* UNITED KINGDOM (UK): CHURCHES TO REMAIN ALERT

On 22 May Salman Abedi (22), a British youth of Libyan heritage, blew himself up at a pop concert in the Manchester Arena, killing 22 people, including young children, and wounding over 100. ISIS claimed responsibility, warning: 'What comes next will be more severe on the worshippers of the cross and their allies.' After the attack MI5 lamented being overstretched, commenting that security services are currently ‘looking at 500 different plots’ and have a list of some 23,000 potential terrorists, including a 'top list' of 3,000 deemed high risk. Barnabas Fund UK has advised churches across Britain to 'exercise extra vigilance', providing guidance on how to reduce risk and how to report suspicious activity to police. Pray for a revival of faith and courage in UK.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com