Tuesday, May 23, 2017

RLPB 408. Iran: People Want Change

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 408 | Wed 24 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)


IRAN: PEOPLE WANT CHANGE
by Elizabeth Kendal

Iranians went to the polls on 19 May to elect a president. In the end it was essentially a two-man race between the incumbent President Hassan Rouhani (68) and the quasi-socialist, ultra-conservative hard-liner, Ebrahim Raisi (56). It was a high turn-out election and Rouhani won comfortably, garnering 57 percent of the vote, while Raisi got 38.5 percent. What is most significant about this result is that Raisi lost despite being the preferred candidate of Ayatollah Khamenei, the clerical regime and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC). Increasingly convinced that election boycotts are counter-productive, Iran's more educated and less devout urbanites -- indeed all those yearning for greater freedoms and openness and an economy energised through improved relations with the West -- came out en masse to vote for Rouhani.

WHAT THIS MEANS is that the era of boycotts is definitely over. If this were not obvious in the 2016 parliamentary elections -- which saw numerous hard-liners lose their seats to genuine moderates and reformers -- it is certainly clear now. The people are rising, gathering momentum, and making their will known. As is becoming clear, the will of the majority is for change.

WHAT THIS DOES NOT MEAN is that anything will change at this point in time. Presidential elections are engineered to ensure that the president will represent the Islamic revolutionary regime. Furthermore, ultimate power still resides in the hands of Iran's unelected powers: Ayatollah Khamenei and the IRGC. Human rights will not improve. During Rouhani's first term as president more than 3000 Iranians were put to death for 'crimes' such as 'insulting Islam', a marked increase on the previous regime of hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Executions will surely continue, as will harassment and persecution of Christians. But at least the situation will not deteriorate. Or will it?

'Mirror mirror on the wall,
who's the fairest one of all?'
Dry Bones (21 May 2017)
On 21 May, just two days after the Iranian election, US President Donald Trump delivered a key speech in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in which he labelled Iran the 'world's biggest sponsor of terrorism', and called on 'nations of conscience' to 'isolate' Iran. Whilst Iran's clerical regime is indeed a leading sponsor of international Islamic terror, the 9/11 terrorists were all Sunnis (specifically Wahhabis) and 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. Likewise, the terrorist groups singled out by President Trump -- al-Qaeda and Islamic State -- are Sunni groups whose members were radicalised in mostly Saudi-funded Sunni mosques and madrassas. Ignoring all this, on 20 May President Trump signed an extensive arms package worth almost $110 billion --  potentially up to $350 billion over the next decade -- with Saudi Arabia, the world's other 'biggest sponsor of terrorism'. The reality is various the Islamic jihadist organisations wreaking havoc across the world today are nothing but proxies, incapable of surviving without state sponsorship. While Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia are the leading sponsors of terrorism, Saudi Arabia is also the primary facilitator of global radicalisation.  [A more detailed analysis of the evolving situation in the Middle East will be posted to Religious Liberty Monitoring in the coming weeks.]

Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz
(see: MEC, and Release Int.)
By aligning America so completely with Saudi Arabia against Iran, Trump and US Secretary of State Tillerson will surely have set back any gains made by Iranian moderates at the ballot box. This will complicate the situation for reformists in general and Christians in particular, especially evangelicals. The Iranian regime will become very defensive. As all this was unfolding, the trial of two Christians, Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz and Amin Afshar Naderi, was continuing in Tehran.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL 

* be powerfully present and active inside Iran as he works all things together for good, for the benefit of the Church and the Iranian people, 'according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth'. (Ephesians 1:9b-10 ESV)

* protect, preserve and sanctify the Persian Church, as it grows both in its diaspora and inside Iran. 'And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.' (Romans 8:28 ESV)

* move the heart of President Rouhani and others in the regime, that they will accept that the people are calling for change and will have the courage to pursue it.

'Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, [king of Persia, 6th Century BC] . . . I name you, though you do not know me. ... I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other.' (From Isaiah 54:1-13 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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IN IRAN, PEOPLE WANT CHANGE

There was a high turn-out to the Iranian elections on 19 May when the incumbent, President Hassan Rouhani, was comfortably re-elected. Most significantly, Rouhani won despite his opponent, hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi, being the regime's preferred candidate. Hard-liners only ever won when reform-minded Iranians boycotted elections. But those days are over; the people are making their will known. However, nothing can change while Iran's unelected powers – the supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei and his Revolutionary Guards -- retain ultimate power. Human rights abuses, including persecution of Christians, will continue and may even be exacerbated by US President Trump's overt support for, and enormous arms deal with, the Wahhabist, anti-Shi'ite, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. (Like Iran, Saudi Arabia is a leading sponsor of international terrorism.) May God intervene to the blessing of his 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, May 16, 2017

RLPB 407. Central African Republic (CAR): Church in the Fire

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 407 | Wed 17 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)


CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR): CHURCH IN THE FIRE
by Elizabeth Kendal

Central African Republic (CAR) is French-speaking, 76 percent Christian (mostly Protestant) and 13.8 percent Muslim. On 24 March 2013 an Islamic army known as Seleka seized control of the capital Bangui. [See RLPB 210 (15 May 2013).] Many Muslims celebrated what they saw as the rise of Islamic power. What they did not count on was how fierce would be the resistance. Since then CAR has seen the rise of the 'anti-balaka' (i.e. 'anti-machete' -- traditional village defence militias turned anti-Muslim vigilantes), the unravelling of the fabric of society, along with the outbreak of sectarian conflict. There has been the insertion of UN peacekeepers, the disintegration of Seleka, the restoration of democracy and the de facto partition of the country into a Christian south and Muslim north with a volatile, conflict-wracked middle belt. Violence continues, as does the humanitarian crisis, with more than 800,000 internally displaced and some 2.2 million in need of humanitarian assistance. From the outset, CAR's Church has courageously been at the very centre of all humanitarian and reconciliation work, despite the risks this entails.

click on map to enlarge
Violence has increased markedly in 2017, but now there are essentially two separate conflicts. Seleka disintegrated in 2014 and since late 2016 two factions -- the Gula and Runga-dominated FPRC and the Fulani-dominated UPC -- have been fighting each other in central CAR. This developing intra-Muslim conflict is being waged largely along ethnic lines; at stake are water, farmlands, roads and diamond mines. In this fight, anti-balaka groups have allied with the FPRC against the Fulani. [More details will be posted to Religious Liberty Monitoring (May 2017).] The most recent clashes in Alindao over 6 & 7 May left at least 37 people dead and thousands more displaced.

Alongside this is the continuing war being waged by anti-balaka vigilantes aimed at ridding the south of Muslims. On 6-7 May a group of some 700 anti-balaka fighters attacked a UN convoy near Bangassou in the deep south-east, killing five international peacekeepers and wounding a further ten. As they targeted Bangassou's Muslim district of Tokoyo, more than 1000 residents took refuge in a mosque, some 1500 others in a cathedral and 500 others in a hospital, whilst more than 3000 reportedly fled over the border into DR Congo.

Cardinal Dieudonne Nzapalainga
Cardinal Dieudonne Nzapalainga, the Archbishop of Bangui and a native of Bangassou, led negotiations. By the evening of Monday 15 May he had convinced the anti-balaka fighters to withdraw from the city. World Watch Monitor (WWM) reports that amongst those killed in the latest violence are the youngest son and grandson of the Rev Nicolas Guerekoyame-Gbangou, the president of CAR's Evangelical Alliance and vice-president of the Council of Elders set up to mediate peace.

anti-balaka
Described in Western media as 'Christian rebels', the anti-balaka vigilantes wear juju (occult charms) around their necks and threatened to burn churches and kill pastors that shelter Muslims. But as the Rev Dieu-Seni Bikowo explains, 'For us they are not Muslims or Christians. They are people -- people in danger.' Agenzia Fides (Catholic) reports that, on Sunday 14 May, His Exc. Mgr. Juan Jose Aguirre Munos, Bishop of Bangassou, risked his life to defend thousands of Muslims sheltering in the mosque. He survived while the man who stood beside him was shot dead.

Operation World's 2010 description of CAR leaves the reader with a sense of hopeful anticipation, that despite various challenges -- the most salient being widespread nominalism, syncretism and lack of unity -- a solid foundation had been laid on which a national Church was emerging with a vision for mission. Confronted with this momentum, it seems Satan has both put his foot down and established a foothold, doubtless with the aim of destroying the Church and reducing majority-Christian CAR to a failed-state. The nations have abandoned her; the Church must not.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO

* bless Central African Republic President Faustin Touadera (60) with all the wisdom, insight, courage and strength needed to lead the nation out of this complex crisis and towards peace and reconciliation.

* preserve and bless CAR's desperately-needed Christian leaders and peace-makers; may their efforts be effective and may their witness be powerful and transformative.

* redeem all this suffering for CAR's well-being; may the Church be sanctified and unified in the fire and may there be a national awakening with conviction of sin that leads to repentance, revival and reconciliation. For the glory of God. AMEN.

'But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.' (Jeremiah 17:7 NIV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHURCH IN THE FIRE IN CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR)

Central African Republic is 76 percent Christian and 13.8 percent Muslim. In March 2013 an Islamic army seized control of the capital Bangui. Since then CAR has seen the rise of the 'anti-balaka', traditional village defence militias turned anti-Muslim vigilantes. The fabric of society has unravelled, there has been an outbreak of sectarian conflict and the de facto partitioning of the country into a Christian south and Muslim north. Democracy has been restored, but violence continues as does the humanitarian crisis. From the outset, CAR's Church has been at the very centre of all humanitarian and reconciliation work, despite its risks. Anti-balaka fighters adorned with occult charms routinely threaten to burn churches and kill pastors who shelter Muslims. The devil has established a foothold; CAR and its Church needs our prayers.

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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, May 9, 2017

Nigeria: 82 girls freed, but terror far from over

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 406 | Wed 10 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)


NIGERIA: 82 GIRLS FREED, BUT TERROR FAR FROM OVER
-- plus Indonesia update: Ahok jailed for ‘blasphemy’
by Elizabeth Kendal

The night of Sunday 13 April 2014 is a night the Christian enclave of Chibok (in Nigeria's north-east Borno State) will never forget. It was that night Boko Haram militants invaded the town and kidnapped 276 girls from the dormitories of the Government Girls Secondary School [see RLPB 257 (23 April 2014)]. Though 57 girls managed to escape in the hours that followed, 219 were taken deep into the bush. Boko Haram leader Abu Bakr Shekau subsequently threatened to sell the girls as sex slaves and jihadi brides. A week later he released a video showing around 100 captive girls dressed in full Islamic attire, claiming they had converted to Islam. (Timeline) In October 2016 twenty-one Chibok girls were released in exchange for four militant commanders. On Sunday 7 May (2017) 82 Chibok girls were released in exchange for five militant commanders. While we thank and praise God that more than 100 girls have been released in answer to the prayers of many, there is no room for complacency, for the terror is far from over.

 President Buhari (c) with Chibok girls, 7 May 2017
We need to pray that the released girls will be returned to their parents very soon. Like the 82 released on 7 May, the 21 girls released in October were transported immediately to the capital, Abuja, for a photo opportunity with President Buhari. In both cases the parents of the released girls had to make the difficult and dangerous 890km, 13-hour drive from Chibok to Abuja just to see their daughters -- not to bring them home. The 21 girls released in October are still being held in Abuja, ostensibly for counselling and security screening. Consequently Amnesty International issued an appeal on 7 May, urging the government to ensure all 103 released girls are reunited with their families as soon as possible so as not to add to their suffering.

The Nigerian Church needs prayer for her security and mission. In March 2015 Abu Bakr Shekau pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the emir of the Islamic State (IS), and changed his group's name to Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). However, just as al-Qaeda deemed IS too extreme, IS eventually came to deem Shekau too extreme. [In both cases the complaint is that too many Muslims were being killed.] In August 2016 IS named Musab al-Barnawi as the new 'governor' of ISWAP. A split ensued and Shekau's faction re-claimed the name Boko Haram. It seems that all the released girls had been in the custody of ISWAP and that negotiations had commenced soon after the August split. Clearly al-Barnawi decided the girls in his custody should be exchanged for skilled militant commanders, along with (reportedly) millions of dollars. At the time of the August split, al-Barnawi called for ISWAP to focus on combating Nigeria's Christians by 'booby-trapping and blowing up every church that we are able to reach, and killing all those we find from the citizens of the cross'. Al-Barnawi may now have the money and the skilled militants he needs to launch an operation against the Church.

We need to pray for the remaining captives. Shekau -- described by one political analyst in Niger as 'the pinnacle of barbarism' -- will no doubt continue to use the girls as suicide bombers in mosques and markets across north-east Nigeria and northern Cameroon. Indeed, the rate of bombings has escalated markedly, from 29 female suicide bombers in 2016 to at least 27 in the first three months of 2017, most in the Borno capital, Maiduguri. Shekau's Boko Haram might be on the back-foot militarily, but it still recruited more than 2000 youths in 2016, and is still holding more than 100 Chibok girls. Intelligence reports indicate it is looking for a Western hostage.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO

* intervene in the capital, Abuja, so the released Chibok girls will be free to return to their families as soon as possible; may all the services the girls need -- especially Christian counselling -- be made available in Chibok.

* sustain and protect the Church, particularly in Nigeria's volatile Middle Belt and Muslim-majority north; may Yahweh Sabaoth (the Lord of hosts) protect and defend his people; and may the Spirit of God bless and empower all front-line ministries through which the Gospel is shared with Fulani and Hausa Muslims.

* pour a spirit of conviction over the churches of the south, so that these free and prosperous churches might not only be awakened to the strategic importance of the Church in the north, but will overflow with sacrificial and generous love for their vulnerable, suffering and imperilled brethren.

* intervene for his precious Church, so that the schemes of the wicked are brought to ruin. Pray Psalm 146 for Nigeria. Excerpts (ESV): 'Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God ... who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free ... The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down ... he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.'


Guilty: Ahok, 9 May.
(Antara/Sigid Kurniawan/Pool)
INDONESIA UPDATE: On Tuesday 9 May, the popular ethnic Chinese Christian former governor of Jakarta, Basuki ‘Ahok’ Tjahaja Purnama was found guilty of ‘blasphemy’ and sentenced to two years in prison. He will appeal the decision. Ahok was taken immediately to Cipinang detention centre in East Jakarta. However, in the early hours of Wednesday morning he was transferred to the National Police’s Mobile Brigade (Brimbob) detention center in Kelapa Dua, Depok, for security reasons. Please pray for Ahok’s safety, and for his lawyers as they prepare the Appeal.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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NIGERIA: 82 GIRLS FREED, BUT TERROR FAR FROM OVER

In October 2016 twenty-one Chibok girls were released from captivity in exchange for four militant commanders. On 7 May eighty-two Chibok girls were released in exchange for five militant commanders and reportedly millions of dollars. Boko Haram split in August 2016 and the girls released in October had been in the custody of the Islamic State faction. This faction has declared its intention to focus on bombing Nigeria's churches. The Chibok girls not yet released are held by the Boko Haram faction which has this year markedly escalated its use of female suicide bombers. Whilst we thank and praise God for the release of the girls, we must not become complacent in our prayers for Nigeria and its Church. The threat is far from over.

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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, May 2, 2017

Pakistan: 'Blasphemy', Death and Injustice

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 405 | Wed 03 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)


PAKISTAN: 'BLASPHEMY', DEATH AND INJUSTICE
by Elizabeth Kendal

On Tuesday 18 April Pakistan's National Assembly passed a resolution condemning the lynching of a Muslim university student on 13 April. Describing it as 'cold-blooded murder', the resolution resolves 'to ensure that strong safeguards may be inserted into the blasphemy law to prevent its abuse through such atrocities in the future'. The Senate, meanwhile, called for amending the statutes to provide punishments to those who fabricate false blasphemy accusations.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
The lynching came only weeks after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif pandered to his Islamist supporter base by ordering the removal and blocking of all online blasphemous content, adding that anyone posting such content should face 'strict punishment under the law'. While Christians would clearly welcome having 'strong safeguards' inserted in the law, nobody will benefit unless the law is enacted -- fearlessly and consistently -- and community attitudes transformed.

LYNCHING: Mashal Khan was a student of Journalism and Mass Communication at the Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, in the north-west province of Khyber-Pakhtun¬khwa. A self-professed 'humanist' and member of the students' wing of the secular Awami National Party (ANP), Mashal Khan's posts reveal him to have been a strong advocate of women's rights and freedom of thought and speech. On Wednesday 12 April Khan was embroiled in a heated debate over religion. To some his views were 'anti-Islamic'. The next day a mob comprising hundreds of enraged Islamist students marched through the university campus chanting Islamic slogans as they searched for Khan, whom they accused of blasphemy. They broke into Khan's room and after beating and stripping him, they dragged his bloodied body outside where he was shot in the head and chest. According to reports, Khan's attackers forced him to recite verses from the Qur'an, and beat his body long after he was dead. 

Gruesome footage of the attack was posted to Twitter and Facebook, causing a media storm. While many were appalled, others seemed content, such as the student in Lahore who told Deutsche Welle (DW), ‘Those who insult our religion should not go unpunished.’ Karachi-based journalist Mohsin Sayeed told DW, 'The days are gone when we said it was a small group of religious extremists, xenophobes, hate-mongers and bigots who commit such crimes. Now the venom has spread to the whole of Pakistani society.' Aatif Afzal, an Islamabad-based human rights activist, explained, 'This vigilantism is being supported by the state as well as the judiciary. Religious clerics are fanning hatred. Even the civil society has failed to perform its duties.' Afzal believes the violence will not stop until the government takes firm action against vigilantism and against those who falsely accuse others of blasphemy. He is not optimistic.

On Friday 14 April the Chief Minister (CM) of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Pervez Khattak, addressed the KP Assembly. He condemned the killing as 'barbaric' and 'brutal' and announced an independent judicial inquiry into it, noting that the police investigation found no evidence of blasphemy.

Ashiq Maseeh, with a photo
of his wife, Asia Bibi.
Amir Mushtaq Ahmad Khan, the provincial chief of the Islamic fundamentalist group Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), played to his Islamist supporter base, publicly distancing himself from CM Khattak's statement. Later he told journalists that, while he agreed with CM Khattak that no mob or individual has any right to take the law into their own hands, 'I will cut out the tongue and eyes of those who want to amend the blasphemy law.'

ASIA BIBI: In mid-April, as all this was unfolding, Asia Bibi's lawyer, Saiful Malook, submitted a request to the Supreme Court asking for her trial to be brought forward to the first week of June. [Asia Bibi is a Christian woman on death row for alleged 'blasphemy'.] On 26 April Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar turned down the request. The rejection left Asia Bibi's husband shattered and speechless.

Islamist demand: "Hang Asia"
As Malook explains, the authorities are afraid to release her, aware that massive Islamic resistance will erupt if she is freed. Islamic clerics have now renewed their call for Asia Bibi to be executed, claiming that incidents such as the lynching of Mashal Khan are merely the consequence of Muslim frustration over the delay in Bibi's execution.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO

* intervene in Pakistan so that 'strong safeguards' will indeed be inserted into the blasphemy law, along with strong deterrent penalties for those making false accusations, so that law enforcement officials and the judiciary will have at least something to work with.

* intervene in the case of Asia Bibi who was imprisoned in 2009 and sentenced to death in 2010 for alleged 'blasphemy'; may God Almighty intervene so that, by whatever means, the long-suffering, long-faithful Asia will be free to live in peace and security with her family.

Nabeel Masih
(The Voice Society)
* intervene in the case of Nabeel Masih (16) who was imprisoned for alleged 'blasphemy' in September 2016, after he 'liked' and 'shared' an allegedly ‘blasphemous’ Facebook image of the Kaaba (an Islamic holy site in Mecca); may God Almighty protect Nabeel and his family, and deliver them to live in peace and security.

* preserve and bless his precious, severely-persecuted Church and pour out his Holy Spirit in amazing grace and awesome power, so that Pakistan will know transformative revival.

'They will do these things [persecute and kill you] because they have not known the Father, nor me.' (from John 16:1-3 ESV).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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'BLASPHEMY', DEATH AND INJUSTICE IN PAKISTAN

On 12 April a 'humanist' Muslim university student became embroiled in a debate over religion while on campus. The next day hundreds of Islamist students stormed his room accusing him of blasphemy. Images of the horrendous lynching appearing on Facebook caused a media storm. On 18 April Pakistan's National Assembly passed a resolution condemning the lynching and resolving to insert 'strong safeguards' into the blasphemy law to prevent future abuse. The Senate called for amendments  to provide punishments to those who fabricate false blasphemy accusations. Subsequently,  fundamentalist Islamists renewed their call for Asia Bibi [a Christian woman on death row for alleged 'blasphemy'] to be executed, claiming that pogroms and lynchings are merely the consequence of Muslim frustration over the delay in Bibi's execution. Please pray for Pakistan and its Christians.

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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, April 25, 2017

RLPB 404. April Update, Incl. Turkey, Indonesia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Uganda

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 404 | Wed 26 Apr 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

'I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me' (Jesus, in John 10:14 ESV)

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

* TURKEY (RLPB 401), where President Erdogan has narrowly won a referendum that grants the president sweeping executive powers.

UPDATE: Though it would have proved enormously popular with his supporter base, President Erdogan did not play the Hagia Sophia card at all. Fortunately, Erdogan also happens to be constrained by Russia, which would not tolerate the Hagia Sophia being turned into a mosque. On the contrary, Russia has repeatedly requested the cathedral be returned to the Orthodox Church, even offering to contribute funds and expertise towards its full restoration. This year Ramadan commences on 27 May, which in Turkey will be followed two days later by Conquest Day when Muslim Turks celebrate the fall of Constantinople to Ottoman forces on 29 May 1453. Hagia Sophia remains a live issue. Its conversion into a mosque would be far more than symbolic with profound implications for all Turkey's Christians. Please pray.

* INDONESIA (RLPB 401), where Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama has lost his bid to continue as Governor of Jakarta.

ELECTION UPDATE: Ahok (a popular and respected ethnic-Chinese Christian) had been the clear front-runner before Islamists started propagating the view that Sura 5:51 of the Qur'an teaches that Muslims must not elect non-Muslims as leaders. When Ahok made light of this, he was charged with blasphemy. This, plus several massive Islamist rallies, left Jakartans feeling intimidated and nervous. The new Governor of Jakarta is Anies Baswedan; the Islamists' choice. Ahok conceded with grace: 'Destiny is in God's hands,' he said. 'God gives power and God also takes it away.'

TRIAL UPDATE: On 20 April Chief prosecutor Ali Mukartono proposed that if Ahok is found guilty of blasphemy he should only be sentenced to two years' probation and a one-year suspended sentence. Testifying in court on 25 April, Ahok hit out at those who he claimed had propagated lies for political gain. He criticised the blasphemy law as unclear, dubious and open to exploitation.
The verdict is expected in early May.

* EGYPT (RLPB 402), where Islamic State has launched a campaign of violence against the Coptic Church. Forty-five died and many dozens were wounded on 9 April when suicide bombers struck a Coptic church in Tanta city and the Coptic Cathedral in Alexandria, where the Coptic Pope was addressing the believers. On 18 April Islamic militants failed in an attempt to breach the security at the iconic 6th Century World Heritage listed St Catherine's Monastery in South Sinai [RLPB 403].

Gamal Gabriel (16)
Found with his throat slit on 13 April
UPDATE: A Coptic youth was found brutally slain in Quai village, Beni Suef Governorate, Upper Egypt, on Holy Thursday (13 April). It is widely believed the killing was perpetrated to 'cast terror into the hearts' (Sura 8:12) of the Copts ahead of Easter.  Allam Bashay Gabriel told World Watch Monitor that he found his son, Gamal (16), with his throat slit and lying in a pool of blood. He could not think of any reason why anyone would want to kill his son. Noting, however, that the method of killing indicated it was an Islamic ritual slaying, Mr. Gabriel believes his son was killed purely because of his faith in Jesus. Also on 13 April, three homes belonging to Copts were torched while other Copts were intimidated and their homes stoned in Kom El-Loufy, Minya Governorate. It seems the Muslims were angry that the Christians had gathered for prayer. Though there is no church in Kom El-Loufy, the 1500 Copts who live there do have permission to gather for prayer. Nobody was arrested and all other gatherings planned for Easter were cancelled because of insecurity. Pray for the Church in Egypt.

* SYRIA (RLPB 402), where Christians living, worshipping and ministering freely in government-held areas watched nervously as the US launched cruise missiles at a Syrian air-base east of Damascus. As Syria's Christians are well aware, the jihadists are close and ready to pounce should the opportunity present itself.

* NORTH KOREA (RLPB 403), where a long-suffering Church watches on nervously as belligerent rhetoric escalates and geopolitical tensions soar. North Korean's long-suffering Christians yearn to be liberated, not annihilated.

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

* KAZAKHSTAN: FINED FOR MEETING OVER EASTER


In the Central Asian state of Kazakhstan, unregistered religious activity is illegal and registration is difficult to get. A local organisation requires 50 adult male members in order to achieve registration, something virtually impossible in regional and remote areas, especially for non-Orthodox denominations. The law gives police the authority to fine groups and individuals without going through the courts. The churches raided on Easter Sunday were Baptist house churches -- one in Temirtau in the central Karaganda Region and another in Taraz in the southern Jambyl Region. The raids culminated in four Baptist leaders receiving hefty fines. Meanwhile, other Protestants had temporary bans placed on their worship and an Indian Protestant was deported. According to Forum 18, the raids are part of a 'new wave' of repression. Pray for the Church in Kazakhstan.

* NIGERIA: EASTER MASSACRE IN KADUNA

On the evening of Holy Saturday, 15 April, gunmen believed to be Fulani herdsmen attacked Asso village in Jema'a Local Government Area, in Kaduna State's Christian-dominated south. Shooting sporadically as they made their way through the village, the gunmen burst into a church where believers had gathered for an Easter vigil. At least 12 believers were killed and many more wounded. Though Governor Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai extended his condolences and claimed to have ramped up security, many Christians suspect he may actually be complicit.  Pray for the Church in Nigeria.

* UGANDA: PASTOR TERRORISED IN EASTERN REGION

Christopher James Kalaja pastors the Agape Sanctuary International Church in Nakabale Village, Kaliro District, in Uganda's Muslim-dominated Eastern Region. Morning Star News has learned that on 27 March, a band of nine Muslims invaded Kalaja's property and, to shouts of 'Allah Akbar' (Allah is greater), hacked down the trees on his farm and tore down the church on his land. Kalaja, a married father of six, fled for his life. Though he reported the case to police, they launched an investigation only after he filed a legal case in the Budaka District Court. Kalaja has been leading the congregation of some 80 members for ten years and has been witnessing to Muslims for decades. Long the target of serious persecution, Kalaja believes the Muslims, who have already killed his mother and his livestock, are trying to drive him from the region. Uganda's radical, run-away and corruption-riddled decentralisation has left Christians in majority-Muslim districts exceedingly vulnerable to violent persecution. [An article on this is being prepared for Religious Liberty Monitoring.]

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

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, April 18, 2017

RLPB 403. North Korea: Uncertainly looms over long-suffering Church

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 403 | Wed 19 Apr 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)


NORTH KOREA: UNCERTAINTY LOOMS OVER LONG-SUFFERING CHURCH
plus news alert -- EGYPT: Sinai monastery attacked
by Elizabeth Kendal

The Korean Revival of 1907 (also known as the Korean Pentecost) stands in history as one of the great transformative revivals of the 20th Century. Geopolitically, it was a tense time. Aware that a spirit of fear and negativity pervaded the annual winter (January) Pyengyang Bible Class, its organisers bathed the event in prayer.

Pengyang Bible Class, January 1907
On the evening of Monday 8 January 1907, the Holy Spirit descended in power on the gathering of some 1500 Korean Bible teachers, pastors and missionaries. The result was an out-pouring of prayer, marked by a deep sorrow over sin. The next day it continued: the Class was gripped by a spirit of repentance which culminated in confession, forgiveness and reconciliation. Over time the movement spread to the point that the Korean capital, Pyengyang (Pyongyang) became known as 'The Jerusalem of the East'. But, in the mystery of God, the Korean Church would not be permitted to remain on the spiritual mountaintop for long.

Located as it is between China and Japan, Korea had long been the site of proxy wars as her powerful, imperialist neighbours fought for control over the peninsula. On 22 August 1910 imperialist Shinto nationalist Japan annexed Korea, ushering in a 35-year period of intensive religious persecution. In 1919 (in the wake of World War 1) Korean Christians led a movement for independence. But the hoped-for Western support did not eventuate. Instead, they were imprisoned and the persecution intensified. One consequence of this terrible period was that Christianity became associated with Korean nationalism and the profile of the Church was raised.

During the course of World War 2 the Korean Peninsula came to be divided along the 38th parallel, with the north under Soviet occupation and the south occupied by America. On 25 June 1950 the communist north invaded the south, triggering the Korean War. Though a ceasefire was declared in 1953, the war was merely frozen, not ended. After the border closed, an estimated 2,300 churches with about 300,000 members disappeared from the north. Under the rule of the Kim family, Christianity is prohibited with the threat of death for the believer and labour camp for the extended family. Thus the Christians of North Korea have known little else but intensive suffering for over 100 years. Despite the persecution, the Church has survived and is believed to number between 300,000 and 500,000. Those who are not struggling to endure horrendous prison labour camps, survive as secret believers. God alone sustains them, and one day they will emerge as Korea's light, salt and healing.

 Pyongyang, military parade, 15 April 2017
Today, geopolitical tensions are approaching boiling point. North Korea is convinced the US-led West would not have removed Saddam Hussein in 2003 if Iraq actually had weapons of mass destruction; and that the US-led West would not have removed Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 had he not given up Libya's weapons of mass destruction. So North Korea will not willingly disarm, but will retain its weapons program for the purpose of deterrence. It remains to be seen how the Kim regime responds to a real existential threat. It is difficult to know how to pray, for though we want to see the situation change, we do not want to see Korea's long-suffering Church engulfed in apocalyptic fire. All we can do is give the situation to God, plead for his mercy and ask that he interpose himself into the Korean crisis for the well-being of his Church and the glory of his name.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO

* intervene in the Korean crisis creatively, according to his wisdom, to fulfil his good purposes, that ultimately the Church in North Korea might be liberated to be a blessing to the whole Korean Peninsula and a witness to the watching world.

'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. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfils his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!' (Psalm 57:1-3 ESV)

* pour out his Holy Spirit in power upon his beloved Korean Church, that she might erupt yet again in Spirit-led prayer that the Korean Peninsula might once again be transformed.

'Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!' (Psalm 57:5 and 11 ESV) 'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.' (Zechariah 4:6 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
-------------------------------------------------------
UNCERTAINTY LOOMS OVER LONG-SUFFERING CHURCH IN NORTH KOREA

North Korea will not willingly disarm as its weapons are a deterrent against foreign intervention. Tensions are reaching boiling point. Despite more than 100 years of severe persecution -- under Japanese occupation, Soviet occupation and the Kim family -- the Church is believed to number between 300,000 and 500,000. Christianity is prohibited with the threat of death for the believer and labour camp for the extended family. God alone sustains believers struggling to survive in labour camps or as secret believers. One day they will emerge as Korea's light, salt and healing. While we want to see the situation change, we do not want Korea's long-suffering Church engulfed in apocalyptic fire. Please pray that God will intervene for the well-being of the Korean Church and of the whole Korean Peninsula.

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EGYPT: Sinai Monastery Attacked

St Catherine's Monastery, South Sinai
A policeman was killed and four more were wounded on Tuesday 18 April, when Islamic militants attacked a security checkpoint outside St Catherine's monastery in Egypt's South Sinai. The world heritage listed 6th Century monastery is popular with pilgrims and tourists and is said to stand at the site of the biblical Mt Sinai. Islamic State has claimed responsibility. Please pray for Egypt 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, April 11, 2017

RLPB 402. Egypt and Syria: Massacre and the Threat of Massacre

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 402 | Wed 12 Apr 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)


EGYPT AND SYRIA: MASSACRE AND THE THREAT OF MASSACRE
-- plus Easter Prayer
by Elizabeth Kendal

This RLPB will not be the 'short Easter devotion' promised last week. Rather we must press on with intercession in view of the events of the past week, which indicate that the Christian crisis in the Middle East is moving to a whole new level.

EGYPT: PALM SUNDAY DOUBLE MASSACRE


Mar Girgis, Tanta, Palm Sunday, 9 April 2017
Soon after 9am on Sunday 9 April, as the believers were enjoying Palm Sunday celebrations, a suicide bomber entered Mar Girgis (St George) Church in the Nile Delta city of Tanta. Launching himself towards the front of the church, he detonated himself beside the altar. At least 27 worshippers were killed and a further 78 others wounded. A few hours later in coastal Alexandria, a suicide bomber approached St Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral. Unable to gain entrance to the church, he blew himself up outside, killing 18 civilians and four police officers. The head of the Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, had just finishing addressing the congregation, but was not hurt. By Sunday afternoon, Islamic State in Egypt had claimed both attacks.

That evening, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi announced on television that he would impose a three-month nationwide state of emergency, establish a Supreme Anti-Terrorism Council and fast-track amendments to the criminal code to expedite the trials of terror suspects. On 10 April the Egyptian parliament approved the measures.

The situation for Copts in Egypt is extremely complex. Churches are a soft target for Islamic militants aiming to trigger sectarian conflict to destabilise or extract concessions from the state. Meanwhile, many Muslims in authority view Christians as pawns, expendable in the pursuit of Western military aid and support. In other words, both the jihadists and the authorities stand to gain from bombing the churches. Furthermore, after receiving intelligence on 10 April that an IS attack was imminent, Israel closed the border crossing between Taba in Egypt's South Sinai Province and Eilat in southern Israel, on the north shore of the Gulf of Aqaba. As Islamic State's Caliphate collapses in Mosul, many of IS's Egyptian fighters are returning home. Islamic State in Egypt is growing and, with Muslim Brotherhood support, is escalating its campaign. The Christian crisis in Egypt is moving to a whole new level.

Photo galleries: Al-Ahram and BBC 
Of course this violence leaves many nominal or cultural Muslims shaken, repulsed and disillusioned -- indeed many will reject Islam because of it. An evangelical pastor in the Middle East told Jennifer Breedon (an analyst with the Clarion Project): 'Today ISIS is the evangelizer… I am merely a baptizer of their converts to Christianity.' While the pastor's comment is understandable, it would be more accurate to say that ISIS is the hammer smashing Islam's illusions, while in demonstrating divine amazing grace, Egypt's Christians are the evangelisers.

PLEASE PRAY FOR Egypt's grieving, traumatised and anxious Christians. May God comfort them, supply all their needs and redeem all their suffering. May the Lord pour his Holy Spirit on them that they will continue to demonstrate divine amazing grace (see Luke 6:27-31), evangelising Egypt (and the world) in the process.


SYRIA: US REVERSAL RAISES THREAT OF MASSACRE 

On the night of Thursday 6 April, US President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike on Syria's Shayrat Airbase. Located about 40 km east of the city of Homs, Shayrat is the principal base from where Syrian and Russian forces have been fighting Islamic State in eastern Syria. While the impact of the 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles appears to have been minimal, the action -- which was surely illegal -- further complicates an already complicated situation. The missile strike was ordered on the basis of 'intelligence' (primarily heart-rending images of children in the village of Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib) provided by Turkey and Saudi-backed, al-Qaeda-led 'rebels'. [Idlib fell to a coalition of Turkey and Saudi-backed al-Qaeda-led transnational jihadists in March 2015 (see RLPBs 303, 305 and 307 of April 2015)].

Without any independent investigation, the West deemed Assad guilty of launching a chemical attack on civilians, despite the obvious fact that the Syrian government -- which was making great gains militarily and politically -- had nothing to gain from such a provocation and everything to lose. On the contrary, the mostly foreign 'rebels' -- who care little about Syria or Syrians and are on the back foot militarily -- had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Meanwhile, according to Homs governor Talal al-Barazi, 14 Syrians were killed in the US attack on the Shayrat airbase, nine of whom were civilians, including women and children.

It should not be forgotten that NATO-member Turkey and US-allied Saudi Arabia and Qatar started the Syrian war when they chose to exploit 'Arab Spring' unrest in Syria to pursue regime change in Damascus. The Turkey-Arab Sunni Axis' aim is to restore Sunni hegemony (as was the situation before WW1) and install a Sunni regime in Damascus more amenable to Sunni interests. If the US does not step back, the consequences for Christians will be disastrous.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that Hezbollah is known to be stockpiling weapons in southern Syria in preparation for a new war with Israel which may well be launched from Syrian territory. In the early hours of 17 March Israeli air-force jets entered Syrian airspace and fired rockets into a convoy understood to be transporting Iranian weapons to Hezbollah's T-4 military base at Palmyra, drawing fire from Syrian air defences in the process. This evolving situation is causing a dilemma for Russia, which is allied to Iran and Syria, and to Israel with whom it has pledged co-operation. For Israel the security situation is becoming critical, as the threat posed by Iran-Hezbollah is greater than the threat posed by Islamic State.

Bishop Moussa enjoys Palm Sunday parade
outside the Church of Saint Elias in Damascus.  9 April 2017
Source: image gallery - Christians celebrate Palm Sunday
The fact we cannot ignore is that if the Syrian government falls jihadists will fill the vacuum, triggering a new exodus and genocide. Western policy is spinning so fast it is dizzying. The only solution I (Elizabeth Kendal) could propose would be an alliance comprising Russia, the Alawites, Israel and the West, committed to keeping the bulk of Mesopotamia (i.e. 'the Fertile Crescent of minorities') free from Islamic rule and free from Turkish, Arab or Persian domination. 'With God, all things are possible' (Matthew 19:26; see also, Luke 1:37).

PLEASE PRAY FOR Syria's grieving, traumatised and deeply anxious Christians; may God comfort them, supply all their needs and redeem all their suffering. May the Lord intervene in Syria in the interests of the Church, in the interests of Syria.


EASTER PRAYER

Dear God our Father,
We lift before you the imperilled Christians of the Middle East, along with persecuted and suffering believers everywhere. 
They suffer betrayal, injustice, violence and killing -- just as you did.
They struggle with fear, panic, terror and confusion -- just as did your disciples.
Though we join in lamentations we find hope in the Cross which reminds us that no matter how deep the darkness, you are there, alive and active, subverting evil and redeeming it for good in fulfilment of promise.
Father, 
Add our tears to the tears of the bereaved and oppressed, and to the blood of the martyrs: that suffering might be redeemed, that hearts might be softened and the 'soil' prepared to receive the Gospel of grace. 
Pour out your Spirit afresh upon the Church, that we might with boldness step out in faith and with grace and great generosity of spirit to be cross-bearers (Luke 14:27) and burden-sharers (Galatians 6:2) that the world might believe (John 17:20-23).
Lord have mercy on us for the sake of the Lamb, Jesus Christ the King of kings and Lord of lords.
AMEN

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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, April 5, 2017

RLPB 401. Turkey and Indonesia: Islamic zeal to soar over Easter

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 401 | Wed 05 Apr 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)


TURKEY AND INDONESIA: ISLAMIC ZEAL TO SOAR OVER EASTER 
by Elizabeth Kendal

This RLPB is a little longer than usual as it covers two situations over which we must watch and pray from now, through Easter and beyond. [Next week's RLPB will simply consist of a short Easter devotion.] Whilst some might consider this bulletin alarmist, it arises out of a deep, evidence and experienced-based conviction that the situations in both Turkey and Jakarta are potentially explosive with serious implications for the church. So the call is to watch and pray.

TURKEY: CONSTITUTIONAL REFERENDUM, SUNDAY 16 APRIL 

Turkey will hold a constitutional referendum on Easter (Resurrection) Sunday 16 April. If passed, the position of prime minister will be abolished and the president will gain sweeping executive powers, including the right to veto legislation, dissolve parliament, appoint 12 of the 15 justices of the Constitutional Court and run for three 5-year terms, all while enjoying the guarantee of life-long immunity from prosecution. Pre-polling indicates that the vote will be extremely close. Though youths are overwhelmingly pro-'yes', they are expressing also a reluctance to vote. It is to be expected, therefore, that President Erdogan will play the ultra-nationalist ethnic and religious cards relentlessly. Of all the issues that could be exploited for political gain, surely none is as powerful or as sensitive as the issue of Hagia Sophia.

6th Century mosaic inside Hagia Sophia
Emperor Justinian (l) with his offering of Hagia Sophia
Emperor Constantine (r) with his offering of the city (Constantinople).

Istanbul's Hagia Sophia (Church of Holy Wisdom) was built by Roman Emperor Justinian in the 6th Century after the original church, founded by Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century, was destroyed by fire in 532. Dedicated on 27 December 537, Justinian's Hagia Sophia remains an architectural masterpiece, its dome still unsurpassed. Long the greatest church in the world's greatest city (Constantinople), Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman Islamic conquest of 1453. In November 1934, having already abolished the Caliphate, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk announced that Hagia Sophia would be converted into a Museum, its doors first opening to tourists on 1 February 1935.

The Islamist campaign to restore Hagia Sophia as a fully operational mosque has gathered momentum under Erdogan, who yearns to be Caliph, the leader of Muslims. During Ramadan 2016 (6 June to 5 July), Qur'an recitations were performed at Hagia Sophia for the first time in 81 years. In October, Turkey's powerful ministry of religious affairs (Diyanet) installed Onder Soy as Hagia Sophia's first imam in 81 years, although at this stage Soy's primary responsibility is to oversee the Hunkar Kasri site next door, a former sultan's 'mini palace'. The appointment is purely political.

President Erdogan, 3 April, Rize.
source 
This year Ramadan will extend from Friday 26 May to 24 June, meaning Conquest Day (29 May) -- when Turks celebrate the day Constantinople fell to Ottoman forces -- will be celebrated during Ramadan. If ever there were a time to announce or even just promise the conversion of Hagia Sofia into an operational mosque surely it would be now, ahead of the constitutional referendum, maybe even on Friday 14 April (Good Friday). Would the promise of President Erdogan leading prayers in Hagia Sofia on the first day of Ramadan -- Friday 26 May, ahead of Conquest Day on 29 May -- entice Turkey's radicalised youths to the polls? If Erdogan takes the path of ethno-religious 'populism', trampling Christian sensitivities in the process, the result would doubtless be an explosion of ethnic (Turkish) and religious (traditional Sunni Islamic) nationalism and supremacism. This would certainly bode ill for the Church in Turkey. Please watch and pray.


INDONESIA: JAKARTANS TO ELECT A GOVERNOR ON WEDNESDAY 19 APRIL
Megawati (c), flanked by
Ahok (l), running mate Hidayat (r)

Jakarta's gubernatorial run-off election on Wednesday 19 April will be the most hotly contested poll in the city's short democratic history. [For background see RLPB 395 (22 Feb 2017).] The race pits the incumbent ethnic Chinese Christian Governor of Jakarta, Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama, against Anies Baswedan who has the support of the Islamists.  Former president and current Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) chairwoman, Megawati Soekarnoputri, is imploring women to vote for Ahok. First round loser Agus Yudhoyono is refusing to endorse either candidate, telling his supporters they are free to choose for themselves. Consequently, Ahok stands a good chance of winning.

Unsurprisingly, hard-line Islamist groups are increasing the pressure, ramping up the rhetoric and the volume, posting hate banners around the city and threatening Muslims. On 31 March [313] they held another rally in the city, which, despite being denounced by Indonesia's largest organisations,  Nadhlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, still attracted an estimated 200,000.

313 rally.  Image: Jakarta Post
More images: Pacific Press
Islamists have also formed a mass movement called Tamasya AlMaidah (Al-Maidah Tour). They claim it has attracted more than 100,000 members to date, although they say they are aiming for one million. They plan to post 100 Tamasya AlMaidah activists -- men dressed in all white, women in all black -- at 1000 polling stations they maintain are at risk of election fraud or tampering. Aiming to post 'observers' to all 13,032 polling stations, Tamasya AlMaidah says it will bring in Islamists from across the country. Many Jakartans fear the stage is being set for voter intimidation and violent clashes.

Meanwhile Ahok's blasphemy trial continues, with analysts surmising that he may well be acquitted on the grounds that, as a man long-friendly to Muslims, he never intended to blaspheme or offend. (Intention is a critical element of Article 156A of the Criminal Code as it pertains to blasphemy.) [For more background see: ‘Ahok’s Blasphemy’, by Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 29 Nov 2016.]  The trial is expected to conclude in May. Meanwhile, Jakarta is polarising and tensions are running high. If Islamic hard-liners do not get what they want, we might see an explosion of 'Islamic resistance'.  Please watch and pray.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT

* no matter what happens in the coming weeks, Turkey and Jakarta will remain peaceful and the Church safe.

May the 'God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth ... who by his strength ... stills the roaring of the seas', interpose himself into the politically-charged situations in Turkey and Jakarta, and 'still ... the tumult of the peoples' (from Psalm 65:5-8 ESV).

* the Lord of Glory will redeem the situations in Turkey and Jakarta so they will ultimately work for the good of the Church. 'And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.' (Romans 8:28 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
-------------------------------------------------------
TURKEY AND INDONESIA: ISLAMIC ZEAL TO SOAR OVER EASTER 

Turkey will hold a constitutional referendum on Easter Sunday, 16 April. If passed, it will increase the power of the president significantly, ironically reducing democracy by means of democracy. As the day approaches, President Erdogan will doubtless play the 'populist' ethnic (Turkish), religious (Sunni Islamic) card relentlessly. An explosion of Turkish-Islamic supremacy would bode ill for the Church in Turkey. Likewise, Jakarta will hold its gubernatorial run-off poll on Wednesday 19 April. The race pits the incumbent governor, ethnic Chinese Christian 'Ahok', against 'Anies', who is favoured by Islamists. Meanwhile, Ahok's blasphemy trial is expected to continue into May. Tensions are soaring. Please watch and pray for Turkey and Indonesia and that, no matter what happens in the coming weeks, they will remain peaceful and the Church safe.

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

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, March 28, 2017

RLPB 400. March Update. Incl. Egypt, Syria, Eritrea, India, Assyrians in Iraq; Nigeria, Prisoners in Iran and China; Somalia, West Africa

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 400 | Wed 29 Mar 2017

by Elizabeth Kendal

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)


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

* EGYPT (RLPB 396), after 'Islamic State in Egypt' threatened Coptic Christians in North Sinai and called for IS sympathisers to report the whereabouts of Copts. Seven Copts were murdered in a matter of weeks, triggering an exodus of Copts from the Sinai.

UPDATE: According to the spokesman for the Coptic Orthodox Church, Rev Boulos Halim, an estimated 310 Coptic families were uprooted during the crisis in late February and early March; other sources report higher figures. Whilst around 200 families have settled in Ismailia (on the Suez Canal), other families are settling in Port Said, Asyut, Minya, Sharqia, Gharbia and Cairo. Kasr al-Dobara Evangelical Church in Ismailia has registered the displaced Copts to ensure they receive ongoing assistance. Many believe they will never be able to return to their homes. Despite this being 'the largest wave of collective displacement in Egypt since the June 1967 war' (Al-Monitor, 20 March) the international response continues to be one of stone cold silence. Pray for Egypt and its Church.

* XINJIANG, CHINA (RLPB 397), where a massive security crackdown is under way. Though focused primarily on Islamic jihadists and separatists, the Communist Party is keen to consolidate its control over all of society. Consequently, the Church in Xinjiang -- especially the house church movement -- is experiencing increased repression and persecution.

* EGYPT (RLPB 398), where Coptic Christian girls are disappearing into the hands of Islamic trafficking gangs and sexual slavery at the rate of one girl every two days.

* DAMASCUS, SYRIA (RLPB 399), where a new al-Qaeda-led jihadist coalition known as Hay'at Tahrir al Sham (HTS: 'Assembly for the Liberation of Syria') is threatening security in the capital.

UPDATE: On Tuesday 21 March, HTS fighters staged a car bombing in the Abassiyin area of north-eastern Jobar district. Just 2km from the walls of the Old City, it is the same district HTS invaded on 15 March. As would be expected, the Syrian Army's response has been ferocious. Despite having been driven back, HTS still boasts its ability to strike terror. With HTS threatening Damascus and Hezbollah threatening Israel (from southern Syria), the situation is growing increasingly complicated. Pray for Syria and its imperilled, remnant Church.


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

* ERITREA: IMPRISONED AND ABUSED TO DEATH
click on map to enlarge
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports that two Protestant Christian women who had been detained in Wi'a military camp died in Massawa Hospital on 17 March, five days after being admitted. Imprisoned for their faith, the women had commenced a hunger strike in protest at their treatment. CSW has learned that the women's bodies showed clear evidence of violent sexual abuse. When the women died the authorities confiscated their medical records, doubtless to eliminate evidence of human rights abuses. CSW has also learned that a significant number of Christians were arrested on Christmas Eve and forcibly marched barefoot to an unknown location. Eritrea is one of the most violently repressive and abusive totalitarian states in the world. Christianity has been under sustained and targeted attack since 2002. Pray Psalm 10 for Eritrea; pray the LORD will intervene.

* INDIA: IMPUNITY EMBOLDENS ATTACKERS

On 17 March Assemblies of God pastor Ajay Kumar and Bible college student Assaryav were lured into a trap in Begusarai, Bihar state and then bashed by Hindu militants. Not only did police not intervene, they subsequently arrested the two Christians on charges of 'forcible conversions'. Kumar and Assaryav remained in custody until after midnight when they were released on bail, charged with 'deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India' under sections 295/295-A of the Indian Penal Code. A minority comprised mostly of the poor and marginalised, the Indian Church has little voice or influence inside India. The situation is extremely serious.

'I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.' (Psalm 121:1-2 ESV)

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath (c),
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (r).
UTTAR PRADESH ELECTIONS (update to RLPB 394): The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has secured a landslide win in Uttar Pradesh. Opting to ride to power on the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who campaigned on a platform of economic development, the BJP did not even name a candidate for Chief Minister. Only when it had won a majority -- securing 225 of the 403 seats -- did the BJP name hard-line Hindu cleric Yogi Adityanath (44) [click here for profile] as the new Chief Minister. A New York Times editorial described this as 'a shocking rebuke to religious minorities', adding that 'nothing stands in the [BJP's] way of realising its long-held dream of transforming a secular republic into a Hindu state'. Pray for India and its Church.

* IRAQ: DISPLACED ASSYRIANS NEED ONGOING AID

Sources have told World Watch Monitor that the supplies sustaining displaced Assyrian Christians in northern Iraq could run out 'within weeks'. However, they do note that the UN agencies which have long ignored the Assyrians have changed their outlook since US President Donald Trump threatened to reduce US funding to the UN, and are now pledging more assistance. Without ongoing aid, the remnant Assyrians -- whose numbers have fallen from 1.4 million in 1987 to around 200,000 today (most of whom are displaced and destitute) -- 'could disappear within the next six to 12 months'. They are indeed 'a threatened people on the verge of extinction, the victims of horrific genocide'.  Pray that the Lord will supply all their needs, realising that while God does work miracles, more often than not he works through his Church, through us, his  'human instruments'. [See www.ElizabethKendal.com/Action ]

* NIGERIA: CHRISTIANS KILLED AS FULANI EXPAND SOUTH

Christians continue to be killed and driven from their homes and farms by southward migrating Fulani Muslims who appear to be guaranteed impunity. Morning Star News reports that on 11 March suspected Muslim Fulani herdsmen killed at least six Christians in Tombo-Mbalagh, Benue state, bringing the total number of Christians killed in rural areas of Benue so far this year to 29. In neighbouring Nasarawa state, more than 200 have been killed and 500 wounded since the start of this year, while homes and farms have been destroyed. Two Christians (including a village chief) were killed and hundreds displaced when Fulani attacked a local congregation of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in Oshugu village on Sunday 19 March. Commenting on the constant state of insecurity one survivor lamented, 'no one is doing anything about it'. Pray for God to intervene in Nigeria.
 
* PRISONERS ALERT: IRAN AND CHINA

Iranian Christian convert, Maryam Naghash Zargaran, is again in urgent need of medical care [RLPB 372 (24 Aug 2016)]. Maryam, an evangelist who has been incarcerated in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison since March 2013, suffers with Atrial Septal Defect, a congenital heart defect also known as 'hole in the heart'. Due for release in July 2017, Maryam is struggling with serious depression and weight loss, along with other symptoms consistent with a deteriorating heart condition. Please pray.

Pastor Yang Hua
See: China Aid Association
ALSO in urgent need of medical care is Yang Hua, pastor of the 700-member, Protestant Living Stone Church in China's Guizhou Province. Arrested in January 2016, Yang -- who had been resisting pressure to register the church with the Communist-controlled Three Self Patriotic Movement -- was sentenced on 26 December to two-and-a-half years in prison for allegedly 'divulging state secrets'. Today Yang Hua's legs are so severely inflamed that he is at risk of paralysis. Without treatment his condition could require amputation. He has been given pain killers, but not the prescribed penicillin or specialist care. Denial of medical care is in reality a form of torture. Please pray. 

'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)

* SOMALIA: MORE CHRISTIANS ASSASSINATED 

Morning Star News reports that one night in February, armed militants from al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab broke into the home of a Christian convert family in Afgoi, in Somalia's Lower Shebelle Region. Shouting 'Allahu Akbar' they shot converts Suleiman Abdiwahab (38), his wife Faduma Osman (35) and their son Ahmed Suleiman (11). Neighbours rushed in to find Suleiman critically wounded with bullet wounds to his chest; his wife and son dead. Three other children aged 13, 9 and 7 managed to escape. The neighbours took Suleiman to hospital; the family has since been relocated. May God bring healing to this grieving and traumatised family and protect and preserve his imperilled Church in Somalia.

* WEST AFRICA: JIHADIST COALITION FORMED
Just as it has done in Syria, al-Qaeda is advancing its strategic policy of jihadist unity in West Africa. On 2 March four jihadist entities -- Ansar Dine, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) Sahara branch, Al Murabitoon and the ethnic Fulani 'Katibat Macina' -- announced they had merged to form Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims). The Mali-based coalition is loyal to al-Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri and AQIM head Abdelmalek Droukdel. This is bad news for the Church and all Christian people-groups across West Africa. It further raises the stakes in volatile IVORY COAST which was recently rocked by mutinies in the former rebel capital of Bouake and at a Special Forces base in Adiake just 90km east of the port city of Andijan. [See Ivory Coast: Troubles Far From Over, by Elizabeth Kendal, 9 March 2017.] May God protect and preserve the Church in West Africa.

'Put not your trust in princes ... Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God ... The Lord loves the righteous ... but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.' (From Psalm 146)

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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