Tuesday, February 2, 2016

RLPB 342. Mexico: needing a word from Pope Francis (plus China update)

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 342 | Wed 03 Feb 2016

-- Plus China Update: Pastor Gu Yuese arrested.
By Elizabeth Kendal

Pope Francis will visit Mexico for a six-day tour over 12-17 February. His itinerary will include visits to poor and indigenous communities and his message will 'highlight issues of economic justice, migration, drug-related violence and the rights of indigenous peoples'.
His tour will commence in the south and end in the far north, in Ciudad Juárez, from where he will enter the US, apparently in solidarity with migrants. While in Ciudad Juárez, Pope Francis will visit a prison to meet with prisoners. Though not on the agenda, hopefully he might also get to meet Ciudad Juárez’s angels: poor Protestant youths, from a small evangelical church known as 'Psalm 100', who have risked their lives to present a message of repentance and righteousness to Ciudad Juárez’s drug-trafficking murderers, and in doing so changed their city. [See Religious Liberty Monitoring (Feb 2012)]

Though Mexico is overwhelmingly Catholic (around 80 percent of the population), the Catholic Church is in decline, riddled as it is with the rapidly growing Satanic cult of Santa Muerle (Saint Death) and the syncretism so prevalent in historically animist indigenous communities. In this context, Protestant Christianity has grown from 4.9 percent of the population in 1990 to 7.6 percent in 2010, arousing jealousy and angst in the Catholic Church. Though Mexico has excellent religious freedom laws, the situation on the ground is far from satisfactory and Protestants are in the firing line. Sometimes the persecution is incited by jealous Catholic clergy. At other times it is driven by fear that Protestant refusal to participate in idol worship or animist rituals will attract the wrath of belligerent spirits. More often than not it is a mixture of both.

In the most recent case, Baptist officials have confirmed that ten Baptist families, comprising 18 adults and 10 children, have been expelled from Tuxpan de Bolanos, an indigenous Huichol community in the north of Jalisco State. (Some reports give double these numbers.) In December the village assembly adopted a resolution vowing to expel the Baptists if they did not return to Roman Catholicism, which the assembly described as 'the traditional faith'. Even though state and federal government officials and the Jalisco State Human Rights Commission were alerted, no action was taken to save the believers from forced displacement. On 26 January the Protestants were informed a truck would come to their homes to take them away. They were warned that if they failed to co-operate they would be lynched. According to the National Baptist Convention of Mexico (NBCM), after being taken away by the truck the group was 'abandoned' in the mountains. The NBCM collected the believers and transported them to safety in Puente de Camotlan, in neighbouring Nayarit.

Such persecution occurs frequently in Mexico, especially in indigenous communities. Despite Mexico's excellent religious freedom provisions, persecution persists primarily because the country's laws are not upheld and the persecutors are never punished but are protected by Catholic officials. If Pope Francis really believes in justice and really cares about indigenous peoples and the poor, then he should raise his voice of authority and call for an end to Roman Catholic persecution of Mexico's Protestant Christians, most of whom are poor and indigenous.


* God, our merciful father, will provide for the displaced Baptists of Tuxpan de Bolanos, supplying all their needs and securing justice on their behalf.

'Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. . . . For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.' (Psalm 100:3,5 ESV)

* Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, will lead and guide Mexico's Protestants, especially their local shepherds/pastors, as they risk much to offer life and hope to a troubled land and a desperately needy people.  Lord, in your grace and mercy, continue to bless their courageous, sacrificial and costly witness.

* the Holy Spirit will move Pope Francis to raise his authoritative Catholic voice in defence of religious freedom and in the cause of justice, for the sake of Mexico's mostly poor and indigenous, persecuted Protestants.


Mexico's population is 80 percent Roman Catholic, but that Church is declining while Protestant Christianity is growing. Despite excellent legislation for religious freedom, Mexico's laws are not upheld and Roman Catholics who persecute Protestants are never punished. The problem is most severe in indigenous communities where Catholicism is blended with traditional animist beliefs and practices. On 26 January ten Baptist families who refused to return to Catholicism were forcibly expelled from their indigenous community in Jalisco. Despite the authorities being alerted, no action was taken to protect the Protestants who were loaded into a truck, driven into the mountains and abandoned. The National Baptist Convention of Mexico went and took them to safety. Such persecution is frequent in Mexico, especially in indigenous regions. Please pray for Mexico and its Church.



Pastor 'Joseph' Gu
Last week's RLPB 341 reported that the Three Self Patriotic Movement (China's official Church) and China Christian Council (official organisation) had dismissed Pastor 'Joseph' Gu Yuese as pastor of the 10,000-strong TSPM Chongyi Church in the Zhejiang capital, Hangzhou, after he criticised the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) policy of removing crosses in Zhejiang. On 27 January police arrested Pastor Gu at his home and placed him in secret detention where he is reportedly being investigated for corruption. According to reports, 'The incident has sparked significant uproar in the Christian community in China.' As China Aid head Bob Fu told the BBC, the charges are nothing more than 'political revenge' for disloyalty to the CCP. Please pray.


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

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

RLPB 341. January Update, Incl. Burkina Faso, Mali, China, Cuba, Iran, Northern Ireland (UK), Sudan, Mesopotamia (Iraq-Syria)

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 341 | Wed 27 Jan 2016

By Elizabeth Kendal

We start the year with dozens of faithful believers incarcerated and 'disappeared', hundreds of thousands dispossessed and traumatised and millions repressed and persecuted. But the promises of God are eternal: such as 'I am with you always' (Matthew 28:20).  And so we pray.

JANUARY 2016 ROUND-UP -- this month ...


As Islamic State (IS) consolidates in Libya (its African beach-head into Europe), AQIM (led by Algerians) is pressing south into the Sahel. Stratfor Global Intelligence reports: 'Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is entering 2016 stronger than it was at the beginning of 2015... [The] group can be expected to continue to conduct kidnappings and armed assaults across a wide expanse of the Sahel, both to raise funds and to attract attention and recruits' Accordingly, the risk to Christians, especially to foreign Christian workers, could escalate markedly, as it did in 2012.


On Friday 15 January six militants (including two females) from AQIM's al-Murabitoon attacked Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. After detonating car bombs, they laid siege to the Splendid Hotel and nearby Cappuccino cafe -- sites frequented by elites and foreigners. The security forces regained control on 16 January, killing four jihadists. By that time the jihadists had killed 29 civilians, including seven foreign Christian workers -- one American, and six Canadian short-term aid workers (four from one family). The American, Michael Riddering (45, and a father of four) had, along with his wife Amy, been running an orphanage and women's refuge in the West African country since 2011. AQIM claimed responsibility for the attack, calling it 'a new message ... to the slaves of the cross' and 'a reminder to the worshippers of the cross ...'

On 16 January, as the siege was under way, another AQIM-linked group, Ansar al Dine, crossed into Burkina Faso from Mali and kidnapped Australian missionaries Dr Ken Elliot (81) and his wife Jocelyn from their home in Baraboule. The Elliots, who built and ran a 120-bed clinic in nearby Djibo, had been providing medical services to the poorest of the poor in Burkina Faso's remote north since 1972. Dr Elliot has been praying for God to provide a successor, a surgeon who would take over the work of the hospital. 'We really are getting on a little bit in years,' he notes in his Youtube appeal. 'We fully believe that this hospital is here because God loves people.'

'The wounds inflicted on people are felt by the whole nation,' said a statement of the Bishops' Conference of Burkina Faso and Niger. 'We invite you to remember and pray for the victims, the injured, their families and their friends. Our only weapon is prayer. May all believers increase the ardour of prayer as we have done in other circumstances.'


On 15 January, al-Qaeda's Ansar al-Dine kidnapped Swiss Christian missionary Beatrice Stockly from her home in Timbuktu, Mali. This is the second time in four years that Stockly has been kidnapped by jihadis. Kidnapped in April 2012, after Ansar al-Dine seized control of Timbuktu, she was accused of proselytising for Christianity, held for ten days, and warned that she would be executed if she tried to return to Timbuktu. Despite the threat, Stockly returned to Timbuktu in 2013 after French troops liberated the city. AQIM has released a VIDEO showing Stockly in full Islamic dress with  an English-speaking jihadi proposing a prisoner swap.

Grave fears are held for the safety of Ken and Jocelyn Elliot and Beatrice Stockly, and for the future of foreign mission and aid work in Burkina Faso and Mali. Please pray.


In August 2015 Chinese security personnel seized Zhang Kai, Christian attorney and defender of the cross, and Liu Peng, his legal assistant, taking them from a church in Wenzhou into China's secretive 'black jail' system [see RLPB 325 (1 Sep 2015)]. In December, reports emerged that Zhang and Liu had dismissed their legal representation, presumably under duress, having been threatened or coerced. ‘Why else,’ asked the dismissed attorneys, would two human rights lawyers, detained in isolation and in separate locations, suddenly both dismiss their own lawyers? Please pray for Zhang and Liu.

Meanwhile, government-ordered church and cross demolitions continue as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) advances its 'Sinicisation of Christianity' [putting Christianity at the service of the CCP] with censorship of all that is seen and heard. On 28 December 2015 authorities forcibly removed the cross from atop the Xialing church in Wenzhou, in the southern coastal province of Zhejiang. On 6 January 2016 officials in Fuqing, in the neighbouring southern coastal province of Fujian, demolished Yulin Furen Christian Church for its failure to register with the local government. On 7 January crosses were forcibly removed from Nanhu Church and Wutian Dongzhuang Church in Wenzhou. Also in January, the CCP-approved Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) and China Christian Council (CCC) dismissed Pastor Gu Yuese, the senior pastor of China's largest TSPM church, the Chongyi Church in the Zhejiang capital, Hangzhou. Pastor Gu had openly criticised the CCP policy of cross removals in Zhejiang. Pastor Gu had to be sacrificed so as to preserve the TSPM's and CCC's relationship with the CCP. The persecution is escalating.


In December 2014 US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced the restoration of full diplomatic ties. In May 2015 the US removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. In July embassies were re-opened in both Washington and Havana. But while Raul Castro has introduced economic reforms, religious freedom remains a mirage -- and in fact has taken a turn for the worse. A new report by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) released 15 January 2016 describes 2015 as the year of 'crackdown', and reveals 'unprecedented levels of threats on the Cuban Church'. According to CSW, more than 2000 Assemblies of God churches have been deemed illegal, 15 Methodist churches have been confiscated by the state and over 100 churches have been designated for demolition. Pastor Carbelleda (45) of an unregistered church in Havana spent six months of 2015 in prison (without trial) reportedly for holding 'illegal religious services', the first such arrest since 2011. It seems that Cuba has chosen to follow the China model: granting rights and privileges to selected churches which then act as a smokescreen covering pervasive repression. Expect to see persecution escalate as Cuban authorities 'test the waters' to see what they can get away with and what they can afford to do.


While we thank the Lord for the release of Iranian pastor Farshid Fathi (released on 20 December) and US-Iranian prisoner Pastor Saeed Abedini (released in a prisoner swap on 16 January), we remember the dozens of Persian believers who continue to suffer for the name of Christ in Iranian prisons. On 1 February, Amin Khaki, Hossein Barounzadeh, Mohammad Bahrami and Rahman Bahmani -- all of whom are affiliated with the 'Church of Iran' network -- will appear in Ahvaz Revolutionary Court. They were amongst eight believers arrested at a picnic in Shush on 5 March 2014. Though four were later released, these four were imprisoned and later released on bail. Tried on 19 May, the men were each sentenced on 4 October to one year in prison for holding illegal meetings, spreading Christianity and attempting to convert Muslims. The ruling was appealed and the 1 February hearing is a re-trial. Please pray, recalling the promise: 'What you are to say will be given to you in that hour.' (Matthew 10:19)


Update to RLPBs 320 and 340 (28 July and 16 Dec 2015). On 5 January 2016 the Belfast Magistrates Court concluded that, though Pastor James McConnell's remarks about Islam were offensive, they did not reach the high threshold of being 'grossly offensive'. McConnell was therefore found to be not guilty. However, the law used against McConnell will continue to be used against critics of Islam or same-sex marriage, etc. As rulings are arbitrary, freedom of speech is not guaranteed. It is a deeply flawed, subjective law that the intolerant can exploit to silence their critics.


Rev Hassan Abdelrahim
Morning Star News
Christian activist Talahon Nigosi Kassa Ratta (36), a member of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC), was arrested on 14 December 2015. Detained without charge, reportedly he has been questioned extensively about his relationship with a foreign missionary, although Christians suspect he was targeted for protesting against government persecution of the Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church. On 18 December 2015 authorities from the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) arrested Rev Kowa Shamaal at his home in Khartoum Bahri (north) and Rev Hassan Abdelrahim at his home in Omdurman. Both men are associated with the Sudan Church of Christ (SCOC), of which Shamaal is the head of mission and Abdelrahim is vice-moderator. Both men are ethnic Nuba (from the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan) and had objected to government demolitions of SCOC church properties. Though Kowa Shamaal has been conditionally released, Hassan Abdelrahim (a Muslim name) remains detained. Please pray.


US soldiers join in a pre-dawn
Easter service, 2010
images: AINA
* IRAQ: Islamic State has demolished St Elijah's Monastery (known to the Assyrians as Dair Mar Elia) on the outskirts of Mosul. Built by Assyrian Christian monk, St Elijah, between AD 582 and 590, it was Iraq's most ancient monastery and one of the earliest Christian settlements in the wider region. The crime is irreversible and the Assyrians are inconsolable. IS believes that it is here to stay and that the Christian/Assyrian era is over. Of course, that is not what the Bible says:

In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, 'Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.' (Isaiah 19:23-25 ESV).

* SYRIA: A number of Assyrian businesses have been bombed in Qamishli, which is near the Turkish border in the north-east corner the country, where Christians face threats from IS, and tensions are building between Assyrian and Kurdish militias. The IS bombing of three Assyrian properties, including two restaurants, on the evening of 30 December was particularly heinous, killing 16 and wounding 45. Meanwhile, with Russian air support, the Syrian Arab Army has liberated strategic areas in Latakia formerly held by jihadist forces. Referred to in the media as an 'Assad stronghold', Latakia -- which is majority Alawite -- is also hosting hundreds of thousands of mostly displaced Christians. Latakia had been seriously threatened during 2015 by the advance of the Turkey-Saudi funded Jaysh el-Fateh, a rebel coalition led by al-Qaeda's al-Nusra Front but including US-armed and sponsored 'moderate rebels'. To the existentially imperilled Alawites and Christians of Latakia, these al-Qaeda-aligned 'rebels' are anything but moderate. May the Lord protect and preserve his people.


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

Her second book, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, will be published by Wipf and Stock (Eugene, OR, USA) in early 2016.