Tuesday, September 27, 2016

RLPB 377. September Update, Incl. Pakistan, Russia, Jordan, Algeria, China, Germany, Syria

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 377 | Wed 28 Sep 2016

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

'Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.' (Psalm 33:20-22 ESV)

SEPTEMBER 2016 UPDATE -- this month we prayed concerning ...

* PAKISTAN (RLPB 374), after militants from a faction of the Pakistani Taliban failed in their attempt to massacre the Christians of Warsak Dam Colony north of Peshawar. After considering the religious hatred inherent in the attack and the vulnerability of Christians, we praised God for his mercy and deliverance.

UPDATES: Video footage has emerged of the Pakistani Taliban's 'Special Group' undertaking military training in Swabi district, north-west Pakistan. Swabi district is on the eastern edge of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, only some 80 km from Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The Taliban are back!

Arif Masih
World Watch Monitor
After Friday prayers on 16 September a mob of some 20 Muslims attacked a poor Christian neighbourhood in the village of Chajwal, some 32 km south of Faisalabad. Two Christian women, whose clothes were largely torn off, were publicly humiliated, while five Christians required hospitalisation. No motive (other than hate and a desire to subjugate) has been established. Labourer Arif Masih (55, pictured) told World Watch Monitor, 'I could not even understand why they were beating me.'

On 18 September Nabeel Chohan, a 16-year-old Christian boy from Dina Nath village, Kasur District, Punjab Province, was arrested and charged with defaming and disrespecting Islam, and hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims. The complainant accused Nabeel of having 'liked' a Facebook image that showed the Kaaba in Mecca in a disrespectful light. As soon as the Christians of Dina Nath village heard that Nabeel had been accused, they fled their homes in fear of the Muslims.  The police have secured the village and are calling on Christians to return.

One of Pakistan's leading Christian human rights lawyers, Mushtaq Gill, has finally succumbed to pressure and fled the country with his young family. Over the course of a decade, Gill received numerous death threats and survived several assassination attempts. Mushtaq Gill and his family now join the many thousands of displaced and destitute Pakistani Christians in exile, hoping to find sanctuary outside their homeland. Pakistani Christians will mourn this loss. May God raise up new advocates to defend the cause of his suffering Church.

* RUSSIA, JORDAN, UZBEKISTAN (RLPB 375), praying for those in authority, that religious liberty might be restored or realised.

UPDATES -- RUSSIA: On 5 September a court in St Petersburg found Archbishop Sergei Zhuravlev of the Reformed Orthodox Church of Christ the Savior (Kiev Archdiocese) guilty of illegal missionary activity; he was issued a fine. On 10 September two American citizens were arrested for participating in worship at Kaluga's Word of Life Pentecostal church; they were fined but not deported. On 17 September police arrested participants at a Pentecostal youth conference in Samara; all were later released. On 23 September in what is finally a win for common sense and justice, the Novosergiev district court of Orenburg Province issued a decision in favour of Pastor Alexander Demkin of the Church of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (EKhB), rejecting the ridiculous charges brought against him by the prosecutor's office. As had quickly become evident, the Baptist church's summer programs for children have overwhelming community support.
 
On 20 September Russia's Civic Chamber -- a 126-member oversight committee with consultative powers -- conducted a hearing on the anti-mission measures. While the law's shortcomings were debated, statements made in support of the measures indicate that this law -- particularly as it applies to Protestants -- has more to do with geo-politics than religion. Pray for strategic Russia.

UPDATES -- JORDAN: Having boycotted elections in 2010 and 2013, Islamists now hold 15 of 130 seats. So while the Muslim Brotherhood is back and Islamists have a voice in parliament again, it is a small voice -- diluted, as was intended. None of the Christians who ran on Islamist tickets was elected. However, nine Christians did win seats, the minimum 'guaranteed' to the Christian minority from the electoral quota system.

On Sunday 25 September prominent Jordanian writer, Nahed Hattar (56) -- who, though raised a Christian, professed atheism -- was assassinated on the steps of the court where he was fighting charges of insulting Islam. Hattar had posted a cartoon on Facebook which he said only mocked the jihadist view of paradise. Unfortunately, the jihadist view of paradise is the Qur'anic view of paradise, which is precisely why so many Muslims were angry enough to want Hattar dead. Hattar, a strong supporter of Syrian President Bashar Assad and outspoken critic of ISIS and al Qaeda, had accused his Islamist opponents of using the cartoon as a way of settling scores with him.

On Monday 5 September King Abdullah and Queen Rania launched a program aimed at combating Islamic radicalisation. The government intends to reform education and increase management of mosques. To modernise and secularise the school curriculum, all Qur'anic references will be removed from non-religious texts. There are even plans to replace religion with art and philosophy. Islamic fundamentalists will surely resist. Pray for strategic Jordan.

* CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR) (RLPB 376), which is French-speaking majority Christian (mostly Protestant), remains divided with around half the country occupied by foreign-backed mostly Arabic-speaking Islamic jihadists. For Christians living in rebel-held territory, security is tenuous and massacres persist. May God intervene in CAR.

SEPTEMBER ROUND-UP -- also this month ...

* ALGERIA: CHURCH PURSUES JUSTICE FOR PRISONER

Updating RLPB 372 (23 Aug): On 6 August Algerian Christian Slimane Bouhafs (49) was found guilty of blasphemy against Islam and its prophet after he opined on social media that the light of Jesus was overcoming the 'lie' of Islam and its prophet in the Kabyle region. For this, Bouhafs received the maximum penalty: a hefty fine and five years' imprisonment. Middle East Concern reports that on 6 September an appeals court reduced the sentence to three years. However, this is not good enough. The Protestant Church of Algeria will now appeal to the Supreme Court.

* CHINA: ZHANG KAI RE-ARRESTED

Zhang Kai (centre)
in Wenzhou, 25 Aug 2015
Beijing-based Christian human rights lawyer and 'defender of the cross' Zhang Kai was arrested in August 2015 while providing legal advice to harassed churches in Wenzhou [RLPB 325 (1 Sep 2015)]. On 25 February 2016 Zhang appeared on state TV, 'confessing' to his 'crimes', expressing remorse [RLPB 346 (1 March)] and warning other human rights lawyers not to collude with foreigners. When he was subsequently released on bail, Zhang returned to his mother's home in Inner Mongolia. In late August Zhang breached his bail conditions by posting a video on WeChat in which he retracts his former statement, which he said was made under duress after experiencing a six-month detention that was 'all black and no daylight'. On 31 August security police from Wenzhou City surrounded Zhang's mother's Inner Mongolia home, arrested Zhang and took him away. His condition and whereabouts remain unknown.

* GERMANY: NO SANCTUARY FOR CONVERTS

On 18 October 2015 Iranian convert asylum seeker Amir H. (24) was seriously injured in a German refugee shelter when he was beaten unconscious by an Afghan Muslim asylum seeker armed with a telescopic baton [RLPB 333 (Oct 2015 Update)]. Between 15 and 20 men intervened to restrain the Afghan and then help him flee the scene. The Afghan was arrested in December 2015 and charged with attempted homicide. On 5 September a Hamburg court acquitted the Afghan, citing 'lack of evidence'. Though the Iranian victim had testified that the accused attacked him for converting to Christianity (motive), and that he had shouted 'Allahu Akbar' and threatened to kill him (intent), none of the witnesses -- all of whom were Muslim -- would support Amir (an apostate) or testify against a fellow Muslim. Consequently, the court ruled that a motive had not been established, meaning it had to accept that the assailant may have acted in self-defence. The Christian Police Union reports that attacks against Muslim converts continue to be a problem.

* SYRIA: WAR SHIFTS TO A WHOLE NEW LEVEL

click on map to enlarge
The Battle for Syria has shifted to a whole new level. This is partly due to the breakdown of the Russia-US ceasefire agreement, but also due to Turkey's military incursion into northern Syria. The Turkish military has its sights set on al-Bab. Consequently, the Syrian government has moved to win and end the Battle for Aleppo. The Aleppo Sharia Council has issued a decree deeming Turkey's operation Euphrates Shield a 'legal jihad' to be supported. Imbedded with the Turkish forces are some 40 US Special Forces troops. The presence of US troops guarantees the Turkish forces, and their Free Syrian Army allies, protection from Russian air strikes. Despite this, video footage has emerged of US-backed FSA fighters hurling abuse at the US troops in al-Rai, calling them crusaders, dogs and pigs etc. 'Christians and Americans have no place among us,' shouts one man in the video. Turkey wants to carve out a Turkish enclave through which it and the Gulf Arabs can escalate supply of advanced weaponry to the rebels in eastern Aleppo. Assad's hand has been forced. The war will escalate. Please pray for the Christians in Syria.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of 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). 


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

RLPB 376. Central African Republic (CAR): Another Massacre

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 376 | Wed 21 Sep 2016

First, a bit of trivia. This is the 900th religious liberty prayer bulletin: 524 were issued under the banner of World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (WEA RLC) and 376 have been issued since this ministry operated separately from WEA in April 2009. The religious liberty prayer bulletin exists to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer. 'The Lord waits to be gracious to you ... blessed are all those who wait for him.' (Isaiah 30:18 ESV)

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CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR): ANOTHER MASSACRE
by Elizabeth Kendal

In March 2013 Bangui -- the capital of predominantly Christian (some 76 percent) Central African Republic (CAR) -- was overrun and seized by 'Seleka' -- a foreign-backed alliance of well-armed local and foreign Islamic militias [RLPB 210 (May 2013)]. Seleka's advance and rule were brutal.  But for CAR's Christians the worst was how so many of their Muslim neighbours celebrated Seleka's arrival, even rushing to loot the homes of their now imperilled Christian neighbours. Trust was shattered. Eventually, in January 2014, Seleka was driven from the capital along with its supporters and indeed any hapless Muslim who could be found [RLPB 243 (Jan 2014)]. At that point, France and the UN intervened; now the conflict is frozen with nearly half the state under the control of Islamic militants.

Violence and insecurity persist, especially on the 'front-line' [see RLPB 362 (June 2016)]. The freezing of the conflict has left Christians whose towns and villages are now in rebel-held territory in a precarious position. The Islamic rebels (and their foreign backers) want CAR formally partitioned so the north might become an independent Islamic State [RLPB 259 (May 2014)] – complete with its diamonds [map].  Determined to preserve the de-facto partition, Islamic militants are undermining all the government's efforts to promote reconciliation.

map showing Kaga-Bandoro
Kaga-Bandoro, the capital of the Nana-Grebizi economic prefecture, is a market town in the northern Central African Republic, some 245km north of the capital, Bangui. A mostly Christian city, Kaga-Bandoro is also home to many thousands of displaced Christians from across the north-central region. But Kaga-Bandoro is in rebel-controlled territory, meaning its mostly Christian residents are essentially being held hostage. According to the local media organ, Radio Ndeke Luka, 'anti-Balaka' fighters [village defense militias] from various villages across the region had gathered in the village of Ndomete, some 10km from Kaga-Bandoro. They were allegedly plotting to liberate the city and drive the Islamic militants out.

However, on the evening of Friday 16 September, ex-Seleka fighters under the command of General Alkatim Mahamat swept through Ndomete, going door-to-door killing Christian villagers. According to Radio Ndeke Luka, 19 were slaughtered while dozens were injured. The spokesman to the Presidency, Albert Mokpeme, called it a 'massacre'. The next day clashes erupted in Kaga-Bandoro where at least five more were killed. An aid worker was seriously wounded. The rebels rampaged, looting the radio station, local businesses, aid agencies, as well as the Church of the Nativity which hosts and supports a large population of displaced Christians. Peacekeepers from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) were deployed to the area. Having separated the parties, they are now keeping the 'peace' and calling on the belligerents to lay down their weapons.

Local Christian leaders are sceptical. 'If the government is not going to beef up the security, then we are going to defend ourselves,' one church leader told Morning Star News. 'We shall not keep quiet as our brothers are dying.'

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO 

* intervene in Central African Republic (CAR), giving great wisdom, strength, courage and authority to all who work for peace and reconciliation, especially President Faustin Archange Touadera and all CAR's Church leadership.

* rise up on behalf of the Church in CAR, so that all foreign Islamic militants will be driven out and the borders secured; may the Lord bring healing to CAR.

* influence CAR's Muslim minority, causing them to tire of violence and chaos and to withdraw their support from the rebels, who have only brought them trouble, displacement and poverty; may their hearts be open to the Gospel.


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

Central African Republic (which is 76 percent Christian) remains divided with the north largely under the control of foreign-backed local and foreign Islamic militants. Christians whose towns and villages are in rebel-held territory live with terrible insecurity. Hundreds of thousands are displaced and the 'front-line' is perpetually volatile. On 16 September an Islamic militia swept through the mostly Christian village of Ndomete north-central CAR, killing 19 residents and wounding dozens. The government has labelled it a 'massacre'. The next day clashes erupted in nearby Kaga-Bandoro claiming at least five more lives. UN peacekeepers were deployed to the area and are now maintaining the 'peace'. Please pray that God will intervene in this forgotten, continuing conflict to bring about peace, justice and liberty. Please pray for CAR and its Church.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of 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