Wednesday, April 27, 2016

RLPB 354. April Update, Incl. Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan and Armenia; China, Syria, Turkey, Vietnam

 Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 354 | Wed 27 April 2016

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Elizabeth Kendal

APRIL 2016 ROUND-UP -- this month we prayed concerning ...

* NAGORNO-KARABAKH (NK), an Armenian Christian enclave in Turkic Muslim Azerbaijan (RLPB 351), which, over 1-5 April, saw the worst hostilities since the 1994 ceasefire.

UPDATE: it has emerged that, while the Azeri military was shelling Nagorno Karabakh (NK), Azeri soldiers who managed to invade NK were committing atrocities. In the NK village of Talish, Azeri soldiers brutally murdered three elderly civilians, mutilated the bodies of 18 Karabakh soldiers, and beheaded a young Armenian Yazidi soldier. On the night of 7 April -- two days after the ceasefire -- Azeri forces shelled Karmir, Ttudjur, and Baganis, three villages in north-east ARMENIA. Fortunately there were no casualties. Tensions are high. Wedged between belligerent NATO-member, neo-Ottoman Turkey, and belligerent, US-allied, oil- and gas-rich Azerbaijan, the remnant Christian Armenians need our prayers.

* NIGERIA (RLPB 352), where Boko Haram terror and Muslim Fulani predatory migration are inflicting appalling suffering on the Christian peoples of northern Nigeria. May God intervene to bring justice, security and peace.

* SUDAN (RLPB 352), where the Arab-Islamist Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and allied militias continue to press in on the predominantly Christian African Nuba peoples of South Kordofan. Fighting continues to rage, but the 'rebel' Sudan People's Liberation Army-North is holding its ground. May God intervene to 'turn back the battle' (Isaiah 28:5-6).

* LIBYA (RLPB 353), where a decimated remnant Church may soon come under increased pressure, as the dark storm clouds of war gather and the battle for Libya intensifies. 'Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.' (Psalm 57:1 ESV)


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

* CHINA: GU RELEASED; DING MURDERED

After three months in 'black jail' detention for criticising Chinese Communist Party (CCP) policy, Rev 'Joseph' Gu Yuese, of Hangzhou's 10,000-strong, CCP-approved Chongyi Church, was released on 31 March. He remains under house arrest. On 14 April, when bulldozers arrived at Beitou Church in Zhumadian, Henan Province, Pastor Li Jiangong and his wife, Ding Cuimei, stood defiantly in front of the machines. Their efforts to prevent the demolition of the church were, however, in vain. Urged on by his supervisor, the bulldozer operator proceeded not only to demolish the property, but to deliberately bury the couple alive. Li survived, but Ding did not. China Aid reports that in response to an outcry, the demolition crew has been arrested and an investigation is under way. Pray for the Church in China.

* SYRIA: DAMASCUS CELEBRATES, ALEPPO SUFFERS 

Easter in Damascus,  April 2016
source AsiaNews
With the support of Russia, a re-energised Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has brought a greater level of security to the country's west, specifically the densely populated north-south Aleppo-Damascus corridor and the coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartus. Consequently, this year's Easter celebrations were reportedly the best for five years. This was especially so in Damascus, where Christians (many thousands of whom are displaced) filled the churches and the streets where Muslims joined in the festivities.

The battle for Aleppo, Syria's commercial capital, is heating up. Though most of Aleppo's estimated 200,000 Christians have fled and are now displaced in Latakia and Damascus, many remain and are gravely imperilled. Rebel shelling has targeted Kurdish and Armenian districts; many have been killed. There are also reports that the rebels are attempting to ethnically cleanse Kurds, Armenians and Assyrians out of the city. North of the city, al-Nusra and IS are fighting each other. South of the city, they are co-operating in an effort to cut the Khanasar Road, the only government-held road into Aleppo, critical for supply into government-held areas. May God intervene on behalf of the imperilled remnant Church trapped in Aleppo.

April 22 marked the third anniversary of the abduction of Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syrian Orthodox Church and Bishop Boulos Yaziji of the Greek Orthodox Church. The bishops had been abducted by foreign jihadists while travelling north of Aleppo. They had been to the Turkish border to negotiate the release of two priests abducted six weeks earlier. Their driver (a priest) was killed [see RLPB 207 (23 April 2013)]. The fate of the two bishops and two priests remains unknown to this day. Please pray.

* TURKEY: GOVERNMENT SEIZES ARMENIAN CHURCHES

As part of its war against its Kurdish minority, Turkey has been bombing the predominantly Kurdish city Diyarbakir in south-east Turkey, a city that essentially functions as the Kurdish capital.  Situated on the eastern edge of the city, historic Sur district has been the focus of particularly heavy shelling. At the end of March, the government seized some 6,300 plots of land and ordered the residents out, saying the district will be rebuilt. Sur's Kurdish and Armenian populations suspect they will not be able to return and that what is happening is the ethnic cleansing of Sur district.  Of particular distress to the Armenians is the government's acquisition of six churches. Unlike mosques which are state owned and funded, the churches are the private property of their foundations.

Surp Giragos 
One of the churches seized is Surp (Saint) Giragos Armenian Apostolic Church, one of the largest Armenian churches in the Middle East. After WWI, this church, which had been a focal point for Armenians before the genocide, fell into disrepair, but the Kurdish administration backed its renovation. Since its re-opening in October 2011 Surp Giragos has become a focal point not only for Armenian Christians, but for 'Hidden Armenians' -- the descendants of Armenian Christians (often orphans) who were Islamised and raised as Kurds or Turks. The Church has been key to many 'Hidden Armenians' rediscovering their identities. Whilst dozens have been baptised, Church leaders believe there could be as many as half-a-million 'Hidden Armenians' in Turkey.  Surp Giragos Church is preparing to take legal action. Pray for the Armenians of Turkey.

* VIETNAM: TRIAL OF NGUYEN VAN DAI
Nguyen Van Dai

As reported in RLPB 340 (15 Dec 2015), Christian attorney and religious liberty defender   Mr. Nguyen Van Dai was brutally attacked by officials of the Vietnamese Communist regime on 6 December 2015.  Subsequently, on 16 Dec, Dai was arrested at his home, charged under Article 88 of the Criminal Code ('spreading propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam') and jailed in Hanoi for four months pending trial. Four months is now up and Dai is still in prison with no date set for the trial. If found guilty Dai would face between three and twenty years in prison. Denied access to her husband, Dai's wife, Vu Minh Khanh -- a strong Christian and active church worker -- is currently travelling in the US, speaking to supporters and members of the Congress and Senate to raise awareness of Dai's plight. [She will be in Australia on 29 and 30 June.] Dai has already spent five years in prison in Hanoi (2007-2011). Please pray.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today  (Deror Books, Dec 2012), which provides a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat.

Her second book, ‘After Saturday Comes Sunday’: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, is being published by Wipf and Stock (Eugene, OR, USA) and will be released shortly.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

RLPB 353. Libya: Storm Clouds Gather

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 353 | Thu 21 Apr 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)


LIBYA: STORM CLOUDS GATHER
By Elizabeth Kendal

Libya has multiple 'governments'. There is the General National Congress (GNC), which is based in the western city of Tripoli, Libya's capital. The GNC is backed by Libya Dawn (a jihadist coalition which includes many al-Qaeda-affiliated militias) and is committed to establishing an Islamic State. Then there is the ousted House of Representatives (HoR) or 'Tobruk Government', which is based in the eastern city of Tobruk and backed by the anti-Islamist, anti-jihadist Libyan National Army (LNA) under the command of Gen. Khalifa Haftar. In between them, al-Baghdadi's Islamic State / Caliphate (IS) controls at least 150km of coastline around Sirte. The 'international community' has entertained hopes that the Tripoli government might voluntarily integrate with the Tobruk government in a Government of National Accord (GNA) to form a unified front against IS. Though a UN-backed deal was brokered in December 2015, hardliners on both sides rejected the deal, with Islamists refusing to co-operate with nationalists and vice versa. Despite Western-UN backing, the GNA has neither 'legs' nor legitimacy. Nevertheless, it seems the GNA will soon invite Western powers to launch an anti-IS military intervention in Libya.

click on map to enlarge
While the UN was busy forming a 'unity government', senior leaders of Libya's Muslim Brotherhood and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Libyan Islamic Fighters Group (who were part of the Tripoli-based government) were busy reaching out to senior leaders of other al-Qaeda affiliates and to IS, proposing the creation of a unified Majlis Shura (Islamic consultative council / parliament). The Islamists know that unity is essential if they are to seize and hold Libya's oil infrastructure while resisting the Libyan National Army and any Western intervention. According to Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, the official magazine of the International Strategic Studies Association, (Issue 3, 2016), efforts to forge jihadist unity have been phenomenally successful. The desire for unity is driven by the realisation that Libya would be the perfect launching place for Islamic jihad into Egypt and all North Africa, the Maghreb and the Sahel, as well as into Italy and all Europe. [Tripoli is only 300 km from the Italian island of Lampedusa, complete with harbour and airstrip.] To that end, IS’s Caliph Ibrahim (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) has deployed some of his most senior, experienced and widely respected commanders to Libya. He has also confirmed he is willing to work in unity with Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda affiliates without requiring them to pledge allegiance to the Caliphate. IS already has some 6500 fighters in Libya, of whom around 1000 are women (who will doubtless be used in suicide operations). Plans are already afoot to create an IS 'navy' (for ferrying migrants, piracy, and use as boat-bombs) and to acquire anti-ship missiles from Hamas.

Anglican Church Tripoli,
in better days
Hence it is highly probable that Libya will soon be aflame. The threat to the remnant Church is extreme. Furthermore, if the jihadists (led by IS) have success in Libya then Egypt will be in their sights, as will Italy and Rome (the goal). As a vulnerable, persecuted minority, Egypt's indigenous Christian Copts would be gravely and existentially imperilled, as would the vulnerable, largely Berber Church in Tunisia and Algeria. These minority Christians do not have state power or an army to protect them. Indeed -- everything is better when the jihadists are divided and at war with each other. We must not sit idly by as evil advances, 'for we are not ignorant of [Satan's] designs' (2 Corinthians 2:11).

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT 

* Yahweh Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts, will intervene to 'throw [the jihadists] into great confusion, until they are destroyed' (from Deuteronomy 7). May they 'fade like the grass'; may their 'arms' (means of action) 'be broken'; may they 'vanish' like 'smoke'; may they be 'cut off' (from Psalm 37). May the LORD contend with them (from Isaiah 49:24-26)!

* Jesus Christ, having already bound the strongman [Satan] through the cross, will continue to 'plunder his house': i.e. liberate his captives/slaves; i.e. rescue the lost, including Muslims -- even jihadists and persecutors of the Church. (See Matthew 12:22-32)

* Christ will pour out his Spirit in great abundance on the remnant Church in Libya and across North Africa so that believers will have all the wisdom, faith, courage and grace they need to navigate the troubled days ahead. 'The Lord is my shepherd ...' (Psalm 23)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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STORM CLOUDS GATHER OVER LIBYA

It appears likely that Libya's newly formed UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) will invite Western powers to launch an anti-IS military intervention in Libya. However, the GNA is rejected by both the Islamist government in Tripoli and the anti-Islamist government in Tobruk. Meanwhile, Libya's Islamic jihadists have united with the aim of capturing the oil fields and launching jihad into Egypt and across North Africa, as well as into Italy and across Europe -- hence the likelihood that Libya will soon be aflame. The threat to the remnant Libyan Church is extreme. If the jihadists succeed, the threat will spread explosively. Egypt's indigenous Christian Copts also would be gravely imperilled, as would the vulnerable, largely Berber Church in Tunisia and Algeria. Please pray for God to intervene in Libya.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat.

Elizabeth Kendal’s new book, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, is presently being published by Wipf and Stock (Eugene, OR, USA) and will be available shortly.