Monday, August 25, 2014

RLPB 275. August Update; Incl. Nigeria, Iraq, China, Iran

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 275 | Wed 27 Aug 2014

By Elizabeth Kendal

'From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God beside you, who acts for those who wait for [trust in] him.' Isaiah 65:4 ESV

August 2014 UPDATE -- During August we prayed concerning ...

* NIGERIA & CAMEROON (RLPB 272), where Boko Haram continues its jihad for a Sharia State.

UPDATE: Praise God no more young girls have been used as suicide bombers. However, Boko Haram appears to have adopted the strategy of taking captives for use as soldiers, in much the same way the Lord's Resistance Army has done. Please pray! On Sunday 24 August Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a video statement in which he declared Gwoza town in Borno State part of a new Islamic Caliphate. [Boko Haram seized Gwoza earlier this month.] The United Nations humanitarian office (OCHA) confirms that Gwoza is under rebel control. Vanguard reports: 'Boko Haram is also believed to be in control of other areas near Gwoza in southern Borno, as well as large swathes of territory in northern Borno and at least one town in neighbouring Yobe state. ... Experts have described Boko Haram's gains in recent weeks as unprecedented, saying the group was closer than ever to achieving its goal of carving out a strict Islamic state across northern Nigeria.'

* IRAQ (RLPB 273), where Christians have been almost entirely ethno-religiously cleansed from Nineveh Province. Only the most elderly and frail have remained in their homes, forced to either convert to Islam or pay jizya (protection money) to survive. Nineveh's Christians fled en masse into Iraqi Kurdistan where churches are struggling to cope with this massive humanitarian crisis.

UPDATE: Praise God, some 300 Christian families, comprising a total of some 1200 people, who had previously been living in an open field, have now moved into a shopping mall in the Kurdish capital, Arbil. An elderly woman told reporters: 'We have been in this building more than a week and we thank the owner of the building for sheltering us. The building is well aired. But there is no aid reaching us. We are suffering from a shortage of drinking water, food, medicine and milk for children ... .' Indeed, the overall situation remains dire. According to the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) at least five refugees are dying daily. There is a desperate need for humanitarian aid in both Arbil and in Dohuk.

Christina
In Breaking News, AINA has learned that a 3 year-old Assyrian girl named Christina Khader Christian Ebada, was taken from her family as they fled Qaraqosh. The family's last sight of Christina was of her crying as she was taken away by heavily bearded ISIS jihadists at the Khazar checkpoint.

In what is a truly remarkable development the President of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), Massoud Barzani, announced on 18 August that the KRG will accept Assyrian Christian volunteers into the Kurdish armed forces, so that they may protect their homes and villages from the Islamic State (ISIS). May 'baal perazim' -- the Lord of the breakthrough -- go before them.
(2 Samuel 5:17-25)

'Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land that I swore to their forefathers to give them.' (Joshua 1:6 NIV) [According to Isaiah 19:25, 'Assyria' will exist and it will be the work of his hands.]

* UKRAINE (RLPB 274), where conflict erupted after an opposition protest was hijacked by unsavoury elements seeking empowerment, and exploited by foreign powers prepared to risk Ukraine's unity in pursuit of their own interests. A massive propaganda war is under-way. Beneath the belligerence is terrible human suffering and a rapidly escalating humanitarian crisis (BBC). There is a desperate need for a cease-fire, a political solution, long-term peace and reconciliation. Pray that the churches -- which are under immense strain -- might lead the way in peace and reconciliation; for the future of Ukraine and for the glory of God.


August 2014 ROUND-UP -- also this month ...

* CHINA: COMMUNIST PARTY TO CONSTRUCT THEOLOGY 

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is resurrecting an old, tried-and-failed strategy through which the administration of President Xi Jinping believes it can control the growing Christian Church. The strategy is known as 'theological reconstruction', and the CCP's plan is to construct a theology that makes Chinese Christianity compatible with Chinese socialism. To put it another way: the 'Sinicisation of Christianity' is aimed at constructing a state-approved theology which will serve CCP interests. According to the director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, Wang Zuoan, this will facilitate the growth of Christianity. However, when this strategy was last implemented (in the 1990s) all it facilitated was escalating persecution which failed to eradicate traditional believers. It seems the Chinese Church is facing a new wave of persecution.

* CHINA: LAYWER GAO ZHISHENG RELEASED

BBC (photo 2005)
Internationally recognised Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng (50), known for his courageous defence of persecuted Christians, has been released from detention. Gao was arrested in December 2006 and tortured severely while serving a three-year sentence. In April 2010 he was 'disappeared' to a secret 'black jail'. Eventually in December 2011 the authorities reported that Gao had been returned to prison for another three years.
ABC (photo April 2010)
Released on 7 August 2014, it appears Gao had been kept in solitary confinement the whole time: no communication, no books or input of any kind. Each day he was fed one slice of bread and one piece of cabbage. Consequently he has lost 22kg and his teeth have rotted due to malnutrition. Furthermore, it seems Goa has been repeatedly tortured; reportedly he is able to speak only in short sentences and much of what he says is unintelligible. He has not been able to see a doctor. Gao's wife, Geng He (who now lives in the US) is appealing to the Chinese authorities to allow her husband to travel to the US for medical treatment.  Pray for Gao Zhisheng and that he will be able to get to the US. Many are concerned that he might 'disappear' yet again. Doubtless the CCP's plan is to make sure all Chinese human rights lawyers get the message: this is what happens to those who challenge the CCP! Please pray.

* CHINA: PASTOR ZHANG TO SERVE 12 YEARS
Telegraph

Pastor Zhang Shaojie of Nanle County Christian Church, Henan Province, was arrested in November 2013 along with 23 other church members as they attempted to petition the authorities about a land dispute. The church maintained that CCP officials were trying to seize the land on which the church was built. On 4 July 2014 Zhang was fined and sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment for fraud and 'gathering a crowd to disturb public order'. On 21 August Zhang’s lawyers were informed their appeal had failed -- the court was upholding the original ruling. The severity of the sentence clearly demonstrates repression is escalating. Critics of the government believe that Pastor Zhang, a prominent leader, has been set-up as the CCP seeks to stem the growth of the Chinese Church. Outspoken human rights lawyer, Zhang Xuezhong, maintains the CCP is cracking down on Christianity as part of a campaign aimed at weakening or eradicating any ideological challenge or source of alternative leadership. Pray for the Church in China.


* IRAN: PASTOR FARSHID FATHI ENDANGERED

Housing only the most violent and hardened criminals, Rajaei-Shahri prison is known as one of Iran's most dangerous prisons. Prisoners are often transferred there for punishment and even to be killed. Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini is one such case, having been transferred from Evin Prison (for political prisoners) to Rajaei-Shahri in November last year. [See RLPB 238 (26 Nov 2013).]
On 19 August Pastor Farshid Fathi (35) was also transferred from Evin to Rajaei-Shahri. A married father of two, Pastor Fathi was arrested in a Christmas raid on 26 Dec 2010 and subsequently sentenced to six years in prison. Facing extreme pressure from Iranian Intelligence, his family subsequently fled to Canada via Turkey. Nobody knows why Farshid was transferred to Rajaei-Shahri prison. The move puts his life in extreme danger. 

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

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

RLPB 274. Ukraine: praying for a breakthrough


Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 274 | Wed 20 Aug 2014

UKRAINE: PRAYING FOR A BREAKTHROUGH
-- an extended prayer bulletin.

By Elizabeth Kendal

Independent from Russia only since 1991, Ukraine is not a monolithic state. Rather, it is an ethnic-religious 'fault-line' state. The north-west is predominantly ethnic Ukrainian, Ukrainian-speaking and Ukrainian Orthodox and Catholic. The south-east is predominantly ethnic Russian, Russian-speaking and Russian Orthodox. The divide is reflected in voting patterns, making Ukrainian unity extremely fragile, something to be handled with great care. When Ukraine held elections in 2010, opinion polls predicted that Viktor Yanukovych would win -- and he did, convincingly. In the parliamentary elections of 2012, Yanukovych's Party of Regions won 185 of 450 seats, 84 seats clear of its next rival. As party leader, Mykola Azarov became Prime Minister. None of this was surprising. What was surprising was the rise of the Ukrainian ultra-nationalists and neo-Nazis. Svoboda, formerly known as the Social National Party of Ukraine, won 37 seats in the parliament (almost 10 percent of the vote), having won none in the previous election. These groups are vehemently anti-Semitic and anti-Russian.

In November 2013 opposition forces protested in Kiev, unhappy that Yanukovych had signed a trade pact with Russia rather than the EU. Actually the deal being offered by oil and gas-rich Russia was much better than the deal being proposed by the cash-strapped, pro-austerity EU. In a democracy, protests are permitted with the expectation that they will be civilised. In Kiev, however, a coalition of anti-government, ultra-nationalist and neo-Nazi forces -- including numerous neo-Nazi paramilitaries united under the umbrella of the Right Sector -- joined the protest, strengthening it and putting it on a dangerous course. Anti-Semitism soared to the extent that Israel was forced to airlift Jews out of Ukraine.

[See Ukraine: anti-Semitism rises as Neo-Nazis hijack 'Euromaidan',
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 6 Feb 2014.]

 As Kiev started to resemble a war zone, the EU (led by Germany) and the US  entered the fray, backing regime change. Eventually, Yanukovych fled to Russia and the US installed its man, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, as Prime Minister. An interim government was formed that ensured the neo-Nazis and Right Sector militants, who had made regime change possible, were rewarded.

[See Ukraine's Neo-Nazis Win Senior Government Posts,
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 6 March 2014]

In their first act of legislation, the new regime voted to repeal the law that recognised Russian as an official language in Ukraine. Only when the EU objected did interim president Oleksandr Turchynov reverse the ruling. It is unsurprising that eastern Ukraine's ethnic Russians felt disenfranchised and threatened and that predominantly Russian eastern regions subsequently voted to secede. Rather than dialogue, Kiev opted for a punitive military campaign under the implausible pretext of 'anti-terror'. This campaign is  taking on all the characteristics of ethnic cleansing. Western silence seems to indicate that ethnic cleansing is permissible when the victims are ethnic Russians. That looks like racism to me (EK).
Evgeniya

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) reported on  5 August 2014 that Ukraine now has 117,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) with eastern Ukrainians making up 87 percent of the country's IDPs. On 1 July, President Petro Poroshenko ended a ceasefire and ordered his forces to purge the region of 'dirt and parasites'. Unsurprisingly, the number of displaced people from the Luhansk and Donetsk eastern regions has risen sharply from 2,600 in early June to 102,600 at the start of August, with a further 6,200 civilians forced from their homes in the first week of August.

The UNHCR has complained to Kiev about lack of co-ordinated relief efforts and the paucity of shelter, especially with winter approaching. Furthermore, the UNHCR reports that masses of Ukrainians are fleeing to Russia under the visa-free regime; Russian authorities estimate the figure to be some 730,000 Ukrainians. Jews are leaving for Israel. These refugees are fleeing endless shelling and the advance of neo-Nazi Right Sector militants. According to Kiev's own figures 1,129 civilians had been killed in eastern Ukraine and 3,442 injured by 28 July.

Yarosh
Russia is pressing for an unconditional cease-fire and the start of political dialogue but Kiev is resisting. Russia has appealed to the US to use its influence with Kiev to get the Right Sector paramilitaries reined in and disarmed. Right Sector militants have been engaged in such unlawful actions in eastern Ukraine that Ukrainian police have been forced to arrest them. Right Sector head Dmitry Yarosh (the interim government's Deputy Secretary of National Security) responded on Saturday 16 August by slamming the police as 'anti-Ukrainian'. He threatened 'to call off all our units on the front line, start a general mobilisation of reserve battalions and launch a march on Kiev'. The next day Yarosh called off the march on Kiev when the authorities had agreed to release all Right Sector militants who had been detained.

Because the West has supported undemocratic regime change, ignored the rise of anti-Semitic and anti-Russian Ukrainian ultra-nationalism and is now tacitly supporting the ethnic cleansing of the eastern regions, it has made itself into an enemy. This puts all Protestants and evangelicals living and especially ministering in the eastern regions in serious danger as rebel fighters will assume they are aligned with the enemy. Recently four volunteers with Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC; gospel radio) in eastern Ukraine were taken captive and then savagely beaten to death, reportedly by militants from a separatist militia. Two of those killed were brothers and one was the father of eight children. FEBC's radio towers in eastern Ukraine have been crippled in the fighting and a partner church has been overrun by rebels. If ever Ukrainians needed to 'tune in' to the gospel, it is now. So too the belligerent, self-interested foreign powers that are fanning the flames of this totally unnecessary conflict.


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL --

* break through the darkness and speak peace into the chaos so that an unconditional cease-fire will be brokered and the killing ended; may talks start and healing commence. 'And God said ... And it was so.' (From Genesis 1)

* impress on the consciences of local and foreign leaders the urgent need to trade ambitions and 'interests' for peace-making and healing so that Ukraine's real and deep-seated problems will be addressed peacefully in the interests of the people.

* raise up religious leaders who are gifted and empowered to advance reconciliation and unity in the Body of Christ; may the Church break through historic ethnic and denominational barriers to lead by example. Remember: our God is baal perazim, the God of the breakthrough. 2 Samuel 5:20

* magnify the voices of Christian leaders who are denouncing racial hatred and all manner of violence; may he supply FEBC and all other Gospel ministries with all their needs so they can speak grace and hope into this desperate situation and witness to the power of the Holy Spirit.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
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PRAYING FOR A BREAKTHROUGH IN UKRAINE

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) reports that Ukraine now has 117,000 internally displaced people (IDPs), 87 percent of whom are from predominantly Russian eastern Ukraine. Furthermore, the UNHCR reports that masses of Ukrainians are fleeing into Russia, which estimates the figure to be 730,000. Jews are leaving for Israel. The refugees are fleeing Kiev's endless shelling and the advance of neo-Nazi Right Sector militants. The violence has escalated markedly in recent months and now has the characteristics of ethnic cleansing. Russia is pressing Kiev for an unconditional cease-fire ahead of talks. Western silence is shameful. May the Lord of the Breakthrough (2 Samuel 5:20) empower the Church to break through the historic ethnic hatreds and lead the way in peace and reconciliation.

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