Tuesday, May 24, 2016

RLPB 358. May Update, Inc. Turkey, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, D.R.Congo, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Vietnam.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 358 | Wed 25 May 2016
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)

WELCOME to the intercessors who have joined the list during the past month.

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

TURKEY (RLPB 355), where the neo-Ottoman, Islamist, AKP government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has seized six churches in the mostly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir.

SUNDAY 29 MAY-- PRAY FOR THE CHURCH IN TURKEY

In NATO-member Turkey, 29 May is celebrated annually as 'Conquest Day' in commemoration of the day in 1453 when the Byzantine [Eastern Christian] capital, Constantinople, fell to invading Ottoman Turks. This year, 29 May falls on a Sunday and will mark the 563rd anniversary of that historical catastrophe. Today, as Turkey's belligerent, neo-Ottoman president (Erdogan) increases his powers, blackmails Europe, wages war with impunity and dreams of a pan-Turkic empire, Turkey's remnant Church -- with its long historical memory -- is growing nervous. So, as Islamist Turks celebrate the Ottoman 'conquest' of Constantinople, the Church should celebrate Christ's conquest at Calvary. May God pour his Holy Spirit into Turkey so that this land, where churches are being appropriated and converted into stables, mosques or piles of rubble, will see the Lord at work, building his Church!

'I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' (Matthew 16:18 ESV)

CHINA (RLPB 356), where imprisoned Christian lawyer Yang Maodong (also known by his pen-name, Guo Feixiong) risks losing the fight, not only for justice, righteousness, religious freedom and truth, but for his life.

Yang Maodong
UPDATE: ABUSED LAWYER ON HUNGER STRIKE

On 20 May Dr Yang Maoping (sister of imprisoned Christian lawyer Yang Maodong), confirmed to Radio Free Asia that her brother has been on a hunger strike since 9 May. According to the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, Yang Maodong commenced his hunger strike after being subjected to a forced rectal cavity search which prison guards filmed and are threatening to post online. His supporters are deeply concerned as Yang, whose mood is understandably very low, is vowing to hunger strike indefinitely. Yang's wife, Zhang Qing, has written an open letter to President Xi Jinping, protesting the unlawful and degrading treatment meted out to her husband. Pray for God to comfort, sustain, protect and deliver Yang Maodong.

PAKISTAN (RLPB 357), where hostile Muslims continue to wield a flawed, infamous blasphemy law as a weapon against vulnerable Christians. On 6 May police stepped in to prevent a Muslim riot in Chak 44. However, the Christians were still suffering under a boycott that left them without food, water or work.

UPDATE: According to 'Christians in Pakistan', a local community leader Naseer Ahmed Saleem, who serves as the Vice Chairman of Union Council of Chak 44, has intervened on behalf of the Christians, urging all the landlords of the village to let the Christians resume working in their fields. Leading by example, he invited the Christians to till his land and work on wages for him. This is a clear and direct answer to our prayers. Please continue to pray. For prayer points, see RLPB 357 (18 May).

MAY ROUND-UP -- also this month ...

* BANGLADESH: A LINGERING THREAT

On Friday 20 May a homeopathic doctor, Sanaur Rahman, was riding a motorcycle with a friend in Kushtia when they were ambushed by three men wielding machetes. Mr Rahman was killed. Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility, saying Mr Rahman was killed for 'promoting Christianity'. In fact Rahman was not Christian, but followed the mystical practice of Baul music and promoted Baul philosophy. Despite the misunderstanding, the claim of responsibility reveals yet again how serious Bangladesh's Islamists are about silencing Christian witness. Pray for the Church in Bangladesh.

* BURMA: MILITARY BRUTALITY WITH IMPUNITY

Praise God that an investigation has finally been launched into the 19 January 2015 gang rape and murder of two Kachin missionaries: Maran Lu Ra (20) and Tangbau Hkawn Nan Tsin (21). [See RLPB 347 (8 March 2016).] Four senior army officers from the 503rd Light Infantry Regiment, including key suspect Major Aung Phyo Myint, will be questioned by police. Granted only a limited right to observe, the Kachin Baptist Convention's legal team will not be permitted to interview the soldiers. There are concerns that the police are colluding with the military to get local, civilian scapegoats. The Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) asks for prayer that the truth will come out.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday 18 May, Tatmadaw (Burmese Army) helicopters attacked civilians in predominantly Christian Kachin State. According to Rein Mao of the KBC, 'This wasn't a normal military engagement between the KIA and the Burma Army.' The helicopters, he said, were 'shooting everywhere'. Lt-Col Naw Bu, a spokesperson for the Kachin Independence Army concurs: 'They didn't shoot at KIA outposts,' he said. 'They only attacked civilians.' Pray for Burma's ethnic minority Christians.

* D.R.CONGO: A BIGGER, STRONGER 'MONSTER'

The Church in north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to suffer militia violence and insecurity. [For background see RLPB 238 (22 Oct 2014).] World Watch Monitor (WWM) reports that on the night of 3 May, militants belonging to Muslim Defense International (MDI, formerly known as Allied Democratic Forces) attacked a village in North Kivu killing as many as 34 civilians, slashing them with machetes in their beds. Thousands have fled.  On 6 May, up to 15 were slaughtered in another MDI attack, this time further north in the province of Ituri. According to WWM, the attack took place just 300 metres away from a Congolese army base and 500 metres from a UN army base. Despite its close proximity and regardless of the fact that locals had alerted soldiers to 'suspicious movements', the Congolese army failed to intervene to stop the massacre.

This aligns with reports recently published by the Congo Research Group (CRG) and IRIN (formerly the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks), both of which indicate that the situation is more complex than the 'narrative of an Islamist menace'. The Congolese military (FARDC) is believed to be deeply implicated, with potential links to smuggling rackets. In other words, the 'monster' is much bigger and much stronger than first appears. The Christians of north-east DRC need our prayers.

* IRAN: AUTHORITIES STEP UP HARASSMENT 

On 13 May Iranian security officers raided some ten homes of prominent Christians in Rasht. Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani and his wife Tina were arrested along with Yasser Mossayebzadeh. Whilst the Nadarkhanis were later released, Yasser was not. Saheb Fadaie and Mohammedreza Omidi were also arrested on 13 May when they obeyed a summons and reported to the security offices. The homes of these Christians have been raided, their phones, computers, Bibles and other Christian literature were confiscated. Like Yousef Nadarkhani, Yasser, Saheb and Mohammedreza have all been imprisoned before. The three detained men have reportedly been offered bail equivalent to US$33,000 each.  As Middle East Concern rightly notes, 'These arrests are part of a larger systematic action on the part of Iranian authorities to harass Christian communities and put pressure on active Christians to leave Iran.' As the revival rolls on, the authorities grow more desperate. As the storm intensifies, pray the Church in Iran will cling to the rock. (Matthew 7:24-27)

'And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.' (Matthew 7:25 ESV)

* SUDAN: MASSACRE IN HEIBAN 


Nuba Reports (screenshot)
On 1 May two Sudanese Air Force MiG fighter jets attacked residential areas within the Heiban locality in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan. Six children aged between 4 and 12 were killed, three from one family. The Government of Sudan has been relocating mujahideen to the Nuba Mountains and escalating fighting ahead of the rainy season. The GoS wants to ensure that when the rains do come and the roads are closed, the Nuba will have nothing to eat. As the Government of Sudan's genocidal jihad against the Christian Nuba enters its sixth year, one can only wonder why this genocide attracts so little attention in the West. Pray for the Nuba. Pray Psalm 46. 'God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble ...' 

[For background see: 'SUDAN: Massacre in Heiban as Nuba Genocide enters its Sixth Year,'  by Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 23 May 2016.]

* SYRIA: TERRORISTS HIT LONG-SAFE HEARTLAND

Nearly 150 people were killed on Monday 23 May when a string of suicide bombings rocked the coastal towns of Jableh and Tartus in Syria's long-safe Latakia Province. Latakia is the heartland of the Alawite minority and a safe-haven to hundreds of thousands of refugees (Muslims and Christians) who have fled Islamic violence across the north. While Islamic State has claimed responsibility, al-Nusra and its allied jihadist militias (many of which are US trained and armed) are the more probable culprits. Since the cessation of hostilities was declared on 27 February, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have redoubled their support for 'rebel'/jihadist forces, with the tacit approval of the US. Now in possession of surface to air missiles, the 'rebels'/jihadists have brought down three Syrian jets in the space of a month. The Battle for Aleppo is fierce, with government-held western Aleppo suffering heavy rebel shelling. For the Christian remnant in Aleppo, the situation now is worse than ever. Sources report that more than 200 Christians have been killed in Aleppo in recent weeks. The only thing hurting the Church more than the violence is the exodus of Christians. May the Lord have mercy on Syria.

* VIETNAM: FAMILY OF IMPRISONED PASTOR PERSECUTED


Mrs Tran Thi Hong after
a police beating on 14 April 2016.
Vietnam Human Rights Defenders
Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh (45), a missionary pastor in Gia Lai Province in Vietnam's Central Highlands, suffers both physical and psychological abuse in a Vietnamese prison because of his 'illegal' (Lutheran) faith and religious liberty advocacy. Arrested numerous times since 2003, he was eventually sentenced in July 2012 to 11 years in prison for 'undermining national unity'. As if this were not enough, his wife Tran Thi Hong suffers endless persecution which she laments is becoming 'intolerable'. Police interrogated Tran Thi Hong on 11, 12 and 13 May. Violence is routine and part of the process. On 13 May, as Mrs Hong was being beaten, her 18-year-old son tried to intervene to save her, only to be grabbed and violently choked by police who then had him bound and arrested. He was released later that day. In Vietnam (as in China), state violence against and repression of Christians is escalating in line with Communist Party confidence that nobody can or will do anything about it. Pray for Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, his wife Tran Thi Hong and their children. Please pray for all Vietnam's imprisoned and threatened pastors and human rights lawyers.

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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.

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), due for release in the coming months.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

RLPB 357. Pakistan: blasphemy law used a weapon

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 357 | Wed 18 May 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)


PAKISTAN: BLASPHEMY LAW USED AS A WEAPON
By Elizabeth Kendal

Once again, members of a small and vulnerable Christian community suffer terror and loss as radicalised Muslims wield the weapon of Pakistan's infamous blasphemy law against them. A simple, unsubstantiated accusation is all it takes for the accused to be rendered as good as dead and his or her property forfeited. Furthermore, the trend today is for collective punishment. A fatwa from a fiery cleric or some incitement from the local mosque is all it takes for the Muslim community to be fuelled with so much Islamic zeal and murderous outrage that they are prepared to burn their Christian neighbours. The only reason Christians rarely die in Pakistan's 'blasphemy pogroms' is because the process has become so routine and predictable that Christians know to flee at the first hint of trouble.

Located in Punjub's Mandi Bahauddin District (about 160km south of Islamabad), Chak (Village) 44 is home to some 2500 Muslims and 300 poor 'untouchable' Christians (45 families) who serve the Muslims as labourers. Saint Anthony Catholic Church is the only church in the village and Imran Masih (28) was the only Christian in his workplace. Although accounts vary, it seems that on 19 April, Imran -- a janitor at the local health clinic -- left his mobile phone unattended while he worked. When he returned to collect his phone, he found it in the hands of a pharmacist named Bilal who was showing others video footage he deemed 'blasphemous'. Though Imran denied any knowledge of the material, he was beaten and locked in a cupboard and his phone was smashed. Fortunately, Imran had a second phone which he used to call for help. The Catholic Church Committee came to his rescue, explaining to the senior doctor that, as Imran was illiterate and unable to speak English, it was unlikely the YouTube content was something he had downloaded. The doctor agreed, Imran was released and the matter seemed to be resolved -- except that Imran's accuser was not satisfied. Bilal sought advice from a fundamentalist cleric in nearby Sargodha, who declared Imran a blasphemer who must be killed. As soon as Imran was informed, he fled for his life.

The Christians of Chak 44 tried to appease the Muslims by offering their apologies, only to have the Muslims present their conditions for 'peace': hand over the blasphemer so he can be burned alive in front of the church. After prayers on Friday 29 April, local Muslim clerics announced over the mosque loudspeakers that Muslims were to boycott the Christians of Chak 44 until they delivered Imran the 'blasphemer' to them. A local businessman offered to pay a large financial reward to anyone who could produce the culprit -- dead or alive. Fearing for their lives and without access to food, water or work (due to the boycott), most of the Christians of Chak 44 felt they had little choice but to leave their homes and seek refuge elsewhere. Only the frail, lame and those with absolutely nowhere else to go remained.

Christians seek assistance from CLAAS
(Centre for Legal Aid
Assistance & Settlement)
Incited by mosque leaders, Muslims gathered after prayers on Friday 6 May for a pogrom to torch the homes of Christians. Fortunately, the police arrived in time to disperse the large, agitated mob. Rumours abound that the remaining Christians have been ordered to deliver Imran to the Muslims, convert to Islam, or leave the village. Tensions are soaring; the situation is volatile. According to some reports, Imran may have been targeted for being in a relationship with a female Muslim co-worker, something impermissible in Islam. Convinced the blasphemy accusation is false, local police have refused to register a case against Imran Masih. Police told Morning Star News they would investigate the matter of the boycott.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL

* intervene to keep Imran Masih, his family, and the Christians of Chak 44 safe. 'The name of the LORD is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.' (Proverbs 18:10 NIV)

'Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who do me violence, my deadly enemies who surround me.' (Psalm 17:8-9 ESV)

* intervene in the hearts and minds of the Muslims of Chak 44, so they will be convicted of sin, leading to repentance and enabling true reconciliation. 'For nothing will be impossible with God.' (Luke 1:37 ESV)

* awaken and embolden Pakistan's liberal, secular, 'moderate' Muslims so they will rise up against such shameful, uncivilised behaviour; may those who dare to enrage the Islamists by courageously promoting religious liberty, Christian security, equity, justice and peace receive all the help and support they need.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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BLASPHEMY LAW IN PAKISTAN USED TO ATTACK CHRISTIANS

On 19 April Imran Masih (28), an illiterate Christian janitor living in Chak (Village) 44 in Punjab's Mandi Bahauddin District, was accused of blasphemy. Though Imran has fled, the Muslims of Chak 44 are demanding that the Christians deliver him up so they can burn him alive. Otherwise, the Christians must convert to Islam or leave the village. The local mosques have organised a boycott of the village's 45 Christian families, leaving them without food, water or work. Convinced the blasphemy accusation is false, the police have refused to register a case against Imran. On 6 May they prevented an organised mob from burning the Christians' homes. Tensions are soaring; the situation is volatile. Please pray for Imran. Pray for Pakistan and may its Christians know liberty, security and justice.

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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.