Tuesday, August 22, 2017

RLPB 420. Philippines: Marawi Crisis Needs Urgent Prayer

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 420 | Wed 23 Aug 2017

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)


PHILIPPINES: MARAWI CRISIS NEEDS URGENT PRAYER
by Elizabeth Kendal

click on map to enlarge
After a full three months of fighting, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is now in control of all but a half-kilometre grid square of Marawi city. To date, the Battle for Marawi has claimed the lives of 573 militants, 128 soldiers and police and at least 45 civilians. The AFP's progress has been slowed and complicated by the fact that the jihadists -- members of Abu Sayyaf and the Maute Group, both of which have pledged allegiance to Islamic State -- have planted numerous Improvised Explosive Devises (IEDs) and retained civilian captives as human shields. AFP spokesman, Brigadier General Restituto Padilla Jr, told reporters on 20 August, 'The main battle area remains complex with the continued discovery of many IEDs and unexploded ordinance ... But operations are progressing very well, and we have had no one killed in action for the last eight days. Unfortunately, two soldiers lost their legs because of tripping into IEDs that were left in a building that they were clearing.'

Just before midnight on 3 August, four male hostages -- Rumar Marjalino, his brother Rowel, Jimmy Esperat (all from Zamboanga) and Delfin Lapas of Iligan City -- made a daring escape. Using a concealed mobile phone, they contacted the AFP which organised to rescue the men one kilometre out into Lake Lanao. Escapee Rumar Marjalino (38) attributed their success to God's intervention. 'That night,' he reports, 'not a single sniper fired his shot. Not a single sound was heard ... We hurried until we reached the lake and we were told to swim 1,000 meters. Despite the heavy waves, we stayed together. God was there. God is good.'
Thanking God for rescue (13 Aug)
source: Naval Forces Western Mindanao
The men were reunited with their families on Sunday 13 August before being taken to Camp Don Basilio Navarro Hospital for a medical examination. En route to the hospital they all stopped off at La Naval Chapel to offer prayers of thanks for their deliverance.

The escapees report that between 50 and 60 local and foreign jihadists remain holed up in Marawi's Grand Mosque along with 46 civilian captives, of whom 20 are women and 13 are children, the youngest being only two-years-old. During the day the terrorists strap remotely controlled explosive devices to the bodies of the adult male hostages before sending them out to gather food and supplies from abandoned stores and mobile phones from dead bodies. On several occasions male hostages were strapped with explosives, armed and sent out to fire on AFP troops; those who refused were immediately executed. On one occasion, 14 hostages were strapped with explosives, placed on the front-line and ordered to fire on AFP tanks. The AFP returned fire, killing all the hostages, believing they were terrorists. As a last resort, the terrorists plan to use the hostages as human bombs to kill AFP troops. When they are not out performing tasks for the jihadists, the hostages are guarded in the mosque by armed child-soldiers. The escapees report that Father Suganob is alive and that his primary task is to gather gunpowder from firecrackers. The escapees tried to convince Father Suganob to escape with them, but he refused to abandon the other captives.

Bangsamoro (click on map to enlarge)
According to the Chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Murad Ebrahim, jihadist violence is but a consequence of the lack of a political solution in Mindanao where Muslim separatists have been fighting the government for decades. According to Ebrahim, peace can only be secured through the establishment of an autonomous MILF-ruled Bangsamoro political entity under Islamic Sharia law. President Duterte agrees and has vowed to 'support and husband' the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in Congress to ensure its passage. The implications for Christians and the Lumad (non-Muslim indigenous tribal peoples) are enormous, despite guarantees that Sharia would not apply to them. Naturally, all Muslims in the Bangsamoro would be subject to Sharia law. Guarantees that constitutional rights would be protected by the Supreme Court will not comfort anyone who has observed similar dual systems in Muslim Malaysia, Indonesia's Aceh or Northern Nigeria.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO:

* preserve, comfort, encourage and deliver the remaining hostages; may his Spirit uplift them and his angels surround them; may the hostages be very aware that no matter how horrific their circumstances, they have not been abandoned, they are not alone. 'My God sent his angel and shut the lions' mouths, and they have not harmed me ...' (Daniel, from Daniel 6)

* bless, encourage, sustain and supply all the area churches whose members are sacrificially opening their homes and expending themselves as they aid and minister to the displaced. 'And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.' (Philippians 4:19 ESV)

* grace Filipino politicians and constitutional lawyers with insight, wisdom and courage as they consider the Bangsamoro Basic Law; may security, prosperity and development in Mindanao be addressed without the loss of constitutional rights.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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MARAWI CRISIS IN THE PHILIPPINES NEEDS URGENT PRAYER

After three months of fighting, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is now in control of all but a small part of Marawi city. The AFP's progress has been slowed by many improvised explosive devices and the presence of 'human shields'. Escapees report that some 50 to 60 local and foreign Islamic State-inspired jihadists remain holed up in Marawi's Grand Mosque with some 46 civilian captives, of whom 20 are women and 13 are children. The more the AFP closes, the more dangerous the situation becomes for the captives, many or most of whom seem to be Christian. May God comfort, preserve and deliver the remaining hostages; and may the situation in Muslim Mindanao be resolved without the loss of constitutional rights. Please pray for the Philippines and its Christians.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: 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 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

RLPB 419. CAR: Islamic militias "more heavily armed than ever".

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 419 | Wed 16 Aug 2017

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)

CAR: ISLAMIC MILITIAS 'MORE HEAVILY ARMED THAN EVER'
by Elizabeth Kendal

simple map of divided CAR (WWM)
Gambo is located 70km west of Bangassou, in the Central African Republic (CAR) prefecture of Mbomou. It sits on what is currently the front-line of one of the world's most catastrophic and neglected conflicts. Gambo has been held by ex-Seleka Islamic rebels for the past four years, but this year suffering has escalated markedly as Islamic rebels have split into factions, primarily along ethnic lines, and escalated their attacks on civilians associated with their opponents. Over recent months the ex-Seleka faction known as the UPC (the ethnic Peuhl/Fulani-dominated Union for Peace in the Central African Republic) has escalated its attacks on the local people, especially women. Catholic news-agency, Agenzia Fides, reports that many local women have been abducted from their homes in front of their husbands and later raped. What else is this but a reign of terror?

The Catholic bishop of Bangassou,
the Spanish Comboni missionary
Juan José Aguirre Muñoz.
On 4 August 'anti-balaka' militias (traditional village defence militias turned anti-Muslim and now anti-Fulani vigilantes) entered Gambo to oust the ex-Seleka/UPC fighters. Local Bishop Juan José Aguirre Muñoz of Bangassou, told Agenzia Fides that when the anti-balaka arrived, UN peacekeepers immediately opened fire to repel them. When the anti-balaka returned fire the UN peacekeepers started shooting wildly and indiscriminately, hitting many civilians. When the UN peacekeepers pursued the anti-balaka into the forest, the ex-Seleka/Fulani UPC fighters in Gambo town found a Red Cross team holding a meeting in the hospital and proceeded to slit the throats of all men, women and children present. Six Red Cross volunteers, one a Baptist pastor, were among up to 80 victims. World Watch Monitor reports that Pastor Joseph Tokon had gone to Gambo to work as a medical aid worker. In his 50s, Pastor Tokon leaves behind a wife and seven children.

CAR map showing Batangafo and Gambo
'I ask myself,' says Bishop Aguirre, 'why, once Gambo had been saved from the anti-balaka, did the UN [peacekeepers] leave the people in the hands of the Seleka [Fulani UPC]? These so called peace-keeping troops, whose job is to disarm all the factions in the country, did forcefully disarm the anti-balaka but not the Seleka who appear more heavily armed than ever. Here is a sense of complicity which we fail to understand' (emphasis mine). Fellow peacemaker, Imam Oumar Kobine Layama of the award-winning Interfaith Peace Platform, agrees with Bishop Aguirre that the Moroccan contingent of the UN Peacekeeping Mission is 'trigger-happy' and needs to be removed. Human Rights Watch believes the UN peacekeeping force could do more to protect civilians, noting that in many front-line towns 'Seleka fighters openly circulate with weapons'. Of course the hottest question of all must be: 'Who is funding these Islamic militias?'

Peacemaker Church: a place of refuge
Meanwhile, the situation at the Catholic Cathedral in Bangassou remains explosive [see RLPB 407 (17 May)]. Inside the cathedral, some 2000 displaced mostly Muslim civilians huddle together under the protection of priests and nuns. Outside on the footpath, bands of young Muslim men harass the local people while anti-balaka fighters linger menacingly on the periphery, threatening to kill them all. The violence is spread along the front-line, from the south-east through the centre to the north-west. In the town of Batangafo, 400km north of the capital Bangui, two waves of violence through late July into early August left 24 people dead, 17 injured and more than 10,000 people seeking refuge in the grounds of the hospital after rebels torched the refugee camp and looted its supplies. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) project coordinator Carlos Francisco laments, 'Much of the general population is in a state of complete helplessness.' On 7 August the UN warned of the spectre of genocide, in the hope of arousing some interest from outside powers.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO

* 'Break the arm [means of action] of the wicked ...' (Psalm 10), so that CAR (which is 76 percent Christian) will be spared catastrophic bloodshed, ethnic cleansing and even partial Islamic domination; may those who are sponsoring Islamic militancy be exposed and sanctioned and all channels of funding to Islamic militias be totally broken.

* intervene in CAR to rebuke and chase away (Isaiah 17:13) all foreign jihadists (mostly Chadian and Sudanese); to disarm and pacify all belligerents; to remove all unhelpful powers and troops; and to empower all those who are working to improve security for this massively traumatised population.

* protect and bless his peacemaker Church, amplifying her message of reconciliation, her exercise of grace and her call to transformative revival through Jesus Christ.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CAR: ISLAMIC MILITIAS 'MORE HEAVILY ARMED THAN EVER' 

The town of Gambo in CAR's volatile south-east has been in the hands of Islamic militants since 2013. Violence has escalated markedly this year as Muslim militias have split into factions along ethnic lines and escalated their attacks on civilians. In Gambo, women have been specifically targeted. On 4 August anti-Muslim defence militias known as 'anti-balaka' invaded Gambo to drive out the ethnic Fulani Muslim militants. As UN peacekeepers chased the anti-balaka into the bush, the Islamic militants in the town invaded a hospital and slit the throats of men, women and children. Church leaders lament that the UN peacekeepers are failing to protect civilians and that the Islamic militants 'appear more heavily armed than ever'. May God intervene; a breakthrough is needed. Pray for CAR and its peacemaker Church.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: 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