Tuesday, September 19, 2017

RLPB 424. Iraq: Assyrians request prayer as Kurds 'play with fire'

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 424 | Wed 20 Sep 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)

IRAQ: ASSYRIANS REQUEST PRAYER AS KURDS 'PLAY WITH FIRE'
plus Update -- Afghanistan: Finnish aid worker released
        Update -- Philippines: Father Suganob rescued

by Elizabeth Kendal

Assyrians return to Qaraqosh
Palm Sunday 2017
Report and images: Open Doors
Assyrians are the indigenous people of Northern Iraq and a Christian nation. Between June and August 2014, ISIS drove more than 130,000 Assyrians from their homes in Mosul and the Nineveh Plains. Traumatised and destitute, most found refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan, primarily in Dohuk (to the north) and Erbil, the Kurdish capital (to the east). This year, a coalition led by the Iraqi Army and aided by Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs: mostly Iranian-led Shi'ite militias), US-backed Kurdish peshmerger forces and Assyrian units have succeeded in liberating Mosul and much of the Nineveh Plains. As Assyrians tentatively trickle back into their towns and villages, they do so with the hope that the Nineveh Plains might one day be an autonomous entity within the state of Iraq. The last thing they want is to fall victim to a Kurdish land grab, or to find themselves caught in the middle of another war.

Unless there is a miracle, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) will hold a referendum on independence on Monday 25 September. Though the anticipated 'Yes' vote will not trigger an automatic declaration of independence, it is expected to lead to official negotiations. Analysts suspect that KRG President Massoud Barzani's goal is not independence, but leverage to aid negotiations over revenue sharing (more money), further devolution of power (more power) and the demarcation of Iraqi Kurdistan's borders (more land). However, as Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi commented on 16 September, the Kurds are 'playing with fire'.

The Nineveh Plains region
(Assyrian heartland)
is marked with a Cross. 
Talk of Kurdish independence has sent tensions soaring inside Iraq and across the region. Eager to expand its borders, the KRG aims to include 'disputed territories' in the referendum, including oil-rich Kirkuk and the Nineveh Plains. Despite pressure from Kurd and pro-Kurd authorities, most Assyrians oppose the referendum and do not want their lands included. Fearing Shi'ite power, Nineveh's Sunni Arabs support Kurdish independence and do want to be included. In a move destined to destabilise the whole region, oil-rich Kirkuk (controlled by Baghdad until Kurdish forces seized it in the chaos of August 2014) will participate. The Iraqi Government, Iran and the Shi'ite militias oppose the referendum, the break-up of Iraq and Kurdish annexation of Kirkuk. Meanwhile, Turkey, Iran and Syria oppose the referendum as it could embolden their own restive Kurdish minorities. The pro-Kurdish US is opposed to the referendum as it will weaken Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to the benefit of Iran ahead of the April 2018 general elections. Many Kurds too are opposed to the referendum because they sense this is simply not the right time for such a provocative move.

Aware that the referendum could trigger a new conflict, Turkey, Iran, the US and the UN have been lobbying KRG President Massoud Barzani to cancel or postpone the referendum indefinitely, to no avail. On Sunday 17 September the KRG's High Referendum Council, headed by Barzani, voted to reject the US-backed alternative and press ahead with the 25 September referendum as planned.

Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako has issued an urgent appeal, calling on Erbil and Baghdad to 'resume dialogue with courage'.  He laments that 'some have already started beating the war drums', noting, 'If there were a new military conflict, the consequences would be disastrous for everyone, and minorities would always be the ones to pay a high price ...' He said, 'Everyone should be aware of the seriousness of the situation and hurry to support national reconciliation and peace before it is too late.'

[A more detailed version of this report can be found on Religious Liberty Monitoring (20 Sept).]


MAY OUR ALMIGHTY AND MERCIFUL GOD:

* intervene in Iraq for the benefit of his precious long-suffering people; may peace reign and the highly controversial and provocative referendum on Kurdish independence be indefinitely postponed; may 'courageous dialogue' be the order of the day.

'Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.' (From Jeremiah's prayer in Jeremiah 32:16-25 ESV)

* surround and watch over his imperilled Church; may all God's children be secure. 'Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.' (Psalm 17:8 ESV)

* guard and preserve the Assyrian and Christian heartland of the Nineveh Plains for the Assyrian people.  'In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance." ' (Promise in Isaiah 19:24-25 ESV)

----------------------------------------------------

Update -- Afghanistan: The unnamed Finnish aid worker taken hostage in Kabul in May [see RLPB 409 (31 May)] was released on 14 September.

Father Teresito 'Chito' Suganob
alive and free (photo: Ted Aljibe/AFP)
Update -- Philippines: Late on 16 September Philippine soldiers overran Marawi's Bato mosque, clearing its many tunnels and secret chambers and rescuing two hostages: Father Teresito 'Chito' Suganob (51) and a male school teacher surnamed Acopio (29).  The jihadists still hold around 40 mostly Christian hostages [see RLPB 421 (30 Aug)]. Please continue to pray.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
-------------------------------------------------------
ASSYRIANS IN IRAQ REQUEST PRAYER AS KURDS 'PLAY WITH FIRE'

Between June and August 2014, some 130,000 Assyrian Christians were driven from their homes in Mosul and the Nineveh Plains by ISIS. Most found refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan. Now as their lands are liberated, Assyrians are trickling back into their towns and villages. However, talk of Kurdish independence has sent tensions soaring. Christians fear the Kurds will seize the Assyrian heartland of the Nineveh Plains. The Iraqi Government, Turkey, Iran and essentially all Shi'ites have vowed to stop the Kurds annexing oil-rich Kirkuk. Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako's urgent appeal is for 'courageous dialogue'. Lamenting that 'some have already started beating the war drums', he appeals for peace, noting war would be 'disastrous', especially for minorities who, as usual, would 'pay a high price'. Please pray for Iraq and its Christians.

------------------------------------------------------

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, September 12, 2017

RLPB 423. North Korea: Talks the Only Option

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 423 | Wed 13 Sep 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)


NORTH KOREA: TALKS THE ONLY OPTION
plus China Update: Gao Zhisheng
plus Yemen Update: Father Tom Uzhunnalil

by Elizabeth Kendal

As noted in RLPB 403 (19 April), 'North Korea will not willingly disarm, but will retain its weapons program for the purpose of deterrence.' After all, the regime saw what happened in 2003 to Iraq's Saddam Hussein (who did not have a nuclear deterrent), and in 2011 to Libya's Muammar Gaddafi (who had relinquished all his nuclear weapons). In both cases, the West facilitated regime change, ensuring these former allies fell into the hands of their enemies: Saddam was executed by Shi'ite forces, whilst Gaddafi was brutalised to death by al-Qaeda-linked jihadists. Both countries were essentially destroyed. Russian President Vladimir Putin said as much last week. While he condemned North Korea's nuclear provocations, President Putin rejected the idea that UN sanctions were a solution. 'Sanctions of any kind,' he said, 'are useless and ineffective in this case ... [The North Koreans] will eat grass, but they will not abandon this [nuclear] program unless they feel safe.'

Sanctions will not work, but neither can there be a military solution for as the US Defense Department and everyone in the region knows, the cost to South Korea -- in lives and infrastructure -- would be absolutely catastrophic. Though war is not an option, on Sunday 10 September US Senator John McCain called for Washington to ratchet up the pressure by stepping up its presence in the region to 'make sure that Kim Jong-un knows that if he acts in an aggressive fashion, the price will be extinction.' Such language would surely cause considerable distress to millions of Christians around the world who don't want to see North Korea's long-suffering remnant Church obliterated in US 'fire and fury'.   

North Korea in the dark
(Satellite image) click on map to enlarge
If sanctions are not the solution and war is out of the question, what are we left with? It leaves us with the possibility of returning to six-party talks (North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the USA). Ultimately, what the Kim regime wants is a bi-lateral treaty with the USA: one that recognises North Korea as a nuclear power, taking regime change off the table. North Korea also wants to be recognised as a sovereign independent state, taking reunification off the table (at least for the foreseeable future). Some analysts insist the crisis (most of which is theatre and posturing) is approaching its 'end game' and that resolution and dialogue, not war, will be the outcome. That said, the situation remains incredibly volatile -- an angry or accidental slip could jeopardise everything.

photos by Eric Lafforgue
Should a resolution be reached, South Korea, China and Russia (i.e. North Korea's neighbours) are ready to invest in such a way as to facilitate North Korea's economic development. This is critical, for North Korea cannot truly open up to the world until it has radically improved the living standards of its people. Hence the endless balancing act: when risk is perceived to be high, repression and belligerence are extreme; however, when risk is perceived to be low, engagement and reform inch tentatively forward. There really is no alternative to returning to the days of inching forward. South Korea's new President Moon Jae-in, who has a grandmother alive in the North, is eager to re-establish dialogue and co-operation, as are Russia and China. However, the Kim regime will not negotiate until the US concedes that North Korea is indeed a nuclear power (hence the endless missile tests). Even if talks resume, treaties are signed and normalisation occurs, it will be many years before North Korea can truly open up to the outside world without risking collapse. What is more important though is that conditions inside North Korea improve, including the issue of religious freedom for the long-suffering North Korean Church.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO:

* preserve, protect, bless and strengthen the long-suffering North Korean Church – both the Church in the labour camps and the Church deep 'underground'.

* intervene in the Korean crisis creatively, according to his wisdom, to fulfil his good purposes, that ultimately North Korea's faithful remnant Church might be liberated to worship freely, to be salt and light and yeast in society, and to bring healing to the North.

'Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.' From Psalm 24

---------------------------------------
Further reading on North Korea:
by Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring
North Korea: Belligerence vs 'Smart Policy' (19 Feb 2014)
North Korea: Positive Changes (24 Aug 2007)
 -----------------------------------------

CHINA UPDATE: It has been confirmed that Christian human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who had been reported 'missing' [RLPB 421 (30 Aug)], is in police custody in Beijing. Analysts expect he will remain in custody until after the week-long Chinese Communist Party's 19th Congress, which commences on 18 October.
Father Tom in Oman
(Deccan Herald)

YEMEN UPDATE: Father Tom Uzhunnalil, kidnapped by jihadists in Yemen in March 2016 [see RLPB 386 (27 July 2016)], was released from captivity on 12 September, after the Indian and Omani governments secured his release. He is currently in Rome, where he will spend a few days before returning to his home in Kerala, India. Praise God for this mercy.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
-------------------------------------------------------
TALKS WITH NORTH KOREA ARE THE ONLY OPTION

North Korea will not abandon its nuclear weapons program. Sanctions will not work and a military solution is untenable as the impact on South Korea would be catastrophic. The only option is dialogue. However, the Kim regime will not negotiate until the US concedes that North Korea is a nuclear power. The regime maintains that nuclear deterrence is essential if North Korea is to be spared US-backed regime change. Many analysts believe the crisis is approaching its 'end game' and that dialogue, not war, will be the outcome. Whilst it would be many years before North Korea could open up to the outside world without risking collapse, the situation inside North Korea could improve considerably over time. Please pray for North Korea and its long-suffering Church in the labour camps and 'underground'.

------------------------------------------------------

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, September 5, 2017

RLPB 422. Nigeria: Muslim Youths 'Beat Drums of War'

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 422 | Wed 06 Sep 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)

BACKGROUND: Initially, the British colonialists who arrived in Nigeria in the late 19th and early 20th centuries favoured the northern Hausa and Fulani Muslims, describing them as fair-skinned, fine featured, organised and civilised. Like the northern Muslims, the British viewed the southern Yoruba (in the West) and Igbo (in the East) as black savages, fit for little more than slavery. However, whereas the northern Hausa and Fulani Muslims resisted all things British, the southern Yoruba and Igbo embraced British education and Christianity. At independence (1960) more than a million educated and mostly Christian Igbos were living in the Muslim north, dominating administration and business. Needless to say, the Hausa-Fulani Muslims were not impressed.  After the 29 July 1966 Hausa-led military coup, a campaign of ethnic cleansing targeting the Igbo was unleashed across the North in which some 30,000 Igbo were killed and a further 1.3 million were forced to flee. It was not the first anti-Igbo pogrom to hit the North, but it was the worst, leaving the Igbo convinced they had no future in a Hausa-Fulani dominated Nigeria.

On 30 May 1967 the Military Governor of Eastern Nigeria, Lt-Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu announced that the region formerly known as Eastern Nigeria would from now on be known as the independent, sovereign Republic of Biafra. Considering oil had been discovered in Eastern Nigeria's Niger Delta in 1956, it is unsurprising the rest of Nigeria did not approve the secession. The resulting Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) -- also known as the Biafra War -- claimed the lives of some 100,000 mostly Muslim Nigerian military personnel and between 500,000 and two million mostly Christian Igbo civilians, most of whom perished from starvation during the Nigerian military junta's blockade of Biafra.

----------------------------------------------

NIGERIA: MUSLIM YOUTHS 'BEAT DRUMS OF WAR'
by Elizabeth Kendal

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970), also known as the Biafra War. This was a war in which Nigeria's mostly northern Muslim Hausa-Fulani-dominated military junta crushed a separatist rebellion by the mostly Christian Igbo of Eastern Nigeria. Frustrated and marginalised by the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, pro-secessionist Igbo groups have again been escalating their secessionist rhetoric. In response, a coalition of Northern Muslim youth groups held a press conference in Kaduna on 6 June in which their spokesman, AbdulAziz Suleiman, issued a chilling ultimatum: Igbos would have until 1 October to leave the North, after which time they will be forcibly ejected. As all Nigerians know, this threat has a precedent because in 1966 an ethnic cleansing campaign targeting Igbo in the North left 30,000 Igbo dead, more than 1.3 million Igbo displaced and millions more convinced they had no future in a Hausa-Fulani dominated Nigeria. As the Anglican Archbishop of Jos, the Most Rev Benjamin Kwashi told Global Christian News (15 June 2017), 'Nobody, who is watching history, thinks this is a joke.'

For more information see:
'The Kaduna Declaration: Nigeria in the shadow of Biafra'
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 6 July 2017.

Since the 6 June 'Kaduna Declaration' anti-Igbo hate speech has proliferated across Northern Nigeria, spreading like wildfire on social media. Of particular concern is the emergence of hate songs, some of which call for the Igbo to be killed, others of which call for the break-up of Nigeria with the Igbo cut adrift in a reduced, oil-less 'Biafra'. One song which has become extremely popular vilifies the Igbo, blaming them for everything from drugs to terrorism. It includes the following chorus (which is repeated eight times): 'Igbos are a curse to Nigeria, whose existence and birth as a people in Nigeria is useless, that abortion is greater than the birth of the bast**ds.' 

Though the federal government vowed to arrest those responsible for the Kaduna Declaration, no arrests have been made, allegedly on the grounds that it could jeopardise Nigeria's fragile security, i.e., it could trigger widespread Muslim rioting. Nigerian leaders, including President Buhari, have expressed concern over the growing amount of hate speech, noting that the same phenomenon occurred in Rwanda before the 1994 genocide there. At a press briefing in the capital Abuja on 24 August, the spokesperson for the coalition of northern Muslim youth groups, AbdulAziz Suleiman, 'suspended' the group's 6 June quit notice and affirmed the unity of Nigeria while continuing to vilify the Igbo. On Sunday 3 September Nigeria's top Muslim spiritual leader, Sa'ad Abubakar condemned the Kaduna Declaration, openly declaring his opposition to it.

Yet, despite all efforts to calm the situation, Muslim youths across the North continue to 'beat the drums of war' and insist all Igbo must leave before 1 October. A group of UN experts has expressed 'grave concern' about the possibility of ethnic bloodshed, 'especially considering the previous history of such violence'. Few doubt that a crisis is looming and that efforts to defuse it have been half-hearted at best.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO:

* intervene in Nigeria to calm the brewing storm; may the whole Nigerian Church unite in prayer -- nationwide, across denominational and ethnic lines -- to petition the Lord for peace and mercy.

'By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth ... who by his strength ... stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples, so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.' (From Psalm 65:5-8 ESV)

* grace Nigeria's political, religious, civic and youth leaders with wisdom to know what to do and the courage to do it. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

* guide and protect his vulnerable Church in the Muslim-dominated North in the face of escalating anti-Igbo hostility. (Isaiah 40:10-11)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
-------------------------------------------------------
NIGERIA: MUSLIM YOUTHS 'BEAT DRUMS OF WAR'

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Biafra War (1967-1970), a war in which Nigeria's Muslim-dominated military junta crushed the separatist aspirations of the predominantly Christian Igbo. Whilst the Igbo are indigenous to the south-east, they live and work all over Nigeria, excelling in business and administration. On 6 June a coalition of Northern Muslim youth groups warned all Igbo in the North to leave before 1 October or be evicted forcibly. The threat has a precedent -- in 1966 an ethnic cleansing campaign targeting Igbo in the North left some 30,000 Igbo dead and more than 1.3 million displaced. Tensions are soaring once again. Anti-Igbo hate speech is proliferating across the Muslim North. Many fear a crisis is imminent. Please pray for peace in Nigeria and for its Christians.

------------------------------------------------------

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

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

RLPB 421. August Update; incl. Vietnam, India, CAR, Philippines, China, Eritrea, Kenya, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, Turkey

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 421 | Wed 30 Aug 2017

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)

'Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence . . . From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.' (from Isaiah 64:1-4 ESV)

AUGUST 2017 UPDATE -- this month we prayed concerning ...

* VIETNAM (RLPB 417), where long-persecuted Protestant pastor and religious freedom advocate, Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, had been released from prison on the condition that he and his religious freedom advocate wife Tran Thi Hong leave the county; and where internationally acclaimed human rights attorney and Protestant Christian Nguyen Van Dai (48) had been charged with 'carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People's administration' under Article 79 of Vietnam's Penal Code.

UPDATE: Radio Free Asia reports that four members of an online democracy advocacy group, known as Brotherhood for Democracy (founded in 2013), were arrested on 30 July. The four have all served time in prison before, and all are connected to human rights advocate Nguyen Van Dai. Like Nguyen Van Dai, the four men -- one of whom is 'missing' -- have been charged with 'carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People's administration' and could face anything from 12 years in prison to the death penalty if convicted. One of those arrested and charged is Protestant Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton (45).

* INDIA (RLPB 418), where Christians suffer escalating discrimination and violent persecution in line with the rise of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism with religious apartheid) and where the northern state of Jharkhand was considering enacting an anti-conversion law. The law had been approved by the cabinet of the Chief Minister on 1 August but had yet to come before the Legislative Assembly.

UPDATE: ANTI-CONVERSION LAW PASSED IN JHARKHAND
Jharkhand's 'Religious Freedom Bill 2017' was both introduced to and passed by the Legislative Assembly on 12 August. Under this law, anyone judged to have 'forced' another person to change their religion could face three years' imprisonment and fines of Rs 50,000 (US $800), or four years' imprisonment and a Rs 100,000 fine if the person converted is a minor, a woman or a member of the less-educated classes, such as Dalits. Furthermore, any conversion will require permission from the Hindu nationalist-dominated state government. While the law does not actually ban conversion, it hands anti-Christian forces a weapon with which they can persecute and prosecute Christians while reining in conversions. [Further analysis is available on Religious Liberty Monitoring (RLM) (2 Sept 2017).]

* CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR) (RLPB 419), where Islamic militants, who are reportedly now 'more heavily armed than ever', continue to spread terror despite the presence of UN 'peacekeepers'.

UPDATE: Complaints continue to surface against the UN peacekeepers, in particular the Moroccans. According to Catholic priest Father Jean-Alain Zembi, rector of Zemio on the nation's border with Congo, UN peacekeepers have been abandoning civilians. Going further, others accuse the UN peacekeepers of 'complicity' in the terror. The supreme question of who is funding these 'heavily armed' Islamic militants remains unanswered. According to Catholic priest, Father Desire Kpangou, the attackers wore turbans and spoke neither French nor the local language, Sango, suggesting they had come from nearby Sudan. [For more on Sudan's involvement in CAR see RLM Nov 2013.] In a desperate plea for international assistance to disarm the militants, Father Kpangou declared, 'If you [the UN] don't come soon to disarm these people, we [the priests] will have to organise confessions and a final Mass and viaticum [final administration of the sacraments of Holy Communion before death] and prepare ourselves and the rest of the displaced people here for the worst.' May God intervene in CAR.

* PHILIPPINES (RLPB 420), where some 50 to 60 local and foreign Islamic militants were holding 46 civilians hostage in Marawi's Grand Mosque as the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) closed in.

INSIDE 3 | AlHayat Media Center
http://ou7zytv3h2yaosqq.tor2net.xyz/35246
(copy and paste into browser)
UPDATE: On 20 August Islamic State's Al-Hayat Media Centre released a graphic and typically slick and powerful video entitled 'Inside 3'. In line with the Islamic State (IS) strategy of promoting an image of Islamic success, the almost seven-minute ¬English-language production includes scenes of young jihadis firing their weapons, desecrating a church and stepping around the bodies of dead AFP soldiers. The narrator boasts: 'After all [the government's] efforts [to subjugate Islam] it would be the religion of the Cross that would be torn down and broken.' And later: 'After soldiers of the Taghut (infidel government) were left ¬embarrassed and demoralised, [President] Duterte ran to his masters, the defenders of the Cross -- America, along with their regional guard dog Australia and begged them for help.' In reality, it is IS that is begging for help, pleading with Muslims across South-east Asia to come to Marawi and die fighting for Allah.

UPDATE ON HOSTAGES: On the morning of 24 August the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) seized control of Marawi's Grand Mosque. While it is a hugely symbolic victory, the militants had already fled and no hostages were found. Gun battles continue. On Sunday 27 August jihadist sympathiser Cayamora Maute (64), father of the notorious Marawi-based Maute brothers (who have led this rebellion) -- died in a government hospital. Arrested on 6 June, Cayamora Maute had diabetes, hepatitis and hypertension; police rushed him into hospital when his blood pressure shot up. The fact that he died in police custody could complicate the situation for the hostages. Please pray.

AUGUST 2017 ROUND-UP -- also this month ...

* CHINA: GAO ZHISHENG 'DISAPPEARED'


Gao Zhisheng (source)
in 2005 (left) and 2017 (right)
Internationally acclaimed human rights lawyer and devout Christian Gao Zhisheng ran afoul of China's communist regime as soon as he started advocating religious freedom and defending the persecuted. First arrested in 2006, Gao has spent many years in China's secret 'black jails' where he was tortured and forced to endure long periods of solitary confinement. After many threats, Gao's wife and children fled to the USA in 2009. Released from prison in 2014 in an appalling state [see RLPB 275 (27 Aug 2014)], Gao has since been under house arrest in his mother's cave house in Shaanxi Province, denied access to dental or medical care. When Gao's wife, Geng He, phoned him early on the morning of Sunday 13 August, nobody answered. When Gao's brother subsequently went to check on him, nobody was there. The Wall Street Journal has surmised that Gao may have been detained because he recently gave an interview to a Hong Kong magazine, or because the regime might be rounding up dissidents ahead of the 19th Party Congress due to be held this Fall. ChinaAid is urging the relevant authorities in China 'to help locate Gao's whereabouts' and asking the international community 'to pray for Gao's safety and freedom'.

* ERITREA: ANOTHER CHRISTIAN DIES IN CUSTODY

Fikadu Debesay had been arrested along with her husband on 17 May, during raids targeting evangelical Christians in the town of Adi Quala [RLPB 409 (31 May)]. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that the Christian mother of three died in Metkel Abiet, a desert camp in Eritrea's Northern Red Sea Region. A relative at the 10 August burial told Morning Star News that Fikadu's body showed signs of torture. Fikadu's traumatised children are amongst the more than 50 children currently without one or both parents because of these raids. The number of Christians detained in desert camps and military facilities since May has risen to 210. In July, 16 teenage Christian girls were arrested while doing their compulsory national service and sent to the Metkel Abiet camp. When family members tried to visit, they too were incarcerated. During the first week of August, a further 23 Christians were rounded up in the capital city, Asmara. Prison conditions are appalling and torture is routine. May God intervene in Eritrea.

* KENYA: SHAHADA OR DEATH IN LAMU COUNTY

On  Friday evening 18 August, al-Shabaab militants killed four Christian men in Kasala Kairu, Lamu County, on Kenya's coast near the border with Somalia. First the militants seized Changawa Muthemba (40s) from his home and dragged him to the home of his brother-in-law, Joseph Kasena (42), an elder in the local church. They then dragged Joseph and his guest, neighbour Kadenge Katana (17), out of the house. When Changawa, Joseph and Kadenge refused to recite the Shahaada (the Islamic statement of faith) the militants tied them up and hacked them to death with machetes. Joseph's wife, Caroline (late 30s), witnessed everything and is 'severely traumatised'. The militants then went to the home of Joseph's mentally challenged older brother, Charo (late 40s), and murdered him. It is well known that the al-Shabaab has established camps in Kenya's Boni Forest which borders Somalia. Furthermore, al-Shabaab militants and their sympathisers are reportedly 'deeply embedded' in the local communities of wider Lamu and Tana Counties where they 'move around freely' while the police do nothing. On 8 July Kenya's Standard reported: 'Last week, 150 Al-Shabaab gunmen prayed at a local mosque [in Lamu county] before launching an attack on the police station, dispensary and school.' This appalling situation requires urgent attention from the Kenyan government. Please pray.

* MALAYSIA: ISLAMISATION FOR POLITICAL GAIN

On 4 August the Malaysia Islamic Development Department (Jakim) established a special national-level committee called the Shariah Courts Empowerment Committee (JKMMS), tasked with 'empowering the shariah judicial system in line with the position of Islam in the Federal Constitution'. Then on 7 August the Malaysian government withdrew the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2016, claiming a new version was required. The new version removes Article 88(A) which had protected children from forced conversion to Islam upon the conversion of one parent. The government has also banned more books promoting moderate Islam, on the grounds that they are 'likely to be prejudicial to public order' and 'likely to alarm public opinion'. In early August, when images went viral showing members of an atheist club enjoying fellowship, the government vowed to 'hunt down' atheists and warned anyone caught propagating godlessness could face prosecution. Analysts surmise that UMNO (the ruling United Malays Nationalist Organisation party) and its leader, Prime Minister Najib Razak, are advancing Islamisation ahead of the August 2018 elections to shore up Muslim votes. Pray for the Church in Malaysia.

* NEPAL: A FURTHER BLOW TO RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

In September 2015, Nepali lawmakers passed a new constitution [RLPB 329 (30 Sep 2015)] which defined Nepal as a 'secular' state, while appeasing Hindu nationalists with the inclusion of anti-conversion measures [for details see: RLPB 321 (5 Aug 2015)]. On 8 August 2017 the Nepali parliament passed a bill criminalising religious conversion and the 'hurting of religious sentiment'. Clause 158 of section 9 bans the hurting of religious sentiment and is similar to Pakistan's blasphemy law. Clause 160 in section 9 severely restricts religious conversion and is similar to the anti-conversion laws in force in India. Christians fear it will foster intolerance and provide anti-Christian forces with a weapon to use against them. The law now awaits the approval of Nepal's President Bidhya Devi Bhandari. Tehmina Arora, an expert in human rights law, writes, 'The fundamental right to religious freedom includes the practice and sharing of a belief. The president should veto this new bill and allow her citizens to enjoy basic human rights'. Pray for the Church in Nepal.

* PAKISTAN: ANOTHER CHRISTIAN YOUTH ACCUSED 

Asif Masih (16), an illiterate and mildly mentally challenged Christian youth, worked as a scavenger in Gujranwala District, Punjab Province, scavenging through garbage for salvageable items that could be cleaned up, repaired and reused. On 12 August a rival scavenger named Muhammad Nawaz decided to remove Asif from the scene, so he accused him of having burnt a Quran. Before long a crowd had gathered and Asif was being beaten so savagely that when the police finally arrived he 'confessed' to the crime to save his own life. Asif is now in prison, accused of blasphemy.

* SUDAN: CHURCH UNDER PRESSURE

The Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) in Omdurman (across the Nile River from the capital, Khartoum) continues to face extreme pressure from the Islamic Government of Sudan (GoS). Morning Star News reports that, on Wednesday 23 August, seven SCOC leaders were jailed and interrogated for six hours before being charged with refusing to comply with an order to turn over leadership of their congregation to a government-appointed committee. Among those detained was Rev Kwa Shamaal, head of missions at the SCOC, who was only released from prison in January this year [for background see RLPB 372 (24 Aug 2016)]. The harassment and persecution is all part of the expressed intent of GoS to rid Sudan of Christianity [see RLM March 2013].

* SYRIA: SEVEN CHRISTIAN FAMILIES RESCUED FROM RAQQA


Matay Hanna (left) an MFS fighter,
inspects a map of Raqqa showing
the churches destroyed by IS.
(MEE/Wladimir van Wilgenburg)
Some 95 percent of Raqqa's Christian families managed to flee as the city fell to rebel forces in March 2013. However, when ISIS took control in January 2014, those who remained were trapped. On Tuesday 8 August two Armenian and five Assyrian Christian families were rescued from Raqqa by Christian fighters from the 200-strong Syriac Military Council (MFS; established in 2013), which is fighting with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Sawsan Karabidian (45), who was rescued with six members of her family, said, 'They [ISIS] forced us to wear the headscarf and allowed us to reveal our faces to distinguish us from Muslims. We had to hide our faces to avoid insults. We were forced to pay tribute [jizya/protection money] by hand and we were humiliated and insulted; what a homeland that makes you pay an additional tax because you are different.' MSF fighter Matay Hanna told reporters, 'Some say we are Christians and we must love everyone. But if we do that there will be no Christians left in the Middle East. We are Christians and should defend our people. We don't need another genocide against us; it's enough. ... We must defend ourselves.' The MFS fighters hope Christians will return to Raqqa. 'We will fix the church, or build a new church,' Hanna said. 'We will finish this mission, and let the people go back to their homes.' Pray for the Christians of Mesopotamia (Syria-Iraq).

* TURKEY: US PASTOR CHARGED WITH SPYING AND INSURGENCY 


Rev Andrew Brunson
World Watch Monitor
American Presbyterian Pastor Andrew Brunson was arrested in October 2016 [RLPB 389 (21 Dec 2016)] in the wake of July's alleged coup attempt which the Erdogan regime blamed on the US [see RLPB 367 (20 July 2016)]. Pastor Brunson and his wife, Norine, ministered in Izmir's Dirilis (Resurrection) Church and had lived in Turkey for 23 years. Jailed without charge, Brunson was eventually accused of being a member of a terrorist organisation. Now, World Watch Monitor reports that on 24 August 2017 the state-run Anadolu news agency confirmed that Brunson will now face charges of spying and insurgency with prosecutors demanding he receive four consecutive life sentences in prison. Pastor Ihsan Ozbek, who leads Turkey's Association of Protestant Churches, denounced the charges as 'absurd'. It has long been suspected that Turkey will seek to exploit Brunson to broker a prisoner swap with the US. Please pray.

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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 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.

------------------------------------------------------

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
-------------------------------------------------------
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.

------------------------------------------------------

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 8, 2017

RLPB 418. India: Serious Threat of Hindutva

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 418 | Wed 09 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)


INDIA: SERIOUS THREAT OF HINDUTVA
-- Church is persecuted; tribals free only to be Hindu

by Elizabeth Kendal

The ideology of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) was formulated in the early 1900s as a means to counter British colonialism. VD Savarkar, the man recognised as the Father of Hindutva, was an Indian pro-independence activist and revolutionary. Savarkar sought to unify India's numerous and diverse peoples under the banner of Hindutva to strengthen the Indian resistance. An avowed atheist, Savarkar objected to Hindu beliefs and sought to redefine Hinduness as race. He wrote his defining work 'Hindutva' while in prison in the early 1900s. Whilst he might have despised the Muslims of the 'Khilafat' (Caliphate) Movement with whom he shared a prison cell, his ideology appears to borrow much from their fundamentalist Islam.

The essence of Savarkar's Hindutva is this: a Hindu is a person for whom 'Hindustan' (the entire Indian subcontinent) is their homeland and holy-land. As the homeland and holy-land of the Hindu race/nation, ‘Hindustan’ should be declared a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu state). The only reason non-Hindus exist in Hindustan is because they or their ancestors were led astray and converted by foreign missionaries, usually through fraud, force or allurement. All non-Hindus are thus called to 'return home' to Hinduism for the sake of Mother India. Refusal to do so is seen as an act of betrayal against the Hindu nation, akin to subversion or separatism. In theory, Hindutva rejects caste, mandating there should be equality within the Hindu race. Non-Hindus however, are to be marginalised as second-class citizens and essentially be punished for their betrayal. The result is religious apartheid with violent persecution.

This pregnant woman and her five children
were thrown out of their village by
her husband and in-laws after she refused
to renounce her Christian faith.
See World Watch Monitor (8 Aug)
It has been a Long (100-year) March, but Savarkar's Hindutva disciples now control the levers of power throughout all India. Formulated to stir up revolution against the British, Hindutva is now used as a political tool to fan majority Hindu pride and dragnet the majority Hindu vote to consolidate the power and privilege of the Hindu elites. The situation facing India's ancient and growing missionary-focused Christian Church is exceedingly serious. Slandered as anti-social elements who instigate strife, threaten social cohesion and risk national security, Christians are increasingly finding themselves without rights or security against a rising tide of politically-orchestrated religious hatred.

As animists who traditionally vote Congress, the tribals have long been the prime targets of Hindutva activists seeking religious conversions for political gain. To their fury, they find themselves competing with Christian missionaries who are almost exclusively Indian nationals working locally or cross-culturally. Along with literacy, education, vocational training and healthcare, these Indian missionaries also introduce peace, love, dignity, grace and abundant life in Jesus Christ to peoples historically disregarded by the Hindu caste system as little more than rubbish. Like the high caste (who recoil at the notion of equity) the Hindutva activists regard Christian missionaries as their number one enemy on earth.

Christian missionary: Gospel for Asia 

ANTI-CONVERSION LAW FOR JHARKHAND

Five northern tribal-belt states have enacted anti-conversion laws (ironically known as 'Freedom of Religion' bills): Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Odhisa. A similar law also exists in Arunachal Pradesh, which as yet has not been implemented. On Tuesday 1 August the Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Bill 2017 was approved by the cabinet of Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das. The law will be enacted later this year when it is approved by the Hinduvta-dominated State Legislative Assembly. As in the other states, Jharkhand's Freedom of Religion Bill will criminalise religious conversion, mandating prison terms and a fine for anyone found guilty of attempting to convert another person by fraud, force or allurement -- all undefined. The penalty is increased if the convert is a minor or a member of a scheduled caste or tribe. As human rights advocate Tehmina Arora notes, 'This law, like the ones in the other States, will only further incite violence against religious minorities.' Similarly, Church leaders warn that such laws merely foster hatred against minority communities and lead to persecution of Christians.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO:

* intervene in power and grace to thoroughly subvert the Hindutva project [which is essentially just another Tower of Babel -- a vain and rebellious project aimed at forging social cohesion without reference to God (Genesis 11)].  'The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.' (Jesus, Luke 18:27 ESV)

* rise up in defence of his persecuted and threatened Church and in defence of India's harassed and helpless masses.

Gospel For Asia 
'O Thou my soul, forget no more
The friend who all thy misery bore
Let every idol be forgot 
But O my soul, forget him not. 
Jesus for thee a body takes, 
Thy guilt assumes, thy fetters breaks, 
Discharging all thy dreadful debt; 
And canst thou e’er such love forget?’ 

(Attributed to Krishna Pal, Bengali convert to Christianity, baptised December 1800.)


DAY OF PRAYER FOR INDIA: the Evangelical Fellowship of India is inviting intercessors worldwide to join with the Indian Church on Sunday 13 August as they observe a 'Day of Prayer for the Nation'. Further resources can be found at https://www.nationaldayofprayer.in/  and https://www.facebook.com/EFoIndia 


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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SERIOUS THREAT OF HINDUTVA IN INDIA

The ideology of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) was formulated in the early 1900s as a way to counter British colonialism. Today, Hindutva is a political tool used to fan Hindu pride and dragnet the Hindu vote to consolidate the power and privilege of Hindu elites. Whilst Hindutva supposedly promotes equality of Hindus, non-Hindus are marginalised as second-class citizens. Refusal to 'return' to Hinduism is viewed as a betrayal against the Hindu nation. The result is religious apartheid with violent persecution. As animists who traditionally vote Congress, the tribals have long been the prime targets of Hindutva activism. These activists view Christian missionaries -- almost exclusively Indian nationals -- as their principal enemies. Five northern tribal states already have anti-conversion laws; another will soon follow. Please pray for India and its Christians.

------------------------------------------------------

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