Monday, December 18, 2017

RLPB 437. Christmas devotion, notices and updates: India, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 437 | Tue 19 Dec 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) 

CHRISTMAS DEVOTION, NOTICES & UPDATES
by Elizabeth Kendal

CHRISTMAS DEVOTION: THE GOD WHO IS WITH US

Unlike all the gods humanity has ever made, YAHWEH -- the true and living Almighty Creator and redeeming Holy God of the Bible -- is with us. That first Christmas, the Son, Jesus, Immanuel, came to us clothed in mortal flesh. Today the Holy Spirit lives within all whom the Son has redeemed. God is with us not only on the mountain top, where the sun is shining and all is well. He is with us in the valley, where the shadows linger, evil lurks and life is uncertain. When we pray for the persecuted we pray to a God who is present in the prison cell, in the war zone, in the displacement camp and amidst all the suffering and evil in this world. God the eternal spirit sees and cares. He speaks, sometimes in a still small voice and sometimes with a roar. He sends his angels to defend and to minister and he intervenes with miracles to ensure the inevitable does not come to pass. While occasionally these miracles are spectacular, most are inconspicuous: the persecutor has a change of heart or health, the gun jams, the detonator fails, the weather changes, the sufferer rallies and quite inexplicably the battle is turned back at the gate.

And so we pray:

* that YAHWEH Sabaoth (the Lord of Hosts, the commander of heaven's angelic forces) will protect churches from attack this Christmas season. The high risk season includes Advent, Roman Catholic and Protestant Christmas (24,25 December), New Year, Greek Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christmas (6,7 January).

* that God will comfort and encourage every Christian spending this Christmas either in prison or in the custody of Islamic militants [see RLPB 436 (13 Dec)] on account of the name of Jesus. May they experience God's closeness and everlasting love; may they be fully aware that they are in God's 'sanctuary' (i.e., dwelling place, Hebrew: miqdas. Isaiah 8:11-14a).

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NOTICES:

This will be the last Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) for 2017. Whilst an urgent prayer alert will be issued should the need arise, the next scheduled RLPB will be issued on Wednesday 17 January 2018.

If you have not already done so, please take some time to familiarise yourself with the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog/website. The site contains a searchable archive dating back to April 2009. Furthermore, at the very bottom of the webpage is a keyword search that searches both the RLPB and Religious Liberty Monitoring (News & Analysis) sites combined.

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UPDATES: 

* INDIA: CONGRESS LOSES MORE THAN GUJARAT
                 -- persecution escalates as darkness sets in.


Rahul Gandhi campaigning in Gujarat
Counting in the Gujarat elections took place on Monday 18 December. Congress picked up 19 seats, 15 in the BJP stronghold of rural Saurashtra. However, despite losing 16 seats (13 in Saurashtra region), the BJP ultimately won 99 of 182 seats to retain power and its majority. It was an acrimonious campaign, resulting in Congress not only losing the poll, but all integrity. During the course of the campaign, Rahul Gandhi (47) was elected to the role of Congress Party president. For decades, Congress -- traditionally a secular party -- has timidly allowed the Hindutva narrative to advance unchallenged. Now, however, it appears to have embraced it. In Gujarat, Congress not only mimicked the BJP, it did everything in its power to avoid being labelled 'pro-minority'. Whilst Congress has been leaning this way for some time, it now seems to have officially fallen into the Hindu nationalist pit. This does not bode well for India's Christians.

Christians plead for mercy (4 Dec)
Morning Star News
On 4 December, in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, seven Indian Christians (six men and a woman) accepted an invitation to pray over a seriously ill man whose relative had previously been healed through prayer. A Hindu relative heard of it and rallied a mob of some 20 RSS Hindutva militants to attack the family and the visiting believers violently. Police arrived, arrested the believers and charged them with 'deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings' under Section 295-A of the Indian Penal Code. The six Christian men were remanded in judicial custody for 14 days; bail was refused. On Monday 11 December, also in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, seven Christians were arrested for handing out Bibles. Accused of insulting Hindu deities and procuring 'forced conversions', they were remanded in custody for 14 days. Also on 11 December, this time in Madhya Pradesh, 30 Christians were arrested while singing Christmas carols; eight priests who came to help were also arrested. Accused of procuring 'forced conversions', seven believers were remanded in custody for 14 days. This is the tip of the iceberg [see: Evangelical Fellowship of India, Persecution Watch, November 2017]!

* MEXICO: MORE NON-CATHOLICS FORCIBLY EXPELLED

Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that, on 4 December, officials in Tuxpan de Bolanos, an indigenous Huichol community in the north of Jalisco State, forcibly expelled 64 non-Catholics. The group, comprising 22 Protestants (including 15 children) and 42 Jehovah's Witnesses, were dragged from their homes, loaded into trucks and driven into the mountains where they were dumped and abandoned. To deter them from returning, officials also destroyed their homes. The Emanuel Regional Baptist Convention, which oversees Baptist churches in the area, rescued the victims. While the 42 Jehovah's Witnesses are currently in the municipal auditorium in Bolanos, the twenty-two Baptists are sheltering in Puente de Camotlan Church in neighbouring Nayarit State. This is not the first time Protestants have been forcibly exiled from Tuxpan de Bolanos. In January 2016, 28 Baptists (including 10 children) were forcibly trucked into the mountains and abandoned [RLPB 342 (2 Feb 2016)]. May justice and righteousness roll down like a river in Mexico (see Amos 5:21-24).

* NIGERIA:  CONFLICT SPREADS SOUTH TO CROSS RIVER STATE


click on map to enlarge
Benue State's Anti-Open Grazing legislation went into force on 1 November. Since then, scores of Fulani Muslims have migrated further south with their cattle into the mostly-Christian Cross River State. On the evening of Tuesday 5 December, locals in Mbiabong Ito, Odukpani Local Government Area (LGA), Cross River, noticed that Fulani herdsmen had invaded their farms with a large herd of cattle. Desperate to save their crops, the farmers tried to chase them away. However, the well-armed Fulani opened fire, triggering a violent clash. After four Fulani were reportedly killed, the herdsmen withdrew, later returning with uniformed soldiers. While helping the Fulani gather their cattle, the soldiers fired at villagers forcing some 200 families to flee Mbiabong Ito. According to SBM Intelligence (a partner to Stratfor), the pastoralist conflict is both expanding and deepening. 'The lack of national leadership on this issue is unfortunate', especially as it results in communities increasingly taking matters into their own hands. 'If nothing is done urgently, it is going to get worse.' Indeed, tensions are escalating, and the conflict will play out along religious lines.

* PAKISTAN: CHURCH TARGETED IN TERROR ATTACK 

On Sunday morning 17 December, four Islamic terrorists attacked the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's Baluchistan Province. More than 200 Christians were participating in the 'Sunday School Christmas Program' when gunfire erupted outside. Two gunmen had shot dead church gatekeeper George Masih, paving the way for two bombers to invade. Security guards stationed around the perimeter and on the church roof returned fire, killing one bomber, wounding the other and forcing the two gunmen to flee. Unable to make it inside the church, the wounded bomber detonated his explosive vest outside.

Bethel Methodist Memorial Church, 
Quetta. Sunday 17 December.

At least nine Christians were killed in the blast and more than 50 suffered wounds either from bullets or from shards of wood and glass propelled by the explosion. Pastor Saimon Bashir Masih told Morning Star News that, had either of the two bombers managed to enter the church, the death toll 'would have been colossal'. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack. While we lament and 'weep with those who weep' (Romans 12:15), we thank God that the full extent of evil was not realised.

LATEST:  Pakistan: mourners bury 11 killed in Quetta church suicide attack, as 50 injured, World Watch Monitor, 19 Dec 2017

'The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.' John 1:5 ESV

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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, December 12, 2017

RLPB 436. Christian Prisoners: Christmas in Captivity

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 436 | Wed 13 Dec 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) 

CHRISTIAN PRISONERS: CHRISTMAS IN CAPTIVITY
-- with special focus on Asia Bibi and Gao Zhisheng

by Elizabeth Kendal

'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them ...' (Hebrews 13:3a ESV).

In Lamentations chapter 3 'the man who has seen affliction' (probably the prophet Jeremiah) tells of his appalling suffering at the hands of 'the rod of his [Yahweh's] fury', i.e., the Babylonians. Having already endured the hardship and hunger associated with the siege of Jerusalem, he now suffers the violence associated with an enemy invasion. He is a captive, chained and enslaved; his bones and teeth broken. It is a truly horrible image. Furthermore, the chapter provides insight into the spiritual and emotional struggle taking place within the victim's soul. 'Filled with bitterness' and 'bereft of peace', all he can do to survive is constantly recall truth which in turn inspires hope.

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." The Lord is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him." (Lamentations 3:21-24 ESV)

For most Christians, Christmas is a season of immense joy. However, for Christians separated from loved ones and fellow believers due to incarceration or captivity, it can be particularly painful.  Christians are incarcerated in Algeria, Burma, China, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Vietnam and possibly elsewhere. Christians are also being held captive by Islamic jihadists in Mali. In some cases, these believers have infuriated religious dictators with their persistent Gospel witness. In other cases they have threatened corrupt regimes with their persistent truth-speaking.  Meanwhile, some Christian prisoners are simply pawns in a domestic power struggle or a geopolitical game. Whatever the cause of their captivity, we cannot overestimate the ferocity of the spiritual and emotional struggle taking place within these prisoners' souls. Traumatised, isolated and condemned to harsh and often dehumanising conditions designed to break the spirit, Christian prisoners need our prayers!

'The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.' (John 1:5 ESV)

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* PAKISTAN: ASIA BIBI, CHRISTIAN PRISONER IN CRISIS


 Ashiq Masih, holds a photo
of his wife, Asia Bibi
The November showdown between the Pakistan government and the hardline Islamists of the Tehreek-e-Labaik political party [see RLPB 434 (29 Nov)] could well have a devastating impact on Asia Bibi's appeal. Asia Bibi was imprisoned in June 2009 after being accused of blasphemy and was sentenced to death by hanging in November 2010. Her appeal is currently pending in the Supreme Court. However, to end the siege of Islamabad, the government acquiesced to numerous Islamist demands, including: that there would be no difficulty in registering blasphemy cases; that no leniency would be given to those convicted by the courts of blasphemy; and that Asia Bibi (also known as, 'Noreen') will not be allowed to leave Pakistan and that her execution will be expedited. Asia's lead counsel, Attorney Saiful Malook (a Muslim), is risking his life to defend her. Malook prosecuted the case against Malik Mumtaz Qadri, the security guard who assassinated Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer in January 2011 over his support for Asia Bibi. Tehreek-e-Labaik formed in the wake of   Qadri's February 2016 execution and Malook has been on an Islamist kill-list ever since. The Supreme Court must decide and the government must uphold that decision. May Asia Bibi not be sacrificed on the altar of appeasement.

Recommended:
Government of Pakistan Bows to Islamists on 'Blasphemy' Suspects, Critics Say
Last chance for saving Aasiya Noreen (Asia Bibi) put in jeopardy.
Morning Star News, by MSN's Pakistan Correspondent, 4 December 2017
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* CHINA: GAO ZHISHENG, CHRISTIAN PRISONER IN CRISIS


China's Solzhenitsyn: Gao Zhisheng
Since his first abduction in August 2006, devout Christian human rights lawyer and religious liberty advocate, Gao Zhisheng, has suffered savage cruelty and dehumanising treatment at the hands of the systemically corrupt and criminal Chinese Communist machine. For refusing to be silenced, Gao has now been returned to 'hell'. [See: RLPB 432, Christian Advocate Confined in 'Infinite Darkness' (15 Nov).] While in prison in 2012, God graced Gao with a vision of the collapse of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Gao was totally convinced the collapse would occur in 2017. Whether he projected that date onto the vision himself or simply misinterpreted an element of it is uncertain. Maybe when the CCP does collapse (which it will) we will see with hindsight that 2017 -- with its escalating Big Brother-like repression, and the 19th CCP National Congress which saw Xi elevated to the heights of Mao -- marked the beginning of the end, as distinct from the end itself. That said, Gao Zhisheng must be incredibly confused and conflicted right now. Doubtless he is experiencing relentless and ferocious spiritual attack. In his book, 'Unwavering Convictions', Gao provides an insight into how he survived three years in darkened solitary confinement in Shaya Prison,  Xinjiang Province (2011-2014): 'For anyone of faith, infinite light and freedom await us when we close our eyes.' Gao will need all the faith, light, truth and hope the Spirit of God can give him if he is to survive this captivity.

Recommended:
Unwavering Convictions
Carolina Academic Press, January 2017.

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PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* the Lord to meet, personally and powerfully, with every Christian who is separated from loved ones and the fellowship of believers due to imprisonment or captivity this Christmas season. 'And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.' (Matthew 28:20b ESV)

* the Holy Spirit to flood the memory of every Christian captive with the hope-inspiring Biblical truths they will need to get through their trials; may the Holy Spirit help them remember and meditate on truth and trust their Shepherd King who leads his people, though his footprints are not seen (Psalm 77).

* God to intervene on behalf of Asia Bibi. May the Supreme Court and government of Pakistan be empowered and emboldened to secure justice for this family; may God sustain and protect Asia Bibi, her family and her advocate, Saiful Malook.

* God to intervene on behalf of Gao Zhisheng; may Gao's words be read widely to great effect; may none of his work have been in vain. May God sustain and protect Gao Zhisheng; may the devil and his proxies have no victory over him.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIAN PRISONERS IN CAPTIVITY AT CHRISTMAS

For most Christians, Christmas is a season of immense joy.  For Christians separated from loved ones and fellow believers due to incarceration or captivity, it can be particularly painful.  Christians are incarcerated in Algeria, Burma, China, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Vietnam and possibly elsewhere. Christians are also being held captive by Islamic jihadists in Mali. Some are pastors and evangelists and some are 'prophetic voices' of righteousness, whilst others are simply pawns in a much larger game. Whatever the cause of their incarceration or captivity, we cannot overestimate the ferocity of the spiritual and emotional struggle taking place within these prisoners' souls. Traumatised, isolated and condemned to harsh and often dehumanising conditions designed to break the spirit, Christian prisoners need our prayers!

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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, December 5, 2017

RLPB 435. Philippines: Battle for Mindanao far from over.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 435 | Wed 06 Dec 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: BATTLE FOR MINDANAO FAR FROM OVER
-- plus, Risk of Advent and Christmas Terror 

by Elizabeth Kendal

In a military offensive on 16 October the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) killed Isnilon Hapilon (former leader of Abu Sayyaf and Islamic State's 'emir' for Southeast Asia) and Omarkhayam Maute, leader of the pro-ISIS Maute group and the last of the Maute brothers to be killed. Commenting on the killings, Singapore-based terrorism expert Kumar Ramakrishna warned (16 October): 'Just because the Marawi siege is coming to an end does not mean the threat is over. ISIS-linked militants there will regroup ... and lay low for a while, while rebuilding their strength.' Recent reports from Mindanao indicate that this is precisely what is happening.

Mindanao: displace children,
fed by local evangelical church (Oct 2017)
Whilst the Battle for Marawi is now over, the conflict has left Marawi City uninhabitable. The city is mostly rubble, all the banks have been emptied and every house and business has been looted and destroyed. Eager to exploit the situation, Islamic State recruiters target displaced Muslims and Islamist sympathisers who are furious about the destruction of Marawi, which they blame on the AFP (rather than on the jihadists whose plot to seize Marawi for their Caliphate started the conflict). Sources report that ISIS is actively recruiting across Mindanao, including in Western Mindanao State University (WMSU) in Zamboanga. Recruits receive a 'sign-up purse' (one-off payment) with the promise of further payments and benefits if they join a battlefront. Rommel Banlaoi from the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research warns that cashed-up 'sleeper cells are everywhere'.

Ominously, Banlaoi also warns that Islamic State is encouraging the Philippines' four main pro-Islamic State groups -- the Bangsamoro ¬Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the Abu Sayyaf Group, Khilafah Islamiyah Mindanao and Ansarul Khilafah Philippines -- to unify. Lt-General Carlito Galvez Jr, commander of the Western Mindanao Command, warns that Cotabato City (around 60 percent Muslim and 35 percent Christian) in Mindanao's Maguindanao Province 'could be the next Marawi'. 

Philippines
click on map to enlarge
Furthermore, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is exploiting the situation for political gain. During the conflict, MILF (which seeks to rule an autonomous Islamic sub-state Mindanao) took up arms against IS-linked BIFF, which split from MILF in 2010. Though it was doubtless little more than a power struggle, it afforded MILF the opportunity to present itself to Mindanao's Muslims and to the Philippine government as a rescuing counterforce to the ultra-hardline transnational ISIS, and the best hope for peace. MILF maintains that peace on Mindanao can be secured only through the creation of an autonomous Islamic sub-state, with local Muslim (MILF) rulers and Islamic Sharia Law. Not only would MILF defend this Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, it maintains that Muslims living there would no longer have any reason to sympathise with transnational groups like ISIS which threaten the central government. President Duterte (a 'Catholic') does not need convincing -- he is eager to see the potentially unconstitutional Bangsamoro Basic Law passed and enacted by March 2018.  Pressure is mounting and Christians in western Mindanao are exceedingly anxious about the future. While the predominantly Christian cities of Zamboanga and Davao would not be forced to join the Bangsamoro political entity, thousands of Christian villages throughout western Mindanao will be offered a plebiscite, which (I fear) could trigger ethnic-religious cleansing.

An analysis of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, see:
Philippines: Bangsamoro Basic Law Looms over Mindanao
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 11 Dec 2017

Vandalised chapel, Shariff Aguak
images
On 9 November vandals broke into a Catholic chapel in a village in Shariff Aguak town in Maguindanao Province. The intruders gathered the Catholic icons onto the central table, dowsed them in gasoline and burnt them. No group has claimed responsibility and residents suspect that jihadists (possibly from BIFF) are attempting to generate religious conflict between the town's Muslims and minority Christians.  Late on Sunday 3 December some 30 BIFF fighters attacked a village in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, killing two and wounding seven (including four pre-schoolers) in homes adjacent to a military base. The Battle for Marawi is over, but the Battle for Mindanao most certainly is not.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* the Lord to protect, bless, fortify and sanctify Mindanao's Christian minority; may the Church grow in prayerfulness, faith and grace, that God will be glorified in Mindanao.

* the Holy Spirit to energise, empower, sustain and bless all those who minister to Mindanao's multitudes of harassed and helpless Muslims and displaced persons; may the Lord provide all their needs and send out more workers into that harvest field. (Matthew 9:35-38)

* the Almighty Creator God -- for whom 'nothing will be impossible' (Luke 1:37) -- to intervene in the political process so that conditions in the south will be improved as constitutional freedoms are retained.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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PHILIPPINES: BATTLE FOR MINDANAO FAR FROM OVER

With the battle for Marawi City over, ISIS and its affiliates are recruiting and regrouping across western Mindanao. They target displaced Muslims and Islamist sympathisers who are furious about the destruction of Marawi, which they blame on the Philippine military. Senior intelligence officials warn that cashed-up 'sleeper-cells are everywhere' and that Cotabato City 'could be the next Marawi'. Exploiting the situation for political gain, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is insisting that peace in Mindanao is only possible with the establishment of an autonomous Islamic sub-state. President Duterte agrees and is eager to have the potentially unconstitutional law enacted by March 2018. With continuing Islamic guerrilla war and the prospect of MILF rule, there is much to concern Mindanao's Christian minority. Please pray for the Philippines and its Christians.

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RISK OF ADVENT & CHRISTMAS TERROR

Islamic State (IS) and its affiliates are taking a battering from the Philippine military in Mindanao, the Egyptian military in Sinai, the Nigerian military in northeast Nigeria and from Russia and the West in Syria. Consequently, we should assume that IS will seek to inflict pain and send a symbolic message to these governments by bombing a Philippine, Egyptian, Nigerian, Russian or Western Cathedral over Christmas. Failing that (should security prove too tight) IS will doubtless seek out softer targets, such as Christmas or New Year festivities. May the Lord be powerfully present, working in and through his Church. May the Lord watch over and protect his precious children (Psalm 121:7) and 'frustrate the ways of the wicked' (Psalm 146:9 ESV).

THREATS TO THE WEST:  Using posters and videos, IS has issued Christmas threats against London, New York, a Mormon Temple in San Diegothe Vatican and Europe's Christmas markets. Melbourne, Australia, is on alert, after a major terror plot targeting St Paul's Cathedral was averted last Christmas and one plot for a New Year's Eve massacre has been foiled so far this season.

May the message of Christmas ring out loud and clear: 'The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.' John 1:5 ESV

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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).