Wednesday, May 31, 2017

RLPB 409. May Update, Incl. Pakistan, CAR, Iran, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Egypt, Iraq, Philippines, Sudan, UK

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 409 | Wed 31 May 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)

by Elizabeth Kendal

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Please Note: A Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin will not be issued next week (7 June) as Elizabeth Kendal will be unavailable to prepare it. Churches and small groups needing an item for their newsletter or intercessory prayers should consider using another of the situations detailed below -- an urgent item this week and a less time-sensitive item next week. May the Lord bless you as you serve him and his precious Church in prayer.

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When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. (Psalm 56:3 ESV)

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

* PAKISTAN (RLPB 405), where the brutal lynching of Muslim university student Mashal Khan -- on campus in broad daylight -- had reignited the debate around the infamous blasphemy law.

UPDATES
PAKISTAN: LAW REFORM STALLS WHILE ISLAMISATION PROGRESSES
Ever since Marshal Khan was accused of blasphemy and lynched, his sisters have been receiving death threats. On 4 May some 500 Muslims in the town of Hub, in Balochistan Province, rioted after police refused to hand over a Hindu man whom they accused of blasphemy; a ten-year-old boy was killed in the melee. Meanwhile, Nabeel Masih -- the 16-year-old Christian boy arrested in September for 'liking' and 'sharing' a Facebook post which supposedly 'defamed and disrespected' the Kaaba in Mecca -- has again been refused bail. Despite doing little or nothing to address the blasphemy law, the Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs has amended the 'Respect for Ramadan' law, unanimously approving ten-fold increases in the maximum fines for fast-breakers, as well as prison terms of up to three months. Eateries are not even permitted to provide food during Ramadan's daylight hours. Rights advocates fear the law will hurt non-Muslims and fuel vigilantism. Ramadan commenced on 27 May and will continue until 25 June. Pray for the Church in Pakistan.

Jacqueline Sultan
PAKISTAN: CHRISTIAN LAWYER THREATENED WITH DEATH
Jacqueline Sultan is a high court advocate and a member of the Karachi Bar Council. She is also a human rights activist and the chairperson of the Global Human Rights Association Alliance. A Christian, she defends people charged with blasphemy and helps victims of forced conversion and marriage. In mid-May, a letter was delivered to her chambers in which she was threatened with death if she did not stop her work. The Karachi Bar Association is taking the threat very seriously and has demanded the state investigate and provide Sultan with extra security. Please pray for Jacqueline Sultan; may the Lord of hosts provide all her needs.

* NIGERIA (RLPB 406), where 82 'Chibok girls' had been released (ransomed) from Musab al-Barnawi's Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). Hundreds of girls, mostly Christians, are still captives of ISWAP and Boko Haram.

* CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR -- RLPB 407), where the de facto partition of the state -- with Christians in the south and Muslims dominating the north -- had brought a degree of peace. However, Islamic militias are fighting each other now for control of roads, grazing land, water and diamond mines. This strife is evolving along ethnic lines. Furthermore, native, non-Muslim 'anti-balaka' militias have allied with non-Fulani Islamic militias against the Muslim Fulani. In retaliation, the Fulani are escalating their attacks on Christians.

UPDATE: CHURCH FACES CRISIS AS VIOLENCE ESCALATES
On 15 May at least 20 were killed, more than 40 wounded and some 20,000 displaced as rebels clashed in Bria, the capital of central Haute-Kotto Province. UN personnel have confirmed that an aid warehouse was pillaged, saying: 'There's fighting taking place but we don't know who's fighting whom.' World Watch Monitor reports that Baptist pastor Ange-Apoléon Ngakolada (36) was among the dead in Alindao; he leaves behind a wife and eight children. It seems Muslims unhappy with his church exploited the chaos of 6-7 May and murdered him in his own home. CAR needs assistance, as it simply does not have enough troops to contain the escalating crisis.

IRAN (RLPB 408), where, faced with a choice between the conservative but pragmatic Rouhani and the ultra-conservative hard-liner Raisi, moderate Iranians came out en masse on 19 May to vote for Rouhani despite Raisi being the regime's preferred candidate.

UPDATE: EMERGING THREAT
As is commonly the case in politics today, the election's loser (in this case Ebrahim Raisi) has moved straight from campaign mode into conflict mode, launching a campaign designed to fire-up supporters, undermine the result and discredit and de-legitimise the winner (in this case, Hassan Rouhani). Raisi has accused Rouhani of electoral fraud and called for an official investigation, even though the Guardian Council has approved the result. Hard-liners have vowed to fight Rouhani and press their ultra-conservative agenda. If the situation arises where Raisi incites Islamic revolutionary rage, and/or President Rouhani feels pressured to appease hard-liners, Iran's Christians will suffer as a consequence. Please continue to pray for Iran, and for Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz and Amin Nader Afshar as their trial continues in Tehran.

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

* AFGHANISTAN: AID WORKER KILLED, ANOTHER KIDNAPPED

On 20 May militants broke into a Kabul guest-house run by Swedish-based charity, Operation Mercy. A German woman who had been working in Afghanistan for 13 years was killed, as was her Afghan guard, who was beheaded. A Finnish woman was kidnapped. Both women (who have not been named) were aid workers with Operation Mercy. As yet, no group has claimed responsibility. Please pray for the captive Finnish aid worker, and for the families and colleagues of the deceased. May the Lord have mercy.

* ERITREA: NEARLY 100 CHRISTIANS ARRESTED IN MAY

World Watch Monitor reports that on 9 May ten Christians were arrested at a home in Ginda, north-east of Asmara, having been betrayed by neighbours. On 17 May more than 35 Christians were arrested from their own homes in Adi Quala, after a compulsory survey exposed them as evangelicals. On 21 May 49 Christians were arrested at a post-wedding celebration outside the capital, Asmara. The totalitarian regime of President Isaias Afewerki is one of the world's worst persecutors. Since May 2002 thousands of Christians have suffered incarceration, hundreds have been severely tortured and at least 28 have died in custody due to mistreatment. Christians attempting to flee routinely fall prey to human traffickers. Eritrean Orthodox Patriarch Abune Antonios (89) has been confined to house-arrest for more than ten years; he had protested the persecution of 'Medhane Alem', a thriving revival movement which exists within the Eritrean Orthodox Church.

* EYGPT: SHAHADA OR DEATH IN THE DESERT 

On Ascension Day (26 May) a convoy of Coptic Christians en route to the Monastery of St Samuel the Confessor was stopped on the desert road some 220km south of Cairo by a group of around 10 men dressed in military fatigues and armed with automatic weapons. Claiming to be security officers, the gunmen ordered the Copts out of their vehicles. After separating the men from the women and children, the gunmen demanded the men recite the shahada (Islamic statement of faith). When the men refused, the militants opened fire, but were forced to flee when they noticed cars in the distance. Twenty-eight Christians are confirmed dead (including two children) and 23 wounded. Islamic State has claimed responsibility. The Copts are grieving and their grief spans the world. One Coptic Christian living in western Sydney, Australia, lost 12 members of his extended family in the massacre. Pray for Egypt.

Copts grieve (26 May) New York Times
photo: Amr Nabil/Associated Press

* IRAQ: CONVERT, BE KILLED, OR PAY JIZYA

Undated footage emerged in early May showing the head of Iraq's Shi'ite Endowment Fund, Alaa Abd al-Sahib al-Musawi teaching that 'the people of the book must be fought ... to compel their conversion to Islam. Either they convert to Islam, or else they are killed, or they pay the jizya.' [Jizya, as mandated in the Qur'an Sura 9:29, is a form of extortion wherein 'the people of the book' agree to pay for their right to life.] Iraq's Christians, most of whom are Assyrian (the indigenous people of Mesopotamia), were horrified. A group of 180 Christian families filed a lawsuit against Musawi, accusing him of hate speech. Musawi rejected the charge, claiming he was teaching on historic matters that are supposedly irrelevant today. He claimed the video was leaked by parties resistant to Muslim-Christian coexistence -- by which he doubtless meant the Assyrian Christians lobbying for a 'safe haven' or autonomous province in their historic homeland of the Nineveh Plains. By accusing the Assyrians of resisting what he calls 'Muslim-Christian co-existence', the cleric has knowingly created an extremely dangerous situation.

* PHILIPPINES: SHAHADA OR DEATH IN MINDANAO 

On 23 May, Philippine forces attempted to apprehend Abu Sayyaf chief Isnilon Hapilon from his hideout in the 99.6 percent Muslim city of Marawi, Mindanao. When Abu Sayyaf called for reinforcements, some 100 Islamic jihadists from an ISIS-inspired group known as 'Maute' stormed the city. They attacked St Mary's Cathedral, kidnapping 15 believers, including the priest Father Chito Suganob, some nuns, and several lay persons who were praying in the church. The Cathedral, a Protestant College and numerous other properties were torched. A truck transporting nine Christian labourers was ambushed at a militant checkpoint. After being pulled from the truck, the men were bound and ordered to recite the shahada (Islamic statement of faith). When they could not, they were executed. The militants have occupied half of the city using their Christian captives as human shields and are engaged in fierce battles with the Philippine military. The Maute group has escalated its activities over recent months as it seeks recognition from ISIS. President Duterte has declared martial law across Mindanao. The Church is pleading for the release of the Christian hostages.

Father Chito Suganob appears in a 5-min jihadist propaganda video, (30 May)
requesting the president end military operations. 

* SUDAN: PRISONERS FREED; CHURCHES DEMOLISHED

On 11 May Christian prisoners the Reverends Hassan Abdelrahim Kodi and Abdelmoneim Abdelmoula were released and reunited with their families. Incarcerated since December 2015, both men were released with a presidential pardon. Their co-accused, Rev Kuwa Shamal and Mr Petr Jasek, were released in January and February respectively. Despite this mercy, the Government of Sudan’s campaign against the Church continues, with 27 churches designated for demolition. Of these, two Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) buildings were demolished in May: one in Algadisia (established in 1983) on 17 May, and one in Soba Al Aradi (established in 1989) on 7 May. The demolition in Soba Al Aradi was particularly significant, for in 2011 Soba Al Aradi had 13 churches and today it has none. Pray for the Church in Sudan.

* UNITED KINGDOM (UK): CHURCHES TO REMAIN ALERT

On 22 May Salman Abedi (22), a British youth of Libyan heritage, blew himself up at a pop concert in the Manchester Arena, killing 22 people, including young children, and wounding over 100. ISIS claimed responsibility, warning: 'What comes next will be more severe on the worshippers of the cross and their allies.' After the attack MI5 lamented being overstretched, commenting that security services are currently ‘looking at 500 different plots’ and have a list of some 23,000 potential terrorists, including a 'top list' of 3,000 deemed high risk. Barnabas Fund UK has advised churches across Britain to 'exercise extra vigilance', providing guidance on how to reduce risk and how to report suspicious activity to police. Pray for a revival of faith and courage in UK.

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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, May 23, 2017

RLPB 408. Iran: People Want Change

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 408 | Wed 24 May 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)


IRAN: PEOPLE WANT CHANGE
by Elizabeth Kendal

Iranians went to the polls on 19 May to elect a president. In the end it was essentially a two-man race between the incumbent President Hassan Rouhani (68) and the quasi-socialist, ultra-conservative hard-liner, Ebrahim Raisi (56). It was a high turn-out election and Rouhani won comfortably, garnering 57 percent of the vote, while Raisi got 38.5 percent. What is most significant about this result is that Raisi lost despite being the preferred candidate of Ayatollah Khamenei, the clerical regime and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC). Increasingly convinced that election boycotts are counter-productive, Iran's more educated and less devout urbanites -- indeed all those yearning for greater freedoms and openness and an economy energised through improved relations with the West -- came out en masse to vote for Rouhani.

WHAT THIS MEANS is that the era of boycotts is definitely over. If this were not obvious in the 2016 parliamentary elections -- which saw numerous hard-liners lose their seats to genuine moderates and reformers -- it is certainly clear now. The people are rising, gathering momentum, and making their will known. As is becoming clear, the will of the majority is for change.

WHAT THIS DOES NOT MEAN is that anything will change at this point in time. Presidential elections are engineered to ensure that the president will represent the Islamic revolutionary regime. Furthermore, ultimate power still resides in the hands of Iran's unelected powers: Ayatollah Khamenei and the IRGC. Human rights will not improve. During Rouhani's first term as president more than 3000 Iranians were put to death for 'crimes' such as 'insulting Islam', a marked increase on the previous regime of hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Executions will surely continue, as will harassment and persecution of Christians. But at least the situation will not deteriorate. Or will it?

'Mirror mirror on the wall,
who's the fairest one of all?'
Dry Bones (21 May 2017)
On 21 May, just two days after the Iranian election, US President Donald Trump delivered a key speech in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in which he labelled Iran the 'world's biggest sponsor of terrorism', and called on 'nations of conscience' to 'isolate' Iran. Whilst Iran's clerical regime is indeed a leading sponsor of international Islamic terror, the 9/11 terrorists were all Sunnis (specifically Wahhabis) and 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. Likewise, the terrorist groups singled out by President Trump -- al-Qaeda and Islamic State -- are Sunni groups whose members were radicalised in mostly Saudi-funded Sunni mosques and madrassas. Ignoring all this, on 20 May President Trump signed an extensive arms package worth almost $110 billion --  potentially up to $350 billion over the next decade -- with Saudi Arabia, the world's other 'biggest sponsor of terrorism'. The reality is various the Islamic jihadist organisations wreaking havoc across the world today are nothing but proxies, incapable of surviving without state sponsorship. While Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia are the leading sponsors of terrorism, Saudi Arabia is also the primary facilitator of global radicalisation.  [A more detailed analysis of the evolving situation in the Middle East will be posted to Religious Liberty Monitoring in the coming weeks.]

Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz
(see: MEC, and Release Int.)
By aligning America so completely with Saudi Arabia against Iran, Trump and US Secretary of State Tillerson will surely have set back any gains made by Iranian moderates at the ballot box. This will complicate the situation for reformists in general and Christians in particular, especially evangelicals. The Iranian regime will become very defensive. As all this was unfolding, the trial of two Christians, Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz and Amin Afshar Naderi, was continuing in Tehran.

UPDATE see May 2017 Update [RLPB 409 (31 May)]. Excerpt: "Hard-liners have vowed to fight Rouhani and press their ultra-conservative agenda."


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL 

* be powerfully present and active inside Iran as he works all things together for good, for the benefit of the Church and the Iranian people, 'according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth'. (Ephesians 1:9b-10 ESV)

* protect, preserve and sanctify the Persian Church, as it grows both in its diaspora and inside Iran. 'And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.' (Romans 8:28 ESV)

* move the heart of President Rouhani and others in the regime, that they will accept that the people are calling for change and will have the courage to pursue it.

'Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, [king of Persia, 6th Century BC] . . . I name you, though you do not know me. ... I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other.' (From Isaiah 54:1-13 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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IN IRAN, PEOPLE WANT CHANGE

There was a high turn-out to the Iranian elections on 19 May when the incumbent, President Hassan Rouhani, was comfortably re-elected. Most significantly, Rouhani won despite his opponent, hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi, being the regime's preferred candidate. Hard-liners only ever won when reform-minded Iranians boycotted elections. But those days are over; the people are making their will known. However, nothing can change while Iran's unelected powers – the supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei and his Revolutionary Guards -- retain ultimate power. Human rights abuses, including persecution of Christians, will continue and may even be exacerbated by US President Trump's overt support for, and enormous arms deal with, the Wahhabist, anti-Shi'ite, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. (Like Iran, Saudi Arabia is a leading sponsor of international terrorism.) May God intervene to the blessing of his 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 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

RLPB 407. Central African Republic (CAR): Church in the Fire

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 407 | Wed 17 May 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)


CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR): CHURCH IN THE FIRE
by Elizabeth Kendal

Central African Republic (CAR) is French-speaking, 76 percent Christian (mostly Protestant) and 13.8 percent Muslim. On 24 March 2013 an Islamic army known as Seleka seized control of the capital Bangui. [See RLPB 210 (15 May 2013).] Many Muslims celebrated what they saw as the rise of Islamic power. What they did not count on was how fierce would be the resistance. Since then CAR has seen the rise of the 'anti-balaka' (i.e. 'anti-machete' -- traditional village defence militias turned anti-Muslim vigilantes), the unravelling of the fabric of society, along with the outbreak of sectarian conflict. There has been the insertion of UN peacekeepers, the disintegration of Seleka, the restoration of democracy and the de facto partition of the country into a Christian south and Muslim north with a volatile, conflict-wracked middle belt. Violence continues, as does the humanitarian crisis, with more than 800,000 internally displaced and some 2.2 million in need of humanitarian assistance. From the outset, CAR's Church has courageously been at the very centre of all humanitarian and reconciliation work, despite the risks this entails.

click on map to enlarge
Violence has increased markedly in 2017, but now there are essentially two separate conflicts. Seleka disintegrated in 2014 and since late 2016 two factions -- the Gula and Runga-dominated FPRC and the Fulani-dominated UPC -- have been fighting each other in central CAR. This developing intra-Muslim conflict is being waged largely along ethnic lines; at stake are water, farmlands, roads and diamond mines. In this fight, anti-balaka groups have allied with the FPRC against the Fulani. [More details will be posted to Religious Liberty Monitoring (May 2017).] The most recent clashes in Alindao over 6 & 7 May left at least 37 people dead and thousands more displaced.

Alongside this is the continuing war being waged by anti-balaka vigilantes aimed at ridding the south of Muslims. On 6-7 May a group of some 700 anti-balaka fighters attacked a UN convoy near Bangassou in the deep south-east, killing five international peacekeepers and wounding a further ten. As they targeted Bangassou's Muslim district of Tokoyo, more than 1000 residents took refuge in a mosque, some 1500 others in a cathedral and 500 others in a hospital, whilst more than 3000 reportedly fled over the border into DR Congo.

Cardinal Dieudonne Nzapalainga
Cardinal Dieudonne Nzapalainga, the Archbishop of Bangui and a native of Bangassou, led negotiations. By the evening of Monday 15 May he had convinced the anti-balaka fighters to withdraw from the city. World Watch Monitor (WWM) reports that amongst those killed in the latest violence are the youngest son and grandson of the Rev Nicolas Guerekoyame-Gbangou, the president of CAR's Evangelical Alliance and vice-president of the Council of Elders set up to mediate peace.

anti-balaka
Described in Western media as 'Christian rebels', the anti-balaka vigilantes wear juju (occult charms) around their necks and threatened to burn churches and kill pastors that shelter Muslims. But as the Rev Dieu-Seni Bikowo explains, 'For us they are not Muslims or Christians. They are people -- people in danger.' Agenzia Fides (Catholic) reports that, on Sunday 14 May, His Exc. Mgr. Juan Jose Aguirre Munos, Bishop of Bangassou, risked his life to defend thousands of Muslims sheltering in the mosque. He survived while the man who stood beside him was shot dead.

Operation World's 2010 description of CAR leaves the reader with a sense of hopeful anticipation, that despite various challenges -- the most salient being widespread nominalism, syncretism and lack of unity -- a solid foundation had been laid on which a national Church was emerging with a vision for mission. Confronted with this momentum, it seems Satan has both put his foot down and established a foothold, doubtless with the aim of destroying the Church and reducing majority-Christian CAR to a failed-state. The nations have abandoned her; the Church must not.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO

* bless Central African Republic President Faustin Touadera (60) with all the wisdom, insight, courage and strength needed to lead the nation out of this complex crisis and towards peace and reconciliation.

* preserve and bless CAR's desperately-needed Christian leaders and peace-makers; may their efforts be effective and may their witness be powerful and transformative.

* redeem all this suffering for CAR's well-being; may the Church be sanctified and unified in the fire and may there be a national awakening with conviction of sin that leads to repentance, revival and reconciliation. For the glory of God. AMEN.

'But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.' (Jeremiah 17:7 NIV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHURCH IN THE FIRE IN CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR)

Central African Republic is 76 percent Christian and 13.8 percent Muslim. In March 2013 an Islamic army seized control of the capital Bangui. Since then CAR has seen the rise of the 'anti-balaka', traditional village defence militias turned anti-Muslim vigilantes. The fabric of society has unravelled, there has been an outbreak of sectarian conflict and the de facto partitioning of the country into a Christian south and Muslim north. Democracy has been restored, but violence continues as does the humanitarian crisis. From the outset, CAR's Church has been at the very centre of all humanitarian and reconciliation work, despite its risks. Anti-balaka fighters adorned with occult charms routinely threaten to burn churches and kill pastors who shelter Muslims. The devil has established a foothold; CAR and its Church needs 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, May 9, 2017

RLPB 406. Nigeria: 82 girls freed, but terror far from over

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 406 | Wed 10 May 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)


NIGERIA: 82 GIRLS FREED, BUT TERROR FAR FROM OVER
-- plus Indonesia update: Ahok jailed for ‘blasphemy’
by Elizabeth Kendal

The night of Sunday 13 April 2014 is a night the Christian enclave of Chibok (in Nigeria's north-east Borno State) will never forget. It was that night Boko Haram militants invaded the town and kidnapped 276 girls from the dormitories of the Government Girls Secondary School [see RLPB 257 (23 April 2014)]. Though 57 girls managed to escape in the hours that followed, 219 were taken deep into the bush. Boko Haram leader Abu Bakr Shekau subsequently threatened to sell the girls as sex slaves and jihadi brides. A week later he released a video showing around 100 captive girls dressed in full Islamic attire, claiming they had converted to Islam. (Timeline) In October 2016 twenty-one Chibok girls were released in exchange for four militant commanders. On Sunday 7 May (2017) 82 Chibok girls were released in exchange for five militant commanders. While we thank and praise God that more than 100 girls have been released in answer to the prayers of many, there is no room for complacency, for the terror is far from over.

 President Buhari (c) with Chibok girls, 7 May 2017
We need to pray that the released girls will be returned to their parents very soon. Like the 82 released on 7 May, the 21 girls released in October were transported immediately to the capital, Abuja, for a photo opportunity with President Buhari. In both cases the parents of the released girls had to make the difficult and dangerous 890km, 13-hour drive from Chibok to Abuja just to see their daughters -- not to bring them home. The 21 girls released in October are still being held in Abuja, ostensibly for counselling and security screening. Consequently Amnesty International issued an appeal on 7 May, urging the government to ensure all 103 released girls are reunited with their families as soon as possible so as not to add to their suffering.

The Nigerian Church needs prayer for her security and mission. In March 2015 Abu Bakr Shekau pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the emir of the Islamic State (IS), and changed his group's name to Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). However, just as al-Qaeda deemed IS too extreme, IS eventually came to deem Shekau too extreme. [In both cases the complaint is that too many Muslims were being killed.] In August 2016 IS named Musab al-Barnawi as the new 'governor' of ISWAP. A split ensued and Shekau's faction re-claimed the name Boko Haram. It seems that all the released girls had been in the custody of ISWAP and that negotiations had commenced soon after the August split. Clearly al-Barnawi decided the girls in his custody should be exchanged for skilled militant commanders, along with (reportedly) millions of dollars. At the time of the August split, al-Barnawi called for ISWAP to focus on combating Nigeria's Christians by 'booby-trapping and blowing up every church that we are able to reach, and killing all those we find from the citizens of the cross'. Al-Barnawi may now have the money and the skilled militants he needs to launch an operation against the Church.

We need to pray for the remaining captives. Shekau -- described by one political analyst in Niger as 'the pinnacle of barbarism' -- will no doubt continue to use the girls as suicide bombers in mosques and markets across north-east Nigeria and northern Cameroon. Indeed, the rate of bombings has escalated markedly, from 29 female suicide bombers in 2016 to at least 27 in the first three months of 2017, most in the Borno capital, Maiduguri. Shekau's Boko Haram might be on the back-foot militarily, but it still recruited more than 2000 youths in 2016, and is still holding more than 100 Chibok girls. Intelligence reports indicate it is looking for a Western hostage.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO

* intervene in the capital, Abuja, so the released Chibok girls will be free to return to their families as soon as possible; may all the services the girls need -- especially Christian counselling -- be made available in Chibok.

* sustain and protect the Church, particularly in Nigeria's volatile Middle Belt and Muslim-majority north; may Yahweh Sabaoth (the Lord of hosts) protect and defend his people; and may the Spirit of God bless and empower all front-line ministries through which the Gospel is shared with Fulani and Hausa Muslims.

* pour a spirit of conviction over the churches of the south, so that these free and prosperous churches might not only be awakened to the strategic importance of the Church in the north, but will overflow with sacrificial and generous love for their vulnerable, suffering and imperilled brethren.

* intervene for his precious Church, so that the schemes of the wicked are brought to ruin. Pray Psalm 146 for Nigeria. Excerpts (ESV): 'Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God ... who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free ... The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down ... he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.'



Guilty: Ahok, 9 May.
(Antara/Sigid Kurniawan/Pool)
INDONESIA UPDATE: On Tuesday 9 May, the popular ethnic Chinese Christian former governor of Jakarta, Basuki ‘Ahok’ Tjahaja Purnama was found guilty of ‘blasphemy’ and sentenced to two years in prison. He will appeal the decision. Ahok was taken immediately to Cipinang detention centre in East Jakarta. However, in the early hours of Wednesday morning he was transferred to the National Police’s Mobile Brigade (Brimbob) detention center in Kelapa Dua, Depok, for security reasons. Please pray for Ahok’s safety, and for his lawyers as they prepare the Appeal.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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NIGERIA: 82 GIRLS FREED, BUT TERROR FAR FROM OVER

In October 2016 twenty-one Chibok girls were released from captivity in exchange for four militant commanders. On 7 May eighty-two Chibok girls were released in exchange for five militant commanders and reportedly millions of dollars. Boko Haram split in August 2016 and the girls released in October had been in the custody of the Islamic State faction. This faction has declared its intention to focus on bombing Nigeria's churches. The Chibok girls not yet released are held by the Boko Haram faction which has this year markedly escalated its use of female suicide bombers. Whilst we thank and praise God for the release of the girls, we must not become complacent in our prayers for Nigeria and its Church. The threat is far from over.

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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, May 2, 2017

Pakistan: 'Blasphemy', Death and Injustice

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 405 | Wed 03 May 2017

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PAKISTAN: 'BLASPHEMY', DEATH AND INJUSTICE
by Elizabeth Kendal

On Tuesday 18 April Pakistan's National Assembly passed a resolution condemning the lynching of a Muslim university student on 13 April. Describing it as 'cold-blooded murder', the resolution resolves 'to ensure that strong safeguards may be inserted into the blasphemy law to prevent its abuse through such atrocities in the future'. The Senate, meanwhile, called for amending the statutes to provide punishments to those who fabricate false blasphemy accusations.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
The lynching came only weeks after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif pandered to his Islamist supporter base by ordering the removal and blocking of all online blasphemous content, adding that anyone posting such content should face 'strict punishment under the law'. While Christians would clearly welcome having 'strong safeguards' inserted in the law, nobody will benefit unless the law is enacted -- fearlessly and consistently -- and community attitudes transformed.

LYNCHING: Mashal Khan was a student of Journalism and Mass Communication at the Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, in the north-west province of Khyber-Pakhtun¬khwa. A self-professed 'humanist' and member of the students' wing of the secular Awami National Party (ANP), Mashal Khan's posts reveal him to have been a strong advocate of women's rights and freedom of thought and speech. On Wednesday 12 April Khan was embroiled in a heated debate over religion. To some his views were 'anti-Islamic'. The next day a mob comprising hundreds of enraged Islamist students marched through the university campus chanting Islamic slogans as they searched for Khan, whom they accused of blasphemy. They broke into Khan's room and after beating and stripping him, they dragged his bloodied body outside where he was shot in the head and chest. According to reports, Khan's attackers forced him to recite verses from the Qur'an, and beat his body long after he was dead. 

Gruesome footage of the attack was posted to Twitter and Facebook, causing a media storm. While many were appalled, others seemed content, such as the student in Lahore who told Deutsche Welle (DW), ‘Those who insult our religion should not go unpunished.’ Karachi-based journalist Mohsin Sayeed told DW, 'The days are gone when we said it was a small group of religious extremists, xenophobes, hate-mongers and bigots who commit such crimes. Now the venom has spread to the whole of Pakistani society.' Aatif Afzal, an Islamabad-based human rights activist, explained, 'This vigilantism is being supported by the state as well as the judiciary. Religious clerics are fanning hatred. Even the civil society has failed to perform its duties.' Afzal believes the violence will not stop until the government takes firm action against vigilantism and against those who falsely accuse others of blasphemy. He is not optimistic.

On Friday 14 April the Chief Minister (CM) of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Pervez Khattak, addressed the KP Assembly. He condemned the killing as 'barbaric' and 'brutal' and announced an independent judicial inquiry into it, noting that the police investigation found no evidence of blasphemy.

Ashiq Maseeh, with a photo
of his wife, Asia Bibi.
Amir Mushtaq Ahmad Khan, the provincial chief of the Islamic fundamentalist group Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), played to his Islamist supporter base, publicly distancing himself from CM Khattak's statement. Later he told journalists that, while he agreed with CM Khattak that no mob or individual has any right to take the law into their own hands, 'I will cut out the tongue and eyes of those who want to amend the blasphemy law.'

ASIA BIBI: In mid-April, as all this was unfolding, Asia Bibi's lawyer, Saiful Malook, submitted a request to the Supreme Court asking for her trial to be brought forward to the first week of June. [Asia Bibi is a Christian woman on death row for alleged 'blasphemy'.] On 26 April Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar turned down the request. The rejection left Asia Bibi's husband shattered and speechless.

Islamist demand: "Hang Asia"
As Malook explains, the authorities are afraid to release her, aware that massive Islamic resistance will erupt if she is freed. Islamic clerics have now renewed their call for Asia Bibi to be executed, claiming that incidents such as the lynching of Mashal Khan are merely the consequence of Muslim frustration over the delay in Bibi's execution.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO

* intervene in Pakistan so that 'strong safeguards' will indeed be inserted into the blasphemy law, along with strong deterrent penalties for those making false accusations, so that law enforcement officials and the judiciary will have at least something to work with.

* intervene in the case of Asia Bibi who was imprisoned in 2009 and sentenced to death in 2010 for alleged 'blasphemy'; may God Almighty intervene so that, by whatever means, the long-suffering, long-faithful Asia will be free to live in peace and security with her family.

Nabeel Masih
(The Voice Society)
* intervene in the case of Nabeel Masih (16) who was imprisoned for alleged 'blasphemy' in September 2016, after he 'liked' and 'shared' an allegedly ‘blasphemous’ Facebook image of the Kaaba (an Islamic holy site in Mecca); may God Almighty protect Nabeel and his family, and deliver them to live in peace and security.

* preserve and bless his precious, severely-persecuted Church and pour out his Holy Spirit in amazing grace and awesome power, so that Pakistan will know transformative revival.

'They will do these things [persecute and kill you] because they have not known the Father, nor me.' (from John 16:1-3 ESV).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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'BLASPHEMY', DEATH AND INJUSTICE IN PAKISTAN

On 12 April a 'humanist' Muslim university student became embroiled in a debate over religion while on campus. The next day hundreds of Islamist students stormed his room accusing him of blasphemy. Images of the horrendous lynching appearing on Facebook caused a media storm. On 18 April Pakistan's National Assembly passed a resolution condemning the lynching and resolving to insert 'strong safeguards' into the blasphemy law to prevent future abuse. The Senate called for amendments  to provide punishments to those who fabricate false blasphemy accusations. Subsequently,  fundamentalist Islamists renewed their call for Asia Bibi [a Christian woman on death row for alleged 'blasphemy'] to be executed, claiming that pogroms and lynchings are merely the consequence of Muslim frustration over the delay in Bibi's execution. Please pray for Pakistan 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