RLPB 437. Christmas devotion, notices & updates: India, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan.
CHRISTMAS DEVOTION, NOTICES & UPDATES
by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
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).
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 published on Wednesday 17 January 2018.
* INDIA: CONGRESS LOSES MORE THAN GUJARAT
— persecution escalates as darkness sets in.
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.
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
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. Some 400 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.
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 Samuel 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.
‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ John 1:5 ESV
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).