RLPB 438. Burma and Syria: Christians Imperilled
WELCOME TO RLPB 2018: GIVE THANKS; KEEP ALERT
also BURMA AND SYRIA: CHRISTIANS IMPERILLED
by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
GIVE THANKS: After praying specifically that God would ‘protect churches from attack this Christmas season’ [RLPB 437 (18 Dec 2017)] we now give thanks that Christians were able to celebrate without a major terror incident this Christmas, despite numerous threats. Whilst Islamic militants did attack two churches — one in Quetta, Pakistan (17 December) and one in Helwan, Egypt (29 December) — the bombers were immobilised before they could enter the sanctuary, ensuring the death toll was a mere fraction of what the terrorists had intended. While we weep with those who weep and pray for those who suffer, we also thank the Lord our shield (Psalm 28:7) for his faithfulness, grace and mercy.
‘But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill.’ (Psalm 3:3-4 ESV)
‘I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.’ (Psalm 116:1-2 ESV)
KEEP ALERT: Persecution is set to escalate virtually everywhere during 2018, for the days when the West could and would influence international religious policy are over. Now that it cannot and will not, persecution with impunity is set to become the order of the day.
The Chinese Communist Party’s new Religious Affairs Regulations might not come into effect until 1 February, but church demolitions have already begun. CCP authorities demolished a Catholic church in the city of Xian in Shaanxi Province on 27 December and on 9 January used explosives to raze the long-persecuted Golden Lampstand Church, a mega-church in the city of Linfen in neighbouring Shanxi Province. Pakistan will hold general elections in July in which blasphemy is expected to be a central issue and hardline Islamists are expected to make significant gains. Persecution will continue to escalate across India, especially now the once-secular Congress Party is competing with the BJP to see which can be the more Hindu Nationalist [see RLPB 437 (18 Dec)]. The Islamic Revolutionary regime in Iran continues to punish witnessing believers with harsh prison terms. On 28 December the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz sentenced Eskandar Rezaei and Pastor Soroush Saraei to eight years in prison for ‘action against the National Security’, proselytism and forming house fellowships.
Meanwhile, the Christian Crisis in the Middle East is anything but over. Copts continue to be targeted in Egypt, and the Battle for Mesopotamia is approaching its next stage. Now that the proxies have cleared the theatre, the regional powers will move in to consolidate their gains — in particular Turkey in north-west Syria and Iran in south-west Syria and northern Iraq. There will be no relief for Christians. Furthermore, the looming war between Israel and the anti-Israel ‘Axis of Resistance’ forces (Hezbollah, the Syrian government and Iran) in Syria’s south-west is inching closer by the day. The Syrian government might be a friend to Christians but it is an enemy to Israel, complicating matters enormously.
‘… Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. … To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints’. (From Ephesians 6:10-20 ESV)
BURMA (Myanmar): KACHIN IMPERILLED IN NORTH
Eager to control Kachin State’s amber and jade mining regions, the Burmese military has launched a winter (dry season) offensive against the indigenous, Christian Kachin. Since late November, heavy aerial bombardment and long-range shelling in Kachin State and neighbouring northern Shan State has forced some 1200 more Kachin to seek refuge in church-run camps and monasteries. The shelling continued right through Christmas, with a barrage of artillery striking a village near Laiza on Christmas Eve, leaving two Kachin seriously wounded. Compounding the suffering of the traumatised and displaced, the Burmese government continues to block all humanitarian aid to areas under ‘rebel’ control. The regime’s aggression is motivated by greed, fuelled by ethnic-religious hatred and prolonged by silence and geopolitics — much like the conflicts in Sudan’s Nuba Mts and Indonesia’s West Papua.
SYRIA: CHRISTIANS IMPERILLED IN DAMASCUS OLD CITY
Christians in Damascus celebrated Christmas 2017 openly and exuberantly, with public Christmas trees, lights and festivities. Unfortunately, the peace was short-lived. On 8 and 9 January dozens of mortar shells, fired from the ‘rebel’ enclave of Eastern Ghouta, struck the Old City’s majority-Christian districts. Mortar shells struck the Latin Church of the Conversion of St Paul in Bab Touma and exploded in the courtyard of the Greek-Melkite Catholic Patriarchate on Straight Street in the district of Haret Al Zeitoun. The Maronite cathedral was badly damaged and many homes were struck; reports of casualties vary. As was the case in the Battle for Aleppo, tensions will escalate, casualties will accumulate, and propaganda will proliferate as the government fights to liberate Eastern Ghouta from al-Qaeda-linked ‘rebels’.
On 8 January at 1:20pm the Maronite Archbishop of Damascus, Archbishop Samir Nassar’s afternoon siesta was interrupted by the need to use the bathroom. While he was in the bathroom a mortar crashed through into his bedroom and exploded on his bed. ‘A few seconds at the sink saved my life,’ he said, adding that his priests cried with joy when they saw him emerge from the rubble unharmed. The nuns at the Sisters of Jesus and Mary Convent had a similar experience. ‘Providence watches over his poor servant,’ said the Archbishop. After observing that ‘like 12 million Syrian refugees’ he is now ‘exiled’ and homeless, the Archbishop thanked the Lord ‘for this new beginning’, and confirmed, ‘My life belongs to you.’
LET US PRAY:
Thank you Father that in your amazing grace, you have opened the way for us to enter your courts with our requests. We give thanks for your love, patience, faithfulness and mercy. We thank, praise and honour you, Sovereign King of all Creation, for answered prayer.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:
* continue his work in the hearts of believers, to infuse in us his love for his suffering and persecuted Church, that the Church might ‘be one’ — not just in theory, but in practice — ‘that the world might believe’ (from John 1:20-26).
* intervene on behalf of the suffering and persecuted Christian Kachin in Burma’s north. May the aerial bombardments and shellings cease; may the government open the way for humanitarian aid to reach the displaced and may international support be forthcoming.
* protect and bless the Church in Syria as the conflict between Damascus and the Islamists holding Eastern Ghouta heats up; may God gift the Church with divine wisdom, clarity and courage as the situation grows more complicated.
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
CHRISTIANS IMPERILLED IN BURMA AND SYRIA
Aiming for full control of Kachin State’s amber and jade mining regions, the Burmese military has launched a winter offensive against the Christian Kachin in Burma’s north. The Burmese-Buddhist regime’s war against the Christian Kachin is motivated by greed, fuelled by ethnic-religious hatred and prolonged by silence and geopolitics. Meanwhile, conflict is escalating between the Syrian government in Damascus and the al-Qaeda-linked jihadists in the ‘rebel’ enclave of Eastern Ghouta. On 8 and 9 January Christian homes and churches in the historic Old City of Damascus were struck by ‘rebel’ mortar fire. Amidst the destruction were miracles of deliverance. Syria’s Christians will require much wisdom, grace and divine protection as their situation grows more complicated through 2018. Please pray for Burma and Syria and for their embattled 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).