RLPB 448. Easter Devotion plus March 2018 Update, incl. Korea, Turkey, Syria, CAR, Iraq, Nigeria, Vietnam
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 448 | Wed 28 Mar 2018
by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
EASTER: GOD POWERFULLY AT WORK THROUGH SUFFERING
It might not have seemed like it at the time, but now it is clear: even as Christ hung on the Cross; even as he lay in the grave; God was at work subverting evil and redeeming it for good. Through the Cross we learn something of how God works through suffering; he enters hostile territory so that he might defeat evil from within and redeem it for good in fulfilment of promise. Apply this paradigm to the suffering of the Body of Christ (the Church) today, and believe that God is powerfully at work. Though it might not seem like it just now as persecution and conflict escalate, God is at work subverting evil and redeeming it for his good purpose.
One great work that God is doing in our day is creating unity in the Body of Christ in answer to Jesus’ High Priestly prayer which he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night in which he was betrayed (John 17). ‘I do not ask for these only,’ prayed Jesus, with reference to his disciples, ‘but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one … that they may be one even as we are one … that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me …’ (from John 17:20-26).
None of the persecution we are witnessing in the world today is ‘unprecedented’. Whilst the globalisation of persecution is indeed unprecedented, this merely reflects the globalisation of the Church, a trend of the latter half of the 20th Century during which time Christianity experienced phenomenal growth throughout the non-Western, non-Judeo-Christian world. [For more information see ‘Global Trends in Persecution’ on www.ElizabethKendal.com ]
Whilst the persecution is not unprecedented, our ability to respond most certainly is. Through today’s globalised communication systems and networks, the Church can now be aware of persecution — even as it unfolds, even on the other side of the world — and can respond immediately for the saving of many lives. Furthermore, as the Church responds she is sanctified to become in practice what she is in theory: One Body. This makes for powerful witness. I believe that the 21st Century will go down in Christian history as the century in which God knitted together an increasingly global Church with cords of love forged in the flames of persecution … that the world might believe. Our persecuted brothers and sisters need our prayers — prayers God hears, answers and even uses in more ways than we may ever imagine.
MARCH 2018 UPDATE — this month we prayed concerning …
* MALI & BURKINA FASO (RLPB 445), where al-Qaeda and Islamic State affiliated jihadists are escalating terror in response to the anti-terror operations being conducted by French and African troops in the deserts of northern Mali. The main terror group, al-Qaeda affiliate JNIM (Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin / Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims) is holding five non-Muslims hostage for ransom, four of whom are Christian aid workers; three of them women. Please continue to pray that they will be rescued alive and restored to their loved ones and that God will intervene to restore security and liberty to West Africa so that mission might be revived across that desperately needy region.
* NORTH KOREA (RLPB 446), after North and South Korea agreed to hold an Inter-Korean Summit (only the third ever — the first for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and the first on the south side of the border); and US President Donald Trump accepted an invitation from Pyongyang (delivered via Seoul) to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. As noted in RLPB 446, not only is the strategic situation totally new, so too are the three leaders. This may well be a unique window of opportunity in answer to the prayers of many.
UPDATE: This Thursday 29 March, North and South Korea will each send a three-member delegation to the border truce village of Panmunjom where they will discuss logistics for the Inter-Korean Summit to be held in late April. Remember North Korea’s needy people, in particular North Korea’s long-suffering Church — and pray, pray, pray. May God intervene to achieve more than we might ever ask or even imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21). For more information and prayer points see RLPB 446.
* TURKEY IN SYRIA (RLPB 447), specifically for Christians displaced by the Turkish-jihadist conquest of Afrin, Syria, and for Pastor Andrew Brunson who is currently languishing in a Turkish prison on manifestly false charges.
TURKEY IN SYRIA: The Directorate-General of the Syrian Department of Antiquities reports that Turkish air-raids have destroyed important Christian archaeological sites, specifically, the UNESCO World Heritage- listed archaeological site of Barad, which includes the remains of many Byzantine churches, monasteries and tombs dating back to the 4th and 5th centuries. Barad is 15km south of the city of Afrin and a mere 30km north-west of Aleppo city. Turkey is pushing deeper into Syria and has reportedly now taken Tell Rifaat (20km east), which the Kurds ceded without a fight. Pray for Afrin’s displaced and traumatised believers and for all Christians now at risk in northern Aleppo province.
PASTOR ANDREW BRUNSON Pastor Andrew Brunson’s trial on espionage and terrorism-related charges is set to commence in a Turkish criminal court on 16 April. He faces up to 35 years in prison. As noted in RLPB 447, the Erdogan government is using Brunson as a bargaining chip in its dealings with the US. As one Turkish Christian leader reports, Christians in Turkey are increasingly being accused of supporting ‘terrorists’ (code for ‘Kurds’). Consequently, apprehension and anxiety is growing in the churches. Despite the escalating sense of crisis, many Turkish Christian ministries continue to witness courageously, fully aware that spiritual transformation through Jesus Christ is ultimately the only solution for Turkey. Pray for Turkey and her threatened, remnant Church; and for Pastor Andrew Brunson as he ‘waits for the Lord’ (Isaiah 40:31) in a Turkish prison cell.
MARCH 2018 ROUND-UP — also this month …
* CENTRAL AFRICA REPUBLIC (CAR): PRIEST MURDERED; DOZENS KILLED; THOUSANDS DISPLACED
On 19 March 2018 militants belonging to the Muslim, mostly ethnic Peuhl (Fulani) and ironically named UPC (l’Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique / Union for Peace in the Central African Republic) clashed with local anti-balaka forces (indigenous and non-Muslim) at Alindao, 118km south-east of Bambari. Then on the morning of 21 March UPC fighters attacked Tagbara, a village some 74km north-east of Bambari, clashing with local anti-balaka forces. At least 40 local people were killed, while many more were wounded and displaced. Numerous homes were looted and torched. UPC militants also attacked the local church, killing the priest, Fr Joseph Desire Angbabata (48) as he intervened to protect refugees camped in the church compound. Most UPC fighters are ethnic Fulani Muslims from Chad. The UPC founder and Commander, Babba Ladde, is Chadian, whilst its president and second-in-command, Ali Darassa, is a war-lord from Niger. Ali Darassa led the attack in Tagbara. Community leaders are calling for him to be expelled from CAR. CAR’s citizens, especially its Christian majority, feel utterly abandoned. Pray that God will intervene in Central African Republic.
* INDIA and PAKISTAN
Christians are really suffering in India and Pakistan as violence continues to escalate in frequency and severity. The communal violence is driven by religio-political forces (Hindu nationalists in India and Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan) and fuelled by the guarantee of impunity. There are so many cases of serious violence against Indian Christians for the month of March they simply cannot be dealt with in a paragraph. See Morning Star News and World Watch Monitor for updates. Christians in South Asia really are in a permanent state of crisis and desperately need our unceasing prayer support.
* IRAQ: CHRISTIAN CRISIS ANYTHING BUT OVER
On 8 March three Assyrian Christians were murdered in Baghdad. Dr Hisham Shafiq al-Maskuni (61), his wife, Dr Shaza Malik Dinno and her elderly mother, Khairiyah Dawood Abada, were stabbed to death during a violent home invasion. A few weeks earlier, a young Christian man named Samer Salah Addin was shot to death in front of his home. Fr Biyos Qasha of Baghdad’s Maryos Church told Kurdish media that the message is loud and clear: there is no security for Christians in Baghdad, so get out while you can. Iraq is anything but stable and the Christian Crisis in the Middle East is anything but over. Iraqi troops and Iranian-led Shi’ite militias are battling Islamic State forces just south of Kirkuk. Turkey is threatening to invade northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish ‘terrorists’. Meanwhile, the future of Nineveh Province hangs in the balance. Deemed ‘disputed territory’, it is actually the heartland of the Christian Assyrian nation, the indigenous people of Iraq. May the Lord protect and sustain his precious people.
* NIGERIA: A PRISONER FOR JESUS CHRIST
On Wednesday morning 21 March a convoy of trucks rolled into Dapchi town, Yobe State, northern Nigeria. When the local people realised it was Boko Haram, they fled. However, when it became evident that Boko Haram was returning the girls they had kidnapped from Dapchi’s Government Girls’ Science and Technical College on 19 February, the city erupted in excitement. In all, 104 of the 110 girls were returned. Five girls reportedly died during the abduction, and one girl, a Christian named Leah Shariba, was ‘held back’, retained as a prisoner because she ‘refused to co-operate’. According to the freed girls, the militants told Leah that she would not be released until she becomes a Muslim and recites the shahada (Islamic statement of faith).
Aware of what their daughter must be suffering, Leah’s parents were understandably shocked and distraught. They were, however, incredibly proud of Leah (15) for her enduring faithfulness to Jesus Christ. Numerous groups, including the Christian Lawyers Fellowship of Nigeria (CLASFON) and the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), to which Leah and her parents belong, have appealed to the Buhari government to ‘ensure the immediate release of Leah Sharibu and the other remaining Chibok girls’. [Kidnapped in April 2014, 110 mostly Christian ‘Chibok girls’ remain unaccounted for.] The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), which held a Day of Prayer for Leah on Sunday 25 March, is appealing for worldwide prayers.
HIGHLANDS: World Watch Monitor reports that on 1 March four Hmong Christian families, comprising 24 people in all, were violently attacked by a mob led by the village chief. Four Christians required hospitalisation for serious injuries to their head and arms. As happens in neighbouring Laos, the Christians had been warned that if they did not return to their traditional animist religion then they would be driven from the village. The families’ pastor is understood to be in talks with local authorities about the incident. Please pray.
HANOI: Protestant Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton has long been active in Vietnam’s pro-democracy movement. A vocal advocate for religious freedom, Ton was abducted in February 2017 by unknown assailants who took him into a forest in a mountainous area of Ha Tinh Province, where he was savagely beaten. The ordeal left him with a torn ligament and crushed leg muscles, injuries which have never fully healed. In July 2017 the Vietnamese government launched a crackdown on the online democracy group Brotherhood for Democracy. Ton was arrested, along with four others. The group’s founder, Christian human rights attorney, Nguyen Van Dai, was already in prison in Hanoi (arrested Dec 2015). All stand accused of the serious crime of attempting to overthrow the regime. Ton’s wife Nguyen Thi Lanh told Radio Free Asia that Ton has severe and constant pain in both legs, blurred vision and clearly needs medical care. Please pray for Nguyen Trung Ton, Nguyen Van Dai and Vietnam’s other Christian prisoners.
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).