RLPB 457, incl. Chechnya, Egypt, India, Nepal, Nigeria, Philippines, Turkey, Zanzibar.
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 457 | Wed 30 May 2018
by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
MAY 2018 UPDATE — this month we prayed concerning …
* BURMA (Myanmar) (RLPB 453), where a campaign of ethnic-religious cleansing is underway in the north. Using aerial bombardment and ground forces, the Burmese Army is driving the Christian Kachin from Kachin State’s most resource-rich regions. More than 15,000 Christian Kachin have been displaced since the beginning of this year. They join the more than 100,000 Kachin displaced since 2011. Pray for the Kachin and that God will intervene to bring peace to Burma.
* CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR) (RLPBs 454 & 456), where Islamic militias continue to threaten this mostly Christian nation. In mid-April, UN peacekeepers moved against Islamic criminal gangs in the capital, Bangui. Islamic militias vowed revenge. On 1 May heavily-armed rioting Muslims attacked Bangui’s Catholic Cathedral, killing 24 and wounding over 100 (RLPB 454). On 13 May two French fighter jets conducted a show of force over the rebel-held front-line town of Kaga Bandoro to deter the Islamic militias which are regrouping there and threatening to ‘march on Bangui’ (RLPB 456). The state is on high alert. Pray for the Church in CAR and that God will intervene to bring peace.
* RAMADAN (RLPB 455), in particular that Christians will be safe and that Muslims will be saved.
‘The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son . . .’ (Deuteronomy 1:30-31 ESV)
MAY 2018 ROUND-UP — also this month …
* CHECHNYA, (South Russia): ISLAMIC STATE (IS) CLAIMS CHURCH ATTACK
On Saturday 18 May four militants armed with guns, knives, axes and explosives and shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ attempted to storm the Archangel Michael Russian Orthodox Church in central Grozny. Inside, some 15 believers were engaged in evening worship, while outside, the priest’s young children were playing happily in the garden. The church, which was established in the late 1800s, is located in the main tourist precinct, surrounded by shopping malls and cafes. Consequently, Chechen police were quickly on the scene. They shot and killed the four militants and rescued the church-goers and children. Unfortunately the militants had seized two hostages from the church before it was barricaded shut. One believer was killed in the attack and the other was critically wounded. Two police officers were killed and two wounded. IS has claimed responsibility. Pray for the Church in Chechnya and the wider North Caucasus region.
* EGYPT: ‘RECONCILIATION’ LEADS TO CHURCH CLOSURE
On 14 April Muslims rioted in Beni Meinin, torching Coptic property and attacking the church. This eruption of Islamic resistance was in response to the government’s proposal to legalise the village church. Police arrested 11 Muslims and 9 Christians before demanding the village hold a ‘reconciliation’ session to end the matter [RLPB 452 (25 April)]. With their youths in prison (essentially as hostages), Muslim and Coptic clergy, village elders, local politicians and security officials from the village participated in a ‘reconciliation’ session. It was agreed that all 20 arrested residents would relinquish their legal rights (meaning none can seek legal redress for arson, looting, assault and suchlike) and the church will remain closed until it is legalised. Subsequently, on 22 May the arrested Muslims and Christians were acquitted and released. Such ‘reconciliation’ only serves to guarantee impunity, escalate insecurity and perpetuate violent persecution.
* INDIA: ANTI-CONVERSION LAW AS WEAPON
Uttarakhand state in northern India has become the seventh Indian state to approve an ‘anti-conversion law’. Governor Krishna Kant Paul signed the ironically named ‘Freedom of Religion’ Bill into law on 18 April. The law will come into force as soon as the state government finalises the Bill’s rules.
On Sunday 29 April some 50 Christians were worshipping together in a house church in Danapur, Bihar State, when a mob of some 60 Hindu nationalists surrounded the house. The mob harassed, intimidated and threatened the believers while hurling foul abuse. They also called the police and accused the Christians of running a ‘conversion racket’. The police arrested several of the Christians, of whom Rajni Pradhan and a couple, Subash and Sarah Kumar, remain incarcerated, accused of ‘forcibly converting people’. At a hearing on 8 May, a judge rejected their plea for bail. Also on Sunday 29 April, Hindu militants attacked the Full Gospel Pentecostal Church in Baburia Khera, Uttar Pradesh State. They beat worshippers and threatened to kill the pastor, Kamlesh Kumar. To save her husband, Kumar’s wife hid him in a locked room. Church member Ram Prasad (55) was beaten unconscious as he tried to shield other believers. A church member called police, but when they arrived the police berated the believers and advised them to ‘flee from the church’; no arrests were made. Pray for the Church in India.
* NEPAL: CHURCHES ATTACKED, ‘EVANGELISTS’ ARRESTED
Five churches were attacked in Nepal during May. St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Kohalpur, in Nepal’s western Banke District, was torched in the early hours of 5 May; the interior was ‘entirely destroyed’. On the night of 9 May Hebron Church in Hilihang Rural Municipality, in the eastern district of Panchthar, was partly damaged after being set on fire. On the night of 10 May Emmanuel Church in Doti, in the country’s far west, was set on fire; the church sustained significant damage. On 11 May Emmanuel Church in Kanchanpur was set on fire, resulting in significant structural damage. Then on the evening of 13 May Mahima Church in Dhangadhi city, western Nepal, was partly destroyed when an unidentified assailant threw an improvised explosive device through a window. Fortunately, nobody was killed in the attacks. Police seem determined to blame Maoists, even though Christians have been receiving threats from a Hindu nationalist group. The geographically dispersed attacks were so similar that analysts suspect the perpetrators were part of a Hindu nationalist online community and that the attacks arose from online incitement.
Furthermore, two Nepali believers were arrested on 9 May for singing Christian songs in public. Four others were subsequently arrested from their homes. Charged with evangelism (prohibited in Nepal since 2015), the six faced court on 17 May where they were remanded to spend a further seven days in prison. Pray for the Church in Nepal.
* NIGERIA: CHRISTIANS APPEAL — ‘END THE KILLINGS’
On 22 May a funeral was held in Makurdi, the capital of Benue State, for 19 Christians (including two priests) who were massacred on 24 April by Fulani gunmen who surrounded their grass-roofed church in Aya Mbalom village and opened fire. [Video report by Al-Jazeera.]
It was the second mass funeral for Christian victims of Fulani violence in Benue this year [see RLPB 442 (14 Feb 2018)]. According to Benue State Governor, Sam Ortom, 492 people have been killed in Benue State alone so far this year (which equates to 100 per month). On the day of the funeral, rallies were held in various Nigerian cities where Christians urged the government (in the words of Cardinal John Onaiyekan) to ‘end the killings’. Bishops spoke of ‘massacres’, ‘ethnic cleansing’ and described people living in ‘palpable fear’. Pressure is mounting on President Buhari, a Fulani Muslim from the north.
At 12:30am on Monday 28 May Fulani gunmen attacked Sacred Heart Minor Seminary in Jalingo, the capital of Taraba State. Students were wounded and cars destroyed. The rector, Father Emmanuel Atsue, told Catholic media: ‘They shot and injured one of the priests, Father Cornelius Pobah, in the leg, [and] beat up Father Stephen Bakari.’ It seems Father Pobah was targeted because he had refused to allow Fulani herdsmen to graze their cattle inside the seminary grounds. The fact that nobody was killed could imply that the Fulani were issuing a warning and that this is far from over. Please pray.
* PHILIPPINES: BOMB EXPLODES OUTSIDE MINDANAO CHURCH
On Sunday 29 April in Koronadal City in South Cotabato, Mindanao, two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were detonated in the city. The first IED exploded at noon, just outside the Christ the King Cathedral along Rizal Street, injuring three. The other IED was found in a trash can two kilometres away and detonated by police. Two suspects have since been arrested. Pray for the Church in the southern Philippines.
* TURKEY: PASTOR FACES COURT A SECOND TIME
Update to RLPB 452 (25 April): American hostage of the Turkish regime, Pastor Andrew Brunson returned to court on 7 May. His lawyer Cem Halavurt protested the use of ‘secret witnesses’, noting that their outlandish accusations were presented without a shred of evidence. At the close of the 10-hour hearing, Brunson (50) was led back to his cell in a maximum-security prison. The next hearing is set for 18 July. World Watch Monitor has a detailed report on the 7 May hearing, while an article by Mindy Belz in World Magazine provides further insight, including a powerful, encouraging and deeply moving account of how our merciful God intervened for Brunson in the courtroom in answer to specific prayer. Both articles are highly recommended. Please continue to pray that God will uphold Andrew Brunson and intervene for his release. Pray for the Church in rapidly-changing Turkey.
Also, for those who are interested: On 29 May 1453, Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine [Greek-speaking Christian] Empire fell to Ottoman forces. Now, every 29 May, the Turkish government celebrates ‘Conquest Day’. This year President Erdogan released a short but grandiose film, rich in computer-generated imagery, which links the conquest of Constantinople with the defeat of the ANZACs at Gallipoli (1915) and the rise of neo-Ottoman, imperialist, ‘Sultan’ Erdogan today.
* ZANZIBAR, (Tanzania): CHURCH UNDER PRESSURE
A church in Kisauni, in mostly-Muslim semi-autonomous Zanzibar, has been facing pressure from local Muslims unhappy about its presence. When Muslims lobbied for the church to be closed, local authorities complied and issued the church with a notice. The church, which belongs to the Pentecostal Evangelistic Fellowship of Africa, is resisting and worshipping as usual. On Sunday 6 May plain-clothed police officers walked into the morning worship service and arrested the preacher, Bishop Daniel Kwileba Kwiyeya. Believers tried to intervene, but to no avail. The bishop’s distressed daughter also tried to intervene and was taken away with her father. The distressed believers returned to the sanctuary to pray for Bishop Kwiyeya and his daughter. The pair were released later that day; no charges were laid. Tensions remain; please pray.
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).