RLPB 476 of 1000: Prayer for the Persecuted; plus updates on Burma, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 476 | Wed 10 Oct 2018
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International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2018: Sunday 4 or 11 November.
RLPB 1000: PRAYER FOR THE PERSECUTED CHURCH
— plus four urgent updates on Burma, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan
by Elizabeth Kendal
The Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin exists to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer for the persecuted Church. Initially a ministry of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) Religious Liberty Commission (RLC), it commenced operations as an independent ministry in April 2009. Prior to that date, 524 Religious Liberty Prayer (RLP) bulletins were published under the banner of WEA. Consequently, today’s Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 476 is the 1000th religious liberty prayer bulletin, the culmination of (roughly) 20 years of service to the Church of Jesus Christ.
Today’s RLPB is dedicated to all those believers who suffer and struggle due to the heavy burden of persecution, along with all those believers who, in love, willingly bear or share that burden (Galatians 6:2) as they faithfully engage in the serious business of intercessory prayer for the persecuted Church.
LOVE, UNITY AND PRAYER FOR THE PERSECUTED CHURCH
On 25 November 1975 delegates gathered in Nairobi, Kenya, for the 5th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) were confronted with the following headline in their Assembly newsletter: ‘Two Russians appeal for WCC action on behalf of Persecuted Christians.’ What followed was an open letter in which suspended and persecuted Russian Orthodox priest Father Gleb Yakunin (39) and layman Lev Regelson (36) lamented WCC silence in the face of violent Soviet persecution and implored the authoritative body to speak out on behalf of ‘Christians who are victims of persecution anywhere in the world’. The letter was less a denunciation of Soviet persecution than it was a denunciation of WCC silence.
The letter sent shockwaves through the Assembly and left the delegates profoundly divided. Many were deeply moved, even distressed, and eager to discuss how the WCC might respond for the benefit of their suffering brothers and sisters. Others, however, were irritated; being more interested in protecting the WCC’s political channels, they moved into damage control. Having put their faith in politics, they were determined to pursue the path of ‘quiet diplomacy’ even if it required a betrayal of the persecuted. Even when the Soviet regime subsequently arrested and tried Yakunin and Regelson and condemned Father Gleb Yakunin to the Siberian gulag, the WCC remained silent. Naive and arrogant, the WCC failed to realise that the Soviets had played them into silence. Shallow and mistaken, the WCC’s policy-makers thought that as long as the end they had in sight was honourable, then they could betray Christ’s Church and still retain Christ’s blessing. No! In God’s economy, means matter. As Jesus explains, ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’; and ‘whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me’ (from Matthew 25:31-46 NIV).
‘We are aware,’ wrote Yakunin and Regelson in 1975, ‘that many Christians are deeply concerned about the suffering of their brethren and wish to help them with all their hearts, but often they do not know how to proceed.’ They had hoped the WCC would ‘initiate an international movement for the defence of the persecuted’ and that Christians from all over the world would be invited ‘to join in prayer for the suffering church’.
Unfortunately, the WCC of the 1970-80s was politically compromised and not up to the task. Fortunately, however, God was already raising up others who would speak out on behalf of persecuted Christians and rally believers to pray. Over the decades, as persecution has escalated and spread, God has been on the move. The number of organisations now committed to reporting on, publishing about, advocating on behalf of, delivering aid to, and facilitating prayer for the persecuted Church has grown exponentially. The number of individual believers, small groups and even whole churches now committed to praying faithfully for their persecuted brothers and sisters has grown phenomenally — though we still have a long, long way to go.
God’s work in this area is mysteriously circular: first he draws us to the Cross where he pours his love into our hearts so that we long to help our persecuted brothers and sisters. Then, as we do so, our love for our brethren just continues to grow in warmth, depth and breadth as we come to realise that they are our family and see the crucified Christ in them.
Aware of this, Yakunin and Regelson wrote in 1975 ‘that only at the foot of the Cross of Golgotha a passion of love may be born that can truly overcome the strife between individual denominations and their alienations and prepare Christian hearts for genuine unity’. They believed the Church’s ‘most imperative task’ was to ‘restore in the whole Christian community all over the world the spirit of the first Christians who revered the confessors of the faith; such a respect must be the most important ecumenical act and then the hearts’ warmth could melt away any denominational alienation.’
Prayer for the persecuted church generates love and unity in the Body of Christ in a way that little else can. Indeed, it seems God is knitting our increasingly global Church together using chords of love forged in the flames of persecution.
All who commit to the ministry of intercessory prayer for the persecuted Church will doubtless testify that this ministry is life-changing. It turns our focus outwards and displaces our burdens, replacing them with love and purpose. And if that were not enough, not only does this ministry change lives, it saves lives and even has the potential to change the world.
‘I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.’ (John 17:20-21 ESV, from Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer).
10 October 2018
On the occasion of the publication of the 1000th religious liberty prayer bulletin.
* BURMA (MYANMAR): UPDATE to RLPB 475 (3 Oct 2018)
In September the China-backed United Wa State Army (UWSA, an ethnic rebel army in Burma’s north-east) detained hundreds of Christians, including more than 40 ethnic Wa Bible students. It also closed 52 churches, demolished at least three and removed crosses and Christian symbols from the Wa region. Radio Free Asia reports (5 Oct): around 100 ethnic Wa Christians were released on 5 October after they signed a document saying that they would pray only at home and not in churches. According to Rev Dr Lazarus, general secretary of the Lahu Baptist Convention, seven ethnic Wa pastors who refused to sign remain in UWSA custody. The ethnic Wa Bible students have been forcibly conscripted into the UWSA. The UWSA continues to hold more than 130 ethnic Lahu Christians, including 92 pastors who are undergoing interrogation to determine whether they are humanitarian workers or ‘extremists’ (evangelists). The persecution — which has a distinctly Chinese flavour — is aimed at bringing all religious activity under UWSA control and eliminating foreign missionaries. Pray for the Church in Burma.
* NIGERIA: UPDATE to RLPB 474 (September update)
As reported in RLPB 474, on 17 September the Islamic terror group Boko Haram executed a female aid worker to send a ‘message of blood’ to the government of President Muhammadu Buhari. The message gave the government a deadline of one month to deliver ransom, otherwise the remaining two female aid workers and the Christian schoolgirl Leah Sharibu (15) would be executed. On 29 September Leah’s mother, Rebecca, appeared on Nigerian television pleading with the government to secure the release of her daughter, who had refused to convert to Islam to secure her own freedom. Leah’s father, Nathan, has also spoken of the family’s trauma. The deadline is one week from today. Please pray.
* NORTH KOREA: UPDATE to RLPB 474 (September update)
During the recent 18-20 September Inter-Korean Summit in Pyongyang, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un told South Korean President Moon Jae-in that he would ‘ardently welcome the Pope if he visits Pyongyang’. Of course, the fact that Pope Francis recently handed Beijing the right to select China’s Catholic bishops [see RLPB 474 (September Update)] undoubtedly makes him a little more attractive to a dictator who may want to retain control over religion. President Moon, a practising Catholic, is due to meet with Pope Francis on 18 October, at which point he will deliver an official invitation from Kim. As is now being widely reported in mainstream media, Pyongyang was once a centre of dynamic Christianity, earning it the title ‘The Jerusalem of the East’. The parents of North Korea’s ‘Eternal President’ Kim Il-sung were devout Christians; his grandfather was a Christian pastor. This history will prove hugely significant, especially if North Koreans ever do decide that they want to see a restoration of ‘the years the locusts have eaten’ (Joel 2:25). Please pray!
* PAKISTAN: ASIA BIBI WAITS . . .
On Monday 8 October Pakistan’s Supreme Court in the capital Islamabad finally heard the long-delayed appeal of death-row inmate and Christian woman Asia Bibi. In June 2009 Asia fetched water for her fellow labourers who then refused to drink it because, as an infidel, Asia was unclean. Words were exchanged after which the Muslims accused Asia of blasphemy. In November 2010 the court found Asia guilty and sentenced her to death by hanging. The Supreme Court hearing on 8 October was her final chance for an acquittal. Her lawyer, the courageous Saif-ul-Malook, is supremely confident. The court has reserved its ruling, which might not be known for days or even weeks. Fundamentalist Muslims are threatening to riot if she is not hanged. The Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) political party is insisting the authorities not reverse the blasphemy verdict, warning, ‘If there is any attempt to hand her [Bibi] over to a foreign country, there will be terrible consequences.’ Prime Minister Imran Khan came to power vowing to uphold the blasphemy law. Tensions are soaring; these are very dangerous days, not only for Asia Bibi, her family and her lawyer, but for the whole Christian community. 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).