RLPB 499. April Update, incl. Indonesia, Sri Lanka, China, Cuba, Malaysia, Nigeria, Sudan
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.
By Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
‘I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:33 ESV)
APRIL 2019 UPDATE — during this period we prayed concerning
* INDIA (RLPB 496), where elections are currently under way, with the last of seven phases to take place on 19 May. Results will be announced on 23 May. Please pray for the Church in India and for a breakthrough against Hindutva.
* INDONESIA (RLPB 497), where elections were held on 17 April.
UPDATE: Counting to date indicates that Joko Widodo will win the presidential poll by a margin of around 10 percent. Despite this, Probowo Subianto is claiming victory and rallying his Islamist supporters, preparing them to protest if he is not declared the winner on 22 May. Analysts suspect that Subianto is inciting unrest so he might use his influence over the radical Islamists as leverage to secure seats in the cabinet for his Gerinda party. Meanwhile, Jokowi’s running mate, the soon-to-be Vice President Amin Ma’ruf, is doubtless preparing to extract payment for the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) backing he provided which shielded Jokowi from Islamist attack and essentially got him over the line. None of this bodes well for Indonesian Christians. [See also Indonesia: from Pancasila to Islamisation, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 11 April.] Indeed, there is a real danger that, after the results are announced on 22 May, Indonesia’s religious and ethnic minorities — who voted overwhelming for Jokowi on 17 April — might find themselves positioned as the objects of Islamist wrath. On top of that, they will also be forced to watch in horror as the NU agenda unfolds in parliament. Please pray for the Church in Indonesia.
* EASTER and the pivotal victory that Christ secured on the Cross. We prayed that the Church might be revived and emboldened to step out in faith to support the persecuted Church — that we might be one that the world might believe (John 17:20-26). [See RLPB 498. Easter Reflection: A Redemptive Response to Persecution.]
EASTER CHURCH BOMBINGS IN SRI LANKA
Christians in Sri Lanka have long suffered at the hands of Sinhalese Buddhist Nationalists and even of Tamil Hindu Nationalists. However, the church bombings on Resurrection Sunday 21 April, perpetrated by a little-known Islamic terror group, were totally unprecedented. Muslims comprise only 9.7 percent of the population of Sri Lanka and, until now, fundamentalist Islamists have engaged in little more than menace. The six near-simultaneous bombings, targeting three churches and three hotels popular with foreign tourists, have so far claimed the lives of 359 people, including at least 45 children (CNN Live Updates) and left more than 500 wounded. Around half the fatalities occurred in these churches: the historic St Anthony’s Church in Colombo, St Sebastian’s Church in the neighbouring coastal resort town of Negombo and Zion Church (Protestant) in eastern Batticaloa.
The bombings were carried out by nine Sri Lankan suicide bombers allegedly affiliated with National Thowheed Jama’ath (NTJ), which roughly translates as the National Monotheism Organisation. On 23 April Amaq News Agency released a statement in which Islamic State (IS) claimed credit for the Resurrection Sunday bombings. It also released a photo purporting to show the suicide bombers pledging allegiance to al-Baghdadi the day before the attack. According to the statement, Christians were the intended target because they are the ones who are at war with al-Baghdadi’s Caliphate.
Whilst the IS spokesman did reference the New Zealand mosque attack, it was only to say that Muslims do not need an excuse to kill ‘the mushrikin‘ (polytheists) — on the contrary, it is their ongoing duty. [NOTE: IS deems Christians polytheists because of their doctrine of the Trinity.] Of course, neither Sri Lankans nor Christians had anything to do with the Christchurch attack, which was perpetrated by an Australian self-described atheist, ecofascist. If there is going to be genuine retaliation, then it is more likely to hit Australians at Gallipoli on Thursday 25 April (ANZAC Day). It would be foolish of IS to view Sri Lanka as a soft target. Please pray for the Church in Sri Lanka; for those who are grieving, wounded and traumatised. Pray that God will redeem the situation for the good of Sri Lanka, to the benefit of the Church, and for the advance of the Gospel.
APRIL 2019 ROUND-UP — also this month
* CHINA: CALLING ALL WILLING INFORMANTS
Guangzhou, the capital city of Guangdong Province, has become the first provincial capital in China to offer financial rewards to informants who report ‘illegal religious activities’. Informants can earn between 5,000 and 10,000 yuan (US$1,500) for information that leads to the arrest of a non-Chinese religious leader, between 3,000 and 5,000 yuan for information that leads to the closure of a foreign religious group and between 100 and 3,000 yuan for information about locally organised unregistered (i.e., illegal) gatherings and their leaders. Ying Fuk-tsang, director of the Divinity School of Chung Chi College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told South China Morning Post that the mobilisation of grass-roots officials and community groups for social control purposes, including cracking down on religious activities, is increasingly common. ‘This will compress the survival space of house churches,’ he said. ‘Not only will they have to deal with the official crackdown but now also the threat from their neighbours.’ Please pray for the Church in China.
* CUBA: A FRESH WAVE OF PERSECUTION RISES
In a referendum in February, Cubans voted in favour of amending the constitution to include modest reforms, to strengthen socialism, restrict religious liberty and pave the way for same-sex marriage. Because of its strong opposition, the Church was labelled counter-revolutionary’ [see: RLPB 491 (27 Feb)]. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports that since then some of Cuba’s largest Protestant denominations have been banned from receiving foreign visitors. During April, a number of pastors affiliated with the Apostolic Movement were cited and interrogated by the police. After 20 years of ministry, the Nazarene Church in Granma has had its land confiscated. On 18 April Rev Ramon Rigal and his wife Ayda Exposito — who are home-schooling their children with the support of a Christian college in Guatemala — were detained in Guantanamo and put on trial for refusing to send their children to a government-run school. [NOTE: All schools in Cuba are run by the socialist government; there is no alternative as teachers are expected to ‘instil socialist values’.] Please pray for the Church in Cuba.
* MALAYSIA: PASTOR ‘DISAPPEARED’ BY POLICE FOR ‘PROSELYTISING’
Pastor Raymond Koh was abducted in broad daylight on 13 February 2017. The sophisticated operation — conducted with military precision in less than one minute — was caught on CCTV. No ransom demand was ever made and, instead of focusing on the crime, the police investigation focused on Koh’s ministry and charity work among Muslims, work that had seen him accused of ‘proselytising’ and resulted in the family receiving death threats.
On 3 April the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) named the Malaysian police intelligence unit’s Special Branch as the state actors responsible for the ‘enforced disappearances’ of Pastor Raymond Koh (64) and Amri Che Mat (45, a convert from Sunni to Shia Islam who was abducted on 24 November 2016 in a similar style to Pastor Koh). The investigation concluded that the men were ‘disappeared’ because of their religious activities. Pastor Koh’s whereabouts and well-being remain unknown, as do the whereabouts and well-being of Amri Che Mat, and Pastor Joshua Hilmy and his wife Ruth Hilmy, who also disappeared in Malaysia in November 2016.
On Holy Saturday, Koh’s wife, Susanna Liew, delivered a copy of the full Suhakam report [PDF] on the disappearance of her husband to the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), praying and hoping that by a miracle of grace, her husband might still be alive. Please pray for truth, justice and accountability. May Pastor Koh’s family and the Hilmy family know the sustaining love and comfort of Christ.
*NIGERIA: INFANT DEDICATION CONCLUDES IN MASSACRE
On Sunday 14 April, Safaratu and her husband John Kabiru Ali dedicated their baby to the Lord in a special service in the Ruhaniya Baptist Church in Konshu-Numa village, Akwanga County in Nigeria’s central, Middle Belt state of Nasarawa. Later in the day, as believers gathered for a celebration dinner, Fulani Muslim militants burst in and began shooting indiscriminately. Seventeen believers aged between 10 and 80-years died in the massacre, while eight others were wounded. The baby’s mother is dead and its father is in a critical condition in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. A funeral was held on Wednesday 17 April. Jacob Tantse told Morning Star News that 10 of those killed were members of the Ruhaniya Baptist Church; five were members of the Evangelical Reformed Church of Christ (ERCC); one was a member of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) and one was a musician who had been performing for the guests. Please pray for those who grieve, for the wounded and those who are traumatised. Pray for the imperilled Church across Northern Nigeria.
* SUDAN: CHURCH OFFICIALLY JOINS PROTESTS
While Christians have been participating (and dying) in the protests in Sudan since they commenced in December last year, the vulnerable and long-persecuted Church has refrained from taking an official position, deeming it simply too dangerous. As reported in RLPB 491 (27 Feb), the protests have been led by doctors and others from the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), an outlawed umbrella group of unions. Prior to the 11 April coup through which President Omar al-Bashir was forced out of power, the SPA issued a statement in which it urged the Church to join the protests. ‘You have suffered sectarian and psychological restrictions for years … [and you are] without the right to worship freely… We invite you to raise your prayers and sing hymns for our country.’ After the coup, the Church did just that and stood openly arm-in-arm with Sudan’s repressed and persecuted as they called for equality, dignity, justice, peace and an inclusive, representative, civilian government. A local Christian source told Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) that ‘when the protesters saw the Christians joining the demonstrations they were very happy. They were extremely excited to sing with us.’ What is happening in Sudan is amazing and very promising; an answer to the prayers of many! However, it is unlikely that those in power will relinquish it easily. Please pray that God will insert himself into the process and blaze the trail for the benefit of Sudan, the Sudanese Church and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
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).