by Elizabeth Kendal
'Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.' (Galatians 6:2 ESV)
MARCH 2015 UPDATE -- During March we prayed concerning ...
* INDIA (RLPB 299), where Hindu nationalism is turning India into a tinderbox of sectarian tension.
MOTIVATED BY HATE AND IMPUNITY
Early on Saturday 14 March a group of around eight men broke into the Convent of Jesus and Mary School at Ranaghat, Nadia District, in the Indian state of West Bengal. Because the attackers reportedly fled into Bangladesh -- and may indeed be Bangladeshis -- the federal Central Bureau of Investigation is handling the investigation. Christian leaders told Morning Star News they are convinced the attack was not random and that convent was targeted precisely because it is a Christian institution.
The attackers held a pistol to the guard's head, tied him up and entered the convent at 2:30am. They can be identified as their faces were caught on CCTV security cameras. After disconnecting the phone lines they proceeded to loot the school of US$19,255. Instead of leaving with the loot, the attackers proceeded upstairs into the nun's quarters where they demanded to see the most senior sister, whom they gagged and violently pack-raped for over an hour. They then proceeded to ransack the offices systematically and desecrate the chapel. The 72-year-old nun who was raped was taken to hospital in a serious condition. On 20 March she was flown out to an unknown location. 'My heart is broken,' said the nun, who also said she forgave her attackers. This was a robbery and a hate crime. Knowing that Christians can be attacked with impunity doubtless also contributed to the target selection. Pray for an end to impunity. Pray for the Church in India.
* IRAN (RLPB 300), where ascendant Iran's strategic power is acting as a cover for the state's systematic persecution of Christians.
UPDATE / CORRECTION: Middle East Concern reports that the charges leading to Behnam Irani's six-year sentence in remote Zabol were dropped on appeal on 15 December 2014. Behnam Irani remains in Ghezal Hesar Prison in Karaj and is due for release in 2017. Praise God for courageous, faithful, principled lawyers like Moshkani Farahani; may the Lord have mercy on him and bless him. Pray for Behnam Irani and the other Christian prisoners; may the Lord sustain and bless them.
* PAKISTAN (RLPB 301), after suicide bombers from the Pakistani Taliban targeted two churches in Youhanabad, the largest Christian colony in Lahore.
UPDATE: ADDING FUEL TO THE FIRE As noted in RLPB 301, in the wake of the twin bombings youths from Youhanabad violently lynched two Muslim youths they believed had been involved in the terror attacks. It was a terrible and deeply unfortunate turn of events, triggered (but not justified) by the extreme level of insecurity that all Christians (devout and nominal) have to live with on a daily basis. Such insecurity can drive people paranoid with anxiety. Instead of focusing on the trigger (the bombings and insecurity), Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan called for 'tolerance' and focused on the lynchings, describing them as 'the worst form of terrorism'. He minimised the bombings by saying such incidents occur all over the world, while noting, 'A similar incident occurred right in the heart of Paris where a synagogue was attacked. But the minority Jews did not react violently in the French capital.' Thus Pakistani Christians are worse than the Jews, a statement that anti-Semitic Islamic jihadist forces would doubtless interpret as justification or even as incitement. Social media subsequently ran hot with anti-Christian hatred. Pray for the traumatised and exceedingly vulnerable Church in Pakistan.
MARCH 2015 ROUND-UP -- also this month ...
* IRAQ: DISEASE HITS DISPLACED CHRISTIANS
In August 2014 IS (formerly ISIS) overran Qaraqosh and other Assyrian towns in the Nineveh Plains, displacing well over 130,000 Christians. Some 70,000 displaced Assyrians now live in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. In Ankawa, an Assyrian district in Erbil, a Christian businessman opened his building site up to displaced Christians. Now 420 families comprising some 1,800 displaced Christians live in the unfinished shopping mall. Everything is in short supply and life is difficult. The Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) reports that chicken pox, lice and scabies have broken out now in the complex. Like other displaced Christians (such as those in Sudan) these believers were driven from their homes precisely because they are Christians. May the Lord sustain and provide for all displaced believers.
* LIBYA: ASIAN AND EUROPEAN MEDICAL STAFF UNABLE TO LEAVE
On 16 March at least 30 IS gunmen abducted some 20 foreign medical workers from the Ibn Sina Hospital in IS-controlled Sirte. The hospital had come under attack and the medical workers, who were in the process of evacuating, were seized as they attempted to board a bus for Tripoli. The medical workers -- reportedly from the Philippines, Ukraine, India and Serbia -- appear to be the last foreign medical workers in Sirte. They were all released unharmed after they agreed to stay in Sirte and treat wounded IS jihadists. Pray for all Christians in Libya.
* MEXICO: PROTESTANTS UNDER PRESSURE
Protestants in Mexico can face serious pressure from often-syncretistic Roman Catholics who view Protestantism as non-traditional, foreign, divisive and problematic. Pressure can include denial of services and even expulsion from their village. One group of Protestants expelled from Buenavista Bahuitz village in Chiapas State in 2012 received assurances from the government on 1 December 2014 that their rights would be protected. Yet when they returned to Buenavista Bahuitz in January they were denied access and are now displaced again and living in the Jesus is the Way Church in Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of Chiapas. Furthermore, Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that on 12 March Casto Hernandez Hernandez and his cousin Juan Placido Hernandez, both Protestant Christians in Hidalgo State, were arbitrarily imprisoned in appalling conditions for 30 hours and then expelled from their community, along with their families, after refusing to renounce their religious beliefs. Despite religious freedom being a constitutional right, state authorities rarely intervene. Pray for the Catholic Church to intervene in defence of religious freedom. Pray for Mexico's Protestant Christians.
* NIGERIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION ON SATURDAY 28 MARCH
Nigeria's presidential election will be held on Saturday 28 March. Whilst there are 14 candidates, it is really a 'two-horse race' too close to call. If a second round of voting were to be needed, it would be held within seven days of the result being announced. President Jonathan's bid for re-election is controversial, as he (a Christian from the south Niger Delta) effectively inherited the presidency during the Muslim north's turn to hold power and many believe he should not be running. A win by Muhammadu Buhari could see the ruling PDP lose power for the first time since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999. If Jonathan wins, northern Muslims will be angry. If Buhari wins, the militants in the Niger Delta will be angry. Whatever happens, the result will doubtless be challenged and there is a high probability of violence. Boko Haram has been driven out of all but three Local Government Areas (LGAs), but not primarily by the Nigerian Army, as most of the 'heavy lifting' has reportedly been done by mercenaries and the regional military coalition [see RLPB 296 (10 Feb 2015)]. Any insecurity in the north-east could put the election result in doubt. Please pray for the Church in Nigeria.
* SYRIA: BATTLES RAGE IN WEST
While Western politicians and the media remain firmly focused on IS and its threat to Iraq, al-Qaeda's Jabhat al-Nusra is still fighting in western Syria, destroying cultural heritage and targeting minorities. Jabhat al-Nusra and IS do not differ in their treatment of 'infidels', they differ only in their treatment of Muslims. The Syrian government is engaged in fierce battles in Aleppo and Idlib Provinces where jihadists have razed archaeological sites, smashed Byzantine cemeteries, blown up churches, looted antiquities and are targeting the Assyrian/Syriac and Armenian communities. The well-armed rebels are shelling government-held areas of Aleppo and have launched an offensive to seize Idlib. Existentially threatened Christian communities are especially concerned that neo-Ottoman Turkey is training and arming the jihadists and are dismayed that the West is also. The situation for Christians in Syria is just as threatening as the situation for Christians in Iraq. Please pray.
* SYRIA: CAPTIVES IN THE NORTH-EAST
Well over 200 Assyrian Christians seized by IS from their villages on the Khabour River in Hasseka in February, remain in captivity. [See RLPB 298, (24 Feb 2105)] Please pray.
'It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.' (Psalm 118:8,9 ESV)