By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 245
Special to ASSIST News Service
AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:10-12 ESV)
JANUARY 2014 UPDATE -- During January we prayed concerning . . .
* SOUTH SUDAN (RLPB 242), where many decades of unresolved and repressed ethnic tensions are bringing the new state to the brink of civil war.
UPDATE: On 23 January a ceasefire was signed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, between the government of South Sudan and the rebel forces loyal to former Vice-President Riek Machar. The parties agreed to stop fighting, cease hostile propaganda, end violence against civilians, guarantee safe corridors for humanitarian aid and expedite the release of political prisoners. Furthermore, Ugandan forces must withdraw, monitors must enforce the ceasefire, dialogue must continue and an all inclusive National Reconciliation Process must be established. However, there is no guarantee that largely undisciplined ethnic rebel fighters will abide by the agreement. On 28 January Bos News r eported that rebel soldiers were attacking churches in Malakal and forcing their priests to flee. Please pray for South Sudan: for peace, and that God will magnify the voices of Christian leaders who can guide this traumatised nation along the path of healing. The spiritual battle for South Sudan continues.
* CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR -- RLPB 243), where a traumatised population faces huge challenges as it seeks to overcome sectarian tensions created during the Seleka occupation.
UPDATE: The National Transitional Council has elected Catherine Samba-Panza, the mayor of Bangui, as interim president of CAR. Anre Nzapayeke, a former regional banking official, has been appointed Prime Minister. Seleka rebels are fleeing the capital in convoys under the protection of Chadian peacekeepers. According to Human Rights Watch emergencies director, Peter Bouckaert, 'This is the most significant departure of Seleka commander s probably since Djotodia resigned.' Amnesty International's Joanne Mariner says the desire for vengeance among the Christian majority was 'palpable' after Seleka's rampage of killing, looting and raping while Djotodia was in power. She has called for peacekeeping forces to do more to stop revenge attacks. Pray for CAR's new leaders, President Catherine Samba-Panza and PM Andre Nzapayeke, and for God to magnify the voices of CAR's Church leaders and Christian peacemakers.
* SRI LANKA (RLPB 244), where on Sunday 12 January Buddhist nationalists attacked three churches, one on the outskirts of Colombo, and two in the southern coastal tourist town of Hikkaduwa. The Galle magistrate called for the arrest of the 26 Hikkaduwa attackers identified to the court, including the 10 Buddhist monks, and reproached police for not arresting them sooner. A court hearing was scheduled for Monday 27 January.
UPDATE: On 26 January p olice reported they had been unable to locate any of the suspects because they had all allegedly absconded. However, on 27 January 18 suspects including seven Buddhist monks surrendered themselves to the Galle Magistrate Court. Praise God! Colombo Page reports: 'Galle magistrate Gunendra Kumara Munasinghe released all the 18 suspects each on two personal surety bails of Rs. 500,000. The case will be taken up for trial on March 17.' Please pray for justice and for the Church in Sri Lanka.
JANUARY 2014 ROUND-UP -- also this month . . .
* INDIA: HINDU NATIONALIST AGGRESSION
The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) reports that on Sunday 29 December 2013 a group of militant Hindu nationalists invaded a worship service in Ranibagicha, Jashpur District of Chhattisgarh (north India), accusing Pastor Palath Dungdung and the Christians there of forceful conversion. The extremists also invaded worship in the nearby house church of Calvary Gospe l Mission, accusing Pastor Lalit Kujur of forceful conversion. The police took 25 Christians in for questioning, after which both pastors and seven believers including three women were arrested for breaching Chhattisgarh's mis-named Freedom of Religion Act. The Christians were sent to Jashpur's District Jail, their bail petition being rejected. That same day local Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) leader Ranvijay Singhdev led Hindu nationalists in a one-day hunger strike to protest 'conversions'. A similar incident occurred on 24 December in Tendumudi, Bilaigarh District of Chhattisgarh, where some 150 were celebrating Christmas. In this case, four believers were charged with forceful conversion and sent to Baloada bazar jail. Fortunately the intervention of Christian leaders resulted in these Christians being released on bail four days later.
In Andhra Pradesh (southern India) on 11 January, four men visited the home of Pastor Sanjeevulu. Claiming to be in need of prayer, they attacked the pastor as soon as he came through the doo r. Sanjeevulu's wife was injured trying to defend her husband from the militants, who would have killed her too had she not escaped. Pastor Sanjeevulu was admitted to Yashoda Hospital where he subsequently died from multiple stab wounds. Hindu nationalists had previously threatened to kill him.
* IRAN: RAIDS AND ARRESTS
Middle East Concern reports that a number of churches were raided and Christians arrested in Iran over the Christmas - New Year period. The arrested believers, men and women, were beaten and had property confiscated. Furthermore, restrictions have been tightened, banning ethnic Persians from church involvement and banning the use of Farsi in church activities. MEC reports that, besides those arrested on 24 and 31 December, 'Across Iran, at least 40 others are known to be in prison because of their Christian faith or activities.' As US leverage over Iran evaporates, Iran will escalate its repression and persecution in an effort to stem the flow of Persian conve rts to Christianity. It has been rumoured that imprisoned Christians are increasingly being kept separate, not as punishment but to prevent conversions in prison. God is at work! Pray for Iran.
* NIGERIA: JIHAD CONTINUES UNABATED
Morning Star News reports that on 31 December Fulani gunmen attacked a Christian fellowship celebrating the New Year in a field, killing three of them. It was the second time Faith Kore Usman, a 29-year-old mother of five children, had been widowed by Muslim militants. On 6 January Muslim Fulani gunmen, supported by soldiers from the Special Task Force (STF), killed 33 Christians in Shonong village in Riyom Local Government Area of Plateau State. During January Fulani gunmen also attacked and killed Christians in Kaduna (5th), Borno (12th) and Benue (19th). Then on Sunday 26 January, some 45 Christians were killed when Boko Haram militants attacked a church in Waga Chakawa village, Adamawa State. Twenty-two bodies were recovered from the church, whic h was attacked with improvised explosive devices and gunfire, while other Christians were killed when trying to escape through the bush. Whilst Boko Haram uses terrorism as a way to pressure the government into giving in to its demands for Sharia Law, the Fulani are waging a jihad to colonise deeper into the Christian-dominated south. Boko Haram is known to arm and support the Fulani in what is essentially a predatory migration. Please pray for Nigeria; may God continue to build his Church.
* PAKISTAN: FEDERAL SHARIA COURT CHALLENGES GOVERNMENT
On 4 December 2013 Pakistan's Federal Sharia Court (FSC) issued orders to remove the provision for life-imprisonment from the Blasphemy Law. According to the court, humiliation of the prophet cannot be tolerated and death is the only punishment mandated by Islam for blasphemy. The FSC has given the Pakistani Government until 4 February to either amend the Penal Code or appeal the order. With US influence declining and Pakistan-China rel ations improving, the Pakistani Government has nothing to gain from a domestic crisis and so doubtless opt to appease the Islamists. Regardless of what the government does, the FSC's order will impact realities on the ground by essentially sanctioning the murder of 'blasphemers'. On 23 January a court in Rawalpindi sentenced a British man of Pakistani origin to death for the crime of blasphemy. Muhammad Asghar, a pensioner, stroke victim and schizophrenic, had claimed to be the prophet Mohammed. Pakistan's judiciary is dominated by Islamists and the FSC's order is a direct challenge to the government to establish who makes the rules in Pakistan. Please pray for the Church in Pakistan.
* UKRAINE: ON BRINK OF CIVIL WAR
Protests erupted in Ukraine on 21 November 2013 after the government of Viktor Yanukovich chose not to sign a comprehensive free trade agreement with the European Union, preferring closer economic ties with Russia. When the government introduced anti-protest laws in December, these essentially anti-Russia protests turned violent. President Yanukovich's Party of Regions has a comfortable majority in parliament and consequently does not face a political threat. However, on the streets the right wing, neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic Svoboda Party is taking a leading role in the protests and blaming Russia's 'Jewish' oligarchs for everything. Anti-Semitic slogans are being heard in Kiev and anti-Semitism is rising. On 11 January Hillel Wertheimer, an Orthodox Hebrew scholar, was ambushed and beaten by a mob that followed him home from the synagogue. On 17 January, Dov Baar Glickman was beaten and stabbed while walking home from a Shabbat meal. Elements of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church appear content to ally with Svoboda, with which they are united by an intensive hatred of everything Russian. [NOTE: At least half of Ukraine is Russian-speaking and Russian Orthodox and just as Germany is no longer Nazi, Russia is not the USSR.] Ukraine is not falling apart -- it is being pulled apart. Fanning the flames in Kiev are outside forces keen to hurt Russia's President Putin, in particular for his 'unco-operative' stance on Syria. It is a disgrace.
Ukrainian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (UECB) is calling for urgent intercessory prayer, appealing for calm and reconciliation in the country which it warns is 'just a step away from civil war'. Churches maintaining neutrality could find themselves in a dangerous position vis-a-vis the increasingly violent and nationalistic protesters. Pray for Ukraine, and that God will give guidance and wisdom to the Church.