By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 279
Special to ASSIST News Service
AUSTRALIA (ANS) --
September 2014 UPDATE-- During September we prayed concerning ...
* INDIA (RLPB 276), where Hindu nationalist agitators are inciting persecution of Christians and where those who do persecute Christians are guaranteed impunity. This is an extremely dangerous situation. Pray for the Church in India.
* LEBANON (RLPB 277), where Syrian al-Nusra and IS jihadists, who have heavily infiltrated north Lebanon's Syrian refugee camps, are committing acts of terrorism and threatening Christians in Tripoli and in the Bekaa Valley. During a clash with the Lebanese Army in Arsal, the jihadists took 42 Lebanese security personnel hostage before demanding the release of some 400 Islamists from Lebanese prisons. IS has since beheaded two of the captives (a Sunni and then a Shia), sending tensions soaring and generating a move ment against Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Lebanese and refugee Christians are deeply anxious.
UPDATE: On 19 September Al-Nusra posted footage of their execution of a captive soldier, along with their threat to execute one soldier after another if demands are not met. Police have arrested two local Lebanese IS supporters over the threatening pro-ISIS graffiti that appeared on churches in Tripoli.
* SAUDI ARABIA (RLPB 278), where 27 mostly Asian expatriate believers have been arrested for gathering in a private home for prayer and worship; also a Saudi refugee convert named Khalid Alzahrani was abducted from his home in Christchurch, New Zealand, and forcibly repatriated to Saudi Arabia where the penalty for apostasy is death.
Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:3 ESV)
September 2014 ROUND-UP -- also this month ...
* IRAN: REPRESSION ESCALATES
Three trends are present in Iran today: Iran is ascendant in the Middle East; Iranians are abandoning Islam in unprecedented numbers; the leadership is preparing for transition. [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has cancer and, according to some sources, it is advanced and terminal.] Mix these trends and you get escalating repression. In May six young Iranians were arrested in Tehran after a truly delightful film clip they made of themselves harmlessly dancing to Pharrell Williams' song 'Happy' went viral. On 17 September the youths were each sentenced to six months' jail and 91 lashes, suspended for three years (i.e. they will receive their punishment only if they 're-offend' in the next three years). As they have not been banned from leaving the country the regime doubtless hopes they will leave, taking their 'offensive' happiness with them! Persians who are openly Christian are also being driven out of Iran using exactly the same tactic of inculcating despair and fear through intimidation and threat.
Hoping to counter the trend of God moving powerfully amongst Persians both in and outside Iran, the regime is ratcheting up the pressure on pastors and evangelists. As noted in RLPB 275 (27 Aug), two pastors, Saeed Abedini (34, a US citizen) and Farshid Fathi (35), have now been moved from Evin Prison (which houses political prisoners) to the maximum security Rajaei-Shahri prison which houses the state's most violent criminals. This move deliberately endangers the lives of these pastors and doubtless terrifies others seeking to witness for Christ in Iran. Furthermore, the regime recently upgraded the charges against Behnam Irani (43), pastor of a 300-member Church of Iran in Karaj city. Already serving a six-year sentence for crimes against national security (witnessing to Muslims), Irani now stands accused of 'spreading corruption on the earth' -- a capital offence. His family has not had any contact with him since 25 August. Please pray for the Church in Iran and especially for Iran's Christian prisoners.
* CAR: CONTINUED INSECURITY; CHRISTIANS VULNERABLE
Central African Republic (CAR) remains wracked with insecurity, for, as noted in RLPB 271 (30 July), the ceasefire signed is meaningless and unenforceable. On 6 September Fulani herdsmen (Muslims) supported by Seleka (Islamic) rebels attacked Ngakogbo, near Bambari in central CAR. In their clash with the anti-balaka (a non-Muslim, village defence force), which lasted all through the next day, four Fulani Muslims were kil led. On 8 September Seleka retaliated to avenge the deaths of the Fulani attackers. Armed with rifles and machetes, they descended on Ngakogbo and killed more than 100 citizens. Three Seleka militants broke into the Elim Church, rounded up the small group present and started shooting. Pastor Pierre Bapteme (46), a deacon and three choir members were all shot dead, while Pastor Lucien Imbi of the Apostolic Church survived by pretending to be dead after being shot in the arm. On 15 September the UN assumed responsibility for the 'peace-keeping' operation. However, only 6000 of the expected 12000 troops have so far been deployed. Please pray.
* NIGERIA: BOKO HARAM COPIES ISLAMIC STATE (IS)
Boko Haram (BH) appears to be following the lead of IS in Syria and Iraq. Instead of committing acts of spectacular terrorism aimed at extracting concessions from the Nigerian government, BH appears to be focusing on seizing territory and has already declared a caliphate [see RLPB 275 (25 Aug)]. Maiduguri (the Borno capital) - which already hosts some 58,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) - is encircled, leading to grave concerns that, with the farming cycle disrupted, hunger will set in. President of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, Rev Samuel Dali, told World Watch Monitor (16 September) that Christians -- many of whom have lost everything -- are 'on the run'. He wonders how three states under emergency law -- Borno, Yobe and Adamawa -- could be so close to being taken over by jihadists.
Dr Stephen Davis (63), known as a devout Christian Australian, has worked as an advisor to the past two Nigerian presidents. He has also served as an 'amateur peacemaker'. Davis has gathered the names of senior Nigerian military and political opposition figures who he claims are funding and facilitating the BH insurgency, hoping to discredit Prime Minister Goodluck Jonathan ahead of the 2015 elections. As Davis not es, their venture has spun right out of control. Meanwhile, ethnic Fulani Muslims continue to expand their territory through jihad against Christian towns and villages. This month three villages in Plateau State were attacked by well-armed Fulani who killed, looted and burnt to shouts of Allahu Akbar (Allah is greater). Pray for Nigeria, especially for the imperilled Church in Northern Nigeria.
* PAKISTAN: CHRISTIANS EXCEEDINGLY VULNERABLE
On 22 September 2013 two suicide bombers entered the grounds of All Saints Church in Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly known as North West Frontier Province). They mingled amongst some 600 worshippers enjoying fellowship after the service and then detonated their explosive vests, killing 87 believers and injuring 170. A year on, this is still a deeply traumatised community. Early this month, leaflets in the local Pashto and Dari languages started appearing in Peshawar and in the surrounding Afghan refugee camps, ca lling for Muslims to rise up, join IS and establish a caliphate covering Afghanistan and Pakistan. Christian lawyer Sardar Mushtaq Gill warns that the situation is extremely dangerous and many Christians are expressing great anxiety about the future. 'I reassured them,' he told Fides (22 September), 'saying that God is with us and provides for his children.' However, Gill says, 'We cannot ignore the growing threat of IS in Pakistan.' Please pray!