by Elizabeth Kendal
URGENT: IS SEIZES ASSYRIAN CHRISTIANS IN HASSEKA
Hasseka Province in Syria's north-east is contiguous with Nineveh in northern Iraq and historically home to many Assyrian Christians. Since early 2012 the region has been heavily infiltrated by Islamic jihadists entering from Turkey (to fight the Kurds) and coming across from Mosul with a view to establishing a Caliphate. Presented with the options of conversion to Islam, subjugation with jizya (protection money), death or exile, most of Hasseka's Christians opted for exile and fled; only a remnant remained.
On Monday 23 February at about 4am Islamic State (IS) jihadists stormed 35 Assyrian Christian villages along a 40km stretch of the Khabour River south of Qomishli in Hasseka Province, forcing some 3000 Christians to flee for their lives. Churches were razed and at least 150 Christians are now captives of IS, which recently called for Christians to be killed (see RLPB 297). IS has reportedly demanded a prisoner exchange with Kurdish forces. If the Kurds do not release their captured jihadists, then the Christian captives will be horrifically killed. Pray for a miracle and that God's promised presence will be palpable as God dwells with his people. This is the 'sanctuary' (miqdas: place where God dwells) promised to the faithful in Isaiah 8:11-14a. [See footnote.]
FEBRUARY 2015 UPDATE --
During February we prayed concerning ...
* NIGERIA (RLPB 295), where elections -- now postponed to 28 March -- threaten to destabilise the nation further.
* NIGERIA (RLPB 296). When Boko Haram attacked Baga in Nigeria's far north-east on 3 January, it razed the town, seized the military base of the multi-national force stationed there and killed an estimated 2000 civilians. From Baga, Boko Haram moved against the Borno capital, Maiduguri, which they failed to infiltrate, though they did capture Monguno on 25 January, along with its large military base [RLPB 294, (27 Jan)]. It also launched attacks in northern Cameroon and south-east Niger. Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin have agreed to assemble a regional joint force to tackle the problem and totally 'dismantle' Boko Haram.
UPDATE:On 11 February Boko Haram used two girls as suicide bombers in an attack on Diffa in south-east Niger, killing seven. On 16 February a female suicide bomber was used to attack a bus station in Damaturu, Yobe State. On 21 February the Nigerian Army liberated Baga, scoring a significant victory. There were many casualties and the jihadists were forced to abandon much weaponry. Mopping up continues. On Sunday 22 February a seven-year-old girl died along with seven others when Boko Haram attacked a market in the city of Potiskum, Yobe, using the seven-year-old girl as a suicide bomber. Terrorism continues. US military equipment to aid in the fight against Boko Haram has arrived in Cameroon. On Tues 24 February Chadian soldiers engaged Boko Haram fighters near Garambu in Nigeria's far north-east, reportedly killing 207 jihadists. May the Lord break through his enemies in northern Nigeria.
* In a separate incident gunmen stormed the Hope Academy compound in Emiworo, Kogi State, south of Abuja, on Monday night 23 February and kidnapped American Free Methodist Church missionary Rev Phyllis Sortor. Nothing else is known at present. Please pray.
* LIBYA-EGYPT (RLPB 297), where Copts are imperilled since IS called for a jihad against them on the false grounds that they persecute Muslim women. The beheading of 21 Copts on a Libyan beach -- an act IS described as 'a message signed with blood to the nation of the Cross' (i.e. for Christians everywhere) -- has shattered the Coptic community. However, mingled with the grief is a sense of honour. We can assume that in line with Sharia protocols, the Copts would have been given an opportunity to renounce Christ and convert to Islam to save their lives. Instead, they died proclaiming 'Yasouh, Yasouh, Jesus, Jesus'. As several commentators have noted, the Coptic martyrs had the victory that day, dying undefeated. Also, as Sam Solomon (a convert from Islam) notes, 'We know this was not the end of the story, according to the promise of our Lord in Revelation 2:10, "... Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor's crown".'
FEBRUARY 2015 ROUND-UP -- also this month ...
* LAOS: CHURCH LEADERS IMPRISONED FOR PRAYER On 12 February the People's Court of Savannakhet Province ruled that five Christian leaders -- pastors (Mrs) Kaithong, Puphet, Muk and Hasadee, as well as lay-leader Tiang -- were guilty of a criminal offence causing death. They had been arrested in June 2014 as they gathered to mourn Mrs Chan's death after a long period of illness and hospitalisation [see RLPB 266 (25 June 2014)]. Because they had prayed with Mrs Chan, the Christians were deemed to have practised medicine without a licence, for which they were issued huge fines and sentenced to nine months in prison. The Christians were denied legal representation. This is gross injustice and abuse of power by authorities who just want to intimidate and persecute church leaders. Prison conditions in Laos are appalling and torture is routine. Please pray.
* PAKISTAN: CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS FACE FINES AND CLOSURE BACKGROUND:
On 16 December 2014, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) stormed an army-run school in Peshawar (the capital of Pakistan's north-west Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province), killing over 140 students and staff. Schools across the region were subsequently closed so security measures could be put in place. On 23 January 2015 some 300 Muslims protesting Charlie Hebdo magazine attacked a Christian school in Bannu, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, scaling the walls and forcing open the gates. Armed with iron bars and clubs, they smashed windows and demanded the school's closure; four students were wounded in the pogrom.
The Pakistan government has designated army-run and Christian-run schools to be A+ security risks, passing a law obliging them to implement expensive security measures. As Barnabas Fund (BF) reports: 'These include an eight-foot-high (2.4m) perimeter wall with two feet (0.6m) of barbed wire on top; CCTV cameras; metal detector walk-though gates; evacuation points; and records of staff and students.' Government funding is available, but only for government schools. According to BF, many Christian schools are not being permitted to reopen because they do not meet the new minimum security standards. Those that have opened face government fines and closure. Without a massive injection of funds many Christian schools will be forced to close. [To donate, visit http://barnabasfund.org ] Pray that the Lord of Hosts will shield his precious children and provide all their needs.
* PHILIPPINES: A TENUOUS PEACE
On Sunday 25 January a fire-fight erupted in Mamasapano in the southern region of Mindanao. Philippines Special Action Forces (SAF) elite troops had been chasing a 'high-value target' believed to be behind recent bomb attacks in the south, when gunmen from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) opened fire on them. After an eleven-hour gun battle, at least 44 elite SAF commandos and eight civilians lay dead, with many more wounded. The clash comes at a delicate time, with MILF and the Philippines government entering the final stages of a 'peace deal' designed to place a large section of Mindanao under MILF control. Many maintain it is unconstitutional and a betrayal of the Christian population [see RLPB 180 (9 Oct 2012)]. The 'Mamasapano Massacre' puts the peace deal in doubt, especially as MILF is refusing to hand over the killers (claiming the dead are simply 'casualties of war') and refusing to return the weapons it captured (deeming them 'war booty'). Pray for the Church in Mindanao and that the Philippines will know good governance.
* SUDAN: SYSTEMATIC PERSECUTION.
Though the Bahri Evangelical Church in North Khartoum holds documents proving ownership, a Muslim businessman has been given permission to develop the church's land on the grounds that government agents, who infiltrated the church and established an illegitimate committee, sold the property to him [see RLPB 288 (25 Nov 2014)]. Much of the church has been demolished and numerous believers arrested, including pastors. On 6 January a court ruled in favour of the legitimate church committee. However, the illegitimate committee appealed and the ruling was overturned in the Supreme Court. On 18 February the police issued the church with a court order to relinquish the property. The church's lawyers have lodged an appeal. According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Rev Yat Michael and Rev Peter Yein Reith have also been detained while Sudanese Intelligence is waging a campaign of intimidation, vilification and confiscation against Mr Rafat Samir Mussad Obid, the chairman of the Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church (SEPC) Council responsible for church buildings and land. This is all part of Khartoum's campaign of systematic intimidation and persecution of the Church and of South Sudanese residing in Sudan. Please pray.