Date: March 30, 2016
By Elizabeth Kendal 'I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' (Matthew 16:18b ESV) MARCH 2016 ROUND-UP - this month we prayed concerning ... CHINA (RLPB 346), where President Xi Jinping is consolidating power and criticism of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) policy is increasingly being punished with imprisonment. UPDATE: ZHANG KAI RELEASED Christian lawyer and defender of the cross, Zhang Kai, was released from 'black jail' detention on 23 March. Detained since August 2015 [see RLPB 325 (2 Sep 2015)], Zhang Kai has now returned to his home in Inner Mongolia. While the conditions of his release are unknown, it is highly likely that Zhang was released upon agreeing to stay out of 'politics' and on the understanding that any criticism of CCP policy would result in especially harsh punishment. Pray that Zhang Kai will know God's love and blessing, and have peace. Pray for China's imprisoned believers. BURMA (Myanmar) (RLPB 347) where the Burmese military continues to persecute Burma's ethnic nations with military violence fuelled by greed and exacerbated by racial-religious hatred and with drugs, with which the military is flooding the ethnic regions, with devastating effect. UPDATE: UPHILL STRUGGLE FOR NEW GOVERNMENT On 15 March Burma's new government, led by the National League for Democracy (NLD), elected Aung San Suu Kyi's long-time trusted friend and confidant, Htin Kyaw (69) - an Oxford university graduate with a degree in economics - as Burma's new president. Controversial military strongman, retired Lieutenant General Myint Swe (64), was elected as First Vice President; while NLD MP Henry Van Hti Yu (58), an ethnic Chin Christian, was elected as Second Vice President. The new government will take office on 1 April. Please pray for Burma as the military will resist any attempts to roll back its power and economic interests. Immediate policy flashpoints include the drugs issue and the highly controversial Myitsone Dam project being resisted by the Christian Kachin [see RLPB 132 (2 Nov 2011)]. Pray for Burma's long-persecuted ethnic nations. Pray for the Church in Burma. IVORY COAST (RLPB 348), where a 13 March terror attack in Grand-Bassam, perpetrated by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM), showed that the predominantly Christian south is vulnerable to jihadist infiltration and attack. YEMEN (RLPB 348), where Sunni and Saudi Arabian forces are battling ascendant Shi'ites and where Islamic State (IS) is competing with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Without peace and security, the remnant, servant church is likely to be eliminated. UPDATE: FATE OF FATHER TOM The whereabouts and fate of Father Tom Uzhunnalil remains unknown. A report that he had been crucified on Good Friday was nothing but an unsubstantiated rumour based on a misinterpreted sermon. IS has not issued any such threat, statement or claim. Unfortunately the sensational rumour spread like wildfire on social media and has been widely republished. Bishop Paul Hinder of Southern Arabia (a region in Saudi Arabia), told Catholic News Agency on Monday 28 March that he has 'strong indications that Fr Tom is still alive in the hands of the kidnappers.' So please continue to pray that God will protect, comfort, strengthen and ultimately deliver Fr Tom. May the face [countenance, disposition] of all Christian captives and prisoners reflect their Lord Jesus Christ; and may the Lord of all grace open the eyes of their captors and persecutors so they will recognise and embrace the Saviour. 'And we all, with unveiled face, beholding [mirroring, reflecting] the glory of the Lord ...' (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV) EASTER DEVOTION (RLPB 349): 'After Saturday Comes Sunday.' Please continue to pray for the Church to be convicted, awakened and energised so that she will witness to the world through her faith-fuelled willingness to risk much to rescue the lost and care for the persecuted. MARCH ROUND-UP - also this month ... * ALGERIA: CHURCH THREATENED WITH CLOSURE A Protestant fellowship in the Kabylie region is being threatened with closure. On 18 March al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) launched a rocket attack on a gas plant and reiterated its intention to punish the Algerian government for supporting France in its 'war against Muslims in northern Mali'. With Algerian-led AQIM escalating its attacks across the Maghreb, Algerian authorities may feel the need to demonstrate their Islamic credentials. Pray for the Church in Algeria. * BANGLADESH: CONVERT ASSASSINATED On Tuesday 22 March three Islamic militants on a motorcycle intercepted Hossain Ali (68), a Christian convert from Islam since 1999, as he undertook his routine morning walk in Kurigram, in northern Bangladesh. They attacked him with knives, stabbing him, hacking at his neck and slitting his throat. They hurled improvised explosive devices at on-lookers before fleeing on their motorcycle. Ali is the second convert assassinated this year; Pastor Khaza Somiruddin (75) was killed in western Jhinaidah in January. On that occasion Islamic State claimed responsibility, boasting: 'Soldiers of the caliphate were able to eliminate the apostate, named "Samir al-Din", by stabbing him with a knife.' In claiming responsibility for killing Hossain Ali, Islamic State declared, 'A security detachment from the soldiers of the Caliphate was able, by the grace of Allah the Almighty, to kill the apostate [Ali], who changed his religion and became a preacher [witness] for the polytheist Christianity.' Once again, the government of Bangladesh has denied that Islamic State was responsible. Pray for the Church in Bangladesh. * IRAN: PRISONER IN NEED OF PRAYER Ebrahim Firouzi was arrested for the third time in August 2013 and relocated from Evin Prison to the notorious maximum security Rajai Shahr prison in October 2014. Though due for release in January 2015, he was held, re-tried and sentenced in March 2015 to a further five years in prison for acting against national security. Ebrahim has appealed for prayer because his health is poor and deteriorating and he wants to remain firm in faith in the face of fierce persecution. Please pray for Ebrahim Firouzi, for Iran's Christian prisoners, for Iran's Christians and Christian fellowships. May God bring liberty to the prisoners, indeed to all Persians held captive by Islam. [To write to Ebrahim Firouzi, see RLPB blog.] * NIGERIA: THREE PASTORS ABDUCTED On Monday 21 March armed men kidnapped three United Church of Christ in Nigeria pastors as they returned from preparing their site on the southern outskirts of Kaduna for an Easter retreat. Rev Dr Emmanuel Dziggau, president of the church, the Rev Iliya Anto, deputy president of the church, and the Rev Yakubu Dzarma, a retired church leader, were ambushed by six masked men armed with automatic rifles. Initially, 100 million naira (US$500,000) was demanded as ransom; however, that sum has since been reduced to 10 million naira. There is confusion as to whether Rev Iliya Anto was released due to his poor health. When church authorities went to the site where the kidnappers said they had left him, he was nowhere to be found. It is suspected that the gunmen are Fulani Muslims. Please pray that God will preserve and deliver the Reverends Dziggau, Anto and Dzarma. * PAKISTAN (1) EASTER MASSACRE On Resurrection Sunday 27 March, as Christians gathered in Lahore's Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, an Islamic militant entered their midst and blew himself up beside children's amusement rides. The 20kg bomb sent shrapnel slicing through the crowd. At least 70 people were killed at the scene (at least 45 Christians and 25 Muslims), with more than 300 injured, at least 138 critically. Local sources report much higher figures. The death toll will continue to rise. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP: Pakistani Taliban), claimed responsibility for the attack: 'We have carried out this attack to target the Christians who were celebrating Easter. Also this is a message to the Pakistani prime minister [Nawaz Sharif] that we have arrived in Punjab [Sharif's home province].' (This is the same group that sent suicide bombers against two churches in Lahore's Youhanabad Christian colony 12 months ago [see RLPB 301 - 18 Mar 2015]). The attacks came a day after the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Afghan Taliban) - with whom the TTP has close ties - released a statement entitled: 'Only Islamic rituals can be celebrated in an Islamic country.' Pakistan's Church is gravely imperilled. Please pray. (2) CHRISTIANS VULNERABLE AS SUNNI FUNDAMENTALISTS RAMPAGE Also on Sunday 27 March some 25,000 Sunni fundamentalists gathered in Rawalpindi to observe the completion of 40 days of mourning for Mumtaz Qadri, the Islamist executed on 29 February for murdering anti-blasphemy campaigner, Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer in January 2011. They then marched on the capital, Islamabad, and on reaching the police barricades, erupted into a violent rampage. They demanded that Qadri be declared a 'martyr' and that Aasiya Noreen (Asia Bibi) - a Christian mother on death row for alleged blasphemy; the woman Salmaan Taseer was supporting - be immediately executed. Some 3000 Islamists then staged a sit-in and paralysed Islamabad's high security 'red zone' for a second day. Hundreds have been arrested; tensions are soaring. Pray that God will shield Pakistan's vulnerable Christian communities from the wrath of angry Islamic fundamentalists.