Date: October 31, 2018
OCTOBER 2018 UPDATE - this month we prayed concerning ... * BURMA (MYANMAR) (RLPB 475; updated in RLPB 476), where the China-backed United Wa State Army (UWSA) has been destroying crosses, closing and demolishing churches and arresting and interrogating pastors as it moves to exert control over religion in north-east Burma's unrecognised but de facto independent Wa State. UPDATE: On 16 October Catholic media reported that the UWSA had expelled two Salesian priests, three nuns from the Missionary Society of St Paul and three lay teachers from the Wa hills. Furthermore, local believers are now prohibited from reading the Bible and praying together, even in private homes. In a letter dated 22 October, Lahu Baptist leaders called on the UWSA to release the 41 Bible students who had been arrested and forcibly recruited into the UWSA. They also asked that their churches be re-opened and their property returned. According to this later report, a total of 19 Catholics have been expelled, along with twelve pastors from the Lahu Baptist Convention. The Wa region is home to many ethnic groups, with Christians comprising around 30 percent of the estimated 450,000 Wa population. Pray for the Church in Burma's Wa region. * RLPB 476 of 1000. To commemorate the milestone of 1000 religious liberty prayer bulletins, this RLPB comprised a short article dedicated to those who bear the burden of persecution for Christ's sake as well as those who help bear that burden (see Galatians 6:2) by means of intercessory prayer, 'advocacy to the highest authority'. RLPB 476 also included updates on Burma; on the Nigerian Christian captive Leah Sharibu (15) whom Boko Haram had threatened to execute; on North Korea; and on Pakistani Christian death-row prisoner Asia Bibi whose Supreme Court appeal had finally been heard. As the RLPB ministry commemorated the publication of the 1000th religious liberty prayer bulletin, Australian missionary doctor Ken Elliot (84) suffered through his 1000th day in captivity. Dr Elliott and his wife, Jocelyn, had run a 120-bed charitable medical clinic in Djibo, northern Burkina Faso, for over 40 years before they were abducted on 15 January 2016. While Mrs Elliot was subsequently released, Dr Elliot remains captive to a group associated with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). He is being held in the Malian desert along with several other foreigners, most of whom are aid workers and Christian. Pray that the Lord will sustain, comfort, encourage and deliver Dr Elliott and his fellow captives. UPDATE NIGERIA: CHRISTIAN CAPTIVES DEEMED SLAVES As updated in RLPB 477 (17 Oct), after executing two Muslim aid workers as apostates (for working with the Red Cross), Boko Haram has now officially deemed Christian schoolgirl Leah Sharibu (15) and Christian nurse Alice Loksha Ngaddah (24, mother of two small children) to be their slaves. In its statement, Boko Haram elaborated: 'Based on our [Islamic] doctrines, it is now lawful for us to do whatever we want to do with them.' Pray for Nigeria and in particular for Leah and Alice; may the Lord protect, sustain and deliver them. UPDATE NORTH KOREA: PRAY THE DOORS WILL OPEN When North Korean leader Kim Jong-un indicated that he would welcome the Pope if he were to visit North Korea, South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed to extend an invitation. On 19 October Thae Yong Ho - the highest level diplomat ever to defect from North Korea - released a video via Daily NK entitled 'Hoping for a brave decision from the Pope'. Thae's insights are both fascinating and encouraging. Not only does Thae reveal that North Korean diplomats have been engaged in high level 'under-the-table negotiations' with the Vatican since the late 1980s, he also reports that, whilst Pyongyang's churches are definitely fake - existing purely for propaganda purposes, the fake believers dispatched to attend them have mostly become believers. Following that line, Thae believes that while any welcome extended to the Pope would be similarly fake, his visit could however open the door for love, faith and hope to enter North Korea. Pray that God would intervene in North Korea so that its 'gates' and 'ancient doors' might finally be opened 'that the King of glory [the Lord Almighty] may come in' (Psalm 24). UPDATE PAKISTAN: ASIA BIBI STILL WAITING Always good at talking, the United Nations has issued a lot of statements this past month, but not a single statement on the situation facing Asia Bibi. Fortunately not everyone is maintaining silence. On Sunday evening 21 October Australian MP Michael Sukkar (LNP, Deakin) highlighted the plight of Asia Bibi as he called on the Australian government to cease foreign aid to Pakistan while that country is persecuting Christians and other minority groups. Meanwhile, Asia and her family waits. On 19 October World Watch Monitor released an informative report which highlights some of the gross inconsistencies in the case and includes a video interview with the family. Pray for God to intervene in Pakistan, for the country's vulnerable minority Christians and especially at this time for Asia Bibi. * THE CHRISTIAN CRISIS IN IRAQ & SYRIA (RLPB 477), where the Assyrian nation [the indigenous Christian nation of Mesopotamia (Syria-Iraq)] is in a struggle for its very survival. Pray for the Church in the Middle East, in particular for the Assyrians of Mesopotamia for whom the Christian Crisis is most severe. * SUDAN (RLPB 478), where the Islamist Arab nationalist regime in Khartoum continues its campaign to fully Islamise and Arabise all areas under its control. UPDATE SUDAN: CHURCH IN SOUTH DARFUR DRIVEN UNDERGROUND Middle East Concern (MEC) has now confirmed that Tajadin Idris Yousef, the leader of the group of 13 Sudanese Christians arrested in the city of Nyala, South Darfur, on 10 October, will be charged with apostasy. Of the 13 arrested, three believers from the Nuba Mountains were released when it became clear they were all from a Christian background; the rest were detained as apostates (converts from Islam). All but one were released ten days later after they had recanted their faith under torture and paid a fine for 'disturbing the peace'. In their hearts they are still believers. Despite beatings and torture, Tajadin Idris Yousef refused to recant, hence the charge of apostasy. He was released on 22 October pending a court hearing. The Church has since gone 'underground'. Pray for the Church in South Darfur. Pray for the believers who under torture recanted with their lips (but not their hearts); may they know the Lord's grace, comfort, healing and restoration (Psalm 23:3a); may the devil have no victory over them and may no division permeate the Church. Pray for Tajadin Idris Yousef; may the Lord sustain, embolden and deliver him. 'Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.' (Matthew 10:17-20 ESV) OCTOBER 2018 ROUND-UP - also this month ... * ALGERIA: FIVE TO FACE COURT ON 6 NOVEMBER Five Algerian Christians - including three from one family - will face court on Tuesday 6 November accused of 'inciting a Muslim to change his religion' and 'performing religious worship in an unauthorised place'. The complaint was brought by a woman whose husband had converted from Islam to Christianity. In Algeria it is illegal to 'incite a Muslim to change his religion'. The believers are all from Bechloul town in Bouira Province, 100km south-east of the capital, Algiers. Christians continue to face pressure in Algeria. On 16 October police officers closed and sealed the doors of the Protestant church in Azaghar, a village near Akbou, about 180km south-east of Algiers. The church, which is a member of the legally recognised Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA), has been active for more than five years and has about 300 congregants. As the 2019 presidential poll looms, Islam may well be exploited for political gain. Pray for God to intervene in Algeria. * INDIA: HINDUTVA ESCALATES IN THE SOUTH For many decades now, Hindu nationalists have concentrated their activities in the northern tribal belt. Yet Hindutva (militant Hindu nationalism) is escalating in the south. Sources report: 'The southern states of Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala saw at least 60 cases of persecution of Christians in the first nine months of 2018, compared with 36 such attacks in the first nine months of 2017.' Christian leaders in south India told Morning Star News (MSN) that the escalation of persecution can be attributed to the increased activism of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) volunteers who incite local Hindus to attack Christians. Furthermore, police are increasingly implicated. On 6 October a police inspector with close ties to the RSS led five police officers in a violent raid on a house church in Aralvaimozhi, Kanyakumari District, Tamil Nadu State. This is but one of many attacks. Christian leaders told MSN that the police are misusing their power to persecute Christians and that 'it is all happening under the supervision of RSS and BJP supporters in the local government'. Pray for the Church in India. * KENYA: CHRISTIAN TEACHERS TARGETED IN NORTH-EAST At around 1am on the night of 10 October at least 20 militants - believed to be affiliated with al-Shabaab - targeted non-local teachers at the Arabia Boys Secondary School in Mandera County, close to the dangerously porous Kenya-Somali border. After overwhelming the four security guards, the militants threw an explosive device into the house where the school's four non-local (and therefore presumably non-Muslim) teachers were sleeping, setting it on fire. Philip Okumu (26) and Daniel Wekesa (39) - both Christians - were shot and killed as they fled the flames. The school's other two non-local teachers, Elijah Nderitu and Kelvin Lomusi, managed to escape alive. The militants were clearly working from excellent intelligence; they knew exactly where the Christian teachers would be found. It is not the first time al-Shabaab has targeted Christian teachers in this predominantly Muslim region [see RLPB 411 (21 June 2017)]. Pray for the Lord to protect and bless all Christians working in Muslim-majority eastern Kenya. * NIGERIA: SLAUGHTER IN JOS On the evening of 27 September, gunmen - some in military uniforms, others in all black - went on a killing spree in the quiet, residential neighbourhood of Rukuba Road, in the south-western outskirts of Jos, the capital of Plateau State. In total, 15 people were killed. Blessing Kogi (23) lost ten members of her family that night and World Watch Monitor (WWM) names them all in its report. Twelve members of the family had gathered for a meal when the militants burst in, shooting wildly. Blessing and one cousin survived with injuries. Her father arrived home from work to find most of his family dead. According to Blessing, 'The people wearing black clothes spoke Hausa and Fulani, while the others wearing army uniforms spoke correct English.' What's more, as the gunmen were leaving she heard one of the men in army uniform say, 'We have finished our work; they should come and pay us our money.' Blessing requested prayers for her father, whom she described as a broken man. Questions are being asked as to how gunmen can commit such carnage in a suburb of a state capital and within walking distance of a military barracks. Pray for Nigeria; may the Lord intervene in grace and mercy so the Islamisation and terror will end. * NIGERIA: CHAOS IN KADUNA Pandemonium erupted in a market in Kasuwan Magani in the Kajuru Local Government Area of Kaduna on 18 October after a Muslim cried 'thief' to deliberately trigger a riot. The cry quickly changed to 'Allahu Akbar' as Muslims attacked homes and businesses belonging to Christians (mostly ethnic Igbo); one church was also torched. A total of 55 people were confirmed dead, many burned beyond recognition. A later skirmish claimed another 27 lives. On 19 October the revered tribal leader of a majority-Christian area in southern Kaduna came to visit the site of the violence only to be kidnapped; his security detachment was killed. Despite ransom being paid, Raphael Maiwada Galadima, a Catholic, was executed; his body was found on 26 October. The violence has sent ethnic-religious tensions soaring. The Nigerian Air Force has deployed combat helicopters, surveillance aircraft and a detachment of Special Forces to the area to restore order. While commercial activities are slowly resuming, most Igbo businesses remain closed. Pray for Nigeria; may the Lord intervene to save this country from civil war. * PAKISTAN: LIFE IN PRISON FOR BLASPHEMY As Christian death-row blasphemy prisoner Asia Bibi awaits the ruling of the Supreme Court (which heard her appeal on 8 October) harsh and manifestly unjust sentences continue to be handed down to those accused of blasphemy. In June 2015 Yaqoob Bashir, a 25-year-old mentally disabled Pakistani Christian, was accused of burning a booklet that allegedly contained verses of the Quran. On 28 September 2018 the district court in Mirpur Khas, Sindh Province, deemed Bashir guilty of blasphemy and sentenced him to life in prison. His lawyer will appeal, but, as in Asia Bibi's case, the appeal process can take many years during which time the prisoner's survival is not guaranteed. Pray for a breakthrough in Pakistan, and may the Lord protect, sustain, comfort and encourage his Church. * VIETNAM: IMPRISONED PASTOR'S HEALTH DETERIORATES Protestant pastor Nguyen Trung Ton (46) was arrested in July 2017 for his pro-democracy and religious liberty advocacy. At that time, Ton was carrying severe leg injuries acquired during a vicious beating in February 2017 [see RLPB 448 (28 March)]. On 5 April 2018 Ton and five other members of the Brotherhood for Democracy group were tried in a Hanoi Court and charged with 'carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People's administration' [RLPB 450 (11 April)]. Ton was sentenced to 12 years in prison. The February 2017 beating left Ton with a torn ligament and crushed leg muscles. Confined to prison and without medical care, Ton's legs have never healed. On 23 October Ton's wife, Nguyen Thi Lanh, told Radio Free Asia that her husband's health is deteriorating. 'Prison authorities have not allowed me to send him any medication, and now he can't walk and is very ill,' she said. On 7 June 2018 two of the Brotherhood for Democracy prisoners - leader Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant (Ms) Le Thu Ha - were released from prison and exiled to Germany [RLPB 459 (13 June)]. Pray that God will intervene for Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton.