Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin April 2014 Update---RLPB 258. April Update, incl. China, Nigeria, Syria, CAR, Iran, Pakistan
By Elizabeth Kendal/Assist News On May 1, 2014
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. (2 Cor 10:3-4 ESV)
APRIL 2014 UPDATE -- During April we prayed concerning . . .
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* ELECTIONS IN INDIA AND INDONESIA (RLPB 254).
UPDATE: Voting continues in India until mid May. Meanwhile, Indonesia's Election Commission reports that it may not be ready to announce results on 9 May as scheduled. However, voting trends indicate that the next Indonesian government will be much like the previous government, i.e. restricted by coalition politics and compromises. Secular nationalist parties won 68 percent of the vote while Islamic parties won 32 percent (up from 29 percent in 2009) and parties with an overtly Islamist position are coming in last. Pray that Islamists will be marginalised as they ought to be and not empowered through quid pro quo deals.
* CHINA (RLPB 255), where officials in Zhejiang province have moved to 'rectify' the problem of too many large churches and crosses corrupting the skyline. Since early April the struggle has centred on the Sanjiang Church in Wenzhou, where some 3000 local Christians rallied together to save the church that had been threatened with demolition because leaders refused to remove the cross.
UPDATE: SANJIANG CHURCH DEMOLISHED
After a long stand-off, the local Communist authority and the church negotiated a deal whereby the church agreed that two levels of a newly built, seven-storey annex could be removed. However, the government removed four floors, not two, angering church members. Nevertheless, the main church building and its prominent cross was to remain untouched. Then on Monday 28 April, armed Special Task Force officers blocked the roads leading to the church so that heavy equipment could move in and demolition of the main sanctuary begin. According to local sources, at least six leaders were arrested -- five from the Sanjiang Church and one from the nearby Tengqiao Church. While local authorities are defending the demolition, local Christian leaders have expressed outrage. Chen Yilu, the head of the Government-approved Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, slammed the provincial government for its 'crude and hard-line' handling of the Sanjiang Church crisis. He said the incident would damage the Communist Party's image and risk 'social stability'. Religion expert Fenggang Yang warned of an escalating struggle between the rapidly growing Chinese Church and the ruling Communist Party which is determined to rein it in. According to reports, orders have been issued for cross removals and partial demolitions ('rectifications') at 10 (and possibly more) churches in the area.
* BORNO, NIGERIA (RLPB 257), where Boko Haram had abducted more than 200 teenage girls from a secondary school in the Christian enclave of Chibok.
UPDATE: GIRLS MARRIED TO FOREIGN JIHADIS
The mass abduction of schoolgirls has rocked the nation and triggered widespread outrage. According to reports, most of the abducted schoolgirls have already been married to third parties abroad -- mostly other Boko Haram militants in Cameroon and Chad. Dowry payments of 2,000 Nigerian Naira (US$12.50) per 'bride' were paid to the abductors. The Chibok community is traumatised and frustrated by government inaction. Locals who witnessed girls being taken towards Cameroon tried in vain to alert the local senator before going directly to the local army barracks where they were told to put their concerns in writing. Of course this gave the militants time to escape across the border. Women from across Nigeria will stage a 'One Million Women' march in Abuja on Wednesday 30 April, under the banner 'Free Our Girls'. The women are also calling for prayer and fasting that God might 'touch the hearts of the insurgents to release the girls'. At this point, the use of force is simply too dangerous. Muslims and Christians are coming together for the children of Nigeria.
* SYRIA (also RLPB 257), where the Battle for Aleppo has entered a new phase as jihadists and rebels intensify efforts in the north-west, seizing Kessab and surging deeper into Aleppo, where the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) is pushing back.
ALEPPO UPDATE: LIFE TENUOUS FOR ALEPPO'S CHRISTIANS
On Sunday 27 April Aleppo was shaken by several massive explosions. Jihadist seeking to advance into government-held areas had tunnelled into the heart of the Old City and detonated explosives underneath the Chamber of Industry, where government forces have their headquarters. Dozens were killed and wounded. After the bombing, heavy clashes ensued between jihadists and the SAA. Rebels have increased their shelling of government-held areas too, causing many casualties. Pray for Christians trapped in Aleppo.
APRIL 2014 ROUND-UP -- also this month . . .
* CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR): INSECURITY CONTINUES
On Saturday 26 April Muslim rebels attacked a medical clinic run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Nanga Boguilla in north-west CAR, killing at least 16 people, including three MSF staff. While some rebels looted the clinic, others stormed the open area where MSF staff and community members had gathered for a meeting and opened fire with automatic weapons. Seleka leader Mohamed Moussa Dhaffane denied that the killers were Seleka, asserting that Muslim rebels from Cameroon were operating in the area. The central region of Bossangoa is still wracked with insecurity. 'There is a situation of total chaos in my diocese,' says Mgr Nestor Désiré Nongo-Aziagbia, Bishop of Bossangoa. He was seized by Seleka rebels on Easter eve, a day after one of his priests was killed on Good Friday. 'The rebels continue to kill and plunder,' he says. 'Last weekend in a village on the border with Chad, four people were killed, among them two catechists.' Mgr Nongo-Aziagbia says jihadists have infiltrated Bangui (the capital). 'It is public knowledge,' he says, 'that the Central Mosque of the city has become a powder keg, because the extremists have transformed it into their arsenal.' Instead of fulfilling their mandate -- disarming fighters and protecting the vulnerable -- French and African peace-keepers are escorting Muslims to the north, where CAR authorities fear they will eventually establish a Seleka-run state within the state.
* IRAN: EASTER RAID AND ARRESTS
According to Mohabat News, human rights news sources in Iran have reported that on 18 April plain-clothed security officers raided the private apartment of Nazi and Maryam Asadi, breaking up a Good Friday worship service taking place there. The Asadi's, Ehsan Sadeghi, Vahid Safi and Amin Mazloomi were all arrested and taken into custody. The security personnel also searched the home and smashed the satellite dishes on the roof of the apartment block.
* NIGERIA: CHURCH TORCHED IN ADAMAWA
Late on Monday 28 April Boko Haram militants attacked Gubla village in Madagali Local Government Area in Adamawa State, killing four residents. More than ten homes were torched, as was an EYN (Brethren) Church, including the pastor's official quarters. Many more villagers would have been killed had they not fled so quickly into the bush.
* PAKISTAN: SOME 700 CHRISTIAN GIRLS STOLEN/TRAFFICKED ANNUALLY
The Movement for Solidarity and Peace (MSP) in Pakistan has released a report entitled 'Forced Marriages & Forced Conversions in the Christian Community of Pakistan' (published April 2014). According to this report around 1000 minority girls -- some 300 Hindus and 700 Christians -- are forced to marry Muslim men in Pakistan every year. Furthermore, the MSP acknowledged that this is just the tip of the iceberg, as most cases either go unreported or fail to progress.
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According to MSP, the forced marriages follow a distinct pattern: a Christian girl aged between 12 and 25 is abducted, 'converted' and married to the abductor or a third party. The victim's family files a report with the police, accusing the abductor. The abductor files a report with the police accusing the Christian family. The case goes to court where the girl -- who normally remains in the custody of her abductors -- is asked to testify whether or not she left home, converted and was married of her own free will. When the girl testifies that she acted of her own free will (making a false testimony to protect her family) the case is settled. These girls are subjected to violence, rape, forced prostitution, trafficking and sale. [The same pattern exists in Egypt where Coptic girls are routinely abducted, 'converted' and married to Muslim men.]
This is human trafficking across religious lines. Such large scale systematic abuse could not endure without the tacit consent and overt co-operation of Islamic clerics, law enforcement officers and government officials. This shameful reality leaves Christian girls in a state of permanent insecurity.
* SYRIA: RUIN AS VAST AS THE SEA (Lam 2:13)
1) DAMASCUS: ANOTHER CHRISTIAN SCHOOL TARGETED
On 15 April one child died and 61 people -- children, parents and teachers -- were injured when a rebel rocket hit an Armenian Catholic School in Damascus. This was not the first time rebels have targeted a school full of children. On 11 November 2013 rebels fired mortar rockets at the Armenian Christian Tarkmanchats High School in Damascus just as the children were leaving for the day. Their school bus was hit and four first-graders and the bus driver were killed.
2) MAALOULA LIBERATED
On 4 Sept 2013 jihadists with the Free Syrian Army and al Nusra Front launched a surprise attack on SAA soldiers guarding the ancient, predominantly Christian town of Maaloula, 60km north of Damascus. Some 20 soldiers and 25 civilians were killed in the assault that forced about 3000 locals to flee. The town was then systematically looted and vandalised. On Monday 14 April the Syrian government declared the town liberated. On Easter Sunday 20 April Syrian President Bashir al-Assad visited Maaloula. Syrian media footage shows him touring the town with church leaders, inspecting ancient churches, Bibles and icons ruined by jihadists, and being mobbed by grateful locals.
3) RAQQA: DISAPPEARANCES, EXECUTIONS AND CRUCIFIXIONS
(Updating RLPB 250, 4 March 2014.) Every day, mothers of Raqqa's growing number of 'disappeared' gather outside the ISIS headquarters (formerly the Armenian Church) weeping and begging for information. Sema Nassar, a prominent human rights activist, says ISIS is believed to be holding 'over 1000 Syrians in Raqqa province', adding that those suspected of opposing ISIS or violating Sharia Law simply vanish without a trace or are publicly executed. A group of courageous dissidents has launched a campaign called 'Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently' and is using Facebook and Twitter to share photos and raise awareness of abuses. One photo dated 26 March is of a young Christian man who had been accused (without evidence or witnesses) of killing a Muslim. The Christian was executed and left tied to a cross in a public square for three days for all to see. A set of crucifixion photos dated 29 April show four young men all crucified in a public place. Please pray for God to intervene in Syria.