December 2018 & January 2019 Update


Date:  January 30, 2019

- Elizabeth Kendal

DECEMBER 2018 & JANUARY 2019 UPDATE - during this period we prayed concerning 

* AUSTRALIA (5 Dec, RLPB 482), where religious freedom hangs in the balance.

* CHINA (12 Dec, RLPB 483), where the Chinese Communist Party's hi-tech and 
suffocating supervision of society and brutal crackdown on religion and 
dissent continues apace. 

* CHINA & IRAN (19 Dec, RLPB 484) where, just as in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, 
rulers - like Herod before them - reject Christ and instead choose violence. 
Just as Herod's efforts to eliminate Christ were in vain, so too will be the 
efforts of China's President Xi Jingping and the Chinese Communist Party and 
Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei and the Shi'ite revolutionary regime. Just as 
Christ was crucified in Jerusalem only to rise to life again, so too will the 
light of Christ overcome opposition and rise in China and in Iran, to bring 
light and blessing, not only to those lands, but far beyond. Indeed - it has 
already begun! Which is precisely why the spiritual battle is so intensive. 
Pray for the Church in China and Iran.   

* UGANDA (16 Jan, RLPB 485), where massive decentralisation has resulted in 
Uganda now being comprised of roughly 130 self-governing districts. Despite 
living in a predominantly Christian country where religious freedom is 
guaranteed in the constitution, Christians living in Muslim-dominated 
self-governing districts in the Eastern Region are being forced to live as 
dhimmis (second-class citizens, subjugated under Islam) and persecuted with 
impunity. It is absolutely urgent that the supremacy of the constitution be 
established and the law of the land upheld before persecution becomes ethnic 
cleansing, killings become massacres, and  Uganda loses control of the 
Eastern Region altogether. Pray for Uganda: for her government and her Church 
(especially for Christian solidarity in this matter of persecution).  

* PHILIPPINES (23 Jan, RLPB 486), where a plebiscite had been held to 
determine the peoples' willingness (or not) to adopt the Bangsamoro Basic Law 
(BBL; also known as the Bangsamoro Organic Law). If passed, the BBL/BOL would 
establish an autonomous Islamic sub-state in Western Mindanao. Championed 
widely (but not by the RLPB ministry) as the harbinger of peace, the BBL/BOL 
emerged out of peace talks between the Government of Philippines and the Moro 
Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). 


On Friday 25 January the Philippines' election commission ratified the 
results of the plebiscite: 87 percent of voters in the Autonomous Region of 
Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) voted 'YES', indicating they approve the BBL/BOL. The 
ARMM will now be replaced by the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim 
Mindanao (BARMM), complete with greatly expanded, essentially state-like 
powers.  In Sulu Province (long an Abu Sayyaf stronghold), a majority voted 
'NO', but as Sulu is part of the ARMM it cannot opt out of the BARMM now a 
majority of the ARMM has voted 'YES'. Sulu Governor Abdusakur 'Toto' Tan II 
(whose family has long held power over the region) has challenged the 
constitutionality of the BBL in the Supreme Court, which is yet to rule on 
the matter.  In two cities not in the ARMM - Isabela and Cotabato - residents 
were asked to decide if they wanted their city included in the BARMM. In 
Cotabato, 59.9 percent voted 'YES', while in Isabela 54.1 percent voted 'NO'. 

On Wednesday 6 February a plebiscite will be held in Lanao del Norte Province 
and seven towns in North Cotabato Province to see if residents would like 
their region or town to be included in the BARMM. 

On Sunday 27 January terror struck Jolo city, the capital of Sulu Province. 
At 8:15 am, a suicide bomber detonated his vest inside the Cathedral of Our 
Lady of Mount Carmel, targeting Catholics. Around 45 seconds later, a second 
bomb left in the utility box of a motorcycle exploded in the car park, 
targeting security personnel and first responders. On Monday afternoon 
officials put the toll at 20 dead and 97 wounded. [Earlier reports put the 
death toll at 27.] Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility, boasting their 
fighters had bombed a 'Christian temple', during  a 'gathering of the 
Crusaders to perform their polytheist rituals'. While the role of IS remains 
unclear, one assailant -identified through CCTV footage - was known to 
authorities as a member of the Adjang-Adjang Group. Adjang-Adjang, which 
means 'Soldiers of the Martyrs', is a subgroup of the IS-affiliated Abu 
Sayyaf Group. It is made up of youths orphaned by the conflict; most are drug 
addicts and delinquents. Though small in number, they are feared throughout 
the city. This is the first major attack ever perpetrated by the group. Pray 
for the Church in southern Philippines.

JANUARY 2019 ROUND-UP - also this month


Bulgaria's re-drafted Religion Denominations Act was passed by parliament on 
21 December. Two months of weekly street protests by Bulgarian Christians had 
served to highlight the problematic and highly repressive nature of the 
original draft amendments and to attract the attention of European rights 
advocates and intercessors worldwide. Praise God - virtually all of the 
provisions that the churches had protested against were dropped from the 
final draft. The new and greatly improved Religion Denominations Act became 
effective on 1 January. 

Minya Governorate, in Upper (south) Egypt, is home to Egypt's largest 
population of Copts (indigenous Egyptians, as distinct from Arabs). Despite 
being home to some 1000 Copts (who are Christian) the village of Manshiyet 
Zaafarana has only one designated place where Christians are permitted to 
gather for prayer and worship. Known as Mar Girgis (St George's) Church, 
Coptic Christians gathered there in numbers on Christmas Eve (6 January) for 
the traditional midnight Mass. Angered by the activity, Muslims subsequently 
stormed the building only to be evicted by police. On Friday 11 January at 
1:30pm - i.e., straight after Friday noon prayers - a mob of some 1000 angry 
(doubtless incited) Muslims converged on the church. They shouted 'leave, 
leave', along with Islamic chants such as, 'No other God other than Allah', 
and demanded that the church be closed. Unable to pacify the mob, the police 
agreed to their demands. After evicting the two priests and the few believers 
who were inside, the police shuttered the building as the Muslim mob cheered 
and gloated. 

This is increasingly how business is done in Egypt: the government opens 
churches, issues religious freedom decrees and establishes commissions to 
tackle sectarian conflict while Muslims, aware of their power and confident 
of impunity, know they only need to riot to get their way. As long as 
persecution with impunity is the order of the day, then all government 
pretence is meaningless. Lack of enforcement renders the law worthless. Pray 
for the Church in Egypt.


Basuki Tjahaja Purnama - formerly known as 'Ahok', now preferring to be known 
as BTP - walked free from prison on 24 January. The long-popular former 
Governor of Jakarta fell prey to a politically motivated blasphemy accusation 
while running for governor in November 2016. Sentenced to two years' prison 
in May 2017, Ahok/BTP was released four months early, reportedly for good 
behaviour but more probably because President Joko Widodo wanted him out 
before the April elections. It seems Widodo might also have wanted Islamic 
terror leader Abu Bakar Ba'asyir released from prison and moved to house 
arrest before the elections. That, however, is looking less likely now that 
Ba'asyir has refused to pledge loyalty to the Unitary State of Indonesia and 
the Pancasila state ideology, insisting instead that he only answers to 
Allah. Clearly rattled by the jailing of Ahok/BTP, Widodo is desperate to 
bolster his Islamic credentials. [See RLPB 469 (22 Aug 2018), Indonesia: 
'sword' of weaponised Islam revealed.] Pray for the Church in Indonesia.


In the days just prior to Christmas, al Qaeda's branch in Mali and West 
Africa, Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM, or the 'Group for the 
Support of Islam and Muslims') released a new 10-minute video. According to 
the English-speaking jihadist, JNIM - which is holding a number of foreign 
Christians hostage - will no longer release regular videos providing 
proof-of-life and demanding ransom. The Malian desert is going dark! No 
reason was given for the change in procedure.  In the video, the JNIM 
spokesman discussed the cases of Sophie Petronin (French), Iulian Ghergut 
(Romanian), Dr Ken Elliott (Australian), Beatrice Stockly (Swiss), and Sister 
Gloria Navarez (Columbian). This is an ominous development and will be 
exceedingly difficult for the families involved. Please pray for these 
captives, as well as for Jeff Woodke (American) and Joerg Lange (German) who 
are also being held captive somewhere in the Malian desert. 

'Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? 
If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are 
there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of 
the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold 
me. If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be 
night," even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, 
for darkness is as light with you' (from Psalm 139, ESV). 


The crisis in north-east Nigeria is one of the most neglected crises in the 
world today. The Nigerian elections - due on 16 February 2019 - will likely 
bring the situation to a head. As reported by Defense & Foreign Affairs 
(Special Analysis, 28 Dec 2018) 'Islamist groups - loosely referred to as 
Boko Haram (BH) - continue to gain dominance in north-eastern Nigeria'. On 25 
December BH ambushed Nigerian soldiers and police near Baga, 198km north-east 
of Maiduguri, in Borno State, killing fourteen. On 27 December BH overran two 
military bases belonging to the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF) in 
Baga, forcing troops to withdraw and thousands of civilians to flee (mostly 
into Cameroon). The militants carried off gun trucks, ammunition and multiple 
rocket-launchers. BH is also known to be using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV: 
i.e., drones). On 13 January 2019 BH targeted a military base near the town 
of Magumeri in Borno (50km north-west of Maiduguri) forcing thousands of 
civilians to flee. On 14 January BH overran and seized control of Rann (174km 
east of Maiduguri) a makeshift town for displaced persons which was 
controlled by the military. The army has retreated and thousands of civilians 
have fled into Cameroon. 

Led by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the Nigerian Church held a 
National Day of Prayers on 10 January. The focus was on the release of 
captives, including Leah Sharibu and the remaining Chibok girls, and that the 
February elections would be free, fair, credible and peaceful. To say Nigeria 
is in crisis would be an understatement. The February elections - which will 
force many issues to the surface - will be a primary focus of RLPB ministry 
in coming weeks. Please pray.


On Tuesday 29 January the Supreme Court of Pakistan upheld its acquittal of 
Christian woman, Asia Bibi, dismissing as without merit a petition to have 
the ruling reviewed. Under guard at a secret location since her acquittal 
last October, Asia Bibi is now free to leave Pakistan. Bibi's lawyer, Saiful 
Malook, who returned to Pakistan for the hearing, said, 'The verdict is a way 
forward, and it is positive. The judges raised pertinent legal questions, 
focusing on law and evidence, expressing displeasure over the perjury that 
was committed by the complainant against Asia and other witnesses.'  Radical 
anti-blasphemy party Tehreek-e-Labbaik said on Monday it would not accept any 
decision in favour of Ms Bibi's release and asked its followers to prepare 
for more mass protests.  Pray for the Church in Pakistan.


Protests erupted in Khartoum on 19 December after the government trebled the 
price of bread. The economic situation has been deteriorating for years, 
especially since the secession of South Sudan. Now anger has escalated to 
breaking point. True to form, the Government of Sudan (GoS) is responding 
with violence. Over the past month, more than 40 protesters have been killed, 
well over 300 wounded and more than 800 arrested. While protests are nothing 
new, what makes these protests unprecedented is their size and longevity, as 
well as the diversity of those protesting. Either the crackdown will get much 
worse and more deadly or the protests could force the GoS to accept radical 
change. Of course change rarely comes quickly; the protests that brought 
change to Ethiopia lasted a whole year. If a similar change were to occur in 
Sudan it could result in regional parties and peoples being empowered through 
a more representative government, thus reviving the late Dr John Garang's 
vision of a 'New Sudan' built on inclusive government and freedom (albeit 
without South Sudan). President Omar al-Bashir is hunting for international 
support. Please pray that God will intervene in Sudan for the benefit of its 
'harassed and helpless' un-free masses and its suffering Church.

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