Date: January 29, 2020
As the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) returns from a month-long summer (Australian) break, there can be little doubt that events in January portend a year of escalating crisis for Christians in many parts of the world.
In rounding up events since Christmas, this RLPB will prioritise three of the most critical situations: the violent Christian crisis in Nigeria's North and Middle Belt; the imminent Christian crisis threatening the Church in China; and the enduring Christian crisis facing the increasingly vulnerable Assyrians in Mesopotamia. Following that are brief updates highlighting the Christian crisis in India and in eastern Kenya.
Next week's RLPB 535 will see a return to normal format: four paragraphs covering one situation, complete with prayer points and a 130-word bulletin summary.
- Elizabeth Kendal
JANUARY 2020 - ROUND-UP
'Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity! Behold, is it not from the Lord of hosts that peoples labour merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing? For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.' (Habakkuk 2:12-14 ESV)
* MOST VIOLENT: THE CHRISTIAN CRISIS IN NIGERIA
NOTE: The spiralling violence in Nigeria is directly linked to deep-rooted, high-level systemic corruption - in the government and the military - in which violence is exploited and perpetuated for financial gain [see Nigeria's Fraudulent Election: Will Things Fall Apart? Religious Liberty Monitoring, May 2019]. Systemic corruption is also the reason Nigeria now has more people living in poverty than any other country in the world. Nigeria is at risk of implosion and of disintegration; the risk of civil war is real. Please pray.
On Christmas Eve, 24 December, Boko Haram militants raided a Christian village near Chibok in Borno State. They looted and burnt property, killed seven residents and abducted a teenage girl.
On Christmas Day, 25 December, Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) videoed the execution of eleven Christian hostages dressed in orange jumpsuits and lined up in a row. The ISWAP video opens with these words: 'This message is to the Christians in the world. Those who you see in front of us are Christians, and we will shed their blood as revenge for the dignified sheikhs [Islamic State head Abu bakr al-Baghdadi and his proposed successor Abul-Hasan Al-Muhaji].' The scene and text are reminiscent of Islamic State's 2015 mass executions in Libya of Coptic Christians [RLPB 297 (17 Feb 2015)] and Ethiopian Christians [RLPB 307 (29 April 2015)].
On 26 December Martha Bulus, a member of St Augustine Catholic Church in Maiduguri, was driving with her two bridesmaids from Gwoza in Borno state to her hometown in neighbouring Adamawa, where she was to be married on New Year's Eve. After ambushing their vehicle on the outskirts of Gwoza, Boko Haram militants seized and beheaded the three Christian women. According to the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), eight other Christians were killed and two Christian women were kidnapped at the same spot on the same day. Banditry - especially kidnap for ransom - is out of control in Nigeria.
In a week of violence commencing on 6 January, Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacked ten predominantly Christian villages in southern Kaduna state. They destroyed property, crops and farmlands, killing at least 35 residents and kidnapping 58 others, including a mother with her 6-months-old baby. The Fulani are demanding ransom payments.
On the evening of 8 January unidentified armed bandits attacked the Good Shepherd Major Seminary in Kakau, southern Kaduna State. They kidnapped four young seminarians for whom they are demanding ransom.
On 9 January ISWAP abducted Ropvil Daciya Dalep, a member of the Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN), as he travelled from his home in Plateau State to the University of Maiduguri in Borno. Two weeks later, ISWAP released video footage showing the young man dressed in an orange jumpsuit being executed by a child-jihadist estimated to be around 8 years of age. In the video the child warns other Christians: 'We won't stop until we take revenge for all the blood that was spilled.'
On 11 January Fulani herdsmen attempted to raid cattle from a group of Christian cattle herders in Plateau State. After being chased away, the Fulani launched an attack fully armed on the Christian cattle herders' predominantly Christian village, allegedly stating that no 'infidel' has the right to own cattle. Thirteen young Christian men (nine of them married) were killed in the attack as they tried to protect their community.
On 20 January armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen on motorbikes attacked the village square of a predominantly Christian village in southern Kaduna State wounding many and killing two Christian girls: Bridget (18) and Pricilla (19).
On 20 January ISWAP militants executed the Rev Lawan Andimi (58). The father of eight served as the district chairman of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (EYN) and was chairman of the local chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Adamawa State. He had been kidnapped on 2 January. On 5 January ISWAP released a video in which Lawan Andimi pleads with church leaders and the state governor to intervene on his behalf, all the while affirming his trust in the Lord, come what may. In a statement following the slaying, CAN lamented the worrying trend of escalating violence amidst gross insecurity, adding: 'Just last Sunday, a clergyman, Rev Denis Bagauri, was murdered by unknown gunmen in his residence at Mayo Belwa of Adamawa State.' CAN also questioned whether the 'Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari is not colluding with the insurgents to exterminate Christians in Nigeria ...' On 24 January CAN held a press conference, demanding answers from President Buhari. Please pray.
* MOST THREATENED: THE CHURCH IN CHINA
On 30 December a court in China sentenced Pastor Wang Yi of Chengdu's Early Rain Covenant Church to 9 years in prison on charges of 'inciting to subvert state power' and 'illegal business operations'. [For background see: RLPB 484 (19 Dec 2018) and Wang Yi in World Magazine (Dec 2018)]. As World Magazine's June Cheng notes, 'This is the longest prison sentence given to a house church pastor in a decade.' Please pray.
On 30 December the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) announced that new Administrative Measures for Religious Groups, promulgated in November, will come into force on 1 February. The new Administrative Measures provide in-depth instructions on how the revised Religious Affairs Regulations will be implemented. The Administrative Measures are designed to eliminate all unregistered house churches, which will be forced to choose between becoming part of the CCP system in service to the CCP, or going underground, thus risking legal prosecution and severe penalties if caught. The Administrative Measures mandate that all religious activities must be registered with, as well as guided, supervised and managed by, the Religious Affairs Department, which is now under the control of the CCP's United Front Work Department. The Chinese Church is standing on the threshold of a major persecution. As noted in RLPB 532 (11 Dec 2019), 'the battle of the century has begun'. Please pray.
* MOST VULNERABLE: ASSYRIAN REMNANT IN MESOPOTAMIA
Mesopotamia: the land between the two rivers (the Tigris and the Euphrates).
We pray in confidence, remembering that God has already had the last word: Isaiah 19:16-25
* IRAQ: FUTURE UNCERTAIN FOR CHRISTIAN REMNANT
On 3 January Qasem Soleimani, a Major-General in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and commander of its Quds Force (which handles extraterritorial operations), was assassinated at Baghdad airport in a US drone strike. Killed alongside Soleimani were Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of the Iran-backed Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) and eight of their key aides or bodyguards (five IRGC and three PMF). While the assassination did eliminate a significant sponsor of international terrorism and will hamstring the ambitions of the revolutionary clerical (Shi'ite) regime in Tehran, the unintended adverse consequences for Iraq's remnant indigenous Assyrians, a Christian nation, could be catastrophic.
First, there is the risk that Iraq could become a battleground for a proxy US-Iran war - a war the displaced and immensely vulnerable Assyrian remnant would struggle to survive. Then there is the risk that the Iran-backed PMF militias that have taken up residence in the Nineveh Plains (the Assyrian homeland) since fighting Islamic State there, will shift their emphasis from grabbing Assyrian lands to totally eliminating the Assyrian presence. The risk is they will view the Christian Assyrians as being pro-US and therefor deserving of the ultimate punishment. Finally, there is the risk that, because those leading the fight against Islamic State have been eliminated, the Islamic State revival will accelerate, raising the spectre of a return to sectarian war (Sunni v Shia) in Iraq - a war which could complete the Christian genocide in Iraq. Please pray.
Meanwhile in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan (which is hosting thousands of displaced Assyrians), sources report that, at a store in the 'Mega Mall', Kurds are buying shoes with a crucifix embossed on the sole, indicating their desire to trample the cross. The shoes - which are produced by a Turkish company called FLO, located in Gaziantep, in southeastern Turkey - are reportedly also being sold over the counter in Turkey. It might sound trivial, but it is not - especially not to a vulnerable remnant of genocide survivors. Please pray.
Also, in Baghdad, four aid workers with the French Christian charity SOS Chretiens d'Orient (SOS Christians of the Middle East) - three French nationals and one Iraqi - have been missing since Monday 20 January. No ransom demands have been made and grave fears are held for their safety. Please pray.
* SOUTH-EAST TURKEY
NOTE: Turkish authorities have long vilified Christians as enemies of the state; an accusation which, in the early 20th Century, culminated in genocide. Today, through media and education, Turkish authorities continue to vilify Christians as enemies of the state, particularly by falsely accusing them of being in league with the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). It is nothing but anti-Christian propaganda designed to legitimise and justify the persecution of Christians. The situation is extremely serious. Please pray.
(1) CHRISTIAN PRIEST CHARGED WITH AIDING TERRORISTS
On the evening of 9 January Turkish police raided the 1500-year-old Mor Yakub (Saint Jacob) monastery in Nusaybin in Turkey's south-eastern Mardin Province. They then raided homes in the mostly Assyrian villages of Eskihisar, Uckoy and Uyol, arresting 12 people, including the monastery's caretaker-priest, Father Sefer Bilecen (known as Father Aho) whom they charged with 'aiding and abetting a terrorist organisation'. The charge stems from claims that Father Aho gave food and drink to PKK fighters when they came to the monastery requesting or demanding it. Two other Assyrians were arrested with the priest: Joseph Yar, the Uckoy village head, and Musa Tastekin from Dibek village. All except Father Aho were released on probation after questioning. Father Aho - who worked in tourism before undertaking theological studies in the UK and returning to restoring life to the long-abandoned Mor Yakub monastery - was released on bail on 14 January; he is currently awaiting trial. Please pray.
(2) LAST CHRISTIANS DISAPPEAR
Father Adday Remzi Diril is an Assyrian Chaldean Catholic priest in Istanbul; he is well known for his devoted, selfless service to more than 7000 Iraqi Christian refugees displaced throughout Turkey. On 11 January his parents, Hourmouz (71) and Şimoni (65) Diril, disappeared from the Assyrian village of Meer/Mehr (also known as Kovankaya) in Turkey's south-eastern province of Sırnak. The village had been evacuated in 1989 and again in 1994 due to civil war (Turkish government v PKK). The Dirils returned some five years ago to re-occupy and start the rebuilding process. Since then they have resisted all government pressure to abandon the village. On 12 January Father Diril visited his parent's home only to find it empty. A witness reported seeing the couple being led away. Their whereabouts remain unknown. Please pray.
* NORTH-EAST SYRIA
In 2015 the Christians of Syria's Khabur River valley - many of whom are descendants of survivors of the genocide of 1915 - were forced to flee Islamic State. Today, just as a remnant finds courage to return, re-occupy and rebuild, they are being forced to flee Turkish aggression. This time, however, as Germany's Deutsche Welle reports (18 January), their homes are being occupied by Muslims. As in Iraq's Nineveh Plains, this time the Assyrians are being not displaced but replaced that the genocide might be complete. Please pray.
ALSO IN JANUARY:
For the LORD loves justice; he will not forsake his saints. They are preserved forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off. (Psalm 37:28 ESV)
* INDIA: PERSECUTION WITH IMPUNITY
On Sunday 5 January Pastor Jai Singh was leading worship in a house church in Bichpari Village, in Haryana State's Sonipat District (which is only about 50km north of central New Delhi) when a mob of up to 300 Hindu nationalist militants surrounded the property. Militants seized Pastor Singh and took him away; first to a school where groups of six militants beat him in turns, then to a Hindu Temple where they forced him to sit before idols. Eventually the Hindus stripped Pastor Singh of his Kameez (traditional tunic) and dropped him - naked, bruised and bloodied - at Gohana police station, where eventually he was charged with luring people to convert to Christianity. The pastor faced a judge on 6 January and was remanded to judicial custody. Alliance Defending Freedom-India filed a petition for bail which saw him released on 7 January. An undisclosed Christian organisation has enabled him to receive treatment from a hospital in Delhi. Numerous believers, including children, were verbally abused and violently assaulted during the horrific, traumatising attack. Police have not taken any action against the attackers.
Pastor Singh told Morning Star News (MSN): 'Now I'm in a very bad state. I can't sit or stand or lie down straight on my back for five minutes. The marks of beatings are still all over my body. My legs feel very heavy and stiff, so that I can't even stand on my feet.' Pastor Singh's son, Kumar, told MSN that Hindu extremism has increased in the area as the number of people putting their faith in Christ has grown. Persecution with impunity is now commonplace in India. Please pray.
* KENYA: AL-SHABAAB KILLS 'INFIDEL' TEACHERS IN GARISSA
At around 2:30am on 13 January, al-Shabaab militants from Somalia stormed a residence at the primary boarding school in Kamuthe, Garissa County. They ordered the teachers out of their rooms and then separated the locals (Somali Muslims) from the non-locals (Kenyan Christians). A teacher who managed to escape told Morning Star News: 'One of the attackers said, "We cannot allow infidels to teach our children," and there and then fired at three teachers as I managed to escape through the window.' According to this teacher, the militants knew where the teachers were sleeping. 'The attack [was] well planned,' he said, before surmising that the militants must have conspired with local Muslims. A local pastor confirmed that four new teachers had recently arrived in Garissa and had been attending his church. He believes the local community had been 'monitoring the Christian faith of these teachers'. Please pray.