(January 26, 2023) Elizabeth Kendal requests urgent prayer for the following…

These January updates are but the tip of the iceberg! Always remember that the context is spiritual!

‘For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places’ (Ephesians 6:12ESV).

Therefore, please keep always praying and interceding for the saints.

* AZERBAIJAN: 120,000 Armenian crisis
Background: Nagorno-Karabakh (N-K) is a mountainous Armenian Christian enclave inside Turkic Muslim Azerbaijan. The most recent conflict – which saw Azerbaijan (along with Turkish and numerous jihadist forces) seize large swathes of N-K’s surrounds – occurred in October-November 2020 (see RLPB 570 [6 Oct 2020]). The short but bloody war ended with a Russia-brokered ceasefire [see RLPB 575, Genocide Postponed? (11 Nov 2020)].

Update: Since December 12, fake ‘eco-activists’ sponsored by the Azerbaijani government have been maintaining a blockade of the Lachin Corridor. Over 1000 N-K residents are stranded in Armenia, while around 120,000 besieged N-K residents face a looming humanitarian catastrophe. Schools are shut due to lack of food and, while some food and basic medicines have been delivered by various alternate means, it is far from enough. Store shelves are empty and medications for diabetes, cancer and other serious conditions have run out. Who will stop Turkey-allied, oil-rich Azerbaijan from completing its ethnic cleansing of Armenians from N-K? (Answer: No-one who wants its oil!) BarnabasAid is raising funds to deliver aid to its partners inside besieged N-K.

* BURKINA FASO: Priest assassinated
On January 2, armed men assassinated Father Jacques Yaro Zerbo (67). Travelling through Soro village in the Boucle du Mouhoun region to accomplish a mission for his bishop, he was intercepted and murdered. Before his death, the Mali-born priest had taught in seminaries and formation centres throughout Burkina Faso. Aid to the Church in Need reports, ‘Over the past few years he focused his ministry on helping young people at a centre for addicts in Gouyèlè.’ The region has been wracked by terrorism for years.

(1) Baptist leader charged again

Background: Reverend Dr Hkalam Samson is one of Burma’s most influential religious leaders and human rights activists. Arrested on December 4, 2022 [see RLPB 675 (14 Dec)] he was charged with two counts of ‘unlawful association’ on the basis of footage showing members of the Kachin Independence Organisation attending worship services where he was preaching.
Update: Jailed in Myitkyina, capital of the predominantly Christian Kachin state, Pastor Samson has now also been charged with ‘incitement’ UCA reports (16 Jan): ‘If found guilty, he could face three years in jail for the unlawful association, another two years for incitement and have to cough up a fine.’ Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, comments that by going after Samson, ‘the junta is effectively declaring war against Kachin civil society organisations and the people whom they assist with their daily needs.’

(2) Junta escalates airstrikes

The junta has been escalating its airstrikes against civilians, doubtless pressing for a surrender. In September junta forces bombed a school in Sagaing’s Depayin township, killing twelve, including seven children. In October they bombed a concert in Hpakant township, killing more than 60, making it the deadliest single airstrike since the junta seized power in February 2021 [see RLPB 675 (14 Dec)].

(3) Bombings on…
The Chin:

On January 10-11 junta forces conducted two bombing raids on Camp Victoria, headquarters of the Chin National Army located high in the Chin mountains. On  January 12 they destroyed the main hospital inside the camp using two precision-guided bombs. [Camp Victoria’s Christian-run hospital features prominently in Matt Davis’ documentary, Myanmar’s Forgotten War (Aug 2022): see RLPB 659 (24 Aug 2022)]. Seven members of the Chin resistance were killed and over 20 civilians were injured. At least 200 Chin refugees fled over the border into India after the strikes.
The Karen:
On  January 12, junta forces bombed Lay Wah village, destroying two churches and the school as well as many other structures. Fortunately, the school was not in use as cautious teachers had already moved their classes into the forest. However, two women were wounded and several villagers – including a mother and her child, a Baptist pastor and a Catholic deacon – were killed. The people have fled.  

* D.R. CONGO: Church massacre
On Sunday January 15, believers gathered at a Protestant church in Kasindi to worship and conduct a series of baptisms. However, during the service a bomb exploded sending burning shrapnel ripped through the congregation. At least 14 worshippers were killed and around 70 wounded, many seriously. Islamic State Democratic Republic of Congo (IS-DRC) claimed responsibility for planting the explosive in the church. Morning Star News reports (22 Jan): ‘Church elder Paluka Kivugha said two men entered the church building and left a bag, which contained an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) that soon detonated.’

IS-DRC has been consolidating and expanding in D.R. Congo’s north-east since pledging allegiance to IS in 2019 [see ‘D.R. Congo: Islamic State Consolidates and Expands in Central Africa’, Religious Liberty Monitoring Sept 21, 2021]. Congolese and Ugandan forces have been fighting IS-DRC in North Kivu since late 2021, and the church attack was evidently an act of retaliation.

* INDIA: Persecution escalates
Last November, village councils throughout Chhattisgarh’s southern Bastar Division ruled to ban Christians from worshipping (even in their own homes), prevent pastors from ministering and boycott Christians so they cannot buy, sell or work. Between December 9 and 18, a series of violent attacks in some 18 villages in Narayanpur district and 15 villages in neighbouring Kondagaon district displaced more than 1000 Christians. Many displaced believers found refuge in churches. Under sufferance, the authorities opened the doors of Narayanpur’s Indoor Stadium allowing some 450 Christian to shelter inside. However, they would not provide humanitarian aid, leaving that to local churches.

Displaced Christians in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar Division. (click to enlarge)

On Sunday January 1, a 500-strong mob assembled in Gorra village, Narayanpur District and summoned the town’s Christians. After about 15 people arrived, they attacked, mercilessly beating those they could catch. Dhruw escaped but his father was caught and beaten by the mob. He told Christianity Today (CT, Jan 9): ‘Accusing us of following a foreign religion, and leaving the tribal culture, they gave us a choice either to recant our faith or leave our homes and our village, never to return.’ Regarding the village council meeting, Dhruw said, ‘These meetings were held in all the villages from time to time, and we [tribal Christians] were pressured to recant our faith. We told them that we are on the ‘Correct Way’, and we cannot leave this Way; our lives have changed. But they refused to listen…’

On  January 2, anti-Christian protesters assembled at the Vishwa Dipti Christian School, in Narayanpur District, intent on attacking the church located in the school premises. Police intervened, and clashes erupted. [Video footage from Open Doors.] At least five police sustained injuries, including police superintendent Narayanpur Sadanand Kumar who had to be hospitalised with a head injury. This anti-Christian violence and persecution is a direct consequence of PM Narendra Modi’s divide and rule strategy which sets formerly allied communities against each other, primarily over the issue of religious conversion [see RLPB 506, Christian Crisis in North India, 12 June 2019].

In the state’s far north Surguja division, police have arrested and charged Pastor Jayprakash Tirkey of Jashpur district, for organising prayer services where, police claim, people were being ‘illegally converted.’

* MALI: Terror raids

On January 17, Long War Journal published a report detailing a massive increase in jihadist activity in central and southern Mali. Terror raids January 2, 8, 10 and 15 by the al-Qaeda affiliate Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), have left 27 people dead (mostly Malian soldiers and gendarmes) and many more wounded. LWJ analyst Caleb Weiss explains: ‘The raids are meant to help cut off Bamako from other regions of Mali as part of JNIM’s strategy to encircle the capital in violence… Seeing an opening, al Qaeda’s men in West Africa are utilising the current weakness of the Malian state to now seemingly march on the capital.’

The jihadists are already controlling territory. Fides reports that, on 4 January, jihadists entered Douma and ordered the Christians close their churches. Msgr. Jean Baptiste Tiama, Bishop of Mopti, told Catholic media, ‘It is forbidden to ring bells, play musical instruments and pray in churches. What is even more disturbing is that the jihadists are asking Christians to practise the Muslim religion.’

Like much of the wider Sahel region, despite being majority Muslim, Mali has a long tradition of religious tolerance, and religious freedom is guaranteed in the constitution. Today, Mali risks becoming the next Afghanistan [see RLPB 607 (21 July 2021)]. The implications for Christian missions in the Sahel are enormous.

* MOZAMBIQUE: Terror persists
On December 30,  jihadists attacked Namande village, in Muidumbe district. Torching homes, they destroyed the village, leaving two dead, four wounded and hundreds displaced. Islamic State Mozambique (IS-M) has claimed responsibility, boasting that it had attacked the ‘village inhabited by Christians’ and clashed with ‘Christian militias’, forcing them to flee.

* NIGERIA: Endless terror
On Christmas morning, Muslim Fulani militants descended on Angwan Aku village riding in on motorbikes, shooting indiscriminately. One Christian was killed and 53 were abducted. Similar attacks in Kaura and Kagoro on December 18 and 23 left a total of 43 Christians dead. Around 3am on Sunday  January 15, gunmen attacked the parish residence of Father Isaac Achi, Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, in Kaffin Koro. Failing to gain entrance, the gunmen set fire to the home. Father Achi died in the flames while another resident, Father Collins Omeh escaped with a bullet in his shoulder.

Also on Sunday morning 15 January, terrorists attacked New Life for All Church in Kankara, kidnapping 25 worshippers, and leaving the pastor with non-fatal bullet wounds. Before dawn on Friday January 20, Fulani gunmen invaded the predominantly Christian community of Abagena, in a raid that left 12 Christians dead. The nearby villages of Mbagwen and Utyondu were also attacked; the toll is as yet unknown. At around 3am on Sunday January 22, Fulani gunmen attacked the predominantly Christian community of Gambar Sabon Layi, killing five Christians and abducting another.

Above: Coffins for 40 slain Christains (Anthony Timothy for Morning Star News)

* PAKISTAN: Government tightens blasphemy law
In Pakistan, the penalty for insulting/blaspheming Islam or its ‘prophet’ Muhammad is a mandatory sentence of death or life in prison. It is no secret that the infamous law – which heightens Islamic zeal and fuels sectarian tension – is routinely used by Muslims to settle scores, make material gains and persecute religious minorities. On January 17, Pakistan’s National Assembly voted unanimously to pass the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, which increases the penalty for insulting Mohammed’s companions, wives, and family members from three years to 10 years imprisonment, along with a fine 1 million rupees (approx. US $4,500). The Bill also makes blasphemy a non-bailable offence. Deputy Speaker of the house, Zahid Akram Durrani, called the legislation ‘historic’, congratulating the lawmakers for carrying out what many saw as their religious duty. Human rights advocates rightly fear that this will further fuel sectarian tensions, Islamic intolerance and religious persecution.

* UGANDA: Growing intolerance
(1) Pastor attacked with acid

December 22, Pastor Frank Mutabaazi, of Mbarara, (Left: Photo Morning Star News) preached in a church in the Kasubi area of Kampala. After the service, a visitor in the congregation asked Pastor Frank if he could give him a lift home. The pastor agreed, unaware that the visitor – a Muslim extremist pretending to be a Christian – was leading him into an ambush. When the passenger asked if he could quickly meet a friend, the pastor agreed and stopped the car. Three men in Islamic attire approached and sprayed Pastor Mutabaazi with acid, leaving him with terrible burns to his shoulder, mouth and eyes. Pastor Mutabaazi told Morning Star News (30 Dec) that while he had been receiving death threats from Muslims – who denounced him as ‘an enemy of their religion’ – he never expected a Muslim would attend a church service masquerading as a Christian.

(2) Convert apologist murdered
On January 2, a group of angry fundamentalist Muslims murdered Ahamada Mafabi (37), a convert from Islam since 2020, now Christian apologist. Mafabi was returning home at 10pm after participating in a Christian-Muslim debate at which 13 Muslims put their faith in Christ. Mafabi’s pastor told Morning Star News (11 Jan) that when Muslims responded by openly receiving Christ, enraged Muslim fundamentalists labelled Mafabi a blasphemer and demanded he leave the area. His assailants caught up with him, knocked him off his motorcycle and slit his throat. Mafabi is survived by his wife and four children, aged 3 to 14, all of whom need to be relocated.

Please share these needs above widely and pray that our merciful God will heal, protect, intervene, sustain and energise…

‘The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective’ (James 5:16b).

Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate for the persecuted church. To support this ministry visit www.ElizabethKendal.com. Above reports excerpted from RLPB reports.

Elizabeth has authored Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne) which offers a biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA). She is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

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