(February 25, 2023) Elizabeth Kendal, RLPB, requests that, remembering Ephesians 6:10-18 ESV, we urgently pray alertly for the following –
* NIGERIA’S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Today, Saturday, 25 February, is Nigeria’s presidential election being held amidst soaring ethno-religious tensions, gross insecurity and the threat of widespread election-related violence. Nigeria has a population of 220 million, around half of whom identify as Christian. Those most at risk are minority Christians in the Muslim North and all ethnic Igbo living outside the South East. [The Igbo are Nigeria’s most Christian (98 percent), most industrious and most widely dispersed tribe.] The Nigerian Church is one of the world’s leading missionary-sending churches.
* AZERBAIJAN: ARMENIANS FACE ETHNIC CLEANSING
Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) – an ethnic-Armenian Christian enclave in Turkic Muslim Azerbaijan – has been in a state of siege since December 12 when Azerbaijani agents blockaded the Lachin Corridor (the road that links Artsakh to Armenia). On 15 February the Armenian Weekly warned: ‘It is beyond any doubt that the actions’ of these Azerbaijani agents ‘serve as a consistent tool for Azerbaijan’s hybrid warfare tactics and systematic policy of ethnic cleansing of Armenians in Artsakh. … Cut off from the outside world, the 120,000-strong population of Artsakh is inching closer to an inevitable humanitarian catastrophe every single day. There are extreme shortages of food, medicine and other basic necessities. There is a lack of proper heating in harsh winter conditions.’
Rich in ancient Armenian Christian architecture (which Azerbaijan doesn’t want), Artsakh is also rich in minerals, in particular gold and copper. Complicating matters, Baku – Azerbaijan’s capital, located on the shore of the Caspian Sea – is rich in oil and gas. That gas – which is desperately needed in Europe – is now flowing through the Southern Gas Corridor. Consequently, we should not expect any Western government will challenge Baku – at least not with anything more than a few meaningless words! The situation is dire. Please pray.
* ARMENIANS IN BEVERLEY HILLS
On Saturday 28 January police in Beverly Hills, California, USA, declared that flyers inciting a new Armenian genocide ‘fall within the protection of the First Amendment of the US Constitution’ (i.e. they are protected as free speech). The flyers, which read – ‘Azerbaijan + Turkey + Pakistan + Israel = 4 BROTHERS WILL WIPE Armenia OFF the MAP, Inshallah !!!!’ – had been posted throughout the city on 28 January, ahead of the Armenian Youth Federation Western United States’ March for Artsakh. [NOTE: Israel is a key ally and weapons supplier to Azerbaijan.]
As Melody Seraydarian notes, ‘At a time when our homeland [Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic-Armenian Christian enclave in Turkic Muslim Azerbaijan] is undergoing a humanitarian crisis, this kind of rhetoric – especially at a protest intended to call national attention to the Artsakh blockade – is alarming.’ It might have taken a whole week, but on 7 February, Beverly Hills Police Department did remove their statement from social media. However, an anxious Armenian community is still waiting for an explanation.
* DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (DRC): TERROR IN NORTH-EAST
Islamic State Democratic Republic of Congo (ISDRC: the DRC chapter of Islamic State Central Africa Province) continues to consolidate and expand in the DRC’s north-east. This is the same group that on January 15 bombed a church baptism service in North Kivu Province, killing 14 worshippers and wounding around 70 [RLPB 677 (Jan 25, 2023)]. Since then ISDRC [formerly known as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF)] has continued to wreak terror in DRC’s north-east.
On Sunday night January 22, ISDRC terrorists killed 23 civilians in Beni, North Kivu. Before dawn on Sunday January 28, the group launched simultaneous attacks on three villages in neighbouring Ituri Province (north of North Kivu) leaving more than 20 dead. On Sunday February 12 and Monday February 13, ISDRC terrorists killed at least 22 civilians and burned homes and medical facilities in two districts of Ituri Province. On Wednesday February 15 they killed five more civilians in Ituri.
ISDRC is only one of several militias wreaking havoc in DRC’s north-east where some 6.8 million Congolese have been displaced [UNHCR, Feb 2023] and services – most of which are provided, not by the state but by the Church – have been disrupted. It is a full-blown Christian crisis. Please pray for DRC, for DRC President Felix Tshisekedi (described as a devout Christian), and for DRC’s suffering and imperilled church.
* GHANA: BAWKU CONFLICT; OPPORTUNITY FOR JIHADISTS
A high-risk situation has emerged in Ghana’s far north-east as conflict returns to Bawku. The conflict – between the non-Muslim, mostly-Christian indigenous ethnic Kusasi and the Muslim ethnic Mamprusi who migrated from Togo and established the town in the 18th Century – has ethnic, political and religious dimensions.
Power struggles between the Mamprusi (who dominate the urban centre) and the Kusasi (who live on the periphery) are nothing new. However, while the groups used to fight with sticks, now they fight with automatic weapons, making this power struggle far more deadly. What’s more, the consolidation and expansion of jihadist terror groups in the Sahel makes any destabilisation far more dangerous.
After 13 years of peace, conflict erupted in Bawku in November 2021 after a rumour spread that the Mamprusi were ‘planning to install their own regent as chief, in a direct challenge to the current Kusasi ruler’. On February 6 Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) were used in an attempt to blow up a bridge, causing alarm in the security forces as it was the first time an IED had been deployed in Ghana. On February 15 the Mamprusi did install a parallel king/chief in Bawku, an act the government in Accra condemned as ‘illegal and a threat to national security’. Fierce gun battles ensued, and the town is now totally polarised along ethnic and religious lines. The government has announced it will send an additional 5000 troops to Bawku to stem the escalating violence. Please pray.
* INDIA: ARSON IN NARMADAPURAM, MADHYA PRADESH
On Sunday February 12 members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Narmadapuram district, in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, arrived for morning prayers only to find that Hindu nationalists had broken into their church and torched the interior. The furniture, carpets, appliances, musical instruments, Bibles and prayer books had been dowsed in flammable liquid and burned. The six-year-old church – which has a seating capacity of 1000 – had only recently been repainted. On February 14, police arrested three suspected arsonists. While Pastor Mahesh Kumre thanked and praised the police for their prompt action, another Christian leader, Dennis Jonathan lamented that the arsonists will only be charged with ‘hurting religious sentiments’ which, unlike arson, only attracts a minor penalty.
The police suspect the accused – who had a list of Christian and Muslim places of worship to target and claimed that they were only defending their religion – are also responsible for two other church arson attacks in Narmadapuram district in January. Christians make up a mere 0.29 percent of Madhya Pradesh’s 72 million population. Please pray for India, for the vulnerable Church in Madhya Pradesh, and that the accused arsonists (three young men in their early 20s) might ‘repent and believe the good news’ (Mark 1:15 NIV).
* NICARAGUA: FORCED EXILE AND IMPRISONMENT.
(Photo below: OSV News/Maynor Valenziela, Reuters) On February 10 Bishop Rolando José Álvarez (56) – who was arrested on August 19, 2022 [see RLPB 660 (31 Aug 2022)] – was stripped of his citizenship and sentenced to 26 years in prison after the court deemed him guilty of undermining the government, spreading false information, obstruction of functions and disobedience. A leading Catholic, Bishop Álvarez has been an outspoken critic of President Daniel Ortega. It is the longest sentence given to a political prisoner in years.
One day earlier, on February 9, the Nicaraguan government forcibly exiled 222 political prisoners, stripping them of their citizenship and putting them on a flight to the USA without informing their families. The CSW press release of February 10 lists the church leaders forcibly exiled: they include numerous Catholics and one Protestant pastor.
Bishop Álvarez was supposed to be among them. However, as the US Commission on International Religious Freedom noted in its condemnation of the bishop’s 26-year sentence: ‘Authorities reportedly gave Bishop Álvarez the opportunity to join the exiled prisoners, but he chose to stay in his native country to be with the Catholic community under repression by the Ortega regime.’
* PAKISTAN: RELENTLESS PERSECUTION
PUNJAB: On February 4 police in Faisalabad finally registered a case against Rana Tayyab, a 60-year-old Muslim man who had, on December 15, kidnapped a 15-year-old Christian girl named Sitara Arif (also known as Saira). Saira’s father, Arif Gill had spent nearly two months trying in vain to get the police to register a case. On February 3, when attorney Akmal Bhatti – Gill’s lawyer and chairman of the Minorities Alliance Pakistan – learned of Gill’s plight, he intervened and demanded immediate action from the police.
By now Saira will have been forcibly converted to Islam and forcibly married to Tayyab who is rumoured to have taken Saira to Islamabad.
On February 6 a Muslim landowner accused Christian labourer Emmanuel Masih (48) of stealing oranges from his orchard. He, along with five Muslim labourers, then beat Masih to death as he pleaded his innocence. Masih leaves behind a wife and six children; no-one expects to see justice.
KARACHI:On February 1 a Christian girl named Sunita Masih (19) left home to go to work. While at the bus station, a Muslim neighbour, Kamran Allah Bux threw acid over her, burning her face, eyes, arms and legs. Sunita, who belongs to the local Salvation Army church, will be permanently scared, physically and emotionally. Bux (who is married) had long been harassing Sunita, pressuring her to convert to Islam and marry him – advances she repeatedly rejected. Bux has been arrested and police have registered a case against him.
* SUDAN: ASSASSINATION AND PERSECUTION
On January 23 Ibrahim Kander (or Gebeira) – a pastor with the Sudan Church of Christ – was assassinated in a drive-by shooting by suspected members of Sudan’s State Intelligence. Pastor Ibrahim – a US citizen from Grand Island, Nebraska, was with his wife, Nafisa Awad Toto, and son, Luis Ibrahim Kander (3) visiting family in the Nuba Mountains when he was shot and killed. While Pastor Ibrahim’s wife and son survived the attack, three of his nephews who were also present did not.
On February 9, Ahmad Adam Mohamad (49) of North Darfur in western Sudan, fled into hiding after his extended Muslim family – who had accused him apostasy – sent Muslim militants to kill him. Mohamad, who has been a follower of Jesus for 10 years now, told Morning Star News: ‘The situation is extremely difficult – I am not safe at all. I urge all the brothers to pray and help me get out from this area to a safer place.’ On Friday February 17 authorities in Sudan’s south-eastern Blue Nile State arrested Yousif Ayoub Hussein Ali for preaching to Muslims at an open-air worship event. Preacher Ali had not violated any Sudanese law and no-one is suggesting that the Muslims were not there of their own free will.
Please pray urgently !‘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 two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) 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, June 2016). She is also an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.