(April 27, 2023) Elizabeth Kendal, RLPB, updates prayer requests…

BURMA (Myanmar): Karen people flee
[RLPB 689 (12 April)]. After junta chief General Min Aung Hlaing labelled the resistance ‘terrorists’ with whom the junta would not negotiate, vowing instead to ‘annihilate them to an end.’

Within days of his speech, the Christian-led Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) had scored some significant victories, thereby triggering a massive military retaliation. By Easter Sunday 9 April some 10,000 civilians had fled Karen lands across the border into Thailand.

UZBEKISTAN: Baptist church raided
[RLPB 690 (19 April)]. Police raided the 9 April Easter Sunday worship service at the Baptist church in Qarshi, using batons and electric shock prods to incapacitate believers. Despite advancing transformative reforms, President Mirziyoyev – cognizant of the threat of Islamic terrorism and unrest – is reluctant to embrace religious freedom.

Consequently, the new religion law, passed in July 2021, retains many of the repressive elements of the Soviet era law, including mandatory registration, censorship of religious materials, restrictions on religious education, and a ban on ‘missionary activity and proselytism’ and ‘activities which offend the religious feelings of believers.’

BANGLADESH: Easter grieving in Bandarban
On Maundy Thursday, 6 April, eight Christians – four Baptists and four Presbyterians – were killed when fighters from the United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF, dominated by Buddhist hill tribes) attacked Khamtangpara village, in Chittagong Hill Tract’s (CHT) southernmost Bandarban District. The ensuing gunfight between fighters from the UPDF and the Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF, representing the CHT’s minority Christian Kuki-Chin tribes) led more than 250 people from 80 Kuki-Chin (Bawm) Christian families to flee their homes. After sheltering overnight in local schools and churches, they headed into town where they are receiving aid and shelter.

To protect Kuki-Chin people, lands and culture from Bengali Muslim colonisation, exploitation, and violence, the KNF seeks an autonomous state within Bangladesh. The UPDF, on the other hand, seeks an autonomous state comprising the whole of CHT (one in which the Christian Kuki-Chin would still be a persecuted ethnic-religious minority [as the Chin are in neighbouring Buddhist Burma]).

Pastor Georgy Loncheu, of the local Presbyterian Church, told Catholic media, ‘Our Good Friday and Easter were very painful. We Bawm people are worried…’ On Tuesday morning, 25 April, gunfights erupted between the UPDF and KNF in the hills of nearby Mualpipara neighbourhood. (Photo: Kuki-Chin Christians flee their homes in Bandarban. bdnews24.com April 8, 2023)

CHINA: High cost of faithfulness
The trial in Hohhot – the capital of China’s Inner Mongolia – of (Mrs) Wang Honglan and 11 other believers, will commence in late April. Wang (66), her husband (73), several family members and other believers were arrested in April 2021 and charged with ‘illegal business operations.’ The authorities accuse them of selling Bibles and makings millions of dollars in profit in the process.

However, the Bibles – which were printed legally in China, and purchased legally from a government-sanctioned (ie legal) Three-Self church in Nanjing – were not being sold. The legal Bibles had been legally purchased with money donated by parishioners and were being given away to people unable to afford them. It seems that, because Wang’s group belong to an unregistered (ie illegal) house church, their religious activity is automatically illegal. Initially set for January 2022, the trial was postponed to give lawyers more time to examine the case. The prosecution is seeking a 15-year jail term for Wang and lesser sentences for the other defendants.

China Aid reports: ‘Wang Honglan became a Christian when she was 24 years old. She has been serving her church since then… In the past 30 years, they held a morning prayer meeting every day at 6 AM. The morning prayer meeting never stopped for a single day, regardless of any weather conditions.

On Wednesday, 19 April, Islamic State Democratic Republic of Congo (ISDRC: the DRC chapter of Islamic State Central Africa Province) attacked civilians in Samboko village in Beni territory, in north-east DRC’s war-ravaged North Kivu region. The terrorists killed at least 20 civilians and abducted others.

Congo’s army engaged the terrorists, but only managed to free two of the hostages. ISDRC is one for more than 120 armed groups fighting in DRC’s north-east provinces of Ituri and North Kivu, both of which border Uganda. While most militias are fighting for land or to control of mines, others are just trying to protect their communities. ISDRC is exploiting the chaos to consolidate and expand in the heart of central Africa, doubtless hoping to establish a base at the junction of four predominantly Christian, resource-rich yet under-developed states: Uganda, South Sudan, Central Africa Republic and DRC.

INDIA: Costly faith in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar division. Falsely accused: Protestants to face court
On 19 April, in the northern tribal-belt state of Chhattisgarh, the Bilaspur High Court granted bail to 10 Protestant Church leaders. The pastors and evangelists were arrested in January in relation to the anti-Christian pogroms that struck 18 villages in Narayanpur district, in Chhattisgarh’s southern Bastar Division in December 2022 – pogroms that left more than 1000 Christians displaced [see RLPB 677, ‘Bastar Burns…’ 25 Jan 2023]. Catholic media reports (UCA, 20 April): ‘the Christian leaders were charged with rioting, being armed with deadly weapons, voluntarily causing hurt to public servants on duty, and criminal intimidation and assault. If convicted of all the charges, each of them faces punishments of up to 10 years in jail and fines.’

Local Church leaders believe, ‘the Protestant Church leaders were arrested and remanded to appease the majority traditional animist religion followers… [They] had no role in the violence but they were implicated in the case as they visited the victims.’ Relived they have finally been released on bail, their lawyer is confident their innocence will be proved in proved in court.

IRAQ: ‘Blasphemy’ in supposedly secular Iraqi Kurdistan
On 16 April, the appeal court in Duhok, in Iraq’s far north, confirmed the sentence of Jagarkhuin Abdulrahman Ismael issued by the lower court on 29 March. ‘Jagar’ (38, married) – who became a follower of Christ in 2018 and attends the Anabaptist church in Duhok – will spend six months in jail on charges of misusing a telecommunication device in a way that is threatening, defamatory or insulting of others. In other words, he said something on a device that ‘offended’ a Muslim.

Middle East Concern (MEC) reports: ‘His church had difficulty finding him a lawyer due to rising Islamic sentiment in the KRI [Kurdistan Region of Iraq].’ Jagar’s lawyer has filed an appeal. MEC notes that Jagar’s case ‘coincides with – and is related to – the case of Bishop Bahzad Mziri, the regional leader of the Anabaptist church, who was also charged with blasphemy in the same period.’

In response to a Muslim who had made offensive statements on social media against Jesus and the Bible, Bishop Mziri – also a convert from Islam – presented a comparison between the life of Jesus and the life of Muhammad. Fundamentalist Muslims were offended – if not by the bishop’s words (which were doubtless true), then by the fact he, an apostate, dared to utter them. Islamists then republished the comments and incited anger against the bishop and the Church. Calls for the bishop to be killed forced the family to flee the country. Both cases have been widely publicised online, inflaming Islamic indignation.

ERITREA: High cost of faith
On Resurrection Sunday, 9 April, Pastor Tesfay Seyoum, the founder and leader of Meserete Kristos Church, died in hospital as the result of a brain haemorrhage, leaving behind his wife and daughter.

Pastor Tesfay Seyoum (left) before his arrest. Died April 9, 2023, after ten years in prison for his faith. The fact that Pastor Seyoum had spent the last ten years incarcerated in the infamous Mai Serwa Maximum Security Prison near the capital, Asmara, reminds us of the high cost of faithfulness in Eritrea. Since May 2002 (when the persecution began) thousands of faithful Christians have been arrested, tortured and detained – in shipping containers in military camps, in unsanitary over-crowded prisons, and even in underground cells in the desert. Seven Evangelical church leaders currently in detention have been incarcerated for at least 18 years.

On 19 April, officials arrested 103 Christian youths who had been attempting to record Christian music on YouTube. According to Release International the group were taken to Mai Serwa Maximum Security Prison.

NIGERIA: Endless terror –a Christian crisis of monumental proportions
(1) BENUE: 134 slaughtered in five days

Located on the south-eastern edge of Nigeria’s volatile Middle Belt, Benue State is predominantly Christian (95 percent). On Saturday 1 April, a large contingent Fulani Muslim militants and herdsmen raided villages in Apa Local Government Area (LGA) killing six Christians. Later that day, Fulani militants attacked an evening worship service in Logo LGA, killing one worshipper and leaving five seriously wounded. These killings were but the start of a five-day wave of terror ahead of Easter that left 134 Christians dead and more than 40 hospitalised.

An editorial in Nigeria’s Premium Times (24 April) questions how a five-day killing rampage could take place ‘without the police and other security agencies having a whiff of intelligence that would have helped to nip [it] in the bud, or reduce the carnage’. On the weekend of 22-23 Apri, Fulani militants attacked a funeral in Apa LGA where they ambushed Nathaniel Ochoche, the chairman of the Benue chapter of the Labour Party (the party headed by rising star Peter Obi, an Igbo Christian). Ochoche and three others were killed, many more were wounded, and some remain missing.

(2) KADUNA: 33 Christians slaughtered in their beds
At 10pm on Saturday 15 April, Fulani Muslim militants invaded Runji village, in Zangon Kataf Local Government Area (LGA) of predominantly Christian southern Kaduna. The terror – which continued into Sunday morning – left 33 Christians dead and many wounded. Around 40 homes (comprising half the village) were torched. It was the third attack on area Christian in the space of one week. Four days earlier, two Christians had been killed in Runji village and 17 in nearby Atak Njei village.

Francis Sani, a council official of Zangon Kataf LGA, confirmed the killings, telling the media: ‘The attackers in their numbers maimed and burned mostly women and children, set houses ablaze, and raided several houses within the community, leaving an aftermath of gruesome murder of 33 people, with four sustaining various degrees of injuries and some in critical condition that have been referred to Specialist Hospital, and properties worth millions [of Nigerian Naira] destroyed. We are devastated and shocked by the level of carnage and mindless bloodletting.’

PAKISTAN: Three accused of blasphemy
On 15 April, Christian widow Musarat Bibi, and Muslim gardener Muhammad Sarmad, cleaned out a storeroom in a government girls’ school in Arif Wala, Pakpattan District, Punjab Province. The gathered up wastepaper was subsequently burned. Unfortunately, some of the paper scraps had Quranic texts on them; not that Bibi or Sarmad would have known, as both are illiterate. All who know them understand that the pair did not intend to offend anyone. However, fundamentalist Muslims accused them of blasphemy, forcing the police to arrest and charge them.

Days earlier, a Chinese engineer complained to workers at the Dasu hydropower project in the country’s far north-west that ‘precious time’ was being lost due to prayer breaks. Furious Muslims whipped up a storm, accusing the Chinese national – known only as Tian – of blasphemy. On 17 April, an anti-terrorism court in Abbottabad ordered Tian be jailed for 14-days. As for Mussarat Bibi, her lawyer is hopeful the court will grant her bail and drop the charges. That said, anyone accused of blasphemy in Pakistan will know their life is gravely imperilled. Luka Masih, a local pastor who leads the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Arifwala City, told British Asian Christian Association that only a few Christians live in Bibi’s village; and fearing retribution they have all fled their homes.

UGANDA: Terror strikes Good Friday prayer service
On Good Friday evening, 7 April, believers gathered in the NABI Pentecostal church in Biguli, Kamwenge District. Their prayers were interrupted when a petrol bomb exploded outside, damaging the front of the building and several parked vehicles. Church security pursued and apprehended one of six suspects, who they handed over to police. The assailant, Bwambale Sadadi (28) told police that he had engaged in jihad (Islamic holy war) during Ramadan as a way of serving Allah who would reward him in paradise.

Local Christians were shocked (although doubtless relieved this bomber was an amateur). Security officials subsequently announced they had arrested three suspected members of Islamic State Democratic Republic of Congo (ISDRC: formerly known as the Allied Democratic Forces). One was the suspect in the Good Friday church bombing. Meanwhile, on the evening of 8 April, Muslim fundamentalists in Namakwekwe area of Mbale town, in Uganda’s Eastern Region, stabbed to death Engineer Herbert of Sironko District. Local Christians told Morning Star News (21 April) that Herbert (42) had been ‘very effective in evangelistic activities’ that led many Muslims turn to Christ.

Please pray that our merciful God will protect, intervene, sustain and energise…

‘The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective’ (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 updates excerpted from RLPB reports.

Elizabeth, an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam, Melbourne School of Theology, has authored two books: 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).

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