UK, Syria, North Korea, Saudi Arabia feature in Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin

(AP)
In this February 21, 2013 photo, Syrian citizens walk in front of a church that was shelled by mortars, at the Christian village of Judeida, in Idlib province, Syria.

Jesus said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.' (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

During March we prayed concerning:

SYRIA (RLPB 250), where the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham/Syria (ISIS) controls large tracts of territory from eastern Aleppo through Raqqa and along the Euphrates all the way to Fallujah in Iraq. Thousands of Christians are being forced to submit to Islam and pay jizya (protection money) as demanded in the Qur'an (Sura 9:29). Their lives are gravely imperilled.

UPDATE: JIHADISTS DRIVE ARMENIANS FROM KESSAB

Kessab, in Syria's far north-west, is a historic Armenian (Christian) city in Alawite-dominated Latakia province. In recent years its population has grown as Armenians from Aleppo and other war zones have fled to Kessab seeking sanctuary. In the early hours of Friday 21 March jihadists from al-Nusra Front, Sham al-Islam and Ansar al-Sham entered Syria from Turkey via the Kassab border crossing. As the jihadists advanced, most of the 3500 Armenians living in Kessab (some 670 families) either fled into the hills or were evacuated to the port city of Latakia. Only those too frail and infirm to flee remained. By the end of the day, Kessab city, the border crossing and the strategic hill known as Observatory 45 were under rebel control.

On Saturday 22 March the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) launched a counter- offensive with SAA jets attacking rebel positions, driving back the jihadists. On Sunday 23 March jihadist reinforcements arrived. The remaining Armenians were taken hostage as homes were looted and churches desecrated. That afternoon, Turkish fighter jets shot down an SAA MIG-23 jet that was assisting SAA ground forces repelling the jihadists. According to Turkey, the MIG-23 was 1.2km inside Turkish airspace but Syria denies this. Interestingly, the SAA pilot ejected and landed safely inside Syria and the plane crashed inside Syria.

Turkey's President Erdogan -- who is down in the polls ahead of elections scheduled for 30 March -- is now promoting himself as the defender of the motherland. The Armenian National Committee notes that this is the third time in a hundred years that Turkey has been complicit in the ethnic cleansing of Armenians from Kessab. According to Armenian media, some 80 Armenians have been killed in the rebel assault. Amongst the jihadists killed is the head of the Ansar al-Sham faction, a Saudi national known as Sanafi al-Nasr.

* NORTH KOREA (RLPB 251), where 33 North Koreans have been sentenced to death charged with anti-state crimes for having contact with South Korean Baptist missionary Kim Jung-wook.

* UZBEKISTAN (RLPB 252), where the young but growing Church struggles in the face of repressive legislation, especially in the area of religious literature and training.

MARCH 2014 ROUND-UP -- also this month . . .

* BURMA (Myanmar): REGIME DRAFTING AN ANTI-CONVERSION LAW

Burma is drafting laws to protect race and religion. The impetus for the move is a petition presented to Burma's President Thein Sein in July 2013 by the Organisation for Protection of National Race and Religion (OPNRR), headed by Ashin Tilawka Biwuntha, member of the government appointed National Head Monks Committee. The petition, which calls for legislation to protect national race and religion, had 1.3million signatures and has since gathered a further 3 million supporters. On 7 March Thein Sein ordered his twelve-member Presidential Commission to draft a law banning polygamy and conversion to another religion, and the Supreme Court to draft a law to regulate interfaith marriage and restrict Muslims to two children. The Buddhist nationalist OPNRR wants to ban Buddhist women from leaving Buddhism while legislating that a non-Budd hist man wishing to marry a Buddhist woman must first convert to Buddhism. Whilst the law is targeting Muslims and Islam, it will impact also Burman Buddhist converts to Christianity.

* KENYA: CHURCH ATTACKED NEAR MOMBASA

On Sunday morning 23 March, two Islamic militants visited the Joy in Jesus Christ Church in Likoni, near the coastal city of Mombasa. They reportedly walked in freely and mingled with the congregation before taking out their weapons and opening fire. They killed two worshippers, wounded dozens and casually walked away. The death toll has since risen to seven, with as many as ten still in a critical condition. (See Morning Star News and Christian Solidarity Worldwide for detailed reports.)

* LAOS: EIGHT CHRISTIAN FAMILIES FACE EXPULSION

On 2 Decemb er 2013 Lao authorities sent expulsion orders to five Christian families in Natahall village, Phin District, Savannakhet Province. The Christians were to be expelled for failing to obey a directive to abandon their 'foreign' faith. Village elders believe that Christians anger the ancestral spirits, bringing calamity to the village, while the Communist authorities are always pleased to persecute Christians in the name of advancing 'harmony'. As the Christian families stood firm, unashamed of the Gospel, three more families put their faith in Christ. On 11 March all eight Christian families were mocked and ordered to abandon their faith or face expulsion. They have appealed to the Phin district religious affairs authorities, but to no avail. Please pray.

* NIGERIA: JIHAD AND TERROR IN KADUNA, TARABA and BORNO

Taraba State (eastern Middle Belt). On 8 & 9 March more than 30 Fulani Muslim cattle herders attacked Christians in the Ibi Local Government Area killing ten residents and burning homes.

Kaduna State (central Middle Belt). Starting at 11pm on 14 March and continuing the next day, Fulani Muslim cattle herders descended on many predominantly Christian villages in Bondong district in Kaduna's Christian dominated south. Three churches and 240 homes were set ablaze while more than 150 people were killed. The dead, who were mostly hacked to death, have been buried in three mass graves. Predictably the survivors are highly traumatised and some 2000 are now displaced.

Taraba, 16 March -- Some 70 Fulani Muslims attacked ten predominantly Christian communities from 2am until 10am, killing around 35 residents.

[What the southward migrating Fulani are doing is classic Islamic jihad: advancing Islam through offensive territorial expansion. The Fulani are receiving support from Boko Haram and rogue Muslims in the Nigerian military.]

Borno State (far north-east). Starting at about 10 pm on 16 March and continuing the next day, Boko Haram militants armed with AK-47 rifles, petrol bombs and improvised explosive devices attacked the village of Pela Birni, a remote Christian enclave in Hawul LGA. Shouting 'AllahuAkbar' (Allah is greater), they burnt homes, razed three churches and killed at least two people.

(See Morning Star News and World Watch Monitor for detailed reports.).

* SAUDI ARABIA: ADVOCATING FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

As US President Barak Obama is in Saudi Arabia this week to 'mend fences', many advocates are hoping he will raise the issue of religious freedom. However, Obama does not want Egypt and Saudi Arabia turning elsewhere for their arms (especially not to Russia!). Consequently he will be striving desperately to repair the damage done to the US-Saudi alliance through US support for the Muslim Brotherhood a nd rapprochement with Iran (Saudi Arabia's two greatest enemies). Even if Obama were to speak to the Saudis about justice and righteousness (as he should -- see Proverbs 31:8,9) the Saudi royals cannot advance Christianity without riling the Wahhabi clerics who keep them in power (i.e. it is not going to happen).

In February Fox News reported that at least 53 mostly Ethiopian believers had been arrested while praying together in a private residence in the city of Dammam in Eastern Province; three were allegedly charged with seeking to convert Muslims to Christianity. African believers imprisoned in Saudi Arabia are routinely subjected to appalling treatment. Please pray.

Remember, 'Prayer is the highest form of advocacy.'
(Turn Back the Battle. Elizabeth Kendal, p111.)

* UNITED KINGDOM: SAME-SEX MARRIAGE LEGAL FROM 29 MARCH

The UK's Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 will come into force on Saturday 29 March. Procedures for people who are in civil partnerships to 'upgrade' to marriage are expected to be in place by the end of the year, as are procedures for same-sex marriage ceremonies in Scotland. Same sex marriages conducted overseas have been legally recognised since 13 March and the first same sex-marriages will take place in England and Wales on the 29th. From this point, new curriculum will be introduced to schools to normalise same-sex relationships via the mandatory sex education classes. Officials at the Education Department conceded in 2012 that teachers may be under a legal obligation to teach children about same-sex unions once the Act has passed into law. Doubts have been expressed about the rights of teachers and parents to conscientiously object. A survey taken in February 2013 revealed that more than 74,000 teachers would teach the course though actually opposed to it and a further 40,000 teachers will refuse to t each the material, even at the risk of losing their jobs.[See Religious Liberty Monitoring, July 2012]

Whilst the Church of England (CofE) and Church of Wales are legally safe-guarded from marrying same-sex couples, this will be challenged. Father Andrew Cain is a CofE priest at St Mary's with All Souls in Kilburn. He has announced his engagement to an atheist man and has vowed to be the first to challenge the CofE's right to refuse to marry same-sex couples. The battle intensifies!

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