WEA Defender update on persecution and religious freedom. Significant Trends That Could Impact the Church in 2003. Submitted by Angela Watkins
The Religious Liberty Commission of World Evangelical Alliance identifies global trends to alert people to the ongoing struggles faced daily by believers worldwide. WEA Religious Liberty Commission Researcher Elizabeth Kendal, presents significant trends that could impact the church in 2003.
** TREND ** - A continuing struggle in Communist Asia between increasing openness and maintaining control. Countries to watch include China, North Korea, and Vietnam.
** TREND ** - rising nationalism linked to religious identity is bringing increased levels of persecution to religious minorities, especially evangelicals. Political parties and religious majority leaders prepared to play this dangerous game can increase their power and influence at the expense of social harmony. Nationalism linked to religious identity and built on a platform of fear has become the political tool of the modern era. The influence of the Orthodox Church in selected strategic nations sets a precedent for other states in Central and Eastern Europe with large Orthodox populations, such as Ukraine, Bulgaria, Moldova and Romania.
Hindutva (Hinduism) is alive and well in India, fed on a revived and winning diet of fear by politicians who are experts at this game. Buddhist nationalism complete with anti-Christian violence has been on the rise in Sri Lanka for some time. Cambodia has seen it's first sign of Buddhist nationalism.
** TREND ** - the "War on Terror" has poured fuel on the flames of Islamic renewal across the Muslim world and exaggerated the polarization between the Islamic and non-Islamic communities. Polarization has also increased between hard-line and moderate Islam with many moderates being drawn into the hard-line, radical, purist camp.
For decades the Islamic renewal movement has advocated a departure from secularization and modernization and a return to "pure" Islam along Qur'anic lines. This movement increased in momentum through the 1990s. However, when the "War on Terror" commenced (interpreted by many in the Muslim world as a war on Islam) the Islamic renewal movement took on the status of a unifying, anti-crusader / anti-West protest movement.
This rise in Islamic zeal and identity, together with the rise in Islamic militancy, backed by the Islamic renewal movement and a bottomless pit of oil money, is set to create serious challenges for religious liberty and for the Church, especially in needy and vulnerable regions of the world -Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Sudan, Pakistan, Indonesia.
Iran is one Islamic nation where reform is definitely on the agenda. It will be a most interesting nation to watch in 2003.
** FUTURE ** - if there is war in Iraq in 2003, it will doubtless lead to "retaliatory" attacks against Christians, particularly Christian minorities in Muslim nations.
Johan Candelin, Director
WEA Religious Liberty Commission
Kathi Graham, Editor and North American Representative WEA Religious Liberty Commission
COUNTRIES OF PARTICULAR CONCERN
While there is a cease fire in force in Sri Lanka and peace negotiations are taking place there are disturbing reports of abductions of children in the Eastern Province. These reports indicate continuous abductions of Tamil teenagers between the ages of 13 - 18 years of age. Incidents of abductions are reported in the national newspapers and by the Norweigian Monitoring Mission who are monitoring cease fire violations. The Sunday Times newspaper of January 19, (www.sundaytimes.lk) reports "Trincomalee-Batticaloa (Eastern Province) Bishop Kingsley Swamipillai has warned the LTTE that unless it immediately stops abductions and conscription of children he will take up the issue with international human rights groups". The same paper says, "The SLMM (Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission) has received 603 complaints (of abductions) from March 2002 to December 31 2002".
We have received an urgent plea from the Church in the East that children of Christian families too are falling victim to these abductions. The Church in the East is requesting assistance to establish safe houses in other areas to house children who are in danger of being abducted.
In a seperate incident, the leader of a house church ministry in southern Sri Lanka, Mrs. Indrani Abeyshinghe, and her four children were violently attacked in their home around midnight on Christmas Day 2002. They barely escaped with their lives and were severely traumatized.
Violent persecution against Christians has been on the rise in this country as Buddhism seeks to regain its historic position as the religion of East and Southeast Asia. At the beginning of the 20th century (1900), Buddhism claimed a following of around 20 percent of the world's population. By the end of the 20th century it was down to 5 percent. Protestant Christianity is growing phenomenally as courageous Sri Lakan evangelists and church planters proclaim the Gospel.
Pray for the children being abducted and for the recovery of the Abeyshinghe family. Pray that they will "rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer" (Romans 12:12), and we will do likewise.
Seventeen Christians from various church denominations in Aba, a city in Nigeria's southern Abia state, were arrested in late January over reprisal attacks on Muslims. Sources said Christians were reacting to "incessant" assaults on Christians in northern Nigeria by Muslim extremists. Abia state police authorities reported that the central mosque and several Muslim businesses were damaged in the January 18-19 attacks. Clashes on January 11 in Central Nigeria's Plateau state left two Muslims and one Christian dead. Violence between Muslims and Christians flared up there in September 2001 and escalated throughout 2002. In November, religious riots ignited by a newspaper article led to the death of an estimated 1,000 people and the destruction of some 125 churches in the city of Kaduna.
Both Muslim and Christian leaders express frustration over the conflict. "The nation is sitting on a religious time bomb that can explode any moment with devastating consequences," said Kaduna state governor Alhaji Ahmed Makarfi.
Pray that justice and the rule of law will be enforced.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (FORMERLY ZAIRE)
Although not strictly a religious liberty issue, the church in Congo faces severe suffering that needs urgent prayer and attention. During the 20th century, many people came to Christ in this country, and the Christian proportion of Congo's population rose from 1.4% to over 95%. And today, though suffering, the church emerges as the only viable, credible national structure, providing education, health care and leadership. There is religious freedom, and many Bible colleges and theological colleges exist. With this backdrop, the atrocities being committed now can only be described as demonic. One story that emerged in September 2002 told of Christian Congolese and expatriate medical missionaries leading some 900 patients through dense jungle on foot for a week after their hospital in Nyankinde was attacked. However, around 1000 others were massacred at this major Christian center in the northeast, with the main chaplain for the Evangelical Medical Center reportedly being cruelly and savagely murdered. Armed rebels against civilian Congolese men, women and children continue to use other atrocities such as cannibalism, executions, and kidnapping as weapons of war.
Pray for spiritual and physical protection of the church in Congo. Pray that they will know the peace of God that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
During the last week of January, the Central Committee of Vietnam's Communist Party reached a resolution to better control religion. This resolution calls for the establishment of cells of Communist Party members within the six approved religious organizations. This has caused concerns within the approved organizations as well as those considered illegal. The government of Vietnam has called on members of the recognized religious groups to "volunteer" in the struggle against "hostile forces" who threaten national unity. This appears to be a direct call against Christians in the Central Highlands region, who continue to face severe persecution. Since the government appears to be strengthening its control on religion, there is a fear of increased persecution for groups such as the Protestant churches of the Montagnard and Hmong people.
Pray that those churches legally recognized will stand firm in their faith, despite the government's latest initiative.
Christian widow Siham Qandah was informed January 31 that apart from direct intervention by Jordanian King Abdullah II, she will be jailed in early February for refusing to hand over her two minor children to be raised as Muslims. The Irbid Court of First Instance sentenced her to 30 days' imprisonment if she failed to surrender her children to their Muslim guardian. "I was very surprised to receive such a decision," Qandah said. "I am not a criminal." According an aide to the royal family, the arrest order has been "deferred." "We are trying our best to postpone the decision of the court to jail her," he said. Qandah's Christian husband died in 1994 while serving in the U.N. peacekeeping forces in Kosovo. Later, an Islamic court informed her that he had converted to Islam several years earlier and under Jordanian law her daughter Rawan and son Fadi were automatically considered Muslims.
Jordanian authorities earlier indicated that the reason they have not executed the court order is the many petitions made on her behalf. Continue to pray for this situation . "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction. " James 1:27 Lord, thank You that You defend the widows and fatherless.
Fundamentalist Hindus won a landslide victory in a state election in India with anti-Christian and anti-Muslim rhetoric. Defying every poll forecast, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, won 126 seats in the 182-seat state assembly, giving it a two-thirds majority. This followed the worst genocidal attacks against the state's religious minorities since India's partition 50 years ago. The victory is a harsh blow to Christians and other religious minorities. Fundamentalists vow to turn India into a Hindu nation within two years, threatening a "death sentence against all who oppose Hindutva" (nationalist Hinduism). Gujarat politicians promise to pass an "anti-conversion bill" similar to a law enacted last October in Tamil Nadu. Possible election fraud may have contributed to the BJP victory, as names of more than 200,000 voters were expunged from the registration rolls. The government is blaming the problem on computer error.
Twenty-three tribal families in a remote village in West Bengal are facing social ostracism and intimidation after converting to Christianity and live in fear of their safety. According to a news story in the January 21 edition of the Hindustan Times, the families from the village of Kasundipara have been threatened, relatives have been prevented from visiting, and other villages have been told not to speak with these believers. Militant Hindu groups have argued that people have been lured into converting to Christianity through promises of material goods, jobs, free education and health care. The Christians deny these claims. In some states in India, new laws have been passed to severely restrict religious conversions.
Pray that Christians in this village and across India will bring light to this dark situation. "In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." Matthew 5:16
There has been no report since November 20 on the fate of 14 students who had been arrested for converting to faith in Christ. In the latest report, they had been sentenced to death. Libya is very closed to any religion other than Islam. Meanwhile, in a move strongly opposed by many nations and human rights organizations, Najat Al-Hajjaji, Libya's ambassador to the UN, was elected on January 20 to the influential position of chairman of the United Nations Human Rights Commission. The position is normally chosen without a vote, but the United States insisted on a vote because of its opposition. Libya has a terrible human rights record.
Pray for Christians in Libya, and for these 14 students who face death for Christ. As Philippians 1:21 declares, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
A Christian from India who had worked in Qatar (one of the more moderate Gulf states) for the past twenty-two years has been deported, along with his wife and twelve-year-old son. Authorities gave no reason for the deportation. Arokiyasamy Stanislas Chellappa, 51, worked in a hospital in Doha as well as leading a fellowship of Tamil-speaking Indian Christians in his home. When Chellappa was arrested on December 9, he asked police what he had done, and they replied "We don't know. It is just written that you have to go back home." The assumption is that it is because of his religion. Despite advocacy from his employer and from the Indian embassy, it was reported that on January 21 all appeals have failed and that the family is to leave Qatar.
Pray for the family as they establish their life in India. Pray for the other Christians in Qatar who face uncertainty.
Four gunmen entered St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church during Mass on Sunday, January 19, and began shooting, killing two people and wounding six others. Authorities are speculating that one of the victims was the primary target, perhaps settling a grudge. Ten people have been arrested in the attack. In recent months, Christians in Colombia have faced increasing violence, particularly from guerrilla groups and those involved in the drug trade. This is the latest of several attacks in the past year.
Lord, help us forgive those who wish to harm us for You say in Matthew 6:14 "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you."
Five weeks after a Christmas Day attack on a village church in Pakistan's remote northern Punjab region, local police officials remain silent concerning their promise to take "quick and stern action" to arrest and prosecute the culprits. Five days later, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf told reporters in Lahore that he had just been informed that the culprits who carried out the church attack had all be arrested. Even more disturbing, local Christians publicly testified at an Islamabad press conference January 20 that they were being "warned that Christians should not press the police to carry on with the investigation." Three young girls were killed and another 13 worshippers injured in the December 25 attack near Daska in Chianwali village, where Christian families had gathered for their annual Christmas program in a small Presbyterian chapel. Although Pakistani authorities claimed that the perpetrators of the six terrorist attacks against Christian churches and institutions in Pakistan over the last 15 months have been arrested, very few suspects have been named and none formally charged and put on trial.
Continue to pray for the protection of these Christians. Pray that justice will rule in this case. Also pray for those who were injured in the attack.
The Bulgarian Parliament has passed a controversial law recognizing the dominant role of the Orthodox Church and requiring all other denominations to register. The law defines Orthodox Christianity as "the traditional religion in Bulgaria" that "plays a historic role in Bulgarian statehood." One objective of the law is to end a deep rift between supporters of Patriarch Maksim, who stands accused of collaboration with communist rulers from 1971 to 1990, and rival leaders. The law's provisions are a source of serious concern for representatives of minority religions and human rights groups, who argue that the law grants a privileged position to the Orthodox Church and could lead to discrimination against other faiths.
Ask God to provide His wisdom and clarity to this troubling on-going situation.
"Persons without a country" could describe some believers living in Israel. They immigrate from the former Soviet Union or Ethiopia. They are granted entrance due to Jewish blood or by being married to a Jew or they are touched by the good news of the Gospel while living in Israel and accept Jesus Christ as Savior. Then for a variety of reasons, the Israeli government finds an excuse to deny renewal of their passport. Without a passport (citizenship) they are denied the privileges of citizenship--they cannot obtain a civil marriage license, they cannot own property or exit the country. People from the former Soviet Union cannot return "home" since the country no longer exists. No country will accept a person without a passport.
My soul cries out to you. O Lord, hear my prayer!
Ivory Coast (Cote D'Ivoire) is at a critical juncture. The foreign and network sponsored Islamist rebels, who started internal conflict with a failed coup, have been promised crucial government portfolios in a French-brokered, UN-backed peace deal. This amounts to little more than 'we give you what you want and you give us peace!' However, five of Ivory Coast's six main political parties, traditional chiefs and the army have all rejected the accord and want it re-negotiated. The rebels of course are very satisfied and refuse to talk, instead threatening to resume their war if the deal is not fully implemented by 14 February. Some Christian leaders have already been threatened with 'slaughter'. The rebels have blamed their lack of success so far on the prayers of Christians. Let's have the same confidence in the power released through our prayers that they have!
God to bind demonic forces, frustrate the plans of the wicked, and prevent a rebel takeover of the nation. 'And everyone will know that the Lord does not need weapons to rescue his people. It is his battle, not ours.' David to Goliath - 1 Samuel 17:47
An Egyptian court has postponed a retrial verdict due in late January against 96 people implicated in violent Muslim-Christian clashes three years ago. The January 27 hearing in southern Egypt lasted only three minutes. Presiding Judge Lotfi Suleiman announced that the justices examining the evidence needed more time to study the 9,000-page case file. The month delay was labeled a "political decision" by Coptic Christian lawyer Mamdouh Nakhla, who noted that the "tense, volatile situation in the Middle East" between Iraq and the United States might have made the judges reluctant to rule on the "sensitive" case. Coptic Christians considered the initial ruling to be "so lenient that it practically encouraged Muslims to kill Copts." Observers noted that the whitewashed verdict implied that police investigators were either incompetent or part of a deliberate cover-up. The millennium weekend violence in Sohag's El-Kosheh village left 21 Christians dead and 260 of their homes and businesses destroyed or looted.
A top-level religious freedom delegation from Washington on January 24 wrapped up a weeklong fact-finding trip to Russia by expressing concern for the plight of religious minorities in the overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian nation. "I must say the situation is a fragile one," said Felice D. Gaer, a human rights expert who heads the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. "We're confident that our concerns have been heard and the future will be different." The commission, which advises the U.S. president, secretary of state and Congress on foreign religious freedom matters, spent the week in the Russian capital meeting with government officials, religious leaders and human rights activists. The last year has been one of the most difficult for religious freedom in Russia since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. At least 10 Protestant missionaries, four Catholic priests and a Catholic bishop were expelled from Russia without explanation. In December, a leaked draft government report identified Catholics as the No. 1 religious threat to Russia's national security, outranking Protestants, Muslims and Satanists.
Let us always remember Psalm 99 "The Lord reigns, let the nations tremble; He sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake.Let them praise your great and awesome name--He is holy."
Sources: Assist News Service, Caspari Center for Biblical and Jewish Studies, Compass Direct, Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka, HCJB World Radio, Hindustan Times, Human Rights Watch, Norweigen Monitoring Mission, Religion Today Summaries, Reuters, Voice of the Martyrs, World Evangelical Alliance.
Johan Candelin, Director
WEA Religious Liberty Commission
Kathi Graham, Editor and North American Representative