Wednesday, December 27, 2006

When All is Not Calm and Bright

There were many things which made this Christmas season feel different from those past. For example, unlike so many other Christmases here in Southern Ontario, there wasn't even a hint of snow on the ground. As far as my personal Christmas schedule, for the first time in thirteen years, I'm balancing both school and work instead of coming off exams and having a week or so of holiday time. These two things are probably partly responsible for this feeling of difference. But I think it's more than that. It has to do with something that I simply didn't have last year: a greater awareness and understanding of Christian persecution.

Last year, I had no idea that Christmastime was one of the worst times of the year for persecution. This year, my email inbox is flooded with reports about present or potential church bombings, mob violence and massacres or stories of persecution endured by Christians in Christmases past. Indonesia, for example, caused a lot of back and forth in the media. One minute countries such as Australia and the U.S. are warning of attacks by Muslim militants (see here or here) and the next there are reports assuring the public that there are no signs of impending religiously motivated attacks. But regardless of what occurs this year, it is clear that violence against is Christians is a reality in our world, both during the holidays and all year round.

"So don't you get depressed?" People ask me when I tell them that Christmas can mean reading more reports of suffering Christians (or even an increase in reports of large scale or particularly gruesome persecution). I can completely understand such questions. After all, reading persecution stories certainly seems contrary to other activities meant to activate warm and fuzzy Christmas cheer. To be honest, when I realized that persecution could increase around the holidays, I worried a bit myself about whether or not this would dampen my "Christmas spirit." Would it change my experience of the season? Would I still be able to smile and sing lines such as "All is calm/all is bright" without feeling sad and frustrated about the numerous Christians suffering for their faith?

Well, now that it's December 27, I can honestly say that this greater awareness of Christian persecution has not at all hindered my enjoyment of the season. Of course it has not been (and will never be) easy to read persecution stories without feeling pangs of sorrow or anger. But even these seemingly "bad" feelings have been a kind of blessing in disguise. They've been the result of God's opening up my eyes and my heart to the plight of the Persecuted Church. They've led, and are still leading, me towards a better understanding of what it means to be wholly faithful to Christ.

Instead of purely sentimental platitudes about the comfort and peace of this season, I've been pierced the truth of the Christian life. So even when this truth stings---even when it make me want to cry out or weep---it is part of God's holy hope. This is a gift which endures long after the candles have been blown out, the presents have been opened and the 'Christmas spirit" has evaporated. For it, I am eternally grateful. And, by the grace of God, I will continue to live this hope, as well help to keep it alive for those who are persecuted for their Christian witness.

Persecution Story of 2006

This is the time of the year that the media tends to drag out their "story of the year." And so, rather than bucking the system, I would like to propose one of my own.

As the editor of The Persecuted and Prayer Alert, I work with the rest of my staff in determining what stories we are going to run from week to week. Sadly, in 2006 one country seems to have come up far too often for anyone's liking. Would you like to guess which one it is?
What might surprise you is that it is not a Muslim country, nor a Communist one. Nor is it a totalitarian regime. In fact, it is a fully functioning democracy. Its Prime Minister is a member of a religious minority and the country has generally good relations with the west.

And yet, throughout 2006, we have received numerous reports each week of Christians being attacked, killed and thrown into jail on various false charges.

My proposal for the persecution story of 2006 is the continuing and increasingly violent persecution of Christians in India. Earlier this year, a team from VOMC traveled to India to review our projects and to document the persecution of Christians there. While I am encouraged by the fact that we are making a significant difference in the lives of many Christians in India, I am also desirous to do even more. I was also saddened that we were forced to withdraw from partnering with ministry in India when they made decisions that would have made it impossible to maintain financial integrity and accountability that we value. I am grateful, however, that other partnership possibilities are emerging that will provide us (and you) with opportunities of letting our Indian brothers and sisters know that they have not been forgotten in 2007.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Prayer and a Triune God

Lately I've been listening to C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity on tape as part of my nightly devotions. I was listening to a chapter that addresses the aspect of the Trinity just a few days ago. So Glenn's previous blog inspired me to discuss one of Lewis' passages about the triune nature of God.

This passage, from the chapter "The Three-Personal God" illustrates how the seemingly simple act of kneeling down to pray is a way of having fellowship with a triune Lord. First, Lewis discusses how the human mind cannot really imagine that one being can also be three beings. But He continues by revealing how this struggle to logically conceive of God as three persons does not prevent us from having a relationship with Him:

You may ask, 'if we cannot imagine a three-personal Being, what is the good of talking about Him?' Well, there isn't any good talking about Him. The thing that matters is being actually drawn into that three-personal life, and that may begin any time - to-night, if you like.

What I mean is this. An ordinary simple Christian kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get into touch with God. But if he is a Christian he knows that what is prompting him to pray is also God: God, so to speak, inside him. But he also knows that all his real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Man who was God - that Christ is standing beside him, helping him to pray, praying for him. You see what is happening. God is the thing to which he is praying the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing inside him which is pushing him on - the motive power. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal. So that the whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary little bedroom where an ordinary man is saying his prayers. The man is being caught up into the higher kinds of life - what I called Zoe or spiritual life: he is being pulled into God, by God, while still remaining himself.

I don't share these words because I completely understand them or because I think Lewis has somehow cracked the mystery of the Trinity. I very much agree with Glenn's statement that pondering the triune nature of God is a challenging task. Even Lewis, with his steel-trap-like mind and his eloquence of expression cannot fully understand matters of faith. In fact, one of the reasons that I enjoy him so much is that he openly admits to his own limitations. He uses his gifts to try and make sense of and explain the Christian faith. He invites his reader to wrestle with ideas right along with him. By doing so, he allows aspects of Christianity to be thought about in a clear, and even new, way. That's what happened to me; thinking about the act of prayer clarified my understanding of interacting with the Trinity.

So even if this passage from Mere Christianity doesn't instantly make the Trinity make sense in my mind, it sparks more thoughts, questions and ideas. It is a tangible demonstration of how faith and acts must connect. And I think that's exactly what effective theological writing should do---it shouldn't just let you lap up someone else's ideas and truths, but it should stimulate you into personal contemplation and reflection. At the very least, this passage serves as a reminder that, even if we feel like we feel like aspects of Christianity are inexplicable or inexpressible, they are always livable. What overwhelms and frustrates our minds is part of the grace and salvation that is at work in our souls. (If you are interested in more of Lewis' thoughts on the Trinity, click here).

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Reflections on the Trinity

We theologians may rightfully be chastised from time to time for trying too hard on occasion to understand and explain things are a rather unexplainable and inexpressible. This is not to say that the attempt is wrong. It is often well-intentioned. Knowing God is the highest pursuit and this pursuit involves the entire person, including the mind. It does, however, require humility and an inner sense of “nervousness” (for lack of a better word) when considering matters such as the nature of the Trinity.

Personally, I fell like I am standing on top of a narrow stone wall every time I ponder the nature of the Trinity. Too much one way or the other and you end up in heresy. As soon as I think of one aspect of God’s triune nature, my mind and heart caution me that I am wandering on sacred ground. I am compelled to add caveats to my considerations. For every explanation, there is a disclaimer. For every “Yes”, there is a “No.” Is it any wonder that Eastern Orthodox Christians have tended to describe God more by what He is not than by what He is?

But rather than minimizing or even criticizing such theological pursuit, it seems to me that this must be part of what it means to be created in the image of the triune God. We were created to know Him, to fellowship with Him, to reflect His image. In knowing Him, we discover things about ourselves, especially how we ought to be. This is especially true in our interactions with our fellow human beings; equal bearers of the Divine Image. As we see the relationship between the members of the Trinity, we recognize that force is no attribute of God’s. And so we cannot rightfully force others to submit to our religious convictions. We can persuade, discuss, even debate, but we cannot compel and still reflect God’s Image to our fellow man.

In the same way, it is wrong for others to try to compel us to remain silent, to privatize our faith. Faith in the context of the triune God is intrinsically communal. For others (either as an individual or as an institution) to seek to restrict the free practice of such faith is a violation of our very humanity. It is intrinsic to who we are; image bearers of a self-revelatory triune God who desires to be known.

Hello from Princess Margaret Hospital

Greetings from downtown Toronto. I am going into my third day here at Princess Margaret; my second day of intense chemo. Yesterday was not a lot of fun; by the evening I was feeling pretty lousy. But that goes with the territory, I suppose.

There is no easy way for me to log on the Internet, sadly. The phone system is digital, which my modem doesn’t like, although I have heard of one other patient on this floor having her Internet provider set it up in her room. I just don’t know how much I am going to feel like logging on and checking my emails in the days to come. There is a part of me that actually feels a little free not having to worry about that right now or, at the very least, waiting for someone to bring me my emails that need answering. The delay may take away some of the stress and urgency, so I am half tempted to leave it as it is for now and see how it works.

In the meantime, Adele will be posting my Blogs. They may not go on for a day or two, but that is probably the best I can do right now.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Code of Best Practices for Cross-cultural Visits to Restricted Nations

The following is the Code of Best Practices for Cross-cultural Visits to Restricted Nations that the VOMC Executive Team recently signed off on and which I promised, on December 11, to share with you (and which I better do before I go to the hospital). As I mentioned then, it is our hope that this code of best practices will provide guidelines that will enable our staff to serve the persecuted without inadvertently doing harm to them through carelessness or lack of foresight. Please feel free to copy, distribute, and critique this document. I am under no illusions that this code that we have come up with is perfect and that it will not need to tinkered with in the days to come. This is an important first step, however; a step that few other organizations that work with the persecuted have, to the best of my knowledge, deliberately undertaken.

Code of Best Practices for Cross-cultural Visits to Restricted Nations


We believe that everything we do and say has the potential to build or undermine the trust of our team members and our international partners. It is with this understanding that we commit ourselves to following these Best Practices for Cross-cultural Visits to Restricted Nations.

Prior to the Visit:

1. Prior to departure all team members will be involved in a comprehensive and formal briefing that will address issues such as:

•Objectives and expectations
•Team roles (leader, finances, devotions, contact person, et al)
•Medical issues
•Cross-cultural issues
•Ethical concerns
•Communications issues
•Political/historical/religious environment
•Spiritual wellbeing
•Other relevant issues e.g. paying for our own meals, covering internal travel expenses, not asking to use personal telephones/Internet, etc.

We aim that all team members come together prior to the trip for this briefing. In exceptional circumstances it may be possible to do this briefing by Skype conference and Powerpoint, at the discretion of the team leader.

2. Prior to each trip a security rating will be assigned to each country by mission executive and the appropriate practices to be employed. The security ratings will be Green (unrestricted), Amber (restricted) or Red (very restricted).

3. Each trip will be approved by the mission executive only after prayer, a definite benefit to the mission and our partners is identified and the trip's purposes can be clearly stated.

During the Visit:

4. We will endeavour to be good guests while in country. We endeavour not to be a burden to our hosts. This is, in fact, very difficult. We cannot avoid being a burden on their time and schedules, but we can exercise prudence and modesty by, for example, avoiding being a financial burden to them.

5. We will clearly express our expectations and objectives for the visit to our hosts/partner, while exercising sensitivity to their needs, concerns and aspirations which may differ from our own. If an agreement cannot be reached, the judgment of our host/partner will prevail.

6. On field activities of the visit will be aligned to long term partnerships and priorities. Long term partnerships and priorities will always take precedence over short term needs or aspirations. For example, we will not endanger a partner or a project for the sake of a photo or interview.

7. All non-project gifts should be given by the team leader on behalf of the mission through our local partners only after consultation with them as to its appropriateness. Ideally, gifts should be anonymous with the understanding that this is not precedent setting. All gifts must align with the mission, purpose and values of the mission. They must be receipted and reported upon.

8. We will be careful not to make unauthorised promises or raise expectations that we cannot guarantee fulfilment of. We will endeavour to clearly explain the decision making processes of the mission that precludes individual staff from making such commitments. These include requests for finances, photos, videos, services and projects.

9. We commit to meet together as a team each day of the trip for prayer and Bible reading.

10. We commit to meet together daily to assess the progress of the trip objectives, team dynamics, the present security situation, and emerging issues and determining corrective action.

11. We commit to follow our partners' directives and guidance as to what can be reported on and how it can be publicized. In principle, we will say less than what is approved by partners in the country but we will not say more than what they have approved. We will always confirm the appropriateness of the use of photos and interviews with trusted leaders/partners in the country, even if the interviewee has already given approval.

12. We will endeavour to maintain as low a profile as possible when in country. We will inform our partners/hosts of this desire and ask for their assistance and advice on how to carry this out appropriately and especially when it involves invitations to preach, visiting homes, arranging interviews, etc.

After the Visit:

13. Within a week of the conclusion of each trip, each team member and the team will be verbally debriefed by the mission executive. We aim that all team members come together after the trip for this debriefing. In exceptional circumstances it may be possible to do this debriefing by Skype conference at the discretion of the mission executive.

14. Within a month of the conclusion of the trip, each team member will submit a written report including how the trip purposes have been fulfilled, what were the team dynamics, how the partnership is functioning, financial accounting and what follow up is needed.

Checking into Princess Margaret Hospital Today

This afternoon, I will book into Princess Margaret Hospital in downtown Toronto and I will do so with mixed feelings, I am sure. On one hand, I want to get this stem cell transplant over with. At least the uncertainty and waiting will be over. On the other hand, it is scary. Will it take? Will I be able to regain some degree of normalcy to my life? Will I be able to be the CEO that VOMC needs and requires? I confess to having had a rather poor night's sleep.

I have no idea how well I will be able to keep you all updated on my progress. I will try, of course. I value the prayers of each of you. Thank you so much to those of you who have been upholding my family and I during these days. Please pray for the staff of VOMC in the coming weeks as well. We have a number of staff members who are still rather new to many of their responsibilities. I have confidence in their abilities, however. With God's help, and the encouragement and support of each other and you, their friends, I am certain that God will continue to glorify Himself through the mission of VOMC.

I am taking some reading with me to the hospital and so I hope to do some reflective writing during this time. If I can get a good connection to the Internet from my room, I will be in touch through this weblog as much as I can.

God bless you all and talk to you again soon.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Show Must Go On

I wouldn't ordinarily refer to Freddy Mercury, the deceased lead singer of Queen, as exemplary. And I am still not doing so. I am well aware of his past, the questionable lyrical content of a number of Queen songs (one of the advances of IPod; you need not buy the entire album any longer), and how he died in 1991 of AIDS. But as I have started chemotherapy today in preparation for my stem cell transplant in exactly a week and as I consider the potentially serious, even fatal, side effects, I am drawn to one of the last songs that Freddy Mercury recorded. The song is The Show Must Go which he co-wrote with Brian May. As Mercury sings of his determination to continue to go on despite the pain and sorrow, I am struck with the mix of hope and resignation contained in the lyrics. He knows that much of what he is going through is quite beyond his control, but he will not let it control him. The lyrics express his desire that everything that he finds valuable not collapse at his death; his friends, his bandmates, his work.

The song itself is achingly beautiful, filled with emotion as only a dying man could sing. "I have to find the will to carry on. On with the show. The song must go on," are his final words.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I know that, unlike Freddy Mercury, my survival does not depend on chance or solely on my own will power but on the grace of God. I do not go through this alone. I go with the presence of the living God, the God suffers with His people and upholds them with His right hand. I have witnessed His faithfulness in the lives of His persecuted sons and daughters in countries around the world. I know that the God who is with them is the same God who is with me. And I know that He is more concerned than I am about the future of anything and anyone that I might be called upon to leave behind.

So, on with the show. The show must go on!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Best Practices for Cross-cultural Visits to Restricted Nations

On Friday, senior staff of The Voice of the Martyrs Canada and our sister mission, Release International (based in the U.K.) met together to discuss the vital issue of best practices for our staff when they visit Christians in restricted nations. It was an incredibly valuable meeting. By the end of the day, we came up with a code of best practice consisting of fourteen separate statements that addressed such topics as the need for thorough briefings before the trip,to how to be good guests when in country, to the need for deliberate debriefing upon returning. I look forward to sharing some of them with you once we have agreed upon the final wording, which should come shortly (so watch this page in the coming days). I am encouraged that we are taking seriously the need to act maturely when we are abroad, something that is sometimes lacking by those who travel to minister to the persecuted church (even those who have done it for years). It is our hope that this code of best practices will provide guidelines that will enable our staff to serve the persecuted without inadvertently doing harm to them through carelessness or lack of foresight.

This is probably the first of a number of discussions that RI and VOMC will be having in the coming years on important issues of practice and policy. We are recognizing that we need to continue to hone our skills and think through how we conduct the ministry that God has entrusted to us. We dare not think that we are past the need to learn and change. This would be the height of arrogance. Ken Blanchard in his newest (and, I believe, most important) book, Leading at a Higher Level notes that one of the characteristics of a good servant leader is the need to reinvent continually at both a personal and an organizational level.

I am under no illusions that this code that we have come up with is perfect and that it will not need to tinkered with in the years to come. This is an important first step, however; a step that few other organizations that work with the persecuted have, to the best of my knowledge, deliberately undertaken

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Leader as Model

Philip. 3:17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

1 Thes. 1:6-7 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.

2 Thes. 3:9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.

1 Tim. 4:12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.

One of the primary characteristics of a leader is that of setting an example; providing a model for others to follow. This seems to elude many leaders today. There seems to be a perception amoung many leaders that I have observed that they are somehow above the rest of the pack; that organizational policies and practices do not apply to them in the same way that they apply to, for example, an entry level employee. They give themselves far greater latitude in the implementation of regulatory procedures, occasionally treating them more like suggestions and guidelines than actually applicable to them at all times and in all situations. There is the perception that rules can be bent or even ignored if they prove to be too inconvenient.

This, of course, has led to the fall of many top executives in recent years as financial irregularities, misleading reporting or abuse of privilege and position are revealed, resulting in not only the leader being discredited but the entire organization.

I believe that the problems start, however, when leaders forget that their role is to consistently model the policies and values of an organization. They should not have to be reminded of what they are.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Grappling the Great Paradoxes

This week, as I was finishing up some of my school studies, I noticed how often the word "paradox" came up. A simple definition for "paradox" is "a self-contradictory and false proposition." Well, that's the simplest one that I've found so far, anyways. Other than that, the only way I can think to describe a paradox is "the thing that often makes my brain hurt." Pretty scholarly definition huh? Seriously though, a paradox is one of the most difficult concepts for the human mind to grasp. By definition, it is a contradiction---something that doesn't make logical or rational sense and instead turns human logic on its head.

Even though the paradoxes that I've been dealing with lately have been mostly theoretical, such as those that are found in a short story or a poem, human life is riddled with them. And so is the Christian faith. The main paradox is, of course, the foundation for our faith in Jesus Christ as Savior: that he gives us the gift of eternal life only by way of his death on the cross.

In the well known verse of Matthew 16:25, Jesus explains what this paradox means for believers when he says "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." These are not easy words for anyone to hear. For those who live for Christ, they are words of supreme comfort, but they are also words which demonstrate that the Christian life will be one of constant struggle, where our very life will be a sacrifice. They are also words that acknowledge the tragedy that all those who seek salvation without Christ, instead of through Him, will be lost.

I recently came across an excellent article on entitled "Obstacles to the Eternal Life of Muslims", which addresses the paradox that is robbing Muslim believers of their life in Christ. Even though modern society seems to think that the words "hate" and "tolerance" are diametric opposites, this article effectively articulates how both of these responses to Islam obstruct a Muslim's path to eternal life.

It's a bit too long to post here, but I encourage you to read it. It is but one example of how necessary it is for us to grapple with the paradoxes that arise during our walk with the Lord. We have to think about these paradoxes--we have to write about them, talk about them and yes, even argue about them. Because even though these paradoxes might seem overwhelming--even though they might cause our head to hurt or our heart to ache--we are can still fully trust in the Lord. For him there are no uncertanities, limitations or "obstacles." There is only truth and life.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Countdown to Transplant Begins

As many of you know, I will soon be undergoing a stem-cell transplant in my continued fight with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Presently, I am scheduled for the transplant for December 20 if everything goes well, which so far it has. Tomorrow I go for pre-transplant assessment tests at Princess Margaret Hospital in downtown Toronto. I would ask for your prayers as I go though the various tests ranging from a dental exam to a bone marrow test and several in between. It will be a busy day.

I am happy to report that my brother Jin successfully underwent the stem cell collection today. I am grateful to Jim for his willingness to sacrifice time away from his family and computer business back in Alberta to provide this gift for me without any hesitation. I am really humbled and touched by his generosity and love.

I would specifically like to ask that you would pray for my eyes right now. For a number of weeks, I have been fighting with infections and dryness in both of my eyes. Besides the irritation, the constant blurriness makes it hard for me to read and to drive a car. I will likely need to get this under control before I start my intensive chemotherapy next week and so your prayers that this infection would clear up would be greatly appreciated. I do apologize for any spelling or typing errors that may creep into these weblogs; at times I find it almost impossible even see the computer screen.

Thank you to each of you who pray for me on a regular basis. I am always hesitant to post these, as this weblog is intended to focus on the persecuted church around the world. But many of you have urged me to keep you informed on how things are going in my life and this seems to be the best forum to do this. It is profoundly moving to me to be told by believers around the world, many in restricted nations how they pray for me daily. I know that I have done nothing to deserve such acts of grace and love. But it reminds how truly we are one church, upholding each others in arms of love. I am learning what it means to receive love and concern; not always an easy feat for someone who is accustomed to giving and motivating others to give of themselves to those in need because of their faith. It really touches me how, just as I have urged you for the past nine years to pray for the persecuted, Christians across Canada and around the world are now blessing me by praying for me during this time of need. What a concrete expression of what it means to be the family of God.

Islamic Court in Somalia Degrees "Pray Five Times a Day or Lose Your Head"

Associated Press reported today that an Islamic court in Bulo Burto (a southern Somalia town about 124 miles northwest of the capital, Mogadishu) has decreed that, starting three days from now, residents of the town who do not pray five times a day will be beheaded. Sheik Hussein Barre Rage, the chairman of the town's Islamic court, told AP by phone, that those who do not follow this edict "will definitely be beheaded according to Islamic law. As Muslims, we should practice Islam fully, not in part, and that is what our religion enjoins us to do."

The decision is not binding on courts in other towns, but it does provide a glimpse into the type of Islam that is being forced upon the people of Somalia by the Council Islamic Courts who are seeking to wrest control of the entire country. There is still a degree of confusion as Islamic law is being applied in the country. As AP noted, the Islamic courts have made varying interpretations, some applying a more strict and radical version of Islamic law than others. As a result of such disparate variations, residents in the capital of Mogadishu complained, forcing the Council of Islamic Courts officials in October to set up an appeals court with better-educated judges.

Of course, such rulings as in Bulo Bruto do not take into account those who are not Muslims. Christians in Somalia are an endangered minority. Please remember them in prayer during these uncertain days.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Video of Jimma Persecution Available

On the weekend of October 14-15, five Christians were killed in the city of Jimma, Ethiopia as a result of attacks against Christians by local Muslims. In the weeks that followed, pictures and video footage of the aftermath slowly trickled out of the country. Possessing them can lead to arrest by Ethiopian authorities who are trying to downplay the incident in the name of keeping the peace.

The Voice of the Martyrs was able to secure a 30 minute video taken in Jimma immediately following the attacks. You can view it online starting today on VOMC's multimedia website Please note, however, that the video contains some rather graphic footage and is not of the highest quality. The dialogue is also in Amharic. However, we believe that this is very important footage that the world needs to see.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Rick Warren in His Own Words

"Syria's a place that has Muslims and Christians living together for 1,400 years. So it's a lot more peaceful, honestly, than a lot of other places because Christians were here first.

"In fact, you know Saul of Tarsus - Saul was a Syrian. St. Paul, on the road to Damascus, had his conversion experience and so Christians have been here the longest, and they get along with the Muslims and the Muslims get along with them. There's a lot less tension than in other places.

"It's a moderate country, and the official government rule and position is to not allow any extremism of any kind."

When I first heard these words, I was stunned. But they do support my assertion from a few days ago that Rick Warren has moved far beyond his area of expertise when he makes pronouncements about the situation facing Christians in restricted nations. For you see, these words are the exact words that Rick Warren gave in a video produced by his church and posted on YouTube before being quickly pulled down when it became public. I can see why they were taken offline. Warren has been claiming that his statements were misquoted by the Syrians. But these are his own words, virtually the same as the ones he claims were misquotes and released by his own church. They demonstrate his incredible naïveté, his ignorance of the situation facing Christians in the Middle East and some rather questionable biblical knowledge.

First, Paul was not a Syrian and never was. Tarsus was never part of Syria but was a city in the neighboring Roman province of Cilicia (part of present day Turkey). This is not mere quibbling; this is part of his argument that Christians were in Syria first.

Second, his assertion that Muslims get along with Christians and Christians with Muslims may be somewhat true, but it is worth remembering that this "getting along" is not one of two equal parties co-existing. Christians in Muslims countries, including Syria, have survived for centuries by accepting the second-class status known in Islam as "dhimmi." It is not an exaggeration to compare dhimmitude to apartheid. Imagine if Warren, had he been traveling in the 1970's, would have said about South Africa "Blacks have been here the longest, and they get along with the whites and the whites get along with them. There's a lot less tension than in other places in Africa."

Thirdly, his assertion that Syria is a moderate country is only accurate if one says that it is religiously moderate. It is true that Syria does not persecute Christians like, say, Iran or Saudi Arabia. If Christians do not evangelize Muslims and mind their own business, they can get usually along without incurring too much overt persecution. But remember that Syria is a leading centre of world terrorism today. Not even Saddam Hussein's regime was so accepting of Islamic terrorists and these folks have definite anti-Christian sentimentalities. Hardly moderation by any meaningful definition of the word. Whether you do the killing yourself or support those who do, Christians still die.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Good-bye Karen

On Friday, we say good-bye to someone whom I have come to respect a great deal here at The Voice of the Martyrs. Karen Morgan will be leaving us after almost ten years of faithful ministry. She will be sorely missed.

Karen's contributions to the mission have been manifold. She started out as our receptionist in 1997 and ended up being the responsible for the entire layout of our monthly newsletter. One thing we could always count on with Karen; excellence! In fact, she exemplified our value of pursuing excellence. You never had to worry that Karen would do a mediocre job of whatever she was asked to do. She would quietly and faithfully carry out her responsibilities in such a way that it was easy to take her for granted. I don't think we did though; we knew just how valuable Karen was to the ministry of The Voice of the Martyrs.

I am grateful for the opportunity of having served with her for the past 9+ years. Karen was an integral part of the changes that took place here at the mission that have seen us grow the way we have. I am grateful for having gotten to know her better over the past few years. I have learned to greatly respect her for her warmth and stability of character.

She cannot be replaced.

Thank you, Karen, for having been a vital part of the VOMC family. We wish you God's richest blessing in whatever He leads you to in the years to come. We know that you will be blessing wherever you go and whatever you do.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

What Are You Thinking, Mr. Warren?

What are thinking, Rick Warren? First, since earlier this year, you seem to have this simplistic notion that you are going to be able to go to North Korea where you are going to be allowed to freely preach the gospel in this totalitarian country and that its oppressed people are really going to be able to hear, understand and accept your message without severe consequences. You completely fail to recognize that totalitarian regimes just love naïve preachers who are willing to be used for propaganda purposes just so long as they get to preach to big crowds and take lots of pictures and video. Then a couple of weeks ago, you toured Syria where, in a videotape released by your own church, then subsequently withdrawn from YouTube, you announced that Syria does not countenance "extremism" and is worthy of praise for its protection of Christians and Jews.

It seems to me long past time that you recognize the limits of your expertise. Being a best-selling author of a motivational book (however good it may be) does not automatically qualify you to be a foreign diplomat. Your faux pas', however well-intentioned, cannot ignored or excused, especially when you mishandle the facts in your dealing with religious restrictive nations.

In a recent message to your congregation, you wrote, "Friends, I am aware that inaccuracies, misquotes, and misperceived motivations get reported about me in the press daily. Most of the time, I just ignore them. Jesus said, 'If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.' (John 15:18 - NCV)."

I am sorry, Mr. Warren, but you are not being persecuted. You are being criticized by fellow Christians who love the Lord and His people for comments that you keep making which demonstrate just how seemingly naïve you are being. Some of us actually like your books. To be sure, you are being misquoted, but by enemies of the gospel like Syria whose job you make so easy with press releases that praise the rights that Christians supposedly have. But they are not persecuting you. They love folks like you and I am sure would welcome you back to Damascus at any time. Jesus said that we were to be as innocent as doves and as wise as serpents. You have the dove part down pretty solidly. You seem reluctant, however, to embrace the role of the wise serpent.

Not Dodging the Ball

As many of you know, I have been fighting cancer for the last four years. I have come to the point now where my best course of action is a stem cell transplant. I meet the criteria of being: 1) in reasonably good health, 2) having a suitable donor, 3) still responsive to chemotherapy. Hence, this past week, the specialist team at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto scheduled me for a transplant on December 20. I will be checking into the hospital on the 16th after four days of extensive chemotherapy as a conditioning process. This conditioning and the transplant will both be hard and potentially life threatening and I confess to a degree of fear as I contemplate the various side effects and potential complications that could arise. I know that it is important that I and my family go into this with our eyes wide open. But for a few hours early last Thursday morning, I seriously contemplated running away from it all. I could not face it.

I woke up at 4:00 am, thinking about what I am about to face and I was scared. I logged onto Google and typed in the sentence "Is it worth it" along with the phrases "stem cell transplant" and "CLL". Finding no hits, I logged onto the Mayo clinic site and read through one of the more helpful discussions on the subject. But reading through such potential complications as graft-versus-host disease, stem cell (graft) failure, organ damage, blood vessel damage, cataracts, secondary cancers, and death, brought no encouragement. I am a man who thrives on information but mere facts only increased my anxiety.

A few weeks ago, my grandfather passed away. While we were not especially close, some of my fondest memories with him involved long hours of tossing a baseball back and forth when I was younger. This was no casual game of catch. Grandpa had a strong arm and threw the ball hard and straight at me. At first, I would try to scoot off to the side and catch the ball away from my body in fear of getting hit by the ball if I missed it. Grandpa would have none of that. "Get in front of the ball," he would tell me. "That way if you miss, you can still pick up the ball when it hits you."

He was right, of course. And I followed his instructions.

I was never a very good ball player. We never practiced batting. And my throwing arm never became as accurate or as strong as I would have liked. But I did learn how to catch and how to catch very, very well. One of my prize possessions is the grass-stained and scuffed up baseball that we played with for so many years, which my grandfather gave me earlier this year. Today it sits on my office desk at The Voice of the Martyrs.

Why am I mentioning this? Because, like catching a baseball, it seems to me that life's problems cannot be handled by trying to dodge out of the way and catching the solution as it flies off to the side. I have learned that you need to take on life's challenges head-on, even it means that they hit you hard. But running away is not an option. As a Christian, I have the assurance that Christ stands with me in whatever situation I am called to. There is no God-forsaken place for the Christian; not even an isolation room in a transplant ward.

I do covet your prayers in the coming weeks. Pray that the conditioning process will be successful and without complications. Pray that my health will remain strong in the weeks leading up to mid-December. And pray for my family as we anticipate a Christmas season with Dad in the hospital. I am so grateful for the support of my wife and children. May God continue to hold them in His hand.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving, Freedom & The Persecuted Church

Slowly the pastor made his way to the pulpit to conclude a service where I had shared concerning the reality of Christian persecution today, testimonies of the faithfulness of the Suffering Church, and the responsibility that Canadian Christians have to stand together with them in their affliction. But as he opened his mouth, I was saddened to realize that, despite all my efforts, this dear man of God had completely missed the point of the message. Thanking me for coming, he then suggested that the congregation spend a few minutes thanking God for the freedoms that we enjoy in Canada since it was obvious that so many around the world cannot worship freely as we do.

This incident was not unique. Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. In Canada, our celebration takes place on the second Sunday of October. Regardless of the date or the country, I am sure that many of us pray such a prayer as we gather together as friends and families or during Thanksgiving services and/or family celebrations.

Indeed, this type of prayer of gratitude tends to be the standard ending to many of meetings where our staff are asked to speak. How many of us haven't prayed a similar prayer at one time or another? It seems to be a particularly suitable prayer when we consider what we were thankful to God for. The issue of religious freedom inevitably comes up, and the prayer is spoken, "Thank you, Lord, for our freedoms, for we know that there are many around the world who don't have them. Thank you that we don't have to meet in secret like so many do." And with that we barely give a second thought about the very people to whom we were comparing ourselves.

Let me state it plainly. If your first and primary response to the Persecuted Church is to feel grateful for the freedoms we enjoy in this country then, like me, you have probably missed the whole point of what God wants to say to you through the testimony of His Suffering Church. Simply put, the Persecuted Church does not exist so that we can feel grateful, and they deserve to be more than a prayer item or sermon illustration designed primarily to elicit thanksgiving.

I recall the first time I began to have misgivings about the appropriateness of responding to reports of persecution by giving thanks for our freedoms. It was after I returned from a week of ministry in Colombia in 1999, when I was privileged to meet a number of courageous believers who are putting their lives on the line for Jesus Christ. In the six months previous to my visit, more than 25 evangelical pastors had been killed and up to 300 churches destroyed by leftist guerrilla groups in Colombia. Satanists had killed other pastors. While there, I met with the families of 180 Christians who had been kidnapped on May 30, 1999, by ELN, one of the country's main Marxist guerrilla groups. The ELN had attacked the church where they were praying and took the entire congregation hostage. With tears in their eyes, the families of those held hostage begged for our help in alerting the world to the plight of their loved ones and were grateful when we prayed for them before we left.

Hearing of the suffering of these people, I thought to myself, what should we do? Offer a prayer of thanksgiving that we don't live there? Do I really believe that this is what God calls for? Is this really the best we can do?

Isn't it ironic that whereas the early church thanked God for the privilege of suffering for Him, we thank God for the privilege of not suffering for Him? And whereas Jesus called those who are persecuted "blessed", we say that the blessed are those who are protected from persecution? Something is amiss here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Parents of Beheaded Girls Forgive Killers

I have been doing a lot of thinking about forgiveness lately since putting together the December edition of The Voice of the Martyrs' Newsletter which focuses on the theme. To forgive someone who has killed your loved one for no other reason than that he or she is a Christian can only be the result of the work of God's Spirit. On October 27, I wrote a blog on the subject, which you may want to take a look at, if you have not already done so.

AsiaNews released a story today of how the parents of the three girls who were beheaded in Indonesia on October 29, 2005 have forgiven the killers of their daughters. I hope that you are as touched by this act as I was.

Poso (AsiaNews) - The parents of three Christian girls who were beheaded last year in Poso, central Sulawesi, have forgiven their daughters' executioners. Yesterday, Indonesian police organized a meeting between families of the victims and the three terrorists now on trial. Hasanuddin, who organized the triple murder, repeatedly said he had repented and expressed his profound sorrow together with his two accomplices, Irwanto and Haris.

In tears, the mother of one of the girls said she was ready to pardon them. The Islamic militants and Christian families embraced and shook hands as a sign of peace.

The police spokesman said "the meeting of Poso has no political ends other than to promote harmony" and the forces of order had merely facilitated the encounter. The police chief Sutanto described the meeting as a "historic moment" when the victims and murderers could "exchange their deepest feelings and seek to forgive."

Indonesia's vice president Jusuf Kalla, said he hoped yesterday's meeting would be "an opportunity to bring peace to Poso".

On October 29, 2005, four Christian schoolgirls, all around 15 years of age, were walking home. Three were assaulted and beheaded by men using machetes near the Gebang Rejo area in Poso. The case repulsed public opinion and was strongly condemned by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Benedict XVI.

Hasanuddin, Irwanto and Haris have pleaded guilty to their part in their killings and could be condemned to death. The accused men said they attacked the young girls to avenge the death of many Muslims during inter-faith clashes in Poso between 1998 and 2001.

The question I am forced to ask myself after reading this story is, "Could I do the same as these parents if my daughter was slaughtered so senselessly and brutally?" Could you?

Building Strong and Straight

The following is the speech given by Glenn Penner at the November 19 banquet in Mississauga, Ontario celebrating Klaas and Nellie Brobbel's 35 years of service to the Persecuted Church.

Mark Twain once said, "It is by the goodness of God that in (the United States) we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them."

By this time in a banquet following a number of other speakers, these are certainly words that one should keep in mind. There is probably not much that I could add to what has already been said anyway. And so, I will attempt to show the prudence that Twain spoke of and limit my freedom of speech during the time given to me tonight.

Prior to joining The Voice of the Martyrs, I spend almost three years building concrete basements, mostly for residential homes. Building basements is dirty, hard work. There is nothing glamorous about it and is largely unappreciated; no one compliments a home owner on the beauty of their basement). And when the job is done, it is covered up so that no one can see it.

But the basement is essential to the stability of a home. Everything gets built off of a basement. If a basement is not level or out of square, the construction of the rest of the home will be adversely affected. Everything will be off.

I grew up on a farm in Alberta. My dad would work construction in the winter to pay for his bad habit of farming. Making sure that things were square to the world was a passion of his. Nothing annoyed him more than if something was crooked.

One summer, our neighbour across the road built a new house. And wouldn't you know it, it was just slightly out of alignment with the rest of the world. It drove my father crazy every time he had to look down the lane and see it.

It was just off by a few degrees but it looked odd from a distance and reflected poorly on the builder, the surveyor, and the owner. And it started with the basement. They didn't lay the foundation straight and the whole house looked bad as a result.

For many years, Klaas and Nellie laboured long and hard to build the foundation, the basement, for what would become The Voice of the Martyrs today. It has been hard work; not very glamorous and often unappreciated. Not many may know the name of the Brobbels across this country. They have been most comfortable working in the background and letting others get the credit for when something goes right.

But they have set a building in place with a solid, straight foundation.

Ten years ago, they stood in an empty building on Timberlead Blvd., just the two of them, wondering if the mission would survive. It has survived and not only that; it is thriving.

It has been my honour to work with these two builders for the past 9+ years. And to be entrusted with the task of building off of their foundation as the new Chief Executive Officer is a privilege and a God-given responsibility that I take very seriously.

I was warned by Nellie when I first joined the mission that this kind of work would become an all encompassing life obsession. She is right. I cannot imagine ever doing anything other than serving the persecuted church.

This is God's call upon my life and I am honoured to be able to continue the legacy of the Brobbels. With Klaas, we retire the title of Executive Director and I am glad that I will not have to take that title. It will always be associated with Klaas and Nellie in my mind.

But my dedication to continuing the work of The Voice of the Martyrs is no less than theirs. Like Elisha picking up the mantle of Elijah, I will continue the ministry that Klaas began, asking God for a double portion of the Spirit which he possessed.

Yes, there are differences between us. I am a different kind of leader than Klaas is. The mission is larger now than when he began and the world we face is not the same one he faced when he started. Then, the might of Soviet Communism threatened world peace and the faith of believers everywhere. Today, the threat of militant jihadism threatens world peace and the faith of believers is threatened on many sides, many religious, others secular. The ministry of The Voice of the Martyrs will continue to adapt to the changing needs of the persecuted church in a changing world, just as it has adapted over the past 40 years.

We have learned that how we served the persecuted church 40, 30, 20, even 10 years ago is the best way to do so today. Some mistakes have been made. New ones are yet to be made. But this is how one learns, if one is willing to learn. Klaas and Nellie have demonstrated that kind of willingness. That willingness to learn is part of the foundation of The Voice of the Martyrs Canada today.

I covet your prayers as I pick up Klaas' mantle and seek to wisely lead this incredible and talented team that God has assembled. We dare not live in the past, for victory can contain the seeds for future defeats if we are not careful. But we do know that the God that led Klaas and Nellie is the same God who leads us today. And this gives us grounds for confidence.

The thing to remember is that that the future comes one day at a time, as we walk faithfully and humbly with our God, staying true to our mission and values.

Klaas, Nellie, thank you for your years of service to the Persecuted Church. Thank you for your example of sacrificial servanthood.

And thank you for the fact, that I know that for as long as you live, this mission will be on your hearts and minds and that you will NEVER stop praying for us.

May God bless you both.

Monday, November 20, 2006

From Blindness to Sight

One passage in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, a book of creative nonfiction by Christian Annie Dillard, tells the real life stories of people who are born blind but have their vision surgically restored through cataract surgery (I actually found the whole passage online and encourage you to read it here). The experiences of these newly sighted individuals got me thinking about people who convert to Christianity after being raised as non-believers, since a number of persecution stories contain conversion experiences. I was also reminded that all Christians, old and new, are forever battling against spiritual blindness, because sometimes it seems easier and simpler to remain in the dark rather than deal with the challenges posed by the light.

What is so surprising about Dillard's description of people who go from blindness to sight is that they do not always respond positively to their new vision. To their untrained eyes, reality is utterly unrecognizable and so can be terrifying. Their mind can't immediately process the colours, shapes and forms and the sheer "bigness" of the world is overwhelming. Dillard quotes one doctor who says that "it oppresses [the newly sighted] to realize, if they ever do at all, the tremendous size of the world, which they had previously conceived of as something touchingly manageable." I suppose it would be something like finding out that there really are millions of other planets out there brimming with life and civilization. Suddenly we would all feel crushingly small against the vastness and foreignness of the world.

Dillard's descriptions shatter all of my idealistic illusions and assumptions about how blind people respond to the gift of sight. I always pictured them reacting with endless joy and gratitude, not depression and shock. In fact, as Dillard describes, a number of the newly sighted go so far as to reject their newfound vision. They deliberately go through life with their eyes shut because it is what feels safe, comfortable, normal and, well, "right."

Not all of the newly sighted have such negative reactions to their sight. Some do take immediate delight in their new sight or, at least, come use it with time. However, even if the experience of new vision isn't always tragic, it is always dramatic. As doctor says, the experience is a "rapid and complete loss of that striking and wonderful serenity which is characteristic only of those who have never yet seen". New vision necessities a complete change of life.

What would it be like to go from complete blackness to the seeing world? I can't even imagine! But these stories at least make me certain that it would take a lot of effort, patience and support to make the transition. I certainly would not be able to do it alone---I would need others to, to guide me, to teach me and, of course, to pray for me.

This same level of support is needed for those who go from living without Christ's "light" to accepting Him as their personal Saviour. I often forget just how incredibly jarring and overwhelming it must be for those who convert to Christianity after years of being completely with faith. Since I was born into a Christian home, I don't know what it's like to encounter the Christian faith from a completely foreign perspective. From birth, I've been told that His "light" was there, I just had to choose how I was going to respond to it. There are some people, however, who come to Christ the same way the blind come to sight. Their truths, their beliefs, their perceptions---everything that they once knew changes. And even if this new reality is beautiful, the adjustment can't be immediate or easy. I can completely understand why some might be tempted to "shut their eyes" and just go back to what is familiar, especially if they are in areas of persecution.

A conversion to Christianity is certainly a cause for celebration and joy. However, we also need to remember that, even after the "Hallelujah! Christ is Lord," there is much work to be done. Although God is at work in the hearts of new believers, Satan is also at working to lure them back into the darkness of doubt and disbelief. When a nonbeliever accepts Christ, it does not mean that the work of the Church is finished. Really, it is has just begun, because it can finally take its true shape and role in the person's life.

God calls us to properly equip new believers for their life of faith by instructing them in God's word, teaching them ministry skills and reminding them that they belong to a communal body of believers. In the work of VOMC, I see this calling being answered in our projects that have an emphasis on training persecuted Christians in biblical theology, leadership skills and methods of evangelism. We have a responsibility not to let new believers be forgotten or unprepared.

But it's not just new believers, of course, who need to be in a constant state of learning and training. We are all constantly learning how to "see." Romans 20:19-21a makes this clear when it says ""if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth---you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself?" All Christians must strive to be alert, focused and prepared.

In this life, no man will never be able to fully see God's face; we can only see "through a glass darkly" (1 Corinthians 13:2). But, nonetheless, the Lord requires us to keep straining our eyes toward Him. If we fail to do so out of fear, we could face the same tragedy as those who literally go from blindness to sight. And the last thing that the Lord wants is for His children to "laps[e] into apathy and despair." We cannot do His work if we are stumbling around with our eyes closed---living without faith and trading the glory of the His light for the empty serenity of the dark.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Very Busy Week

I want to apologize for not doing much blogging this week. It has been extremely busy here at the mission this week. Of course, it didn't help that I was in the hospital until Wednesday. My hemoglobin and neutraphil levels struggled to get to a level that I could finally be discharged safely on Wednesday morning, but I am still feeling a little dizzy and run down. This makes it hard for me to concentrate enough to write anything legible down.

But we have also been having all kinds of guests and meetings here at the VOMC headquarters this week. We had our monthly Executive Team Meeting on Thursday, which I always look forward to. To lead this group as we meet together for the day, praying and discussing the issues facing our mission and looking ahead to the future is a real honour. The unity we have is incredible and I praise God for each of them.

Then our Board of Directors met yesterday and I was invited to join them for their meeting, as this is the last one that they will be having before I become the Chief Executive Officer of VOMC and Klaas steps down as Executive Director in January. This was, thus, a transitional meeting and very meaningful. Again, I was struck by the unity evident amoung the leaders of our mission. The Voice of the Martyrs is a mission built on a solid foundation and our supporters have very reason to be confident as we move into the future.

Also, we have guests arriving from around the world for Klaas and Nellie Brobbel's retirement banquet tonight. I had the privilege of two of my colleagues from our sister mission in Germany out for dinner last night. I was thrilled to hear of what they are doing in Syria amoung Christian refugees from Iraq fleeing persecution from their Muslim neighbours. I am hopeful that we will be able to join with them in this in the coming days. This is an answer to prayer for me, personally, as God placed a burden on my heart for these Iraqi refugees a year ago which, until now, I have been unable to act upon. God may be opening a way.

I would ask for your prayers. I am feeling a little fragile in regards to my health. Pray that God would sustain me during these busy, exciting days.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Theology of Persecution is Necessary for a Healthy Body

I have learned a lot about the human immune system since my own has taken a bit of a beating over the past few years as a result of cancer and chemotherapy (there are times when I think the latter is the harder to live with). Neutrophils are one of these things that I have become very aware of. They are the most abundant type of white blood cells and form an integral part of the immune system. A low count, called "neutropenia", makes one very susceptible to infection.

This is what I am battling right now and why I am in the hospital in reverse isolation. When I was booked into the hospital on Friday, my neutraphil count was 0 (2.5-7.5x10^9/L is normal). Yup, ZERO. Hence, but by the grace of God, I could have picked up virtually anything and had very little to fight it off.

This got me thinking last night. Why does the North American church need the message of the Persecuted Church? In many ways, I believe that the message of persecution in the context of discipleship serves the role in the Body of Christ that neutraphils serve in the human body. Like neutraphils, persecution is common in the Body of Christ. Today, far more Christians face daily persecution than those who do not. The biblical theology of persecution (or diogmology) provides immunity against infections that can harm the Body; teachings like it is always God's will that one be healthy and wealthy and that no harm can come to you if you have enough faith. The understanding that the disciples is called to a lifestyle of suffering, sacrifice, and shame (even to the point of death) in order to accomplish the purposes of the Kingdom of God provides a balance and a context to the other promises of God's Word which, viewed in isolation, can lead to a unhealthy realized eschatology so common in today's western church. Don't get me wrong; I do believe in healing and I do believe that God supplies our needs but I refuse to see these promises apart from the widespread teaching in the Bible regarding persecution for the sake of Christ.

To Preach or Not to Preach, That is the Question

Well, it's another Sunday morning in the hospital. On Friday, I woke up feeling weak and dizzy and so, after a short meeting at the office, I went to the cancer clinic where they determined that my immune system had tanked again (just like a month ago) and they checked into the hospital....again.

I was supposed to speak at a church this morning here in Mississauga for IDOP but that, of course, had to cancelled. I hate it when I have to cancel things, especially as it seems that I have had to call off so much in the last two months. But this is the first time that I have had to cancel a speaking engagement only a day or two ahead of time. Usually, I have been able to find someone else to do it, or reschedule. It's starting to feel like I shouldn't schedule anything at all. At least then I wouldn't have to cancel.

Next week, I am supposed to speak at a church in Alliston. Pray that I would have the wisdom to know whether to go ahead with this booking or have my colleague, Bernie Daniel take it.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Efficacy of Prayer

Yesterday, just a few days before the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, I came upon C.S. Lewis' essay "The Efficacy of Prayer," which I feel asks some important questions and offers some valuable insights about the nature and purpose of prayer.

As usual, Lewis' wrestles with issues of faith by asking questions instead of offering immediate or easy answers. His main question in this essay is "Why do we pray?"---which connects to questions such as "What good are our prayers, anyway?" and "What do prayers change?" Here are a few of his thoughts on the subject:

Can we believe that God ever really modifies His action in response to the suggestions of men? For infinite wisdom does not need telling what is best, and infinite goodness needs no urging to do it. But neither does God need any of those things that are done by finite agents, whether living or inanimate. He could, if He chose, repair our bodies miraculously without food; or give us food without the aid of farmers, bakers, and butchers, or knowledge without the aid of learned men; or convert the heathen without missionaries. Instead, He allows soils and weather and animals and the muscles, minds, and wills of men to cooperate in the execution of His will.

Prayer, implies Lewis, is not an activity that we perform in order to change God's will, but a way for us to submit to it. So, when we gather together and pray for the persecuted, we are not praying that God change his will for the lives of our brothers and sisters who are suffering for their faith. To do so would imply that we don't believe that their suffering is in accordance with His ultimate plan of redeeming mankind. Instead, prayer is a way for us to acknowledge that every life in the hands of a Lord that is wholly good, loving and divine. His mind is not one that can or should be altered by our suggestions and pleas. If it could be changed---if God acted according to our will---what need would we have for Him at all? And why would believers choose to sacrifice their lives for Him? Wouldn't all Christians be able to just sit back, safe from harm, and simply use our prayers to convince him that all of this persecution business wasn't really necessary?

Prayer is not about changing God, it is about His changing us---His helping us to see past our human perceptions and impulses. Although the story of a believer beaten or tortured for his or her faith might compel us to cry out to the Lord for this suffering to cease, He asks for us to also pray that, even if it endures, we will have the strength to entrust it to His purpose. Likewise, He calls on us to pray that the victim will also experience this strength and trust in Him.

The human life is made up of actions, and the Christian life is characterized by a commitment to make all actions reflect our faith. Lewis emphasizes that prayer is an action--- it is a deliberate deed, a movement, a response. It is done because it has an effect. "It is not really stranger, nor less strange," he says "that my prayers should affect the course of events than that my other actions should do so. They have not advised or changed God's mind --- that is, His overall purpose. But that purpose will be realized in different ways according to the actions, including the prayers, of His creatures."

When we pray, just as when we commit any other action in faith, we are always affected. We are blessed; our lives are filled with more joy, more peace and more hope than they would be if our actions had another purpose. Prayer helps us to know love as it's meant to be known, receive grace as it's meant to be received and, by doing so, teaches us to give both of these things as they are meant to be given. It enables us to connect our actions with God's overall purpose, which is to redeem us and make us holy.

This Sunday, I hope that those who say a prayer for the persecuted will come away feeling assured in God's purpose. May the act of prayer lead many believers to a fuller realization of God's will for their lives, for the lives of the persecuted and for the life of Christ's Church as a worldwide whole.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


From the World Evangelical Alliance International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (

‘I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies.' (Psalm 18:1-3 NIV)

O Lord our deliverer, deliver us from evil.

Sovereign Holy God, we marvel at your work amongst the nations and we trust you. As we bring our requests to you, please forgive our sins, overlook our weaknesses and hear and answer our prayers for the sake of your Kingdom and glory.

We pray today for our brothers and sisters who live with sadness, trauma and fear; and who live with daily hardship, discrimination and persecution because they have taken your name and are Christians in a world that hates Christ.

We bring before you our persecuted brothers and sisters whose lives and security are daily under threat. We bring before you especially those who are imprisoned and those who are branded ‘apostate' and sentenced to death because they have turned to Jesus.

Lord our deliverer, deliver them from evil.

We bring before you our persecuted brothers and sisters whose lives have been shattered by religious repression, violent religious hatred and jihad, as they now face the daily struggle to maintain faith, hope and grace to forgive, as Satan attacks their hearts and minds.

Lord our deliverer, strengthen their faith and deliver them from evil.

We bring before you those who through ignorance, blindness, demonic interference and sin have set themselves against your Church, and yet are merely sinners in need of the Saviour.

Lord our deliverer, convict them of sin and deliver them from evil.

We bring before you all those who profess Christ and yet are soft, luke-warm, un-caring, un-regenerate, fearful or lazy. Lord, may your Spirit awaken, revive, reform and embolden us all to seek and embrace your call upon our lives as ambassadors for Christ, no matter what the personal cost.

Lord our deliverer, forgive us our sins and deliver us from evil.

We pray to you, the only living God, the sovereign Almighty God for whom nothing is impossible. We ask that you the God of Peace (Hebrews 13:2) will intervene in the conflicts in this world. We especially pray that you will ‘frustrate the ways of the wicked' (Psalm 146:9) and disrupt, expose, and destroy terror networks and the illegal trade in weapons and ammunition. Put an end to this trade in death; shatter its foundations and strike its roots; disrupt its progress and starve it in the field, for the sake of your Kingdom and glory.

Lord, may your Spirit embolden and compel your Church to preach the whole gospel. May conviction of sin abound, may righteousness spring up, may persecutors of the Church be transformed into preachers of the gospel (Galatians 1:23), may liberty fill the earth so the sower may overtake the reaper (Amos 9:13), and may all who see it rejoice in the Lord.

We thank you for your grace and mercy.

Deliver us from evil O Lord our deliverer, so we may live to serve you, for the sake of your kingdom and glory.In the name of Jesus. AMEN

Sunday, November 05, 2006

What I Do Know About Helen's Release

I don't know if Helen Berhane's release from detention was the result of an international campaign on her behalf, as Amnesty International is claiming. I don't know if her release is a sign that the Eritrean government is growing more responsive to international pressure. Frankly, I would be surprised. I don't know if this is the first sign of a gradual softening of the Eritrean government towards its evangelical Christian population. I think that this would be saying too much, to be honest; only time will tell.

But I do know that Helen's release was the result of thousands of people praying for her. Since news of her freedom was confirmed on Friday, it has become obvious that this was a woman that many were praying for regularly, if not daily. Helen's release demonstrates that prayer is doing something; it is not that which we do when we have exhausted all other options.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Iranian Church Featured in Latest Persecution Report

The Voice of the Martyrs has just released its latest edition of the Persecution Report. I hope that you have had a chance to watch it. If not, may I encourage you to do so? It is 20 minutes long and filled with information and testimonies that I know you will find helpful in getting to know the Persecuted Church even better. The feature story this month is on the growing church in Iran. It is very exciting to see how God is at work in this restricted nation. Just go to the home page of The Voice of the Martyrs and click on the icon for The Persecution Report. Then tell us how you like it! If you are interested in running the Persecution Report on your website, contact our webmaster for more details.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Shooting Higher than the Moon: Encouragement and Christian Persecution

Encouragement is a subject that people seem to like talking about. They take a lot of pleasure in practicing it and reminding others of its benefits. The web, for example, appears to be a never-ending resource of encouragement-related material. If you search one of the numerous "inspirational quotes" databases on the web, the word "encouragement" yields many results. The quotes range from the short and practical ("Correction does much, but encouragement does more") to the flowery and poetic ("Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars. ")The word also yields many results when you look it up in a dictionary or thesaurus. For example, here are but a few "encouragement" synonyms from Roget's Online Thesaurus: advocacy, aid, cheer, comfort, confidence, consolation, faith, helpfulness, hope, incentive, optimism, reassurance, relief, stimulation, trust. The sheer length of this list testifies to the variety of encouragement methods given and received by people throughout the world.

I am pleased to say that, during the past few months, I have been able to experience the benefits of encouragement on numerous occasions. Since I began working here at VOMC, all of the staff members have been a ceaseless source of encouragement. Likewise, I have been surrounded by a network of encouraging faculty members and fellow students since I began my school studies this August. Without such support, both of these experiences would be far more difficult. In fact, I think I might even have surrendered to my doubts and insecurities by now. Instead, I have been surrounded by people who comfort me, appreciate me and, most importantly, challenge me to serve Christ to the best of my ability.

For me, these experiences have emphasized how powerful encouragement is when it occurs between fellow believers. It also got me thinking about the role that encouragement plays within serving the Persecuted Church. My main question is: "How does the encouragement that we are called to give to persecuted Christians differ from the encouragement that is doled out on poster platitudes and hallmark cards?" I've come up with a few possible characteristics that could help to distinguish "general" encouragement from the encouragement that we offer fellow Christians who are being persecuted for their faith.

The encouragement that we offer Persecuted Christians is not...

  • ... Necessarily synonymous with praise ---- Encouraging persecuted believers doesn't mean showering them with flattery or "buttering them up" with praise. Don't get me wrong, I think that complimenting or commending someone is a completely legitimate form of encouragement. However, I also think that people often forget that praise is not the only form of encouragement. The term "praise" is a tricky synonym. When we say we "praised" someone, it obviously don't mean we offered them the same praise that we offer God. After all, you can praise God, but you can't "encourage" Him; he has no need for our encouragement. So when we encourage a fellow believer we shouldn't be trying to say that the person is ‘better' or ‘holier' than we are. Instead, encouragement between believers is a way to say "You have done well!" It is a way to acknowledge that all good is not accomplished by man alone, but ultimately achieved through God. That's why both the giver and receiver of encouragement can respond to a job well done by exclaiming "Praise the Lord!"

  • ... About establishing power roles ---- In some social environments, such as the workplace or even the classroom, encouragement is something that is offered hierarchically. The person with the most knowledge or authority educates or trains the person "below" them by offering them encouragement. It's a necessary part of the process, but it also inevitably marks one person as "above" the other. If, in the context of Christian Persecution, it would imply that those who give it are always the ones teaching or training those who receive it. While teaching and training can be part of the process of serving the Persecuted Church, it's also very apparent that suffering saints can in fact be the teachers to those of us who are not suffering. Their suffering doesn't make them "weaker" believers. They don't need to our pity or our despair, what they need is our support. They need to know that we don't stand above them; we stand beside them, recognizing that we can both teach them and be taught by them about living in full submission to Christ

  • ...Given because its recipient is failing ---- On a related note, a sufferer's need for encouragement isn't a sign of their failure. Those who remain faithful and steadfast during persecution are, in fact, achieving a remarkable victory. Thus, when we encourage them, we are not encouraging them to get out of their suffering by surrendering their witness, the way we might tell a soldier to get off the battlefield simply because he is wounded or outnumbered. Instead, we are to encourage enduring faithfulness, despite the consequences. This is another way to show them that we stand with them. We can also encourage them to remember that their suffering is speciali---its meaning goes far beyond the human conception of success/failure and demonstrates the paradox of victory through sacrifice

  • ...Always sweet, poetic or flowery ---- This point was inspired by those so-called "inspiring" quotes, such as the call to "shoot for the moon." Sayings like this are certainly clever and can be a lovely way to express yourself. However, even if we might offer persecuted Christians nice sayings like this from time to time, I think we also need to go beyond greeting card sentiment if we want the encouragement to be effective. As much as I love crafting a poetic phrase or a pretty metaphor (and trust me, sometimes I love that just a little too much), I've learned that simple and practical words are also extremely powerful and, in some cases, simply more appropriate. For example, what exactly does it mean to tell an imprisoned Christian to "shoot for the moon"? Are those really the most effective words of encouragement we can offer? Probably not. Offering them a specific message, such as a relevant scripture passage or a personal message that pertains to their situation is more concrete expression of hope and faith and so will likely be a more sustaining form of encouragement.

  • ... Just about the encouraging the individual --- Encouragement is not only beneficial to the individual being persecuted, but it is also essential to the worldwide Church as a whole. The giving and receiving of encouragement in response to Christian persecution is a mutual recognition of the union that believers share as members of one body. This reciprocity stands against the individualistic idea of building one person up simply because he or she needs to live up to personal potential or reach independent success. Christians have the blessing of being able to encourage one another with the knowledge and assurance that they have received through Christ. Both the giving and the receiving are enabled by God's grace. Encouragement is but one of the many tools that God supplies for the building and his Church. It uplifts, bonds and sustains believers and strengthens their witness to nonbelievers. Its primary purpose is to prove that we are never alone in our afflictions.

In order to serve the Persecuted Church, God calls us to more than merely shoot for the visible moon; he asks that we faithfully direct all things heavenwards, so that even our acts of encouragement will reflect our hope in things unseen. Only this hope can truly comfort and sustain the men and women who willingly suffer for their Saviour's sake.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Arming the Persecuted?

Yesterday I received a commentary by Peter BetBasoo via the Assyrian International News Agency with a title that caught my eye - "It Is Time to Arm Iraq's Christians."

The article argues that since the governing authorities in the areas of Iraq where the Assyrian Christians live are not providing protection for them, the international community should provide weapons and training for them so that they can protect themselves. The commentary rightfully documents the numerous attacks on Assyrian Christians aver the past two years and argues that not only should the Assyrians be armed but that they should be given a safe-haven to which Assyrians from all parts of Iraq may seek refuge, just as the Kurds, Sunnis and Shittes have.

It would seem that, from a human perspective, that this would make some sense. I might have argued similarly not that very long ago. But that was before I spent the time to work through a biblical understanding of persecution and how Christians are to respond to it from God's perspective.

Now make no mistake; I am not a pacifist in the sense that I would say that Christians should not serve in the military. I believe that believers may do so and have always done so throughout church history. I know that not all would agree with me and that is their right.

However, I do believe that the use of deadly force is mandated in Scripture within rather strict boundaries. I contend that this is not a right given to individuals but falls within the mandate of the duties given to the State. The right to bear the sword is given to the State, not to individuals to wield in vigilante actions. This is especially true for Christians undergoing persecution. All of the passages that call for Christians to turn the other cheek, to not retaliate, and to do good to those who seek to harm you are given to those who are going through persecution. We must take these admonitions seriously and at face value, understanding that it was no easier for the early Christians to write and read these words as it is for us to read them now in the face of ruthless violence. Their temptation to strike back would have just as great as ours. The defense for the persecuted Christian is not found at the end of a sword or a rifle. It is found, first, with the State and, if the State refuses to act (or is actually responsible for the oppression) in the hands of God as the Christian cries out to God for justice. This justice may not come in this lifetime. But regardless of this fact, the believer is never called to respond to violence with violence.

These are hard words. I do not pretend that they are not but I see no other response mandated in Holy Scripture. Should the Assyrians be given self-determination with the authority to set up a government, then by all means they would have the right to bear arms; but not as individuals now. This is not time to arm the Assyrians or any persecuted Christians, however tempting it might be to see this as a possible solution to their plight. Events in Indonesia and Nigeria in recent years should how disastrous a situation becomes when Christians take up weapons against their persecutors. Church leaders in these countries are right when they try to stop such actions. This is not a Christian response. We do not war as the world does. It is easy to trust in horses and chariots (or rifles and rocket launchers); it is much harder to trust in God, isn't it?

(You can order Glenn's book, In the Shadow of the Cross; A Biblical Theology of Persecution and Discipleship, in which he develops these thoughts further, online from The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada, the United States and Australia)

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

What About the Stories of Victory?

I received an email today expressing the concern that our portrayal of the Persecuted Church in our weekly email The Persecution and Prayer Alert tends to be too negative, that we don't tell the stories of overcoming faith and the tremendous growth of the Church in such countries as India.

That would be a fair enough criticism apart from a couple of details that I think might need clarification. First, our weekly email has the specific purpose of sharing up-to-date, even urgent, stories of persecution so that prayer and other forms of support can be mobilized by Christians around the world on behalf of those who are suffering for their faith. This is where email is such a valuable tool. That being the case, it will tend to reflect more of the "bad news" of persecution (although, of course, we must remember that the early church considered it a privilege to suffer for Jesus). If this was all that we told about the Persecuted Church, however, this would be rather one-sided. And we are careful not to do that. And to be fair, we do report in The Persecution and Prayer Alert on answered prayers and other incidents of a more encouraging note. But they are not as prevalent as in our flagship publication, The Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter.

That brings me to my second point. It is our monthly printed newsletter that one will get a fuller picture of the Persecuted Church. It is here that we tell their stories in greater detail. It is here and in our books and video that you get to see their faces and hear their voices. Our weekly email was never intended to stand on it own and it never will. It has a specific purpose and with that, some limitations. The Persecution and Prayer Alert was never intended to take the place of our monthly printed magazine and it will never. You need both, in my opinion, to get a complete picture of how God is at work in the world today through His Church.

Speaking the Truth to Each Other

One of my passions is the study and practice of leadership. I have been reading business and leadership books since the early 1980's when, at the recommendation of the leader of the mission I was with at the time, I read In Search of Excellence by Peters and Waterman (which was new at the time and is now considered a classic). I was hooked after that.

What struck me then and has been reinforced by my continued study over the years is the fact that effective leadership and high performing companies are those that adopt and implement biblical precepts. And lest anyone is wondering, I rarely find leadership books that are overtly Christian in orientation very helpful. This is not to say that Christians can't write good leadership books; I just haven't found that many. My favorite author on the subject, Ken Blanchard, is a Christian, but he does not write like one.

But this is all beside the point. The fact is, Christian or not, I have noticed a growing trend in leadership training in recent years that emphasizes such biblical concepts as honesty, integrity, accountability, team building, values-based decision making, and respect. Of course, since all truth is God's truth revealed through His revelation in creation, Scripture and Jesus Christ, it is not surprising that non-Christians should pick up aspects of God's truth.

But it is encouraging to read, as I presently am, books like Bruce Bodaken and Robert Fritz's new book The Managerial Moment of Truth with its emphasis on speaking the truth to each other in an organization; not just as a technique but as a way of life (page 28).

Speaking the truth to each others; what a revolutionary concept. Not hiding behind politics (which Frank Herbert defined as the art of being honest and completely open while concealing as much as possible), not trying to manipulate others to do what they do not want to do, living without the preoccupation of covering ones' tail first, operating with a clean conscience. This type of environment is not what many of us experience, not even in Christian ministries. This is the kind of environment, however, that, by God's grace, I am committed to creating at The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada.

The truth has set you free, Jesus said. So let us live that way in all aspects of our lives.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Majority of Canadians Support Increased Protection of Religious Rights Regarding Homosexuality

According to a front page article in today's National Post, the results of a recent COMPAS poll show that the majority of Canadians would support increased protection for the religious rights of those who oppose same-sex marriage and homosexual practice.

A majority of Canadians believe marriage commissioners should be allowed to refuse to perform a same-sex marriage if it is against their religious beliefs, according to a new public opinion poll.

A COMPAS poll conducted last week found 57% of those surveyed said officials who conduct generally secular wedding ceremonies should be allowed to "not officiate at gay marriages," provided there are enough marriage commissioners available for same-sex unions.

The Conservative government has proposed introducing a defence of religions act that would allow officials to refuse to perform gay marriages, protect the free speech of anti-gay religious leaders and protect organizations that refuse to do business with gays and lesbians.

The COMPAS poll suggested there would be significant public support for such a move, with 72% of those contacted for the survey saying that clergy should have the right not to marry a same-sex couple if it runs counter to their beliefs. [click here to read more]

It would be encouraging if the federal opposition parties would heed this poll and support a defence of religions act instead of crying out how it violates the Charter of Rights (which is really quite a inconsistent argument, as Janet Buckingham of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada pointed out in her article Are Charter Rights Only for Some?).

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Eritrea and the UIC

Isn't it ironic that the Eritrean government, a regime that has promoted itself as a leader in opposing Islamist terrorism, has publicly stated that it believes that evangelical Christians are as dangerous as al-Qaida and has accused me and others who defend the religious rights of Christians in the country of being terrorists, is now providing military support for the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) in Somalia, according to a confidential UN briefing paper? This is a group that observers from both within and outside of Somalia believe is linked with al-Qaida and represents a clear and present threat to security in the region.

I understand how a common enemy (in this case, Ethiopia) can create odd bedfellows. But for Eritrea to claim that it opposes Islamist terrorism while it arms and provides troops to a group committed to establishing a Taliban-style government in Somalia only further demonstrates the moral deficiency of President Isaias Afwerki's regime.

It is worth noting that although the Eritrean government is secular in nature, it does share one other common enemy with the Islamists in Somalia; Christians. Both have expressed a hatred for the followers of Christ and a desire to remove them from the country. Pray for Christians in the Horn of Africa. This is a region where The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada has been active for the past several years and where we are currently seeking God's guidance in finding new avenues of supporting the Church there.