Sunday, March 26, 2006

Rahman to be Released. But Has Anything Really Changed?

Just a few minutes ago, I received word that Abdul Rahman will be released in a few hours on the grounds of insufficient evidence. The case is to be referred to the prosecutor for review but there is little reason to belief that the charges will be reissued. There is simply too much for the Afghan government to lose.

This is, of course, welcome news. And I am grateful that Rahman's life will be spared, if the reports are to be believed. But I believe that it is premature and completely inappropriate for Christians to write the Afghan government to thank them for upholding religious liberty in the country, as some will undoubtedly encourage us to do. Make no mistake; this was a face-saving gesture. None of the laws that allowed this trial to take place have been changed. Religious minorities will continue to live in fear and, I suspect, Afghan prosecutors will learn to be more discrete in laying charges against apostates.

Nor is this the time for western governments to collectively wipe their brows in relief of averting the embarrassment of supporting a government that violates religious laws in such a brutal and blatant way. The Afghan constitution continues to be a self-contradictory document that renders all legislation and rights subservient to Islamic law. Until full religious and human rights, including the right to change one's religion, are acknowledged as a right for all Afghans, nothing long-term will have come from this close call. This is not a time for celebration, but a time to push the Afghan government to make the legislative and constitutional changes to insure that men and women like Abdul Rahman (and there are others!) need not fear for their lives if they choose to exercise their religious right to change their religious beliefs and allegiances.

We also need to remember that Rahman's life remains in the balance, even if he is released. Undoubtedly, he will have to leave Afghanistan. This, too, is unfortunate, as the tiny Afghan church needs men like him.

Statement from The Prime Minister's Office

The following was received late this afternoon:

Statement by the Prime Minister on the Raham case and freedom of religion in Afghanistan March 22, 2006Ottawa, Ontario

Prime Minister Stephen Harper today issued the following statement after the conclusion of his telephone call to Afghanistan President Karzai.

“I called President Karzai today to express my deep concerns regarding the Raham case and the issue of freedom of religion in Afghanistan.

President Karzai listened to my concerns and we had a productive and informative exchange of views.

Upon the conclusion of the call, he assured me that respect for human and religious rights will be fully upheld in this case.”

From the statement above, the Prime Minister's office is obviously receiving heat from Canadians over the Abdul Rahman case (too bad that his press office cannot spell his name correctly). I am encouraged by the fact that he contacted President Karzai directly and without delay. This is positive sign. We now wait to see what, if any impact, it will have. In all likelihood, a convenient excuse will be made by the chief prosecutor, Abdul Wasi, to drop the charges, while saving face at the same time. Already we are seeing evidence of this as prosecutor Sarinwal Zamari told AP this morning that questions have been raised about Rahman's mental fitness. "We think he could be mad. He is not a normal person. He doesn't talk like a normal person," he told The Associated Press.

Moayuddin Baluch, a religious adviser to President Hamid Karzai, said Rahman would undergo a psychological examination. "Doctors must examine him," he said. "If he is mentally unfit, definitely Islam has no claim to punish him. He must be forgiven. The case must be dropped."

Hopefully, if this is the scenario that plays out, Rahman will be released and not detained for "treatment" of his "mental illness."

But even if he is released, the Canadian government (and other governments) cannot act as if this is a happy ending to a potentially explosive issue. Yes, Rahman's life will have been spared, but nothing will have been solved in regards to the endemic problem plaguing the Afghan legal and constitutional system. What happens the next time that a convert faces execution if no one is there is publicize it? I rather suspect that Afghan prosecutors are going to be far more discrete next time. As I have argued in my earlier weblogs, this is not a death sentence issue; it is a human rights one. The very fact that Abdul Rahman's conversion to Christianity is considered a crime for which he faces trial demonstrates Afghanistan's reluctance to truly respect human and religious rights. And until the religious right of all Afghans to choose and change their religion (or have none at all) is recognized, Abdul Rahman will only be the first of many Afghans charged for converting from Islam; though he may be one of the last one that we will ever hear of.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Abdul Rahman's Trial is Not an Isolated Event!

Just as we sent out our weekly Persecution & Prayer Alert this afternoon, I received a report from Compass Direct, demonstrating how the trial of Abdul Rahman is not an isolated event. Indeed, it is apparent that Afghan Christians (a tiny minority in this Muslim nation) are experiencing perhaps the most organized persecution since the fall of the Taliban.

According to the Compass Direct report, during the past few days, two other Afghan Christians have been arrested elsewhere in the country (their location is being withheld because of the sensitive situation). The report goes on to state: "This past weekend, one young Afghan convert to Christianity was beaten severely outside his home by a group of six men, who finally knocked him unconscious with a hard blow to his temple. He woke up in the hospital two hours later but was discharged before morning."

In the past month, several other Afghan Christians have reported to have been subjected to telephone threats and police raids on their homes and places of work.

It is inconceivable that Canadian troops should be serving to support a regime that violates the religious rights of citizens in this fashion. Afghanistan is a signatory to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which enshrines freedom of religion. To suggest that Canada would intervene if Abdul Rahman is sentenced to death, as Foreign Affairs officials did yesterday, is unacceptable. This is not a death penalty issue, suggesting that Mr. Rahman has committed a crime and that the main concern is the degree of his punishment. This is a human rights issue; the very trial is a travesty!

I urge you to email Prime Minister Stephen Harper at and urge him to personally contact the Afghan president, indicating that this persecution of religious minorities is unacceptable and that Canada must reconsider its continued support of the Afghan government should it continue. I support our troops and I have supported Canada's involvement in Afghanistan. I do not, however, support our young men and women laying down their lives to prop up a regime that supports the killing of my brothers and sisters in Christ!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Letter to the Prime Minister

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

I am outraged that at a time when Canadian troops are defending the freedoms of the Afghan people that an Afghan Christian, Abdul Rahman, is being prosecuted in a Kabul court and could be sentenced to death on a charge of converting from Islam to Christianity. In your statement after meeting with President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, you said that Canada has an unwavering commitment to the people of Afghanistan. May I urge you to demonstrate this unwavering commitment to all of the people of Afghanistan, including its religious minorities. As you know, conversion is intrinsic to the Christian faith. That this man is being prosecuted for exercising a basic human right is completely unacceptable and a violation of why we sent our troops to Afghanistan. May I urge you to contact President Karzai and ask him to intervene in this case?

Thank you for your kind consideration.

Best regards,

Glenn Penner
Communications Director
The Voice of the Martyrs
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

Afghan Christian Convert Faces Death as Canadian Troops Fight for His Freedom

So, while Canadian troops are fighting for freedom in Afghanistan, an Afghan Christian faces being executed for converting from Islam sixteen years ago.

Can anyone tell me how this makes any sense? What are Canadians fighting for in Afghanistan? For what are they risking their life? To protect the right for Muslim clerics to impose Sharia law on religious minorities? The right to restrict religious freedom and to kill "apostates"? Are we fighting for his freedom only to have the Muslim clerics execute him? The fact that this man is even facing this trial is a gross violation of international human rights agreements that Afghanistan claims to uphold.

On March 14, Prime Minister Stephen Harper met today with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul. President Karzai expressed his gratitude for the support Canada has offered Afghanistan and Prime Minister Harper reiterated Canada’s unwavering commitment to the people of Afghanistan. Let's remind the Prime Minister that Canada need to be committed to all of the people of Afghanistan, including its persecuted Christian population. I would urge you to email him at and urge him to intervene with the Afghan president in the case of Abdul Rahman.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Going Beyond the Facts of Today's Persecution of Christians

As one who had dedicated most of the last decade to studying the logistical, theological, and practical aspects of the persecution of Christians on a global level, I have become increasingly less enchanted with facts, figures, and statistics. As important as they may be in understanding the scope of the persecution facing the followers of Jesus in the 21st century, it is imperative that we not lose sight of the fact that there are faces behind the figures and stories behind the statistics. Charts and maps cannot chronicle the reality of what it means to witness the horror of knowing that one's daughter is being broken and abused in a Vietnamese mental hospital because of her faith in Jesus. Statistics from the January 2006 edition of the International Journal of Missionary Research tell us that 171,000 Christians were martyred in the last year. But this will bring little comfort to the three Indonesian families who buried their teenage daughters in early November after they were killed by cowardly Muslim militants as they were heading home from their Christian school one afternoon.

To learn that the World Evangelical Alliance estimates that 200 million Christians live in societies where they daily face the threat of being imprisoned, tortured, and killed because of their identity as Christians comes as a surprise to many Canadians. But this comes as no surprise to widows in northern Nigeria who struggle to feed and cloth their children after their husbands were killed only six weeks after 9/11 at the hands of Muslim mobs. While more Nigerian Christians died in the first week of November, 2001 than in the World Trade Towers, very few noticed. And no one has established a memorial fund for their families.

Many believe that the primary persecutor of the Church today is militant Islam. While it is true that the rate of violence against Christians is growing in many Muslim nations, perhaps the most dangerous nation on earth for someone to openly confess Christ is communist North Korea. Christians there are brutalized in prisons or summarily executed if caught with a copy of the Scriptures. China's crackdown on rapidly growing and unregistered Christian groups belies the popular dogma that increased trade with a nation will inevitably lead to a greater degree of freedom and respect for human rights. Church leaders continue to be detained, tortured, and drugged in Vietnam. Sadly, as we enter the 21st century, we still find that more Christians suffer at the hands of Communist authorities than any others, just as they did through most of the past 100 years.

To most Canadians, the terms "militant Hindus" or "militant Buddhists" would be oxymoronic. But not to Christians in India and Sri Lanka who have experienced the consequences of a dramatic rise in religiously motivated persecution in recent years. State and/or federal governments in both countries have passed or threatened anti-conversion laws as a means of stifling the rapid growth of the Church. Violence against Christians is increasingly commonplace. In some places, pastors are told to stop praying for the sick, as local people learn that if you want to be healed, you should ask a Christian to pray for you.

Statistics and maps cannot tell such things. Yes, they can reveal the rapid growth of Christianity in the east African country of Ethiopia where thousands of mostly young people are experiencing the new life that comes through Christ. Charts can tell you how the evangelical church in Ethiopia has grown from 200,000 believers in 1960 to 12 million in less than forty years. But they cannot help you to hear a twenty year old woman who has been cast from her home and community and who now lives in abject poverty as a result, cry out with eyes ablaze with love, "Jesus is everything I need. I love Him so much!"

In Eritrea, the number of imprisoned Christians numbers almost 2000. This is a 700% increase over the last year. But to understand their suffering, you must look beyond the numerical figures to a metal shipping container sitting in an open field, simmering in the intense sun. Temperatures can soar above 40 degrees Celsius in the daytime, as many believers are detained in such containers with no ventilation or toileting facilities.

I could give you the statistics. As a matter of fact, I have given you most of the important ones in this article. But they are meaningless unless we remember that behind these facts and figures are members of our own family; brothers and sisters whom we are commanded to care for as if they were Christ, Himself (Matthew 25:45). We dare not be satisfied with just knowing the facts.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Dependency is a Greater Threat Than Persecution

In a couple of weeks I am scheduled to speak at a banquet for World Missions Associates in Pennsylvania on the theme of financial dependency and the Persecuted Church. It is my firm conviction that dependency on western funds presents a far greater danger to the spread of the gospel than persecution does. In many cases, persecution is, of course, the fruit of evangelism. Religious, social, and political leaders witness the spread of Christianity in their community and, growing alarmed, they attempt to stop or at least control the activities which they see as a threat to the continuation of their version of the acceptable status quo.

Dependency on western resources, however, to spread the gospel has repeatedly proven to be an absolute disaster in the long run. Churches that once grew numerically through the use of culturally appropriate methods, led and financed by local believers and open to allowing God to direct them plateau and eventually decline as they succumb to the seductive song of well-meaning westerners who visit them with the intent of finding projects to fund. "Distribute our books, use our films… here have a motorcycle. That way you can whiz to where you need to go without talking to anyone on the way. Oh, you have to work for a living?? How awful! Here, let us pay you a salary so that you can devote your life fulltime to Christian service. Yes, yes, this will cut you off from those people that you used to meet with through your work and people will now see you as an agent for the West (and you may actually be persecuted for that), but you will be far more efficient!"

Efficiency! A western curse, if I ever saw one. If efficiency, money, and our methods are working so well, then tell me why Christianity is on the decline in the West?

How grateful to God I am that Paul refused to become dependent on others as he spread the gospel. He knew that his methodology of local resources meeting local needs was the best approach to church planting and evangelism. Are we going to argue that we know better now?

Having witnessed the effects of dependency amoung believers on almost every continent, I have rarely found that lack of money really hinders the spread of the gospel. I have been delighted to see the gospel moving forward most effectively by men and women who rarely even think of asking for outside help or who even resist the idea. They know that when God leads, God provides.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Creating God in Our Own Image

This morning as I was driving into work, I was listening to a CD of the Psalms. As I listened to Psalm 50, I was struck by the words in verse 21: "These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you."

How easy it is for us to assume that God is like us; that He overlooks certain sins and obligations. "After all," we assume, "He understands what I am going through and what it is like in this world."

Over the past few weeks, we have all, undoubtedly, become aware of the controversy and violence that has surrounded the republication by several European newspapers of a set of cartoons depicting Muhammad. Who would have ever thoughts that drawing cartoons could be such a dangerous occupation, as the artists have gone into hiding for fear of their lives? At the present rate, we are soon going to have to add "editorial cartoonist" to the list of the world's most dangerous jobs right next to deep sea fisherman, iron workers and lumberjacks.

But all joking aside, the issues involved are complicated and need to be discussed, but without the threat of violence.

But there is one other thing that needs to left behind: naïveté and the attitude that says, "Oh, let's just all get together and overlook our differences. After all, we're really all the same anyway."

This latter attitude was reflected in a recent interview on CBC television in a report of a Muslim protest here in Ottawa. Some Christians had joined the protest to show their support and to try to open a dialogue with their Muslim neighbours. Now, I have no problem with that, but I do take exception to what one of the Christian women said when she was asked by the reporter to explain why she was there. She said, "I'm here to show my support as a Christians because really we are just on separate paths to the same God."

Is that really so?

When the Muslim calls upon Allah, is he/she addressing the same deity as when you and I pray to God? Are they simply different words for the same god, or perhaps to the god behind the gods?

When they say, "We respect Jesus," are they referring to the same Jesus as we are?

Or am I just playing word games here?

In 2 Corinthians 11, the apostle Paul speaks to a church not significantly different from our own in many ways. Many of the concerns that the Corinthian church struggled with are similar to those of many Canadian churches.

Paul loved this congregational deeply and so it was great concern that he wrote in 2 Cor. 11:3-4:

"But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough."

Paul refers here to a "different Jesus," a Jesus contrary to what he preached to them. When someone says, "I believe in Jesus," ask, "What do you believe about Him?" The Muslim says that Jesus was a great prophet but He is not God and did not die on the cross. This is not the Jesus of Christianity. This is another Jesus and the differences are profound. The Muslim Jesus will save no one. You cannot believe just anything about Jesus and still claim that He is the one and same person as the Jesus of the Bible.

This problem was not unique to the Corinthians. In Galatians 1:6-9 Paul writes:

"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed."

Why would someone preach a different gospel? What would be the motivation for this warping of the gospel? In Galatians 1:10, Paul writes, "For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ."

He goes on to say, "For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ."

You see, we are not free to think of God or think of Jesus however we like. We are not free to create a God or Jesus that we or others are comfortable with.

We may only worship God as He has revealed Himself. Only God can reveal God. Anything else is idolatry.

In Exodus 20, the Lord says, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery."

In this prelude to the 10 commandments, God begins by identifying Himself. He refers to Himself by His personal name "I AM" YHWH. "I am YHWH, your God who delivered you."

He is not the God behind the gods of this world: Allah, Buddha, Brahma, Baal, Zeus. These gods do not point to the same god, for what they tell you is contrary to how YHWH has revealed about Himself. God Himself will tell you what to believe.

It is vital to understand that when the Bible speaks of the religions of this world, they are not seen as a sign of man seeking after God; they are seen as evidence of man's rebellion against God. This is why the Lord says in Psalm 51:21-22 to those who create God in their own image, "But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you. Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!"

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Pham Ngoc Thach Released

With the release of Evangelist Pham Ngoc Thach from prison yesterday, the final tragic chapter of the so-called "Mennonite Six" saga comes to an end. His release had been expected, but it was still a relief. To learn that he had been singled out for severe mistreatment comes as no surprise. Thach maintained his innocence to the end, as he rightfully should have. His arrest and sentencing was a miscarriage of justice. Thach and the five other Mennonites were charged with "resisting officers of the law while doing their duty." In reality all they did was insist that the investigating policemen should follow correct legal procedures.

Together with friends and partners around the world, The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada took a leading role in advocacy work on behalf of the Mennonite Six and we are grateful for all of you who prayed and wrote letters on their behalf. Your voices were heard around the world and, as a result, so were the voices of Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang, Pham Ngoc Thach, Nguyen Thanh Phuong, Nguyen Thanh Nhan, Nguyen Huu Nghia, and Le Thi Hong Lien.

If you have not yet viewed the video report that The Voice of the Martyrs and Release International produced in late 2004 on the plight on these six courageous believers and their families, I would recommend that you do take the opportunity to do so now, as we will likely be taking it offline shortly. It can be seen on our multimedia website You will be touched by the faith of these dear saints.

Again, thank you for your partnership in remembering those in bonds. Continue to pray for Thach. The other five Mennonites have reported continued harassment from Vietnamese authorities since their release. On second thought, I suppose that it is premature to say that the saga of the Mennonite Six has ended. In many ways, it is still ongoing.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Remember Amjad Masih

The abuse of Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws has been well established. Shortly after he took power, President Pervez Musharraf had called for reform of these laws but withdrew his suggestion after it was met with threats of demonstrations by several Islamic organizations. Because these laws require only the testimony of one Muslim against another person, they have frequently been misused to settle personal disputes and persecute minorities. The following is a prime example:

Seven years ago on February 5, 1999, Amjad Masih was arrested on vagrancy charges in the Pakistani town of Jhang. While in police custody, he was accused of burning the Quran (Koran) and charged under Pakistan's blasphemy law. Introduced in 1985, the Pakistan penal code states in Section 295B: "Defiling of the Holy Koran. Whoever willfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Koran or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life."

Amjad insists the police framed him for refusing to pay a bribe. During August 2003, a high court hearing in Lahore endorsed a life sentence for him. While in prison, Amjad has suffered from depression and malaria. He and his wife Kusar have three sons and one daughter. During Lent last year, the two older sons prayed and fasted for their father's release.

May I encourage you to write a letter to Amjad Masih? Let him know that he has not been forgotten after all of these years in prison. Go to, a website sponsored by both VOM Canada and VOM USA. There you will find step-by-step directions on how to write a letter to him in his own language.