Friday, April 28, 2006

Online Interview With

This afternoon I had the opportunity to chat with Stacy Harp who is responsible for VOM-USA's blog website You can download our 29 minute interview by clicking here. Stacy and I discuss my book "In the Shadow of the Cross", how the United States has responded to Christian persecution and how Christians in the West need to move beyond just knowledge of persecution to a more active involvement with our brothers and sisters in Christ in restricted nations. It is a good natured discussion that I think you will enjoy. We welcome your comments.

Are Funds Spent Raising a Voice "Administrative" Expenses?

When Richard Wurmbrand was released from prison and allowed to leave Romania for the West, it wasn't long until he learned that many (even Christians!) did not believe that the followers of Jesus were being persecuted behind the Iron Curtain of communism. With $100 in his pocket and an old typewriter, he produced his first newsletter and sent it out to raise a voice for those who did not have one. He believed that this was a vital means of serving the Persecuted Church. He did not conceive of it as being administration or fundraising. It was a response to the cries of his brothers and sisters who begged him not to let the Church and world forget that they were there.

Forty years later, The Voice of the Martyrs continues this ministry through our monthly newsletter, websites, email news service, videos, news reports, and public speakers. This is a fundamental part of who we are; we are The Voice of the Martyrs. Our mission is not only that of providing practical assistance; it is hearing their cries and making sure that they are not ignored or forgotten, to raise awareness, to muster prayer on their behalf and to share their stories of the faithfulness of God. This is what the Persecuted Church asks us to do, which is why our fifth purpose is to emphasize the fellowship of all believers by informing the world of atrocities committed against Christians and remembering their courage and faith.

Travel expenses, salaries for our communications staff, newsletter costs, website expenses - in many ways, these are not administration costs; these are ministry costs. They are central to the ministry that we have been called to. We understand that many people would like all of their gifts to go to assisting the persecuted overseas. But we also need to appreciate that it is the earnest and expressed desire of persecuted Christians that we meet that we speak on their behalf as effectively as we can. If you have been a supporter of VOMC for long, you know that we do not spend money on fundraising. Hence, our actual administration costs are really very low. The challenge is how to reflect that on an auditor's report for the government. They do not always understand that. We also face the notion that many have that all expenses spent in Canada by missions like ours are "administrative" in nature and not ministry-oriented. That may be true for some ministries, but not ours. An expense incurred in being a voice for today's Christian martyrs is central to who we are and why Richard Wurmbrand started this ministry in the first place. It is money that we know persecuted Christians want us to spend.

We thank you for the trust that many of you have shown us over the years in donating to The Voice of the Martyrs. We would be happy to discuss this matter with any of you, should you wish to contact us. Please remember us in your prayers as we seek to serve the Persecuted Church by the grace of God.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Computer Woes

For the past week, my computer and I have been at war with each other. And the computer is winning.

It started with the latest Microsoft update a couple of weeks ago, when I suddenly lost the ability to edit my weblog page. What enabled the program we had been happily using for two years to work was suddenly perceived to be a security threat to Microsoft. While our webmaster and the programmer worked to come up with alternatives, I decided to install a new webcam in order to facilitate better communication with our staff and colleagues who use Skype on a regular basis in various parts of the world.

It was this last seemingly harmless act that my computer decided was the straw that broke its proverbial back. It whined, it complained, it kicked up a fuss and refused to allow the webcam to work properly. Finally, it decided to go on strike altogether and refused to start.

After I considered raining curses down on it and realized that God was not going to intervene and miraculously cure the mechanical monster, I called our technician and asked (no, pleaded) for his help. Obviously hearing the desperation in my voice, he agreed to come to the office and for seven hours we reinstalled and repaired operating systems. Finally, when it was after midnight, it seemed that we had beaten it into submission. The techie recommended that I leave the computer on, just in case some additional uploads were needed overnight.

I complied and I was overjoyed to witness my computer continuing to work the next morning and throughout the next day. Life was good again. The birds were singing. The sun was shining. All was well in the world. That evening, I shut it off, as normal, fully expecting it to start up on Monday morning with a submissive smile on its face.

P. Barnum said that there is a sucker born every minute. Robert Southey, a British poet, wrote that man is a dupable animal and that quacks in medicine, religion, and politics know this and act upon this knowledge. I think I would add that quacks in technology also know this and act accordingly. I should know better than to believe software that says that it is operating properly. It is obviously programmed to lie.

Monday morning. I arrive in my office. I turn on my computer. The BIOS begins to load. Windows starts up and... STOPS. Nothing. Nada. Nichevo. Nichts. I go to work trying to save my poor machine that is obviously in dire distress. I uninstall and reinstall drivers that seem to be misbehaving, I wander into Safe Mode and uninstall that cursed webcam and all of its programming. I have cast the demons out, I think. But no, new problems arise. Hardware conflicts continue to scream at me. Software continues to misbehave. And I have no idea whenever I have to reboot my system whether I will ever see my beloved files again. Reminds me of someone I dated when I was a teenager; she was so capricious that I never knew who was going to show up for a date; the good Karen or the evil one. But I felt that I could not live without her. I eventually learned that I could, but the pain, oh the pain.

Just like the past week with this computer. I love computers and I hate them. But, unlike my old girlfriend, I haven't come to the point where I think I could live without them.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

How Should We Then Live in the Age of Terror?

My real introduction to Francis Schaeffer occurred during the summer in between my third and fourth years of college. I was a ministerial student at Mountain View Bible College in Didsbury, Alberta and had somehow convinced the administration to allow me to paint the main education building as a summer job. Frankly, I hated painting and I still do, but it was a job and it allowed me to spend time near my wife whom I had just married.

As I was preparing the audiovisual room for painting, I noticed an audiotape set that was a supplement to Schaeffer's book "How Should We Then Live?" Finding the painting rather boring, I decided that perhaps listening to this series while I was working might prove to be a pleasant diversion.

I must have listened to that set of eight tapes at least twenty times that summer. And Schaeffer's message impacted me in ways that I cannot begin to describe. One thought, in particular, has stuck with me during the last twenty-three years; when a society becomes terrorized by terrorism and people feel that their personal peace and affluence are threatened, most will willingly give up their personal rights and freedoms to someone or a group who promises to maintain their lifestyle of peace and prosperity.

In the aftermath of 9/11, this willingness to have government curtain rights and freedoms for the sake of safety and the maintenance of the lifestyle we apparently value has been increasingly evident. We have seen laws passed that allow western governments to monitor us in ways that we would never have allowed before. In the name of security, we have seen terrorist suspects detained, deported, imprisoned and even tortured without proper recourse to legal representation or a trial. More and more personal information is being sought by our governments in the name of protecting us and most of us are completely prepared to hand it over. "If you have nothing to hide, what's the big deal?" it is argued, ignoring the fundamental right to be presumed innocent of wrongdoing without contrary evidence.

Christians, in particular, should understand the danger of allowing ourselves to be governed by our fears rather than our values. We have seen, historically, how governments have the tendency to claim authority that, ultimately, belongs only to God. This is especially true during times of real or perceived threat of danger.

While personal peace and affluence have become societal values to the extent that many (if not most) are prepared to give up the very freedoms that led to our Western societies being what they are, Christians need to understand the times for what they are and stand against the tide. This was the solution that Schaeffer pointed to, referring to the watchman passage of Ezekiel 33:1-11. Freedom is precious; it should not be sold for a pot of porridge. We need to blow the trumpet and warn of the dangers ahead.

Monday, April 17, 2006

A Limited Victory in Saskatchewan

On April 13, a three-judge panel of the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal unanimously overturned a judgment that has brought notoriety to Canada as the country where biblical references to homosexuality were judged to be hate literature. In 1997, Hugh Owens, an evangelical Christian, placed an ad in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix in response to ads he saw announcing an upcoming gay pride week. The ad consisted of two stickmen holding hands, covered by a circle with a line drawn through it. Next to the stick figures were citations for four Biblical passages condemning homosexuality as sinful. Three gay men brought a complaint against Owens and the paper before the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, claiming "their dignity was affronted" by the ad, and that they "suffered in respect of their feelings and self-respect." A tribunal agreed with them and in 2002, the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench upheld the ruling, stating that the Biblical passages Owens cited in his ad were clearly hateful. The court reasoned that since no major religion sanctions hatefulness among its adherents, the passages could not possibly be religious, and so were exempt from Saskatchewan's human rights law that protected religious expression.

On April 13, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal reversed this ridiculous decision. The decision written by Justice Bob Richards said that while the ad was "bluntly presented and doubtlessly upsetting to many," it did not violate the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code. The Court of Appeal also said that Courts should exercise care when dealing with foundational religious writings.

The Voice of the Martyrs, of course, welcomes this decision as an affirmation of religious freedom; one long overdue. The past few years have seen an increasing number of cases like this brought against Christians in Canada by those who seem determined to silence the Church's ability to speak against homosexual behaviour.

We should not, however, be overly enthusiastic about this ruling, as significant as it is. In the ruling by the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, Justice Richards also wrote that "it is significant that the advertisement in issue here was published in 1997 and, thus, in the middle of an ongoing national debate about how Canadian legal and constitutional regimes should or should not accommodate sexual identities…. Parliament would not pass legislation to make government programs and benefits available on an equal basis to gay and lesbian couples until three years after the advertisement appeared….When Mr. Owens’ message was published the judicial sanctioning of same-sex marriage in Saskatchewan was still seven years in the future and its sanctioning by the Supreme Court of Canada was eight years in the future. This does not mean that a newly won right to be free from discrimination should be accorded less vigorous protection than similar rights based on more historically established grounds such as race and religion. But, for purposes of applying a provision like s. 14(1)(b) of the Code, it is important to consider Mr. Owens’ advertisement in the context of the time and circumstances in which it was published."

In other words, if Mr. Owens were to publish his ad today, the ruling might very well have been different. He was fortunate that he ran it at a time when homosexual rights were less fixed in Canadian law and society and the debate was still ongoing. That, the court said, is not the case today.

This is a troubling caveat. Whether you agree with his methods or not, we must state unequivocally that Mr. Owens is no less entitled to express his religious beliefs today than in 1997, public opinion and legislation notwithstanding. Just because a belief is deemed less established today than in the past does not mean that it is less worthy of being protected. Indeed, the opposite is the case. Now, more than ever, it is the rights of those who would express dissenting opinions in our society that need protection.

The decision by the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal is a victory, to be sure, but a limited one. This is not the time to moderate our diligence in upholding religious freedom in Canada. To that end, The Voice of the Martyrs will be releasing a new video in a few months entitled "Faith Under Fire: Canada." And we urge you to continue to pray for our nation and especially for its political leaders and judiciary.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Claiming Ownership of Another's Work

I find it both humorous but sad that two organizations who report on persecution have recently redone their websites in such a way that copying text from their pages is quite a challenge. When one attempts to do so, a pop-up appears saying that the material is copyright.

I understand and appreciate the need to protect one's own intellectual property. There are many who use our material without permission. Most do so with good intentions and provide credit lines. Others lift our reports and pictures to enhance their own ministries and rarely, if ever, credit the source as The Voice of the Martyrs (Canada) and Some have even linked directly to some of our videos, helping themselves to our bandwidth, and them claimed copyright over them on their websites! Now that takes some nerve, doesn't it?

What I find so entertaining and poignant about the practices of these two ministries to which I referred to earlier, is when they often claim copyright over material that was not theirs in the first place. This is especially true when articles are reprinted in whole or on part. In these cases, the copyright holder is the original author, not the organization who reprints it and posts it on their website.

It is time for a little common sense here, folks. Paul Marshall indicated a decade ago in his groundbreaking book, "Their Blood Cries Out" that one of the reasons for the lack of knowledge about persecution in the world was the competition between ministries involved in the work of serving the persecuted church. I agree that we need to be diligent in crediting our sources when we report on the persecution. We need to give credit when credit is due. In the same way, we must not take credit for work that we do not do and claim ownership over material that never belonged to us in the first place.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Why No Weblogs Lately?

In case you have been wondering why there haven’t been any weblogs posted lately, it's because I am presently ministering overseas. In fact, today is the first day for about a week that I have had a reasonably good Internet connection.

I am so grateful for and proud of my fellow VOMC Communications Team members who have continued to carry on the work in my absence. For example, The Persecution and Prayer Alert has gone out without a hitch to thousands of subscribers each Wednesday for the past two week, while I am been incommunicado. It is good to know that I can trust Jim, Greg, and Mark to maintain the high standards that we have set for ourselves in researching, editing, and sending out this vital publication. Floyd and Vanessa have been superbly representing the mission at home school conferences in Ontario (and this weekend, in Alberta), introducing parents to our wide selection of material geared to training children who will boldly witness for Christ in their communities. I am so proud of the fact that we are one of the few missions in Canada with such material of such high quality.

I am also thankful for the many of you who pray for us. Some of you, I know, pray for our staff daily. You have no idea how important that is. To be honest, I have not been well over the best several days, having contracted a rather serious chest cold that threatened to disrupt the teaching sessions that I was to conduct earlier this week. While I was seriously fatigued and my teaching was affected to some degree, the Lord did provide the strength I needed and grace to the participants, some of whom had travelled a long way to come. After the three day seminar, those who attended have indicated their commitment to take the biblical theology on persecution and discipleship back to their churches, denominations and teaching institutions in order to better equip those under their care to stand in the face of persecution.

I still have a few days until I get home. I am in another country right now, visiting a church who has demonstrated their sincere love for their persecuted brothers and sisters in providing financial support for several projects, even though they, themselves, are in a religiously restricted nation. Pray that I will have the wisdom not to go back into overdrive, now that I am starting to feel on the mend. This would only cause me to relapse. Pray that God will bless my time here as I visit with these dear brothers and sisters. Pray that I can be a blessing to them in some way.