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.

At War With Jihad

One of my favorite columnists is Robert Fulford who writes s a weekly column for The National Post. In this week's column, he discusses the rise of militant Islam as researched by Mary Habeck in her book, Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror and notes that this movement is neither new nor a response to Western actions in the Middle East.

We are at war with Jihad
Robert Fulford
National Post
Saturday, October 28, 2006

Abu Bakar Bashir, who recently served 25 months in an Indonesian prison for his part in the Jakarta and Bali bombings, depicts himself as a traditionalist cleric calling Muslims back to the robust spirit of Islam's origins. As he said on Al-Jazeera in August, he believes Islam grew weak over the centuries because Muslims forgot that the Prophet carried a spear when he spoke. "If the Prophet carried a spear, then we can carry an M-16!"

Remember, he said, that jihad (in the sense of holy war) brought Islam to power in the first place and will do it again: "There can be no Islam without jihad." A religion of warriors, Islam will eventually produce states that enforce Islamic law with determination and without the distraction of democratic consultation. In modern times only one country has come close to Bashir's ideal, Afghanistan under the Taliban.

Thousands of Muslims, spread through many countries, see the world and the future this way. Reading their words, and hearing about their atrocities, raises a crucial issue: What do they represent? We want to believe they are marginal and eccentric, as many Muslims suggest, but they are obviously too important to be casually brushed aside. Any force that can reorganize world politics through terror, as they have clearly done, deserves serious study.

That's what Mary Habeck, a military scholar at Johns Hopkins University, gives them in her short, sharp book, Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror (Yale University Press). She analyzes their intellectual and spiritual roots, which reach back at least to the 12th century.

Journalists and politicians in the West, being secularist in outlook, see the jihad in mainly social and political terms. We imagine jihadists are angry for the reasons we might be angry in their place.

That's wrong, Habeck says. Jihad does not arise because of widespread poverty or oppressive Arabic governments or imperialism or American support of Israel.

Those issues may well stimulate recruiting, but jihadists have something much larger in mind. Jihad is not marginal and not ephemeral. It is a religious movement with a long, dense history. Its dream, recently reignited by the circumstances of the 21st century, is ancient. One of the most powerful theorists, Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab, "developed his version of radical and violent Islam long before the West colonized Islamic lands, indeed at a time when Islam seemed triumphant." He died in 1792.

Jihadists see themselves as the authentic core of Islam, not as murderers with a taste for suicide. They believe themselves "honoured participants in a cosmic drama, one that will decide the fate of the world and that will ultimately end with the victory of the good, the virtuous and the true believers."

To make their case, jihadist scholars select from their holy books only those writings that support extremism and ignore anything that appears in the Koran about tolerance, peace, etc. Ironically, they also claim that they, unlike other theologians, take the Koran literally and honestly. As Habeck says, "The emphasis is always on those parts of the books that define jihad as fighting and that paint the relationship between believer and unbeliever in the bleakest terms."

Habeck leads her readers through the thinking of such 20th-century theorists as Hassan al-Banna, the Egyptian who founded the Muslim Brotherhood, and Sayyid Abul A'la Mawdudi, the Pakistani who founded his country's jihadist party. The major figures in the story agree that Islam is both the true religion and the only religion that should be permitted.

We have misnamed the war on terror, Habeck argues. Why describe a war in terms of a military tactic? We are at war with jihad. When we see it that way, we can begin to understand jihadists as they understand themselves; "we must be willing to listen to their own explanations."

Listening, however, will not encourage optimism on our side. Osama bin Laden and the legions of less celebrated jihadists have taught themselves to think about the distant future in a way that's alien to most people in the West. Jihadists argue that they aren't discouraged because mass uprisings haven't followed their atrocities, even 9/11. They believe in perseverance and patience. Eventually, they believe, Islam will produce a modern version of Saladin, the triumphant 12th-century Egyptian sultan.

This leader will inspire Islam and drive its enemies from the Middle East.

Then he or his successors will conquer the rest of the world. But it won't happen quickly. Mary Habeck mentions that, in the jihadist view, the war could run 200 years.

After reading this column, I am more convinced than ever that the so-called "war on terror" is a far different creature than our politicians see it as. This very well could be the predominant foreign affairs issue of our lifetime. What will make it unique and uncomfortable for secular western diplomats and human rights activists is that religion and religious freedom are central issues. And while groups like The Voice of the Martyrs have tended to try to avoid diplomatic debates in the padst, I suspect that we will be called upon to play a more significant role in the days to come. Christians in Islamic countries have been witnesses to the violence of Islamic militants far earlier than we have here in the West. They know the true face of Islam, not the watered down version that moderate Islamic leaders and government leaders (eager to win or retain votes) would have you believe. I don't know about you, but I am going to order a copy of Habeck's book right after I post this blog.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Marriage Commissioner Takes His Fight to Court

Kevin Kisilowsky, a Manitoba marriage commissioner who lost his licence last year when he refused to perform homosexual "marriages" is taking his fight for religious freedom to the provincial Court of Queen's Bench. In 2004, following the legalization of homosexual "marriage" in Manitoba, the province ordered marriage commissioners to conduct marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples or hand in their licence. In response, Kisilowsky filed a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, arguing that by forcing him to conduct marriage ceremonies that went against his faith, the province was discriminating against his religious beliefs. The commission rejected his argument and so Kisilowsky is appealing the decision in court. He says that he is prepared to take his case to the Supreme Court if necessary.

However this case is resolved, it is likely to have far reaching consequences for marriage commissioners across Canada. At least twelve Manitoba commissioners resigned after the province introduced their policy in 2004. In Saskatchewan at least eight resigned, and resignations followed similar policies in Newfoundland and British Columbia. The question that must be resolved is why churches and clergy are protected from having to conduct such ceremonies while individuals are not. Religious freedoms cannot be so selective. To argue that marriage commissioners are representatives of the government and, hence, must follow government policy is fallacious. Clergy, too, receive their marriage licences from the provincial government and they are not bound to operate contrary to their beliefs or those of their church. In actuality, marriage commissioners are not officially civil servants at all. Anybody over the age of 18 can get a marriage commissioner licence, even a temporary one for the weekend. The licence simply allows the person to solemnize a marriage. There is no obligation for the marriage commissioner to ever conduct a marriage. Which is why this policy in Manitoba (and several other provinces) is so odd; it would appear that the only kinds of marriage that commissioners must conduct are same-sex ones! How typical of this country lately.

Last month, we released our latest video, Faith Under Fire: Canada in which Kevin Kisilowsky and others who are facing similar religious liberty battles are interviewed. To find out more and to order a copy, take a look at our online catalog.

Choosing to Cancel a Debt

This week I finished writing the feature article for our December edition of our monthly newsletter on the theme of forgiveness and the Persecuted Church. This is a subject that I am hoping to do more writing on in the future (perhaps even another book), but I thought that I might share with you some of my thoughts. If you would like to read the whole article, you will need to subscribe to our newsletter. I would welcome any comments or questions that you might have.

It is important to remember that the Bible teaches that forgiveness is a choice, not an emotion or feeling. One forgives because one chooses to do so, not because one feels like it. A study of the Hebrew and Greek words found in the Bible for forgiveness emphasize this; forgiveness is the conscious act of letting go or canceling a debt.

As to why we are to forgive those who have harmed us and owe us a debt, the Bible is clear. We forgive because God, in Christ, has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:31-32). When Jesus died on the cross, the penalty for our sin was paid in full. He took our sins upon Himself and cancelled our debt with God. When we turn to Christ, His blood washes away our sin and we stand forgiven before God; debt free (Colossians 2:13-14). Our vertical relationship with God is that of reconciliation. God, in Christ, has forgiven us.

But this renewed vertical relationship has horizontal implications. God's forgiveness of us serves as an incentive for our forgiveness of others. Indeed, our forgiveness of others is evidence that we have truly received forgiveness from God. The forgiven are called to be forgiving. Where new life has been received, forgiveness is the natural, daily sign of the forgiven sinner's gratitude to God.

It should not surprise us then to read in Acts that the very last words of Stephen, the first martyr in the New Testament, are the words, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them" (Acts 7:60). These words echo Jesus' on the cross and as one reads the account of Stephen's martyrdom, it is obvious that he is very deliberately seeking to follow the example of Jesus. Like his Lord, he chooses to forgive his persecutors with his last breath.

Does such forgiveness imply that the wrong done really didn't matter, that it was excusable, or easily forgotten? By no means! Forgiveness sees the wrong done exactly for what it is, in all of its ugliness and sinfulness, and chooses to deal with it in a Christ-like fashion. As you respond to God's grace in your own life, you release the wrongdoer from the wrong and trust God to work reconciliation and healing in his/her life.

Is any of this easy? Of course it is not, as anyone who has ever been harmed by another knows. The injury done to you may not have been as serious as that experienced by Stephen or Hanatu and her family. But it was real and you may still sting at the very thought of it. Perhaps you have a filing cabinet tucked away in your mind with a drawer labeled "Bad Things People Have Done to Me." You open the drawer and there you have stored some files. Some of them may be quite thick. You may have a file labeled, "Things Dad Did" or "Ways That Mom Hurt Me." Perhaps there is a file is labeled with the name of a friend or a co-worker whom you once trusted but who betrayed you in some way. And every time you glance through these files in your mind, you rerun the offenses and the pain reheats in your heart, and you hurt all over again.

Three years ago, a VOMC team traveled to Pakistan. Amoung those whom they met was a young Christian woman who had been mistreated by a Muslim employer and whose own mother had been killed while trying to defend her. When one of our workers asked Zeba what she thought of Muslims, she exclaimed, "I hate them!"

During the night of April 24, 1915, Turkish authorities in Constantinople arrested over 200 leaders of the Armenian community. In the days to follow, hundreds more were apprehended and sent to prison in the interior of the country, where most were summarily executed. Over the next three years, as the world was preoccupied with the First World War, the Armenian people (who were predominantly Christians) were subjected to deportation, expropriation, abduction, torture, massacre, and starvation by the Turkish government. After a year's reprieve following the war, the atrocities were renewed between 1920 and 1923, and the remaining Armenians were subjected to further massacres and expulsions. Of the estimated 2 million Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire, it is believed that one and a half million perished from 1915-1923, as the Turkish government attempted to put an end to their collective existence. In a century marked by genocide, the Armenian Genocide was the 20th century's first.

A couple of years ago, we received an email from the great-grandson of Samuel Manougian, who was an evangelical pastor in the village of Kharpert and was one of the first to "disappear" in 1915. He confessed that even after all of these years, "It is hard for me and for Armenians worldwide to forgive the Turks (as Christ forgave us our sins) since they deny that there is anything to be forgiven."

Forgiveness is rarely easy for anyone, regardless of where one lives or the nature of the offense committed against them. It is even more difficult when the wrongdoers refuse to acknowledge their offence. It is hard to love your enemy when you see him/her living a normal life, seemingly unaffected by what he/she has done to you, while you remain wounded physically, emotionally or mentally. Persecuted Christians often struggle to forgive their persecutors, just as we may not find it easy to forgive those who trespass against us. A forgiving spirit needs to be nurtured and developed in response to God's forgiveness and grace in one's own life. Perhaps this is why forgiveness is a central part of the prayer that the Lord taught His disciples (Matthew 6: 9-13).

Forgiveness frees you from the tyranny of remembering that others owe you a debt that they can never really pay off and which Jesus has paid for already anyway. Forgiveness liberates you to view your enemy as Jesus does. It transforms you from being a judge seeking revenge to being an advocate seeking justice and reconciliation. It alters you from being someone to whom a debt is owed to one who is indebted to extend the grace of God to even the most undeserving. One is never more like their Heavenly Father than when one forgives.

You may not be able to forget the offense, just as Zeba will never be able to forget the Muslims who killed her mother. But forgiving opens the door to God's grace of healing. Forgiving people reach out to their enemies in grace, seeking to bring reconciliation on both a horizontal, personal level and on a vertical, divine level.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Faith: Neither a Chewable Tylenol nor a Magic Elixir

While doing my daily internet search for Christian persecution information, I stumbled upon an article called "It's dangerous to rely on faith as a magic elixir", which is a reaction to the religious movement called "prosperity theology." This theology is one that I'm only vaguely familiar with. Even so, the few times I've heard a friend or family member's experience with it have left me feeling dismayed, troubled and, to be honest, even disgusted. Thus, I knew it was a theological movement that I had to continue learning about and wrestling with.

According to prosperity theology, both a believer's wealth and their health are directly connected to the amount of faith that they possess. Paul Prather, the article's author, explains that prosperity theology believes: "[W]hatever happens to us is the result of our personal faith in God, or lack thereof. If we exhibit enough faith, God gives us what we want, whether it's a Harley motorcycle or a miraculous healing from AIDS." That's right, this theology is not just about having faith itself, but about having a certain amount of faith. And if you don't have the required amount, well, then you apparently deserve any and every negative situation that befalls you. Thus, faith becomes a sort of chewable Tylenol (a great analogy used by Glenn in his October 17 weblog entitled "Thoughts About Faith on Day 7") or, as Prather says, a "magic elixir." You take the correct amount and *presto*---you have a life without pain or trial.

Prosperity theology is largely fostered by a deliberate denial of reality. You can never admit that you're suffering, because that is seen as doubting God. If you're sick, must proclaim to everyone that you're well; if you're poor, you must pretend that you're wealthy. "The sub-text [of these actions] is clear," says Prather . "If you're not healthy or wealthy, you're a weak Christian. It's your own fault you're suffering -- you don't believe what God said."

Prather writes from the perspective of someone who has personally experienced the toll that prosperity theology can take on its followers and, by extension, on their loved ones. He saw his wife fully embrace prosperity theology and then apply its approach to her battle with breast cancer. After her diagnosis, his wife deliberately refused medical care, believing this was the only way she could be faithful to Christ. Prather's pleas with her to seek proper medial treatment were dismissed as heretical expressions of "doubt and unbelief." After three years, her cancer grew to the point of incurability. Five years later, she passed away.

Although Prather admits that he does not hold prosperity preachers wholly responsible, for his wife's death, he does not refrain from pointing an unflinching finger at its false implications. "The idea that believers can always escape poverty and sickness not only violates Christ's teachings," he says. "It violates 2,000 years of Christian history and all of Christian experience. It violates common sense."

Despite the recent popularity of prosperity theology, its approach to suffering is far from new. In fact, it is essentially a whole belief system based upon the response of Job's friends when they try claim that his suffering must be a direct result of his spiritual failure or weakness. Prosperity theology wants Christians to heed Bildad's advice that: "if you are pure and upright, even now he will rouse himself on your behalf and restore you to your rightful place" (Job 8:6). Bildad's statement defeats itself, of course, if you consider that man's "rightful place" isn't a place of prosperity, but a place of depravity. It is only by the grace of God that we do not get what we deserve and are instead given the unwarranted gift of His mercy. Furthermore, the Book of Job does not demonstrate that suffering is a result of unfaithfulness; Job suffered because he was faithful, or else the Lord would not have allowed Satan to test him through affliction.

Christ's death on the cross was an unfathomable act of mercy and love. So why do some people still insist on believing that God's mercy is indeed fathomable to the human mind? When will they realize that they cannot, themselves, dispense God's justice or even begin to predict or alter his will for their lives?

But as I ask such questions, I realize that these problems do not only arise in those who officially subscribe to prosperity theology. I've heard the question "What have I done to deserve this?" fly from the mouths of Christians suffering misfortune as well as Christians enjoying fortune. I myself have too often linked unfaithfulness with suffering, even if I don't intend to. When I'm discontent or frustrated with my life, I sometimes find myself thinking that it would get better if I was a more faithful Christian, which is a completely false idea. Yes, living faithfully is crucial and beneficial for Christians, but it does not make us immune from trials or guarantee us earthly rewards and possessions.

As I think of our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world, I shudder to think how prosperity theology followers might interpret their plight. I feel twinges of anger, frustration and fear when I realize that this skewed theology could actually make a suffering Christian believe that he or she is not a faithful servant to Christ. However, instead of giving myself over to these bitter feelings, I am trying to focus on the hope brought about by Persecuted Christians. Their willingness to live for Christ---despite the physical, emotional and financial cost of their faith---is the most powerful weapon that we have against beliefs such as prosperity theology. I pray that the enduring faithfulness of suffering Christians will open the eyes of those who are blinded by misinterpretations of scripture and false promises of an ever-wealthy or ever-healthy walk with Christ.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Kidnapping of Christian Girls In Egypt

I have a 20-year-old daughter whom I love dearly. She is precious to me beyond words and I can only imagine how I would feel if she were to be kidnapped and forced to marry her abductor.

Yet, this is the fate of hundreds of Egyptian Christian girls every year. The Voice of the Martyrs is convinced that many of these abductions have involved organized Islamic groups intent on destroying the remaining Christian population in Egypt. Most incidents go unreported, as families, in fear or shame, refuse to report the incident with police. Many others know that it will do no good, authorities inevitably side with the Muslim kidnappers. The Egyptian government has been negligent in resolving this problem and is believed by Egyptian Christians to be actually aiding and abetting the kidnappers.

In their September 2006 edition, El Tareek, Egypt's only Christian newspaper, published a thought-provoking and revealing article concerning the continued disappearances of Christian Egyptian girls and women. The article speaks to the complexities of attempts by Egyptian Christians to resolve the all-too-frequent disappearances of Christian women and the casualness and complicity of the Egyptian government in addressing the issue.

A translation of the article can be found on the website our friends at The Last Harvest. I would recommend that you read it and then do three things in support of these girls and their families:

1. Pray for those who are mentioned in this article.
2. Write to the Egyptian embassy in Ottawa and demand that the Eygptian government investigate more diligently reports of Christian girls being kidnapped and punish those found guilty of such crimes.
3. Write to the leader of the Coptic Church, Pope Shenouda and urge him to use his influence to pressure the government to seek the release of those girls who have been kidnapped.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

An Article All Church Leaders Should Read

The following outstanding article came across my desk today from Rick Warren's weekly Ministry Toolbox email. I am presently reading Ronald Boyd-MacMillan's latest book, Faith That Endures and finding it one of the most significant books that I have read in the last year. This article demonstrates the same careful thinking and I recommend that you forward this to your pastor and/or church staff.

Introduce your congregation to the persecuted church
by Ronald Boyd-MacMillan

All pastors want to help their church members understand the persecuted church.

We all want to learn something of the secret of the world's largest-ever revival in China, or be inspired by the heroic endurance of thousands of Eritrean brothers and sisters, literally cooking to death in metal shipping containers parked in the steaming jungle, all because they refuse to give up their right to read the Bible and pray. If we connect our churches with that kind of fire-filled faith, it may rub off on us.

So how do we do it?

I thought about this a long time and had a five-point plan (nicely alliterated too) to recommend to you to make this happen. But then, two huge flaws reared up to torpedo this strategy.

First, give a pastor another task list, and they'll start to whimper. Might even push them over the edge. As a British government insider said recently, "Our strategy was to keep announcing targets, initiatives, plans, which always generated headlines and made it seem like we're always on top of things. [The] problem was, we kept announcing so many new plans we never gave the first plans any time to work, and the result was chaos." Similarly, churches are suffocating from a surfeit of initiatives. What an insult it would be to reduce the persecuted church to yet another task on an already crowded roster.

Second - and here's the biggest rub - pastors can only lead their churches into realizations that they embody themselves. Since most pastors don't understand the persecuted church, the task is doomed to failure.

So what discovery is the pastor going to radiate about persecution that enables them - and their church - to understand the persecuted church?

Here's my suggestion: Congregations will understand the persecuted church only when their pastor becomes one of the persecuted church!

OK, belay those images of pastors led away in chains from hospitals for threatening abortion doctors or jailed for insulting political figures or pouring out anti-atheistic venom on talk shows. It's deeper and bigger than that, as a couple of them found out on a visit to China.

There's a house church in Beijing I take my friends to visit. The members are all young professionals, about 20 of them, and they meet in a huge, darkened, open-plan office at midnight once a week. At the beginning of each meeting, the leader goes around and asks each member this question: What are your wounds for Christ this week?

On one occasion, I had brought three American friends, and the same question - through translation - was put to each of them. They replied, "Oh, we are not wounded or persecuted, you see, we live in America, where we have religious freedom, and we are so grateful for that!"
This reply was greeted with uncomprehending silence by the Chinese house church. Then a young woman spoke up and without a trace of irony asked, "You mean, they don't let the Devil into America?"

The house church leader patiently explained to the visitors the biblical understanding of persecution: "In the Bible, to be persecuted means to be pursued by the enemies of Christ. When we become a Christian, his enemies become our enemies, and we are pitched into a battle with the world and the Devil, and this fight will draw wounds. So it doesn't matter whether you are in China or America, the fight is the same, only the degree of suffering may differ. You're going to get pursued - that's persecution."

"But we thought persecution was legal discrimination, or being put into jail for one's faith" said one of the visitors. The house church leader replied, "That's the extreme tip of it. Look, we may not sit on the same thorn, but we all sit on the same branch."

Still the visitors did not look convinced. Another Chinese member said, "If you don't have wounds for Christ, how do you know you are alive in Christ? Wounds bring joy, because then you know you are making a difference."

This struck a chord with the visitors, two of whom were pastors. As preachers, they knew that nothing communicates like joy. That's why persecuted churches are growing churches - they are alive in Christ, and they know it because they have wounds!

But how do you take that back to Madison, Wis., or Fort Lauderdale, Fla.? It sounds good. It's good theology. But how does it work? How does a pastor become one of the persecuted - in a society that is often indifferent to the exercise of religion?

The two pastors explained their confusion to the house church. One woman said to them, "Was Paul persecuted because he was a Christian? No, he was persecuted because he was a witnessing Christian. He went to the synagogues and preached there, and then he got into trouble. So find the source of resistance to the Gospel in your local area and when you apply the Gospel, watch the fight begin." The house church pastor put it this way, "Confront the defining evil in your area or your society - that will bring persecution. For us, the evil is obvious; for you, it may be more subtle."

One pastor went back to his church in an inner city area. He became convicted that the youth gangs were the defining evil in the area, especially as they were going on killing sprees and starting to become drug pushers. He began prayer meetings and outreaches to the gangs. He even became a chaplain to a particularly violent gang. After a while, he saw fruit, but he also got a visit from a local gun runner, "Leave the kids alone, or else - you're bad for business," he said. One night, six months later, a bullet came through the window as the church baptized five converted gang leaders. The reaction of the pastor could have come from the mouth of the Chinese house church leader. He said, "It was a beautiful bullet, because now we knew we were making a difference."

That pastor had joined the persecuted church and led his congregation into a greater awareness of the worldwide persecuted church. They wanted to know about their brothers and sisters in Eritrea, China, North Korea, and Iran not just because the Christians there needed their prayers and their money, but because they were one in the same battle. Christians in the West need the insights and prayers of suffering Christians around the world to fight their own battles better.

The other pastor returned to his church in a very upscale, business district. After praying with his elders, they came up with the defining evil of the area, which they called "The Lie - Get rich; be free." This was the besetting idol, they felt, and began to model an alternative lifestyle in the community that reversed consumerist expectations. The pastor confesses, "I've had more persecution from the congregation than from the community to be honest, so it's a long-term thing, but I have to say this - I feel so much better, because I'm not such a hypocrite in the pulpit anymore."

Pastors, here's your challenge: If you want your congregations to understand the persecuted church, then become a persecuted pastor.

Embody your message. Fight the battle against besetting evils in a concrete, not an abstract way. Let the wounds show. And watch your congregation catch the fire, and understand the persecuted church in the best way possible - by joining it!

Brother Andrew always says, "Persecution is an honor you have to deserve." If we do, we will live in the joy of the eighth beatitude:

"You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you deeper into God's Kingdom." (Matt. 5:10 MSG)

Deeper into God's Kingdom? Isn't that why we are pastors? To take the people deeper into God's Kingdom? Let the persecuted help with that! Take up their challenge, and join them!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Is Jesus Really the Only Way?

In the next fifty years, the greatest theological challenge that evangelicals will face will be the increasing pressure to compromise the exclusive gospel for a pluralistic world. So asserts a recent study by Christianity Today, in response to discussions with various evangelical theologians. Ironically, the same study asserts that one of the greatest missiological issues that evangelicals will face in the next fifty years will be increasing persecution as the gospel is proclaimed around the world.

The two are not entirely unrelated. When facing persecution and opposition, the temptation to deny the exclusive claims of Christ is inevitable. It has been this way since the time of the Roman persecutions. In the western world, sadly, theologians and missiologists will deny these claims not in fear of physical suffering or imprisonment but in fear of being perceived as being intellectually narrow or conservative. The threatened loss of academic respect and the desire to be seen as theologically progressive or innovative have led to a weakening of the theological foundations of many who call themselves evangelical scholars.

The call is to return to a biblical understanding of tradition which views as suspect theological innovation that goes beyond what the Church has always understood as being apostolic teaching, as revealed in Scripture. It is not the call of the theologian to be innovative.
A few years ago, I wrote an article entitled "Is Jesus Really the Only Way?" in which I address the various ramifications of denying the exclusive claims of Christ. I have recently updated it. You can download it from our website at http://www.persecution.net/download3.htm#6.

Monday, October 16, 2006

BA Worker Sent Home For Refusing to Hide Cross

Given all of the reports that I receive daily of Christians being arrested, beaten and even killed for their faith, it is easy to overlook a story like the one that can in over the weekend of a British Airways worker who was sent home for refusing to conceal a small Christian cross while on duty. Nadia Eweida, 55, has told to either remove or hide the small cross which she wears around her neck. When she refused, she was told to go home for (according to a letter given to her) failing "to comply with a reasonable request."

On Saturday, Eweida told the Daily Mail that she has decided to sue her employer for religious discrimination after having been suspended without pay for three weeks. Eweida has been a British Airways employee for seven years and works at the BA check-in counter at London's Heathrow Airport. "I will not hide my belief in the Lord Jesus. British Airways permits Muslims to wear a headscarf, Sikhs to wear a turban and other faiths religious apparel," Eweida told the paper. "Only Christians are forbidden to express their faith."

As someone who often flies with British Airways, this news concerns me, of course. Apparently, it is causing quite a row across the pond, as well, if the online versions of the British papers are to be believed. Apparently, nearly 400 BA staff members signed a petition in support of Eweida. Even some British politicians are calling the actions of BA "loopy" and pandering to policial correctness.

I must agree. This is just plain silly, on BA's part. Who gets offended by someone wearing a cross, for Pete's sake? The only people that I can think of are other Christians who have convictions about the appropriateness of crucifixes and crosses. But even they are unlikely to go into a mouth foaming fury at the sight of a small cross around the neck of a check-in counter worker in a public airport.

I suspect that BA is going to back down from this, given the public fury. I hope so. There are already some Christians in the UK who are urging a boycott of the airline because of this incident and the BA policy against employees wearing religious symbols publicly. As a loyal BA customer, I have mixed feelings about that. I do believe that the uniform policy of the airline is a silly, paranoid one. As such, I do not believe that the policy is specifically geared towards Christians, although Christians are likely to be the ones most effected by it. Neither am I convinced that this is a hill worth dying on. I do wish Eweida success. Silly policies should be challenged and protested against, just as this one is. But nor should they be over-reacted to by the Christian public as evidence that persecution were now on the verge of raging through the streets of London. This policy is evidence of the response of society to the fear of religious offense; either pander to the minority at the expense of the majority or secularize everything. BA is trying to the last, albeit poorly. It is something they need not do at all. Why can't religion have a part in normal life, especially when it really isn't bothering anyone anyway?

Free At Last

Just a brief note to let everyone know that I was discharged from the hospital this afternoon. I still have to take antibiotics for another week, but at least it can be done offsite. Best of all, I don't have to go back to the oncology clinic until Wednesday of next week, which means that I will have a week of virtual normality. It has been a long time since I have had over a week without at least one doctor's appointment. I take Denita to the fracture clinic tomorrow to check out her elbow, so I am not entirely free of the medical profession. We will see if Denita has to have a more permanent cast for her elbow. Pray that it will heal quickly. She is doing a lot better, but is still fairly restricted in what she should and should not do.

Thank you to all of you who have been praying for us in the last week. We know that your prayers have sustained us.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Thoughts About Faith on Day 7

Well, I am still in the hospital, but am hopeful that I will be released tomorrow. My blood levels are stabilizing at a level where the doctors are confident that I will be able to fight off a minor infection again, although I will likely need to take antibiotics for another week or so to get rid of the last of this staff infection that I picked up a week ago. I am feeling great and ready and eager to get out and help my wife out. There are a lot of things she cannot do without two arms (especially, not a right arm) and it will be some time until her broken elbow heals.

I am grateful to report that the support that we have received from both our church and friends has been more than I expected when I wrote my weblog on Thursday. God had been moving and we are amazed. This is not to say that I regret what I wrote then; Denita and I certainly felt like we were facing a huge mountain that day and we still do, but God has upheld us and continues to do so. Our kids have been great in helping mom around the house and transporting her around; I am really proud of them!

I have been giving some further thought to my final comment on Thursday's weblog about the purpose of faith not being that of making us feel better. I think that I said more there than what I realized. For many Christians in the West, faith has become the panacea for one's ills. Have a problem? Trust Jesus and He will take it away (like the new chewable Tylenol which is being advertised as being a step towards "a pain free world"). Faith and God are inseparable. Faith has no power in and of itself; it is not an entity or a life force. Faith is simply trust. To have faith in God is to trust Him. That sounds so simple, but we have complicated it so much. We make faith a substance that one has to have enough of in order to get stuff. What foolishness. And we subconsciously believe that if demonstrate enough of it, then all will be well and we will feel better about life and our problems, in particular.

Listening to the testimonies of persecuted Christians should convince us once and for all that the purposes of God for His people are not primarily their emotional or physical wellbeing. Feeling better about life is not one of the chief ends of human existence. We were created to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. This will inevitably call for suffering and sacrifice; opportunities to trust Him in the midst of (and even despite) adverse circumstances. We will be given opportunities to demonstrate to the world, to God, and to the angels (both good and evil) that we will not deny Him, come what may. We will bless His name, whether He gives or takes away. This is not fatalism; it is a recognition that there are things going on around us and in heavenly places that we may not be aware of but which we are involved in somehow. Our call at that very moment is to trust God that He knows, even if He never tells us what they are, and that His purposes for us and for Himself are being accomplished.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Muzzling of Islamic Criticism in the West

Not content to force their draconic religious restrictions upon the weakest members of their society in Islamic countries, it is becoming increasing obvious that militant Islamists are seeking to spread their reign of fear in western nations, as evidenced in two articles in yesterday's National Post. In the first article, the Ontario Attorney General is being asked by the Muslim Canadian Congress to take action against people who call others anti-Islamic or an apostate. Such terms, they say, should be considered a hate crime since such accusations are frequently followed by threats, violence, and even death. They are right; in many Islamic countries, this is exactly what happens. But in Ontario?

According to Farzana Hassan, president of the Muslim Canadian Congress, several of their members have been accused by conservative Muslims of being apostates and "anti-Islamic" and coming from Muslim countries, they know exactly what these words mean. They are not empty, idle words but constitute a very real threat of deadly violence. Such threats, say the MCC, have kept moderate Muslims from speaking out against violence done in the name of Islam.

I am hesitant to support this kind of action by the MCC for the reason that I am reticent about any hate crime legislation due to its tendency to be abused to silence legitimate free speech. But the fact that the MCC is asking for protection from their own Muslim brethren in Canada is ironic (given how we are always hearing how Islam is such a religion of peace from groups like the MCC) but also quite concerning.

The second article concerns a situation I read about a week or so ago about a French philosophy teacher who is in hiding after receiving death threats after publishing a commentary in the French daily Le Figaro on September 19 that criticized Islam and the prophet Muhammad. In his commentary, Robert Redeker wrote that the Koran revealed the prophet Mohammed as a "warlord without pity, a pillager, someone who massacres Jews and a polygamist." He wrote, "Hatred and violence reside in the book by which all Muslims are educated, the Koran." He was also critical of Muslim attempts to impose Islamic laws in Europe under the threat of violence (i.e. the cartoons of Muhammad).

In the days that followed, an Islamic website linked to al Qaeda published Redeker's cell phone number, address, and a map with directions to his home. He was bombarded with threatening emails threatening to kill him. He has since been forced into hiding and is unable to go to work.
While some like Reporters Without Borders and France's two largest teacher's unions have defended him, others have criticized Redeker for having gone too far in his comments. How typical! The fact is, Mr. Redeker has the right in a democratic society to make public criticisms of the Koran and Muhammad. Might he have made his points more diplomatically? Sure, but he does not need to, nor should he forced to do so. If he had chosen to moderate his statements that may have been the way of wisdom but the way of truth is not that narrow. As Christians, we are called to speak the truth in love, but when we fail to, this does not render what we say any less true; just harsh and unloving, neither of which are intrinsically criminal.

What is criminal, however, is the creeping pressure that all members of Western societies are feeling to keep their criticisms of Islam and militant Islam, in particular, quiet, often due to concerns over litigation or threat of violence. This we cannot allow and must resist. As a dear Egyptian brother once told me, "The spirit of Islam is the spirit of fear." We cannot give into it.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

At the Dawn of Day 4

There are few things more sobering than watching a sunrise from a hospital room. Once again, this has been my privilege for the few couple of days. When a mild nasal infection flared and spread into a major staff infection, I was rushed to Emergency on Thanksgiving morning. Sleeping the next 48 hours away as my body fought off the infection, I was rarely aware of night and day. Yesterday morning dawned, however, and I was feeling so much better. Still, as I sat by the window of my room, looking out on the rainy morning dawn, I felt nothing. I knew that I was going to be here a while longer while my body fights off the last remnants of the staff infection and the oncologists struggle to get my immune system recovered to levels that allow me to join society again.

My main link to the land of the living has been my wife of 23 years, Denita. She is an anchor in my life. The last few years, however, have been hard for her since I was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, and the last two months, in particular. I have hospitalized for almost half of the last six weeks and when at home, I have been suffering the effects of chemotherapy.
As I sat looking at the rain, my room phone rang. On the other end I could hear Denita crying. I had briefly wondered a few minutes earlier where she was, as I knew that she was coming to see me before heading off to work. She told me that she was in Emergency. My heart stopped. She was hurt, having fallen down a flight of concrete stairs in the hospital parking lot. Thankfully, a woman who was coming to work at the ER was following close after and helped her in.

Like the trooper she is, Denita refused to believe that she was seriously hurt and allowed the doctor to only give her some ice for her arm and face on both of which she had fallen. When she arrived at my room, it soon became obvious to me that something was far more serious than the bruises and scrapes to her legs. Her arm grew increasingly more painful and so I insisted that she return to the ER. Reluctantly, the caregiver became the care receiver and complied. Two hours later, Denita returned in a sling with a diagnosis that her right elbow had been cracked in two places.

And so I sit here now, on day four of my latest hospital stay, looking at the sun rise on anther day and I feel helpless. Yesterday, as she came to my room after having fallen, I saw the look of despair on my wife's face. She can't take anymore. She needs me and I am stuck here in isolation, cut off from the world. There is so little that I can do for her right now; virtually nothing. I am praying, yes, and I do not want to minimize that. But I am her husband and I need to be at her side but I can't be. I can urge my children to step up and take more responsibility around the home. But that's hard to ask of two busy college juniors and a high school senior; all of whom have jobs of their own. I can't call on family, since both of our families are out in Alberta, thousands of miles away, with health issues of their own. My mother is caring for her elderly parents as my grandfather recently suffered a severe stroke. Denita's father is recuperating from a brain tumor and so Denita's mom can't come out either. But we need help!

Can I look to the local church that we started attending in January? Not likely. I won't go into why. Thankfully, Denita has some other friends who will likely help out some with some of the meals and the like, but I do feel that we are pretty much alone out here. Yes, I am grateful for the help that the staff and Board here at the mission provide (their love and support has been a bright light to us), but they have already been so generous and there are so few of them that we cannot ask or expect more.

So what to do?

I have realized recently that too much burden for the care of the chronically ill falls upon the family nowadays. The North American church needs to wake up to the rising cancer levels in their midst and recognize that families affected are often tattered under the strain and need a helping hand more than they need cards, gifts, or flowers (as thoughtful as these are). Things like helping with housecleaning, cooking, transportation; ordinary everyday things that often, unexpectedly and at the last minute, get put on hold as appointments, treatments, and setbacks chew away at precious hours of every day and week. Denita has become so exhausted in recent weeks, I not really surprised that she got injured. But she is also spiritually and emotionally exhausted. And these wounds only her husband sees and wishes that he could heal with a touch, a kiss, a hug or a kind word. But these wounds take time to heal too, just like cracked elbows.
It's daylight now on the fourth day as I type this and I still feel helpless; as a father, as a husband, as a director as VOMC. Remembering Job, I cry out to God, "Why did you allow Satan to touch my wife? Hasn't she gone through enough already? Nevertheless, I will continue to trust you."

That doesn't make me much better at the dawn of Day 4. But then again, that is not the purpose of faith.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Time to Gently Push Back

David Asper, Chairman of the National Post, wrote an outstanding editorial today, decrying the interim Liberal Party leader's attack on Darrel Reid this week and calling for the end to the ideological tribalism that seems to mark the Liberal Party of Canada in regards to their demonizing of social conservative Canadians. He writes:

I am not a social conservative. But I am a proponent of the Charter and the principles it contains. We are a diverse society, and our diversity is reflected not merely in the languages we speak or the colour of our skin. An essential aspect of diversity in any democratic society is recognizing that reasonable people can embrace diverse ideologies. Unreasonable people also fall within the protection of the Charter unless what they say can be justifiably limited. Whether one thinks the views of evangelical Christians are reasonable or otherwise, when politicians began demonizing an entire branch of mainstream thought, treating it as a badge of bigotry and ignorance, that goes beyond partisan politics. It is ideological tribalism.

Let us imagine that the Liberals were applying the same intolerant attitude to a different group. Say, for example, they were picking on a group of aboriginal Canadians who embrace native creationism and rely on that view as part of their rationale for asserting land claims. Imagine that the Liberal party put out a press release mocking the Creator, reincarnation and multiple spirits as nothing more than modern-day paganism. Imagine the uproar.

Of course, this would never happen: To some Liberals, this category of victim would be politically inappropriate. (In other words, they could not get away with it.) But Mr. Reid is an evangelical Christian. As such, certain Liberal elites see him as a soft target. As the Liberals (and too many of their supporters) see it, the only faith you can make fun of is the one embraced by a majority of religiously observant Canadians.

This trend should be frightening to all Canadians, regardless of their political stripes. Social conservatives have as much right to express their views on the issues of the day as any other Canadians. They should be able to speak their minds, and participate in public life, without federal politicians targeting them with demagogic hit jobs.

Asper is absolutely correct. But what I like about this editorial most, however, is that at the end, he includes what I like to call the "So What? Factor." He suggests that every candidate in the current Liberal leadership contest should answer a basic question: "Do you agree that social conservatives have the right to express their views without fear of being humiliated by your party?"

Good idea. But let's take it one step further. May I encourage you to make sure that they are asked exactly this question by ordinary Canadians? The contact information for all of the candidates can be found on the official Liberal Party of Canada's website. If you do get a response, please pass them on to me. I would like to hear what their response is.

It is time to gently push back against the intolerance that has come to mark the party that has long claimed to be the defender of our country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is time to hold them accountable and ask whether they really believe that Canadian evangelicals have the same rights to public expression as everyone else.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Persecution Report

I am so delighted by the launch of our newest web feature, the Persecution Report, a monthly webcast produced by our Multimedia Productions Officer, Greg Musselman and Lance G. Spratt of Creative Visual Communication. Great work, guys!!

I hope that you have had a chance to watch it. If not, may I encourage you to do so? It is 15 minutes long and filled with information and testimonies that I know you will find helpful in getting to know the Persecuted Church even better. Just go to the home page of www.persecution.net 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

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Are Conservative Christians Unsuitable for Government Jobs?

During the last federal election in January, the Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Party of Canada of the time spoke repeatedly of how Liberal values are Canadian values and that Liberals do not hold to the same values as social conservatives who embrace traditional values on sexual morals and family. If his assertion were true, then it would be logical to conclude that social conservatives are not real Canadians and are actually dangerous to Canada. Furthermore, since I am a social conservative, there must be no place in Canada for people like me.

Well, it is nice to know that some things don't change. Things like the Liberal Party's disdain for conservative Christians and their values. Yesterday, the Liberals (now in Opposition) called on the Conservative government to reverse its decision to hire former B.C. Conservative candidate Darrel Reid as top aide to Environment Minister Rona Ambrose. The reason? Mr. Reid's past comments on gay rights, abortion and "sexual mores" while he was president of Focus on the Family in Canada.

As cited in today's National Post, in 2003, Reid apparently compared Canada to Nazi Germany for bringing in a new law to include homosexuals as a protected group under Canada's hate crimes propagation laws. He argued, as VOMC also did at the time, social conservatives could be subject to prosecution if they spoke against homosexuality. Although this legislation has not been used in this way yet and I am not sure that referring to Nazi Germany was the wisest choice to use as an example, VOMC's newest DVD "Faith Under Fire: Canada" provides evidence of the legitimacy of Reid's concerns. The Opposition Leader, Bill Graham, however, said in the House of Commons, "Colleagues, look around this House. Are there members in this House who are like colleagues of Adolf Hitler, who are Nazis? This is the type of person the Prime Minister is bringing to his high political office and to the House."

Does he want an answer to that question? Because the spread of disinformation and intolerance was a hallmark of the propaganda and social engineering machine of Nazi Germany. It is also a hallmark of the Liberals, as evidenced when Graham also demanded an explanation from the Prime Minister for a letter that he claimed Reid sent to the Western Standard in which the writer called on Muslims to demonstrate "theirs is a religion of peace, rather than a religion based on threats, intimidation and terrorism." Nothing new there; lots of people have been calling on Muslims to do so (including other Muslims).

But no, Mr. Graham goes on the offensive. "The rights of minorities in Canada are fundamental to our common citizenship, yet the Prime Minister has named Reid as a key political operator in his administration," Mr. Graham declared in his opening remarks in Question Period. After reading the quote from the letter he claims Reid wrote, Mr. Graham said Canadian Muslims are "people of peace" and called on Mr. Harper to make a decision. "Does the Prime Minister choose our Canadian Muslim voices, or does he support his recent political appointment?"

Too bad that apparently Mr. Graham and his aides can't read. The author of the March 13 letter was signed "Darrell Reid." The Reid that was appointed as an aide spells his first name "Darrel." Oops, wrong guy.

Today, Graham withdrew the remarks, saying he has since found out that Reid never made the remarks concerning Muslims. Graciously, Prime Minister Stephen Harper responded by thanking Graham for admitting the mistake.

The bigger mistake, however, is the Liberal Party's continued opposition to allowing those with conservative Christian values a voice in Canadian society and government. It would appear that only the views of secularists and religious minorities are appropriate. This exclusionary and discriminatory worldview is what the Liberal Party of Canada really needs to apologize for.

Families in Crisis: Here and There

By Klaas Brobbel

This past August, I was surprised to read in a local newspaper that the Toronto public school system now asks students about their sexual orientation. When I grew up, sexual details like this were simply not mentioned, let alone discussed in school. In fact, back then we would have been hard-pressed to explain what "sexual orientation" even meant. Today, however, educators see public discussion about sexual matters as the only way to be aware of what our youth are thinking about.

I can't help but see the "maturity" of our youth (if you can call it that) as a direct result of the sexual revolution of the sixties-a time when adults were encouraged to rebel against moral conventions and pursue hedonistic lifestyles. Over the past forty years, morality has become increasingly subjective; what is immoral to one person is not immoral to another. This relativistic worldview has caused a great deal of damage to the core building block of our society: the family.

A recent fundraising letter from the Region of Peel Children's Aid demonstrated the broken state of the Canadian family. It contained a fact sheet about the Society's activities for the fiscal year 2005/2006. Here are some of the main facts:

  • The Society responded to 14,190 calls about the safety and well being of children from families, teachers, doctors and concerned citizens, which resulted in 6,718 investigations of suspected maltreatment of children and youth.
  • The Society served more than 7,000 families.
  • An average of 506 children were in the care of the Society.
  • The Region called on 168 foster families to provide a stable environment for those children who need it.
  • The Society has 250 volunteers who gave over 22,000 hours of support during the year.
  • The Society employs 375 full and part-time social workers, child and youth workers.

I have mixed feelings about these facts. One the one hand, I am thankful that so many resources are available for restoring our families. But on the other hand, the amount of resources needed clearly indicates that family problems are large scale-especially when you consider that these scenarios are not only happening in the Peel region but all over Canada.

It's hard for me to grasp the deteriorated state of the Canadian family. As I said to my wife the other day, if most families were like our extended family, children's aid societies wouldn't exist or would, at least, be very small in scope.

But I am careful not to become too smug about the general health of Christian families. We cannot forget that Christian families are sometimes no better than those with painful family conditions and those in need of special aid. Christian families are not without difficult times. But, by the grace of God, we have a way of dealing with them. When we submit ourselves before a righteous God, we find renewal and forgiveness that will sustain us through our difficulties. This submission also enables us to be illustrations of God's goodness working in our lives and allows us to show others that our faith deeply benefits all areas of our lives.

Although VOMC is not an organization that specifically deals with family issues, we are keenly interested in the health and wellbeing of family life. Over the years, our annual Operation Christmas Blessing campaigns have been able to reach out to families living in restricted nations, providing them with limited help and reminding them they are not forgotten. We heartily recommend that you participate in this year's Operation Christmas Blessing campaign to Christian families in Egypt. By doing so, you will also be taking an important step restoring family to its rightful position at the core of our society.

(Klaas Brobbel is the Executive Director of The Voice of the Martyrs.)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Faith Under Fire: Canada Video Released

When I first joined The Voice of the Martyrs in 1997, I never dreamed that the day would come when we would release a video on religious liberty issues threatening Canadian Christians. In the years since, as homosexuality has been coming "out of the closet", Canadian Christians are being asked to take biblical values concerning marriage and sexual orientation out of the public realm and into the "closets" of their home and churches. "Believe what you will in private," believers are told. "But don't try to spread your beliefs in Canadian society." This privatization of faith represents, I believe, perhaps, the greatest threat to religious freedom in Canada today.

And so, I am pleased to announce the latest release from The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada; a new 30-minute video entitled Faith Under Fire: Canada. In it, you will meet Canadians from across the country who have stood up for our right to proclaim biblical truth concerning homosexuality and marriage and have paid a price to do so. Professionally produced by our Multimedia Productions Officer, Greg Musselman and Lance G. Spratt of Creative Visual Communication in Devon, Alberta, this video exposes the threat of religious privatization in Canada and challenges us to rise up and be counted in our day. You can order a copy today online from our online catalog for only $10.00 plus shipping.