Wednesday, December 27, 2006

When All is Not Calm and Bright

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

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

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

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

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

Persecution Story of 2006

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Prayer and a Triune God

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Reflections on the Trinity

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

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

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

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

Hello from Princess Margaret Hospital

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

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

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

Saturday, December 16, 2006

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

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

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


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

Prior to the Visit:

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

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

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

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

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

During the Visit:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the Visit:

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

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

Checking into Princess Margaret Hospital Today

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

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

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

God bless you all and talk to you again soon.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Show Must Go On

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 11, 2006

Best Practices for Cross-cultural Visits to Restricted Nations

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

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

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

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Leader as Model

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 08, 2006

Grappling the Great Paradoxes

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Countdown to Transplant Begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Video of Jimma Persecution Available

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

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

Friday, December 01, 2006

Rick Warren in His Own Words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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