By Klaas Brobbel
When Ayatollah Khomeini began his cassette tape ministry while in exile during the mid-1970s little did he know the impact it would have on Islam as a whole. Within a few years his sermons became very popular taking the Islamic world by storm. His brand of orthodoxy revitalized Islam, which for centuries had taken a back seat in relation the Western ways. In the end he retuned victoriously to his native Iran and subsequently became the most powerful person in the country.
The power of the cassette tape was not lost on many other Islamic preachers who followed him. Today, hundreds of thousands of such cassette tapes are available in the bazaars across the Middle East and find their way well beyond that region of the world. These messages have militarized Islam and Muslim youth especially are greatly attracted to it. Cases in points are the recent arrests of seventeen young Muslims in Canada and the arrests of others earlier this month in Great Britain on terrorist charges. Those of us who do not speak Arabic will need to rely on those who do to tell us what these massages contain. This raises the question, "Should we care?"
The other day, while scanning through nearly 100 e-mail reports dealing with the persecution of Christians and issues related to Islam and Hinduism I came upon a twelve page article written by Emmanuel Sivan who teaches history at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The article Eavesdropping on Radical Islam, draws on research for a project conducted for the Twentieth Century Fund (you can find this article at www.meforum.org/article/237).
Professor Sivan has done a phenomenal job by listening and analyzing hundreds of sermons from over 30 popular Islamic preachers in the Arab world. His study enables us to get right into the Islamic mind and thinking to see for ourselves the unyielding non compromising spirit of militant Islam.
While much of their analyses regarding democracy and Western society are right, their methods to correct the wrongs are not. As Christian we believe that people have a right to be wrong. To force everyone to have the same belief (which would ultimately fail anyway) would create a world where terror would reign supreme.
So, should we be concerned? The answer is, "Yes we should." The influence that these men have over a new generation of Muslims is frightening and does not bode well for the freedoms we so easily take for granted.
Sivan concludes his article with the warning: "Westerners debating the question of Islam and democracy would do well to listen to these voices, representing as they do the hegemonic discourse in the Islamist movement. When Islamists talk to each other rather than for external consumption, the talk is clearly and unambiguously anti-democratic. And so would be their behaviour should they seize power."
(Klaas Brobbel is the Executive Director of The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada)
Thursday, August 24, 2006
By Klaas Brobbel
Many organizations have corporate values. Personally, I am a big fan of the practice and think them to be essential for determining the appropriate means by which a ministry will carry out its God-given mandate. Pragmaticism, a hallmark of many mission organizations, is an insufficient basis from which to operate. Noble ends require noble means.
The Voice of the Martyrs adopted a set of core values a number of years ago here in Canada (click here for a summary) and while they require some refreshing and reiteration now that our ministry has grown and developed, these values remain valid and effective. It is common for us to refer to them in decision-making, which is as it ought to be.
One value that we have found a continuiing challenge to live by is that of practicing servanthood to the persecuted church by serving according to their expressed needs and not according to our predetermined agenda. Recently, we were requested by one of our partners in south Asia to consider renewing a project that we were not terribly enthusiatic about any longer. As we gauged it against others that we were involved in and compared it to our priorities, it no longer seemed to be a terribly good "fit" for us.
As I was enjoying my morning coffee with the newspaper earlier this week, the thought crossed my mind that we were inadvertantly at risk of violating one of our core values in regards to this project. It was an uncomfortable thought and I realized that we needed to re-examine this project accordingly. This is not to say that our own priorities as a mission have no input in the decision, nor that such priorities are inappropriate. But we need to weigh them with the priorities of our partners whom we have committed to serve and allow their priorities to have a predominant voice.
It is far easier to function from the basis that we in North America know the best way to minister, according to projects that appeal to donors, coincide to strengths of our staff, are consistent to what we have done in the past, or fit our corporate comfort zones. It is quite another to serve consistently according to stated values.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 8/24/2006
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
You might be interested to know that, as of last week, you can reach the main website of The Voice of the Martyrs under a number of domain names. We reserved a number of domain names in order to: 1) make it more convenient for people to find us, 2) to protect our name from cyber-squatters. So now, to reach our main website, you can type into your address box, if you wish:
Or you can continue to use our official domain address, www.persecution.net.
Watch for other changes coming to Persecution.Net in the coming weeks. Soon we will be releasing a graphics version of The Persecution and Prayer Alert that will include pictures such as are found on the web version.
This fall, we will also be launching a monthly webcast which we will be prepared to offer to other websites if they wish to link to it. This is an exciting development for us. Watch for more details.
In September, you will also be able to listen to our new radio program, Jesus Freaks Radio, which is now being broadcast on stations across the country.
We will also be moving some resources to our main website from our multimedia website www.persecution.tv as the site goes through a complete revision (hopefully in time for International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church in November).
So, keep your eye in Persecution.Net in the next few weeks as we continue to make this website your source of persecution news on the Net.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 8/23/2006
Over the weekend, I had a discussion about dreams with a few of my family members. We giggled about the embarrassing ones; we marveled at the magical ones; we shuddered at the scary ones. For the most part, however, we talked about the sheer absurdity of them. We also agreed that one of the most amazing aspects of the dream world was how "real" it feels, especially when the dream triggers authentic emotion responses such as fear, joy and sorrow. Emotions, however, can only go so far; people still don't often grant dreams significant authority as communicators of meaning or truth. In fact, many people enjoy dreams precisely because they are so mysterious and illogical. Dreams can be brief little blips of magic to interrupt the boringness of the woken world. They are not often thought of as a way to experience reality, but a means to escape it.
It's common for people shrug off dreams as fascinating but ultimately insignificant. Sure, the mystics and dream analysis enthusiasts fiddle around with their interpretations and theories, but messages of real truth and meaning? People generally assume you have to be conscious to receive those. Christians, too, can have a pretty casual attitude towards the spiritual significance of dreams, despite the fact that the Bible is filled with stories of them serving an enlightening or prophetic purpose. Jacob's moon-lit ladder to the sky, Joseph's bowing cornstalks, Pharaoh's carnivorous cows---dreams are vital parts of these biblical stories, bridging the gap between humanity and holiness.
Biblical dreams and visions often contain messages that, if communicated otherwise, might have gone unheeded. A classic example is the role of dreams in the story of Christ's birth; both Mary and Joseph's communicate with the angel Gabriel by way of a dream or vision, which are catalysts for their eventual journey to Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph's willingness to obey their dreams demonstrate the authority ascribed to the medium. People didn't just think of dreams as a meaningless fluttering of thought and imagination. When biblical figures have a dream or a vision, they pay attention; they listen and, if they are faithful, they humbly obey.
Christians who want dismiss dreams as a spiritual device "of the past" need only to read stories about today's Persecuted Church to see that, for many believers, they are very much present. While researching for an upcoming newsletter article on Christians in Ethiopia, I've found numerous conversion testimonies that hinge on a dream experience. An April 2006 newsletter article about East Africa states that "in Islamic areas, it is not uncommon for God to get people's attention through dreams." The article then describes the dreams that Hajj Mohammed, an Ethiopian believer, to Christ. His dream consisted of two parts. One was Jesus "show[ing] his love for Mohammed" and the other was God "revea[ling] the reality of his judgment." After these apparitions, Mohammed stopped his plan to kill a Christian evangelist and gave his life to Christ, similar to the way that Paul's anti-Christian mission was halted after a holy vision on the road to Damascus.
Although I have certainly had many memorable, vivid and even spiritual dreams, I have to admit that I've never exactly had one that I would aptly classify as a "religious experience"---at least, not in the sense that it contained a concrete religious message. When comparing my experience to that of believers in Ethiopia, I can't help but think that this might be connected to the differences in our spiritual environments. One major (and obvious) difference is that I live, and have always lived, in a Christian home and a non-restricted country. Now, I'm not saying that it is impossible for dreams to have a major role in the faith life of non-persecuted Christians; I've known people that profess to "hearing" God's message or call through dreams and visions. I am, however, supporting the idea that God might uses dreams differently in areas of Christian persecution than he does in other areas. I think that they He could more frequently use them as a direct spiritual medium, and with good reason. For one, dreams are viewed as extremely important and religiously meaningful in the religion of Islam. Thus, believers might be more "open" to them and more willing to obey their call for conversion. Dreams are also a wholly private, undetectable mode of communication. They allow God to make a kind of holy "whisper" in a non-believer's ear that has the spiritual impact of a heavenly roar. Thus, dreams like Mohammed's are a simultaneously terrifying and comforting message from God, but they are always powerful.
So how do Christians who don't quite consider dreams as part of their faith life begin to understand the role of them within the Persecuted Church? Do see them as yet another example of how the "typical" religious experiences of Western or non-persecuted believers differs from those belonging to the "culture" of Christian persecution? Or maybe we just acknowledge them as a possible medium for God's truth and word-meaningful, yes, but not necessarily in our personal spiritual walk.
I think it's alright to have so many questions about reconciling dreams with the Christian faith. In fact, I think it's very appropriate. Dreams are, by nature, baffling and mysterious. So why shouldn't we have questions and hold different beliefs? It's inevitable. No matter what your beliefs are, however, I think that its important to acknowledge dreams as, at the very least, potential mediums for God's message. Even converts who have never seen a vision or believers who have never "heard" God speak to them in a dream try not to dismiss the stories because they seem too "mysterious" or "weird." Sure, skepticism has its place, but trying to restrict God's behavior according to what's "typical" is a dangerous move. Gods ways are not are own. Not all dreams are necessarily from God, but every part of our lives belongs to Him, and so has the potential to be used by Him.
Dreams are evidence that God does not always operate according to our own expectations and conventions. In a way, the "strangeness" is one of the most comforting things about dreams. After all, isn't it amazing to think that God has the potential to startle even our sleeping mind with his message of grace and salvation? Don't stories such as Mohammed's prove that God is ever-present? Dreams can be powerful reminders that God is in eternal control, working even the seemingly nonsensical and often mystifying reality of our dreams toward his glory and will. So, as in many parts of our life, maybe all God requires us to do is to be still, pay attention and leave ourselves open to Him.
Posted by Adele at 8/23/2006
Friday, August 18, 2006
I have been preparing for teaching at Toronto Baptist Seminary in a couple of weeks and I ran across a familiar passage that I had somehow failed to notice when writing my biblical theology of persecution, In the Shadow of the Cross.
"Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." (Matthew 7:14-15)
The Greek word for "hard" in verse 19 is thlibō and related to the more common word for persecution or tribulation - thlipsis. In fact, Acts 14:22 is a parallel verse where the disciples strengthened the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying "that through many tribulations (thlipsis) we must enter the kingdom of God."
It would be quite appropriate to translate Matthew 7:15 as "For the gate is narrow and the way is one of tribulation that leads to life, and those who find it are few."
The way of righteousness is the way of persecution. It is not an easy road but it is the right one. We do no one a favour when we hide this from them or seek to shield them from it. Persecution is part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
So, what does this mean for those of us who are not being persecuted?
(In Canada, you can order "In the Shadow of the Cross" online at http://www.persecution.net/catalog.htm. In the US, go to www.vombooks.com)
Posted by Glenn Penner at 8/18/2006
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
On Monday, Reporters Without Borders published a press release condemning months of harassment of a 42-year-old Egyptian blogger named Hala Helmy Botros by the authorities in Qina (near Luxor), in central Egypt. Botros was forced to close down her blog Aqbat Bela Hodood (Copts Without Borders) about the persecution of the Christian Coptic minority, and to stop writing on this subject for other websites. Botros wrote under the pseudonym of Hala El-Masry. She is now the target of a judicial investigation and is banned from leaving the country.
According to the Reporters Without Borders release, Botros had accused the political authorities and police in articles, interviews and video reports online of complicity in the attacks against Copts on January 19, 2006 when they tried to restore their church in the village of Edyssat (near Luxor) (see http://www.persecution.net/news/egypt22.html for more information). The release goes on:
Her posts clearly irritated the authorities as first her phone line was cut and then her Internet connection, forcing her to go to her father's house to continue posting. The authorities also placed her under surveillance. One night, her father was beaten by two strangers who told him, "This is a present from your daughter."
When he went to the police station to report this, the police got him to sign a blank sheet to which they added a statement in which he appeared to accuse her of being responsible for the attack. Botros reacted by filing a complaint against the police officer concerned, Mahmoud Sabri, accusing him of bringing false charges, but the case was not pursued by the authorities.
On 15 June, she tried to fly to the United States to attend a conference about the Copts in Newark, New Jersey, but the authorities removed her from the airplane before it took off, on the grounds that she was banned from the leaving the country. She was questioned for several hours at the airport and ordered to report to a state security court in Cairo on 25 June.
Security agents raided her home on the night of 22 June with the apparent intention of arresting her, but she was in Cairo at the time. Her husband was forced to go with them and to sign a statement guaranteeing that she would report to the court three days later.
Botros went to the court with two lawyers, Mamdouh Ramzy and Naguib Gobraeil, on 25 June. She was questioned about her Internet posts and accused of "spreading false news" and of "disrupting social harmony between the Muslim and Christian communities." She was released the same day after paying 3,000 Egyptian pounds (400 euros) in bail, but was questioned again the next day.
Fearing for her safety and the safety of her family, Botros finally decided to shut down her blog. She is being watched by plain-clothes police, her telephone is tapped and her e-mail is being monitored.
As I viewed Botros' weblog again this morning, I was saddened. It seemed so empty. All content has been removed apart from a few links to a few Coptic and music websites. Her weblog stands as a monument to freedom of expression. To publicly expose the Egyptian government's abysmal record of denying justice to her Christian population took courage. She must have known of the risk. I do not condemn her for now backing off; she has fought a good fight and has paid a price for speaking up in a country where such a basic human right is considered treasonous. It is now up to the rest of us to continue to be a voice for Egypt's persecuted Christians.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 8/16/2006
Monday, August 14, 2006
I read today that the president of the National Association of Evangelicals in the United States said that the NAE has refused to officially support Israel in its conflict with Hezbollah. Rev. Ted Haggard told Associated Press that Israeli embassy officials had called him several times a day during the first two weeks of the conflict, asking for a public expression of support. He declined, he said, explaining ""Our silence is not a rejection of Israel or even a hesitation about Israel. Our silence is to try to protect people," said Haggard, pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo. "There's a rapidly growing evangelical population in virtually every Islamic country. Much of it is underground in the countries that are more radicalized, and many of the Christians survive based on their neighbors just ignoring the fact that they don't go to mosque."
Haggard insisted the inaction of the National Association of Evangelicals is not a criticism of Israel, but reflects caution about the risks for Christians living in Islamic countries.
I wholeheartedly agree with Haggard's approach and applaud him for his wise and courageous stand on this issue. There will be those who will roundly criticize him for taking this position, accusing him of refusing to "bless" Israel. I will not be one of them.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 8/14/2006
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
This is a "heads up" for those of you who read the VOMC weblog. Over the next couple of weeks, we are going to selling a number of our resources online at great discounts. Many are items that we are discontinuiing. Others, we simply have too many of and we want to get them into the hands of people who can use them rather than sit in our warehouse. You can find them in the On Sale! of our online catalog (http://www.persecution.net/catalog.htm). Don't wait too long though; quantities are limited on a number of the items. You may want to check back from time to time to see if something else has been added. I am adding things as I have a free moment here and there. We will be announcing this sale officially next week in the Persecution and Prayer Alert but we already have some items online, so check it out.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 8/09/2006
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
I would like to ask that you would please uphold Jeremiah Zurowski, the six-month-old son of Tom and Elli Zurowski, in your prayers tomorrow. Little Jeremiah will be undergoing surgery to correct a small hole in his heart; a condition common to children born with Downs Syndrome. Jeremiah's case is far less severe than many and doctors are confident of success. Still, as Tom's website says, "We have been told that this is a "safe" procedure, but as his parents, we can't help but to be concerned about Jeremiah having his chest opened up and put on a heart - lung machine."
Tom is one of our great friends here at The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada, as we partner with his ministry, Global Response Network in rebuilding and operating the Nugent School in Loka, Sudan. He is a tremendous man of God and loved by persecuted Christians around the world.
Thank you for your prayers for little Jeremiah and check out Tom's website (http://www.grnconnect.org/) for more information about his ministry and lots of cute pictures of his little guy.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 8/08/2006
Saturday, August 05, 2006
Today's editorial in the National Post picks up on a number of themes that have concerned me lately in regards to religious liberty and Canada's role in Afghanistan (and which I have expressed in recent weblogs). I commend the National Post for the courage to address issues like this. I have been a subscriber to the newspaper since it began and despite their lousy home delivery service here in the GTA, I continue to subscribe because of articles like this.
Our role in Afghanistan
We have never wavered in our support for Canada's Afghan mission -- neither when it was largely a defensive operation at coalition headquarters in the capital, Kabul, nor more recently, when it expanded into a combat role in the south of Afghanistan. And we do not waver now.
In the wake of Thursday's deaths of four Canadian troops in the violent region around Kandahar, the usual parties have called for our withdrawal -- or at least a period of paralyzing navel-gazing over our role there. These commentators are wrong to suggest we cut and run. Giving up in the face of adversity and casualties would encourage Muslim extremists -- and thereby make Afghanistan, and the whole world, more dangerous.
But at the same time, Canadians can be forgiven for seeking more information about our exact role in Afghanistan. This week, the country's government began expelling Korean Christians for allegedly proselytizing among Muslims. Earlier this year, the same government barely put off the execution of a former Muslim convicted of converting to Christianity. And there are disturbing reports of a revival of the harsh Vice and Virtues ministry, the agency used by the former Taliban government to enforce its absolutist version of Koranic moral law.
The seeming rise in official religious intolerance in Afghanistan is troubling, not just because it calls into question why Canadian soldiers are giving their lives, but also because religious intolerance in Afghanistan is partly what started the war on terror in the first place. If ours and other NATO troops are there simply to guard a resurgence of fervent Islamism, what has been the point of our operation?
Lloyd Axworthy, the former Liberal foreign affairs minister, whose naive theories about "soft power" and Canadian neutrality prompted the decimation of our armed forces and our decline into international insignificance in the 1990s, recently told the Toronto Star that Canada should end the Afghan war through "peace support" and national rebuilding operations, rather than actually fighting Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters.
There are two problems with this: First of all, without security, everything else is impossible. In many parts of Afghanistan, public-works projects have been destroyed by Taliban insurgents, whose goal is to sow chaos and discredit the new government. Last month, for instance, the Taliban killed Mike Frastacky, a Canadian aid worker who'd built a school in the Afghan town of Nahrin. According to his sister, the Taliban put a price on his head because he dared educate girls as well as boys. This is why our original "3-D" mission of defence, diplomacy and development has of late become heavily weighted towards defence alone: Without the first D, the other two are impossible.
Secondly, as jihadis have shown time and again, they see the Western instinct to back off from confrontation every time our nose is bloodied as a sign of weakness -- not civility or generosity -- an unwillingness to stand up for our values when the cost gets too high. Peace is not in their vocabulary.
So we cannot leave Afghanistan -- nor even pull back and leave the heavy lifting to others -- without sending our foes the wrong message about how vulnerable we are to attack both there and here at home.
But the Afghan government needs to do its part, too. And that means avoiding gestures that gratuitously offend the nations that are trying to help its fragile democracy survive.
On Thursday, Kabul expelled 35 evangelical Christians from South Korea, and ordered that another nearly 1,200 pack up. Members of the Institute of Asian Culture and Development, claim they were in Afghanistan only to organize an interfaith peace festival. However, when Muslim clerics expressed concern that the Koreans might try to use the festival to woo Muslims away from Allah, the Afghan government moved swiftly to bar more group members and to send expulsion orders to the thousand or more already in the country.
There have been reports lately, too, of a crackdown on alcohol in Kabul and against western television and movies through Afghanistan.
It was the Taliban's intolerance of plurality and its rigid enforcement of Islamic law that made Afghanistan such an attractive training base for the terrorists who carried out 9/11 -- the tragedy that sparked the U.S.-led war against terrorism in the first place. Western troops are in Afghanistan to defend a democracy from Islamist insurgents. If democracy gives way to theocracy, Canadians will rightly ask: What's the point of further sacrifice?
Posted by Glenn Penner at 8/05/2006
Friday, August 04, 2006
I am so weary of those who persist in linking Canada's military involvement in Afghanistan with the U.S. invasion of Iraq. With the death of four more Canadian soldiers yesterday, the naysayers are out in force, urging the return of our soldiers and accusing the Harper government of being in bed with George Bush.
History lesson, folks. Why are we in Afghanistan in the first place? Does anyone still remember September 11, 2001 when at least two dozen Canadians were killed by Islamic terrorists? Remember the Taliban? Yes, those nice guys who supported Ben Laden and his bunch. Canada joined an international force to overthrow a terrorist regime who had proven their intent to attack us and our allies. These are the same people who attacked innocent citizens in Spain, Indonesia, India, and Great Britain since 9/11. The same who inspire young people to plot acts of terror, like those arrested in southern Ontario recently. They killed Christians and other religious minorities when in control of Afghanistan and urge their followers to continue such actions today in other countries. Oppression and violence mark their paths and free people have a duty to do something to stop them.
The invasion of Iraq...well, that is beyond the scope of this blog and irrelevant to the discussion of Afghanistan, regardless of the hysterical and blatantly unhistorical assertions of some who support their position that Canadian troops have no place in Afghanistan by linking the two. I have no problems with those who hold to a different position on Canada's role in Afghanistan, militarily and otherwise. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But I wish some would try harder to get their facts straight before they come up with one.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 8/04/2006
Thursday, August 03, 2006
Whether or not I agree with their methods, I have to confess to a degree of admiration for the hundreds of Korean Christians who, in recent days, have descended on Afghanistan for a "peace festival and educational and entertainment programs." According to reports, they have been also been sharing their faith with local Muslims. This, of course, has gotten local Muslim clerics up in arms and threatening violence. The result is that that Afghan government, in the name of security concerns, has ordered the Koreans to leave the country.
Isn't it nice that the Afghan government is so concerned over the security of foreign Christians? Right....
Posted by Glenn Penner at 8/03/2006