Monday, December 31, 2007

Persecution Stories of 2007

Well, it's New Year's Eve and like many others, I find myself thinking back over the past twelve months and I consider the numerous stories of persecution that we have covered in our monthly newsletter and weekly prayer/news service. A lot of water has gone under the bridge.

Last year, I suggested that the rising persecution of Christians in India was the most predominant story of 2006. Another year has come and gone and this, unfortunately, has not changed. No other country so dominated our weekly Persecution and Prayer Alert than India did. In the 52 weeks of 2007, we released 75 separate stories on India. What a tragedy that the world's largest democracy is also increasingly one of the most dangerous places for Christians to live in, as evidenced by the recent violence in Orissa state over Christmas.

Two other stories also demanded a fair bit of attention in 2007.

The first was the kidnapping of twenty-three Korean Christian hostages in Afghanistan on July 19 by the Taliban. Two of the male leaders were later killed before the remaining hostages were released on August 30 after the South Korean government reportedly agreed to follow through on their plans to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year and also to prevent South Koreans from engaging in missionary activity in Afghanistan. In response, I wrote at the time that it seemed that the only real concession that the South Korean government was prepared to publicly make to the Taliban was the religious freedom of its own citizens. I warned that this decision to withdraw missionaries from Afghanistan and to prevent others from going there is a violation of religious freedom. It is telling Korean Christians, 'You can obey Christ's commission but not in Afghanistan.' This no government has the right to do, even in the name of protecting their citizens. We were also concerned that this concession by the South Korean government could further endanger the safety of Christian missionaries of all nationalities in other countries like Afghanistan where Christianity is viewed with hostility. I wrote, "Religiously motivated militants may conclude, having seen the Taliban successfully drive out South Korean missionaries in this manner, that kidnapping missionaries in the hopes of negotiating similar concessions by other governments concerned over the safety of its citizens is a legitimate and potentially successful strategy." This last concern seemed justified when the Taliban announced upon releasing the last hostages that they planned to kidnap more foreigner after having won such a significant victory. Said, Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi, "We will do the same thing with the other allies in Afghanistan, because we found this way to be successful.''

The other concern that arose out of this case was the condemnation that the sending church received from the Korean public. Several South Korean church groups immediately agreed to abide by their governments decision to prevent further missionary activity from their country into Afghanistan. Some family members of the kidnapped apologized to the Korean people for the inconvenience that their relatives caused by going to Afghanistan. Korean mission leaders suggested that this incident may mark a "maturing" by the Korean missions movement. Perhaps, I noted at the time, but not if Koreans start to emulate the practice of many western missions groups who refuse to go where their governments say it is too dangerous and who flee countries whenever things get potentially hazardous.

The second story was the martyrdom of three Christians, Necati Aydin (35), Ugur Yuksel (32) and Tilmann Geske (46), a German national, in Malatya, Turkey on April 18. The alleged killers had apparently pretended to become Christians in order to gain the trust of the believers before ambushing them. The three men were then bound and tortured for more than two hours before being killed. Their throats were cut and their bodies marred by multiple stab wounds. According to the newspaper Hurriyet, one of the suspects declared during police questioning, "We didn't do this for ourselves. We did it for our religion. May this be a lesson to the enemies of religion." The trials of the accused continue into the New Year, as accusations of alleged collusion of public officials in the torture and murder swirl.

There were, of course, other significant events in 2007 and I am always hesitant to draw attention to some and not others. The killing of Christianah Oluwatoyin Olusase, a Christian teacher at the Government Day Secondary School in Gombe state, Nigeria on March 21 touched us deeply here at The Voice of the Martyrs; so much so that we started a memorial fund in her memory. The violence in northern Nigeria continues to be a source of major concern. Declining religious liberty in many of the former Soviet states of central Asia became a greater priority to us in 2007 and will continue to be into 2008. And China's crackdown on religious dissidents in advance of the 2008 Olympic Games continues and must not be ignored as we approach what I believe will be the most propagandized Olympics since 1936 in Berlin.

And so we enter a New Year. May this be a year when many of us will resolve not to forget our brothers and sisters who live and die for the faith that we, too, confess. May this be the year we resolve to do something that will let some of them know that they have not been forgotten.

The Voice of the Martyrs Launches Facebook Page

In our continuing drive to effectively raise a voice for the Persecuted Church worldwide, The Voice of the Martyrs is now on Facebook. Take a look today and start to spread the news of the courage and faith of our brothers and sisters around the world and how we can stand with them in prayer and practical aid.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Voice of the Martyrs Launches YouTube Channel

No other organization that works with the Persecuted Church uses videos quite as much as The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada does. With the launch of three years ago, we became the only mission with a multimedia website dedicated strictly to audio and video testimonies and reports of persecuted Christians in the world. At a time when video was still relatively new on the Internet, we were way ahead of the curve with this.

In our continuing passion to spread the message and needs of our brothers and sisters around the world, VOMC launched this week a channel on YouTube at At the present time, plans are to air our four 1-minute video reports The Overcomers on YouTube every month. Here is an example:

Other programs may also be added. It is not our desire that our YouTube channel take the place of but that it be a supplement and added outreach arm of the mission. Pray that God would use this channel to receive others around the world with the message of the Persecuted Church and that we would have wisdom from the Lord on how to best utilize the opportunities that God opens for us

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Updated Video Report From India

The following is an updated news report from India concerning the violence against Christians in Orissa state. Please remember the believers there in prayer during this tense and tragic time.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Seeing the Cross through the Coziness

Once again a song that I sang as a child recently stirred me into contemplating matters of faith. This time the song was "Away in a Manger," a carol that I both sang and heard quite often during the past few weeks.

As a child, I liked this song a lot---mostly because the words were easy to learn and memorize but also because it painted a very comforting and cozy picture of Christ's birth (I can see why the song lends itself to children's programs and carol-sings). When I sing this song now, however, I don't enjoy it or appreciate it as I once did. I can't help but feel that it is one of the hymns which can perpetuate a far too cozy picture of Christmas, and so can even paint a false picture of Christ Himself.

For example, take the line "The little Lord Jesus/No crying he makes." If Jesus is fully God and fully human, isn't it likely that he, like all children, cried in times of hunger or discomfort? After all, we know very well that he wept when we was older, at the death of his beloved friend (John 11:35). So why are infant tears so out of the question? Granted, the song is probably only an attempt to capture a moment of peace and not implying that Christ never cried. But still, the line just doesn't sit well with me. I find much more truth and comfort a verse from another popular carol, "Once in Royal David's city," which says: "Tears and smiles like us He knew/And He feeleth for our sadness/And He shareth in our gladness."

Singing the lullaby-like "Away and a Manger" also brought to mind another well-known children's song of a different sort----the nursery rhyme "Rock-a-bye Baby." This is a song I certainly didn't like as a child; I was puzzled, even disturbed, by the lyrics: "When the bough breaks/the cradle will fall/and down will come baby/cradle and all."

What kind of warm and fuzzy lullaby details a terrible accident befalling a sleeping infant? Well, as it turns out, this song was likely written about Native-American women rocking their babies to sleep in birch-bark cradles that were suspended from tree branches. Often these branches would break and...down would go the poor baby.

No one likes to think about an innocent child enduring such a fate. And yet, think about what Christ, the one true innocent, endured. No matter how quiet and content he was in his manger-cradle, the reality is that he eventually grew up to suffer the severest of afflictions, for our sake. And his ‘bough' didn't just break as part of a terrible accident; it was deliberately broken by his own Father in order to accomplish the Lord's redemptive plan.

Now, of course I neither expect nor necessarily want all Christmas carols to be altered to include the graphic details of Christ's sufferings. Songs about silent nights and angelic proclaimations of peace and good will have a definite place in celebrating Jesus Christ---and many such songs do in fact express the whole story of salvation. However, this year I was once again reminded of how easy it is be so swept up in and distracted by the coziness of the Christmas story that your eyes stray from the truest and most important salvific image: the cross.

Reflections on Benazir Bhutto

For the past 24 hours, since learning of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, I have considered what can and should be said of her. In particular, I have been pondering the numerous tributes I have been reading, lauding her for her commitment to democracy and human rights.

I never met Benazir Bhutto and so I am hesitant to disagree with those who did have that privilege. I am also aware, having met other political leaders, that a person's true commitments are not marked so much by what one says but by one's actions. And so we must examine carefully reports from her days in office as Prime Minister to see if her stated beliefs matched the actions of her government. I am equally cognizant of the fact that politics is a game of compromise and small steps in any country but perhaps especially so in a complex and tumultuous one like Pakistan. The task of moving from what is to what it ought to be can be slow and inconsistent.

So how will history judge Benazir Bhutto once the shock of her violent death is numbed with the passage of time and most of the memorials will have been written and filed away? Was she truly a significant voice for democracy and human rights in Pakistan?

As I mentioned above, certainly reports from her days in office need to be re-examined, reports that I believe will help to tell a more balanced story. While we at The Voice of the Martyrs condemn her assassination and grieve for the people of Pakistan for the good that she might have done for her country, we remember her legacy and wonder how to reconcile these conflicting realities. Like her country, hers was a tumultuous and contradictory life. Her time in office (1988-1990; 1993-1996) was not a time of unfettered democratic freedom and human rights. Reports from the time that tell of torture, persecution of religious minorities, imprisonment of opposition leaders, and suppression of freedom of expression from groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and our own archives cannot be ignored. While Bhutto often spoke of the importance of human rights, her government and courts often seemed out of step with her stated values. At the time, The Voice of the Martyrs and groups like us referred to these reports and protested to the Bhutto government on behalf of our persecuted brothers and sisters in Pakistan. How odd that today some of these same groups are lauding her as a voice for human rights. Surely a more restrained response would be in order.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

So How Was Christmas Around the World This Year?

Reading through a few reports this week, it is obvious that Christmas continues to be a time of both rejoicing and apprehension for Christians around the world. On the one hand, I read of churches in Iraq being full for Christmas celebrations, in stark contrast to a year ago. Indonesian police were called upon to provide protection for Christians concerned about attacks on their services as in previous years. Thankfully, they do not seem to have been needed, as we received no reports of attacks on believers there.

On the other hand, in Turkey and Gaza, Christians were reportedly keeping a low profile this year after prominent members have been martyred in 2007. In India, the reports are continuing to come in as at least three Christians have been killed and several churches, Christian homes and businesses and organizational headquarters were attacked and burned in the state of Orissa during the past three days. The reason for the attacks is muddied but seems to boil down to Hindu militants objecting to Christians seeking to publicly celebrate Christmas on the grounds that it might lead to Hindus converting to Christ. In Malaysia, a Catholic weekly newspaper was told just before Christmas to drop the use of the word "Allah" in its Malay language section if it wants to renew its publishing permit, despite the fact that this is the word that Malay Christians have always referred to God by. And in Canada, Catholic Insight, a Catholic political and cultural general interest magazine went public with the news that it is being accused before the Alberta Human Rights Commission by a homosexual activist of making "negative generalizations" about homosexuals, portraying them as preying upon children, as dangerous and "devoid of any redeeming qualities and...innately evil".

Herod (in his various guises) continues to seek to snuff out the life of the Child all over the world and God's people continue to look to God for guidance and protection, just as Mary and Joseph did. But the Light that brings light to the world continues to shine as His people faithfully witness through their words and sacrificial lives. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5).

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Few Additional Thoughts Concerning Free Speech in Canada

A few lessons for those who seem a little confused about what it means to live in a society with freedom of expression:

1. Learn to take "No" for an answer if someone won't publish your letter, rebuttal, or blog response. While freedom of speech is a right, it is not your right to force others to give you a voice. You can ask politely, be thoughtful, and write intelligently. But don't go running to the government if someone says "No".

2. If someone hurts your feelings, you can respond by writing a letter to the editor, publishing a blog, calling a radio talk show, running for politics, or any other number of things. But don't go running to the government!

3. Recognize that in a free society, the right to free expression does include the right to offend. But freedom of expression also includes the right to defend. We have the right and obligation to counter false or misleading accusations and correct prejudicial comments. But we do not protest that such things are published; we stand against what has been said. This is the nature of apologetics, to expose the truth that has been hidden behind the lies, misunderstandings or misinformation of our accusers. But the end result is not to expect or demand an apology from the publisher. The publisher does not need to apologize for offending Christians, Muslims, or green-eyed snakes. To call for this would be to call for the suppression of the freedom of expression. Our obligation here is to present the truth and call for ethical behaviour in reporting. And if the publisher refuses to act, we can stop reading their stuff and we urge others not to as well. Or we can get over it and act like adults. But we don't go running to the government to protect us from offended feelings!

4. Be aware that the trend toward defending an individual's or group's "right" to NOT be offended (in particular, it seems, for Muslims and homosexuals) and thus limiting the rights for others to express different opinions, represents a significant threat not only to freedom of expression and religious liberty but to democracy and the Rule of Law itself. This trend undermines two basic premises of the Rule of Law principle. The first is the shift from the objective (what was expressed) to the subjective (how was it received and/or perceived). This represents (as Mats Tunehag well stated) "a shift from freedom of speech to "freedom from hearing'; from the speaker to the hearer; from what was said to how it was perceived; from instigating violence to ‘I was offended'; from objective to subjective criteria and laws."

The second Rule of Law principle that is being undermined by this trend is the loss of predictability. Laws and the consequences of breaking them should be predictable. But how can one know if what one says is going to offend someone, somewhere, for some reason? The law, therefore, becomes entirely subjective and liable to abuse, just as we see the Blasphemy Laws of Pakistan being abused today.

It is at this last point that I think we do need to run to the government to protect us from those who would restrict free speech in Canada in the name of human rights and are using the human rights commissions to do it.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Balanced Reporting as a Restriction of Free Speech

In Thursday's National Post, Naseem Mithoowani, Khurrum Awan , Muneeza Sheikh and Daniel Simard explained why they were filing a human rights complaints with the B.C., Ontario and federal human rights commissions against Maclean's with respect to its October, 2006 article, "The Future Belongs to Islam," written by Mark Steyn. The reason, they say, is because Maclean's refused to allow them to publish a counter piece to Steyn's article. They write that what they were asking for was "an opportunity for the Muslim community to participate in the ‘free marketplace' of ideas. It is our belief that in its truest form, freedom of expression results in a lively debate among all interested parties -- not just among those who play by their own exclusionary rules. If Maclean's wants to publish articles alleging that many Muslims are ‘hot for jihad,' it has to provide an opportunity to respond."

I'm sorry but Maclean's does not HAVE to do anything of the sort! This is the essence of free speech; the right to say (or not say) whatever one wants. If Maclean's wishes to publish such a response, it can. But it cannot be forced to; not without violating the very essence of free speech at least.

Having failed to silence those who would criticize Islam through the use of defamation laws, the Canadian Islamic Congress is now trying a new tactic; using the human rights commissions to force their critics to give them a voice (at the critic's expense, of course). I only hope that the human rights commissions will see this tactic for what it is; an insidious violation of freedom of expression. I am not hopeful, however. Is there is anything more "Canadian" than the urge to be viewed as "balanced"? This sort of suppression of freedom would be just so "Canadian" that it might be considered acceptable.

This same mentality presently compels (under CRTC requirements) only single-faith religious broadcasters to provide balance in their programming by providing broadcasting time for other faiths as a condition of obtaining a broadcast licence. Heaven forbid that these blatantly discriminatory regulations (which result in an undue restriction on freedom of expression and are financially harmful to Christian broadcasters) would be forced upon other media providers. It's wrong to require this of religious broadcasters; it's wrong to require it of any media.

If Mithoowani and the gang want "an opportunity for the Muslim community to participate in the ‘free marketplace' of ideas" let them express their freedom of expression like everyone else and compete to be heard, using their own resources and developing their own communications medium. But to expect others to give such opportunities to you on their dime and on their time; well, that's not a right. That's presumption.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

So What Are You Reading?

I think it was Ken Blanchard who once said that leaders are readers. Personally, I have been a reader since the first grade when I was reading material 3-4 years ahead of my age group. Reading helps me to function at my best, opening new thoughts and possibilities to me. I am working at making it a regular part of my day because in recent years I have tended to read in spurts; I neglect reading for a few weeks and then go on a rage one weekend and read a couple of books from start to finish.

Lately, I have been on one of these reading spurts and thought that I would share with you some of the books I have been plugging through and give you my very brief response as to whether I felt it worth reading. Perhaps you might find one or more of them interesting.

1. The Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen. A critique on how today's Internet is having a devastating effect on certain businesses, creativity and scholarship. Worth reading for identifying a significant issue that needs to be taken much more seriously. Not worth reading if you are looking for real answers, but it should stimulate you to start thinking of some.

2. Revolution and Religion in Ethiopia by Oyvind M. Eide. A study of the state of the church and persecution in Ethiopia during the Marxist rule from 1974-1985, focusing particularly on the Mekane Yesus Church. Worth reading if you want to understand the Ethiopian church of the past and present. A significant study, in my opinion. Introduced me to Guddinaa Tumsa, Ethiopia's Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

3. Born to Battle by R. Arthur Mathews. A 31-day devotional on the reality of spiritual warfare. Haven't finished it yet, but am finding it very balanced and biblical. A classic that we are going to sell here at the mission. Worth reading if you want to understand why Christians are persecuted; we are in a war.

4. Uneasy Neighbors: Church and State in the New Testament by Walter E. Pilgrim. Worth reading. The best book I have read on the subject. Scholarly without being overbearing. Shows how there is not only one New Testament response in how Christians should relate to the state.

5. The Imperfect Board Member by Jim Brown. A leadership book that deals with the necessary disciplines for governance excellence in an organization. Worth reading for CEOs and Board members in helping to see the relationship and roles between the two. Written in a novel format (much like many of Ken Blanchard's book. Makes for easy reading).

Well, that's it. I'll try to do this about once a month or so. I would love to hear what you are reading. Hearing the recommendations of others is always helpful to know what to read and what not to waste time (and money) on.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Standing in the Need of Prayer

When I was a child I briefly misunderstood the chorus of the well-known song "Standing in the Need of Prayer." Since I hadn't grasped the concept of synonyms, I thought the song was about literally standing (as in the opposite of sitting) in the need of prayer. So the times my church happened to sing this song while sitting down left me rather puzzled. It just seemed wrong for people to be belting out "It's me, it's me, it's me oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer" while they were snug their pews. What's with the sitting around? I remember thinking. Let's get up!

But, silly misunderstandings aside, I think that there are times that we as Christians actually do seem to be "sitting" in the need of prayer. Instead of sharing our prayer requests with others (or daring to share them beyond our close circle of family members and friends), we sit silently in the corners of our lives, letting our needs be swallowed up by our own timidity, or perhaps even our pride.

I know that I've quietly and sheepishly twiddled my fingers through far too many trials and troubles, figuring that God and I could just work things out in private. I now realize, however, that this approach not only short-changes me in my own spiritual life but also prevents others from partaking in the communal blessing of prayer.

On a recent trip to a restricted country to visit with persecuted Christians, I admired how openly many of the suffering believers asked for prayer. Even when my coworkers and I could spend but a few hours with them, they did not hesitate to bring their needs before us. In fact, the words "Pray for us" were uttered far more often than requests for other forms of assistance, such as material aid or financial support. And not only that, several of the believers also repeatedly emphasized that they were praying for us, as well as prayerfully remembering the whole Canadian Church.

The behaviour of these Christians emphasized the oneness of Christ's body. They truly treated us as brothers and sisters in the Lord by acknowledging the shared assurance we have in Him and showing us that we need not carry our burdens alone, not even as we bring them to our Father. It was a welcome reminder of how pivotal a role prayer has, and must have, in this ministry and in the lives of Christ's followers.

May the Lord enable all those who are still "sitting" in the need of prayer to follow the same path as these believers...and get up!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Kingdoms in Conflict

In the telling of the Christmas story, it is easy to miss the political overtones that mark Matthew's account, in particular, that would have been rather obvious to the original readers. There is far more going on than dreams, stars and gifts. The birth of Jesus is set in a context of conflict. From its very onset we hear the rumbling of trouble as we witness the response of Herod to the news of the birth of a new king. There are warnings of trouble ahead, of an inevitable clash between the temporal and the eternal, with two claims to sovereignty. Absent from Matthew is the concept of two kingdoms, God and Caesar, living side by side in relative peace and working in constructive cooperation. Instead we have two kingdoms for whom there can be no peaceful coexistence. One rules by might; the other by peace. One conquers through the vanquishing of one's foes; the other through reconciliation and sacrificing one's self. But there can be no final accommodation with rulers like Herod, no true sharing of loyalty as Jesus declares, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Servants With or Of?

There has been discussion here at The Voice of the Martyrs lately about whether it is best to say that we are servants of the Persecuted Church or servants with the Persecuted Church. Presently our motto is the former. Some might say that the prepositional change is mostly semantic.

It's not.

Such a change would represent a shift in emphasis that I believe is not only contrary to the vision that Richard Wurmbrand had for The Voice of the Martyrs but (more importantly) difficult to reconcile with the teaching of Jesus Christ Himself.

To serve with someone is not at all the same as serving someone. To serve with implies a partnering relationship, hopefully between equals but not necessarily. It does not exclude the possibility of superiority especially if one of the partners is the patron or benefactor, providing assistance or aid in the relationship. To serve someone, however, implicitly suggests a position of preference to the one being served. I suggest that the later is the kind of relationship that The Voice of the Martyrs needs to nurture in its service to persecuted Christians around the world.

The context of the passages in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) in which Jesus addresses the issue of servanthood and leadership is suggestive. In Matthew, when the mother of James and John asks for her sons to have places of prominence in the kingdom, Jesus asks if they are able to drink the cup of suffering and sacrifice that He will drink. The same response is given in Mark's gospel, while in Luke, the dispute over who is the greatest (Luke 22:24-30) is book-ended with the prediction of Judas' betrayal (22:22-23) and Peter's denial (22:31-34).

These passages draw attention to the truth that the kingdom community when obedient to the call of Jesus is marked by self-sacrifice, suffering, and servanthood, not self-seeking and status. Jesus calls for a radically new way, one that He lives out before the disciples. In Luke 22:27 He sums up His whole life and ministry with the words, "But I am among you as the one who serves." Just as sacrifice and servanthood mark the Lord's life, so, too, they are to be the overriding characteristic of those who follow Him.

To shift the emphasis of serving the Persecuted Church to serving with the Persecuted Church would represent, in my opinion, a move away from this model and towards a model more characteristic of the Gentiles (Luke 22:23-26). It is not a significant further step to move from serving with to lording over, especially if one is in a relationship where one is the benefactor (Luke 22:25).

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Evangelism, Religious Liberty, and Tolerance

Does believing in religious liberty and that every person has the right to practice and propagate his beliefs necessarily suggest that we are promoting an acceptance of differing religions and religious beliefs?

Of course it does not, unless you confuse tolerance with acceptance, which many do. Tolerance says that I accept your right to believe what you believe, even (and especially) if I believe that you are absolutely wrong. But I will not compel you to believe others or hinder you from practicing your religion just as long as you do not harm someone in the process. I can still respect your rights and at the same time try to convince you of your error. But I cannot and will not force you to change your mind. This is a far cry from accepting your beliefs as just a legitimate as my own or suggesting that the differences really don't matter or are insignificant.

What got me thinking about this were a couple of things that came across my desk this week. The first was a letter from a man in Alberta who accused VOMC of glorifying persecution without suggesting any solutions to the problem. He suggested that it was wrong to believe, as we do, in religious liberty; that everyone has the right to practice and propagate his beliefs. In the light of Islamist terrorism and religious persecution, this was naïve and wrong, in his opinion. His letter and his self-published book that he included were rather unclear on just how he wanted people to respond effectively to the threat of Islam, but I gathered (as best I could) that he wanted the West to rise up and suppress Islam.

The second was the Doctrinal Note on evangelism released yesterday by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome. While I am not a Roman Catholic, as a theologian I have come to appreciate the doctrinal emphasis of Benedict XVI. In this Doctrinal Note (a summary is available here and a photocopy of the full document here), the statement is rightfully made that "respect for religious freedom and its promotion does not in any way make us indifferent towards truth and goodness. Indeed, love impels the followers of Christ to proclaim to all the truth which saves." This document affirms that evangelism is the right and duty of the Christian but also insists that "coercion or improper enticement that fails to respect the dignity and religious freedom of the partners in that dialogue has no place in Christian evangelization." This 14-page document is apparently the result of a process begun by the present pope when he was still the prefect of the CDF as he saw a pressing need to challenge a pluralistic theology of religion which essentially states that all religions are equally valid in leading a person to salvation.

I share this concern and strongly hold that we can hold a belief in religious liberty and a belief in the exclusive claims of Christ at one and the same time. It's just too bad that some of my zealous brothers and sisters who believe so strongly in truth seem to feel that they must silence those whom they perceive to be a threat. It was just this spirit that led to some of the horrible persecution instigated in the name of Christ against fellow Christians in the past.

Richard Bell, in his 1925 Gunning Lectures at Edinburgh University, made an astute observation about one of the possible reasons for the rapid collapse of Christianity in the seventh century in the face of the Islam. Bell suggests that it was largely due to the fact that, over time, church leaders lost sight of some significant truths as they engaged in the crucial battles over the nature of Christ and the Trinity during the fourth to sixth centuries. The Christians of those ages, proud in the possession of the truth, appear to have lost faith in the power of the truth ultimately to triumph over error, and the duty of love towards fellow-men, not to speak of fellow-Christians, was forgotten in the zeal for orthodoxy. Having gradually gained political power through the legalization of Christianity with the Edict of Milan in A.D. 313, Christian leaders increasingly called upon the secular authorities to enforce fidelity to the decisions of various church councils. In the process, they seemed to forget that force is no attribute of God and, therefore, neither should it be an attribute of His people. Doctrinal orthodoxy is unquestionably essential to the Church, but its enforcement must be in line with the character of the God. Bells suggests that the trouble with the Church in the sixth century lay not so much in its intellectual activity and theological speculation as in the impatience of the Church. This is not to say that error should go unchecked. However, it should be done with tears and not a clenched fist.

In the same way, evangelism and apologetics need to take place without apology for holding to and proclaiming truth but always in a spirit of love and respect, trusting God for the results

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Developing Hierarchy of Rights in Canada

Yesterday, the government of Quebec tabled legislation to shore up women's rights in the face of perceived threats from groups whose religious practices are deemed discriminatory. The proposed amendment to Quebec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms is in response to a recommendation from the province's Council on the Status of Women, which has expressed concern that women's rights are being undermined in the name of religious freedom. While Christiane Pelchat, president of the Council on the Status of Women, said her group had never sought to create a hierarchy of rights with equality of the sexes at the top, it is apparent that this is what is developing. And not only in this case, but in other cases that have come before courts, legislations and human right commissions across Canada. Religious rights are increasingly being treated as less inviolable than gender or sexual orientation rights in particular, especially when they are expressed in the public arena.

It is becoming increasingly important that there be well-considered and thoughtful discussion and writing done on the expression and defense of religious rights in the Canadian context, beyond the citing and discussion of individual cases. We need to get proactive on this issue rather than reactive, as is the tendency amoung evangelical Christians in particular.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

It's time to stop being daft about Christmas

Finally, a voice of common-sense... and coming from the United Kingdom yet; the recent darling of religious political correctness.

Yesterday, Reuters reported how Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims have joined Britain's equality watchdog Monday in urging Britons to enjoy Christmas without worrying about offending non-Christians.

According to the report, Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said, "It's time to stop being daft about Christmas. It's fine to celebrate and it's fine for Christ to be star of the show."

"Let's stop being silly about a Christian Christmas," he said, referring to a tendency to play down the traditional celebrations of the birth of Christ for fear of offending minorities in multicultural Britain.

The article goes on to cite Hindu, Sikh and Muslim leaders affirming this call to return to a modicum of common-sense. This mirrors moves by stores here in North America such as Walmart to return referring to Christmas in products and around its stores this holiday season. Sure, the moves by these stores were driven in part by the threats of boycotts, but I am hopeful that it also marks a turning in the road. Hey, it's Christmas. I can be hopeful if I want to.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Why I Believe in Human Rights

December 10 is Human Rights Day and it will be a day that many (if not most) evangelical Christians will ignore or never even know occurred.

Having grown up in an evangelical holiness-style church and having rubbed shoulders for much of my adult life in ecclesiastical circles, it is apparent to me that many evangelicals distrust human rights language. We tend to leave the field of human rights to secularists or to our mainline church counterparts and condemned them (and the issue itself) when they mistakenly confuse religious tolerance with religious endorsement. With the spread of postmodernist thought in our society and the corresponding weakening of moral and objective truth in the minds of many, even amoung evangelicals, the role of apologetics and evangelism has increasingly been disparaged as inappropriate actions for Christians in a multicultural society such as Canada's. Evangelicals must begin to do the hard work of reclaiming a part of our legacy; the field of human rights.

As I have studied the scriptural ramifications of being created image of God over the last several years, I have come to appreciate the fact that human beings, by their very nature, are bestowed with God-given rights to respectful treatment, equality, diversity, communal relations, and freedom of belief. Human rights, rather than being opposed to a biblical worldview are a fruit of one. As Paul Marshall has pointed out in his book, Religious Liberty in the World Today, it is no accident that countries that have historically been influenced by a strong Christian worldview have consistently maintained the highest levels of religious liberty for its citizens. There is a reason why we believe that human beings should be treated with respect; they are created in image of God (cf. Genesis 9:6; James 3:9).

It is disappointing to me, therefore, that the subject of human rights is one that many evangelicals have tended to shy away from. To defend the rights of others seems, to some, to be somehow unspiritual. After all, it may be rightfully pointed out that Christians are called to give up their rights just as Christ did in His incarnation. The ugliness of witnessing followers of Jesus Christ fight for their personal rights (especially with each other) has brought disrepute upon the Body of Christ. Rather than saying "See how they love one another," the watching world has more often been able to comment, with a smirk, "See how they fight one another." Seeking to remedy this unfortunate situation by presenting a positive, alternative witness to a skeptical society, some Christians have concluded that we have no legitimate rights to fight for.

I believe a more appropriate approach would be to affirm that often neglected distinction between private and public rights. Privately, Christians are not to take the law into their own hands but this does not remove the right of the State to uphold the laws of the land. In the same way, Christians may choose to give up their rights in order to accomplish the purposes of God. This does not presuppose, however, that the rights are not legitimate and that others can (and perhaps should) uphold them. Nor does this give us the excuse to not uphold the rights of others. There are times (probably more often than we are comfortable admitting) when the call to follow Christ and to conform to His image requires that we renounce the rights that we may rightfully possess. Giving up illegitimate rights can hardly be considered a sacrifice. Similarly, to refuse to uphold the rights of others simply because we have personally chosen to renounce them is unjust and a direct violation of scriptural commands to defend the weak and oppressed and to speak on their behalf. It is a cruel person who says, "Since I refuse to uphold my rights, I will bind you to my decision as well by letting you suffer in silence and refuse to raise a finger to help you."

Nor does the separation of private and public rights imply that Christians should not, at times, stand up for their own rights as citizens. The apostle Paul exemplified this when he felt free to either forgo his rights or to use them. On at least three occasions Luke records Paul exercising his rights as a Roman citizen as a defense for his religious beliefs. The advancement of God's kingdom would seem to be the biblical criterion of whether to renounce or uphold one's rights. Unfortunately, the criterion is more often the advancement of our own personal agendas.

In the same way, exemplified by our Creator's willingness to allow false beliefs to continue unpunished for the present, Christians are to uphold the right for the individual or the group to be wrong. This is why Christians should find proselytism to be an abhorrent perversion of evangelism. Religious coercion is a violation of an individual's God-given right to choose one's own belief system, even if it is incorrect, morally repugnant and inconsistent with the general and special revelation of God in nature, scripture, and Christ. When Christianity has been faithfully practiced, its followers have allowed religious practice contrary to their own to continue so long as it does not violate the basic rights of others (e.g. child sacrifice, sexual or mental exploitation). This does not, of course, negate the importance of apologetics and evangelism. As God's image bearers, we are also His messengers, seeking to restore mankind to a rightful relationship to its Creator. Reflecting His image, even though marred by sin, we seek to win men and women to Christ through persuasion and sacrifice, not compulsion. And we will respect the rights of others to be wrong if they insist in holding on to their beliefs and rejecting the message of life and liberty.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Update on Transplant

On December 20, it will be one year since I received a stem cell transplant from my brother, Jim. At this time last year, I was undergoing tests and chemotherapy to prepare for the transplant which we hoped would successfully treat the Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia that I had been diagnosed with.

It has been a while since I really had much to tell but I am happy to report that today we received the latest report from a biopsy that I had taken on my bone marrow in my hip a couple of weeks ago. Wait for it..... the test for cancer came back clear. There was no sign of cancer. Cool, eh?

Now I just have to get over the side effects of the transplant itself and the various drugs that I have to take that prevent rejection of my brother's stem cells. I still have a way to go before I will be close to what I used to be but God has been faithful. Thank you to all who have upheld me and my family in prayer during this year. May the Lord bless you.

Friday, November 30, 2007

What About The Golden Compass?

The rumbling is beginning. Christians concerned for the faith of their children are warning about the dangers of Philip Pullman's book "The Golden Compass" and the soon-to-be-released movie of the same title. Some will ask if this is persecution, an attack on Christianity, and wonder how should we respond as believers.

Christianity Today Movies critic Jeffrey Overstreet has written one of the best articles that I have read on the subject. His call is for Christians to respond with discernment but not fear. He writes, "God is not threatened by Philip Pullman. And people who stop to think through Pullman's story, and how he "refutes" Christianity, will see what a feeble "attack" against Christian belief it really is." To read the rest of this excellent article, click here.

What Would Offend Mohammed?

Just a thought to ponder.... If Mohammed were alive today, I wonder which he would find more offensive: A teddy bear named Mohammed or thousands of his so-called followers demanding that a British teacher be brutally put to death for allowing a little boy named Mohammed to name the bear after himself? Muslims complain that they are being vilified by the media. Maybe part of the problem is that too many of their brothers (like those protesting in Sudan today) give the media such good reasons to do so. Somehow I have a suspicion that Mohammed would tell them all to go home and let someone else worry about his dignity.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

You Don't Speak for Me

Alright, now that we are done with the misguided presuppositions, sentimental twaddle, and naïve gestures, maybe we can move on to something that will bring real peace between Muslims and Christians; something called evangelism.

I am objecting to the statement "Loving God and Neighbor Together" drafted by scholars at Yale Divinity School's Center for Faith and Culture, issued by the first four signatories and endorsed by almost 300 other Christian theologians and leaders, in response to an open letter to Christendom by 138 Muslim leaders in October, calling for peaceful coexistence and mutual understanding.

I don't know who these church leaders think they are speaking for, but they are not speaking for me nor for The Voice of the Martyrs! I am disappointed to see the names of men that I know and respect as signatories; men who ought to know better than to place the pursuit of peace over the pursuit of truth. The assumption in the letter is that the God of Islam is the same as the God of Christianity. This is a denial of Jesus Christ, as Muslims absolutely refuse to acknowledge that Jesus is God. This is the very foundation of Christianity. Deny that Jesus is God and you worship a false god, no matter if there are a few elements of similarity between God's revelation in scripture and the words of the Quran (which is hardly surprising since Mohammed had some exposure to the Bible, yet never once quotes it correctly). Islam is a counterfeit religion, a distortion and denial of the revelation of God in Jesus and scripture.

The letter by these church leaders states, "Indeed, together with you we believe that we need to move beyond 'a polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders' and work diligently together to reshape relations between our communities and our nations so that they genuinely reflect our common love for God and for one another....We are persuaded that our next step should be for our leaders at every level to meet together and begin the earnest work of determining how God would have us fulfill the requirement that we love God and one another."

What greater love can we as Christians have for our Muslim neighbours than to lead them to repentance and faith in Christ? Somehow I have a feeling that this won't be a topic for discussion in these meetings, though.

Personally, I believe that many of these leaders, especially those of the World Evangelical Alliance, should withdraw their endorsement of this letter for no other reason than that many of their associates will find this letter a betrayal of Jesus Christ and a slap in the face of those who are dying for their faith in Muslim countries around the world. The god of Islam is not the God of the Bible and any attempt to minimize this truth calls into question whether the love being expressed is true biblical love. Geniune love and truth must be inseparable or or they are a counterfeit. Our God-given call is to love Muslims and not seek them harm, but not at the expense of minimizing the difference between the lies of Islam and the truth of Jesus Christ.

One final point, the Quranic verse (Aal 'Imran 3:64) that served as the inspiration for the Muslim leaders in their open letter entitled "A Common Word Between Us and You" is not a call to come together and live in peace despite our differences. The call of the passage in its context (Aal 'Imran 3:64-71) is a call for Christians and Jews to give up the lies of their faith and submit to Islam. It is not a call to find common ground; it is a call to surrender!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Remembering Sergei Bessarab

In the decade that I have been ministering with The Voice of the Martyrs, I have read numerous reports of those who were killed for their faith. There are so many that one starts to lose track of them, to be honest. So, it has been meaningful for me to read through our newest book Foxe: Voices of the Martyrs and to read a number of stories that I reported on over the years and to be reminded yet again of their courage in the face of death; stories like that of Sergei Bessarab who was killed on January 12, 2004:

The shots rang through the air and shattered the glass window of Pastor Sergei Bessarab's front room the evening of January 12, 2004. The first bullet hit Sergei's hand that was gently strumming his guitar while singing songs of praise to God. The second shot got him in the leg and the third in his chest, ending his life on Earth.

Pastor Bessarab's wife, Tamara, heard the shots and frantically ran into the room. She stared in disbelief at the scene before her-the shattered glass and blood spattered on the chair, carpet, and on her husband's guitar. She dropped to the floor to avoid additional bullets and began to sob as she lay next to her husband's body.

Tamara could smell the acrid scent of gunpowder as the gunman continued his rampage and fired into the house and at Sergei's car. Finishing his task, the gunman turned and fled down the narrow, dusty alley behind the house, disappearing into the darkness.

Suffering wasn't new for Sergei Bessarab, and he was prepared to die for Christ. Just five years ago, however, the idea would have been inconceivable. Bessarab had gone to prison five different times as a leader in Tajikistan's organized crime underworld. A fellow prisoner who had come to know Christ through a prison ministry began to minister to Bessarab as he served one of his sentences. This prisoner continually prayed that Jesus would become real to Sergei.

"Pray for someone else," Sergei would growl. "Don't waste time praying for me." But the man persisted and prayed every day that he would come to accept Christ as Savior and Lord. Finally, three years later, in August 2000, his prayers were answered. Sergei Bessarab began walking with the Lord and eventually began a Bible study in the prison. After his release in November 2001, he returned often to bring Christ's message to his former prison mates.

Sergei traveled all over the country. He was a passionate preacher with a great love for people. He planted a church in Isfara, a city in Tajikistan with no Christian presence but a strong, radical Muslim one. Accompanied by his wife Tamara, Sergei traveled to Isfara on Sundays to hold services; in early 2003 they moved to the city. The church began to grow, and new people were accepting Christ, but their ministry was not unnoticed by enemies of the gospel. A week prior to Sergei's death, the local paper carried the headline: "What's going to be done about Sergei Bessarab?"

Sergei's life for Christ was like an exploding star, burning hot and fast and spreading much light. Even after Bessarab's death, Tamara received numerous letters from prisoners all over Tajikistan. They had either heard Sergei speak or heard about the remarkable way Christ had changed his life. They were challenged to know God more, and to rely on Him.

Pastor Sergei Bessarab was a man of prayer. For two hours every morning and two hours every evening, he spent time with the Lord. He read his Bible, prayed, and sang praise songs while strumming his guitar. His favorite passage was John 12:24: "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain."

Those four hours of prayer were the source of Sergei's continual spiritual fervor. In fact, in the weeks before his death, he had been asking the Lord to open up two more hours-in the middle of the day-for him to commune with God. God answered his prayer in a way no one expected- not just two more hours, but an eternity with Christ.

Before Sergei's death, he and Tamara prayed alone for Isfara, and then with a small group of believers in Tajikistan. One of their requests was that God would raise up an army on their knees for the city He had called them to. God answered Sergei and Tamara's prayer, using the death of one prayer warrior as a seed to raise up a bountiful harvest of prayers for Isfara from around the world.

From Foxe: Voices of the Martyrs (pages 294-295)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Pray for VOMC Staff Who Are Abroad

It's been very quiet around the office for the past week. Besides experiencing our first winter storm of the year, we are also missing a number of staff members who are in various countries of the world right now. Indeed, we have never had so many out doing ministry in persecuted countries at the same time as we do right now. And while it has added to the workload of those of us left behind here in Canada, we rejoice at the opportunities that God has put before us at this time.

One of our staff is out teaching hundreds of pastors and church leaders in a restricted nation the glories of what God's Word teaches about persecution and following Christ in the hopes that they will encourage their congregations to stand firm in the truth of God. Another is documenting cases of mistreatment of believers in a West African country and visiting an orphanage that we operate for children who have lost one or both of their parents to persecution. A team is in east Africa visiting believers there, letting them know that they have not be forgotten, evaluating our programs in the region and seeking God's guidance for the future. Another of our staff is visiting a hospital in Sudan on behalf of his church, providing funding and putting together a report that he will give to them upon his return.

I would appreciate your prayer for these servants of the Lord and His persecuted church and for their families as they await their return. Pray for their safety, but especially pray that they would be a blessing to those they meet.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Before You Go to Cuba, Read This.

Every winter over half a million Canadians fly off to Cuba for vacation. So what, you may say. Have you ever thought through the consequences of it? Consider this editorial from today's National Post. Then maybe you will consider spending your money somewhere else... at least I hope so.

Tropical tyranny
National Post
Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Canada is Cuba's biggest source of tourists. Nearly 600,000 of us fly there every year. Since tourism helped save the Cuban economy after the fall of the Soviet Union -- which had supplied annual aid grants of nearly $8-billion --it's fair to say Canadian tourists played a large part in keeping the Cuban government afloat. So with winter travel season beginning, we would like to ask one question: Do you what know happens to political dissidents beyond the resorts and tourist beaches?

Canadians account for more than one-quarter of Cuba's total annual tourist intake. We spend more than $1-billion dollars there, or about 3% of that country's annual GDP.

The Cuban government admits "the two pillars of the Cuban economy are tourism and sugar." That's why all payments from tourists go to the communist government which then decides how much it can spare for hotel and restaurant workers.

So while you're basking in the warm tropical sun, give some thought to the many political prisoners in Cuban jails for such crimes as demanding democracy, speaking with foreigners without permission or criticizing dictator Fidel Castro. Amnesty International places the number at fewer than 100, but adds that crackdowns against dissidents are becoming more frequent and the number is ever expanding.

Consider Julio Cesar Lopez Rodriguez, arrested on July 22, 2005. The 41-year-old vice-president of the Frente Linea Dura (Hardline Front) campaigned peacefully for years for democracy and human rights until he was arrested for keeping anti-c communist books in his library.

Or how about Victor Rolando Arroyo Carmona, 54, who is serving a 26-year sentence for "undermining national independence and territorial integrity" because he contributed to the pro-freedom Cubanet Web site. He was also convicted for running an independent library containing over 5,000 books, including works by Locke, Madison and von Hayek.

Librado Linares Garcia is serving 20 years for organizing lectures and seminars on human rights. Dr. Marcelo Cano Rodriguez is serving 18 for being a member of the international organization Doctors Without Borders. And Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet Gonzalez is serving 25 for being "a mercenary for a foreign state" because he flew the Cuban flag upside down and demanded Cuba be reformed into "a state based on the rule of law."

Amnesty claims in the past two years there has been an "upsurge in acts of repudiation," in which regime supporters encircle a neighbour or co-worker suspected of counter-revolutionary sentiments and ridicule or denounce him in public. Tragically, many of these shaming incidents turn into violent attacks with rocks thrown or fists and bats wielded. What's more, the Cuban Institute in Miami claims "prisoners of conscience are often kept in the most deplorable conditions," deliberately malnourished and deprived of essential medical care. Many die of neglect.

Just something to keep in mind before you buy that ticket for a Cuban holiday.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Put Your Pen Down Before It Bites Someone

On October 27, I wrote concerning a column in the Toronto Star where the ethics columnist took a swipe at the Bible and Christianity (even though he claims to be a practicing Christian and clergyman). I wrote to him politely asking if it was ethical to publicly call one of the world's great, historical religions a repeated unleasher (i.e. promoter) of nonsense and accuse its sacred text (2/3 of which is also held sacred by those of the Jewish faith) of teaching anti-Semitism, misogyny, environmental destruction, and hatred towards homosexuals.

Apparently, there were others who wrote less kind letters to him because in his response on November 10, he pretty much dismisses his critics as mean-spirited and oblivious to what the Bible actually teaches. He did not even begin to address my concern.

This is the problem when people express their concerns in an ungracious and hostile fashion; they become easy to dismiss. Years ago, I had a Member of Parliament tell me that the nastiest, rudest letters he had received often came from those claiming to be Christians.

How tragic! Righteous anger does not justify abusive letters. If you can't write letters to the editor, to parliamentarians and other government leaders (at any level) without resorting to mean-spirited rhetoric, then please do us all a favour and put down your pen or shut off your computer. I would rather you said nothing at all because folks like you make it much harder for the rest of us to be taken seriously.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Refusing to Submit to the Control of Fear

Geneviève April of Laval, Quebec is worried. She is worried that her children will become Muslims if they are taught by Muslim teachers. Speaking before Quebec's "reasonable accommodations" commission, April stated, "Children are sponges, and if my children are taught by someone (who is Muslim), they'll start asking themselves who they are. And since I'm trying to be open with them, they risk being influenced by someone with a stronger religious identity who's with them all day." She believes that teachers and daycare workers in hijabs, for example, are a threat, because "children trust the people looking after them, and so (wearing the hijab) is practically a kind of subversion, and I think that's deplorable and shouldn't be accepted."

As a parent, I understand the urge to protect one's children. But I think that this type of fear-driven concern is unfortunate. I well remember being taught by Mrs. Naidoo back in the second grade, a dear Hindu lady who dressed everyday in a traditional India sari. Not once was I at all tempted to explore Hinduism as a result. I do remember being fascinated by her attire and the dot on her forehead. But what I really remember is an excellent teacher who helped me to stop lisping and who helped develop my love for reading by reading classic children's literature to us in such a way as to make them come alive. She was perhaps the best teacher I ever had.

The responsibility for training one's children in the faith is the role of the parent, not the teacher and most teachers understand that, especially in the younger ages. We must resist the temptation to let fear control us as we send our kids out into the world. Not an easy feat, admittedly. And this is not an excuse for being lackadaisical in our care for our kids. But we must be careful not raise a generation who sees threats to their faith behind every bush. Do we really trust that God is with us, protecting, keeping, and defending our children, as we faithfully instruct them in the way that they ought to go? We need to raise children who are secure in their faith and trust in God, not fear-driven.

This paranoia over the "other" that is different is ugly and must be resisted. I do not share the concern that many express to me at conferences or meetings over the number of Muslim immigrants coming to Canada. I do not worry that they will soon take over or impose Sharia law over the country. I will not let fear drive me as fear keeps me from viewing newcomers to Canada as those whom Christ died for and those whom we are now able to reach with the love of Christ in a way that would not have been possible were they still in their country of origin.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Give Us Our Daily Bread

"Two things I ask of you, O LORD;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, `Who is the LORD?'
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God. (Proverbs 30:7-9)

A few years ago, we heard a great deal about the prayer of Jabez, a small prayer tucked away and forgotten by many in 1 Chronicles 4. A similarly obscure prayer is that of Agur son of Jakeh, hidden away in Proverbs 30. I find this prayer one of the wisest in Scripture. First, Agur asked that God would grant him the ability to live in integrity; that falsehood and lies would be far from him. This is my prayer for The Voice of the Martyrs as well. May we never be found to be guilty of exaggeration or as some in the media say, not letting the truth get in the way of a good story. Our call is to represent and speak on behalf of the persecuted with integrity. I hope you have found this to characterize us.

The second request was that he would be enabled to live in such a way that he would be continually reminded that God is his source for his daily bread. Verse 8 is reminiscent of Jesus' words in Matthew 6 when he instructed His followers to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread." This prayer reminds us that everything we have comes from the hands of our loving Father. Agur asks that God would provide him with what he needs so that he will not be tempted to bring dishonour to God by seeking to find his provision elsewhere. But surprisingly, he also asks that God would not give him too much so that he would not be tempted to forget God and believe that he is not dependent upon Him.

For the past several years, we at The Voice of the Martyrs have enjoyed God's care as we have seen Him meet our needs as a ministry. How easy it is to begin to coast and take His provision for granted. Recently, our leadership team has been struck by this fact and asked God to keep us mindful of our dependency upon Him. Donations have been down over the past couple of months and we realize that we have not been praying as we ought for our "daily bread." In His love, the Father has reminded us that all we are and have comes from Him.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Grace to Forgive

The following is an edited excerpt from the upcoming feature article in the December edition of The Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter. To receive your copy, click here.

Dirk Willems was a Dutch Christian who was arrested in the village of Asperen in 1569 because of his religious activities. Lowering himself out of a window using a rope made of rags, he was able to escape but not before a guard had seen him. The guard began to pursue him, with the town's mayor in tow. As they ran, Willems came to a frozen pond. He was able to make it across it safely but as the guard dashed across the ice, he fell through and began to sink. Hearing the hapless guard's cries for help, Willems was faced with a choice. Would he see this as a sign of God's protection or would he do what he could to save the life of his persecutor?

He stopped, turned around and went back to save his pursuer's life. Extending a hand of mercy to his enemy, he carefully pulled him to safety. But no sooner had he saved the guard than the mayor arrived and insisted on having him burned at the stake. Martyrs Mirror reports that as Willems died painfully and horrifically, the wind carried his voice to the next village where the residents heard him cry out more than seventy times, forgiving those who were killing him.

The grace to forgive is nurtured by the Word of God and the testimonies of those who have gone on before. This is why The Voice of the Martyrs shares the stories of today's and yesterday's Christian martyrs in our newsletters, books and videos. Share them with your children. Read them for your own growth in grace. Include them in Sunday School classes, sermons, or devotionals that you lead. Don't rob yourself and others of the riches of what God has and is doing in the world through the lives of those who are prepared to give all for Him.
(You can purchase a print of this picture online. Click here.)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Right to Offend and the Right to do what is Right

Having been a subscriber to the weekend editions of the Toronto Star for the past ten years, I was not really surprised by the latest anti-Christian diatribe published in today's Ideas section. It is rare that the Star mentions Bible-believing Christians at all and when they do, it is almost always in a negative light. But so be it; that is their right as a vehicle of free expression (more on this in a moment).

But the comments by Ken Gallinger, the Star's ethics columnist struck a note particularly vehement, almost reminiscent of the ancient Roman accusations of Christians being immoral, incestuous, cannibalistic atheists. Responding to the question as to whether those who support the idea of a literal six-day creation should be called "stupid", Gallinger responded, "Creationism is not the first nonsense the Christian Church has unleashed upon the world. And, unless you factor in the risk of turning your brain into silly putty, it's considerably less dangerous than such other ecclesiastical offerings as anti-Semitism, misogyny, the ‘domination' of nature, or gay-bashing ... all of which are solidly rooted in Christianity's Holy Book."

Talk about unleashing nonsense upon the world! As a Bible-believing Christian, I (as have most of us) recognize how, throughout history, the Bible has been misused to support such terrible things as Gallinger mentions. But they are just that; a misuse. They are not solidly rooted in the Bible, contrary to Gallinger's assertion. Make no mistake, Gallinger is not criticizing how people have used the Bible; he is criticizing the Bible itself. One must question how an ethics columnist can justify the "rightness" of publicly calling one of the world's great, historical religions a repeated unleasher (i.e. promoter) of nonsense and accuse its sacred text (2/3 of which is also held sacred by those of the Jewish faith) of teaching anti-Semitism, misogyny, environmental destruction, and hatred towards homosexuals. He may have the right to say such things (the freedom of expression includes the right to offend), but is it right to do so? (I have posed this question to him, by the way. I hope that he will respond. Stay tuned).

How should we respond as Christians? First, we need to recognize that in a free society, Gallinger does have the right to say such things. As I said earlier, the right to free expression does include the right to offend (and he certainly exercised this right this week). But freedom of expression also includes the right to defend. We have the right and obligation to counter his accusations and correct such prejudicial comments. We do not protest that he has said such things but we can stand against what he has said. We protest what he was written not the fact that he has written it. This is the nature of apologetics, to expose the truth that has been hidden behind the lies, misunderstandings or misinformation of our accusers. Our call here is not to ask for an apology from the paper that such nonsense was written. The paper does not need to apologize for offending Christians; to call for this would be to call for the suppression of the freedom of expression. Our obligation here is to present the truth and call for ethical behaviour by the ethics columnist. The right to say something does not mean that it is always right to say it, especially if what you are saying is based on innuendo and falsehood.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

We Are In This Together

One of the reasons that I have been unable to update by blog for a while has been that, for the past week, I have been out of the country at a meeting of leaders from the International Christian Association, the association of missions begun by or through the influence of Richard Wurmbrand. We meet once a year to discuss business and hear how God has been working in and through our ministries. It is usually a very encouraging and enjoyable time when I get to sit down with partners and friends from around the world. Many of our missions are, like VOMC, experiencing growth both financially and in ministry. Others are going through some difficult times. We rejoiced together and we mourned together. But we are in this together.

I missed not seeing them last year. While I was assured of their prayers and received messages of encouragement from many, nothing takes the place of personally seeing those you care about.
The same is true of ministering to the persecuted, themselves. We can (and should) pray for them, send them notes of encouragement, demonstrate our love through acts and gifts of compassion and solidarity, but nothing takes the places of actually going, seeing, and speaking to them. So many times, I have had believers in restricted nations thank me not for the "things" we bring them, but simply for coming and being with them, listening to their stories, and praying for them. This is an aspect of ministry that I miss so much right now, as I cannot travel to many places due to my fragile health. But I rejoice that we can send others in my stead to let our brothers and sisters know that they are not forgotten. In the next month, a number of us from the Canadian mission will be traveling abroad. Remember them in your prayers, together with those whom they will be meeting with. We are in this together.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Refusing the Game of Religious Relativity

Allow me to preface this blog with the assurance that this is not an anti-Bush rant. There is quite enough of that going on without my contribution. I have, admittedly, mixed feelings about the current U.S. president and his policies and practices but not on the basis of ideology. I will stop there, but I wanted to make these points clear before I proceed.

On October 4, Arabic-language television news channel Al Arabiya interviewed President Bush in the White House. Early in the interview, Al Arabiya notes that in the Islamic world, Bush is seen as an enemy of Islam, as one who would like to destroy it. The President is asked if this is in any way true? He replied, "No, it's not. I've heard that, and it just shows [sic] to show a couple of things: One, that the radicals have done a good job of propagandizing. In other words, they've spread the word that this really isn't peaceful people versus radical people or terrorists, this is really about the America not liking Islam.

Well, first of all, I believe in an almighty God, and I believe that all the world, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, prays to the same God. That's what I believe. I believe that Islam is a great religion that preaches peace. And I believe people who murder the innocent to achieve political objectives aren't religious people, whether they be a Christian who does that -- we had a person blow up our -- blow up a federal building in Oklahoma City who professed to be a Christian, but that's not a Christian act to kill innocent people."

There are parts of Bush's answer that are quite helpful. However, as a Bible-believing Christian (which the President also purports to be), I must take exception to his statement that "all the world, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, prays to the same God."

What Bush is supporting here is the concept that behind the "gods" of the various religions, there is the true God. This may sound reconciliatory and open-minded but it is quite false and no true Muslim would believe it, nor should any Christian.

Both Christianity and Islam are revelatory religions, meaning that they are based on claimed special revelations of God. For Christianity, that special revelation is the Bible and the person of Jesus Christ. We do not believe that God is whoever or whatever we want Him to be but only who and what He has revealed Himself to be. We are not free to think of God however we like. We also know from Paul's writings to the Romans, that the religions of man are not a sign of people seeking to know God but evidence of mankind's rebellion against what God has revealed about Himself.

In short, we do not all pray to the same God and never have since the fall of Adam and Eve.

I understand why the President made such a statement. It was an attempt to be reconciliatory and to demonstrate religious tolerance. This is laudable. But no true Muslim is really going to accept the idea that their God is the same God as that of Christianity, just as no Christian should. Nor was it entirely necessary. It is not necessary to say, "Hey, there is really no difference between us" in order for people to get along with each and accept each other. True tolerance is admitting that there are significant differences; we do worship different gods but that does not mean that we have to kill or hate each other. We can accept the right of Muslims, Buddhists, and atheists to believe whatever they believe and still hold to our own convictions firmly and without apology. Believing in absolutes does not require that we force them on others.

But playing the game of religious relativity convinces no one ultimately and does nothing to win the respect of those who differ from us in creed and conviction. It pours contempt on our own convictions and denies the value of God's revelation to us.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Cynicism - An Intellectual and Spiritual Dead-end.

There was a time that I liked to hang around cynics. Scorning the simplistic answers that so many evangelicals seemed to spout off to complicated problems, it seemed that expressing doubt or inserting a measure of "realism" into the discussion was the intelligent thing to do. Cynics seemed to reflect a more balanced, intellectual approach to Christianity than the pietistic, naïve approach that I had grown up with.

A recent meeting with a friend, however, made me realize that I no longer find cynics such enjoyable company any longer. In fact, I find them down right unsettling and depressing for the very reason that I once took pleasure in them; they have no answers for anything, just doubts and questions. In fact, it now seems to me that cynicism is the lazy man's attempt to appear intellectual. Providing no real answers, they simply cast doubt when serious thought is required. Expert at picking holes in the opinions or lives of others, they can't be bothered to provide any possible solutions of their own.

I know that there is a cynical streak in my own heart that gravitates towards such individuals. But the sterility of cynicism has made me realize that it is an intellectual and spiritual dead-end.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Amish Grace

I am presently reading the newly released book Amish Grace, an examination of the forgiveness demonstrated by the Amish community after the horrific shooting of 10 girls while they were at school (5 died) at Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania on October 2, 2006. I can't remember the last time that a book has caused me to tear up with emotion like this one has. I will write more about this book in the December edition of The Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter, but suffice to say at this time that I was deeply moved to discover that the primary reason why the Amish believers were able to respond to such tragedy with forgiveness had to do with developing a culture where forgiveness was inevitable. And the two primary texts that helped develop this culture were the Bible (of course) and the book Martyrs Mirror, a thousand-page tome filled with accounts of early Christian martyrs and sixteenth century Anabaptist men and women who died for their faith. (Since this spring, The Voice of the Martyrs has been selling this book online.) These stories are commonly referred to in sermons in Amish services. As the authors of Amish Grace write, "In retelling the martyr stories, the Amish surround themselves with historical role models who not only submitted their lives to God but also extended forgiveness to those who were about to kill them" (page 100).

We will be selling Amish Grace online soon. Get it, together with Martyrs Mirror, and by God's grace, begin the process of creating your own culture of faithfulness before the Lord.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Room for Religion on Public Transit?

I recently came across a local news story about the city of Mississauga rejecting a Christian charity group's request to buy advertising space on public transit. The Christian ads in question are described as "inspirational, not preachy [and]... thought provoking." One example ad reads: "Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. If you do this you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand."

The rejection was reportedly made in accordance with Mississauga's policy not to sell advertising space to any religious group on city-owned property. Mississauga's Mayor, Hazel McCallion, said on the matter: "(The city's) restrictions are reasonable and necessary for the purpose of providing good governance. The city's policy was established in good faith to ensure that the city remains neutral and refrains from implementing measures that could favour one religion over another or that might have an effect of imposing one religion over another..." (I find it amusing that she happened to use the expression "good faith").

Since Christians are not the only ones being banned, this obviously can't be called a Christian persecution story. However, I still think the story is worth discussing for the issues it raises about freedom of expression. To me, it seems to be yet another example of ‘political correctness' being taken too far for the sake of supposed ‘neutrality' (or perhaps a better word to use is the ever-interesting oxymoron ‘secular neutrality').

The Christian group, whose ads have been approved in Toronto as well as in other cities and provinces, is not taking the ban sitting down. In a letter to Mayor McCallion, the group's president pointed out that the Ontario Human Rights Code "prohibits discrimination on the basis of creed in the provision of services, such as advertising." He also referred to a recent British Columbia case that determined the Canadian Charter of Rights "is applicable to a publicly-owned transit authority in respect to freedom of expression."

Local citizens have had mixed reactions to the religious ad ban, according to a report from 680 news. Here are a few quotes:

"Whoever likes it they can look at...Who doesn't like it ... they don't have to look at it. It's up to an individual... [T]he same goes for all types of advertising."

"For me, I don't think that's something I really want to read about on the bus and I do read what's up there. I don't think I want to see it."

"There's a lot of things on the buses that will offend people anyways so if it's an inspirational message it's only doing good. I don't think it's going to do any bad."

Although this may seem like a small issue, especially when compared to some of the rights issues facing other countries, it is indicative of the attitude towards religious expression in this country. It makes me wonder if other public advertising venues might be soon stripped of religious messages. For example, what's to stop people from claiming there is no room for church ads in local newspapers or phone books? Could the time come when practically all Canadian religious groups are banned from public advertising because they allegedly tip the scale of ‘neutrality?'

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Trying to Get a Grip

For the past several weeks, I have gradually come to the conclusion that one of the main reasons for my lack of creativity lately has been that I have allowed my email to take up the best parts of my day. I decided that I needed to do something about it and so, today I sent out the following to my staff.

In order to enhance creativity and communication, I am voluntarily adopting the following communications practices:

1. a) I will generally only be reading and responding to my emails between 9:30-10:00 am and 2:00-2:30 pm each working day.
b) I will generally not be checking my emails in the evenings, weekends or holidays
c) If you send me an email that requires more urgent attention, please contact me in person or by phone/Skype and inform me.

2. Generally, I prefer to communicate or to be communicated to in the following priority:
a) In person
b) By phone/Skype
c) By email

People who communicate to me in this order will receive my highest priority.

3. Issues of a personal, disciplinary, or emotional nature will not be dealt with by email. Email will only be used in such matters to record or restate the results of the discussion afterwards.

4. Personal email will not be done during office hours.

I would like to hear from some of you how you are dealing with the tyranny of email in your life and business.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Algerian Judge Asks for Prayer

I would like to share with you a story that I recently read in an editorial by Tom White, Executive Director of our sister mission in the United States, in which he recounts a story told to him by a co-worker in Algeria.

"When I was 15 years old, I was looking for God. I tried to ask everyone. I even went to a sheikh. I told him, ‘I love God. I am looking for Him.' He told me, ‘You are a blasphemer. You only need to obey your parents and say the five [Muslim] prayers.' But I was not convinced. Every night before I went to sleep, I said, ‘God, I know You are there. If You are there, why don't You talk to me?'

"One night, I was crying on my bed and I saw heaven open and rays of light writing the words, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.' I knew this was not a dream. I ran outside on the patio to look up at the sky. I was sure God had talked to me. Later, a woman gave me a New Testament. When I found Jesus' words, ‘way, truth, life,' I said, ‘That is what You told me. You are God.' I gave my life to Jesus.

"When I married, I told my husband that I was a Christian. My family reported me to the police. The police in Algiers filed a court case against me for despising Islam - blasphemy."

"One morning they took me to court. The judge was sitting at his desk between two advisors. He leaned over and asked me, ‘Are you a Christian?' I said, ‘Yes.' He asked, ‘What did you find in Islam that you didn't like?' I replied, ‘I was looking for God in Islam and I didn't find Him.' Then I told him about my night vision and the words I found in the New Testament. I don't know if he was curious or wanted to trap me, but the judge asked, ‘How do Christians pray? What do they say?'

"I tried to explain to him what we say. He still didn't understand how we talk to God. He asked, ‘Where do you pray? What do you pray?' I replied, ‘We can pray anytime, anywhere.' He leaned forward and asked, ‘Can you pray now? Here?' I said, ‘Yes.' He sat back and said, ‘Okay. Pray.'

"I stood before him and raised my hands and started to pray. I knew that in my prayer this would be an opportunity to give a message of salvation. I began, ‘Thank you, Jesus, because we are sinners and You died for us....' I took 10 minutes to finish this prayer. I prayed for the president of Algeria that God would bless him. I prayed for those in this court to see the salvation of Christ.

"When I said ‘Amen,' the officials in the court turned to look at each other. The room was quiet. They were speechless. The judge said to me, ‘This case is dismissed. Go home.'

"I turned to walk down the long aisle to the door. I heard someone running behind me. I turned and saw the judge. He caught up with me and said, ‘Woman, when you pray to Jesus, please pray for me.'

Friday, September 21, 2007

In the Shadow of the Cross Available for Free Download in Chinese

Recently, the Chinese translation of my book "In the Shadow of the Cross" was completed and 9,000 copies were published and distributed in China. This is an exciting development for us. However, it is obvious that we will never be able to distribute enough copies given the difficulties, logisitics, and the vast numbers of Christians in mainland China. We have decided, therefore, to make the book available onlne for free distribution in Chinese. While we know that our main website is often blocked by the Communist authorities, we hope that others make the link available known in one way or another, that perhaps believers there might be able to secure copies whether online or by CD. Anyway, here is where "In the Shadow of the Cross" in Chinese can be downloaded for free: It can also obtained on our online catalog in the ebooks section.