Saturday, March 31, 2007

More Than Just Reporting

This past week, we reported on the tragic murder of Nigerian school teacher, Christianah Oluwatoyin Olusase. This morning, the tragedy deepened for me as I learned that she left behind a husband and two young children; a son, Timilade and a daughter, Temiloluwa. As I read the report of how she was killed, I was shocked. It is becoming so obvious to me that her killing was religiously motivated. The students were just looking for a reason to attack this dear lady after one student (the one who claimed that her Quran was desecrated) had been caught cheating during the exam. Indeed, some eye-witnesses are now claiming that the book that the student claimed was a Quran was simply a book written in Arabic. As she was being mercilessly attacked in her classroom, her husband reports that she was able to telephone him in Abeokuta. He told our Nigerian director, "Her last words to me were: ‘The car is damaged. The school is on fire. There is danger around me.'"

He never heard from her again. When he tried to call her back, there was no answer on her phone. He told us, "I imagined that that must have been the time she was overpowered and killed. Her body was burnt beyond recognition. Muslim fanatics still go to spot where she was burnt to spit there." Her remains have since been brought to Abeokuta in the south and buried.
I was grateful to learn, however, that our Nigerian mission partners have supplied the family with funds to offset the funeral and other expenses and that we will provide free education for the children at our school in Abeokuta; a school specifically set up to educate and care for children whose parents have been killed for their faith.
People sometimes ask me how it is that I do not fall into despair working with those who suffer so much and so unjustly. It is because I don't just report on it. Yes, we do raise awareness but behind the scenes (often unreported) we try to do something to let our brothers and sisters know that they have not been forgotten. Praise God for that.
Please remember this family in your prayers. Remember our partners in Nigeria in your prayers as well. Thank God for their diligent work and pray that God would equip them as they bring comfort to those who are suffering for Christ's sake.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Only an atheist can be a good Christian

Yesterday, I quoted Jurgen Moltmann as saying that only a Christian can be a good atheist. The full quotation, as it appears in Daniel L. Migliore's The Power of God (page 42), goes, "Only an atheist can be a good Christian; only a Christian can be a good atheist." As I mentioned, the second phrase makes a significant point in affirming the value that Christianity places on the human life (or at least, ought to). This is not to say that we affirm absolute value to the individual or deny the sinfulness of the individual and the race. I have little time for the "self-esteem" teaching that is so in vogue today. What I do believe is that a biblical view of humanity gives us a sound foundation for a proper understanding of human rights and religious freedom, in particular.

But let me address the first line of Moltmann's statement in this blog; "Only an atheist can be a good Christian." As Migliore points out, this is not as controversial statement as one might expect. There is a tradition of "atheism" in Christianity. The early Christians were frequently accused by the Roman authorities of being "atheists" and were brutally persecuted for it. The accusation rests in the exclusive claims of Christianity. When we claim to have faith in the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible and in Jesus Christ, we say "No" to the gods of this world and declare them all to be false gods. This includes the gods both formal and informal; the official gods of organized religions and the gods that we decide that we can live comfortably with. The God who has spoken to us and revealed Himself puts these gods to flight. You cannot live with them and with the true God. If you refuse to believe in the true God, it is because you cannot rid yourself of conceptions of God which are woefully inadequate. You cling to your idols and reject those who urge you to free yourself of them.

The atheist says, "Your God is false and dehumanizing." So does the Christian. This is why I am convinced that, for the most part, dialogue between religions is not only a waste of time but dishonoring to the true God. True biblical Christians will always continue to live under the accusation of being "atheists." This is part of our legacy of faithfulness to the living God.

Tolerance, Iranian-Style

This is categorized under "I-wish-I-had-said-it-first-but-I-am-glad-someone-did." I couldn't help but agree with this short letter to the editor that appeared in today's National Post:

Re: Fury as Iran parades captive sailors on TV, March 29.

Do you hear that sound? The sound of people rioting in the streets because a female British hostage was forced to wear a headscarf during a televised "confession"? Didn't think so. Now imagine a Guantanamo prisoner, forced to wear a crucifix or a yarmulke on TV. Once again, cultural "tolerance" proves to be a one-way street.

Jeremy Sale, Toronto.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Christians as the True Humanists

I believe that the only true humanists in the world are Christians.

Now, before you rush for the rocks with which to stone me, hear me out. I believe that only Christians have good and sufficient reasons to have a high view of humanity as image bearers of our Creator. If anyone should have a high view of humanity, it should be Christians. Yes, we are fallen, the image marred and not reflecting the image of God perfectly (or even very well very often) but it is not destroyed as the biblical record is clear to point out. As such, we have good reasons for treating human beings with respect and defending their rights as given and protected by God. Christians ought not to be enemies of human rights, but friends and defenders of them. It is a tragedy that we have too often given up the role of defending human freedom to atheists who have no reason to believe in the value of human life.

It is worth remembering that no one is more human than when he or she is in a right relationship with God. This is what we were created to be. Our fallacies and proneness to sin is not the fault of our humanity; it is the fault of our sinfulness. It is incorrect to say, when we sin, "Well, I am just human." No, if we were acting truly human, we would not have sinned. We would have reflected the image of God and walked in obedience. This is what Jurgen Moltmann meant when he said that "Only a Christian can be a good atheist." Only a Christian is able to protect and promote what the atheist proclaims to hold dearest - our true humanity.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Persecution in Israel: Does Our Theology Shut Our Ears and Mouths?

Every time we release a story or two on the persecution of Christians in Israel (like we did last week), I am nervous. When we added Israel to our prayer map this year, I also expected to get questions about it (and we did). It seems that evangelicals in Canada just can't grasp the fact that Israel is not nearly as friendly towards evangelicals as we are towards them. Oh sure, they love for us to come and visit as tourists. And Israel understands full well that evangelicals in much of the western world will exert great pressure on their governments to support Israel politically. And so, in the West, Israel makes great overtures to evangelical leaders while, at the very same time, refusing to protect their own Christian population adequately.

The plight of the Messianic believers in Arad is a case in point. For the past three years, these believers have experienced almost continual harassment and violence against them. Yet, little has been reported in the Christian media concerning this. I wonder why. I suspect that it has a large part to do with a theology that is bandied about that suggests that to criticize Israel is to not bless her. Christians are admonished to have almost a blind loyalty to Israel.

And so my nervousness every time we fulfill our calling and report on persecution in Israel. If we report on the persecution of Christians by Muslim Palestinians, there is no problem, of course. But to suggest that Israel might be less than angelic in their treatment of Israeli Christians (to say nothing of Palestinian ones) is something many would rather not accept or hear about.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Translations Completed on "In the Shadow of the Cross"

It isn't often that one gets to watch two babies born in a single week, but I kind of feel like this was my experience this week. On Monday, one of our colleagues from Ukraine arrived with two packages in tow. When I opened them, I was delighted to see my book, In the Shadow of the Cross, freshly translated and printed in Ukrainian. What a joy! Having lived there in the early 90's for almost a year, Ukraine retains a special place for me and I am so pleased that I can continue to make a contribution to the church there through my book.

Then on Thursday, I received an email from Bob Fu of China Aid Association telling me that the translation of my book into Chinese had finally been finished and that it was just being checked over by some readers. Hopefully, we will be able to start printing it soon and distributing it to the believers in China.

This is very exciting for me, as I am sure you can appreciate. While I am gratified for how the book is being received by readers in the English-speaking world, I really wrote the book for the persecuted church. And so, to see it translated into languages which make it more accessible to them is very much a passion of mine (which is why I retained the translation rights). At the present time, In the Shadow of the Cross is being translated (or plans are in the works to have it translated) into Tigrinya, Farsi, Dutch, German, Tamil, Sinhalese, Spanish, Arabic and Urdu.

Pray that God will continue to use this book (and the seminars that VOMC is conducting using the material from it) to build up the church around the world. Pray that we will have the resources to make it available to church leaders around the world.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Continuing Need for "Amazing Grace"

"Amazing Grace", a new film based on the story of anti-slavery pioneer William Wilberforce is finally being released in Canada tomorrow. Wilberforce was a young British MP who spent a political career in the late 18th and early 19th centuries working for the abolition of the slavery. The film's title is taken from John Newton's famous hymn. Newton himself was an ex-slave trader turned minister who became a spiritual confidante and supporter of Wilberforce, encouraging his efforts to promote political reform. I am planning on going to see it myself and I would encourage you to do so, as well. You can check out this link to find the theatre nearest you.

I would like you to think of one thing as you watch this film. Check out this story on BBC entitled "No return for Sudan's forgotten slaves." It is a sobering reminder of the lingering tragedy from Sudan's long civil war where thousands of southern Sudanese were taken into slavery. Read and remember that slavery continues to exist and some of them are your Christian brothers and sisters.

When Prayer Is Out of Place

For as long as I can remember, I have been struck by Joshua 7:10 where the Lord says to Joshua, "Get up! Why have you fallen on your face?" This rather sharp rebuke comes at the end of a long prayer where Joshua is crying out before the Lord after Israel's defeat at the hands of army of Ai. He prays a pretty good prayer, from my perspective. But it would seem that the Lord wasn't of the same mind because He commands Joshua to get off of his face and get doing something. The reason for the defeat was obvious; there was sin in the camp and the appropriate action was not crying out to God but dealing with the problem.

This verse makes me nervous, I confess, because, by nature, I tend to be more action-oriented than prayer-oriented. I have had to work hard to take issues to the Lord before moving ahead. But this verse reminds us that there are certain things that we don't need to pray about.

One of them is if we should stand together with our persecuted brothers and sisters in the Lord. We are instructed in the Word of God to do so. We don't need to pray about being obedient; that is a given. As God's people, we can only ask our Father how we should help our persecuted family members, not if we should. As members of one body, we must join in the persecution of others and share in their lives.

Perhaps the Lord is saying to you today that it is time to get up and do something. The only question left is, "What exactly, Lord, would you have me to do?"

Disappointed but Grateful

Yesterday was not a good day. I found out on Tuesday evening that I tested positive for Cytomegalovirus (CMV) again. This is rather common for transplant patients, which is why they test for it every week when I go to the bone marrow transplant clinic. I wasn't surprised as I have been feeling a little worn out lately. But I was still disappointed as it meant that I had to cancel my plans yesterday to attend and speak at our Persecuted Church Prayer Conference in Edmonton this weekend. I so much enjoy those events, especially the one in Edmonton, which we have done for several years in a row now at Northgate Baptist Church. They are wonderful people there.

Of course, the conference will go on quite well without me. Our staff and the hosting church have everything well in hand. The speakers will be excellent. It makes me feel good to know that I can leave these details in the hands of others without any concerns; they are a credit to the mission and the kingdom of God.

I pray that we have a great turn out on Friday night and Saturday and that God's Spirit will work mightily through the prayers on the saints who gather during these times to interceed on behalf of the persecuted around the world. I will be joining them from my home in Mississauga.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

What to Do About India?

Each week, as my staff and I discuss what stories we will focus on in our weekly email news service, The Persecution and Prayer Alert, it seems that events out of India dominate. The rising tide of persecution in the world's largest democracy has got to be one of the great religious liberty tragedies of the last decade. The federal government is largely helpless to stop it, as individual states seek to legislate religious conversion out of existence and authorities turn a blind eye to acts of violence against Christian minorities. Even the traditionally secular Congress Party is getting into the act in such states as Himachal Pradesh, as they vie for popularity with the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Anti-conversion laws are now in place in seven states (Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Arunachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh), giving support to militant groups and resulting in ongoing violence against Christians.

I would urge you to make India a particular matter of prayer in the coming month. It saddens me to read of incident after incident after incident each week, and wondering how we can possibly cover each story adequately. I watch scenes from our latest video. Faith Under Fire: India and while I am grateful to God for what The Voice of the Martyrs is able to do in India through our partner ministries there, I feel that there is so much more to do. When we sent Bernie Daniel there to teach two seminars to equip church leaders on the biblical teaching on persecution early this year, it became obvious that we are only reaching the tip of the iceberg. God has opened some tremendous doors for us in India, but there are clouds on the horizon that cause me great concern for this wondrous but religiously troubled country. Again, I urge you to make India a matter of special prayer in the days to come.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

When Is It Too Graphic?

It's sometimes hard to know where to draw the line between needing to document the reality of persecution and exposing more than what is necessary to do so. We faced that twice this week. The first had to do with the report that we put out in the Persecution and Prayer Alert concerning the desecration of a church building in Pec, Serbia. One picture in particular had obscene graffiti written on the walls in Albanian. One of our staff members was concerned that Serbian viewers may be offended if we were to publish this picture. We decided to go ahead because the pictures themselves had already been published by an organization associated with the Serbian Orthodox Church. It also seemed to me that it was more likely that Serbians would want the world to know more fully the fuller extent of the hatred that they are facing in Kosovo at the hands of Albanian Muslims. To this point, we have received no complaints about the picture.

We faced a second such decision later in the week as we were editing video footage from a massacre of Christians in Jimma, Ethiopia last October. We intend to include segments of this footage as an added feature to our upcoming video "Ethiopian Voices: Testimonies of the Persecuted." The video was taken by an amateur and, as such, the quality is not as good as we would normally use. But is the only first-hand documentation available of very important incident. It is also very graphic in detail and quite disturbing, but we believe that the world needs to see it. The temptation is to hide it away. But I believe that we cannot. I suspect that we will get some criticism over it, even though we will be adding a disclaimer and warning at the beginning of the segment. A longer, unedited version of this footage is already online on, if you would like to decide for yourself. We will probably be substituting this longer version shortly with the shorter version with translations of some of the conversations.

In today's world when we watch beheadings being done by terrorists online, autopsies being performed on the various versions of CSI, witness the aftermath of suicide bombings on newscasts, it is hard to know whether the decision to show the graphic nature of persecution is just a reflection of the current age or a necessary part of revealing the truth. I am still in a quandary about that, to be honest. But I think it is better to error on the side of the truth than on the side of caution. To be honest, it is rarely the persecuted who have an issue with us showing such scenes; it is usually someone who would rather avoid the issue altogether.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Lessons from Yesterday and Today in South Korea

Earlier this week, I read an article in The Christian Science Monitor concerning how Christianity came and grew in the Korean peninsula. According to the article, "About one-third of South Koreans are now Christian. Seoul, the capital, boasts 10 of the 11 largest Christian congregations in the world. And South Korea sends more missionaries abroad to spread the word than any other country except the United States." According to Rev. Samuel Moffett, professor emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, Christianity has grown from a few hundred adherents in the late 19th century to "about 9 million Protestants and 3 to 4 million Catholics in South Korea today."

It was interesting to me to note that, according to Timothy Kiho Park, a Korean who directs Korean studies at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, that one key to the rapid growth was the strategy adopted by the young pioneer missionaries, which emphasized developing indigenous leadership: "self-government, self-propagation of the faith, and self-support."

"This encouraged national leaders to take care of their own affairs without foreign control or funding," Dr. Park says. "They practiced it from the beginning, advising but letting the Koreans preach and run the churches."

This is only one more piece of evidence that the practice of supporting national pastors and evangelists with foreign funding is not essential to church growth in a nation. We are often told by those who promote such ministries that the gospel is being hindered today in many nations because local leaders cannot afford to minister full-time or because they are so poor. We at The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada do not believe that this is the case. Hence, we refuse to get involved in such ministries for both missiological and biblical reasons (click here for our position paper on the issue). It is a core value to us as a mission that we empower the Persecuted Church by standing with them, encouraging and equipping without creating dependency, maintaining and promoting their ability to be self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating, and resisting any programs or ministry that would detract from this. We believe in taking the long-term view. We try to ask ourselves and those we work with what is it that will be best for the spread of the gospel in the long run and not just at the urgent moment. Every action, every program, ever methodology has consequences. We believe at VOMC that churches that do not depend on outside funding of their leadership, in particular, grow more consistently in the long run and are healthier from a biblical perspective. Personally, I believe that in the years to come, many of us are going to look back at the last few years, with the emphasis on "partnering" with national worker by paying for their support, and conclude that this was one of the most significant missiological mistakes that we ever made.

Amoung them will likely be some South Korean mission leaders. Sadly, as Glenn Schwartz of World Mission Associates reminded me in a recent email, many South Korean missionaries seem to have unfortunately forgotten the lessons of their own history and lost the emphasis on three "selfs" in their mission work in the churches they plant in places like Africa.

Beijing Hotels Should Have Bibles for the Olympics Says Advisor

Last week, the National Post ran a series from the recently published book by Joshua Kurlantzick entitled, "Charm Offensive: How China's Soft Power Is Transforming the World." The author notes how China is building international favour and effectively disarming criticism of its human rights offenses and lack of freedom through a deliberate strategy of appearing benign and unthreatening.

This strategy is readily apparent in a story that came out last week in Reuters of how Liu Bainian, vice-president of the China Patriotic Catholic Association was quoted as saying that Bibles need to be put in the hotel rooms during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. His comments reportedly took place on the sidelines of the annual session of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the country's top political advisory body. The Xinhua news agency quoted Liu as saying, "The service can help clear up foreigners' misunderstandings of China in the area of religion."

Such a move could have very good propaganda results and I would not be surprised to see it happen. It would have no effect on the spread of Christianity in China and would provide the Chinese government with something to point to as evidence of their claimed tolerance of religion. And I can predict that there will be those who will fall for it.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Religious Liberty Partnership Launched

I am very proud and pleased to be part of a significant new initiative in persecuted church ministry; a global network of fifteen key organisations that work with the persecuted church around the world. Called the Religious Liberty Partnership (RLP), this new partnership will attempt to coordinate joint activities, share information and avoid duplication of work. The following is a press release from the Religious Liberty Partnership that explains it more fully:

(AMSTERDAM, 14 March 2007) In a historic move, fifteen key organisations that work with the persecuted church around the world launched a global network in order to cooperate more intentionally together. Meeting in Amsterdam, Holland, the group formed the Religious Liberty Partnership (RLP), with charter organisations that include Christian Solidarity International, Open Doors International, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Voice of the Martyrs (Canada), and the Religious Liberty Commission of World Evangelical Alliance.

"In this complicated world, where the persecuted church is still growing, we need to work together to accomplish the task," said Johan Companjen of Open Doors International. "It will take commitment and dedication, but if we want to be good stewards of the Lord's money, partnering with other groups is the way to go forward".

The partnership will meet annually while a leadership team of five will oversee the work during the year. Mervyn Thomas from Christian Solidarity Worldwide in England was named as Chair of the RLP leadership team. The new partnership will attempt to coordinate joint activities, share information and avoid duplication of work. Two ongoing working groups were established for 2007 to address advocacy issues and to identify common "Best Practices".

"This is a critical time in the history of religious liberty," stated Glenn Penner, CEO of Voice of the Martyrs in Canada and coordinator of the Best Practices working group. "Religious freedom, especially for Christians, is threatened across the planet. Like never before, it is vitally important that organisations that work with persecuted Christians not only talk about working together, but that they be seen to be united and actually take steps to act in a unified manner."

Through this unique network the partners believe that the suffering church will receive more relevant help than ever before. "It was so good to see a genuine unity amongst the agencies represented at this inaugural meeting, said RLP Chairman Mervyn Thomas. "I believe it was more than just rhetoric and was a Holy Spirit inspired desire to work together for the good of our worldwide persecuted family. Working together rather than competing with one another is God's heart and will produce a real synergy in all we do."

New partners are being sought for the global Religious Liberty Partnership effort, with the next formal meeting to be held in Zurich, Switzerland in March, 2008. Brian O'Connell of REACT Services in the USA was appointed facilitator of the RLP for 2007.

"Obviously, the great winners in this important partnership are our suffering brothers and sisters," said Johan Candelin of the World Evangelical Alliance. "It sends a very strong, positive signal to the global church and is a historical milestone, much needed to be able to serve those who are under growing pressure for their faith in Christ."

For more information about the Religious Liberty Partnership, please contact Brian O'Connell:
Phone: +1-425-218-4718;

Please pray for the success of this new partnership.

Spare a Prayer for Serbia

I do feel for the Christians of Serbia. Given the history of their nation, especially in Kosovo, I can understand why international sympathy is generally not with them when reports of church desecrations and attacks on Christians take place, as they did on March 4 in Pec (see I also appreciate that these attacks by Albanians are somewhat nationalistic in nature and so it is hard to discern whether they are ethnic or religious in nature. But the fact is, persecution in the 21st century is not always absolutely purely for religious reasons in many places. If the Serbs were Muslims or if they were to convert to Islam, would these attacks place? I don't know. It is hard to say.

Nevertheless, someone has to speak on their behalf from time to time and let the world know what they are going through. It is worth noting that the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church strongly rebuked the Serbian government during the conflict in Kosovo when so many atrocities took place, especially when the government tried to wrap itself in an Orthodox robe (e.g. and

Having spent time in the former Yugoslavia during the 1980's, the region has a soft spot in my heart. Later, I was in Albania in 1998 when NATO began flying over Kosovo and I remember the ill feelings towards the Serbs at the time. My prayer is that we can move beyond that and try to remember that there are Christians in the region who are now suffering the consequences of their former government's deeds.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

My Take on "Cookie-cutter" Sponsorship Programs

"Cookie-cutter" programs bug me. What do I mean by "cookie-cutter" programs? Programs that says something like, "For only $35 a month, you can sponsor a child/pastor/missionary, etc....." regardless if who or where this person lives. Or for $20 a month, you can send so-and-so many books/Bibles/etc. to countries where they are needed, regardless of the country. There are other twists on this sponsorship methodology that I need not go into, but the approach is the same. For a certain amount of money you can do something for someone regardless of where they live.

The problem is, life and ministry anywhere, and perhaps especially in restricted nations, is far too complicated to be reduced to a funding formula where one-size-fits-all. It's simply not possible, without inadvertently leaving supporters with the wrong idea unless one is prepared to do some extra explaining. Having developed and carried out projects all over the world, I know just how varied costs can be from country to country and even within the same country. A "cookie-cutter" approach to fund-raising hardly tells the whole story.

Take, for example, the practice of sponsoring national pastors; something that The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada refuses to do for a number of biblical and missiological reasons. Many organizations have found this to be a lucrative source of income and donor loyalty. The promise of improving the life and ministry of a national pastor or missionary for a set monthly sponsorship appeals to many. Faced with this, the temptation to adopt a "cookie-cutter" approach is understandable, as it simplifies the process for both donors and overworked charity administrators.

The problem is that such an approach to fundraising hardly tells the real story and can even be, inadvertently, misleading. In some countries, $35 a month (just to grab a number out of the air) is a mere pittance and would make very little difference in the life of the individual. For others in other nations, however, such an amount is a kingly sum and would raise the lifestyle of his family to such an extent that he would be viewed with suspicion and envy. Seen as an employee of an outside agency, his loyalty to the country becomes suspect and his motives for serving the church is viewed as being financial in nature. Less scrupulous individuals see this and enter the ministry themselves (often self-appointed) and seek out Western "partners" who will fund their endeavors.

The reason I have been giving some thought to this lately is due to the fact that we are reworking our "Jars of Hope" sponsorship program here in Canada. We have resisted the "cookie-cutter" approach to this point and we will continue to do so, even if it means more work for our staff and a more difficult time explaining the program to the donors. Each country, each project, each sponsorship will be costed appropriately. If, to sponsor a child in one part of India, it costs $25 a month and in another part, $30 a month, and in Nigeria, $40 a month, then we will resist the temptation to find a single fee that will cover all three. Each will be identified and funded appropriately with different sponsorship amounts. No "cookie-cutter" approach. Our donors deserve to know that it really costs to do ministry, even if it makes fund-raising and administration more complicated.

Integrity requires it.

Monday, March 12, 2007

'Have militant atheists infiltrated the U.S. Mint?' Don't Be Ridiculous!

Sometimes we evangelicals are our own worst enemies. The US Mint has announced that it accidentally released an unknown number of new dollar coins commemorating George Washington's presidency without the phrase "In God We Trust" lettered on their edges. And, of course, some evangelicals in the States are seeing it as a part of a larger conspiracy by militant atheists to remove God from America's public life. I won't go into the details, but a simple search of websites and blogs on Google will illustrate the point.

Quite frankly, this is silly. It was a mistake, plain and simple. In 1955, the United States passed legislation that made "In God We Trust" mandatory on all coins and paper currency. The US Mint is not going to knowingly disobey the law and to suggest otherwise demonstrates a level of paranoia and suspicion that goes way beyond careful watchfulness and discernment and brings disrepute on the many careful thinking Christians in the States and elsewhere who are fighting real religious liberty issues.

So, let it go, folks. We all have bigger battles to fight and ones that are not worth ruining our reputations over.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Editor of "Obsession" Responds to Accusations of Islamaphobia

On February 26, 2007, The New York Times published an article entitled "Film's View of Islam Stirs Anger on Campuses", concerning recent campus protests against showings of the film "Obsession" (which VOMC sells online). The film has been accused by its critics of being Islamophobic or creating an anti-Islamic backlash.

This afternoon, Wayne Kopping, the Director and Editor of the film issued a response to these accusations:

Dear Editor,

I am the Director of the film "Obsession" and I am writing in response to the February 26, 2007 article entitled "Film's View of Islam Stirs Anger on Campuses".

First of all, the headline of the piece is terribly misleading - "Obsession" is not a film about Islam as a whole, but rather it discusses the hijacking of Islam by Radical Muslims who seek to foster terrorism against the West.

Second, it is erroneous to claim that "Obsession" will incite Islamophobia or create an anti-Islamic backlash. In "Obsession", we make a clear distinction between 'radical' and 'moderate' Muslims, and we repeatedly declare that the majority of Muslims are not radicals. To date, the film has already been seen by millions of people around the world, and there has not been even one reported incident of violent backlash as a result of 'Obsession'. On the contrary, the film has received acclaim and commendation from leaders, critics and military experts alike, who have found the film to be fair and accurate in its presentation [see for quotes]. The film only seems to 'stir anger' from those fringe quarters who share the agenda of defending groups with radical tendencies.

To that end, it is with regret that our film finds itself the victim of slanderous attacks from the Muslim Student's Association (MSA), et al, who have succeeded in shutting down at least two screenings of the film on college campuses. Additionally, there have been other reports of intimidation by the MSA, in their quest to stop further screenings of the film.

We denounce the actions of the MSA in the strongest terms. Rather than furthering vital conversation around the issue of Radical Islamic terrorism and helping to bridge the gap between communities, the MSA is stifling valuable dialogue.

Our aim is, and has always been, to work together with those moderate Muslims who recognize the threat of Radical Islam -- which is why we were so surprised by the hostility of the MSA, (who purport to be a moderate Muslim group). Moderate Muslims around the world are often the first victims of the Radical Islamist ideology. It is for this reason that we had hoped that the MSA would stand as partners with "Obsession" and declare themselves against the Radicals and the terrorists.

And finally, we take exception to the fact that Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller is quoted in the article as saying that the film was propaganda and "a way to transfer the Middle East conflict to the campus, to promote hostility." The article fails to note that Rabbi Seidler-Felder has the reputation of being an outspoken 'leftist' who, earlier this year, admitted to assaulting a pro-Isreali journalist at a rally in 2003 (see ). The failure of mentioning Rabbi Seidler-Felder's background provides a false impression since it implies that the Rabbi speaks for the Jewish community at large, which he certainly does not.

It is our hope that people will continue to view the film, so that we can nurture an open dialogue and continue on the path of education and understanding.

Wayne Kopping
Director, Editor, "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against The West"

The Voice of the Martyrs believes that this film is an extremely important work, which is why we have made it available here in Canada. We will continue to do so, even though we recognize its controversial nature. To this point, we have not received any criticism from anyone who has purchased it, although many have admitted that it was deeply disturbing. It is that. The rise of militant Islamist ideology (we prefer this term to "radical" Islam) should disturb all of us and it does no one any good to pretend that it is not a significant development.

I chuckled today when I read an article in the Toronto Star about a former U.S. Navy sailor facing espionage charges allegedly disclosed secrets about a Canadian frigate that was part of a large force headed to the Middle East in 2001. The Star declined to report that Hassan Abujihaad (31) who is charged with transmitting classified information to terrorists in the Middle East is a convert to Islam and he changed his name from Paul Hall after his conversion. This little insignificant detail was picked up by the National Post the day earlier. The Star's omission reflects a deliberate editorial policy that has been evident since 9/11 of trying separate Islam from terrorism.

There just seems to be those in the mainstream media who seem to believe that if we don't say it enough, it just doesn't exist. So, before you let the media (or anyone else) tell you whether "Obsession" is a terrible video, watch it yourself.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Urgent Appeal From Sri Lanka

The Voice of the Martyrs has received an urgent appeal from one of our partners in Sri Lanka asking Christians from around the world to write to the Sri Lankan President and the Minister of Human Rights requesting immediate action regarding the disappearance of Pastor Victor Emmanuel Yogarajan, his two sons, Daniel and David, and another young man, Joseph Sugandakumar (cf. for more details).

A sample letter (below) and their addresses are given below for your convenience. You may want to use this letter or write your own. You may also write to your embassy in Sri Lanka, or the Sri Lankan embassy in your country.

Please do not refer to any organization, including The Voice of the Martyrs, as the source of your information. Please use proper titles, correct spelling of names of officials and use polite language in your letter.

(Sample letter)

Your Excellency

I write to express my grave concern specifically about the disappearance of Pastor Yogarajan and three others on the 2nd of March 2007, and about the alarming trend of disappearances of persons in Sri Lanka in recent months.

Pastor Victor E. M. S. Yogarajan (51) from the Gospel Missionary Church in Vavuniya, his two sons Daniel Yogarajan (22), David Yogarajan (20) and Joseph Suganthakumar (20) from Vavuniya have been missing since the 2nd of March 2007. Their last known location was Negombo, from where Pastor Yogarajan had telephoned his wife on the night of 1st march 2007. I understand that their disappearance has been reported to the Vavuniya Police by family members and that on inquiry, the Negombo Police has denied any knowledge of their whereabouts.

It has become increasingly clear that this is not an isolated incident, but part of a horrifying trend of disappearances and abductions of civilians. The Asian Human Rights Commission has stated that disappearances occur in Sri Lanka at the rate of one every five hours. Several other Sri Lankan and international human rights groups have published evidence of hundreds of such disappearances and extra judicial killings in recent months.

This is indeed a shocking trend for any nation, particularly for a Democratic nation such as Sri Lanka with an elected government. In this situation the paramount responsibility to arrest this trend and bring to book anyone who engages in abductions or extra judicial killings falls on the Sri Lankan Government.

I am also aware that the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE have been called upon by civil society in Sri Lanka, human rights groups, the UN and other governments to address this situation.

The Sri Lankan people have faced more than their share of sorrow and suffering during the past two decades, with war, armed conflict, the devastation caused by the Asian Tsunami and other natural disasters.

While I and many others appreciate the efforts made by your Government to address some of these challenges, even in the face of difficulties and set backs, I request your urgent attention and action to ensure all Sri Lankan citizens their basic security and freedom from fear of abductions, through adherence to proper legal procedures governed by the Rule of Law, when making arrests or detentions.

Specifically, I request your intervention in finding Pastor Yogarajan and returning them to their families. If they have been detained by a Government authority, I request your intervention to ensure that their families are informed of their whereabouts and the charges against them, in keeping with basic human rights and the laws of Sri Lanka, so that they have recourse to the law.

I urge your intervention and immediate action to stop the abductions and harassment of civilians and look forward to a positive change, where every Sri Lankan citizen can live peacefully without fear of abductions and terror.

Yours sincerely and respectfully,


Post / Fax your letters to:

His Excellency Mahinda Rajapakse President of Sri LankaPresidential Secretariat,
Secretariat Building,
Colombo 1
Sri Lanka

Telephone 94-1-2327522
Fax 94-11-2472100

Hon. Mahinda Samarasinghe
Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights
No 383 Bauddhaloka Mawatha,
Colombo 7
Sri Lanka
Telephone - 94-1- 2693285
Fax - 94-11-2693284

Thank you for standing together with our brothers in this vital and timely way. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

A Few Thoughts on Integrity and Writing

This week, Glenn has encouraged the staff of VOMC to take some time to think about integrity, which is one of our mission's core values. Specifically, he encouraged each of us to think about how a commitment to integrity is reflected in our life and ministry. So I'd just like to share a few of my thoughts on what it means to write with integrity (taking a few cues from Glenn's words about integrity below).

To be a writer of integrity is to be committed to the truth---at all cost. As I see it, a writer can only be fully committed to the truth if he or she acknowledges that this task can't be taken lightly. Just because the Lord has given you a desire and a skill for writing doesn't mean that truthful writing will always come easy. In fact, writing truthfully can be a downright hassle. It can mean more work and it can take more time. Not only that, it can also increase your risk of provoking a negative or critical response from your reader. I mean, let's face it, there are (far too) many people who would rather just ignore the truth and go on believing whatever it is they want to believe about the world. These people are either going to ignore you for writing the truth or they are going to try and disparage you from doing so. But if you're going to write with integrity, you're going to write truthfuly, nonetheless.

To be a writer of integrity is to be committed to accuracy. This commitment is two-fold, not only calling for you to intentionally pursue accuracy but also calling on you to do all in your power to prevent unintentional inaccuracies. Intentional inaccuracies---grammatical errors, typos, misspellings---are just as damaging to your credibillity as intentional ones, and they're often quite easy to miss. One tpyo can throw off the most articulate writing (see?). Errors can only be prevented through rigorous proofreading and attention to detail. To put it simply, you have to care about carelessness. You have to be prepared to do the work, even if it takes hours of editing, revising, and rewriting. This is not to say that mistakes will never slip in (we are, of course, all fallen creatures and so are always at risk for mistakes). However, recognizing that errors will happen is not an excuse to let yourself lazily conclude that they should. If you are a writer of integrity, you will always be in pursuit of that completely clean, error-free piece.

Finally, to write with integrity means to ensure that your work is truthful and accurate even if your reader might not know otherwise. This means that you never, never give in to the temptation to shrug off little inconsistencies or mistruths because you don't think anyone will notice. For one thing, to do so is a breach of the trust between you and your public. As a Christian, however, you simply can't justify doing so because you are not only accountable to man, you are accountable to God. And he is all-knowing; he will always notice. I believe that knowingingly writing something that is not truthful or accurate is akin to giving Cain's offering instead of Abel's: you are not giving of your whole and best self.

Wow, reflecting on these things certainly reveals just how much work it takes to truly be a writer of integrity. So is it really worth all the trouble? In a word, yes. In fact, for VOMC integrity is not an option or a preference but an absolute necessity. I am certain that if it wasn't one of our core values, we would not be able to faithfully and effectively fulfill our mission. I pray that the Lord will provide me with the wisdom, strength and boldness that I need in order to do my part in making VOMC's integrity manifest. I can reflect on integrity and writing all I want, but if I don't put it into practice my work will be fruitless.

There's far more I could say on this subject (so much, in fact, that I suspect I'll end up coming back to it on a later date). For now, however, I just encourage you to also take a few moments to think about the role that integrity has, or should have, in your own life. Also, I welcome any thoughts or comments you have on why integrity has so vital a role in a ministry that specifically serves the Persecuted Church.

VOMC's Core Values Redux

I am a big believer in leading by and operating by values. The staff at The Voice of the Martyrs will hear me mentioning our mission values at least once a day. They are ultimately our "boss."

A few years ago, we adopted a set of core values as a mission that have helped guide and mold us into what we have become today. There was only one problem with them.

There were simply too many of them. Thirteen in total. That's just too many for people to remember.

So what I have been working on for the last couple of months is looking at ways of making the list shorter without losing any of the intended priorities that the original values were meant to uphold. This is what I have come up with for now:

:: Uncompromising Faithfulness to God
:: Evangelical and Non-denominational
:: Integrity
:: Excellence
:: Empowerment
:: Independence within Partnerships
:: Respect

Let me share with you what these values mean to me, as they relate to how we conduct ministry here at The Voice of the Martyrs.

Uncompromising Faithfulness to God: This is reflected in our commitment, for example, to:
:: Glorifying God in all that we say and do as individuals and as a ministry
:: Acknowledging our dependency upon God in all aspects of our service for Him
:: Promoting and modeling prayer above all other acts of service for the Persecuted Church
:: Accepting the Bible as our absolute authority in both mission belief (orthodoxy) and practice orthopraxy).
:: Researching, modeling and teaching what it means to be a sacrificial, cross-bearing disciple in the 21st century in Canada and around the world.
:: Choosing to trust God to meet our needs rather than engaging in direct solicitation methods of fundraising.

Evangelical and Non-denominational:
This is reflected in our commitment, for example, to:
:: Our staff holding to an evangelical theology
:: Ministering to persecuted Christians regardless of denominational affiliation
:: Unity in the essential beliefs of the historical Christian faith and freedom to differ in nonessentials.

Integrity: This is reflected in our commitment, for example, to:
:: The truth
:: Accurate reporting
:: Strict financial accountability
:: Careful monitoring of international projects
:: Speaking the truth in love and listening to each other as staff members seeking the truth

Excellence: This is reflected in our commitment, for example, to:
:: Never being satisfied with "good enough", always looking to improve
:: Exceeding the service expectations of our donors and friends
:: Never being satisfied with the "status quo", always looking to the next challenge
:: Seeking to be proactive rather than reactive in outlook
:: Not being afraid to fail in the pursuit of excellence

Empowerment: This is reflected in our commitment, for example, to:
:: Standing with the Persecuted Church, encouraging and equipping without creating dependency, maintaining and promoting their ability to be self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating, and resisting any programs or ministry that would detract from this.
:: Unleashing the knowledge, experience, and motivation of each of our staff members through the accountability, direction, and support that only effective cross-centred, servant-leadership and a team-oriented environment can produce.
:: Demonstrate trust with our staff by sharing as much as possible with them about the mission's operation.

Independence within Partnerships: This is reflected in our commitment, for example, to:
:: Maintaining our identity as an independent Canadian mission best equipped to know how to accomplish our mission in Canada
:: Partnering with other like-minded individuals, missions, and organizations in ministering to the Persecuted Church worldwide

Respect: This is reflected in our commitment, for example, to:
:: Serving the Persecuted Church according to their wishes, aspirations, and needs, and not according to our own predetermined strategies
:: Refusing to promote (even unintentionally) the spreading of intolerance and hatred towards others, even persecutors
:: Recognizing the Image of God in each of our staff and treating them accordingly

As we faithfully live out these values, I believe that we will be able to faithfully carry out the mission of The Voice of the Martyrs of "glorifying God by being Canada's effective and reliable source of information and support of persecuted Christians around the world."

Now THIS is NOT Persecution

Every now and then it is worth being reminded that Christians do not always suffer because of righteousness. Peter warned us that this might happen (see 1 Peter 2:20). A case in point is the story of South African pastor, Reverend Piet Mnisi, as reported yesterday by Agence France-Presse:

Elderly worshippers at a church in South Africa beat up their priest after he told them to hand over part of the increase in their pension announced in a recent budget. Reverend Piet Mnisi said in his sermon on Sunday that congregation members should give him the 50-rand ($7.95) increase announced by Trevor Manuel, the Finance Minister, claiming it was "a blessing from God." He also warned that their relatives would die if he didn't start receiving the money, starting next month. Dozens then turned on the pastor, attacking him with rods and even a Bible. "It was strange to see people who pray every day behaving in such a w ay," said an eyewitness. Rev. Mnisi jumped out of a church window and locked himself in his house.

While I can't condone the violence, I can't help but respect the discernment demonstrated by the congregation. Makes you wish that some of the supporters of some of today's television evangelists would exhibit similar judgment.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

How is The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada related to VOM in the United States?

On Monday I had a manager from one of Canada's leading Christian print publications in my office. We were discussing various ways in which we might promote the ministry of The Voice of the Martyrs in their publications. He mentioned how much he appreciated our monthly newsletter and said, rather matter-of-factly, "Oh and you get it published in the United States, don't you?"

I'm not sure where he had gotten that idea, as we have never published or printed our newsletter in the States. Perhaps he was getting us confused with another ministry. Many Canadian missions do have their international headquarters in the States or elsewhere. Perhaps he was making the mistake that many do, namely that The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada is a branch office or even simply an "office" of The Voice of the Martyrs in the United States. It is easy to make that mistake. VOM USA does tend to leave a rather large "footprint" in the world with its publications like Jesus Freaks. Also, we may have inadvertently added to the confusion ourselves when we and our various other partner missions (including the US one) who were also started by Richard Wurmbrand tend to refer to our international partners as "branch offices" or "offices." I think that it is time we stop doing so.

So what is the relationship between VOMC and VOM USA?

1. The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada is an independent, self-supporting, self-governing Canadian mission. All of the decisions about our mission are made here in Canada . Our board of governors is made up of Canadians and our staff is Canadian (although some of us were born in other nations like Eritrea, Ghana and Holland ). Our financial support comes from Canadian individuals, businesses, and churches.

This specifically means, amoung other things, that, despite what is often assumed by those outside of Canada, VOM-Canada is not a branch office of The Voice of the Martyrs in the United States or any other internationally based mission. While VOM-USA is today the largest of the missions started by Richard Wurmbrand, it is not our international headquarters. Actually, there is no international headquarters for The Voice of the Martyrs anywhere in the world!

2. We are part of an international association of independent missions started by or through the influence of Richard Wurmbrand called the International Christian Association (ICA). While we are bound together by five common purposes, history, and cooperate in projects around the world, meeting together at least annually to share vision and ministry outcomes, no mission may dictate policy to any of the other missions worldwide, nor is any one mission empowered to represent any of the other missions or to speak on their behalf worldwide. The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada desires to speak with our own voice and represent our own interests.

3. The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada has a distinct vision and set of core values from some of our other missions in our ICA family. There are similarities and differences between the various ICA missions, as is to be expected as each mission is independent. We have programs that our sister missions do not have and the opposite is also true. For example, we do not participate in financially supporting indigenous church leadership due to our value of avoiding dependency creating projects. Our Legal Defense Fund is one example of a program that is distinctly Canadian.

4. The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada strongly believes in working in partnership with like-minded organizations. Hence, while we do work closely with our sister missions in the International Christian Association, we do not exclusively work with them. We also have key partnerships in place with organizations such as the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, Forum 18, Mission Network News, and others. We are seeking to strengthen our own ties with the World Evangelical Alliance and the Lausanne Movement, quite separately from those of our sister missions. We have excellent relationships with the other persecuted church ministries who also have representation here in Canada . We praise God that we have been able to resist the tendency to view them as competitors but enjoy warm, friendly relationships on personal and organizational levels. This commitment to partnerships, we have found, is a Canadian trait that we are proud to exhibit.

5. The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada is making a unique and significant commitment to theological education, most especially in developing programs of teaching regarding persecution from both a missiological and theological perspective. This has become one of our true distinctions and one that we are continuing to uphold and develop.

6. The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada is committed to accurate and timely reporting and research. While we cannot and do not claim perfection, we take our mission statement seriously of glorifying God by seeking to be Canada 's effective and reliable source of information and support of persecuted Christians worldwide. We try hard to get the facts straight, without sensationalism and giving credit where credit is due. We hope that this commitment is evident in our monthly newsletter, our websites and, and our weekly email news service, The Persecution and Prayer Alert.

We believe that Canadians want a mission that is dedicated to being a distinctly Canadian voice for and to persecuted Christians around the world. The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada is trying hard to be that voice. Thank you to the increasing number of Canadians who are standing together with us.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Reflections from the Waiting Room

Waiting. That's something that I have done a lot of in recent years. You have to get used to waiting when you have cancer. It's just part of the experience.

Today is a good example. Because of the closure of the Gardner Expressway due to sheets of ice, some the size of doors, flying off of the CN Tower onto the freeway (sounds too bizarre to be true, doesn't it?), it took my wife and I took almost twice as long to travel the 45 minutes trip to my weekly transplant clinic appointment in downtown Toronto. Thousands of commuters clogged the secondary streets, looking for alternative routes to work. And so we waited and waited and waited as we slowly snaked our way through streets that were never intended for such a volume of traffic.

We arrived at the hospital at 9:00 am. Time to get my blood tests taken. I sign my name on a list and wait. Only ten minutes this time. Not bad. Last week, it took fifty minutes for the same three minute procedure.

I proceed to the clinic, register that I am there and find a seat in the waiting room. Never has a room been more appropriately named.

It is about ¾ full. Pretty normal volume for a Tuesday. I recognize a few of the faces, especially of those who had there stem cell transplant at about the same time as I did. We are a patient lot. Maybe that is why they call us cancer "patients"?

It's 9:15. I don't expect to see the doctor until after 11:00, even though my appointment is for 10:00. We have to wait for the results of my blood work and the lab never seems to be in a hurry. Then after my appointment, I typically have to wait another hour or so until we receive the chemistry results from my blood. The doctors want to be sure that I haven't contracted another ordinarily harmless virus that wouldn't harm the average Joe but that could prove disastrous for someone who is immunosuppressed like me.

And so I wait. Every Tuesday. For hours. In hopes that nothing happens. Weird, eh?
I listen to my iPod which my kids gave me for my birthday. I write blogs like this one. I try to read. But for some reason, I haven't found this place to be a great place to read. I have no idea why.

But usually, I just sit, my mind numbed by the sheer mundanity of it all.

I look around at the others in the room. A menagerie from the wide spectrum that makes up the population of this part of Canada (which is one of the reasons why I love living here). Rich, poor, black, oriental, south Asian, Caucasian, male, female. All are equal here. I see one man reading "The God Delusion." A few have their noses buried in the morning newspaper. My wife is working on a crossword puzzle. Three are hooked up to intravenous drips, probably getting a potassium infusion. A couple of others are nodding off in their chairs. Most, however, are like me; just sitting here, occasionally chatting with the person next to them but usually just patiently waiting with barely a flicker of emotion touching their stony faces.

But this is not a place of despair. These are people who have been given a second chance. Week by week, I can see improvements in many of them. Like me, they have lost that gaunt look that we had when we left the hospital. We've put on a few kilograms. We are gradually re-entering the land of the living, some more slowly and tentatively than others. Few are back at work like I am. When I underwent my transplant, I was told not to expect to go to work for six months or more. It's only been seven weeks since I came home and I've already been back to work for four days a week for three of them (and if I didn't have this clinic appointment each week, it would probably be five days). Some respect me for this. Others think that I am crazy. I see it as God's work of grace in giving me my heart's desire. How many people do you know who have been blessed with the privilege of doing what they absolutely love to do?

10:00. The receptionist calls my name. Wow! On time. Now to Room 1 to wait for the doctor.

10:20. The doctor arrives. The blood tests look fine. We decide to drop one of my medications that may be bringing down my platelet count. Now back to the waiting room to wait for the chemistry results before we can head home. We're ahead of schedule today. We might actually get home before 1:00! I won't hold my breath though.

I decide to try to read. I have brought along David J. Hesselgrave's latest book, "Paradigms in Conflicts: 10 Key Questions in Missions Today." I've only perused it to this point.

11:05. I hear my name called again. My appointment has been set for next week. I am done. Flee before they change their mind and want to run another test!

Amazing! Ironic! The one week that I decide to write about waiting is the week that I wait the least. The only thing that I have to wait for now is for my wife to go and get the car. I still don't have the strength to walk to the parking garage down the road from the hospital.

The Scripture says in Isaiah 40:31 that those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength. It seems to me that waiting is a learned skill. Perhaps that is why God refuses to limit Himself to our agendas, schedules and expectations. Perhaps that is why He keeps us waiting for Him. He knows that as we allow Him to work in our lives, we will be restored and brought back to health.

Just like my waiting at the transplant clinic every Tuesday. I may not like it the wait every week. But it is a necessary part of my healing.

And so I wait.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Sending Money to Persecuted Individuals or Families

A little over a week ago, someone called our office regarding an Eritrean family that they had read about in our children's publication, Bold Believer's Magazine. They had read about how this family was waiting for their father to be released from prison because of his faith and wanted to know if it was possible to send money to them.

This is a question that we receive fairly often here at the mission. People read about a specific individual or family and their heart goes out to them. They want to help somehow and so they ask us if they can send funds specifically to them.

The answer to this question is not as easy to answer as you might imagine, as each situation and country in which The Voice of the Martyrs works presents unique opportunities and challenges.

1) Often when we mention a particular individual or family in our monthly newsletter, they are already receiving or have received assistance from The Voice of the Martyrs. Our mission has established several special funds (e.g The Families of Martyrs Fund, The Relief & Development Fund, The Legal Defense Fund, and others. Click here for a complete list) that are supported by our donors. These funds allow us to have money on hand when opportunities arise rather than having to make special appeals that would only delay our ability to respond rapidly and effectively when needs come to our attention. Your donations help replenish these funds which we have already given to these individuals and families in advance. We are then able to help others because of your generosity.

2) Additionally, it is not always safe or possible for us to publicize that we are assisting a particular individual or family. We simply may not be able to tell you what we are specifically doing for them. In many persecuted countries, it is dangerous to receive funds from abroad. If their enemies were to learn that they were receiving funds from abroad, our brothers and sisters might actually suffer greater persecution.

3) Many Christians in Canada are also surprised to learn that it is not always advisable to provide funds to particular individual or families in restricted nations. Not all persecuted Christians need or want our financial help. Money is not the answer to every problem, of course. Apart from the security issues mentioned above, receiving funds from abroad may cause division in families, communities and churches. It can also create unhealthy dependency on outside assistance that would hinder their ability to meet their own needs (1 Thess.4:11-12). We listen carefully to what church leaders and our partners tell us in such cases and follow their direction.

4) Lastly, for the sake of honesty and financial integrity, we cannot always guarantee that we can get funds into certain restricted nations. The banking system in many countries is very different from our own. Often funds have to be hand carried into the country. Sometimes, even this is impossible.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

"I don't want to grow lax and forget what I've learned"

Some of you have been following my reports on Vanessa Fry, one of my former students at Oklahoma Wesleyan University. As I mentioned in my previous posts, Vanessa was seriously hurt in a work-related injury in February and I was especially touched by how she was seeking to take what she has learned from the persecuted church in the world and what is taught in scripture and apply it meaningfully to her own present situation.

Vanessa sent me an email me again a couple of days ago and here is what she wrote:

"Thanks so much for your continued prayers for me. I am doing tremendously better as far as balance and dizziness go.... I am not having to use the cane that I have been using the last three weeks anymore and the headaches are getting less severe. I hope to resume my normal routine Monday. My mom is worried it may be too soon, but I think it will be fine. I would still covet your prayers however. I have had such a deep time of study in the Word and growing through the suffering. Now that I am getting better, I don't want to grow lax and forget what I've learned. Instead, I wish to learn more and draw closer to God. As the demands on my time and energy increase, I know the temptation to neglect intimate time with Him will grow. Pray that I will cling to He who was my sure foundation and rock during the storm and that I will remember that it is only through remaining saturated in His Word that I will be able to weather the other storms in life that are sure to come. Thanks again for your prayers, friendship, and words of encouragement."

Preaching to the Persecuted: A Best Practice?

I have always had mixed feelings about it. I or one of my team are visiting believers in a restricted nation and a local pastor asks if we will please speak to his church. Sometimes the invitation is a cultural expression of politeness; all visitors are asked to preach. I saw this fairly frequently in the former Soviet Union, especially immediately in the years following the fall of communism when foreign ministers descended on churches there like locusts. There were months when local pastors rarely got to speak in their own churches because of all of the visiting preachers.

Sometimes the invitation to preach is seen by the local pastor as a genuine opportunity to affirm to the entire congregation of the solidarity and love that Christians from another country share with them, letting these embattled believers know that they have not been forgotten.

Sometimes the invitation is given because the visitors expect to preach and local church leaders know that financial assistance may be dependent upon their cooperation. I know that it sounds a bit crass, but it is true.

Sometimes local leaders see these visits as opportunities to build relationships with Christians from abroad (for reasons noble and otherwise) and the invitation to speak at the church is seen as one way to accomplish this.

We at The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada have recently been wrestling with this whole issue as part of our work of establishing a Code of Best Practices for Cross-cultural Visits to Restricted Nations. Rightly or wrongly, we have effectively decided that it is best, in most cases, to decline such invitations. Effectively serving the persecuted church does not require us to do so. In our Code, we have stated, "We will endeavour to maintain as low a profile as possible when in country. We will inform our partners/hosts of this desire and ask for their assistance and advice on how to carry this out appropriately and especially when it involves invitations to preach, visiting homes, arranging interviews, etc."

The strength of our decision is underlined by increasing scrutiny on foreign visitors to restricted nations. It is no secret that many who visit persecuted Christians travel on tourist visa. This is perfectly legitimate, in my opinion, as other types of visa are inapplicable or would make it impossible to maintain the "invisibility" that such ministry requires for the safety of not only the visitor but, more importantly, the local believers.

But some have abused the system and this has not gone unnoticed by countries like India. Recently we have been receiving reports that Christians heading to India on tourist visas may have to be more careful, especially if they are heading to the state of Andhra Pradesh. Recently, police have closed prayer meetings in five areas of the state claiming foreigners were leading prayer meetings and were disturbing communal harmony. At Visakhapatnam, where such incidents were reported, commissioner of police V.S.K. Kaumudi told the press, "Whenever a foreigner visits this country he has to mention the purpose of visit. If they mention that they are coming on tourism they should restrict themselves to tourism." Kaumidi said, "On a tourist visa they can participate in prayer meetings but should not preach. If they want to come for the purpose of preaching, they can mention the purpose while taking the visa. It is for the officials to decide on the visa."

Whether this is an expression of a desire to restrict religious freedom or not on the part of authorities, I cannot say. I suspect that this is. For the past decade, there has been increasingly pressure to stem the growth of Christianity through conversions, especially amoung the Dalits.

But this example does demonstrate that we who work amoung the persecuted need to be a little more thoughtful about the whole matter of accepting invitations to preach in church services and lead prayer meetings. We need to ask ourselves if this is really a best practice. I suspect that, in most cases, it is not, especially by those who are really doing something worth doing in the first place.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

A Podcast with Glenn Penner and Stacy Harp

Last Thursday, I had an enjoyable chat with Stacy Harp, Founder & President of Active Christian Media. She also maintains VOM USA's weblog page, We discussed a number of matters, including my health, as I recover from a transplant and battling leukemia. We also discussed the homosexual agenda in Canada and then Christian persecution worldwide. It was a primarily a lighthearted discussion between friends on topics that are often considered very heavy. I think you will enjoy it. To listen, click here.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Trust in the Face of Continuing Suffering

On February 25, I introduced you to Vanessa Fry, one of my former students at Oklahoma Wesleyan University. As you may recall, Vanessa was seriously hurt in a work-related injury earlier in the month and shared with us one of her journal entries in which she shared her struggles and insights into suffering. I was especially touched by how she was able to take what she has learned from the persecuted church in the world and what is taught in scripture and apply it meaningfully to her own present situation. If you haven't read her journal article entitled "A Conversations With God," I urge you to.

Vanessa wrote me again a few days ago and I thought that you might like to be updated by what this dear sister is going through and how God is working in her life. She writes:

"Right now I am suffering from acute head pain. It is so hard to praise God when your body is writhing in pain. Pray for me my brother as I seek to praise Him in the pain. I have read so many stories about saints who praise the name of Jesus even while being tortured and martyred. My suffering seems so small, but yet it is real and the temptation to give in to it is real too. You and others that have read my journal entry spoke of how it blessed you, but it is something that I keep having to go back and preach to myself over and over. I feel like this is a Job letter, but I believe that you can understand where I am coming from. Sometimes I think it is easier to suffer when it comes through persecution, rather than from an injury at work or a natural illness because it is so clearly for Jesus sake. But I have to keep reminding myself that my suffering will be for Jesus if I give glory to Him through it and that by others seeing my conduct in this trial they see Christ in me."

Vanessa's insights are keen; especially her comment about perhaps sometimes it is easier to suffer for righteousness than because of injury or natural illness. There is something to be said there; suffering for no apparent reason or cause can seem meaningless and despairing. This is especially true when there seems to be no relief in sight. The questions of "Why?" are inevitable and not to be despised.

Vanessa referred to her email as a "Job letter." She is right. Allow me to share a few thoughts from my book, In the Shadow of the Cross concerning the suffering of Job, that would explain why:

There is often mystery with suffering. The question is whether there can also be faith (Luke 18:8).Will we exhibit a trust in God who may not answer our "Why's"? As many of us would in similar (and even lesser) situations, Job earnestly wanted to know the reason why he was afflicted so severely. But when God responds, He responds in chapters 38-41 not with answers to the reasons why Job suffers but with a revelation of Himself. By revealing who He is, in effect, God reminds Job that the primary quest for the believer in the face of unjust suffering is not an explanation for the question "Why?" but an answer to the question "Who?" Job is reminded of God's power, His wisdom, and His control over creation. In effect, God's answer to Job is, "This is the kind of God I am. I know what is going on and you do not. Your life is still under my control and care. Will you trust me?" And this answer is supposed to be good enough for Job (page 45).

In my reply to Vanessa, I also reminded her, thinking of Job's situation, that God is using her to bless others and Himself in the midst of her affliction as she demonstrates to the watching world and the heavenly realm that she will trust God even in the midst of suffering and unanswered questions. These are not pat answers. They are real answers, even if not easy ones. It would be simpler to provide the prepackaged, religious answers provided by Job's friends; there is sin in your life, God is trying to teach you a lesson, etc., etc. But I believe that the call for Vanessa (and any who are going through similar situations, is to trust, even in the face of silence, unanswered questions and unchanging situations.

The problem that we face, in our finiteness and sinfulness, is that we cannot presently see how the pieces of the puzzle of our life, the separate incidents and circumstances of our life, fit together into a whole. We do not have the omniscience to see the big picture, and our life is not finished yet. At any moment of our life, the best we can do is look at one piece of the puzzle at a time, and there is no way to accurately describe how the rest of the picture will look by viewing only one piece.

If we insist on finding meaning in every isolated detail or circumstance of our life, we will inevitably come to wrong conclusions. Life cannot make sense one piece at a time. We must wait until the picture is complete.

The thought that should comfort us is that while we cannot see the "big picture," we \ know that God does. Like Job, we can be reminded that nothing comes into our life of which God is not intimately aware. He knows why every piece of the puzzle of our life is there and how, without it, our life would be incomplete. Our calling, like Job's, is to trust Him, even if we do not understand at the time, knowing that nothing comes into our life that does not first pass through God's sovereign hands.