Friday, August 31, 2007

Taliban Vows to Abduct More Foreigners

For those who think that I might have overstated, made up or exaggerated the risk I mentioned in Wednesday's posting of further kidnappings because of the recent concessions that the South Korean government made with the Taliban in order to secure the release of the nineteen hostages, read the following couple of paragraphs from yesterday's Guardian:

Taliban militants released the last seven South Korean hostages on Thursday under a deal with the government in Seoul, ending a six-week drama that the insurgents claimed as a ``great victory for our holy warriors.''

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi vowed to abduct more foreigners, reinforcing fears that South Korea's decision to negotiate directly with the militants would embolden them.

``We will do the same thing with the other allies in Afghanistan, because we found this way to be successful,'' he told the Associated Press via cell phone from an undisclosed location

Thursday, August 30, 2007

God with us!

by Bernie Daniel, International Projects Manager (The Voice of the Martyrs)

In early August, I went to couple of African countries on a mission assignment to assess the persecution situation in the region, and to conduct extensive consultations for projects development in the service of the Persecuted Church. My prayerful consultations with our co-laborers in the ministry were very fruitful. But the living conditions in one of the cities were very challenging. That unnamed city and the African country as a whole are emerging from a devastating war, and the terrible after-effects of the conflict are still there. Although I was told that I was staying in a reasonably good hotel, there was no water, no electricity, no air conditioner (and the nights were about 30 C), the backup generator was broken, and the food was not good. Almost every night, from 7 pm in the evening, I was sitting in the dark till midnight and then sleeping for about 2 or 3 hours. I never knew that darkness, especially the one you can not get rid off, can be so oppressive. Oh, how I yearned for the morning to come so that the sun can drive away the darkness!

Visiting the washroom in the pitch black of night, I opened and closed my cell phone to get some light (not one of the uses in the mind of the inventors of the cell phone, eh!). And I had to be very careful in using it as there was no way to recharge it. Sitting in the dark, I made Bible games such as remembering as many comforting verses from each book in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Well, many books were easy but can you remember a comforting verse, or any verse, from Amos, Obadiah, Micah, or Zephaniah? Oh yes, I remembered the one from Zephaniah 3:17. A former colleague had shared it in a devotional at a ministry essentials training we attended together about 7 years ago. The presentation was so powerful, I remember it as if it was yesterday. After sharing the devotional, he played beautifully a song based on that verse written by a noted gospel singer. The verse says:

"The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing."

By His Word, God gave me His peace although the living conditions remained the same. More often, God does change us while leaving our conditions intact. And during the last night of my stay in that country, when my body was starting to feel the cumulative effects of the challenging living conditions, the cell phone gave light in the dark room and started ringing. I got my first and only phone calls during the trip - two timely phone calls from my cherished colleagues Glenn and Floyd. More than they can imagine, God used the phone calls to demonstrate His abiding presence with me, to strengthen my spirit, and renew my hope in Him. Obviously, my short experiences of discomfort in the African city are infinitesimal compared to the plight of many persecuted Christians languishing in darkened prison cells and suffering various abuses for the sake of our Lord in many nations around the world. But the God of all grace who never forsakes His own does comfort and sustain them by His Holy Spirit. Similarly, He never forsakes us in our daily walks and struggles. In all, He is Emmanuel. God truly is with us!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Thinking Through the Price for the Release of the Korean Hostages

In today's Persecution and Prayer Alert (VOMC's weekly email news service), I made the following statement concerning South Korea's decision to prevent missionary work in Afghanistan:

"Ultimately, it seems 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. Make no mistake, 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 are 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. 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.

The Voice of the Martyrs urges governments to refrain, even with the best intentions, from interfering in rights of its citizens to carry out their faith even in dangerous environments and we urge Christians in free nations to recognize that there are risks in taking the gospel to many parts of the world and to accept the consequences of their obedience. This is biblical Christianity at work and we should not be surprised by it. God does not lead us only to safe places."

In an interview with Mission Network News (to be aired tomorrow), I make similar comments that this action on the part of the government in Seoul is an action that no government has the right to make and I am disappointed to read reports that South Korean church groups have already agreed to abide by it. Some family members of the kdnapped have apologized to the Korean people for the inconvenience that their relatives caused by going to Afghanistan. Korean mission leaders are suggesting that this incident may mark a "maturing" by the Korean missions movement. Perhaps, but not, in my opinion, 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.

Some will say to me, "Oh, it is so easy for you to point your finger and criticize. What if it was your family, your church, your friends?" Don't think for a minute that I don't think about this but I keep coming back to two things: 1) the example and testimony of today's persecuted believers around the world, many of whom refuse to be silent about their faith even if it means abuse, torture, imprisonment and even death, and 2) the teaching of scriptures. My study of the biblical teaching of persecution and discipleship is the framework for why I believe what I believe about these things. It comes down to this: what is more important, safety or obediece, my life or that of others, love or fear?

Of course, I am glad that my South Korean brothers and sisters have been released. I mourn and am enraged by the killing of two of them. But I think that the South Korean government made serious errors in judgment in how they secured their release and I can only wish that there will more reflection by Korean Christians on the ramifications of this particular concession once the rejoicing is over and their loved ones are safely home again.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Seeing Resources From God's Perspective

I have been recently been challenged to change the way I view God's ability to provide and the resources that He has available to His people. It seems to me that if I can grab hold of God's perspective on this, that it will have a revolutionary impact on my life and on that of The Voice of the Martyrs here in Canada.

Too often, ministries like VOMC see themselves in competition with other ministries for donations from supporters or potential supporters. We see the resources available in the world today as a concrete, limited amount that is divided up for everyone to get a piece of, depending on how hard or smart they work. A good illustration might be that of a pie. There is one large pie in the world, so to speak, containing all of the money available to Christian ministries and we need to make sure that we get as big of a piece of that pie as we can, because if we don't someone else will. We also fear that if we are not careful, someone may steal part of our piece. And so we compete for our share of the pie.
The fact is, the real source of our resources has no limits to what He can provide. There is no pie. Hence, our competitiveness as organizations reflects, I believe, a worldly perspective rather than a godly one. One consequence of embracing God's perspective would be a willingness to work together far more freely as organizations. We need not fear that other organizations will steal support from us if we cooperate with each other; God has the ability to supply the needs of both if they are faithful to Him. Pastors could relax and stop seeing parachurch organizations as competitors for their congregant's dollars.

Is this naïve? Some will say so, but only those who continue to hold to a limited universe with a limited God. I, for one, will not dishonour God in this way any longer.

Thou Shall Not Stalk Birds

Well, I am back from vacation and feeling much more rested than I did a couple of weeks ago. I would have enjoyed another week or so but that's life. My wife and I spent a couple of weeks back in our hometown of Didsbury, Alberta, located about 40 miles north of Calgary.

Like most people, there are things about one's hometown that you both love and cringe about; little quirks and idiosyncrasies that make home, home. Things like the road sign to the Didsbury cemetery, which has a sign underneath that reads "No Exit." At least this is an improvement over the old sign that read... "Dead End."
Didsbury's latest quirk is Bylaw 2007-10 that seeks to control cats in town (an impossible task if I ever heard of one). The bylaw sets out the offences and responsibility of the cat owner and the various acts that are forbidden to cats in Didsbury. Cats may not run at large, defecate on public or private property, bite or attack people, or wander about without a collar and tag. But then there is Part 3,2,f which makes me absolutely love my hometown. Hereby let it be known that the town council has officially forbidden cats in Didsbury, Alberta from stalking or killing birds on public or private property.

Tell me, how are you going to stop a cat from stalking a bird? As a law-abiding person, I drove around the streets of Didsbury during my two weeks of vacation, making it a point to keep an eye out for stalking cats. Oh the anxious looks I saw on the faces of tabbies and calicos from all sections of town as they slunk around, peering over their shoulders, fearful of being accused of stalking those of the avian species. I personally assisted many of them as they seemed in danger of forgetting their criminal inclinations by pointing at them and solemnly reminding them of their civic responsibilities. I wondered if I should call 911 when I saw an unaccompanied feline slinking towards a grove of trees.

It does make me think though, of our growing tendency here in Canada to create laws for just about everything and the ridiculous lengths we go to appease every single interest group that makes a tweet of protest about some real or perceived offense. Common-sense seems to have flown the coop.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Great Sacrifice Indeed

I've been reading a book called Strange Scriptures That Perplex the Western Mind by Barbara M. Bowen, which seeks to clarify several scriptural passages by explaining relevant biblical customs and traditions. Although the book's purpose is to highlight the culture of the biblical past, many of the customs and conditions it deals with are still present today. And so, not only is it a window into the historical context of the Bible but it is also a glance into the current culture of the Near East. I'm having a fascinating time reading it, as I've been constantly bombarded with new facts and surprising details.

Today I would like to share an excerpt dealing with Luke 7:37-40, when a "sinful woman " washes Jesus' feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair. The 'strange' aspect of this story, at least for me, was how/if the woman had been able to produce enough tears to actually wash Jesus' feet. I had a hard time trying to picture her hovering over Christ's feet, waiting for the tears to drip down her cheek and drop onto his skin. Strange Scriptures, however, explains that it is quite likely she wasn't using freshly wept tears at all but in fact pouring them out from a 'tear bottle,' an object that was customary of the times:

"We find reference in many old books to the custom of collecting the tears of the whole family and preserving them in bottles. Thus King David prays, "Put though my tears in thy bottle: are they not in thy book?" Tear bottles have been found in very large numbers on opening ancient tombs. They are made of thin glass usually, although the very poor sometimes had just simple pottery bottles, not even baked or glazed. They were all made with a slender body, broad at the base, with a funnel-shaped top. Every member of the family owned a tear bottle and they collected the tears of the whole family.

When serious trouble or a death occurred in the home, all the relatives came and each one brought his tear bottle with him. As they wept and wailed, the tears rolling down their cheeks, each person took his or her tear bottle and gathered tears from the faces of all present.

This bottle was exceedingly sacred to them. It represented all the heartaches, sorrows and bereavements from the grandparents down to the small child. When a person died, his tear bottle was buried with him, as one of his most sacred possessions.

This helps us to a better understanding of what the woman did for her Master. She noticed the very discourteous way in which Christ was treated as a guest in the house of Simon the Pharisee.

He provided no water to wash the Lord's feet and no oil to anoint his head; so this poor, sinful woman, longing for forgiveness and a new life, took her tear bottle, poured the tears over his tired, dusty feet and wiped them with her long hair. A great sacrifice indeed, done in love and gratitude to the Saviour. They could "not be replaced and she might die without a bottle of tears to be buried with her in her tomb."

This woman's actions exemplify the spirit of sacrifice and servant hood that we are all called to possess when serving the persecuted. When we speak, write or pray on their behalf, we are not only spilling our own tears in response to their pain; we are collecting the tears of our suffering brothers and sisters themselves and pouring them out the feet of the Saviour. This offering is both communal and individual, just as the woman's tear bottle belonged both to her and to the family members whose tears she had collected.

It matters not if we will go to our graves with our hands empty and bodies weary from living in the way of the cross. It matters only that we be willing to completely surrender ourselves and our fellow believers over to the One who will come to wipe every tear from the eyes of the faithful.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Egypt Arrests Members of Toronto-based Copt group

Last week, two members of the Middle East Christians Association (MECA), a Toronto-based international Coptic Christian association, were arrested by police from their homes in Cairo on August 8. MECA has ties to Egyptian convert Mohamed Hegazy who, as we reported in last week's P&P alert, has been fighting for legal recognition of his conversion from Islam to Christianity. Hegazy had reportedly gone to the association for help and became a member.

The arrested men are accused of insulting Islam, confusing the public security and converting Muslims to Christianity. The founder of MECA, Nader Fawzy, maintains that the organization has done nothing illegal. He also said that the Egyptian authorities did not like the work of the organization and were attempting to "kill our branch in Egypt." Not only has the story been reported by Christian persecution news agencies such as Compass Direct and main news services such as Reuters, it has also been picked up by national papers such as the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star.

By now it shouldn't surprise me that stories which initially seem to involve only one specific restricted or hostile nation often end up also involving Canadian individuals. I know that the world is wholly interconnected, as is the Body of Christ. And yet, I have to admit to being especially jolted when a story literally hits close to home, as this one did with its link to an organization based in a city that is less than an hour from my home.

Of course, I don't believe that I (or other Canadians) should care more about stories which directly involve people living in Canada. However, since persecution stories are largely underreported by the media, I firmly believe that when they do break on to the pages of a national/local newspaper we have a responsibility to pay special attention and to be on guard for unique opportunities to raise awareness of the Persecuted Church within our communities.

Any information put in the hands of the Canadian public is fodder for discussion and therefore has the potential to communicate information that might otherwise have been overlooked or even deliberately ignored. Although I believe our newsletter, email alerts and webpage are doing an excellent job in spreading the news of the Persecuted Church, major newspapers remain the most regular, accessible and widely spread source of information for the people of Canada. Thus their articles may reach people and places that ours do not. Newspapers relay world news to Christians and non-Christians alike, making it possible for even those without the slightest interest in the persecution or, for that matter, religion to read stories such as this situation in Egypt while sipping their morning coffee or waiting for the train.

So I encourage you to keep an eye out for persecution stories in your newspapers and urge you to try and find ways to discuss these stories with others. Whether you are engaging in a discussion with a friend or a five minute conversation with a neighbour, you are playing a part in communicating the message of suffering church to your fellow Canadians.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

On Vacation

I am heading off in the morning for two weeks of vacation in Alberta. There will be absolutely no blog entries or emailing happening during this time. In fact, I am leaving my laptop at home! I am just going to seriously rest up and spend time with my wife, our families, and old friends in the Calgary region.

So, don't expect any new blog entries until after August 22, at lteast not from me. Perhaps Adele will be able to write up something, but she will be busy taking care of some of my responsibilities, plus getting caught up after being gone for 10 days. So, have a good couple of weeks and see you later

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Please Write to Shuang Shuying

"I was in prison, and you visited me...."

The Voice of the Martyrs is asking that Christians from around the world pray and write to Christian prisoner, Shuang Shuying, a 77-year-old woman who was sentenced to two years imprisonment by the Beijing Chongwen District People's Court on February 26, 2007. She was sentenced on charges of "willfully damaging private property." She and her son, Hua Huiqi, were attacked by police and arrested on January 24, 2007. Hua was released on July 26. Shuang suffers from a heart problem and diabetes.

Please write a letter or card of encouragement to this dear sister. An attractive Christian greeting cards would probably be especially cherished. Express your Christian love and mention you are praying for her (then do!). If you want to make your letter even more personal and special, you may want to include a snapshot of yourself, your family or your prayer group.

Please do not send the letters to The Voice of the Martyrs Canada for mailing. The letters are more effective when the officials see persons have sent them from many different parts of our nation. Do not criticize the Chinese government or discuss politics and do not include your mailing address (you may state your name and country). Please do not mention The Voice of the Martyrs or any other source of information.

You may write Shuang Shuying at:

Shuang Shuying
No. 3 Run He Xiang, Huifeng Street, Tiantang He Qing Feng Road,
Daxing District,
People's Republic of China

If you can write in Chinese, you may write to:


Thank you for ministering to Sister Shuang Shuying In this vital way.

Only to Safe Places?

In the face of the kidnapping of twenty-three hostages, Korean Christians are re-evaluating whether to take such risks as traveling to places like Afghanistan in the name of Christ. Concerns that evangelical groups are not careful enough in planning such ministry trips, take unnecessary risks, should not send groups to such dangerous areas and are culturally insensitive have been expressed. There is no evidence that the Saemmul Church group was guilty of such behaviour, but South Korean Christians are known for the zeal of their missionaries, as well as the number of people they send overseas on mission trips.

I agree that ministering in dangerous areas like Afghanistan is not something that should be done without due consideration, preparation and planning. This is true of all short term ministry teams but especially in places where the rule of law has a tenuous hold on society or where Christians are viewed with hostility.

However, I would be disappointed if, at the end of the day, South Korean Christians (and others) would conclude that they will only send people to places where it is "safe". It is never safe to follow Jesus and if the world is to be reconciled to God, we need men and women who are prepared to sacrifice life and limb in order to accomplish the purposes of God. Not foolishly, of course, or because of lack of wisdom. But make no mistake; the path of Jesus is the path of the cross. If you only want to minister where it is safe, you cannot follow Jesus and do that.