Tuesday, January 30, 2007

March Newsletter to Focus on North Korea

When I took on the role of Chief Executive Officer of VOMC in January, one of my new responsibilities was becoming the editor of our monthly newsletter. This is one of the most enjoyable and challenging aspects of my ministry, as our newsletter is our flagship publication. It is the most important communications vehicle that we have and I encourage every Canadian Christian to subscribe to it. There is no magazine like it in the country.

One of the more demanding aspects of working on the newsletter is that the work never ends. We have to work months in advance at times, arranging articles, pictures, interviews, etc. Presently, we are busy working on the March edition which will be focusing on the persecution facing Christians in North Korea. We hear so little from about the church in this totalitarian regime that often heads the lists of top persecuting nations in the world. So I am pleased that we can focus on North Korea in March.

Let me tell you about some of the things we have planned. We have a wonderful article written by one of my colleagues (and a good friend) from our sister mission in the United States, Todd Nettleton, in which he shares about North Koreans who escape to China, become Christians and then return to their homeland in order to share the gospel. Their stories of courage in the face of incredible danger are almost unbelievable. I know that you will be touched and challenged by this article. We will also be sharing how you can more effectively pray for the church in North Korea.

Starting in January, we introduced two new features to our monthly newsletter. "Partners in Action" shares how specific individuals and churches are standing up, stepping up and speaking up for the Persecuted Church. In "That's a Good Question" we address questions from our readers. In the March edition, we address the question whether reporting on persecution promotes, even inadvertently, intolerance towards people of other religions.

Please do not think that you are getting the whole picture if you are already receiving our weekly Persecution and Prayer Alert email news service. I know that sometimes people believe that if they are getting the P+P Alert, that they don't need to get the newsletter. I have always said that you need both. The P+P Alert provides up-to-date news and prayer requests, but its very nature precludes us from telling the whole story. The Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter provides a far wider perspective, focusing on the courage and faith of today's Persecuted Church and how you can respond. If you are not receiving our newsletter, I encourage you to subscribe today by going to http://www.persecution.net/newsletter.htm.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Muslim Background Believer at Risk of Honour Killing

Because of the more journalistic nature of the Persecution and Prayer Alert (VOMC's weekly email news service), we will not generally publish stories where we cannot identify, at the very least, the country where the persecution is taking place. Hence, prayer requests from unidentified countries rarely ever make it to the P+P Alert. Such prayer requests are not always accurate or cannot be confirmed. However, we do, on occasion receive such prayer requests from credible organizations whose reputations we trust. One of them is Middle East Concern. Due to the sensitive nature of their work, they cannot always identify the countries in which they operate. I respect that.

On Friday, Middle East Concern sent out the following prayer request that I feel deserves your earnest attention and hope that you will uphold those involved in your prayers over the next week:

Christians in an Arabian Peninsula country have asked for our prayers for a female MBB (Muslim background believer). Her family has learned of her decision to follow Jesus. They are pressing her father to kill her. However, he does not wish to do so. Therefore, the lady's brothers and uncle are asking the father to allow them to kill her. The father has so far refused but remains under pressure.

Honour killing is a concern in many Middle Eastern countries. People choosing to follow Jesus are perceived as being traitors to their community, bringing great shame on the family. Within the culture, the shame can be removed by killing the traitor. This is especially true for ladies.

Christians in (this country) give thanks for her human father's protection of her and request our prayers that:
a. Our sister in Christ will be kept safe
b. Her family's attitude towards her will change
c. Nationals who hear of this lady will be challenged to respond to the love of Jesus

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Third Day

A number of aid organizations often explain the severity of their cause, such as poverty or disease, by translating statistics into time. Make Poverty History, for example, reports that every fifteen seconds a child dies from water-related diseases. Similarily, UNICEF recently reported that every five minutes a woman in India dies in childbirth. Both statements highlight the direness of the situation at hand by demonstrating the alarming rate at which poverty is robbing people of their lives.

So why are statistics phrased in this way? What is the effect of putting the sufferings of others on a sort of universal clock? Well, I believe that it reminds those of us who are free from these specific problems that they are not occurring in some distant, faraway place. These people are suffering in our world, in our time. Their seconds are our seconds, their minutes are our minutes and their days are our days

This week, All India Christian Council reported that every third day of 2006 there was an act of violence against Christians in India. There were 128 cases of reported violence against India's Christian minority---2.3 percent of the 1.20 billion total population. Furthermore, AICC noted that, since incidents of violence against Christians are still widely underreported by the mainstream media, the actual figure is likely much higher.

Since I heard this report, I have not been able to stop trying to apply this three-day perspective to my own life, in hopes that doing so might help me to better understand the reality of persecution in India. I have been asking myself such questions as "where I was three days ago?" and "where will I be in three days?" Such questions are my way of asking the big question---"what is it like to live in a country where Christians suffer so frequently and so severely for their faith?" Lord, help me to understand, I have been praying. Help me to know the price that these believers are paying. Help me to remember that their time is my time, their faith is my faith and their Lord is my Lord.

While I was thinking and praying, the Lord helped me to see this statistic in a new light. He reminded me that they are proof of His grace at work in India. Every third day in 2006, the sacrifice of Christ Jesus was made manifest by His children; every third day, believers gave their bodies over to the Lord's will; every third day, persecutors were made to witness God's truth undenied. Those who suffer for Him share in His sacrifice and so also share in His glory. The third day He arose again from the dead...

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Canadian Border Services Agency Declares Pro-family Letter is "Hate Propaganda"

The other day I received a most interesting letter in the mail from one of our supporters. Friends of theirs support an organization in the United States called Vision Forum Ministries. They had given a donation and were receiving a couple of dolls as a "thank you" in the mail. When the organization shipped the dolls, together with a letter from their director, it was held up at the border. Why, you may ask. Is it because they wanted to charge duty on the dolls or that was something there something illegal about the order? Not at all. The problem had to do with the letter. According to a form sent to the couple from the Canadian Border Services Agency, the goods were detained because the agency determined that the letter from the Vision Forum director may constitute "hate propaganda."

So, I read the two-page letter. To be honest, it was very pro-American but that is not a crime. Mostly it spoke about how the Christian family is under attack and the need to build up the family. It referred to homosexuality as one of the things that is replacing the historical Christian understanding of the family, together with male passivity and historical revisionism. And it did talk about the need for a "vigorous opposition to the homosexual agenda."

That, I suspect, was the problem. And when some overzealous border inspector saw the two references to homosexuality, he or she jumped on it.

It was certainly an over-reaction, though. Quite frankly, I have written far stronger stuff publicly than this letter. In fact, so has Bruce Clemenger at the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and a good number of others. Try as I might, I could find nothing in the letter that could possibly be construed as "hate propaganda" under the present laws. No identifiable individual, group is being vilified. This letter was primarily a strong call for Christian families to defend and serve a biblical view of the family, providing several (mostly educational) examples and a "thank you" for the donation. It is beyond me how this letter could have possibly been considered a propagating hatred towards anyone as no one is really mentioned. What the director is concerned about are anti-family ideas and he wisely stays in the realm of opposing ideas rather than people.

I am left to conclude that to consider this letter as possibly hate propaganda was an act of misplaced zealousness and a misunderstanding of the present laws (as flawed as they are). If this letter is hate propaganda, then almost anything could be so construed.

I am convinced that we will see more of this in the days to come, however. For years now, I have warned our staff here at VOMC that I can see the day coming when some of our printed and video material will be labeled "hate propaganda" by the government. In truth, our message has actually moderated in tone in recent years. But we will continue speak the truth about the persecution being faced by Christians around the world at the hands of those who hate and oppose the message of Jesus Christ, whether that is militant Muslims or Hindus, communists, homosexual activists, or secularists. We don't deliberately distribute or produce material geared to provoke a hostile response. That would be foolish and wrong. But if this harmless letter could be construed as "hate propagation", there is little doubt that some of our material might be viewed similarly.

When I mentioned this to Adele last week, she asked me, "So what should we do to prepare for this?" I replied, "Nothing. We will continue to do what we have been doing for almost four decades. If we are going to be damned, we will be damned for who we are."

Monday, January 22, 2007

Update on My Recuperation

Hi everyone. Thought that I would give you a brief update on how my recuperation is going from my stem cell transplant. I am doing much better than I was at my last update. I can now make it up flights of steps and my appetite is gradually coming back. My digestive system is a bit sensitive, however, so I still have to watch both what and how much I eat. I am undergoing some Graft-Versus-Host Disease now, which is a good thing as it shows that my brother's and my cells are trying to graft. Pray that this grafting will be a complete success and that the cells will be aggressive enough to seek out the remaining cancer cells and eradicate them.

I can't say that I am anywhere near normal yet, but getting there. I actually went into the office this afternoon. I needed a change of scenery and a little work helped get some of my physical discomforts out of mind for a while. I do have some low level pain in my stomach area that concerns me. I will be going to the cancer clinic again tomorrow for my regular twice-a-week checkup so hopefully they will know what to do, if anything.

Thank you again for all of your prayers. I am sure that they are the reason I am doing as well as I am.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Strange but True Religious Liberty Stories

Lately, I have been picking up a few rather weird stories from a religious liberty perspective:

Democratic State Sen. Lowen Kruse has introduced a bill that would eliminate two provisions to Nebraska's underage drinking law which allow minors to drink alcohol in their own homes or at places of worship during religious ceremonies. I wonder if it ever dawned on him that Catholics and some Protestant denominations use wine in their communion services? What is the world is he trying to control?

The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which has the ultimate say in all legal, civil and governance matters in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, recently issued a fatwa, or religious edict, against the letter "X." It came in response to a Ministry of Trade query about whether a Saudi businessman could be granted trademark protection for a new service with the English name "Explorer." What, you may ask, does this group of clerics have against this poor little letter? It's similarity to a banned religious symbol - the cross.

Speaking of Saudi Arabia, Irish delegates on a recent 5-day trade mission to the Middle East were advised to cover up any crosses that they might wear. I understand the need to be respectful in business, but shouldn't respect flow both ways?

The Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN), Muslim Association of Canada (MAC), Windsor Islamic Association, Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), and Al Hijra Mosque and School, are asking the police to investigate a lecture series sponsored by Windsor, Ontario's Campbell Baptist Church, "The Deadly Threat of Islam," as a possible forum for hate speech. Good grief! Donald McKay, senior pastor at the church, told the Windsor Star that the event was organized simply to propagate what the church believes to be "absolute truth."

A Catholic diocese in Nigeria has instructed parishioners to show they have registered to vote in April's elections or forsake the right to take communion. Seems like a bit of an extreme way of getting people involved in the electoral process, don't you think? I agree that Nigeria's Christians have often needed to get more involved in their political process. Nigeria's politics are so dirty that Christians have often felt that to get involved would, of necessity, require a compromise of the faith. I think that this diocese, however, may be going a little too far in the other direction.

Love to hear any comments you might have about these or any other strange but true stories you may have read recently.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

I'm Back... Sort of

Well, I've been home for a few days now but have only today felt able to finally write a few words down. I have felt badly about the delay, as I very much want to express my gratitude for the prayers and words of encouragement that I have received since being admitted to hospital on December 16 for my stem cell transplant. Quite honestly, I have been overwhelmed and deeply thankful. The transplant so far seems to have been a success. Unfortunately, I was badly weakened with the bout of pneumonia that I contracted but I am slowly recuperating. One thing that is obvious is that I am going to have to be patient and pace myself. Mind you, right now my body will not allow me to do otherwise. I have a tough time making it up more than a few stairs without being winded (which is tough when you live in a house with lots of stairs like we do). My appetite is virtually non-existent and I tremble rather badly at time (which I find very frustrating). But I am grateful to be home with my wife and children and able to assume the beginnings of a life again.

I am confident, however, that the God who began a good work in me is going to bring it to completion (to echo Paul's words Philippians 1:5). This is good to remember when it is hard to consider ever traveling internationally again when one cannot make it up a set of eight stairs without pausing to rest. I know that God is not finished with me though. This is the hope and confidence that I have in the Lord.

My recuperation will take longer, I expect, that I would like, however. There may yet be other setbacks. I have yet to experience something called Graft-Versus-Host Disease, which the doctors expect and actually want to see a little of, as it will be evidence that the transplant is a good one, able to fight off any remaining cancer in my system.

So, while I am appreciative for your prayers in the past, I ask that you continue to uphold me in this vital way. Pray, too, for my wife who has to assist me in many mundane ways. I want to publicly declare how much I love Denita. Times like this show the quality of your marriage partner, as I am sure many of you can testify to. She has sacrificed so much over the past few weeks, and continues to. Pray that she will have the strength that she needs, as she also serves part-time at the mission.

Well, that's about all that I can write for now without getting too worn out. Nothing terribly profound, I am afraid. I hope that I can start writing more interesting and persecution-related blogs again soon. In the meantime, I hope you have been enjoying Adele's contributions. I find her material very refreshing, as it comes from someone who is still rather new to the whole issue of persecution and is being greatly touched by it.

Hope to write again soon.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Glenn Home from the Hospital

I am happy to let you know that Glenn has been cured of his virus and he is being released from the hospital this afternoon. Praise the Lord!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Update on Glenn

Yesterday afternoon, doctors identified the cause of Glenn's respiratory problems. He has a Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). The fact that it has been identified is a kind of answer to prayers; now he can start treatment meant for this virus and we thank God for that. The treatment, however, is quite unpleasant. He is required to breathe through a machine that is attached to his head for 2-3 hours a day (for the next 5 days). He cannot leave his isolation room until the virus is completely cured.

Pray that the Lord will give continue to give Glenn comfort and strength during this treatment process. Pray that it will be effective and that he will be fully restored to health.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Egyptian Christian Claims Torture

Unfortunately, persecution stories are rarely front page news. Sometimes, however, they do surface in major newspapers and television networks. I think that one obvious benefit to such coverage is that it brings the issue of religious persecution into the public eye. Even those who aren't Christians, or even religious, have to react when they hear that people are being tortured for their faith. It is, at the very least, an outright violation of human rights. Even those who don't share the faith of the victim must acknowledge that such injustice and brutality cannot be ignored.

A few weeks ago, a news story about an Egyptian man who claims he was tortured for being a Christian was covered by CTV news. I think it is a important very article to read. For me, it proves the necessity of bringing a deeper awareness and understanding of persecution to our country. We can profess our willingness to be a multicultural society all we want, but that does not mean that we can assume that we know everything about the conflicts and tensions afflicting other countries.

We cannot simply accept it when we hear governments say that discrimination is not officially sanctioned; we cannot always believe those who say that "No one is persecuted." If you read the January edition of our newsletter, you will see that Egyptian Christians are very much suffering for their faith. In fact, I can honesty say that it was not until I started working on this month's newsletter that I fully grasped the nature of Egypt's persecution. If you are interested in learning more about persecution in Egypt, I encourage you to read it.

Here is an abbreviated version of the CTV story. (If you would like to read the full and original article, click here.)

"Man deported to Egypt tortured, CTV reports

Immigration Minister Monte Solberg says his department is looking into allegations an Egyptian man denied refugee status in Canada was tortured after being deported to his homeland, CTV News reported Wednesday.

"Anytime these kinds of allegations are made and people produce evidence, obviously we take it very seriously," Solberg told CTV. ``My department is looking at it and we are gathering the facts."

"Obviously, if we find there are grounds to it, we will take appropriate action," he added, though he declined to discuss what those actions might be.

The man, a Christian from Egypt whose name was withheld in the CTV report, came to Canada in 2002 seeking asylum.

CTV News reported he made a refugee claim, alleging he was persecuted in his home country, but was deported in September.

CTV News broadcast photographs and videotape, allegedly of the same man, which show fresh injuries on his back.

CTV reported he claims the injuries were inflicted by Egyptian authorities during interrogations in which he was shocked, doused with water and beaten.

"I feel very afraid. Very afraid. Save me please. They tortured me," a man said on a tape played by the network.

"No one is persecuted," Egypt's ambassador to Canada told CTV from Ottawa.

"Officially, discrimination is absolutely unacceptable," Mahmoud El-Saheed said, after viewing the tape. "Torture is a very serious crime, which no one condones."

Pray that the truth about Christian persecution will be truthfully and effectively brought to the world's attention.

Special Prayer for Glenn

Glenn has asked for all of us to say a special and specific prayer of healing for him today. We praise the Lord that he has experienced some very significant improvements over the past week, such as healing in his mouth and an encouraging increase in his neutrophil levels. We also praise the Lord that his stem cells are reportedly engrafting!

But right now Glenn is experiencing problems with his lungs. Doctors have been unable to identify the source of the problem--all they know is that it seems to be some kind of infection. It is causing Glenn to have severe coughing fits and it is also making it very difficult for him to breathe. He has to sleep sitting up because when he lays down he feels as if he is drowning.

Pray that the Lord will heal Glenn's lungs by the end of today. We do not always offer our Lord such specific or such time sensitive prayers but we cannot forget that we serve a God for whom nothing is impossible.

So please, pray that today will be a day of healing for Glenn and that the Lord will rid his body of all problems and infections.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Update from Princess Margaret Hospital

The last week here at the hospital has admittedly been a challenge. The transplant on the 20th was more unpleasant than I expected but it also marked the beginning of nausea. Since then my mucus fluid levels in my head have increased just as my mouth and tongue have swollen up, and I have developed lesions that have become incredibly painful so that I often cannot speak or swallow. I am on a permanent morphine drip to control the pain. Often this presents problems when I close my eyes. I have no problem telling the difference between reality and dreams except when I close my eyes. Then the two tend to fade into each other. Not fun!

I'm also on permanent oxygen supply because my blood oxygen levels are down. Amazingly it's related to my mouth and the mucus levels. My saliva, etc., runs down my throat in greater quantities and in a different consistency than before and it gets caught in my esophagus. I cough to loosen it and it goes away. This has gone on for several days. Now, I'm more tired, my esophagus is raw and my throat sore. So now it takes a few gentle coughs to free it up.

The mouth and tongue break down is largely due to the result of various side-effects of the preparatory chemotherapy and the TMX that I need to take in days following to diminish the severity of Graft Versus Host Disease.
Why do I write all of this? Largely so that you can know how to pray. The loss of mental alertness, the poor quality of nightly sleeping due to pain and coughing, and the disconcerting shifting between dreams and reality are the most troublesome. Positively, I have been told that none of this is unusual. Indeed, I am apparently doing quite well. There are other unpleasant side-effects that I have not experienced yet. Perhaps, I won't. One can hope!

Do uphold my family and the VOMC staff during these days as well. They are truly God's gifts to me, as are each of you who pray and sacrifice on behalf of the Persecuted Church.

I want to end with one lesson I learned recently at about 4:00 in the morning. My throat felt like it was on fire, resulting in excruciating pain in my ears. I felt as it I would lose my mind. Before I knew it, my teeth started chattering and I was surprised by this because I did not have a fever and I wasn't cold. I then remembered back to stories that I believe I read from Richard Wurmbrand of how extreme pain could bring about such chattering of teeth. O horror, as the body responds in shock. One's teeth chatter in pain.

Anyway, I found a ray of comfort from that in knowing that the pain I was experiencing was perhaps in magnitude, if not in nature, similar to that suffered by the persecuted during dark early mornings of torturous pain. The call to trust God in the midst of it all is the same, of course. May I be found faithful. Do remember me in your prayers.