Monday, April 30, 2007

A Thousand Words....

A few months ago, I ran across a weblog by David Hayward, a New Brunswick pastor. David is also an artist with perhaps the most innovative sense of humour that I have run across in ages. His site is one of the few that I check out several times a week, just to see what he has posted. I enjoy his cartoons especially. They often straight for the jugular, making a significant point about the Christian life while making you laugh at the same time; which is what good humour should do.

The following cartoon, I think, is worth far more than a thousand words and extremely relevant as we think about the persecution of Christians around the world.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Must We Do Wrong to Do Right?

Have you noticed that the only way that marketers seem to think that they can get our attention lately is to use sex, violence, or profanity? Risqué has been equated with clever. Pushing the boundaries of public decency is viewed as innovative.

A few months ago, a Canadian television cable station promoted itself with a series of what were meant to be humorous ads that had viewers thanking the station for helping them to break down their inhabitations towards various sexual taboos with its programming. The ads were neither humorous nor apparently very effective, as they disappeared rather quickly.

Earlier this year, a Canadian mainline denomination sought to attract people through the use of humorous ads that deliberately bordered on being blasphemous.

Or watch how often communicators seem to think that the most effective way to really make a point is to revert to profanity. I remember the first time I heard Tony Campolo. He was talking about world hunger and at one point, when referring to the number of people who were starving to death, he suddenly burst out, "And you don't give a damn. Further, more of you care that I just said ‘damn' from the pulpit than about the dying children."

At the time, I thought that this apparently spontaneous outburst of passion was really quite effective in getting the attention of the audience. In the years since, as I have heard Campolo swear repeatedly in message after message, I have come to see it more as a gimmick. Do it once, it's spontaneous. Do it twice and it becomes a publicity stunt. Time to stop swearing, Tony. We're on to you.

Besides, I can care about swearing from the pulpit and care about starving children at the same time. Both are wrong.

Apparently Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty is taking a page from the Tony Campolo playbook in defending the "Flick Off" campaign. This is the environment campaign targeting young people with a logo where the word "Flick" is deliberately made to look like the "f" word. Apparently, the Ontario government has been receiving a torrent of complaints. But rather than apologize for this misstep, the premier defended the ad yesterday by saying, ""If people want to take offence at something, don't take offence at the 'flick off' campaign. Take offence at the fact that we are, as a species, raising the temperature on our planet."

Weak.... In other words, if you don't like the campaign, you are a planet killer. I'm sorry, but I can find the ad offensive and care about the environment. It is silly to suggest that I need to make a choice in the matter. In fact, I would like to think that I can raise children to have a respect for others, for God and for decency by not using profanity and a respect for the environment. I don't need the government making the former more difficult as it actively promotes the latter.

I confess that the temptation to resort to questionable means to promote a good cause is one that all of us who are involved in this line of work are prone to. It is harder and harder to get people's attention in our over-commercialized world. The urge to jolt people into paying attention through shocking them is hard to resist. As a Christian communicator, I have to remember that my calling is to tell the truth as effectively and as skillfully as I can. But ultimately, I leave the results with the Holy Spirit. He is the one who will ultimately get and keep people's attention. Not our use of profanity or sexual innuendos.

Four Evangelists Arrested in Turkey

I can see that Turkish officials have really learned their lesson from the murder of three Christians last week. Already, they are back in business, arresting Christians for sharing their faith and declaring that missionaries are more dangerous that terrorist organizations.

Last Wednesday, in Istanbul's Taksim district, Turkish police jailed four Christian street evangelists for "missionary activity" (which is not even illegal in Turkey). At the same time, government officials such as by Religious Affairs Director Ali Bardakoglu are openly defending the right of all religious groups to carry out evangelistic work in Turkey. Not all of Turkey's politicians seem to share that sentiment, however. Winning the prize for most insensitive political leader is the Ministry of Justice Laws director-general Niyazi Guney who was quoted by the Turkish daily Milliyet a day after the killings in Malatya as saying that missionaries were more dangerous than terror organizations. Guess that justifies the violence, eh?

I can understand why Turkish Christians are nervous.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Precious in the Sight of the Lord....

In Psalm 116:15 we read, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." The psalmist is not intending to say in this passage that God likes it when His people die. Rather, the death of His saints is something that God does not allow easily. He is reluctant to see His people die because death is an enemy.

I think about that when I read of my brothers and sisters being martyred in various parts of the world. Recently three Christians were brutally tortured and killed in southeastern Turkey because of their ministry of publishing and distributing Bibles and other Christian literature. Those who killed them said that they did so to protect Islam from the spread of Christianity. Two of those who died left behind wives and children. The third had only been a Christian for two years. We do not know why God allowed these dear saints to die for their faith, but we do know that their deaths were not in vain or something that God easily allowed.

On March 26, evangelist Taddese Tefera Akufo was beaten to death by militant Muslims in Jimma, Ethiopia. He and two female coworkers were evangelizing on Merkato Street when a mob of Muslims emerged from a mosque. The two women were able to flee but the militants dragged Taddese inside the building and beat him to death. The killing was apparently a direct attack against a local evangelism campaign. In an attempt to shift the blame, local Muslims have opened a case against Christians that falsely accuses them of entering mosques in order to forcibly convert Muslims. As I think of this precious life given in the service of the Lord, I wonder why the Lord would allow it to be cut short in this way. And yet I know that "precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." And so I am called to trust Him in the midst of unanswered questions.

On March 21, Christianah Oluwatoyin Olusase, a Christian teacher at Government Day Secondary School in Gombe, Nigeria state was brutally murdered by a group of Muslim girl students. On the evening of March 26, two sisters, Margaret and Fadhila Naoum, were repeatedly stabbed and strangled to death in their home in Kirkuk, Iraq. Two Christians in Jijiga, Ethiopia were killed in late April when Muslims threw a bomb at a funeral procession. The list goes on and on....

"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."

These words are a comfort to God's people in their times of sorrow and grieving. And we are grateful that because of the financial support of many Christians here in Canada that we are able to stand with the families of those who mourn and provide comfort by letting them know that they and their loved ones have not been forgotten by their brothers and sisters.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Ontario Government Encouraging Kids to "Flick Off"

Would you let your kid wear this?

The Ontario government hopes you will, as it launches an ad campaign against global warming that cost taxpayers $500,000. The campaign against climate change launched yesterday by Environment Minister Laurel Broten and billionaire Richard Branson encourages youth to "FLICK OFF." The slogan's font is clearly designed to make flick look like... well, you know.
Oh, how wonderful! Just what we need; the government encouraging our kids to engage in vulgarity and using my money to do it. Talk about undermining the attempts of thousands of Ontario parents who believe that profanity is not only demeaning to the individual but inappropriate for religious reasons.
I have no problem with a campaign that promotes a greater concern for the environment that encourages people to conserve energy by turning off lights. But does environmentalism trump all other concerns? Have we lost the ability to be creative without appealing to the absolute lowest levels of communication? If so, let's leave the lights on. Perhaps this culture is not worth saving.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Encourage the Wife of Imprisoned Vietnamese Lawyer

The Voice of the Martyrs is urging you to pray for and to send letters/cards of encouragement to the wife of arrested Christian lawyer, Nguyen Van Dai.

Nguyen Van Dai, a 38-year-old member of the main Hanoi congregation of the legally-recognized Evangelical Church of Vietnam (North), or ECVN (N), since 2000, was arrested on March 6 for accusations relating to his defense of religious freedom, including disseminating ‘alleged infractions of religious liberty [to Vietnam's enemies abroad]'. Dai is one of Vietnam's few human rights lawyers and is a member of Advocates International, an organization which brings together Christian human rights lawyers from many countries. He defended the "Mennonite Six" in 2004-2005.

Also arrested in early March was Dai's colleague, Le Thi Cong Nhan, who faces similar accusations. Both are due to be tried on May 11 for defaming the communist state of Vietnam. It is expected that the trial will be nothing more than a charade.

Authorities have prohibited Dai's wife, Khanh, from visiting him nor has she been provided with any legal papers. By law she should have received a copy of the arrest order at her husband's March 6 arrest citing the reasons for his "temporary detention." Her home phone and cell phone services have been cut. Police have reportedly been trying to incite neighbors against her.

We would urge you to send a letter or card of encouragement to Mrs Khanh immediately, using the example given below. Please do not include any political comments. Her address is:

Vu Minh Khanh
Phong 302, Nha Z8
Bach Khao

Suggested letter to Mrs Khanh

Dear Mrs Khanh,

I am writing to let you know I am praying for you, for your husband, Lawyer Dai, and for his colleague, Ms Cong Nhan, who are in prison awaiting trial. We honour your husband for his outstanding courage in advocating for persecuted Christians and for more freedom in Vietnam.

Along with thousands of Christians around the world, I pray that your husband and Ms Cong Nhan will receive justice. I pray too that whatever happens, you will all know and experience God's comfort and strength.

Your friend,

(Your name)
(Your city and province)

Thank you for your participation in ministering to the persecuted church in Vietnam in this vital way. We know that such letters and cards will be an encouragement to Mrs. Khanh and will send a message to the Vietnamese authorities that her husband has not been forgotten.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Join the "I Speak Up for the Persecuted" Community

As part of our "Step Up, Stand Up, Speak Up" Campaign, The Voice of the Martyrs is inviting bloggers from around the world to help break the silence that surrounds the persecution of Christians around the world by joining our "I Speak Up for the Persecuted" community. If you have a weblog, we would invite you to consider:

1. Writing a minimum of two posts per month about Christian persecution, mentioning the Voice of the Martyrs with a link to this weblog site, and/or the The Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter, and

2. Placing an icon to your weblog page saying that “I Speak Up for the Persecuted.” Click here for to view and download an icon. If you join us in Speaking Up for the persecuted in the blogosphere, we will add a link to your site on the Persecution Blogroll on this page. If you would like to join this program, click here.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Attacks Must Not Be Swept Under the Turkish Rug

Now is the time to press the Turkish government to make the changes that are long overdue to its approach to religious minorities. Last week's brutal killings in Malatya mark the third fatal attack on Christians since February 2006. These are not exceptional cases; they are becoming a part of a pattern that the government cannot be allowed to sweep under the Turkish rug.

Officially, Turkey is a secular state. Its constitution provides for a strict separation of church and state, which includes freedom of religion. At the same time, Turkey still forbids missionary activity. This is simply hypocritical. Religious freedom of necessity includes the right to change one's religion without hindrance or threat to one's life or liberty. This is not the case in today's secular Turkey.

The suspects that have so far been arrested in the Malatya attack have stated that their actions were motivated by the desire to protect Islam from Christianity. The Turkish government has taken the same position as it and other officials in Turkey have criticized Christian missionary work in the past. Is it any wonder that we are seeing the blood of Christians spilled? The Turkish government must assume some of the responsibility for the killings and take actions to insure that Turkish Christians are recognized as possessing the same rights and privileges as Turkish Muslims, including the right to worship and practice all aspects of their faith (including evangelism) without fear. Turkish politicians must renounce past anti-missionary and anti-Christians statements that they and others have publicly made and support the rights of all religions to operate openly in a truly secular state. They must provide the legislative climate that no longer provides Islam with special protection and privileges, but recognizes that all religions have an equal standing in Turkish society.

Such actions may not stop attacks on Christians by Islamic militants. But at least the knifes and bullets won't have the smudged fingerprints of their own political leaders on them.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Face in the Photograph

Her face haunts me. She is twelve-years-old. She lives in Lahore, Pakistan. And she was recently raped.

She was raped on Easter Day. The day when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. New life in Christ! A day of joy. A day of thankfulness.

A day when this young girl's life collapsed. And her eyes reflect it.

She was going to the shops near her home when four Muslim men attacked her and knocked her unconscious. Taking her to a local factory warehouse, for two days they did perhaps the worst thing that they could do to her. To any woman. But to a little Christian girl....

"What is wrong with these animals?" I rage. "What is wrong with the police that they had to be forced to finally register a case against the beasts who committed this unspeakable crime?"

I am sick of hearing of these kinds of attacks on Christian girls in Pakistan and Egypt. I am sick of hearing of police covering up the crimes and of Islamic courts refusing to convict the guilty, protecting the men while further humiliating the victims. I am sick of hearing the cries of the heart-broken families and seeing the sad eyes of the girls staring at me from the photographs on my computer screen.

I want to look away. I want to hear of the testimonies of joy in the midst of sorrow. I want to hear of people coming to Christ. I want to hear of forgiveness and heroic faith. I can see why one organization likes to boast that they focus on the victory while groups like VOMC focus on the suffering. Must be nice....

But I cannot look away because God does not look away. I will not look away.

This is my little sister.

Malatya Massacre Was Foreseeable

Turkish government officials are falling over themselves expressing condemnation of the killing of three Christians on Wednesday in Malatya, promising justice and preventative measures to insure that such a thing does not happen again.

But the fact is, they did nothing to prevent it from happening in the first place. Government ministers and politicians have been publicly expressing alarm over Muslims converting to Christianity, cracking down on house churches, warning about the dangers of "missionary activity" by Protestants in Turkey and charging Christians with "insulting Turkishness" and inciting hatred against Islam for simply sharing their faith with others. All of this in a country that presents itself as a moderate, secular state with freedom of religion.

Turkish Christians knew that this kind of attack was due to happen eventually. It was only a matter of time. Turkey's politicians had helped create it. Now they have to clean up after the mess. It's easy to shoot off your mouth when you think that no one will get hurt.

It is to be hoped that Europe will hold Turkey's feet to the fire over this incident as they seek entry into the European Union. This attack was not simply the act of a few extremists. It is not an isolated event. It was the natural result of the growing Islamic intolerance in Turkey; an environment that Turkish politicians not only did nothing to stop but actually helped create.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Terrible? Yes. But Is It Persecution?

One of the biggest challenges we face here at The Voice of the Martyrs every week is going through the many stories and reports that we receive and trying to figure out which ones of them are truly cases of persecution and which are not.

It is not nearly as easy as one might imagine. There are those who seem to want to label any misfortune or disaster that befalls some believer somewhere as "persecution." And some of these cases are truly heartbreaking, even horrendous.

A case in point is the recent case of Manzoor Ahmad Chat, an Indian Christian who was beheaded by Hizbul militants on Saturday in Kashmir. The question is, was he killed because he was a government worker or because he was a Christian? In the face of the brutality of his murder, the rising persecution in India, and the fact that he was a leader of a local church, one would be inclined to call his death a case of martyrdom. But we cannot be certain, especially in light of the political situation there and reports that we are receiving which would seem to point to his death being more politically than religiously-motivated.

Another is a recent report of a massive forced abortion campaign going on in China's Guangxi Province (Autonomous Region). There are reports of Christian women being forced to have abortions. One such case is a pastor's wife who accidentally became pregnant and wanted to keep her child because of her Christian principles. She was reportedly forcibly given an injection today to abort her baby. Is this a case of persecution?

When faced with situations where is difficult to determine whether this is a situation of persecution or general suffering, it is helpful to ask, "If a person had other religious beliefs or would change their religion to the majority religion of the country, would things get better for them?" If the answer is "yes," then it seems that this would be a situation where persecution is taking place. If, however, this is suffering that is being inflicted on others as well as Christians, such as is the case with the forcible abortion campaign in China, it is probably not appropriate for us to call it "persecution." Is it terrible? Of course it is. Am I glad that the organization that reported on this (whom we greatly respect and work with) did so? Of course, and we will pray for these dear women who have been so terrible violated. Is this reprehensible and worth protesting? I would argue that it certainly is. But we will not call it persecution even though Christians are being afflicted. This does not minimize the suffering and injustice in any way. It does, however, help us to put such incidents into a proper context. And this ultimately helps our case when the time comes to act or speak to an issue. If we label something as persecution when it is not, we not only lose credibility then but also potentially for the future when we might want to speak to a legitimate case of persecution. We have shown ourselves to be less than careful in our use of words and in advocacy, words are important.

The challenge that we must avoid is allowing persecution to take on such a broad meaning that it soon comes to mean very little at all.

Health Update

It's been four months since my stem cell/bone marrow transplant. It seems longer than that. And it has been some time since I gave an update on how I am doing.

I praise God for the healing and strength that He has brought to me during these weeks. I must admit, however, that the last few weeks have been a little harder. As I mentioned on March 22, I tested positive for cytomegalovirus (CMV) again. CMV is, I said then, rather common for transplant patients to get which why they test for it every week when I go to the bone marrow transplant clinic.

This was the second time I tested positive for it and I bounced back quite well the first time. This second time, however, I have not. While I am clear of the virus now, my neutrophil levels recently dropped to their lowest levels since my transplant and my blood sugar levels rose to levels well above normal. Talking with other transplant patients during our interminably long waits at the clinic, my wife learned that the rising blood sugar levels are not uncommon and due to the medication that I am taking (probably prednisone, that most "blessed" of drugs; useful but wow, what side effects!!).

However, the net result has been that my energy levels are not what they were a month ago and that is a little discouraging. I praise God that I am still able to function mentally, however (although some might call that into question too) and so I still go into the office four days a week.

I would ask for your prayers for my energy to return. Pray too, that my blood levels would return to a semblance of normal and that God would protect me from any further viral infections. I am eager to assume some of my travel responsibilities but I also need to exercise wisdom. Thankfully, I have a wonderful team of co-workers and family who help me to set my limits.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Hollywood Pressures China on Darfur

It is interesting to note what gets the Chinese government's attention.

The awarding of the 2008 Olympic Games to Beijing was generally seen by most human rights organizations as a significant setback for freedom in China, even as Olympic officials declared that they believed that it would lead to greater freedoms in the country. In the years since, the human rights activists have been proven correct as China has not only cracked down harder on dissidents within its borders but has been perhaps the biggest obstacle to putting effective pressure on Sudan in its genocidal activities in Darfur. China has extensive business and oil ties to Sudan and generally avoids telling other countries how to conduct their internal affairs, insisting that others also keep quiet about how it conducts its own internal affairs. Hence, for the past two years, China has resisted attempts for United Nations sanctions on Sudan.

However, on April 9, Zhai Jun, a senior Chinese official, traveled to Sudan to push the government to accept a UN peacekeeping force. Zhai even went to Darfur and toured three refugee camps.

So, what is going on? New York Times reporter Helene Cooper notes that the credit goes to Hollywood, of all things. According to Cooper's article of April 12, actress Mia Farrow, a good-will ambassador for the United Nations Children's Fund, started a campaign last month to label the Games in Beijing the "Genocide Olympics". She began calling on corporate sponsors, including Steven Spielberg, who is an artistic adviser to China for the Games, to publicly exhort China to do something about Darfur.

According to Cooper:

In a March 28 op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal, she warned Mr. Spielberg that he could "go down in history as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Beijing Games," a reference to a German filmmaker who made Nazi propaganda films.

Four days later, Mr. Spielberg sent a letter to President Hu Jintao of China, condemning the killings in Darfur and asking the Chinese government to use its influence in the region "to bring an end to the human suffering there," according to Mr. Spielberg's spokesman, Marvin Levy.

China soon dispatched Mr. Zhai to Darfur, a turnaround that served as a classic study of how a pressure campaign, aimed to strike Beijing in a vulnerable spot at a vulnerable time, could accomplish what years of diplomacy could not.

Just how significant this turns out is anyone's guess. China has been active in pressuring other governments not to link Darfur and participation in the 2008 Olympics. For two years, they have been trying to stare down their critics, believing that it was not that big of a problem. But this week, China blinked.

Friday, April 13, 2007

VOMC Releases Weekly Radio News Bulletin

In the last little while, we have added so many new features to our website here at The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada that it has been hard to keep up. I know that Jim, our webmaster, has been asked to go far and beyond the call of duty. Thank you, bro!

I would like to draw your attention to our latest offering which we released just this morning for the first time. In partnership with our British sister mission, Release International, we are pleased to introduce Persecution Now, a 3-minute weekly radio news bulletin available online at and Take a listen and let me know what you think of it. While you are there, also check out the latest edition of our webcast The Persecution Report, if you haven't already done so. Both are also available as podcasts!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Should The Blogosphere Be Forced to Become More Civil?

There is a debate brewing in the blogosphere over the whether it is possible or even desirable to adopt a blogger's code of conduct in the hopes of creating a greater atmosphere of civility. The point of contention seems to be what to do with the Comments section that most blogs have (including this one). As anyone who reads blogs knows, it is not uncommon for rather nasty, sometimes even abusive comments to be posted in such sections. Are bloggers responsible to remove such comments, to make sure that such comments are not posted to begin with, or should the inherent libertarian nature of the Internet dictate that such posts be left posted in the hopes that such trolls will be openly shown to be the idiots that they are as other bloggers respond or refuse to respond to them.

I must confess that it annoys me when I get a particularly nasty comment posted on this blog. It doesn't happen often and my first instinctive reaction is to want to delete it. But I think that says something about me that I hate to admit. I am, admittedly, a little thin-skinned and it would make life easier for me to make such negative comments impossible by either moderating the comments or eliminating the comments section altogether (which some have done). But it seems to me that as a blogger committed to freedom of expression (especially religious expression) it would be inconsistent for me to silence even the trolls. I am not saying that I would not remove comments that are completely irrelevant or spam. I have had a few folks think that this blog was a good place to try to raise funds or sell stuff. That is different and such "comments" will always be dealt with swiftly, as I consign them to Internet purgatory. In fact, such postings bug me far more than the ones that tell me that I am completely wrong and question my parentage. But to ban comments or to only allow comments that are positive and civil is censorious in my opinion. We need to remember that blogging about things that matter like persecution and human rights is not for the faint of heart or the thin of skin.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Glenn Schwartz Releases Book on Dependency

One of the most significant changes that The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada has gone through in the past decade has been our commitment to deliberately seeking not to create dependency on outside (usually western) aid amoung our persecuted brothers and sisters. This has impacted what kinds of programs that we have initiated and caused us to shut down others. It has made some of our partners upset and built up our reputation amoung others. More importantly, it has helped us to assist our brothers and sisters far more effectively as we have sought to adopt a "long-term" approach to ministry as we ask questions like, "What impact will this program have on the church 10 years from now?"

One of the men whose writings and research influenced this change here at VOMC was World Mission Associates founder and Executive Director, Glenn Schwartz. Glenn served as a missionary in Africa in the 1960s and later as an administrator in the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary. WMA was begun in 1983 in support of his ministry to church and mission leaders primarily to East, Central and Southern Africa. Soon the emphasis of the ministry became sustainability in the Christian movement with particular reference to issues of dependency and self-reliance among mission-established churches. Over the years, he has written a number of articles on the subject of dependency which I have found very helpful, especially when VOMC was wrestling with this issue in the late 1990's. I was fortunate enough to have met him three years ago at a conference and since then, we have kept in contact.

About a year ago Glenn mentioned to me that he was considering publishing a book on the subject of dependency from a missions perspective, as there is no such book presently available that I am aware of. I encouraged him to do so, as I believe that such a book is desperately needed. Later I received a prepublication version to preview and I knew that this would be a valuable and unique resource.

I was delighted to find out last week from the WMA website that Glenn's book has been completed and is now available. I have ordered three copies for myself and two of our staff already. Entitled "When Charity Destroys Dignity" the book's stated purpose is to assist the reader to "avoid or overcome unhealthy practices in cross-cultural missions."

According to the WMA website, the book contains "a description of the dependency syndrome, its historical development and how to overcome it. Though unhealthy dependency is widespread, the basic premise of this book is that it does not need to be considered an incurable illness. The reader will be introduced to churches that were once victims of unhealthy dependency but learned how to overcome it. There are many practical illustrations and suggestions for those in Christian service who face the challenge of avoiding or overcoming unhealthy dependency."

If you or your church is involved in financially partnering with churches, missions or ministries that work in the developing world, I would urge you to purchase a copy of this book from WMA. I am expecting that in the next few months that we will also make it available here at VOMC. But don't wait for that. Contact WMA today and get a copy of "When Charity Destroys Dignity."

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Training Up the Next Generation

It would be easy to think that persecution is simply an adult subject; one that we should shield our children from. But as I and the rest of the VOMC team travel and minister to persecuted Christians around the world, it often strikes us how children are a vital part of the Persecuted Church. We regularly run into children who must pay a high price to follow Christ. They are beaten, taken from their parents, starved, orphaned, or discriminated against. This is the reality of the world that we live in and we do our children here in the West no great favour by pretending that it is not. They need to know too that following Jesus is rarely easy.

This is why we at the mission have recently taken greater efforts to make more resources available that would appeal to children and which parents can use to train their children to be bold followers of Jesus. Hence, we have added several new books and videos recently to our online catalogue for children and we are going to add several more in the next week or so. Floyd Brobbel, our Chief Operations Officer, is presently in the middle of a tour to home school conferences across Canada promoting our Bold Believers resources, especially our free quarterly Bold Believers Magazine. You can subscribe for this unique resource online.

I am convinced that exposing our children to the Persecuted Church early in life will not only sensitize them to the reality of what our brothers and sisters are going through but help them to walk more faithfully with the Lord as they grow up. It will provide role models of faith that they can imitate.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Resurrection Power

In Colossians 1:24-29, the apostle Paul writes:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

Later in chapter 2:12, the apostle identifies this "powerful working" as the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. As Paul ministers and is persecuted, God provides the strength he needs to endure and to continue. And this strength is the same power that raised Christ from the dead. It is assured to those who fulfill Christ's sufferings. This is a source of tremendous encouragement to God's people and should remove some of the anxiety that comes in the face of persecution. "Can I endure? Am I strong enough? Is my faith sufficient?"

This is the secret why God's people are able to endure persecution and remain faithful to the Lord. It is not that they are heroes. They are those who receive resurrection power from the Lord during their time of need. The question is not one's own strength but the One who strengthens.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Cross of Christ, The Cross of the Believer

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24).

As we examine this passage, the key question that stands before us is what, exactly, is the cross that the follower of Jesus is called to carry? In the plan of God what does the cross of the believer accomplish? We know what the cross of Christ achieved; the propitiation of our sins. What do our crosses accomplish, however, in the plan of God? Note that Jesus does not call us to carry His cross. He calls us to bend over and pick up our own cross and follow Him. But shouldn't we know the meaning of our own cross?

It is worth noting is that Jesus' call here is not simply an exhortation for the disciple to be willing to die by crucifixion. Cross-bearing is held up as being indicative of the level of life-commitment that will be necessary to be a follower of Jesus in the first place.

Every first century person knew what a cross was; a Roman instrument of torture and execution for convicted criminals. Unfortunately, I suspect the sense that the early church had of this saying is largely lost on us today. The "cross" of the believer has been trivialized into meaning pretty much anything that is unpleasant.

But this is not the meaning that Jesus had when He said these words! The "cross" is not ordinary human troubles and sorrows such as disappointments, disease, death, poverty and the like. Nor on the other hand, is the phrase "taking up the cross" to be completely spiritualized, like too many have done. Having never had to suffer persecution, we take the phrase and give it some mystical, existential meaning that is totally removed from the reality of first century Christianity (and that faced by persecuted Christians around the world. Such examples of this would be referring to carrying the cross as "dying to self", "self-denial," or "giving everything to God," as important as these concepts are. The important thing for us to understand in this study is, what did Jesus mean and how would the disciples have understood it?

We need to note that in the context of this passage, Jesus declared that, in order to accomplish the purposes of God, He would need to go to Jerusalem and die. Finding that the disciples (Peter in particular) resisted that concept, Jesus turned to them and said that this is how God's purposes will be accomplished through them as well.

If they are going to follow Him, Jesus told them, the disciples must deny themselves, renouncing their right to life, take up their cross and follow Him on the same path to death. They must be prepared every day to face death in their allegiance to their Master and after His example. Even more that that, they throw themselves into the purposes of God to such an extent that sacrifice at any level becomes the accepted norm. This is the kind of serious commitment that all disciples are called to. This is what you and I are called to; a readiness to face whatever consequences and costs that there may be to following Jesus. This is the criterion for following Jesus in the first place.

We need to take Jesus' words very literally. The demand of Jesus is to tread the path of martyrdom. He was about to send His disciples out a sheep among wolves into a hostile world and He had already told them that they would likely die in the process of carrying out their ministry.

In order to build His Church (16:18), His death was necessary. He points this out in 16:21. This is the foundation. Without Christ's death there is no redeemed community. But just as Christ's cross was needed to establish His church, our crosses are needed to build His church. In order to accomplish Jesus' plan to build His Church, both crosses are needed. Perhaps it can be best stated as Christ's cross was for propitiation; our cross is for propagation.

Christ's cross gives us the message that He has redeemed us and offers new life to all that trust in Him. Our cross is necessary if we are to take this message out into a hostile world that rejects Him and His message. But by our deaths, the message is spread. This is the cause for which Jesus calls us to suffer and sacrifice ourselves for. This is the meaning of the cross of the disciple.

It is sometimes suggested that it might be good for Canadian Christians to face some sort of persecution. I agree. But for this to become a reality, we need to be more involved in sharing the gospel with those around us. If more Canadian Christians were actively witnessing to the life-changing power of God through the cross of Jesus Christ, the reality of carrying our own cross would undoubtedly be more real to us. In that light, let me encourage you to purchase Mark Cahill's book, One Thing You Can't Do in Heaven (available for order online). I know of no other book that has so motivated me to witness to those around me as I am reminded to carry my cross to bring life to others.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Why Do Most Chinese Christians Refuse to Register Their Churches?

As I have been working on the upcoming May edition of The Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter with its focus on the church in China, I have had the opportunity to pore through a number of new resources that we will be making available next month to our readers for the very first time. As a result, I have had the opportunity to learn more about the church there. This is not to say that I can claim to understand the church in China as well as I would like. I have certainly learned that to make blanket, all-encompassing statements about the state of religious freedom in China is treacherous. Whatever one says is true somewhere in China. But it is obvious that the persecution facing Christians in today's China is quite different than even a few years ago. Unquestionably, the situation has improved significantly in many places. In others, church leaders continue to be imprisoned, meetings are disrupted and church buildings are destroyed. Regardless, Chinese church life continues to be represented in two forms; churches that are recognized by the government - these generally belong to the Three Self Patriotic Movement and are legally "registered" - and the house churches which do not submit to government regulations and restrictions.

It would be unfair to say that all registered churches in China are apostate and that those who worship in TSPM churches are not true believers. It would also be unfair to say that the house church is pure and good in its entirety.

So, why do most Chinese Christians refuse to register with the government? It is important to note that to register your congregation in China is not the same as registering in Canada in order to issue tax receipts. To register in China is to ask the Chinese government for the right to exist. This is to grant the government a right that no human institution possesses. The right to worship is given by God and no one can grant this permission or take it away.

Also, registered churches in China generally must accept the following restrictions:

  1. They can only meet at designated times, in designated places, with designated leadership. Ministries like home Bible studies done outside of the church building and regular worship times are often severely restricted.

  2. The teaching of children and youth under the age of 18 in the church is generally prohibited. Sunday school and youth programs are quite rare.

  3. It is illegal to evangelize outside the walls of the church.

  4. It is illegal to use or possess Christian literature not published in China and approved by the Chinese government.

  5. The Chinese government has a say in who is selected to serve as pastors and leaders. The problem tends to be more pronounced the higher one goes up the TSPM ladder and in urban areas
Most Christians in China believe that to submit to these restrictions would be tantamount to giving to Caesar that which only belongs to God and hence, they refuse to register their congregations. We at The Voice of the Martyrs support them in this conviction.

If you are not receiving our monthly newsletter, may I encourage you to sign up for a free subscription today? There is no other magazine in Canada that will introduce you to the Persecuted Church in China and elsewhere in quite the same way.

Friday, April 06, 2007

My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

For many perhaps no more astonishing words have ever been cried than when Jesus cried out on the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" - a cry expressing the profound sense of divine forsakenness that the psalmist felt in Psalm 22. Yet, by praying, it seems to me that Jesus shows that He knows He is not truly or finally abandoned by God. He knows, however, that His Father will not intervene in His behalf to either save Him or alleviate His suffering. As He did in the Garden, Jesus struggles on the cross with the temptation of turning from the path to which God has predestined Him in order to accomplish His purposes.

Deserted by His disciples, forsaken by the fickle crowds, Jesus suffers alone. When Simon of Cyrene carried Jesus' cross, he did not do so out of pity but because he was forced to. The soldiers care nothing for their victim, except that He has a nice garment that they claim as booty. He is taunted and ridiculed by commoner and priest alike (Mark 15:29-32).

But it is the horror of His Father's nonintervention that causes Jesus to cry out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" The sinless Son of God becomes a curse for us, as the falling darkness poignantly demonstrates, just as it did when the curse of God rested on the land of Egypt during the first Passover (Exodus 10:21,22; Mark 15:33). The cup does not pass from Him. God's will must be accomplished. Jesus knows this. And as He cried out the words of Psalm 22:1, He would have known that just as the psalm begins in apparent defeat, it ends in triumph.

In Psalm 22:22 we read, "I will tell of your name to my brothers' in the midst of the congregation I will praise." Because of the suffering that He endured (as seen in Psalm 22), the author of Hebrews 2:12 quotes these words to remind his readers that Jesus has been crowned with glory that is to be shared with all (2:9), specifically those whom He is not ashamed to call brothers (2:11). And since He Himself remained faithful in the midst of suffering for the purposes of God, He is able to assist in their time of persecution (2: 14-18). The purposes of God continue to require those who go out crying, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" and who remain faithful, knowing that Psalm 22:1 is not the end of the story.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Responding to Sacrilege

How are we to respond to insults and sacrilege against Jesus? As I consider a couple of incidents that have taken place lately, I confess to having mixed feelings about how my fellow Christians are responding.

Let's consider, first of all, the so-called "chocolate Jesus" a controversial naked statue of Jesus by Canadian-born artist Cosimo Cavallaro made entirely of milk chocolate. A planned exhibition in New York was canceled last Friday amid a choir of complaining. Cardinal Edward Egan called it "a sickening display." Bill Donohue, head of the watchdog Catholic League, said it was "one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever." The hotel and the gallery where the display was held apparently were overrun with angry phone calls and e-mails, including death threats against the artist. Some stated that if they had been Muslims and this statue has been of Mohammed, they would have beheaded him.

The second incident took place on March 29 in Sheikhupura, Pakistan, when a Christian pastor discovered that a Muslim cloth retailer named Munawer Tariq Doger was selling cloth printed with pictures of Jesus Christ and scenes of the crucifixion. Muslims were apparently buying the cloth for bed sheets, pillows and sofa covers. Stung by the fact that Christians are so easy charged with blasphemy against Mohammed in Pakistan while Christians cannot easily bring such charges against Muslims, some local church leaders decided that this was their opportunity to turn the tables. They lodged a legal complaint against the shopkeeper, claiming that their religious feelings were hurt "by selling the cloth containing pictures of our savior Jesus Christ for the use of bed sheet and other use. That our hearts are broken. So legal action be made against Munawer Tariq Doger so that requirements of justice can be fulfilled."

The shopkeeper was subsequently arrested but under pressure from the police station house officer, the complainants finally changed the nature of their legal application when they realized that they might not be allowed to charge the man. The shopkeeper swore that he would never sell this cloth again and the complaint was reissued against the manufacturer of the cloth who is expected to be arrested and charged. The fact is, this case is being brought forward more to make a point about the blasphemy laws of Pakistan than because of offense over sacrilege.

What bothers me about both of these cases is the fact that, in my opinion, they do not seem to reflect very well the attitude that Peter refers to in 1 Peter 2:21-23: "For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly."

As I look at how we are called to respond to insults and injury because of our identity in Christ, threats and acts of retaliatory justice do not seem to find much biblical support. In the same way, defending the honour of Christ in a fashion similar to how our persecutors defend the honour of their prophets and deities does not seem, to me, to be the way of Christ, the way of the Cross.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Persecution.TV Relaunched and Revised

As of this week, The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada has finished our complete revision of the Internet's only multimedia website exclusively dedicated to letting the world hear the voice of persecuted Christians. Persecution.TV was originally launched in 2004 as a subscriber-based website. At the time, video was new to the Internet and most access was restricted in this way. As high-speed access has become more available and widely used, video has become a mainstay of the Internet and so we felt that it was time to remove the "gates" from our website and make it more accessible. We have also changed the video format from .wmv files to Flash, which allows faster downloads with higher quality pictures and sounds.

The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada is committed to being Canada's effective and reliable source of information and support of persecuted Christians around the world and the Internet is a vital part of that. This revitalization of Persecution.TV signals that we are dedicated to serving the Christian community creatively and with excellence. This site features the latest technologies in videos, webcasts, audio features and podcasts. I am very proud of the quality of work that our staff has put into this and encourage you to visit this vital website at your earliest convenience.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Missionary Threatened and Told to Stop Her Ministry in Honduras

In the evening of Monday, March 26, American missionary Teresa Searcy, members of a visiting medical team, and local believers were terrorized by members of the Honduran police intent on intimidating them because of their ministry among local gangs. After dropping off Teresa and her team off at the home of a young man who was unable to go to the hospital for surgery, their young driver was surrounded by police two blocks later, tied up and threatened to be shot if he did not tell them where the American missionary was. When he refused to cooperate, they threatened to plant a "dirty gun" on him that would incriminate him in a crime. Police then proceeded to fire their weapons at the surrounding homes and went house to house, asking the occupants, "Are you a Christian?" If the answer was "Yes" they tore up the house and held guns to the heads of the residents as they searched for Ms. Searcy. Some of the occupants claim to have been robbed during the searches.

When the police finally came to the home where the team was, Searcy was interrogated and threatened with arrest but refused to be intimated by their illegal activities. Finally, after making several calls, the police left and the foreign missionaries and driver were released.

Ms. Searcy claims that she has been repeatedly threatened over the past six years with violence by Honduran police because of her ministry. She brings medical teams from the USA to perform surgeries on the poor and works with the 18th Street Gang in particular, and has Bible studies for them. She has also started a bakery, an iron shop and a wood shop inside the Tamara Prison to help gang members learn skills in order to be able to make money in the future. The government has no money for a rehabilitation program for prisoners even though they are required to provide one. This calling has placed her in harm's way with the Honduran police. They have publicly accused her of funding the gangs because of her work with them.

On March 30, Searcy visited the Minister of Public Security of Honduras, Alvaro Romero, but was met with indifference. He told her that he will be reporting to the US embassy that they will arrest Searcy if she is caught helping the gang outside of the prison. For Searcy that means bringing healing to gang members who are sick, giving food to those who are hungry, and providing spiritual counseling.

The Voice of the Martyrs believes that this kind of harassment is not only unwarranted but illegal. We ask that you write to the Minister of Public Security expressing concern over the Honduran police's harassment of Teresa Searcy and urging him to instruct local authorities that she be allowed to continue her ministry both inside and outside of the prison unhindered. Remind him that her activities are based on her beliefs as a follower of Jesus Christ who was also a friend to sinners and the poor.

Please write the Minister as soon as possible at:

Alvaro Romero
Minister of Public Security, Ministry of Public Security
Edificio Pujol, 4to. Piso, Col. Palmira (Blvd. Morazan), Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Fax : +504 220 4352

Salutation: Dear Minister/Estimado Señor Secretario

Monday, April 02, 2007

More Persecution News Now Available on Persecution.Net

Starting today, The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada will be picking out the top 4-5 stories concerning Christian persecution from the many that we receive each day and providing news links for those who visit our website or subscribe to this new RSS feed. You can find the icon for this new service on the front page of our main website This new service is not intended to take the place of our weekly email news service, The Persecution and Prayer Alert, but to enable us to continue to provide the most up-to-date and thorough coverage of persecution possible. Every week we also face the difficult choice of deciding which stories to include in The Persecution and Prayer Alert and which to leave out. By providing these daily links, we hope that this choice will be less of a challenge, as our readers will be able to read some stories that, while important, we cannot cover in the our weekly email news service due to space or priority considerations. Of course, there will be some overlap of stories from week to week. But the coverage in The Persecution and Prayer Alert will continue to focus on more than just the facts but also on what you can do with the information that you receive. It will also reflect the further research that we have done that will insure that the story you receive in The Persecution and Prayer Alert is as accurate as we can make it. The stories in The Persecution and Prayer Alert will reflect VOMC's position of issues; the daily links may not. In fact, The Voice of the Martyrs does not necessarily endorse the sources or guarantee the absolute accuracy of all of the content contained on the websites that we will link on our daily links RSS feed. Of course, we will only link to sources that we feel fairly comfortable with sending you to (there are organizations whom we would NOT send you to as they tend to be a little "evangelastic" with the facts).

You may be interested to know that to assist us in the task of providing you with the best possible service, our team is also working on a set of criteria that will help us to decide which stories to cover. Our goal remains the same; to glorify God by being Canada's effective and reliable source of information and support of persecuted Christians around the world. We hope that these decisions will help us to do this even better. We hope you agree.