Wednesday, December 31, 2008

So what are you reading in December?

This month, I have had the privilege of reading three rather interesting books:

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer. Published in 1960, this book was the first historical study of Nazi Germany in English. The book was criticized by some academics, primarily for his assertion that Nazism was a natural result of a process that began with Martin Luther in developing the German character rather than being just one of several expression of totalitarianism that were prevalent in the 20th century (e.g. Franco’s Spain, Mussolini’s Italy, Japan, Stalinist communism, et al). Such a criticism is valid, in my opinion. But having read this book twice, I still find the book an insightful and thorough study. In particular, it is a poignant reminder that Hitler did not seize power in Germany illegitimately. Rather, he was able to manipulate his way into power, even as a minority party, constitutionally (albeit with the threat of violence lingering in the background, though it is worth remembering that the Nazis were not the only party with paramilitary troops at the time). I could not help but think of this during the recent political crisis here in Canada, as the opposition parties claimed constitutional grounds for seeking to overthrow the elected government. I am not comparing the Liberals, NDPs or PQs with the National Socialists, of course, but the thought did come to mind that both Lenin and Hitler came to power constitutionally as leaders of minority parties. Just because something is legal, it does not make it ethical or right.

state The State in the New Testament by Oscar Cullman. Almost every biblical and theological study on the State and its relationship to the Christian refers to this text by Cullman. It is a concise and convincing study. Most noteworthy is his observation that Jesus was often called upon to make a clear distinction between His view of the kingdom of God and the political view of the Zealots. He also spends a great deal of time expounding on what Jesus meant when He said to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and the call to give Caesar nothing that belongs to God. The State has the right to claim what is necessary for its existence (i.e. taxes) but the State must not be given more than that (cf. page 33). Cullman writes “If the State demands that belongs to God, if ever it hinders you in the proclamation of the Kingdom of God, then resist it.”

If church and state relationships interest you in any way, you would do well to pick this little book up.

Human Rights: A Christian Primer by Thomas K. Johnson. This little book is the first in a series of books in the recently started WEA Global Issues series. Johnson’s text is a good start. It is, as the title suggested, a primer on a Christian view of human rights. This is a study close to my own heart, as an activist working with and on behalf of persecuted Christians around the world. When I began my own study on the subject several years ago, I found very little written on the subject. This scarcity of resources has been remedied to some degree in recent years, but Johnson’s book fills a particular niche of being a primer or an introduction, while also dealing with the subject really quite thoroughly.

Rightly grounding the basis of human rights on, the fact that all humans are created in the image of God, Johnson does a particularly good study on what exactly rights are and what they are not. His chapter on “Rights, Religions, and Ideologies” was, I believe, the strongest part of the study. He carefully notes how only a Christian world view of humanity (both fallen and created in the divine image) provides an adequate basis for defending the dignity of human life. What I think would strengthen this primer even more, however, would be further development on the implications of being created in the image of the Triune God for human rights. This is something that I have studied at length in my own biblical theology of persecution and believe that this is an aspect of the study that is often lacking in other studies.

All in all, I would say that this is the best study on the subject that I have yet read and highly recommend it, especially to university or college students. I look forward to reading it again in a few months as I continue rewriting my theological study on persecution.

(Note: VOMC will soon be offering this book on out online book catalog, but you can also download it for free as a pdf from the IIRF site. Click here)

Latest update on David and Fiona Fulton

clip_image001The following is the latest update on the Fultons, as released by their own church in the United Kingdom:

On Saturday 29th November Dave and Fiona were arrested for sedition (undermining the authority of the government). They have since been held separately, Dave in the high security Mile Two prison in solitary confinement and Fiona in the police station initially with two year old Elizabeth but who is now in the care of friends. 

They were formally charged with the offence in court on 4th December and remain imprisoned as a result because of the difficult bail conditions. They appeared in court again on Wednesday 24th December when they pleaded guilty to the charge of sedition and were sentenced on 30th December to one years imprisonment with hard labour and a fine of about £6250 in sterling.

We are shocked and saddened by the severity of the sentence and are doing whatever we can to seek their release. Please pray concerning an appeal against this sentence.

We at The Voice of the Martyrs protest both the arrest and the severe sentencing of this couple.  According to their pastor, Martin Speed, of Westhoughton Pentecostal Church in Bolton, the couple were advised to admit the sedition charge in the hope that the judge might show leniency.  According to the Telegraph, friends of the couple who have been receiving regular email updates claim that they have never made any such remarks. "They are supposed to have sent an email out causing hatred against the government out there but I don't believe they have," said Karen Hill, one of their supporters. "I have had emails for the last 10 years from them and I've never had a bad one, they never said anything bad against the government. (It was) just about their work, what they do out there and how much they enjoy it, please pray for people - things like that, nothing untoward."

Continue to pray for their release. Please pray for their children Iona, Luke and adopted baby Elizabeth.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Echoing their brave delight

Angels we have heard on high/singing sweetly through the night,/and the mountains in reply/echoing their brave delight.

This verse of the classic Christmas carol “Angels we have heard on high” struck me in a new way as I sang it along with fellow church members on Christmas Eve. As I sung the last line, I thought of some of persecuted believers I’ve seen or heard about this year and realized that was exactly the phrase I’d use to describe what I saw in them. Suddenly this literal image of song breaking back and forth across the mountains became something else entirely: a reminder of what can be learned from the joyfulness demonstrated by so many suffering believers.

Right now the phrase brings to mind the many imprisoned Christians that proclaim their steadfast trust in God’s grace and goodness even as they languish in chains. I also see the smiling face of Richard Wurmbrand as he recounts the incredible tortures and trials he faced while detained for his faith ("You wonder why I smile" is a powerful film about Wurmbrand's testimony included in a DVD currently available through VOMC). And I think also of a group of Christians mentioned in the feature article of our upcoming newsletter, who shouted praises of “Hallelujah!” even as militants viciously attacked their church in Orissa, India. What bold joy indeed!

Scripture is filled with our Lord delighting in the love and obedience of His children (one needs only to look in a Bible concordance to see how the very word “delight” permeates His word). To take such special pleasure in faithfulness is yet another way for us to walk in His example. So let all of us, as followers of Christ, live with the same sense of gladness we see at work in members of the Suffering Church. Let us echo their brave delight.

Tough times require tough faith

distress This is more than a slogan, even though you will likely be seeing it more throughout 2009 from The Voice of the Martyrs.  I know from personal experience just how valuable it is to fellowship with persecuted Christians during the storms of life.  Many of you know of my struggle over the past six years with chronic lymphocytic leukemia.  While the path of following Christ through these years has not been without its bumps in the road, I can honestly say that had it not been for the testimonies of God's faithfulness to His people around the world, I am rather certain that I would have struggled more with trusting God than I have. This is not to say that I am such a man of faith.  Au contraire mon frere.  It is evidence of God's grace; that He is able to keep me to Himself in the midst of an unchanging situation.  And His instrument of grace has been the witness of His persecuted church around the world and especially in Ethiopia.

This is why I am not the least bit embarrassed to suggest that in these difficult times that so many of us are going through that this is time to saturate ourselves with the message that we proclaim in our monthly newsletter.  Not so that we won't feel so bad about our situation when we realize that others have it worse.  No!  A thousand times no!  We need to discover how persecuted Christians around the world are standing firm in the midst of their storm so that we can imitate their faith (see Hebrews 13:7; 1 Peter 5:9).

As you read their testimonies, yes, you will be moved to pray and challenged to action as we provide practical ways to reach out in love.  But you will also learn how to be how to be a cross-carrying disciple of Jesus Christ in your world as you trust the Lord in your situation. 

So, if you are not receiving our free monthly newsletter, I encourage you to give it a "test drive."  See if it doesn't change your life. Click here to request your copy.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Theology of Persecution weblog launched

scribe For several years, The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada has been committed to the research and teaching of the what the Bible teaches about persecution to Christians around the world.  It is well recognized by those who work among persecuted Christians that few attempts have been made to develop a biblical theology of persecution. Most attempts consist of selected texts arranged thematically which, while helpful and better than nothing at all, fail to reveal the extent to which suffering for righteousness is addressed in the biblical text. Much of the problem, it seems to me, comes down to a failure to adequately consider many of the scriptural passages on suffering in their context. For example, it is rarely recognized that the New Testament authors are not overly concerned to answer the question of suffering in general (i.e., suffering due to living in a fallen world). That such suffering occurs is recognized but most of the New Testament passages that address suffering do so in the context of suffering for righteousness and not because of sin or because one lives in a fallen world. But in many of the classic books on suffering, this type of suffering is hardly ever stressed.

Today, VOMC officially launched a new one-of-a-kind weblog ( dedicated to publishing and promoting articles and research on this vital subject. Students, teachers, pastors and other church leaders (especially those in religiously restricted or hostile nations) should find this site particularly helpful in their study and teaching of God's Word. The commitment of this site is not theological innovation or personal application as much as it is to determine, discuss, and communicate the original context and meaning of the biblical text.

We have already posted a number of articles for you to study.  So surf on over. We invite your comments, questions, and submissions.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A peaceful but sombre Christmas for Christians in Kandhamal.

Despite concerns that Christmas in the Kandhamal district of Orissa, India would be marred with the anti-Christian violence that has been a hallmark of the area since late August, Christmas passed quietly, though sombrely.  Midnight services took place in at least 60 churches in the district and while there were reports of a few roadblocks being set up, they were reportedly taken down quickly by police. Authorities had promised increased security for Christian worshippers in order to avoid a repeat of the violence that took place a year ago in Orissa and a resurgence of the attacks that have become commonplace in recent months. More than 5,000 security men were deployed and a helicopter was used for surveillance.

Since the attacks started in August, the majority of Christians in Kandhamal have either fled the region or are living in squalid refugee camps with virtually nothing.  Believers also wanted to make sure not to incite their Hindu neighbours. Christmas celebrations, hence, were much more subdued than what is normal. 

We thank God that Christmas passed peacefully for believers in Kandhamal and that authorities took their responsibilities to protect their citizens seriously. We are also grateful that there seem to have not been any significant attacks of believers in either Pakistan or Indonesia, two other countries we were monitoring more closely this year. Please pray for Christians in China's Anhui province, Henan province and Xinjiang Autonomous Region where ChinaAid reports authorities launched a series of raids on house churches during the week leading up to Christmas. On Christmas Eve in Henan province, nine Christian women were arrested during a nativity play and are still being held by police.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas from The Voice of the Martyrs

Praying for persecuted children

sl This holiday season I have been thinking particularly of all of the children throughout the world affected by Christian persecution. Partly, perhaps, this has to do with images of children associated with the season—children smiling as they open long-anticipated gifts, sing favourite carols or decorate the tree. I know, however, that this focus mostly has to do with my recent trip to Sri Lanka, where I was privileged to be able to participate in a camp for persecuted children that VOMC helps make possible (through donations to our Families of Martyrs Fund). Here I saw smiles of all kinds as the children learned, worshiped and played together. It was clear that these children connected with each other and learned more about serving their Lord. The pain of being ostracized by classmates, the worry that harm will come to parents preaching Christ—such are the burdens of these young believers. But when they are able to meet with others facing the same hardships, they are reminded that they are not alone. I look forward to sharing more about this special project in one of our upcoming newsletters.

There’s no way we can know the names or hear the testimonies of all of the children around the world going through such trials. Although it may seem like a hackneyed image of silent sorrow, I can’t help put picture some of these believers crying into their pillows. I can see them stressing late into the night about how they might be harassed at school or waiting for a parent out for a pastor's visit to return home.

But even if we don’t know all of their names, such children don’t have to slip off the periphery of our prayers. So as we head into the holidays, please join me in praying for children affected by persecuted—both those whose stories have been heard and those whose testimonies are not well known. Pray for those who...

...have lost parents in anti-Christian violence, such as those left fatherless or motherless by the ongoing attacks in Orissa state, India.

…are caught up in legal battles related to anti-Christian opposition, such as the 3-year-old Egyptian girl who is separated from her Christian mother because of a custody fight with her Muslim father.

…are facing ridicule, intimidation, or even violence from classmates, teachers or others for their faith in Christ.

…must deal with the emotional scars and challenges created by the sexual assault they suffered because of their Christian identity, such as the pastor’s daughter who was gang-raped by Muslims in Bangladesh in May.

…are without such necessities as proper food or good clothing (let alone Christmas gifts) because, as members of the Christian minority, their families are among the poorest in the country.

May these young ones and their parents take comfort in the Lord’s sovereign care, both in this time of Christmas celebration and as they serve Him in their daily lives.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

All is not calm for Christians in Orissa this Christmas

The withdrawal of the protest called by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) on Christmas Day has come as a relief to many Christians across the Indian state of Orissa. But many, especially those who have been victims of attacks in Kandhamal district, are frightened to celebrate Christmas this year. District authorities have asked churches in Kandhamal to avoid holding midnight services.  The following is a report from IBN, an Indian television network.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas: Faith, Hope and the Christ-Child

Every year at Christmas time, I look forward to what Elizabeth Kendal is going to write for the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin of the World Evangelical Alliance (of which The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada is an associate member).  My anticipation was rewarded with another insightful article that, once again, makes me say to myself, "Why didn't I think of that!"  Here is Elizabeth's offering for Christmas 2008. I hope you find it as insightful as I did.



While the incarnation and the cross are stumbling blocks and folly to many, to those with faith they confirm some of God's great truths:

1. God's ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8,9).

2. Something awesome and magnificent, like the Kingdom of God, can emanate from something small and insignificant, like a mustard seed (Matthew 13:31,32).

3. God chooses what is foolish, weak and despised in the world to shame that which is considered wise, strong and lofty, so that the one who boasts should boast only in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:18-31).

These are very important truths for anyone at any time. But to a humble believer facing overwhelming odds, they can be a lifeline to hope.

The decline of Islam from the late 17th Century until the 1970s, along with the rise of the 'Christian' West through the reformation, renaissance, industrial revolution and two world wars, followed by the failure of Communism in the 1980s, resulted in what many described as a 'new world order'. For a short stretch of time approximately from 1985 to 2005 global religious liberty and security generally improved despite escalating Islamic terrorism and the persistence of civil wars and dictatorships. Well those days have most certainly ended now, having amounted to little more than a small blip on the timeline of history. Reformed and revived, intolerant and imperialistic Islam is back and the West's (primarily America's) economic leverage, which has for a decade now been used to promote and even advance religious liberty around the world, has evaporated. Sweet dreams of worldwide harmonious interaction and co-operation are being replaced with nightmares of violent and repressive ethnic and religious nationalism, globalised terror, imperialistic jihad, insecurity, poverty, uncertainty and injustice with impunity.

But those with faith are not without hope. Salvation did not come by means of a muscle-bound, Greek-style, wresting warrior-god. Our deliverer did not arrive in a majestic Roman chariot with legions on fine horses behind him. Satan was not defeated by physical or military might. God, in all his perfection and wisdom, secured our salvation and revealed his glory to the heavens and the earth through Jesus Christ: a baby in a manger in a stable; a Jewish carpenter in Roman-occupied Judea; a homeless, wandering preacher; a naked, battered and bloodied crucified man. It is no wonder that the gospel has been described as a 'great mystery'. And in these dark days, we should know that more often than not, God's ongoing work of sanctification is equally mysterious.

This Christmas, as we remember and celebrate the Christ-child, let us pray that all Christians everywhere may be inspired and filled with hope. May we all -- regardless of our circumstances -- look to, trust in, and cling to God, whose ways are mysterious, hidden and higher than ours.

-- Elizabeth Kendal

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Call to intercede on behalf of three Uyghur Christians in China

Alimujiang Yimiti Wusiman Yiming Lou Yuanqi

VOMC partner, ChinaAid issued an urgent call on Friday to the international press, government leaders and concerned individuals around the world to intercede on behalf of three Christian prisoners in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region: Alimujiang Yimiti, Wusiman Yiming and Lou Yuanqi.  ChinaAid has learned from an anonymous government insider who is sympathetic with the Christians that international pressure is critical now. The source says the Xinjiang Authority is deliberating in the next few days whether to release these three prisoners.

Alimujiang, Wusiman and Lou have been shown great injustice by the Xinjiang government in delayed trials, mistreatment in prison and blatant violation of legal rights.

Mr. Alimujiang Yimiti, a Christian from the Uyghur minority, has been in detention since January 12, 2008 for preaching Christianity. On May 27, his case was tried in court and the verdict was that it should be returned to the local Public Security Bureau (PSB) prosecutors because of “insufficient evidence” against him.  Sources report that Alimujiang is highly respected in the prison and is praised by people there. He insists on his innocence and adheres to his Christian beliefs. Yet, the local government in Kashi has not responded to inquiries and it appears the case is being delayed indefinitely.

ChinaAid contacts report that since Alimujiang’s imprisonment, his wife, Guli Nuer, has been taking care of their two young sons and negotiating with the relevant government agencies in the hope that the government will handle this case impartially, expediently and in accordance with the law. Alimujiang’s mother is also traveling and working hard for the release of her son. Guli told friends of ChinaAid that in this tribulation she has learned how to be joyful and brave and to take care of the people around her by depending on Jesus Christ. She says that she hopes her husband can be acquitted and released. Guli also wishes to thank all the people who are concerned about Alimujiang’s case.

Another Uyghur Christian, Wusiman Yiming was sentenced to two years of re-education through labour in September 2007 for “revealing state secrets” and “illegal proselytizing.” Sources say that the real reason he was sentenced was because of his boldness as a Christian and a leader in the Uyghur church. Initially, officials planned to sentence him to 10 to 15 years, but because of international media attention they sentenced him to two years in the labour camp. Sources report that he has aged dramatically in the labour camp and his health is deteriorating due to harsh conditions. When Wusiman’s lawyer appealed his sentence in June 2008, court authorities insisted on a closed hearing, then turned down the appeal and refused to give an explanation for their decision.  They also denied Wusiman proper access to his lawyer, which violated normal court procedure.

Lou Yuanqi stood trial on December 15, 2008 on charges of “utilizing superstition to undermine the law.” Sources say the real reason for the charge was to stop Lou’s house church from meeting  in his home. After Lou’s trial, his daughter Lou Tiantian, 18, was beaten by court police when she tried to speak with her father as he was being put into a police car. Lou Tiantian was taken to the hospital where she received medical treatment, then was released the same night. Judges have still not delivered a verdict on Pastor Lou’s case.

During Lou’s trial, the presiding judge acknowledged the persecution of Christians in Xinjiang. However, contacts reported that the judge stated, “If the Christians have more religious freedom in areas outside Xinjiang, they should consider leaving Xinjiang because Xinjiang is special.”

How often do you write?

It is common for us here at The Voice of the Martyrs to encourage our friends to write to and on behalf of those who are imprisoned for their faith.  This week, we encouraged you to write to David and Fiona Fulton, missionaries who are being detained unjustly in Gambia, West Africa.

In our day and age when sending an email or text messaging is the norm, actually writing a letter seems old fashioned and inconvenient.  But in the cause of advocacy and encouraging Christian prisoners, it still remains the most effective (and in some cases, the only) method of communicating your solidarity and concern for those who are in bonds for Christ's sake.

We have spent a lot of time in the past year, updating our guidelines on how to write to and on behalf of Christians in prison.  You will find links to them on our website.  I just updated a couple of the pages today.  This is an ongoing and important task for us here at The Voice of the Martyrs and we urge you to join us in this vital ministry. 

So take a look at our online advocacy resources, download our latest prisoner's list, Doing Time for God, and let know how often you write letters to Christian prisoners by responding to our poll below.

<a href="">How often do you write to or on behalf of Christian prisoners?</a> | <a href="">BuzzDash polls</a>

The terrible plight of Iraqi Christian refugees

iraq_refugees Thousands of Iraqi Christians have found threats like this under their front doors or stoops, in stairwells or shoved through their courtyard gates: “Be informed that we will cut your heads and leave your dead bodies with no organs and no heads in your stores and houses. We know your houses and we know your family. We will kill you one after the other. Depart the Muslim areas.”

Others have received text messages in Arabic like this one sent to a Christian family in Mosul earlier this month: “When your head is put over your back [an expression describing how sheep are slaughtered] then there is no chance to feel sorry for you. It will be too late. Allah is the supporter who gives swords to his warriors.”

Christians sometimes receive the threats while shopping in the market or repairing a carburetor. They are often personal and usually signed by “al-Mujahideen,” “al-Jihad,” “al-Tawheed company” or other militant groups, splinters of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Few ever identify who is behind the threats but all reach the same conclusion, as one recipient put it: “To stay is to be killed.”

As a result, over 2 million Iraqis—about 25 percent of them identified as Christians—have fled to neighboring countries, mostly Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. Judging from extensive conversations with Iraqis living in Jordan and Syria, few want to go home. While at least 40,000 Iraqis have been killed in fighting, random violence, and terrorism since the U.S. invasion in 2003, these refugees are the Iraq War’s living casualties—psychologically damaged from the prolonged terrorism, afraid of the next text message or the letter on the doormat and helpless before a fearful future.

To read the rest of this excellent article in the November 29/December 6, 2008 edition of WORLD Magazine, click here.  Then let us know your reaction to the plight of Iraq's Christian population by leaving a comment.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Update on David and Fiona Fulton

fultons This morning our good friends at Christian Solidarity Worldwide in the United Kingdom sent out an update on David and Fiona Fulton, the British missionaries in  Gambia who have been accused of writing letters to individuals and organizations abroad to "bring into hatred or contempt, to excite disaffection against the President of the Republic and the government of the Gambia."  The CSW report reads, in part:

As you are aware, Fiona was due to be transferred from a police cell to a prison where conditions could prove challenging, and had been separated from the couple’s baby daughter Elizabeth, who was being cared for by an elderly friend of the family. In addition, the couple was due to appear at a court hearing on Tuesday 16 December.

The relatively good news is that Fiona has been allowed to remain in a cell at Banjul Police Station, where conditions are significantly better than those she would have encountered in the prison.  However, she is reported to be “struggling psychologically”, and remains deeply affected by the continuing separation from Elizabeth who, thankfully, is still being cared for by the family friend.

Unfortunately, David remains in solitary confinement in a 5ft by 5ft cell where a bucket serves as a latrine.  He has not eaten since his incarceration on 4 December, and his visibly deteriorating physical condition at last Tuesday’s hearing, where he was described as “weak” and “going down hill”, is causing increasing concern,

At Tuesday’s hearing the trial was adjourned until 22 and 24 December, when the prosecution will present its case, along with several of its witnesses.  This will be the first time the Fultons or their lawyer learn the full nature of the evidence against them.  However, it remains unclear whether the couple’s lawyer will be obliged to mount a defence during the second of next week’s hearings, or whether, as has been suggested, the trial will be adjourned for a month in order to give the defence enough time to prepare its case.  Either option is problematic.  On the one hand it would be difficult to prepare an adequate defence in such a short timeframe.  On the other, a further adjournment would affect David’s declining physical condition adversely, even endangering his life. 

Please pray:

  • Give thanks that Elizabeth remains in safe hands, and that Fiona has not had to face the difficult prison conditions.
  • Continue to pray for David’s health and that God would comfort, encourage, strengthen and sustain him.  Also pray that He would strengthen, comfort and restore Fiona.
  • Pray that the case against the couple would be dismissed and that the family would soon be allowed to leave the country.
  • Pray for the Fulton’s children and extended family members who are in the UK, that God would draw close to them and strengthen them at this difficult time.
  • Pray for the Lord’s continued protection over those in the Gambia who are trying to assist the family, and for wisdom and success in ongoing advocacy efforts in the UK and in the Gambia on behalf of the family.
  • Finally continue to pray for finances to cover the costs of the trial.

Take action!

Please consider sending cards of encouragement to David and Fiona.  However, please refrain from commenting on the trial, charges or prison conditions, and take great care to avoid writing any remarks that could be construed as critical of or offensive to the president, government or people of The Gambia:

Mr David Fulton
Mile Two Prison
The Gambia

Mrs Fiona Fulton
Central Police Station
The Gambia

Please uphold this couple in your prayers and do take the time to send this dear couple a card to let them know that they are loved and prayed for during this difficult time.

Orissa widow: Christmas and the power of forgiveness

Kadamphul Nayak's husband, Pastor Samuel (52), was killed by Hindu militants in first few days of anti-Christian violence in Orissa, India. An Asianews report released today demonstrates how Christ is at work in this brave sister's heart even in these times of loss and trial. I encourage you to take a moment to read her words and to continue to remember and pray for her and other believers suffering for their faith in Orissa.

"This Christmas, Samuel will celebrate with Jesus, whom he loved so much. This Christmas I only ask Jesus that my husband's ministry - to spread the Gospel - will continue, that people will learn the Good News of our Savior, that people will learn to forgive and believe in His Name." There is no hatred or desire for revenge in the words of Kadamphul Nayak, 47, whose husband was killed by Hindu fundamentalists in the early days of anti-Christian violence in Orissa. "For me, it was a privilege to be his wife," the woman says, "and although we no longer have a home, the presence of Jesus in our hearts is a reason for comfort for us."

"Around 8:00 a.m. an armed mob of 500 Hinduvta extremists came to Bakingia village: they stormed the church, desecrated the church, looted valuables and burned it down. I told my husband to flee into the forest, but he refused, as his aged mother Janamati Nayak (75 years) was staying with us.

"The extremists, who were also carrying inflammables like gasoline and kerosene, came to our house, shouting Hindu chants. They dragged my husband outside and thrashed him severely, some of the men placed a knife and this throat and demanded that Samuel renounce Christ, which he refused to do. This angered the extremists, who then poured kerosene on my mother in-law and set her aflame. As she was burning, they repeated their demand to renounce Christ. One of them had tied me up with a knife to my throat also, but Samuel refused to embrace Hinduism. The extremists began slashing him on his neck, back and heels, they also slashed me on my stomach reaching up to my back. For the third time, they asked him to denounce Jesus, and in spite of the heavy bleeding and being in great pain, in a gasping low tone he said: 'For 25 years, I have been in the Gospel ministry, I have walked all over Orissa telling people that Jesus loves and Jesus saves, I will never abandon my Jesus'. This angered the extremists, who then slashed his throat, and shouted, 'Now let us see how your Jesus will save you'."

"The next day, I crept into some bushes and saw my husband's burnt body, exactly where they had killed him, but I was too afraid to go to him. His dead body was lying there for three days in Bakingia. On August 28 some extremists came andy took away the dead body and threw it away. Still today, I don't know where is my husband's dead body."

"Every year at Christmas, my husband used to dramatize the Christmas story through a live crib, with animals and shepherds and Mary and Joseph and the new baby. Though we have lost all worldly possessions, this new baby will be born to fill us with hope and a spirit of forgiveness. Here in this relief camp, we can understand the actual reality of the birth of Christ, in these tents, in the cold, in the precariousness."

Quebec's undermining of religious rights

ethique Seven high school students in Granby, Quebec, have been handed one-day suspensions in the past week because of their decision to boycott the mandatory Ethics and Religious Culture course on the grounds that it violates their freedom of conscience. They are likely to be expelled if they continue their actions. According to Barbara Kay in Wednesday's National Post,

The ERC curricula are mandated to introduce students to Quebec's rich diversity of religious tenets and "facilitate the spiritual development of students so as to promote self-fulfilment." Since when does the state "facilitate" spiritual self-fulfilment? To parents who take religion seriously, this is a chilling intrusion into what all democratically inspired charters of rights designate as a parental realm of authority.

ERC was adopted by virtual fiat, its mission to instill "normative pluralism" in students. "Normative pluralism" is gussied-up moral relativism, the ideology asserting there is no absolute right or wrong and that there are as many "truths" as there are whims. There were no public consultations.

The program is predicated on the worst possible educational model for young children: the philosopher Hegel's "pedagogy of conflict." As one of the founders of the ECR course, put it, students "must learn to shake up a too-solid identity" and experience "divergence and dissonance" through "le questionnement"....

Reading ERC manuals and activity books, one finds a superficial mishmash of trendy theoretical platitudes whose cumulative effect will be to convince children that belief is fungible, and that all religions -- including pagan animism and cults -- are equally "true." The curriculum is strewn with politically correct material that openly subverts Judeo-Christian values. In many of the manuals, ideology and religion are conflated. Social engineering is revealed as the heart of the ECR program; in the most recently published activity book, for example, Christianity is given 12 pages, feminism gets 27 pages....

Paganism and cults are offered equal status with Christianity. Witches "are women like any other in daily life;" "Technologically [the Raelians] are 25,000 years in advance of us." And considering that of the 80,000 ethnic aboriginals in Quebec only 700 self-identify with aboriginal spirituality (the vast majority of ethnic aboriginals are Christian), aboriginal spirituality (falsely equated with environmentalism) is accorded hugely disproportionate space and reverence.

In this ERC monoculture, only similarities between religions are permitted, to further the jolly illusion that all religions are merely variations on a single theme of brotherly love.

We, at The Voice of the Martyrs, applaud the actions of these students. We are encouraged to hear the words of 16-year-old evangelical student Jonathan Gagné to his mother, "Mom, I am still standing, and I'm going to keep standing and fight this to the end." We believe that the state has no right to mandate religious education, force students to learn the content of other religious and to deliberately seek to undermine the religious convictions of those who refuse to accept a relativistic view of truth. It is the right and responsibility of parents to train their own children according to their own religious beliefs, not those of the state. Religious courses, if offered, should be optional or alternatives provided. But the state must not mandate what religious content will or will not be taught to children, especially against the wishes of their parents.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Persecuted Church Weblog Comment Policy

Just as a reminder to those of you who like to make comments to our posts:

• We reserve the right to moderate all comments and either approve them or not approve them for any reason without explanation. This is not censorship since we defend your right to fully express your opinion on your own website or blog.

• Our approval or refusal of a comment should not be taken to mean we agree or disagree with the comment. Each comment is the opinion of the one posting it.

• Disagreement is allowed and even encouraged. We are not, however, impressed by the use of profanity, insults, name calling, mean-spiritedness, and stereotyping. The use of such will probably result in your comment not being posted.

• We will not allow comments to be posted that contain links to other websites (due to malware concerns), are spam, advertisements, fundraising appeals, and the like.

• If the comment is irrelevant to the topic being discussed or clearly an attempt to drive traffic to your website, etc., it will not be posted.

The fight continues for Saba

Aneela and Saba Masih are young Pakistani Christian girls who were kidnapped in late June. They were raped, forcibly converted to Islam, and told that they or their family members would be killed if they did not cooperate with their captors. The girls’ parents have since been trying to bring them back home. Thankfully, a court recently ordered ten-year-old Aneela to return home to her parents. However, Saba was considered old enough to decide whether or not to remain with her new husband. Although Saba chose to stay with her Muslim husband, the Masih family and their lawyers are convinced that her decision was influenced by threats made against her and her family.

Compass Direct released an update today on these two girls. The following are excerpts from the report:

After a judge placed new financial and social pressure on the captors of a Pakistani girl who was kidnapped and converted to Islam, attorneys have guarded optimism they can return her to custody of her Christian parents.

Judge Malik Saeed Ijaz ordered the girl’s husband, Amjad Ali, to pay a dowry of 100,000 rupees (US$1,275) and allow her parents visitation rights, two actions required by typical Pakistani marriage protocol. At press time he had done neither.

The judge gave Saba Masih, 13, the opportunity to talk with her family during yesterday’s hearing, but she remained mostly silent behind her veil, offering only blunt replies.

“I don’t want to see my parents. They are Christians and I am a Muslim,” she said, according to her parents’ attorney.

Her younger sister Aneela Masih, who was also kidnapped but returned to her family three months ago, pleaded with her older sister to return home. The 10-year-old told her that Christmas was coming and she didn’t want her sister to spend it with those “who are not our people.”

Saba Masih appeared at the Multan branch of Lahore’s High Court yesterday along with her Muslim husband and his family. Her parents filed a contempt petition last month against her captors for failing to follow Pakistani marriage protocol.

Islamic law (sharia), however, gives a wife the right to relinquish a dowry. Lawyers said they fear that the Muslim family will pressure Saba Masih to claim this right in order to offset growing financial pressure.

Lawyers hope that if her mother can visit her, it will convince her to leave her husband and come home to the family; her family believes he has threatened her with violence if she attempts to rejoin them.

At Monday’s hearing, Saba Masih still appeared reluctant to return to her family. Relatives said they were praying that she would change her mind and that the captors would lose their influence over her.

On Wednesday (Dec. 17) the judge is expected to adjourn the case and issue a deed requiring Ali to pay the dowry at the convenience of the Masih family. The judge yesterday threatened Ali with prison time if he failed to carry out this order.

Akbar Durrani, attorney for the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), said the attorneys might try to use Aneela Masih’s testimony of kidnapping to take the case to the Supreme Court if other options fail.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Please pray for the Weihan family

Shi Weihan is a Christian bookstore owner and house church leader who has been in prison since March for printing and distributing Bibles and other Christian literature. Since he is under “administrative detention,” he could be held up to three years without any charges being filed against him.

In August, we reported in The Persecution and Prayer Alert that Weihan’s health was deteriorating due to poor prison conditions and the lack of medication for his diabetes (click here for more). However, according to a recent report from China Aid Association, Weihan’s health appears to be improving and he is now receiving his medication. Friends of Weihan report that he continues to introduce fellow prisoners to Jesus.

We are thankful to God for granting Weihan renewed health. Let us continue to pray for him as he remains in detention. Pray also for Weihan’s wife as she now has to care for their two daughters and carry on the work of the house church on her own. Ask God to protect this family as they continue to face pressure from authorities.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Do they know it's Christmas time in North Korea?

nl-dec08 Twenty-four years, two British musicians wrote a song specifically to raise money for relief for the millions who were suffering deprivation during the 1984–1985 famine in Ethiopia. The original version of “Do They Know It’s Christmas” was released by a collection of musicians who called themselves Band Aid on November 29, 1984. The key line in the lyrics is the question “Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?”

This is a valid question to ask of Christians in North Korea where the celebration of Christmas is illegal and there is no one or nothing to remind the Christians there of the significance of December 25th. Christmas Day is just another day in North Korea. I wonder if the believers there even know that it is Christmas time?

Throughout this past year, we have made a concentrated effort to focus on the plight facing our Christian brothers and sisters in North Korea. Most experts on religious liberty in the world agree that North Korea is the most restrictive nation on earth. Nowhere else is it more dangerous to be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. Being one of the most closed societies in the world, it is extraordinarily difficult to document the persecution or to provide practical assistance to believers there. The few outsiders that are allowed into the country are usually carefully supervised and confined to the Pyongyang area. Whereas 50 years ago, and least 2,000 churches could be found in North Korea, today there are only three church building allowed and they are used solely as showpieces to impress guests. Rarely do we ever hear from the believers who live there and no one from our mission can go and visit them.

Still, we asked the subscribers of our monthly newsletter to pray specifically for North Korea’s persecuted church and for the country’s leadership this year. We asked that you would pray that we, as a mission, would discover new opportunities of service there.

Your prayers are being answered, as you will read in this month’s newsletter (if you are would like to receive a free copy, subscribe today and we will send you a copy right away). While we have not seen increased openness in the country, itself, we are grateful to have been able to provide more assistance to and receive more reports from North Korea than in any other year in our history. As you read the letters that we have received from some of our family members and the testimonies of their faithfulness to God, I am sure that your heart will be moved as much as mine has been. I am committed to doing all we can to let them know that Christians in Canada remember and care for them.

Do they know it’s Christmas time in North Korea? Perhaps not. But the hope and message of God’s plan for reconciling mankind to Himself through His Son continue to ring throughout North Korea, despite opposition and danger. Glory to God in the highest!

(reprinted from the December edition of The Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter)

Monday, December 08, 2008

Propaganda from the Indian consulate

indian_letter Today I read a letter sent to one of our supporters by the Consulate General of India here in Toronto.  The letter is in response to one written in concern of the recent violence against Christians in Orissa.

The letter from the consulate (dated November 26) states that "India is a secular and democratic country were religious groups live harmoniously" and that the recent violence in Orissa was "an aberration."  The letter concludes, "I would like to assure you that India is a peace loving country and all religious groups have complete freedom to practice their religion. There is no persecution against any particular religious community. The violence that occurred in the Kandhamal area of the State of Orissa is an isolated case and complete normalcy has been restored in the affected areas."

Rarely have I seen a letter so far removed from reality coming from a democratic country.  At best, it is a feeble attempt at damage control. At worst, it is sheer fabrication. No persecution? An isolated case?  Complete normalcy restored?  I think the Christians in Orissa would beg to differ with each of these statements after the two series of attacks against them in the past year.

"All religious groups have complete freedom to practice their religion?"  What about the seven states that have passed anti-conversion laws?

It is time that India stop pretending that all is well with their democracy.  The world knows better. Their own people know better.

Declare his glory among the nations

IMG_1938Many modern praise songs today echo the words of the prophets and the psalmists in expressing their commitment to declare God's glory to the nations.  Just a thought....

Is singing songs about declaring God's glory among the nations the same as actually doing it?  Surely, the admonition to declare His name among the nations means more than just singing songs .  God's people possess a knowledge others do not have.  It is their responsibility to share this knowledge with others, even to those at the ends of the earth (outside of Israel). For the church, the meaning is clear.  Boldly and enthusiastically declaring God's goodness and glory in the safety of our worship services is not declaring them to the nations. 

I write this as I have been reading recent articles of how only a small percentage of donations given to churches actually are used to reach "the nations."  Christianity Today notes that in the U.S., only about 3 percent of money donated to churches and ministries went to aiding or ministering to non-Christians.  I suspect that things aren't much different here in Canada.  I also suspect that many Christians bypass their church entirely and give directly to charities (like The Voice of the Martyrs) that engage in international work, but I have always been saddened by that.

So, the next time you sing a song about declaring God's glory and reign to the nations, pause and ask yourself just how you are involved in making sure that this is actually happening.

Psalm 96:1-3 (ESV) 
    Oh sing to the Lord a new song;
        sing to the Lord, all the earth! 
    Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
         tell of his salvation from day to day. 
    Declare his glory among the nations,
        his marvelous works among all the peoples!

Not your average Christmas story

Rev12c One of the keys to understanding the book of Revelation is to realize that it is not a chronological account where one event follows another in sequence. Rather, it is a series of visions given to John by the Lord. The question to ask when reading Revelation is not “What comes next?” but “What did John see next?” And what John sees is rarely what we expect. Revelation frequently takes teaching that we receive in other scriptures and presents it in an entirely different way.

This is especially important in understanding Revelation 12. Most scholars agree that this chapter is the theological centre of a book written primarily as a message of encouragement and warning to churches undergoing increasing persecution. Chapter 12 explains exactly why they are going through this kind of pressure. But rather than simply telling them, the Lord gives them a vision of what is really going behind the scenes, unveiling spiritual realities of which they may not be aware. He takes them back to Bethlehem, to a birth unlike any other.

Yes, Revelation 12 is a Christmas text. But quite it is unlike Matthew’s and Mark’s for the intent here is not to give a literal account of an historical event, but to pull back the curtain to see what spiritual forces were at work that night.

In verses 1-4, we see two signs: a woman in heavy labour and a dragon standing ready to devour the child she is about to give birth to. It is not too hard to understand from verse 5 that this child, a male, is Jesus, the one who would rule the nations with a rod of iron (a reference to Psalm 2). From the very beginning of His life, the dragon seeks to destroy the Son (a clear reference to Herod’s attempt to kill the Christ child in Matthew 2). Having failed to destroy Him but instead finding himself defeated (verses 7-12), the dragon then turns his violent rage on the woman and her other children who keep the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus (verses 13-17). In this attempt to destroy Christ’s church, the dragon again is unsuccessful. He is powerless to obliterate the church but he vents his fury against individual Christians through the persecution they are suffering. This attack is explained more in chapter 13, but in this chapter we see how he goes after God’s people in three ways. First, he accuses them (verse 10), slandering them before God, claiming that they do not really love God but are only following Him for selfish reasons (see Job 1-2). Second, he deceives the world, spreading lies and casting doubt on the truth (verse 9). Third, he seeks to kill and enslave people under the fear of death (see Hebrews 2:15). Many Christians have turned aside from the path God has called them to because of the fear of suffering and death.

But as we read verses 10-11 we see that the “brothers” who suffer persecution are not helpless victims. Suffering persecution is not a passive experience, as something to be endured as one hangs on to a slim thread of hope. Indeed, those who overcome the dragon do so aggressively in three ways. First, they overcome the accusations because of the blood of the Lamb (verse 11). Without the blood of Christ, Satan’s accusation that we are unworthy of the Lord would be true. But praise God, because of Jesus’ work on the cross, we can stand unashamed before the Lord. Because of Christ, we have everything we need to stand faithful in the face of persecution (see 2 Peter 1:3). Second, they overcome Satan’s deception by the word of their testimony (verse 11). We overcome lies with the truth of Jesus. Third, they overcome the threat of death by not loving their life even to death (verse 11). They understood that death is not the worst thing that could happen to them. The worst thing would be to turn their backs on Jesus. Satan is overcome when we do not let fear control us but instead enthrone Christ as Lord.

Christmas, as revealed in Revelation 12, reminds us that persecution is a normal part of what it means to follow Christ. This is true for believers wherever they live: Cairo or Calgary, Beijing or Brandon, Pyongyang or Peterborough. We are each called to “overcome” as we live out the reality of Revelation 12 today.

(from the December edition of The Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter)

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Christians oppressed in Comoros

comoros1 Another country that we rarely hear much from is the island nation of Comoros, located in the Indian Ocean off of the east coast of Africa.  Late this week, Compass Direct released a significant report on the oppression facing Christians in this archipelago.  Here is a segment:

Christians on the predominantly Muslim islands of Pemba and the Comoros archipelago are beaten, detained and banished for their faith, according to church leaders who travel regularly to the Indian Ocean isles off the east coast of Africa. These violations of religious freedom, the church leaders said, threaten the survival of Christianity on Pemba and the Comoros, with fewer than 300 Christians in a combined population of 1.1 million people. Leaving Islam for Christianity accounts for most of the harm done to Christians, and this year saw an increase in such abuse as already-strained relations between the two communities deteriorated after the conversion in August of Sheikh Hijah Mohammed, leader of a key mosque in Chake-Chake, capital of Pemba. A Christian from the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar who recently visited the Comoros said those suspected to have converted from Islam to Christianity face travel restrictions and confiscation of travel documents. In the early part of this year, authorities expelled a missionary from the Comoros when they discovered he was conducting Friday prayer meetings. “The police broke into the prayer meeting, ransacked the house and found the Bibles which we had hidden before arresting us,” said a source who requested anonymity. “We were detained for three months.”

To read the rest of this report, go to the Compass Direct website.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Becket Fund launches ad campaign against the intimidation of religious groups on California's Proposition 8

nytad_lg The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty launched a special project today called "No Mob Veto" with a full-page advertisement in the New York Times. The ad deplores "The violence and intimidation being directed against the LDS or 'Mormon' church, and other religious organizations-and even against individual believers-simply because they supported Proposition 8," California's ballot initiative defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

The ad continues, "When thugs...terrorize any place of worship, especially those of a religious minority, responsible voices need to speak clearly: Religious wars are wrong; they are also dangerous. Those who fail to condemn or seem to condone that intimidation are at fault as well."  The full ad can be viewed at

The ad solicits signatures from readers who believe that religious people have the right and duty to participate in the electoral process without fear and intimidation from anti-religious bigotry.  You can add your name to this ad at  And lest you think that Mormon churches are the only ones being targeted, click here.

This is something that anyone concerned about the freedom of speech and religious belief should take note of, regardless of where you live.

British missionaries being charged with sedition in Gambia

fultons Gambia is not one of those countries which you hear much about.  In my 11+ years of working with persecuted Christians, I don't believe that we have ever reported on a case of persecution in Gambia.

British newspapers, however, are reporting of a missionary couple who were arrested last Saturday, paraded on state television late on Wednesday and then charged on Thursday, accused of writing letters to individuals and organizations abroad to "bring into hatred or contempt, to excite disaffection against the President of the Republic and the government of the Gambia." The couple pleaded not guilty and the case was adjourned until December 16.  Gambian President Yahya Jammeh seized power in a 1994 military coup in mainland Africa's smallest country and tolerates little criticism of his government.

Fiona and David Fulton have lived in Gambia for twelve years as missionaries. Those who know them say that the focus of their ministry is strictly that of teaching and practicing the gospel.  David serves as a chaplain in the Gambian Army and his wife looks after terminally ill people and spends time visiting women in their homes and in hospital.

David, 60, is being held  in the country's notorious Mile Two prison - a high security jail outside the capital Banjul, a tough former colonial jail built during the days of the British Empire. Fiona, 46, is understood to be in police custody with the couple's adopted two-year-old daughter Elizabeth.  She is being treated well but there are concerns about David's condition.  According to reports, they were offered bail on condition that four Gambian property owners would vouch for them but they have not yet managed to meet these conditions.

Please uphold this couple in your prayers.  For more information on Gambia and the ministry of the Fulton's, check out their church's website.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Nigerian church leaders claim that inaccurate reporting is clouding the truth of attacks in Jos

nigeria2_africa Over the weekend, as reports rolled in concerning the violence that erupted in Jos, Nigeria, media reports indicated that the riots were the result of disputed election results as Muslim supporters of the All Nigerian Peoples Party began attacking Christians who typically support the ruling People’s Democratic Party.  At first, I was hesitant to call this violence persecution, particularly when I read of Muslims being killed and mosques being burned.  I still condemn this response by anyone who claims to be a Christian, as do most Nigerian church leaders.

However, I began to have second thoughts after reading the following press release (dated December 1, 1008) by UK-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide, one of our partners in the Religious Liberty Partnership:


For Immediate Release

1 December 2008


Although tension has eased in Jos, Plateau State, following a weekend of deadly violence, there is increasing resentment in the Christian community at “biased and inaccurate reporting of events” by the international media.

Several international news agencies have reported that the violence was triggered by the results of a local government election. However, sources in Jos point out that voting passed off peacefully and the violence broke out in the early hours of Friday 28 November before electoral results had even been announced. Moreover, instead of targeting political institutions, rioters armed with guns, spears, machetes and other weapons immediately attacked Christian businesses, churches and the homes of clergymen. A local source informed Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW):  “As usual they took Jos by surprise, and are now hiding behind election results to launch and excuse their mayhem.”

Of even greater concern are reports that appeared to suggest that Christians had killed 300 Muslims over the weekend, whose bodies were deposited at a central mosque. In reality, the men died while obeying orders from a mosque in the Dilimi area, which was using its loudspeakers to instruct all Muslims to defy the authorities, participate in the “jihad”, loot properties for money and then burn them. Local security sources insist the rioters were shot while defying a night-time curfew and launching fresh attacks, including an unsuccessful large-scale assault on police barracks. Commenting on these deaths the General Secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Engineer Salifu said: “It was not Christians who killed them; it was their own unfortunate attitude”. He also articulated local concern that such inaccurate reporting could fuel further violence against Christians elsewhere.

While a final Christian death toll has yet to be determined, Engineer Salifu informed CSW that so far more than 16 churches are known to have been burnt down and at least four pastors are confirmed to have been killed, including a pastor from the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) who was shot dead in the suburb of Congo-Russia, and another from the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA), killed in the Rikkos area. “From all indications, the final death toll will not be less than 100”.

There is also growing evidence that the weekend’s violence may have been planned in advance. So far 500 Muslim rioters have been arrested, some of whom were dressed in fake police and military uniforms. Two hundred are now known to be citizens of the neighbouring Republic of Niger, while 300 are from the northern Nigerian states of Kano, Katsina and Sokoto. Some of the rioters informed police that they arrived in Jos three days prior to the violence. “They had weapons, many weapons” said another source, “they were ready, very ready”.

Commenting on the weekend’s violence, Rt. Rev Dr. Benjamin Kwashi, Anglican Archbishop of Jos told CSW: “This crisis is a wake up call to state and federal authorities to undertake a serious appraisal of all the previous crises in Jos and elsewhere that have affected the church in northern Nigeria, and to ensure that truth is told, truth is maintained and justice is done. We have become a convenient scapegoat and target for those with grievances about events both at home and abroad. The Church in northern Nigeria needs urgent national and international protection. We have suffered this violence for over 20 years and it is now becoming unbearable”.

CSW’s Advocacy Director Tina Lambert said:” We are deeply saddened by the horrific violence that has taken place against the Christian Community in Jos state. It is to a grave indictment of the international media that they failed report accurately on such terrible events. We echo Rt. Rev Dr. Benjamin Kwashi’s call for urgent national and international protection for the Christian church in Northern Nigeria. We stand with our Christian brothers and sisters in Jos state as they face the aftermath of religiously motivated violence within their community, and we call on the world’s media to ensure they publish accurate and balanced reports of this situation forthwith”.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Anticipating the Messiah

It can become easier to forget the hardness of this world when surrounded by Christmas cheer and busyness. But when I turned on my computer this morning and began reading the latest news stories about the persecution of Christians around the world, I was reminded once again that it is because of all the pain and suffering that we celebrate Christ’s coming. Even when covered in tinsel, this world remains flawed. I find the following excerpt helpful in remembering the importance of this Advent season:

Advent is marked by a spirit of expectation, of anticipation, of preparation, of longing. There is a yearning for deliverance from the evils of the world, first expressed by Israelite slaves in Egypt as they cried out from their bitter oppression. It is the cry of those who have experienced the tyranny of injustice in a world under the curse of sin, and yet who have hope of deliverance by a God who has heard the cries of oppressed slaves and brought deliverance!

It is that hope, however faint at times, and that God, however distant He sometimes seems, which brings to the world the anticipation of a King who will rule with truth and justice and righteousness over His people and in His creation. It is that hope that once anticipated, and now anticipates anew, the reign of an Anointed One, a Messiah, who will bring peace and justice and righteousness to the world.

Without Christ, the woes of this world would render us hopeless. Yet we are assured through the birth of Jesus Christ that God indeed hears our cries, just as He heard the cries of His children long ago.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Why Christmas May Not Bring Peace to India

Christmas ‘09 is unlikely to bring peace to India, least of all to Christians in Orissa. This is mainly because the vocal section of the Indian Christian leadership has chosen to pursue NOT peace but condemnation of Hindus, Maoists, Government and those calling for peace-making.

A controversial statement, to say the least.  It is especially so because it comes from an Indian Christian intellectual who argues, among other things, that Christians in India need to apologize for the assassination of Hindu leader, Swami Laxmanda.  While many may not agree with some of the statements of Vishal Mangalwadi in his paper, Christmas May Not Bring Peace to India (and I don't), his observations are very helpful in understanding the situation in Orissa and should not be ignored just because they give a perspective that has not received wide attention here in the West.  You can download his paper by clicking here.  Read it over and then give your opinion by commenting below.

What is persecution?

Over the past week, I have had to address this issue repeatedly in response to world events and comments to blogs that I have made recently. I really rather enjoy this kind of intellectual exercise as it helps to sharpen our focus here at The Voice of the Martyrs.

A helpful place to begin when trying to define persecution is to see how the term is used in the Scriptures themselves. The Greek and Hebrew words often translated as "persecute" typically carry a sense of serious violence, aggression and hostility or the threat of such. There is an intent to injure and is carried out in a hostile, antagonistic spirit. In such passages as Jer.29:18 and Ps. 71:11-13 to “persecute” carries with it the idea of "to follow after or pursue." The Greek word dioko and its derivatives used in the New Testament (e.g. Matt. 5:12; Acts 22:4; 1 Thess. 2:15) has virtually the identical meaning of "pursuing or driving away." The term thilipis, means to "oppress or afflict" (Matt. 24: 9; Acts 3:14; 2 Cor. 1:5; 4:10).

Word studies, however, serve best as a basis for further study rather than as the foundation for defining what persecution is.

A large part of the problem of defining persecution has to do with a common misunderstanding as what exactly it is. To many, persecution conjures up images of extreme violence, martyrdoms, imprisonments and torture. They think of what they imagine the early church went through or the church in the former Soviet Union. Immigrants to Canada think back to their own experience in their homeland and while they may have faced societal discrimination and the like, they took it in stride as everyone else did and saw it is just a part of life; unpleasant perhaps, maybe even annoying or slightly humiliating, but hardly persecution.

Two points need to be made:

First, it is worth remembering that persecution on a country-wide scale has been rare both now and throughout history. In most countries, violent persecution tends to be focused in specific, often remote, areas where religious tensions have been enflamed for one reason or another. Hence, believers in one city may never experience violence for their faith, while in another location Christians are being beaten and driven from their homes.

Second, persecution as a term needs to be understood in its biblical sense. Persecution in the Bible manifests itself within a broad spectrum ranging from mildly hostile to intensely hostile actions. These actions range from ridicule, restriction, certain kinds of harassment, or discrimination on one end of the spectrum to torture, imprisonment, ostracism, or killing on the other (see Matthew 6:11-12, Luke 6:22; 2 Corinthians 11:23-29; James 1:2 and others.

persecution copy

Persecution, hence, from a biblical perspective, must be understood to encompass actions spanning the full range of hostility whether they are violent, physical, psychological, or social. We cannot define persecution strictly on the basis of the level of harm it might cause or the level of hostility in which it occurs. To do so would be inconsistent with Scripture. The issue that missions like The Voice of the Martyrs must consider is at what point on this spectrum do we see our involvement as necessary?

To summarize, we need to see persecution as the Bible sees it, within a wide spectrum of hostility. It need not involve violence, although it may. This is not to say that all persecution should be treated as equally grievous. Nor is all persecution a violation of our basic rights as a human being. To be despised, hated, and ridiculed is not a violation of one's rights, as unpleasant and unjust as these things are.

Significantly, understanding persecution in a biblical sense helps to include the Western Christian's experience in what it means to follow Jesus. Understanding persecution as only including violent acts often leads us to conclude that Western Christians are never persecuted, only those in the two-thirds world. Understanding persecution to include a wider spectrum of hostility makes it obvious that even Western Christians can and will experience persecution if they faithfully follow Christ, even if it is of a milder degree. The biblical passages on persecution then can become more meaningful for us and we can properly apply them to our present situation. For example, the various biblical texts that speak of rewards to those who were faithful in the face of persecution may seem out of reach to us if we understand persecution primarily as suffering violence for Jesus. With little opportunity to suffer in this way, how are we to ever receive these rewards? Understanding persecution in a broader sense makes these promises more applicable to us and should motivate us to greater faithfulness to God in the midst of our own situation.

Such an understanding of persecution should do nothing to cheapen the suffering of our brothers and sisters around the world. It should, however, help us to see the Body of Christ as one Body; not a Persecuted Church and a Free Church. We are all the Persecuted Church and our calling is to reach out and minister to those who are suffering violence and loss for Christ's sake since we are one Family. There is no need to prayer as to whether we should help our persecuted brothers and sisters. The question, if we are to be true to scripture, is not if we should help but how. If we are not suffering together, we are standing together with those who are suffering (Hebrews 10:32-34).

Hence, persecution might be best defined, from a scriptural perspective, as any unjust action of mild to intense levels of hostility, directed at Christians of varying levels of commitment, resulting in varying levels of harm, which may not necessarily prevent or limit these Christians’ ability to practice their faith or appropriately propagate their faith as it is considered from the victim’s perspective, each motivation having religion, namely the identification of its victims as “Christian,” as its primary motivator (see Charles Tieszen, “Towards redefining persecution” International Journal for Religious Freedom Vol 1:1 2008: 76). Ronald Boyd-MacMillan suggests a similar (though simpler) definition: Christian persecution is any hostility experienced from the world, as a result of one's identification with Christ. This can include hostile feelings, attitude, words, or actions (from Faith That Endures. Revell, 2006: 114).

These definitions highlight the fact that persecution typically arises because of a difference that comes from being a Christian that the persecutor will not tolerate. When faced with situations where is difficult to determine whether this is a situation of persecution or general suffering, it is often 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? Is this persecution or group specifically suffering because they are Christians?" If the answer is "yes," then it seems that this would be a situation where persecution is taking place. If the answer is “no” and that they would be suffering regardless of what they believe in, then the situation is likely one where persecution is not taking place.

Friday, November 28, 2008

So what have you been reading in November?

While I am working on a couple of books right now, I only finished one book this month:

Silence by Shusaku Endo. Probably one of the most powerful and yet disturbing novels that I have read in a long time. Silence tells the story of a Portuguese priest who goes to Japan at the height of the brutal persecution of Christians that took place there in the early 16th century. He and another colleague travel to Japan to discover whether reports that one of their mentors has apostatized are true. It isn't long before they, too, are captured and pressured to recant their faith. When they refuse, they witness Japanese Christians being killed in response. The main character struggles with the temptation to recant to stop the killing of others on his behalf, wrestles with whether to forgive those who do renounce their faith, wonders if he can really endure the dreadful tortures that are afflicted on his fellow believers and can he be forgiven if he fails to endure. In addition, he meets his mentor whom he was sent to investigate, who tells him that Christianity (as they understand it) can never survive in Japan, that the Japanese Christians are worshipping a different God than the one that the missionaries preached and that it is useless to ask them to die for a faith that isn't really real.

In short, it is an insightful yet disturbing view into the heart and mind of those tempted to give up their faith in the midst of suffering, threats, betrayal, doubt, and the seeming silence of God (hence the title of the book). While we are unlikely to sell this novel at The Voice of the Martyrs, I would recommend it nevertheless.

Muslims storm church in Cairo

Last Sunday (November 23), thousands of Muslims stormed a church in Ain Shams, Cairo and set fire to the building. The Muslims were enraged by an extension that was added to the Coptic church of St. Mary and Anba Abraam.  The following videos show the mob storming the church, chanting "Allahu Akbar!" (God is greatest).

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Paul, an informer?

Here's something that should make you chuckle:

Historian Says Apostle Paul May Have Been Roman Spy

Updated: Nov 26, 2008 09:58 AM EST

Associated Press

LEXINGTON, Va. -- The head of the history department at Virginia Military Institute suggests that the Apostle Paul may have been spying for the Romans.

Rose Mary Sheldon, the co-author of "Operation Messiah: St. Paul, Roman Intelligence and the Birth of Christianity," presented her thesis last week at the International Spy Museum in Washington.

She suggests that Paul may have faked his conversion on the road to Damascus so he could infiltrate Christian congregations and report to Rome on suspicious elements in synagogues across the empire.

Sheldon says Paul's interaction with Roman officials seems to have been remarkably friendly, and she notes that in his letter to the Romans, he urges Christians to obey them.

I don't think that this will end up in the revised version of my book.