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.

Freedom from speech

The online version of Forward published an excellent editorial yesterday on the recent UN resolution "Combating Defamation of Religions" that passed in the Third Committee earlier this week:

The United Nations saw another shred of its tattered dignity stripped away November 24, when a committee of the General Assembly approved what amounts to a direct assault on Western liberal democracy. In an 85-50 vote, with 42 abstaining, the so-called Third Committee adopted a resolution, submitted by a caucus of Islamic nations, to criminalize expressions deemed to be “defamation of religion,” with special concern for Islam. All U.N. member states would be called on to amend their criminal codes accordingly. The measure’s next stop is the General Assembly, where it is expected to win handily, probably in December.

The U.N. is no stranger to assaults on decency and common sense. Indeed, the new ban on religious defamation is essentially a restatement of a measure approved by the General Assembly last year but barely noticed at the time.

What makes this year’s resolution different, and more dangerous, is that it is supposed to move on from the General Assembly to another forum, where it might acquire real teeth.... read more.

While technically non-binding on member nations, Bennett Graham, international program director of Becket Fund, suggests that this resolution, "provides international cover for domestic anti-blasphemy laws, and there are a number of people who are in prison today because they have been accused of committing blasphemy. Those arrests are made legitimate by the UN body's (effective) stamp of approval."

Friday, November 21, 2008

Is Bible smuggling into China unnecessary?

On November 12, the Bible Society of New South Wales sent out a press release announcing that smuggling Bibles into China places Chinese Christians at risk and is unnecessary. Daniel Willis, the CEO of the Bible Society NSW claimed that with the new Amity Press operational in Nanjing, "smuggling is a waste of resources."

Supporters of Amity Press have been claiming this for years, of course. Similar misstatements were often made concerning the Soviet Union during its heyday as well. And just as those claims were later proven to be overly optimistic, I have little doubt that history will also reveal the naiveté of today's apologists for China's communist regime.

Our good friends and partners, ChinaAid Association, released a gracious response to the Bible Society today.

MEDIA ADVISORY, Nov. 20 /Christian Newswire/ -- ChinaAid affirms the commitment of the Bible Society NSW to "break down the barriers of distance and isolation and make Bibles available to our Chinese brothers and sisters," through supporting the Amity Press's new drive to provide Bibles to believers in remote areas, Bible Society NSW CEO, Daniel Willis has under-stated the need to provide Bibles to believers in the People's Republic of China through other distribution venues.

1987, the Amity Press has printed and distributed more than 40 million copies of the Bible in simplified script within China. Amity Press is the only press that is legally permitted and supervised by the Chinese government to print Bibles. However, with estimates of the Protestant believers (Three Self Patriotic Movement church and house church) in China now totalling from 39 million to 130 million(1) and considering that most Bibles wear out after five years due to overuse and shared distribution, the Amity Press is only able to supply approximately half of the Bibles needed to meet the present and pressing need of China's Christian believers.

Willis also fails to make mention of two crucial issues that affect access to the Bible in China. The rate of printing and distribution in 2007 was 6.75 million complete Bibles and 690,000 copies of the New Testament.(2) At this rate, it will be another five years at least until the number of Bibles printed in China matches the approximate number of believers in China today. This also does not take into account the continued growth of the church in China and the need to distribute the Bible to the general populace -- a need which totally eclipses the amount of the Scriptures made available by the Amity Press.

Second, distribution of Amity Press Bibles is limited to government-approved Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) bookstores and distribution points. Thus, believers who want to purchase a Bible can only do so by finding a TSPM church. Christians who live in rural areas have little to no access to a TSPM church or TSPM bookstore. In addition, many of these Christians are living at a poverty-level that makes the expense of the purchase of a Bible impossible.

Mr. Willis says in his press release that, "smuggling Bibles into China places Chinese Christians at risk and ... smuggling is a waste of resources." However, many Chinese Christians feel the desperation for a Bible outweighs the risk. Zhou Heng was in prison from August 3, 2007 until February 19, 2008 for giving away Bibles. Christian bookstore owner Shi Weihan was arrested on March 19, 2008 for publishing and distributing Bibles and Christian literature. He is currently in prison. These two men testify to the great need for Bibles with their actions and their lives.

ChinaAid President Bob Fu notes, "Mr. Willis is to be commended for his commitment to providing Bibles in China. However, he has overstated the Amity Press' ability to supply enough Bibles to meet China's pressing need. His conclusion that Bibles do not need to be carried into China through other means furthers the misinformation propaganda goals of the TSPM and Religious Affairs Bureau."

So what do you think? Is Bible smuggling into China unnecessary? Let us know you opinion through our poll and by leaving a comment.

<a href="">Is Bible smuggling into China unnecessary? </a> <a href="">BuzzDash polls</a>

Kim, Graham, and Uncle Sam

Christianity Today had an interesting article this week on recent changes on US diplomatic policy towards North Korea and Franklin Graham's decision to preach there last August.

"The United States removed North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism in October, but observers say Christians still have much to fear from its government.

"'As long as the Kim Jong Il regime and its successors remain in control, [North Korea] is going to be a brutally repressive country,' said Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation and former North Korea analyst for the CIA. 'It's going to continue to be a dismal future for Christians.'

The Center for the Study of Global Christianity estimates that there are 467,894 Christians in North Korea and 10,592 Christian martyrs each year. Open Doors ministry lists the country as the world's worst religious persecutor.

Observers say that even the death of Kim Jong Il, rumored to be in poor health, may not improve conditions.

"Our contacts are telling us that in the short term, it doesn't matter," said Todd Nettleton, spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs. 'The people who brought Kim Jong Il to the throne are not going to suddenly decide, 'Hey, let's let Christians worship freely.'"

Click here to read the rest of the article.

My question is, do you believe the U.S. diplomatic shift and Graham visit to North Korea will really help Christians there?  Give us your opinion on the poll below and tell us why by leaving a comment.

<a href=";BB_id=133199">Will the U.S. shift and Graham visit to NK really help NK Christians?</a> | <a href="">BuzzDash polls</a>

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

November's Persecution Report

Have you seen this month's Persecution Report by The Voice of the Martyrs? Check it out!

You can also subscribe to The Persecution Report as an audio or video podcast.  Click here for more details.

Pray for Cuban pastor and family

Christian Solidarity Worldwide has requested prayer for a Cuban pastor who has been imprisoned for six months and his family. Please remember this family in your prayers as they suffer for Christ’s sake.

Pastor Omar Gude Pérez was detained in Camaguey on 22 May 2008 and subsequently charged with “Human Trafficking”. Following his imprisonment, government officials carried out a full inventory of his family’s home and threatened to confiscate their house and possessions. They have not yet followed through on these threats but the family, unsurprisingly, feels extremely vulnerable.

His wife, Kenia, is only allowed to visit her husband in prison once every 21 days. She has complained that she is harassed by the guards when she visits. As in similar cases, their two children, Omar, age 14, and Kelia, age 11, are not allowed to visit their father.

Pastor Gude Pérez‘s lawyer is working to get him released on bail, at least until he goes to trial; however, no trial date has yet been given.

While the pastor has been charged with taking money to help people leave the country illegally, these charges are denied by his family and other religious groups, in and outside of Cuba, who are familiar with the case. Pastor Gude Pérez, his family and their church report that they had been receiving threats from government officials for months prior to his detention. They believe that he has been targeted because of his position as one of three main leaders of the “Apostolic Reformation”. This non-denominational, non-political religious movement is active in evangelism and church growth. Without association to international denominational networks, the Apostolic Reformation is particularly vulnerable to harassment. Church leaders have reported that their phones are tapped, leaders are watched and threatened, and many church members have been threatened with loss of employment if they do not leave these churches.

Prior to his imprisonment, Pastor Gude Pérez and his wife, Kenia, were working with another couple to start a small Bible school. As part of their ministry, the Apostolic Nations for Christ Movement, Pastor Gude Pérez and Kenia oversee several pastors and leaders across Cuba and have been working to train more leaders in order to grow the ministry.

We would like to ask you to join us in praying for Pastor Gude, Kenia and their two children, Omar and Kelia. Please pray for strength and hope for the family and for the pastor’s swift release and return to ministry.

We would also like to encourage you to send letters and cards of encouragement to the family to remind them that they are not alone. We have heard repeatedly from other Cuban families what a tremendous source of reassurance these letters can be and know that, especially with Christmas approaching, these will be a real blessing to the family. Letters and cards can be mailed to:

La Familia Gude Perez

Avellande 278 entre
Esteban y San Martín
Camaguey, CP 70100

No religious freedom for Muslims in Malaysia

The concept of religious freedom does not apply to Muslims in Malaysia, a retired high court judge told the two-day International Seminar on Comparative Laws (ISCOM 2008) (click here for the full article). Citing the case of Lina Joy's renunciation of Islam, Datuk Faiza Tamby Chik noted while delivering a working paper, that the high court in its decision ruled that a Malay under Article 160(2) of the Federal Constitution remained in the Islamic faith until his or her dying days. He also noted that non-Muslims in the country had wide religious freedom. I suspect that he means by this the freedom to practice their faith just so long as it does not include evangelism of Muslims and the right to convert to Islam (which is a typical "freedom" extended to non-Muslims in Islamic countries).

It is interesting to observe yet again (as I have recently noted in other blogs) just how much religious freedom means something quite different to Muslims and to those in the West.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Check out these key articles

The July 2008 double issue edition of Connections (a journal by the World Evangelical Alliance's Mission Commission) focused on missions in contexts of suffering, violence, persecution and martyrdom.  I was honoured to have a part in writing three of the articles (one directly and two as member of a team). 

  • A Biblical Theology of Persecution and Discipleship
  • Best Practices
  • Code of Best Practices

There are a number of other excellent articles in this issue.  Best of all, you can access them for free the Connections website.  I would highly recommend that you check them out and download them for future reference, especially if you are involved in ministry to the persecuted or a supporter of such a ministry.  Such a rich collection of articles on persecution is rare. 

Common words, different meanings

This is a follow up to my blog last week regarding attempts by a number of Muslim countries to silence the criticism of Islam through the United Nations.  Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute has written an article entitled Worldwide Hate Laws? that addresses this and conference held last week between Muslim and Catholic scholars.  Here are some excerpts:

Two international meetings to promote interfaith harmony were held in the last two weeks, one in New York and one in Rome. The former, called by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia under the auspices of the United Nations, drew some 20 heads of state to discuss a "Culture of Peace." The latter brought together Muslim and Catholic scholars at the Vatican in the latest session of the dialogue called A Common Word. Both gatherings underscored the gulf between us. At both, all parties spoke for peace and tolerance, but they often meant different things.

As President Bush made clear in his remarks at the U.N. meeting, tolerance is understood in the West as respect for religious freedom. For the Muslim leaders in New York, tolerance means respect for religion itself, particularly Islam. As the astute Turkish political observer Ziya Meral pointed out, if Muslim leaders really wanted tolerance for different religious viewpoints, they would be holding similar discussions within their own societies. But no such discussions are going on.

Especially since 9/11, Islam has been publicly scrutinized, criticized, and sometimes ridiculed in the West to an extent never seen (or permitted) in Muslim lands. Many Muslims feel deeply offended by this, as well as troubled by the violent responses the criticism has sometimes drawn from Muslims--riots, death threats, even murders. Their leaders' solution is to try to halt the cycle by demanding an end to criticism of Islam, even in private speech.

For the past decade, the Saudi-based Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has pushed the U.N. to adopt a universal ban on defaming Islam. This measure would aim to curb the freedom not only of Danish cartoonists but also of scholars, writers, dissidents, religious reformers, human rights activists, and anyone at all anywhere in the world who criticizes Islam. This is already the effect of the domestic laws against apostasy and blasphemy that exist in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, and other states of the Islamic Conference.

To read the rest of this helpful article, click here

What I found most helpful about this article was the observation of the profound difference in how tolerance is viewed by Western and Muslim leaders.  For us in the West it means means the respect for religious freedom and values the right of people to differ and critique. For Muslims, tolerance means respect for the religion itself and protection from critique. A significant difference in worldview.  One demands the right to differ and disagree and invites scrutiny, the other demands the right never to subject one's religion to critical and public scrutiny. It matters little if the same language of tolerance is used if the intent is different.  How can there really be a "common word" if the only the same words are used but with entirely different meanings?

Another great night in Sarnia

Last night, my wife and I attended a fund-raising concert in Sarnia for The Voice of the Martyrs organized by our good friend, Peter Degraaf. This is the second such concert that Peter has organized in Sarnia at the Temple Baptist Church and just like last year's, it was well worth the 2.5 hour drive.

This year we were blessed by the music packages by the Salvation Army Jubilee Brass band, the Central Baptist Ladies Bell Choir and the St. Andrews Presbyterian Ladies Bell Choir, Sarnia’s Sursum Corda Men's Chorus, and a duo by Mrs. Donna Taylor and Mrs. Lora Stevens. I also spoke for a few minutes and shared about the work of The Voice of the Martyrs. Local pastors led in times of prayer for the persecuted.

We are so grateful for the willingness of these groups to donate their time and talents for this event. The organizers and the church donate their time and cover all of the expenses and so the entire free-will offering goes to the mission. This year, $4917.84 was raised for the work of The Voice of the Martyrs.

This event reminds me yet again of what someone with a vision and creativity can accomplish. We have never asked Peter to organize these events. He does it because he loves and is concerned for persecuted Christians around the world and God has given him a unique way of serving them. Peter has expressed a willingness to work with others in organizing such events who see this as a possible avenue of serving the persecuted in their community. You can contact him by clicking here.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A tough question to answer

A few weeks ago, someone posted a comment on our YouTube site that is still making me think.  He asked (pardon the grammar & misspelling of Nero), "would you imagine Paul or Peter beginning to asking to Herod or Neron to stop the persecution?"

Even if the grammar and spelling are terrible, the question is terrific. Can we imagine Paul or Peter asking Herod or Nero to stop the persecution of Christians? It has gotten me thinking about the biblical foundation for advocacy.  Having spent the best part of the past five years studying the biblical teaching on persecution, I have to admit that the biblical justification for advocacy is relatively slim.  The early church definitely saw persecution as an inevitable consequence of obedience to the command of Christ to reconcile a hostile world to God. Freedom from persecution did not even seem to have crossed their mind as a possibility.

Of course, there are other passages, especially in Proverbs, Psalms and the prophets that call for God's people to speak for the afflicted, but the context of most of these verses isn't really one of persecution but poverty.  So the question that still begs answering is the one to which the answer seems most elusive and which stares at me every time I look at our YouTube page.  What do you think?

<a href=";BB_id=131493">Can you imagine the apostles asking for an end to persecution?</a> | <a href="">BuzzDash polls</a>

Friday, November 14, 2008

Pray for imprisoned father and daughter in Pakistan

20 year old Sandal languishes in prison. She is falsely accused of ripping pages from the Muslim holy book, the Quran. She and her father, Gulsher, were arrested on Thursday, Oct. 9 after a mob from the local mosque surrounded their house. As the loudspeakers from the mosque called out accusations, the angry crowd hurled stones and bottles of kerosene at the family’s house, intending to set it on fire.

Police came and put Sandal and her father in protective custody. Then they charged her with violating section 295-B of Pakistani law. The charge calls for life imprisonment for those who desecrate the Quran.

Our partners in Pakistan are doing everything they can to help Sandal and her father. The team was on the scene during the riot in front of the family’s house and helped move the rest of the family to a different village for safety.

Tears streamed down Sandal’s mother’s face as she read a letter written by Sandal in prison. According to one of our workers, “The whole thing was a set-up because Sandal and her father were aggressively winning villagers to Christ.”

Sandal will probably be in jail for at least four years.

Please lift up Sandal and her father in prayer. We hope to soon have an address that you can write her at so that you can encourage her as she pays the price for proclaiming Jesus' name in Pakistan. Watch Persecuted Church Weblog for updates.

The story of Perpetua

The story of Perpetua is one of the best known accounts of early Christian martyrology. Perpetua was a 22-year old married aristocrat nursing mother who was arrested together with her slave, Felicity and four others in Carthage in about 203 AD. The "Passion of St. Perpetua, St. Felicitas, and their Companions" is said to be an actual account of their imprisonment and eventual martyrdom. It recounts the sufferings and temptations Perpetua faced to renounce her faith, worsened by her concern for her infant son and the pleas of her pagan father.

On my way to work today, I listened to an audio version of this story by a group out of Alberta called Northern Rain Studio. Thinking that perhaps we might want to make this available to our supporters, I was delighted to find that it is possible to download this entire 32 radio drama online for free.

Click here to listen to a sample scene or click here to download the complete 32 minute program. This is something the whole family could enjoy!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

"The more the challenges, the stronger the Church's faith will deepen"

Today I read an interview with Bishop Purely Lyngdoh, the newly elected head of the Church of North India. I was heartened and encouraged by his words regarding the continuing tension in Orissa state and what such trials mean for the Church in India. Here are some excerpts:

Is the Church in India directionless regarding the continuing tension in Orissa?

I will talk on behalf of CNI. We are not discouraged. We are not directionless. The Church is not merely a human organization; it is the body of Christ. It is God's Church. The history of Christianity has been one of suffering and challenges. The Church has grown with each suffering. What the Church is today is the result of the sufferings it faced in the past. What is happening in Orissa and other parts of our country are very unfortunate. But they have not surprised us. The more the challenges, the stronger the Church's faith will deepen.

Many people suspect Orissa was a test case and predict similar events in other parts of India. Do you have strategies for facing such violence?

First, all Christians should come closer and look at this not as a regional problem but as a problem facing all Christians, all religious minorities.

Secondly, what is happening is not simply an attack on Christians but on our constitution, which guarantees religious freedom. They are attacking the very secular fabric of our nation, the very character of our country.

We have had some discussion among Churches and religious minorities. It is not only that we come together as Christians; we should also bring together other minority groups such as Muslims and Sikhs. Our recent synod had recommended taking up interfaith dialogue seriously. All religious minorities should come together, stand up for our rights and assert the need to safeguard our nation's democratic and secular principles and its religious freedom.

What is your message for Indian Christians?

Let us be faithful to God; faithful to one another. Let us make a difference in this country. That's what Jesus said. Let people see the good works we do; not that they should praise us but give glory to God.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Lofty words conceal intent to restrict religious freedom

Donald H. Argue and Leonard A. Leo, members of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, have written an editorial in today's Christian Science Monitor on the highly touted UN General Assembly special session to advance interfaith dialogue going on this week.  The authors contend that the real aim of the 'dialogue' (initiated by Saudi King Abdullah) is to promote a global blasphemy law and not to promote mutual respect between religious communities or end abuses of religious freedom.  As the authors point out, King Abdullah "is quietly enlisting the leaders' support for a global law to punish blasphemy – a campaign championed by the 56-member Organization of Islamic Conference that puts the rights of religions ahead of individual liberties."

According to the editorial, published today:

"If the campaign succeeds, states that presume to speak in the name of religion will be able to crush religious freedom not only in their own country, but abroad.

The UN session is designed to endorse a meeting of religious leaders in Spain last summer that was the brainchild of King Abdullah and organized by the Muslim World League. That meeting resulted in a final statement counseling promotion of "respect for religions, their places of worship, and their symbols ... therefore preventing the derision of what people consider sacred."

The lofty-sounding principle is, in fact, a cleverly coded way of granting religious leaders the right to criminalize speech and activities that they deem to insult religion. Instead of promoting harmony, however, this effort will exacerbate divisions and intensify religious repression.

Such prohibitions have already been used in some countries to restrict discussion of individuals' freedom vis-à-vis the state, to prevent criticism of political figures or parties, to curb dissent from prevailing views and beliefs, and even to incite and to justify violence.

They undermine the standards codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the keystone of the United Nations, by granting greater rights to religions than to individuals, including those who choose to hold no faith – or who would seek to convert."

To read the rest of this editorial, click here.  Pray that world leaders will see past the lofty words and see this initiative for what it really is; a justification for restriction of religious freedom. 

Palestinian columnist condemns the persecution of Palestinian Christians

While the persecution facing Christians does not always get the attention it should, the persecution facing Palestinian Christians receives even less than average.  The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has released a translation today of excerpts from a column in the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam by 'Abd Al-Nasser Al-Najjar criticizing the persecution of Christians in Arab countries, with a particular emphasis on the Christian population of the Palestinian Authority.  The following are some of excerpts from this very useful article:

"Let us be honest with ourselves and courageously say out loud that Palestinian Christians are taking many severe blows, yet are suffering in silence so as not to attract attention. I do not refer here to the suffering caused by the occupation... but to actions of the past 20 years at least – that is, since the beginning of the occupation in 1967 – involving the confiscation of Christian property, especially in Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Al-Birah.

"What makes things worse is that those who are plundering [the Christians'] property are either powerful [in their own right] or are backed by various elements, among them high-ranking military officials or influential members of large clans.

"Attempts by the political leadership to partially rectify this situation have failed. Nor has the judiciary system been able to [resolve] many of the problems, which we still face today. Over the past few years, several of my Christian friends have told me of the harm they have suffered, including various threats, even death threats, for trying to gain access to their lands after they were taken over by influential Bethlehem residents.

"Furthermore, there has been an attempt to marginalize Christian culture in Palestine, even though it is rich and deeply rooted [there]. This began with [accusations] of unbelief [against Christians] – a move that ultimately harmed Palestinian society as a whole...

"Despite all the injustices [against the Christians], no one has seen or heard of any constructive action to curb it and to [defend] the Christians' rights – whether by the elites, by any of the three branches (executive, legislative, and judiciary), by non-government organizations, or even by the political factions themselves."

To read the entire article, click here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Glenn's IDOP sermon

If you are interested in hearing my sermon that I preached last weekend (International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church) at City Centre Baptist Church, you can download a copy by clicking here.  Given that I was really feeling rather poorly that day, I believe that God intervened and really helped me, but you can decide for yourself after listening to it

Yodok prison camp in North Korea

A couple of months ago, as part of our focus in 2008 on the country of North Korea, The Voice of the Martyrs started to make available Kang Chol-hwan's memoir, 'The Aquariums of Pyongyang'. In it, the author shares what life in the Yodok prison camp was like, where he and his family were imprisoned fro six years.  It is a disturbing account but worth reading.

Last week, I came across some video footage of the Yodok prison camp from the Japanese Fuji TV broadcasting network on YouTube that you may find interesting. 

Monday, November 10, 2008

Balloons as a means to reach North Korea

For a number of years, The Voice of the Martyrs has been using balloons as a means to send scriptures into North Korea. We aren't the only ones doing so, of course, as they have proven to be a rather effective way of getting information into this closed nation.

Apparently, the North Korean government is rather irritated by the influx of uncontrolled information getting into their country, according to a recent report on BBC (click here to view it). This report also has some great footage of the kind of balloons that we use to send literature into this closed nation.

The December edition of our newsletter will focus on North Korea. The feature article will include letters from believers in North Korea to Christians in the West. You won't want to miss it. Sign up for your free copy today.

Friday, November 07, 2008

A time for anger

Reading through the Psalms, one cannot help but note that the prayers of the psalmists are quite unlike most of ours in one significant way - they weren't afraid to be angry in the presence of God.  In Psalm 83 (which I am preaching on this weekend), the psalmist, in effect, prays, "God, stop being silent.  Your people are being afflicted by those who are seeking to wipe them (and You) from the face of the earth.  Remember how you acted in the past towards those who did this during the days of the judges?  Do it again, Lord.  Lord, smite them or save them!  But intervene on behalf of Your people."

Read them for yourself:

Psalm 83:1-18 (ESV) 
    A Song. A Psalm of Asaph.
    O God, do not keep silence;
         do not hold your peace or be still, O God!
    [2] For behold, your enemies make an uproar;
        those who hate you have raised their heads.
    [3] They lay crafty plans against your people;
        they consult together against your treasured ones.
    [4] They say, "Come, let us wipe them out as a nation;
        let the name of Israel be remembered no more!"
    [5] For they conspire with one accord;
        against you they make a covenant—
    [6] the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites,
         Moab and the Hagrites,
    [7] Gebal and Ammon and Amalek,
         Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre;
    [8] Asshur also has joined them;
        they are the strong arm of the children of Lot.  Selah
    [9] Do to them as you did to Midian,
        as to Sisera and Jabin at the river Kishon,
    [10] who were destroyed at En-dor,
        who became dung for the ground.
    [11] Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb,
        all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna,
    [12] who said, "Let us take possession for ourselves
        of the pastures of God."
    [13] O my God, make them like whirling dust,
        like chaff before the wind.
    [14] As fire consumes the forest,
        as the flame sets the mountains ablaze,
    [15] so may you pursue them with your tempest
        and terrify them with your hurricane!
    [16] Fill their faces with shame,
        that they may seek your name, O Lord.
    [17] Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever;
        let them perish in disgrace,
    [18] that they may know that you alone,
         whose name is the Lord,
        are the Most High over all the earth.

As we witness the continuing rise of persecution of Christians around the world, the brutality exhibited by regimes in Eritrea and mobs in India, the closing noose of religious restrictions in Sri Lanka and Kyrgyzstan, the mass exodus of believers from Iraq, the genocidal practices of Islamists in Somalia, how can we believe that the most appropriate response is always a dispassionate glance and gentle tongue? 

Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision and Samaritan's Purse was known for his prayer, "May my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God."  May I suggest perhaps we should also be angry at the things that anger the heart of God?

(For more discussion on the nature of the imprecatory psalms, like Psalm 83, click here)

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Orissa's Christians prepare for more violence

Orissa's Christians, ravaged by more than two months of violence, are braced for another wave of attacks as suspected Maoists killed a local worker of the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) yesterday. According to The Indian Express, Dhanu Pradhan, an RSS activist said to be on the Maoists’ hit list, was shot by three suspected Maoists in Kumharigaon village in Kandhamal at 1 p.m .

Orissa's Christians have been subjected to attacks since late August when Laxmanananda Saraswati, a leader of the Hindu extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP), was killed by a Maoist group that claimed responsibility.  Nevertheless, the VHP blamed local Christians for the killing.  Already family members of Pradhan are alleging that Christians were behind his killing too. Dhanu Pradhan was one of the leaders who spearheaded the wave of violence by Hindus against Christians in Kandhamal district last December.

Since late August thousands of Christians have been brutally beaten and left homeless, women have been raped, uncounted homes and churches have been burned down, and relief aid has been stolen. Some reports claim that as many as 500 have been killed in the riots.

Please pray urgently for this dangerous situation.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The changing power of Christ

In the first chapter of Philip Yancey’s book The Jesus I Never Knew, he writes, “No one who meets Jesus ever stays the same.” Although I haven’t yet completed the book, I have found his disclaimer to be true. Christ has the power to change people’s lives and their relationships with others. Yancey’s words remind me of Pastor Wurmbrand’s stories of communists who were inexplicably transformed when they were introduced to Christ. Indeed, when someone truly allows Jesus to come into their lives, they cannot help but change.

This Sunday is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. The theme this year is “Pray for the Persecutors.” Praying for people who bring so much harm to our brothers and sisters can be a difficult task, one that we can only hope to do if we ask Christ to work through us. But this Sunday, Christians across the world will pray that those who persecute will come to know Christ, just as Paul did. In 1 Timothy 1:13-16 Paul writes, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” Join us this Sunday as we pray for the persecutors, asking God to use our lives to draw them to Him.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Haunted but not without hope

The nature of rape is such that it can never just unfold itself on the page; it confronts its reader by asking him or her to bear witness to mankind’s wickedness in its most horrific form. Those who embrace the full reality of the Persecuted Church will be regularly confronted by reports of rape as a weapon against followers of the Christian faith. Last week’s edition of The Persecution and Prayer Alert, for example, contained an update on two young Christian sisters, Aneela and Saba, who were kidnapped, raped and forcibly married to Muslim men (one sister remains in captivity). Then there is the case of Sister Meena, the nun who was raped by Hindu militants in Orissa, India and who bravely spoke up about her assault last month (as you can see, we've discussed her case in a few recent weblogs).

There are many different prayer requests that can be made for these sisters. Right now I feel compelled to say a specific prayer that the Lord brings people into their lives who can give them the care they need as they recover from their brutal assaults. It's not just their physical care I pray for, as they will need to be healed and restored on many levels. However, this request was sparked by a newspaper article about a medical professional who cares for victims of rape.

The article describes the work of Dr. Mukwege, a doctor in The Democratic Republic of the Congo who specializes in treating women who have been raped by militias. Mukwege, whose father was a Pentecostal Pastor, has treated approximately 21,000 women—most of whom have been raped multiple times while in captivity. This staggering number haunts me even as I type simply because of what it proves about the severity of sexual violence in the Congo. For the two weeks since I read this article, its facts, figures and images have been floating around in my mind along with stories of Christian women who have been targeted for their faith. These are the kind of truths that can keep you up at night in a haze of anger and sadness and horror.

But, even though the facts in Dr. Mukwege's story can be haunting, I know that, as with the persecution stories we receive, I am blessed by having read it, not burdened. Dr. Mukwege's life and work testify to God’s ability to lead people to do His work even among the most afflicted. I’ll probably think of him when I pray for those who have been the victims of sexual violence because of their Christian faith and remember how the Lord guides dedicated and Christ-centered individuals—doctors, pastors, church leaders—to reach out to the broken. Praise God for that—and for the many ways in which He makes clear to us that even when we are at times haunted and horrified by the sufferings of this world we are never, not for one second, without His supreme and sustaining hope.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Advancing against the gates of hell in Pakistan

"On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." Matthew 16:18

nl-nov08 On a recent trip to northern Pakistan, The Voice of the Martyrs learned how Christianity had thrived until the 14th century in the region. But when a ruling khan converted to Islam, the Christian population was massacred and the Gospel was virtually eradicated from the area. 

Discover in the November edition of The Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter how, after over 600 years, a growing and vibrant church community is active once again in northern Pakistan, spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ and advancing the kingdom of God.  Learn how The Voice of the Martyrs continues to stand with our brothers and sisters in this dangerous region (being a hotbed for Islamic terrorists).  Find out how, with your prayers and support, God’s kingdom will continue to advance. Not even the gates of hell can stop it.

Subscribe to The Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter today.

To Serve and Protect

Last Friday, Malcolm MacLeod, VOMC's Volunteer Ministries Coordinator, posted a blog entitled "To Serve and Protect" on our Ambassador Network blogsite.  I thought you might appreciate what he had to say:

I note with interest the news that five police officers from Orissa State, India have now been suspended pending an investigation into their conduct during the alleged rape of a Roman Catholic nun; "the nun episode" as it has come to be known.

The actions of the police during the commission of this despicable crime were doubly hard for me to accept as I spent ten years serving as a police officer back in Scotland. My mandate then was to uphold the law by enforcement and education, prevent crime and detect offenders, preserve life and protect property and attend court to give evidence.

I took this responsibility seriously, as did my colleagues. Irrespective of where one serves, the responsibility to guard these basic tenets remains the same. This is why it grieves me so much to hear accusations that these men idly stood by and watched a nun be utterly humiliated and shamed by being paraded naked or half-naked through village streets. Fear does not come into it. There is no excuse. My experience has taught me that instinct takes over in threatening situations and those faithful to their oath would intervene whatever the cost, personal or otherwise.

I am ashamed of these men. If they are found guilty and are not held to account, I will be ashamed of their senior officers and the investigating authorities.

May justice be done and may these officers (if indeed they are guilty) and those who watched and cheered repent of their actions along with those who committed this wicked crime.

To learn more about VOMC's volunteer program, click here.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

No forcible conversions here

Hindu leaders often claim that those who convert to Christianity belong strictly to the lower or "scheduled" castes or tribes, who succumb to financial bribes or promises of a better life or claim to convert in order to break free of the caste system.  This, they say, justifies their acts of violence (such as what we are witnessing in Orissa state) against those they claim are illegitimately converting others to Christ.  As a rebuttal to these accusations, Outlook, an Indian magazine, recently published the testimonies of several high caste Hindus or Muslims who have converted to Christianity in an article entitled Yours, Faithfully.  Here are some excerpts:

Syed Ainul Hadeed, 38

"I was born in a rich Muslim family of Pune. My parents belonged to families with a rich religious heritage. When I was barely four, my parents separated. My mother and I moved in with my aunt in Hyderabad. From an early age I was taught Islamic traditions and I also learnt to read the Quran in Arabic. However, I went to schools run by the Jesuits and did well both in studies and sports. My mother and I shifted to Mumbai when I was in the sixth standard.

"It was during this period that I began carefully studying the Quran. However, I found I could not digest the teachings. Yet I did not stop believing in God's existence. This was in the late 1980s. My teenage years and early adult life were difficult—failed relationships, financial hardships and my father's death made me morose. At one point I even decided to end my life by consuming mercury. Luckily, I survived.

"It was all very strange. On the one hand I was attempting suicide, but at another level, I had an out-of-body experience. I felt my spirit drift to my old school—to the feet of Jesus Christ. I could feel his presence. After a year, I visited the school and saw the following words engraved on the pedestal on which a statue of Jesus stands to this day: 'I am the resurrection and the Life.' I believe the Holy Spirit had led me to Christ. Today, I am serving the Lord through the gifts that he has endowed me with.

"Naturally, some Muslim friends did not approve of my giving up Islam. The clerics questioned my change of faith. However, this only strengthened my resolve to study the Bible, the Quran, and the Hadiths. Finally, I realised that Christianity was my true calling."

Rajeev Menon, 42
CEO, N-Able Solutions

"Information technology companies require a strong process, otherwise there will be a delivery failure. There are proven processes of development and it is for the company to adapt them and standardise them.

"This also holds true in life. I was in my twenties and my life was a total mess.

I had no peace of mind. I was going through a personal crisis. It was then that somebody gave me a book on Jesus. It slowly transformed me. My parents saw the change in me but allowed me to choose my faith. I go for prayer meetings regularly and I have renounced all forms of idol worship."

Salma Ali, 33
Advertising and Public Relations consultant

"My mother was a Catholic who converted to Islam when she married my father. We performed namaaz regularly. But my faith was shattered when I came across a verse in the Quran that prescribed corporal punishment for stubborn women. I was shocked. I asked my father, who told me that it was like chiding a child for not listening to elders.

"After my parents separated, I moved in with my mother, who had become extremely short-tempered and abusive. At the same time, she started attending church. I used to attend the congregations she went to, at which people danced and sang, something unheard of in Islam. It was then that I started reading the Bible. I found Christianity a far more liberating religion. My life became stable, and I started doing well in my studies. I have been praying every day ever since."

Jaya Ramamurthy, 42
V-P (learning & development) with a business process outsourcing firm

"Born into a Tamil Brahmin family, I was brought up in an orthodox religious environment. We worshipped numerous gods and observed various rituals. Every Thursday, we also prayed to Sai Baba. At least 150 devotees would turn up at our house for the prayer sessions. Frankly, I could not make any sense of the rituals and yearned for a relationship with a god I could talk to, a god who would listen to me when I spoke to him.

"It was around this time that I was afflicted with scabies. I decided to go for a blind date with Jesus in the hope that I would be cured. To my surprise I was rid of my ailment. Years later, at 27, I decided to read the Bible. My mother threw it out of the window. But I did not give up and discovered a god I could talk to. Ever since, I have become far more friendly, and the love of god has changed my life. Today, when I speak, God speaks to me. My relationship with the Almighty has changed my perspective. I have become more respectful towards others."

Prabhu Guptara, 58
Executive Director (organisational development), with Wolfsberg, a UBS subsidiary

"I was 14 when I lost my father and our family lost everything in the process. From prosperity to penury—it was difficult to comprehend at that age. I could not understand how there could be so much suffering if god actually existed. How could he allow people to get away with evil acts? A chance encounter with a young man turned me to Jesus. I read the New Testament carefully and realised that evil is the consequence of man not loving god. Jesus presents a challenge to every individual, asking him to acknowledge his own inadequacies. Over the years, I have found myself moving away from being a selfish person to being more sensitive (to the needs of others)."