Saturday, January 31, 2009

Why is Blogger blocking a Saudi weblog?

I have been doing some searching around this afternoon, trying to discover why Blogger has blocked access to the Saudi weblog which I referred to yesterday.  If you click on the link, you get the following message...


I can understand why the Saudi government would try to block access to this weblog where a Saudi citizen tells of his conversion to Christianity from Islam. But I wonder why Blogger (which is run by Google) is blocking access to the site as well for the rest of the world, stating that it is in violation of Blogger's Terms of Service?  I would be curious to know what terms Google thinks this young Christian violated apart from running afoul of the Saudi government ?  I cannot even get any cached versions of this site. It is totally locked down.

Google, of course, leaves its options open in Section 10 of its Terms of Service by stating, "Google may, in its sole discretion, at any time and for any reason, terminate the Service, terminate this Agreement, or suspend or terminate your account."  Is this loophole that they can slip through when a totalitarian government leans on them for blogs that they would like to see shut down?  Might be worth asking Google about.  Why not log on to a discussion on the Blogger Help Group that is asking this very question? 

Be civil, please.  Let's see if Blogger/Google will give someone an answer.  If you do get some sort of response, please be sure to post it here. Thanks

Friday, January 30, 2009

Saudi blogger arrested; site blocked

christforsaudi Having all of my blogs hosted on Blogger, I felt a degree of solidarity when I learned of the recent arrest of a Saudi Christian blogger (now that is something I didn't expect to type out anytime soon) named Hamoud Bin Saleh who wrote about his conversion to Christ from Islam.  Like myself, he hosted his blog "Masihi Saudi" on Blogger ( On January 13, the young blogger was arrested by Saudi authorities and jailed at the infamous Eleisha political prison in Riyadh.  Saudi authorities then blocked his site (and which remains blocked). 

Previously arrested for nine months in 2004 and again last November, he was interrogated about some articles he had written that condemned the Saudi regime’s violation of human rights and the rights of converts to Christianity. According to Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Bin Saleh was released in November during a Saudi-sponsored, inter-faith dialogue conference at U.N. headquarters in New York involving representatives from 80 countries on November 12-13 in order to avoid tarnishing Saudi Arabia's image and exposing the government's false allegations.

Compass Direct reports that Bin Saleh wrote on his web site wrote that his journey to Christ began after witnessing the public beheading of three Pakistanis convicted of drug charges. Shaken, he began an extensive study of Islamic history and law, as well as Saudi justice. He became disillusioned with sharia (Islamic law) and dismayed that kingdom authorities only prosecuted poor Saudis and foreigners.  “I was convinced that the wretched Pakistanis were executed in accordance with the Muhammadan laws just because they are poor and have no money or favored positions, which they had no control or power over,” he wrote in Arabic in his December 22 posting, referring to “this terrible prejudice in the application of justice in Saudi Arabia.”

After reading how Jesus forgave – rather than stoned – a woman condemned for adultery, Bin Saleh eventually received Christ as savior.

Pray for this young man as he languishes in prison. There is little question that his life is in danger.  The Saudi government refuses to conform or comment on Bin Saleh's arrest.

Sri Lankan Buddhists shift targets

Now that the Sri Lankan government seems on the verge of solving its "Tamil problem", the attention of Sinhalese nationalists seems to be turning back towards Christians and other religious minorities whose very presence defies their desire for a purely Buddhist and Sinhalese country.  At a press briefing on January  7, Ven. Ellawela Medhananda Thero, a Buddhist monk and Member of Parliament representing the Jathika Hela Urumaya party stated that those who voted for them in the 2004 general election expected the JHU to fulfill two goals.  “One," he said, "was to end unethical conversions and the other was to liberate the country from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. That is why we entered politics.”  With the possibility of a general election being called in the spring, these promises have taken on an added urgency for the JHU. 

Accordingly, in early January, a draft anti-conversion bill was put before Sri Lanka’s parliament for an expected final vote in late February.  The bill states "No person shall, either directly or indirectly, forcibly convert or attempt to convert any person professing religion to another religion by use of force, by allurement, or by any fraudulent means." Anyone who violates this law will be liable for "imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years and also be liable to a fine not exceeding one hundred and fifty thousand rupees" (the equivalent of about three years’ wages for the average person in Sri Lanka).

The problems with this bill are manifold.  The word "allurement" is so broadly defined that just about any kind of gift, assistance, or care given by a religious organization or person could result in a charge being laid. I can even see how prayers for the sick could be seen as "allurement" if the person was actually healed (I actually met a Sri Lankan pastor who was commanded by religious leaders in his community to stop praying for the sick for this very reason). The bill also does not clearly define what constitutes forced conversion.  In fact, it is rather obvious that the real purpose of this bill is to outlaw all religious conversions.

In an article in AsiaNews today, it was reported that most Sri Lankan Buddhists welcomed the anti-conversion bill. A young university student told AsiaNews that “this law is as necessary as the government’s destruction of the LTTE (Tamil Tigers rebels). We must rid ourselves of all those who convert (others), priests and pastors who destroy our Buddhist-Sinhalese culture. Christians are living in this land peacefully because of the great Buddhism. . . . Otherwise they would have washed out long ago.”

In the interview they also quoted a Buddhist monk who said that “there is no place for many religions, many ethnic groups or many cultures. This is the only purely Buddhist and Sinhalese country in the world.”

We urge you to write to both Canadian and Sri Lankan authorities, expressing your concern over the "Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion" bill. You can write to: (you can download a sample letter here)

The Honourable Lawrence Cannon
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Lester B. Pearson Building
125 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, ONK1A 0G2
Email -

H. E. Mahinda Rajapaksa
President of Sri Lanka
Presidential Secretariat,
Secretariat Building,
Colombo 1
Sri Lanka
E-mail -

Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe
Leader of the Opposition
Office of the Opposition Leader
Cambridge Place,
Colombo 7
Sri Lanka
E-mail -

Boraluwewa_Apostolic_Church_graffiti_the_church_is_no_more_2004On the walls of destroyed church on the left, the graffiti reads, "the church is no more."  How little do Christ's persecutors realize how even the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church.  Yet the battle will not be won by force but by love, suffering and sacrifice. The feature article of The Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter will deal with the persecution facing Christians in Sri Lanka and their continuing faith and courage in the face of threats and violence.  Be sure to subscribe today to get your copy (yes, it's free).

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Has the time for confrontation passed?

According to The Times, Chinese officials and house church leaders reportedly met in secret meetings late last year for the first time “as negotiators rather than foes.” The article states, “Church leaders said that the Government – including the police, who have raided and crushed underground churches for years – had realized that the time for confrontation had passed.”

As the article points out, the timing of the meetings is not coincidental. 2009 marks the 60th anniversary of communist power in China and the government is “keen to ensure that there are no disturbances to mar its celebrations.” Actions to avoid “disorder” are not uncommon in China’s regime. During the Olympics, Chinese authorities tried to quell the perceived disruption of Christianity by increasingly targeting house church gatherings, describing the faith as an “evil cult.”

Since VOMC frequently receives reports on house churches that are raided and Christians who are beaten, arrested, and sentenced to re-education through labour in China, I couldn’t help but feel skeptical with these seemingly positive developments. Stories from VOMC’s Persecution and Prayer Alert came to mind, such as one about three Christians who were recently sentenced to one year of “re-education through labour” for "illegal proselytizing" and attending an "illegal gathering."

The attempts to ban “illegal” Christian gatherings extend beyond local officials locking up individual Christians. On November 28, the Ministry of Civil Affairs released a statement calling for the elimination of the Chinese House Church Alliance. Meanwhile, according to ChinaAid, the President of the Alliance, Pastor “Bike” Zhang Mingxuan, was recently escorted from Beijing to Henan province by Public Security Bureau officials.

Despite the efforts of the Chinese government to repress Christianity, the Gospel continues to spread. The article states, “Pastors say that raids, fines and even punishments such as re-education through labour are no longer effective; if one church is broken up new ones are started.” Obviously the techniques used against Christians like Pastor Zhang are not serving their intended purpose.

So has the time for confrontation passed? As Malcolm Moore aptly noted in The Telegraph, “The government policy during Olympics year was to crack down on the underground church. And I suspect that while these talks are an encouraging sign, the Communist Party is more likely to enforce peace during its 60th anniversary than to make concessions.”

It will be interesting to watch the effects of these meetings unfold in the coming weeks and months. Regardless of the outcome, Christians in China continue to desire the prayer and support of believers around the world. Please remember to pray for them today.

How much do you have to hate someone to not tell him about Christ?

Just a thought to consider in this day and age when evangelism is under attack as being hateful and judgmental.

"How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate someone to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?"  - Penn Jillette, an atheist comedian, magician, and filmmaker, recounting how someone recently gave him a Bible following a show.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Religious belief and war

This morning as I was reading the newspaper (as is my regular practice) I came across yet another letter to the editor spouting off how religion is the root cause of most, if not all, wars and international conflicts.  This seems to be a common refrain lately from atheists, in particular, and it is beginning to get annoying.

That wars have been fought (and continue to be fought) with religious motivation or in the name of God is unquestionable.  But to assert that religion is the root cause of the majority of violent conflict is less certain, to my mind. One need only go back to the last century for examples. 

I would suggest that the 20th century is going to be remembered by two major ideologies; fascism and communism. 

Fascism's religious roots were tenuous at best. Yes, Hitler's version, is particular, targeted a specific religiously identifiable group but his hatred of them went far beyond religion.  Jews were targeted regardless of their personal religious beliefs (even those who had converted to Christianity or had no faith at all). His hatred was racial more then religious in orientation. 

Communism had no religious roots at all.  Indeed, communism seemed determined, at least in its earlier manifestations, to pull out all religious roots of any kind.  No other ideology caused more deaths in the 20th century.  Even fascism cannot claim as many victims.

Yes, there were some wars that had religious roots in the last 100 years. But a quick look at history might conclude that atheism caused far more wars and claimed far more victims in the 20th century than religion did.  This is not excuse those who use God to justify their bloody deeds.  But I would urge atheists to be more intellectually honest about the consequences of religious belief and tone down the rhetoric. 

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Upcoming Persecuted Church Prayer Conferences

Mark your calendars and plan now to attend one of VOMC's annual Persecuted Church Prayer Conferences coming up this spring.

The global persecution of Christians is one of the great untold stories of modern-btwday Western Christianity. Believers of Jesus Christ often suffer in anonymity, their cries heard only by God. Nowhere is this truer than in North Korea. Behind the barbed wire that closes this country off from the rest of the world, thousands of Christians languish in prison camps, worship clandestinely, and witness courageously despite the threat of execution if discovered.

God calls us to remember those in bonds and to suffer together with them in their afflictions. This year’s VOMC prayer conferences will focus on our brothers and sisters in North Korea. Don’t miss this opportunity to hear firsthand reports on how God is at work in the world today and how you can get involved in remembering those behind the wire.

The conference locations and dates are:

March 28, 2009
City Centre Baptist Church
1075 Eglinton Avenue West
Mississauga, Ontario

Time: 9:15 AM - 3:45 PM

April 4, 2009
Northgate Baptist Church
13208 - 95th Street NW
Edmonton, Alberta

Time: 9:15 AM - 3:45 PM

This year’s conference speakers include:

  • Mr. Kim - Mr. Kim was born in North Korea in 1962. He served in the North Korean military for ten years and was eventually promoted to the rank of captain.  Gradually disillusioned by the deteriorating conditions of North Korea and his growing awareness of the outside world, Mr. Kim eventually escaped to China and came to know the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Glenn Penner - VOMC’s Chief Executive Officer and author of In the Shadow of the Cross: A Biblical Theology of Persecution and Discipleship, Glenn has ministered around the world on behalf of the Persecuted Church since 1997.
  • Eric Foley - Eric Foley and his wife, Mrs. Ahn Hyun Sook, are the founders of the Voice of the Martyrs Korea. Their primary calling is to serve the North Korean church.
  • Trevor Dick - Trevor Dick is a popular electric andacoustic violinist who has toured across Canada, the United States, South America, and Africa. Trevor will lead the worship times and bless us with his musical skills at the conferences this year.
  • Greg Musselman - VOMC’s Chief Communications Officer (Multimedia Productions), Greg has travelled extensively, interviewing persecuted Christians and producing video documentaries for the mission. A popular speaker, Greg also ministers to churches across Canada.

There will also be "break out" sessions on the themes of "What exactly does the Bible teach about persecution?" by Glenn Penner, "Becoming a VOMC volunteer" by Ed Blasco, and "The ministry of letter writing" by Adele Konyndyk/Erin Vandenberg.


There is no cost to attend.  Refreshments will be provided but you will be responsible for your own lunch. Many restaurants are located in close proximity to both sites (a map will be provided at the conference). No childcare will be provided. For help in locating nearby hotels, please call our office at 1.888.298.6423.

For more information, download our brochure by clicking here.

Ten years later, we still remember

clip_image001[5]It is hard to fathom that shortly after midnight tonight, it will be ten years since Australian missionary, Graham Staines, 58, along with his two sons Philip,10,and Timothy, 8, were burnt alive by Hindu militants as they slept in their station wagon in Manoharpur, Orissa. clip_image001

At 12.20 a.m. on January 23 1999, a mob armed with sticks, axes and pitchforks surrounded the station wagon. And as they approached the vehicle, they began screaming. Dara Singh struck first, deflating the ties with an axe.  Others broke windows and prevented the Staines from escaping. They then set the vehicle alight.  No one survived the attack.

In the weeks that followed, Christians from India and around the world were inspired by the faith and forgiveness expressed by Gladys Staines towards the killers of her husband and sons.  In a recent interview with AsiaNews, Gladys said, "I cannot express that how I felt when I got the news of my husband and sons being burnt alive. I told my daughter Esther that though we had been left alone, we would forgive and my daughter replied, 'Yes, we will'."

Referring to the recent attacks on Christians in Kandhamal, she said,  "These sisters of mine in Kandhamal who have sacrificed their husbands for the sake of Christ - I tell them be strong, stay strong, and Christ will be your support, your companion, your guide and your strength. When God is working with us, nothing can be against us. I am in prayerful solidarity with them, I share their sufferings and I want to encourage them with hope. It is painful and sad but importantly - it is not how we live, but what matters is ‘whether we are in the will of God’. Support them with your solidarity and prayers....I forgive the other, because I have first received forgiveness from Jesus Christ - I have encountered the presence of Jesus in my life and this is the spirit I share. When we forgive, there is no bitterness and we live our lives and continue the task entrusted to us - with His grace and peace. These Kandhamal widows have also been touched by Jesus. All Christians who have known the intervention of Jesus in their lives will have this gift to forgive and to be the witnesses of His peace and presence. Support them with your solidarity and prayers. To the people of the world I say, do not give up hope, pray for India."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dutch film-maker to be tried for hate speech

This afternoon we received word that the Court of Appeal in Amsterdam has ordered the criminal prosecution of Geert Wilders, a Dutch member of parliament who produced a film last year linking the Quran to violence. The court said, "In a democratic system, hate speech is considered so serious that it is in the general interest to... draw a clear line." Wilders, however, said the judgement was an "attack on the freedom of expression".

While The Voice of the Martyrs does not agree or support some of the assertions made in the controversial film, neither do we agree with the court's decision to to prosecute the film-maker.  Freedom of expression must include the right to say things that some would consider offensive or even wrong. I am not convinced that it is possible to do as the court hopes to do (ie. draw a clear line) for reasons that I give in earlier blogs.  Quite simply, I am not a fan of hate speech laws.  Limiting the rights for others to express different opinions, represents a significant threat not only to freedom of expression and religious liberty but to democracy and the Rule of Law itself. This trend undermines two basic premises of the Rule of Law principle. The first is the shift from the objective (what was expressed) to the subjective (how was it received and/or perceived). This represents (as Mats Tunehag well stated) "a shift from freedom of speech to "freedom from hearing'; from the speaker to the hearer; from what was said to how it was perceived; from instigating violence to ‘I was offended'; from objective to subjective criteria and laws." The second Rule of Law principle that is being undermined by this trend is the loss of predictability. Laws and the consequences of breaking them should be predictable. But how can one know if what one says is going to offend someone, somewhere, for some reason? The law, therefore, becomes entirely subjective and liable to abuse, just as we see in the abusive use of blasphemy laws of Pakistan today.

Why don't you watch the film yourself and then give us your opinion whether this film can be properly considered criminal?

<a href="">Geert Wilders's film, Fitna, is criminal hate speech</a> | <a href="">BuzzDash polls</a>

Prayer is the place to start

Every morning, our staff here at The Voice of the Martyrs gathers together in the main entrance of our office for a time of prayer as we commit ourselves, our work, and those we serve to God.  I confess that I find it hard to keep my eyes closed while others are praying and my gaze frequently wanders to the wall-size painting below, depicting the various countries where VOMC works and where there is violent persecution.  As I stare at this wall in our office, I am often reminded of those I have met, served with, and pray for. I find that a prayer map is a great way to focus my thoughts.


If you would like to have a printed prayer map/poster of your own (similar to the one painted on our wall), why not contact us and have us send you one for free.  I regret that we can only send them to those with Canadian mailing addresses, though.  Let's make 2009 a year where we begin each day in the presence of God, remembering our brothers and sisters around the world who are suffering for what we believe in.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Newly-converted Christians expelled by sons in Bangladesh

What does it take to pressure someone into expelling their own parents from home? Violence? Threats of imprisonment? Harm against their loved ones?

Compass Direct this week reported on two brothers in a western Bangladesh village who were pressured by local Muslims into expelling their parents, who came to faith in Christ in early November. “Why should your parents live in this village? They do not have right to live here because they are no longer Muslims,” the Muslims reportedly told the brothers. In this case, the main threat was that if the brothers allowed their parents to stay in the home then their children would never be allowed to marry anyone in the village.

The banished Christian couple remains steadfast in faith, even as they struggle to find food and deal with the pain of being rejected by their own sons. “I got salvation in Jesus. In this shelter without food, I am ready to flirt with death by debilitating illness or by attack by Muslim neighbours, but never will I go back to Islam,” said the 70-year-old father and grandfather.

What hardship for new converts to face. And yet, what a testimony this couple is giving to the peace that comes with entrusting all things to Christ. We can hope and pray that the Lord not only provides for them, but works through them—and, God willing, even draws their sons to faith in Christ.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Blasphemy laws 'will be abolished,' says Pakistan Minister for Minorities

ASSIST News Service reported today that Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's Minister for Minorities promised in a telephone interview that Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws 'will be abolished.'

"Religious minorities have been neglected, victimized and oppressed in Pakistan," he told ANS. "They have faced constitutional and institutionalized discrimination and inequality but our government is committed to address the long-standing issues of minorities. We are making all-out efforts to uplift and empower minorities."

This are welcome words, of course. We would certainly be delighted by a repeal of these draconian laws which have been repeatedly used to persecute Christians. Of course, the previous president, Pervez Musharraf, also made such promises in 1999 and even attempted to fulfill them before being forced to back down after pressure from Islamist groups, settling instead on making various public statements deploring religious intolerance but effectively doing nothing. Let's just hope that Bhatti's words are not more of the same.

Hamas in their own voices

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Chinese authorities deny dying husband's request for a final visit with his imprisoned wife

pastor-huas-father Chinese government authorities have denied Hua Zaichen, 91, visitation with his imprisoned wife, 79-year-old Shuang Shuying, according to China Aid Association (CAA).

Zaichen, who is deathly ill, requested a final meeting with his wife to say his goodbyes, but officials refused to grant the request. “Authorities say Shuang Shuying in not allowed to leave prison before February 8, 2009, the end of her two-year sentence. Officials stated that if her husband died before then, she would be allowed to see his body for 10 minutes and would have to be chained, handcuffed, shackled and wearing a prison uniform,” CAA added.

The government’s refusal to allow Zaichen to see his wife is the latest in a series of incidents including attacks, arrests and imprisonments for his family. In January 2007, Hua Huiqi and his 76-year-old mother, Shuang Shuying, were attacked and wounded by seven police officers while walking near a 2008 Olympic hotel site in Beijing. CAA reported, “They were kicked to the ground and later taken to the Olympic police station for questioning.” Hua’s mother was sentenced to two years in prison for “intentional damage of properties”, while Hua served six months.  Her crime?  Her cane accidentally hit a machine in the lobby of a government building she had sought refuge in during the arrest. In October 2007, while under house arrest, Hua was repeatedly attacked and beaten by police at his home. Hua was reading his Bible at his home despite police surrounding his house. He was sent to Beijing Tiantan Hospital because he lost consciousness after repeated beatings from the police.

Shuang Shuying has remained in prison and is also reportedly very ill. She has been held in a medical centre because her health has deteriorated.

Pray for this courageous family during this time.  Pray that God will move the hearts of the Chinese authorities to release Shuang.

Monday, January 12, 2009

When things go nasty

A report by a national UK newspaper over the weekend has added a nasty element to the story of David and Fiona Fulton, a British couple jailed in Gambia on charges of sedition.  To be honest, I don't know if the report is accurate or not and having read a recent interview of Fiona's father, I am not sure that anyone knows the full truth.

And that's the problem with this story, as one of our commenters had been pointing out for the past few days. There is just so much confusion and contradictory reporting going on. A few things are clear, however. 

It is obvious, for example, that this couple was far from being the perfect missionary couple.  Not that anyone is, but this couple seems to have a few more "warts" than most. It may even be suggested that they had no business being in Gambia, if half of the accusations are true.  Their story underlines the need for accountability in ministry, if nothing else.  It is difficult to identify anyone who can really speak on their behalf now, since they seem to have gone to Gambia on their initiative without meaningful backing from or accountability to another mission organization or denomination.

It is also clear to me that this couple got in trouble not because they were Christians, per se, but because of a lack of wisdom.  There is a difference.  We are to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves, Jesus said in Matthew 10:16. As I mention in my book, in the face of persecution, it is easy to lose self-control and do foolish things—to respond with fear, and thereby compromise with the enemy. On the other hand, there is the equal danger of wrongly understanding courage, to provoke the authorities and deliberately attract persecution. Wisdom is needed to know what to do, where to stand, and what not to do, so that when suffering comes, it is truly for the sake of Christ and not because of one’s own foolishness (page 121).

To that end, I am going to stop doing updates on this couple for the time being.  I am no longer certain that this case is one of true Christian persecution. I still contend that the penalty was too severe for the "crime" but we do no one any favour by sanctifying it either as persecution, when it is by no means certain to be such.  If you disagree, feel free to let me know.  

A word of wisdom about emails

emailjail In searching for up-to-date reports on David and Fiona Fulton, I ran across a very helpful article (from the Jakarta Post, of all places) on how to be sure an indiscreet email does not land you in jail.  The article begins,

An indiscreet email that falls into the wrong hands can land you in jail.

Take the case of David and Fiona Fulton, a British missionary couple in Gambia. According to The Times, an email critical of the country's president fell into the hands of a Gambian who promptly forwarded it to the Gambian police.

The couple, hoping for leniency, pleaded guilty to sedition. Without luck: In December, the court sentenced them to a year in jail with hard labor.

If you're working in a foreign country, how can you avoid a fate like this? Well, there are technical solutions but they aren't much use without a good dose of common sense.... 

(click here to read the remainder of this article)

Friday, January 09, 2009

Bhatti taken out of context?

This afternoon I received a phone call from a Mr. Masih, a representative from the International Christian Voice, an organization that claims to work on behalf of persecuted Christians in Pakistan. I was aware of the group when it was still called Christian Liberation Front. Led by Peter Bhatti, brother of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's minister of minorities affairs, I gradually came to realize a few years ago that IVC (or CLF) also served as a front for the the Pakistan People's Party and the links between the two have certainly not diminished since the PPP took power.

So I was not surprised when Mr. Masih proceeded to inform me that Shahbaz Bhatti had been taken out of context when newspapers reported that he had said that Pakistan's minorities now enjoyed "equal opportunities." He was also concerned that my earlier blog was being circulated in Pakistan in which I had republished a letter that I sent earlier this week to Shahbaz (which I have received no reply to, by the way). Masih continued by emphasizing all of the good things that the PPP and Shahbaz had been doing for Christians, at which point I interrupted him and suggested that he sounded very much like an apologist for the PPP. I asked him if the PPP was truly doing enough for Pakistan's Christians, to which he mildly admitted that more action was needed. Not to be be thrown off message, however, he then continued to try to convince me that Bhatti was doing all that he could and that Muslim militants were out to destroy his reputation by misquoting him. I pointed out to Mr. Masih, however, that the criticism that I was reading was mostly coming from other Pakistani Christians, to which he had no response.

The discussion was civil and polite. And I wanted to be fair. So, at that point I offered to receive any information that he could provide that would prove that Shahbaz had, indeed, been misquoted. I invited ICV to send me any information they had that would demonstrate this. We'll see what, if anything, comes of it.

I admit that it is possible that Shahbaz Bhatti was misquoted. If it can be shown that such was truly the case, I will gladly retract my letter. But, as I said in response to a comment to my earlier blog, if these comments were taken out of context and Mr. Bhatti is truly concerned to clear his name (as today's phone call would seem to suggest), I am still waiting for him to send out a press release stating clearly that Christians in Pakistan do NOT enjoy equal opportunities. If he was misquoted, he should clarify what he did say and mean.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Reaping the whirlwind

"The charges brought yesterday against two leaders in the polygamous community of Bountiful, B.C., are likely the first steps in a process that could see Canada's anti-polygamy law struck down as unconstitutional."

So begins a story in today's National Post as the RCMP arrested and charged two members of a fundamentalist Mormon sects in Bountiful, British Columbia of practicing polygamy under the Criminal Code. While such charges are long overdue, it is extremely doubtful, in my opinion, that they will be able to survive a religious freedom defence under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedom.  In 2006, a report for the federal government concluded that the present anti-polygamy law was unconstitutional and that, if enforced, would be struck down as such.  The courts have also shown a willingness to redefine the family as not being strictly the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, as evidenced by the legalization of gay marriage on the basis that to deny such a union was unconstitutional and a violation of the Charter.

The thing is, many people, including myself, knew that this is exactly where we would end up when marriage was redefined by our government and Charter reinterpreted in ways that, I am sure, the authors never even conceived of.  Supporters of same-sex marriage assured us that we were only being Chicken Little's crying that the sky was about to fall.  They were wrong and I fear, we will soon see the legalization of polygamy in Canada.

Hard not to reap the whirlwind when you have sowed to the wind (see Hosea 8:7).

Making a desert In the name of the Lord



Weep, weep for those
Who do the work of the Lord
With a high look
And a proud heart.
Their voice is lifted up
In the streets, and their cry is heard.
The bruised reed they break
By their great strength, and the smoking flax
They trample.

Weep not for the quenched
(For their God will hear their cry
And the Lord will come and save them)
But weep for the quenchers.

For when the day of the Lord
Is come, and the vales sing
And the hills clap their hands
And the light shines
Then their eyes shall be opened
On a waste place,
The smoke of the flax bitter
In their nostrils,
Their feet pierced
By broken reed stems...
Wood, hay, and stubble,
And no grass springing,
And all the birds flown.

Weep, weep for those
Who have made a desert
In the name of the Lord.

(Evangeline Paterson, Deep is the Rock, Arthur H. Stockwell Ltd, 1966).

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Not just for the mature

A few weeks ago, our webmaster forwarded me an email from someone who was unsubscribing from our weekly email news service "The Persecution and Prayer Alert". In order to better serve, we ask if those who unsubscribe would tell us why. This particular individual wrote:

"What you publish is gut-wrenching and soul piercing reality. Reality to the point that I hang my head in shame at what I perceive as "tests of faith". I am such a terribly frail vessel in comparison to the courageous ones I read about. At this time I no longer wish to receive until I am fully prepared to deal with what I read. Thank you and may the Lord continue a mighty work in and through you."

Our webmaster indicated to me that quite a number of people express similar sentiments when unsubscribing.

I pondered on this email for quite a while and only yesterday did it come to me how to respond.

The underlying assumption, it seems to me, in this email is one that thinks that being exposed to and responding appropriately to the persecution of one's fellow Christians is best experienced by the spiritually mature. There is also the assumption that those who suffer persecution are much more spiritually mature than the average Western Christian.

I suggest that neither are entirely true. First, the book of Hebrews encourages us to consider the faithfulness of those who have suffered for their faith and to imitate it (Hebrews 11 & 13). Yet, the author rebukes them for their immaturity (Hebrews 5:11-13). I argue that exposure to the persecuted and their testimonies and responding in obedience to their plight matures one in his/her faith. Second, spiritual maturity is not a criteria for being persecuted. Christians have been persecuted who are only one day old in the faith while others have been believers for many years. The martyrs range from being children to being elders, from being church leaders to new converts, men, women, young, old. Not all exhibit courage. Not all stand firm. Many do, but they hardly see themselves as heroes (this is one word that could disappear from our Christian vocabulary without much loss). It is all a work of God's grace. This is why we need to be exposed to the stories of persecution; they are evidence of God at work in the world today, in the lives of the persecuted and how He can work in our lives as well.

Latest update on the Fultons

Over the weekend, contents of a letter sent to the Gambian president by imprisoned British couple, David and Fiona Fulton, was broadcast on Gambian state television, publicly apologizing and asking for clemency.  Excerpts of some the emails that reportedly got them into trouble have also come to light.  In my opinion, from what I have read, the email's contents certainly demonstrated questionable judgment in some incidents and I can understand why they were viewed in a poor light by the Gambian president.  However, I still contend that arresting someone for having a questionable sense of humour and poor judgment is hardly worth being detained, fined, and sentenced to hard labour.  It is also clear that there is no way that the Fultons would have ever received a fair trial when their own lawyer is quoted as telling the Sunday Telegraph last Friday that his client was a "fantasist" and called the emails "appalling".  With defendants like this, who needs prosecutors?

The BBC also reported today that the couple's adopted two-year-old daughter is now with family in the UK.

Do continue to pray for their release and return to the UK.  Pray that the heart of the Gambian president will be moved to show clemency.  Yes, these folks are not perfect, but their actions in Gambia were hardly criminal.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Letter to Shahbaz Bhatti

ShahbazBhatti For several years, we at The Voice of the Martyrs were acquainted with the Pakistani human rights activist, Shahbaz Bhatti. On at least three occasions, he visited us in our headquarters here in Canada and I remember well him sitting across the desk in my present office, sharing his concern and work on behalf of Christians in his homeland. When he was arrested a few years back, we advocated on his behalf and engaged in a couple of projects together.

Earlier this year, Mr, Bhatti was appointed the Minister of Minorities Affairs in the new Pakistani government. I remember being concerned at the time. An old saying goes, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." I was concerned that Shahbaz would become an apologist for the government, promoted into silence or worse, into becoming a voice of propaganda.

I was saddened to read today of a recent press release from his department where Bhatti told a delegation of church leaders on Saturday, among other things, that minorities in Pakistan are enjoying equal opportunities under the new government. The following is a letter that I wrote to my old colleague expressing my concern:

Dear Mr. Bhatti,

Greetings from Canada. I remember well your visits to my office in past years. I was always impressed by your passion to better the condition of Christians in Pakistan.

I was disappointed to read your recent press release in which you state that religious minorities are enjoying equal opportunities in Pakistan. This is not the tune you sang not that very long ago when you were not in the government. As you know, many Christians continue to suffer discrimination, imprisonment, and attacks because of their faith. This is not equal opportunity. We both know that the Prime Minister is not a miracle worker and things have not improved so dramatically in such a short time.

I was afraid that, upon entering the halls of power, your voice would be silenced. I am saddened that it has not been. At least silence would be better than speaking things that we both know are not true. I urge you to resign your post and take up the mantle of speaking on behalf of persecuted Christians as was your best destiny. In your present position, you are only serving as an instrument to justify the status quo or, perhaps worse, overstating miniscule improvements.

Glenn Penner
Chief Executive Officer
The Voice of the Martyrs (Canada)

Now some will probably write and tell me that this is the way government works and that, at least, Shahbaz is trying to make some sort of contribution. I understand this, but this reflects the tension that Christians face when they enter politics. When one's commitment to the party requires you to compromise your commitment to the truth, isn't the price too high?

I urge you to write to Mr. Bhatti and urge him to be more proactive in addressing, admitting, and speaking out on continuing inequalities being suffered by Pakistani Christians.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Besieged by charities?

charity_hands This is the time of year that many of us get besieged by requests from charities asking for money.  The economic downturn has only added a degree of urgency to these pleas for help.  Donations down, needs still increasing, etc., etc. It is easy to either cave in and impulsively give to the charity with the saddest story or say, "A pox on all of your houses!" and refuse to give at all.  Recently I received a letter from a retired man who was terribly upset at the antics of some charities who had pressured him to give more at a time in his life when he was really struggling to make ends meet.  In anger, he decided to cut us all off.  This really bothered me since we are a ministry who does not do direct fund-raising (and never will, as long as I am CEO).

As so, I read with interest a recent article in the January edition of WORLD magazine written by Joel Beltz entitled "Trash it."  In it he reveals not only a few things that fund-raisers would rather you not know, but also how to really help those charities whose work you believe it and even those whose you don't.

Here's a taste of what he wrote:

...I suggest it's time to take control again through an equally simple process. Just throw those appeals away—just as fast as they arrive. Or, if you want to be a bit more civil about it, prepare a form letter of your own to send to the organizations that have been mailing to you. Tell them you no longer want to play this game, and to save them money, you'd like your name removed from their list.

And then. Then get involved in some disciplined, thoughtful—and really generous—stewardship....

Click here to read the whole article. I hope it will help you to be a better steward of God's resources in the coming year.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

2008 in review

It is common at the turn of a new year to look back and to make lists of the most significant events in the past 12 months.  The result is usually rather subjective and rarely accepted by everyone as being accurate.  This may be a particularly difficult challenge when it comes to religious liberty stories.  How does one determine were the most important stories?  The number of people involved?  The level of violence inflicted?  The long term consequences?

Nevertheless, I am going to venture out and give a brief description of the 10 stories that stand out to me as I think back on 2008.

  • The anti-Christian riots in Orissa, India. Many have killed and thousands made homeless in the riots that broke out in Orissa early in 2009 and again in August.  Probably no single situation has been more on the forefront of The Voice of the Martyrs this year.
  • The continuing controversy here in Canada over what many (including VOMC) consider the abuse of provincial and federal human rights commissions in trying to restrict freedom of expression, particularly concerning criticism of homosexuality and Islam. 
  • China's blatant breaking of its Olympic promises to improve its human rights record, including religious freedom.
  • Algeria's crackdown on Muslim converts and arrests of evangelists.
  • The continuing exodus of Christians in Iraq in the face of threats and violence from Muslim militants.
  • The United Nations' passing of a resolution against the so-called defamation of religion.
  • Hundreds killed in riots in Jos, Nigeria
  • Iran's crackdown on converts and drafting of an law that would legislate the death penalty for apostates from Islam.
  • The killing of aid worker Gayle Williams in Kabul, Afghanistan by the Taliban on the accusation that she "came to Afghanistan to teach Christianity to the people."
  • The continuing kidnapping, rape and forcible marriage of underage Christian girls by Muslim men in Pakistan.

Why don't you tell us what you think is the top persecution story of 2008?  We welcome your comments.

Many of these are ongoing concerns and require your continuing prayers.  Thank you for each of you who prayed for the persecuted in 2008.  May we encourage you to not only continue but to increase in your love for our afflicted brothers and sisters in 2009?  And don't keep this to yourself.  Please encourage others to receive both our weekly email update service The Persecution and Prayer Alert and our monthly full-colour newsletter.  These two tools not only provide the information necessary to be an effective prayer warrior for the persecuted but give a perspective on persecution that few receive today in their churches.  If you are not receiving them already, subscribe today.  Both the newsletter and the email updates are both free for the asking but will call you to a costly walk with Jesus (just as Jesus, Himself, did).