Saturday, February 28, 2009

Are "you" the reason for our present recession?

It's easy to try to find people to blame for the present recession that seems to have gripped the economies of the world.  Greedy bankers, CEOs with exorbitant salaries and bonuses, politicians who encouraged out of control debt.  The list could go on, and there is a degree of truth to all of it.  But the issue goes much deeper, as an insightful article in Macleans a few weeks ago, points out. The article suggests that, quite simply, the present debt crisis may have come about because we all came to believe that we deserved the very best whether we could afford it or not. 

As the article's authors point out, "advertising has always promised us a better life through stuff. But listen for it, and you’ll notice the pitch has changed.  The shift is subtle, but powerful."  There was a time when advertising encouraged aspirations to a better you, a better life, a rosier future.  "See this," the ad would suggest. "This could be you."  That changed in recent years and I saw it expressed around the world, even among developing world Christians.  People began to believe that they need not aspire to anything; they were already worthy of it, they deserved it, they were owed it, they should get it now.  The focus shifted from desire and aspiration to entitlement and affirmation. 

In the West, this affirmational approach (you are perfect just the way you are, you deserve this, it's all about you!) led to debt accumulation of a type never seen in history. Now the time has come to pay the piper and many are finding that their possessions are worth less than what they owe for them. In the rest of the world, it also led to debt but also to dependency on foreign generosity fed by Western guilt over the perceived financial inequalities between churches in the developed and developing world.  We contributed to this by convincing our brothers and sisters in the developing world that they should have all of the gadgets and perks that we have. Now. Why use your old computer that, though adequate, lacked certain features?  Your international partners will surely get you a new one.  Surely you can't be a church leader without a Blackberry?  After all, all of the foreigner missionaries have one.  Why worship in a home or a grass hut, which a fancier, cement and steel facility could be built, even if the ability to pay for and maintain such a building is impossible. Surely the foreigner, with his wealth, owes it to you!  Why wait, when you can be get it now?  Why save, when you can ask someone else to fund it?  And we in the West, with our good intentions and values increasingly influenced by values of entitlement and instant gratification created an environment where the passing on of such beliefs to our foreign partners was not only possible but inevitable.  We rewarded those who sought after things like we did! 

I wonder if this recession is really going to teach us anything about our sense of entitlement and inappropriate use of money and debt both here and around the world.  Our present attitudes created this mess but now we seem intend on insisting that our government spend their (our) way into oblivion in an attempt to get back to where we think we deserve to be. 

What is a Christian radical?

In recent years, the picture of a Christian radical has tended to be painted in terms of someone who "rides a motorcycle, writes edgy books, does podcasts, speaks at conferences (for top fees), and never really sacrifices much at all."  But, as Mike Barrett recently wrote in Christianity, "we're swallowing a placebo, a sugar pill that claims to make life more interesting."  Click here to read Barrett's fantastic article entitled "Searching for Radical Faith" and discover the surprising results of his search of what it means to be truly radical.

VOMC welcomes US nonparticipation in Durban 2

The Voice of the Martyrs welcomes news that the United States will join Canada in not participating in the upcoming U.N. conference on racism in April.  Last week, the State Department sent two representatives to Geneva where the final document was being negotiated that is to be issued by conference participants at the end of the conference.  According to the Canwest News Service, the U.S. State Department described talks over a conference "outcome document'' as going from "bad to worse.''

"The current text of the draft outcome document is not salvageable,'' said Robert Wood, a State Department spokesman.

U.S. officials signalled that the document being prepared for signature by attending governments appears to be worse than the one that emerged in 2001.

Proposals for drafts show there are assaults on free speech under the guise of defending religions from defamation; new reparation demands for slavery; a singling out of Israel for special criticism among all other nations; and attempts to counter Western efforts to combat terrorism.

Even when UN documents are not legally binding, countries are expected to follow their guidelines if they sign them.

It is hoped that this decision will cause other Western democracies to seriously reconsider their participation in this charade of a human right conference.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sri Lanka defers anti-conversion bill debate

We were pleased to learn this morning that debate on a religious-conversion bill in Sri Lanka's parliament has been deferred amid opposition from Christians. According to UCANews, "a parliamentary committee comprising Christian parliamentarians and leaders of political parties on Feb. 18 examined the bill and agreed it might have serious consequences on religious activities, spark interreligious conflict and possibly violate the country's constitution." 

Pandu Bandaranayake, the Minister of Religious Affairs, confirmed Christians have called for more clarity on some words in the bill and so, despite opposition from the JHU, a party formed by Buddhist monks, the bill will be re-examined by the march-nlreligious consultative committee of his ministry.

It is believed that this relief will only be temporary and that there will be considerable pressure by the JHU to bring back the bill virtually unchanged for debate. 

The March edition of The Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter has several articles featuring the persecution facing Christians in Sri Lanka.  Be sure to subscribe today so you can receive your copy!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Persecution in a tropical paradise

It's the time of year when many people choose to break free from the winter "blahs" by vacationing in a warmer climate. If you type "Maldives" into Google, you'll be flooded with idyllic pictures of a tempting tropical paradise—stretches of sandy beaches, pristine blue water and cloudless sky. It's easy to see why the country has become a popular tourist destination—one that perhaps some Canadians are enjoying at this very moment.

Up until a few years ago, I simply thought of Maldives as one of many vacation places, grouping it with places such as Jamaica and Barbados. But, if you Google "Maldives" and "religious freedom," you'll see that there's more going on here than rest and relaxation; the country is far from a carefree paradisaical environment for its Christians.

The reality of the trials facing Maldivian Christians became especially clear to me while we were updating our online country report on the nation. Maldives' constitution, for example, is based on the assumption that any Maldivian citizen is automatically a Muslim. What if Canadian law operated according to such an assumption, with Canadian identity inextricable from religious identity? How frustrated, constrained, angry and fearful would I feel? To live in a country where by law my Christianity faith was actually considered non-existent seems impossible to imagine! Yet this is the very struggle of Maldivian Christians. The government is essentially trying to "erase" their faith in Christ by denying its very existence—and thus denying believers their fundamental human rights. Although we don't receive frequent incident reports from this country, it's clear from the information that we do have that the persecution is severe.

It's not pleasant to have my idyllic image of Maldives shattered by the hard truths of religious repression. I can no longer look at the pictures of the gorgeous tropical landscape the same way now that I know the suffering going on behind the scenes. However, ultimately I am grateful to know of the reality facing Christians in this country. Continue to pray that our Maldivian brothers and sisters in Christ will persevere in faith, testifying to the beauty that's far beyond beaches and sun: that of Christ's love and faithfulness.

Concerns over early U.S. foreign affairs decisions

As President Obama's team begins to work out its plans for putting a new face on U.S. foreign policy, I am certainly encouraged by its apparent commitment to multilateralism, an approach that had taken quite a beating during the Bush administration. Usually, working together cooperately with one's allies works better than striking it out alone.  However, I am also concerned over two of the early decisions that this new administration has taken.

The first is the decision for the U.S. to send a delegation to the planning sessions for what is being called Durban 2, a follow-up on the 2002 UN Conference Against Racism.  For a conference against racism, Durban 1 certainly contained a 31801lot of it, as anti-western, anti-American, and anti-Israel resolutions poisoned the event. At the instigation of notorious human rights abusers, Israel was demonized as a "apartheid state" and anti-Jewish drawings filled with vile hatred adorned protest signs and even NGO displays.  Already there are clear signs that this conference in April will be a continuation of the same tactics and themes as the 2002 debacle.  Canada and Israel have already declared their plan to boycott the event.  The U.S. walked out of Durban 1, but seems prepared to look conciliatory in the hopes of not isolating too many other countries so early in Obama's presidency.  This is not the time for half-measures or trying to look reasonable, especially if only to impress unreasonable people.  This tight-rope that they are trying to walk here is untenable and will please no one ultimately.  The U.S. must choose the path that seems moral and stay with it, even if it makes them look like the previous administration at least temporarily.

Equally concerning was the announcement last week by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her first official trip to China that U.S pressing on human rights issues, "can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis. We have to have a dialogue that leads to an understanding and cooperation on each of those."  At least, as one British columnist put, Clinton is being honest about it. "For 20 years Western, particularly British and American, leaders have assured their publics that they would pressurise Beijing on Tibet, political dissidents and freedom of religion. The rhetoric was empty."  That is unfortunately largely true, and was, in my opinion, characteristic even of President Bush's administration in regards to China. 

However, Clinton's approach is quite wrongheaded to publicize at a time when freedom in China is at such a tipping point.  Okay, it'll be good for business in the midst of an economic meltdown, but, as the Herald Tribune put it, "Clinton's position has two potentially detrimental effects. It undermines the long-fought campaign for a comprehensive foreign policy, one recognizing the interdependence of human rights concerns with traditional strategic goals. And it ultimately fails civil society groups in China and those suffering human rights abuses."

Do you Twitter?

twitter-bird Twitter is one of the fastest growing technologies on the Internet.  Its genius is its simplicity- it allows users to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?  We use Twitter primarily as a way to update our friends as to when there are updates to our Persecuted Church Weblog. But from time to time, we will also use it to post prayer requests and simple news when away from the office, since we can send messages to Twitter via a mobile phone. 

In order to use Twitter you will need one of these things: an Internet connection or a mobile device that allows you to receive Twitter messages. Following VOMC on Twitter simply means receiving our Twitter updates on your mobile devise, on various widgets (depending on how dedicated a Twitterer you are), or on the web at your personal Twitter page. It's up to you.

Start following VOMC on Twitter today and stay connected with the Persecuted Church and the work of our mission.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Presence, not just gifts

On of my responsibilities here at The Voice of the Martyrs is to write the monthly thank you letter to our donors.  We are so grateful for the faithfulness of our donors during these uncertain times.  To date, we are still on par with last year and we trust that God will continue to impress upon Canadians to join their persecuted brothers and sisters in their mission to win the world for Christ.

As I was writing the March letter,  I thought that perhaps I would share a portion of with you:

Recently I approved trips for members of our staff to travel to the Middle East and to Ukraine to personally minister to our family there. In Ukraine, the issue is no longer active persecution, but the continuing health issues, suffering and deprivation faced by elderly pensioners who continue to live with the consequences of their torture under Communist officials when they were younger. We personally provide money, medicine, and food to fifty of them in western Ukraine, near Lviv. Our staff will be traveling there to visit them in their homes, pray with them and pass on your love and greetings to these veterans of the spiritual war that waged in the region between 1950 and 1990.

In the Middle East, we will be meeting and praying with Muslim converts who are in hiding for their lives because of their decision to follow Jesus. There really is no turning back for these dear saints. They often have to move from place to place and The Voice of the Martyrs provides funds for shelter and food for them in their time of need and biblical literature so that they can grow in their faith.

Your donations make these kinds of projects possible, as well as the trips to personally minister to our brothers and sisters. It is important that we not just send money. These dear folk are often overwhelmed that someone would come from the other side of the world to visit them, to show them that Christians in Canada know and care about their plight. And they thank us profusely for coming, begging that we will return again soon.

Thank you for giving us this privilege and we will be sure to give them your greetings when we see them

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Financial accountability a must!

This week, reports in the Toronto Star show how a Hamilton-based church, Dominion Christian Centre, recently had its charitable-status revoked due to unresolved concerns revealed by their auditors.  I have no comment as to whether these reports are accurate or not.  They do, however, point out the importance of financial integrity, accountability and transparency.  As our Board of Directors reviewed our annual auditor's report on Monday submitted by Mississauga-based Roetsch & Company, we were gratified to hear that we were, in their opinion, better than average compared to other non-profits that they were aware of.  They made a few suggestions for slight improvements and our Board immediately passed motions that came to effect immediately that not only met but exceeded their suggestions.  We have nothing to fear or to hide here at The Voice of the Martyrs and we are able to pursue the mission that God has given us legally and ethically without undue hindrance.  We are grateful for having to submit yearly to the scrutiny of our auditors, the Canadian Council of Christian Charities and the provincial and federal governments.  It makes us a better mission.

When I hear of ministries that have their status revoked, I am saddened, not especially for the organization itself but for the donors who were let down by those they trusted.  When I hear of people donating to organizations who actually refuse to register as a non-profit, I am actually distressed, however.  Quite simply, there are often reasons for this refusal to comply with government and auditing regulations that have little to do with their ministry goals, no matter how they spin it. One leader of a small ministry I know claims that he chooses not to be registered as a charity so that he may pursue his dream boldly, without the limits placed by law on charities. 

While it is admittedly not as easy to receive registered charitable status in Canada as it used to be, neither is it that difficult for a group who is prepared to act with financial and organizational integrity. The guidelines set forth are not excessively onerous and do not require any sort of compromise of biblical standards. Not once in the twelve years that I have been with The Voice of the Martyrs have I felt that Canadian law on charities has actually hindered our ministry. It does require us to act completely above board and in accordance to ethical and legal standards. The charitable laws in Canada are in place not to control charities but to protect donors.

Please, be careful not to reward groups who can't be bothered with accountability with your support, even (especially) if they disguise it in noble language.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Country reports updated

We receive a lot of requests from people wanting to know about persecution in one country or another. This is why for several years we have researched and published online on our website  easy to understand country reports on countries where there is violent persecution taking place.  With each country, we also include a listing of the stories from that country which we have dealt with in our weekly email news service, The Persecution and Prayer Alert.  Our Communications Team just finished updating all of the country reports lately and we would welcome you to check them out.  Find out about persecution in countries from Afghanistan to Yemen and how you can pray more effectively for Christians there.  Click here to find out more.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Do not resuscitate

Checking into the hospital yesterday (I am actually writing this from there), it struck me with renewed force the magnitude of the decision my wife and I made a few months ago not to pursue any further drastic treatments in dealing with my leukemia. After four years of chemotherapy and radiation, a stem cell transplant two years ago and going through the long struggle with graft-versus-host disease and other complications, only to be told this spring that the cancer had returned, we decided, upon the advice of our oncologist, that there was little else, medically speaking, that we could do to try to treat this in such a way that a cure was possible.  The sickness I had previously suffered would be multiplied if we tried similar treatment again and when it was all said and done, the changes of success were low.  The treatment, quite simply, would likely be more fatal than the disease.

Now why am I rambling on about this in a blog on the persecuted church after I had decided some time ago to restrict my health reports to my personal blog?  Well, follow me here...

Just before I was to be checked into the hospital, my oncologist sat down beside me to discuss what should happen if, by some unforeseen necessity, the services of the ICU would be required. Did I truly understand that our decision meant that, unless we said otherwise, the hospital staff would be under instructions not to use paddles to restart my heart if it stopped, or to put me on a ventilator if I stopped breathing, or to put me on artificial life-support? "Was this still my intent?" he wondered.

Swallowing hard, I hesitated. Not because I feared that such services would be required during this hospital stay, but because I had to reaffirm my decision yet again. The thought crossed my mind, "But I love my life!" and I was tempted to waver. But deep down I knew that any life that required such drastic steps (at least in my case) to continue would likely be not worth living. And in those moments, I was reminded of Paul's words that to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord. Somehow, he found comfort in that thought as he was about to pay the consequences of his decision to follow Christ years earlier. "Yes, I understand," I told the doctor. He nodded and went to fill out the order for my admission.

A few minutes later, as I was being wheeled to my room by a nurse, I noted on the doctor's order (which I happened to be holding, as the nurse's hands were full pushing me), the letters "DNR" written near the bottom of the page. I knew what that meant - “Do Not Resuscitate". I jokingly referred to it to the attending nurse as we went up the elevator to the 15th floor. She froze and exclaimed "Why??" I briefly explained the situation and why we had made the decision. She came around to the side of my wheelchair and embraced me. "It's not too late to change your mind," she said. "It's never too late to change your mind."

I understood her intent. "This was not an easy decision," I simply said. It didn't satisfy her, I know.

I still think it is the right one, just as I am sure that many persecuted Christians would affirm, if asked today, whether it was the right decision to follow Jesus, even if meant losing one's life, livelihood, family, or freedom. The lure is to change one’s mind. "You can still change your mind... You don't have to stick by your decisions... You don't have to stay committed... Just back down, embrace your life and live another day."

As I asked in my blog earlier today, I wonder which is worse, suffering and death or the fear of them?

"Silence" to be made into a movie

A few months ago, I was deeply touched by reading Shusaku Endo's book "Silence"  The book accounts the story of a young idealistic Portuguese Jesuit priest who slips into southern Japan in order to investigate the truthfulness of a report that one of his mentors had renounced his faith in the midst of the terrible persecution of Christians that was going on in Japan at the time (the 17th century). The book accounts his hiding from those who would arrest him, his eventual capture and the subsequent struggles he endured as he witnessed Japanese Christians being tortured and out to death for his refusal to deny his faith.

The book is a disturbing account, but I was pleased to learn today that Martin Scorsese plans to adapt the book for the screen and that plans are for it to be released sometime in 2010.  It will certainly shed light on a neglected time in church history.  And it is will trouble people.  I certainly was left wondering, after reading the book, which is worse; suffering or the fear of suffering? Undergoing personal suffering or watching others suffer because of you?  And I better understood why the Bible warns persecuted Christians against fear more than anything else.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Valentinus (ca. 269)

The great day celebrating romantic love is named after him, yet who he really was, no one knows. Nonetheless, February 14 is his legacy, and we piece together a little fact and a lot of legend to get his story.

Three third-century martyrs all carry the name Valentinus. One was a priest in Rome, one a bishop of Interamna, and one a Christian in the Roman province of Africa. About the lives of these three we know nothing. About the death of Valentinus at the decree of Claudius II, we think the story hinges on soldiering, marriages, and a cold-hearted emperor – all the ingredients of passion and power that prompted Pope Gelasius in 496 to declare St. Valentine’s Day as a replacement for the Roman pagan holiday of Lupercalia.

Apparently, recruits for Claudius’s army were complaining about their long separations from wives and lovers, for the edict went forth that no solider of Rome – may their hearts grow bloodlessly cold – could weaken his will or soften his courage in marriage. Of course, edicts do not command passions, so marriages simply went underground with an assist from the sympathetic priest Valentinus, to whom soldiers and their betrothed surreptitiously fled.

In time, the priest was caught and his treasonous disobedience duly sentenced by the Prefect of Rome. He was beaten by clubs and beheaded on February 14 in 269 or 270.

It’s an unlikely subplot, but nonetheless another story is told that during his imprisonment, Valentinus tutored his jailor’s daughter Julia, who was blind from birth. On the eve of his martyrdom, Valentinus sent her a note of encouragement and faith, including on it a yellow crocus. When Julia opened the note, the story goes, her blind eyes fixed on the flower and she was healed. In gratitude, Julia planted an almond tree near Valentinus’s grave. Today the almond tree remains a symbol of abiding love and friendship.

Excerpted from Foxe: Voices of the Martyrs, Pg. 62

Update on Sandal

For months now, we’ve been following the case of a young woman named Ashiyana (alias “Sandal”) who is imprisoned for her faith in Pakistan. She and her father were arrested on October 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 Pakistan’sblasphemy law, 295B. The charge of desecrating the Quran calls for life imprisonment. It is likely that Sandal will spend at least four years in prison.

According to a recent news report, two prominent Christian activists were recently able to visit with this sister in jail. It’s hard to read Sandal’s words, as they reveal the deplorable conditions she must endure. But I think a better understanding of the reality she’s facing helps guide people as to how to best uphold her in prayer. So, here’s a bit of the report:

[Ashiyana aka "Sandal"] told the two men that the attitude of the staff members of the Faisalabad district jail towards her was harsh.

"I remained without basic needs,” Ashiyana told the visiting human rights activists. “I was condemned to solitary confinement in a dark cell. The lady superintendent of the Faisalabad district jail was very harsh to me. She heaped insults on me and did not provide me with basic needs.”

Pointing to the alleged apathy and indifference of the jail authorities towards her, the blasphemy-accused went on to tell them: “The jail staff were so merciless that they would not even provide water to me for taking bath.”

She disclosed to her visitors that she fell sick after inhaling dust due to ongoing renovation of the jail. The dust and sand, she told her visitors, gave her a breathing-related problem.

Ashiyana told Mr. Joseph Francis and Mr. Sohail Johnson that she was denied medicine by the jail authorities when she asked for it after becoming ill.

“They instead harassed me,” she told the visiting Christian activists.

Ashiyana was shifted to Jhang district jail a few days ago where she says she is meted out a relatively better treatment.

“I am thankful to God that I am being treated relatively better here than Faisalabad Jail. I am still without warm clothes and blanket though in this winter season. I am in desperate need of medicine to rid myself from difficulty in breathing. I also need edibles,” Ashiyana confided in her visitors.

Along with upholding Sandal, please pray also for her imprisoned father, Gulsher, who is accused of abetting her alleged act of desecration. The next court hearing in the case is scheduled to take place over the long weekend—February 16. So pray for these planned proceedings as well.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A national press council?

I finally received my copy of the National Post this morning and read the following on the editorial page:

As if Barbara Hall's own crude, broadsword agency were not destructive enough of free speech rights, now the Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) wants a national press council to further chill free expression in the media. And she is not looking just to curtail newspapers, talk radio and television news. Ms. Hall wants any new press council to have jurisdiction over Internet sites and blogs, too. (click here to read the rest). 

I decided to take a look at the report itself.  It truly is a masterpiece of double-speak.  Claiming to want to avoid censorship, it also recommends the establish of a national press council that would "would help bring consistency across jurisdictions." This council, the OHCR report to the Canadian Human Rights Commission says, would have "compulsory membership and powers to determine breach of professional standards and order publication of press council decisions."  In other words, it might not be able to tell you what to say, but it could require to you to publish any decisions that the council might make in response to complaints.  Does this remind you at all of what some Muslim students tried to force Macleans to do but were unable to do?  Obviously Ms, Hall is trying to find a new way to force people to print things that they do not want to.  Doesn't the right to freedom of expression also give you the right NOT to say or print something?

The report opens with the assertion "that freedom of expression must not be interfered with except for expression that incites violence against identifiable groups." But a few pages later, it backtracks by saying that "Canada has a duty under its international obligations to prohibit racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement, to not just violence, but also to discrimination, and hostility." How can you have it both ways?  I certainly am not suggesting that promotion of hatred is a good thing, but who is decide what it is and when the line has been crossed?  If I say that I hate this idea of a national press council, am I promoting hatred against members of the OHRC who proposed it?  If I say that I hate how Muslim converts are mistreated in Islamic countries, am I inciting hatred against Muslims?  You may rightfully say that these examples are ridiculous.  But who is to say for sure?

Ms. Hall and her ilk suffered some significant setbacks in recent months when human rights commissions slapped down several complaints involving criticism of Islam by members of the media.  This report, it seems to me, is just another, more subtle, attempt to control freedom of expression in Canada, while using many of the right words to make it sound that they are actually defending it.  It comes across as a paean of reasonableness.  But there are teeth there, carefully hidden behind the smiling lips. 

Let's just hope that this is the last we ever hear of this proposed council.  I am not hopeful, though. These things do have a way of filtering back, especially as calls for anti-defamation legislation is being urged at the United Nations.  While non-binding, such votes do tend to have an influence on legislation in member countries, especially democratic ones. We need to stay diligent.

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”

It would be a mistake to think that those who suffer violent, degrading persecution are, by the very nature of their circumstances, better Christians than those who do not. The fact is that Christians respond to persecution in a number of different ways; some positively, others less so. You see, the biggest danger facing Christians who face persecution of varying degrees is not so much the persecution, itself, but the pull to compromise with the surrounding culture and to embrace their values and to downplay their distinctiveness as followers of Christ in order to better insure their personal peace and affluence.

Take for example, the churches in Revelation 2-3. When faced with persecution, some Christians, like the ones in Ephesus, in their zeal to defend the faith, become bastions of strict, unloving and closed orthodoxy (2:1–7). These Christians are so often concerned about the dangers of the world that they forget that the church exists for the world. Others, like the believers in LightofWorldSmyrna, need to be encouraged not to give in to fear in the face of suffering (2:8–11). The scourge of false doctrine creeping in from the outside endangers other persecuted churches, like the one in Pergamum (2:12–17). Yet others, like in Thyatira, struggle to maintain ethical and moral purity, especially when the culture demands compromise in order to continue to make a living (2:18–29). The church in Sardis illustrates that persecuted Christians are not immune from spiritual deadness (3:1–6), while some churches, as in Philadelphia, need to be encouraged to look beyond their own neediness to the opportunities that God has placed before them (3:7–13). The Laodicean church might well represent the church that, like in Corinth, forgets that this world is not all there is. Such churches deal with opposition by assimilation into the culture and adopting the trappings of success. They forget that the time to sit on thrones is in the future (3:21), not today. The task of the Christ’s Church is to carry the cross in the pursuit of the goals of the kingdom of God. By pursuing the goals of this world, the Laodiceans may have removed the offence of the cross, but they had incurred the offence of Christ.

It would not be hard to provide you with present-day examples of each of these churches in restricted and hostile nations around the world. This is why The Voice of the Martyrs takes so seriously the call to bring biblical training to persecuted believers around the world. The Bible is a book written by persecuted believers for persecuted believers, equipping them to stand to and to be faithful witnesses in a world that is intent on silencing their voice, extinguishing their lamps, and even removing their very presence.

The call to all believers in Revelation 2-3 is the same. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (2:7, 2:11, 2:17, 2:29, 3:6, 3:13, 3:22). This admonition (like Jesus’ similar words in the Gospels) is an allusion to Isaiah 6:9-10 where God warns the remnant of His people not to participate in idolatry. Like Israel, the churches in Revelation 2-3 were in danger of compromising with the surrounding culture and embracing their values in their struggle to survive in the midst of increasingly hostile society. For some churches the beastly nature of compromise was more subtle, while for others it was far more blatant. The call is to stop listening to the siren call of compromise with its promise of peace and affluence and instead listen to the words of Jesus. These churches had not yet succumbed fully to the idols of their culture but some were in the process of doing so, while others were facing the temptation.

The same is true for us. It is never easy to follow Jesus. At least, it should not be if one is following Him faithfully. The temptations that these seven churches faced are the same that we must overcome by God’s grace and the help of His Spirit. Great and wonderful promises are given to those who listen to the words of Christ and overcome: the privilege of eating from the tree of life in the renewed creation (2:7); a crown of life (2:11); sustenance to complete the journey and assurance of entry into the kingdom of heaven (2:17); authority to rule over the nations as an inheritance in a place where there is no night (2:26–28); white garments fit for appearing in the presence of God with the multitude of those who have loved, served and acknowledged Him before men, with the pledge that Christ will acknowledge them before the Father (3:4,5); an assured place in the kingdom (temple) of God, with a new ownership, citizenship, and identity in Christ (3:12); and the right to reign with Him in His kingdom (3:21). With such promises, how can we listen to the tempting voices of our society without recognizing that by succumbing, we are truly selling our birthright for a bowl of stew (Genesis 25:33)?

You can read this and other biblical studies on persecution on

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Testimony of Hamoud bin Saleh

binsaleh4 The following is a rather long blog but I thought that you might like to read a better translation of 28-year-old Saudi Christian, Hamoud Bin Saleh's blog on December 22, which tells what led him to becoming a Christian.  Our colleagues who translated this from Arabic into English told us this blogger is obviously well-educated and articulate by the words he uses. It was also not easy to render what he wrote into easily understood English; he makes references to things that would be obvious to others in his society but not so obvious to us.  Regardless, I hope that you will find it interesting and uplifting.  Please uphold this brother in prayer, as he is still being detained by Saudi authorities because of what he wrote.

My experience: I left Islam (for the rotten feelings inside) and placed my faith in Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.

"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.” (Matthew 7:15-17)

I was walking on a Friday morning during a weekend holiday in Saudi, in a place called (Bilsafa), in the heart of Medina. It's usually a place where executions are held for murders and drug dealers. According to Mohammad's cruel teaching, the law distinguishes between the noble (high class) and the poor (low class) in its practice. (This idea seems to refer to how the Sharia Law is applied more harshly against the lower class than the high).

I was drawn by a gathering of people and I realized that today there was an execution. It's not the custom of the Saudi government to announce executions way ahead of time – it was a surprise for me. My curiosity drew me to the middle of the gathering to see the executions myself. It was the first time in my life I had watched an execution. There were three people from Pakistan, who were going to be executed. The Saudi regime is proud to apply the Sharia Law in executing people who are drug dealers. Before the executioner lifted his sword (to cut their necks) I looked very closely at the faces of the victims (they're filled with sorrow). They didn’t appear to be criminals. They looked very young in their age and their bodies were skinny. They were thin due to the living conditions in Pakistan. I don't think anyone from the audience can forget the victim's facial expressions.

To read the rest, you can click here.

Saudi Arabian Muslim accepts Jesus

Monday, February 09, 2009

Pray without ceasing

Shuang Shuying (79) was sentenced in February 2007 to two years in prison on charges of “willfully damaging private property” (to learn more, please click here). According to a recent report from ChinaAid, Shuang was released from detention on February 8 and immediately went to visit her dying husband, Hua Zaichen (91). It is truly a blessing that she is now free to be there for her husband in what appear to be his last days here on earth.

After her release, Shuang sent a letter to ChinaAid to express her gratitude for the many Christians who stood with her throughout the dark days of imprisonment.

A Letter of Thanks to All the Brothers and Sisters All Over the World

I am Shuang Shuying, 79 years old. Two years ago, my son Hua Huiqi was put in jail by the Chinese police. In order to force my son to compromise his faith and betray brothers and sisters, I was sentenced to two years in prison as a hostage by the Public Security Bureau. During my imprisonment, the PSBs of Beijing went to my prison interrogating, threatening and harassing me numerous times. They even directed other prisoners to take off all of my clothes and forced me stand alone outside in the evening without letting me sleep. Seven prisoners kept watching me in turn. I was not allowed to move even when the mosquitoes bit me or I would be slapped on my face and poked on the veins on my hands. I still had wounds that were unhealed on my hands. The PSB officers even forced me to drink my own urine. They threatened me not to tell anyone about the tortures I experienced. During these terrible circumstances, I prayed without ceasing. I asked God to give me strength. Every time when my son came to visit me and shared with me that brothers and sisters from all over the world had been praying for me, I felt greatly strengthened and empowered which has enabled me to continue to live. When I was released from jail this morning (February 8), I went to visit my hospitalized old companion (husband) who is not even able to recognize me anymore because of losing consciousness. So I sincerely plead to brothers and sisters all over the world to continue to pray for me and my husband. At the same time, I want to thank each one of you for your continuous prayers, care and support for my husband, Hua Zaichen, and me.

A branch of the Body of Christ,

Shuang Shuying

Shuang suffered immensely while in detention and her family continues to be monitored by Public Security Bureau officials. She and her family still stand in the need of prayer. In Romans 12:5 we read, “In Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” As members of one body, please remember this family today, asking God to strengthen and encourage them in the coming days.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Jesus Freaks online

How many of you have read our book, Jesus Freaks, which we co-authored a few years ago with dc Talk?  Did you know that Jesus Freaks is also a radio program, broadcast across Canada and the US?  Take a listen by clicking here.  Also, check our video and audio podcasts that you can subscribe to.

Friday, February 06, 2009

British nurse reinstated

A British nurse who was suspended for offering to pray for an elderly patient's recovery from illness has been reinstated by the North Somerset Primary Care Trust. In a statement issued on February 5, the North Somerset Primary Care Trust said that they recognized that Caroline Petrie had been acting in the “best interests of her patients” and that nurses did not have to “set aside their faith” in the workplace, and could “continue to offer high quality care for patients while remaining committed to their beliefs”. The Trust also said that for some people, prayer is recognized as an “integral part of health care and the healing process.”

We are, of course, pleased by this development and wish Mrs. Petrie God's blessing as she continues her service for Him.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Saudi weblog back online

I don't know why but the weblog "Masihi Saudi" ( came back online this morning.  I would like to think that it was because some of us complained to Google about this apparent act of censorship, but Blogger never provided an explanation for why the site had been pulled down originally or why it was now back up. For whatever reason, it's back up and I am delighted.  Thank you to everyone who expressed your concern one way or the other to Google. 

If you read Arabic, you will find his testimony by clicking here (you can also read an admittedly poor computer translation of this page by clicking here). 

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

This week's Persecution and Prayer Alert

Check out this week's Persecution and Prayer Alert, VOMC's weekly news digest on the Persecuted Church and how you can respond. In this week's edition there are reports from Egypt, India, and Saudi Arabia.  Click here now!

Aid group expelled from Sudan over Bibles

The following story was released by Reuters on Saturday from Sudan:

A United States aid group has been thrown out of Sudan's Darfur region after officials found thousands of Arabic-language bibles stacked in its office, state media reported on Saturday.

Sudanese authorities told the state Suna news agency they found 3,400 copies of Christianity's sacred book in the office run by water charity Thirst No More in North Darfur, a region that is almost entirely Muslim.

Officials told Suna they had decided to expel the Texas-based group "for its violation to the Voluntary Work Act, the Country Agreement and the regulations on registration of organisations in Sudan".

Read the full story by clicking here.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Videos on the persecuted church available for download


Over the past year or so, we have received a number of requests for downloadable videos that could be shared with church meetings, prayer groups, youth events, and the like.  After a lot of study as to how to give you a quality product, we are ready.  We have formatted and uploaded four videos for this kind of use on our multimedia website at Ranging from 3.5 to 13 minutes in length, you can download these hi-resolution flash videos and use them as you wish. 

We have stayed with the Flash format in an effort to maintain quality as well as the ability to play on the widest range of computer systems. However, most computers do not have a stand-alone Flash video player. There are several free players to choose from. We have suggested two (for Windows and Mac users) that will enable you to tell others about the persecution facing Christians, their faith and courage, and provide a glimpse of the faces and voices of today's persecuted church.  It's one thing to read their stories; it is quite another to actually see and hear from them. 

Take a look and consider how you can use these videos to be a voice for the voiceless.

Video interview with Caroline Petrie

Follow this link to watch a BBC interview with Caroline Petrie, a British nurse who has been suspended for offering to pray with a patient.


Nurse on suspension for offering to pray

Tucked away in the National Post, I found the following story this morning:

A British nurse has been suspended for offering to pray for an elderly patient's recovery from illness. Her employers accuse Caroline Petrie, a committed Christian, of failing to demonstrate a "personal and professional commitment to equality and diversity.'' She faces disciplinary action and could lose her job.  (Click here to read the rest of the article)

Is this ridiculous or what?  Over the past several years of battling cancer, I have met a few nurses who said that they would pray for me.  I would hate to think that they might lose their job for doing what any Christian should do.  Even the patient, herself, says that the nurse should keep her job.

What a day for Britain when offering to pray can be a reason for possibly losing your job. I wonder what Florence Nightingale would think if she were alive today.

Monday, February 02, 2009

A letter of thanks

Glenn recently posted a blog about Hua Zaichen (91), a seriously ill Christian who has been denied a last visit with his imprisoned wife, Shuang Shuying (79). Shuang and her son, Hua Huiqi, were arrested in 2007. According to a report from ChinaAid, “Authorities say Shuang Shuying is 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.”

Christians around the world responded to the cruelty being shown to this family by praying and sending letters to government officials. In a recent report from ChinaAid, Hua Huiqi extended his gratitude for the support his family has received. His letter is below.

A letter of thanks to brethren around the world — January 29, 2009

I, Hua Huiqi, a brother in Christ, sincerely appreciate all the brethren for your concern. Since my father Hua Zaichen became sick again in mid-December 2008, you have been praying for him. Many brothers and sisters have sent greetings. My family and I are very grateful for your prayers and care. My father has received medical treatment, but his health has been getting worse day by day. On the afternoon of January 28, 2009, he had a sudden shock, and then began to fall unconscious. We received notice that he was in “critical condition” from the hospital. Many brothers and sisters have been praying for my father. At 1:00 p.m. on 29th, my father’s heartbeat gradually stabilized. Now, he is still in the hospital for observation. Please continue to pray for him. I hope he can finally have a chance to see my mother, even if only a glance.

Thank you again, my dear brothers and sisters around the world.

Love in Christ,
Brother Hua Huiqi

Writing letters is an incredible opportunity to reach out to suffering Christians around the world. As you can tell from Hua Huiqi’s letter, this family has been blessed from the outpouring of love and support they have received from fellow believers.

Shuang’s jail sentence is coming close to its end but there are other Christians languishing in Chinese prisons that long for support and encouragement. Learn how you can take part in the ministry of letter writing by visiting