Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Christianity in China is booming

The Saturday Times printed a major story this past weekend on the growth of Christianity in China today, the challenges that believers currently face, and what they think the future holds for religious freedom in their nation.  It is a well written piece and, I think, reflects the current situation in China really quite accurately.  Here's how it begins:

A murmur of “Amen” echoes softly down a corridor in a luxury Beijing hotel. Dozens of young Chinese are gathered in a beige-carpeted conference room to listen to the word of God. After helping themselves to hot water or tea at the back of the room, they find a seat and chatter with friends. They tuck Louis Vuitton and Prada handbags under their seats, switch their mobile phones to silent and turn to listen to a young woman who takes the microphone to ask for silence and recite a prayer.

A casually dressed, grey-haired Chinese man takes to the podium. “Let us begin with a look at the Gospel of Saint John.” There is a rustling of pages as converts and curious open their Bibles. Almost everyone in the room is scarcely a day over 30. Most look as if they are in their early twenties. They are fashionably dressed – girls with high-heeled boots, men sporting trendy knitted hats. This is Friday night Bible class in Beijing. And it is a weekend venue of choice for growing numbers of well-off middle-class city sophisticates.

The fact that this class is technically illegal, run by pastors lacking approval from the state-sanctioned Protestant church, is not the attraction. These are not young people seeking a frisson of excitement from some underground activity. They are at the forefront of a movement sweeping China....

I would encourage you to read the rest of this article.  I wish more newspapers would print articles of this quality.

Monday, March 30, 2009

North Korean defector shares his testimony

kim Kim Sung Min was born in Hee-Chun City in North Korea in 1962. He served in the North Korean military for ten years, commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Art Propaganda Division and finally promoted to the rank of captain. One of his poems about the greatness of Kim Il Sung became required memorization by all North Korean soldiers. Gradually disillusioned by the deteriorating conditions in North Korea and his growing awareness of the outside world, Mr. Kim eventually escaped to China but was captured and brutally returned to the communist state. After a miraculous second escape, he lived in seclusion in China for two years and came to know the Lord Jesus Christ.

Last weekend, Mr. Kim shared his testimony at both The Voice of the Martyrs' conference here in Mississauga on Saturday and at my home church, City Centre Baptist Church on Sunday morning.  Unfortunately, my health did not permit me to attend these meetings, but I was delighted to learn that City Centre recorded Mr. Kim's message and posted it on their website.  I think you will enjoy listening to this powerful testimony and how VOMC is helping to equip North Koreans to reach their own people with the gospel of Jesus Christ through the Underground University.

Mr. Kim will also be speaking at the VOMC conference this coming weekend at:

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

Time: 9:15 AM - 3:45 PM (click here for more details).

If you can, please make plans to attend this conference. You certainly won't regret it!

I would also like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Pastor Deric Bartlett and City Centre Baptist Church for their fantastic work in hosting our conference this past weekend. What a great church to be partners with! 

Sunday, March 29, 2009

When God seems to be silent

Perhaps when God seems to be silent, it is not because nobody is speaking; perhaps it is because we are unable or unwilling to hear what is being said.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Christians brace for Sharia law in Swat valley

On Wednesday, we discussed the abysmal decision of the Pakistani government to allow the implementation and enforcement of Taliban-style Sharia law in the Swat valley in North-West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan.  On Thursday, Compass Direct reported on how this is effecting local Christians.  Here is a summary:

ISTANBUL, March 27 (Compass Direct News) – Just over a month since Pakistan’s Swat Valley turned into a Taliban stronghold where sharia (Islamic law) rules, the fate of the remaining Christians in the area is uncertain. In an effort to end a bloody two-year battle, the Islamabad administration struck a deal with Taliban forces surrendering all governance of Swat Valley in the North West Frontier Province. Sources told Compass that in the violence that has killed and displaced hundreds, an estimated 500 Christians remain in the region. In the past year, more than 200 girls schools in Swat were reported to have been burned down or bombed by Islamic extremists. Remaining girls schools were closed down in January but have been re-opened since the peace agreement in mid-February. An associate pastor of the sole Church of Pakistan congregation in Swat told Yousaf Benjamin of the National Commission for Justice and Peace that with the bombing of girls schools at the end of last year, all Christian families migrated to nearby districts. After the peace deal and with guarded hope for normalcy and continued education for their children, most Christian families have returned but are reluctant to attend church. The associate pastor, who requested anonymity, said that “people don’t come to the church as they used to come before.” He said that Christians have yet to believe the Taliban will keep promises of peace.

To read the full article, click here.   Please remember these brothers and sisters in your prayers.  Pray for believers throughout Pakistan, as they face an uncertain future.  Pray for ministries like The Voice of the Martyrs as we seek to serve the church there to stand firm in the face of persecution.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

UN adopts "defamation of religions" resolution

unhrc Today the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a "defamation of religions" resolution by a vote of 23 yes, 11 no, 13 abstentions. While non-binding on member countries, the resolution does urge the passage of laws around the world protecting religion from criticism.  UN resolutions can be influential in establishing legislation in member countries and there is concern that this resolution could give international cover to oppressive regimes to justify or strengthen legislation outlawing perceived criticism of Islam, in particular, and blasphemy laws that are often used against religious minorities, such as what we see in Pakistan (who actually proposed the resolution on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference). 

Western governments and many human rights groups have expressed concern that this resolution broadens the concept of human rights to protect communities of believers and beliefs rather than individuals.  Speaking in opposition to the resolution, Canada's representative Terry Cormier said, "It is individuals who have rights, not religions. Canada believes that to extend (the notion of) defamation beyond its proper scope would jeopardise the fundamental right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of expression on religious subjects." 

He is absolutely right, as we noted in an earlier blog and I am pleased that Canada has been in the forefront in opposing this resolution. However, I am concerned that Pakistan, in particular, as the sponsoring country, will use it as justification for holding on to its blasphemy law, despite the Minority Minister's promise to abolish them.  I also anticipate some Islamic countries will use this resolution as justification to pressure Western governments to crack down on free speech that they see as anti-Islamic. I also wouldn't be surprised to see Muslim special interest groups in Canada and elsewhere in the West attempt to use this resolution as supporting documentation for pushing for prosecution of those whom they see as expressing anti-Islamic views.

Isn't it ironic that a human rights council's resolution could actually be used as justification to violate the rights of others?  This UN council has really gone off of the rails.  Actually, it is doubtful that it was ever on the rails to begin with.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Help free Gao Zhisheng

ZhishengFamily Prominent Christian human rights attorney, Gao Zhisheng was last seen being hauled away by more than a dozen police officers on February 4, 2009.  VOMC partner, ChinaAid, together with the Gao family, are urging the international community to take action on his behalf by signing a petition to the Chinese government for his release at www.FreeGao.com.

Mr. Gao's wife, Ms. Geng He, daughter, Geng Ge (16) and son, Gao Tianyu (5) escaped to the United States on March 11, 2009.  They are deeply concerned about Gao. He was severely tortured for more than 50 days after officials kidnapped him in 2007, and was threatened with death if he exposed the details of his torture. (click here to read the account of his 2007 torture).

Reports from inside China indicate that Gao is now undergoing brutal torture. His family fears that Chinese authorities are furthered angered by their escape and are taking revenge on him.

We encourage you to get involved in this campaign.  On www.FreeGao.com you can find information on how to sign an online petition as well as how to send an email to Chinese officials.  Pray that this effort will result in Gao's soon release. Please remember him and his family in prayer as well.

Pakistan sliding into an abyss

swat 2009 has barely started and already I have an nomination for the "Brain Dead Act of the Year" - Pakistan's decision on February 16 to allow the Swat region in the North-West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan to implement and enforce Sharia law.  A recent AsiaNews report indicates that since then, around 500 lawyers have lost their job because they cannot appear before the new "Islamic courts", NGOs who provide vital services to the people have ordered out of the region, polio vaccination has been banned because the Taliban believes that “it causes infertility” and because the vaccine was imported, 48 Taliban terrorists in custody have been released, and demands that Islamic law be implemented in the other districts of the province have made."  What a pleasant place the Swat region is becoming, a place once known for being a national and international tourist haven for its beautiful scenery, the Switzerland of Pakistan.

It is not, I believe, an exaggeration to say that Pakistan is sliding into becoming a Taliban state.  The present government seems lost and without a clue as to how to deal with the pressures put upon it by militant Islamist elements within the country (including its own security and military forces).  Their decision to legitimize the Taliban in the Swat region was dreadfully ill-conceived; a concession to gain peace after years of conflict that comes at far too high of a price.  The effects on women and religious minorities in the region, in particular, will be catastrophic. 

World Magazine has an interesting article on that subject as a web extra entitled "Legitimized violence".  Here is an excerpt:

Today, extremist groups, with sympathy and support from religious schools in Pakistan, go around the country taking the law into their own hands under the banner of equalizing justice. To them, justice often means revenge killings done in the name of law and order. Targeted are Christians and other religious groups, forcing many religious minorities underground. Christians are fighting for their lives and being put on trial for their beliefs. Reports from Pakistan reveal that many Christians are beginning to dress and grow beards like Muslims just to blend in.

At the heart of these persecutions are the nation’s blasphemy laws, which codifies the ability to punish someone for directly or indirectly going against the teachings of Islam. These laws continue to be used as a convenient, government-sanctioned form of coercion. Widely interpreted, Muslims even invoke the blasphemy law against other Muslims, as well as Christians, as a pretext for seizing another’s property or settling power disputes.

Having the blasphemy laws approved by the state give legitimacy to the vigilante violence.

Late last year, The Voice of the Martyrs released a video documentary on the plight of Christians in Pakistan entitled "Pakistani Voices." You can view a trailer and a couple of stories from this video on VOMC's video website www.persecution.tv or you can order a copy to show to your church or Bible study at at our online bookstore.  Pakistan's Christians desperately need your prayers and support. Please be a voice before God and in your community on their behalf.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Christian hotel owners sued for their marriage standards


Doesn't this look like just the most peaceful, beautiful setting for a seaside hotel in England?  Looking through their website and being a bit of an Anglophile, I would love to go here with my wife for a vacation.

Owned by committed Christians, their reservation page clearly states:

Here at Chymorvah we have few rules, but please note that as Christians we have a deep regard for marriage (being the union of one man to one woman for life to the exclusion of all others).

Therefore, although we extend to all a warm welcome to our home, our double bedded accommodation is not available to unmarried couples – Thank you.

Having stated them up front, Peter and Hazelmary Bull, owners of The Chymorvah Private Hotel in Marazion, Cornwall apparently had little to no problems with people abiding by these conditions since they bought the hotel in 1986. 

Until last August....

That's when the couple received a letter from the gay rights organization Stonewall saying that it had received a complaint and warning the hotel that it was breaking the law with its conditions.  Then, the following month, Steven Preddy called up the hotel to make a reservation for a double room for two nights.  Mrs. Bull (62), who took the call, assumed that he would be staying with his wife.  When Preddy showed up with his gay civil partner, Martyn Hall, the manager informed them that the hotel could not honour the booking since it violated their clearly stated conditions. Before they left, the gay couple told the manager that he was acting illegally.  They then left and reported the incident to police.

The Bulls are now facing a county court claim from Hall and Preddy for up to to £5,000 (about $9,000 CAD) in damages alleging "direct discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation."  The couple deny the charge, stating that the their conditions apply to both heterosexual and homosexual couples.  Mrs. Bull told the Daily Mail that even her own brother and his female partner have to stay in separate rooms when they come to stay.

The couple's lawyer, Tom Ellis said: "Our argument is that the regulations impinge on the Bulls' human rights. Under the European Convention on Human Rights, people are able to hold a religious belief and manifest it in the way they act."

It seems obvious to me that this couple was deliberately set up, given the close timing of the booking and the letter from Stonewall.  It is noteworthy that no heterosexual couple has sued this hotel for the past 23 years, but the first response of the so-called victimized gay couple was to report to the incident to the police.  I believe that they knew full well that they would not be spending the night when they showed up.  They went in looking for a fight with this Christian couple.  In my books, this doesn't make them the victims of anything; they were the ones on the offensive.   I only hope that the county court throws this case out for what it is; an agenda-driven garbage lawsuit meant to intimidate and bully good people with convictions.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Three Christians released in Eritrea

Finally some good news out of Eritrea!  The Dutch office of Open Doors is reporting that three men have recently been released from detention by the Eritrean authorities.  Eritrea is probably the most religiously restricted nation in Africa, with over 3,000 Christians presently in detention for no other crime than their religious faith.  None have ever come to trial or been charged with anything.

Two of the three released Christians were detained in Camp Mitire, a military concentration camp in the northeast of Eritrea.  According to Open Doors, this camp has been arranged especially for the detention of Christians. The condition of the two elderly men, both in their 80's, has not been made public. They were both arrested in November.  Conditions at Mitire are said to be deplorable with prisoners being detained underground or in shipping containers and denied adequate food and medical treatment.

The third man has been been detained for the past six months in a police station.

Thank God for the release of these three men.  Pray for their healing from this ordeal and pray for the thousands of other who continue to suffer horrendous persecution at the hands of their government.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Two new books available from The Voice of the Martyrs

I love books and I always have 3-4 on the go.  I want to introduce you to two books we just made available on our website's online bookstore that I think some of you will be particularly interested in.

rerp2 The first is Re-Examining Religious Persecution by Charles L. Tieszen. This innovative study notes the shortcomings of many modern studies of religious persecution, most notably in current theological reflection. Tieszen offers a theological framework in which the religious persecution of Christians can be properly and theologically understood and responded to. Perhaps most importantly, a theological definition of persecution is put forth that seeks to incorporate necessary but often over-looked elements. I found this to be a very valuable study and I highly recommend it.  Unfortunately, we only have about 8 copies on stock, so if you want a copy, you had best act quickly. You can order it online from us for $7.00 (plus shipping). 

whyl1 The second is one of the most inspirational and touching books that I have read it a long time.  Why Haven’t You Left? (Letters from the Sudan) by Marc Nikkel was recommended to me by one of the readers of my personal blog a few weeks ago. Once I started on this book, I couldn't put it down. Marc Nikkel was an Anglican missionary renowned around the world for his passionate commitment to the Jieng (Dinka) people of Southern Sudan. For twenty years, before his death in 2000 after a long battle with cancer, Marc dedicated himself to bringing to the world the songs of suffering and voices of hope of Christians in Southern Sudan.  This book is a collection of his missionary letters, written over those 20 years. In them you will witness his love for Sudan and the love of Sudanese Christians for their God who would not leave them in the face of persecution, poverty, war, and death. He writes deeply and from the heart.  A truly magnificent book.  Having spent time in Sudan in the late 1990's, I could easy imagine what the author was writing about and it brought back a lot of memories from a significant time in VOMC's ministry.  And fighting cancer as he did, I understand well some of what he writes about that as well. You can order it online too, starting today. 

Take a peek around our online bookstore.  We have some new DVDs for kids, including The Richard Wurmbrand Story, the latest in the Torchlighters series.  We also have a wide selection of books, DVDs and other resources specifically dealing with the persecution of Christians around the world. We also have some great deals on VOMC t-shirts and caps.

A special gift

Earlier this year, one of our supporters wrote me with a rather unusual request.  She told me that she had in her possession an original letter from the famous Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon and that the Lord had laid it on her heart to sell it and give the proceeds to assisting the persecuted through our ministry. She wondered if I knew of any collectors who might be interested in purchasing it.  I was deeply touched by what she wanted to do, especially when she send me a transcript of the letter. It really is marvellous and I thought I would like to share it and this woman's sacrificial gift to the persecuted church with you.  You can click on these pictures to see a larger version of them. The transcript is below.

Spurgeon-Letter1 Spurgeon-Letter2


Norwood July 1/90

O Lord bless this letter

My Dear Arthur Layzell,

I was a little while ago at a meeting for prayer where a large number of ministers were gathered together. The subject of prayer was "our children". It soon brought the tears to my eyes to hear those good fathers pleading with God for their sons & daughters. As they went on entreating the Lord to save their families, my heart seemed ready to burst with strong desire that it might be even so. Then I thought I will write to those sons & daughters, to remind them of their parents' prayers.

Dear Arthur, you are highly privileged in having parents who pray for you. Your name is known in the courts of heaven. Your case has been laid before the throne of God.

Do you not pray for yourself? If you do not do so, why not? If other people value your soul, can it be right for you to neglect it? All the entreaties & wrestlings of your father, will not save you if you never seek the Lord yourself. You know this.

You do not intend to cause grief to dear mother & father but you do. So long as you are not save, they can never rest. However obedient & sweet & kind you may be, they will never feel happy about you until you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to find everlasting salvation.

Think of this. Remember how much you have already sinned and none can wash you but Jesus. When you grow up you may become very sinful & none can change your nature and make you holy but the Lord Jesus, through his Spirit.

You need what father and mother seek for you, and you need it NOW. Why not seek it at once? I heard a father pray, "Lord save our children, and save them young." It is never too soon to be safe; never too soon to be happy; never too soon to be holy. Jesus loves to receive the very young ones.

You cannot save yourself, but the great Lord Jesus can save you. Ask him to do it. He that asketh receiveth. Then trust in Jesus to save you. He can do it, for he died and rose again that whosoever believeth in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life. Come & tell Jesus you have sinned; seek forgiveness; trust in Him for it & be sure that you are saved.

Then imitate our Lord. Be at home what Jesus was at Nazareth. Yours will be a happy home, & dear father & mother will feel that the dearest wish of their hearts has been granted them.

I pray you to think of heave & hell, for in one of those places you will live for ever. Meet me in heaven! Meet me at once at the mercy-seat. Run up stairs & pray to the great Father, through Jesus Christ.

Yours very lovingly,

C.H. Spurgeon

One final note: I am told that the man who helped put our supporter in touch with a buyer for this magnificent letter knew Arthur Layzell's grandson who lived in the Cambridge area. The letter apparently bore fruit in Arthur Layzell's life.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Urgent prayer called for as another Hindu leader killed in Orissa

This morning VOMC learned that suspected Maoist rebels have killed another  leader of hardline Hindu organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in the eastern Indian state of Orissa. According to the BBC, Prabhat Panigrahi (30) was attacked by about 15 people and shot dead in Rudhiguma village in Kandhamal district on Thursday, March 19. Panigrahi was released from jail only last Saturday after having been arrested in connection with the anti-Christian riots that left thousands of Christians homeless, injuring and killing many others. He was one of 14 local leaders who were named on a hit-list released by Maoists for alleged anti-Christian activities during the riots .

As has happened in the past, Hindus are accusing Christians of being involved in a "nexus" with Maoists, collaborating with them in killing their enemies. Some go so far as to even deny that the killers are Maoists but are, instead, paid goons of the Church.

Please pray that this killing does not erupt into yet another round of anti-Christian violence such as what we saw last August after Hindu groups blamed Christians for the killing of Hindu leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Guerrillas threaten and kill Christians in Colombia

farc Having ministered in Colombia before most people were prepared to admit there actually was persecution there, this country remains high on my personal priority scale. So, it was with interest that I received the following report from Compass Direct today regarding recent attacks and threats on evangelicals in guerrilla controlled areas of Colombia.

Having been sentenced to die by leftist rebels for holding Christian worship services in 2006, a pastor in Colombia’s northern department of Arauca took seriously the death threats that guerrillas issued on Friday (March 13), according to Christian support organization Open Doors. The rebels from the National Liberation Army (ELN) phoned a pastor of Ebenezer Church in Saravena at 5:30 a.m., telling him to meet them at a site on the Arauca River at 7 a.m. When the pastor, who requested anonymity, arrived at the landing, the guerrillas took him by canoe to the other side of the river – into Venezuela – then drove him to a guerrilla camp some 40 minutes away. For the next three hours, the rebels warned him that area pastors had three options: cooperate with the revolutionary cause of the guerrillas, leave or die. Although the ELN has been at odds with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in Arauca they co-exist without conflict. FARC guerrillas control the southwestern department of Huila, where last November four Christians were killed. Farley Cortés was killed on Nov. 5 in Plumeros village, Hermes Coronado Granado was killed on Nov. 8 in Santana Ramos, and 10 days later a married couple, Dora Lilia Saavedra and Ferney Ledezma were also killed there. Guerrillas seized Saavedra, 40, and the 35-year-old Ledezma from the school where Saavedra taught on Nov. 18, bound them on the floor of an old house and shot them several times. Their pastor, Hernan Camacho, has moved with his family out of the area after receiving death threats. “[The FARC guerrillas] say that we, the evangelical ones, are their worst enemy because we teach the people not to take up weapons,” Pastor Camacho said.

parachuteTo read the full article, click here.  In the April edition of The Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter,  VOMC shares the testimonies of believers in Colombia and provides the opportunity for you to to get personally involved in reaching these guerrillas through making parachutes which VOMC partners use to drop literature and other evangelistic material into these remote areas.  Don't miss this opportunity to practically get involved in reaching persecutors for Christ!  You can subscribe to our free newsletter today by clicking here.

Remember to pray for Christians in guerrilla-controlled areas of Colombia.  Many leader are, understandably, tempted to flee the country. Many already have.  But God needs a faithful witness in this land. Pray that they would remain strong and courageous in the face of opposition.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

More than shamrocks and leprechauns

SaintPatrick Can you believe it's Saint Patrick's Day already?

The following article, posted today on Crosswalk.com, outlines the story of Saint Patrick and the amazing accomplishments he achieved through Christ:

The Life of Saint Patrick
William J. Federer
Historian, Speaker & Author

He was born in 389 A.D., during the time of the Roman Empire's decay: immigrants flooded the borders; the national language of Latin was displaced; the underfunded military stretched across the world; rampant sexual immorality existed; and city centers were abandoned. Additionally, unbearable taxes, a burgeoning national debt and welfare rolls, and an excessive amount of government jobs plagued the Empire.

Patrick’s home was the coastal town of Bonavern, Taberniae, Britain. His father, Calpurnius, was a civil magistrate and a deacon, and his grandfather was a minister in the Celtic Christian Church, whose origins date from second-century Roman occupation.

At age 16, Patrick was kidnapped by raiders and sold as a slave in Ireland. For six years he herded pigs on a Slemish farm. Repulsed by the Druid's human sacrifice, magic spells, and superstitions, from which Halloween originated, Patrick committed himself to Christ, as he later wrote: "The Lord opened the understanding of my unbelief, that, late as it was, I might remember my faults and turn to the Lord my God with all my heart; and He had regard to my low estate, and pitied my youth and ignorance, and kept guard over me even before I knew Him."

Patrick's life became marked by intense prayer. He described an "inner monition" which he recognized as the Holy Spirit. He was led to escape to the seacoast, where he found a ship to freedom. As they left Ireland, a storm blew them to Gaul (France), where he lived in a monastery on the island of St. Honorat for several months.

Years later, Patrick had a dream, as he wrote in his Confessions: "In the depth of the night, I saw a man named Victoricus coming as if from Ireland, with innumerable letters; and he gave me one of these, and ... [that] moment I heard the voice of those who were beside the wood of Focluth, near the western sea; and this is what they called out: 'Please, holy boy, come and walk among us again.' Their cry pierced to my very heart, and I could read no more; and so I awoke."

Patrick left his family and prepared for the ministry in Auzerre, Gaul. At age 40 he was permitted to go. In the year 432, the same time Attila the Hun was pillaging Europe, Patrick crossed the icy sea to Ireland with twelve brave monks.

They made their way to the home of his old master, but found he died in a battle with a neighboring tribe. Undoubtedly, had Patrick not escaped, he would have been killed as well. They then went to the hall of Chieftain Loigaire, who was feasting with his warriors and Druid priests.

A messenger ran in, interrupting the festivities, and announced the arrival of these unarmed strangers. As they entered the long, smoky hall, carrying a tall cross, silence fell. The Druid priests were threatened and alarmed when Patrick boldly spoke in their own language, which he had learned while a slave. The chieftain was astonished, and not only granted them religious toleration, but was baptized and donated the land for their first wooden church.

Druid opposition grew fierce, and twelve times Patrick faced life-threatening situations, including a harrowing kidnapping and a two-week captivity. Patrick demonstrated that God's power is greater than Druid magic, resulting in many chieftains being converted. Feeling inadequate due to his lack of education, Patrick used illustrations to preach, the most famous of which was the three-leaf clover, which he used to explain the Trinity.

Wherever he went, Patrick left ministers. He founded 300 churches, baptizing over 120,000 converts. It was said that Patrick found Ireland heathen and left it Christian, resulting in Irish missionaries re-evangelizing Europe in later centuries.

Patrick wrote in his Confessions: "I pray those who believe and fear God, whosoever has deigned to scan or accepts this document, composed in Ireland by Patrick the sinner, an unlearned man to be sure, that none should ever say that it was my ignorance that accomplished any small thing ... but let it be most truly believed, that it was the gift of God. And this is my confession before I die."

Patrick died on March 17, 461. To have leaders like him today would be a pot-of-gold at the end of the rainbow.

If your children don't yet have VOMC's fully illustrated storybook about St. Patrick, it's a great way for them to learn more about this heroic martyr. Check it out on our online resource catalog.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Former North Korean Propaganda Officer Now Spreads Message of Christ

Kim Sung Min, a former propaganda officer for the North Korean Army, is now fighting for the freedom and faith of his home country. The Voice of the Martyrs, a Canadian-based ministry dedicated to glorifying God by serving His Persecuted Church, invites you to attend a special conference in Mississauga, Ontario on March 28 and Edmonton, Alberta on April 4 to hear Mr. Kim’s harrowing story of escape from North Korea and discover the hope he sees in the new Underground University.

Once a diehard socialist, Mr. Kim became disillusioned when he saw the lack of freedom and opportunity in North Korea while serving in the military. After defecting, being arrested and escaping again, Mr. Kim began spreading a new message of hope and liberty.

kimMr. Kim’s eyes were opened to the modern-day Holocaust that was going on around him in North Korea, where Christianity is illegal and even failing to keep a portrait of Kim Jong-Il clean can mean being sent to a political prison camp. Like thousands of other North Koreans, he defected to China. But his newfound Christian faith compelled him to spread that message of hope to his fellow North Koreans. So, he became a prominent freedom fighter and advocate for religious freedom for North Korea.

Mr. Kim founded Free North Korean Radio and now is leading another effort—training North Korean exiles through Underground University to return to their homeland to serve and grow the North Korean church. Mr. Kim serves as Dean of Underground University in Seoul, South Korea — a joint project of Seoul USA and The Voice of the Martyrs-Canada.

Mr. Kim will appear as the keynote speaker at this year's VOMC Persecuted Church Prayer Conferences in Mississauga, Ontario on March 28 and Edmonton, Alberta on April 4. This is a unique opportunity for the people of Canada to hear the life-changing story of Mr. Kim, learn about the persecution of North Korean Christians, and get involved in a radical underground movement designed to change North Korea from the inside out. Everyone is invited to attend and bring family and friends. The conferences will be provided at no cost, due to the generosity of VOMC supporters. An offering will take place, and all proceeds will go directly to Underground University.

For more information, please phone our office at 1.888.298.6423 or check out our conference brochure.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A year later, Ortiz bombing still unsolved (and barely investigated)

Today I received the following update from the Jerusalem Institute of Justice on the investigation of the bombing of the Ortiz home during the feast of Purim last March.  15-year-old Ami was badly injured in the blast.  Because JIJ does not have this report online, I have reprinted it here for you to read and pray about. 

Ortiz Bombing Still Unsolved

traditional Purim gift basketExactly almost one year ago, on March 20, 2008, 15-year-old Ami Ortiz stayed home from school. It was Purim – a Jewish festival in which holiday baskets are sent to friends and acquaintances to  commemorate the Jews’ thwarting of Haman’s evil plot as recorded in the book of This basket was meant to killEsther in the Bible. To Ami’s delight, someone left a holiday package on the Ortiz family’s doorstep. When young Ami opened the package, it exploded in his face, filled his body with hundreds of pieces of shrapnel and left him in critical condition. Ami’s father, David, is a pastor of a Messianic community in the town of Ariel. Apparently, this was not an attempt to injure a fifteen year old boy, but rather an attempt to murder a minister of the gospel in Israel.

The apartment after the blastA police investigation was opened after the bombing. However, the Israeli police have been extremely indifferent and apparently negligent in conducting the inquiry. The surveillance cameras which had been installed by the Ortiz family actually managed to film the person who delivered the package. They handed this recording over to the authorities; but to their dismay, no arrests have been made and the police have refused to return the tape to the Ortiz family. A year after the tape was confiscated by the police and after repeated  refusals by the police to release their property, the family brought the matter to court. With Ami and his parents present, the judge ruled to return the tape to the Ortiz family.

Last May, a day after a revealing expose on the issue was aired on Israeli television (Channel 1, "Yoman Shishi"), police contacted the Ortiz family asking them to resend many important documents pertaining to the investigation – the original copies had been lost. This proves that nothing had been done until the issue was brought to the media, two months after the actual event. Distinguished lawyers and representatives of pro-Israeli organizations have tried to bring this case before government officials. Promises have been made, but with no satisfactory results. It is suspected that a number of high-ranking officials and fundamentalist Rabbis in Israel are attempting to engage in a serious cover-up of the true situation.

We are concerned that if this type of violence against Messianic believers in Israel goes unchecked by the prosecuting authorities, it can create a slippery slope of violence towards the community.  Fliers, showing pictures of Messianic leaders and congregational members have been have been circulated in every major city and many smaller settlements in Israel. These fliers contain a message to the public to be aware of these missionaries who are trying to steal the souls of Jews, and who masquerade as Jews but are not Jews. Names and addresses have been published under the pictures, which is against the law. In Ariel, the fliers were posted in every bus stop from Tel Aviv to Ariel, a distance of 45 kilometers. We do not know if the perpetrators of the bombing in the Ortiz home were the ones who published these fliers, but at the very least, the fliers incited and helped them to identify the family and their address.

It has been said that the test of a true democracy is the way it treats its smallest minority. We believe that legal status of the Messianic Jewish community is just a micro-cosmos of a much broader issue; namely, the treatment of non-orthodox Jewish citizens by the government of Israel. All citizens of Israel should be entitled to full and equal protection by law. When this is not the case, the very legitimacy of our state as the only democracy in the Middle East could be called into question. This would not be beneficial for the State of Israel, especially with the current winds of anti-Semitism blowing across the international arena.

Please continue to uphold the Ortiz family in your prayers. Pray, too, for that the recent pressure to finally investigate will result in the arrest of the perpetrators. Pray for JIJ as they seek to uphold and protect the rights of Christians in Israel.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Is God dead?

In 1966, Time magazine ran a cover that read "Is God Dead?" Written in an increasingly modern society, the title reflected theories of the day that suggested man's need for religion would eventually run its course. But some 40 years later, people are still turning to religion for truth. In an essay in Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion, authors Timothy Samuel Shah and Monica Duffy Toft state: "Contrary to the influential scholarly theories of the 1950s and 1960s, religion is not dying with modernization. Contrary to conventional wisdom, religion plays an independent and powerful role in how people view themselves and how states conduct their affairs."

But what about a recent study that indicates that the number of religious Americans is dwindling? According to the study, "The percentage of people who do not claim a religious identity has nearly doubled since 1990" and "although 86% of Americans identified as Christians in 1990, just 76% said the same last year." Doesn't this demonstrate that if religion isn't dead it must be rather ill?

Although it may seem as if some communities are moving away from religion, this certainly isn't the case around the world. Blind Spot points out that "except for Europe and a few other places, global religion shows little sign of declining in the face of modernization." The book points out that more people proportionately adhered to a major world religion in 2000 than in 1900, with the greatest growth in Protestantism and Islam. Regardless of theories and forecasts, religion is increasing in the world. It impacts how we understand ourselves and our place in this world. It affects how we interact with our neighbours – both near and far.

Joseph Stalin once said, "God must be out of Russia in five years." Our Russian brothers and sisters in Christ are testimony of this failed goal. Time magazine's question "Is God Dead?" speaks to our modern age. Like in the past, God is certainly not dead to the Christians around the world who are willing to pay any price to follow their Saviour. No matter the age, people will always be in need of God's grace in their lives.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Clinton continues to undercut the State Department's own human rights reporting

A Washington Post editorial printed yesterday shows how U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton continues "to devalue and undermine the U.S. diplomatic tradition of human rights advocacy."

On her first foreign trip, to Asia, she was dismissive about raising human rights concerns with China's communist government, saying "those issues can't interfere" with economic, security or environmental matters. In last week's visit to the Middle East and Europe, she undercut the State Department's own reporting regarding two problematic American allies: Egypt and Turkey.  (click here to read the remainder of the editorial)

Read this editorial and you will be stunned by the utter disregard for human rights abuses in Egypt and Turkey shown by Clinton.  She seems so concerned with building bridges with these nations that she doesn't care whose bodies get buried in the construction.

It is increasingly clear that Clinton is either woefully ill-prepared or unsuitable for this responsibility. She comes across as uninformed, dismissive or unconcerned about human rights, and her attempts at humour and levity end up coming across as naïveté or woefully inappropriate.   During her campaign for the Democratic nomination, she said, "There is one job we can't afford: on-the-job training for our next president."  One might argue the same for the Secretary of State. So far, she has done little but send, as the Post said, "a message to rulers around the world that their abuses won't be taken seriously by this U.S. administration." 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pastor shot in Bihar, India

bihar This afternoon, Compass Direct released a report of a violent attack on a pastor in the eastern Indian state of Bihar in an attempt to stop his evangelistic work. Here is a summary:

In an effort to stop conversions to Christianity in the eastern state of Bihar, a 25-year-old ailing man on Sunday (March 8) exploded a crude bomb in a church and shot the pastor. Police Inspector Hari Krishna Mandal told Compass that the attacker, Rajesh Singh, had come fully prepared to kill the pastor, Vinod Kumar, in Baraw village in the Nasriganj area of Rohtas district, and then take his own life. Church members caught Singh before he could kill himself or others. At press time the 35-year-old pastor was out of danger of losing his life, according to a leader of Gospel Echoing Missionary Society (GEMS) who requested anonymity. The church, Prarthana Bhawan (House of Prayer), belongs to GEMS. “In his statement, Singh said he was personally against Christian conversions and wanted to kill the pastor to stop conversions,” Mandal said. Asked if Singh had any links with extremist Hindu nationalist groups, the inspector said no such organization was active in the area, though local Christians say Hindu extremist presence in the area has increased recently. The GEMS source said the incident could have been fallout from conversions in nearby Mithnipur village, where a Hindu family had received Christ after being healed from a mental illness around six months ago. Singh also lives in Mithnipur. Additionally, the source said, people allegedly linked with a Hindu nationalist group had sent a threatening letter to the pastor, asking him to stop preaching in the area. (click here to read the full report)

Please remember Brother Kumar in your prayers.  Pray that gospel will continue to spread in this region.  This is yet another example of how persecution will inevitably accompany the work of evangelism.  It is not so much that evangelism takes place because of persecution, but when God's people faithfully witness to His saving grace, persecution is often the result.

Monday, March 09, 2009


“Behold!” is the most common command in the book of Revelation. The second is “Fear not!” It seems that to see what God wants you to see is the key to overcoming fear, perhaps the greatest danger that persecuted Christians face.

Revelation 4 begins with two admonitions to look. Having heard the words to the seven churches, John looks and sees an open door and he commands us to look as well. “Behold, a door standing open in heaven!” He goes through the open door and he see something else that he wants us to view with him, “behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. “

It is unfortunate that some modern translations mistranslate the command to look (or behold) in these verses by omitting the command altogether. In the midst of the chaos of life, it is essential that God’s people retain this vision of God. A God whose throne is surrounded by a rainbow, a promise that no final destruction will ever come upon His people (cf. Genesis 9:12-17). A God before whom there is perfect tranquility (4:6). In biblical times, the sea represented the forces of chaos and everything opposed to the will of God. The sea represents all that seeks to overwhelm God’s work. But when John sees the throne of heaven, he sees a sea not in chaos but perfectly still. In the presence of God, chaos and confusion is conquered.

John looks and he sees great worship taking place as all of creation, heaven and earth, cry out to the one who reigns. Heaven cries out continually, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!" And twenty-four elders who represent the redeemed people of God cast their crowns before the throne, saying, "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created."

These words by the twenty-four elders are politically loaded and no first-century Christian would have missed them. The very first words “Worthy are you” were the same words that the Roman emperor was greeted with in the ritual that began his triumphal processions, where he would be publicly praised for his great victories over his enemies. The phrase, “our Lord and God” were exactly the same words that Roman emperors had begun to be referred by. In effect, the twenty-four elders were saying, “There is one who is worthy to receive glory, honor and power. One who may rightfully be addressed as ‘our Lord and God’” and it is not Caesar! And whereas it was the Roman custom to worship the empty throne of the emperor, worshiping his religious presence, in God’s heaven, the throne is filled and His worshippers dare not even utter His name in reverence! And He will not suffer a rival!

This vision of heaven is, therefore, both a confession of faith and a mighty challenge.[i] God’s people are called to be the best citizens that a country can have but they can never be unconditionally patriotic. When the state or society makes claims on the Christian that only should be given to God, the believer has no choice but to disobey and be prepared to face the consequences of being marked as an “enemy of the state” or of society. Isolation, hostility, discrimination, and various kinds of suffering can be expected. But the call of the believer is to “look” and to acknowledge who is on the throne and to refuse to acknowledge any other, regardless of the cost. Despite the chaos that comes into our life because of our confession, we know that He is in control and that in His presence is peace and that nothing comes into our life that does not first pass through His hands. And we are assured that no final destruction can come upon us for He is a God who keeps His promises.


[i] Hanns Lilje, 1957. The Last Book of the Bible. translated by Olive Wyon. Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

From Behind the Wire: VOMC Persecuted Church Prayer Conferences

Don't miss VOMC's upcoming Persecuted Church Prayer Conferences in Mississauga, Ontario on March 28 and Edmonton, Alberta on April 4. This year's conferences will focus on our brothers and sisters in North Korea. Hear the testimony of guest speaker Mr. Kim, a man who served in the North Korean military until he came to know Christ and escaped to China. Learn more about the work of The Voice of the Martyrs in Korea from VOMC co-workers, Eric Foley and Ahn Hyun Sook. Be blessed through the music and worship led by violinist Trevor Dick. VOMC CEO, Glenn Penner, and Greg Musselman will also report on how the mission is serving the Persecuted Church worldwide. For more information, please phone our office at 1.888.298.6423 or check out our conference brochure.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Justice and/or peace in Sudan?

On March 2, the New York Times published two op-ed pieces by Franklin Graham and Desmond Tutu on the wisdom of this week's issuance of an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan by the International Criminal Court. Both opinions are well-written and worth reading. 

Graham suggests that "arresting Mr. Bashir now will likely only create further chaos in Sudan, which in recent years has been convulsed by separate conflicts in the south and in the Darfur region in the west."

In 16 years of relief work in Sudan, I have witnessed much of the violence that his government has inflicted. An estimated 300,000 people in Darfur have died and 2.5 million people have fled their homes in the wake of fighting among rebels, government forces and their allied Janjaweed militias. Nor does the destruction stop there: Our organization has identified nearly 500 churches that were destroyed by Mr. Bashir’s forces. But arresting Mr. Bashir now threatens to undo the progress his country has made. In 2005, Sudan’s government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement signed an accord ending the civil war in the south. The agreement paved the way for elections in the south later this year, as well as for a referendum on southern independence scheduled for 2011. The accord has brought benefits to Sudan, but it isn’t clear that they will last. Mr. Bashir, who fought members of his own party to approve the deal, is critical to the peace process. I want to see justice served, but my desire for peace in Sudan is stronger. Mr. Bashir, accused of genocide and crimes against humanity, is hardly an ideal peacemaker. But given all the warring factions in Sudan, there is no guarantee that his replacement would be better.

Desmond Tutu, however, takes the opposite position.

African leaders argue that the court’s action will impede efforts to promote peace in Darfur. However, there can be no real peace and security until justice is enjoyed by the inhabitants of the land. There is no peace precisely because there has been no justice. As painful and inconvenient as justice may be, we have seen that the alternative — allowing accountability to fall by the wayside — is worse.

The issuance of an arrest warrant for President Bashir would be an extraordinary moment for the people of Sudan — and for those around the world who have come to doubt that powerful people and governments can be called to account for inhumane acts. African leaders should support this historic occasion, not work to subvert it.

Personally, I am inclined to agree with the former archbishop on this one.  Graham's position sounds just too (how shall I word it?)... pragmatic.  One cannot have peace without justice, as Christ's work on the cross illustrated overwhelmingly.  Tutu also knows this from his years of seeking to bring reconciliation to South Africa.  Perhaps Graham should listen to someone who has greater interests at stake than just his expressed sentiment, "I have been able to deal with him." Yes, ultimately, justice will be served by a higher power than the International Criminal Court.  But justice is still worth pursuing now when the opportunity arises.  Indeed, peace in Sudan is unlikely without at least an attempt at justice.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Religions don't have rights - people do

islam2It isn't often that I agree with avowedly atheist Christopher Hitchens.  But I think that he understands better than most the threat posed by recent attempts by the Organization of the Islamic Conference to push through the nonbinding U.N. Resolution 62/154, on "Combating defamation of religions," which would extend  human rights protections not only to individuals but to religions themselves, thereby protecting religions (and especially Islam) from criticism by others.   In a recent piece in Slate.com, Hitchens writes,

If there sometimes seems to be something implicitly absolutist or even totalitarian in such a claim, it may result not from a fundamentalist reading of the holy book but from the religion itself. And it is the so-called mainstream Muslims, grouped in the Organization of the Islamic Conference, who are now demanding through the agency of the United Nations that Islam not only be allowed to make absolutist claims but that it also be officially shielded from any criticism of itself.

Though it is written tongue-in-cheek in the language of human rights and of opposition to discrimination, the nonbinding U.N. Resolution 62/154, on "Combating defamation of religions," actually seeks to extend protection not to humans but to opinions and to ideas, granting only the latter immunity from being "offended." The preamble is jam-packed with hypocrisies that are hardly even laughable....

Some will argue that this concern is all a bunch of fear-mongering.  After doesn'tislam Paragraph 10 affirm that the everyone has the right to hold opinions without prejudice and the right to freedom of expression?  Yes, but then it backtracks in the same paragraph by saying that "the exercise of these rights carries with it special duties and responsibilities and may therefore be subject to limitations as are provided for by law and are necessary for respect of the rights or reputations of others, protection of national security or of public order, public health or morals and respect for religions and beliefs."   And that is the crux of the matter. Hitchens understands the ramifications when he says, "the thought buried in this awful, wooden prose is as ugly as the language in which it is expressed: Watch what you say, because our declared intention is to criminalize opinions that differ with the one true faith. Let nobody say that they have not been warned."

Thirteen year old Christian girl violated for two days by Muslim man

Today our friends at International Christian Concern put out a press release concerning the kidnapping, rape, and forcible conversion of a 13-year old Christian girl after after a Muslim man in Pakistan decided that he wanted to marry her. It's not easy reading, but the world needs to know of the plight facing young women in Pakistan and other Islamic countries at the hands of those who see Christian girls as easy prey for such heinous violations.

The girl, whose name is Rida Ilyas, is a sixth-grade student living in a small Christian neighborhood in Faisalabad. On February 13, a Muslim man named Muhammad Shahid accosted her at gunpoint as she was leaving her school. He told her to be quiet or she would be killed, and forced her to convert to Islam. He wanted to marry her, and so for two days he raped her thinking that she would agree to the marriage to cover the shame of being raped, even though it is illegal in Pakistan for women to marry under the age of 16. He then released her on February 15.

Rida returned to her family and told them everything, and her family filed a criminal case against Shahid at the police station. Shahid responded by attempting to take custody of Rida until she was 16 and could legally marry him. Fortunately, Rida's family was able to gather support from their local Christian leaders and lobbied the police until they agreed to drop Shahid's claim on Rida. Rida's family is relieved, but has refused to send her back to school for fear that Shahid would try to kidnap her again.

Rida's mother told ICC, "Thank God my daughter came back. It's a miracle of Jesus Christ. Otherwise, I know some Christian girl's case who was kidnapped, sold to another man as a sex slave, and forced into Islam. After a year her dead body was delivered to her home. I am not interested any more to see the police station or doctor's medical report even though she was raped." Rida's mother is rightly cynical of receiving justice from the Pakistani authorities, who often ignore Christian complaints altogether.

This story calls attention to a growing trend in Muslim countries where Muslim men are given financial rewards for converting a Christian woman to Islam by forcibly marrying them.

Rida is not alone. In the past year, we have received five confirmed reports on Christian girls kidnapped and raped by Muslim men who were attempting to force them into Islam in Pakistan:

  • Farzana Rashid, 14, was kidnapped by police on March 28, 2008 from her house in Lahore and was raped and charged with a false crime. 
  • Sumaira Rafiq Masih was raped by three influential landowners when she was working in the fields near Patoki, Punjab, on May 14, 2008.
  • On June 4, 2008 a Muslim man named Ramzan kidnapped two Christian sisters from Chak 285-JB, a village in Toba Tek Singh, Punjab.
  • Saba Younis, 13, and Anila Younis, 10, were kidnapped on June 26, 2008 by a Muslim man named Muhammad Arif Bajwa.
  • In November 2008, Parvisha, 18, and Sanam, 14, told a local magistrate in Gujranwala about their abduction from their home, rape, and forcible conversion to Islam.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Spread the news, receive a free copy of special edition "Tortured for Christ"

Most Canadian Christians have little or no idea of the persecution facing their brothers and sisters around the world. Even fewer know or believe that they have a God-given mandate to remember them and stand with them in their afflictions.

Pastor Richard Wurmbrand never forgot the mandate that he had been given by the Persecuted Church in Romania as they insisted, despite his objections, that he leave the country in order to raise a voice on their behalf! Upon arriving in the U.S., in October 1967, with $100, an old typewriter, and 500 names and addresses, Richard Wurmbrand published the first issue of The Voice of the Martyrs newsletter. This small publication was dedicated to communicating the testimonies and trials facing our brothers and sisters in restricted nations worldwide. In obedience to this God-given mandate, The Voice of the Martyrs today continues the legacy of Pastor Wurmbrand in raising a voice for persecuted Christians around the world.

tfcsp Join The Voice of the Martyrs in spreading the truth of Christian persecution by inviting three friends or family members to receive a free subscription to The Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter by going online to our website at www.persecution.net/nlorderfriend.htm. In appreciation, we will send you a free special edition copy of Richard Wurmbrand’s classic book, Tortured for Christ, which tells why he began the work of The Voice of the Martyrs. You can also email or mail these names to us as well. Click here for our contact information.

(Note: Offer of free book only available for those with mailing addresses in Canada and only until April 31, 2009 or while supplies last).

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Clinton's not so "smart power"

The following appears in as part of a larger article in the March 14 edition of World Magazine:

QUESTION: The—I notice that you're going to go visit a church on Sunday.


QUESTION: And when Madeleine Albright visited . . . a church, she actually came out and made a statement calling for religious freedom in China. Are you planning to do anything like that, or is it just going to be, kind of, just a basic church visit?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I thought I would just go to church. (Laughter.) That's kind of what I was planning to do. . . .

When Hillary Clinton testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January, she tried to set herself apart from her predecessor by pledging to use "smart power," which she defined as "the full range of tools at our disposal—diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal, and cultural—picking the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation."

This is not a radical idea, she told the committee. And with "smart power" peppering nearly every speech during her inaugural journeys as secretary of state across Asia—I'll add that it's perhaps not very smart, either.

The news conference in Seoul on Feb. 20 was a blatant example (quoted above from the official State Department transcript). Clinton tossed off the idea that attending church in China had significance—in a country her own State Department described as "restricted" when it comes to religious practice, and where respect for freedom of religion has remained "poor."

In answer to questions about what she planned to say to Chinese leaders about human rights, Clinton told the reporters, "Our pressing on those issues can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis, and the security crisis."

By declaring human rights and religious freedom off the table before she set foot in Beijing, Clinton jettisoned the first leg of smart power: how governments treat their own.

This article also noted that Clinton's cursory Sunday visit to a Beijing church

also stood in contrast to a visit she made in 1998 with then-President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The president and Albright gave brief speeches to the congregation highlighting the importance of spiritual values to a nation. And President Clinton, upon learning that a woman who tried to speak to him was hustled away, later made a point to meet with her. This time authorities also hustled away some churchgoers, but Hillary Clinton made no apparent attempt to follow up on them.

Tragic.  Disappointing.  I hope, not symptomatic of the next four years.

Underground University Prepares North Korean Christian Exiles to Return to North Korea Undetected

uu North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has announced plans to launch a communications satellite, which the U.S., South Korea and neighbouring countries believe is intended to cover the test of a long-range missile. This act, which seems designed to gain the attention of the new U.S. president and other world leaders, comes while a group of North Korean exiles at Underground University in Seoul, South Korea are training to grow the North Korean church while avoiding the attention of Kim Jong Il's regime.

These students are part of a 12-month intensive Underground University program that provides North Korean exiles with the skills and training they need to return to serve and grow the North Korean Church.

Christianity is illegal in North Korea, despite three government-run churches in Pyongyang. Returning to North Korea after defecting is punishable by death in a concentration camp. "A modern-day Holocaust is occurring in North Korea. What Underground University students are preparing to do is deadly," says Mrs. H.S. Foley, Executive Director of Seoul USA. "But this program is designed to equip them to face these realities while spreading the Gospel to North Koreans."

Underground University is a new initiative launched by Colorado-Springs based ministry Seoul USA in partnership with The Voice of the Martyrs-Canada. "We're working together to train Underground University graduates who can grow the Underground Church in North Korea while remaining undetected by the North Korean government," says Foley.

To join in supporting these North Korean exiles, Seoul USA invites Colorado Springs residents to attend a banquet on April 2, 2009 at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs. The banquet is free to adult guests, thanks to sponsorships by Seoul USA champions, and all proceeds from the event will benefit Underground University.

"All guests are welcome to attend and bring friends or family members," says Foley. "And you will be glad you did! Kim Sung Min, a North Korean defector and Dean of Underground University, is the featured speaker and will be sharing about his horrific escape from North Korea and the hope he sees for his fellow countrymen through Underground University. The banquet is sure to be a life-changing and memorable experience."

Individuals interested in attending the Seoul USA banquet can RSVP online at www.UndergroundU.org or call (719) 481-8599. Individuals in Canada can support this project through The Voice of the Martyrs by contributing to the Underground Church Fund at www.persecution.net/donation.htm.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Missing the mark

According to a recent poll, only 54 percent of Christians in the UK feel that the media reports their religion accurately.

How would you respond to a poll like this? Do you feel misrepresented in the news media?

J. Michael Parker expressed this concern in an article from Zenit. He wrote, "There is no doubt that many secular reporters and editors are ignorant of religion in general and Catholicism in particular. One of the best examples was on the front page of the New York Times during Pope John Paul II's lying-in-state. It referred to his pastoral staff as a "crow's ear" rather than a crosier."

I am currently reading through a very valuable book, Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion, which examines how the news media interprets and reports on stories with religious elements. This essay collection analyzes the media's coverage of recent major news events and is a great resource to learn how, when it comes to religion, the news media can miss the mark – and why it matters.

Like Parker, Blind Spot offers an example to illustrate how religion can be misreported by the media:

"In the heat of the 2000 election, then-Governor George W. Bush of Texas made an off-the-cuff statement that we ought to take the log out of our own eye before calling attention to the speck in the eye of our neighbor. The New York Times reported the remark as a minor gaffe – what it termed "an interesting variation on the saying about the pot and the kettle." The reporter – actually a fine and balanced journalist – did not recognize the biblical reference. Neither did his editors. And this, of course, was not an obscure biblical reference. Not only is it found in the red letters of the New Testament, it is taken from the Sermon on the Mount."

This example, along with Parker's, demonstrates that the media fails to capture the whole picture when they either dismiss or misunderstand the religious elements of a story. As I read through this book, I plan to share my observations and commentary on this blog. I encourage your feedback and dialogue along the way!

<a href="http://www.buzzdash.com/polls/is-christianity-accuratelyfairly-represented-by-the-media-152666/">Is Christianity accurately/fairly represented by the media?</a> <a href="http://www.buzzdash.com">BuzzDash polls</a>

Sunday, March 01, 2009

So what have you been reading lately?

I have not yet put out a summary of my recent readings in 2009 for the plain and simple reason that between being overly busy in January and then rather ill in February, I haven't have the chance to read much over the past couple of months.  I have been reading pages of David Scaer's work on James which purports to the a christological epistle for the persecuted church, written during the early persecution of the church between Acts 8-10. If true, this would make James, by far, the first New Testament book.  An interesting proposal that I hope to finish one of these days when my concentration rises above that of a fruit fly and my ability to type above that of a chimpanzee.

I have made a little more progress on Hare's The Theme of Jewish Persecution of Christians in Gospel According to St Matthew.  A helpful study apart from the author's obvious distrust of Luke as a historian in Acts.  Surprisely readable, however.

tqffd The only book that I have managed to finish is The Quest for Freedom and Dignity by Vishal Mangalwandi.  Simply put, this book has helped me more to understand the situation facing Christians in present day India than any other book or report that I have yet read. Through the use of stories, testimonies and theological reflections, the author shows how Christ is not only the answer to bringing lasting peace to the life of the Indian but to India itself.  Order it and read it!  That's all I can say, if you really want to understand India.  Vishal Mangalwandi is one of India's clearest Christian thinkers alive today, I believe.  It's why I insisted that we needed to make this book available after I had read it.  There is much to be heard in this book, both for Westerners and Indians.