Thursday, December 31, 2009

Year after year, He is faithful

As 2009 draws to a close, we can be grateful to God for the many ways He has provided for His persecuted children around the world. In the past year, we have witnessed prisoners released, families reunited, false charges dropped, faith strengthened, and the truth of Christ received by many. We have much to be thankful for.

But even for those whose situations seemingly haven't improved -- those who spent Christmas in prison, those who are being physically or verbally abused, those who know that 2010 will bring many difficult days -- we can still be thankful to God for providing for and sustaining them in the midst of their suffering.

At the end of the year, while we pause and look back on what has happened and anticipate what is to come, we can see God's hand in the lives of persecuted Christians. Their testimonies make us grateful to serve a God who is so intimately concerned with all our needs. By recognizing what He has done in the past, we can look ahead confidently to 2010, knowing that He will continue to guide and support all His children. Year after year, He is faithful.

It is imperative to know God's constant faithfulness as we enter a New Year. Many will undoubtedly suffer in the year to come, and without understanding that this world belongs to God -- at all times, in all situations -- it is easy to lose our footing and grow weary over the amount of suffering our Christian family faces around the globe.

We are so grateful for the ways Christians in Canada and around the world have supported the persecuted Church this year. We ask that you please continue to stand with them in 2010. We know that God is faithful year after year. May we too be faithful to the Lord and to each other in the year to come.

Blessings to you!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christian woman murdered in Somalia

For more videos and media reports, check out our multimedia site at

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Voice of the Martyrs Canada appoints new C.E.O.

The following is the official press release announcing the appointment of Corey Odden as VOMC's C.E.O. beginning January 2010. Please pray for Corey and his family as well as the staff at VOMC during this time of transition.

Contacts: Glenn Penner/Floyd Brobbel, The Voice of the Martyrs Canada, 905‐670‐9721

MISSISSAUGA, Ontario. -- December. 29, 2009 / ‐‐ The Board of Directors of The Voice of The Martyrs Canada, a non‐profit charitable organization dedicated to raising awareness and support for persecuted Christians around the world, is pleased to announce the appointment of Corey Odden to the position of Chief Executive Officer.

Corey Odden joins VOM‐Canada after having served most recently as Vice‐President of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. Prior to that, Mr. Odden served for 10 years as the Chief Financial Officer with The Voice of the Martyrs in the United States and had the opportunity to travel to many countries throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia in service to the persecuted church.

Mr. Odden will officially assume the role of C.E.O. from Rev. Glenn Penner on January 4, 2010. Rev. Penner, who has been battling Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia since 2002, will assume a more specialized role that will enable him to continue to serve the Persecuted Church more in line with his health limitations. Rev. Penner has been with the mission since 1997, during which time he authored an extensive study on the theology of persecution and discipleship and ministered across the world to suffering believers.

The Chairman of the Board of Directors, Rev. Peter Jardine, is confident of the Lord's provision during this time of transition. "Glenn Penner took the mission to a level of excellence which leaves me both thankful to be part of it and humbled by the extent of it. I am profoundly thankful that Glenn will continue to be involved, spending time on his great work on the theology of persecution and remaining as an invaluable resource to the leadership."

Rev. Jardine is also excited about the addition of Mr. Odden to the mission. "I cannot thank God enough for bringing to us Corey Odden, who is, in my humble opinion, uniquely qualified to step into the C.E.O.'s office. We remain in God's hands, secure in the knowledge that He is guiding us, sustaining us and loving us through this difficult but rewarding work."

In anticipation of joining the team and VOM‐Canada, Mr. Odden stated, “I am deeply grateful for the testimony of my friends, the late Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand, and their son, Mihai, who stirred the hearts of Klaas and Nellie Brobbel to establish VOM’s mission in Canada nearly 40 years ago. In addition, Glenn Penner has assembled a highly qualified and dedicated team. It is an honour to serve alongside the staff and volunteers as we raise the voice of such Christians who would otherwise be forgotten.”

About The Voice of the Martyrs Canada

The Voice of the Martyrs Inc., a registered non‐profit charitable organization founded in Canada in 1971 by Klaas and Nellie Brobbel, has been ministering to persecuted Christians worldwide for nearly 40 years in more than 50 countries. The Voice of the Martyrs, which has multiple missions around the world, was founded by Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian pastor who was imprisoned and tortured for 14 years for professing his faith in Christ.

For more information on The Voice of the Martyrs Canada, please visit or contact

Christmas in North Korea

Over Christmas a news story broke regarding a 28-year-old American who "illegally entered" North Korea on Christmas Eve. The man is believed to be a Christian missionary who slipped across the frozen Tumen River in China bearing a letter urging leader Kim Jong Il to resign, repent, and free all political prisoners in the country. Quite a story, and one we'll continue to keep an eye on and pray for.

While looking for details and information on this story, I discovered a TIME Magazine article which looks at what Christmas is like in North Korea. Certainly a challenging reality to think about following a time of church services, carol concerts, school programs and other such Christmas events, which are so encouraged in many areas of the world. I found it to be a helpful look into the government's view of Christianity in North Korea:

How Christmas Is (Not) Celebrated in North Korea

By Geoffrey Cain / Seoul

When North Korean authorities caught Jeong Young Sil helping Christians escape to China seven years ago, they did not take her transgression lightly. First, they pulled out her teeth and fingernails to get information about her underground church in the country's northeast. Then, they threw her in prison for four years. "They demanded to know who was helping me and where they were," says Jeong, an evangelist in her 50s now living in South Korea, who uses an alias to protect her family back home. Despite their efforts, the Northern officials could not stop her. After she fled two years ago, she secretly began sending Christmas gifts to her old church. "Christmas," Jeong says, "would otherwise be meaningless."

For most North Koreans, Christmas has long been a nonevent, in part because the government keeps a tight rein on information about religious holidays from entering the country, and in part because Christians can be arrested for celebrating it. Though the country's constitution does grant freedom of religion to all citizens, North Korean authorities don't seem to pay the idea much heed. The government also monitors other religions — such as Buddhism and Cheondoism, a popular Korean belief system that combines elements of several faiths — but underground churches are particularly feared by authorities because they're estimated to have helped some 20,000 North Koreans defect to China. As a result, the regime routinely imprisons and executes Christian religious leaders who teach their faith without state approval, according to a U.S. State department report. Official figures put the number of practicing Christians at 13,000 in 2001, but South Korean church groups estimate about 100,000 Christians practice in secret churches across the nation now. "We always met for prayer at peoples' homes, in groups of two to keep it private," Jeong says. "When we met in bigger groups, we went far away to the mountains where no one could find us." (See rare pictures from inside North Korea)

Of course, in an impoverished nation where aid organizations provide food aid to some six million people, the Western notion of a gift-giving holiday does not translate very well, particularly after Kim Jong Il's regime effectively stripped most of the nation of any personal savings three weeks ago. Each year underground worshippers in North Korea receive an array of presents from the outside world, including foreign-made clothes and candy, smuggled in by defectors like Jeong.

Meanwhile, the communist regime has placed a slew of nationalistic holidays around Christmas, though their timing is probably a coincidence. On December 24, many North Koreans observe the birthday of Kim Jong Suk — the deceased mother of dictator Kim Jong Il and a revolutionary hero — by making pilgrimages to her birthplace of Hoeryong, a town in the northeast. Three days later, they are given a day off work for Constitution Day. Even New Years' Day is more about revolutionary zeal than ushering in 2010, when thousands of North Koreans will walk in a yearly procession to the Kumsusan Memorial Palace at the northeast outskirts of the capital to pay homage to the preserved body of Kim Il Sung, the father of North Korea. (See pictures of Kim Jong Il.)

Life in the North wasn't always so rank-and-file. In the early 1900s, Pyongyang was widely known as the "Jerusalem of the East" for its vibrant milieu of Christians. American Protestant missionaries arrived as early as the 1880s (Catholics arrived centuries earlier but the religion didn't catch on as widely), building religious schools and universities across the capital. Later, as Christianity gained popularity, worshippers held group prayers in public every Christmas. But after the Japanese government took control of Korea in 1910, the new administration began suppressing religious gatherings, and by the 1950s, — after the Korean War left the peninsula split into a communist north and capitalist south, — the northern government began to carry out executions of thousands of Christians for the years to come.

The government took a more nuanced — if short-lived — approach to religion in the following decades. In 1988, South Korea expanded economic ties with its neighbor, bringing in more foreigners on business and exchange trips; the following year Pyongyang hosted the World Festival of Youth and Students, a massive socialist festival that attracted 22,000 people from 177 countries. With an influx of foreigners, the government saw a need to build four state-run churches in Pyongyang in the following years, though critics maintain they're facades to show the world that it supports freedom of religion. "[Foreign missionaries] are allowed to come for relief or other purposes, only if they promise not to spread the word," argues Kim. (See pictures of the key moments in North Korea's history.)

Still, some scholars contend the regime practices a kind of pragmatic tolerance of Christianity, suggesting North Korea's intelligence agency chooses to ignore underground churches because of their political usefulness. "How can they not know the whereabouts of 100,000 Christians?" says Philo Kim, a professor of sociology at Seoul National University in South Korea, who has visited North Korea several times to study Christianity there. "The government takes advantage of them by dispatching spies into the churches. They can gather information about the churches in China and how they help defectors escape."

That may be, but it's a limit that most are not willing to test. North Koreans still face execution if they're caught evangelizing, prompting most Christians to put aside Christmas for more patriotic holidays. Because useful or not, says Kim, "Among all religions, Christianity is seen as the most threatening to the regime."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The more that is needed

Last week I had the wonderful experience of seeing George Frideric Handel's "Messiah" in concert for the very first time. It was as moving as many had promised it would be. The moments of exuberant joy were of course among the most familiar in the production. Yet I was also deeply moved by the moments of solemnity, which are choruses of other kind: cries for relief from the anguish of a world bent by sin and death.

In many ways, my emotional response to the production echoed that of well-known Christian author Philip Yancey who, in his Christianity Today essay, describes how "the bright and glistening theology" of the Messiah broke through to him in a new way one memorable winter night. The essay is truly a treat to read, and I highly encourage you to do so, especially if you have listened to or attended a performance of Handel's masterpiece recently.

For me, the highlight of Yancey's piece is his reflection on why Handel's Messiah could not rightly end with the ever-lively and stirring "Hallelujah!" chorus. He begins by explaining that many still speculate that when King George I attended the premiere of the production, he rose to his feet at the singing of the "Hallelujah!" chorus out of the mistaken assumption it had reached its conclusion. Apparently his mistake also continues to be repeated by novice audience members today. "Who can blame them? " says Yancey. "After two hours of performance, the music seems to culminate in the rousing chorus. What more is needed?"

By way of an answer, Yancey breaks down the Messiah's finale and eloquently illustrates the 'more' that is needed--not just in Handel's classic oratorio, but in Lord's masterpiece of achieving salvation for His children through the sacrifice of His son. He writes:

The Messiah has come in "glory" (Part 1); the Messiah has died and been resurrected (Part 2). Why, then, does the world remain in such a sorry state? Part 3 attempts an answer. Beyond the images from Bethlehem and Calvary, one more messianic image is needed: the Messiah as Sovereign Lord. The Incarnation did not usher in the end of history--only the beginning of the end. Much work remains before creation is restored to God's original intent.

In a brilliant stroke, Part 3 of Messiah opens with a quotation from Job, that tragic figure who clung stubbornly to faith amid circumstances that called for bleak despair. "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth," the soprano sings out. Overwhelmed by tragedy, with scant evidence of a sovereign God, Job still managed to believe; and, Handel implies, so should we.

From that defiant opening, Part 3 shifts to the apostle Paul's theological explanation of Christ's death ("Since by man came death ... ") and then moves quickly to his lofty words about a final resurrection ("The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised").

Just as the tragedy of Good Friday was transformed into the triumph of Easter Sunday, one day all war, all violence, all injustice, all sadness will likewise be transformed. Then and only then we will be able to say, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" The soprano carries that thought forward to its logical conclusion, quoting from Romans 8: "If God be for us, who can be against us?" If we believe, truly believe, that the last enemy has been destroyed, then we indeed have nothing to fear. At long last, death is swallowed up in victory.

Handel's masterwork ends with a single scene frozen in time. To make his point about the Christ of eternity, librettist Jennens could have settled on the scene from Revelation 2, where Jesus appears with a face like the shining sun and eyes like blazing fire. Instead, his text concludes with the scene from Revelation 4-5, perhaps the most vivid image in a book of vivid imagery.

Twenty-four impressive rulers are gathered together, along with four living creatures who represent strength and wisdom and majesty--the best in all creation. These creatures and rulers kneel respectfully before a throne luminous with lightning and encircled by a rainbow. An angel asks who is worthy to break a seal that will open up the scroll of history. Neither the creatures nor the 24 rulers are worthy. The author realizes well the significance of that moment, "I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside."

Besides these creatures, impotent for the grand task, one more creature stands before the throne. Though appearance offers little to recommend him, he is nevertheless history's sole remaining hope. "Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain." A lamb! A helpless, baa-baa lamb, and a slaughtered one at that! Yet John in Revelation, and Handel in Messiah, sum up all history in this one mysterious image. The great God who became a baby, who became a lamb, who became a sacrifice--this God, who bore our stripes and died our death, this one alone is worthy. That is where Handel leaves us, with the chorus "Worthy Is the Lamb," followed by exultant amens.

I recently heard an anecdote about Handel during his creation of the Messiah. One day, while Handel was working in his room while his assistant was trying to shout for his attention. He called and called for Handel for several minutes but received no response. Finally, the assistant walked over to Handel's room, where he found the composer in tears. "What's wrong?" he asked. Handel then held up the score to the "Hallelujah" movement and said, "I thought I saw the face of God."

A powerful story indeed. And yet, it's worth noting that, even after Handel apparently felt as if he had glimpsed God's splendorous face, he continued on to write the third and final chapter to his musical creation. He knew the face of God could not be fully revealed even in the most beautiful of earthly choruses. His classical masterpiece acknowledges that while our world rightly rejoices in the God who is with us (and who suffers with us), it also aches for the 'more' of our Saviour's return.

This is the eternal 'more' that all of us, including our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters, look towards--not only now, in this time of Christmas celebration, but always. Together we lean into Christ's light in joyful anticipation of the day when our afflictions will cease and we will be rewarded with the finale that Christ has deemed worthy for His faithful.

Until then, our cries of joy and of sorrow all culminate in the same heartrending chorus: Hallelujah! Come, Lord Jesus!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Words from our founder - Overcoming solitude

One of the greatest problems for an underground fighter is to know how to fill up his solitude. We had absolutely no books. Not only no Bible, but no books, no scrap of paper, and no pencil. We never heard a noise, and there was absolutely nothing to distract our attention. We looked at the walls, that was all. Now normally a mind under such circumstances becomes mad. …I can tell you from my own experience how I avoided becoming mad, but this again has to be prepared by a life of spiritual exercise beforehand. …

I, and many other prisoners, did it like this. We never slept during the night. We slept during the day. The whole night we were awake. …The demonic forces are forces of the night, and therefore, it is so important to oppose them during the night. Vigils are very important. In the free world, vigils are largely unknown. In my country, even before the Communist takeover, we had vigils. …

In solitary confinement we awoke when the other prisoners went to bed. We filled our time with a program that was so heavy we could not fulfill it. We started with a prayer, a prayer in which we traveled through the whole world. We prayed for each country, for where we knew the names of towns and men, and we prayed for great preachers. It took a good hour or two to come back. We prayed for pilots, and for those on the sea, and for those who were in prisons.

The Bible tells us about one of the great joys we can have, even in a prison cell: “Rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15). I rejoiced that there were families somewhere who gathered with their children, read the Bible together, told jokes, and were so happy with each other.

Somewhere there was a boy who loved a young girl and dated her; I could be happy about them. There they had a prayer meeting; and there was someone who studied; and there is somebody who enjoyed good food, etc. We could rejoice with those who rejoiced.

After having traveled through the whole world, I read the Bible from memory. To memorize the Bible is very important for an underground worker.

Excerpted and edited from Pastor Wurmbrand’s The Triumphant Church, pp. 22-23. You can order this special resource on our online catalog.

Christians in Vietnam hold historic Christmas celebrations

What a delight it has been to read of the Christmas celebrations that have been held by Christians in Vietnam in recent weeks. Last week, Compass Direct reported that some 40,000 people gathered in Ho Chi Minh City to worship God, celebrate Christmas, and hear a gospel message. Many believers were reportedly overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude, spontaneously hugging each other and crying out statements such as, “Lord, bring revival to all of Vietnam!” and “Nothing could stop the hand of the Lord.” Then on December 20, an estimated 12,000 people attended a Christmas rally in Hanoi. Local sources said long-requested written permission for the event was never given, in spite of several reminders to authorities. However, four days before the event was to take place, Hanoi authorities and police told organizers that they would not interfere with the proceedings. "The sound of crying, of praise, of prayer were blended as one, beseeching Almighty God for spiritual revival in Vietnam,” said a believer who attended the special Christmas gathering.

Praise God for the resilient faith of His children in Vietnam. Pray that the Lord will continue to make His presence and grace known to them as they celebrate their Saviour, whether it be in large Christmas services such as these, small gatherings with friends and family, or from a prison cell.

You can read the full report on the Christmas celebration in Hanoi below:

Christians in Vietnam Hold Another Historic Celebration

Largest-ever event in northern part of country encourages house churches.

HANOI, December 21 (CDN) — For the second time in 10 days, Protestant history was made in Vietnam yesterday when 12,000 people gathered for a Christmas rally here.

The event, which took place in the large square in front of the entrance to My Dinh National Stadium in the heart of Hanoi, was said to be 10 times larger than any prior Protestant gathering in history in northern Vietnam. On Dec. 11 in southern Vietnam, an estimated 40,000 people attended a Christmas celebration in Ho Chi Minh City (see “Unprecedented Christmas Gathering Held in Vietnam”).

Local sources said long-requested written permission for the event, entitled “Praise Jesus Together,” never came in spite of several reminders. But four days before the event was to take place, Hanoi authorities and police told organizers – in words as close as they would get to granting permission – that they would “not interfere.”

“One can hardly overestimate the importance of such an event in the lives of northern house church Christians,” said one long-time Compass source. “For many, this will have been the first time to join in a large crowd with other Christians, to feel the growing power of their movement, to hear, see and participate in the high quality, and deeply spiritual mass worship.”

The day before the event, Christians gathered near the stadium for final prayer and to help with preparations. Witnesses said the huge public square at the entrance to the stadium was arrayed with thousands of stools rather than chairs – plastic, backless, and bright blue and red. In 10-foot tall letters, “JESUS’ was emblazoned on the backdrop to the stage.

Invitations had been sent through house church networks even as official permission for the event was still pending. When church leaders decided to move ahead only days before, Christians were asked to send out mass invitations by text-message, leading some to speculate whether this may have been the largest ever such messaging for a Christian event.

Nearby Christians as well as those bussed from more distant areas began to fill the venue hours before the event. They were not dissuaded by a Hanoi cool spell of 12 Celsius (56 Fahrenheit) with a chill wind. Bundled in thick jackets, their heads wrapped in scarves, they waited expectantly without complaint.

They were not disappointed. Witnesses said the throng deeply appreciated a program of outstanding music and dance, a powerful personal narrative followed by a gospel message and an extended time for prayer for the nation. As at the previous event in Ho Chi Minh City on Dec. 11 that house church Christians had long worked and prayed for, the program featured music from Jackson Family Ministries of the United States.

In a world of globalized gospel and praise choruses, songs included hymns such as “How Great Thou Art” as well as classic praise songs such as “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord.” Witnesses said the music was accompanied by tasteful, emotionally engaging dance. Top Vietnamese artists performed, including news songs by Vietnamese songwriters, and a Vietnamese choir of 80 sang, as did a Korean choir.

A young man in his 30s who now pastors two house churches told the crowd how an encounter with Jesus proved more powerful than the grip of drug addiction. His story, simply and humbly told, proved an effective bridge to a Christmas evangelistic message by Pastor Pham Tuan Nhuong of the Word of Life house church. Then the winsome Pastor Pham Dinh Nhan, a top southern house church leader, gave a disarming but strong invitation to follow Jesus, witnesses said.

Organizers said approximately 2,000 people then poured forward in response, packing the large area in front of the stage.

The final portion of the program included a time of intense prayer for the nation, with pastors confessing and praying for righteousness for Vietnam’s leaders, as well as for God’s protection and blessing on their land. In their prayers they claimed Vietnam for Christ, witnesses said.

A high point for the throng was the superimposing of a large white cross on a yellow map of Vietnam on the backdrop. As the Korean choir sang a spirited revival hymn, the crowd raised thousands of hands and exploded in sound.

“The sound of crying, of praise, of prayer were blended as one, beseeching Almighty God for spiritual revival in Vietnam,” said one participant.

The event was streamed live at for Vietnamese and others around the world to see.

Until recently – and still in some places – most Vietnamese meet in small groups in homes knowing at any time there could be a hostile knock on the door, a source said.

“None of these groups is registered or recognized by the government,” the source said of the crowd at yesterday’s event. “What you see is Christians standing up!”

In addition to this event and the Dec. 11 event in Ho Chi Minh City, a large public Christmas rally was held by the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (North) at the Hoang Nhi church in Nam Dinh Province on Saturday (Dec. 19). Some 2,500 people gathered in the church’s large courtyard, with sources saying 200 responded to an invitation to follow Christ.

In Tuy Hoa, on the coast of central Vietnam, a Christmas program is planned for Saturday (Dec. 26) in a 4,000- seat theater. Many smaller events are also planned in other areas, part of an unprecedented public display by Vietnam’s Protestants.

At the same time, the freedom for Christians tolerated in large cities has not reached some more remote parts of the country, where ethnic minority Christians live. In Dien Bien Dong district of Dien Bien Province, authorities on Tuesday (Dec. 15) orchestrated immense ethnic social pressure on a new Christian couple to recant. The couple told Compass that police added their own pressure.

“The police said they would beat me to death, and take away all my possessions, leaving my wife a widow, and my children orphans with no place to live,” the husband told Compass. “I folded. I signed promising that I would no longer follow God. I really want to, but it is very, very hard to be a believer where we live, as the officials will not allow us.”

Monday, December 21, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

Father and daughter released from prison in Pakistan

We are pleased to report that Gulsher Masih and his daughter, Sandul, who were falsely accused of desecrating the Quran, have been released from prison.

Christians Accused of Desecrating Quran Freed in Pakistan

LAHORE, Pakistan, December 16 (Compass Direct News) – A Christian in Faisalabad district and his 20-year-old daughter were released on Monday (Dec. 14) after 14 grueling months in jail on false charges of blaspheming the Quran.

Khalil Tahir, attorney for Gulsher Masih and his daughter Ashyana Gulsher (known as Sandal), said the case was typical of the way Pakistan’s blasphemy laws can be used to harass innocent Christians.

“Christians are the soft targets, and most of the people implicated in these inhumane laws are Christians,” Tahir said. “We Christians are fighting for the same, noble goal – to provide justice to the victims of blasphemy laws.”

Masih said that inmates beat him at least five times since he was arrested on Oct. 23, 2008. His daughter was arrested two weeks earlier, on Oct. 10.

“These long 14 months seemed like ages,” Masih told Compass. “There was one inmate, Ghulam Fareed, a rich man, who always harassed me, trying to coerce me to convert to Islam by saying he would make me rich and would send me abroad.”

Fareed, who also promised high quality education for Masih’s children, joined with Islamic extremists jailed for terrorist acts to beat him in an effort to force him to “come into the fold of Islam,” Masih said. While in jail, he said, his wife told him that their daughter had been beaten several times by the superintendent of police.

Masih and his daughter were charged under Section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code for blaspheming the Quran. Before charges were filed in October 2008, Masih said an initial incident occurred on Aug. 25, when Ashyana Gulsher found some burned pages of the Quran in a garbage dump outside their community of Chak No. 57, Chak Jhumra in the district of Faisalabad.

[To read the rest of the report, click here.]

See below for a special video of Sandul thanking everyone who prayed and advocated on her and her father's behalf.

We encourage you to continue to keep this family in your prayers. Pray that the hardships they endured will draw them closer to Christ. Pray that they will continue to be a light to those in their community.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Arrest made in attack on Christian family

Watch the latest edition of The Overcomers to find out how a suspect has finally been arrested for the March 2008 bomb attack in the Jewish settlement town of Ariel that severely injured Ami Ortiz, the teenage son of a Messianic pastor. To find out more about Ami and the struggles he and his family has faced, please click here or here.

To watch more video reports from The Voice of the Martyrs, check out our media site.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Elderly Eritrean Christians released

It was just reported that the Eritrean Christians arrested on December 5 have been released. Praise the Lord! Here's the report from International Christian Concern:

Eritrea Releases Elderly Christian Women

Washington, D.C. (December 16, 2009)–International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that yesterday at 3:30 PM local time, Eritrean officials released all the Christian women they had arrested on December 5.

The elderly women were detained for praying together at a house in Asmara, Eritrea’s capital. Eritrean security forces raided the prayer meeting and brought them to a police station in Asmara. ICC broke the news of the arrest in a press release issued on December 7. (See story)

Most of the released Christians are members of Faith Mission Church, an Evangelical Church with a Methodist background. The church has been carrying out evangelistic and development activities in Eritrea for over five decades and was forced to go underground in 2002 after Eritrean officials required all religious groups to register. The officials then allowed only three Christian denominations to register. The three registered churches are: the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Evangelical Church of Eritrea.

Since 2002, officials of Eritrea have been cracking down on members of both registered and unregistered churches. They have imprisoned more than 3000 Christians keeping them in underground dungeons, mental shipping containers, and military barracks. Several Christians have died inside prisons due to torture and lack of medical attention.

One of the released women told ICC source that “we appreciate all the people who prayed for us. Please thank God for our release.”

ICC’s Regional Manager for Africa and South Asia, Jonathan Racho said “We welcome Eritrea’s decision to release all the women. We urge the Eritrean officials to release the more than 3000 Christians who are suffering in underground dungeons, military barracks, and metal shipping containers.”

ICC would like to thank all individuals who prayed for the release of the Christian women. Please continue praying for the release more than 3000 imprisoned Christians in Eritrea.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Somali Christian flees refugee camp under death threat

NAIROBI, Kenya, December 9 (CDN) — Somali Christian Mohamud Muridi Saidi last month fled a refugee camp near Kenya’s border with Sudan after Muslims threatened to kill him.

For Saidi, a father of four, the recent relocation of 13,000 refugees from the Dadaab refugee camp near the Somali border to the Kakuma camp, where he had lived since 2002, brought its own nightmare: the arrival of Muslims from Somalia’s Lower Juba region who knew of his father’s Christian activities in his home village.

After Somalis four times threw stones at Saidi’s iron sheet home in the Kakuma refugee camp – once in mid-October, and again on Nov. 17, 21 and 22 – word spread that they intended to kill him. Case workers for a Lutheran World Federation (LWF) service group confirmed the death threat.

“I know the attackers are the Muslims who forced us to leave Somalia in 2002,” Saidi told Compass in Nairobi, adding that he was unable to bring his family with him when he fled on Nov. 23. “They are not safe, and that is why we should be out of Kakuma as soon as possible.”

Saidi has reported the attacks to the LWF service group as well as to police in Kakuma. Case workers for the LWF service group confirmed that the stoning of his home had escalated to the threat of him being assassinated.

“Saidi has security-related issues fueled by the new refugees from Dadaab,” said one LWF service group worker, who requested anonymity for security reasons, last month. “I did some investigation and found out that Saidi’s life is threatened.”

On one of the occasions in which his house was stoned as his family slept, Saidi turned on a flashlight and neighbors rose up, scaring off the assailants.

He and his family had enjoyed some tranquility since fleeing raging conflict in Somalia, but that ceased with the transference of the Somali Muslims from Dadaab refugee camp to Kakuma in August. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees relocated the refugees to ease congestion in the crowded Dadaab camps of Ifo, Hagadera and Dagahaley, where close to 300,000 Somalis had arrived to sites designed to house only 90,000 refugees.

The influx of those refugees from the Dadaab camp more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) away came with the quickly spreading word that Saidi and his family must be Christian, since his father was a well-known Christian while living in Somalia. A Somali Bantu from Marere, Lower Juba, Saidi’s family left Marere in 2002 after strict Muslims sought to kill them when they found out they were followers of Christ.

Saidi’s late father had coordinated activities for a Christian charity in Lower Juba. Since the death of his father in 2005, Saidi has been working as a translator for a Non-Governmental Organization. As a translator, he became known to the newly arrived Somalis from Dadaab.

Because of the dangers, Saidi has been forced to abandon his job for fear of exposing himself to other Muslims who might know of his father. He is the sole supporter for his family, including his 55-year-old mother, wife and four children.

“It is not safe for us to continue living in Kakuma – we have to move away, possibly to Nairobi,” Saidi said.

As a stop-gap measure, Saidi said he hopes to work as a freelance translator, for which he would need a computer, printer, photocopying machine and laminator.

“This would be a temporary measure – asylum for my family would be a permanent solution,” he said.

Despite the relocation of the refugees from Dadaab, overcrowding has not eased due an influx of newly displaced people fleeing fighting in southern Somalia. Earlier this month, radical Islamic al Shabaab militia recaptured three key towns, including the key town of Dobhley, in Lower Juba province along Somalia’s border with Kenya. They retook control from the more moderate Isbul-Islam militants as they each try to overthrow the Western-backed Transitional Federal Government of president Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed in Mogadishu.

Messengers of peace and hope in Iraq this Christmas

In the Christmas season, when the potential for attacks on Christians can intensify in certain countries, it is always a comfort to hear followers of Jesus in these hostile environments call on fellow believers to live as messengers of peace and hope. Such are the words shared by Louis Sako, the Chaldean Archbishop of Kirkuk in Iraq, in this recent AsiaNews article:

Christmas in Kirkuk, Christians messengers of peace and hope
Louis Sako

Kirkuk (AsiaNews) - What is Iraq expecting of Christmas? What does it expect from this time of Advent? We posed this question to some of our friends and Msgr. Louis Sako, archbishop of Kirkuk has sent us the answers that we publish below. Kirkuk, inhabited by Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, has fought for its immense oil reserves. Throughout the year there have been kidnappings, killings and violence against Christians in the city. According to the same archbishop, Christians are subject to violence because "they want to have a role in rebuilding the nation."

This year all activities in our diocese focus on the message of Christmas: peace on earth and hope to men.

In these weeks of Advent, the Catholic priests and those of other Christian churches have gathered together for a day of reflection, in preparation for Christmas.

Young people and associations, for their part, have deepened the basics of the faith with catechism. All the faithful have made time for prayer vigils, visits to the sick, those who are isolated or disabled.

In the difficult economic situation, the youth of the Emmaus communities have collected gifts and money to help poor families, without distinguishing between Christians and Muslims.

A young Mandaean (gnostic) doctor received baptism.

Christians must be aware of their mission: the faithful have the duty to be messengers of the Good News of peace and hope in Iraq and Kirkuk. For the message to be received and heard, we must love it and strive to live it in a concrete manner. Our example affects more than words. People see this and are moved.

Although there are difficulties in the country and a lack of security, Christians must have the courage to pass on this message without fear and anxiety, instead with great freedom and enthusiasm. The heart is full of confidence in the One who calls us, sends us and accompanies us because he is Emmanuel; God-with-us.

We are messengers of joy even when there are tears and suffering and sacrifices, as in this our land of Iraq.

So this message can increasingly become an integral part of our lives, we must live together with others in the Church. The true messenger remains faithful to the Tradition of the Church and with it bears witness.

The Church is the place where the faithful share their spiritual experiences and support one another in giving testimony.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Continue to pray for Yemen hostages

johannes_h_fam_yemen Six months have passed without any news about Worldwide Services anthony_s_yemen1workers Johannes and Sabine, their children Lydia (5), Anna (3), Simon (1), and their friend Tony, who went missing on June 12 in Yemen [click here for more details]. Thank you for all of you have have continued to pray for them . We have not given up hope that they are alive and will be returned safely to their homes and loved ones.

Today Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported that the Germen foreign office confirmed today that a German diplomat has travelled to Yemen to help negotiate the release of the hostages. "The trip is part of the intensive efforts by the emergency task force to achieve a solution to this case," a ministerial spokeswoman said in Berlin, confirming reports by Yemeni news agency Saba. The foreign office gave no new information about the condition of the hostages.

This news may provide a glimmer of hope that the hostages are alive and that negotiations are taking place but it by no means confirms these things. Please continue to pray for them and their family at this difficult time.  Show your solidarity with them by posting a prayer on our Persecuted Church Prayer Wall today.

This week in persecuted church history (December 13-19)

Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
Hebrews 13:7b (ESV)

December 13

  • 37: Nero, the Roman emperor who was the scourge of early Christians, is born. After his suicide in 68, many believed he would return, and "false Neros" appeared throughout the eastern provinces.
  • Saint_Lucy2 304: Lucy, one of the earliest Christian saints to achieve popularity, dies. According to legend, she renounced marriage out of devotion to Christ, but a spurned suitor convinced Roman authorities to force her into a life of prostitution. When this was unsuccessful, they tried to burn her to death, but she wouldn't catch fire. Finally, she was killed by the sword. More realistically, she was probably one of several Christians killed in the Diocletian persecution. But within a century of her death, she had a remarkable following.
  • 1545: The first session of the Counter- Reformation Council of Trent opens. Responding to the spread of Protestantism and the drastic need for moral and administrative reforms within the Roman Catholic church, it met on and off for 18 years. Ultimately the reforms were not comprehensive enough to satisfy the Protestants or even many Catholics, but it created a basis for a renewal of discipline and spiritual life within the church.
  • A_42003, 06-10-2004, 14:41,  8C, 6000x6174 (0+1057), 100%, AHM_prenten, 1/120 s, R27.8, G3.2, B2.2 1571: Hans Misel is martyred for his faith after refusing to recant his Anabaptist beliefs.  According to Martyr’s Mirror, when the executioner brought him to the place where he was to be executed, he said to him, that if he would recant, he still had authority to let him go. But he refused, and would there seal his faith with his blood, and so far as he was concerned, he said, he might proceed. Thus he was beheaded and then burnt, and as they could not burn him quickly enough, they cut him into pieces and burned the pieces. When the executioner had struck off his head, so that the same lay on the ground, his body still remained erect, with the hands uplifted, as though he were praying, till the executioner pushed him over with his foot. It was also said that his head and hair could not~be burned, but that it was found entire and undisfigured in the ashes, and was thus buried.

December 14

  • 1591: Spanish poet John of the Cross, one of the greatest Christian mystics, dies. His "Dark Night of the Soul" is one of the era's best known religious poems, and his treatises have profoundly influenced both Catholic and Protestant thought.
  • 2003: Nigerian federal police officers kill four Catholics and injure eight others for refusing to pay a bribe. A group was returning from a crusade and prayer vigil when police stopped their bus. According to one of the passengers who escaped, the bus driver refused to pay a bribe because of his faith and was then shot point-blank. When others in the group intervened, they were also shot while the rest fled on foot.
  • 2006: The church building of the Pentecostal Church of Alamar, a suburb of Havana, Cuba is destroyed by government officials.  The official reason for the destruction is that the building was an "illegal construction."

December 15oldcastle

  • 1418: English pre-Reformer John Oldcastle is burned alive for his efforts to preserve and promote the cause of the Lollards (preachers who spread John Wycliffe's views). Shakespeare reportedly based his character Falstaff on Oldcastle.
  • 1564: Anabaptist believer Jan Gerrits is burned at the stake in the Hague in Holland, for the testimony of Jesus Christ.
  • 1900: Count Leo Tolstoy writes to the tsar asking him to end religious persecution in Russia.

December 16

  • 345: Eusebius (not to be confused with historian Eusebius of Caesarea) becomes bishop of Vercelli, Italy. After refusing to sign the condemnation of Athanasius at the Council of Milan, he was exiled. But he was pardoned by Julian the Apostate and led the movement to restore the Nicene Creed—and thus orthodoxy—to the empire.
  • 2007: An Italian priest, Father Adriano Franchini (65), is stabbed in the stomach by a 19-year-old Muslim man outside St. Anthony Church in the city of Izmir, Turkey. Father Franchini and the assailant, Ramazan Bay, had a brief conversation after mass in which Bay expressed his interest in becoming a Christian. During the discussion, Bay suddenly became angry and stabbed Father Franchini. In his statement to the police, Bay reportedly said that his actions were influenced by an episode of a television program that depicts Christian missionaries as political "infiltrators" who pay poor families to convert to Christianity.

December 17

  • 1912: Yale-educated Chicago native Bill Borden, heir to a fortune in real estate and milk production, boards a ship to China via Egypt. Converted to Christ as a young man, Borden had given his inheritance and his life to the cause of world evangelism. Only a month after arriving in Egypt, he contracted spinal meningitis and died. However, publication of his story prompted many young157 people to enter the mission field.
  • 1917: Bolsheviks confiscate all property of the Russian Orthodox Church and abolish religious instruction in the schools. Within two decades, at least 45,000 priests were reportedly martyred in the country.
  • 2006: An evangelical church building in the Serbian town of Kraljevo, south of Belgrade is fire-bombed. The bomb caused damage to the furniture, carpets and the air conditioning system of the rented facility.  Thankfully, no one was injured.
  • 2008: At 7:00 a.m., a large contingent of government officials, police and demolition workers destroy the Cu Hat Church building in Cu Hat, Dak Lak province, Vietnam. Wielding electric cattle prods, police beat back hundreds of distraught Christians who rush to the site to protect the building. Five people were injured, including a child who suffered a broken arm and a pregnant woman who was prodded in the stomach. After the workers had loaded the lumber onto their trucks, they emptied sacks of the Christians' rice on the ground, put the roof tile into the sacks and sped away. In 90 minutes, the destruction was complete. To watch a video of the demolition, click here.

December 18

  • 1555: John Philpot, Archdeacon Of Winchester, is burned at the stake for refusing to recant his Protestant faith in Smithfield, England.
  • 1568: Jan Thielemans and Job Jans are burnt to death for the testimony of Jesus Christ in The Hague In Holland, condemned by church leaders as heretics for their Anabaptist beliefs.

December 19

  • 1734: Count Nicholaus von Zinzendorf, founder of the modern Moravian church and a pioneer in ecumenism and missions, is recognized as a minister by the theology faculty of Tubigen, Germany.
  • srilanka_homagama_pews 2004: St. Michael's Church in Homagama, Sri Lanka is virtually destroyed when it is set on fire.  Using two gas cylinders, petrol and two tires, the arsonists burned the roof, pews, statues, organ and other furniture, completely blackening the interior of the building.  Dad de Silva, a church official, said, "Our church is gone this time, nothing is left which is usable."

Prayer: “Grant that we, who now remember these before thee, may likewise so bear witness unto thee in this world, that we may receive with them the crown of glory that fadeth not away; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” – taken from The Book of Common Prayer, Canada (1962)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

When we are accused of exaggerating or lying about persecution.

It is not uncommon for someone to contact us here at the mission saying that they have recently been talking to a friend or an acquaintance from China, Eritrea, Sri Lanka, India, or some other country where we say there is persecution taking place. To their surprise, they find that their friend or acquaintance denies what we say is going on in their homeland. “It’s an exaggeration,” their friend says. Or something from the past, they suggest. They might concede, “Sure, things aren’t perfect but it’s not as bad as VOMC’s newsletter says.” And so they contact us, confused and torn between believing us or their friend.

It’s hard to know how to respond to such such inquiries. It is not as if we speak out of a vacuum or report only what others tell us. We personally know those who have experienced violent persecution against them. We have met them, held their hands and prayed for them as tears stream down their cheeks. It is impossible for us to deny the reality of what we report when we (or our colleagues in our sister missions) actually travel to these countries and see for ourselves what we report.

So, how do we respond to suggestions or accusations that we are inaccurate in our reporting? We don’t want to call them or their friend a liar but what do you say when you actually do know that what they are saying is not really true.

I recall how difficult it was for my grandparents to talk about their experiences in the former Soviet Union. Their hesitation to speak about the suffering they experienced seemed to range between a desire to leave the past behind on the one hand and the love for homeland that almost all expatriates feel regardless of why they leave, on the other hand. To criticize the government of their place of birth is to risk offending or embarrassing the country itself. To focus on the failures of one’s homeland might seem to negate any progress that has been achieved. To suggest that your homeland needs to improve its human rights record, for example, risks being accused of not being proud of who you are, ethnically and nationalistically. Deep inside most of us there is the nationalistic pull to defend one’s homeland. There are few who are immune to this.

This pull must be understood and taken into consideration whenever you read both affirmations and denials of persecution. We must not assume that because someone is from Eritrea, Pakistan, China, or any other nation, that their analysis of what is going on “on the ground” is without bias and demands special credibility. In fact, it may be needed to be taken with even greater care.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Orissa: A Call to Action and a Call to Prayer

The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada is a member of the Religious Liberty Partnership (RLP), a collaborative effort of Christian organizations in over a dozen countries focused on religious liberty. Founded in the spring of 2007, the RLP seeks to more intentionally work together in addressing advocacy and in raising the awareness of religious liberty issues globally.

Two years after the first outbreak of mob violence against Christians in Kandhamal district, Orissa state, India, the RLP remains deeply concerned for the situation. As a collaborative effort of Christian organizations focused on religious liberty, the RLP is urging its members to call upon Christians to unite in continued prayer for justice, reconciliation and peace in the area, and to encourage the Indian government to do all in its power to bring this about.

During the week of Christmas 2007, Christians belonging to Dalit and adivasi communities in Kandhamal were targeted in a wave of violence, which resulted in the widespread destruction of property. Then, in August 2008, when Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati and four of his followers were condemnably assassinated, allegedly by Maoist insurgents, the Christians were blamed, and became targets of ferocious reprisals. This resulted in the worst communal violence suffered by Christians in the history of post-independence India. At least 75 people have been confirmed as dead, and over 50,000 were forced to flee their homes. More than a year later, thousands of victims of violence are still suffering and waiting for justice.

The RLP welcomes the efforts made by the Indian government and Orissa state government to restore security and bring justice, reconciliation and peace. However, deep concerns remain about the continuing challenges. The government relief camps are now closed, yet a large proportion of victims have been unable to return to their villages for fear of death or forcible conversions to Hinduism. Many are living in grievous poverty in makeshift camps, often with no regular means of sustenance. Although compensation has been delivered to many victims, often it does not match their needs. Victims are continuing to receive threats from the perpetrators of violence, witnesses are facing intimidation by mobs outside courtrooms, and there is widespread fear of the danger posed by impunity. Hundreds of cases have not been registered properly by police, and therefore will not be subject to investigations or prosecutions. The future of the children of victims is also at risk. Many are fearful of attending school, and a large proportion of those sitting their tenth grade examinations have been failed, largely as a consequence of the severe disruption during the past year.

Mervyn Thomas, CEO of Christian Solidarity Worldwide in the UK and Chairman of the RLP said, “We urge that justice must be served in Kandhamal: it will be crucial for the restoration of peace and stability in the area. The wheels of justice are turning slowly, but the authorities need to tackle the significant challenges facing the judicial system. India is famous for her diversity and pluralism, and we look forward to the restoration of inter-communal harmony in this area.”

The RLP also supports a call to prayer for the victims of violence, from Mgr. Raphael Cheenath, Catholic Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar in Orissa, who requests that churches around the world use the following prayer for Orissa on Christmas Day, 2010:

Gracious Father, Lord of all the earth, we praise you for the gift of Jesus Christ, sent into the world to break down the dividing walls of hostility.  Have mercy upon those in Orissa who are suffering.  Give them the peace and the justice that they crave, and cause the walls of bitterness and hatred in Orissa to be torn down.  Comfort those who have been bereaved, counsel those who have been traumatised, provide for those who have lost everything.  Give them the grace to forgive and confidence in your gracious favour.  Do not let us forget them, our brothers and sisters in Christ, as we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace and look forward to his coming again in glory.

[For more information on the Religious Liberty Partnership, contact Brian O’Connell, RLP Facilitator at: +1 425-218-4718 or]

Unknown to many but known to God

In the past week, two excellent studies on religious freedom have been released on two of the most restricted nations on earth and two of the least known. Ask any group of people if they have ever heard of Maldives or Eritrea and I would suggest that the majority would admit that they know little to nothing of both nations--and Maldives in particular. This is not a chastisement or suggestion that people ought to have a better grasp of geography; it is simply an acknowledgment that these two nations have a rather small footprint in the world’s geopolitical landscape.

For this reason, religious persecution goes on in Maldives and Eritrea rather unnoticed and under-reported. Significant studies such as these recent ones by Forum 18 on Maldives and the Australian Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission on Eritrea are rare.

There is comfort in knowing that although these nations are unknown to many, they are known to God. Still, I am also pleased to to see this quality of research, believing that God can use it to further His purposes in these nations.

And so I urge you to study these reports in depth, to pray for the believers there and to financially support ministries like The Voice of the Martyrs who work in restricted nations like these but who, for security reasons, usually cannot share details of their work there. The Voice of the Martyrs’ Underground Church Fund is specifically set up to fund such projects. I also encourage you to stand behind Forum 18 and the Australian Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission in their important research work both financially and prayerfully.

But to the reports….

To read the report on Maldives click here.

To read the report on Eritrea, click here.

To conclude, I recall reading the late Ralph Winter’s observation that the most significant ministries are those that are the most difficult to raise support for because they are often the most difficult to explain. I would add that it is also because sometimes you can’t talk about them at all or, at best, in the most general of terms. On behalf of the mission, I want to express our thanks to the many of you who trust us as we glorify God by serving His Persecuted Church around the world by donating to our work. We also thank God for you and pray for you, our supporters, almost every day during our staff prayer time. Together, we hope to roll back the ignorance that many have of nations like Maldives and Eritrea so that we may truthfully say that the plight of our brothers and sisters is known both to God and to man.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

How does one keep one’s faith when heavily drugged?

Richard Wurmbrand, the founder of The Voice of the Martyrs, readily admitted that of all of the tortures that he faced, it was the use of drugs by his persecutors that he found the most difficult. When I first read that over 12 years ago, I could not grasp the truth of what he was referring to, especially not when I had read of the horrific physical tortures that he had endured.

Now, as I struggle to write each line of this blog, I understand Pastor Wurmbrand’s words far better.

Right now I am in hospital undergoing radiation treatment. My doctor is hoping to shrink cancerous lymph nodes in my lower back and pelvic region that have increased in size and are pressing against nerves, causing a great deal of pain.

To counter this pain, I am taking painkillers that are increasingly hindering my ability to think clearly. Emotionally, these drugs are making me fragile and insecure, and my inability to remember details is only reinforcing this.

Yes, I can understand why Pastor Wurmbrand felt that drugs were the greatest challenge that he had faced in his years of torture. You find yourself in a position when you wonder how successful you are really being in controlling your mind, mouth, or emotions. You simply don’t know. You fear what you might have said but which you cannot remember. You cannot remember Bible verses that were once precious to you. You cannot remember things that you know you should know (right now, for example, I cannot remember how many years Pastor Wurmbrand was in prison. I should know this and I could look it up, but it is good that you know what I am referring to. I simply do not remember if it was 12 or 14 years).

When drugged up, you find it harder to retain one’s confession of faith and truth when you cannot control your tongue. Of course, I am sure of God’s faithfulness at times like this. But drugs make you wonder what is real was real and what was drug-induced. Perhaps your past faithfulness was just a ruse. Guilt becomes a constant companion.

To that end, I ask you to pray for me during this time. More importantly, pray for Christian prisoners who undergo such drug-induced torture daily. For me, there is hope that it will end soon. For many of them, there is no such hope.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Refugee who fears fatwa in Guinea gets reprieve

Last week, we reported about Lamine Yansané, a Muslim convert from Guinea who is seeking to stay in Canada after his own father, an Muslim imam in his homeland, issued a call for his son’s death during his Friday prayers at the mosque in Boké.

The National Post reported today that a federal judge has granted him a temporary reprieve yesterday.  According to the paper:

Justice Michel Shore ordered Citizenship and Immigration Canada to conduct a new assessment of the risk Lamine Yansane faces if returned to Guinea, citing evidence that Mr. Yansane's father has issued a fatwa against him.

The federal immigration agent who last year dismissed Mr. Yansane's fears failed to conduct a reasonable evaluation of the situation, the judge concluded. "In his case, the change of religion, apostasy, is punishable by death," Mr. Shore wrote. "Mr. Yansane's father, in evidence that has not been contradicted, threatened his own son with death by a fatwa announced publicly during official prayers."  [read more….]

Mr. Yansane, who has a full-time job operating an overhead crane in a Montreal factory, told the Post that he is encouraged by the ruling. "I am very, very happy," he said. "It gives me great hope to be able to stay in Canada."

Please pray that this new assessment will be more thorough than the last one and that Mr. Yansane will able to stay in the country.  You can post a prayer on his behalf on our Persecuted Church Prayer Wall

Latest update on VOMC partners in southern Sudan

Here is the latest email from Global Response Network with an update on the crisis facing GRN staff who are being falsely accused of hitting a woman with their truck.

Dear Friends,

Tom and our field coordinator are safe. Thank you so much for your prayers, they are working. Here is an update on their situation:

Tom and our field coordinator gave their statements on the “accident” today (again, the woman is making up the story that she was hit by GRN’s truck – totally lying). The Police chief of the county is leaning toward believing that they are guilty of hitting the woman. The woman is still holding to the fact that she was hit by Tom and our field coordinator’s truck as well. She is still in the clinic and won’t let go of her stance. Tom is free to leave the country at this point (a high official they have favor with is standing in his place) and our field coordinator will have to go to court which could possibly take up to a month. No mob formed against them today.

Now, a few more details...

The day before Tom and our field coordinator were accused falsely of hitting this woman, 10 United Nations workers were abducted, beaten and tortured, all only a mile from where Tom and our field coordinators “accident” occurred. The next day is when Tom and our field coordinator were accused and threatened for 4 hours. That is also when there was a search happening for these UN workers. Also happening that day, a high ranking government official of southern Sudan was the target of an assassination plot as he was returning to his hometown in the same county where Tom and our field coordinator were being held. The official’s driver was killed and he was wounded. Also, the commissioner of the area was traveling with the police chief of the entire Central Equatorial area, who was one of the people behind the assassination plot (the commissioner didn’t know this). Finally, the governor of southern Sudan was also traveling the country that very day as well. So all this was happening on the very day Tom and our field coordinator were being wrongfully accused and threatened. The devil was having a hay-day in that area to say the least that day.

So, all that to say, Tom was wondering why none of the people in higher rankings were coming to his aid that day. Little did he know that all this other stuff was happening the very same day - they were tied up in that. Finally, the head of the Southern Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, Lawrence, caught up with Tom and apologized for not being available to help Tom and our field coordinator. He was aware of their situation but couldn’t get to them because of all this other stuff that was happening simultaneously.

Tom and our field coordinator have favor with Lawrence and the Commissioner, and know they are not guilty. However, as said before, the woman still claims she was hit, and the local police chief is leaning in that direction. Our field coordinator is going to have to go to court at this point unless things change. Tom is also concerned for our field coordinator’s safety too.

Please continue to pray for justice to be done, and the truth to come out. Your prayers are making a difference. Little did we know that Tom and our field coordinator were one of many scary situations that were occurring in that area that day. Tomorrow they will be meeting with high ranking officials in the government about all these situations, and what can be done to help prevent these several things from happening again. Pray Tom and our field coordinator will continue to have favor in their eyes and will speak clearly the words needed to be shared.
Again, Tom and our field coordinator are safe. Thank you for praying for us and them, and we continue to ask for your prayers on their behalf.

The Zurowski’s

We would encourage you to show your solidarity with the Zurowski’s and the GRN staff by posting a prayer on our Persecuted Church Prayer Wall.

New wave of arrests in Eritrea reported

Yesterday, the following report was released by the organization In Chains For Christ regarding reported arrests in Eritrea:

Press Release.
Monday, 7 December 2009

New Wave of Arrest in Eritrea

ICFC has learned from sources in Asmara that the government of Eritrea has of late unleashed another wave of arrests against Christians. On Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 4:00pm, one group of thirty women were rounded up in Asmara by security agents and hauled off to prison.

Multiple sources confirm that the women were mostly elderly and were praying together when they were arrested. Most of the women were believers of Faith Mission, an Evangelical Church with a Methodist background. The denomination has been in existence since the early 1950s. Until it was closed down along with many other churches in May 2002, it operated orphanages and several schools throughout Eritrea.

The Eritrean government is known for its policy of religious repression. As a consequence, the US State Department has designated the Marxist nation as one of eight Countries of Particular Concern' (CPC). At the moment, the United Nations is considering sanctions against it.

ICFC once again calls on the government of Eritrea that these and the thousands of other Eritreans who are languishing in prison for their faith be immediately released.

D. Amine,
Communications Directory, ICFC

"Remember those who are in prison, as if you were their fellow prisoner. Remember those who are suffering as if you were suffering with them..." (Heb. 13:3).
(Voice of the Persecuted Church in Eritrea)

As far as we're concerned, this report remains unconfirmed, as we have yet to find additional sources on the situation. However, we will certainly continue to monitor the story and watch for any further details.

The Voice of the Martyrs has a special petition available, "Eritrea: A Time to Act," that is designed to press Eritrean authorities to take action to stop the brutal harassment of Christians in the country. If you are a newsletter subscriber who received one in September, then there's still time to fill it out and mail it to our office by the December 31 deadline. You can also download a printable pdf of the petition from our website. Ask your friends, family members, and colleagues to sign it today, as the deadline is fast approaching.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Urgent prayer requested for VOMC partners in southern Sudan

For several years, The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada has partnered with Global Response Network (GRN) in helping to rebuild the witness of the church in southern Sudan after many years of civil war and religious persecution.   This task is challenging and frequently dangerous as the rule of law is threadbare at best in the region.

This afternoon we received the following urgent letter from the family of Tom Zurowski, Director of GRN, that requires your urgent prayers:

Dear GRN Friends,

Over the last 2 or 3 days, Tom and our field coordinator, have been involved in a very serious situation. While traveling back from purchasing supplies from the city of Yei, they drove by a lady on a bicycle, who decided to “fake” as if she was hit by their truck. The lady fell in the gravel on the side of the road on her own power (the truck didn’t hit her at all). As a result a mob from the village quickly surrounded Tom and our field coordinator in the truck. The mob was out of control and wanted to kill both of them. From there they were taken into custody by the police and were further threatened.  The mob of about 100 people continued to threaten Tom and our field coordinator from the outside of the hut they were for 4 hours, until they were able to be escorted back to Loka and the GRN compound by the police chief and 20 armed soldiers.

There are more details to the situation, but the bottom line is that both Tom and our field coordinator desperately need your prayers. They have to return to the village where all this occurred tomorrow (Monday, keep in mind they are 8 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time). They have no idea how the people will respond when they return to the village. They are being required to come to give statements to the police chief about the “accident,” and may have to go to court later. Tom is concerned not only about the now, but also realizes that our field coordinator travels through this village often to get supplies in Yei. It is easy to see a truck coming, and the mob could easily attack GRN’s truck the next time he comes through.

Tom and our field coordinator seem to have found some sort of favor with the gentleman who is the “second in command” in the county, and also with the police chief. However, after Tom and our field coordinator were escorted back to the compound, the “second in command” was attacked and beaten by the mob for his role in protecting them. The concern is that if the mob will do that to one of their own, what will/could they do to them.

The situation is still very volatile. Again, Tom and our field coordinator never hit the lady, and have not done anything wrong. Pray that the lady who is lying and acted as if she was hit would fall under conviction and would confess the truth. Please pray that justice would be done, and that Tom and our field coordinator’s name would be cleared. Again, the fact that the second in command in the village was beaten by the people without any recourse shows how different things are handled in Sudan than in the U.S.

Please pray for us and our field coordinator’s family as well. Thank you for going to God on their behalf.

The Zurowski Family

Thank you for upholding Tom and his team in your prayers at this time.  Please show your solidarity with them and their families by posting a prayer on our Persecuted Church Prayer Wall.  We will update you as details become available.

Alberta judge overturns hate speech ruling

boission The Voice of the Martyrs welcomes a Queen of Court of Queen's Bench judge ruling on Thursday overturning a December 2007 ruling by the Alberta Human Rights Commission that a letter by Stephen Boissoin that was published in the Red Deer Advocate broke provincial law against spreading hatred.  Justice E.C. Wilson ruled that the human rights panel chair Lori Andreachuk had made many errors in her ruling and that her order for Boissoin to pay Lund $5,000 and to refrain from making “disparaging remarks” about gays could not be enforced as they were “unlawful or unconstitutional.”

The judge said that while Boissoin’s remarks were “jarring, offensive, bewildering, puerile, nonsensical and insulting," they were not hateful or extreme and that there was nothing in the letter to suggest it was exhorting Albertans to discriminate against homosexuals in areas which fall under provincial jurisdiction.

lund"The letter's target audience are people that (Boissoin) believes are apathetic to the inroads made by the 'homosexual machine,' " Wilson said. "Inferring some sort of call for discriminatory practices prohibited by provincial law is an unreasonable interpretation of the letter's message."

Darren Lund, the University of Calgary professor who launched the complaint against Boissoin has not decided whether he will appeal this ruling.

This week in persecuted church history (December 6-12)

Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
Hebrews 13:7b (ESV)

December 6

  •  345: Nicholas, bishop of Myra, one of the most popular saints in the Greek and Latin churches—and Santa Claus's namesake—dies.  [click here for a VOMC children’s book on the life of Nicolaus]

December 7

  • 303: Sabinius, bishop of Assisium, is brutally scourged to death.  He hwas initially arrested after refusing to sacrifice to Jupiter, and pushing the idol from him.  By the order of the governor of Tuscany, his hand was cut off. While in prison, he converted the governor and his family, all of whom suffered martyrdom for the faith. Soon after their execution, Sabinus himself was killed.

  • st-nicholas-of-myra430: December 7, 430: Cyril of Alexandria condemns the Antiochene monk Nestorius, who claimed Christ was two persons (divine and human) rather than one person with two natures.

  • 1965: Pope Paul VI and Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras I simultaneously lift mutual excommunications in place since the Great Schism of 1054charles

  • 1649: Jesuit missionary Charles Garnier is killed with a blow of an Iroquois tomahawk at the age of 43 about thirty miles from Ste. Marie, in what is now the province of Ontario.

  • 2003: Three churches in Bulathkohupitiya in the Kegalle District of Sri Lanka  is attacked by religiously motivated militants. Belongings are stolen, one church is burned, and church members are beaten. On the same day, the Assembly of God Church in Deraniyagala (Kegalle District) is also besieged as a mob smashes the church building's windows and doors, burns the belongings and threatens the lives of some church workers who lived in the building.

December 8noel

  • 1649: Jesuit missionary Noël Chabanel is secretly killed by Iroquois warriors on the Nottawasaga, twenty-five miles from Ste. Marie in what is now the province of Ontario

  • 1691: English Puritan minister Richard Baxter dies in London. One of England's most renowned preachers and author of nearly 200 works (including several hymns), he was known as a peacemaker who sought unity among Protestants.

  • 1934: American missionaries John and Betty Stam are beheaded by Chinese communists. The couple had met while attending Moody Bible Institute and married just the year before their death. Publication of their biography prompted hundreds to volunteer for missionary service. [click here for a book offered by VOMC on martyrs from Moody Bible Institute including the Stames]

  • 2003: Sri Lankan Buddhist groups hold a rally in Embilipitiya (Ratnapura District). The speakers say that Christian churches are functioning illegally and should be attacked and smashed. The police were threatened not to intervene. That evening, several Christian organizations discovered just how serious these groups were. Police prevented an attack on a local Assembly of God Church, but the World Vision office and Catholic church were not spared. Soldiers from a nearby army camp attempted to prevent the Catholic church building from being burned, but were told by the mob to not intervene, claiming they had orders from "higher authorities." When the mob left, the military personnel extinguished the fire. In nearby Udawalawe, police warned the Assembly of God church of a potential attack, due to the spreading violence. After they left, the church was besieged by about thirty people, who smashed windows and doors and burned furnishings. The pastor managed to escape unharmed, but the home of another pastor was damaged by stones.

  • farc1 2005: Father Javier Francisco Montoya is traveling to a religious celebration in a jungle area in northwest Colombia when he disappears. A humanitarian commission sent by church authorities managed to meet with leaders of the Marxist rebel group FARC. They report on December 24 that Father Montoya was shot by the rebels and his body was buried.

December 9

  • 1843: The first Christmas cards—actually more like postcards—are created and sold for a shilling.

  • nigeria_atbu 2004: In the early morning, Sunday Nache Achi is taken from his dormitory room at Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in the northern city of Bauchi, Nigeria by men dressed in jihad style clothing.  When Achi's roommate attempted to intervene, he was threatened at gunpoint and then locked in his room.  The next morning, Achi was found strangled to death next to a mosque, near the home of the university's vice-chancellor.  The office of the Nigeria Fellowship of Evangelical Students in Bauchi was also set on fire.

  • 2007: Four Christians are killed when Matthew Murray (24), who was described by one policeman as a man who "hated Christians," goes on shooting sprees at two locations in Colorado. At approximately midnight Murray walks into the Youth with a Mission (YWAM) training centre on the grounds of Faith Bible Chapel in the Denver suburb of Arvada. After a staff member refuses to let him spend the night, he pulls out a gun and began shooting. Tiffany Johnson (26) and Philip Crouse (24) are shot dead. Two others are wounded.

    In 2002, Murray had attended the YWAM training school but had to leave without completing his term because of health concerns, according to a December 10 press release from YWAM. Recently he had been reportedly sending hate mail to the school.

    Twelve hours later, Murray opens fire at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, killing sisters Stephanie (18) and Rachael Works (16). After being shot by a security guard at the church, Murray then shots and kills himself.

    Between the two attacks, Murray posted anti-Christian messages on an internet forum including a statement saying that he wanted to kill and injure as many Christians as he could and that Christians "[were] to blame for most of the problems in the world."

  • 2008: Approximately 20 Hindus stop Yuvraj Digal (40), a respected Christian leader, and his 20-year-old son as they are heading home on motorbike from the village of Tikabali, Kandhamal district, Orissa. The Hindus accuse Digal of being involved in the murder of Hindu leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati (click here for more details) and began beating him. His son was able to escape the attackers and seek help from the police. Digal, however, disappeared and his body was found on December 18.

December 10luther and leo

  • 1520: German reformer Martin Luther publicly burns Pope Leo X's bull "Exsurge Domine," which had demanded that Luther recant his heresies—including justification by faith alone.

December 11

  • 1518: Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli becomes "people's priest" at the Old Minster Church in Zurich, a position he held for the remaining 13 years of his life. After nearly dying from the plague, he began his reforming program almost immediately, persuading the city council to judge religious issues by Scripture alone.

  • 1640: English Puritans introduced a petition with 15,000 signatures to Parliament, seeking to abolish the church episcopacy, "with all its dependencies, roots and branches." The House of Commons accepted what has become known as the "Roots and Branch Petition," but the House of Lords (many of whom were bishops) rejected it, and the episcopal organization of the Church of England remained.

  • 1918: Russian author Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, an Orthodox believer whose works include One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The Gulag Archipelago, is born. His books are credited by many scholars with "helping to bring down the last empire on earth."

  • 1984: The White House displays a nativity scene for the first time since courts ordered its removal in 1973.nigeria_elimchurch_compass

  • 2007: Ten people are killed, several Christians seriously injured, and Christian churches, businesses and homes burned when Muslims went on a rampage in the Yelwa Tudu area in Bauchi state, Nigeria.

December 12

  • 1189: King Richard I "the Lion Hearted" leaves England on the Third Crusade to retake Jerusalem, which had fallen to Muslim general Saladin in 1187.

  • 1582: Spanish General Fernando Alvarez de Toledo (also known as the Duke of Alva) dies. The duke had been sent, along with 10,000 troops, by King Philip II of Spain to quell the Reformation in Holland. The duke's "Council of Blood" was responsible for some 18,000 deaths.

  • 1667: The Council of Moscow deposes Russian Orthodox Patriarch Nikon. A "man of great ability and sincerity but of autocratic temper," according to one historian, his calls for liturgical reform grew into a fight over the relationship between church and state. Though deposed at the council, banished, and imprisoned for 14 years, his liturgical reforms were sanctioned. In 1681, he was recalled to Moscow by the new tsar, but he died on the way. He was buried with patriarchal honors and all decrees against him were revoked.

  • 1712: The colony of South Carolina requires "all persons whatsoever" to attend church each Sunday and refrain from skilled labor and travel. Violators of the "Sunday Law" could be fined 10 shillings or locked in the stocks for two hours.

  • ve-jean-carlos-pd 2008: Pastor Jean Carlos Salazar (30), his wife, Ingrid Higuera (33), and their young daughter are brutally murdered in the town of El Trigrito, Anzoategui state, Venezuela by suspected satanic cult members. At approximately 3:30 a.m., neighbours of the Salazars notice that the family's home is in flames and phone the fire department. When the fire officials arrive, they find the decapitated bodies of the Christians. The assailants reportedly also painted satanic slogans on the walls. Pastor Salazar was a preacher at the World Centre of Peace church and was well-known in the area.

Prayer: “Grant that we, who now remember these before thee, may likewise so bear witness unto thee in this world, that we may receive with them the crown of glory that fadeth not away; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” – taken from The Book of Common Prayer, Canada (1962)