Thursday, April 30, 2009

Egyptian Christians suffer from swine flu response

Who would have thought that swine flu and persecuted Christians could be linked in some way?  But yesterday’s announcement by the Egyptian government that all of the country’s pigs were to be slaughtered due to unfounded fears that they might spread the disease will have a devastating impact on Egypt’s Christians.  Being an Islamic country, the only ones who eat or raise pigs are Christians. These farmers, many of them desperately poor, are insisting that their pigs were healthy and that this cull will probably mean the destruction of their livelihoods. 

The Egyptian government is sending mixed messages about whether they will be compensated. Agriculture Minister Amin Abaza told reporters yesterday that would be no need for compensation because farmers would be allowed to sell the pork meat.  There are reports today that they may be compensated but this is to be negotiated.  Well, we’ll just have to wait and see.  But this is only a small part of the problem.  Hundreds of thousands of pigs cannot be properly slaughtered, prepared, and their meat stored in such a short period of time.  Such an oversupply also results in deflationary prices for the product.  Also, as the report below from BBC indicates, the government wants to move the entire industry away from the urban areas to the rural areas.  But this, like in many developing countries, is where many farmers live and have always carried out their livelihood and there is no indication that these pigs have ever caused a health issue or will on this occasion either. It has been suggested that this move is to prevent mass hysteria or is simply an opportunity for authorities to do something (relocation of urban pig farms) that they have wanted to do for a while but lacked sufficient reasons for doing so.  I certainly wouldn’t hold my breath over it if I were an Egyptian Christian farmer.  Had Muslim farmers been so impacted, I wonder what the response would have been?

Alberta minister’s freedom of expression suppressed

Just as we send out our May edition of The Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter focusing on religious freedom issues here in Canada, the government of Alberta has balked at proposed changes that would strip the Alberta Human Rights Commission of its abusive power to adjudicate cases of free speech, saying that federal laws provided insufficient protection.  Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett, who had spearheaded proposed changes, was obviously slapped down by Premier Stelmach and forced to tow the party line. Further humiliating him, Blackett was forced yesterday to publicly defend Alberta’s continued support of suppression of freedom of expression.

You can listen to an interview on AM770 in Calgary with Blackett here in which he defends (rather unconvincingly) his flip-flop. Ezra Levant, the author of the best-selling Shakedown, responds immediately afterwards. Click here to listen.  If you would like to download a podcast with both interviews, click here.  Calgary Sun columnist Rick Bell summarizes the issue well and provides a valuable perspective in yesterday’s paper.

Having grown up in Alberta, I was always proud of the conservative values I was raised with there and which governed much of Albertan society.  Obviously much has changed, at least at a governmental level.  This is hardly a “Conservative” government, regardless of what is written at the top of their letterhead and on their business cards.  Albertans should be outraged that their government is using exactly the same arguments to defend their suppression of freedom of expression as the Organization of the Islamic Conference is using to push through resolutions at the United Nations that limit the criticism of Islam; the need for a balance between freedom of speech and responsibility. This effectively removes any real meaning to the thought that we can truly exercise the right to hold and express opinions without prejudice or penalty.  I am not suggesting that people don’t truly have a responsibility to to use their rights in a civil way, but the exercise of responsibility is a moral issue, one of maturity and manners, not a legal one.  The penalty for using one’s responsibilities and/or duties improperly should be criticism, debate, a rebuke, and any other number of ways in which society deals with improper (but not illegal) behaviour. But not criminalisation.  To suggest otherwise, opens the door to a level of government interference in our lives that is beyond its God-given mandate.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

“Shakedown” on CBC’s “The Current”

Yesterday, CBC’s The Current aired an interview Ezra Levant, author of Shakedown: How our Government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights.  This book is featured in our upcoming May edition of The Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter. Take a listen. You can listen to it here (downloading the MP3 file) or here (streaming). You can order the book from us online for $17.00 plus shipping.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Lessons from Durban 2

A commentary on the recent Pierre Poilievre, Parliamentary Secretary Prime Minister Harper, on the recent United Nations Durban II conference was published in today’s National Post.  Entitled Lessons from Durban II, Poilievre notes that Canada was the first nation to pull out of the Durban II conference and to cut off funds for NGO participation. The Voice of the Martyrs supported this decision and publicly said so.

Our experience with Durban II, Poilievre suggests, can teach Canadians two lessons.

First, the best way to support the UN is to insist that it live up to its own ideals. The world body's Universal Declaration of Human Rights offers basic standards of liberty that all its member states should and must live up to -- basic standards that many of Durban II's organizers, including Iran and Libya, openly flout….

The second lesson is that leading can be lonely. When Canada first pulled out of Durban II, we were alone. When Canada first cut off aid to Hamas, we were alone. But others later followed, because we were right. Now would be the worst time for Canada to return to the mushy middle, as we did all too often in the past.

"You have enemies? Good," said Winston Churchill. "That means you've stood up for something in your life." We should continue to march in the right direction, at the front of a growing parade.

If you get a chance, fire off an email or letter to the Prime Minister, thanking him for taking this principled decision especially when no one else was following.

Why is “genocide” such a hard word to say?

If you have been following our blog over the past couple of weeks (click here, here, or here to read), you’ll know that we were encouraging the US president to follow through with his campaign promise to recognize the mass killings of Armenian Christians by the Ottoman Empire in the early part of the last century as a “genocide.”

Perhaps you are wondering why is the use of the word “genocide” so significant?

Salil Tripathi in The Washington Post explains why governments fight so hard not to have their actions labelled as genocide and why diplomats are so hesitant to use the word when describing atrocities.  Check out the article, The Trouble With the 'Genocide' Label, posted today (April 28, 2009). I think you will find it helpful.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Is It Safe to Follow Jesus?

During my devotional time this morning, I was reading from Nehemiah 6. In this chapter, Nehemiah’s enemies sought to immobilize him with threats and fear. He was urged retreat to the safety of the temple. He refused, however, knowing that to do so would be a violation of what God had called him to do. He could not accomplish God’s purposes and be preoccupied with safety.

Safety; what a comforting thought for so many people. We yearn for it, especially in times like today when so much seems uncertain. We pursue it, hoping to achieve a rest that we know, deep down, we’ll never really find. But we are prepared to sacrifice even good things in order to possess it to some measure.

Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus once said, "The desire for safety stands against very great and noble enterprise." Seven years ago, before the advent of the blog, I wrote a commentary for the Persecution and Prayer Alert in which I addressed this issue in regards to what it means to follow Jesus. At the time, the world was still reeling from the events of 9/11. But as I read my words of April 10, 2002 again this morning, I was struck by how relevant they remained for today. And so I thought that perhaps it might be worthwhile updating what I had to say back then.

In the February 2002 edition of SIM Now, Pep Philpott, executive director for SIM Canada, mulled over the question why, as missionary agencies, we tend to evacuate our staff when things get "hot" in our countries of service. This became most obvious in the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001, when many missionaries were evacuated from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Such evacuations of missionary staff are, by no means, unique. Just a cursory search on Google finds evacuation of missionaries from Sudan, Madagascar, and Afghanistan since the beginning of 2009.

In his deliberations, Mr. Philpott rightfully observed that evacuation decisions are often taken out of the hands of the missionaries by government orders, the church's advice, or circumstances beyond their control. But he noted, "The question would not go away. Could it really be a reasonable supposition that God intends suffering for our national brethren, but not for the missionary? Would the purposes of God consistently suffer if the missionary remained in a situation of conflict?"

It was Mr. Philpott’s next paragraph that I found most intriguing. "After mulling over these weighty issues I came to this conclusion: I have an appalling theology of suffering. In fact, it is hardly a theology because it cannot be supported by Scripture. For me, and I suspect for my generation, comfort and security are seen as our birthright. We strive ardently to hold on to them, hardly considering the Biblical requirement to release them for the sake of the Gospel. It's as if our motto is, 'We came to serve, not to suffer.' "

Over the years since joining The Voice of the Martyrs, I have received a number of emails from all over the world. Occasionally, I get emails from those who are either thinking of ministering in another culture or who have loved ones who are planning to do so. But the primary reason they write me is not so that I can pray for them or help equip them for ministry in a restricted nation. Usually the purpose of the message is to ascertain whether it is "safe" to minister there.

Usually, the answer is "Yes, for the most part." Usually foreigners are much safer in restricted societies than the national believers who do not have the luxury of evacuation. The worst thing that can usually happen to a foreigner missionary is that they will be expelled from the country. There are rare (and tragic) exceptions, but this is generally true.

But I continue to be disconcerted by the question, "Is it safe?" When is it ever safe to follow Jesus? Did Jesus promise a safe road? Is the call of God only to be followed if "to pastures green, He leadeth me"? Rather, did He not say, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24)? The path of Christ is the path of the cross. Yet, how many of us are like Peter, who upon hearing that Jesus was going to follow this path, took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you" (Matthew 16:22). Jesus replied, that such a mentality reflected the attitude of this world, rather than the mind of God (16:23).

Recently I received an email from the father of a 17-year-old girl who was reading our book Jesus Freaks. He had just refused to allow his daughter to go on a mission trip over spring break to Mexico. He wrote,

“Due to the increasing violence in Mexico as a result of the local drug cartel turf wars we decided to pull her out of this trip in fear of her safety.  She was not concerned about being tortured or killed and wanted desperately to go on this trip. Your book seems to send a message to impressionable young people that common sense and rational thought should not play a role in their Christian life and that their personal safety is secondary to their beliefs. This is a very slippery slope especially for young impressionable teens.”

Here was how I responded,

“Thank you for your email.  I understand your concern about your daughter.  As a father, I would probably feel the same even though I don’t think I would have made the same decision you did.  You see, as you note, in our material we do indeed point out that believers regardless of their age or where they live should be prepared to suffer and die for their faith.  We do this because this, we are convinced, is the clear teaching of the Bible and of Jesus, in particular, when He said that anyone who would follow Him must take up their cross and follow Him.  If they were not prepared to sacrifice even their own lives for Him, He said, they were not worthy of Him. This is not a slippery slope; it is the reality that most Christians live with on a daily basis in the world today, including young people and even children.  There is a cost to follow Him and yes, the Bible does suggest that personal safety must take a back seat to their loyalty to Christ and His call to fulfill the purposes of God. This kind of priority was exemplified by Jesus Himself and which He calls us to repeatedly in the New Testament.  We would not be faithful to scripture if we were to teach anything else.”

You see, to the mind of God, suffering is not the worst thing that can happen to His people. Disobedience is.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

“In the Shadow of the Cross” translated into North Korean dialect

itsotc_nkorean This week I was excited to learn that the translation of my book, In the Shadow of the Cross: A Biblical Theology of Persecution and Discipleship, into the North Korean dialect was completed and that copies have been printed to be incorporated into the curriculum taught at Underground University, a joint project of Seoul USA and The Voice of The Martyrs in Canada. Underground University is a new initiative launched this year by Seoul USA in partnership with The Voice of the Martyrs-Canada for the purpose of providing North Korean exiles with the skills and training they need to return to serve and grow the North Korean Church while remaining undetected by Kim Jong Il's regime.  This book was written to provide a solid biblical understanding of persecution and to equip believers to know how to remain faithful followers of Christ in the face of hostility and hatred.

Since its publication in 2004, In the Shadow of the Cross has been translated into Chinese, Farsi, Tamil, Sinhalese, Russian, Ukrainian, Dutch, German, Spanish, and Tigrinya and broadcast via shortwave into China, Eritrea, and Somalia.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Marx was right

This afternoon, someone “tweeted” me about Marx’s quote about religion being the “opiate of the people” and wondered if the hostility that Christians experience today is similar to Marx’s attitude, as expressed in this quote.  This got me thinking about this well known phrase and I decided to do a little study on it, especially as a recent book I read suggested that Marx might have been right.

It is assumed that Marx was speaking negatively about religion with this comment and that it was evidence of his hostility towards Christianity.  That Marx hated Christianity and Christians, there is little doubt.  But this particular quote is interesting in that, in its context, Marx was not so much criticizing religion as much as he was describing how it helped people deal with life in a heartless world.  Here is the actual quote in its context: 

Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions. (Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right)

In Marx’s day, opium, as today (usually in the form of morphine), was used as both an illusionary drug and a painkiller or sedative.  It is not a cure; it simply deals with symptoms.  As part of my present treatment for cancer actually calls for daily small doses of morphine to help me with breathing, I have a sense of what he was referring to. The morphine does not cure my breathing problems; it simples makes the problem easier to deal with.  Similarly, it was Marx’s opinion that religion does not cure the underlying causes of people’s pain and suffering. Instead, it helps them deal with what they are suffering by encouraging them to look forward to a future when the pain and misery will cease.  The problem, Marx says, is the world itself and the need for a real and better solution that does more than just provide the illusion of a fix.

There is a sense in which Marx was right (yes, a VOM director actually agrees with Marx on something!).  If your kind of faith deadens you to the realities of this world, quiets you down, sedates you and causes you to think that there is no use trying to bring the reality of Christ into this world, then your faith is an opiate.  This attitude would be reflected, for example, by those who almost seem to rejoice in the fact that Christians are persecuted around the world because it is a “sign of the end times” or evidence that Jesus is coming back soon.  There is little or no passion to seek to alleviate the suffering of their brothers and sisters since Jesus will soon put it all right when He returns.  Justice…well, the suggestion is, we’ll just have to wait for the next life for that (a sentiment that, it seems to me, only the one suffering the injustice has the right to express). Instead of seeking to bring the Lordship of Christ into all of life, many of us are content to restrict it primarily to the future life. Christianity then becomes far less than the all encompassing, life-changing, transforming, illuminating faith and worldview it really is.  It becomes an opiate; something primarily suited to help us escape and cope with this world. But not a cure.

If this is all your faith is, then Marx was right.

Hearing their voices, seeing their faces


One of the great blessings of my life was been the opportunity to meet those whose love for the Lord has meant tremendous sacrifice and suffering.  It has been a source of strength to me during my battle with cancer and enriched my life on so many other levels.  It has also been an honour to serve them, in turn, however we were able. This relationship of giving and receiving has underlined for me the fact that we really are only one church, one body.  There is no persecuted church per se or free church.  There is only one, bound together in the love of God through faith in Christ.

One of the reasons why we put so much emphasis on video here at The Voice of the Martyrs is the desire to bring you along with us, as much as possible into the world of those we meet.  It’s one thing to read their testimonies.  It’s quite another to hear their voices and see their faces. witnessing their tears and joy. 

A few years ago, before YouTube even became popular, we created Persecution TV, a website dedicated to being a portal for audio and video clips of our persecuted family.  We have recently made some revisions to it that make it even better (plus you don’t have to wade through all of the junk, like you do on YouTube, so its safe for the family to roam through).

Take a look at Persecution TV today at and experience the blessing of getting to know your brothers and sisters.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Obama refuses to use the “G” word

From ABC News today (the best article I have found on this story):

Despite a campaign promise that he would boldly use the word "genocide" as president when describing the Ottoman Empire's slaughter of up to 1.5 million Armenians in the early part of the last century, President Obama deliberately avoided use of that word in his statement today on Armenian Remembrance Day.

"We're profoundly disappointed," Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, told ABC News. "All the more so because his statements on this in his record  before he became president nailed it in terms the facts, the practical side and the moral dimension. He repeatedly talked about this during the campaign, and he was really harsh on President Bush, he said it was inexcusable that Bush refused to acknowledge that this was genocide."

Hamparian says President Obama "finds himself doing exactly the thing he so sharply criticized the Bush administration for, which is being euphemistic and evasive. It's a bitter thing for Armenian-Americans who really believed him and really worked hard." [read the rest]

I can understand why Obama decided that he needed to do his verbal dance around the G-word today. He didn’t want to disrupt potential Turkish-Armenian relations.  It’s just hard not to think of those ringing words, “America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides. I intend to be that President.” 

Change we can believe in. Hmmm.  Too bad. It’s never going to get easier to call the Armenian Genocide for what it is, Mr. President. And words do matter. Your own statement today clearly demonstrates how well you understand this.

<a href="">Genocide: Should Obama have used the word in his Armenian statement?</a> | <a href="">BuzzDash polls</a>

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The problem of defining “persecution”

For those of us who minister to and on behalf of persecuted Christians, it is generally agreed and understood that there is no consensus on the correct use of the term “persecution.” Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, in his excellent book, Faith That Endures, adds, “And probably there will never be one”[i]. A significant part of the challenge, it seems to me, is two-fold. First, we apply human-rights definitions (or attempts at definitions) to the question. I actually made this mistake in my book (I hope to correct it in future revisions) where I defined persecution as a situation where Christians are repetitively, persistently and systematically inflicted with grave or serious suffering or harm and deprived of (or significantly threatened with deprival of) their basic human rights because of a difference that comes from being a Christian that the persecutor will not tolerate. By this definition, persecution must include violence or physical suffering and be repetitive, persistent and systematic. Very impressive sounding and very much in line with how most human rights experts see and define persecution. Sadly, it does not line up with a biblical view of persecution (which is rather embarrassing to me, since I was writing a biblical theology of persecution).

The second problem with defining persecution is the inconsistency with which the word is used. Boyd-MacMillan draws attention to this by referring to a widely accepted description of the three phases that persecution is supposed to typically pass through:

Confusion increases as the broad and specific implications of the term persecution are used inconsistently and even interchangeably. Even those within the world of persecution will frequently use the word persecution to mean something like "torture" in one sentence, and then use it again in the next sentence to mean "discrimination." Take for example the World Evangelical Alliance's report to the UN Commission on Human Rights in 2004. They write, "Persecution usually passes through three phases," two of the phases are "disinformation" and "discrimination," but the third phase is also called "persecution." How can persecution be both a phase of the phenomenon and the phenomenon itself?[ii]

Let me interject a note here: even if one were to suggest different terms for persecution, I increasingly am doubtful of the truthfulness of the assertion that persecution usually goes through three phases. It may “preach” well and appear rather logical and scientific but it doesn’t match up with reality all that well from my observation of current and historical persecution. Persecution, by its very nature, it seems to me, defies such generalizations.

Boyd-MacMillan adds:

Another example of this flip-flop usage occurs in the latest Lausanne paper on the persecuted church. On the one hand they argue, "Suffering and persecution are inevitable for those who follow the Lord Jesus," but on the other hand they can't bring themselves to stick to that usage when describing the discrimination in the West: "While the deteriorating situation in the West does not (yet) merit the term 'persecution,' it should be recognized that there is a reduction in religious freedom which is primarily affecting Christians." That logic puts us in a strange position. If persecution is truly inevitable in the act of following Christ, yet no one in the West is persecuted, then clearly no one in the West follows the Lord Jesus - an untenable position.[iii]

My students at Oklahoma Wesleyan University picked this up immediately and it wasn’t until the last couple of years that I was able to resolve this confusion by insisting on defining persecution as the Bible depicts it

[i] Faith That Endures. Revell, 2006:89
[ii] Ibid.:92
[iii] Ibid.

Words from our founder

I have heard that in the Middle Ages there were two believers who were condemned by the Inquisition to be burned at the stake. They asked to be bound back to back, so that they should not look one another in the eye, as each of them regarded the other as a heretic.

When I heard this story, I thought it was an exaggerated legend. Later on, in prison, I saw people who gave their lives for the same gentle Jesus, but who would not even say "Good morning" to one another, because they belonged to different confessions, or to two different groups within the same confession. We all allow such things to be done, without realizing how difficult it will be for us to give an account of the sin we have committed, the sin of making it difficult for those who seek the truth to find it.

Excerpted from Pastor Richard Wurmbrand’s book, Christ on the Jewish Road, p. 50. Order a copy today on our online resource catalog.

"At that crucial moment I saw Jesus"

AsiaNews released a story today in memory of a Chinese Christian, Father Francis Tan Tiande, who spent 30 years in a labour camp because of his faith. Father Francis passed away today at 5:00 a.m. local time at the age of 93.

Father Francis was jailed for his faith in 1953. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without a trial and was shipped to a forced labour camp in north-eastern China. His sentence was gradually reduced due to good behavior.

After 30 years of suffering in detention, Father Francis was released and spent the rest of his life as an assistant priest. In his diary, he wrote of the trials he endured and the ways he showed Christ's love to fellow prisoners and the guards.

“In the 30 years I spent in the north-east, farming was my main occupation. Each year, when spring came we had to fertilize a field that was as hard as steel [because of the extreme cold]. We used pickaxes to break the ground. Once the ground was loose, we would water it and plant the seeds. Today, when I describe all this, it does not all seem so bad. In reality we were underfed. All that work was beyond our capacity and each minute was an agony . . .”

“People might wonder how I could survive such terrible conditions. For those who do not believe, it is an enigma with no solution. For those who believe, it is God’s will. Life is man’s most precious gift. I must take care of this gift so as not be ungrateful. Hence I ate wild herbs to survive, and tree bark . . . Such were the conditions I lived in that I experienced my fellow inmates’ brutal actions . . . That pain was even worse than hunger. I wanted to run in the fields, shouting ‘Where are you God?’ . . . I cannot remember how many times I wanted to end it all, but at the crucial moment I saw Jesus on the cross looking at me with those merciful eyes . . . and telling me ‘Man of little faith! Do you doubt perhaps that I love you?'”

Christians in China continue to suffer harshly at the hands of authorities. According to reports from ChinaAid and Compass Direct, Uyghur Christian Alimujiang Yimiti, who was arrested in January 2008 for "endangering national security," remains in detention and is in poor health. Police officers and a prison doctor recently escorted him in handcuffs to a hospital and he reportedly called out to onlookers, "I'm sick. Tell my lawyer to come quickly to see me." Local sources have disclosed that Yimiti has been beaten in prison. Believers close to Yimiti insist that his arrest is due to his Christian faith and witness and his association with foreign Christians.

Continue to pray for Christians under fire in China. Pray that in their crucial moments they will see Jesus and reach out to their persecutors with His love.

Turkey recalls ambassador to Canada over stance on Armenian genocide

The Turkish government has temporarily recalled its ambassador to Canada to protest the attendance and comments of Canadian government and opposition members at a event on the evening of April 21 organized by the Congress of Canadian Armenians commemorating Canada's recognition of the Ottoman Empire's mass killings of Armenians as a genocide in 2004.

In his message to those that attended the event at the Parliament Buildings, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said: "I am honoured to have this opportunity to extend my warmest greetings to all those attending the Congress of Canadian Armenians event to mark the 5th anniversary of the adoption of the resolution by the House of Commons to recognize the Armenian Genocide. Your recognition of the members of the House of Commons who supported this resolution is a truly gracious gesture. I would like to commend the Congress of Canadian Armenians for organizing this event and for your ongoing efforts to foster fellowship in the community."

Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, said in his address: "The government of Canada has endorsed and accepted the recognition of the historical reality of the genocide through Prime Minister Stephen Harper's courageous statement three years ago. That continues to be the position of Canada. Thank you for being faithful to your roots, to your ancestors, to your ancient faith. Thank you for bringing and enriching Canada with the democratic values that your community embodies and respects so profoundly. Thank you for enriching our country in so many ways, and let us tonight celebrate and let us this week, as well, mourn and always, always, teach the future generations about the lessons of 1915 so that they are never repeated."

Michael Ignatieff, Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and Leader of the Official Opposition added: "Today we join in the grief of the Armenian community, we recognize the sorrow that you still carry with you, and we come together as Canadians no matter our convictions or beliefs to say: 'never again'. This room is the refutation, once and for all, of Hitler's infamous remark, 'who remembers the Armenians?' Your presence, your survival, triumph, strength, the Republic of Armenia are a definitive refutation of the vicious nihilism of that now departed dictator. Five years ago our Parliament recognized the Great Calamity as a genocide. We commit ourselves to reconciliation, however difficult, and we commit ourselves to a life of peace in Canada."

As noted in an earlier post, each year on April 24, Armenians around the world set aside a day called Genocide Remembrance Day (Medz Yeghern) to specifically remember an event that much of the world would rather forget – the deliberate and systematic slaughter and forced deportation of hundreds of thousands of Armenian Christians by the Ottoman Empire (present day Turkey) from 1918 to 1923. Many estimate that at least half of the Armenian population (numbered at 2 million in 1915) was killed. As is often the case where ethnic and religious identity are virtually inseparable, it is difficult to determine the extent to which religious intolerance played a part in the atrocities that took place. However, many Armenians were reportedly spared if they converted to Islam.

In 2002, the Canadian Senate adopted a motion acknowledging this period as “the first genocide of the twentieth century.” Two years later, the House of Commons adopted a motion (Bill M-380) that “acknowledges the Armenian genocide of 1915 and condemns this act as a crime against humanity.”

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Please pray for ongoing elections in India

Please pray for the ongoing elections in India. The future of religious freedom for religious minorities is one of the pressing issues in India today and India needs leaders who will support the rights of Christians and other minorities. 

Are you a modern day caveman?

Recently, a friend of mine, Brian O’Connell of REACT Services, gave me a book to read. At first, I wasn’t sure what to think of it but little by little, the author has been getting through to me. The book is Wholly Jesus by Mark Foreman and its call to embrace a holistic faith in Jesus, one where Christ truly impacts every part of one’s life and world, transforming all within our grasp.

Many of us start our life with Christ in this way. But, as Foreman describes in his book (pages 170-172), a lot of us end becoming, in effect, modern day cavemen, cut off from the modern world. Here is an excerpt from the book. Yes, it’s a bit lengthy but I wanted you to get the context.

Before becoming a believer, I had worn a black armband protesting the Vietnam War, I ate fresh ground wheat and other health foods, I cared about the planet, I fed the poor and believed in civil rights. Mine was the generation that distrusted the establishment of power and we were destined in our idealism to change the world! Now with Jesus at my side, there was no telling what might happen.

Unfortunately, little happened socially. Just as the hippies became yuppies, I became a modem day separatist. Although I kept my rock-n-roll for Jesus and wore my hair long, I followed the previous generation, retreating into the safe castle of the church.

I didn't worry too much about war; after all, there "would be wars and rumors of wars.” I didn't fret too much about the poor; after all, "the poor you have with you always." And I didn't care about justice issues; after all, there were injustices and slavery in the 1st century as well, and the early believers lived through them. Besides, Jesus would put it right at the second coming, not now. I didn't care about culture in general. I ignored the arts, unless it was making mugs with IXTHUS's on them. I ignored music unless it contained lyrics that were preachy or worshipful. I ignored politics, until abortion became an issue. Then I started voting and the Moral Majority guided me. The only issues that were moral were abortion and sexual preference. Somehow other issues such as justice, civil rights, poverty, the health of our planet and war were neither moral nor important.

How did I and entire generation who believed in saving the planet, defending civil rights, helping the poor and stopping war, unplug and give society away to others who had a different moral compass? It was a combination of the hippie "drop out" mentality and separatist religion. My generation was primarily concerned with saving souls, protecting our children from the world and leaving the society to fend for itself. I was not responsible for the world. In the name of "not loving the world," I and my generation gave the world away. I studied my Bible, taught my children and waited for the rapture. If whatever concern I previously had for this world was lost into cultural fundamentalism.

J. E. Orr, the famous historian on revival, challenged a few of us in a small meeting in Forest Home near the end of the 1970's, telling us that the Jesus Movement wasn't a revival because there had been no significant change in society. He rattled off statistics and antidotes from the First and Second Great Awakening to show us the difference. From those revivals cultural institutions were drastically transformed. But with the Jesus Movement, while, we had effectively evangelized, we had only accomplished the opposite, withdrawing from all cultural institutions and leaving no mark on the outside world. My understanding of the integration of Scripture and culture was underdeveloped, but I meant well. And though we may not have been a revival according to J. E., Orr, many lives were transformed. Souls were saved, many were delivered from drugs, marriages were restored, and morals were shaped. My life and my family were changed. There were many standout exceptions to our separatism such as the Salvation Army whose approach to a person's salvation was holistic. And brave men such as Chuck Smith reached out to the hippies, while the rest of the church was unwilling to touch them. Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse and other Christian NGO's began holistically serving the poor around the world. But in our daily lives, we just didn't know how to exist in this world. To our credit, many souls were saved and promised heaven, but to our shame, we restricted our role as salt and light to the world. We were products of our time.

Mistakenly, we were modern day Amish. Although we thought we were relevant with our long hair and music, still we withdrew from the world just like the Amish. Although there were exceptions, for the most part we solely focused on saving souls. To our credit, many souls were saved and promised heaven, but to our shame, we restricted our role as salt and light.

When I began to wake up, two entire decades had past. Like Rip Van Winkle opening his eyes, I soon realized society had moved on. I didn't know any of the hit songs, any name or issue in Washington, any sports figures, any trends in business, the arts, philosophy or literature. I was a modern day caveman.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Durban conference highjacked

Today our friends at Christian Solidarity Worldwide released a statement expressing their “grave concern for the future of individual freedoms, as a number of states at the UN Durban Review Conference push an agenda which seeks to protect religions and governments, at the expense of individuals and their rights.”  The CSW statement goes on to say, “The week-long conference, the official theme of which is tackling racism, is widely held by human rights NGOs to have been hijacked by a number of states advocating measures for ‘combating defamation of religion’ instead…. In seeking to protect ‘religion’ from defamation it is clear that existing international human rights protections will be undermined, specifically freedom of religion and freedom of expression.”

We have blogged a great deal in recent months about the efforts of various Islamic states to push forward this agenda in the United Nations and share this concern of CSW’s.  We support Canada’s early decision not to attend this conference and applaud those who have joined in boycotting this event, refusing to provide any sort of tacit approval to any statements that may arise from it.

Help us develop a “preachers pack”

The Voice of the Martyrs is working on developing what we are calling a “preachers pack” – a downloadable file containing resources that would help church leaders preach and/or teach on the persecution of Christians around the world.  We are considering including such things as:

  • testimonies of persecuted believers, both historical and contemporary
  • pictures with stories that can be integrated into a Powerpoint presentation
  • a brief biblical theology of persecution
  • suggested passages that can be preached on
  • some basic facts on persecution in the world today
  • a printable prayer map
  • prayer suggestions
  • links to high-res videos that can be shown in a meeting
  • links to various online and downloadable resources

As a former pastor, I know that I rarely ever referred to the persecuted except in a context of being thankful for our freedoms in Canada. I am ashamed of that now and wish that I had been both challenged and equipped to preach on persecution. 

If you are a church leader or teacher, can I ask you to give me some suggestions as to what you think would be helpful?  You can use the comments section on this post or email me using our contact form. I am really looking for help with this and would be grateful to hear from some of you.  Thanks!

Follow The Voice of the Martyrs on Twitter

twitter-logoThe Voice of the Martyrs is committed to bridging the gap between persecuted Christians around the world and you.  We believe that one of the better ways to do that today is through Twitter, a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read other users' updates known as tweets. 

Follow The Voice of the Martyrs on Twitter and you will get updates on the workings of our staff as we seek to raise a voice for the persecuted church around the world.  Receive the latest news on incidents of persecution.  Find out when we have posted a new blog to our weblog page.  Ask us questions, make comments.  Quite simply, get connected to the persecuted church throughout the day. 

Click here to follow The Voice of the Martyrs on Twitter ( right now!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Saudi Christian’s blog still blocked

There is no news on the recent removal of Hamoud Saleh Al-Amri’s (previously reported as Hamoud Bin Saleh) blog from the Internet.  In a Compass Direct report on Thursday, Gamal Eid, director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI ) said that he was not surprised the blog was blocked.

“That’s what I expected,” he said. “But he will probably start another blog – it’s not difficult.”

“Arabic countries are the worst on the list of censoring the Internet and are at the top of the list of antagonizing the freedom of the Internet,” said Eid. “But the Internet is still a good venue, because people are still able to express their views despite the government’s effort to curtail their efforts.”

Sunday, April 19, 2009

"Eritrea's government is turning the country into a giant prison"

There was jubilation among Eritreans when Eritrea formally gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a bloody 30-year war. Sixteen years later the dreams that the independent state would be democratic and rights-adhering lie in tatters. Eritrea has become one of the most closed and repressive states in the world. Thousands of political prisoners are detained in prisons and underground cells; there is no independent civil society; all independent media outlets have been shut down; the head of the Eritrean Orthodox Church is in incommunicado detention; and evangelical Christians are rounded up and tortured on a regular basis.

This is the reality of life in today’s Eritrea, according to a report by Human Rights Watch released on Thursday (April 16).  In a statement, Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch said, "Eritrea's government is turning the country into a giant prison." According to the 95-page report, arbitrary arrest and detention, brutal torture, forced labour, appallingly inhuman conditions in detention, rigid restrictions on freedom of movement and expression, and religious persecution of all faith groups characterize the government of President Isayas Afewerki.

Over the several years, Eritrea has become the worst persecutor of Christians in Africa and ranks among the most religiously repressive countries in the world.  According to Compass Direct, by late 2008 nearly 3,000 Christians had been incarcerated for their faith by Eritrean authorities.  Not one has ever been charged with a crime or brought to court.

Yet, as Human Rights Watch reports, it is not just evangelical Christians who are being persecuted. In the military, “adherents of all faiths face problems.”

As one female Christian jailed for reading the Bible in Sawa camp said, “Everyone, even the Orthodox and the Muslims, are not allowed to worship. Only politics is allowed.”  A soldier also claimed that no praying of any kind was permitted in the military—whether one was a follower of a Christian faith or Muslim (page 62)

The Human Rights report also documents how torture is routine in Eritrea, both for those detained in prisons and as punishment for those in military service (which includes many Christians). As I was reading through the various torture methods reportedly used by authorities (pages 30-34) and appalling conditions of the prisons (pages 34-38), I was reminded how, at one of our conferences, an Eritrean brother demonstrated how he had been tortured using the “helicopter.”  This according to the report is a method of torture where the victim’s hands and feet are tied together behind the back, sometimes opposite limbs, i.e. left hand to right foot, and the victim is left face down, often outside in the hot sun.the helicopter As for the conditions in the prison, this is how Human Rights Watch describes then:

Apart from torture and routine punishment, detainees in Eritrea’s huge network of prisons endure terrible conditions, forced labor, and lethal starvation. With the exception of Ethiopian prisoners of war, the International Committee of the Red Cross is not permitted to visit Eritrea’s military or civilian detention facilities. The government appears completely unconcerned about detention conditions and the fate of the people in its custody. Deaths in custody are common. Prison guards are often demoralized and appalled by what they are asked to do—some of them reportedly escape along with the inmates.

Horrendous descriptions of conditions in many of Eritrea’s different prisons have been widely documented by various nongovernmental organizations in recent years. Many detainees are kept in metal shipping containers or in underground pits in overcrowded and dangerously hot conditions for months at a time. (pages 35-36)

This is life for thousands of our brothers and sisters today. Won’t you join us in praying for them today?  Pray, too, as The Voice of the Martyrs seeks to provide practical assistance to the families of those in detention and to raise a voice on behalf of these prisoners of faith whose voice is barely heard in today’s world. Pray that those who hear our shortwave radio broadcasts in Eritrea will have their faith strengthened.

You can download or read the full HRW report by clicking here

Lessons I am learning about leading and creativity

Leo Tolstoy once write, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”  This, I suspect, is especially true of leaders. After several years of experience in a particular ministry, it is easy to assume that one has seen or heard most everything and that there isn’t much else to learn. The last few weeks have been rather humbling for me, however, as I realize just how wrong I have been about a few things my role as CEO of The Voice of the Martyrs in the areas of leadership and creativity.

The first thing that God has been trying to get through to me on is the fact that I do not have a corner on creativity at the mission.  It is so easy to dismiss the ideas of others, especially those who are relatively new to the mission.  Having been the “idea guy” for so long, I had forgotten what it was like when I first started, all full of new and crazy ideas.  Some of them worked, a lot of them didn’t.  But I was allowed the freedom to fail. 

I need to give that same freedom to others. When I have, I have been amazed how some of them have actually brought value to the mission’s work, even though I was sceptical to begin with.

And that is the problem that all leaders can have with experience.  It can fossilize you unless you are careful. You can start to think that you have tried everything and have a fairly good grasp of what works and what doesn’t.  In the process, however, you can stifle creativity.  And that is the very opposite of what it means to be a leader. 

Secondly, I have been learning that others can do some of my old tasks as good or better than I can.  Again, experience can sometimes bring stagnation to an organization if the leader is not prepared to pass on the baton (and I mean really passing it on and not running alongside, clinging on to the baton).  This is sometimes hard for me to do, especially in areas where I have specialized and seen success. But if I have trained people correctly in our mission, values, purposes, and procedures, then the issue of trust is my problem, not theirs.

Thirdly, God has been teaching me that sometimes what used to work, then didn’t, now can.  “Say what?” you might be asking.  Let me give an example.  For several years when I first started with the mission, we participated in Missionfests across Canada.  They worked fairly well for us for a few years but then the results we were looking for seemed to drop off.  It soon became clear that it was not worth our while to participate and so we dropped them.  A few more years went by.  Last year, some of our newer staff began to push to get us involved again but I resisted. “We’ve been there, done that,” I’d say. “Waste of our time.”  Finally, our Events Team agreed to try participating in three of these events where we had strong volunteer or staff presence.  I was sceptical.  But low and behold, we have seen response far beyond my expectations from our presence in Edmonton, Halifax, and Toronto.  I was wrong.  What used to work, then didn’t, now does.

Another example would be our participation in homeschool conferences.  Early in my time with VOMC, we were invited to one where I was to give a seminar presentation and put up a display. The event was an abysmal failure. Only a handful showed up for the seminar and hardly anyone came to the display.  “Never again!” I thought.  But thanks to some persuasion from Floyd Brobbel (VOMC’s present COO) several years later, we are now participating in several such events across Canada each spring and have found them quite beneficial in raising a voice for the persecuted. It helps, of course, that now we have a number of excellent resources for children and youth that we didn’t have in the beginning, but I am inclined to think that it was more a matter of God’s timing.

I can’t say that these lessons have been easy for me to learn or that I have perfected them.  My staff could set you straight on that account, if they weren’t so gracious (I really don’t deserve such a great team!).  But by God’s grace, I believe that I am on the path to being a better leader who will empower his team through his experience to greater creativity rather than being an obstacle to it because of it.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Remember the families of Malatya martyrs today

malataya men Two years ago today, three Christians were brutally murdered on April 18, 2007 in the offices of a Christian publisher in Malatya, Turkey. The five Muslim men who killed them all carried identical notes in their pockets: "We did this for our country. They were attacking our religion."

Instead of hatred, Turkish Christians responded with love. On national television two widowed mothers echoed Christ: Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

But for anyone who has lost a loved one, anniversaries like today are hard.  Please remember to pray for the families of Necati Aydin, Ugur Yuksel and Tilmann Geske today!

The Voice of the Martyrs is now offering for sale Malatya, a feature-length documentary film that tells the story of these three men who willing to give up their lives to share the gospel with Turkish Muslims and the fruit that has grown up from their sacrifice.  If you live in Canada, you can order your copy online today for only $13 (plus shipping).

Pray for the #1 persecuting country

For the seventh year in a row, North Korea tops the list of Open Door’s “World Watch List” of 50 countries where Christians are persecuted by their own governments. There is no other country in the world where Christians are being persecuted so horribly and relentlessly.  North Korean Christians need your prayer and your solidarity! 

Show that you care for our brothers and sisters in the Hermit Kingdom! Make it known that you are committed to breaking through the world’s most closed border through prayer!  Get equipped to make a difference in the lives of persecuted believers in North Korea and around the world! pfnk

Sign up to receive the monthly Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter and receive a FREE prayer band with the words “Pray for North Korea” on it in both English and Korean.

Two unique and free ways to help you to remember today's Persecuted Church!

  • Each month, The Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter will remind and equip you to pray for your persecuted brothers and sisters in North Korea and around the world.
  • Every time you look at the prayer band on your wrist, you will be reminded to pray for Christians in North Korea. As others notice it, you will also have the opportunity to tell them about the courage and faith of the North Korean church.

Request your free subscription and prayer band today! Only available to those with Canadian addresses and only on Persecuted Church Weblog!


Friday, April 17, 2009

So what are you reading in April?

Even though the month is not yet over, I can’t wait to share with you the two most significant books that I have read this year (apart from the Bible, of course!) plus one other book that is a fine work in its own right.

Shake_Down Shakedown: How Our Government Is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights

by Ezra Levant

It’s hard to describe Ezra Levant’s splendid new volume, Shakedown: How Our Government Is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights, as an enjoyable read — because the book is a chronicle of injustice, with outrage on every page....a simple and effectively argued wake-up call for the average Canadian citizen.

This is how an Mark Hemingway in the National Review describes the latest book that The Voice of the Martyrs is making available for sale online.  Levant describes how Canada’s human rights commissions, originally created to be an equalizer to help the poor and powerless stand up to the rich and powerful have morphed into a tool to suppress the free expression of politically incorrect viewpoints.   If I would recommend one book for every Canadian to read this year, this is it! 


The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia—and How It Died

by Philip Jenkins

Paul Marshall, in his review in the Weekly Standard noted:

The story usually told of Christianity is that, while it certainly also spread elsewhere, its major influence and home was in Europe. The church developed early, Europe became in some sense Christianized, and subsequently it set the pattern for the faith. With the discovery of America and the European voyages of exploration, as well as colonialism, Christianity then spread to the rest of the world largely as a Western export.

Jenkins demonstrates that this story is flat wrong--or as he more charitably puts it, "much of what we know is inaccurate." 

For most of its history, Christianity was a tricontinental religion, with powerful representation in Europe, Africa and Asia, and this was true into the 14th century. Christianity became predominantly European not because this continent had any obvious affinity for that faith, but by default: Europe was the continent where it was not destroyed.

I continue to be amazed at what I did not learn in college and seminary!  Not one of my church history courses ever touched on what this book does; the largely forgotten history of Christianity in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, a region where the church thrived when much of Europe was still pagan.  And then, for vvarious reasons, in many places it died (or continues to die).  The title itself is controversial.  Can a church really die in the face of unrelenting persecution?  Jenkins argues “Yes” and I agree!  Disagree?  Interested in knowing more?  Read this book.  You might also enjoy the review by fellow Canadian blogger Scott Gilbreath.

calltojoy The Call to Joy and Pain: Embracing Suffering in Your Ministry

by Ajith Fernando

Of the many books on suffering that I have read over the last 20 years, this is perhaps the only book that I have read that specifically targets those who are involved in ministry.  From my own experience as a pastor and having met and worked with pastors and other church leaders in countries around the world, there is no doubt that this is one group that needs such a book.  In fact, this is one of the reasons I wrote my book.  Another unique characteristic of this book is that its author is the national director of Youth for Christ in war-torn Sri Lanka where Christians face increasing persecution in recent years.  It is refreshing to read a non-western perspective on suffering.

Have I read better books on suffering? Yes.  For those looking for an in-depth treatise on suffering or persecution, this is not that kind of book.  For those in ministry, bruised, beat up, tired and discouraged, these 31 short chapters might just be the balm that their soul requires.

Saudi blogger site “removed”

Days after it had been announced that Hamoud Saleh Al-Amri, a 28 year-old Saudi national imprisoned in January for writing in his blog ( about his decision to follow Jesus, had been released by the Saudi authorities on March 28th, Google has apparently removed his blogger site again.  Anyone trying to log on to the site today will see this message


I am trying to see if I can find out why this site has been removed by starting a discussion on the Blogger Help Group.  Perhaps if a few of us ask for an explanation, we can find out what is going on here.  The last time this happened, it was due to the Saudi authorities first blocking the site and then Google claiming that it has committed a Terms of Service violation (which was never explained).  Eventually, under pressure, Google put the site back online. (Note: you can still find the blog in the cache, but who knows how long that will last). 

Of course, Hamoud may have shut the site down himself, but it just seems like an amazing coincidence that this site is "removed" just as he starts blogging again and his case gains publicity.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The OIC’s 20-year campaign against freedom of religion

Recent actions taken by the United Nations Human Rights Council to protect religion (and Islam in particular) from criticism did not spring out of nowhere.  Rather, according to Paul Marshall in today’s Weekly Standard, “for the last 20 years, the Organization of the Islamic Conference has waged a systematic campaign to use charges of ‘Islamophobia’ and purported ‘insults to Islam’ to silence critics at home and abroad. The OIC, an association of 57 states committed to promoting Muslim solidarity, wants to destroy the principle of the universality of human rights and freedoms, and in the UN it is winning.”

You’ll want to read this article.

The LTTE and its supporters are straining the patience of Canadians

The Voice of the Martyrs has consistently attempted to demonstrate an even-handed approach to the civil war in Sri Lanka, reflecting the position of our friends, partners and co-workers in this troubled nation, who are both Tamil and Sinhalese.  This is why we helped write and signed the recent Toronto Statement that deliberately refused to take the side of either the government of Sri Lanka or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), better known as the Tamil Tigers.  Over the past many years, both the LTTE and the government of Sri Lanka have committed atrocities, violated human rights and breached international law.  There is plenty of blame to spread around.  Our concern, first and foremost, is for the innocents who are suffering at the hands of both sides of this conflict.  We welcomed the recent temporary truce earlier this week, hoping that this would give those trapped in the no-fire zone an opportunity to leave. However, it became clear that the LTTE  forcefully prevented them from leaving the conflict area, continuing to use them as a human shield.  The international community continues to call for another truce or a ceasefire. But there is little hope that the LTTE would change its tactics and allow people to leave, making such calls somewhat meaningless. Of course, we would certainly welcome a ceasefire or truce if, for no other reason, it might serve to minimize the causalities of those trapped in this conflagration.

As even-handed as we have tried to be (and indeed, much of VOMC’s criticism over the years has been directed more towards the Sri Lanka government and its supporters who have persecuted Christians in the name of Buddhist nationalism), it should be said that these recent actions by the LTTE in Sri Lanka, and their supporters in Canada are straining our and most Canadian’s patience. As today’s editorial in the National Post entitled Hunger-striking for terrorists, noted:

The ongoing Parliament Hill protests and hunger strikes by Tamil Canadians are meant to stir our lawmakers into action against Sri Lanka, whose government is waging a successful military campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), better known as the Tamil Tigers. If anything, however, the protests have had the opposite effect: Just as radical Canadian Muslims attract disgust when they raise the flags of Hezbollah or Hamas, so too do Tamils who fly the flag the of the LTTE, a terrorist insurgency that once controlled much of Sri Lanka. What's worse, the protesters have flown the LTTE flag alongside the Canadian flag -- an insult to our own country.

As we have written several times before, we are not without sympathy for the cause of the Tamil people, many of whom have been treated as second-class citizens by the Sinhalesedominated government in Colombo. Indeed, the Tamils would have had a rightful claim to the world's sympathy -- if the LTTE, which fights for an independent Tamil homeland, hadn't itself adopted such inhumane tactics since its formation in the 1980s. The Tigers perfected the tactic of suicide bombing, deploying explosive-wrapped killers by the dozens even before the practice had caught on in the Arab world.

The LTTE has also press-ganged children as young as 10 into military service and, following the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, they cleared out orphanages for foot soldiers and interdicted relief supplies to feed their adult insurgents and fund terror campaign against the Sri Lankan government. The sight of this group's flags flying in Canada is nothing short of revolting.

Canada is home to the largest expatriate Tamil community in the world. Despite the Conservative government's decision to declare the LTTE a terrorist organization in 2006, many of the most prominent Tamil groups in Canada remain fronts for the Tigers. Much of the money for the LTTE's terror campaign has been extorted from Tamil Canadians, who have faced harassment if they show insufficient enthusiasm for the Tigers. Family members back home in Sri Lanka have even been held hostage until Tamils here pay hefty donations.

The reason that Tiger supporters seem so desperate now is that, after nearly 17 months of bloody fighting, Sri Lankan troops have the few hundred remaining Tiger fighters pinned down inside a few square kilo-metres in northeast Sri Lanka -- including, possibly, the group's sociopathic leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. The only thing preventing Sri Lankan troops from finishing off the Tigers is the presence of thousands of Tamil civilians, whom the Tigers are using as human shields.

Like Hamas in Gaza, cowardly LTTE fighters are hiding behind the women and children they claim to be protecting. (In fact, the Tigers are actually killing civilians who try to flee the combat area -- something even Hamas never did on a large scale during the Gaza combat.) The Tigers' goal appears to be saving itself -- and we would not be surprised if Prabhakaran staged his own massacre of Tamils as a means to discredit Colombo and force a ceasefire that allowed him to escape.

The Ottawa protesters -- and others in Sydney, Australia -- insist the Colombo government is readying a "genocide" against Tamils. Many journalists are even getting e-mails from Tiger supporters claiming that the Sri Lankan army is preparing to use chemical weapons.

This is preposterous: If government troops truly wanted to stage a genocide, they could have done so weeks ago. The only reason that the siege has drawn out this long is that Sri Lanka's army wishes to avoid unnecessary slaughter. Indeed, the Tamils who have managed to escape the Tiger area report being treated better by Sri Lankan troops than they were by the LTTE.

If the Tiger supporters in Ottawa truly had the best interests of innocent Tamils at heart, they would be pleading with the Tigers themselves to release their human shields, not declaring their undying support for a terror organization.

Our advice to the Ottawa hunger strikers is: Eat up. To the extent anyone is listening to your message, it only serves to disgrace your members.

Standing with Egypt's converts

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Egypt to visit with several Muslim-background believers and hear their testimonies. They shared their stories of becoming disillusioned with Islam and the different ways that God had led them to Him. Many of these converts have faced great challenges as a result of deciding to follow Jesus. I heard how some were rejected by their families and friends. Others faced physical torture at the hands of authorities. Some are in fear for their lives.

But one of the hardest things I heard was how some converts were turned away by the church when they sought guidance and help. I heard of church members refusing to let converts stay with them in their homes and of church leaders who refused to baptize converts. In fear of reprisal, many Egyptian Christians turned their backs or offered inadequate assistance. One of the converts I spoke with described how he and his young family were destitute on the street with nowhere to go after they were forced to leave their home. When they reached out to a Christian and asked if they could stay in his home for the night, they were turned away. When I heard stories like this, it brought to mind James 2:15-16: "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?"

I began to feel very frustrated with how the church in Egypt was responding to those hungering for truth. I wondered how they could reject these new believers. But these stories also made me ponder what I would do in a similar situation. Would I put my own safety, or the safety of my family, on the line for the sake of another? Would my church community embrace a convert if it meant we would probably be pressured, or worse? I'm certain all of us have been guilty of well-wishing when we really should have been acting.

So it made me happy to hear this week that a convert to Christianity from Islam who is fighting for legal recognition of his faith recently received a certificate of conversion from Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church. On April 11, Maher Ahmad El-Mo'otahssem Bellah El-Gohary's lawyers submitted the certificate, which the court required as verification of his Christian faith. El-Gohary is the second Muslim-born convert to request that Christianity be reflected on his identification documents and the first to receive a conversion certificate from the Coptic Church. According to Compass Direct, "Reluctance to expose itself to possible retaliation from either the government or Islamic extremists has kept the Coptic Church from openly admitting to baptizing and welcoming converts until now."

By issuing this certificate of conversion, the Coptic Church is publically accepting a Muslim-background believer. It is my prayer that believers throughout Egypt will be encouraged by this and will actively embrace the converts in their midst. I pray that believers from Muslim backgrounds are no longer turned away but are instead gladly welcomed into Christian homes and churches, despite the risk.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What was Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”?

thorns The conjectures as to what Paul’s "thorn in the flesh" (2 Cor. 12:7) was are legion. Many, if not most, commentators believe that was a physical ailment.  However, I think that the context in which this verse appears suggests quite a different answer, one that can provide tremendous encouragement to persecuted Christians.

The most extensive of all of Paul’s description of his afflictions for Christ’s sake is found in 2 Corinthians 11:23-12:10. It is at this point that Paul directly challenges those in Corinth who deny his credentials as a true apostle of God.

In 1 Corinthians, he has shown how God’s weakness in the cross of His Son, a weakness of suffering and self-sacrifice turned out to be God’s strength and power. He has maintained that his sufferings are linked with Christ (1 Cor. 1:3-11) and it is the world that rejects the method by which God has chosen to reconcile the world to Himself and sees only the shame and apparent defeat. In contrast, those who are being saved see it as fragrant offering to God (2:14-17). Paul contended that his sufferings are necessary to manifest the life of Christ (4:5-15) and argued that the messengers of the gospel must live lives in accordance to the gospel (6:1-13). Christ died on the cross for man’s salvation and cross-bearing messengers are those who will bear this message to mankind. God’s methods are consistent with His message.

Yet, the Corinthians persist in listening to teachers whose message and methods are at odds with the cross of Christ. In verse 23 Paul asks, "Are they servants of Christ?" The Greek wording used here does not concede that he believes that the "super-apostles" really are servants of God. The wording is more: "Servants of God are they? Well, if they are such (and it would be absurd to say such), I am more!"

The term "servant of Christ" is reminiscent of Isaiah's reference to the suffering Servant and the servants of the suffering Servant. One cannot call himself a servant of God if he denies the need to sacrifice and suffer for Christ’s sake. Suffering defines the servant of God.

In verse 23-30, Paul spells out the credentials he points to that prove that he is a servant of God:

…with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.[1]

Then in verse 31-32, Paul gives an example of the things that he will boast of

"The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands" (2 Cor. 11:23-33).

As we noted in our study of Acts, immediately following his conversion, Paul began to preach the gospel. As a result, a plot to kill him was hatched and he was forced to flee Damascus through a hole in the wall in a basket (Acts 9:25). This experience drove home to him an incredible truth that he never forgot.

Paul might have been tempted to feel proud of his revelation from Christ, his dramatic testimony of conversion, from persecutor to messenger of God. But then he remembers that his first attempt to share the gospel resulted in his being lowered out of a window in the wall in the middle of the night in a basket that was probably used to dump rubbish outside of the wall. Paul learned that this is what the messenger of God can expect!

What did you expect following Christ would be like when you first started following Him?

In chapter 12:1, Paul goes further. The super-apostles boast of the great visions that God has given them. "Well," says Paul, "let me break a 14 year silence and tell you about visions and revelations from God that I have received."

I suspect that at this point, the Corinthians would have leaned forward in eager anticipation of what Paul was about to write. This was the kind of message that they liked to listen to.

Paul refuses to go into too many details, however. He talks about having received a vision of heaven in verses 2-5, but Paul is clearly embarrassed at having to boast at all (verse1). He refers to himself as "a man in Christ" (in the third person) in order to emphasize that receiving this vision did not make him any special type of Christian.

All that Paul feels comfortable boasting about is his weaknesses (verse 5). And so he immediately discredits the wonderful vision that God had given him in verse 7: "So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated" (2 Cor. 12:7)

The Thorn in the Flesh

Given what Paul has just discussed in the passages just prior to this verse and that which he will refer to again in verse 10; a context of opposition and persecution for the sake of Christ, I would suggest that in verse 7-10 that Paul has not changed topics.  He is still talking about persecution.

The early church theologian Chrysostom took the term "Satan" in its general Hebrew sense of "adversary", and understood this "messenger of Satan" by which he was buffeted to signify "Alexander the coppersmith, the party of Hymeneus and Philetas, and all the adversaries of the Word, those who contended with him and fought against him, those that cast him into prison, those that beat him, that led him away to death; for they did Satan's business".[2] Augustine, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret, Photius, and Theophylact and other early church fathers also saw this in the same light.[3]

More recently, R.V.G. Tasker wrote in regards to this passage "As there is nothing which tends to elate a Christian evangelist so much as the enjoyment of spiritual experiences, and as there is nothing so calculated to deflate the spiritual pride which may follow them as the opposition he encounters while preaching the Word, it is not unlikely that Chyrsostom’s interpretation is nearer the truth than any other."[4]

However we understand it, the fact is that this "messenger of Satan" was sent by God; Satan has only a limited freedom of action. God is ultimately in control. Nothing comes into the life of the believer that does not first pass through the sovereign hands of God.

That is not to say that Paul did not want this suffering removed from his life:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (12:8-9a).

How exactly God said this to Paul, we are not told. The use of the perfect tense here, however, is illuminating, indicating that this was a past action with continuing results. In other words, what God told Paul regarding His grace being sufficient is still true for him at the time at which he is writing this letter. This was God's answer to Paul's prayer then and it still stands. And it is not a matter of accepting "second best." In Paul's mind, God’s grace in the midst of affliction is just as much an answer to prayer as deliverance because he declares, "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:9b-10).

The key word here is, of course, "for the sake of Christ." Paul did not purposely go seeking for persecution. His only preoccupation was the cause of Christ, the spreading of the gospel, and these sufferings came to him as consequences of his pursuit after the purposes of God. There is nothing special in suffering for the sake of suffering. Suffering and persecution are only the inevitable results of spreading the gospel in a world that is hostile to God, the gospel, and His messengers.

Persecution reminds us who we belong to and proves that we truly are messengers of God.


[1] Emphasis added.

[2] Philip E. Hughes, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1962 : 443. cf. 1 Tim.1:20; 2 Tim. 4:14

[3] A. Plummer, The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians. Cambridge University Press, 1903: 141

[4] Quoted by Hughes: 443-444

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Five Steps to Healthy Praying Habits for the Persecuted

prayer_wIt’s funny where a person can get some ideas from. Or maybe it’s just the way that I am wired, but the other day as I was reading through the Readers Digest, I ran across an ad for Listerine (a mouthwash sold here in Canada) in which was listed five step to developing healthy habits. As I looked them over, I thought, “These are actually pretty good.” And then it struck me that these same five steps (slightly modified, of course) could also be helpful in developing healthier prayer habits on behalf of persecuted Christians. I think many of us know we should pray more regularly for persecuted believers but we forget or we start off great and then peter out.

The fact is, it often does take more than just willpower to develop healthy habits. Developing a good habit is like making a ceramic vase, creating a mould into which the liquid ceramic mixture can be poured into and allowed to set. Eventually, the mixture matures and hardens and the mould can be taken a way and the genuine article remains. So, prayer (as with most healthy habits) means building moulds into our lives, structures or patterns that allow us to be moulded and shaped, matured, gradually becoming the people that we want to become, by God’s grace. Eventually, the artificial mould can be removed but the habit remains.

So, here are my suggested Five Steps to Healthy Praying Habits for the Persecuted.

1. Be specific about what habit of prayer you want to develop and write it down. Example: “I will pray for my persecuted brothers and sisters every morning and evening.” or “Each morning I will pray for one person mentioned in this month’s Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter” or “I will pray each evening for one of the situations reported in this week’s Persecution and Prayer Alert.”

2. Tackle only one habit at a time, make it attainable and measurable. Give yourself a month to fully integrate this habit into your life. Make sure that it is something you can realistically do. You might want to track your progress by dropping a loonie into a jar every time you complete your task.

3. Set up a reminder system. Example: Put a sticky note on the bathroom mirror, in your wallet, on the fridge, or your car’s dashboard with a reminder message, e.g., pray for the persecuted this morning.

4. Start now. No procrastinating or excuse making. Write your start date and end date on the piece of paper where you wrote down the habit that you want to develop.

5. Reward yourself. Now you’ll know why I mentioned putting a loonie in a jar in #2. At the end of the month, take the money you saved and either buy a book or a DVD or some other resource on the persecuted that will help you to deepen your habit of prayer. Or perhaps you might want to donate it to a specific project that assists the persecuted in some way.

I think you’ll find that once you start this habit of prayer, you’ll keep it up. We at our office started praying specifically for the persecuted each morning at 9:00 each morning in January 2008. I don’t think we’ve missed a day since and it is amazing to see what God has done in answer to these prayers!