Saturday, October 31, 2009

What is the price of Costly Stones?

The following is a great editorial written by John Wilson, the Executive Director of our Australian sister mission in their October newsletter. I love the perspective on the persecuted church that John comes from and his editorials are must reading for me when I receive our copy of VOM-Australia’s newsletter each month.  If you live in Australia, I would really encourage you to subscribe to their monthly newsletter. 

When King Solomon sat on the throne after David his father had died, one of his first decrees was to restore the temple of God. He would commission 210,000 workers to build a magnificent temple that would take just seven years to construct. At great cost, he acquired the best materials available and built a temple to glorify the God of Israel.

Apart from using the magnificent cedars of Lebanon, he also sought after stones that would be used for laying the foundation as well as the building itself. What caught my attention as I read this passage in 1 Kings 5: 17, was that these stones were described as “costly stones”. Solomon laid the foundations of the temple with these “costly stones” even though they would never be seen. This spoke to me of the way we should work for God. We shouldn’t work for the sake of appearance only, but we need to excel in the deep and hidden things. Spurgeon made an interesting statement about this line of thought.

“We have been the subjects of a great deal of secret, unseen, underground work. The LORD has spent upon us a world of care. My brother, you would not like to unveil those great searchings of heart of which you have been the subject. You have been honoured in public; and, if so, you have had many a whipping behind the door lest you should glory in your flesh . . . All those chastenings, humblings, and searchings of heart have been a private laying of foundations for higher things.”

He continued to say, “I want, dear friends, to urge that all our work for God should be done thoroughly, and especially that part of it which lies lowest, and is least observed of men.”

This is the way in which I believe we should work for God. It is in this manner that God will build His church, establishing a deep and strong foundation that is found in Christ alone and from which the church will grow.

Many persecuted believers who fill the underground churches within restricted nations, have also laid their foundation of faith with these “costly stones”. Presently there are 52 countries now listed as hostile toward Christianity. But throughout all the torment, intimidation and imprisonment that the underground church faces, they still survive.

Foxe: Voices of the Martyrs History has told us clearly that the underground church has for thousands of years, endured persecution. Countless believers have been martyred for their faith and their stories have been recorded in books like Foxe: Voices of the Martyrs – but many unknown and faithful followers of Christ have not had their story told. Their names however, have been recorded in another book – the Lamb’s Book of Life for eternity and are known by their loving Saviour. These believers have themselves become “costly stones” and today the challenge for us is – can we hear their voices? The horror and brutal persecution of our fellow Christians must be told to the world today. We dare not turn a deaf ear to their cries, but respond willingly, and intercede for them before the great Shepherd of love because He always hears the cry of the oppressed.

Will you join us to support these faithful believers and become part of the “costly stones” cemented together to build a sure and strong foundation as we tell others of their powerful testimonies?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Persecution in India likely to get even worse

In an insightful piece released today, our friends at Compass Direct are suggesting that the situation facing Christians in India is likely to get only worse in the coming days as Hindu militant groups are splintering into even more dangerous groups intent on promoting Hindutva, a nationalist ideology that promotes the supremacy of Hinduism throughout India.   This is most concerning as we already received numbers of reports each day from India of attacks on churches, church leaders, evangelists, and converts.  Please read this article carefully and prayerfully.

New, More Dangerous Hindu Extremist Groups Emerge in India

Christians concerned as rightwing factions splinter to form militant outfits.

PUNE, India, October 29 (CDN) — After more than a decade of severe persecution, India’s Christian minority is growing increasingly concerned over the mushrooming of newer and deadlier Hindu extremist groups.

Gone are the days when Christians had to watch out only for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and its youth wing, Bajrang Dal, which are closely linked with the most influential Hindu extremist umbrella organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). With voter support faltering for the RSS’s political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), moderate and extremist sections within the Hindu nationalist movement are blaming each other, and militant splinter groups have emerged.

Claiming to be breakaway factions of the RSS, new groups with even more extreme ideology are surfacing. The Abhinav Bharat (Pride of India), the Rashtriya Jagran Manch (National Revival Forum), theSri Ram Sene (Army of god Rama), the Hindu Dharam Sena (Army for Hindu Religion) and the Sanatan Sanstha (Eternal Organization) have launched numerous violent attacks on Christian and Muslim minorities.

The Sri Ram Sene was one of the most active groups that launched a series of attacks on Christians and their property in and around Mangalore city in the southern state of Karnataka in August-September 2008, according to a report, “The Ugly Face of Sangh Parivar,” published by the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), in March 2009. In Jabalpur city in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, suspected extremists from the Abhinav Bharat attacked the Rhema Gospel Church on Sept. 28, according to the Global Council of Indian Christians. They had earlier attacked Pastor Sam Oommen and his family in the same city on Aug. 3.

The Hindu Dharam Sena has become especially terrifying for Christians in Jabalpur. Between 2006 and 2008, Jabalpur was plagued by at least three anti-Christian attacks every month, according to The Caravan magazine. In the western state of Gujarat and other parts of the country, the Rashtriya Jagran Manch has also violently attacked Christians, according to news website Counter Currents.

At an ecumenical meeting held in New Delhi on Saturday (Oct. 24), the secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, Archbishop Stanislaus Fernandes, said the rise of fundamentalism was “seriously worrying” the church in India. The meeting was held to discuss prospects for immediate enactment of federal legislation to counter religious extremism with the proposed Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill.

RSS ‘Too Mild’

The new groups, formed mostly by former members of RSS-connected outfits, find the Hindu nationalist conglomerate too “mild” to be able to create a nation with Hindu supremacy.

The Sri Ram Sene, mainly active in south India, was started by Pramod Muthalik after he was expelled in 2007 from the Bajrang Dal, one of the most radical groups in the RSS family, for being an extremist, according to the daily newspaper DNA. The Hindu Dharam Sena was started by Yogesh Agarwal, former worker of the Dharam Jagran Vibhag (Religion Revival Department) of the RSS, also in 2007, as he felt “the RSS did not believe in violence,” according to The Caravan. He had earlier launched the Dharam Sena, an offshoot of the RSS, in Madhya Pradesh and neighboring Chhattisgarh state in 2006.

The founding members of the Abhinav Bharat, which was started in Pune in 2006, also believe that the RSS is not militant enough. Outlook magazine notes that its members were planning to kill top leaders of the RSS for their inability to implement Hindu extremist ideology. The Rashtriya Jagran Manch, also a breakaway group of the RSS founded in 2007, has close links with the Abhinav Bharat.

Based out of Goa, a western state with a substantial number of Christians, the Sanatan Sansthaprovides the ideological base for Hindu militant groups. It has close links with the Sri Ram Sene and publishes a periodical, Sanatan Prabhat, which occasionally spews hate against Christians.

Media reports warn of tensions due to the recent spurt in activity of the splinter groups.

“The hardliners are now getting into more extreme activities,” The Times of India daily quoted V.N. Deshmukh, former joint director of India’s Intelligence Bureau, as saying on Oct. 21.

The most extremist sections are disillusioned with the way the RSS is functioning, said Mumbai-based Irfan Engineer, Director of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. Most RSS cadres were mobilized with an ideology that called for elimination of minorities, mainly Muslims and Christians, he told Compass, adding that many of them were highly disappointed with the way the movement was being led.

He said the BJP was restricted when it led a coalition government at the federal level from 1998 to 2004, keeping it from effectively working towards a Hindu nation. A majority of the BJP’s allies in the National Democratic Alliance were not Hindu nationalists.

“One section of the [Hindu nationalist] movement believes in acquiring state power by participating in parliamentary democracy, and the other wants to create a Hindu nation by violent means,” Engineer said.

It is believed that the divide within the RSS family may deepen even further.

Analysts believe that Hindu nationalism is losing relevance in national politics, as was evident in the two successive defeats of the BJP in the 2004 and 2009 general elections. Consequently, the RSS and the BJP may distance themselves from the hard-line ideology or make it sound more inclusive and less militant.

After this year’s elections, the RSS increasingly has begun to talk about the threat China poses to India and the need for development in rural areas, instead of its pet issues like Islamist terrorism and Christian conversions. This has disappointed sections of the highly charged cadres even more, and the splintering may accelerate.

For the next few years, “we will see more new names and new faces but with the same ideology and inspiration,” said Anwar Rajan, secretary of the PUCL in Pune.

Whether the new groups truly have no connection with the RSS is not fully known – that appearance may be an RSS strategy to evade legal action, said Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer, chairman of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai.

He said relations between the RSS and the new groups can be compared with the ones between Maoist (extreme Marxist) rebels and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) in India. While the CPI-M distances itself from Maoist violence, it speaks for the rebels whenever security forces crack down on them.

At base, the newer rightwing groups surely have the sympathy of the RSS, said Pune-based S.M. Mushrif, former Inspector General of Police in Maharashtra, who has been observing Hindu extremist groups for years.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Our forgotten legacy: Remembering the persecution of Christians in Carthage in 483 A.D

vandals_carthage1

I love church history. There are so many stories from our past that Christians today are unaware of.  The persecution of Christians by the Arians in the 5th century is a case in point.

King Hunneric ruled the western part of the Roman Empire from 477 to 484. The leader of a vicious band of East Germanic peoples, King Hunneric took the title of King of the Vandals and became known for his brutal oppression of Christians. He fearfully defended not only his throne but also his Arian theology. During his reign, hosts of Christians were butchered.

At first, King Hunneric allowed a new bishop of Carthage to be elected, but soon he turned against them. He tried to make church property a part of the state. The resulting protests caused him to banish a number of clergy from his kingdom. In addition, Hunneric deprived Christians holding posts at the court or those belonging to the army of their positions and pay.

King Hunneric eventually gave orders for drastic restrictions against the church. The first to suffer persecution were bishops assembled at Carthage. They were expelled from the town with nothing and were obliged to beg. The inhabitants were forbidden to give them shelter or food under penalty of being burnt alive with their whole families.

His cruelty was not limited to Christian leadership. Noble ladies were stripped naked and suspended in the public streets with heavy weights attached to their feet. Their bodies were burnt with red-hot irons, their arms and other body parts cut off and hot tar was applied to their back, front and sides. The king hoped to extort confessions of immorality that he could use against the bishops and clergy. Many perished under the torture and survivors were often maimed for life.

A collection of nearly 5,000 Orthodox bishops, priests, deacons and laity became victim to King Hunneric’s vendetta. They were commanded to swear against their previous claims to Christ. In the interest of survival, some declared an oath. Some elders resisted, however, citing Jesus Christ’s words, “swear not.” These elders of the church were sentenced to be banished or killed for not swearing. The others, having followed the king’s demand, did so in vain. They, too, received punishment because they swore against the command of the Scripture.

Other Christians were cruelly beaten, hung and burnt alive. Some had their eyes put out, others their hands, feet, noses, or ears cut off. Hunneric ordered some of the cruellest scenes of torture to be enacted in the streets he passed through on his way to the palace.

The persecution raged until Hunneric died, on December 11, 484.

(Source: Van Bragt, Thieleman. Martyr’s Mirror: of the defenseless Christians. Herald Press; Scottdale, Pennsylvania: 1886)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Voice of the Martyrs joins in fight for religious freedom in Canada

“Imagine that Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity had been told that their ministry in the streets of Calcutta was, in essence, not ministry but ‘social work.’ In order for the sisters to continue in their work, they would no longer be permitted to require that staff members share their beliefs and ministry commitment.

As bizarre as this may sound, this is essentially what a single adjudicator acting as an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal recently decided in the case of Heintz vs. Christian Horizons.”

So notes, Don Hutchison, legal counsel for The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (of which The Voice of the Martyrs is an Affiliate). On December 15-17, Christian Horizons, a Christian organization that focuses on helping individuals with developmental disabilities, will be appealing a decision by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal (OHRT) that that it violated the rights of a former worker, Connie Heintz, by terminating her employment when she revealed that she was a lesbian in 2000. The ruling ordered Christian Horizons to compensate Heintz $23,000 in lost wages and to stop requiring its staff to sign an explicitly Christian morality code (VOMC requires its staff to sign a similar statement each year).

This ruling by the OHRT is concerning in a number of ways. If the decision is left unchallenged, potentially:

• a Christian charity that is engaged in evangelizing those who are not members of the sponsoring church would not be permitted to restrict hiring to believers;
• a Christian charity that serves the broader community would be seen as not primarily serving a Christian community and therefore not be able to impose faith-based requirements on employment, including use of a Lifestyle and Morality Statement;
• holding to values similar to the CH Lifestyle and Morality Statement could mean a charity "runs a serious risk of being a poisoned work environment";
• an offer of Christian pastoral counselling could violate the Code and contribute to a poisoned work environment;
• a Christian charity could be forced to amend all its human resource policies in consultation with a human rights Commission;
• the decision negatively affects freedom of religion in that it strictly curtails the ability of religious groups to define themselves; and
• the decision negatively affects freedom of association in that it limits the freedom of religious groups to have their members associate freely with each other without challenge from others not affiliated with the group.

The EFC and the Canadian Council of Christian Charities (of which The Voice of the Martyrs is a member) have applied and been granted as intervener status in this vital case, which is expected to proceed through the courts and will likely reach the Supreme Court of Canada. Together they hope to defend the rights of Canadian ministries to require biblical ethical behaviour from its employees. This process will be long and expensive. The EFC and CCCC (who will be sharing resources and efforts) estimate that the final cost for this intervention through to the Supreme Court could near the $300,000 mark.

Because of donations to VOMC’s Legal Defence Fund, The Voice of the Martyrs is joining in this fight by contributing $15,000 towards these legal costs. We believe that this is the least we can do in the face of this dangerous ruling by the OHRT. Please remember this case in your prayers and especially the upcoming trial in mid-December.

In a similar case, In late November 2007, the Alberta Human Rights Commission (AHRC) ruled that Pastor Stephen Boissoin and the Concerned Christian Coalition (CCC) violated Alberta's human rights law by publishing a letter in a local newspaper that was "likely to expose homosexuals to hatred or contempt because of their sexual preference". On May 30, in the penalty phase of the proceedings, the AHRC ruled that Boissoin and CCC must pay damages equivalent to $7,000 as a result of the tribunal's decision to side with the complainant, homosexual activist Darren Lund (to view the full ruling, click here).

The ruling also ordered Boissoin and CCC to cease publishing "disparaging remarks" about homosexuals in the future in newspapers, by email, on the radio, in public speeches, or on the internet forever! Furthermore, Boissoin was ordered to publicly apologize to Lund in a local newspaper statement.

Boissoin has publicly stated that he "will never offer an apology" and has appealed the ruling. His court appearance was scheduled for September 16-17. As is to be expected in a case that has dragged on for seven years, his court costs have accumulated to over $150,000. VOMC has publicized his case and contributed $3,000 to his legal defence fund. Pray that his appeal will be successful and that the rights of Canadians to speak their convictions freely will be upheld.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Day of prayer and fasting called for kidnapped foreigners in Yemen on October 31

Four months after their abduction, there continues to be no reliable news on the condition of the remaining six expatriate Christians kidnapped in mid-June by unknown assailants in Yemen. On June 12, 2009 nine foreign Christians were abducted — four German adults, three small German children, a British man and a South Korean woman — after they ventured outside the city of Sa’ada. All of them worked a hospital in the city. Shortly afterwards, Rita Stumpp (26) and Anita Gruenwald (24), German nurses in training, and Eom Young-sun (33) of South Korea were killed and their bodies found by local shepherds. Still missing are German doctor Johannes (36), his wife Sabine (36), their three children Lydia (4), Anna (3) and Simon (1) and British engineer Anthony S. Their whereabouts and condition remain unknown. Tony is married but his wife did not accompany him on this trip.

As Middle East Concern (MEC) has noted, the work of the hospital has been severely reduced as a result, affecting the city and the wider area. The local population deeply regrets this. No one has claimed responsibility for the abductions and killings, which MEC notes, is “unusual within Yemeni culture, and heightens the concern and anxiety.” The search for the missing has been greatly hindered by the intense fighting between the government forces and the Houthi armed group in Saada province which have flared up again since June.

According to MEC, Christians in Yemen have backed calls for a day of prayer and fasting on Saturday, October 31. They request our continued prayers that:

a. The missing six (assuming they are still alive) will know the peace and presence of Jesus and will be released unharmed soon

b. The families and colleagues of those missing will know the peace of Jesus amidst the intense uncertainty

c. Efforts to discover the missing six will continue and will be successful d. All staff of the hospital will know the comfort of Jesus amidst uncertainty

e. Ways will be found to build up the staff and hence the work of the hospital for the benefit of the whole community.

f. The families and colleagues of Anita, Rita and Young-Sun (the three murdered ladies) will continue to know the comfort of Jesus

g. The deaths of the three women who served the local people selflessly may lead many to accept God's love and forgiveness

h. Efforts to end the violence in the Saada province will be successful, and the root causes addressed

i. All expatriate Christians in Yemen will know the Lord's guiding and protecting at this time, and His wisdom concerning future involvement in Saada in particular

j. The perpetrators will be convicted by the Spirit and drawn to the forgiveness, love and true life offered by Jesus.

Please plan to get involved in this special day of prayer and fasting if you are able to. We would invite you to post a prayer on behalf of the missing six, their family, and colleagues on our Persecuted Church Prayer Wall

“I do not recognize the empire of this world, but rather I serve that God, ‘whom no man has seen or can see!’” The Six Martyrs from Scillium – 180 A.D.

The time: 180 A.D. The place: A small province in northern Africa in the expansive Roman Empire. The context: Commodus has succeeded his father, Marcus Aurelius, as emperor. Just as the emperors before him, Commodus commanded unyielding loyalty from all Romans. Those who defied the Roman Emperor usually met their death at the end of a sword or a pit of lions.

On a hot July day in Scillium, three men and three women stood in chains in front of the province’s governor. They were charged with not giving the Roman Emperor their full loyalty. This was their last opportunity to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ and pledge allegiance to Commodus. Renounce or die were their only choices. “When you speak evil of our sacred rites, I will not listen,” said Saturnius, the provincial governor. “Instead, swear by the genius of our emperor!”

Speratus, speaking for the group said, “I do not recognize the empire of this world, but rather I serve that God, ‘whom no man has seen or can see!’”

Saturnius began to insult the six Christians. He called them mad. He yelled. He badgered them. “Cease to be of this persuasion,” he demanded of them.

“Do you remain a Christian?” he asked. “I am a Christian,” Speratus replied. Others had already voiced their love of Christ.

“Wait 30 days and rethink,” Santurnius begged the group.

Yet each insisted, “I am a Christian!”

The debate had finished. None budged. So Saturnius read the decree for their sentencing. “Speratus, Nartalus, Cittimus, Donata, Vestia, Secunda, and the rest have confessed to [being Christian].  Since they obstinately persist, after an opportunity to return to Roman custom, it is decided to punish them with the sword.”

Speratus declared, “We thank God.”

“Today we are martyrs in heaven, thanks to God,” Nartalus said.

(Source: Foxe’s Book of Martyrs)

From the pen of the persecuted: God’s perspective versus ours

Richard Wurmbrand was an evangelical Lutheran pastor of Jewish origin who was born in 1909 in Romania. When the communists seized his native land in 1945, he became a leader in the underground church. In 1948 he and his wife, Sabina, were arrested, and he served fourteen years in prisons. For three years in an underground cell, he saw no one except his guards and torturers. Christian friends in Norway purchased his freedom for $10,000. Pastor Wurmbrand is the founder of The Voice of the Martyrs. A prolific writer, these excerpts are from his best-selling book Tortured for Christ.

God sees things differently than we see them, just as we see differently than an ant. From the human point of view, to be tied to a cross and smeared with excrement is a horrible thing. Nonetheless, the Bible calls the sufferings of martyrs “light affliction.” To be in prison for fourteen years is a long period to us. The Bible calls it “but for a moment,” and tells us that these things are “working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17.)

This gives us the right to suppose that the fierce crimes of the Communists, which are inexcusable to us, are lighter in the eyes of God than they are in our eyes. Their tyranny, which has lasted almost an entire century, may be before God, for whom  a thousand years are like one day, only a moment of erring astray. They still have the possibility of being saved.

The gates of heaven are not closed for the Communists. Neither is the light quenched for them. They can repent like everyone else. And we must call them to repentance.

Only love can change the Communist and the terrorist (a love that must be clearly distinguished from compromise with non-Christian philosophies, practiced by many church leaders.) … In the West I found many church leaders the contrary sentiment of that which was predominant in the Underground Church behind the Bamboo and former Iron Curtains. Many Christians in the West have no love for those in captive nations. Proof of it is that they do nothing for their salvation. They have missions to persuade Christians of one denomination to change to another. But many have no mission to captive nations, claiming that such work is “against the law!” They don’t love them.

… By not loving the Communists and those from other captive nations, and by doing nothing to win them for Christ (under the pretext that they are not allowed to do so, as if the first Christians asked permission from Nero to spread the gospel)  Western church leaders do not love their own flocks either, if they do not allow them to participate in this spiritual battle around the world.

Monday, October 26, 2009

UK bishop calls on Christians to send out a message that we will not disappear quietly from the marketplace

jonathangledhill In his November pastoral letter, the Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Rev Jonathan Gledhill calls on British Christians to wear crosses publicly and not to be intimidated into hiding them away to demonstrate that they "aren't going to disappear quietly from the market place".  He says: “The Christian roots to our governance should not be nibbled away without discussion. Sometimes I think it wouldn’t be a bad thing if in December we all wore a fish badge or cross necklace and sent out a loud message that Christians aren’t going to disappear quietly from the market place or put away our crib figures in a hurry.”

It is this part of his letter that the press is focusing on.  However, I was interested to note that he doesn’t end there. Bishop Gledhill also notes that there is far more costly sign for Christians to wear than lapel badges and necklaces.

What is the mark of the Christian?
A pastoral letter by the Bishop of Lichfield for November Parish Magazines in the Diocese of Lichfield

We’re just getting to the season when the papers like to report on local councils who, out of concern for ethnic minorities, have banned Christmas in favour of Winterval or another silly name. This year that kind of story is likely to be more than matched by stories of big firms sacking those people who want to wear a cross or a fish lapel badge or some other sign of the Christian faith. It is sheer ignorance of course.

Ethnic minorities are far more anxious about the rampant secularism and commercialism that erodes all Christian standards than they are about their host country properly celebrating its Christian foundations. No one goes to a Muslim country and expects local councils to silence the mosques out of sensitivity to Christians. The Christian roots to our governance should not be nibbled away without discussion. Sometimes I think it wouldn’t be a bad thing if in December we all wore a fish badge or cross necklace and sent out a loud message that Christians aren’t going to disappear quietly from the market place or put away our crib figures in a hurry (Though personally I am waiting for someone to invent a retractable fish badge before I put one on the back of the car — my driving is not always something to be proud of).

Recently I shared in a mission weekend in an urban parish in this diocese. The church had thrown open its doors to the wider community and schools, uniformed organisations and many others had come along to take part in the events. There was the wonderful atmosphere of a praying church at the heart of the community. During the Harvest Festival service on the Sunday two newish Christians were interviewed; both of them said that they had joined the church because they had come along as a result of a back-to-church Sunday invitation and similar and had been overwhelmed by the open welcome, the practical help and the sustained friendship they had received. I was reminded of another church and someone saying that they had come to faith because the joyful and self-giving way the people looked after the children in the Sunday School had so touched them that they knew God was real.

What I have discovered afresh this month is that the mark of a real Christian community is not so much the lapel badges and crosses we wear as the spontaneous, generous and practical love we show to the world. Christians should not be intimidated into putting away their neck crosses or lapel badges, but in the end these are not the badges that matter. The mark that matters is far more challenging.

Jonathan Gledhill
November 2009

WW2 martyr to be remembered on Thursday

This Thursday, Catholics will be remembering the life and sacrifice of an Austrian martyr who was killed during the Nazi occupation of her homeland. 

Helen Kafka, better known as Sister Maria Restituta worked as a nurse in the 1940s, when she was ordered by the Gestapo to remove crucifixes she had placed in several hospital rooms. When she refused, she was arrested and eventually sentenced to death.  Pope John Paul II beatified her on June 21, 1998.  Here is her story:

MariaRestitutaHelen Kafka was born in 1894 to a shoemaker and grew up in Vienna, Austria.  At the age of 20, she decided to join the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity and took the name Restituta after an early Church martyr.

In 1919, she began working as a surgical nurse in Austria.  When the Germans took over the country, she became a local opponent of the Nazi regime.  Her conflict with them escalated after they ordered her to remove all the crucifixes she had hung up in each room of a new hospital wing.

Sister Maria Restitua refused and she was arrested by the Gestapo in 1942.  She was sentenced to death for "aiding and abetting the enemy in the betrayal of the fatherland and for plotting high treason.”

She spent the rest of her days in prison caring for other prisoners, who loved  her. The Nazis offered her freedom if she would abandon the Franciscan sisters, but she refused.

She was beheaded March 30, 1943 in Vienna.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

VOMC giving away “Speechless: Silencing the Christians” to best “retweeter” this week

silencing Part of the mandate of The Voice of the Martyrs is to raise a voice on behalf of persecuted Christians around the world.  There is increasing pressure on Christians in the West, however, to be silent and to keep our values and beliefs to ourselves.  This is the theme of Donald E. Wildmon’s new book Speechless: Silencing the Christians. Focusing particularly on the U.S. religious environment, Wildmon calls on Christians not to allow special interest groups to silence the rights of Christians and driving them out of the public life.

We are offering to giving away a copy of this book to someone who believes like us that Christians need to speak up.  There are many ways that we raise a voice in today’s world and one of the ways we do that here at The Voice of the Martyrs is through Twitter.

To enter our contest for a free copy of Speechless: Silencing the Christians, here’s what you need to do:

1. Make sure that you are following VOMC on Twitter so that you can receive our tweets throughout the day.

2. Let us know that you would like to enter the contest by replying to us or sending us a direct message through Twitter with the words: “I will not be speechless”

3. Retweet VOMC tweets that you like throughout this week. (Note: Please only one retweet of each message and only retweet messages sent out during this week). The person who retweets the most VOMC Twitter messages this week will win the contest.  The contest starts today and ends Saturday, October 31 at midnight EDT.

4. If you win, we will contact you by Direct Message and get your mailing address so we can send you the book. 

Simply enough?  Start today by letting others know about this contest and how you will not be speechless!

This week in persecuted church history (October 25-31)

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

October 25

  • 1518: John Stilincen is condemned as a heretic by the bishop of London and StThomasMorechained to a stake in Smithfield and is burned to death, sealing his testimony to the truth with his blood.
  • 1529: Thomas More becomes Lord Chancellor of England. Though he defended religious freedom in his book Utopia, he strongly opposed the Reformation and wrote against Luther, Tyndale, and others. Because he also opposed Henry VIII's claim to be the supreme head of the English church, as well as the king's divorce, he was executed.
  • 1639: Henry Gutwol dies in the infamous Othenbach prison in Zurich, Switzerland for his faith after suffering tremendously.
  • 2007: Five sisters of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation (FCC)--Jincy (40), Sayujia (27), Pavitra (26), Sweta (26) and Anna Maria (27)—are beaten by twenty Hindu militants in the city of Indore, Madhya Pradesh.

October 26

  • 2006: Eritrean authorities conclude the arrest and detention of 150 Christians begun the day before. Those arrested included members of Eritrea's five outlawed Protestant churches -- The Church of the Living God, Kile Hiwot, Full Gospel and Rema churches -- as well as active members of the town's Orthodox revival group. Michael_Servetus

October 27

  • 1553: Michael Servetus is burned at the stake with the approval of John Calvin and other reformers in Geneva for his heretical beliefs regarding the Trinity. 

October 28constantine

  • 312: 32-year-old Roman emperor Constantine defeats Maxentius at Milvian Bridge. Before the battle, Constantine had seen the symbol of Jesus, chi-rho, in a vision, accompanied with the words "By this sign conquer." He is considered Rome's first Christian emperor.
  • 1949: Jim Elliot, missionary to Ecuador's Auca Indians, writes in his journal the most famous of his sayings: "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. 
  • 2001: Sixteen Christians are shot and killed as Muslim militants stormed the in-bernard-gcicchurch service they were attending in Bahawalpur, Pakistan.
  • 2008: Father Bernard Digal (48), died after succumbing to injuries he suffered in an attack by Hindu militants in Kandhamal, Orissa in late August.

October 29

  • 2003: Zhang Hong-mei is beaten to death while in police custody. on was arrested by local police in Dong Miao Dong village in Jiu Dian Town near Ping Du City in Shandong Province, China. That afternoon, her family was called and told to pay a bribe of 3,000 RMB (about $475 CDN). When they were unable to raise the money, her husband, Xu Feng-hai, and her brother went to the Public Security Bureau station to request her release. There they witnessed her chained, visibly beaten, and unable to speak to them. The following afternoon, the family was called and told that she had died. An autopsy showed wounds to her face, hands and leg, and serious internal bleeding.
  • indonesia_beheaded_girls 2005: Three Christian teenaged girls are brutally beheaded by anti-Christian Islamists. Theresia Morangkir, Alfita Poliwo, Yarni Sambue and Noviana Malewa were walking to school through a cocoa plantation in Poso Kota when they were attacked by men dressed in black and wielding machetes. Therisia, Alfita and Yarni were beheaded. Noviana managed to fend off her attackers and run away, but suffered severe gashes to her face. The severed heads of the dead girls were found several miles away from the bodies. One was placed in front of a church and the other two near a police station.

October 30

  • 298: Marcellus, a Christian centurion in the Trajan legion of Trajan is beheaded for refusing to participate in the pagan celebrations surrounding the birthday of the emperor. He was arrested and imprisoned until the festival was over. Marcellus was then brought before a judge, and, having declared his faith, was sent under guard to Aurelian Agricolaus, vicar to the prefect of the prætorium, who passed sentence of death upon him.
  • 1536: Lutheranism becomes the official religion of Denmark.

October 31

  • Saint_Quintin 287: Quintin, a native of Rome and missionary to Gaul, dies of the tortures suffered at the hands of Romans authorities in Amiens, Picardy.  Upon being captured by the authorities, he was stretched with pullies until his joints were dislocated. His body was then torn with wire scourges, and boiling oil and pitch poured on his naked flesh. Lighted torches were applied to his sides and armpits. After he had been thus tortured, he was sent back to prison where died of the barbarities he had suffered. His body was then thrown into the Somme River.
  • 1517: Martin Luther posts his 95 Theses in Wittenberg
  • 1992: Pope John Paul II formally admits the Roman Catholic Church's error in condemning Galileo Galilei in 1633 for believing the sun, not the earth, was the center of the universe.

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)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Gaining a biblical perspective on the battle

sword_fight_small Recently we had someone unsubscribe from our weekly email news service The Persecution and Prayer Alert because, he claimed, it was hard to read of their “incredible experiences.”  He wrote, “We will always have persecution, as Jesus has said. It can be overwhelming and almost defeating when not appearing balanced with what God is doing through His people - it is like Satan has won a battle.”

I was struck by the last phrase because I had just finished writing a commentary on Revelation 13 for our January newsletter and theology of persecution website in which I addressed this very issue.  In 13:7 we read that the “beast” is allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. As I wrote in my commentary, at first glance, this might seem to contract 12:11 where the saints are said to “conquer.” Are we to conclude from this that the beast wins some of the battles and the Christians others? Who are the real victors when God’s people suffer and die for their faith?

The answer, as Richard Bauckman rightly observes “depends on whether one sees things from the earthly perspective of those who worship the beast or from the heavenly perspective which John's visions open up for his readers.”

To the inhabitants of the earth (13:8) it is obvious that the beast has defeated the martyrs. The political and military might of the beast, which seems to carry all before it and wins the admiration and the worship of the world, here seems triumphant even over the witnesses of Jesus. That it can put the Christian martyrs to death apparently with impunity seems the final proof of the invincible, godlike might of the beast. In the judicial contest as to who is the true God - the beast or the one to whom the martyrs witness - it seems the verdict is clear: the evidence of the martyrs has been refuted.

Even Christians must have been tempted to see it that way. They were a tiny minority of powerless people up against the overwhelming might of the state and the overwhelming pressure of pagan society. To refuse to compromise was to become even more helpless victims. What was the point of resisting the beast when he was proving irresistible? But John's message is that from the heavenly perspective things look quite different. The martyrs are the real victors. To be faithful in witness to the true God even to the point of death is not to become a victim of the beast, but to take the field against him and win. But only in a vision of heaven (7:9-14; 15:2-3) or a voice from heaven (11:12; 14: 2) can the martyrs be recognized as victors. The perspective of heaven must break into the earthbound delusion of the beast's propaganda to enable a different assessment of the same empirical fact: the beast's apparent victory is the martyrs' - and therefore God's - real victory.[i]

Thank God that He provides us with a revelation of this heavenly perspective. How easy it would be, in the face of all of the reports of persecution we receive on a daily basis, to lose sight of this in the midst of the battle and to think that we are fighting a losing cause.  Persecution and martyrdom, from God’s perspective is a sign that He is winning the battle; God’s people are witnessing to the His truth even to the point of death.  There is no defeat here from God’s perspective.

May I, therefore, encourage you to make sure that you are receiving news of God’s victories in the world today by:

_________________________________

[i] Richard Bauckman, The Theology of the Book of Revelation. Cambridge, 1993: 90-91.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Where is the hardest place in the world to be a Christian today?

The Economist asked the question today, “Where is the hardest place in the world to be a Christian citizen?”

North Korea, perhaps? Saudi Arabia? Try Somalia. There are thought to be no more than a thousand Christians in a resident population of 8m people, with perhaps a few thousand more in the diaspora. The Islamist Shabab militia, which controls most of southern Somalia, is dedicated to hunting them down…. [click here to the full article]

Please remember to pray for the Christians in Somalia. At least 13 have been killed in the past few months and even the country’s so-called moderate government is hesitant to show any support for the rights of Christians there for fear of the Islamists. The isolation of the country makes assisting them extremely difficult.  You can show your solidarity by posting a prayer on their behalf on our Persecuted Church Prayer Wall.

From the pen of the persecuted: The Role of a Christian in a Given Society

gudina Gudina Tumsa was the General Secretary of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus when he wrote a lecture in preparation  for the church’s 11th Assembly entitled “The Role of a Christian in a Given Society”.  One week later on July 18, 1979, he was abducted by Ethiopian authorities.  Though his whereabouts were unknown at the time, the lecture was still read. Later, believers were to learn that Gudina had been martyred the night after his arrest by the Marxist government. This is the conclusion of the lecture that many have called his enduring legacy. [click here for the full text]

It must be crystal clear to the Christian that he/she has a double purpose to live for:

a) As someone has said, when a person is called to follow Christ, that person is called to die. It means a redirection of the purpose of life, that is death to one's own wishes and personal desires and finding the greatest satisfaction in living for and serving the one who, died for us and was raised from death (2 Cor. 5:13-14). In other words, the Christian has been crucified with Christ and has no life which he claims to be his own. The life the believer leads is a life of faith and the risen Lord lives in him (Gal. 2:19). It is a life set free from the power of sin and it is beyond the capacity of death to destroy it. Because it has its source in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, that resurrection life is at work in the life of the believer. Being in Christ the Christian is already the possessor of eternal life by being placed in a new order of existence where the law of life is the love of Christ (2 Cor. 5:13). And where the power of the resurrection of the Lord is at work, and the life of the Christian is a life of witness to the risen Lord.

b) It has been stated that a Christian is a citizen of a given country and as such under the laws and policies of that country. Because he is under the laws of the country of which he is a citizen, it is his duty to pray for the peace of that country and co-operate with his fellow-citizens for its well-being. The only limitation to his co-operation or obedience to the laws of his country is if he is commanded to act contrary to the law of God (Acts 5:29).

Toronto-area imam accused of preaching hate

Today’s National Post is reporting how a Toronto-area imam is being accused of using derogatory language against Jews and Christians, calling for Allah to “destroy” the enemies of Islam from within and calling on God to “damn” the “infidels.” [click here for the full article and discussion].

The address, given last Friday by Imam Saed Rageah at the Abu Huraira Centre, has been posted on YouTube (watch it below). 

I would encourage you to read the article and watch the video (if you have the time) and then let me know what you think.  What sort of response is appropriate to this kind of preaching in a free, multicultural society like Canada’s? (Note: please review this blog’s comments policy before posting.  Thanks)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Unbelievable statement of the day

Prawate Khid-arnJust when I thought that I had heard it all, I read an Ecumenical News International press release this afternoon about a recent World Council of Churches trip to North Korea, sponsored and at the invitation of the North Korean government. In it, one of the leading representatives, General secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia, Prawate Khid-arn, said following this, his first visit to North Korea:

"The Church (in North Korea) still has the freedom to carry out its mission, but of course, still has some limitations. The challenge of the church is how to do its mission in a different societal system."

Freedom? Some limitations? Challenge to do mission in a different societal system? 

Where do I begin to pick apart such a singularly silly statement? Anyone who has done any small amount of research on religious freedom in North Korea sees this statement for what it is; pure political posturing without an ounce of credibility.

Keep in mind that the WCC was the same gang that denied that there was persecution in the former Soviet Union and called Richard Wurmbrand a liar.  Sadly, they continue to show, far too often, a greater concern with supporting anti-western regimes than they are in uncovering and stating the entire truth and publicly standing together with their brothers and sisters who are paying the price for a faith they claim to believe in.

From the pen of the persecuted: Dying - we live

Imprisoned for his faith between 1955-1980, Wong Ming-Dao was a leader in the Chinese house church movement until his death in 1991.  We are blessed by having some of his writings translated into English, including a collection of devotionals entitled Day by Day from which this selection is taken:

I die every day - I mean that, brothers - just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. - I Corinthians 15:31

This experience of Paul - 'I die every day' - should be the experience of every servant of the Lord; in fact, of every Christian. With a resolve of this nature, Christians would, covet nothing in the world and fear nothing in the world.

When Satan places before us such things as prestige, honour, profit and gain, we would say to him, 'Today I die. What would I do with those things?' Similarly when Satan threatens us with suffering, danger, invective and persecution, we would say to him, 'Today I die. Why should I still be I afraid of such things?' When Satan uses the prospect of death. to terrify us, we would say to him, 'Fine! Couldn't be better! I will today prepare to die!'

There are times when Satan uses the attractive things of the world to tempt us and there are other times when he uses all kinds of hateful things with which to threaten us. If we are attracted by his bait, we shall be caught on his hook. If we are fearful in the face of his threatening, we are in danger of capitulating to him. But so long as we maintain the resolution, 'Today I die,' then all of his devices become ineffective.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rights: Real but not grasped

Philippians 2:4-11 is a magnificent section of Scripture. In this passage, Paul further develops a thought that he began in Philippians 1:7 where he speaks of being a partaker of God’s grace “both in my imprisonment and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel.” In this passage, Paul describes grace as being God’s work of transforming us through persecution into sacrificial givers to others, equipping us to sacrificial involvement in the cause of Christ and His gospel. Paul develops this thought even further in chapter 2 when he turns our attention to the example of Jesus and His willingness to sacrifice for us.

For many of us, the thought that persecution and suffering can be a gracious gift from God is foreign. We tend to think of grace as something that we freely receive. We are unaccustomed to think that grace is also something meant to transform us into being not only grateful receivers of the free gift of salvation but also sacrificial givers of this same gospel to others. But reflecting on the example of our Saviour, Paul wants his readers to see how self-centered living is the exact opposite of what Christ calls us to. We are to have the same mind or attitude as our Lord when, rather than seeing His equality with God as being something to selfishly grasped, Jesus understood that the nature of deity was to be self-giving (2:6). To be sacrificial to the point of suffering and dying is part of the very nature of who God is. We read that Jesus, being God, willingly emptied Himself, took the form of a servant, and humbled Himself to the point of death (2:5–8). This, Paul says, is to be the attitude of each of those who are Christ’s followers as well (verse 5).

While it is important and biblical to defend the rights of Christians to worship freely and to defend those who suffer unjustly, it is also vital to remember that the cost of following Christ usually means that we refuse to grasp on to these rights for ourselves. Jesus had every right to be treated with respect and honour, being God. We have every right to be treated with respect because we are created in the image of God (cf. Genesis 1:27; 9:6; James 3:9). The Hebrew word for image is the same term used for idol. Although Israel was forbidden to have any false gods or idols or to create an idol to represent the true God, God Himself designed a single living image (or idol, if you like) to represent him – humanity. We are God’s idols. Not to be worshipped but created to represent God to others as God’s living sculptures.

As His representatives, we are called to fulfill His purposes in the same way in which He does. And Jesus demonstrated God’s methodology in His life and death on the cross– sacrifice, self-giving, humility, and obedience even to the point of death. This means having a readiness to even give up anything – our possessions, priorities, rights, hopes, families, even our lives for God. When we focus too much on our own personal rights, we are looking backward rather than forward, inward rather than outward, focusing on the image rather than on the One we are to represent. Yes, we recognize the wrongs we suffer, the pains, hurts and violations, but we forgive and renew our focus on the task before us, on our responsibilities as God’s representatives in this hostile world.

Again, we need to emphasize that this does not presuppose that the rights we possess as human beings are not legitimate and that others can (and perhaps should) uphold them. Nor does this give us the excuse to not uphold the rights of others. If we have no rights, as some would say, then renouncing them would be meaningless. Giving up illegitimate rights can hardly be considered a sacrifice. But there are times (probably more often than we are comfortable admitting) when the call to follow Christ and to conform to His image requires that we renounce the rights that we may rightfully possess.

Similarly, to refuse to uphold the rights of others simply because we have personally chosen to renounce these rights for the sake of the Kingdom is unjust and a direct violation of scriptural commands to defend the weak and oppressed and to speak on their behalf. It would be a cruel person who says, “Since I refuse to uphold my rights, I will bind you to my decision as well by letting you suffer in silence and refuse to raise a finger to help you.” This is why The Voice of the Martyrs exists. We obey the biblical admonitions to speak on behalf of those who cannot speak, to defend the rights of defenceless because they have chosen to renounce these rights for the sake of Christ.

Update: Asia Bibi appears in court for blasphemy

Asia Bibi is a 37-year-old Pakistani woman from the village of Ittanwali. Asia is the wife of 50-year-old Ashiq Masih, and their family is one of only three Christian families in a village of more than 1,500 families. She was arrested by police on Friday, June 19, and charged with blasphemy (click here for more information as to her arrest).

On October 14, Asia appeared in court in Sheikhupura, Pakistan and spent some time with her family before the court appearance.bibi1

According to a report from our US sister mission, Asia’s husband, Ashiq Masih, her daughters and VOMC contacts met her for 15 minutes before the court appearance. “Asia is in strong faith. Her eyes were hopeful. Praise God,” VOM contacts said. Asia told VOMC contacts she prays everyday at 3 a.m. “I thank God that the jail administration has good behaviour with me,” she said. “I don’t have trouble from them, but I miss my daughters and family. Please arrange my soon release from this jail,” Asia told VOMC contacts.

bibi2 Asia’s daughters were visibly upset when they met her. “The little daughter was continuously asking her mother ‘Mama when are you coming back home?’” VOMC contacts said. Isha, the eldest daughter, cried and hugged her mother and would not let her go. Isha pointed to the veil on her mother’s face and said, “I want to see your face, remove this cover.” It was a sad scene.

The court rescheduled another hearing for October 27.

You can stand with Asia and her family.

1. Pray for Asia Bibi and her family. Post a prayer request on her behalf on our Persecuted Church Prayer Wall today!

2. Write. You can write a brief note or card to Asia at the following address:

Asia Bibi
District Jail
Sheikhupura
Punjab, Pakistan

While you can write in English, you can also use this online tool to write a letter in her own language. Click here.

3. Advocate. We would also urge you to write to Pakistani government officials. Ask for her release and that the rights of Christians like Asia are protected. You can find links with up-to-date contact information to the Pakistani embassies in Canada and the United States by clicking here.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Importance of the Pastor in Promoting the Persecuted Church

VOMC CEO, Glenn Penner briefly shares how important the role of the pastor is in helping raise awareness of persecution in the local church.

From the pen of the persecuted: Should Christians care about politics?

rich3_thumb[2] Richard Wurmbrand was an evangelical Lutheran pastor of Jewish origin who was born in 1909 in Romania. When the communists seized his native land in 1945, he became a leader in the underground church. In 1948 he and his wife, Sabina, were arrested, and he served fourteen years in prisons. For three years in an underground cell, he saw no one except his guards and torturers. Christian friends in Norway purchased his freedom for $10,000. Pastor Wurmbrand is the founder of The Voice of the Martyrs. A prolific writer, this selection is from his devotional work Reaching Towards the Heights.

"I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage ." (Exodus 20:2)

Some Christians think that we should not care about politics.

Did Livingstone know the gospel? When he came to Africa, slave trade was going on. Should Livingstone have allowed the slaves to remain slaves? He had read in the Bible how God freed slaves. He could not remain unmoved when he saw the gangs of innocents, chained by the wrists to a long chain, being beaten with whips, exactly
as it happens at the transport of prisoners in many countries today.

These terrible things made Dr. Livingstone bum with anger. Many Christians today have lost the virtue of becoming angry against slavery. Some never do get angry, except against those who fight slavery.

Livingstone never forgot to beg the British people to put down the terrible trade in human flesh and blood. He succeeded. Slavery was abolished in the British empire. Today Livingstone's body lies in Westminster Abbey.

The Jewish ark of the covenant was not only a ritual object, but also an ensign of battle. When the Jews, former slaves, passed the Jordan to fight for a land of their own in which they should be free, the ark was borne by the Levites as a flag would be borne now. It was a symbol of the fight for liberty.

Christians are fighters not only for personal righteousness, but also for righteousness in social relations.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Continue to pray for Christians kidnapped in Yemen in July

Four months after their abduction, there continues to be no reliable news on the condition of the remaining six expatriate Christians kidnapped in mid-June by unknown assailants in Yemen.  On June 12, nine foreigners were abducted — four German adults, three small German children, a British man and a South Korean woman — after they ventured outside the city of Sa’ada.  Shortly afterwards, the bodies of Rita Stumpp (26) and Anita Gruenwald (24), German nurses in training, and Eom Young-sun (33) of South Korea were found.  Still missing are German doctor Johannes (36), his wife Sabine (36), their three children Lydia (4), Anna (3) and Simon (1) and British engineer Anthony S. Their whereabouts remain unknown. Tony is married but his wife did not accompany him on this trip.

The Voice of the Martyrs is committed to continuing to pray and to encourage prayer on their behalf until we learn of their fate.  If they are still alive, I am sure that they are wondering if people are still praying.  I am also sure that their families still hope for their safe return and covet our prayers.

Please post a pray on their behalf on our Persecuted Church Prayer Wall and remember to pray for these hostages on a daily basis.  We will be sure to update this weblog when we learn something.

A look ahead at our November newsletter

I can hardly wait for you to see our upcoming November newsletter.  It’s like having a great gift all wrapped up for someone you love but not being able to wait until they open it up. So, not being able to contain myself, I decided that I need to give you a sneak preview at what you can look forward to (if you are already subscriber). If you are not a subscriber, make your request today to make sure that you get a copy!

nov2009nl

November’s newsletter focuses on the courage, faith and legacy of those who pay the price for following Christ.  This month we especially remember India’s Christians in Orissa and what you can do to remember them.

Our feature article God’s New Mercies in India includes the incredible testimony of martyred pastor Akabar Digal and how his family continues to experience the mercies of God.

In A Son Remembers His Father, Michael Wurmbrand shares his memories of his father, Richard Wurmbrand (VOMC’s founder), and the lasting impact he has had even to the present day.

In Martyred Father Left a Legacy of Faith read how knowing that her father
gave his life for his faith has made 82-year-old Yelisavyeta Krukova a lifelong
prayer warrior.

And in VOMC Around the World discover how The Voice of the Martyrs is contributing to the battle for freedom of religion here in our own homeland and how you can have a part in it.

You are going to love this month’s newsletter.  The design work is great and the writing excellent.  If you live in Canada and are not yet receiving our monthly newsletter, make sure that you get your copy by subscribing right now.

This week in persecuted church history (October 18-24)

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

October 18

  • 1511: William Succling and John Bannister, who had formerly recanted, returned again to the profession of the faith, and were burnt alive in Smithfield.
  • 1685: French King Louis XIV issues the Edict of Fontainebleu, which revokes the Edict of Nantes and once again forbids Huguenots (French Protestants) from worshipping

October 19

  • 1558: Hans Snit is executed for his faith in Aix-la-Chapelle, Netherlands. Being led through the city, he sang joyfully; he did not speak much afterwards, but went briskly to the place of execution, as a patient, dumb lamb. There he was strangled at the stake with a rope, and then bound fast with a chain, and singed with fire.
  • 1955: A group of American missionaries begin their aerial search for the Auca Indians in Ecuador, a search that would later prove to be successful but would lead to the martyrdom of Nate Saint, Ed McCulley, Jim Elliot, Roger Youderan and Pete Fleming on January 6, 1956.
  • 2006: Two converts of a church in the district of Shahdol, Madhya Pradesh, India are beaten for refusing to return to Hinduism. Santu Prasad Barmaia and Kunjan Prasad Barmaia were attacked by as many as twelve villagers while on the way to farm their fields. A local Christian reported that both men suffered internal injuries as a result of the attack.

October 20

  • 1885: Missionary James Hannington is captured by the local Gayle Williamsking in Uganda and speared to death nine days later.
  • 2008: Gayle Williams (34), a dual South African-British citizen, is shot to death by two gunmen on a motorbike in Kabul, Afghanistan at approximately 8:00 a.m. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the killing, saying that she "came to Afghanistan to teach Christianity to the people."

October 21

  • 2006: A 14 year old Assyrian Christian boy, Ayad Tariq, is beheaded by Muslim militants in Baqouba, Iraq.

October 22

  • 851: Two sisters, Nunilo and Aloida, are executed by the sword in the city of Osca in Spain for refusing to convert to Islam, the religion of their stepfather. When arrested they were brought before the tribunal and made a public spectacle. There they confessed Christ as before, and declared Mohammed an enemy of the Christian faith, rejecting his doctrine.
  • 1549: Jacob Claess is tortured for his faith in Lantsmeer, Netherlands and later sentenced to death on November 9, 1549

October 23

  • 524: Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius is tortured to death for treason after being arrested by the Arian king of Italy for his defence of the Trinity
  • 2003: Two Christians, Yakup Cindilli (32) and Tufan Orhan, are beaten for distributing New Testaments in Orhangazi in northwestern Turkey and left semi-conscious in a field.

October 24

  • 2003: Mariano Díaz Méndez, 38, a minister of the Tzotzil Evangelical Church, is assassinated near the town of San Juan Chamula in Mexico's troubled southern state of Chiapas. Méndez was near the village of Botatulán, on his way to a prayer service, when heavily armed men stopped his automobile around 3:00 p.m. According to witnesses, Méndez left his vehicle, attempting to evade his attackers, when they shot him to death with an AK-47 assault rifle.

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)

Friday, October 16, 2009

October’s Persecution Report

Watch the October edition of the Persecution Report to meet a remarkable young lady from Orissa State in India who has refused to let a brutal attack destroy her life and has learned what it really means to walk in forgiveness. Also learn about how Christians continue to face harassment and violence at the hands of government officials in China. Other reports come from Somalia, Colombia and Iran. You can also watch this video and others on our multimedia website www.persecution.tv.

Alem’s story

By Steven Judson

I met Alem recently in a refugee camp in northern Ethiopia. His family are still in Eritrea. Alem tries to earn a living by running a small café selling tea and snacks in the camp. He learned the restaurant business back in his native Eritrea. In fact it was through the witness of the restaurant owner where he worked that Alem came to faith in Christ in 1987.

alemIn 1996, after 18 months’ military service, he made his way to the capital, Asmara, where he enjoyed fellowship as part of a church cell group. Then in 1998, following a recall to the military, he was stationed in Assab, a port on the eastern seaboard of Eritrea. Here, as in other parts of the country, Christians were already coming under pressure for their faith.

When he could, Alem joined with several Christian friends to pray and fast for revival among his colleagues in the military, a practice he continued when he moved back to Asmara in 2001 and became a member of the Kale Hiwot (Word of Life) Church.

Alem is a patriotic and experienced soldier whose ability and skills were valued by his military colleagues. However, in 2005 they presented him with a stark ultimatum. He was called to a meeting and told, “Give up your faith or go to prison.”

Alem had already made the choice and replied that he would continue to follow Christ. He was promptly arrested and sent to prison.

For much of his imprisonment he was incarcerated at Mai Serwa , the same prison as gospel singer Helen Berhane, who was detained for two years after releasing a CD of Christian music in Eritrea in 2004. When I asked him if he knew Helen, he replied almost nonchalantly: “Helen was in number 10 container, and I was in number seven container.”

He described the conditions inside the metal shipping containers, the lack of air, the extreme heat, the lice, the smell and the pain. “Most of the time they would keep us locked up inside the containers,” he said. “The shipping containers are not very big, only 20ft long, and many of them with around 15–20 people inside. They normally allowed us out twice a day to go to the toilet. The rest of the time we weren’t allowed out. It was very difficult, especially if you were sick or had diarrhea.”

“We liked to praise our God by singing,” he said. “If the guards heard us they got angry, opened the doors of the container and dragged out those they thought were responsible and beat them using batons. Sometimes we could see other Christians being beaten through the small 15cm x 20cm air vent in the side of the container, and we would pray and cry out to God.”

On one occasion he recalled the guards beating Helen Berhane. “While they were beating Helen, she was crying, we could hear her crying and we were also crying out to God.”

Christian prisoners are constantly subjected to mindless and almost futile hard labour for hours at a time in the heat of the day. The guards often humiliate the prisoners, seeking to demoralize them and devising new ways to rob the prisoners of any vestige of dignity in an effort to break their spirit and have them recant their faith. He told us of how he had witnessed guards making a thorn and bracken pen for a seven-month-old baby and leaving it unattended all day in the sun, as the weeping mother was then forced to work within earshot of her crying child, but never allowed to care for it.

I knew it was painful for him to relive these experiences. So I asked him how the Lord had helped him in prison. He smiled as he remembered. “God helped us to remain faithful.”

He shared how he had smuggled a Bible into the container, and how he loved to read God’s Word to the other prisoners. On one occasion one of the guards tipped them off that the container was to be searched at a certain time the following day. “Because God helped us we were able to hide the Bible and continue reading it together,” he said.

Before praying with this dear brother, I asked him to share his hopes and prayers for the future. At that moment the tears that had been welling up in his eyes spilled out onto his face. “I have two burdens,” he told us. “The first is that I might remain faithful to God and the second concerns my wife and my two children. My wife has said that she cannot accept my faith. She said that if I will sign the form stating I will no longer be a Christian, then we will be able to be together. Otherwise we cannot, and we should be divorced. I want them to believe in God and for us to be reunited as a family.”

(originally published by VOMC in the September 2009 edition of The Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter page 6. Ask for your subscription to our monthly magazine today!)

Please pray for the estimated 3,000 Christians who are still in prison in Eritrea because of their faith.  None have been charged with a crime.  Post a prayer on their behalf on our Persecuted Church Prayer Wall and let the world know that they have not been forgotten.

Why can’t we just pray on a “Day of Prayer”?

Every year it’s the same, it seems.

The second weekend of November has been designated by the World Evangelical Alliance as the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  It is a day in which we are supposed to focus on prayer for those who are persecuted for their faith.  I am proud of what we do here in Canada. The partners in IDOP Canada have gone so far as to covenant together not to use this day for promoting fundraising projects but to retain the focus on prayer.  After all, we reasonprayer1a , we have the rest of the year to do that, however we so choose to do so.  But for one Sunday, let’s just pray!

As I see how other organizations around the world are promoting IDOP as the day draws closer, I confess to a degree of a sadness and disappointment.  Many of the “kits” that I have seen promoted seem more geared towards fundraising or awareness raising than to prayer.  It’s as if we simply cannot resist using a day of prayer for commercial or developmental reasons, in the same way that the retailers cannot stop using Christmas for their own advantage. 

I understand that some may use prayer as a excuse to do nothing (as one mission leader once said to me) but I counter that such folks probably aren’t really praying then. Prayer that touches and reflects the heart of God is prayer that reaches out to the needy. But I would like to see the conviction to help begin when someone is on their knees in prayer and not because they have been stimulated to write a cheque by a finely tuned “prayer kit” designed primarily to solicit donations. 

For one Sunday, why can’t we just pray and trust God for the results?  Or is the potential of such a development opportunity just too great to turn down?  It was for one of our former IDOP Canada partners a few years ago.  Faced with the choice of turning off the fundraising machinery for such an event, they decided to withdraw from IDOP Canada.  That way they could continue to fund-raise on IDOP Sunday. Prayer had just too high of a price, I guess.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

From the pen of the persecuted: Lying to impress

ming Imprisoned for his faith between 1955-1980, Wong Ming-Dao was a leader in the Chinese house church movement until his death in 1991.  We are blessed by having some of his writings translated into English, including a collection of devotionals entitled Day by Day from which this selection is taken:

Peter asked her, 'Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?' 'Yes,' she said, 'that is the price.' Acts 5:8

Many believers today are like those described in Acts 5: I-I I in that they utter untruths in order to achieve fame. Although their love is not very deep, they want other people to say that it is. The work in which they are engaged is not particularly good but they want people to say that it is. Their life is not particularly pious but they want people to say that it is. They have not laboured on behalf of other people to the point of becoming fatigued but they want other people to say that they have. They have not made any striking sacrifices for the Lord but they want people to say that they have. They thus resort to telling lies as the only way to attain their objective of becoming persons of repute.

Their lying takes various forms. It may simply be a case of exaggeration; it may be making something out of nothing, the fabrication of facts; or it may simply be a case of robbing other people of their rightful merit by claiming it for oneself. The practice of giving utterance to untruths in order to gain prestige is not at all uncommon in the churches today. It is particularly grievous that many church leaders set this kind of example and thus encourage ordinary believers to do the same.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

God’s work, done God’s way, will never lack God’s supply (not necessarily money)

Have you ever thought of volunteering as being as valuable a gift to the work of God as a donation when it comes to partnering with a charitable organization? Our good friend from VOM-Korea, Eric Foley, wrote a blog today that got me thinking about this in a new way:

Beware: God’s work, done God’s way, will never lack God’s supply

by EFoley

China Inland Mission founder Hudson Taylor famously said, “God’s work, done God’s way, will never lack God’s supply.”

This is one of the most commonly cited quotes among Christian organizations when it comes to their fundraising, and it is one of my favorite quotes as well…though for a different reason.

Taylor’s quote is typically understood to mean, “If we just stay faithful to doing the ministry God has given us, we’ll have enough money to pay the bills.”

But notice that’s not quite what Taylor said.

It’s the final phrase that’s the kicker:

God’s supply.

Whoever said that God supplies in clean, crisp, unmarked hundred dollar bills?

A quick check of the Old and the New Testaments reveals surprisingly few occasions where God, like a gracious grandparent commemorating a birthday, sends cash.

One could certainly protest that this is because in Bible times cash was a rarity. But really now…

There’s a common thread that runs through all God’s giving, namely:

When God gives a gift, the recipient must be transformed in order to be able to receive it.

In fact, you’d almost think that what God was seeking to accomplish through His giving was not only provision but transformation…

Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Mt 7:9-11)

I suspect one of the grave ways we impoverish ourselves as missionaries and nonprofit ministry organizations is that our engines run only on cash; every other kind of gift (and here I’m not talking only about gifts-in-kind but people, especially the various and sundry kind, offering themselves as if they were treasure–the audacity!) just seems to choke the motor.

Taylor’s promise was not that God’s work, done God’s way, will never lack for our supply. Rather, his contention was that God would supply as a good Father giving good gifts to His children. Kids always want cash, but sometimes parents know that other gifts are far more needed by their children.

Think through the scriptures at the gifts God gave, and how each one required an “engine conversion” for the recipient to be able to run on it.

Think through the gifts God has given your ministry–and is continuing to give your ministry–and ask yourself, “What kind of ‘engine conversion’”–i.e., personal and corporate transformation–”is God calling me/us to in order to be able to ‘run’ on this…without growing weary?”

That kind of approach might lead us to suspect that in the midst of recession there’s really no downturn in giving at all…

Interested in finding out more about volunteering with The Voice of the Martyrs and being God’s answer to our prayers for God’s supply? Click here.

Remembering 1600 years of martyrdom in Iraq

Starting today, Christians in Iraq are beginning a week of celebrations to mark 1600 years since the massacre of hundreds of Christians for their faith in 409 A.D. Among them was a widow named Miskenta. Here is her story:

Miskenta lived during the fourth century in the city of Mosul, in modern day Iraq. During that time, King Yazdajard, swore that he would eradicate Christianity from his Persian kingdom, and for forty years he systematically slaughtered over twelve thousand Christians and forced any survivors to flee the country for their lives. The King’s barbarism did not stop there; he even had his own daughter killed when he found that she had converted to Christianity. He also ordered all the captains of his armies to search for and kill any Christians they found whether it was man, woman, or child.

Captain Tahmazjard, on hearing the king’s decree, made his way from Keirkuk, to Duhok, and on to Mosul with his army to uproot the Christians. When the army finally neared Mosul, news spread of their arrival and the Christians were warned to leave the city if they wanted to live. Meanwhile, Miskenta was baking bread for her two young sons when news of the armies approach reached her. However, instead of taking her children and fleeing the city, she courageously left her home, carried her sons on her shoulders, and went looking for the army of Tahmazjard in the suburbs of Mosul. Finally, she was stopped by a group of soldiers who asked her, “Where are you going?” Miskenta responded, “I am looking for the people who are killing Christians because I wish to be martyred.” Aghast, the soldiers brought Miskenta with her children to Tahmazjard who also asked her what she was doing. The holy Miskenta replied, “I wish to be martyred. I have the crown of glory prepared for me by Him who loves human kind. I am to be killed because of Him as a martyr.”

The captain, on hearing this said to her, “Woman, you are out of your mind. But if you worship fire, I will spare you and your children; otherwise, you shall all be killed.” To this threat Miskenta cried, “My Lord is the creator of darkness and light and you are asking me to worship a creature? I would rather die than forsake Him so shamefully.”

When it became clear that Miskenta would not give into their threats and promises, they had her two sons killed before her eyes. As she watched her precious children die, she encouraged them saying, “My sons, go ahead of me to heaven where Jesus is waiting for you.” Then, the soldiers killed Miskenta and burned their bodies.

When the Christians of Mosul heard of what had happened, they came and took what was left of Miskenta and her children’s remains and had them buried in Mosul. A church in her name now stands on where her remains are believed to be. On seeing the bravery of this holy woman and her children, Tahmazjard, the man who had ordered their death, converted to Christianity two days after their death. Later, he too was martyred for his faith and his body was taken to Keirkuk where the people in that region still honor him to this day.

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