Monday, November 30, 2009

Tu Quoque: On Islam and the Crusades

by Ibn Warraq
City Journal
Autumn 2009 vol.19, no.4

CrusadesA Often, when I am criticizing crimes inspired by Islamic extremism, I am interrupted by the remark that Christianity was once culpable of similar abuses. That Christianity may have been intolerant in the past, however, does not make criticisms of Islam's present-day intolerance any less valid. Also, Islamic intolerance is an immediate danger, whereas Christian intolerance is generally a historical phenomenon and no longer a threat to civilization. And Christendom's crimes were recorded by Christians themselves -- a stark contrast to our politically correct climate, in which many, especially Muslims, are reluctant to criticize Islam.

Still, one might point out Christianity's historical shortcomings in order to avoid demonizing Islam alone. But this principle should work both ways: We should also avoid demonizing Christianity and be prepared to point out Islam's shortcomings. In December 2008, Boris Johnson, mayor of London, presented a biased BBC program on the Crusades that laid the blame for them entirely on Christians. The program pointed out that after expelling the Moors from Spain, Christians converted a mosque into a church -- an act of "vandalism." However, it failed to note that the Crusades were a reaction against over 300 years of jihad and persecution of Eastern Christians, during which Muslims destroyed hundreds of churches and converted many others into mosques, including the magnificent Byzantine church Hagia Sophia.

Consider the situation in the Holy Land 100 years before Pope Urban II's call in 1095 for a crusade to liberate it. It was part of the territory ruled by the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim, whose cruelties Christian and Muslim historians alike recorded. Fourteenth-century historian Ibn al-Dawadari tells us that al-Hakim destroyed the Church of Saint Mark in al-Fustat, Egypt (on the outskirts of modern-day Cairo), which Christians had built in defiance of a law forbidding new church construction. The al-Rashida mosque arose not only over the ruins of Saint Mark's but also over Jewish and Christian cemeteries, surely an act of vandalism. But the height of al-Hakim's cruelties was the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which, according to Muslim sources, began in September 1007. Also known as the Church of the Resurrection, this was possibly the most revered shrine in Christendom -- considered not only Golgotha (or Calvary), where the New Testament says that Jesus was crucified, but also the place where he was buried and hence the site of the Resurrection. According to historian Moshe Gil, al-Hakim ordered that the Church of the Resurrection be torn down "to its very foundations, apart from what could not be destroyed or pulled up, and they also destroyed the Golgotha and the Church of Saint Constantine and all that they contained, as well as all the sacred gravestones. They even tried to dig up the graves and wipe out all traces of their existence."

A new generation of Western medieval scholars has tried to rectify misconceptions about the Crusades. Historian Jonathan Riley-Smith has pointed out that "modern Western public opinion, Arab nationalism and Pan-Islamism all share perceptions of crusading that have more to do with nineteenth-century European imperialism than with actuality." Muslims, in particular, have developed what Riley-Smith calls "mythistories" concerning the putative injuries that they received at the crusaders' hands. This is not to deny, of course, that the crusaders were responsible for outrages, including what is sometimes called the First Holocaust -- the massacres of Jews that began in Worms on May 18, 1096, and continued into Mainz, where the Jewish community, one of the largest in Europe, was decimated. It is rather to say that the Crusades are misunderstood on multiple levels.

For one thing, they were not exclusively concerned with combating Islam. Pagan Wends, Balts and Lithuanians; shamanist Mongols; Orthodox Russians and Greeks; Cathar and Hussite heretics; and those Catholics whom the Church perceived as its enemies -- all were targets of the broader mission to extirpate heresy.

Nor were the Crusades "thoughtless explosions of barbarism," as Riley-Smith accurately characterizes their reputation today. They had a sophisticated underlying rationale, elaborated theologically by Christian nations threatened by Muslim invaders who had managed to reach into the heart of Europe -- from central France in the eighth century to Vienna in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They were a response to the desecration of Christian shrines in the Holy Land, the destruction of churches there and the general persecution of Christians in the Near East. A Crusade had to fulfill strict criteria for the Church to consider it legitimate and just. It had to be waged for purposes of repelling violence or injury, with the goal of imposing justice on wrongdoers. A Crusade was not to be a war of conversion but rather a rightful attempt to recover unjustly seized Christian territory. And only a recognized church authority like the pope could call for one.

Most crusaders would have laughed at the prospect of material gain. In fact, crusading became a financial burden as the costs of warfare increased. The Crusades were far more concerned with saving not only Christendom from Islam, but also the souls of the crusaders themselves. Many believed that, by taking part, they would redeem their sinfulness.

It's commonly believed today that modern Muslims have inherited from their medieval ancestors memories of crusader violence and destruction. But nothing could be further from the truth. By the fourteenth century in the Islamic world, the Crusades had almost passed out of mind. Muslims had lost interest, and, in any case, they saw themselves as the victors. The Muslim world did not renew its interest in the Crusades until the 1890s, but now it saw them through a Western prism. Western imperialist rhetoric, infused with a tendentious reading of crusader history, gave Muslims the false idea of a continuing Western assault, while the novels of Sir Walter Scott encouraged the myth of the culturally inferior crusaders confronting civilized, liberal and modern-thinking Muslims. Many Arab nationalists believed "their struggle for independence to be a predominantly Arab riposte to a crusade that was being waged against them," as Riley-Smith notes. "Since the 1970s, however, they have been challenged by a renewed and militant Pan-Islamism, the adherents of which have globalized the Nationalist interpretation of crusade history."

Thus the spectacle of modern Islamists invoking the Crusades. As Osama bin Laden wrote: "For the first time, the crusaders have managed to achieve their historic ambitions and dreams against our Islamic umma, gaining control over the Islamic holy places and the Holy Sanctuaries, and hegemony over the wealth and riches of our umma." The battle, according to bin Laden, is between the people of Islam and the global crusaders.

In trying to make sense of their humiliation under Western imperialist powers, aggrieved Muslims have come upon an ingenious but false interpretation of history that sees their nineteenth-and twentieth-century exploitation as a continuation of the medieval Crusades. Such a reworking of history enables them to cast contemporary events, such as the war in Afghanistan and the American presence in Iraq, in an anti-Western light, making the West and the Crusades a convenient scapegoat for the shame and dishonor that Muslims have experienced for decades. Their distorted reading of history gives Islamists both a cause for grievance and a justification for their sense of superiority -- since Muslims did, after all, succeed in expelling the infidels from Islamic lands.

Ibn Warraq is a senior fellow at the Center for Inquiry Transnational and the author of five books on Islam and Koranic criticism, including Why I Am Not a Muslim.

Do we need to hear both sides of the story?

Last week I finished my latest video project “Indian Voices: Testimonies of the Persecuted.” The DVD documents the reasons why Christians in the Indian state of Orissa were being so brutally persecuted by militant Hindus and also the personal stories of some of those most affected by the violence. We interviewed two women whose husbands had been murdered because of their effective work as pastors in bringing Hindus to Christ and helping them grow in their new faith. We also talked with several men who have endured horrible beatings but are determined to continue their ministries. We spent several hours with young lady named Manini (picture on the right) who courageously shared how she had been beaten and doused with kerosene and now has scars all over the right side of her body as a result of that attack. Manini was also raped. However she says she has forgiven those who did to her. What an amazing young lady! Those are just some of the stories covered in the video.

By the way, it is not my intent in this blog to try and promote and sell the video but to give some context as to what I’m going to talk about. I showed “Indian Voices” to the church house group my wife and I attend on a weekly basis. After we watched the video we had some great discussion about why Christians are persecuted, some of the things the Bible tells us about persecution and what we as Christians in Canada can learn from believers who are being persecuted because of their love for Jesus.

During the discussion one of the guys in the group challenged me as to why we heard only one side of the story; that of those people who either lost loves ones or had been attacked. Why didn’t we tell the other side of the story; that of the so-called persecutors? I explained to him that we at The Voice of the Martyrs Canada do our best to ensure that the stories we put out on videos are true. Our partners in the countries we work verify the reliability of the testimonies of these persecuted Christians. To interview militant Hindus, for example, as to why they kill and rape Christians, burn down their homes and churches might be interesting (but also probably dangerous) it doesn’t change the facts of that their victims have suffered for being a follower of Jesus. Do we really need to hear from the boys and men who raped Manini, unless it was to hear how sorry they were for acting so evil?

I have a long and varied background in broadcasting, so getting both sides to a story is ingrained in me. However VOM Canada is not a news organization; we are a ministry with a set goal of bringing awareness and prayer support to our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, and doing what we can to help them. If that sounds biased, so be it. We exist to serve the Persecuted Church. As I was saying to my wife on the way home after that lively discussion and debate at the house group, the apostle Paul didn’t feel he needed to include comments from those who beat him up (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-27). Neither do we.
VOM Canada will continue to bring credible firsthand stories and reports from our Christian family around the world. If from time to time we hear from the persecutor, that’s fine. But that’s not our focus.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Reporting the news, not becoming it

As the Toronto Star rightly noted on Saturday

A golden rule for journalists is to report the story, not become it.

Unfortunately for Amanda Lindhout, this was not the case. Kidnapped in Somalia, the Canadian journalist endured 15 months of captivity before her release this week.

Snatched along with Australian photographer Nigel Brennan in August 2008, the pair says they were beaten, tortured and left alone, often without food.

The sad details of what they experienced will emerge in coming weeks as they return home and begin to heal. (Both were reported Friday to be in good condition at a Nairobi hospital.)

But their release has also sparked discussion about journalists in conflict zones – and questions about Lindhout's credentials. Online blogs note her dozens of Facebook photos striking glamorous poses amid conflict.

Gutsy reporter? Or naive thrill-seeker?

The temptation to become the story rather than reporting it is not unique to the secular news media. Those of us who work with persecuted Christians may, indeed, even be especially susceptible to it.  Early in my ministry with The Voice of the Martyrs I remember how a colleague of mine (who is no longer with the ministry) had been interviewed by a major newspaper and described as a modern-day Christian “Indiana Jones.”

I can understand how that can happen.  Our work tends to take us to remote areas in foreign countries meeting individuals who stories are often engaging, inspirational, and rather exotic.  There is a degree of danger and secrecy to our work.  Our workers often see a side to the Christian life that many others in the West only read about in history books. Sometimes more than just a little hint of adventurism is implied in the the way our kind of ministry is described in writing or at meetings. Some ministries do it deliberately.  Sometimes it is unavoidable, regardless of how much one tries to avoid sensationalism.  It’s the nature of the work.

Now, add to this mix individual depravity - a need for recognition, a love of the limelight or any other desire to become the object of affection, respect or attention - and you can perhaps see why I have seen it a part of my mandate as a leader to repeatedly remind my colleagues that the focus of our ministry needs to be on the faithfulness of God and His persecuted children and not on us as an organization or as individuals.  I warn new staff (and remind old staff) to be careful about believing their own press. 

This has been one of the reasons why I have been reluctant until recently about getting involved in interviews about my own struggle with cancer.  When I finally consented, I deliberately sought to steer the interview in the direction of bringing focus back to the persecuted church as much as possible and how having cancer has equipped me for better service to them or how working with them has helped prepare me for my fight with this (in my case) incurable disease.  The focus of our work is to glorify God by serving His Persecuted Church, not to glorify ourselves by serving them. 

Understanding this also finds expression in how we as a mission talk about our work with the persecuted.  We deliberately don’t spend a lot of time talking about our work or the projects that we get involved in.  Again, this is not our focus. With some organizations, their reporting primarily concerns the work that they are engaged in.  Like reporters reporting on the news media, they have become the news rather than the reporters of it. 

“But how else will you raise financial support?” some will ask. 

It’s actually not that hard.  Why not simply pray that God will speak to the hearts of those who read your material?  I challenge you to report on how God is being glorified and His purposes are being fulfilled and watch how people gravitate to this kind of “fundraising”  as God works in their hearts.

This week in persecuted church history (November 29-December 5)

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

November 29

  • Saturninus 257: Saturninus, a missionary-bishop is killed in in Toulouse when local religious leaders, enraged by the impact that his preaching was having in their community, seized and chained him and gave him the ultimatum of worshipping their gods or be killed.  When he refused, they whipped him and then brought in a bull that they had  intended to use as a sacrifice in their temple.  They tied Saturninus to the animal and then set it loose, dragging the faithful bishop to his death.
  • 1847: Missionary physician Marcus Whitman, his wife, and 12 others are killed by American Indians in Washington's Walla Walla valley. Whitman had recently returned from a 3,000-mile journey to convince the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions not to close down one of his three mission stations. He was successful, and returned with a fresh group of immigrants—and the measles virus. Many Indians died of the disease, some of them because Whitman gave them vaccinations. The Indians accused Whitman and other missionaries of black magic and murdered them.
  • 2003: Christians I Made Simson and Ketut Sarmon are shot and killed by Islamists and four others injured in the village of Kilotrans, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia.  In the village of Morowa, two others Christians, Ruslan Parrafik and Ririn Bode, are shot dead when attackers on motorcycles opened fire on villagers who had gathered for prayer at a church.
  • 2005: Swedish pastor Ake Green is acquitted on charges that he had violated the country's hate propaganda laws. 

queen_mary_1November 30

  • 1554: The English Parliament present a supplication to King Philip and Queen Mary for restoration of the Roman Catholic church, making it the official religion of England. During Mary's five-year reign, hundreds are killed for insisting that salvation was to be found only in Christ and that Scripture was the believer's authority.
  • 1725: Martin Boehm is born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. A Mennonite bishop, he was excluded from the Mennonite communion because of his less conservative views and association with persons of other sects. He later joined with Philip W. Otterbein and others to form the United Brethren in Christ Church.
  • 2005: Pamong Praja police bulldoze five church buildings in an area of Tangerang county, Indonesia while church members stand in front of their buildings and watch.  When the churches initially heard about the proposed demolitions, they requested a delay until after Christmas.  However, at 11:00 a.m., hundreds of local security officials moved in.  They cleared the buildings of their contents and destroyed the buildings.  The five churches were the Indonesia Protestant Christian Church, Indonesia Pentecost Church, Protestant Batak Christian Huria Church, Indonesia Haleluyah Pentecost Church, and Indonesia Bethel Church.  Officials claim that the church buildings violated residential bylaws.  Church leaders canada_boissoinbelieve, however, that political interests motivated the destruction.
  • 2007: The Alberta Human Rights Commission rules that Stephen Boissoin and the Concerned Christian Coalition violate Alberta's human rights law in a letter published in the Red Deer Advocate in 2002. The ruling states that the letter was "likely to expose homosexuals to hatred or contempt because of their sexual preference."

December 1

  • 1170: Banished earlier by king Henry II because he sided with the church against the crown, archbishop of Canterbury Thomas a Becket returns to England, electrifying the country. Henry orders his former friend's execution, and Becket is slain by four knights while at vespers on December 29.
  • 1521: Pope Leo X, enemy of Martin Luther (whom he excommunicated in 1520), dies.
  • 1989: Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Pope John Paul II meet at the Vatican, announcing an agreement to re-establish diplomatic ties. Gorbachev also denounced 70 years of religious oppression in his country

December 2

  • 1980: Three American nuns and a lay churchwoman are killed by death squads in El Salvador. 

December 3francis-xavier

  • 1552: Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier, one of the founding members of his order and one of the greatest missionaries ever, dies awaiting admission to China. Before that, he had converted 700,000 people in Portugal, India, Indonesia, Japan, and elsewhere.

December 4

  • 1572: Mattheus Bernaerts, Adriaen Rogiers, Maerten Van Der Straten and Dingentgen of Honschoten are burned at the stake in Ghent, Flanders because of their testimony of Christ.
  • 1573: Two sisters, Susanneken and Kalleken Claes are publicly burned at the stake with their mouth gagged to prevent them from speaking about Christ to the crowd in Ghent, Flanders
  • 1917: The Bolsheviks in Russia confiscate all church lands.
  • 2005: At least twenty-five members of Dharma Sena, a militant Hindu group, attack a church in Raipur, Chhattisgarh. The mob severely beat four of those present, including two visiting speakers.  The four Christians and an area pastor who was dragged from his home are forcibly taken to a local Hindu temple. The militants try to force them to bow before the idols and proclaim, "Victory be to the god Ram."  The Christians refuse.  One of the guest speakers, Masih Das Rai, says to them, "You can kill me, but I will not bow down to the idol."  Rai had been previously accused by Dharma Sena of forcibly converting people to Christianity.

December 5

  • burning 1527: Hans Schlaffer is arrested by local Roman Catholic authorities in Schwaz, Austria.  In nearby Frundsberg Castle, they torture him and priests interrogate him about his beliefs on baptism and faith in Christ. Two months later, he was beheaded for his convictions.
  • 1572: Willem De Rijcker and Christoffel Fierens are strangled and then burned at the stake in Meenen, Flanders as heretics by local Roman Catholic authorities because of their anabaptist beliefs.

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

Saturday, November 28, 2009

“The Privilege of Suffering” lectures

Is it wrong to covet another organization’s conference?

I recently came across the website of an organization that I met through Twitter and was delighted to see the focus of their recently conference in Georgia - The Privilege of Suffering. To Every Tribe (TET) has posted the lectures from the conference and I would highly recommend taking the time to listen to them.  Hershael York’s exposition of “What is Lacking in Christ’s Sufferings” is especially good. 

Looking through the messages of TET’s director David Sitton, it would seem that persecution and martyrdom is a focus of this ministry and of his own study.  I look forward to getting to know more of this ministry in the days to come.

"I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer."

As part of my daily devotional practice over the past few months, I have been reading a chapter or two from Mike Mason’s book The Gospel According to Job. This morning’s reading was especially helpful to me in light of my present circumstances. For those of you who have been reading my personal blog, you will have known that I have been experiencing severe pain in my lower torso and left leg for over two weeks. Job’s words in 30:20 have been my cry as well, just as I know that they are the cry of God’s persecuted children worldwide. I hope that you find these words a blessing as I have.

True Prayer
"I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer." (30:20)

In the Bible we often read of people "crying out to the Lord." But what does it mean to "cry out"? Does it mean to express oneself demurely to God, with polite restraint, using the well-worn, time-honored phrases of the conventional prayer meeting? Or do the words "cry out" suggest more the sort of sound a man might make whose legs have just been caught up in a piece of machinery? "Surely [God] will save you from the fowler's snare;" sings the psalmist (91:3). A snare is a leghold trap, a contrivance designed to catch an animal and hold it until it dies of shock or starvation, condemning it in the meanwhile to hopeless struggle and horror. Is this not the sort of situation that might bring a human being to the point of crying out to God?

There is no true prayer without agony. Perhaps this is the problem in many of our churches. What little prayer we have is shallow, timid, carefully censored, and full of oratorical flourishes and hot air. There is little agony in it, and therefore little honesty or humility. We seem to think that the Lord is like everyone else we know, and that He cannot handle real honesty. So we put on our Sunday best to visit Him, and when we return home and take off our fancy duds we are left alone with what is underneath: the dirty underwear of hypocrisy.

Why do we flatly refuse to bring real emotions to our prayer meetings? Do we think that the public humbling of ourselves before the Lord should always be a pretty and an enjoyable thing? Do we think the Lord is only honored so long as our own public image and personal dignity are in no way compromised? But the truth is just the opposite: only when we ourselves are prepared to lose face can the Lord's face begin to shine through. It is for Him to exalt us; our part is to humble ourselves. "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (2 Chron. 7:14).

Even in our private prayers, let alone in our public ones, we Christians have a way of tiptoeing around the throne of God as if He were an invalid or a doddering old man. But who do we think we are kidding? The Lord always knows exactly what we are feeling. He knows all there is to know about us. There is not a shadow of doubt or anger or hate in our hearts but God sees it. So why not just lay all our cards on the table? Real prayer is playing straight with God. If we have never cried out to the Lord, perhaps it is because we have not realized the true horror of our situation. We need to be careful that we do not grow so preoccupied with maintaining our spiritual equilibrium that we regard it as unseemly to cry out to God.

At bottom, probably what we are most afraid of in prayer is that no answer will come, and that then we will be left worse off than before. But true prayer has two parts: first there is the crying out, and then there is the waiting for an answer. If we are the sort of people who insist on having instant answers, then we shall certainly lack the courage to cry out. Though we might continue to go through the motions of prayer, we will have given up on the real thing.

Towards the end of the book of Jeremiah, the nation of Judah was on its last legs. It had been conquered by the Babylonians, and most of its people had been led away into captivity. Only a small remnant was left under the puppet governor Gedaliah. But when Gedaliah was assassinated by a rebel, suddenly even these survivors were in peril, for everyone knew that a brutal reprisal could be expected from the Babylonians. So what were they to do? What they did, surprisingly, was to go to the prophet Jeremiah and beg him to consult the Lord for them. Furthermore they bound themselves to obey God's Word no matter what. Their situation was desperate. They were crying out. Jeremiah agreed to pray for them.

At this point, we read one of the most astounding understatements in the Bible: "Ten days later the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah" (42:7). Imagine! Ten days later! Who could possibly wait ten days under such circumstances? Did the Lord not understand that this was a dire emergency? After ten days, naturally, the people had already made up their minds to ignore God's answer and to do exactly what they felt like doing: run like crazy down to Egypt. When the pressure was on, they performed the first requirement of prayer admirably: they cried out to the Lord. But for the second half of prayer they had no stomach. They could not wait for an answer.

[Mike Mason, The Gospel According to Job. Crossway, 1994: 309-310. Available to order from The Voice of the Martyrs]

Friday, November 27, 2009

Christmas Blessing: North Korea is underway!

It’s begun. One of our most exciting Christmas Blessing projects has been launched and we are tremendously excited.

christmascare1 This year we are making it possible for you to encourage and strengthen members of your persecuted brothers and sisters in North Korea. For only $50, you can sponsor a special Christmas Blessing package containing such vital necessities as rice, clothing, vitamins, Bibles, Christian books, a backpack (see photo on left), various toiletries like soap, clippers and toothpaste, and many more items that are expensive or virtually impossible to get in North Korea.

We are committed to delivering at least 750 of these packs directly to believers inchristmascare2 North Korea! As funds become available, we will also distribute some to North Korean defectors hiding in China. To insure that they are properly delivered to the intended recipients, all packs are being delivered in person by VOMC contacts. Be assured that every security precaution is being taken to protect both our workers and (even more importantly) those who receive these packs.

As you can see from the photo on the right, the assembly of the packs is underway and we have received reports that some are already being delivered. Thank you to those of you who have already given towards this project. Your expression of love is going to send a powerful message to our brothers and sisters in this isolated society. If you haven’t joined us yet, it’s not too late! We want to distribute as many packs as we can and that will depend on how much we receive.

Get involved in this exciting project today as we grasp the hands of our brothers and sisters in North Korea and share the blessing of Christmas with them!

Please make cheques for this project payable to The Voice of the Martyrs Inc. and mail them (with a note indicating what the gift is for) to:

The Voice of the Martyrs
P.O. Box 117, Port Credit,
Mississauga, Ontario
L5G 4L5

Or you can donate securely online through CanadaHelps


Donations for this project will be received until the needs of this projects are met or until the end of December.

Questions? Contact us by clicking here.

True repentance: The martyrdom of James the Persian

james-the-persian

James was from the city of Bythlaba and was of noble birth. He became the closest and most honoured friend of Isdiger (or Yazdegerd) I, King of Persia (reigned 399-420).  Though a Christian from his youth, James renounced Christ because he was allured by the king's friendship and flatteries and became an important member of the imperial court.

When James’ mother and his wife learned of this, they wrote him a letter they begging  him to repent and return to Christ. They said that they would have nothing more to do with him, since he had preferred a glory that is temporal to the love of Christ. Wounded in soul by these words, James came to himself, James wept over his error, and repudiated the worship of the idols.  He then courageously confessed his faith in Christ the Lord to the king, Isdiger’s son and successor Bahram (or Varahran) V (reigned 421-438), who was the king by that time.

The king was enraged by James’ decision.  He commanded that his entire body was to be cut up, piece by piece.  Having been cut asunder limb by limb to his very hips and shoulders, the courageous martyr was finally beheaded, in the year 421.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Day and the Persecuted Church

In my opinion, Thanksgiving Day is one of those days when the inconsistency with which North Americans view persecution is the most glaring.  To that end, I rewrote an older article this year for Thanksgiving Day here in Canada (October 12). I would like to draw attention to it for our many American readers as well.  Click here to read Thanksgiving, Freedom & The Persecuted Church (redux*) as we consider if perhaps thankfulness may not be the most appropriate response to religious freedom.

We do wish all of our American friends a Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow!

Are Judaism and Christianity as Violent as Islam?

by Raymond Ibrahim
Middle East Quarterly
Summer 2009, pp. 3-12

http://www.meforum.org/2159/are-judaism-and-christianity-as-violent-as-islam

"There is far more violence in the Bible than in the Qur'an; the idea that Islam imposed itself by the sword is a Western fiction, fabricated during the time of the Crusades when, in fact, it was Western Christians who were fighting brutal holy wars against Islam." So announces former nun and self-professed "freelance monotheist," Karen Armstrong. This quote sums up the single most influential argument currently serving to deflect the accusation that Islam is inherently violent and intolerant: All monotheistic religions, proponents of such an argument say, and not just Islam, have their fair share of violent and intolerant scriptures, as well as bloody histories. Thus, whenever Islam's sacred scriptures—the Qur'an first, followed by the reports on the words and deeds of Muhammad (the Hadith)—are highlighted as demonstrative of the religion's innate bellicosity, the immediate rejoinder is that other scriptures, specifically those of Judeo-Christianity, are as riddled with violent passages.

More often than not, this argument puts an end to any discussion regarding whether violence and intolerance are unique to Islam. Instead, the default answer becomes that it is not Islam per se but rather Muslim grievance and frustration—ever exacerbated by economic, political, and social factors—that lead to violence. That this view comports perfectly with the secular West's "materialistic" epistemology makes it all the more unquestioned.

Therefore, before condemning the Qur'an and the historical words and deeds of Islam's prophet Muhammad for inciting violence and intolerance, Jews are counseled to consider the historical atrocities committed by their Hebrew forefathers as recorded in their own scriptures; Christians are advised to consider the brutal cycle of violence their forbears have committed in the name of their faith against both non-Christians and fellow Christians. In other words, Jews and Christians are reminded that those who live in glass houses should not be hurling stones.

But is that really the case? Is the analogy with other scriptures legitimate? Does Hebrew violence in the ancient era, and Christian violence in the medieval era, compare to or explain away the tenacity of Muslim violence in the modern era?

[click here to download the full article]

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

20 nation poll reveals that most people support the right to criticize religions

As the UN General Assembly prepares to debate a proposal calling for its member nations to take action against the defamation of religion, a survey conducted by WorldPublicOpinion.org shows that majorities in 13 of 20 nations polled around the world support the right to criticize a religion. According to the survey of more than 18,000 people, on average 57% of respondents agreed that "people should be allowed to publicly criticize a religion because people should have freedom of speech."  34% of respondents also agreed that governments "should have the right to fine or imprison people who publicly criticize a religion because such criticism could defame the religion."

The issue of whether freedom of speech should extend to criticism and defamation of religion has come to the forefront in recent months as the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), a group of 56 Muslim nations, continues to promote a UN resolution that calls on all nations of the world "to effectively combat defamation of all religions and incitement to religious hatred in general and against Islam and Muslims in particular."  There is even discussion of a binding treaty amendment to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), an existing international treaty on racism, that would include the defamation of religion. 

It is interesting to note from the survey that of the seven nations where most people agree with that criticism of religion should be prohibited, five have overwhelmingly Muslim populations -- Egypt (71%), Pakistan (62%), Iraq (57%), Indonesia (49%), and the Palestinian territories (51%). The other two -- India (59%) and Nigeria (54%)—have a considerable history of religiously motivated violence.

Earlier this month, The Voice of the Martyrs joined a coalition of over 100 Christian, Muslim and Jewish organisations as well as humanist and secular groups from around the world in signing a common civil society statement against the concept of “defamation of religions.”

We continue to urge you to stand with us by contacting Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations, John McNee, and encourage him to support Canada’s opposition to any defamation of religions resolutions and any attempt to extend the concept into binding treaties such as ICERD (for the contact information for UN embassies of other countries, click here). A preliminary vote on the General Assembly resolution is expected before the end of November with a final plenary vote expected in early to mid-December.

Are you suffering for the real Jesus?

You probably didn’t notice, but we recently removed reference to an imprisoned pastor on our websites when we learned that he and the group that he was a part of denied that Jesus is and has always been truly God. Denying the Trinity, they claim that only God the Father is truly and eternally God.

Sadly but truly, this belief places them firmly outside of the limits of what can be truly called the Christian faith and while we believe that the pastor’s arrest is unjust because no one should be arrested for their religious beliefs, it is outside of our mandate as an organization to speak out on his behalf as our mission is strictly that of glorifying God by serving His persecuted church. Denying the deity of Jesus places him and his group outside of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Surely you might say, this sort of theological hair-splitting is unnecessary in today’s world. Who are we to decide one way or another who belongs in the kingdom of God and who is outside of its boundaries?

In the late fourth century, Amphilocus was the bishop of Iconium. At this point of church history, there was tremendous debate over the nature of Jesus’ humanity and divinity. The rise of the Arian heresy was at its highest and the very existence of the Christian faith was on the tipping point, as many embraced the belief that Jesus was a created being who was a divine man but not truly and eternally God. Amphilocus personally begged the emperor Theodosius the Great to drive the Arians out of every city in the Empire, but the Emperor did not comply with his request. Personally, I think that his request was inappropriate but I understand the intent behind it and wonder if I would have responded much differently had I been in his place.

A few days later, Amphilochius came before the Emperor again. When the bishop was taken into the emperor’s presence, he was sitting on his throne with his son Arcadius, whom he had taken as co-Emperor, sitting at his right hand. Entering the room, Amphilochius gave the appropriate reverence to Theodosius, but ignored Arcadius, treating him as if he were not even there. Theodosius was infuriated by this and commanded that Amphilochius be instantly driven from court. The bishop responded, “Do you see, O Emperor, how you do not tolerate a slight paid to your son? In the same way, God the Father does not tolerate dishonour paid to His Son, turning with loathing from those who blaspheme against Him, and being angered at that accursed Arian heresy.”

Theology matters. What one believes about Jesus matters and not only for the good of the Church. I am certain that it matters to God the Father. If we want to truly glorify God, we have to make such distinctives, as difficult as they may be. Who wants to be labelled as “narrow-minded” or “judgmental”? But just claiming to believe in Jesus or calling oneself a Christian does not make it so; one must know who this Jesus is that he/she claims to believe in and identify with. This is even true for those who are persecuted and suffer for their religious convictions.  People don’t always suffer for the real Jesus.

(Source of story: http://www.abbamoses.com/)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

This week in persecuted church history (November 22-28)

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

November 22

  • 1546: Hans Staudtach, Anthony Keyn, Blasius Beck and Leonhard Schneider are condemned to death in Vienna because of their refusal to renounce their faith and beheaded. GhorbanTourani
  • 2005: Ghorban Tori, an Iranian convert to Christianity, is kidnapped from his home in Gonbad-e-Kavus. A few hours later, body is dumped outside of his home. The 50-year-old pastor of an independent house church had been stabbed to death.
  • 2008: Refaat and Ibrahim Fawzy Abdo, Egyptian Christian brothers falsely accused of murdering a Muslim, are sent to the El Wadi El Gadid Detention Camp in an attempt to coerce them into confessing to the crime.

November 23

  • 101: Clement, the bishop of Rome, is martyred.
  • 1555: Digna Pieters, after being tortured by authorities in an attempt to force her to renounce her faith, is put into a bag and drowned in Dortrecht, Netherlands.
  • 2003: Pastor Iyob and seven of his parishioners of the Kale Hiwot Church in the town of Mendefera, Eritrea are arrested and taken into custody simply because of their evangelical Christian faith.
  • 2005: Sixteen nuns are injured by police as they protest plans to destroy a school building in Xian, China.  The building had been confiscated by the Chinese government during Mao's "Cultural Revolution," but should have been returned to the Catholic Church after policies changed in 1979.

November 24

  • 1531: Johannes Oecolampadius, a leader in the Swiss Reformation, dies at 49. He sided with Ulrich Zwingli in disputing Martin Luther on the Lord's Supper and also helped Erasmus edit the New Testament in Greek.
  • 1572: Scottish reformer John Knox dies in Edinburgh

November 25

  • 311: Peter, the sixteenth bishop of Alexandria, is martyred by beheading by order of the emperor Diocletian
  • 523: Hundreds of Christians, including women and children, are massacred in the city of Najran at the order of Dhu Nuwas, ruler of the Himyarite tribe in south Arabia.  Dhu Nuwas was a Judaizer who had sworn to wipe out Christianity in his kingdom.  When he captured the Christian city of Najran, he ordered the Christians to renounce their faith.  In an amazing display of courage and faithfulness, in the weeks that followed, thousands more were beheaded, tortured, and burned in a fruitless attempt to force the Christians to deny Christ.
  • 2007: Two pastors, C.J. Joemon and C.J. Jojo, and another believer, G. Anil, are stripped, tied to a pole and beaten after a worship service at the Christ Vision Church is attacked by Hindu nationalists in the Hassan district of Karnataka, India.

November 26so-salatsekondomberwa-cd

  • 2008: Salat Sekondo Mberwa, a Somali Christian who fled to a refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya in 2005 after Muslims murdered a Christian relative, is shot by Muslims at approximately 6:00 p.m., when they broke into his residence in the camp and shot him in the shoulder as he tried to escape out a window. The assailants left him for dead. He was later discovered by his family.

November 27

  • 1095: After nine days of sessions among clerics, Pope Urban II addresses the public to proclaim the First Crusade. The goals were to defend Eastern Christians from Muslim aggression, make pilgrimages to Jerusalem safer, and recapture the Holy Sepulcher. "God wills it! God wills it!" the crowd shouted in response
  • 1560: Soetgen Van Den Houte and an other women named Martha are martyred in the city of Ghent, Flanders (in present day Belgium) after being severely mistreated while in prison for their faith.
  • 1970: On a trip to the Philippines, Pope Paul VI is attacked by a dagger-wielding Bolivian painter disguised as a priest. Though the Vatican announced the pontiff was unhurt, he suffered a chest wound in the assault.
  • 2005: As approximately thirty children gather in a home in Curug, Indonesia to study the Bible, a mob of Islamic militants descend upon the home and cause the children to scatter in panic.  The militants destroy guitars, a keyboard, an organ and a fan as well as several desks and chairs.  They force the teachers and children out of the house and then "seal" it with posters denouncing the Sunday school.

November 28bunyan2

  • 1628: John Bunyan is born in Elstow, Bedfordshire, England. He would spend much of his life in jail because of his preaching.
  • 2006: A Moroccan court sentences a German tourist, Sadek Noshi Yassa (64) to six months in prison and a fine of 500 dirhams ($68 CAD) for trying to "shake the faith of a Muslim." Authorities allege that Yassa was distributing books and CDs about the Christian faith to young Muslims on the streets of Agadir.

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, November 20, 2009

Orthodox priest gunned down in Moscow church

sysoyev Fr. Daniil Sysoyev, a Russian Orthodox priest well known for his missionary activities among Muslims, occultists and others, was shot an killed in the St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Moscow on Thursday evening.  The killer reportedly entered the church, asked for the priest by name, and then opened fire at close range with a pistol. Sysoyev was hit in the head and chest and died later in hospital.  He was 35 years old and the father of three.

There seems to be little doubt that religious motives are behind the killing.  Syosyev had reportedly been receiving a number of death threats because of his teachings and missionary activities.

Please remember Fr. Daniil’s wife and children during this time of grief.  You can post prayers on their behalf on our Persecuted Church Prayer Wall.

Finally, a practical book on how to help the poor

thepoor Peter Greer and Phil Smith have done the Christian community a great service with their new book The Poor Will Be Glad: Joining the Revolution to Lift the World Out of Poverty.  Practical and realistic are the two words that I would use to describe this book.  This is what people like me are looking for. 

I know that I should feel differently. but I have little time or interest in the arguments for or against global debt reduction.  I am convinced that simply throwing more relief aid money into Africa is any real solution at all. Personally, I think that initiatives like Micah Challenge and the Millennium Development Goals have done very little practical good and have perhaps served to distance the average Christian and church from the discussion of how to assist the poor.  I have grave doubts that simply reducing developing world debt is any kind of long-term solution (or even short-term solution). Hence, it seems to me, the discussion of how to help the poor has become specialized, leaving the average “Joe” or “Jane” wondering what he or she can really do.  The problem seems so large and our ability to contribute so limited in comparison to the need.

Greer and Smith, however, introduce the problem, describe practical and real strategies that can break the cycle of dependency and and point to possible ways that the average church and individual can get involved in reducing poverty. This is what most people are looking for.  This is what I am looking for. 

The authors don’t provide all of the answers, of course. I am still wondering how micro-financing, credits and insurance can be established in societies where religious persecution is common and where the poor not only have to deal with poverty but societal prejudice and hostility.  All of the examples given by Greer and Smith are in countries where there is relative stability in terms of religious tolerance.  Is it possible, we wonder, to graft onto an already existing microfinance institutes a program of providing micro-loans specifically to persecuted Christians?  We were able to do something similar in India a few years ago.  Could this be replicated elsewhere?  As a ministry that focuses solely on serving the persecuted, this is a fundamental question, since most  MFI’s serve the poor in general, regardless of religion.  We respect that, but that would take us beyond our mandate. Having read Greer and Smith, I feel better equipped to know where to proceed, however, in finding the answers to some of these questions.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Join the team

Do you live within driving distance of our office in Mississauga, Ontario? Do you have the kind of job where you can give time to the Lord during the week?  Perhaps you are retired but have a passion to serve persecuted Christians in a meaningful way.  Consider being part of our office team! Right now The Voice of the Martyrs is looking for committed volunteers who can serve at our office anywhere from 4-8 hours weekly with the following:

  • Adding new newsletter subscriptions into our database
  • Preparing, packing and shipping book orders
  • Stuffing envelopes and writing thank you notes to our donors
  • Preparing, packing, and shipping books and other resources for various events
  • Unpacking and counting books after events
  • Preparing books for sale with labels and book cards
  • Answering telephones and forwarding calls to appropriate staff
  • Scanning and indexing pictures that we take and receive from around the world.

Want to know more? Why not fill out the volunteer contact form or contact Ed, our Volunteer Network Administrator at 1.888.298.6423, or use our online contact form?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The story of Anastasius of Epirus and Daniel

One of the things I appreciate most about Eastern Orthodox Christianity is the way in which they value history and make a point of remembering those who have sacrificed everything for their faith.  Everyday, they commemorate the lives of some of these individuals.  I have subscribed to an RSS feed where everyday I receive a link to a podcast by Ancient Faith Radio where the story of one of them is told.  I have found listening to these to be one of my quiet pleasures of the day.

Today’s podcast has to to with Anastasius of Epirus and Daniel, a Muslim whom he led to faith in Christ.  Here is their story:

Anastasius and his sister were Greek peasants living in Epirus under Ottoman rule. One day a band of Turks came through their village, led by Musa, the son of the local Pasha (Governor). Musa was struck by the beauty of Anastasius' sister and tried to seize her, but Anastasius threw himself at the Turks and fought them off long enough for his sister to escape. Musa's father had Anastasius arrested and brought before him and, impressed by his courage, attempted to convert him to Islam by many means: threats, beatings, and offers of worldly honor; but Anastasius held firm and was cast into prison.

Musa was moved by the way that Anastasius bore all these trials and temptations, and wanted to know more about the Faith that sustained him. Going secretly to Anastasius' prison cell, he peered in and saw two young men of shining appearance with the prisoner. They vanished as soon as Musa entered. Anastasius told Musa that these were angels who guard and aid every Christian, especially when they suffer for Christ. He also explained in a simple way the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which enables His followers to set little value upon worldly things. Musa, deeply moved, threw himself at Anastasius' feet and asked to become a Christian. Anastasius told him to wait until the proper time, because his conversion would cause his father to persecute all the Christians under his power. A few days later, in 1750, Anastasius was beheaded by order of the Pasha.

Soon after this, Musa visited the tomb of a holy Martyr and was granted a vision of Anastasius, who appeared to him encircled in light and urged him to continue on the road to Christ. Musa fled his father's domain to the Peleponnese where he received direction in the Faith from an aged ascetic. He then traveled to Venice to be baptized without fear of reprisal by the Turks. In time he became a monk on Corfu, receiving the monastic name of Daniel. He lived there in asceticism, but the desire grew in him to taste martyrdom for Christ, so he traveled to Constantinople to declare his conversion to the Muslims. But the Christians there dissuaded him, knowing that the conversion of such a prominent Turk would, if it were known, lead to retaliation against Christians. Saint Daniel returned to Corfu, where he founded a church in honor of St Anastasius and reposed in peace.

Maryam and Marzieh set free

We rejoice to announce that, after 259 days in detention, Iranian Christians Maryam Rustampoor and Marzieh Amirizadeh were released from Evin prison on Wednesday November 18, 2009 at 3:30pm without bail.  Elam Ministries notes that “they may yet have to face a court hearing and still need our prayers.”

“Words are not enough to express our gratitude to the Lord and to His people who have prayed and worked for our release," Elam quoted them as saying.

Thank you to all who have been praying for these young ladies for the past nine months. Join us and others around the world in praying:

  • For their health to be fully restored.
  • For their continued safety.
  • For their full acquittal.

Please feel free to post your prayers and praise on our Persecuted Church Prayer Wall.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Is God Losing?

Orissa violence 2008 _82 One of the main reasons why the Voice of the Martyrs exists is to be a voice for those who are being persecuted. We do that in a number of ways - through our month newsletter, our weekly Persecution and Prayer Alert, web sites and multimedia (to name a few). Technology has dramatically changed since the time Richard Wurmbrand began this mission over 40 years ago. As a result we get information about the persecution of Christians around the world more often and much sooner. Technology and the availability of travel allows us to produce more video reports and write articles of persecuted believers so we can hear their voices and see their faces which in turn helps us better understand what they are facing as followers of Jesus. They aren’t just living in some far off land, but they are our brothers and sisters in Christ, a part of the same family as us. Their stories become more real to us. We can’t ignore them.

This constant access of information about the Persecuted Church makes us more aware of those who are suffering for the sake of the Gospel.

However there are those who feel that by reporting too much on the subject Christian persecution makes it appear that God’s Kingdom is not doing so well. A recent email from Dave got me thinking about this. Here is what he wrote.

Hello, I have heard that some people were complaining that the VOMC The Voice of the Martyrs Canada) was painting a picture that God was 'losing' in the world by posting so many articles of persecution. I wanted to say that seeing God answer prayers, like Chen Le being invited back to the school he had been banned from in China, is just one example of how God is winning. And working. And moving. As a Canadian we need to see what is happening around the world to Christians. Thank you all for your hard work in presenting stories of persecution from around the world. Thank you for the newsletters and for the people you are representing through them. Keep on presenting the truth! For His glory! – Dave

Dave is right. It not God’s Kingdom that is being destroyed, it is Satan’s kingdom that is falling. The enemy of our souls is desperate, and is doing all he can to disrupt the work of God. All through the Bible we read about the suffering of God’s righteous servants. Much of the New Testament was written by persecuted Christians to persecuted Christians. Being persecuted for those who desire to live of godly life in Christ Jesus is just a part of what it is to be a follower of the Lord (2 Timothy 3:12). The persecution of Christians is often proof that God is advancing His Kingdom, not losing ground.

We are in a war, and that battle which is often brutal will continue until the end of time. However the Bible tells us, God’s people are on the winning side! Yes, there are wounded along the way. But rather than ignoring them or turning away, let’s pray for them, remember them and help them. God is NOT losing! And we’ll keep reporting and telling the stories from the Persecuted Church.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Release delayed for Maryam and Marzieh

We were informed this morning by Elam Ministries that the release of Iranian Christians Maryam Rostampour and Marzieh Amirizadeh was delayed today due to legal procedures but that their release is still imminent.  They ask that we continue to uphold this situation in our prayers.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Update! Maryam and Marzieh told that they will be released!

evin2a We have just learned from Elam Ministries that Iranian Christians Maryam Rostampour and Marzieh Amirizadeh have been told that they will be released tomorrow, Monday November 16, 2009 after 255 days of captivity in the Evin prison.  According to the report, after their release they still might have to attend court hearings. However, their release would be a significant step forward.  Elam said, “We are rejoicing at the prospect of their release but would ask you to pray for their full and unconditional release, and for their safety and quick recovery.

More news will be released as it comes available.  Use our “Search This Blog” feature to get further information and other postings that we have released on Maryam and Marzieh in the past year.

This week in persecuted church history (November 15-21)

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

November 15

  • oxford_cross 1838: A group from the university of Oxford, England and the city meets at Town Hall and agree to ask the public for funds to erect a Gothic Cross atop a spire in Oxford to the memory of Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer and Thomas Cranmer, whose sacrifice they believed had been deliberately overlooked in a recently published church history book.  The work was completed in 1841.
  • 1885: Joseph Mukasa, a member of the royal family and a convert to Christianity, is beheaded in Uganda at the order of King Mwanga.
    Mwanga was cruel and wicked with little political sense. One of his early acts (January 1885) was to martyr three Protestant converts. Later that same year, his troops massacred Anglican bishop James martyr01Hannington and the Africans traveling with him.  Mukasa opposed  the killing of the bishop.  Also, being in charge of the palace pages, he was alarmed when he noticed that the king was sexually attracted to the young boys and hide them.  Angered, the king agreed to his Prime Minister Katikiro’s suggestion that Mukasa should be killed because he was leader of the young Christian community.

    Inspired by Mukasa's heroism, the church grew rapidly. Another convert, Charles Lwanga, took Mukasa's place in the palace and acted with the same integrity. The king roasted him over a slow fire. Many other converts were murdered in the next two years, but Mukasa was the first of the Catholic martyrs in Uganda.

November 16

  • 2008: Four Christians in the community of Santiago Teotlaxco, Oaxaca State, Mexico are jailed for refusing to participate or help pay for a festival that blends traditional native religions and Roman Catholicism.

November 17

  • 303: Romanus, a native of Palestine and deacon of the church of Caesarea, is ordered strangled to death having been brutally tortured by scourging, being put to the rack, his body torn with hooks, his flesh cut with knives, his face scared, his teeth knocked out, and his hair plucked up by the roots.
  • 1558: Elizabeth I's accession to the English throne leads to the re-establishment of the Church of England.
  • 2004: A 24-year-old new convert to Christianity in Zamboanga City in southern Philippines is seriously wounded by Muslim militants as he was making his way home from the market around 9:00 p.m. He was ambushed by three men and shot in the abdomen and the chest.

November 18

  • 1302: Pope Boniface VIII publishes "Unam Sanctam," declaring there is "One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church" outside of which there is "neither salvation nor remission of sins." Emphasizing the pope's position as Supreme Head of the Church, it also demanded that temporal powers subjugate themselves to spiritual ones.
  • 2007: Pastor Siddarama Gokhavi (60) and six other Christians are beaten by Bajrang Dal activists who attack them as they are worshiping in Ananda Nagara, Karnataka. The attackers vandalize the building, burn Bibles and chant slogans against Christians. The militants include a senior police officer. Pastor Gokhavi and his wife, Rekha, are injured in the attack, along with five others. The attackers accuse the Christians of coercing Hindus into becoming Christians.

November 19

  • 2003: A group of Christian pilgrims from Ecuador are deliberately targeted by a Palestinian terrorist as they prepare to enter Israel at the Eilat-Aqaba border crossing. One is killed and four others wounded.

November 20Edmundbeingmartyred05

  • 869: Edmund, king of East Anglia, is executed by the invading Danish Vikings when he refused to deny his Christian convictions as the condition of surrender.  He was then beaten with sticks, used as an archery target and eventually beheaded.
  • 1527: Weynken of Monickendam in burnt to death in the Hague after being interrogated by the local governor for converting to Protestantism.
  • 1541: In Switzerland, French reformer John Calvin, 32, established a theocratic government at Geneva, thereby creating a home base for emergent Protestantism throughout Europe.
  • 1806: Baptist preacher Isaac Backus, an influential voice in arguing for religious liberty in Massachusetts and later the United States, dies.
  • williams1839: Veteran missionary John Williams is killed and eaten by cannibals when he lands on Erromanga, New Hebrides (Vanuatu) to begin a new mission work.  Williams had successfully planted churches in Tahiti, the Samoan Islands, Raratonga and numerous other islands of the Pacific.  This was his first (and last) visit to the New Hebrides.

November 21

  • 235: Anterus is elected pope, a position he would hold for only a few weeks. According to the Liber pontificalis, he was martyred for ordering the "acts of the martyrs" to be written down and put in the church library.
  • 1570: Barbelken Goethals znd Saerken Van Duerhove are sentenced to death as heretics for being their anabaptist beliefs and brunt to death outside of the city of Ghent (in present day Belgium).
  • 1964: The third session of Vatican II closes with the approval of three documents. One of these, the "Decree on Ecumenism," declared both Catholics and Protestants to blame for past divisions and called for dialogue, not derision, in the future .
  • india_bashir_tantray 2006: Bashir Ahmed Tantray (50) is shot and killed while he was waiting by a bus stand in the village of Mamoosa, Barmullah. Eye-witness accounts claim that two young Muslim men came to the bus stand at 10:10 a.m. and started to inquire about bus timings. Then one of the militants took out a pistol and fired three rounds at Tantray at point-blank range. Tantray converted to Christianity ten years earlier and had been an active and widely known Christian worker in the state.

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

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Update on Maryam and Marzieh: Case may end up back in Iranian revolutionary court

Elam Ministries released the following report last night and ask for intensified prayers on behalf of these two young women.  We invite you to join the many others who have posted a special prayer on their behalf on our Persecuted Church Prayer Wall.

Maryam and Marzieh: case back with revolutionary court 

In October the two imprisoned Christian women, Maryam Rostampour and Marzieh Amirizadeh, were encouraged to hear their case would be heard by the civil courts. However, they now have been advised by their lawyer that their case may not in fact be transferred to the civil courts. Although they have continued to suffer ill health they have remained strong in their faith and are believing the Lord for a breakthrough. Originally arrested on March 5 2009, Maryam and Marzieh have now been held against their will for over eight months solely because as adults they chose to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. In prison they have both continued to suffer ill health, though they are encouraged by the outpouring of love and prayers from Christians world-wide.

November 25th will mark Marzieh’s 31st birthday, so we would be most grateful for you to pray for both young women, trusting the Lord to bring about their release before that date.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Forsaking the kaafirs and not being unequally yoked

The message of segregation that goes on in both the mosque and the church

Earlier this week, Tarek Fatah in his commentary on November 9 in the National Post “Spreading intolerance, one fatwah at a time” noted the teaching of influential Islamist clerics that the Koran forbade Muslims from making friends with non-Muslims (kaafirs) or even living among them unless the objective was to convert the non-Muslim to Islam. The purpose of such teaching, Fatah suggested, is to convince young Muslims to view their non-Muslim fellow citizens with suspicion and derision. No countervailing effort is being made, he said, at any level in the West to counter the Islamists’ hateful message of isolation, segregation and hostility.

As I read this article, the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:14 came to mind:

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?

I recalled how, in my youth, I was taught that this verse meant that I, as a Christian, should not have close friends who were non-Christians. I especially should not date a non-Christian girl! Such a relationship was doomed to drag me down spiritually, it was said. And for the years, that is how I have tended to view this verse, as I suspect many have. A letter to the editor on Thursday in response to Fatah’s article referred to this same passage, in fact, the author proposing that the Bible actually teaches the same type of isolation and segregation as the Koran did. The only difference, he said, is that Christian churches have learned to ignore such exhortations!

I’m not so sure that this writer is correct, but I do think that Christians have been torn as to how to practice these verses if they are understood to be teaching a strict separation between Christians and non-Christians. I wonder if perhaps we have misunderstood Paul’s words, especially in light of the persecution that Jesus experienced for hanging around with sinners. And so I dug into 2 Corinthians 6 this week and was surprised to see how this verse, when taken out of context and viewed separately from the rest of the book, could be used to instill fear, suspicion and isolation in Christian youth in a similar way to how Koranic verses are being used to create Islamists.

It is vital that we see Paul’s words in the context of the book itself. In chapter 5:11-6:13, Paul is speaking of his being entrusted with God’s message of reconciliation, the Gospel, and urges the Corinthians not to receive this message in vain. The Corinthians risk doing this due to their propensity to embrace teachers whose message and methods run counter to Paul’s. Their gospel is not the gospel of Christ suffering on the cross to bring reconciliation with God and their ministry methods are not those of sacrificial service and a readiness to suffer (and even die) in order to bring this message to others.

It is in this context that 2 Corinthian 6:14-7:1 appears and should be interpreted. What Paul is calling for is for the Corinthians to recognize that they cannot follow Paul’s message brought to them sacrificially and in much suffering and follow these other false teachers whose message and methods are so diametrically different. The Corinthians are trying to yoke together two incompatible animals to the same plow. “Stop trying!” Paul says. The call here is to disassociate themselves from complicity with those who would attempt to propagate a false gospel within the church.[i]

Hence, the call here is not to pull away from the world or unbelievers in general, but from those who would seek to contaminate the church with false teachings. Indeed, only a church committed to such segregation can hold forth the true message of reconciliation to a needy world and be willing to sacrifice themselves in order to bring such a gospel to those who need it. Find me a church that is unwilling to sacrifice and suffer and you will likely have found one that is yoking together the gospel of Christ and false teaching similar to that which Paul’s opponents were teaching in Corinth.
____________________________________

[i] c.f. R. Kent Hughes, 2 Corinthians: Power in Weakness. Crossway Books, 2006: 141; C.K. Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Harper’s New Testament Commentaries. Hendrickson Publishers, 1973: 194-196

Do we apply a double standard to acts of violence committed by Muslims?

Why is it that we refuse to apply the same standards to acts of violence committed by Muslims than those committed by almost any other group? So asks Father Raymond J. de Souza in his commentary in yesterday’s National Post entitled The Fort Hood double standard.

Add Fort Hood to the list. It's getting longer: New York, Washington, Jerusalem, Bali, Madrid, London, Bombay. It's the list of places where, we are told, it is important to be vigilant about anti-Muslim activity.

The phenomenon is by now well-established. An apparent jihadist visits death and destruction upon innocents, motivated in part by a violent brand of Islamic extremism, and soon the violence becomes an apt occasion to raise awareness about the danger of anti-Muslim thoughts, words and deeds. Violence by Muslims has a unique ability to spur a Canadian prime minister, British royal, or, as was the case this time, the American secretary of homeland security, to sound the alarm about violence against Muslims.

"The tragic shootings at the Fort Hood U.S. Army Base raise the spectres of hostility against Muslims within the United States, and of Islamic hostility toward the U.S.," editorialized Toronto's Globe and Mail. That's a strange symmetry. On one hand there may be a "spectre," but on the other there is the reality of 13 dead victims.

Denying at the outset the Islamist motivations of men such as Major Nidal Malik Hasan does no favour to Muslims who, after all, bear the largest share of the global death toll caused by Islamist extremism. But we're getting pretty used to the routine: Islamist violence, followed by pundits getting upset when anyone mentions the link between extreme Islamism and violence.

Click here to read the rest of this excellent article and then feel free to add your views to our comments section. Let’s discuss this. Do we treat crimes committed by Muslims differently than those of others? Do the media and our political leaders tend to downplay the role that Islam may play in these acts of violence such as we witnessed in Fort Hood?  Should they?  Why or why not?

Update on attack on Sri Lankan church

VOMC partners, the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) released a report today with further details regarding the November 5th attack on the prayer centre of the Jesus Never Fails Good News Centre in Koswatta, Sri Lanka which we reported on earlier. Here is their report:

A mob of about 200 persons surrounded the prayer centre at approximately 12.45 in the afternoon and hurled stones at the building, damaging the building exterior, windows and air conditioning units and the gate. They shouted threats to kill the pastor, accusing him of unethical conversions and demanding he stops conducting healing services. A large protest march led by members of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) including some of their party M.P. monks preceded the violent attack.

The protest and the attack were a reaction to the death of two women who were brought to an open air healing service conducted by the pastor of the church on the 31st of October 2009, at the Vihara Mahadevi Park in Colombo. A spokesman for the church said the women came of their own free will, seeking divine healing and they died on admission to hospital and not at the healing service. 

Police were called in to stop the attack but were unable to prevent damage to the building. No arrests have been made so far. The prayer centre suspended services AND meetings due to fear of further attacks and threats issued to members of the church. Video footage of the attack on the church were televised by several local TV stations.

Pastor Joseph is a respected member of the community and the prayer centre has been there for a considerable period of time, coexisting harmoniously with the local Buddhist temple. According to members of the church, the local Temple had no part in the attack.

Ven. Athureliye Rathana Thero M.P. and leader of the JHU Parliamentary group on the 6th speaking in Parliament denied the JHU's involvement in the attack, but called for the arrest of the pastor and urged the Anti-Conversion Bill to be made law.

Remember Sri Lanka’s Christians in your prayers.  Feel free to post a pray on their behalf on our Persecuted Church Prayer Wall.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Voice of the Martyrs joins coalition to combat “defamation of religions” concept

The Voice of the Martyrs (Canada) has joined a coalition of over 100 Christian, Muslim and Jewish organisations as well as humanist and secular groups from around the world in signing a common civil society statement against the concept of “defamation of religions.” The statement was drafted due to the ongoing “Combating Defamation of Religion” agenda at the United Nations and a concern that a new, legally-binding international treaty limiting the criticism of religion may become a reality.

This concern arose as Syria, on behalf of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), along with Belarus and Venezuela, proposed on October 29 a General Assembly resolution “combating defamation of religions.” While similar, non-binding resolutions have been passed in previous years, this year, for the first time, a UN body proposed a binding treaty to combat “defamation of religions.” At meeting in Geneva that concluded on October 30th, Pakistan (on behalf of the OIC) and Nigeria, (on behalf of the Africa Group) proposed a binding treaty amendment to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), an existing international treaty on racism.

The Voice of the Martyrs opposes such resolutions and amendments on the premise that it is individuals who have rights, not ideas, governments or religions. To extend such protection beyond individual human rights jeopardises the fundamental right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of expression on religious subjects. Such resolutions against the defamation of religions, even when nonbinding, have already provided international cover for domestic anti-blasphemy laws in countries like Pakistan where these laws are used to persecute Christians and other religious minorities under the guise of protecting Islam from defamation. A legally binding treaty would almost certainly lead to other Islamic countries, in particular, passing similar domestic laws as a “human rights” requirement and could conceivably been used to support legal action against individuals and organizations in Western countries with the intent to suppress criticism (real or perceived) of Islam.

We encourage you to contact Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations, John McNee, and encourage him to support Canada’s opposition to any defamation of religions resolutions and any attempt to extend the concept into binding treaties such as ICERD (for the contact information for UN embassies of other countries, click here). A preliminary vote on the General Assembly resolution is expected before the end of November with a final plenary vote expected in early to mid-December.

(Note: The United States Commission on International Freedom has published an excellent policy focus on explaining the problems with the idea that religions should be protected from "defamation." Please click here to download copy of this paper)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The blessing of uselessness

With the decline of my health over the past year, one of the issues that I struggle with is a sense of uselessness since I can no longer do many of the things that I used to be able to do in my service for the persecuted around the world.  Watching my colleagues do things that I once did and found so much pleasure in is hard.  It is easy to feel…useless and unneeded.  I don’t say that to sound whiney.  I think many who go through suffering often feel this way, especially if they have lived active lives.

This morning, however, I read the following during my devotion time from Mike Mason’s The Gospel According to Job.  I hope you are as blessed and challenged by this as I was.

Uselessness

“Oh, for the days when I was in my prime,
When God’s intimate friendship blessed my house.” (29:4)

Suffering, like the enemy who causes it, is a many-headed beast, and one of the heads is called Uselessness. A sufferer’s existence can seem so pointless, so stagnant and unworthy. Little wonder that Job’s mood in this chapter is one of intense nostalgia as he longs for “the good old days” when not only was he blessed by God, but when God’s blessing enabled him to bless others. Such feelings are perfectly human and understandable. We all want to be useful and productive. But one of the things we learn from the many set-backs of life is that God, in His wisdom, has a use for uselessness. The Lord Himself seems to be fond of standing around and doing nothing. When we imitate Him in this, the Bible calls it “waiting on the Lord.” But just think of how God waits on us! For thousands of years He has waited for mankind to turn to Him. Right now it is just as though He were standing on a street corner outside our home, hands in His pockets, whistling a gospel tune, waiting for us to keep our appointment with Him. Are we too busy with more pressing matters? Being useless, it seems, is not an important enough activity for us, and so we leave it to God.

Of course it is true that, as Jesus taught, “My Father is always working” (John 5:17). But to our human eyes God’s work often looks like idleness. His methods can appear so lackadaisical, so they involve pain on our part. Suffering puts us out of commission (at least from our perspective), so that we can no longer work, no longer contribute, no longer do much of value. Without this intense feeling of uselessness, suffering and even dying might not seem half so bad. Perhaps it is even true that the very soul of suffering is not so much pain itself, in all its forms, as it is the simple humiliation of having all our plans brought to a standstill, the indignity of being made to stop and wait.

How interesting it is that when the Lord appeared to Moses, and later to Joshua, to each of them He said the same thing: “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground” (Ex. 3:5; Josh. 5:15). Why should you take off your shoes in the Lord’s presence? Because without shoes you are not going anywhere. You might try to walk, but you will not get very far, especially in the hot sand and sharp rocks of the wilderness. Taking off one’s shoes may not be quite as drastic as cutting off one’s feet, but it amounts to the same thing. Barefootedness means immobilization, and so it is a symbol of submission. Being immobile (in other words, having nothing better to do) is a prerequisite for worship, and worship is the prerequisite for all activity, all service.

Many churches today are eager to mobilize for the Lord, but without paying much attention to the prior and greater work of immobilization. We need to learn how to kick off our shoes and discover that the place where we are standing is holy. When Daniel saw a vision of the Ancient of Days on His throne, “ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.” And what was this multitude doing? Not much. All we are told is that “the court was seated, and the books were opened.” And without anyone moving an inch four powerful empires were destroyed (Dan. 7:10-12). In Heaven, apparently, they know the meaning of the saying, “Don’t just do something—stand there!”

The people of Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years, and the soles of their shoes never wore out. Why not? Because they only moved at the Lord’s command. In many ways they were disobedient, but in this one point they were constrained to obey because pillars of cloud and of fire were hanging over them. If today we find our souls (pun intended) wearing out, it may be because we are running around doing a lot of things that the Lord has not told us to do. We want to be fruitful. We want to work for our church and contribute to our society. We want to do something, not simply believe. When circumstances are such that we cannot do anything, we get restless and squirm, and just like Job we think back on our full and productive days and we long to see them return. We long to go back, not just so we can feel good again, but so we can get on with our “real work,” get on with making our contribution.

But listen to the words of Catherine Doherty: “If you want to see what a ‘contribution’ really is, look at the Man on the cross. That’s a contribution. When you are hanging on a cross you cannot do anything because you are crucified.”