Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pakistani Christian woman faces court hearing

470-NSJ-062 copy Asia Bibi (38), a woman arrested for blasphemy in Pakistan's Punjab province in June 2009 after she and several Muslim women had a heated discussion about Islam (click here for the story), faced another court hearing on June 22, 2010. Once again, her accusers were not present in the court. Sources are hopeful that the negligence of the witnesses will make a positive impact on Asia’s case.

Asia faces another court hearing today – Tuesday, June 29. Please join together with your friends and family and pray for this sister in Christ. Pray that the charges of blasphemy will be dropped. Pray that she will be reunited with her husband and daughters. Pray that Asia will continue to look to the Lord for her strength during this difficult time.

Please also consider sending a letter of encouragement to Asia. When writing, please do not mention The Voice of the Martyrs or criticize the government of Pakistan.

You can write Asia today at:

Asia Bibi
District Jail

To compose a letter in Asia’s own language, please go to www.PrisonerAlert.com. To find out more about writing letters to prisoners, please click here.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Students receive hospital treatment following bomb attack in Iraq

On May 2, a convoy of buses carrying Christian students to the University of Mosul was targeted in a bomb attack. A roadside bomb followed by a car bomb reportedly exploded in the area of Kokjaly as the buses were clearing a checkpoint staffed by U.S., Iraqi, and Iraqi Kurdish soldiers (click here for more information).

The video below shows the students receiving treatment at a hospital immediately after the bombing. As you watch, please pray for these students and their families. Pray for peace for the Christian community in Iraq. Please be advised that the footage contains scenes of blood.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Millstones anyone?

Every Thursday, VOM-Canada releases The Persecution & Prayer Alert, a news and prayer digest on the persecuted Church. This week, the stories were especially difficult as the victims were children and an elderly man. How does one respond to such injustice, such brutality? (You can read the Persecution & Prayer alert here.)

Twyla Penner, a VOM Ambassador and wife of our Webmaster (Twyla also works on the site), wrote the following in response to this week's Prayer Alert. I hope it will challenge you as it challenged me to not recoil from the horror of persecution, but to draw ever closer in prayer to both its victims and perpetrators.

When The Voice of the Martyrs publishes its material, no one pretends that we're handing out warm fuzzies. The stories we have to tell are hard hitting and in your face. We make no apology for that. In fact, we strongly believe that you need to hear these stories. When there's an 11-year-old boy who is living in iron chains and subjected to starvation and harsh slavery,we believe that you need to hear about it. When that same boy is told that he'll have his freedom if he will only turn to Islam, we're driven to speak out. When a 14-year-old girl sits in horrified silence because of her rapists, we cannot remain silent.

I'm not sure how you react when you hear of things like this. I realize that your reaction might be to turn away. It's too much to take. Yes, it is. These young people agonize in torment; it is too much. Do you want to rescue them? Hold them? Pray for them? I must admit, one of my first responses is to look around for the nearest millstone -- I'd be most happy to secure one to the necks of the perpetrators and be there to push them off of a cliff into the deepest ocean. Didn't Jesus say that even that would be better for them than His judgment? I think my response is somewhat natural.

Then I have to take a step back and look at the whole context of scripture.

1. The "worse than a millstone" judgment is God's to dole out. I have no business trying to step into His shoes.

2. God offers even the abusers His unconditional forgiveness and grace. That's a hard pill to swallow. If these men turn to God, we'll be spending eternity with them, and so will the faithful kids and youth that have been so deeply scarred by them.

3. I'm called to do the same. Wait a minute! I have to offer love, forgiveness and grace? Absolutely! If you've ever been abused or watched someone you love be abused, you know that this is not only impossible in ourselves, it doesn't even seem right to forgive. Abusers deserve the millstone! Yes, they absolutely do; but quite frankly, all of us deserve God's judgment. Granted, most of us have never committed such heinous acts. We have, however, offended our Holy God and only live and breathe by His grace. Abusers can and do change. To adamantly state that they can never change is to declare that their hellish acts are greater than God. Jesus commanded us to pray for them. I swallow hard, ask for God's grace and do so.

A question that is repeatedly asked by the abused is echoed in the Psalms: "Where is God in all of this?" He's right here, in you and me. If we've accepted His free gift and allowed Him to take control of our lives, His Spirit is living in us.When we, through His Spirit, sit with the rape victim and patiently wait for her to muster the strength to talk, we are God's heart and ears to her. When we tousle the lice infested head of, and embrace the boy that knows only heartache, we become Jesus' arms to him. When we hold the hand of a child who has lost her Daddy and allow her tears to soak our own hands, it's Jesus' hands that hold hers. Taking this even further, when we look the abuser in the eye and honestly tell him or her, "Jesus loves you!" we express the grace that motivated Jesus to agonize on the cross. He's given to us the task of taking His presence to others. In that sense, will we allow God to be "right there"? Let's leave the millstones to God and get busy bringing His presence to the darkest places in people's lives.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Four Christians arrested at Arab festival in Michigan

Have you heard about the four Christians who were arrested this past Friday in Michigan? According to CBN, the Christians “were arrested June 18 and charged with disorderly conduct at the Dearborn Arab International Festival in Michigan while trying to share their faith with Muslims. The festival drew an estimated 300,000 people over three days. Authorities said they are not taking any sides and must keep the peace at a festival due to the large crowd. Christian proselytizing at the festival has been a matter of dispute for several years. The evangelists, who are free on bond, insist they only spoke with people who wanted to speak with them.”

On their blog, the arrested believers later posted: “It cannot be said that we were arrested for causing a disturbance, because we did not approach anyone, rather everyone with whom we spoke first approached us. It cannot be said that we were harassing anyone, because the moment anyone said "stop talking to me", we would stop talking to them. And it cannot be said that we were spreading hate speech, because we said virtually nothing about Islam at all. On the contrary, we repeatedly affirmed our love for all Muslims. Whenever I was asked "Why would you love me?" I said "Because Jesus loves you, and he told me to love you." No hating, no disturbing, no harassing... It remains only to be concluded that we were arrested simply for being Christian Preachers at the Arab Festival in Dearborn.”

For footage of the event and interviews with those arrested, watch the video below. And, as always, we would love to hear your comments and reactions!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Kenya: Islamic courts issue stirs strife

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 060 | Wed 16 Jun 2010

Last Sunday 13 June, six people were killed and some 104 wounded when grenades were thrown into a massive Christian rally in Nairobi's Uhuru Park. The rally was organised by religious leaders who advocate that Christians vote 'NO' in the 4 August referendum on Kenya's new constitution. It included evangelism, prayer for the sick and addresses from several parliamentarians from the 'NO' camp. Whilst the rally officially ended at 6 pm, many believers lingered and continued in worship and prayer. At around 6.45pm an explosion occurred at the left rear of the gathering. Assuming it was something harmless, Pastor James Ng'ang'a, who was leading prayers at the time, called on those present to gather closer to the platform. However, as bloodied victims of the explosion were being brought forward, a grenade lobbed in from the right exploded close to the main dais. This killed some, wounded many and caused a stampede that resulted in many more injuries.

No security had been provided for the event though church leaders had requested it. Despite the explosions, police did not attend from the nearest police station just 2km away until Bishop Margaret Wanjiru drove there after an hour and requested their assistance. In highly provocative statements Professor Peter Anyang Nyong'o, Co-convener of the 'YES' campaign Secretariat, and Hussein Khalid, head of Muslims For Human Rights, insinuated that the 'NO' campaign might have bombed itself to gain sympathy.

The draft constitution includes several divisive issues, one of which is the entrenchment of Kadhi (Islamic) courts. Kenyan Muslims (8 percent) have long pushed to have Kadhi courts defined in the Constitution with national rather than just local jurisdiction. This would give Khadi courts authority equal to the State's secular courts. Christians maintain that Kenya's secularism, equity, tolerance and religious freedom will then be diminished.

On 24 May a three-judge bench declared the inclusion of Kadhi courts in the current Constitution illegal and discriminatory, prompting church leaders to petition for a recall of parliament so amendments could be made. However, former Law Society of Kenya chairman, Ahmednassir Abdullahi, charged that the constitutional court had acted outside its jurisdiction, a claim supported by Kenya's Attorney-General Amos Wako. Wako has launched an appeal that he wants heard before the 4 August referendum. Tensions are running high.

Meanwhile the 'YES' campaign is busy wielding 'hate speech' laws against those who dare speak out against the dangers they believe are posed by the draft constitution. The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) is investigating complaints made against the Higher Education Minister William Ruto, who is spearheading the 'NO' campaign, and five other Members of Parliament. The NCIC wants them prosecuted for 'hate speech' since they opined that elements of the draft constitution could trigger bloodshed and evictions (as power is devolved from the centre to 47 self-governing ethnic counties) and 'religious warfare' (due to advancing Islamisation). The 'YES' campaign was greatly bolstered last week by the visit of US Vice President Joe Biden who publicly supported the 'YES' campaign, urging Kenyans to resist those who would use 'fear' as a 'tool' to perpetuate division. He also promised the Kenyan Government more American and foreign investment if the constitution were passed. No wonder the government is hungry for a quick, untroubled 'Yes'. In the midst of this, the Church stands as a prophetic voice of opposition. Polls taken on 4 June show the powerful, elitist-led, Muslim-backed 'YES' vote clearly in front. They will be furious if the constitution fails. It is a no-win situation for the Church.


* grant Kenya's Church leaders great wisdom, courage and unity as they seek what is best for their nation.

* use this trial to purify and sanctify his Church in Kenya, forging spiritual maturity and unity and a God-dependency that expresses itself in prayerfulness.

* use these difficult and darkening days to lead many Kenyans to Jesus Christ; may the Church not fear the times, knowing she will shine like a star, only brighter as darkness descends.

'For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.' (Isaiah 55:9 ESV.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Good and foolish servants

Ask a fellow Christian to speak about the faithfulness of God and they could go on for quite a while—maybe even break into that oft-sung hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” But ask them to talk about the foolishness of God and I suspect they might draw back, empty of ease and ready song. It’s not a word Christians easily ascribe to the Lord. Neither is it one most use when describing those enduring persecution for their Christian witness; we much prefer words such as brave, bold, and courageous. Yet 1 Corinthians 1:25 reminds us: “[T]he foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 1:18 we read: “[T]he message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” It is in God’s foolishness, then, that the faithful find resilience, all the while aware that their acts of costly obedience and brave trust will seem illogical, rash and even silly to those who have not yet embraced the Truth.

Yesterday I read a wonderful poem by Luci Shaw in which she celebrates this call to rely on God’s "foolishness.” Those who obey this calling can go forth in confidence, knowing that their Master will not scold them for their "stupidity", but will say to these good and faithful servants "well done."

The Foolishness of God

Perform impossibilities
or perish. Thrust out now
the unseasonal ripe figs
among your leaves. Expect
the mountain to be moved.
Hate parents, friends and all
materiality. Love every enemy.
Forgive more times than seventy-
seven. Camel-like, squeeze by
into the kingdom through
the needle's eye. All fear quell.
Hack off your hand, or else,
unbloodied, go to hell.

Thus the divine unreason.
Despairing, you may cry
with earthy logic -- How?
And I, your God, reply:
Leap from your weedy shallows.
Dive into the moving water.
Eye-less, learn to see
truly. Find in my folly your
true sanity. Then, Spirit-driven,
run on the narrow way, sure
as a child. Probe, hold
my unhealed hand, and
bloody, enter heaven.

(From Polishing the Petoskey Stone)

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Overcomers: Christian woman dies in prison in Eritrea

Is religious faith the civic oxygen of our social ecology?

The Globe and Mail recently ran an excellent article by Ray Pennings -- a senior fellow and research director of Cardus, an independent policy institute –- in which he challenges the “secular pluralism” shift of the past 40 years. The topic most certainly relates to many issues VOM encounters in discussions about religious liberty in Canada and the existence of, as Pennings states, a  “growing number of Canadians who see faith not merely as a private good, but as a public bad.” You can see by the comments posted on the Globe's site that the article has generated quite an impassioned discussion! We would love to hear your opinions as well, including your reactions to some of the sentiments and opinions shared.

Religious faith is the civic oxygen of our social ecology

The secularizing experiment of the past 40 years has been a failure

Ray Pennings

Author Marci McDonald’s latest book, The Armageddon Factor, mocked for its sky-shouting alarm about a purported Christian putsch in Canadian federal politics, has been dismissed by its harsher critics as delusional rubbish being pushed through the public square.

And yet, Ms. McDonald’s face-off with public faith deserves a second look, at least for what it says about the suspicion and hostility many Canadians harbour toward mixing religious and political belief.

The Armageddon Factor may be, as its detractors argue, anti-theist fear-mongering. Yet the book’s publisher is clearly betting it will sell to the growing number of Canadians who see faith not merely as a private good, but as a public bad.

It’s hardly a reckless wager. Whether the discussion involves Muslims, Sikhs, Jews or Christians, it has become common to express uneasiness with any public expression of truth claims that might be considered exclusive to a given faith group. Such public claims are increasingly viewed as divisive or – mortal sin of the 21st century – intolerant.

Common expression need not translate into majority belief. However, 9/11 made us all profoundly aware of private belief’s public consequences. Since Canadians are committed to equality and pluralism, the thinking goes, of necessity we need great care in dealing with all religion in public.

Even granting the virtue in prudence, it’s critical to see such neo-squeamishness about public faith as itself undesirable for several reasons.

First, it’s flatly ahistorical and utterly ignores Canada’s founding nature. Second, it risks befouling the very “civic oxygen” that religious faith provides in superabundance to Canada’s social ecology.

While it is now standard fare to hear Canadian secular nationalists imitate their American counterparts by parroting phrases about separation of church and state, Christian faith and practice were essential elements in the construction of Canada.

Confederation involved the creation of a national polity within which two separate societies, French Catholic and English Protestant, could unite. In the constitutional protection for religious education, in the social gospel movement of the early 20th century, or in the relationship of the Duplessis government to the Catholic Church, we find the broad trajectory of forces that bound otherwise disparate Canadians together.

Yet our shift to the “secular pluralism” of the past 40 years has been possible primarily because of the social contributions of those who practice religious faith. There is, demonstrably, a civic oxygen on which Canadian social ecology relies, and it is generated by the nation’s churches, synagogues and mosques.

If Canada’s institutions of faith ceased to participate in our country’s public life, it would be the civic equivalent of the clearing of the rain forest. The social ecological implications would be far more significant than many comprehend.

Statistics Canada data on charitable giving demonstrates this. For example, parsing Statscan numbers, the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy calculates that the 32 per cent of Canadians who are religiously active contribute 65 per cent of direct charitable donations. Even in the secular sector, they provide 42 per cent of the $2.1-billion raised annually by direct giving.

Such statistics do not begin to factor in the importance of the institutional church in contributing to public and social infrastructural space. Institutional religion provides significant social cohesion to cities suffering fragmentation, isolation and disintegration.

Can we, reasonably and in a democratic society, demand the members of such institutions simply perform good works, give freely and then shut up? If public, political language can only exclude God, we are not just preventing believers from speaking about their faith. We are denying them the right to speak for themselves.

That is why the paradigm presented by The Armageddon Factor cannot be taken. It is not just injurious. It is not just false. It is unsustainable.

Historical, sociological, legal and philosophical evidence all prove that that the secularizing experiment of the past 40 years has been a failure. We cannot go on attempting to shape a public square in which God is neither met nor encountered.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Pray for church leaders in Iran

Elam Ministries, an organization that serves to strengthen and expand the church in Iran and beyond, is calling for prayer for pastors and church leaders. Please take some time today to pray for Iranian church leaders and their families as they follow Christ amid difficult circumstances. 

We're encouraging believers all over the world to pray for pastors in Iran. As you can imagine, the life of a church planter is very different in Iran than it is for those in "open" countries. Three Iranian church pastors were asked why they continue to serve the Lord in Iran if they know they are likely to face suffering and persecution. Here’s how they responded:

Mehdi: “Last year was a challenging year. Four of our churches stopped all activity because the pastor and his wife were imprisoned. It is also painful when I hear my young daughter say, ‘Daddy, I don’t want to go to prison. I want to die like other people.’ At the same time we are in an exciting adventure. You would think the same if you were here and could see how God is working in such an amazing way. There is so much fruit and God is preparing this land for a huge revival. I believe in that. But it is not easy—especially for my family.”

Nassim: “God is great. Even in prison, he will protect us and never leave us. God has protected others who have been imprisoned, and because of this, people know that God is great even in the most difficult situations. We are ready to go to prison because we want to witness to the people in prison. We overcome fear because we know that God is with us.”

Kourosh: “The Lord came to my life. He changed my damaged life to a peaceful life. He healed my daughter miraculously and gave her new life and a new heart. He changed my hate to love. I told the Lord. ‘If You can use me, I don’t care where You send me—even to prison. What is important is the glory of the Lord.’”

Please pray for these church leaders and others like them faithfully serving God in Iran.

Send a message of encouragement to an Iranian church leader:

If you'd like to send a word of encouragement to an Iranian church leader, please use this form.

Let's let these brave men and women know that their Christian brothers and sisters around the world love them and are supporting them in prayer.