New Hope for Asia Bibi?


Christmas is over. The new year has begun. For me, my wife, and my family, Christmas was a wonderful retreat. For the only time during the year, our family is complete at Christmas. All siblings are nestled in one place for this one week of the year.

Salmaan Taseer Assassinated for helping Asia Bibi in Pakistan

Salmaan Taseer
Assassinated for helping Asia Bibi in Pakistan

What presents did the little ones get? I might remember one or two of them, but for me, the presents aren’t that important. It’s the presence of my children all together—that is the true treasure to me. It’s sad when the older children must go their ways back to college, back to their homes in other states. So, I’m sad, yet satisfied with the great joy of having had time together as a family.

This satisfying joy of having family all together has been denied to Asia Bibi. Asia, our sister in Christ, has not enjoyed the presence of her family—her husband and five children—for more than 5 years now. For more than 1,800 days in a row, she has been in prison in Pakistan. Imagine what it must be like to suffer alone day after day, night after night.

When I take trips for my job—complete with comfortable hotels—I long to be with my wife, to be in the presence of my children. I can’t wait to get back home, especially if I have been away for three, four, or five straight days. Asia Bibi (Aasiya Noreen) has been alone—without her family—for more than one thousand, eight-hundred days.

Is there any hope for her sanity? Is there any hope for her escape or release? Sadly, even if there were, she would not be safe. Just two weeks ago, a man was released in Pakistan after spending a couple of years in jail on a blasphemy charge (like the charge against Asia). He was shot multiple times. An angry mob surrounded his body and would not allow the family to bury him in the local cemetery.

Other Christians in Pakistan have been killed on the mere accusation that they “blasphemed” the prophet Muhammad.  Pakistan is not a safe place for Christians.

Lately, a new angle of hope has emerged for Christians in Pakistan. Oddly enough, lawyers are looking to Sharia Law for help to defend Christians against the death penalty in blasphemy cases. In Sharia law, there is a principle called Tazkiyah al Shuhood.  This principle insists that witnesses must be highly credible if their evidence is used in a crime that is punishable by death. Asia Bibi’s lawyer appealed to this principle in an effort to raise the bar of evidence against her. Because her case was punishable by death, her lawyer argued from the principle of Tazkiyah al Shuhood that the witnesses needed to meet a higher standard of credibility than mere accusation before their testimony could be used against Asia.

Pakistan Persecution Christian

Shahbaz Bhatti
Assassinated for opposing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

To this point, his argument has not prevailed. However, there is a glimmer of hope in this strategy because it appeals to Sharia law.  Unfortunately, the majority of Pakistani Muslims support the blasphemy laws and the death penalty for those whom they believe has transgressed it. Thus nothing has changed for Asia Bibi so far. But maybe this new legal strategy will prevail.

Ultimately, her real hope is found solely in Jesus Christ,

24but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. 25Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:24-25, NASB).

Why Did the Pope Cry?


Once a bouncer in a night club, Pope Francis might not be known generally as a “crier.”  On a recent trip to Albania, however, he was seen weeping visibly. Why the emotional outburst from such a high-ranking Catholic official? It seems that Pope Francis was overcome by emotion because of the lowliness of an Albanian priest:

Pope speaks against Christian persecution Albania communism

Creative Commons (by Alfredo Borba)

Fr. Ernesto Simoni Troshani, an 84 year old diocesan priest, recalled when the Communist party came to power and began detaining and murdering priests, some he said who died saying “Long live Christ the King”. He also said that his diocesan superiors were killed by firing squad.

Fr. Troshani was himself imprisoned for 18 years during the Communist takeover of Albania. On his cell wall, Troshani etched the phrase, “Jesus is my life.” Troshani was sentenced to forced labor, where he stayed until he became so weak the Communists assumed he would die. He was released and lived the rest of his life as a priest. When this lowly priest knelt before the pope, the pope was overcome by the beauty of his humility, and, thus, he wept.

As I have said before, I am not Roman Catholic. I don’t recognize Pope Francis as my leader on earth. However, I do recognize that he has been a reliable advocate on behalf of persecuted Christians around the world. His comments on persecution make perfectly good (and biblical) sense to me. He says,

When I hear that so many Christians in the world are suffering, am I indifferent, or is it as if a member of my own family is suffering? Am I open to that brother or that sister in my family who’s giving his or her life for Jesus Christ? (Pope Francis)[348]

Some Simple Ways to Pray for Asia This Week


Praise the Lord! A number of folks have changed their profile pics to the “Pray for Asia Bibi” reminder seen here. As I pointed out, that is a great way to remind ourselves and others to pray for Asia Bibi between now and October 15th. Her judge in Pakistan has said that he will delay no more, and the next meeting date is final: It is life or death.

We can help her through our prayers. Remember Paul’s words to the Corinthians. They helped him when he thought he was going to die:

Asia Bibi Persecution Pakistan PrayFor we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; 10 who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, 11 you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many. (2 Corinthians 1:8-11)

Here are a few ways we can be praying for Asia Bibi in her current distress:

  • Pray for her faith not to fail, that God would strengthen her soul to faithful endurance.
  • Pray for her husband to trust Christ and stay fixed on Him clearly, especially in this next month.
  • Pray for her children to see Christ and the Holy Spirit at work through the faith displayed by their parents throughout this ordeal (She has 5 children).
  • Pray for her judge to have the courage to execute justice (rather than executing Asia Bibi).
  • Pray for this judge to do what is right, even though his life will then be in danger, as radicals would likely try to kill him if he allows Asia Bibi to go free.
  • Pray for those who have persecuted Asia and caused her 5 years of imprisonment, that they will be broken by the beauty of her faith and the holiness of her suffering for Christ’s sake. Pray they will be convicted of sin and converted to Christ.
  • Pray for the church in Pakistan to be strengthened through Asia’s faith, even as Paul says that the church was strengthened by seeing how God worked through his suffering.
  • Pray that the gospel would increase in Pakistan in the same way that it increased when Stephen was martyred and Paul was imprisoned.

My wife made the picture above her iPhone wallpaper so that every time she turns on her phone she gets a reminder to pray. Get creative!

I’m sure that you can think of many other ways to be praying during these last few weeks. Please feel free to share how you are praying for Asia. That will likely help all of us to pray with focus and intensity. Please continue to pray and continue to share these prayer requests with others. We have a genuine opportunity to see how the fervent, faithful prayers of the righteous can accomplish much on behalf of Asia Bibi.

Why You Should Change Your Profile Pic for the Next Month


Asia Bibi (aka Aasiya Noreen or Asia Noreen) is married, a mother of 5 children. She has not been at home with her husband or children since the summer of 2009 (what was your family like in 2009? Where were you?)

More than 5 years have passed since her family last lived together because Asia has been in prison since June 19, 2009, for defending Christ against the slanderous charges made by her Muslim coworkers. You can read the whole story here at Prisoner Alert.

Asia Bibi Persecution Pakistan PrayIn the meantime, you should change your profile pic on Facebook, Twitter, etc., to something like what I have pictured to the left for two simple reasons. First, change your profile pic so that you will be reminded to pray for Asia for the next month. This is a very important and strategic plan because in one month (October 15th) a judge has promised to declare his final verdict: Asia has been convicted in Pakistan of insulting the prophet Muhammad, and she has been sentenced to death. In one month, she may die.

Pray every day for one month. Changing your profile picture may remind you to pray for this woman and her family. Pray for the judge to set her free, but realize that he, too, would need more prayers from us, as other high-ranking officials have been murdered in Pakistan for helping Christians (see here). It will take courage for him to issue a favorable verdict for Asia. This situation appears to be in its final days, and our prayers are needed.

Second, changing your profile picture does raise awareness and it does keep an important issue floating around the internet for weeks–and weeks may be all that Asia has left! It’s easy to be cynical about “do-nothing” activism on social media. I have heard comedians mock the simplicity and easiness of thinking a tweet or post is the same as “real” activism—some call it “Slack-tivism.”

I would not worry about being mocked for being so simple. Jesus’s first followers were mocked for being unschooled fishermen. And whatever one wishes to say about “slack-tivism,” there is no doubt that social media keeps certain issues alive for weeks and months–which is why advertisers pay to publish their posts!

This wife and mother of 5 needs us to keep her situation alive for the next month so that, possibly, a judge will end up keeping her alive beyond October 15th.  In other words, this is life or death.

I will post soon a list of ways to pray for Asia Bibi over the next month.  In the meantime, why not change your profile picture (or take some other measures to keep this situation out front for the next month)? It really could mean life or death for Asia Bibi.

While praying remember Proverbs 16:9. We don’t pray in vain because

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.

Should Christians Stage Protests Against Persecution


So, in part one of this post, we saw that prayer was the first response of the Italian Bishops to the crisis of Christian persecution in Iraq and Nigeria. While not exactly endorsing their view of invoking the Virgin Mary in their prayers (I’m Protestant!), I still commend the bishops for a biblical recourse to prayer. The Apostle Paul constantly cried for Christians to help him through his suffering by joining with him in prayer (Eph 6:19, Col 4:3, 2 Thess 3:1ff).

Christians Protest PersecutionPrayer is no small part of our aiding our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ. Prayer is effective (James 5:16).  And yet, we always feel that we should do something more. So the question rises, can we do more? More specifically, we must ask, Is it good for Christians to protest Christian persecution? All around us, folks in our democratic republic have determined to protest publicly, thereby raising awareness and calling for government action on behalf of their special political concerns.

In America especially, protesting has been employed as an instrument of righteousness, calling both the government and the country at large to notice injustices like inequality for blacks and women. Of course, some—like the misguided Westboro Baptist family—abuse the privilege of protesting. But protesting is not altogether unbiblical.

While the New Testament did not arise from the context of 21st century America and, thus, does not have recourse to staged protests on Capitol Hill—the New Testament does offer a small dose of the spirit of government protest. For example, Paul and Silas were thrown into prison unlawfully in Philippi. While there, they were beaten without having first been tried. So, when their release orders came, rather than celebrating their release and taking off to preach the gospel (or just getting the heck out of town), Paul and Silas staged a protest instead.

“Paul said to the officers: ‘They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison.  And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out’” (Acts 16:37, NIV).

More recently, in response to the slaughter of Christians in Iraq, displaced Iraqi Christians in Australia and Canada have begun staging protests, calling on government and citizens to take action, leveraging the power of the state in favor of aiding desperate Christians. I think we can support the actions of these brothers and sisters of faith. While our primary thrust must always be to avoid trusting in Australian chariots and Canadian horses, we are stillChristian persecution Mosul Iraq a part of those democratic governments. As citizens ourselves, we are still salt and light and should make use of every instrument available to us to endorse righteousness before God and man.

Christians ought to write letters to prisoners, write letters to congressmen and senators and governors. Christians ought to protest as they feel led. Christians ought to write songs, make movies, write books and articles, and stage events which remind the church and the culture at large that our king has come and will return, bringing with him great rewards for those who embrace the life He came to give.

Protesting, while neither the first nor the best response to persecution, is a legitimate biblical response. Just as John the Baptist held Herod accountable for his unrighteous deeds, so, too, Christians can graciously and prophetically call leaders to correct their unrighteous behavior—especially when that unrighteous behavior is directed specifically against the body of Christ. So, we can be thankful that Christians in Australia and Canada are speaking out. And we Christians in America may want to think about what more we can do in addition to our prayers.

Christians Can’t Trust Chariots or Horses


The people of God seem always to struggle with exactly how to relate to powerful governments. Israel hated her slavery in Egypt under Pharaoh, but promptly wanted to go back to Egypt after landing in the wilderness. At least in Egypt she could have melons. This longing to go back to Egypt and trust in her chariots and horses haunted Israel of old. Thus, the prophet Isaiah later warned (Isaiah 30),

Christians Under Pressure Persecution1“Woe to the rebellious children,” declares the LORD,

            “Who execute a plan, but not Mine,

            And make an alliance, but not of My Spirit,

            In order to add sin to sin;

      2Who proceed down to Egypt

            Without consulting Me,

            To take refuge in the safety of Pharaoh

            And to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!

      3“Therefore the safety of Pharaoh will be your shame

            And the shelter in the shadow of Egypt, your humiliation.

When the cultural vessel of our existence becomes pressurized by the heat of persecution or political oppression, faith will rise like the steam of boiling water seeking the quickest, most natural outlet. The question for us is what is most natural? Where does our faith rise? What is our outlet under pressure? Two recent responses to the crisis in Mosul, Iraq have me thinking about this question.

On the one hand, there has been a call from the Italian Bishops Conference to pray for the persecuted church.  And, on the other hand, there has been a sizable protest in Australia specifically on behalf of Christians in Iraq. Without being critical or cynical, we might clarify what is our faithful response to the crisis of Christian persecution in Iraq and around the world.

In Italy, the bishops have drafted a plea for the Church throughout Europe to pray on behalf of suffering saints around the world. The statement is powerful in its indictment of slothfulness concerning our suffering sisters and brothers:

‘If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him ‘(Rom 6:8). These are words that we should also shake the conscience of our Europe, which has become distracted and indifferent, blind and dumb to the persecution which today has claimed hundreds of thousands of Christian victims”.

While the document rightly focuses attention on Christians in Iraq and Nigeria—two of the absolute worst places for Christians right now—it perhaps wrongly appeals for Christian action on the basis of human rights, history, and culture.  From the Italian bishops,

Faced with such an attack on the foundations of civilization, human dignity and human rights, “we cannot remain silent. The West cannot continue to look the other way, under the illusion of being able to ignore a humanitarian tragedy that destroys the values ​​that have shaped it…

This statement is not at all false. In fact, Christians must engage culture and improve (like salt and light) the civilization in which it exists. Yet, Christians must own as first priority the fame of Christ and the spread of His kingdom. Our appeals, then, should first be for Christ’s reputation instead of western values. While we can and should join as cobelligerents with the Italian bishops advocating for aid on the basis of a “humanitarian tragedy,” we must pray for Christ to be exalted through the witness of His faithful saints. We must pray that our suffering sisters and brothers would hold fast to that which has been given to them because Christ is coming quickly and bringing his reward to those whose garments are not stained with the sin of the surrounding society.

While Christians should advocate politically for religious freedom for all, we should also remind each other to recognize the difference between Christian persecution Mosul Iraqreligious freedom and persecution. The Constitution speaks of religious freedom; the New Testament speaks of persecution. One is a human right, the other a divine blessing.

As Christians continue to feel the pressure of persecution in Nigeria and Iraq, the steam of faith should rise up through the prayers of believers to Christ in heaven.  Our hope is anchored there, in Him—not in America’s chariots or the U.N.’s horses—not in Europe’s civilized past nor in the present “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” We must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who lives to make intercession for us.

(To be continued…)

3 Ways to Stand for Religious Liberty without Falling for a Political Agenda 

The Difference Between Religious Freedom and Persecution

Why Christians Must Fight for Religious Liberty

Timeline of How Christians Were Eliminated in Mosul, Iraq


I don’t remember what I was doing on June 10th.  It was a regular work week for me. Since then, I have done some planning for the Fall 2014 semester,Christian persecution Mosul Iraq and I have made a couple of trips to the airport so my kids could travel to see family. All in all, nothing much has changed for me and my family since June 10th.  But we don’t live in Mosul, Iraq.

Below, I have copied a letter from the Jubilee Campaign, along with a sobering timeline produced by the Assyrian International News Agency.  This timeline surveys the diabolical work of ISIS since June 10th.  In six weeks, the tangible signs of Christian presence have been eliminated: Church buildings, homes, actual Christians, and even a Christian cemetery—all gone.

(From Jubilee Campaign)

Courage is needed now to stop the genocide of Christians in Iraq.  Congressman Frank Wolf gave a floor speech declaring the expunging of Christians from Iraq as Genocide.  Please listen to him.  You can find his speech here.  Meanwhile, the Assyrian International News Agency reports that All 45 Christian Institutions in Mosul Destroyed or Occupied By ISIS.

TIMELINE OF ISIS’ ATTEMPT TO ELIMINATE CHRISTIANS FROM MOSUL

(From Assyrian International News Agency)

Timeline of ISIS in Mosul

Posted 2014-07-29 15:57 GMT

The Arabic letter “n” (inside red circle), signifying “Nasarah” (Christian), on a Christian home in Mosul.(AINA) — The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) captured the city of Mosul, Iraq on June 10. Almost immediately thereafter it began to drive Assyrians out of Mosul and destroy Christian and non-Sunni institutions. Here is the status as of July 29:

  • There are no Assyrians/Christians remaining in Mosul, all have fled to the north, to Alqosh, Dohuk and other Assyrian villages.
  • All Christian institutions in Mosul (churches, monasteries and cemeteries), numbering 45, have been destroyed, occupied, converted to mosques, converted to ISIS headquarters or shuttered (story).
  • All non-Sunni Muslim groups in Mosul — Shabaks, Yazidis and Turkmen — have been targeted by ISIS. Most have fled.
  • Water and electricity have been cut off by ISIS. The water shortage in the areas surrounding Mosul is now a full-blown crisis. Residents have been forced to dig wells for drinking water. Water tankers are providing some relief.
  • Mosul is now governed under Sharia law.
  • 50,000 Assyrian residents of Baghdede (Qaraqosh) fled from fighting between ISIS and Kurds. Nearly 80% have returned.

The following is a summary of the events that have unfolded in Mosul.

  • June 10: ISIS captures Mosul, occupies the Assyrian village of Qaraqosh, enters the St. Behnam Monastery, bombs an Armenian church (story).
  • June 12: ISIS issues Islamic rules for Mosul (story).
  • June 14: Assyrian, Yezidi and Shabak Villages come under Kurdish Control (story).
  • June 15: Kurds attempt to remove an Assyrian council leader in Alqosh and replace him with a Kurd (story).
  • June 18: ISIS Cuts Off Water, Electricity, Destroys Churches (story).
  • June 19: ISIS destroys statue of the famous Arab poet Abu Tammam (story).
  • June 21: ISIS begins imposing a poll tax (jizya) on Assyrians in Mosul (story), orders unmarried women to ‘Jihad by sex’ (story), destroys the statue of the Virgin Mary at the Immaculate Church of the Highest in the neighborhood of AlShafa in Mosul, as well as the statue of Mullah Osman Al-Musali. Shiite Turkmen in the villages of AlKibba and Shraikhan flee after receiving threats from ISIS. ISIS arrests 25 village elders and young men who are Turkmen in the village of AlShamsiyat; their whereabouts is still unknown. (story) ISIS orders Christian, Yazidis and Shiite government employees not to report for work in Mosul (story).
  • June 23: ISIS Rape Christian Mother and Daughter, Kill 4 Christian Women for Not Wearing Veil (story).
  • June 25: ISIS limits water from the plants in Mosul to one hour per day. Residents in surrounding areas are forced to dig wells (story).
  • June 26: Kurds Clash With ISIS Near Assyrian Town East of Mosul, forcing nearly 50,000 Assyrians to flee (story).
  • ISIS begins confiscating the homes of Christians and non-Sunni Muslims. ISIS rounds up many of the security agency members of the police and army in Sabrine Mosque and asks them to declare “repentance” and surrender their weapons and other military equipment. After doing so, all of the prisoners are tried and sentenced according to Sharia law and executed. ISIS has prevented delivery of government food rations to Tel Kepe and other areas not under their control (story).
  • June 28: ISIS kidnaps two nuns and three Assyrian orphans. They are eventually released (story).
  • July 3: ISIS seizes the house of the Chaldean Patriarchate and the house of Dr. Tobia, a member of Hammurabi Human Rights Organization and an Advisor to the Governor of Nineveh on Minority Affairs and General Coordinator with International Organizations (story).
  • July 8: ISIS Removes Cross From Church in Mosul (story).
  • July 10: ISIS bars women from walking the streets unless accompanied by a male. Nearly all barber shops and womens’ salons are closed (story).
  • July 15: ISIS Stops Rations for Christians and Shiites in Mosul (story).
  • July 17: ISIS issues statement ordering Christians to convert or die (story).
  • July 18: ISIS in Mosul marks Christian homes with the Arabic letter “N” (for the word Nasrani, which means Christian) (story).
  • July 19: ISIS plunders Assyrians as they Flee Mosul; families march 42 miles (story).
  • July 22: ISIS and Kurds clash near Assyrian town, 2000 Assyrian families driven from Mosul (story).
  • July 25: ISIS destroys the tomb of the Prophet Jonah (story).

© 2014, Assyrian International News Agency. All Rights Reserved.

How to Pray for Christians in Iraq (4 Ways)


Thank you all so much for your willingness to stand with our brothers and sisters in Iraq. Many of you have been using the Arabic “N” symbol below on your Facebook or Twitter profile to show your concern for Christians being targeted for extortion and/or extinction by soldiers of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  God bless you for identifying with our brothers and sisters under attack.

Christian persecution mosul IraqOthers are understandably cynical about simply changing a profile pic as a reminder to pray. You think it’s too small of a gesture—that we must do more. And of course you are right! We all share some of that same attitude, I think.  Our American “can-do” mentality begs for a place to direct our anguish. We want to “do” something about the situation.  I spoke with a zealous young man today who graciously—yet excitedly—challenged me to “do something.” “We have to do something. Tell me what to do!” He cried.

My first response was to embrace his angst wholeheartedly. We really must do something. Our Christian brothers and sisters have been marked for death.  Their wages have been stolen.  Their homes and their homeland is now instantly closed to them. If they stay, they will be killed. If they leave, they will lose everything they once relied upon—houses, cars, money, jobs, friends. The situation is brutal.  Surely we can do more than pray!

And yet, upon further reflection, I reminded my young friend that prayer is no small thing. We ought not too quickly dismiss its potential for saving our fellow saints.  As James reminds us, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16).  James uses the example of Elijah whose prayers both caused and cured a drought in Israel which lasted 3 ½ years.  Imagine—a man with a nature like ours altering meteorological phenomena for more than 1,000 days in a row!  (Talk about man-made global warming!) James could have chosen many other examples such as the prayers by Israel which brought about her Exodus from Egypt and Egypt’s destruction:

Christianity Today Mosul Christian Persecution #WeAreN

Mosul Christian Home (source: Christianity Today)

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help.  Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God.  And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.  God saw the people of Israel—and God knew” Ex 2:23-25 (ESV).

God knew! Are we to wonder whether God—now that Jesus and the Holy Spirit have been more clearly revealed—is still near and dear to His people? May it never be! Jesus Himself swore that He would never leave nor forsake His people (Hbrws 13:5) and that He would be with them even to the end of the age (Matt 28:20).  And so the all-powerful, all-knowing God of infinite love remains faithfully concerned for His people and capable of accomplishing great things on their behalf. With that in mind, we can (and must?) pray in at least these four ways:

Fervently from the heart.  Our prayers must be urgent, zealous, fearful, yet fully-fired with faith. Think of it this way: What would you do if you came home from work this evening only to discover that a gang had captured your sister and informed her that she had 24 hours to pay a ransom or die?  Would that not be a fiery trial that would cause you to cry out to God on her behalf? Would you not shriek with horror and beg for mercy? Fiery trials no doubt beget fiery prayers. There is a sword at the throat of our family. Pray!

Second, Despairingly—from a position of weakness. This may sound odd, but I take my cue from the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:8-11,

For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; 10 who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, 11 you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.

Notice how Paul admitted being excessively burdened—beyond any human strength. Is that not the burden our brothers and sisters are under now in Iraq?  What earthly power is (a) willing to save them and (b) able to save them?  Some (like the U.S. Military) seem able but not willing.  Others perhaps are willing but not really able.  So, where are Christians to turn?  As we pray for our brothers and sisters, we should pray from the position of complete and utter despair of human deliverance.  In that position, Paul says, we find our sure hope of trusting not in ourselves but in God who raises the dead!

Third, Victoriously—as though Christ has truly been raised from the dead. Who could ever have imagined that eternal life would spring from the humiliating execution of a stricken, smitten Jewish carpenter?  And yet, our Christ has been raised from the dead!  The Apostle Paul took courage and believed in his own deliverance from the mouth of death because of the Resurrection life of Christ.  Pray for our brothers and sisters to move from the Christian persecution Mosul Iraqdespair of their current situation to the victory of Christ’s Resurrection.  God is no less able to deliver today than he was when Paul was preaching the gospel in Asia (and the Middle East). So pray to God that he would raise the dead to new life in Mosul, Iraq. Pray for the current loss to be made gain.  After Stephen was martyred (Acts 7), the early church was scattered on account of the increasing persecution. Nevertheless, the gospel went forth with power everywhere the Christians fled.  Even so, God’s gospel will triumph somehow. Pray for His people in Iraq to trust God’s purposes by faith.

Fourth, Effectively—as though you expect your prayers to affect much. The prayers of saints saved Paul’s life. Why not now? Why not the lives of those in Mosul, Iraq?  If, as we see in 2 Cor 1:11, the churches were able to secure Paul’s release from certain death, then why would not be possible today for our prayers to be the very means God uses to deliver Iraqi Christians from what appears a certain death? Is our God no longer able to deliver? Surely, God is no less powerful now than He was on the day He delivered Daniel or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego!

My friend and I talked about how we would love to help others learn to pray for the persecuted church. We will continue thinking about our prayers for the persecuted, and we hope to be providing much more helps in the future, Lord willing. So, stay tuned…

Why that Odd Facebook Symbol Is So Important


Christian persecution Iraq Maybe you have seen this little wine-cup looking symbol on your friend’s Facebook page and wondered what it means.  It means Christians are being targeted for death in Mosul, Iraq.  I am so thankful that someone thought to create symbol sent through Social Media to call attention to the plight of Christians suffering genocide in Iraq.

The symbol apparently started circulating in Lebanon and has caught on around the world. The symbol is actually an Arabic “n,” which is what ISIS soldiers in Mosul have used to abbreviate Nazara, a term for Christians in the Middle East.  Basically, those whose homes are thus marked are subject to death, unless they (a) convert to Islam or (b) pay an oppressive tax to stay alive (all explained here).  Here is how one report details the horror:

On Monday, which was normally pay day for municipal workers in Mosul, state workers were ordered not to pay the Christian employees. ISIS also forbid food to be distributed to Christian or Shiite families.

One state employee told the Arabic news outlet Ankawa that he was “warned that if he gives rations to Christians and Shiites, he will be charged and prosecuted according to Sharia law.”

The pressure continued later in the week, when ISIS cut off electricity to homes owned by Christians. The following day ISIS soldiers Christian persecution Mosul Iraqreportedly painted “N” on the doors of Christians to signify that they are “Nazara,” the word for Christian. Shiite homes were painted with the letter “R” for “Rwafidh,” meaning rejectors or protestants.

As a result, nearly the entire population of Christians in Mosul have fled, leaders say.

While I feel for the Shiites, too, and hope that we will advocate for them as well as for the Christians who are suffering, I feel compelled to join the movement to put an arabic “n” on my Facebook profile for a little while. It will remind me to pray if nothing else. But it will also keep the symbol out there for the world to ask and answer gravely serious questions.

By the way, I changed the symbol to red because the doors in Mosul are reportedly marked with red (perhaps to symbolize blood, “death to this house”–kind of a morbid reversal of the Passover markings!)

What Happens When a 1,600 Year Tradition Ends?


Persecution Iraq Christians ISISThere are two traditions that have recently ended.  The contrast between them is astounding.

Traditions are interesting things. Our traditions anchor us to the past while guiding us toward the future. They act as handrails along our paths, offering us both security and a sense of affirmation as we continue walking life’s road. Too often, in fact, we are so comfortable in this walk that we forget—or simply fail to realize—the presence of tradition.

And then something happens. The tradition is threatened, or taken away. Our senses are shocked, as we experience the full, paralyzing thud of a tradition ended.

A couple of years ago at Auburn University, a tradition was threatened when Harvey Updike, a rabid Alabama fan, poisoned the live oak trees at Toomer’s Corner. The tradition of rolling the oak trees at Toomer’s Corner after an Auburn football victory moved from “threatened” to “altogether lost,” as the Spike 80DF poison which Updike used did its work, leeching the life from the root system of the trees.

Before the trees were completely dead and taken away, the university along with the city of Auburn—indeed most of central Alabama—held one last rally to roll the oaks at Toomer’s Corner.  You can see the spectacle of this tradition ending by watching the video below. (I believe my daughter, an Auburn student, is somewhere in the mass of humanity captured by the robotic camera.)

No one knows when or exactly how the tradition of rolling the oak trees began, but how it ended is now obvious to all. And most folks—even the Auburn Football Traditionsmajority of Alabama fans—understand that something precious was lost when the live oak trees at Toomer’s Corner finally died.

Yet, it must be said (despite the images in the video) that throwing toilet paper into oak trees in central Alabama is a small tradition. The tour guide who introduced me to the trees (when they were still alive) suggested the tradition was at most 100 years old (probably less). And the tradition had to do with football, which, contrary to the primitive emotional purgations of Saturday afternoons in the fall, is not a life or death matter.

The tradition of ringing church bells in Mosul, Iraq, on the other hand is a life or death matter. It has to do with the life and death of Christ.  This tradition has been incalculably more significant than rolling oak trees with toilet paper.

First, the tradition of ringing the bells signals the serving of Mass—an Orthodox Christian tradition—in a predominately Muslim culture. At the very least such service is courageous. At its best, the service is an offering of Christ to those who understand their need for an atoning sacrifice.[1]

So, second, because the tradition concerns the gospel of Christ, it is a matter of life and death—eternally speaking. The church tradition also represents a heritage and a way of life for thousands and thousands of Orthodox Christians who have inhabited the Middle East for more than a millennium.

Third, the tradition of ringing the church bells for Mass in Mosul, Iraq, has been a more significant tradition because of its age and endurance.  The tradition began closer to Paul’s ministry than to ours. There was no hint of a USA or a Soviet Union or France or even England when this tradition began. Week after week, the bells have rung.  Week after week the Mass has been served.  These church bells have been ringing for one thousand, six-hundred years–that’s 83,200 weeks. And now they’ve stopped.

As of June 15, church bells ring no more in the ISIS-controlled[2] area of Mosul, Iraq. Violence against Christians there has almost ensured that the Orthodox Christian tradition will soon no longer be found in that ancient place. Over the last decade, approximately 90% of Christians have fled from their homes, business, and church buildings in Iraq as a result of the intense persecution they’ve suffered.

And yet, the bells went quiet so silently. There was no last hurrah to say good-bye.  Indeed, the scene in Mosul was the exact opposite of that found at Auburn. At Auburn, people swarmed in masses to make the final TP offering. In Mosul, people ran away by the thousands.  At Auburn, TV crews parked with satellite towers and provided aerial coverage. In Mosul, like the church bells, everything got very quiet. No one seemed to notice. But the Orthodox Christian tradition ended.

The Chaldean Catholic Church’s Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, in Kurdish-governed northern Iraq, is reported as saying that for the first time in 1,600 years there was no Mass said in Mosul on Sunday June 15.   

 

 

[1] I am neither Roman Catholic nor Eastern Orthodox. Thus I do not ascribe to the presentation of the Mass. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the Mass is—in one sense or another—a presentation of Christ (either in offering or, as in my tradition, a remembrance).  It is a weighty matter of eternal significance.

[2] ISIS stands for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Why Persecution Is a Social Justice Priority


Persecution Social JusticeBrooke Parks at Persecutionblog asks an excellent question: Is Christian Persecution a Social Justice Issue? I believe that it is. At least, I believe that persecution is a justice issue. Parks is correct to note the limits of social justice. Parks points out that the goal of ministry to the persecuted is not to remove inequality. The goal is not simply to make the persecution go away. The goal, according to Parks, is “for the church to be the body of Christ to them and with them.” I completely agree. From the New Testament perspective, “Being the body of Christ to them and with them” is primarily an action of justice.  Caring for the persecuted is a fundamental expression of biblical justice. Perhaps the term “social” can be abandoned, but the idea of justice cannot. And here is why.

In the Old Testament, God Himself proved to be the one who would always “execute justice” and “love” the strangers and aliens among Israel (Deuteronomy 10). The revelation of God as the source of justice and love was supposed to govern Israel. Israel was expected to be like God, executing justice in her own midst, making sure that the poor, the orphans, the widows, and the powerless were not forgotten.  In addition, Israel was supposed to show love to those who came into her midst from the nations around. In this way, Israel, like God, was supposed to model justice and love.

When the time came for Israel to adopt a king, the Lord gave specific instructions for the king: (1) That the king should first read, study, meditate upon, and obey carefully God’s law (Deut 17:18-20); (2) Then, second, that the king would execute justice and righteousness. This function of the king was on splendid display when the Queen of Sheba came to call upon Solomon. She proclaimed,

because the LORD loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king, to do justice and righteousness.” (1 Kings 10:9)

According to God, the king’s task was first to be just and, next, to execute laws of justice and righteousness for all of Israel.

When Christ came to establish His kingdom, He did so in righteousness. Christ was, of course, just. As He announced to John the Baptist, Christ also fulfilled all righteousness (Matthew 3:15).  Christ would later explain that basic discipleship—that is, a basic knowledge of what it means to follow Him—includes learning to be obedient to all His commands (Matthew 28:18-20, commonly called the Great Commission). Being obedient to Christ’s commands is essentially putting God’s justice and righteousness into action.

Christ came as a righteous king to establish God’s righteous kingdom. Consequently, Christ taught His followers that they must pursue righteousnessRighteousness Persecution and the kingdom as matters of first importance (Matthew 6:33).  Christ also taught His followers that their pursuit of justice/righteousness would lead them to be persecuted (see Matthew 5:10-12).

What all of this means is that to live the Christian life is to display God’s justice. Such a display will provoke persecution now just as it did when Christ and the Apostles ministered on earth. When Christ’s followers suffer persecution, they do so on account of righteousness (justice). They suffer for doing what is right in His name. It is His authority and His presence in His people which provokes the persecution.

So, in the New Testament, the first priority for social justice—that is, for feeding the poor, caring for widows, providing for orphans, and showing mercy to prisoners—is to minister to the persecuted and oppressed church. To use a common metaphor applied to the people of God in the New Testament, the first priority is to care for one’s own family—the family of God.

The idea of family first is evident in Paul’s instructions to Timothy regarding the care of widows:

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Christians are to do good to all people, but, especially, we are to do good to those who are of the household of faith, according to the Apostle Paul (Galatians 6:10). Not surprisingly, the New Testament is replete with examples of Christians doing good for fellow saints who are suffering.

Most references in the New Testament concerning feeding the poor actually understand the poor to be persecuted and suffering Christians. The offering Paul took from the churches was collected to care for needy, suffering saints in Jerusalem (see 1 Cor 16:1-4, Rom. 15:25). Paul Himself was partly responsible for the persecution which put these saints in such a needy state (see Acts 9:1-13). Little wonder, then, that after his conversion he felt responsible for their care.

When Paul went before Peter, James, and John to validate his commission to preach to the Gentiles, they gave him the right hand of fellowship and encouraged him to continue caring for the poor believers as he had been doing in Jerusalem (see Galatians 2:1-10).[1] Likewise, the admonitions in the book of James concerning the poor also are references to the brother or sister among you, that is, to the poor and needy Christians.

Further, the care of widows and orphans—which is called by James a “pure and undefiled religion”—is care for widows and orphans in the household of faith. These issues—typically called issues of social justice—are primarily issues of Christians acting rightly toward fellow brothers and sisters of the faith. They are issues of justice within the household of faith.

When the New Testament speaks of visiting prisoners, it means that Christians are responsible to remember (Hebrews 13:3) and care for fellow Christians who have been thrown into prison on account of Christ (cf. Hebrews 10:34). In fact, Peter made sure the early church held to an important distinction in categorizing imprisonment:

Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name (1 Peter 4:15-16; cf. 1 Peter 3:17).

John love persecutionIn the New Testament, issues of justice begin with the household of faith. As the household of faith learns to love one another rightly and, thus, executes the justice of God rightly so that God’s righteousness is on display, the world begins to see what justice and love actually are like. The whole world begins to know that Jesus Christ is present because of the way the Church loves one another (John 13:35). In this way, the Church witnesses to the world of Christ’s love.

So, it is important that the church exercises “justice” in caring for the poor and suffering Christians. In this way, ministry to the persecuted is the first order of “social justice” business. Our love for one another is crucial to our witness before the watching world.

Brooke Parks’ question has to be answered affirmatively: “Yes!” Persecution ministry is the foremost and primary act of social justice. Parks answered the question negatively, but only with regard to the non-biblical idea that justice concerns equality. Parks is correct to say that the goal of persecution ministry is not to bring society back into some arbitrary notion of balance or equity.  Rather, the goal of persecution ministry is to display the righteousness of God in the face of world’s unrighteous desire to be rid of Christ by executing His people.

See also:

http://www.heritage.org/research/commentary/2014/5/christian-persecution-an-injustice-for-all

 

[1] For fuller discussion, see Thomas Schreiner, Galatians, in the Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, published by Zondervan.

Voice of the Martyrs Helps Two Nigerian Girls Escape


Voice of the Martyrs has helped to rescue two young women from captivity in Nigeria. You can read the full story below. More information is available on their website. I publish this story from Voice of the Martyrs here to get the word out and offer support for the care VOM is giving to the persecuted church.

Nigeria: Kidnapped Girls Escape
 

VOM is providing assistance to two sisters who recently escaped captivity from Boko Haram.

Two sisters, Kamka, 19, and Naya, 16, were sleeping when radical Muslims invaded their home. The armed terrorists entered their brother’s room and shot him in the hand before demanding to know where the girls’ father was. When they realized the two sisters were not married and their father was not home, they took the girls by force.

The Boko Haram terrorist group has declared war on Christians in Nigeria, frequently attacking Christian villages, burning Christians’ houses and murdering indiscriminately. They also kidnap teenage girls and force them to convert and marry Boko Haram members.

After forcing Kamka and Naya to walk through the woods at gunpoint, the terrorists immediately put them to work fetching water and cooking. A few days later, the girls were told that both of them were to be married. “We’re too young,” Naya protested. But the leader then showed them his daughter, a girl of 7 or 8, who was already married.

“If we refused to cooperate, we would be killed,” Naya told a VOM worker. “The man whom I was forced to marry took me. He picked up his gun and a knife and threatened to murder me if I continued to resist.”

The sisters cried and prayed together, unsure of what would become of them. But after two weeks, a Muslim woman took pity on them. While fetching water with the girls, she showed them an escape route and told them to run away.

The girls escaped under cover of darkness. They knocked on the door of the first house they came to, praying the owner would be friendly. Although he was Muslim, the man took pity on the girls. He allowed them to bathe and eat, and then had his sister take them to a nearby Christian village.

The girls were traumatized by their experience but are now doing reasonably well. Since it is unsafe for them to return to their home, VOM is providing care for them at a safe house through one of our project partners.

“I thank God that He has saved us from the hands of these bad people,” Naya said. “Everything is now behind me and I’m not afraid anymore. I only want to look forward now.”

And Kamka is also thankful for God’s protection. “I am very grateful that many Christians pray for me,” she said. “Despite what I’ve been through, I still have faith in God.”

The Voice of the Martyrs invites you to support our work in Nigeria. Your contributions help believers like Naya and Kamka as well as providing support to families of martyrs and medical assistance to victims of extremist attacks.

Make a Contribution to VOM’s Work in Nigeria

Please remember to pray for those kidnapped by Boko Haram and for all our brothers and sisters in Nigeria who are under attack. Share this e-mail with your Christian friends so they can join us in prayer.

Does Persecution Create Strange Bedfellows?


In William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a drunken jester named Trinculo declares, “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.”  This familiar expression has oft been adapted to the political arena: “Politics makes for strange bedfellows.”  Indeed, the twisted manipulations of political warfare can lead former enemies into convenient beds of agreement.

Yet Trinculo’s statement is not meant to highlight the peculiarity of such sleeping arrangements as much as it is intended to focus their necessity. Misery made it impossible for Trinculo to survive a terrible tempest without snuggling up to a monster for security. Necessity called him to action.

Christian persecution middle eastPerhaps necessity has raised a spiritual tempest of misery to such a degree for Christians suffering persecution that strange bedfellows are beginning to emerge once again. Hundreds of Christian leaders have joined together to sign a pledge of solidarity and call to action on behalf of Christians suffering persecution in the Middle East (particularly in Syria, Egypt, and Iraq).

As Nina Shea points out, this pledge was signed by a host of Christians across both the lines of denomination and lines of doctrinal conviction:

Some 200 Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox leaders have signed on — from Catholic Cardinal Wuerl, to National Association of Evangelicals’ chair Leith Anderson, to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Episcopal Church to Armenian Orthodox Archbishop Oshagan Cholayan.

The pledge describes some of the atrocities Christians face in these countries:

  • Christians, including some clergy, after being identified as such by their names, identity cards, or some other means, have been beheaded, shot execution-style or otherwise brutally murdered. Clergy have also been killed for their peace-making efforts or simply as personifications of the Christian faith.
  • Untold numbers of Christians, including bishops, priests, pastors, and nuns, have been kidnapped and held for ransom.

    Nina Shea Hudson Christian Persecution

    Nina Shea

  • Young women have been abducted and forced to convert to Islam and marry their captors.
  • In some instances, Christians have been told to convert to Islam or be killed; some have been forced to pay protection money.
  • Muslim apostasy and blasphemy codes and standards for dress, occupation and social behavior are being enforced for Christians, as well as for Muslims, in some communities.

I agree that Christians and all people of “good will” ought to voice their concerns and call others to action. Government leaders and concerned citizens alike ought to care for oppressed and suffering people. Christians in particular have an obligation before God to care “especially” for the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). Our own faith family is suffering these atrocities; thus we must not remain unconcerned.

There are other concerns, too, that must not be forgotten. The list of signatories seems short on theologically-minded evangelicals. Evangelicals rightly hesitate locking arms with those (like Katharine Jefferts Schori) who advocate for doctrine and ethics contrary to the Scriptures. Some on the list of signatories advocate for abortion rights, gay marriage, and errant ideas related to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. These are matters of utmost importance.

Somehow, evangelicals must find a way to act on matters of utmost urgency without compromising doctrines of utmost importance.  The severity of Christian persecution pushes unity and action on behalf of Christ’s followers into the urgent need category.  Our brothers and sisters urgently need our prayer, support, advocacy, and physical care. They need for us to advocate on their behalf with one voice against the horrific crimes of persecution.

If evangelicals of good will cannot join with liberal professing Christians (or vice versa), then, by all means, let them advocate separately. But advocate we must. We must pledge our support. We must minister. We must call other professing Christians to action. We must obey the command of Hebrews 13:3: Remember the persecuted.

I, for one, am not comfortable with an Orthodox vision for icons and intercession of the saints. I’m uncomfortable with Roman Catholic instructions on justification and congruent merit. I reject liberal Christianity’s capitulation to the sexual revolution. Yet, I am very glad that these groups are speaking out against the atrocities of persecution being perpetrated against the body of Christ around the world.

As the tempest of persecution rages against Christ’s flock, let us be sure—whatever our doctrinal convictions—that we are found very near to our fellow Christian soldiers, regardless of who else may have drawn near to help. Our obligation is first and foremost to Christ Himself. And He is present with His suffering sheep. Are we?

Christ’s Heart for the Persecuted: A Simple Explanation with Current Illustrations


I know a woman whose life was very hard through no fault of her own. She and her husband had 8 children together when he was murdered, leaving her a widow with very little means to survive. Family members offered to take the younger children so she could try to survive with the older ones. She told them they might as well have asked for her arms, or legs, or her very heart. She could not part with any of her children.

Christ love persecuted churchHer children remained poor, but they were loved. This simple, widowed mother was asked one time which child she loved the best. That question would shock some of us, as we might wrestle within ourselves with guilt over the tension and frustration we feel toward some of our own kids. I mean, I could see wrestling with the question and having to ask myself, “Oh, no! Is there a chance I love one child more than another?” –I don’t, mind you, but my emotional weakness would cause me a little anxiety.

But the question did not cause this woman even the slightest angst. She was not flummoxed by it a bit. Her answer was simple and to the point. When asked which child she loved the most, she quickly and calmly replied, “Whichever one is hurt.” The child who is hurting is the one most in need of a mother’s love and, thus, the one to whom her love must be directed. It’s a simple, profoundly true concept.

I know it is not appropriate to take our own illustrations and project them upward, onto God. Yet, the truth of love and its direction toward the needy must correlate to some extent. It might be better to say it this way. The reason a mother (or father) knows instinctively to love the child in need is that we have a heavenly Father whose heart is toward the needy, the suffering, and, especially, the persecuted–those who suffer explicitly because they belong to Him.

When Christ’s martyr Stephen was stoned, Christ was standing there to receive him (Acts 7). When Christians are called on by governors and authorities to answer for their faith in Christ, they are instructed by Him not to prepare what to say because His very Spirit would speak through them in that hour:

they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. 13“It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. 14“So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; 15for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. (Luke 21:12-15, NASB)

We could continue on–Christ identifies Himself as the object of persecution when He calls Saul to account (Acts 9). He takes it personally: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”  And, Christ is pictured in Revelation as holding all time at bay until the full number of his saints are martyred, then the reckoning will follow, and his angels of vengeance will reap full justice on the earth (Revelation 6…). The principle seems sound to me. Christ is particularly present with his saints who are suffering on account of Him.

So, below, I have listed a few examples of Christians who may be the objects of Christ’s particular love and affections–where He may be particularly present in this hour of need. Let us, too, draw near to Him and offer prayers for these suffering saints since we ourselves are in the body.

From Back to JerusalemMuslims in Syria recently crucified two Christian teenagers for refusing to convert to Islam. The story was crosses persecution Christian syriareported on a Croatian Catholic website by Sister Raghida, former head nun at the Christian School in Damascus who witnessed the atrocity.  (This story is graphic. Villages were stormed and Christians killed mercilessly. Some were beheaded, and the killers “played soccer” with their heads).

Lela Gilbert reminds us of the plight of Asia Bibi: Nonetheless, since 2009, this falsely accused woman has been on death row in a filthy prison cell, wondering if and when her death sentence will enforced. She longs for husband and five children. Day and night, in squalid surroundings, she fights off her fears, endures physical illness and prays.

And from Nigeria: Muslim herdsmen armed with guns and machetes on Friday night (March 14) launched attacks on three villages in Kaduna state, killing more than 100 Christians and destroying homes, sources said. 

May the Lord indeed be present with His people in their darkest hours, as we help them through our prayers (see 2 Corinthians 1:5-11).

Should We Pray for the Persecuted?


It is a curious thing that the New Testament does not command us to pray for the persecuted church. Before asking for food, shelter, safety, deliverance, or even a copy of the Scriptures, most persecuted believers ask first for prayer. Praying for those suffering persecution is as natural to the Christian as praying for loved ones as they are heading into surgery. We really don’t have to be taught to do it. We just know that it’s right.

Christian persecution pray for the persecutedWe do need to be commanded to pray for our enemies, however. As Jesus points out in the Sermon on the Mount, we have already heard that we should love our neighbors and hate our enemies. What we need to hear by way of divine command is “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” Isn’t this strange?

We are not commanded to pray for the persecuted in the Sermon on the Mount. We are told to pray for the persecutors! What is Jesus thinking? What could possibly be the reason for such a seemingly impossible command?

We might think the reason would be to pray for the conversion of the persecutor. That way, a double victory is won, both with a victory for the persecutor in moving from an anti-Christian rebel, headed for destruction, to becoming a saint with all the privileges of a child of God, including eternal life. The double victory portion would be found in the fact that the converted persecutor would stop persecuting—it’s a win-win. And a win-win would be good, right?

Maybe such an outcome would be terrific for all involved, but it is not the reason Jesus gives for praying for the persecutors. Why pray for the persecutors?  Jesus gives the reason in Matthew 5:45,

so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

The idea found in Matthew 5:45 is simply this: Reflect the glory of God with your life. God pours out love on us who are naturally unloving and unlovable. So, why would we refuse to offer it to others? Because we have the spirit of Christ, we, too, can reflect the glory of God by showing His love to our enemies. Show the world the grace God has bestowed upon you. We are to be like God, extending love aggressively in the face of hostility.

Now let’s step back to our original dilemma. We are commanded to do the difficult (almost impossible) task of praying for those who persecute us, but we are not commanded to pray for the persecuted—even though they are asking for us to pray for them. How do we make sense of this biblically? We turn to Paul and 2 Corinthians 1:8-11,

For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, Christians Praying for the Persecutedbeyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; 10 who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, 11 you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.

Notice, first, how desperate the situation was for Paul and his companions. Second, notice the role of prayers in Paul’s deliverance. And, third, notice the reason Paul thinks God will deliver him and his persecuted companions through the prayers of other saints.

Paul reached his physical and emotional limits. But God helped him and saved him through it all. The prayers of other saints were crucial in this process according to Paul. The situation was so bad that only God could provide deliverance. And God did so in accordance with the way the saints were praying. The reason God orchestrated the events of Paul’s severe persecution the way He did was so that the whole church could celebrate the goodness and power of God when God provided a miraculous deliverance in accordance with the prayers of the saints.

Today, when we pray for our brothers and sisters in need, we, too, become instruments through whom God is bringing deliverance to His people. Part of our reward is celebrating in the Thanksgiving of answered prayers offered to the Father on behalf of Christ’s people. We don’t have to be commanded to do what we know God wants us to do. We know more than God’s commands. We know God Himself. And we know how He works in and through His people.

Why It Is Important to Identify with the Persecuted Church: 3 More Reasons


In my prior blog post, I noted that there are at least 5 reasons all Christians should identify with persecution. First, the New Testament says that all Christians will be persecuted, and the persecution could take several different forms, from the mild mocking and name-calling to the more severe imprisonment and execution. Second, Christians are united in one body. Thus, attempts to distinguish between those who are “really” persecuted and those who are not introduce artificial division in the body of Christ.

All Christians Face PersecutionThis leads to the third reason all Christians ought to identify with persecution: Unity in the body of Christ. Throughout the New Testament, there is a constant urging for Christians to live in unity. Jesus famously prayed for us all to be one (John 17:19-20ff.). In John 17:23, He asks the Father to perfect us in unity so the world might know the reality of His appearing.

Christians who have the Spirit of Christ have also a longing for unity within the body of Christ. The Apostle Paul manifested this reality to the church at Ephesus. In Ephesians 4, Paul urged the Ephesians to preserve the unity of the Spirit. He continued further to say that the work of the church is directed toward building up the body of Christ “until we all attain the unity of the faith.”

On this basis of unity within the body of Christ, the writer of Hebrews commands Christians to “Remember the [persecuted] prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves are also in the body” (13:3).  The connection between persecution and the unity of the body of Christ is unmistakable. It is as plain as it is well-pictured by the human body itself. If you have a leg injury, it impacts your entire body. Drop a 10 lb. weight on the little toe of your left foot, and your entire body will respond accordingly (even if not appropriately).

So it is supposed to work within the body of Christ. There is a unity of the body which insists that the persecuted be noticed—that they be “remembered” as though we were actually in the prison cell with them. We are commanded always to identify with suffering saints in unity within the body of Christ.

Fourth, Christ is present in the midst of the persecuted—and what Christian does not long to be where Christ is? Christ, of course, is always present with His people, but the New Testament emphasizes several occasions in which Christ distinctly promises to be in the very midst of His gathered people. Christ promises His presence when His people gather together to practice church discipline (Matthew 18:20). He is present when His people gather to worship (1Corinthians 14:25). He is present when His people are making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:20). He is present when His people minister to other Christians in need (Matthew 25:40, 45). And He is present when His people are suffering persecution.

Consider the conversion story of Saul. In Acts 9, Saul—breathing threats and seeking vengeance against followers of Christ—is suddenly confronted on the Damascus Road with the reality of the living Christ. When Christ appears to Saul, He asks him a curious question:

Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?

Notice, the Lord does not ask why Saul is persecuting the church or my people. Jesus asks Saul, “Why are you persecuting Me?”  Jaroslav Pelikan explains it this way,

“Saul—together with the long line of his descendants—may have supposed that he was attacking the miserable adherents of a wretched fringe movement (14:22); but here the ultimate target of the rage and the violence (28:31) identified himself as none less than ‘Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’”

Christ is clearly one with His suffering saints. Our Lord undoubtedly cares for all humankind, but He must hold particular affection for His very own children who are harshly abused for the simple reason that they belong to Him. The martyred saints have no problem making the connection. In Revelation 6, martyred saints are pictured as being in the presence of Christ crying out, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”

And the answer they are given, apparently, is that the Lord will indeed avenge their blood on the heads of those who persecuted them, but He must first wait until the full number of martyrs is complete. One gets the sense from Revelation 6:11 that the reigns of history are at least partially held in reserve until an appointed persecution is complete. At which time, Christ will free His white horses to ride upon the clouds descending upon the earth to exact perfect justice against those who opposed Him by persecuting His body (Revelation 19). What Glory!

Finally, the fifth reason all Christians ought to identify with the persecuted is that the persecuted are blessed people! According to the New Testament, the kingdom belongs to the impoverished and the persecuted (see the first and eighth Beatitudes, Matthew 5:3, 10). Does it sound strange to call persecution a blessing?

It’s a strange and hard thought for my American Christian ears to hear, but it is true nonetheless that persecution is considered a blessing in the New Testament.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your China Christians persecuted persecution blessing matthew 5reward in heaven is great for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)

Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials (James 1:2).

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” (1 Peter 4:12-14)

Failure to identify with the persecuted represents a failure to recognize the blessed life in Christ. Surely, more than a few health-and-wealth, prosperity prophets have hauled in tons of followers and loads of cash by promising their hearers a “blessed” life. We know how wrong such preaching is, but are we altogether right about what it means to be blessed on Jesus’s terms?

Identifying with persecution may help us realize what abundant life really is as promised by our Lord. Don’t all Christians long for the abundant life Jesus said He came to give? Somehow, that abundant life includes both persecution and blessing. May the Lord grant us faith to embrace and receive all that He has to offer us.

Persecution for Every Christian: Why it is important to identify with the persecuted church


I seem to have a recurring disagreement with fellow Christians. I don’t like disagreements. I try to avoid them, but, when it comes to the persecuted church, I keep having them.

All Christians Face Persecution The conversation typically goes something like this: We are engaged in talking about some current event related to Christian persecution. The brother or sister in Christ then says, “they have it so bad over there. It really costs them to be a Christian.” –Which of course is true.

Then I usually say, well, we are all persecuted if we follow Christ. We share the same kind of persecution—even if it is not to the same degree. That line—we share the same kind of persecution—usually provokes an almost hostile response, and I am not sure why (feel free to explain below). Rather than attempting to probe deeply into the spiritual psyche of those who revile my position, I think I’d rather lay out 5 reasons it is important to understand persecution as something which impacts all Christians–including American Christians.

First, the plain teaching of Jesus and the New Testament favors (a) calling all persecution by the same name, and (b) expects all Christians to suffer it. In other words, the New Testament promises that everyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Granted, this little promise does not make its way into the “The Book of Bible Promises” available at your local Wal-Mart, but it is clearly stated in 2 Timothy 3:12:

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

Christians in the New Testament are promised persecution. Jesus explains the reason for this persecution in Matthew 5:10-12. Basically, the persecution happens because Christ is present with His people (“on account of me” in Matthew 5:11). Just as the world hated Christ then, the world will hate him (via his people) even now (see also John 15). Whether the persecution is imprisonment (as in Acts 5) or being falsely accused (Matthew 5) or being mocked (Acts 17) or being executed by the sword (Acts 12)—in each instance, there is Christian persecution—a hostile, retaliatory action against the presence of Christ. Both Jesus and the New Testament make this point clearly.

Second, those who wish to make a distinction between torture and name-calling are correct in so doing with regard to the severity of the crime. Who could doubt that it is worse to be lacerated with an electrical cable than to be laughed at during a family meal? Nevertheless, as was just pointed out above, the difference is in degree of persecution–not in whether or not persecution was suffered.

Many, hoping to maintain the distance between “real” persecution and the “light” afflictions we suffer in America, sadly end up injecting an artificial distance between Christians in America and Christians in the rest of the world. The priestly prayer of Jesus in John 17 works against such a bifurcation within the body of Christ. It is our Lord’s desire for us to be one—even as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one.

In trying to maintain the distance between the suffering of American Christians and the suffering of brothers and sisters in Nigeria, for example, some leaders speak of persecution as though it is worthy of the name only if it is of a particularly fantastic variety: prison, torture, beatings, death.  Persecution ends up being a pertinent category only for “those” Christians over “there” in other parts of the world. This, it seems to me, artificially divides the body of Christ. Indeed, we are commanded in Hebrews 13:3 to remember the persecuted as though we are in prison with them since we ourselves are one in body with them. The New Testament calls for us to close the gap in the body of Christ by identifying in united fashion with the persecuted. We can’t do that if we separate ourselves into “those over there” who suffer persecution and “us over here” who do not. That is an artificial, unbiblical distinction.

… There are 3 more reasons to go… stay tuned

Will There Be a Church in Egypt?


Two articles recently published get to the heart of the matter of Christian persecution in Egypt. The first, published by Paul Marshall of the Hudson Institute, offers a firsthand account of a visit he made to a Jewish synagogue in Egypt. What does a visit to a Jewish synagogue have to do with Christianity in Egypt? Quite a bit, actually.

Christian persecution egypt coptYou see, Marshall visited one of the last remaining Jews in Egypt. There will soon be no more Jews in Egypt. Here is how Marshall describes his visit:

In living memory there were nearly 100,000 Jews in Egypt. Just weeks ago there were 15 left in all the country: 12 in Cairo, three in Alexandria. All were aged, and only one was a man.

Another of the 15 has died so that there are now 14 Jews left. There are approximately 86 million people in Egypt, but only 14 Jews. There are nearly twice as many members of Egypt’s national soccer team as there are Jews in the country.

Marshall’s trip to the synagogue was to meet with the leader of Egypt’s Jews, Magda Haroun. Magda Haroun has no hope of a returning population of Jews to the country. Her efforts now are targeted upon the simple hope of establishing a museum of Jewish history. Conceding the fact that Jews will soon be absent from Egypt’s population, Magda hopes that at least Jews might live in Egypt’s history. As Marshall notes,

She is driven by the commitment and hope that people will not be able to forget that “there were once Jews in Egypt.”

Magda had occasion recently to meet Pope Tawadros, the head of the Coptic Church in Egypt. She had a simple, sober message for him: “Do not let your people leave. Do all that you can so that you do not become as we are…”

Of course, Pope Tawadros shares her desire to preserve a Christian witness in Egypt. But that is no small task. There is a second article recently published which offers a glimpse into the difficulty of preserving Christianity in Egypt.

Raymond Ibrahim at PJ Media chronicles a recent re-invigoration of an old practice: “milking Christians.” According to Ibrahim, Muslims in Egypt are purposefully threatening and extorting money and possessions from Christians—even those living in remote, desert monasteries. Ibrahim says,

In other words, Egypt’s Christians are increasingly being seen and treated, in the words of some early caliphs, as “milk camels” to be milked dry of their money and possessions. (Crucified Again, p. 200)

In addition to being “milked,” Christians are actually being attacked, too. Last summer, more than 40 church buildings were completely destroyed in a matter of hours. Over a three day period last August, about 150 church buildings were attacked, many of them destroyed.

Magda’s counsel to Pope Tawadros is more easily understood than executed. Christians feel isolated and alone in Egypt. Secular media sources—if they cover the plight of Christians at all—cover the atrocities under the obscure headline of “sectarian violence” continuing in the country. Referring to the persecution of Christians in Egypt as sectarian violence is like calling armed robbery a financial transaction. The violence works one way: Christians—like Jews before them—are being targeted for extinction in Egypt. In the last three years, probably 150,000 Christians have taken refuge out of Egypt.

If Christians are to remain in Egypt, then they will surely need the help of Christians from the U.S. and around the world. Undoubtedly, Christ has not abandoned His flock in Egypt. Has Christ not promised always to be present with His followers (Matthew 28:20)? Is there no God in Egypt? Yes, Jesus Christ is Lord in Egypt, and He will build His church there. Will we be a part of His work? Twice the Lord has called His son out of Egypt. There is no reason to think the Son will ever leave Egypt again. God’s Son has now been raised once for all as the sovereign Lord of Egypt and the earth.

May the Lord raise up His church from the devastated ruins of ancient Egypt, and may He grant us a heart to pray for and serve our suffering brothers and sisters there.

Simple Ways to Stay Informed About Christian Persecution


People often ask me how they can stay informed about the persecuted church. I am glad to offer the following resources for those interested in staying up to date about the persecution of Christians around the world.

Persecution Resources Updates news First, there are ministries dedicated to serving the persecuted church. Three of the more popular ministries are Voice of the Martyrs (www.persecution.com); Open Doors (www.opendoors.org); and Barnabas Fund (www.barnabasfund.org), the latter of which operates out of the United Kingdom.  These three organizations have long track records of ministry to the persecuted.

Second, there are research agencies dedicated (at least partially) to discovering the extent Christians are being persecuted around the world.  Among the largest and most respected of these is the Pew Research Center, particularly the Center’s Religion and Public Life Project, which publishes an annual report each January detailing religious hostilities around the world (www.pewforum.org).  In addition to the Pew Research Center’s work, other entities provide global documentation of Christian persecution:

  •          The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), chaired by Dr. Robert P. George, is a bipartisan commission which produces an annual report to the Congress of the United States detailing issues germane to religious freedom from around the world (www.uscirf.gov).
  •          WorldWatch Monitor is a news agency which focuses on the persecution of Christians around the world (www.worldwatchmonitor.org).
  •          Forum 18 is a Norwegian human rights organization which covers religious freedom all over the world, but focuses primary attention on the former Soviet countries (www.forum18.org). The name is derived from Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which promises freedom of religion.
  •          The Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom provides publications, Op-eds, and information related to religious freedom in the U.S. and around the world (http://crf.hudson.org/).
  •          China Aid is a human rights organization focused on religious liberty issues in China. Founder Bob Fu was instrumental in negotiating the escape and eventual release of the blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng in 2012 (www.chinaaid.org).
  •          The Center for the Global Study of Christianity is a research institution which works diligently to uncover accurate demographic data “to the ends of the earth.” This center is an outgrowth of work begun by David Barrett and his World Christian Encyclopedia research. This center resides on the campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (http://www.gordonconwell.edu/resources/Center-for-the-Study-of-Global-Christianity.cfm).

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission provides information about and raises awareness of religious liberty issues in the U.S. and around the world (www.erlc.com).

Third, Voice of the Martyrs operates a unique web-based ministry for contacting Christian prisoners around the world. The website (www.prisoneralert.com) not only gives updated information about the righteous suffering in prison, but it also offers the opportunity to write an encouraging letter to those brothers and sisters—in their native language! It is a wonderful tool to help Christians obey Hebrews 13:3, remembering those in prison as though in prison with them.

Who Really Cares About “The Least of These”? Matthew 25:31-46


What could be more obvious than the fact that Christians must take care of the outcast, the poor, and the prisoners?  Ministries of mercy like feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and clothing the scantily clad are services expected by Christ of His followers. As Matthew 25 makes plain, the righteous will engage in these ministries, while the wicked will proved to have neglected them in the end.

Covenant paradigm social justice care for poor persecuted persecution

New Testament Concentric Care

But obvious facts don’t always capture the complete story. So it is with Jesus’s instructions concerning “the least of these” in Matthew 25:31-46.  At the end of the narrative, Jesus casts out the wicked for having neglected the care of the naked, the strangers, and the thirsty, for He says “as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” –A strong word indeed which demonstrates Jesus’s presence with the poor. But which poor, any and every poor person on the planet?

It seems to me the rest of the story is told in the positive version of Jesus’s instruction about caring for “the least of these.” Back in 25:40, Jesus praises the righteous for the ministries of mercy they have completed:

“And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

The use of the term “my brothers” is not insignificant. Grant Osborne notes, “It is unlikely that unbelievers would be called ‘my brothers and sisters.’” Osborne notes further that Jesus calls his followers his brothers and sisters earlier in Matthew’s gospel (12:48-50).  What is the significance of “the least of these” being a reference to those in the covenant community? There are at least 3 significant consequences for reading the text this way.

First, it means the world will be judged for how it relates to Christ and Christians—particularly those in need. Jesus cares for, loves, and has committed himself to his followers. When the world rejects, despises, persecutes, and oppresses his sheep, He rightly assigns them to a proper judgment. Osborne sums up clearly this point concerning the thrust of Matthew 25:

“So Jesus’ message is that the world will be judged on the basis of how it treats those ‘little people’ whom God is sending to it.”

Second, it means Christians, too, will be judged not just for their ministries of mercy to the poor but for their concern explicitly for the persecuted poor. Christ, obviously, is concerned for His sheep. Why would Christians neglect them? The New Testament expects Christians to care for family first and then extend that familial love to the strangers and aliens among them. Too often we skip over the Christian family in our witness to evangelize the needy in the world. Is it not possible to accomplish the latter without neglecting the former? Jesus did not neglect his own in his extending mercy to the world. Neither should we.

Third, it means that the presence of Christ abides in the midst of the persecuted church. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus first framed the kingdom people as the poor and the persecuted. The first Beatitude states that the kingdom belongs to the poor. The last Beatitude completes the thought, stating that the kingdom belongs to the persecuted. The poor, persecuted follower of Christ is the one with whom Christ—himself destitute and persecuted—identifies (cf. Matthew 5:1-12 and Beatitudes). The summary of the Beatitudes is a “Beatitude reprise” in which Jesus proclaims that those persecuted on account of Him are the blessed in the earth who ought to be rejoicing.

So the conclusion of the matter is that if we care for Christ at all, then we will care for the impoverished and persecuted church in whose midst He dwells in love.

More Than 100 Christians Savagely Killed in Nigeria


Muslim gunmen raid three Christian villages in Kaduna state.

Daniel Anyip, vice chairman of Kaura Local Government Council, Kaduna. (Morning Star News)

MANCHOK, Nigeria (Morning Star News) – Muslim herdsmen armed with guns and machetes on Friday night (March 14) launched attacks on three villages in Kaduna state, killing more than 100 Christians and destroying homes, sources said.

Scores of the ethnic Fulani assailants simultaneously attacked the Christian villages of Ugwar Sankwai, Ungwar Gata and Chenshyi in the Kaura Local Government Area for about four hours, sources said. The Rev. Yakubu Gandu Nkut, chairman of the Zankan area chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), told Morning Star News that a pastor’s wife and her three children were among the dead.

“The unfortunate attack on our communities has led to killing of more than 100 Christians,” Nkut said. “The wife of one of our pastors, Mrs. Jummai Likita Riku, and her three children, from the ECWA [Evangelical Church Winning All] church, Ugwar Sankwai, were killed in the attack.”

ECWA and Anglican church buildings were burned down by the herdsmen in Ugwar Sankwai, Nkut said.

Daniel Anyip, vice chairman of the Kaura Local Government Council, confirmed the attacks and the death toll, telling reporters women and children were burned to death in homes the assailants set ablaze.

“There is no justification for this inhuman act,” Anyip said.

In Manchok, where several Christians have taken refuge, Nuhu Moses of Chenshyi village told reporters that the Muslim Fulani herdsmen killed about 50 Christians.

“The cattlemen who attacked my village were more than 40 – they were armed with guns and other weapons,” Moses told Morning Star News. “As I talk to you, there is no single house that has not been destroyed as the attackers set fire on our houses. As we made efforts to escape from being killed, our attackers shot at every one they saw. It was a miracle that I escaped alive.”

The Nigeria Police Force in Kaduna corroborated the attacks, saying more policemen had been deployed to the area to restore order; the first security personnel reportedly arrived at 4 a.m., about an hour after the attacks ended. Aminu Lawan, deputy superintendent of police, told Morning Star News by phone that police have begun investigating.

On Jan. 30, a band of armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacked the Christian village of Ungwar Kajit in the Manyi Akuru area of Kaduna, near Manchok, killing a family of seven and a man nearby, and injuring dozens of others.

Fulani herdsmen have long attacked settled Christian farmers in Plateau, Bauchi, Kaduna, Taraba and Adamawa states, but in the past year analysts have begun to see some ties between the assailants and Islamic extremist groups keen to exploit longstanding ethnic, property and religious conflicts.

Kaduna Gov. Mukhtar Yero described the March 14-15 attacks as “ungodly and barbaric.” He promised to order an investigation.

“This ugly situation is unacceptable, and we will step up efforts to improve surveillance and curtail future occurrence,” he said in a press statement. “We pray that God would expose the people that are causing this problem. We pray that God would touch their hearts to stop such dastardly acts or destroy their evil machinations.”

The Rt. Rev. George Dodo, chairman of the CAN in Kaduna state, called on the Nigerian government to put an end to systematic persecution of Christians in the state.

Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population of 158.2 million, while Muslims account for 45 percent. Those practicing indigenous religions may be as high as 10 percent of the total population, according to Operation World, so the percentages of Christians and Muslims may be less.

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© 2014 Morning Star News. Articles/photos may be reprinted with credit to Morning Star News.

Who’s Gonna Fill Frank Wolf’s Shoes?


George Jones once asked through the lyrics of a country song, “Who’s gonna fill their shoes?” Released in 1985, the song pays homage to country music legends like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Patsy Cline. For a country music purist, the question is a pertinent one.

Empty shoes Frank Wolf PersecutionHowever, many upstarts have volunteered to fill the famous shoes of country music superstars. Indeed, there will be more legendary performances by future legendary singers. Fame (and fortune) will always draw a crowd.

Truly legendary character is much harder to replace. Take, for instance, the retirement of Representative Frank Wolf of Virginia. Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, recently said of Representative Wolf, “No one fought harder for the persecuted church around the world.” Moore rightly termed Frank Wolf “a hero.”  Who in congress will replace Frank Wolf?

Sure, there will be plenty of suitors for the office of representative. The Washington Post reports,

The battleground district, which stretches from McLean to the Shenandoah Valley and whose seat has not been vacant for more than three decades, has attracted a host of potential contenders from both parties.

But filling an office is not the same as filling Wolf’s shoes. Just as a great many country music wannabes have sought to become famous for their abilities to entertain, so, too, there will be a host of hungry politicians seeking to increase their political influence through possessing congressional office. But who will fill his shoes?

Who will use the influence of his office to call attention to lowly, politically disconnected Christians suffering injustice around the world? Why bother speaking up for Christians? The media do not care about their plight. Some would say the current administration does not care about their welfare. And a cynical observer of church activities might even make the case that professing Christians themselves are unconcerned. Representative Wolf famously called out Christian leaders as a result of their silence on the issue.

Caring for the persecuted church is not in vogue. It isn’t sexy. It won’t win you very many friends. It might even get you castigated from some social circles of influence. So, again, why bother? It seems to me there is no politically motivated reason to bother. There is no popular reason to bother (as there is with lobbying for gay marriage, subsidizing green energy, or providing birth control and abortion funding through federal healthcare legislation).

Who indeed will care for the most severely mistreated minority on earth? I don’t know, but I am glad Representative Frank Wolf did. His office will be filled, his shoes?

It’s About to Get Real


The news story from North Korea this week is making its way around the blogosphere and through social media outposts, and I am very glad that folks are realizing more and more that Christians are the most persecuted group of people on planet earth. Thank you, Lori Stanley Roeleveld, for your recent post concerning the execution looming for 33 of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Christian Persecution RealThe Washington Times reported (3/6/14) that Kim Jong Un will execute 33 Christians soon because of their activities on behalf of the underground church in North Korea. On the one hand, it is further confirmation that there are believers in North Korea. On the other hand, of course, it is further confirmation that Christians in North Korea are in grave danger.

Sadly, not enough leaders around the world seem concerned about the persecution of Christians. As I noted months back, when leaders to speak out (see Angela Merkel story), they are mocked and ridiculed. Most leaders choose—as our current White House has done—to remain quiet in the face of atrocities committed against Christians in North Korea. –To be fair, the White House might be conducting a lot of business behind the scenes. We don’t know for sure that they are not; however, the message is clear that standing up for the rights of suffering Christians is not a high priority.

So Christians in North Korea continue to suffer in silence. In many ways, we are rightly shocked by this grotesque display of disregard for human life. In other ways, however, we must admit that this has been normal through human history. Eric Foley, a missions strategist working out of South Korea, makes two great points in response to the situation in North Korea.

First, he clarifies that the actions of North Korea are nothing new. This is no new “war against Christians,” Foley asserts. This is business as usual. The current plan to execute 33 Christians is merely a reflection of the everyday attitude the North Korean government holds against Christians.

This is simply the West being able to see what North Korean underground Christians have always known, which is that the Christian faith is not welcome in any form in North Korea.”

Second, Foley notes that the gospel is a life-or-death matter for North Korea’s Christians. As Foley says it,

There is no back door for the gospel into North Korea. The only way the gospel can advance is at great personal cost.”

What Foley is admitting is what Jesus taught His first followers:

18“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19“If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you… (John 15:18ff).

What’s new in all of this? Nothing, really. Jesus called those who would be His disciples to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow him

Christian Persecution

Source: Reuters

(Luke 9:27).  Basic discipleship includes a willingness to die—like a grain of wheat—in order to produce a new harvest of gospel fruit. Jesus has never been confused about the cost of discipleship.

But we have lived in privileged conditions in the (formerly) Christian west. We have grown accustomed to protections which, in the future, we likely will not have. The times are changing, and the reality of persecution is looming more severe on our horizon, too. The concept of human rights is no longer rooted in the justice of the God of the Bible. So, what is real today in North Korea is what has been real throughout history. Nero burned Christians to light his garden at night. Bloody Mary burned hundreds who refused her catholic faith. And Kim Jung Un is scheduled to execute dozens in a futile attempt to eradicate Christ’s presence from North Korea.

The persecution of Christians in North Korea is real. And, if history is a reliable indicator, it’s about to get real for us, too.

Are Nigerian Christians Really Facing Persecution? Definitions.


In Nigeria, the situation is grim for Christians. In particular, Christians in the northern tier of Nigeria live in constant fear of bombings, execution, or torturous violence at the hands of Boko Haram, a militant Islamic terrorist organization.

Recently, President Goodluck Jonathan spoke against the violence but insisted that this violence was not Christian persecution, as Boko Haram kills Muslims, too. No doubt, the latter half of the statement is true, as the organization has admitted to killing Muslims on occasion. Their explanation sounds like the explanation often given when civilians are unexpectedly killed in battles. I think the term is “collateral damage.” (It is an awfully cold manner in which to describe any loss of human life.)

According to this report,

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has refuted his assertion. Its spokesman Sunday Oibe responded: “Our attention has been drawn to a purported claim by President Goodluck Jonathan that the Boko Haram insurgents in the north have killed more Muslims than Christians and that it is not a religious issue.

“The purported statement by Mr. President is highly disappointing considering the fact that Christians and their churches and businesses have been the major targets of the Boko Haram terror group.

“We want to believe that the President was misquoted… If it is true that Mr. President actually made this assertion, then we are highly disappointed and sad at this veiled attempt to distort the facts as it concerns the activities of the Boko Haram sect.

CAN goes on to explain why, in their opinion, the violence is Christian persecution. In short summary form, here is the explanation:

“We say this because there has never been any bomb that has been exploded in any mosque or targeted at any mosque in the entire activities of the Boko Haram sect in the north. The Boko Haram members even said that when a Muslim is killed, it is by mistake”.

Christian Persecution Definition WorldWatch Monitor, a responsible news agency reporting on persecution around the world, has made a good case in agreement with CAN that the violence in northern Nigeria is, indeed, persecution. Their credible report also demonstrates the difficulty that exists in persecution studies with regard to definitions and the intermingling of politics and religion. (We need definitions).

The paradigm proposed by WorldWatch Monitor is to distinguish between Insidious persecution—which includes discrimination, harassment, and less volatile forms of oppression; and Elevated persecution, which would describe more violent (and even lethal) forms of persecution. WorldWatch Monitor then asserts that Christians in Nigeria are facing Elevated forms of persecution on a regular basis.

I am very thankful for the work of WorldWatch Monitor. They study the numbers seriously and avoid sensationalism in reporting Christian persecution. I do not wish to undermine anything they are doing, only to build further upon it.

In that spirit, I offer yet a further taxonomy of persecution study. Rather than violence being the beginning of the taxonomy, I suggest we make violence derivative of a more basic taxonomy. The first question when categorizing persecution by type is not whether it was violent vs. non-violent. Rather, the first question is whether the persecution is simplistic or systemic.

If it is simplistic, then it results from an individual or small group of friends, family, or colleagues acting in haste, committing an unplanned hostile response to agitation because of the presence of a Christian. If the persecution is systemic, then the hostility was planned and orchestrated at an institutional level—like the police, the military, the school system, the local government, or an organized militia like Boko Haram.

Whatever the “collateral damage” is in Nigeria, the reality is that Boko Haram is systemically opposed to Christianity and targets Christians for violence, execution, and church explosions. Like CAN, I suspect that Christians in Nigeria are victims of systemic persecution and need our prayers.

Simple Ways to Stay Informed about Christian Persecution


Not long ago, I posted a couple of articles concerning why Christian persecution is such a neglected topic both among Christians and non-Christians alike. I’m sure those articles had a negative tone about them because it is difficult to understand why so many people neglect such an important Christian priority. Yet, as Christians, our message and our lives are inherently oriented in the Resurrection of Christ toward the positive–always toward redemption! And I want this to be reflected in my thinking and my writing.

Prayer Persecuted Christian persecutionSo, I was graciously reminded yesterday of how the Lord is stirring His people to share His concern for His suffering church. Two young men came to my office to ask for help in leading a ministry of prayer for the persecuted church. They will be meeting on Thursday nights on the campus of California Baptist University to pray for persecuted Christians around the world. This movement is so refreshing and encouraging. Young Christians are aware of and concerned for the persecuted church.

And these young Christians are not alone. There are a number of good ministries working to serve the persecuted church and to raise awareness for those suffering on account of Christ.  Among those paying attention to Christian persecution, a few organizations stand out.  First, there are ministries dedicated to serving the persecuted church. Three of the more popular ministries are Voice of the Martyrs (www.persecution.com); Open Doors (www.opendoors.org); and Barnabas Fund (www.barnabasfund.org), the latter of which operates out of the United Kingdom.  These three organizations have long track records of ministry to the persecuted.

Second, there are research agencies dedicated (at least partially) to discovering the extent Christians are being persecuted around the world.  Among the largest and most respected of these is the Pew Research Center, particularly the Center’s Religion and Public Life Project, which publishes an annual report each January detailing religious hostilities around the world (www.pewforum.org).  In addition to the Pew Research Center’s work, other entities provide global documentation of Christian persecution:

  • The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), chaired by Dr. Robert P. George, is a bipartisan commission which produces an annual report to the Congress of the United States detailing issues germane to religious freedom around the world (www.uscirf.gov).
  • WorldWatch Monitor is a news agency which focuses on the persecution of Christians around the world (www.worldwatchmonitor.org).
  • Forum 18 is a Norwegian human rights organization which covers religious freedom all over the world, but focuses primary attention on the former Soviet countries (www.forum18.org). The name is derived from Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which promises freedom of religion.
  • The Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom provides publications, Op-eds, and information related to religious freedom in the U.S. and around the world (http://crf.hudson.org/).
  • China Aid is a human rights organization focused on religious liberty issues in China. Founder Bob Fu was instrumental in negotiating the escape and eventual release of the blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng in 2012 (www.chinaaid.org).
  • The Center for the Global Study of Christianity is a research institution which works diligently to uncover accurate demographic data “to the ends of the earth.” This center is an outgrowth of work begun by David Barrett and his World Christian Encyclopedia research. This center resides on the campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (http://www.gordonconwell.edu/resources/Center-for-the-Study-of-Global-Christianity.cfm).

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission provides information about and raises awareness of religious liberty issues in the U.S. and around the world (www.erlc.com).

We have more access to information about persecution than at any time in history. The internet is an amazing resource if we employ it for good. I am so thankful that many Christians and human rights organizations are employing this resource for the good of the suffering Bride of Christ. May the Lord prosper these ministries.

Will the U.S. House Help Christians Suffering Persecution?


Last week, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom met to offer a report to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs.  Commissioner Elliott Abrams offered a compelling plea for Congress to take up the cause of persecuted Christians around the world.

By following this link, you can view video testimonies from the hearing, as well as find full text versions of the transcripts of the events. I offer with deep gratitude the following excerpt from Commissioner Abrams’ report:

Christian persecution

Edward Royce
Chairman, U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs

 I commend this subcommittee highlighting the gravity of this persecution. Because of your efforts and those of others both within government and beyond, millions of Americans are aware of the egregious mistreatment of individual Christians such as Pastor Saeed Abedini, an Iranian born American citizen imprisoned in Iran. Pastor Abedini was sentenced to eight years in prison for daring to live out the full dimensions of his faith under a theocratic dictatorship which seeks monopoly status in the public square for its own beliefs. USCIRF has highlighted his case and continues to urge our government to press the Iranian government to release him immediately.

Unfortunately, the Iranian government’s mistreatment of Pastor Abedini reflects the stark and disturbing reality for many Christians seeking to live out their beliefs in country after country across the globe. There are more than two billion Christians in the world — which is nearly one third of the world’s population, and in one-third of all nations, containing 75 percent of the world’s population, governments either perpetrate or permit serious violations of the religious freedom rights of their citizens. A recent report of a 6-year study from the Pew Research Center found that Christians were harassed in 151 countries, the largest number of any group surveyed, and in many of these countries the conditions for religious freedom are awful. In other words, given their large numbers and wide dispersion across countries, and given the poor status of religious freedom in many of these states, it is unfortunately no surprise that Christians so often fall victim to persecution. 

In addition to these factors, there are other elements that explain not just the fact of Christians being persecuted, but the reasons for their persecution. To a disproportionate extent, Christians in many of these nations signify the “other.” They often are members of ethnic or language minorities, or are viewed as linked to the West and Western interests. In many of these nations, Christianity also represents an alternative source of authority, thereby posing a direct threat both to tyrannical governments and extremist private actors.

In addition to these factors, there are other elements that explain not just the fact of Christians being persecuted, but the reasons for their persecution. To a disproportionate extent, Christians in many of these nations signify the “other.” They often are members of ethnic or language minorities, or are viewed as linked to the West and Western interests. In many of these nations, Christianity also represents an alternative source of authority, thereby posing a direct threat both to tyrannical governments and extremist private actors.

Again, the entire session with transcripts is available here. Please share this information with your friends and family.

 

Why Is It So Hard to Study Persecution?


If you want to find out about the extent persecution is affecting Christians around the world, you certainly can. There are a number of ministries and agencies tracking persecution around the world.  But the research varies dramatically from one source to the next. Accurate research on persecution is not easy to obtain for several reasons. First, those committing persecution are, obviously, not interested in reporting it, and those who suffer oftentimes have neither the means nor the time to report what has happened to them. Consider, for instance, this testimony from North Korea:

INTERVIEWEE 37: “…A person caught carrying the Bible is doomed.  When a person is caught [worshipping], he will be sent to kwanliso [prison camp]…and the whole family may disappear.”[1]

Disappearing people are notoriously difficult to count. So, the nature of the persecution dynamic agitates against accurate reporting.

Christian Persecution StudyAccurate research is also difficult to obtain because of a general confusion of categories. So, second, category confusion leads to skewed numbers relating to persecution statistics.  What counts as persecution, and what is political oppression? When the Muslim Sudanese government in the North attacks and razes Christian and animist villages in the South, is the government guilty of persecuting Christians?  True, hundreds of thousands of Christians were slaughtered in the Sudanese Civil War. However, thousands of animists and other non-Christians were killed at the same time. Their villages were targeted, too. In what category do the dead Christians of Sudan fit—victims of political oppression or victims of persecution?

There are many other such questions related to categories of suffering. What is legitimate criminal punishment and what is an abuse of the law for the purpose of persecuting an evangelist? Stories abound which describe successful evangelists being arrested and charged with gun smuggling, spying, or stealing—often evidence is planted in their homes or in their vehicles to substantiate the charges. Even more to the point, what happens when Christians actually defy the law and proselytize their neighbors or smuggle Bibles into forbidden places. When is the arrest an act of justice, and when is it systemic persecution?

The Apostle Peter warns against suffering as a criminal or an evildoer. Peter makes plain that Christ’s blessing is for those who suffer on account of Christ—not those who suffer for being criminals. Where exactly is that line drawn? One may be imprisoned, tortured, or killed for a principle or a cause, but that suffering may not necessarily be the suffering of a martyr. There are countless examples of people suffering and dying on principle (think about the Civil Rights movement, the pro-life movement, or the actions of Dietrich Bonhoeffer). Such suffering may or may not have been the result of Christian persecution.  Clear-cut categories are definitely needed in order to guarantee accurate figures concerning the size and scope of the Christian persecution problem.

So, the numbers are affected by the lack of reporting and by the confusion of categories. Third, the numbers are also affected by the lack of attention in general toward persecution. Relatively speaking, very few outlets are paying attention to Christian persecution.  One need not be overly critical to notice the barrenness of reporting by secular media on behalf of Christians.  John Allen explains that there is “a reflexive hostility to institutional religion, especially Christianity, in some sectors of secular opinion. People conditioned by such views are inclined to see Christianity as the agent of repression, not its victim.”[2]  Secular media, it seems, have a hard time tracking what they don’t believe can exist.


 

[1] Marshall, Gilbert, and Shea, Persecuted, 54.

[2] John Allen, The Global War, 15.

Why Caring for the Persecuted Is a Christian Priority


So our friends and family back east—especially in Kentucky—are experiencing one of the toughest winters on record. Even now, there is snow on top of ice on top of snow. Out here in California, we are experiencing a drought, although we got a few sprinkles overnight (and snow in the mountains). And, so far, the drought has not caused a famine in the land.

Christian needs ministryImagine if it had. Imagine a drought so bad that it caused a famine in which food became scarce and lives were being lost (like the 2011 drought—and famine—suffered in the Horn of Africa, from which thousands died, and 90,000 kids are still in danger). In a situation like that, would a Christian be obligated to share food with others? If not obligated, then wouldn’t the Christian at least want to share food with others to keep them alive?

Feeding the poor is an on-going ministry need and a need which nearly everyone agrees ought to be met. What’s more basic than food and water, right? And Christians—where possible—are obligated to help secure these necessities for those in need.  But there is a Christian hierarchy for meeting physical needs. Consider the severe principle Paul lays down to Timothy:

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8).

In its context, this verse is speaking of caring for widows in your own family. Don’t have the church (or the government!) provide for your widowed mother, grandmother, or aunt—take care of her yourself because you are her family. If you don’t take care of the need in your own family, then you don’t understand the faith.

This idea of taking care of family first is found throughout Scripture and throughout the New Testament. In fact, it is such a basic notion that to fail in this regard would be not just falling below the gospel standard of morality—but below even the standard recognized by the pagan culture. Everyone knows that family comes first.

Because family comes first, Paul actually views caring for poor and needy Christians as a priority over caring for poor and needy non-Christians. Does this sound strange? Harsh? It shouldn’t.  This principle is woven from the fabric of basic familial priority: Feed your family first. Paul says it this way in Galatians:

“So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Galatians 6:10).

Returning to our hypothetical drought and famine, we can think of the matter this way. If we were living through a famine, we would naturally feed ourselves and our own families first. It would be neither heroic nor laudable to feed our neighbors’ kids, while allowing our own to starve. Each father must provide for his own.

In Galatians 6:10, Paul is not intending to drive a wedge between serving the needy church and serving the needy pagans. The command is “do good to all.” So, there is no diminishing of social justice, feeding the poor, or loving our neighbor. Yet, there would be something terribly dysfunctional if we were to concentrate our care on those outside the faith, while we left our own faith family to starve, suffer, and die.

The world will not be sure that you are Jesus followers if you simply love the poor and feed the needy.   Jesus made this point plainly for His disciples in John 13:35: “By this,” Jesus says, “all men will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.” The need hierarchy of the New Testament demands that we take care of our brothers and sisters suffering on account of Christ. Loving one another will itself witness to the world that we are Christians.

As Tom Schreiner writes in his commentary on Galatians: “A hierarchy is established, so that a priority is assigned to those who are fellow believers.” Our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world are fellow believers. How do we make them our priority?

Why Are Christians Neglecting Persecution Studies?


More than five decades ago, Eberhard Bethge, a close friend and biographer of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, lamented the manner in which Protestants neglected the study of martyrs. He offered two basic reasons for such neglect:

Protestants deplore the martyr worship present in part of the Catholic tradition. And Protestants are a bit squeamish emotionally when it comes to thinking about suffering on account of Christ.

Persecution Study NeglectedObviously, I have over-simplified Bethge’s two points. This post is not attempting to be technically precise concerning why the study of persecution and martyrdom is still neglected by Protestants.  Instead, my aim is simply to show that the problem pointed out by Bethge is still haunting us today.  Recently, John. L. Allen bemoaned the lack of persecution studies among Christians.

While Allen notes the easily explained absence of reporting on Christian persecution by secular outlets, he has a harder time explaining the absence of reporting by Christian sources.  Allen offers four possible reasons Christians aren’t tracking the suffering of brothers and sisters around the world. (1) Christians in America and in the West simply don’t identify with the persecuted church. How can an American Christian relate to someone like Christianah Oluwatoyin Oluwasesin, who was beaten and burned to death because she was a Christian teacher in a Muslim school in Nigeria?  We have a very difficult time relating to what seems so fantastic and so unreal; thus we aren’t sure what to do with the information once we find it. More important, we don’t go looking for it in the first place.

(2) Another reason Christians are silent instead of investigating, reporting, and researching Christian persecution is that the topic itself is disconcerting. By nature, persecution challenges shallow faith and comfortable Christianity.  From my own experience as an advocate for the persecuted church over the past 15 years, I can affirm that many Christians—including pastors—are not comfortable hearing about persecution. While from a doctrinal perspective, we decry health-and-wealth, prosperity preaching, we, too often, actually prefer a Christian experience that is comfortable and safe for the whole family. Why confront a problem if it makes us so uncomfortable? It’s easier to leave the matter alone.

(3) Christian persecution is a neglected topic of study and research because it requires hard work and serious resources to investigate and ferret out the details of the incidents, and, often, incidents happen in places difficult to reach. Christian entities in the West tend to use their resources in other ways and cannot fathom expending exorbitant amounts of cash to study persecution on the islands of Indonesia or in the sub-Saharan countries of Africa. Christian resources are limited.

(4) Christians also suffer the malady of “good cause” fatigue. Because no one is talking much about persecution, it gets displaced by other, more celebrated Christian causes: evangelism, missions, unreached people groups, church planting, church growth, pro-life issues, and other political concerns. In short, persecution isn’t really on the American Christian radar as a church priority.

So, for all these reasons—and probably others which have not been mentioned—Christian persecution research is lacking. What other reasons might explain Christian neglect of persecution studies?

Do You Know Any Bad Prisons?


Persecution Prison Theology ChinaDo you know any bad prison stories? If you’ve ever seen The Shawshank Redemption, then you have heard of at least one bad prison. My guess is that you know of several others, too. Ever heard of Alcatraz, that eerie, isolated mass of prison rock sitting about a mile and a half offshore in San Francisco Bay?  And what about Abu Ghraib? Who hasn’t heard about the atrocious behavior of American soldiers in that Iraqi installation?

We seem to have a fascination with scary prison stories. Growing up in Louisiana, I would get shivers at talk of Angola—the largest maximum security penitentiary in the U.S.  Its history is strewn with stories of swamps and stabbings and serial corruption. It was the home of the dreaded “Gruesome Gertie,” an electric chair transported from parish to parish throughout Louisiana to carry out executions.

Prison stories typically capture our attention. But sometimes terrible prison stories never get told. Consider the small, desert country of Eritrea, located in the Horn of Africa, along the coastline of the Red Sea.  One of the worst human rights atrocities of our day is currently taking place in the Me’eter Prison there, with the full knowledge of the watching world. And you have likely never heard of it.

Me’eter Prison was opened in 2009, basically, to serve as “a concentration camp for Christians.”[1]  The atrocities described here have been documented by WikiLeaks since 2011.  Inmates are forced to live in cargo containers so crowded that the prisoners never have enough room to lie down. They have no protection from the searing heat during the day (often exceeding 110 degrees Fahrenheit) and no recourse from the cold at night. Arid desert climates can experience 50 degree temperature changes from day to night. Inmates may die from starvation, dehydration, heatstroke, cholera, diphtheria, or other infectious diseases.

The inmates who survive the deplorable conditions are subjected to other forms of torture and abuse. Stories abound of sexual abuse and physical beatings. Even the work and exercise prescribed are forms of torture—such as counting the grains of sand in a certain area during the noonday heat or squatting to move rocks from one side of your body to the other, repeated endlessly.

Eritrea , persecution

Source: CIA.GOV

French revolutionary Regis Debray argues that such abuse falls into the blind spot of western academics and media elites. The atrocities at Me’eter are documented in books, on WikiLeaks, via internet sources, and through activists like gospel singer Helen Berhane, herself an inmate at a prison in Eritrea from 2004-2006, because of her faith in Christ.  The information is available for those adequately concerned, but who is concerned about persecuted Christians?  Certainly not the UK Border Agency.  Helen Berhane was scheduled to speak to a Release International gathering in the UK on behalf of other persecuted Christians, but she was denied entry by the UK Border Agency.  Parliament passed unanimously Early Day Motion 1531 in support of Berhane (and condemning the Border Agency decision), but Berhane was not allowed entry to tell her story in person.  And Christians still languish in putrid prison conditions in Eritrea on account of Christ.  Who cares?

Fortunately, there are a growing number of Christ’s people who care. One group that has been active on behalf of suffering saints in Eritrea is Church in Chains, a ministry to the persecuted church operating out of Ireland.  Maybe you and I could find out more about Christians in prison and tell others about them. We could pray for suffering Christians and advocate on their behalf–for Christ’s sake.


[1] Quote and following Me’eter description from John L. Allen, The Global War, 1-4.