Persecuted for Their Faith

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven – Matthew 5:10

I have been aware of how much the church has been persecuted in different parts of the world through emails from Voice of the Martyrs Canada.  I have read many heartbreaking stories but I will share two of them.  A Christian woman named Mariam was expelled from her home by her husband who had militant Muslim views because she refused to renounce her faith.  At the time Mariam was pregnant and due to give birth soon.  She had to be cared for by church members.  In 2012 when she became a Christian, her Muslim family provoked an attack, forcing her to live on the streets.  Mariam is from the Ivory Coast which has seen an increase in violence since November 2010.

In Pakistan a teen died after being set on fire.  He was approached by two men who asked him about his religion.  After Nauman told them that he was a Christian, they proceeded to beat him.  He tried to run away but they followed him and doused him with kerosene and set him on fire.  Unfortunately, his attackers wore masks so there is little hope that they will be caught.  And it doesn’t help that the authorities show little interest in further investigation.

I thought that what these people experienced in their countries was bad but Ivory Coast and Pakistan are not even part of Gospel for Asia’s list of the top 10 countries where Christians are persecuted.  Life for Christians in these countries is simply horrendous.  First up is North Korea.

North Korea is the worst persecutor of Christians in the world. Christians are tortured, imprisoned and murdered. Private, non-state-sanctioned religious activity is prohibited. Anyone discovered engaging in clandestine religious activity is subject to arrest, torture or even public execution – Voice of the Martyrs – North Korea.

Yang was a Christian woman who became a follower of Jesus while she was still living in North Korea. Watch her incredible story of pain and hope.

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” – John 16:33

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam is known for being one of the worst places when it comes to women’s rights and religious freedom.  According to VOM Canada, it is one of the most oppressive nations in the world for Christians.

Religious freedom is nonexistent, and leaving Islam is punishable by death. Non-Muslims are not permitted to become citizens of Saudi Arabia, and no places of worship other than mosques are permitted in the country. All non-Muslim religious rituals and materials are banned. Converts from Islam to Christianity are rare, and converts have been executed for the offense. Anyone who performs mission work or converts a Muslim faces jail, expulsion, lashing, torture or execution. Non-Muslim worship, even private worship for foreign Christians, is prohibited, and Saudi religious police have been known to raid homes where expatriate workers were worshiping – Voice of the Martyrs – Saudi Arabia.

In September 2014, a house church in the city of Khafji was raided and 28 people were arrested, including children. Bibles and musical instruments were also seized. The worshippers, mostly expatriate workers from South Asia, were held overnight and released the following day, apart from a leader of the group who was held for another night – Church in Chains.

Can you imagine receiving 200 lashes and two years in prison if you are from Saudi Arabia and 300 lashes and six years in prison if you are from another country?  In 2012, two men, one Lebanese and the other Saudi Arabian were charged with brainwashing a Saudi woman into becoming a Christian.  These charges were levelled against them by the woman’s family.  The woman, known as the “girl of Khobar” is living in Sweden where she has been granted asylum.  She wasn’t brainwashed, she chose to become a Christian (Church in Chains).  Watch as she and another Saudi share their testimonies.

“Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” – John 8:36

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan does not recognize any Afghan citizens as being Christians, nor are Afghan citizens legally permitted to convert to Christianity. Although there are no explicit laws that forbid proselytizing, many authorities and most of society view the practice as contrary to the beliefs of Islam. There is only one legally recognized church in Afghanistan and it is located within the diplomatic enclave, and not open to local nationals.  Muslims who change their faith to Christianity, are subject to societal and official pressure, which may lead to death penalty. However, there are cases in which a Muslim will adopt the Christian faith, secretly declaring his/her apostasy. In effect, they are practising Christians, but legally Muslims; thus, the statistics of Afghan Christians does not include Muslim apostates to Christianity – Wikipedia

I read that the growing number of Christians in Afghanistan is causing great concern among the Muslim leaders and they are calling on President Hamid Karzai to “limit the number of aid workers and Christian missionaries coming to Afghanistan” to keep Afghanis from converting to Christianity.”  Apparently this all started when a TV station in Kabul reported the conversion of several Afghans to Christianity and broadcasted photos of them praying and being baptized.  This sparked an outrage and a call to convict believers under the Sharia Law which decrees that anyone who leaves Islam and converts to another religion that person will be executed – Christian Headlines.  The Afghan Christians have no church building where they can go because the last one was destroyed two years ago.  They are completely underground now and are risking their lives to meet in homes.

This is my comfort in my affliction, For Your word has given me life – Psalm 119:50

The situation of religious freedom for Christians has seriously deteriorated under the influence of the establishment of the Islamic State in large parts of Iraq. In June 2014, a strict version of Islamic law was implemented in the area the militants of Islamic State hold. Christians were forced to convert, flee or pay a tax for religious minorities. As a result, many Christians fled. Moreover, the broader Iraqi society is turning more Islamic, with increased social control on women wearing a veil and observance of Ramadan. Christians most affected by persecution are converts from Islam. However, in areas held by radical Islamic groups all Christians are under great pressure – Open Doors USA

A family of four was forced to flee Iraq because of militants and a man for questioning the Quran.  Read their stories.

Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand’ – Isaiah 41:10

Last year a Somalian believer was dragged outside of her home and murdered by a group of armed men. Anyone who tried to rescue her was shot at.  Her parents witnessed this terrible tragedy.  If a Somali was discovered to be a follower of Jesus, that person was going to face certain death not only in Somalia but in neighbouring countries where they are forced to flee as refugees.  According to one VOM source, “In Somalia, they kill you if they just find a piece of literature” (VOM USA).  My thoughts are with this young woman’s family and I pray that they are leaning on Jesus and trusting Him to strengthen them each day.

And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; For You, LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You – Psalm 9:10

Maldives is one of the least evangelized countries in the world. The 0.2% figure for Christians refers to expatriate Christians. Citizens of the Maldives are automatically Muslim, and non-Muslims may not become citizens. The open practice of any religion other than Islam is forbidden. Maldivian believers are carefully watched. They suffer ostracism, mockery, incarceration and even torture. Christians cannot meet or read the Scriptures openly. Expatriate believers have been expelled, especially after sharing their faith – VOM Canada.

Citizens of the Maldives who convert to Christianity lose their citizenship and risk torture. Expulsions of Christians occurred several times in the last 10 years (Wikipedia).

In his presidential campaign the current President of Maldives, Abdulla Yameen promoted himself as a saviour of Islam. “Think for yourselves, do you want Islam in the Maldives or do you want to allow space for other religions in the Maldives,” he said in an election speech.  In his speech on Maldives Conversion to Islam Day, he told the citizens, “We should also be very vigilant of foreign influences attempting to weaken our religious faith” (The Diplomat).  Clearly, things for Christian believers in Maldives is not going to change any time soon.  Let’s lift them up in our prayers that they will remain strong and steadfast until the Lord returns.

But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you – 1 Peter 5:10

It has been said that Mali has always been a dangerous place for Christians.  Christians who have fled are afraid to return and those who return find their properties occupied by Muslims.  There is no normal church life for Malian Christians in the north and those living in the south feel threatened by the Islamic groups in the north (source:  Open Doors).  Read about a pastor who escaped a deadly plot in Mali.

For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the LORD is against those who do evil” – 1 Peter 3:12

Imagine risking your life to tell others about Jesus in a country where religious freedom is on the decline. Watch this compelling video of a Iranian woman named Padina who was about to commit suicide but God intervened.

“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” – John 8:12

Yemeni citizens are not allowed to convert to Christianity (or other religions). Converts from an Islamic background may face the death penalty if their new faith is discovered. Converts from Islam also encounter opposition from extremist groups, who threaten “apostates” with death if they do not revert to Islam. Proselytizing of Muslims is prohibited – VOM Canada

How frustrating it must be to have to hide your new faith or face possible death if it is discovered.  Please pray that your Yemeni brothers and sisters will be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:1).

Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart, All you who hope in the LORD – Psalm 31:24

I received a prisoner update of an Eritrean man named Mussie Eyob who has been in prison since 2011. He was arrested because of his faith and his desire to share the Gospel with others.  Mussie became a Christian in 2008.  Three years later, while he was living in Saudi Arabia, he went to a mosque where he spoke about Christianity.  He was arrested on February 12, 2011.  It is a capital offence to proselyte in Saudi Arabia.  Praise God, He intervened through the appeals from various human rights groups and individuals.  Mussie was deported to Eritrea.  You can read his story here and see how you can reach out to him and his family.

It is ironic that as the people of Eritrea celebrated 24 years of independence in March 2015, religious freedom for Christians is still a concern.   According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the greatest shortcomings in religious freedom are felt by minority groups such as evangelical Christians.  So once again, in 2015,  USCIRF holds to its position that Eritrea is to be designated as a “country of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act.

In the wake of their independence, Eritrean Christians had to flee to Ethiopia to escape their hardships where they continue to boldly share their faith.  “They are actually seeing many from (various) religious backgrounds — Muslim and Orthodox — enter into a personal relationship with Jesus” says Greg Musselman, a spokesman for The Voice of the Martyrs Canada.

“Today, you’ve got anywhere between 3,000 to 4,000 Christians there who are imprisoned in shipping containers or military camps because of their faith.”  Can you imagine dealing with torture, acts of cruelty, random arrests and detention without charges? Musselman believes that these practices are as a result of the government’s belief that evangelical Christianity is “western” and is linked with the CIA (ERITREA: Refugees Boldly Testify of Christian Faith; Source: Mission Network News).

It is encouraging to know that despite the ban on their religious activities, the imprisonments and persecutions, the Eritrean Christians are holding on.  They have this assurance that they are not alone and that they are fighting the good fight which will carry them through these fiery trials.

“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life – Revelation 2:10

If you are moved to pray for the Christians in these countries, find out how at this link.

“Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Hebrews 13:3

Sources:  Gospel for Asia; Voice of the Martyrs Canada; Open Doors; Church in Chains

Journey into Another World

Deliver me in Your righteousness, and cause me to escape; Incline Your ear to me, and save me – Psalm 71:2

I invite you to take a journey through remote tribal villages in India where you will meet oppressed women.  Women who live behind a “Veil of Tears”.  As you watch this movie shot on location across the nation of India, you will be transported into a world fraught with rejection, abandonment, tragedy as seen through the eyes of the women who reveal what is really behind the veils they wear.  As you learn about their sad lives, think of how you can be a part of Gospel for Asia’s movement to rescue these women and others like them from a life filled with oppression and despair to a future of hope and triumph found only in Jesus Christ.

This is a journey that you will never forget.  It takes you places you never imagined or wish you hadn’t been to.  Think of it as discovering a life so totally different from your own.  Learn as much as you can from it and see what you take away from it.  It may make you more passionate about helping others or sharing the love of Christ with those who need it.

For more information, click on this link.

And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen! – 2 Timothy 4:18

Baby Girls are not Celebrated

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you – Jeremiah 1:5

 

 

Imagine as you hold your baby daughter in your arms for the first time or you remember the first time you looked into those big, innocent eyes, that there is another baby girl who is not wanted simply because she is a girl.  As you tell your daughter or grand-daughter how much you love her, imagine a little girl whose father doesn’t love her because she is not a boy.  As you reminisce about the day you brought your daughter home from the hospital and laid her in her crib, watching her lie there, surrounded by stuff animals, and pretty wallpaper, welcoming her to her new home, think about another little girl who is abandoned–with no home to go to or a pretty room to call her own.  Hard to believe, isn’t it?  However, this is the reality that many women and girls face in South Asia.  It is Mayuri’s reality.

After five years of barrenness, Mayuri finally got pregnant.  For nine months she and her husband Rafat were looking forward to the day their son was born.   This child would restore peace to a home that had been fraught with years of disappointments and bitter arguments.  He would be the pride and joy of his family.  Things were finally looking up.

The big day arrived.  Excitement filled the air as Mayuri went into labor.  However, when the baby boy turned out to be a baby girl, the celebration was over.  Hope turned to horror as Mayuri was to face what usually happens to a woman when she gives birth to a girl instead of a boy.  It is the same thing Mayuri’s mother no doubt faced when she had her.

Like most girls, Mayuri was not loved by her father.  In fact, he drank, gambled and chased after women while she and her mother worked everyday to earn enough money to feed the family of five.  When they refused to give their wages to her father, he beat them.  Sometimes he beat her mother for no apparent reason.

Life at home was terrible for Mayuri.  So much so that her mother, Olimani prayed to all the deities and local goddesses, hoping that her husband would change but her prayers went unanswered.  He remained the same.  As any mother does, Olimani wanted a better life for her daughter.  She wanted Mayuri to escape her father’s abuse so she married off her when she was 14 years old.

Sadly, Mayuri’s new life turned into a nightmare.  She escaped abuse at her father’s hands only to experience abuse from the man she was to spend the rest of her life with…

The abuse women face for bearing daughters is so great that many have resorted to gender-selective abortion and infanticide, resulting in millions of “missing girls” in Asia. Discover more about this and other issues facing South Asian women in Gospel for Asia’s new film documentary, “Veil of Tears.”

At first, life with Rafat seemed promising but that soon changed when they were unable to have children.  The couple’s infertility caused tension in their relationship.  Unfortunately, in South Asia, the woman is blamed for the couple’s inability to have children.  Mayuri bore this shame alone for more than four years.  How she must have suffered.  I can’t help but think of Hannah who was barren but had a husband who loved her dearly.  And of Abraham who didn’t love Sarah any less because she couldn’t conceive.  Yet women like Mayuri are blamed, scorned and mistreated because they have trouble getting pregnant.

And when Mayuri finally got pregnant, she gave birth to a girl.  She could not even celebrate having a child, regardless of the gender, after trying to get pregnant unsuccessfully for five years .  She is punished by her husband.  It’s unthinkable that the woman is blamed for the baby’s gender when it’s the man who determines the sex of the child.  Ultimately, it is God who decides the gender and in His eyes, a child, whether it is a boy or a girl, is a gift from Him.

God blessed Mayuri with a second daughter but this made life worse for her.  The abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband got worse.  She got no sympathy from her mother-in-law and her husband disrespected her in front of the family.  Things got to the point where Mayuri had to flee.

Furious at Mayuri for having two daughters after five years of infertility, Mayuri’s husband and mother-in-law abused her until she ran away.

Alone and with two daughters to raise there was nowhere for Mayuri to go except to her parents’ home.  It grieved Olimani to see that her daughter had suffered abuse at the hands of her husband just as she had herself.  Thankfully, Mayuri’s father was no longer living there.  He had left and remarried.  However, Mayuri’s problems were far from over.  After losing her money to a con artist, she had to find work and the only option she felt she had was to turn to prostitution in order to keep her daughters from starving.

Desperate to support her daughters, Mayuri became a prostitute, which meant being shunned by the entire community—except for a GFA pastor.

It’s heartbreaking to see the lengths a mother will go in order to take care of her children.  It’s also heartwarming to see the way God works.  It was when Mayuri had a health crisis that she came to know Him.  In search of healing she visited temples and offered sacrifices but her condition only grew worse.  Until one day, Gospel for Asia pastor Patakin offered her the chance to pray to a different God.  That meeting changed Mayuri’s life forever.  Through the prayers of the members of the church where she was invited to worship and fellowship, God healed her.  Today, Mayuri sees God’s faithfulness in her life and in the lives of her daughters as He has provided her with a respectable job and a school for them.

“Today, I am living; that is only by the grace of God.  I was totally healed from my sickness by the blood of Christ. … Now I am living by faith in Jesus Christ” – Mayuri

By His act of love and mercy, God showed through Gospel for Asia and their missionary work that every life is precious and cause for celebration.  If you are interested in helping other women and girls like Mayuri and her daughters, sponsor a woman missionary.  Find out how here.

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,And that my soul knows very well – Psalm 139:14

Source:  Gospel for Asia

The Untouchables

300 million Dalits or “Untouchables” comprise the lowest rung of the still-practiced Hindu caste system. These people are despised, viewed as subhuman, and treated like dirt – Gospel for Asia

A small girl walks barefoot around a half-starved dog lying in her path. She picks her way over garbage and sewer-sodden ground as she approaches the rag hut that is her home. She is unaware that life could be lived any other way. This is a day in the life of a Dalit – Gospel for Asia

What a sad existence for anyone, let alone a child. Children should be running around in a safe, healthy environment without a care in the world. They should not be robbed of their innocence or childhood. As a child, I never knew what poverty was. I had a house with a yard to run around in. I always had food to eat and a warm bed to sleep in. Unlike some countries where girls are not able to go to school, I was. These are things that I will never take for granted and am teaching my son the same.

As children we used to run around barefoot by choice. We had shoes but were more comfortable without them when playing in the yard. We just had to be careful that we didn’t step in anything. Our dogs were well fed. Some had kennels to sleep in while others curled up on the back steps. Here in Canada the stores are filled with different types of dog food and in some cities, children are obese. Yet, we have children like the Dalits who are living in poverty.

I look at this little girl’s dirty, tear streaked face and my heart breaks. In the eyes of her society, she is an untouchable, the lowest of the caste system. When she is older she would be segregated from the community, forbidden from entering a temple, as school and forced to stay outside of villages. People are going to go to great lengths to avoid contact with her. The only work she would be suitable for is the kind of work the rest of society regards as ritually impure such as the removal of rubbish, animal carcasses and human waste. She would do manual work like cleaning the streets or latrines and sewers. These kinds of jobs or activities would pollute her, making her contagious so she wouldn’t have much of a social life.

It seems to me that this little girl and the Dalit population are treated like lepers. Although there were reforms to help them, they still face discrimination. Although some have achieved affluence, the majority remain poor. In Nepal the highest dropout rates are among the Dalits at the primary school level. Dalit students are given scholarships only after they provide photos showing family members working in traditional occupations. Dalit children are discriminated in the state schools and in some instances are required to sit at the back of the classroom. If this little girl were able to go to school, she would be forbidden to touch the mid-day meals and sit separately at lunch. She may be required to eat with specially marked plates. If she goes to high schools, the higher caste students may be advised not to mingle with her. This little girl deserves better than this.

Are you interested in helping this little girl and others like her to have a bright future? Do you want to find out how you can help Gospel for Asia to reach out to them and let them know that there is a God who loves them and in whose eyes they are precious? What about sharing with them a loving Saviour who died for them because He values them and sees them as precious treasures? Then here click on this link and see what you can do to turn things around for the Dalits who are not “dirt” but are clay made by the Potter’s hands.

But now, O LORD, You are our Father; We are the clay, and You our potter; And all we are the work of Your hand – Isiah 64:8

Sources: Wikipedia

Forgiveness

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Matthew 18:21-35; Luke 7:36-50

The greater the debts the greater should our appreciation of God be.  The forgiveness of our own debts should move us to be humble and forgiving towards others, especially if their debts to us are far less than the debts we owed God which He, in His mercy, cancelled.

The difference between the servant and the prostitute is that her focus was on the Master (Jesus) rather than on the debt.

Forgiving others is not always easy but in order to receive it we must learn how to give it.

In the Driver’s Seat

Imagine waking up every weekday, going along the same route and meeting up with trouble. You are doing your job and following rules but you are disrespected, yelled at, called names and threatened. This is the kind of day *Susan has every week as she goes along her bus route.

On several occasions when I have ridden on the bus there have been problems. Students get on the bus and do not show proper id. They come up with all sorts of excuses and hold the bus up. The driver sticks by the rules. She refuses to budge even though the students are arguing with her and a few of the passengers are siding with them. One man even said, “Why don’t you let them on? It’s obvious that they’re students.”

Others grumble because they don’t want to be late for work. They fail to realize that it was not Susan who was delaying them. The students are unwilling to pay the fare. They refuse to abide by the rules. They want to have their own way.

Would they try this with another driver? They probably think that because Susan is a woman she would be lenient. When they realize that she is no push over, they resort to profanity, name-calling and then stomp out of the bus.

On the morning of November 3 when the bus pulls up and I see Susan behind the wheel, my heart sinks. I wonder what trouble lay ahead for this poor woman. I didn’t have to wait long to find out. About five minutes after we pull away from my stop we get to the third bus stop where Susan waits for a few minutes like the other bus drivers do.

After glancing at her watch, a woman decides to approach Susan. She leans over and says something to her. Gradually low voices are raised and pretty soon there is a shouting match. The woman is angry with Susan because she thinks she is running behind schedule. This is not the case.

The bus scheduled to come earlier was either late or simply did not show up. This has happened before. Susan tries to reason with the woman but to no avail. The woman returns to her seat and after a few more angry remarks, she simmers down. The bus moves off and the rest of the trip is uneventful.

When we get to the station I am impressed to go over to Susan. I say to her, “Don’t let them get to you.” She assures me that she wouldn’t and that she is simply doing her job. As I turn away, she calls out to me, “Thanks. I really appreciate this.” I tell her to have a good day and leave.

God wanted me to lift up this hard-working, dedicated public servant who has been put down too many times because she refuses to break or bend the rules.

A year has passed and I no longer see Susan. Maybe she had enough and asked to be put on another route. Please keep drivers like Susan in your prayers. And ask God to soften the hearts of the difficult people they have to deal with.

*Susan is not her real name.

 

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The Sheep and Goats

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Matthew 25:31-46

In this parable about sheep and goats, Jesus is basically saying that we ought to love others the way we love Him.  If we saw Jesus hungry, we would give Him food or thirsty, we would give Him water.  Whatever help He needed we would give it to Him. It’s the same thing with people.  We would go out of our way to help them, minister to them as if we were doing it to Jesus.

Your love for the Lord should be your motive for reaching out and helping those in need.

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men,  knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for[a] you serve the Lord Christ – Colossians 3:23, 24).

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