Paul’s Example

Upon his arrival at Rome, Paul was placed in a gloomy dungeon, there to remain until his course should be finished. Accused of instigating one of the basest and most terrible of crimes against the city and the nation, he was the object of universal execration – Acts of the Apostles, p.490

Day 4 of the Great Controversy Tour.  She had decided to come on it with her friend.

A lover of Christian history and travel, it was an opportunity she could not pass up. Today’s focus was on The Early Christian Persecutions.  After a buffet breakfast, they visited the Colosseum, the Arch of Constantine, Titus’ Arch, the Roman Forum and Mamertine Prison.  The ancient prison is located at the foot of the Capitoline Hill in Rome.  According to the travel guide, the Mamertine Prison had two gloomy underground cells where Rome’s conquered enemies were imprisoned and died, of starvation or strangulation.  It was where the apostle Paul was confined.  She paused to take some photos before going inside.  She took a photo of the sign which read the “prison of the Saints and Apostles Peter and Paul.”

As she began to descend into the dark coldness, she thought of Paul being a sick, old man, cruelly thrown in there and friendless, except for Luke and Onesiphorus whose frequent visits cheered him up.  Luke was a great comfort to him because he enabled him to communicate with fellow believers and the outside world.

It was indeed a very gloomy place.  She shivered.  It was from there that Paul was taken to Nero’s vast judgment hall where he pleaded not for himself but for all the people who could still be reached by the Gospel.  From there he was taken to his execution.  It is believed that Peter also spent his final hours in the prison before he was taken to his execution.

As she listened to the tour guide, she tried to imagine what it would have been like for her to be in prison for her faith.  Would she languish and lose hope or would she be like Paul who wrote such encouraging letters from the prison here in Rome to the different churches.  In his letter to the Philippians, he was rejoicing as he shared his experience. He wrote, “But I want you to know, brothers, that the things which happened to me have resulted in advancing the gospel,  so that my imprisonments in Christ have become known throughout the entire palace guard and to all the rest.  And a great many of the brothers in the Lord, having become confident because of my incarcerations, have dared to speak the word without fear” (Philippians 1:12-14).   He seeing the positive side to all of this.  His adversity brought more people to Christ and his attitude encouraged others.

Could she be like Paul who, although he was in chains, was not chained to his circumstances?  Would her faith hold up?  Then she remembered his words to Timothy: “At my first defense no one stood with me, but everyone forsook me. May it not be charged against them.  But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear” (2 Timothy 2:16, 17).  Paul was never alone.  God was always present.  

Would God be there for her as He was for Paul?  As if in response to her lingering doubts, Isaiah 43:2 came to her mind, “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.  When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” Peace and comfort filled her heart. She had the assurance that no matter what she will face, God will be there with her just as He was with Paul.

 

Carcere Mamertino-2

Sources:  Sacred Destinations; Bible Hub; Blue Letter Bible; Bible Gateway; Roma Today

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The Fires of Faith

Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.  And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:21, 22).

 

They meet in secret at night.  They don’t meet in the same place too often.  They don’t tell their families about these meetings.  They draw the curtains to keep the world out. They speak in whispers. Every day they meet, it is a gamble.  At any moment, they could be discovered.  The risk is great.  They live in fear of being arrested, tortured or killed.  Is it worth it?  To the members of the underground churches, it is.  They risk everything for their belief.

 

Life for Christians is terrible in places like North Korea, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, India, Egypt, Iraq and Syria.  It is ironic that it was to Egypt that Joseph fled with Mary and Jesus to escape Herod’s murderous rampage yet today, Christians are under great pressure.  Secret believers like In Syria, Christians had to flee their homes.

 

Those of us who are living in the West, we can worship openly in church buildings.  We don’t have to speak in whispers.  We can sing and pray out loud. We enjoy religious liberty.  Some of us may face opposition from our families.  Jesus warned us of this.  “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.  I did not come to bring peace but a sword.  For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and a ‘man’s enemies will be those of his own household’” (Matthew 10:34-36).

 

Just recently, I read a story of a father who forbad his daughter from going to church.  Her family was from an Orthodox background so they had a problem with her wanting to attend a Protestant church.  She resorted to sneaking off and going to church.  There are other stories of men and women persecuted, beaten, ostracized and even murdered by family members because of their faith.

 

It’s hard to believe that Christians persecute other Christians.  However, this is prevalent in Ethiopia.  Christians from the Orthodox churches who leave to find more vibrant churches are pressured to return.  In the days prior to the Reformation, many believers were forced to hide.  Such groups were the Waldensians who were forced underground because they were declared heretics by the Roman Catholic Church.  They rejected the teachings of the church and what they believed to be the idolatry of the church and considered the Papacy as the Antichrist of Rome.

 

Many were driven from their homes and into the mountains when in January 1655, the Duke of Savoy commanded them to attend Mass or sell their lands and go to the upper valleys of their homeland.  It was in the middle of winter.  The Duke didn’t expect them to choose to leave their homes and lands in the lower valleys.  Yet, they did and it was written that the old men, women and the sick “waded through the icy waters, climbed the frozen peaks and at length reached the homes for their impoverished brethren of the Upper Valleys where they were warmly received”  Sadly, the horrors of persecution were about to be unleashed.

 

 

When the Duke realized that his efforts to get the people to conform to Catholicism, he tried another approach.  Under the guise of false reports of uprisings, he sent the troops to the people. It was a ruse to gain them easy access.  Then, on April 24, 1655 at 4am when the people would have been sleeping, the troops were given the command to go and massacre them.  They didn’t just slaughter the people but they looted, raped, tortured and murdered.  Peter Liegé reported the following:

 

 

Little children were torn from the arms of their mothers, clasped by their tiny feet, and their heads dashed against the rocks; or were held between two soldiers and their quivering limbs torn up by main force. Their mangled bodies were then thrown on the highways or fields, to be devoured by beasts. The sick and the aged were burned alive in their dwellings. Some had their hands and arms and legs lopped off, and fire applied to the severed parts to staunch the bleeding and prolong their suffering. Some were flayed alive, some were roasted alive, some disemboweled; or tied to trees in their own orchards, and their hearts cut out. Some were horribly mutilated, and of others the brains were boiled and eaten by these cannibals. Some were fastened down into the furrows of their own fields, and ploughed into the soil as men plough manure into it. Others were buried alive. Fathers were marched to death with the heads of their sons suspended round their necks. Parents were compelled to look on while their children were first outraged [raped], then massacred, before being themselves permitted to die (Wikipedia).

 

annacharbonieretortured

Print illustrating the 1655 massacre in La Torre, from Samuel Moreland’s “History of the Evangelical Churches of the Valleys of Piemont” published in London in 1658.

 

 

The Piedmont massacre happened during Easter.  In fact, it became known as the Piedmont Easter and it was estimated that about 1,700 Waldensians were slaughtered.  Its brutality aroused the indignation of the European nations and sanctuary was offered to the remaining Waldensians.

 

 

Today, many Christians face the same kind of brutality for their faith.  Women have been attacked, beaten or murdered because they converted to Christianity.  Girls have been brutally raped for their faith or their parents’ faith. According to a report in the New York Times:  “Christians in areas of Egypt that are largely dominated by Muslim militants continue to suffer from violence and humiliation. These believers are under constant threat of their houses and other properties being burned down, or possibly being mugged while walking along the streets. Even church buildings are not spared as they are desecrated and marred with hate graffiti written on the walls.”  Christians are living in fear.  Some of them are secret believers like Femi* and Alim*

 

November 6 is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  I encourage you to watch the moving video, Pray With Them from Open Doors and try to imagine what it would be like to live in a country where you have to go underground in order to worship or face prison, persecution, torture or death.

 

Keep the fires of faith burning.  Do not let anyone or anything extinguish them.  Hold fast until our blessed Lord Jesus Christ comes and you receive your crown.

Sojourner Truth

Empowered by her religious faith, the former slave worked tirelessly for many years to transform national attitudes and institutions. According to Nell Painter, Princeton professor and Truth biographer, “No other woman who had gone through the ordeal of slavery managed to survive with sufficient strength, poise and self-confidence to become a public presence over the long term.”
(Painter, Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol, page 4)

In celebration of Black History Month, Notes to Women salutes Sojourner Truth, a devout Christian, abolitionist and Women’s Rights activist.  She was reputed to be the most famous African American woman in America in the 19th century.

For over forty years she traveled around the country, passionately and forcefully speaking for the abolition of slavery, women’s rights and suffrage, the rights of freedmen, temperance, prison reform and the termination of capital punishment.  She changed her name from Isabella to Sojourner Truth, a seeker after truth, becoming a traveling itinerant preacher so that she could tell the truth and crusade against injustice.  She was not intimidated by convention or authority.  She was known for her sense of humour which she used to squash self-righteousness.  She once derided some of the women social activists who wore frivolous clothing, saying to them, “What kind of reformers be you, with goose-wings on your heads, as if you were going to fly, and dressed in such ridiculous fashion, talking about reform and women’s rights?” (Narrative, Book of Life, p.243).

She made her most famous address, Ain’t I a Woman at a Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio where she asserted that women deserved equal rights with men because they were as equally as capable as men.  She testified, “I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and moved, and can any man do more than that?”  She concluded her speech saying, “And how came Jesus into the world?  Through God who created Him and the woman who bore Him.  Man, where was your part?” (Anti-Slavery Bugle, June, 1851).

Watch this video of this remarkable woman.

We celebrate the “world’s oldest lecturer” who, as a woman of faith could not keep silent when those created in God’s image were denied their human rights and equality.  Her memory lives on in the many local memorials and tributes established in her honor in Battle Creek.  In 1997, a year long celebration marked the 200th anniversary of Sojourner’s birth.  One day was not enough to celebrate this special lady.  She has left behind a legacy survival, strength, courage and the passion to transform attitudes and and institutions.  She inspires us to speak out against injustice, inequality and oppression and to stand up for truth and to act instead of talk.

If women want any rights more than they’s got, why don’t they just take them, and not be talking about it.

Truth is powerful and it prevails.

Religion without humanity is very poor human stuff.

“Does not God love colored children as well as white children? And did not the same Savior die to save the one as well as the other?” (Sabbath School Convention, Battle Creek, June 1863)

Sources: YouTube;  Sojourner Truth; Brainy Quotes

 

 

 

 

Doubted

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Acts 12:13-16

Have you ever told someone something and he or she didn’t believe you?  No matter how much you try to convince that person he or she just isn’t buying what you are saying.  How did it make you feel?  Hurt?  Angry? Frustrated?

When the apostle Peter was arrested and thrown into prison, fellow Christians got together and held a prayer meeting.  While Peter was sleeping, an angel of the Lord went to the cell where he was shackled between two sleeping guards, woke the disciple and led him out of the prison.  After Peter realized that this was not a dream or a vision, he went to the house where the believers were gathered.

He knocked on the gate and a girl named Rhoda answered.  In her excitement at seeing Peter, she ran back to tell the others instead of opening the gate and letting him in.  However, her good news was met with doubt.  “You are beside yourself!”   And when she insisted, they told her that it was Peter’s angel.  Short of grabbing them and taking them outside to show them, there was nothing Rhoda could do to convince them.  Fortunately for her, Peter continued to knock and this time they heard him and opened the door.  They were astonished to see him.  

Why were they astonished to see him?  Why did they doubt Rhoda?  Weren’t they praying for Peter?  Didn’t they expect God to answer their prayers?  Have you ever prayed for something and when God answered the prayer, you couldn’t believe it?  This reminds me of when Jesus had appear to His disciples the first time after His resurrection and even though they saw Him and He spoke to them, they still didn’t believe.  They thought He was a Spirit and were terrified.  And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts?” (Luke 24:38).  And when the women went to tell the disciples that the tomb was empty and what the angels had told them, they didn’t believe them.  According to Luke, “their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11).

It doesn’t feel good when you tell the truth and people don’t believe you.  If you were Rhoda what would you have done?  Would you have admonished the others for not believing you?  Or would you just let it go?  I think if I were Rhoda, I would have encouraged the others to join me in prayer and we thank and praise God for coming through for Peter.  This was a time to rejoice and give thanks, not contend with your brethren.

International Women’s Day

Sunday, March 8, 2015 is International Women’s Day.  Gospel of Asia Canada is celebrating this day in South Asia by:

  • Giving new saris to widows
  • Encouraging women by sharing stories of women found in the Bible
  • Distributing food and blankets to poor children and families in the slums
  • Visiting women in prison and encouraging prostitutes with Christ’s love
  • Meeting the basic needs of some of the poorest women in society

I encourage you to watch a clip of the movie, “Veil of Tears” about a woman named Suhkwinder who almost committed suicide because her children were born girls. As you watch the clip and celebrate International Women’s Day, find out how you can help to change the life of a woman just like Suhkwinder’s. In a society where boy babies are preferred, the worst words a parent could hear are, “It’s a girl”.

In India girls are unwanted.  I read in an article that came out a couple of years ago that a three month old girl died from cardiac arrest at a state-run hospital in Bangalore after battling for life for three days.  Her father had battered her because he wanted a son.  Little Neha Afreen sustained head injuries, abrasions and bite marks all over her body.  This caused public outrage which led to her father’s arrest.  Her mother said, “My husband was enraged with me for delivering a girl,  He hated her. He wanted me to get rid of the child or abandon her as he wanted a son.”

Sadly, there are several horror stories of baby girls who have been abandoned, tortured or killed because they were unwanted.  We live in a world where there is gender bias.  As a Christian this is very hard for me to accept.  God created both man and woman in His image.  Little girls are as precious in His sight as little boys.  And if society keeps killing the baby girls, how will they have the boys they want so much?  And what about the boys when they grow up and want to get married and there is a shortage of women?  Many of them will have to go elsewhere to find wives. In Asia, baby girls are tossed aside as if they are garbage and women are raped.

There is the documentary, India’s Daughter, the story of the gang rape and murder of a young woman which shocked the world and sparked riots and protests all over India. Grieving parents and one of the rapists tell the story of the night six men brutally assaulted 23 year old medical student, Jyoti Singh while driving around Delhi, India’s Capital, in a bus.  Women should have the right to feel safe in their own communities. In Canada, you can watch India’s Daughter on March 8 on CBC or online for 30 days after broadcast.

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I know of some fathers who have daughters and adore them.  In fact, they want daughters.  God bless these men.  Jyoti’s parents were happy to have her.  She had dreams like everyone else.  One night, her dreams and life were brutally taken away from her.

On March 8, let us celebrate our mothers, grandmothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces, friends, teachers, etc.  Let us celebrate women and reflect on the marvelous contributions they have made and will make to our society.  Each life matters.  Girls matter.  I pray that one day, the words, “It’s a girl” will be met with joy and acceptance.  Until then, let each of us who has a little girl of our own, encourage her to stand up and say, “I am a girl and I matter.”

Sources: http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/south-asia/baby-girls-killing-reveals-indias-crisis-of-gender-bias; http://www.cbc.ca/passionateeye/episodes/indias-daughter

Christian Woman’s Appeal Hearing Postponed

I received this Prisoner Release update in an email from The Voice of the Martyrs Canada.  Please read Asia’s story and pray for her and her family.  This young wife and mother was arrested since 2009 and has been in prison until now.  Imagine being separated from your family, anxiously awaiting an appeal only to have it postponed.   Pray that neither Asia nor her family will be discouraged by this major setback.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” – Romans 8:28.  God has plans for Asia just as He had plans for Joseph who was falsely accused of rape and thrown into prison.  God was with him all the time he was there just as He is with Asia.

I encourage you to visit the prayer wall and pray for Asia and other Christians like her who are being persecuted and imprisoned for their faith and the families of those brave men and women who have died for their faith.

PAKISTAN: Asia Bibi’s Appeal Hearing Postponed

Sources: Asia News, Release International


Remember in prayer
Asia’s husband and children.

The appeal hearing for Asia Bibi, a Christian woman imprisoned for blasphemy, has been postponed “to a later date.” Asia was arrested in 2009 on charges of insulting Mohammed and later sentenced to death. Since then, she has been waiting for her appeal to be heard while being held in isolation at the women’s prison in Sheikhupura (Punjab). (For more on Asia’s case, click here.)

Initially scheduled for March 17th, Asia’s first hearing was cancelled due to the absence of one of the two presiding judges. Under Pakistani law, two judges have to be present in death penalty cases for the entire trial.

The high-profile case remains hugely controversial in Pakistan. The former Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, was killed by his bodyguard in January of 2011 after showing support for Asia. Then, two months later, Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, was assassinated after voicing support for Asia and demanding reform of the country’s blasphemy laws. Shahbaz’s brother is now facing death threats. (For more on these threats, click here.) Late last year, Pakistan’s Federal Sharia Court demanded that blasphemy should carry a mandatory death sentence.

After this disappointing setback, pray that the Lord will continue to sustain Asia and her loved ones as they await the appeal hearing. May the judges and other authorities pursue justice, and may they also be protected from those who wish them harm as a result. Ask God to use this case for His good purposes, transforming the hearts and lives of those who do not yet know Him and encouraging believers to be courageous in their faith.

To share your prayers for Asia and her family, please visit our Persecuted Church Prayer Wall.