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Entries in Christian Persecution (6)

Friday
Dec212012

Another Silent Night

By Anita Levesque

When I first started working on the issue of International Religious Freedom I had no idea how it would impact my life personally. Before this, I – perhaps like many Christians – heard occasionally about the struggles of believers in areas of the world where religious freedom was curtailed. It’s true that now, because of the focus of my work, I spend a great deal of time paying attention to situations of Christian persecution around the world. Much of what I’ve seen and read has been graphic and heart wrenching. The stories of devastation, the struggle for survival and the loss of life in ways that are often cruel have been imprinted on my heart and mind. And my awareness of them is even more heightened at this time of year.

“Silent night, holy night …”

Like many here in Canada, on Christmas Eve I will stand and sing “Silent night, holy night” with my family and friends in a candle-lit church service where we feel safe from harm, secure and far removed from threats.

This is far different from our brothers and sisters in Egypt however, who at this time last year experienced being the target of hatred from Christmas’ past and had the sweetness of their Christmas celebration shattered by a bomb and gunfire aimed at them and their loved ones.  This year, many will still bravely gather in an act of worship on a holy night, but the likelihood of its silence may again be short lived.

“All is calm, all is bright…”

I love being the first in our home to wake up on Christmas morning. In my part of the Canada, it is often accompanied with light dustings of crystal snowflakes making the decorations in my home glimmer all the more in the “all is calm, all is bright” light of an as yet undisturbed Christmas morning.  

This year though, I can’t help but remember the quiet of an underground house church in China, where many have known ongoing and unending threats and arrests.  The calm they do know comes from a deep inner peace and assurance that their Lord and Saviour knows their days from beginning to end, and that they will spend many more days with Him in heaven than with men here on earth. There is a certainty that what man might do against them, God will use for good, whether it be threat to freedom or threat to life. Darkness is an extremely important part of their Christmas; it affords them the chance to bravely gather in the basement home of one of their members, unseen and unheard by neighbours who might turn them in to local authorities. For them, darkness at Christmas is a blessing.

“Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace...” 

Sleep is something I often don’t get enough of during the Advent and Christmas season. I am Chief-Elf and Wrapper in our home and no matter how early I begin; somehow I always end up awake late into the night Christmas Eve preparing the last minute gifts for under the tree or in the stockings. When my head finally hits my pillow --- my sleep is usually sweet and filled with anticipation of the Christmas Day’s activities. Not just the opening of gifts, but a time to be with my children, my husband, my family and celebrate the most important thing in our lives, our faith in Jesus Christ. It’s a joyful and meaningful time!

In Nigeria, 2012 was a year of increased violence against Christians. Surprise attacks and church burnings by Muslim extremists of whole villages have left many Christians in Nigeria unable to sleep at night without fear. Grotesque and deadly attacks on men, women and even young children have created an intensified focus by foreign governments. Canada has spoken out against these attacks, encouraging the Nigerian government to provide increased security for all its citizens – regardless of religion - and has offered support in creating a safe and religiously pluralistic society.  It will be a long journey for Nigeria, and one that needs our ongoing prayers. Until then, there will probably be many more in Nigeria that will find their all too early final peace - and only rest - in heaven.

We here in Canada are, without a doubt, blessed by how we are able to celebrate Christmas. From the gathering with our church family on Christmas Eve, to the joyful time we share together as families on Christmas morning, we celebrate in the assurance of our freedom. But our celebrations are incomplete if we do not to take at least a moment and remember our faith-family around the world and pray for them as they celebrate this Christmas season - many in hiding, in darkness, in chaos, in danger.

Believers from the West often ask those in these regions what they most want from us. “If we could give you one gift this year, what would it be?”  Their answer is a surprise to many, and one of great value to them … “to pray”

That’s it … simple, powerful prayer.  Yes, pray for their safety, pray for their families, pray for their freedom. But even more so - pray that the message of a Saviour who has come to earth as a man would be more broadly received. That through their lives – lives often given up for the sake of this message - more would come to know him and his simple purpose for coming - to free all men from the pain, devastation, and chains of sin and receive the gift of unending life. We have the ability to give them this gift this Christmas. In our silent holy night let’s remember them and let’s pray.

Thursday
Apr052012

Protesting Persecution Through Social Media --- To Post or not to Post?

By Anita Levesque

The persecution of Christians is on the increase around the globe. What doesn’t appear to be matching that increase is the concern among media, or at times even Christians, in ”developed” countries.

The attack, arrest, imprisonment, torture and murder of Christians in nations that demonstrate intolerance for all faiths, or only select faith communities, is not recent news. Persecution has been part of the history of Christianity since its birth; just read Paul’s letters in the New Testament. But after more than 2000 years, one might question the developments in a ‘civilized’, more informed, more educated world’s interaction with Christianity. 

Sadly, it seems this “old news” is often considered no longer even newsworthy by the traditional media. Perhaps this is because the unjust suffering of Christians doesn’t attract the same public interest as the latest corporate financial disaster or mass murder. Maybe, it lacks entertainment value.   Or perhaps it’s because there is seemingly no direct impact on our “bubble” of reality. Or are we just too tired to care?

Has the suffering of over 200 million Christian human beings in 60 nations become a trouble that would only be added to those we already have daily at home and work?

 It seems almost criminal to think we might allow our consciences to be numbed with disinterest. And yet, there are moments of inspired action!  Take for instance the recent international protest against the arrest, imprisonment, and pending death penalty of Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. From tweets to texts, emails to blogs, even radio to television; the Western and Christian world seemed to wake up without a smartphone alarm and together declare “not on my watch!” It was inspiring to observe the momentum; to see what could be accomplished using the electronic world that now unites us when we allowed ourselves to be personally impacted by the plight of one Christian man in Iran; a husband and father unjustly sentenced.

He is not the first (or only) to elicit such a response. A quick visit to websites of affiliates of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and partners in its Religious Liberty Commission provides enough inspiring stories of courage and action to assure of that. And, what is changing, what is being used more often as a tool of protest is social media.

The Arab Spring was a moment in time that highlighted the strength of social media. Borders and boundaries were gone and the world was an electronic global village. Concern and passion over injustice was ignited and social media accelerated the spread of the message to millions in a matter of hours. And millions upon millions within a few days.

Used with care and wisdom, social media – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, ReddIt and more – are powerful tools that can influence change. But carefully read the owner’s manual before powering up a ‘hot button’ campaign.  There are enough cautionary tales to warn of potential injury both to campaigner(s) and campaign, particularly if not properly informed and prepared.

There are repercussions from a wildfire of interest from a World-Wide-Web audience. Social media can also have an unanticipated negative impact.

With regard to persecution, poor timing can have a negative effect on often tenuous negotiations; negotiations that occur privately behind closed doors between government officials who depend on diplomacy and discernment. These conversations take place through men and women who are knowledgeable about how best to relate with foreign governments that might not share Canadians’ respect or passion for “freedom of religion” and “freedom of speech” (and from which Social Media was born).

When using social media, we need to remember – particularly in cases of persecution of Christians in Muslim majority countries where the primary “Charter” may well be sharia law rather than one of “rights and freedoms” – that the process does not begin from the same ideals and certainly does not promote them.  While social media has become universal, the ideals of rights and freedoms are not.

Social Media can bring to light instances of persecution. Increasingly it can be the first source to inform our country’s leaders and diplomats about the existence of acts of persecution, and the need for action. And, certainly, the loud “million-hit”, “liked”, or “viewed” clicks express just how many people care about the issue.

What Social Media does not provide in many cases, is the potentially harmful lack of behind the scenes knowledge about foreign laws or the moment-by-moment developments in sensitive negotiations that may be taking place. An electronic steam whistle sounded at the wrong time has the potential to hinder those conversations.

Social media may be used with enthusiasm but must be used with caution. Simply clicking to forward someone else’s post could make you a “slacktivist” instead of an activist.

Best practices call for knowledge and understanding of the person or group and the government(s) involved in the situation. Foreign governments and their representatives may be personally prepared to negotiate in private, but are at times constrained by the public pressure of their populace just as our leaders on certain issues.   Once word leaks out about quiet negotiations, which inevitably seem to reach the ears of contacts on the ground or the Western media, it may well be necessary that the volume and intensity of pursuing the cause be turned down.

How do we know the timing? Again, if you’re attuned to the situation the information will enter the flow of news being reported from the source. And, make every effort to ensure your source is a reliable source.

One place to begin is to join with those who have that developed experience and influence, as well as contacts on the ground in several nations, like The World Evangelical Alliance, Voice of the Martyrs, and Open Doors. These groups have invested years, some decades, in building relationships; they have the developed the ability to consult in difficult situations, as well as an understanding of the cultures and the needs of the persecuted.  It is sound advice to coordinate with their efforts.

The alternative is that our well intentioned social media efforts may contribute to an outcome opposite to that for which we were hoping.

Don’t stop using social media. Just think before you post!

Thursday
Nov102011

Worldwide Initiative to Pray for Christian Victims of Persecution

The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church Canada (IDOP.ca) calls Canadians to join with over half a million churches in 150 countries on Sunday, November 13, 2011 to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ in other countries who are suffering, even dying, for their faith. 

The persecution of believers has persisted for centuries, but what is alarming is that the number of Christians killed for their faith in the 20th century was more than the number of Christians killed in the 19 centuries prior. Today, around the world over 200 million are suffering for their faith in Jesus Christ. The number of Christians who have been martyred for their faith in the 21st century averages over 170,000 each year.

Many victims of persecution say that the prayers of believers in countries where religious freedom exists serves to encourage and strengthen them spiritually; and, expressions such as IDOP help to bring global awareness to their plight.  While the focus of IDOP is supporting those who are persecuted, those who participate have said they find spiritual strength and encouragement in the stories of persecuted believers who evidence overcoming courage in the face of arrest, imprisonment, torture and even death for their faith in Jesus Christ.  

Celebrated by global media, uprisings like the Arab Spring advocated a more democratic society, but may have the reverse effect on religious freedom for many minority Christian believers in the Middle East. In these Muslim majority countries, Christianity is regarded in different ways: by some to be synonymous with Western or American culture; by some to be a competing, and therefore false, religion; and, by some to be one of the three faiths of The Book (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). The first group targets Christianity as a threat to Sharia Law principles because they view Christianity as synonymous with Western ideals. The next want no competing beliefs and target Christians (and sometimes other Muslims) under the guise that the true faith tolerates no compromise. The third have historically lived in peace with Christians, but have often limited Christian expression and forbidden conversion from Islam to Christianity. Both Egypt and Iraq have seen an increase in attacks on Christians since the Arab Spring uprisings, with increased tensions and directed attacks.

Open Doors, a partner in Canada’s IDOP, compiles an annual list(World Watch List .pdf) ranking 50 of the top offending countries in the world. North Korea is identified as the most dangerous place to be a Christian, followed by Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia. Ranking is based specifically on persecution for faith, not political, economic, social, ethnic or accidental reasons.

It is often the case that countries that are the worst violators of religious freedom are also frequently recognized for other human rights violations and matters of global security.

Recently the Canadian Government began taking steps to establish the Office of Religious Freedom, as promised in the last election. This development has been applauded by many Christian organizations, including the EFC, as an acknowledgement of the importance of monitoring and protecting this fundamental human right which has become the focus of more restrictive and aggressive activity than any other on the planet.  

IDOP Canada invites Canadian Christians into the international Christian experience. In 1996, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) coordinated the efforts of thousands of churches and faith-based organizations to hold the first International Day of Prayer. Now, in addition to the international group, there are regional IDOP groups in countries like Africa, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Switzerland and the United States that participate in this initiative. IDOP has become one of the largest annual prayer events in the world, with more than half a million churches participating.

Will you be joining us?

For more information, visit www.idop.ca.





Tuesday
Jan252011

PAKISTAN: Toronto Star Reporting that Some Christians are converting to Islam 

Every day I scour the news headlines of the world for items about persecution of Christians.  Usually, they are  stories of Christians who have been attacked or killed because of their faith, Christians who persevere in the most difficult of situations, or of governments who are standing up for the religious liberty of Christians in their country…or who are not. 

Today, I read a disturbing headline in the Toronto Star that was none of these, Some Christians in Pakistan convert fear into safety.  In short, the Star reports that substantial numbers of Christians in Pakistan are converting to Islam in the hope of finding a refuge from the growing persecution of Christians. Reading through the article, it struck me that the battle we wage is not only for the increase of religious freedom around the world and preventing the torturous treatment or deaths of so many faithful Christians. Our fight is also for the souls of our persecuted brothers and sisters – although no one can judge the sincerity of such conversions occasioned through duress.

Sadly, not only is persecution increasing, but in the face of this, more believers are living in fear for their lives.  

 If you look at the Open Doors World Watch List for 2011's top 50 countries where persecution of Christians is active, you can only wonder what kind of similar decisions are being made by Christians elsewhere who are living in unimaginable situations.  Labelled, ostracized socially, limited in their ability to provide for their families, threatened with torture, or ultimately with death, what would you do? If you are a mother or father – what would happen to your family if you or your spouse were suddenly taken? Or, more challenging, what would you do to prevent the torture of one or more of your children because of your faith in Christ?  

Living in this kind of fear must bring with it a daily temptation to walk away from faith in Christ, especially if it seems the only way to ensure safety for self and family.

It’s no news; persecution of Christians is rising sharply around the world, prompting weekly protests by religious liberty groups, the Vatican and governments around the world. Many of the current hottest of the “hot spots” are where Christians are a minority in an Islamic dominated country.

In some countries the addition of Blasphemy Laws, created to protect the Islamic religion, has, according to recent news reports, become a way for Christians to be unfairly and unjustly targeted, jailed, attacked, and even killed. All one needs to do if unhappy with a Christian neighbour is accuse them of blasphemy and the unwanted neighbour is likely to be removed.

The Star article states that, in Pakistan,

“…an allegation of blasphemy shouted in the streets can, in an instant, whip a crowd into a frenzy and lead to assaults and dubious arrests.”

One of the better known examples is that of a Christian young woman, Asia Bibi. The story reports that,

“…while working in the fields last June, she was sent to fetch water. When some of the other women refused to drink it because it had been carried by a Christian, a spat ensued about the merits of both religions. The other women later went to a cleric and complained that Bibi had blasphemed the name of the Prophet Muhammad.

A complaint was filed and Bibi was charged, convicted, and given a death sentence.”

Last fall, politician Salm Taseer, the governor of Punjab, who fought for the rights of minorities in Pakistan, began to campaign on Asia Bibi’s behalf. Early this year, the debate about Pakistan’s blasphemy law reached a fevered pitch, and on January 4, Governor Taseer was assassinated by a member of his own security detail – who was later hailed by many in Pakistan as a hero.

Is it any wonder that so many Christians living in Pakistan are fearful for their homes, their ability to provide for their families, their lives, or their family member’s lives when such a clear message of non-tolerance of Christians is voiced from their neighbours and their countrymen?

As Canadians who live in a place of freedom that Christian citizens of Pakistan can only dream of, we are challenged to act on their behalf. Some ask how?

First, we need to pray for our brothers and sisters in Pakistan – that they would find support and safety, and that their hearts would be unchangeable in their decision to follow Christ. We need to pray that the Government of Pakistan would stand up for the rights of all of their citizens, even the minorities.

We might also contact our own Members of Parliament and representatives of government to encourage them to speak out against the human rights abuses and violations of religious freedoms being committed daily.

We also need to stand up for continuing religious freedom for all in our own country.

In the surging wave of persecution, many lives are being challenged by the very real needs of self and family. God help them to stand firm.  And God help us to do all we can on their behalf.



Friday
Nov262010

IRAQI RELIGIOUS FREEDOM HIGHLIGHTED IN PARLIAMENT: Hear, hear!

A loud “hear, hear” to the remarks made by Hon. Judy Sgro (York West, Lib.) in the House of Commons on November 23, 2010, highlighting the persecution of Christians in Iraq.  You can read her full statement here. Ms. Sgro noted:

Discrimination against Iraqi Christians continues to prevent children from attending classes and their parents from fully engaging in society. To put it another way, Iraq's shameful history of human rights suppression has still not ended and this can be clearly seen as a result of the recent killings.

Recent weeks have seen an increase in the number and severity of instances of persecution against Christians in Iraq. One of the bloodiest occurrences in almost seven years occurred on October 31 at the Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad. Seven Islamic militants stormed the church during an evening service after detonating bombs in the neighbourhood, gunning down two policemen at the stock exchange across the street and blowing up their own car, according to The Associated Press (AP). 

Compass News Direct reported that

A militant organization called the Islamic State of Iraq, which has links to al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, claimed responsibility for the attack. The militants sprayed the sanctuary with bullets and ordered a priest to call the Vatican to demand the release of Muslim women whom they claimed were held hostage by the Coptic Church in Egypt, according to the AP. The militants also reportedly demanded the release of al Qaeda prisoners.

At the conclusion of a four hour siege, the Islamic assailants blew themselves up, killing 58 people, including three of the church’s leadership. Lax security from the Iraqi government has long been a complaint from Christian citizens of this country, leaving them without protection from militant groups, and with few options other than fleeing their homeland. It is estimated that more than 50 percent of Iraq’s Christian community has fled the country since 2003. There are nearly 600,000 Christians left in Iraq. (See the EFC’s “A Report on Religious Liberty for Christians in Iraq").  Such an exodus could bring an end to the Christian Church’s long and rich history in this region.

On November 14, many churches and Christians came together globally for IDOP Sunday, a day set aside to pray for the persecuted church around the world. This event is coordinated by International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP) www.idop.ca, of which The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is a partner, along with Voice of the Martyrs, Open Doors, Intercede International, and International Christian Response.

Photo courtesy of Grace Hutchinson, 2010On November 1, Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon soundly condemned the October 31 attack in Baghdad. This past week, MP Sgro called on the government to take additional diplomatic efforts “to ensure the basic ideals of religious freedom and tolerance are respected and protected for all Iraqis.”  

Recent intensified attacks on Christians in Iraq are disturbing, to say the least, to Christians world-wide. And so we engage in prayer, one of the most effective tools at our disposal, to affect change.  It is encouraging when Members of Parliament, like Minister Cannon and Ms. Sgro, also use one of their most effective tools – their voice in Parliament - to highlight the urgent need for Canada’s Government to continue to raise its voice in condemnation against such violations of religious freedom and human rights and to challenge the government of Iraq to respect the rights it says have been granted its citizens.

 




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