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Entries in IDOP (3)

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
Nov152012

The Boredom of Persecution

By Anita Levesque


November 4 was IDOP Sunday (International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church). This global annual effort draws people together to remember and pray for people who are persecuted for their religious beliefs – those who live daily in torment, those who have lost their lives and the families left behind.

In a day and age where congregations nation-wide have many issues to address, I am grateful that my church took the time in an already full service schedule to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters who aren’t sitting on comfortable padded pews, but  instead may well be worshipping on the cold stone floor of a damp, dark prison cell. In too many nations, their choice to love and follow Jesus Christ – the Prince of Peace – is considered a threat to their government, their neighbours and even to their families. Because of this, freedom has been taken from them; a freedom I may too often take for granted at home in Canada.

As we prayed that day, I thought about the fact that we were joining in unity together with a greater body of believers around the world, the Body of Christ. I was grateful that many individuals were inspired to lead groups and congregations from coast to coast using the resources of organizations like IDOP Canada to inform, teach and remind believers to pray, knowing that even though we can’t individually physically intervene, prayer moves the heart and hand of God.

There seemed to be a resonating echo that followed IDOP Sunday this year as the next week we observed Remembrance Day – honouring those who fought protecting the freedom and liberty we enjoy. The freedom they were willing to die for included the freedom to believe and worship how and where we choose without restriction or punishment. It was for just such freedom that many Canadians died on foreign soil.

I wondered how those who gave their lives would feel knowing that today a man sits imprisoned for his Christian faith in Iran, a child is left orphaned in a Nigerian village because her parents were brutally killed as a result of being “marked” as Christians, and a woman kneels behind bars in Pakistan simply because she converted from one belief to another.  The names of the countries guilty of such human rights atrocities have changed over 60 years, the armbands that once easily marking the “targeted” differences are no longer used; but the need to protect and come to the aid of those who suffer innocently has not changed. Somehow, I think those who died for the right and protection of freedom would agree.

During the Remembrance Day service I, like others, focused on the faces of the dwindling number of aging veterans present in our nation’s capital – many still standing with all their limited strength at attention and in salute, lives and memories changed forever by friends lost and horrors witnessed. They have seen and experienced things that were we to relive, even for a moment, would compel us to honour these men and women  more like royalty and dignitaries than aging seniors in ill-fitting uniforms from their past.

I wonder if there will be this same kind of honour celebration in ten or twenty years’ time when this group of veterans has disappeared, replaced by the smaller numbers of those who have fought different wars? Will their sacrifice for freedom and liberty be forgotten by a generation that has largely never known the horrors of their sacrifice? Will we tire of hearing about the high price paid to protect the freedoms placed in our trust? Could Remembrance Day become just another holiday, another day off, another tradition of forgotten origin?

Perhaps sadly, I also at times wonder the same thing about the concern for our suffering and persecuted Christian brothers and sisters. Out of sight out of mind? Although there are many sources reporting, the Western media mostly ignores the ongoing attacks on religious believers as news cycles search for the new attention grabbers and headline makers. The anesthetising frequency of reported persecution is cast aside to the point that media voices even question the need for a Canadian Office of Religious Freedom to inform and advise government.

Are we in the Church also becoming so numbed by the volume that our eyes and ears are in danger of closing to the suffering? Are we, perhaps like the Western media, becoming bored with the issue simply because it persists with a regularity and frequency that makes it no longer “news”? The sheer volume of the more than 200 million Christians who are currently suffering for their faith in Christ is in itself overwhelming.

This issue might not be regarded as the topic of a cutting edge sermon. Bluntly, if we are honest with ourselves, we too might be more interested in the issues before our eyes and an uplifting sermon that sends us pleasantly on our way to Sunday lunch. Do we hear whispers of the name “Laodicea” (luke warm church) growing louder when we turn a deaf ear to those in need?

How can we expect the media, government or even the leaders of our churches to act on behalf of the persecuted around the world if we ourselves place concern for them low on our personal agendas? It’s easy to point the finger at the media, but in the end … the lack of concern begins and ends with us. The media feeds what we want to consume.

The saturation of the occurrence of evil should never be a cause for apathy and inaction, but rather compel us to prayer, with resulting louder outcries to God and man!

Persecution is on the increase around the globe. The precursor steps to persecution are increasingly evident even within Western democracies. If we are inattentive and inactive concerning the more than 200 million we know of today, what motivation and sacrifice to act will be required on our part as the number grows greater? Will we be alert to the signs if they appear at “home”? Will it require that persecution affect us more personally and directly before we act? And if we become the persecuted, will there be anyone left to act on our behalf?

IDOP Sunday may be behind us for another year, but the real life inspirational stories of faith in the face of evil are not simply left behind on the pews. It requires commitment to resist any sense of becoming bored with the continual messages of the persecuted. It takes effort to continue to remember to act and pray with every instance we become aware of. Theirs is a daily struggle, not a yearly one.  May our remembrance, interest and prayers be the same. 

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.





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