By Vernon Brewer Published May 12, 2017
I will never forget my first day in North Korea.
As we drove over the Tumen River in 2007, our guide told us how North Koreans come to the riverbank and wait until evening to attempt the risky swim to mainland China. The border guards have orders to shoot on sight, and anyone attempting to cross illegally is subject to summary execution. Our guide then added, almost as an afterthought, “The Tumen has probably witnessed more deaths than any other river in the world.”
Once inside the country, I was suddenly struck by the eerie quietness that pervades the towns and cities we visited.
The streets were empty, absent of the usual traffic and busy city life, and the few people who found themselves outside seemed to meander aimlessly.
Today, I know brave Christians who smuggle Bibles disguised as phone books into the country. They risk their lives so others may have the opportunity to read the forbidden words of Jesus in their own language.Convoys of ox carts replaced cars and public buses, and the buildings, with their water-stained stucco walls, looked hollow and gray. Electricity, too, was often cut off, so that at night entire towns were absorbed into darkness.
I was shocked to see students typing on keyboards while staring at blank computer screens at one government school. They were pretending to do their classwork while the power was out.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea — a communist state of 25 million souls — is considered the most secretive nation on earth. Driven by the Kim family into isolation and a cultic reverence to the royal family, this small nation now threatens to destabilize the world with nuclear warfare.
Yet, while rumors fly about secret islands used to stage missile launches, and stories emerge of U.S. citizens being held in hard labor camps, a whole narrative of persecution against Christians goes largely unreported in the media.
For 16 consecutive years, Open Doors has ranked North Korea “the most oppressive place in the world for Christians.” Though exact numbers are hard to confirm — estimates range between 30,000 to 70,000 — tens of thousands of Christians are believed to be held in “kwanliso,” or political labor camps.
Often sick and malnourished, these captives are subject to extreme violence and crude torture, suffering beatings with electric rods and metal poles, and even being used as test subjects for medical experiments, as reported in Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s 2016 report on North Korea.
Christians are frequently sentenced to these labor camps simply for owning a Bible, as evidenced by the gut-wrenching story I heard from inside North Korea.
“There was one homework [assignment] I wish I’d never done,” said Eun, now in her 40s.
One morning, when Eun was in third grade, her teacher told the class, “Today we’re not going to give you homework.” Naturally, all the children celebrated the news, but the teacher wasn’t finished.
“However, when you go home, look for a book,” the teacher continued. “Normally it’s black. Normally it’s hidden. Normally it’s the book your mom or dad read when you sleep. Normally it’s hidden in the closet or the drawer or somewhere that’s not reachable, but if you look hard enough you can find this book.”
“And, if you bring it, we will honor you.”
Eun ran home, arriving before her mom. She looked everywhere, through drawers, cabinets, underneath mattresses, until she finally found a small, black, leather-bound book. She hid it inside her bag and took it to school the next morning.
At school, Eun’s teacher gave her a red scarf — the sign of a good kid in communist North Korea. Eun’s mother didn’t allow her to be involved in government-sponsored extracurricular activities, so Eun had never had the opportunity to receive this honor.
With the scarf around her neck, she ran home to tell her mom what had happened — but her mom wasn’t there. In fact, Eun waited all night for her mom, but she never arrived. When Eun got to school the following day, with an empty stomach, she found out the parents of 14 other students also hadn’t come home the night before.
Many people don’t remember that in the early 20th century, Pyongyang was known as the “Jerusalem of the East,” or that Christianity played a major role in the history of the Korean peninsula.
Even after communism began to overtake North Korea, Christianity’s influence was so prevalent that Kim Il Sung’s father was a Christian and his father-in-law a Presbyterian minister.
Today, I know brave Christians who smuggle Bibles disguised as phone books into the country. They risk their lives so others may have the opportunity to read the forbidden words of Jesus in their own language.
During this time of great political intrigue surrounding North Korea, we must not forget the country’s Christians. Countless thousands of them suffer daily for their faith.
Vernon Brewer is the founder and president of World Help, a Christian humanitarian organization that exists to serve the physical and spiritual needs of impoverished communities around the world.
Friday, May 12, 2017
From here, where there is more:
Wednesday, April 12, 2017
This video has gone viral and has appeared on every major news program. But I am posting it here anyway because this kind of corporate misbehavior must not be forgotten.
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
From PJMedia, where there is more:
Once Gabriel promised the Prophet (that he would visit him, but Gabriel did not come) and later on he said, " We, angels, do not enter a house which contains a picture or a dog." (Sahih Bukhari 4.54.50)Abdullah (b. Umar) (Allah be pleased with them) reported: Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) ordered the killing of dogs and we would send (men) in Medina and its corners and we did not spare any dog that we did not kill, so much so that we killed the dog that accompanied the wet she-camel belonging to the people of the desert. (Sahih Muslim 3811)
Saturday, March 11, 2017
From Baptist News, where there is more:
If you’re noticing a lot of gray in the pulpit at your church these days, you’re not alone. Pastors are getting older.Read the rest (with graphics).
“The aging of pastors represents a substantial crisis for Protestant churches,” David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, said in remarks included with a report titled “The Aging of America’s Pastors,” released Wednesday.
“In fact, there are now more full-time senior pastors who are over the age 65 than under the age of 40,” he said. “It is urgent that denominations, networks and independent churches determine how to best motivate, mobilize, resource and deploy … younger pastors.”
The data on aging is part of a larger study Barna conducted with Pepperdine University. It examined how religious leaders are negotiating the increasing complexity of modern life and ministry. “The State of Pastors” study also looked at shifts in the demographics of faith leaders and at the trends driving those changes.
The findings on age are often dramatic.
In 1992, Barna reported that the median age of pastors was 44. A third of them were under 40 and a quarter was over 55. Only 6 percent were 65 or older.
“Twenty-five years later, the average age is 54,” Barna announced in a summary of the new report published online. “Only one in seven pastors is under 40, and half are over 55.”
And the percentage of faith leaders 65 and older has tripled since 1992, Barna said.
Going back even further, Barna found that 55 percent of all Protestant pastors were 45 or younger in 1968 – “that is, the majority of all church leaders were in their 20s, 30s and early 40s.”
By 2017, only 22 percent are under 45.
The research group cited a number of causes for these trends.
“At the most basic level, people are living longer.”
The average life expectancy for men in 1968 was 66 years old, compared to 76 today, according to the report summary.
The increase in second-career clergy has been another factor – especially in non-mainline and historically black congregations. In other words, many ministers are answering their callings at later ages.
The 2008 economic crisis has also played a part by imploding 401(k) plans and home values. As a result, many older pastors are financially unable to leave their jobs.
“On the other end of the age spectrum, an insufficient number of young would-be pastors is likely a factor, too,” Barna said. “A majority of current pastors say even finding future leaders — much less mentoring them — is a challenge.”
Two-thirds of pastors surveyed said they believe it’s becoming more difficult to identify suitable, younger ministry candidates.
Also, 52 percent of clergy said they believe many young leaders think vocational ministry is less important than other kinds of work.
The report also cautions churches about the possible implications of increasingly older clergy.
“It’s not inherently a problem that there are older pastors in positions of leadership,” Kinnaman said in his published remarks. “In fact, younger generations are often looking for wisdom and leadership from established teachers and leaders.”
But there can be challenges.
“The problem arises when today’s pastors do not represent a healthy mix of young, middle age and older leaders,” he said. “For the Christian community to be at its best, it needs intergenerational leaders to move it forward.”
Monday, February 27, 2017
The story, painfully old, sounds like a scene from “Anatevka.” Were it not for the geography, century and ethnicity of the protagonists, it might as well be.
“My father is the second name on their list…” said a man huddling with four members of his family at the Evangelical Church in Ismailia.
He and his family are waiting for the kindness of others, hoping to find a place to stay, far from the threat of death that now hangs over his father.
The Sinai Province (Wilayat Sinai) terrorist organization, the Sinai branch of Islamic State (ISIS / Da’esh) terrorist group, is driving Egypt’s Christians out of the northern section of the Sinai Peninsula.
Residents of the northern Sinai town of el-Arish told a Reuters reporter on Friday that members of the terrorist group have been circulating “death lists” online, and in the streets. The lists carry a warning to Christians to leave the region, or die.
Many local Christians are taking the hint. But some are just too old to flee, too old to face the hardship that comes with never knowing where your next stop will be. And so they’re staying, knowing they may die.
Church officials have said that of the 160 families in North Sinai, 100 were leaving. More than 200 students fled El-Arish as well.
Since January 30, seven Christians were murdered by members of Wilayat Sinai, including five who were shot and killed, one set afire, and one who was beheaded.
How more ironic can it get, with Passover approaching, that such a horrific tragedy is taking place at this time and in this place, and targeting this population?
Saturday, February 18, 2017
From here, where there is more:
A recent report explains that the refugees who had converted to Christianity are now facing threats from Afghan refugees. There have been increased reported incidents of Christian converts facing persecution they face at the hands of Muslims who are targeting converts.Read the rest.
A group of Christians converts living in the refugee camps in Europe told a Christian persecution watchdog that they “fled from the Islamic Republic of Iran because they have been accused of being Christians and, therefore, have repeatedly been threatened by torture, imprisonment and the death penalty.” They were quoted as saying: “Here, where we have been accommodated presently, we are exposed to the same kinds of threats as before, this time at the hand of Afghan Muslims, and we fear for our lives.”
“The Afghan refugees, call us Iranian Christians ‘apostates’ and ‘infidels’ because of our decision to leave Islam and consider the shedding of our blood as legitimate or even necessary.” There are reports of the Kurdish church leaders being threatened and warned to leave the refugee group. The Kurdish pastor who had converted said that he was forced to leave Kurdistan because he received threats from local rebels and the local police.
Tuesday, February 07, 2017
Gayle McCormick, 73, decided to split up with her husband of 22 years after he voted for the Republican in last November's presidential election. He had announced his intentions at a lunch with friends prior to the election.
‘It totally undid me that he could vote for Trump,’ said McCormick, who identifies as a ‘Democrat leaning toward socialist’. She added: ‘I felt like I had been fooling myself.
‘It opened up areas between us I had not faced before. I realized how far I had gone in my life to accept things I would have never accepted when I was younger.’
|(Click to enlarge) Graph showing Reuters/Ipsos polling results.|
Families across the US have been divided by the election according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll.
The number of respondents who argued with family and friends over politics jumped six percentage points from a pre-election poll in October, up to 39% from 33%.
Many people had also stopped talking to their loved ones after the vote, with 22% of Hillary Clinton fans admitting they had ended communication with a relative or close friend.
‘It’s been pretty rough for me,” said Rob Brunello, a truck driver who voted for Trump. ‘People couldn’t believe Trump could beat Hillary. They are having a hard time adjusting to it.’
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom with some respondents saying their relationships had not suffered because of the election. Around 40% had not argued with a family member or friend over the race.
Friendships were also created with 21% saying they become friends with someone they did not know because of the election.
I would like to remind my Christian friends of the words of Scripture: "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:2-3).
Wednesday, February 01, 2017
From the New York Post:
The North Korean elite are expressing their discontent toward young leader Kim Jong Un and his government as more outside information trickles into the isolated country, North Korea’s former deputy ambassador to London said Wednesday.
Thae Yong Ho defected to South Korea in August last year and since December 2016 has been speaking to media and appearing on television shows to discuss his defection to Seoul and his life as a North Korean envoy.
“When Kim Jong Un first came to power, I was hopeful that he would make reasonable and rational decisions to save North Korea from poverty, but I soon fell into despair watching him purging officials for no proper reasons,” Thae said during his first news conference with foreign media Wednesday.
“Low-level dissent or criticism of the regime, until recently unthinkable, is becoming more frequent,” said Thae, who spoke in fluent, British-accented English.
“We have to spray gasoline on North Korea, and let the North Korean people set fire to it.”
Thae, 54, has said publicly that dissatisfaction with Kim prompted him to flee his post. Two university-age sons living with him and his wife in London also defected with him.
North and South Korea are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. The North, which is subject to UN sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs, regularly threatens to destroy the South and its main ally, the United States.
Thae is the most senior official to have fled North Korea and entered public life in the South since the 1997 defection of Hwang Jang Yop, the brains behind the North’s governing ideology, “Juche,” which combines Marxism and extreme nationalism.
Today’s North Korean system had “nothing to do with true communism,” Thae said, adding that the elite, like himself, had watched with unease as countries like Cambodia, Vietnam and the former Soviet Union embraced economic and social reforms.
Thae has said more North Korean diplomats are waiting in Europe to defect to South Korea.
North Korea still outwardly professes to maintain a Soviet-style command economy, but for years a thriving network of informal markets and person-to-person trading has become the main source of food and money for ordinary people.
Fully embracing these reforms would end Kim Jong Un’s rule, Thae said. Asked if Kim’s brother, Kim Jong Chol, could run the country instead, Thae remained skeptical.
“Kim Jong Chol has no interest in politics. He is only interested in music,” Thae said.
“He’s only interested in Eric Clapton. If he was a normal man, I’m sure he’d be a very good professional guitarist.”
Of particular concern is Thae Yong Ho's assertion (toward the end of the video) that Kim Jong Un would readily press the nuclear button if he saw his regime threatened. North Korea already possesses nuclear warheads and is in the process of testing missiles that could soon have the capability of reaching the United States.
[Sorry, the video interview originally posted here no longer exists.]
Saturday, January 14, 2017
At P.J. Media, John Ellis writes about the United Methodist Church's decision to "spend 75 weeks praying about accepting homosexuality." The whole article is worth a read because it tells what is happening to this once-great tradition of Wesleyan holiness and revivalism. Of particular interest, though, are these two paragraphs, commenting on the state of western Christianity in general. The loss of membership in western denominations that one hears to much about isn't as clear as it seems:
Over the last year, non-theists have gloated over numbers that indicate religion's shrinking place among Americans. While not lying, the numbers don't reveal the whole truth at first blush. According to the Pew Research Center, evangelicalism in America has remained steady even in the face of a shrinking attachment to Christianity among Americans. So where is the loss of numbers coming from? Well, mainline/liberal denominations. In other words, yes, it's true that religion's place in our society is shrinking. But the religion that's disappearing is a false religion anyway. [Emphasis added.]Read the rest.
Proving Roger Finke and Rodney Stark correct, denominations that have embraced liberal theology are losing members at an alarming rate. The United Methodist Church's Council of Bishops may very well believe that the path to sustained denominational growth is through a continued embrace of liberal theology and progressive ideology, but every indicator points to the reality that their solution is actually an anti-solution. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Galatia, "Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap" (Galatians 6:7).
Sunday, December 25, 2016
From PJMedia, where there is more:
To President Obama's legacy of foreign policy debacles, we can now add his landmark betrayal of Israel, carried out Dec. 23rd at the United Nations. By declining to wield the U.S. veto at the Security Council, by choosing instead to abstain -- by Vanishing-from-Behind -- Obama allowed the passage, by a vote of 14 in favor, 1 abstaining, of Resolution 2334. In the guise of condemning Israeli settlements, this resolution is configured to delegitimize and imperil Israel itself, America's longtime ally and the only democracy in the Middle East.Read the rest.
With that signal abstention, Obama abandoned decades of U.S. practice of defending Israel against the bigots and thug governments that routinely sit on the Security Council, including permanent members Russia and China, and their rotating sidekicks, such as Venezuela. As a Wall Street Journal editorial accurately put it, referring to the U.S. abstention: "What it reveals clearly is the Obama administration's animus against the state of Israel itself. No longer needing Jewish votes, Mr. Obama was free, finally, to punish the Jewish state in a way no previous president has done."