Epiphany Brings Thoughts of Christian Persecution in the East

By | Epiphany is a public holiday in many countries and is globally celebrated on Januuary 6. It marks two events in Jesus Christ’s life. The first event was when the three wise men visited infant Jesus. The second event was when St John the Baptist baptized Jesus.

Being a New Yorker, I only go to the top of the Empire State Building about once every thirty-five years, and I have been to the Statue of Liberty just twice. Merely once in my life have I welcomed the new year in Times Square, and I had the impression that I was the only New Yorker in the crowd. As for the opera, people who live here boycott it under its present management, and I have never shopped in Macy’s, even though it is practically next-door. Only one time, as a child, did I see the Easter show at Radio City Music Hall, and even then the spectacle of a rabbit and a lily dancing to Rubenstein’s “Kamennoi Ostrow” played on the mighty Wurlitzer was a shattering experience never repeated. By way of reaction, it may have been an impetus for my choice of theology as a career.

Theatrical depictions of the Three Wise Men are even more problematic. For the best of intentions, their jeweled turbans and bedecked camels in Christmas pageants relegate them to the realm of charming fantasy. Actually, most things Middle Eastern used to be that way, a vague place of flying carpets and magic lamps, Aladdin and Ali Baba, and “Kismet” with melodies by Borodin. For one of my aunts, Arabia was forever the land of Rudolph Valentino. Romance makes the story of the Magi seem unreal, and harder to comprehend than that other epiphany when the Lord was baptized in a muddy stream not as exotic as Abanah and Pharpar.

In the “global village” of the electronic media, Arabia, and the whole Middle East, are not the illuminations of story books any longer, not even in the purview of New Yorkers for whom the divide between the Occident and the Orient is Fifth Avenue. It is likely that those “wise men from the East” were Zoroastrians from Persia, not kings but magisterial priests of the monotheistic and dualistic belief system called Mazdayasna. Its god Ahura Mazda had a prophet, although he did not think of himself as such, who was Zarathustra, or to the Greeks named Zoroaster. Some claim that he was born in 628 B.C., and by another calculation, he may have been a contemporary of Moses. There are fewer than 200,000 of them today, dwindling in numbers since their persecution by the first Muslim caliphs starting with Abu Bakr, for whom Islam, in the mode of Mohammed, meant submission or death. The Muslims defeated the forces of the last Shahinnshah, Yazdergerd III, at al-Qadisiya in 635; two years later they seized the capital of Ktesiphon, and, in a grievous loss for civilization, destroyed its vast library, including its scientific texts, for the Zarathustrians were highly accomplished astronomers. Much of that knowledge was lost after the collapse of the Sassanid Empire in 651. The Magi knew both the stars and the Hebrew Scriptures, and shared an expectation of a Messiah born of a virgin. Their people had long been on friendly syncretistic terms with the Jews whom they protected after their release from the Babylonian exile.

Iran and Syria are strategic allies now, and Christians there and in Iraq have a history no less complicated than the Magi, some dating their foundation to Saint Thomas the Apostle. Leaders of their suffering Chaldean Catholic Church and Melkite Greek Catholic Church have been issuing letters, hoping that their words will be more than feathers in the breeze. Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako said: “This year Iraqi Christians will celebrate Christmas in deplorable circumstance, on the one hand because of the deteriorating condition of the situation in our country on all levels, and, on the other hand, because of what they have gone through as Christians, victims of segregation and exclusion.” Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart of Aleppo, Syria said to anyone who would listen: “Here we are, for a fifth year now, celebrating the Feast of the Nativity as bombs are raining down. I do not know how many of you have lived through such a depressing and sad experience, but I can assure you it is painful these beautiful days, so ardently awaited each year, amidst shortages and lack of security, or electricity and, to top things off, cut off from the rest of the world by a strict and very tight boycott.”

During his visit to Bolivia in July, 2015, Pope Francis said: “Today we are dismayed to see how in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world many of our brothers and sisters are persecuted, tortured, and killed for their faith in Jesus. In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place, and it must end.” Yes, he did say genocide, just as he spoke of the historic genocide of Armenians, causing Turkey to withdraw its ambassador to the Holy See. The genocide of Christians is as real and as palpable as it is nervously unnamed by our own United States government in its captious protocols. On Christmas Eve, President Obama did mention atrocities against Christians, but he cited “ISIL” as the only persecutor, neglecting the fact that Christians are suffering systematically throughout the Sunni Muslim world, in places subsidized by U.S. tax dollars. No one could say that Pope Francis is subtle in his summons to welcome the most problematic refugees, but he has declared: “There is no Christianity without persecution… Today, too, this happens before the whole world, with the complicit silence of many powerful leaders who could stop it.”

This Christmas, the car of the Latin patriarch Fouad Twal was stoned in Bethlehem where no public signs mentioning Christmas were allowed. In 2015, the United States welcomed Syrian refugees, through agencies including Catholic Charities receiving federal monies, but besides 2,149 Muslims, there were only 31 Christians and 6 Zoroastrians, while Christians are about ten percent of the Syrian population. Although Europe is flooding with refugees, they are not welcome in most Muslim territories, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. These states give welfare funds, some substantial, but they fear that immigrants from a more pluralistic Syrian culture might destabilize Muslim fundamentalism, as well as call into question the status of present-day temporary workers.

Such monolithic theocracies are growing, not declining, through internationalism. For one example, four years ago Brunei instituted Sharia law with penalties including beheadings and amputations. The Sultan of Brunei, Hassnal Bolkiah, has been decorated by many European countries, is an Honorary Admiral of the British Royal Navy, and Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. Shortly before he sanctioned a law for the stoning to death of sodomites, the University of Oxford made him an honorary Doctor of Laws. Bad timing. When a group of stoneable undergraduates asked that the degree be rescinded, they were ignored. Brunei has just imposed a prison sentence of five years for anyone celebrating Christmas publicly, and Somalia has followed suit. The Sultan of Brunei, with a personal wealth of 20 billion dollars and a fleet of 2,000 cars—including 600 Rolls Royces collected as a hobby by his brother—has built the world’s largest palace at a cost of $350 million in a gilded style one might call Transitional Moorish-Las Vegas, but he has no room for refugees. Meanwhile, the leading Islamic leader in Saudi Arabia has called for the destruction of “all the churches” in the Arabic peninsula.

At the request of the U.S. State Department, one of my oldest and kindest friends let her house in Palm Beach to King Saud of Saudi Arabia in January, 1962 while he was recovering from eye and stomach surgery done in Boston. He brought along numerous wives and a few of his 115 children. My friend belonged to a Christian denomination founded by King Henry VIII who only practiced sequential polygamy. During that month, in which President Kennedy made a fifteen-minute courtesy visit, his brother Faisal back in Saudi Arabia began a coup with proposed controversial reforms including the abolition of slavery. On the Feast of the Epiphany, my friend told King Saud that she was celebrating the Three Kings, to which he replied through his bewildered interpreter, “Who are the other two?” Anyway, he left her with a gift of rubies that were stolen years later.

So one still might echo Rudyard Kipling: “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet.” The Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul, Amel Shumoun Nona, has warned from exile in Kurdistan: “Our sufferings today are a prelude to what even European and Western Christians will incur in the near future. Your liberal and democratic principles here (in the Middle East) are not worth anything. You need to rethink our reality in the Middle East because you are receiving in your countries, an increasing number of Muslims. You too are at risk. You have to take strong and courageous decisions, at the cost of contradicting your principles. You think that men are all the same. It is not true. Islam does not say that all men are equal. Your values are not their values. If you do not understand in time, you will become victims of the enemy you have welcomed into your home.”

East is East and West is West. Yet the Wise Men in their wisdom outwitted King Herod, and such wisdom, mated with self-neglectful virtue, melts all physical and ideological boundaries with a charity that gives hope to the most helpless. That is why Kipling continued with his ballad:

But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!

Fr. George W. Rutler is pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. He is the author of many books including Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943 (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press) and Hints of Heaven (Sophia Institute Press). His latest book is He Spoke To Us (Ignatius, 2016).


Five Poverty Busters You Should Know

Why? Because research shows they are making a real difference (photo / taimoor)

As a developmental economist, people often ask me, “What can I do as a Christian to really make an impact on world poverty?” Especially as people consider giving and charitable donations during the Christmas season, the question has inspired me to create a list of five of the most dedicated and innovative Christians I have discovered in my work and research in international poverty alleviation. While some of these individuals help lead Christian organizations, others direct what are essentially secular organizations strongly influenced by their faith. Some are well-known in development circles; others have labored for years outside of the public eye. All share in common a dynamic faith that has helped shape innovative approaches to poverty.

They also share a commitment to effectiveness. Not every approach taken by these practitioners has met with instant success. This is okay. Poverty is a tough nut to crack. But through dedication to rigorous evaluation, constant innovation, learning, re-innovation, and the dogged pursuit of excellence in their work, their respective programs share a commitment to genuine impact over feel-good charity.

Auyba Guffwan, Director, Beautiful Gate/Wheelchairs for Nigeria.1. Auyba Guffwan, Director, Beautiful Gate/Wheelchairs for Nigeria.

We sometimes hear the phrases “the poorest of the poor” or “the least of these.” Interested in knowing who they are? They are the disabled in the poorest countries, often rejected as outcasts by their families, left on the street to beg. These beloved human beings are, truly and tragically, the poorest of the poor. There are one billion people living with serious disabilities today, most of them in the developing world.

Ayuba Guffwan is one of my development heroes. Paralyzed from polio at age four, it would have been easy for Ayuba to slide quietly into a life of hopelessness, substance abuse, and begging. Receiving a wheelchair gave him the hope to pursue his dream of helping others like himself. He and “retired” Pastor Ron Rice founded Beautiful Gate in 1999. Since gaining access to a wheelchair and founding the organization, Ayuba earned a law degree from the University of Jos, married, fathered three children, and became an international leader in Rotary International. The organization has become the largest supplier of mobility aids in Nigeria, rescuing thousands from crawling in the dust on hands and feet, giving them the mobility to live with dignity and as integrated members of society.

Furthermore this ministry operates in a region of Northern Nigeria where Christians face violent persecution by the Muslim extremist group Boko Haram. While overtly Christian, Beautiful Gate provides wheelchairs to Muslims and Christians without partiality. Despite the great risks, it has continued to serve in this area with favor among Muslims as a peaceful witness of the hands of Christ.

But just as impressive as Ayuba’s story is the impact of providing wheelchairs. Although unable to carry out fieldwork in Nigeria due to the terrorism risk, inspired by Beautiful Gate my graduate student Justin Grider and I carried out a study among a similar disabled population in Ethiopia, comparing life outcomes between statistically matched current and future wheelchair recipients.

In a study forthcoming in the Journal of Development Effectiveness, we found life-changing impacts from wheelchair provided to the disabled population. In a given week, wheelchair recipients traveled about 7 miles farther away from their homes than those without a wheelchair. We also found that wheelchair beneficiaries spent nearly two hours more per day in income-generating work, reducing begging by nearly the same amount of time. The income of the wheelchair recipients was $6.23 per week higher than those without wheelchairs, a 78 percent increase over the very small baseline of $8.02 (yes, the disabled poor earn this little per week in places like Ethiopia.) Our estimates showed that an economic investment in a wheelchair realized an internal rate of return of 122 percent, simply based on the increased income the recipient would earn relative to the cost of the wheelchair, a rate of return that vastly exceeds that of the most productive Fortune 500 companies. By providing a wheelchair through a $150 donation to Beautiful Gate, one can literally transform a life.

2. Isabeth Zárate, Chief Operations Officer, Fuentes Libres Microfinance, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Isabeth Zárate, Chief Operations Officer, Fuentes Libres Microfinance, Oaxaca, Mexico.Even as recently as a few years ago, microfinance was billed by many as the silver bullet that would eradicate world poverty. Many rigorous impact studies carried out in countries around the globe have shown that microfinance has far less impact on borrowers than has been claimed by advocates. Microfinance helps people start and grow small businesses, smooth out bumps in income, and builds social cohesion, but in most cases it doesn’t appear to significantly increase family income or overall welfare. So where does that leave the world of microfinance?

Practitioners like Isabeth Zárate have long understood that the real power of microfinance isn’t in the lending, but in how it develops human beings, enhancing their social connectedness, psychological health, aspirations, and spiritual lives. In contrast to other organizations that expect big impacts from a simple cycle of loans, Fuentes Libres focuses on holistic, or integrated, development. This fits more closely with a biblical view of human nature and with recent findings in behavioral economics. Both of these view human beings not as homo economicus, but as whole people affected not only by economic incentives but also by their relationships, aspirations, and spiritual commitments, as well as their confidence to shape their circumstances.

This approach stands in contrast to larger microlenders in Mexico such as the well-known Compartamos Banco, who simply offer microloans (at the rather breathtaking average annual interest rate of 130 percent), but offer little else in terms of holistic vision for the growth of their clients. The problem with lenders such as Compartamos is that results from careful new research shows that their approach doesn’t work. A recent randomized controlled trial on 16,000 households in Mexico carried out by top Ivy League researchers reported an absence of any transformative impact on borrowers from their microfinance loans.

Isabeth Zárate’s work with Fuentes Libres among indigenous women in southern Mexico has, by contrast, taken an integrated development approach. Women meet weekly to encourage one another in their businesses. They build a network of trust that helps them build confidence as entrepreneurs. Recently my colleagues and I have begun a project with the organization to test how hope and aspirations might influence the success of microfinance. Early results hint at positive impacts both on the aspirations of these female borrowers and profits in their enterprises. As we gain a better understanding of the full nature of human beings–their social, psychological, and spiritual natures–we can help interventions like microfinance function more effectively.

Paul Niehaus, Co-founder and U.S. Director, GiveDirectly.3. Paul Niehaus, Co-founder and U.S. Director, GiveDirectly.

Many poverty organizations will transform your cash donation into different types of “in-kind” gifts to the poor: farm animals, mosquito nets, clean-burning woodstoves–the list goes on. In-kind gifts are appealing because (a) we don’t want our donation spent irresponsibly, and (b) we want to know how our money is being used. Paul Niehaus took a different approach when he founded GiveDirectly with fellow economics graduate students at Harvard: Let the poor decide how to best use a cash donation. GiveDirectly harnesses the best modern technology to transform your cash into … cash. It does this by electronically zapping internet donations into cell-phone-based savings accounts of the poor in East Africa. Direct electronic cash transfers have become one of the most innovative and effective methods of helping the extreme poor in the developing world.

Evidence has been growing that shows cash transfers to be an effective means of helping the poor. However, most of these programs have been conditional cash transfers. Cash was given to families for making positive choices, such as keeping their children enrolled in school or taking them in for regular check-ups. But what about just giving the poor cash—no strings attached? The response of many people to an unconditional cash transfer is that it seems highly susceptible to abuse. Unconditional cash transfers can be spent on alcohol and cigarettes just as easily as on school fees and repairing a leaky roof. Niehaus and his co-founders seem to be placing quite a bit of faith in the judgment of the poor. So what does the evidence say?

Researchers at Princeton University studied the effectiveness of GiveDirectly in an experiment involving over 1,000 households. Over the course of a year, about $1,000 in cash was transferred from internet donors into the electronic savings accounts of a randomly selected half of the households. The two researchers carrying out the study (both now faculty at Princeton) found a number of encouraging impacts from these injections of cash.

First, food consumption increased substantially. Recipients of the transfers bought 20 percent more food. The extra food consumption reduced by 30 percent the likelihood of a family member going to bed hungry during the week preceding the follow-up survey. It also reduced by 42 percent the number of days children in the cash transfer households went without food. Productive assets, mostly animal herds and small business investment, increased an astounding 58 percent.

What about spending on temptation goods, like alcohol and cigarettes? The research found no increase in spending on these goods at all. This parallels other findings that show that as extremely poor people become just a little bit wealthier, they become more hopeful and invest more time and effort in activities that will pay off in the future rather than medicating feelings of hopelessness. And what about cash grants reducing the incentives to work? A new paper by top economists at Harvard and MIT furthermore dispels the myth that these cash grants reduce time devoted to work by recipients.

Niehaus and his colleagues have shown us that the poor are more trustworthy than we think.

4. Menchit Wong, Director of Leadership Engagement, Global Advocacy, Compassion International, Philippines.

Menchit Wong, Director of Leadership Engagement, Global Advocacy, Compassion International, Philippines.Menchit Wong began her career as a social worker in a slum re-settlement program in the Philippines. Thirty-six years later, she was standing on the platform at the international Lausanne Conference in Cape Town, addressing a large audience of global Christian leaders (from churches, ministry organizations, movements and alliances), championing the rights of children. The global church gathered at this conference recognized children as a priority in the coming decade. “It was a kairos moment,” Menchit says of her presentation. “God orchestrated a two-minute opportunity for Compassion to convince the global Church to invest in the value, potential, and priority of children in poverty.” It was a ministry model, says Menchit, “that ran contrary to hundreds of years of practice.”

She currently serves as Compassion International’s director of leadership engagement for global advocacy after having served for decades in the trenches in the Philippines in of one of the most successful organizations fighting child poverty on a global scale. Compassion’s approach has long bucked the trend followed by many larger aid organizations of investing in infrastructure. Instead, Compassion invests in children: their health, education, character values, aspirations, and spiritual growth. It is a holistic model of human development with biblical foundations that has realized tremendous dividends among children sponsored by Compassion.

Our six-country study on the impact of Compassion’s sponsorship program–which included the work of Compassion in the Philippines– found that adults who had been sponsored as children were about a third more likely to finish secondary school, a third more likely to have a white-collar job as adults, about two-thirds more likely to finish college, and 80 percent more likely to serve later in life as community and church leaders. In a new academic paper forthcoming in the World Bank Economic Review, we find sponsorship through Compassion to result in a 20 percent increase in adult incomes. Also as adults, formerly sponsored children live in better-constructed and safer homes, with better roofs and floors, and they are more likely to have electricity. Thanks to the dedication, innovation, and persistence of practitioners such as Menchit Wong, it has become clear to both academics and practitioners that Compassion’s unique approach to child sponsorship is a highly effective way to make a difference in the life of a child living in poverty.

Blake Mycoskie, Founder and CEO, TOMS Shoes, Inc.5. Blake Mycoskie, Founder and CEO, TOMS Shoes, Inc.

TOMS Shoes began in Argentina, reports Blake Mycoskie in his book, Start Something That Matters. He was taking a break from managing DriversEd Direct in 2006, an online driver’s education school he had recently founded. In Argentina, he learned to play polo, dance the tango, and appreciate the alpargata, the soft canvas shoe worn ubiquitously in the country. He also met a friend working with an organization distributing used shoes to children living in the Argentina’s barrios and impoverished rural areas. That meeting changed the course of his life—and that of many others. He eventually sold his interest in DriversEd Direct, investing his time in a new company that sold a version of the alpargata loafers to Americans while giving a similar pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair he was able to sell.

In 2011, Blake agreed to work with me to carry out a study of the TOMS Shoes giving program. We wanted to ascertain the impacts of the shoes through a controlled trial. Our study took place in El Salvador, where we randomly distributed TOMS’ donated shoes to about half of 1,578 children in 18 rural communities. We tested two questions: First, did the donated shoes damage the local shoe vendor business, and second, what was the impact of the shoes on children?

We found little evidence of significant damage to local shoe vendors. Results showed that sales of vendors declined by a single pair of shoes for about every 20 donated pairs, but even this small negative impact was statistically insignificant. And while our study uncovered no life-transforming impacts from the shoes in terms of education, self-esteem, or health, we did find that 95 percent of the recipient children had a favorable impression of the shoes and 90 percent wore them, and 77 percent wore them at least three days a week.

What most impressed us with TOMS was how nimbly the company responded to the challenges of poverty. They found that children used the shoes primarily for play and that canvas shoes tended to wear out quickly. So they began to give away a more durable athletic shoe. To accommodate the needs of children in cold climates such as Mongolia, they created a tailored snow boot for Mongolian children. When studies suggested that other types of interventions were likely to have greater life-transforming impacts than their shoe donations, TOMS began to sell sunglasses that provide vision correction for the visually impaired, coffee for which purchases help provide fresh water to villages, and handbags that fund birth attendant resources for pregnant mothers in poor countries.

Clearly the original vision for a shoe company has grown into a larger vision—a double-bottom line company whose focus is not only profit but also the improved welfare of the overseas poor. It’s a company committed to introducing new products that are accompanied by a studied and sincere effort to better the lives of the least fortunate. I salute the creativity of Blake Mycoskie and TOMS as they walk the delicate line between the secular and the spiritual, a primarily “secular” company partnering extensively with Christian organizations such as World Vision and Heart for Africa to share God’s concern for the poor.

Bruce Wydick is professor of economics at the University of San Francisco and research affiliate at the Kellogg Institute of International Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He is author of the novel The Taste of Many Mountains (Thomas Nelson).


President Obama’s Top 10 of 2015

Did your issue make President Obama's list?

President Obama in the spirit of 2015 retiree David Letterman, releases top 10 accomplishments of the Obama administration for 2015.

Hi, everybody. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Not just for spreading holiday cheer – but also for list makers. You’ve got wish lists; Santa’s list; and of course, a blizzard of year-in-review lists. So I decided to get in on the action.

As a nation, we face big challenges. But in the spirit of 2015 retiree David Letterman, here – in no particular order – are my top 10 things that happened in 2015 that should make every American optimistic about 2016.

10: The economy. Over the past 12 months, our businesses have created 2.5 million new jobs. In all, they’ve added 13.7 million new jobs over a 69-month streak of job growth. And the unemployment rate has fallen to 5 percent – the lowest it’s been in almost eight years.

9: More Americans are getting health coverage. The rate of the uninsured in America dropped below 10 percent for the first time ever. In all, 17.6 million people and climbing have gained coverage as the Affordable Care Act has taken effect. And don’t forget, you can still sign up through January 31st at HealthCare.gov.

8: America’s global leadership on climate change. Last week, in Paris, nearly 200 countries came together to set the course for a low-carbon future. And it was only possible because America led with clean energy here at home and strong diplomacy around the world.

7: Progress in the Americas. We turned the page on an outdated, half-century old policy by re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba and reopening embassies in both our countries, allowing us to build greater ties between Americans and Cubans.

6: Preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. We succeeded in forging a strong deal to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. In fact, Iran has already dismantled thousands of centrifuges that enrich uranium.

5: Standing strong against terrorism. Even as we continue to grieve over the attack in San Bernardino, we’re leading a global coalition and hitting ISIL harder than ever. In Syria and Iraq, ISIL is losing territory, and we’re not going to stop until we destroy this terrorist organization.

4: A 21st century trade deal that makes sure our businesses can sell goods “Made in America” across the Asia-Pacific. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the strongest, most pro-worker, pro-environment trade agreement in our history. And it means that America – not China, not anyone else – will write the rules of the global economy for the century ahead.

3: A pair of Christmas miracles in Washington! This week, Congress passed a bipartisan budget that invests in middle-class priorities, keeps our military the strongest in the world, and takes the threat of shutdowns and manufactured crises off the table for 2016. Plus, I signed a bipartisan education bill into law to help our students graduate prepared for college and their future careers.

2: Love won. No matter who you are, here in America, you’re free to marry the person you love, because the freedom to marry is now the law in all fifty states.

1: And the number one reason I’m optimistic going into 2016: It’s you—the American people. All of this progress is because of you—because of workers rolling up their sleeves and getting the job done, and entrepreneurs starting new businesses. Because of teachers and health workers and parents—all of us taking care of each other. Because of our incredible men and women in uniform, serving to protect us all. Because, when we’re united as Americans, there’s nothing that we cannot do.

That’s why it’s has been a good year. And it’s why I’m confident we’ll keep achieving big things in the New Year. So happy holidays, everybody.

North Korea Sentences Canadian Megachurch Pastor to Life in Prison

by Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra Toronto pastor who made hundreds of humanitarian trips dodges death penalty. (Pastor Hyeon-Soo Lim | Light Korean Presbyterian Church)

North Korea has sentenced the pastor of one of Canada's largest churches to life in prison.

Hyeon-Soo Lim, leader of 3,000-member Light Korean Presbyterian Church in suburban Toronto, has been held by North Korea since January, and allegedly confessed in August to conspiring against the government of Kim Jong-Un.

KCNAAccording to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), state prosecutors argued for the death penalty against Lim in Wednesday’s 90-minute trial at the nation's supreme court, reports The New York Times. The defense begged for mercy, pointing to Lim as a fellow Korean and his alleged confession. Lim’s lawyers asked for a life sentence "so that he can witness for himself the reality of the nation of the Sun as it grows in power and prosperity," reports Reuters.

The government accused Lim of “trying to use religion to destroy the North Korean system,” among other charges, reports CBC News.

KCNA posted photos of the trial.

The Canadian foreign affairs department called the sentence “unduly harsh” in light of Lim's "age and fragile health."

Lim's megachurch has asked Canada's new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, to advocate on the imprisoned pastor's behalf.


[Originally published on August 3 at 11:50 a.m., entitled “North Korea Reveals Why It Captured Canadian Megachurch Pastor | After hundreds of humanitarian trips, Toronto pastor has been detained since January.”]

After being detained since January, the pastor of one of Canada's largest churches has allegedly confessed to a “subversive plot” to overthrow the North Korean government and to set up a new “religious state,” reports The New York Times.

Hyeon-Soo Lim, leader of 3,000-member Light Korean Presbyterian Church in suburban Toronto, spoke both at a press conference and later at a church service, according to reports by the Hermit Kingdom's state news agency.

"The worst crime I committed was to rashly defame and insult the highest dignity and the system of the republic," Lim told a Pyongyang congregation, apparently reading from a script.

Detaining Christian foreigners is somewhat of a North Korean tradition, but accusing them of planning to set up a theocracy is new, AsiaNews said.

Lim has been held by the North Korean government since January, when the 60-year-old was scheduled to spend a few days there on humanitarian work. His church has worked in North Korea for almost 20 years, and Lim has made hundreds of trips to oversee a nursing home and orphanage there, said church spokesperson Lisa Pak.

"That's the most that we know, that the press conference happened and he admitted, I use that word very lightly, to some charges," Pak told Reuters.

The church released a statement after Lim’s confession:

The family and church are eager to have Mr. Lim home after close to 7 months in detention in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. There are no comments regarding the charges and allegations made against Mr. Lim except that the humanitarian aid projects that Mr. Lim has both initiated and supported in the DPRK have been for the betterment of the people. It is this tremendous love for the people of the DPRK that motivated Mr. Lim to travel to the nation over 100 times. He remains a compassionate and generous man and we hope to see him home soon. We are grateful for all those who share in our concerns and ask for your continued prayers and support.

Lim was born in South Korea, and immigrated to Canada with his family in 1986, where he helped to grow his church from five families to more than 3,000 people.

“You can imagine that, being ethnically Korean, there is a personal investment in the people of Korea,” Pak told the Toronto Star when he was first detained. She told CNN it was unlikely that Lim was proselytizing while he was there.

"He knows the language, he knows the nature of the government, so we don't see that as a legitimate reason that he would be detained," she said. "We don't believe that's the way he would have behaved. He's very wise about that."

The Canadian government has severed consular ties with North Korea, but Sweden has an embassy in Pyongyang and does some diplomatic work for Canada. Reuters reported in March that the Swedish ambassador was pressing for a meeting with an unidentified Canadian citizen detained there.

"We continue to advocate for consular access and for a resolution in his case," stated Canada’s Foreign Affairs department.

Lim follows a spate of Western missionaries who have been arrested in North Korea, which has spent the last 13 years topping Open Doors’ World Watch List as the worst place for Christians to live. An estimated 70,000 Christians are held in prison camps there.

In November, the North Korean government released American missionary Kenneth Bae after two years in captivity. Also in 2014, North Korea detained American Jeffrey Fowles for leaving behind a Bible, and arrested and released Australian missionary John Short, 75, for spreading Bible tracts near a Buddhist temple in Pyongyang.

American missionary Robert Park deliberately got himself arrested and spent six weeks in a North Korean prison in 2010, saying his goal was “to proclaim Christ’s love and forgiveness” to Kim Jong Il and to call for the release of political prisoners. "My hope was, through sacrifice, that maybe there would be repentance and people could come together to address issues in North Korea," Park told CT in an exclusive interview.

South Korean Baptist missionary Kim Jong-Uk is still imprisoned after after receiving a life sentence in June for allegedly working with underground churches.

Go to Christianity Today for the original article.


Atrocities against Christians in the Central African Republic

Inside PK5 – Extra Scene from 'United in Hate: Central African Republic' (Vice News)

In March 2013, the Seleka, a coalition of predominantly Muslim-armed groups from the northeast, marched on the Central African Republic's capital Bangui and seized power.

They committed mass atrocities against the population, and to the largely Christian population in the southwest, Muslims began to be associated with violence. They took up arms to form a Christian self-defense militia called the anti-balaka, and carried out revenge killings.

By the end of 2013, the Central African Republic had descended into civil war. Under pressure from the international community, the Seleka were forced to give up power and retreated towards the northeast, where they regrouped.

A United Nations peacekeeping mission and a French military operation were able to stem the fighting, but despite their presence, the transitional government has not been able to regain control of the country outside Bangui.

With the anti-balaka controlling the southwest, and the Seleka controlling the northeast, the Central African Republic is de facto partitioned along ethno-religious lines. For those who find themselves on the wrong side of the divide, life has become hell.

In this extra scene, VICE News goes to PK5, a predominantly Muslim enclave of the Central African Republic's capital of Bangui, which has seen some of the most violent and brutal fighting between Muslim and Christian communities since the start of the conflict.

Watch Original video on Vice News. "United in Hate: The Fight for Control in CAR"
VICE News is an international news organization created by and for a connected generation. For inquiries please contact newsinfo@vice.com.


Little Girl’s ‘Dear Daddy’ Video has gone viral

Here's a cautionary tale about a dad's own behavior


The video uses a few graphic words and there is a brief shot of a teenage boy trying to reach into a young woman's pants. It's PG-13 but worth including because this is the REAL LIFE that YOUR girls are dealing with every day in the community where you live.

This video was created by PSA from Care Norway and it painfully depicts how vulnerable our girls are all over the world. This Norwegian branch of charity Care International video has gone viral in Scandinavia — and you'll see why if you watch it. It should move every father to step up and do the right thing of protecting their daughters and educating their sons to treat others as they would like to be treated (God fearing).

The five-minute video is a powerful and disturbing story, narrated from the point of view of an unborn baby girl, as a "Dear Daddy" video. The video narrates the girl's lifetime of abuse, opening with:

"I will be born a girl, which means that by the time I'm 14, the boys in my class will have called me a wh*re, a b*tch, a c*nt, and many other things. It's just for fun of course . . . something boys do. So you won't worry and I understand that. Perhaps you did the same when you were young, trying to impress some of the other boys."

The idea behind this video is to warn fathers-to-be that their own behavior may effectively condone harmful actions in others. Father's need to discourage sexist language and bad jokes about women in their own home as that could have dangerous repercussions down the road.

The Swedish version of the ad was directed by Jakob Ström through Tangrystan Productions, for Norwegian agency Schjaerven.

Denzel Washington Schools Pentecostals on Gratitude

by Jim Gallagher / St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Gratitude in Schools, Denzel Washington (Reuters)

Hollywood star Denzel Washington, the son of a pastor, preached a sermon of gratefulness Saturday evening to hundreds of members of the Church of God in Christ at their annual Holy Congregation in downtown St. Louis.

"I pray that you put your slippers way under your bed at night, so that when you wake in the morning you have to start on your knees to find them. And while you're down there, say thank you," he told the crowd at a $200-a-plate banquet at the Marriott St. Louis Grand Hotel to raise money for the denomination's charity work.

"It is impossible to be grateful and hateful at the same time," he said. "We have to have an attitude of gratitude." 

The acclaimed actor grew up in the Church of God in Christ. He, his wife and children still attend the denomination's West Angeles church in Los Angeles.

His father, Denzel Washington Sr., was a pastor and, according to his son, a good father. The actor talked of the comfort he got in hearing his father's car pull into the driveway every evening. It gave him a sense of stability.

A church woman also gave him a hint of his career to come, he said.

Washington remembered sitting in his mother's beauty shop as a young man. He was flunking out of college with a 1.7 grade point average. "I had no future. I was sitting in the chair looking in the mirror," he said, when he heard a woman speak from under a hair dryer.

"Young man, you're going to travel the world and speak to millions of people," she said. "You are going to preach."

His mother told him that the woman was thought to have the gift of predicting the future. 

"I guess she was right," said Washington. These days he is trying to go beyond speaking through his movies by speaking more often to groups about his faith and "what God has done for me."

Washington, whose roles have ranged from civil rights icon Malcolm X to an Oscar-winning role as a corrupt police detective, led the church members in reciting the Lord's Prayer.

"Faith and optimism can add years to your life," he told those at the banquet. "A bad attitude is like a flat tire. Until you change it, you're not going anywhere," he said, urging the audience to "use the power of prayer in everything we do."

The Church of God in Christ is the largest African-American Pentecostal denomination, with about 12,000 congregations. This is the sixth time its annual Holy Convocation has been in St. Louis. The meeting is one of the largest events held at America's Center.


South Carolina, the Flooding Is a Sign of Things to Come

Greg Rodermond (r) and Mandy Barnhill, use a canoe to evacuate Mandy's home on Long Avenue in Conway, South Carolina on October 5, 2015. Torrential rainfall that South Carolina's governor called a once-in-a-millennium downpour triggered flooding there, causing at least eight deaths in the Carolinas. (Randall Hill/Reuters)
After almost weeks of rain and historical flooding, the sun is shining in South Carolina! However, they tell us that the dams are continuing to break and that the flooding is not over. Water from the mountains is still trickling down, and more barriers are expected to break.
But I hear the Lord saying, "Barriers have been broken, and they are correct in saying more barriers will break! This flood was only the beginning! Barriers made by man's hands will no longer stand against what I am doing in my South Carolina! From the mountains to the sea, they will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Out of the wilderness places, I am flushing out my beloved ones; they are coming with fire! Even as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be with you. The flood brought cleansing and was a promise fulfilled. … Many have been crying out for My reign!
"Noah warned the people and for 100 years he prepared a place of refuge. The rain came, but after the rain the sun came, and with it the rainbow, the sign of the covenant! The rain fell, and the flood came, but I tell you this: a company of Ark Builders is yet arising! They are my sons and daughters who are proclaiming and preparing for My return!" "So, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door" (read Matt. 24:33).
The Water Is a Sign
"This water was a sign of things to come! Now I am making a covenant with you, South Carolina and with North Carolina! I am making a covenant with you! I am making a covenant with this generation, and it comes with a promise!  It's a promise of My return!" the Lord says.
"Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift up, you everlasting doors, that the King of glory may enter" (Ps. 24:9)
"My Bride will arise without spot or blemish, and every knee will bow and every tongue proclaim the Name above all Names, Jesus!  
"Carolina will be a voice to the nations! She will not be satisfied with lukewarm Christianity. She will be pure and will passionately pursue my heart! She is washed with water, but soon she will be baptized with Holy Spirit and Holy fire! (read Matt. 3:11).
"You have seen the promised rain, but I am about to release Holy Fire!   
"My promise is true! As She unites, She will no longer be called 'A State of Division,' but She will be called 'A State of Intercession.'  She will no longer be known as the state that pioneered oppression and division, but one who will pioneer freedom!
"She will be a state flooded with my glory and who burns with desire for Me! As hearts become unified with each other and with Mine, My glory will fill her dry ravines. Just as the 'bow … in the clouds' was a sign of a covenant promise, the time will come when I will fulfill my promise to return in my glory in the clouds (Gen. 9:13, Mark 13:26). My weighty glory and mantle of this promise is upon you, South Carolina!
"Watch and wait, for you, my beloved Carolina, will be a voice to the Nation! I will release my fire after the rain! This rain was just a sign of my coming. The fire of My passion and My glory will burn hotter in my Bride; for I will blow on her with the winds of My Spirit!"
Convergence is Coming
"A convergence is coming from east to west! You will be called a 'House of Prayer,' an 'Altar of Fire' and you will be a home to many of my people from different regions," says the Lord.
"As the world grows cold, my people in the Carolinas will burn. As the world rages around you in the coming days, you will host my presence and my peace. You will not be known for the flood, but for the fire!  
"Therefore, be alert! My messengers are emerging like a flood in this hour! They are bold as lions but meek as lambs. They are full of compassion and love but execute my justice, for they know they are mine! They will speak the truth with the very tone of My voice! Do not reject them, for if you do you, will again become a reproach. They will break the man-made religious and political barriers, smash the idols of impurity, and restore My Heart into this land! He who has an ear let him hear! I am mantling you:
"In doing these things, you will no longer be a reproach or a barren land. Break forth in song oh Carolina. SING, for the barriers are breaking! The night is over, the SON is shining! Let the fire fall and sing! I make a holy covenant with you!"
"Shout for joy, O barren one, you who have borne no child; Break forth into joyful shouting and cry aloud, you who have not travailed; For the sons of the desolate one will be more numerous than the sons of the married woman," says the LORD. "Enlarge the place of your tent; Stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not; Lengthen your cords And strengthen your pegs. … " (read Is. 51:1-2).

Tammie Southerland is a wife, mother of three, revival forerunner, prophetic messenger, and apostolic builder. Tammie is the heart of Frontline Ministries. She is a passionate lover of Jesus and a fighter for the true Bride of Christ to arise in these last days! Tammie and her husband Daymon have pioneered The Carolina's First mobile 24 hour prayer, worship, and revival prayer movement called Fire on the Altar. They have taken this amazing, fiery, prophetic prayer, worship, and revival movement to over 18 cities on the east coast and beyond in the last two years.

ECWA General Secretary visits United States, December 7th-21st, 2015

The ECWA General Secretary, Rev. Prof. Samuel W. Kunhiyop by Innocent Nwaobasi, ECWA USA DCC Secretary

The ECWA General Secretary, Rev. Prof. Samuel W. Kunhiyop, will be in the United States for a pastoral visit on December 7th to 21st, 2015.
The General Secretary itinerary follows:
  1. Atlanta: Thursday December 10th to 12th Saturday. Scheduled interaction with members and leadership.
  2. Arrives in Maryland on Saturday, December 12th to the evening of Tuesday, December 15th and meet with members/worship with the congregation.
  3. Leaves for New York Tuesday, December 15th evening.  
  4. Arrives at First and Second ECWA Louisville December 16th to 19th. Meeting with the members during prayer meeting etc. Have interaction with members and leadership
  5. Will be at ECWA Chicago from Saturday, December 19th to 20th. Where he will get a tour of the new Church and meet with members, leaders and congregation at large.
  6. Leaves for Nigeria on December 21st.

Please employ all pastors and elders to involve members and fellowship groups during the interactions with the General Secretary. Please contact, ECWA DCC Chairman, Rev. Daniel Iselaiye (diselaye@msn.com Phone: 937-376-9668) or me (nizeyimanaa@yahoo.com, Phone: 404-399-4502), ECWA USA DCC Secretary for further information.

The Christian Case for Not Giving Up on the World’s Most Fragile State

Why World Vision and local Christian leaders remain hopeful about South Sudan.