Posts Tagged ‘persecution’

N for Nazarene

October 12, 2016


Bob Blincoe from Frontiers, an organization that works with Muslims in the Middle East, brought to my church these tiny mosaics (useful as coasters) made by Iraqi Christians in exile in Jordan. The symbol is the letter N in Arabic. When ISIS invaded Syrian and Iraqi villages they spray-painted Christian homes with this N, standing for Nazarene. It was like being red-tagged by the building department. It meant: either convert to Islam, or get out now, otherwise you will be killed.

It occurred to me that the Iraqi Christians making these mosaics are doing exactly what the earliest Christians did with the cross. They adopted as their own the chilling symbol of oppression and violence used against them. It reminded them of what Jesus the Messiah had suffered, and of what they too might be called on to endure.

Maybe we should put these “N” symbols next to our crosses, to remind us of what they stand for.

The mosaics come from Aslan Child Rescue, an organization working to help churches in the Middle East and in Europe who have opened their doors to persecuted Iraqi Christians.


Distinctively Open

October 10, 2014

Visiting my daughter in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, gave me a chance to learn more about the Moravians, who founded Bethlehem in 1741 as their American headquarters. They made me think: there is more than one way of being a sect.

The Moravians were founded on the preaching of John Hus, a Czech priest who was burned at the stake in 1415 for his heterodox ideas, such as worship in the local language instead of Latin. His followers were persecuted—sometimes a lot, sometimes a little—for the next 300 years until some of them found protection from a German nobleman, Count Nicholaus von Zinzendorf. He let them build a community on his land, and eventually they began to send out missionaries. Some went to America to reach native Americans and unchurched colonists, and Bethlehem was established. The Bethlehem Moravians carry on today: the town features their denominational college and seminary and their mother church, built to seat 1,500 even when there were only 500 residents of the town.

They weren’t the only sect in the neighborhood. Pennsylvania was founded on a tradition of religious tolerance, and many sects came there from Europe—Quakers, Mennonites, Amish, and other less-known groups such as the Harmonists and the Dunkers. Most had experienced persecution because of fiercely held beliefs, and as a result they didn’t mix. For example, the Quakers, who have become such a sympathetic group, would shun not only those who married outside the Quaker meeting, but anybody who attended the wedding. They were sharply separatistic, as sects often are.

The Moravians were as “different” as any of these groups. They shared all possessions in common and lived in “choirs” based on gender and age, so that even married couples lived apart, and children were raised communally. Yet the Moravians’ distinctives were not ends in themselves, but (what they believed to be) practical approaches to their mission. They had come to America to share the good news of Jesus, and therefore reached out to their neighbors—all their neighbors. As I walked through their cemetery, laid out by Count von Zinzendorf in 1741, I saw many graves for African-Americans and native Americans mixed in with all the rest. I do not think you would find that in any other colonial graveyard in America.

Usually, groups that are open to outsiders gradually merge with the rest of society. It is fear of assimilation that keeps them from opening the doors too wide. Surely that is true today, not only for immigrant sects but for all groups that want to maintain their distinctive beliefs and character. The Moravians, whatever their faults, sought a distinctive life that was open. That is a trick I would like to master.

Attacks on Christians in Sri Lanka

April 1, 2013

You may know that I have a long-time interest in Sri Lanka. Today I got the following report from a friend there:

The attacks on Christians doing evangelism has really intensified. Many house prayer groups in homes of believers have been asked to stop. There are attacks on churches. A group has arisen which has taken it upon themselves even using force to protect Sri Lanka which they are saying belongs to a certain ethnic group and a certain religion. They have published a document on the so-called threat to Sri Lanka and listing dangerous organisations. We are in that list. Much wisdom is needed. Pastors are living with much fear. They are also hitting Muslim targets.
Please pray for us.


Those in Prison

February 26, 2013

In the last week I’ve been reminded that “those in prison” are not merely historical. I first heard news of Zac Niringiye, a Ugandan friend, being arrested for distributing brochures protesting governmental corruption. Zac is a former Anglican bishop. He wasn’t held long but is under orders to report regularly to the police station–a demand that is a way of threatening him with trouble if he keeps making trouble, I assume. Zac is helping to organize regular protests called Black Monday, in which people wear black each week to express their feelings about governmental theft of public resources.

I was glad to be on the receiving end of a series of email reports and requests to pray for Zac’s well being. Zac has friends all over the world.

Not so much another friend, Mehrdad, whom I met at an international literature conference a few years ago. He was a young, engaging, hopeful Iranian, who told a remarkable story about coming to faith in Christ through reading the Bible. He found it very difficult to locate a Christian who could explain the faith to him; when he eventually found a church, the members were too afraid to let him in. Eventually he located another church, where he became a member leading a large cohort of young people.

Now Mehrdad, I am told, is in an Iranian prison because of his Christian faith. He was arrested about a year ago and imprisoned for some months. He was released, but his business was confiscated. Now he is imprisoned again. His wife, a poet whom I also met, is desperate.