Last week, Pakistan’s High Court rejected the appeal of a Christian woman sentenced to death for the crime of blasphemy. Unless the Supreme Court intervenes, Asia Bibi will be put to death.
After half a dozen postponements and cancellations, Asia Bibi’s appeal was heard on Oct. 16 in the Lahore High Court. The defense took most of 35-minute hearing to argue their side, stating that plaintiffs waited six days before filing a complaint against the Christian woman. They argued that this showed conspiracy and intentional targeting. Her lawyers also pointed out that the man who issued the complaint did not even witness the alleged blasphemous statement. Twenty-five mullahs watched the proceedings from inside the courtroom. Outside, some 2,000 mullahs gathered in an effort to pressure the court into uphold the death sentence.
After the judges deliberated for nearly an hour, they denied her appeal. Asia Bibi’s lawyers now have 30 days to appeal to the Supreme Court, Pakistan’s highest court.
Asia Bibi was arrested in June 2009 after a heated argument with two of her co-workers. Asia worked for a Muslim-landowner as did many of the women in her village. As one of three Christian families in her village, after being pressured to convert to Islam during the spat, she defended her faith. “Our Christ is the true prophet of God,” she reportedly told the women, “and yours is not true.”
For this crime, in November 2010, she was sentenced to death. It took nearly four years before the courts would listen to her appeal. Having her appeal heard before the Supreme Court will likely take just as long. VOM sources say she could expect to wait months or even years.
Some people are just naturally bold.
They seem to step up when others slide back. They are willing to speak up when others quiet down.
God has given each of us a unique style and personality. Sometimes it’s tempting to use our lack of natural “giftedness” as a reason not to follow through on what God has asked us to do.
He gives us opportunities every day to shine for Him!
A Filipina sister that I met recently was confronted with an intense trial. She lives in an area of the Philippines where she is clearly a minority. She has experienced the lonely feeling of being one of the very few who are following Jesus in this predominantly Muslim area.
Not long ago, she rushed to the hospital to find that her twin granddaughters had been born prematurely. Their future was bleak. Would they survive at all? What would life be like for them if they faced a future of severe struggle and pain?
She told me that she prayed hard for the tiny girls, as any grandmother would. Then she told me that she began to understand that God called her to that hospital room at that specific time.
Then something interesting happened. As she prayed for her premature granddaughters, others began to take notice. People around her were watching closely.
At first, it may have been a bit awkward, but she pressed on. She said that she was not ashamed to pray in front of the doctors and nurses, even though they were Muslims.
As they days went on, several of the medical staff members were touched by her testimony. Then, she felt God leading her to step out even further.
She began going from bed to bed in the hospital ward asking other patients if she could pray with them. It wasn’t easy, or comfortable, but she was able to witness God at work in spectacular ways in that hospital ward!
Here are three ways that we can step up when we want to slide back:
1. EMBRACE OPPORUNITIES TO BE “STRETCHED.” Boldness is like a muscle that can be developed. The more you step out, the easier it becomes. Our faith is based on “walking by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Be willing to embrace the awkwardness, to move out of your comfort zone and watch what God will do!
2. JOYFULLY LOOK FOR “DIVINE APPOINTMENTS.” I made a new friend at a VOM Regional Conference in California earlier this year. As she scurried around helping set up for the conference, I noticed that she responded to requests for help with, “It’s my joy!” She was overloaded with joy and accepted people, places and opportunities as gifts from the Lord. Our Father cultivates deep, abiding joy within us when we accept His appointments.
3. REST IN THE HOLY SPIRIT’S PROVISION. Mark 13:10-11 is one of the most encouraging Scriptures in my life: “And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations. But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” We can rest. We have the calm confidence of knowing that God will provide everything that we need in that precise moment of need. Even the very words that we speak!
YOUR TURN: What are some ways that God has helped you step up when you wanted to slide back? How can you connect with other sisters and brothers who are looking for ways to boldly stand with those who are persecuted? Click here to see if there is a VOM Regional Conference coming to your area.
Dr. Jason Peters serves in VOM’s International Ministries department, traveling frequently to meet with our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. He has ministered in 35 countries, as diverse as Cuba, India, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Burma, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia and Nigeria. Before joining VOM’s team, Jason was a faculty member of the US Air Force Chaplain Corps College, where he directed Crisis and Trauma training. Jason, his wife, Kimberly, and their five children are actively engaged in standing with their persecuted sisters and brothers.
Listen to the latest episode of VOM Radio below. This week we hear first-hand from a gospel worker evangelizing inside Iran in spite of the risks there. We also hear from a couple that decided to come and volunteer their service at VOM.
Learn more about the launch of VOMRadio here.
The Voice of the Martyrs is actively supporting Christians in Iran who are sharing the gospel with their neighbors, coworkers, friends and family. In addition, we partner with broadcasting ministries sending the gospel message into Iran through television and other means. The government of Iran is clearly not happy with this ministry work.
According to Mohabat News, Ali Younesi, President Rouhani's Adviser on Ethnic and Religious Minorities' Affairs, said, "Everyone is free to practice his/her own faith, but no one has the right to promote his/her faith."
Mr. Younesi said in an interview with Revolutionary Guards-backed Fars News Agency, "We do not allow any individual or group to invite people to sects or religions other than Islam. We consider this dangerous for people and therefore illegal. They can be busy with their own business. However, it is not acceptable, for instance, if a Christian invites a Muslim to Christianity."
Ali Younesi, former Minister of Intelligence in President Khatami's administration, stressed that evangelical activities are illegal in Iran and all such activities must be stopped.
This is the most direct public statement from an official in President Rouhani's cabinet against evangelical activities.
Mohabat reports that the Iranian government actively promotes Islam in other countries where Christianity is the dominant religion, but does not want the reverse to happen inside its own borders.
Please pray for Christians in Iran who face pressure and persecution when they step outside of their government’s mandate not to share their faith. Click here to watch a video testimony of one woman who came to faith.
For decades, The Voice of the Martyrs has launched balloons printed with the Scriptures into North Korea. In recent years we’ve even been able to attach entire New Testaments to balloons, and to track their flight and delivery via GPS signals. In this way we know we have landed New Testaments into the capital region of Pyongyang.
While many American Christians are fascinated by this creative gospel distribution, the North Korean government is NOT a fan. Last week North Korean soldiers fired on balloons launched by human rights activists in South Korea, and South Korean troops returned fire across the border.
The balloons launched on that particular day were NOT a part of VOM’s balloon project; reportedly they contained pro-democracy messages and other items rather than Scriptures or Christian materials.
VOM contacts working in South Korea said that the reason for gunfire in this case is that the North Koreans took particular exception to launching balloons on Friday, which was the anniversary of the founding of North Korea’s “Workers Party,” which rules the country. This is a national holiday in North Korea.
North Korea—famous for its bluster in talking about its enemies—called the launching of the leaflet balloons “little short of a declaration of war,” and promised that “the provokers will be wholly accountable for it.”
South Korea’s government says it cannot stop the balloon launches because of its constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech.
Please continue to pray for VOM efforts to launch balloons into North Korea, and especially for the safety of our contacts who are undertaking this work.
A web site went live this week that represents a significant new endeavor for The Voice of the Martyrs in answering our call to be a voice for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world.
VOMRadio.net represents the beginning of what will become a half hour weekly radio show featuring the testimonies of our Christian family around the world, and stories from VOM workers who travel into hostile and restricted nations and meet first-hand with Christians who serve and suffer in those places.
The show is launching online and as a podcast this week, and in 2015 VOM will pursue broadcast opportunities with Christian radio stations around the US.
Todd Nettleton will host the weekly show. As VOM’s media spokesperson, Todd has done more than 2,000 media interviews over the past 16 years and interviewed hundreds of Christians who have faced persecution.
“I have a LOT to learn about hosting a weekly show,” Nettleton said. “There is a lot more to think about in terms of timing and pacing when you’re producing the show than there is when you’re just answering questions. But I’m very excited about this opportunity and about letting listeners hear first-hand from our persecuted family.”
The goal is to give listeners in-depth insights about serving Christ in difficult places and under intense persecution. How can someone hang on to—and even increase—their faith in an Iranian prison? What is it like for a VOM worker to sit down with a wife whose husband is in jail in China? What do you say to her? Why does the North Korean government work so hard to stamp out Christianity? These are a few topics addressed in the first four episodes of VOM Radio, available online now.
Nettleton says the show is a work in progress. “As we start out we are trying different things. Some shows will focus on one nation or one Christian the whole 30 minutes; others will mix it up a bit with shorter interviews and maybe talk about two or three countries.”
“We really want feedback from listeners,” said Nettleton. “What do you like about what we’ve done, and what suggestions do you have about what you’d like to hear?”
There are multiple ways to provide feedback, all listed on www.VOMRadio.net.
But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.” Acts 4:19
In A.D. 286, the 6,666 men of the Theban Legion were ordered by Emperor Maximus to march to Gaul and to assist him against the rebels of Burgundy. Every member of this division was a devout Christian.
After traveling a difficult trail through the Alps, Maximus demanded a general sacrifice before going into battle. Every man of the Theban Legion refused to dishonor God. The emperor was angered by their insubordination, so he sought to persuade them by having every tenth man slain with the sword. Yet the legionnaires were no less resolute in their stand. The emperor tried to change their position by having his soldiers go back through the ranks again, killing every tenth. These men died with great dignity and poise as if in battle. But this second massacre was no more effective than the first.
If anything, the remaining soldiers were more determined than ever to resist after the slaughter of their companions. Not desiring to die, and at the direction of their officers, they drew up an article of allegiance to the emperor. They declared that their faith and dedication to God only made them more loyal to the emperor. They had hoped this would appease the emperor, but it had the opposite effect. Enraged, he ordered the rest of the legion from Thebias slain.
Insubordination is the highest military offense. Yet, the Theban Legion had no other choice, for to disobey God would have been an even greater crime. Humans rule with authority. However, only God grants authority. The Bible gives examples of how God’s people chose to overrule human authority when it conflicted with God’s command. Consider the Hebrew midwives and also Moses’ parents who disobeyed Pharaoh’s orders. Consider Daniel and his companions who refused to serve foreign gods. Their examples and the examples of these brave soldiers remind us we have a duty to recognize human authority. Yet we must respect God’s authority most of all. When human orders are in direct conflict with God’s commands, you must consider the risk of insubordination.
If you read the Bible in English, you owe a debt of gratitude to William Tyndale. This week marked the anniversary of Tyndale’s execution at the stake for the “crime” of translating the Bible into English:
The “father of the English Bible” was apparently born in a hamlet near the Welsh border about 1490. He arrived at Oxford with a gift for languages and began studying the writings of the greatest linguist in the world, Erasmus. He poured over Erasmus’ Greek New Testament and other writings, and he soon began lecturing from them. The Bible was still virtually unavailable in English, and an idea formed in William Tyndale’s mind.
He began proclaiming the value of pure Scripture and of the need to translate it. He was threatened and opposed. “We are better to be without God’s laws than the pope’s,” one man said, voice rising. Tyndale’s reply is among the most famous in church history: “If God spares me, ere many years I will cause a boy that drives the plow to know more of the Scriptures than you do.”
He approached the Bishop of London for help in rendering the Bible into English, but was rebuffed. Tyndale nevertheless began working on his project. Finding his life in danger, he fled to the Continent. There he continued translating, smuggling copies of Matthew and Mark back into London. Spies combed Europe for him, and Tyndale played a cloak and dagger game, hiding and running, translating and smuggling. By 1525 complete copies of the New Testament were being secretly read in England.
On May 21, 1535 Tyndale was betrayed and seized. He languished in a miserable prison cell. His witness there converted the jailer and his family. On October 6, 1536 he was tied to the stake outside of Brussels, strangled, and burned. He was 42.
Tyndale’s final words were, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” That prayer had already been answered, for King Henry VIII had approved of a new English Bible by Miles Coverdale, Tyndale’s friend. Henry never realized that Coverdale’s Bible was nearly 70 percent Tyndale’s work. In 1604 James I approved a new translation of the Bible into English, and Tyndale’s work became the basis of 90 percent of the King James Version.
Story excerpted from “On This Day in Christian History: 365 Amazing and Inspiring Stories about Saints, Martyrs and Heroes” by Robert J. Morgan. Disclosure: VOM is part of the Amazon Associates program. If you click on the links in this post and purchase the book from Amazon, VOM will receive a very small percentage of your purchase as a referral fee.
Today marks the final day of the trip to Iraq, and the final segment filmed inside that nation.
Please feel free to post comments or questions below after watching the video.
If you'd like to give to support VOM's work providing aid to displaced Christians, you can do so online at www.I-am-N.com.
Todd Nettleton has served with The Voice of the Martyrs for 16 years. He’s travelled to more than 20 restricted and hostile nations and interviewed hundreds of believers who’ve faced persecution for their Christian witness. As VOM’s principle media spokesperson, Todd has done more than 2,000 interviews with media outlets ranging from Moody Radio to the BBC and Los Angeles Times. He is the principle author of Restricted Nations: North Korea and was part of the writing team for four other VOM books.