Sunday, 26 September 2010

A trick

A young man, a student in one of our universities, was one day taking a walk with a professor, who was commonly called the students' friend, from his kindness to those who waited on his instructions.

As they went along, they saw lying in the path a pair of old shoes, which they supposed to belong to a poor man who was employed in a field close by, and who had nearly finished his day's work.

The student turned to the professor, saying: "Let us play the man a trick: we will hide his shoes, and conceal ourselves behind those bushes, and wait to see his perplexity when he cannot find them."

"My young friend," answered the professor, "we should never amuse ourselves at the expense of the poor. But you are rich, and may give yourself a much greater pleasure by means of the poor man. Put a coin into each shoe, and then we will hide ourselves and watch how the discovery affects him."

The student did so, and they both placed themselves behind the bushes close by.

The poor man soon finished his work, and came across the field to the path where he had left his coat and shoes. While putting on his coat he slipped his foot into one of his shoes; but feeling something hard, he stooped down to feel what it was, and found the coin.

Astonishment and wonder were seen upon his countenance. He gazed upon the coin, turned it round, and looked at it again and again. He then looked around him on all sides, but no person was to be seen. He now put the money into his pocket, and proceeded to put on the other shoe; but his surprise was doubled on finding the other coin.

His feelings overcame him; he fell upon his knees, looked up to heaven and uttered aloud a fervent thanksgiving, in which he spoke of his wife, sick and helpless, and his children without bread, whom the timely bounty, from some unknown hand, would save from perishing.

The student stood there deeply affected, and his eyes filled with tears. "Now," said the professor, "are you not much better pleased than if you had played your intended trick?"

The youth replied, "You have taught me a lesson which I will never forget. I feel now the truth of those words, which I never understood before: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"

-- Author Unknown

Sunday, 19 September 2010

A glimpse of the Pope

Today is the final day of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Britain. I was eager to catch a glimpse of him, so early this morning I drove to the Apostolic Nunciature, Wimbledon, where he was staying. He was due to leave the embassy of the Holy See at 8am and head to Birmingham for the final leg of his tour.

Apostolic Nunciature, Wimbledon

There was a moderate crowd of people already there when I arrived, waiting patiently. More people came as time passed. I saw the faces of people from many different parts of the world, and there wasn't a single protestor in sight - just the Catholic faithful.

Catholic faithful waiting to see the Pope

A small group of young ladies occasionally sang “We love you Benedict, we do. We love you Benedict, we do,” and “We love you Papa, we do. We love you Papa, we do.” Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh - Cardinal Keith O’Brien - and Archbishop of Westminster - Vincent Nichols - as well as a few other bishops arrived by car. Archbishop Vincent Nichols, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, was kind enough to say hello.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales

At 8.17am, slightly behind schedule, Pope Benedict finally emerged to the delight of the crowd. The Pope was dressed in his familiar white cassock, white zucchetto and red shoes. He raised his hands and greeted the faithful. There was a real buzz in the crowd who enthusiastically cheered, waved and sang even more.

Pope waving to people from his car

A couple of minutes later the Pope got into his car and was whisked away to Wimbledon Park, where he was due to travel by helicopter to Birmingham for the final leg of his tour. It's not often I get an opportunity to see the head of my church, so I was delighted. So were the other people who came to see him too.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

9/11 overshadowed by controversy

Nine years on an angry America, still reeling in the wake of the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression, mourned the victims of the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. This year the anniversary was overshadowed by two controversies: the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’, and Pastor Terry Jones’ threat to burn copies of the Koran. Fortunately Pastor Jones did not go ahead with his stunt and everybody breathed a sigh of relief. Emotions had been running very high in the Muslim world. There had been protests in a number of countries, and President Yudhoyono of Indonesia warned that the act could threaten “peace and international security.” General Petraeus warned the event would endanger the lives of American servicemen and women.

I heard on BBC Radio 4 how Muslims in America were increasingly feeling under siege. I can understand why they feel uncomfortable right now with the acrimonious debate about the Ground Zero Mosque still raging, but I question whether they are really ‘under siege’. Even after the 9/11 attacks American Muslims did not face any major acts of retribution. I think that will be the case this time too. Whatever their feelings of victimization, they are a far cry from the real discrimination many Christian minorities face in many Muslim majority countries.

James Corum, Dean of the Baltic Defence College in Estonia, writes in The Telegraph:
In many Islamic countries, Christian minorities – including the descendants of the earliest Christian communities in the Middle East – suffer under laws that make them second-class citizens. Not only do they have fewer legal rights, but the exercise of their faith is cruelly regulated by governments in the name of Sharia. In America, we criticise the plan to build a mosque near the 9/11 murder site even while agreeing that American law provides the clear right of Muslims to do such a thing. But in many Muslim nations no Christian can build or even repair a church without approval (usually not forthcoming) from a hostile government ministry.

Much worse, murder, kidnappings, forced conversions and attacks against Christians by radical Muslims are common in the Islamic world, especially in the Middle East and in Pakistan. Every year, hundreds of Christians are murdered by religious fanatics. Even when a Muslim government disapproves of such violence, officials and police often stand aside and allow the attacks rather than confront a politically powerful radical Islam.

In short, Christians are today living in one of the great eras of persecution. That persecution comes from a minority of Muslims – but an influential minority. Christians should use this day to educate the Western public about the suffering of fellow Christians, and to confront peacefully the rulers and populations of Muslim nations with their failure to maintain rights supposedly guaranteed by the UN Charter.
The suffering of Christian minorities in many Muslim majority countries is largely ignored by the mainstream media. Western leaders are even aware of the issue but stay silent on the matter lest they complicate relations with Muslim countries. The consequences of Pastor Jones' actions if he had gone ahead with them would have been extremely severe for Christians living in Muslim majority contexts. The Koran is regarded by Muslims as the literal word of God transmitted from heaven, so to destroy it is the ultimate sacrilege. I’m sure Christ would not have approved of deliberately offending and provoking others to the point of violence. But He probably would approve of Christians standing up for the basic human rights of their brothers and sisters in Christ.

It is surprising that the eccentric pastor of a very small Pentecostal church in Florida, known for previous public-seeking misadventures, managed to attract so much attention. Fuelled by the internet, 24 hour news and media sensationalism the story grew bigger and bigger until it became the main news of the day. Pastor Jones certainly didn’t speak for the vast majority of Christians or America. The event was condemned by all mainstream Christian churches, President Obama, Hillary Clinton as well as many ordinary Americans. Yet the media handed this man a megaphone to speak to the world. I’m sure there are some sections of the media that are secretly delighted a ‘Christian pastor’ could have made such a huge error of judgement. They have milked this story for it was worth.

Unfortunately I feel many Muslims throughout the world still feel Pastor Jones represents Christians and the west. This is what some of the more extreme elements within Islam want Muslims to believe. A sense of victimization and hurt only aids their agenda. For this the media must take some of the blame.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Persecution: Swaroopa's story

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)

In August 2008 the worst anti-Christian violence in the history of independent India broke out in the state of Orissa. More 50,000 people were forced to flee their homes. Many of their houses, churches and schools were destroyed, and more than 40 people were killed.

I would like to tell the true story of Swaroopa Naik (courtesy Barnabus Fund, a UK based charity working for persecuted Christians around the world).

Escape in the jungle

Swaroopa was brought up in a Christian home with her brother and two sisters. Her father, Sunil, is a farmer. On Monday 25 August 2008 the family was busy with the housework as usual while Swaroopa was having a bath. Suddenly she heard terrible noises outside, and running out of the house she saw her family rushing into the forest. Swaroopa ran too and was chased by the attackers, but she was quick enough to escape them.

Swaroopa eventually found her parents in the jungle. Taking shelter under a tree, they heard the dreadful sound of homes being destroyed and saw a plume of smoke rising into the sky. But Swaroopa says, "Both of my parents were consoled by the very thought that this tragic attack has been due to the fact that we believe in Jesus Christ and are Christians." "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven." (Matthew 5:10)

After a while the family heard the attackers coming along the path they themselves had taken, so they ran and hid themselves in the bush. The sunny weather changed to cloudy skies, and they prayed that the Lord would send rain. And then - a heavy downpour! The pursuers called off the chase and went back the way they came. Swaroopa and her parents praised God.

The Lord who provides

When the rain stopped the family went back to their village. There they found that their house had been reduced to a pile of ashes and debris. No one in the village would take them in for the night, so they returned to the jungle to shelter under the trees. Early next day they set off to escape the pursuing assailants.

In the evening Swaroopa and her family reached Phulbani, a large township, where they felt safe enough to stay for two weeks. After this they moved on to Cuttack, the largest city in Orissa, where they stayed with a family member.

After the anti-Christian violence had subsided, Swaroopa's parents were able to return to their village to visit what was left of their house. They learned from their pastor about a ministry (supported by Barnabus Fund) that offers vocational training to young people displaced from Orissa by the violence. This is designed to equip them to return to the region later, not only to live there, but also to make a positive contribution to the community and to witness for Christ.

Swaroopa obtained a college place to study nursing and midwifery and is about to complete her first year of training. She writes, "We thanked and rejoiced in the Lord for having miraculously saved our lives and now for providing me with an opportunity to become a nurse. The Lord is really 'Jehovah Jirah' (the Lord who provides)."

Final thoughts

Swaroopa’s story is both touching and uplifting. It demonstrates the reality of persecution that Christians often have to suffer, particularly in non-Western countries, simply for their faith. Despite their hardship, Swaroopa and her family did not renounce their faith but trusted in the Lord. Their faith was rewarded, for in their darkest hours they saw the Lord guiding them. They came out of the experience with their faith strengthened, not weakened.

Anti-Christian hatred is nothing new. From New Testament times to the present day Christians have had to suffer for bearing witness to Christ. Jesus warned his disciples that this would be the case, but those who persevered would be rewarded in heaven. We too must heed this message. Do not cower and renounce your faith, even if you are persecuted, but boldly witness to Christ. That way you show your fidelity and love of Christ, for which you will be rewarded.