Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Why do we forget persecuted believers? By Ronji Tanielu

In April 2012, we had a BBQ at our place so family and friends could witness my haircutting. I had grown my hair long from about 2001 to 2012. My hair had been corn-rowed, afro’d out, straightened, braided, worn out to scare little children and was beginning to naturally (and nastily) dreadlock, all over the last 12 years. I was glad it was going. 

My wife and I decided to use the haircutting as a fundraising for two of the ministries that we support – International Needs Network (www.internationalneeds.org.nz) who my wife works part-time for, and Voice of the Martyrs (www.persecution.co.nz). We raised about $1,500 that day and were able to split the money between these ministries to support their mission projects overseas.

My friend Graham heads Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) ministry in New Zealand and he called me a few months ago to share something. He said that he had taken the whole money we had given to VOM from my haircutting and given it to a Pastor and his wife in Laos. This couple had taken the money and started a Bible school in their area and since the school started, fourteen young men had become believers and were attending this school. Graham also gave this Laotian couple some photos of my haircutting so they could see who and where the gift came from. The couple put these photos on their church wall and pray for us daily. I buzzed out knowing these believers all the way in Laos were praying for some dodgy-looking believers from South Auckland that they might never meet this side of Heaven!

How often do we as believers in the Western and so-called developed world think of, pray for, and support believers in the persecuted churches across the globe? I couldn’t name that couple in Laos because it is illegal to be a Christian in Laos because it is a Communist nation. Their identities are secret because their lives would be in danger if Laotian authorities found out!

Did you know that churches are regularly attacked and burned throughout Uganda, Sri Lanka, Iran, Pakistan and Kenya? How about the thousands of believers that are falsely imprisoned, tortured and killed for their faith across the globe every year? Or what about the hundreds of Christians in Muslim nations who are being forced to convert back to the Muslim faith or face punishment?

Most churches in the developed world have very few connections with persecuted believers in developing nations. We’ll build church buildings the size of Westfield Malls that have the latest soundboards, lighting and smoke machines. But we have very few prayer meetings and fundraising events for these believers.

Most believers themselves have little understanding of the persecution that Christians face and experience around the world. Human rights abuses are plastered on our TV screens but we ignore the senseless violence happening to our own brother and sister in Christ?! 

What then is true social justice? Does true social justice extend to only specific groups of marginalised people in a society?

It seems to me that when Christians talk about social justice, these discussions are dominated with talk about social justice for the poor or social justice regarding marriage and gender equality. We talk about issues of structural and social inequality and religious tolerance. We discuss the basic human rights that people should have and the need for more liberal thinking.

Yet speaking about justice for Christians, particularly the most marginalised and persecuted Christians, is almost a dirty or taboo thing to talk about. For some reason, social justice is externally focussed and does not always consider the injustices happening to Christians themselves. This makes me wonder what true social justice really is.



Friday, July 19, 2013

Lessons from a stranger - By Stacy Superfine

I got this picture in an email from a friend this morning, it not only put a smile on my face, but it reminded me that we are in fact all here for a reason by the one who loves us and created us each in a specific way.

I had an interesting conversation with a complete stranger recently, she wasn’t what society would consider well off, but she was full of spirit. The more she spoke to me, the more I realised that although she didn’t have much, she still had everything she needed. I felt her pain as she spoke about the hard life she’s had, yet she didn’t once complain. She spoke with such enthusiasm and spirit that it just shined through her. It was so refreshing to witness. Although her actions resembled those of a child- due to her disability, her actual age told me otherwise. This disability didn’t stop her in any way. She told me of her accomplishments; of the little things that made her so happy.

It was in this moment that I was reminded that we can’t ignore people in these situations, those going through tough times in a variety of contexts that are so easy to see around us these days. As I write this, Switchfoot’s “Dare you to move” plays in the background which I think fits quite perfectly. In a way I felt that I was being dared to move, to act out what we have been taught. It’s not enough to listen to the stories, or have faith. We need to put this faith into action and see the amazing results.

We’ve each been given so much to make use of, this conversation showed me how lucky each of us are. The stranger I spoke to didn’t care much for the latest trends, not because she wasn’t able to, but because she was well aware that she could still achieve so much with the life she was so grateful she still had.

As our conversation came to a close, it was clear to see that just a simple chat could make the world of difference. How much more of a difference would speaking up on behalf of those suffering, donating towards a good cause, reaching out and helping alleviate the various injustices that are ever so present these days make? It’s not great actions that make the difference, it’s the attitude that we do it in.

The Salvation Army ‘Just Action’ conference on the 18-19 September this year is a great event which aims to ‘rebuild justice together’. Here’s a great opportunity to learn different ways and be inspired to make our society more just and fair for all, to come together and hear real life stories of those who have been living out their faith and turning it into action.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Consume - by Sarah Dillon


Smell the town. Streets lined with glamour and glitz, lights and fa├žade that demand my attention: pick me, look here, newer, brighter, better, more.

The tendrils of the products reach, grope for my ankles as I pass; they know I am already ensnared by my own desire.

Consume, consume, the visceral shrieks permeate from Wall Street through the worldwide web and all over my city.

Step by step, lamb to the slaughter
[but the butcher is me],
taking part in the mechanical transaction
[hand-in-pocket-and-over-counter],
just
another
cog
in the machine that spins to promote some over all.

Need:
the whisper travels from somewhere deep in my gut to coil itself around my neck and end up somewhere,

most likely embedded in the room in my brain I am least likely to access.

Greed:

I stuff myself. Food and coffee and every delectable morsel imaginable, crumbs on my plate, falling to the floor, sweeping from the table along with my knowing guilt at tasting another’s blood.

I wield the plastic - the rights - the adrenaline-pumping power!

But with great power comes great responsibility, Hollywood [that paragon of virtue!] tells us,

and so I am to choose carefully, consult my heart, even…picking my way amongst the death and the life and the gray in-betweens.

I know this isn’t directly political, a work of remarkable profundity, or even great literary merit! But I’d like to add some questions to ponder:
- what’s my attitude towards consumption?
- what have I purchased today – need or want?
- how have my recent purchases impacted the world around me?

- could a change in my spending habits positively impact others?

 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Voting with a conscience - By Justin Latif


Last night I came across this quote from Robert Kennedy’s fateful presidential campaign of 1968, found in Thurston Clarke’s wonderfully written book, The Last Campaign ( 2008).

[For] too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values for the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product, now is over 800 millon billion dollars a year, but the GNP – if we should judge America by that – counts air pollution and cigarette advertising. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of redwoods and the loss of our natural wonders in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm, the cost of a nucluear warhead and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yes the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit or our courage… it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.

This excerpt leaped at me for a number of reasons on a chilly Wednesday evening.
 
Firstly, it saddens me to think that there are so few politicians today who would have the skills, intellect and courage to exhort such common sense values in an electoral campaign. Kennedy was obviously a man before his time, and tragically he never got to enact his principles in office, as he was murdered less than four months after this address.

Secondly as the conscience vote of the Sky City Convention centre looms, I’d like to think our politicians could capture some of these sentiments. I realise this decision will be framed as one that’s good for our economy, but it would be nice if our nation’s leaders could look beyond measures like GNP and GDP in their calculations. What if we could build institutions without splintering families and miring addicts into more debt. What if we looked past a few hundred jobs to the thousands of lives which may well be damaged by the increase of these callous pokie macines. Perhaps this is an over-simplified, overly optimistic perspective. Perhaps profits and pleasure for some, are more important than the harm to those who are deemed by many as our modern day lepers. Perhaps we look down our noses at these unfortunates and say ‘they reap what they sow’ and wash our hands of their plight.

But I'd like to hope that today we would see our leaders cast off this cynical individualism and regain a principled politics - one that votes authentically with a conscience.
 
The saying goes that we get the government we deserve, and if as expected the vote goes in favour of creating special exemptions for the Sky City Casino, then I hope this would motivate more of us to demand a higher standard from our elected representatives. The optimism of Robert Kennedy's campaign does not just have to be a nice footnote from history, instead it can be a pointer that it is possible to lead with values and make decisions based on principles not just profits. And while such an approach may consign us to be a little poorer as a nation, I think it would make us a little happier as a people.

By the office admin guy
 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Can justice lead to restoration? By Bruce Millar

When one of my children comes to me with a grievance against the other I want justice to lead to the restoration of their relationship. In our house the offender is often given time to cool down and think about what they have done before they offer an apology (time out).

I saw this played out in the life of Paul the apostle. Paul (who was known as Saul before he became a Christian) had been trying to stamp out the early church by killing and imprisoning its followers. The account in the book of Acts chapter nine, describes how Jesus (post-resurrection) speaks audibly to Paul, blinding him with a bright light and asking him why he was fighting against him. Paul's blindness lasted for three days, which gave him time to think about what Jesus had said and what he had been doing.

Justice in many people's eyes should have been a lightning strike rather than a bright light! (Somehow I grew up with the notion that God was into lightning strikes. . . Not sure where that came from!)

Now that Jesus had Paul in 'time out' he called a local Christian, Annanias, to come and pray for him and restore his sight! 

I would imagine Annanias could have feared for his life but maybe he wasn't keen on restoration; maybe he wanted Paul to pay for what he had done? He was perplexed enough to double check with Jesus that he really knew what Paul had been up to! Jesus acknowledged Ananias's concerns by saying that through becoming a Christian Paul would indeed suffer much but still told him to restore Paul! Anannias did go; prayed for Paul and even managed to call him brother! Wow!

I think God is into restoration not lightning strikes. There are still consequences for our actions but He still seeks to restore us and others into relationship with Him. This account of Paul illustrates to me God's heart to restore, not wipe us out. There are still curly 'what if?' questions such as what if people don't want to be restored?

Lightning strikes are so much cleaner and easier, arent they? Restoration can be painful and messy... but that's life isnt it? I'm certainly glad God chose (and chooses) to restore me!