Saturday, August 30, 2014

Some good news from refugee chaos

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been forced to flee their homes in fear for their lives, many with only the clothes they were wearing. Many families are living in the open air, exposed to soaring heat, often without food and drink.

An estimated 1.2 million have been displaced this year. For many, it was not the first time.

Fortunately, the Kurdistan region of Iraq has not closed its borders to refugees. Officials say at least 45,000 Iraqis have fled there to escape Islamic State fighters. Iraqi Kurdistan is already home to more than 300,000 displaced Iraqis, along with 220,000 Syrian refugees. 

A local worker described one church hall where 200 families were lined wall to wall. Two babies were said to have been born there. A church in Irbil was helping 260 families, 216 of them staying in the church courtyard.

Many local Christians spend most of their days distributing aid and sharing Christ with the residents of refugee camps. “In a crisis like this, we are experiencing a time of revival and awakening everywhere,” reported a ministry leader. “God is not just moving people geographically; He is moving in their hearts as well.”

Norya is a Syrian refugee who lost her husband and five children when a rocket fired by Syrian government forces toward the terrorists landed on her house. She found Christ in a refugee camp. "She now sings hymns with us at our church group meetings.”

In the Kurdish town of Akra, some of the displaced are living in a former prison. Each bathroom is shared by approximately 10 families.

It was in a tented refugee camp in that town that workers came across Abu Mustafa, a 50-year-old man whose wife had been killed. He has three girls with cerebral atrophy. He blamed God for his tragic situation, but allowed the workers to read the Bible to him and pray for him.

“This is the first time I feel relief,” he told the workers. “For three years, I couldn’t smile or feel safe, but now I feel differently. I have peace in my heart. Please pray for my girls. I believe Jesus can heal them and heal me from the inside.” He calls the workers daily to ask when they will visit him again.

The Red Cross is appealing for funds to buy tents, blankets and food. Open Doors is appealing for funds to provide relief.

Remember those in need.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Plenty of blame, but who has the answer?

So proud are the Islamic State’s leaders of their acts of barbarism that they broadcast them for the world to see on Twitter and YouTube. "In one propaganda video, they show hundreds of victims being trucked to an execution site, where they are filmed pleading for their lives before being marched toward open pits and shot one by one. Islamic State militants recently tweeted a photo of a decapitated head with this message: 'This is our ball. It is made of skin #WorldCup.'"
The Islamic State "runs camps where it indoctrinates children to believe that all non-Muslims are sub-human, 'apostates' and 'infidels' who should be exterminated. Vice News recently interviewed children undergoing such indoctrination by the Islamic State. One young boy looks into the camera and says 'In the name of God my name is Daoud and I am 14 years old. I’d like to join the Islamic State and to kill with them, because they fight infidels and apostates.' Another declares: 'We promise you car bombs and explosives. . . I swear to God, we will divide America in two.'
 "Some would like to believe that the Islamic State’s offensive in Syria and Iraq is nothing more than 'a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing,' in the words of Neville Chamberlain. In fact, the Islamic State’s leaders have a messianic vision of building a totalitarian Islamic empire encompassing all current and former Muslim lands, stretching from Europe to North Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. They may never see that vision realized, but they can wreak an awful lot of death and destruction trying.

 "Their 'caliph,' Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, recently warned: 'Our last message is to the Americans: Soon we will be in direct confrontation, and the sons of Islam have prepared for such a day. So watch, for we are with you, watching.' They are rapidly accumulating the recruits and resources to follow through on this threat. The Islamic State is actively establishing cells outside Iraq and Syria, including in Europe. And according to scholars at the Rand Corporation, it 'currently brings in more than $1 million a day in revenue and is now the richest terrorist group on the planet. . . A conservative calculation suggests that [the Islamic State] may generate a surplus of $100 million to $200 million this year.'

"To put this in perspective, al-Qaeda spent about $500,000 to carry out the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"The worst part is that all of this could have been prevented. Just a few years ago, the Islamic State (then al-Qaeda in Iraq) was a spent force, defeated both militarily and ideologically thanks to the 2007 US surge, and the Sunni masses who rose up to join the United States in driving them out. Then President Obama’s complete withdrawal of US forces in 2011 took the boot off of the terrorists’ necks. And, as Hillary Clinton recently pointed out, Obama’s 'failure' to act in Syria 'left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.'

"Now, after standing by and allowing the Islamic State to establish control in an area the size of Belgium, Obama has finally launched limited strikes - but only to prevent the Islamic State from overrunning US diplomatic facilities in northern Iraq (for fear of another Benghazi), massacring Yazidis and controlling the Mosul Dam. Obama insists that 'there’s no American military solution' to the rise of the Islamic State and that 'it’s time to turn the page on more than a decade in which so much of our foreign policy was focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.'

 "Obama may be tired of war, as were Hitler’s enemies. But the Islamic State is not tired of war. It has been explicit about its intentions. The lessons of history are clear. The free world ignores such barbarity at its peril."

Thiessen doesn't offer a solution. Obama's air strikes are limited. David Cameron doesn't appear to have a coherent strategy.

So what is to be done with militant Islam?

Monday, August 25, 2014

From shadow of death to freedom

In the most desolate circumstances, God works.

Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh were born into Muslim families in Iran. Both had a desire to know God. Both were converted to Christ in their teens, one after a vision of Jesus; the other by reading a copy of Luke's Gospel. 

They met while studying in Turkey. Studies over, they decided to return to Iran. Their people needed to hear of the love of Jesus.

Together they handed out - illegally - 20,000 New Testaments and started two house churches. They saw miracles as God protected them. Then one day they were arrested.

After days of interrogation, they were moved to the notorious Evin Prison in Teheran. They were charged with apostasy, blasphemy and anti-government activity. They were promised they would be executed by hanging - but they were told if they converted to Islam they would be released immediately. They refused.

The authorities' promise was not carried out. Eventually, they were released. How that came about is a remarkable story.

You can hear their testimonies on video here. They have written a book. Captive in Iran, about their experiences. You can read the first chapter here.

Take advantage of the opportunity. Your faith will be strengthened as you hear the stories of these brave young women.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Religious freedom and a secular Britain

The picture is of the flag of the new Islamist State. I don't know what its designers had in mind, but it's not black by accident. There are reports coming out of Iraq of rapes, beheadings and crucifixions. There are reports of joint suicides after women being raped. There are reports of women and children being buried alive.

Both Barack Obama and David Cameron did little when 200,000 Christians were displaced by IS (Islamist State, formerly ISIS) fighters. It was as though Christians didn't really matter. It was only when some 40,000 Yezidis were trapped on a mountain that they began to take action.

David Cameron said the Government will redouble its efforts to prevent Britons from travelling to join the 500 Britons said to be already with the world's best armed and fastest growing terrorist group. He said Islamist militants could bring terror to the streets of Britain unless urgent action were taken.

He said the terrorists have "murderous intent" and Britain must use its "military prowess" to stop them coming here. Britain had "no choice but to rise to the challenge," but he ruled out a war in Iraq. Britain is not going to get involved in another Iraq war.

Tim Montgomerie highlighted the problem in the Times yesterday.

"June’s mass persecution of Iraqi Christians in Mosul hardly moved any head of government. Barack Obama only acted when the ancient Yazidi sect was threatened with extinction. That, however, may have been only a pretext. The real trigger for action may have been US strategic interests in Arbil. Yet at least America acted. At least Germany and France are offering asylum to Iraqi Christians. Britain, with its proud heritage of providing refuge for those fleeing for their lives, has been almost comatose. . . 

"We’ve learnt in recent days that government inaction has brought some of the Church of England’s most senior clerics to the edge of despair. . . 

"I sent a round of texts to government contacts yesterday, asking whether the intervention of church leaders would spur action. Some replies left me profoundly depressed: “We can’t get bogged down in a another conflict in Iraq so close to an election.” “The public oppose granting large numbers of Iraqis asylum.” “Intervention could be a huge distraction from domestic concerns.” I did get one or two replies of high principle but most were soaked in the language of electoral calculation. I hope the Church of England has begun to realise that religious freedom is not a priority for this government or, for that matter, the opposition. . .

"Britain is becoming one of the most secular countries on earth. Growing hostility to faith schools is of a different order to what we see in the Middle East, but common to the secular mindset is a blindness to the importance of religious faith to people. It begins by wanting to push religion to the corners of the public square and then beyond it. . . 

"I hope the Baines letter [a letter to the Government from the Rt Rev Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds] might be the moment when Church realises that, for all their worthy rhetoric at Christmas and Easter, British politicians will not fight for religious freedom. I hope its underlying mood was not, as one newspaper suggested, bitterness but resolve. Resolve to ensure the Christian voice is heard again in politics. Because religious freedom is a foundational freedom of conscience. If the political class isn’t willing to defend it, other freedoms are at risk in the years ahead."

What should we do in light of what's happening in Syria and Iraq? Pray, act and give, to help people in desperate need. Excuses might be found for election-minded politicians not to be interested, but there is no excuse for Christians to be unconcerned.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Suddenly, the wind blew. . .

One of the most remarkable things about Israel's war with Hamas has been the low number of casualties from the thousands of rockets fired into Israel from Gaza.

Many have exploded in unpopulated areas. Israel's Iron Dome missile defence system - developed in Israel and said to have been one of the most effective missile defence systems the world has seen -  has dealt with up to 90 per cent of the rest. Even so. . .

The commander of an Iron Dome battery protecting Tel Aviv tells a remarkable story.

The battery calculated the trajectory of an incoming missile from Gaza. (It is possible to tell where a missile will land to within 200 metres.) It was going to hit the Arieli Towers, the Kirya (Israel's equivalent of the Pentagon) or a central Tel Aviv railway station. Hundreds could have died.

The Iron Dome fired its first interceptor. It missed. It fired a second. It missed. "This is very rare. I was in shock. At this point we had just four seconds until the missile lands. We had already notified emergency services to converge on the target location and warned of a mass-casualty incident.

"Suddenly, Iron Dome (which calculates wind speeds, among other things) shows a major wind coming from the east, a strong wind that. . . sends the missile into the sea. We were all stunned. I stood up and shouted 'There is a God!'

"I witnessed this miracle with my own eyes. It was not told or reported to me. I saw the hand of God send this missile into the sea."

He will not allow your foot to be moved;
  He who keeps you will not slumber.

Behold, he who keeps Israel
  Shall neither slumber nor sleep.
                                         Psa 121:3, 4

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Journalists intimidated by Hamas

People have asked me "What's happening with Israel?" I have replied that no one has greater respect for human life than Israel. Hamas are terrorists, and have no respect for human life.

Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of a founding member of Hamas, who converted to Christ and now lives in the United States, put it well. "Hamas does not care about the lives of Palestinians," he said. "It does not care about the lives of Israelis, or Americans. They do not care about their own lives. They consider dying for their ideology a way of worship."

I was ashamed when I saw an ITV newscaster shout at an Israeli spokesman. "You were told 17 times that that was a UN school," he said. "Why did you fire at it?" The man could only say they had not yet had time to complete an investigation, but that the Israel Defence Forces did not target civilians. It later turned out that the carnage at the Shati refugee camp was caused by a Hamas rocket which had gone adrift. Hamas rushed in, removed the debris, and blamed Israel.

Hamas have placed rocket launchers in the heart of populated areas. They have fired rockets from hospitals and schools. Foreign journalists in Gaza have been closely monitored by Hamas. I thought this was common knowledge. Apparently not. But the news is beginning to leak out.

 Alan Johnson,a professor of democratic theory and practice, senior research fellow at the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre and senior research associate at the Foreign Policy Centre, writes in the Telegraph. He says a long Hamas record of shutting down news bureaux, arresting reporters and cameramen, confiscating equipment and beating journalists has already been documented by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Foreign Press Association, he says, has now issued a protest about "blatant, incessant, forceful and unorthodox" intimidation of journalists in the Gaza Strip by Hamas. "In several cases," it says, "foreign reporters working in Gaza have been harassed, threatened or questioned over stories." Hamas was "trying to put in place a vetting procedure."

I would invite you to read the article for yourself. You can see it here.

A Hamas Ministry of Interior video directed: "Anyone killed or martyred is to be called a civilian from Gaza or Palestine, before we talk about his status in jihad or his military rank. . . always add 'innocent civilian' or 'innocent citizen' in your description of those killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza."

Indian television broadcaster Sreenivasan Jain wrote - after leaving Gaza - how Hamas placed civilians at risk by firing rockets "deep from the heart of civilian zones." How often, he asked, did they not report such things for fear of reprisals against them?

A Spanish journalist asked how television reporting never showed Hamas people, only civilians, mainly women and children, said "It's very simple. We did see Hamas people there launching rockets. . . but if we ever dare pointing our camera on them they would simply shoot at us and kill us."

French-Palestinian journalist Rudjaa Abou Dugga was forced to leave Gaza immediately, without his papers. RT correspondent Harry Fear was told to leave Gaza after tweeting that Hamas fired rockets into Israel from near his hotel.

In his article, Johnson quotes section 11.4.1 of the BBC guidelines on accuracy and impartiality: "We should normally say if our reports are censored or monitored or if we withhold information, and explain, wherever possible, the rules under which we are operating."

"Journalists from India, America, Norway, Italy, Spain, Australia, Canada and elsewhere," he says, "are complaining. Will we now hear from the Brits?"

I am waiting to see. But I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Mr Pickles takes the helm

After the resignation of Baroness Warsi as faith minister, Prime Minister David Cameron has handed her role to Eric Pickles, who will fill the faith brief in addition to his job as Communities Secretary.

A couple of years ago, after the National Secular Society obtained a High Court decision banning councils having prayers to open council meetings, Mr Pickles fast-tracked laws to override the decision. "The Government recognises and respects the role that faith communities play in our society," he said.

He complained in a speech last year: "In recent years long-standing British liberties of freedom of religion have been undermined by the intolerance of aggressive secularism."

And in April this year he told the Conservative Forum: "I've stopped an attempt by militant atheists to ban councils having prayers at the start of meetings if they wish. Heaven forbid. We're a Christian nation. We have an established church. Get over it. And don't impose your politically correct intolerance on others."

He explained: "The Government has backed British values. And we've stopped Whitehall appeasing extremism of any sort. Be it the EDL, be it extreme Islamists or be it thuggish far-left, they're all as bad as each other."

Says the New Statesman: "Eric Pickles's appointment as Faith Minister is bad news for secularists."

And in a blog post about the appointment, Stephen Evans, campaign manager for the National Secular Society, asks: "Rather than a 'minister for faith,' perhaps we need a minister for freedom of belief?"

Critics complain that Baroness Warsi produced nothing but words. So will Eric Pickles do a better job as faith minister?

Time will tell.

But if his appointment causes the secular humanists to draw in their horns a little, that can't be a bad thing, can it?

Friday, August 08, 2014

Hundreds of thousands in humanitarian crisis

ISIS fighters are butchering their way across Iraq. Hundreds of thousands have fled, and are stranded without food and water. Many have already died in what looks to become an unprecedented humanitarian disaster.

Some 200,000 Iraqi Christians are reported to have fled from ISIS militants, who took control of Christian towns and villages in the Nineveh region this week. A number of towns are reported to have been completely emptied of their Christian populations. Many have nowhere to go and are stranded in streets and open fields.

At least 40,000 members of the Yezidi minority community are stranded on a mountain without food or water. Many have already died. Water, food and blankets are desperately needed.

The vicar of Baghdad, Canon Andrew White, says his organisation is seeking to help everybody, irrespective of belief. "People have nothing," he says. "We have had people's heads chopped off. We are having people convert. We are even having children slaughtered and cut in half."

You can see a video of Canon White here. You  can see an impassioned appeal by a Yezidi member of the Iraqi Parliament here.

You can send funds to Canon White's organisation here, or you can contribute to

John Robb, chairman of the International Prayer Council, has appealed for five minutes of prayer in services on Sunday, August 10 and Sunday, August 17, and a day of prayer and fasting on Wednesday, August 13. The e-mail containing his appeal quotes Isa 64:1 - 4:

"Oh, that you would rend the heavens!

"That you would come down! . . ."

Thursday, August 07, 2014

A glorious hope

Man has been here a long time, but he doesn't improve much. Violence and lawlessness are on every hand. Daily newscasts are a litany of murder and mayhem.

It can't go on for ever. We are living in the days when God Himself will call time.

The first thing that will happen is that Christ is going to take His church - all those who know Him, love Him and serve Him - out of the earth. It might sound unbelievable, but it's true.

Look it up yourself in the Bible, for instance in 1 Thess 4:15 - 18:

For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.

Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

Therefore comfort one another with these words.

Can you believe it?

Are you ready?

Monday, August 04, 2014

The photograph he daren't show

The vicar of Baghdad, Canon Andrew White, writes in a post on his blog dated today:

"You know I love to show photos but the photo I was sent today was the most awful I have ever seen. A family of 8 all shot through the face lying in a pool of blood with their Bible open on the couch. They would not convert it cost them there life. I thought of asking if anybody wanted to see the picture but it is just too awful to show to anybody. This is Iraq today. The only hope and consolation is that all these dear people are now all with Yesua in Glory."

After a few prayer requests.he adds:

"Very Bad News. Baghdad Airport Closed. (2nd August)

"We have just had terrible news that Baghdad International Airport has been shut down because of security risks. Without it we cannot go North to do the relief work or even leave the country. Please pray that we can get out.

"Baghdad Airport open but no RJ flights (3rd August)

"Baghdad International Airport is open the main airline Jordanian Airways is not flying in or out of Iraq. So we are stuck here. We got one flight to Erbil on Iraqi Air that was all they had so she will go to to take the relief money North."

Yesterday a number of English bishops were pressing the British Government to offer asylum to Christians persecuted in Iraq.

Said the Right Rev Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds:

"We have a tradition of offering sanctuary to people who are oppressed, and it's part of the Christian heritage of this country and the law we have established that puts an obligation on us. We also have an obligation to at least raise with the Government the possibility that we should be offering sanctuary to Christians in Iraq who have been effectively expelled under the threat of death.

"The Government cannot remain silent and you cannot just issue words - you've got to put something behind that. If we can't offer sanctuary to these people, who will? Not doing so would be tantamount to the betrayal of our moral and historical obligations."

France agreed last Monday to grant asylum to Christians driven from Mosul.

A petition on behalf of Christians in Iraq can be signed here. Donations for their relief can be sent here.

Friday, August 01, 2014

A war with no winners

With more than 60 Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza - nobody places higher value on the lives of its citizens than Israel - it is significant that a majority of the Israeli public wants the war in Gaza to continue. The prospect of rockets continuing to fall and armed terrorists appearing from hidden tunnels to kidnap women and children is apparently not an acceptable alternative.

With its pictures of broken, bleeding children, Hamas is beginning to win the propaganda war. There is no question that Hamas is using women and children as human shields. "Palestinian blood that is spilled is precious," said one Palestinian official, "but the goals for which this blood is spilled are even more precious."

It has now been proven that a number of tragedies - like that in a school playground in Shati refugee camp, where a number of children died - were caused by Hamas rockets fired at Israel which went adrift. Hamas rushed in, cleared the debris, and blamed Israel, leaving Israeli spokesmen to be shouted down by Western newscasters.

Hamas rockets have now been found hidden in three UN schools, as well as houses and mosques. Pictures of Israel shelling schools and mosques do not endear Israel to the public. Few people realise that the walls of fire rising from them come not from Israeli missiles, but from exploding rockets in the buildings.

This is a war in which there will be no winners. Israel may quieten Hamas for a while, but they will have worse to contend with in the future.