Oscar Romero – an inspiration

Oscar Romero, pictured shortly before he was killed

Yesterday, Pope Francis presided over a ceremony in which Archbishop Oscar Romero was canonised, to great rejoicing from thousands of Salvadorans and other Latin Americans who already consider Romero a saint.

Canonisation does not mean much to most evangelicals, since we are an egalitarian group, who believe that we have free access to pray direct to God and don’t need the departed to intercede for us.  Moreover, we believe that we are all saints.  But we do have people we consider worthy of respect and emulation for their lives and character, though with few exceptions we prefer to keep these roles for Protestants rather than Roman Catholics.

San Romero, however, is one of these exceptions, whom we may laud for his courage in speaking out against extra-judicial oppression of priests and the poor in his country.  At a time when politics in El Salvador was heavily polarised between the left and the right, death squads would routinely attack, torture or murder priests, nuns and civilians who put themselves on the side of the poor, and in his regular radio broadcasts Romero would denounce the latest incidents, which would also be listed in the diocesan newspaper.  Reflecting later on the death of his close friend the priest Rutilio Grande, Romero observed: When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought, “If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path.”

These days El Salvador may have changed, but there are many of our fellow believers who need a Romero.  Recent crackdowns on independent churches in China have meant that millions of believers are unable to worship together in freedom.  Hindu nationalism threatens the lives of millions more in India.  And throughout the Middle East the remaining Christians who have not yet been displaced have no hope of a peaceful future.

Open Doors continues to advocate for the oppressed church through its World Watch List.  Let each of us stand up with Archbishop Romero to advocate for our brothers and sisters who are poor, marginalised and oppressed.  Support the work of Open Doors, engage with your MP, encourage local believers whom you know.  Let’s let our persecuted family know that we haven’t forgotten them.



A boy, a baker and the power of the Word of God

J O Fraser (courtesy www.omf.org)

The following story is adapted with permission from ‘Mountain Rain’ by Eileen Crossman.

In 1908 James O. Fraser set sail to China to serve with the China Inland Mission, now OMF International, and based himself in Yunnan province.  When he had enough language to begin sharing the gospel he started to talk to groups of people in the market places, on street corners or in tea shops.  He took with him copies of Mark’s Gospel and some tracts for those who could read and wanted to know more.

One day, during a visit to an area four days journey away, Fraser was in a crowded market.  He often used a little table for his booklets which he would sell cheaply or sometimes give away.  That day someone knocked into his table and the booklets fell, some into puddles, some trodden over by mules and some grabbed by people in the crowd.  A six year old boy quickly stuffed a copy of Mark’s Gospel down his shirt and disappeared into the crowd. The boy’s father, Moh, was a pastry cook who had sent him to sell his cakes in the market.  His son thought he might be interested to read the book and took it on the long journey back over the mountain trail where it “began a quiet revolution in that remote mountain home.”

Five years later, Fraser, on another of his many journeys to share the gospel in mountain towns and villages and while en-route to another destination, arrived worn out at nightfall in a small town. In his diary he records that he spent the next day “mostly in Bible reading and prayer, alone on the mountains.  Felt I needed it. Asked God to give a blessing in the evening – my first visit to the place.”

Heading back into the town he saw a group of performers setting up in the market place.  As they hadn’t started their show yet, Fraser got out his accordion and starting singing.  After a crowd gathered he shared the gospel with them.  Despite some opposition, about a hundred people listened late into the evening.

James closed by asking if anyone wanted to know more about Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world.  A man stepped forward saying he wanted to follow Jesus.  He said he had come to believe that He was the Son of God.  Inviting James back to his shop the man showed him “a small, well-read copy of Mark’s gospel.”  It was Moh.  He told James how his son had come home with it five years earlier. Moh had read the little book many times and was “stirred by the story” and had longed to learn more.

Fraser nurtured this new disciple whose testimony aroused a lot of curiosity and not a little persecution and who went on to point many to Christ in that region.  He recalled later that he “never knew a braver man in his witness for Christ.”

Fraser became instrumental in a wonderful work of God among the Lisu people whom he dedicated his life to bringing the gospel to.  With no written language, Fraser created a script and together with others worked on translating the Bible into Lisu.  I spoke recently with a mission worker serving in Yunnan who told me that today even local authorities say the Lisu are a Christian people group.  The church there has taken root since it was planted through the efforts of Fraser and others in the early and mid 20th century.

Hebrews 4:12 says that “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  God says of His word in Jeremiah 23:29 that it is ‘like fire…and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces.” John Stott wrote that ‘The Word of God will prove its divine origin by its divine power.  Let’s let it loose in the world!”

Recently I gave a MicroSD card loaded with the New Testament, evangelistic messages and some songs to a man I’ve been witnessing to here in South East Asia.  A friend told me about a woman living in the Middle East who has given loads of Mp3 players containing the Bible to shut-in maids.  I also just heard about a nominally Muslim man in central Europe given a Bible to read by a friend.  His wife, more religious, didn’t want him to read it, believing it would contaminate them so she kept hiding it from him.

However, every time she hid it she’d read a bit from it. One day she read Matthew 5:27-30 where it is written, “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28).  She was amazed and deeply struck that Jesus cares about women.  Her heart was opened to the gospel and she came to Christ.  She said she’d never heard of a God like that, who cares so much about women that He put this teaching in His holy book.  Now they are both committed Christians serving refugees.  Not a passage you would have expected to be key in someone coming to Jesus!

Whether it’s in print-form, through storytelling, audio, video or braille, we must continue to distribute and teach the Bible, so it can have its powerful impact on individuals and communities.  Bible translation is also still much needed with, according to Wycliffe Bible Translators, approximately 1.5 billion people without the Bible in their heart language. While there is a lot of needed and exciting work happening in world mission, none of it is more important than the communication of God’s Word by which people can discover Jesus and learn to live as His disciples.  What God says in the Bible can cause revolutions in hearts and homes, destroy the power of lies and deception, explain who we are and how to live and ultimately draw people to God Himself.  By all necessary means may we press on to ‘hold out the word of life’ (Philippians 2:16) so that more people may experience its divine, transforming power in this broken world.

Today’s guest blogger is Alex Hawke, a mission worker in southeast Asia. You can follow him on Twitter at @AlexGTHawke.

A real revolution!

By СССР – http://pravo.levonevsky.org/

This week marks the centenary of the communist revolution in Russia, a process that was supposed to bring liberation to millions of oppressed workers but also brought terror and oppression to millions of innocent bystanders, not only in Russia but across the globe as the Soviets exported their revolution to eastern Europe, southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.  While intelligentsia, bourgeoisie, merchants and managers all suffered purges, Christians have often been specifically targeted by communist regimes.  Possibly up to 20 million Christians died at the hands of the Soviet Union, and many millions more under other communist regimes.  Communist governments to this day continue to oppress Christians, particularly in North Korea.

Ever since Karl Marx commented in 1843 that “Religion… is the opium of the people”, communism has singled out Christianity for being an oppressor itself and keeping the working classes firmly entrenched at the bottom of the social ladder, and there may well be some truth in this.  For example, the whimsical hymn “All things bright and beautiful”, published in the revolutionary year of 1848 by Mrs C F Alexander, contains the lines:

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.

Hardly encouraging the proletariat to become upwardly mobile!  Founder of the Chinese Republic Sun Yat-Sen, himself a Christian, allegedly observed that the gospel contains enough dynamite to blow up all the existing social structures in Europe.  Yet somehow the Establishment of the church allied the gospel to the elites in society, when the initial first century believers were mainly slaves or the urban poor.  So over the centuries, Christianity switched sides, although there were many notable exceptions, particularly amongst the monastics (think St Francis of Assisi) and the non-conformists (Elizabeth Fry, Dr Barnardo, George Müller).

Yet until very recently, when elements in the church have attempted to embrace the restructuring of society so that the poor and marginalised begin to become empowered, they are usually lambasted as communists, like the liberation theologians of Latin America.  Hélder Pessoa Câmara, a Roman Catholic Archbishop in Brazil during the military governments of the 1960s-80s pointed out:

“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.”

It seems that for centuries, Christians have valued order, stability and power, and assuaged their consciences by donating to the poor.  A truly radical church would possibly make communism redundant: abolishing slavery, establishing economic equality and becoming a protector and advocate for the vulnerable and marginalised.

Today many thousands of mission workers throughout the world are trying to do just that – working as agricultural advisers, advocates for social justice, campaigning against homelessness, modern slavery and people trafficking, working in prisons and refugee camps.  They need more people to join them, to fund them and pray for them.  There is a huge need across the world which the church should be meeting.  Can you put your career on hold for a few years to go and help?  Or cancel your next holiday so you can donate some real money?  Give up an hour of television a week to pray for world mission?

In a sobering passage in Matthew 25, Jesus said to his followers:  “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”  Today, where do we have the opportunity to serve Jesus in one of his most ‘distressing disguises’?[1]

[1] Mother Theresa of Calcutta in Where There is Love, There is God

FYI – No Bamboo Spring?

Source: www.freeimages.com

In February, we considered the prospects for the Arab Spring, but almost as soon as pro-democracy demonstrations broke out from Morocco to Syria, the Chinese government moved quickly to nip any green bamboo shoots in the bud.

Since the infamous Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, the government of China has come to a tacit agreement with its burgeoning middle class: the government will deliver ever-increasing prosperity in exchange for domestic order.  And, by and large, this agreement has lasted.  As bicycles give way to BMWs on the streets of Beijing and Shanghai, demands for change have been few and far between.  The more the average Chinese citizen owns, the more he risks by protesting.  As long as the massive Chinese economy keeps powering ahead, the Communist Party seems secure.  So it has skilfully deprived any potential protest movement of many of the educated middle-class people who might be expected to co-ordinate and propel it.

But are the cracks beginning to appear?  Last month’s National Geographic Magazine reports that there are estimates (accurate figures are not published by the Chinese government!) of at least 100,000 strikes and demonstrations taking place each year.  Most of these are protests against low wages, poor working conditions, or land takeovers, but once people feel free enough to protest over economic issues, they are equally free to protest against a political system that disempowers them and causes their economic condition.  And despite the rising prosperity of China, there are still many millions of poor people who are not enjoying the benefits that the factory owners are experiencing.  That creates a potentially revolutionary situation, which could easily flare up into mass protests, as we have witnessed in Egypt and other countries.

This is a situation which will make the Chinese government very nervous.  Aware of its vulnerability, it has been quick to pre-empt any challenges.  While it is perhaps not surprising that China has cracked down on high-profile protesters like artist Ai Weiwei and Nobel prize-winning writer Liu Xiaobo to prevent them becoming leaders of a protest movement, what does this mean for the church in China?  Although the government has relaxed its opposition to the church in recent years (see our report in July last year) it still recognises that the church owes no specific loyalty to the government, and it has therefore taken steps to demonstrate that it is not going to tolerate the church becoming the nucleus of a protest movement.  In the last few months there has been a significant crackdown on unregistered churches, and church officials across the country have been detained.

One such target church is the high profile Shouwang  ‘house church’ in Beijing, which has about 1,000 members.  In April it was told to leave the premises it met in, and has subsequently been meeting in a park.  Its pastor has been under house arrest for nine weeks and many members have been arrested for praying in public.  Prior to the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre on 4th June, many church members were threatened by police or put under temporary house arrest to make sure they couldn’t demonstrate.  However there is no evidence that this church was planning demonstrations, although its persistence in meeting together is technically civil disobedience.

Another interesting development is that following a number of extremely positive articles about the church in China in the official state website China Daily in the last couple of years, the last article specifically about the Chinese church was published on 11th April in response to Shouwang church’s open-air meetings, and was a clearly political appeal to Christians to abide by the law and to stay away from open-air meetings.

It is abundantly clear that despite its efforts to show the world that it is positive towards the church, the Chinese government distrusts the revolutionary potential that it believes the church represents.  There could be more difficult times ahead for Chinese believers.

Please pray for the church in China, that it would:

  • continue to meet together without fear
  • have the faith to resist intimidation and not capitulate to threats
  • see God at work powerfully despite the challenges


FYI – Cape Town 2010

Last month the world went back to Cape Town for the second time this year, but this time not for football.  The third Lausanne Conference on World Evangelisation was being held there.  In a truly worldwide consultation, 4000 church leaders and representatives, from nearly 200 countries, were joined virtually by remote participants at 650 different venues across the globe where live streaming of the events was shown, and by over 100,000 individuals observing online.

John Oh embraces an Asian believer after she shared the story of her family’s struggles as Christians.

This was a marked contrast to the historic Edinburgh Convention which took place 100 years earlier, and which is being commemorated in this and several other missions conferences taking place in 2010.  On that occasion the delegates were overwhelmingly from northern Europe and North America, and no Roman Catholic or Orthodox delegates were invited.  The Cape Town conference, however, brought together people from diverse cultures and denominations, who brought colour and spectacle to the proceedings by dressing proudly in a variety of ethnic and ecclesiastical clothing.  This time round, over 50% of the delegates represented countries which would been considered largely unevangelised by the delegates in 1910.

One contingent sadly lacking was the Chinese church.  A constitutional commitment to global evangelisation was required from churches wishing to send delegates, and since the official Three Self Patriotic Movement does not have this, it was anticipated that China would be represented by leaders of various unregistered churches.  Sadly they were all prevented from leaving the country at the last minute.  The absence of this dynamic delegation representing one of the world’s largest Christian communities was deeply significant.

Another notable absence was former Archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu, who has recently retired from public life.  A tireless and prominent campaigner against apartheid, and subsequently a vocal advocate of forgiveness and reconciliation, he would have been a highly visible testament to the conference’s twin motifs of faithfulness to historic Christian truth and a call to radical action encapsulated in the conference’s theme: ‘God in Christ, reconciling the world to himself’ (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Nevertheless, many global leaders made significant contributions to the proceedings.  Billy Graham and John Stott, founders of the Lausanne Movement who are both now too old to travel, sent recorded greetings.  Other headline names led expositions of Ephesians but significantly many of the speakers were from Africa, South America and various parts of Asia, often representing areas not traditionally considered Christian.  It was encouraging to see the western world relinquishing its traditional dominance over such events, since it now represents so few Christians in comparison to the rest of the world.

Perhaps the most significant outcome from the conference is The Cape Town Commitment, a statement of faith and a call to action.  A draft of the first part, a declaration of belief crafted by evangelical theologians representing all the continents, is available at


The second part is due for publication later this year.  The aim of this document is to provide a firm evangelical commitment to truth and action to inspire the church globally in its mission.

Lloyd Estrada (Philippines) tells a Bible story.

After the second Lausanne conference in Manila in 1989, over 350 missional partnerships between different churches and agencies were started.  Syzygy hopes that Cape Town 2010 will give the global church the impetus and sense of urgency needed to finish the task of global evangelisation in this generation, which ironically was one of the objectives of the conference in Edinburgh one hundred years ago.  Let us pray that this generation achieves even more than that one did.

Story of the month – Chinese Government warms to Christians?

Chinese believers in an unregistered church (China Daily)

Several recent articles in the authoritative website China Daily have prompted observers to wonder if the Chinese government may be softening its traditionally tough stance against Christians.  The official government daily has published a number of positive articles about Christianity during the last six months and while it must be remembered that they may merely be part of a ‘charm offensive’ (particularly since none of the articles were published in the Chinese language version of the paper), they are published in an official government organ and will have been scrutinised by censors.

The most significant of these articles (25th December) concerned an official report for the government in which the Chinese Academy of Social Scientists (CASS) estimated that there are now over 70 million Chinese who are members of unregistered churches.  Add these numbers to the Catholic Church and the official Three Self Patriotic Movement church and this is the first time that there has been an official estimate that there are now over 100 million Christians in China.  In 1979, when the TSPM church was relaunched after the Cultural Revolution, there were only about one million.   One western commentator remarked that it is unthinkable that an article like this has slipped past the censors unnoticed, and therefore this must be an indication of a change of government policy.

Miao Christian choir (China Daily)

Another article (17th March) talks about how house churches are thriving in Beijing.  It states that there are now over 50,000 Christians in Beijing, and as the registered churches are often overcrowded, many people are joining smaller unregistered churches where they can connect more effectively.  The article even quotes Cao Zhongjian, an expert on religion in China at CASS, as saying “The authorities have a much more open attitude toward discussion and debate on house churches.”  This has led to freedom for the churches to acquire premises or rent permanent locations.  This is all a far cry from even a few years ago when reports of serious oppression of Chinese Christians were commonplace.

Other publications include a positive article about influential Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci, reference to a thriving church in Shanghai, a report about a village in Yunnan province where 80% of the villagers are Christians, and (amazingly) the testimony of how a young Beijing believer found Jesus after being given a Bible by a colleague.

Chinese choir (China Daily)