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I Have Decided to Follow Jesus! A devotion by Yves Blouin

Billy Graham Time

Last week several people shared stories related to Billy Graham and his evangelistic crusades.

 

My wife came upon this story about how the hymn “I have decided to follow Jesus” came into being:

https://pastorbradabley.wordpress.com/2016/05/15/the-incredible-story-behind-the-hymn-i-have-decided-to-follow-jesus/

In the 1800’s, a missionary from Wales who had endured severe persecution finally saw his first converts in a particularly brutal village in the Northern Indian province of Assam. A husband and wife, with their two children, professed faith in Christ and were baptized.

Assam and its surrounding provinces was located in one of the most oppressive forms of Hinduism — a place where the caste system was entrenched, and where headhunters ruled.

Their village leaders decided to make an example out of the husband. Arresting the family, they demanded that the father renounce Christ, or see his wife and children murdered.

When he refused, his two children were executed by archers. Given another chance to recant, the man again refused, and his wife was killed. Still refusing to recant, this husband and father was martyred.

Witnesses later told the story to the Welsh missionary. The reports said that when asked to recant or see his children murdered, the man said: “I have decided to follow Jesus, and there is no turning back.”

After seeing his children killed, he reportedly said, “The world can be behind me, but the cross is still before me.” And after seeing his wife pierced by the arrows, he said, “Though no one is ready to go with me, still I will follow Jesus.”

According to this missionary, when he returned to the village, a revival had broken out, and those who had murdered the first converts had since come to faith in Jesus themselves.

The Welsh man passed along these reports to the famous Indian evangelist Sandhu Sundar Singh.

So Singh took the martyr’s last words, and put them to traditional Indian music in order to make one of the first uniquely Indian hymns.

The song immediately became popular in Indian churches, and it remains a mainstay of worship music there to this day.

Eventually some of the American missionaries returned from India and they brought that song with them.

Finally, it ended up with Canadian song writer George Beverley Shea, and he made it a staple at the Billy Graham crusades.

 

Follow Jesus

 

I’m inspired by Christians martyred for Christ – the strength of their faith. Last week’s persecuted church was about Samiha Tawfiq Awad of Egypt who’s face had been severely damaged by an explosion at her church and her reaction was that of thankfulness to be alive so that she could reach out to her attackers and their families for Christ. My faith isn’t that strong.

Last night my family watched a movie called “I’m not ashamed” based on the Columbine massacre and how a teenage girl touched millions for Christ. We don’t have to be spiritual giants to make a difference in other people’s life for Christ – we just need to desire to serve him in whatever way Jesus leads us to.

Billy Graham, as great a man as he was, didn’t give elaborate theological discourses at his crusades but a simple message – the good news of our salvation through Christ. He left it up to the Holy Spirit to do the rest. His audience has been estimated in the billions. Our call may not be the same but just to be ready to give an answer for our hope to whomever will listen. 1 Peter 3:15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

When I go and pick up Bradyn (my grandson) at his home I will buzz his unit and he will hear my voice on the speakerphone.  By the time I get off from the elevator he is out of the door of his apartment and running down the hall, squealing, giggling and calling out Papa, Papa.  I would guess that annoys some of the other tenants as the hallways echo with the sound of his voice, but you can’t contain Bradyn’s excitement and it gives me great joy.  God calls us to Him.  There is no guarantee that we will respond.  The decision is ours.  If we do come to Him we will not be disappointed and God will be exuberant even more so than we are when our grandchildren run to us to give us a hug.  When we respond, is our excitement subdued because we don’t want to disturb the neighbours?  

child running to grandpa

Are we concerned about what will our friends and family think?  Are we too grown up to share our excitement with others?

God’s calling on our lives is both to turn to his son Jesus and to introduce others to Jesus.  The Holy Spirit does the rest – we’re not responsible for the outcome, just to be obedient in following Jesus and tell others of the joy and peace he can bring into their lives.

Sadhu Sundar Singh

By: Yves Blouin

 

 

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Open Doors’ annual list of countries where Christians face the worst persecution:

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Each year, Open Doors releases a list of the top 50 countries where Christians are facing the worst persecution because of their faith. The Open Doors World Watch List (WWL) is the only annual survey of religious liberty conditions of Christians around the world, and measures freedom in five key areas of life: private, family, community, national and church life, plus a sixth sphere measuring the degree of violence.

PERSECUTION RISES WORLDWIDE IN A LAWLESS YEAR 

The most oppressive regime in contemporary times, North Korea, tops this year’s Open Doors World Watch List for the 14th consecutive year. Eritrea and Pakistan rise to their highest levels, to #3 and #6 respectively, and lawless Libya also enters the top 10 for the first time ever. Islamic extremism constitutes the main persecuting force in thirty five of the top fifty countries, with Religious nationalism and Dictatorial paranoia also rising sharply. The degree of persecution of Christians was confirmed to be rising, with Open Doors’ researchers recording an average persecution increase of 2.6 points in this year’s Top 50 compared to last year.

The Open Doors World Watch List is published every January and lists the 50 countries worldwide where Christians experience the most persecution. Persecution is understood as any hostility experienced as a result of one’s identification with Christ. This can include hostile attitudes, words and actions towards Christians. Research methods and results have been independently audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom (IIRF).

In the reporting period (1 November 2014 – 31 October 2015) the Top Ten countries where Christians find it hardest to practice their faith are: North Korea (92 pts), Iraq (90 pts), Eritrea (89 pts), Afghanistan (88 pts), Syria (87 pts), Pakistan (87 pts), Somalia (87 pts), Sudan (84 pts), Iran (83 pts) and Libya (79 pts).

Eritrea and Pakistan – Two major risers in the Top Ten

Dubbed the “North Korea of Africa”, Eritrea ranks among the very worst countries in terms of freedom of religion, freedom of press, rule of law and other human rights records. Driving the persecution of Christians is first and foremost president Afewerki’s Dictatorial paranoia. Any Christian who dares to speak up in Eritrea and protest the treatment of Christians is jailed or arrested no matter what their status. The former Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Abune Antonius, has been under house arrest since 2007 for speaking out. According to a UNHCR report from November 2014, 22 per cent of all refugees reaching Italy by boat are Eritrean. “Eritrean Christians, even though they know that there is a very high probability of falling into the hands of traffickers and ruthless radical groups like the IS, are still desperate to escape from Eritrea”, one researcher confirmed.

The world’s second largest Muslim country, Pakistan has risen to #6 and is the only country getting the maximum score in the violence category in the World Watch List together with Nigeria. The level of pressure is high in all spheres of life and persecution does not come from the State as much as from radical Islamic groups. The reporting period started with the killing of a Christian couple, working in a brick kiln on 4 November 2014 by a furious mob and climaxed in a twin bomb attack on two churches in Lahore on 15 March 2015, leaving 25 dead and wounding dozens. This overt violence conceals the everyday abuse of Christian girls who are frequently abducted, raped, forced to marry and convert, and the country’s 3.8 million Christians feel increasingly under threat in their daily lives.

Newcomers in the Top 50 – Niger and Bahrain

The entry score for the Top 50 has risen by almost 5 points, which sends out a very worrying signal and shows that the World Watch List is really just a record of the tip of an iceberg. The WWL 2016 contains only two newcomers: Niger and Bahrain enter at #49 and #48 respectively. For Niger, the spread of Boko Haram into its territory has caused violence against and fear among Christians to rise sharply. In Bahrain, the sultan’s gradual introduction of Sharia law has already begun to seriously restrict the public witness of Christian faith in the country.

These two new entries have ousted Sri Lanka and Mauritania from the Top 50, which were outflanked this year by rises in persecution in other countries. Despite leaving the official listing, the situation for these countries has not improved. In Sri Lanka churches are still being attacked by local Buddhist communities, despite fresh hopes of protection for religious minorities being placed in the recently elected new government. Mauritania is one of only four official “Islamic Republics” in the world, and the influence of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Mauritania is growing. The monitoring of all Christian activity has continued but happily violence has been very low in the reporting period.

The Smash and Squeeze

The Open Doors World Watch List is unique not only as the instrument that measures the persecution of Christians annually, buts its methodology is designed to track how the exercise of the Christian faith gets squeezed in five distinct areas – private life, family life, community life, national life and church life, as well as covering violence such as rapes, killings and church burnings. Dr. Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, Director of Research at Open Doors International, explains why: “It is possible for persecution to be so intense in all areas of life that Christians fear to witness at all, and so you may find very low levels of violence as a result since incidents of persecution often result from acts of witness.”

The countries that show where this squeeze was most intensive were: Somalia, North Korea, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Maldives, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Syria. The highest levels of violence directed against Christians (in countries listed in WWL 2016) were in Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Myanmar, Central African Republic, Egypt, Mexico, Sudan and India.

Open Doors records show that worldwide there were well over 7,000 Christians killed for faith-related reasons in the reporting period. That is a rise of almost 3,000 in comparison to conservative figures from the WWL 2015 period. This is excluding North Korea, and partly Syria and Iraq, where accurate records do not exist. Statistics also show that more than 2,400 churches were attacked or damaged, which is over double the number for last year.

In Nigeria news of violence has been dominated by the brutality of the radical Islamic militants, Boko Haram. But as Frans Veerman, the Director of the WWL Unit explains, even without Boko Haram, “that would still leave the Hausa-Fulani Muslim herdsmen regularly committing atrocities against indigenous Christian farmers in the Middle Belt states. Out of the more than 4,000 Christians who lost their lives in attacks in Nigeria in the reporting period, 2,500 are attributed to Boko Haram and not less than 1,500 to the Hausa-Fulani herdsmen. At least 30,000 Christians have been displaced through the violence in Taraba State alone. These are the results of fact-finding on the ground but the researchers estimate that

they uncovered only 50% of the atrocities committed. This is looking like ethnic cleansing based on religious affiliation.”

Christians in conflict hotspots – Iraq, Yemen, Kenya

The conflict zones of the world are very often regions where Christians are especially vulnerable. Whilst the world media fixes its attention to the battles and bombings, in the background the Islamic State (IS) is radicalizing populations even in countries where it has no apparent presence. The Kurdish region of north Iraq (which has risen 4 points to #2) is currently acting as a safe haven for thousands of Christian refugees from Mosul and the Nineveh Plain. But even there, the government is ordering land to be sold to Muslim families in several predominantly Christian areas and towns. This “demographic reversal process” in many majority Christian areas is forcing Christians to live precariously in a minority situation – or leave. In Yemen (#11), which missed entering the Top 10 by just one point, Saudi Arabia and Iran are fighting a proxy war. Virtually all Western expatriates have fled the civil war, leaving just a few thousand brave Muslim Background Believers in the country. The Church is holding on by the skin of its teeth.

Another region with an increasingly radicalized Muslim population are the northern and coastal areas of Kenya, which has risen 5 points to #16. Attacks from al-Shabaab adherents killed 28 Christians on a bus from Mandera on 22 November 2014. 36 Christian quarry workers were killed on 2 December 2014, again in Mandera; 147 Christian university students in Garissa were killed on 2 April 2015, and 14 Christian quarry workers were killed in Mandera on 7 July 2015. Most of these were “execution-style” killings and Christians were targeted specifically by separating them from Muslims. It is to be feared that the situation for Christians will continue to deteriorate, especially as pressure in all spheres of life is high.

Central Asia – Rising persecution through surveillance of terror networks

Christians living in Central Asian states have seen a sharp deterioration in their religious freedom, especially as these governments increase their surveillance and control on all groups in society, often cynically citing a need to crack down on Islamist inspired terror. Uzbekistan is a perennial occupant of the top 20 (at #15) with Turkmenistan joining it at #19, and Tajikistan (at #31 moving up from #45) and Azerbaijan (at #34 from #46) constituting some of this year’s significant risers.

The goal – Supporting the people behind the figures

The Open Doors World Watch List is published annually as a tool 1) for media to raise awareness 2) for politicians to make informed decisions and 3) for churches around the world to support and pray for their brothers and sisters on the frontline. World maps displaying the spread of persecution against Christians and further detailed information on the situation in specific countries are available from all Open Doors offices.

For 60 years, Open Doors has worked to strengthen Christians in the world’s most oppressive and restrictive countries. The WWL has also been independently audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom to help make the information gathering and calculation process more transparent.

Access the World Watch Map Here

Please consider giving to this wonderful organization in order to help those that are persecuted. You can do so by clicking here.

You can also sign up for the new letter by clicking here.

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Pastors in India beaten and jailed simply for praying in their own homes

Evangelicals in India are calling on Christian leaders in the UK to pressure the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit this week to intervene to help persecuted Christians in India.

Christians are being beaten and killed in India and the influence of hardline Hindus has increased since Modi’s government was elected in summer last year, according to the charity Open Doors.

Vijesh Lall, secretary of the Freedom and Development Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, told Christian Today: “The situation has deteriorated in the north. It is not just Christians. It is other minorities and civil society being affected as well.”

He described one incident where Christian pastors were beaten and jailed simply for praying together in a private house.

“The Christians on the ground are fearful and have been for quite some time. People used to attack Christians if they evangelised on the street. Now Christians are not even safe if they are praying in their own homes.

“In one incident not long ago about 35 kilometres from Delhi, 13 pastors were gathered in the house of another pastor. They were praying. It was prayer meeting. There was no preaching or evangelising. They were attacked and beaten. They were taken to the police station where they were told: ‘This is a Hindu nation. Your kind of prayers are not allowed.’ They were released later that day after many hours in custody.”

He conceded that the Modi had on at least two different occasions said everyone in the country will have freedom of religion. “But nothing seems to be happening on the ground.”

Last year there were 147 anti-Christian incidents and already this year to the end of October there have been 130.

“I do not see a bright future unless the Prime Minister really does something. He’s there in your country now. Maybe people can try and talk to him about this,” he pleaded.

Of the population of 1.21 billion, about 2.3 per cent are Christian, between 25 million and 27 million.

Modi’s three-day visit to the UK has been marked by protests. Hundreds of angry demonstrators are protesting against Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been accused of creating “an atmosphere of religious intolerance and impunity” by religious freedom charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

The defeat of Modi’s party in the Bihar elections is however a game-changer. Christians and people of Indian heritage worldwide are angry that Modi is apparently allowing India’s great and historic reputation as a nation reputation where religious tolerance is practised to be tarnished by allowing those promoting the “to be Indian is to be Hindu” doctrine to range free.

A report earlier this year by the Evangelical Fellowship of India and the Alliance Defending Freedom, Hate and Targeted Violence Against Christians in India, detailed violence against Christians and found 54 per cent of attacks were in the form of threats, intimidation and coercion, often with the police looking on. Physical violence constituted a quarter of all cases and violence against Christian women, a trend that is increasing, was 11 per cent. Breaking of statues and the Cross, and other acts of desecration were recorded in about 8 per cent of cases.

Another report, 300 Days: Documenting Sangh Hate and Communal Violence Under the Violence under the Modi Regime, drafted by prominent Christian and Muslim Human Rights activists and scholars, also tells a dark story.

In the first 300 days of Prime Minister Modi’s term, which began which began on May 26, 2014, the authors documented 600 reported cases of religious intolerance directed towards religious minorities. Of these, 149 were against Christians. There were 43 deaths from these acts of violence.

The states experiencing the most incidents of reported violence are Chhattisgarh with 28 incidents, followed closely by neighbouring Madhya Pradesh with 26, Uttar Pradesh with 18 and Telengana, a new state carved out of Andhra Pradesh, with 15 incidents.

One example of the kind of public discourse Christians and Muslims are concerned about came from Mohan Bhagwat, the head of the powerful Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. Speaking at the 50th Anniversary of foundation of its religious wing, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bhagwat said: “Hindutva is the identity of India and it has the capacity to swallow other identities. We just need to restore those capacities.” He has also stated that India is a Hindu state and “citizens of Hindustan should be known as Hindus”.

 

Original Article Here

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