Abedini…sentenced earlier this year to eight years in the nortorious Evin prison…
What if… you were arrested by the government on charges related to the way you live your Christian life? We have heard before the comment, “If you were charged with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” In the United States the evidence might only require that you were seen in a church somewhere that suffices. But what if you were charged with how intensely you live your Christian life? The level of evidence required has shifted!
Could these charges be proven against you and your Christian faith: Disturbing Public Order, Evangelizing, Threatening National Security, and Engaging in Internet Activity that Threatens the Government? You may recall how the Jews, in an oratory against Paul and his ministry team, stirred up the crowd that they had “turned the world upside down!” What a great compliment!
Five Christians in Iran are now on trial for their lives and those are the charges against them. Likely, they will be convicted. Likely, they will get, at the minimum, very lengthy prison sentences. Personally, any length of a sentence in any jail would be difficult, but a long one in an Iranian jail, as a Christian? No thanks. I’ll pass. It’s almost as if I just heard some reader say, ‘Shame on you! You should be honored to go to jail for Christ!’ I believe I would go to jail for Him and I would count it an honor, but even Christ, Himself, said to His Father, ‘if possible, may this cup pass from me…’ Just because it’s an honor, we don’t have to enjoy the prospect of it!
The five have already been in jail since October without a trial. They had been in a prayer meeting in a house church when it was raided by authorities.[i] Those who understand the workings of the Iranian government report that the arrests of those seen as dissidents are increasing as the time for elections draw closer. They also report that Christians and others who choose any religion other than orthodox Shia Islam are being targeted by the government. Early this year American (from Idaho) Pastor Saeed Abedini, after being held in Iran for months before being sentenced earlier this year to eight years in the ‘notorious Evin prison that is an extremely violent place. Abedini had been arrested and released in 2005 upon promising to not evangelize in Iran again. This past summer he traveled to Iran to help build a secular orphanage. Obviously made aware of his travel, upon arriving in Iran, he was immediately taken off a bus and incarcerated. According to resources, anyone who converts from Islam to Christianity is seen as ‘waging war against Islam’[ii] which is punishable by death.
The following article/posting is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of First Baptist Church of Louisville, the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism or the American Association of Christian Counselors.
Intelligence sources indicate that current posturing by Serbia’s president, Boris Tadic concerning Serbia’s application for EU status may be more than a political folk dance. With much of the EU in a serious economic recession, including some in or teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, the wisdom of bringing in another financially fluctuating and politically challenging country is questioned. Perhaps the biggest question on each side of the equation is ‘Why?’
Why would the EU powers want to bring in a country that is divided racially (religiously) into two countries. The one being Kosovo, a country that Belgrade refuses to acknowledge its existence and is already a trouble spot for NATO Peacekeepers along the Kosovo northern border. Northern Kosovo is 90+ percent Muslim. Ethnic Serbs living in this area have clashed with NATO peacekeepers in and around the small city of Mitrovica. It was never expected that the Kosovo battle for independence would be easy. Although the handwriting is on the wall (or perhaps the bridge) in northern Kosovo, Serbs with an emboldened perseverance refuse to relinquish control even in the face of international directives to the opposite. It is, however, Tadic’s desire to join the EU that may be the carrot needed to pull those Serbs north across the river and help them put down roots there.
Experts believe that the EU is more concerned with two objectives regarding Serbia; more so than whether or not they actually get membership status. The first is to eliminate the threat of Serbia coming under Russian control. It is my consideration that they must tighten the EU’s southeastern control, particularly with Greece in default. Turkey is becoming more and more anti-western and the Bosphorus and Dardanelles Straits are extremely critical. Even landlocked Serbia will play a crucial role if she becomes aligned with Russia rather than the EU. Bulgaria may be considered pro-democracy now, but if Serbia and Turkey put the squeeze on, the pressure may be too much. Access from the Black Sea, the Marmara Sea and the Aegean will become an extremely valuable chess piece and with Iran’s pressure at the Strait of Hormuz between the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea the access to Russia’s underbelly will become a queen capturing move for whoever has it.
The second objective is to show strength. With the faltering economies of certain EU countries, the Union needs to send a message to the membership and the world that it has not died but continues to live on. Tadic has tried to stay with a plan of modernization through the parliamentary democracy system but he has received an outcry of complaints from his own party for seemingly too light a hand on Kosovo and letting it slip away. However, a growing economy, a blossoming middle class standard of living, and a much improved GDP have helped Tadic maintain control even when there are Kosovo concerns.
There are plans for Serbian parliamentary elections to be held in districts within Kosovo which will absolutely create more havoc between the two countries. It will also lessen Serbia’s chance of being able to enter the EU by 2020. The EU has made it clear that relations with the new country must be settled before the EU application process can go forward. As early as just a couple of months ago, Serbian delegates were boycotting meetings that included their Kosovar peers. There are some who believe that this will be the impasse that will forever keep Serbia from the EU. The scars are fresh and the underlying wounds remain tender.
In May of 2006, Tadic signed a law on religion that relegated evangelical churches to a position in which they were no longer understood to be Christian churches but rather “factions” which was a p.c. way to say cult. Forced to pay property taxes and no longer able to receive any recognition from the state; evangelical churches were beginning to be pushed toward illegal status. All of the movement toward a Serbian Orthodox state church will continue unless there is a definitive push toward a more broadly accepted definition of Christianity. In the last six years, the fundamental church has grown as individual believers share their faith. Recent large scale evangelical events have gone on unhindered by the state but not promoted or encouraged by the state, such as in a reduction in property taxes etc.
Tadic has been very reluctant to aggressively go after war criminals from the genocidal assaults on Muslims in the mid-1990’s in Bosnia-Herzegovina and under the rule of the dictatorship of Slobodan Milosevic. Some speculate that there are those high in the political body that prefer those in power spend less time seeking out the war criminals and more time increasing space between ethnic groups. The EU however will require that there be more than lip service given to locating and prosecuting those responsible for war time atrocities.
The western church must seek out and come alongside those evangelicals involved in church planting to help in whatever ways are currently possible. The only way in which such a partnership can expect to last long, beyond whatever the length of the current political regime, is to have an indigenous church planting movement not dependent on foreign funding or personnel. Regardless of the outreach that might be accomplished by some foreign ministry group with lots of personnel supported by plenty of funding; the post-event follow-up, the day to day church planting and personal evangelism and discipleship must be able to continue long after the foreigners have gone on to another land that needs to be conquered for Christ. Sadly, local ministries held together through prayer and the grit of an indigenous pastor who began the work with probably just his own family often sees these groups as a panacea to the hard fought daily battles for survival of the gospel story.
Then comes the western money, perhaps some notoriety, a feeling of doing something important and there he is… more funds than ever, churches in the west and elsewhere wait for word from him to how they can help next. Both, most likely, began with good intentions and a real desire to see someone saved, a church planted. But growing an indigenous church, particularly in places like the Balkans, requires individual relationships that are very slow to build. Sometimes relationship building can go on for years and even then no fruit. Sometimes there is a blossom and circumstances, perhaps the convert’s family puts on the pressure; the next thing you know, your new believer is gone. Even worse, he stays and hurls accusations against you and you are heartbroken. It is so much easier to put in a lot of money, do an “event” then spread the word to the west at how magnificent it was and go on to the next event. Maybe even circle back again in a few months or so and do another event.
Slow and steady, one heart at a time, one relationship at a time building trust and depending on the Holy Spirit to give the increase. Creating a ministry that, should the missionary or indigenous pastor die, be jailed, or be deported the work continues. You didn’t prop the whole work up with money from the west that if it goes, so does the ministry. Sure, you’re probably just meeting in a believer’s home, maybe even rotating so you don’t get caught and someone else jailed. No fancy robes are used and it is probably by bus or walking that you get from here to there. You cannot travel as fast or as far but somehow, in that circle that you can reach; the Holy Spirit begins to move among the people and they reach out, the circle gets bigger and bigger.
What a tangled mess, huh? The politicians and the trouble makers, the Christians in the East and in the West it all gets so tangled. What we really need is one person who really loves Christ who finds someone near them that needs to know Jesus. The Christian builds a friendship and the Holy Spirit intervenes, soon a new believer is born. Then, the cycle repeats itself. No use of NATO forces or huge outreach events. There are no pleas for more and more money but those in the difficult circumstances who have a little extra, start giving to those who need it. The little group of Christians finds that they are really blessed when they help each other out. No major funding drives or political intrigue. Simple, indigenous and Holy Spirit led. Just like the commercial for the little girl’s hair spray… ‘No More Tangles. ’ Does that mean we don’t plan and missionaries don’t go out, across cultures to help and learn, love and share? No, of course not, but it does mean we depend on the Spirit not the bank account. We tangle less and touch more. We share more and we sponsor less. We continue to love, pray, and trust.