OPEN DOORS PREDICTS THE END OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN THE WEST
One of the creators of an annual global report about Christian persecution warns that countries such as Australia might soon be included on it for the first time. “I’m very concerned about the current trend in the Western world,” Wybo Nicolai told Eternity newspaper during his recent visit to Australia. Nicolai works with Open Doors’ Field Leadership team, and he helped create the World Watch List in 1991. Measuring the factors behind persecution as well as the individual freedom of Christians within particular countries, the list has become an annual summary of the worst places on earth to be a Christian. “I fear that we are at the brink of losing freedom of religion in this part of the world. I am not optimistic about what is going on.” “This could be the last decade where we are still enjoying full freedom of religion” he said
Nicolai alluded to conflict and controversies in Western world societies, from street evangelism to abortion, which have surrounded the sharing of Christian beliefs and views. He could see Australia, or other comparable countries, becoming part of the World Watch List during the next decade. “If I look to developments in Europe, I would not be surprised if a country like the UK, France, maybe Sweden, could be in the list in ten years from now.” However, Nicolai believed “we should not be too concerned about that.” He pointed to predictions Jesus made, recorded near the end of the Bible’s book of Matthew. “When Jesus got the question from his disciples about what will it look like when the ‘End of Times’ come, he gives a wonderful explanation in Matthew 24. He says that this kingdom of God has spread to the ends of the earth, all nations have been reached, and you will be hated by all nations.”
Having worked on the World Watch List each year for almost three decades, Nicolai has documented how Jesus’s prediction has come true. Since 2005, for example, there has been a significant increase in the amount and severity of Christian persecution, as Christianity has spread to all parts of the globe. The rise in radical Islam has been a key factor behind increased Christian persecution, as well as a “radical Hindu” movement in India that Nicolai said “the world has overlooked.” “The Christian church has grown tremendously in the past decade in India but, unfortunately, there are many, many incidents against the church. But the world is not aware.” Having seen first-hand how Christians can be oppressed or attacked for their faith, Nicolai encouraged Christians in Australia to seize the opportunity they still have to share the good news of Jesus.
“It has been luxury that we have had freedom of religion for a couple of centuries in Australia and we should be thankful to the Lord that we have had the joy of so much freedom for such a long time. Now, we should make good use of the time we still have. “So, I think we should speak out in Australia, in Europe, to defend our rights but most of all we should speak out on what is most important in our Christian faith. We have a message for the world, even though part of the world doesn’t like the message.” The World Watch List helps to determine where Open Doors puts resources to support persecuted Christians. But what can everyday people do with the annual report? Nicolai said Open Doors does not expect the World Watch List to become a political tool or ignite a social movement. Instead, it can inspire the powerful action that persecuted Christians would most like taken for them.
“The No. 1 request we get from leaders under persecution is ‘Can you pray for us?’ This is what I have been hearing for the past 30 years, from my first trip to Poland in 1995 until a few weeks ago when I was in Iraq. It’s always the same request; it is the top priority of the persecuted church.” “For us, the World Watch List has been a tremendous tool in pointing out the worst places on earth and challenging Christians in the free world – in Australia, in Europe, in other parts of the world – to please pray for your brothers and sisters who are being persecuted. This is what they are facing.”
On Sunday 5 November 2017, Open Doors is asking groups and churches across the world to unite in prayer for the persecuted church. We want to see God strengthen His church in the most dangerous countries on the planet. Our prayer is to see those who are being persecuted supported, and to see nations transformed for Christ from the inside out. Open Doors is inviting Churches across Australia to commit 5, 10 or 30 minutes in their services on Sunday 5th November to pray for the persecuted church?
The indigenous peoples of Papua (formerly Irian Jaya), the eastern-most province of Indonesia, are ethnically Melanesian and overwhelmingly Christian. Indonesia invaded the former Dutch colony in 1962. Then in 1969, the UN, the UK and the USA rubber stamped the sham ‘Act of Free Choice’ (known by the indigenous Papuans as the ‘Act of No Choice’!) which transferred sovereignty of resource-rich ‘West Irian’ to Indonesia. Today, after decades of mass migration of Javanese Muslims, Papua has been thoroughly ‘Javanised’ and Islamised. It has also been thoroughly militarised. What is more, because Indonesian security forces are now heavily invested in the region, they have an economic interest in remaining there. Gross and systematic human rights abuses are endemic, including arbitrary arrest, torture, rape, and the trafficking of Papuan children who are taken to Java for forced Islamisation.
The province is closed to reporters and indigenous Papuans are banned from talking to outsiders. Last month exiled Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda presented a petition to the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation in New York, where the UN General Assembly was in session. The petition,- said to contain some 1.8 million signatures of West Papuans in Indonesia,- demands an internationally supervised free vote on independence, along with the appointment of a UN representative to investigate reports of human rights abuses by the Indonesian security forces. Defying Jakarta’s ban, Papuans conducted the petition in secret, signing at great personal risk, smuggling it throughout the region and ultimately out of the country. According to Benny Wenda, 57 people were arrested and a further 54 tortured between April and June as the petition was being circulated.
As a prelude to the petition’s arrival, Prime Ministers Manasseh Sogavare of Solomon Islands and Charlot Salwai of Vanuatu addressed the UN General Assembly. They accused the UN of ‘turning a deaf ear’ to human rights abuses in Papua, called for an official investigation and insisted the UN support the Papuans’ legal right to self-determination. According to Benny Wenda, the UN’s Special Committee on Decolonisation officially acknowledged acceptance and receipt of the petition. Not only does the Indonesian government reject this, it is disputing the veracity of the petition, deeming it a ‘hoax’ and a ‘political stunt’. Meanwhile the committee’s chair, Rafael Ramirez (Venezuela), claims not to have received the petition at all. Rejecting reports of the petition as fake news, Ramirez clarified: ‘West Papua is not on the agenda… Indonesia is a very good friend of ours.’
West Papua specialist from the University of Sydney, Dr Jason MacLeod, has examined the petition and believes it is both genuine and a fair and accurate representation of the will of the indigenous Papuans ‘who genuinely feel that they are facing a slow-motion genocide’. Of course the Indonesian government and Indonesian military will never willingly relinquish control of resource-rich Papua. Indeed, the Indonesian military will be furious. The Indonesian government is currently building the Trans-Papua Highway so it will open up the Central Highlands to ‘development’. Unless they get strong international support, the indigenous Melanesian Christians of Papua could see their situation get a lot worse yet. Pray Specifically That God Will:
* draw all Papuans to prayer; may they put their faith in God – not in ‘man’ and not in ‘the world’. And may the living God, who hears and answers prayer, intervene on their behalf. ‘Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think’ (from Ephesians 3: 20 ESV)
* fill the Papuan Church and community leaders with wisdom and understanding so they will lead the people well in line with the will and purposes of the Lord.
* restrain evil and angry hands bent on retaliation; may He protect and preserve His precious people. Lord have mercy! Pray for the Church in Papua, using Psalm 27
AFTER THE LAS VEGAS SHOOTING CITY FAR MORE OPEN TO THE GOSPEL
Pastor Chris Marlin and his wife, Katherine, moved to Las Vegas three years ago to serve a church called Grace City. Marlin calls Vegas a “city of transplants” that oftentimes doesn’t feel like much of a community. But after the tragic events of October 1, 2017, Marlin has hope that the city, and the church in particular, can come together to bring about positive change. “We’re sin city and the biggest thing we need is for Jesus to break through here,” Marlin says. We caught up with Pastor Marlin to hear his thoughts on how the church can be the church to Las Vegas as it attempts to heal from Sunday’s shooting.
Q: What is it like to live in Las Vegas?
A: We are a city of transplants. Hardly anybody is born and raised here. There’s not a whole lot of city pride. Everyone moves here to make money while you’re a millennial. Maybe you stay until you’re 35 or 40 and then you try to get out. The mass shooting has brought the city together more than anything. In terms of blood banks, they’re at capacity. Everyone I know is collecting gift cards or food and passing out water.
Q: What has your church done to minister to people in the city?
A: We walked the strip and were praying for people and offering prayer. It was the strangest experience I’ve ever had on the strip. And then my wife and other people went to UNLV (University of Nevada, Las Vegas) and were praying for people there. Especially at UNLV, people are really shaken up and open to things that they haven’t been open to before. We got to pray for a number of people that I don’t think would claim Jesus as Lord. But one of our worship leaders, her name’s Lia, felt like the Lord highlighted this woman to her on the bridge as we were walking across Las Vegas Boulevard. She went and she started talking to her, and this woman has three children: One’s in Puerto Rico, one’s in Florida, and one’s in Houston. So, all three of her kids in the last month have lost almost everything because of a hurricane hitting each one of those places. And her husband died two months ago.
This woman used to be in faith, and for almost understandable reasons, has walked away. And she just wept with Lia as Lia prayed for her and shared the gospel with her, and got to pray and speak hope and life into her. This woman actually was at the concert and what she believes was a nine-year-old boy died in her arms. This woman is homeless and she’s hopeless. The woman said, “You know, I thought I was going to go get drunk after this because there is no hope in my life anymore.” I’ve surveyed our church. There are some people that go straight to meeting physical needs while others of us went out and prayed for people. That’s the body of Christ, where some people are going to be more given to one form of service than another.
Q: What have you learned from this experience that you can offer to pastors who are trying to help people cope with trauma?
A: The thing I’ve learned most in my few years here is to not come in, especially in times like this, with an agenda. People are vulnerable so I don’t want to just let people get through their stories so I can jump straight to how Jesus fixes that. I want to truly be invested in what they’re saying. Of course I’m going to present the gospel because that’s the only thing that truly heals, but I think if we come in with too heavy an agenda, we could maybe do more wounding than even help. But if we truly love the person in front of us, and it’s slower and it’s less efficient, but it’s more real, then we might help less people because it’s going to take longer, but Jesus really loved the one who was in front of him. I think really not coming in with an agenda to shell out the gospel as quickly as we can but actually listen and then say, “How would Jesus respond in this incident?” It might be slower than we would like.
No one wants you to be selling them something in the midst of tragedy. If our primary objective is to love that person, the gospel is going to come out as a natural flow instead of as you’re vulnerable, let me push this on you. What specific prayer and action points can you offer those who are eager to help Las Vegas?
1. Pray for the Kingdom to break through. Marlin says he’s never seen people in Las Vegas so open to the gospel than they seem to be in the face of this tragedy.
2. Pray that churches won’t use this as a time to fight against each other, but that “there would be a real unity among churches in the city.”
3. Pray for Christians in Las Vegas to actually go out and be the church. Marlin hopes that there would be “church happening on the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana, and there would be church happening at the airport, and all these other places.
4. Pray for the move of unity that is happening, especially among younger, smaller churches. Marlin hopes the churches in Vegas would not be hindered by things like territorialism but would focus on a common, Kingdom mission. “Pray that my church would work with the big one and the newest one, and whatever.”