Monthly Archives: November 2014

Christian Persecution – A Book the Church Needs to Read

A harrowing report in the Baptist Press last year noted that Nigeria was, at that time, by far the most lethal country for Christians.

According to the article:

The publicly reported Christian casualties in Nigeria last year [2012] were greater than the Christian casualties of Pakistan, Syria, Kenya and Egypt combined. In fact, Nigeria alone accounted for almost 70 per cent of Christians killed globally. This makes Nigeria the most lethal country for Christians by a huge margin.

More recently the unfolding tragedies in Iraq and Syria have led to the slaughter and exile of innumerable Christians. Yet Nigeria remains a killing field for too many believers, and this is the theme of the exciting new thriller from Lela Gilbert, “The Levine Affair: Angel’s Flight.”

Short-term US missionary Nate Gregory was held by Islamic extremists in Nigeria, then rescued by an elite team of commandoes, working for a mysterious Israeli tycoon, David Levine, who is using his wealth to fight the jihad threat.

Nate’s book proposal ends up on the desk of publishing house acquisitions editor Karen Burke, and much of the story is told through her eyes, as she and Nate travel together to Nigeria. There, in several dramatic incidents that confront her with the reality of religious warfare, she is forced into the realisation that her views on the peaceful nature of Islam don’t hold up when extremists are burning down churches and kidnapping women in the name of Allah.

At the same time, she also finds herself becoming increasingly involved with Nate.

The words “ripped from the headlines” have become a cliché, but they describe abundantly this excellent book. It is well researched, well written and features all the drama a reader would want from an international thriller, including, it must be noted, violence and a modicum of (somewhat opaque) sex.

The persecution of Christians around the globe, and particularly in the Muslim world, is an escalating terror. Yet too many Western Christians seem uninformed or, at best, aware but unwilling to do much.

We need more educational resources, in all forms of media, that vividly portray the new reality. That is why novels like “The Levine Affair: Angel’s Flight” serve such an important role. This is a novel that the church needs to read.

* The Levine Affair: Angel’s Flight is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. See an interview with Lela Gilbert here.

Suffering for the Lord – the Living Bread International Church in Jerusalem

I have been fascinated to learn about the Living Bread International Church, a non-denominational Christian ministry, with the main church in Jerusalem – providing services in several languages – and outreach offices in Gaza and Jericho.

The pastor, Karen Dunham, has an inspiring testimony of escaping the clutches of the Mafia in the US and then establishing a ministry distributing rice and Bibles to Palestinian refugees. From this has grown the church, with numerous outreach programs and worshippers from around the world.

She kindly agreed to answer a few questions.

Please tell me a little about yourself and your church.

I had no church background, and when the Mafia in the US tried to take my life – when I was 40 years old – the Lord revealed Himself to me and rescued me, and I have followed Him ever since. Early on He taught me to spend time with Him daily in worship and prayer and then do the work He has for me/us.

Our church is also registered as a non-governmental organization (NGO) in the land. We give out clothes and food to the poor. We are also presently working on establishing goat and bee farms throughout the land, together with the poor, in a “Milk and Honey” program.

In addition, our church is involved in reconciliation between Jews and Arabs, and we initiate projects that involve both peoples – Jews and Arabs. We have rescued dying children from the Gaza Strip and taken them to Asaaf Harofe hospital, and we have many other projects like this involving Jews and Arabs. Forgiveness workshops and peacemaking are part of our Good News workshops.

Koreans, Sri Lankans, Russians, Arabs and other nationalities all have services running at our center in Jerusalem.

Are you different from other churches in Israel?

Yes, we are very different in the outreach departments. We have many NGO programs and we spend time with people in the land. We have educational projects and programs that teach the Biblical history of the land. We also bring in tours to facilitate this and link visitors with the local people.

Our main operation is in the West bank cities of Nablus, Jericho, Gaza, Bethlehem and East Jerusalem. We love the appearing of the Lord and His plan for Israel. We must try to rescue the youth who are trapped in terror and teach them the ideology of the Good News of the Gospel.

Is it easy to be a Christian in Israel, or are there problems?

Most of the time our faith is our faith and we do not have problems. But for the last four months we have had a lot of trouble with Islamic militants/mafia in East Jerusalem. They came after us at Living Bread International Church and the police were very slow to make an arrest because the attackers are Arab Israelis, and we are foreigners and Christians. The police did not want to cause trouble within the Arab community, so they really did not do much to help us. If we were of the Islamic or Jewish faith we would have had much more support.

What is the background to this problem? 

My landlord discussed with some people the possibility of selling our location, where we have been for seven years. But when he refused to sell the property our Islamic neighbors decided to take it by force. They gassed us, beat me and hurt many people, and tried to terrorize us for months. It took 200 people coming from the nations and radical worship for 72 hours to break the stronghold. Right now there has been peace for three days. [Read the story here.]

What has been the response to these attacks?

It was amazing when some Israelis arrived to help me and this is when things began to change. My prayer all the time has been, “Oh that I may know this King and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings – being conformed to His very image.”

When I was lying on the ground with a woman praying over me – after being hit by the militants – I felt the resurrection power of the Lord lift me up and I could not stop praising HIM! I never felt any pain. I rejoiced that I was found worthy to suffer for the Gospel.

All through this tribulation, and even now in the sanctuary, at times feathers appear, or come out of the air. In our roughest moments, right after they hurt me, feathers appeared on the porch and on the communion bread and on the pulpit and on my bed, and this made us cry, as people from around the world sent us the words of Psalm 91:4 – “He will cover you with His feathers.”

It was and is still amazing.

Karen, thank you so much. May God continue to protect you and bless your amazing work.

Rescuing Persecuted Christians – A New Novel from Lela Gilbert

Lela Gilbert is a prolific writer, with a particular focus (like myself) on the persecuted church, and also on Israel. Among her books are the excellent Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians (with Paul Marshall and Nina Shea) and Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner.

She also writes articles for a variety of publications, including the Jerusalem Post and the Weekly Standard.

Her latest book is a thriller, The Levine Affair: Angel’s Flight, which tells the story of a team of commandoes working to help persecuted Christians. This resonated with me, as my Brother Half Angel series of thrillers have a vaguely similar theme. Lela kindly agreed to answer some questions about the book.

You have authored or co-authored many non-fiction books. Why did you now decide to write a novel?

Some people prefer fiction to non-fiction for their spare-time reading. But even in non-fiction, it is always effective to interweave stories of real people – to put a “face” on a situation, to embody it. I thought it might be effective to build a novel around people that readers could relate to, and to help them see the terrifying reality of Sharia law, mob violence and religiously-inspired cruelty.

Please tell me a little about it.

I wrote three novels and two children’s books in the early 90s and found them much easier and more enjoyable to write than non-fiction. But, of course, unless they are huge sellers they are not very profitable. So they are kind of a leisure-time pursuit in my view – at least at this point of my life. But in this case, I thought it was worth the time and trouble to bring to life the real story of Christian persecution in Nigeria. Sadly,  it’s worse now than it was when I wrote it.

It has a theme of Christian persecution. Is it purely fiction, or are parts of it factual?

Just about every story in Angel’s Flight is based either on a real news story or on a military operation that actually took place, although not necessarily there. And of course the reality of Boko Haram is well-known now, more dangerous than ever.

As for religious persecution – I co-authored a major book on this subject called Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians, which came out in 2012. And my best known book, Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Visitor also looks at Jewish and Christian persecution in Muslim lands. So it’s a subject that’s never far from my attention or my heart. In fact, I just returned from Kurdistan, where I was able to visit some of the Christian refugees there who fled ISIS.

You feature a group of commandoes rescuing persecuted Christians. Do you think Christians turn the other cheek too much? Should we perhaps – somehow – have groups of Christian military personnel who are able to help Christians in distress?

I think ‘turning the other cheek’ is often misapplied to violent circumstances which are entirely unrelated to the person-to-person conflicts Jesus was talking about. There is an entire Christian teaching on Just War Theory that deals with the defence of those who cannot defend themselves. Meanwhile, pacifism has become a symptom of a very self-absorbed – even narcissistic  – form of Christianity in which little or nothing is deemed worth sacrificing or dying for.

And, in fact, some of the Christian villages and towns in Syria and Iraq are starting to form their own armed militias to keep ISIS and other brutal terrorist groups from murdering or otherwise devastating their families and communities. They have to provide their own arms, but they are being trained by “official” militias such as the Kurdish Peshmerga.

As for the idea of paramilitary groups, I guess a lot of us have grown increasingly frustrated while waiting for powerful governments to stop pontificating and take action. I got the idea of David Levine’s commando squad from a couple of rescue efforts I read about that were put together by wealthy business owners who fielded their own contracted warriors to liberate their personnel who were being held hostage.

Your co-author Jack Buckner is a retired military specialist. What particular contributions did he make to the book?

I have no idea about military weaponry, operations or culture. Jack was on the ground as a US Army Special Operator for decades and he knows how soldiers talk, think and act  when they are on the job. He sketched out the way things would have to happen, filled in the blanks on guns and grenades and mines and the like, and I wove it into the rest of the story. There’s a smattering of words scattered throughout the text that may raise a few conservative Christian eyebrows, but we decided to let it be real – for the most part.

What has been the reception so far to the book?

Most readers say that they can’t put it down – it’s very absorbing and engaging to them. I’m always happy when my friends like my work, but I’ve been especially pleased when total strangers write glowing reviews on Amazon and elsewhere. I hope Angel’s Flight sells well, but not only because of profitability. I am convinced that fiction is a great way to inform people about how things really are, and how difficult life is in some very dark parts of the world. And if it works out, we can write more similar stories.

Lela, thank you very much.

* The Levine Affair: Angel’s Flight is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

The Chocolate Marshmallow Pies That Might Bring Reconciliation – Or Spark War – Between North And South Korea

My wife has just returned from visiting family in Seoul, and she brought back my favorite souvenir – choco pies. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy them.

Choco pies are a phenomenon. They are hugely popular in Korea itself – with various manufacturers and several varieties – and are much sought-after in other countries, particularly around Asia.

Each pie comprises a creamy marshmallow center, encased in an ultra-light, crumbly cookie and coated with chocolate. They remind me a little of the Easter eggs we ate as kids in New Zealand back in the 1950s, when there wasn’t much variety. These were just ovals of marshmallow coated in chocolate. Simple but delicious.

The choco pies are like that, but with the addition of a layer of cookie. Some also have a little extra flavor added, or perhaps a squirt of jam or syrup. Yet they retain an extreme lightness that makes you want to keep eating.

Choco pies became big news when it was revealed that South Korean companies were giving them to their North Korean employees at factories in a special economic zone created by the two countries.

Forbidden from paying bonuses, the South Koreans gave choco pies instead. This had apparently led to a black market in the delicacies, with North Koreans reportedly willing to pay around $10 for one pie.

Embarrassed that the pies were becoming too popular, the North Korean authorities have at times tried to ban them.

So a few months ago South Korean activists launched 50 balloons across the border bearing 10,000 of the treats, along with leaflets attacking the North Korean regime. In response, North Korea said it might attack the launch sites.

The choco pie has created enormous goodwill among North Koreans towards the South. Might it also spark war?

What Would Jesus Say? Aramaic Language Revival in Israel

It’s been more than 10 years since I last wrote about Aramaic, the language of Jesus. I noted then the continuing persecution of the Christian Assyrian people of northern Iraq, who still spoke this tongue.

Conditions since have dramatically worsened, with the rise of Islamic State, which has launched a campaign of genocide against Christians. Many Assyrians have fled.

But now comes a rare piece of Mideast good news. A revival in Aramaic is occurring in, of all places, Israel.

Gush Halav – known in Arabic as Jish – is a small town in the Galilee Valley, in northern Israel. More than half the population are Maronite Christians, who still use Aramaic in their church liturgy, and even often speak it.

Since 2011, under the auspices of the Israeli Ministry of Education, Aramaic has been taught in the town’s schools.

And this year the Israeli government recognized the country’s 20,000 Aramaic people as a distinct nationality. The first child has just been registered as Aramean.

Not much happens in Israel without controversy, and some critics say the government’s move is an attempt to create splits between Muslim and Christian Arabs. Others say that the Aramaic language has little future, other than as a religious relic.

But, as Christians increasingly flee from the lands where their faith was born, in the face of murder or slavery, it is heartening to see a tiny part of the region where they are able to live in peace, and where their traditions are respected and encouraged.

Are Koreans Anti-Semitic?

My wife is Korean and I have a Jewish heritage. Are Koreans anti-Jewish?

The question rises because of an article at the Tablet website titled “Seoul Mates: Are Jewish Stereotypes Among Koreans a Source of Hate, or Love?”

The article begins –

This May, a survey by the Anti-Defamation League found that South Korea was the third most anti-Semitic country in Asia, behind only Malaysia and Armenia.

I was surprised to read that. I lived in Japan for many years, and saw there a large degree of veiled anti-Semitism. There were hardly any Jews living in the country, yet there existed a surprising number of books that supposedly “explained” Jewish life and culture, while subtly denigrating these.

Certainly many Japanese would have told you that Jews secretly controlled the world’s finances and media.

But Korea seemed different. My wife actually seemed excited to learn that I was part-Jewish, through my father, a Jewish refugee to New Zealand. Koreans regard Jews as exceedingly clever and successful, she told me.

And that is also what the Tablet article is telling us.

When they arrive in the country, many Jews are often aghast at how, once they tell Koreans they are Jewish, they are treated as though they’re the lights of brilliance upon the world. “On two separate occasions, I’ve had Korean friends tell me that they had heard that Ashkenazi Jews and Koreans were statistically the most intelligent,” said Jesse Borison, 30, a U.S. Airman who has been stationed in Korea for seven years. 

…Zachary Green, 25, an English teacher from Pittsburgh, says his Jewish heritage gained him a certain cachet with Koreans. “Whenever I told a Korean that I was Jewish, that person almost always seemed very impressed. He or she assumed that I was very smart,” Green told me. “I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy the respect, envy, and admiration that came with telling people I was Jewish.”

…Apart from being seen as highly intelligent, Jews are often told by Koreans they are good with money and occupy important positions in government and media—positions Koreans covet. This, perhaps, is where the disconnect between the ADL survey and Jewish perceptions in Korea occurred. “[The ADL] asked the question, ‘Do you think the Jews have too much power?’ ” [Seoul Rabbi Osher] Litzman said. “Everything was about ‘too much.’ What can you answer when everyone is asking about ‘too much’? If you say ‘no,’ what do you mean, it’s too little?”

“The questions were not clear for Koreans,” Litzman continued. “For them, ‘too much’ means ‘a lot.’ So, what’s wrong with it? There’s nothing wrong with it. They admire this and they want to be the same. One of the questions was, ‘Do the Jews control the media too much?’ or something like that. Koreans also want to [be influential in media]. They look at it as a model.”