Category Archives: Brother Half Angel Series

Thanks in the Midst of Suffering – Is Christianity Doomed in the Mideast?

Is Christianity doomed in the Middle East? That is the question asked in a confronting article in Britain’s New Statesman journal.

Coptic Martyr3It is also one of the themes of my thriller “The Coptic Martyr of Cairo,” although of course my book focuses just on Christians in Egypt.

I am relatively optimistic about the outlook for Egyptian Christians. As I tried to show in my novel, the Coptics are a praying people who, despite enduring many centuries of hardship and martyrdom, stand strong, proud and defiant. For nearly 2,000 years they have remained true to their calling – true to Christ, true to the Bible, true to their teachings and unafraid of death.

But the outlook for much of the region’s remaining Christians is certainly grim. The author of the New Statesman article is Gerard Russell, who has also written the recently published book Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East.”

He says:

Without the Christians, the region will be even less liberal and more monochrome, and will risk becoming more isolated.

The Middle East would also lose a part of the heritage and history that all its people, Muslim or Christian, have in common. For the Christian communities have preserved parts of their nations’ heritage: Aramaic in Iraq, pharaonic hymns in Egypt. Their diversity (there are innumerable sects) reflects the region’s history, each sect tracing its origin to the political developments of one era or another. The schools that Christians run in the Middle East, open to Muslims, have educated generations of Arabs.

We sometimes regard it as unthinkable that Christianity could all but disappear from the land of its birth. Yet we should recall that Christians have been virtually wiped out from much of North Africa, where they were once so prevalent.

It is certainly a cause for sadness. But remember too that, at the same time Christianity is blossoming in parts of Asia and Africa. In the midst of suffering there is always a reason for thanks.

Take Up Your Cross – Lessons from China

The stunning rise of Christianity in China – despite numerous obstacles – is one of the themes of my thriller “Brother Half Angel.” In particular, I wrote about how the government crack-down on the thriving underground house church movement has brought about martyrs, but has also helped raise some strong Christian leaders.

In recent years it seemed that conditions were easing for the church in China, but now the government appears to be cracking down again.

Brother Half Angel - Smashwords Cover Jan 2013Yet the church continues to expand. Numbers are unclear, but one study estimated that there are now some 70 million Christians in China (compared to 83 million Communist Party members) and that this could grow to 245 million by 2030.

More importantly, the Chinese may have some lessons for the West in what it means to be a Christian.

A lengthy article in the Christian Science Monitor included this snippet:

Being a Christian in a country that sees worship as odd or superstitious does nothing to boost one’s status. “There is absolutely no social advantage to being a Christian in China,” says Bob Fu, a pastor who escaped a Chinese police crackdown in the 1990s and now runs Texas-based ChinaAid, which monitors Christian rights in the country. “There are no cookies, no status, no outward rewards, no privileges in choosing Christianity.”

Certainly that is what I wrote about in my novel “Brother Half Angel,” with the main characters forced to endure enormous torment for their faith.

And this is what becoming a Christian in the early years of the church meant – to enter a world of possible suffering and even death. Yet the church grew exponentially in that period

The early Egyptian church – founded by Saint Mark just a decade after the death of Christ, according to tradition – is the best example. Here is the Tour Egypt website:

It was in Egypt that some of the greatest defiances of the Romans by Christians were done. While their Roman counterparts worshipped in catacombs and underground vaults, the Egyptian Christians built their churches openly and performed their ceremonies in full view of the Empire. And for every one that the Empire struck down, more would be converted by the example of the martyr.

Jesus taught that to follow Him would involve suffering. Paul demonstrated this, as did the early Christians. Now the Chinese church too is growing in the midst of pain. It is a lesson for the West.

Terror in Africa – Should We Be Surprised?

The news from the West African nation of Niger is heart-breaking. Around 70 churches have been set on fire, and more than a dozen people killed, as Islamists sought to take some kind of twisted revenge over the Charlie Hebdo outrage in France.

Never mind that the scummy magazine regularly attacks Christians as profanely as it vilifies Muslims. Never mind that the president of Niger flew to Paris to participate in the giant march organized there to protest the murder of some of the magazine’s staff.

The Islamists decided that they were upset at a new cover from the magazine, deemed to be provocative, and that they needed to protest.

But should we really be surprised that they chose to burn down churches and slaughter Christians?

Festival in the Desert - Smashwords cover Jan 2013My thriller “Festival in the Desert” was set in the West African nation of Mali, adjacent to Niger. It concerned Islamists trying to close down a hospital there that was run by Christian missionaries. I chose Mali, because it is a relatively exotic country, boasting some great music, an exciting annual festival in the desert and the famous city of Timbuktu.

In fact the hospital was based on one in Niger, in the town of Galmi, run by the SIM Christian mission organization. I even included some incidents based on stories told to me by a former missionary doctor at Galmi.

And why should a Christian hospital be under attack? Because throughout Muslim Africa a virulent form of fundamentalist Islam, often dubbed Wahhabism, has been spreading, with roots planted especially by the Saudis. For such people Christians, Jews and even moderate Muslims are the enemy.

Here is an excerpt from “Festival in the Desert:”

“It’s also all these new Saudi-sponsored mosques in town,” said Dr Steyn. “There’s more than a dozen of them. All recent. They send their imams from Saudi Arabia. Telling the women they have to wear veils and the men that they have to stop drinking alcohol and stop talking to people of other religions.”

“Yes, that’s exactly right. And according to the briefing I received, both Al Qaeda and the new mosques are recruiting young men, sending them off for training at madrassas in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. These men come back home with radically new beliefs. They’re not tolerant any more. They hate the West, hate America, hate Christians.”

The commentator Mark Steyn (no connection to the Dr Steyn in my book) has written:

The most successful example of globalization is not Starbucks or McDonald’s but Wahhabism, an obscure backwater variant of Islam practiced by a few Bedouin deadbeats that Saudi oil wealth has now exported to every corner of the earth…You can live on the other side of the planet and, when Starbucks opens up in town, you might acquire a taste for a decaf latte, but that’s it: otherwise, life goes on. By contrast, when the Saudi-funded preachers hung out their shingles on every Main Street in the west, they radicalized a significant chunk of young European Muslims: they transformed not just their beverage habits but the way they look at the societies in which they live.

Some African countries are trying to halt this radicalization. I have written of attempts by Senegal, which borders Mali, to reach out to Israel, in part as a reaction to the worrying spread of radical Islam.

We can only wish that country luck. But, given the power and money behind the Wahhabi tentacles, we should not really be surprised when Islamists in West Africa choose to burn down churches.

And we should not be surprised when it happens again.

Spiritual Warfare – Why Won’t the Japanese Embrace Christianity?

My novel “The Maria Kannon,” second in the Brother Half Angel series of thrillers, is set in present-day Japan, where I lived for 17 years. It tells the story of a US marine who flies to Japan to meet his long-lost sister, only to discover that she has been murdered in church.

Maria Kannon - Smashwords Cover Jan 2013Like all the books in the series, this novel has Christian persecution as a dominant theme. It is also about the Maria Kannon, a statue of a Buddhist deity that was once revered by persecuted Japanese Christians.

Several hundred years ago Christianity was a major force in Japan. But no longer. This is a major concern to mission groups worldwide. Why don’t the Japanese today embrace Christianity?

So I was interested to read some recent comments in the Japan Times newspaper. Columnist Michael Hoffman wrote:

The Japanese have so eagerly embraced everything Western — from fads to philosophies, baseball to scientific method. Why not Christianity? Even China, officially atheist and repressive of anything outside state control, counts 52 million Christians. In South Korea, 30 percent of a population of 50 million professes Christianity. In Japan? Less than 1 percent.

One explanation comes from Minoru Okuyama, director, as of 2010, of the Missionary Training Center in Japan. That year, he told a global missions conference, “Japanese make much of human relationships more than the truth. Consequently we can say that as for Japanese, one of the most important things is harmony; in Japanese, ‘Wa.’” The Japanese, said Okuyama, “are afraid of disturbing human relationships of their families or neighborhood even though they know Christianity is best.” Chinese and South Koreans, by contrast, “make more of truth or principle than human relationships.”

In response, Ian Walker of the Japan Christian Link organization wrote:

There is much to be encouraged by in Japan in the 21st century. People are coming to understand that the very essence of Christianity is a relationship — something the Japanese value highly. People are realizing that the choices they make are key: Do you spend your time investing in relationships with family, friends, colleagues and those in need, or waste it on pachinko [Japanese pinball], porn, materialism, etc.

I have my own explanation that I gave in my book “Journey Out Of Nothing: My Buddhist Path to Christianity.”

It is not generally known that in the late 16th century many Japanese had become Christians. In fact, Christianity was becoming such a force that in the early 17th century the ruling shoguns (military rulers) banned it outright.

From that point Christians were persecuted, and subject to the most horrendous punishments. To ensure the eradication of the religion, the authorities introduced a practice known as fumie.

A fumie – “stepping-on picture” – was a picture of Jesus or of the Virgin Mary. For more than 200 years government officials regularly traveled through the country, to even the smallest village, forcing residents to trample on these pictures. Those who refused were assumed to be Christians and were tortured until they renounced their faith. Those who would not do this were cruelly executed. Crucifixion, sometimes upside down in the sea, was one method.

Another example: according to Japanese tradition, the country’s emperor was a god. Emperor Hirohito formally renounced his divinity in 1945, after Japan’s defeat in World War II. However, his son Akihito, who became emperor in 1989, subsequently participated in a highly secretive religious ceremony, one purpose of which, according to some experts, was to join symbolically in sexual union with the sun goddess and attain divine status.

I concluded: “The level of spiritual warfare in Asia is high.”

The Scary Reality of Today’s Mideast Christian Militia Fighters

My five Brother Half Angel novels take the persecuted church as their theme. They are stories about a special Christian militia group that travels around the world to rescue Christian brothers and sisters who are being persecuted for their faith.

The books are of course fiction, and they are not fact-based. When I wrote them I was not aware of any particular military group trying to assist persecuted Christians.

But that was before the atrocities of Islamic State, which are certainly some of the most appalling attacks on Christians in memory. (The Archbishop of Canterbury has described Islamic State as a “once in a millennium threat.” He said one regional Christian leader had called it “the worst threat we’ve faced since the Mongol invasion of 1259.”)

So it is probably no surprise to learn that now some Christians are fighting back. They are forming militias to protect their people. But, unfortunately, it does not always seem easy to distinguish them from their enemies.

The website of the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium offers an introduction to the grandly named Syria Sons Brigades, Spirit of God Jesus Son of Mary Battalions:

A Christian battalion in Nineveh (Iraq). The group is in alliance with the Shia extremist brigade, Kata’ib al-Imam Ali opposing the Islamic State (IS). The alliance is derived from a shared grievance against Kurds, being accused of handing over territory in Nineveh to the Islamic State (ISIS). 

Go to the Syria Comment website for a somewhat complex explanation of the relationship between Christian and Muslim militia groups, along with photos.

And check out this scary YouTube video of a Shia Muslim militia leader and his men paying a fraternal Christmas visit to a church in Baghdad, apparently offering them support.

My Brother Half Angel novels feature three somewhat loveable characters, including a beautiful, female Asian martial arts specialist. The books are fiction.

The Christian fighters we see in the photos and videos are military men with beards and scowls and sub-machine guns. They look ready and willing to kill. That seems to be the sad reality of life for Christians  today in parts of the Mideast.

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.

Captive Reviews Shine a New Light

My first three novels were commercially published, but they received few reviews and have sold poorly, despite one being an Australian Christian Book of the Year finalist. So I decided I would self-publish my subsequent novels and promote them myself. I now have a total of 10 novels on the market.

Like every self-published author I am quite obsessive about getting reviews, especially on Amazon, as I know that these can make a difference to sales. I even have a spreadsheet on my computer and once a month I neurotically enter the number of Amazon reviews for each of my titles and the average rating (which is a pretty depressing thing to do, as your early reviews, mainly from friends and relatives, are glowing, whereas subsequent reviews inevitably include one-star and two-star dogs that gradually bring your averages down).

But now I suddenly find myself with a new stream of reviews that are among the most important and touching I have ever received. They put everything I have been doing in a new perspective. Amazon is no longer as important.

Maria Kannon - Smashwords Cover Jan 2013I am part of a group of Christian writers, the John 3:16 Marketing Network, whose 300+ members work to help promote one another’s writings. Though based in America, we are pretty international, with a globally diverse membership, including some here in Australia.

Recently the coordinator Lorilyn Roberts announced a new initiative, together with a Florida prison chaplain, Steve Fox, to take members’ books into prison to be read by the inmates, who would then write reviews, as part of a writing and job skills program.

I have recently received the first reviews of two of my thrillers, and they have thrilled me.

Here is Keith, reviewing “The Maria Kannon”:

I enjoyed the book, it had a good story and action. Also it didn’t drag with many pointless details, it just kept flowing.

And Lian (who describes himself as a Brother in Christ):

The main theme was that Christians should always act out of love, never vengeance. And at times some Christians must step up and do what is necessary to stop evil people from continuing evil….All in all a good read for an evening or weekend. I enjoyed it.

Of course, not all the reviews are positive. Here’s Robert:

The author has tried to twin the Japanese way of life and the Korean way of life into one simple life form, and it cannot be done. It is two wholly different life forms involved entirely upon God who in my opinion was not spoken of in a good manner….I have been to Japan myself and I have seen very little in the book to remind me of the Japanese people. I did not enjoy this book…

Coptic Martyr3But then, here’s William, reviewing “The Coptic Martyr of Cairo”:

The author seems to want to get across the importance of the persecution of the Christians around the world….This book was enjoyable. I had to rethink the way I see my faith according to a large view of what it is to be Christian.

Helping prisoners. Seeing people rethink their faith. Just what we as Christians should be doing. Thank you Keith and Lian and William and even Robert. Suddenly the mighty Amazon is no longer so important, as I view my writing endeavours in an altogether different light.

Take Weapons and Again Weapons

In my Brother Half Angel series of international thrillers I write about a fictional militia that has been formed to defend the persecuted church. Over five books (so far) I write about this militia traveling to various countries to help persecuted Christians.

Was I ahead of my time? In a post at National Review Online, Mark Krikorian, executive director of the US think tank Center for Immigration Studies, suggests that the time for talking about the crisis facing Christians in Syria is over.

Something more is needed, and the title of his post tells us what that is: “You Want to Help Syria’s Christians? Send Guns.”

He writes:

The most useful role American Christians can play is as the Syrian Christians’ outside backup, like the Saudis are for the Sunni jihadis and the Iranians are for the Alawites.

My [Armenian] ancestors learned the hard way the futility of “raising the issue” of Muslim persecution of Christians to the international community, and the Sermon of the Iron Ladle distills the lesson. It was delivered by Mgrdich Khrimian, a prominent Armenian prelate, a genuine holy man with the common touch but also a national leader. 

…Khrimian’s advice to his fellow Christians living under the shadow of Islam is as pertinent now as it was in 1878: “When you return to the Fatherland, to your relatives and friends, take weapons, take weapons and again weapons.”