3 - North Korean Christians face uncertainly after leader's death
Last Sunday night, it was announced that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il had died at the age of 69. The presumed successor is his son, Kim Jong-Un, who has already begun to put his stamp on the government, and who, interestingly enough, has already met with leaders from its adversary, South Korea. Dr. Carl Moeller, President of Open Doors USA, an organization that has rated North Korea as the #1 nation for Christian persecution on its World Watch List, had these comments:
Open Doors USA had this report.
“Today marks a significant day in North Korean history...Though this brutal dictator, who was responsible for so many atrocities, has died, the future is still unknown. Some speculate that his son Kim Jong-Un will be just as cruel to all dissenters. Others suggest that he may be more lenient. We simply do not know the future of North Korea, but God does.”
“This is why it is vital that Christians around the world pray for North Korea during this transitional time. Pray especially for the brave Christians inside North Korea. They are fearful that they might face even more suffering. There are an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Christians being held in North Korean prison camps where they face even more horrific treatment than other prisoners. People are starving to death. The people of North Korea are living a nightmare that never ends.”
A prominent Christian leader who has had good relations with the North Korean government is Franklin Graham, who has visited the isolated nation four times, and his father became the first foreign religious leader to preach there, in 1992. He shared these words:
"Having visited North Korea four times, most recently in May 2011, and worked in this difficult country for many years, I have maintained a special interest and concern for the people of this nation."Regarding North Korea, this period of time represents an opportunity for improved relations with the government, as well as perhaps new hope for Christians who have endured strong persecution there.
"The passing of the General Secretary Kim Jong Il gives the United States an opportunity as the people of the DPRK mourn the loss of their leader. We should be working to build stronger bridges of relationship and understanding with his son, Kim Jong Un."
2 - Church bombing in Nigeria kills dozens, brings greater awareness of plight of believers
An Islamist group has taken responsibility for a series of bomb and gun attacks in Nigeria that has resulted in the deaths of at least 39 people, according to a report in the Christian Examiner.
Over 50 people are reported to have been wounded.
Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, had this statement:
"The Christmas Day bombings were appalling and cowardly attacks on innocent families who were merely expressing their faith on one of the most significant dates in the Christian calendar...The bombings are a serious threat to freedom of religion in a multi-religious and multi-ethnic state where co-existence is vital. For the sake of national unity, those behind them must not be allowed to prevail."The most severe of the attacks took place in Madalla, at St Theresa's Catholic Church, where bombers in a vehicle hurled explosives at the congregation at the end of mass. Another attack took place in Jos, where 38 lost their lives last Christmas in bombings. The same militant group, Islamic fundamentalist organization Boko Haram, claimed responsibility for that attack, as well as incidents spread throughout the African nation this year in 5 locations.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who is a professed Christian, condemned the attacks, 4 of which took aim at worship services, but critics are concerned that the government has not done enough to prevent attacks of this sort. And, with the multi-ethnic culture of the nation and the insertion of this radical Islamic group, the atmosphere is ripe for ethnic turmoil. Christians face a high degree of persecution, and there is quite a bit of fear of more attacks, as well as reports of people fleeing cities because of the threat of violence.
While the suspects have been apprehended, the radical organization has recruited effectively and apparently continues to proliferate in the nation, spreading its message of contempt for non-Muslims and its dedication to implementing Sharia law. This is certainly a matter of prayer - for protection of Christian believers, and for the government as it attempts to deal effectively with this threat to its security.
1 - Churches across America open for Sunday Christmas
While some churches had announced that they would not hold services on Christmas Day, the overwhelming majority of Protestant churches had indicated in a survey by LifeWay Research (summarized by the Alabama Baptist) that they would be open and offering opportunities for worshippers. Over 90% of churches had indicated they would be open for Christmas services, with only slightly less saying they would be holding services on New Year's Day.
The Christmas season gives us the opportunity to demonstrate our devotion to Christ in following His two great commandments: to love the Lord with our entire heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. At Christmas, we reflect on the significance of God sending His Son into the world so that we might be saved, and we can be challenged to grow in our walk with Him. Furthermore, we can show the meaning of the love of Christ as we serve others and perhaps share with them resources that God has entrusted to us.
So, with 9 out of 10 people in America celebrating Christmas, and with people being spiritually sensitized during this time of year, we can be prepared to shine Christ's light and radiate His hope. One of the trends within Christianity over the past few years has been the redefinition of the observance of Christmas, and reallocating dollars to charitable causes during the holidays. Two articles over the weekend underscored the trend: The Christian Post highlighted one family's journey and presented some of the giving opportunities. And, a USA Today front page article portrayed people and organizations getting involved to provide fresh water to impoverished nations. Christian band Jars of Clay and the charity they founded, Blood:Water Mission, were featured prominently in the USA Today piece. I encourage you, as you prepare to pack up your Christmas decor, to evaluate your observance of Christ's birth, and ask Him to direct your steps in bringing honor to Him during the special season next year.