Halloween is one of those days, one of those things, that Christians have a hard time coming to terms with. It is like whether to shop at a store that supports a cause that is evil or fundamentally opposed to the message of Christianity – what do you do? When I asked my Twitter and Facebook friends whether Christians should celebrate Halloween, I got varied responses. One person indicated that they didn’t celebrate it because it is all about death and Jesus was all about life. Another had indicated that they didn’t think it was a problem since the holiday essentially boils down to getting dressed up and going trick-or-treating for most Americans. When asking my friend Google this question, he (she?) was kind enough to pull up a plethora of blogs and articles ranging from Who cares? to Sure … if you want to put your kid in danger of hell. (These are my summaries of others’ thoughts.) read more
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Today U.S. journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling returned home to their friends and family in an emotional reunion after North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il issued a special pardon. Their return came after former U.S. President Bill Clinton made an unannounced visit to Pyongyang to help secure their release.
Ling and Lee had been found guilty of allegedly entering North Korea illegally across the Chinese border in March and later sentenced to 12 years of hard labor. They reportedly were being held at a “guest house” during their confinement.
The North Korean News Agency said the two reporters’ pardon and release was a sign of North Korea’s “humanitarian and peace-loving policy.”
That might be the case in this instance, but let’s look at the facts:
· North Korea is suspected of detaining more political and religious prisoners than any other country in the world. Open Doors, an international Christian organization which supports persecuted believers (www.OpenDoorsUSA.org), puts the number of prisoners at least 200,000, including 40,000 to 60,000 Christians.
· North Koreans can be imprisoned for virtually any state-defined crime such as owning a Bible, making a negative comment about the regime, failing to have a picture of Kim Il-Sung in their house and traveling to China to look for food and freedom.
· KimJong-Il’s government keeps its citizens in its grip through systematic use of torture, public and private executions, brutal imprisonment, lack of due process of law, starvation and even forced abortions.
· North Korea has been known to arrest not only the suspected dissident but also three generations of his/her family to “root out” the bad influence.
· This year North Korea was re-designated by the U.S. State Department as one of eight “Countries of Particular Concern” for its severe religious freedom violations. The Open Doors World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians has ranked the hermit country as the worst offender of religious freedom for seven years in a row.
The Associated Press reported last month that North Korea publicly executed a Christian woman for distributing Bibles, based on information it received from South Korean activists. Ri Hyon Ok, 33, was also accused of spying for South Korea and the United States and organizing dissidents, according to the Associated Press. She was executed in the northwestern city of Ryongchon near the border with China on June 16, according to a report from an alliance of several dozen anti-North Korean groups.
Ri's parents, husband and three children were sent to a political prison camp in the northeastern city of Hoeryong the following day, according to the report, citing unidentified documents it said were obtained from North Korea.
This is the shocking reality of what takes place inside this communist country where there is no basic human rights. One colleague of mine who has traveled to North Korea described North Korea “as an on-going nightmare.”
It surely was a nightmare for Kim Young Soon, a special witness during North Korea Freedom Week in April before a group of Congressmen in Washington, D.C. The North Korean refugee is one of the few survivors of the infamous Yodok political prison camp. She was thrown into prison for nine years on a trumped up charge of divulging a secret about Kim Jong-Il’s marriage. Her parents and four children were also imprisoned. In the Yodok prison camp, her parents died of malnutrition, an eldest son drowned. Her husband was shot to death in 1970 while attempting to cross the border to escape from North Korea. Mrs. Kim’s youngest son was arrested in 1988 while attempting to cross the border and was put in prison for four years. He was executed in 1993 by a firing squad because he tried to escape from North Korea again. Mrs. Kim escaped from North Korea and resettled in South Korea. She has made it her life’s mission to expose the cruelty and truth about the prison camps in North Korea.
She testified: “I entered prison camp No. 15 at Yodok. I spent nine years there; treated like an animal. What made me feel most mortified was the fact that my father, mother, daughter and three sons, who were innocent of any crime, were also sent to Yodok, all because of me.
“We were forced to engage in heavy labor day and night. On August 5, 1971, I lost my father. I had to wrap his body in a straw mat since there were no coffins in Yodok. Before long, my mother also died of malnutrition. Unbearable sadness cut my heart to pieces.
“Still with tears in my eyes, I was struck by another painful accident when my eldest son drowned. I was nearly mad with grief. Yodok was really a hell to me. I cried to God asking that He might burn them all to death in Yodok with lightning.
“Every mountain and field in Yodok was covered with dead bodies because of malnutrition and hunger. In 1973, two detainees were killed by public execution at a place between Sector 3 and 4 on charges of trying to escape from prison. Countless numbers of detainees were killed by public execution and torture. Due to malnutrition and hunger, little children withered to death with their stomachs swollen. Adult people were looking everywhere for young rats which they believed to be a kind of medicine to save their children. And they literally ate up all the snakes in Yodok to avoid painful death from malnutrition.”
Yes, we should rejoice for Ling and Lee. They now have complete freedom in the United States.
But please join me in praying and advocating for those who have not received pardons; for those languishing in the “hell” that is North Korea.
Jerry Dykstra is the media relations director with Open Doors USA. read more
I recently attended Sunday services at an impressive 19th-century church in London. In a building with seating for 3,000 in ornate pews, a handful of elderly people sat there … in chairs set up in the foyer.
The service, held in a vibrant city full of millions of people, reminded me of a funeral. Not the funeral of a person – the funeral of a once-great institution. In the past 40 years, 1600 churches in England, with hundreds of years of ministry behind them, have shut their doors, according to an architectural preservation group called the Victorian Society. read more
I was 13 years old and somehow convinced my dad, an avid Frank Sinatra fan, to play "Off The Wall" while driving to my uncle's house. He reluctantly agreed. For me, it was the coolest 45-minute road trip and probably the most painful for him. Little did I know that the young voice I heard on the eight-track tape player would eventually become the subject of worldwide praise.
Thirty years later, I find myself talking to people every day who look for ways to move past the things that hold them back. Michael Jackson was an expert at breaking barriers. He was extraordinarily talented and accomplished things that most only dream about. He had the best-selling album of all time. He was one of the highest paid entertainers in history, pulling in over $750 million and giving more money to charities than any other celebrity. He arguably changed the way the world dances. read more
An Internet search of the term “postmodernism” will reveal, among many things, an advertisement from an online book distributor stating, “Millions of titles, new and used!” Obviously an enormous amount has been written on the topic. Webster defines “postmodernism” as: “Of, relating to, or being of an era after a modern one, or being any of various movements in reaction to modernism typically characterized by a return to traditional materials and forms, or being a theory that involves radical reappraisal of modern assumptions about culture, identity, history, or language.” read more
If you have a dad who loves you well, celebrate him with joy this Father’s Day. But keep in mind that outside of Norman Rockwell’s America, Father’s Day can be a source of great pain.
Many children today don’t live with their biological father. According to fathersforlife.org, the figure approaches 40 percent nationally and is almost double that in the inner city. Add to that those who simply have a strained relationship with their father over some disappointed expectation, and the pain multiplies greatly. I know many people who find these Hallmark days painful for the love they lacked because a father was absent, or even abusive.
The fallout from absent fathers has been well-documented. Eight-five percent of children with behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes, as do 90 percent of homeless children, 71 percent of dropouts and 63 percent of suicides. It seems we were made for the love of a father, and the pain of not having one has dire consequences.
That was driven home to me one day when I had jury duty. A 23-year-old woman I’d never met walked down a row of empty chairs to sit in the one right next to me in the assembly room. I greeted her briefly, curious why she’d chosen to sit next to me.
Moments later, she grabbed me around the arm and her eyes filled with tears. “I think my dad hates me,” she said through her sniffles, choking back the sob that hung in her throat. Then she detailed the fight they’d had the night before. Her dad was upset about the provocative way she often dressed, and she was certain he had no respect for her choices.
I walked her back through the conversation, a surrogate dad who suggested that her father’s fears were less about judging her than they were trying to protect her from men with less than honorable intentions.
“So you think my dad doesn’t hate me?” she asked at the end.
“I have no idea. He’s your dad, but I would be surprised if he didn’t love you very much.”
She smiled and assured me she’d go by his house that evening and talk with her dad. Dads are too precious to throw away over a misunderstanding. Suddenly her name was called for jury duty and she stood to leave. On a whim I grabbed her hand. “Nicole, can I ask how things are with your heavenly dad?”
Her twisted face told me my question had confused her. A moment passed. “Do you mean God?”
I nodded. “I grew up in church,” she said. “I hate him.”
Not all are so honest who have been so disillusioned. Unfortunately, religion often teaches us about a God who is an angry judge, rather than the loving Father Jesus told us he was. In one of his most beloved stories, The Parable of the Prodigal, he told about a son lost in his own selfishness and the affection of a father that waited for him to come home. This Father was truly like no other any of us have ever known, regardless of how abusive or how great our earthly fathers might have been.
I smiled as I looked back at Nicole, and whispered to her as if sharing the most incredible of secrets: “As wrong as you might be about your earthly dad, I can tell you you’re dead wrong about your heavenly one.”
Her eyes lit up. “What do you mean?”
“Nicole, you have a father who loves you more than anyone on this planet ever has or ever will.”
The hope that we all have a father who knows us completely but loves us extravagantly is all but lost in our day. It might be time to uncover it again.
Wayne Jacobsen is the author of He Loves Me: Learning to Live in the Father’s Affection. read more
In his public statement, Obama said: "LGBT Americans have made, and continue to make, great and lasting contributions that continue to strengthen the fabric of American society. There are many well-respected LGBT leaders in all professional fields, including the arts and business communities." read more