Tag archives: International Religious Freedom

How Polish Churches Are Loving Their Ukrainian Neighbors

by Arielle Del Turco

April 20, 2022

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked a humanitarian crisis unlike anything seen in Europe in nearly a century. Millions of Ukrainians are fleeing across the border to safety in surrounding countries as Russian forces continue to attack their homeland.

When I visited Poland earlier this month, the Polish people’s support for Ukraine was evident. In train stations throughout the country, Ukrainian refugees are met with information desks specifically set up for them, medical tents, basic food and supplies, and volunteers in yellow vests waiting to direct and assist them.

The warm reception of the Polish people and government toward Ukrainian refugees has emerged as a powerful theme in the wake of Russia’s war. And although evangelical Polish churches only make up an estimated 0.3 percent of the population, they have been at the forefront helping refugees.

For example, one Warsaw congregation of fewer than 100 members, Zoe Church, launched into action immediately upon hearing of the invasion. Pastor Szymon Kmiecik jumped into a car the night of the invasion and drove to the Ukrainian border to see how they could help. Since then, the congregation has been sending vans full of supplies into Ukraine and coordinating with Ukrainian evangelical churches to distribute supplies to meet basic needs. The church is also renting three apartments to house Ukrainian refugees and assisting them as they resettle and look for work.

Approximately 90 percent of Ukrainian refugees in Poland are women and children. This poses unique challenges as mothers try to provide for their family and get a job while also caring for young children. Zoe Church has a vision to meet this need by offering a safe childcare option for refugee mothers trying to work or simply looking to entertain their kids for a few hours. Now, the church’s Sunday service attendees have doubled with the Ukrainian refugees the church is helping in attendance. You can donate to their efforts here.

In Western Poland, the First Baptist Church of Wroclaw has also stepped up, making space inside the church for Ukrainian refugees to stay until they find a more permanent place to live. Pastor Michal Domagala told me the church houses an average of 40-60 Ukrainian refugees. Polish volunteers help the refugees find jobs, fill out government paperwork, and get acclimated to life in Poland.

At 300 members, First Baptist Church could be considered a megachurch in Poland. Even before the start of the war, the church held a Ukrainian-language service for the Ukrainians who lived and worked in the city. The church’s setup for refugees is beyond impressive. A room full of clothes for all ages is staffed with volunteers who help refugees locate items they might need. Baby supplies and toys are available for those who fled Ukraine with only what they could carry. You can donate to their efforts here.

The need is great in Poland; the country has already taken in 2.6 million Ukrainian refugees, and more are on the way. The strain on the Polish education and health care systems is starting to show, and housing is becoming scarce. In this environment, the tiny evangelical minority is having an outsized impact.

International Christian humanitarian aid organizations, such as Convoy of Hope Europe and Samaritan’s Purse, also have warehouses and personnel set up inside of Ukraine to help the civilians who remain there and find themselves under attack, out of work, and struggling to cope with shortages of food and basic supplies.

The Polish pastors I spoke with say there is no shortage of people ready to volunteer. Yet, some have noticed that donations are tapering off as the war in Ukraine becomes the new normal. One pastor encouraged Christians around the world to pray that the Polish people will have the grace to continue displaying compassion and generosity to Ukrainian refugees for as long as it is needed. 

Poland’s evangelical churches have given much of themselves in order to love their neighbors. It is a beautiful example of Christian charity worth emulating.

In Afghanistan, Women Are Being Subjugated. In the West, They Are Being Erased.

by Arielle Del Turco

March 29, 2022

We are being treated like criminals just because we are girls. Afghanistan has turned into a jail for us.” This is how one Afghan girl describes life under the Taliban. Girls across the country had their hopes dashed last week when Taliban authorities reneged on their promise to allow girls’ secondary schools (above 6th grade) to reopen. The decision was so last minute that the students were not told until they arrived at school Wednesday morning and had to be sent home.

One girl tearfully recounted to her mother, “Mom, they didn’t let me enter my school. They’re saying girls aren’t allowed.” Instead of attending classes and progressing in their education, she and other Afghan girls will be expected to stay inside their homes and help with housework.

The pretext given by some Taliban officials is they were unable to plan for a school uniform dress code for teenage girls. This pathetic excuse is no doubt familiar to Afghans who previously lived under Taliban rule. When the Taliban controlled Afghanistan from 1996-2001, education for girls was similarly restricted. But in recent months, Taliban officials have tried to insist that they’ve changed over the last two decades. However, all pretense of modernization within the Taliban is now over; that is a deeply tragic reality for women and girls in Afghanistan who simply want to go to school and live normal lives.

While Afghan women and girls were grieving the loss of basic freedoms and opportunities because of their sex, a very different scene played out nearly 7,000 miles away in a U.S. Senate chamber. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) asked Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, to define the word “woman.” Jackson responded, “No. I can’t…I’m not a biologist.” It struck many as odd that a well-educated and successful person—whom many hail as a pioneering black woman herself—was unable or refused even to define the word “woman.”

But this ambiguity on the nature of womanhood isn’t limited to a Supreme Court confirmation hearing; it’s taking our culture by storm. In recent weeks, we’ve seen biological males who self-identify as women kicking biological females off the podium in women’s sports and taking their slots in “woman of the year” designations.

Clarity on the sexes is needed now more than ever. But the truth is not that complicated. Writing in the National Review, Madeleine Kearns explains why no one needs a degree in biology to know what a woman is: “Sex is observable at birth, detectable long after death, and demonstrable in our chromosomes, gametes, and reproductive organs. We are reminded of our sex every time we go to the bathroom or look in a mirror. The sex of the vast majority of people is identifiable at a glance.”

The West’s erasure of women puts women and girls at physical risk in shared spaces like bathrooms and locker rooms and robs them of opportunities that policies like Title IX were supposed to protect. It also has the potential to undermine global momentum on women’s rights. What does it mean for international women’s rights advocacy if the West can no longer agree on a definition for “woman”?

While the West is embroiled in debate about gender identity ideology, the heart-wrenching and horrifying situations faced by many women around the world are being overlooked. Female North Korean defectors forcibly sent back to North Korea endure rape, torture, forced labor, and forced abortions in labor camps. Young Christian and Hindu girls in Pakistan are at risk of being forcibly converted and married to their Muslim kidnappers. Uyghur women are targets of China’s genocide, undergoing brutal mandatory sterilization, forced abortions, and arbitrary detainment.

Women have come a long way in gaining equal rights and protections in much of the world. Yet, the West does a disservice to those women still fighting for basic rights when it sidelines their plight in favor of trendy, dangerous, and incoherent gender identity ideology.

Women and girls around the world aren’t being helped by the West’s newfound confusion about the sexes. We shouldn’t be afraid to say what a woman is—a biological female—and defend the human dignity of women around the world. We must convey the value and goodness of women’s unique qualities—not ignore them, undermine them, and certainly not erase them.

Dems Slip Harmful Human Rights Provision into Russia Energy Sanction Bill

by Arielle Del Turco

March 10, 2022

Congress is rushing through critical pieces of legislation, opening the door for unrelated and harmful amendments to be attached. This is exactly what happened yesterday when the House passed the Suspending Energy Imports from Russia Act (H.R. 6968). It’s a bipartisan bill to prohibit importing energy from Russia in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. However, House Democrats seized the opportunity to tack on a controversial amendment to a bill they knew would pass.

The unnecessary language in H.R. 6968 would modify the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act enacted in 2016. This law enables the U.S. government to place financial sanctions on foreign individuals responsible for “extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” This is an important law, and it is one of the most effective means by which the U.S. government can pressure officials in other countries to stop violating human rights.

However, H.R. 6968 lowers the bar from “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” to simply “serious human rights abuse.” And although the Global Magnitsky Act targeted individuals who were “responsible” for these actions, H.R. 6968 targets anyone “directly or indirectly engaged in” serious human rights abuse. On the surface, these might sound like small changes, but the effects can be far-reaching.

Representative Chris Smith (R-N.J.), one of Congress’s most stalwart human rights advocates, explained the issue on the House floor yesterday:

I’m for this bill, but there are provisions in this, one in particular, that should not be in here. Mr. Speaker, I’m the prime sponsor of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act…. Under the Act, an actionable offense occurs only when there’s a gross violation of internationally-recognized human rights, which has the meaning given to it in the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. Specifically, the Foreign Assistance Act includes torture, cruel and inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges and trial, causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction and clandestine detention of those persons, and other flagrant denials of the right to life, liberty, or the security of a person.

H.R. 6968, however, radically strikes and replaces the current definition of what constitutes an actionable offense with language that is not defined and is being done tonight without the benefit of a hearing or due diligence. Under the new language, the president may impose sanctions on any individual if responsible for or complicit in what they call “serious human rights abuse.” Exactly what does that mean? There’s no definition. How is that phrase defined? How elastic is it? Especially when it’s not linked to any international treaty or covenant. What does “indirectly engaged” mean? How indirect? Guilt by association?

The Global Magnitsky Act got it right. It was bipartisan and it linked sanctions to internationally-recognized human rights. I hope the Senate will take a look at this. This is an egregious mistake.

We want the U.S. government to be as effective as possible when combating human rights abuses abroad. However, no one should be able to abuse mechanisms like the Global Magnitsky Act sanctions to target foreign individuals based on partisan politics or radical social agendas. As radical activists continue to redefine terms and use “human rights” to mean anything they want it to mean, it’s easy to see how H.R. 6968 could be misused.

The new language in H.R. 6968 also eliminates the five-year sunset provision of the Global Magnitsky Act. Sunset provisions give Congress the opportunity every period of years as specified to review how the sanctioning authority is being utilized and make sure it hasn’t been misused. If the Act no longer sunsets, this important oversight review would be eliminated.

Global Magnitsky Act sanctions have been used for good in the past, such as when the U.S. government sanctioned Turkish officials in the case of imprisoned American pastor Andrew Brunson. Just a few weeks later, Brunson was released. It’s important to maintain the integrity of the Global Magnitsky Act and ensure it is not abused by partisan agendas in the executive branch. When the Senate considers H.R. 6968, they should remove this provision.

Ukrainian Athletes Are Teaching the World a Lesson in Valor

by Mary Szoch

March 9, 2022

As Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin continues to wage war on Ukraine in the weeks immediately following the Olympics, sports stories continue to make international headlines. Ahead of and during the Beijing Winter Olympics, the terrible conditions for Olympic athletes dominated the news, while the Uyghur genocide was a second tier news story.  But now, it is the defense of Ukraine’s freedom that has placed athletics and athletes in the spotlight.

Last week, World Taekwondo pulled all future events from Russia. It also stripped Vladimir Putin of his honorary black belt in recognition that he is, as Ukrainian President Zelensky put it, behaving “like a beast.” Putin’s status as honorary president of the International Judo Federation (IJF) and the European Judo Union has been revoked, and he is no longer the recipient of the International Swimming Federation (FINA)’s highest honor.

In stunning displays of solidarity with the Ukrainian people, the National Hockey League announced they would suspend business partnerships with Russia; the Union Cycliste Internationale has banned Russian and Belarusian teams from competing; the World Curling Federation has removed the 2022 European Curling Championships from Russia; FIFA has suspended Russia from the World Cup; and multiple Russian athletes have voiced their support for Ukraine at great risk to themselves. Even the International Olympic Committee, which did not pull the 2022 Olympics out of China despite the ongoing genocide in that country, issued a recommendation that international sports federations not invite or allow Russian or Belarusian athletes to participate in international competitions.

But the most inspiring stories of all have been the Ukrainian athletes who have joined the fight for their homeland. The Ukrainian men’s fencing team withdrew from a World Cup event in Egypt, where they were set to face Russia. Wearing their national colors, the team announced, “Today, Ukrainian fencing team refused to fence team event against Russian Federation. This is our protest against the Russian aggression in Ukraine. Thank you for all international fencers for supporting Ukrainians in the world. Russia, stop war in Ukraine.” Instead of fencing, the team planned to return home and defend their country.

Ukrainian tennis star Sergiy Stakhovsky was vacationing with his wife and three children in Dubai when he heard the news of Russia’s invasion. He, too, decided to return home and defend his country. “I was born here, my grandparents are buried here, and I would like to have a history to tell to my kids,” he said. “Nobody here wants Russia to free them, they have freedom and democracy … and Russia wants to bring despair and poverty.” His three children, all under seven, believe he is at a tennis tournament.

Ukrainian soccer coach Yuriy Vernydub left at the height of his career to fight for his country. “My son called me at 4:30 am and he told me the Russians attacked us. I knew then that I would return to Ukraine to fight,” he said. “Football is my life. I hope this war won’t last for long. We will win, and I will go back to my beloved work.”

The mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, and his brother, Wladimir, are former boxing champions who are ready to fend off Russian attacks. Waldimir commented, “I am Ukrainian, and I am a fighter…our strongest force is the will and desire to live in a free country.”

And the Klitschko brothers aren’t the only prizefighters bearing different arms. Champion boxers Vasily Lomachenko and Oleksander Usyki have returned to defend their homeland as well. When asked about his decision to fight, Ukrainian heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyki said, “My soul belongs to the Lord and my body and my honor belong to my country, to my family. So there is no fear, absolutely no fear. There’s just bafflement—how could this be in the 21st century?”

Across the country, Ukrainians—including three athletes, Vitalii Sapylo, Dmytro Martynenko, and Yevhen Malyshev—are willingly laying down their lives for their country to remain independent. These men and women are heroes—dying so that others may live free. 

One of the reasons sports are good is because they have the ability to teach life lessons. They teach men and women to work hard, be the best they can be, work as a team, be mentally tough and courageous, and die to self for a greater good.

As Ukraine continues to struggle to maintain its independence, Ukrainian athletes are proving they have learned much more from sports than how to win gold medals. It is time for the rest of the world to learn a few lessons from Ukrainians.

Forced Marriage in Pakistan and Why It Matters to the U.S.

by Arielle Del Turco , Hannah Waters

March 1, 2022

For nearly a year, Nayab Gill has been forced to live with her kidnapper. 

In early 2021, 13-year-old Nayab and her father were approached by Saddam Hayat, a 30-year-old married Muslim man and father of four. Hayat offered to train Nayab in his beauty salon and give her a much-needed job. For weeks, Hayat faithfully picked up Nayab, brought her to his salon, gave her lessons in cosmetology, and brought her home each day. 

On May 20, however, Nayab never came home.

Nayab’s frantic parents searched for their child for over a week with no success. Eventually, local police contacted the Gill family, informing them that their daughter had registered as a willful convert to Islam and had married a Muslim man—Hayat. In reality, Hayat and six others had kidnapped Nayab from her home, raped her, forced her to convert to Islam, and coerced her into marriage.

After a long legal struggle and many nights spent trapped in her abuser’s home, Nayab’s case finally went to court. Although her parents presented her birth certificate, which proved she was a minor, the judge accepted Hayat’s forged documents—documents that claimed he had recently celebrated his 18th anniversary with his 19-year-old bride. Shockingly, the court ruled in the kidnapper’s favor, declaring that Nayab had willingly converted to Islam and married Hayat. At the ruling, Nayab’s parents broke down in tears as she was led by police back into the arms of her abuser.

Sadly, this horrific account is a reality for hundreds of Christian and Hindu girls in Pakistan. Although there are no official records, it is estimated that over 1,000 cases like Nayab’s occur in Pakistan every year. Despite the clear human rights violation, the practice of forced conversion and marriage still thrives in Pakistan.

The newly-updated report from Family Research Council, “Combatting Forced Marriage of Young Women in Pakistan,” exposes the ongoing tragedy in Pakistan and presents ways in which the U.S. government can begin to address the problem.

The U.S. State Department designates Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for its “particularly severe” religious freedom violations—and with good reason. Religious minorities hold a marginalized position in Pakistani society, a relic of the former Indian caste system.

The tension between religious groups provides a convenient means by which Muslim perpetrators can protect themselves from just punishment. Although the perpetrators of forced conversions and marriages are in violation of Pakistani law, the religious dynamics of Pakistan are such that a ruling in favor of a Christian or Hindu victim can often be seen as an attack on Islam itself. This creates an environment in which perpetrators can target their victims and commit crimes with impunity. 

When local police are informed of forced conversion and marriage cases, they are often reluctant to help find victims or bring perpetrators to justice. At times, authorities have even been hostile toward the victim’s family and often bend to the pressures of the extremist or influential abductors. Police have also interfered with investigations by discouraging Christian and Hindu families from filing formal complaints.

Pakistani courts aggravate this tragedy when they neglect to follow fair legal procedures. Investigations into the circumstances of an alleged conversion rarely take place; instead, the existence of a conversion certificate—which is often forged—is taken as sufficient proof. Furthermore, the threat of Islamist mob violence often makes judges afraid to do the right thing.

The issue of forced conversion and forced marriage in Pakistan is tragic. As a long-standing leader in upholding international human rights, the United States faces a critical moment. Continued silence will only embolden those who wish to violate human dignity and restrict religious freedom.

By taking a few simple steps, the U.S. government can go a long way toward holding the perpetrators—and the government that tolerates them—accountable. To start, American diplomats should raise this issue with their Pakistani counterparts. Congress can pass a resolution condemning this practice and calling on the Pakistani government to address it. The United States should also apply targeted sanctions on Pakistani officials responsible for committing or tolerating human rights abuses.

Forced conversion and marriage in Pakistan are enabled by social discrimination, corrupt authorities, and unjust courts of law. America’s diplomacy with Pakistan should address all these concerns. The United States must demonstrate an unwavering commitment to international human rights and advocate for the defenseless. Addressing this tragedy in Pakistan is a good place to start.

Arielle Del Turco is assistant director of the Center for Religious Freedom. Hannah Waters is the research assistant for the Center for Religious Liberty.

Courage on Display in Ukraine

by Arielle Del Turco

February 28, 2022

History is unfolding in Ukraine. Russia’s invasion of the country is a voluntary war of aggression the likes of which Europe hasn’t seen since World War II, and the way the world chooses to respond is profoundly significant.

The heroes and villains of this story are already emerging. Tragic and impossible situations reveal one’s character. And Russia’s unprovoked—and to most Ukrainians, completely unexpected—attack on Ukraine’s very right to exist as a country has prompted Ukrainians to respond with remarkable strength and determination.

A survey of recent reporting offers a glimpse of the heroics on display from everyday people: Ukrainians in small rural communities are patrolling their villages and constructing checkpoints, trenches, and underground shelters. A Ukrainian woman named Julia cried as she waited to be deployed to fight Russian troops, telling The New York Times, “I just want to live in our country, and that’s all.” Julia is a teacher, not wanting and hardly expecting a fight, but she volunteered to take up arms for her country anyway. The government is arming anyone able to hold a gun and willing to fight. Many are taking them up on the offer, even a former Miss Ukraine.

Elsewhere, a Ukrainian woman was entrusted with bringing a stranger’s children across the border to safety while their father stayed to fight. A young boy demonstrating maturity beyond his years teared up while telling a journalist how his father stayed behind to support the fight against the Russian forces while he flees to the border. Although over 500,000 Ukrainians have fled to other European countries, some Ukrainians who were living in Poland are returning to Ukraine to join the fight.

The Russian leadership does not understand that it is at war not only with the armed forces of Ukraine, but with the entire Ukrainian people,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Sunday. This seems to be exactly the case. A senior defense official at the Pentagon stated openly over the weekend that Ukraine’s “resistance is greater than what the Russians expected.”

The courage of everyday Ukrainians is inspiring people around the world. Thousands throughout the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Japan, Brazil, the United States, and many other countries are rallying in support of Ukraine.

The world is also noticing the rise of a Churchill-like figure in Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He first became famous as a comedic actor in a TV series in which he played an average character who almost accidentally became president. In real life, he campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, likely not suspecting to be targeted by a sophisticated full-scale Russian invasion. Zelenskyy’s presidency is now anything but comedic, yet he has risen to the challenge of being a “wartime president” with remarkable resolve and grace under fire.

Last Thursday, Zelenskyy addressed the Russian people in a heartfelt plea. He said:

It is not about peace at any cost. It is about peace and principles, of justice, of international law. It is about the right to self-determination, that every person might determine their own future. It is the right of every society, and of every person, to security, to a life without threats. I am certain that these rights are important to you, as well.

The truth is that this needs to end before it is too late. If Russia’s leadership does not want to meet us across the table for the sake of peace, perhaps it will sit at that table with you. Do you Russians want a war? I would very much like to know the answer, but that answer depends only on you, on the citizens of the Russian Federation.

Some Russians seem to have responded to Zelenskyy’s appeal, making it clear to Russian leaders they do not want to see an attack on Ukraine. It’s one thing to protest in a free country, but it’s quite another for Russians to protest the government they know might brutally crack down on them. By some estimates, Russian authorities have arrested more than 5,000 Russian protestors.

Experts believe that Russian forces want to assassinate Zelenskyy and replace him with a Russian-backed leader—and Zelenskyy believes it too. The United States offered to help Zelenskyy leave. Yet, his reply showed unwavering resolve: “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.”

This strength of will has earned admiration across the globe and fostered hope both inside and outside of Ukraine. One Ukrainian American journalist wrote on Sunday, “Can Ukraine withstand the third largest army in the world? If you asked me Thursday, I’d think the chances were low. Now I am sure they will.”

Images and videos of Ukrainians praying and singing hymns are stirring hearts around the world. Join them in praying for the preservation of their country and the sound defeat of Russia’s brutal attack on their freedom and independence. If Ukrainians manage to keep their land and freedom, it will be due in large part to the courage of the Ukrainian people and their gutsy leader. God bless them.

Praying for Ukraine

by Arielle Del Turco

February 24, 2022

Russia has “shattered peace in Europe” in one night.

In the early hours of the morning, billows of smoke could be seen rising above several major Ukrainian cities that were targets of Russian shelling and rocket attacks. The onslaught began only minutes after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that he would be conducting a “special military operation” in the neighboring country. It quickly became clear that the operation was a full-scale invasion.

Thousands of Ukrainians are trying to leave the capital city of Kyiv, causing major traffic jams, while others are choosing to stay, ready to fight for the right to live in their own country with their own government. Casualties of the day-old war are already in the hundreds and still climbing.

As innocent civilians watch in terror as their country is invaded by one of the world’s most sophisticated militaries, here are five ways you can pray for Ukraine:

1. Pray for the people of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian people are tough, and they’re not surrendering without a fight. Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukrainians have learned the value of having their own sovereign democratic country, and many don’t want to return to being ruled by yet another Russian autocrat, no matter what the cost.

Ukrainians don’t know what the future holds for their country. In a moving scene on live TV, CNN’s Clarissa Ward captured footage of a small group of Ukrainians kneeling to pray in a city square in Kharkiv in the freezing cold.

As these Ukrainians, and surely so many others like them, are driven to their knees in prayer, we should join them. Pray for safety for the people of Ukraine, that residential areas would not be targeted, and that God would comfort those who are afraid. Many Ukrainians are Christian; pray that their faith would be strengthened to withstand this trying time.

2. Pray for wisdom for world leaders as they respond to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring,” President Joe Biden rightly said in a tweet this week. However, world leaders bear the responsibility to respond, and the choices they make even in the next few days can shape the course of history.

Pray that they would have wisdom as they make decisions regarding sanctions, military support, and other means of deterring Russia and supporting Ukraine.

3. Pray that churches and Christian ministries in Ukraine would be equipped and ready to help in the event of a humanitarian emergency.

Ukrainian church leaders were already grappling with how to respond to an imminent invasion from Russia. Now that one is underway, they will need to lead their congregations with wisdom and courage.

The possibility of a refugee crisis becomes even more likely during a war, and churches and Christian ministries will inevitably be at the forefront, providing assistance and spiritual and material help to the displaced and hurting. Pray that God would prepare and equip ministries to aid those in need.

4. Pray for a change of heart for Russian leaders, that they would turn from war and aggression and choose peace.

Yesterday, the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations sent an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, requesting that he end his invasion. On their behalf, Chairman Hryhorii Komendant wrote:

Today we pray to the Creator of the Universe with a special request for wisdom for those who are authorized to make decisions so significant for the whole world, in whose hands the fate of humanity has turned out to be. This applies primarily to you, Mr. President of the Russian Federation. This prayer of ours is filled with hope for the generosity of the Almighty God and the openness of the heart that accepts grace.

5. Pray for peace and the expansion of freedom.

Recent years have seen a decline in freedom around the world—the Chinese government choked Hong Kong, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, and military coups took over Sudan and Burma. This is a dangerous time for the free world and a devastating one for the people who now live under oppression.

As Putin attacks Ukraine, peace and freedom are once again under siege. This conflict benefits very few people, and even some people in Russia see that. Despite extensive government propaganda, some Russians have protested Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. In response, Russian authorities have cracked down on their own citizens, arresting at least 1,700 protestors in 53 cities.

Pray for peace in Ukraine and throughout Europe. Pray that plans intended for evil would be thwarted. Pray for the expansion of freedom around the world.

Brave Truckers and Faithful Pastors: The Uprise Against Canada’s Champagne Tyranny

by Owen Strachan

February 18, 2022

Before there were the Canadian truckers, there were the Canadian pastors.

In case the preceding sentence is strange to you, here’s what has been happening in Canada lately. Truckers from across the nation streamed into Ottawa a week or two ago. They did so in order to peacefully protest the loss of liberties. Under the guise of COVID policy, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has altered the very nature of citizenship in Canada. Vaccine mandates, forced closure of all manner of institutions, and vaccine passports have meant that Canadians have suffered tremendously as they watched their freedoms dwindle. In the name of fighting a (real) virus, a once-great nation has fallen to its knees.

But it has not stayed there. The truckers have fought back. They have shown that the light of the West—freedom for the individual—has not gone out. Putting their livelihoods on the line, the truckers have acted as men must in the face of massive civilizational threat: boldly. They have not torched Ottawa or anywhere else. They have not caused violence and mayhem. Unlike the riots of the summer of 2020—riots fomented by Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and the mainstream media’s coverage, the winter of 2022 has featured protest of a peaceful kind. The truckers have given the world an example of how to advocate for liberty and defy tyranny—tyranny of a distinctly Trudeauian kind. Call it “champagne tyranny,” for although Canada’s foremost political leader projects a cosmopolitan air, if you look beneath the half-smile and the flowing locks, you see an emerging totalitarian.

The truckers have defied “champagne tyranny.” They were not the first to do so in Canada, however. Starting in the summer of 2020, Ontario pastor Jacob Reaume saw that he could not fail to gather his people for congregational worship. The flock of Trinity Bible Chapel in Waterloo needed the Word and the gospel. Sermonettes on Zoom and text messages to one another would not cut it. Reaume’s conscience told him that remotely gathering over Zoom was no substitute for the gathered church (Hebrews 10:25). Reaume knew instinctively what John MacArthur has proclaimed: “There is no such thing as a Zoom church.”

It is no bad thing for sick folks to be able to stream sermons, of course. Further, Christians do have real disagreements in charity over policies regarding lockdowns and governmental decrees. There are gray areas and hard questions that pastors have faced the last two years, and we have sympathy for their efforts to try to hold churches together in divided times. But with that noted, Reaume and his peers saw something vital: Caesar does not rule the church’s worship. Christ does. To gather together weekly, even in difficult and tempestuous days, even when Caesar says not to, is to render to him what is due him (Matthew 22:21).

So, not long after the lockdown began in spring 2020, Reaume—like many pastors—gathered the flock and “opened the church.” As he did so, he drew the wrath of Canadian officials. Over time in late 2020 and 2021, they fined his church millions of dollars. Yet Reaume and his elders refused to stop meeting. They did so not to spite the government; they did so to glorify God and love needy people. God has commanded that his people gather, so loving God means meeting for worship, which also happens to be the foremost way Christians love their neighbor (see Matthew 22:34-39). Yet today, we are tempted by our fallen world to break the first commandment (and not gather for worship) in order to keep the second commandment (and thus love neighbor).

These pastors knew that Christians need congregational worship and body life, even desperately. So, too, do unbelievers need the gospel. This becomes especially clear in a global lockdown when seemingly every comfort and pleasure of normal life has drained away. One woman who had no interest in church prior to the lockdown visited Trinity Bible Chapel during it. Her name is Jennifer. She was, by her own testimony, shooting cocaine, being promiscuous, and living without any hope at all. She was lost. But her son asked her to come to a gathering at Trinity, and she did. She heard biblical truth and experienced biblical love. God’s Spirit moved, and Jennifer was born again. She was baptized not long ago at Trinity and said these words in her baptismal testimony:

Most recently, I was smoking and shooting seven grams of cocaine a day, and my son asked me to come to a prayer meeting at Trinity. In my small group, I asked for prayer to stop… I know for a fact that I’d be dead right now if God had not used this church in my life.

The ministry of Trinity, Pastor Reaume, and the faithful elders of this church bore much fruit even in difficult days. The same trend—light advancing in darkness—was playing out in Western Canada as well. In Edmonton, at a church called GraceLife, Pastor James Coates and his elders had reached similar conclusions. Coates saw that his people needed the hope of the gospel and determined with his elders and the support of the church that GraceLife Edmonton would not close in 2020 and 2021. For doing so, James Coates and his church were targeted. Civil authorities put a fence around the church building. Coates refused to stop preaching the Word to his people (and hundreds more who came), and for doing so, was thrown into prison in February 2021.

The same happened to Tim Stephens, a pastor in Calgary, Alberta. In May and June 2021, Stephens went to prison for gathering his flock. The video of Stephens being taken by authorities from his family is heart-wrenching. His children weep, and Stephens was hauled off. Alongside Stephens, other faithful men have spoken up and taken a stand in Canada as well. Men like Mike Hovland, Steve Richardson, Aaron Rock, Joseph Boot, Samuel Sey, and Steve Bainbridge have put themselves on record as those who will not bow the knee to champagne tyranny. Still others, like Artur Pawlowski—a Protestant of a different religious stripe than the aforementioned men— have also paid a heavy price for defending religious liberty.

Yet here is something remarkable: the American church has been largely silent about the plight of the Canadian church. Rarely has so much communicative power gone so untapped. Very few pastors, theologians, and religious leaders have supported the persecuted and suffering Canadian church. In America, blessed with huge organizations devoted to the cause of religious liberty and freedom more generally, precious few have spoken in defense of the faithful leaders and congregations of Canada. In fact, over the last couple of years, when Americans (and some Canadians) have spoken up at all about the suffering Canadian pastors, they have done so to oppose them, nitpick their arguments, and generally discourage their bravery.

There is a great more to say about all this. Yet what we should not miss is this: courage is having an effect in Canada, a tremendous effect. It always does. Courage is how movements advance; freedom is what comes from the gospel of Christ, freedom of many kinds. God has done something unprecedented in Canada in recent days, and a nation falling under the shadow of tyranny has awoken. The truckers show us this, as does the massive cross-country opposition to Trudeau’s champagne tyranny.

Truly, at this hour, Trudeau is alone. He is not bolstered by a wave of popular opinion. He who has done so much to mask and muzzle the Canadian people is well and truly unmasked. In his common grace, God has let the world see—in Canada and across the world—the totalitarian nature of modern leftism. It is not “live and let live” as an ideology; it is “do what I say or suffer.”

Here is the story on the ground, then. Canada is not fallen—not yet. Amidst much travail and real suffering, the true Canada is rising. Long may it rise. We ask not for violence or destruction but a return to liberty, human flourishing, and justice. If it is brave truckers who have lately led the way here, know this: before there were the Canadian truckers, there were the Canadian pastors. Man may oppose them, but God is behind them. What is the emblem of the Christian faith, after all? Light has come into the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).

And, we may rightly say, it never will.

Praying for Leah Sharibu After Four Years in Captivity

by Arielle Del Turco

February 18, 2022

Four years ago, Leah Sharibu’s world was turned upside down. She went from being a normal schoolgirl in a rural region of Nigeria to being a captive of a faction of one of the world’s most notorious terrorist groups, Boko Haram.

On February 19, 2018, Boko Haram terrorists attacked the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College in Dapchi, Yobe State, in northeast Nigeria. They kidnapped 109 students. However, they quickly released all but one: Leah Sharibu.

The girls who were released said the terrorists would not free Leah, who was just 14 years old at the time, because she refused to renounce her faith in Christ and convert to Islam. The world has not seen or heard from Leah since, but multiple recent reports indicate that she is still alive.

Reverend Gideon Para-Mallam told Open Doors: “It has been almost four years since Leah’s abduction. What a traumatic experience for this teenage girl. But we are grateful to God that she is still alive. The news of her being alive should encourage our hearts to remain hopeful that one day Leah will be set free.”

Reports indicate that Leah may have two young children at this point, likely a result of rape and/or forced marriage to one of her captors. The truth remains unclear, but one thing is for sure—Leah needs our prayers. Here are three ways you can pray for Leah:

1. Pray for Leah’s release from captivity.

This weekend marks the beginning of Leah’s fourth year in bondage. Pray that her captors would have a miraculous change of heart. Also, pray that the Nigerian government—which has blatantly neglected the pleas for help from Nigerian Christians who are routinely victimized by terrorist attacks—would be motivated to locate and rescue Leah.

2. Pray for Leah’s encouragement and protection.

Persecution can place immense strain on one’s character, mental health, and walk with the Lord. Pray that the Lord would encourage Leah and give her the mental, emotional, and physical strength and perseverance she needs. Pray that no harm would come to her body from Boko Haram terrorists or others.

3. Pray for Leah’s family and the many Christians just like Leah who are facing persecution.

One often-forgotten consequence of persecution is the effect it has on the victims’ families. Since her kidnapping, Leah’s family has been distraught. Her mother does not even have proof that her daughter is alive. She has visited the United States to ask American leaders to urge the Nigerian government to help but has little to show for it. Pray that God would comfort Leah’s family while they wait and pray for Leah’s freedom.

Today, Leah is the face of so many persecuted people whose names and stories the world does not know. She reminds us of the price people pay to follow Christ. As we remember that Leah was captured four years ago, please also pray for the millions of others who face religious persecution in Nigeria, China, North Korea, Pakistan, and far too many other places.

The Human Costs of China’s Demographic Collapse

by Arielle Del Turco

January 25, 2022

Last week, China announced that its birth rate hit a record low in 2021 after five years of decline. In 2021, China’s population growth rate was up a measly 0.034 percent, while the number of births per thousand people fell to 7.52 in 2021 from an already low number of 8.52 in 2022.

Years of propaganda and policies discouraging families from having more than one child have had a major impact. Now, Chinese officials are scrambling to come up with ways to reverse the self-inflicted damage.

For over three decades, China brutally enforced its one-child policy, even utilizing forced abortions and sterilizations. The damage wrought by the policy is not just psychological or cultural, but also physical. A Wall Street Journal article on China’s urging of parents to have children notes that “multiple abortions impact women’s bodies and infertility is a possible consequence,” according to anthropologist Ayo Wahlberg.

Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders first instituted the one-child policy due to their concern that the growing population would strain the economy. Now, they worry about the economic cost of slowing population growth and the possibility of population decline. Mainstream media outlets cover the possibility of China’s population decline mainly as a troubling development for the rising power’s economy. Rightfully so. China has an aging population and fewer young workers to support the elderly. 

A decline in the birth rate—and certainly a population decline overall—would have high economic costs. But it will also have a human cost; that’s because families matter. Individuals belonging to a healthy family will have a support system when they age. Children and families can act as a hedge against loneliness (especially in old age) and lend purpose and meaning to life. These benefits cannot be underestimated. With population decline, nations will lose much more than numbers.

In China, the ramifications already harm millions. Most Chinese adults born under the one-child policy have no siblings and bear the weight of supporting their elderly parents alone. And only children whose parents are also only children lack the larger support network and community of an extended family.

Nothing illustrates the human cost of population decline quite like the bizarre cultural phenomena it is currently causing in Japan. For Japanese brides or grooms with few family members, “relatives” can be rented to attend weddings. For those who want the affection of a pet without the responsibility of caring for them, robot pets and rental pets are increasingly common. Meanwhile, there are now so few people that one in eight houses sit vacant; so many that there is a term for them—akiya.  

The Institute for Family Studies points out that low fertility rates very directly impact the lives of those who experience “missing births,” including “rising loneliness to aging alone to less happiness.”

Chinese leaders are scrambling to undo the damage of the one-child policy and encourage births, but some think it may be too late. There’s an air of fear in China regarding having children. It’s impossible to believe that decades of propaganda against having additional children (and abusive measures taken against families that do) is not largely to blame for this. Many couples view having multiple children as too much of a burden. Education and extracurricular costs for children are extremely high, and a culture that prioritizes career growth undercuts the importance of family.

Repressive government policies against ethnic minorities only exacerbate China’s demographic challenges. In Xinjiang, Chinese authorities are committing genocide against the Uyghur people by preventing births through forced abortions and sterilizations. The brutality of the atrocities being carried out in this region is difficult to comprehend, and women of reproductive age bear the brunt of these policies. If Chinese leaders truly want to raise the birth rate, a good first step is to stop committing genocide.

After decades of tinkering with population control, Chinese leaders have not learned their lesson. The number of children a couple is allowed to have is currently up to three, but any limitation should be removed. Chinese people—and Uyghur people—ought to be free to have as many children as they desire.

Chinese leaders should resist the temptation to use heavy-handed policies to force a rise in the birth rate. Instead of coercive measures to fix its demographic issues, they should focus on affirming the inherent value of every human life and the deep importance of families.

The world is beautiful and full of adventure. Instead of worrying about fleeting career advancements or economic gain, couples should open their hearts to invite more children in to enjoy it. Having kids can be scary—but they can also make you a better person. Governments don’t need coercive policies; they need only to affirm the profound importance of families, a truth people know deep down but need reminded of. In China and all countries experiencing lower birth rates, a change of heart about children and families can make all the difference.

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