Want to walk in these shoes?
May 17 2002 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Want to walk in these shoes? | Friday, May 17, 2002

Friday, May 17, 2002

Want to walk in these shoes?

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

As Baptists in America, we tend to spend a lot of time bickering among ourselves and bemoaning our denominational fate when things don't go our way.

Christians in North Korea, Turkmenistan and Sudan should be lucky enough to have such luxury. According to a story in Religion News Service, those three countries are the world's worst when it comes to state-sponsored religious persecution.

According to the report, thousands of North Koreans are risking their lives to flee into China in search of both freedom and food. Millions have died of starvation and disease in recent years.

"Religious freedom does not exist (in North Korea) and what little religious activity that is permitted by the government appears to be largely staged for foreign visitors," said Michael Young, chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The government of Turkmenistan, a northwest neighbor of Afghanistan, recognizes only Sunni Islam and Russian Orthodoxy as legitimate religions. Members of other religions are reportedly tortured, their literature confiscated and their places of worship destroyed, according to the government report.

The panel also criticized Sudan, where civil war continues to rage between the predominantly Muslim North and Christian South. Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom of Freedom House and one of the commissioners, said abduction of women and children as slaves, deliberate denial of international humanitarian assistance and the pushing away of populations from oil-producing areas are some of the violations committed by the Sudanese government.

The commission is urging the U.S. government to exert pressure on regimes that repress religious freedom. Those measures can involve withholding all but essential humanitarian aid, refusing to purchase oil or natural gas from offending countries, or encouraging nearby nations to accept refugees.

But religious persecution is not limited to those three countries. In Indonesia, for example, the government has been accused of complicity - or at least, of consciously failing to intervene - in violent rampages by the Laskar Jihad, an Islamic militant group.

Indonesia is an archipelago made up of thousands of islands that include many distinct people groups.

The region of Maluku, like West Papua (the western half of what was once called New Guinea), was once predominantly Christian, but former president Suharto encouraged Javanese Muslims to migrate to less densely populated areas of Indonesia, leading to widespread demographic change.

According to a recent report prepared by Elizabeth Kendal, writing for the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Freedom Prayer List, there was relative peace between Christians, Muslims and Hindus prior to Suharto's departure in May 1998. Afterward, various power brokers who felt disenfranchised by the new government instigated conflict designed to destabilize the country and encourage military control.

Thousands of Laskar Jihad militants arrived in mid-2000 and began committing horrible atrocities in Ambon, the capital (see the Recorder's December 2000 story). Extremists murdered, dismembered and burned church members in an effort to eradicate Christianity from the region. As many as 8,000 died and half a million became refugees.

Many people worked to better the situation, and on Feb. 12 the "Malino Peace Accord" was signed by delegations from the Muslim and Christian communities of Maluku. The Laskar Jihad refused to attend, however, and pronounced the accord to be "treasonous."

Jihad leader Jaffar Umar Thalib, who preaches that democracy is 'incompatible with Islam,' calls for Indonesia to be made an Islamic state with Sharia Law and scorns Osama bin Laden for being too soft, recently instigated new attacks.

On April 26, Thalib urged some 5,000 Muslims outside the Al-Fatah Mosque in Ambon to rally together in holy war against the Christians. Soon afterward, heavily armed militants entered the Christian village of Soya (near Ambon city) as the people slept, and killed up to 21 people by stabbing, decapitation or burning them alive. Many more were wounded; 30 homes and a Christian church were burned.

Meanwhile, Lakar Jihad troops are also advancing in West Papua, and the government refuses to expel them from the area.

We, who sometimes think we have it bad, have a responsibility to act.

When possible, we must do all we can through legitimate means to work for peace and for religious freedom in all places.

At all times, we must pray.

We can pray for God to protect the faith of frightened and traumatized believers, asking God to strengthen the hearts and minds of those tempted to doubt His goodness or presence.

We can pray for government officials in Indonesia, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Sudan and elsewhere to bring an end to violence against people on the basis of their faith.

We can pray for militant extremists to be recognized and dealt with for who they are, and not who they claim to be.

We can, and we must.

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5/17/2002 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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