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April 2012

What’s the message from the VOM tragedy?

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Late last week I received some terrible news. It was a message from Todd Nettleton. He’s a dear friend at Voice of the Martyrs. He told me in an email that a man I have admired for a long time, Tom White,  had died. The story surrounding his death is tragic. If you haven’t heard, here’s the release on VOM’s Web site:

“April 20, 2012 The Voice of the Martyrs statement concerning the death of Tom White:

The events of the last week are tragic. On Wednesday we learned that Tom White, VOM’s executive director, had died.

Allegations were made to authorities this week that Tom had inappropriate contact with a young girl. Rather than face those allegations, and all of the resulting fallout for his family and this ministry and himself, Tom appears to have chosen to take his own life.

None of those in leadership at VOM, including our board of directors, were aware of these allegations at the time of Tom’s death.

There is no doubt that Tom cared about his wife, his children and his grandchildren. And there’s no doubt that he cared about VOM.

We are deeply saddened by these events. Our hearts are broken.

However, the work that God has called VOM to do is bigger than any one of us. There are persecuted Christians who need our help. The legal process will go forward, and we will continue serving with our persecuted brothers and sisters.

We appreciate the many who are praying for our work, and we encourage you to join us in praying for Tom’s family during this difficult time.”

What is the message from this tragedy? I wish I had an answer. I lost a lot of sleep the night I found out about this news. If this can happen in Tom’s life, this can happen in the life of ANY Christian. I Corinthians 15:10 starts by saying, “But by the grace of God I am what I am…” I can only say that we would all fail if it wasn’t for God’s grace. Apart from Him we’re nothing. Apart of Christ, we can’t help but be as pagan as anyone else in the world.

The question I have is what are we doing to protect ourselves? How are we holding each other accountable? For those in high leadership positions, who’s their accountability? For men, pornography can debilitate us. It can cripple our ministries. The sexual sins are the ones Satan will use to destroy us. If it can happen to a man after God’s own heart (King David), it can happen to anyone. As Christians we need to stay in His Word and have accountability partners who we’re not just meeting with once a week. We need people who are intimately a part of our lives, asking tough probing questions.

We’ll never know what happened in this situation. If the allegations are true, a man who I admired as a man of God who cared about persecuted Christians around the world, fell. His sin cost him his life by his own hand. It puts a ministry in the cross-hairs of the secular scrutiny.

What can we do? My suggestion is pray! Pray that God would comfort Tom White’s family. They have to be feeling so much pain. Pray for the alleged victim and her family. Pray for Voice of the Martyrs. Ask God to protect them from the fall-out from what could happen as the secular press begins talking about this tragedy.  Finally, pray God’s protection for yourselves and other Christian leaders. We need your prayers. Pray that God will protect us from attacks from the Devil, and that He would protect us from ourselves.

Why next week should have us on our knees

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North Korea is the eeriest kind of horror-film setting I can think of. Terrible things are happening elsewhere–thousands are dying from senseless fighting in Syria, children are forced to use machine guns in Congo, girls are pruned for prostitution in Thailand–but North Korea seems to be the only nation that has found a way to control its citizens’ minds.

I get a cold, disturbed feeling any time I write a story about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. On the best of days, the nation’s outrageous propaganda can seem humorous; on other days, the emaciated faces of starving people playing through my mind represent the worst of tragedies. I am no North Korean expert. Apart from a handful of documentaries I’ve seen and news articles I’ve written, I know little about the intricate inner-workings of North Korea. But in all of my news writing, interviews and research, I have come to the conclusion (as undoubtedly many others have) that North Korea is in its own homemade category of crazy. I don’t mean that in a funny way, I mean it in a psychotic, manic and disturbing way. North Korea is number one on the Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians–it has been for ten years–but it seems to me to be leaps and bounds ahead of Afghanistan (number 2 on the list) or Saudi Arabia (number 3) in its terrifying restrictions. Christians caught with a Bible in North Korea–which claims to have freedom of religion–can not only be sentenced to prison, but their children and their children’s children can carry that same sentence. Just for owning a Bible. There are an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 believers in North Korean prisons. Those who are not in jail for their “crimes” live incredibly meager lives. Believers have said that although it’s the norm in North Korea to be starving, Christians potentially suffer the worst. They are often the last to get any sort of food aid when it’s distributed.

“Oppressive” does not begin to describe a place where children are encouraged to rat out their parents for owning a copy of the Scriptures, where every person is forced to worship the “god” Kim Jung-un, where Christians are viewed as Western spies, and where even private worship can be punishable by death without trial. It seems almost too horrifying to be true; simply unreal. And yet, we serve–and our North Korean brothers and sisters serve–the same God who kept three men alive when thrown into a furnace for refusing to bow to a false god. The same God who set an entire people free from slavery by defying natural law and parting a sea. The same God who has broken the bonds of death itself. Surely our God can rescue His people from the grasp of human leaders in North Korea.

But will He do it if we do not ask?

Open Doors is calling on all believers next week, April 23-29 to get on their knees and pray for the most oppressive nation on earth. To pray for safety of believers, for the Gospel to spread (as it IS doing!), to pray for leaders to turn to Christ and for true freedom to reign. We advocate so many giving opportunities and prayer guides at Mission Network News that it’s impossible for all of us working here to do them all. But this is one I cannot, in good conscience, miss. In an article airing on MNN on April 17, Jerry Dykstra tells us that North Korean believers have said the only thing keeping them going is knowing they have the support of other believers’ prayers. Thus our prayers will have a dual effect: both beseeching the Lord of the universe to find favor with our North Korean family members, and encouraging our brothers and sisters that they are not alone.

To join in this week-long prayer effort–purposely coincident with North Korea Freedom Week–visit http://www.opendoorsusa.org/. You can also view a 19 minute Open Doors video to learn more about Christians living underground in North Korea here.