Nov 3, 2009

Christians Still Die And there IS Religious Persecution in Mexico

On October 13th, I had the honor and privilege of presenting information about Religious Persecution in Mexico at the VOM/USA office in Oklahoma, for the first time representing our own office, VOM en Mexico. Actually getting there was the battle... on the way to the border in San Luis Colorado, where I planned on visiting my daughter Jaimee and grandson Lonney Ray (pictured here with the Lion), my wallet will all my money and documents was stolen... just before I arrived. I found out when we went to Mac Donalds and ordered, only to find that my wallet was gone! Passport, Maine ID, credit card, prison visitation ID, checks, immigration permission... EVERTHING. No money... no phone to contact people... no way to get on a plane from Yuma to Tulsa without passport or picture ID. Now if you know me, you have heard about my wild travel by bus stories of things that have happened to me that shouldn't. I have actually some VOM fame in Oklahoma that I shouldn't deserve. Why, when anyone mentions traveling by bus, does everyone who knows me or has heard of me, start laughing? It's a toss up of being known for my "strong" personality (who: sweet and kind little ole me?) or the infamous bus trips I've experienced. And actually, without apologies, I'll say that now British owned Greyhound bus service in the States could learn alot from the luxury, and reasonably priced buslines in Mexico and Central America, where one can ride in comfort, and be treated politely! Since I couldn't get to OK on time, I set about doing what I needed todo to get my report written and sent in, with the help of a young man I'd never met before, who was visiting at La Sombra Baptist Church in San Luis, Sonora, Mexico. And on Sunday morning, after church, this "strange" young man told me that the Lord had told him that I should get to that conference. So when nothing else was feasible, he offered to drive me in his car and pay the costs for the 30 hour straight trip to Bartlesville. Well, at that rate, Jaime asked if she could tag along, and bring her son, Lonney. So off we went, on a journey made a bit longer by my grandson's tendency to carsickness, but with Allan and his fiancee, Hayley showing patience and kindness all the way. We arrived at 1:30 am... and were received with typical VOM love and graciousness. I believe that the information from our office was rather different, and that many heard for the first time, or at least explained in a clearer manner, what is the actual situation relating to religious discrimination and persecution in Mexico, now even recognized by the US State Department last week. I'd say that the higher indices of persecution are a result of several issues... and not until the August Supreme Court release of 20 Acteal Massacre Prisoners, due to increased resentment or hatred for evangelical believers by those of the majority church. Those two causes would be: 1. increased activism in reporting cases as they happen, and 2. workshops taught since 2007, teaching the indigena believers that they have guarenteed religious liberty under Article 24 of the Mexican constitution. That due to people like Oscar Moha, journalist/human rights defender in Mexico City and Esdras Alonso, leader & human rights defender in Chiapas. We would attribute the persecution in general to: the 1. disinterest of the Mexican federal government to promote religious equality and to stand by the laws that guarantee it, and the 2.position of the majority church as a favored body, loathe to give up its political and spiritual influence, and the increasing loss of its followers to the evangelical movement, and 3. indigena groups or traditional rural communities who believe they are legitimately defending the Religious, Traditional,Economic and Cultural Identity of their communities... VOM en Mexico has been able, through the documentation and strong advocacy efforts of Oscar Moha to call attention to these issues... both inside and outside Mexico. Now to work more closely with those who have been on the front line, suffering for their evangelical faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Above in the photo, you will see my grandson, who has already made his first missionary trip to Chiapas, and feels a connection with it's indigena peoples. He says his best friend is Brother Tom White. He certainly is in good comapny! God bless, Tom White and all the others like him, who love and sacrifice to be a Voice for those who don't have one!

Aug 14, 2009

A Miracle for the Innocent Evangelical Prisoners from Chiapas Highlands

Praise God for His Mercy and Faithfulness to His most Forgotten Children! 20 Tzotzil Indigenas detained illegally and sentenced on the basis of falsified and maliciously manufactured evidence have finally been heard by the Mexican Supreme Court, which stopping short of declaring them innocent, decided in favor of their release after almost 12 years because of patently falsified evidence by the government investigators and attorney general's office. 20 more remain from the same list of appeals, and 56 more who will have their cases re-evaluated. The decision by the judges is an unheard of reverse by the Court, and although merited because of the many irregularities through out the investigation and trials, many thought the judges would not have the courage to make the decision they did. Although 9 suspects had confessed, and stated that the evangelicals had nothing to do with the Acteal Massacre in '97 of 45, mostly women and children, the police and judges consistently had willfully ignored the confessions and the alibis for the majority. The majority of the detained were evangelicals not in agreement with the rebel Zapatistas that had taken possession and control of their region. Their lands have been taken over, homes lost, families denied government aid due them, families broken up, and destroyed. Their families have suffered rejection and condemnation, malnutrition and loss of all dear to them. Apparently the men have remained firm in their faith, even winning to Christ some of the other prisoners who were not evangelicals at the time of the arrests. (Evangelical believers still suffer religious intolerance and persecution in the highlands and surrounding areas of Chiapas, Mexico.) The prisoners have been abandoned in the past by the Mexican people who believed the calumny against them, still do, and even by the Body of Christ in Mexican and around the world. We praise the Lord for the teams of lawyers who have come to their defense, and those in the Body of Christ, including children, who have supported them in their years of suffering in the name of Christ, and treated them as political prisoners by their own government, who allowed them to be framed. Praise the Lord for His Mercy and Faithfulness, to us, and tho those who need it most! Lord have Mercy on those who presented false testimony and evidence to promote their own causes, and develop a propaganda machine that has made millions of dollars from the misfortune of the victims, the survivors, and the falsely accused!

Jun 13, 2009

Justice is Mine, says the Lord! /Prayer Campaign for Acteal Prisoners and Families

To The Acteal Families And Prisoners, From Buffalo, New York Sunday School Kids, DO NOT GIVE UP HOPE! JESUS LOVES "TU"...WE HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN YOU! This is one of the dozen or so cards that arrived just in time this week in Mexico City, to be presented to Estela Luna Perez, spokesperson for the Acteal Prisoners Families. She was surprised, and very touched by the interest and Christian love showed by this group of young American kids for her and her people. Please keep our brothers and sisters in Christ in your prayers, and before the Lord...for in the end, "Justice is Mine," says the Lord!

Jun 10, 2009

Prayer and Postcard Campaign for the Acteal Prisoners and their Families

Acteal Prisoner's Prayer Alert & Postcard Campaign UPDATE JUNE 10, 2009 We are reposting this since the latest happenings, this week, regarding our brothers and their families. Estela Luna Perez led her group of families out of Acteal walking to the Mexican capital, 14 hours away by bus. They were joined by over 300 uninvited marchers, and then attacked and fired on by the state police in Oaxaca.The government in Chiapas and political parties had promised support but backed out at the last moment. The peaceful march on behalf of the Innocent Evangelical Prisoners has now been hijacked by two radical groups...with political, propaganda, y financial clout. The Judges of the Supreme Court has postponed their decisions until after the summer elections. Estela and her group are humbly camped out in the Zocalo while their counterparts are being well cared for by their backers in nice hotels. I am sure that Estela and her people are disheartened and feeled betrayed by their neighbors. In the end, we all knew that justice would only be determined through trusting the Lord to move on behalf of the innocent prisoners. Please continue with us in prayer for both the prisoners and their families, not forgetting the judges who are dealing with a case no one wants to touch because of the political and propaganda machines involved. You can encourage Estela and her people by participating in the Postcard Campaign here. This week an manila envelope arrived with drawings from a Sunday School class in Buffalo, New York, telling the Evangelicals, "Don't worry, Jesus loves You!" You too can be a Voice of encouragement to our people who have suffered for their identification as evangelical followers of Jesus Christ. ******************************************************** PRISONER ALERT: 2009 Prayer & Postcard Campaign! Fify six (+/-) of our Evangelical brothers in Christ have now lost 12 years of their lives, and will have to serve another 13 (23 in some cases) years, if justice is not attained for them and the families that were left behind when they were originally detained without evidence. Please pray for all those who were victimized by the Massacre in Acteal (1997). The prisoners and their families often feel abandoned, and as if the Body of Christ has forgotten or is ignoring them. Help us to encoutrage them, and to let them know that we, ae their brothers and sisters in Christ, do care: / 1. Buy an appropiate postcard from your part of the world, to show where you are from. 2. If is for a prisoner, write in block ketters to the left, on the message side, Hermano. If it is meant for a family, write in block letters, Familia. 3. Choose and print legibly, a scripture verse of encouragement, with book and verse, which is similar to the Spanish names of Bible books. Do not write a note in English. They are Tzotzil, and most do not even speak Spanish. 4. Sign your name with a cross or a heart after your signature. 5. On the right hand side, put the address of our office and contact. VOM en Mexico Administracion Att. Linda Picard Calle Sixto Osuna # 2 Villa Union Sinaloa, Mexico 82200 God bless you for reflecting Christ's love to the "least of these " our brethren...

May 28, 2009

Thinking of Amitai... and all the children like him.. Jesus Loves You, Everything will be OK ?

The Voice of the Martyrs Blessing Program for the Children and Women of Persecuted Christian Leaders is one of the ways that we get to know brothers and sisters who are persecuted for their Christian faith... a way to show them in the name of Jesus, that we care and are concerned for them, and others like them around the world. We, in Sinaloa, who are a part of the hopefully new VOM Mexico mission, don't have the funding behind us like other larger ministries present in Mexico, and started out between 4 of us: with Jaimee, me, Karina, and Janeth just making odds and ends in a workshop area in my home for the first Blessings celebration in Ocosingo in 2005... for believe it or not about 450 children. The major costs were paid for by VOM/USA through the colaboration and leadership of the Spanish speaking office in Costa Rica. We have develped a small group of faithful supporters who contribute clothes, small toys, hair doodads, etcetera every year, and several who have offering cans in their church to collect change that is passed to us when it is close to full, or we have the need. The second year when over 1000 children were invited, we were blessed by the participation of 24 churches in the state of Sinaloa... something that sadly we have not been able to repeat. But Praise God! What a wonderful year it was! Since we are now working independently, it is so much more imortant to find faithful supporters, first in prayer, second in offerings however small they may be... since few projects are without some cost, and then in donations of materials like you see in this photo: Biblical coloring and bilingual or Spanish story books with pictures, educational and recreational material... baby dolls, "hot-wheel" cars, farm and animal figures, hair doodads, hygiene objects, that are not bulky and all time kids' favorites. I have collected the equivalent of pennies, nickles and dimes for several years now from small rural churches... and sometimes I have even financed my trips to Chiapas that way. Why bother struggling like that? How valuable is such a program? I'm thinking of a little boy named Amitai ( like so many others arround the world), 9 years old, living in Oaxaca, who lost his home, all his possessions, and his father to lack of medical care... all because his parents accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour... and were expelled from their home and community last year.When his father, who was confined to a wheelchair, died last March from fever and complications, he and his mother were kicked out of their tiny apartment, and moved into a smaller room for the two of them. Even with that she is struggling to care for them both. She is a tiny thing, like me. You just want to hug here and say, "Don't worry, it'll be okay. Jesus loves you". But it's not always ok... and she and Amitai will probably suffer some more. She's worried about how her son, who lost more than a year of schooling when they were expelled, will be able to continue studying. Although it is supposed that schooling in Mexico is free... it is far from it. Children have a huge list of what they must buy before they enter school, up to and including the toilet paper for the bathrooms, and the water for the classroom. Although it is required to attend school through secondary level, in cases like Nereida's, the hard truth is that children need to work to help put food on the table and a roof over their heads. In the name of our Lord, and through Voice of the Martyrs, I want to hug Amitai, and his mom... and all the children and their moms from the Acteal Evangelical Prisoners group and say... "Jesus loves you... especially when life is hard, and so does the Body of Christ. They pray for you. They are concerned for you and others like you in places where they suffer even more than here in Mexico. In His name, we are going to stand by you, encourage you in His Word, and where it is possible help you in other ways through the sacrifice of brothers and sisters in Christ who also love you. You are a blessing to us!" Please join us in the ministry of encouragement and support for those who are willing to pay a price beyond pearls for their faith in Jesus Christ. As I drink my coffee comfortably here in Sinaloa, my heart aches for those I personally know who need encouragement and a helping hand ... how many more are there in this world who need a hug, and someone to say, "It'll be okay... Jesus loves you! and I do too!" Matthew 25: 31-46

May 27, 2009

Acteal Case to be Revisted / Will there be Justice for the Evangelicals?

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, this article came out Monday by the La Jornada, and is the latest on the Acteal Case in which over 40 evangelicals were falsely accused of participating in the horrendous massacre. The information is long in coming, and obviously the defense from the Christian ministry,Open Doors, has been working for this, and still hoping that justice will be served. These brothers have been persecuted for their faith, imprisoned unjustly for 12+ years, lost homes, lands, wives who married other men to survive, family...everything but their faith in Christ. Their wives and children who were poor and marginalized before, were left worse off. Please keep this situation in prayer, the Supreme court judges and those waiting for their verdict. This is the last judicial option they will have. Should they gain their freedom they will be faced with: where to go, how to begin over, how to relate to those who pointed their fingers at them and said..."He was one of them". Translation is from the Spanish text. The article is here specifically to promote prayer.

(Fuente: La Jornada / Mexico) It Appears That the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation Intends to Liberate 14 Indian Prisoners Imprisoned for the Acteal Massacre

The opening discussion of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (Mexico) is about 4 legal “stays” granted to 41 Indians who were sentenced for the Acteal Massacre, committed on December 22nd, 1997, in Chiapas, Mexico. The resulting proposal of complete freedom for 14 of the accused and sentenced is “because their responsibility in the massacre has not been fully proved”; while, a special legal “judicial stay” has been ordered in the cases of some 27 other cases, so that the presiding judge can evaluate evidence that was not considered when he had made his decision. Judicial sources have confirmed the report, and explained that the 4 “stays” will be analyzed in session by the court officials before Wednesday, with the objective of resolving the situation in no more than 2 weeks (?). The four issues were presented at different times, but they are all related to the same case: the assassination of 45 Tzotzil Indians (21 women - 4 of them pregnant, 15 children, and 9 men) who belonged to the organization “The Bees”, while they were praying and fasting for peace (in the Chiapas Highlands). It is noted that the issues discussed by the 5 judges, who make up highest group of the Supreme Court, are related exclusively to Indians who were accused of the crimes of personal injury, homicide, and bearing arms restricted to only military use. None of the issues have to do with the 15 ex state agents and public officials who were also sentenced. In accordance with the information obtained, the legal “protections” or stays were presented by groups of those sentenced. The group reviewed by Olga Sanchez Cordero is made of 4 complainants, Jose de Jesus Gudiño Pelayo with 6, Jose Ramon Cossio with 14, and Sergio Valls made up of 25. Judicial sources confirmed that out of all of these cases, immediate release is proposed in 14 cases, because after reviewing the files, the officials did not find proof that confirmed the accusations made against the complainants. There are testimonies of those who deny having been at the scene of the crime, or some who claim they were victims, but the authorities have not proved that they had participated in the murders. Respecting the other 27 complainants, the review board proposes conceding a judicial stay, so that the tribune can dictate a sentence that takes into account evidential proofs that were ignored in the first case, and that were definitive in their original sentencing. The complainants received sentences that varied from 25 to 40 years of prison. Once the court officials analyze in private the four issues, they will then review in which cases exist “insufficient proof” to advance the approval of final verdicts, in which each judge will maintain his or her point of view.

The woman pictured above, mother of Acteal Family Spokesperson Estela Luna Perez, the wife and mother of men imprisoned for over 12 years now, cries during an interview with Voice of the Martyrs team who have listened to their testimonies and needs.

May 9, 2009

Classic Case of Religious Intolerance Leading to Persecution

Oscar Moha, well known Christian news journalist and human rights defender in Mexico for over 20 years, receives and documents each case of religious intolerance and developing persecution in Mexico as they occur. Many realize that there is ongoing persecution in the southern state of Chiapas, but aren't conscious that there are reports on a regular basis from 7 other states, involving sometimes entire communities, or several families threatened with violence, loss of their lands and expulsion...leaving everything they own behind. Such is the case of the over 400 evangelical believers expelled from San Juan Yatzona in the state of Oaxaca, since 1984. Oscar initially received their complaint of not receiving any help from the government Religious Affairs office back in February of this year, later met with and interviewed them, and advised them of where they should go to seek legal support. We organized a Children's Day activity for their families for the 30th of April, with the idea of meeting with them again and seeing how things were going. These activities are also a way of encouraging those who are persecuted, and providing them with an opportunity to relax a little and enjoy both their families and Christian fellowship. Several sisters in Christ have been working in the office in Sinaloa since September making gift containers, collecting, and shopping for small gifts and Christian material for the children of these brothers and sisters in Christ who were expelled from their homes, leaving everything behind. The actual expulsions began in 1984, very strictly maneuvered to discourage anyone else from daring to leave behind the old ways combined with a local required form of Catholicism. Those who were expelled originally, could not recuperate their houses, lands, crops, or possessions. Little by little they accomodated themselves in new places, and went back when they could to visit with, and occasionally share the gospel with the familiy members they had left behind. Whenever there were enough new converts to be noticed, they would be expelled by force again. The latest expulsions in 2007 and this past year put a real strain on the believers who had left years before, making it more difficult to help them resettle. Nine families were expelled in the past year, loosing the family lands and houses built with much sacrifice and hard work. Rxxxxx, a young Catholic had worked in the US for 8 years, managing to send back to his wife enough to build his 2 story house and equip it. He received a fax from the community authorities telling him his wife had converted, and he made his way home to present her by force and pay the fine required. But when he arrived, willing to do anything to recover his legal property, he was beaten, and dropped off in a near by town. He is being punished for not controlling his wife's behaviour, and for her becoming an evangelical believer. He can't understand why his fellow Catholics have stolen his property by force and abused him and his family. Two other young wives were abandoned by their husbands who decided not to send them any more money from the States if it meant loosing what they were investing in. One of the children, a three year old girl died at the end of March without her father's support. A young brother in Christ, Nxxxx, decapacitated and in a wheel chair, died from a treatable illness, without resources, leaving his young wife Nxxxxxx, of 28 and their 9 year old son, Axxxx alone. She was evicted from their tiny apartment 2 weeks after he died for lack of funds. All of these people had houses, lands, merchandise, jobs, etcetera before they were violently expelled at 4 am in the morning, in the pouring rain by a mob of 15 masked "neighbors", forced to hide in the bushes as they were chased from their town. They are forbidden to even talk to their families in Yatzona, to prevent them from contaminating the rest with their "evangelical cult " ideas. The Oaxacan state government has refused to even acknowledge the religious persecution. Arrest warrants were signed for 8 persons, but they each paid for and received an amparo which allows them their freedom from prosecution. This is one of the clearest caes of persecution I've seen yet.. and is outside of Chiapas. Please keep them in prayer...they are without resources and struggling to maintain their children in school, and fed. Their party was postponed by the influenza epidemic...but I left everything there ready for them, to enjoy as soon as possible, and shared with them about others who suffer persecution even more severe in other parts of the world. I think they have learned to understand what it is to suffer for Christ's sake, and can relate better to the sufferings of others. Pray for young Rxxxx, for his relationship with the Lord in the midst of his problems, which seem to him to be so unfair. Will keep you posted...if you are interested in encouraging them, or in helping in some way, leave me a comment here please. God bless you for your concern, linda

Apr 22, 2009

Rescue the Captors in Colombia ...Russell Stendal / March

March was the month dedicated to prayer for the Body of Christ in Colombia. Many in Colombia would prefer to ignore the existence of the rainforest and jungle guerrilla groups that terrorize a large part of primitive Colombia. Just several months ago, a female French-Colombian politician was rescued along with 2 American petroleum workers after being held in the jungle for ransom for more than 8 years. This is big business for they ask 1 million dollars per hostage. The tombstone is that of Bible translator and missionary Chet Bitterman who was kidnapped and killed within a few days of his capture in the 1980's. He had a premonition that the Lord would ask the supreme sacrifice of him...and was willing to go anyway. A happier ending is that of the Russell Stendal family, who ended up as missionaries in Colombia because of the Lord's call on the life of a 4 year old boy. Read his testimonies in the books written by the little boy grown up...Rescue the Captors 1 & 2...Incredible stories that will make your hair stand on end and leave you gasping with laughter at Russell's daring service for the Lord...for the unbelieving Indigena, the fearsome and Godless FARC Guerillas, and their counterparts, the paramilitaries.
Pray for them, and others like him!

Feb 23, 2009

Endure...Living Martyrs

Testimonies of Endurance and Faith For Today's Church ... ENDURE.... Nigerian evangelicals living under the constant threat and weight of Shari'a law. ENDURE... Small word, that says so much about the life of a living who lives a lifetime of abuse, discriminacion, arrests, imprisonment, and torture, and then starting all over again. Like Pastor Lamb in China who in his long life as a house church leader has been imprisoned more then 19 times by the Chinese government. Just when he thought he could bear no more, and one more imprisonment would break him, the Lord spoke to his heart and said, "My grace is sufficient for thee!" ENDURE... Small word, but rich to the suffering that know it brings a promise of recompense at the end of the journey, having endured and finished the race. After 20 years of imprisonment in the harsh Cuban system, tortured and abused, Noble Alexander was kept several additional years by the Cuban government just to keep him unbalanced and unsure of his fate. He baptized more than 300 prisoners in different prisons while the guards were looking in another direction, many times using the hot dishwashing water in which to dunk them! ENDURE... "Tear me to pieces and rip my soul from my body, but you will never force that detestable word of denial from my mouth. " Michael Nakashima, had boiling water poured over his head and body until he died in Japan on Christmas Day, 1628. ENDURE... Without wavering let us hold tight to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep His promise. Hebrews 10:23

Feb 18, 2009

Starting All Over Again...Beginning a new Year

Leaving All Behind and Starting Over Again...Or Fighting It Out??? Meet Brother Miguel. You may find it hard to believe, that this man sitting so happily with this bunch of well cared for kids, in the 90's had to make the hardest decision of his life...stay in the communitiy and fight for his ancestral lands, or collect his small flock of Tzotzil Indigenas and leave all behind to protect their lives, and avoid possible bloodshed. He had gone through the battle for several years, tolerating the insults, the threats, and abuses that the traditionalist Catholics had showered on him and his people. Thinking about the 40,000 that had been expelled from Chamula, and the many that had been martyred for the gospel he was torn. Finally, he decided that they would leave their fertile lands behind and start over. They left with what they could gather on their backs, and arrived in Ocosingo, where the government facilitated new lands on the side of a rocky mountain. For a year or so they diid without, living primitively and on the bare minimum. They had a wonderful Pastor to encourage and disciple them, and support from an American ministry from Texas. Off to work they went, to build houses, a church, and start up new Artesan businesses. They were willing to sacrifice everything...and the Lord has blessed them.
They still go back to their former community... to share in secret the gospel that means so much to them. They sometimes get caught and are jailed for 3 days and fined 3 days work for daring to preach a Biblical gospel. He has a wonderful testimony, and has been a blessing to those he leads, and to those of us who have heard their testimony. He continues to serve in evangelizing the lost, and defending those who choose to follow Christ at all costs. Others have stayed behind, to fight inside their communities for the right to express their evangelical faith...some of them giving their lives for the cause... What would you have done??
When Gary Lane from CBN/CWN and I went to interview Miguel, we were faced with a distinctive kind of response to the aggressive persecution of believers in Chiapas. In the Ocosingo region, the pastors have waged their battle in a more passive manner, with patience,and developing relations where possible in the communities where the gospel has not been welcome. In other regions where the aggression is more violent, choices may not have been possible, or the church may have decided to take a legal stand and file a complaint with the Mexican government.
I'm using Miguel's testimony as an example of how it is possible to start over again, leaving behind the known and treasured, to go into a less certain future, but accompanied by the Lord. Maybe it's one of the best things I can offer at a time when so much is uncertain because of the economic crisis that will touch all of us. It's never too late to start anew...coming to know Christ as Lord and Saviour teaches us that. He will accompany us through the difficult times and give us the strength and grace to come through it all, thinking and praising Him for His love and mercy.
Mathew 19:29