IF EVIDENCE IS GATHERED, WOULD THERE BE A CONVICTION?

by David Sisler

What is your mind's eye view of Korea? A divided nation? A bitterly fought war that was called something other than a war and was never fought to a decisive conclusion? Hawkeye, BJ, Hot Lips, Radar, Colonel Potter, and Father Mulcahy? If you are my age you were not yet in elementary school when the 38th Parallel, Panmunjom and Pork Chop Hill made the news. Maybe your real "knowledge" does come from M*A*S*H.

The casualty figures, in what has been called "America's forgotten war" are similar to those of the Vietnam war: 54,000 Americans killed, 103,000 wounded, total casualties 1.9 million. There are other casualty figures from North Korea. And like those of the early 1950s, these too, are from an undeclared war a war against Christians.

The pastor's name is protected, as you might suppose it should be (there are some things, in spite of journalistic ravings to the contrary, we simply do not have the right to know). Speaking at a recent meeting of the Association of Evangelical Missions, he said 100,000 Christians are being held in concentration camps in North Korea.

The pastor's report about concentration camps comes at a time when North Korea and the United States have taken steps to improve relations. Diplomatic activity has not improved human rights in North Korea, Bradley Martin of Pyongyang Watch said. "Having more polite government-to-government relationships may be giving the [Kim Jong-il] regime added leverage to do as it pleases with and to its own people," he said. The Washington Post quoted aid officials as saying that gratitude for progress on weapons issues had made Western officials less eager to put pressure on North Korea regarding humanitarian issues.

Cornerstone Ministries, a U.S.-based group that brings Bibles into North Korea, said 2,289 Christian congregations with 300,000 members have disappeared since the Korean War. In this climate, anyone caught with a Bible is considered a South Korean spy and shot immediately, the pastor said. Chillingly, other accounts say that children are encouraged to turn in their parents, if their parents read the Bible.

That Korean pastor would understand a Sudanese pastor. "We have nothing," Simon Mamud said, "but we have everything."

Sixteen years of civil war has given Sudan a top three rating in persecution and 2 million dead, most of them in the Christian region of southern Sudan. A report from World magazine describes government soldiers taking a bombed church apart piece by piece. "They ripped Bibles, page by page, from their bindings, and used the pages of Scripture to roll cigarettes. Other pages showed up later as food wrappers in local markets. The invaders burned houses and crops, and looted livestock. They landmined the church building, to ensure that no one was able to rebuild it."

William Bradford wrote that the persecutors of Puritan times used "bloody death and cruel torments ... imprisonments, banishments, and other hard usages" in their attempts to wipe out Christian faith. Four centuries later, the only thing that has changed are the names.

Mohammed Omer Haji was born in Somalia. Six years ago he moved to Yemen. Two years ago he converted to Christianity. According to published reports, police arrested him in January and held him for two months without trial. Haji said he was threatened and beaten "very badly," every night. Police said they would kill him if he did not return to Islam and repeatedly asked about any other Somali Christians, he said.

Police took Haji up a mountain one night, and after beating him, vowed to throw him off if he refused to recant, he told Compass Direct News. "To save my life that night, I said I believe in Islam. Otherwise I would have died." He later recanted, said he believed in Jesus Christ, and was rearrested, his lawyer said. The Yemen Constitution declares Islam to be the state religion (with Islamic law the source of all legislation) and it is a capital offense for a Muslim to convert to Christianity.

Haji was tried, convicted, and given a one-week ultimatum by an Islamic court to return to Islam or face execution for committing apostasy. Recent reports say that the sentence may be commuted to deportation.

Knowing it could cost him his life, Haji became a believer. Under pressure that most of us cannot imagine he recanted, but then again declared his allegiance to Jesus Christ. A court found him guilty of being a Christian. I have asked myself, and so should every American who names the name of Jesus, if I were arrested and similarly charged, would there be enough evidence to convict me? And like Mohammed Omer Haji, knowing the potential consequences, would I plead, "Guilty as charged?"

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Published in The Augusta Chronicle 7/22/2000

Follow-up:

Mohammed Omer Haji and his family were scheduled to be deported from Yemen on August 9, destination New Zeland. At his trial he said, "I hold on to Christianity and I refuse to repent!" Four New Zealand churches have applied to help Haji and his family.

Haji was finally released and reunited with his family on August 24, according to Daniel Hoffman of Middle East Concern. New Zealand accepted the family as refugees.

Yemeni authorities had been reluctant to allow Haji and his family to go to New Zealand "because they were afraid this would lead other refugees in Yemen to claim to convert to Christianity in order to get resettled in a Western country," Hoffman said. A compromise was arranged so that the family would travel first to Eritrea, then to New Zealand.

Copyright 2000 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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