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Weblog Archive 

 

August 6 - August 16, 2002

 

Friday 16th August, 2002

 

Making Money on the Internet – A Christian Success Story

Keep it small…stay focussed…avoid the temptation to grow too fast or too big. These seem to be some of the lessons for turning an internet business into a success.

 

Sure, some big-name sites have struck it rich. But they’re vastly out-numbered by the ambitious dot-coms who burned cash with such scorching abandon that they ended up self-incinerating. Even the Christian community has been shaken by some high-profile insolvencies.

 

Could it be that a little Australian website start-up, operating out of a church basement, is showing the way?

 

It is LiturgyHelp.com, which is projecting annual cashflow of A$10 million (about US$5.5 million) within three years.

 

LiturgyHelp.com has become the world’s first company to secure the rights to publish online many of the official texts of the Catholic Church, for use by church groups.

 

In its own words:

 

LiturgyHelp.com is an internet-based subscription service providing quick and easy access to the official liturgical resources of the Catholic Church. You can access these resources from any computer with an internet connection, with no need to install any software. The material is available to you 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

 

A subscription provides you with all the prayers and readings for any particular day, including all the alternatives and options, in one easy-to-use, online resource.

 

The service also includes additional resources such as homily notes, music suggestions, bulletin masters and liturgy planning guides.

 

LiturgyHelp.com is tiny. It was established in Hobart, capital of the Australian island state of Tasmania, by a team led by Father Michael Tate. In a former life, Father Tate was an Australian senator and cabinet minister.

 

The team has overcome many obstacles, including opposition from the US Bishops Conference, which did not want to see the materials online. Support from the Vatican has been crucial to the venture’s success.

 

Just one problem. The site is growing. Fast. The Vatican has given permission for the team to put online the original Latin texts. LiturgyHelp.com is also moving into the publication of music and of texts from other church organisations.

 

And…uh, oh…the team is very, very ambitious. As Father Tate told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

 

Well, I often say we are going to be the Yahoo, certainly, of the Catholic publishing world, perhaps of the religious houses of any denomination or even the great world religions.

 

This is the beginning of something quite extraordinary.

 

Let us hope that it is the beginning, and not the end.

 

 

Tuesday 13th August, 2002

 

Korea’s Dynamic Christianity – Reflections on an Explosive Revival

A Korean friend says she has been getting up at 5:30 every morning recently to drive to her church – one of several Korean churches here in Melbourne – for the 6:00am prayer meeting. They are looking for a new pastor, so for one month the congregation are meeting daily to pray, for one hour, for God’s guidance and provision. About 30 to 40 attend each morning, many driving 30 minutes or more to be there.

 

By contrast, my own church has been looking for a new pastor since last year. Most of our members live no more than a five-minute drive away, yet we are lucky to get half a dozen to a morning prayer meeting once a week.

 

Is it any wonder that one of the phenomena of 20th-century religion was the explosive growth in Korea of Christianity, at the same time as it was stagnating in the West? You can read a little about the impact on Korean society in a fascinating article (thanks to Joyful Christian Jeffrey Collins for pointing me to it).

 

I have a Korean wife, and have many experiences of the dynamic nature of Korean Christianity. I remember the last time we were staying with her parents, at their tiny apartment then, in the Seoul suburb of Banpo, south of the Han River. Their home was part of a giant apartment complex, housing thousands. While I was there I was probably the only Westerner.

 

One day I stepped outside with my wife to walk to the shops, when two ladies stepped forward. “Please,” said one, pushing a pamphlet into my hands, then they walked away. It was a Christian evangelism tract, in English. Almost certainly those women had heard that a Westerner was staying in one of the apartments and had been waiting outside our building – perhaps for a couple of hours – just to hand me that leaflet.

 

In Seoul I attended services of the Yoido Full Gospel Church, around the corner from the country’s parliament. This church, established by the dynamic David Yonggi Cho in 1958, is now the largest in the world, with, incredibly, 700,000 members.

 

The church building itself holds 25,000 people in the main auditorium, with a further 15,000 watching on giant closed-circuit television screens in overflow chapels (“overflow” being the operative word; each of these chapels was jammed when I was there).

 

The church organises seven fervent, packed services each Sunday, two on Saturdays and several more during the week, as well as all-night prayer meetings every Friday. Members are also placed in small cell groups, which meet weekly for prayer and Bible study, with each member of a group asked to pray daily for each other group member.

 

The church has become something of a tourist attraction for visiting Christians. A special section of seating offers headphones with simultaneous translation of the service. On one of my visits the pastor began praying in tongues. The interpreter got carried away. She started speaking in tongues too.

 

The Koreans are deeply spiritual. When discussing religion there are none of the frustrations you face when debating matters of faith with cynical, post-Christian Westerners. Rather, you are back in first-century Athens with Paul, arguing the merits of the gods.

 

My wife’s brother-in-law is a graduate of one of Seoul’s top universities. He speaks excellent English. Several years ago his son – my nephew – was punched to the ground in an argument with a soldier, and spent several weeks in a coma, before making a slow and only partial recovery.

 

Christian groups sometimes visited my wife’s brother-in-law in hospital and offered to pray for the family. He told me he tried prayer himself. “But I didn’t once have any feeling of God being there.” He complained that most of the prayer groups seemed to want money.

 

He and his wife went several times to church, but he complained that as soon as they stopped attending the pastor and elders would be on the phone pestering them to return, offering to send a bus round each Sunday to pick them up. I suggested he try the Yoido Full Gospel Church. “They’re all fanatics,” he said.

 

He has found great consolation through weekly visits to an elderly Buddhist priest, who has taught him some simple prayers and passes on traditional Buddhist wisdom for dealing with the pain he suffers over his son’s condition. “Why is your god better than mine?” he once asked me. “Why is your heaven better than mine?” (How would you answer?)

 

The Yoido Full Gospel Church runs a retreat, known as Prayer Mountain, near the North Korean border, and I spent a night there. Here is how I described the experience, in Chapter 11 of my book Living Water to Light the Journey:

 

At any time, thousands of people are gathered for community prayer and worship that lasts for days, or even weeks. Many are fasting. At night, most sleep - if they are not in prayer - on mats spread out on the floor of the large central worship sanctuary.

 

Hundreds of tiny grottoes have been dug into the mountain, and individuals occupy these, praying for hours at a time, sitting or kneeling on the hard floor, a flickering candle the only illumination after dark. I walked around the compound late at night. It was snowing and bitterly cold, but many people were in the grottoes, crying out or singing, in piercing voices, in prayer and worship.

 

Some even forsook the relative comfort of the spartan grottoes and knelt outside, among trees and bushes on the mountain. When I walked around once more, early the next morning, many of the same worshippers were still at prayer.

 

During the 20th century Christianity in Korea went from virtually zero to about a  third of the population. We now see Korean-style revival occurring in China. What can we expect if during the 21st century a third of all Chinese turn to Jesus? Is the world ready?

 

 

Friday 9th August, 2002

 

Cry Indonesia – The Tunnel of Despair Continue

In our media-drenched world most of us have developed tunnel vision. And unfortunately it’s too often a tunnel that stretches between our brain and the television set (or for some us, the computer screen). We let the media dictate our priorities.

 

Right now the media are dominated by talk of war with Iraq. So that’s what we talk about, and if we have a weblog that’s likely what we’re writing about, and if we surf the net it’s probably what we read about.

 

That might be good news for Indonesia, where Christians have been under attack from militant Islamic groups in various parts of the country. But more likely it is bad news.

 

The good? With people in Indonesia distracted by the Mideast debate (tunnel vision isn’t restricted to those of us in the West) the Indonesian government can quietly have its armed forces move in and clamp down on the militants.

 

Unfortunately, given the fact that the Indonesian military has not been brought to account for one of last century’s worst genocides – against the Christians of East Timor – the prospects are not good.

 

Indeed, reports are that the onslaught against Indonesian Christians continues.

 

I have just received the latest email alert from Cry Indonesia. The details aren’t up on their website yet, so, to try to give them wider circulation, here are some excerpts:

 

In the last four weeks there have been serious and concerning developments in East Indonesia. Even in the last 24 hours the situation in some areas is being described as a crisis and Christian leaders are appealing for prayers and international assistance!

 

The Jakarta Post reports that on Saturday morning 27 July, a large homemade bomb exploded in a crowded market in a Christian neighbourhood of Ambon close to Pattimura University. Fifty-three people were injured, many critically. This follows on from other incidents in April where 17 Christians were killed and 58 injured in marketplace bombings and attacks on villages in and around Ambon.

 

From June 29 until now there has been a renewed outbreak of violence in this area [Tobelo, North Maluku]. Jihad terrorists, together with men dressed in ninja outfits, have been responsible for terrorising the Christian community raising grave concerns for security in the area. Even refugees that have been housed in barracks in so called 'safe areas' have been intimidated by the sounds of bombs and gun battles nearby. In all there have been no less than 24 critical incidents between June 29 and August 7th, the latest incident being the most serious.

 

After several days of small-scale attacks since last Saturday, August 5, this morning there was an escalation in the terrorist attacks against the Christian community. On Saturday evening (4th) between the villages of Luari and Ruko, the Loba area was rocked by the explosion of bombs. On Sunday morning (5th) in the village of Mede, the church building of the Evangelical Church of Halmahera, the manse and several homes of Christians who are currently seeking refuge in Tobelo were destroyed. The destruction took place near the Brawijaya military post.

 

Today, Wednesday, at 6.30 am (7th) 220 Marines arrived in Galela to replace the Brawijaya troops who are being transferred to the island of Morotai. While the transfer of power ceremony was underway at 9.30 am news arrived of attacks underway in the villages of Wari and Gorua. The attacks had begun at 9.00 am. The ceremony was immediately cancelled and the troops were deployed to repel the attacks.

 

Jihad forces from the village of Gorua, fully equipped with military standard weapons, began their attack at 9.00 am attacking the village of Wari, even though there were Brawijaya troops stationed there. The Center for Community Research, Training and Development (PPLPP) run by the Evangelical Church of Halmahera was burned down. Three offices and the Technical College were burned, with all the students’ documentation and office equipment and computers.

 

Across the road from the PPLPP complex three refugee barracks, for refugees from the village of Weda and 14 homes of Christians were also burned. At the same time in the village of Gorua 4 homes and 2 kiosks belonging to Christians were also burned. In the course of the attack school children were taken hostage but were later freed by the military. One Christian was shot and is currently being treated in the Bethesda Hospital in Tobelo.

 

After the gun battle had been going on for about 30 minutes, the jihad forces were repelled and pushed back to the village of Popilo. The defensive operation was still in progress when this report was filed.

 

Christian Aid Mission reports that on Monday, July 22, three Christians were shot while working in their rice fields near Pendolo, 20 miles south of Tentena, Central Sulawesi. Pendolo is a city populated mainly by trans-migrant Muslims from Lombok Island. While traveling by motorcycle to visit the wounded, several family members were confronted by a large unruly mob that took two of them captive. The victims were stabbed and stoned and suffered machete cuts and cigarette burns.

 

On Sunday, August 4, at 3:30 a.m. a force of about 100 Islamic radicals wearing black ninja outfits crying "Allahu Akbar!" attacked the Christian village of Matako, about 20 miles east of Poso in "a blaze of fire, bullets and bombs," according to one report. One pastor watched from hiding as his church building was bombed and set on fire and members of his congregation shot at. One man was shot in the back as he fled.

 

During the attack many people escaped to the local military post-but their presence prevented members of the military from pursuing the attackers. A second church was attacked and damaged, and at least a half-dozen homes were destroyed.

 

Then today Aug 8 we received a report from the Crisis Centre in Sulawesi that Christians in Tentena are in a high state of alert after Jihad forces were said to be advancing toward their town in which 65,000 Christian residents reside. At Ranononcu bridge (5 km from Poso direction to Tentena), since 4 pm, people can hear gunshots and bomb blasts repeatedly coming from Poso area near to the bridge. (This is the place where Christians managed to stop the Laskar Jihad attempt to attack Tentena in November 18, 2001). The military have advised local Christian groups that there is nothing they can do except wait for orders from their superiors!!

 

Mona from the crisis centre adds:

 

"Please keep praying for these people for not to have another battle. While typing this, a call just coming saying that the attackers are shootings their guns all the time and bomb repeating explosions could be heard very near to the village. The Christians have not done anything but just keep watching and alert for any situation might come!! O God, please hear our prayers."

 

Those who can support, or who wish more information, can contact Cry Indonesia at office@rnc.org.au.

 

 

Tuesday 6th August, 2002

 

Attack on Iraq – Just War or Just Plain Wrong?

The decibel level – not to mention the stridency level – is rising fast in America and here in Australia, as politicians lay the groundwork for an attack on Iraq. Once again, Christians will be called to take a stand.

 

The traditional Christian position seems to be either pacifism or support of the “just war” theory. We saw many Christians espousing one or other after September 11.

 

Yet is life – and war - nowadays so clear-cut? In an era when a government and its armed forces can inflict genocide on their own people – as happened in East Timor, against a Christian population – how many Christians can truly endorse pacifism? But equally, is the just war theory really relevant in the face of such intra-state atrocities?

 

Dr Tom Frame is Anglican Bishop to the Australian Defence Forces. In what I believe to be an important speech, he has bluntly called for Christians to overhaul their doctrines about war:

 

it is…my contention that traditional Christian deliberation on the ethics of resorting to force and the conduct of warfare – the stark choice between pacifism and just war – has become largely obsolete and almost irrelevant because both the reasons for which physical force is used and the nature of its delivery have changed dramatically since the end of the Cold War in 1989.

 

The speech is important not just because of the ideas it contains, but also because Dr Frame is particularly qualified in such matters. He became a lieutenant in the Royal Australian Navy before quitting to pursue studies in theology and to train for the priesthood. His book “War and Christian Ethics” is to be published by Cambridge University Press.

 

He notes that international peace-keeping forces are increasingly becoming involved in domestic conflicts:

 

Alongside the proliferation of intra-state conflicts – or what we previously referred to as civil wars – there has been a most significant shift in attitudes towards the claims and pretensions of the modern political state and the relative value we accord national sovereignty….Whereas previously, national sovereignty was an impenetrable barrier to intervention, it is no longer considered a ground for inactivity….

 

The story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 and Jesus’ own intervention to protect the woman taken in adultery in John 8 oblige the Christian casual observer to become an active participant and give no grounds for indecision or indifference in the face of violence. The dominical command is clear; the ethical imperative is obvious.

 

On this basis, I believe there was a right – if not a responsibility – on the international community and on we Anglicans (as citizens of a politically stable and materially affluent nation) to insist on intervention to stop the slaughter in Rwanda, Somalia, Cambodia, Sierra Leone, and East Timor. By contrast, I am yet to be convinced that there was (or is) any obvious right or duty to intervene in Afghanistan (when, for instance, no such right was even considered in relation to the Russian army’s campaign in Chechnya) while I am not at all persuaded by the present arguments being advanced in favour of a new campaign against Iraq.

 

I don’t entirely agree. Saddam Hussein is guilty of large-scale genocide against some of his own people, and in my opinion should have been taken out by the international community years ago. (On the prospects of an attack on Iraq, Dr Frame commented in an email to me: “There are some reservations within the Australian Defence Forces about a new campaign against Iraq, quite apart from the ADF being stretched practically on a number of fronts at the moment.”)

 

That the West is probably never going to stop Russian atrocities in Chechnya is not in my view a reason for allowing Taliban atrocities in Afghanistan. Some, like me, might have wished that, after liberating Kuwait, US-led forces had gone on to liberate Tibet as well. But we live in an imperfect and sometimes hypocritical world, and the appeasement of Chinese thugs does not mean we must equally appease every other tyrant.

 

Dr Frame also says:

 

I have great sympathy for the Eastern Orthodox position that stresses the necessity but not the justice of war because, among other attractions, it tends to eliminate the element of self-righteousness that just war theory appears to prompt in its advocates.

 

And he calls on Christians to focus on the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the peacemakers”, to the extent even of enlisting in the military. He worries that too many Christians do not engage with the world (my view exactly, and one of the reasons for starting this website).

 

Andrew Sullivan, a hawk on the prospects of a new war with Iraq, last Friday called for a debate on the issue:

Let's get the anti-war left out in the open, on record, and accountable.

Christians should debate too. We should get our views out in the open and show how they can promote peace. Dr Frame’s speech presents an excellent basis for such a debate