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The Middle East and Us – Part 1, Gaza and Israel

This is the first of four posts I will be doing entitle  THE MIDDLE EAST AND US. The following 3 posts will be uploaded over the coming three weeks.

THE MIDDLE EAST AND US—PART 1

On August 8, 2014, former head of the Australian Army Lieutenant General Peter Leahy reportedly said, “Australia is involved in the early stages of a war which is likely to last for the rest of the century.”

Michael Krause a retired Major General agreed. Aware of the army’s experience in Iraq and Afghanistan he said, “I have seen these people. I know how they think. I know how they fight. There is no compromise possible.”

The headline of The Australian newspaper the next day was, “We’ll fight Islam (for) 100 years.”[i] UK Prime Minister David Cameron reportedly made similar comments in the last week of August 2014. What is happening in the Middle East has global consequences.

When Western forces first entered Iraq and Afghanistan it was said at the time they will win some battles but will lose the war. In both those countries, no matter how our political leaders reframe the outcomes, it may now be said that the losers by most measures have been western nations. Little remains of their hoped for outcomes from their interventions costing trillions of dollars and thousands of lives.Screen Shot 2014-09-06 at 1.09.02 pm

In Australia as in other Western countries, we are unable to plan beyond our election cycle of 3-4 years. Muslim leaders think in terms of centuries. Mohammed invited the Christian leaders of his time to submit to Islam. They declined. So Islamic forces determined to capture the Citadel of Christianity– Constantinople. Although their attacks were repeatedly repulsed, they finally succeeded after only 800 years.[ii]

Gaza and Israel

In the Middle East if a Jewish person is asked the basis of his claim to the land of Israel the reply may be, “We have been here for 3000 years.” To the same question persons today called Palestinians may reply, “We have been here for 6000 years.”

From the Biblical record we understand that God reserved for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants a sliver of land on the coast along the Eastern Mediterranean seaboard, which became known as Israel. The vast expanse of land to the east and south of Israel was reserved for the descendants of Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar who was a servant of Abraham’s wife Sarah. (Genesis 12-27)

In 1003 BC King David was at last able to conquer Jerusalem. The area of the city at that that time was just 12 acres, or a little less than 5 ha. The rest of the Promised Land was conquered and possessed by King David except for the Philistine territory, which is today’s Gaza.

Half a millennium later, in 586 BC most of the people of what remained of Israel were deported as captives of war to the vicinity of today’s Baghdad. Towards the end of that 6th century BC the deportees were permitted to start to return to their homeland. The Temple in Jerusalem was rebuilt in 536-516 BC. Almost a further 70 years later, about 453 BC, Nehemiah arrived to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

Arabs and other local tribal chiefs, who were on the scene by that time, resisted his work. They ridiculed, threatened, concocted false reports and sought to terrorize the returnees. Their activities are recorded in Nehemiah chapters 2, 4 and 6. What is happening today is not a new phenomenon. Jews remained in possession of their land till 70 A.D. when the Romans destroyed the Jerusalem Temple and scattered the inhabitants.

Almost five and a half centuries later in 638 CE an Islamic Army captured Jerusalem for the first time. The city and its accompanying territory remained mostly under Muslim control thereafter. But the Jewish people did not vanish.

However by the late 1800s the brutality of the Muslim authorities was so severe that many Jews were forced to flee. Simultaneously the Muslim Ottoman government in Turkey began to repopulate the vacated land with Muslim refugees from other parts of their Empire in which there were disturbances.

In 1890 the Muslim population was only 432,000. By the time of Israel’s establishment by the UN in 1947, the Muslim population, through Turkish repatriation policy had almost tripled to 1,181,000.[iii]After 1918 with the defeat of the Turkish government in World War I the Jewish population started to return. Many of them were fleeing from European threats and conflagrations, especially the Holocaust of the 1940’s, which saw approx. 6 million Jews killed. Today the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael face off against one another.

Neither side in the current conflict is prepared to yield a centimeter of land. Article 7 in HAMAS’s charter based on Islamic texts specifically asserts they will destroy all Jews and Israel. Israel says, “If you attack we will retaliate.”

HAMAS spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri on August 17, 2014 on Al -Aqsa television declared, “Our true war is not aimed at opening border crossings. It is aimed at the liberation of Jerusalem. We refuse to accept the continued defiling of our land by the occupier. The army of Mohammed has begun its return.”[iv] HAMAS can never cannot accept the loss of territory once occupied by Muslim authorities. To them it remains a sacred trust, a Waqf, which must be regained.

The current off-again on-again war between Gaza and Israel has provided opportunity for mostly public pro-Palestinian reaction in many Western countries. In France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, USA, Australia and elsewhere, Muslims, formerly thought to be well-integrated, assimilated, moderate citizens who contributed to the rich mosaic of multiculturalism in those countries, have suddenly taken to the streets showing a different side of Islam, reportedly shouting:

“Heil Hitler. Hamas Hamas. Jews to the gas. We are all Hamas. We are Jihad”.[v] Many well-meaning non-Muslim people have joined these processions.

In Sydney as the crowd waved their black flags of jihad, the reported shout was:

Palestine is a Muslim land.

The solution is Jihad.

You can never stop Islam.

From Australia to Al Sham.

One Ummah (Muslim community) hand in hand

from Lakemba to Gaza.

One call –“Khalifa”.[vi]

The latest claimant for the role of Caliph, that is, a leader of international Islam, is Abu Bakr al Baghdadi also known as Caliph Ibrahim. He reportedly announced that, “The long slumber of neglect has ended. The sun of Jihad has risen. Triumph looms on the horizon. Infidels are terrified. As East and West submit Muslims will own the earth.”[vii] Those objectives are clear.

As for Israelis the Muslim objectives about them are equally clear. In his Friday sermon on August 22, 2014 in Khan Younis in Gaza, Sheikh Mohammed Abu Rajab is reported as saying, “We pledged before the commanders of the Jihad to die for the sake of Allah; we have gathered the Zionists from all corners of the globe so that it will be easier to slaughter and kill them”.[viii]

 

Part 2 will be posted within a week.

 

[i] Brendan Nicholson, We’ll fight Islam 100 years. The Weekend Australian, August 9-10 2014, 1.

[ii] https//www.raymondibrahim.com/islam/the-seige-of-constantinople(viewed August 16 2014)

[iii] Ezequiel Doiny, The Muslim Colonists: Forgotten Facts about the Arab-Israeli Conflict. http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/4611/muslim-colonists. August 15 2014.

[iv] MEMRI TV, Hamas Spokesman: Our War Is For Liberation of Jerusalem Not For Lifting Of Blockade. Viewed August 26 2014.

[v] Denis MacEoin, The New Romantics ‘Being Fair’ to Terrorist Groups. http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/4602/new-romantics. August 14 2014.

[vi] Andrew Bolt, Wake up Labor, smell the threat. HeraldSun, August 4 2014, 13.

[vii] Daniel Pipes, Caliph Ibrahim’s Brutal Moment. The Washington Times. http://www.danielpipes.org/14691/caliph-ibrahim August 5 2014.

[viii] www.memri.org/clip/en/4442.htm, August 22 2014, viewed August 29 2014.

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GENERATION NEXT

Last month I was in South Asia—again. I was a guest speaker at a conference to which people had travelled, some for days. I came away feeling I had received much more than I had given. Why so?

Having been involved in ministry for more than half a century I was aware that in South Asia, although independence from colonialism had been achieved in the 1940’s the church was still dependent on foreign resourcing till the 1960’s or 1970’s. Later in the 1970’s and early 1980’s new movements were birthed conceived and staffed by national leaders. They have achieved good results far exceeding those of the missionary era. But they were still significantly dependent upon foreign finance to underwrite the implementation of their otherwise worthy visions.

By the late 1990’s and early 2000’s a third generation of movements was being birthed. These are quite independent from organized foreign resourcing for finance and staff. It was one of these, which invited my anticipation in their annual conference

The first pleasant shock came before I arrived. An email requested me to forward the invoice for my airfare so they could reimburse me. In all of my decades of travelling to work in developing countries, this offer was quite unprecedented. I  explained I mostly raise all my own expenses through honorariums received whenever I speak in the developed world. I thanked them for their offer but politely declined.

Shortly after a second email made the same request. I deflected it.

Upon arrival I was greeted by a small reception party, given a beautiful bouquet of local flowers and driven to my accommodation. They had earlier enquired what sort of accommodation I would prefer. Aware of the many demands some foreign speakers make, I had replied, as an experienced traveller in the region, I could be quite comfortable under a conveniently located tree, provided plastic sheeting was available. It was the monsoon season and I had been so accommodated on other occasions.

Remarkably I was delivered to a more than suitable local hotel, which had a lift and air-conditioning whenever the electricity was on.

Introductory formalities included provision of a driver and car, a “gofer” to fulfill any request at any time and a security person who would accompany me everywhere as needed. All of this was for my exclusive convenience. The hotel had been booked a day earlier than the conference and retained an extra day after conference, all expenses paid, so that I would be rested.

The conference itself ran like a well-oiled clock. Everything had been tightly organized and impeccably timed. The precision was amazing for this part of the world.

Each day started with an hour of quite anointed worship led by very gifted people. One often senses in larger gatherings in the West that everything is organized by committees. It functions well. It’s organizationally efficient. It’s technologically superior—but somewhat lacking in any manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s presence.

The gatherings in this conference were characterized by zeal, enthusiasm and spontaneity. Teaching sessions in the mornings were 1¼ hours each, separated by a 10 minute tea break. In the evenings we commenced with an hour of worship followed by two hours of teaching and ministry. Concentration never wavered.

Most of the people were under 40 years of age and many were professionals. This is a new generation in every sense of the word.

The health of any group of people is somewhat determined by the health of  its leadership. If leaders are sick or impaired, inevitably those whom they lead will exhibit similar characteristics. The reverse is also true.

In the case of this movement, the founding leader and his closest companion in leadership are both only 40. One had qualified as a medical doctor and the other as a dental surgeon, when they felt God’s call to ministry—specifically cross cultural missions. They never hesitated. If Jesus is Lord at all, He has to be Lord of all. They resigned from their professions and moved far away to start work among different people groups. This was a huge leap of faith given the impoverishment of their domestic scene. Still today the former medical doctor  accepts no salary from any of the organizations he leads—preferring to live on whatever God supplies.

God favoured them in their endeavours and then called the Doctor back to home base to start new things there. This also has been blessed. Not only have various churches and training centres been established, they have also commissioned their first cross cultural workers to another country in their region.

On my second day the conference leader gently asked directly for my airfare invoice. I handed it over. I was advised that they intended not only to pay for my air travel and accommodation. They were also intending to give me a significant honorarium.

However, on the last morning an announcement was made that to clear all conference expenses a special offering would be taken. I immediately asked the leader to allow me to bear all my own expenses, as this would clear most of the debt. He replied, “Our people must learn the blessing of sacrificial giving. Your part in this is just to receive.” sacrafice

Sure enough, on the last evening the offering was taken, but no container came anywhere near me. Not to be outdone, as it passed behind me I managed to put some notes in it. Later that night as I was sorting out my papers and repacking ready to depart the next night, I suddenly had an experience similar to that of Joseph’s brothers. After they had left him in Egypt, during the journey back to

Jacob in drought stricken Canaan, when one of the opened his sacks of grain, there was the silver returned with which they had paid for the grain [Genesis 42:27-28].

In my case, firstly there fell out an envelope with foreign currency representing a huge sacrificially given honorarium for this part of the world. A little later in another envelope there were all the notes I had put into the special offering!!

As I flew back to Australia I couldn’t help thanking God that I had lived and worked long enough to see this emergence of His “third generation” post independence church, in all of its youthful enthusiasm following Jesus with youthful abandonment.

What we often have in our well-organized affluent church in the West, is but a pale imitation of the reality of life in the Spirit and exuberant faith, which is in the church of the developing world. It’s little wonder that in the post Christian West, the church is mostly plateaued or dying, while elsewhere it is surging ahead in spite of poverty and persecution.

May the richness of their poverty rescue us from our impoverishment of our riches before it’s too late to reverse our national trends.

 

 

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ISLAMIC AUSTRALIA?

 

In 2009 Siv Jensen, leader of the Progress party in Norway, used a term which translates into English as “stealth Islamisation”. Her context was that there were areas in Malmo, Sweden where ambulance crews, firefighters and police officers no longer went, because of the concentration and hostility of Muslims who live there. She also noted the trend in her country to accommodate requests for uniquely Islamic dress for women in public spaces, and the introduction of halal food in prisons.

For daring to specify her nation’s “elephant in the room”, she was attacked by media and political opponents. In September 2013 when members of her party were elected to form a coalition government, they were demonized as bigoted, racist and Islamophobic.

Elephant in the Room

Could the same  “elephant” – the possible Islamisation of Australia, be present in our nation?

It is generally accepted that Islam’s earliest contact with continental Australia was through seasonal trade between visiting Indonesian fishermen and aboriginal tribal people in the 18th century. (In the 2001 national census 641 indigenous people identified as Muslim. That number increased by 58% in the next five years.)

The 19th century saw the arrival of “Afghan” Cameleers and their animals. The 20th and 21st centuries have seen far more spectacular changes in Australia’s religious and cultural mosaic.

Outmoded Christianity

According to the 2011 Australian census figures, while the percentage of those claiming to be Christian continued its downward spiral to 69.1%, the number of people self identifying as Muslim continued trending upwards to 2.2% of the population. Sydney had the highest concentration with 4.7%, followed by Melbourne with 3.6% of the populations in each of those cities.

Prof Gary Bouma of Monash University attributed this growth of Islam to migration and high birth rates. These figures are reflective of a worldwide trend that forecasts the world’s Muslim population to grow at twice the rate of the non-Muslim population. It is estimated that by 2030, 2.2 billion Muslims will represent 26.4% of the world’s population.[i] It was estimated to be 11% at the beginning of the last century. 60% of the world’s Muslims are projected to live in the Asia-Pacific region by 2030.

Australia was once a Christian nation. 90% claimed allegiance to that faith at the beginning of the 20th century. Sunshine (Victoria) mosque president Mustapha Ramadan declared in 2011 that the view of Australia being a Christian nation was “outmoded”.[ii] What isn’t “outmoded” is Islam’s understanding of its own mission in the world.

History Indicates a Future

In the eighth century Abu Hanifah al-Nu’man ibn Thabit ibn Zuta, a jurist and founder of the Hanafi School of Law, which today claims the largest following among Muslims, defined the world as existing in two spheres. One is  dar al-Islam, the abode of Islam. The other is dar al-Harb, the abode of war. In the latter Islam and Sharia Law are yet to prevail.

Jihad, holy war or struggle, must be prosecuted until the whole world submits to Islam or until the end of the world. Australia, along with all other non-majority Muslim countries, is a part of dar al-Harb.

In October 2009 an article entitled “The Return of the Islamic Emirate” was published in the online monthly magazine, Al-Sumud. It stated that the “white settler diaspora” in Australia would have to choose between returning to Europe or being assimilated into Asia . It further stated that failure of Australians to choose would result in an extended conflict that they would lose.[iii]

Australian Sheik  Ishmael al-Wahwah represents a rapidly expanding fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. In January 2013 he reportedly outlined the future Australia governed by an Islamic regime. He is reported as saying that alcohol would be banned; strict Islamic dress code would be enforced; the teaching of all foreign languages except Arabic would be prohibited; interest charged on monies being loaned would be banned and courts would be forced to implement Sharia Law.[iv]

These provisions in various forms, apart from foreign language learning, are common within Islamic contexts. If Sheikh Ishmael’s vision is representative of Australia’s future, what is the state of progress toward it?

Cultural Change

The registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages reveals that in NSW in 2010 – 2013 “Mohammad” officially became one of the most popular names for baby boys.[v]

Australia’s largest mosque at Lakemba in Sydney published a religious ruling – a fatwa – decreeing it was a sin to wish people a Merry Christmas. Sheikh Yahya Safi reportedly told his congregation they should have nothing to do with Christmas. “Disbelievers [i.e. infidels] are trying to draw Muslims away from the straight path”[vi]

When the media discovered it, it was claimed that the text was “taken out of context”. The Grand Mufti, Ibrahim Abu Mohammad, tried to save the day by claiming that the foundations of Islam were peace, cooperation, respect and holding others in esteem. This statement has elements of truth provided the “others” are Muslim coreligionists belonging to the same sect or group. And if not…?

Conflict

Jamal Daoud identified dozens of Sydney suburban shops whose owners had been intimidated, forcing them to close, because they allegedly belonged to the wrong Muslim group dominant in that area. This was a reflection of the violent fractures within society in Syria.[vii] Where Islam rules, its 14 centuries of Shia /Sunni conflict follows, whether that’s in Iraq, Pakistan or Australia.

Commenting on the recent surge in Australian Muslims’ participation in the Shia/Sunni conflict in Syria, Australian Attorney General George Brandis concluded, “There must have already been pre-existing, sophisticated facilitation networks to enable and recruit that many people”.[viii] One might well ask what else may be in existence of which the population in general is unaware?

Education

In the education sector in NSW, the number of Islamic schools has tripled in the past 15 years to 22. They accommodate a 400% increase of students since 1998. Only 15 – 20% of Muslims students are able to attend these specially oriented religious schools.[ix]

The Bukhari Bookshop sells books for its Muslim community. Reportedly, one of its titles, “Bringing Up Children in Islam”, advocates amputating thieves’ hands, 100 lashes for fornication and death by stoning for adultery.[x] While these penalties are at variance with Australian law, they are practiced as a part of Sharia Law.

Madrassas (religious schools) in Australia, many of which reportedly receive government funding of up to  $30,000 per year, are free to teach whatever radical doctrines they choose.[xi]In such an educational environment, it’s not surprising that eight year old Ruqaya publicly declared her love for Jihad and encouraged other children to join the Syrian uprising.[xii]

Monash University in Melbourne published a handbook for Muslim students, “Salam Monash”. It lists, “Islamic banking and financial institutions, Muslim publications, women’s groups and schools… Muslim medical and dental practitioners, a halal food guide and a list of halal grocers and butchers. There was no similar handbook available for other religious groups”. In 2008, 1000 Muslims students protested against sharing prayer facilities with Christians and Jews at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology [RMIT].[xiii]  Latrobe University in Melbourne opened a prayer room in 2010 for Muslim students. It cost $927,000 .

Halal

The word “halal” means “admissible”. Its opposite “haram” means “forbidden”. These words define of what Muslims may or may not partake. Halal is commonly associated with food. It also encompasses chemicals, health, healthcare, medicines, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, finance and even leather products. Recent reports from Malaysia indicate that the principle is now being applied to shopping trolleys and even car parking spaces. It represents a US$3 trillion industry. In the West everyone from giant food to pharmaceutical companies and banks are keen to grab a slice of the pie. It’s the same in Australia.

But to participate, suppliers of goods and services first have to obtain halal certification. In Queensland a big meat processor was reportedly quoted a fee of  A$27,000 per month to obtain certification. The Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI) reportedly banned a Brisbane certification business for not charging abattoir operators enough.[xiv] Funds thus harvested are presumably used to advance the Islamic cause.

Law

In legal matters Sharia Law already operates as a shadow legal system within Australia. Amendments to the Family Law Act in 2008 mean that polygamous religious marriages receive recognition as defacto marriages. Second and third wives of the one husband and their respective children qualify for welfare benefits.

Sheik Moussab Legha from the Islamic Welfare Centre in Lakemba reported that Imams already oversee hundreds of Sharia divorces.[xv] Similarly various reports appeared in the media in February 2014 regarding multiple underage marriages being facilitated.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2010 that Sharia Law is incompatible with democracy. That did not dissuade the peak body of Australian Muslims, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC), from lodging a submission to the Federal Government in 2011 urging the introduction of Sharia Law into the Australian legal system under the umbrella of support for multiculturalism. Islamic preacher, Ibrahim Siddiq-Conlon was reported as saying, “One day Australia will live under Sharia; it’s inevitable”.[xvi]

Into whatever country one looks, the push is on for the acceptance of Muslim political, cultural, economic, social and religious norms. Australia is no exception. While over time, individual Muslims may change from nominal to fully observant, one thing will never change – Islam. Welcome to a different world.


[i] –, Herald Sun, September 17, 2012, pp.20-21.

ii  Benjamin Millar, Study pinpoints fear of Islam, March 29, 2011.

iii Barnabas Prayer, March/April, 2010, p.14

[iv] Paul Maley, The Australian, January 10 2013.

[v] m.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/mohammads-a-sign-of-the-times-varying-spellings-of-it-are-some-of-nsw-82175-most-popular-baby-names-story-fnic, viewed September 11, 2013.

[vi]  Natalie O’Brien, Christmas greetings a sin rules mosque, The Sunday Age, December 23, 2012, p.5.

[vii]  Rachel Olding, Home front opens in a foreign war, Monash Weekly, June 30, 2013.

[viii] Paul Maley, Aussie fighters leading Syrian terror groups, The Australian, February 18, 2014.

[ix]  Amy McNeilage, Islamic student numbers soar, http://www.smh.com.au/action/printArticle? Id=4626944, viewed August 5, 2013.

[x]  Au.news.yahoo.com/nsw/latest/a-/newshome/7890729/7news-exclusive-sydney-store-sells-extreme-sharia-guidebooks/,  viewed July 21, 2011.

[xi]  Adam Shand, Madrassa lessons worry Somalis, The Australian, September 24, 2013, p.2.

[xii]  Jared Owens, Girl, 8, calls on Islamic youth to back jihad, The Australian, September 17, 2012.

[xiii]  –, Muslim handbook is divisive, Herald Sun, November 24, 2011, p.15.

[xiv]  www. couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/religious-levy-costs-queensland-abattoirs-thousands-each-month/story-fnihsr/2-1226743106235, viewed October 20, 2013.

[xvi] Sally Neighbour, PM go and ‘let Muslims take over’, The Australian, January 20, 2011.

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Reflections of a Grumpy

I’ve been silent for quite a while. In part this is because I have been involved in so much travel and other work. But also I suffer slightly from the constant barrage of social media and other forms of electronic communication. What is it about human beings that make us think that everyone in the world will be interested in the minutiae of our individual lives. There seems to be an uncontrollable competition for self-disclosure if not self-promotion. May be my problem is that I’m part of a dying generation and have therefore been promoted to the status of Grumpy Old Man. This accolade is not the result of any election to office. It’s the inevitability of life which the younger generation usually fails to see is hurtling toward them as well. grumpy_old_men

In the western society in which I am embedded in Australia, once one reaches the grand old age of 40, he or she is often cast off as some sort of irrelevant has-been with nothing further to offer those who are younger, whose appetites demand constant titillation for the ever fleeting, impossibly sustainable new happening. Fortunately for my sense of self worth, I spend much of my time beyond the shallow trivialities of Western culture in the developing world in which ones value in society appreciates with age.

Today, in my very small hotel room in the middle of Tirana, the capital city of Albania it’s Saturday morning. All is quiet. The sun streams through the window and I do not have another engagement for 90 minutes. Such seclusion and  anonymity is bliss for the soul.

I have just read an article in German and English about a novelist. He is Paulo Coelho. He is a best selling Brazilian author. I only get time to read one novel a year and this  when I am on a snippet of annual leave. Image

http://paulocoelho.com/images/avatar_500.png

Coelho has sold 150 million books. He has 11.5 million Facebook friends and more than 8 million followers on Twitter. He has lived a rich and fulfilling life that flows into his stories.

In his youth he indulged in many of the past-times common to that era of our lives. In his twenties he spent two years hitch-hiking through South America, Africa and Europe. He classified himself as a real hippy. He did drugs, magic rituals, joined a sect and indulged in a whole bunch of what he calls “crazy things”.

These days he doesn’t have to worry about money. For relaxation he fronts up at the counter at his nearest airport with his wife and asks the destination of the next available flight on which there are available seats. Wherever that flight is going he joins it even if it is to Timbuktu. He sees the biggest advantage of being wealthy as not having to do anything he doesn’t want to do. But money does not dominate. He wears a cheap plastic watch, although obviously he could afford a much more elaborate customized timepiece like many of the glitterati wear to impress others.

He avoids cocktail parties because he considers them boring, always inhabited by the same people mouthing the same conversations through the same forced smiles. He considers it is much better to take photos of nature and go for walks with his wife.

His novels are created in his head and flow out when the time is right. He writes one in a matter of weeks. Occasionally he produces something that he considers not up to standard ,in which case he hits the delete button.

To achieve what he has become, one needs to dig a little below the surface. As a boy he attended a Jesuit school in Rio de Janeiro where he learned the role of discipline. He came to realize that discipline and freedom are not mutually exclusive. Earlier in his life his family considered him a rebel because he wanted to be an artist rather than an engineer like his father. He sees the gateway to reason as being supported by two pillars, discipline and passion. The balance between these two enables him to write for eight hours a day. For exercise he practices archery.

Since his 1988 novel, The Alchemist, which became his first international best seller, he has become one of the world’s most successful novelists. The question is, apart from discipline how is such creativity maintained?

The secret is probably this. Sometime ago he spent two years travelling around the world revisiting people whom he considered he had hurt or offended. To each he offered an apology.

These days he says, “I always apologize to people within three days. I think it is important to ask people for forgiveness (even if that means) you don’t forget everything that has happened.”

Long ago Jesus had something to say on this subject. He said it was very important to forgive [Matthew 5:23-24: 6:14-15; Mark 11:25-26; John 20:26]. If we don’t forgive the result will be a root of bitterness in our lives [Hebrews 12: 14-15; Ephesians 4:31-32}. And if that is not extracted the result is hatred and murder {1john 3:15].

Archer Coelho has hit a bull’s-eye. I like this guy[and Jesus]. I can learn from him even if he was born only in 1947.

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Islam’s Enemy

 

Arabic newspaper, al Insan al Jadid called him Islam’s Public Enemy #1. Not to be outdone, an Islamist website reportedly declared him to be one of the most wanted infidels in the world. To reinforce the point they put a $60million bounty on his head!

In 2009 calls were made to strip him of his Egyptian citizenship. A court case was lodged in an attempt to compel the Egyptian Government to request Interpol to arrest and deliver him to Egyptian authorities. He is probably the most widely loved and hated person across the Middle East and wherever Arabic is spoken in North America, Australia and elsewhere. He is certainly the most watched, because of his daily TV satellite broadcasts into Islam’s heartlands.

Although World Magazine gave him their “Daniel of the Year” award in 2008 in acknowledging his bravery in the face of constant violent threats, he remains largely unknown in the West. In part to redress our ignorance he was to make his first public appearance in continental Europe to deliver a lecture in Vienna in 2010. Muslim threats of violence compelled the meeting to be cancelled. In 2012 he received more media attention in the West when it was falsely claimed he was associated with the film “Innocence of Muslims”. This film provoked violent reactions across the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

When his satellite broadcasts ceased in July 2010 there was relief in some quarters. But in November 2011 transmission was recommenced on Al Fady Channel.

Why are Muslim leaders so upset with this man?

Why do they decline to debate with him?

Why do they want him dead?

He says that Truth should be freely available to all. Toward that end he challenges Muslims to discover the truth of Islam, to re-examine their long held assumptions and make their own decisions unfettered from external influence and control. He does this effectively through his lifelong study of Arabic language and Islam’s authoritative texts and commentaries and by comparing these with Truth as it is revealed especially through Jesus and the Bible.

When through internet communication enquirers feel safely freed from censorship control and fear imposed by Islamic authorities and uncontrollable mobs who may attack anyone questioning or criticising tenets of Islam, the results are staggering.

Television behemoth, al Jazeera, reportedly aired a segment about this troublesome preacher in which it was claimed that he was making an “unprecedented evangelical raid on the Muslim world.” Muslim cleric Ahmal al Qatari is reported as saying that 6 million Muslims convert to Christianity annually many being persuaded by this man.

Only after he turned 70 years of age was he permitted to retire from the Priesthood of the Coptic Orthodox Church to commence full time his unique outreach to Muslims.

Today he is almost 80. He says,”There is no fear in my dictionary. I am determined to see people freed from the grasp of the evil one and converted to the freedom of Jesus Christ.”zakaria

God continues using his ministry to multiply viewers and new believers in Jesus from the world of Islam.

His name is Zakaria Botross. You can learn about his amazing life and ministry in the book Defying Death written by myself with Peter Botross, published by City Harvest.

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The Long Road Back

The rain is relentless. It’s as if through pressure and volume it’s trying to hose down the stubborn snow from the 1612 metre peak of Mt. Dajti which glowers darkly over the city. The 620 000 citizens huddle indoors. Only the nation’s hero, Skanderbeg, astride his mighty bronzed steed in the park which bears his name, unflinchingly defies the downpour.albania statue

The city of Tirana, established by Sulejmar Pasha Bargani in 1614, languished till December 31 1925, before it was proclaimed as the permanent capital of Albania.

Tourist brochures would have us believe that the city “is undergoing a major renovation…reinventing itself to become an energetic, vibrant, cosmopolitan city”. Esprit, Geog, Mango, Jumbo, Carrefour, Sheraton and others have already arrived to flash their seductive wares, enticing any who may be tempted to burn cash, quickly obtained through a variety of entrepreneurial skills way above that of the average wage earner who, if a job can be found, may receive officially $6 000 per annum.

For would-be really high fliers there is the Sky Tower Rotating Bar. Money can at least buy temporary elevation above the chaotic clogged city arteries which are called streets down at ground level. Not even the torrential rain will clear or clean them completely.

Mountainous Albania, perched precariously across a few kilometres of water from Italy in the West and abutting Turkey in the East, has for many centuries suffered the clash of competing religious allegiances. The aforementioned National Hero, Skanderbeg, justifiably encapsulates that history.

When his country was attacked from the East by adherents of that ever expanding “Religion of Peace”, Islam, as a young boy he was carried off and retrained as a Janissary in the service of the Ottoman Sultan. He rose to high rank. But after decades of military engagements, he defected, returned and reclaimed his father’s castle, lost in an earlier battle in the hills adjacent to today’s Tirana.

He then withstood 25 years of repeated sieges and furious attacks from his former Muslim overlords. After his death, the castle and those it protected, finally succumbed. Thereafter followed 500 years of enforced Muslim rule till independence was gained in 1912.

Freedom for the long suffering Albanians was fleetingly short lived. In 1945, Communist dictator, Enver Hoxha fought his way to absolute unchallenged power. His rule was so severe that he broke first with the Soviet empire and later with that of China. Those regimes were not pure enough to be considered truly Communist. When he died in 1985 a typically majestic pageant was held to enthrone the dead dictator in his Mausoleum in the nation’s heroes’ cemetery. Five years later in 1992, when the bankrupt Communist State finally collapsed, Hoxha’s remains were unceremoniously exhumed and carted off to more modest environs along with other trappings of his era.

History records that the only distinctive of his time, was his boast that Albania was the first and only officially declared Atheist State. But even that claim decayed faster than his despised corpse.

Today religion is back in sufficient strength to make famous book publishing atheists in the West wince in dismay.

On Boulevard Zhan D’Ark there is the recently constructed St. Paul’s Catholic Cathedral. albaniaIndeed that worthy Apostle did traverse this land on his many journeys. On Rr. Deshmoret e 4 Shkurti, west of Skanderbeg Square, immediately adjacent to the Ministry of Defence, is the new Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral. It’s anyone’s guess how many hundreds of millions of dollars were supplied by the Greek Orthodox authorities across the border to construct this impressive pile of gold braided masonry. Not to be outdone in reclaiming lost territory, Muslims with outside help, are busily constructing an Islamic university on the outskirts of Tirana.

But really lasting renovation and revival is never measured by the grandiloquence of stone edifices. Jesus said that his church would consist of living stones which would be the changed lives of his followers. Precisely that is happening.

Bereft of property or finances worth mentioning, a new type of Albanian is emerging. It is claimed there are now about 23 000 of them. Collectively, having recently secured government recognition, they are known as the Evangelical Alliance. Paradoxically during the process for legal recognition, government sources reportedly advised them that those most opposed to their being granted official recognition by government were not the Muslims, but the Roman Catholic and Orthodox hierarchies. This story is depressingly common in former Communist countries.

In these small evangelical congregations composed of people from former majority faiths, of which Communism was just one, one hears the most dramatic testimonies of people who were searching for years for Truth and freedom. They speak of being lost in fathomless darkness. Finally they stumbled across people whose lives seemed totally different. These people had discovered –Jesus.

The rain continues its ceaseless beating against the window. Perhaps after all it will dislodge some of the snow on the nearby mountains. It may even dilute some of the remains of the pestilential scourge of recent dictatorships. But nothing is going to stop the renewal of ancient Albania, especially through this new generation of “born again” true believers.

Through the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, God declared that he “brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing” (Isaiah 40:23). Seven centuries later Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). Albania is living testimony to both these truths.

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A Road Much Less Travelled

Outside it was dark. Very dark. The dimly lit metal cigar which locals referred to as a bus, lurched between cratered potholes, probing its way slowly forward along a thin black sliver of “road”, which snaked between high white banked snow drifts. No one spoke. Each was wrapped securely in protective furs, companioned by thoughts of self preservation.

Occasionally eyes squinted open to check the temperature gauge. Minus twenty degrees and falling. My cell phone battery had died in the early hours of the morning in deserted Munich Airport Terminal One. There was no recharging facility. Nor was there any wifi available for my laptop. Terminal One is a generation behind most modern Asian airports.

Now, on this odyssey further into the frozen wastes of Ukraine, none of my twenty-two fellow travellers spoke English. There was no way I could communicate with any of them. Nor could I contact those who would hopefully be waiting for me at the airport in Chernivtsi to tell them my flight had been diverted to Lviv, 300 kilometres further north west.

In the normal winter fog and snow in these parts planes do take off. But unless there is clear sight around their destination airport there is no way to land safely. In this region many airports lack the equipment to assist aircraft to land using only instruments for guidance. In such circumstances one plane had already crashed this week.

The gears of the bus, and the night ground on hour after hour. I had no idea where we were or how I would know when to get off or what to do then. How did I get into this? More importantly how would I get out of itukrain bus

The flight from Melbourne to Munich via Singapore was the usual uneventful twenty three hours cocooned in the care of ever efficient Singaporean International Airline hostesses. A five hour stopover and two more flights would see me arrive at my destination after thirty two hours, to be able to snatch a couple of hours sleep before having to speak at a local meeting.

Anxiety fluttered within as grey fog swirled around the airport. We clambered into a bus to be taken out onto the vast network of runways to board Carpetair flight V3322, which would take us from Munich to Timisoara in Romania. A name like “Carpetair” evoked images of Arabian sand dunes. Maybe flying “carpets” could land on snow drifts as well.

We recognised the whitened outlines of our plane by a man in a captain’s coat and cap banging on the front of the snow covered fuselage with a long handled broom. He was trying to find and clear the cockpit windows.

Briskly we valiant travellers sprinted up the stairs into the darkened plane which seemed somewhat tomb like–as well it may become. The captain kept enthusiastically bashing away outside. Fortunately all passenger windows were iced over. This would be a ride of blind faith in more ways than one. Satisfied with his efforts, the captain stomped the ice off his boots, boarded our craft, left the hostess to wrestle the door closed and disappeared into the maze of lights under his control. Not only did he permit us to view his cockpit dexterity, he even favoured us with a little lighting in the main cabin.

Because not many passengers had braved this flight, the regulation four person crew seemed to be reduced to two. Perhaps the lightened load would keep us aloft longer and make landing easier. At the press of a button, propellers sluggishly turned till engines snorted out ice and thundered into life.

fokker 100With props at noisy speed we trundled past all those boringly predictable ultra safe international jets lined up as if in a passing out parade salute to bid us bon voyage or fond farewell. Not for us a common Boeing or Airbus, We were privileged to ride the finest Fokker 100 still flying. It seemed unfortunate that the worthy Fokker aircraft company had gone out of business some years previously. I’d last flown in one back in the 1970’s. Still I took comfort in the thought that Dutch engineering was as sturdy as that country’s citizens. Besides, there must be a supply of spare parts in some shed somewhere. How else could this plane still keep flying? How indeed!

As we climbed towards out cruising altitude of 10700 meters suddenly the plane started to shudder like a trapped deer caught in the glacial gaze of a merciless tiger about to pounce. In such instances, the deer is soon despatched out of its misery. Not so for the passengers of flight V3322.

Still the shuddering served good purpose. It cracked the thin filament of ice in the cardboard cup I held so I could see into the blackened murky depths below, 2.5 cms of the finest Carpetair cold coffee, served to steady the nerves of the less courageous among us. It also cracked the ice on the outside windows so I could see the comforting insignia on the engine cowling -RR. These were the famous dependable Rolls Royce workhorses. Nothing to worry about here.  Shuddering still we thundered forward. Come to think of it, Rolls Royce was the same company that supplied the engine which blew apart shortly after taking off from Singapore’s Changi airport on a Qantas Airbus 380 in 2011. Perish the thought. Our engines were of older more reliable vintage.

By luck, good fortune or providence we landed at Timisoara. This was the hub and headquarters of Carpetair. At least five other “carpets” were parked on the tarmac ready to welcome us.

Two hours later, after not a little confusion as to from which gate to board for the final leg of the journey, we were airborne once more, this time in a Saab 2000. We had entered the jet age. Alas Saab is another company which also went bust some years ago. Perhaps with time, vintage planes, like Bugatti cars, increase in value as collector’s items and if only Carpetair had realised this, they could have been in for a killing in more ways than one.

Then came the unanticipated, much dreaded announcement over the muffled intercom system.

Owing to inclement weather at Chernivtsi we were being redirected to Lviv. At least we would avoid some time wasting machinery inspector who might have been lurking at the airport to try to uncover the mystery as to why our on board coffee machine was producing lovely cold coffee again. saab 2000

Lviv airport is amazingly modern. It sparkles against the stainless steel sky. It’s nearly the same size as Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport. There are a couple of differences. Saab 2000 Flight V3811 was the only plane at the glittering terminal. And there was no electric lighting inside apart from at one or two counters. Reflected light filtering through snowy windows would suffice. If it was good enough for Santa, it would be good enough for me and my intrepid fellow travellers.

But the question looming in my mind was, what now? No English was spoken, but I was able to follow the rest of the passengers. They seemed to know what was afoot. They piled into the aforementioned bus. So did I. Where to now? There can’t be too many towns in this part of the world.

Some hours into the kidney stone crushing journey, at about 11.00 pm, I thought of a verse in the Bible. Jesus said,” Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Luke 11:9) While I certainly didn’t want that bus door to open and let in more cold air, I did need help. So in faith I asked, “God, I’m asking you for your help and guidance. Without some minor miracle I could be forever refrigerated in these frozen, trackless wastes, only to be discovered 1000 years from now by some archaeologists looking for more of those extinct elephants.”

As I asked and prayed, I noticed suddenly up front a dull glow in the hand of a stirring body. It looked as if it could be an iPhone4. In some remote places cell phones are prized not for use as phones because there is no reception but to take photos and to listen to music. “Lord I’m asking for a phone and for reception,” I prayed.

With rising faith I pulled a scrap of crumpled paper from my pocket on which were written nine digits. No name. Just numbers.

Putting legs to my own prayers I stumbled toward the dull blue glow of the phone. I gesticulated toward the phone and my numbered piece of paper. I wondered if I looked too much like a threatening Mafia figure in my long black coat and if so, would the phone person be too frightened to respond. For whatever reason, the phone was surrendered to me. Numbers punched in. I waited.

A voice came on line wanting to know where I was and at what time would I be arriving. I couldn’t give an intelligent answer to either query, but as I handed the phone back the phone owner, I said another prayer. An hour later the driver signalled to me to alight. I was the last person out. But there was one other. The phone owner.

With my luggage beside me on the ice, the town clock signalled midnight. I was all alone. Then the phone owner reappeared and signalled me to get into a car. I was dropped some distance away at a bus station. Still no one to greet me.

Within a matter of minutes a van rumbled up and slid to a stop. Out popped a cheery gent calling my name. He had been waiting elsewhere. The bus had dropped us at the train station instead of the bus station.

After 43 hours the adventure was over. Nothing more to worry about, until I needed to depart for my next destination five days later.

I thought once more of the immortal words of Jesus about the pointlessness of worry and how God has everything under control for those who trust him [Luke 22-34]. Good words to think about, as I drifted of into the oblivion of sleep and snow filled dreams.

 

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