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On the Front Lines of Faith and Freedom

ICC Note: Baroness Caroline Cox Gives Whirlwind Report on the Front Lines of the Persecuted Church Around the World

7/26/10 United Kingdom (ANS) – It is a long way from a tent in a war zone in Sudan, to a five-star hotel in Beverly Hills — but that’s the transition that Baroness Caroline Cox, a former deputy speaker of the British House of Lords, made recently when she met with international journalist and broadcaster Dan Wooding before speaking about the persecuted church at this top hotel.

In an interview for Wooding’s ‘Front Page’ radio program, to be aired tomorrow (Sunday, July 25) at 5:00 PM Pacific Time on KWVE 107.9 FM (www.kwve.com ), and which is also now posted on the ASSIST News website www.assistnews.net (click on ‘Listen to Front Page Radio’), Baroness Cox told Wooding her organization, Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART), works with people who are on the front lines of faith around the world.

Baroness Caroline Cox (ANS Photo)
“We’re working at the moment for example in Sudan, which is I think one of God’s most-critically front lines at the moment in the world today. (We’re also) in northern Nigeria, where recently several hundred Christians have just been massacred, and that follows a whole series of attacks in Christian communities in Northern Nigeria in Plateau state. We’re also working in Uganda, which is another very significant strategic area, and then in different locations, (including) a lot of work in Burma where many people are suffering including Christians who are suffering persecution there. In India we were the first ‘not for profit’ to get into Orissa just after many Christians had been killed there in Northern India. We’re also working in East Timor and in the very important little ancient Christian enclave that no one’s ever heard of which is part of Ancient Armenia, which was the first nation in the world to become Christian in (the year) 301. And I’m also in a parliamentary capacity working in North Korea. So many interesting areas, al l of which need your prayer and your deep concern, engagement and support.”

Humbled by a Personal Privilege

Baroness Cox said is was a privilege to work with persecuted Christians because, “however much they’re suffering in terms of this world’s tribulations — they may be imprisoned or they may be in the war zones like Southern Sudan when that war was on, hungry, without food — they may be naked without clothes — they’re certainly suffering oppression, and yet there’s always such joy. And when they worship there’s more joy than in many of the comfortable churches in the West and their priority request is always for prayer. I always feel very humbled by that because, if I was in that situation I would think I would be asking for the food and the clothes and the medicines, but their request is for prayer. And that I honor. It began for me way back in the days of communism in Poland when I worked medical aid for the Poland Fund and used to travel on 32-ton trucks taking medical supplies into Poland. I always came back humbled by a faith, courage and dignity of the Polish people in dark days. And then subsequently the work has develope d in all these other areas.

“What a privilege it is to be with our brothers and sisters under persecution, and yet so full of joy, but asking desperately for prayer,” said Baroness Cox.

“So, I really would plea for those of us who have the privilege of living in freedom, as we have an obligation to use our freedom on behalf of those who are denied their freedom. We who live in the West have such abundance, privilege — even if we’re not wealthy by western standards — we’re wealthy by their standards and we can all give just a little bit of something to help our brothers and sisters who are holding those front lines of faith for the rest of us. In my little organization Hart — Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust — we have a motto and it’s this: ‘I can not do everything, but I must not do nothing.’ And sometimes when we look around the world we don’t know where to begin, and if people stay paralyzed we may not begin anywhere. But please remember, ‘I can not do everything, but I must not do nothing,’ and if all of us just do something together, we can make a difference for God.”

The Work In Sudan

Baroness Cox said she first worked in Sudan in the mission field in a very good organization out of Canada called Immanuel International.

“In Sudan you weren’t allowed to have a Christian name to an organization, it’s called Fellowship for African Relief, I worked there in the mission field in Northern Sudan in the mid-1980s as a nurse with an immunization program. But then the situation in the Sudan deteriorated drastically when an Islamist regime, that’s the kind of ideology behind nine eleven and Al Qaeda etcetera, took power by military a coup and declared Islamic military jihad against all who opposed it, including many moderate Muslims, as well as the Christians particularly, and traditional believers. Then war really broke out big time and it was a horrendous time – two million perished in that war; four-million were displaced, and every month the regime in Khartoum would announce that areas in southern Sudan, which was the main target area in the mountains which were open to UN Operation Life Line Sudan and the forbidden areas. Of course, it was in the forbidden areas that closed airstrips, carried out military offensives, and denied access so people could n’t take aid to the victims or tell the world what he was doing. I went thirty times to those forbidden air strips — the regime didn’t like me very much — but we got the evidence of what they were doing to their people and it really was full of war crimes: the slaughter of innocent civilians, slavery, abducting tens of thousands of women and children into slavery to carry out their purposes of forced Islamization and forced Arabization.”

Baroness Cox explained that Sudan was traditionally and predominantly Arab and Muslim in the north, but there are Christians there.

“There are Africans who live there but it is predominantlyArabic and Muslim. The south is traditionally African and predominantly Christian, although there are quite a few Muslims and quite a few of the traditional believers or the ancient religions. But it is predominantly in that war an Arab Muslim war against the predominantly African and largely Christian south. So the philosophies of forced Arabization were designed to destroy the African identity of the very dignified African peoples and Islamization was of course designed to forcibly Islamize those who were the Christians, and that was very much a part of the agenda of that war.”

Wooding asked Baroness Cox about reports of crucifixions in the region.

“Well, I’ve never had proof of that, I’ve heard reports especially in the mountains, so I have every reason to believe that they may well have occurred, but what did certainly occur was savage slaughter, and I spent hours walking through the killing fields of southern Sudan human corpses –and they were not soldiers — they were women and children, they had beads and bracelets. And so they were killing fields of the most brutal kinds war crimes of the slaughter of innocent civilians – two million perished in that war from killings or from war related causes like starvation, and four million were displaced. So it was a war of horrendous proportions. Eventually there was a peace agreement signed in 2005 and Sudan desperately needs your prayers because part of the provisions of that peace agreement are the opportunities for the people’s of the south to have a referendum in which they may choose independence and become an independent nation. Khartoum doesn’t want that, and so there’s a real fear that Khartoum in the north will do ev erything it can to prevent or to undermine or destroy or derail that referendum — either by war being at war again or by encouraging a kind of surrogate warm arming militias, arming the north resistance army, a notorious rebel army, to destabilize the south and carry out continued fighting in the south. So it is a time that Sudan really needs more prayer, more political advocacy, in order to maintain peace, in order to give the peoples of the south the opportunity to choose their own future.”

From Pomp and Ceremony to Persecution Zone

Baroness Cox was asked to describe the transition from wearing an ermine-trimmed robe in the British House of Lords to flying into a deserted airstrip in the middle of a war zone.

“It was immensely scary! Khartoum didn’t like me going to the forbidden areas — they gave me a prison sentence for illegal entry — they told us they’d shoot us out of the sky if they got the chance, so we did have brave pilots who would give a false destination (and at) the last minute snuck down to one of the forbidden airstrips — they couldn’t stay on the ground for more than a few minutes, they would certainly be bombed, so they used to fly out and very quickly they would take off. Whenever we landed, come into land, you would see horizon-to-horizon smoke as villages were burning. These were areas that had just been attacked by the government of Sudan troops and the Mujahidin, the jihad warriors, and as we landed people would come running up to us with tears streaming down their cheeks saying ‘thank God you’d come, we thought the world had forgotten us.’ Then they’d say ‘come footing with us,’ their word for walking, ‘come footing with us and see what the enemy’s done.’ So just come footing with me for a moment as we land at that little airstrip and the villages are burning and we walk through the human corpses, the cattle corpses, they’re destroying the cattle — they couldn’t steal, so there’s no food left for survivors. The burned homes, (part of the) scorched earth policy. ”

Baroness Cox went on to say that, “On one of those visits, after going footing for several hours through this carnage, we arrived at a little town and there they’d been attacked, the church had been attacked, they couldn’t burn it down (it was built of brick) but they shot the cross off the top. They burned the Bibles, they slashed the drums that were used for worship, they’d taken a lot of women and children into slavery. Others had been slaughtered — we saw the blood on the ground where people had been tied up and had their throats cut. We saw remains of a human body, someone that had been tossed alive into a burning hut. And the Christian pastor there had been away when the raiders had attacked his village, but when he came back his sister had been taken as a slave and everything he had, including crops, had been destroyed — they had tamarind seeds left to feed his sister’s children. But I will never forget his words to us. He said. ‘We Christians here in southern Sudan are trying to hold a front line against militant Islam that is spending a million dollars a day on this war. We have nothing, we have just fighting against impossible odds — you’re the first Christians who’ve even visited us in this war.’ Then the words that just turned a knife in my heart. He said ‘Doesn’t the church want us any more?’ I said, not only do we want the people of southern Sudan, we cherish them and we support them as they try to hold that front line of faith for the rest of us.”

Her Love for the Karen People of Burma

Baroness Cox then turned her attention to why Burma, now known as Myanmar, is so important and what do we need to do to help support believers there?

“Burma is ruled by a brutal military regime with lovely name the State Peace and Development Council — George Orwell couldn’t have done better! But it’s carrying out all kinds of crimes against humanity against its own people. There’s Christian persecution, certainly in the main part of Burma. The ethnic nationals who live around the edges of Burma form about forty percent of the population of Burma on the eastern side, the Karen and the Shan are trying to hang in there and protect their land. So they’re subject to continual military offenses. Tens of thousands have been driven off their land and are hiding in the jungle as Internally Displaced People. Tens of thousands more have had to flee across the border to overcrowded camps inside of Thailand. But they have incredible dignity and they always leave me feeling so humble as a wonderful living testimony.

“One of the Karen pastors, who is actually a theologian who’s been forced to live in the overcrowded camps inside Thailand where they’re just trapped, had this wonderful living testimony and, as I speak it remember that English is his fifth language. He’ll speak Karen Tai, Burmese an Indian dialect, and English his fifth language. And this is his living testimony, a wonderful use of our language. He said: ‘They call us a displaced people, but praise God we’re not misplaced. They say they see no hope for our future but praise God our life is full of a future is the promises of God. They say the life of our people is a misery, but praise God our life is a mystery. What they say is what they see, and what they see is temporal, but ours is the Eternal, because we put ourselves in the hands of the God we trust.'”

Describing one of her trips to a Karen village and how did it impacted her, Baroness Cox said:”Well the first time I crossed over I was in Thailand waiting to cross over and felt extremely depressed..I woke up that morning feeling intensely depressed thinking ‘what on earth are we doing? what on earth do we have to offer the Karen in the enormity of their need? We’re going to raise expectations we can’t fulfill.’ I went jogging, took my Bible let the Bible fall open to see if there was a message from the Lord. It fell open to a story in the Second Book of Kings, a guy with twenty loaves of barley bread and a hundred hungry people. Elisha said they’re hungry give them bread to eat. The man said just what I was feeling ‘what is so little amongst so many?’ I said ‘be that as it may it’s what the Lord has said give them to eat they will eat and be satisfied.’ He did, they were. Slightly comforted, I went on my way, we crossed the Salween river into Burma, climbed up Sleeping Dog Mountain — and how I hated Sleeping Dog Mountain — i t was steep, it was hard: three steps up, two back, clinging onto jungle vegetation. I said: ‘Caroline Cox, you’re a grandmother now with seven grandchildren, isn’t it about time you grew up and stopped coming on these ridiculous missions?'”

The Baroness said: “When we arrived at this Karen village in a very bad mood and the people came running up with tears streaming down their cheeks just like they do in the Sudan and said ‘thank God you’ve come, we thought that the world had forgotten us.’ And the words which were a balm to my anxiety in the morning, ‘It wouldn’t matter if you didn’t bring anything, the fact that you’re here makes all the difference.’ That was it — a very poignant time — they were being shelled, but that was fifteen years ago.

“A few months ago there was a young Karen girl giving a presentation to a parliamentary group on Burma in Britain’s parliament and afterwards I went up to her and I said it was a wonderful presentation which part of Karen state did you come from? She said I came from a little town at the bottom of Sleeping Dog Mountain. I said I remember, it was so beautiful. And I remember I got back to Britain a few months later I heard that town had fallen to government troops and I wept. She said I know the day you came to was the day you climbed Sleeping Dog Mountain and that gave such joy to every Karen person inside Karen State, and in exile. They remember it fifteen years later. It’s so important that you go. It matters that you go.”

Militant Islam on the Rampage in Nigeria

Baroness Cox went on to describe what is happening in Jos in Plateau State, Nigeria.

Baroness Cox with international journalist Dan Wooding (ANS Photo)

She said: “It is very much a target for militant Islam. Our partner out there is Archbishop Ben Kwashi, a wonderful man of God and his wife Gloria, one of my heroines, and they’ve suffered sustained attacks from militant Islamists. The most recent just a few months ago when several hundred Christians were killed in three villages on the outskirts of Jos. But that’s only the latest in a series of attacks in that area.”

Baroness Cox added: “There are quite a number of states, twelve states to be precise in Nigeria Northern, which are now Sharia states, so they’re governed by Islamic law. That makes life extremely difficult for the Christians in those states. Plateau State, where Jos is located, is not as yet a Sharia state. It is very much a target state and has been subject to a whole series of really violent attacks, killings, destructions of churches and intimidation.

“I wish I could show you some photographs. But I must tell you about Archbishop Ben and his wife Gloria. They’re a hero and heroine of mine. About three years ago I was actually in Los Angeles and received an email which brought the news that militants had gone to their home to kill the bishop. He wasn’t there, so they attacked one of his sons and Gloria and did the most horrendous things, which I needn’t go into detail. Suffice it to say they did horrendous things with broken glass and splintered wood you can imagine what I’m talking about. And they also trampled on her so hard she lost her eyesight and she had to walk blind and mutilated through the town of Jos to the bishop’s office where they beat up his deaconess and took the money. The bishop came back and immediately sent out an email of course and said ‘please would you ask the authorities to provide enough protection to my community.’ Twenty-four hours later a very different email from Bishop Ben. ‘So now I’ve been home for twenty-four hours, I’ve had time to think and pray and I’ve had a good laugh because I remember when I was a little boy my mom used to pray so hard I’d become a Christian. Now I’m in church in Nigeria and we get into trouble. Churches in the West pray for us. I wish that was true by the way. We should, and it’s good that the churches in the West have to pray so maybe we should get into trouble more often.’ Then he turned serious and said,’I’ve just come back from the hospital my beloved Gloria was able to sit and receive Holy Communion; we had a wonderful time of prayer and worship together and we praised God for being found worthy to suffer for his kingdom. We just pray that all of Gloria’s pain, anguish and humiliation will be used for his kingdom, his glory and the strengthening of his church.’ But then something such as the grace and the courage of our brothers and sisters on the front lines last year when we were back in Jos the Bishop gave us quite a stern challenge. He said, ‘If we have a faith worth living for it’s a faith worth dying for. But don’t you in the West com promise the faith we are living and dying for?’ And I’m afraid we are compromising that faith. In Britain, we’ve already allowed Sharia law into the country, which is totally incompatible with the fundamental values of our liberal democracy. You also have aspects of Sharia in the United States; this is a really serious issue. And another message that the bishop gave last year was, ‘If you don’t resist the growth of a strategic and political Islam now your grandchildren are going to have to fight the battles you’ve not have the courage to fight in our day.’ Tat’s a challenge for all of us, and one which needs much prayer.”

Changes in North Korea

Wooding asked the baroness what is going on with the church in North Korea?

“Many Christians have suffered a great deal of persecution and martyrdom because everyone’s meant to worship the great leader. Christians by definition won’t worship a great leader,” said Baroness Cox.

“They really are meant to worship the Great Leader and they won’t, so many have been sent to concentration camps, reeducation camps, labor camps, prison and martyred. But I did see a slight sign of hope in my last visit to North Korea which was just towards the end of last year. When we were there five years previous I worshiped in the protestant church in Pyongyang and was quite surprised to see that the service was being taken by eighteen South Korean pastors, which was a surprise and one of them suddenly saw me during the service and said ‘hey, there’s Baroness Cox, what’s she doing there? She’s preached in my church in South Korea!’ I said ‘what are you doing here?’ They said we’re opening a seminary a Christian seminary. Well when we went back last year, I was very keen to see that the Christian seminary had actually been allowed to operate or develop. And I asked about it not being on our program and I kept on and on banging away about it. The last half hour, we went to see this seminary and it is true. There is a much, mu ch larger Protestant church completely — it’s changed, it’s enlarged, and I don’t believe that everyone who worships there is secret police. I think there are real believers there.

“There are real believers there indeed and the Protestant seminary is for real. It has eight under graduate students and two post graduate students and it has links with the main university in Pyongyang. So that is a sign of hope because we all know that in a closed society, a sealed society, the most dangerous thing you can allow is Truth and if the Truth is allowed to get in there then that may be the beginning of the opening of a Pandora’s box. And the other sign of a little bit of hope, when we were there previously five years before they said there were two North Koreans who were studying to become Russian Orthodox Priests in Moscow. Again we didn’t know how much of that was true. This time we went back, there is actually now a very beautiful Russian Orthodox Cathedral and the two priests are there. They are North Koreans who did study theology in Moscow. OK, maybe a ‘show cathedral’ as the communists said to us ‘you know, it’s only for expatriates,’ but it’s there. It’s a statement. The priests are there and I was able to talk to one of them in Russian, which rather upset my ‘minder’ because he couldn’t speak Russian. He said life is very difficult, but they are there. So once you see it begin to open up, even if they’re tokens, the truth is there and it’s manifest and our Lord is present there in a very special way. So tiny signs of hope on a very dark horizon.”

The People Perish Without A Vision In Britain

Finally, Wooding asked baroness Cox about what is going on with Christianity in Britain? What do we need to pray about?

“I think we need to pray that the people get a renewed vision — ‘without a vision the people perish.’ At the moment, in my perspective there are of course wonderful Christians, there are very lively churches, but the establishment I think is very, very compromised in many ways and I was very worried when Archbishop Rowan Williams seemed to acquiesce in Sharia law coming into Britain. I think the church is very divided, there’s been no vision — without a vision the people perish — and the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, then it is a failure. Britain needs a lot of prayer. One of our very good and robust bishops, Michael Nazir Ali who comes from Pakistan, says that ‘Britain is a country that has lost its soul.’ I think please pray that Britain regains its soul before it’s too late, and before we concede everything to an alternative religion.”

Baroness Cox wasn’t sure how many Christian have been elected to Parliament in the recent British elections, “but I think there’s a real concern that the coalition [between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties] that is being formed will probably be a very weak form of government, because a coalition means a lot of compromise, and I think a lot of compromise will be to weaken Britain’s stand on issues where we need to be strong.”

Baroness Cox told Wooding that her group, HART — Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust — is an organization that is not-for-profit and it is now operating as a non-profit in the US.

The website for the main organization in Britain is located on the web at: www.hart-uk.org and if you log-on to that site you’ll find the link to the US website there.

Baroness Cox concluded: “I think our biggest prayer need is for wisdom and discernment in how to cope with the challenges confronting us, and for HART for all the resources we need, spiritual, personal and financial, to help us help our brothers and sisters on the front line of faith and freedom.”