Monday, April 28, 2014

Myanmar's Desperate Muslim Refugees

This is so terribly sad.  I cannot believe Buddhists would burn down a village.  I have always "heard" how peaceful they are.  Here in Japan I have seen anything but Buddhists who promoted and worked for peace.

From the AP

The two children stood on the beach, at the end of the only world they knew, torn between land and sea.
They couldn't go back to their tiny Muslim village in Myanmar's northwest Rakhine because it had been devoured in a fire set by an angry Buddhist mob. In the smoke and chaos, the siblings became separated from their family. And after seven months of searching, they had lost hope of finding anyone alive.
The only way was forward. Hungry and scared, they eyed a rickety wooden fishing boat in the darkness. Mohamad Husein, just 15, dug into his pocket and pulled out a little wad of money for the captain. He and his 9-year-old sister, Senwara Begum, climbed on board, cramming themselves tightly between the other ethnic Rohingya in the small hull.
As the ship pushed off, they didn't realize they were among hundreds, if not thousands, of children joining one of the world's biggest boat exoduses since the Vietnam War. They only understood it wasn't safe to stay in a country that didn't want them.
Mohamad had no idea where they were headed. And as Senwara looked back in tears, she wondered if she would ever see her parents again.
Neither could imagine the horrors that lay ahead.
From Malaysia to Australia, countries easily reachable by boat have been implementing policies and practices to ensure that Rohingya Muslims don't wash up on their shores — from shoving them back to sea, where they risk being sold as slaves, to flat out barring the refugees from stepping onto their soil.
Despite pleas from the United Nations, which considers the Rohingya to be among the most persecuted groups on earth, many governments in the region have refused to sign refugee conventions and protocols, meaning they are not obligated to help. The countries said they fear adopting the international agreements could attract a flood of immigrants they cannot support.
However, rights groups said they are failing members of the religious minority at their most vulnerable hour, even as more women and children join the increasing mass departure.
"The sense of desperation and hopelessness is growing," warned Vivian Tan of the U.N. Refugee Agency.
About 1.3 million Rohingya live in the predominantly Buddhist country of 60 million, almost all of them in Rakhine state. Myanmar considers them illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, though some families have lived here for generations.
When the country was under military rule, young men took to the seas on small, dilapidated boats every year in search of a better life. But since the bumpy transition to democracy in 2011, sectarian violence has killed up to 280 Rohingya and forced more than 140,000 others from their homes. Now people of all ages are fleeing, many on massive cargo ships.
Women and children made up 5 percent to 15 percent of the estimated 75,000 passengers who have left since the riots began in mid-June 2012, said Chris Lewa of the nonprofit Arakan Project, a group that has tracked the boat journeys for a decade. The year before, around 9,000 people fled, most of them men.
It's a dangerous voyage: Nearly 2,000 Rohingya have died or gone missing in the past two years, Lewa said. Unaccompanied children like Senwara and her brother are among the most at risk.
The Associated Press reported from Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand on their plight, interviewing family members, witnesses and aid groups. Data were collected from the U.N., government agencies, nonprofit organizations and news reports at the time.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

An Open Letter to Expats in Japan

Dear Fellow Expats,

I know many of us see Japan as our personal playground and that we wish to have no one and nothing come between us and that idea.  This must change and must change quickly.

There is far too much targeting of Expats in Japan of racism, discrimination, and even violence.  It is time we begin to form an actual community.  I want to explain what I mean.

The rape of a Peruvian girl by 5 classmates in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka highlights the targeting of foreign children and even half children here in Japan.  We can longer see as having the luxury of simply turning our heads and pretending this does not exist - it does exist and has existed.  

Look at the past cases of Lucy Blackman, Lindsay Hawker, and even the anger Japan shows when the truth is tried to be told to the outside world.

We also have to stop playing apologists and being blinded by the cherry blossoms as Henry Scott Stokes and Tony Murano are.  We must begin to see that these attitudes are counter productive to ending the blantant racism and legal discrimination we face in Japan. 

To form a community we must begin to part of the community.  We can do this by feeding the homeless in Japan's cities.  My wife and I do so in Nagoya each Sunday, want to help then send me a comment on this post.  By getting our friends together to clean up a park or picking up trash as a group around a station. 

Anything that shows we are here to do more than get drunk, pick up Japanese women, or just crap on Japan and then leave.  Far too often this has been the MO of expats in Japan and it needs to stop, we long term expats need to start calling out and shaming when we see it.

If we want a change in our treatment then we need to change ourselves and we need to start being united.  I will be honest, Japan's expat community is the weakest united of any country I have lived in.  In Saudi Arabia we held cookouts in parks, in Mexico we worked with locals to keep neighborhoods clean, and in Kenya we helped school kids with their homework.  All of this kept the expat community united and also showed the native population we actually cared about where we lived.

Here in Japan the expats seem to believe that the problems we have are just to be accepted and shrug and play the shoganai game like the locals.  The problem is the locals have the law on their side and we do not.

We need to start speaking out, standing up, and standing united.  We also need to put back into the community in which we live and work and raise our families in.  As a bishop in Japan I would be neglecting my duty if I failed to address this.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Blogger Pham Viet Dao Imprisoned in Vietnam

I met Mr. Dao while I lived in Miyazaki in 2010.  He was a speaker at a bloggers convention in Kagoshima.  I was very much encouraged by his courage to tackle tough issues like bloggers being the new media as we are not influenced by government or media constraints.  Bloggers have the freedom to let rip the truth of an issue.  I was also taken aback by his uncompromising stand on freedom of speech and self expression.  I found Mr. Dao to be a strait shooter and I always respect that. 

Mr. Dao's plight from the International Business Times

A Hanoi court has sentenced dissident blogger Pham Viet Dao to 15 months in prison for "abusing democratic freedoms" after he wrote an online post criticising the government.
The court decision comes amid an increasing crackdown against dissenters in the communist autocracy.
"I don't think that my articles have had a bad impact on society," said Dao, who defended himself at the trial.
The judge said that Dao's acts had threatened trust in the Vietnamese leadership.
"The defendant's acts are dangerous to the society, causing anxiety among the public and reducing people's trust in the leadership of the [Communist] Party and the state."
The international NGO Human Rights Watch condemned the Vietnamese court's decision to jail Dao and called for his "immediate and unconditional" release.
"The Vietnamese authorities are shaming themselves before domestic and international public opinion by staging yet another political trial of a peaceful critic," said Brad Adams, Asia Director at the organisation.
International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) President Karim Lahidji also criticised the decision.
"The imprisonment of Pham Viet Dao once again calls into question the Vietnamese government's stated commitment to respecting human rights," he said.
"In fact, Vietnam continues to behave as an authoritarian government that perceives every freedom, including freedom of opinion and expression, as a threat to its rule."
Last April, three prominent dissident bloggers were sentenced to jail in Vietnam for "anti-state propaganda" in cases highly criticised by human rights groups as well as US President Barack Obama.
The most notorious of the three to be arrested was Nguyen Hoang Hai aka Dieu Cay, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Amnesty International has dubbed Cay a "prisoner of conscience" while Barack Obama said: "We must not forget (journalists) like blogger Dieu Cay, whose 2008 arrest coincided with a mass crackdown on citizen journalism in Vietnam."
Although the 1992 Vietnamese constitution recognises freedom of expression, the criminal code prohibits speech that criticises the government in any way.
At least 63 people were imprisoned for peaceful political expression in the Asian nation last year.
End of Story
I would like my Vietnamese friends and my friends interested in Human Rights to let others know of Mr. Dao's plight.  We need to stand united because it is no exaggeration that bloggers are really the truth tellers now.  The media is bought and paid for by government and business and the only news we get from the "lame" stream media is what has been filtered through money and political connection.

British PM Cameron Criticized for Christian Comment

London (AFP) - Prime Minister David Cameron was accused Monday of sowing sectarianism and division after his repeated assertions that Britain is still a "Christian country", proving how problematic it remains to mix faith and British politics.

More than 50 public figures from the arts and sciences signed an open letter rejecting Cameron's characterisation of multi-cultural, multi-faith Britain and warning that such a claim "fosters alienation and division in our society".

Their criticism came after Cameron used an Easter message to urge Britons to be "more evangelical" about their religion and "more confident about our status as a Christian country".

The Conservative leader has always been open about his Church of England faith but in the past has said his belief in God "goes in and out", comparing it to an unreliable radio signal.

In recent weeks he has been increasingly outspoken, however, dispensing with the trend set by his predecessors for discreet Anglican faith that will not upset secular Britain.

"Some people feel that in this ever more secular age we shouldn't talk about these things. I completely disagree," Cameron wrote last week in the Church Times, an Anglican newspaper.

"I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country, more ambitious about expanding the role of faith-based organisations, and, frankly, more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people's lives."

In an open letter organised by the British Humanist Association and published in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, critics disputed Cameron's claim that Britain is still a Christian country.

While the established Church of England runs state-funded schools and has Queen Elizabeth II as its Supreme Governor, the signatories noted many Britons do not identify themselves as Christian.

"Constantly to claim otherwise fosters alienation and division in our society," said the letter, signed by writers Philip Pullman and Terry Pratchett and the Nobel Prize-winning scientists John Sulston and Harold Kroto.

They added that highlighting the social contribution of Christians above others "needlessly fuels enervating sectarian debates".

- 'We don't do God' -

The majority -- 59.3 percent -- of people in England and Wales said they were Christian in the last census in 2011, but this is down from 71.7 percent 10 years earlier.

The number of those reporting no religion was 25.1 percent, up from 14.8 percent in 2001 -- among them Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, and opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband.

Cameron's new public evangelism may help build bridges with the Church, which opposed the introduction of gay marriage last year and whose members have criticised the impact of the government's austerity measures.

But the criticism he has provoked is a reminder of how tricky the issue can be.

Former Labour prime minister Tony Blair was a devout Christian but his spokesman Alistair Campbell stopped him answering questions about his faith, once declaring: "We don't do God."

Blair converted to Catholicism after leaving office in 2007, but said he was reticent to discuss faith before then because "you always get into trouble talking about it".

While it was commonplace in the United States and elsewhere for politicians to talk about their religious convictions, Blair told the BBC, "you talk about it in our system and, frankly, people do think you're a nutter".

A spokeswoman for Cameron said the prime minister had made clear as far back as December 2011 that he believed Britain was a Christian country, although he recognises the importance of different faith groups.

"He has said on many occasions that he is incredibly proud that Britain is home to many different faith communities, who do so much to make the UK a stronger country," she said.

Anil Bhanot, managing director of the Hindu Council UK, told the BBC that he was "very comfortable" with Britain being described as a Christian country.

Monday, April 21, 2014

It has never been about quantity

A friend and I had a discussion Sunday at Easter in Tsuruma Park.  My friend maintains that the problem facing the church right now is that young people are leaving because too many churches are "too traditional".  They are not hip enough, cool enough, or tolerant enough.  I find this to be absolutely redundant to any Christian.

We need to understand, Jesus died to forgive sins and win souls.  That needs to be the focus of the church.  We need to win souls.  You win souls by presenting the truth not by being a consumer brand.  I know it is frustrating to see Sundays where there are 50 people and then the more often than not Sunday when there are the consistent 15.  What does this say?  Does it say something the pastor needs to be attuned to?  Yes it does, but not what the knee jerk reaction that is tempting to go by.

The knee jerk reaction: We need to change and change fast.  Something must be done quick.

This is wrong.  Too often we see the church as a consumer brand.  "I donate every week.  I would like more contemporary music."  "You know pastor we need to be more competitive.  That church down the street has a special youth service."  "If things do not pick up soon then I think this church will fold."

The church is not a consumer brand.  The church is the bride of Christ.  As such, we need to step back and catch our breath.  There are problems facing the church today, but problems also faced the early church, the Medieval church, the Renaissance church, and the 20th Century church.  We are not to be expected to be immune to these problems.  What we are facing is what the church has always faced, heresy.  We just face new spins on old heresies.

 "Homosexuals love each other so homosexuality is love and God is love so homosexuality is OK."  Of course this is wrong fro the start.  Homosexuality is not love, it is a perversion of love.  The real problem is that too many pastors will not preach this truth for the fear of offending young, well donating members.  That is the problem, not the church or the message of the Gospels.  This is just one example, but the problem is the same.

When the church is seen as some grace dispenser that exists to make everyone happy then the church presents a watered down and very weak message.  What does not come from the dispenser is the truth.  The truth needs to be seen as the standard by which all propositions are weighed against and the standard by which anything else is judged as a lie.  That means churches need to refocus on the truth.  

When the church is seen as the bride of Christ then the message is centered on winning souls.  The focus is not on building buildings or winning favor.  Pastors need to be firm on what the church is.  If people wish to leave then it needs to be realized that doors swing both ways.  The church is not a consumer industry.  You can leave Red Lobster if you do not like it and you can leave the church as well.  Snipers are not on either roof to keep you inside.  I would much rather have a congregation focused on winning souls than focused on building buildings.

Winning souls is a focus on the quality of the church.  It keeps the quality of the message Gospel centered.  Soul winning keeps the pastor preaching quality not mundane humanist mantra.  Soul winning keeps the church Christ centered not secular appeasing.  Winning souls is the quality mark.  Winning souls may not translate to quantity but Jesus never said it would.

Give me a church with 15 committed members who wish to be saved, proclaim their salvation,  and celebrate their salvation than a mega church whose sole focus is on the building and not the souls in the building.  Give me a small church where there is focus on winning souls outside than a huge multi million dollar operation where the focus is on catching the maximum financial return from the outside.

The church has always focused on soul winning and that means quality, not quantity.  Now we must go and proclaim the Good News. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Easter in Tsuruma Park

I would like to invite you and your family to Easter in Tsuruma Park on April 20.  It is an Easter fellowship I am personally sponsoring.  There will be snacks and a special children's prize drawing.  Come meet people and enjoy some time among the cherry blossoms at Nagoya's most beautiful park.

We will meet at the Fountain Tower at 3 pm and the fellowship will be at the Fusen Memorial Platform at 3:30 pm.  

It is easy to get to Tsuruma Park.  The Nagoya City Subway Tsurumai Line (Blue Line) has a stop for Tsuruma, as does the JR Central Line.  Tsuruma Park is on the Tsurumai 11 City Bus route.

A map of the park is here

Hope to see you there.