This week Open Doors,

the charity which serves the persecuted church across the globe, launched its 26th annual World Watch Report.

It identified the 50 countries where it is most, how shall I put this, problematic, difficult, dangerous to be a Christian.

North Korea remains #1 on the list, with an estimated 300,000 living under the most intense ‘Smash and Squeeze’ persecution. ‘Smash’ in that if believers are discovered they are subject to prison camps, beatings and even death. ‘Squeeze’ in that the rights and freedoms of believers are increasingly limited.

However, we also hear remarkable stories of generosity and witness. Where rations of daily food are tightly controlled, Christians in North Korea have adopted a practice of sharing 10% of their meagre rations with their neighbours. This has come to be known as the ‘holy rice’.

 


That God is present . . .

. . .  at death as God is present in all life, makes it possible for us to journey through sorrow and pain. This is evident in the story of a young widower whose son could not sleep once they had returned from the funeral service. They slept in the same bed but the boy was still restless:

‘Finally, the boy reached out in the darkness and placed his hand on his father’s face asking, “Daddy, is your face toward me?” Assured by his father’s words, and by his own touch, that his father’s face was indeed toward him, the boy said, “If your face is toward me, I think I can go to sleep.” And in a little while he was quiet.’

As we grieve today, we are comforted by the knowledge that God’s face is turned towards us, is turned towards the whole church family.

 


To quote the old poem,

today we stand at the gate of the year – the point where one year ends and another opens up before us. Years are important in Christian faith, for the references of times, seasons and years in the scriptures show us that God chooses to accommodate and locate his activity in the schedule of human history.

So what of the year ahead?

Today we shall be defining and describing the idea and reality of shalom which, as our quotation tells us, is the way things ought to be. And we shall ask the question, ‘What would it mean for ABC to fully experience shalom?’