By Dan Wooding, Founder of the ASSIST News Service
VANCOUVER, BC, CANADA (ANS – November 19, 2015) — Hundreds of university students at Trinity Western University (TWU) in Langley, B.C., Canada were inspired to pray for Christians being persecuted in the Middle East and around the world at the Religious Freedom Week held October 26 – 30, on the Langley campus of TWU.
According to a news release, special guest, Canadian Ambassador for Religious Freedom, Dr. Andrew Bennett, presented Canada’s response to the crisis in Iraq and Syria and challenged students both to pray for those who are suffering for their faith as well as reach out to Iraqi and Syrian Christians who have already come to Canada as refugees.
He encouraged students to visit them at their churches and get to know them and learn from these Christians who have come from the area called the “cradle of civilization” and the “cradle of Christianity” where the population of Christians has gone from several million to less than 200,000.
The weeklong symposium climaxed with more than 55 students joining together for a Candlelight Prayer Vigil for brothers and sisters who are suffering for their faith around the world. Lexi Putman, a Political Science student from Oakville, Ontario, who coordinated the Candlelight Prayer Vigil with classmate, Cate Felton, noted, “It was so meaningful to come together with fellow students and professors and guests to pray for the persecuted church.”
“It was truly remarkable to see the passion and hear the prayers of the students,” said Pastor Ernie Culley, of Vancouver’s Agape Life Center Community Church.
Communications student, Jordan Rawcliffe, noted, “We were challenged to pray and to take action on what is the singularly most pressing human rights issue confronting our troubled planet today.”
The news release went on to say that the first annual Religious Freedom Symposium was co-sponsored by three organizations: Dr. Paul Rowe, Professor of Political and International Studies at Trinity Western University and a founder of TWU’s Religion, Culture, and Conflict Research Group; Paul Popov, President of Door of Hope International (DOHI); and Judi Vankevich, Founder of the International Centre for Manners & Civility.
Dr. Paul Rowe, author of Religion and Global Politics, and host of the symposium, noted, “The grisly headlines that draw our attention to the plight of minority religious communities in Iraq and Syria should motivate us to gain greater understanding and to act in favor of justice and comfort for those who suffer. We hope that this event will set in motion many efforts to bring change: in how we welcome the suffering and provide hope for those still affected.”
Keynote speaker, Dr. Sargon Donabed, Assistant Professor of History, Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, and author of Reforging a Forgotten History: Iraq and the Assyrians in the 20th Century, gave an in-depth historical analysis as well as how ISIS is in the last stage systematically trying to annihilate the Christian, Yezdi and other minorities in the Middle East. Dr. Donabed noted, “Amidst the shock and horror of the disappearance of the Yezidis, Assyrians and their culture, these uplifting moments of individual and community response give heart to those besieged and dispossessed. In this world we have the perpetual obligation of care and kindness emboldened through hope and compassion through both reflection and action.”
Other features of the Religious Freedom Week:
* Dr. Janet Epp Buckingham, Director of TWU’s Laurentian Leadership Centre in Ottawa, ON, lectured on “Magna Carta, Rule of Law and Religious Freedom.”
* Wayne Bremner, Executive Director of the Mennonite Central Committee, BC, and a TWU alumnus, lectured on his recent trip to Afghanistan, speaking on the ethical and practical issues of sending missionaries to war-torn and dangerous areas of the world. (Both Judi Vankevich and Wayne Bremner were Alumni of TWU).
* Dr. John H. Redekop, Canadian historian and author, presented a fascinating research paper on the Mennonites, how the Anabaptists suffered great persecution and “developed the first modern case for religious freedom.”
* Charlotte Siemens, a Middle School Principal from Abbotsford, BC, shared heart-wrenching stories of her mission this summer to Northern Iraq where IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) told her of their escape from ISIS terror.
“It was an honor to have Ambassador Bennett who was openly engaged with the students, bringing them a perspective of Canada’s involvement worldwide and how students can make a difference,” said Paul Popov, DOHI President, whose own family suffered religious persecution.
As a child, Paul Popov’s father, Pastor Haralan Popov, was taken away by the Bulgarian Secret Police and tortured for 13 years in communist prisons because of his faith in Jesus Christ. Haralan Popov’s story, Tortured for His Faith, is currently being developed into a feature film, to help the world understand the horrors that result from communism and totalitarian, godless governments.
Today, Paul Popov continues his father’s ministry by helping Christians around the world who are suffering because of their faith, including rescuing girls and women sold into sex slavery by ISIS, through Door of Hope, International.
“This week was an excellent blend of academic history and perspective along with practical ways to help persecuted Christians and refugees of the Middle East crisis,” said Judi Vankevich, of the International Centre for Manners & Civility and the newly formed, Religious Freedom International.
“We were also grateful for the assistance and encouragement from Robert Nicholson and Juliana Taimoorazy of The Philos Project in New York (philosproject.org), as well as from Faith McDonnell from the Institute on Religious and Democracy (theird.org) in Washington, D.C., as we put together this conference, added Judi. “Both organizations have been on the front lines of promoting positive Christian engagement in the Middle East and advocating for real peace in tangible ways.”
20-year-old TWU student, Intercultural Studies major, Shelby Bennett, was so inspired by the conference, that she is already organizing a Syrian refugee awareness event this month. “The more I realized what a huge crisis is happening in the Middle East right now, I knew I had to do something.
“Someday there will be refugees living in my city, or maybe I will be going and living in their city. Someday, I will be looking them in the eyes, and I want to tell them that I took action, I heard their stories and I responded. I may only be able to make a difference for a few, but I want to make that difference for those few.
I’m thankful to Trinity Western University and to Door of Hope International for putting on this conference to raise awareness for the plight of religious freedom in our world. I hope that the event later this month will be eye-opening for many on campus as to what’s happening in Syria and what we can do to help.”
Students left the weeklong symposium with more than just “information,” but with a renewed passion to seek God’s wisdom for how they can help those suffering around the world, and to help refugees coming to Canada.
Further information from Paul Popov, 360.933.1200; Judi Vankevich, 778.385.3845; and Paul Rowe, 604.888.7511.
Photo captions: 1) Canadian Ambassador for Religious Freedom, Dr. Andrew Bennett, who spoke at the event. 2) Professor Janet Epp Buckingham after her delivery of “Magna Carta, Rule of Law and Religious Freedom” 4) Book cover. 5) Judi Vankevich. 5) Dr. Sargon Donabed, Professor at Roger Williams University, RI lectured about the many Middle Eastern Minorities and what is happening to them. 6) Dan Wooding reporting for ANS from Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 74, is an award-winning winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for more than 52 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS). He is also the author of some 45 books and has two US-based TV programs –- “Windows on the World” and “Inside Hollywood with Dan Wooding” — which are both broadcast on the Holy Spirit Broadcasting Network (http://hsbn.tv/) and a radio show called “Front Page Radio” on the KWVE Radio Network (www.kwve.com).
You may republish this or any of our ANS stories with attribution to the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net)