Muslims > Catholics? > All Christians?

A friend emailed me the news clipping below. It’s about Islam surpassing Roman Catholicism as the world’s largest religion.

This confirms a trend which a Catholic priest shared with me when I interviewed  him in 2004, while Perry and I were in the Netherlands.

Father Ype said that church membership and attendance in the various parishes he had served in the Netherlands had been declining steadily over the years. In fact, he said, some parishes had to be dissolved and merged with adjacent parishes because of the lack of parishioners.

The church has also had to withdraw from some buildings because of lack of funds, aside from dismally low attendance. Some of these church buildings, government properties, were then leased to Muslim communities—and converted into mosques.

Fr. Ype said that this was not just because of the fact that Muslims generally do not practice birth control, although that was true (he surmised that birth control might be against Islam’s teachings, just as its more popular forms are also contrary to official Vatican teachings—the problem is, Muslims generally follow their official teachings whereas Catholics do not practice many of their church’s official teachings).

But much more important than the comparative growth in population, Fr. Ype says, the biggest factor in the decline of the Christian faith in his country and the rapid rise of Islam, is that Muslims pass the faith on to their children, whereas Christians do not.

Muslim parents are generally very diligent in teaching their children about their faith and traditions, and can be very strict in seeing to it that these are adhered to.

In contrast, Christian parents are very lax and lenient. They usually adopt the attitude of letting their children choose which belief, if any, they would follow. And, of course, in the setting of postmodern relativistic Europe, and in the midst of the attendant peer pressure and molding from the educational system and the media, the children, unguided by their parents, usually end up not believing in Christianity.

That is why Fr. Ype predicted, and I also predict, that it will not be long before the Netherlands, and in fact most of Western Europe, will be predominantly Muslim societies. what with the influx of Muslim immigrants with very strong respect for their religion and traditions. Christian households already have less children than Muslim families, yet they do not care to pass on the faith to these few children. When the Christian parents die, who will carry on the faith in the next generations?

The demographics of Europe will change dramatically in the coming years because of strong Muslim influence—and Christian parents who do not care for their faith or traditions.

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Muslims more numerous than Catholics

By ALESSANDRA RIZZO, Associated Press Writer

Sun Mar 30, 2:48 PM ET

Islam has surpassed Roman Catholicism as the world’s largest religion, the Vatican newspaper said Sunday.

“For the first time in history, we are no longer at the top: Muslims have overtaken us,” Monsignor Vittorio Formenti said in an interview with the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. Formenti compiles the Vatican’s yearbook.

He said that Catholics accounted for 17.4 percent of the world population— a stable percentage—while Muslims were at 19.2 percent.

“It is true that while Muslim families, as is well known, continue to make a lot of children, Christian ones on the contrary tend to have fewer and fewer,” the monsignor said.

Formenti said that the data refer to 2006. The figures on Muslims were put together by Muslim countries and then provided to the United Nations, he said, adding that the Vatican could only vouch for its own data.

When considering all Christians and not just Catholics, Christians make up 33 percent of the world population, Formenti said.

Spokesmen for the Vatican and the United Nations did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment Sunday.

Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. 

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Reaching Out To Children

Bad blogger. BAD, bad blogger. Haven’t visited his own blog for two weeks. Shame!

So very sorry. Been busy. Aside from the evangelism and discipleship program for microentrepreneurs which my wife and I are mainly involved in right now, I’ve also been preparing for a possible short-term teaching stint in Davao City, in the southern Philippines. I’ve been asked to teach a summer module on the Old Testament prophets (listed as Isaiah-Malachi in modern Protestant and Catholic Bibles). Lord willing, if everything goes well, that will happen this coming Apr 21-30.

And, this weekend, I accompanied my wife as she checked out some communities where the ministry she’s involved in will give gifts to children from economically disadvantaged families. These gifts are solicited by Samaritan’s Purse from children of more economically advantaged families as part of their Operation Christmas Child program. Through this program, Christian families, particularly the children, are given opportunities for hands-on giving to financially disadvantaged families from other countries, especially to other children from all over the world. This teaches them that Christianity is about loving God AND loving other people (cf. Mark 12:28-34), including those from other countries.

The Philippine partner of Samaritan’s Purse, Sowers of the Word Ministries, has scheduled gift-giving operations in Zambales and the Mountain Province from April 7-9. As part of preparations for those activities, scouts have been sent to “prepare the way”. My wife was the scout for the Zambales area. I accompanied her as her regular “go-fer” and bodyguard 🙂 .

We went to the municipality of Botolan, about 200 kms NW of Manila. Because of traffic conditions, the 200-km trip was a five-hour bus ride. Our bus left the station at 8am Saturday, and we arrived at Agora, Botolan, at 1pm.

Most of the beneficiaries of the Apr 7 gift-giving will be Aeta children. The Aetas are an indigenous tribe, many of whom were forced to evacuate their lands and were resettled by the government in the wake of the cataclysmic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 (said to be 8-10 times greater than the eruption of Mt. St. Helens). The volcano is located at the borders of the provinces of Zambales, Pampanga, and Tarlac. The eruption totally destroyed the United States’ Clark Air Base in Pampanga, and severely damaged the U.S. Naval Base in Subic, Zambales, at that time said to be the largest U.S. Navy installation in the Pacific.

Below are some pictures from our “scouting trip” 🙂 :

Perry and Mel on a carabao taxi

Me and Perry on a carabao “taxi”

(The locals jokingly refer to this carabao-drawn bamboo platform mounted on two wheels  as their version of the taxi. The driver and the passengers have to sit on the sides and balance each other, or else the whole thing will collapse 😦 ).

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Perry on her way to the venue for the gift-giving

Perry (with backpack) on her way to the venue for the gift-giving

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Perry with some of the children

Perry with some of the children

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Going on up…

Going on up…

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Aeta children

Aeta children

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Aeta Child

Aeta child

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Aeta child with older sister

Aeta child with older sister

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Some more children

Some more children

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“A Bad Smell”

God is good!

Our project was enthusiastically received by our client’s transformation officers (TO’s). These TO’s would be in charge of training the project officers who, in turn, would lead the organization’s tens of thousands of clients in Bible studies all over the country (the organization is a coalition of 11 Christian microfinance organizations with branches all over the Philippines).

They all agreed that the Bible study materials/devotionals which Perry developed would be very helpful in enabling them to provide a holistic ministry to the micro-entrepreneur clients—not just helping them in terms of providing loans and business and management skills training, but also in terms of sharing spiritual blessings with them.

The TOs’ enthusiasm was further boosted by reports from field tests, where random samples of clients were asked to read and study the materials, which we have entitled Gawaing Bahay (Household Work).

A great majority of the clients are mothers who are borrowing money in order to set up small businesses that can augment the family income.

One mother said that, in all her 43 years, she had never read the Bible. She thought that it had nothing to teach her. Besides, she thought that she could never have the time. But when she read the Gawaing Bahay material, she realized that the Bible was very relevant to her life, and could actually be appreciated even if read for only short chunks of time in the midst of her very busy schedule as mother, housewife, and microentrepreneur. Now she is motivated to study it along with the Gawaing Bahay as guide.

Another said that the Gawaing Bahay materials, which draw lessons from ordinary household work such as doing the laundry, cooking, sewing, etc., gave dignity to her routine housework, a perspective which she never had before.

Our client has already bought 30,000 copies of the Tagalog version for distribution to their microentrepreneur clients. We are now in the process of translating the Tagalog into Ilonggo, Cebuano, and Ilokano, three other major Philippine languages. We are also polishing the English version, which we will also print soon.

Below is an excerpt from the English draft of Devotional #4 of Gawaing Bahay (the Bible verses are taken from Today’s English Version):

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A Bad Smell
(Devotions 4)

If clothes are not washed well, they will have a bad smell. One day, I was folding the clothes that had been washed. While doing this, I smelled the clothes. One sock didn’t smell good. I asked myself, “How come? This is the only one that doesn’t smell good. All the others are okay.”

Probably it was because the sock was thick and black. Maybe I didn’t scrub it well, thinking that it was black anyway and any remaining dirt wouldn’t be noticed. But I was wrong. Maybe the dirt couldn’t be seen, but the uncleanness can be smelled! So I soaked it again in laundry detergent, and this time I scrubbed and rinsed it well. When it was dry, I held it to my nose and smelled it again. “Hmmm,” I said, “Now that smells good.” Since then, I have been more careful in washing black clothes to make sure that they will not smell bad.

Dirt in dark clothes may not be noticeable. But you cannot hide it even if the color of the clothes is dark, because it will smell. Sin is also like that: it smells bad even when it is not easily seen. This is why we cannot say that we can hide our sins because no one knows what we do in secret anyway. We should be more careful of secret sins because some day it will smell—and then what a shame it will be!

The Bible says that we ourselves are the ones who suffer when we know that we have done wrong and yet refuse to admit it.

But you know, God “does the laundry” very well. He knows everything about us—even sins done in secret. If you will only listen to Him, He will make you realize those sins so that you can allow Him to wash them away. He does not want to leave you smelling bad!

Things to Think About or Do:

(1) This is very personal, and you do not have to share this with anybody: Is there anything in your life which you know is wrong but which you do not want to let go?

(2) Would you like to spend some time, maybe 15-30 minutes, talking to God about it?

 “Hmmm, newly washed clothes really smell good!” That’s what we want, right? That is why we look for detergent soap and fabric softeners that will not only clean our clothes, but also leave them smelling clean. We feel good when our clothes smell clean, and we feel confident when we wear them.

A life surrendered to Christ smells clean. When we allow Jesus Christ to cleanse us from our sin, and specially when we serve Him, our lives “smell good” not only for God, but also for other people:

God uses us to make the knowledge about Christ spread everywhere like a sweet fragrance. For we are like a sweet-smelling incense offered by Christ to God, which spreads among those who are being saved and those who are being lost.
—2 Cor. 2:14-15

God is so good to cleanse us. He knows that we will only be truly happy when we are clean. You might want to use the following Psalm as a prayer to God:

Be merciful to me, O God,
     because of your constant love.
Because of your great mercy
     wipe away my sins!
Wash away all my evil
     and make me clean from my sin!

I recognize my faults;
     I am always conscious of my sins.
I have sinned against you—only against you—
     and done what you consider evil.
So you are right in judging me;
     you are justified in condemning me.
I have been evil from the day I was born;
     from the time I was conceived, I have been sinful.

Sincerity and truth are what you require;
     fill my mind with your wisdom.
Remove my sin, and I will be clean;
     wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear the sounds of joy and gladness;
     and though you have crushed me and broken me,
I will be happy once again.
Close your eyes to my sins
     and wipe out all my evil.

Create a pure heart in me, O God,
     and put a new and loyal spirit in me.
Do not banish me from your presence;
     do not take your holy spirit away from me.
Give me again the joy that comes from your salvation,
     and make me willing to obey you.

Then I will teach sinners your commands,
     and they will turn back to you.

Spare my life, O God, and save me,
     and I will gladly proclaim your righteousness.
Help me to speak, Lord,
     and I will praise you.
—Psalm 51:1-15

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God is so good and gracious to allow us to participate in a great work that He is about to do among our countrymen. All praises, thanks, honor and glory be to Him!

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Is This What We Want to Teach Our Children?

It’s been a busy, busy, busy two weeks. Thanks be to God, our new project is set for launching in March.

But while Perry and I have been very busy with our project, we have also been quite occupied with following the latest news on the so-called NBN-ZTE scandal. For my foreigner readers, this scandal is about alleged corruption and bribery in the National Broadband Network project of the Philippine government, and it allegedly involves not just very high officials (and, according to two state witnesses, family members of high officials) in our government, but also ZTE Corporation of China.

Now, it even seems that there is much more to this story than first thought. News anchor Ricky Carandang reported in last Tuesday’s episode of ABS-CBN’s The Correspondents  that the deal might even be an offshoot of a 2005 agreement where the Philippines, China, and Vietnam agreed to work together for oil exploration in the Spratly Islands—a deal to which lawyer Harry Roque applied the word “treason”  (paying subscribers can watch that episode online here)!

Yup, the story gets curiouser and curiouser. The progression of events and much of the details regarding the NBN-ZTE deal can be found in the links below. However, what I wanted to share through this post is what I saw and heard on TV, when Jun Lozada, the main whistleblower regarding the deal, gave a short message during a Catholic Mass held last Sunday at the La Salle Greenhills. During his message, he narrated how his young son had asked him why their family had to stay in the La Salle premises and be protected by the La Salle brothers and by nuns, their movements and freedom severely restricted. Lozada said the following in Tagalog, which I’m paraphrasing from memory:

Is this what we want to teach our children? That, in this country, those who tell the truth have to hide and fear for their lives and for their families’ lives? That those who lie and steal are the ones who are free to roam freely, go wherever they want whenever they want, and rest in beautiful, expensive, air-conditioned homes? Is this what we want to teach our children?

Good question. What legacy do we want to give our children?

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For details on the NBN-ZTE deal, non-Philippine residents could refer to the websites of Philippine news organizations including, but not limited to:

Philippine Daily Inquirer

ABS-CBN News

GMA News

Philippine Star

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How Long, O Lord? (part 2)

(…continued from earlier post How Long, O Lord?)

All of these reminded me of the psalms of lamentation, where the psalmist cries “How long, O Lord?” in the midst of suffering and pain.

“How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?”*
“How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever?”*
“Why have you rejected us forever, O God? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?”*

The above questions are contained in what is called Book 3 of the Psalter, a section which includes several lamentations and cries for help. The three psalms from which the questions come, for example, are calls for national deliverance of Israel.

Still, just as Israel is considered as God’s special people, I suppose human beings can similarly be considered as God’s special creation. After all, we are the only beings whom God created in His own image. And just as the Israelite psalmist wonders how long God will allow His people Israel to suffer, I also wondered, while in the ER, how long God will allow human beings to suffer—from diseases, accidents, and from their own evil deeds against each other.

The Bible says that God is love. If so, how come He does not intervene when a being He created in His image suffers? How can He watch people hurt, maim, and kill each other, and not be moved to intervene? How can He bear to watch a daughter cry over her father, slowly dying from a gunshot wound in the head? How can He give Satan such free rein to inflict damage to His creation? Like the psalmist, I want to ask “How long will the enemy mock you, O God? Will the foe revile your name forever? Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!” **

I want to cry out, “What’s holding you back, God? Why don’t you retake your creation now? Why don’t you throw Satan and his devils into the pit, now? Why don’t you stop the destruction, the pain, and the suffering, now?” My soul cries out in the words of St. Paul, “Come, Lord Jesus, come!” Come and retake your kingdom, throw out the usurper!

Then, by His grace, I am reminded that God IS already on the throne. Satan HAS been deposed. The Kingdom of God HAS come with the coming of Jesus. Since then, all the suffering and destruction wrought on God’s creation have been the last, vicious, dying throes of a defeated enemy, wanting only to destroy as much as he can before it is finally over and he is completely bound, unable to inflict any more damage.

Because He is gracious, instead of being angry, God enables me to do what the psalmist did: I call to mind the deeds of the Lord. I remember what God has done. I meditate on His goodness. As the psalmist meditates on how He has fulfilled His promises to Abraham and to Israel, I remember how God has provided for those who have put their trust in Him, how many times He has protected them and guided them. I remember that, if it were not for Him, I would not even be able to think about Him or write about Him. I could have been born with no mental capacity at all to appreciate Him. I could have died in my sleep last night, and not be typing what I am writing now. The fact that many are suffering does not negate the truth that many have been blessed, and that all of us who are recipients of His blessings have never deserved the good things we have received from our Creator.

I had known all this before. But I had never actually seen a person shot through the head before. I had never experienced being confronted with hurting people every five to ten minutes or so (and my experience even now was only indirect, as a spectator!). And to think that this was only an ordinary weekend morning in a public hospital. I cannot imagine what the effects are on people who work in calamity areas where there are dozens, even hundreds, of dead bodies, or on soldiers and doctors in the battlefield. I realize that, like Job, I have only been hearing about God; I still have to truly see Him.

In the end, I realize that I am too small and stupid to question God, much less tell Him when and how to intervene in His created world. After all, if it were up to me, I would never have thought of the sacrifice of His beloved Son as THE way to save all people who believe in Him. Truly, His ways are higher than my ways, and His thoughts are infinitely higher than my thoughts.

Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, God has already shown His love. Through the resurrection of Christ, God has already shown His power. Through my death and resurrection in union with Christ, He has already demonstrated His mercy and grace. Through His past provisions He has already shown His faithfulness. I call to mind the deeds and faithful character of the Lord, and my disturbed spirit is calmed. And even this calmness, I know, is not of my own doing, but is a gift from His Holy Spirit.

My prayer is that, by His grace, He will enable me to see Him more clearly and thus trust Him even more. And this prayer is not only for myself, but also for the patients and the staff at the ER that Saturday morning, that we will all learn to trust Him even when it seems that the enemy has free rein.

I pray that God will give us so much assurance, evidence, and personal experience of His goodness, power, and justice, that when things seem to go all wrong, we will still trust Him because we will remember that He is good, faithful, just, loving, and all-wise.

I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands
and my soul refused to be comforted.

I remembered you, O God, and I groaned;
I mused, and my spirit grew faint.
You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.
I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;
I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart mused and my spirit inquired:

Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?

Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will meditate on all your works
and consider all your mighty deeds.

Your ways, O God, are holy.
What god is so great as our God?
You are the God who performs miracles;
you display your power among the peoples.
With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

The waters saw you, O God,
the waters saw you and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.
The clouds poured down water,
the skies resounded with thunder;
your arrows flashed back and forth.
Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.
Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.

You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Psalm 77 (NIV)

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*   From Psalms 89:46, 79:5, and 74:1, respectively.
** From Psalm 74:10-11.

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