The Nighttime Shelf

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When my daughters were young I used to have the privilege of tucking them safely into their beds each night. Bedtime stories and prayers, — special moments for this mom’s heart. It was during this time that they would share with me what was troubling them. Tired from the day’s demands, I listened intently to the cries of their hearts, and then encouraged them to take their cares and lay them on the “nighttime shelf.”

The nighttime shelf was a safe place. Even a bit magical. While it’s only visible with the eyes of your imagination, — I assure you it’s very real. Sturdy and steady, and always up for the job, of holding what troubled one’s tender heart at night. In fact, it seemed to take special delight in helping my girl’s unload their burdens. Allowing them to lay aside what troubled them — and rest….

The beauty of the nighttime shelf is that most always, when morning came, the worries from the night before were no longer there. On the occasion that the troubles were still sitting upon the shelf, they had magically become smaller and less troubling.

The nighttime shelf has weathered the storms of life and come out the other side with little to no scars. It remains steady, strong, and able to shelve the weightiest of concerns. It’s never been intimidated or alarmed in any fashion. In fact, I’m convinced it’s made of an indestructible substance.

While my children are now grown, and I no longer tuck them into their beds at night, — I do however continue to cover them with my prayers. As for the nighttime shelf, it remains a constant and is ever ready to shelve any care we give it.

I’m reminded of a story Corrie Ten Boom shares in her book The Hiding Place –

“He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing. At last he stood up, lifted his trasveling case off the floor and set it on the floor. Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?” he said. I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning.
It’s too heavy,” I said. Yes,” he said, “and it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger, you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you.”

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I take comfort in knowing my heavenly Father understands the weight my shoulders can bear in the torrents of life. He is my nighttime shelf.

 

 

Serenity Prayer

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God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Amen.
The serenity prayer was written by the American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr (1892 – 1971), an American theologian.

The truths in the serenity prayer are as applicable today as they were when it was written. In a world filled to the brim with uncertainty; God’s grace and serenity are as essential as the air we breathe.

Serenity, courage, and wisdom.

Serenity — calm, untroubled, no worries, without stress, or turbulence.

Courage — the ability and grace to face danger, difficulty, uncertainty, or pain, without drowning or being overcome by fear, or being detoured from a chosen course of action.

Wisdom — the ability to make sensible decisions and judgments based on personal knowledge and experience.

Ramadan Prayers

 

According to the lunar calendar the month of Ramadan is May 26th – June 24th this year. It is duirng this time of the year that Muslims fast and pray from sunrise to sunset. It is a time of reflection and seekinig God for cleansing of sins. In light of the month of Ramadan, I would like to share the followng blog written by guest blogger, Miriam Eva.
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I will never forget my introduction to the Middle East. After accepting an invitation to visit, I pictured what it would be like to meet those who called that region home. I remember peering excitedly from the airplane window as we began to descend toward the city lights below.

Unfortunately, my luggage was not the only baggage I carried on that trip. I also took my preconceived ideas of Muslim people. My perception of them was formed and shut up tightly within the framework of my Western understanding.

Once there, my senses were immediately overwhelmed. I saw beautiful women covered from head to toe in traditional Islamic dress, called hijab and niqab, and I heard the sounds of the Adhan, or call to prayer, from mosques that seemed to be everywhere. Being in that country was a new experience for me, one that I eventually fell in love with.

We arrived during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims rise early to eat before the sun is up and then fast and pray until the sun sets. The fast of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam.

With a desire to greet Muslim people, I learned two simple Arabic words that helped me bridge the barriers. I loved watching eyes brighten as I exchanged smiles with Muslim people for the first time in my life. Of course there were also Muslims whose faces showed disdain for me. My love for them is blind. I only see people God loves enough to give His life for. With each call to prayer that I heard announced from the mosques, — I prayed. As I watched men standing in the trains that we shared chanting Quranic verses, I prayed for them, too.

I was surrounded by a people I feared — and loved.

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Guards were assigned to escort us in remote areas of the country. They became our travel companions as we visited poor villages. We were honored to be invited into the homes of Christians. Over steaming cups of tea, and through the voice of our interpreter, we shared with them our love for God.

I remember one such visit on a hot day. I watched our guard dutifully follow his Ramadan fast, which included avoiding drinking or eating in the 100-degree desert heat. It was during this visit that a member of the family we were visiting asked me why I follow Jesus. I was given the perfect opportunity to share my love for a God who first loved me. I shared about the truth of a Savior whose love and acceptance I can never earn. Our guard listened intently. I pray this was the beginning of this man’s encounter with God.

In many areas of the world, this month brings with it increased persecution. On the first day of Ramadan this year, 28 Christians lost their lives in Egypt, when the bus they were traveling on was ambushed.  Let’s remember our Christian brothers and sisters in prayer during Ramadan, which began May 26 – June 24th.

While Muslims fast and pray in hope of encountering God, we can pray for them, too More Muslims are said to be coming to faith in Jesus Christ today than at any other time in history. A friend of mine who is a former Muslim once said, “What if Muslims all over the world are being visited in dreams and visions by Jesus because we are too afraid to go to them?” In many parts of the world, persecuted Christians are boldly sharing the love of Jesus with their Muslim neighbors — even when doing so endangers their lives.

Today, the mission field has spilled over into our backyards. It is no longer necessary to board a plane to extend the love of God to our Muslim neighbors, — one only need to go next door.

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16 NLT

 

 

 

People Made of A Different Substance

People Made From A Different Substance

 Palm Sunday proved to be another blood stained day in Egypt’s history. Attacks on two Coptic Orthodox churches in Egypt’s Nile Delta area killed more than 40 people and injured more than 100.

St. Mark’s Cathedral was host to one of the attacks that day. Located in the Abbassia district of Cairo, St. Mark’s Cathedral is the largest in Africa. The building is named after the apostle Mark who is the author of the New Testament book bearing his name. It’s also the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Pope of Egypt. Sadly Egypt’s Christians are no stranger to persecution. In fact, the land where St. Mark’s Cathedral stands today is the same place where Christians were persecuted and buried centuries ago. Early church history tells us that Mark died a martyr’s death in Alexandrea, Egypt. He is credited with founding the Coptic Christian church.

Standing guard outside of St. Mark’s Cathedral on Palm Sunday was a gatekeeper by the name of Naseem Faheem. Video footage from moments before the blast shows Naseem refusing entry of a young man trying to enter the grounds by bypassing the metal detector. Moments later the explosive laden man detonates the explosives he wears strapped beneath his clothing. Killing himself, — a martyr of a different kind.  Naseem saved untold lives by his actions that day.

For the families of those who perished the pain and suffering is raw and painfully real. A familiar cloud of grief settled into the country that day, — once again. The blood of the martyrs is not unfamiliar to Egypt, or the Middle East. It’s the same ground that soaked up the living blood of Jesus Christ so many years ago. The birth place of Christianity — people of “the way,” are well acquainted with the price of their faith.

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Cemetery in Old Cairo

 All this time Saul was breathing down the necks of the Master’s disciples, out for the kill. He went to the Chief Priest and got arrest warrants to take to the meeting places in Damascus so that if he found anyone there belonging to the Way, whether men or women, he could arrest them and bring them to Jerusalem. Acts 9:1-2 the Message

 Following her husband’s death, Naseem’s widow sat down with Amr Adeeb, a prominent talk show host in Egypt. What Amr listened to as the young widow spoke took his breath away — literally. Listening to Naseem offer forgiveness to her husband’s killers left Amr speechless. Viewers listened, and watched, along with Amr as Naseem offered forgiveness, to those responsible for the death of her husband.

“I’m not angry at the one who did this,” said Naseem. Sitting with her children beside her she continued, “I’m telling him, May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.” 

“Egyptian Christians Are Made of Steel. They are made of a different substance.”

– Amir Adeeb, Egyptian talk show host.

Naseem, shared words similar to the words Jesus spoke while suffering and dying on the cross, “ Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.” Luke 23:34-35 the Message.

Shortly after Amir Adeeb aired the interview with Naseem, The Bible Society of Egypt added subtitles to the clip and shared it with millions more.

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Bible Society of Egypt

 

 

 

“Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.” Corrie Ten Boom

 

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the Palm Sunday attacks and called Egypt’s Christians “our priority and our preferred prey.” God’s people are “made of a different substance.” In the face of evil — they retaliate with forgiveness.

In 2015 Libyan Islamic State militants released video footage of the martyrdom of Coptic Christians in Libya. The footage of their martyrdom included a caption that read — “The people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church.” The 21 men who knelt before their executors that day refused to recant their faith, even when faced with death by the sword. The world watched as the 21 martyrs for Jesus Christ uttered their last words on earth; “Lord, Jesus Christ.”

Their martyrdom sparked the Bible Society of Egypt’s biggest campaign ever. A Bible tract was created and sent to print within 36 hours following their public executions. Titled “Two Rows by the Sea,” it carried a message of hope, comfort, and forgiveness. The tract was a sought after resource in bringing comfort to both Christians and Muslims alike.

Shortly after the death of all 21 Coptic Christian men, a brother of two of the men spoke to a reporter with Sat 7 during a weekly worship program. He thanked his brother’s killers for including the men’s declaration of faith in the video released of their execution. He went on to call the martyred men, — “a badge of honor to Christianity.”

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Egyptian mother of six

 

 

Yes, “Egyptian Christians are made of a different substance.” The fires of persecution have produced the finest of gold. Their’s is forgiveness in the face of great evil and deep sorrow. A material death’s sting cannot touch. Jesus rose from the darkness of death in sweet victory, — so it is with our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters.

Precious in the sight of the LORD, is the death of his saints. Psalms 116:15 ESV

 

 

 

 

The Shadows of Persecution

The widows and children of the Malatya martyrs are always near to my heart and in my prayers this time of the year. Semse Aydin is the inspiration for this blog I’ve written. She lives daily in the shadow of persecution. May God continue to be her everything.
This post was originally written after a horrific terrorist attack that took place in France in 2015. Since that time our world has been assaulted again, and again by this shade of evil.

Tami Yeager

As I recently watched and listened to the news of the attack and subsequent slaying of those in the French magazine office of Charlie Hebdo; I found my thoughts immediately drawn to a comparable, yet very different story.  Both stories share the similarity of bloodshed at the hands of adherents to radical Islam. Each story is painfully tragic. I wondered if any of those  slain in France had met their attackers before that fateful day. I thought of the life and deaths of Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and Tilmann Geske, who were murdered in their office at Zirve Publising in Malatya, Turkey on April 18, 2007.

Those who were responsible for the murders of Necati, Ugur, and Tilman weren’t all strangers to these men or their families. To the contrary, one of the murderers had sought Necati out earlier pretending to be interested in his Christian faith. As described in the book titled Faithful Until Death and written by Wolfgang Haede, Necati…

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Shame’s Seduction

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Shame. The word alone makes me want to inhale deeply, before preparing myself for confrontation. The fallacy is, that shame comes in like a thick fog — daring you to defy it, to confront it, — while taunting you with the notion that you are worthless, and no match for its power.

The serpent was clever, more clever than any wild animal God had made. He spoke to the Woman: “Do I understand that God told you not to eat from any tree in the garden?” – Genesis 3:1 the Message

Since the dawning of time, shame has tragically makes it’s abode in the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. Once its venom enters the victim’s life blood, it takes up residence, even being passed on from one generation to the next.  A skilled master of disguise. He greets his targets in a variety of different forms. Even those who don’t believe he exists. In his ever cunning way he’ll convince his prey that he is holy, just, and righteous, — one’s lot in life, and even a birthright. It’s sufferers having lived with it for so long, are often unaware of its toxicity spreading throughout their soul.

13 “The serpent seduced me,” she said, “and I ate.” Genesis 3:13 the Message

Shame has exercised and honed his seductive skills to near perfection — if that were possible.

21 God made leather clothing for Adam and his wife and dressed them. Genesis 3:21 the Message

Thankfully, shame underestimated its greatest opponent — the King. As He did in the Garden of Eden, — so He has done to this day. With His very own hands, He’s crafted new clothing for us to wear. No two are alike. Once this clothing is embraced it carries with it the antidote to disarm shame at every level. Shame actually shrinks away from the King and His grace woven clothing.

The LORD says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. Psalm 91”14 NLT

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Immanuel ~ God With US

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photo credit – The Nativity Story

The Birth of Jesus

The birth of Jesus took place like this. his mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, changrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced. – Matthew 1:18-19 The Message

Have you suffered under the ruthless hands of shame? Maybe you’ve had the weighty shadow of shame cast upon you by a society, or a people group, — or those you love? Perhaps you’ve stood strong under the weight of shame for simply saying “yes” to God’s will in your life. Maybe our broken world gifted you with shame before birth? Shame comes in all kinds of packages.

Mary was as human as you and me. While she knew whose child she carried inside her chosen body — she was also confronted with the shame of her culture. I imagine it would have been difficult not to receive shame projected upon her as Joseph wrestled with the news of her pregnancy. Was her integrity questioned? Was she accused unfairly? Did she feel rejection from the one who held her future in his hands? Did she feel isolated, abandoned, — alone? Did she suffer heart ache?  

Shame is easily handed off — even, when it’s unjust, cruel, and unwarranted.

Take heart. God sent his very own messenger, the angel Gabriel to rescue Mary. He loves you none the less. He will rescue you too. Rest assured in His plan for you. Even if you can’t see it. Keep your eyes on the end of the day — His purpose, His plans, His way, His great big love for you.

He is your Immanuel — God with you!

Refuse shame at every port of entry. It does not belong to you. Jesus took all shame upon Himself. All shame. It is not yours.

Rest, even if misunderstood. Immanuel, God with us, understands you well.

I believe you make His heart smile every time He thinks of you.

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.” Matthew 1:23 NLT

The entire nativity story was written for you. Wrapped in every written word is a gift of peace. One sent to a broken and hurting world. It’s the good news!

 

 

I Called My Son Out of Egypt

 

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Photo credit – VOM-USA

The American traditions practiced during the Christmas season make up some of my favorite times of the year. There are many different religious holidays throughout the year — Christmas is different. It’s a joy filled celebration of Immanuel — “God with us.”

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.'” Matthew 1:23

All over the world and in many different ways, Christmas is recognized and celebrated. A story birthed in the Middle East. It’s not an American celebration — it’s a world celebration! A heavenly celebration!

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”  Luke 2:13 – 14

 Sadly, God’s triumphant gift to the world — Jesus — the prince of peace, was not good news to everyone. The book of Matthew narrates for us the brutal reaction King Herod had to this news.

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. – Matthew 2:16

~ Innocents massacred ~

 The evil that blind sighted King Herod is alive and well in our day too. A vivid display of this type of fear and hatred was played out in living color in Cairo, Egypt on December 11, of this year. An individual who believed he was doing the God of his religion homage, blew himself up in a Coptic Christian church, St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s.  The suicide bomber targeted the section of the building where women and children are seated. To date it is reported that 27 people perished and over 45 were injured. The trauma inflicted on the community, and the country is undefinable. Grief is processed in tangible ways in Egypt. I am reminded of the weeping of God’s people in the days of Rachel, King Herod, and Cairo, Egypt today.

A sound was heard in Ramah, weeping and much lament.
Rachel weeping for her children, Rachel refusing all solace,
Her children gone, dead and buried. Matthew 2:18

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Young Coptic Christian girl wears the cross.

The Coptic Christian churches are not strangers to persecution. The Christian population of Egypt are the minority, and they suffer in many ways. Suffering has not extinguished the light of Christ in the hearts of Egyptian believers — to the contrary, they burn brightly. They shine even further into the darkness.

I have but one candle of life to burn, and I would rather burn it out in a land filled with darkness than in a land flooded with light” – John Keith Falconer

After the brutal attack on the women and children at St. Peter’s, and St. Paul’s this month the Christians choose forgiveness, as their weapon for retaliation. A Coptic Christian leader, Bishop Anba Angaelos is quoted by The Christian Post as saying: “We are praying that there is healing in the community. We are ready to and we already have forgiven people for doing this because at the end of the day, a lack of forgiveness harms us more than anyone else.”

Egyptian Christians are part of a family of believers around the word who burn brightly in the face of fierce opposition. They are people of the cross. When the fires of persecution rage — their passion for Jesus is set ablaze. Loving your neighbor takes on a whole new life. Their reach is propelled even further.  Extending love and care to both Christian and Muslim alike. Reaching out to their neighbors and strangers called “refugees.” Egypt continues to be a place of refuge, as it was in the days of Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus.

Thinking of the refugee status of the holy family inspires me to love further.  It encourages me to boldly step across the doorway of difference — and love well.  Both, at home and abroad. What a gift God has given us — His great big love.

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~ I called My Son out of Egypt ~

Joseph obeyed. He got up, took the child and his mother under cover of darkness. They were out of town and well on their way by daylight. They lived in Egypt until Herod’s death. This Egyptian exile fulfilled what Hosea had preached: “I called my son out of Egypt.” Matthew 2:14-15

 

 

 

 

 

Suffering is Not a New Truth

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Assyrian believers return to pray at their church after it was destroyed by Islamic extremist.  Photo credit – VOM-USA

 First published 11/04/16 – Eternal Persepective Ministries http://www.epm.org/blog/2016/Nov/4/suffering-not-new-truth

“Suffering is not a new truth, it is an old truth.” — Sarah Liu imprisoned and tortured for her Christian witness.

This coming Sunday the 6th day of November, 2016 is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Christians from around the globe will set aside time to honor, remember, and pray for our persecuted family. I am grateful for the privilege of standing shoulder to shoulder with those of whom the world is not worthy. I pray that this day is the beginning of a deeper fellowship with our persecuted family.

I rarely approach IDOP without remembering my introduction to those who suffer for their faith.  I was reading for the first time a Voice of The Martyrs newsletter. The stories were disturbing and intriguing. I found myself face to face with a reality I couldn’t reconcile. The suffering and pain was too difficult to fit into the sterile package I had stuffed my understanding of God into.

The journey I began by reading the true life stories of persecuted Christians would eventually land me at a VOM regional conference in Bartlesville, OK. It was there that a more disturbing truth came to life. That first evening I listened as a man from Pakistan described the road of suffering Pakistani Christians walk. He told of the torture and eventual murder of a young boy—someone’s son, brother, and friend. This child died at the hands of his torturers—his crime? He was a Christian. For the first time in my life I contemplated the possibility that God would not always intervene–that perhaps suffering was part of His plan.

Being shaken by the very thought of suffering of this kind, I went back to my hotel room and had a heart-to-heart talk with my God. You see, it was up until that time that I had cried “send me!” Now I was asking Him to not honor my requests.  The weight I felt upon my heart was great. Standing securely in my “mirage” of comfort, safety, and control, I laid out “my” plan for my life. He graciously listened to me try to tell Him what to do.

Day two of the conference began with me feeling assured—certainly my one–on-one talk with God had sealed the deal. I had effectively canceled out all those “send me” prayers! It was then that a young man from the Middle East began to share about his work, which includes traveling great distances into hostile territories controlled by Islamic extremists. These were places where Christians die for their faith. Pictures were displayed on a screen behind him of people receiving the Bibles he delivered. Their expressions of curiosity and delight captivated me. As he spoke, he seemed puzzled by those who ask why he goes to such dangerous places. His response was simply, “Since when has the gospel been safe?”

I felt as if I were alone with the Lord in that room. I knew He was speaking directly to me. I recalled the list of demands I called “a prayer” the night before, and heard Him say, “I did not create you that way.” I’m so glad He didn’t “create me that way.”

Since then I’ve learned that God’s love trumps suffering. Those who walk the road of suffering for Jesus Christ—never really walk alone. Their sustance for the journey? An intimacy with God reserved for those He counts worthy.

“So, instead of continuing to focus on preventing suffering—which we simply won’t be very successful at anyway—perhaps we should begin entering the suffering, participating insofar as we are able—entering the mystery and looking around for God. In other words, we need to quit feeling sorry for people who suffer and instead look up to them, learn from them and if they will let us—join them in protest and prayer.” — Eugene H. Peterson, Introduction to Job, The Message Bible 

There’s a beauty in martyrdom that one can only see through spiritual eyes. Perhaps this is why Hannelie Groenwald can say God prepared her before the Taliban attacked, killing her husband and two children. She and her family had left the comforts of home to serve God in Afghanistan. They knew the risks and refused to deny the call of God. Her family gave it all for Jesus in Afghanistan. You can listen to her story at https://secure.persecution.com/radio. Pray for Hannelie and others who are living martyrs.

“We die only once. We might as well die for Christ.” – Werner Groenwald

The church in America can join with the body of Christ around the world to pray and remember the persecuted church on November 6th. To learn more please visit www.persecution.com/idop.

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And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand (Revelation 8:4).

“It was not easy for me to say that I forgive the killers.” Semse said later at the memorial service. “To be honest, my heart is broken and my life feels shattered. I really loved Necati. He was the love of my life, my closest friend. But there is no one I love more than Jesus. Only because of this, I can bear it.” — Semse Aydin from Faithful Until Death.                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Also published in  – http://www.persecutionblog.com/