Sunday, November 27, 2005

Practical new year's resolutions for 2006

Days move so fast, especially here in Hong Kong when work consumes a lot of our time. The year is almost over and as always, it is a good time to review the good things that have happened, and make plans for the year ahead.

For those of you who are thinking of making new years’ resolutions, I have some suggestions on legal and related matters. Take a look at my list, and choose which ones you could work on this coming 2006.

1. Put together all important basic documents in a safe place –

· Birth certificates – yours, your spouse’s and children’s
· Marriage certificate
· Tax declarations over your lots together with official receipts
· Copies of your land titles
· Photocopies of your passport and other identification documents
· Diplomas and school certificates
· Transcripts of records
· Insurance policies
· Medical and dental records
· OWWA receipts
· SSS documents
· Photocopies of ATM cards, passbooks, time deposit slips and the like
· Employment contracts
· NBI clearances
· Files of legal cases, if any
· Certificates of registration of vehicles, vehicle insurance, official receipts of registration and other related documents

I advise you to buy clear books and file the documents together per category. Make a few photocopies and insert these in the same plastic sheet so that you don’t have to rush whenever these are needed. It is also good if you could secure a safety deposit box for the really important documents.

2. Get life insurance / pension plans

There are many different life insurance and pension plans available today. Before agreeing to the first insurance agent that comes along, study these different plans. Think carefully about the amount of premium that you are to pay monthly, quarterly or yearly. Discuss this with your insurance agent, making sure that she is not only after the commission that she will get out of this transaction, but that she considers your ability to pay the premium faithfully. Make room for unexpected expenses when you think of the amount you would like to set aside for premium. It is better to pay a small amount continuously, than to pay a big amount for a while and then let the policy lapse. Although you could reinstate the policy if you fail to pay for a while, do not take the risk of agreeing to a high premium if you are not sure you can keep it up. Be in control of your money from the start. When you take out a policy, do not allow yourself to be swayed by your insurance agent no matter how persuasive he or she may be. It should be your own free and voluntary decision. Remember, no matter what the agent says, it is your money that is involved.

3. Get a memorial plan

It is a very practical thing to consider getting a memorial plan. This will relive our loved ones of the burden of thinking of what to do when we pass away. Choose a plan that you can easily afford.

4. Make a last will and testament

This is also one of the most important documents you can prepare, and helps a lot in avoiding disputes among heirs. It not only allows you to list down which of your properties are to be given to which heir, but also permits you to write various last wishes. Consult a lawyer on how to divide properties, because if the will contradicts legal provisions on succession (passing on of properties), the will may be invalid.

In these, it’s good to be guided by God’s Word which says: “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40).

Happy holidays!

Persecuted Christians in Asia

Can you imagine being in a place where Christianity is considered a crime, where you cannot openly sing praise and worship songs to the Lord, and where you need to hide just to read the Bible?

This is difficult for most Filipinos to imagine, because the Philippines is known to be a Christian nation. More than 90% are Roman Catholics, 3% are Evangelicals and 4.5% are other Christians.

Let me just take you through a few countries were Christians go through extremely difficult experiences – these are North Korea, Burma, Laos and Vietnam.

NORTH KOREA

Christianity is a crime in North Korea. The term for God cannot be mentioned. It is banned. Those discovered to be Christians are imprisoned. While in prison, they are not allowed to look up, because they believe in the God who is in heaven.

As a result, imprisoned Christians have looked downwards for so long that their necks are locked into a 90-degree angle. And when they die, their necks are broken and they are buried face down so that even then, they cannot look up to heaven.

These findings are based on testimonies gathered by our organization, Christian Solidarity Worldwide UK.

A woman named Soon Uk Lee, unjustly imprisoned in NK for six years, wrote a book entitled "Eyes of the Tailless Animals" describing her harrowing experiences inside a prison camp. Her book talks about people as "tailless animas", for that is how people in NK's prison camps are regarded. They are no more than animals, having no rights and dignity whatsoever.

Soon Uk Lee shared her observations about Christians in prison. She described them as having such an unexplainable peace and firm spirit, and this made her ask - why are they like that ... why would they rather die than renounce what they believe?

She saw how prison guards tortured Christians, with promises of immediate freedom if they renounce Christ. Prison guards were assured of promotions and rewards if they are able to make a Christian renounce his faith.

She thought, it is so easy for these people to gain freedom; all they had to do was turn their back on what they believe, but they don't do it. Why, she asked. What do they believe?

She saw eight Christians who were forced to kneel down and were told that melted iron will be poured upon them if they don't renounce Christ.

These Christians silently knelt down, heads bowed, while melted iron was poured upon them one by one, until they died.

These images of steadfast faith remained in Soon Uk Lee's heart. When she was released from prison, she gave her life to Christ, changed by the living testimonies of these heroes of faith whom she met in prison.


HEROES OF FAITH

There are many heroes of faith today. Hebrews 11 is the chapter of faith, and it is said that people named in this chapter belong to the "Hall of Faith".

In Hebrews 11:36-38, we read of people who faced "trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, moreover of bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn asunder … were slain with the sword."

Today, this is still happening in restricted nations such as Laos, Vietnam, Burma, Nepal, lndia, lndonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, China and many other countries. There are billions of spiritually impoverished souls in these nations. And there are also thousands of Christians in these places who are engaged in frontline face-to-face battle for the salvation of lost souls.

BURMA

Sometime in September, I went to the Indo-Burma border and interviewed some Christians from Burma.

They told me how the Burma army persecutes Christians by denying them the freedom to worship God. They are not given any permit to worship, or to build worship for Christians. If they convert to Buddhism, they are rewarded with sacks of rice, and better economic privileges. They are threatened and arrested for preaching the gospel. I interviewed a pastor who was arrested and locked up seven times for preaching the gospel, yet he persisted, because it is his calling.

They told me about the extreme poverty within Burma, where boys and girls, as young as eight, are forced to work so that they could have two meals a day. For most people, there is no chance to earn more than this.

They also refer to the fear psychology inflicted upon them by the army. They say such fear is so deeply-rooted wherever they go because for years, they have been living under the high-handed rule of the army.
LAOS

Let us focus for a while on Laos, a communist state. All Christian activities are highly regulated in this state, and Theravada Buddhism is considered the official state religion. The Laos government is highly suspicious of the Christian faith because it is seen as an instrument of western imperialism. For this reason, Christians are considered enemies of the state, and local authorities have taken drastic measures to eliminate Christianity.

In the mid-70’s, persecution was exceptionally harsh. All Bible schools were closed, and 90% of trained church leaders were forced to leave the country. Between 1999 to 2001, there was a campaign to force Christians to renounce their faith, otherwise, they will be expelled from their homes and villages. They were forced to sign documents of renunciation, admitting that they were deceived by propaganda.

In recent years, believers have continued to suffer discrimination, illegal arrest, imprisonment and threats. Public evangelism is restricted, Bibles and Christian reading materials cannot be brought into the country, and foreign missionaries who import these materials are arrested and/or deported. Yet, there is a shining light in all these. There are now around 50,000 Christians in Laos, based on reports we received.


VIETNAM

We also have the Christians in Vietnam. One of these is Reverend Nguyen Hong Quang, pastor of the Vietnam Mennonite Church. He was arrested last year on charges of resisting authorities, and sentenced to three years in prison. While in prison, government authorities demolished their church and part of their apartment. He was also forced to sign a document renouncing his faith, but he refused. Because of lobbying by our organization and others, he was released during Vietnam’s national day amnesty on 30th August this year.

Another Christian in Vietnam, Rev. Than Van Truong, was declared insane only for the reason that he is a Christian. He was a member of the Communist Party, fought in the Vietnam war and developed war-related disabilities. When he became a Christian, he sent Bibles to top Communist Party leaders, challenging them to become Christians. Many groups campaigned for his release, and on September 17, he was set free.

These are only a few of our present-day heroes who have so valiantly taken a stand for Christ.

In their book, “By the Blood,” James and Marti Heften report that more people have been tortured for Christ in the 20th century than all previous 19 centuries combined. According to World Evangelical Fellowship (Religious Liberty Commission), some 100 million people were martyred for their faith in the 20th century.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO US?

So what does this mean to you? What does this mean to us here in Hong Kong who live in relative freedom to worship God?

Romans 12:5 says, “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and everyone, members one of another.”

1 Corinthians 12:20, 26 says, “But now are they many members, yet but one body … and whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.”

We belong to one body, the Body of Christ. Jesus is our head, the master of our lives. We are His hands and feet, and we are called to do His work here on earth. That is our ministry.

One essential part of that ministry is our calling to serve the suffering church – those who are persecuted because of their faith. Galatians 6:9-10 says “Let us not be weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith”.

How do we do good to the suffering church?

By prayer, by advocacy and by humanitarian aid. That is the way we in Christian Solidarity Worldwide HK serve Christians in places of persecution. We are here for the suffering church, for those who are voiceless, and we invite you to join with us in this ministry. If you want to be involved, send me an email at chato@csw.org.hk.

Abogadong mura?

“Attorney, may mabibigay ka ba sa akin na abogadong mura?” Ilan na ang nagtanong nito sa akin dito sa Hong Kong.

Sasagutin ko ito sa pamamagitan ng mga tanong: “Kung mayroong cancer ang mahal mo sa buhay, at gusto mo siyang gumaling, hahanap ka ba ang doctor na mura, o doctor na mahusay?” “Kung mayroon naman siyang flu, hahanap ka ba ng doctor na mura, o doctor na mahusay?” Hindi ibig sabihin na kung mura ang singil ay hindi mahusay. Ang ibig ko sabihin ay – mas mahalaga ang kakayahan niya bilang doctor kaysa kung magkano ang sisingilin niya sa iyo.

Kung naghahanap ka ng abogado, ang pinaka-importanteng consideration ay ito: ano ba ang gusto mong ipagawa sa kanya? Gaano ba kabigat ang problema mo?

Halimbawa, meron kang inaasahang pera mula sa insurance ng iyong yumaong ama at gusto mong i-authorize ang kaibigan mo na kuhanin ang pera at i-deposit sa bank account mo. Humihingi ang insurance company ng special power of attorney (SPA), isang simpleng authorization document. Kailangan mo ng notaryo. Maraming pwedeng mag-notaryo ng SPA sa Pilipinas, basta rehistrado sila sa korte bilang notary public. Sa abroad naman tulad ng HK, ang consul ang taga-notaryo ng ganitong dokumento, at hindi kailangang abogado sila. Ang importante ay ang tatak at pirma ng notaryo o consul na nagpapahiwatig na humarap ka sa kanya at pinatunayan mo na ikaw nga ang pumirma sa dokumento ng kusang loob. Walang problem-solving na involved sa ganitong klaseng sitwasyon.

Kung ang problema mo naman ay mabigat, tulad ng child custody, bigamy, legal separation, annulment o iba pang madalas na ilapit sa akin ng mga kababayan natin nito sa HK, maghanap ka ng abogadong may experience sa ganitong mga issue. Sa Pilipinas, maraming abogado ang tinatawag na general practitioner. Sila ay humahawak ng iba’t-ibang klase ng kaso. Meron ding mga specialists o experts na nagko-concentrate sa piling klase ng kaso. Natural, kung mas marami silang experience, lalo na kung espesyalista sila, mas mataas ang professional fee nila.

Meron din namang mga abogadong experts na nagbibigay ng free legal aid para sa mga taong gusto nilang tulungan. Hindi sila naniningil ng kahit anong professional fee. Gusto nilang hawakan ang kaso dahil sa personal commitment, tulad ng mga ilang human rights lawyer na nakasama ko sa Pilipinas.

Sana ay makatulong ito sa inyo. God bless you!

(First published in THE SUN newspaper in HK, October 2005)