(Image courtesy of TEAM)
Thailand (TEAM/MNN) -- Art and music are bridging the gap between communities and missionaries in Thailand.
Through these creative outlets, missionaries tell the story of Christ's life, death, and resurrection. Guitar lessons and open-air paintings become an outreach to the lost.
The Evangelical Alliance Mission, or TEAM, says many are coming to Christ through these channels.
"Music and art are like a gateway into people's lives," says TEAM missionary Jon Rubesh. "There's an immediate connection that you don't get in a lot of other ways."
At TEAM's new Arts and Music Center in Chiang Mai, missionaries Jon and Sharla Rubesh and Kennedy and Wendy Paiz use this concept to break barriers and build bridges.
All aspects of social and civil influence in Thailand are influenced by the country's primary religion: Buddhism. As a result, becoming a Christ-follower feels counter-cultural for Thai people, inhibiting evangelism and church growth.
The Paizs found a way around this cultural barrier: art.
"About seven years ago, I started using art to try to make a bridge to people's lives," says Kennedy.
A Thai friend suggested making a piece of art that depicted the stupa, a pointed structure commonly seen in Thailand, to present the Gospel. This way, people would begin relating that shape to Christ.
Using a technique familiar to many Tibetan and Buddhist artists, Kennedy painted pictures of Jesus in a circular pattern with a depiction of the resurrection in the center.
"I painted it in public, at the local market, with hundreds of people walking by and watching me," he says. Kennedy's art and non-threatening techniques piqued the curiosity of passersby.
"If they stopped to ask questions, I'd explain the life of Christ to them," he says. "They saw me as an artist painting things dear to me. They're religious people by nature and like to talk about spiritual things, unlike in the West, so it was easy to talk with them."
One girl came to Christ through Kennedy's painting, and later took art classes from him.
During a development meeting for the Arts and Music Center, Kennedy and Jon talked about how these paintings were illustrative of the Gospel. Jon wondered if music could be used for the same purpose.
He had a "light bulb" moment one day while teaching guitar lessons. Jon's students were struggling with a lesson about chords and finger picking. He explained that if students anchored their thumbs on the E string or another bass string, the other fingers would know where to be in relation.
"It's kind of like Christ in my life," Jon says. "When I believe in Him, Christ acts as the anchor. Without Christ as my anchor, my fingers don't know where they're going.
"It was an exciting moment for me, and I'll keep looking for more of those illustrations."
Pray that these creative outlets would show more people the path to salvation. Ask God to give these missionaries wisdom in how to best share about Christ and disciple new believers.
Do you have a gifting for art? Would you like to use it to share Truth with Thai people? Click here to apply for a position with this ministry.
(Image courtesy of ENGAGE Facebook)
USA (MNN) -- Poverty is multifaceted. Lots of things keep it going: a lack of money, resources, cultural bias.
According to the World Bank, "poverty is pronounced deprivation in well-being." While poverty is largely seen in monetary terms, it also refers to a lack of resources--whether or not people are able to obtain specific commodities: food, shelter, water, health care.
As the inability to obtain is prolonged, the cycle of poverty continues.
Poor parenting perpetuates poverty ,too. That's why it's the focus of a new initiative called ENGAGE: Equipping the Next Generation to Advance and Grow through Education, encouragement and example.
"It is a program that engages moms, asking them questions: 'What's hard? What's difficult for you?' and 'What do you see as solutions?'" says author and speaker Karol Ladd. She created ENGAGE in response to the staggering reality of poverty.
According to the 2013 Human Development Report, approximately 50% of the world's population--3 billion people--live on less than $2.50 per day. In the United States, the official poverty rate stands at 15%, and 46.2 million people are impoverished.
With the help of friends who came from impoverished backgrounds, Ladd built a parenting curriculum focusing on several areas of a child's development: mental, physical, social, spiritual, and emotional.
However, "ENGAGE is not just a program that comes in with a set curriculum of rules and 'here's how you do it,'" Ladd clarifies.
It's about discussions and group interaction. Women talk about values and the challenges they face, brainstorm solutions, and encourage each other.
"I always end with helping them figure out the action points: How can I encourage my child? How can I be an example to my child? How can I equip my child?" says Ladd.
Moms also learn about Christ and what it means to follow Him.
During the first lesson about education, "We began to talk about how important it is that God has given us this mind, and that we would use it for His glory," Ladd states.
"We continued to build…pointing to God just naturally through the lesson."
Ladd then started incorporating examples of people in history who lived out the value discussed during the week.
"I look for a Christian example, so I'm pointing not only to their example of integrity or their example of education, but I'm also pointing to their example of their love for the Lord," Ladd explains.
She says this methodology is making the Gospel easier for women to understand. As a result, many women began going to church and several re-committed their lives to Christ. Some became new believers, and one woman was baptized.
They told Ladd, "Miss Karol, we have decided to follow Jesus, and our lives have changed! We are going to do things differently now."
Pray that more women would be drawn to Christ through ENGAGE.
Buckner International recently came alongside ENGAGE in Dallas. We'll hear what they experienced tomorrow.
Turkey (MNN) -- The past couple of months have been filled with reports of pastors being thrown in jail, churches being shut down, and Christians being persecuted for their beliefs. Kazakhstan, for example, just passed a new law that will affect over 500 different churches. "If they don't reach the number of membership of more then 50, they have to be liquidated within this year," says Sergey Rakhuba of Russian Ministries.
With religious freedom in mind, a conference is being held in Turkey, where over 50 organizations are coming together. Their goal? They are "concentrating on the evangelical church and helping evangelicals fight for their freedom--especially in those countries where Christianity is under pressure," according to Rakhuba.
This year, the conference is focusing on the area of Eurasia, which is made up of countries from the former Soviet Union. Says Rakhuba, "There are lots of issues today with sharp rise of religious freedom issues and persecution specifically in the countries of Central Asia."
Russian Ministries is "spearheading the initiatives" in terms of religious freedom. They are creating an awareness of the problem, educating pastors, and showing them how to lead their congregation in this situation.
"We are equipping the Evangelical church in those countries to fight for their freedom, to value their freedom, to educate their congregations about freedom, how to be careful with freedom. We believe that freedom is a gift of God we have to be careful with it, but at the same time everyone has a right to it," explains Rakhuba.
"Going to this consultation we will be presenting all these cases that represent Eurasia, Eurasian territories, and specifically evangelical churches that experience pressure, experience persecution," explains Rakhuba. "We will developing some policies and will be developing some letters that we will be sending to some of those oppressive governments, just making a statement on behalf of the entire evangelical global community in support of those who are persecuted."
Prayer is vital to the work that Russian Ministries and the 50 other organizations are going to be doing in Turkey. "I would greatly appreciate the evangelical family...to pray that God would give us guidance, God would give us wisdom."
Rakhuba also asks that you "continue praying for the evangelical church, that God would equip the church to not just survive but to be productive, be progressive in those situations, and continue reaching their communities with the Gospel. "
(Image of destroyed Nigerian church courtesy World Watch Monitor)
Nigeria (ODM) -- Nigeria's hostage situation seems to have ended with the murder of all seven captives.
The newly-emerged Islamic sect Ansaru Islam confirmed killing the group kidnapped in Bauchi a month ago. They issued a statement in Arabic and English on an affiliate of the Sinam al-Islam network accompanied by screen shots of a video purportedly showing the dead hostages.
Ansaru Islam literally means "helpers" or figuratively, "Struggle for the cause of Allah." The name harkens back to a group of people who waged war for the cause of Islam. They are known for promoting a radical interpretation of Islam with a strict interpretation of Sharia. Their emergence in Nigeria likely means more attacks to rid the country of Christians or those perceived with connections to the West.
The grisly murders seem to underline that concern. "The Nigeria and British government (rescue) operation led to the death of all seven Christian foreigners," the statement claimed. Although Nigerian authorities say they were unable to confirm the deaths, it is understood that the countries of the victims have pronounced them dead.
While northerners in general bemoan the inability of the Nigerian government to bring the situation under control, Open Doors' work in the country is under immense pressure as violence against Christians continues.
The violence includes the killing of 13 factory workers identified as Christians on Feb. 22 in Kano. According to sources, the Muslims confronted the Christians about the reason they were not attending Muslim evening prayers. The men were then killed in front of women and children. Bishop Ransom Bello, CAN chairman in Kano, is accusing Kano state government of nonchalance over the incident. Pray for God's comfort to the traumatized families of the factory workers. Pray for justice to be served.
On March 10, gunmen on tricycles launched attacks at the Hotoro, Sharada, and Dakata areas of Kano, northwest Nigeria, killing three and injuring several other civilians as they were returning home after Sunday evening service before speeding off. Joint Task Force spokesman, Captain Ikedichi Iweha, said they have arrested four of the attackers. Pray for God's comfort to families affected by the killing.
On March 11, Christian leaders in Tudun Wada, Kano state, gathered at the site where their church was destroyed in 2007. They are planning to rebuild. During their visit they were confronted and threatened by Muslim youths who vowed to never allow the rebuilding of another church in Tudun Wada.
The leaders who wanted to report the incident to the local authorities were not allowed to enter the premises of the ministry in charge of complaints. The leaders called Open Doors asking for prayer in their situation. Pray for wisdom for these Christians as they respond and that justice will be done. Pray that the Lord will continue to build His Kingdom in Tudun Wada even if there are no physical buildings to gather.
It seems that the president could be a target, too. President Goodluck Jonathan is also purported to be a Christian. Last week, specialized members of the Nigerian Army (NA) in Maiduguri, Borno State, uncovered a cache of weapons and ammunition hours after the president came through. Seven explosions occurred during his visit, which many fear were failed attempts on the president's life. Pray for peace in Northern Nigeria. Pray that the government will be able to bring the situation under control soon.
(Images courtesy of Compassion International)
International (CMP/MNN) -- March is National Reading Month in the United States.
In a developed country like this, literacy is assumed. However, it is estimated that the worldwide illiteracy rate is 21.6%. Many believe that education as a basic human right and that literacy unlocks the door to a life of learning. Higher literacy levels enable people to overcome the barriers of poverty, disease and fulfill their potential.
This is where Compassion International comes in. Their child sponsorship program provides the framework to address poverty, disease, and hope and community transformation. Compassion spokesman Tim Glenn says child sponsorship is a three billion dollar a year industry, and no one has ever done research to find out if it actually works...until now.
A new peer-reviewed, independent study on the viability of international child sponsorship led by Dr. Bruce Wydick, Professor of Economics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, reveals large and statistically significant impacts on life outcomes for children enrolled in Compassion International's Christian child sponsorship program.
"We were surprised to see that no one had ever done research to determine if international child sponsorship really works," said Wydick. "So we conducted a study of Compassion International's program in six countries we believed to be representative of its work around the globe. What we found was that Compassion's child-centered development approach to sponsorship has many strong, positive impacts on the adult life outcomes of these formerly sponsored children."
On the surface, Glenn explains, "Our program brings kids into the classroom, and we're also providing mentors, and tutors for after school programs to make sure that those literacy rates are up."
Then, he connects literacy to breaking the cycle of poverty. "For those who are literate, who are able to read or write, all of a sudden their employment opportunities jump. Their future potential jumps. The opportunity to complete secondary education, to complete university education increases dramatically."
Does that equal community development? It does, Glenn asserts. "They (the researchers) went into six countries where Compassion works. They looked back 20 years ago at kids who are in our program, who are adults now, to find out if our program made a difference in their lives, if their adult live outcomes had improved compared to kids who weren't in our program."
• Former Compassion sponsored children stay in school 1 to 1.5 years longer than their non-sponsored peers. (In Uganda, the numbers are much higher: 2.4 years.) An extra year of schooling could have long-lasting impact on a child's future employment possibilities as an adult.
• Former Compassion sponsored children were 27-40% more likely to finish secondary education than those who were not enrolled in the child sponsorship program.
• Former Compassion sponsored children were 50-80% more likely to complete a university education than non-sponsored children.
• As adults, former Compassion sponsored children were 14-18% more likely to have salaried employment than their non-sponsored peers.
• As adults, former Compassion sponsored children were roughly 35% more likely to secure white-collar employment than their non-sponsored peers.
• Former Compassion sponsored children were 30-75% more likely to become community leaders as adults than their non-sponsored peers.
• Former Compassion sponsored children were 40-70% more likely to become church leaders as adults than their non-sponsored peers.
The researchers found a model that works. Glenn explains their approach. "We don't build churches or create churches. We find churches that are in the communities that are evangelical Bible teaching churches. We find staff in those churches because they know the communities and they know the neediest families. They bring the kids into that church program, where they're fed, clothed and educated, but most importantly, they learn the gospel of Jesus Christ."
More specifically, their program has a long-term focus on community transformation. "When you're living in extreme poverty, opportunity doesn't come very often. When opportunity comes in the form of a program that provides education, life skills, that provides leadership skills, all of a sudden, you're not just changing the child, and you're changing a family. You're changing a family, then you're changing a community. When you're changing a community, that changes a nation."
Kids who have thrived through the Compassion sponsorship program often return home to effect change. Glenn clarifies, "We have kids in our program who are now national leaders in their countries and changing the laws and the scope of their countries because someone sponsored that child and gave them that opportunity. It all starts with one person saying ‘I want to speak into that life and give that child an opportunity'."
Wydick's team conducted their independent research over two years. In total, they studied over 1,850 formerly Compassion-sponsored children in six different countries where Compassion International offered child sponsorship programs between 1980 and 1992. In all, the team collected data on 10,144 people. The study was funded in part by USAID through BASIS, a development economics research center based at the University of California at Davis.
Wess Stafford, Compassion International president and CEO says, of the findings, "While we are immensely gratified with the statistical evidence that the Wydick study provides, we can humbly say that we are not surprised. We have seen God's blessing on this ministry since its inception. And, as hard as we work to rescue every little boy and girl from the grip of poverty, He deserves the glory for the results."
In light of this study, you could say that March is really "Community Transformation Month." The question is, are you part of it?
The full study is tentatively scheduled for publication in April 2013 issue of the Journal of Political Economy edited by the economics department at the University of Chicago. For more information and resources regarding the research, go to compassion.com/itworks.