Birgitta Almeby (Photo courtesy Voice of the Martyrs Canada)
Pakistan (MNN) -- On December 12, Birgitta Almeby finally succumbed to the injuries she sustained on the mission field in Pakistan.
The 72-year-old Swedish charity worker was flown to Stockholm for further treatment last week after she was shot just outside her home in Lahore, Pakistan on December 3. Police say she was returning from work when unknown gunmen fired on her, hitting her in the chest.
Almeby was well known in the Pakistani Christian community, having served there for 38 years. Assist News reports she was connected to the Full Gospel Assemblies as director of their Technical Training Institute, taught at the FGA Bible School, and ran the ministry's orphanages in Lahore.
The attack came after numerous death threats, according to the leadership of the FGA Church. Although there are suspicions as to who's behind the attack, investigators haven't named her attackers yet.
The Christian community is in shock and feels vulnerable. Paul Estabrooks, minister-at-large with Open Doors, says, "I don't think believers in Pakistan are especially surprised. I mean, they've been experiencing this kind of challenge for decades. They know that there's a price to be paid in this area for those who follow Jesus."
Estabrooks goes on to say he thinks the message this attack sends is not so much for the Pakistani Christians as it is for Christians in the West. "This is, I think, a wake-up call for us, in terms of our concern for brothers and sisters in countries like Pakistan, that we up hold them before the Lord because they face these kinds of pressures on a daily basis."
In fact, although the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has condemned the attack, Estabrooks notes, "These kinds of challenges face them regularly...everything from the blasphemy challenge to physical abuse, to the inability to get a decent job because they are a part of that Christian minority."
Infamous cases of Asia Bibi (a Christian woman facing the death sentence under the blasphemy law), the assassination of Cabinet Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, and the slaying of the Punjab Governor Salman Taseer reveal a country that is hostile to minority Christians. Death threats are routine for church leaders; beatings are common, and damage to church property occurs on a monthly basis.
Estabrooks says on one hand, "There seems to be a slight improvement in the situation overall, especially when you compare it to other countries," noting that the government had taken some steps to improve religious freedom, via the creation of a Ministry of National Harmony. On the other hand, he adds, "At the same time, this kind of bold, daylight action (Almeby's murder)... is really concerning."
Says Estabrooks says the upshot is that "it will just remind believers in Pakistan of their minority status and of how they are so dependent on the Lord for their lives." For Christian workers in Pakistan, news like this is unnerving, but there is a growing sense of "walking the way of the Cross." "Most believers really believe that security is from the Lord, and they're aware of the fact that our lives are not our own."
USA (MNN) -- The deadliest school shooting in United States history has everyone shaking their heads and asking, "Who does something like this? Who kills innocent children at school? How can someone be that evil?"
While those questions are common, branch operation director and mental health practitioner at Bethany Christian Services George Tyndall says children all over the country will be affected by this tragedy. "To see this sort of thing on the news can create fear, 'What if that happens at my school?' So then you could see responses from kids: stomach aches, headaches, and that sort of thing--complaints of not feeling well in an attempt to stay home, try to stay safe."
Tyndall continues, "Everyone's response is, 'How can this be? How can we go on?' With children, in particular, reestablishing that sense of safety is the number one piece."
Vice President for Outreach at Biblica, Rich Blanco, says, spiritually speaking, "There are just more and more reminders of us living in a fallen world. But I'm also reminded that as Christ-followers, we're called to overcome evil with good."
As Christians, what is our practical response? Blanco says,"[It's] the church stepping up and being the church: to care for those who have been impacted, to give them hope. It's a reminder that hope is really only found in one thing in this world, and that's the hope of the Gospel."
While the tragedy hit an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, Blanco says the effects are far reaching. "Something like this affects thousands of people. It is an opportunity for the churches in that area to step up, just to be a listening ear, be a shoulder to cry on, and then at some point to also offer the hope that can only be found in Jesus Christ."
Biblica offers Scripture resources to help those who are grieving. Blanco says "Deeper Still" is one such resource. It contains "quotes from people who have experienced such deep loss in their life--a book that ministers to people that have gone through that kind of loss. It has appropriate Scriptures that address the issue of grief, and comments and testimonies from people who have experienced that."
Biblica makes grants to supply these booklets to organizations working close to situations like the Connecticut school shooting. If you'd like more information on "Deeper Still," click here.
Girls as young as 8 years of age are saved from the sex trade and find new hope in Courage Homes. (Image courtesy of Orphan Outreach)
India (MNN) -- With 55,000 children reported missing in India, they may have "vanished without a trace," but their fate is likely a grim one.
There are about 2.5 million kids trapped in India's commercial sex trade, and of Mumbai's 250,000 commercial sex workers, over a third are children under the age of 12. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 12-years-old is the average age of entry for kids in the sex trade.
"It's a huge problem worldwide, and it's the helpless of the helpless that are usually trapped up in these systems," says Jeff Palmer with Baptist Global Response.
Typically, there are three main levels of national involvement in human trafficking:
Sending/origin - countries where children are sent from
Transit - countries where children are moved through and temporarily kept on the journey to their final destination
Receiving/destination - final stop for trafficked children
Some countries, like India, fall into all three categories. Children from origin nations like Bangladesh and Nepal are taken into India and through India to the receiving regions of Pakistan and the Middle East. Although exact figures aren't known, it's estimated that between 5,000 and 7,000 Nepalese girls are trafficked into India for sexual exploitation every year.
A large portion of trafficking in underage girls for the sex trade happens inside India's borders. The 2005 National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Action Research Study found that a majority of victims came from low-ranking castes like the Dalits, or "Untouchables." The NHRC also estimates that nearly half of the kids trafficked within India are between the ages of 11 and 14.
Is there any hope in this story? Yes, and you can help restore a child pulled out of the sex trade.
BGR works with a shelter in India for rescued girls aged 8 to 18. The Courage Home is a transition home designed to help girls start on the path of healing and growth.
"We're looking at caring for them emotionally, physically, and spiritually," says Palmer, "and a part of that is sharing the hope that is in Christ."
God is at work among these girls, BGR reports. After an extended wait, one girl found a long-term home. Another got favor from the courts and avoided a dangerous situation. You can read their full stories here.
Palmer says tales like these are typical. He states, "The majority of the girls that we work with do get out of the trafficking. They do get in to a stable family, and there's hope."
Pray for The Courage Home leadership as they work with rescued girls. Ask God to heal the girls' emotional trauma.
Palmer says counselors face "very complex emotional [and] spiritual issues, as you can imagine."
Pray for wisdom and discernment for BGR partners as they work with the Indian government.
"One of the government officials came in [to Courage Homes] and said, 'I like it so much, what you're doing,' [and] said he wanted to contribute to Courage Homes," Palmer recounts.
"That's encouraging, to see something like that."
Japan (MNN) -- In Asia, for every 600,000 people, there is only one trained, competent Christian leader. David Dayalan from Asian Access says they are working on training more leaders, especially in Japan
"Asian Access developed a strong emphasis on helping pastors to look at this new Biblical paradigm of developing leaders within their contexts effectively," Dayalan states. Leadership development is not just about teaching, he explains, but also about equipping."
Asian Access (A2) has started a very unique and creative leadership training. It has been developed
entirely by Japanese, for Japanese, in Japanese. This will help Asian
Access minister to the pastors more effectively.
"It's very relational, which allows the pastor to also have the freedom to express and question and to wrestle. At the same time, we have developed a very secure, safe community."
12 emerging leaders as carefully selected to take part in this program. "We bring in 15-20 key pastors, who are leaders of leaders, influential pastors. We go through this whole curriculum of eight modules," says Dayalan.
A2 brings in practitioners who can sit with the new leaders and wrestle with them about issues that need to be covered. Dayalan says, "We are trying to help them to be intentional in taking time off and also in their own role as a pastor, to be enlisting in lives of people in the congregation and developing leaders within the congregation."
Pray for new leaders being trained in Japan. Pray that the pastors will use the skills they learned with Asian Access to develop even more new leaders. Ask God to open the hearts of the people who are searching for answers in Japan.