Serbia (MNN) -- While many in the West spend their summer vacations on beaches, in amusement parks, or traveling to other exotic locations, a handful of Southern Baptists are spending their time knee-deep in mud and muck helping rebuild lives that were destroyed by flood waters.
Flooding in Serbia (Photo courtesy BGR)
This summer, unusual amounts of rain in the Balkan region of Europe--specifically in Bosnia and Serbia--have caused devastating floods, leaving thousands homeless and wondering about how to begin rebuilding their lives. Their stories of how flood waters broke through local dams, leaving residents with only minutes to evacuate, are tragic and heartbreaking. Today these flood victims spend their days sorting through the remnants of their lives, searching for anything that can be salvaged.
“It was devastating,” said Marina through her tears. “When I got here and saw what remained of my house, my whole world collapsed. I could not believe it. I had a nice house and a nice life, but now I am left with nothing.”
A widow with two teenage boys, Marina represents just one of dozens of families in an area outside of Belgrade where Baptist Global Response (BGR) volunteers, alongside International Mission Board (IMB) workers, who are helping people to salvage and rebuild their lives following this natural disaster.
IMB worker Jim Andrews has helped to coordinate much of the cleanup and recovery work in the area. “People here are at a point of desperation,” he said. “They are grabbing at straws, or whatever they can, for hope.” Andrews says that is where the work of BGR comes in: providing not just money and resources, but helping to activate and coordinate volunteers who are trained in disaster response to come to the field on short notice.
Jim and Samantha Barrow, a father-daughter team from Longville, Louisiana, said they heard about the need for volunteers while they were attending a wedding for a friend. “In the middle of the wedding, we both got an e-mail that came to our phones,” Sam said. “So when we were on the way to the reception, I looked at Dad and said, ‘So, are we going?’” Before the wedding was over, they decided they would commit to go. The pair had less than two weeks to raise funding before flying to Serbia.
Gary Capshaw, a veteran of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s Disaster Relief efforts, served as team leader for the BGR volunteer team. “If you want to see the church come alive, come and do disaster relief,” he said. “If you don’t get off your pew and get out into the field, then you will never know how alive the church is.”
Capshaw and the Barrows were joined by David and Joanne Hendon of Jasper, Alabama. The pair recently retired and decided they would go on mission trips as a couple. Joanne said she has always felt her spiritual gift was to serve others. “When I found out about this need, I knew that I was supposed to be the hands of feet of Jesus,” she said.
Andrews said the group spent a week in less-than-ideal conditions as they helped numerous families. “When the flood waters came, they also overflowed the sewage system,” he said. “So it was not just the water that came into people’s homes: it was sewage, too. There was almost nothing that could be salvaged because of that.
“I had never really been part of a mud-out project like this before,” Andrews added. “So, I really did not know what to expect. These folks who came had to do some really disgusting stuff. And yet, they did it with a smile on their faces.”
Marina and others whom the teams have helped said they have trouble understanding why a group of Americans would want to come to Serbia to help them. Yet, they are grateful for the assistance.
“I don’t know what we would have done if they had not come,” Marina said. “I will always remember the day the Americans showed up to help.”
Andrews said that disaster relief plays an important part of missions work. “Some of these people feel like they don’t really have a place on the mission field,” he said. “But they can open doors that we would never have had access to without these folks who are just willing to come and get their hands dirty.”
Capshaw challenges other Southern Baptists to join him in disaster relief. “Don’t stay in the church! Get out here and work!” he said. “This is fun. If you can’t have fun serving the Lord, then just stay home.”
To help this cause financially, click here.
To watch a video of this disaster, click here.
(Image courtesy NASA)
Japan (MNN) -- Typhoon Neoguri was downgraded from "super typhoon" status but still socked Japan with a powerful punch.
Neoguri (which means raccoon in Korean) left a destructive trail throughout the Okinawa island chain with strong winds, heavy rain, and large waves. Even so, Takeshi Takazawa with Asian Access says, "We are relieved even though 50,000 people in the city [were] all evacuated to the evacuation centers; 500,000 people have been warned to leave their house."
The Japan Meteorological Agency said the storm could be one of the strongest to hit Japan in decades, with waves up to 46 feet high. Takazawa says, even for those who are used to weathering typhoons, "It's very early to have this huge, strong typhoon around this season. Normally, it would be toward the latter part of the summer that we receive typhoons, but this is really early to receive this kind of typhoon."
Plus, on Tuesday around 10pm local time, "In Hokkaido Island, which is the opposite side, northern island, we had quite a strong earthquake. People are wondering about the disaster happening, earthquake happening, typhoon." The Japan Meteorological Agency noted the temblor was 3.0 magnitude, but it was enough to create fear, says Takazawa. "People are wondering, 'What's happening to us? Things are not normal. We cannot bear any more natural disasters.' That's the concern people have."
(Photo courtesy Asian Access, 2011)
The nature of the storm plus the quake re-awakened recent painful memories. Takazawa says their leaders are ready to respond. "The triple disaster that happened in 2011 helped us to minister to the local people with both hands and hearts--words and deeds, together." The obliteration of Japan that resulted from the quake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster provided opportunities unlike any before. In what was a closed society, "We could come alongside people who are struggling and provide aid, at the same time sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ."
Hope became the mainstay for the work of Asian Access work throughout Japan. Disaster sometimes changes focus in ways that nothing else can. Takazawa says church leaders have a fixed focal point, but he asks that you pray for safety in the week ahead. Also, "Pray that the small Church of Japan will stand up, stand in the gap, and communicate the love of Christ in a devastating situation."
Please continue to pray for Ukraine.(Image courtesy Sergey Rakhuba via Facebook)
Ukraine (MNN) -- If you thought fighting was over in eastern Ukraine, you might want to read this report. Vice President of Ministry for Slavic Gospel Association (SGA), Eric Mock, just returned from the region.
"There's a tremendous amount of scary, difficult military action going on that people have to endure every night," Mock shares. "We're hearing stories of people venturing out to just get food and being held at machine gun-point with a revolver next to their ear."
Though government troops took back key cities over the weekend, rebels reportedly regrouped in the city of Donetsk. With nearly 1 million residents, Donetsk is the region's largest city. Innocent lives en masse would be on the line if a government-rebel showdown took place here.
"80% of the population of these towns [in eastern Ukraine] have left for fear of their lives. A lot of the buildings are bullet-ridden," Mock reports.
Nonetheless, Ukrainian pastors supported by SGA are hanging tough and staying put.
"They are still there when 80% of their church is gone," says Mock.
The U.S. pastor says his cohorts in Ukraine remind him of a description of Jesus as the "Good Shepherd" in John 10:11-13: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep."
"The men we work with have not left their churches," Mock states. "What an amazing thing to see, how these men are faithful to declare the Gospel."
By clicking here, you can help Slavic Gospel Association. Send them much-needed resources through the Crisis Evangelism Fund.
Please keep Ukraine in your prayers.
(File photo courtesy Flickr/Creative Commons/Christiaan Triebert)
"The first prayer request is that the Ukrainian believers would remain resolute and unified," says Mock. "They are inundated with both Russian and Ukrainian propaganda. It's very easy to be nationalistic and choose sides."
Pray that Russian and Ukrainian believers look beyond nationalistic boundaries and hold to the nation of Christ, he requests.
"Number two: in the middle of these hard times, when people are suffering, often God uses those difficult times for the sake of the Gospel," notes Mock. "Pray that hearts would be softened and the Gospel would go forth."
More details in the audio version of this report.
Lebanon (MNN/SAT-7) -- A television program is looking to promote peace and prayer in a country where tensions are growing rapidly.
SAT-7, a Christian satellite television ministry to the Middle East and North Africa, is airing a series called Wars and Faith, featuring many presidential candidates.
(Photo Courtesy of SAT-7)
Earlier this month, the seventh election event failed to see full participation from lawmakers. The eighth session is scheduled for July 23.
The indecision in Parliament is made worse by growing threats to the country from Lebanon.
Last month, ISIS claimed responsibility for a string of suicide bombings, according to the Associated Press. On Monday, a Lebanese military prosecutor charged 28 people for belonging to ISIS and planning attacks within the country. ISIS reportedly has vowed to take over Lebanon.
The Daily Star says that leaked documents indicate that ISIS is planning more attacks in the country. Iran is offering to help Lebanon fight against the threats of ISIS.
Meanwhile, the country is having difficulty selecting a new president, with resistance on all sorts of fronts.
Marking the occasion of Lebanon’s presidential elections, SAT-7 produced and is airing Wars and Faith (in Arabic, Haroob wa Iman). The powerful 10-episode series features interviews with presidential candidates. Presenter Hiam Abou Chedid, a renowned actress and TV presenter, asks the politicians about their experiences living and leading in the war-torn country.
(Photo Courtesy of SAT-7)
Wars and Faith takes viewers beyond politics, to the personal aspects of candidates’ lives. They discuss everything from childhood memories to marriage, and how they see their relationship with God in the future. Each episode includes a confession segment, allowing guests to admit mistakes they have made.
Production Manager Maroun Bou Rached says, “The series will promote peace and show that there is a second chance with God. It lets Christians see that leaders also need Jesus; He’s not just a Savior for ordinary people. Everybody needs Jesus.”
Dr. Samir Geagea (leader of Lebanese Forces Party)
General Michel Aoun (former Lebanese Army Commander, Prime Minister, and leader of the Free Patriotic Movement)
Sleiman Frangieh (leader of the Marada Movement and former President)
Dory Chamoun (son of a former president and leader of the National Liberal Party)
Amine Gemayel (former President)
(Photo courtesy of SAT-7)
Two interviews, in particular, recounted life-changing experiences. Dr. Samir Geagea, the former leader of a Christian militia, shared that his 11-year prison sentence was what led him to consider spiritual issues and think about eternal life. It was only after the Syrian Army entered Lebanon and imprisoned Geagea that he started reading the Bible and growing closer to Jesus.
Another guest, Sleiman Frangieh, lost his entire family during the civil war. He testified that he has now forgiven his family’s killers and even ordered the release of the person who killed his sister.
Wars and Faith quickly attracted the attention of local industry leader, the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC). LBC purchased and aired the groundbreaking series on its own network, multiplying its reach to a wider audience.
Lebanon’s National Assembly will elect the next president for a 6-year term. Elections began on April 23, 2014, but thus far, no candidate has secured the 86 votes required for victory. Another vote is expected to take place this month.
Want to make a difference? Your gift today of $10 reaches 10 viewers for one year. Click here to give now!
Here are some more stories about SAT-7.
Photo courtesy of Orphan Outreach
USA (MNN) -- If someone wishes you Merry Christmas next month, chances are that person is part of For Haiti With Love’s fundraiser program known as Christmas in August.
For more than thirty years now, FHWL has held a Christmas party for children in Haiti. The kids have a chance to receive a full hot meal that includes dessert, which in itself is a rare treat, as well as participate in a program that tells the story of Christ and His miraculous birth. They will even get a chance to sing Christmas carols in their native language, Haitian Creole.
In addition, what’s a Christmas party without gifts? The children will receive toys and other presents during the event, making this one of the only times they receive something they want. Food and clothes are important, true, but only a few times a year are the kids actually allowed to enjoy themselves. At the party they receive coloring books, dolls, cars, card games, and more. In fact, FHWL even produces a special coloring book written in Creole that tells the story of the Messiah’s birth.
Even the adults receive a few gifts. Guests to the Christmas in August dinner can donate watches, sewing kits, toiletries, and more, and teenagers can receive soccer balls and school supplies as well. However, on a lighter note, they won’t accept blunt scissors; the Haitians think they’re funny and won’t ever use them!
FHWL needs a way to fund the party, raising money to purchase food and toys for the event. So, every year, they throw an event called Christmas in August. This takes place in Florida and consists of a dinner and an auction. Guests are updated on FHWL’s activity in Haiti, learning about the struggles and triumphs of working with the Haitians, then are given a chance to give to the cause of the Christmas party. They can also donate gifts for the children to receive, as well as money to fund the program.
Sadly, FHWL has had some struggles with their food supplies. In fact, the normally well-stocked food warehouse ran completely dry in February. The empty stores forced FHWL to shut down their food program temporarily, which in turn meant some Haitians died from starvation.
However, FHWL’s Eva DeHart thinks the crisis won’t have a serious impact on the Christmas program. According to her, “At the Christmas party they know there will be food, and they know they’ll get gifts.” Kids really look forward to the party, she adds. “The children are really excited to come and celebrate Jesus’ birthday with us.”
DeHart wants to be careful to keep Jesus as the center of attention. “It’s important to not only give them something to look forward to. It’s the hope, the all-encompassing hope.” According to her, the party draws people that may not have any other contact with the Gospel. “They’re over and above our food program, over and above our clinic outreach. This is a poor segment of Haiti that doesn’t get the opportunity to hear Jesus’ message, and we invite them to come and learn about Him and celebrate His birthday with us.”
Click here for Christmas in August details!
(Photo by Orphan Outreach)
Guatemala (Orphan Outreach/ MNN) -- The scent of lavender and hibiscus fills the air of the hallway, and laughter and conversation breaks the silence of the otherwise quiet hillside building. It’s afternoon in Xela at Little House of Refuge, and while the younger children enjoy playtime outside, a group of young women are hard at work taking care of special guests who have come to visit. And the fragrance and laughter and care might just be what saves their lives in years to come.
Orphan Outreach partners with Little House, a privately-run orphanage in Xela, Guatemala. They provide monthly sponsorship for all the children, funding for teachers, school supplies, and other needs. Little House provides vocational classes to teach the children important skills to help support themselves.
But there is an even more profound purpose at work in the classroom. Rescue.
The odds are stacked against an orphan who ages out. Those at highest risk for human trafficking are the uneducated and unskilled. But with every computer program learned, cake baked, apron sewn, or French braid mastered, the children at Little House become less vulnerable to slave trade, gang activity, and prostitution.
“So often, we think of rescue as going into brothels or sweatshops and saving the innocent,” says Mike Douris, Orphan Outreach Founder and President. “We believe that’s absolutely necessary. But we also believe rescue can be preventative, and that’s why we come alongside national ministries that have a passion for providing complete care for the orphaned and the poor.”
Guatemala is one of the most impoverished nations in the region. According to Orphan Outreach, 56% of the population lives below the poverty line. There are an estimated 370,000 children (0-17) orphaned (2005). Many of these children are victims of forced labor or human trafficking.
The U.S. Department of State says that "Guatemala is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor." While the Government does not fully comply with minimum standards to eliminate trafficking, they are working toward it.
(Photo courtesy of Orphan Outreach)
Lourdes and Teresa, the two women who run Little House, have never viewed simple basic care to the children as an option. The women want to ensure the girls and boys are also well-educated and vocationally trained. With help from Orphan Outreach partners and donors, the school at the children’s home now features a computer lab, sewing room, bakery, and beauty school. For the young women learning to cut, color, and style hair, and for their guests from the United States who participate in the training, the vocational classes inspire dreams of working in a salon or resort. The students are attentive to every moment of coaching and direction, and even the most shy of students can’t help but smile as she sees the work of her hands.
(Photo by Orphan Outreach)
For Madison Rock, an Orphan Outreach mission trip participant (pictured left), the time spent having her hair styled was powerful. “To think about the eternal impact of a simple afternoon in a classroom, that allowing someone to shampoo and dry my hair could mean a great job and a safe future? That’s overwhelming and beautiful.”
From child sponsorship to offering vocational training on mission trips and investing in educators and much-needed resources, you can be part of a bright future for orphans.
More stories with Orphan Outreach.
Global Aid Network ministers to refugees in the Middle East. (Photo courtesy of GAIN USA)
Iraq (MNN) -- The number of Christians left in Iraq has fallen drastically. But one Christian is on his way to the violence.
Al Goff, CEO and president of Global Aid Network, is on his way to Iraq to meet with local partners and assess the needs there.
GAIN USA works with these partners to meet the immediate and long-term needs of refugees displaced by the violence in Iraq. It is their hope that through this hands-on interaction, they can also give a clear picture of Christ's love for them. GAIN USA is serious about bringing aid to those in need rather than making them come.
You can contribute to their relief fund here.
Please remember Al in your prayers. Pray for his safety and for the success of these meetings. Ask God to comfort and guide Christians caught in the crossfire in Iraq. Pray also for the displaced families there.
(Photo courtesy of Crossroad Bible Institute)
International (MNN) -- Manga has been a growing sensation in the United States over the last decade. Around the world, Manga has presented anti-war ideologies and entertained audiences in the most unconventional manners. The topics and themes covered in Manga graphic novels are as varied as the audiences that read them. It continues to be a cutting-edge realm of communication.
Taking the hint, Crossroad Bible Institute has been using Manga Messiah for many years to reach children of prisoners and detained youth with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The graphic novel details the life of Jesus Christ and provides Bible study lessons that help the readers interact with and process the material. The kids reached are ages 6 to 19.
And an exciting development took place recently with Manga Messiah. CBI president Dr. David Schuringa says, "For the last several years, we've had a Manga Messiah program for kids in English. It's been my desire to see this translated into Spanish for the kids of our Spanish students, which are increasing all the time."
With more satellite campuses in Latin America, a rise in incarcerated individuals in Latin America, and increased immigration to the United States from Spanish-speaking countries, CBI has a greater opportunity to reach the Spanish communities.
Immigration detention centers are filling up. CBI is able to connect the families of inmates with Manga Messiah, whether they are here or back in their country. And with more and more child immigrants fleeing to the U.S., CBI is seeing and meeting a greater need.
Schuringa says, "We have 3,000 students in immigrant detention centers. Because they are undocumented immigrants, they have absolutely no rights; they are completely alone. And they really appreciate the fact that the Church is reaching out to them, to comfort them, to guide them, and to show them the love of Jesus."
The program works like this: the children reading through Manga and doing the lessons have personal correspondence with a volunteer instructor who corrects their lessons and writes them encouraging letters of discipleship.
The correspondence is all handled through the mail.
"It doesn't matter where they are located. It's not like we have to find a bunch of volunteers in Texas or Louisiana, or something like that. A Christian who is living in New York or Grand Rapids can be discipling a student that's in California or New Mexico," says Schuringa.
Sometimes in developing countries, the mail is unreliable, and in that case the mentoring happens one-on-one.
The correspondence works to answer a child's questions, disciple him, and mentor him spiritually.
Manga Messiah is deeper than a means of entertainment. "It is the Bible, but think of it in terms of like Sunday-school level with pictures and explaining the Scriptures," says Schuringa. It is a way for youth to be engaged in the Gospel.
The hope is that students of Manga Messiah will continue on to the Biblical Foundation series of lessons for adults.
Manga Messiah isn't just for kids, however. In some cases it has been helpful to improve the literacy rates of many adults.
"After they take this first course that gets their literacy level up just enough to get into our first course of our Tier One Great Truths of the Bible (which is geared to about a 6th-grade reading level--even though that might be difficult for them), the Manga course gives them enough tools to be able to get into that. And once they get into that course, it's incredible.
"After 12 years of working with these folks, [we've observed] how everyone's literacy rates just skyrocket. So there's a side benefit to studying God's Word."
This side-benefit is one thing that can help individuals be successful in society someday. But more than that, the course helps them successfully encounter the truth of God's love.
"The courses: all of them are based on God's Word and help them to advance in the knowledge of Christ as their Savior."
(Photo courtesy of Crossroad Bible Institute)
CBI's presence is strong in juvenile detention centers, and they are excited to be able to minister to Spanish speakers, as well as those speaking English.
Already, CBI is seeing a huge number of enrollments for Spanish Manga Messiah and have received letters from appreciative parents who are thankful for the positive influence on their children while they are detained.
This exciting ministry is well under way, but it could use your help. Do you speak Spanish?
Schuringa says, "Your listeners should know that we are in need of more Spanish-speaking, Spanish-reading instructors. If someone out there understands Spanish, can read it, can write it, you can sign up." To do so, click here.
Meanwhile, the immigrant crisis continues with thousands risking their lives because of false promises, only to end up imprisoned across the border.
Schuringa explains that while CBI does not believe they have the authority to dictate policies for detained immigrants, they are not meant to keep quiet, either. He hopes Christian politicians will consider the situation carefully.
(Photo courtesy of CBI)
He says, "We do believe we have a prophetic task to sound the trumpet that in the Bible, undocumented immigrants--called strangers and aliens throughout Scripture, Old Testament, New Testament--were to be treated with the same love and respect as citizens, because we were once undocumented immigrants in the land of Egypt."
Our job is to "find a way to show them the love of Christ, find a way to understand their plight," says Schuringa.
He leaves us with an important reminder: "We don't realize it's a desperate thing. They're doing this [immigrating] so they can feed their families. And so how can we best accommodate that in a way that's healthy for our country and also helpful for them?"
Cedar of Lebanon is taking steps of faith to care for Syrian refugee kids, like this one.(Image courtesy Christian Aid)
Lebanon (MNN) -- Steps of faith are necessary when you face overwhelming needs and you don't have enough resources to provide. A school ministry in Lebanon is taking those steps of faith with the help of Christian Aid Mission, your link to indigenous missions.
Cedar of Lebanon is an indigenous ministry that oversees a boarding school for Bedouin children in the Bekaa Valley. The Muslim Bedouin are a nomadic people group who eke out a living as animal herders. When Syrian refugees began pouring over the border and into the Bekaa Valley, Cedar of Lebanon extended a helping hand.
Today, they're continuing that assistance in Jesus' name. Not only has Cedar of Lebanon opened up their school building as a shelter for refugee families, but teachers are including refugee kids in their lessons. Over 400 children are being divided between morning and afternoon sessions, says Ammad, the leader of Cedar of Lebanon.
For Syrian children who've been on the run since the crisis began in 2011, school is a distant memory. Learning and studying have been replaced by running for shelter and desperate searches for food. However, in the temporary shelter of a tent and relative routine of refugee life, Syrian kids find themselves with time on their hands.
(Image courtesy Christian Aid)
Cedar of Lebanon doesn't just provide an invaluable education to these refugee children. They also help Syrian families by providing food, shelter, and most importantly, the hope of Jesus Christ.
"The humanitarian needs are challenging, but the spiritual growth is beautiful," says Ammad in a recent Christian Aid report. "We need as much help as possible to continue to reach as many kids as we can."
With the amount of Syrian refugee families in Bekaa Valley, Cedar of Lebanon could quickly double enrollment. But with only 14 teachers, limited supplies, and classroom space, the ministry must say "No" to between 600 and 1,000 students.
Click here to help Cedar of Lebanon expand their reach and double their impact. Christian Aid says the ministry needs $10,000 USD each month to cover living allowances for teachers, as well as books and materials for students.
As you pray for resources to reach Cedar of Lebanon, pray that indigenous missionaries will not be overwhelmed by the desperate needs they confront every day. Pray for continued spiritual growth as refugees hear the Gospel and learn about Jesus Christ.
Pray also for a missing team of Cedar of Lebanon missionaries. They went on a journey to baptize 14 believers in Syria and never returned. Ask the Lord to spare their lives and comfort family members in Lebanon.
U.S Postage Stamp, 1957
USA (MNN) -- In the U.S., President Obama and religious freedom don't exactly have a "winning" relationship. Last fall, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Suzanne Cook resigned from her position, citing the need for a "higher salary" to support her children's educations.
Nine months down the road, the Obama administration has yet to nominate a replacement.
President Obama and religious freedom were at-odds again in February at the National Prayer Breakfast. Four months after Cook's resignation, President Obama stated, "We will keep standing for religious freedom around the world…I look forward to nominating our next Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom to help lead these efforts."
On a separate but related note, the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on the widely-criticized Hobby Lobby case came as a surprising "win" for religious freedom.
The lack of care for religious freedom--both internationally and at home--is a far cry from the intent of U.S. Pilgrims.
"They saw this continent, this New World, as a beachhead from which to evangelize the entire world," shares David Shibley of Global Advance. "From the very beginning, the Pilgrims were sharing the Gospel with Native Americans.
"There was a very clear understanding that a cherished faith, if it truly was cherished, had to be advanced, and had to be propagated and shared."
Why it matters
Religious freedom is vital for sharing the Gospel effectively and fulfilling the Great Commission. The U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from establishing an official religion, and it also stops the government from interfering in the way a person practices his or her religion.
(Image courtesy KG Hawes via Flickr -- https://www.flickr.com/photos/kennethhawes/sets/72157625100600113/page2/)
This means, under U.S. law, believers are free to pray in public places, tell others about the eternal salvation available through Jesus Christ, and openly attend church.
Although religious freedom isn't a priority to President Obama and other U.S. officials, Global Advance is picking up the slack. Through pastoral training conferences and marketplace missions initiatives, they're training leaders around the world and at home.
"Anywhere people need Jesus, that's where we need to be, and that includes our own nation," Shibley notes. "This very month, we are training Latino leaders here in the United States, in Dallas, to be catalysts for the fulfilling of the Great Commission."
Contact Global Advance for more information.
Pray for understanding for leaders who are receiving this training. Pray that they will be able to implement what they learn.
What you can do
If you know a Latino business or church leader that might benefit from this training, "share" this story with them. You can share it using the buttons at the top of this page, or directly from our Facebook page or Twitter feed.
"The Bible is very clear that we're to be verbal about our faith," notes Shibley.
Each fall, "See You At The Pole" gathers U.S. students at the flag pole to pray for their nation.
Most importantly, pray for religious freedom in the United States. Pray that President Obama will make it a higher priority. Pray that religious freedom will remain an established right and not be reduced to an optional privilege.
"When placed in the free market of ideas, over and against the other ideologies, the Gospel soars above the others…. The only thing that's left for the opponents of the Gospel is to do their best to silence it," Shibley says.
"In our day, when we have the privilege of sharing the Gospel of Christ, we need to take advantage of that."
Shibley and MNN’s Ruth Kramer share perspectives on the Global Church and the U.S. Body of Christ here.
(Photo courtesy Voice of the Martyrs)
Nigeria (MNN) -- Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan says the Boko Haram insurgency is worse than the civil war that broke out in Nigeria in the late 60s.
A million people died during the Biafra war: not from the fighting, but through starvation and illness.
The five-year struggle for control of the country has resulted in a near daily bloodbath. Boko Haram's aim: to carve out an Islamic state from its bases in the remote northeast. The fighters frequently massacre whole villages, gunning down fleeing residents and burning their homes. Churches have been bombed and explosive devices set to destroy Christian homes and public buildings. Dozens of Christians were killed as they tried to escape into the hills to try to hide in caves.
What's more, the attacks aren't staying in the borders of the northeast: they're now spreading southward. Three bombings in Abuja since April prove that the insurgency isn't just limited to the north.
Yet, what's happening to Nigeria has slipped off the front page and out of the mind's eye. Voice of the Martyrs spokesman Todd Nettleton agrees. "The world paid attention, I think, for a brief window on the kidnapped girls. The girls are still kidnapped, but the world's attention has kind of moved on."
More than 200 schoolgirls abducted in April are still being held by Boko Haram, which seeks to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state in the country’s north. "What they would like to do is very similar to what ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has done: they would like to control territory. They would like to be the religious authorities. They would like to have complete control of the area of Northern Nigeria."
(Photo courtesy Voice of the Martyrs)
Nettleton adds that the combination of Ramadan (Islam's holiest month) and the success of radical Islamists elsewhere could embolden Boko Haram because of shared ideology. "I suspect that as they see what ISIS is doing, their wheels are turning and they're thinking, 'Maybe we could do that here as well.'"
The group opposes secular education, democracy, taxation, banking, and all aspects of Western culture. "They could make everyone follow Islam and follow the teachings of Mohamed the way they think everyone should."
However, Nigeria's government is resisting. The military repelled an attack at a military base in Damboa, in which at least 50 insurgents were killed.
In the chaos, more than 60 girls and women kidnapped in northeast Nigeria last month reportedly fled their captors. While that is good news, the fight might just be getting started. "Boko Haram has not left. They have not laid down their weapons. They continue to be a force of persecution, upheaval, and violence in the country of Nigeria."
(Photo courtesy Voice of the Martyrs)
A case in point: last month, militants attacked a village twice, slaughtering 27 people, many of them Christians. VOM’s medical coordinator in Nigeria broke down in tears when he heard how the 17 children were killed. He and the team are working to provide medical attention for those that were injured in the attack.
Nettleton says this is where support brings comfort. "We can encourage people to pray. We can again remind them that we're part of the body of Christ together. 'When you hurt we hurt, and when you need, if there's something we can provide and a way we can help, we want to do that.'"
However, much of North America's awareness has turned away from the plight of Nigeria's Christians. This is where you can help the most, besides praying. "Tell their stories. Remind the American Church, 'These are our brothers and sisters. They are suffering. We need to be in prayer for them.'"
(Photo courtesy Baptist Haiti Mission)
Haiti (MNN) -- For less than a cup of coffee a day, you can change someone's life.
Seems like a pretty good Return On Investment (ROI), right? Baptist Haiti Mission runs a lean, efficient child sponsorship program. Spokesman Ron Sparks acknowledges a lot of ministries have similar offerings, but "there's a face behind every story, every sponsorship that someone gets involved with. It's more than sending $25 a month to a mission and wondering what happens."
Proper medical attention, meals, and books for school are all benefits that children in BHM-sponsored schools receive. Personal relationships between sponsors and children are a focus of the program. The Gospel is also incorporated into every part of the program, because this is where true life change happens, Sparks says. "The driving force behind the education program was teaching children how to read, certainly for their own betterment, and to help them to be involved citizens in the country of Haiti, but from our perspective, mainly to allow them to read the Bible."
(Photo courtesy Baptist Haiti Mission)
How does all this happen? Sparks explains: "100% of that donation goes to help the children in Haiti. That goes to help give them schooling, textbooks, uniforms, and a hot meal each day." These funds are not directly given to the families, but are administered through national BHM workers with plenty of oversight. Families pay a small registration fee at the beginning of school, which allows parents to carry responsibility in caring for their children.
Even better, it creates ownership and encourages participation. The end result of that helps build a stronger community. "In most cases, the parents cannot read or write, and yet the children are able to read stories to them from their Bible or from their school lessons, and in many cases, to help their parents to learn to read or write some, as well."
With all of the sponsor programs, what makes the BHM offering stand out? Relationship, says Sparks. "One of the things that our missionaries try to do is, whenever possible, get the child sponsor in touch with and visit personally the children that they're sponsoring."
One of the best ways sponsors begin their relationship with their child is sending a picture of themselves and their family. This enables the child to understand who is praying and supporting them. Families often display pictures of their sponsors in their home to remember their sponsor on a daily basis. It's also an investment in the future, Sparks adds. "When that kind of relationship is built, it's a commitment not only to the individual child but to the program, so when that child graduates from school, those child sponsors are anxious to sponsor another child."
Darlene Winn, one of the Child Sponsorship Program staffers, recently shared some observations in an e-mail following a sponsor meeting her child for the first time. She writes:
[Sic] How rewarding it was for her to finally meet Mitchellanda and to see her lovely smile in person.
She also was able to meet Mitchellanda’s mother at the Mission where we found out the mother was never able to complete fourth grade and did not read well. Mitchellanda is finishing the fourth grade, reads well, and does well in school.
The school children were testing this month, getting their report cards on Friday. Also there were graduations for pre-schools, sixth graders, and high schoolers. And it was World Cup month with most of the Haitians Brazil fans. Everywhere one went, there were shirts and hats in Brazil’s colors or flags flying for Brazil on motorcycles, buses, and cars.
As Frankie and I sat outside relaxing before supper one evening, we could hear a radio broadcasting the game and then “stereo” cheering from first down the mountain and then up the mountain when Brazil won that day.
Three weeks in a row we also had visits from the Crossings campers who took a day here at Fermathe to tour the Mission and to see their sponsored child for the first time at the Mission playground where they could play on the Ark, too. I translated for a new sponsor each time.
(Photo courtesy Baptist Haiti Mission)
That's a lot of ROI for roughly 85 cents a day. The good news is that while the program is growing, there's still room for more. "There are hundreds of children that are sponsored through the child sponsorship program, but there are thousands more that would love to have a sponsor in the 350+ schools that BHM operates there in Haiti." (Click here to start exploring Child Sponsorship)
PRAY FOR: Vacation Bible School Teacher Trainings to be held in Fermathe, the Aribonite region, and Central Plateau in July and in Savanette region, the Summer Bible Institute, and in Northwest Haiti in August. Also pray for Vacation Bible Schools held for 5 days each in July in Gran Savan and Fessard by two visiting teams.
USA (Buckner/MNN) -- The outlook for many foster youth after they turn 18 is rather grim.
According to a report by CNN earlier this year, 20% of foster care youth will be homeless once they age out of the system.
By age 24, only half will have any sort of job. Less than 3% will earn a college degree. The report says 71% of former foster care women will be pregnant by the age of 21, and 25% of foster care youth will suffer from Post-traumatic stress disorder.
For the resources the United States has, this is incredibly disturbing.
Buckner International is an organization seeking to build into the lives of vulnerable children and other groups of people through Christ-centered values.
The following is an uplifting report from Buckner's Lauren Hollon Sturdy about their work to reverse the outcome for many former foster care youth:
Christian Camacho is a former foster care youth and Aftercare participant. (photo courtesy of Buckner International)
Christian Camacho likes life to be orderly. A clean-cut finance major at Texas Tech University, he dresses neatly, typically sporting a polo shirt, khaki shorts, and boat shoes. He’s articulate and talks about his goals with a sense of certainty. He nearly always has a plan. A strategy.
“He’s different from a lot of other kids,” says Summer Swope-Bechtel, Christian’s aftercare caseworker at Buckner Children and Family Services in Lubbock, Texas. “He just has everything planned so well that he usually doesn’t need emergency assistance. When he does need something, it’s very well planned out and thought out far in advance.”
Soccer is his highest passion. A forward on the Texas Tech men’s club soccer team, he has two-hour practices twice a week and plays with friends at the recreation center for up to four hours at a time.
He’s also a member of the chess club and plays about two hours a week at club events. He’s played since the fourth grade. He’s often inspired by the brilliant people who belong to the club.
“When I see those people play, it’s just a completely different level,” he says. “It helps me work harder. In my head, I’m thinking, ‘You can do it.’”
As a business student, Christian spends a lot of his time at the Rawls building on the Texas Tech campus. (photo courtesy of Buckner International)
He isn’t just juggling extracurricular activities. He has at least four hours of homework a night, which is “the minimum to keep an A average,” he says. He discovered late in the first semester how important and helpful it is to attend his professors’ office hours. His hard work is paying off: he’s a member of several honor societies, and his high grade point average earned him an invitation to apply for admission to the honors college.
As he finishes up his freshman year, he’s doing all the right things to succeed. He defines himself and his future; the chaos of his teen years doesn’t.
Christian and his younger sister were removed from their mother’s care in Dallas when Christian was 15 years old. He lost count, but thinks he moved foster homes about 12 times in those chaotic years before he graduated from high school and was emancipated from the foster care system.
Christian and his sister were separated after being placed in care, but he still tries to be a role model to her, encourage her, and visit her a few times a year when he comes to Dallas.
Although he’s an independent young man, Christian occasionally seeks help from Buckner Aftercare, a program that acts as a support system for young people who have aged out of foster care. Aftercare participants meet with their caseworker about every three months to check in, talk about what’s going on in their lives, and make sure they’re on the right track. Aftercare programs often provide emergency assistance--helping with things like unexpected car repairs, providing new clothes, or even giving the kids gifts at Christmas time.
Christian says having Aftercare to fall back on has given him tremendous peace of mind, since, unlike many college students, he can’t call up a family member when he has a medical bill to pay or gets low on grocery money.
“Without Aftercare, my anxiety would be through the roof right now,” he says. “It’s a weight that’s lifted off your shoulders. It’s so much easier to focus on everything else rather than having to worry about money issues or even something as small as trying to buy new shoes and stuff like that. I honestly don’t think my GPA would be as high as it is without the support of Buckner Aftercare.
“My caseworker provided me with everything I needed. If I needed rent money or anything for my apartment, they provided it. And it’s nice just to have somebody come over and talk to me. It was nice [when I first got to Tech] to see a face I could recognize in a new place, and to have someone to share my successes with.”
After he finishes his undergraduate studies in business, Christian plans to get his master’s degree. He hopes to either build his own business from the ground up or work at a hedge fund someday, and says he’s been fascinated by money--how it works and how to make it work for you--since he was a young kid. He hopes someday he’ll be able to use it to give back to the people and institutions that have helped him along the way.
“Support is crucial to success in life, I feel,” he says. “I can’t even tell you how much they’ve helped me. It’s extraordinary.”
Aftercare is funded through a contract with Child Protective Services, but the program relies on donors for “extras,” such as gift cards, Christmas gifts, dorm room or apartment supplies, and more. For information on ways you can make a difference for a former foster child, please contact Buckner Foundation at 1-800-442-4800, ext. 8000.
(Image courtesy Open Doors)
Middle East (MNN) -- When it comes to Muslims and the Middle East, what do you think of? Ramadan? Mosques? According to the latest Pew Research study, concerns about Islamic extremism are growing in the Middle East.
Between April and May, Pew Research Center surveyed over 14,000 people in 14 countries with significant Muslim populations. In the Middle East, Pew notes, concern about radical Islam is rising. Lebanese, Tunisian, Egyptian, Jordanian, Israeli, and Turk respondents "are all more worried about the extremist threat than they were a year ago."
E3 Partners Middle East expert, Tom Doyle, weighed in recently from Jerusalem.
"Jewish people today are feeling desperate. Muslims, I think, are feeling very unsettled," he shares. "You can just feel it. There's a lot of bad situations, and it feels like war coming."
The exact boundary lines of the Middle East region vary by country, but Encyclopedia Britannica includes the following nations: Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, Libya, and "the various states of Arabia proper" (i.e. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen, etc.).
Many of these countries--Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Libya, to name a few--are the continual battlefield of militant Islamic factions. Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood are among 29 Islamic Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO's) identified by the U.S.
Seal of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.(Image courtesy Wikipedia)
Formerly known as ISIS, Islamic State terrorists expanded their reach beyond Syria to Iraq earlier this year. They declared a Caliphate on the first day of Ramadan.
With "these kinds of pronouncements, I think we have to sit back and see. Is this wishful thinking? Or will this be a rallying cry?" Doyle notes.
What's a caliphate?
Generally, a caliphate is described as an Islamic state led by a single political and religious leader known as a caliph. Several caliphates took place over the centuries, spanning from 632 to 1924.
The caliphate institution was then formally abolished, until IS revived it last week.
"Will this [IS Caliphate] bring all Muslims together to follow one spiritual leader? I think that remains to be seen," says Doyle.
However, past claims by militant leaders to unite the world's Muslims under one banner have fallen flat each time, he notes. While a "global caliphate"--where the world is united under Islamic rule--is the ultimate goal of radical sects, the concept loses popularity among wider Muslim audiences.
Before completing his thoughts on the topic, Doyle notes an important clarification. Anytime Muslims and the Middle East are discussed in regard to Islamic extremism, it's imperative to avoid blanket statements.
(Image courtesy 8thirty8)
"You can't just look at Islam monolithically, that they all believe everything the same and they're all walking the same way. It's just really not true," he says.
"There's the fanatical Muslims, there's the religious Muslims that aren't fanatical but really are looking. I think they're sending up SOS signals, wanting to know the truth."
Learn more about E3's ministry and how you can help them share the Gospel with Muslims in the Middle East here.
In the coming days, please surround the Middle East in prayer.
"We ask for the Mission Network News listeners to pray," requests Doyle. "Pray for your brothers and sisters in Syria, in Israel, in Iraq, in Iran, in some of these difficult places; Lebanon, Jordan.
"There [are] believers on the front lines that are risking their lives every day, and the prayer, encouragement, support would be huge for them."
Doyle explains how Ramadan, Islam's holiest month, factors into the equation here.
(Image courtesy Petar Milošević via Wikimedia Commons)
Crimea (MNN) -- It's been four months since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. Violence in all three areas continues, and Russia is enforcing their laws on all aspects of Crimea.
That includes religious entities.
We spoke with Eric Mock of Slavic Gospel Association to get an update on the situation in Crimea and Ukraine.
Mock explains that Russia has relative freedom of religion. That is, they don't support extremism or encourage physical persecution. Or do they?
Under Ukraine's rule, Crimea had incredible freedom. While the Tatar and Jewish populations were often under attack, they are now fleeing the peninsula due to increased violence and persecution under Russian rule.
Mock says, "There are groups within Crimea that are taking advantage of the opportunity, persecuting the ethnic Tatars, who are a Muslim people, as well as we're hearing a mild amount of persecution of the Jews as well."
Some sects of Christianity are being targeted as well, though not by violence necessarily.
Protestant churches, for example, are viewed with confusion and suspicion.
According to Forum 18, the Russian government is raising the church rent for the Kiev Patriarchate Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The increase is so substantial that church leaders are certain the government is trying to liquidate them altogether.
Meanwhile, Greek Catholic priests from Ukraine can only serve in Crimea for three months at a time before they have to leave for a month and re-register. All religious communities must re-register with the Russian government.
"Here's what I need you to know," says Mock. "The Christian Churches, even in the midst of this, remain unified, and we see them work together for the sake of the Gospel. It's a beautiful thing."
Ukrainian Christians from all over the country are trying to meet the needs of refugees, even while neglecting their own.
In one area of Ukraine, Christians were asked to help 160 Tatar families.
This particular group had been told by their Muslim leaders that Christian pastors were philanderers and immoral people who take advantage of women and children. They believed the Christians to be idolaters.
When this community fled to Ukraine, the pastor in the area gave up his house, and the students of the Bible college gave up their rooms to sleep on mats in classrooms.
The Tatar community soon learned the Christians were moral and loving people.
They asked for a Bible that explained the Christian beliefs, but they wanted one without a cross on the front. They viewed the symbol as an icon--an idol.
SGA was able to provide them with over 100 study Bibles.
Mock says, "We believe in a sovereign God. He will change hearts. But we believe in our effort to provide God's Word, that nothing will come back void-- that God's Word in the hands of His people given to these Muslim families [let's them] see that Jesus is not only a prophet, that He is also Lord, King, and Messiah."
Later, the Muslim community explained that if the Christians had come to their door, they would not have let them in because they would have felt like they were dishonoring God.
It took the situation in Crimea for them to hear the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.
"This incredible witness for these people was poured out through the chaos of the conflict in Crimea," says Mock.
While truth is spreading, so are the difficulties.
"The believers in Ukraine [are] running out of resources, but they're rallying together to feed and care for these people. It's costing them more than $300 dollars a day," Mock says.
"Given the reports of persecution we're hearing in Crimea, I don't expect these families to return to Crimea in the near future. They're trying to set them up and see them resettled."
Christians are doing more than providing food and bed for these refugees. They're even sending them to summer camps where the kids hear about Jesus and are ministered to.
"What we're seeing in the middle of great conflict is...the Ukrainian believers stepping up for the sake of the Gospel at a time in which there could be great confusion in their hearts. We're seeing them step up in an amazing way and reach those who would normally push Christians away."
SGA is providing relief to pastors in the Eastern Republics of Ukraine to make sure they have enough food on their table to feed their families while they provide aid to the refugees.
You can contribute to the Ukrainian Crisis Relief here.
Mock says that every $15 you are able to send will provide food, evangelistic literature, and other items to churches.
This includes the churches in Crimea and other conflict zones.
SGA is equipping believers to be a witness to these people who have left everything behind.
Pray that God will soften hearts to the Gospel through these times, and that the church in all areas will come together with one purpose.
Wedding photo of Meriam Ibrahim and Daniel Wani(Courtesy Daniel Wani)
Sudan (ODM) -- After Sudan faced unprecedented international pressure on her case, Meriam Ibrahim's death sentence for apostasy was cancelled by a court in Khartoum and all charges against her were dropped.
But when she and her family attempted to leave Sudan on Tuesday, June 24, 2014, they were arrested again, detained, and eventually released. Currently taking temporary shelter in the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, Meriam and her family are still waiting and hoping to be able to come to the United States.
Facing death threats from her own family, Meriam's life is at risk the longer she stays in Sudan. It is crucial that she be granted safe and swift passage to the United States. You can take action for this courageous Christian woman and continue to be a voice on her behalf.
Open Doors is spearheading a campaign on Ibrahim's behalf. They work in the world's most oppressive countries, strengthening Christians to stand strong in the face of persecution and equipping them to shine Christ's light in these dark places.
(Image courtesy Wikipedia)
Please take a moment to copy the text below, paste the message into the form on this page, and submit your message to President Obama.
You can make a difference for Meriam Ibrahim and her family. Thank you for being a voice for this courageous woman!
Dear President Obama,
I am writing to request that your administration take action to secure safe passage to the United States for Meriam Ibrahim and her American husband and children.
Meriam and her family cannot stay at the U.S. Embassy forever, and their lives are at great risk in Sudan. It is time for an urgent response on behalf of this courageous Christian woman.
It is clear that the situation involving Meriam and her family requires the immediate attention of your administration. I am asking that you take whatever action is necessary to ensure that Meriam and her American family receive safe passage to the United States.
[Your address, city, state, zip]
Click here to make a difference!
(Photo courtesy AMG International)
USA (AMG) -- Most of the United States is celebrating Independence Day.
The team at AMG International is celebrating Christmas in July with the launch of the 2014 Christmas Card Project. AMG asked sponsored children in their childcare centers all over the world to draw Christmas pictures and send them in to the AMG headquarters in Chattanooga, TN.
They received over 1,000 of them and turned the best ones into *Christmas cards that will be available for purchase. Sold in packs of 8 and 16 (for $12 and $20 respectively), each card bears some kind of Gospel message along with a little about the work of AMG. Funds raised by the card sale will go toward the childcare ministry projects, which dovetails neatly with the July planning for the Bundles of Love.
(Photo courtesy AMG International)
When AMG's field leaders distribute the Bundles at Christmas, it is not merely a handout, but a time of celebration. Each Bundle of Love includes items specially selected to benefit the individuals receiving them, whether school supplies and uniforms, shoes, clothing, blankets, books, or toys. AMG also provide copies of God’s Word to those who do not have one.
AMG also distributes Bundles of Love to national workers, church planters, and national staff. Each resident of AMG's Valley of Love, a community of individuals suffering with leprosy, also receives a Bundle of Love. $20 makes it happen.
(Photo courtesy AMG International)
What impact can such a simple gift have? It is hard to measure, but the joy on the face of each person who receives one speaks volumes. In a life of hardship and sacrifice, something unearned and unexpected can refresh a hurting soul. The gift is appreciated, but the giver is loved. Think about the best gifts you’ve ever received: do you cherish them because of how valuable they are in themselves, or because of who gave them to you and the stories behind them?
These are joyful celebrations where the Christmas story and the Gospel are retold, tying this gift with the ultimate gift God offers each of us. In this way, the symbol (a Bundle of Love) is deliberately connected with the wonderful reality of eternal life given by God.
Is there any better Christmas gift that you could give?
*At present, cards can only be purchased by phone.
You can reach AMG International here:
6815 Shallowford Road
Chattanooga, TN 37421
(Photo courtesy Faith Comes By Hearing)
International (FCBH/MNN) -- There's a famous quotation, "There are no atheists in foxholes," often attributed to U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
It means that in times of extreme stress or fear (as in a war), all people will respond to hope. As if to underscore that point, there's been a spike in requests for Faith Comes By Hearing's Military BibleStick. FCBH spokesman Bill Lohr says it was the right tool for the right time. "This is a generation that doesn't read as much; it's audio-visual. That's why this impacts them by having the audio available."
Enter: the Military BibleStick. It's a digital audio player that is pre-loaded with a dramatized recording of the entire New Testament and over 65 minutes of select Psalms. "They can get the unit to them, that covers all the shipping and everything else that we do. But in addition to that, we're going to send MP3 discs to their spouses and to their children, so that's really covering the entire family for that $25," explains Lohr.
(Photo courtesy Faith Comes By Hearing)
American military chaplains from every branch report that the troops enjoy the portability of the Military BibleStick, the dramatization of the Audio New Testament and quality of the recording itself.
Why this story, today?
"Everybody's going to celebrate the birthday of our independence and the reason that is. And the reason that we still celebrate it is because of our military. I think that's why people really gravitate to this outreach: getting God's Word to our men and women in uniform."
Across the USA, churches, radio stations, TV stations are showing support and spreading God's Word to those in harm's way. Lohr says, "They [chaplains] are asking all the time to get more and more of these. It's just a beautiful testimony when we hear from them and they say, 'We can't keep them on the shelves. The soldiers come and they really want them,' because it really is something that helps them engage God's Word. All they have to do is plug in that ear bud, hit 'Play,' and they're getting God's Word."
Over 1,440 chaplains use Military BibleSticks in pre-deployment briefings, counseling sessions, Bible studies, weekly chapels, and other spiritual services. Lohr adds, "There are those who can take 500 units from us, and they'll get them out within a couple of months. There are others that might be in a deployed situation where only 100 units will work for them."
Give the gift of an audio Bible to a military man or military woman for only $25. This includes a Military BibleStick and a response card for service members to have New Testaments and KIDZ Bibles sent to their families.
(Photo courtesy Refugees International)
Iraq (MNN) -- Iraq is edging closer to becoming a failed state. The new parliament failed to elect a Speaker, which means no movement on choosing the new president, who names a presumptive prime minister. Essentially, Iraq has no functioning government, an active insurgency, and a Level 3 humanitarian crisis.
On Day 1 of Ramadan, Islam's holiest month, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria announced a Caliphate. A Mission Network News story about this alarming development got very little traction because many readers didn't know what a caliphate was.
Todd Nettleton, spokesman for The Voice of the Martyrs USA, explains that it's an Islamic state led by a supreme religious and political leader known as a caliph or a successor to Muhammad. "It's basically an area that is controlled by them. They would lay down the law in the civil sense of what the regulations are and how the country works. They would also lay down the law religiously."
This is having a direct impact on Christians in area. Most of them are either being subjected to unreal brutality or are fleeing. There is almost nothing left of a remnant church in Iraq. The stated goal of the Islamic State was to create a Caliphate, which is sounding familiar tones with similar insurgencies.
Both the Boko Haram and al-Shabaab have been wreaking havoc in Nigeria and Somalia, respectively. With the same objective governing the militants, what would happen if the three groups came together to increase the borders of the Caliphate in Iraq?
Nettleton doesn't think that would be likely. He explains, "When you think about ISIS and Boko Haram or Boko Haram and al-Shabaab coming together and working together, can they come together in some things? Absolutely. Can they share expertise, can they share weaponry? Sure. But when it comes right down to who's going to be in charge, that's a very significant question. It would take some finesse for one of the leaders to really bow to the authority of another leader."
Meanwhile, ISIS instituted the jizya, a poll tax, on Christians in the areas they control in an attempt to put pressure on them and displace them from the city. Tens of thousands chose to flee. The United Nations reports that over a million Iraqis have been displaced since January 2014. Right now, the most pressing need for the refugees and Internally Displaced Peoples are food, water, and shelter.
Nettleton says help is needed just to keep the survivors alive. "People here in the United States pack relief packs. We call them 'Action Packs.' We have delivered them into the Middle East, specifically targeting Christians who have left Iraq and left Syria."
(Photo courtesy Voice of the Martyrs)
Here's how it works: click the link to get started. If you want to fill the Action Pack, VOM will send you a special pre-printed vacuum bag to be filled with items you select from the list included with your pack. After you’re finished packing the bag, ship your Action Pack back to VOM, and they’ll distribute it along with a Bible or Gospel storybook to the country that currently needs Action Packs the most.
Nettleton adds, "We can provide Bibles, we can provide encouragement, and I think one of the key things that we do is serve as a voice for them. [We] tell their stories and remind the American Church: 'These are our brothers and sisters. They are suffering. We need to be in prayer for them.'"
"If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
(Photo courtesy Gospel for Asia)
Asia (GFA) -- Everyone in the area knew the familiar sight of women and girls trudging for miles along parched land, searching for water. Almost as familiar were the complaints of joint pain most of the women suffered.
After miles of carrying full water containers back to their villages, agony burned through the women’s shoulders, hips, and knees. Even then, they couldn’t refresh themselves with a drink because the water was too dirty to drink without treatment. And despite their crude filters, the villagers were still plagued by waterborne illnesses.
Most of the men couldn’t help their wives because they had already left town. The drought had dried up all the local crops and destroyed the economy, forcing men to find work elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the women cared for their children, tended the livestock, cleaned their homes, cooked daily meals, and collected whatever water they could find.
When Gospel for Asia Pastor Tarit told his leaders about the water crisis, they sent someone to see what could be done for the village. They soon decided to drill a Jesus Well.
On the day the well was inaugurated, the drought was still in full force, but for the first time since the land had dried up, everyone had refreshing, clean water to drink. The villagers were overjoyed, and they expressed their gratitude to the church.
“The entire village had an awesome experience of God’s goodness and His great provision through this endeavor,” said a GFA correspondent. “Praise God for His mighty acts.”
USA (MNN) -- Unaccompanied minors in the United States. It's child refugee problem and it's a growing problem. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the number of apprehended children who are attempting to cross the U.S. border without a parent is up 92% compared to last year. These children are from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
The Orphan Outreach Team.
President of Orphan Outreach Mike Douris, says, "They're coming because of poverty, lack of hope, lack of opportunity. And if we can help Guatemalans or Hondurans take better care of [their] most vulnerable, then it helps the issue of them having to traverse very dangerous territory to get to the United States."
Douris is one of the founding members of Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO). It's a group of like-minded Christians formed to educate the church about the need to care for widows and orphans.
Douris says God cares for the orphan, as stated in more than 40 verses in the Old Testament, and more in the New Testament. "In almost every judgment against Israel, it's mentioned that they didn't care for the widow and the orphan. [God] calls Himself the Father of the fatherless. And that continues in the New Testament in James."
Since the heart of God doesn't change, churches need to take notice. "If you have a mission strategy out of your church, there should be intentional ministry to orphans if you're where God's heart is. That's the heart of the ministry of CAFO: to alert the church to this and equip the church."
Other CAFO movements have been started in Ukraine, Russia, South Korea, South Africa, Kenya, and now in Guatemala. Last year, CAFO started in Guatemala following an orphan summit which featured more than 250 pastors and leaders.
Much has happened in a year, says Douris. CAFO Guatemala is planning another orphan summit in August. "This year we're planning on 500-750 pastors and Christian leaders to talk about the issues of orphan care. The day before the summit, the First Lady has agreed to host an influencers meeting."
Out of that, Douris is hoping influential leaders there will catch the vision for orphan ministry and begin working with organizations who are doing the work well, like Orphan Outreach partners.
Douris says, "Some of the mega churches have caught our vision for this and really want to jump on board and say, 'What can we do to push the message," but also get involved with kids.'"
Is this part of the Great Commission mandate? Not according to Douris. "Really, you don't care for orphans to do evangelism. You care for orphans because it's God's mandate. But because of who we are, we also share the Gospel, and many of those kids come to Christ."
Orphan Outreach is an organization that can help your church establish an orphan ministry. It can include regular trips to care for orphans around the world or supporting children through sponsorship.
Click here for information about CAFO. Or, click here for more information on sponsoring a child with Orphan Outreach.
(Photo courtesy SAT 7)
Middle East (MNN) -- Forbidden is a bold SAT-7 program that tackles sensitive social issues from a spiritual perspective.
These issues range from human trafficking and sexual violence to adoption. Despite controversial topics and a Christian perspective, Forbidden is widely watched all across the Middle East and North Africa.
Because the program is careful to address people's different belief systems--both guests and viewers, at least 80% of the audience does not affirm a Christian faith.
One particular episode revealed the story of *Heba, a survivor of an attempted “honor killing.” Tunisian host Dr. Imed Dabbour opened the episode by addressing the audience:
“Honor crimes are seen by their perpetrators as a normal reaction to rid them of some scandal or to cleanse them of shame. An honor crime is a crime typically committed against a woman who has had a sexual relationship outside the conservative culture. Also there are some societies that practice what are called love crimes, only because the girl has refused a marriage arranged by her family.”
Many people throughout the region quietly accept honor crimes, but Imed challenged them to listen and decide for themselves. "Where are the men?” Imed asked. “Why are the women always the ones to pay?” One man called the studio to say, “The subject you are discussing is very sensitive…. But it is impossible for honor crimes to return the honor again.” He continued to say that he does not respect any man who participates in “honor” crimes.
Then, it was Heba’s turn to tell her story. A woman appeared on screen, her face hidden in shadows and her voice altered to conceal her identity. Heba spoke about her childhood, about a father who abused her, and her family, when confronted, would not hear her cries for help. When Heba came of age, she moved to the city and pursued a law degree. She sought the love of an older, married man, and eventually got pregnant.
When Heba’s family found out about this relationship, they called her to say, “Heba, you have brought us great shame. We are going to kill you!” She recognized that she was not safe and could not stay in her apartment. She got in a taxi where another driver cut her off. A gunman jumped out of the car, but his gun jammed and Heba was able to escape.
Heba found refuge in another country. There, she met a Christian woman God used to open her heart to Him. This woman met Heba without judgment. As Jesus said in the book of John, “Let any one of you who is without sin throw the first stone.” Relieved and safe, Heba decided to follow Jesus. She chose to keep her son and raise him to know God’s love.
After the episode ended, Imed rejoiced that God was using Heba’s trials and testimony to speak to an entire culture--millions of women and men. Heba is still hiding from her family but is no longer on the run. SAT-7 is using programming like Forbidden to reach out to women like Heba so they may know there is hope and forgiveness in the world.
Panoramic view of Israel's West Gate.(Image courtesy sheepdog85 via Wikimedia Commons)
Israel (MNN) -- As teen deaths are exchanged between Israel and Palestine, tensions and mortar fire skyrocket.
The bodies of three Israeli teens abducted from the West Bank were discovered Monday, following two weeks of intense searching. A day after the boys' national funeral, police had their hands full investigating the possible revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager.
Mohammed Abu Khedair, 17, was reportedly abducted in the early morning hours as he awaited the call to morning prayers. Israeli nationalists are suspected of kidnapping Khedair, killing him and burning his body, then leaving his remains in a forest outside Jerusalem.
As news broke of the possible revenge killing, clashes quickly erupted. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, over 50 Palestinian residents were injured in the fight with Israeli security forces.
"We know believers in Gaza right now are certainly ducking for cover, with rockets going out from Hamas and Israel retaliating," says E3 Partners Middle East expert, Tom Doyle, as he speaks with MNN from Jerusalem.
Touching on another subject, Doyle observes the increased security measures being taken by Israel. To "stop the waves of terror that might come from the east," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet on Sunday that a fence along the Israel-Jordan border was necessary.
"Jordan has been a fairly safe place over the years," Doyle notes. "But now, because of its small population and the possibility of a spillover of Islamic State (formerly ISIS) in Iraq…Israel faces a possibility that King Abdullah could fall and radical Muslims could take over.
"If this spills over, if this Islamic Caliphate takes…and it gives identity to Sunni Muslims, then certainly Jordan would have its hands full, which means it would be right on Israel's doorstep."
The proposed fence would cover 250 miles, spanning from Eliat to the Golan Heights.
The barrier between Israel and Palestine and an example of one of the Israeli-controlled checkpoints.
"Israel stands a better chance of blocking [radical Islam] there than they do at the Gaza Strip, where there are tunnels coming in from Egypt," Doyle observes.
Conflict between Israel and Palestine, such as the sparring currently underway, is nothing new. But Israel is surrounded by catastrophes: the recently-declared Sunni caliphate, Iran and Hezbollah vowing to "wipe Israel off the map," Syria's ongoing war, etc.
The last thing Israel needs, Doyle points out, is for Islamic terrorist factors hailing from neighboring countries to join forces with groups currently at work inside Israel's borders.
"If they could ever come together…Israel would have its hands full, and it would be a regional war for sure," says Doyle.
As Jews see how quickly things change in the nations surrounding them, their hearts begin to open.
"We're hearing stories about Jewish people that are very open to the Gospel," Doyle shares. "We have heard of many situations where people have called upon the Lord and received Jesus as their Savior--the Jewish Savior, Yeshua."
As Jews see how quickly things change in their neighboring Arab nations, their hearts begin opening to the Gospel.(Map credit: 8thirty8 Facebook page)
Your prayers for this region are desperately needed. Follow the 8thirty8 Facebook page for updates, and pray for tensions to settle between Israel and Palestine. Pray that no more young people will die at the hands of nationalist or terrorist forces. Ask the Lord to comfort the families of all who were killed in recent days.
Pray that more people in the Middle East will come to know Jesus Christ as Savior.
"If you look at the news--the politics, it looks bad. But Jesus reaches out to the hearts of the people…and people are responding--both Jews and Arabs," says Doyle.
More Middle East stories here.
USA (MNN) -- Michigan has the seventh worst indigent public defense system in America.
In other words, poor people in Michigan are entitled to a state appointed lawyer but often do not get the service they need for a fair trial.
Dr. David Schuringa is the president of Crossroad Bible Institute and serves on several boards across the country.(Photo Courtesy of CBI)
Dr. David Schuringa, president of Crossroad Bible Institute, has been appointed by Governor Snyder to serve on the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission to improve the quality of free public defense for residents who cannot afford a private counsel.
The main issue is that public lawyers in Michigan have too much work and poorly-distributed funding.
While the national standard number of cases for a full-time public defender is 400 a year, part-time public defenders in Detroit have between 2,400-2,8000 cases.
The constitutional right for representation even if you can't afford private consultation gets watered down to 30 minutes with a public defense lawyer.
Schuringa says, "Because of people being overworked, because of inadequate funding, poor people are not getting an adequate defense. And sometimes they're going to prison innocent or getting overcharged."
Schuringa explains that overcharging someone or imprisoning them unjustly is actually more of a pain. It costs $35,000 a year to house somebody in prison.
Schuringa wants to focus on getting the bad guys in jail, not people who are just too poor to be proven innocent.
He served several years on the nonprofit Michigan Campaign for Justice whose sole purpose was to get House Bill 4529 passed and the committee established.
"We're just delighted with our Governor Snyder for appointing this 14-person commission. The commission is to come up with unified state standards that all the counties can abide by and be properly funded.
"We have some counties that are doing an okay job, and some counties that are doing a terrible job. Some counties just do not have the proper funding for public defense of poor people," Schuringa says.
Michigan is one of seven states that leave it up to the counties to fund their public defense system. The committee will work to establish a set of standards for all counties, equalizing resources to improve the defense system.
For Schuringa, this effort fits into Biblical principles. Jesus was an advocate for the poor when He walked the earth. God has reminded us many times throughout His Word that we need to protect and aid the poor.
Schuringa is a volunteer on many boards around the country. He does not believe that his role on the Defense Committee will take away from his job at CBI.
Shuringa thinks just the opposite: "Crossroad will only be enriched by our involvement in ventures like this."
In light of Governor Snyder's move to improve the system, Schuringa says, "When it comes to helping the poor and the prisoners, he seems to want to do what's right. And so I am just delighted to have a very small part in that, and I don't feel that I have to in any way compromise my Christian values. I think that my Christian values will be an asset and have shown to be so in the past."
Schuringa says you can stay updated on the condition of the prison system via CBI's Web site. Watch their weekly 30 minute television program online to stay informed.
He mentions CBI's newsletter and prayer guide, which you can find here.
He urges you, if you have a heart for prison ministry, to be a voice for people in prison.
If you'd like to be further involved with CBI, you can volunteer as an instructor for CBI's prison classes.
Read more stories from CBI here.
(Photo courtesy Mission Aviation Fellowship)
USA(MNN) -- Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) has received a $66,800 grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust to fund an internship program at the organization’s Nampa headquarters.
MAF is a unique Christian ministry that uses airplanes, technology, and training to reach the world’s most isolated people. With a fleet of 52 light aircraft, MAF provides services to some 600 churches, relief groups, medical personal, development agencies, and others, allowing them to work in remote and difficult parts of the globe.
“We are grateful to the Murdock Charitable Trust for this exciting gift,” said Barbara Bowman, MAF’s vice president for ministry advancement. “The grant is allowing MAF to provide paid internships and mentoring to college students interested in the nonprofit sector. This gives them a chance to explore career options while developing valuable skills.”
MAF has already hired two student interns from Northwest Nazarene University (NNU) and is currently recruiting for a maintenance specialist intern who desires experience in aircraft maintenance. A job description and application form are available on the MAF website.
(Courtesy Mission Aviation Fellowship)
Tyler Dooghan is excited about his audio-visual internship. Dooghan graduated from NNU last month and has been editing videos and shooting footage for MAF.
“I’ve been learning a lot more about the technical side of things and developing some much-needed skills,” said Dooghan. “This is a real career booster for me, whether I end up with a job at MAF or somewhere else.”
Based in Nampa, MAF is part of the global family of mission aviation organizations comprised of MAF Canada, MAF International, and several affiliate organizations in Latin America. Recent MAF work includes assisting with vaccination campaigns in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, supporting relief efforts in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan, and enabling the work of churches, evangelists, and Bible translators across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The organization employs 180 staff in the Treasure Valley.
The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust seeks to enrich the quality of life in the Pacific Northwest by providing grants and enrichment programs to non-profit organizations that seek to strengthen the region's educational, spiritual, and cultural base in creative and sustainable ways. The trust is based in Vancouver, WA. Learn more at www.murdock-trust.org.